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Monday, April 16, 2012

Supreme Court is destroying U.S. democracy

Special to The Japan Times

NEW YORK — Last month, we witnessed the conservative majority of the U.S. Supreme Court resort to foolish sophism — what the Japanese call herikutsu (smelly gaseous logic). It would be hilarious were it not so serious for America and the world.

Justice Antonin Scalia, the intellectual leader of the conservative majority, equated a broccoli market with a health insurance market. He asked, "If the government can require Americans to buy health insurance, can it require them to buy broccoli?"

The issue is the limit of federal power. In a functioning democracy, government power is checked by Congress. No sane majority in Congress would let an extreme few pass a "broccoli purchase mandate." If Congress abandons reason and passes such a law, we should expect the reason and humanity of the Supreme Court to strike it down as unconstitutional. Unfortunately, what Scalia said shows the dictatorial tyranny of a prejudiced judiciary over a democratic Congress and president.

If you do not buy broccoli, you will not hurt, economically or emotionally, those broccoli-loving persons' consumption of broccoli. Nor could broccoli eaters force noneaters to pay for their consumption.

An insurance market is fundamentally different from a broccoli market. As the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank, has advocated for some time, the individual mandate of health insurance is the necessary individual responsibility of any democratic society. Otherwise, we would invite freeloaders to game the insurance system by trying to buy it only when they become ill.

To discourage such gaming, any insurance company would charge the subscribers exorbitant premiums and refuse to cover high-risk persons. This is exactly what American insurance companies have already done and left 50 million Americans uninsured. They have rejected individuals with "pre-existing conditions." They exploded government budget deficits and debased health care quality for the 99 percent of Americans.

Left free to dominate the market, a few monopolistic insurance companies emerge and abuse their power over markets. This is why other industrialized and democratic countries have long instituted government-administered, single-payer health insurance. They have known that they encourage social and income mobility of their society and improve the global competitiveness of their economy. Until now, the U.S. Supreme Court has recognized the federal government's responsibility for regulating interstate commerce and monopolies. Health insurance is an interstate commerce.

Historically it is not the first time that the Supreme Court majority has pandered to the irrational fear and greed of outside pressure groups. In 1835, it destroyed the Cherokee Nation in Georgia and banished tens of thousands of Cherokees on a "trail of tears" to a barren West. In 1942, it affirmed the relocation and internment of thousands of Americans of Japanese ancestry from the West Coast to the desolate interior. In January 2010, it ruled that corporations are "persons" who may exercise their right of "freedom of speech."

Big corporations and extremely wealthy individuals like the Koch brothers have since poured unrestricted amounts of money into political lobbying to bend national and state policies to their liking.

The democratic bedrock of "one person, one vote" has been destroyed and replaced by "one dollar, one vote."

From Wisconsin to Ohio, right-to-work laws have weakened private and public labor unions. The extremely wealthy have garnered over 23 percent of the national income and pay very little in taxes.

Separately, the National Rifle Association has spread to other states the example of Florida's notorious "stand your ground law," which recently enabled a Hispanic neighborhood watch captain to gun down an unarmed 17-year-old black youth.

The U.S. has ceased to be a beacon of democracy for the world.

Yoshi Tsurumi is a professor of International Business, Baruch College, CUNY, New York.

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