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Dismantling Democracy
What's behind the magic trick of war?

By Thom Hartmann

It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us... that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in van - that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom - and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.

-Abraham Lincoln, November 19, 1863 at Gettysburg 1773

I was about 12 and into the first year of a very brief career as a magician, in partnership with my best friend Chuck and his stepfather, the late professional stage magician Jim Edwards. Chuck and I were going to perform on a local TV show, and Edwards counseled us to “always control where your audience is putting their attention.” And the greatest of a magician’s tricks, he said, was to have the audience watch the illusion, and let them notice some small thing that they thought was the trick making it work, while you were pulling off a third and wholly unnoticed thing out of the range of their attention.

As the news from Germany reminds us, war is a time-tested and proven way of diverting a citizenry’s attention away from domestic problems or a leader’s past. Many - particularly political and editorial voices in Europe - suggest that the Bush administration is using this old method to divert the attention of Americans away from their failure to find Osama bin Laden, or questions about who bought Bush’s Harken stock, or the charges against Cheney, or the collapse of the American economy to levels not seen since Bush I.

But that seemingly obvious ploy is only the second level of a three-level illusion. Behind the war talk, and behind the “it’s a diversion” talk, the real trick is being carried out.

The real agenda, relentlessly moving forward with hardly a notice in corporate-owned media and hardly a peep from corporate-owned politicians, is the dismantling of democracy.

Back in 1983, before its publisher was acquired by a multinational corporation, the American Heritage Dictionary left us this definition of the form of government the democracies of Spain, Italy, and Germany had morphed into during the 1930s: “fas-cism (fâsh'iz'em) n. A system of government that exercises a dictatorship of the extreme right, typically through the merging of state and business leadership, together with belligerent nationalism. [Ital. fascio, group.]”

The key is the merging of state and business leadership.

When the United States was first declared independent in 1776, its Founders knew humans had previously faced tyranny in the form of despotic kings and inquisitional churches. The Bill of Rights firmly declared that no church could ever again control a democratic government. And the Declaration of Independence made it clear right from the beginning that when citizens are burdened by “a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism,” that “it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government….”

Thus, the Founders and the Framers disposed of despotism by church or state, guaranteeing the absolute and inviolable rights of a nation’s citizens to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

But there was a third entity that Thomas Jefferson and others worried may also one day rise to seize control of the government and enslave the people. James Madison wrote, “There is an evil which ought to be guarded against in the indefinite accumulation of property from the capacity of holding it in perpetuity by … corporations. The power of all corporations ought to be limited in this respect. The growing wealth acquired by them never fails to be a source of abuses.” Jefferson proposed an additional amendment to the Bill of Rights to restrain corporations, calling for a Constitutional Amendment to “ban monopolies in commerce,” although it failed under the Federalist opposition of the Hamilton/Adams faction.

A few decades later, President Martin Van Buren said, “I am more than ever convinced of the dangers to which the free and unbiased exercise of political opinion - the only sure foundation and safeguard of republican government - would be exposed by any further increase of the already overgrown influence of corporate authorities.” In the years since, other presidents - from Jackson to Eisenhower - have warned about the dangers to the nation if corporations were ever to take over the government.

But, claiming that the Supreme Court ruled in 1886 that corporations are the same as natural persons and thus have rights under the 14th Amendment and the Bill of Rights (the Court ruled no such thing, but the myth persists, even in law schools), corporations have exercised human rights of free speech, privacy, and freedom from discrimination. They’ve used these human rights to seize control of the airwaves, threaten and bully politicians into promoting their agendas, hide corporate crimes, and prevent local communities from “discriminating” against transnational corporations over local companies while wiping out their competitors.

The takeover is nearly complete, and a world war will not only vastly enrich the transnationals who have perpetrated this coup, but could also mean the end of the first experiment with republican democracy in almost three thousand years.

It’s like the magic trick in The Wizard of Oz, but this in a version written by Franz Kafka. The war hides the failures and crimes of the leaders and their friends. But behind the leaders and their friends are the real “men behind the screen.” And they’re not men at all - they’re non-living, non-breathing legal fictions which have claimed the rights of humans to seize control of democracies from one side of the Atlantic to the other.

It’s time that we, the people, recognize the damage this new corporate plutocracy has already inflicted on our lives, our biosphere, and our government. And, like the ten communities in Pennsylvania who have now passed ordinances denying corporate personhood, begin to take back our democracy before it’s lost forever in an international conflagration.


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