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OpEdNews Op Eds    H3'ed 8/25/20

Barbara Freese: Something's Rotten in the Corporate States of America

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A new book by Barbara Freese explores eight stories about the unfettered corporate greed that has corrupted modern society and led to an astounding loss of life.

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Beginning with the slave trade and leading all the way up to the climate crisis, author Barbara Freese's "Industrial Strength Denial" examines eight of private industries' most egregious crimes against humanity. On this week's installment of "Scheer Intelligence," the author and former assistant attorney general of Minnesota joins Robert Scheer to discuss what the host calls "heinous behavior" on the part of the corporations involved in each case, and, most importantly, how the corporatization of the United States has allowed unfettered greed to cause irreversible harm and an astounding loss of life.

As Scheer explains, Freese's detailed book refuses to fall into the trap of villainizing individual actors such as former Goldman Sachs CEO Lloyd Blankfein, or oil barons and tobacco company leaders, however depraved they may seem. Instead her book, published by the University of California Press, points to systemic corruption that has infected all aspects of American life and politics. Rather than "evil" CEOs, the Scheer Intelligence host says, "Industrial Strength Denial" is about the banality of evil, as Hannah Arendt defined it, that leads companies, for example, in the tobacco industry, to suppress information regarding deadly health outcomes in the name of obscene profit.

"Even though I know my book is in many respects kind of infuriating in terms of what it describes," Freese tells Scheer, "I'm hoping actually to get folks to kind of step back a little bit, not look so much at the individuals, but to look at the context [to] recognize that these folks are responding to a society that rewards this kind of denial, and punishes honesty and social responsibility."

Listen to the full conversation between Scheer and Freese as they discuss how time and again companies from Wall Street to Chevron have flouted human rights in order to squeeze inordinate amounts of money out of people and the planet.


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RS: Hi, this is Robert Scheer with another edition of Scheer Intelligence, where the intelligence comes from my guests. In this case, a very experienced lawyer, Barbara Freese, who worked for the attorney general of Minnesota, got involved in the cases against coal, cases involving distortion of the effect on our climate reality. And wrote a very important book, very well-received book, called Coal: A Human History, which was a New York Times notable book. Now, her newest book is called Industrial-Strength Denial: Eight Stories of Corporations Defending the Indefensible, from the Slave Trade to Climate Change. It's a book published by the University of California Press. And it's indispensable reading if you still, at this point in life, need a rejoinder or a counterpoint to the free-market, Ayn Rand, Alan Greenspan mythology that somehow the market will take care of it all. And it's really a study with a strong emphasis on the psychology of going along with what you should not go along with. And it raises the basic two questions about corporate denial: causality and creating problems, and responsibility and fixing them. So could you just sort of describe the eight examples of corporate malfeasance, beginning with the whole slave trade in the colonial period?

BF: Sure, thank you. So yes, I plunged into the historical record to try to investigate this phenomenon of social, or rather of corporate denial, which I consider a social phenomenon. And the eight campaigns of denial that I focused on began with the slave trade in Britain defending itself against an abolition movement in the late 1700s. And then I kind of zoomed forward into the 20th and 21st centuries in the United States, with the radium industry, which was a short-lived industry that sold radium as a cure-all for human consumption; auto-safety debates that took place over whether the auto industry had any responsibility to try to make cars safer when they crashed; the debate over leaded gas, which happened both in the 1920s and then again picked up in the 1960s; the ozone-depletion dispute; the legendary denials around the tobacco issue; the pre-financial crisis work of Wall Street in the subprime mortgage industry; and then the climate denials of the fossil fuel industry. Those are the eight stories that I recount.

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Robert Scheer is editor in chief of the progressive Internet site Truthdig. He has built a reputation for strong social and political writing over his 30 years as a journalist. He conducted the famous Playboy magazine interview in which Jimmy (more...)

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