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“The Conscience Of A Corporation”: A Deeply Held Relationship With Five Members Of The Supreme Court

So here is Walmart, insisting that “our core basic belief of respect for the individual” is at odds with an Arkansas bill that would allow religious-based discrimination. And here is Marriott, slamming as “idiocy” similar measures in other states. And somewhere in there is the family-run pizzeria, asserting that Indiana’s new law allows them to deny wedding day pies to people whose choice of spouses they don’t approve of.

These businesses sell Chinese-made consumer goods, hotel rooms, and rounded dough burdened with pepperoni and extra cheese. Since when did they start spouting off about the deeply held convictions guiding their corporate consciences?

You can blame last year’s Supreme Court decision in the Hobby Lobby case for unleashing a herd of ponies that have gone off in quite unpredicted directions. There, in a partisan 5-to-4 ruling straight from Republican fever nests, the court gave certain corporations the right to challenge laws that they claim violate their religious beliefs. In that case, it was about contraception in the health care package.

Let’s pause to consider this new entity — a moneymaking organization no different from a lone human being who feels conscience-bound to live a certain way because of a deeply held relationship with God. Let’s pause, because five members of the Supreme Court would not.

One justice, the irrepressible Ruth Bader Ginsburg, warned of the consequences of giving corporations a soul: “The court, I fear, has ventured into a minefield.”

Ginsburg predicted that the court’s “expansive notion of corporate personhood” would invite profit-making companies to start using religion as an excuse to ignore laws they didn’t like. And indeed, states packed with right-wing legislators who see phantom persecution behind every new episode of “Modern Family” have clamored to give companies a spiritual opt-out clause.

So it is in Indiana. State lawmakers were also told to look before taking a big leap into spiritual exemptions for business. In a letter in February, legal scholars warned of corporations’ citing religious justification for “taking the law into their own hands.”

But, lo, look what happened on the way to forcing religion into the marketplace: The corporations — Apple, Nike, Yelp, Gap, PayPal, Big Pharma companies like Eli Lilly and the nine largest companies with headquarters in Indiana — have rebelled. They are saying: No, don’t give us the power to discriminate. We’d rather remain soulless purveyors of product to the widest possible customer base. Which is, I suppose, how capitalism is supposed to work. Bless the free market.

Indiana’s law is “not just pure idiocy from a business perspective,” said Marriott’s president, Arne Sorenson, but “the notion that you can tell businesses somehow that they are free to discriminate against people based on who they are is madness.”

Not March Madness, the culmination of which is what Indiana thought we’d all be celebrating in the Hoosier State this weekend. But political lunacy, of the type that’s been on display ever since the Republican Party hitched itself to the crazies who dominate its media wing.

But let’s not get too far ahead of ourselves. Walmart, which effectively killed the Arkansas bill a few days ago, remains locked in poverty wage mode, despite its recent boast of raising pay to at least $9 an hour. Apple, and most tech companies now strutting across the moral stage, continues to do business with countries where a person can be executed for being gay.

Their outrage is selective, and calculated: In corporate America, the branding conceit of the moment includes just the right dash of social activism. A little environmental nudge from your cereal, a talk about race from your barista — it’s mostly harmless.

Chick-fil-A learned a lesson in its journey from behind the grease counter and back over gay marriage. After condemning same-sex marriage and becoming a culture-war battleground, the corporate leaders of a company that professes to run on biblical principles now say they will stick with chicken talk. Everyone is welcome.

Good call. Nothing in the secular world keeps Chick-fil-A’s founders from free worship in private. For that matter, nothing in the secular world deprives any business owner of a lawful spiritual pursuit outside of the public square. Their profits will rise or fall because of consumer demand, rather than which side of a biblical exhortation the chicken-eater may be on.

All of this, the free market in tandem with the First Amendment, has worked pretty well in a clamorous democracy such as ours. It’s only when activist judges — thy names are Clarence Thomas, Antonin Scalia, Samuel Alito, Anthony Kennedy and John Roberts — have tried to broaden the intent of the founders that we’ve gotten into trouble.

In 2010, those five judges created the notion of corporate personhood — giving companies the unfettered right to dominate elections. After all, Exxon is just a citizen like you and me. And in 2014, those five judges gave corporations a soul, a further expansion of business entity as a citizen. Well, they tried to. As the saying goes, a corporation will never truly be a citizen until you can execute one in Texas.


By: Timothy Egan, Contributing Op-Ed Writer, The New York Times, April 3, 2015

April 4, 2015 Posted by | Corporations, Discrimination, Free Markets | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Corporations Are Artificial, Too”: Modern Corporate Capitalism Is Anything But Natural

One of the reasons it’s difficult for liberals to easily and effectively win arguments about economics with conservatives is that conservatives have a very simple mantra: let the natural forces of the market do their work. Government is seen as an interloper and distorter of Darwinian forces that would otherwise ultimately let all goods and services achieve their perfect prices with maximum efficiency.

There are a number of gigantic problems with that worldview, of course. The free market refuses to pay for a wide variety of crucial infrastructure items and investments in public health and safety; consumers are at an information and power disadvantage against unscrupulous companies; and human life and dignity are unacceptably cheap on the open market.

But there’s another key lie in the conservative “natural economy” story, which is that modern corporate capitalism is anything but natural. It’s an artificial system encoded arbitrarily into law and interpreted in a specific way that tends to give maximum advantage to executive and shareholders at the expense of society. Kent Greenfield examined right here at Washington Monthly one way in which that is true: the Dodge v. Ford case that explicitly denied corporations the right to engage in more socialistic practices and demanded that they only serve the bottom line for their shareholders. The corporate veil itself another artificial legal construct, as is the notion of corporate personhood.

Our society is built on rules and regulations, all of them socially and legally built out of artifice. That is just as equally true of business as it is of government.


By: David Atkins, Political Animal Blog, The Washington Monthly, January 24, 2015

January 25, 2015 Posted by | Capitalism, Corporations, Free Markets | , , , , , | 1 Comment

“It Might Help To Read It First”: The Hobby Lobby President Is Also Building A $70 Million Bible Museum

On Tuesday, the Supreme Court will consider the challenge of Hobby Lobby, an Oklahoma City-based craft-store chain, to Obamacare’s contraception mandate—a case that could bolster the doctrine of corporate personhood that the Court laid out in Citizens United and end anti-discrimination laws as we know them. Just a few blocks away, the Hobby Lobby’s president, Steve Green, is looking to enshrine his religious beliefs in Washington, D.C. in a different way: with a $50 million museum devoted to the bible.

The new attraction will house a collection of historic bibles that Green has been assembling since 2010. His holdings range from a hand-illustrated Martin Luther New Testament to a Torah from the Spanish Inquisition; experts have valued them at between $20 and $40 million. The Museum of the Bible, which is slated to open in the spring of 2017, will sit at 3rd and D Streets in Southwest D.C., in an eight-story warehouse that Green plans to complement with a two-story addition. A report from the city’s Historic Preservation Review Board even compared the mock-ups to London’s Tate Modern. The museum’s goal, according to the mission statement in its 501(c)3 tax filings for 2011, the most recent year available, is “To bring to life the living word of God, to tell its compelling story of preservation, and to inspire confidence in the absolute authority and reliability of the bible.”

The museum plans to accomplish this largely through historic reenactments, or what its chief operating officer Cary Summers calls “immersive environments.” For example, the Green Collection’s travelling exhibition—so far, it’s been shown in Oklahoma City, Atlanta, Israel, Cuba, and the Vatican—displays a note written by Martin Luther the night before his excommunication in “a theater featuring a debate between Fathers Erasmus and Luther and Dr. Johann Eck … which culminates in Luther nailing his 95 Theses to his church door.” Tourists will also find set pieces of the Dead Sea, where the famous scrolls were found, and London’s Westminster Abbey, where the King James Bible was written.

Summers assured me that “we’re not trying to convince anybody of anything. We’re simply presenting the facts.” Summers added that consistency across thousands of international bibles “gives a great deal of comfort that the bible is true, and it’s accurate.”

When I asked Summers if the exhibits would contain any evidence that the bible was divinely written, he asked, “What if I was to ask you, did Shakespeare write Shakespeare?” I said the jury was out on the bard. “That’s true,” he said. “So somewhere along the way, people have to draw a line and say, ‘Everything I read, even though I can’t prove Aristotle was Aristotle or Sappho was Sappho’—people have a tendency to believe that they are.”

Along with snapshots from biblical historiography, the Museum of the Bible will recreate scenes from famous biblical stories, such as creation. But Summers said it won’t touch on their more controversial implications. Summers has also served as a consultant at the Creation Museum, where an exhibit shows Adam and Eve sharing the Garden with the dinosaurs. Green’s museum, by contrast, will reiterate the tale of earth’s first seven days without mentioning evolution. “How people interpret it is up to them—we’re not going there,” said Summers. “If others want to create a museum that takes the other approach, that’s up to them.” Of course, others have, at the National Museum of Natural History a few blocks away.

Summers said the museum won’t mention homosexuality, abortion, or any other “political commentary.” (He also declined to comment on the Supreme Court case.) But he hinted that the museum will weigh in more freely on controversies past. He mentioned anthropological exhibitions on the spread of the bible: How it “enters into countries and very uncivilized tribes and cultural settings that are very cruel. The bible entered into it and their lives were changed. … We’re presenting the impact through the facts.”

These anthropological components, along with exhibits on archeological records that corroborate biblical stories, are in early planning stages. In the meantime, the Green Collection continues touring—it’s en route to the Vatican this week—while the architects work on its eventual home. Religion News Service has reported that Green paid $50 million for the former refrigeration warehouse, which is currently occupied by the Washington Design Center. Tax filings value its artifacts at $23,038,000.

As Green’s landmark lawsuit comes before the Court, his collection continues to make the rounds, embedded in history as he sees it. Workers who depend on a paycheck and health care from his company, or another with a religious owner, may soon be highly acquainted with his point of view. Visiting his museum, on the other hand, is voluntary.


By: Nora Caplan-Bricker, The New Republic, March 25, 2014

March 26, 2014 Posted by | Discrimination, Women's Health | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“The End Game For Democracy”: The Creeping Expansion Of Corporate Civil Rights

Last week, The Wire creator David Simon told Bill Moyers that the legal doctrine that spending money on political campaigns is an act of political speech protected by the First Amendment poses the greatest threat to American democracy. “That to me was the nail in the coffin,” he said. “If the combination of the monetization of our elections and gerrymandering create a bicameral legislature that doesn’t in any way reflect the will of the American people, you’ve reached the end game for democracy.”

He’s right. Not only does money as speech allow those with the fattest wallets to drown out the voices of average citizens, as John Light points out, it also gives wealthy donors an effective veto over policies that enjoy majority support. But it’s important to understand the other ways that the expansion of civil rights for corporations can conflict with the public interest.

As Simon observed, the notion of corporate personhood isn’t inherently problematic. The concept that companies are “artificial persons” is necessary because you can’t enter into a contract with an inanimate object, and you can’t take an inanimate object to court if that contract is breached.

Problems arise when these soulless artificial persons demand constitutional rights that were designed to protect real, flesh-and-blood people.

Those demands have a long history. As author and commentator Thom Hartmann detailed in his book, Unequal Protection: The Rise of Corporate Dominance and the Theft of Human Rights, the end of the Civil War brought with it the beginning of a battle for corporate rights under the 14th Amendment, which was intended to confer full citizenship on newly freed slaves.

For several decades, efforts to gain 14th Amendment protections for corporations were stymied by the courts. But in the 1880s, with the help of a court clerk Hartmann described as “a dicey character,” a corrupt federal judge named Steven Field — who had his eye on a White House run — managed to get that right codified in the law on behalf of “very wealthy and powerful guys who ran the railroads and who were the richest men in America,” as Hartmann put it in a 2010 interview.

It wasn’t the only right corporations would gain during that period. According to Hartmann, in the first half of the 19th century, corporations were required to make their books open to the public. By mid-century, they were only required to disclose their finances to the Secretary of State of each state in which they were incorporated. But in the early 20th century, they successfully claimed that even those requirements violated their Fourth Amendment protection against searches and seizures without probable cause.

In the 1970s and 1980s, corporate lawyers became more aggressive in pressing for civil rights. David Gans, civil rights director for the Constitutional Accountability Center, told, “What we’ve seen in the last four decades is a huge expansion of claims that corporations are entitled to various individual rights that were long seen as the birthright of the Declaration of Independence.”

The biggest shift was in the realm of First Amendment rights. “In the 1970s,” said Gans, “there were lots of cases claiming that corporations had First Amendment rights both in the area of commercial speech — prior to that, the Supreme Court had long held that it could be extensively regulated — and in the area of political speech.

“Those claims brought us eventually to Citizens United,” Gans continued, “and now we’re seeing new claims — in Hobby Lobby, for example, that corporations have a right to religious exercise, which is really a fundamental matter of human dignity and conscience, and it’s a right that corporations have never even claimed. ” Hobby Lobby is one of several corporations suing to overturn Obamacare’s mandate that employer-based insurance cover a basket of preventive care including contraceptives.

Charlie Cray, director of the progressive Center for Corporate Policy and co-author (with Lee Drutman and Ralph Nader) of The People’s Business: Controlling Corporations and Restoring Democracy, said that First Amendment claims on commercial speech have been central in dozens of regulatory fights — from GMO and bovine growth hormone labeling requirements to tobacco point-of-sale advertising to limits on media consolidation.

But so far, corporations have had less success pressing for other constitutional rights. In the 1980s, for example, Dow Chemicals sued the Environmental Protection Agency, claiming that its aerial surveillance of one of the company’s plants constituted a warrantless search and violated the Fourth Amendment. But the court ruled that the EPA was acting within its regulatory authority, and that Dow had no legitimate expectation of privacy.

Nonethelesss, Charlie Cray tells that claims of corporate rights can conflict with the public interest even without being litigated. “A lot of this goes on at the regulatory level,” he said. “Corporate lawyers claim that their rights are being violated and regulators with limited budgets will often back off rather then engage in protracted litigation.” Those bizarre pharmaceutical ads with the lengthy list of awful side effects are a good example — the FDA loosened restrictions on direct-to-consumer advertising largely in response to drug companies’ First Amendment claims.

And it’s a slippery slope. “A couple of years ago, the idea that corporations would claim they’re entitled to the free exercise of religion would have seemed outlandish,” said David Gans, “but here it is, dividing the lower federal courts and about to be heard by the Supreme Court. It is hard to predict where they’ll go in the future.”


By: Joshua Holland, Connecting The Dots, Bill Moyers Blog, February 18, 2014

February 23, 2014 Posted by | Corporations, Democracy | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Tone Deaf Mitt Romney Lacks The Common Touch

As is the case with many politicians,  Mitt Romney’s greatest  strength is also his biggest weakness. His experience as a corporate executive  should make him a good presidential candidate in a year when the economy is  bad. However, while the former liberal and former governor of  Massachusetts can speak fluently about the economic big picture he is completely tone deaf when he tries to relate to the middle class families  who are hurting so badly.

Romney can’t even relate to the average race fan. Yesterday, at the Daytona 500 track, a reporter asked him if he followed NASCAR. Romney said he didn’t follow the sport “as closely as some ardent fans, but I have some friends who are NASCAR team owners.” That’s Romney’s problem in a nutshell. He knows the owners of most corporations but doesn’t know any of the employees.

Friday, speaking in Detroit, which is the poorest city  in  America, Romney told voters that his wife “drives a couple of Cadillacs,   actually.”  Romney could promise to put  two Cadillacs in every garage  but it wouldn’t have the same ring as Herbert  Hoover pledging to put  a single chicken in every pot.

Last June, Romney told voters, “I’m also unemployed.” It’s  easier  for Romney to be unemployed than other people since he has stashed   millions of dollars in bank accounts in Switzerland and the Cayman  Islands. If he  keeps talking like that he’ll still be unemployed next  year.

Last August he told an Iowan, “Corporations are people,  my  friend.” If corporations are people, why isn’t the investment firm   Goldman Sachs doing a long stretch in a federal pen for defrauding  thousands of  investors?

Instead of sympathy from the former Bain capitalist,  voters get a 59  point economic plan and power point presentations. Then,  of course, he  asked Texas Gov. Rick Perry to agree to a casual $10,000 bet. I could go on  and  on, but I don’t have the space here to chronicle every misstep  Romney has made when he tries to relate to working families.

Romney’s platform betrays his background as much as his  personality.

Mitt supported the Wall Street bailout for bankers and  billionaires  but opposed the GM bailout that saved the jobs of thousands of  auto  workers.

Mitt supports the Rep. Paul Ryan’s budget which decreases federal   spending for financial assistance for seniors who can’t afford to heat  their  homes but preserves the federal freebies to big oil to the tune  of $4 billion a  year.

Romney, like many other prominent politicians, is of the manor  born.  But Mitt, unlike the others, never developed the common touch. Franklin  Delano Roosevelt came  from the same privileged background as Romney,  but he could talk to an assembly  line worker or a farmer without  sounding patronizing. When Bill Clinton told  Americans in 1992 that “I  feel your pain,” he meant it because he had felt the  pain as a boy  growing up in a poor town in Arkansas. In contrast Clinton’s opponent, the patrician president George H. W. Bush didn’t even know what a super market scanner was.

You can take Mitt out of the manor but you can’t take the  manor out of Mitt.


By: Brad Bannon, U. S. News and World Report, February 27, 2012

February 28, 2012 Posted by | Election 2012 | , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

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