This is in response to Jeffry R. Fisher's piece about "Evil Corporations" (Port of Call, Feb.-March). What I'd like to do is clear up a number of ambiguities and misconceptions which the article leaves in its wake.
Fisher collapses the difference between "people" in the sense of commonplace workers (labor), and those that own corporations. According to him: "corporations are property owned by people". Well, yes and no.
True, people own them, but Fisher leaves unstated which class of people own the largest. I am talking about those with monetary heft able to purchase political influence in congress, and therefore trump the votes of the "little people" - in order to distinguish these from the big people, aka hotshots, that own mega-corporations. (For the purpose of this response, and to avoid confusion, I am excluding all small business, small corporations, S-corporations - and focusing entirely on those entities with vast political clout, and which receive billions in corporate welfare each year)
From here we go on to Fisher's claim that: "Because a corporation is not a human person, it can't vote".
But in a way, he's totally wrong. Corporations CAN vote - but not in the prosaic way of pushing a lever in a voting booth every two or four years. Rather, by using money as an indirect medium and lever to co-opt the political process. Corporations, such as the Big Pharma nexus, use tens of millions of dollars each year to purchase ads, as well as to lobby for their interests and essentially buy our representatives.
As an example, the odious and despicable Medicare legislation of 2003 was penned entirely by Big Pharma's lobbyists at the behest of former Rep. Billy Tauzin (LA). The most egregious part of the whole mess was a provision that prevented the government from bargaining for the lowest prices, like the VA does. This ensures an out of control price spiral, apart from being totally against "free market" principle its purveyors profess. (But then, the privateers' plan has always been to drive Medicare into insolvency!)
In a large and significant way, this piece of crap was "voted on" - but not in any normative way. It was done via money, perks (Tauzin is now a Pharma lobbyist himself earning millions a year) and high pressure. The floor vote was left open to all hours of the morning while Tauzin's hitmen pressured other congress critters to vote for it. In addition, the true projected cost was never given.
As for being "persons", while corporations are not HUMAN persons, they are corporate persons. The vehicle to do this was the 1886 Santa Clara decision of the Supreme Court to award corporations the rights of citizens, and extend to them special definitions as "persons" under the 14th Amendment.
This is the same one that established rights for emancipated slaves, and was specifically intended for that purpose. This legal bastardization of the meaning of 'person', in conjunction with the perversion of the 14th Amendment occurred despite the fact it countermanded any sensible definition, or interpretation. (Since practically every semi-conscious human knows that a corporation is a legal-business artifice not any flesh and blood 'person'.)
The egregious Santa Clara ruling, however, legally created an instant class of 'super-citizens' - and de facto 'super-persons'. Unlike the normal person-citizen, these were able to live forever, or as close to that sublime state as deregulating laws allowed. They could live in multiple places at once (branch offices), and even transmogrify themselves via mergers, etc. or 'amputate' themselves into smaller companies bearing the same overall identity, and run by a single interlocking directorate.
These 'corporate persons' were (over time) also able to access a host of special rights and privileges - not afforded ordinary flesh and blood citizens. These included: special tax-write offs, government and state subsidies, as well as deductions. (Like 'tax deferred benefits' packages for CEOs.) And, in the late 20th century, a generous form of government subsidy known as 'corporate welfare' which would extract, on average - by late 1999- $1,186 from each taxpayer to fund and underwrite corporate profits and projects. The amount today approaches $2,500 per person. The ostensible reason to 'create jobs', but of course this was a rank myth. (e.g. Opposing the System, by Charles Reich, Crown, 1995, p. 39)
In effect, the stage had been set for endemic and anomalous political and economic imbalance that was built into the very legal system, and manner of governance.
Fisher goes on to aver: "Corporations are not governments".
In a basic, generic sense, no, they are not governments like the federal government. He is correct here. But in a technical sense, they are - because they possess the power to usurp the rights that a citizen is supposed to have under his normal government. If they can do that - then they surely possess power equal to, if not surpassing, the regular government.
Let me give examples. The American worker - once he enters the hallowed halls of a corporation, is never alone. Subtle and not so subtle spy cameras follow him wherever he goes, including in restrooms. Special devices monitor his keystrokes on his computer, and also can pull up what is on his screen from any remote location. He has lost all autonomy and has become a mere cog or mechanism to fulfill the corporation's profit making mandate.
Privacy - which some astute people have argued is an un-enumerated right under the Ninth Amendment - goes out the window.
What's more, the employee forgoes all rights under the First Amendment, by which I mean free speech. In a 1994 decision, 'Waters vs. Churchill', the Supreme Court made clear: "that an employee's speech is not protected" if the Corporation perceives the speech "detracts from effective operations." Of course, this rubric can embrace a multitude of 'transgressions' or perceived ones. It's wide enough to drive a Mack truck through, metaphorically.
As an example of how extreme this can be, I knew of a co-worker in a corporation I once worked for, who was fired merely because his supervisor googled his name and found some upsetting usenet posts in alt.conspiracy.jfk.
This, of course, re-affirms the second-class citizen status of flesh and blood workers, vis-a-vis the 'corporate super-citizens' that (evidently) think they 'own' us. Clearly the unapologetic use of such fascist techniques is intended to remind workers everywhere that they possess no unique rights, and are indeed, second-class citizens.
And this puts the kibosh on Fisher's claim (p. 5) that "corporations can't invade my life the way governments can".
Oh yes, they can!
And don't think it's confined to your place of employment. In Malls and retail outlets, hidden cameras and videos record and capture your every move such as inside a retail store, or at an ATM, (or sipping that malt at an outdoor stand) while specially hired corporate spies perform 'observational research' on you outside - noting which stores you enter, for how long, and how much time you browse and at which aisles when you do.
But why are corporate spies tracking us through the Malls and in the aisles? The answer is to perfect consumer manipulation and the art of the 'Gruen Transfer' - the well known psychological phenomenon by which people can be rendered passive in ad-sales-marketing transactions and do on cue what subtle signals demand. These signals may be embedded in aromas released in the store, or images on a TV screen, or in political ads.
People smack themselves on the back, believing they are in control of their every move - but in reality they are walking, talking puppets of the corporations. Some friends I once had have been so taken over via the Gruen transfer, they no longer function as authentic humans - but as some cross between zombies and pod people (such as highlighted in the popular scfi-fi flick 'The Invasion of the Body Snatchers').
Little wonder that in this pod-zombie condition, most people are not very outraged by the exorbitant influence corporations have on our lives, or the extent to which the politicians dance to their tunes. (Perhaps why in Barbados, where I lived for 20 years, any corporate agent convicted of giving money to a politician can face fifteen years of hard labor.)
Because of the extent to which huge corporations have insinuated themselves into the very civic fabric of the country, I no longer call this nation a democracy - but corporatocracy. Indeed, I was the one that first coined this term in a 1990 paper entitled 'Elements of the Corporatocracy' in which I examined all aspects of how it came to be.
One of the aspects I investigated in depth was the rise of the corporate security state. With enormous leaps in worker (union) power, culminating in the achievement of the 40-hour week in the 1940s, the Corporate State began to feel itself under siege. Somehow a means had to be found to dilute the power of unions - and, if possible, eliminate them entirely.
Unions largely were for the goal of representing the person and workers' rights, to prevent child labor, to make sure working conditions and remuneration were reasonable, and the work site as free from harmful and deleterious conditions as feasible. The trouble was that all such concessions were overly costly to the corporate state. In actual fact, the appearance of unionization threatened to level the playing field of capital, and make a more equal ownership possible, between corporate 'super-persons' and ordinary flesh and blood persons.
This equalization of capital ownership was something the corporations couldn't tolerate. They didn't want to shrink the working week to 40 hours, for example, because that would inflate the cost of their capital. They'd need to hire more workers, at the same or higher wages, to maintain the same production levels - thereby lowering available capital.
In these vehicles, the dilution of capital threatened the corporation's hegemony and existence. (In its own perceptions.) With this in mind, programs and strategies began to unfold that thwarted the aims and progress of unions. But a security apparatus had to first be formed that would accomplish several objectives:
1)Track and monitor all union and/or anti-corporate activity
2)Maintain dossiers on all individual workers - particularly union members and sympathizers
3)Implement a unified strategy to penalize these individuals, by excluding them from the workforce.
To accomplish these goals, the American Security Council (ASC) was formed. As a (much later) article in The Washington Post (1/8/79, p C1.) observed: "It has been called 'The Cold War Campus' and 'The Heart of the Military-Industrial Complex'".
The origins of the ASC begin almost at the apex of Trade Union power in the United States, after Army and business surveillance of workers became linked in common cause. As noted by author Russ Bellant (Old Nazis, The New Right and the Republican Party, 1991, South End Press): "The ASC began in Chicago in 1955, staffed primarily by former FBI agents. In its first year it was called the Mid-American Research Library. Corporations joined to take advantage of what former FBI agent William Turner described as '...a dossier system modeled after the FBI's, which was intended to weed out employees and prospective employees deemed disloyal to the free enterprise system.'"
And further (op. cit., p.33): "Although the ASC began as an anti-labor operation with support from Sears, and other businesses, it soon became involved in foreign policy issues. It co-sponsored a series of annual meetings from 1955 to 1961 called National Military-Industrial Conferences in which elements of the Pentagon, National Security Council, and organizations linked to the CIA discussed cold war strategy with leaders of many large corporations, such as United Fruit, Standard Oil, Honeywell, U.S. Steel, and of course, Sears Roebuck."
The significance is that - for the first time - the Corporatocracy expanded its influence, now absorbing intelligence and military interests, as well as banking and government. This was, in fact, the embryonic form of the current Corporatocracy - which differs only in the degree of interconnections, as well as concentration of wealth and resources - including human resources.
All of the above is intended to unveil a background that refutes Fisher's innocuous portrayal of corporations as mere business vehicles. They aren't, they are themselves bulwarks and agents of proto-fascism. They are dedicated to undermining citizen rights at every turn and replacing them with a principle of corporate paramountcy.
Fisher claims (ibid.) that "leftists want the destruction of any corporation making a profit." This is emphatically not true. Rather, what we want is regulated oversight of any corporate entity that makes excess profits. By which I mean that it's profits outpace its liabilities by a factor of ten or more. In this case, one must consider a nationalization of a portion of said corporation. Look no further than oil companies, one of which I used to work for in the late 60s.
Corporations are NOT merely innocuous economic constructs operating from some indifferent legal contract. Large corporations represent the largest, most formidable threat to representative democracy in our history. People who paper over their threat will one day wake up to find themselves in their thrall.
To that end, let us never forget the words of Thomas Jefferson - no "leftist" by any stretch: "I hope we shall crush in its birth the aristocracy of our moneyed corporations, which dare already to challenge our government to a trial of strength and bid defiance to the laws of the country."
For additional reading:
Jensen, J.M.: Army Surveillance in America: 1775-1980, Chapter 7: Watching the Workers, Yale University Press, 1991.
TIME Magazine, Special Issue on Corporate Welfare, November 9, 1998
Livingstone, James: The Origins of the Federal Reserve System: Money, Class and Corporate Capitalism, 1890-1913', Cornell University Press, 1986.