Politics

The Great Debate: A Game Show

The Great Debate Game Show

Tagline: live gameshow where two contestants debate over a hot topic of the times.

Layout:

  • One person for each side of the debate.
  • Each side has two other people in his/her “dugout” whom they can call on for advice; thus, each side has a total of three people: one speaker and two supporters.
  • One moderator.
  • A panel of three judges, separate from the moderator.
  • Each side will have a microphone, and when it is that side’s turn to speak, the other side’s microphone will be silenced to prevent interruption.
  • Eight Sections: (1) The Introduction; (2) The Facts; (3) The Positions; (4) The Main Argument; (5) The Regrouping; (6) Addition of Facts; (7) The Closing Statements; (8) The Judges’ Results.
  • Each side will obtain a Twitter handle to receive input from the audience at large; e.g. in an abortion debate, the pro-abortion side will get @greatdebateproabortion or something like that, so that they can get assistance from the crowd, if they so choose, during The Regrouping round.
  • The Twitter handles will not be announced until The Introduction.

First Round: The Introduction

  • The purpose of this round is to introduce the game and everyone involved.
  • The moderator introduces him/herself, the premise of the game, the rules, the debaters and their teams, and the judges.
  • The moderator will announce the Twitter handles for each side so that the audience can participate in anticipation of The Regrouping round.

Second Round: The Facts

  • The purpose of this round is to do away with any waste in the debate scheme, so that each side does not begin arguing one point, only to find that the other side already concurs.
  • Each contestant takes turns submitting incontrovertible facts that both sides agree on for the remainder of the debate; e.g. in an abortion debate, both sides may concede that killing a human life is wrong, but they may not agree on what “life” or “human” mean, or they may agree that abortion during the third trimester is wrong, but not on whether abortion during the second trimester is wrong.
  • The facts will be used throughout the game to stop any argument that controverts those facts.
  • The facts should be simple and easily articulated.
  • There should be some limit; e.g. 10 facts submitted per side.
  • Any fact may be disputed by the other side, at which point the moderator will decide, subject to an override by a majority of the judges.
  • If a fact is overridden by either the moderator or the panel of judges, the side who submitted the fact gets a redo, capped at 2 overrides; e.g. if Side A has 2 “facts” overridden, she/he forfeits the number of overridden facts going forward; e.g. if Side A submits 3 facts that are overridden, then ultimately Side A only gets to submit 8 facts (10 total facts minus 1 override); e.g. if Side A submits 2 facts that are overridden, then Side A gets 10 total facts submitted.
  • Once the facts are totaled up, the moderator will restate them and they will be numbered and placed on the board.

Third Round: The Positions

  • The purpose of this round is to clarify what each side will be arguing, and to dispel with any confusion about what will be debated.
  • Each side gets to submit a brief introduction to his/her position.
  • The positions should be short and to the point, articulating the overarching argument to be made; e.g. in a debate over abortion, one side would state his opposition to abortion after the first trimester, while the other side would state her opposition to restricting abortion before the second trimester.
  • Once the positions are stated, the moderator will restate the positions succinctly, with each side getting a chance to clear up his/her position if needed, at which point the moderator will then restate the position clearly, to ensure that everyone understands the crux of each position.

Fourth Round: The Main Argument

  • The purpose of this round is to present the heart of the debate and allow each side an opportunity to clarify his/her position and any support for that position, as well as to persuade the other side and the audience to agree.
  • Each side will have a turn to present his/her argument in two steps:
    • Step One: state the main argument.
    • Step Two: state any qualifiers to his/her argument.
  • Once the main arguments have been made, the moderator will restate them succinctly for clarity, with each side having the opportunity to clarify if needed.
  • After the moderator’s restatement of the arguments, then Side A will go again for some set period of time, and Side B will have an opportunity to respond and make his/her own argument.
  • After Side B responds and makes his/her own argument, then Side A will have a chance to respond and make his/her next argument.
  • The cycle between Side A and Side B will continue for some preset timeframe.
  • At the end of the allotted time, the moderator will call the end of The Main Arguments.
  • Each side will go to his/her supporters to regroup.

Fifth Round: The Regrouping

  • The purpose of this round is to allow each side to regroup and to strengthen his/her arguments and counterarguments in light of what was said during The Main Arguments.
  • At the end of The Main Arguments, each side will go to his/her supporters to regroup outside the earshot of the audience.
  • Each side can use books, internet, their Twitter handle, or whatever else at their means to determine how to move forward in light of the arguments made during The Main Arguments.
  • The moderator will try to summarize The Main Arguments to the audience innocuously, just for clarity.
  • At the end of The Regrouping, the moderator will announce that it is time to proceed to the The Closing Statements.

Sixth Round: Addition of Facts

  • The purpose of this round is to clarify the truth or agreement of any information discussed thus far, so that The Closing Statements can be made more effective and to avoid retreading old ground.
  • Each side will have an opportunity to submit additional facts in light of what was said during The Main Argument and based on information gathered during The Regrouping.
  • There should be some limit, e.g. 5 facts, and the rules for fact submission will follow the initial round of The Facts, except that each side only has 5 chances to submit facts; e.g. if Side A submits 5 facts, and 1 is overridden, then Side A ultimately gets to submit 4 additional facts in total.

Seventh Round: The Closing Statements

  • The purpose of this round is to finalize the arguments for each side.
  • Similar to The Main Arguments, each side will have an opportunity to present his/her argument, but Side B will start and Side A will respond and deliver an argument, and then Side B will respond and deliver, and the cycle will continue for the allotted time.
  • At the end of the allotted time, each side will have two minutes to deliver a final statement summarizing his/her position and addressing any unclear points.

Eighth Round: The Judges’ Results

  • The judges will rule on three categories: (1) Style; (2) Clarity; and (3) Persuasion.
  • Additionally, the judges may remark on any disagreements they had, which they have not yet stated, with the rules or any other matter.
  • The third category, Persuasion, will determine the winner of the debate.

If you don’t vote, you’re probably a Donald Drumpf or Bernie Sanders supporter

Mildly provocative title, I know.

Yesterday I went to the Donald Trump rally at The Fabulous Fox theater. The best way to describe the noon day crowd at such a rally is to liken it to a rural Wal-Mart on a busy Saturday night: lots of strange people who you can’t imagine seeing in any other public place, yelling incoherent statements and getting really excited about things that shouldn’t excite adults in the modern world.

I’m certainly not a supporter. I wore all black with a Social Distortion shirt to make sure I wasn’t mistaken for such. I stuck out. I didn’t have a “Make America Great Again” baseball cap or an inexplicably vented, white, synthetic button-up shirt on. I didn’t have cargo pants. I didn’t look like that very uncool kid in your youth group who tries way, way too hard to be cool with his hipster hairdo and vague hillbilly-meets-prep-school attire. I’m not obese. I don’t yell at people I disagree with. I’m generally uncomfortable around televangelists and their fans.

I went for the same reasons that I went to New York’s Zuccotti Park for Occupy Wall Street, tea party rallies in Georgia, and Barack Obama’s campaign stop at Georgia Tech leading up to his 2008 victory. I went for the same reason I’ve stopped countless times to have full conversations with homeless people. I went for the same reason I like to talk to the soapbox preachers on the corner shouting about infidelity and Armageddon. I’m politically and socially curious. I want to know what people think, and why, especially if we disagree. It’s worthwhile to hear someone out on a topic about which you agree, because they may have different reasons for sharing your view. But it’s far more educational to listen to the views of people with whom you disagree. It helps you to sharpen your own opinions and, sometimes, it can change them. If you’re really lucky, you might even be able to use what you learn to change theirs.

The First Amendment is awesome in that way. I believe it’s First for a reason. It’s the best amendment. It’s the best because it offers the greatest safeguard for our way of life, and it’s what allows us to enjoy our lives as fully as we’re currently able. Two terrible things would happen if we lost the ability to speak, pray, and assemble freely.

First, our lives would lose their luster. Speaking your mind is one of the most liberating and exhilarating things you can do. Practicing your religion as you see fit gives you satisfaction beyond belief, no pun intended. Assembling peacefully helps you to achieve goals with like minded individuals working towards a common cause to better your lives. Without these things, we would work, play, and die, and life would seem more like a waiting room than a destination.

Second, we would lose our ability to challenge powerful institutions and enemies. We wouldn’t be able to speak truth to lies, hold onto something greater than ourselves during struggles, or gather together in solidarity to stand against tyranny. We would be weaker, and we would lose more battles than we already do.

But some people prefer the Second Amendment as their greatest protector. I get the feeling that the crowd at The Fox theater held that view. I don’t come to this conclusion lightly; it’s not just that they’re very vocal about their love of the NRA and their guns. I think it’s also because, ultimately, they’re lazy.

This laziness is pretty unique among Trump supporters (and probably Bernie supporters, although I haven’t been in a roomful of them yet), I believe. These two candidates appeal to the people who believe that they’ll waltz into the White House and wave a wand (or AR-15) and magically improve their lives, without the people having to lift a finger. They can’t be bothered with any level of civic engagement, save for maybe one day in November every four years. They don’t want to take the time to formulate a coherent explanation for their views. They can’t be asked to articulate, without yelling, why their positions provide the best solutions to the problems of the day. In fact, I doubt they even know or understand their problems. They sure as hell don’t know why their opponents believe the way they do.

This is harsh, I know. But I mean all offense. These are the same people who hardly vote, if ever, and complain about the political system being rigged and corrupt. Unfortunately, there are a lot of these people. And the corruption they’re so vaguely yet intensely mad at, well, it’s probably their fault. Bad political actors get away with metaphorical murder, because they’re not held accountable. And they’re not held accountable because the people tasked with holding them accountable (“We the People”) aren’t paying attention. They’re watching reality television, serving as unwitting participants in the rise of an empty-headed authoritarian. They’ll be his henchmen or his targets if he comes into power, and the rest of us will suffer.They’ll suffer, too, but since they’re so unambitious, the restrictions placed on their freedoms won’t hit them as hard. After all, they never use any of them except for that Second Amendment.

You might think this will hurt some people’s feelings. But it won’t. They’re too lazy to read an article like this, with so many words and no pictures of guns or inspirational quotes or would-be dictators. I mean, come on, I’ve already mentioned two constitutional amendments.

These people are too lazy for the First Amendment. They’re too lazy for the greatest gift to civilization the world has ever known. They don’t exercise their rights; they barrel into rooms, yelling and screaming about God-knows-what, and then leave, feeling satisfied at their righteous indignation

.

They blame the democrats, they blame the republicans, they blame the “establishment” or the “system” or other indefinable words that they don’t realize simply mean “a group of individuals that they can’t describe with particularity but think are the root cause of their problems.” They see people as groupings of physical or financial attributes, and they engage in group-think. These are the people who say, “I hate cops,” or “Rich people are evil,” or “The liberal media,” or “This [race/organization/nationality] all [do/think/say] [something I don’t like].” These people don’t have answers to questions of why, how, or when. All they know is how they feel. People who prefer feelings to thoughts and action are lazy. And people like Trump and Bernie Sanders make them feel a whole bunch.

And I think that’s what they like about it, just sitting there, rocking back and forth, feeling the Bern, feeling the power of potentially violent authoritarianism, feeling like righteous underdogs. Bernie and Trump will do everything for them, and they can go on not paying attention to anything except whatever fad b.s. television show they watch.

But that’s awful and it worsens the world in which we live. The United States is a constitutional republic founded on democratic ideals of self-government. This can be translated thusly: for our society and system of government to work, we have to actually participate in it. We wouldn’t be so vulnerable to “insiders” in Washington if we all made ourselves a little bit more like insiders ourselves. We can’t just piss and moan about our problems. We have to actually find ways to solve them. We can’t simply criticize whomever is in power and assume the next person will kiss it and make it better. We need to propose meaningful solutions in thoughtful ways.

Fittingly, Trump and Bernie are perfectly paired with their supporters. They’re idealistic, but don’t really get anything done. Trump has managed to take his daddy’s money and track inflation by selling a brand, which is just a capitalist term for “a feeling with financial value.” Bernie is a senator from Vermont serving his second term where he sells a drug he can’t actually deliver. These men aren’t problem solvers. They’re salesmen, and they’re slinging “good” vibes.

To demonstrate the caliber of person that we should all strive to be, I direct you to something so exciting, all of the people I’ve disparaged so far will find it boring. In a Supreme Court case concerning a university student group’s ability to deny membership to students who don’t share the group’s core beliefs, a team of people adversely affected by the group’s discriminatory practices wrote an argument in defense of their antagonist’s right to discriminate against them. I read this in law school, and it still brings me to tears for its honesty, wisdom, and courage to stand for something greater than themselves. These people didn’t just “play a card” or drop a platitude; they developed a rational, thoughtful argument to advance an ideal, and their action represents the virtue I wish that all Americans shared. Here’s the link to the whole article, but I’ll summarize it below: http://www.americanbar.org/content/dam/aba/publishing/preview/publiced_preview_briefs_pdfs_09_10_08_1371_PetitionerAmCuGLIL.authcheckdam.pdf

Christian Legal Society v. Martinez

A Christian student group at a California university challenged the school’s decision to bar the group’s membership at the school based on the Christian group’s refusal to admit members to the group if those members supported pro-homosexual politics. The group did not advocate violence or hatred towards homosexuals, but they advocated a literal interpretation of the Bible that views homosexuality as sinful. Although they did not deem homosexuals inherently evil or suspicious, the group did not want homosexuals obtaining membership (and therefore voting) rights within the group for fear that they would undermine the group’s causes.

One could easily look at this case and, depending on your leanings, immediately agree or disagree with the Christian group’s position. But, if you immediately agree or disagree, then you are lazy, and you likely support Drumpf or Bernie.

Brief of Gays & Lesbians for Individual Liberty as Amicus Curiae in Support of Petitioner

A group advocating for the advancement of LGBTQ causes submitted an amicus brief, which means a brief from “a friend of the court.” The Supreme Court gets these all the time, where special interest groups join with one side of the case and advocate their own position in favor of that side. It presents a more fully-developed argument (and a more overwhelming one, at times) for the court to consider. In case you’re wondering, the “petitioner” in this case was the Christian group seeking to bar homosexuals from being members. So why did they advocate in favor of a group that sought to prevent their participation in a school-related group? They’re homosexuals, after all? Shouldn’t they be easily lumped into a “progressive” category whose knee-jerk reaction is opposing anything remotely adversarial to their cause? Nope. Because these people aren’t lazy. I doubt they support either of my much-aligned candidates from above. These people articulated their points of view, if you’d like to read them, because they take full advantage of the First Amendment. They didn’t show up with guns and demand membership rights. They didn’t yell and shout and scream about their feelings. They made a solid, moving argument, and they’re heroes of mine because of it. I can still remember where I was when I read it. Well-formulated arguments have that kind of impact on people. Guns just kill them and start a cycle of revenge.

“Rigorous protection of minorities – including gays and lesbians – from invidious discrimination does not require sacrificing expressive associational freedom. To the contrary, these values should complement and reinforce each other.”

A lazy person would simply say, “You’re a racist,” misusing the term. But this group of superheros used words. Powerful, powerful words. Those words are how this case was won. As far as I can tell, no ideological or political battle has yet been won by yelling obscenities. Calm, deliberative words have won them all.

Someone once said that we get the government we deserve. I believe that. I also believe that our government sucks right now. In Georgia, it’s estimated that less than 50% of the voting-eligible population actually votes. But that’s not necessarily bad news. I would argue that, based on knowledge of the issues, less people should be voting right now. Of course, I would advocate that people should learn more about the candidates and issues, and then we should have a much higher proportion of our population voting, which would promote a more just and rational society. But this year, I’ll just keep dreaming. We’ll have President Hillary Clinton, and nothing will improve. That’s better than Emperor Trump, though. Despite what the non-voting nihilists say, things can totally get worse. We’ve got it made, compared with historical standards of human existence go, and a horrible, terrible, no-good, very bad president could make things much, much worse. Saying you’d rather have Trump than Clinton because you hate the establishment is like saying that, because school isn’t perfect, you’d rather have your kids sit in a moldy room with an old bigot who just farts out of his mouth for eight hours straight. School ain’t perfect, but at least you get something out of it.

So that’s why I say, if you don’t vote, you probably support one of these candidates. You’re lazy. You don’t realize how much work the rest of us do to keep our heads (and our loved one’s heads) above water. You don’t know what’s going on around you, and you don’t want to try to solve your own problems, much less your neighbor’s. You just want someone to solve them for you, and your lack of action allows the world to remain as frail and messed up as it is. You’ll be the reason that we lose the First Amendment but keep the Second. You’ll be the reason that the film Idiocracy becomes reality. The next incarnation of Trump won’t be saying “Make America Great Again.” He’ll be muttering “Where My Country Gone?

And we won’t be able to speak, pray, or assemble in protest. Thanks, ‘Merica.


 

Feeling lazy and uneducated? Here’s some stuff to read that doesn’t have to do with costumed animals or Kim Kardashian (usually):

https://www.govtrack.us/

http://www.c-span.org/

http://fivethirtyeight.com/

http://reason.com/

http://www.theatlantic.com/

http://www.slate.com/

http://www.cnn.com/

http://www.vox.com/

http://www.npr.org/

 

 

 

The Kentucky Clerk Refusing to Issue Marriage Certificates to Gay Couples Is…

…Mistaken About Her Rights.

Feel free to play this while you read:

I would recommend that, anytime someone argues that they have the right to violate someone else’s rights in the name of religion, that you refer them to the First Continental Congress and the drafting of the Constitution. The revisions from those sessions show, pretty affirmatively, that the founding fathers of this great country resoundingly rejected the idea that religion has any power to interfere with public or private rights. Short of allowing you to decide how to live your life, so long as your decisions do not directly affect others, your religion grants you exactly zero powers. This is for our protection: Christians, Jews, Muslims, atheists, Hindus, Buddhists, etc.

What usually gets mixed up in this whole discussion is the notion that we are a Christian nation. That is both true and false, because it is such a broad, meaningless statement. What is true is that most of our founders practiced some strand of Christianity; however, very few of them actually agreed on anything, from the divinity of Jesus to the afterlife to how to live here on Earth. This is significant, because when someone says we are a “Christian” nation, whose “Christianity” do they mean? Usually it’s their own, but not a single founding father practiced anything remotely resembling the more mainstream strands of Christianity in existence today. Further, that entire line of thought negates the fact (not opinion–I mean fact) that all references to religious law were intentionally removed from the documents drafted.

But this is not to say that we are an “atheist” nation or that we were founded on a-religious ideals. There is a special place for religion in this country. Even a cursory review of the revisions at the First Continental Congress show clearly that the founders struggled with how to protect religion from the State. Weaker language was thrown out in favor of stronger language seeking to prevent the State from being able to curb religion, even fringe religion. The Moors are even alluded to, which is a reference to Islam, as something to be protected. But when push comes to shove, rights granted to the public at large were set up to win out against private religious rights. Period.

You can refrain from attending gay weddings based on your personal beliefs all you want, but you cannot prevent others from marrying. It took a long time to get here, but thankfully we’ve done it. Sadly, though, we’re seeing other problems spring up. Fining or jailing a baker for refusing to bake a cake for a gay wedding is absurd and flies in the face of religious freedom. The baker is not infringing on the gay couple’s rights; the gay couple (or more pointedly, the State) is infringing on the baker’s rights.

Of course, the issue of the baker refusing to bake a cake conjures analogies to civil rights issues surrounding race, but these things are not accurate analogies. First, race does not exist, whereas homosexuality does. Second, even if race did exist, it would be something that someone “is” but not something that someone “does,” whereas homosexuality is either (a) both something that a person “is” and “does,” or (b) only something that a person “does” but not something that a person “is.” The reason that I offer this distinction is because the scientific community has no answer for whether homosexuality is genetic or whether it is a choice, and I don’t pretend to know. I’ve heard arguments for both positions, from hetero- and homosexual persons, so I’ll leave it at that for now. Feel free to educate me if you see fit, but this digression ends here.

These distinctions are important, because discriminating against someone for something over which they cannot control (race, being something that you simply “are” — or not, since it is man-made concept) is different than discriminating against someone for something they can control (the act of gay marriage). I’m not arguing that either form of discrimination is more or less ugly and foolish; I’m just pointing out that there is a distinction. And this distinction should be recognized when considering the balance of rights between private citizens seeking to live how they please.


Also, there is another, more pragmatic approach, which exists separate from the academic musings about the debate surrounding the power struggle between religion and State. This pragmatic approach says that, because forcing the baker to bake the cake causes the baker to suffer more than allowing the baker to refuse to bake the cake causes the gay couple to suffer, the lesser of evil approaches dictates that the baker should be allowed to refuse to bake the cake. This is true because the gay couple can find someone else to bake the cake, no problem. And who wants someone to bake you a cake for your wedding when they really, really don’t want to? Isn’t that weirdly spiteful and like a bad omen or something?

At this point, you might wonder how far from the title topic I plan to traverse. But aha! I’ve not gone far at all. Because the point of the baker discussion is to juxtapose it against the situation with the clerk. The difference, here, is the State’s involvement. The baker was acting in a private, for-profit capacity; this is an arena where personal religious freedom has strong game. The clerk, however, was acting in a public, non-profit government capacity; this is the number one arena for weakness of religious freedom.


So, in conclusion, the Kentucky Clerk is mistaken about her right to refuse to issue marriage certificates at her government job. Religious freedom does not trump Constitutionally-guaranteed rights in any sphere, much less the sphere involving State actions. The reason we know this is because (a) the courts say so, and (b) our founding documents and the processes by which they were drafted show us that such was not contemplated when our great nation was created.

Understanding the National Security Administration and Edward Snowden’s Leaks

According to John Oliver on Last Week Tonight, there are many Americans who still do not understand the National Security Administration (“NSA”) programs that Edward Snowden revealed in 2013. Many Americans don’t know who Snowden is, what he did, that he’s not the Wikileaks guy (that’s Julian Assange), or why his revelations about the state of national security matters.

Regardless of how you feel about Snowden, the NSA, and surveillance generally, it’s likely that, unless you’re a huge computer or political nerd, you don’t fully understand PRISM, MUSCULAR, X-KEYSCORE, or the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) court charged with overseeing these programs. The problem is that this issue involves a lot of highly technical jargon and acronyms that most people don’t understand.

If you want to know more, John Oliver has got you covered. In his infinite wisdom, he found a way to bring this topic down to a level we can all understand: dick pics. To learn more, click this link. It’ll be worth your time. Also, click here to go to CanTheySeeMyDick.com. Yes, that’s it’s real name.

But if you hate clicking cool links to learn cool things, just keep reading.

Who is Edward Snowden?

Snowden was a former NSA subcontractor who became disillusioned with what he saw as overreaching by the U.S. government in spying on American citizens and foreigners. He had access to a lot of sensitive information (data) that the NSA collected, as it claims, for the purpose of building intelligence to combat terrorism. Snowden disagreed with the lengths the NSA went to gain this data, believing that it was violating people’s privacy rights.

Because he disagreed with the NSA’s programs (discussed below), Snowden “blew the whistle” on them, which means that he brought their existence and methods to the public’s attention. As he says, he simply wanted the U.S. public to know about these programs so that we could have a meaningful discussion about whether we want to live in a society where the government effectively spies on most everything we do. It’s very Orwellian.

What are the NSA Programs PRISM, MUSCULAR, and X-KEYSCORE?

These are programs run by the NSA that Snowden blew the whistle on. To put simply, they’re like defensive football plays, kind of, with different players performing different functions and running different routes to achieve one major goal. In football, the defense tries to keep the other team from gaining yards and scoring. In the fight against terrorism, the NSA and other agencies try to prevent terrorists from blowing things up. The defensive linemen block the quarterback and running backs from running up the middle. The NSA intercepts information (data) sent via email or phone and reviews it for incriminating terrorism-related evidence to keep terrorists from exploding you. At least in theory.

PRISM is the most famous of these programs, so we’ll focus on it. The Washington Post has pictures, but I’ll just put it into words. Big internet companies (e.g. Yahoo, Google, Facebook, etc.) have servers that store information sent and received to those sites. So, when you write an email or a Facebook post, that information travels to a server where it’s stored and sent to the intended recipient. Think of it like snail mail. You write a letter (email), drive your car (internet highway) to the post office (Google’s server) and drop it off, and then the post office (Google) sends it to the intended recipient (grandma, because who else would you hand write a letter to in 2015). While the Google post office server has it, the NSA snatches it up. This is called “bulk data collection,” because they grab up just about everything.

Supporters of these NSA programs argue that bulk data collection doesn’t really tread on privacy rights, because it doesn’t collect the content of the calls and messages sent; instead, PRISM just shows the NSA when, how, and who sent what type of information (e.g. phone call, email, text) to whom. So they can see your envelope, the return address, and the intended recipient, but not the contents inside. However, that’s not quite true. Through all of the NSA’s programs combined, they can paint a pretty solid picture of what you’re doing, because we’re connected to so much communicating technology that it’s easy to track our moves. The NSA can see that I sent some emails from work this morning to other places in the city and, with relative ease, can figure out to whom exactly I sent them, then they can see that I did it again from home, and they can tell I got on Facebook and can draw a pretty good picture of which websites I visited. So they can see a good chunk of my day, and they’ve got that much without overreaching just slightly beyond the law, which requires that they only dive into the contents of my emails and phone calls (e.g. reading messages and listening to calls) if there’s a connection to terrorism.

While those limits sound pretty protective, in reality just about anybody can be on the “terror watch list.” This means that dubious connections can lead to you being watched closely by the NSA. Or as John Oliver puts it, they can see your dick pics.

So, at the end of the day, the NSA collects a lot of information about U.S. citizens and foreign persons here and abroad, and Edward Snowden tried to bring this issue to the attention of the public at large so that we could have a somewhat intelligent debate about it.

Corporate Rights to Free Speech in the Political Arena

“The State need not permit its own creation to consume it.”

Lately for one of my law school classes, The Law of Democracy, I have been studying various aspects of our democracy, including redistricting and reapportionment (more commonly known as “gerrymandering”) and, more recently, the law surrounding campaign finance.

I have always been skeptical of the flimsy notion that a corporation is a “person,” because this legal fiction, originally intended to serve strictly commercial purposes, has been expanded into a behemoth of confusing legal theories regarding what such a corporate “person” can/not do. One of the biggest questions swirling around this issue is whether corporations are entitled to speech protection under the First Amendment, which provides that “Congress shall make no law…abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press.”

For a long time, I strongly believed that corporations should not be allowed rights of free speech; however, the Supreme Court’s 2010 ruling in Citizens United v. FEC made me question this belief. There, the Court stated that “the government may not keep corporations or unions from spending money to support or denounce individual candidates in elections,” and although they “may not give money directly to campaigns, they may seek to persuade the voting public through other means, including ads.”

This weakened my staunch opposition to corporate political speech, because it made me realize that, when we try to delineate where to draw the line on what constitutes “speech,” the waters get muddy and it becomes less clear when a corporation is impermissibly “speaking” on a political matter, impermissibly supporting a political candidate, or just doing business as usual. For example, what if a local grocery store features a local political candidate in a television advertisement promoting the store? What if the candidate is identified as a candidate for office? What if the candidate doesn’t say anything about his campaign, but just promotes the store? What if the grocery store doesn’t feature the candidate, but instead promotes its own interests regarding an issue with which the candidate is easily identified (i.e. the store promotes lowering taxes on small businesses, and the candidate is widely known as the “small business” candidate)? What if, instead of a television ad, the grocery store buys ad space on the candidate’s website? Or what if the store buys ad space on a news or political website where the editor has spoken out in favor of the candidate?

As you can see, the line starts to blur when you change up the facts, and it becomes harder to tell when the corporation is speaking on political matters, and this leaves me wondering how (im)practical it is for the legislature to try to prohibit this kind of corporate speech.

Putting that issue aside, there is another current running through the Citizens United case, which deals with the idea that, in a democracy, the public should have access to as much information as possible in order to inform individual voters about issues relevant to their interests. According to the majority opinion in Citizens United, public discourse is richer when it includes any and all inputs. At first glance, I tend to agree with this sentiment, and I recognize the risks of allowing the government to make determinations about who and what makes permissible contributions to debates over public matters (like ballot initiatives). However, after reading Justice White’s dissenting opinion in the 1978 case of First National Bank of Boston v. Bellotti, I have settled (at least for now) on the position that prohibiting corporations from speaking on matters of public concern does not diminish public conversations. There, Justice White, in what I believe to be a brilliant dissent against the majority (which held, essentially, that the First Amendment protects corporate speech over matters of public concern), railed against the notion that corporations’ “speech” rights should be protected. Says Justice White:

“Corporations are artificial entities created by law for the purpose of furthering certain economic goals. In order to facilitate the achievement of such ends, special rules relating to such matters as limited liability, perpetual life, and the accumulation, distribution, and taxation of assets are normally applied to them. …It has long been recognized however, that the special status of corporations has placed them in a position to control vast amounts of economic power which may, if not regulated, dominate not only the economy but also the very heart of our democracy, the electoral process.”

He continues, explaining that the State’s interest in restricting corporate political activity “is not one of equalizing the resources of opposing candidates or opposing positions, but rather of preventing institutions which have been permitted to amass wealth as a result of special advantages extended by the State for certain economic purposes from using that wealth to acquire an unfair advantage in the political process, especially where…the issue involved has no material connection with the business of the corporation.”

Here, I believe that Justice White hits the proverbial nail on the proverbial head. The State giveth, and the State taketh away. Individual, real persons are not subject to this kind of State regulation of speech, because the State did not give us the right to speak; we were born with it, and it was transcribed on our hearts in the First Amendment to the US Constitution. But corporations are not born; they are created. And if the Frankenstein State can create such wealth-accumulating monsters without being able to prevent the beast from descending back upon and consuming the State by using its State-given wealth to dominate conversations that intimately impact the State and, therefore, the people, then we have not enriched our country. Instead, I believe that we have served the nation up on a silver platter to be eaten by these “persons,” these “persons” which are not persons at all, but monsters.