Free Speech, Corporate Speech

 Posted by on 15 January 2015 at 11:00 am  Election, Free Speech, Islam
Jan 152015

On Facebook, Paul said, “It’s easy to support free speech when you agree with the speaker. The real test is whether you support free speech even when you find the speaker’s views truly offensive (Holocaust deniers, Confederate flag displays, etc.)” He linked to Wikipedia on Laws against Holocaust denial.

Paul Sherman of the Institute for Justice replied as follows, and I think it bears repeating:

I am, of course, a strong believer that even offensive speech is entitled to First Amendment protection. But at least here in America we should not be fooled into thinking that that is the biggest free speech fight. It tends to get a lot of press but, as a matter of First Amendment law, that battle has largely been won.

In just the last five years the Supreme Court has upheld the right to sell violent video games to minors, the right to stage offensive protests at funerals, the right to sell depictions of animal cruelty, and the right to lie about having received military honors. None of these were 5-4 decisions. So from a constitutional standpoint, whether to protect offensive speech is increasingly seen as an easy issue.

If you want to see close, bitterly divided opinions from the Court and widespread opposition to free speech from the media and the public, don’t look for cases involving offensive speech, look for cases where the speech is simply persuasive and effective. Tons of people who are happy to let Nazis march through a community of Holocaust survivors (where they are unlikely to persuade anyone to join the Nazi party) are also happy to prohibit corporations from running political ads (which may persuade lots of people).

As it happens, I interviewed Paul Sherman on this very topic of free speech in elections on the 9 January 2013 episode of Philosophy in Action Radio. If you’ve not yet heard it, you can listen to or download the podcast here:

For more details, check out the episode’s archive page.


I’m delighted to report that the pledge drive to fund Ari Armstrong’s and my new policy paper in defense of abortion rights is rolling along on schedule. So far, we’ve received 28 pledges for $1,560. That’s over the threshold — HOORAY! So thank you, thank you to everyone who has pledged so far!

However, I’d love to collect a bit more in funds before tomorrow’s deadline, if possible. Why? First, some people don’t pay their pledges, so I’d like a bit of wiggle room for that. Second, I’d love to use any extra funds to promote the paper after it’s completed. Third, a bit more money raised would be good for CSG’s court challenge to Colorado’s campaign finance laws.

You have until tomorrow at midnight to pledge. Please do pledge, if you want to support this project! Any amount is welcome, and your pledge is not due until the paper is published on September 17th.

You can find out more about Colorado’s 2014 “personhood” ballot measure here. If you have any questions about the project or pledging, please email me.

Here are some of the comments that people have made while pledging… which I’m sharing because I appreciate them so much:

While we need staunch defense of abortion rights everywhere, this project is of personal interest to me because my daughters live in Colorado, and I want them to have the fullest protection of their rights possible there.

Thank you for using sane reasoning to argue for positions that I care about. I support your cause, and wish that as a student I could contribute more. Hopefully soon as a professional I can help more.

It’s very important that you write this. Personhood laws destroy reproductive rights, and destroys Republicans’ commitment to and reputation for supporting freedom and individual rights.

I am looking forward to the updated paper. I found the original very interesting and informative.

Keep up the good work! Look forward to the update and to the defeat of Amendment 67.

Me too!! Again, please pledge before tomorrow at midnight if you want to support the writing and promotion of a new paper in defense of abortion rights!


After a hiatus in 2012, I’m sorry to report that “Personhood for Zygotes” is on the ballot again in Colorado in 2014. However, I’m pleased to announce that Ari Armstrong and I will update 2010 policy paper in defense of abortion rights in light of the very much changed political landscape. Once again, we need your support to make that happen!

Colorado’s New “Personhood for Zygotes” Amendment

Despite the defeats of “personhood” measures in 2008 and 2010, the crusaders against abortion rights have returned with yet another attempt to grant the full legal rights of personhood to fertilized eggs.

The ballot question reads:

Shall there be an amendment to the Colorado constitution protecting pregnant women and unborn children by defining “person” and “child” in the Colorado criminal code and the Colorado wrongful death act to include unborn human beings? (Full Text)

If successful, this measure would outlaw therapeutic and elective abortions, common fertility treatments, and popular forms of birth control. It would subject women and their doctors to intrusive police controls and unjust criminal prosecutions. It would force Coloradoans to abide by the deeply religious and sectarian view that the fertilized egg is imbued with rights from God.

Due to its misleading wording — particularly its talk of “protecting pregnant women” — 2014′s Amendment 67 will likely fare significantly better in the polls than the “personhood” amendments proposed in 2008 and 2010. It’s unlikely to pass, but that doesn’t mean that abortion rights are secure. The dangerous ideology of “personhood” has spread like wildfire in the past four years among religious conservatives. In the 2012 presidential election, every Republican candidate except Mitt Romney endorsed “personhood for zygotes.”

The ideology of “personhood for zygotes” must be steadfastly opposed — based on a firm understanding of rights in pregnancy — not merely because “it goes too far.”

Support a 2014 Paper in Defense of Abortion Rights

To combat the dangerous ideology of “personhood” and defend abortion rights on principle, Ari Armstrong and I will publish a new version of their policy paper on the “personhood” movement. The updates to the paper will focus on the new language in 2014′s Amendment 67, the widespread embrace of “personhood” by the Republican Party in the 2012 election, the synergy between “incremental” and “personhood” approaches to abortion bans, the defeat of a “personhood” amendment in Mississippi, and more.

However, that work depends on your support! The update to the paper will only go forward if at least $1500 is pledged by August 20th. That will help pay for the many hours of work this update will require. If sufficient funds are pledged, the 2014 paper will be published by September 17th.

So, if you want to help defend abortion rights in this 2014 election, please pledge! Any amount is welcome, and your pledge is not due until the paper is published.

Note: Due to efforts of the Center for Competitive Politics on CSG’s behalf, I hope that she will not have to report on funds collected for this project, as she’s been obliged to do in prior elections. Time — or rather the judge — will tell. In any case, pledges for this paper are helping us have a viable case with which to challenge Colorado’s onerous campaign finance laws.

If you have any questions about the project or pledging, please email me.

Don’t Celebrate Political Polarization

 Posted by on 18 June 2014 at 10:00 am  Election, Politics, Polls
Jun 182014

From America’s growing political polarization:

Unfortunately, both Republicans and Democrats are ardent opponents of individual rights in various domains. That’s why I don’t regard America’s growing political polarization as a good trend. It limits our choices — and many people’s thinking — to “economic freedom (sort-of) plus theocratic social controls” versus “social freedom (sort-of) plus fascist economic controls.” Alas, the statist elements seem to be growing in both parties of late.

Instead, people need a clear choice of freedom versus statist controls in all areas of life. Nonetheless, the widening gap is fascinating… and there’s more in the Pew Study too. (The year-by-year animated graph is pretty nifty.) I’d just like to see data for more than 20 years!

Voter Fraud: Jon Caldara’s “Stunt”

 Posted by on 24 September 2013 at 10:00 am  Election, Law, Politics
Sep 242013

Wow. Jon Caldara was allowed to vote in Colorado’s recent recall election due to Colorado’s flimsy election laws. He blogs:

I committed an act of civil obedience.

I’ve lived in Boulder for nearly 30 years, yet I just cast a ballot in the Colorado Springs recall election. I did so by legally using the irresponsibly lax new election law.

Now, we might not agree on policy or even political candidates, but I hope we all agree that everyone should know their full voting rights. Our election law changed drastically when Governor Hickenlooper signed into law House Bill 13-1303. And everyone, not just the political team that concocted and rushed it through the process, should know how the law works and their new rights under it.

My act of civil obedience proved a simple truth – under this law voters can now be legally shuffled around in the last moments of a campaign, to any district around the state where their votes are needed most.

If this law stands, the future of Colorado elections will be decided by which campaign has the most buses.

Notably, HB-1303 forced elections to use mail-in ballots. Meaning if you are registered to vote, your ballot will be flung through the mail like a grocery store coupon, whether you want it to or not. As sloppy as that is, that’s not the worst part.

HB-1303 permits you to register and vote the same day in any district in Colorado you like, no matter where you were living just moments before. Basically anyone who has been, well, anywhere in Colorado for 22 days (a pleasant 3 week vacation), has an address in the district, and is over 18 can now vote in any district, anywhere in the state on election day if they affirm they have the “intention” of making that district their permanent home.

To educate voters of their new voter rights we created, where you can get more details. But to drive the point home, I went to a polling location in the Springs, told them I’m living there now and I’d like to vote. I signed the form, they gave me a ballot, and I cast it.

While I cast a blank ballot as a new Colorado Springs resident, I could have just as easily voted “yes” for the recall. Thankfully, enough of my new neighbors did that for me.

The Denver Post covered the news and published an editorial too.

Amazing. I’m glad we have a stuntman like Jon in Colorado!


A few days ago, I read this hysterical article — Should You Send a Lady a Dick Pic? A Guide for Men — which includes gems like the following:

Scenario 1: You’re on OKCupid and you have been exchanging messages with an attractive woman who you strongly believe is interested in seeing your penis. She hasn’t exactly come right out and asked you about your penis, but you’re pretty sure she wants to see it. Like, 60% sure. Also, you’re drunk.

Should you send the lady a dick pic? No.


Scenario 5: You’re so mad at your ex girlfriend and you want to remind her that there’s no possible way her new boyfriend’s penis could measure up to your penis, which is great. Also, you’re drunk. You’re so, so drunk.

Should you send this lady a dick pic? God, seriously? No.

I was thereby inspired to create a handy flowchart for any man considering sending a picture of his man-parts to a lady:

On a more serious note, I recommend this blog post by the always-fabulous Katie Granju: Carlos Danger: I’ve Touched That Hot Stove, And I Can’t Recommend It. Here are the first few paragraphs:

Like most Americans, I love a good comeback story. And those who know me personally will tell you that my Pollyanna-ish willingness to believe people when they swear up and down to me that they’ve changed, that they want to change, is pretty much unlimited. I am a sucker for a sincere sounding apology along with promises to forge ahead with fresh insights and honorable intent.

Yep, I’ve always been the girl who will touch that hot stove more than a few times just because someone – and let’s be honest here and admit that in my life, I’ve most often been taken in by those someones of the he persuasion – seems sincere when he tells me that he’s changed, and when he swears on all that’s holy to me that it’s gonna be different this time.

The scars on my hands from all those burns in years past are good reminders to me of how poorly that strategy always seems to work out. But they also require me to own up to the fact that I definitely have a personal history of allowing the Carlos Dangers of the world to yank my chain again and again and again, with generally disastrous consequences.

In recent years, however, I’ve toughened up a bit, and I believe that I have become better able to spot trouble as it heads toward my table to ask whether it/he can buy me a drink.

Go read the rest!

I’ve been thinking along these same lines lately — particularly about the “red flags” seen in friends that should motivate me to add some distance — if not cut ties completely. In the past, I’ve not been tuned in to those red flags — or I’ve dismissed them as personality differences or aberrations — or I’ve bought into the person’s commitment to change. As a result, I’ve been burned, often quite badly. I will maintain my benevolence, but I won’t be such a sucker in future. As a matter of justice, I will notice those red flags, then keep my distance from people unwilling to meet the basic standards for “sane” and “decent.”

As it happens, I’ll be discussing this very issue on Sunday’s Philosophy in Action Radio… so be sure to tune in!

Feb 202013

If you thought that only Republicans made idiotic comments about rape, think again. According to Colorado Democrat Joe Salazar, women on campus are incapable of understanding the basics of self-defense law, and so they should be disarmed so that they don’t “pop a round at somebody.”

Here’s what he said:

There are some gender inequities on college campuses. This is true. And universities have ben faced with that situation for a long time. It’s why we have call boxes. That’s why we have safe zones. That’s why we have the whistles. Because you just don’t know who you’re gonna be shooting at. And you don’t know if you feel like you’re gonna be raped, or if you feel like someone’s been following you around or if you feel like you’re in trouble — and when you may actually not be, that you pop out that gun and you pop, pop a round at somebody.

Basically, the Democrats want to disarm women, so that they can’t fight off a rapist. Then the Republicans want to prevent those women from obtaining Plan B or an abortion, if they get pregnant. It’s lovely to see both sides united in the “War Against Women.”

Also, University of Colorado at Colorado Springs advises women to “Tell your attacker that you have a disease or are menstruating” and “Vomiting or urinating may also convince the attacker to leave you alone.” Because nothing could go wrong with that, right? (Note: That wasn’t posted in response to any of the recent debates about gun control, thankfully.)

Here’s what I said about the importance of allowing concealed carry on campus in a prior blog post:

When I was a graduate student at CU Boulder, I had to walk a few blocks off-campus, through a residential neighborhood, to get to my car. I took classes in the evening on occasion, and during those times, my walk was dark and lonely. Like other students, I’d receive periodic reports of sexual assaults just off-campus, and that worried me.

The police chief’s advice of carrying a “safety whistle” was pure absurdity to me. If I was attacked, that wouldn’t do me a lick of good. Also, I knew that I couldn’t hope to outrun my attacker: I’m a slow sprinter, and even in elementary school, I only ever beat the fat girl in running the 50-yard dash. Really, I wanted my “safety Ruger” — because that could have actually kept me safe! Instead, I often took Kate, my German Shepherd with me to those late classes. She probably wouldn’t have helped much if I’d been attacked, but she might have deterred a criminal.

Moreover, in the wake of school shootings, I hated to think of being disarmed and defenseless, particularly as a teacher in a classroom full of terrified students. I’d have an obligation to protect my students as best as I could, yet I’d be unable to do much of anything. I hated that with a passion.

I suspect (and even hope, somewhat) that the Democrats have reached their high-water-mark in Colorado with these new gun controls… if only the Republicans don’t out-stupid them before the 2014 election.

The Mathematics of Voting

 Posted by on 26 December 2012 at 10:00 am  Election, Mathematics, Politics
Dec 262012

Undoubtedly, the award for “The Funniest Story of the 2012 Election” goes to “Candidate’s Wife Sleeps In, Misses Tie-Breaking Vote“:

Katie MacDonald was joking the night before Tuesday’s election when she told her husband – a candidate for city council in the small town of Walton, Kentucky – that if he didn’t wake her up to vote the next day, the race would end up as a tie. He should have taken her more seriously.

Katie, who works night shifts at a hospital as a nurse assistant while finishing up training as a nurse, didn’t wake up in time to vote. Now her husband, Robert, is involved in a 669 to 669 vote tie with his opponent Olivia Ballou.

“Well, obviously she was upset about it,” Robert MacDonald told ABC News. “She feels bad, but it was me who was in charge of waking her up and making sure she got out to vote. I’ve tried to be nice to her today. It’s her birthday.”

Robert MacDonald, 27, intends to request a re-canvassing, a simple re-tally of the vote, which will take place next Thursday. If the result is the same, the winner will be determined by coin toss.

Even with in such small races with just a few hundred voters on each side, such an outcome is highly, highly unlikely. As Katherine Mangu-Ward explains in this article in Reason:

In all of American history, a single vote has never determined the outcome of a presidential election. And there are precious few examples of any other elections decided by a single vote. A 2001 National Bureau of Economic Research paper by economists Casey Mulligan and Charles Hunter looked at 56,613 contested congressional and state legislative races dating back to 1898. Of the 40,000 state legislative elections they examined, encompassing about 1 billion votes cast, only seven were decided by a single vote (two were tied). A 1910 Buffalo contest was the lone single-vote victory in a century’s worth of congressional races. In four of the 10 ultra-close campaigns flagged in the paper, further research by the authors turned up evidence that subsequent recounts unearthed margins larger than the official record initially suggested.

The numbers just get more ridiculous from there. In a 2012 Economic Inquiry article, Columbia University political scientist Andrew Gelman, statistician Nate Silver, and University of California, Berkeley, economist Aaron Edlin use poll results from the 2008 election cycle to calculate that the chance of a randomly selected vote determining the outcome of a presidential election is about one in 60 million. In a couple of key states, the chance that a random vote will be decisive creeps closer to one in 10 million, which drags voters into the dubious company of people gunning for the Mega-Lotto jackpot. The authors optimistically suggest that even with those terrible odds, you may still choose to vote because “the payoff is the chance to change national policy and improve (one hopes) the lives of hundreds of millions, compared to the alternative if the other candidate were to win.” But how big does that payoff have to be to make voting worthwhile?

If you’re interested more on this topic, I interviewed historian Dr. Eric Daniels on “Why Voting Doesn’t Matter” in this October 2012 episode of Philosophy in Action Radio:


Gary Johnson offers an excellent analysis of the 2012 election results in this op-ed published in Huffington Post: Standing Still On A Down Escalator. He’s right that the Democrats don’t have any kind of mandate. His truly telling comments, however, concern the GOP’s defeat:

As for the Republicans, we are reading and hearing widespread shock that they couldn’t win an election after having systematically alienated virtually every voting group in the nation other than white men over the age of 40.

It was a great plan for the Republicans: Go to shameful lengths to tell Hispanics they aren’t welcome, even though they are the fastest growing demographic in the country. Tell women their bodies really aren’t their own to manage. Call themselves small government “conservatives” while espousing that government should tell us who we can marry and supporting laws like the Patriot Act, FISA and the NDAA that give government powers the Founders never dreamed of.

While doing and saying all this, on the key issues of the economy and war, the GOP managed to conduct an entire campaign without demonstrating enough difference with President Obama to compel anyone’s vote one way or the other. “Debating” which decade in which we might expect a balanced budget and simply putting a slightly different wrapper on the same foreign policies obviously didn’t cut it as real challenges to business-as-usual.

Combine this lack of differentiation on the budget and foreign policy with scary stances on the so-called social issues and immigration, and the result is the Republicans’ embarrassing failure to replace a president who is presiding over the worst economy and the most dangerous foreign policy in a generation.

Hear, hear!

Political Ignorance in America

 Posted by on 3 December 2012 at 11:00 am  Activism, Culture, Election, Politics
Dec 032012

It’s a fact that most Americans pay very little attention to politics. Personally, I exert almost no effort whatsoever to learn about current events in politics. I’m not subscribed to any newspapers or magazines. I don’t scan any online news aggregators or sources. I don’t read political blogs. For better or worse, I learn about pretty much all the major political news via Facebook. That works because I have a whole lot of friends interested in politics, and I read articles that look interesting. Most people, however, don’t follow any political news.

Consider this story, blogged under the heading “Most people just barely care about politics.”

The title of this post was driven home to me at a party last night. I was talking to a friend and one of his friends, and they were marveling over the Lincoln movie. They were quite impressed that Lincoln was a Republican and the one who ended slavery, and they felt like this is an under-appreciated fact these days.

The one that I know is a very casual Republican-every four years he notices there’s an election, notices that the Republican seems pretty nice and congenial to his views, pulls the lever, and then forgets politics. If I mention something from the news-anything at all-he’s like “What?” Name the political news story, and it’s news to him. He’s usually suspicious of me for bringing it up, because he hasn’t heard about it and he wonders where I’m getting all this. I’m not going to indict the entire GOP for this one low-information voter, because he has counterparts on the other side. I only bring it up to make the point that he and his friend are not apologists or revisionists talking about Lincoln to argue that the Democrats are The Real Racists. They are guys who were just genuinely blown away by this revelation. If I had mentioned that Nixon oversaw the creation of the EPA, they’d probably be all “Wow, people these days think Republicans are opposed to the environment, but look at Nixon!” and not because they want to persuade an environmentalist to vote Republican (they don’t care all that much), just because their minds will have been blown and they’ll want the entire world to share in this revelation.

Anyway, I gave a mini-lecture on how the Democrats were once the party of the South, but then the left wing of the party gained ascendance with the New Deal, and when LBJ passed the Civil Rights Act Goldwater had an opening to go after the South, and this set in motion a generation-long process where the parties swapped large portions of their constituencies, but the underlying coalitions remain mostly the same as before despite the new party labels. My friend was all “How do you know this?” He was genuinely baffled.

I think we need to keep this in mind when we think about political discourse in our country.

Do you think that’s just an isolated case? Think again. Americans are remarkably ignorant of politics.

The most comprehensive surveys [of the political knowledge of Americans], the National Election Studies (NES), were carried out by the University of Michigan beginning in the late 1940s. What these studies showed was that Americans fall into three categories with regard to their political knowledge. A tiny percentage know a lot about politics, up to 50%-60% know enough to answer very simple questions, and the rest know next to nothing.

Contrary to expectations, by many measures the surveys showed the level of ignorance remaining constant over time. In the 1990s, political scientists Michael X. Delli Carpini and Scott Keeter concluded that there was statistically little difference between the knowledge of the parents of the Silent Generation of the 1950s, the parents of the Baby Boomers of the 1960s, and American parents today. (By some measures, Americans are dumber today than their parents of a generation ago.)

Some of the numbers are hard to fathom in a country in which for at least a century all children have been required by law to attend grade school or be home-schooled. Even if people do not closely follow the news, one would expect them to be able to answer basic civics questions, but only a small minority can.

In 1986, only 30% knew that Roe v. Wade was the Supreme Court decision that ruled abortion legal more than a decade earlier. In 1991, Americans were asked how long the term of a United States senator is. Just 25% correctly answered six years. How many senators are there? A poll a few years ago found that only 20% know that there are 100 senators, though the number has remained constant for the last half century (and is easy to remember). Encouragingly, today the number of Americans who can correctly identify and name the three branches of government is up to 40%.

Polls over the past three decades measuring Americans’ knowledge of history show similarly dismal results. What happened in 1066? Just 10% know it is the date of the Norman Conquest. Who said the “world must be made safe for democracy”? Just 14% know it was Woodrow Wilson. Which country dropped the nuclear bomb? Only 49% know it was their own country. Who was America’s greatest president? According to a Gallup poll in 2005, a majority answer that it was a president from the last half century: 20% said Reagan, 15% Bill Clinton, 12% John Kennedy, 5% George W. Bush. Only 14% picked Lincoln and only 5%, Washington.

And the worst president? For years Americans would include in the list Herbert Hoover. But no more. Most today do not know who Herbert Hoover was, according to the University of Pennsylvania’s National Annenberg Election Survey in 2004. Just 43% could correctly identify him.

The only history questions a majority of Americans can answer correctly are the most basic ones. What happened at Pearl Harbor? A great majority know: 84%. What was the Holocaust? Nearly 70% know. (Thirty percent don’t?) But it comes as something of a shock that, in 1983, just 81% knew who Lee Harvey Oswald was and that, in 1985, only 81% could identify Martin Luther King, Jr.

I’ll make three points about the above passage:

First, “A tiny percentage know a lot about politics, up to 50%-60% know enough to answer very simple questions, and the rest know next to nothing.”

Activism can be effective in politics. In 2007, a small group of Colorado Objectivists was largely the reason why “health care reform” (read: socialized medicine) fizzled. Yet such efforts shouldn’t be confused with influencing the American voters. The vast majority of people don’t follow politics closely enough for that.

Second: “Contrary to expectations, by many measures the surveys showed the level of ignorance remaining constant over time.”

The political ignorance of Americans shouldn’t be an excuse to gripe about modern times. We’ve all heard it: “People today are consumed by their own petty interests. They’re too busy posting about their breakfasts on Facebook to notice that the world is going to hell around them. In the past, Americans cared about the wider world! No more…” In fact, the levels of American ignorance about politics haven’t changed — and they’re not likely to change.

Third: I don’t lament the fact that Americans are wildly ignorant of politics; it’s not a cause for pessimism in my view. Why not?

The vast majority political news has little impact on people’s lives. Even when some issue matters, most people aren’t willing or able to much about it. They lack the requisite knowledge, skills, and time. They’d have to sacrifice too many crucial values — like their kids, work, or hobbies — to engage in any significant political activism. That’s why I think that most people are better off ignoring current events in politics in order to pursue the values that actually matter to them. Their ignorance is pretty darn rational.

In contrast, most persistent citizen-activists — such as my own Paul Hsieh of Freedom and Individual Rights in Medicine and Atlee Breeland of Parents Against Personhood — aren’t motivated just by the prospect of political change. That’s not enough to sustain even a highly capable person. Instead, these activists discover a host of significant values in the work itself. That’s part of what makes them so rare and so valuable.

All of that is part of why I think fostering a culture that respects individual rights requires reaching people where their values are, rather than expecting them to magically develop an interest in politics. Only a few people will ever be political junkies — thank goodness!

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