A veritable lobbying blitzkrieg by corporations at the nation’s state legislatures this year is accelerating the dismantling of our democracy and consumer rights. The national press seems largely oblivious to what has been going on.
Using pretexts such as “meeting the global competition,” “law reform,” “deregulation,” “restructuring” and other soothing phrases, these business lobbyists are demanding immunities, subsidies and other privileges they wouldn’t have dared demand in the Seventies and even the Eighties.
Here is a brief rundown on the upending of public governmental protections in the pursuit of unconscionable profits and greed.
1. Restructuring of the electric power industry is underway in state after state. Breaking up the electric company’s monopoly sounds good, until you see the fine print. You the consumer will be made to pay for uneconomical nuclear power plants that will have to be closed down because they are not competitive. Why shouldn’t investors shoulder that burden. Billions of consumer dollars will come from your higher utility rates to pay for what the companies call the “stranded costs” of these atomic lemons. This provision is already law in California but was narrowly blocked in Connecticut recently.
Under “restructuring” the big corporate electricity buyers are pushing for big discounts and that means costs will be shifted to residential and small business users. Environmental pollution control could well take a back seat, along with rural and low income consumers.
2. The corporate wrongdoers lobby is pressing again for laws that immunize them from the harm they inflict or reduce their responsibility for their defective products, medical malpractice and toxic chemicals. This escape from responsibility they call “tort reform.”
The wrongdoers lobby won in Alaska a few weeks ago when they bullied a cowardly Governor Tony Knowles to sign a bill passed by the most reactionary legislature in the country. This legislation puts the wood to the rights of children, who are wrongfully injured or sickened, restricts severely the ability of patients harmed by incompetent or reckless physicians and hospitals to have their full day in court and makes the right to sue perpetrators of injury and disease into a nightmare of pitfalls for innocent victims and giftbox of other immunities for corporations escaping responsibility.
Months earlier Governor Knowles’ own appointed task force concluded there was no litigation explosion, no rash of frivolous suits and no insurance availability crisis at all in Alaska. Yet the weak Governor destroyed decades-long protections for Alaskans.
3. Already mutual insurance company lobbyists have rushed through eleven states stealth legislation that will allow company managers to convert their company from a mutual (owned by policyholders) to a stock corporations while stiffing the monetary shares in tens of billions of dollars in surplus that belong to the mutual policyholders.
The managers want to convert many of these historic mutuals so as to be able to give themselves huge stock options and bigger compensation packages. On their part the bosses say they want conversion so as to be more flexible in the capital and acquisition markets. But it seems like Prudential, Metropolitan and John Hancock have been pretty flexible and prosperous as mutuals for most of a century.
For more information on this demutualization heist, you can call the Center for Insurance Research at (617) 441-2900.
4. Twenty one states have enacted environmental audit privilege laws. These corporate-lobbied laws allow polluters to conceal information from law enforcement officials and the affected communities. Other provisions of these corporate irresponsibility laws provide for outright immunity from prosecution for companies who disclose and self-correct violations as a result of auditing (one or more free bites of the toxic apple).
Company bosses argued for these laws on the basis that it would give them an incentive to audit their pollution over innocent people. Imagine street gangs trying to make a similar case. Corporate toxics in the workplace, marketplace and environment take far more lives and inflict far more disease than street gangs.
About one hundred thousand workers and ex-workers die prematurely each year due to occupational health hazards in the mines, foundries factories and other workplaces. For more information on these audit schemes contact: The Good Neighbor Project, P. 0. Box 79225, Waverly, MA 02179.
The juggernaut of corporate privilege and immunity roars on over the standards of justice and the standards of living of the American people. These global corporations have little allegiance to our country except to control it and drive its standards downwards toward other nations’ levels. That’s the corporate way of controlling costs and skyrocketing profits and executive bonuses.