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Reining in Sociopathic Corporations' Power

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Message Charles Sullivan
One of the most disturbing and regrettable decisions ever rendered by the American judiciary was that issued by the Supreme Court in the 1800's to recognize corporations as persons. The case known as Santa Clara County v. Southern Pacific was heard in 1886. Perhaps more than any single legal decision handed down in America that is the one that has done the most damage to the creation of a democratic society. Had the courts conferred upon the corporations all of the accountability that attends to actual personhood, we might have been able to live with their ill advised decision. They did not and the consequences have been profound.

Regrettably, the courts gave corporations not only the rights of personhood without accountability; they deliberately created a monster endowed with incredible powers and unleashed it upon the world. Not only did the courts give corporations all of the rights and powers of personhood, they gave them far greater power than actual persons have. These events set in motion the most terrible and destructive forces in human history. The results have been not only devastating to the social fabric of our culture it is a virulent cancer unleashed upon the planet's ecology.

Imagine giving a criminally ill mental patient unlimited power to do whatever he wants, while freeing him from the legal and ethical consequences of his actions. Completely devoid of conscience, he could kill with impunity. He could rule with an iron fist and never have to worry about being held accountable, even if he had a conscience. He would have complete freedom to feed his selfish desires. He would feel no connection to any community; or to the nation where he lives. He would be unrestrained by compassion for the needs and the rights of others. He would bear no responsibility to any nation or creed. His power would essentially know no bounds. His sole purpose would be to increase his power and to multiply his own wealth, as well as the assets of his supporters. He would assert dictatorial control over the political system and the judiciary and use it to his advantage. He would operate beyond the pale of the social contract that made civilization possible. No law or social contract would restrain him from taking what he wants, no matter whom it hurts. That is exactly the kind of power that corporations have.

The 1886 Supreme Court gave corporations the power of Gods a power they would lord over people forever. The courts enabled them to do what no member of society could. In the process they unleashed a marauding cancer that devours everything in its path. The wealthiest corporations routinely cripple, kill, rob and maim with impunity. They are the primary source of the enormous wealth that has corrupted the political system, from which millions have turned away in disgust and anger. The creation of the corporation as a person provided cover behind which the Robber Barons could hide and safely operate the levers of power, away from the prying eyes of conscience and accountability. The result is that we have sociopaths at the controls of power.

Those who sat on the courts that gave corporations these extraordinary and sweeping powers allowed themselves, like their counterparts in today's court system, to be persuaded to act against the public good by the railroads and by men of wealth and means. Ordinary, conscientious and law abiding citizens were betrayed by the courts in order that they might curry favor with the legal fictions they helped to create. By such underhanded means the process of democracy was subverted while simultaneously maintaining the façade of social equality that continues to this day. Giving corporations all of the rights of citizenship and more was fostered by legal minds that habitually cozy up to power, even as they betray the vast majority of the citizenry. It is a product of the class system fostered by capitalism.

The corporate influence pervades every aspect of our culture. Its lethal tentacles are wrapped around the organs of virtually every political campaign, the courts and all of the branches of civil government. Corporations with unlimited power are essentially ruling the world. Power without accountability never serves the interest of social justice or democracy. What is good for multi-national corporations is rarely good for the people who have to work for them.

A letter written by Abraham Lincoln in 1864 prophetically and eloquently states the problem:

"Corporations have been enthroned and an era of corruption in high places will follow; and the money power of the country will endeavor to prolong its reign by working upon the prejudices of the people until all wealth is aggregated in a few hands and the Republic is destroyed." Unwittingly, perhaps, we are fulfilling Lincoln's disturbing prophesy. Can our demise be far off?

It is incumbent upon every American to recognize that corporations have subverted the democratic process and rendered it futile. Unless we bring corporations under the control of rational, ethical and law abiding people the Republic will not long endure. That is the only way to endow corporations with a conscience and to hold them accountable to the people they were originally created to serve. Virtually all that ails America can trace its origins to corporate entities.

Let us initiate dialogue toward revoking the personhood of corporations. Let us begin the process of terminating the corporate charters of businesses that behave like criminals and leave us with toxic environments and disease. Let us work to end corporate welfare in its various incarnations. The savings realized could improve our schools, provide lunches to disadvantaged children and offer health care to millions who otherwise cannot afford it. We must not allow corporations and corporate lobbyists to buy favorable legislation that gives them ever more clout. The cost is simply too high.

Any human being belonging to a civilized society, who behaved in the manner that corporations behave, would find himself convicted of felony crimes or worse. He would be facing a lifetime prison sentence without the possibility of parole; or possibly even the death penalty. Consider the legacy of the world's largest and wealthiest corporations. Examine the records of abuses engendered by Dow Chemical, Monsanto, Shell Oil, Union Carbide, Texaco and countless others. No individual bound by the laws of any civil society could get away with the crimes these companies commit daily. Power without accountability is not only dangerous, it is insane. We must rein in corporate power or perish.
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Charles Sullivan is a photographer, social activist and free lance writer residing in the hinterland of West Virgina.
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