Archive for March, 2009

Corporations Ain’t People, People!

Tuesday, March 24th, 2009

   For almost 150 years, business corporations have enjoyed all the human rights accorded to actual humans under our Bill of Rights. Unlike flesh-and-blood people, corporations are a creation of government and finance, conceived in couplings that are consummated without love or passion. Superhuman in size and power, corporations exercise their freedoms without regard to the welfare of people, who are always at a disadvantage in any contest. Individuals opposing corporate policies, for example, engaging in protected speech under the First Amendment, will invariably be shouted down by corporations acting under the same protections.

   When we consider that corporations exist so that their owners can make money without taking on personal liability, we are forced to concede that they will use their freedoms to turn a profit, even if the rights of humans are infringed in the process. It is a fact of life that one party’s right creates another party’s obligation. Free of moral constraints, corporations will push their rights to their logical limits. In fact, if they fail to push and instead attempt to accommodate the rights of men, they will be taken to task by their owners and devalued in the marketplace. When challenged, they will pull out their huge bankrolls and deploy waves of human agents, broadcasting their positions, buying political influence, and manipulating courts of law to insure that they prevail. As they do, just about every time.

   Take the case of Cordova, Alaska. Twenty years ago this week, a ship carrying crude oil for the Exxon Corporation ran aground and broke up off the beach of this fishing city, destroying its economy and fouling the natural environment for hundreds of miles in every direction. If the vessel had been equipped with a double hull–a requirement that had long been advocated by experts concerned that such a spill was likely–the accident would have been without significant consequence. Because of the influence of corporations over public policy–people are inevitably outgunned when a big company unleashes its public relations arsenal–the USA had no double-hull requirement, and tens of thousands of humans were ruined. The company’s lawyers also beat the aggrieved Alaskans in federal court, screwing them out of billions in damages that a jury of men and women had awarded them. As for Prince William Sound and the area surrounding it, where the spill happened, it is polluted to this day and may never recover.

   More recently, corporations have pressed a corrupt US president and Congress

  • to deprive Americans of a functioning health care system in favor of a for-profit lottery that impoverishes millions every year
  • to relax controls on polluting emissions, pushing the balance of nature to the brink of catastrophe
  • to undo the reforms enacted following the Crash of 1929, resulting in the devastation of the national economy

An exhaustive list of abuses attributable to the “personhood” of corporations under the Constitution would run to thousands of pages.

   It was a line of cases beginning in 1864 in the U. S. Supreme Court–a notorious assembly of reckless, narrow-minded judges whose pro-slavery decisions had paved the way for civil war–that made us all subservient to corporate power. As a consequence, we humans have no recourse but to amend our charter, and we ought to enact a 28th Amendment to our constitution right now. It would remove the protections of the Bill of Rights from business corporations and other for-profit organizations that limit the personal liability of owners and members.

   Constitutional freedoms would be reserved for those who bear legal and moral responsibility for their acts and obligations–the people–and curtailed for those that accumulate vast treasuries to exploit and oppress without personal accountability. The amendment might even provide for capital punishment of felonious conduct, requiring the confiscation or dissolution and liquidation of organizations whose misdeeds cause widespread human suffering.

   Such an amendment would change the commercial landscape considerably, but most of the pain would be suffered by the biggest owners, the richest of the rich. They will tell you that jobs will be lost, but they’re shutting down operations now, to preserve and consolidate their wealth while the value of their holdings reaches some sort of stable equilibrium, and there’s no better time than now to apply some restrictions to them. And don’t be taken in by the pronouncements of Barack Obama and Barney Frank and NPR that we’re all in this together and must keep the current system going at all costs. If these timid apologists have their way, your meager wealth will be degraded further to enrich the tiny minority that owns this system. A class war is now in progress, and the people are losing. Call your representative and senators. Organize your neighborhood and workplace to amend the Constitution and save the republic.

Denial as National Defense

Thursday, March 19th, 2009

I heard a conversation on the radio with two well-known local newspaper reporters who’d been laid off. The interview turned to the imminent demise of newspapers across the country, and the host and guests reached consensus that the Internet and cabl e television are to blame. There’s no point in paying for a paper when you can get the news electronically, they agreed.It was a call-in, and a listener suggested that newspapers are failing, not because of other media, but because they no longer dispense true facts, instead pandering to readers and advertisers with gossip and other diversions, censoring out anything that might alienate the audience. The host didn’t give the reporters a chance to respond, but they would probably have denied the listener’s accusation.

They should have responded by talking about what doesn’t get mentioned in the news. Facts like the number of foreigners killed by our soldiers, the dishonesty and cowardice of our leaders, the fragility of our economy, the proliferation of injustice, the staggering volume of waste, fraud and abuse in commerce and public administration, the degradation of values and standards, and the corruption of journalism that has allowed all this to flourish in the shadows.

News-mongers have discovered that audiences turn away when inconvenient truths slip into their reports, and so they edit them out. It’s a clear case of news so bad it can’t be reported. If that seems self-contradictory and illogical, it’s part of a pattern of unreason that has infiltrated our social institutions. We have crimes so heinous you can’t punish them. Wars so futile you can’t stop fighting them. Failure so catastrophic you can’t acknowledge it.

Sigmund Freud had a term for this, and it’s become part of our daily discourse: Denial. To spare the reasoning mind a measure of trauma, neurotic people have the abililty to deny reality. Often enough, they do it in vast numbers. In the USA, we have been denying sudden climate change for a generation, even as its effects became manifest. This summer, as a result, there will be less ice over the Arctic than ever before in human history, a potentially catastrophic condition. We could have recognized the damage we were doing while there was still time to reverse it, but it would have required a painful transformation of our way of life, and so we denied instead, and the media facilitated. Even when denial is lethal, it affords temporary refuge.

If the news media were an instrument of mass denial, you would expect them not to worry much about competition from truth-tellers. In fact, they don’t. Take the “debate” over health care that is supposedly taking place right now. Whether it’s on network TV or printed in the newspaper, the discussion invariably excludes government health insurance, favored by the public and in use in most of the rest of the industrialized world. To discuss it would be to acknowledge a government so corrupt that it would favor private enterprise–in this case, the insurance industry–over public health. Citizens are discussing government health insurance–Medicare for all–but the media are turning away from those discussions to accommodate denying audiences. Reasoning minds are cancelling subscriptions.

The demise of newspapers and journalism is mainly attributable to the abandonment of truth and reason by journalists. They have been cheerleaders for the glories of war and the wonders of wealth, editing out all contrary views. Thinking people don’t credit them anymore. The embedded mass media consider us idiots, and we feel the same way about them. We know what happens when a nation abandons reason and hides in denial and fantasy. It’s the same thing that happens when an individual does it. Failure. Destruction.

Common Sense Econ

Friday, March 6th, 2009

I hear from every quarter the proud proclamation that the world continues to have faith in the credit of the USA, current events notwithstanding. Compared with all the other currencies of the world, the dollar’s still the one everybody wants to own, and the US Treasury is still the safest place on earth to stash money. It may not be as secure as we’d like it to be, but it’s still safer than any other depository. This is what economists mean when they say the fundamentals of the economy are sound. Stuck in two long, costly wars, broke from crippling tax cuts, workers in hock up to their ears, the government, banking on the popularity of the dollar, is determined to get us all more credit. They print the dollars, and they assure us that the world still wants them.

I remember when the same thing was being said about real estate, shares of GM, and collateralized debt obligations. Values were on the rise across the board, and the condition of unlimited growth was predicted to continue indefinitely. Never mind that unregulated growth tends to be explosive and even cancerous. Never mind that most of the economic activity was fueled by debt. Never mind that financial high rollers were reliving the 1920’s, even to the point of changing the laws to accommodate novel forms of speculation. Never mind the gnawing you felt at your innards telling you it was a bubble and had to bust. Like the courtiers of Oz, opinion leaders in government and the media told you to quit your bellyaching and pay no attention to your misgivings. It wasn’t until the bubble exploded that the disinformers began to come down from their long, expensive binge.

Don’t be surprised if you start getting that gnawing feeling again, especially when you hear an “expert” on economics boast about the strength of the U.S. Treasury and the invincibility of the dollar. The expert will usually turn out to be from the same crowd that bit on the last big scam. That gnawing you feel is common sense. Economics, an altogether theoretical explanation of how property gets allocated, should yield to common sense. But the economic experts–mouthpieces for the beneficiaries of the current system–will never let that happen. Look at the contradictions.

Economics tells us that some enterprises are too big to fail. Common sense tells us that things fail all the time. Huge numbers of workers were displaced when the asbestos industry shut down. A hundred and some years ago, people in my city wondered how they would be able to go on without a vital buggy-whip industry, not to mention the horseshoe nail factory, which sits empty to this day. Old organisms die to leave room for their offspring. It’s a law of nature, and it’s common-sense economics. Asbestos mining, slavery, typewriter manufacturing, ivory, all gone. All replaced with updated, better-adapted institutions.

Economics says the economy suffered big losses when the stock market went down. Common sense tells us that the losses simply erased big gains. That’s the way gambling works, and common sense tells us that investors are gamblers. Economics says risk is good and we have to subsidize it. Common sense says it isn’t risk if government underwrites the losses.

Economics says we all make the decisions that decide our fate. Common sense says the tiny minority that controls most of the wealth makes the key decisions and those folks always make the choices that will increase their wealth. Economics says that money is lost when values decline. Common sense tells us that the value is out there, in the form of mansions, limos, gold mines, land, oil wells, and about 90% of everything else, now possessed by a tiny, corrupt minority of the world’s people. Common sense also tells us that we can seize it if we choose. Economics says if we seize property from its corrupt owners, the house of cards will collapse and we’ll all starve. Common sense says we have no choice. Along with the world’s material wealth, these folks hold our markers, and we can’t pay them.

Economics claims to be science. Common sense says that if it’s science, it should have predicted what’s happened to the world. Maybe it’s not science at all, but religion. A set of beliefs that must be taken on faith and that are designed to maintain the current balance of power and disposition of resources. Common sense and scientific sensibility tell us that a corrupt system like this one will be subject to chronic malfunctions. We ought to replace it with something that works, sooner rather than later, before the world, in defiance of the experts, starts dumping dollars and the creditors come pounding on your door and mine.