Wednesday, July 16, 2014

If Corporations Are People, Why Aren't They Held to Account?

Disillusion with government and its willingness to protect "we the people", crony capitalism of our elected officials, life time appointments to the Supreme Court, polarization on major issues and the failure of certain unalieanble rights to materialize, such as equal pay for equal work, lead me to ponder the possible consequences of the Hobby Lobby decision and other political decisions.

Ruth Bader Ginsburg said that the decision "of startling breadth" that could unleash "havoc" on American society (in fact, Mother Jones surmises that 90% of all American businesses fit the criteria to be classified as "closely-held corporations," so, gird your loins, ladies. Literally). She wrote that for-profit companies, unlike nonprofits, don't exist to further an agenda beyond money making and therefore cannot be said to have religious beliefs, and points out that one of the forms of birth control objected to by the fact-ignoring folks at Conestoga Wood and Hobby Lobby is the IUD, which, if purchased and installed without the help of insurance, would cost about as much as a woman earning minimum wage would make in a month. "The court, I fear, has ventured into a minefield," she wrote. 6/30/14
Then there's our "too big to fail" banking system.  What happened?  Why weren't the perpetrators of the mortgage fiasco brought up on criminal charges? the 1980s, the so-called savings-and-loan crisis, which again had some eerie parallels to more recent events, resulted in the successful criminal prosecution of more than eight hundred individuals, right up to Charles Keating. And again, the widespread accounting frauds of the 1990s, most vividly represented by Enron and WorldCom, led directly to the successful prosecution of such previously respected CEOs as Jeffrey Skilling and Bernie Ebbers.
...While officials of the Department of Justice have been more circumspect in describing the roots of the financial crisis than have the various commissions of inquiry and other government agencies, I have seen nothing to indicate their disagreement with the widespread conclusion that fraud at every level permeated the bubble in mortgage-backed securities. Rather, their position has been to excuse their failure to prosecute high-level individuals for fraud in connection with the financial crisis on one or more of three grounds... NY Review of Books  1/09/14  
John Oliver gives his takeaway on possible scenarios treating corporations as people:

There are ways to protest.  Boycott products, stores and establishments owned by corporations whose behaviour, in your opinion, is unacceptable.  Hollywood insiders are boycotting the famed Beverly Hills Hotel & it's iconic Polo Lounge for the following reasons:
Since word spread of the May 1 implementation of Sharia law by Sultan of Brunei Hassanal Bolkiah -- owner of the hotel through his Dorchester Collection of properties that also includes Hotel Bel-Air -- power players have responded by using their pocketbooks to condemn the criminal code that could mean stoning deaths for gays and adulterers.   
"I'm no longer going [to the Polo Lounge], and I was there three times a week," says WME partner Richard Weitz. Same for Trigger Street Productions' Dana Brunetti: "I will not return there while the sultan owns it." That sentiment was echoed by about two dozen industry names contacted by THR, even if most admit they're keeping an eye in the rearview mirror.   
"I feel bad for the staff," says Weitz. But waitstaff who rely on tips received good news May 8 when Dorchester announced that personnel at its L.A. properties would be compensated for lost gratuities in addition to wages and benefits.   The Hollywood Reporter 5/22/14 
If you notice in the last paragraph on the BHH, it's the staff who suffer, not the billionaire owner.  

As for me, I'm still looking for answers like this one: one that I know of has ever contended that a big financial institution would collapse if one or more of its high-level executives were prosecuted, as opposed to the institution itself.  NY Review of Books  1/09/14



injaynesworld said...

I feel like I've fallen through the looking glass to a world that makes absolutely no sense anymore. I would like to think that this Court could not suck worse, but I fear they've still got some major fuckduggery coming in the future. Great post, my friend.

bill lisleman said...

A few broad topics at the start. So are you against the way the Supreme Court is set-up? Since the justices do typically stay over different White House administrations I think it's a good system. Now I don't agree with the corporation is a person ruling. Congress needs to fix that. However I imagine a constitutional amendment to do that (I think that is what is needed) getting anywhere in this divided country as likely as you running for president. There have been a few huge fines against a number of banks. Maybe since these banks are considered people now they would say that individuals were prosecuted.
Lawyers (most politicians are still come from law backgrounds don't they?) are trained to avoid the law which makes this stuff very confusing.

California Girl said...

jayne: thanks for the compliment. I need it.

California Girl said...

Bill: I am an advocate for term limits in all houses of government. I understand the thinking that it's best if SCOTUS continues unchanged through the various admins. I think these people (legislative & judicial branches) stay too long, develop too much power, are no longer answerable to the people. If you follow the link to the NY REVIEW OF BOOKS, he lists 3 excuses govt agencies have given for not prosecuting high level individuals who will soon, btw, no longer have to worry when the statute of limitations runs out.

The Silver Fox said...

I agree with term limits for elected officials and appointed ones! And the idea that corporations are people is a concept which can lead to stupid legal decisions, like the Hobby Lobby decision.

California Girl said...

Foxy, I, like jayne, feel the world doesn't make sense any more. I want to say I believe things will turn around, the pendulum will swing the other way... I don't think term limits will solve alot but they can't hurt. Teachers with unrevocable tenured positions are being reconsidered. Why not the Supreme Court? Why not the elected officials? Term limmits would eliminate the ongoing need to raise campaign monies after their term(s) are up. Maybe that fact alone would turn attention back to the issues at hand.

Pat Tillett said...

Great and thought provoking post.

Our systems does not work. The sad part, is that it's nothing new.

One thing has changed big time though. I have NEVER seen this much hate in national politics. It does not make me proud.


by Cole Scott