I have a daily calendar from the humor site The Onion. I quoted it once before in a column about airline treatment of passengers; the day's item had an airline stacking passengers like cordwood.
The one for June 25 was another winner, building on the Supreme Court's horrendous Citizens United decision:
Supreme Court Allows Corporations To Run for Political Office.
WASHINGTON — In a landmark decision that overturned decades of legal precedent, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled 5-4 Tuesday to remove all restrictions that had previously barred corporations from holding public office. "This is an unfair, ill-advised and tragic mistake," Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) said before boarding a flight to Arizona in response to primary poll numbers that show him trailing the Phoenix-based company PetSmart by a double-digit margin. "Despite the deep discounts and exciting promotions that they may be able to offer, these huge, soulless entities are not capable of truly serving the American people's — or their pet's — needs." Corporate attack ads have already begun to hit the airwaves in New York, where a new Pepsi commercial … blasts incumbent governor David Paterson as "unrefreshing" and urges New Yorkers to "taste the choice of a new generation this Nov. 2."
Sadly, that's not as unlikely as it sounds. The court's Citizens United decision has immeasurably damaged our ability to hold fair elections. Sen. PetSmart is the logical extension.
As it happens, the joke fit well with developments I'd been following for a few weeks. It involves a proposed Easton ordinance with the following title:
"An ordinance protecting the residents and natural environment of the city of Easton by establishing a Community Bill of Rights for the residents and ecosystems of the city of Easton; by securing those rights through the removal of legal powers and privileges from corporations that are traditionally used to shield corporations from governance by, and responsibility to, the community; and by providing for enforcement of the Community Bill of Rights against private and public actors."
The Bill of Rights, which was offered up by a group of Easton residents, was the subject of a City Council public hearing this week. The group wants council to adopt the ordinance as written, and if not, to move quickly enough so the residents can try to get it as a question on November's ballot. Council says it needs substantial revision to be seriously considered.
You'll notice the mention of corporations in that title. Much of this document is aimed at putting corporations in their place and asserting that, whatever the Supreme Court says, corporations don't have the rights of "persons" in Easton. It also says residents have the right "to be free from corporate participation in elections, legislation, policy and judicial decisions" and asserts the local community's right to ignore directives from the state and local governments. It even asserts Easton's right to secede to preserve its right of self-government.
As I read through this thing the first time, I was struck by a couple of things:
•It reads as if it were written for a community that is trying to assert its right to block natural gas fracking, which is where conflicts have risen in Pennsylvania between local rights, the hooked-on-frack state government and the corporations that want access to the ground and water of many Pennsylvania communities, particularly in the western part of the state.
There's a reason for that. It's modeled after a Community Bill of Rights written for Pittsburgh and approved by its City Council, although it never made it on the ballot there. If Easton is sitting atop vast natural gas deposits, I'm not aware of it.
•So many provisions declare the city free of various existing laws and court rulings that it almost certainly would be challenged and overturned if the city tried to actually assert its new "rights."
Ben Price, a project director with the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund out of Cumberland County, served as spokesman, comparing what the Easton group is doing with the civil rights movement in the 1960s. According to Morning Call freelancer Tony Nauroth's story on the public hearing, Price argued that it is the duty of citizens to fight "laws that do not serve them." I tried talking to Price later in the week, but he never got back to me.
I don't know about the civil rights movement, but it does have kind of a '60s — far out, man — feel to it. At the risk of sounding like a corporate shill, I wonder why any community would deliberately court costly lawsuits that it knows it will lose, particularly for a document that has little practical application. If Easton were ground zero for an army of frackers and wanted to fight them off, it might be worth throwing a community manifesto at them. But what rapacious corporations are we talking about in Easton? Crayola? Worried about crayon pollution? It's goofy.
So I'll have to take the side of The Man on this one. If council can dissect from this a few provisions that actually make sense for Easton's best interests, power to the people. Beyond that, it's a bummer.
Bill White's commentary appears Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays.