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Shanet Clark

Multi-National Trusts

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Sociological, Class, Regional and Generational Critiques of

Corporate / Government Accomodations:

Where Is Power Found and Wielded, and At What Cost?

by D. Shanet Clark

I. Politics

The question is not indeed what is wrong with Kansas, or what is wrong with the red states, or the United States, that is in many ways the wrong question for a political historian to ask when looking at U.S. history and the late twentieth century political trends and traditions. The question surely is this: what elements of political theory can we engage critically for the common good, what is manifestly possible for a historical political discourse?

We ask, who benefits and who wields power?

How are structures balanced, and what countervailing structural balances are available? How are countervailing structural checks are employed? Are they employed?

Who rules? What are the rules and what role can an individual play?

What individuals do wield power? These are not rhetorical questions, these are the vital issues that drive political discourse and historic analyses. What machinery has been developed to distribute advantages in society? And then, what is the interplay between economic and governmental interests? How are they addressed by populations and to what degree is critical oversight forcefully employed in reforming the vital organisms of civil government? If you ask yourself these questions today you might be surprised at how far the political locomotive has strayed from its constitutional tracks, and you may be embarrassed for that country, that country that confuses “rightist,” “white-ist,” and “me-first-itis” with compassion, oversight and a vision for the future of the planet.

The reversal of the meaning of “Liberal” is axiomatic in Louis Hartz’s theory.

The meaning of “Conservative” reversed itself as well. Conservator, preservator and small government fiscal overseer, that role (and self image) is out of fashion for today’s self styled “conservative.” Public Christian, hypocrite and “inside the beltway” big spender and just a pure tool of corporate messages and agendas, that is in faasion for “conservatives” these days.

It goes back to the days of Ronald Reagan on the road for GE, and Dick Nixon running the big Johnson government, the benefits still continue to flow to the political elites that receive federal, state, county and local largesse and the corporate and private family interests that receive governmental quasi-legal indulgences, reprieves, tips and leads in their struggle for liberal bourgeois acquisitions.

The interplay of these forces is the heart of American political theory and the purpose of critical approaches is to effect change in this very arena, i.e., civic oversight.

Certain theoretical constructs are entertained by Michael Kazin, Lawrence Goodwyn, Robert Weibe, Mary P. Ryan which also address these questions, but fundamental issues are ignored by each and all of these. Issues of generational and regional geographic distributions of ideas still affect political theory, first of all.

II. Sociology

Ideas of social class as developed by Max Weber and later in the 20th century by Pierre Bourdieu are lacking, for instance. Liesure class theory and the reproduction of elite advantages in the school system is overlooked in these works. While the debate over populism retains its cogency and relevance, the debate over class and sociological self image is not expressed by these writers.

Sociology can shed light on history and politics, economics and philosophical arenas; the self image of the various players in society informs political beliefs, behaviour and cognition of political messages.

Traditional American political theory has celebrated checks and balances, judicial oversight and the defense of minority interests via structural accommodations and systemic limits. Issues of authenticity, legitimacy and timeless constitutional standards are stressed by this mainstream, if not consensus, group.

European cultural approaches, including the work of Edward Said, Pierre Bourdieu, Max Weber and Jergen Habermas now add weight to the critical methods of American political theory. This includes language and discourse analysis, intended to penetrate the hermeneutical practices of socialization, the process where the ego internalizes (to a greater or lesser degree) the norms of the family, immediately seen contemporaries, and distant elites. One’s distance from the non-elites in remote regions is likely to be the weakest link in an American political theorist’s cogitations. For this reason, international, offshore, foreign and alien interests are most likely to be those traded away in any political settlement, the interests of foreign nationals carries a low or negative valence and the class and cultural gulf makes fair transactions unlikely. While foreign, alien and offshore elite political and economic standard bearers may negotiate with American corporate and state/civil entities with some degree of leverage and legitimacy, the actual fate and lifeways of non-elite foreign, alien international players are not of any interest in the decision making process whatsoever. Costs are passed on to less developed populations within the United States as well.

Urban areas and largely black and Hispanic areas are deprived of mass transit support, or new housing patterns, suffer unchecked housing displacement, full blown demolitions style “urban renewal” and housing “projects” being neither benign, nor neglectful, but a negative and destructive pair of forces, imposed Federal corporate norms upon hapless urban political units, those of the lowest economic and aesthetic order, (who paradoxically led the art and literate movements). Jane Jacobs approach to urban harmony and political settlements at the local level was the antithesis of American political efforts for planning the Stalinist architectural styles of the federal interstate and downtown planners. When her book overturned that mindset, the WW Rostow approach, the approach of the Nixon and Reagan years, came into the light of urban studies and caused a reaction. Cities are better, now, many of them, because planners know the political theories underpinning Jane Jacobs championing of Greenwich Village.

Non-reciprocal socio/economic settlements also haunted and degraded the Ohio Valley and Appalachian mountain communities, America’s domestic interior communities can suffer third-world, neo-colonial style deprivations. Extractive coal and chemical companies (“foreign owned” relative to native West Virginians) pursue the natural resources at low cost. While they privatize the profits, they socialize the costs. Slurry mounds, gaseous and liquid effluvients and stripped mountain rock burden yields up energy profits for the multinationals and large US coal and chemical companies, the pollution, fallout, slag, slurry and groundwater destruction is socialized in such a way to strike the costs off of the corporate account books, pass them briefly through state/civil entities and force the unreckoned costs onto non elite, non self conscious “lower class” populations. Both the elites and the unfortunate locals see this clearly. The cultural capital, literacy and assertive verbal skills that are de rigeur for the corporate ownership and management class is taken for granted as the standard for civil behaviour. The rural and urban denizens of the coal and chemical corridor are fully cognizant of their relative lack of cultural polish, articulateness and ability to command the attention of the rich and powerful. So social class is not only assigned demographically as an objective category based on race, earnings, housing and education levels; it is internalized, the gradations by every member, some “feel” a little higher than their economic figures would show, and some cling to an outsider mentality long after they have risen past the economic median thresholds into the middle class.

II. Political Economy

Politically this translates into greater consolidation of power, self congratulatory behavior on the part of elites and their generations of offspring. Meaanwhile we see powerless rage and unhealthy behavioural patterns of hopelessness and unemployment by the generational offsprings of the non-elites. As Weber and Bourdieu show cogently, they recognize their position on the power and reception spectrum, and they do not usually teach their children to rise above their level, although individuals are always to make exceptions for themselves in the bourgeois liberal pursuit common to the American self image projection model, the Horatio Alger, native talent, hard work and merit, delusion.

This translates into a number of fault lines in the recent political history of the United States. Upper middle class youth rise to positions of elite status primarily by joining forces with corporate interests, those that are actually anathema to the greater share of their regional political population. Attorneys who fight off civil suits from the lung- and brain- damaged chemical corridor residents are an easy product of this algebra. Lobbyists who negotiate mineral rights and eminent domain, mineral corporations that spend millions of dollars to sink objective judges in favor of corporately screened individual. When coal strip mining regulations were recently re-written to allow larger creeks and streams to be destroyed and toxically reduced, the local or “third world” denizens of West Virginia, “the Hillbilly’s in the Hollers” bore the brunt of the new toxic local water and disgorged petrochemical effluvia.

If this is a typical scenario for the United States domestically, when energy corporations and local political and economics clash, then how much less the denizens of developing countries fare in the calculus of accommodation. Who sets the parameters? Certainly not the indigenes. Not the local merchant or educated class. Those with the vessels of power do not care for rural Haitians or Guatamalans or Mexicans, and these interests are wholly ignored in the corporate / civil accommodations between American and American-influenced political entities, and their corporate sponsors.

IIII. Civil Oversight

Multinational corporate mergers and acquisitions are now wholly rampant, unchecked—as Mobil Exxon devours Unocal, we see that the Sherman Anti-Trust Act, which promises Federal countervailing action against corporate mergers “in restraint of trade” is a dead letter, moot, mute and kaputt.

With corporate lobbyists occupying the offices of Interior, EPA and state and local planning and preservation offices, the triumph of the anti-New Dealers is evident. We see the clock on anti-trust, social security, deficits and regulated companies turn back to that dangerous time of October, 1929 to March, 1933, when Hoover was a lame duck,

No longer will the government intercede for the minority interest, or flex a muscle in pursuit of the greater common good, conservation or sensible transitions in military and industrial strategic norms. In 1960 President Eisenhower warned of a “Military Industrial Complex” being the greatest domestic threat to the US polity.

With the Soviet Union gone, U.S defence spending rises? Intelligence spending and outrageous Cold War missile, fighter, helicopter and high tech robot army spending geometrically expands? While the beneficiaries and recipients, Martin, Marietta, Lockheed, combine into great consolidated behemoths, General Dynamics Raytheon and Boeing Grumman, with a political agenda that not only sits on the table it covers the table and allows for no alternate, no oversight, no civilian caveats or balanced budgets.

Civil government depends primarily on civil oversight and an educated public using the forces available within the governmental structures to right wrongs and remediate damages. Corporate multinational lobbying ang legal efforts, when sponsored by conservative pro-business majorities in the Senate, House and Presideency threaten the very existence of the planet and the life of rural freedom and liberty and urban minority interests protected by the organic state papers, the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution of the United States.

Shanet Clark, Georgia State University History Department 2005

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