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|Floogeldy (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore||Wed Dec-21-05 11:57 PM
Or fuck not. Your choice.
"Of The Corporations
"...This nation shall have a new birth of freedom, and that government of the people, by the people, for the people shall not perish from the earth."--Abraham Lincoln, the Gettysburg Address, November 19, 1863
When President Lincoln spoke those words, The American Revolution was still a recent memory. In the documents that defined our nation, the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution, you can find many references to this government "of the people". Unfortunately, these days "the people" is much more General Electric and much less general public.
Part of the reason for emphasizing the supremacy of the people lies in the very nature of our revolt. We were rising up against the King of England, but we were also rising up against the unrestrained corporate powers of the time. Corporations were few in number in the 18th century, but the power they held over the politics of the day was as dominating as today. The English kings used corporations like the Massachusetts Bay Company, the Hudson Bay Company, and the British East India Company to exert remote influence over the affairs of the colonies. In fact, the Boston Tea Party we so cherish was a revolt against duties imposed by the British East India Company.
After the success of the Boston Tea Party, the people of the American colonies began to realize that with solidarity came power. The power of the people became enshrined in the Constitution, beginning with those monumental first three words, "We the People..." The Constitution made clear the power of the people, enumerating only limited powers to the government, and the Bill of Rights defined the sacrosanct rights of the people and further declared that powers not granted to the government were reserved to the people.
Up to the time of Lincoln, power of the corporations was limited. People remained suspicious of unchecked corporate power. Limits were placed on how big corporations could become. Corporations could not participate whatsoever in the political process. Only the individual states could charter a corporation, not the federal government, so corporations could not escape close scrutiny. Corporations could not buy stock in other corporations. Moreover, the state governments quickly put down corporations that skirted the rules or gained too much power. Truly, the people retained the power in this country and the corporations were held accountable.
Corporations began to rise above the power of the people during the Civil War. Their power grew enormously through wartime contracts and widespread corruption. Corporations were able to bribe lawmakers and slowly but surely get laws rewritten in their favor. President Lincoln recognized the warning signs and wrote,
"...Corporations have been enthroned.... An era of corruption in high places will follow and the money power will endeavor to prolong its reign by working on the prejudices of the people... until wealth is aggregated in a few hands... and the republic is destroyed." President Lincoln.
Lincoln's warning went unnoticed as judges granted small legal victories to corporations in hundreds of cases. The corporations accreted legal rights they never had before. The states could not revoke their charters. The states could not limit their profit. Almost all legislative power over the corporation faded and the only recourse that remained was through an increasingly pro-corporate judicial system.
However, the watershed moment in the power of corporations came with the Supreme Court's 1886 decision in Santa Clara County vs. Southern Pacific Railroad. In that case, the court decided that a corporation was a person under the Constitution, and thereby blessed with the First Amendment rights to freedom of speech, Fifth Amendment rights against self-incrimination, and worst of all, a right to participate in our political process. Corporations now had the same rights as you and me, except they have far more wealth and assets than you and me and hundreds of lawyers and lobbyists on their payroll.
Since that decision, America has increasingly become a nation of the corporations, by the corporations, for the corporations. Over half of the world's largest economies are corporations, not countries. Corporations control the food we eat, air we breathe, water we drink, the news media, and increasingly, our federal government.
One momentary lapse in the rise of corporate power came during the 1930's. After unchecked corporate power led to the Great Depression, popular support allowed President Roosevelt to usher in the New Deal, once again returning some power to the people. It was the birth of Social Security, workplace safety regulations, and organized labor. It wasn't an attempt to kill the corporations, but rather provide some small safety net for the people and small checks and balances against the corporations.
During and after World War II the so-called military-industrial complex that President Eisenhower warned us about further consolidated its power (notice a trend about increasing corporate power during warfare?) Corporations became multinational; they merged and metamorphosed into the worldwide behemoths we know today.
Another small lapse in the rise of corporate power came once again through the popular support of the people. During the 1970's an ecological awakening led to the formation of the Environmental Protection Agency during the Nixon Administration. The people decided that corporations should be restrained from polluting our air, water, and food in the name of profit.
Other than those two lapses, however, the America has been a corporate-ruled state. Corporations contribute huge amounts of money to political campaigns. Corporate lobbyists have more of your representative's attention than you do. Corporate officers leave their corporate boards to work in the government, often in the very departments charged with regulating their own industry. After leaving government, those officers-cum-bureaucrats return to their boards or to lobbying the departments they just left.
While this has been a fact of American politics for over 130 years, only during the Bush Administration has the corporate-government nexus been so shamelessly exposed. The ultimate goal of this administration is to fight for the power of the corporations against the 20th century roadblocks of the New Deal and the environmental movement.
The most recent example of corporate favor comes in the bankruptcy reform bill flying through the Congress. The bill guts most of the protections of bankruptcy for your average consumer by imposing harsh tests and limitations, and grants much more power to the corporations to recoup assets of debtors. The administration argues that they are closing the loopholes that lead to massive abuse of the system.
The truth is that most personal bankruptcies occur due to medical emergencies, job loss, or divorce, and that there is little abuse at the personal level. The mass of bankruptcy abuse occurs when the wealthy or the corporations file for bankruptcy, exploiting loopholes to shield their wealth and assets from repossession (something Bush learned plenty about when he was bankrupting oil businesses). The bankruptcy bill specifically avoids closing these loopholes, though. Furthermore, attempts by Democratic legislators to add amendments raising the minimum wage or providing exceptions for medical emergencies or military deployments were voted down by the Republican majority.
Bush continues to push for more "reforms" designed to line the pockets of his corporate benefactors. His Social Security privatization plan seeks to funnel billions of dollars from the most successful piece of New Deal legislation into the coffers of Wall Street brokerage firms. Like the phony crisis of Iraqi WMD's, Bush is inventing a crisis in Social Security where there is none, attempting to scare the people into supporting this "reform". Thankfully, enough seniors alive today recall the last era of unrestrained corporate greed and the Great Depression it unleashed.
Another assault on the rights of people to seek redress of the corporations came in the form of Bush's tort reform efforts. By signing a bill that reduces the people's power to bring class-action suits against negligent corporations, Bush claimed to be addressing a crisis of "frivolous" lawsuits--yet another one of Bush's phony crises, considering that such lawsuits only account for one-half to two percent of healthcare costs. In truth, Bush was protecting companies whose misdeeds created death and misery among the people. For example, specific wording in the bill exempted Halliburton from asbestos claims resulting from the fall of the Twin Towers on 9/11, when the government lied about air quality levels just days after the disaster and unprotected workers went in to clean up.
Speaking of Former CEO/Vice President Cheney's Halliburton, that company has been an enormous beneficiary of exclusive no-bid contracts for reconstruction in Iraq. The Pentagon is currently investigating the firm for widespread fraud and abuse in overcharging the government and falsifying records of services provided. In one instance, it was found that Halliburton charged millions for meals provided to our soldiers--meals that were never delivered or eaten.
Then there is Vice President Cheney's infamous Energy Task Force meeting, held in secret with the leaders of corporate energy companies. The Vice President has refused to release to Congress the details of these meetings, even the names of those who attended, choosing instead to invoke a non-existent "executive privilege" to allow corporations to construct our energy policy.
Bush also continues to push for environmental policies that will enrich the corporations. He refused to sign on to the Kyoto protocols that would limit the emission of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, a leading cause of global warming. He sought to reclassify carbon dioxide and deregulate mercury to allow production of more of these toxins. These pollutants are produced in great volume in oil and gas drilling and coal burning. While 43 states have warnings about eating fresh fish due to the high concentrations of poisonous mercury, and while eight percent of women of childbearing age show levels of mercury in their bloodstreams above the safe limit recognized by the EPA, Bush throws yet another bone to the energy industry.
Furthermore, Bush is proposing a cap of $250,000 on non-economic damages in suits against negligent doctors, hospitals, nursing homes, HMO's, drug companies, and other health-care providers. A quarter-million dollars sounds like a lot of money to you and me, but to a multi-billion dollar corporation, it is another small entry on the balance sheet. Rather than being deterred by large punitive jury awards, corporations can now run cost/benefit analysis to determine whether they should fix a problem that is killing or maiming people (e.g., if it costs fifty million dollars to fix a defective widget, it is cheaper to let two hundred people die than fix the widget.) Moreover, despite the fact that only 5% of the nation's doctors are responsible for more than half of malpractice payouts, nothing is being done to weed out the bad doctors. The answer instead is to wreck the whole system against the people in favor of the large corporations and the wealthy.
The pharmaceutical industry gets its payback in the form of Bush's Medicare Prescription Drug plan. The plan allows corporations to cut back extensively on the amount of funding they provide to match the government's coverage of seniors. In addition, seniors are required to "lock-in" with one particular plan, and the corporate holders of that plan are not restricted from raising prices during that year or dropping the seniors altogether. Another bone to the industry came when Bush blocked the importation of cheaper, safe, and reliable medicines from Canada (a government that still considers the people worthy of protection and representation).
Another payback to Big Pharma comes in the continued war on medical marijuana states. The people of ten states have used their legislatures or their initiative processes to decide that marijuana is a safe, effective treatment for various ailments. But rather than accede to the will of the people and the usual darling of conservative thinking known as "states rights", the federal government has taken to raiding legal state-approved marijuana dispensaries, illegally using taxpayer money to campaign against pro-marijuana initiatives, and continuing to impose harsh mandatory minimum sentencing against even the lowest-level marijuana offenders. Certainly, the makers of various anti-depressant, anti-nausea, anti-inflammatory, anti-spasticity, and anti-glaucoma medicines do not want to compete with a natural remedy grown for free.
One of the most glaring examples of the fox guarding the henhouse comes within the Food & Drug Administration. This agency, which is charged with monitoring the safety and efficacy of our prescription drugs, gets funding from the drug companies themselves when it comes time to test these drugs. That's right, when the FDA is considering approval of such killers as Vioxx and Celebrex, the testing of those drugs is funded by the makers of Vioxx and Celebrex.
You would think that you would hear more about these sorts of scandals on your evening news. Unfortunately, the news itself is just another arm of massive corporate interests. Against the wishes of the majority of the people, Bush's Federal Communications Commission relaxed rules on media consolidation, allowing just a few multinationals to own most of the television, radio, and print media. What news corporation is going to report unfavorably on the very excesses that are boosting its bottom line?
Even though corporations are receiving the lion's share of attention and support from our government, Bush felt that was not enough and last October signed bills cutting the taxes of these corporations by $136 billion. These corporations already benefited greatly from lax oversight, their officers in positions of government power, and offshore tax havens and creative accounting tricks a la Enron, WorldCom, etc. However, Bush felt they were still too burdened by federal taxes, despite the fact that in the 1950's, corporate taxation accounted for almost a third of federal revenue, but now account for less than 7.5%. Between 2001 and 2003, almost one third of all corporations paid no income tax at all! In the 1960's, the CEO's of these corporations made forty times what the average worker made, this decade the range has been 300 to 500 times the average worker's salary.
And who is protecting that American worker? Why, it's Bush's Department of Labor, which has put forth new regulations regarding overtime pay, making it harder for the average worker to get that time-and-a-half pay for giving more of his precious family and free time to the corporation. It is bad enough that the government is undermining this vital New Deal protection, but worse still is the fact that the department published guidelines for corporations on how to navigate most effectively the new rules to best lower their labor costs and fatten the bottom line.
It is probably too late to undo the disastrous effects of the 1886 Santa Clara decision. But is it too much to ask a government of the people, by the people, and for the people to at least pretend that the welfare of the human people matters as much as the welfare of the corporate "people"? Could we, at the very least, have assurance that we can retire above the poverty line, that companies can't maim or kill us with impunity, that we get paid a fair wage and have a little time off, and that our air, water, food, and drugs won't poison us?
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