By Malcolm Martin
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Our children are taught that the United States of America is a democracy. As the tale is told, at the founding of the nation, a government “of, by, and for the people” was established. Four score and seven years later, a President Abraham Lincoln called the nation’s people to join and die in a great civil war that such a form of government might not perish from the earth and their eventual victory preserved American democracy into the future.
Those children can someday refer to the sermons of the Rev. Jeremiah Wright for the full story. But aside from how closely this lesson is in accord with the historic truth, the idea has today become an outright lie and an utter absurdity. The United States of America is now better described as a corporatocracy. The government is owned and the people are dictated to by these capitalist creations whose God is Mammon. Ironically as Lincoln spoke his immortal words at Gettysburg, the Industrial Revolution had begun to generate these entities that would have completely removed any vestige of American democracy seven score and five years later.
Corporations are, of course, different from people. They are devoid of human emotion. They are constitutionally unable to generate empathy. They feel nothing if people suffer exploitation, if people live in misery, or if people die horribly. Union Carbide was unaffected by the thousands dead and dying in Bhopal. It registered only on a balance sheet as a $470-million loss taken for the sake of future corporate viability under a new name, Dow Chemical. The corporation cannot be reasoned with, pleaded with, or shamed into changing course even in times like these, when life on the planet hangs in the balance. McDonald’s is in the process of teaching Starbucks that even the pretense of a social conscience is too expensive a marketing ploy.
The corporation recognizes and reacts only to threats to its air supply—profits. So figuratively speaking; corporations do share something with human beings. They have an instinct for self-preservation and if they are deprived of a life giving element they die. While human beings must have oxygen and water, the corporation’s lifeblood is those quarterly profits. The corporation must make a profit and then continue making ever greater profit. Corporate profits must grow, forever! Irrational, impossible, unsustainable but that is in the nature of the beast—much as lemmings are pushed into the sea.
The largest US oil corporations ExxonMobil, ConocoPhillips, and Chevron have registered world record profits for the last several years. But Big Oil cannot afford to rest! Beating those records is now a fight for survival into the future. The price of gas, nearing $4.00 per gallon, must continue upwards. The government regulatory agencies must continue to “accidentally” give up oil royalties revenue, the President must continue pushing for exploration in the Alaskan wilderness and off the Gulf Coast, the Congress must continue making theatrical calls for price-gouging investigations and stay away from actual windfall profits tax legislation. Damn public opinion, the US military must remain in Iraq and must soon assault Iran to secure the Middle East’s vast oil reserves.
The parameters are the same in every corner of the global economy. The maximum profit is a product of the greatest possible productivity and the lowest possible wage. US corporations have moved everything that isn't nailed down to lower wage countries. Nothing is made in today’s de-industrialized United States. American consumer's service calls are answered in Ireland and India. Major League baseballs are made in Haiti. AirJordan’s come out of Nike's sweatshops in Indonesia. Microsoft conducts 85% of its research in the US so Bill Gates wants to lift H-1B visa restrictions to bring the low wage workers here. Halliburton is now headquartered in Dubai and preparing to receive its old boss, Dick Cheney, in his retirement years.
To survive under their profit imperative, corporations must undertake a never ending process of consolidation. There is consolidation by horizontal integration. For instance, numerous US corporations once dotted the auto making landscape. In the recent past it was down to the Big Three. Today Chrysler is doomed, Ford is on life support, and General Motors is on its knees. In the corporate world of the near future cars will be made in Japan, or China, or India. Ultimately, the industry will settle in one corporate entity.
Then there is consolidation by vertical integration and its heavyweight champion is Wal-Mart, the world’s largest corporation. Wal-Mart has made a partner of the Chinese government. Working together, the partners have turned China into a vast subsistence-wage labor camp. China supplies Wal-Mart so it has no need of domestic vendors like the now destroyed Rubbermaid. Armed with the lowest production costs, Wal-Mart’s rise up on every other street corner selling every commodity imaginable and every service the corporation can get its hooks into. Wal-Mart lays waste to local economies and then picks up the pieces to become the only butcher, baker and candlestick maker in town. The corporation recently moved to provide banking services in its stores.
The US government has been hollowed out during the rise to absolute power of the corporations. Elections have become an elaborate “reality show” that plays out on corporate television for viewers entertainment. If you watch FOX, the reality is filtered through Rupert Murdoch’s Newscorp, NBC is General Electric news, CNN is Time/Warner news, ABC brings you into Disney’s world, and Viacom regularly checks the iconic CBS news department to make sure Edward R. Murrow is still dead and buried under a mountain of infotainment. That is when Viacom is not preparing America’s youth for slavery and death through MTV and B.E.T.
The actual counting of the American people’s votes is done by the corporations—giant defense contractor United Technologies recently moved to take the job off Diebold’s hands. Corporate sentinels, the lobbyists, roam the halls of government enforcing discipline among the hired hands, allowing the most servile to feed longest at the public trough. So the Congress has not passed legislation and the Supreme Court has not decided a case, in which significant wealth was involved, in favor of the people in thirty years. Each and every decision of all three branches of the US government now transfers wealth from the people to their corporate masters.
The corporations now have in their sights the last remaining institutional pillars of American democracy. The Business Roundtable, the Gates Foundation and the Walton Family Foundation are working mightily to smash the public schools. Wall Street is funding the effort to gain control of the Social Security trust fund for its investment bankers. And the whole corporate gang is intent on “starving the beast” or killing state and local governments. Their success in this effort is probably best expressed in California’s $17.4 billion budget deficit and Florida’s crushing $5 billion revenue shortfall this fiscal year.
Then finally, there is the most ominous development of all. The corporations have begun forming their own Praetorian Guard. The massacre of Iraqi civilians and the patrolling of the hurricane ravaged streets of New Orleans have made Blackwater Worldwide, formerly Blackwater USA, the most famous of the rising corporate armies. Contrary to any notion of cost effectiveness, Blackwater mercenaries protect US State Department personnel in Iraq instead of the regular military. It seems not to make sense, unless the corporatocracy is looking ahead to a day when they can no longer trust the US military to carry out attacks on an American people’s democratic resistance striking at their profits—their air supply.
Malcolm Martin ( pseudonym) Is an inner-city school teacher for over twenty-five years and presently serves as an elected representative of an AFT-NEA affiliated teachers union local.