Curated by: Luigi Canali De Rossi

Thursday, January 18, 2007

First Amendment Gets Challenged By New US Bill: Grassroots Bloggers At Risk?

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This is the news indeed: Congress is considering sending critics to jail, and in particular it places its focus for preventive action on what should be the very source of government dissent and criticism in any democratic country: the grassroots.

While not yet an official law, this is indeed the meat of the new legislation currently being considered by the US Congress to regulate grassroots communications.

Photo credit: (c) Rivello

In what appears one of the darkest moments in history of the United States, the U. S. Senate appears to be close to impose criminal penalties and even jail time, on "grassroots causes" and "citizens who criticize Congress".

"Section 220 of S. 1, the lobbying reform bill currently before the Senate, would require grassroots causes, even bloggers, who communicate to 500 or more members of the public on policy matters, to register and report quarterly to Congress the same as the big K Street lobbyists.

Section 220, of the 'Legislative Transparency and Accountability Act of 2007' would amend existing lobbying reporting law by creating the most expansive intrusion on First Amendment rights ever.

For the first time in history, critics of Congress will need to register and report with Congress itself."

A week ago, on January 9th 2007, the Senate passed Amendment 7 to S. 1, to create criminal penalties, including civil fines of up to $100,000 and up to one year in jail, if someone 'knowingly and willingly fails to file or report.'

The bill would require reporting of 'paid efforts to stimulate grassroots lobbying,' but defines 'paid' merely as communications to 500 or more members of the public, with no other qualifiers.

US Senator Vitter (R-LA), however, is now a co-sponsor of Amendment 20 by Senator Robert Bennett (R-UT) to remove Section 220 from the bill. Unless Amendment 20 succeeds, the Senate will have criminalized the exercise of First Amendment rights.

According to multiple reports available online, the new legislation would regulate small, legitimate nonprofits, as well as bloggers and individuals, while simultaneously offering wide loopholes for corporations, unions, and large membership organizations that would be able to spend hundreds of millions of dollars, while not being forced to report about them.

Is the US getting into becoming a visible totalitarian state?

While the government says "no", the simple facts in front of your eyes would seem to spell a different story.

Check and decide for yourself: Here are the common traits of popular totalitarian states drawn from the past governments of Germany (under the Nazis), Italy (under Mussolini), Spain (Franco), Indonesia (Suharto) and of some Latin American countries:

  1. Powerful and continuing nationalism: Totalitarian regimes tend to make constant use of patriotic mottos, slogans, symbols, songs, and other paraphernalia. Flags are seen everywhere, as are flag symbols on clothing and in public displays.
  2. Disdain for the recognition of human rights: Because of fear of enemies and the need for security, the people in totalitarian regimes are persuaded that human rights can be ignored in certain cases because of "need." The people tend to look the other way or even approve of torture, summary executions, assassinations, long incarcerations of prisoners, etc.
  3. Identification of enemies/scapegoats as a unifying cause: The people are rallied into a unifying patriotic frenzy over the need to eliminate a perceived common threat or foe: racial, ethnic or religious minorities; liberals; communists; socialists, terrorists, Islamic terrorists, etc.
  4. Supremacy of the military: Even when there are widespread domestic problems, the military is given a disproportionate amount of government funding, and the domestic agenda is neglected. Soldiers and military service are glamorized.
  5. Rampant sexism: The governments of totalitarian nations tend to be almost exclusively male-dominated. Under such regimes, traditional gender roles are made more rigid. Divorce, abortion and homosexuality are suppressed and the state is represented as the ultimate guardian of the family institution.
  6. Controlled mass media: Sometimes to media is directly controlled by the government, but in other cases, the media is indirectly controlled by government regulation, or sympathetic media spokespeople and executives. Censorship, especially in wartime, is very common.
  7. Obsession with national security: Fear is used as a motivational tool by the government over the masses.
  8. Religion and government are intertwined: Governments in fascist nations tend to use the most common religion in the nation as a tool to manipulate public opinion. Religious rhetoric and terminology is common from government leaders, even when the major tenets of the religion are diametrically opposed to the government's policies or actions.
  9. Corporate power is protected: The industrial and business aristocracies of totalitarian (mostly fascist) nations often are the ones who put the government leaders into power, creating a mutually beneficial business/government relationship and power elite.
  10. Labor power is suppressed: Because the organizing power of labor is the only real threat to a fascist government, labor unions are either eliminated entirely, or are severely suppressed.
  11. Disdain for intellectuals and the arts: Totalitarian nations tend to promote and tolerate open hostility to higher education, and academia. It is not uncommon for professors and other academics to be censored or even arrested. Free expression in the arts and letters is openly attacked.
  12. Obsession with crime and punishment: Under totalitarian regimes, the police are given almost limitless power to enforce laws. The people are often willing to overlook police abuses and even forego civil liberties in the name of patriotism. There is often a national police force with virtually unlimited power in such nations.
  13. Rampant cronyism and corruption: Totalitarian (and in particular, fascist) regimes almost always are governed by groups of friends and associates who appoint each other to government positions and use governmental power and authority to protect their friends from accountability. It is not uncommon in such regimes for national resources and even treasures to be appropriated or even outright stolen by government leaders.
  14. Fraudulent elections: Sometimes elections in totalitarian nations are a complete sham. Other times elections are manipulated by smear campaigns against or even assassination of opposition candidates, use of legislation to control voting numbers or political district boundaries, and manipulation of the media. Such totalitarian nations also typically use their judiciaries to manipulate or control elections.

How many of the above traits seem to be creeping or already part of the United States democracy in power today?

Update:(Friday January 19th)

Bill to Treat Bloggers as Lobbyists Defeated

"The attempt to require political bloggers to register as lobbyists previously reported by Slashdot has been stripped out of the lobbying reform bill. The vote was 55 to 43 to defeat the provision. All 48 Republicans, as well as 7 Democrats, voted against requiring bloggers to register; all 43 votes in favor of keeping the registration provision were by Democrats."

Outline of 14 totalitarian governments above excerpted from "The 14 Characteristics of Fascism" first published on by Lawrence Britt in Spring 2003 - I have willfully edited the word "fascist" in most instances and replaced it with the word "totalitarian" to provide greater access to the above from those with strong prejudices against the association of the word "fascist" with the government of the US.

Reference: PR Newswire story from Jan 16 2007, 06:34 PM

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Readers' Comments    
2007-01-24 09:25:16


I live in Australia and I'm worried. Look I think its obvious the main problem right now is the current administration and the fear campaign that has been running. George Orwell wasn't joking and America seems most vulnerable to this type of thing - in the free world anyway. I guess thats the question is it really free. Anyway I hope that America can sometime soon begin to reclaim some of the principles and ideals that make it a great country. Bill Clinton said

2007-01-18 22:11:17

John Blossom


While I agree that the S.1 amendment as written does have the potential to stifle political weblogs, I think that you have to look carefully at the parties trying to overrride the Amendment.

They're not exactly friends of free speech. We have an enormous problem in the U.S. right now with well-endowed lobbyists and political action committees overrunning the political process and shutting down free speech.

I am in any case grateful for your coverage of freedom of speech issues in America, it is a grave situation in many ways but one that's been evolving for more than twenty years.

The good news is that we have the first real working Congress in more than twelve years, and one of the first real reform-minded Congresses in perhaps forty years. So there is some hope.
If not, then there are those of us whose ancestors fought for our original freedom in this country who would be willing to sacrifice what they did when the time comes.

Let us hope that it is not too soon.

2007-01-18 04:45:20

Sepp Hasslberger

Where there is suppression, people will find a way to get around it, to fight the tightening noose of censorship and control. As always, also in this case, a solution seems to appear on the horizon just in time.

The antidote to totalitarian tendencies is transparency. Glasnost is the Russian term for this. Will the English term be Wikileaks?

In an interesting article the Washington Post's Elizabeth Williamson tells about a planned site that will provide a place for anonymously leaked government documents, even in the face of government hostility and a totalitarian mindset dictating that all information must be controlled:

Freedom of Information, the Wiki Way

Site to Allow Anonymous Posts of Government Documents

Monday, January 15, 2007; Page A13
(original is here, registration required)

You're a government worker in China, and you've just gotten a memo showing the true face of the regime. Without any independent media around, how do you share what you have without landing in jail or worse? is a Web-based way for people with damning, potentially helpful or just plain embarrassing government documents to make them public without leaving fingerprints. Modeled on the participatory, online encyclopedia Wikipedia, the site is expected to go live within the next two months.

Organizer James Chen said that while its creators tried to keep the site under wraps until its launch, Google references to it have soared in recent days from about eight to more than 20,000.

"Wikileaks is becoming, as planned, although unexpectedly early, an international movement of people who facilitate ethical leaking and open government," he said.

The site, whose FAQs are written in flowery dissident-ese -- "What conscience cannot contain, and institutional secrecy unjustly conceals, Wikileaks can broadcast to the world" -- targets regimes in Asia, sub-Saharan Africa and the Middle East, but not exclusively. It was founded and partially funded, organizers say, by dissidents, mathematicians and technologists from China, the United States, Taiwan, Europe, Australia and South Africa. The site relies on a worldwide web of volunteers and contributors to post and vet the information, and dodge any efforts to shut it down. To protect document donors and the site itself, Wikileaks uses its own coded software combined with, for the techies out there, modified versions of Freenet and PGP.

"I think it's an intriguing effort," said Steven Aftergood, an open-government advocate who runs the Federation of American Scientists' Secrecy News blog.

"It's significant that their emphasis seems to be on relatively closed societies rather than the U.S. or Europe, that have a rather robust media sector.

"They have the potential to make a difference," he said.

But for now, Aftergood has declined Wikileaks' invitation to serve on its advisory board.

"I want to see how they launch and what direction they go in," he said. "Indiscriminate disclosure can be as problematic as indiscriminate secrecy."

The thought that a nation's defense plans could turn up as "you've got mail" across the globe is a chilling one. So, too, is the potential for a miscreant to sow mayhem by "leaking" documents, real or fake.

"Unless there are some kinds of editorial safeguards built into the process, it can be easily sabotaged. That was the concern I was trying to raise," Aftergood said. "We'll have to see."

Wikileaks organizers say the site is self-policing. "Wikileaks will provide a forum for the entire global community to examine any document relentlessly for credibility, plausibility, veracity and falsifiability," they wrote in response to e-mailed questions. "If a document is leaked from the Chinese government, the entire Chinese dissident community can freely scrutinize and discuss it; if a document is leaked from Somalia, the entire Somali refugee community can analyze it and put it in context. And so on."

Because organizers are scattered around the globe, "In the very unlikely event that we were to face coercion to make the software censorship friendly, there are many others who will continue the work in other jurisdictions."

For a review of Wikileaks' first document, a weirdly worded memo titled "Secret Decision" said to be issued by the Somalia Islamic court system's Office of the Chief of the Imams, go to

posted by Robin Good on Thursday, January 18 2007, updated on Tuesday, May 5 2015

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