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Monsanto Hid Decades Of Pollution.
January 1, 2002 3:59 PM   Subscribe

Monsanto Hid Decades Of Pollution. Short version: PCBs, small Alabama town, Monsanto knew about problems, told no one, and ignored warnings. Neal Stephenson fans will find the descriptions of the toxic effects of PCBs eerily familiar.
posted by feckless (61 comments total)

 
Chloracne is not just a device from a novelist's imagination. It is one of the primary clinical indicators of dioxin exposure. Usually it is manifested in eruptions of comedones, cysts and pustules along the malar region of the face. The cysts are coalescent, and usually full of a straw-colored liquid. In most urban communities with both fish-bearing rivers, these symptoms are often found among recent immigrants, especially those from southeast Asia who supplement their diet with self-caught fish. The dioxin contaminants are frequently from PCBs, found in old spent ballast and electrical transformers, which were often used for landfill when building river barriers, berms, levies up until the early 1960s. Heavy-metal pollutants like lead and mercury can cause some of the same symptoms, but usually the molecules are much too large to pass through enough cell walls to actually make it out of the body, and instead collect in the kidneys, liver, pancreas and gallbladder, eventually causing death.
posted by luriete at 4:40 PM on January 1, 2002


Most corporations are evil. What's new?
posted by fleener at 5:20 PM on January 1, 2002


Well given that lack of strong scientific evidence is enough to let people spill PCB and other stuff left and right, I think we don't need a scientific reason to boycott the spillers do we ? It sounds stupid, but sometimes you need to reward people the way the like.
posted by elpapacito at 5:32 PM on January 1, 2002


I just don't get it. If I poisoned or killed 5 people, I'd probably get life in prison or even the death sentence. Monsanto poisons an entire town for decades, and the idea of a "corporate death penalty" isn't even considered except by so-called "radicals".

Corporations fought long and hard to get rights like ordinary citizens while retaining their legal firewall of a corporate legal entity. Me, I say that if a company willfully endangers lives like this, they should be treated like citizens: the corporate charter is "put to death" or at least "imprisoned". Monsanto would clean up their act in a nanosecond if they were told they wouldn't do business in the US for the next 30 years, if ever again, because of this. It is, sadly, the perfect functioning of the market: when lawsuits and regulatory penalties can be factored as a simple and predictable cost of business, and thus lose any punitive value.

The only effective penalties are those severe enough that they vastly outweighs the cost of incurring it. Imagine if you told a trailer park denizen that he or she could earn $20M, but they'd have to roll a die- if it came up as '1' they'd spend 3 months in prison, but otherwise nothing would happen; in either case they'd get the money anyway. What person wouldn't take that arrangement? If it were 50 years in prison, however, they would probably pass up the chance even for $20M. Monsanto can spend $80M on legal fees because the cost of cleanup or instituting completely safe processes is probably a great deal more expensive than that, when history has shown you can cover these things up too easily and effectively. Therefore, penalties must be of such monetary or legal force that it will compel them to behave, and since fines and lawsuits can be fought on appeal to greatly reduce the sum, it seems to me that a legal eradication of their corporate charter (including up the subsidiary hierarchy, if that applies- the sins of Time-Warner are the sins of AOL, so to speak) is the only penalty they can't factor as a cost of business.
posted by hincandenza at 5:35 PM on January 1, 2002


You have to boycott Pharmacia (who own Monsanto) as well... Ahhh, the joys of mega corporations with plenty of tentacles. Anyone else remember the "We're Beatrice" ads from the eighties that were so freakin' frightening?
posted by machaus at 5:41 PM on January 1, 2002


Most corporations are evil. What's new?

Sometimes they get caught.
posted by feckless at 6:23 PM on January 1, 2002


Oh spare me. If there had been a moment of research we'd know that the Hudson river communities affected by the proposed dredging are absolutely opposed to it. The real criminal here is the EPA.

And luriete should really cite some references to those oh so technical sounding comments.

Bah humbug..
posted by Real9 at 6:26 PM on January 1, 2002


"Most corporations are evil. What's new?"

You are correct, there is nothing new about the thought that "most corporations are evil". It is stated as though it were a truth that required no proof, as a given whose assumptions needed no examination.

Right. I think they should all immediately stop operations. Those that started them and run them should immediately withdraw from society ... and permit the virtuous masses to return to the glory days of trading animal skins for firewood to keep warm in the winter (glad those sweatshops and power companies are gone!); to folk doctorin' for their ailments (finally! we're free of those nasty HMOs, insurance companies, and pharmceutical giants!); to a simpler, humbler life of telling each other stories and singing songs by candlelight at night (take that! you evil entertainment industry!); to each farming his/her own food (finally, no more big agribusiness and pesticide companies!).

I firmly believe anyone making the statement "Most corporations are evil" ought to probably live without any of what they produce for 24 hours. Perhaps reflect on how idiotic it is to make statements like that without looking at the whole picture. Do "corporations" do evil things? Yes ... they are made up of people, and people - in corporations or not - sometimes do evil things. Have YOU ever done something that skirted the edge of the ethical? Ever known something wrong was going on but didn't stop? Should your friends "boycott" you for the next 30 years?

Most people, despite the fact that NONE of us are perfect, do indeed try to do good things most of the time. Coprorations are never going to be either more, or less ethical than the people of which they are composed. What usually isn't stated is that for every one "evil" act you can point to that a corporation did, there are thousands of benefits you take total advantage of every day of your life. The truth is that "most" corporations ... like most people ... contain a little evil, and a lot of good.

"Therefore, penalties must be of such monetary or legal force that it will compel them to behave, and since fines and lawsuits can be fought on appeal to greatly reduce the sum, it seems to me that a legal eradication of their corporate charter ..."

This is what you call ethical, is it? Because a small percentage of people within a company employing many thousands committed criminal acts, those many thousands should be instantly thrown out of work.

Just maybe, folks, "Most corporations are evil" is something that ought to be thought about before it is spouted, and "Just completely put them out of business if they do wrong" is a "solution" whose full ramifications should also be examined before be bandied about so freely on a discussion list (which - of course - would not even exist without those evil corporations ...).
posted by MidasMulligan at 6:35 PM on January 1, 2002


hincadenza: good reasoning , but if such a law was really implemented you'd see a lot of companies leaving the country looking for a country which has got less restrictive laws. Now let's imagine that globalization will go so far than sooner or later every country will have strick environment regulations and laws (optimistic point of view) ..somebody must apply the laws or they're only words on a piece of paper. And given that money corrupts people VERY easily in any country what we really need is people-awareness of problems and people willing to fight when a company takes all the profits and leaves all the costs to people.

I think people is already willing to fight. when they think their life is in danger : the big problem is, then, an old one ..how do you give enough information to people ? And who is willing to do give that information so that people starts boycotting , and will people really take action or forget about the problem ?
posted by elpapacito at 6:40 PM on January 1, 2002


Let's say there was a death penalty for a corporation. Ok, so let's assume for a moment than in a court of law Monsanto is found guilty.

Who here would like to volunteer to lead a assembly of 10s of thousands of people who will be told that their jobs will no longer exist because their company did something bad. Oh, and because the economy is such crap, good luck in finding other work.

This is why a coporate death penalty won't work, because it puts a crimp in industry, and would paralyze the economy even more.

How about holding the people who made the decisions to dump the chemicals liable? So let's say the CEO is fully involced, as well as the COO, CFO, etc... they would then be imprisoned for life for murder.
posted by benjh at 7:23 PM on January 1, 2002


Who here would like to volunteer to lead a assembly of 10s of thousands of people who will be told that their jobs will no longer exist because their company did something bad. Oh, and because the economy is such crap, good luck in finding other work.


They can take their anger out on the executives that make illegal decisions. Let me ask you this, what if the workers' babies were horrbily deformed because of pollution? Would you like to tell them that its business as usual and they should get used to it.

The economy and loss of jobs argument is as old as business. Its the same thing corporate shills said to keep child labor going. "Oh now we can't compete with the rest of the world!" Keep poor working conditions going. "This safety stuff is soooo expensive."

How about the smaller scale, what if I'm the breadwinner in the family and I have to serve time? Is the judge going to say, "Well Mike, you are a murderer but you do a have a kid. So get back to work you wacky rascal!"

Also, the loss of jobs argument ignores that if the market has a sudden gap it'll quickly be filled by a responsible business which will be hiring people, paying taxes, etc.
posted by skallas at 7:36 PM on January 1, 2002


Now this is actually an interesting dilemma. I strongly believe that corporate entities should be held responsible for actions which harm people, especially if those actions cause harm on the level Monasanto's did.
On the other hand, benjh has a very valid point too. I'd hate to see some tech-support guy at Microsoft's kids go hungry because Bill Gates is a greedy asshole.
And as a low-level employee at Fortune 500 corporation, these questions are not just abstractions to me. If my employer was killing people, I'd definitely want those responsible punished, but at the same time I like my job and make a fairly decent living at it and would have a tough time matching it in the current economic climate. Perhaps merely removing and imprisoning the top level corporate structure would be a way of punishing the gulty without harming the innocents, perhaps also it would depend on the offense.
posted by jonmc at 7:51 PM on January 1, 2002


I can see the executive memo now:

"Now that you have a deformed baby you need a steady job more than ever!"
posted by skallas at 7:51 PM on January 1, 2002


uh... people eat dirt?

I've done a bit of searching for any references to people eating something called "Alabama Clay" and can't find anything.

Also, does the thing about fish "spurting blood and shedding skin" after 10 seconds of exposure sound reasonable? That makes the stuff sound far worse than mustard gas or sarin. (I know, comparing a fish's reaction after being submurged to a person's reaction after breathing is a little tenuous...)

It's a tragic story, regardless.
posted by mragreeable at 8:14 PM on January 1, 2002


Folks, the facts are at issue here. All this posturing for the moral high ground is just making me ill.
posted by Real9 at 8:21 PM on January 1, 2002


real9 - i'm not posturing, theoretically this could be a real issue for me. This may not be where the discussion originally began but debate is why we're here right.
posted by jonmc at 8:24 PM on January 1, 2002


[cheerleader post]
Go get 'em MidasMulligan. Nice seeing new faces around here who have something more cogent to contribute than throw-away one-liners.
[/cheerleader post]
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 8:41 PM on January 1, 2002


Disclaimer : I often fling out thoughtless one-liners. Pot, kettle, etc.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 8:47 PM on January 1, 2002


" ... I'd hate to see some tech-support guy at Microsoft's kids go hungry because Bill Gates is a greedy asshole ..."

Interesting. Does lower-middle class automatically = "virtuous", and rich automatically = "greedy asshole"? If one is struggling to survive and support a family on a limited income, does this mean they are somehow nobler? More ethical? Not "greedy"? If someone then (through both luck and 20 hour days) does succeed in rising up the income ladder, becoming well off, or even downright rich (i.e., achieving a standard of living that the vast majority of those poor "virtuous" people often deeply desire), does this virtue disappear?

In other words - if someone earns a pile of money, loves it, is proud of it, and does it by playing and winning at the brutal game of big business, are they then presumed evil here?

PS. I've been at a few dinners and parties with Bill Gates. Money is not his primary motive. The guy is a geek to the tips of his toes. He'll never spend more than a fraction of what he's already worth. He's in the game for the pure intellectual buzz of it. He is pretty brutal at business, but is sorta mild next to the likes of Steve Case, or Scott McNealy or Larry E.

PSS. He can't be too greedy of an asshole if that poor tech support guy can, at Microsoft, work his way up the ranks, and ultimately retire a millionaire ... something that is possible at Microsoft.
posted by MidasMulligan at 9:31 PM on January 1, 2002


Real9: I had no idea that pointing out the effects of dioxin exposure required a citation. They've been common knowledge for more than 25 years. I don't imagine that you could find a single MD or toxicologist in the country - maybe in the world - who would dispute A) that chloracne is one of a few primary indicators of dioxin exposure in human beings, and that B) chloracne is most prevalent (outside of exposure in industrial settings, and I include military contact in that definition) among those who eat fish or other foodstuffs tainted by PCBs and other contaminants (in river-bottom mud, for instance) or who drink water or milk tainted by PCBs. Here are a few articles which may be helpful:

an interesting case study of people poisoned by a 1979 incident in Taiwan where 2000 people were exposed to PCBs in cooking oil: http://ehpnet1.niehs.nih.gov/docs/1999/107p715-719guo/abstract.html

A US Veterans' Administration article (PDF) on agent orange and other causes of Chloracne: http://www.va.gov/agentorange/aob/D02brief.PDF

Causes of various types of "occupational acne," including chloracne: http://www.ccohs.ca/oshanswers/diseases/acne.html

general brief on the effects of PCB exposure in humans: http://www.epa.gov/OST/fish/pcb99.html

This article is brief and very general and doesn't go much into causes, but does have some GREAT, gory pictures of chloracne on unlucky New Zealanders: http://www.dermnet.org.nz/dna.acne/acne.chl.html

This article discusses the updated EPA cleanup plan for the Hudson, and only incidentally notes that it is hard to find numbers on self-caught fish consumption among minority populations: http://www.clearwater.org/epa/public-comment/pc-1.html

From the Commander's Guide to Environmental Compliance (mainly a summary of various federal regulations regarding care, use & disposal of PCBs): https://www.denix.osd.mil/denix/Public/Policy/Marine/Commander/commanderg3.html

Sorry to post so much content. I know off-the-cuff remarks and witticisms are more appreciated here.
posted by luriete at 9:32 PM on January 1, 2002


luriete, your well researched and reasoned post just makes me sick.
posted by Doug at 9:46 PM on January 1, 2002


I firmly believe anyone making the statement "Most corporations are evil" ought to probably live without any of what they produce for 24 hours.

Uh, yeah. Right.

I guess there are some who actually need a MacDonald's on every corner in order to survive...who actually crave a Coors distributorship in every town in order to experience true fulfillment...who absolutely damn well must have a Wal Mart just around every corner in order to feel some purpose in life.

But the rest of us could live better without the greedheads. Sorry about you who can't.

But anyway, as I was saying to our resident sycophant of the silver coin, here...yeah, right. We all know these blessed saviors of mankind -- the "corporations" -- come into existence out of the goodness of the founders hearts ( those selfless men of industry! perish the thought they are only out to make a buck!) to save us all from the utter horror of a world without

- "artificially flavored" orange juice
- the latest Electro-Stimulato-Ab Excerciser.
- Nike's sweatshops.
- the "amateur" Olympics.
- cardboard homes.
- rollover SUVs.
- exploding Firestone tires.
- any damned SUVs.
- the "FedEx" Orange Bowl.
- urban sprawl.
- Microsoft, Philip Morris, RJR Reynolds,
Enron, and Monsanto.
- Britney Spears.
- etc etc.

Oh, the horror. The horror of a world without Union Carbide. What would have Bhopal have been without Union Carbide in its wisdom and safety and philanthropy?

Meanwhile, the simplest things in life, things like clean water and clean air and the health of ordinary citizens is becoming a costly commodity rather than a birthright. Thanks, corporations. Thanks, greedheads.

Most corporations ARE evil. They serve one purpose: their owner's wallets.

So go preach capitalism as philanthropy somewhere where people are still dumb enough to believe you. Hint: try Crawford Texas.

Or maybe Microsoft will still lend you an ear. Why, gosh. I've noticed that, just like those hard-working underlings at Microsoft, the lowly "tech support" people in savvy organizations like, um, the Mafia and the Columbian pharmaceutical trade have often worked themselves into a pretty penny for retirement too. I guess the ends justify the means...bless those wonderful corporate lugs.

One evil empire down. One to go.
posted by fold_and_mutilate at 9:55 PM on January 1, 2002


Though I'm as righteously indignant about the things you mention as you are, fold_and_mutilate, if perhaps not as intense about it, I think you missed the point, which as I read it, was "Corporations are never going to be either more, or less ethical than the people of which they are composed."

Struggling against 'corporations' is tilting at windmills. Equally, 'capitalism as philanthropy' is nonsense. OK. Talk - Action = Zero. OK. Consumerism is destroying the planet. OK. Some corporations produce products without which our daily existence as we know it would be impossible. OK.

There's really no need to preach to the people here, f_and_m. It merely goads them into getting emotionally involved in the argument, rather than stopping to think, and discuss rationally. It's a weak mind that cannot entertain two contradictory ideas simultaneously and see the truth and falsehood implicit in each.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 10:07 PM on January 1, 2002


luriete, In your apparently incompetent effort to imbed a URL, did you even read my reference to the local resistance to the EPA effort to "clean up" the Hudson river?

I'm sure you know best for them. Really.

I had no argument with your chloracne allegations. I was more concerned with your completely unscientific statements about "the molecules are much too large to pass through enough cell walls to actually make it out of the body". That's just pure bullshit.
posted by Real9 at 10:26 PM on January 1, 2002


As much as I dislike Microsoft's actions and products, I think all of that is easilly outweighed by the amount of good being done by the Gates Foundation. Bill Gates is actually an example of how much good can come from a wealthy corporation and philanthropy.
posted by homunculus at 10:29 PM on January 1, 2002


Most corporations are small businesses, where someone is using the corporate structure to pay less taxes, or to protect their homes, and families from liability that their business might incur - liability to creditors, not liability because of civil wrongdoing. Most corporations don't exist to poison the earth, or people.

It took actual human beings to make the decisions that caused the harm described in Anniston. Blaming a corporate structure is like blaming religion for wars.
posted by bragadocchio at 10:35 PM on January 1, 2002


Corporations are never going to be either more, or less ethical than the people of which they are composed.

Well, seeing as one of the main purposes behind creating this entity called a "corporation" is to limit the liability of the principals involved, I'd say that "Most corporations are evil" is at the most an exageration. If you want to be more strictly accurate, you could say "Most corporations exist to keep the principals of the corporation, who would normally be private owners of a company, from being personally liable for debts and judgements against the corporation."

And as for the "live without any of what [corporations] produce for 24 hours" thing, I think we would survive. Privately held companies produce plenty of goods and services, and are more directly accountable for the damage they do.
posted by RylandDotNet at 10:38 PM on January 1, 2002


Privately held companies produce plenty of goods and services, and are more directly accountable for the damage they do.

You're right. Good point. I was casting the net a bit wide, there, perhaps.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 10:50 PM on January 1, 2002


Meanwhile, the simplest things in life, things like clean water and clean air and the health of ordinary citizens is becoming a costly commodity rather than a birthright.

They're so "simple" that they require extensive (and expensive) infrastructure to provide to any sizable number of people. They have never been "birthrights" -- nobody is born with the right to be healthy, the concept doesn't even make sense -- so to speak as if the "natural order" is being eroded by evil corporations is just completely wrongheaded.

And commodities generally aren't "costly." A commodity is a good produced nearly identically by a large number of producers. Competitive pressures inevitably force the prices of commodities lower and lower over time since there is little reason to buy from one producer compared to another. Hmm, why am I explaining Econ 101 to someone who has all the answers already?

Privately held companies produce plenty of goods and services, and are more directly accountable for the damage they do.

Privately-held companies are still almost always organized as corporations. What, you think only publicly-traded companies want to limit stakeholder liability? Hell, my orthodontist incorporated, and he was just one guy.
posted by kindall at 10:51 PM on January 1, 2002


Hey, kindall, if your orthodontist incorporated to be less directly accountable for the damage he does, I'd consider finding a new orthodontist!
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 11:04 PM on January 1, 2002


I'm certainly ready to sicken and die, uncomplaining, for The Greater Good and cupholders. Business needs forgiveness, says Lonny Swishersweet, coddling his cockeyed three-legged son. Sing a corporate anthem, dance in the refracted light, and smile - it's the only party there is - and we're all cordially invited. Quantify grief, roll the dice, pay the losers, and move along - or better yet, move to Long Island.
posted by Opus Dark at 11:36 PM on January 1, 2002


But anyway, as I was saying to our resident sycophant of the silver coin, here...yeah, right. We all know these blessed saviors of mankind -- the "corporations" -- come into existence out of the goodness of the founders hearts ( those selfless men of industry! perish the thought they are only out to make a buck!)

They are out to make a buck, oh sycophant of the empty pocket. I never said they weren't. Aren't YOU? Oh, but I'm absolutely certain that you couldn't possibly actually work so that you could get money, could you? "Making a buck" means producing something that fulfills a need or desire in others. "Getting Rich" means producing something that MANY others need or desire. How "selfless" is YOUR life? Hhmmm? Is not YOUR desire to (apparently) damage and destroy corporations based on what YOU consider is best for YOU? Would you have us all believe that you occupy some high and virtuous ground where ALL you care about is others? Those "selfish" corporations have produced far, far more for far more people than YOU and your unthinking, completely discredited communist crap ever could hope to.


"to save us all from the utter horror of a world without
- "artificially flavored" orange juice"


yes ... in fact without any food at ALL in many areas, and very limited supplies in many places during parts of the year. Pre-corporate farming is utterly incapable of supporting the world's current population. You think your "selfless" sentiments are going to feed people bucko?

- the latest Electro-Stimulato-Ab Excerciser.

in fact all devices and exercise machines that now will allow this generation to long longer, in a healthier state, that any other in history. Oh yes, let's get rid of ALL modern medicene (average American lifespan in 1900, by the way, was around 49).

- Nike's sweatshops.

Yes, in fact get rid of all of the modern garment industry. The vast majority of which hunts the world for the cheapest labor possible (any idea at all where your clothes are made? No? Hypocrite). Let's go back to all owning one or two pairs of pants, and a couple of T - shirts - each of which will cost $75.

- the "amateur" Olympics.

hell, say goodbye to all sports. They are nothing but the opiate of the masses anyway, eh Karl?

- cardboard homes."

Yes, of course the people that buy cardboard homes can go back to living in cardboard boxes ... but what's that to you?

Do you actually think you are proving a point by focussing on trivial aftereffects of corporate activity? Notice you didn't mention living without cars, roads, power, heat, the computer you wrote your post on, the network that you posted it with, etc., etc. 'Tis actually quite easy to SAY "oh I can live without corporate goods." And then mention a nice little list of obscure items. If you had to actually do it, however, you probably simply could not. That is, if you are really true to the crap coming out of your mouth, then you are an utter, shameless hypocrite ... because you are buying things from (i.e., supporting the activities of) those entities that you claim are evil. I assume you now WILL only purchase from non-corporate entities? (Of course, we'll miss you here ... as your computer and internet connection obviously must go). What's that? Oh, you want the freedom to pick and choose which things to pay attention to and which to ignore - depending on what is, well, convenient to you? You want to use (for instance) a computer and software produced by corporations to write trite little tirades against, er, well corporations? Helluva philosophical position you got there buddy.

"Most corporations ARE evil. They serve one purpose: their owner's wallets."

And what you are preaching is thousands of times more evil. It is an ideology that is, thankfully, very nearly dead, having been so overwhelmingly rejected by most of the earth's population ... who lived for generations in often quite unpleasent conditions in the mistaken thought that it was somehow "virtuous".

"So go preach capitalism as philanthropy somewhere where people are still dumb enough to believe you. Hint: try Crawford Texas. "

Actually, I never said capitalism was philathropy ... no, something that (to your mind I'm sure) is far more "evil" ... I actually saying that capitalism has produced far more good for far more people than all the "philanthropists" in the history of the world. Perhaps you should preach your anti-capitalist tripe "somewhere where people are still dumb enough to believe you" ... Hint: try North Korea.
posted by MidasMulligan at 11:51 PM on January 1, 2002


They're so "simple" that they require extensive (and expensive) infrastructure to provide to any sizable number of people. They have never been "birthrights" -- nobody is born with the right to be healthy, the concept doesn't even make sense -- so to speak as if the "natural order" is being eroded by evil corporations is just completely wrongheaded.

Clean air and water require an extensive infrastructure to provide? It takes infrastructure to protect them from other infrastructure; on their own, they were just fine. Nature may not provide a birthright to these items, but the most basic of our civilization's doctrines do. We're born with the right not to be harmed by others, and that includes corps.

And what you are preaching is thousands of times more evil. It is an ideology that is, thankfully, very nearly dead, having been so overwhelmingly rejected by most of the earth's population ...

If it isn't breakneck capitalism, it's gad damn communism, right? Were all governments capitalist, you'd see just how well it works in isolation ... good luck finding 20 cent / hour labor abroad to fuel astronomical profits here. Yell "Marxist" all you want; the fact is that some corporations do great harm intentionally and are never held accountable.
posted by skyline at 12:15 AM on January 2, 2002


See what I mean about goading people into getting emotionally involved in the argument?

Now we have two (and soon more, probably) irate people bellowing at each other, and the signal to noise ratio dips again.

*sigh*
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 12:17 AM on January 2, 2002


Well, two things in general that I'd like to say about this.

First, Like anything, they shouldn't be held guilty untill proven so. If it's not really known the effects of minor amounts of this stuff on people then I don't know if you can really find them guilty.

As far as the corporate death penalty, I'll be honest here. I think it's stupid. It punishes lots and lots of people, and not just workers who can find another job, but stockholders including lots of people who baught into mutual funds or have 401ks or just threw some money on daytek to do some daytrading.

It also dosn't punish the people who actualy need punishing. The people responsible for the crime.

I don't know if you know this or not, but if a corporation commits an actual crime that really hurts people then individuals in the corp responsible can really go to jail.

If anyone has seen fight club, they know the 'equasion' to figue out if a design flaw should nessisate a recall or not. In the film, they would figure out whether or not to do a recall based on how much it would cost to do the recall in comparison to how much it would cost to pay the families of the victems.

Well, that actualy happened, and the people who ran the equasion when to jail.

And thats the way it should be. If some mid-manager decideds to cover up some mistake by breaking the law, then he should go to jail. Millions of people who had no knowlage or input in to the decision shouldn't be affected. That would be retarded.
posted by delmoi at 12:46 AM on January 2, 2002


All my knowledge of the law comes from Law & Order.

That out of the way, I remember an episode in which a CEO of an HMO was charged and convicted for murder when it was found that his firm was negligent in causing an unstable man to be prematurely released into the population who later murdered a woman. If someone died or was physically harmed due to a corporation's acknowledged negligence couldn't they be charged in criminal court - if not as the direct aggresor, but contributing to a harmful situation? A lawsuit is one thing, but putting one of these ivory tower CEOs in a cell where Bubba wants to make them his new girlfriend would be satisfying.

And I am generally pro-corporation.
posted by owillis at 2:00 AM on January 2, 2002


Corporations aren't evil. Corporations are devices for lowering the transaction cost of servicing a demand. We create the demand. Our (aggregate) demand for $0.50c/gallon gas, mangoes in February and a burgeoning pension fund are greater than our demands for townships in which babies can be born without improbable arrangements of limbs.

Pssst. Want to find some *real* culprits? Sneak up behind an urban SUV jockey and honk your horn - you should see the genetic deformites that crop up around the platinum mines that service his demand for his catalytic convertor (all, mercifully, a long way from our back yards).
posted by RichLyon at 2:09 AM on January 2, 2002


The 'corporate manslaughter' charge has just been introduced in the UK. It means if a company through negligence or whatever ends up killing someone, then it's higher-ups and whoever was involved can be tried on manslaughter charges... err, I think.
Disappointingly, after a lot of good debate, this thread has seemed to boil down to 'big corporations do some good things and some bad things'. I wholeheartedly agree that corporations need to be made more accountable, given that many of them now possess levels of power comparable to governments, the main difference being that they have not been explicitly and democratically elected. Unless people realise that by purchasing a company's products or supporting their subsiduaries they are themselves implicated in its actions and the consequences of those actions (an incredibly unlikely scenario) then the government must introduce checks, measures and punishments to enforce these checks and measures. The 'little guy' has plenty of power if he can just be bothered to get off his fat heiney and do something.
posted by RokkitNite at 4:25 AM on January 2, 2002


Even my doggie knows enough not to shit in his own breakfast, folks....

From them to whom much is given,
much will be expected.
posted by IXOYE at 4:39 AM on January 2, 2002


A note for mragreeable clay eaters. No email addy and not online this AM.
posted by bjgeiger at 5:38 AM on January 2, 2002


"From them to whom much is given,
much will be expected."


Agree. To every average man or woman that eats food they could not grow, uses electricity and heat whose principles they do not understand, drives a car they could never fathom how to make on roads they could never build, works on a computer whose processor is an absolute mystery to them, is cured by dotors using science they don't comprehend and machines whose principles are beyond them ... well, to them an enormous amount has been given. What one would expect is that they might take a moment out to feel gratitude and appreciation for the men and women running the corporations that deliver such things to them. Alas, such is not the case. Far more hip to ignore the 98% good, focus on the 2% bad, and brand them all as evil.
posted by MidasMulligan at 6:00 AM on January 2, 2002


I think we will have much to argue about in the future, MidasMulligan, and welcome to MeFi, 'cause I expect that will be fun.

But right now, I think I might have a wee drink.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 6:35 AM on January 2, 2002


Thanks for the link, bjgeiger.

It's interesting, though - the article you posted makes it seem more like a disorder, whereas the article for this thread acts like it's a staple of people's diet there.

Whatever. I guess the Washington Post writer doesn't really specify one way or another, so maybe it's a bit misleading but not outright false. And it does seem like pregnant women are the very worst people to be eating a carcinogen.

Anyways, thanks.
posted by mragreeable at 6:37 AM on January 2, 2002


"Clean air and water require an extensive infrastructure to provide? It takes infrastructure to protect them from other infrastructure; on their own, they were just fine."

Er, this is factually incorrect. Little story. I worked for a Big Evil Corporation a couple of years back. It bought up small, rural water utilities across the country. Many of them ran as Mom & Pop shops out of a trailer, servicing 3,000 or 4,000 customers. Losing money. We'd buy them, or contract with a municipality to run them. Centralize billing, render construction and repair more efficient ... i.e., take an unprofitable little private company and render it profitable for our investors. We often got flack from local folks spouting the same idiocy that's been present in the discussion (big mean corporation taking control of our water system from small virtuous local company).

However, both city leaders and the EPA usually wanted us quite badly. Why? Because we were a big mean corporation. We'd start by going in with significant water quality resources. Have our scientists run extensive tests on the water supply sources. In most instances bring in our specialists to either construct, or fix, treatment processes and plants. In many cases it was the first time this had been done in the communities. The small, private companies flat out could not afford to do these things ... the efficiencies of scale and specialization a large corporation could bring were well beyond their grasp.

Another thing that became quite apparent was that in a surprising amount of the country, the naturally occuring water was simply unfit for human consumption without significant treatment. Not because of other "infrastructure", but because of naturally occuring concentrations of metals, or microorganisms. (If you think water in some pre-civilized "natural" world was pure ... try a bout of giardia).


Fact is, without large corporations, a good deal of people in this country would be relating to their daily water supply much they do just south of the border in Mexico. Where one either learns to live with frequent intestinal disorders, or - in this day and age - drinks bottled water produced by, well, er, usually one of those big evil corporations.
posted by MidasMulligan at 6:40 AM on January 2, 2002


i do not think that it is healthy for people to rely on these corporations for their essentials.
for example, water comes from the sky in many places, and can be treated at home if need be. as can effluent.
many people do understand the basic principals of the intrernal combustion engine, electricity, road building and computing. i am fairly confident that the rest could be made aware quite easily.
we do live in a rapidly changing world, it is difficult to keep up, and people do feel overwhelmed.
this feeling should be questioned, not encouraged.
corporations do not seem to want people to be aware of themselves, their environment or the actions of corporations. taking responsibility is the first step.
re-learning skills and techniques that used to be passed on orally, may become essential.
for example, water conservation.
do corporations hamper, or promote this?
posted by asok at 7:08 AM on January 2, 2002


" ... See what I mean about goading people into getting emotionally involved in the argument? Now we have two (and soon more, probably) irate people bellowing at each other, and the signal to noise ratio dips again ..."

Yep I kind of agree, mea culpa - I'm one of the bellowers. Purposely though. Studied the strategies and mathematics of game theory for awhile. Optimal approach to group discussions, to me, reduces to this: Always start by giving people the benefit of the doubt, and engaging at the level of ideas, where the vigor of the Socratic process illuminates issues. The moment, however, someone chooses to descend into cheap shots at a personal level (e.g., "as I was saying to our resident sycophant of the silver coin", or "So go preach capitalism as philanthropy somewhere where people are still dumb enough to believe you") ... respond, at exactly their level, with exactly the same dismissive, demeaning tone. Over time they usually either 1) learn manners, and actually remain for extended periods at the level of ideas without launching gratuitous personal attacks, or 2) get frustrated at the mirroring and leave ... i.e., if someone walks around wacking people with a stick, and every time they do it, they immediately get wacked back precisely as hard, they either decide they'll stop wacking, or they try to find another room where they can whack with impunity.
posted by MidasMulligan at 7:16 AM on January 2, 2002


Even my doggie knows enough not to shit in his own breakfast, folks

there are plenty of doggies who eat their own shit.
posted by tolkhan at 7:21 AM on January 2, 2002


It's the Long Way Around. But, agreed, MMulligan. I just hate wasting time.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 7:22 AM on January 2, 2002


There are plenty of humans who eat shit also...and sometimes their own.
posted by bittennails at 7:27 AM on January 2, 2002


MidasMulligan: thanks! I was going to address the argument that there ever HAS been clean water in this world, but I didn't have a good basis from which to begin. I bow to your experience, which teaches us what I had suspected all along.

Now, that clean air thing is worth a gander. I grew up in the mountains of East U.S.A., and I remember when you could look out and see several states, instead of a grey haze.

For this reason alone I'm looking at a Hybrid vehicle (all electrics still require source energy -- Hybrids generate their own at a reduced fuel consumption per mile), and will upgrade as much of my house as I can reasonably do to limit electric and natural gas consumption. I've seen the haze, and it is horrible.
posted by dwivian at 7:27 AM on January 2, 2002


Couple of things:

First, MidasMulligan Rocks! Way to counter fold_and_mutilate. Looking forward to his response.

Second, Regarding Monsanto, this is an outlier of corporate behavior. Not all corporations behave this way. We shouldn't take this incident and condemn corporations and capitalism. Most corporations live ethical lives for two reasons; they are composed of ethical people, and they know that in the long run it's bad business to be unethical.
posted by prodigal at 7:49 AM on January 2, 2002


Interesting. Does lower-middle class automatically = "virtuous", and rich automatically = "greedy asshole"? If one is struggling to survive and support a family on a limited income, does this mean they are somehow nobler? More ethical? Not "greedy"?

Obviously not. The world has as many poor assholes as rich ones. I only picked Bill Gates out cause he was the first corporate guy to occur to me. It just as easily could have been George Steinbrenner and a Yankee Stadium groundskeeper. I was just postulating whether it was ethical to let thousands of regular joes suffer for the sins of their employer.

For all I know Gates could be a very nice guy, I cant hate him too much I sell his products every day. :)
posted by jonmc at 7:59 AM on January 2, 2002


Silly prodigal. fold_and_mutilate's not interested in discussing his contempt-laden worldview. He just leaves his droppings on a thread and moves on.
posted by darukaru at 8:20 AM on January 2, 2002


I'd like to add, though, despite his Large Rhetoric, he is Righteously Indignant about things that deserve righteous indignation...
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 8:24 AM on January 2, 2002


M_&_F - MidasMulligan is simply saying that the motivation behind most of our scientific (or for that matter, even artistic) advances over the last century have been driven by the profit motive or at least a combination of the profit motive and a simple desire to solve a problem.
For instance, you are (justifiably) angered about the pollution caused by automobilies. If you and other like minded people make your anger known, some genius will invent a non-polluting personal vehicle, he'll probably contact a business man who will look at MeFi and say "Y'know, with all these anti-pollution folk out there, there just might be a market for this thing." They'll hire some employees, build a plant set up a sales force and well all go buy their vehicle. Then the genius and the businessman will be rewarded, first by the satisfaction of doing something good and second, by making a pile of money and society will be rewarded by having less pollution.

There in Cliff's Notes format is an illustration of how corporations and the profit motive can function for good. Thank You.
posted by jonmc at 8:44 AM on January 2, 2002


So....where are we at? "Corporations are never going to be either more, or less ethical than the people of which they are composed" or "Corporations are never going to be either more, or less ethical than the people who demand their products" ?
posted by RichLyon at 11:29 AM on January 2, 2002


For anyone interested in the subject, there's an interesting Toxic Torts Chatboard called ToxBoard.
posted by bragadocchio at 11:50 AM on January 2, 2002


If the goal of corporations (creating wealth) is Evil, does that make the goal of creating poverty Good?
posted by NortonDC at 11:58 AM on January 2, 2002


CORPORATION, n.
An ingenious device for obtaining individual profit without individual responsibility.

From "The Devil's Dictionary" by Ambrose Bierce.

....as an Alabamian (subspecies Birminghamster), I feel compelled to point out that the damage Monsanto has done to North Alabama may pale in comparison to what's being done right now to southwest Alabama in a quaint little toxic waste dump known as Emelle. It's the nation's largest hazardous waste dump. And it's thanks to that good nonporous Alabama clay -- the perfect containment vessel for PCBs, according to Chem Waste, the folks who run the place.

(By the way, the practice of eating dirt or earth, known as "geophagia" is not unique to Alabama, and it's insulting for the Post to put that tidbit in their lead. It's found world-wide, is more common among rural populations, especially women, and may be due to a mineral deficiency that led to cultural reinforcement of the practice. So go munch on a truffle, and tell me the freakin' difference.)



I've visited this facility (and was invited to go turkey hunting on the grounds by the PR officer. Thanks, but no.)

It's unbelievably huge. Most of the execs I talked to (as a reporter, about ten years ago) were white guys. Most of the employees actually handling the toxic waste...oh, excuse me "hazardous" waste, were black guys. Emelle is in Sumter County, which like most of Alabama, is largely rural, black, and poor.

The state of Alabama rakes it in in tax dollars from ChemWaste every year, and the highways around Sumter County (and the TWO-LANE lined with houses leading to the landfill) are constantly filled with semis hauling toxic waste.

Now, I understand it has to go somewhere, and I understand that thanks to Chem Waste there are probably hundreds of families living a much better lifestyle than before.

And I personally would work with hazardous waste disposal before I'd work in a chicken-processing plant, the other big employer in Sumter County.

But it still sucks.
posted by BitterOldPunk at 11:59 AM on January 2, 2002


Sorry to get back within sighting distance of the topic. Didn't mean to distract from the "corporation bad/corporation good" brouhaha.

But please read the Bierce quote and consider its implications. A bunch of good people working together toward a virtuous goal can still produce a mighty evil, despite their best intentions. I think N'Sync might be an example of this.

Corporations aren't going away (except Enron, and it'll just re-metastasize somewhere else). I agree with whoever said that capitalism sucks but it'll hafta do until something better comes along.

But if a corporation has the RIGHTS of an individual, it should have the concomitant RESPONSIBILITIES. And I don't mean to their shareholders.
posted by BitterOldPunk at 12:14 PM on January 2, 2002


On the general subject of game theory, MM, ever hear of the Prisoner's Dilemma? And "tit-for-tat" vs "forgiving tit-for-tat" strategies?

IIRC, von Neumann (he of the bottleneck) strongly pressed for a first strike against Russia in the 50s based on game-theoretical arguments.
posted by retrofut at 4:38 PM on January 2, 2002


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