Black Robes, Black Shirts

Ravensbruck slave labor

Historically speaking, very bad things happen to a people who acquiesce in the corporate takeover of their government. In the first half of the 20th Century we learned that Trusts couldn’t be trusted and that Fiat, Krupps, and I.G. Farben made very bad public policy in Italy and Germany. We just suffered through eight years where corporations pretty much ran the country — Straight into the ground. And it’s about to get much, much worse.

In Germany there was a textile company, documented by the British in April 1945, which specialized in producing striped livery for prisoners inside the archipelago of concentration camps. The privately owned corporation used slave labor to mend the garments and then sold them back to the prison system for profit. The whole time millions of people were being gassed, their bodies cremated, and the clothes recycled for another round of corporate profits produced by slave labor. There were even a few S.S. officers on the board of directors. I bring up this uncomfortable bit of history simply to illustrate the sociopathic nature of corporations and the level of evil they potentially possess.

With the latest Supreme Court ruling by the “fabulous five,” Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, a single corporation will be able to disfranchise a million citizens. What’s to stop these conglomerates from implanting their servants at every level of municipal, state, and federal government?

Was “Citizens United” in the fight to give more control over our politics to huge corporations? Even the 1886 “ruling” that established a corporation as “a person” was fraudulent. The next ten to twelve years promise to be a turning point in American democracy unless some drastic civic action is taken.

Today we have levels of inequality that are worse than the Gilded Age and the “trusts” are bigger, more powerful, and their global reach is greater than ever. The corporations have already given the country disastrous public policy. The health care fiasco shows their power to pull the strings in Congress. And George W. Bush’s Supreme Court overreaches to drop enormous new political powers in the laps of these corporate behemoths? And they do it in the name of “free speech?” So much for stare decisis. Just when you think our politics couldn’t get worse you get surprised again.

So the Supreme Court (in its infinite wisdom) grants commercial legal fictions called “corporations” all of the free speech rights as a flesh and blood American citizen. These corporations are immortal. They’re global in scope. They don’t need health care, or minimum wages, or pensions, or food stamps. They don’t raise children and have families. They have no morality or ethics other than maximizing their profits. But their free speech rights are enshrined in our Constitution?

It will take about ten years but if this fascistic Supreme Court ruling is allowed to stand unadulterated and unchallenged there will be ultimately a terrible cost to pay by the American people. In the short term the propaganda function of the corporations will be greatly enhanced. Germany, Italy, and Japan ended up being bombed into dust after their corporatist systems produced a world war that left behind 60 million corpses. Is that really the direction we want to take as a nation? This horrific miscarriage of justice is more evidence that the shortsighted pursuit of partisan gain from the Far Right is moving the country into very dangerous terrain.

Joseph Palermo

Originally published by the Huffington Post. Reprinted with permission from the author

Published by the LA Progressive on January 23, 2010
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About Joseph Palermo

Joseph Palermo is Professor of History, California State University, Sacramento. Professor Palermo's most recent book is The Eighties (Pearson 2012). He has also written two other books: In His Own Right: The Political Odyssey of Senator Robert F. Kennedy (Columbia, 2001); and Robert F. Kennedy and the Death of American Idealism (Pearson, 2008). Before earning a Master's degree and Doctorate in History from Cornell University, Professor Palermo completed Bachelor's degrees in Sociology and Anthropology from the University of California, Santa Cruz, and a Master's degree in History from San Jose State University. His expertise includes the 1980s; political history; presidential politics and war powers; social movements of the 20th century; the 1960s; and the history of American foreign policy. Professor Palermo has also written articles for anthologies on the life of Father Daniel Berrigan, S.J. in The Human Tradition in America Since 1945 (Scholarly Resources Press, 2003); and on the Watergate scandal in Watergate and the Resignation of Richard Nixon (CQ Press, 2004).