I read some consumer-oriented sites and blogs fairly regularly (if for no other reason than that telecommunications companies have been known to do decidedly consumer-unfriendly things at times, and those sites help me keep track of such abuses), but every now and then they take me down a path that leads to some real pearl of wisdom. And thus it was when I followed a link to a post entitled, The Consumer Overdraft Protection Fair Practices Act Needs Your Support – which is a site that encourages you to “Write your representative today to support Rep. Carolyn Maloney’s bill which will clean up this predatory lending practice that fleeces consumers of billions every year.” And while that’s certainly a noble cause, and one I hope many folks will get behind, it’s not the thing that caused me to write this post.
Rather, it was a comment (or “signature”) on that page, from one Ani L. Schwartz of Arroyo Seco, NM, which said (in part):
- If Consumers are not helped, the whole system will crash harder and faster. It is indeed what Jim Hightower calls “TERMINAL STUPIDITY” for Corporate Powers to kill their markets.Please work to END CORPORATE PERSONHOOD and the “legal person” status of Corporations which allows them to get away with Murder, literally and figuratively.
That was enough to cause me to click on the link associated with Ms. Schwartz’s name, where I found this posted on her “Comment Wall”:
I pledge to speak out to End Corporate Personhood as often as I have the ability & opportunity to do so. The “legal person” status of Corporate “entities” must be revoked before WE (LIFE) can gain any ground towards HEALING.
In my own view, THIS is “the most pressing issue facing the country today” that I “would make the centerpiece of the address if [I] were President” NOW:
END CORPORATE PERSONHOOD
Ultimately pols & govs must join the People in efforts to free ourselves and our planet from the Chains, Catastrophes & Anti-Life IM-Balances of Corporatism, which are systematically destroying all life, liberty, & PURSUITS OF happiness, health, peace, education, wisdom, creativity, love, spirit, & all the things that really count in life to all living beings. In order for vital changes to be possible, the “legal person” status of Corporate “personhoods” must be revoked. Until this is accomplished, Corporate “entities” will thwart all vital changes because these changes require that these “entities” GIVE BACK to the Universe upon which they depend for their inedible Profits.
One need not agree with me about what is “the most important issue” in order to sign this pledge.
I’m not entirely sure whether Ms. Schwartz came up with this on her own, or if this is a new Internet meme, or what, but it makes me wonder what is taking so long for people to realize this simple truth:
Back in olden times, following the “great flood” and for at least a few thousand years thereafter, royalty held most of the power. And therefore, most of the oppression of the common folk came at the hands of the Kings and Queens, or whatever the ruling monarchs were called.
Then, for a time, religion held more power than royalty. The Pope was more powerful than the Prince, and most of the oppression of the common folks came at the hands of religious leaders.
Neither of the previous two forms of oppression have totally gone away, but they are now being overshadowed by a third form of oppression – that is, oppression by large corporations, which operate largely above the law.
The problem is that we give corporations most of the rights and the legal status of an individual. But when a corporation commits a criminal act, they can’t be punished in the way an individual can. You can’t jail a corporation. You can fine a corporation, but because large corporations have so much more in the way of resources than any individual, fines are largely ineffective (and are often thought of as a cost of doing business). Part of the very purpose for the existence of a corporation is to shield any individual from personal liability for the corporation’s actions. So if a corporation does something that causes real people to be injured or killed, it’s extremely rare for any individual to go to jail (and when it does happen, it’s often whichever poor patsy the corporate masters decided to throw under the bus, rather than take any responsibility for their own actions).
I’ve heard it said that the sort of people who would have set up an organized crime syndicate back in Al Capone’s day find it much more convenient today to set up a corporation, and run their scams from underneath a corporate shield. It’s much more lucrative, and a lot safer for the people involved. Instead of mobsters with tommy-guns doing the enforcement, now they hire high-priced lawyers. Corporations sue each other (the upper-crust equivalent of mob warfare) but they also go after common people who don’t bend to their will. Indeed, certain four-letter organizations that end in “AA” have been compared with organized crime in the way they bring lawsuits against the most defenseless (they seem to pick their victims carefully, although occasionally they do screw up and pick on the wrong person) and then demand the equivalent of “protection money” to stop bothering the party sued. Since most of the accused don’t have the funds to mount a real legal challenge (they really DO seem to pick their victims carefully), it’s basically a choice between paying the “protection” or losing their financial life.
And I don’t want to pick on just one industry – the problem cuts across many industries. People die because pharmaceutical reps try to get (and too often, succeed in getting) doctors to prescribe the newest and most expensive durgs, rather than the old, tried-and-true drugs that work just as well (if not better), and have fewer toxic side effects. People can’t afford the more expensive drugs, so they skip doses, or they have life-threatening problems with some side-effect of the newer drug. Now many physicians are forming “professional corporations” to try and limit their personal responsibility to they patients, and of course, virtually all hospitals are incorporated and many are now a part of some large corporate chain of medical facilities. Nowadays almost all hospital bills contain errors (often very significant errors), and they are nearly always in the hospital’s favor, so at a time when you should be worried about getting better you are burdened with the stress of dealing with an uncaring corporate hospital billing department (or worse yet, the collection agency that gets your bill when you can’t pay, which is also a corporation).
I could go on and on, but the point is, today virtually every oppression of ordinary citizens comes either at the hands of some large corporation directly, or because government is acting to protect some large corporate interest(s). Think about it – is there some law that you really hate, that you think should never have been passed? Assuming it wasn’t passed to bring more revenue into, or accrue more power for the government itself, the next most common reason a law is passed is to protect some large industry or corporation. Our governments often act as lackeys for the corporations.
Which brings me back to Ms. Schwartz’s “Comment Wall” – she has the right idea, although that’s only one of many reforms that should be passed – not just as laws, but as constitutional amendments. I can think of three amendments that would go a long way toward ending most, if not all of the abuses of corporations:
1) All human beings are entitled to the rights accorded by this Constitution to persons, but such rights shall not be extended to non-humans. The government shall not grant the rights of a person, or convey the legal rights of a person to any corporation or similar entity, or to any entity other than an actual human being.
2) No entity other than a human being, or a group of one or more specific human beings which are individually named, shall be granted ownership of any patent, copyright, or any other form of “intellectual property”, with the sole exception of a trademark. A corporation or similar entity may own a trademark, but shall not be granted ownership of any other form of intellectual property. Nothing in this amendment shall prohibit the inclusion of intellectual property rights in the estate of a deceased person, provided that such rights may only be passed to other named individuals, and the inclusion of such rights in an estate shall not extend the term of the patent, copyright, or similar form of intellectual property.
3) In any case where a corporation or similar legal entity brings a lawsuit against one or more individual human beings, and does not obtain a judgment against that individual or individuals, the corporation must pay double the attorney fees incurred by the defendant to the attorneys that represented the defendant, and in addition must reimburse the defendant for any costs and lost income incurred by the defendant while defending the case. If the individual’s life has been significantly altered as a result of the lawsuit, the defendant may petition the court for an additional award to compensate the defendant for any losses incurred. This amendment shall not be applicable in a case where a corporation or similar legal entity has brought a lawsuit against another corporation or similar legal entity.
I’m not a constitutional expert, so my wording might need to be polished a little. I’d also like to see included prohibitions against undue influence by corporate lobbyists, and the use of “sock puppets” (individuals or non-profit organizations that are compensated in some way to represent the views of a corporation as if they were their own, usually without disclosing the Quid pro Quo), but have no idea how to word that sort of amendment in such a manner that it would not trample individual rights.
I seriously doubt there is any chance I will see any of these amendments passed in my lifetime, but who knows – if enough of these corporate abuses keep occurring, maybe one of these days we will see an anti-corporate backlash turn into a strong enough movement to get some very strong protections against corporate abuses passed into law.
In closing, I want you to think about this:
When our country was founded, we knew about the abuses of kings, and our constitution contains protections against giving any one individual too much power.
When our country was founded, we knew about the abuses of religious leaders, and our constitution contains protections against government unduly influenced by religion.
Neither of the above work perfectly, and they are sometimes ignored by Congress and the courts (to our detriment), but at least they are there.
As time went by, we’ve added other amendments to protect people (most notably forbidding slavery, and enacting civil rights, and giving the vote to all adults regardless of race, gender, etc.). What we did not seem to realize, when our country was founded, was how powerful large corporations could become, nor how devoid of empathy and human compassion they could be. It is now time to reign in their power and to protect people from the abuses of large corporations, but they (the corporations) will not give it up easily.
Please don’t give the me the old bromide about how corporations are just individuals joined together for a specific purpose – in the first place, there are all sorts of studies that show that people behave much differently in large groups (particularly when they do not feel any individual responsibility for the actions of the group). Think about suicide jumpers that are sometimes encouraged to jump by onlookers – chances are that if any of those onlookers was the only person there they would not open their mouth, but once one person yells “Jump!”, the crowd takes up the chant. Large groups of people are often devoid of the compassion that individuals would exhibit when alone, and this seems just as true (if not more true) when people think they are simply following the directives of their corporate employer. And also, don’t forget that the specific purpose for which these individuals join together is to make a profit – in large corporations, everything else is secondary to that, specifically including the health and happiness of the people they deal with, or who deal with them.
I hope you will remember this article the next time you are feeling truly oppressed by forces outside your control – very often, there’s a large corporation (perhaps more than one) somewhere in the background, trying to advance their own financial interests. Even in cases where government is the oppressor, if you dig a bit deeper you’ll find corporations pulling the strings.
Take our drug laws as an example. The alcohol, tobacco, and pharmaceutical industries all have a vested interest in keeping marijuana illegal – they fear the competition from another drug that’s probably every bit as safe as at least some of the substances they sell. And just so you know, I’ve never smoked pot in my life, not even once – but I still think the current laws against it are ridiculous and protectionist. There is no valid reason anyone should serve a long jail sentence over marijuana usage or possession for personal use – especially when our jails are so overcrowded that truly violent criminals are being released early. I don’t want anyone to use marijuana or tobacco, and I don’t want anyone to drink alcoholic beverages and drive (or drink to excess), and I’d rather not see anyone take dangerous but legal pharmaceuticals just because some corporation managed to get them approved (perhaps by withholding negative tests, and only showing the FDA the ones that didn’t indicate a problem). But only ONE of those substances is illegal, and classed as a felony to even possess – and it’s not the one that makes money for the large corporations!
I won’t even get into the corporate influence on organized religion – but think about what houses of worship were like a century or two ago, and what they are like today (especially the big super-mega-churches that have sprung up in the suburbs). There are large corporations that make huge sums selling goods both to the houses of worship themselves, and directly to the “sheep” – and a lot of that is the books and other literature (and in the modern age, DVD’s and other forms of media) that help shape people’s religious views, starting with Sunday School. I’m just waiting for one of them to start teaching that Jesus drove the moneychangers out of the temple because that space was better suited for a big box store – we’re not quite to that point yet, but I can pretty much guarantee you that the big corporations that publish church literature are not going to say anything negative about large corporations, so if you are involved in an organized religion you might want to give some thought about who is shaping your family’s views on modern life.
If you think there’s any truth in this article, please feel free to link to it. And, of course, you should feel free to comment (even if you disagree with me), as long as you don’t include any links that might make me think you are a spammer (if in doubt – leave the link out).