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Aug 05 2012

Know the Person by the Friends They Keep

(4 pm. – promoted by ek hornbeck)

There are a lot of people who support health and safety regulations will be heartened by this man’s departure from the Obama Administration:

White House regulatory czar Cass Sunstein, an intellectual mentor to President Obama whose skeptical approach to rule-making frustated the president’s liberal allies, announced Friday he was leaving his post.

Sunstein will depart by the end of the month, officials said. He is returning to the job he left, a professorship at Harvard Law School. In addition, Sunstein will head a new Harvard program on “behavioral economics and public policy.” [..]

Sunstein heads a relatively obscure agency, the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs, which acts as a gatekeeper for new federal regulations.

In Washington’s wonkier circles, he also has become a symbol of a central contradiction of Obama’s White House. In seeking bipartisan common ground, the administration has often embraced policies that disappointed its friends – without disarming its enemies.

Among those who won’t miss Cass is  Rena Steinzor of the Center for Progressive Reform

Cass Sunstein brought impressive credentials and a personal relationship with the President to his job as Administrator of the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs. But in the final analysis, Sunstein has continued the Bush Administration’s tradition of using the office to block needed health and safety protections disliked by big business and political contributors. Worse, the narrative that Sunstein helped craft about the impact of regulations on American life – that regulatory safeguards are fundamentally suspect – was discordant with the rest of the President’s agenda and the arguments he makes for his reelection.

Some of the regulations that Sunstein blocked would have reduced the level of ozone in the air, improved work place safety and protected children who live and work on farms He also reduced federal inspectors in poultry plants because of insustry complaints that it would slow down production.

While as Dan Froomkin at Huffington Post notes, Sunstein received some “warm praise”:

White House Office of Management and Budget director Jeffrey Zients credited him with helping design “numerous rules that are, among other things, saving lives on the highways by making vehicles safer and reducing distracted driving; dramatically increasing the fuel economy of the nation’s cars and trucks; protecting public health by reducing air pollution; making our food supply safer; and protecting against discrimination on the basis of disability and sexual orientation.”

But that is a modest record in the context of the wholesale deregulation during the Bush/Cheney era and the unprecedented regulatory failures of the recent past: financial crisis; the BP oil spill; the Upper Big Branch mine explosion; a bevy of food– and toy-related health scares and the imminent dangers of climate change.

But it is those who will miss him, that speak the loudest about why true progressives should rejoice at his departure:

John Graham, who ran OIRA in George W. Bush’s first term, said Sunstein was an able administrator.

“He was a strong force for creative policy solutions in a political environment that was highly polarized,” Graham said in an e-mailed statement.

Sunstein also was hailed by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the nation’s largest business lobbying group, and the Business Roundtable, a Washington-based group of business executives.

“The Chamber has enjoyed a good working relationship with Cass Sunstein and we wish him well in his return to Harvard Law,” Bruce Josten, the Chamber’s executive vice president for government affairs, said in an e-mailed statement.

“Cass Sunstein will be missed,” said John Engler, the former Michigan Republican governor who is Business Roundtable president. “Cass accepted the input of business, sought balance and understood that regulations do have costs. We hope his replacement will strike the same tone.”

And this praise that just speaks volumes

“Cass Sunstein appeared to recognize the harm overly burdensome regulations inflict on economic growth and job creation – although he was not able to stop the tsunami of regulations enacted by the Obama administration,” Representative Darrell Issa of California, the Republican chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, said in a statement.

No one should expect President Obama will appoint someone who would be more transparent or, for that matter, less big business friendly. Nor should anyone believe that Sunstein will fade away into the academia at Harvard. There is this loathsome possibility:

Sunstein has long been rumored as a potential choice of Obama for a Supreme Court vacancy, if one were to open.

 

If you don’t think that Sunstein on the Supreme Court would be a bad idea, then read about his view of the First Amendment and free speech

Many millions of people hold conspiracy theories; they believe that powerful people have worked together in order to withhold the truth about some important practice or some terrible event. A recent example is the belief, widespread in some parts of the world, that the attacks of 9/11 were carried out not by Al Qaeda, but by Israel or the United States. Those who subscribe to conspiracy theories may create serious risks, including risks of violence, and the existence of such theories raises significant challenges for policy and law. The first challenge is to understand the mechanisms by which conspiracy theories prosper; the second challenge is to understand how such theories might be undermined. Such theories typically spread as a result of identifiable cognitive blunders, operating in conjunction with informational and reputational influences. A distinctive feature of conspiracy theories is their self-sealing quality. Conspiracy theorists are not likely to be persuaded by an attempt to dispel their theories; they may even characterize that very attempt as further proof of the conspiracy. Because those who hold conspiracy theories typically suffer from a crippled epistemology, in accordance with which it is rational to hold such theories, the best response consists in cognitive infiltration of extremist groups. Various policy dilemmas, such as the question whether it is better for government to rebut conspiracy theories or to ignore them, are explored in this light.  [..]

II. Governmental Responses

What can government do about conspiracy theories? Among the things it can do, what should it do? We can readily imagine a series of possible responses. (1) Government might ban conspiracy theorizing. (2) Government might impose some kind of tax, financial or otherwise, on those who disseminate such theories. (3) Government might itself engage in counterspeech, marshaling arguments to discredit conspiracy theories. (4) Government might formally hire credible private parties to engage in counterspeech. (5) Government might engage in informal communication with such parties, encouraging them to help. Each instrument has a distinctive set of potential effects, or costs and benefits, and each will have a place under imaginable conditions. However, our main policy idea is that government should engage in cognitive infiltration of the groups that produce conspiracy theories, which involves a mix of (3), (4) and (5).

Remember when global warming was considered a “conspiracy theory”? How about that silly conspiracy theory that Iraq had nothing to do with 9/11?

1 comment

  1. TMC

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