Multinational Monitor

DEC 2003
VOL 24 No. 12


Multiple Corporate Personality Disorder: The 10 Worst Corporations of 2003
by Russell Mokhiber and Robert Weissman

The U.S. Meets Defeat: Thwarted in the FTAA Negotiations, The U.S. Looks to Smaller Trade Deals
by Robert Weissman


Public Employees for the Environment: Defending Principle During the Polluters’ Ball
an interview with
Jeff Ruch


Behind the Lines

2003: The Year of Corporations’ Perfect Political Storm

The Front
De-Privatizing Rail in the UK - Fishy Business in Pakistan

The Lawrence Summers Memorial Award

Names In the News


2003: The Year of Corporations’ Perfect Political Storm

If 2002 was a year of defensive action for U.S. corporations, then 2003 was a year when they returned to offense.

Having managed to escape 2002's financial scandals chastened but not subject to any meaningful reform, the corporate sector responded to 2003 in entirely different fashion.

Sure, a few companies were involved in cleaning up the wreckage from the financial scandals and other crimes that came to light, but they benefited from cooperative prosecutors who were willing and eager to resolve cases with slap-on-the-wrist punishments -- or sometimes less -- as we describe in the "Multiple Corporate Personality Disorder: The 10 Worst Corporations of 2003."

For most of the U.S. corporate sector, though, 2003 was a dream. It presented a political perfect storm: the most pro-corporate U.S. administration of the last 100 years, an ideologically rabid U.S. Congress who's market fundamentalism is tempered only by its zest for corporate welfare, and a non-election year.

Results included:

Plunging corporate tax rates, with more breaks to come. With the Bush administration and Congress passing tax cuts so fast it is hard to keep track, Citizens for Tax Justice reports that U.S. business taxes are now equal to 1.2 percent of the national economy -- their lowest level of the past half century (save for a single year during the Reagan administration). And Congress is putting the final touches on still more corporate tax cuts.

A pharmaceutical boondoggle, and creeping Medicare privatization. Congress passed a law purporting to extend Medicare to provide prescription drug coverage. While the bill's benefits to seniors are illusory, the gains to pharmaceutical and insurance companies are not. The bill forbids the government from negotiating cheap prices with drug companies, and it sets the stage for gradual privatization of Medicare -- substituting the wildly inefficient private sector for the lean and effective public program.

An energy bill that ExxonMobil and Enron (may it rest in peace) could love. Congress nearly finished the deal on an energy bill that would create mammoth electric utilities, does little to promote renewable energy, subsidizes polluting forms of energy, and would shield oil and chemical companies from liability for contaminating drinking water with the gas additive MTBE. Controversy over this last provision held up agreement on the final deal.

Denial of consumer rights. Key senators brokered an agreement to enact into law rules that would undermine the ability of those harmed by dangerous products or those victimized by discriminatory employers to file class action lawsuits. Congress is expected to enact the deal in the spring.

A pork-fest in Iraq. The Iraq reconstruction effort was transformed into a bonanza for Halliburton, Bechtel and other U.S. contractors, who are receiving billions in gold-plated contracts. A U.S. House/Senate conference committee in November stripped out of the final version of the $87 billion spending bill for Iraq and Afghanistan a provision that would have penalized war profiteers who defraud U.S. taxpayers.

Rules to facilitate media concentration. Despite a remarkable citizen organizing campaign, the U.S. Federal Communications Commission decided to roll back many of the key limits on media concentration. The FCC made it possible for a company to own more local television stations in a single market; for broadcasters to own stations in a higher percentage of the national market; and for heightened cross-ownership between newspaper, TV and radio.

Proposals to steal from workers. The Department of Labor announced proposed rules to roll back regulations requiring overtime pay. Finalization of the rule is scheduled for spring 2004, though Senate Democrats have said they will block implementation.

Amnesty for polluters. The Environmental Protection Agency effectively announced that it would forfeit rights to use the term "protection," as it decided to drop enforcement actions against dozens of major air polluters. "This is easily the most vile, radical and illegal enforcement stance ever taken by the EPA in its 30-plus-year history," said an environmentalist with the Natural Resources Defense Council.

A patronage rush. The Bush administration has intensified its privatization and contracting out of government jobs, cutting the federal civil service-protected workforce in half, ladling out patronage contracts to friendly companies and undermining the ability of regulators and public servants to do their jobs.

A frenzy of corporate trade deals. 2203 saw final adoption of U.S. free trade agreements with Singapore and Chile, completion of a deal with Central America, and initiation of negotiations with the Dominican Republic, Panama, Colombia, Peru, Thailand and Southern African countries. Organized resistance by developing countries to the U.S. market extremist proposals thwarted the corporate agenda in World Trade Organization and Free Trade Area of the America negotiations, however.

With the ruling institutions captured by the business elite, the only check on corporate depredations in 2003 was organized citizen activity. In each of the areas mentioned here where corporations didn't manage to get everything they wanted -- a partial reinstatement of an FCC regulation, failure to seal the deal on the overtime pay rollback, the ongoing controversy over protection for MTBE makers, foiled trade negotiations -- it was because organized civic activism cast a ray of sunshine through the clouds of the corporation's perfect political storm


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