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Christie Just The Latest Installment of Corporate Backlash

“The reasonable man adapts himself to the world; the unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore all progress depends on the unreasonable man.”
~~~ George Bernard Shaw, Man and Superman (1903)

[Update #2: 4/12/10NY Times editorial: “First, They Get Rid of the Law Clinics

[Update: 4/11/10 – NJ press wakes up: Bergen Record covers the attack on Rutgers Law Clinic ~~~ end updates]

Monday is Chris Hedges Day. That’s when his weekly column at Truthdig.com appears.

Today, Hedges examines the rise and fall of “The Unreasonable Man” (movie), Ralph Nader: “How the Corporations Broke Ralph Nader and America, Too“.

I share many of Nader’s policy views – particularly on government regulation – and have professionally struggled with the forces Nader unleashed, so I can assure readers that it is an amazing history:

The Congress, between 1966 and 1973, passed 25 pieces of consumer legislation, nearly all of which Nader had a hand in authoring. The auto and highway safety laws, the meat and poultry inspection laws, the oil pipeline safety laws, the product safety laws, the update on flammable fabric laws, the air pollution control act, the water pollution control act, the EPA, OSHA and the Environmental Council in the White House transformed the political landscape.

Hedges traces Nader’s fall, not coincidentally, to the rise of an organized corporate backlash, which was first articulated in an extraordinary 1971 strategy memo to the US Chamber of Commerce titled “Attack on American Free Enterprise System“. The memo was written by then corporate lawyer and future Nixon Supreme Court Justice Lewis Powell.

Powell urged corporate America to organize and fight back against what he saw as an assault by campus radicals, socialists, environmentalists, and consumer advocates like Nader (does this all sound familiar?).

Powell railed against the “appeasement” of corporate America to the extremist attacks, and laid out a systematic propaganda based plan to target media, college campuses, Congress, and shape pro-corporate public opinion.

The sources are varied and diffused. They include, not unexpectedly, the Communists, New Leftists and other revolutionaries who would destroy the entire system, both political and economic. These extremists of the left are far more numerous, better financed, and increasingly are more welcomed and encouraged by other elements of society, than ever before in our history. But they remain a small minority, and are not yet the principal cause for concern.

The most disquieting voices joining the chorus of criticism come from perfectly respectable elements of society: from the college campus, the pulpit, the media, the intellectual and literary journals, the arts and sciences, and from politicians. In most of these groups the movement against the system is participated in only by minorities. Yet, these often are the most articulate, the most vocal, the most prolific in their writing and speaking.

As they say, the rest is history (and even Harvard now understands what “regulatory relief means).

Powell’s recommendations led to the creation of the Business Round-table, right wing think tanks, and the very effective attack on government, particularly government health, safety, consumer and environmental regulation. Powell’s propaganda campaign focuses on the corporate capture that I believe was a major factor that led to the Reagan anti-regulatory agenda, the decline of both activist government, and the destruction of the media. The memo really should be read in its entirety.

Ironically, Powell concluded his recommendations with a warning written from a position of weakness:

But this would be an exercise in futility unless the Board of Directors of the Chamber accepts the fundamental premise of this paper, namely, that business and the enterprise system are in deep trouble, and the hour is late.

Forty years later, with the ascendance and dominance of corporations almost total, Powell’s fears seems hard to reconcile with reality, in any other than paranoid TeaParty events or Fox News rants.

Without understanding this history, it is almost impossible to appreciate just how bad the media and political climate is right now.

The evidence is everywhere, overwhelming and impossible to ignore (see Princeton Professor Sheldon Wolin’s: “Democracy Incorporated“). But let me give just one concrete NJ example that can illustrate what Hedges, Nader and Wolin are driving at.

Before I read Hedges this morning, I noted a disturbing NY Times article: “Law School Clinics Face a Backlash

Law school students nationwide are facing growing attacks in the courts and legislatures as legal clinics at the schools increasingly take on powerful interests that few other nonprofit groups have the resources to challenge.

On Friday, lawmakers here debated a measure to cut money for the University of Maryland’s law clinic if it does not provide details to the legislature about its clients, finances and cases.

The measure, which is likely to be sent to the governor this week, comes in response to a suit filed in March by students accusing one of the state’s largest employers, Perdue, of environmental violations” the first effort in the state to hold a poultry company accountable for the environmental impact of its chicken suppliers.

Law clinics at other universities “from New Jersey to Michigan to Louisiana” are facing similar challenges. And legal experts say the attacks jeopardize the work of the clinics, which not only train students with hands-on courtroom experience at more than 200 law schools but also have taken on more cases against companies and government agencies in recent years.

“We’re seeing a very strong pushback from deep-pocket interests, and that pushback is creating a chilling effect on many clinics,” said Robert R. Kuehn, a law professor at Washington University in St. Louis, citing a recent survey he conducted that found that more than a third of faculty members at legal clinics expressed fears about university or state reaction to their casework and that a sixth said they had turned down unpopular clients because of these concerns.

The Rutgers Environmental Law Clinic and NJ litigation are targeted, yet we hear nothing about this in the NJ press.

And after students at a state-financed law school clinic at Rutgers University in New Jersey sued to stop a developer’s plans for a strip mall in Franklin Township, the developer filed suit against the clinic under the open-records law seeking copies of internal documents, saying he planned to expose how the clinic used taxpayer money to discourage investment in the state.

An appellate court in Trenton will hear oral arguments this month in the case.

“Like the hapless Wizard of Oz, the clinics want all attention directed elsewhere, while they struggle mightily to keep concealed their actual use of public funds” Kevin Kelly, the lawyer for the developer, Sussex Commons, wrote in his brief.

Instead, NJ outlets like the Star Ledger – who should be informing their readers and exposing this kind of un-American abuse – not only fail to cover the substance of the current NJ manifestations of the Powell campaign (i.e. the Christie Administration’s environmental regulatory rollback I’ve been writing about for months), just this weekend, they somehow felt the need to ridicule environmentalists. See: “Jilted Treehuggers

No wonder both the newspapers and the public interest are simultaneously going down the tubes – just what Powell and his corporate backers long sought.

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