People Who Live in Glass Houses
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People Who Live in Glass Houses • Posted: Oct 09, 2011 17:13:47Comments WelcomeVote CoolPhotoblogsPurchase a PrintShare

There is a very interesting grass-roots movement brewing across America. It's title is Occupy Wall Street. Several years ago a different but equally perplexing grass-roots movement began to grow. That similar movement's ire fixated on "too much government". This new movement's focus seems to be "too much corporate irresponsibility". That first movement wanted more individual freedom and less interference from government. It became the Tea Party. This second movement seems also to want more power in the hands of people, but relative to less power in the hands of corporations acting to maximize their own profits at the expense of justice, domestic tranquility, and general welfare, as the preamble to the U.S. Constitution proclaims our collective purpose to be.

It has always been ironic that many within the Tea Party, especially the so called "social conservatives" led by the religious right, selectively champion the constitutionally guaranteed rights of free speech, religion, assembly, petition, and gun ownership, yet deny the existence of the 9th Amendment which clearly states that "enumeration in the Constitution of certain rights shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people", which most certainly includes the right to pursue justice, domestic tranquility, and general welfare. Add in the conservative notion of "exceptionalism", often justified as "God's plan", and you have the perfect manifesto for a fascist take over of government, fascism defined as "total government control of political, economic, cultural, religious, and social activities." In other words, one group of people, figuring they have all the right answers, intends to dictate what's best for all of us. Definitely not democratic. Definitely not in compliance with the U.S. Constitution and the mechanisms for decision that it defines.

But what has been even more subversive of the people's power under the U.S. Constitution has been the long running trend within judicial decisions and legislative actions giving corporations the status and rights of ordinary citizens, including the status of "personhood" and the right to freely spend money as if it were the equivalent of free speech. That trend continues with current efforts to limit corporate liability for the consequence of corporate actions and diminish government's power to say no to and regulate the activities of corporations. Corporations love the cries of Tea Partiers for less government and more freedom to act as one chooses, because they claim to be citizens too. (Listen to the podcast featuring speaker Paul Cienfuegos for a very interesting recounting of the history of corporate personhood and its disturbing consequences for democracy.)

Obviously, corporations are a product of free people freely associating for mutual benefit. But the clear problem with corporations is that, by a 1919 Michigan Supreme Court legal decision involving the Ford Motor Company, corporate charters must prioritize the maximization of profit to the exclusion of all other concerns not dictated by law. That legal decision came about because Ford stock holders fumed over lost dividends when corporate directors seemed to dither over worker, customer, and community based concerns. The concept of fiduciary due diligence was born. If corporations were tasked by law and charter to promote justice, domestic tranquility, and general welfare of worker, customer, and community, as well as profit, the problems of running a successful business might be more complex, but very likely as a society we'd all be better off. Perhaps the Occupy Wall Street people will help bring about just such a change in corporate responsibility and culture.

It is interesting to note, per Cienfuegos, that a few local governments in Pennsylvania, besieged by corporations bent on exploiting natural gas reserves, have outlawed corporate "personhood" within their jurisdictions. And, at least one Pennsylvania Township has proclaimed the right of personhood for ecosystems, whose balance and viability upon which its communities depend could be put in jeopardy by corporate activities.

No matter how these issues eventually play out, it seems a positive turn of events that more and more thoughtful citizens are deciding to weigh in on policy decisions affecting us all. Security and disproportionate financial rewards to the few at the expense of the many is not what democracy under the U.S. Constitution is all about.

Sunday, November 8th, 2009