Cass Sunstein's despicable ideas on regulating the internet

In the past, we have seen Barack Obama and his supporters attempt to chill any sort of scrutiny or criticism of him. Many of his records - whether they are transcripts from Occidental or Columbia - have not been released. He lost his senior thesis (on Soviet nuclear disarmament)  from Columbia University (how likely was that to happen, given that he felt his own life was important enough to write an autobiography in his young 20s), and his records from his time in the Illinois state senate were "lost".

Having records "disappeared" (as well as ditching embarrassing people from his past under the bus) was just  one aspect of attempts to avoid scrutiny. Another manifestation of this dynamic, was the constant use during the campaign of the "race card" to brand any critics as racists or smear artists (even Sean Wilent of the liberal The New Republic noticed this strategy).

One more manifestation of this phenomenon was his campaign's use of supporters to bombard radio hosts with calls to jam lines when critics of Barack Obama appeared on radio call in shows. The "authoritarian tactics being employed by the Obama campaign to stifle and intimidate its critics" were on full display. Of course, the specter of the Fairness Doctrine being passed by Congress is also another card in the deck meant to chill criticism of Barack Obama and his fellow travelers.

Now comes a more insidious form of thought control a la 1984, courtesy of long-time friend and probable new regulatory czar Cass Sunstein (who recently married another long-time confidant of Barack Obama's, foreign policy guru Samantha Power).  Kyle Smith writes in the New York Post about one aspect of Sunstein's ideology:

Cass Sunstein, a Harvard Law professor who has been appointed to a shadowy post that will grant him powers that are merely mind-boggling, explicitly supports using the courts to impose a "chilling effect" on speech that might hurt someone's feelings. He thinks that the bloggers have been rampaging out of control and that new laws need to be written to corral them.

Advance copies of Sunstein's new book, "On Rumors: How Falsehoods Spread, Why We Believe Them, What Can Be Done," have gone out to reviewers ahead of its September publication date, but considering the prominence with which Sunstein is about to be endowed, his worrying views are fair game now. Sunstein is President Obama's choice to head the White House Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs. It's the bland titles that should scare you the most.

In "On Rumors," Sunstein reviews how views get cemented in one camp even when people are presented with persuasive evidence to the contrary. He worries that we are headed for a future in which "people's beliefs are a product of social networks working as echo chambers in which false rumors spread like wildfire." That future, though, is already here, according to Sunstein. "We hardly need to imagine a world, however, in which people and institutions are being harmed by the rapid spread of damaging falsehoods via the Internet," he writes. "We live in that world. What might be done to reduce the harm?"

Sunstein's book is a blueprint for online censorship as he wants to hold blogs and web hosting services accountable for the remarks of commenters on websites while altering libel laws to make it easier to sue for spreading "rumors."

Smith notes that bloggers and others would be forced to remove such criticism unless they could be "proven". The litigation expense would be daunting; the time necessary to defend a posting (or an article) would work to the benefit of the public figure being criticized since the delay would probably allow the figure to win an election before the truth "won out". The mere threat of retaliatory actions would be enough to dissuade many commentators from daring to issue a word of criticism or skepticism.

Often bloggers raise issues to encourage others (perhaps with more resources) to further investigate issues. Skepticism about candidates often begin on the web or talk radio-these steps (so vital to a democracy) would be chilled should Sunstein's ideas be put into practice. One should not dismiss that prospect: this is the most ideologically driven administration in many years. A Democratic Congress willing to do Barack Obama's bidding will not serve as a check on Sunstein (or Obama). Democrats know that criticism over their conduct often emerges from the web and talk radio since traditional media is so reliably in their corner. Sunstein did not join the administration for a title or to be close to his wife. He joined, as have other ideologues throughout history, to put his ideas into practice.

We should note that another step is being taken by Congress that might chill free speech on the internet. Representative Linda Sanchez from California is behind the Megan Meier Cyber Bullying Prevention Act, an effort to impose regulations on the internet. Eugene Volokh, the brilliant law professor who founded Volokh Conspiracy (one of the leading, and most stimulating, blogs) noted the overly broad language of the bill. and how it can be used by a politician to stifle criticism.

Federal Felony To Use Blogs, the Web, Etc. To Cause Substantial Emotional Distress Through "Severe, Repeated, and Hostile" Speech?

That's what a House of Representatives bill, proposed by Rep. Linda T. Sanchez and 14 others, would do. Here's the relevant text:

Whoever transmits in interstate or foreign commerce any communication, with the intent to coerce, intimidate, harass, or cause substantial emotional distress to a person, using electronic means to support severe, repeated, and hostile behavior, shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than two years, or both....

["Communication"] means the electronic transmission, between or among points specified by the user, of information of the user's choosing, without change in the form or content of the information as sent and received; ...

["Electronic means"] means any equipment dependent on electrical power to access an information service, including email, instant messaging, blogs, websites, telephones, and text messages.

He questions the motives of the lawmakers supporting such a constitutionally vague bill which would make just about any criticism made by blogs subject to fines or imprisonment.

As we should question the motives not just of them but of Barack Obama and his close friend, Cass Sunstein.

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