MEMORIAL WEEKEND: Natural music in a natural place — Eliza Edens at Hancock Shaker Village | Sun. May 26, 2019

Don’t miss the Memorial Day Weekend appearance of Eliza Edens at Hancock Shaker Village.

Shaker Barn Music

Sunday, May 26 | Doors open 7 pm  | Show 7:30 pm

Imagine: a Berkshire barn, overlooking the fields and forests of an authentic Shaker village, filled with the soulful sounds of great music. The crickets aren’t the only ones dancing. Come join the celebration. Make an evening of it – Seeds is serving dinner (in the restaurant, on the terrace, or you can grab a picnic box and head to the barn). The barn bar opens an hour before the show and serves snacks, drinks, and locally crafted beer.



Opener: Eliza Edens 
Eliza Edens is a Berkshires-bred, Philadelphia-based singer-songwriter. Born to a gardener & a journalist who would blast The Beatles, Canned Heat, & Peter, Paul and Mary during car rides to-and-from their rural Massachusetts home, it’s fitting that Eliza is a musician who takes an observational approach to the natural world around her. Combining adventurous fingerpicking with a knack for heart-tugging melody, Eliza writes songs that swell into meditations on memory, nature, time, love, and loss—belonging somewhere between your tumbledown front porch stoop and a hazy bar in the big city. She is a grantee of Club Passim’s 2017 Iguana Music Fund and is currently crafting a debut record. 
“Every once in a while, you get to see an artist early in their career who is so good you know they’re destined for greatness. Eliza is one of those rare souls. Someday she’s going to fill auditoriums with thousands of fans, but last night she played to a handful.”
                                  — Terry Clark, Pittsburgh, Oct. 2018

Lead Act: The Suitcase Junket

From the salvaged sounds of American juke joints, back porches, honky tonks, and rock clubs, The Suitcase Junket is a one-man virtuoso, Matt Lorenz, whose signature sound is a mash up of mountain ballads, original rock anthems, blues manifestos, and dance-hall festivity. It is magnificent, rousing songwriting, played out on instruments built from broken bottles, thrift store forks, gas cans, shoes, saw blades, and more. Named to Spotify’s Best of Folk & Americana and Blues & Blues Rock playlists (he has combined streams of 1.25 million), he caught the attention of NPR (who chose his album Make Time as one of the year’s favorite sessions). Make time for this one.
“a lo-fi, low-tuned, low-down blast of end-times folk blues….captivating, mesmerizing, and gone…real gone.”
          — Rochester City Newspaper

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INVITATION: Learn how communities can get — and create — information we need to be self governing — May 18-21, Portland, Ore.


Elevate EngagementConsider joining us May 18-21 in Portland, Ore., for “Elevate Engagement,” a gathering to explore new ways for the public to get — and create — the information we need to be self governing.

On May 18-21, 2017, UO-SOJC’s Agora Journalism Center and Journalism That Matters will co-host “Elevate Engagement: Communities and journalism taking listening, connection and trust to the next level.” We are in a moment of opportunity to consider the role of storytelling and journalism in civic lif…
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Expecting accountability? Then Tom Price has a question to answer

Secretary Price

Earlier this week, Dan Heyman, a reporter for Public News Service, tried to ask the Trump adminstration a question about health care. Secretary of Health and Human Services Thomas E. Price did not answer.

The circumstances under which the question was asked are at issue.  Both the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press and the National Press Foundation have weighed in. But what should not be at issue is the obligation of our elected officials to be answerable and accountable for the public policies or proposals under their jurisdiction.

If you agree, please circulate a link to this post. If you are a member of the public, consider emailing Dr. Price at and ask the question. If you are a reporter who covers the Department of Health & Human Services, or the debate over the future of the Affordable Care Act – or if you work at a new organization in a place such as West Virginia where Secretary Price may appear, please ask him this question on behalf of PNS and the public:

“Would domestic violence be considered a pre-existing condition under proposals to change the Affordable Care Act?”


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Testing theories about Trump, religion, faith, immigration and politics at Harvard Divinity School symposium



Here are my file notes from attending a “Symposium on Religious Literacy and Journalism,” on Dec. 8-9, 2016 at the Harvard Divinity School in Cambridge, Mass.

The Religious Literacy Project

SPEAKERS/LEADERS — Who spoke and participated
CASE STUDIES — A rich trove of links

The Religious Literacy Project is directed by Diane L. Moore, senior lecturer on religious studies and education at the divinity school.  (617-496-1388) /

The symposium was one of four planned through 2018, said  Moore. The idea is to explore how to imbue professions –- journalism, humanitarian action, government and business — with a deeper sense of understanding of the impact of religions, faith and spirituality on each field.

When it comes to understanding religion, “our collective ignorance is a civic problem,” added co-convenor Stephen Prothero, a Boston University religion professor and author.   The process which elected Donald Trump has created “an important moment for us to work together” across religion and professions.

Prothero datapoints: 81% of white evangelicals voted for Trump; some 30% to 40% of evangelicals are black, Latino or Asian.

White evangelical voters “thought of Hillary as Lucifer” according Jeff Sharlet, a symposium participant to teaches English at Dartmouth College and writes for national magazines.   Trump’s focus on winning fit the stories favored by the followers of “the prosperity gospel,” he added.   Said another symposium participant: “In sum, the American religion of winning (and the gospel of getting rich)   produces a lot of losers.”

The national press before Nov. 8 believed the “prophesy of the number crunchers” instead of what religion reporters in the field were hearing from voters, according to Laura Goodstein, religion writer for The New York Times, whose keynote talk opened the symposium.

KEY POINT: After each domestic mass killing, multiple Muslim groups condemn the violence, but these condemnations don’t make it into mainstream media, symposium participants said. But the condemnations are available at the “World Wide Muslims Condemn List.”



Adelle Banks, an editor at Religion News Service, said the Black Lives Matter manifesto includes a focus on economic co-operatives and alternatives. “This is a vital . . . aspect coursing through this, but we never see it in the news.”   There is a focus on BLM reaction to the latest conflict and police relationships, rather than the deeper aims of the movement. “There are sides of these movements that get through,” said Banks. “And then there are sides that don’t, which may be more important.” She adds: “How can we open up our narratives to entertain more stories?”

BLM is building food pantries to deal with “food desert” areas, said Lilly Fowler, edit of PBS Religion and Ethics Newsweekly.

The mainstream media tends to “cover most social movements for what they do,” said Diane Winston, of USC Annenberg, “not what they stand for.” The BLM movement is about healing and recognition and it has a spiritual dimension, she said. Winston said legacy media “has a bias for [covering] people who carry Bibles and say they are authorities on religion.”   She said the public can no longer look to what she called “legacy media” for religious literacy because it is in financial decline, and its mission in monetization. “They are run by market economics which have other values than humanistic concerns involved,” she said. The future help will come the nonprofit sector, she believes.

Panelist Winston talked about BLM as a spiritual movement which should be reported as such.   “Americans have a very thin image of what religion is,” said the USC-Anneberg scholar. “We have religion kind of walled off.” She also noted: “It’s very hard to get sophisticated stories that challenge the status quo into the corporate media.”

Religion plays a role in almost every story newspapers report, said symposium participant Cristela Guerra, a Boston Globe general-assignment reporter. “There is a spiritual string and a religious string through almost everything we do,” she said. “We are there already, we just have to find a different way to tell the narrative.”

SECOND PANEL TOPIC: Donald Trump and Evengelicals

NPR reporter Jason DeRose theorizes that evangelicals may be in the first instance political conservatives who take take on evangelical qualities to support their point of view on abortion, gay rights and other issues. This would be in contrast to thinking of them as evangelicals first. Which comes first, political ideology or religious/spiritual orientation?

Eddie S. Glaude Jr., magazine columnist and Princeton University religion and AfroAm Studies professor, thinks the Trump election was a consequence of rising economic insecurity “and moral panic – white panic.” White evangelicals were 22% of the electorate in 1988, 21% in 2008 and are only 17% today.   Only three in 10 white adults are Christian. “This may be white Christian America’s last gasp,” he said.

Dartmouth’s Jeff Sharlet said multiple “rightist” movements converged around Trump. His expertise is in narrative journalism and he thinks part of the reason Trump won is “because he told good stories.”   Actually, he said, they were terrible stories in that they played loose with facts. But a good story with flawed facts still motivates believers. “The crookedness of his story becomes an amenity,” he said. “You believe it and you don’t believe it at the same time . . . Moses really didn’t part the Red Sea either. But it works.”

Symposium participant Bruce McEver. a divinity-school graduate, poet and Wall Street mergers-and-acquisitions specialist, asked this question: “It’s ironic that Trump’s victory is because of the media – so much free publicity. We built him up and we’re now tearing him down.   How do we change our system that allows this to happen?”

Princeton’s Glaude, in a partial answer to McEver’s question, seemed to say that the media had failed to tell the complex stories of the election in forms simple enough – like Trump’s speeches – to be heard by the public. The media shouldn’t avoid complex stories, he implied, but should work harder at them. “Use simple sentences to tell complex stories,” he said.   “People like simple stories, but they also love Game of Thrones.”

Glaude’s analysis of the November results: Voting among minorities was depressed, and some millenials voted for third parties after Bernie Sanders lost the Democratic nomination to Clinton. His idea for a post-election story: “What happened to Bernie Sanders? He didn’t cause anything; he was the result of something.”

The media has never had the authority to control the message, said Sharlet. “What we do have is the authority to expand the noise of democracy.”

In retrospect, said NPR’s DeRose, Trump voters heard and liked his message, and understood it, whether fully truthful or not. But those people were not the people newsrooms were talking to pre-election.

THIRD PANEL: Refugees, Immigration and National Security

Washington Post religion reporter (now on a Nieman Fellowship year) Michelle Boorstein asked: “Why isn’t immigration seen as a religion story?”   She also speaks later in the panel about confusion over what we mean by journalism. “We’re all journalists now,” she said of bloggers, tweeters as well as people wo work in the daily news business.

Immigration crosses boundaries, said Angela Zito, co-founder of the Center for Religion and Media at New York University. “Why are we OK with corporations crossing boundaries, but not OK with immigrants crossing boundaries?”   She called religion “an aspect of the assemblage of anxiety and desire.”

Diane Moore, of the divinity school, wonders, “Is religion the same as morality?” She asked: If it is, then why don’t churches mobilize around issues of refugees, immigration and national security? The befriending of immigrants strengthens pluralist communities, she feels. But at present, she concluded, insecurity trumps pluralism.

“Secular liberals have been historically tone deaf about religion,” said panelist Stewart Hoover of the University of Colorado at Boulder’s Center for Media, Religion and Culture.

WRAPUP PANEL: Roundtable ideas for further exploration for journalists to promote religious literacy:

  • Can we challenge the idea that whoever wins is automatically “good”?
  • Laurie Goodstein of the NYTimes wonders whether it is time to ask people in faith communitiesi: What does your God require (around justice)?
  • Focus more on the “why” rather than the “what” – Jason DeRose, NPR
  • Steve Prothero of BU said “we have a Twitter president.” He agreed with Glaude that it is time to take up the challenge of telling complex stories simply – “It’s a interesting intellectual challenge to do so.”
  • IDEA: Better storytelling – Goodstein / partner with artists as storytellers
  • Question terminology – does it inhibit meaning?
  • No monoliths – find diverse voices
  • Seek more partnerships between corporate and nonprofit media
  • When reporting stories, ask, what is the religious motivator?
  • Academia should learn to talk to the press better
  • AAR should hold workshops on talking to the press
  • Institutions should emphasize scholarly outreach
  • Get Religion Writers Association and News Service better funded by philanthropy
  • Fund the World Religion Database at Boston University (Prothero)


Bruce McEver observes that the day had revealed some intellectual baggage . . . and political bias. “I think we’ve got to bury the hatchet and get on here.”


She focuses on story telling as necessary art. “Storytelling allows us to make complicated points.”

The Divinity School continues to study how it should be training its graduates for “this new time.” The religion, politics and ethics major is the most popular major at the moment.

She asks: “What would it mean for us to really say ‘let’s collaborate’ . . . to get our of our silos?”

“How do we take seriously our civic responsibility – a larger responsibility to shore up the foundations of democracy?


  • While religion scholars may think of “religion” broadly, the public thinks of its as denomination focused. Elevate more words like faith, ethics, spirituality, community, justice and peace studies – things which ARE part of divinity education now, and should be part of religion reporting, but may not be perceived to be.
  • See if there is a need to fund additional religion/faith writing/media prizes
  • Consider Journalism That Matters followup convening of religion writers, scholars and policy folks
  • More focus on what inspires political, and business actors – spirituality, faith, whatever
  • Use Harvard convening power to start to build cross-sector coalitions




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Journalism That Matters sets Oct. 1-4 gathering in Portland focused on community engagement

You’re invited to . . .

Experience Engagement

A national conference and practice workshop: How can communities and journalism thrive together?
Oct. 1-4, 2015, Portland, Oregon


Presented by Journalism That Matters
and the Agora Journalism Center of the University of Oregon



Technology has made us all creators as well as consumers of news and information. And yet, the structures of many of our journalism institutions and practices have fallen behind in their ability to engage with these “new pamphleteers” — to invite them to join and shape a community’s news Pdx-chess.jpgecosystem.

Journalism has created news of the people and news for the people . . . will it abide news BY the people?  

Pdx-cycling.jpgFrom Oct. 1-4, come to Portland, Ore., to learn how to shape a news ecosystem for a Participatory Age. This open-space gathering is for journalists, active citizens, students, educators, researchers, funders, social entrepreneurs, librarians, information technologists, urban designers, sustainability experts — and alumni of Journalism That Matters gatherings.

Over three days in Portland we’ll:

    • Tell stories of engagement and community building from acrPdx-vanagon.jpgoss the country
    • Explore one of the nation’s most liveable cities, meeting with some of its diverse communities
    • Create a “digital playbook” for observing, celebrating and assessing communities
    • Start a learning community to spotlight and foster ideas, connections and projects beyond Oct. 1-4



We want to bring Pdx-train.jpgtogether the best practitioners who are on the leading edge of engaging with communities and re-imagining the future of journalism to identify principles and practices that work.

Join us in a lively and productive exchange around challenging questions with a diverse group of peers who care about journalism with civic impact — the capacity to address shared public challenges. Together, we’ll generate actionable tools, illuminate best practices and develop a strategy for strengthening the information strengths needs of communities.

This is a workshop-style gathering for people already passionate about civic engagement and journalism. So be prepared to roll up your sleeves and participate as a sage off the stage! During the gathering, we’ll model key concepts by engaging community and evaluating impact as part of the meeting. At the heart of the conference is Open Space Technology, a process that enables groups of any size to self-organize and take responsibility for what they love as a means to address complex, important issues.


Space is limited to 125 people, so you should signup now to be on our mailing list for updates. Signing up now will guarantee you a seat once we begin registration and you pay.

We start at 3 p.m. on Thursday, Oct. 1, and end at noon on Sunday, Oct. 4. We understand that your schedule may permit only partial attendance. Indicate that when you register, and we’ll work with you to make the experience — and your participation — valuable to all.


Agora Journalism Center
George S. Turnbull Portland Center
University of Oregon’s School of Journalism and Communication
70 NW Couch Street
Portland, OR 97209-4038



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ITEGA provenance: The “four-party model” — choice, control for consumers, opportunity for publishers

The open Internet has shifted access and control of digital information largely from publishers to consumers.  Many publishers are struggling to make money. Consumers have access to ubiquitous information, but have trouble sorting it or acquiring the most trustworthy knowledge. They worry about their privacy.

How might we create a new playing field that affords increased choice and control for consumers, and new business opportunity for publishers as well?

Here’s a scenario, which we’ll call the “four-party model.”


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Does local newspaper ownership matter? These experts found more than 30 of nation’s 50 “most successful” newspapers were locally owned

Three years ago,  a former news manager and news-management consultant — a married couple just retired from teaching journalism in Oregon — set out on a 50-state journey to spotlight some of the most successful U.S. daily newspapers.  They stopped and visited one in each state, and documented their findings in an online resource and book.  (See: “Retired journalists put $40K of own money into documenting the real changing story of America’s best newspapers,” at the Media Giraffe Project website.)

Brown and Steinle

Brown and Steinle

Paul Steinle and Dr. Sara Brown created an extensive website for their project, which they called “Who Needs Newspapers?” And they followed that up with a new book, “Practicing Journalism: The Power and Purpose of the Fourth Estate” (Marion Street Press 2014).

In a column requested by Densmore Associates, Steinle and Brown relate below their work to Worcester, Mass., where The Telegram & Gazette may soon be sold by new owner John Henry, publisher of The Boston Globe and principal owner of the Boston Red Sox.

By Paul Steinle and Sara Brown, PhD.

Based on our research and our experience, Worcester would be well served by some sort of local newspaper ownership – assuming that ownership is professional, connected to the community’s interests through residence or some strong regional connection, and funded well enough to ride the waves of various business cycles.


More than 30 of the 50 successful newspapers we visited in compiling our research were locally (or regionally) owned or controlled. Those newspapers — as large as the Seattle Times and the Tampa Bay Times and as small as the Aurora (Neb.) News and Register — reflected certain key characteristics.


1.) Locus of control/local peer pressure — The decision-makers in these transformational newspapers (Internet-connected, multi-platform, multimedia news organizations) all were tied to the local communities in which they operated.


Owners and or publishers attended local Rotary club meetings, or local churches or they had kids in local schools. And, of course, they had a stake in the local economy.


As a result they cared about their communities. And the communities, through these interactions, held the owners responsible for the content of their newspapers.


2.) Independence/Financial Flexibility — Since the ownership is locally (or regionally held) and the ownership is often private and or family or institutional.
This kind of ownership is not beholden to the stock market. As a result, the ownership has greater flexibility in managing its budget and its expenditures. That can make them more vulnerable when local economies tank, but in normal or good times, they can decide where to invest their funds more quickly and make adjustments more swiftly if they need to.


(When we were visiting the St.Cloud [Minn.] Times — a Gannett Newspaper – that newspaper was  directed to reduce its staff to decrease overhead, despite the fact The Times was doing well locally. The reduction was needed to shore up the Gannett financial picture, nationwide, for its stockholders.)


Needless to say, a local owner can decide, independently, what is a fair profit (operating margin) for a given period.


Newspapers in past years (up until the mid 2,000s) often enjoyed profits of 25-30%. The newspapers we visited (2010-11) were experiencing profits in the 5-10% range. That’s still a viable margin, but when you have a board of directors and stockholders expecting 25-30% returns, they often demand cuts in staff and reduce reporting power to maintain historic profit margins.


3.) Independence/ Operating Flexibility – When local needs arise – a local catastrophe occurs or a local opportunity emerges — a locally-managed news organization can act more quickly without consultation from “headquarters.”



Those are a few of the advantages of local ownership versus corporate and or public, market-driven ownership.


Having said all that, newspapers (and especially transformational newspapers because they are exploring new territory) require a complex balance between commerce and community service to operate successfully. So, intelligent, seasoned journalism/business management leadership is critical to the formula.


But the enterprise is worth the stakes required for  a community.


As one local editor/publisher/ owner told us, his family’s newspaper is “the glue” that holds his community together — the local newspaper is the community’s bulletin board, the local marketplace of ideas,  and “the mirror that reflects each community” back to itself.


These are exalted metaphors, but they are apt. Communities are served by local, professionally trained, ethically-centered journalists, and newspapers — a unique news and information medium — hire these people and keep them serving those communities by keeping local citizens informed about where they live.


If the people of Worcester are interested in keeping control of their newspaper locally, they need look no farther than The Day in New London, Conn. (or the N.E. Mississippi Daily News in Tupelo, Miss., or the Tampa Bay Times) to see how a non-profit, foundation-controlled newspaper can operate. And these are great examples.


Paul Steinle & Sara Brown
Ashland, Oregon


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Another voice explains why newspapers must move beyond the news

We’ve written about the need for newspapers to stop thinking about they physical product  and start acting like “information valets” for their users in an age where attention is at a premium — helping users to manage their “personas.”   We’ve co-authored a piece about efforts at the New London, Conn. Day newspaper. Now another voice is now explaining why newspapers must move beyond the news, too.

Stephen Gray sold his family’s southern Michigan daily newspaper to his employees, and embarked on an intellectual journey that has reached an apocryphal conclusion – he now thinks newspapers are doomed if they confine themselves to the news.

Stephen Gray

Stephen Gray

Gray’s newspaper career began as a newsboy at his family’s Monroe [Mich.] Evening News (circ. 23,000) extended through the ranks to CEO. In 1995, the family began turning over ownership of the paper to its employees in an innovative Employee Stock Ownership Plan (ESOP) buyout completed in 2000. From 1997 to about 2004, he was at the Christian Science Monitor, ultimately as managing publisher.

Gray was managing director from 2005 to 2008 of the American Press Institute’s $2-million, deep-dive research project, “Newspaper Next.” In collaboration with a consultancy headed by then-Harvard Business School Prof. Clayton Christiansen, Gray and others barnstormed the nation, warning publishers about the dicey history of industries subjected to technological innovation and disruption.

The Newspaper Next initiative wrapped up in 2008 with a report: “Making the Leap Beyond ‘Newspaper Companies.’  Here’s a link to the PDF. You can also watch an archived video of Gray’s “Newspaper Next” presentation at the June 29, 2006 Media Giraffe Project conference in Amherst, Mass., or read Oliver Luft’s 2006 account of Gray’s talk at

After a stint in a publisher-level role at The Christian Science Monitor, Gray wound up at Morris Communications, the Augusta, Ga.-based small newspaper and book publishing company – also owned by a family.

Now, Gray is speaking out again, on a new personal blog – and he’s still warning newspapers that they need to change, and change fast.

“I’m not talking about mobile, which others have often cited as the next disruption,” he writes, adding: “I’m talking about the hyper targeting of Web advertising through exchanges and machine-based buying.”

The result, says, Gray, is that newspaper websites are now in competition with national players like Google and Facebook for targeting of local advertising to local readers. But here’s the big change, according to Gray: The ads don’t have to be on the newspaper’s own website. They can be anywhere on the web, because tracking technology allows ad networks and big players to follow users as they move above the web.

“We’ve got three big jobs ahead of us,” says Gray. “Become potent sellers of hyper-targeted local audiences wherever they may roam; multiply our own audiences so they can capture bigger shares of targeting’s exploding revenue, and figure out how to drive huge local audiences at much lower cost so we can make money at commodity rates.”

In another post, Grey says that Facebook has almost 20 times as many visits by people in a typical Morris newspaper market as the Morris paper’s website. And he says that is pretty typical of most newspaper markets.

“Digital audiences for local mass media websites are dwarfed by those of national digital players that meet more individualized needs and interests,” writes Grey. “Most  newspaper companies are ignoring this, at their great peril. “The national/global giants are trouncing us. And they are working harder and harder to sell advertising to local businesses in direct competition with local media.”

Finally in a third post, Grey says newspapers have to stop thinking of communities as places where news happens and needs to be reported. In a third post, he says news organizations have to think of communities as places where people lead their lives and “we help them do it.”

“News has its place in this, but it’s a far bigger assignment than news,” Grey says, adding later: “s local media companies, we need to be all about community — about the place where you live. Fortunately for us, Facebook is not, and nobody else has arrived yet with great local platforms that enable people in communities to connect and share and get the kind of information their lives demand every day. Neither have we, and we must. And fast. We’re losing the audience race in our markets, and every day counts.”


“From Paper to Persona” – a Reynolds Journalism Instititute white paper

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Tracking corporate rules-change ideas

Corporate Rules Change: RESOURCES

(updated June 3, 2013)



A new taxonomy/synopsis/overview

Charting two decades of thought on reforming the impact of money and corporations on American public policy

 By William P. Densmore Sr. (deceased)

Rule-change book sources

Introduction — Genesis, Purpose  and Contents

Changes in the way we govern corporations are required to revitalize participatory democracy in the United States.  One barrier may be a perception that these changes are new or radical.

In fact, dozens of books have been written over 20 years that address key principles of policy rules changes. These changes will lead to a more just and sustainable free-market, capitalist democracy.  In this essay, we offer a “A New Taxonomy of Corporate Rules Changes.”

For people concerned about inadequate oversight of large public corporations and financial institutions and big-money domination of Washington politics, this paper provides a rationale and suggestions for consideration.

It is based upon literature review and discussions with many experts.

LINK:  To draft, work-in-progress paper (PDF download)

  • We define a total of 15 key rules-change initiatives and document their citation and exposition in at least 22 popular non-fiction books published since 1994.
  • We spotlight significant ongoing, scholarly, mainstream consensus on the need for reform to make our democracy more just and sustainable — less dominated by corporations, lobbying and the influence of political contributions.
  • We advance proposals for rules and incentives for corporations to respond to broad, public benefits rather than the special interests of shareholders.
  • We provide an environment for real-time interaction among citizens concerned that our system is heading in the wrong direction, and ready to help thoughtfully to turn it.

The author is a retired corporate vice president and division general manager of a Fortune 300 manufacturing company. He became interested in the need for changes in corporate behavior through membership in Boston-based United for a Fair Economy (

In 1997, he attended the founding conference of the Responsible Wealth program of United for a Fair Economy, met author David Korten, and read Korten’s bestselling book, “When Corporations Rule the World.” This prophetic book raises awareness of the threat of corporate domination of governance and the need for changes.

Since 1997, much has been said and written, but little has been accomplished to provide appropriate rules and oversight for large, public corporations.  But the economic near-meltdown since 2008, the Occupy Wall Street initiative begun in fall 2011,  more evidence of unusual climate change and the continuing disruption in world capital markets have focused new attention on how we might thoughtfully change standards of corporate governance and ethics to ensure genuine progress toward longterm world sustainability and  revitalized participatory democracy.

READ MORE: 15 rules-change topics (PDF download)

Why rules and rule changes are needed

Corporations play by rules that need to be changed. The “rule change” framing comes from Chuck Collins, founder of United for a Fair Economy and its Responsible Wealth Program, and now director of the Program on Inequality and the Common Good at the Institute for Policy Studies in Washington, D.C.

As the history of the United States demonstrates, market-based capitalism can produce goods and services efficiently. To function fairly and as intended, market-based capitalism requires appropriate “rules of the game” with government oversight and enforcement. Beginning in about 1980, government oversight has eroded. It has become clear that rules are often vague or non-existent and are often not enforced. The public has come to fear that the game is rigged. Major changes in rules and full enforcement are needed.

Preaching and teaching about corporate ethics won’t get the job done. The public stock-market system creates demands for ever increasing short-term earnings. It does not reward concern for employees, community or the environment. Without appropriate rules, corporations with high standards are at a disadvantage in competition with those that don’t care. Joel Baken’s 2004 book “The Corporation” is subtitled “The Pathological Pursuit of Profit and Power.” Page 56 notes that “the corporation is singularly self-interested and unable to feel genuine concern for others in any context.”

Consequences of inadequate rules and inadequate enforcement
Short-term earnings pressures trump concerns for employees, customers, community and the environment and make USA firms vulnerable to ex USA competition.  The results:

  • Financial system in crises because of deregulation.
  • Growing gaps in income and wealth; suppression of wages and benefits.
  • Ruthless exportation of jobs via “free” trade without concern for human rights violations in the supplying country or the impact on job losses in the USA.
  • Resistance to appropriate health and safety standards.
  • Antitrust rules ignored, hence concentration, loss of choice, higher prices

The spontaneous eruption of the Occupy Wall Street movement in late 2012,  the disruption in European equity markets,  increasing financial inequality and  mounting evidence of unusual climate changes all suggest that the status quo is not sustainable.


Action plan for rule-change legislation by the U.S. Congress

 For our system to keep working for all, we need to use the tools of democracy at our disposal to change the rules.  Our overall recommendation is a call for a bipartisan, public-private task force with a decent budget to bring forth well-considered, feasible changes such as the four listed below.

Steps required:

  1. Form a coalition of supporters and legislators develop consensus on changes to consider.
  2. Prepare a cogent statement of need and benefits for each such change.
  3. Review the losses and difficulties that each change would create.
  4. Drop changes where benefits don’t outweigh the losses.
  5. Consider how to counter the objections that will be raised for each change included.
  6. Prepare a bill or bills for filing, utilizing staff of members of Congress and the Congressional Research Service.
  7. File bill, refer to committee, hold hearings, develop support, move through the process for enactment.

The four most important rule changes

Here are the four rule changes we think such a commission should most carefully examine:

1. Make lear that Corporations do not have the Constitutional Rights of People

Sources such as the bookCorporation Nation, and the publications of the Program on Corporations, Law and Democracy (POCLAD) point out that through a series of Supreme Court decisions, corporations have been granted  the constitutional rights of individuals. The Court has declared that under the law, corporations are persons. For example, corporations claim rights to First Amendment freedom of speech in order to block regulation on corporate lobbying and electioneering. At the state and local levels, several legal challenges are proceeding. Action is needed at the federal level. Of special note is the Move to Amend program – see – and bills filed by in November by U.S. Rep. James P. McGovern, D-Mass.,  and U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt.,  declaring that corporations are not people under the Constitution.

2. Require Federal Corporate Charters to Include Public Good

There has been  a widely-held view that the obligation of corporations is to owners only. For example, a 1999 report by the National Association of Corporate Directors asserts: “The objective of the corporation (and therefore of its management and board of directors) is to conduct its business activities so as to enhance corporate profit and shareholder gain.” The corporate structure shields owners from liability for corporate debt and damage claims. Directors should have an obligation to consider the corporation’s impact on other publics. In early America, corporations were viewed as institutions to serve the public and accountable to the public through the democratic process. Corporate charters were required to define a specific purpose benefitting the public, and were revocable. For more background, see or

 However, some legal and business scholars, such as Lynn Stout in her 2012 book, “The Shareholder Value Myth,” are now arguing this shareholder-only obligation argument is not well grounded in history and may not even be in the best interest of shareholders.

We need federal legislation which defines the responsibilities of large, public corporations and their directors and officers to include public good, including employees, customers, communities and the environment. Some states have such statutes, but the concept of public obligation needs to be embodied in federal law and enforced via federal charter requirements, at least for large public corporations engaged in interstate commerce.



3. Curtail Influence of Big Money on Elections and Legislation

Corporate money and high-wealth individuals have excessive influence on legislation and elections via campaign contributions that are rewarded by access, and the purchase of services high proportion of the 12,000 congressional lobbyists with and lobbying spending of about $13 billion annually. Reasonable reform legislation has been overturned by the assertion of “First Amendment rights of free speech for corporations. A constitutional amendment may be needed  to settle the  the interpretation of the U.S. Constitution by declaring that it refers only to natural  people.

4. Act for World Sustainability; Replace GNP as the Measure of Prosperity,

and Accept Limits to Growth

It is beyond reasonable doubt that the world is moving towards a state of permanent shortages in many critical materials – fuel, water, arable land, scarce minerals, etc. arable land.  Our economic system and reporting judge success by short term growth in consumption, profits and employment.  This dilemma must be resolved. There is hope; research shows that once basic needs are met, relationships are the source of fulfillment or happiness rather than consumption.  Employment is shifting from consumption to infrastructure,  alternative energy sources and government-sponsored research and development.

These four changes are fundamentally necessary to restoring a balance between public good and private gain. At least 10 other promising areas for rules-change consideration, supported by numerous authors cited, are found in the following appendix.

What we hope to produce is an unemotional, rational consideration of the benefits and losses of each proposed change leading to legislation.  Many of these suggestions are part of established practice in nations such as  Germany – one of the world’s strongest economies – where there are extensive worker protections, long vacations and free college tuition. The process we are suggesting will permit appropriate elimination or modification of those suggestions that would significantly hurt the United States’ world competitiveness.   Legislation could emerge from an unemotional, rational consideration of the benefits and losses of each proposed change.  The alternative is continued polarization, gridlock and short-term, private gain and public loss.  Our literal survival requires more.

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How can media sustain community, and vice versa?

Audio of a May 31, 2012 panel discussion at the U.S. Slow Living Summit, in Brattleboro, Vt.

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