Sunday, May 11, 2014

Creeping Towards Oceania

Three news items appeared recently, back-to-back, which is too creepily coincidental. And the creepers are wearing squeaky shoes made in George Orwell's totalitarian state of Oceania, in Nineteen Eighty-Four, so one can hear them make their way to your computer and front door. The coincidence may only be happenstance, but when the subject is calls for censorship, it should trigger alarm bells.

On May 5th, Tim Cushing of TechDirt reported that the federal government is experimenting with mandatory "driver's licenses" for Internet users in Michigan and Pennsylvania. On May 6th, the Washington Post ran an article in its Religion section by a fellow I'd never heard of before, Omar Sacirbey, who suggested that Sharia gags should be imposed on Internet speech to prevent "hate speech." And, on May 7th, in a Washington Examiner article, Paul Bedard reported that the chairman of the Federal Election Commission (FEC) warned that the sentiment in the federal government is to classify "conservative" Internet sites and talk shows as Political Action Committees (PACs) and to regulate what they say and perhaps when they say it.

All three articles, of course, simply report the presence of Ninja censors in our midst. Pamela Geller of Atlas Shrugs broke the Sacirbey story that appeared in the Post, but one must read the original story to believe the brazenness of the suggestion. And not be startled by the goofy photograph of Omar Sacirbey, who looks like he's gritting his teeth in expectation that Geller is about to deliver a roundhouse that will knock him flat on his keester, or posing for a "Big Brother is Watching You" poster. Creepy.

 Tim Cushing of TechDirt wrote:

An idea the government has been kicking around since 2011 is finally making its debut. Calling this move ill-timed would be the most gracious way of putting it.

A few years back, the White House had a brilliant idea: Why not create a single, secure online ID that Americans could use to verify their identity across multiple websites, starting with local government services. The New York Times described it at the time as a "driver's license for the internet."

Sound convenient? It is. Sound scary? It is.

Next month, a pilot program of the "National Strategy for Trusted Identities in Cyberspace" will begin in government agencies in two US states, to test out whether the pros of a federally verified cyber ID outweigh the cons.

The NSTIC program has been in (slow) motion for nearly three years, but now, at a time when the public's trust in government is at an all time low, the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST -- itself still reeling a bit from NSA-related blowback) is testing the program in Michigan and Pennsylvania.

Cushing writes that there is a catch.

But the program isn't strictly limited to government use. The ultimate goal is a replacement of many logins and passwords people maintain to access content and participate in comment threads and forums. This "solution," while somewhat practical, also raises considerable privacy concerns….

Beyond the privacy issues (and the hints of government being unduly interested in your online activities), there are the security issues. This collected information would be housed centrally, possibly by corporate third parties. When hackers can find a wealth of information at one location, it presents a very enticing target. The government's track record on protecting confidential information is hardly encouraging.

The problem is, ultimately, that this is the government rolling this out. Unlike corporations, citizens won't be allowed the luxury of opting out. This "internet driver's license" may be the only option the public has to do things like renew actual driver's licenses or file taxes or complete paperwork that keeps them on the right side of federal law. Whether or not you believe the government's assurances that it will keep your data safe from hackers, keep it out of the hands of law enforcement (without a warrant), or simply not look at it just because it's there, matters very little. If the government decides the positives outweigh the negatives, you'll have no choice but to participate.

And government, as we all know, is always fishing for "positive" reasons to expand its power over the citizenry. Its legions of bureaucrats and wonks must have something to do, and what better way to exploit them than to put them to work rummaging for schemes to serve the "public good"? Or hire new wonks to complete the task? All sorts of white papers and committee studies will be generated by the two-state "experiment." Politicians in Congress, in committee meetings and on the floors of the Senate and House, will quote from them in somber tones, invoking national security.

Cushing writes that, in lieu of the Michigan/Pennsylvania experiment, the "government believes this ID system will help reduce fraud and overhead, by eliminating duplicated ID efforts across multiple agencies." Multiple agencies? So, Social Security numbers, Tax ID numbers, vehicle identification numbers, license plate numbers, permit-to-carry-concealed numbers, and all those other mandatory numbers aren't enough; the feds want to integrate them all in another database that will link them to your new Internet ID number.

"Grandma! What big eyes, ears, and teeth you have!"

 "The better to see, listen to, and eat you, my dear."

Next thing you know, they'll want to know your shoe size, your daily caffeine intake, and who you voted for. Farewell, privacy.

Pamela Geller rips into Omar Sacirbey's Washington Post column (she can be read here) pointing out the inaccuracies, fabrications, and illogic in the article. Sacirbey wrote in his May 6th article:

Anti-Muslim hate speech on the Internet is commonplace and can motivate some people to commit acts of violence against Muslims, according to a report released Tuesday (May 6) by Muslim Advocates, a legal and advocacy group in San Francisco.

“When you have threatening comments online and they go unchecked, people start thinking it’s acceptable,” said Madihha Ahussain, an attorney and the report’s lead author. “And it doesn’t take long to figure out that what becomes acceptable online becomes acceptable in the real world.”

What really pushed Geller's buttons was a direct attack on her by both Sacirbey and the non-entity, Madihha Ahussain of the Muslim Advocates, "a legal and advocacy group in San Francisco." Anyone familiar with Geller's Atlas Shrugs site knows that she threatens no one. What pro-Islam and pro-Sharia readers feel threatened by is her commitment to and exposure of the truth about Islam.

I searched for the Muslim Advocates report, "Click Here to End Hate: Anti-Muslim Online & How to Take Action" (May 2014), and found it here. It discusses alleged "hate speech" against Muslims by public officials, citing Peter King, Michele Bachmann, Trent Franks, Louie Gohmert, Thomas Rooney, and Lynn Westmorland as expressing anti-Muslim bigotry (p. 8). On page 10 of the report, Scott DesJarlais, U.S. representative from Tennessee, is excoriated for having posted on his Facebook page his concerns about a Muslim cemetery and mosque in Murfreesboro. On other pages are targeted organizations such as Stop Islamization of America, the United States Defense League, the Counter Jihad Report, and Bare Naked Islam. Geller and Robert Spencer of Jihad Watch merited their own "Wanted Dead or Alive" page (p. 14).

Brigitte Gabriel and ACT! For America merited all of page 15. Overall, the document is one long whine about how Muslims are persecuted in America. It contains numerous suggestions of how offended Muslims can turn in anyone who commits "hate speech" on the Internet, of how to turn informant to either Facebook, Twitter, or other venue, or to the authorities. Its concluding statement is:

The White House should convene a national level dialogue on hate against religious communities [namely, Islam and Muslims] and invite Internet companies to participate in discussions addressing online hate. (p. 37; bracketed remark mine)

In short, the report is calling for stealth or outright censorship, mandated by the federal government, and farmed out to Internet companies.

To return to Omar Sacirbey, The Counter Jihad Report on March 14th published an article on him, citing his Washington Post screed, together with a link to Robert Spencer's Jihad Watch rebuttal to Sacirbey's assertions in another Washington Post article of March 12th,  "Anti-Muslim speakers still popular in law enforcement training." Sacirbey triumphantly crowed:

Law enforcement officers in Virginia will no longer receive credit for a counterterrorism course taught by a former FBI agent [John Guandolo] and anti-Muslim activist after the academy where the course was taught canceled its accreditation the day is was scheduled to begin.

How did that come about? Sacirbey quotes two "authorities" on "hate speech":

“His views on Islam are the equivalent of historical anti-Catholic and anti-Semitic falsehoods,” said Corey Saylor, national legislative director for the Council on American-Islamic Relations, wrote in a letter to Jenkins [Culpeper County Sheriff Scott Jenkins]. “Guandolo offers only his own prejudiced and inaccurate conspiratorial views, not solid counterterrorism training.”

The Southern Poverty Law Center calls Guandolo “a notorious Muslim-basher and conspiracy theorist.”

Given the criminal record of Islam's "foot soldiers" in their war against the West and the plots concocted by their commanders to kill and destroy, this is tantamount to Al Capone accusing Eliot Ness of being a "notorious gangster-basher and anti-crime conspiracy theorist."

Paul Bedard's article in the Washington Examiner, "FEC chair warns that conservative media like Drudge Report and Sean Hannity face regulation – like PACs," quotes the FEC head:

 Government officials, reacting to the growing voice of conservative news outlets, especially on the internet, are angling to curtail the media's exemption from federal election laws governing political organizations, a potentially chilling intervention that the chairman of the Federal Election Commission is vowing to fight.

“I think that there are impulses in the government every day to second guess and look into the editorial decisions of conservative publishers,” warned Federal Election Commission Chairman Lee E. Goodman in an interview. “The right has begun to break the left’s media monopoly, particularly through new media outlets like the internet, and I sense that some on the left are starting to rethink the breadth of the media exemption and internet communications,” he added.

Unlike many non-profit sites that offer news and opinions, specific media have been free to say whatever they wished, whenever they wished, without fear of government retribution in the way of lawsuits or IRS audits.

All media has long benefited from an exemption from FEC rules, thereby allowing outlets to pick favorites in elections and promote them without any limits or disclosure requirements like political action committees.

But Goodman cited several examples where the FEC has considered regulating conservative media, including Sean Hannity's radio show and Citizens United's movie division. Those efforts to lift the media exemption died in split votes at the politically evenly divided board, often with Democrats seeking regulation.

Here again enter the role of "multiple agencies" collaborating in a campaign to stifle freedom of speech. Bedard writes:

Liberals over the years have also pushed for a change in the Federal Communications Commission's "fairness doctrine" to cut off conservative voices, and retired Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens has delighted Democrats recently with a proposed Constitutional amendment that some say could force the media to stop endorsing candidates or promoting issues.

“The picking and choosing has started to occur,” said Goodman. “There are some in this building that think we can actually regulate” media, added Goodman, a Republican whose chairmanship lasts through December. And if that occurs, he said, “then I am concerned about disparate treatment of conservative media.”

On the issue of campaign financing and free speech issues, in Part II of my Rule of Reason column, "Justice Stevens's Liberty-Destroying Amendments," I wrote:

Stevens writes that there is nothing to fear from his proposed amendment:

A constitutional amendment authorizing Congress and the states to place "reasonable" limitations on campaign expenditures would allow corporations to make public announcements of their views but would prohibit them from engaging in the kind of repetitive and excessive advocacy that the candidates typically employ. It would also repudiate both the holding and the reasoning in the Citizens United case, giving corporations an unlimited right to spend their shareholders' money in election campaigns.

Stevens then proposed a new amendment to the Constitution that would read:

Neither the First Amendment nor any other provision of this Constitution shall be construed to prohibit the Congress or any state from imposing reasonable limits on the amount of money that candidates for public office, or their supporters, may spend in election campaigns.

The connection between "the editorial decisions of conservative publishers" and the powers of Lee Goodman's FEC is tenuous at best. But, rummage for a connection, and ye shall find, no matter how imaginary it might be. Per Justice Stevens's metrics, conservative publishers can be defined as "supporters," and, regardless of their corporate status under IRS rules, can be regulated in what they say and when, and perhaps even by how much money they spend saying it. And whether or not they are "conservatives," any publisher can be defined as an FEC rule-breaking opponent of whatever statist agenda a candidate may be promulgating, and be penalized, or receive an injunction from the FEC or IRS against further speech on the subject.

Remember that after Hitler's ascendance to power in 1933, newspapers which criticized him and the Nazi Party were vaporized and their editors and journalists disappeared.  Sections One and Three of the Nazi "editorial law" of October 1933 more or less presaged the means and ends of the Democrats and the federal government:

Involvement in the shaping of the intellectual contents of the newspapers or political periodicals published in the Reich, whether through writing, news reporting, or illustration, or through appointment as chief editor, is a public function, regulated by the state through this law….

The Reich Minister of Public Enlightenment and Propaganda will determine which periodicals are to [be] considered political within the meaning of the law….

 All one need do is substitute the appropriate terms with American ones and one will have an appendix to Stevens's new American Constitutional amendment.

These were the squeaks. The stealth censors are a tat less cautious than they used to be. They look forward to the day they can jump us and throw a black bag over our heads.

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