[This is a comment that I made on a guest commentary in the Boulder Daily Camera newspaper on Nov 6, 2011, titled “The Occupy movement and Prop. 103“, which would have increased sales taxes slightly over the next few years in Colorado to help make up the budget shortfall in funds for public education, but which was defeated 2-1 in the Nov 1 election. I thought the author’s analysis rather missed the point, and felt compelled to write this in response.]

The entire point of this well deserved commentary is contained in the sentence: “The defeat of Proposition 103 should serve as a clarion call for all of us who believe we need more robust public institutions for our democracy to survive.” I agree; but the author’s argument contains some serious flaws, resulting in an incorrect analysis of what’s wrong.

We already have several institutions whose explicit purpose is supposedly to protect our democracy: namely, the US Congress, the US Supreme Court and the Executive branch, all of which are based on the US Constitution and its 29 amendments. How good a job are they doing at protecting democracy?

Well, after the 2010 Citizens United decision by the Supreme Court, which allows corporations to spend unlimited amounts of money in political campaigns, based on alleged corporations’ constitutional First Amendment rights, I’d say the SCOTUS is not defending democracy at all; rather, it has sealed its fate, and doomed our country to corporate rule — until this dastardly decision is reversed by a constitutional amendment. This decision was a decisive, though far from the only, factor that helped ignite the Occupy movement.

How well is the legislative branch doing at looking out for the peoples’ interests and protecting democracy? With over 40 plus lobbyists per legislator — which are overwhelmingly representing large corporate interests, though there is a sprinkling of consumer and progressive lobbyists in there too — I think we all realize that, by and large, the Congress has been looking out more for the interests of the corporate elite than the common people, with a few notable exceptions such as Bernie Sanders and Dennis Kucinich.

And that leaves us with the executive branch; how well has it looked out for the interests of democracy? Well, the jury’s still out on that. Mr Obama has a mixed record here, but I’d say he could have done more by now if he weren’t blocked at every turn by an utterly dysfunctional Congress controlled by the Republican party that is locked in ideological straitjackets, and cannot seem to do what politicians are supposed to do: compromise, negotiate agreements and get things done.

So what is the underlying theme here? It is corporate influence and economic power in nearly every sphere of our economy, culture and politics. And this is what this commentary so glaringly left out: the decisive vote by the people of Boulder on referendum 2H on corporate personhood. On Nov 1, the democratic republic of Boulder voted nearly 3 to 1 (74%) saying that they are in favor of a constitutional amendment that states that corporations are not entitled to constitutional rights, and that money is not speech, which would reverse Citizens United.

For this is what the Occupy movement is really about: not the need for more “robust democratic institutions” (try telling that to a General Assembly!), but the reclaiming of our public institutions from corporate influence. The only way this will happen will be taking away the secret to corporate power, which is their fictitious claim to constitutional rights. Corporations have been using this legal fiction for 125 years, which was established in a seminal 1886 Supreme Court decision, setting a precedent that is an insult to our democratic processes, as it was slipped into the headnotes, not into the body, of the case, and is therefore is not even technically part of the law. (See Thom Hartmann’s “Unequal Protection” for an authoritative examination of this critical part of American legal history.)

Corporations have gradually but continually expanded their claim to constitutional rights on the basis that they are “corporate persons” — which is a legal fiction and a moral outrage — for the past 125 years. They have used this to slowly but effectively erode, weaken or outright defeat the statutory laws and regulations that were created to reign in their behavior in defense of the public good. This steady campaign that what’s good for corporations is good for the economy (another lie; it only helps the corporate elite at the top) has been their conscious strategy to use these constitutional rights to trump statutory laws for the past 125 years. And it has only been accomplished through US Supreme Court decisions — never have these issues been allowed to be voted on by the American people, anytime, anywhere.

But now there’s a movement against this, and it’s called Move To Amend (see movetoamend.org), which is dedicated to passing the constitutional amendment I mentioned above. I helped start the Boulder chapter of Move To Amend in the summer of 2010, and it has now culminated in Boulder’s vote on referendum 2H, thanks to a broad consortium of progressive groups who carried out the highly successful Yes On 2H campaign. It was a prime example of swift democracy in action, and will remain one of the most rewarding moments of my life.

I don’t know how the author Mr. Meens voted on 2H, but since he was in favor of 2B and 2C, I would hope he was similarly in favor of it, and am rather puzzled that he did not mention it in his otherwise well intended commentary, for the above reasons.

Whence OWS? Repeal Corporate Personhood!

[This was a comment I posted at slashdot.org today (October 12, 2011) in response to a solicitation about what people thought about the Occupy Wall Street movement. As you can see, I have some pretty strong views on the matter, which I believe are well supported by history! –Rick]

I have not read all of the many interesting comments here, but a text search tells me that no one has yet mentioned the issue of corporate personhood; but it deserves mention, because it is the Achilles heel in the legal armor that corporations have used to rise to prominence in our economy — and deserves to become a more prominent part of the hue and cry at OWS events. (I’ve seen it as part of their demands, but not very prominently.)

This singular fact is well known to some in the progressive activist community — Thom Hartmann, Amy Goodman, Dennis Kucinich, Chris Hedges, Van Jones, to name a few — but not to the mainstream media, much less the American public. The main activity center trying to raise awareness about it is the Move To Amend group (see movetoamend.org). They sprang into existence in Feb 2010, the month after the disastrous Citizens United decision, but it has some deep activist roots behind it, in their main spokesman, David Cobb. Their goal is to grow a nationwide, grassroots campaign to get towns, then cities, then states to begin passing referendums that state, to the effect, that they agree a US Constitutional amendment should be passed that says (1) money is not speech, and (2) that corporations are not entitled to constitutional rights. This is the only way to reverse Citizens United (as the justices are unlikely to reverse it themselves, though it was a close 5-to-4 decision.) Once hundreds of communities have passed such a referendum, it can become a state level issue, then a national one. They acknowledge the path to adopting a Constitutional amendment will be a long and difficult one; the last attempt to do so in this country, the Equal Rights Amendment for women (ERA) was a long, hard fought battle that came within a whisker of passing, but ended in bitter defeat, after a ten year effort. (Some say it deserves another shot, and I would agree.)

Now comes the OWS phenomena, catching on like a prairie grassfire, ignited by a common awareness of the injustice of our economic system. But I cannot see how it will amount to anything unless it results in effective political action. The legal and financial fortresses of the corporate giants are strong, unlikely to be taken by frontal assault. Indeed, American history is replete with examples of where the state crushed violent protest with even more violent suppression, whenever private property was threatened (see Howard Zinn’s excellent book, A People’s History of the United States, for abundant examples of this.). No, this will require a smart fight, an intelligent fight; and like any good fighter, you should possess a knowledge of your opponent’s strengths and weaknesses.

Corporate personhood is this weakness — and it may be the only weakness that can be really used; corporations have been building up their financial, legal and political defenses for quite some time. It is through the claiming of constitutional rights since the post-Civil War era (read Thom Hartmann’s book Unequal Protection) that corporations have steadily built up their legal case to weaken, if not defeat, the controls imposed on them through statutory laws and regulations. My own hope is that some of the energy swelling up behind the OWS movement will gain this awareness — and help to shorten the path to such a constitutional amendment.

A path to restructuring the financial industry: State Banks

[For those not aware, the steady deregulation of the financial industry since the 1980’s basically gave the big banks and associated industries (insurance, credit rating, etc) the freedom to do whatever the hell they want, which pushed us back into the situation of the 1920’s, where there was zero regulation of anything financial — ie, recreating conditions that led to the Great Crash of 1929 due to a huge asset bubble (that time in stock prices, this time in housing prices), and inducing the Great Depression…which we only narrowly averted reenacting in 2008, and are still experiencing. A big area of interest in how to restructure the financial industry landscape is state banks, in which we have a living, breathing example in North Dakota. A great article was recently published on this very topic, and I have taken the liberty of reproducing the key excerpts from it…which I hope convey its vital essential message that this is a HUGELY GOOD IDEA to put our support behind. –Rick]

These are excerpts from How State Banks Bring the Money Home by Stacy Mitchell, appearing in Yes! magazine (link to article to appear soon! until then, here are my excerpts that show why this is such a compelling article):

How State Banks Bring the Money Home

by Stacy Mitchell

…[t]he rapid and dramatic consolidation of the banking industry over the last decade…has hindered the US economy’s ability to create jobs.

…[t]he nation’s 6,900 small, locally owned, community banks…control $1.4 trillion in assets…[t]hat’s 11 percent of all bank assets.

…[f]our giant banks — JP Morgan Chase, Bank of America, Citibank and Wells Fargo — now command $5.4 trillion in assets, or 40 percent of the total.

Why do giant banks make so few small-business loans? Automation is the short answer….

Small-business loans are not so easily mechanized. Each is a custom job, requiring human judgement to evaluate…

Our financial system is top-heavy with big banks that are scaled to meet the needs of large multinational corporations….US-based multinationals have eliminated 3 million American jobs over the last decade.

In short, we have a financial system that is mismatched to the economic needs of American communities.

…one of the most promising strategies involves creating state-owed banks that can bolster the lending capacity of local banks…

North Dakota is the only state, so far, that has a publicly owned bank. Founded in 1919, the Bank of North Dakota (BND) was a populist response to dynamics similar to those we face today…

BND is wholly owned by the state which deposits all of its money, except pension funds, with the bank…

Thanks largely to BND, North Dakota has a more robust community banking network than any other state….

Small banks account for 60 percent of deposits in North Dakota, compared to only 16 percent nationally…

…BND has pumped $300 million in profit [Emphasis mine. –rick] into the state’s general fund over the last decade. (In a state like Illinois that has a population of 13 million, the equivalent return would be about $6 billion.)

Inspired by the North Dakota model, activists and small-business owners in more than a dozen states, including Oregon, Maine, Massachusetts, Montana and Washington, backed bills this year to create state-owned banks. …

…the Center for State Innovation has produced several reports analyzing how a public bank would function in various states….

…the real power of a state bank lies not so much in its own lending, but rather in its capacity to support local banks and remake the financial landscape to better meet the needs of small businesses and communities.

On raising awareness…

[This was a reply I made on August 27, 2011 to a question poised on the steadystaters@googlegroups.com listserv. It mainly points out how raising awareness among the general public is the underlying action that needs to happen — which can be thought of a lifelong service to a noble goal.]

Sharon,

To reply to your questions, please see my responses below:

is there something else that needs to happen besides abolishing the right of corporations to be treated as ‘people’?

I think what needs to happen is raising awareness and education among the general public which amounts to consciousness raising about the issue of corporate personhood and why we must change it. This will not happen quickly, but there are literally hundreds of thousands of activist organizations all over the world working hard on this goal. Have you heard of Bioneers and wiserearth.org, started by Paul Hawken? They are certainly in the vanguard but unfortunately the mainstream media does not quite “get it” yet how serious these issues are, and needs to prodded into covering these issues. So, this is why I’m trying to do my part by volunteering as much as I can to help.

But accomplishing a US Constitutional amendment that abolishes the constitutional rights of corporations will require a huge effort; the last time this was attempted in this country was the Equal Rights Amendment for women. It was a long and exhausting struggle, which came very close to passage, but ultimately failed. The time may come where it will be attempted again for them — which I think could only help the Move To Amend struggle. Please see movetoamend.org for more background on why this goal is necessary.

Some of the more inspirational authors who have influenced me of the need to engage in this consciousness raising comes from David Korten’s The Great Turning and Riane Eisler’s The Chalice and the Blade. They are powerful visionaries, who have faith that it is not human nature to want to destroy ourselves, and point out with abundant and persuasive evidence in their excellent and extensive research.

was there anything in that little deal that spoke of the *responsibilities* of corporations (aside from obeying legal requirements)?

Nope. Appealing to the moral sensibility of corporations is not a strategy that activists who have long been engaged in this struggle would recommend, to put it politely. There are numerous documentaries out there that testify to the psychopathic behavior that large corporations exhibit and cultivate, both as institutions and in the individuals that lead them; one recent one I’d recommend is Inside Job. Certainly, there are outstanding examples of corporations that do do great good because they are headed by individuals with a conscience and a heart, such as Patagonia’s Yvon Chouinard; but unfortunately they too small a minority at the moment.

So, raising the political awareness and call to action to curb corporate behavior, and the standard of leadership to, yes, have respect for the environment and communities, goes hand in hand with this awareness raising — including reforming the teaching of economics and how the profession practices its “faith” as well. That is my particular area of interest. The carrot may be to appeal to their sense of responsibility, which really has more value as a political plank, but to expect a real response the real effort must be in the stick — or cudgel, is how I like to think about it — of legal and political change, which is the only force that the corporate elite will really respond to — and certainly not willingly.

Sincerely,

Rick Casey

Boulder, CO

Ecological economists must become activists!

[Another post to the steadystaters@google.com listserv….on August 26, 2011]

I fully agree with Sharon of Australia. What she makes clear is that all of us are facing the same economic, environmental and political problem. But this political aspect is what I saw missing from Sharon’s compassionate description of what needs to happen to improve our economic and environmental situation — but which is critical to acknowledge within the steady state community. From my viewpoint, the economic and environmental situation will never change until the political perception changes to the point where we begin to pass legislation that supports the environment and supports an economy based on people, and not corporations. And it is this struggle between the rights of people and the rights of corporations which will become more and more clear, as our problems intensify, and the causes of them become more and more obvious.

This will require changing the stated public purpose of the institutions that underlie global capitalism: to support an economy that serves people, community and the environment, not an economy that is based on a power elite at the top, which seeks only to deregulate everything to keep profits up for the largest banks and the dominant multi-nationals, many of which are deeply tied either to biggest financial corporations, to the military-industrial complex that supports the American global Empire or to the giant corporations that dominate the energy (fossil fuel and nuclear) and extraction industries, the current economic base.

The political problem is based on the current incorrect paradigm — or popular perception — about why the economy exists. The popular perception about why the economy exists has been a mantra drummed into the public consciousness which is based solely on money and profits and jobs, and that There Is No Alternative — or TINA — an acronym introduced my Magaret Thatcher, I believe.

We all know this is an insufficient framework, which is based on the efficiency principle alone. For a complete solution, we students of ecological economics know that it needs to based on three principles of scale and distribution as well as efficiency. There is so much good analysis out there as to why the current paradigm is so broken, and how a new wholistic view of the economy must change the paradigm, that I do not need to go into that here.

This is why I am supporting the Move To Amend campaign in the US, and encourage you all to do so too, which would strip corporations of their US Constitutional rights, which is the key reason why they have become so powerful and so big. It is also a legal fiction that should never have been allowed to exist in the first place. So I repeat: ecological economists must become activists!

Rick Casey

Boulder, CO

Economists need to become activists

[This is a post I made to a listserv dedicated to ecological economics, sometimes referred to as steady state economics. I sidestep the ideological discussions that the question below could devolve into, and point that if ecological economists are sincere about the change they say they seek, they must get involved political process…otherwise their contributions are merely “academic”, i.e. without effect in the so-called ‘real world.’]

On Sun, Aug 7, 2011 at 10:43 PM, cruxcatalyst (sharon) wrote:

Here’s a curly question for the economists among us with more

expertise than myself: how can a capitalist world model exist

(theoretically and practically) without an ever expanding world

population?

Cheers

Sharon

To answer, such questions, I agree that it is wise to avoid ideology. My following comments are based solely on the practical recent lessons of why we are experiencing the current recession, and the direction we surely need to head in our economic policies, where I believe ecological economics has much to contribute. I have become convinced that if ecological economists want to be heard, the field will need to become more politically active; this is not an ideological question, but one of practical reality.

I see no conflict between the principles of ecological economics and capitalism, as far as I have come to know them, but that to achieve them from our current economic structure, it will be crucial to re-regulate the financial industry. As abundant research has shown (my main reference is 13 Bankers by Simon Johnson and James Kwak, but there are many others), every recession since the 1980s has been induced by Wall Street speculation, which was brought on by the financial deregulation that it so earnestly sought ever since the New Deal, which established financial stability for nearly five decades. But beginning the Reagan “revolution” (which, in reality, was a devolution, or going backwards), there were periodic recessions about every 10 years. The final straw was the 2008 global financial meltdown, which is a profound lesson in why Wall Street needs to be re-regulated, and the biggest banks broken up.

But as Johnson makes abundantly clear in his excellent research, this will be politically difficult given the stranglehold that Wall Street and the banking industry have on Washington politics. Until there is broad political uprising from the American citizenry, this does present a political stalemate, as the recent near-disaster over the debt ceiling has shown.

This is why I have become personally active in the Move To Amend campaign in Boulder, which is achieving some success. This campaign is about stripping corporations of their constitutional rights through a Constitutional amendment. Such rights, which we can refer to as “corporate personhood,” have been gained strictly by court precedent, primarily SCOTUS court precedent. When one looks deeply into the matter, it become obvious that corporations were never granted these rights by the people, which is where such rights ultimately reside. This struggle deserves to become the biggest struggle for civil rights in history — larger by far than the civil rights struggle of the Sixties. It is ultimately also related to the violent struggle for democracy that is currently being played out throughout the Mideast, where the plutocracy are autocratic families, instead of autocratic corporations.

I urge anyone concerned over these issues to consider this question of corporate personhood and becoming involved in Move To Amend, as I consider it a sine qua non when any serious political solution to our severe economic and environmental problems is considered.

— Rick

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Rick Casey :: case…@gmail.com

online Instructor, Environmental Economics, Front Range Community College, Ft Collins, CO

online Instructor, Database Systems, Champlain College, Burlington, VT

Professional Research Assistant, Institute of Behavioral Genetics, University of Colorado, Boulder, CO