shirenomad: (informative)
Originally posted to Facebook; cross-posted to Livejournal.

For those who haven't heard, the Montana Supreme Court in Western Tradition Partnership v. Bullock has rejected the idea that corporations had the right to fund campaigns, claiming that there were special circumstances in Montana that meant the famed Citizens United v. FEC didn't apply. As the dissent pointed out, what they were really saying was that they just didn't like the Supreme Court's ruling and were choosing to ignore it. To the surprise of no one, the Supreme Court has picked up the gauntlet and taken on an appeal of the decision.

But this is a good chance to discuss the original case, because I hear a lot of complaint about Citizens United by people who don't seem to know much about it beyond "it allows corporations and super-PACs to flood the airwaves with political ads." Which is true, but only in the same sense that Miranda v. Arizona allows people to commit crimes and then flaunt them to the police without consequence. That is to say, it's an unfortunate side-effect, and it could do with some tweaking to prevent abuse, but given the alternative, we're much better off for it.

Let me ask you some questions:
1) Should a pro-choice group be able to detail an incumbent's record on abortion or contraception on their website and push for the readers to vote him out?
2) Should a teacher's union be able to compare the various candidates' past funding for education on display in their newsletter and endorse the one with the best record?
3) Should the NAACP be able to to release ads in the middle of primary season opposing a candidate it believes is racist?
4) Should be able to do anything it does?

Did you say "yes" to any of those? To all of those? Then you're supporting Citizens United, or at least the primary point of it, because none of those were technically legal until the Court made its ruling.

Fact: It's the last question that is particularly on point for Citizens United, because that's what we were dealing with: a non-profit organization, funded by individual contributions, vocally opposing Hillary Clinton's run for president. There was no for-profit corporation. There was no super PAC. The FEC restriction that the Court struck down was not limited to either. It couldn't be, because there is no legal line to draw between a non-profit organization and a for-profit corporation, or between either and a super-PAC. Regardless, the entity has a status independent of any of its members. If you can silence any such entity, you can silence all.

(The opinion itself noted other situations that the restriction in question would silence if universally enforced: "The Sierra Club runs an ad, within the crucial phase of 60 days before the general election, that exhorts the public to disapprove of a Congressman who favors logging in national forests; the National Rifle Association publishes a book urging the public to vote for the challenger because the incumbent U.S. Senator supports a handgun ban; and the American Civil Liberties Union creates a Web site telling the public to vote for a Presidential candidate in light of that candidate's defense of free speech.")

Fact: Citizens United did not decide that corporations had speech rights, or that advertising counted as speech. Both had been true since at least 1977 with First National Bank of Boston v. Bellotti. The case merely elaborated that advertising funding could come from the corporation's general treasury instead of a smaller, restricted political fund, that the ads could explicitly endorse or oppose a particular candidate, and that they could be within the period of time previously restricted. It then got a lot of publicity, largely because Obama critiqued it in his State of the Union speech, but also because people perceive it as the sole cause of the super-PAC (more on that in a minute).

Fact: the ACLU came down on the side of Citizens United in their own amicus brief, which you can read on their website. This was not only because it was the correct result, but because the ACLU has a good sense of self-preservation (as the opinion noted, the ACLU could also be restricted from supporting or opposing candidates otherwise).

Just to be even clearer about the consequences, let's consider what happens with the opposite result: organizations have no free speech rights, at least not in advertising. Congress can silence them all. Okay, so that means individuals get all the power, right? Well, in a sense, yes. Every individual can spend money on their own ad. But what if an individual can't afford an ad? No problem, the traditional solution to that is to form an organization that will pool the money and... oops. Nope, that organization doesn't have the right to create an ad anymore. You spend your own money and that's it.

So now who's the loudest voice? The 1%. Bill Gates, Warren Buffett, the Koch brothers, or the Walton family can spend millions on advertising without having to involve a corporation or organization. The richest candidates are close behind, with Romney, Schwarzenegger, and Kerry filling the airwaves using their personal funds. Meanwhile, candidates with little personal funds and no rich individual backers are dead in the water, unable to afford a single ad on any medium with any weight. And grass roots movements can't support candidates effectively. But with Citizens United on the books, the 99% can organize against and overpower the 1%.

So, 5) Should individuals be able to organize their funds such that they can afford to produce a political ad, when they would be unable to afford to do so individually? If so, you want Citizens United on the books.

With all that said: Super-PACs exist because of a separate ruling by the DC Circuit in v. FEC, which ruled that organizations independent of any candidate could not have upper limits on acceptance of contributions. Although the court claimed to be applying the intent of Citizens United, I believe that claim to be inaccurate, and to the extent that the Supreme Court did have such an intent, I believe it was wrong. "Content-neutral" restrictions on speech are okay if the government also has a significant interest in the restriction (it does: reducing potential corruption and bribery and improving signal-to-noise) and any speaker still has ample opportunities for speech (they do so long as the limit is set high enough to get in a reasonable number of ads). (Look up Ward v. Rock Against Racism, which allowed a restriction on decibel levels for amplifiers in Central Park, so long as they applied regardless of what words were blaring over the speakers and who was yelling them. Same principle.) So I believe a spending limit meets this test and is valid, if it applies regardless of the entity's status: to both Bill Gates and Microsoft, both CNN and Ted Turner. This is what I hope the Court corrects when Western Tradition reaches them.

(Also perfectly permissible, by the way, are any number of disclosure rules. The Court explicitly okay'd those in the same case -- Citizens United still had to put the "paid for by" message on its advertising -- as they passed the content-neutral test.)

The First Amendment doesn't forbid limits, but it does forbid limits that are applied only to corporations and organizations (that is, when Congress picks and chooses which entities to shut up). You can't isolate certain speakers or messages, even if the speaker is an organization of individuals. Otherwise you cripple an important part of free speech: the right of many to speak as one.
shirenomad: (philosophical)
Scientifically, a tomato is a fruit: nutritious plant tissue surrounding seeds, designed to be eaten by animals so the seeds might later be (ahem) deposited elsewhere surrounded by helpful fertilizer. But in cooking terms, a tomato is a vegetable because of its low sugar levels. If someone asks for a fruit salad, or a fruit sorbet, you would not include tomatoes, because you are in a culinary context. If someone in a science lab wants to study the effects of something on fruit, tomatoes would probably be fine, against because of the context, and you would not use them if the test called for a vegetable.

Just to confuse things further, in 1893, the Supreme Court ruled that a law regarding "vegetables" (and not fruit) included tomatoes in the meaning of the word (Nix v. Hedden if you were curious), not for scientific or culinary reasons but because the justices agreed that Congress had created the law in question to cover a category that included tomatoes. Later laws then made the same assumption about what tomatoes were. The law is funny that way: the intended purpose of a law can affect the very meaning of words in that context, and then that meaning can carry on to other law.

I believe this sums up why perfectly reasonable people can't seem to see eye to eye when it comes to Prop 8 and gay marriage. )
shirenomad: (speculative)
You know, looking at the Arizona immigration law, I think the problem isn't that they run IDs against the immigration database, it's that they do it selectively. This is America, where we randomly select grannies at the airport for additional checks; why? To be equal protection about it. So run everyone's ID on traffic stops. It's not inconvenient; they already check you against other databases. I've been pulled over a couple times for "California stops" and they ran my license both times to see if I had outstanding warrants. And really, the administration should know by now that failing to check the white person's ID properly can create its own embarrassments...

shirenomad: (mixed)
There were some flyers up this past week on campus for a "Women's Law" event. My first instinct, on seeing those words as the headline, was that I would be unwelcome if I attended. It's for women. I am not a woman.

The event, upon closer investigation of the flyer, was about sexual assault law. Which is just as important for men. Some men (hopefully no one on campus) assault. Some men are even assaulted. Men are sometimes the one prosecuting or defending the assaulters, or sitting in judgment over them on the bench. And it's unlikely that men will ever drop below 50% of the legislators that could improve the law on the subject. In short, it's something men have an influence on and need to hear about. Why would you want to label such an important and universal topic with an exclusive label? Why would you dismiss, even subconsciously, 50% of the population from learning more on the subject? They could have led with "Law of Sexual Assault." Or "How Our Law Fails to Prevent Sexual Assault" if they wanted to be challenging. They didn't. Why?

It's for reasons like these that I want to strike this category of terms from the English language: "Feminist." "Gay Rights." "Black Pride." All of these name a specific group, and the instinctive reaction is that the members of that group are the only ones who are welcome to contribute their voice to the cause. We have groups for all of them on campus; am I going to sign up for any of them? No. Am I going to attend any of their events? If they lead their advertisements with the group name instead of the topic, very unlikely. I'll grant that the groups also serve the social purpose of letting people with similar social upbringings meet and network -- especially true for the Christian, Muslim, and Jewish orgs who can debate the more personal issue of how their faith will influence their career. But when it comes to subjects and causes that everyone should be thinking about, why be exclusive?

I'm for Equality. I'm for Equal Justice. I'm for Human Rights, Sentient Pride. Give me a group for that. Don't isolate yourself from me. Don't talk like your particular brand of equality can somehow be divided off from the others, or that only you can appreciate it. What's important is that everyone treat everyone with respect.
shirenomad: (insanity)
Today, former president George W. Bush spoke with reporters, giving his advice for President Obama regarding the "birther" movement.

"Frankly, this kind will never be satisfied. Their preferred candidate lost, and instead of accepting it like reasonable people, they've convinced themselves that you must have cheated the system somehow. Even a showing of evidence has only gotten them insisting that it's not good enough, since it didn't give the answer they wanted. Really, your best option at this point is to get the matter declared closed, maybe by a legal body, and then ignore them from here out. This won't convince them either, of course, even though the truth is on your side; they'll likely still consider you illegitimate four or even eight years from now. But at least you didn't let them waste any more of the nation's time."
shirenomad: (wtf)
Monday saw the release of Muntadhar al-Zeidi, the Iraqi journalist who threw his shoes at then-President George W. Bush in the middle of a conference. Today Jimmy Carter commented with a declaration that the assault was "based on race." He elaborated by claiming that there is an "inherent feeling" among Muslims, especially in Iran, Iraq, and Afghanistan, that someone outside their own culture is "not qualified to lead this great country," and that "an overwhelming portion of the intensely demonstrated animosity" toward Bush in general is generated by such racist stances. Suggestions that al-Zeidi might merely have been frustrated by and responding, albeit inappropriately, to Bush's policies were dismissed by Carter, who pointed out that "if he'd wanted to express that, he could have objected vocally. Maybe 'you are dishonest!' or something like that."

Afterward, Carter also mentioned that Kayne West's interruption of the MTV Music Awards was based on a "dastardly" belief that white people can't sing.
shirenomad: (memorable)
Unless the question is "can you get anywhere near the inaugural parade without a ticket?" in which case, "No we can't!"

But I did get to park my feet near the Washington Monument and see the actual inauguration on a nearby jumbotron, alongside a huge and dense crowd (although everyone in my area laughed whenever we were told we could be seated... no, we couldn't do that either).

Yeah, it was cold. Very. And I got to walk the three miles from Arlington in it, because both the Metro and the buses were packed to the brim. And there was ice on the Potomac and the Reflecting Pool as I crossed them. I'm actually grateful for the crowds because they generated a lot of heat; I'm also grateful I grabbed that thick and toasty coat while I was home for Christmas.

A very respectful invocation by Rick Warren. Christian theology, yes -- I'd expect nothing less -- but with a nod to the fact that not everyone listening is Christian ("we are Americans, united not by race or religion or blood"). I also liked his "forgive us" part.

The Bush administration officially expired at noon. Biden was sworn in at 11:58 by my watch, but then there was a musical piece before Obama stood up there, which put him sworn in at about 12:05. So assuming my watch wasn't fast, Joe Biden was Acting President for about five minutes there. Of course, at 12:05, no one cared.

Here's his speech. Rather vague in his plans, but I like that; he knows that in a few hours he'll be getting his first briefing and will probably be forced to take a different direction to at least one of his goals. But the line I liked best was "To those who cling to power through corruption and deceit and the silencing of dissent, know that you are on the wrong side of history; but that we will extend a hand if you are willing to unclench your fist." If he holds to that "if", I'm all for that foreign policy. Reward those who treat their people and other nations well; shun those who don't.

Like I said, I couldn't get a spot near the parade, so I went home and watched it on TV. I'll give him points for stepping out of his car and walking a couple blocks to be more public (and show he's not the type to spend his term of office scared of nuts with guns or explosive vests). But Barack, why'd you talk Michelle into coming out with you? She's in heels!

No Inaugural Ball for me, thanks; if you want 150 bucks out of me for a ticket to a dance, you'd better have Obama himself show up (or at least Barbara Feinstein). I'm gonna defrost instead.


Dec. 2nd, 2008 03:20 pm
shirenomad: (politics)
This is what needs to happen. Daily. Everywhere.

What Bush says or does, what Obama says or does, what I say or do, it may slow down the plans of a Jihadist (I use the term to describe those who blow up civilians as blackmail to the world), but it does not matter to the mindset of one, because we are the infidel to them and just one more enemy to be killed.

But the Jihadist goes into hotels and kills children because he thinks the Muslim world will laud him for it. Because he believes it will earn him paradise. And so the Muslim world as a whole needs to say what the Muslim Jama Masjid Trust in essence said today:

"We do not laud you for what you do, in fact we condemn you to the point where we deny you the paradise you sought. You will not be given rest, you will not be given last rites. You look forward to what awaits you? We will make you terrified of it. You are not ours and you never will be."

They think they are the pinnacle of Islam, and it needs to be Islam that throws them off their perch. What happened today was a good start.
shirenomad: (encouraging)
You have my prayers and my support, Mr. Obama. Congratulations, and may you serve with wisdom and honor.


Nov. 3rd, 2008 04:27 pm
shirenomad: (speculative)
For those living outside California (or inside but under a rock), Proposition 8 is a measure on tomorrow's ballot to codify "Marriage is only between one man and one woman" into the state constitution. This has not surprisingly drummed up a lot of debate, controversy, and outright hostility, although I've missed most of it due to my move to the DC area.

There's this website called (This is related to my previous paragraph; bear with me.) People mail anonymous postcards to the address on the page with their secrets on them, and scans of the cards go up on the website. For some, it's a proud statement of something they don't feel good about boasting in public. For others, it has become a confessional for those who prefer the web to a church. Either way, it's no doubt cathartic for many of the writers, some of whom later write back and say just getting the words out there gave them the courage to confess to someone in person, or otherwise deal with the problem.

The website manager has a bit of a sense of timing with posting submissions; this Saturday he put up a lot of election-related secrets. One reads: "I steamed open the vote-by-mail ballots from my office and kept the ones that voted YES ON 8."

Somehow, that didn't shock me too much. What did shock me were the comments on the site that readers made in response. Again and again, the message was "I hate Proposition 8 with a fiery passion but YOU DON'T DO THAT."

The response gave my cynicism a kick in the jewels. I've encountered people who've had sort of a "whatever it takes to win" attitude regarding elections, and more have been on the side of the Democrats than the Republicans this time (bitter over the last eight years, I'm guessing). But that thread of comments restored my faith a little: the knowledge that people will say "if we're going to win, it's going to be because we have the numbers."

I stood in line for nearly four hours on Saturday afternoon to vote early (in order to avoid standing in line for even longer on Tuesday after class got out), and I was out there that long because over a thousand other people were waiting with me. Why?

Wednesday morning (barring a repeat of 2000), we'll know who won, and some will consider the result a disaster but they will not ignore the results and try to put the other guy in the White House come January. Why?

People who utterly oppose a decision are still just as loudly supporting the right of someone to be in favor of it. Why?

Because we're all confident that, whatever the results, this is still the right way to do things.

See you Wednesday.
shirenomad: (wtf)
"According to the latest Rasmussen poll, in the wake of the financial-sector bailout bill passed last week, 59 percent of Americans would vote the entire Congress out of office. The other 41 percent would achieve the same result without the voting part through a variety of means, the most popular of which involves a coal or petroleum byproduct along with a poultry byproduct." - ScrappleFace
shirenomad: (wtf)
This ad (approved by the Obama campaign) claims McCain can't use computers or email. It's correct -- he gets Cindy to type his emails for him -- but it fails to mention why, which this old article does (scroll down to the last six paragraphs).

"McCain's severe war injuries prevent him from combing his hair, typing on a keyboard, or tying his shoes."

So no, McCain can't type on a computer. And Franklin Roosevelt couldn't jog, and David Paterson can't drive. Thank you, Barack Obama, for bringing something so important to our attention.

(Meanwhile, here's a much more respectful ad, although it's not officially endorsed by the campaign. Wait for about 1:20 for the payoff... and no, it's not the music.)
shirenomad: (silly)
Yeah, I was bored...

Take a drink every time someone:
- Says that a President McCain would be "Bush's third term".
- Claims that Bush stole the 2000 election.
- Hell, brings up Bush at all as if he were the one running.
- Accuses Palin of inexperience and being on the ticket for charisma or special-interest-vote-grabbing purposes without seeing the irony.
- Says that a President Obama would lead to terrorists on our doorstep.
- Claims Obama doesn't have a position beyond "change!"
- Calls Obama an "elitist."
- Tries to bring Michelle Obama, Bristol Palin, or any other relatives of candidates into the argument of whether the candidate him/herself is right for the job.
- Talks about what "the Democrats" or "the Republicans" are doing to America without being able to name a specific one doing said action.
- Complains that the networks are favoring the other candidate (whichever network or candidate that may be).
- Uses a TV show or some other work of fiction to justify their political view.
- Uses an absolute phrase ("everyone", "definitely", "will happen", "no chance", etc.) as if they know the minds of all voters/the candidates or can see the future.
- Focuses on a candidate's Veep choice, positively or negatively, as if it overrides everything about the candidate himself.
- Grumbles about their OWN candidate's Veep choice.
- Admits they don't like their candidate but "he beats the alternative."

Take two drinks every time someone:
- Claims that Bush stole BOTH elections, or accuses McCain in advance of trying to steal 2008.
- Denies, when reminded by someone who knew them back then, that time back in 2000 when they said they would have gladly voted for McCain if the GOP had just nominated HIM instead of that Texan doofus.
- Describes what WOULD have happened if Gore or Kerry had become president, positively or negatively, as if they'd been to that timeline while hanging with Rhys-Davies on Sliders.
- Thinks parroting a bumper sticker counts as an actual argument.
- Uses the terms "jihad" or "World War III", in support of either candidate.
- Keeps bringing up a gaffe of either candidate as if a tongue-twist counteracts an entire campaign.
- Says a victory/support of McCain over Obama must be "racist", or otherwise seems to be voting for Obama purely to put a black man in office.
- Says a victory/support of Obama over McCain/Palin must be "sexist", or otherwise seems to be voting for McCain purely to put a woman in the Veep seat.
- Declares with certainty that no one who votes for the other guy has actually put any thought into what they're doing.
- Can't name a single specific campaign promise of their candidate.
- Can't name a single specific campaign promise of the OTHER candidate.
- Threatens to move out of the country if the other guy wins.

Drink the pitcher every time someone:
- Thinks Obama is Muslim, or tries to take some meaning out of how much Obama's name resembles a certain bearded Arabian with interest in US flight plans.
- Thinks we should "nuke 'em."
- Uses the term "babykiller."
- Seriously compares either Bush or the GOP in general to the Nazis, the Norsefire Party, or the Galactic Empire.
- Seriously compares either Obama or the Democrats in general to Communists or terrorists.
- Denies, when reminded by someone who knew them back then, that time back in 2007 when they said they hoped the GOP would nominate someone more moderate "like McCain" this time but "that's not gonna happen".
- Declares they don't know a single person who ever voted for Bush, with or without denying that this may mean they live a sheltered life.
- Brings up conspiracies, either right or left wing.
- Can't name a single specific campaign promise of EITHER candidate.
- Argues that Hillary should run as a third-party candidate (and is at least claiming to be Democrat; McCain supporters getting schadenfreudey over the prospect don't count).
- Threatens to move out of the country if the other guy wins, and made the same threat regarding a Bush victory in 2000 and/or 2004.
- Plans to vote Nader.
- Yells until they turn red or start pounding the table (or, if online, uses multiple exclamation points or caps lock for an entire clause).

Empty the pitcher over the head of anyone who:
- Isn't sure who the candidates are.
- After arguing for at least 10 minutes, admits they don't plan to bother to vote.
shirenomad: (politics)
You know, after Obama rejected Hillary as a running mate, I was wondering something to the effect of the following:

"There are a lot of disgruntled Hillary supporters out there, some of them because they preferred her policies but some because they wanted a female in office. If McCain, never the strongest conservative anyway, nominated a qualified female for Veep, he'd not only take some of the wind out of Obama's 'first African American president' point, he'd also get the Hillary crew to at least give him a second look."

Looks like great minds think alike.

(Governor Palin's Wikipedia page has been blitzed with updates since the announcement, including some vandalism: when I first poked my nose in there, it included the sentence "she was born a man." Real mature, guys.)
shirenomad: (informative)
Interesting report on the situation in Iraq. Pulls no punches about how badly things have gone since the fighting started, but gives an analysis of why, and suggests what will be needed to turn things around.
shirenomad: (philosophical)
There was this icon I saw floating around LJ that revived a certain political issue bothering me. Indulge me for a few minutes, if you will. )
shirenomad: (depressed)
I slept through pretty much all of it. I was in college, classes didn't start for another week, and I was on the west coast to boot, so I didn't wake up that day until past 10am Pacific. My first clue that anything was odd was the faint sound of my roommate's TV on -- he never watched TV at that hour -- but I didn't actually know until he poked his nose out, saw I was awake, and told me to turn on the news, we were under attack. Oddly, I still feel guilty that I wasn't awake to see most of it live... irrational reaction, I know, but it's hard to react completely rationally to something like that.

I numbly watched TV and discussed the events of the day in various panicked online environments until 6pm that evening; I was finally dragged out of the apartment by an email on the church mailing list for an emergency prayer meeting. Spent an hour praying for the protection and recovery of New York, some sort of peace for the families of the victims, and wisdom for the nation's leaders. Then on the way home the radio started playing "Blue Skies" and I thought of the debris-clouded sky of Manhattan. And just like that the true weight of the day, which I'd been trying to ignore, finally hit me full force, and I had to pull over to the side of the road and sob.

It is still beyond my understanding how someone could do that. The Pentagon, I can see. It was a military location; hitting it disrupted military operations, and the people killed within were soldiers who signed on to die for their country... and for that matter fight the same people who hijack airliners. No less of an act of war, but still no less legitimate a target than, say, Pearl Harbor; the only things obscene about it were the choice of weapon (okay, not everyone can afford cruise missiles, but if there had been any way to get an empty plane, they should have used it) and the unprovoked nature of the whole thing. But the World Trade Center consisted of 3000 civilians working at their desks. Hit aircraft carriers. Hit military bases. Hit troops on patrol in Iraq. I don't like it, but it's still legit warfare. But deliberately targeting those you know to be civilians? What purpose does that even serve, other than to enrage those whom you attacked?

People can't understand why these people* hate us. We must have done something to them, they say. it must have been deserved. Do gay people who get beaten to death by homophobes do anything to deserve it? Did the victims of lynch mobs do anything to deserve it? Do abused spouses do anything to deserve it (no matter how much they believe they have)? It's hate, pure and simple.

And for all that, I still don't get it.

PS: As for the recent "docu-drama" business, I don't know enough about it to make a judgment call. I think it's too soon to the event to make dramas on the subject with any objectivity, so I won't watch; I skipped "World Trade Center" and "United 93" for the same reason. But if you want to view something on the subject today, watch this. No propaganda or politicization (the filmmakers were French), and everyone involved started the day thinking they were making a documentary about a rookie firefighter instead of a world-shattering event... but those people were THERE.

* DISCLAIMER: "These people" = Al Queda and similar. Not "all Muslims" or "all Arabs" or other sweeping generic categories; I mean those who actually hate us enough to kill 3000 of us because they can.


Jul. 23rd, 2006 01:47 pm
shirenomad: (politics)
I had an epiphany about Iraq that I'm going to share with you. It'll be hard to hear for both sides, but I think it's the truth, and I think history backs me up. I also think this epiphany stays politically neutral, but I'm putting it behind a cut anyway. )
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