The sponsors of South Dakota's latest "No Wedding Cakes for Gays!" will tell you they are trying to defend religion from... well, you know, gay people. Unfortunately, these legislators don't realize the damage the language of their own bill does to religion and humanity.

House Bill 1220 defines "person" as "any individual, association, partnership, corporation, church, religious institution, estate, trust, foundation, or other legal entity." That's the standard legalese we get from the Supreme Court, Mitt Romney, and other corporate fascists who insist that corporations are people.

Treating non-personal entities as persons can serve legal and practical purposes, but not Christian purposes. Saying that a corporation, estate, or foundation can believe in God (can Citibank take communion? can Radio Shack get last rites?) is logically absurd. Pastor Tim Suttle says calling things people is downright heretical:

Personhood is sacred. A corporation isn’t a person, it’s a thing. It shouldn’t be treated like a person. Any society that calls a corporation–an entity that exists with the sole purpose of profit–a person, is devaluing what it means to be human. That’s not just an ethical issue, this is deep down in the faith of the Christian, and our experience of what it means to be a human [Tim Suttle, "Corporations Aren’t People, Money Isn’t Speech: Citizens United & the Heresy of Corporate Personhood," Patheos: Paperback Theology, 2014.09.20].

We understand, HB 1220 sponsors, that you want to treat certain people as somewhat less than people. But your bill as written, embracing the secular claim that corporations are people, makes all of us less human.

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Corporate profits peaked under President George W. Bush in 2006 near $1.7 trillion. The recession then plunged corporate profits to $1.0 trillion by the 2008 election. (Check that: during the economy's nadir, corporations were still coming out ahead.) Since the election of radical Marxist redistributionist Barack Obama, corporate profits have more than doubled to $2.2 trillion. Hmmm... so Obama hasn't come for your guns or your profits...

...but wait! President Obama is coming for a chunk of the profits that corporations are hiding overseas. Yesterday the President announced a plan to grab half of the funding for his six-year, $478-billion infrastructure investment plan from a one-time, 14% tax on current overseas corporate profits stashed overseas, plus a 19% tax on future overseas profits that opponents say still helps big corporations dodge their fair share of taxes.

Meanwhile, Senator Bernie Hunhoff (D-18/Yankton) would like us South Dakota voters to talk about taxing corporations to fund education. Senate Joint Resolution 2 would place this brief, straightforward proposal for a constitutional amendment on the 2016 general election ballot:

The Legislature shall impose an education franchise tax by imposing a tax on the profits of corporations doing business in South Dakota. However, this section does not apply to any insurance company subject to a tax on gross premiums or financial institution subject to the bank franchise tax. The revenue and interest generated by the tax, less the cost of administration, is dedicated to improving the salaries of elementary and secondary public school teachers. The Legislature shall establish the rate of taxation.

Senator Hunhoff's proposal recognizes that South Dakota already imposes income taxes on bankers and insurers (which taxes have yet to lead to an exodus of bankers and insurers). SJR 2 gives the Legislature control over the tax, allowing it to set the rate based on the economy, the needs of the school districts, whatever may come up each session. SJR 2 goes and gets money that President Obama won't be taking, since U.S. Senators John Thune and Mike Rounds will surely work their darnedest to prevent that federal tax from happening. As is Bernie's wont, SJR 2 comes from a bipartisan team of sponsors, including Senator Hunhoff's Highway 50 neighbor Rep. Ray Ring (D-17/Vermillion) and veteran West River legislators Sen. Bruce Rampelberg (R-30/Rapid City) and Rep. Thomas Brunner (R-29/Nisland). These Republicans can sponsor this bill without saying they are advocating a new tax; they could vote for it and contend that they just want the people to decide if a corporate tax is an appropriate way to raise teacher salaries (which would be a nice counter to the impression their Gettysburg colleague Senator Corey Brown is creating that Republicans don't trust voters).

As I noted Saturday, the richest South Dakotans have been surfing that wave of corporate profits to claim more than 50% of our state's post-recession income growth. The average one-percenter in South Dakota makes 31.7 times as much as the average teacher in South Dakota, a disparity that is higher only in Wyoming, North Dakota, and Connecticut. Don't count the top 1% or earners, and South Dakota teachers still make 21.2% less than the average individual income.

Moving some income from the corporate tier, where profits have doubled since the recession, to the teachers who build the corporate workforce seems just. Let's put SJR 2 on the ballot and debate a corporate profits tax in 2016.

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Funny the ideas that pop up when one blogs and teachers. In our blog discussion Tuesday of House Bill 1089, the proposed ban on female genital mutilation, I mentioned my college-days battle against multiculturalism. I walked into class today and found students reading a text on multiculturalism in literary theory. I mentioned my concerns about value relativism to the students (how can we critique Western culture of multiculturalism encourages us to value and celebrate all cultures?). But then I read this passage that casts multiculturalism as a healthy democratic response to oppression:

As opposed to the hierarchies set up by European colonists, [Frantz] Fanon imagined the independent Algerian republic working on the principles of extreme decentralization, with contact and interchange between the leaders and the rank and file, and a clear understanding that the government would be at the service of the masses. In addition, he said, "Women will have exactly the same place as men, not only in the clauses of the constitution but in the life of every day: in the factory, at school, and in the parliament." The living expression of the nation would be found not in the leaders, the palaces, or rituals of politics, but in "the moving consciousness of the whole of the people: it is the coherent, enlightened action of men and women" [Stephen Bonnycastle, In Search of Authority, 2007, p. 231].

Decentralization, encouraging the rank and file to make their own decisions, expecting leaders to communicate with and respond to the people, supporting women's equality, legislating with a focus on helping more people express their will... almost the perfect opposite of what Republicans are doing to South Dakota.

And then it hits me: we are being colonized by our own legislators. Co-opted by corporate imperialists, our legislators are putting us in chains, disrespecting the popular will, and dehumanizing us to make easier their seizure of our wealth and pollution of our land and water.

We children of empire now fight the new corporate empire. We colonizers become the colonized. I may have to revisit my SDSU textbook on multiculturalism.

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Agricultural industry groups complain that President Barack Obama's immigration action won't help them find the workers they need to bring home the bacon. In a brilliant display of rationalization, Hurley hog farmer Steve Schmiechel says the President's inaction and the free market will force him to break the law to stay in business:

Steve Schmeichel, a Hurley, S.D., pig farmer, said he hasn’t hired undocumented immigrants to work on his operation, but the growing labor shortage and ongoing challenge to find employees willing to work means he’ll probably need to soon. Schmeichel said farmers he knows who have hired undocumented immigrants describe them as reliable and willing to work.

“It’s difficult for us or anybody else to find people who are willing to work and do the job and not be afraid to get dirty to get it done,” Schmeichel said. “It’s something that we’re almost going to have to do. It’s our next step” [Christopher Doering and Bill Theobald, "Ag Largely Left Out of Immigration Plan," that Sioux Falls paper, 2014.11.21].

I guess South Dakota's hog farmers and dairy farmers are in the same situation as illegal immigrants. We flooded the Mexican market with subsidized American farm products, crushing the Mexican farm economy. Wal-Mart, sweatshops, and other fruits of NAFTA made things worse for Mexican workers. Mexican workers couldn't wait for the United States Congress or the President to expand and expedite H-2A visas. They couldn't wait to save up half a million dollars to buy an EB-5 visa. To feed their families, those Mexican workers needed to cross the border illegally. They had to. It was their next logical, justifiable, sayable-in-the-paper step, right, Steve?

Schmeichel and the rest of Big Ag just don't want to pay the wages that the local market would bear. They don't want President Obama or Congress to do anything, because that would take away their pool of cheap, exploitable labor:

Sanjay Rawal is the director of Food Chains, a documentary about farmworkers in the United States, which is released in theaters today. I got to chat with him about whether Obama’s failure to address farmworkers in his immigration reform is actually a significant setback.

“Obama is not addressing the needs of agricultural workers in this country,” he agrees. “The reason why the agricultural lobby did not push for farmworkers to be included – and in essence actually fought against it – was because they said that if farmworkers get a pathway to citizenship, they will no longer work in the fields, and [farms] will lose that labor force” [Eve Andrews, "Obama's Immigration Order Won't Help Farmworkers. What Can?" Grist, 2014.11.21].

But wait! We can still get Schmeichel off the hook. Don't blame farmers for the exploitation of migrant labor; blame Safeway and Hy-Vee:

The thesis of Food Chains, essentially, is that the exploitation of migrant farmworkers is a direct result of supermarket monopsony. In short, huge supermarket chains have maintained prices at artificially low levels as the cost of producing fruits and vegetables — in terms of land and equipment — has increased. To survive, farmers have no choice but to hire very, very cheap labor.

“Over and over, we kept hearing that the problem was farmers, the problems were labor contractors, but it seemed like the issues were much more systemic,” Rawal tells me. “And when we started following the coalition, we understood that the problem was really these gigantic corporations that control the entire supply chains. And these corporations can be ruthless” [Andrews, 2014.11.21].

A hog farmer resorts to breaking the law instead of paying market wages. Supermarket corporations refuse to pay producers the market value of their products. Consumers aren't making enough to afford food at the prices legal employment practices and fair payment of farmers would set because their corporate employers aren't paying living wages. That's the American "free" market at work.

What's the real tyranny here? Who in our society is exercising dictatorial power? And what was I saying the other day about slavery?

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Last month, Minneapolis-based Medtronic acquired a big Irish corporation so it could create a new headquarters on paper in Dublin and pay Ireland's lower corporate tax rate.

The financerazzi call the Medtronic move inversion. Democratic candidate for Senate Rick Weiland calls it flat-out wrong:

What happens in Inversion is a company moves its headquarters to another country - such as Ireland - to avoid paying taxes. Meanwhile, they continue to receive all the other benefits of being an American company. They, in-effect, renounce their citizenship, which is really odd since the Supreme Court keeps telling us that corporations are people!

It's flat out wrong these companies are fleeing the country to avoid paying taxes but expect to face no consequences.

...I say no more. No more to Inversions. No more to corporations masquerading as people. No more payouts to big money special interests [Rick Weiland, press release, 2014.07.08].

Did I just hear Weiland say he rejects the idea of corporate personhood, just like his friend Elizabeth Warren? Wow! That's one more reason for Lawrence Lessig and the MaydayPAC to use South Dakota's Senate race as a testing ground for their challenge to big corporate money in politics.

As Weiland spends his morning on Minnesota Avenue, I hope he's jawboning voters about the ills of inversion and the absurdity of corporate personhood.

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The Supreme Court ruled this morning that corporations can believe in God. I'm looking for the Scripture that says, "Blessed are the corporations...."

The Supreme Court thus ruled that Hobby Lobby and other pious corporations don't have to follow the law that requires employer health insurance policies to include contraception.

Sarah Stoesz of Planned Parenthood wrote in March that contraception isn't a religious issue; it's basic health care:

Since birth control became legal and widely available, women’s health has improved dramatically; the infant death rate has plummeted; and women have been able to invest in their education and careers. Not to mention that increasing access to birth control significantly reduces unintended pregnancy, which in turn reduces the abortion rate [Sarah Stoesz, "Birth Control Is Not a Religious Issue; It Is a Basic Health-Care Issue," MinnPost, 2014.03.25].

Stoesz saw coming this dire precedent: allow corporations to refuse to pay for emergency contraceptives and birth control pills because of their religious objections, and you open the door for corporations who practice Christian Science to refuse to pay for insurance for chemotherapy or antibiotics, for Jehovite corporations to refuse to cover blood transfusions (and maybe even provide legal cover for Jehovites to reassert their opposition to vaccines), and for some fundamentalist corporations to decline to cover any medical treatment other than prayer.

All of this assumes, of course, that a corporation, a legal fiction, a paper construct, can hold religious beliefs, an absurd position, insulting to every religion, that our Supreme Court has now posited as true.

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I've been thinking about a pitch I'd love to hear from any candidate for Governor of South Dakota:

I propose that the great state of South Dakota treat teachers the same way we treat corporations. Teachers and corporations are both people, right? So teachers and corporations ought to respond the same way to state policy, right?

I thus promise that, as your governor, I will turn to all those fine corporations we try to recruit and say, "Come to South Dakota! You'll get fresh air, great hunting, easy traffic, nice neighbors, the works!"

I will also tell them that our state will give them the smallest economic development incentives in the nation. "You corporations are just like teachers. You don't work for money. You produce your goods and services for love, for the pride of a job well done. You don't need a bunch of extra money from our state." That ought to have corporations racing for our borders, right?

I see some of you snickering. If you think corporations won't fall for that pitch, then I propose an alternative teacher-corporation equity policy. How about instead I turn to all those fine teachers we need and say, "South Dakota's a great place to live and work, and we want you to be a part of it. We want you badly enough that we'll pay you to come and stay. Maybe we can't match the teacher pay in Minnesota (yet!), but we can do our darnedest to compete. Here's what we have to offer."

I'm going to offer teachers property tax rebates, just like we offer corporations. I'm going to offer teachers Future Fund grants and special loans to buy and build their houses. I'm going to fly to teacher fairs across the country to personally recruit the best and brightest teachers from other states.

And I'm going to raise the average teacher pay in South Dakota by $10,000. We're going to make teaching in South Dakota a $50,000-a-year job.

Given about 10,000 teachers in the state, that means we have to add $100 million to the state budget. $100 million.

Is that a moonshot? Maybe. But we shoot the moon for big corporations. Why can't we shoot the moon for teachers? And should we really view it as a moonshot to raise our teacher pay to a mere 34th in the nation?

And consider that we could get that $100 million without passing a single new tax. We don't need an income tax to do it. We don't need a new corporate tax to do it. We just to get rid of 17% of the $582 million worth of sales tax exemptions that we hand out as favors to various businesses in South Dakota. We just need to get just a sixth of the businesses getting this favor to pay the sales tax most other businesses pay.

What's good for the corporate goose is good for the teaching gander. If we think we can hire teachers on the lowest pay in the nation, then we should recruit corporations with the least incentives in the nation. But if we think we need to compete with other states on corporate incentives, then we need to compete with other states on teacher pay.

Corporate policy and education policy are both about economic development. I'll treat corporations and teachers whichever way you want, South Dakota. But we should treat them the same.

* * *
Any candidates care to take up that pitch?

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You know who's driving up farm land prices? Corporations and foreign investors:

In November 2012, UBS AgriVest, a unit of the Swiss banking giant UBS, paid $67.5 million, or nearly $7,000 per acre, for about 9,800 acres in southwest Wisconsin. The UBS division was behind similar land grabs in the Mississippi Delta, the Mountain West, and Georgia. Elsewhere, in Michigan, a publicly traded investment firm called the Gladstone Land Corp. is buying up parcels of land used to grow blueberries and other row crops. Gladstone is then finding corporate farmers to rent and cultivate the land.

“We’re tuning up and beginning to buy as much farmland as we can right now,” CEO David Gladstone told MiBiz.com. “There are a lot of farmers out there just leasing their farms (who) have children with no orientation for the business. They’re getting older and looking for some liquidity.”

Foreign companies are getting in on the action too. Family Farm Defenders is trying to keep that from happening in Wisconsin. Previously, a 130-year-old state law limiting farmland owned by foreign investors to 640 acres had prevented this kind of land grab. But Republican Gov. Scott Walker has been pushing for a repeal of the provision, essentially opening up Wisconsin’s farmland for sale to the highest bidder. The provision was dropped from Walker’s 2014 budget last year but is being discussed again among Republicans in the legislature for possible adoption [Steve Holt, "Here's Why Foreign Investors Are Trying to Buy American Farmland," TakePart, 2014.02.12].

South Dakota's Family Farm Act (SDCL Chapter 47-9A) is supposed to protect our farm land from foreign corporate monopolization. So I got to wondering how all those foreign EB-5 investors could invest in corporations like the state's favored mega-dairies and Northern Beef Packers.

Ah, loopholes. SDCL 47-9A-3.2 exempts beef processing plants from the Family Farm Act. SDCL 47-9A-3.3 exempts dairy operations. That change came in 2008, when the Legislature passed Senate Bill 173. The state apparently realized that all those giant corporate dairies into which they were funneling EB-5 funds might violate the corporate farming ban... so they lifted another corner of that ban. The Legislature approved the exemption partly on the testimony of serial polluter and lawbreaker Richard Millner. The Veblen dairies went bankrupt two years later, and the DENR blackballed Millner from further dairy ownership. The Veblen dairies remain under corporate ownership.

Coinciding with this state-favored corporate ownership is the ongoing decline of small family dairies. Since 2000, the number of small dairies in South Dakota has decreased from 329 to 37. Meanwhile, Governor Dennis Daugaard is recruiting more corporate-scale dairies from out of state to expand to South Dakota and fill the demand for the French cheese factory he lured to Brookings with corporate welfare.

You could argue that corporations foreign and domestic are scooping up our ag resources because there aren't enough young independent farmers going into the industry, and someone has to feed us. But when young people thinking of farming see the deck stacked against their profitability by laws and handouts that stack the deck in favor of already big corporations, why would they want to roll their dice against such big-capital competition?

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