Archive for Corporatocracy
Credit Mary Shelley with the “creation gone wrong” trope. Or perhaps Genesis. Yet, the evil mega-corporation is as much a staple of popular fiction as the radiation-spawned monstrosities and failed experiments we grew up with at matinees as kids. Omni Consumer Products (OCP) from Robocop, for example, Ridley Scott’s Tyrell Corporation from Blade Runner, or the Weyland-Yutani Corporation (“The Company”) from his Alien films. All fictional. But like those, it seems the real beasties are neither biological nor technological, but legal.
Enter TPP, the Trans-Pacific Partnership. The full text was released yesterday, but as a series of PDFs. The Washington Post has made the full agreement searchable. (Note: some English spellings are internationalized.) At Vox, Timothy Lee explains that it may take a month to examine and sort out its impact:
But the agreement is also a lot more than a trade deal. It has more than two dozen chapters that cover everything from tariffs to the handling of international investment disputes. The reason these deals have gotten so complex is that people realized that they were a good vehicle for creating binding international agreements.
Modern trade deals include a dispute settlement process that helps ensure countries keep the commitments they make under trade deals. If one country fails to keep its commitment, another country can file a complaint that’s heard by an impartial tribunal. If the complaining country prevails, it can impose retaliatory tariffs on the loser.
Following on the heels of last week’s New York Times three-part series on how arbitration agreements have essentially privatized the courts to the benefit of corporations and to the harm of consumers, one wonders how much more extra-judicial authority TPP may be handing our budding Weyland-Yutanis in shifting power from the people to the plutocrats. How much of the thousands of pages is fine print?
Just yesterday I was wondering what ever happened to “frivolous lawsuits” and the runaway juries Big Bidness and Republican lawmakers used to cite as reasons to push for tort reform. It seems Republicans couldn’t deliver. Big Bidness went to Plan B: circumventing the courts entirely. The New York Times brings us up to date:
Over the last 10 years, thousands of businesses across the country — from big corporations to storefront shops — have used arbitration to create an alternate system of justice. There, rules tend to favor businesses, and judges and juries have been replaced by arbitrators who commonly consider the companies their clients, The Times found.
The change has been swift and virtually unnoticed, even though it has meant that tens of millions of Americans have lost a fundamental right: their day in court.
“This amounts to the whole-scale privatization of the justice system,” said Myriam Gilles, a law professor at the Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law. “Americans are actively being deprived of their rights.”
In 2008, there were financial bailouts for megabanks and foreclosures for homeowners. There was vulture capitalist Paul Singer seizing an Argentine naval vessel in a dispute over debt in 2012. There was the European Central Bank bringing Greece to heel this summer after voters in January elected Alexis Tsipras to end the “vicious cycle of austerity.” Coming Soon: TPP. There are probably other cases as well. If it was not clear already who is really running the planet, here is another clue.
In Portugal’s elections earlier this month, Socialists, Communists, and the Left Bloc had won enough seats to form a coalition government, displacing the center-right Forward Portugal Alliance (PAF). And then?
Elections in Portugal this week offered the latest sign that when an individual European nation’s voters challenge eurozone austerity policies, the monetary union — and the international creditors it represents — takes precedence.
Portugal’s president, Anibal Cavaco Silva, fueled an ongoing debate about the future of European democracy on Thursday when he reappointed an outgoing center-right prime minister despite election results that gave three left-leaning political parties the majority of seats in parliament.
Silva asked incumbent Prime Minister Pedro Passos Coelho to remain and to form a new government. Opposition Socialists threaten to bring down his government with an immediate vote of no confidence.
Writing for the Independent, Ambrose Evans-Pritchard sees where this is going:
Greece’s Syriza movement, Europe’s first radical-Left government in Europe since the Second World War, was crushed into submission for daring to confront eurozone ideology. Now the Portuguese Left is running into a variant of the same meat-grinder.
Europe’s socialists face a dilemma. They are at last waking up to the unpleasant truth that monetary union is an authoritarian Right-wing enterprise that has slipped its democratic leash, yet if they act on this insight in any way they risk being prevented from taking power.
That is a nicer way of saying that what you thought was government by consent of the governed is really more like your student government experience in high school. The principal has the power to overrule. It is a sham democracy. Where once people might have held business’ leash, now we wear the collar.
This may still be reversible if Americans lead. But right now it appears there is only enough indignation for pushing back in Europe. America is so besotted with bread and circuses that people cannot even muster enough indignation to get off the couch, vote, and find out just how short their leashes actually are.
Fielding Mellish: I object, your honor! This trial is a travesty. It’s a travesty of a mockery of a sham of a mockery of a travesty of two mockeries of a sham.
(Cross-posted from Hullabaloo.)
From Europe to the Pacific rim, capitalism marches on. Right over democracy. Guess what? People don’t like it. You remember people? They’re the ones, as Pope Francis suggested, the economy is supposed to serve, not rule:
Hundreds of thousands of people marched in Berlin on Saturday in protest against a planned free trade deal between Europe and the United States that they say is anti-democratic and will lower food safety, labor and environmental standards.
The organizers — an alliance of environmental groups, charities and opposition parties — said 250,000 people were taking part in the rally against free trade deals with both the United States and Canada, far more than they had anticipated.
Opposition to the so-called Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) has risen over the past year in Germany, with critics fearing the pact will hand too much power to big multinationals at the expense of consumers and workers.
“What bothers me the most is that I don’t want all our consumer laws to be softened,” Oliver Zloty told Reuters. “And I don’t want to have a dictatorship by any companies.”
Yet that is what it appears we have. We are moving towards “authoritarian capitalism” like China and Singapore, says Slovenian philosopher Slavoj Žižek:
Robert Reich sees Donald Trump’s and Bernie Sanders’ rising popularity as evidence of a growing revolt against America’s ruling class. Go figure. When venture capitalist Tom Perkins last year compared Occupiers and progressives to Kristallnacht, then held up his watch on TV and bragged, “I could buy a 6-pack of Rolexes for this,” he was less than six degrees of Marie Antoinette. And just as clueless.
We’ve witnessed self-dealing on a monumental scale – starting with the junk-bond takeovers of the 1980s, followed by the Savings and Loan crisis, the corporate scandals of the early 2000s (Enron, Adelphia, Global Crossing, Tyco, Worldcom), and culminating in the near meltdown of Wall Street in 2008 and the taxpayer-financed bailout.
Along the way, millions of Americans lost their jobs their savings, and their homes.
Meanwhile, the Supreme Court has opened the floodgates to big money in politics wider than ever. Taxes have been cut on top incomes, tax loopholes widened, government debt has grown, public services have been cut. And not a single Wall Street executive has gone to jail.
Creditors counterattacked and tightened their grip. Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras now seems ready to accept more austerity with no write-down of his country’s debt, something voters soundly rejected just last Sunday:
“Each one of us shall be confronted with his stature and his history. Between a bad choice and a catastrophic one, we are forced to opt for the first one,” Tsipras said in a speech before his party’s lawmakers, according to local media. “It is as if one asks you for your money or your life.”
It’s just slightly less than Bond-villianish. The Washington Post reports that the deal includes “phasing out a subsidy for poor pensioners and privatizing sprawling state industries.” The voters have spoken and were ignored.
At the Guardian, George Monbiot examines how the financial powers have built a colonial empire that essentially renders democracy moot. (Throughout, I’m citing the referenced version of this piece from Monbiot’s blog.):
Consider the International Monetary Fund. The distribution of power here was perfectly stitched up: IMF decisions require an 85% majority, and the US holds 17% of the votes. It’s controlled by the rich, and governs the poor on their behalf. It’s now doing to Greece what it has done to one poor nation after another, from Argentina to Zambia. Its structural adjustment programmes have forced scores of elected governments to dismantle public spending, destroying health, education and the other means by which the wretched of the earth might improve their lives.
In his post-Greek referendum analysis, Howard Fineman sees echoes of the past:
It’s a new echo on a global scale of the politics of a much earlier, but in some ways remarkably similar, era in the U.S. As the U.S. became a continental economy in the late 19th century, with vast new hordes of wealth built in railroads, coal, electricity and communications, a political backlash arose. The new “money power” was judged too big and uncontrollable: an engine not of prosperity, but of inequality and corruption. The backlash launched America’s Progressive movement, which among other reforms pushed laws to rein in the power of big corporations in the interests of ordinary people.
Now that the planet’s economies have essentially become one, and the world’s top dozen banks control $30 trillion in assets, the callous demands of a new and even larger “money power” is starting to spark a worldwide backlash.
The International Monetary Fund, writes Fineman, has become since its founding “something akin to a collection agency” for private banks. Still, it is not clear yet whether the backlash Fineman sees is real or apparent.
The corruption of democracy by this system (or perhaps the subjugation of democracy to it) is beginning to filter into the public consciousness. When TV stations in Georgia start doing investigations of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), opinion is beginning to move. The ugliness of this system is becoming ever more apparent to the public at large.
(Cross-posted from Hullabaloo.)
This Tweet went by the other day and I just had to go back and find it:
wow. Gov Walker wants taxpayers to pay HALF of construction costs for Milwaukee Buck's nice new arena; http://t.co/UHnd0FdsK4
— Eric Boehlert (@EricBoehlert) June 8, 2015
Comparisons have been made and disputed between Walker’s diversion of state funds to the arena and his cuts in state education funding. And yes, team owners have conned Democrats too. But the specifics of the Wisconsin deal are not what interests me this morning.
These deals always remind me of the Blazing Saddles scene in which Sheriff Bart puts his own gun to his head and threatens to shoot himself. Except with sports arena deals it is owners threatening to shoot their teams, “Build us a new stadium or your team gets it!” Flustered officials blurt out, “Hold it, men. He’s not bluffing.” Then they ante up taxpayer dollars. We pay them to make money.
We regularly decry corporate capitalism’s race to the bottom. But the phrasing assumes there is a bottom. I’m not so sure. Considering offshoring, tax incentives, and tax repatriation legislation, you have to wonder just what level of taxation — including none — would rent-seeking, modern corporations accept without whining, without looking for even more ways to squeeze blood from a stone or more work from workers for even less?
There is a runaway, kudzu-ish element to corporate capitalism, but there is a Tom Sawyer-ish feature as well. Public corporations won’t be satisfied until We the People are paying them for making a profit — the way Tom Sawyer tricked friends into paying for the privilege of whitewashing Aunt Polly’s fence. These sports arena deals remind us that when an Obama tells business owners, you didn’t build that, he’s right.
Pretty soon working people will be paying the elite in brass door knockers (or their equivalent) for building it for them.
(Cross-posted from Hullabaloo.)
Avoiding responsibility is just what the corporate form was designed for, wasn’t it? That’s why corporations will always go to the mat to protect their special rights and privileges as super-citizens. Those include not to facing jail time for repeated criminal behavior. Petty crime? Three strikes and you’re out. Corporate crime? Nobody’s counting. Justice for corporate crime is a different ball game.
“Banks have been on a criminal wilding,” Katrina vanden Heuvel writes, “allegedly laundering money for drug dealers, systematically defrauding homeowners on their mortgages, routinely committing perjury in courts and much more.” Their companies pay fines, yet virtually no one in charge goes to jail. Isn’t that special?
RJ Eskow ticks off a lengthy series of criminal behavior by large banking firms: Citigroup, JPMorgan Chase, Barclays, Royal Bank of Scotland, UBS Financial Services. All repeat offenders: