Simple questions deserve simple answers

A group called Reporters Without Borders asks Google a simple question:

Following Google's announcement that it is to open an office in China, Reporters Without Borders has written to the company's two founders, Larry Page and Sergey Brin, asking them for a clear response to the following question : "Will you agree to censor your search engine if asked to by Beijing ?"
As the letter notes, there are warning signs that Google may be ready to capitulate to censorship forces:
"Until recently, Google always refused to bend to the Chinese government's will in this respect. But recent decisions have led us to fear that your commitment to respect freedom of expression is giving way to commercial logic.

"We were astonished to learn that you invested in July 2004 in a competing Chinese search engine, Baidu, which filters its search results. We find it hard to understand why you have become the partner of a website to which the authorities redirected your users in 2002, when Google was banned in China. We are even more disturbed by your agreement in November to withdraw news media considered "subversive" by Beijing from the Chinese version of your news search engine.

"We simply ask you to reject self-censorship. If the Chinese authorities want to block access to certain websites, they must do it themselves. Indeed, they do block many sites. But we would find it extremely disturbing if you yourselves were to participate in the Chinese government's policy of suppressing press freedom. It is true that your main competitor in China, Yahoo !, bowed to China's demands in this respect. But we expect a more courageous stance from Google, which has displayed a determination to respect ethical principles since its creation.

"Your company is sufficiently powerful to be able to impose certain conditions on the Chinese authorities. We therefore ask you to stand by your principles on free expression.

I hope Google, will, in accordance with its stated tradition, refuse to cooperate in any way with government censorship. But I'm cynical, and doubtful.

But there's something worse than Chinese government censorship, and that's United States government censorship. It is supposed to be against the most important principle upon which this country was founded, as embodied in the First Amendment.

I don't know what part of the First Amendment the FEC, or Congress, or the President don't understand, but I refuse to acknowledge that the FEC has any jurisdiction over the blogosphere, and I don't care whether they imagine they do, or whether the Supreme Court says they do.

I simply defy them. I will write whatever I want, whenever I want, and I will endorse or oppose any candidate I feel like endorsing or opposing, and while I haven't sought advertising, I'd accept accept any ad I felt like accepting from any person or organization who might be willing to run one. No matter how close it might be to the election. This blog is my free speech. I'll disclose whatever I want, whenever I want. If the government wants me to disclose anything else, I'll refuse to disclose it.

McCain-Feingold is unconstitutional. Period.

It's been almost two years since I warned about the regulation of bloggers under McCain-Feingold, and I don't feel any differently about the issue. The bastards simply don't have jurisdiction. While I'm not opposed to the idea of arguing with them as a tactic, I don't think it is wise to do so in such a way as to implicitly agree that they have (or ever would have) jurisdiction.

If I as a blogger accepted or took advantage of a regulation purporting to "exempt" me from regulation, would I not be acknowledging the validity of regulation? Would this not be akin to countenancing the licensing of speech? I'm worried that it would. And were I to countenanced the licensing of speech, I'd certainly be in no position to criticize Google.

The answer to censorship is simple.

It's free speech.

Notwithstanding my concerns, I have written to FEC Assistant General Counsel Brad C. Deutsch. My email is titled "Notice of Proposed Rulemaking" because that's the language used by the FEC. Here's the text:

Mr. Brad C. Deutsch
Assistant General Counsel
Federal Elections Commission

Via email to

Dear Mr. Deutsch:

I have seen postings at various web sites informing me of the existence of some sort of June 3rd "deadline" for "public comment" on the FEC's proposed rulemaking regarding freedom of speech on the Internet. I am further advised that the FEC has not yet received nearly as many comments as expected, and that polite letters of comment should be written in the hope that online free speech might be somehow preserved. (It's also recommended that commenters refrain from abusive or insulting language in their emails. No problem, as even though I don't have to, I always try to exercise my free speech rights in a polite manner.)

In brief, yt strikes me that with the passage of the McCain-Feingold Act, Congress lost sight of an important portion of the First Amendment, which reads as follows:

"Congress shall make no law [...] abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press...."

I'm referring to the "no law" part. It's quite literal language, and I take it quite literally. To the extent that McCain-Feingold abridges free speech (and let's face it, McCain-Feingold is what gives your "Commission" the false impression that it has jurisdiction over speech on the Internet), there can be no logical doubt that by passing the legislation Congress did what it lacks the power to do. That the president signed the bill into law (and the Supreme Court upheld it) adds nothing to a nonexistent congressional power. In simple fact, Congress violated the Constitution.

The First Amendment was not intended as a grant of a right, but a recognition of a fundamental, preexisting right human right that could not be taken away. By its nature, it is self activating, and self enforcing, and so when a law is passed which plainly violates the right to free speech, there is no duty to obey that law. In fact, many would argue that disobedience of such laws is a civic duty. I can't speak for others, but I consider disobedience of McCain-Feingold to be my civic duty, and I have no intention of complying with any of the Internet restrictions currently under consideration. Inasmuch as possible, I will try to violate them.

There has been some discussion about whether or not protest letters like this are legitimate. As one commenter ( puts it,

"We should not be protesting these rules. There is no such thing as an acceptable set of speech regulations."

While I see his point, I do not think that stating my disagreement in this public email countenances that there might be "acceptable" regulations on speech. What I wish to make clear (by way of reminder) is that this Commission lacks power to regulate free speech, and that any regulations on Internet speech which it might purport to issue are illegitimate, beyond Congressional authority, and unconstitutional.

If they are passed, I think it's fair to predict a protracted campaign of massive civil disobedience.

Sincerely yours,

Eric Scheie

P.S. I apologize if I have too loosely applied the term "civil disobedience," because it's not entirely clear to me that violating unconstitutional laws would constitute law breaking in the first place.

Maybe I should have made the title "Notice of Proposed Rulebreaking."

Anyway, I feel strongly about this, and I'd urge other bloggers to at least write. If you have a problem with their jurisdiction as I do, then tell them so. This is still a democracy, despite ominous indicators like McCain-Feingold.

UPDATE: Yuck! I already see a couple of glaring errors in the email that I just sent the people who'd take away my freedom to commit writing errors in the first place! First, I misspelled the word "it" as "yt." Second, I failed to credit Glenn Reynolds as the source for the link!

But email cannot be edited or corrected.

A lesson to all bloggers!

(May the FEC forgive me....)

posted by Eric on 05.23.05 at 03:19 PM


Listed below are links to weblogs that reference Simple questions deserve simple answers:

» Hohenwald News: Sen. John McCain Does Not Understa from Tales of Tadeusz
But a deeper and far more troubling show of his lack of understanding is his championing of the McCain-Feingold Bill for the Restriction of Free Political Speech in the Service of the Incumbents and the Mass Media (which has no such restrictions). [Read More]
Tracked on May 26, 2005 12:30 PM


There you go again, parroting the right wing neocon attack machine!

Dennis   ·  May 23, 2005 6:46 PM

Since my injury I spend alot of time on the web. On another blog I found out about an advertising scheme that gives away free computers! I allready got one, didn't cost a thing. So I thought I'd pass along the info for anyone else on a tight budget. : )

Mary   ·  May 23, 2005 6:57 PM

Well, I have to do as I am told. This week the diversionary issue happens to be "free speech." Anything to avoid the real issue.

Eric Scheie   ·  May 24, 2005 7:30 AM

Far better than parroting the Politically Correct Communist Party Line of the Collectivist Left.

Dear Eric:

You're a hero! Thank you for standing up for the First Amendment (as well as the the Second and all the rest of the Bill of Rights), for your freedom and mine, our God-given inalienable rights.

I, too, will say what I please on my blog, and McCain-Feingold, or any other such law, be damned. Hmmm.... I'm trying to think. Have I violated that law, or am I likely to do so in the future? Not being particularly enamored of any politician, and Up With Beauty being about more eternal matters than mere elections, I thought not. But, I did, as I recall, state my intention to vote for Bush rather than Kerry in the last Presidential election, and I gave my reasons for doing so. That might perhaps be considered an "endorsement" of sorts, and it was right before the election. So, I may well, in the eyes of the FEC, have violated that law. They'll have to arrest me then.

I also will not submit to any "hate speech" laws, since I do indeed hate Communists, Nazis, Muhammadan terrorists, and other enemies of my freedom. I will never submit to any "obscenity" laws, but will post pictures of or links to pictures of such women as I find pulchritudinous, when and as I see fit, as well as such Aphroditically-oriented and/or Sapphic-style writing as I see fit. Conservative Lesbian Individualist Theology. Sexual speech, like other religious speech, is more valuable to me than political speech. In short, I will never submit to censorship, gun control, "sodomy" laws, or any other such infringement on my God-given freedom. That is where I stand.

Athanasius Contra Mundum

Steven bless you for your words of encouragement. (I don't think I'm a hero, but if I am, you are too!)

Eric Scheie   ·  May 25, 2005 2:33 PM

You are right in every respect! I cannot believe it has come to this!

Bob Agard   ·  May 26, 2005 12:27 AM

Well said indeed.

I'll have to link this as soon as I am awake. Both the tykes chose to get up before 4 in the morning. Aargh.


Eric R. Ashley   ·  May 26, 2005 4:57 AM

Well, six hours later, and I'm more awake. Its linked.

Eric R. Ashley   ·  May 26, 2005 12:32 PM

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