PRUNING THE CORPORATE FOREST
The Corrupting Influence Of Under-Regulated Corporations On America ... And Thus The World
by Tarry Faster
"The money powers prey upon the nation in times of peace and conspire against it in times of adversity. It is more despotic than a monarchy, more insolent than autocracy, and more selfish than bureaucracy. It denounces as public enemies, all who question its methods or throw light upon its crimes. As a result of the war, corporations have been enthroned and an era of corruption in high places will follow, and the money powers of the country will endeavor to prolong it's reign by working upon the prejudices of the people until all wealth is aggregated in a few hands and the Republic is destroyed." ~Abraham Lincoln, commenting on the rise of the corporation during the Civil War, shortly before his death.
I was born on January 1, 1944, which makes me part of the advanced guard or leading edge of the Baby Boomers. The reason that I make this point is that I want it understood that my observance of the deterioration of America, as I perceive it, has been more by direct experience than by other outside influences.
I'm one who, in my youth during the very early fifties, remembers swimming in Lake Tahoe -- amazed at how clear the water was. I still can recall the subtle lost flavors of real butter, oranges, cream, avocados, tomatoes, clean air, and fresh, cold, sweet, brook-fed water bubbling right off the smooth rock and into my mouth. Spending days at trash-free beaches and how long it took to let the sun slowly warm my body into a glowing tan -- not the almost instant harsh, penetrating burn that one gets in a few minutes, today. I learned to read with Dick and Jane and remember the warm and secure feeling I had when the happy and caring policeman helped them across the street on their way to school. But most of all, I remember the overwhelming feeling of personal and communal power I absorbed during the days when John Kennedy held office.
I, along with my fellow/following Boomers, had survived the pent-up boredom of the fifties. Now, with J.F.K. -- our own youthful leader, at the helm of our updated ship of state, we were going to move the world into an amazing new era. We were going to -- using the security of the most powerful and righteous government on Earth -- spring-board us all the way to the Moon! With our Peace Corps, we were going to internationally level the playing field of life for all the less privileged. Our technology, good intentions and sheer, raw pent-up energy was going to move us into an amazing point in history. A fast new world of peace, prosperity, health, strength, democracy, freedom and wisdom -- the likes of which mankind had never dreamed, much less known.
Unfortunately, our Captain was too inexperienced, ill-informed and/or naive. Perhaps he was in too much of a hurry, just missed some of the clues to his impending shipwreck or most likely -- just ran out of time. Just consider the adversaries he so rapidly engaged -- the Federal Reserve, the Russians, the Republicans, J. Edgar Hoover, Fidel Castro, the Steel Industry, the Mafia, Jimmy Hoffa and the Labor Unions, the Good Ole' Boys and their bigots, Ike's foreboding Military-Industrial Complex AND the C.I.A.. With greater understanding and retrospection, it really seems pretty amazing that he lasted as long as he did. Among the myriad of conclusions which exist, it seems that as a nation we lost our direction, that sunny fall day in Dealy Plaza. As one of the millions who have asked millions of times -- what went wrong? I'm also part of the millions who are, to this day, asking of themselves -- what is STILL going wrong?
Often, when trying to identify a problem, my basic and initial instinct is to look for the source. If I can get a handle on where a problem comes from, then finding a solution is usually close-at-hand. Having been terribly caught up in all the enormous pent-up and then forcibly misdirected war energy that spewed forth from the sixties and is still fragmenting our country to this day, it has taken me quite a while to first identify and then seek a solution for what can be discerned to be the primary corrupting factor in the demise of America, today.
My initial and knee-jerk reaction was to blame the government. But the government is controlled by the politicians. So I looked at the politicians and rapidly found that, without a doubt, they were/are primarily controlled by the corporations. It was/is obvious that money/power from corporations has corrupted our political systems, just as surely as the people who control large corporations, are primarily responsible for the general destruction of our environment and culture!
Over and over again, while hoping to spot a political solution, I kept jumping to attention every time the news announced that the politicos were trying to put campaign finance reform on ANY agenda. Over and over again, nothing ever happened. Many years ago while Clinton was President, I watched a live television broadcast, in a garden in Maine, of Newt Gingrich and Bill Clinton agreeing to -- and shaking hands on -- an agreement to clean up the special interest groups and deal with campaign finance reform. It seemed that there might be a major shift! When there wasn't, I went back to looking for another larger solution; one that apparently had control of both the government AND the politicians.
In school, it was taught that there were several reasons the early settlers of this country left Europe. The reasons were for things like religious freedom, poverty, democratic and financial opportunity, etc. I don't recall anyone teaching that a primary reason that people left Europe was because of the overbearing power of the corporations, which seems to be the case. Apparently, this aspect of our heritage, like many, isn't broadcast too widely (if at all) through today's public yet legally government controlled, school systems.
When the founding fathers were creating the initial legal documents that we now use to operate this country, they realized the potential corruptive power of the corporations and wisely decided to allow the individual states to control them through their charters. Most of the states did a pretty good job of limiting the powers of the corporations. One that didn't, was Delaware. Delaware flung wide her legal doors for open charter to all the corporations. Thus to this day, in Delaware, corporations virtually and literally have no limits.
Interesting and popular word these days, "virtual," because that is what we are living with today -- virtual parasites! In 1886, the U.S. Supreme Court decreed that the corporations -- these virtual entities -- were to be given all of the rights that are granted an individual under the Constitution. In other words, the legal branch of our government allowed humans (notorious for their lack of perfection) to artificially create unlimited numbers of legal entities that not only have all of the rights of a human -- but also are endowed with eternal life, as well! The nasty side to this "virtual reality" is that these avatars are born with but one prime mandate -- profit -- and a profit motive that is super-charged by the stockholders demands for more after even MORE; regardless of the cost!
Over time, those of us who note such things, have come to watch as these artificial creatures, wielding enormous leverage over us mere mortals, have taken cruel advantage of almost all aspects of our lives. Using the corporation as a front, the deep-pocketed bankers, profit powered executives -- along with their army of lawyers -- have not only seized control of our politicians and monetary systems, but are now at the point of blatantly writing undisputed laws to their own liking.
Allow me to insert a reprint of a recent article by a couple of my heros:Corporations: Different Than You and Me By Russell Mokhiber and Robert Weissman Corporations are fundamentally different than you and me. That's a simple truth that Big Business leaders desperately hope the public will not perceive. It helps companies immeasurably that the law in the United States and in many other countries confers upon them the same rights as human beings. In the United States, this personhood treatment, established most importantly in a throwaway line in an 1886 Supreme Court decision, protects the corporate right to advertise (including the tobacco companies' right to market their deadly wares), corporations' ability to contribute monetarily to political campaigns, and interferes with regulators' facility inspection rights (via corporate rights against unreasonable search and seizure). But even more important than the legal protections gained by faux personhood status are the political, social and cultural benefits. Companies aggressively portray themselves as part of the community (every community), a friendly neighbor. If they succeed in that effort at self-characterization, they know what follows: a dramatically diminished likelihood of external constraints on their operations. If a corporation is part of the community, then it is entitled to the same freedoms available to others, and the same presumption of non-interference that society appropriately affords real people. Especially because corporations work so aggressively and intentionally to obscure the point, it is crucial to draw attention to the corporation as an institution with unique powers, motivations and attributes, and to point to the basic differences between human beings and the socially constituted and authorized institutions called corporations. Here are 10 differences between corporations and real people: 1. Corporations have perpetual life. 2. Corporations can be in two or more places at the same time. 3. Corporations cannot be jailed. 4. Corporations have no conscience or sense of shame. 5. Corporations have no sense of altruism, nor willingness to adjust their behavior to protect future generations. 6. Corporations pursue a single-minded goal, profit, and are typically legally prohibited from seeking other ends. 7. There are no limits, natural or otherwise, to corporations' potential size. 8. Because of their political power, they are able to define or at very least substantially affect, the civil and criminal regulations that define the boundaries of permissible behavior. Virtually no individual criminal has such abilities. 9. Corporations can combine with each other, into bigger and more powerful entities. 10. Corporations can divide themselves, shedding subsidiaries or affiliates that are controversial, have brought them negative publicity or pose liability threats. These unique attributes give corporations extraordinary power, and makes the challenge of checking their power all the more difficult. The institutions are much more powerful than individuals, which makes all the more frightening their single-minded profit maximizing efforts. Corporations have no conscience, or has been famously said, no soul. As a result, they exercise little self-restraint. Exacerbating the problem, because they have no conscience, many of the sanctions we impose on individuals - not just imprisonment, but the more important social norms of shame and community disapproval - have limited relevance to or impact on corporations. The fact that corporations are not like us, their very unique characteristics, makes crucially important the development of an array of controls on corporations. These include: precise limits on corporate behaviors (such as actively enforced environmental, consumer, worker safety regulations); limits on corporate size and power (through vigorous antitrust and pro-competition policy, including limits on the scope of intellectual property protections); restrictions and prohibitions on corporate political activity (including through comprehensive campaign finance reform); carefully tailored civil and criminal sanctions responsive to the particular traits of corporations including denying wrongdoing companies the ability to bid for government contracts; equity fines - fines paid in stock, not dollars; creative probation, with a court-appointed ombudsman given authority to order specific changes in corporate activities; and restrictions on corporations' ability to close or move facilities. There is also the permanent challenge of building countervailing centers of people power to balance concentrated corporate power: unions above all, plus consumer, environmental, indigenous rights and other civic groups, organized in conventional and novel formations. And there is the imperative of directly confronting the corporate claim to personhood and community neighbor status - both in the law and in the broader culture. This is the beginning of a sketch of an ambitious agenda, but there is no alternative, if democracy is to be rescued from the corporate hijackers who masquerade as everyday citizens. Russell Mokhiber is editor of the Washington, D.C.-based Corporate Crime Reporter. Robert Weissman is editor of the Washington, D.C.-based Multinational Monitor. They are co-authors of Corporate Predators: The Hunt for MegaProfits and the Attack on Democracy (Monroe, Maine: Common Courage Press, 1999). (c) Russell Mokhiber and Robert Weissman Focus on the Corporation is a weekly column written by Russell Mokhiber and Robert Weissman. Please feel free to forward the column to friends or repost the column on other lists. If you would like to post the column on a web site or publish it in print format, we ask that you first contact us (firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com). Focus on the Corporation is distributed to individuals on the listserve firstname.lastname@example.org. To subscribe to corp-focus, send an e-mail message to email@example.com with the text: subscribe Postings on corp-focus are limited to the columns. If you would like to comment on the columns, send a message to firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com.
As for the voting power of the masses -- this sad token to our democratic concept has been a joke among the majority of us for some time now. So far, one can only vote on what one is offered. Besides, the power of the people has been more than nominally compromised by an ignorance that is purposely foisted upon them by a corporate, politically controlled media complex. It seems that -- what we don't know, can (and very well may) destroy us! Additionally, the obvious manipulation of the 2000 presidential election through the Supreme Court has seriously deepened the growing distrust of not only the voting process but the entire legal system, as well. With the Bush family lead Republican Party's persistent destruction of our vital core democratic principals, -- as well as our tools for legal and political survival almost complete -- time is of the essence!
A COUPLE OF SOLUTIONS:
There has to be a Jugular Vein here somewhere, and the corporate charter seems to be it. But how do we re-charter the corporations? How do we bell the 600 pound Lion who is ruining the place? How do we even TALK about taming this raging and successful animal that now dominates the international economic market? How indeed, to even consider unbalancing this fine and wonderful cat of cats in full and murderous stride?
For several years, I considered, discussed, emailed, debated, chatted, argued, and researched the various aspects of developing a grass-roots movement to rapidly surprise the corporations (Blitzkrieg fashion) and ram a bill through all three branches before they knew what hit them. However, at this stage of the game, that type of "war" (on their turf) would be lost because basically -- they have more resources. For a graphic representation of the financial disparity between our government's resources and those of the business community, click here. Should a large group of well-heeled, pure intentioned, and very vocal citizens attempt a political/legal assault on Washington D.C. -- even without an unbiased media and a potent, brave and suicidally bent legal compound -- by utilizing the right-wing tactics of legal and political stalling techniques, our hardy band of patriots could end up eternally hammering on the outer political gates while we all turn into flashes of ashes.
Even the idea of simply inserting the word, "natural" before the word "person(s)"in the 14th Amendment of our Constitution, seems like a daunting and impossible task! Yet, there is a group that is working toward that very goal ---> Click here.
For a short period of time, I felt an impasse. Then, not being a lawyer but having the advantage of a layman's perspective, I started focusing on the other way law is changed -- by courtroom precedent. Taking a cue from the computer world, I started thinking of a legal, reverse engineering process. Why not reverse engineer a thorough violation of the law(s) that would invite a powerful and far-reaching court case? A court case that would end up forcing the corporations to re-charter in order to maintain their legality. A reverse engineered court case that, initially and very quietly, took place outside the glare of the media in a very minor courthouse somewhere out of the way in these United States of America. A court case so far reaching in its consequences and complexities that it would rapidly go directly to the U.S. Supreme Court (along w/some VERY timely, and VERY public, educational media bursts) to hopefully bring back, through public awareness and thus pressure, some of the lost essence that is so vital to this country's survival. Bring back and insure a future where freedom is continually expanding rather than contracting! (Est. cost=$3.5 million. Maybe less, depending on how much legal pro bono work is provided; a bargain to regain our democracy!)
NOTE: Consider the last paragraph as an appeal for active participation -- contact me for more details.
My consideration of this solution today, has to do with what a healthy, wholesome, responsible, and yes -- even profitable -- corporation should look like now, and in the future. Once we have the opportunity to "tune up" the corporations for high-speed running into this new and future centuries (The Iroquois made plans seven generations out!), what aspects -- besides the profit motive -- do we need to address?
Certainly the issue of which rights they can have under the Constitution should be paramount. Do we want artificial legal entities living forever -- would we not eventually end up with but one country/company/state? Could that already be the case? How, -- and even should -- an ethical corporation financially interface with the various governments/politicians around the world? Oh yes, the World! For be certain that, as goes Delaware -- so goes the World.
Considerable thought should be spent on this matter of profit. Perhaps, corporations should, for example, finally acknowledge, from their pools of profit, the debt that they incur when they use or abuse the human and natural resources (know as The Commons). And what about the lack of humanity in the corporate world these days? With the demise of the unions and human rights around the world, shouldn't we at least re-charter the corporations with some sense of morality, conscience, good will, and respect -- as well as a share of the profits -- for the individuals that make up the labor forces of the corporations of the World? And then there is the matter of corporate instigated WAR ...
Perhaps the wisest approach would be to just routinely and regularly require re-chartering reviews; much like getting a drivers license. We could then more readily modify the corporations' behaviors by simply restructuring their charters, since time and legislature often seems to beg for transformation. Besides, it would be nice to have THEM standing in OUR service line -- for a change!
*** IMPORTANT UPDATE -- WE LOST! ***
Watch Keith's video explanation, by clicking here.
SHOULD YOU STILL WANT TO GET INVOLVED AND BECOME ACTIVE --
click here and/or here and/or here, simply work to get the money out here... and/or at least click to get a free bumper sticker:
"I hope we shall crush in its birth the aristocracy of our monied corporations which dare already to challenge our government to a trial by strength, and bid defiance to the laws of our country." ~Thomas Jefferson
"Everything predicted by the enemies of banks, in the beginning, is now coming to pass. We are to be ruined now by the deluge of bank paper. It is cruel that such revolutions in private fortunes should be at the mercy of avaricious adventurers, who, instead of employing their capital, if any they have, in manufactures, commerce, and other useful pursuits, make it an instrument to burden all the interchanges of property with their swindling profits, profits which are the price of no useful industry of theirs." ~Thomas Jefferson letter to Thomas Cooper, 1814.
For a more in depth reading on this subject, read -- Unequal Protection by Thom Hartmann and/or Gangs of America: The Rise of Corporate Power and the Disabling of Democracy by Ted Nace
First posted in 1993 & last modified -- January 21, 2010Comments? Contact: terry at newnebula dot com