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The People’s Business
Published on Sunday, November 21, 2004 by Common Dreams.org
The People’s Business
by Ralph Nader
 

The massive corporate wave of crime, fraud and abuse rolls on, is undeterred by regular exposes in the business media itself. My favorite corporate crime journal (aka the Wall Street Journal) is a daily newspaper that never runs out of material.

Daily Journal headlines recently alerted readers to: (1) “Lucent Faces Bribery Allegations,” (2) “Companies Sue Union Retirees to Cut Promised Health Benefits,” (3) “How Drug’s Rebirth as Treatment for Cancer Fueled Price Rises,” reporting one capsule for $29 compared to a price of seven cents in Brazil, (4) “A Retired Maid’s Questions About her ATM Card Led Lawyer to Georgia Scandal,” (5) “At Cigna, Some Patients Found Conflict of Interest in System,” (6) “As Corporate Fines Grow, SEC Debates How Much Good They do.” (7) From the Associated Press – “Calif. Insurance Chief Sues Four Insurance Giants in Kickback Probe.” Also in the headlines are the pharmaceutical companies led by Merck’s deadly fiasco with Vioxx.

In the midst of the daily revelations – most of which produce no corrective behavior – the Congress and state legislatures are paid to sleep through it all. Aside from a modest new law called Sarbanes/Oxley designed to deter some of the big accounting firm scandals, there is no corporate reform drive on Capitol Hill, and no demands for larger prosecution budgets for the Justice Department. During the recent political campaigns by the two major parties, there was no focus on a continuing pattern of corporate outlaws damaging the health and safety of the people and draining trillions of dollars from investors, worker pensions and 401Ks.

There is, however, activity among business lobbies, like the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, to water down law enforcement, weaken the Sarbanes law, block the Securities and Exchange Commission’s efforts to protect investors, and make it harder for the defrauded to have their full day in court. The political and legal systems are not just crumbling before these business lobbies; they are even failing to articulate a comprehensive ‘law and order’ philosophy toward large multinational corporations playing one national jurisdiction off of another one across the globe. To demonstrate the untapped potential for prosecution, note that New York state attorney general Eliot Spitzer is accomplishing his moves against Wall Street with fewer than 85 attorneys in his corporate crime division. There are corporate law firms defending these culprits that each have over 1000 attorneys in their offices.

Inside the government’s law enforcement agencies are officials and commissioners who can barely serve out their few years before accepting lucrative offers to join the other side. Even in office they concoct excuses for voting against significant corporate fines on the grounds that such penalties would punish shareholders and diminish the value of corporate shares. (SEC Commissioners Paul Atkins and Cynthia Glassman tried this absurdity recently).

All this, along with the corporate domination of our government, argues for a more comprehensive approach to “controlling corporations and restoring democracy.” These words comprise the subtitle of a new book called The People’s Business – the report of the Citizen Works Corporate Reform Commission.

Having founded Citizen Works, I am pleased to trumpet this endeavor written by Lee Drutman and Charlie Cray as a long overdue, timely and fundamental challenge to the judicial usurpation of our Constitution which have given these companies – that are artificial entities and not human beings or voters – almost all the rights possessed by real people. There can be no equal justice under the law between you and Pfizer or General Motors under such equivalence.

The steady and accelerating erosion of democracy by the corporate supremacists was not envisioned by the framers of our constitution. There is no mention of the “Corporation” in that founding document ratified well before the emergence of the modern corporation in the 19th century. The framers were far more worried about too much governmental power and could not foresee the many uses of that very power by corporations against the interests of “we the people.”

Even the owners of the large corporation – the shareholders – do not control their company. It is a highly autocratic structure controlled by the officers and their rubber stamp boards of directors. Making corporations into the servants of people, not their masters, is the challenge of The People’s Business (Berrett-Koehler Publishers (1-800-929-2929).

The many-splendored ways that this work meets this challenge can open up a major public debate. An exciting public inquiry is needed by the workers, consumers, small taxpayers, voters and various communities of citizens who are now being driven backwards despite the overall conventional economic growth that has enriched the few against the well being of these people.

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