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General News    H3'ed 10/25/10

Tomgram: Rebecca Solnit, Invasion of the Democracy Crushers

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In fiction, these have been the modernizing years for vampires. Following the path blazed by novelist Anne Rice, in text and on screen they have become more complex, more human, and increasingly (dare I use the word) heartthrobs. Think "True Blood," the Twilight series, and "The Vampire Diaries." In the all-too-real and bizarre world we actually inhabit, however, the vampires have been truly regressive: think Count Dracula or Count Orlok of Nosferatu (only far, far richer). Their sole bow to modernity is that, while they -- or the monetary contributions they offer in return for political cocktails made from our national lifeblood -- still tend to skulk in the dark, they are also willing to stand in the light, teeth bared, ready to sink them in the nearest set of necks.

A story of election-year vampirism led last Thursday's NBC Nightly News with correspondent Michael Isikoff reporting on "a kind of secret fortune that has been flowing into congressional campaigns in these midterm elections," with Karl Rove's right-wing front-group American Crossroads, among others, "expecting to raise as much as $250 million dollars to flood the airways in the last weeks of the election." The next morning the New York Times reported on a bevy of top corporations (Chevron, Goldman Sachs, Texaco, and Dow Chemical, to name just four) who have funneled multi-millions through the U.S. Chamber of Commerce into massive national ad and influence campaigns in these last years -- and on one right-wing contributor who stepped happily out of the dark to the tune of $7 million (also for American Crossroads).

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If you want to go deep into the night of the living dead, check out Marvin Kitman's account, "Murdoch Triumphant," in the November issue of Harper's Magazine. It's the blow-by-blow tale of Rupert's fair-and-balanced path to American media power and the millions he spent or donated to get there. To stay there, he just keeps on giving -- most recently, million dollar donations to both the Republican Governor's Association and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. Reports on this subject are now a dime a dozen because what the weather (and global warming) recently did in inundating Pakistan, the money of the rich and largely right-wing is now doing to what's left of American politics. (And this isn't likely to be a passing phase. After all, the "secret" donors of the moment are already planning for their future -- but not, of course, yours.)

It may be true that you can't buy love, but politically speaking, it looks like pretty much everything else is potentially up for sale in what we still like to call American democracy. With that in mind, one of TomDispatch's favorite writers, Rebecca Solnit, author of A Paradise Built in Hell: The Extraordinary Communities that Arise in Disaster and the soon-to-be-published Infinite City: A San Francisco Atlas, returns today to look at just whose horror movie we're living in. (By the way, catch Solnit discussing "mixed-up California" in a Timothy MacBain TomCast audio interview by clicking here or, to download it to your iPod, here.) Tom

Jurassic Ballot
When Corporations Ruled the Earth
By Rebecca Solnit

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This country is being run for the benefit of alien life forms. They've invaded; they've infiltrated; they've conquered; and a lot of the most powerful people on Earth do their bidding, including five out of our nine Supreme Court justices earlier this year and a whole lot of senators and other elected officials all the time. The monsters they serve demand that we ravage the planet and impoverish most human beings so that they might thrive. They're like the dinosaurs of Jurassic Park, like the Terminators, like the pods in Invasion of the Body Snatchers, except that those were on the screen and these are in our actual world.

We call these monsters corporations, from the word corporate which means embodied. A corporation is a bunch of monetary interests bound together into a legal body that was once considered temporary and dependent on local licensing, but now may operate anywhere and everywhere on Earth, almost unchallenged, and live far longer than you.

The results are near-invincible bodies, the most gigantic of which are oil companies, larger than blue whales, larger than dinosaurs, larger than Godzilla. Last year, Shell, BP, and Exxon were three of the top four mega-corporations by sales on the Fortune Global 500 list (and Chevron came in eighth). Some of the oil companies are well over a century old, having morphed and split and merged while continuing to pump filth into the air, the water, and the bodies of the many -- and profits into the pockets of the few.

Thanks to a Supreme Court decision this January, they have the same rights as you when it comes to putting money into the political process, only they're millions of times larger than you -- and they're pumping millions of dollars into races nationwide. It's like inviting a T. rex into your checkers championship -- and it doesn't matter whether dinosaurs can play checkers, at least not once you're being pulverized by their pointy teeth.

The amazing thing is that they don't always win, that sometimes thousands of puny mammals -- that's us -- do overwhelm one of them.

Gigantic, powerful, undead beings, corporations have been given ever more human rights over the past 125 years; they act on their own behalf, not mine or yours or humanity's or, really, carbon-based life on Earth's. We're made out of carbon, of course, but we depend on a planet where much of the carbon is locked up in the earth. The profit margins of the oil corporations depend on putting as much as possible of that carbon into the atmosphere.

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So in a lot of basic ways, we are at odds with these creations. The novelist John le Carre' remarked earlier this month, "The things that are done in the name of the shareholder are, to me, as terrifying as the things that are done -- dare I say it -- in the name of God." Corporations have their jihads and crusades too, since they subscribe to a religion of maximum profit for themselves, and they'll kill to achieve it. In an odd way, shareholders and god have merged in the weird new religion of unfettered capitalism, the one in which regulation is blasphemy and profit is sacred. Thus, the economic jihads of our age.

They Fund By Night!

In the jihad that concerns me right now, most of the monsters come from Texas; the prey is in California; and it's called our economy and our environment. Four years ago, with state Assembly Bill 32, the Global Warming Solutions Act of 2006, we Californians decided we'd like to cultivate our environment for the benefit of all of us, human and biological, now and in the long future.

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Tom Engelhardt, who runs the Nation Institute's ("a regular antidote to the mainstream media"), is the co-founder of the American Empire Project and, most recently, the author of Mission Unaccomplished: Tomdispatch (more...)

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