Posts Tagged ‘Free Speech’

Job security and speaking truth to power

July 13, 2017

During the 20 years I reported on business for the Rochester (NY) Democrat and Chronicle, I was surprised at how many people were afraid to speak freely because of the consequences to their careers or chances of getting a job.

About the only people I ever met who were willing to speak as if they were free Americans were:

  • Self-employed professionals such as physicians and lawyers.
  • Self-employed craftsmen such as plumbers and electricians.
  • Owners of small businesses that served the public (not sub-contractors)
  • Tenured college professors.
  • Civil servants (provided they were speaking about their area of responsibility and not political issues).
  • Labor leaders and members of strong labor unions.

Many years ago I read David Kearns’ memoir of his years as CEO of Xerox Corp.  (I no longer have the book and don’t remember the title).  In one chapter, he described a meeting he held with workers at Xerox’s Webster, N.Y., plant about problems with a new model of copier.

He told how the president of the union local replied, “Why didn’t you ask us, Dave?  We could have told you it was no good.”

My impression is that Kearns thought he deserved credit for not getting angry at the union representative.   But, actually, what he should have done was to arrange to meet with him once every six or twelve months.

If you are in a position of authority, someone who will tell you the truth is invaluable.  But few in a position of authority want to hear inconvenient truths.  Hence functional stupidity.

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Does the Constitution protect corruption?

August 27, 2014

The Supreme Court ruled in the Citizens United case that campaign contributions are a form of free speech protected by the First Amendment.   On April 2, the Supreme Court ruled, in McCutcheon vs. Federal Election Commission, that Congress does have the right to legislate against corruption in campaign financing, but, as Jill Lepore pointed out in an article in The New Yorker, only against certain forms of corruption.

Chief Justice John Roberts wrote the opinion for the five-to-four majority. “The right to participate in democracy through political contributions is protected by the First Amendment, but that right is not absolute,” he began. 

040614newcoletoonCongress may not “regulate contributions simply to reduce the amount of money in politics, or to restrict the political participation of some in order to enhance the relative influence of others.”  But there is “one legitimate governmental interest for restricting campaign finances,” he explained: “preventing corruption or the appearance of corruption.”

That said, the Court’s understanding of corruption is very narrow, Roberts explained, echoing a view expressed by Justice Anthony Kennedy in McConnell v. F.E.C., in 2003: “Congress may target only a specific type of corruption—‘quid pro quo’ corruption.”

Quid pro quo is when an elected official does something like accepting fifteen thousand dollars in cash in exchange for supporting another politician’s bid to run for mayor of New York.  The only kind of corruption that federal law is allowed to prohibit is out-and-out bribery.  The kind of political prostitution that the Moreland Commission was in the middle of attempting to document—elected officials representing the interests not of their constituents but of their largest contributors—does not constitute, in the view of the Supreme Court, either corruption or the appearance of corruption.

via Zephyr Teachout’s Anti-Corruption Campaign.

The Moreland Commission to Investigate Public Corruption was appointed by Gov. Andrew Cuomo in April, 2013, to investigate corruption in New York state.

The commission was given 18 months to do its work, but in March of this year, Gov. Cuomo shut it down.  He said it was supposed to investigate the legislative branch, not the executive branch.

In the meantime, the commission made a series of preliminary recommendations, including closing loopholes regarding limited liability laws, mandating disclosure of outside spending, instituting public finance and creating an independent election-law enforcement agency.

As Lepore noted, these recommendations, except maybe for public campaign financing, would have had little effect in the light of Citizens United and McCutcheon.

 Zephyr Teachout, who opposes Gov. Cuomo in the coming Democratic primary, is a law professor who says the Supreme Court’s decision is contrary to the intention of the authors of the Constitution.  Even if she’s right, this doesn’t change anything.

Maybe it is necessary to amend the Constitution, as was done after the Supreme Court ruled that slavery was protected by the Constitution and later when the Supreme Court ruled that a federal income tax was unconstitutional.

There is such a thing as a right to be wrong

April 7, 2014

 purifytheworld

The proposition that “error has no rights” was once a teaching of the Roman Catholic Church.   St. Thomas Aquinas wrote that you cannot love God unless you have a correct understanding of God, and that having wrong ideas about God jeopardizes your immortal soul.  He wrote that just as counterfeiters of money should be put to death, so should people who promote counterfeit ideas about God.

Aside from the fact that I don’t believe in a merciless Deity who would condemn people to eternal torment for making a mistake, I don’t believe that there are any individuals or institutions who are infallibly right.   I am neither so arrogant that I think my opinions should be accepted without question, nor so fearful that I am afraid to submit my opinions to the test of argument and contradiction.   This applies across the board and not just to religion.

It is perfectly true that “error” has no rights.  Neither does “truth.”   Only human beings have rights.   Among those rights, under U.S. law and international human rights documents, is the right to nonviolently and lawfully advocate for their political opinions.  People in a free country ought to be able to do that safely, no matter how unpopular their opinions with the government or with the majority.

I suppose that with sufficient ingenuity, someone could think up a situation in which that principle didn’t apply.  If so, I would admit the exception only for that particular situation.  Freedom of speech, like everything else, has boundaries.  I think that people who call themselves liberals should defend and perhaps extend these boundaries, rather than look for reasons to contract them.

If you think there are opinions so hateful that anybody who holds them should be silenced or punished, who would you give the power to decide what those opinions are?   Are you absolutely sure that power would never be used against you?

Political correctness and repressive tolerance 2

April 7, 2014

quote-i-disapprove-of-what-you-say-but-will-defend-to-the-death-your-right-to-say-it-voltaire-334856

I once wrote a post in defense of political correctness.  In it I argued that the phrase “political correctness” was used by people who wanted to immunize themselves from criticism for saying things that were insulting, vulgar and bigoted.   I am politically correct in that sense.  I believe in treating people with courtesy and respect, and part of that is avoiding language they consider insulting

I think there are certain opinions of which I have a moral obligation not to allow to go uncontradicted.

I think there is such a thing as “murder language” — epithets used by Cossacks conducting pogroms against Jews, by lynch mobs stringing up black people, by homophobes who beat gay people to death — and I don’t think such language is socially acceptable

But these considerations don’t apply in the resignation of Brendan Eich, the Mozilla CEO who was unmasked as having contributed to supporters of Proposition 8, the California referendum against gay marriage, and who refused to back down from his belief that marriage is only between men and women. 

I haven’t heard any allegation that he was unfair to gay employees of Mozilla.  In fact, nobody would have known about his opinions if somebody hadn’t taken the trouble to dig it out.

I am a paleo-liberal, who came of age during the Joe McCarthy period, and I see a parallel between what happened to Brenden Eich and the blacklisting of the great Hollywood scriptwriter Dalton Trumbo for his support of Communist causes.  

Of course Eich is in a better position to retire on his millions than Trumbo had of earning a living when he was banned from working in Hollywood.  On the other hand I think Trumbo’s illusions about the Soviet Union were a much more serious mistake (to put it mildly) than Eich’s failure to keep up with received opinion about gay rights.

One thing they have in common is that they are being punished not just for their past political record, but for refusing to back down from their convictions.   Both Eich and Trumbo could have saved their careers if they had recanted, even if nobody believed their recantation was sincere.

Proposition 8 was supported by a majority of Californians.  That is a lot of people to declare ineligible for executive positions in high tech companies in Silicon Valley. 

At the time Proposition 8 was on the ballot, Barack Obama declared his belief that marriage was only between a man and a woman.  I don’t recall anybody who thought this made him ineligible for public office.  (more…)

On being afraid to speak like a free American

February 21, 2014

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When I was reporting on business for my local newspaper in the 1980s and 1990s, I encountered a lot of people who were afraid to speak their minds and be quoted by name.

They weren’t afraid of the FBI, the CIA or any governmental or police agency.  They were afraid of employers — not just their own employer, but any potential future employer.  As one said, “I don’t want to be known as a bad employee.”

If you had to choose between evils, an oppressive government is worse than an oppressive employer.  In the worst case, the former has the power to take away your life and freedom, while the latter has only the power to take away your livelihood.  But a (comparatively) lesser evil can still be a great evil.

http://www.businessweek.com/articles/2012-08-03/where-free-speech-goes-to-die-the-workplace

Almost all the people I ran into in those days who were unafraid to speak like free Americans fell into one of the following categories.

  • Tenured college professors.
  • Civil servants
  • Union members with strong unions and good contracts
  • Independent professionals such as physicians, lawyers and accountants, not employed by a larger firm.
  • Independent craft workers such as plumbers, electricians or handymen, not employed by a larger firm.
  • Independent business owners not dependent on a single customer.

It might not be a coincidence that the proportion of people in all these categories is declining.

My two cents on Duck Dynasty

December 23, 2013

As a general rule, I don’t think people should lose their jobs because of their opinions.

I especially don’t think that entertainers and athletes should lose their jobs because of opinions expressed to interviewers.

The limits of free speech

July 27, 2012

Click on Ann Telnaes Editorial Cartoons for more cartoons like this.

Hat tip to Glenn Greenwald.

Free speech and fast food chicken

July 27, 2012

If there is any principle of the Constitution that more imperatively calls for attachment than any other, it is the principle of free thought — not free thought for those who agree with us but freedom for the thought of those we hate.
    ==Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr.

Mayor Rahm Emanuel of Chicago said he will try to prevent the Chick-fil-A fast-food restaurant chain from expanding in their cities because they disapprove of the opinions of Chick-fil-A President Dan Cathy, a Southern Baptist who is strongly opposed to gay marriage.

A Chicago alderman, Joe Moreno, said he will try to prevent a Chick-fil-A restaurant from opening in his ward, and Mayor Emanuel said Moreno has his support.  Boston Mayor Thomas Menino said Chick-fil-A is not welcome in Boston.

Nobody has accused Chick-fil-A of breaking any laws.  Nobody has accused Chick-fil-A of discriminatory hiring practices.  Nobody has accused Chick-fil-A of refusing service to customers.  But Mayor Emanuel thinks he has the right to use the power of government to punish a business because its CEO expressed an opinion he doesn’t agree with.

People who favor gay marriage are not going to change anybody’s minds by trying to repress people with whom they disagree.  Mayor Emanuel’s action serve only to harden battle lines and lock people into their previous positions.  Opponents of gay marriage, including Mike Huckabee and Rick Santorum, have rallied to Dan Cathy’s support.  Very likely Chick-fil-A, whose business is concentrated in the South, will have a net gain in business as a result of the uproar.

Now I don’t agree with Dan Cathy myself.   I don’t think his opinions should go un-contradicted.  And anybody who is offended by his views is free to patronize some other restaurant.   That’s different from government persecution.

If you really believe in free speech, you believe in it for everyone.  If you make exceptions based on your emotions, why should anybody take you seriously?  If some mayor somewhere tries to close a business because its owner is for gay marriage, Rahm Emanuel gives him an excuse to accuse his opponents of being hypocrites.

Somebody pointed out that, until a few months ago, Barack Obama took the same position as Dan Cathy—that the marriage relationship only pertained to a man and a woman.  Would President Obama have been unwelcome in Chicago and Boston?

Click on Rahm Emanuel’s dangerous free speech attack for a good post by Glenn Greenwald, a civil liberties lawyer who is gay himself.

Click on In Defense of Chick-Fil-A for a good post by Adam Serwer of Mother Jones.  He quoted John Knight, director of the LGBT (lesbian gay bisexual transgendered) rights project at the Illinois branch of the American Civil Liberties Union, as saying, “We think there’s a constitutional problem with discriminating against someone based on the content of their speech.”

Click on Don’t Fil-A the First Amendment for the view of Scott Limieux of The American Prospect.

Click on My evolving position on gay marriage if you’re interested in my personal opinion on this subject.