25302Thomas Hartmann at Worcester Polytech Institute tomorrow
- Nov 17, 2002I plan to go listen to Thomas Hartmann giving a lecture tomorrow. I
thought I had never heard of him before, but a little Web searching
turned up something I am sure I have read on this site, or at least
found a link to, on this forum. He is author of "The Last Hours of
Ancient Sunlight", which covers a range of topics close to the hearts
of messengers here. I hope to have a chancee to ask him some
questions if there is opportunity after the talk.
Here's some of the content of a recent article he wrote:
The Dinosaur War
To Protect Corporate Profits
By Thom Hartmann
I thought of it as dinosaur blood when it dripped on my hand this
morning, and it made me wonder how the US war strategy would change
if Saddam made a small recalibration in his business practices.
Of course, the gasoline that spilled as I refilled my rental car this
morning at the DFW airport - and the refined kerosene that will fuel
the plane I'll fly in today - is far more ancient than even the
spectacular Tyrannosaurus Rex bones discovered north of here. They
vanished around 65 million years ago, but the fossilized plants and
bacteria that made my gasoline are 300 to 400 million years old. By
the time dinosaurs ruled the Earth, pretty much all of the oil
production of the planet was finished. Strange, when you consider it
in those terms, that we'd base a nation's foreign policy on a limited
supply of fossils older than the dinosaurs.
But Saddam Hussein has a goodly supply of those fossils under the
soil of Iraq - the second largest supply in the world, and perhaps a
supply even larger than Saudi Arabia's, which has been draining much
faster and much longer. And he has hundreds of miles of shared
borders with Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, and Iran - where much of the rest
of the oil in the region is held.
Which led me to wonder: How would things change if Saddam, tomorrow,
were to say, "I've decided to put my oil reserves up for auction to
the highest corporate bidder, and, like many other oil-producing
nations, all I want is a commission from the oil company that wins
Once the stampede was over, I'll bet the US would discover that there
are dozens of dictators in the world more vicious than Saddam. Robert
Mugabe of Zimbabwe, for example, has engineered a cynical strategy of
racial exploitation that has pushed six million of his citizens into
famine today. Burma's ruling junta has turned that nation into a
slave-labor camp, where torture, executions, and terror are daily
fare. And in North Korea, the policies of dictator-for-life Kim Jong-
Il have turned a formerly fertile and prosperous land into a
concentration camp where people are forced to eat grass to survive,
and anybody who questions the great leader's brilliance is executed.
There is no shortage of "evil" leaders of nations - the list could go
on for pages.
Of course, none of these nations have oil.
But if Saddam were to invite in the oil companies who - through the
corporate theft of human rights (more on this in a moment) - have
captured control of many of the policies of the United States
Government, I suspect many things would change even in our thoughts
about oil-rich Middle Eastern countries.
· We may notice that Iraq is not the nation that nurtures and exports
the most virulent and anti-American form of religious intolerance;
there were no Iraqi hijackers on 911. Iraq, in fact, was and is
hostile to El Quiada.
· We may discover that Iraq is not the least stable nation in the
world that seeks or has nuclear weapons and millions of followers of
Osama's theology (that prize probably goes to Pakistan).
· We may notice that women in Iraq are not required to wear a veil,
as they are in other oil-rich Arab nations that we befriend, and that
the government, while brutal and repressive, is secular and neither
demands nor encourages the types of religious fundamentalism that
lead to suicide bombers and 911, as do so many other nations in the
· We may remember that just a few months ago in the Democratic
Republic of the Congo, to quote Human Rights Watch, "soldiers carried
out indiscriminate killings of civilians," including "summary
executions, numerous rapes, beatings, and widespread looting."
We may even return to a policy like we had in 1983 when U.S. Middle
East Envoy Donald Rumsfeld opened US relations with Iraq during a
friendly meeting with Saddam in Baghdad, when we were buying his oil
and selling him anthrax and smallpox and helicopters and jets - as we
were many of other nations in the region. We may even stop all this
talk of war.
The bottom line is that powerful and oil-dependent corporate
interests in America now control so much of both our domestic and
foreign policy, because the US government over the past few decades
has been almost entirely co-opted - as in taken over - by corporate
interests. We're not having a war of, by, and for the people any more
than we have an administration of, by, and for the people. If Saddam
didn't have enough oil to generate a few hundred million dollars a
month in profits for the oil industry, we'd be giving him the same
treatment we're giving Mugabe: "Zimbabwe where?"
As has been well documented, if the exemption on SUVs from fleet
mileage standards was ended and fleet gas mileage in the US was to
increase by a tiny 3 miles per gallon, we'd no longer need to import
any oil from the Middle East. But the larger the car, the larger the
profit for both the oil and the auto companies - and the auto and oil
lobbies pass out millions in Washington, DC. And now that the
airwaves have been sold to corporate interests who will only allow
politicians to speak if they pay, political campaigns guzzle cash
like SUVs guzzle gas.
If we were to institute a Manhattan Project type program to develop
and implement local, small-scale generation of electricity (about a
tenth of all electricity generated in the US is lost through
transmission over long high-tension lines, and steam generating
plants only convert about a third of their heat energy to
electricity, wasting the other two-thirds), along with hydrogen
technologies, we could clean up our air and free states from the
tyranny of out-of-state energy companies manipulating their supplies
and prices. If we were to encourage Victory Garden types of local
agriculture and homestead farming, making it again patriotic to
replace back yards of grass with vegetables (as it was during WWII),
we could eliminate our absolute dependence on factory farming systems
that now require billions of gallons of oil for production and
transportation, that deliver foods laden with oil-derived pesticides,
herbicides, and preservatives to our tables, and render our topsoils
Most important, we would no longer feel forced to permanently occupy
the world's oil-producing regions.
But a government whose policies have been captured by big oil, big
auto, and big agriculture - just a few dozen corporations that are
each richer than the majority of nations on earth - refuses to
consider such rational alternatives. Because these corporations have
claimed the constitutional human right of free speech - which
includes the right to influence legislation, to influence
politicians, and give money to political parties - we, the people,
who would benefit from a shift in direction away from oil industry
and toward local human values are left out of the decision making
It wasn't always this way. Before 1886, most states had laws that
prevented corporations from meddling in politics. They can't vote,
the logic went, so what are they doing talking to politicians?
Wisconsin, for example, had a law stating: "No corporation doing
business in this state shall pay or contribute, or offer consent or
agree to pay or contribute, directly or indirectly, any money,
property, free service of its officers or employees or thing of value
to any political party, organization, committee or individual for any
political purpose whatsoever, or for the purpose of influencing
legislation of any kind, or to promote or defeat the candidacy of any
person for nomination, appointment or election to any political
office." The penalty for any corporate official violating the law and
getting cozy with politicians on behalf of the corporation was five
years in prison and a substantial fine.
Humans had the right of free speech, and an individual - representing
himself and his own opinions - was free to say and do what he wanted.
Free speech is a human right. But corporations didn't have rights -
they had privileges. Brought into being by authority of the state in
which they're incorporated, that state determined the privileges its
corporations could have and how they could be used.
But, they teach in law school, in 1886 the U.S. Supreme Court changed
all that - a decision which leads us directly to today's war with
Iraq. The Court, the textbooks say, in the Santa Clara County v.
Southern Pacific Railroad case, recognized corporations as persons
under the Fourteenth Amendment, and thus handed them the huge club of
human rights that our Founders had given us humans to beat back
government should it ever become repressive. Armed with this mighty
weapon, corporations claimed free speech, privacy, the right not to
speak, and used anti-discrimination statues originally passed to free
slaves to throw out "bad boy" laws that favored local businesses over
large corporations or companies that had been convicted of felonies.
I recently discovered that in 1886 the Supreme Court ruled no such
thing. The "corporations are persons" was a fiction created by the
Court's reporter. He simply wrote it into the headnote of the
decision. In fact, it contradicts what the Court itself said. And
we've found in the National Archives a note in the hand of the
Supreme Court Chief Justice of the time to the court's reporter
saying, explicitly, that the Court had not ruled on corporate
personhood in the Santa Clara case.
Nonetheless, corporations have claimed the human rights the Founders
fought and often died to bequeath to living, breathing humans. And,
using those rights, they've usurped our government to the point where
our domestic policies are now based on what's best for the
corporations with the largest campaign contributions, and our foreign
policy has become a necessary extension of that.
As my "what would happen if Saddam auctioned off his oil fields
tomorrow and just became another Middle Eastern despot like the rest
of them" example demonstrates, we're not just going to war for oil;
we're going to war for the "security" of profit.
While profit is a fine value for a corporation to hold, it's not the
prime value of humans and it's definitely not one of the values that
drive or preserve democracy.
If we are to save our world from a profit frenzy driven Armageddon,
if we are to restore democracy to our American republic, we must
first get corporations out of government, so our politicians can once
again become statesmen.
This article is copyright 2002 by Thom Hartmann, and based on Unequal
Protection: The Rise of Corporate Dominance and the Theft of Human
Rights and The Last Hours of Ancient Sunlight by Thom Hartmann.