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CHAPTER 5 Jefferson versus the Corporate Aristocracy

Thom Hartmann Berrett-Koehler Publishers ePub

Let monopolies and all kinds and degrees of oppression be carefully guarded against.

—Samuel Webster, 1777

ALTHOUGH THE FIRST SHOTS WERE FIRED IN 1775 AND THE DECLARATION was signed in 1776, the war against a transnational corporation and the nation that used it to extract wealth from its colonies had just begun. These colonists, facing the biggest empire and military force in the world, fought for five more years—the war didn’t end until General Charles Cornwallis surrendered in October 1781. Even then some resistance remained; the last loyalists and the British left New York starting in April 1782, and the treaty that formally ended the war was signed in Paris in September 1783.

The first form of government, the Articles of Confederation, was written in 1777 and endorsed by the states in 1781. It was subsequently replaced by our current Constitution, as has been documented in many books. In this chapter we take a look at the visions that motivated what Alexis de Tocqueville would later call America’s experiment with democracy in a republic. One of its most conspicuous features was the lack of vast wealth or any sort of corporation that resembled the East India Company—until the early 1800s.

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Chapter 9 Future Pacing

Thom Hartmann Berrett-Koehler Publishers ePub

How lovely to think that no one need wait a moment, we can start now, start slowly changing the world.

— ANNE FRANK

At the start of the One Hundred Tenth Congress, newly elected House Speaker Nancy Pelosi faced a significant communication challenge. The Democrats had won the House by a wide margin in large part because of popular opposition to the ongoing war in Iraq. Pelosi herself represented a San Francisco district adamantly opposed to the war. Yet instead of looking for ways out of war, President Bush had just announced a troop surge. Republican members of Congress were torn between the powerful symbolism of supporting a president during wartime and representing the 60 percent of the American people who opposed the war.

Antiwar protestors from Pelosi’s district immediately called on the new Speaker to put forward a resolution defunding the war.1 Yet it was clear that the Democratic majority in the House was not ready for that step, let alone their Republican colleagues. Without bipartisan support any resolution on the war ran the risk of looking as if it was about partisanship rather than a real effort to change the country’s direction. To have a real effect on the president’s policies, Pelosi couldn’t just communicate the country’s dismay over the war; she needed to communicate it in such a way that it would get a sympathetic response from Republicans in Congress and, if possible, from the president himself.

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Chapter 15 Leveling the Playing Field

Thom Hartmann Berrett-Koehler Publishers ePub

You can’t be middle class if you earn the minimum wage in America today.

The American dream and the American reality have collided. In America we have always said that if you work hard and play by the rules, you can take care of yourself and your family. But the minimum wage is just $5.15 per hour. With a forty-hour work-week, that comes to a gross income of $9,888 per year. Nobody can support a family, own a home, buy health insurance, or retire decently on $9,888 per year!

What’s more, 30 million Americans—one in four U.S. workers—make less than $9 per hour, or just $17,280 a year. That’s not a living wage either.

The U.S. Census Bureau’s statistics for 2004 show the official poverty rate at 12.7 percent of the population, which put the number of people officially living in poverty in the United States at 37 million. For a family of four, the poverty threshold was listed as $19,307.1 If the head of that family of four were a single mother working full-time for the government-mandated minimum wage, she couldn’t even rise above the government’s own definition of poverty.

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CHAPTER 24 End Corporate Personhood

Thom Hartmann Berrett-Koehler Publishers ePub

We are made wise not by the recollection of our past, but by the responsibility for our future.

—George Bernard Shaw

ARIZONA CHANGED ITS LAW AFTER 1886 SO THAT THE WORD PERSON WOULD include nonliving as well as living legal entities: “‘Person’ includes a corporation, company, partnership, firm, association or society, as well as a natural person.”1

Many states have varying definitions of person depending on the part of law at issue. For example, there was a 1998 U.S. Supreme Court case in which a large part of the argument had to do with whether the Federal Trade Commission had the authority, under California law, to act as a person in enforcing a judgment against a telemarketer.2

As we’ve seen through the history of the Sherman Antitrust Act and other legislative attempts to control corporate behavior, the problem faced by citizens as well as directors and stockholders of corporations is systemic and rooted in how corporations are defined under the law.

Virtually every legislative session since the 1800s has seen new attempts to regulate or control corporate behavior, starting with Thomas Jefferson’s unsuccessful insistence that the Bill of Rights protect humans from “commercial monopolies.” Ultimately, most have either failed or been co-opted because they didn’t address the underlying structural issue of corporate personhood.

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Chapter 4 An Informed and Educated Electorate

Thom Hartmann Berrett-Koehler Publishers ePub

If a nation expects to be ignorant and free, in a state of civilization, it expects what never was and never will be.… Whenever the people are well-informed, they can be trusted with their own government; that, whenever things get so far wrong as to attract their notice, they may be relied on to set them right.

—Thomas Jefferson

TALK RADIO NEWS SERVICE, BASED IN WASHINGTON, D.C., IS owned and run by my dear friend Ellen Ratner. Ellen is an experienced and accomplished journalist, and a large number of interns and young journalism school graduates get their feet wet in reporting by working for and with her.

In March 2010 I was in Washington for a meeting with a group of senators, and I needed a studio from which to do my radio and TV show. Ellen was gracious enough to offer me hers. I arrived as three of her interns were producing a panel-discussion type of TV show for Web distribution at www.talkradionews.com, in which they were discussing for their viewing audience their recent experiences on Capitol Hill.

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