Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Freedom of speech and lies

Well, another liberal gets fired for saying bad things about a conservative. I browsed a couple of right-wing blogs that covered this, and they said "Oh sure, he has a right to free speech, but that doesn't mean speech has no consequences."

Which brings to mind another issue that has been bugging me. Politicians today -- the Bush administration and Republicans especially -- lie and lie and lie. They lie about what they're going to do (see: New Orleans, rebuilding, Bush promises thereof, vs. reality), they lie in order to get what they want (see: Iraq, weapons of mass destruction, lies about), they lie about their opponents (see: "If you elect John Kerry, you'll all DIE!"), they lie about reality ("Iraq is TURNING A CORNER!" -- about ten dozen corners over the past few years, by my count), they just lie like other people breathe.

The problem is that with all this bullshit flying around, the public has a damnably hard time shoveling all the cow dung aside to find the grains of truth underneath. All these lies are toxic to representative democracy, since it becomes impossible to figure out who'll do the best job as dog catcher, mayor, or President short of spending massive amounts of time shoveling through all this bull crapola to figure out what the real deal is.

So, applying right-wing logic, I have a proposal: You have the right to tell all the lies you want to tell, but if you do, then you get fired from your job as a politician. Call it the "Truth in Politics Act of 2007". Tell a lie in any public forum (i.e., not to your family or close friends), and you're automatically disqualified from political office -- forever.

A co-worker from India says, "but who decides what is a lie or not?". He points out that in his nation, whoever bribes the Truth Commission with the most money is found to be telling the truth. Well, we have a whole court system devoted to that sort of thing. Any prosecutor in any state of the nation will be allowed to present a case to a grand jury alleging violation of the Truth in Politics Act of 2007. If the grand jury agrees that there is a case, then it goes to trial. At trial, what the prosecutor has to do is prove to a jury that the person involved a) said something that was not true in a public forum, and b) was either negligent (i.e., made no effort to detirmine whether what he said was true) or deliberately did so. All the normal rules of evidence, subpoena power, etc. apply. This isn't some kangaroo court "ethics committee" thing, this is the real deal. And if a jury of ordinary Americans decided that politician X lied, that's it. He is immediately removed from office, and forever barred from holding office again.

Now obviously, this could be abused, so we might want to have some checks and balances here. For example, if the jury rules that the prosecutor brought the case fraudulently or in bad faith in order to harass a politician or, worse yet, immunize a politician from being prosecuted again for a particular lie, it is the prosecutor, not the politician, who loses his job and is barred from public office forever. The jury then has the option to dismiss the case with or without prejudice (legal terms meaning, "the politician is found not guilty and cannot be tried again" and "the politician can be tried again by a prosecutor who isn't misbehaving").

Of course, the other problem is that politicians today employ proxies in order to avoid themselves being tarred as liars. For example, the Bush campaign, via one of their major campaign contributors, employed the "Swift Boat Liars For Truth" to lie about John Kerry's war record, rather than themselves lie about John Kerry's war record. I am accepting suggestions about what to do about that problem. But given that the people who employ liars generally are liars themselves, it's arguable that this situation would remedy itself over time -- lying politicians would go the way of the dodo bird, and thus their lying proxies would end up the same way.

It won't happen, of course. Our political system is based upon lies, the first lie being that it is a democratic system. But hey, a penguin can dream, eh?

-- Badtux the Dreaming Penguin

4 comments:

  1. I tend to buy my political books from the local indie bookstore down the street from work. I haven't been there in a month or so, and reading about this travesty I think it is time to make a little trip and purchase to show some support to this author. While it is available online from a variety of sources, I'd like to urge people to support local independant bookstores in their area. Help your community.

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  2. I think a better fix would be a reformation of the campaign, campaign finance, and lobbying laws.

    1. Campaigns shall begin no sooner than 30 days before any election. It shall be a felony, punishable by forfeiture of elected seat, mandatory $100,000 fine per incident and a mandatory six years imprisonment, to campaign more than 30 days before an election. In the event a third party shall campaign on behalf of an office seeker, both parties shall be penalized as above.

    2. There shall be no campain donations permissable. All campaign costs shall be paid from the Uited States Treasury. Violation of this law shall require full forfeiture of all financial assets of any entity (person or corporation) violating this law. If a corporation shall violate this law, all senior management officers, to include directors, shall be understood to be personally responsible for the actions of the corporation, and shall be punished as above. Additioally, any politician accepting such donation shall be equally guilty and punished accordingly.

    3. The "Fairness Doctrine" is hereby re-established. Any media entity operating by virtue of having an FCC license shall be required to commit a minimum of five (5) hours per week in PRIME TIME for any candidate to make his electioneering presentations. Time shall be counted by the minute, and any opponent of said candidate shall be afforded equal time in rebuttal. The cost of said broadcast time shall be brne by the media entity. Advertising for two hours before and after said public time shall not contain any advertising construed to be "political" in nature, subject, context, or tone.

    4. a) Lobbying shall be regulated under the auspices of a non-partisan citizen committee. Said committee shall meet four (4) hours per day for the purpose of providing a venue to lobby politicians for a particular law or bill.

    b) Lobbyists shall be licensed at a cost of $150,000 per year. Corporations whose business is the presentation of bill or law recommendations for enactment shall be licensed at a cost of $500,000 per year. Any individual appearing on behalf of said Corporation shall be licensed as above. Lobbying may only occur within the confines of the Lobbying Committee office, and only when four (4) or more members of the committee are in attendance. Violation of any of the provisions of this law shall subject the lobbyist, or lobbyist and employing/contracting corporation, as well as the politician lobbied, to a forfeiture of all financial assets, and a minimum prison sentence of three (3) years. A second violation will cause a forfeiture of all financial assets again, and a minimum sentence of fifteen (15) years imprisonment.

    Congress, both the Senate and House of Representatives, shall seat five (5) days per week. Sesions shall commence at 8 AM and conclude at 6 PM, with two half hour breaks, one in the morning and one in the afternoon, and a one hour break for lunch. All breaks must be taken inside the Capitol building, in the members' dining room. No non-legislative personnel are permitted in the members' dining room.

    Congress will adjourn 31 days before an election, to allow the member to return to his home district to campaign. Members shall return to the Capitol one day after election day.

    Hey, it's a dream, but it's a start.

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  3. Oooh, campaign finance reform! That's something else to talk about. But I don't think campaign finance reform will work as long as candidates are allowed to do snow jobs on their constituents.

    Nevertheless, I will address another article to campaign finance reform and the issue of political speech... dunno when, though.

    _BT

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  4. Ahwell.... under my plan, you can lie all you want, because it's free money but your opponent gets as much time as you had to call bullshit to your lies.

    BTW, FWIW, I would encourage an opponet to say, "Ladies and Genrlemen, my opponent has lied to you. He said such and so, and the truth is that and this, and here is why."

    Not mispoke. Not was in error. Lied.

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