Wednesday, January 27, 2010
© Copyright 2010, The Ultrapolis Project – May be used freely with proper attribution. All other rights reserved.
Speech Literally Free for Corporate Executives
The Supreme Court Hands the Rich an Extra Helping of ‘Free’ Speech
Last Wednesday, the U.S. Supreme Court, in Citizens United (don’t let the name fool you) vs. Federal Election Commission struck down a provision of the 2002 McCain-Feingold campaign-finance act limiting corporate-funded political ads 30 days before a primary or 60 days before a general federal election, as well as federal laws dating to 1947, and even older similar state laws that restricted corporations from directly funding political activity from their general treasuries. While on the surface the case addressed a legitimate concern: that of the right of an organization to publish and disseminate a film that was critical of a candidate for political office, the issue was the funding that organization received from private corporations. The FEC sought to stop the airing of the movie, on the grounds that it constituted ‘electioneering’ (i.e. influence an election) with corporate funds. In striking down the rules that limited corporate spending for this purpose, it also struck down the same restrictions on unions. Unions can now spend membership money for this purpose as they see fit.
Clearly, the issue of what corporations, or unions, should and should not be able to do in regards to electioneering should not be taken lightly. And trying to control their ability to fund public speech that is intended to influence elections can be tricky, and risks government censorship of corporate funded books, movies, and other works that are deemed to potentially constitute an attempt to influence an election. That’s why the law did not prevent corporations from doing this at all times, only as elections drew close. Also, media companies, like newspapers, were exempt.
The problem here is that corporations, or rather, their corporate leaders, have an unfair advantage. Let’s be clear here on the fundamental issues here: Corporations are NOT people (and this fact is important when addressing many corporate rights arguments). They are a government-recognized invention for the purpose of allowing business investments by what we call shareholders. That’s you and me and a few other folks and businesses. The money these captains of industry are now given discretion to use as they see fit to influence the direction of our democracy is not their money. It’s our money. The public speech of these top executives, which is already 1000 times louder than that of the average person by virtue of their far greater personal wealth, is now further enhanced by their access to our money given to them to manage for our investment purposes. When conservative talk show hosts dismiss the average person’s concerns with the flippant remark that “everybody is free to fund their own speech,” they might as well be channeling Marie Antoinette. Her famous remark of “let them eat cake” was her sincere answer to the complaint that the people of France were hungry. It was also an answer that displayed no acknowledgement of, and had no relevance to, the realities of the world.
Yes, we ordinary folks are free to organize as individuals. But, so are the executives. If these corporate rights defenders are concerned about who will represent shareholders’ interests in general elections, how about letting us shareholders take care of that? After all, none of us actual living and breathing persons can have our overall interests and aspirations for our country reduced to what’s best for our financial investments; and besides, there’s nothing stopping these corporate chiefs from supporting candidates that are actually more beneficial to them personally than they are for their shareholders. And, no word on what this ruling means for corporations controlled by Chinese, Russian, or Iranian interests. Even American owned corporations have been caught illegally selling technology abroad to potential adversaries in the field of battle, for the sake of shareholders profits (more likely, executive bonuses based on shareholder profits).
Between the horrendous 2005 decision of Kelo vs. New London (opposed by 90% of Americans across all major demographics – a truly unusual agreement) giving governments the right, for ANY reason, to declare eminent domain over anyone’s private property, and handing it over to a giant corporation that wants to build some new private hotel, or office building, and this new decision; and with corporations having increasing access and control, thru employment and credit scores, to all our daily affairs, middle and working class Americans have indeed suffered a tremendous loss of influence of their own personal destinies.
Our Brains on Religion
Scientific Data on Its Effects on Us
Recently, we’ve encountered several occasions where folks breezily declare how we would all be better off without religion. (Over the years, however, we’ve also noticed these declarations are never made in front of a believing Muslim – this is a critique of us, not of Muslims). These declarations are often made derisively, and as if they were self-evident. But, does religious belief hurt or help? There have actually been several scientific studies over the years that have shown a correlation between religious faith and activities, and public charity and other social benefits. In this latest study reported on last summer, conducted by one initially skeptical of religion’s benefits, shows that religious faith is a social, personal, and even physiological benefit for those who have a positive view of God, when compared to those who have none. For the very small number of religious adherents who have a view of an angry god, the effect was the opposite (true, fanatic suicide terrorists tend to have a short life). However, they were such a small group, the benefits of the larger, positive religious group far outweighed those of the negative.
Some of us have long maintained that religion is much like tools (knives, fire, hammers), that can be misused to very destructive ends, but on balance bring benefit and advancement to civilization. This does not prove there is a God. But, it does provide scientific evidence - along with the other similar findings - that the common, liberal left and hard-core atheist view (which is based on nothing but a gut reaction to religion) that if we did away with religion we would all be better off, is not only not based on science, but actually wrong.
Often, the anti-religionists will point to “all the wars that have occurred because of religion...” and so on. The fact is though, that evaluating religion’s actual effects on human history takes more than just looking at whatever affects us personally, or happens to catch our biased attention. Furthermore, why some people take hostile actions is often not based on their publicly declared motivations. It always sounds better to say that you are doing God’s work when you want to take someone else’s land, than to say you want it for personal gain – But of course, that does not mean belief in God made you take it. And yet, that sort of example is exactly what one most often encounters when dealing with such discussions. Beyond that, since religion has almost always been present in some form or other in nearly all places, it is difficult to evaluate what would have happened without it -though we do have the example of the Soviet Union and the Khmer Rouge.
The point is, the discussion of God and religion, and its effect on us, is a good and valuable discussion to have. And, this is not an attempt by us to attack atheism per se. After all, many of our closest friends, including the chief editor’s closest companion, are mostly agnostic atheists; and we deeply respect not only their right to be such, but also the intellectual basis of agnostic atheism. But, if such folks (present readership excepted, of course) feel comfortable in openly dismissing and declaring harmful the religious beliefs of others, they should be open to having their claims refuted.
One Year Down, Down, Down
So much has been said about tonight’s State of the Union Address, and so much has been leaked in advance, there’s little to add. But, whatever happens tonight, as we re-stated two weeks ago, we stand by our 2008 prediction of two years of missteps and ineffectiveness, until the elections of 2010. So, one year down the tubes, and one more to go.
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