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Not So Entertaining

Posted by Rick · October 13th, 2003 · No Comments

“Entertainment” corporations have been quite literally on the warpath for the last few years. After some recent successes against “the little people,” the pace is picking up. They’re now threatening or discussing suits against people for such things as talking, including telling people to “press the shift key.”

Meanwhile, they are working ever harder to control not just content they own, but content they don’t necessarily own as well.

This, of course, is nothing new. The movie industry was always controlled by the big studios; now virtually the entire industry is owned by international media empires.

The situation, however, is becoming increasingly worse now that Corporations are not limited to owning pieces of their industry. In fact, they no longer are limited to owning the Congress or other government officials they bought. Now, increasingly, they own you.

How did this come about?

Our Founding Fathers were more than a little wary of Corporations. Speaking specifically of banks, which could amass great fortunes of wealth, Thomas Jefferson said,

If the American people ever allow private banks to control the issue of currency, first by inflation, then by deflation, the banks and corporations that will grow up around them will deprive the people of all property until their children wake up homeless on the continent their fathers conquered.

This distrust was not without foundation. Mayer Amschel Rothschild, the founder of the Rothschild international banking dynasty, stated in 1790,

Permit me to issue and control the money of a nation and I care not who makes the laws.

Perhaps this is why the Founding Fathers were against allowing the existence of Corporations in the absence of special, difficult to obtain charters — and then only for the public good. Jefferson and Madison even tried to get an “11th Amendment” to the Bill of Rights which would have made illegal most of what Corporations do routinely today. It would have banned them from owning other Corporations, spending money on politics and would even have limited their lifespans to something close to the norm for human beings in their day — 20 to 40 years. They lost the fight to get this amendment passed because it was felt to be unnecessary. States already tightly controlled what few Corporations were allowed to exist. The general mood of the Founders of the United States of America was pretty much summed up when Jefferson said,

I hope we shall crush in its birth the aristocracy of our moneyed corporations, which dare already to challenge our government to a trial of strength and bid defiance to the laws of our country.

With such feelings among the Founding Fathers for Corporations, these non-human beings were simply powerless, right-less and no one could have suspected what would happen.

Originally Corporations were just state-created “things” with no rights except those explicitly enumerated in their (quite limited) charters. Yet,

[o]ver the last two centuries, the Supreme Court has granted corporations more and more of the constitutional rights of persons. In the early nineteenth century, the autonomous (and eternal) life of corporations was strengthened by recognizing their rights under the Contracts Clause of Article I to unalterable terms of incorporation. The access of corporations to federal courts was also strengthened through rulings that counted corporations as citizens of the states in which they were incorporated for jurisdictional purposes. Near the turn of the century, the Court granted corporations the equal protection and due process rights accorded persons under the Fourteenth and Fifth Amendments. In the twentieth century, the Court recognized corporate access to a broad array of Bill of Rights protections, beginning with protection from unreasonable searches and culminating in First Amendment speech protections….the Court…went on to grant corporations the Seventh Amendment right to trial by jury in civil cases, Fifth Amendment double jeopardy protection, Fourth Amendment protection from unreasonably regulatory searches [in other words, the government cannot investigate unsafe working conditions without a warrant, by which time the mess is cleaned up – Rick] and First Amendment protection for political and commercial speech as well as the negative right not to be associated with the speech of others. — “Personal Bodies: A Corporeal Theory of Corporate Personhood,” The University of Chicago Law School Roundtable (6 U Chi L Sch Roundtable 235), pp. 236-237, 1999.

The trouble this has brought upon our country was actually prophesied by no less than Abraham Lincoln (ironically enough, as a railroad attorney, Lincoln helped to bring about the very thing he later bemoaned as President):

I see in the near future a crisis approaching that unnerves me and causes me to tremble for the safety of my country. . . . corporations have been enthroned and an era of corruption in high places will follow, and the money power of the country will endeavor to prolong its reign by working upon the prejudices of the people until all wealth is aggregated in a few hands and the Republic is destroyed. — U.S. President Abraham Lincoln, Nov. 21, 1864 (letter to Col. William F. Elkins) Ref: The Lincoln Encyclopedia, Archer H. Shaw (Macmillan, 1950, NY), and found online here.

Corporations working to change the laws that govern their existence are the direct cause and the ongoing result of our failure to exercise the same control over Corporations that our Founding Fathers took for granted. So convinced were they that everyone understood the danger of Corporations and that states would thus continue to tightly control them that they did not even bother to mention Corporations in the Constitution. If they could see what has become of this country, they would issue a new Declaration of Independence, identical in every way to the original, but for the occasional substitution of one word for another:

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. –That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, –That whenever any Form of Corporation becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Corporations, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Corporations long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Corporations, and to provide new Guards for their future security. The Declaration of Independence, with “Corporations” in the place of “Government” in appropriate places.

Ironically, the granting of constitutional rights to Corporations makes them much more powerful and better able to control the natural persons (i.e., human beings) the Constitution of the United States, the Bill of Rights and all subsequent amendments were intended to protect. Corporations are not human and they have few, if any, of the qualities that limit human beings.

First, and foremost, even the poorest of Corporations is normally richer than the average human being. And we all know that “with wealth come privileges.” Corporations can afford to buy consultants who can help them tweak any messages they put out for consumption by others, whether those others are Corporations, Congressional Representatives or ordinary human beings like you and me. Corporations can — and repeatedly do — run full page ads in newspapers and pay for commercials on national television. You cannot. (To those of you who just insisted I was wrong, let’s clarify something: “In the old days,” when I was in school, we had two words to choose from in discussing possibilities: “can” and “may.” “Can” was most often used to denote that one had the ability to do something; “may” indicated that one had permission, or a right. If you think about it, you’ll quickly realize that you “may” run full page ads in newspapers and you “may” pay for commercials on national television, but if you’re a normal, ordinary, run-of-the-mill human being, you probably “cannot.”) And Corporations can — and repeatedly do — buy Senators, Congressional Representatives, Governorships and other political individuals and offices. You cannot.

Second, and consequent to the above, Corporations have far more power than you do. You cannot sway public opinion in your direction because even if you have the quality of persuasion, yet for the reasons noted above, you do not have the ability to broadcast your message. This is not to say you should not try; I’m trying now by writing this article. At the same time, my “readership” is somewhere in the neighborhood of 25 to 28 people per day on average, according to my hit counter. This is hardly enough to start a revolution, especially since not all who read my blog agree with me and even of those of you who do, I doubt you work very hard to spread the messages I place here. (I mean no disrepect towards you! I’m just being a realist.) Corporations can, however, and you know they do. After all, if advertising did not work, do you think there’d be so much of it? Do you think Corporations would spend over a billion dollars per year on something that didn’t work?

And what works in the world of commercial advertising works just as well when it comes to convincing you of other things Corporations want. Do you really eat at Carl’s Jr. because their hamburgers are better than burgers anywhere else? Can you really tell the difference — blindfolded — between brands of rootbeer? Is streak-free Windex really better than streak-free Sun Pine? Do you really believe that tax cuts over the last several years have benefited you personally? How much did your take-home pay go up? Did you buy a bigger house or take a longer vacation with all the extra dollars you got to keep? Yet you’ll fight tooth and nail for a President who continues giving these tax cuts that you never see while at the same time he’s ensuring that your children are going to be stuck with a bigger tax bill. (Someone has to pay it!) These are the benefits of large-scale advertising. And only Corporations have the power to do this.

Third, Corporations can buy, sell — in short, own — other Corporations. One consequence? I can drive to the north end of my town and buy anything I want from Walmart, Target or…uh…Walmart. Oh, wait, I already said that. Well, I can drive to the south end of my town and buy anything I want from Wal…uh, wait…Targ…uh, umm…hmm…. Well, I can turn on the television and watch the news. I have a variety of choices, from right-wing CNN to ultra-right-wing Fox News. I think there are two other channels that offer news, but guess what? The same group owns them! (Approximately six Corporations control all news media in the United States. Six.) At least there’s a great variety of clothing stores. Our town has Mervyn’s, Sears, Gottschalks, Penney’s, Macy’s and a whole raft of choices. There must be something like a dozen or more places I can go to buy my Dockers or any of the other four labels currently selling clothing. At least the styles are all different — well, okay, at least the labels on the clothes are different (sometimes). Corporations don’t have to compete anymore. If another Corporation becomes a threat, the big guys will buy them, eliminating choices along with jobs.

Lastly, for purposes of this article, Corporations are essentially immortal. Yes, they can die, but they don’t have to do so. I’m sorry to tell you this if you thought differently, but you do. This means that if Corporations are having trouble getting what they want, either because you’ve sued them or because the political climate at a given point in time turns out to be difficult for them to manage, all they have to do is keep plugging away — and wait. It’s no accident that after your accident, they’ll drag out any litigation that may come from it; if they wait long enough, they’ll bury that lawsuit when you’re buried, or at least reduce the monetary payment if somehow your heirs successfully pursue the claim. If somehow they do lose an election (and with electronic voting, that will happen less often), they can afford to bankroll a campaign to run another almost immediately. It only takes money.

We need to realize and “come to terms with the implications of allowing entities other than humans to claim the status of persons accorded the protections of the Constitution.” (David Graver, supra, at p. 242.) We need to stop treating Corporations like persons, because when we do this, we create something more powerful than ordinary human beings. We need to do this because if we continue down the road we’re on now, these creatures of the State will eventually consume their creators.

Categories: Corporations


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