Farmer Filburn’s Chickens and Pecking at Democracy

NPR this morning had a story about an Ohio farmer, his chickens and the Commerce Clause to the U.S. Constitution. Why is this important to those concerned about corporate rule and democracy? Because the Commerce Clause (Article 1, Section 8) has been labeled by some as the “Baby NAFTA” or “Granddaddy WTO” – depending on your generational preference.
What does this mean?
The Commerce Clause was rammed into the Constitution by large commercial interests to preempt localities and states in the making of rules regarding trade. Remember, what we know of today as the U.S. Constitution was actually our second national constitution. The first, the Articles of Confederation, placed all real power in the laps of states. Major business interests didn’t like this at all. They preferred federal control of trade – one set of rules that would overrule the laws of states – no matter how democratically enacted they may be. The Commerce Clause, thus, has been used as a battering ram by corporations to create laws favorable to their interest.
So here’s the full story of the Ohio farmer and his struggle to maintain local control over corporate control.

Farmer Filburn’s Chickens and Pecking at Democracy

Back in 1938, as the country was struggling its way out of the Great Depression, Congress passed the Agricultural Adjustment Act.  Part of the idea was to limit production to keep prices up, so if a farmer grew extra acres of a crop, a penalty was incurred.
Well, Farmer Filburn of Ohio grew his allotted eleven acres of wheat for sale on the market.  But he also grew a few extra acres for himself and his family, just to feed his chickens and bake some bread.  However, Mr. Wickard, the U.S. Secretary of Agriculture, didn’t like this one bit, and charged Farmer Filburn $117.11 for exceeding his quota.  Farmers were outraged by this federal intrusion on state, local and private rights, and joined with Mr. Filburn to fight the case all the way to the Supreme Court.
Local rights are very important for protecting communities from a variety of harms. For example, large businesses such as Walmart can decimate local economies, and distant corporations can poison air and water with an operation such as a quarry or factory farm with relative impunity.  Over the past two hundred years states and municipalities have passed countless measures to meet their obligation to protect the health and welfare of their citizens.
But state and local laws can be very annoying and expensive for large, non-local businesses.  In the perennial battle for the supremacy of big business and the federal government, we the people often lose, frequently at the hands of our unelected Supreme Court which is composed mostly of wealthy white men (and lawyers to boot).  Over the years these Gentlemen, with a few striking exceptions, have generally proved themselves unable to sympathize with and support normal people going about their lives, earning a living, raising children, and just plain being people.
A prime tool for imposing this federal power has been the Commerce Clause, Article I Section 8 of our Constitution.  It states that Congress makes the rules about interstate commerce — which the Supreme Court, exercising its questionable authority of judicial review, rewrites at will.
And that’s what the Judges, in their curious wisdom, did with Farmer Filburn, as they usurped local authority and ordered him to pony up his $117.11. In so doing the Court demonstrated, as it had so many times in the past, that it favored special interests by inventing a decision and then — well, pecking around — for the rationale to support it.
So here’s what the Supremes said: by not shipping via interstate transport, by not using interstate storage silos, by not giving his chickens interstate wheat for dinner, Farmer Filburn deprived the interstate commerce stream of his business. Therefore, by not engaging in interstate commerce, Farmer Filburn was engaging in interstate commerce (and 1984 hadn’t even been written yet)!
There are many examples throughout our history of the Supreme Court, Appointed for life and answerable to no one, overriding the will of millions of people as expressed through our elected representatives.  
Many thanks to Jane Anne Morris and POCLAD for the story of Farmer Filburn, from Jane Anne’s forthcoming book on the Commerce Clause, Gaveling Down the Rabble.

The Ongoing Legacy of the Program on Corporations, Law & Democracy (POCLAD) in Ohio

POCLAD principals Richard Grossman and Jane Anne Morris came to Ohio in 1996 to conduct a “Rethinking the Corporation, Rethinking Democracy” workshop on the history and current manifestations of corporate rule. It was one of dozens of “Rethinks” facilitated by them and others in POCLAD over several years across the country. The Ohio Rethink led to publications and audiovisuals on the history of the relationship of corporations and democracy in the state — as well as talks, articles, our own in-state version of a Rethink workshop, several state-wide coordinated local actions and projects, and regulator phone and email coordination and communication.

The original Ohio Rethink has also paved the way 16 years later for the current education and organization in many communities to promote a 28th amendment to the  U.S. Constitution as proposed by the national Move to Amend (MTA) coalition calling for an end to the legaldoctrines that corporations possess constitutional rights and that money spent in elections is equivalent to First Amendment free speech. The MTA amendment  would certainly include reversing the Citizens United vs FEC decision of 2010 but goes much further.

Many campaigns across Ohio are underway at the local level, inspired by POCLAD’s work over the years, to pressure city councils to pass a resolution calling for a Move to Amend like resolution or, better, to place the issue on the ballot for direct voter consideration. The latter istricky since conventional “resolutions” can’t appear directly on ballots under state law unless there is an included provision calling for the creation of a new or amendment to an existing local law. This makes citizeninitiative campaigns, which bypasses councils altogether, challenging.

Three Ohio cities have already passed resolutions calling for a constitutional amendment to reverse Citizens United…if not more.  More than a dozen other communities are working to pass complete MTA resolutions in their councils. Additionally, two Cleveland suburbs, Newburgh Heights and Brecksville, are pursuing strategies to put these issues directly before voters this November. To get around the local law hurdle, Newburgh Heights calls for the creation of a Mayor’s Task Force (the Mayor personally knew Richard Grossman) that would meet 10 times over the next year to examine the influence of corporate expenditures on elections. Meanwhile, the Brecksville initiative calls for establishing a “Democracy Day” (the term taken from POCLAD principal Peter Kellman’s BuildingUnions booklet) each February after every federal election. A public meeting would be held on that day to take public testimony, including from the Mayor and council, on the impact of political spending by corporations, unions, PACs and SuperPACs on their community.

What started out as “far out” concepts and strategies by POCLAD in Ohio (and certainly elsewhere) has in less than a generation become much more normal vernacular and respected — if not essential — work. Richard and others in POCLAD used to say our first goal was not to change the politics or constitution but to change the culture. Once the waypeople think shifts, changing politicians, laws, rules and constitutions will follow. Our work in Ohio, while certainly seeking to pass resolutions and citizen initiatives is nice and great for morale, essentially seeks primarily to alter the way we think about who we are and the rights and powers we should possess over those of corporations and money.

Ward Morehouse

Ward Morehouse

Ward Morehouse, co-founder of the Program on Corporations, Law & Democracy (POCLAD), died suddenly on June 30 swimming laps, one of his favorite activities. He was 83. His death comes less than nine months after POCLAD’s other co-founder, Richard Grossman, passed away.

Though Ward was a co-founder of POCLAD, I always felt he was the “grandfather” among us — wise, supportive, gentle, and humble. He contributed to our POCLAD collective a unique and diverse political perspective born from his direct experiences with people and conditions outside the U.S. His discussion of corporate rule and strategies to create genuine democracy through the lens of the Bhopal tragedy humanized my understanding of the global reach of corporate power and the need for fundamental change. It also helped me realize our kinship with others suffering harms from corporate rule as well as the various forms of resistance and movements for real democracy taking place globally.

I knew very little of Ward’s immense knowledge and experiences until spending time driving him around Ohio on a speaking tour about a dozen years ago. He was as humorous as he was intelligent, interested in me personally as he was in conditions of the world. Ward was never afraid to show his emotions — whether it was the love of his family (including his dog Buster), of us fellow “POCLADistas” (his word) or those in his many other circles. I will always cherish his insights and opportunity to support him as he supported me through some mutually trying times.

Ward was not the boastful sort. His disarming manner, firm convictions, and vast and diverse knowledge made him a compelling orator. His “communication” skills had another dimension — APEX Press— which he founded. Along with our newsletter, By What Authority, several of POCLAD’s most important resources that were produced by APEX were the central vehicles for sharing outward the ideas and strategies generated by our small little collective which have ended up having a disproportionate influence in our nation.

Ward sometimes looked more than slightly disheveled, as his shirts were often untucked, shoes untied, shirt pocket overflowing with pens, and papers and folders on multiple issues and projects stashed into bags of all sorts. Yet his mind and body were always focused on kindness, service and fundamental social change.


To read other reflections from “POCLADistas” about Ward, go to

Declaration of Independence from the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP)

What gall. How incredibly brazen. Of all days.

Today, July 2, is the first day of an 8 day gathering of over 600 pro-corporate representatives from a dozen nations in San Diego. Their goal is to push for a Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP), a pro-corporate globalization treaty that if passed, would cede American sovereignty of land and law to corporations.
TPP negotiators are considering a dispute resolution process that would grant transnational corporations special rights to challenge countries’ laws, regulations and court decisions in international tribunals that usurp domestic judicial systems.

TPP: Direct from the San Diego Negotiations: Last Chance to Save Democracy

So much for self-governance. Self-determination. Democracy.

Of all days.

Today, July 2, is the anniversary of the passage of the Declaration of Independence in 1776. It was signed on July 4 but it was passed by the Continental Congress on July 2.

It’s time once more to Declare our Independence from a centralized, undemocratic authority.

Read the article.
Let others know.
Contact your Congressperson and Senators.



In describing the motives of the owners of the new Bank of North America, Morris stated,
“The rich will strive to establish their dominion and enslave the rest. They always did. They always will…They will have the same effect here as elsewhere, if we do not, by [the power of] government, keep them in their proper spheres.”

“Whosoever controls the volume of money in any country is absolute master of all industry and commerce, and when you realize that the entire system is very easily controlled, one way or another, by a few powerful men at the top, you will not have to be told how periods of inflation and depression originate.”
The Sherman Act was an attempt to prevent unlawful restraint of trade and commerce and prevent monopolies – including banking monopolies. The Act was more aggressively enforced under President Teddy Roosevelt, including against the corporate practices of JP Morgan, the most powerful banker, if not corporate titan, of the day. In response to this increased enforcement of the Sherman Act and the Hepburn Act, Morgan created a financial panic by having his banks and those he controlled call in loans and refusing to grant new ones. The economic crash of 1907 followed. The “Panic of 1907” was a direct cause for the creation of the Federal Reserve System several years later. 
“ All of the perplexities, confusion, and distress in America arises, not from the deflects of the Constitution or Confederation, not from want of honor or virtue, so much as from downright ignorance of the nature of coin, credit, and circulation.”
“I believe that banking institutions are more dangerous to our liberties than standing armies. . . The issuing power should be taken from the banks and restored to the people, to whom it properly belongs.”
The national power to create money is appropriated to enrich bondholders; a vast public debt payable in legal tender currency has been funded into gold-bearing bonds, thereby adding millions to the burdens of the people…[The two political parties] propose to drown the outcries of a plundered people with the uproar of a sham battle over the tariff, so that capitalists, corporations, national banks, rings, trusts, watered stock, the demonetization of silver and the oppressions of the usurers may all be lost sight of.”
“We demand a national currency, safe, sound, and flexible, issued by the general government only, a full legal tender for all debts, public and private, and that without the use of banking corporations, a just, equitable, and efficient means of distribution direct to the people, at a tax not to exceed 2 per cent per annum, to be provided as set forth in the sub-treasury plan of the Farmers’ Alliance, or a better system; also by payments in discharge of its obligations for public improvements….We demand that postal savings banks be established by the government for the safe deposit of the earnings of the people and to facilitate exchange.”
“I am afraid that the ordinary citizen will not like to be told that the banks can and do create and destroy money.  And they who control the credit of a nation direct the policy of governments, and hold in the hollow of their hands the destiny of the people.”
“We say in our platform that we believe that the right to coin money and issue money is a function of government…Those who are opposed to the proposition tell us that the issue of paper money is a function of the bank and that the government ought to go out of the banking business.  I stand with Jefferson…and tell them, as he did, that the issue of money is a function of the government and that the banks should go out of the governing business…When we have restored the money of the Constitution, all other necessary reforms will be possible, and … until that is done there is no reform that can be accomplished.”
“It is well that the people of the nation do not understand our banking and monetary system, for if they did, I believe there would be a revolution before tomorrow morning.”
Why this calendar? Many people have questions about the root causes of our economic problems. Some questions involve money, banks and debt. How is money created? Why do banks control its quantity? How has the money system been used to liberate (not often) and oppress (most often) us? And how can the money system be “democratized” to rebuild our economy and society, create jobs and reduce debt?
Our goal is to inform, intrigue and inspire through bite size weekly postings listing important events and quotes from prominent individuals (both past and present) on money, banking and how the money system can help people and the planet. We hope the sharing of bits of buried history will illuminate monetary and banking issues and empower you with others to create real economic and political justice.
This calendar is a project of the Northeast Ohio American Friends Service Committee. Adele Looney, Phyllis Titus, Donna Schall, Leah Davis, Alice Francini and Greg Coleridge helped in its development.
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The Radical Supreme Court

Among the next changes needed constitutionally after eliminating corporate personhood and money is speech is making the Supremes somehow, someway accountable to somebody. Maybe term limits of 12 years. Or increasing the power of Congress to reverse decisions by a super majority of some kind. They simply have too much power — and have been venturing into realms not before entered.
The Radical Supreme Court