The Corporate Threat to Local Sovereignty–Reflections from the Ojai Valley

order times; font-size: 16px;”>Editorial_Ojai_downtownBy Bill Haff

ed times; font-size: 16px;”>The Ojai Valley has experienced a series of encounters with powerful outside forces in recent years. Each time, local residents have discovered how little control they have over public policies that directly affect their lives, and each example has highlighted the real nature of the relationship between large corporations and the public they supposedly serve.

The most recent example here is the fight over AT&T’s plan to erect a 65-foot cell tower in a residential neighborhood, a move no one disputes will hurt local property values, while it also poses undetermined health threats and raises concerns about the way similar disputes will be resolved in the future. Other recent cases include the struggle to rid Ojai of the abusive Golden State Water company; attempts to halt previously undisclosed and potentially dangerous oil industry drilling practices, at least until oversight protocols can be established; the fight over Southern California Edison’s unilateral decision to install Smart Meters that emit constant EM signals in the homes of customers; and local efforts in the statewide campaign to label genetically engineered foods, to give consumers the ability to make informed food choices. In each case industry has acted on the assumption that the concerns of customers do not matter if those concerns might affect profits, and people have come to realize that when business interests become entrenched enough there is seldom a way to exercise “consumer choice” in these matters.

These cases point to a larger trend that has been accelerating for the past 40 years, as “free trade” agreements have reduced the power of national and local governments, and the push to privatize essential public services has put more decisions that affect us all in fewer and fewer hands. Policy debates have become muddled by private money’s ability to buy public relations and politicians, and to hire “scientists” to provide statistical cover for industry’s goals. The list of industries where corporate profits dictate decisions that conflict with public needs – education, incarceration, even the military – keeps on growing. In the process unaccountable private entities have gradually come to exercise more power over us than our representative government itself.

One reform effort that will help set the brakes on these abuses would amend the US Constitution to declare that corporations do not deserve Bill of Rights protections and are not “people,” a legal designation corporations use to wield influence and avoid accountability for their actions. The general public learned about “corporate personhood” because of the 2010 “Citizens United” case, but actually it has existed since the 19th century and it plays out in numerous ways. None of the fights the people of Ojai have faced recently would have happened if corporations were not considered legal “persons,” because the designation has led to a series of crippling legal precedents communities like Ojai can rarely challenge. “Personhood” has allowed corporations to successfully claim that environmental regulations that hurt profits are actually illegal “government takings” under the Fifth amendment. Corporations have also fought off community control over things like cell towers by arguing these controls are a violation of corporate 14th Amendment “equal protection” civil rights.

Readers are invited to learn more at the numerous websites hosted by groups working on this issue, and to consider joining the growing movement to amend the Constitution and reverse the corporate influence that has been increasing in this country for over 100 years. No other single reform among the many available to the activist-minded has the potential to eliminate more problems.

Bill Haff is chairperson for the Ojai chapter of Move To Amend, resides in Ojai

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One Response to The Corporate Threat to Local Sovereignty–Reflections from the Ojai Valley

  1. Citizen April 2, 2014 at 11:24 pm

    Bill: Excellent observations. Interesting how multiple sections of the political spectrum have the same complaint.

    But, in addition to big corporate money interests, there are also strong political and belief issue groups working against us. For example CA SB2 is forcing a reshaping of infrastructure/development to the currently politically correct configuration thought to support “sustainability,” although it does not necessarily achieve those objectives, does it at huge cost to other aspects of quality of life and may not even be based upon sound science of cause and effect, although there is much controversy over that.

    Another of several fronts of the war is in cyberspace, with the forcible, unconstitutional collection of private communications data, which is a gross violation of privacy/4th Amendment, without just cause, constituting illegal general search warrants (no matter what absurd rationalizations advanced by Congress, NSA, admin. or courts), which our forefathers fought and died to protect themselves and us from.

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