Friday, January 15, 2010

Obama's czar of conspiracy theories

Legal scholar Cass Sunstein is Obama's Administrator of the White House Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs. In 2008, he co-wrote an odd and disturbing paper on conspiracy theories, which you can read here. Here's the gist:
The existence of both domestic and foreign conspiracy theories, we suggest, is no trivial matter, posing real risks to the government’s antiterrorism policies, whatever the latter may be.
"Government agents (and their allies) might enter chat rooms, online social networks, or even real-space groups and attempt to undermine percolating conspiracy theories by raising doubts about their factual premises, causal logic or implications for political action.
Of course, it never occurred to this nitwit that using conspiratorial methods to fight conspiracy theories is a lot like fighting a house fire by spraying it with gasoline.

Although I am sometimes classified as a conspiracy theorist, most long-term residents of the paranoid subculture despise me. I'm unpopular in those realms because I've spent a lot of times poking holes in their inane beliefs in controlled demolition and faked birth certificates and what-have-you.

(I swear, if I hear one more brain-dead CD-er say "Cannon refuses to recognize the laws of physics"...! I will grant you the right to repeat that phrase, cliched as it has become, if you can do one favor for me: PROVE THAT YOU HAVE A FUCKING DEGREE IN PHYSICS. Hell, I'll take an undergrad student with a 3.6 GPA. Otherwise, SHUT THE FUCK UP.)

(And please don't mention Dr. Jones of Utah. He's just one guy. There's always one guy like that, no matter what the controversy. Science is not a matter of one guy. If science were a matter of one guy, then I could prove that evolution is false, that there are hidden pictures in the eye of Our Lady of Guadalupe, and that the current year is actually 1713 because 297 "fake" years were added to our calendars.)

Okay. Where was I?

Oh yeah: Sunstein. I think I'll start calling him Sunny.

My point is this: Those of us who challenge weak conspiracy theories, those of us who try to use logic to detox the fear-junkies, already face accusations of working for "the man." For example: UFO buffs routinely complain that scientists won't pay attention to what they are pleased to call evidence -- but when scientists do pay attention, they are immediately damned as CIA spooks. Scientists are spook-baited if they say what buffdom doesn't want to hear -- and even if they do.

How much worse will the situation be if everyone knows that there really are spooks crawling around these realms? Anyone with any knowledge of human psychology will immediately recognize that Sunny's proposal, if put into practice, would not raise the "logic level" of public discourse. Instead, the paranoia level would skyrocket.

My own paranoia level began to burble upward when I read a list of the "conspiracy theories" that Sunstein believes require opposition by infiltration:
Consider, for example, the view that the Central Intelligence Agency was responsible for the assassination of President John F. Kennedy; that doctors deliberately manufactured the AIDS virus; that the 1996 crash of TWA flight 800 was caused by a U.S. military missile; that the theory of global warming is a deliberate fraud; that the Trilateral Commission is responsible for important movements of the international economy; that Martin Luther King, Jr., was killed by federal agents; that the plane crash that killed Democrat Paul Wellstone was engineered by Republican politicians; that the moon landing was staged and never actually occurred.
The JFK conspiracy has been proven beyond rational debate. Conspiracy was the conclusion of the HSCA (compromised as that investigation was), it is the conclusion now found in many college textbooks, it is demonstrated with nearly mathematical rigor in the updated version of John Newman's Oswald and the CIA, it was the view held by Lyndon Johnson (for whom the Warren Commission was convened) and Richard Nixon, and it is an admission you'll hear from just about every old-school intelligence professional you'll ever meet if he or she is talking in private.

As for the others theories: I'm willing either to accept some of these ideas provisionally, or at least to consider them as hypotheses. The strongest case can be made for the MLK murder, especially if you pay close attention to the troubling matter of the aliases that James Earl Ray adopted.

On the other hand: Only fruitcakes buy into that nonsense about faked moon landings. I have a phobic reaction toward people who get paranoid about the Trilateral Commission. The global warming deniers exist in a region where paranoia segues into pure fucking evil.

Incidentally, guess who has joined forces with the global warming deniers? None other than that (alleged) arch-rationalist, CSICOP's own James Randi! Heeeeere's Jimmy:
An unfortunate fact is that scientists are just as human as the rest of us, in that they are strongly influenced by the need to be accepted, to kowtow to peer opinion, and to "belong" in the scientific community. Why do I find this "unfortunate"? Because the media and the hoi polloi increasingly depend upon and accept ideas or principles that are proclaimed loudly enough by academics who are often more driven by "politically correct" survival principles...
Sounds like the opening conversational gambit of an "intelligent design" advocate, eh wot? Fortunately, I was never lazy enough to let my reality be defined by a guy who became famous doing magic tricks for Billy Barty.

If Sunny has his way -- and he is now in a position to have his way -- the feds should soon be spooking up James Randi. Hey, this could get fun!

Sunny sez: "Our focus throughout is on false conspiracy theories, not true ones."

And who makes that determination? Sunny thinks that this God-like task belongs to him -- even though his footnotes reveal that he is rather ill-read. This fellow actually does not understand why the hoi polloi (to borrow Randi's phrase) may not feel comfortable ceding to the head of the White House Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs the right to determine which conspiracy theories are thinkable and which are not.

"The United States Government hereby grants you permission to mistrust the United States government in the following strictly-defined areas..."

In reality, the true/false determination must be made by each individual. This is a problematic situation, because -- let's admit it -- most individuals in this country are dolts.

For me, the guidelines are pretty simple: I'm willing to consider conspiracy theories which focus on the world's intelligence agencies. (Please note that I said "consider," not "accept rashly.") Conspiracy is what spooks do.

On the other hand, I automatically toss aside grand, world-shattering theories that involve non-spook actors. In other words, I don't believe in any of that Alex Jones/David Icke mumbo jumbo about occult secret societies which secretly control the planet. I reject all wacko notions about the moon landing, global warming, the B.O. birth certificate, Roswell aliens and so forth.

That stuff ain't spy stuff, so it ain't my stuff.

Incidentally, Sunny counts the CIA's MKULTRA program as one of the "permitted" conspiracy theories, although he does not seem to have read much about it. Congress held hearings on MKULTRA in the late 1970s, and I guess those hearings are the reason why Sunny considers mind control a permissible topic of discussion. Yet if you know where to look, you'll see that the existence of that program began to leak out in 1967, and perhaps even earlier. A lot of the leaks appeared in the fringe literature of the period. Should that material have been repressed...?

Finally: Sunny seems to be very concerned that belief in conspiracy theories might undermine our dear nation's "anti-terrorism" policies.

There we have it: The terror bugaboo, the same bugaboo that sent us marching into Iraq, the same bugaboo that gave us the Patriot Act and all sorts of infringements on our privacy.

Okay, Sunny (he said, employing the rhetorical device of addressing someone who probably is not in actual attendance), I wanna run a scenario past you:

Not long ago, the Times of London published a document which allegedly proved that Iran was working on nuclear weapons. That document turned out to be a fake. Who did the faking, and who made sure that it got onto the front page of a major newspaper?

The answers are unclear (he said, casting a suspicious eye toward Michael Ledeen), but I'll tell you one thing: More than one person was involved. That means we have a conspiracy.

You may call it whatever you like. You can call it a flowerpot if doing so pleases you. But if you want to use the proper terminology, you'll use the dreaded C-word.

So why should I grant the head of a government agency the right to determine if this is a "permitted" conspiracy? Why should my tax dollars pay for cyber-spooks to undermine all internet discussion of this troubling incident?

More than that. Wasn't this particular conspiracy -- a conspiracy to gin up a war by means of a fake document -- a form of terrorism in and of itself?

And isn't it possible (he said, casting a really sharp glance toward Michael Ledeen) that this conspiracy was masterminded by someone who has helped to formulate those "anti-terrorism" policies?


Sextus Propertius said...

Anyone who thinks that the wealthy don't collude to maintain their wealth is too stupid to breathe. That sort of collusion is, by definition, a "conspiracy". So is meeting in secret to arrive at a healthcare bill that will benefit one's campaign donors.

MrX said...

Joseph, you keep saying you're not a conspiracy theorist and then you say you believe in AGW. AGW is a hoax. Al Gore has been proven wrong time and again on his "film" An Inconvenient Truth. The data has been manipulated or simply discarded. And not just in Mann's "hide-the-decline" fiasco.

Only nutcases believe in AGW anymore. I agree we need to protect our environment and do our part, but AGW is a hoax. In fact, the planet has been cooling in the past 9 years. It was also cooling in the 70's. They actually were scared of global cooling. And there are many times in the past when the planet was warmer than it is now.

Anonymous said...

Fair enough. One or two questions.

If you do not believe secret societies NOW (try to work to) control world events, do you think that perhaps they did in the not so distant past? (I'm mindful of the Disraeli quote from the 19th century, in which he rather fulsomely embraced the notion. And to what was JFK referring in his famous speech denouncing secret oaths and societies?)

Do you think the 'false flag' methodology claimed for the Gladio 'stay-behind' operations is true, and evidently a standard operating procedure for many countries?


Anonymous said...

MrX, it is your claim about AGW that is the hoax and conspiracy, in my view. (See the tobacco industry's decades' long denialism about their toxic product for the model of propaganda being used by the 'hoax' side. Sew doubt, confuse the public, delay any action, in the interests of entrenched money powers.)


Joseph Cannon said...

XI, this is the -- and I mean THE -- stupidest comment you've ever contributed.

The JFK videos that made the rounds a couple of years ago was about COMMUNISM. That's what he was talking about. He was giving the yada yada about the red menace because he knew that the right was always trying to portray him as being soft on the bolshies.

Decades later, some asshole Alex Jonesian took that clip out of context and re-labeled it as a speech about freemasons and secret societies. I went into all of this in an old post. Check out not just the post but my words in the comments:

Come on, think about it.

If JFK gave a big speech talking about the danger posed by Masons and secret societies, don't you think there would have been a HUGE stink in the press? Don't you think there would have been headlines like "President goes nuts?"

And don't you think there would have been at least ONE mention of the speech in ANY of the hundred-or-so books about JFK that used to be on my shelves (before I lost most of my library)?

Come on. THINK.

Google. Wikipedia. They're free. Why not use 'em?

The Disraeli quote was in a NOVEL named "Corningsby.". It got picked up by anti-Semites who used it to "prove" that Jews Run Everything. Here's the actual quote in context:

"A few years back we were applied to by Russia. Now, there has been no friendship between the court of St. Petersburg and my family. It has Dutch connections, which have generally supplied it; and our representations in favor of the Polish Hebrews, a numerous race, have not been very agreeable to the Czar. However, circumstances drew to an approximation between the Romanoffs and the Sidonias. I resolved to go myself to St. Petersburg. I had, on my arrival, an interview with the Russian Minister of Finance, Count Cancrin; I beheld the son of a Lithuanian Jew. The loan was connected with the affairs of Spain; I resolved upon repairing to Spain from Russia. I traveled without intermission. I had an audience immediately on my arrival with the Spanish Minister, Sefior Mendizabel; I beheld one like myself, the son of a Nuevo Cristiano, a Jew of Arragon. In consequence of what transpired at Madrid, I went straight to Paris to consult the President of the French Council; I beheld the son of a French Jew, a hero, an imperial marshal, and very properly so, for who should be military heroes if not those who worship the Lord of Hosts?...

"The consequence of our consultations was that some Northern power should be applied to in a friendly and meditative capacity. We fixed on Prussia; and the President of the Council made an application to the Prussian Minister, who attended a few days after on our conference. Count Arnim entered the cabinet, and I beheld a Prussian Jew. So you see, my dear Coningsby, that the world is governed by very different personages from what is imagined by those who are not behind the scenes."

By the way, Gladio was very real, but it was a spook thing, not a secret society thing. And the kind of right-wing assholes who believe that secret societies run the planet are also the kind of right-wing assholes who were overjoyed to work with Gladio. For god's sake, learn to distinguish friend from enemy, willya?

Perry Logan said...

Telltale signs of a crackpot conspiracy theory

--The theorists are almost entirely alienated white males. In America, crackpottery is largely a white-guy thing, with a significant number of white gals, and almost no one else.

--The theorists make ad hominem attacks against anyone who disagrees ("Only nutcases believe in AGW anymore.") It is a thought-crime to disagree with a conspiracy theorist.

--The theorists routinely smear entire groups of people, usually professional people like atmospheric scientists and structural engineers.

--All debunkings get completely ignored. It's the simplest way to maintain a delusional belief system.

--The theorists will get their information in odd, often unethical, ways. Each theorist will tend to have his own list of crackpot "scientists" or think tanks to back him up. (The 9/11 Truthers routinely write up their own amateur engineering reports--each proving the conspiracy guy was right all along!) The theorists have no problem about using unethical means to get their information, such as hacking into e-mails. They sometimes use known hoaxes.

--The conspiracy theorist will declare the utter stupidity of anyone who dares to disagree with his theory. True-blue conspiracy buffs think everyone is stupid and freely say so. After all, what else could excplain disagreeing with such a brilliant theory?

--Each theorist will have a slightly different theory. This is a dead giveaway. If you talk to them long enough, you'll soon see that each and every conspiracy buff has his own theory, slightly different from all the other conspiracy buffs. If prodded, he will be glad to explain to you why all the other conspiracy people are for the birds. This can be great sport.

Anonymous said...

I confess it all.

I confess I didn't explain which Disraeli quotes I had in mind. I confess I thought that my adverb 'fulsomely' would be an adequate reference, and the quote you decided I must have meant didn't mention the particular words in question at all. I further confess that I have always (mis-?)attributed the line in Disraeli's book to Churchill.

But so we are clear about the quotes in question, this is what I was referring to.

“There is in Italy a power which we seldom mention in this House … I mean the secret societies … It is useless to deny, because it is impossible to conceal, that a great part of Europe – the whole of Italy and France and a great portion of Germany, to say nothing of other countries – is covered with a network of these secret societies, just as the superficies of the earth is now being covered with railroads.” -Benjamin Disraeli, at British House of Commons, July 14, 1856

“The government of this country has not only to deal with governments, kings and ministers, but also with secret societies, elements which must be taken into account, which at the last moment can bring our plans to naught, which have everywhere their unscrupulous agents, who incite assassinations and can if necessary lead a massacre.” -Benjamin Disraeli, at Aylesbury, Sept. 10, 1876

I confess I cannot find adequate proof that these are legitimate quotes in the short time of this response.

As for the Kennedy quote, I confess I know that the topic of the day was the Communist menace, and how it should not be addressed by adopting the secrecy of that enemy.

However, Kennedy said "we are as a people inherently and historically opposed to secret societies, to secret oaths and secret proceedings. We decided long ago..."

This historical opposition, and a decision 'long ago' to refuse to adopt such measures, does not seem to me to be a reference to the modern Cold War or the Communist enemy. I'm thinking it refers to perhaps the public sentiment that found expression in the Anti-Masonic Party in the early 19th century.

Or as in this quote from Washington:

* It was not my intention to doubt that, the Doctrines of the Illuminati, and principles of Jacobinism had not spread in the United States. On the contrary, no one is more truly satisfied of this fact than I am.
The idea that I meant to convey, was, that I did not believe that the Lodges of Free Masons in this Country had, as Societies, endeavoured to propagate the diabolical tenets of the first, or pernicious principles of the latter (if they are susceptible of seperation). That Individuals of them may have done it, or that the founder, or instrument employed to found, the Democratic Societies in the United States, may have had these objects; and actually had a seperation of the People from their Government in view, is too evident to be questioned.
o Letter to the Reverend G. W. Snyder (24 October 1798)

Or perhaps the 'mental reservation' trick invented by the Jesuits to allow righteous perjury under open oath in court, for which some oaths provide (impotently, upon elementary examination) the safeguard that the witness also state 'freely, and without any mental reservation.'


Paul Rise said...

I've always wondered if the 9-11 truther movement was begun by disaffected liberals in the mid-00s in an effort to discredit the Bush administration. But actually a lot of this stuff - chemtrails, anti-vaccine, anti-GMO, global warming - I've always believed is some sort of Russian disinfo-op meant to destabilize the west.

BTW - the conspiracy theory that there was some big "right wing" conspiracy to assassinate Kennedy was spread by leftists who were appalled that one of their own had gunned down the US president. I believe a lot of the groundwork for this was laid in the late 1960s as the quite reasonable conclusions of the Warren Commission percolated throughout academia and reached their political culmination in the HSCA in late 1970s. By then there was so much "noise" about the event that even reasonable people like Cannon still think there was some big CIA conspiracy to murder one of the best friends the CIA ever had.

Re: MLK - I believe the Ku Klux Klan hired Ray to kill King, so if that's a right wing conspiracy I guess there you go. The deal went down in St. Louis.

Anonymous said...

any one won who deny that MONEY collodes for it's own best inetrest wasn't alive during the democrates primaries. Any one who deny the depth they will go to never read any thing or watched TV during that same period.

Twist Orama said...

let me get this straight, Paul. 9/11 truthers are liberals, global warming, chemtrail & GMOs are Russian (Bill Sparkman however was killed by the Feds)... is there anything the left cant do??

Anonymous said...

Paul, unless you are a provocateur, you must know next to nothing about the JFK assassination to say what you did above.

The whole of the official brief on that matter smelled rotten from the beginning, when the murder rifle, officially described as a Mauser for several days, suddenly became instead a Mannlicher-Carcano (although both weapons bear their names imprinted on them).

Then the WC report was published without its supportive volumes of documents, which came out many months later without an index. Sylvia Meagher slaved to put one together, and soon, it became clear that the WC report contradicted its own supportive documentation.

To this date, to my knowledge, LHO's tax returns remain classified and unreleased to the public, despite the vast millions of pages' release mandated and accomplished under the AARB in the early '90s til now. This likely relates to the information the District Attorney Wade provided to the WC on their first day, that LHO was a paid FBI informant.


Unknown said...

If your particular group wins it's called good planning. If your group loses by it or disagrees it's a conspiracy. Conspiracies do happen all the time. Sometimes they even get prosecuted.

Paul Rise said...

@Twist Orama

Are you saying I think the Feds killed Bill Sparkman?

Is that you Cass?

For the record, and to correct your assertion, I believe(d) that Bill Sparkman was killed because he was a federal employee by some rural rightie hopped up on media goofball - Becks and Limbaughs probably. I still sort of believe that although the police are saying Sparkman killed himself.


I know plenty about the murder of JFK by Lee Harvey Oswald, and I know more about what a bad idea it is attempting to persuade someone who is convinced that it was a big conspiracy. Believe whatever comforts you. You believing that JFK was killed by the CIA/Mob/GOP doesn't ask anything of me, unlike other baseless convictions held by millions.

Rich said...

Good rule of thumb, Joseph -- if intelligence (or criminal or mega/ corporate) organizations are on the periphery of a game-changing political event, some level of secret planning has taken place. The other obsessions -- the faked moon-landing, aliens, Freemasons, Jews, Jesuits (the latter three with centuries-old roots)are chiefly the products of the sad, scared alienation of right-wing true believing Christians. 9/11 was certainly a conspiracy and a successful one. It was planned by Al Qada, an international criminal operation and likely funded by elements of Saudi and Pakistani intelligence.

arbusto205 said...

Lots of comments about CTs but not much about Sustein. Joeseph, I think you are being a little hard on pre-Obama Sunstein. I like the fact that he brought the idea that bad ideas (not just bombs and such) are potential threats to the country's health and they need to be actively opposed. Of course your point of who determines what those bad ideas are is fundamental. And certainly spooks in forums is a bad idea, but what about say, NSF employees instead of NSA ones?

I also liked the book he wrote with Thaler, "Nudge". Part III is dedicated to Health, and it is fascinating to see his epic failure in accomplishing his own suggested goals now that he is within the admin. Now that is worthy of a post.

Anonymous said...

Paul, you are 100% correct about the futility of arguing with someone on the other side of the theories on who killed JFK.

Still, just for the exercise, could you clarify whether you think Oswald used the Mauser that was first discovered in 'the sniper's nest' (well, across the room from there), or the M-C? If he did not use the Mauser, how did it get there?

Secondly, why would LHO's tax returns remain classified?

Lastly, why would Nixon, in private, recorded on tapes he knew were secret and thought would never be revealed, say 'The WC report was the most titanic hoax ever perpetrated on the American people' (close paraphrase).