Cass Sunstein is an accomplished law professor and commentator but his recent opinion piece (“Must freedom of speech include the freedom to lie?” Opinion Exchange, Feb. 16) oversimplifies a critical issue facing our nation. The easy answer is yes, freedom of speech does include the freedom to “lie” (as the United States Supreme Court has held) though this conclusion is counterintuitive to many. There is a natural impulse to censor outrageous stories for fear that some will believe them, as some inevitably do. In this age of social media, the problem has been exacerbated. Are social media outlets private enterprises that may (and some would say, should) censor such speech, or have they become public forums for purposes of the First Amendment? And, most critically, who decides what is a lie? It is not always as easy to ascertain as some would imagine, and it is a small step from censoring speech to punishing those who speak out.
A law professor tells this story to his First Amendment class every year: He traveled to Vladimir Putin’s Russia and met with a law professor there. He mentioned to the professor how sorry he was that he lived in a society where free expression did not exist. The professor took exception and said, “We allow free expression; we just punish those who lie.” For years, the American students would rightfully laugh at the absurdity of this statement. In the last several years, the students nodded in agreement with the idea that you can punish those who lie. Presumably this means that they accept the idea that the “truth” is always easily ascertainable and that those who lie should be punished by those who held power.
The professor found this chilling and disturbing for what it says about the future of free expression in our nation. So do I. So should Cass Sunstein.
Edward J. Cleary, St. Paul
The writer is a retired chief judge on the Minnesota Court of Appeals.
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The white elephant in the room throughout the whole impeachment procedure was the Big Lie: the refusal of the former president to accept the result of the election. The Democratic trial managers made a huge mistake in not making this the case against him. This refusal was easy to prove, since well before the election he stated often that he regarded the election to be rigged against him. And, from election night on he ranted on that the election was stolen from him, that in fact he had won in a landslide. Moreover, he never did fully concede the election. Hence he could have been justly accused of undermining the pillar of democracy: free elections. Although the accusation of inciting an insurrection left some room for interpretation, the evidence of his refusal to accept the outcome of the election is well shown by the many claims of fraud he made after the election and by his failed efforts through the courts to prove fraud. Of course the call to Georgia is the keystone of the case. Taking this route would have meant having the ex-president as the chief witness for the prosecution! This charge would surely be enough to prevent the former president from ever running again for public office.
Wilfred Theisen, Collegeville, Minn.
Texas doesn’t prove we need oil
Here we go again with the dishonest blame-shifting by the fossil fuel industry’s mouthpiece, the Center of the American Experiment (“We’re OK because of fossil fuels,” Opinion Exchange, Feb. 19). The message that Texas’ investment in wind and solar caused the blackouts is simply untrue. The fact is wind and solar provide a small fraction of Texan energy. Their unreliable fossil fuel energy production and refusal to modernize their energy distribution system caused this devastation. Using this catastrophe as an opportunity to castigate wind and solar as unreliable is simply a veiled attempt to support an all-of-the-above fossil fuel strategy.
Texas must once again get billions in federal government emergency bailouts because of its Republican leadership’s irresponsible lack of energy infrastructure investments and building policies (see Houston flood zones). The truth behind this tragedy will come out, despite commentary writer Isaac Orr’s attempts to distract us.
Fortunately for Minnesotans, our governor and House understand what robust clean energy infrastructure looks like as evidenced in their energy plans. They know that inexpensive, locally produced wind and solar, with long-term battery storage, will play the primary role in powering our residents healthy future and state economy.
Mark Andersen, Wayzata
Restore option to get a license
I am writing in support of driver’s licenses for all, including undocumented immigrants. There are so many compelling reasons to do this, and there are so many Minnesotans in favor of this, that it is hard to understand why it is has been so challenging to approve.
A driver’s license is a document anyone living in our state who needs to drive should be able to obtain. Drivers must pass a test and obtain auto insurance, both of which make our roads safer for everyone. This has been proven in Connecticut and California. This plan would also boost our economy through increased tax revenue from vehicle and fuel purchases, increased fees for permits and licenses and increased income taxes as workers have better access to employment and also potentially higher-income employment, proven in New York and Oregon. It would make our state healthier with a reduction in COVID transmission via carpools and buses and by improved access to health care, not just the facilities accessible by walking, biking or busing.
This should not be a partisan issue but an issue everyone can support, because it benefits everyone!
Janeen McAllister, West St. Paul
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All Minnesotans of age and the ability to learn to drive a motor vehicle should be able to demonstrate that skill and earn a driver’s license. Every person living in Minnesota must recognize the humanity of others whatever their birthplace, language or complexion. I call upon the leadership of the Minnesota Senate to hear the legislation that will restore a path to a driver’s license for all, documented or not. I walk where I can, I use public transportation when available, but a driver’s license gives me the freedom to go wherever I want. That’s an option all of us should have.
Joseph M. Reid, St. Paul
Passive beats active, by far
The Feb. 16 letter to the editor regarding the virtues of active investing must be challenged (“Can you really be a ‘Couch Potato’?”). It’s just not so. Abundant research makes clear passive investment strategies best active strategies.
Year after year. Slam dunk. Commissions and management fees of active management are killers. Asset managers simply do not outperform the market by enough, or at all, to make up for the 1, 2 or 3% fee that is charged to support the stock- and bond-picking operations. Passive investing through index-style mutual funds and exchange-traded funds charge less than 0.2%, some less than 0.1%, giving them a huge cost advantage.
Recent research from the Wharton School of Business at the University of Pennsylvania indicates that managers of stock funds (active) for large- and midsize companies produced lower returns than their index-style competitors (passive) 97% of the time.
Passive strategies mimic the market, not sexy but effective long-term. But the evidence is eminently clear — plain vanilla works, however dull. I’d rather be a “couch potato” than a gambler!
Charles Corcoran, Stillwater
The writer is a professor of finance at the University of Wisconsin-River Falls.
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