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Obama Confidant's Spine-Chilling Proposal to 'Cognitively Infiltrate' Conspiracy Theorist Groups

Recent paper by Obama adviser Cass Sunstein proposes bizarre methods to stamp out "false conspiracy theories," including taxing the people who engage in them.

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As explained in a March 21, 2005 report by the Congressional Research Service, "publicity or propaganda" is defined by the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) to mean either (1) self-aggrandizement by public officials, (2) purely partisan activity, or (3) "covert propaganda."  By covert propaganda, GAO means information which originates from the government but is unattributed and made to appear as though it came from a third party.

Covert government propaganda is exactly what Sunstein craves.  His mentality is indistinguishable from the Bush mindset that led to these abuses, and he hardly tries to claim otherwise.  Indeed, he favorably cites both the covert Lincoln Park program as well as Paul Bremer's closing of Iraqi newspapers which published stories the U.S. Government disliked, and justifies them as arguably necessary to combat "false conspiracy theories" in Iraq -- the same goal Sunstein has for the U.S.

Sunstein's response to these criticisms is easy to find in what he writes, and is as telling as the proposal itself.  He acknowledges that some "conspiracy theories" previously dismissed as insane and fringe have turned out to be entirely true (his examples:  the CIA really did secretly administer LSD in "mind control" experiments; the DOD really did plot the commission of terrorist acts inside the U.S. with the intent to blame Castro; the Nixon White House really did bug the DNC headquarters).  Given that history, how could it possibly be justified for the U.S. Government to institute covert programs designed to undermine anti-government "conspiracy theories," discredit government critics, and increase faith and trust in government pronouncements?  Because, says Sunstein, such powers are warranted only when wielded by truly well-intentioned government officials who want to spread The Truth and Do Good -- i.e., when used by people like Cass Sunstein and Barack Obama:

Throughout, we assume a well-motivated government that aims to eliminate conspiracy theories, or draw their poison, if and only if social welfare is improved by doing so.

But it's precisely because the Government is so often not "well-motivated" that such powers are so dangerous.  Advocating them on the ground that "we will use them well" is every authoritarian's claim.  More than anything else, this is the toxic mentality that consumes our political culture:  when our side does X, X is Good, because we're Good and are working for Good outcomes.  That was what led hordes of Bush followers to endorse the same large-government surveillance programs they long claimed to oppose, and what leads so many Obama supporters now to justify actions that they spent the last eight years opposing.

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Consider the recent revelation that the Obama administration has been making very large, undisclosed payments to MIT Professor Jonathan Gruber to provide consultation on the President's health care plan.  With this lucrative arrangement in place, Gruber spent the entire year offering public justifications for Obama's health care plan, typically without disclosing these payments, and far worse, was repeatedly held out by the White House -- falsely -- as an "independent" or "objective" authority.  Obama allies in the media constantly cited Gruber's analysis to support their defenses of the President's plan, and the White House, in turn, then cited those media reports as proof that their plan would succeed.  This created an infinite "feedback loop" in favor of Obama's health care plan which -- unbeknownst to the public -- was all being generated by someone who was receiving hundreds of thousands of dollars in secret from the administration ( read this to see exactly how it worked).

In other words, this arrangement was quite similar to the Armstrong Williams and Maggie Gallagher scandals which Democrats, in virtual lockstep, condemned.  Paul Krugman, for instance, in 2005 angrily lambasted right-wing pundits and policy analysts who received secret, undisclosed payments, and said they lack "intellectual integrity"; he specifically cited the Armstrong Williams case.  Yet the very same Paul Krugman last week attacked Marcy Wheeler for helping to uncover the Gruber payments by accusing her of being "just like the right-wingers with their endless supply of fake scandals."  What is one key difference?  Unlike Williams and Gallagher, Jonathan Gruber is a Good, Well-Intentioned Person with Good Views -- he favors health care -- and so massive, undisclosed payments from the same administration he's defending are dismissed as a "fake scandal."

 
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