How the corpocrats are killing our culture as well as our economy

Sam Smith

It’s becoming more widely understood that America’s corpocracy has badly damaged the middle class, greatly weakened the labor unions that helped create it, grossly diverted wealth to the top of society, overpaid its executives and underpaid its employees, hidden its profits in tax free offshore havens, transferred large number of jobs to other countries, and convinced the Supreme Court to let it buy our elections.

But that’s just the financial side of the story. Allowing corporate greedsters to take over our society has affected every aspect of our culture, and not in a happy way. Here are some examples

Values such as integrity, kindness, cooperation and community no longer lead the list. Instead profit, dominance, branding, marketing and control have replaced them. Image has taken over from actual achievement, public relations has assumed the place of logical argument, status is more significant than substance, and a good pivot is more admirable than a good principle.

Our language has dramatically changed as we adopt more of the clichés of corporations, their lawyers and business schools. This language does not reflect reality, but only the abstractions of advertising, legalese and selling. It is enough to use trite words and phrases such as best practices, comprehensive approach, due diligence, entrepreneur,  envision, iconic, optic, pivot, proactive, rigor, robust, silo, stakeholder, strategic, synergy and transparency to give the illusion that you’re actually talking about something. One sad indication of how fully corporate gibberish has invaded our language is to see how often it is used by non-profits wanting to prove how financially skilled they are –  to an extent that starts to conceal their actual purpose.

Arts: The expansion of copyright and its enforcement by corporate police such as RIAA has had a largely unreported and counterproductive effect, namely it deflates participation and audience for music or literature not currently being produced and promoted. A few years ago we noted some of the effects:

One survey has found that the percentage of adult population performing or creating any of the major genres of music never surpasses 4% with the exception of those in choirs of chorales (about 6%).

On the other hand 14% engage actively in photography, 13% in weaving and sewing, and 9% in painting or drawing.

A study by the National Endowment of the Arts found that between 2002 and 2008, attendance at jazz events was down 28%, classical music performances down 20%, and opera down 34%. There was no evidence that the missing audience was illegally downloading these performances.

What is even more striking is another study that found a huge drop in attendance by those aged 18-24 between 1982 and 2008. The worst hit was jazz with a decline of 58% but even musicals fell by 13%. For adults as a whole the decline ranged from 19% for jazz to 30% for opera.

And there are other considerations. For example, in 2004 Rolling Stone pubished what it said were the 500 best songs of all time. Let’s leave aside the question of whether they ignored a few centuries of western music by only choosing numbers from the 1940s on. What is truly amazing about this selection – made by critics widely considered among the hippest – is that only 5% of the songs came from 1990 and later. Forty percent came from the 1960s and 28% came from the 1970s. Even the 1950s did better than the 1990s.

There is a similar effect in publishing as was illustrated in a paper by Paul Heald published by Berkeley Law:

Copyright owners are in the business of collecting royalties on existing works, so they advocate extending copyright terms in order to perpetuate revenue streams. Once a work has been published, however, lobbyists lose the ability to make pro-extension arguments based on incentive-to-create rationales because the work already exists. Instead, they argue—without empirical support—that bad things will happen to the work when it falls into the public

 

The public interest, so the story goes, requires term extension to prevent a public domain calamity. The history and effectiveness of this argument has been chronicled at length elsewhere, but one persistent assertion bears repeating: Creative works need owners who will assure their availability and adequate distribution.

Although Congress in 1998 relied on this argument in extending the term of protection in the U.S. by 20 years, empirical studies have thus far failed to support this key assertion made by copyright lobbyists.

 

… In fact, Heald (2008) studied bestselling novels from 1913 to 1932 and found that public domain status significantly increased the chance that a book would be in print and increased the number of publishers of it.

 

The paper also notes:

Random sample of new books for sale on Amazon.com shows more books for sale from the 1880’s than the 1980’s. Why? This paper presents new data on how copyright stifles the reappearance of works. First, a random sample of more than 2000 new books for sale on Amazon.com is analyzed along with a random sample of almost 2000 songs available on new DVD’s. Copyright status correlates highly with absence from the Amazon shelf.

Together with publishing business models, copyright law seems to deter distribution and diminish access.

And here’s a chart that shows how it works in real time:

The 2266 random editions of new books available on Amazon during the fall of 2012 are charted by the decade of the original publication date for the corresponding title. Both fiction and non-fiction editions are included. Editions of books now in the public domain (those published prior to 1923) constitute 72% of the total, while editions of titles still under copyright constitute 28%.

Our educational system – at every level – is being badly damaged by the corpocracy. Common Core and Race to the Top were not designed by actual educators but by those seeking ways to privatize the education system whether by making it heavily dependent on the corporate testing industry or by draining public education with private charter schools. And it’s not just at lower school level. As Jackson Lear noted in Commonweal:

One consequence of this seismic cultural shift is the train wreck of contemporary higher education. Nothing better exemplifies the catastrophe than President Barack Obama’s plan to publish the average incomes earned by graduates from various colleges, so parents and students can know which diplomas are worth the most in the marketplace, and choose accordingly. In higher education as in health care, market utility has become the sole criterion of worth. The monetary standard of value has reinforced the American distrust of intellect unharnessed to practical purposes: the result is an atmosphere toxic to the humanities.

Our military, aka foreign, policy has long been overwhelmingly driven by the desires of the defense industry rather than the best interests our country. We’re talking about a country that could cut its military budget by a third and still have one twice as large as China. A country that since the Cold War has deployed its military 5 times more often than in the preceding 19 decades. It is the largest misappropriation of government funds in human history – welfare for the defense industry.

Not content with its massive profits from the conventional military, the corpocracy has gone on to militarize our police departments with grim results like those seen of late in places like Baltimore and Ferguson. No small part of the profit comes from defining the weakest segments of our citizenry as the enemy.  It inspired the war on drugs,  private prisons and the corporate gold mine of a war on terror.

Our health care system has been incredibly distorted by a desire for continued domination by private insurance companies. In creating Obamacare, for example, neither the White House nor Congress had the courage to include a public insurance option by expanding Medicare in some way.

The media, which should be telling us things like the aforementioned, has become a loyal partner of other large corporations and the politicians who support them. Major media are now some of the largest corporations in America and act like the rest while pretending to be something different. Among the consequences: you don’t hear about the virtues of cooperatives, union involvement in corporate management, the assault on unions or how to protect small business from the mega-corpocracy. And, of course, they won’t let you hear about such huge problems as the TPP plan. Further, probably the most powerful educational institution in America today is the advertising industry. Unfortunately, it doesn’t teach well at all.

 So, bad as things like Citizens United and offshore tax havens are, the modern corpocracy is having enormous cultural effects on our society as well. And the fact that we hardly ever talk about it shows how serious the problem is.

 

The real World War III: Corporations vs. nationhood

Sam Smith

The recent IMF loans to Ukraine with their dictatorial provisions are one more example of the world’s concealed great war, which is to say the massive invasion of nationhood by corporations. Far more dangerous than any current military threat, corporations have already taken huge territories, legal and financial as well as geographical. Our politicians, many of them covert allies of the corporations, say little of this. And the major media, massive corporations themselves, steadfastly hide the truth from their audience.

For America, not since the Civil War has the sovereignty and constitution of this land come under such assault. In the two previous great wars the damage mostly occurred across two great oceans. Now the victims of the battle are in the heart of our land, witness the deleterious economic effects of NAFTA, the political disaster of Citizens United and the corporate assault on our public schools parading as education reform. Nestles is grabbing our water, our language has been mangled by corporate gobbledygook and even non-profits have adopted the organizational misanthropy of modern corporations.

Without debate, without formal conflict, without even much consciousness, we have absorbed the principles of America’s greediest, adopted their language, and surrendered our constitution and other values to their will. Our last three presidents have been willing participants in undermining our sovereignty, our values and our culture. One might well expect this of a Bush, but Clinton and Obama were just as deeply involved and their liberal constituency hardly said a mumblin’ word.

We may not win this war but we certainly won’t until we admit we are in it and must stand as firmly for American standards and beliefs as we have in great military conflicts.

The Battle of the Economic Bulge – aka TPP – is the struggle presently before us, involving arguably the most disloyal legislation since secession. We still have time to stand up against it. But to do so, we can’t pretend it’s just another measure. We have to recognize the stakes of the battle that we’re in. Our leaders are not surrendering America, they’re just selling it away bit by bit. But the results could well be the same.

Eternal fundamentals of leadership (Rev. 8/14/11)

Sam Smith

I have been trying to understand the new eternal fundamentals of leadership according to the likes of Michelle Rhee, Arne Duncan and others who see government and non-profits as badly in need of corporate principles. Here’s what I’ve come up with so far. Please copy it promptly as I may be laid off later today with this post removed.

Fire, don’t inspire

Test, don’t teach

Statistics are just another form of adjective. Use them at will

Treat everyone – including citizens, patients, students, teachers, and volunteers – as corporate employees.

With enough public relations, personal relations aren’t necessary.

Internal organization is far more important than external programs

Statistical margins of error don’t apply when numbers improve. Acceptable progress need only be a decimal point away.

Dismantle, don’t build

Civility reflects inability

Reserve all creativity for budgets and annual reports.

Free markets, enslaved minds

Sam Smith

One of the myths of the economaniacs is that everything in life is a function of how money is used and who uses it. To be sure, it was, as previously noted here, fortunate that economists discovered money before manure or we would be faced with a Really Gross National Product and our lives would driven by defecatory trends as interpreted by academic and media experts.

But there is, in fact, one largely undiscussed way in which our economic approach truly reaches deep into all aspects of our culture: the massive corporatism under which we live (concealed under the guise of free market capitalism) is making us dangerously dumb.

This not only affects our purchases but every aspect of our lives. Consider, for example, where the average American learns things. At the top the of list would have to be advertising on television combined with the news and programming created to attract that advertising.

There are, to be sure, other influences such as schools, but how many teachers can sell common sense or useful skepticism as well as advertising agencies sell products and the values that lead one to buy them? And consider the time spent in the education compared with the time spent before the tube – even by the young, let alone by adults.

There is also organized religion, which – in its sadly most typical forms these days – is a prime encourager of myths potentially disastrous to the earth, including denial of climate change and opposition to birth control.

But still greater is the ubiquitous influence of the corporados not just on our wallets but on our minds. And it’s not just the messages we receive through the television. It can be found in the distortion in values of non-profits now seeking to meet corporate standards and, perhaps most dangerously, in the policies and rhetoric of our politicians.

In the end, it will not be what we buy – foolish as that may be – that will do us in, but what we think. And the free market every minute is teaching us wrong things – in as many as 3,000 messages for each American every day.

As the anti-worker developments in Michigan, Wisconsin and Maine warn us, we are even losing the ability to perceive our own self interest. And when that happens, we cease being citizens and become helpless victims.

We all live in a Mafia neighborhood now

Sam Smith

Opponents of the Supreme Court case that unleashed corporate funding of campaigns have largely concentrated on its effects upon elections. But it is becoming ever more clear that the Citizens United decision is corrupting the daily work of legislators every day at every level in American politics and can fairly be described as one of the worst criminal acts in our history. We all live in a Mafia neighborhood now.

To declare that a corporation has the rights of a human person is to create a form of segregation and discrimination based not on ethnicity but on wealth. More than a little of the mounting madness of American politics can be traced to politicians no longer caring what their voters think, but only about the views of a tiny, rich minority that controls their chances of holding office.

Take Maine, the state in which I live and one that has had a reputation for decency and forthrightness, especially in environmental matters. But backed by out-of-state corporate funding, the new rightwing governor, Paul LePage (who won with only 39% of the vote thanks to a Democratic-independent split of the rest) is proposing a series of fake reforms that are totally out of keeping with the traditions of the state.

What is both fascinating and scary about these measures is that not even your average Maine conservative was demanding them. So why push them?

Colin Woodard in the Portland Phoenix gives the answer:

|||| The governor has continued to insist that “most of the proposals” he developed came “directly from business owners and managers who have attended the Red Tape Workshops,” but the wish list itself tells a different story: it literally has the marks of corporate lobbyists all over it.

The official copy of the wish list LePage submitted to the legislature has lobbying powerhouse Preti Flaherty Beliveau & Pachios’s distinctive eight-digit document tracking numbers stamped on each page, suggesting it originated not in Augusta, but at the law firm’s offices at Portland’s One City Center.

“For God’s sake, if you’re going to stab Mother Nature in the back, at least wipe your prints off before you drop the knife,” said Representative Bob Duchesne of Hudson, the ranking Democrat on both the environment committee and the new regulatory-reform committee. . . “I think this shows the lobbyists created the list and gave it back to the governor.”||||

Woodard notes:

|||| Lobbying disclosures on file with the state Ethics Commission show both PHRMA and Merck paid [lobbyist] Robinson to defeat the Kid-Safe Products Act, a 2008 law that phased out toxic chemicals in toys, car seats, baby clothes, and other children’s products. The American Petroleum Institute and drug maker Astrazeneca paid [lobbyist] Aho to do the same. The governor’s wish list calls for “revisions to prohibitions of chemicals and materials in products” saying that “if the state is going to regulate consumer products at all, it should only do so when clearly justified on risk-benefit or cost benefit basis.”. . .

Another of [lobbyist] Robinson’s clients, the Toy Industry Association of America, was among the out-of-state interests that tried to stop the Bureau of Environmental Protection from banning the use of Bisphenol-A in baby bottles, sippy cups, and other food containers last year. BPA has also been banned in the European Union, Canada, Minnesota, Connecticut, and Chicago; Wal-Mart and other major retailers have stopped selling baby products containing the substance. LePage’s wish list seeks to “Repeal BPA rule and rely on federal EPA and FDA standards,” which permit the substance.||||

Was this the result of a grassroots rebellion against safe sippy cups?

Said Amanda Sears, associate director of the Environmental Health Strategy Center: “Not a single Maine business testified in opposition to the regulations on BPA. The opposition to these proposals from these corporate lobbying firms is entirely about national precedent setting.”

Adds Matt Prindiville of the Natural Resources Council of Maine: “I think you can safely say that there is unprecedented access for big out-of-state companies to influence legislative proposals in the state of Maine. . . Repealing these laws will not create a single job in Maine. There isn’t a single Maine businessperson who says, ‘you know, the reason I can’t grow my business is that law that gets brominated fire retardants out of mattresses or BPA out of babies’ bottles.’ It’s ludicrous.”

Yes, ludicrous, but tragically real. And if this is the sort of thing that can happen in one of the nation’s cleaner states, think of what goes on now in Illinois, California or Texas.

It couldn’t be happening at a worse time. With budget crises as the foil, politicians at every level are using the economy as an excuse to do exactly what the big bucks have been demanding all along: cut social welfare, community services, attack labor unions, do away with health and environmental reforms and so forth.

Leading the con is our own president, Barack Obama. Billions for banks but a drastically failing foreclosure rescue program. High speed rail for the upper classes but a massive cut in heating fuel assistance for the poor. And so on into the ever darkening and ever colder night.

And at the heart of it all: the Supreme Court’s decision to let corporations pretend that they are human persons, one of the most destructive lies ever concocted in American politics. If corporations were really persons, the ones now daily bribing our politicians would be in jail instead of in power.

There are things we can do about it, such as a grassroots rebellion including amending the Constitution to end corporate personhood. But in the meanwhile, don’t let the politicians and the media fool you. It’s not really about politics anymore. Your vote is now worth a fraction of what it once was. It’s about bribery, the most successful form of bipartisanship in America today.