The character of the corporation, the dominant organizing principle of capitalism, hasn't changed much since Ambrose Bierce defined it in 1911 as "An ingenious device for obtaining profit without individual responsibility." But corporations have become more powerful, to the point of dominating the governments that pretend to regulate them. The corporation was originally conceived in the 14th century as a means of combining assets for business purposes. Those chartered organizations were closely checked, first by kings and later by legislatures. But corporations gained more power with the expansion of the US after the Civil War. In the 1880s corporation attorneys got the Supreme Court to twist the 14th Amendment to give corporations the civil rights of persons. In the following century corporations gained immortality. With the establishment of "free trade" laws in the 1980s and '90s, multinational corporations have become practically unaccountable.
Now comes The Corporation, a documentary movie based on Joel Bakan's book, The Corporation: The Pathological Pursuit of Profit and Power. Bakan teamed up with Mark Achbar, co-director of Manufacturing Consent: Noam Chomskey and the Media, and co-director Jennifer Abbott to examine the far-reaching repercussions of the corporation's increasing power and lack of conscience. The 40 interview subjects include CEOs and top-level executives from a range of industries, in addition to a Nobel-prize winning economist, a management guru, a corporate spy and a range of academics, critics, historians and thinkers such as Noam Chomsky, Michael Moore and Howard Zinn. Milton Friedman explains the remorseless rationale of "externalities" -- the unintended consequences of a transaction between two parties on a third -- which is responsible for countless cases of illness, death, poverty, pollution, exploitation and lies.
The documentary checks the standard diagnostic criteria of psychiatrists and finds that the operational principles of the corporation give it a highly anti-social "personality" that qualifies as "psychopath." Former Royal Dutch Shell chairman Mark Moody-Stuart's professed human rights and environmental concerns didn't save Ken Saro Wiwa and eight other activists from being hanged for opposing Shell's practices in the Niger Delta of Africa. Carlton Brown, a commodities trader, recounts the first thought of gold traders when the twin towers crushed their occupants: "How much is gold up?" Jane Akre and Steve Wilson, two investigative reporters, were fired by a Fox TV station in Florida after they refused corporate demands to water down a story on rBGH, a synthetic hormone widely used in the US, but banned in Europe and Canada, to boost cows' milk production. A ray of hope is offered by Ray Anderson, CEO of Interface, the world's largest commercial carpet manufacturer, who reorganized his $1.4 billion company on sustainable principles after an environmental epiphany.
Since the landmark WTO protest in Seattle, a rising wave of networked individuals and groups have decided to challenge the foundations of the corporation. A charter revocation movement tried to bring down oil giant Unocal; a groundbreaking ballot initiative in Arcata, Calif., challenged the rights of corporations; in Bolivia, the population fought and won a battle against a huge transnational corporation brought in by their government to privatize the water system; in India nearly 99% of the basmati rice patents claimed by an American producer was overturned; and W.R. Grace's patent on Neem pesticide derived from tree seeds was revoked by the European Patent Office. As global individuals take back local power, a growing re-invigoration of the concept of citizenship is taking root. This documentary is a good start in a citizen's examination of the corporation. See www.thecorporation.com.
MOORE DOX IN DVDS. Michael Moore's Fahrenheit 9/11 sold 2 million copies in its first weekend of release in DVD and VHS format by Columbia Tristar. Also released is a boxed DVD set of Moore's Academy-Award-winning documentary, Bowling for Columbine, as well as The Big One, the 1997 documentary in which he takes on corporate greed during the promotional tour for his book Downsize This! and 39 Cities in 23 Days, which features selected remarks from Moore's book tour for Dude, Where's My Country? The Columbine feature includes an interview with Moore on his Oscar win and acceptance speech, an introduction by Moore, a segment from the TV series The Awful Truth on "Corporate Cops" and Marilyn Manson's "Fight Song" music video.
'TEXAS OBSERVER' ANTHOLOGIZED. For half a century The Texas Observer has been a liberal voice on Texas culture and politics, championing honest government, civil rights, labor, the environment and other lost causes against the unrelenting business establishment. To mark the journal's 50th anniversary, Char Miller, professor of history at Trinity University in San Antonio, has compiled 91 articles from past editors such as Jim Hightower, Molly Ivins and Willie Morris and contributors such as Roy Bedichek, Larry McMurtry and the late Sen. Ralph Yarborough into Fifty Years of the Texas Observer [Trinity University Press]. Also featured is a foreword by Ivins and a closing chapter by Ronnie Dugger, who founded the Observer with liberal Democrats in part to give their tribe at least one Texas publication that would give them a fair hearing. Texas has never been as easy a state to understand as the stereotypes would have you believe, but if you want to know where the people who brought you George W. Bush are coming from, this anthology is a good start. See www.texasobserver.org or call 512-477-0746 for information on the 50th anniversary observance set for Dec. 4 in Austin.
STILL HAILING THE THIEF. Bruce Springsteen, a.k.a. "The Boss," has hit the road to stump for John Kerry, but union activists George Mann and Julius Margolin are doing their part, too, producing Hail to the Thief II, 20 tracks that lay out the case against the White House resident in songs and stories. It's a follow-up to their 2001 Hail to the Thief CD. In addition to Mann and 88-year-old Margolin, the CD features folk musicians Tom Paxton, Utah Phillips, Kim and Reggie Harris, the duo Magpie, Faith Petric, Steve Brooks, Lisa Rogers, Joe Jencks, Mark Levy, Amy Martin, Pat Humphries, Sandy O, San Francisco's Labor Heritage-Rockin' Solidarity Chorus and bowed-saw player Chris Bricker. See www.georgeandjulius.com.
Steve Brooks, the "Chat'n'Chew Troubadour" for Jim Hightower's former talk show, has taken a bite out of the chief exec with Brooks' timely CD, Bushwhacked. The seven cuts range from folk and swing to rock and rap, with support from Austin musicians such as The Therapy Sisters, Jeffrye Glenn Tveraas, Wendy Wentworth and Oliver Steck. See www.stevebrooks.net, which also has a link to Lisa Rogers' Let's Put a Folksinger in the White House, with a generous 28 songs over 69 minutes.
PATRIOT DREAMS, A User's Manual for Democracy, is a handy 80-page booklet produced by a group of Texans to help nonvoters get a grip on their government. It's designed to hand out to people who ask, "What can I do about it?" See www.panglosspublishing.com or call 512-453-5669.