Thursday, July 1, 2010

Behind the Corporate Curtain

I'm reading Thom Hartmann's latest book Unequal Protection: How Corporations Became "People" and How You Can Fight Back, 2nd Edition, wherein I have learned some startling things about the reasons that "our" government "of, by, and for the people" has become, instead, of, by, and for the corporations.

Wonder why your liberties are shrinking, your vote not counting? You better read this. Think "big government" is the total cause of your affliction and misfortune? You're part right...and part wrong. The main reason it's gotten SO big and controlling is that corporations have basically taken it over. The recent Supreme Court decision, which tossed out corporate campaign finance limits, is just the latest in a long string of judgments that have steadily eroded people rights and created huge inequalities.

The first Tea Party revolt was, as some seem to have forgotten, against transnational corporate domination of the early American economy by the East India Company. Modern Tea Partiers owe it to themselves to understand this fundamental truth and to rechampion the same cause that birthed the American Revolution and our nation.

Chapter 6 provided a surprising list of 19th-century laws, common to most states at the time, regulating corporations. If American citizens (not "consumers" by the way; that's the corporate name for us) still had the powers once provided by these kinds of limits, we would be enjoying a cleaner world, more freedom, and much greater happiness.  Here's that list:

- Corporations were required to have a clear purpose, to be fulfilled but not exceeded.
- Corporations' licenses to business were revocable by the state legislature if they exceeded or did not fulfill their chartered purpose(s).
- The state legislature could revoke a corporation's charter if it misbehaved.
- The act of incorporation did not relieve corporate management or stockholders/owners of responsibility or liability for corporate acts.
- As a matter of course, corporation officers, directors, or agents couldn't break the law and avoid punishment by claiming they were "just doing their job" when committing crimes but instead could be held criminally liable for violating the law.
- State (not Federal) courts heard cases where corporations or their agents were accused of breaking the law or harming the public.
- Directors of the corporation were required to come from among the stockholders.
- Corporations had to have their headquarters and meetings in the state where their principal place of business was located.
Corporation charters were granted for a specific period of time, such as twenty or thirty years (instead of being granted "in perpetuity", as is now the practice.
Corporations were prohibited from owning stock in other corporations, to prevent them from extending their power inappropriately.
Corporations' real estate holdings were limited to what was necessary to carry out their specific purposes.
- Corporations were prohibited from making any political contributions, direct or indirect.
- Corporations were prohibited from making charitable or civic donations outside of their specific purposes.
- State legislatures could set the rates that some monopoly corporations could charge for their products or services.
- All corporation records and documents were open to the legislature or the state attorney general.

Now imagine the country if these laws were still in place. You'll begin to understand why Thom chose the following titles for some chapters in his book...
     Unequal Uses for the Bill of Rights
     Unequal Regulation
     Unequal Protection from Risk
     Unequal Taxes
     Unequal Responsibility for Crime
     Unequal Privacy
     Unequal Citizenship and Access to the Commons
     Unequal Wealth
     Unequal Trade
     Unequal Media
     Unequal Influence

Here's a few reviewer's comments:

"If you wonder why the corporate world constantly lurches from malaise to oppression to governmental corruption and back, Unequal Protection reveals the untold story. Beneath the success and rise of American enterprise is an untold history that is antithetical to every value Americans hold dear. This is a seminal work, a godsend really, a clear message to every citizen about the need to reform our country, laws, and companies."
--Paul Hawken, author, Natural Capitalism

"This extraordinary book combines meticulous historical and legal research with a clear and compelling writing style to demonstrate beyond reasonable doubt the incompatibility of corporate personhood with democracy, the market economy, and the well-being of society. Complete with a practical program for essential reform to restore the rights of real persons - including model legislation - it is essential reading and an invaluable reference work for every citizen who cares about democracy, justice, and the human future. Hartmann combines a remarkable piece of historical rersearch with a brilliant literary style to tell the grand story of corporate corruption and its consequences for society with the force and readability of a great novel. I intended to take a first quick glance and then couldn't put it down."
--David C. Korten, author of When Corporations Rule the World

"Unequal Protection should be in the hands of every thinking American. If we do not awaken soon, democracy will be replaced by a new 'Third Reich' of corporate tyranny. To be aware of the danger is the responsibility of each of us. No one has told us the truth better than Thom Hartmann. Read it!"
--Gerry Spence, author of Give Me Liberty

"Unequal Protection is a blueprint for revitalizing the spirit of American democracy. Sometimes you have to understand the bad news in order to appreciate the good news. Thom Hartmann connects the dots in a way that is a tremendous gift for our generation of Americans."
--Marianne Williamson, author, Healing the Soul of America
(see more cartoons by this artist at

"Essential reading for anyone concerned about the future of democracy, both here and abroad. With devastating precision and well-reasoned passion, Thom Hartmann shows the reader precisely how the corporate entity gained such a perilously dominant role in the life of a nation whose founders meant for its politics to respond to the concerns of people and communities, not return-seeking corporations."
--Jeff Gates, president, Shared Capitalism Institute, author, Democracy At Risk

"We thought it was only in science fiction that things created by humans could actually take over what is inherently our human heritage. But Thom Hartmann shows how we've already let that happen on a frightening scale - not in Frankenstein's monsters or Kubrick's creeping computer Hal - but in the corporations that present their friendly 'faces' to us as if we have nothing to fear from this ultimate usurpation of our rights as real humans."
--Ed Ayres, Senior Editor at Worldwatch and author, God's Last Offer

"For years, Thom Hartmann has been asking the important questions and inspiring people to act on their solutions. Now he tackles one of the hardest - how democracy in America and worldwide has been eroded by unaccountable corporate power. He looks at the structures that encourage destructive behavior and offers alternatives. Fascinating history told engagingly. We need books like this to find a way forward."
--Paul Loeb, author, Soul of a Citizen

"Hartmann goes where no person has gone before - towards uncovering the true history of how corporations and the wealthy people behind them transformed our law and culture to usurp democracy. This book is an inspiration to all groups and communities and explains why we must rethink our engagement in single issue struggles and move towards the assertion of direct, democratic control over corporations."
--Thomas Linzey, Esq., Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund

Read this book...please. 
(You can enjoy all of M. Wuerker's latest excellent political cartoons at

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