Submitted by David Zink.
Every which way you turn, you can see corporate power battering America.
Developers are paving over meadows and forests with poorly planned urban sprawl and gobbling up our best farmland. Billions of tax dollars go to military contractors and to bail out Big Banksters, while schools and social programs go begging. All for short-term profit for the few at the top, and long-term tragedy for the rest of us. These are not symptoms of a system gone awry. No, this is everyday corporate business as usual. When the top priority is short-term profit for the few, these things should come as no surprise.
Net productivity of labor—which produces all wealth—has never been higher, but the rich elite takes the profits and pockets them. You’ve heard the statistics. The top 1% of the population controls 40% of the wealth of our country; more wealth than the bottom 80%. The increase in income of the top 1% over the past three decades about equals the losses of the bottom 80%.
Visualize 100 chairs, each representing 1% of the wealth in America, and 100 people, each representing 1% of the population of the USA: One guy is hogging up 40 chairs for himself and reaching for more, while 99 of us are bumping & jostling each other for the 60 remaining ones.
The working class is working harder, but making less. A massive upward redistribution of wealth is happening. In the 1970s, corporate chiefs earned about 40 times as much as their lowest-paid workers. Now, they earn 400 times as much. (Time magazine, 14 November 2011)
Early in 2011, the U.S. Census Bureau reported that 14.3% of the population, or 47 million people -- one in six Americans -- were living below the official poverty threshold, currently set at $22,400 annually for a family of four. Some 19 million people are living in extreme poverty, which means that their household income falls in the bottom half of those considered to be below the poverty line. More than a third of those extremely poor people are children.
For more on wealth disparity in America, see: http://sociology.ucsc.edu/whorulesamerica/power/wealth.html
Unemployment, homelessness, hunger, and poverty are growing. America is being changed from a democracy into a corporate dominated plutocracy.
Many Americans see that things are going seriously haywire. Most haven't "connected the dots" yet, unaware of the titanic power grab that is in process. Some are shrugging and giving up, mystified.
Politicians come and go, but the underlying power structure remains. A small, but powerful upper crust elite make the command decisions that determine our income, our health, our food, environmental conditions—even whether we live in peace or war.
The majority have no effective input beyond the façade of "fair" elections every few years. Thanks to the Supreme Court’s “Citizens United” decision, which confirmed the doctrine of Corporate Personhood, we now have a seriously crippled democracy.
Are you tired of your tax dollars going down the rat hole of war? Mega Business has stolen our flag, cynically prostituting patriotism and making Old Glory a hated symbol around the world. The corporate media lies to us to rally support for Big Oil's grab to control foreign energy supplies. Thousands of America's young people are sacrificed on the altar of corporate greed in the name of patriotism.
The military is the "hammer of the government”: a tool meant to be used sparingly to defend our country, not as a hired bully for corporations. This perversion of our armed forces breeds more terrorists every day. The National Guard is for responding to natural disasters like earthquakes, tornados, and floods—not for securing the global oil supply for Exxon/Mobil, BP, or Chevron.
Then, when our troops come home, they often have to wait for the medical attention they need, or, frustrated, they do without. Standards crash when services at Veteran's Hospitals are contracted out to private, for-profit outfits.
In 2010, over 75,000 American veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan vets homeless. In that same year, over 20,000 active-duty troops lost their homes to the banks. One out of every four homeless people is a veteran.
Our enemies are not poor and struggling families thousands of miles away. Our enemies are the military-industrial corporations that profit from war, the bankers and insurance companies on Wall Street, and their politicians in Washington. They are ones who laid us off, raised our tuition, foreclosed our homes, denied us health care, and sent us to kill and die in wars based on lies.
Multi-national corporations take billions of dollars in tax breaks and corporate welfare from U.S. taxpayers, while maintaining offices off-shore to avoid paying their fair share of taxes.
Corporation. Noun. "An ingenious device for obtaining individual profit without individual responsibility." -Ambrose Bierce, American journalist, 1842 - 1914
Why are so many people quiet in the face of all this? A major reason is that TV, radio, and newspaper ownership is concentrated into a few corporate hands. What we are allowed to learn and think is increasingly filtered and shaped by the corporate mass media.
Politicians are increasingly dependent on corporate donors, and "he who pays the piper, calls the tune". This undermines the democratic foundations of our republic. Since the Supreme Court’s “Citizens United” decision, the electoral process is being swamped with corporate spending.
It wasn't always like this: A quick historical sketch
The American Revolution of 1776 began as a rebellion against abusive British corporations. Throughout our history, patriots have warned us about the dangers that corporate power poses to democracy. While superficially honoring those leaders, these issues are edited out of most of the history textbooks chosen for public schools.
Despite many warnings, corporate power grew. After their attorneys convinced the Supreme Court to define them as "legal persons" under the Constitution in 1886, corporations went on to amass more wealth and power.
By the beginning of the 20th Century, the "Robber Barons" had nearly succeeded in turning the USA into a feudal fiefdom. Disgusted by the flagrant arrogance and abuse, people started to say “Enough!” Progressive movements grew to levels alarming to the wealthy.
Teddy Roosevelt was elected president, and helped break up the giant Trusts. The reforms that formed his "Square Deal" program defused popular anger and bought some time for the corporate system to consolidate. The times called for fundamental progressive change. Americans settled for occupational safety regulation, which often turned out to be weak, ineffective, or simply unenforced. Through a strategic process known as “regulatory capture”, corporations have effectively taken control of the regulatory agencies set up to protect our health, environment, and safety.
"I hope we shall crush in its birth the aristocracy of our monied corporations which dare already to challenge our government to a trial by strength, and bid defiance to the laws of our country."
- Thomas Jefferson, Letter to George Logan, 12 November 1816
"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, 21 November 1864 (letter to Col. William F. Elkins)
Ref: The Lincoln Encyclopedia, Archer H. Shaw (Macmillan, 1950, NY)
In the 1930s, the U.S.A. found itself in the depths of the Great Depression—caused by the workings of the corporate system. In the wealthiest country in the world, with rich farmland and a crisis of overproduction idling factories, people were starving amid plenty. With lines of hungry unemployed on one side of the street and idle factories on the other, popular challenges to corporate bungling arose again.
Two examples: The Flint, Michigan sit-down strikes, and the Minneapolis Teamsters strike. Why were these different? Instead of just having rallies and demonstrations out on the streets, the workers actually went into their workplaces, occupied, and controlled them. They organized support networks, created effective supply and distribution systems-and ran their workplaces democratically for themselves and their communities. This is the sort of thing that offers a positive alternative vision—and strikes fear in the hearts of the oligarchy.
In the face of a developing revolutionary situation, Franklin Delano Roosevelt warned the elite that if they didn't give the poorest of the poor something, the wealthiest would soon face a predicament in which they may well lose the whole game. Elected president, FDR championed a set of reforms known as the "New Deal."
Both the Square and the New Deals borrowed ideas heavily from the progressive movements, and gave working people gains like collective bargaining and Social Security. But neither of them solved the root problem. Instead they left corporate rule intact. Again, real change was postponed.
"In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex. The total influence - economic, political, even spiritual - is felt in every city, every statehouse, every office of the federal government. We must never let the weight of this combination endanger our liberties or democratic processes. We must not fail to comprehend its grave implications. Our toil, resources and livelihood are all involved; so is the very structure of our society."
- Dwight D. Eisenhower, Farewell Address to the Nation, 17 January 1961
Presidents John F. Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson, in response to the growing civil rights and peace movements, sought to reform America with their “Great Society” programs. Once more, the root cause of the problems—the corporate system itself—was preserved.
Today, a new generation of robber barons have taken control of the levers of power. Same gang, different faces. Now they want to take back (privatize) Social Security and Medicare, reverse environmental progress, and overturn the right to privacy.
Since 1979 the gap between rich and poor in the U.S. has quadrupled. According to MotherJones.com, in 2009 the average CEO pulled in 185 times what the average worker made, whereas in 1964 it was “only” 24 times higher. From June of 2007 to June of this year, median annual household income declined by 7.8 percent, to $56,320, for non-Hispanic whites and by 6.8 percent, to $39,901, for Hispanics. For blacks, household income declined 9.2 percent, to $31,784 (NY Times, 10/9/2011).
Working people are on the receiving end of a cruel, brutal class war. It is class war from above: a continuous assault by the rich, a fact unreported by corporate media, Glen Beck, Sean Haanity, and others who represent the interests of the tiny minority of super-rich.
“There’s not enough money,” they say. There is plenty of money for multi-billion-dollar contracts with the military industrial corporations and to bail out the big banksters—with our tax dollars—but how about when it comes to our lives? Popular discontent is rising against the system's inability to provide necessities as basic as jobs, affordable homes and decent healthcare, while stirring up a toxic stew of militarism, pollution, alienation, violence, and poverty.
Corporations continually grab for more wealth and power and bump up against the boundaries of civil society. Given the opportunity, they outgrow national borders, exploit cheaper labor abroad, and seek to dominate foreign markets. Corporate power leads directly to imperialism and war, because corporations are hard-wired with a "grow-or-die" drive. Shareholder primacy - profit above all - is the rule. Multi-nationals are no longer a part of America, and have no regret or concern for the wellbeing of people, community, or country.
Neither the Democrats nor the GOP have the kind of systemic change that America desperately needs on their agenda. Very few will even go near any discussion of the corporatist roots of our problems. The chase after corporate donations has become all-important in the political game, while lip service is paid to democracy, fairness, and citizen power. Every day, our senators and representatives face a horde of corporate lobbyists. Against that din, the voices of average citizens can hardly be heard.
It doesn't have to be like this!
What can we learn from all this? First, periodic crises aren't flukes. The everyday, normal operation of corporate power undermines democracy and the economy. Americans have tried repeatedly to restrain corporate abuses. But, by their very nature as profit-maximizing machines, corporations will dodge any restraints and regulations that promote economic, social, and environmental justice.
By leaving the power structure in corporate hands, we sow the seed for future problems.
When the corporate elite feels its power and wealth threatened, they historically respond in one of two ways:
1. Reform - give up a little something. Divert attention away from, and defuse popular movements. Then, later, finagle a way to take it back. Not only environmental protection and workplace safety regulations, but Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, and funding for education, even retirement pensions are now on the chopping block.
2. When there is no perceived realistic possibility for reform, create a false threat, by setting up some "other" group (such as an ethnic, economic, or sexual minority) and blame them for problems, while disrupting unions, cooperatives, and grassroots movements. Corporations will finance astroturf (bogus grassroots) groups with nice-sounding names like the “Tea Party”, “Committee for Prosperity”, or the “Evergreen Freedom Foundation” to do their bidding.
Will we take a lesson from history, or will we just allow the death of our democracy? How much of America’s potential will remain for our children?
This is no time to give up. All citizens of good will—Republican, Democrat, and Independent—are needed in the struggle to take back America. It is time to stand together to save our freedoms and save our democracy. There are alternatives to corporate dictatorship. We need to be discussing these options, up, down, and across the country. We need to take back our government. It's up to us, the "real" people.
Trans-National corporations are managing our economy like a casino. The deck is stacked and the dice are loaded. Is it time for still another "deal"? Will we get sucked in yet again into accepting some tinkering around the edges, when America needs real change? Do we really want to be fooled again? Or is it time for a whole new game, with better, more common-sense, democratic, cooperative, and sustainable rules?
The only force that can lead America out of this mess is the American working class. Blue collar, white collar, pink collar, of all skin colors. By building a powerful movement that takes Wall Street, the big banks, and major corporations into public ownership and control, the power of the rich bankers and executives ruining America would be finished. Instead of society being run by the economic elite and their bought-and-paid-for politicians of both parties, an economy can be built and run democratically by those who do all the work and create all the wealth – the working class.