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gangs of america ted naceJuly 16, 2007

Ruthless honesty requires us to admit that the founders of this nation, while mouthing egalitarian principles, practiced anything but. If movement leaders hope to rally the masses behind the banner of democracy, they are better advised to quote those who practice what they preach.  The spread of corporatism into our elections, and Ted Nace’s fascinating “Gangs of America” provide the backdrop to this discussion. 

A journalist recently complained that I don’t quote the nation’s founders in my blogs.  I responded, “I take enough heat for speaking outside my expertise, I can’t imagine quoting ancient legal text.”  She said, “Quote other people.”  She’s right of course, but as I once again perused the Declaration of Independence, my true feelings clarified.  I realized the real reason is that I feel squeamish about saluting the genocidal, sexist, racist, slaveholding imperialists of my ancestry.  

I read several July 4th blogs commenting on freedom, democracy and our frisky founders.  I hail the Declaration of Independence as a rudimentary good beginning, though not much advanced from ancient Greece given its exclusionary principles of racism and sexism.  

I do appreciate that it enumerates the wrongs committed by King George III, which are not much different from what we face today.  But, I can’t dismiss the fact that our nation’s founders suffered from a myopic view of democracy that did not include indigenous people, anyone of color, and women.  It’s not irrelevant that they were slaveholders, or that they and their heirs successfully withheld the right to vote from women for nearly 150 years.  They are hardly shining examples of egalitarianism, and “justice for all.”  

Wouldn’t it be “intellectually dishonest” to quote people who were obviously, if not willfully, clueless about gender, racial and social equality?  It was not simple semantics when they radically suggested, “all men are born equal.”  They meant white men who owned property – not indigenous tribes, not people of color and certainly not women. 

Surely, we critics of corporatism are ruthlessly honest enough to admit that while the idea of democracy was used to justify dissolving our allegiance to King George III, our forefathers did not exemplify it.  The American Revolution started because middle class merchants sought to break the East India Trading Company monopoly.  

The idea of democracy has grown considerably in 250 years.  It has been much better described in the modern era, and taken to its logical next step in the concept of a world parliament.  Given that elections are being run all over the planet in many nations, we can likely glean a more inclusive take on democracy from modern examples.

Quoting our nation’s founders should only be done sparingly, as we seek to inspire Americans to join today’s global democracy movement.  Jefferson may cause some to pause in reflective awe, but I know at least one entire family who lived in the shadowed shame of his shenanigans with one of his slaves.  With apology to those revolted by slaveholders, I quote him below; he did have some good ideas.

I applaud those who can discuss the Declaration of Independence in ways that include all citizens.  Dave Berman’s 4th of July piece is carefully worded:

“The Declaration of Independence is the master change manual.  It notes that it may be human nature to endure suffering, and that ‘Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes.’  And yet it defines not only ‘the Right of the People to alter or to abolish’ their government, but indeed their ‘duty’ to do so when the government has failed to secure our unalienable rights and derive their ‘just Powers from the Consent of the Governed.'”

It is his call to action, to “peaceful revolution now.” 

More often, tho, I think about the U.S. Constitution, which I’ve made myself read a few times since November 2, 2004.  In particular, because current interpretation adversely affects me today, I often review the Amendments.  I doubt anyone could convince me that the 14th Amendment allows gays and lesbians to be specifically excluded from constitutional rights in this country; that somehow, the term “nor deny to any person” means, except gays and lesbians.

I doubt even the most superb writer could justify judicial interpretation of the 14th Amendment to mean that corporations are persons.  If what was once an artificial and temporary construct, created to carry out a specific function, is then to become an immortal person with little liability, shouldn’t something in the 14th Amendment indicate that to reasonable minds?   

Thomas Jefferson must be spitting worms, given what he wrote in 1816:

“I hope we shall crush in its birth the aristocracy of our monied corporations which dare already to challenge our government to a trial of strength, and bid defiance to the laws of our country.” 

We’ll have to crush “the aristocracy of our monied corporations” in its prime, it seems.  Maybe the easiest way to do this is to rescind corporate charters, as the Program on Corporations, Law and Democracy suggests.  Let’s do it now, all of them, and renew only those that detail a specific project for a limited time.  While we’re at it, we should also remove all constitutional rights since corporations, after all, are not people.  It’s not as if we’re going to lose a huge tax base. In 2004, the IRS reported that the overall share of federal taxes paid by corporations was less than 10%.  And many corporations that do owe taxes don’t pay them (yet their charters remain intact). 

But since many corporations can merely flee to another country, maybe we should take a global approach. Maybe we should implement the ideas of Charter 99, eventually developing international corporate restraints. Some of the ideas in Developing International Democracybear careful scrutiny, which George Monbiot pursued in detail. But I digress.

Because the 14th Amendment does not even hint at corporate personhood, judicial decisions granting it lack credibility. In the 1800s, the US Supreme Court “declared people to be property and gave property the rights of people.” (Nace, p.208) If their decisions lack credibility, their authority lacks legitimacy.

While pondering corporate personhood, I came upon a link to the decision. It seems Ted Nace had the same questions, and wanted to see how the Supremes justified corporate personhood. They didn’t:

“The Court does not wish to hear argument on the question whether the provision in the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution, which forbids a State to deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws, applies to these corporations. We are all of the opinion that it does.” Santa Clara County v. Southern Pacific Railroad (1886)

Nace found no explanation, no justification – merely an assertion of corporate personhood. He goes on to explain:

“Santa Clara became its own myth – leading to the mistaken idea that the entire octopus of corporate power stems from that one Supreme Court decision.

“One tip-off that there is more to the story of corporate power than Santa Clara is the date of the decision: 1886. Something was surely going on earlier, because beginning in the mid-1860s a number of prominent Americans began issuing a stream of near-hysterical alarms about corporate power. For example, in 1865 Abraham Lincoln wrote the following…

‘We may congratulate ourselves that this cruel war is nearing its end. It has cost a vast amount of treasure and blood…. It has indeed been a trying hour for the Republic; but I see in the near future a crisis approaching that unnerves me and causes me to tremble for the safety of my country.

As a result of the war, corporations have been enthroned and an era of corruption in high places will follow, and the money power of the country will endeavor to prolong its reign by working upon the prejudices of the people until all wealth is aggregated in a few hands and the Republic is destroyed.

I feel at this moment more anxiety for the safety of my country than ever before, even in the midst of war. God grant that my suspicions may prove groundless.'”

If Honest Abe was trembling 150 years ago, imagine the terror he would feel today now that corporations own Congress, and dictate domestic, foreign and global policy. By the way, I find it instructive that waging war increases corporate power. Given that the US has waged wars, nonstop, for well over a century, we probably shouldn’t be surprised to find ourselves completely controlled by corporations today. 

The Demise of Free and Fair Elections 

Corporate takeover extends to our elections, as well, where we find judicial, congressional and bureaucratic support for the demise of free and fair elections, with the exception of those counties (and nations) which hand count paper ballots on election night. Techno-based elections comprise secret vote counts – anathema to democracy.

Justices Breyer and Stevens cautioned, in their dissenting opinions, that to halt the Florida recount and appoint Bush president would be to risk losing American confidence in our judicial system. “Selection 2000” was probably the straw, the tipping point, the line in the sand for many activists. But it’s not just this single judicial decision which baffles ordinary and reasonable minds. 

In the 2006 congressional race in Florida’s District 13, a race decided by 369 votes, ES&S equipment reported 17,846 voters failed to register a choice for this national seat. Orlando Sentinel’s investigation revealed those voters “solidly backed Democratic candidates in all five of Florida’s statewide races.” Reported results were allowed to stand.

Rewarding election managers with higher salaries, as was done for Michael Vu who oversaw the rigged presidential recount in 2004, and who lost hundreds of mission critical assets in Cuyahoga County (OH)’s 2006 elections, further discredits US elections. San Diegans ought to storm the Bastille, and demand Vu’s removal. Hell, San Diego bureaucrats should never have hired him in the first place. Unless, of course, they wanted someone who could lose reprogrammable memory cards and voting machines.

Even tho bureaucrats are unable to secure computerized databases [that’s 4 separate links], Secretaries of State across the nation seek to centralize voter registration in statewide databases. This is as absurd as using scientifically discredited computerized voting systems, but just as profitable, no doubt, for the few corporations that win the contract.

Corporate invasion of elections is relevant in any effort to assert democracy. The use of machines to tally votes violates the tenets of a fair vote count: secret ballots and open vote counts (Goodwin-Gill, p.62). Without an open vote count, we lack even the semblance of a free people. 

When government loses trillions of dollars in these Middle East oil wars, and then again votes to re-fund the war effort, I have to wonder that anyone pays taxes. When I learn that Congress funds mercenaries at $600 a day in a parallel war, with public funds, I have no doubt that Congress serves corporate interests, rather than the public. (Also see Jeremy Scahill’s Blackwater: The Rise of the World’s Most Powerful Mercenary Army, 2007.)

The Hope of the Hopi

Working from within the system clearly isn’t getting the job done. Corporations have more power and are less accountable today than ever before, in their 800-year history, but especially in the past 120 years. We need to apply creative genius in waking up the sleeping giant, those Good Americans who can’t seem to face who we are, as a nation, or who feel helpless to change things. But let us not lie to them. Let us not continue to promote those myths the dominant culture feeds us.

If “we are the leaders we’ve been waiting for” as the Hopi assert, let’s rely on moderns who exemplify the ideals we seek to invoke. In Chapter 17 of Gangs of America, “Fighting Back” details several modern actions to reassert citizen sovereignty. Nace notes that “what most distinguishes the tactics of the new populists is an aversion to conventional solutions …”
One writer Nace quotes, who captures my sentiments, is Richard Grossman:

“Too many organizing campaigns accept the corporation’s rules, and wrangle on corporate turf. We lobby Congress for limited laws. We have no faith in regulatory agencies, but turn to them for relief. We plead with corporations to be socially responsible, then show them how to increase profits by being a bit less harmful. How much more strength, time, and hope will we invest in such dead ends?”

Isn’t it better – and more honest – to quote those who grasp and have incorporated the concepts of democracy? Isn’t it better to quote those who “walk the talk” and who still walk today? Instead of looking backward, shouldn’t we be looking at the world today for our greatest thinkers? I hope I’ve named enough of them to convince you that the world is full of people who support democracy, who have never owned slaves and who fully embrace that regardless of race, gender, sexual orientation, religion, or national origin, we are all born with certain inalienable rights. Many of us even extend these inalienable rights to the entire biosphere.

Let’s build our movement on ruthless honesty. Among ourselves, let’s practice what we preach. Let’s go all the way with democracy and rectify the sins of our fathers. 


Rady Ananda, Electronic Voting & Fair Vote Counts: 15 Expert Reports Jan 18, 2007

– Boo Who Vu? Apr 13 2007

— A People’s Forum: Debating Among Ourselves, First  June 29, 2007

Dave Berman, Reflections on Independence, July 4, 2007

Stephen Breyer, Dissenting Opinion in Bush v. Gore, 2000, discussed here and reproduced here.

Andreas Bummel, Developing International Democracy for a Parliamentary Assembly at the United Nations: A Strategic Paper of the Committee for a Democratic U.N. May 2005.

CBS, The War on Waste, Jan 29, 2002

Victoria Collier, A Brief History of Computerized Election Fraud in America Oct 25, 2003

Data Security Breaches: Several websites track this, including this one and this one. In this paragraph I also cite a couple articles: Jonathan Krim and Allan Holmes (see below)

Steve Fainaru, Iraq Contractors Face Growing Parallel War: As Security Work Increases, So Do Casualties, June 16, 2007

Guy S Goodwin-Gill, Free and Fair Elections, expanded edition, Geneva: Inter-Parliamentary Union,2006

Zoltan Grossman, Let the Bloody Truth Be Told: A Chronology of U.S. Imperialism from Wounded Knee to Iraq, 2004.

Joshua Holland, Federal Contractors Owe Billions in Unpaid Taxes, April 30, 2007.

Allan Holmes, FEMA Puts Sensitive Info at Risk, July 3, 2007.

Derrick Jensen, Endgame, New York: Seven Stories Press. 2006

Jonathan Krim, Net Aids Theft of Sensitive ID Data: Critical Social Security numbers widely available.April 4, 2005.

George Monbiot, World Parliament, which is a brief introduction to the concept he fully developed inAge of Consent: Manifesto for a New World Order, London: New Press, 2003.

MSNBC/Forbes, U.S. Corporations Paying Less in Taxes. September 23, 2004

Ted Nace, Gangs of America: The Rise of Corporate Power and the Disabling of Democracy, San Francisco: Berrett-Koehler Pubs. 2003.

Jeremy Scahill, Blackwater: The Rise of the World’s Most Powerful Mercenary Army, New York: Nation Books, 2007.

John Paul Stevens, Dissenting Opinion in Bush v. Gore, 2000, discussed here and reproduced here.

Jim Stratten, Sarasota’s ‘Undervotes’ Were Examined in 5 State Races, Nov 26, 2006.

U.S. Constitution.

U.S. Constitution Amendments.

U.S. Supreme Court, Bush v. Gore, 2000

U.S. Supreme CourtSanta Clara County v. Southern Pacific Railroad, 1886

Alan Wall, et al. Electoral Management Design Handbook, Stockholm, Sweden: International Institute of Democracy and Electoral Assistance, 2006. Chapter 2 discusses women in politics. My review here.

Westminster UNA, Charter 99: A Charter for Global Democracy, Our call for international accountability, justice, sustainable development and democracy. 1999