South of the Border

Freedom of Speech wins one and loses one


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This week two things happened.  Google stood up to China and the Supreme Court of the United States made a far reaching decision.

It seems that Google with altruistic motives decided not to allow their products to be used in censorship of Chinese citizens.  It's a bold stand.  Backing up their decision was Hillary Clinton's hard hitting speech.  It took pluck.

China reacted, but not as strongly as one might expect.  They are going to need Google world-wide and their citizens are too smart to not find a way to get to Google's long range product line.

In other news....

A decision of the Supreme Court was made 5 to 4 that dismantled campaign financing that had grown up over the last 50 or more years. It's an odd freedom of speech issue. Here is some background.

The US constitution is anchored by the first amendment.  It goes to the heart of the rights of the people for free speech.  Briefly stated from Wikepedia:


"The First Amendment to the United States Constitution is part of the Bill of Rights. The amendment prohibits the Congress from making laws "respecting an establishment of religion", impeding the free exercise of religion, infringing on the freedom of speech and infringing on the freedom of the press."

Before the Supreme Court ruling there were some restrictions on Corporations influencing elections with vast sums of money.  Yes, they had their lobbyists, but there were some prohibitions.  The fear was that a large corporation could in fact influence the outcome of local and national elections with money and publicity.

The 'McCain-Feingold,' bill named after its sponsors (Democrat Feingold and Republican John McCain), is the most recent major federal law on campaign finance, which revised some of the legal limits of expenditure set in 1974, and prohibited unregulated contributions (called "soft money") to national political parties. ‘Soft money’ also refers to funds spent by independent organizations that do not specifically advocate the election or defeat of candidates, and are not contributed directly to candidate campaigns.

The Supreme Court has taken the gloves off multinationals and considered corporations just like individuals and groups of individuals.

So, theoretically Big Company X can be considered just like a local group of concerned citizens and they can lobby with money and resources as they so please.

This decision has rocked Washington and everyone involved in politics.  It is one of the most drastic decisions every made by the Court.   The tenor of the Court has been strongly influenced by George Bush's appointments and the conservatives have voted as a block ever since.

Some political experts theorize that if the retirement of Sandra Day O'Connor had not happened, she would have voted with the liberals on this issue although she was a conservative.  Why?  She was involved in politics and knows how lobbyists and money work and was dead set against allowing corporations to determine US elections.

Ironically she cast a vote in the Gore-Bush election issue that shut down further re-counting assuring the Bush Presidency.  This determined her successor by Bush's appointment.

This far reaching decision results from her vote against State's Rights determined by the Supreme Court of Florida in the famous re-count issue of the Gore-Bush election .

Further, the mantra of many Republican campaigns has been against judges who legislate from the bench, thereby overturning elected officials laws and the Constitution.  This decision has overturned decades of congressional law built up to control the great power of multi-national corporations.

Why is this important?  Corporations are designed to make money for the stockholder, not to be altruistic. 

One example given by a Constitutional expert considers a local election.  Suppose a by-law was in questions and it concerned a parcel of land for use by a large corporation.   The corporation could put money and resources into a campaign in an unrestricted way to elect a Council member who was favorable to a re-zoning.  That's the danger on a local level.  It gets worse on a national level.

The Supreme Court majority seemed not to consider that most powerful corporations are really multi-national in nature and giving them the full rights of freedom of speech of the individual citizens or group of individual citizens is not what the Constitution intended, nor what campaign law tried to protect.

One expert on US Politics said today that it was "the most devastating and far reaching decision" of his lifetime.  He was Mark Shields of PBS fame.  David Brooks his conservative friend was very surprised by the decision too.

The US election process has gotten very complicated and long.  At best it is chaotic.  People are in campaign mode all the time.  This Supreme Court decision could influencet Canada long term as elections will be even more complicated south of the border.

Almost every decision of the appointed for life Supreme Court has gone 5 to 4 on conservative versus liberal grounds.  This decision not only has rocked liberals, but also conservatives.  Neither knows what will happen.

If John McCain would have been elected, he would have seen from the Oval Office his single most important legislation dismantled. 

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Friday, January 22, 2010