The Corporate Achilles Heel

The Corporate Achilles Heel
by Rick Casey

Protest rally on the first anniversay of Citizen’s United,
Boulder, CO
January 21, 2011

Introductory Remarks

I’d like to thank the Boulder County Democrats, the Coffee Party, and especially Move To Amend, its founders and its many volunteers, and all the other people who are here today working on these fundamental and vitally important issues: corporate personhood and the disastrous Supreme Court ruling on Citizens United. Both must be reversed; but today I want to emphasize what I consider the Achilles Heel of the power of corporations: namely, the legal fiction that we call corporate personhood.

The Setting

Corporations are some of most powerful organizations in the history of the world. It’s said that of the 100 largest economies on the planet, 51 of them are corporations — and that statistic is several years old. Maybe it’s even more now. They have grown so powerful that it is difficult indeed for even the US government to control them — but I don’t need to tell you that. You know this! So how can we, the common people, ever hope to bring them under control? How can we even have the audacity to think that we, the common people, can even confront them, these mighty corporate behemoths which stop at nothing in their quests for riches and power, which are trashing our planet, eroding our communities and which have turned our hard-earned democratic form of government into a joke that is governed by a financial plutocracy?

Why? Because we have the truth on our side.

How? Because the very concept of a corporation is a legal fiction.

The Early History

A corporation does not exist in Nature. It was not made by God. It is never mentioned in the Constitution. Corporations exist in their current form in our country only because the Supreme Court of the United States says that they can exist in that form. But is the Supreme Court always right? Are they so perfect that, in their infinite wisdom, we should allow them to perpetuate this blatant falsehood — that a corporation is equal to a human being before the law? No, my fellow citizens, we should not! And this is why:

Because corporate personhood is a legal fiction with the flimsiest of foundations. It was never actually decided by a court decision. It was never legislated into existence by any legislature. No, it was established by hook and by crook, I would say — and I think if you read the history of how it happened I think that is exactly how you would describe it too.

You should know it for certain that corporations were kept on damn short leashes by all the state governments, where they were incorporated, during the first 75 years of our country’s existence. Every American patriot who fought in the Revolution knew they weren’t just fighting the King’s army — they were also fighting against the Crown Charted corporations that operated the American colonies on the King’s behalf. So when the newly formed American states allowed a corporation to come into existence, it could only do so for a specific stated purpose that served a specific local need and for a specific period of time. Corporations could not own other corporations. When their charter expired, the assets were divided among the shareholders, and it was dissolved. And if they did not operate within the stated purpose of their charter, they were either fined or their charter was revoked — pronto! Dozens of corporations had their charters revoked in first half of the 19th century. The young Nation, and its founding Fathers, were rightfully wary to keep the power of corporations under strict control, because they had known firsthand what it meant to be dominated by giant, transnational corporations, such as the East Asia Company.

The Change

So how did this change? It changed when the railroad companies, in the aftermath of the Civil War, began craftily using the 14th Amendment to their own legal advantage. That Constitutional amendment, which helped to end the Civil War and was passed in 1868, was supposed to grant citizenship to anyone born in America, and to overturn the Dred Scott decision (another astoundingly bad Supreme Court decision in 1857). Do you think when the US Congress passed the 14th Amendment, they thought they were establishing corporate personhood? I don’t think so!

No, to my mind, the 14th Amendment was perverted — yes, perverted I would say is about the right word to describe this disastrous turn of events — by Corporations to apply the Amendment to themselves, as legal persons in the eyes of the law. Don’t believe me? It’s true! The first such Supreme Court case was Santa Clara Country vs Southern Pacific Railroad in 1886, where the term “corporate person” was first used — but not in the case itself. No, it was interjected into the court summary by a clerk! A clerk! It was never even mentioned by one of the Supreme Court justices in their decision. But once established, a precedent was set, and that is how this legal fiction got established: by corporations, mostly railroads, which were the largest corporations back then, who agressively pushed a concious legal strategy to achieve it. And so it spead: between 1886 and 1910 there were 307 more cases brought before the Supreme Court regaring the Fourteenth Amendment. Nineteen of them involved the rights of African Americans; two hundred and eight-eight of them were about Corporations seeking human rights. And that, my friends, is how this legal fiction started. (1)

The Aftermath

But is this such a bad thing, you might ask? Should we be so concerned that something so remote, so artificial, this complicated legal abstraction really be of such concern to us? And besides, it has been around since 1886, one hundred and twenty five years. How can we ever expect to reverse 125 years of corporate law?

My friends and fellow Americans, it’s because we have to do this. We simply have no choice. Corporations have used this legal fiction over the last 125 years to bend and shape and force and warp our entire economy — really! the entire legal and financial system that supports the economy, and without which it could not operate — into an economy that exists for the health and well being of who? [pause….then softly] Not human beings. Not for the nurturing of our children. Not for sake of families and communites, where human beings are meant to grow and develop, be educated…and play….and love.

NO!! We have an economy that exists for the health and well being of General Motors, of Exxon, of Goldman Sachs, and for the military industrial complex that eats up over half of each your tax dollars, year in and year out!!! Just look at who is most rewarded in our economy — and you will see why the economy exists.

The Right Thing To Do

So, I ask you again, how can we, the common people, the little people, dare to stand up against these colossal economic empires? It is a dark time in our country, a dark time….but does that mean we give up? There have been dark times in our country before….and some people did not give up…such as Howard Zinn, the late great historian, who knew full well the dangers of excessive corporate power; and here what he might say today:

“To be hopeful in bad times is not just foolishly romantic. It is based on the fact that human history is a history not only of cruelty, but also of compassion, sacrifice, courage, kindness. What we choose to emphasize in this complex history will determine our lives. If we see only the worst, it destroys our capacity to do something. If we remember those times and places–and there are so many — where people have behaved magnificently, this gives us the energy to act, and at least the possibility of sending this spinning top of a world in a different direction. And if we do act, in however small a way, we don’t have to wait for some grand Utopian future. The future is an infinite succession of presents, and to live now as we think human beings should live, in defiance of all that is bad around us, is itself a marvelous victory.” 2

Yes, my friends — reversing corporate personhood is the right thing to do!!
Let’s get started today!!
Thank you!!

1 Hartmann, p. 105

2 Zinn, p. 208


Constitutional Accountability Center (2010). A tale of two courts: Comparing corporate rulings by the Roberts and Burger courts. 1200 18th Street, N.W., Suite 1002, Washington, D.C. 20036.

Barry Friedman (2009). The story of ex parte Young: Once controversial, now canon. New York University School of Law, New York University Public Law and Legal Theory Working Papers, NELLCO Year 2009. (Friedman is Fuchsberg Professor of Law and Vice Dean, New York University School of Law. B.A., University of Chicago, 1978; J.D., Georgetown University Law Center, 1982. His faculty biography calls him a leading authority on constitutional law.)

David H. Gans & Douglas T. Kendall (2010). A capitalist joker: The strange origins, disturbing past and uncertain future of corporate personhood in American law. Constitutional Accountability Center.
Howard Jay Graham (1968). Every man’s constitution. Madison, Wisconsin: State Historical Society of Wisconsin.

Thom Hartmann (2002). Unequal protection: The rise of corporate dominance and the theft of human rights. Rodale.

Ted Nace (2003). Gangs of America: The rise of corporate power and the disabling of democracy. San Francisco: Berrrett-Koehler, 2003.

Howard Zinn (1980). You Can’t Be Neutral on a Moving Train: A personal history of our times.

For more information, see:

Facebook: “Move to Amend”

Facebook: “Colorado Move to Amend”

The Economy and Mental Health

With the nation grieving over the recent shooting in Tuscon, there has barely been any acknowledgement in the mainstream media of the fact that Jared Loughner is afflicted with a mental illness (i.e. a brain disorder), but did not get help. On Democracy Now’s show this morning (Jan 11, 2011) however, there was a balanced and compassionate interview of one Loughner’s past classmates in a poetry class. It demonstrated that this young man clearly stood out from his classmates due to poor socialization skills, but was highly functioning, enough to be attending classes at a community college. Even though symptoms of his mental illness had been apparent since high school, he nor his parents apparently ever sought, or been offered, treatment for it. Instead, the community college he was attending last fall withdrew him from class, and forbade him from coming on campus until he had obtained treatment, and been given a clear bill of health from a mental health professional that he was not a danger to himself or others.

Because of the drastic cuts in support for the public mental health system in Arizona, the only way Loughner could have done this, apparently, would have been to personally contact a psychiatrist and pay for this himself, which was highly unlikely. There were no other public services available, as described by another interview in the episode with a representative from NAMI, the National Alliance for Mental Illness. NAMI is the foremost organization in the country that is seeking to achieve greater awareness of the widespread distribution of mental illness across all strata of society, and the need to develop more investment in its treatment, particularly the sources of the illness, and reducing the stigma associated with it. This is quite apparent in how the mainstream media is typically hesitant to address the issue directly. Recognizing this, NAMI’s current executive director has provided a clear procedure for how the media should be reacting to the issue.

But in terms of public safety, the first such preventive measure is detection. In that Democracy Now interview, the NAMI representative related a story about his own son, who was excelling in school as a teenager where their family was living in Belgium at the time. The school counselor called him, saying that his son needed to be withdrawn from school for a while. Surprised, he asked why? The answer was that the son had been diagnosed with schizophrenia. This was a painful realization, but at least the family was made aware this illness, which they have had to deal with since then. In hindsight, it is worth contemplating if this tragedy in Tuscon might have been prevented had there been an alert counselor in Loughner’s high school, well trained to identify mental illness traits.

However, there is a deeper theme to this tragedy which deserves greater discussion, namely that our society is destined to produce more such tragic incidents until we acknowledge the role of good mental health in our country — and that good mental health starts with healthy, intact families, especially during childhood. The data about healthy, intact families in this country is a sheaf of bad news. This issue has been recognized and extensively diagnosed by some of the more insightful among us, such as David Korten and Riane Eisler. Consider this passage from Korten’s The Great Turning (p 336) which illustrates the direct connection between deterioration of intact families and the economic policies advocated by the conservative right:

The New Right’s propagandists would have us believe that family stress and breakdown are the fault of gay marriage, abortion, feminists, immigrants and the liberals who support them. They are prepared to blame most anyone or anthing except their own economic and social policies. In pursuit of their own personal power and profits, New Right leaders [Author’s note: think the newly elected Republicans in the House led by John Boehner] work tirelessly to
  • roll back health and safety standards for the environment, consumers and workers, including workplace standards, a meaningful minimum wage, and the right to form unions to bargain collectively for improved wages and working conditions;
  • drive down wages and benefits for working people through international job outsourcing;
  • shift the tax burden from the investor class to the working class;
  • eliminate public services and safety nets, including public education and Social Security [Author’s note: and public mental health services in Arizona?];
  • generate military contracts for crony corporations;
  • secure intellectual property to facilitate monopoly control and pricing of access to information and technology, including essential seeds and medicine;
  • increase tax breaks and subsidies for large corporations to give them a competitive advantage over local businesses.
Each of these policies transfers wealth and power from ordinary people to the ruling elite and leaves families and communities without the means to provide their children with the essentials for healthful physical and mental development.
The following are but a few of the consequences. The details of this list are specific to the United States, but similar consequences are being experienced nearly everywhere as a direct consequence of neoliberal policies [of the New Right (Author’s note)].
  • High unemployment undermines family formation, and punitive welfare policies force single mothers into jobs paying less than a living wage without affordable, high-quality child care options. Even two-parent households are forced to piece together mulitiple jobs, allowing no time or energy for child care or for a normal family and community life. Parents are thus forced to abandon their children to television and an unregulated entertainment and gaming industry that finds it profitable to fill their minds with images of sex and violence and to actively undermine parental authority and values.
  • Corporations spend billions on direct marketing to children to create lifetime additions to junk food, alcohol and cigarettes, and a childhood obesity epidemic is poised to become the leading cause of premature death.
  • Declining health care coverage and skyrocketing health care costs place essential health care beyond the reach of most families.
  • A deteriorating public education system is unable to deal with the special needs of children physically and mentally [Author’s emphasis] handicapped by the consequences of growing up in physically and socially toxic environments, let alone deal with normal individual differences in learning styles and talents.
  • Lax environmental regulations allow corporations to discharge into the air, soil, and water massive quantities of tens of thousands of toxins destructive of children’s physical, neurological, and endocrinological development.

Intended or not, these conditions are all a direct result of the neoliberal economic policies that are the real priority of the corporate plutocracy. They leave families with few or no good options, and the lead to mental stress, family breakdown, divorce, the destruction of community life and a coarsening of moral values. The New Right argues that it is the responsibility of parents, not the state, to provide proper care for their children. Ideally, that would be the case; but the policies the New Right advances virtually guarantee that the substantial majority of parents are unable to fulfill this responsibility.

These words, published in 2006, ring prophetically over the tragic event in Tuscon on January 8, 2011. I hope some of new elected representatives in the House will hear them and take them to heart.