You may know the story of the frog and the
A scorpion wanted to cross a swift river, and asked
a frog to carry him.
asked "How do I know that you will not sting me?"
"Well," answered the
scorpion, who was
good with words when he wanted something, "then I wouldn't be able to get
across the river."
"Well," said the frog, "then how do I know that you
won't sting and kill me as soon as we're across the
"Oh," said the scorpion,
"because I'll be so grateful for the ride, why would I want to kill you then?"
This con-vinced the frog as frogs are easy to fool - so he let the
scorpion on his back, and began swimming across the river.
about 2/3 of the way across the raging river, when,
to his great surprise,
the frog felt a painful sting and looked around to see the scorpion pulling his
stinger out of the frog's back.
the frog felt himself becoming
Just before he was completely paralyzed, the frog had the
breath to ask "Why?"
"It's just who
I am," said the scorpion, as
they both sank into the river and drowned. "It's just who I am."
Of course, the
story was never really about scorpions.
It was meant as a
warning against certain rare but dangerous kinds of people who are like
scorpions intent on destroying others even if it destroys them too.
is such a frightening story is because a person like the scorpion, a person who
lacked even basic compassion,
isn't quite human.
One of the scariest things we can
a machine-like thing with a
will, that seeks to harm us, and
when we suffer, cry, or die.
Think of those android-type men in
the "Matrix" movies, for instance.
Or the Orcs and Sauron in "Lord of
the Rings," or the governor of
California as the "Terminator," that robot programmed only to destroy until
it was destroyed.
I suppose the most famous
story like this is still Mary Shelly's 1818 tale of Dr. Frankenstein and
the monster he
forged from dead human body parts.
For nearly two centuries, the
Frankenstein monster has been a symbol of creating something inhuman,
giving it life and immense power without a
soul, then living to see it turn on us, as the monster even killed Dr.
There have been a
lot of movies on this theme in the past few years.
The "Terminator," "Total
Recall," Darth Vader in "Star Wars," the casual indifference to life in "Pulp Fiction," powerful forces
of greed and destruction in "Lord of the
Rings" - you can probably think of another half dozen.
When I was
growing up, the most powerful movie like this was the original 1956 version of
the Body Snatchers."
It was about the difference between real
people and pathological
You probably know the story.
A mindless life force
from outer space drifted from a
desolate, dead planet and wound up on this one.
It operated under a simple program.
When a human fell asleep
near it, it produced a giant pod that duplicated the sleeping person, taking
their body, looks, even their memory, and
draining their life, then destroying the original and taking their place.
You could hardly tell the difference.
They looked the same, had
all the same memories.
But they had no soul.
They had no
feeling for anyone.
The squeals of a dog getting hit and killed by a
car in the road twenty feet away didn't even make them care to look.
Life didn't matter to them.
Only reproducing their kind, to no
other end than reproducing their kind.
Eventually, like the frog and
the scorpion, they kill everything.
Then if the
cosmic winds are right, they may blow
across the galaxy and suck the life
out of yet another planet.
met a half dozen people who grew up when I did, saw that movie, and were
similarly moved to think of real versus unreal people, the way kids 150 years
ago probably thought in terms of real people versus Frankenstein monsters.
In both cases, they were persons lacking humanity, lacking the concern
for others that makes them frightening and dangerous persons.
humans act like this, we feel there's something fundamentally wrong with them.
Theologians call them evil, novelists call them demons or
monsters, and psychologists call them psychopaths.
Since psyche means
soul, the word really means people with sick souls.
Here's a list
of psychopathic traits I recently read.
unable to feel remorse
won't accept responsibility for their destructive
They're finally quite superficial: all power,
no depth; all manipulation, no conection I can see you making a mental list of
some of your ex-friends
Now what is this about?
Why am I
talking about persons who are not real, psychopaths and scorpions who have been
programmed to destroy, even if it also destroys them?
Earth does this have to do
with a respectable church sermon?
It's a way of introducing the business
of understanding the money power that has
taken over American society and is on
the verge of taking over the world.
I am talking about a fictious person which, like the invasion of the
body snatchers, is seeking to, and succeeding in, destroying the compassionate
qualities of people.
You'll think I've badly overstated the case when I
say that this dangerous person who is not a real person is the
So let me try and persuade you.
Only a very few of
these insights are mine.
Most came from a remarkable book by a Canadian
law professor Joel Bakan.
The title is "The Corporation: The
Pathological Pursuit of Profit and Power."
forming in the late 17th and early 18th centuries, to pool the money of a large
number of people in order to give the corporation more power than any single
business could have.
Very early, laws were passed saying investors had
no liability for whatever dastardly deeds the corporation committed.
All investors could lose was their investment.
This gave the
corporation limited liability, but unlimited
From the start, as
a matter of structure and law, the only purpose of a corporation was to make as
much money as possible for its stockholders.
It was the only way in
which to get people to invest.
By the late 19th century, the courts had
transformed the corporation into "a person", a "legal person", and even spoke
of it in that way.
In 1866, lawyers representing this newly minted
"person" won a ruling from the Supreme Court saying that, as a "legal person",
corporations were entitled to be protected by the
14th amendment for "due process of
law" and "equal protection of the law."
These provisions of the 14th
amendment, as you may remember, were written for the protection of freed slaves
after the War Between the States.
Since 1866, it has been used almost
exclusively to protect corporations - even when they
make slaves of workers
all over the third world and, some would argue, within our own country.
Since being christened as "persons", corporations have done what any
person would do: they have fought for both survival and dominance, lobbying for
laws that favor their aims, and buying influence, lawyers, judges, politicians
and presidents (Woodrow
Wilson, Herbert Hoover,
Franklin Delano Roosevelt,
Reagan, George HW Bush,
George W. Bush) when they can - and,
looking back, it seems they can quite often.
It isn't seen as evil. Its just
business as usual. And what are
If the corporation
sells stock, its sole legal purpose, under international and American laws, is
to make as much money as possible for its stockholders.
A corporation can pretend to
care about society or the environment, as long as
the money they spend makes more
people want to buy their products and
so increases profits for
Corporations may not, legally, spend money for
social justice.Milton Friedman,
a third-rate economist, adopted
the greediest kind of
corporatism - neoliberalism in the EU or
Corporations really aren't interested in social justice,
only in profit.
Milton Friedman compares acts of apparent social conscience to
car manufacturers using pretty girls to sell
"That's never really about the girls," Milton Friedman points
out, "it's just a trick to sell
Altruism just does not have a place in the vision of Milton
A corporation can donate to the
special Olympics or civic projects, but only if it intends such to sell more of
Peter Drucker, the guru of corporate management, claims if you
have a CEO who wants to do social good, fire him fast!
There are laws supporting this
Ninety years ago, when
Henry Ford was becoming
astoundingly rich from selling his Model T Fords, he decided that he was making
too much money.
So in 1916, Henry Ford "cancelled the stock dividends
to give customers price reductions because he felt it was wrong to make obscene
Two of Henry Ford's major investors, the Dodge brothers, took
him to court, arguing that profits
belonged to the stockholders, not the corporation, and the court agreed
with them, establishing a precedent that
Corporations exist as persons only to do whatever is
necessary to maximize profits for their stockholders.
Even if it harms people.
The Dodge brothers start their own corporation in competition with
In 1933 Supreme Court judge
Louis Brandeis finally made the
He stated corporations were "Frankenstein monsters" capable
of doing great evil.
Joel Bakan cites another famous case from 1994, in
which General Motors was sued because on Christmas Day 1993 a mother with her
four children in the car was hit from behind while stopped at a stop light,
causing her gas tank of her 1979 Chevy Malibu to explode, burning and badly
disfiguring all five of them.
During the trial, a report was introduced
showing that GM knew the gas tank was set so far back that it could explode on
impact, killing the car's occupants.
In fact, about five hundred people
had been killed this way at the time of the report in 1973 when the new Malibu
style cars were being planned.
A statistician figured that each
fatality could cost the corporation $200,000 in legal damages, then divided the
figure by 41 million, the number of cars GM had on the road.
statistician concluded that each death cost GM only $2.40 per
The cost of ensuring that fuel tanks did not explode in
crashes was estimated to be $8.59 per car.
That meant the corporation
could save $6.19 per car if it let people die in fuel-fed fires rather than
alter the design of vehicles to avoid such fires.
The huge jury award
was later reduced by 3/4, and General Motors appealed the case.
support of General Motors, the United States Chamber of Commerce filed a
brief defending the practice of using this kind of "cost-benefit analysis in
corporate decision making."
The jury's decision, the United States
Chamber of Commerce said, was deeply troubling, because manufacturers
should use cost-benefit
analysis to make the most profitable decisions.
The corporation's legal
structure requires executives to make only those decisions that create greater
benefits than costs for their shareholders.
Executives have no
authority to consider what harmful effects a decision might
have on other people or upon the environment, unless those effects might
have negative consequences for the
see what has happened here?
This "person", by following its legal nature,
and does endanger and kill human beings in the pursuit of profit on
Now let's jump to a very different area of society, one you
might not think is even related to corporations.
the subject of our armed forces,
what they are really serving, and what our soldiers are really dying for.
Joel Bakan's book tells of a
chapter in American history I was
never taught in school.
It involves a
Marine Corps Major General named
Smedley Darlington Butler, one of World War I's most highly decorated
On August 21, 1931, Major General Smedley
Darlington Butler stunned an audience at an American Legion convention in
Connecticut when he had said:"I spent
thirty-three years and four months in active military service as a member of
this country's most agile military force, the Marine Corps.
I served in
all commissioned ranks from Second Lieutenant to Major General.
during that period, I spent most of my time being a high class muscle-man for
Big Business, for Wall
Street and for the Bankers.
In short, I was a racketeer, a gangster
I helped purify Nicaragua
for the international banking house of Brown Brothers in
make Mexico, especially Tampico, safe for
interests in 1914.
I brought light to the Dominican Republic for
American sugar interests in
I helped make
Haiti and Cuba a
decent place for the National City Bank boys
to collect revenues in.
I helped in the rape of half a dozen Central
American republics for the benefit of
In China in
1927 I helped see to it that
Standard Oil went its
The record of racketeering is long.
I was rewarded with
Looking back on it, I feel that I could have given Al
Capone a few hints.
The best he could do was to operate a racket in
Marines operated on three continents."
Given that speech, and
Smedley Darlington Butler's disgust with the role the military played, not in
serving democracy but in serving
the greed of large corporations, what happened three years later is truly
Delano Roosevelt took office in the midst of a banking crisis.
embarked upon a
socialist scheme of massive proportions with centralized government
planning and control very similar in many respects to the Soviets.
With many of these socialist projects an utter disaster Franklin Delano
Roosevelt embarked upon an industrial building project -
World War II.
These attempts to increase industrial productivity took lives -
on the construction site
and on the battlefield.
Both fed the maw of the disastrous greed of the wealthiest
Small business hated the
price, wage and
labor controls along with the army of "inspectors" which
The actual controlling interests, large corporations and their owners,
were then able to skim the cream off the entire output of the country.
Large corporations have always supported
socialism as wealth
flows to the center.
In 1934, Fortune magazine had a cover
story extolling the virtues of fascism and
the economic miracles Mussolini had achieved in lowering wages, crushing worker
unions, and creating greater profits for corporations.
On August 22nd
of 1934, Major General Smedley Darlington Butler's was approached in a hotel
room in Philadelphia by a messenger of a group of wealthy businessmen, who
opened a large suitcase of $1000 bills and dumped it on the bed, explaining
that this was only a down payment.
The "business interests" wanted Major
General Smedley Darlington Butler to assemble a volunteer army, take over the
White House, and install himself as the fascist
dictator of the United States, with the financial support of major
corporations [Business Plot/White House Putsch].
believe that if they had picked a different general, it may well have worked.
Smedley Darlington Butler refused, and told the story.
the business interests believed they would have to use military force to take
over the government, dismantle democracy, and install a form of fascist
government doing the will of the richest corporations and individuals in
America, to the degradation or destruction of everyone else.
was the invasion of the body snatchers, coming closer than we can know to
"Today, seventy years after the failed coup,
a well-organized minority again
Corporate America's long and patient
campaign to gain control of government over the last few decades, much
quieter and ultimately more effective than the plotters' clumsy attempts, is
Without bloodshed, armies, or fascist strongmen, and
using dollars rather than
bullets, corporations are now poised to win what the plotters so
desperately wanted: freedom from democratic
control." - Joel Bakan
Their reach is now worldwide.
World Trade Organization has already sued nations, including ours, for
safety or environmental laws that cut into corporate profits.
full power of the World Trade Organization comes into effect
corporations will be able to prevent governments from enacting environmental or
health regulations that would unduly impede corporate profits.
was an investor protection plan enabling corporations to
use cheap wage labor to force American
wages down, break unions, and steal jobs from Americans by the hundreds of
thousands, "out-sourcing" them
to cheap wage labor markets
around the world in order to let rich corporations and individuals get
richer by destroying the lives of American and other workers, gutting entire
societies, then leaving their husk and moving on to drain the life from another
society, exactly like the invasion of the body snatchers.
many more details, and the picture is considerably worse, than I've had time to
sketch for you.
I don't think there are many books that all Americans
should read, but I think this is one of them.
Is there hope? Can anything be done?
Yes, but only if we remember that we forged
this Frankenstein monster, and it is only a "person" because we said so, and we
can change our opinions and change our laws and change the way in which
corporations are allowed to do business in this country and in the world.
You can find lists of cities and counties that have revoked the
charters of corporations, and refused to let them operate unless they are
reconstituted to serve the good of society, the common good, rather than just
the greed of a few men and women.
New York Attorney General Eliot Spitzer
recently said that if "a corporation is convicted of repeated felonies that
harm or endanger the lives of human beings or destroy our environment, the
corporation should be put to death, its corporate existence ended, and its
assets taken and sold at public auction."
Eliot Spitzer isn't
He works for the government.
isn't bad, it's a neutral but powerful tool that can be used to reclaim our
nation and redefine the acceptable role of corporations.
corporations, we defined them, and
we have the authority to
redefine them, to insist that they may only operate in our society if they
are organized to serve the greater good of the
majority in our society, rather than simply the arrogant greed of a tiny
percentage of us.
Corporations need to be taxed again, and taxed to pay
a fair share of our economy's expenses, just as the tax rates on rich
individuals needs to be raised (after all they do use government provided
facilities for business purposes -ie. roads for transportation, ocean and river
ports, airports, ad infinitum. In 1960, the tax rate was 91% for the richest
Americans, and corporations paid fair taxes.
That is why our middle
class was empowered after World War II, because the money was being distributed
Today, we have socialism for the rich, and a brutal kind of
corporatism for everyone else.
We can stop it. And now we're at war
again, a war Major General Smedley Darlington Butler would recognize
Halliburton, Dick Cheney's former corporation, has made
billions of dollars from contracts they haven't even had to bid on. Other large
American corporations that contributed to the presidential campaign have also
made hundreds of millions of dollars.
Some of their civilian truck drivers are being
paid $80,000 a year to risk getting killed
for the stockholders.
Meanwhile, many of our American soldiers, as
you may have read, are getting paid $16,000 a year, a pay so low that they are
being given food stamps with their pay, and many of their families back home
are on welfare.
The soldiers are not fighting and dying for democracy,
freedom, or anything noble at all.
They are dying, like Smedley
Darlington Butler's soldiers died eighty years ago, as inconsequential drones
purpose in life is to help Halliburton, other major American corporations
and rich individuals make a lot of money.
If they get killed, at least
they're cheap to replace.
cost-benefit analysis at
This is the story of the Frankenstein monster come full
circle, to the point where it is succeeding in forcing its human creators to
serve it, even if they become beggars or corpses by doing so.
It is ungodly.
It is inhuman and it is disgusting.
And it is continuing.
Only the American people are likely to
stop it, and then only if they wake up, get informed, get angry, get organized
and get going.
I can't write an ending for this sermon.
would have to be written in the real world, in real time, by real people.
But there is something riding on our backs that doesn't belong there,
and that does not have looking after our best interests.
It will, if it
is allowed to remain there, eat our soul and our society.
Nor can it
really stop itself.
It has been programmed with a very simple program:
justified by man's law.
Sermon by Davidson Loehr, November 7, 2004
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