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Beinhart's Body Politic: If You're A People 

click to enlarge DION OGUST
  • Dion Ogust

Normally this column explores an idea or expresses an opinion or simply tries to entertain by laying out how astonishingly ridiculous the most smugly serious aspects of our political world can be.

This time I want to start a movement.

At least to plant the seed of one and ask you, The People! of the erudite and enlightened Hudson Valley!, to do what John Chapman (Johnny Appleseed to us all) did for apples, to multiply this seed electronically and then scatter the e-seeds hither and yon, amidst the forests and across the plains, and yea, even unto the cities, of our great land.

It is time for a constitutional amendment that says the corporations are not people—that only people are people.

That should seem so self-evident it needs no saying, let alone a declaration in our most fundamental law. But it does need saying. Obviously, I'm not the first person to think of this. Other versions that I've found are rather detailed and complicated with specific agendas about influencing elections and voting and such.

Personally, I think it should be as simple as possible. That's pretty much how our Constitution and its amendments are. Basic, general, and frequently open to widely varied interpretations. That's awkward, because it can lead to controversy. But it makes for easy portability. You think that's not important? If the Constitution got specific, it would be like the Affordable Care Act, 10,000 pages, times 10 or 100 or more. More important, it creates flexibility. Not all circumstances can be preimagined, and even if they are, times change.

It should simply say, "Only people shall be considered people."

If you can't bear something that short and sweet, it could be, "Only people shall be considered people. Other entities may be given rights and restrictions, but only human beings have constitutional and inherent rights." But really, nothing more than that.

The most important advantages of keeping it simple and general are that it makes it easier for people of all persuasions to agree on it. As furious as the Tea Party Right and What's Left of Liberals are with each other, individuals at both extremes, as well as the great mass in the middle, can probably agree that they are all actual people, while Citibank, Time Warner Cable, and American Airlines are not people.

At the same time, it's a proposition that's hard even for think-tank propaganda whores and our bought-and-paid-for politicians to oppose. Imagine even Rush Limbaugh screaming, "Yes, PrivatePlus Mortgage is really a person. More than Hillary Clinton anyway. I've talked to PrivatePlus Mortgage and he, it, she, whatever, is smart enough to advertise on my show, so they must have all people protections!"

The inherent purpose of corporations is to escape responsibility. That may seem like an exaggeration, but it's true. In many ways it's a good thing. It makes investing in businesses and the operation of businesses much safer. If you or I fail or make a mistake, all we possess— indeed, our rights, our liberties, even our lives, may be at stake. Let's say I sell, or rent, or loan you a car. I happen to know that the wheels sometimes fall off this particular vehicle. You go for a ride, a wheel does indeed separate itself from the axle, causing you to crash and die. Or if I drive the car, crash into you, and take your life, I can be charged with vehicular homicide, go to prison, be humiliated, eat the worst food in the world, possibly be subjected to violence. Possibly in an institution run for profit by a corporation that has spent large sums of money to influence legislation that will send more people to prison.

But if it is a corporation that has rented or sold you the car, well, then the liability is limited. You might sue and even bankrupt the company, but not me. There are currently 23 deaths linked to accidents caused by General Motors' defective ignition switches. They knew about the problem but did nothing about it. Which seems—in my unqualified, nonlegal opinion—to be negligence. People are dead. So that would be manslaughter, at least. I am entranced by the vision of General Motors in an orange jumpsuit, waiting on line to use a pay phone to make just one call a day, and have to make it collect. But it will never happen. The nonhuman entity that is the corporation will merely pay some fines and keep on rolling.

It is not a person and does not deserve to be treated as such.

Below is a short version of this diatribe. The right length for today's short attentions spans. Suitable for cutting, pasting, sticking in an e-mail, and sending to every single real, actual, flesh-and-blood human being you know. Thank you.

The American courts have decided that corporations are people.

With all the rights of people.

Often with more rights than people.

But corporations have no feelings. No patriotism. No loyalty. No families. No children.

They are essentially required by law to care for nothing but their own profits.

It is good corporate governance to engage in criminal behavior if the profits outweigh the penalties.

It is merely the cost of doing business.

If a person kills another person through negligence, indifference to normal safety standards, by knowingly putting them in dangerous situations while pretending it's safe, they can go to prison for it. When a corporation kills people, they might face a fine.

In bumper-sticker language, "I'll believe corporations are people when Texas executes one."

For whatever reasons, the justices of the Supreme Court are in love with corporations.

All congresspeople are in debt to corporations for campaign contributions and jobs after they leave office.

Only people can say that corporations are not people.

The only way to do it is to pass a constitutional amendment that says, "Corporations are not people."

This is something that the Left and the Right, from socialists to the Tea Party, should be able to agree on. If you do agree, please pass this on to everyone you know. And urge them to pass it on. Hopefully it will spread geometrically, like a chain letter or a pyramid scheme. Hopefully it will get people talking. And it will get into the hands of people who like to organize and politicians looking for an issue.

So please, cut and paste this, or use the link, and pass it on. And tell everyone who receives it to pass it on.

  • Larry Beinheart explains why a corporation should not be considered a person.


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