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on June 17, 2004
Prior to the first century no court applied constitutional rights for corporations. In 1886, Santa Clara County verses Pacific Railroad, in a head note explain the case the author implied that "corporations were persons" as a reason for the court administering a 25 dollar fine to the corporation. The foundation for "personhood" gave rise too a constitutional claim of equal protection of the law for corporations. Using this precedence, Corporations were quick to fight for constitutional protections for 1. Free speech (1st amendment) 2. privacy protection (10th amendment) 3. Freedom from search and seizure (fourth amendment) 4. double jeopardy (5th amendment) 5. Self-incrimination (5th amendment) 6. and anti-discriminations (14th amendment). It seem corporations had done the impossible, they had received the same scrutiny or equal protection as race. Over the century, the vast number of 14th amendment cases has been equal protection claims against anti-discrimination policies for corporations. Corporations have established civil liberties and constitutional rights protected by law.
So why not let the corporation vote? One could argue, in a republican form of government a small governing body holds representation of power and decision-making; so, why not let corporations vote? Corporations represent the wealth, resources, and jobs of America. Further one may observe that the vested interests of the corporation could be represented, if they were given a vote. So why have corporation not been given the power to vote?
If corporations received the same protection as a person the democratic process would be destroyed. Apparently the founding fathers did not want to give corporations this level of power over the people, so no constitutional provision or implication was made to give corporations an elective vote for selection of a candidate or local law. Do corporation remain powerless or silent on this issue of voting constraint?
Corporations vote with money. In an election year politicians receive tens of millions of dollars to their party, which in my opinion is a loophole. Political campaigns were designed too be limited in the contribution amounts to safeguard against buying an election.
The magnitude of financial difference between corporate donations and people donations is staggering. Persons give hundreds or thousands of dollars too politicians, whereas, corporations give millions to politicians. This allows corporations too buy favorable legislation manipulation. However, the people still have the power too elect their government officials and this fundamental power gives the people the ability too prevent government representatives from being completely controlled by the corporations. If the elected official performs contrary to the people opinion they have the right the next election to select a different representative. The people have the power to select their representatives. The representatives have the obligation to listen to the interest for the people. The representatives are too account for good and moral decisions, while in office. It is the job of the people are too voice their concern, as poor legislation becomes law.
However, once in office, special interest lobbying applies pressure too government representatives for support to their viewpoints. These viewpoints may not be confined to America. Since, corporations are global entities and represent global interests, corporations can own more than one corporation; corporations often campaign for inter-continental interests in their campaign for rights, interests, and support with the government representatives. These corporations can span multiple countries, whereas, a citizen must reside in one country. The fact that corporations can represent viewpoints for various countries and receive legal and political recognition, as a person in this country seems grants foreigners a new level of leverage with the American political process.
If corporations have constitutional rights, do they have responsibilities to other citizens? Corporations have migrated from state privileges to constitutional rights. Corporations are expected to act like good citizens: pay taxes, obey the laws, keep the environment clean, and pay a living. Citizens are expected to operate under moral constraints, whereas, corporations are expected to make money. A corporation is not expected to operate on moral constraints. What that means is the corporation may apply force since no moral guardian stands in the way from them achieving their goal of profits. If no legal constraint exists, the corporation plows forward to make money without consideration of any moral constraint. For example, the liberal media corporations claim the right to freedom of expression. This means the corporation is free to sell media with high levels of sexual content, violence, and degrading morality. The impact can span generations. The selling of produce can span many decades because a corporation exists in perpetuity.
The produce is subject to taxation, protection under copyright law, and free commerce between states and other nations. Laws and regulations force the media companies too have movie content rated. Since companies have similar protections as persons, the first amendment rights extend too the corporation.
The first amendment includes prohibitions against the government from censoring speech and freedom of expression and this gives the corporation a tremendous liberty to sponsor lascivious and immoral content in movies.
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on March 28, 2004
How is it that corporations have come to exert so much power and influence over our everyday lives, to have rights and privileges unavailable to individuals, to take so much from, and return so little to, the general wealth both of this country and the rest of the world?
Thom Hartmann traces the history of corporations from their Elizabethian inception in the East India Company to the present; he describes in some detail the changes in the relationship among corporations, their governmental patrons and their societal prey. Historically corporations were granted charters by governments subject to their being monitored, controlled and mandated to provide for the general good in exchange for specific commissions and concessions. In America's early history, this principle was understood and effectively implemented to control the excesses of corporate behavior. Then in 1886, the US Supreme Court ruled on arguments in the case of Santa Clara County[CA] v Southern Pacific Railway. A clerical misstatement in the court reporter's notes, separate and distinct from the formal decision, led to the interpretation that the Bill of Rights was intended to apply to corporations, not just individual human beings. Although Jefferson had cautioned specifically against the power of corporations unrestrained, thenceforth their lawyers have succeeded in prizing successively greater concessions from and precedences over the rights of individuals.
Acceptance of corporations as 'persons', entitled to the same rights and restrictions as human beings, has come to be capriciously applied. Corporations buy, sell, trade, dismember, even kill other corporations - the corporate equivalent of slavery - without being held accountable as they would if corporations were human beings. There are other glaring inconsistencies in the logic of corporate 'personhood' but our law is governed more by precedent, than by logic, or common sense. Once entrenched and established, no matter how egregiously erroneous, the tradition of corporate personhood would take an act of Congress, or an amendment to the Constitution, to rectify the mistake.
There are a number of fallacies in the assignment of 'person' status to fictitious, fictional entities such as corporations. A principal function of good government is to level the playing field between the weak and powerful, to protect the weak from the predatory ravages of the strong. Although all 'men' are presumed equal, in rights if not in innate abilities, corporations are clearly, intrinsically, manifestly vastly more powerful than any one man or small group of men. As Hartmann shows, this difference in power is important yet our present governance fails utterly to protect the populace from the ravages of corporate rapacity and indifference to the plights of its victims.
Although the purpose of government is to provide for the general good, while minimizing harm to the weak and minority interests, the purpose of corporations is to accumulate wealth for its management and stockholders without regard to the source of that wealth. The wealth of a few individuals is not coincident with the general good. Nor are the managers and stockholders of a concern, a tiny subset of the general populace, coincident with the general population. Thus the purposes of good government in general do not coincide, indeed are often at odds, with the purposes of any given corporation.
Further, the activities of corporations in the aggregate - concentrating and focussing wealth for their individual stockholders by taking it from the general population - does not result in general good for the population. The myth that entities acting in unrestrained pursuit of their self-interests somehow produce the greater general good is amply disproven by the history of the American experiment. Rather the general wealth and good is redistributed, concentrated and focused to the benefit of the most powerful and the detriment of the least. Left to themselves, corporations parasitize the general population, suck the wealth out of it for corporate gain while often degrading the environment and denuding the resources employed to accumulate that gain. Corporatism results not in shared wellbeing for the general population but concentrated and focussed wellbeing for a few in a sea of general deprivation.
In other chapters, Hartmann describes the effect of Free Trade and the supranational World Trade Organization: to ravage national economies for the benefit of Corporations, to degrade the wellbeing of the middle class and workers in developed countries, only minimally to improve that of those in developing countries, while enriching the beneficiaries of corporations. Wealth and wellbeing are transferred from those who need it, to those who have it already.
Mussolini defined fascism as the merger of state and corporate power. It appears that America, indeed the entire planet, is well on its way to becoming a fascist state. Ruled by corporations, our 'elected' leaders and representatives are beholden and accountable principally to the interests of their various corporate contributors, only secondarily to the public. It is perhaps ironic that Hartmann, a self-confessed 'founder and former CEO of seven corporations that have generated over a quarter billion dollars in revenue', concludes this fascinating book with proposed grass-roots intiatives to unravel the tangled skein of corporate dominance. He offers no alternatives to the corporate model for the management of production and the distribution of wealth and wellbeing. Rather he advocates the return of effective control and regulation of corporations to the people, making them less the victims of corporations and more their overseers and regulators; and he and offers model actions to be pursued at the local level. But the present processes of government from legislatures to the courts are seemingly similarly enthralled to business interests intent on maximizing profit, not the general welfare. Whether or to what extent anything can be done to reverse this state of affairs is unclear. Readers will be provoked to wonder whether there are other means of advancing the general good and wellbeing than increasing the disparity in both for the general populations. Rather than a definitive solution to the problem of corporatism, this book provides a clear, readable and provocative depiction of the extent of that overwhelming problem.
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on March 15, 2004
The story that Hartmann tells is one that everyone should know, but nobody does: how the corporation came to have the power it now has as an institution in the United States. Normally, when activists or the general public confront the sheer, imposing bulk of the corporatocracy, we get diagnoses of greed and corruption, with antidotes of regulation or resignation. But what Hartmann uncovers is the very specific LEGAL history of how corporations came into being in their modern incarnation. There are a handful of pivotal Supreme Court decisions that laid the tracks for the freight trains of abuse and audacity that then rolled on through, and all over regular citizens.
This is a very important insight. Since the corporation's power is fairly narrowly and legally based, it can be undone as well. The notion that we can regulate big companies into being good "corporate citizens" is nonsense if we don't withdraw the legal basis of their recognized rights. Constitutional protections should be for natural citizens only, period. We should be able to hold corporations to whatever standards we want, since they are simply artificial profit-machines with no inherent legal standing vis-a-vis the rights of natural citizens.
As always, Hartmann's writing is engaging, precise, and exciting. Buy this book!!
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on November 13, 2003
This exceptional book will change the way you read the newspaper and understand world events. The author is not against big business or against corporations in general. In fact he claims to have started more than a dozen corporations himself. What he does is to meticulously detail how an 1886 Supreme Court decision's headnote gave modern corporations a tool that can too easily be abused. The subtitle "The Rise of Corporate Dominance and the Theft of Human Rights" is, if anything an under statement. The book is also a refreshing change from those who would attack corporations using exaggerationa and inflamatory rhetoric. Instead, the reader is treated to a methodical analysis of the evolution of corporate rights in America, from the founding of our country to modern times. Indeed, the first third of the book is focused on history, and a fascinating history that makes it hard to put the book down. Like many excellent works the strength of the book is not just in the new information it provides but in the author's ability to draw together disparate strands of things we already know and show their connections. The reader will often find themselves thinking "I never thought of things in that way." In the end I'm less optimistic than the author that the problem can be fixed, but I applaud his efforts.
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on October 15, 2003
Ignore other reviewers of this book who use narrow-minded pejoratives like Anti-Corporate, Anti-Capitalist, or even Communist in condemning this book. Thom Hartmann is none of the above, and in this extremely important book he brings to light the horrific state of corporate control and the loss of human rights in modern times. And unlike some other books on this general topic that merely complain, Hartmann extensively researches the root causes that have turned the useful concept of the "corporation" into a monster.
Corporations have inaccurately cited an obscure Supreme Court case from 1886, Santa Clara Country v. Southern Pacific Railroad, as giving them "personhood." Corporations have since claimed the rights of natural people and have trampled the Constitution regularly. Despicable abuses include claiming free speech rights under the 1st Amendment for campaign contributions and false advertising; claiming that health inspections and government oversight are unlawful searches under the 4th Amendment; and most obnoxiously, claiming that 14th Amendment protections against discrimination should insulate them from any local ordinances or taxes they don't like. Hartmann proves that lawsuits invoking these ideas usually win due to the vast resources of corporations, who also routinely abuse the legal system with frivolous lawsuits designed to crush little people who can't sacrifice several years and millions of dollars to mount a defense. Hartmann also takes his coverage to the global stage, with the havoc wreaked by multinationals in the nearly religious quest for the inaccurately named panacea of "free" trade.
Another strength of this book is that Hartmann actually has solid ideas for change, which are far more useful than the pie-in-the-sky idealism of other writers on this subject. Admitting that the process may take decades, he nonetheless makes solid recommendations for utilizing the existing political process, and even old forgotten laws, to revoke the disastrous corporate personhood doctrine. This is a very well researched and informative book for those with real concerns and ideas for improving our fractured system. [~doomsdayer520~]
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on July 27, 2003
This absorbing, provocative, and thoughtful book by author Thom Hartmann is an extremely well�documented exploration of a plethora of ways in which corporate entities have assumed special rights and privileges in the last century through the slow and systematic abrogation of constitutional protections of private individuals from such impersonal business enterprises. By employing what is essentially a sidestepping of the clear intent and letter of constitutional law, corporations have gained the functional equivalence of the rights of individuals to protection under the law, foisting what is no more than a legal fiction in order to successfully pursue what now constitutes special, preferential treatment from both federal and state governments. In fact, the various governmental agencies and representatives now seem to be acting more in concert and collusion with the corporations as enthusiastic cheerleaders of corporate progress in the public domain rather than serving in their intended function as overseers and protectors of the common weal by restraining and limiting the rights and prerogatives of such global corporations.
Under Jeffersonian law as encoded in the U.S. Constitution carefully limited and restricted such access to the rights of individuals by large organizations, and was especially concerned about such organizations usurping the powers and privileges of the government itself. Yet as the society progressed, the corporate entities such as the railroads became more influential, gradually gaining sufficient access to policy makers as to begin to gain rights heretofore restricted to private individuals. Considered as a person, a corporation could seek legal protection from oversight through such devices as the Fourteenth Amendment, which was originally intended to redress grievances associated with the vestiges of slavery for recently emancipated African�American slaves. The virtual tripwire that unfortunately opened the proverbial barn door to corporations parading as private individuals was a Supreme Court decision, which in essence created a �legal fiction� by portraying the corporation (a railroad firm) to be a �corporate person�. This unfortunate precedent is father to all of the many subsequent decisions, which over time, have gradually extended this notion of corporate entities as having so-called individual rights which according to the author the Constitution had not only never intended, and in fact specifically used language to constrain and prevent.

The author�s argument complements the arguments and perspectives of legal scholar and author Charles Reich's �Opposing The System�. Hartmann uses a writing style, which is quite straightforward and therefore makes it eminently readable, not at all written in �legalese�, which makes the book more approachable and better suited for a lay audience that it would be otherwise. The research and scholarship he has invested in this work is obvious, and the text has many anecdotes illustrating the various ways in which the legal fiction perpetuated by the collusion between the corporations on the one hand, and the federal and state governmental agencies in lock-step with them on the other, works in insidious ways to undermine and diminish the constitutional rights and protections of the population at large. Hartmann also provides a virtual roadmap to the methods and arguments that the public can use to mollify this untoward encroachment on our rights, most specifically through a grass-roots movement that among other things, will serve to awaken ordinary Americans of this peril and its potential consequences for the society at large, and for us as private individuals as well. This is an important book, and one I can heartily recommend. Enjoy!
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on May 30, 2003
Did you ever ask yourself, "How do they get away with it?" When you read or hear, what seem to be unreal stories in the news about a corporation that was caught doing the most unthinkable, treacherous thing? Well this book explains how they get away with it.
It's a great book. Well written and thoughtful. It's a powerful tragedy that unfortunately is non-fiction. The protagonist is our own democracy, which apparently was mortally wounded 116 years ago. I'm not sure what disturbs me more, the unyielding greed of corporations, our own lack of attention to defend our democracy and human rights or the fact that I had no clue what "Corporate Personhood" was before I read this book.
I mean the idea that our government currently recognizes a corporation, as a "person" with equal human rights is just wrong. Isn't it? I could understand having separate laws to protect corporations. The corporation itself is a protection against limited liability. But they also have all of the same human rights and protections that we have under the US Constitution and The Bill of Rights. That's just wrong!
Over the past 5 years we have averaged 7,000 bankruptcies per hour. This has contributed to a loss of 2.2 million jobs in the past two years. Our National Debt was $-909 billion in 1980. In 2001 it topped $-7,600 billion in debt (yes, that's $7.6 trillion). And yet in 1982 the US had only 13 billionaires but in 2000 they had increased to 274 billionaires. In the US, the richest 20% earn 49.2 percent of the national income. That same 20% own 85% of the wealth, while the remaining 80% of us own only 15% of the nations total wealth.
All of this economic disparity hangs on a clerical error in the head notes of an 1886 Supreme Court case. The language has no actual legal basis but has been spun into the most significant and yet little known lie in world history, otherwise know as "Corporate Personhood."
The Boston Tea Party was a protest against a corporate trade monopoly (the East India Co.), protected by a corrupt British government. Ninety thousand pounds of tea, owned by the East India Co. (not the British government), was destroyed, worth over $1 million by today's standard.
The US Constitution was primarily concerned with preventing this kind of corruption from happening. And so, the Constitution specifically prevents corporations from having political influence. It has never been legally amended to allow corporations to make any political contributions or to have lobbyists. And yet in 2000 corporations paid $1.1 billion in political contributions directly to the 2 main parties.
How do they get away with it? Read the book.
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on May 26, 2003
This book tells the truth about America today. It is a call for a peaceful revolution. Hartmann details every milepost along the way from colonial America to today in the transformation of our country from the intentions of Jefferson, Madison, Washington, and Adams into the worst nightmare of Alexis de Tocqueville, expressed in 1835-- from a government of the people, by the people, and for the people to one of fascistic neo-feudalism presided over by huge corporations.

But...lest one be totally demoralized by these facts, Hartmann provides a common sense roadmap by which humans can once again assert control over government and the corporate hijackers who have pirated away true freedom as envisioned by the founders.

This book is a manifesto for putting America back on track. There should be a well-read copy in every home with thinking Americans everywhere joining in a grass roots campaign to take back our heritage, our freedom, and our birthright.

Buy it; read it, and let's roll!
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HALL OF FAMEon February 22, 2003
Hartmann's analysis of the roots of corporate power is essential reading. He undermines the policies that have protected corporations for over a century. Legally protected today, corporations were long subject to general suspicion. Government charters to operate a business contained many constraining clauses that are now missing. How and why did this change come about? Should government constraints be restored, and if so, how would be brought about? Hartmann presents the history, issues and solutions to the growing corporate takeover of the global commons.
He opens by reminding us that the "commons" once represented a village pasture, shared by all. In modern times he argues the same concept embraces the entire planet. The sharing implies common sense be applied to its use. We are beginning to understand our planet is "the commons" for all humanity. Every human has some rights to that commons, but shares a responsibility for its well being. That set of rights and responsibilities is set by the community as a whole, not by any one individual. The community concept, however, is based on the idea that its members are essentially equal. The corporation, due to its amorphous structure and unique powers has gone beyond community ideals.
The history of corporate power rests on continued attempts to upgrade an "artificial" entity to a "natural" one. Hartmann traces the erosion of that ideal through this book. An early chip was taken when Queen Elizabeth I granted Francis Drake "freedom from liabilitie" to go pirating. It was an omen for the future. Although the Framers of the Constitution of the United States were vociferous in their resistance to corporations, events pushed their ideals aside. In a rapidly developing economy and to confront European competion, corporations arose and grew. As they grew, they sought not only protection from State taxation, they sought to further their ends by political action, something nearly all governments restrained. After many tries, they seemed to have accomplished it in 1889 during a court case over the collection of property taxes.
Hartmann details the events surrounding the case, pointing out that the corporate "victory" of achieving "personhood" is spurious. It was not part of the decision and added as a post judgement note. He suggests that railway lawyer Stephen J. Field likely influenced the writing of the notes by court reporter John C.B. Davis. The victory for business interests virtually turned the 14th Amendment to the Constitution on its head. Business now had the same "rights" as any naturally born human - privacy, investment, political activity and right to trial. Where a state issuing a corporate charter previously had the right to withdraw it for improper activity, a corporate existence was now sacrosanct. Given the vague nature of the corporation, "improper behaviour" could punish individuals, but not the corporation's
existence. Hartmann explains how this condition has led corporations to invade the global "commons" with impunity, ravaging nature to acquire resources and markets.
People often ask "if corporate dominance is so bad, what will you replace it with?" Hartmann states "the suggestion i'm putting forth in this book is to try democracy." The solution is simple enough - a return to Jeffersonian principles. That doesn't mean a regression to an agrarian society. It means, instead, a restoration of democratic practices - the raising of humans to their natural place of dominance over artificial entities. He encourages local communities to begin redefining their laws to reflect the concept that corporate organizations are not people. Once that precedent is established, the democratic ideal can be restored by revising laws and constitutions up through the political hierarchy. From communities through the states to the national government. He stresses that while there will certainly be resistance and scare tactics, enough popular pressure can restore those lost ideals.
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Margaret Mead's "Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it's the only thing that ever has..." has proven right many times. Hartmann's UNEQUAL PROTECTION is a great case study: here, it's one person, a court reporter, who changed history with a set of "headnotes". Thom Hartmann discusses the case of J. C. Bancroft Davis and his impact on globalization today in his fascinating study on the rise of corporate dominance around the world. At the same time, and in the spirit of Margaret Mead, he also calls for grassroots and community action.
Hartmann's starting point is the question: How did corporations manage to become persons before the law with, at least, the same rights as human beings? How did corporations change from being "virtual entities", meaning that they were subject to the controls and supervision by local governments (and humans), into becoming legal entities equal to citizens but without the restrictions and responsibilities placed on people. How have "multinational corporations become the tail that wags the dogs of governments of the world"? Well it's the result of a US Supreme Court Decision regarding the Fourteenth Amendment. Or is it?
Hartmann delves deep into US Constitutional history to set the framework in which the fundamental issue of corporate personhood has to be understood. He traces the concept to its roots in 1886, and to court reporter Davis, the official recorder for the Supreme Court Case: The Southern Pacific Railroad vs. the Santa Clara County. Corporate personhood was introduced during this case, but not, as constitutional and corporate lawyers have assumed for some 120 years, by the Court - but by David in the headnotes. That meant it had no legal basis whatsoever. The evidence found by Hartmann confirmed that the Supreme Court specifically decided NOT to rule on the issue of corporate personhood.
Hartmann explores possible reasons why this application of the Fourteenth Amendment became so popular with corporate lawyers. He also states categorically that "he is not looking for culprits but to point out a flaw in the social system."
The impact of the misinterpretation of the Supreme Court decision since 1886 has been fundamental and has reached far beyond the United States. Hartmann traces American history from "the birth of American democracy through the birth of corporate personhood" ending with the rise of transnational corporations and their role in world trade. He reflects on the emerging conflicts between government and corporations, citing no lesser authority than President Thomas Jefferson and his conviction that "freedom from monopolies are one of the fundamental human rights".
Hartmann devotes a chapter to the analysis of the "unequal consequences" on all major aspects of civil rights and responsibilities: protection from risk, taxes, wealth, trade and (political) influence, to list a selection. He concludes on a more positive note with a call to all concerned to redress the power balance and to restore the sharing of responsibility for the Global Commons. This book should be essential reading for all interested in and concerned in our modern trade systems, whether in the US, in other countries or globally. This well researched study is a dramatic read and leaves the reader with ample food for thought.
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