Thursday, January 21, 2010

Supreme Court and Freedom of Speech

The Supreme Court ruled yesterday that the government may not ban political spending by corporations in candidate elections. I've engaged in debate on both Facebook and to a lesser extent on Twitter (hard to debate in 140 characters) in full support of this decision. My position is simple: a law cannot be passed that inhibits or restricts freedom of speech of any individual or group - period.

Let me just put this out there so there are no misunderstandings: I believe that the structure of our current election system is screwed up. No arguments there. The way things are currently structured allows for (and some may say encourages) corruption, and is far far from perfect. But if you can tell me what political system is perfect and is free from corruption, let me know.

The SCOTUS decision reversed a 2002 law, usually called McCain-Feingold, that banned the broadcast, cable or satellite transmission of “electioneering communications” paid for by corporations or labor unions from their general funds in the 30 days before a presidential primary and in the 60 days before the general elections. The law, as narrowed by a 2007 Supreme Court decision (FEDERAL ELECTION COMMISSION v. WISCONSIN RIGHT TO LIFE, INC.) applied to communications “susceptible to no reasonable interpretation other than as an appeal to vote for or against a specific candidate.”

To this I say - THANK YOU - it's about time. McCain-Feingold quieted the voices of corporations and labor unions, and is now considered illegal. The issue is simply this -quoted from the Bill of Rights: "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances." McCain-Feingold told corporations and labor unions that they could not freely speak for those 30 or 60 days prior to an election. THAT is NOT OK, and in clear violation of the 1st amendment.

If legislation can be passed restricting these groups from expressing their opinions, who is to say that it can't then be expanded and applied to other groups? It quickly becomes a very slippery slope, with a serious crash and burn at the end. Because it is not just corporations and unions that have that kind of cash. I can only imagine the outrage if Acorn or were told that they couldn't buy TV time prior to an election for the purposes of "an appeal to vote for or against a specific candidate.” 

"We find no basis for the proposition that, in the context of political speech, the government may impose restrictions on certain disfavored speakers," Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote for the majority. "The court has recognized that First Amendment protection extends to corporations."


I realize the McCain-Feingold campaign finance reform legislation was passed with good intentions - to try to avoid undue influence of any one particular group (specifically one with a lot of money) on the general electorate. But I argue that it is the responsibility of each individual to do more thorough research before they make up their minds about candidates rather than rely on the 30 second sound bytes that are paid for by anyone who can afford to buy TV time. It's shameful that so many people don't. In this day and age of information overload, there is NO excuse not to find out more about your candidates than what you see between segments of Martha Stewart.

Everyone - every individual and every group - has a voice, and should be allowed to use that voice whenever they choose. Freedom of speech is a cornerstone of our democracy and must never ever be compromised. I am thankful to the Court for preserving it.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Sports - part 2

Gilbert Arenas is the most recent athlete to fall from grace. There are many other professional athletes I can name who at one point were at the top of their game (literally) and wound up at the bottom of the heap.

What is it about so many professional athletes who think that the law doesn't apply to them? Or maybe they think they can break the law with no consequences because they can afford the best lawyers to get them off. Or that the police will recognize "who they are" and wink, wink... nod, nod... look the other way for illegal activity. Personally - I don't even think there is that much awareness. They are just living in the present, with no thought to the future.

Well you know what?? It doesn't work that way. You are not above the law - Michael Vick went to federal prison, and Gilbert Arenas could serve up to 6 months in jail. Ray Lewis made a plea deal, after the witnesses to his crime "changed their story" and he made a plea deal to testify against his companions. (I'm HIGHLY suspicious of this, and have quite a bit of contempt for Lewis. But that's another whole blog post...) Not to mention those athletes like Tiger Woods and Magic Johnson whose personal behavior is morally questionable but not illegal.

What athletes need to realize is that they are role models, like it or not. You - the young athelte - need to know and recognize this LONG before you enter the draft, or farm leagues, or even try out for college teams. With fame comes responsibility. You need to know going in that with the posters, shoe deals, tricked out Escalade, ginormous paycheck, and VIP treatment at every restaurant and nightclub, comes the image that SO MANY young people see and want to imitate.

You cannot tell yourself as you cash your check that it's all about how you perform on the court or field, and everything else is private. NOTHING is private these days. You may say that you never asked for any of this - well guess what? The minute you signed that multi-million dollar contract, YOU DID. Whether you like it or not, these days, that is how it works.

Your name and face are all over the cereal boxes and bobble heads. Young kids wear your shoes and jersey number; they pay BIG bucks to see you play and dream that they can one day do what you do. If they play hard enough, they CAN be you. For that - you owe them the responsibility of a public image worth emulating. Be someone worthy of this praise. Live a life - on and off the court - that you are proud of. Make good decisions - ones that you would want your son, daughter, niece, nephew, and grandchildren to make.

That is what your legacy will be. Not how many triple-doubles you had in your career, or your election into the Hall of Fame. Your WHOLE life - one not just of talented athletic performance, but one of good deeds and good words will be your legacy. Make it one you are proud of.

Sunday, January 10, 2010


I'm a sports chick. I've followed sports since I was a young child - starting with my beloved Yankees. I remember going to Yankee Stadium as a child with my father, grandfather, and brother - and one specific memory sticks out: Bat Day. I was probably 7 or 8 years old, and the bat I happened to get a Bucky Dent bat. (Sorry Mark - I have to say his name.) I remember walking to our seats and a girl who was probably in her early 20's asking me if I wanted to trade and my dad not letting me. Of course, years later, the bat is long gone - I only wish I would have realized at the time just how special that was.

I also played sports - yes, really. Those of you who know me now probably have a hard time picturing it. I played basketball and softball with the Emerson Boys/Girls club when I was in elementary school. I was never a star athlete, but I learned a lot about sports during those few years. Mostly because of those experiences, I can call a strike or balk before the umpire, or an illegal pic, double dribble or travel before the ref does (often surprising my friends!).

I love watching sports on TV and really love going to the games. My top three sports are baseball, basketball and football. I appreciate most of the other sports (although I can't seem to embrace boxing) and I am so happy not being a sports "widow" having to seek an alternate activity for the hours that a baseball or football game is on. I don't know all the player stats, the exact pitching rotation or batting lineup of my Yankees, or all the teams in the NFL playoffs this year, which I used to when I had the time to play fantasy football. But I enjoy it all the same.

Sports is entertainment - and I'm a big fan. Whether at home or in person, I will cheer for a great basket or awesome touchdown. I can appreciate an amazing sack or a seemingly impossible touchdown catch. I will (in fact, I did!) tweet about a bad call by the ref or the nearly-blind umpires in the ALCS and World Series games. I wear my Yankee hat and t-shirts with pride (and also to mess with my Red-Sox fan husband!); and we will order the MLB extra innings package to watch our teams every summer. And I will enjoy every minute of it.

In the US (and some other countries) some athletes are paid almost as much as movie stars; and are as famous as Brangelina too. My next blog will be about those professional athletes who lose focus and take their eyes off the prize. Think Gilbert Arenas, Michael Vick, and Ray Lewis. Stay tuned...