When Should Governments Be More Concerned About the Rights of Human Citizens Over Those of the Corporate Citizen?

It has been a long tough slog but corporations have finally cajoled their way into the concept of personhood.  If only they were really flesh and blood people they would understand that there are things more important than money.

Since the founding of this country there have been battles fought in the courts that have, bit by bit, stretched the principles of the Constitution to a point that ultimately sought to achieve a human status for the creations of mankind, that which has historically belonged solely to the human race.   It is the “unalienable right” asserted in the Declaration of Independence as being the self-evident possession of humankind “endowed by their Creator”.  Can a corporation that answers primarily to investors and a CEO of the corporeal realm take on the characteristics of those whose source of faith is alleged to be a higher supernatural power be seen as an equal?

Following the recent decision of the conservative-heavy Roberts’ court in the Citizens United vs. FEC, words alone that emanate from the diaphragm as it pushes air from human lungs through the vocal folds in our larynx is no longer viewed as the only form of “speech” to which the Constitution applies.  By some immense stretch of the imagination, this controversial Supreme Court decision has declared that M-O-N-E-Y has now become a legitimate mode of speech,  which corporations have vast sums of compared to most real people.  This action ignores the conflicting reality that some of the humans who make up a corporation are now somehow separate from their individual human status by legal fiat and can have essentially two voices that the rest of us do not.

 

The legal whizzes that not only argued this case for corporations but who on the court accepted it, use a form of linguistics uncommon to most of us.  I won’t venture into a debate over the legalese that only a select few engage in.  I haven’t the time or inclination to argue the merits of this lunacy with people who have only their own self-interests at heart.  What I do want to discuss though is the perception that came out of this that corporate citizen are on a level playing field with the rest of us.

I attended a recent city council meeting in my hometown of Denton, Texas that was specifically arranged to address the issue of extending the current ordinances in place for drilling natural gas wells within the corporate city limits as well as any “Extraterritorial Jurisdiction” (ETJ), stated in the information the city provided for those individuals interested in attending these hearings.  Denton, and the county it’s in, set atop the northeast sector of the Barnett Shale in Texas.

The special city council meeting was for the sole purpose of gathering human citizen input on how best to proceed to extend existing city ordinances that govern the exploration, development, and production of natural gas wells.  An all volunteer 3-member panel Citizen Task Force had been selected to gather this information and present it and their recommendations to the City Council

Denton gas well task force members below from left to right areTom LaPoint, Vicki Oppenheimer and John Siegmund 

The meeting, one of several to be held over the next few months, took place at Denton’s Civic Center, including members of the city council who were present only as a formality in that location to accommodate an anticipated large crowd that the council chambers couldn’t.  It seems this was’t necessary after all.  There were roughly 50-60 people there including some media and representatives from the natural gas industry.  By in large though, it was mostly citizen activist who were there to voice their concern on how natural gas wells should or should not be allowed to exist in close proximity to their homes, their school, churches and parks.

It was a good mix of people, from the two college students who represented the generation that would deal longer with the effects of gas wells in this community to long time residents who were now contending with the odors and environmental impacts of gas well noises and toxic waste water open pits.  In total, 19 people came before the committee to convey their concerns and opinions.

 Citizen Joyce Pool has dealt with

 the problems of gas well noise and

open waste water pits for over a decade

Real Estate agent Phyllis Wolper brought attention to diminished land values that occur when gas well are drilled next to homes and other commercial developments

After most of the local citizens had their say, Gilbert Horton, a representative of Devon Energy, “one of the world’s leading independent oil and gas producers” and Martin E. Garza, a Dallas attorney who specializes in real estate and land use/zoning issues who has been representing natural gas interests since 2001, gave their assessments to the task force.  These two men and one citizen named Ben Claybore conveyed the industry’e viewpoints, essentially expressing their concern that creating too many hindrances for gas drilling interests would deprive the industry of their constitutional rights and could have negative “economic consequences” for the area.

   

Devon Energy Representative Gilbert Hooten and Dallas Lawyer Martin Garza

Horton said there is a “growing body of fact-based research” that supports the safety of hydraulic fracturing (also known as fracing) and prompted task force members to consider this above “the emotional comments” many who had come before him had made.  Garza reminded the task force members that there are state and federal guidelines that may conflict with adaptations to the city’s ordinance and that prudent measures utilizing cost-benefit analysis should also be weighed before imposing new regulations.

Clearly these are legitimate arguments that ultimately the city council will have to consider as they eventually review the task force’s considerations based on such hearings.  But the degree to which they should be considered in light of not only the equally legitimate concerns many voiced that evening about the ill-effects of drilling and the fracing method used to extract the product is a topic of concern that poses a challenge to the rights of men and women versus the newly proclaimed rights of corporate citizens.

  

Do human citizens’ concerns about the negative impact of fracing and the use of local water supplies out weigh a need to provide jobs for some and enlarge the city’s tax base?  Those who convey and support corporate interests always take the tact that the corporate citizen is a partner in the community since they do provide jobs and pay taxes.  But unlike flesh and blood citizens they ultimately owe their loyalty to outsiders that make up stock holders and executives at corporate headquarters in another state or even another country.  Some of these headquarters are deliberately located in countries that serve as tax havens for businesses who seek to keep more of their capital for stock holders and bonuses for top executives.  That’s what businesses are primarily expected to do; make profits and expand their wealth and sphere of influence.

Their contributions to the community in the form of financial grants to education and other vital social services is indeed a welcome benefit to these entities but it also serves as PR to community leaders that can be influential in giving an unfair advantage to their voice over those citizens whose separate financial contributions are a legal obligation that come in the form of mandated property and sales taxes.  Except for the very wealthy philanthropist, most human citizens are unable to give above and beyond what their taxes cover for consideration in the eyes of those who “make the rules”.

Neither can individual common people entice political leaders with appeals to their selfish nature in the form of generous campaign contributions and positions of status and generous incomes in the businesses sector once they leave the public domain.  Large corporations also have deep pockets to create legal challenges to public-conscious politicians that the average citizens doesn’t.  Such litigious challenges are intended to wear down battle-fatigued public officials to abandon the fight if victory is not soon apparent.

For the most part, only those individual citizens who share a common interest and join together as a single entity have the capabilities to fight on a level playing field with the corporate citizen; but only to the degree they sustain a cohesive front of the multiple individual self-interests of members who are willing to tough the fight out over the long haul and provide financial resources to match those of their corporate counter part. Such endeavors that have been successful and have played their cards appropriately have forced the corporate citizen to weigh the cost-benefit measures of doing battle with such public grass-root efforts, forcing them to concede to the organized ban of citizens.

 Not all citizens are the same. 

Say hello to a corporate neighbor

But where this public opposition fails to crystallize as a large body, the corporate citizen is usually the victor.  And even then there is less hope for such grass-roots organizations if local politicians have already developed favorable relationships with the corporate entities. Thus the lone individuals or even a very small group find it difficult to fight a monolith that combines corporate and political interests.  On a true level playing field each “citizen” should be able to protect their life, liberty and property against the wants and desires of the corporate citizen.  They often lack the wherewithal to fight the notion that claims corporations serve economic benefits that outweigh the quality of life for individuals.

If our neighbor is engaging in activity that threatens our health and means of production the courts are quick to act in favor of those people who will be impacted by such practices.  But if that neighbor is a corporate citizen then there is a different standard that seems to apply.  Asking the corporate citizen to cease and desist those practices that threaten our quality of life gets special consideration because what they are doing creates jobs and tax revenue, benefitting more than just themselves.

This is a sound argument until you add the elements of costs to individuals in the short and long terms that impact their health care costs and other out-of-pocket expenses they incur to offset the damage done by the corporate citizen, not to mention the toll on a human’s quality of life.  In the case of gas drilling, the fracing process injects known toxicants into our drinking water supplies and allows deadly chemicals to escape into the air we breathe.  The process destroys the land on and around it for decades making future development of any kind unlikely, lowering the value of homeowners in the area.  The serenity of neighborhoods are diminished and even removed as the noise from production takes away from the neighborhood that which was once a major appeal to homeowners – the tranquil sounds of nature and children playing in that natural setting.

We need the businesses that free markets create and their needs to be limits and guidelines by which they can peacefully coexist with the real people they find themselves among.  Most small businesses fit in perfectly with this scenario as they become  assimilated into the local human matrix and are genuinely welcomed.  But when the mammoth scale of corporations intrude and try to pass themselves off as “one of us”, they do so with only the intent to make a profit where they can and then move on to the next locale to manifest their business model.

The people who work at these large corporations are routinely the locals themselves.  That in itself is sufficient to have someone represent the company in terms of local appeal.   But when top management that headquarters and lives outside that community as well as their investors, they shouldn’t be allowed to double their representation in the form an individual defined in our founding documents as those who possess unalienable rights “endowed by their Creator”, unless everyone is willing to redefine “Creator” in such documents as commercial, for-profit entrepreneurs.

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6 responses to “When Should Governments Be More Concerned About the Rights of Human Citizens Over Those of the Corporate Citizen?

  1. Great reporting, LB!

    I really like this argument:

    “Those who convey and support corporate interests always take the tact that the corporate citizen is a partner in the community since they do provide jobs and pay taxes. But unlike flesh and blood citizens they ultimately owe their loyalty to outsiders that make up stock holders and executives at corporate headquarters in another state or even another country. Some of these headquarters are deliberately located in countries that serve as tax havens for businesses who seek to keep more of their capital for stock holders and bonuses for top executives.”

    I keep trying to tell people that — our corporations have very little, if any, loyalty to our nation and our nation’s workers. They funnel up a lot of money from our country’s consumers and pack it away. Far, far away.

    • I believe you’re right Adam. The image of the concerned corporate citizen is Corporations 101 to project an image that identifies with the locals where you do business. In the final analysis however this image is a PR move to offset the inconveniences their mere presence produces by virtue of their size and activity in comparison to the actions of individuals.

  2. I cannot believe the nerve of these people. They are so transparently obsessed with smoothing the way for the extreme rich. It’s almost unbelieveable. If I were like that, I’d be too embarassed to be public about it…

    Wow.

    • I believe it’s a state of mind Terrance. Like any business the natural gas industry looks at the pros and cons of what their venture will achieve and looking at it from the big picture if they think there’s more good than harm then the defense mechanisms set in and they’ll focus only on what the positives are, for them primarily. It’s all about what Ayn Rand referred to as one’s “self-interests”.

      In this case, to them it is supplying jobs and a cheap energy source. The evidence that what they’re doing to the quality of life is measured in terms of cost benefit analyses, which coldly calculates if profits suffer too much from the negatives their product or service generates. The fact that negatives affect the quality of life of some human beings is overlooked if that number is low enough, in their estimate, to be inconsequential in terms of the bigger corporate picture of the good they see themselves doing.

      Herein lies the fallacy of giving corporations the status of citizenship, or personhood. When a business engages in activities that becomes more and more of threat to human quality of life, their self-interests will push them to continue to do what they do until enough damage is done and and enough people protests that their self-interests are no longer served, which, bottom line, is making profits. There is no human capacity to empathize with people’s suffering. When this character flaw occurs with real people we call them what they are -psychopaths or sociopaths – and attempt to treat them or take punitive action against them when their flawed mental state hurts someone other than themselves.

  3. Great post Larry……think back a few years…the Clinton ones…..the repel of Glass-Steagall has gone a long way of getting us to this point…..

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