The Supreme Court and You
As you know, yesterday the Supreme Court shredded campaign finance laws and lifted corporate spending restrictions. The reasons I believe everyone should be concerned about this dramatic act, the latest in a very long and continuing pattern, are best described by two people I respect: Robert F. Kennedy Jr. and Jerry Mander, author of The Four Arguments for the Elimination of Television, In the Absence of the Sacred and A Case Against Globalization.
First see what Kennedy feels takes place when when government is controlled by corporations. This is followed by Jerry Mander with a stunning exploration of what a corporation is and why it cannot be treated as a human being, which was the leading argument in yesterday’s Supreme Court decision.
Robert F. Kennedy, Jr.
New York City – May 2, 2004
What happens when you allow corporations to run our government?
What you get is plunder. And I have to say this, the American people have to understand that there is a huge difference between free market capitalism, which is a good thing because it makes us more efficient, more prosperous, and more democratic, and the kind of corporate-crony capitalism which has been embraced by this (Bush) White House.
The reason they shouldn’t be running our government is because corporations don’t want the same thing for America as Americans want. Corporations do not want free markets and they do not want democracy. They want profits and the best way for them to get the profits too often is to use our campaign financing system which is just a system of legalized bribery, to get their hooks into a public official, they use that public official to dismantle the market place, to give them monopoly control, and then to privatize the commons, to turn over our Treasury, our air, our water, our public lands, our wildlife, our fishery, the shared resource of our society that give context to our community, that connects us to our past, that are the source of our values and our virtues and our character as a people, and we are turning that over, for profit, to these corporations.
We have to remember this, legally corporations cannot do good things. They cannot do true philanthropy, they can’t do things that are good for our country or for our community. When you see Wal-Mart bringing bottled water down to the Katrina victims, they’re not doing that to be good guys, they’re doing it because they think that over the long run the public view of them will be enhanced and that that will enhance their shareholder value and their dividend distribution. If they have another reason for doing it, any one of their shareholders can sue them and they will win that lawsuit. It is called wasting corporate assets. It is against the law in this country for a corporation to turn itself into a philanthropy. And if they’re caught doing it their board members will be punished and their shareholders can sue them.
We want corporations to be this way, to focus narrowly. We don’t want them to turn into philanthropies because nobody would invest in them. We want them to focus narrowly on shareholder value.
BUT, we would be nuts to let them anywhere near our government because we designed them to plunder and that’s what they’re going to do to us if we let them run our country. That’s what they’re doing now. That’s why from the beginning of our national history, our greatest political leaders, Republicans and Democrats, have been warning Americans against the domination of corporate power.
Teddy Roosevelt, a Republican, said that America would never be destroyed by a foreign enemy, by an Osama bin Laden, but he warned that our Bill of Rights, our Constitution and our treasured democratic institutions would be subverted by malefactors of great wealth who would steal them from within.
Dwight Eisenhower, a Republican, in his most famous speech ever warned Americans against a domination by the military industrial complex. Abraham Lincoln, the greatest Republican in history, said during the height of the Civil War in 1863, “I have the South in front of me and I have the bankers behind me and for my country I fear the bankers more.”
Franklin Roosevelt, during World War II, said that the domination of government by corporate power is “the essence of Fascism.” Benito Mussolini, who had an insider’s view of that process, said essentially the same thing. He complained that Fascism should not be called Fascism; it should be called Corporatism because it was the merger of state and corporate power.
What we have to understand in this country is that the domination of business by government is called Communism and the domination of government by business is called Fascism.
Our job is to walk that narrow trail between free market capitalism and democracy, holding big-government at bay with our right hand and big-business at bay with our left. And in order to do that we need an informed public that is able to recognize all the milestones of tyranny. To do that we need an aggressive and independent press that is willing to stand up and speak truth to power, and we no longer have that in the United States of America.
Robert F. Kennedy Jr.
Form is Content - Corporations are Machines
Jerry Mander with Michael Mendizza
People tend not to be aware that corporations are just a collection of paperwork, yet they take on this terrific personality and we think of them as real. They exist only in our mind and on pieces of paper. The paperwork is an expression of a corporate charter which form the rules by which the corporation operates. These rules originate with state charters. In many cases these State charters were established in the 1800’s.
Those state charters can be changed. You could have state charters that say corporations located in San Francisco can’t move to Mexico or Korea. You could say that a corporation that’s making typewriters, can’t buy banks and computer companies in Asia. You could say that they can’t cut down a forest. You could say that they have to abide by a set of environmental principals or loose their legal status. You could say that they can’t layoff more than a certain percentage of workers without first going through a public process. You could say that representatives from the community, from labor, possibly representatives from environmental groups are on the Board of the corporation.
MM: Why not? You can make any rules you want theoretically if it’s a democracy, and the corporation would have to abide.
Corporations As Machines
In technological societies, the structure of all human life and its systems of organizations reflect the logic of the machine... The corporation is not subject to human control as most people believe; rather, it is an autonomous technical structure that behaves by a system of logic uniquely well suited to its primary function: to give birth and impetus to profitable new technological forms, and to spread techno-logic around the globe...
Seeing corporate behavior as rooted in the people who work within them is like believing that the problems of television are attributed solely to its programming. With corporations, as with television, the basic problems are actually structural. They are problems inherent in the forms and rules by which these entities are compelled to operate... Form determines content. Corporations are machines...
Inherent Rules of Corporate Behavior
Profit is the ultimate measure of all corporate decisions. It takes precedent over community, worker health, public health, environment and national security. Corporations live or die by whether they can sustain growth. As an employee you are expected to be part of the "team". You must also be ready to aggressively climb over your own colleagues. Not being human, not having feelings, corporations do not have morals or altruistic goals. All acts are in service to profit, including apparent altruism, which is measured against possible public relations benefits. Corporate law requires that corporations be structured into classes of superiors and subordinates. Subjective or spiritual values which cannot be translated into bottom-line numbers are not represented in corporate decision making. Corporations make a conscious effort to depersonalize. Corporations are not committed to local community or its environment.
Corporate societies are intrinsically committed to intervening in, altering and transforming nature. It is inherent in corporate activity that they seek to drive consciousness in one-dimensional channels. To ask corporations to behave otherwise is like asking an army to adopt pacifism. Form is content.
The rechartering movement is gaining speed as people are beginning to develop this perception. You can establish balanced rules for salaries. You can say C.E.O.'s can't make more than ten times what the assembly worker makes. The problem is, if California abandons it’s old charter and establishes this new set of rules, all the corporations will go to Nevada, or the next place which doesn’t have those rules. It’s not as simple as it sounds. The principle is very important, that theoretically people and society can control the rules by which corporations operate.
You don’t have to have the profit motive. You can say a corporation is just an organizational system like a church, or like a nonprofit. It is the current corporate structure that is now running society. So it is very, very hard to change it. We’re caught in our own, Frankenstein monster. We are caught in our own creation.
MM: That’s a great image. It’s hard to change the rules, which we made that created this monster. And now that monster controls the rules. We are missing an important link, that media is the driving force which feeds the monster that is controlling our lives.
The essential issue of the television book was the homogenization and domination of consciousness and experience by the corporate machine, consciousness and the resulting political and environmental consequences implied in that consciousness. The focus of the second book was the role of technology plays in separating people from other sources of awareness and knowledge, aside from television. We talk about how computers serve a similar function. We describe how the current corporate structure is a technology. We talk about biotechnology redesigning the genetic structure of life, robotics eliminating the need for people. Through these examples the autonomous nature of technology is revealed. All that is compared with native people, to whom this hasn’t fully happened, people who have a relationship to a source, which we have lost - a relationship to the earth and to the spiritual guidance implicit in nature.And we describe how corporations, advertising and mass media are destroying these people and their precious relationship to the earth.
MM: Satellite technology now makes it possible to drop television anywhere on the planet.
That’s one thing we’re doing. We’re converting them in some places. Where we can’t convert them, we’re trying to steal their land and their choices. When we can’t do that, we’re killing them. This has been happening for 500 years. It is still happening and technological forms are driving that. The machine accelerates the destruction.
MM: These new international trade agreements extend the power of transitional corporation beyond the sovereignty of individual nations, including the United States.
The third book talks about the systems of control and the corporate world government which is now in place. It describes what happens when you homogenize consciousness, centralized experience and separated people from the Earth – what happens when you separate people from alternative visions, alternative knowledge, and place people into a relationship with the machinery that is controlling their lives. All these things further centralized control and lead to new global bureaucracies which move real power away from community, away from locality and even away from nation states.
Mitsubishi is a larger economic system than Indonesia. Of the top 100 economies in the world, 52 are corporations. Corporations are running the world. Even the United States, which is the largest economy in the world, is subject to the rulings of these international bureaucracies. Corporations are in charge of the world - not to mention that they elect the politicians who further centralized their control.
MM: You saw twenty years ago how television was the perfect tool to bring about this global control, by controlling consciousness in such a way that it would accept this control quite naturally.
I don’t think four or five people got together and said here’s how we’re going to take control of the world. It was worse than that. The control is implicit in the technologies. Once the forms got into place, once you have global communications, efficient transportation, once you can move vast financial resources by the touch of a computer key, anywhere in the world, once you have the ability to blast images into the consciousness of the planet, it follows quite naturally that the control of these gigantic systems can and will be centralized.
What these global institutions have done is to create new systems of rules, which make it impossible for nation states to stop this process. All of this is part of a logical – I don’t want to say natural evolution, because it has nothing to do with nature.
Mr. Kennedy acts as Chief Prosecuting Attorney for Riverkeeper. He also serves as Senior Attorney for the Natural Resources Defense Council and as President of the Waterkeeper Alliance. At Pace University School of Law, he is a Clinical Professor and Supervising Attorney at the Environmental Litigation Clinic in White Plains, New York. Earlier in his career Mr. Kennedy served as Assistant District Attorney in New York City.