Saturday, February 13, 2010

Scott McLarty: Democracy for Humans!

Democracy for Humans!
Fighting corporate power in the wake of the Supreme Court's Citizens United ruling
by Scott McLarty article link
Published on Saturday, February 13, 2010 by

Democracy and fair elections in the US are in grave danger. What are we going to do about it?

The Supreme Court's recent Citizens United ruling removed restrictions on the amount of money that corporations can use to campaign for their preferred candidates. The five justices who voted for the ruling endorsed the idea that corporations should enjoy the same constitutional rights as human beings.

Why is this ruling a threat to America?

Corporations are not human. They are legal creations. They don't eat, breathe the air, depend on health care, or do many of the other things that humans do. They exist to make a profit. Because of their wealth and size, corporations are far more powerful than humans.

The Citizens United ruling affirms the power of corporations to control the processes of regulation, taxation, and public policy, and to avoid accountability to the public.

For a hundred years, we've had laws limiting the power of corporations over our government, because government in a democracy exists to serve the people. Now that corporations can spend unlimited money to help candidates who serve their interests, politicians will more and more make decisions based on the demands of lobbyists rather than the people who elect them. Real health care reform? Reducing greenhouse gas emissions to curb global warming? Fair wages, benefits, safer workplaces? Forget about it. ...

What can we do to bring back democracy? ...

Corporate Power vs. Democracy

Are corporations evil? Should we hate them? A corporations is an association, authorized by a charter, for a specific purpose. Corporations are by nature neither good nor evil. They often perform necessary functions, such as manufacturing, services, and trade.

A business corporation should be accountable to the public, not just to major stockholders, CEOs, and profit margins. When it betrays the public trust or commits a serious crime, a corporation should have its charter revoked and be dissolved.

When Exxon-Mobil, Lockheed Martin, Goldman Sachs, General Electric, Halliburton, Blackwater, or Disney have overwhelming power to determine the decisions of elected officials, our freedoms, rights, and well-being are in danger.

When Wall Street firms insisted that Congress strike down regulations like the Glass-Steagall Act, their recklessness caused the recent economic crisis, with milliions of lost homes and jobs. When they press Congress to reduce, privatize, or abolish successful safety-net programs like Social Security, they place millions of older Americans and others at risk of destitution.

When big-box chain stores like Wal-Mart are allowed to take over a town's economy, small businesses go under, Main Street falls into ruin, and minimum-wage no-benefit positions replace jobs with livable wages and good benefits.

When insurance companies can deny health coverage and medical treatment, people suffer and die.

When corporate polluters win exemptions from greenhouse gas emission laws, they endanger future generations.

When energy companies demanded control over oil resources in Iraq, the US went to war based on baseless claims about WMDs and other deceptions.

The Myth of Corporate Rights

A corporation is not human. A corporation is a thing. It's a legal fiction, subject to the definition in the corporation's charter and restrictions imposed by law.

... It's just as absurd to say that a corporation has 'rights.' When we say a company has the right to advertise its goods or services, what we really mean is that we recognize that advertising is part of the normal function of a business corporation, just as transportation is the normal function of a car.

Like a car without a driver, a corporation has no will of its own. Its actions are guided by CEOs and other managers, owners and stockholders, a board of directors, or some combination of these people. They profit through the corporation, by receiving salaries and bonuses or through their investments in the corporation. When those who control the corporation use it to break the law, abuse their power, or violate the corporation's own charter, then the corporate charter should be revoked -- just as the driver who violates traffic rules may lose the use of his or her car.

Corporations have become enormously powerful. Who benefits from this power? Obviously, the CEOs, owners, stockholders, etc. (Employees may work for a corporation, but they have no say in how it is run, except through the influence of independent unions -- which have become increasing powerless in recent decades.)

What does it mean when a corporation can influence government to act on its behalf, even when such actions are harmful to the public or to its own employees? It means that the CEOs, owners, stockholders, etc. enjoy power far beyond what the rest of us possess as individual citizens.

Those who defend corporate personhood, corporate rights, and the Citizens Unlimited decision are arguing for an inequality that threatens the basis of our democracy. They support a new kind of aristocracy, an oligarchy of elite citizens who get their power from corporations.

CEOs, owners, stockholders, et al. already have the same constitutional rights as the rest of us. When they use their corporations, armed with the myth of corporate rights, to expand their power so much that they dominate political campaigns, legislation, and the public debate on important issues, then our democracy is doomed....

...unless We the People take back our democracy and our election system.

Where did Corporate Power Come From? ...

The End of Democracy? ...

... 'Moderate' Democrats and Republicans share a bipartisan addiction to corporate contributions and a dedication to the idea that government should primarily serve big business interests instead of the people they were elected to represent. In 2009, they made sure that any health care reform plan placed before Congress would protect insurance and pharmaceutical manufacturing companies and do as little as possible for people in need of medical treatment. They declared Medicare For All (single-payer national health care) "off the table" and sabotaged the public option.

These politicians shouldn't be called moderate. They're extremists who subscribe to an ideology of corporate power, profit, and privilege.

Media commentators and broadcasters like Rush Limbaugh have praised the ruling. Their goal is an America far different from the one envisioned by our Founding Fathers and Mothers and by all those who've fought for human rights, freedoms, and fairness for working people and those who are powerless. They've duped too many Americans into believing that what's good for insurance companies, Wall Street firms, defense contractors, and other behemoths is good for America.

"We the People" does not mean corporations. Unless we act now to defend the principle that free speech and other constitutional rights and protections belong solely to human beings, our democracy will be history.

More Information

* "Challenging Corporate Personhood: Corporations, the U.S. Constitution, and Democracy" Interview with Jan Edwards in Multinational Monitor magazine, October/November 2002
* Move To Amend (sign the petition) home page
* Democracy Unlimited of Humboldt County (DUHC) home page
If you need help with actions against corporate personhood or if you have ideas, contact DUHC at 707-269-0984
* Multinational Monitor home page

Scott McLarty is national media coordinator for the Green Party of the United States, which does not accept corporate contributions. He lives in Washington, DC.

CommonDreams home page

Multinational Monitor
A BIG Idea: A Minimum Income Guarantee
An Interview with Karl Widerquist article link

Karl Widerquist is a lecturer in politics in the School of Sociology, Politics and International Relations at the University of Reading in the United Kingdom. He serves on the coordinating committee of the U.S. Basic Income Guarantee Network (USBIG).


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