Saturday, January 16, 2010

Obama Czar opposes Free Sppech, part 2

Today, one of my responders took issue to my January 14 post, "Obama Czar opposes Free Speech. He thought I was being unfair to Mr. Sunstein

I thought the issue was important enough to post my response on the front page. Here it is.

Thank you for your response. I agree with you that WND, as usual, sensationalized this issue, but I think the concern they raise is real.

No one is going to argue about the government’s investigation and dissemination of facts about crimes as was done, for example, by the 9/11 Commission or the Warren Commission Report.

And I don’t think anyone, except some hard core Leftists would object to the government trying to correct foreign conspiracy theories, like those that exist in Muslim countries.

The concern is when Sunstein suggested that “a distinctive tactic for breaking up the hard core of extremists who supply conspiracy theories: cognitive infiltration of extremist groups, whereby government agents or their allies (acting either virtually or in real space, and either openly or anonymously) will undermine the crippled epistemology of those who subscribe to such theories (page 16).” Such infiltration would also be so the “government might undertake (legal) tactics for breaking up the tight cognitive clusters of extremist theories, arguments and rhetoric that are produced by the hard core and reinforce it in turn” (23).

Although Sunstein is careful to not openly advocate censorship he does not completely close the door suggesting that “We could imagine circumstances in which a conspiracy theory became so pervasive, and so dangerous, that censorship would be thinkable.” (21)

[My cynical side wonders if an example might be when the “pervasive” and “dangerous” theory about the hoax of global warming began to undermine Obama’s proposal for Cap and Trade. Would censorship then become “thinkable”?]

If Sunstein were talking about cases 1) in which criminal acts have been performed, or 2) where the suspicion of likely criminal acts rises to the level of court-issued search warrants, or 3) in the case of national security terrorist threats, then I might agree with him.

But when Sunstein lists among these “extremist” theories, “that the theory of global warming is a deliberate fraud” it seems pretty clear that Sunstein is advocating government intervention not just in potential criminal acts, but in whatever the government wants to label as extremist.

So for example, the government may decide that pastors who preach against homosexual behavior are extremist, homophobic hate-mongers whose ministries should infiltrated and undermined!

This may sound far-fetched, but preaching against homosexual behavior is already being labeled hate speech in this country and pastors have been prosecuted for it in other countries. You can’t censor such speech in America (yet) because of the First Amendment, so Sunstein’s proposal is like an end-around the First Amendment. His proposal could have the same effect.

The point is that Sunstein’s proposal opens the door to having the government decide what constitutes “extremist” speech. The proposal then suggests giving the government the power to infiltrate and undermine groups groups that have committed no crimes and have made no threats, simply because someone in government doesn't like what they are saying and has decided to label it "extremist".

Under Sundstein’s proposal, the Bush administration could have labeled Code Pink’s actions “extremist” and seek to use government infiltrators to undermine them.

There can be little doubt that if Gore had been elected he would have considered speech against global warming to be “extremist” and even “dangerous.”

Given this power, the Obama administration could label all kinds of speech extremist: arguments against global warming, abortion, homosexual behavior, or even against his health care bill.

Once the government considers something “extremist” they would then be free to send government agents out to infiltrate and undermine such speech and America will be even further on its current path toward tyranny.

Sunstein’s proposal, though couched the careful terms of an academic paper, is fundamentally anti-freedom of speech and should be of significant concern to all Americans—especially to those liberal Americans who were so concerned about Bush’s Patriot Act that they elected Sunstein’s boss!

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