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“Slavery is the legal fiction that a person is property. Corporate personhood is the legal fiction that property is a person.” - Anonymous
The infamous NeoConservative, anti-democratic Roberts’ Supreme Court 5/4 decision in the 2010 Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission ruling (granting personhood to corporations) has emboldened the already powerful and very corruptible multinational corporations that operate in the United States and across the planet to flex their muscles and influence state and national elections. The US Supreme Court has made legal the absurd notion that inanimate corporations deserve the same rights (but not the same responsibilities) as living humans.
Soberingly, after the ruling came down, there was only a brief bit of anger and outrage from our national leadership over this democracy-threatening decision, and the outrage was quickly drowned out of the public consciousness by a well-timed, mainstream media-orchestrated “tempest in a teapot” - Toyota’s recall of tens of thousands of accelerator pedals (that apparently had only infrequently been the cause of significant accidents).
The following question must be asked:
If corporations have the privileges of personhood shouldn’t they also bear the same responsibilities and incur the same punishments as individuals do when they commit crimes?
Peace and justice activists briefly applauded when the citizens of Shapleigh, Maine protected their water rights last March from the insatiable water-extracting corporate giant Nestle. (See video and more information on this episode at: (http://www.afterdowningstreet.org/node/40335).
Nestle, one of the most infamous of the countless multinational corporate exploiters, has no allegiance to Maine or Wisconsin or any other locality where they try to extract relatively non-polluted water; but when the water is gone, so will be Nestle, and so will be Coca-Cola and Perrier or whatever other corporate intruder that extracts the people’s resources for the benefit of their shareholders and their predatory corporate executives. The good citizens of Maine recognized the foxes that tried to get inside their henhouse, and they did the right thing by resisting, and little David and his slingshot won another rare victory against the evil giant Goliath.
This small victory for justice should illustrate what must be done if the disastrous Citizens United decision is allowed to stand. The future of the nation, the future of the children and the future of the planet is at stake. And corporations don’t seem to care.
It is important to understand that the allegiance of corporations is to its shareholders, executives and management teams, and not to the people whose lives and health depend on the sustainability of the land, water, air and food supplies. Most corporate shareholders and executives are motivated by profits/greed and are not affected when local resources are used up and the struggling local communities (that placed their trust in untrustworthy corporations) are degraded.
The hollow “promises” of conscienceless megacorporations to “trust us” to un-poison the poisoned environment aren’t revealed as the cunning disinformation it is until it is too late and the mess that is left behind is no longer the sneaky corporation’s problem. What was promised prior to the pull-out or the bankruptcy or the merger was designed by clever corporate lawyers to legally go back on the promises that had been made during the conniving “courtship” phase of the deal.
One of the many tax avoiding American megacorporations is Wal-Mart. Most of its profits go to a handful of Walton family billionaires in Arkansas. WaMart tries hard not to pay for healthcare insurance and other benefits for their exploited and underpaid employees, who are victims of WalMart’s union-busting policies.
US taxpayers are left holding the bag while Wal-Mart legally avoids what should ethically be their corporate responsibility to support their workers. Wal-Mart is notorious for not hiring workers for full-time work and then paying the part-timers below-subsistence level wages that force many of them to apply for welfare benefits - a cunning cost-shifting tactic that places economic burdens on the tax-paying public.
Another example is Coca-Cola. Coke depends on water that it extracts from anywhere the corporation can suck it out, including, as a particularly egregious example, from the aquifers that are situated beneath struggling, starving (and then suicidal) farmers who are losing their farms in drought-stricken India. Millions of gallons of water, that has traditionally been used for farmland irrigation systems, are being ruthlessly used up by Coca-Cola in order to meet the artificial demand that has been created for the sweet, addictive, nutritionally useless, sickness-inducing and obesity-producing soft drink that contains two cents worth of ingredients but is being sold to poor people everywhere for as much as the market will bear.
Coke’s predation of poor people in India and elsewhere brings to mind another corporate crime that has never been brought to justice. The infamous 1984 Union Carbide/Bhopal cyanide catastrophe that killed 25,000 slum-dwellers, left 100,000 permanently poisoned, and has left uncounted numbers of people living on poisoned soil, drinking contaminated water and breathing poisoned air. Every person that has been exposed to the Bhopal plant environs since 1984 is chronically ill; and Indian mothers are still delivering malformed babies and dead fetuses because of the pesticide residues that cannot be detoxified. Union Carbide, the American corporation responsible for the disaster, has consistently shirked its moral responsibilities to the suffering victims. Carbide eventually sold itself to the equally infamous Dow Chemical, the company that brought us Agent Orange, immune-destroying silicone breast implants and a multitude of other highly profitable and very poisonous products.
Union Carbide’s corporate executives have been subpoenaed to appear in Indian courts for their crimes. But the US has not honored the extradition treaties it has with India. These executives have repeatedly refused to appear and are therefore in contempt of court. There are warrants out for their arrests in India, just as there are warrants out for the arrest of citizen Henry Kissinger for his part in international war crimes in Chile, East Timor, Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, etc. All remain at large, harbored by America’s big Business-friendly, corporate-controlled nation.
The common denominators linking human and corporate criminals
There are a number of common denominators that link human criminals and the many corporate criminals that populate the Fortune 500 list (like Union Carbide, WalMart, Dow, Monsanto, Merck, Nestle, Enron, British Petroleum, Halliburton, etc, etc). For one, the corporations, being just as afraid of facing the music as were Henry Kissinger, Bernie Madoff, Ken Lay and the multitude of others of their ilk, will use any means necessary to evade or delay justice. Similarly, none of them will admit their guilt and none of them can be expected to show any genuine remorse for the massive human suffering their actions have caused.
There are checklist diagnoses for various personality disorders in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manuel (DSM), the recipe book and billing manual for psychiatrists. One of these disorders, antisocial personality disorder (301.7), describes pathological cheaters, liars and abusers whose lack of morals, ethics and consciences often enables them to avoid being caught or punished for their crimes and misdeeds. These sociopaths (aka psychopaths) refuse to take the blame or accept responsibility for their actions. The quasi-humans who meet the full criteria for this diagnosis are incapable of showing genuine remorse if or when they are caught, convicted or punished for their crimes.
Below are seven diagnostic criteria
that are used for sociopaths:
• callous disregard for the
feelings of other people
• the incapacity to maintain
• reckless disregard for the safety
• deceitfulness (repeated lying
and conning others for profit)
• incapacity to experience guilt
• the failure to conform to social
norms and respect for the law.
Other common traits
Lack of remorse for evils done to
Indifferent to the suffering of its
Rationalizes (makes excuses for)
having hurt, mistreated or stolen
Willingness to exploit, seduce or
No sign of delusional or irrational
Commonly above average
Always looking for ways to make
money or achieve fame or notoriety
Willing to cause or contribute to
the financial ruin of others
Cannot be trusted to adhere to conventional standards of morality.
We are talking about criminality in otherwise sane individuals. Sadly, psychopaths are, for all intents and purposes, incurable. These disordered individuals (as are their sociopathic corporate counterparts) never truly feel guilty about their misdeeds, and therefore they never truly try to change; nor do they even ask for help.
When court-ordered to submit to “treatment”, they usually only pretend to change until the pressure is off and criminal activities look doable again. History tells us that rehabilitation for full-fledged sociopaths is useless, although the often charming, charismatic sociopath will commonly fool the treatment team into thinking progress is being made.
What should be the punishment for sociopathic corporations when they lie, cheat, advertise falsely, act unethically or commit crimes?
By and large, most criminally-minded sociopaths have to be locked away to protect society from them. So another set of questions needs to be asked: “what needs to be done with sociopathic corporations when they lie, cheat, commit crimes or otherwise act unethically?”
Given the Supreme Court ruling granting personhood to corporations, shouldn’t they be treated like their human sociopathic counterparts, perhaps with long prison sentences, confiscation of property or even capital punishment? (I hasten to add that I am against capital punishment for humans, but corporations are not human (despite the Citizens United ruling), don’t bleed and don’t cry out in pain during the execution process, although they may plead for mercy.) Capital punishment for inanimate corporations, contrary to the data on capital punishment for humans, would halt a lot of destructive sociopathic behaviors from those conscienceless entities. And the children of the world would suddenly inherit a more sustainable, less exploited, less poisoned and more humane world that, in turn, would give them a chance at securing a future for the planet and for their own children.
The brazen action of the Roberts’ court in Citizens United might be one of the final nails in the coffin of America’s mortally wounded democracy. Given the fact that the myth of corporate personhood is now legal, it is past time that we of the 99% majority insist that the transnational corporate 1% minority be treated as severely as human criminals are treated. The 99% needs to exercise its duty to preserve and defend the planet from all enemies, foreign or domestic, human or corporate.
And we can’t afford to ignore the domestic enemies that may be members of the executive, judicial or legislative branches of our federal and state governments. We need to protect the water, soil, air, food and the rights to affordable health care from all of them. The future of our children, grandchildren and planet Earth depends on it.
Please join the effort to urge Congress to pass legislation to reverse the Citizens United ruling and correct the damage done. (See www.movetoamend.org for more.)
Dr. Kohls is involved in peace, nonviolence and justice issues and therefore resists fascism, corporatism, militarism, racism and other movements that are anti-democratic.