Voices of Descent and Dissent

The G-20 and People’s Movements

The G-20 meetings in Pittsburgh is not your ordinary gathering of governmental heads of state, trade representatives, and/or corporate CEOs. It’s all too easy to lump it together with the World Trade Organization (WTO), North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), International Monetary Fund (IMF), World Bank, World Economic Forum, North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and other international and transnational groupings that periodically meet to shape policies that are beyond public input and which often meet behind closed doors.

The G-20 is a unique outfit. Its composed of representatives of two groups from 20 of the larger economies of the world: finance ministers and central bankers. Finance ministers are the equivalent of the US Treasury Secretary. Central bankers are the equivalent of the US Federal Reserve. Finance ministers are appointed by and accountable to elected leaders of nation-states. Central bankers are sometimes appointed and confirmed by elected representatives (as is the case with the chair of the US Federal Reserve, Ben Bernacke) but are largely accountable to private interests, namely banks.

Policies of finance ministers and central bankers, especially those in the US loosing rules and laws allowing financial speculation into wild and arcane financial “products” (i.e. derivatives) and predatory lending practices causing millions of homeowners to drown in debt, were directly responsible for triggering the global financial crisis. Banks and bankers engaged in financial speculation and risky loans were bailed out by hundreds of billions by the US Treasury Department through loans from banks (to figure!) and by the Federal Reserve which simply, as they routinely do, create money out of thin air — further devaluing the dollar. The US Federal Reserve, like central bankers elsewhere, control the monetary faucet of their respective nations. They, these apexes of corporate finance in nation after nation, determine how much currency (money) will be created and circulated. It is central banks, not governments, that largely determine financial interest rates — that is, how difficult or easy it will be for governments and people to pay off their loans for just about everything.

Finance ministers and central bankers are mainly responsible, thus, for the descending US and global economy. The G-20 represents the voices of descent.

The voices of dissent that have come to Pittsburgh to protest and resist the G-20 are committed and diverse. Having spent the better part of the last 5 days there, those who have attended forums and actions and are planning to march in both permitted and unpermitted marches are directing their outrage over issues of poverty, climate change, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the illegal coup in Honduras, racism, lack of jobs and housing, inadequate health care, among others.

It is certainly true that G-20 nations are responsible for both causing and are in a position to profoundly address these and many other problems. I wonder, however, if we, the voices of dissent, are in part not focusing our attention, concern, and resistance to a central core agenda item of the G-20 agenda in Pittsburgh — the effort to develop a single global central bank and single global currency with the IMF or some other entity more “independent” from any national government serving as a global central bank.

A single global currency controlled by a corporate-driven global central bank would be a disaster for national self-determination and for the people of the world concerned about meeting human needs and protecting the earth. It’s enormously difficult in the present to influence national governments to bend fiscal policies toward addressing social and economic needs of people. While central banks are for the most part private/corporate, there still remain at the nation-state level opportunities to reign in these entities through laws ranging from auditing central bank books to the actual creation of money by governments instead of central banks — if enough public pressure can be applied.

Globalizing banking and money creation and circulation simply reduces democratic self-governance.

This seems to be the central objective of the G-20 meetings in Pittsburgh.

Shouldn’t it also be the central objective of our voices of dissent…both in Pittsburgh and beyond?

Billionaires for Wealthcare

Billionaires for Wealthcare were out in full “corporate” force this past weekend in DC at the Tea Bagger confab doing their best to remind participants that the health care status quo is just fine for their bottom line!

As they say, “If we ain’t broke, don’t fix it!”

Watch both videos at

Citizens United v FEC

Shays2/POCLAD Program on YouTube

Here are links to 2 videos of the recent program in Western Massachusetts discussing the Sept 9 oral argument before the US Supreme Court over whether business corporations should have First Amendment Free Speech Rights.

It’s about time this issue sees the light of day! Legal obscurity has been one of greatest advantages to maintaining corporate personhood.

Citizens United v FEC, part 1, Jeffrey Clements, Part 1
10 minutes 34 seconds

Citizens United v FEC, John Bonifaz, part 2
10 minutes, 25 seconds


Sotomayor critiques corporate personhood
Page 33 at http://www.supremecourtus.gov/oral_arguments/argument_transcripts/08-205%5BReargued%5D.pd
Because what you are suggesting is that the courts who created corporations as persons, gave birth to corporations as persons, and there could be an argument made that that was the Court’s error to start with, not Austin or McConnell, but the fact that the Court imbued a creature of State law with human characteristics.

Tightening the Corporate Grip: The Stakes at the Supreme Court
September, 10 2009 By Weissman, Robert

Corporations should not have rights

The U.S. Supreme Court will hear oral arguments this week on a case that could dramatically expand “free speech rights” of business corporations. At stake are laws, one dating back 100 years, prohibiting contributions from corporate treasuries to elections.

Those calling to abolish these laws make the incredible claims that business corporations don’t have enough political speech and that their political voices aren’t heard loud enough. Corporations are “persons” they assert. Financial corporations driving their own government bailouts, insurance corporations steering health care reform proposals away from any changes that will reduce their profits, and hundreds of other examples where business corporations influence public policies through lobbying and political action committee (PAC) contributions are apparently to be ignored.

The case, Citizens United v Federal Election Commission, is not at root about expanding political speech to a new category of people or about regulating a certain type of speech. It’s rather at its core about regulating a certain type of legal organization – a business corporation.

Corporations are creations of the state. Since our nation’s founding, they have been regulated to serve the public interest. Corporations are not persons with First Amendment Bill of Rights protections.

Rights are reserved for living creatures. Anointing business corporations with greater rights and powers to mold public policies will only reduce what is left our our democracy.

Corporate Personhood Goes on Trial Before US Supreme Court

The U.S. Supreme Court will hear oral arguments in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission on Wednesday, September 9. At issue is whether corporations can claim free speech rights under the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

What you can do.

1. Bill Moyers is hosting a program TONIGHT (Friday) on his Journal program on PBS (check local times) on the topic. Watch it and let others know.
The constitutionality of campaign-finance limits.
Bill Moyers Journal
September 4, 2009
If you miss the program, go to the website to read the transcript.

2. Common Cause is hosting a live web chat on the case on Tuesday, September 8 at 1:00 pm.
Info at http://www.commoncause.org/site/pp.asp?c=dkLNK1MQIwG&b=5420205
Call in…and let others know.

3. There’s a national program being held next Tuesday night in Western Massachusetts featuring 2 attorneys, one of whom helped file an Amicus (friends of the court) brief for 5 organizations, including the Program on Corporations, Law & Democracy (POCLAD), Shays 2, Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom, Democracy Unlimited of Humboldt County, and the Clements Foundation (see notice below). If you know of anyone in Western Massachusetts, let them know about the event. Check out the links in the meeting notice to familiarize yourself with the issue.

4. Call in to talk shows, write a letter to the editor, let others know about this threat to self-governance that this case represents. If business corporations are permitted to directly contribute to political candidates by claiming they have the First Amendment Free Speech “right” to do so, what little political voices We the People still have with out elected officials will be completely drowned out.

Once oral arguments are presented, the Supreme Court will probably take several months before they announce their decision. Many national citizen organizations and civic-minded attorneys are planning to come together to map out a strategy of next steps in the near future.


Thank you!


Join our Public Forum on the eve of a special “oral argument” session of the U.S. Supreme Court that could determine whether corporations have “corporate personhood” — the rights of natural persons.

7:30 pm, Tuesday, September 8, 2009
Media Education Foundation, 60 Masonic St, Northampton
Sponsored by Shays2 and POCLAD (the Program on Corporations, Law and Democracy)


John Bonifaz
Legal director of Voter Action and former candidate for Massachusetts Secretary of State

Jeffrey Clements
Attorney who filed an Amicus brief representing five citizens groups arguing against expanding corporate First Amendment Rights.

Ward Morehouse
Co-founder of POCLAD

Carolyn Toll Oppenheim
co-founder of Shays2: Western Mass Committee on Corporations and Democracy

The Citizens of the Pioneer Valley

On the eve of a historic Supreme Court session in which the Court will hear arguments in a case that could ultimately decide the Constitutionality of the concept of “corporate personhood,” a Massachusetts attorney who filed a brief in the case (Jeffrey Clements) and a local attorney (John Bonifaz) with national expertise on the case will participate in a public forum on the key issues.

The Supreme Court will hear oral arguments in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission on Sept. 9. At issue is whether corporations can claim free speech rights under the First Amendment to the Constitution, according to Clements and Bonifaz.
“The notion that corporations have the same speech rights as people under our Bill of Rights is contrary to the words, history, spirit and intent of our Constitution,” said Jeffrey Clements.

Clements filed his Amicus (“friend of the court “) brief for five citizens organizations including: POCLAD, Shays 2, the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom, Democracy Unlimited of Humboldt County, and the Clements Foundation.

“The Citizens United case has little to do with citizens, and everything to do with corporations,” he said. “A Supreme Court decision saying that Congress and the States cannot regulate the use of corporate money in elections would be a severe blow to our democracy and to our Constitution. Corporations do not vote, speak, or act as people do, but are products of government policy to achieve economic and charitable ends. As such, corporations should not be allowed to influence our elections if Congress and State governments judge that such influence is detrimental to democracy.”

Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission is an ongoing legal case in which the U.S. Supreme Court will decide whether the Court should overturn existing state and federal laws that regulate corporate political expenditures. This case is on appeal from a lower court case of the same name from 2008, in which the lower court sided with the Federal Election Commission (FEC) that “Hillary: The Movie ” could not be shown on television right before the 2008 Democratic primaries. Citizens United, Inc. argued that the ban on its showing the film violated its free speech rights under the U.S. Constitution.

Legal scholars consider this case one of the most important First Amendment cases in years. It will determine the constitutionality of a hundred-year-old ban on expenditures by corporations to influence federal elections and similar longstanding bans in many states. A New York Times front page story on Sunday, Aug.29, 2009, states, “The argument comes at a crucial historical moment, as corporations today almost certainly have more to gain or fear from government action than at any time since the New Deal.”

“The Supreme Court has, for years, recognized that corporations, with their ability to amass wealth in the economic sphere, should not be allowed to drown out ordinary citizen speech in the political marketplace,” says John Bonifaz, legal director of Voter Action, a national non-profit voting rights organization. “If the current Supreme Court, through this case, were to reverse that long-standing precedent, it would unleash a torrent of corporate money in the political process, posing a direct threat to our democracy. Corporations are artificial entities with state-based advantages and, as such, they do not have the rights guaranteed to persons under the First and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution. This pending Supreme Court case provides a clear opportunity to expose the myth of “corporate personhood” and the danger that it presents to free and fair elections.”

This case has generated some 40 Amicus briefs from groups on both sides as well as briefs from 26 state Attorneys General –including MA Atty. Gen. Martha Coakley–and the US Solicitor General and others.

The states Attorney Generals’ brief supports the Constitutionality of bans on corporate expenditures in campaigns, stating, “Corporate electioneering corrupts the relationship between public officials and the public interest by encouraging politicl dependence on narrowly concentrated private interests embodied in the corporate form” and does so “at the expense of broader and more dispersed interests represented by the people themselves.”

The briefs filed in this case by Citizens United and the Solictor General and a number of amicus briefs filed in support of the constitutionality of the corporate expenditure ban are available on the Democracy 21 Web Site, an educational organization working to eliminate the undue influence of big money in American politics. Jeffrey Clements’ brief is listed on the site under “Women’s International League Brief.”

The Democracy 21 website includes a collection of articles on the case including one called “Will the Supreme Court Return America to the 19th Century?” in which the author notes the Founders were wary of corporate influence on politics — and their rhetoric sometimes got pretty heated. In an 1816 letter, Thomas Jefferson declared his hope to “crush in its birth the aristocracy of our moneyed corporations, which dare already to challenge our government to a trial of strength and bid defiance to the laws of our country.” This skepticism was enshrined in law in the early 20th century when the nation adopted strict rules banning corporations from contributing to political campaigns.

Cancer stick corporations claim first amendment rights

Cigarette corporations claim that legislation signed by President Obama in June violate their “free speech” rights — as if business corporations should have Bill of Rights protections to begin with.

R.J. Reynolds Tobacco corporation and Lorillard Tobacco corporation (second and third largest US cigarette makers) are among several corporations that have filed suit against the law.

The legislation didn’t ban nicotine or tobacco (which would have been fine by me) but simply regulates what goes into tobacco products and how they are marketed. Yet even this is too much for the transnational cigarette corporations.

A revolution in this country was fought, in part, to permit individuals the right to speak freely. Two hundred years later, the power and ability of human beings to control our own environment and health is being compromised by so-called free speech “rights” of corporations to hock their cancer sticks to the public, including children.

It’s ridiculous and perverse. It needs to become unconstitutional.

Tobacco Rules Challenged in U.S. Free-Speech Lawsuit