Whoever wins, we’re screwed No matter who won the election — remember, at press time we did not know — it’s important to understand that we’re screwed. By “we” I mean those of us who aren’t in the top bracket of wealth; by “screwed” I mean subjugated, hoodwinked, marooned. Who’s doing the screwing? Corporations — vast, insidious, power-hungry, self-perpetuating, forever merging into fewer and fewer entities — that’s who. Now out in paperback, Corporateering: How Corporate Power Steals Your Personal Freedom (Tarcher/Penguin; $15.95) explains how corporations rule our lives and what we can do to fight back. Author Jamie Court has spent a good deal of time fighting corporations in California and his personal experience underpins the common sense approach of Corporateering. Court is not an anarchist working outside the mainstream, but a savvy player who knows how to work the system to win battles for the common citizen.
Corporateering, as defined by Court, is “When corporations exceed their traditional role in a marketplace to dominate the cultural sphere and compromise individual’s rights, freedoms, power and the democratic systems that protect them.”
The problem, Court says, is that “Individuals today see the corporation compete to reflect human cultural meaning that transcends a commercial profit motive.” In other words, brands equal values. No matter how rapaciously a corporation is destroying the environment, outsourcing its labor to Third World workers, producing dangerous products or encroaching upon personal freedom, if the consumer feels good about a brand, that’s all that really matters.
He laments that “Corporateers have created a new internal order that puts the free movement of corporations and markets above the common good of societies, that places things ahead of people.”
To paraphrase David Byrne, “How did we get here?”
Court takes us all the way back to 1886, when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that “for the purposes of law, corporations had the same rights as people and were protected under the Due Process Clause of the 14th Amendment.” Ironically, this amendment was originally “designed to safeguard newly emancipated African-Americans.” This ruling gifted corporations “the right to life, liberty and the association independent of its state charter — the public’s greatest authority over it.”
Inevitably, the individual and government lost their ability to hold corporations accountable for a variety of bad behaviors. Court charts the modern movement of corporate domination as he traces the Supreme Court career of Lewis F. Powell Jr., appointed by Nixon in 1971, whose pro-corporate arguments have profoundly shaped our present predicament.
Nixon, in fact, was “the last U.S. president to apply wage and consumer price controls.” Since then, we’ve witnessed a corporate take-over — of us. Reagan “dismantled the corporate regulatory and tax structures.” Clinton’s “permissive consolidation policies” resulted in a record-breaking number of corporate mergers. Court estimates that at this point, “No more than six to eight corporations control most major industries in America.”
All this and we’re not even to the chapter entitled “Selling the Free Press and the Public Interest,” a subject compelling to this locally-owned and operated newspaper. We need go no further than the Gannett-owned Indianapolis Star and INtake to ask, with Court, “whether the media becomes a tool primarily of public enlightenment or of commercial interests, and whether most of the public will be able to see any difference between the two.”
Court dedicates Part Three of his book to fighting back, including information on how to file your own Freedom of Information Act request.
I was happy to find quoted in this book Sheldon Rampton and John Stauber, authors of Trust Us, We’re Experts! as well as Banana Republicans, a book I reviewed in August (First Person: “Fountains of Truth; PR Watch’s New Book Follows the Money,” Aug. 11-18). Books like these help you connect-your-own-dots of organizations and people you can trust to tell you the truth.
Me, I’m paying attention to Jamie Court, to Rampton and Stauber and their organization PR Watch (prwatch.org). I’m keeping my eye on Amy Goodman and Democracy Now! on Free Speech TV. I’m subscribing to Harper’s and Adbusters. I’m reading everything by No Logo author Naomi Klein (nologo.org). And I endeavor never to miss an episode of The Daily Show With Jon Stewart, no matter what corporation owns it.
These are the people that are truly working for you, not the “you” that John Kerry talks about or the “ya” that Bush intones. I’m talking about the yous who don’t want corporations to rule over humans. I’m talking about the yous who believe that greed is erosive to psyches, souls and hearts everywhere.
If there are enough of us yous, we can make an us, an us deserving of the acronym U.S.