Monday, August 24, 2009

Are Corporations People?

It would be no exaggeration to suggest that Free Speech is fundamental to our American Democracy and one of the most basic rights protected by the first Amendment to the United States Constitution.

A continuing controversy persists about free speech when it relates to political speech however. For example, is a political contribution an exercise of free speech? Can contributions be excessive such that they might exert improper influence on the outcome of an election? If indeed, political contributions are considered the exercise of a First Amendment right can there be placed a limit on such contributions in the name or protecting free speech?

It gets even more murky when the 'free speech' is being exercised by a corporation. Are corporations people? In an April 2007 ruling Federal Judge Paul Barbadoro found that corporations, as legal persons, have "free speech rights that would be infringed . . . ." in a case involving doctors and drug companies.

It is no secret that corporations spend a lot of money in the support of particular candidates or legislation that is in their best interest. Is this free speech too? Should such campaign financing therefore be protected as free speech in such cases?

Central to this discussion is the decision in the late 1800's that established "the doctrine of corporate personhood -- the claim that corporations were intended to fully enjoy the legal status and protections created for human beings".

One might have serious doubts about such an interpretation of the First Amendment when one considers the different treatment of people and corporations in a court of law. One has to ask if a corporation has ever been or could be sentenced to life in prison (or even executed) should its deliberate and/or negligent actions be found to be directly responsible for the death of an individual, as would a person on trial in similar circumstances.

There is no shortage of articles describing corporate behavior which has directly caused serious injury or death of employees and customers. Tobacco, lead paint, mining disasters come to mind. Negligence in aircraft maintenance has been in the news recently with its tragic consequences.

In some cases individual executives have been singled out and punished but the standard response of courts has been some sort of fine or reprimand for the corporation.

Corporations do enjoy the privileges of 'personhood' but they certainly have few of the responsibilities or obligations of real people.

Clearly corporations are not persons and it's about time we stopped pretending that they are.

Maybe it's just me.

Friday, August 14, 2009

New job opportunity: Director of Fear Mongering

What in the world is going on around the country? Have we just become gullible and lazy or have we always been so? Sarah Palin calls a provision of the health care bill a "death panel", Sen. Chuck Grassley worries that people might think that the government can coerce an older person to choose to die so he advocates removal of the provision in the bill that offers to cover end of life consultations.

And many people believe them!

On the other hand, since when does a medical consultation have to include anything in particular? It's a voluntary private conversation between a doctor and a patient, isn't it? And they're covered by Medicare so why in the world did the drafters of the bill even have to bring it up?

Foolish decisions all around.

Friday, August 7, 2009

A Crime Against Integrity


So Rhode Island's Attorney General agreed on Thursday that there were two "bad checks", city employees behaved in a manner that was "unprofessional", "misguided", and "inexplicable" , and the superintendent of the state police called their behavior "unsettling".

On the same front page, the Board of Elections, also on Thursday, concluded that the Attorney General, in an unrelated matter, had not violated state statute by calling $9000 in his campaign spending "petty cash" when the law limits petty cash spending to $25.

In both instances complaints were dismissed and no crimes were found to have been committed.

I submit that there was a crime committed, a crime against integrity, a crime against the people who deserve to have admiration and confidence in their government.

I'd recommend that all involved read Stuart Chase's, "The Nemesis of American Business", written after the crash of 1929 during the Great Depression, especially Chapter 2, "The Luxury of Integrity"

Maybe it's just me.