Roger Ebert once again reminds us he’s a journalist who happens to excel at reviewing movies. He wrote a recent article,”BP’s tree fell on my lawn,” in which he details exactly all the ways in which BP was negligent and irresponsible. But perhaps even worse, how they gamed the system to look victimized. How they got members of Congress to apologize to them. How they’re using police to hide the damage they’ve caused us. How much power and control they have over the situation to obfuscate and avoid responsibility.
Ebert makes the analogy:
“A big tree blew over over on our property. That was an act of God. Parts of it landed on my neighbor’s property. Another act of God. It was my responsibility to pay for its removal. If I’m going to go around growing trees, I have to pay if they get blown over. You can be sure my neighbor will pay if one of his trees blows this way. And if my neighbor could prove that I was trying to cut the tree down (for fuel, let’s say) and it fell the wrong way, he’d have grounds for a lawsuit. Especially if it fell on his house and he could no longer live there.
BP had a very big tree that blew down in the Gulf. It was not looking after it properly. It ignored or evaded safety regulations. It possibly bore criminal responsibility. The tree fell on my property. BP should have to pay to remove that tree, right? What if it enlisted cops to prevent me from even walking over and taking photos of what they were doing on my property? What if they issued statements saying it wasn’t such a large tree, and my property would soon recover? What if it landed on my house, and BP said it wasn’t much of a house in the first place?”
If BP were a neighbor, their expectation to pay for damages would be obvious. Their avoiding responsibility would be criminal. But in the corporatocracy we have now, we have lawmakers apologizing to BP and equating the demand for damage-repair funds from them as a “shakedown,” and those with a veneer of ethics making some grumblings about responsibility but doing nothing to hold BP accountable in any real sense.
“What I don’t understand is how corporations were granted their immunity. How it is axiomatically understood that their interests come before those of people or even their governments? Why must they be defended against reform?”
Isn’t that the kicker? Somehow, as modern capitalism in the U.S. grew as the robber-barons began buying laws and politicians in the late 1800s, the culture was crafted for us in a way that made us forgive corporations of their crimes, their sociopathology, their activities that would put individuals found guilty of equivalent behavior behind bars for life. Corporations have become the heart and soul of America, the beacons of freedom and democracy, sacrosanct symbols of good ol’ God-fearin’ American capitalism. We have come to value the idea of the corporation as more valuable than the ideas of civic duty and responsibility, of civic service, of representative government and the ideas of democracy that used to stand for being American.
“Corporations know no patriotism. They are multi-national. They deal with all markets. It is hard to say just where a big corporation is actually centered. They may have a corporate edifice, but it can be anywhere. Halliburton is in Houston, in theory, but it opened an major office in Dubai, and that is where its chairman, president and CEO lives and works. BP, the fourth largest company in the world, is in London and Houston. Enron seemed to be in Houston, but it turned out not to be a company at all. The largest company in the world is Wal-Mart, which has had great success in China, where its profits will eventually outstrip those in the U.S. It effectively decides the minimum wage in the United States.”
There was a time, during early modern capitalism, when corporate identity and nationalism were interchangeable. When company names like US Steel and American Oil Company weren’t ironic. But the entire point of the corporation, the entire purpose of capitalism, is greatest profit at the lowest cost. So the second national boundaries became elastic enough for countries to locate factories in other countries, place tax shelters in others, relocate service elsewhere, the nationalism of corporate identity evaporated faster than wages and benefits as corporations fell over themselves to become multi-nationals.
And now the Supreme Court has decreed that corporations are people, and may spend as much as they want to influence elections. Glenn Smith in that linked article said:
“Ask yourself this question. If you had to persuade your community about political opinion X, but corporations opposed your view, would you stand a chance knowing that their “political speech” was worth much more than your political speech? The answer is obvious. Mere people have been thrown on the scrap heap. The U.S. Supreme Court is lifting corporations to the top of the evolutionary ladder.
Teabaggers, do you get it now? You are outraged by your powerlessness. Can you now see the real source of that powerlessness? It is not government. Government has been turned into the handmaiden of the corporate oligarchs.
I’m compelled to repeat something else: I’m a fan of entrepreneurship and responsible capitalism. But it’s not the so-called heavy hand of government that is the enemy. It’s the corporate monopolists.”
Blanket hating of government is ridiculous. A government can take any of many, many forms. And the U.S. is designed, originally, to be of, by, and for the people. That means that in essence, hating the government is hating the people — hating yourself and your fellow citizens.
Of course, that would have made more sense before modern capitalism. Over the last 100 years or so, there’s been a massive shift going on under our very noses. The government is not the problem, not if it were of, by, and for the people. If that were the case, it wouldn’t matter how big or powerful it is, it’d still be in service and beholden to us. But that’s not who the government represents or serves anymore. It is now the legislative and enforcement arm of multi-national corporations. Like BP. Politicians are so bought and paid for by corporations that they should be wearing NASCAR race outfits.
And this foundational shift in our government coincides with a cultural shift that serves to protect the corporation no less. We the people have been trained over a few generations to give corporations a pass. Value their interests over our own.
Unions? Why, their goal of aiding and protecting the worker is evil because it harms the poor maligned CEO and shareholders and we don’t want that because one day we’ll no longer be a worker and we’ll be CEOs!
Regulations? Why, trying to protect the consumer from fraud and exploitation and safety hazards is evil interference in the Holy Free Market which harms the CEO and the shareholders, and we don’t want that because one day we’ll no longer be consumers, we’ll be CEOs!
The economy collapses and the middle-class crumbles and corporations get giant bail-outs with our money. But that’s not the corporations’ fault, that’s the fault of the government — government is inherently evil. This is a no-lose position for the corporatocracy: so long as government has power, buy it so that it serves the corporate interest and not the peoples’. And if the people wise up, make government the enemy. If government loses power and becomes ineffectual, “small enough to drown in a bathtub,” who’s there to fill the power vacuum? The monopolies and the megacorps and transnationals — and the oligarchy that owns them, that have held the real power in this country for the last 40 years.
What’s the solution? That’s the question that’s always on my mind, nearly constantly for the last 5 years or so, since I really started paying attention to where we are and especially how we got here. Pfft, don’t ask me; I’m just an armchair amateur cultural critic wannabe. The fantasy solution is for the workers to rise up, revolt against the 5% who own 90% of the wealth, the corporate owners and the CEOs, abolish private ownership of large corporations, redistribute that inherited and stolen wealth back to we the 95% it was stolen from, and return the government to the people and not corporate-owned career politicians. But to be honest? I think we’re on a one-way track of corporate despotism, two-class society (the working poverty and the rich), and nothing can be done except feel at home in our chains.
I imagine that may be how the French peasant class felt by the 1780s. Before the utterly unthinkable happened and they rose up and changed the entire course of history, in a blink of an eye, and abolished royalty, wrested power from the wealthy elite and put it back into the hands of the masses.
Imagine! Before the French Revolution, royalty was a divine right, God-given and decreed! To contemplate revolting against royalty was blasphemy. Was for most people not even comprehensible. People can change the foundations of everything most take for granted as immutable, permanent, always-has-been-and-always-will-be. But we know from history that every great advancement in society has come from the abused class revolting against the abusers.
Government isn’t our enemy. It’s a tool that serves whoever controls it. Right now, the oligarchy controls it to serve them. And they’re laughing themselves into pants-wetting as we fight amongst ourselves over race and immigration and religion and the distractions of Republicrat and Demopublican differences, completely oblivious to the real problems. We’re fighting over the positioning of deck chairs on the Titanic.