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On Creating & Destroying Monster Corpses

From Seeing the Forest (via Wealth Bondage):

The Enron Tapes and the Snohomish vs. Enron hearing aren't just about a few potty mouthed "bad apples" at Enron engaging in opportunistic exploitation of regulatory loopholes (as Enron's PR people would like you to believe). They highlight a fundamental problem of our system of governance: the balance of power between corporations and the average human citizen is way out of whack. This is a point that those of us on our side of the issue would be well served to bring to the fore.
This goes beyond partisan ideology - what we are talking about here is the fact that elements of corporate America have systematically subverted our government's regulatory apparatus for private gain. This happens over and over and over again, regardless of which party is in power, at any level. In this particular instance, it just happened to go sour in a very big, and very public way.

The movie "The Corporation", subject of a feature article in Metro Santa Cruz (an alternative weekly newspaper published in my home town) posits that this is part and parcel of the behavior fostered in those participating in the economic structures of corporation based capitalism. I haven't seen the actual movie yet, but it is clear from the article that the movie's creators believe that until we change from a system based on the corporation as the basic operational economic unit, a system which makes amoral behavior not only legal, but essentially mandates it, all efforts to remediate the problems our society faces will be futile.

But the problem is deeper than corporations subverting the system. The system is designed for just this kind of exploitation.

In my opinion, the single most defining moment in modern history was the careless, even offhanded remark that led american corporations to be defined as a person, with all the legal rights of personhood:

Supreme Court Justice Morrison Remick Waite simply pronounced before the beginning of argument in the case of Santa Clara County v. Southern Pacific Railroad Company that:

The court does not wish to hear argument on the question whether the provision in the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution, which forbids a State to deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws, applies to these corporations. We are all of opinion that it does.

The court reporter duly entered into the summary record of the Court's findings that:

The defendant Corporations are persons within the intent of the clause in section 1 of the Fourteen Amendment to the Constitution of the United States, which forbids a State to deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.

Thus it was that a two-sentence assertion by a single judge elevated corporations to the status of persons under the law, prepared the way for the rise of global corporate rule, and thereby changed the course of history.

The doctrine of corporate personhood creates an interesting legal contradiction. The corporation is owned by its shareholders and is therefore their property. If it is also a legal person, then it is a person owned by others and thus exists in a condition of slavery -- a status explicitly forbidden by the Thirteenth Amendment to the Constitution. So is a corporation a person illegally held in servitude by its shareholders? Or is it a person who enjoys the rights of personhood that take precedence over the presumed ownership rights of its shareholders? So far as I have been able to determine, this contradiction has not been directly addressed by the courts.

Eventually it was this that led to Global Reach. For further historical background via Ratical:

But throughout the 1800s, especially after the Civil War, "[u]nder pressure from industrialists and bankers, a handful of 19th century judges gave corporations more rights in property than human beings enjoyed in their persons."(Ibid):

The biggest blow to citizen constitutional authority came in 1886. The US Supreme Court ruled in Santa Clara County v. Southern Pacific Railroad, that a private corporation was a "natural person" under the US Constitution, sheltered by the 14th Amendment [(even though that amendment had been written and ratified in 1868 to protect the rights of freed slaves) [3]] , which requires due process in the criminal prosecution of "persons." Following this ruling, huge, wealthy corporations were allowed to compete on "equal terms" with neighborhood businesses and individuals. "There was no history, logic or reason given to support that view," Supreme Court Justice William 0. Douglas wrote 60 years later. [4]

Once corporations were legally defined as "natural persons", they automatically were endowed with the same "Bill of Rights" as human beings, and so came to possess and then exploit with devastating consequences, the same "rights" of the freedom of speech, and the ability to participate in elections and lobby elected officials.
Under the form of ownership, known to us today as "the corporation," the legal act of incorporation creates a `person' or `corpus'. For over the past 100 years these legal entities have been exercising more and more of their powers to recreate the circumstances of their own existence. This is exactly what the first citizens of this country feared the most, and attempted to prevent the occurence of by defining the subordinate nature of such legal ficticious entities to that of flesh-and-blood human beings. They implemented this through the legal mechanism of charters -- the certificates of incorporation.

POCLAD (Program on Corporations, Law & Democracy) seeks ways to turn these zombie corpses (Corporations in the guise of flesh-and-blood) back into harmless and productive public servants. In case anyone is interested, POCLAD is

...looking for people experienced in stopping corporate harms who want to rethink organizing strategies, exercise democratic authority at the local level, and strip fundamental powers-such as free speech and due process-from corporations.