Transcript: How corporate personhood is undoing democracy - Thom talks with David Cobb, 28 September 2009

Thom Hartmann: Welcome back, Thom Hartmann here with you, to the second hour of our program, or the 2nd segment of our first hour. Oh my. You can tell I’ve been on the road for two weeks and Mercury is still in retrograde for another 24 hours. David Cobb on the line with us. One of my favorite people, a dear friend, one of American’s finest activists, and the 2004 Green Party candidate for President, David. welcome to the show.

David Cobb: Thom, thank you. It’s always a pleasure to be on this program.

Thom Hartmann: It is always a pleasure to have you David. And also I should plug the website, Democratic… or…

David Cobb: Democracy Unlimited of Humboldt County.

Thom Hartmann: Democracy Unlimited of Humboldt County, is the website. And you’ve got the whole corporate personhood thing already up there with the great Stephen Colbert thing. I’m asking the question in this hour, I just want to read you these two headlines from today’s Financial Times, these are both on the front page of the 2nd section of today’s Financial Times. One: “Toxic rally set to boost banks”. In other words the banks are putting back on their balance sheets and Wednesday is the day that we will see this, because that’s when they do their write ups. They’re putting back over a trillion dollars worth of securities on their balance sheets. And then this other thing: "Goldman bucks trend with hiring spree at asset management arm". Goldman Sachs is growing again. We’re simply reinflating the bubble. I’ve been talking about this plutonomy. We have a plutocracy now. And so much of it is the consequence of corporations having extraordinary power and people having only marginal power.

David Cobb: Well that’s right Thom. I mean what we’re seeing with the financial meltdown crisis, and then the corporate elites trying to basically recreate that, is the function of what it means when corporations rule us. And I want to be clear, corporations are not just exercising power, as bad as that might be. They are literally ruling us today as surely as masters would rule slaves or kings once ruled their subjects. They’re making the fundamental public policy decisions in this country and a lynch pin to that is the fact that corporations can claim constitutional rights which are sacrosanct, which are so profound, they can claim the political and civil human rights of human beings and go into court and overturn laws when we the people through our elected representatives try to control them.

Thom Hartmann: Right. As famously for example Dow Chemical did when a whistleblower pointed out that they were illegally emitting toxins and they successfully sued the Supreme Court saying our 4th amendment right to privacy was invaved when the EPA came in.

David Cobb: Exactly. Think about that. Environmental regulators coming on to ensure that corporations are simply complying with laws on safety, health, environment, etc., and a corporation, accumulated power, can claim that somehow their bodily integrity, which is what the right against unreasonable search and seizure really is, their right to privacy, is being violated. Thom, it defies logic. It defies legal analysis. It is absurd, this illegitimate doctrine. And it is, I believe, and I think many of your listeners understand, a lynchpin if we’re going to build a genuine democracy movement in this country we are going to have to address the legal system that is enshrining, protecting corporate power.

Thom Hartmann: Right. We’re talking with David Cobb, former Presidential Candidate, on the Green Party, 2004. Activist, Democrat, Democracy Unlimited of Humboldt County, his website And David, you and I have been fighting this battle in the human trenches here for a lot of years about corporate power. You know, I wrote a book about it, you based your campaign on it. We have a new opportunity hopefully with this Citizen’s United case. We’ll see. And you and I and a bunch of other people have been talking back channel about this. I want to do more on this story but it seems to me that the Supreme Court has been driving this for over a century. What is the best hope, what are the best organizations, what can the average, what can our listeners do to try to strip corporate personhood, to strip away this idea that corporations are persons?

David Cobb: Well first of all I think we need to take advantage of this cultural moment. You are correct, the Citizen’s United case is providing us an unprecedented opportunity, just as Sotomayor in fact questioned the doctrine of corporate personhood. You know this has not been on the minds of ordinary Americans honestly in about 75 to 100 years.

Thom Hartmann: Well it’s the first time it’s been said out loud. I mean Rehnquist in his dissent in First National Bank mentioned it kind of in passing, but that’s it.

David Cobb: Right, that’s it. And not to be sycopanthic, but I want to give a big props to your great book "Unequal Protection". If your listeners haven’t read that yet they should. And take that information and put it into our culture. Letters to the editor. Call other talk radio programs. Ask candidates who are running for office at the local, state or federal level, at every chance you get, do you believe corporations should have constitutional rights of human beings? And lastly go to that website,, stands for Democracy Unlimited of Humboldt County. Thom I am happy to tell you as a teaser to you and the millions of listeners that you have, I believe that myself, you and others who are working on this are very near to making a proposal to ammend the United States Constitution, to make it clear that only human beings have bill of rights protection and civil rights. That would be a profound movement.

Thom Hartmann: Yeah. It would. And this all comes out of a misinterpretation of the 14th amendment, that says, you know, persons are entitled, no person shall be denied equal protection under the law, and it should have said no natural person, because corporations are artificial persons.

David Cobb: There’s no doubt that the notion of corporate personhood comes from that. There’s a lot of layers to corporate power and I look forward to the opportunity to talking with you and your listeners at some future date.

Thom Hartmann: We will be doing it. David Cobb, Get over there and check it out. It’s a great resource. David, thanks so much for being with us.

David Cobb: Thanks for all you’re doing and keep telling the truth.

Thom Hartmann: Thank you David.

 Transcribed by Suzanne Roberts, Portland Psychology Clinic.

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