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". . . corporations have no consciences, no beliefs, no feelings, no thoughts, no desires. Corporations help structure and facilitate the activities of human beings, to be sure, and their 'personhood' often serves as a useful legal fiction. But they are not themselves members of “We the People” by whom and for whom our Constitution was established."~Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens, in his dissenting minority opinion against the Citizens United decision, January 2010
"Slavery is the legal fiction that a person is property. Corporate personhood is the legal fiction that property is a person." – Anonymous
In 2010, the NeoConservative, pro-corporate, anti-democratic Roberts Supreme Court “Gang of Five” granted inanimate corporations some of the rights and privileges previously only constitutionally guaranteed to human entities. The decision granted to corporations the right to influence political campaigns by unlimited and anonymous campaign “donations”, aka bribery.
This decision, known officially as Citizens United vs Federal Election Commission, has further emboldened the nefarious strategies of the already powerful, over-privileged and very corruptible, often above-the-law, multinational corporations that already control almost every aspect of politics and economics in the United States. The court has made into law the absurd notion that non-human corporations deserve the same constitutional rights as citizens – hence the term “corporate personhood”.
Oh, there was a brief bit of anger over the decision back then, but the public outrage and mass demonstrations that should have, but wasn’t, reported in the corporate-controlled media, was quickly over-shadowed by a well-timed, media-orchestrated “tempest in a teapot” – the Japanese automaker Toyota’s recall of tens of thousands of accelerator pedals – most of which had never caused any serious accidents, much less deaths. The media flap over Toyota drowned out the Citizens United decision and no legislators were confronted with what was actually a constitutional crisis brought about by the judicial activism of five right-wing Supreme Court judges.
Crime and Punishment, Corporate Style
It seems to me that the ramifications of granting personhood to paper corporations demands answers to a few questions that need to be asked of our so-called leaders when they want our votes in the next election; such as the following:
If corporations have been granted the privileges of personhood, shouldn’t they also now bear the same responsibilities, restrictions and punishments for crimes committed by human criminals?
Given the fact that 1) the only obligation of a corporation is to make money for its stakeholders; and 2) a corporation’s only allegiance is to its stakeholders and not to the nation that grants the temporary charter to do business in that nation; and 3) that the well-being of the citizens and the planet is secondary to their obligation to make money for stakeholders, shouldn’t such potentially bad neighbors be highly regulated?
Consider the prime example of the planned extraction of northeast Minnesotan minerals like copper and zinc by out-of-state, multinational mining corporations who have a history of exploitation and permanent poisoning of the environments in which they have operated. The executives of those companies, not to mention their shareholders don’t live in the vicinity of the mines, so they will not be affected by the pollution of the environment nor will they or their children be affected by the inevitable economic bust that such extractive industries guarantee for the local communities that will be left behind to deal with the consequences all by themselves.
The Ethical Dilemma for Under-employed Folks
It may be hard for desperate workers to resist the massive marketing and propaganda from the corporations whose owners are not from around here. Vulnerable communities in boom-and-bust economies are always tempted by the easily broken promises of jobs, jobs, jobs, most of which are only short-term, many of which will be filled by workers immigrating from elsewhere into the exploited area.
Most folks, especially the under-employed, are easily duped by well-crafted, high-tech propaganda, whether it comes from politicians who want us to vote for them or from corporations who want us to buy their products (or to give our consent to be exploited by them). When jobs are “promised”, far too few of us question the veracity of the campaign promises or the commercials and so we fail to realize that there might be disastrous long-term consequences because of our poorly considered decisions. Politicians and corporations that are trying to achieve or maintain positions of power, privilege or wealth prefer that their voters and their consumers not think too hard or too deeply.
Trust us, Toxic Sludge and Tailings are Good for You
Extractive mining of the kind currently being proposed for northeast Minnesota (PolyMet) and northern Wisconsin (Gogebic Taconite [GTAC]) have historically always had serious consequences for the aquifers, watersheds, soil and air wherever they have been tried. “Trust us, Toxic Sludge and Tailings are Good for You” still seems to be a successful marketing strategy when it comes to promises of jobs. If we fall for that line over and over again, how will we face the next generation of sickened children and grandchildren that will have to deal with the poisoned fish, wildlife, wild rice beds, and the pollution? Most of us taught our children to not take candy from strangers, and here we are, ready to take thirty pieces of silver and the promises of a few jobs from strange conscienceless corporations. Sounds like a fool’s game to me.
Wealth Extraction is Big Business
We lower 99 Percenters have long been targets of wealth extraction by wealthy corporations – the main reason why they have risen to the upper 1 Percent. The fleecing is being done - as we speak - by clever corporate elites, and they do it everywhere they can, sometimes in smoke-filled rooms and sometimes in plain sight.
The examples are all around us, including those expensive and increasingly unaffordable cell phone, internet and cable TV contracts; those expensive, nutritionally worthless, artificially flavored, obesity-inducing, diabetogenic, highly processed, and therefore toxic “frankenfoods”; the usurious credit card, home mortgage, and hidden finance charges from our financial institutions: and the potentially bankrupting costs of college tuition, prescription drugs, sickness and dental care, gasoline, travel, entertainment, and even coffee shops..
We in the lower 99% are being gradually impoverished by the upper 1% who are doing very well operating their wealth-extracting businesses and counting their money. The Occupy Wall Street movement pointed out the problem and identified the culprits. If we forget those lessons, we do so at our peril.
We have known for a long time about the widening gap between the rich and those made poor, hungry, sick or homeless. But now that OWS has opened out eyes, we should be able to identify the ones that are our once and future oppressors who have always been willing to risk the extinction of the planet and its occupants in order to make a lousy buck.
So beware of those big businesses that promise to create a few temporary extractive industry jobs. The promises may be just part of a cunning marketing scheme, but the corporate creators of the scheme can always be trusted to leave behind permanent scars for which they will take little or no responsibility. Remember, despite what the Roberts Supreme Court claimed, corporations are NOT people and they cannot be trusted to do the right thing..
The toxic sludge that will be left behind when the plundering corporations high-tail it out of town, will not ultimately be the corporation’s problem, no matter what was promised prior to the pull-out, the merger or the bankruptcy-filing. For large multinational corporations, lying and cheating are just two of the many cunning strategies used in doing business.
Shouldn’t Corporate Criminals be Punished Just Like Human Criminals?
There are a number of common denominators that link human criminals and corporate exploiters like Union Carbide, WalMart, Dow Chemical, Monsanto, Pfizer, Merck, Lilly, Nestle, Enron, Exxon/Mobil, British Petroleum, Halliburton, Deepwater Horizon, etc, etc). For one, non-human corporations are just as afraid of facing the music as are the petty thieves or big-time criminals like Bernie Madoff, Ken Lay and the un-indicted international war criminals like Lyndon Johnson, Richard Nixon, Henry Kissinger, Ronald Reagan, George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, Karl Rove and a multitude of others of their ilk, all of whom were influenced by corporate money and power..
All of the above used any means necessary to obfuscate the facts surrounding their crimes and acquit themselves by lying or cheating. And, besides refusing to admit their guilt, most of them failed to show any remorse for the human deaths and suffering their actions caused.
Corporations Meet the Definition of Psychopathic Personality Disorder
Antisocial personality disorder (its DSM-IV code # is 301.7) is listed in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manuel, which is the recipe book and billing manual for psychiatrists. The handful of so-called personality disorders are not regarded by psychiatry as mental illnesses. 301.7 describes otherwise sane persons who are cunning, deceitful, impulsive, aggressive, reckless, irresponsible, immoral, unethical, conscienceless and often charismatic. These individuals frequently commit crimes and, when they do, they lie about it and try to evade the law. They refuse to accept responsibility for their crimes and, if they are ever arrested or indicted, they try to blame others, try to plea bargain their punishment and then show no genuine remorse for their deeds, whether they are convicted or not.
Antisocial personality disorder is essentially synonymous with “psychopathic personality disorder” or “sociopathic personality disorder” and the terms are often used interchangeably. Individuals with those diagnostic labels are widely felt to be incurable. Serial killers, violent gang members, torturers, child abusers and serial rapists usually qualify for this diagnosis.
And so do many corporations and their corporate heads.
Interestingly, sociopathic entities - including corporations - often meet the definition of another, somewhat closely-related personality disorder called “narcissistic personality disorder” (DSM code # 301.81). Narcissism can be defined as “pathological self-love”; someone who thinks he is “hot stuff;” or someone who was “born on third base but thinks he hit a triple”. Narcissists have many overlapping characteristics with psychopaths. The most ruthless, hard-driving, self-assured, charismatic and photogenic CEOs of some major corporations often have both sociopathic and narcissistic traits. It is worth considering that the serial Ponzi scheme operators, hedge fund managers and other investment bilkers that are all over Wall Street might also qualify for one or both diagnoses.
Criminal psychopaths (as are their sociopathic corporate counterparts) seem to be incapable of having feelings of shame or guilt, and, since they regard what they have done as normal for their group, never really try to change – even if they get caught doing the crime and go through hundreds of hours of psychotherapy. A good example is “Wall Street’s” devotee of Ayn Rand, Gordon Gekko, he of the sincere belief that “greed is good”.
What Should be the Punishment for Sociopathic Corporations?
Because they are essentially incurable, criminally-minded psychopaths have to be locked away to protect society.
So another set of questions needs to be asked: “what needs to be done with psychopathic corporations when they lie, cheat, steal, harm others, commit crimes or otherwise act unethically?”
Given the Citizens United ruling that grants corporations rights that were never intended by the Founding Fathers for anybody other than humans, shouldn’t corporate entities that commit crimes or act unethically be treated just like their criminal human counterparts? Shouldn’t they be punished with whatever is the equivalent of long prison sentences, confiscation of property, fines, reparations to their victims or even capital punishment?
(I hasten to add that I am against capital punishment for humans, but I know, as does every thinking person, that corporations are non-human. Non-sociopathic humans, as opposed to corporations, can feel pain and can bleed and are capable of feeling sorrow, sadness, shame, guilt, contrition and remorse, but corporations do not. So I have no moral objection to capital punishment for inanimate entities such as corporations. I also happen to think that the threat of serious punishment for criminal behavior by corporations would be effective in preventing big businesses (and their human corporate boards of directors) from committing future crimes.
What to do When Corporations Rape and Plunder?
Rape has several definitions, including these few that I found in my dictionary: 1) Any violent seizure or hostile action against a weaker opponent; 2) to rob or plunder; 3) the act of seizing and carrying off by force; and the common one most people think of, 4) the crime of having forcible sexual intercourse without consent.
What if corporate rapists, robbers and plunderers who rape the land and plunder its resources would face the death penalty for those crimes?
What about the thousands of chemical and mining companies that knowingly discharge lethal poisons into the environment, mortally wounding the wild rice beds, the aquifers, the watersheds, the air, the soil, and the bodies and brains of the unsuspecting folks downstream or downwind?
If decapitating mountaintops in Appalachia to extract minerals more economically was a capital crime, would corporate mining companies do it? I think not. If they knew that the rape of the land would be punishable by death would they find a more sustainable way to extract the minerals. I think they would.
If corporations were expected to behave as responsibly as real human citizens, we wouldn’t see as may people be sickened by the toxic sludge and fumes. Thanks to the aboriginal peoples who regarded Mother earth as sacred (and therefore cared for it) our previously pristine streams and breathable air was never dangerous for farms, fish and wildlife - until the white man’s greedy corporations genocided the native Americans, enslaved the African Americans, killed off the buffalo, clear-cut the forests, damned up the rivers, poisoned the aquifers, depleted the soil, and polluted the air.
Currently, under US law, corporate killers, rapists and plunderers are protected from significant punishment. No guilty Wall Street bankster went to jail following the 2008 Bush/Cheney Wall Street Crash and Great Recession. Shouldn’t they have been indicted, arrested, tried and punished just like human predators would have been punished?
Now that corporations have been granted personhood status, shouldn’t they be treated the same as human sociopaths? Shouldn’t pathological liars and serial cheaters, whether they have huge advertising budgets or not, be disbelieved and then never trusted again?
And shouldn’t we be suspicious of corporate drug-producing behemoths like Merck, Pfizer, Eli Lilly, Glaxo, et al for aggressively promoting unsafe drugs that alter (and often addict) people’s brains and were also known to be potentially lethal?
And, knowing that 50,000 people died from Merck’s Vioxx before it was finally recalled, and given that 100,000 Americans per year still die from Big Pharma’s drugs (just in hospitals and even when properly prescribed), shouldn’t some of those dangerous drugs be recalled and the guilty corporations punished?
Shouldn’t the corporate drug suppliers and sellers of addictive, neurotoxic prescription drugs be exposed and stopped just like the street corner pushers of chemically-identical, albeit illicit drugs (which, by the way, kill far fewer people than the legal ones)? What about the corporate drug-pushers of the so-called ADHD drugs, including the cocaine-like methylphenidate (Ritalin, Concerta) and the amphetamine drug Adderall, both of which are dispensed so cavalierly to toddlers and children whose brains haven’t been hard-wired yet?
What About Doing Interventions on Addicted Corporate CEOs?
America justifies doing interventions of society’s human addicts before they do irreversible harm to themselves, their families or society in general. Therefore, shouldn’t we also be doing interventions on the executives of the mega-corporations that seem to be dangerously addicted to their prestige, their privilege, their corporate jets, their multiple vacation homes and their excessive quarterly bonuses?
The answer, in a fair society, should be yes to these questions, no matter how often the smiley-faced, well-dressed corporate spokespersons claim that their companies are "responsible citizens" that should be trusted to regulate themselves.
The Roberts Supreme Court granted to corporations the rights, but not the responsibilities of personhood in the Citizens United case. That outrageous decision might be one of the final nails in the coffin of our mortally wounded constitutional democracy, right along with the equally outrageous (and, by definition, protofascist) Cheney/Bush era Patriot Acts I (2001) and II (2003) and the Homeland Security Act (2002),
It should be obvious to all true patriots that, until an amendment to the US Constitution reversing Citizens United occurs (google Move to Amend, the premier organization promoting that action), the criminal activities of large transnational corporations be punished as severely as their human criminal counterparts.
We need to insist that our elected officials exercise their ethical duty and their sacred oath to preserve and defend the US Constitution from all enemies, foreign or domestic.
The moral equivalent of that duty and oath is to also preserve and defend the planet and its creatures from all enemies, foreign or domestic, whether they be corporate or human and even if the culprits are in the judicial, executive, legislative or military branches of government. The finite resources of our dying and over-populated planet and the universal human rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness must be defended. The future of our children and grandchildren depends on it.
Please consider joining the efforts of Move to Amend (at www.movetoamend.org and www.wethepeopleamendment.org) to begin reversing the damage done by our NeoConservative Supreme Court, before America’s democracy is irretrievably destroyed by what appears to be a well-orchestrated pan-corporate coup d’etat. Also consider supporting the Occupy Wall Street movement (at www.occupy.com) and the only US political party that refuses money and other influence from big corporations, the Green Party (at www.gp.org or www.mngreens.org).