Wrinkle in Ancient Corporate Code Reveals Democracy Remedy (Not for the faint of heart)

Crumbling pages in the rare books room of the Wisconsin State Law Library may hold the key to breaking the corporate stranglehold on the democratic promise so long dormant in the heartland.

I’ve read those pages in that cool, dim room. But you can find the same info in the well-thumbed regular stacks that are only medium-rare. What is rare is for anyone but a historian or lawyer to read them. (Hint).

(Rather than having you read this, I’d like you to go here, but you’re probably not ready yet.)

“Incorporate in minutes: CHEAP, EASY, FAST.” Have you seen those ads? Why is it easier to incorporate than to register to vote, get a driver’s license, or maybe even order a pizza?

Try your luck with this multiple-choice question.

Corporations get their vast power from
A. their brilliant, inventive, plucky, persistent, indefatigable founders’ work and insights
B. US military forces and domestic police protecting their property worldwide
C. a winking conspiracy among judges to invent extra powers for them in the margins of their decisions
D. the sheer popularity and market domination of their amazing products
E. state legislatures

E is the key. A-D all help, with A always overrated and C exaggerated, but state legislatures do the deed.

Those CHEAP, EASY, FAST steps that today allow you to incorporate have a profound impact. Incorporation carves out a handful of chips of power from the block of government sovereignty, and hands them over to corporations. Simply put, some of the power of government is transferred to a corporation. In other words, GOVERNMENT CREATES CORPORATIONS.

(If you’re still reading this, maybe now you’re ready to go here.)

Before incorporation, all you have is a bunch of people, ideas, and resources. AFTER INCORPORATION, you have a company clothed with powers and protections granted and enforced by the full force of government. Law enforcement, courts, agencies, the whole chalupa.

This changes everything. For example, if you’re upset about a corporation doing bad things, you should be even more upset with your government that has granted that corporation the power to do those things.

I heard that many times before I got it. And I only got it when I went to the law library and held in my hands the pages that wrought such transformation. (Ready to go here?)

In a law library, you can hold in your hands the law that a legislature passed to turn that bunch of people and ideas into a corporation with powers of government. They used to do it one at a time. As in, the Octothorp Corporation may raise this amount of money, construct such-and-such a facility, and mine dilithium crystals in these three counties.

That’s amazing enough, that you can literally read the document that breathed power into a corporation. Even more shocking for us today is that if that corporation messed up, didn’t follow legislative instructions, or exceeded powers granted, the same legislature could just pass another law (no judicial intervention needed, thank you very much) and repeal the charter, a process called charter revocation. (Are you ready to see the treasure map to finding a charter revocation?)

That charter revocation—you can also hold it in your hands. Something about seeing this “in the flesh,” as it were, changes the way you understand corporations. It is hypocritcal and inaccurate for lawmakers to intone the equivalent of, Gosh, those darn corporations are so powerful. When in fact every single one of their powers was granted by legislation, voted on by legislators. (And even if first granted by a court, those powers were later ratified in statutes).

So I want you to take two steps that aren’t on many agendas just now.

ONE—Get thee to a law library.

TWO—Realize that the target of citizen activism is not so much corporations (using powers overtly given to them by governments), but the governments themselves that have ratified such a wholesale transfer of power from the people to corporations.

That’s my pitch. I hope you’re ready to go here, to see a pamphlet-length layperson’s tour guide to a law library. Even if you never make it to the library, you’ll learn a thing or two by flipping through the tourist brochure. Perhaps, even enough to turn your attention from corporations to the governments that create and protect them.

Bon voyage, jam

KNOWLEDGE IS POWER! (THE STRATEGY-OPTIONAL APPROACH)

Wow, I feel more powerful already.

Because I know that toxin-laced microscopic plastic beads from toothpaste and other cosmetics have been sluiced into our waterways and ingested by fish and other marine animals in the lower Great Lakes.

I also know that frac sand mining and processing spews fine particulate silica sand into the air and blasts nasty chemicals into dismembered and mutilated aquifers in Wisconsin, where I live.

My power surges. I almost can’t contain it all.

(Insert your favorite examples here.)

What should we do with all this power? Write a letter to the FDA with its spectacular record of failure to regulate bad substances in a timely manner, coupled with attempts to prohibit or discourage the use of commonplace inexpensive remedies whose major flaw is that they do not massively increase the profits of big pharmaceutical corporations?

Or, maybe I should go to a fracking hearing at the DNR, the main point of which is to advertise that a) the DNR has no intention of seriously regulating such operations, and b) affected local communities lack power under state law to pass strict protective ordinances?

Our conferences, lectures, workshops, and study groups Describing the Problem are as numerous as the bison that once thundered the Plains. Our books, slide shows and folk songs Describing the Problem are as numberless as the passenger pigeons that once blackened the skies.

If there are limits to our drive to accumulate knowledge to Describe the Problem, we haven’t reached them yet. We leave no grain of sand unturned, no Antarctic ice crystal unanalyzed, no clitoridectomy unlamented, no habitat loss unmourned, no slain journalist unlisted, no refugee camp unenumerated, no polar bear hair unsectioned, no deformed frog undissected, no terawatt-hour of electricity unmeasured, no torture technique uncatalogued, no larva unprobed….Oops, I’ve fallen into Describing the Problem again.

Uh, does this mean that with all this knowledge we are like, really powerful?

Oh, all that knowledge we collect, collate, calculate, caress, characterize, calibrate, cross-reference. (Sigh). I know it leads many people to succumb to denial and depression, but how exactly does this translate into power?

* * *

Knowledge is power—if there are ways to apply that knowledge to make constructive changes. Knowledge is not power if the underlying political framework spins off grass roots activism into unproductive eddies of procedural minutiae and judicial dead ends.

We need knowledge to wield power well, but that doesn’t mean that we don’t need strategy. Yet we are obsessed with increasing knowledge via Describing the Problem, while strategy languishes. And the “problem” we have today stretches across the spectrum from zoophyte extinction to ageism.

Disclosure: In my background lurks academia, writing, and explaining this or that problem to a variety of audiences. I have done extensive research including writing a book about a single constitutional clause, so it’s not that I don’t appreciate research and description. Knowledge must be part of what we do, but it’s not the goal or the answer, and it’s certainly not the strategy.

* * *

Some things you can do…

1. Stop Describing the Problem to people who agree with you and start talking to those who don’t.

2. Try diagnosing the problem instead of describing it. (Like, is the problem the corporation that is polluting or the government that allows this—in fact, hands out permits for it?)

3. Use all the time you free up to strategize about making the necessary changes. And don’t bother with the sleepwalking methods (toeing the line at regulatory agencies, whining at demonstrations….) that have failed, for, oh, forty or a hundred years.

4. Strategize about how to challenge…well, here’s a statement of the problem that I wrote about twenty years ago, and it still stands.

“Over a period of many generations, corporate lawyers, in drawing rooms, cloak rooms and court rooms, worked over our imperfect but promising democracy clause by clause. In all too many instances, when a law got in the way of corporate power, the corporations either got rid of it, weakened it, prevented it from being enforced, got it declared unconstitutional, or influenced the judicial interpretation of it so as to render it inconsequential.

While the rights of most human persons were denied or diminished, corporations acquired by sleight-of-hand constitutional rights of “natural” persons. These newly anointed corporate “persons” claimed and gained constitutional protections for their “property,” which was first construed to be something tangible, expanded to include the intangible and now includes the imaginary.”

Is that quote just Describing the Problem again? I think not: Rather, it is diagnosing the problem. And if we diagnose the problem as our government and the power it gives to corporations, we need to take a break from counting parts-per-million and dollars-per-candidate and strategize how to alter our underlying legal framework.

People have been working on such strategies for at least two decades, yet that work somehow isn’t as sexy as Describing the Problem.

So, could you spend a week without Describing the Problem, and turn instead to planning strategy ? Or maybe a month?

Strategy isn’t optional. To plagiarize and paraphrase (plagiaphase?) a famous dead white guy: The point is not to describe the world, but to change it.

Snowy equinox. jam

WHY THERE AREN’T ANY JOKES ABOUT REGULATORY AGENCIES

OK, here’s a joke about a regulatory agency, as told by the corporate manager of a big polluting factory.

He says…So, I’m in my office one day and the Man from EPA comes in and slams down a huge stack of papers, saying — You’ve got 22,221 violations, and you better do something about them by next Friday.

So I says, Oh yeah, and what if I don’t do anything about them by next Friday?

Well, says the Man from EPA, then you’ll have twenty-two thousand, two hundred and twenty-TWO violations.

Hah, hah.

Not exactly hilarious, but that was my first time. I had to make it up myself because I’ve never heard a regulatory agency joke. Which struck me as strange, because in the US we have priest-minister-rabbi jokes, screw-in-a-light-bulb jokes, race jokes, blind guy jokes, physicist-mathematician-engineer jokes, and lots of lawyer jokes. (Like the one about the lawyer and the pope who died at exactly the same moment…I guess that’s a lawyer joke and a religion joke at the same time. Hmm, and Purgatory is sort of like a regulatory agency.)

The more I thought about it the odder it seemed. We have lifeboat jokes, viola jokes, man-walks-into-a-bar jokes, parachute jokes, toilet jokes — but no regulatory agency jokes. I’m not talking here about good jokes, or jokes in good taste, or politically correct jokes, or even funny jokes — just jokes.

I was looking for a fresh way to criticize regulatory agencies. Or, maybe to understand why so many people can’t imagine a world without them.

Folklorists and sociologists are always analyzing recipes, urban myths, jump-rope rhymes, and jokes for clues about a society. It follows that not having jokes about a certain topic might also tell us something. I’ve never heard a joke with the punchline, “And so the doctor says: You’ve got breast cancer!” and everybody laughs.

I’m not sure what it means if there aren’t jokes about regulatory agencies or cancer. This could be a red herring, but you can’t be sure till the fat lady sings.

Regulatory agencies have long public records of being colossal failures.That’s rich material to mine. Some of the reasons for failures:

1. Regulatory agencies are political, so sometimes the FDA chief is going to be a former pharmaceuticals company executive, or the DNR alpha is going to be a realtor. (Joke material?)

2. They’re way underfunded, so enforcement is a joke (did I say that?); leap years come more often than inspections; and the backlog of unevaluated chemicals numbers…let’s just say, much more than your annual income in dollars.

3. Historically, Reg Ags are always “captured” by the industries they are supposed to be regulating.

All that is well documented over more than a century in the US. But I won’t go into it here because I don’t have any jokes about it. Speaking of which…World’s shortest Regulatory Agency joke: Kid goes into the school guidance counselor’s office. Says, “I want to be a hearing examiner.”

OK, back to the list. Saving the worst for the last, two more reasons why Reg Ags are such failures.

4. By combining legislative, executive, and judicial functions in one place, they frustrate democracy. (Key: as they were meant to do). They regulate citizens, not corporations.

5. Reg Ags were actually invented by corporations as a way to avoid state legislatures and local laws. You don’t believe it, do you? It has a high truthiness index: go here for the facts.

After all that preaching you get one more joke.

A lobbyist, a hearing examiner, and an Earth First!er are in an elevator. The lobbyist is wearing Savile Row, the hearing examiner is wearing Thrift Shop retro, and the Earth First!er is dressed up as a Karner Blue butterfly. They’re at EPA headquarters, heading for a hearing on the top floor, way, way up there. Suddenly, there’s a thump and they get a sinking feeling in the pits of their stomachs.

The Earth First!er yells: The cable’s broken, we’re falling! Help me find the emergency button to stop this thing!

The hearing examiner says: Thank-you for taking the time to come here today to share your views on this matter with us.

The Earth First!er yells again: You just don’t get it, do you? Help me stop this elevator NOW or we’ll all die!

The hearing examiner says: Well, it’s not quite as easy as you think. First of all, there are people who have spent their whole lives studying elevators and running elevator companies, and it would be imprudent to do anything without hearing their testimony.

Second, there are constitutional issues here. We have to hear the elevator company’s views because the Supreme Court has ruled that corporations are constitutional persons with First Amendment speech rights, plus rights to due process and equal protection before the law.

Then, the lobbyist butts in: The elevator company’s experts have already submitted persuasive testimony to the effect that we’re not falling at all, you are an alarmist, and if we even try to stop the elevator now, we would damage it, thereby harming the elevator corporation’s constitutionally protected private property and becoming liable for damages.

I hate to leave that so up in the air, but I got sort of bogged down on that joke, if you know what I mean. The lobbyist and the hearing examiner became compost, and a blue butterfly was seen fluttering away from the scene.

What the butterfly knew that many citizens groups still don’t, is that there is life and activism outside of regulatory agencies. It’s called local government, ordinances, legislation, referendums—and much of it goes under the name “community rights.” Here is an introduction.

Fat lady’s song: To answer the implied title question, Why aren’t there any jokes about regulatory agencies? Um, because they ARE a Joke?

Actually, there are Reg Ag jokes. But the ruse that there aren’t got you to the end of this blog post, didn’t it? Thanks.

Until next time. jam

Groundhog Day for Obamacare: Back to the Supremes

Like small-town mayors across the nation on Groundhog Day, the Supreme Court will get to make the call on whether Obamacare casts a shadow.

The Affordable Care Act (ACA, aka Obamacare) is again on its way to the Court for further review, as they say in the NFL. Its future is on the line, but for completely different reasons than the first time in 2012. Continue readingGroundhog Day for Obamacare: Back to the Supremes”

Let’s Get Smart About ALEC

Gather a bundle of your inkiest exclamation points to put at the end of the next sentence. An outfit called ALEC, funded by wealthy right-wing ideologues, has put together a collection of model laws that they like, and is trying to get legislatures to pass them! ! ! ! !

So what exactly is so shocking about this? That they have actually written up laws they’d like to see passed? That they are promoting them to like-minded legislators? That they have money? Really? (For an analysis of what we’re missing, go here.)

(For those of you who have been playing online solitaire for the last four years, ALEC, described as a “corporate bill mill,” stands for American Legislative Exchange Council, founded in 1973 as the Conservative Caucus of State Legislators).

Hey, there are as many model laws out there as there are articles “exposing” ALEC. Glance over this fun sampling, and then tell me why ALEC is so outrageous.

Apes & Electrification
The Animal Legal Defense Fund has a “Model Ordinance for Great Apes” as part of its Model Animal Protection Laws Collection. The Energy and Mining Sector Board of the World Bank puts out model laws that promote electrification.

Shellfish & Carry-On Musical Instruments
The Food and Drug Administration puts out a Shellfish Sanitation Model Ordinance. The American Federation of Musicians sought to get provisions of a model law about carrying musical instruments on commercial airlines incorporated into a modernized Federal Aviation Administration Act.

Guns, Adoption, Anatomical Gifts & Organ Transplants
The Johns Hopkins Center for Gun Policy and Research put out a Model Handgun Safety Act. The US Uniform Law Commission puts out lots of model laws such as the Uniform Adoption Act and the Anatomical Gift Act, the latter supported by “many organ, eye, and tissue procurement organizations.” The Organ Procurement and Transplantation Network offered the National Organ Transplant Act.

Service Dogs & Solar Energy
Assistance Dogs International has an Assistance Dog Model State Law. Solar America Board has offered a Model Statute/Ordinance To Encourage Access to Solar Energy.

Work Zone Safety & Model Model Law
The National Committee on Uniform Traffic Laws and Ordinances puts out model laws on work zone safety. There is even a model law for models from the Model Alliance, an organization that focuses on fashion model rights. Concerns include child models dropping out of high school, and being pressured for sex by photographers.

Lots of groups and institutions are organized and focused enough to write up and put out model laws, at the local, state, federal, and international levels. (Go here for an example of how to do this “at home.”)

Some work quietly, while others launch major PR campaigns. These model law groups are likely to be funded by, if not started up by, people who stand to benefit or believe they will benefit from the laws they propose.

Many states, and the US, have passed outstanding “green” or “progressive” laws in the past. See my book Gaveling Down the Rabble, or an article about a “green” future, or an article about good state laws, or an article about laws to protect meat quality.

Unfortunately, many of these laws have been declared unconstitutional because of corporate constitutional protections. For an insight into this phenomenon, go here.

So, let’s get smart about ALEC.

1. Get over it. What is accomplished by protracted hand-wringing on how evil ALEC is? Describing the problem is only helpful if you’re talking to people who don’t think there’s a problem.

2. Acknowlege that ALEC has done a great job, especially by keeping a list of model laws on hand for when they may be able to pass them. ALEC is prepared.

3. Learn about ALEC. ALEC gets its power from the government. Specifically, the Illinois law under which ALEC incorporated in the mid-1970s, and the 501(c)(3) portion of the US statutes IRS code. Have you ever read or tried to change either one?

4. Write your own goddam model law. If you’ve got a problem with ALEC, rewrite the law under which it was incorporated to better suit democratic ideals. State laws are out there, and I don’t see a lot of left-of-center groups even reading them, much less rewriting them. Right now, state incorporation statutes are modified every session, as corporate lobbyists march in, hand in their “improvements,” and stand by while legislators pass them. The American Bar Association puts out a Model Business Incorporation Act. Do you have one? (Go here for an example of some great provisions that used to be part of corporate law.)

5. Some good model laws. Here are two recent ones that you might consider emulating, adapting them to your own local issues. It’s part of what is often called the “community rights” movement.

COLORADO COMMUNITY RIGHTS NETWORK
HISTORY OF ENVISION SPOKANE

Ever walk into a representative’s or council person’s office with a proposed law in hand? It’s a good feeling. Put it on your 2015 New Year’s Resolutions list.

See you around Ground Hog’s day. jam

Making a Federal Case Out of It

“Don’t make a federal case out of it.” I used the phrase countless times without understanding its origin. But it turns out it’s full right up to the post-hoc-ergo-propter-hoc with historical significance: lessons about corporations, democracy and local control–what you might call community rights.

Take the train-hits-cow cases. Railroads began a rapid expansion in the US in the 1830s and by 1870 spanned the continent. Farmers had livestock milling around before barbed wire was patented or common, and trains didn’t-wouldn’t-couldn’t always stop for the unfortunate domestic animal standing on the tracks.

Farmers wanted compensation for all the cows wasted by trains. They often got it, even from the big railroad corporations, if they went to state courts, which obviously understood the plight of farmers losing stock to the new Iron Horses.

Another big beef during the early railroad era was that glowing embers from wood-burning steam locomotives wafted off and set fire to farmers’ fields and barns. This barn burning was especially common before railroads began switching to coal in the 1860s. Again, farmers were often able to get compensation if they went to state courts.

Railroad corporations were not keen on paying for kilt cows or burnt barns if they could avoid it. They learned early on that they fared much better in federal courts. Ask a lawyer (Better Call Saul): federal court takes longer, costs more, is farther away, has more onerous procedures, and is harder to win in if you’re an amateur.

Make a federal case out of it: escape the locals and get into federal court. As opposed to traffic court, municipal court, county court or state court. The rules for getting into federal court have changed over time, and there’s no way to summarize them here. But one fairly sure way is to raise a constitutional question. Poring over the constitution looking for corporate handholds has long been a strategy for property seeking relief from local democracy. (My book Gaveling Down the Rabble is all about how it’s done with a single constitutional clause.)

Much of corporate law (and “rights,” and powers) comes out of cases about railroads because they were among the dominant corporations of the 19th century. The take-home message: corporations saw that local control was a threat to their power, but federal jurisdiction (courts, Congress, or the regulatory agencies) could be a ticket for privilege. (For some history, see this.)

A shallow or stylized sense of history can lead to misconceptions. Many people think that the Supreme Court (the feds) has been a stalwart defender of civil rights. Simply not true, and shamefully not true. (See the chapter on civil rights in Gaveling.) But the “federal case” idiom was common in the 1950s because of federal involvement (usually based on the constitution’s COMMERCE clause) in civil rights during those years.

The origin of the phrase seems to be somewhat earlier, in Jimmy Durante’s 1940s reference to the federal government’s use of tax evasion charges to justify going after bootleggers during the Depression. I don’t have any evidence that the phrase was used in the early railroad era, but it captures the essence of corporate efforts to escape protective state and local laws.

If I titled this post “Federalism is So Complex!” none of you would be reading this now. But it is complex, and critical to efforts to reinstate some semblance of local control in our communities. Here are another few relevant tidbits before I close this ramble.

* Federal courts had little to do in the early decades of this nation, but now hear cases on a huge spread of topics and issues. (Gaveling explores this in labor, civil rights, and environmental law, among others). Whether this is good or bad is not obvious.

* The US Congress—not the constitution—determines the powers of federal courts. See my “Look to Congress for Supreme Court Fix.”

* The question of the appropriate relationship between local and federal power involves, among many other things, whether a federal law should be a floor (a minimum standard that states may be stricter than), or a ceiling (a standard that must be met but cannot be exceeded by local laws).

Finally, let’s remember that “local control” is a double-edged sword. If we really believe in local control, we need to insure that it is DEMOCRATIC local control and not feudal party machines in action.

Next post will be about….let’s see, What the Phrase “From Here Till Next Tuesday” Can Tell Us About Corporations.

Happy 2015, jam

jam tip: A great source for train-hits-cow stories and other tales of early corporate constitutional predation is volume one of Morton Horwitz’s The Transformation of American Law (1977). NB: not for the faint of heart.

A Corporate Anthropologist Walks Into a Blog…

There are two kinds of corporate anthropologists. First, the kind that works for corporations and gets paid. I’m the other kind.

The first kind works for and with corporations to increase worker productivity, advise what color greeting card to send a Chinese executive, or figure out how to sell personal hygiene products to Mayan grandmothers. In school we used to call it how-to-sell-Coca-Cola-to-the-natives. A subset would be how to keep the natives from getting restless.

It often involves finding non-confrontational stealth “solutions” to management-defined problems. This would include designing lobby benches that can’t be slept on, or sandpaper-covered toilet seats to discourage secretaries with too much time on their hands from hiding in stalls reading bodice-rippers.

It would not include ways of preventing non-corporate geese from defecating around fountain-fed corporate ponds. (That would require a corporate ornithologist, I guess.)

The second kind of corporate anthropologist, the kind I am, uses anthropological methods to study corporations or corporate culture. The core anthropological research method is participant observation, which basically means living there, or if it’s a setting like a factory or school, working there or attending—hanging out in some way.

I’m a corporate anthropologist because my “tribe,” the one I studied, was a powerful quasi-public utility company. It was by following this utility through scores of permits and hearings, in nearly as many regulatory agencies and courts, that I got my training in regulatory agencies. My dissertation was over 700 pages long and contained thirteen appendices, partly because I feared a lawsuit.

This sort of thing is called “studying up” because unlike the historic anthropological project of sending someone from an empire to study oppressed people in the colonies (“studying down”), you have someone studying up at powerful people, groups, or institutions, often in their own society.

One of the reasons it’s not more popular is that there’s no money in it. In my own case, I was encouraged to study (down at) environmental groups or citizen activists instead of (up at) the Big Utility. Corporations and other powerful institutions have always been happy to fund studies that reveal the inner workings and weaknesses of groups that suffer from their practices.

Since the 1960s, UC-Berkeley anthropologist Laura Nader (yes, Ralph’s sister) has been encouraging students to “study up” at everything from regulatory commissions to dentist conventions. Her work was an inspiration and model for my own.

If you want to hear more about my utility tribe, you can read a sidebar on it here, or follow the links in “About JAM” to a biographical sketch on the Society of Midland Authors site.

So, a corporate anthropologist walks into a blog……says…. Happy Solstice, see you in 2015. jam

Is Citizens United Focus a Good Use of Our Time? (2014)

Such a comforting thought—that overturning a single court case can resolve some of society’s biggest problems. With Citizens United, the idea seems to be that huge strides could be made by reversing it, thereby “getting the money out of” elections. It’s our current version of the “silver bullet” myth of old.

Kind of like thinking that bee pollen will cure your cancer. Now, I’m not anti-bee pollen, or anti-herbal remedies, but the human body is a bodaciously complicated place. To think that adding a single substance to your diet (while changing nothing else) will cure a systemic disease is a bit simplistic. The body politic is also complex, as is the problem of how to make it democratic.

As far as court cases are concerned, there may be one or two good prospects for thinking that a reversal might overhaul society. Plessy v. Ferguson, the case that enshrined “separate but equal,” comes to mind, and its effective overturning in 1954 was a huge victory.

I know Plessy, and I know Citizens United, and Citizens United is no Plessy v. Ferguson. How do I know? Because I’ve read Citizens United, and the case it came from, and the Michigan law that was at issue. (I’ve also read Buckley v. Valeo, but we won’t go there now).

Do you have to do that? No, because you can read my very short take on it here. Keywords: money = speech, corporate “personhood,” and McCain-Feingold. Citizens United activism, far from being a silver bullet, is more like a lead weight. I think it actually distracts us from underlying issues.

While I’m at it, there’s a related issue that I’d like to raise. You could gloss it as Campaign Reform (the term I prefer) versus Campaign Finance Reform. Here’s the heart of it: in today’s world, except in a few cases of very low-level public offices, no one can get elected unless they have at least a comfortable middle-class security blanket, and probably much more.

That flat-out eliminates working class or low -income people from the pool of possible elected officials. Is it any wonder that a huge percent of our elected officials are lawyers, or other businesspeople or professionals with secure (to say the least) finances? Am I the only one who would like to see, uh, people of moderate income, low income, and real laborers elected to office once in a while?

Cutting to the point: If we’re serious about having elected officials that come anywhere close to representing the diversity of our society, then we need to do much more than tweak a few of the rules for financing elections. We need to completely rethink how we design the election process. Hence, instead of merely playing around with campaign finance reform, we need to face campaign reform—a bodacious redesign of the campaign idea.

With the help of others, notably labor historian Peter Kellman, I’ve tried to sketch out what this rethinking might involve. You can read it here. It’s not a blueprint, just an effort to broaden our thinking from a tarnished silver bullet, to a very difficult but much more promising path.

Thanks for reading this. Until the next rant, jam

Frackin’ Keystone

Gotcha. There, I did it. Used two of the hottest current keywords to draw you in, and here you are. Thanks for visiting, I’ll make it worth your while.

They’re but two buzz words in a long line — longer than the trains stretching to the horizon, carrying crude (very crude) oil, frack sand, and yes, still a lot of coal.

Hydraulic fracturing, Keystone XL Pipeline, two buzz phrases in a long line of practices and projects that should have been prevented, or stopped, or at the very least scaled way down to something plausibly sustainable, or regulated down to something whose consequences would be truly minimal.

But instead, FRACKING and KEYSTONE are just the latest episodes in the long-running and on-going soap opera called Regulatory Agency Failure whose subtitle could be something like, No-Your-Community-Does-NOT-Have-the-Right-to-Protect-Itself-from-Obvious-Harms. Why do we keep banging our heads against the wall in the regulatory agency theme park — exactly where corporate strategists want us to be?

Is it because we can’t think of any other approach? That won’t work as an excuse for anyone who knows the history of regulatory agencies in the US, or the history of corporations in our states.

I’ve been trying to get people to question the whole regulatory agency framework for decades. Not to replace it with transparently self-serving “corporate social responsibility,” faux-green techno-fixes, or so-called “market forces” to further fatten the 1% — but with something that we could, with a straight face, call small-d democracy.

So, I’m handing you off.

If you think regulatory agencies were designed to actually regulate corporations, go HERE. If after reading those five pages you still believe in regulatory agencies, I’ll buy you a beverage of your choice. (I’ve been making that offer for fifteen years now, and have never had a taker.)

If you can’t imagine anything to do other than plead — and I mean plead — with bureaucrats in regulatory agencies, go HERE.

If you are ready for a comparison of activists’ ineffective, circularly addictive busy-work tactics with the straightforward, effective, corporate strategies that deal with fundamental law instead of frou-frou regulatory minutiae, go HERE.

By the time you’ve considered all that, I’ll be ready to dish out another installment of commentary.

Right now I’ve got snow to shovel.

Ward Morehouse (1929-2012): A Remembrance

When I first met Ward Morehouse in May 1995 at a weekend “Rethinking the Corporation” retreat in Wisconsin’s “driftless” region—he considered Wisconsin his “old stompin’ ground”–he asked to see my just-published first book. Returning the book the next morning, he made a few trenchant remarks that left no doubt that he had read the whole thing.

Of course, I was flattered that an eminence grise would be interested in my work. Even more than that, I was not a little amazed that he had managed to do this despite actively taking part in the intense socializing that accompanied that hopeful gathering.

I didn’t agree with every call Ward made. But when I approached him with an issue, I knew that he would offer more than the impatient, strained, short silence that often passes for listening. He was pleased, not threatened, by new information and ideas. He never responded by intimating that of course he already knew that. You were in for a thoughtful intellectual exchange, leavened with wry humor and sprigs of insight. I never heard him make a self-serving comment.

Ward’s causes and projects were things he really believed in, not vehicles to carry him to celebrity activist status. Where others rushed to the limelight and basked therein, Ward hung back and let others take credit. Where others sought cheerleaders and acolytes, Ward sought colleagues. He nurtured people, and created opportunities for them to grow, explore, and develop. He was self-effacing, not self-promoting; a strategizer, not a schemer.

He let others, not always deserving, hitch a ride on his well-earned reputation for integrity and courage. If Ward had a fault, it was that he was sometimes unaware that others were using him, not only to promote themselves, but to do so in directions that would not meet Ward’s high ethical standards.

And by the way, anybody who knew Ward also knows that no one would have gotten away with calling him an eminence grise within his earshot. So Ward, if you are listening now—and you probably are—I’m taking advantage of your physical absence to call you the eminence grise that you will always be. You are well remembered, sorely missed, and fondly recalled.

Now, organize those angels.

 

Jane Anne Morris, September, 2012