The February 2006 Edition of Street Spirit

A publication of the American Friends Service Committee

 
 

National AFSC AFSC Economic Justice BOSS Website

 

 

In this issue:

Top 20 Meanest Cities in U.S.

Hate Crimes in Fort Lauderdale

Classism in the Stacks: Libraries and Poor People

Housing Authority's Kafka-Style Interrogation

Bay Area Transit: Separate and Unequal

Lawsuit on Behalf of East Bay Bus Riders

MLK Would Tell Congress to Value Workers

Art, Music for Homeless Kids

Mercy: A Story

The Birdman of Berkeley

Resisting Unjust Corporate Power

President Bush Speaks His Mind

Street Spirit Poetry


ARCHIVES

January 2006

November 2005

October 2005

September 2005

August 2005

July 2005

June 2005

May 2005

April 2005

March 2005

February 2005


Street Spirit is published by American Friends Service Committee.

All works are copyrighted by the authors.

The views expressed in Street Spirit are those of the individual authors alone, and not necessarily that of the American Friends Service Committee.

Resisting Abusive Corporate Power

by Carol Harvey

Art by Doug Minkler. "Corporation, n. An ingenious device for obtaining individual profit without individual responsibility." -- Ambrose Bierce.

Two charming gentlemen gazed at the blue San Francisco Bay. I asked, "Do your watches tell the correct time?" They laughed, "In the Netherlands and Germany. Yes."

Ever the diplomat, I divulged I was writing an article about Bad Corporations taking over the world.

"All corporations aren't bad," said the man with the German accent. "I am CEO and founder of PAION, a good company. We're not a 'bad' company. We are a 'bat' company," he kidded. "We developed a drug derived from the saliva of vampire bats to treat acute stroke. You have high responsibility, especially when you develop a drug for stroke patients who have a fragile artery system."

Roots of corporate abuse

We are defined as humans by a balance between competition -- testing our own skills against the skills of others -- and compassion -- sharing and caring for each other.

Joel Bakan, professor of law at the University of British Columbia, is the author of The Corporation, The Pathological Pursuit of Profit and Power, and co-produced a documentary film, "The Corporation," with Mark Achbar and Jennifer Abbott.

Bakan states, "No social and ideological order that represses essential parts of ourselves can last.... We only have to remember who we are... as human beings to reveal how dangerously distorted is the corporation's order of narrow self-interest."

Corporations were constructed as abstractions, what physicist, ecologist, and seed activist Vandana Shiva calls non-human "Legal Fictions." Corporations are specially designed to engage in predatory, aggressive competition to make money.

An apt metaphor is "Raptor" (or vulture), which is the name Andy Fastow, financial wizard of Houston's defunct ENRON, gave to a shadow corporation hiding the company's nonexistent profits.

Like a vulture, corporations such as Wal-Mart feed on the poor, paying low wages and giving such scant benefits that their own employees are near poverty while corporate executives enrich themselves and reap extravagant profits.

The rights of a legal person

MIT professor Noam Chomsky defined the original corporation as subordinate to people, "a group chartered by a state to perform a particular circumscribed function," like building the Golden Gate Bridge.

The modern corporation was born 30 years after the Civil War, a period which spawned railroads, banking, and heavy manufacturing. Clever corporate lawyers hijacked the 14th Amendment which gave newly freed slaves equal rights, and applied these human rights to capital and property.

Supreme Court judges transferred to the corporation the rights and protections of a "Legal person." Like people, corporations can buy and sell property, borrow money, sue and be sued in court, conduct business, and be a member of society.

Too often, the corporation is the kind-faced, but deadly, serial killer neighbor, bodies buried under his house.

Joel Bakan describes a special kind of non-human person. The Corporate Citizen has no moral conscience. Because it believes in nothing but profit, the corporate media promotes Michael Moore's lucrative books even though he savagely criticizes corporate capitalism.
Corporations are structured legally to be concerned only for their stockholders, placing profit above competing interests, even the public good.

Vandana Shiva advises that society should "Re-Embody the Corporation." As Shiva states, "The Corporation as a legal fiction, given human personality, is really the beginning of all the treachery of our times. We need to relocate these institutions back in the people who run them, gain from them, make their millions out of them, who destroy people's lives by their location in these corporations."

Profiteering at public expense

Corporations show "loyalty" to stockholders by getting others to pay their bills, expanding their bottom line by forcing sometimes unaware external entities to bear their costs. A case in point is Wal-Mart which profits from using underpaid foreign workers to produce its goods, then hires underpaid U.S. workers to operate its stores, while paying them too little to afford health insurance. Government health benefits must then pay for the medical expenses of Wal-Mart employees.

On Thursday, January 12, the Maryland legislature, responding to criticism that Wal-Mart forced state governments to pay employee medical benefits, passed a law requiring the conglomerate to pay more for health insurance.

Democracy or corporatocracy

President Franklin D. Roosevelt's New Deal was meant to counteract the corporate power of robber barons, thereby restoring economic health to the middle class and poor.

Corporate plutocrats such as J.P. Morgan, Dupont, and Goodyear Tire hated the New Deal and contrived a failed fascist plot to overthrow this Democratic president. Since then, Republicans have waged a stealth campaign to reconfigure national government into a corporatocracy.

Ronald Reagan unleashed free markets upon the world by giving corporations expansive powers. Reagan pronounced, "Government is not the solution to our problems. Government is the problem. The societies which have achieved the most spectacular broadbased economic progress in the shortest period of time ... What unites them all is their willingness to believe in the magic of the marketplace."

How reversible is the 30-year Republican stealth plan, beginning with Reagan and ending with Bush, to reconfigure national and international governments into a worldwide corporatocracy? With complete allegiance to free market profits, corporations respect no national boundaries.
The Bush family's long connection with the Bin Laden's family oil holdings is well-established. Some speculate that the illegal Iraq war was launched not just for money, regional power, or oil but to expand corporatocracy (disguised as democracy) throughout the Middle East. Halliburton's construction of 17 military bases in Iraq underscores this probability.

A wealthy class needs the poor. The corporatocracy appears to be waging a foreign and domestic class war of rich against poor. Poor young Americans are encouraged to enlist for an education, Hispanic youth to earn family citizenship upon death in battle. Poor Iraqis are murdered as "collateral damage."

The corporation as sociopath

Bakan holds that, as fictitious non-human entities, corporations display psychopathological traits on the DSM IV Personality Diagnostic Check List. Using these psychiatric categories to stereotype or label individuals has caused great harm. But it is still interesting to apply these descriptions of psychopathological behavior to corporations and see how many of these traits seem to perfectly define their rapacious behavior:

1. Callous unconcern for others' feelings.
2. Incapacity to maintain enduring relationships.
3. Reckless disregard for others' safety.
4. Deceitfulness: Repeated lying and conning others for profit.
5. Incapacity to experience guilt.
6. Failure to conform to social norms with respect to lawful behaviors.

As abstract entities lacking moral conscience, corporations have perpetrated grievous harm upon human life and the environment. Without remorse, corporations hurt workers through layoffs, union busting, and sweat shops.

Corporations further damage human health through toxic waste, pollution, and dangerous products. They degrade the biosphere with poisonous chemicals, nuclear waste, and habitat destruction.

Global Exchange, a San Francisco-based organization that monitors corporate human rights violations and works for social justice, attempts to counteract damage from sweatshop labor serving the rapacious Free Trade system by promoting Fair Trade stores that make people-to-people connections, and distributing Third World products direct from maker to buyer. Their Noe Valley store overflows with silver-flecked handbags, subtly colored placemats, wind chimes, housewares and artistically crafted jewelry.

Andrea Buffa, communications director of Global Exchange, said, "I got to stay with a Nicaraguan Fair Trade coffee farmer last month. It's amazing to see the impact Fair Trade can have on the life of a farming family. They are getting more income which means they are able to eat more of a diversity of food, keep their kids in school, get different kinds of training they didn't have access to before. They are able to organize in their community to get health care... very basic things."

Entities without conscience

As entities without conscience, corporations reshape human adherents in their own image, leading them to behave in inhuman ways. Sir Mark Moody-Stewart, former Chairman of Royal Dutch Shell, couldn't look at the camera, unable to discuss Shell's complicity in the murder of Nigerian environmentalist Ken Saro Wiwa.

Corporations destroy the ozone layer for profit. Corporate heads, including President Bush, do not even take into account their own progeny's future -- this amounts to child abuse delayed.

The corporate octopus has suckered tentacles which reach into daily life. Everywhere, we are pummeled by corporate logos on ads, T-shirts, signs, events, equipment. People don't remember a time "before" and think this all-pervasive corporate propaganda is now normal.

Corporations feign social responsibility as a tactical response to their markets.

A blue-eyed, red-haired 20-ish man leapt up the Lyons steps wearing a T-shirt saying, "International Tractor-Pulling Association, Monsanto," announcing Monsanto's promotion of some tractor-pull near Champaign-Urbana, when he attended the University of Illinois. He couldn't recall where he got the shirt. I described Monsanto's human rights abuses in India and its token stab at social responsibility on his shirt.

Creating the corporate market

Corporate propaganda attempts to shape us into mindless consumers. Susan Linn, who launched "The Nagging Project" to measure the times a child pesters the parent for a toy and scores a buy, insists that if you can get children to advocate for your product, you've got them hooked as an adult.

Corporate control begins at infancy. The corporation has become a parent figure, teaching mothers to care for babies with the "right" wipes and diapers.

The corporation is the arbiter of morals and values. Corporate propaganda displays a way of life, thinking, and values in which it takes credit for "Progress" and "The Good Life."

Usurping the Commons

"The Commons" refers to publicly shared land, parks, air, water, food, resources and public service institutions providing mail, fire, phone, housing, health care, even the human genome.

Corporations attempt to take over the Commons and turn our common heritage into their own privately owned source of profit. Corporations usurp water rights in Latin America, Africa, the Philippines, and India. Buffa's Global Exchange website report cites French Company Suez Lyonnaise: "Many countries have been required to open up their water supply to private companies as a condition for receiving IMF loans, and the World Bank has approved millions of dollars in loans for the privatization of water systems."

According to Jeremy Rifkin of The Foundation of Economic Trends, companies are busily mapping the human genome. "If this goes unchallenged," according to Rifkin, "within less than 10 years, a handful of global companies will own... the actual genes that make up the evolution of our species."

Through multinational legal entities, including the World Trade Organization, the International Monetary Fund and The World Bank, corporations control, regulate, and buy the Commons.

Buffa said, "Through the World Trade Organization, countries challenge other countries' laws. Any regulation that a country puts into place to protect its workers (and) the environment can be gone after through the World Trade Organization (and the regulation overturned). So these huge multinational corporations can get access to international markets everywhere in the world. It has ended up destroying local economies and overturning environmental regulations."

"(Monsanto's) corporatization of agriculture... is actually making extinct probably thousands of types of seeds that Indian farmers have traditionally used. Monsanto is the marketer of a pesticide called 'Roundup,' which they have sold to small farmers all around the world. Roundup makes the plants infertile. Instead of producing new seeds, the farmers then are forced to buy seeds that are resistant to Roundup, also developed by Monsanto. It creates this huge dependency on this company, and people can no longer just grow the plant, collect the seeds, and plant (them) the next year. They actually have to buy the seeds every year, which they can't afford."

Buffa recently visited Shiva's "Seed conservation project" in Deharun, India. Shiva encourages farmers to save natural, non-biogenetically engineered seeds.

Dislodging corporate power

1. Litigation: Reverse the Legal Person Law
Elaine Bernard, director of the Harvard Trade Union Program, suggests we "look at the very roots of the legal form that created this beast." Noam Chomsky agrees, saying: "They're not graven in stone. Most of the States have laws which require that they be dismantled." Two Pennsylvania townships' ordinances eliminated a corporation's ability to claim any constitutional rights as a "Person."
2. Direct Action. Grass Roots Efforts and Boycotts
Buffa sees young people earnestly committed to challenging human rights abuses. She cited the recent success by students concerned about Indian water thefts, in kicking Coke machines off their University of Maryland campus.
3. Global Exchange
Since 1988, Global Exchange has attempted to create a far-flung, worldwide economic counterforce to global corporatization, one where the economic benefits of trade go to local producers, small farmers and artisans, rather than to profiteering corporations. Its website offers programs, speakers, international reality tours, and information.
4. Do No Harm
Ray Anderson, CEO of Interface, the world's largest commercial carpet manufacturer, is working toward sustainability. He is one of the few examples of a corporate ex-pirate committing his organization to "Do No Harm." I believe my friends at the Bat Corporation have the will to follow suit.


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