This column heralds a pioneering conference next month in Washington, D.C. But first a little background.
Back in the nineteen thirties, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt went on the national radio and declared what the basic necessities were for the American people - a wage that can support a family, decent housing, the right to health care, a good education and future economic security.
Sound familiar today? It certainly would sound familiar to a majority of the American people. The struggle for livelihood, the struggles to escape poverty, calamitous health care bills, mounting debt, gouging rents and failing, crumbling schools continues year after year.
What's that French saying - "the more things change, the more they remain the same."
Things have changed for the rich and corporate, though. The rich have gotten richer. The talk now is about the super-rich and the hyper-rich. The richest 1 percent of people in this country has financial wealth equal to the combined financial wealth of the bottom 95 percent.
The big corporations are more avaricious than ever. The past decade's corporate crime wave, dutifully reported in the major business media-newspapers and magazines-demonstrates how trillions of dollars were looted, or drained away, from tens of millions of small investors, pensioners and workers.
In FDR's time, the CEOs of the top 300 corporations paid themselves about 12 times the average wage in their company. Now the "top greed" registers 400 to 500 times what the average workers eke out in a full year. WalMart is an example of that sheer self-serving power at the top.
All this is occurring while the big companies deliver comparatively far less to the economic well-being of the American worker. The CEOs are otherwise preoccupied with figuring out how they can outsource more American jobs to China and India, how they can hollow out more communities and ship whole industries to those and other countries, many under authoritarian rule, that promise to keep the CEOs' operations at costs close to serfdom.
Interesting, isn't it, that the CEOs say it is necessary to flee our country-where they were nurtured to their size and profits-in order to keep up with global competition. But they never urge outsourcing their own CEO jobs to hardworking, bilingual executives in the Third World willing to work for less than one-tenth of the U.S. CEOs' pay package.
Besides, who wrote the rules (NAFTA, WTO) that define the global competition? Big Business and its lawyer-lobbyists.
Uncle Sam has bent over to give Big Business what it has demanded in the past 25 years. Huge tax reductions, compared to the prosperous nineteen sixties. Massive deregulation, or the abandonment of law and order against criminal, negligent or defrauding corporations. Your tax dollars were transferred in the form of subsidies, handouts, giveaways and bailouts to demanding, mismanaged or corrupt large businesses.
Still, it was not enough coddling to keep these giant companies from casting aside what allegiance they had to our country, its communities and people. The companies' standard is to control them or quit them as these CEOs see fit.
When BusinessWeek Magazine answered a resounding YES to its cover story in 2000 "Too Much Corporate Power?" the editors were not kidding. They even wrote an editorial saying that "corporations should get out of politics." I guess they meant that since corporations do not vote, and are not human beings, that they should not be honing in on what should be the exclusive domain of real people.
More and more conservatives believe that Big Business (Wall Street vs. Main Street) is out of control and stomping on conservative values. They don't like corporate welfare, corporate eminent domain against the little guys, commercial invasion of privacies, WTO and NAFTA shredding our sovereignty, corporate crimes (Enron, Worldcom, etc.) or Big Government on behalf of Big Business Empires around the world.
They are appalled by corporations directly selling bad things and violent programming to their children, whom these companies teach to nag parents.
It is time for the American people to get off the defense and take the offense against corporate power, the way it was done in the consumer, environmental and worker areas from 1965 to 1975 and beyond to new frontiers of subordinating the big corporations to the rights and necessities of real people.
Toward those objectives, hundreds of leading advocates, scholars and activists will convene on June 8-10 in Washington, D.C. to address how to subordinate raw corporate power to the will of the people.
The title of the conference tells its content: "Taming the Giant Corporation: A National Conference on Corporate Accountability."
Conference speakers include: U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Democracy Now's Amy Goodman; Robert Monks, veteran leader for corporate governance; Mark Green, president, Air America Radio; Robert Greenstein, Director of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities; Ron Daniels, President of Institute of the Black World in the 21st Century; Dr. Sidney Wolfe and Lori Wallach of Public Citizen and many more distinguished persons.