Saturday, January 30, 2010

Great Moments In Corporate Personhood

Well isn’t this just peachy:
Corporations facing criminal prosecution could face reduced penalties if they meet standards for tackling white-collar crime at their companies, under changes proposed by the U.S. Sentencing Commission.

Under the proposal, corporations could receive credit during sentencing if they have corporate compliance programs designed to combat white collar crime. To qualify, a company's compliance officer must have direct access to the board of directors and be responsible for detecting criminal activity. The company must quickly report the misconduct to authorities.

The proposal, which the commission has released for public comment, would reduce fines and penalties even if company officers were involved in the criminal activity.

Corporations police themselves so well, don’t they? All they really need is a nice little get out of jail free card if they promise to pretend to look like they’re really, really serious and really, really sorry! Maybe we can all get that deal, even us non-corporate citizens.

Frankly I’m shocked as hell that this idea came from Judge William Sessions III, the guy who ruled against the auto companies on global warming emissions. But I’m not familiar with all of his legal opinions, so who am I to say.

This calls to mind the big issue we have in our country today, the one that is rarely if ever discussed by our professional punditry. It’s the way industry has peppered our government regulatory agencies with its own people, a tactic known as “regulatory capture.” It's been going on since Congress dreamed up its first regulatory agency, according to this article in the December issue of Harper’s:

When Congress created the first U.S. regulatory agency, the Interstate Commerce Commission, in 1887, the railroad barons it was meant to subdue quickly recognized an opportunity. “It satisfies the popular clamor for a government supervision of railroads at the same time that that supervision is almost entirely nominal,” observed the railroad lawyer Richard Olney. “Further, the older such a commission gets to be, the more inclined it will be found to take the business and railroad view of things. It thus becomes a sort of barrier between the railroad corporations and the people and a sort of protection against hasty and crude legislation hostile to railroad interests.” As if to underscore this claim, Olney soon after got himself appointed to run the U.S. Justice Department, where he spent his days busting railroad unions.

The story of capture is repeated again and again, in industry after industry, whether it is the agricultural combinations creating an impenetrable system of subsidies, or television and radio broadcasters monopolizing public airwaves for private profit, or the entire financial sector conjuring perilous fortunes from the legislative void. The real battle in Washington is seldom between conservatives and liberals or the right and the left or “red America” and “blue America.” It is nearly always a more local contest, over which politicians will enjoy the privilege of representing the interests of the rich.

This is America's dirty little secret, never to be spoken about publicly. We all pretend the right-vs-left arguing about “big government” and "small government," "free markets" and "competition" vs. "government interference" gets at the crux of the matter. But let's face it: it's all a circus sideshow. The real decisions have already been made in the board room. There are no free markets because for the most part corporations have already divvied up the pie amongst themselves.

And it's only going to get worse, now that the Supreme Court has decided corporations can contribute more of their unlimited resources to political campaigns. This follows just a few years after the Supreme Court's last controversial 5-4 decision, the disastrous Kelo case. In Kelo, let's remember, SCOTUS ruled that local governments can use the power of eminent domain to take private property and give it to another private owner. Think about these two decisions for a moment and their potential to impact our local communities. It's scary.

Every day one can find a story somewhere about a new slate of rights and privileges granted to private corporations, while politicians want to take away the few rights we citizens have. I'm talking about the right to seek redress for grievances and the right to seek reparations--those are the things which those crowing for "tort reform" are trying to limit. Now we have the U.S. Sentencing Commission suggesting we let corporations police themselves, which, heh heh, has always worked so well in the past (cue eyeroll).

One of these days we're going to have a national conversation about what's really wrong with this country. I'm wondering when that day will come and who will start it.

(h/t, Rising Hegemon)