Monday, February 13, 2012

Report on David Cobb's Move to Amend talk in Nevada City Saturday night

Seaman's Lodge held a hefty audience for an impassioned talk by attorney & former Green Party presidential candidate David Cobb Sat. night, after a half hour  Saul Rayo  performance which included an appearance by Elena Powell.
[Note: this post is from my notes; I have not fact-checked the content.  And I'm largely using Cobb's wording.]

Cobb spoke/orated on the need for we the people to take back our government, and enact a Constitutional amendment ending the legal fiction that corporations have the same rights as people.  Afterward, he answered extensive audience questions.

If you want the full flavor of the presentation, you need video - & it sounds (from the first few min.) like this presentation at Ojai (he comes on at ~35 seconds in, on the video) was pretty much the one he gave here.

Cobb described himself as a "proud, patriotic, pissed off American citizen and a political progressive", adding  that a righteous anger - along with joyfulness - is a good thing when it fuels action, rather than stewing and wallowing. "Don't just hate corporate media, become independent media", he advised, in words recorded by NCTV and Finding The Good videographers.

One "what's wrong" soundbite from his talk:
"The transnational corporations are ruling us.  The military-industrial complex chooses when we go to war.  Meanwhile We the People are left to choose between paper and plastic at the grocery store."
Cobb noted that the Move to Amend/Occupy movements have commonalities with the Tea Party:  "when you talk to [Tea Party members] you find 90% are angry about corporations and fat cats getting government bailouts"; but he noted the differences as well.

He introduced four key concepts -
  • Democracy - from the Greek, "the people rule"; yet there is now an oligarchy
  • Sovereignty - the authority to rule;
  • Legal personhood - ability to assert rights;
  • Corporation - Latin, to have or create a body
And he argued for a cultural shift, saying, "Law follows culture - shift the culture, and the law will change".  He lauded the Occupy movement, saying its "We are the 99%" message is flipping the conversation, culturally.

Cobb said one person standing up against oppression isn't magic - what's magical is when the rest join in.    "This is a democracy movement", since we-the-people currently don't control our govenment.

(He did say "we need to use all the tools in the toolbox" at our disposal; in light of recent Occupy Oakland events, does anyone recall whether he got more specific?)
On alliances - he's worked with principled conservatives, with progressive Democrats, with libertarians, e.g. on civil liberties.

On the history & proper purpose of corporations - corporations built the Roman' acqueducts, roads, universities, hospitals - all of these are infrastructure for the public good.  Taxes are a mandatory way to get resources for public benefit, while chartering a corporation is a voluntary way.  The corporation can do good through investment - in which case it's a for-profit corporation - or through donations, if it's a non-profit corporation.  Either way, they put private monies to public use.

However...corporations are no longer instruments of benificence.  The modern transnational corporation was created as an instrument of empire - e.g. East India Corporation, Africa Trading Corporation (which traded in people)

Of the 13 Colonies of the American Revolution, all were corporations (e.g the Massachusetts Bay Trading Co.), chartered by the king, who designated a Governor (today, we'd call him the CEO)  to run it for the benefit of the king and the shareholders.  So the American Revolution was also a people's uprising against illegitimate corporate rule.

In the war the revolutionaries were not calling for a more socially responsible king, or corporation - they'd actually tried something like that, some years before, beseeching the king and legislature for better treatment (but to little or no effect: the king & legislature were corporation shareholders).

Constitutional concepts -
We the people - who are free & sovereign - create the Government, which wouldn't exist without us.
We have rights, the government has duties (the Constitution recognizes this)

...but keep in mind that these "we the people" of our country's founding were wealthy white males only, amounting to roughly 5% of the adult human population of the U.S.
(Howard Zinn says history requires a lens to really see it, as a series of struggles by actual humans to be considered persons under the Constitution.)

Today, to form a corp entails paying a ~$100 filing fee, in California; where back in 1789 it was hard, you had to get a bill passed by the House & Senate.  For the corp. privilege of limited liability you had to identify a public need that wasn't being met; and the corporation's charter lasted only 5 or 10 years, & could be revoked if   it was found to be doing something outside the public interest.

Yet corporate personhood destroys all this.
Some interesting points were brought up in the Q&A.
(Note, this section's more incomplete, I missed some Qs)

To the Q "how do you feel about getting local ordinances passed to strip corporations of personhood?" Cobb said that this is great but every time such a law has been challenged, it's been overturned.  So yes, work locally; but w/o making national change, local actions are not enough.

Polling shows that - "when it's put to them so they understand it" - roughly 80% of Americans are against corporate personhood.

To the Q "what should our strategy for getting a constitutional amendment be?" Cobb said "start in our communities, then do the county, then the state, then the federal level".

"The Occupy movement has captured a zeitgeist" - it was sparked by folks at Adbusters, & Cobb recounted how he'd initially dismissed the (proposed) action but is delighted to have been proved wrong.

One audience member brought up the work of Gene Sharp  (subject of the documentary film "How to Start a Revolution") , in view of Cobb's statement that "there is a roadmap for how social movements can come together" and succeed.

To the Q "how to reach the Tea Party?" Cobb reminded his audience that in the Venn diagram of concerns there are areas of commonality - e.g. the mom&pop businesses (which are often structured as corporations, albeit not of the transnational  8000-lb-gorilla ilk) also suffer from the transnational  corporations having hijacked government to benefit the ruling elite.  Someone suggested food sovereignty as a promising area of agreement, of alliance.


frank -- Decoding SwiftHack said...

Cobb's project is well-intentioned, but isn't a bit pointless to merely try to change the Constitution -- if the existing Constitution isn't even being enforced?

The US government under Obama has no problem with killing US citizens without due process (e.g. Anwar Al-Awlaki), or with prosecuting whistleblowers while doing nothing about the exposed crimes. Glenn Greenwald (now on my blogroll) has been writing a lot about such things lately.

The problem is a lot deeper than just the Constitution.

-- frank

Anna Haynes said...

Thanks Frank.
I was going to ask "well, what does Greenwald recommend, as a cure?" - but then ran across his early defense of the Citizens United decision (interesting arguments, folks). In it he says "I believe that corporate influence over our political process is easily one of the top sicknesses afflicting our political culture"; and he suggests that we "have the Government try to equalize the playing field through serious public financing of campaigns". This seems to put him on the same page as Lawrence Lessig (More Money Can Beat Big Money).

frank -- Decoding SwiftHack said...

Well, whether you agree with Greenwald on his opinion,(*) the key thing is that enforcing laws is at least as important as rewriting the laws.

For, again, what's the point of tweaking the Constitution if an administration feels at perfect liberty to kill citizens without due process? Even if you change the Constitution to the most correct, most perfect, most just Constitution the world has ever seen, the administration can always ignore them -- and get away with it.

So one either needs to find ways to work around Citizen United as Greenwald suggests, or find ways to meaningfully enforce existing restrictions on corporate behaviour.

* * *

(*) I'm not so sure myself; this requires a detailed analysis of the legislation impacted by Citizens United

-- frank

Anna Haynes said...

Chicken, egg. If you change election finance, you change legislators' motivations, which (at least indirectly) changes how laws & rights are interpreted.
(caveat: I am no expert)

> find ways to meaningfully enforce existing restrictions on corporate behaviour

How do you propose to do this? (Try to propose or point to a better solution, please)

Also, an addendum to my previous comment - I should note that while Lessig & Greenwald agree (AFAIK) on publicly funded elections as the (a?) cure, they disagree with each other about the Citizens United decision - here's a 25min video of them on it (which I confess I haven't yet watched)

Anna Haynes said...

Does the Terrorist Threat Trump the Constitution? from Sierra Voices