Criminals still at large
By Travis Metcalfe
Daily Texan Staff
the last of the seven Texas prison escapees back in custody, there is a
comfortable illusion of safety in America once again. Unfortunately,
there are hundreds of convicted criminals in our society who have never
been imprisoned for their crimes and, by their very nature, cannot be
confined or reformed.
Like anyone else in this country,
the culprits claim the rights extended to all individuals under the
Constitution. But unlike you and me, these "people" want to avoid the
responsibilities that go along with those rights, and they are doing a
pretty good job getting away with it so far. Who are these privileged
For their deadly combination of
products, Ford and Firestone were ranked among the 10 worst
corporations in 2000 by Russell Mokhiber and Robert Weissman, who
compile the list each year for the Multinational Monitor magazine.
These two companies' defective products are thought to have resulted in
the deaths of at least 90 people in the last few years. It turns out
that both corporations may have been aware of the problems up to two
years before they issued a recall. What might be the consequences of
Certainly, we can expect to see a flurry
of civil and class-action law suits filed against these wealthy
perpetrators. Undoubtedly, many of these cases will settle out of
court, as several have already. But aside from the civil cases, will
there be a criminal investigation? Should corporations be subject to
the same treatment as an individual?
They think so.
1886, after a landmark Supreme Court ruling in Santa Clara County vs.
Southern Pacific Railroad, private corporations have been considered
"natural persons" under the law. Although the Constitution never
mentions corporations, they are now entitled to all of the rights
afforded to individuals, including the right to free speech.
has had disastrous consequences for our democracy. These fundamental
rights have a completely different meaning to a corporation with access
to hundreds of billions of dollars than they do to an average citizen.
According to Paul Hawken, author of The Ecology of Commerce,
this has led to a situation which is "precisely what the Bill of Rights
was intended to prevent: domination of public thought and discourse."
Nevertheless, the free speech super-rights of corporations have been
upheld consistently, from advertising to political campaign donations.
is especially troubling when you consider that these corporations also
own, or at least exercise considerable influence over the media, which
is nominally supposed to provide impartial reporting of incidents like
the Firestone/Ford recall.
Due in large part to the
Telecommunications Act of 1996, according to Robert McChesney, some 80
percent of all media, including television, radio, newspapers and
magazines are now owned by only five mega-corporations (for example
Disney and AOL-Time-Warner). This obvious conflict of interest has led
to several well-documented cases in which investigative reports have
been suppressed or stories have been edited to suit the interests of
The same logic that entitles corporations to
free speech also guarantees them a prompt and impartial trial for their
crimes. If they are found guilty, they should be subject to the same
penalties levied against individuals. In Texas, that would likely mean
a death sentence.
Rather than administer a lethal
injection, we could revoke their corporate charters, dissolve the board
of directors and turn control over to a group of public trustees.
Knowing corporations' propensity for misdeeds, this sort of punishment
may not have a deterrent value, but it could certainly make the
families of the victims feel a lot better.
Metcalfe is a doctoral student in the Department of Astronomy