Common Sense and Corporate Tyranny

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A true American hero, Paine came to be despised in the United States. After “The Age of Reason” was published, he was called an anti-Christ, and his reputation was ruined. His pamphlet, Agrarian Justice (1795), discusses the origins of property, and introduced the concept of a guaranteed minimum income. In 1802, he returned to America where he died on June 8, 1809. Only six people attended his funeral.

When Thomas Paine wrote his incendiary pamphlet, “Common Sense” in 1776, he sought to educate the colonists and show how the British monarchy actually worked. He understood British power and the structures that power creates. He knew the hubris of the British monarchy prevented it from hearing the grievances of the colonies and he knew that the colonies themselves could not influence the monarchy or claim the rights he ascribed to the individual. Through this one pamphlet his common sense argument cut through the matrix of British control. It was instrumental in galvanizing public opinion and in galvanizing Washington’s meager militia.

If Thomas Paine were here today he would recognize that this country is under an analogous tyranny – a new feudalism – with the controlling oligarchy, not in the form of a monarch or a king, but in the form of Corporate “personhood.”

Just as Paine exposed the phantom legitimacy of Kings so would he would now recognize that the phantom legitimacy of the corporation. The corporation is an abstraction. Legal ‘personhood’ was granted to the abstract entity of “the corporation” by nine Supreme Court judges in 1886. This is wrong and requires correction. Only Congress can make laws, not judges. Paine would say that the granting of corporate personhood is illegitimate and that it violates our Bill of Rights and Constitution: he would argue that unless the corporation is subservient to the common good it cannot and will not be granted the privilege of doing business.

The writers of the U.S. Constitution gave the control of corporations to state legislatures and they did so with very clear instructions about the limits of the corporation: what it could do, how, for how long, with whom, where, and when. Stockholders were held personally liable for any harm done in the name of the corporation. Charters had to be granted. Most charters lasted 15 years, at most. “But most importantly, in order to receive the profit-making privileges they sought, corporations had to represent a clear benefit for the public good. And when corporations violated any of these terms, their charters were frequently revoked by the state legislatures.” [2]

Corporations found a ‘work-around’ through the state and then federal courts. In 1893 the 5th Amendment was granted to corporation for protection of due process. In 1906 the corporation was granted the 4th Amendment search and seizure protection and then freedom of the press in 1925. In 1976 the Supreme Court deemed money equal to speech and since corporate persons have First Amendment rights, allowing them to contribute as much money as they want to political parties and candidates.

Corporations, unlike a real person, can live for hundreds of years. They can grow and accumulate wealth and power. Corporate lawyers invoke the personhood status at their convenience and according to circumstance.

Corporate property may include not only land but also concepts like mineral rights, drilling rights, air pollution credits, intellectual property, and agreements like NAFTA and TPP, with rights to future profits.

For example, under the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) “free trade” agreement, foreign firms would gain an array of privileges: rights to acquire land, natural resources, factories without government review; risks and costs of offshoring to low wage countries eliminated; special guaranteed “minimum standard of treatment”; for relocating firms; compensation for loss of “expected future profits” from health, labor environmental, laws (indirect or “regulatory” takings compensation); right to move capital without limits; new rights cover vast definition of investment: intellectual property, permits, derivatives; the banning of performance requirements, domestic content rules.

“The King is dead… long live the corporate king” is a fact unless we use common sense to educate ourselves and use our legislature to reverse the status that corporations exploit –  ‘corporate personhood’.

[1] Move to Amend
[2] Public Citizen

Also See Chris Hedges, Cornel West et al on Paine :


The End of Corporations as “Persons” under the Law and more!

The tiny town of Dryden took on Goliath and won for all of us

The wide spread impact of the community rights movement is growing and it is exciting. As local communities champion common sense with regard to our natural resources and our rights as individuals and communities, little by little – one plus one – we are protecting our environment and securing an equitable future. We can stop unconventional gas drilling, we can stop pollution from factory farms, we can stop prisons that have instituted what amounts to slave labor – and we can do all this when we reclaim what is rightfully ours and what is protected within our Bill of Rights.

New York State has just enjoyed a landmark decision affecting the future viability of fracking in the state. The local communities of Dryden and Middlefield banned fracking in order to protect the health, environment, and character of their communities. The New York Court of Appeals ruled that towns have the authority to ban gas drilling within their borders, in a 5 – 2 decision.

This is a huge victory for community rights and the implications are far-reaching. The town supervisor of Dryden, May Anne Sumne said, “The oil and gas industry tried to bully us into backing down, but we took our fight all the way to New York’s highest court.” She added, “I hope our victory serves as an inspiration to people in Pennsylvania, Ohio, Texas, Colorado, New Mexico, Florida, North Carolina, California and elsewhere who are also trying to do what’s right for their own communities.”

Pittsburgh has passed a local ordinance banning the commercial extraction of natural gas, Spokane is creating a Community Bill of Rights that includes local neighborhood authority of development, protection of river and drinking water, a constitutional protection fro all workers, and eliminating the status of corporations as “persons” under the law.

Benton, Oregon is asserting it’s right to petition for a local ordinance that will ensure a sustainable food system, seed heritage and inalienable right of nature to exist and flourish. Portland is also on board to place a ballot initiative for a Portland Community Bill of Rights. Included in the Bill is a the right to affordable, safe housing and the right to subordinate corporate powers to people’s rights: in other words, “Corporations and other business entities which violate the rights secured by this Charter shall not be deemed to be “persons,” nor possess any other legal rights, privileges, powers, or protections which would interfere with the enforcement of rights enumerated by this Charter.”

As noted by the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund, “There is a structure of state and federal law in place that pre-empts local decision making, and that forces harmful activities such as fracking and factory farming into communities – despite community opposition and harm to the public health and environment.”

Community Rights ordinances, such as those passed in New York and Oregon serve as templates for a new wave of activism and the tide, my friends, is rising.

The Community Rights Movement of Common Sense

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“The earth is the common property of the human race”

    Thomas Paine

The community rights movement challenges, on the local level, the ease with which corporations exploit natural resources. It is a non-partisan challenge which draws it’s lessons from non-violent and anti-war movements and traditions. According to community rights organizer, Paul Cienfuegos, this movement is a “creative strategy” aligned with other great non-violent social movements in history.

The community rights movement uses the rule of law on the local level to challenge the ubiquitous automatic ‘green lighting’ of corporate projects in local communities. Local hearings, intended to provide a platform for local communities to air their misgivings and to question and challenge proposals are, for the most part, merely a formality.

The question the community rights movement asks is, “Who gets to define what happens in our communities?” Do we want fracking, do we want chemical plants, do we want war munitions producers in our town? 150 communities in seven states so far have passed ordinances in local communities that challenge the right of corporations and the disenfranchisement of community input.

Self-government is a right granted to us within the U.S. Bill of Rights. We have neglected to exercise our right to self-governance. Who do our elected officials really serve: is it “we the people” or is it corporate entities? Clarifying the allegiance of our elected officials is the first step in reclaiming our right to authentic representational government.

Direct democracy is really a restoration of rights we need only reclaim – to assert our right to self governance and to really ask ourselves, what is government for, who should it serve and what is it really about?

To be continued.

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