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Unequal Protection: The Rise of Corporate Dominance and the Theft of Human Rights

Unequal Protection: The Rise of Corporate Dominance and the Theft of Human Rights - Thom Hartmann Introduction …..HISTORY!……..DRAMA!……..….RELEVANCE!What more could you possibly ask of nonfiction? This book knocked my socks off. In fact, as I was reading, I was thinking: "This is an amazing book; how can I get more people to read it?" So I decided to make an offer... sort of a "put my money where my mouth is" gesture. If I think the book is that great, why don't I buy it for people? Here's what I posted on 28 March: ======================================I will buy a copy of this book for anybody currently (i.e. as of 03/28/2011) on my GR friends list who agrees to completely read it, and write a review of it on GoodReads within 1 year. Write whatever you want- no interference from me- promise. This is serious. Offer expires 28 April 2011.UPDATES:Natalie has taken me up on my offer. Look for her review! :)Laura will read and review this too! Look for her review!MyFleshSingsOut is on-board! Eager to see what he has to say!Kat Kennedy has taken me up on my offer! We're going international!Jennifer (aka EM) is in on the challenge!Stephen's review here!BeLL-Z started reading this before I did, BTW!Lisa's review here!Kathy's review here!Jakob brings Iceland into the mix!Sara is the latest person to accept my offer! Look for her review!Jason is with us! This is awesome!Reese has joined our ranks!Miriam's review- coming soon to a webpage near you!Werner has officially joined the fray!Jen has signed up for the challenge!Natalie is taking part- look for her review!Brad's copy is in the mail! Look for his review!Conrad has joined our ranks- welcome!Jen has entered the building! Cwn_annwn_13 has joined the group- look for his review!Rusty Shackleford has accepted my offer- watch for his review!Nick Black just hopped aboard!Whitaker's review here!Meredith's review here!Manny's review here!Ian's review here!=========================================The response has been more robust than I expected, and I am giddy with anticipation to read the reviews that will follow. (Whatever their contents may be; any serious discussion is welcome.) I wasn't sure whether I should post a review here or not. I don't want to unduly influence anybody... But I don't think I will. Experience has shown that GoodReaders generally aren't shy about their opinions, and that's what I love about them.So for what it's worth, here's my review:...For all of recorded time (and a good portion beforehand), mankind has been the dominant species on this planet. That’s so fundamental to our view of things, it’s even written into some of our religious texts.“…And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness: and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth.”-Genesis1:26Well, there’s a new creepy crawler on the planet, and mankind’s days of dominion are gone. We now share preeminence with a species of our own creation: corporations. And just like happened when the Cane toad came to Australia, the newly-introduced creature is ravaging the old order, playing havoc with the environment, and out-competing the native breed (i.e. you and I). Do you think I’m overstating things? This is the story, painful and improbable, of corporate personhood, as expertly told by talk radio host and former CEO, Thomas Hartmann. If you’ve never heard that term before, corporate personhood is a legal principle which holds that incorporated businesses are the same as people, in the eyes of the law. As such, companies have a claim on the same inalienable human rights as you and I do. Think about that for a second. When I first heard about this, I wasn’t sure what to make of it. The American government is supposedly a government by and for The People… but now I'm supposed to believe “The People” includes corporations? That’s quite a stretch for the imagination, and it flies in the face of high school Civics class (if such instruction even exists anymore). Who believes our forefathers spilled blood on the field of battle so a corporation could enjoy its inalienable right to worship God, according to a tradition of its choosing? Yeah, that's what I thought. Ridiculous. This subject is a legal and philosophical morass, and as such, I would expect a lot of readers‘ eyes to glaze over, right about now. Here’s the shocker: Thomas Hartman lights this subject on fire! He does such a fantastic job ferreting out the causes, and demonstrating the significance of it all, I was burning through Unequal Protection like it was the latest YA Harry Potter zombie sex mystery! That isn't to say the book is overly dramatic. Hartmann is in fact very evenhanded in his presentation, showing how corporate personhood is the unintended consequence of a collision of ideas. So what were those ideas, and how did they collide?(A.) Corporations are peopleWTF?? Did I just say that corporations are people? That defies all common sense, doesn’t it? Corporations are institutions. They’re run by people- human men and women, working together to achieve a goal (usually to make a profit), but they aren’t themselves actually people! Sorry- this is one of those instances where the legal definition doesn’t fit the common sense definition. In a way, it's too bad businesses aren't people. Consider:- businesses don't get drafted into military service- businesses don't go to prison- businesses don't have to worry about what kind of world they will leave their children- businesses don't get sentenced to lethal injection, or electrocution- businesses don't breathe the air, or drink the water they polluteIf they did, they might behave better, but alas, they don't feel the risks or vulnerabilities that human citizens do. Before anybody gets all upset that I'm painting corporations as evil, I'm not. No more than sharks are evil. Sharks are single-minded predators who serve a useful function in the food chain. Corporations are single-minded profit-making entities. They are human inventions, designed to serve a useful function for humans. When the law is turned on its head to make people serve corporations, you know something has upset the natural order. So how did the "legal fiction" of corporate personhood ever come to be?The answer to that lay 400 years in the past, with the founding of the British East India Company (BEIC) in December of 1600. It was arguably the world’s first modern, multinational corporation. Before BEIC, most businesses were small concerns owned by individuals, families or partnerships of a few people. Businesses themselves didn’t own property; their property was merely the personal property of the business owner. It worked out fine, so long as commerce was conducted on a small scale. Things got more complicated when Britain acquired colonies in India, China and North America. British merchants were making a killing in the import/export business, which attracted the attention of Queen Elizabeth I (QE1) and some related nobility. She wanted to get in on the profits, and she wanted to operate on a large scale… maintaining a dedicated fleet of ships, port facilities, warehouses and a large staff of employees. Keeping track of which of these belonged to her, and which to her partners, and how much each item contributed to the overall profit was going to be a logistical nightmare. The solution was to say that the entire operation was an entity unto itself, which all the investors owned shares in, which could then be bought, sold and traded. Thus read the “Articles of Incorporation” for the British East India Company. The crown had just created a new power for itself: the right to charter corporations. Take a look at that word for a minute. It has the Latin root “corp” in it, from “corpus” which means “body” (as in corporal punishment, etc). The wording is intentional. By the letter of the law, corporations are fictitious people recognized by the crown for the purposes of owning property, transacting business, and performing administrative and legal functions. It’s a very efficient way to conduct business on a large scale. It certainly solved the BEIC's logistical problems. In fact, the BEIC is one of the all-time most profitable businesses in human history. Once it got its fingers into markets around the world, it became an aggressive competetor with small merchants, particularly in Britain’s North American colonies. Hartmann shows how BEIC abuses inflicted on colonial merchants were the driving force behind the Declaration of Independence, and eventually the Revolutionary War. His narration through this part of the book is masterful. I had never heard American history framed in this context, but it checks out, and makes perfect sense. It’s a bit painful to read at 42, knowing that in a better world, my public school education would have filled me in on this stuff decades earlier. Better late than never. You can savor the details on your own. What we’ve got so far are corporations as artificial people. Think of them as golems (or andats, if I correctly understand Eh!'s review of A Shadow in Summer); we breathe life into them, and they roam the Earth, doing our bidding… or not.(B.) As “people”, corporations deserve the same rights and protections as you and IJump ahead eighty years from the Revolutionary War to the American Civil War. The Union had been preserved, and the slaves had been emancipated. To protect the former slaves from discriminatory practices, Congress passed the Fourteenth Amendment. Essentially it states that all people shall enjoy equal protections under the law. (you lawyers and law students out there can feel free to help me refine this paraphrasing, but it’s something thereabouts) In any case, the intent was to make our society more equitable for all; to do away with the legacy of slavery and all its attendant injustices. I think it is safe to say the Fourteenth Amendment was not written to improve the lot of corporations… but that’s one of its unintended consequences. In truth, courts have heard more Fourteenth Ammendment cases from corporations asserting their personhood rights than from former slaves seeking equal protection under the law. A few practical sequellae of this (and there are a ton, but I'll just list a few examples) include:- corporations can't be taxed differently from humans- attempts to limit corporate campaign contributions are construed as "interfering" with their "right" to political expression- when regulatory agencies show up unannounced at factories for the purposes of inspection (e.g. to assess compliance with pollution or worker safety standards), this is taken as a breach of privacy, the same as if that government agency showed up at your house, demanding access.How did things get so out of hand? It wasn't like this at first. For the first twenty years after the Fourteenth Ammendment passed, judges did not interpret the law this way. Unlike most citizens, however, corporations had the resources to keep trying… to keep litigating every case they could (sometimes over matters of just a few dollars)… looking for that one favorable decision they could use ever-after as a legal precedent to rule in their favor. In this sense, the justice system is not an even playing field. Having the resources to keep litigating counts in one's favor. Obviously, only the very wealthiest human beings can afford to keep hammering away at the system until they get their way. For companies though, that is the normal gameplan. Corporate lawyers got the ruling they wanted in 1886. The case was Southern Pacific Railroads v. Santa Clara County, CA What exactly happened with this case is unclear. The judges did not rule in favor of corporate personhood, but a court recorder made it seem like they did, and that was good enough to secure future rulings. [ASIDE]At this point, let me call on some of the legal professionals out there: does this seem plausible? …that a misunderstood ruling could still set a precedent the rest of us would have to live with? If I had the standing, couldn’t I bring a case challenging the idea of corporate personhood, and citing the actual ruling of Southern Pacific Railroads v. Santa Clara County, CA as my basis?What Hartmann describes here is an ugly pattern we see oft repeated: corporations never have to take "no" for an answer. If they are defeated in court, they just keep coming back, undeterred, like zombie hordes. I guess the rest of us can just put our hands on this frosted glass window and wonder what happened to a government by the People, for the People... The last hundred years have been an almost uninterrupted string of courtroom victories for corporate personhood, so by the time we get to present day, things sound pretty bleak. We're in the part of the movie now where there's just a nucleas of main characters left, trapped in the last safe building. The zombies outside are everywhere, and they've started to find their way through the remaining fortifications. Present DayI'll be honest. This part is difficult to review, because it splits off in a hundred different directions, every one of which is fascinating, but there's too much to try to summarize here. Hartmann cites example after example of corporations exploiting their personhood to dodge taxes, to bully people who oppose them, to avoid (costly) improvements which would make factories safer or reduce pollution, and to suppress wages. Any one of these tangents opens up into a larger topic worthy of exploration. The wage suppression, for example, is a great introduction into how the World Trade Organization (WTO) forces workers in the developed world to compete with political prisoners in China, and child labor in Indonesia... while also keeping consumers ignorant about the contents of many imported items (e.g. lead in painted objects, genetically-modified food products, etc) These things will make your blood boil, if you let them. As I keep saying, consumers and workers increasingly find themselves on the underside of a political and economic system that purports to serve them. I was particularly irritated to read how corporations have passionately defended their own personhood on one hand, but have successfully litigated to prevent trade unions from obtaining similar status. For the record, I'm not in favor of recognizing any institution as a person, but the boldfaced hypocrisy of this is outrageous nonetheless. That leads well into my final thoughts on corporate personhood: that it has made a complete mockery of our legal system... a malignant joke that continues to ravage peoples' lives. You Got the Power!If the book ended there, readers would be left feeling helpless and enraged. Fortunately, Hartman outlines ways people can turn things around, both as consumers and as voters. Forget about changing Washington; meaningful change comes from the local level: in you local government, and in the stores where you shop. That's important to realize, because it will save activists a lot of wasted time and effort. This is part of the hidden appeal of Unequal Protection. Grass roots stuff always feels so petty ante, but the broad base of society doesn't live in Washington D.C. "All politics is local", as they say. Read this book. It is wonderful.Get involved. Not for my sake, but for your own.-Good Luck!UPDATE: BREAKING NEWS! This just in!