Guest post by Steve Miller
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Oakland teachers have had to face the hard lessons of Privatization earlier than most. The state took over the public schools in 2003 and then turned the school system into a virtual laboratory for the corporate concept of schools: opening charters left and right, closing schools, laying off librarians and custodians, trashing the quality of public education, and testing, testing, testing.
Our experience is that privatization proceeds in pieces, the first step includes turning over public functions to “the market” through corporatizing every policy and procedure. The United States – the first country to establish free, universal public education – is on now track to being the first country to eliminate it. After seven years, far more cities than Oakland are living out what this means.
The final step is the disenfranchisement of the public in all forms and the extermination of public rights, public lands, public parks, public control, public concerns, public spaces, the public commons, the welfare of the public, public issues and… public power.
This is the formal Dispossession of the Public and the elimination of its role in human affairs. Privatization and dispossession are two sides of the same coin. Naomi Klein describes how this began with the federal government, under George Bush II, in her great book The Shock Doctrine. New Orleans showed us what this means in practice.
So, on January 21, 2010, dispossession just took a giant step forward with the Supreme Court decision that reversed a century of controls restraining corporate influence in the electoral process. Now corporations can spend unlimited amounts in any election, right up to election day. We can now state with certainty that it will be corporations, not Democrats or Republicans, who will win out in the 2010 mid-term elections.
1) This was an open and aggressive usurpation of power. The Supreme Court chose to re-open a case they had already decided upon and twisted it in an entirely new direction. This will be a polarizing issue in the months ahead. It may also be the biggest Constitutional Crisis since Watergate in 1973-74. After all one branch of the government – the Supreme Court – openly attacked another – the Congress – by drastically changing the rules. State laws restricting corporations are now on the road to oblivion.
2) Corporations can attack or support any candidate they choose. If Standard Oil used just 5% of their legally-reported profits to spend in elections, they would spend more than all candidates spent, at every level, in the 2008 elections – the costliest election in history. The entire electoral process is now under corporate control. The ratio of corporate political spending to corporate profits is so small that it is just chump change to corporations.
3) Corporations can buy up all commercial time and totally censor a candidate out of the media. They can also use this time to push their agenda, their way of framing the issues, and – as we have learned from our experience with Fox News – completely lie to the audience, 24 hours a day. When the most powerful institutions in world history seize the electoral process, it is beginning to smell like class warfare.
4) The decision opens the doors to the open purchase and selling of laws as commodities. Of course, we know that corporate influence is already paramount, in every state capitol as well as Washington DC. But now laws will be openly written, endorsed and sponsored by corporations, to be handled by the Congressman from Wall Mart, Standard Oil, or perhaps billionaire Eli Broad’s Aspire Charter Schools Corporation.
5) In essence, the decision opens the doors to the privatization of the basic right to have free elections. This came from the same court that decided George Bush II won the Florida election, thus getting the Electoral College Votes to win the 2000 election. They refused to permit recounting the ballots, in the face of massive open public fraud, when most people expected that a re-count would show that Gore had won the election.
Conclusion: The right of the Public to control the electoral process is now eradicated. The presidential elections of 2000 and 2004 were openly stolen. But it’s just too expensive gearing up for this every time! So now elections are now simply subordinated to the Market. Everything is now for sale. Democracy is now being privatized.
We have only to look at Haiti to see where this is going. Haiti was and is the best and most elaborated example of Corpworld – a completely privatized society, government abdicating all responsibility to the people, no public schools, death squads funded by the richest men in the country. The government could not even provide water, yet water was available after the quake – for a price.
The Dred Scott Decision
The last time such an attack on the public was made was in the run-up to the Civil War. In the 1850s, the South had strategically seized control of all three Branches of Government - the Presidency, the Congress and the Supreme Court. Property in Slaves began an aggressive assault of property in slaves against the Property of the Public.
The 1857 Dred Scott decision was the last step. A Southern slave owner had sued to recover his property, Dred Scott, who had escaped to the North. The court held that property in slaves trumps democracy and that by asserting that all Government had the duty to protect slave property – even in the North and the Territories. Following from the right of private property to exist, it is an unfair limitation to restrict private property’s right to own human beings!
The Corporate Election Spending decision is a similar attack. Today corporate private property demands and now receives greater rights over public property in free and democratic elections. Like 1850s, corporate private property now has complete dominion over the three Branches of Government. Now they are turning to the attack.
Historically property wars such as these have always been the indicator of massive societal turmoil, war and destruction that can last for decades until one form of property predominates. Then they usually abolish the other form of property, as the American Revolution abolished the Property of Royalty and the Civil War abolished property in human slaves, and a new society is born. This occurs when human beings consciously establish new ways to relate together.
What Is Corporate Property?
Americans are exposed to the ubiquitous corporate influence 24 and 7. But most people have only a hazy understanding of what a corporation really is.
There is no mention of corporations in the US Constitution, nor in our founding document, the Declaration of Independence. Rights and protections are assigned to the press, religions, militias and the people – but not corporations. In fact, the Revolution that was supposedly against English King George, was also against corporations, for each territory was ruled by a corporation – the Massachusetts Corporation, the Virginia Corporation, etc. In those days, corporations had their own militias, armed bodies of men to enforce their wills.
Corporations were first empowered by the state to raise money for public works – digging the Erie Canal for example. There were fewer than 20 corporations in existence before the Revolution of 1776. Their numbers exploded after 1800. Every corporation is still licensed by the state to exist. This, of course, means that the state can abolish them, just as wealth in human slaves was abolished after the Civil War. If we can put people to death for criminal activity, why can’t we execute corporations for criminal activities?
Corporations are artificial legal constructs that allow the people involved with them to avoid personal responsibility for any personal liability against the Public. Furthermore, given that a CEO is responsible to advance the interests of the investors, he/she is prevented, by law, from doing anything that hinders investor ability to maximize profit.
This means that if it is cheaper to produce coal by blowing off mountain tops (a current practice known as “mountain topping”), then a CEO is restrained from doing anything to prevent this. Neither can CEO’s put in those expensive filters that clean the water before they dump it into the rivers. If they did, they could be forcibly replaced, ending all those cool corporate bonuses they were receiving.
This vision of Corporations Ubber Alles was first advanced by Milton Friedman in the ‘50’s. More recently, the ultra-reactionary Grover Norquist, demanded that government be shrunk down to the size that it could be drowned in the bathtub. The open corporate goal is a totally privatized society, in tandem with the absolute dispossession of the public as an entity having any legal standing whatsoever. These ideologues argue that every single thing in society should be controlled by corporations and offered to people at a price.
Quite cooperatively, federal, state and local governments are getting out of the business of providing any people services at all. They are abdicating their responsibility to the public.
Politicians, rich with corporate money, regularly trumpet the line that private corporations can do a better job of handling the business of the public than the public itself can. How does this make any sense at all?
The seizure of public power is now going very far, very fast. Here are just a couple of examples.
1) For example, in 2006, Diane Feinstein, one of the top three richest Senators, amended the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act, originally passed in 1992. A “terrorist” is now legally defined as someone who commits an act of protest that reduces the profits of a corporation, its suppliers or partners. (November 29-December 5 SF Weekly (matthew.smith@sfweekly). Labeling pickets or demonstrators as “terrorists” is now just a matter of a simple judicial proceeding.
Feinstein’s husband, billionaire developer Richard Blum, is perhaps the most powerful of the UC Regents, who just voted to increase fees at the Universities of California by 32%. This step throws the state’s three higher education systems into immediate crisis.
How this powerful Senator and Corporate Executive team works is just one good example of how CEOs move in and out of the government.
“Blum, who is a major force in the state and national Democratic Party, manages private equity investments for a number of publicly-funded universities, generating substantial management fees and business opportunities for himself. He is deeply embedded in a national network of private-sector bankers with interlocking interests in an array of public pension funds and educational institutions and public works projects.
“Historically, Blum has specialized in operating firms that are dependent upon government contracts. It is of note that Blum Capital, a multi-billion private investment firm, has benefited from managing hundreds of millions of dollars in California’s public employee pension fund (CALPERS).”
2) America’s public schools are now more segregated by race than before the Civil Rights Movement. Only two years ago, the Supreme Court cut the legs off Brown v Board of Education by stating that race could not be used to show discrimination “in individual cases”. Now an Arizona court has found that charter schools cannot be sued for discrimination under the Civil Rights Act. Arizona’s charters are heavily segregated.
For the first time in generations, America is experiencing how an unresolvable economic crisis begins to be expressed as a political crisis. As this process deepens, the two begin to reinforce each other and threaten to spin out of control. The longer the crises last, the more achingly unresolvable it becomes, the more unstable current events become, and the more any person – who is not a millionaire – will pay.
Corporate forces understand this and thus are using their political power to change the role of government in America. The state itself is being restructured to facilitate the needs of private property in a new era, and protect it in new ways. Instead of providing for human beings, government steps in to organize what can only be called a for-real class war - from the top-down. Privatization and the dispossession of the public are features of this process.
The economic polarization of our society is already one of the most severe in the world. We are up against the military-industrial complex, the media-industrial complex and the health care-industrial complex, all firmly controlled by corporations. Now the political polarization is beginning. This is a forum for the most important task in our country – adult education. When people understand that corporations, laws and government are simply arrangements and agreements, they will quickly know what to do.
Government now stands between the corporate attack and the rights of people. It must be forced to guarantee every human need by expanding public property in every direction. The rising political crisis demands that we hold government accountable for the welfare of every single person. If the government isn’t constantly improving the welfare of the public, what good is it?
We are going to fight forward to something new. This mess is no longer reformable. It will take convulsive social activity to reverse the Supreme Court’s decision. Yet this is based on a century and more of legal precedents that give corporations all the rights of individuals and then even more rights. How does hallowed corporate right get reversed? Yet the rights and powers of corporate property must be curtailed by the public, or they will curtail the public. That’s going to be a battle for the ages!
The process begun with the Declaration of Independence must be finished
“…whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends [of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness – ed], it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.”
January 24, 2010