Today we saw state troopers in Madison tearing peaceful protestors out of their own capitol after the state's Senate voted to deprive them of their rights. Video footage of that event should come with a label: Brought to you by the State of Wisconsin, a wholly owned subsidiary of Koch Industries.
Right now Wisconsin is serving as the prototype for United States 2.0, a newly reconstituted nation where corporations have all the rights of personhood without any of the responsibilities -- and people have all the duties of personhood without any of the rights.
Welcome to your future. They're preparing it for you right now in America's heartland.
The Madison Experiment
Think of Madison as a laboratory where the nation's billionaires are field-testing the roll-out of their latest product: a quasi-democratic state where government exists exclusively to execute decisions made by corporate interests. The purpose of any field test is to find the bugs in any product before it goes into wider distribution. Maybe the team was a little surprised at the level of pushback they got. But hey,that's what tests are for.
Whenever human rights are being revoked, the fail-safe mechanism is always the use of excessive force. Madison's no exception. As you watch the video of demonstrators below, listen as the onlookers ask the troopers why peaceful citizens are being removed if they haven't committed a crime. Nobody answers.
The First Amendment of the United States Constitution provides "the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances." The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, adopted by the United Nations in 1948, states that "Everyone has the right to freedom of peaceful assembly and association." But human rights are incompatible with the self-interests of the corporate state. That's why we're seeing these steps to strip people of their rights to assemble and negotiate on their own behalf.
It's also why Gov. Walker is violating the state's own open government law by refusing to release his administration's emails. One of the tests being conducted in Madison is this one: How far can a government go in stripping people of their rights? The citizens of Wisconsin are part of the experiment.
So are you.
But do I really believe that there's an experiment underway? Do I think of Madison as if it were a scene from a science-fiction movie, where hidden forces are guiding events and studying the outcomes? No ... and yes. There's no secret control room beneath a mountain or in orbit around the planet, of course... at least I don't think there is... but Wisconsin's legislation was drafted in corporate (and especially Koch) funded groups where legislators were indoctrinated into the corporate mode of governance, and the sales pitch behind it was honed by paid consultants and advisors. And although that "control room' may not exist, a lot of people are very, very interested in the outcome. You should be, too.
My friends at the Institute for Ethics and Emerging Technologies1 like to have stimulating debates about questions like "Will artificial intelligences be treated as 'persons' in the future?" Right now the question seems to be, will people?
Corporations, on the other hand, don't need to worry.
Wisconsin's Republican government owes a deep debt of gratitude to its corporate benefactors. Those corporate interests, in turn, can thank the Supreme Court's Citizens United ruling for giving them the ability to inject unlimited capital into an election. That decision was based on a radical expansion of a legal theory called "corporate personhood."
United States law has recognized that corporations can hold limited "personal" rights, especially the right to enter into contracts, for nearly two hundred years. But Citizens United,which was crafted in right-wing think tanks, radically extended the "personhood" concept by casting two new ideas in stone: First, that corporations have the right of "free speech," and second, that money is a form of speech.
Environmental advocates tried to grant limited personhood to animals and even plants a while back, in an attempt to protect the environment. There was even a legal essay called "Should Trees Have Standing?" The idea never went anywhere. Let's face it: Trees can't throw around the kind of money the Koch Brothers have at their disposal.
Corporations now hold one of the dearest human rights a citizen possesses -- that of free speech -- with none of the responsibilities. No corporation has even been "jailed" for manslaughter, or felony theft, or reckless endangerment. The Wall Street crime wave that wrecked the economy led to no criminal indictments for bankers or banks -- just minor financial penalties that were borne by corporate stockholders.
America's leading financial executives -- prominent figures like JPMorgan Chase's Jamie Dimon and GE's Jeffrey Immelt -- have presided over corporations that are serial lawbreakers, with rap sheets so long they couldn't get bonded to mop floors. But there's no "three strikes and you're out" law for corporations.
If there were, Koch Industries would have been disbanded long ago. It's been held liable for acts that would have resulted in a prison sentence if it had been committed by a human. The list is impressive: A "guilty" plea to charges that it illegally dumped aviation fuel into Mississippi River wetlands and dumped a million gallons of wastewater laced with ammonia into the Mississippi River. A half-million-dollar fine after a jury found it guilty of stealing oil from Native American lands and repeatedly lying about it. A fine for pipeline spills in Texas that leaked more than three million gallons of oil. A $20 million settlement for covering up violations of environmental regulations. A $25 million fine for improperly taking too much oil from Federal and Native American land. A $200,000 penalty for selling crude oil to a foreign country without the proper authorization. A $1.7 million penalty from the EPA.
Human felons can't even vote, but felonious companies can buy elections -- no matter how many crimes they've committed.
Funny, isn't it? As soon as the Democrats gained power a case is filed that makes it to the Supreme Court, overturning campaign finance limits. Maybe that was a happy accident for corporate America, a lucky break at just the right time. But billionaires become billionaires by making their own luck, not by waiting for fortune to smile upon them.
We now know that the Koch brothers like to host meetings with fellow right-wingers to "review strategies for combating the multitude of public policies that threaten to destroy America as we know it." And we know a couple of Supreme Court justices attended the Kochs' latest meeting (Citizens United was a 5-4 victory for the corporations.)
Of course, it could just be coincidence.
America Inc: The Org Chart
Next week Republican politicians from Wisconsin will be attending a lobbyist fundraiser in Washington where they'll collect fat checks and no doubt receive their marching orders. This gala event is being organized by BGR Group, the lobbying outfit set up by Haley Barbour before he accepted a demotion to the field -- it's called "taking one for the team" -- and became the Republican Governor of Mississippi. Once in office he was surprisingly receptive to Federal aid after the BP oil spill, even though studiously avoided blaming corporate criminal BP for the damage it caused to his state.
BGR Group has represented big banks and energy companies, and has helped make life easier for a host of corporate clients. In true Beltway fashion, it proudly boasts that it's "bipartisan."
Meanwhile the Koch Brothers have "quietly" opened a government relations/lobbying office in Madison. And why not? It's important to keep a close eye on your investments. The Koch Brothers insist they're just good citizens worried about "policies that could destroy America as we know it." But then, one of their corporate websites tells us that the Koch empire is "one of the world's largest producers and marketers of... fertilizers."
No disagreement here.
When the Wisconsin State Senate convened its 2011 session, the invocation by Pastor Doug Lebsack of Chippewa Falls included these words:
Our Heavenly Father and Our God,
... God, you are the One who ordains all human authority ... there is no governing authority established outside of your divine authority. These senators who are honorably congregated here today gather at your pleasure ... we pray that you would grant them the wisdom to govern us with integrity, compassion, and courage ... we need Senators who will stand as advocates for the poor and the needy, and the downcast, and as encouragers for our business people, our educators, and our civic leaders.
To serve the entire constituency of our state well, we ask that you would grant our senators the gift of humility. May they see the power that has been placed within their grasp, yet may the wield that power unselfishly for the benefit of the people they serve ... We are thirsty for public servants who overflow with great character. In the midst of mounting pressure, we pray that our senate would radiate the light of knowledge and understanding that flows from your eternal throne ...
In your holy name we pray, Amen.
Were these Republicans even listening? I wonder if Pastor Doug knows that these same Senators have now committed the ultimate sin against God. They've uplifted an artificial creature -- the Corporation -- and placed it on the same level as God's creation, Humanity. I'm no theologian, but that sounds like blasphemy to me.
You know what else seems odd? The Governor and most of his senatorial colleagues claim to follow God incarnated as a carpenter -- in other words, as a man with a trade, a working man. If you believe in Divine wisdom, that can't be an accident. And yet look at the way they treat working people -- taking away their rights, hauling them out of the capitol building. Maybe these self-styled Christians missed Bible study on the day they studied this verse.
One Dollar, One Vote
The reclusive oil billionaire H. L. Hunt reportedly thought that every American's right to vote should be weighted based on how much money he had. Hunt's dream is about to become a reality.
Unions are one of the few bulwarks against corporate corruption in politics. They can sit at the table with politicians and use their leverage to counteract the corporations' influence, serving as a voice for that vast majority of Americans who are employees and not wealthy business owners. That's the real reason the corporate oligarchy is targeting the unions. They've been pretty blatant about their real goals in Wisconsin, with Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald saying things like this:
"(If) the money is not there under the auspices of the unions, certainly what you're going to find is President Obama is going to have a much difficult, much more difficult time getting elected and winning the state of Wisconsin."
They want the money that drives political power to flow from one source, and one source only: America's corporations. And Madison is the proving ground for destroying any organized opposition to their corporatist agenda.
The Wisconsin state motto is "Forward," and the rest of the nation may very well follow. But which way are they going? Their state is being used as the proving ground for United States 2.0. What kind of future are the Governor and his fellow Republicans leading us all toward? The answer can be found in what someone said a long, long time ago:
Follow the money.
1 - I'm a "Affiliated Scholar" at the IEET. That's a vague, unpaid affiliation that basically says we're friends and respect one another. (At least that's my interpretation.)
Richard (RJ) Eskow, a consultant and writer (and former insurance/finance executive), is a Senior Fellow with the Campaign for America's Future. This post was produced as part of the Curbing Wall Street project and the Strengthen Social Security campaign. Richard also blogs at A Night Light.
He can be reached at "firstname.lastname@example.org."
Website: Eskow and Associates