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"American society is disproportionately shaped by the outlooks, interests and aims of the business community, especially that of 'big business.' The sheer power of corporate capital is extraordinary. This power makes it difficult even to imagine what a free and democratic society would look like if there were public accountability mechanisms that alleviated the vast disparities in resources, wealth and income, owing in part to the vast influence of big business on the U.S. government and its legal institutions."
-- Cornell West, "The Role of Law in Progressive Politics," in
The Politics of Law 468, 468-469 (David Kairys ed. 1990).
This corporate power has emasculated American liberalism, claims Ward Morehouse, co-founder of the Program on Corporations, Law and Democracy (POCLAD). It has transformed America into a profoundly conservative culture which worships at the altar of "economic growth." Anyone questioning this sacred cow, which is -- by any definition -- unsustainable, is marginalized.
Partner Richard Grossman asserts that our language, and thus our way of thinking, has been "corporatized" by corporate hirelings trained to use language as "a manipulative, diversionary, coercive, and distortive mechanism." We act like the colonized people described by anthropologists, he said: "It's the best we can get; don't rock the boat; this is the way it's always been." This has created what Morehouse calls the "TINA" phenomenon -- the belief that "There Is No Alternative." It is this idea, the internal co-option by the corporate vision, that is the greatest obstacle to confronting corporate power, not the power itself. The challenge is to examine our relationship with corporations, to determine how we have been affected, and to free ourselves. What would it be like to be a free, self-governing people? What do we really want in a society?
Grossman suggests we start by expunging the following phrases from our vocabularies:
- "Corporate responsibility" -- an irrelevant term, says Grossman. A corporation should either do what it is chartered to do or be dissolved. It is not chartered to "bastardize the democratic process, shape public debate, manipulate our language and values, or pit communities against one another."
- "Corporate accountability" -- Elected officials are, theoretically, accountable to the people who elect them -- but to whom are corporations accountable? Corporations are chartered by states, which represent the sovereign people; technically they are accountable to "we, the people." "We should not have to fight a revolution to dissolve a corporation that has exceeded its authority and caused massive harm," said Grossman. We fought that revolution in 1776. But we have forgotten who we are, and it may take another revolution to restore our rights.
- "Corporate citizen" -- A corporation is a legal fiction with neither the responsibilities nor the rights of a citizen.
- "Corporate America" -- America represents a lot of things, and while there has always been a gap between ideals and reality, the ideals hold. We are a sovereign people governed by the constitution. America is the people, not corporations.
Self-governance/Corporate anthropologist, Jane Ann Morris, also with POCLAD, provided an overview of what self-governance entails and how this area has been colonized by corporations.
- Access to unprejudiced information.
Corporations control research centers, universities and think tanks, influencing what research will be done and how. They provide "free" information to schools. The new term "infomercial" recognizes that advertising is now being promoted as "information." Corporations control information about their operations. At one time, states, stockholders, and sometimes even the public had access to corporate books. It rarely occurs to anyone to ask these days. (A shareholder in a dairy cooperative tried a few years ago, going all the way to the Supreme Court -- she lost. And that was a cooperative.)
- Ability to collect opinions about information.
Corporations create and manipulate opinion though advertising and the influence that gives them on programming. They take control of public debates by defining not only their own position, but that of their opponents, marginalizing the latter by defining it as ridiculous.
- A forum wherein people deliberate issues and make decisions without undue influence.
Corporations take control of this arena as well via the tremendous influence they exert on the legislative process via PACs. They not only lean on legislators, they help write the laws. When things don't go their way, they withdraw support and can use a PR blitz against the offending legislator. (Former Sen. Udall, when blitzed by the mining industry for trying to reform the 1872 Mining Act, remarked, "I didn't see the light, but I sure did feel the heat.")
This last stage is the one arena left to the people -- in regulatory battles and the courts. Corporate power has sometimes been halted or restricted through these means -- at great cost of time, money and energy, of which they have a great deal more than their opponents. But even that effectiveness is being eroded by corporate influence on the regulatory agencies and the push to deregulation. They want it all. Morris discovered this in a battle over a nuclear plant in Texas, which she documents in her book, Not in Anybody's Backyard.
"The real learning," she said, "occurred after the book was written." She had chronicled what she thought was a unique event -- they had organized, followed the rules, done the research, testified (in three-minute testimonies on small points). Right clearly appeared to be on their side - and they lost. Instead, she found her story duplicated many times in many places across the country. The purpose of regulatory agencies is to determine how to grant a permit to build or mine or cut, not how to prevent it. The battles of Warner Creek, the Umpqua and Hyundai stand in testimony.
Corporate spokespeople speak out of both sides of their mouths regarding regulatory protections -- on the one hand, they assure us the laws are "more than sufficient" to protect workers, consumers and the environment; on the other, they rail at the restrictions and work constantly to undermine them. Morehouse reported that when a huge Formosa Plastics Corporation PVC facility was dumping highly toxic wastes into the Gulf of Mexico, and he contacted the EPA to demand action, officials admitted they knew what was happening, but informed him that "enforcement is discretionary."