Smart people saying smart things

Scot McKnight: “Zealotry’s Environment”

Zealots judge and sometimes condemn others who do not live by their rules, who explore things they are uncomfortable with — not because they’ve thought through it but because they don’t trust others to make good decisions. The freed, however, can live with the ambiguity that freedom in the Spirit creates: they can trust God to work with others, they can trust others to be responsible, and they can trust another group to discern its way in this world. The freed can render judgment as discernment, the zealots only judgment as condemnation. The freed can say “that’s not good, that’s not wise,” the zealot will say “you are bad.”

Beverly Mann: “Hobby Lobby’s Religion Lobby”

The two stated grounds for the corporations-are-people-too-my-friend right to First Amendment free-speech rights in Citizens United were (1) that the members of a corporation or union are united by a common political, ideological or monetary goal that is central to the existence of the nonprofit or for-profit corporation or union, and which the money — er, speech — addresses; and (2) that the general public has an interest in hearing more political speech, not less. …

Unless Justice Kennedy & Co. think more religion on the part of for-profit corporations that sell housewares and crafts is in the public interest, because lamps, picture frames and art supplies are people too, my friend, and because more religion by lamps, picture frames and art supplies is in the public [interest], then Hobby Lobby probably will end up having to comply with the parts of the ACA that violate the lamps’, picture frames’, and art supplies’ religious beliefs. But, who knows?

Andrew Sullivan: “Will the Cardinals Fight On?”

They are not [giving their employees access to contraceptive coverage]. They’re giving their employees work. Because of that work, the government will ensure that they also get a contraception option. If the Bishops think this issue is more important, than, say, releasing all the documents from the Los Angeles Archdiocese on the rape and abuse of children, they are even more out of touch with their parishioners and Christianity than we previously feared.

Duncan Black: “401Ks are a disaster”

The 401(k) experiment has been a disaster, a disaster which threatens to doom millions to economic misery during the later years of their lives. Proposals to improve our system of private retirement savings — even good ones — will offer little to no help for the baby boomers who are currently nearing retirement, and are also unlikely to be of sufficient help for current younger workers. We need to increase Social Security benefits, now and in the future. It’s the only realistic way to provide people with guaranteed economic security and comfort post-retirement.

Rebecca Schoenkopf: “Rand Paul Outraged That Low-Flow Toilets Can’t Handle His Monster Dumps”

Rand Paul makes an excellent point, as always, of course: Why does the gummint remove my choice to live in a house with exposed wiring? If I choose to take that risk to save money, I should be able to! And why does it remove my choice to eat e. Coli and Carl’s Jr.’s choice to serve it to me? And why does it remove BP’s choice to dump the entire contents of the earth’s innards into the Gulf of Mexico? And why does it remove black people’s choice to not get served by white restaurateurs? THE CIVIL RIGHTS ACT IS GENOCIDE!


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A modest proposal regarding prayer breakfasts
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A modest proposal regarding prayer breakfasts

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  • aunursa

    The two stated grounds for the corporations-are-people-too-my-friend right to First Amendment free-speech rights in Citizens United

    Ever since the announcement of the CU decision, opponents of the decision have mockingly claimed that the ruling means that “corporations are people.”  I would appreciate it if someone would show me (a) where in the decision the Court indicated that corporations are people, or (b) where the Constutition indicates that the First Amendment protections are limited to individuals.

  • PatBannon

    Fair cop. “Congress shall make now law…abridging the freedom of speech.” Doesn’t say “the freedom of individuals to speak.” If I want to donate money to a cause, and my friend wants to donate money to that cause, and we join together into a business entity to streamline our money donating, should we suddenly be forbidden from doing so?

  • PatBannon

    now law? For the Deity’s sake, I can’t even not butcher the First Amendment.

  • Does this mean I can now shout, “THEATER!” in a crowded fire?

  • Carstonio

    The term may not be constitutionally precise, but the political philosophy behind the Citizens United opposition is sound. Unlike free enterprise in general, capitalism specifically has a natural tendency to concentrate wealth in fewer hands.* Left unchecked, this leads to oligarchy, where corporations hold the true power and governments become paper tigers. The economy becomes geared to propping up a small wealthy elite instead of serving everyone. Individual rights have protection when government power and corporate power balance each other. This necessarily means that corporations have fewer legal rights than individuals.

    I favor short-circuiting Citizens United and instituting public financing of campaigns, with donations from any individual or group capped at something like $50.

    *That’s why I favor the membership corporation model for things like banking and health care, and more democratic access to capital to increase equality of opportunity.

  • AnonaMiss

    The original “corporations are people” language is from an earlier decision, which was cited in one of the concurring opinions on Citizens United. I wish I could remember the name of the decision, but it’s not on the Wikipedia page on Citizens United and I’m at work & would therefore rather not do the necessary digging.

    The phrase was popularized wrt Citizens United due to Mitt Romney’s tone-deaf “Corporations are people, my friend” response to questioning on Citizens United.

  • Magic_Cracker

    And as we all know, there are no corporations that are owned by or employ more than two people. That’s why it’s impossible corporations to drown out actual individual human beings’ speech by purchasing or controlling platforms for speech. That’s also why institutional corporate interests can never be at odds with the general welfare. Pollution, for example, is a market impossibility.

  • Magic_Cracker

    I believe you are referring to Santa Clara County v. Southern Pacific Railroad, wherein Southern Pacific Railroad claimed it’s 14th amendment rights (guaranteeing equal protection) had been violated. The Court ruled in their favor, but not specifically on 14th amendment grounds. However, a head note in the opinion referred to the 14th amendment argument, so it somehow became a back-door precedent.

  • AnonaMiss

    Aha, a rundown of precedent is here:

    In determining the meaning of any Act of Congress, unless the context indicates otherwise– the words “person” and “whoever” include corporations, companies, associations, firms, partnerships, societies, and joint stock companies, as well as individuals

    Which is why the first amendment is subject to interpretation – does the context indicate that it only applies to individuals? I could see that both ways.

    Mind you, I’m appalled by the idea of campaign contributions being legally defined as speech in general, whether from corporations or from individuals. You might as well legalize bribery in all forms then, if spending is a form of speech. “That guy sure had a persuasive legal defense.”

  • Steve Wood

    But if donating money is speech, where does that send the line between campaign contributions and bribery?

  • You know, I remember discussing low-flow toilets at one point on the Slacktivist way back, when someone was complaining they couldn’t flush enough water, and I remember saying if they had problems flushing a Number One with the Number One button, they needed their toilet fixed.

    Anyway, the point was that the way people engineered the first low-flow toilets was to just  shrink existing models, and this was what gave rise to the bad reputation they had. Modern low-flows have been engineered from the ground up to use less water and still flush just as well, with buttons even, on some of them so you can pick lots of water for the Number Two and a little for the Number One.

    But the tendency of people who engineer things in response to regulations to take the easiest way out first and leave the hard stuff to later is unintentionally playing into the hands of people who like to use this as a cudgel to beat liberals over the head with the “regulations don’t work!” old saw.

  • Magic_Cracker

    Still libertarians (so-called) needs to stay away from 90s observational comedy. “What’s the deal with low-flow toilets? BIG GUBBMINT tryin’ t’regulate my BIG DOOKIES, that’s what!” just doesn’t do it for me.

  • Magic_Cracker

    No, but feel free to shout “FIRE” at your own execution. That how Joe Hill did when the copper bosses free speeched to death in Utah.

  • Jessica_R

    And as always it bears repeating, Rand Paul is a rabidly anti-choice prick, his big thing is trying to get fetal personhood bills passed. So FREEDOM! Unless you have a vagina! 

  • aunursa

    Individual rights have protection when government power and corporate power balance each other. This necessarily means that corporations have fewer legal rights than individuals.

    I don’t see how corporate rights infringe on individual rights with respect to speech.  An individaul has a right to speak and to put her message out for general consumption.  But does one does have the right to assurance that, out of all those exercising their free speech rights, her message will be heard?

  • aunursa

    If the First Amendment protects only the rights of individuals, does that mean that freedom of the press doesn’t apply to corporations that publish the Chicago Tribune and the Washington Post?  If not, how does one determine which First Amendment protections apply only to individuals?

  • OriginalExtraCrispy

    Our low flow toilets work just fine. New ones aren’t expensive and do a fantastic job. (Some cities will even replace them for free or low cost).

  • stardreamer42

     No — but that, very specifically, is what corporations want. They want a guarantee that THEIR speech will not only be heard, but will be (insofar as they can arrange) the ONLY thing heard.

  • Carstonio

    Free speech can become meaningless if all the media outlets are owned by a few individuals. That would give them the means to silence dissenting voices. And if these same individuals also own many other employers, they could fire dissenters outright or use their economic power to retaliate in other ways.

  • Carstonio

    That’s not an accurate comparison because the Citizens United decision wrongly treats campaign contributions as deserving of the same protections as speech itself. That simply games the system in favor of people with the most money. Free speech isn’t about one person or group renting all the metaphorical billboards and relegating others to metaphorical soapboxes. That’s a big reason why the airwaves are publicly owned.

  • aunursa

    In this day and age, I don’t see how a few individuals or corporations can silence dissenting voices.  If anything, dissenting voices have more platforms from which to voice their opinions.

    if these same individuals also own many other employers, they could fire dissenters outright or use their economic power to retaliate in other ways.

    Whether the First Amendment grants free speech rights to a corporation is a separate issue from whether an individual may be punished for exercising her free speech rights by voicing her opinion.

    the Citizens United decision wrongly treats campaign contributions as deserving of the same protections as speech itself. That simply games the system in favor of people with the most money.

    Free speech means that your voice cannot be silenced on account of the content of your message.  It does not mean that your message is guaranteed to be heard by an audience equal to that who read the billboard rented by your neighbor in order to broadcast his message.

  • PatBannon

    Burning a straw man is great fun, but not so great in terms of argumentation.

  • PatBannon

    It is no longer possible for “all the media outlets” to be owned by a few individuals. Where do you think you’re commenting? Is this not a media outlet?

  • Carstonio


    In this day and age, I don’t see how a few individuals or corporations
    can silence dissenting voices.  If anything, dissenting voices have more platforms from which to voice their opinions.

    But I’m not talking about this day and age. I’m talking about a likely scenario if corporate power goes unchecked. During the Arab Spring, some governments attempted to shut down social media, or shut down Internet access entirely. In a society where corporate power greatly trumped government power, it would be reasonable to expect those companies to use similar tactics to preserve their own power.

    Your point focuses too narrowly on the actual right of free speech. Mine is about goverment’s role in leveling the playing field. Citizens United is almost a just-world concept, implying that groups with the most money deserve the most access.

    This isn’t about a right to be heard. This is about reducing the advantage that money has in the free marketplace of ideas during elections, about trying to prevent officeholders from being owned by the folks with the deepest pockets. My community used to have slot machines, and a small group of owners received almost all of the money, which they used to buy the local politicians. Government shouldn’t be for sale.

  • PatBannon

    That answer requires a better legal mind than mine, but such a line does in fact exist.

    I’m not saying that corporations should be free to pour money into anywhere they want. Like individuals, the free speech of corporations should have certain limitations on it, as a matter of public policy.

  • Carstonio

     Good point. I was talking about TV and radio. I can easily imagine a scenario where corporate titans take control of the Internet and silence sites like this one. My apocalyptic scenario has Facebook, Google, Microsoft and Apple battling each other for domination of what’s left of the world.

  • banancat

    Even if Patheos and other blogs aren’t owned by the same corporations as other media, corporations can still exert control over them. The most foreseeable way is by requiring commenters’ user names and passwords as a term of employment, or at the very least by restricting, either formally or informally, what you are allowed to post. Both of these things are illegal if a government were to do them, but when corporations do them to employees it is generally legal. We already see cases of this happening where people get fired or disciplined by what they post on facebook in their own free time with their own resources. We need the government to stop this or it will spiral out of control.

  • Magic_Cracker

    Hey, I was agreeing with you! If corporations and other organizations were limited to two people, it would be much harder for their institutional interests to overpower common good. 

  • PatBannon

    …All right, but that’s no longer a free speech problem, in the sense of we are no longer discussing state restrictions on speech. We are now discussing state restrictions on corporate policy.

  • PatBannon

    I can imagine that scenario too, but I can imagine a lot of scenarios. How do you imagine this “taking control of the Internet” will actually go down? If you had to pick between

    Not happening
    UnlikelyPossibleLikelyCertainFor the odds of this particular apocalypse, which would you choose?

  • PatBannon

    Deity-damned Patheos.

    Not happening /// Unlikely /// Possible /// Likely /// Certain

  • Carstonio

     That apocalypse comment was intended as a comic exaggeration. In the real world, much government regulation of the business sector has been weakened. The financial crisis of a few years ago was one outcome. And we’ve seen how wealthy reactionaries like the Koch brothers have pushed the GOP even further to the right, creating a faction that would choose tanking the economy over increasing taxes. Lifting restrictions on donations to campaigns is just one more step toward the Koches and the corporations being the true government and the officeholders being puppets or figureheads.

  • hagsrus

     You had to set off that ear worm, didn’t you!

  • the point was that the way people engineered the first low-flow toilets was to just  shrink existing models

    We had a plumber “convert” our regular toilet into a low-flow model by putting in a bent float arm so that the toilet would think that the tank was full when it wasn’t.   [sarcasm]That worked well.[/sarcasm]

    Of course, that was an easy fix; we just unbent the arm.

  • CharityB

     True, but the real problem behind that isn’t just corporate speech but the fact that individual voters are choosing to listen to them. Ultimately, the only real reason why politicians want money — from anyone — is so that they can campaign and win votes from individuals. All the money in the world wouldn’t get the Pro Kitten-Burning Coalition candidate into office.

    Ultimately, the real solution to the whole Citizens United problem will come when politicians realize that there is an upper limit to how much spending can influence an election. Karl Rove had a warchest of over $300 million dollars but even that much money wasn’t enough to rescue rape-apologists Todd Akin and Richard Mourdock from losing seemingly slam-dunk races in states that until very recently were pretty conservative/Republican.

    Money will always be a huge factor, but it’s not the Instant Win button it’s often portrayed to be — especially since both major parties are fairly adept at fundraising and the effects of CU  on potential third parties aren’t fully understood yet (the deck is already stacked against them even without funding considerations).

    I think another issue that politicians will face is having their campaign strategies controlled by donors. To go back to the Republican example — it’s very likely that the GOP’s billionnaire backers will exert more and more pressure to get rid of the Akins, the Palins, the Mourdocks, etc. if they think that they might tank another election. If they do, it would likely trigger a clash between the big-money types and the religious zealots/hardliners who tend to control the primaries in many states.

  • Carstonio

    You’re right that the power that comes with such levels of campaign financing has its limits. My argument is less about money’s effectiveness at winning elections and more about its influence in the legislation that is passed or not passed. If public financing isn’t an option, my alternative would be requiring TV stations to set aside, say, 30 minutes per candidate to use as each one sees fit. Television ad time may be the most expensive aspect of campaigning.

  • MaryKaye

    The problem may be not that you can’t *win* without corporate backing but that you can’t plausibly *run* without it.  Voters don’t generally elect people who are not on the ballot (though there was a delightful counterexample in Alaska in ’08).  If you need a very large sum of money to become a plausible candidate–if in fact you need a large sum even to begin to be a plausible candidate, because the fundraising machine needs its pump primed–those who can finance campaigns will have control over who ends up on the ballot.  Or in other words, I agree with CharityB that votes are not the only issue.

    I would very much dislike having my ballot limited, in practice, to (a) millionaires and (b) people with corporate backing.  I don’t think that would lead to representatives who actually represented my interests.  And there’s not much I could do in the voting booth to counteract this.

  •  Now wait just a second. Rand Paul also thinks the government should spy on muslim citizens. So it’s not just women. Rand Paul believes in FREEDOM unless you have a vagina or are a muslim.

  •  I know my first experience with a low-flow toilet back in the 90s was so unpleasant that I spent ten years avoiding them like the plague. It was only when I had to buy a new toilet and was living in a house with water pressure so low that it took about an hour for the tank to fill that I gave them a second look and got a toilet that I literally *never* had trouble flushing with again.

    That said, I don’t know if they’re just prone to breakage, but I’ve never seen a two-button toilet where the “number one” button did a damned thing beyond waste a little water making me angry.

    (Also, why do I keep seeing two-button flushers on urinals? That would seem to indicate that either me or the installer didn’t understand how urinals work.)

  • Re low flow toiles, putting one or two 1.5 liter bottles inside the water tank is how instructions for self-converting tends to go over here. Then again, these days pretty much every toilet in a building that’s had plumbing fixed since 90s or so has the two option button.

  • aunursa

    Mine is about goverment’s role in leveling the playing field.</i.

    Well then, we'll have to disagree.  I don't see government as having a role in leveling a playing field. 

  • Carstonio

    By playing field, I mean that those with money shouldn’t have more influence over lawmaking that those without money. I don’t begrudge wealthy people, but I do expect them to act like citizens and I do expect society to treat them like citizens. A society where money equals political power is a society where government and citizenship are meaningless.

  • aunursa

    those with money shouldn’t have more influence over lawmaking that those without money

    I would be receptive to any ideas that do not involve limiting civil rights.

  • Carstonio

     Whose civil rights are being limited? My idea of public financing of campaigns doesn’t limit anyone’s. No individual or group is excluded from contributing up to the maximum. Reducing the money advantage in campaigning is similar to achieving a fair and open process in awarding contracts.  Unrestricted campaign financing amounts to selling office-holders and influence to the highest bidder. Neither of these should be for sale.

  • Steve Wood

    That’s a reasonable position – I would just add that there probably isn’t a “line” between a campaign contribution/money spent for the purpose of electing a candidate and a bribe. Rather, it’s a large fuzzy area with tiny zones of black and white on either end.

    And many politicians like it just fine that way.

  • banancat

     But that’s exactly my point.  Governments can’t restrict speech, but corporations can, and frequently do so in a coercive way.  They shouldn’t be allowed to.  It’s not enough for the government to just not restrict free speech; it also needs to make sure that others don’t infringe on that right.  But with the attitude that corporations have their own rights that meet or supercede the rights of actual people, it’s much easier to dismiss their coercive policies as being their right to base hiring decisions on any metrics they choose.  But I don’t agree that corporations have the right to dictate their employee’s lives outside of work and we need to stop pretending that they have any rights at all.

  • christopher_y

    Carstonio, have you been talking to Charlie Stross?

  • Carstonio

    I’ve never even heard of him, and I’ll have to give his article some careful reading.

  • Carstonio

     Would you agree that monopolies are dangerous socially and economically, and that government has an interest in economic regulations that ensure  competition and prevent monopolies? That principle would also apply to a large degree to campaign financing.

  • Consumer Unit 5012

     But if donating money is speech, where does that send the line between campaign contributions and bribery?

    What line?