To Protect Corporate Profits
By Thom Hartmann
I thought of it as dinosaur blood when it dripped on my hand this morning, and it made me wonder how the US war strategy would change if Saddam made a small recalibration in his business practices.
Of course, the gasoline that spilled as I refilled my rental car this morning at the DFW airport - and the refined kerosene that will fuel the plane I’ll fly in today - is far more ancient than even the spectacular Tyrannosaurus Rex bones discovered north of here. They vanished around 65 million years ago, but the fossilized plants and bacteria that made my gasoline are 300 to 400 million years old. By the time dinosaurs ruled the Earth, pretty much all of the oil production of the planet was finished. Strange, when you consider it in those terms, that we’d base a nation’s foreign policy on a limited supply of fossils older than the dinosaurs.
But Saddam Hussein has a goodly supply of those fossils under the soil of Iraq - the second largest supply in the world, and perhaps a supply even larger than Saudi Arabia’s, which has been draining much faster and much longer. And he has hundreds of miles of shared borders with Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, and Iran - where much of the rest of the oil in the region is held.
Which led me to wonder: How would things change if Saddam, tomorrow, were to say, “I’ve decided to put my oil reserves up for auction to the highest corporate bidder, and, like many other oil-producing nations, all I want is a commission from the oil company that wins the auction.”
Once the stampede was over, I’ll bet the US would discover that there are dozens of dictators in the world more vicious than Saddam. Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe, for example, has engineered a cynical strategy of racial exploitation that has pushed six million of his citizens into famine today. Burma’s ruling junta has turned that nation into a slave-labor camp, where torture, executions, and terror are daily fare. And in North Korea, the policies of dictator-for-life Kim Jong-Il have turned a formerly fertile and prosperous land into a concentration camp where people are forced to eat grass to survive, and anybody who questions the great leader’s brilliance is executed. There is no shortage of “evil” leaders of nations - the list could go on for pages.
Of course, none of these nations have oil.
But if Saddam were to invite in the oil companies who - through the corporate theft of human rights (more on this in a moment) - have captured control of many of the policies of the United States Government, I suspect many things would change even in our thoughts about oil-rich Middle Eastern countries.
We may even return to a policy like we had in 1983 when U.S. Middle East Envoy Donald Rumsfeld opened US relations with Iraq during a friendly meeting with Saddam in Baghdad, when we were buying his oil and selling him anthrax and smallpox and helicopters and jets - as we were many of other nations in the region. We may even stop all this talk of war.
The bottom line is that powerful and oil-dependent corporate interests in America now control so much of both our domestic and foreign policy, because the US government over the past few decades has been almost entirely co-opted - as in taken over - by corporate interests. We’re not having a war of, by, and for the people any more than we have an administration of, by, and for the people. If Saddam didn’t have enough oil to generate a few hundred million dollars a month in profits for the oil industry, we’d be giving him the same treatment we’re giving Mugabe: “Zimbabwe where?”
As has been well documented, if the exemption on SUVs from fleet mileage standards was ended and fleet gas mileage in the US was to increase by a tiny 3 miles per gallon, we’d no longer need to import any oil from the Middle East. But the larger the car, the larger the profit for both the oil and the auto companies - and the auto and oil lobbies pass out millions in Washington, DC. And now that the airwaves have been sold to corporate interests who will only allow politicians to speak if they pay, political campaigns guzzle cash like SUVs guzzle gas.
If we were to institute a Manhattan Project type program to develop and implement local, small-scale generation of electricity (about a tenth of all electricity generated in the US is lost through transmission over long high-tension lines, and steam generating plants only convert about a third of their heat energy to electricity, wasting the other two-thirds), along with hydrogen technologies, we could clean up our air and free states from the tyranny of out-of-state energy companies manipulating their supplies and prices. If we were to encourage Victory Garden types of local agriculture and homestead farming, making it again patriotic to replace back yards of grass with vegetables (as it was during WWII), we could eliminate our absolute dependence on factory farming systems that now require billions of gallons of oil for production and transportation, that deliver foods laden with oil-derived pesticides, herbicides, and preservatives to our tables, and render our topsoils sterile.
Most important, we would no longer feel forced to permanently occupy the world’s oil-producing regions.
But a government whose policies have been captured by big oil, big auto, and big agriculture - just a few dozen corporations that are each richer than the majority of nations on earth - refuses to consider such rational alternatives. Because these corporations have claimed the constitutional human right of free speech - which includes the right to influence legislation, to influence politicians, and give money to political parties - we, the people, who would benefit from a shift in direction away from oil industry and toward local human values are left out of the decision making loop.
It wasn’t always this way. Before 1886, most states had laws that prevented corporations from meddling in politics. They can’t vote, the logic went, so what are they doing talking to politicians?
Wisconsin, for example, had a law stating: “No corporation doing business in this state shall pay or contribute, or offer consent or agree to pay or contribute, directly or indirectly, any money, property, free service of its officers or employees or thing of value to any political party, organization, committee or individual for any political purpose whatsoever, or for the purpose of influencing legislation of any kind, or to promote or defeat the candidacy of any person for nomination, appointment or election to any political office.” The penalty for any corporate official violating the law and getting cozy with politicians on behalf of the corporation was five years in prison and a substantial fine.
Humans had the right of free speech, and an individual - representing himself and his own opinions - was free to say and do what he wanted. Free speech is a human right. But corporations didn’t have rights - they had privileges. Brought into being by authority of the state in which they’re incorporated, that state determined the privileges its corporations could have and how they could be used.
But, they teach in law school, in 1886 the U.S. Supreme Court changed all that - a decision which leads us directly to today’s war with Iraq. The Court, the textbooks say, in the Santa Clara County v. Southern Pacific Railroad case, recognized corporations as persons under the Fourteenth Amendment, and thus handed them the huge club of human rights that our Founders had given us humans to beat back government should it ever become repressive. Armed with this mighty weapon, corporations claimed free speech, privacy, the right not to speak, and used anti-discrimination statues originally passed to free slaves to throw out “bad boy” laws that favored local businesses over large corporations or companies that had been convicted of felonies.
I recently discovered that in 1886 the Supreme Court ruled no such thing. The “corporations are persons” was a fiction created by the Court’s reporter. He simply wrote it into the headnote of the decision. In fact, it contradicts what the Court itself said. And we’ve found in the National Archives a note in the hand of the Supreme Court Chief Justice of the time to the court’s reporter saying, explicitly, that the Court had not ruled on corporate personhood in the Santa Clara case.
Nonetheless, corporations have claimed the human rights the Founders fought and often died to bequeath to living, breathing humans. And, using those rights, they’ve usurped our government to the point where our domestic policies are now based on what’s best for the corporations with the largest campaign contributions, and our foreign policy has become a necessary extension of that.
As my “what would happen if Saddam auctioned off his oil fields tomorrow and just became another Middle Eastern despot like the rest of them” example demonstrates, we’re not just going to war for oil; we’re going to war for the “security” of profit.
While profit is a fine value for a corporation to hold, it’s not the prime value of humans and it’s definitely not one of the values that drive or preserve democracy.
If we are to save our world from a profit frenzy driven Armageddon, if we are to restore democracy to our American republic, we must first get corporations out of government, so our politicians can once again become statesmen.
This article is copyright 2002 by Thom Hartmann, and based on Unequal Protection: The Rise of Corporate Dominance and the Theft of Human Rights and The Last Hours of Ancient Sunlight by Thom Hartmann.
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