Corporation: An ingenious device for obtaining profit without individual responsibility.

-Ambrose Bierce

When I hear the phrase “we the people” I think of your average Joe Citizen. I think of people down on their luck in the inner city, struggling to make ends meet. I think of a guy living in Westchester county with an acre of land and a beautifully manicured lawn. I don’t think of Exxon. Or Pfizer. Or Halliburton. Strangely enough, though, the Supreme Court of the United States thinks of those corporations – all corporations, really – in the same category as “we the people.”

Earlier this year in January with the ruling of Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, when the John Roberts led supreme court ruled that corporate funding of independent political broadcasts could not be limited under the First Amendment. This ruling was absolutely unprecedented, but was yet another small step in giving corporations power at the expense of the people. This was an absolutely partisan ruling that struck down the previous bi-partisan McCain-Feingold act that prohibited all corporations from broadcasting “electioneering communications.” In very simple terms the Supreme Court ruled that anyone is essentially “an individual” in terms of campaign donations and political broadcasts. The First Amendment, one of the few things that still separated people from corporations, was now declared by the majority opinion (5-4 almost strictly along party lines) to apply to corporations too.

Since that ruling any group whatsoever can now spend any amount of money on political advertisements that they so wish and do so in a fashion that allows them to obfuscate where the money is coming from. Combine this with the Florida court ruling that says media agencies – even ones specifically devoted toward broadcasting “the news” – are allowed to lie under the first amendment, and you have an environment perfectly set to have corporate shills and puppets running our country.

Not that they don’t already.

One of my favorite authors, William Gibson, often writes about a dystopian future where corporations rule the world by propping up cardboard cutout governments that are technically legal but amount to nothing. In these books no one thinks twice about the fact that these corporations field standing armies, assassinate anyone they deem a threat, and produce products that are known to be harmful to humans simply because they make a profit. We’re not too far from that today. This country was originally set up to be run for the people by the people – a vote by the masses would ensure the brightest would lead this country and have only the best interests in mind for the people. There already are politicians associated with certain high-power corporate entities. Joe Lieberman is widely known for being the senator from Etna, not Connecticut. The Cheney administration seemed to have the best interests of Haliburton and the military-industrial complex in mind rather than those of the country. Now that donation money can flow even more freely you’re going to see a lot more political attack ads against people the corporations don’t want in power and the people they do want in power winning more offices.

What’s one of the biggest ways a corporation gains money and power? At your expense. When Major League Baseball’s Expos were shown to be floundering economically it was decided by a consortium of MLB owners to move the team. They already had the buyer picked out, and through tax breaks, outright grants, and local government donations the Lerner Group effectively purchased the team for no money. Based on the value of the Nationals compared to the Expos it can even be argued that they were paid to take the team. Taxpayers in DC were told a stadium would boost income and revenue for the local economy, they were repeatedly told a popular lie the money would “trickle down.” from the rich to the poor. Yet here we are years later and the income gap between the poor and rich has widened, even more so in Washington DC than other areas.  [Read David Cay Johnston’s book A Free Lunch for more background on the Nationals sale].

In the 1940’s, corporations typically paid around 33% of our government’s tax income. This had failed to 15 percent in the 1990s. On the flip side, the individual tax burden has risen from 44% to over 70% in that same time frame. Corporations feel no remorse, feel no pain, don’t age, don’t worry about the environment, don’t care about the quality of food, and have only one goal: to gain as much money as possible for the few that run it. Corporations are considered people and have all those advantages, yet they don’t have the built-in regulation that most people have: a conscience. A sense of what is right and wrong. How many times can you think of a corporate disaster that cost lives or greatly damaged lives where before any government interaction that corporation jumped to do the right thing and fixed their damage. I honestly can’t think of any. Now how many times can you think of where the reverse happened, where a corporation caused massage damage or death and then dragged their feet doing the right thing and in the end never did make things whole? The Deep Horizon oil spill, the Exxon Valdez, Toyota’s acceleration/brake problem, Union Carbide’s Bopa disaster. In each of those situations I clearly remember more effort and possibly more money going into telling us they were working on fixing the problem than actually fixing the problem.

Think of how scary a world we already live in, in terms of corporate power.

Now think that the vast majority of politicians get the vast majority of their money from corporations with the express intent that the money given is to sway political decisions in corporate favor.

William Gibson, we’re not far from the ethics of Neuromancer while still being pretty far away from the technology that makes that world a wonder. I’d call that a horror book.

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Zarberg is a member of The Political Observers, a sub-group of our writers who are devoted to topics that are political in nature. Zarberg provides a liberal viewpoint in his articles.

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