Timber Barons & Corporate Rule
Speech delivered at "Save Our Forests" Rally in Portland on July 27, 2008.
Musical freedom fighter Utah Phillips, who passed away this May once said: "The earth is not dying. It is being killed, and the people killing it have names and addresses." I'm here today to talk to you about one of those people.
In the former timber town of Eugene, Oregon, of which I am a resident, lives an earth-killer named Aaron Jones. Aaron Jones is CEO of Seneca-Jones Lumber and Seneca Sawmill, and is one of the last living timber barons responsible for turning Oregon's once unbroken forest canopy -- imagine 12 foot wide cedars and crystal clear waters packed with leaping salmon -- into a wasteland of clearcuts, industrial tree farms, muddied and poisoned streams and extinct fish and wildlife.
Aaron "The Baron" Jones owns hundreds of thousands of acres of industrial forest land where he commits the backward and brutal practice of clearcutting, followed by routine deadly herbicide spraying to kill the weeds that spring up after the the trees are gone.
Aaron Jones, through his Seneca-Jones Lumber Company, is also one of the leading destroyers of our last 5% of native and old growth forests on public lands -- national forests and BLM lands that belong equally to every one of us here today.
Needless to say, ecocide turns you quite a profit. Aaron "the Baron" has become filthy stinking rich by bleeding the forests and polluting the watersheds that sustain life on this planet, spending his obscene profits on his gated mansion in Eugene's south hills, his thoroughbred race horses, and Hummers for his grandkids.
Aaron Jones also siphons his blood money into paying back the politicians that let him pillage the forest, as a leading donor to the election campaigns of corporate-friendly politicians and anti-environmental causes. If you haven't figured it out already, Aaron Jones calls a lot of the shots not only in Eugene and Lane County, but the entire state of Oregon.
Naturally, much of Jones' ill-gotten earnings are reinvested in the continued annihilation of Oregon's forests, including the incomparable McKenzie River watershed, the source of drinking water for almost 150,000 Eugene citizens.
Now the McKenzie isn't just any drinking water; with its source at Clear Lake and fed from the Collier glacier on the Middle Sister in the Three Sisters Wilderness, McKenzie water has been rated the cleanest and purest in the nation.
But that hasn't stopped Aaron Jones from hacking apart the McKenzie River watershed forests; the very forests that attract, store and filter our drinking water. Nor has it kept Jones from dumping tons of sediment from his bleeding clearcuts and his hundreds of miles of eroding logging roads, muddying and silting the river, nearly extincting endangered salmon and bull trout.
Aaron Jones is also directly responsible for the toxic contamination of Eugene's drinking water by dousing clearcuts with thousands of gallons of deadly herbicides, which the Eugene Water and Electric Board admits is found in our water supply.
And that's only the tip of the (melting) iceberg. Aaron Jones, through his unsustainable logging practices, is one of Oregon's leading contributors to the climate crisis, with logging being the second largest cause of climate change after fossil fuels, amounting to almost a third of human caused carbon emissions.
Tourism brings in almost 30 times more money into Oregon than the logging industry. Yet Aaron Jones' planet-plundering practices scar the hillsides, driving away millions of dollars of potential tourism a year from people who come from all around the northwest to experience the recreational wonderland that is the McKenzie River watershed for world class hiking, biking, river-running, mountaineering, skiing and fishing. People don't travel to and spend money in places full of hideous clearcut eyesores and hypermanaged, even-aged tree farms. They want to see the good stuff: the big trees, the pure rivers and streams, the wild mountains, and will go elsewhere if this is taken from them.
Back in the old days, if a villager was greedy and foolish enough to threaten the health and livelihood of the rest of his village by crapping up the drinking water, he would be warned in no uncertain terms. And if he didn't stop his idiocy he'd probably find himself thrown out of town. Or even dangling from the nearest tree (maybe that's why Aaron Jones cuts down all those trees...).
Nowadays, individuals like Aaron Jones get away with committing the same crimes by hiding behind the entity of a corporation. This way, if the acts of a corporation threaten the health and safety of the public, the individual planning those very acts is not legally liable. However, unlike individuals, a corporation that breaks the law can't be put in jail or thrown out of town. At most, it pays a small fine and continues business as usual.
As 19th century author Ambrose Bierce wrote: "Corporation: An ingenious device for obtaining profit without individual responsibility."
If we, the common people -- who will never own large corporations -- are to keep our families and friends safe from robber barons putting their personal profits before our health and well-being, we must call for an end to corporate rule.
If you trace the origin of the corporation back through history, its sole purpose was to do something useful for a community, such as building a necessary bridge. Once the work was done -- the bridge was built -- the corporation was disbanded and its assets liquidated.
Now, instead of acting as useful tools to serve the will of the people, corporations have become entities concerned almost exclusively with maximizing shareholder profits and its own self perpetuation. Instead of being under the control of the people, corporations have become permanent fixtures wielding immense power and influence, dictating government policies that affect the lives of every person on Earth.
As Abraham Lincoln prophesied: "I see in the near future a crisis approaching that unnerves me and causes me to tremble for the safety of my country. . . . corporations have been enthroned and an era of corruption in high places will follow, and the money power of the country will endeavor to prolong its reign by working upon the prejudices of the people until all wealth is aggregated in a few hands and the Republic is destroyed."
Once upon a time corporations were purveyors of goods and services to benefit a community. Today, corporations have become world powers.
But not only do corporations profit obscenely from making useless garbage and cramming it down our throats, they are also the recipients of enormous tax subsidies, such as the Oregon timber industry's 1/2 billion dollars a year in property tax breaks -- with the average citizen making up the difference -- along with more of our tax money going to build the logging roads for them to cut and haul our trees from public forests -- which would increase by three times if we let the BLM's WOPR go through.
But enough complaining, huh? What can we actually DO to free ourselves from the corporate stranglehold on our nation?!
One proposal is to instate a corporate death penalty. No, this doesn't mean hanging the CEOs. Sorry! A corporate death penalty would simply revoke the corporate charter and liquidate the assets of any corporation that has been proven to have knowingly harmed the health and well-being of any member of the public.
Another proposal is to revoke corporate personhood. Corporations are fictitious entities and do not deserve the rights of living human beings.
We must also take corporate money out of politics by enacting real campaign finance reform or clean elections, where public financing covers election campaigns, thereby giving each candidate a level playing field by removing the corporate influence of campaign contributions.
Even more important is to stop giving the corporate bastards our money! The most effective way to shake off corporate rule is to stop depending on the corporations for our basic necessities of life. It is time for our communities to once again localize the production of our essentials, particularly food, and gradually re-localize entire economies to the greatest extent possible.
But most important of all is folks have got to be involved. It's easy to say that you don't want to participate in the system because it's rigged. Well guess what, it is rigged! But only by actively challenging the system can we fully bring to light the ways in which it is rigged in order to make the necessary changes.
And only by raising our awareness, raising our voices and raising a ruckus can we ever make those changes.
Remember, if you understand what I'm talking about, and you actually care about some of this stuff, who else do you think is in the position to do anything about it?
Like the bumpersticker says: "We're the ones we've been waiting for."
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