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Old 06-24-2005, 05:40 AM   #1
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'we the corporations are people and this ordinance violates our personhood rights.'


This is an excellent article that I believe outlines what is wrong with America. I covers both the effect of state and federal law on loca sovereignty and the effect of GATT & NAFTA on sovereignty of even federal goverments. Long but worth the read. It also shows why CAFTA is another mistake.

Since the consolidation of the Union and throughout the twentieth century, the autonomy of state and local governments has continued to wane as corporations have grown larger and gained more extensive rights under the U.S. Constitution. In two decisions in the mid-1970s, the Supreme Court affirmed a corporation's right to make contributions to political campaigns, considering money to be a form of "free speech."
"But in the headlong rush into the Industrial Age, legislators and the courts stripped away almost all of those limitations. By the 1860s, most states had granted owners limited liability, waiving virtually all personal accountability for an institution's cumulative actions. In 1886, without comment, the United States Supreme Court ruled for corporate owners in Santa Clara County v. Southern Pacific Railroad, allowing corporations to be considered "persons," thereby opening the door to free speech and other civil rights under the Bill of Rights; and by the early 1890s, states had largely eliminated restrictions on corporations owning each other. By 1904, 318 corporations owned forty percent of all manufacturing assets. Corporate owners were replacing de Tocqueville's "equality of conditions" with what one writer of the time, W. J. Ghent, called "the new feudalism... characterized by a class dependence rather than by a personal dependence."
"And over the past few decades, corporations have won increasingly generous interpretations of the Interstate Commerce Clause of the Constitution. Originally intended to prevent individual states from obstructing the flow of goods and people across their borders, the clause has been used by corporations to challenge almost any state law that might affect activity across state lines. In 2002, for example, the federal courts ruled that a Virginia law prohibiting the dumping of trash from other states violated a waste hauler's rights. In early 2003, Smithfield Foods, one of the nation's largest factory-farm conglomerates, sued on similar grounds to overturn Iowa's citizen initiative banning meatpacking companies from owning livestock, a practice the citizens believed undercut family farms.

Elsewhere, corporate rights have posed increasingly absurd threats to sovereignty. In 1994, for example, Vermont passed a law requiring the labeling of milk from cows that had received a bioengineered bovine growth hormone; in 1996 the federal courts overthrew that law, saying that the mandated disclosure violated a corporation's First Amendment right "not to speak." Four years later, a Pennsylvania township tried to use zoning laws to control the placement of a cell-phone tower; the telecommunications company sued the township and won, citing a nineteenth-century civil rights law designed to protect newly freed slaves."


Throughout the twentieth century, federal courts have granted U.S. corporations additional rights that once applied only to human beings -- including those of "due process" and "equal protection." Corporations, in turn, have used those rights to thwart democratic efforts to check their growth and influence.
One of the increasing number of public officials in the U.S. who face challenges to their sovereignty similar to those faced by their counterparts in the Pennsylvania townships is Velma Veloria, chair of the Washington State legislature's Joint Committee on Trade Policy. For fifty-three-year-old Veloria, the 1999 Seattle demonstration against the WTO was a defining event. Veloria realized that behind the tumult in the streets, "there was a whole movement that was asking for accountability and transparency." She imagined what might happen if a tanker that was not double-hulled spilled oil in Puget Sound. She and her colleagues could pass a law requiring double hulls in Seattle harbor, but under the emerging rules of the WTO, such a law could meet the same fate as a Clarion County antisludge ordinance: It could be attacked as interfering with the rights of corporations, as a barrier to trade. "It opened a whole new field for me about the sovereignty of the state," Veloria says.

California State Senator Liz Figueroa, chair of the Senate Select Committee on International Trade Policy and State Legislation, has faced similar quandaries. In 2000, Figueroa authored a bill that made it illegal for the state to do business with companies that employed slave or forced labor. Figueroa explained to the city councils and constituents in her district that foreign trade imports produced by slave labor could undercut the local economy. But as pragmatic and ethically incontestable as the bill sounds, it could potentially be challenged under the WTO's rules.

"Our job is monumental," she says, referring to her efforts to explain how trade agreements can usurp democracy. "We have to make sure our own legislative offices even know of the conflict... we have to explain the reality of the situation."

Figueroa and Veloria are not alone. International trade agreements such as the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), the WTO's General Agreement on Trade and Tariffs (GATT), and the pending Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA) threaten the jurisdiction of any elected or appointed representative of a sovereign people at any level of government. A National League of Cities resolution declared that the trade agreements could "undermine the scope of local governmental authority under the Constitution." Last year, the Conference of Chief Justices, consisting of the top judges from each state, wrote a letter to the U.S. Senate stating that the proposed FTAA "does not protect adequately the traditional values of constitutional federalism" and "threatens the integrity of the courts of this country." In California, Minnesota, Oregon, Washington, Massachusetts, and New Hampshire, state legislatures have expressed concern over trade agreements, as has the National Council of State Legislators. Their statements, however more discreet, nonetheless echo the chants from the streets of Seattle: "This isn't about trade, this isn't about business; this is about democracy."
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