Monday, November 16, 2015

Free speech: Quotes & commentary

These quotes and comments on free speech in politics show some of the historical and legal bases that built and support the ongoing vacuous emptiness of modern American politics. Commentary on how some modern commentators see free speech in politics.

Both truth or facts and common sense in politics are mostly subjective because the ideologies that filter reality and common sense are mostly subjective. In other words, liberalism, conservatism, capitalism, socialism and Christianity are all largely based on subjective political, economic or religious principles, dogma or morals. 

What passes for fact and logic as seen through one ideological lens, e.g., liberalism or socialism, often looks like lies or deceit and irrational or incoherent nonsense as seen through another lens, e.g., conservatism or capitalism. Because of that, it is difficult, if not impossible, to craft laws intended to limit political spin or false speech. In essence, almost everything is spin or false speech from one ideological point of view or another.

Nothing here is intended to advocate any law limiting free speech. Instead, the point of this post is to simply point out the unspun reality of how little respect unbiased facts and logic receive in our two-party system. It is no wonder that the American people are generally misinformed and distrustful of both government and political opposition. In view of all the misinformation, conscious or not, there is a very good reason for distrust.

Federal courts and free speech
“But it cannot be the duty, because it is not the right, of the state to protect the public against false doctrine. The very purpose of the First Amendment is to foreclose public authority from assuming a guardianship of the public mind through regulating the press, speech, and religion. In this field, every person must be his own watchman for truth, because the forefathers did not trust any government to separate the true from the false for us.
The U.S. Supreme Court in Thomas v. Collins, 323 U.S. 516, 545 (1945), arguing that a Texas state law that required labor organizers to register with the state before making a public speech to enlist support for a labor union, a lawful activity, violated Collins' First Amendment free speech rights. The court makes it very clear that protected speech includes protection for lies. It it were otherwise, people would not need to be their own watchman for truth.

  “Absent from those few categories where the law allows content-based regulation of speech is any general exception to the First Amendment for false statements. This comports with the common understanding that some false statements are inevitable if there is to be an open and vigorous expression of views in public and private conversation, expression the First Amendment seeks to guarantee. . . . Even when considering some instances of defamation and fraud, moreover, the Court has been careful to instruct that falsity alone may not suffice to bring the speech outside the First Amendment. The statement must be a knowing or reckless falsehood.”
The U.S. Supreme Court in United States v. Alvarez, 567 U.S. 656, 2012 in finding that the Stolen Valor Act, which made it a crime to falsely claim receipt of military decorations or medals, was an unconstitutional violation of the defendant's free speech rights. Defendant Alvarez plead guilty to falsely claiming that he had received the Medal of Honor, but his admittedly false claim was protected on First Amendment free speech grounds. 

Commentary on free speech
It's totally legal to lie! People lie in private all the time, of course, it is no problem. But it is also fine to lie to the public. . . . . It is even conceivable that sometimes columnists lie to the public. Lying to the public is the American way. . . . If you run a campaign of thoroughgoing falsehood that tricks people into voting for you, journalists will say mean things about you, and that will be the full extent of the consequences. . . . [On the other hand, there is a man] who allegedly sent some fake tweets about some stocks, making him a total profit of $97. He faces 25 years in prison.”
Matt Levine writing in November 2015 for BloombergView about the legality of lying to the public in politics. He contrasted that with the illegality of lying to investors for commercial profit. The former is know as constitutionally protected free political speech. The latter is criminal fraud. 

“After the primaries are over, politicians need the independent voters to win and woo them with attention in November. But once they have their victory or -- to use the vernacular -- get what they want, independent voters are forgotten as quickly as a one-night stand. Democratic and Republican office holders are beholden to their base supporters, the special interests who donate time and money to them and the parties that control both candidate selection and the agenda.”
Linda Killian writing in The Atlantic in February 2012 about how candidates would treat independent voters in the 2012 November elections.
“Politicians break their promises and modify their positions all the time, of course. They BS us about their opinions and carefully craft identities that are palatable to the average voter. When a person enters this political universe, we need accept that most of the things we hear are, at best, poetic truths. But, yet, there is still a big difference between BSing and lying– though the latter is . . . . pardonable if you happen to be lying for the cause.”
David Harsanyi writing for The Federalist in February 2015 arguing that president Obama was a liar about his position on same-sex marriage, which the president allegedly falsely portrayed to the public as an evolution in his personal opinion. The article attempts to explain the murky, probably non-existent, difference between apparently acceptable BSing in politics and unacceptable lying.

“As former — and maybe reformed — elected officials, we know how much politicians like to talk about good news: tax breaks, infrastructure improvements, job growth announcements. But they are far less interested in talking about the bad news and hard choices on the horizon as the federal debt continues on an unsustainable upward path. Politicians don’t see big constituencies for that kind of news, and no special interests score them on whether they discuss it with voters. Even the close cousin of bad news — blunt talk — is usually avoided in politics.”
Former New Hampshire republican U.S. senator Judd Gregg and former Indiana democratic U.S. senator Evan Bayh writing for Roll Call in February 2015 on the need for blunt talk about the federal budget in the face of future debt projections. This suggests that politicians avoid honest talk to the American people because their personal incentives are aligned to reward deceit. Avoiding bad news and blunt talk punishes politicians. That clearly implies that deceiving the public rewards politicians much more than it damages them. In turn, that implies that politicians work first and foremost for themselves and second (or maybe third behind special interests with money) for the public interest.

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