Wednesday, September 21, 2011

A Corporate Death Penalty

Here at In Case You Missed It we like to fess up to our mistakes, errors, follies and bone-headed pleas whenever we can. A couple of years back we published one of our most popular posts titled Rent Seeking Parasites which accused the financial industry of parasitism, getting a free ride on the backs of its host, society - you and me. While this seemed a reasonable metaphor at the time operating as we were under the assumption that regulation and taxes would have to be reintroduced to curb their feeding excesses eventually, it has proven wrong. Parasites they are not - they are parasitoids, creatures that similarly live off the back of their hosts but eventually return the favour by killing them.

Don't you dare roll your eyes at the thought of another climate change, anti-oil screed, I promise to not even go there, even though it's the easiest path to prove our faith and reliance on crony capitalism and corporations is suicidal. No, instead we'll start in Greece, a country that's been forced to live under the indignity of not only being labeled one of the PIIGS but the worst of the bunch, a profligate, lazy, early-retiring, ouzo-swilling, tax cheater that built a shack out of straw. Despite the falsity of the stereotype or how they actually got in over their heads in debt, the Greeks have been pushed into debt-slavery, a no longer sovereign nation forced to accede to the austerity demands of the troika, the EU/ECB/IMF.

Strangely enough, these policies have not only led the Greek economy into a vicious debt trap circle - reduced spending leading to lower growth and the need for more borrowing to bridge the budget gaps provoking further calls for deeper cuts - but they've also effected people in the same depression-inducing way. Gross domestic product in the second quarter was down more than 7% from last year amid government spending cuts and tax increases that, combined, will add up to about 20% of GDP while unemployment is over 16%. Predictably, crime, homelessness, emigration and personal bankruptcies are on the rise. Tragically, as a result of these market forces, recorded suicides have roughly doubled since before the crisis to about six per 100,000 residents annually according to the Greek health ministry and a charitable organization called Klimaka.

The Greeks aren't alone in the suffering being induced in order to pay off the often fraudulent debt incurred in order to keep the financial ponzi scheme afloat while suffering under the humiliation of taking orders from the financial markets and their lackeys. Ireland's pot-o-gold bank guarantees led to overnight insolvency and a double austerity dose causing another mass emigration, Portugal's ignominious acceptance of the same troika treatment will produce the same cure as Ireland, Italy had their debt downgraded despite cutting, re-cutting and then cutting the budget some more to please the market wolves while Spain not only had a gun held to their head by the same hit men until they changed their constitution to 'limit' debt without a referendum a month before an election but also had to increase 'labour market flexibility', an Orwellian moniker which will somehow create more employment by making it easier to fire young workers. When markets attack French banks, rules are changed to protect them, but the assault on society causes lives to be lost when fruit stand owners use gasoline to light themselves on fire to draw attention to problems in Tunis or mix it with beer to literally drown their sorrows in Athens or when there's riots on the streets of London. The worst off seems to be Latvia, the anti-Iceland of Europe, a country that could become the first murder victim of neoliberal austerity measures.

Yet German bank inspired bailouts provided by the European Financial Stability Facility and the European Financial Stabilization Mechanism won't solve the problem, it will continue indefinitely without debt forgiveness. Ironically, these obligations being forced on the public will serve the same function as that of the war reparations forced upon Germany after the Treaty of Versailles when John Maynard Keynes warned the world that the "policy of reducing Germany to servitude for a generation, of degrading the lives of millions of human beings, and of depriving a whole nation of happiness should be abhorrent and detestable...even if it does not sow the decay of the whole civilized life of Europe". I think we can all still remember the seeds that were sown and how many lives were reaped thanks to that plan. 

In America we need to be granted a little bit of poetic license to expand the metaphor a bit, after all it is the land of the ever-expanding waistband. According the the General Accountability Office, the Federal Reserve provided more than $16 trillion in total financial assistance to some of the largest financial institutions and corporations in the United States and around the world over the past couple of years. This goes along with the $1.2 trillion in slightly less secret back door loans we later found out about last year or the (only) $700 billion TARP money a couple of years back that everyone talks about. Hurray, the corporatocracy was brought back to life thanks to the politicians they paid for! Funny thing is this transfer of wealth hasn't trickled down to the people yet, nor have the efficiency gains of the past 30 odd years of economic growth. No, the result of the neoliberal free market driven policies of major tax cuts for high-income Americans, union-busting, aided and abetted by federal policy, and financial deregulation such as the repeal of Glass-Steagall, which has fed inequality because very high incomes come disproportionately from that sector, has strangely enough only benefited those the policies were meant to help, the rich and the corporations. Median incomes adjusted for inflation have fallen over that time while the number of Americans below the poverty line has reached 46 million with 21.6% of American children now living in poverty (predicted to hit 25% soon; it's 3.7% in Denmark). The very corporations who the Fed helped out instead of people are often making record profits from this poverty and play a part in the bloodbath, as this poverty is a death sentence.

Instead of using this infusion of cash along with the access granted to US and non-US banks and corporations to near-zero financing at the Fed window to you know, create jobs, financial firms have used it to increase our suffering while lining their pockets. They've thanked the people who cover their losses by betting on their death and creating new casino-like commodity markets, hurting the poor most as increases in the price of rice and gasoline hit them harder. The flip side of the profit prospect created by wheat price volatility for a corporation is starvation for the world's dispossessed thanks to the increased price of bread. A food system where Americans waste enough food everyday to fill the Rose Bowl is great for those who can afford the luxury. For those that can't, well, you know. Worse, a McDonald's corporation that took part in the $1.3 trillion short term lending bonanza gets to serve $5 Big Mac meals thanks in large part to the billions in corn subsidies lavished by the government in support of the unholy alliance of agribusiness and science to produce high-fructose corn syrop (HFCS) and ethanol to put in everything from french fries to feed for filet-o-fish or filling the Ford Fiesta.

The subsidies have manufactured a price inequality that helps junk food undersell nutritious-but-unsubsidized foodstuffs like fruits and vegetables. The end result is that budget wary consumers are increasingly forced by economic circumstance to "choose" the lower-priced junk food that their taxes support. The aggregate effect of such market manipulation across the agriculture industry is "that a dollar [can] buy 1,200 calories of potato chips or 875 calories of soda but just 250 calories of vegetables or 170 calories of fresh fruit". This Super-Size-Me economy leads to early death through obesity, diabetes and heart disease. This lifestyle non-choice has played a big role in the decline of life expectancy for women over the past 20 years in 313 counties in the United States, a problem exacerbated by poverty, with the proof played out in the fact that those in the top 20% of American incomes live, on average, at least 6.5 years longer than those in the lowest income group. So you see, privatizing both profits and losses of corporations is paid for in not only gold but also lives by society. It's become more than a crime to be poor - poverty is a death sentence and corporations, who we're told over and over are job creators, are in fact, executioners.

In a culture where Orwellian political vocabulary turns the idea of universal single-payer health care into "death panels" while advocating actually killing grandma and rationalizes disenfranchisement of "non-productive citizens", it should come as no surprise that Obama's faux-populist promise to veto any budget proposal that doesn't contain tax increases can be turned into a class war, when, in fact, the war has been hot for decades and it's pretty clear which side is winning. The reality is this war doesn't differentiate between innocent and guilty when choosing its victims though it does discriminate based on race just like capital punishment. Just imagine the cognitive dissonance involved in being both pro-life and pro-death. Murderous spectacles are put on to appease the mob with circenses as if the panem killing them weren't enough. Maybe this explains the indifference to executing possibly innocent men like Troy Davis in Georgia or the Tea Party cheering for the straight shooting style of killing kids, the mentally ill and the innocent among the 234 people Rick Perry has executed in Texas:

It's a death sentence to be poor, especially if you're among the 49.9 million Americans who lack health insurance, a number that soared by 13.3 million since 2000. The main driver in both the national and personal bankruptcy story is a health care system whose costs are spiraling out of control thanks to corporate greed in both the insurance and pharmaceutical industries. State enforced patent protection of the latter isn't only killing AIDS babies in Soweto while thanks to the former, the only evidence that really matters in determining treatment based on evidence-based medicine is what's in your wallet. Tea Partiers like to cheer on this corporate killing too (listen for it at 0:55):

Killing requires a large staff
Poverty is also the best recruiting tool ever invented by the ultimate killing machine, the armed forces, and thus provides the fodder to feed the military industrial complex. Again, corporations are there to innovate new ways of killing and can even fill the void with corporate mercenaries when volunteers run short. The stark contradiction between the money making mantra of murder and Christ's advice, "If you want to be perfect, go sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven, then come follow me" lends a dark layer of irony to our present wars justified by condemning Islam as a death-glorifying cult. Even though we know innocent people will die when we're bombing, droning or whatever we call trying to kill brown people we've labeled terrorists in Pakistan, Yemen, Afghanistan or Libya, it's somehow different than when those terrorists kill innocent people when they blow themselves up on buses in London or trains in Madrid. We're Americans celebrating the illegal killing of the most-wanted criminal of our generation thanks to our culture of death or out of relief from a false belief they wouldn't be called to die as the perpetual war on terror would end with Osama bin Laden's death? USA! United States of Assassination! Woo hoo death to international rule of law!

What? Killing bin Laden didn't solve that war on terror problem? You mean, it's all related, people blowing themselves up at outdoor cafes, creating terrorists by raining death down on Tripoli, Kabul and Baghdad or being the only vote in the UN to support Israelis killing Palestinians, allowing illegal settlements on their land or even denying them statehood next month. Killing is killing, whether in the name of good, Zeus, protection, defense or Allah. Once you accept it as no more than collateral damage you think differently, become indifferent to death and probably think it's ok to torture while praying in a church that covers up for pedophiles. Another victory for Oceania over Eurasia or Eastasia won't alter the course in the perpetual war because there's money to be made for McDonnell Douglas, Boeing, BAE and IBM from death.

But if, as the Supreme Court and Mitt Romney say, corporations are people then shouldn't they get the death penalty for killing people? Even at a time when slavery was legal, America had the morality to realize corporate killing wasn't. The corporate death penalty could be applied in cases of "operating contrary to the public interest" or those that saw "a pattern of abuses" and result in their charters being revoked. Ah, those were the progressive days, the very time today's right-wingnuts would like to take us back to with its lack of child labor laws, clean water protection and such. Trials might go something like this if such a world still existed I suppose:

Yeah. We not only wage war and trample human rights for oil companies' drilling rights, we just make them pay a fine for destroying entire ecosystems and spraying chemicals with unknown long-term effects to clean up the surface for the cameras. We enable through our continued consumption and ignorance of corporate evasion of responsibility for less visible murder via contamination or explosions in places like Ecuador or Nigeria. Move on to do the same in the Arctic while other gas companies extracting using hydraulic fracturing which pollutes the very water table we rely on for life will make sure we don't figure out how their harming human life. Car companies? What better way to kill millions than by rigging the game to ensure we drive cars forever? Big tobacco serves as a role model for the Catholic Church on how to cover up scandals after killing millions more. Obfuscate, donate and litigate.

Wait. All this and no mention of Bhopal. Yeah, that's right, when 3,800 people are killed almost immediately when tonnes of toxic gas escape and today more than 100,000 people remain chronically ill from exposure, it's more of the same, obfuscate (corporate takeover of Union Carbide by Dow Chemical - it's not our fault!), donate (maybe a stadium for the Olympics!) and litigate. Rinse and repeat. How about Monsanto? Who could have foreseen that allowing a corporation to patent life would have, well, life-ending consequences, right? DeBeers, turning blood diamonds into love? The beverage industry from Coca-Cola to Red Bull and Budweiser, the fashion industry or even Hollywood for toxification, body image distortion and indoctrination? As long as there's an app for you iPhone to keep you connected who cares how many Apple kills to make them. What about the billions of people whose lives are threatened by the ecological disaster sure to come about as a result of the greed for profit written into the DNA of the corporate psychopaths we've created. Oh yeah, that's right, I made a no climate change promise. That would be controversial and might give someone the idea to protest, maybe even occupy Madrid's Plaza del Sol or decide to march to Brussels or, heaven forbid, occupy Wall Street in the heart of NYC if perhaps the corpocracy's killing of the middle class and slaughter of the poor weren't enough. Oh, some people have already done that, are heading there and doing that (see below for live stream when available), fighting our fight. If they need a suggestion for one demand mine is to bring back the corporate death penalty - capital punishment for corporations!

Watch live streaming video from globalrevolution at
Further reading:
Occupy Wall Street 
March to Brussels
Austerity and Anarchy: Budget Cuts and Social Unrest in Europe 1919-2009
US Poverty figures
IMF inequality report
US Uncut / UK Uncut
Further Viewing:
Sugar: The Bitter Truth
Food Inc. (It might take an extra click)
Clip from Inside Job
Interview with Josh Fox - maker of Gasland


Patty said...


Shane said...

Thanks for the feedback and share Patty, we need to work together to create a world in which lives are more important than profits.

Joe Gandalf said...

"Don't you dare *role* your eyes..."
"...but they've also *effected* people..."
And this: Paying the bills teaching English...

Aww, c'mon now. English is a written language, not subject to the whims of our (temporary) popular newspeak. What language skills do you impart to your students?

Nonetheless, I may continue to read the rest of the article, as I find the message interesting (despite the confused medium).


Shane said...

Wow, thanks for the spell check Joe. Must admit to making the affect/effect mistake often but I don't know where the role came from, so I'll leave the first and correct the second. Let me know what else you find, it's good to have a proofreader.