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Showing 1-10 of 29 reviews(5 star). See all 35 reviews
on October 15, 2003
Ignore other reviewers of this book who use narrow-minded pejoratives like Anti-Corporate, Anti-Capitalist, or even Communist in condemning this book. Thom Hartmann is none of the above, and in this extremely important book he brings to light the horrific state of corporate control and the loss of human rights in modern times. And unlike some other books on this general topic that merely complain, Hartmann extensively researches the root causes that have turned the useful concept of the "corporation" into a monster.
Corporations have inaccurately cited an obscure Supreme Court case from 1886, Santa Clara Country v. Southern Pacific Railroad, as giving them "personhood." Corporations have since claimed the rights of natural people and have trampled the Constitution regularly. Despicable abuses include claiming free speech rights under the 1st Amendment for campaign contributions and false advertising; claiming that health inspections and government oversight are unlawful searches under the 4th Amendment; and most obnoxiously, claiming that 14th Amendment protections against discrimination should insulate them from any local ordinances or taxes they don't like. Hartmann proves that lawsuits invoking these ideas usually win due to the vast resources of corporations, who also routinely abuse the legal system with frivolous lawsuits designed to crush little people who can't sacrifice several years and millions of dollars to mount a defense. Hartmann also takes his coverage to the global stage, with the havoc wreaked by multinationals in the nearly religious quest for the inaccurately named panacea of "free" trade.
Another strength of this book is that Hartmann actually has solid ideas for change, which are far more useful than the pie-in-the-sky idealism of other writers on this subject. Admitting that the process may take decades, he nonetheless makes solid recommendations for utilizing the existing political process, and even old forgotten laws, to revoke the disastrous corporate personhood doctrine. This is a very well researched and informative book for those with real concerns and ideas for improving our fractured system. [~doomsdayer520~]
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on July 27, 2003
This absorbing, provocative, and thoughtful book by author Thom Hartmann is an extremely well�documented exploration of a plethora of ways in which corporate entities have assumed special rights and privileges in the last century through the slow and systematic abrogation of constitutional protections of private individuals from such impersonal business enterprises. By employing what is essentially a sidestepping of the clear intent and letter of constitutional law, corporations have gained the functional equivalence of the rights of individuals to protection under the law, foisting what is no more than a legal fiction in order to successfully pursue what now constitutes special, preferential treatment from both federal and state governments. In fact, the various governmental agencies and representatives now seem to be acting more in concert and collusion with the corporations as enthusiastic cheerleaders of corporate progress in the public domain rather than serving in their intended function as overseers and protectors of the common weal by restraining and limiting the rights and prerogatives of such global corporations.
Under Jeffersonian law as encoded in the U.S. Constitution carefully limited and restricted such access to the rights of individuals by large organizations, and was especially concerned about such organizations usurping the powers and privileges of the government itself. Yet as the society progressed, the corporate entities such as the railroads became more influential, gradually gaining sufficient access to policy makers as to begin to gain rights heretofore restricted to private individuals. Considered as a person, a corporation could seek legal protection from oversight through such devices as the Fourteenth Amendment, which was originally intended to redress grievances associated with the vestiges of slavery for recently emancipated African�American slaves. The virtual tripwire that unfortunately opened the proverbial barn door to corporations parading as private individuals was a Supreme Court decision, which in essence created a �legal fiction� by portraying the corporation (a railroad firm) to be a �corporate person�. This unfortunate precedent is father to all of the many subsequent decisions, which over time, have gradually extended this notion of corporate entities as having so-called individual rights which according to the author the Constitution had not only never intended, and in fact specifically used language to constrain and prevent.

The author�s argument complements the arguments and perspectives of legal scholar and author Charles Reich's �Opposing The System�. Hartmann uses a writing style, which is quite straightforward and therefore makes it eminently readable, not at all written in �legalese�, which makes the book more approachable and better suited for a lay audience that it would be otherwise. The research and scholarship he has invested in this work is obvious, and the text has many anecdotes illustrating the various ways in which the legal fiction perpetuated by the collusion between the corporations on the one hand, and the federal and state governmental agencies in lock-step with them on the other, works in insidious ways to undermine and diminish the constitutional rights and protections of the population at large. Hartmann also provides a virtual roadmap to the methods and arguments that the public can use to mollify this untoward encroachment on our rights, most specifically through a grass-roots movement that among other things, will serve to awaken ordinary Americans of this peril and its potential consequences for the society at large, and for us as private individuals as well. This is an important book, and one I can heartily recommend. Enjoy!
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HALL OF FAMEon February 22, 2003
Hartmann's analysis of the roots of corporate power is essential reading. He undermines the policies that have protected corporations for over a century. Legally protected today, corporations were long subject to general suspicion. Government charters to operate a business contained many constraining clauses that are now missing. How and why did this change come about? Should government constraints be restored, and if so, how would be brought about? Hartmann presents the history, issues and solutions to the growing corporate takeover of the global commons.
He opens by reminding us that the "commons" once represented a village pasture, shared by all. In modern times he argues the same concept embraces the entire planet. The sharing implies common sense be applied to its use. We are beginning to understand our planet is "the commons" for all humanity. Every human has some rights to that commons, but shares a responsibility for its well being. That set of rights and responsibilities is set by the community as a whole, not by any one individual. The community concept, however, is based on the idea that its members are essentially equal. The corporation, due to its amorphous structure and unique powers has gone beyond community ideals.
The history of corporate power rests on continued attempts to upgrade an "artificial" entity to a "natural" one. Hartmann traces the erosion of that ideal through this book. An early chip was taken when Queen Elizabeth I granted Francis Drake "freedom from liabilitie" to go pirating. It was an omen for the future. Although the Framers of the Constitution of the United States were vociferous in their resistance to corporations, events pushed their ideals aside. In a rapidly developing economy and to confront European competion, corporations arose and grew. As they grew, they sought not only protection from State taxation, they sought to further their ends by political action, something nearly all governments restrained. After many tries, they seemed to have accomplished it in 1889 during a court case over the collection of property taxes.
Hartmann details the events surrounding the case, pointing out that the corporate "victory" of achieving "personhood" is spurious. It was not part of the decision and added as a post judgement note. He suggests that railway lawyer Stephen J. Field likely influenced the writing of the notes by court reporter John C.B. Davis. The victory for business interests virtually turned the 14th Amendment to the Constitution on its head. Business now had the same "rights" as any naturally born human - privacy, investment, political activity and right to trial. Where a state issuing a corporate charter previously had the right to withdraw it for improper activity, a corporate existence was now sacrosanct. Given the vague nature of the corporation, "improper behaviour" could punish individuals, but not the corporation's
existence. Hartmann explains how this condition has led corporations to invade the global "commons" with impunity, ravaging nature to acquire resources and markets.
People often ask "if corporate dominance is so bad, what will you replace it with?" Hartmann states "the suggestion i'm putting forth in this book is to try democracy." The solution is simple enough - a return to Jeffersonian principles. That doesn't mean a regression to an agrarian society. It means, instead, a restoration of democratic practices - the raising of humans to their natural place of dominance over artificial entities. He encourages local communities to begin redefining their laws to reflect the concept that corporate organizations are not people. Once that precedent is established, the democratic ideal can be restored by revising laws and constitutions up through the political hierarchy. From communities through the states to the national government. He stresses that while there will certainly be resistance and scare tactics, enough popular pressure can restore those lost ideals.
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on January 17, 2003
What if a corporation was polluting, but when a government agency wanted to check on the violation, the corporation claimed itself to be a person and that all persons have rights of privacy and freedom from governmental snooping? What if a community wanted to support local businesses and charged a chain store a larger licensing fee, and the chain store claimed it was a person who must not be discriminated against? What if when limits were set on campaign contributions by a corporation, the corporation said that it was a person and as a person it had freedom of expression (and thereby donation)? These are not "what ifs." Corporations are regarded as people, but _Unequal Protection: The Rise of Corporate Dominance and the Theft of Human Rights_ (Rodale) by Thom Hartmann shows that this is literally a legal fiction, and one based on a serious misinterpretation of the law. In addition, he demonstrates that the interpretation of corporate personhood has had ill effects for citizens, the nation, and the world.
Corporations originally had very restricted rights; Jefferson, for instance, worried about monopolies taking over the government. When corporations (starting with the railroads) became powerful in the Industrial Revolution, they were eager to be granted human rights. They especially desired to take advantage of the Fourteenth Amendment, which had been passed to grant full constitutional protection to emancipated slaves. In a curious Supreme Court case in 1886, there was a commentary written to say that a railroad was a corporate person. This "headnote" was not law and not precedent, but in true irony, the amendment to protect former slaves has been hijacked to promote corporate personhood. It used to be taken for granted that communities could regulate corporations, but now that they are persons, they are able to dodge many such regulations.
Hartmann is not a lawyer, but his research and consultation with lawyers have made his book clear and convincing. His book lists many assaults on good government, the environment, and human rights overseas that corporations have been able to sustain because they have been able to insist upon their own rights as humans. A sustained legal attack on the fraud of corporate personhood is what Hartmann would like to see, for the purpose of decreasing corporate influence in politics and restoring the power of community and state government. He proposes a grass roots movement to achieve this, and makes the results sound well-reasoned and attractive. He knows the powers which corporations have, and what he is up against, but his book is a manifesto for change. If you have been concerned that corporations have too much power, you will find it invaluable.
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on January 27, 2003
Margaret Mead's "Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it's the only thing that ever has..." has proven right many times. Hartmann's UNEQUAL PROTECTION is a great case study: here, it's one person, a court reporter, who changed history with a set of "headnotes". Thom Hartmann discusses the case of J. C. Bancroft Davis and his impact on globalization today in his fascinating study on the rise of corporate dominance around the world. At the same time, and in the spirit of Margaret Mead, he also calls for grassroots and community action.
Hartmann's starting point is the question: How did corporations manage to become persons before the law with, at least, the same rights as human beings? How did corporations change from being "virtual entities", meaning that they were subject to the controls and supervision by local governments (and humans), into becoming legal entities equal to citizens but without the restrictions and responsibilities placed on people. How have "multinational corporations become the tail that wags the dogs of governments of the world"? Well it's the result of a US Supreme Court Decision regarding the Fourteenth Amendment. Or is it?
Hartmann delves deep into US Constitutional history to set the framework in which the fundamental issue of corporate personhood has to be understood. He traces the concept to its roots in 1886, and to court reporter Davis, the official recorder for the Supreme Court Case: The Southern Pacific Railroad vs. the Santa Clara County. Corporate personhood was introduced during this case, but not, as constitutional and corporate lawyers have assumed for some 120 years, by the Court - but by David in the headnotes. That meant it had no legal basis whatsoever. The evidence found by Hartmann confirmed that the Supreme Court specifically decided NOT to rule on the issue of corporate personhood.
Hartmann explores possible reasons why this application of the Fourteenth Amendment became so popular with corporate lawyers. He also states categorically that "he is not looking for culprits but to point out a flaw in the social system."
The impact of the misinterpretation of the Supreme Court decision since 1886 has been fundamental and has reached far beyond the United States. Hartmann traces American history from "the birth of American democracy through the birth of corporate personhood" ending with the rise of transnational corporations and their role in world trade. He reflects on the emerging conflicts between government and corporations, citing no lesser authority than President Thomas Jefferson and his conviction that "freedom from monopolies are one of the fundamental human rights".
Hartmann devotes a chapter to the analysis of the "unequal consequences" on all major aspects of civil rights and responsibilities: protection from risk, taxes, wealth, trade and (political) influence, to list a selection. He concludes on a more positive note with a call to all concerned to redress the power balance and to restore the sharing of responsibility for the Global Commons. This book should be essential reading for all interested in and concerned in our modern trade systems, whether in the US, in other countries or globally. This well researched study is a dramatic read and leaves the reader with ample food for thought.
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on November 16, 2002
To say the bookshelves are flooded with political fodder these days is an understatement. Some blame the state of the nation on "Stupid White Men", others talk about "Winning the War of Liberty over Liberalism". No matter where you look or what you read, the mudslinging is intense. At times, these authors make EMINEM's rap "battles" with gangsters in the movie "8 Mile" look like an episode of the Mickey Mouse Club.
Unequal Protection, however, is not one of these books. It is an historical documentary of sorts that traces the history of the corporation and its role in society from the East India Company, through the FORTUNE 500 of today. It examines the people, actions, beliefs, and mistakes that have led to the extreme concentration of power and wealth among a select few global corporations.
While laying the foundation for the future of the United States, keeping power in the hands of the people and preventing institutions similar to the East India Company from gaining unlimited economic and political power was one of the key drivers. For many years corporations were kept relatively well in check and responsible to the people and governments that granted them the right to exist.
The passage of the 14th amendment, intended to give all persons (not corporations) equal rights, combined with a ruling in single court case that has been mistakenly interpreted to define corporations as "persons" like you and me opened the door to all kinds of crazy claims by corporations.
Subsequent claims and court rulings have directly and indirectly granted corporations virtually unbridled power through creative legislation and enabled some to operate with no consequences whatsoever for damaging and deadly actions.
"Unequal Protection" also discusses of NAFTA, which appears to have granted corporations the authority to override what people and sovereign nations have determined to be in their own best interest. This may include protecting local jobs and economies, banning Frankenfoods with the potential to disrupt and/or destroy the food supply and outlawing toxic additives or chemicals known to have adverse effects on public health and the environment.
The pursuit of profit is a necessary and healthy part of a democracy and free market economy. However, when it is the exclusive focus, to the detriment of the environment, the commons, and the health and well being of the people that make up societies and corporations, its time to take back the reigns. When corporations factor in the human and environmental costs associated with doing business and can be held accountable for their actions will real change begin.
Through the acceptance of corporations as persons in the legal sense, we've come full circle to facilitate and reward the types of actions and behaviors of the East India Company that this country originally fought so hard to get away from.
Unequal Protection is an outstanding work. It's history with a perspective, but does not in any way sink to the political mudslinging ways of other books that may be classified in a similar category.
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on October 26, 2002
Thom Hartmann's Unequal Protection: The rise of corporate dominance and theft of human rights could have served as a model for Thomas Jefferson on how America's corporations should have been controlled by the U.S. Constitution. Jefferson sent recommendations, such as including a bill of rights, in letters from Paris to James Madison who was at the constitutional convention in Philadelphia in 1789. If Jefferson could have anticipated that America's corporate genie would some day take over the whole country, he might have passed Hartmann's suggestions on to Madison for putting the genie back into its bottle. At the turn of almost every page of Unequal Protection, there is an undercurrent of restoring Jefferson's dream of an egalitarian democracy, now being usurped by giant corporations in America.
The Introduction to Hartmann's book tells us, " ... [it] is about the difference between humans and the corporations we humans have created. The story goes back to the birth of the United States ... this book is about values and beliefs ... I'm visiting stories of democracy and corporate personhood ... (It's amazing what we don't learn about in school) ... I'm suggesting we should put corporations into their rightful context and place ..." The Prologue concludes, "In Pennsylvania's Thompson Township, the Chairman of the elected township supervisors, Bruce Bevins said, 'A person is a living thing and a corporation is not." These are the first shots in a new American Revolution, one that will be fought with petitions and votes instead of guns and troops. It's a revolution to win back democracy."
Possibly the best part of this book is saved for last: Part 4: Restoring Democracy As The Founders Imagined It. This is not a Pollyanna collection of feel good, social action proposals but rather hard nosed, practical remedies for using the political and legal American institutions that exist. The recommendations, collected in the appendix, are backed up by well organized, factual information aimed at legally removing personhood from corporations. Filling over fifty pages with interesting and useful information, the appendix appropriately begins with a Postscript that is a verbatim quote of the 1936 acceptance speech in Philadelphia by Franklin Delano Roosevelt upon his nomination for President by the Democratic party. Back then, Roosevelt tried raising the alarm about the "New kingdoms" built upon concentration of control over material things. "Through new uses of corporations, banks and securities - all undreamed of by the [Founding] Fathers - the whole structure of modern life has been impressed into this 'royal' service," he warned.
With Unequal Protection, Hartmann has written an important book that deserves to be taken seriously. Even those who consider themselves well read will learn a great deal about the hitherto not well described, but fascinating history of the rise of American corporations. Also, those who value democracy and detest corporate tyranny have to read this book for learning how to reestablish the government for and by the people within our society as was originally intended by the Founders.
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on September 29, 2002
This book should be read by every American from all walks of life. This is an issue that affects us all. These issues are relevant and real, and every single one of us feels the influences and consequences of them in our everyday lives.
Objective, balanced, and brilliantly written, this book is very conveniently organized. In addition to the table of contents, throughout the book there are topics in bold face, introducing the subject to come. One does not have to read this book from front-to-back if they don't want to, but can jump around. This is not an "esoteric" piece of work at all, and the many facts and factual tidbits are very interesting. A lot of research and time was obviously put into this book.
It begins with the historical preface our nation. What was the Boston Tea Party really about? The move for independence? The Bill of Rights? 14th Amendment? One can learn of many factual occurrences that took place in the past and are happening in the present. It progresses up to our current year, discussing the recent scandals of companies like Enron etc.
This is not a "gloom and doom" book at all but an objective overview, and Hartmann gives specific and realistic actions that can be taken to move us back on track. Recent examples of legal actions taken by communities of average citizens from middle-America are noted and explained.
Being well-covered and balanced, Hartmann examines and clearly explains the causes, actions, and consequences covering a wide array of issues such as free-trade, globalization, the media, privacy, judicial decisions, human rights, corporate behavior, recent corporate scandals, domestic and international politics, and Congressional and state legislation, and regulations. This book can be helpful, interesting and informative, for folks who have an interest in some, or all of these areas. Yet, it's also written for the layman, or casual observer of these recent events we've been exposed to by the (sleeping) media in recent years. There is plenty of flavor in this book. This is one of the books that are equal to Korten's "When Corporations Rule the World," and other well-read books about this realm of our contemporary lives. Must read for everyone.
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on October 2, 2002
Since the advent of science fiction, for more than 100 years, writers have predicted that man would invent some kind of "thing" that would turn on humanity, enslaving or killing hundreds of thousands or millions, wasting the planet, or terraforming to meet the needs of the invented "things." That's what the movie series Terminator is about, for example.
Some stories propose the "thing" to be a robot, or computer, or androids, or biological concoctions of some mad scientist. The truth is, the "thing" exists and has been doing all of the things threatened above. The "thing" was invented over 100 years ago, and it keeps getting stronger, hurting more people.
But the "thing" is not what the futurists predicted. The "thing" is the big corporation, which 116 years ago was granted personhood by what seems to me to have been malicious error on the part of the supreme court of the US. Thom Hartmann tells an extraordinary story, starting with the colonial era, about how big business has caused havoc and suffering among humanity. For example, the Boston Tea Part was aimed at a megacorporation, not the British Government.
The book tells how human rights, created for humans, have been stolen by corporations and used to corrupt the government created of by and for the people. Corporate personhood is the prime weapon they wield to manipulate laws that should be protecting real people.
In Jurassic Park, the cloned dinosaurs got out of control when a "theoretical" lock on their breeding failed. Humanity lost control of corporations when a former Railroad company president took a job as a court reporter for the Supreme Court. He added a note on a case that said that corporations were persons and entitled to rights under the 14th amendment. The truth is that the justices of the court explicitly avoided a ruling on that issue. Since then, cases have been based on that "plant" court reporter's sabotage of the Justices actual ruling.
He wrote the book before the Enron and Tyco and Worldcom horrors reached the news, but the book does an amazing job of explaining how these were possible. Most important, the book is a call to action with solutions. Bush doesn't have the answers, Greenspan has cute terms, but no answers. Hartmann's book is a powerful read about a monster behemoth invented by man. Yes, it is a horror story that is true. But at least it opens up the door to discussion about how corporations can cause the massive levels of death, enslavement, human suffering and ecological disaster that is going on right now.
Hartmann actually includes model legislative verbiage that can be used at the state level to reign in out-of-control corporations. For this alone, the book is worth the investment. But, like Thom's other books, Prophet's Way, and Last Hours of Ancient Sunlight, the book is written so it rivets your attention in a page-turning way. if you are passionate about making the world a better place, this book will whet your passion, and give you some focus and concrete strategies for doing something to make a difference.
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on March 15, 2004
The story that Hartmann tells is one that everyone should know, but nobody does: how the corporation came to have the power it now has as an institution in the United States. Normally, when activists or the general public confront the sheer, imposing bulk of the corporatocracy, we get diagnoses of greed and corruption, with antidotes of regulation or resignation. But what Hartmann uncovers is the very specific LEGAL history of how corporations came into being in their modern incarnation. There are a handful of pivotal Supreme Court decisions that laid the tracks for the freight trains of abuse and audacity that then rolled on through, and all over regular citizens.
This is a very important insight. Since the corporation's power is fairly narrowly and legally based, it can be undone as well. The notion that we can regulate big companies into being good "corporate citizens" is nonsense if we don't withdraw the legal basis of their recognized rights. Constitutional protections should be for natural citizens only, period. We should be able to hold corporations to whatever standards we want, since they are simply artificial profit-machines with no inherent legal standing vis-a-vis the rights of natural citizens.
As always, Hartmann's writing is engaging, precise, and exciting. Buy this book!!
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