The President’s State of the Union Address
January 27, 2021
4. Campaign Financing / Money in Politics
My fellow Americans, on May 10, 1886 a bizarre concept now called “corporate personhood” sneaked into American mythology in a case called “Santa Clara County versus Southern Pacific Railroad.” A Supreme Court clerk so misleadingly recorded the court’s decision that it appeared as if the Court had ruled that a corporation is the same as a person. Of course it had not, but thereafter the Court repeatedly used that written record as precedent for ruling that a corporation is a “natural person.”
Citing such ludicrous precedents, our Supreme Court has repeatedly misused the 14th Amendment—which was enacted to protect the rights of freed slaves—to justify giving corporations the same legal rights as real people. Most recently, in the 2014 “Hobby Lobby” case the Court again ruled that Constitutional freedom of religion extends to corporations as if they were people.
For a hundred and twenty-five years this bizarre mis-interpretation has been used by the Court—often by a one-vote majority—to strike down hundreds of local, state and federal laws that We the People enacted to protect ourselves from corporations. Lost in the gamesmanship is the question of why people should need to be protected from corporations in the first place—a question about which I shall have more to say.
On January 21, 2010 an especially egregious ruling by our Supreme Court made the 1886 travesty an order of magnitude worse by another ruling called “Citizens United versus Federal Election Commission.” This Supreme Court ruling shall live in infamy as an attack on the very foundation of our democratic republic.
In Citizens United the Court ruled—by another one-vote 5–to-4 majority—that the free speech clause of the Constitution’s First Amendment prohibits the federal government from restricting corporations and similar manmade organizations from spending large sums of money with intent to influence elections in their favor.
In plain English, that pernicious ruling allows corporations—which clearly are not people—to spend as many millions of dollars as they please to influence our free elections. Never in our nation’s history has a court case been so wrongly named. Citizens United does not unite us—it is steadily destroying the unity that is our nation.
This contemptible notion that a corporation could possibly have the same rights that our Bill of Rights guarantees to real living, breathing people is wrong and has always been wrong. Compounding the wrongness, it lets corporations control our democratic elections by spending vast sums of money ordinary Americans could never match. Our highest court—supposedly our guarantor of justice—has carried in-justice to an extreme.
Both of these portentous rulings are opposed in principle by a well documented large majority of American citizens, and rightly so. For a decade now the Citizens United ruling has caused great dissension in our society. Worse than that, the trainloads of cash it allows corporations and their proxies to spend in our federal elections are slowly but surely eroding our democratic way of life.
Democracy is supposed to ensure equality of all sides, in free and fair elections, based on those famous words: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal…” Well, be assured, those who like the Citizens United ruling do not believe in democratic equality, for it allows a few voices to be much louder than all other voices in our election campaigns. The Citizens United ruling is a clear violation of democracy.
When corporations can push their point of view by spending ten or twenty times more on TV advertising than real people can afford, which point of view do you think will most influence those voters who are informed, and vote, based on what they hear on TV?
I say this is wrong. No word or phrase in the U.S. Constitution was ever intended to confer on corporations the inalienable rights that the Founders wrote into the Constitution and Bill of Rights to guarantee the individual freedoms of real human citizens. The Constitution doesn’t even mention corporations.
We citizens of the USA, collectively, we are the republic. Our Constitution and Bill of Rights were then, and still are today, intended to protect us human citizens from the injustices that are so repeatedly perpetrated by other humans acting through corporations. History records in spades that the human masters of corporations have always been willing to subordinate human rights and freedoms to the gain of profit.
No more. The bizarre, wrongheaded idea that a corporation or any other kind of organization can spend big bucks to buy our elections because it has “personhood” the same as real people is, and of right ought to be, abolished.
And abolish it we shall—before the abuse of democracy grows still worse. I will shortly ask the Congress to set in motion a constitutional amendment to restore the original clear meaning of the first amendment, and to write into our Constitution clear, modern language that precludes such an anti-democratic travesty as Citizens United from arising ever again. I will ask that this amendment be treated as a constitutional emergency—because as a threat to Americans’ freedom it is indeed an emergency.
Moreover, I ask every state in our union to ratify the new amendment before this year is out. Just as we would not tolerate a foreign invader landing on our shores; we must respond quickly and decisively against this utterly foreign idea of corporate personhood.
My fellow Americans, if you love democracy, if you value the freedom to vote un-influenced by big spenders who want to buy our elections, please let your representatives and senators know how you feel about this abuse of the democratic system that elected them. Never in our history since the Civil War has a difference of opinion been so starkly drawn between those who believe in democracy, and those who don’t. Let us now quickly lay this controversy to rest, and may it never arise again.
To help ensure it never arises again, I propose that we banish all political contributions—dark money, squeaky clean or otherwise—from American politics. I will soon submit to Congress a bill instituting exclusively public funding for all federal election campaigns. Under this bill, every candidate will have an exactly equal voice with every other candidate—no more and no less.
Perhaps politicians will then find it helpful to talk about real issues that matter to the voters, rather than simply slinging mud at each other. When We the Voters hear the true voice of what each candidate believes and has to say about the issues of the day, we can honestly decide who we want to vote for. As a bonus, this bill will certainly save a lot of money that can now be spent on something useful.
These important measures will restore fairness and equality to voting in our democracy. It should never have become possible for politicians, who are supposed to represent our nation’s best interests, to be bought by big-money donors who always expect something in return for their investments that are erroneously called “donations.”
Fellow Americans, please lend your support to this bill. Together, let’s put an end to this outrage in what is supposed to be our democratic USA. We are long overdue to guarantee true equality in our electoral process. Equality is the central idea of our democratic republic—the historic, singular idea that all Americans are politically equal.
No more shall a few super-rich individuals and corporations, operating in the dark shadows, have influence on elections that outweighs the votes of millions of ordinary patriotic Americans. Equality is the basic meaning of America. Let us now restore it so thoroughly that our democracy can never be threatened in this way again.
* * *
5. Clean cheap electricity
I now want to talk about a very different way of doing what’s best for our common good. I’m going to describe how a common sense update of a very dependable old technology can turn what has been called “a problem” into one of the most positive innovations in our nation’s history—right up there with the golden spike that joined our first transcontinental railroad.
Our nation depends on electric power, and lots of it. Electricity is today the very foundation of modern civilization. We require more electricity every year—we need it to be plentiful, dependable, and cheap. For more than a century we very sensibly depended on coal to generate our electricity, because coal was plentiful, dependable and cheap. Mining coal out of the ground moreover created lots of jobs which in turn provided living income for millions of Americans. It made perfect sense—at the time.
It’s very much like my grandfather, who all his life farmed burley tobacco as his main cash crop. He and millions of small farmers like him earned their livelihood through the honest hard work that goes with raising tobacco—and it is, be assured, hard work. Those farmers inherited a way of life from their fathers, none of them having any idea that tobacco causes cancer. Even scientists and doctors did not know how harmful tobacco was, so growing tobacco made perfect sense—at the time.
But those times were before we became aware of the dangers of putting tobacco smoke into our lungs and coal smoke into our atmosphere—before we knew the awful societal costs of tobacco and coal. It was a time before we understood that toxic chemicals and heavy metals in coal smoke were harming our children’s health and the air we breathe.
We had no idea that the carbon dioxide in fossil fuels—coal, oil and natural gas—could actually heat up the atmosphere around the entire earth. We did not know that global warming would cause extremes of weather—floods, droughts, wildfires, rising seas—to threaten the very civilization our children will inherit from us. We simply did not know.
But now we know. And knowing raises our responsibility. Today, no informed adult on this planet has any excuse for ignorance of this serious threat to our future, and our children’s future. It is way past time to take responsibility for our own actions that we’ve been putting off for decades. No more. The time has come and it is now.
There has been much talk but small action on phasing out fossil fuels by switching to renewable energy sources such as windmills and solar cells. Wind and solar are good options—though the wind doesn’t always blow and the sun doesn’t shine at night. My administration will place high priority on wind and solar power development.
In addition, however, I intend to focus new attention on an old, very dependable source of cheap electric power that has been right before our eyes all along—and we have been failing to recognize its enormous potential.
That source is our rivers. America is a land of beautiful rivers, mighty rivers, that forever flow. And unlike the wind and the sun, their flow never stops. A river’s constant powerful flow can easily be turned into cheap, dependable, abundant electricity.
Best of all, it can be done without huge dams backing up huge lakes so that water can fall down through generators. That obsolete model has served us well, but the very fact that rivers never stop flowing can be used to generate far more electric power than we’ve ever dreamed of. Here’s how.
My administration will initiate pilot projects across the nation to determine best ways to use horizontal tube turbines for generating electricity. A tube turbine is simply a small water-tight generator—smaller than a car—turned on its side, and secured inside a large protective metal tube that can be submerged just below the river’s surface.
The river’s current flows through the tube, turning a propeller which spins the turbine to generate a constant flow of electricity. Multiple tubes can be hooked together in series, one behind the other. The series is secured to the riverbank by a couple of long metal arms. The arms are hinged, so that the tube turbines can rise and fall with the river’s level in every stage from low water to flood.
Hitched in a series, a few dozen of these tubes can generate enough electricity to supply several hundred homes and farm operations. By multiplying them along unused river banks, these simple, cheap generators can replace whole power plants—and take over the job of providing electric power for America’s cities.
After initial construction, the only cost is maintenance. Large debris such as floating trees is turned aside by a deflector at the upstream end of each series. Small debris in the water flows right on through the turbine, and the turbine keeps right on turning, generating extremely low-cost power for the United States. There is no coal or natural gas to buy, ever. There is no nuclear waste to be somehow got rid of, ever. There isn’t even a costly heat exchanger like those few power plants that can use the earth’s geothermal heat.
There is only the flowing water—and the river keeps on rolling along, year after year.
My fellow Americans—just think! Our great nation has tens of thousands of miles of rivers—and every one of those rivers has two banks. At least ninety percent of those riverbanks are now wasted space—unusable and unused. But they are perfect for placement of tube turbines to generate plentiful, dependable, and cheap electricity.
Doing so will also enable sensible decentralization of our nation’s power grid. By generating electric power close to where we use it, we will reduce the need for costly, unsightly, high power lines across our landscape. Moreover, as existing power plants are retired, we won’t need to replace them. We won’t need big dirty power plants anymore.
Just think of the amount of electricity we can generate, throughout the American heartland alone, by putting to good use hundreds of miles along the banks of the Ohio, the Missouri and Mississippi rivers—not to mention the Wabash, the Tennessee, the Cumberland, the Kanawha. What large ever-flowing river is nearest your home?
Installing tube turbines along unused sections of the banks of our nation’s many rivers—those with year-round steady flow—has the potential to provide far more electricity than we are likely to need in this century. Our pilot projects will refine the numbers so we know exactly how many tube turbines are necessary to supply rural areas, towns and cities of various sizes. I have already directed that these pilot projects get underway.
This nationwide project—I call it the River Energy Initiative—will be far less difficult, and a lot cheaper, than when we created the Eisenhower Interstate Highway System. But it will be at least equal in its beneficial impact for the entire nation. And, I promise you, it will be but the first among hundreds of major new projects to properly, finally, update our nation’s aging infrastructure—including our interstate highway system.
The River Energy Initiative will create millions—yes, millions—of new good paying jobs right here in the USA. The new jobs will enable millions of struggling American families to lift themselves back up into middle class living where they should have been all along.
And that’s not all. Many of the riverside rights of ways where these tube turbines are installed can be turned into public parklands—natural areas suitable for hiking, biking, fishing and recreation—with scenic roads to facilitate maintenance of the turbines.
To get on with it, I shall within the coming week send to the Congress a bill creating the River Power Administration—a new federal agency responsible to install tube turbines along our national waterways, and maintain them forevermore. This agency will have full authority to contract with private companies for construction and maintenance, and the bidding rules will be very attractive to new, small and local private entrepreneurs.
Finally, it is my intention that this new source of electricity—easy to build, cheap to maintain, and operating with none—zero—of the cost required to operate power plants—shall usher in a new era in the home economics of living in the USA.
There is more. Within the next few days I shall ask the Congress to enact into law a firm assurance that electricity from the River Energy Initiative shall be available at no charge for the normal residential needs of every home—rural and urban—that has household income below the federally defined poverty level.
Regardless whether you own or rent your home, residential households will pay an electricity bill only when their aggregate household income is above the poverty level. Where there is a bill to pay, the bill will be reverse-graduated so that the less electricity you use, the less you pay per unit of electricity used.
Summing up, these measures will in one stroke provide incentives against excessive and unreasonable consumption of electric power; they will make our electricity cheaper and more dependable by decentralizing the nation’s entire generating system; they will establish an important component of economic rights for low income Americans; and a vast pool of new jobs will be created to build the system and maintain it.
Finally, I must mention how enormously this environmentally-friendly River Energy Initiative will help remove carbon pollution from our atmosphere—in fact, from the air around the whole world. It certainly will be the greenest project in American history.
* * *
…to be continued…
To enjoy details of how the new president converts these policy pronouncements into practical legislation, refer to POPULIST CORRECTIONS on this blog