Category Archives: Facebook

Losing Users: Mark Zuckerberg’s Facebook Problems

His detractors and enemies have been waiting some time for this, but it must have given them moments of mild cheer.  Facebook, the all-gazing, accumulating system of personal profiles and information, poster child, in fact, of surveillance capitalism, is losing users. At the very least, it is falling to that mild phenomenon in business speak called “flat-lining”, a deceptively benign term suggesting that the fizz is going out of the product.

This week, Mark Zuckerberg has been more humble than usual.  The latest figures show that 1.49 billion users hop on the platform daily; monthly active users come in at 2.27 billion.  While both figures are increases from previous metrics, these fall shy of those bubbly estimates Facebook loves forecasting: 1.51 billion in the former; 2.29 billion in the latter.  “We’re well behind YouTube”, he observed; in “developed countries”, Zuckerberg conceded that his company was probably reaching saturation.  While security features of Facebook had improved, there was at least another twelve months before the standard was, in his view, up to scratch.

The user market in North America is flat, while in Europe, FB has experienced a loss of 3 million daily active users.  The process was already underway after 2015.  The moment your grandparents start using a communications product with teenage enthusiasm, it’s time for a swift, contrarian change. But social media, as with other forms of communication, is a matter of demographics and class.

YouTube, Instagram and Snapchat have been beating down doors and making off with users.  A May study from the Pew Research Centre found that half of US teens between the ages of 13 and 17 claim to use Facebook.  But YouTube, Instagram and Snapchat are bullishly ahead with usage figures of 85, 72 and 69 percent respectively. To locus of this move is as much in the type of technology being used as behavioural change, with 95 percent of teens claiming to have access to a smartphone. A mind slushing statistic stands out: of those, 45 percent are online constantly in numb inducing ecstasy.

The company, in an effort to plug various deficiencies in the operating systems, has been busy hiring content moderators, a point that has not gone unnoticed by users.  This, in and of itself, is a flawed exercise, and one imposed upon the company in an effort of moralised policing.  Various legislatures and parliaments have gotten itchy in passing legislation obligating Facebook and similar content sharers to remove hate speech, extremist subject matter and state-sponsored propaganda.  (Where, pray, is that line ever drawn?).

This raises a jurisdictional tangle suggesting that local parliaments and courts are getting ahead of themselves in gnawing away at the extra-territorial nature of tech giants.  This year, a German law was passed requiring social media companies to remove illegal, racist or slanderous content within 24 hours after being flagged by users or face fines to the tune of $57 million.  Such legislation, while localised in terms of jurisdiction, has international consequences.  Content otherwise permitted by the US First Amendment will have to be removed for offending regulations in another country.

This is a far from academic speculation.  Canada’s Supreme Court in June last year ruled that Google had to remove search results pertaining to certain pirated products.  The natural consequence of this was a universal one.  “The internet has no borders – its natural habitat is global,” claimed the trite observation from the majority.  “The only way to ensure that the interlocutory injunction attained its objective was to have it apply where Google operates – globally.”

This precipitated a legal spat that proceeded to involve a Californian decision handed down by Judge Edward J. Davila, who turned his nose up at the Canadian judiciary’s grant of the interlocutory injunction.  To expect companies such as Google to remove links to third-party material menaced “free speech on the global internet.”  The emergence of a “splinternet” – one where online content is permissible in one country and not another – has been given a dramatic shove.  Police, in other words, or be damned.

By the end of September, an army of some 33,000 labouring souls were retained by Facebook for the onerous task of sifting, assessing and removing errant content.  But this whole task has come with its own pitfalls, a preoccupation of danger and emotional disturbance.  Those recruited have become content warriors with a need for a strong constitution, a point that has presented Zuckerberg with yet another problem.

Former moderator Selena Scola, who worked at Facebook from June 2017 till March this year, has gone so far as to sue the company for post-traumatic stress disorder after witnessing content depicting graphic violence “from her cubicle in Facebook’s Silicon Valley offices”.  Scola, through her legal counsel, claims that the company did not create a safe environment, instead working upon the practice of having a “revolving door of contractors”.  Moderators, according to the legal suit, are “bombarded” with “thousands of videos, images and livestreamed broadcasts of child sexual abuse, rape, torture, bestiality, beheadings, suicide and murder.”

Facebook ushered in a remarkable form of dysfunction between users, and the actual platform of communication.  This is very much in the spirit of a concept that lends itself to a hollowed variant of friendship, one based on appropriation, marketing and a somewhat voyeuristic format.  If you can’t make friends in the flesh, as Zuckerberg struggled to do, create facsimiles of friendship, their ersatz equivalents.  And most of all, place the incentive of generating revenue and profiles upon them.  Facebook is not merely there for those who use it but for those who feel free to be used.  This point is all too readily missed by the political classes.

Facebook makes everyone a practitioner, and creator, of surveillance, and anybody with a rudimentary understanding of totalitarian societies would know what that does to trust.  Split personalities and hived forms of conduct manifest themselves.  Unhealthily, then, the number of users globally is still increasing, even if it is dropping in specific parts of the world.  Much like the Catholic Church, reliance is placed upon the developing world to supply new pools of converts.

Zuckerberg’s company faces investigations from the European Union, the FBI, the FTC, the SEC and the US Department of Justice.  Such moves are not necessarily initiated out of altruism; there is the prevailing fear that such a platform is all too readily susceptible to manipulation (the horror, it seems, of misinformation, as if this was ever a new issue).  Fake ads can still be readily purchased; campaigns economic with the facts can still be run and organised on its pages.  But to attribute blame to Facebook for a tendency as ancient as politics is another distortion.  Not even Zuckerberg can be blamed for that.

The Root of the Internet’s Disrepute

In all the mounting media coverage of problems with the Internet, such as invasion of privacy, vulnerability to hacking, political manipulation, and user addiction, there is one constant: online advertising. Online advertising is the lifeblood of Google, Facebook, and many other Internet enterprises that profit by providing personal data to various vendors. Moreover, the move of tens of billions of dollars from conventional print and broadcast media continues, with devastating impacts, especially on print newspapers and magazines.

But does online advertising work for consumers? The Internet was once considered a less commercial medium. But today consumers are inundated with targeted ads, reviews, comments, friends’ reactions, and other digital data.  Unfortunately for advertisers, consumers are not intentionally clicking on online ads in big numbers.

Google’s search ads tackle people when they search for a product or service. A controlled study by eBay research labs in 2014 concluded that Google was greatly exaggerating the effectiveness of such ads—at least those bought by eBay. eBay’s researchers concluded that “More frequent users whose purchasing behavior is not influenced by ads account for most of the advertising expenses, resulting in average returns that are negative.” This is the “I-was-gonna-buy-it-anyway problem,” says an article in the Atlantic.

The Atlantic notes:

Whether all advertising—online and off—is losing its persuasive punch…Think about how much you can learn about products today before seeing an ad. Comments, user reviews, friends’ opinions, price-comparison tools…they’re much more powerful than advertising because we consider them information rather than marketing. The difference is enormous: We seek information, so we’re more likely to trust it; marketing seeks us, so we’re more likely to distrust it.

Some companies like Coca-Cola have cooled on using online advertising. But advertising revenues keep growing for Google, Facebook, and the other giants of the Internet. These companies are racing to innovate, connecting ads to more tailored audiences, which tantalize and keeps hope springing eternal for the advertisers. The Internet ad sellers also provide detailed data to advertise themselves to the advertisers staying one step ahead of growing skepticism. This is especially a problem when there is inadequate government regulation of deceptive advertising. It is the Wild West! Online advertising revenues are the Achilles’ heel of these big Internet companies. Any decline will deflate them immensely; more than public and Congressional criticism of their intrusiveness, their massive allowed fakeries, their broken promises to reform, and their openings to unsavory political and commercial users. If they lose advertising revenue, a major revenue bubble will burst and there goes their business model, along with their funding for ventures from video hosting to global mapping.

After reviewing the many major negatives attributed to the Internet, the New York Times’ Farhad Manjoo writes, “So who is the central villain in this story, the driving force behind much of the chaos and disrepute online?… It’s the advertising business, stupid.” He adds, perhaps optimistically, “If you want to fix much of what ails the internet right now, the ad business would be the perfect perp to handcuff and restrain.”

Randall Rothenberg, who heads a trade association of companies in the digital ad business, urges advertisers “to take civic responsibility for our effect on the world.” Then he shows his frustration by saying that, “Technology has largely been outpacing the ability of individual companies to understand what is actually going on.”  All of this even before artificial intelligence (AI) takes root. Meanwhile, Facebook, Google, and Twitter keep announcing new tools to make their ads “safe and civil” (Facebook), open and protective of privacy. At the same time matters keep getting worse for consumers. The backers and abusers keep getting more skilled too (see Youtube Kids ).

In a recent report titled “Digital Deceit,” authors Dipayan Ghosh and Ben Scott wrote:

The Central problem of disinformation corrupting American political culture is not Russian spies or a particular media platform. The central problem is that the entire industry is built to leverage sophisticated technology to aggregate user attention and sell advertising.

If so, why isn’t more public attention being paid to this root cause? Not by the mass media which is obviously too compromised by the Congress, by academia, or by more of US before “We the People” become the conditioned responders that Ivan Pavlov warned about so many years ago.

Big Brother Facebook: Drawing Down The Iron Curtain on Yankeedom

Leading a double life

When my partner, Barbara, first opened an account on Facebook, she used it in a way that most people in Yankeedom use it. Her network was an eclectic assortment of family, current and former workmates, new and old friends, neighbors and relatives living in other parts of the country. Most of what was posted on this account were pictures of kids, dogs and kitty cats, vacations, dinner outings, jokes – nothing too controversial. Like most members of Yankeedom, religion and politics were off limits. However, there was a kind of politically unconscious assumption operating that liberal values prevailed and that somehow the Democratic Party embodied those values. I nicknamed her Facebook account the “Suzy Cream Cheese” account after the Mothers of Invention’s album because it only dealt with surface preoccupations.

As the most recent US presidential primaries heated up and people took sides about Hillary, Bernie and Jill Stein, the Suzy Cream Cheese page started to be “not nice”. The political unconscious became conscious. The assumption was that all women – in the name of feminism – should vote for Hillary. My partner thought this was a very shallow understanding of feminism and posted an article she wrote that was published in a number of online radical newsletters titled, “Feminism is Bigger Than Gender: Why I’ll Be Happy in Hell Without Hillary.” Oh dear. After she posted that article on Facebook, she got the cold shoulder and lost a couple of friends. Around that time she opened up a second “political” Facebook account and started adding to it a whole new group of far-left friends and acquaintances. She continued posting “suitable for family viewing” comments with her Suzy Cream Cheese account while posting and responding to socialist and communist posts on her political account.

The Two Faces of Facebook

Neither Barbara nor I are sociologists of social media or specifically of Facebook, so what follows is experiential. However, we do know a thing or two about how capitalist institutions operate in general and Facebook is no exception.

The primary purpose of Facebook is to sell ad space to marketers. But how do you reach the Yankee public? You make it easy for Yankees to set up individual accounts so that Yankees can do what we do best—talk about the micro world of family, dogs and friends. In the process, hopefully people will purchase some of the products or services touted in the ads. Facebook has also made it possible for individuals to join groups and set up pages that then allow them to place ads to publicize their group or organization. For Facebook, reading groups, hobbies and support groups are fine.

But Facebook has encountered a problem that many other capitalist institutions have. The problem is that you can set up the conditions for selling your products, but you can’t control people’s motivation for buying the product, (joining a group or setting up a political page) or what they will do with the product (what kind of group they will form). Facebook could even tolerate political groups. But the political imagination of Facebook consists of Republicans and Democrats. What Facebook had not counted on is the proliferation of political groups that exist outside both parties. As most of you know, there are many anarchist groups, Leninist groups, social democrats and even council communist groups. On the right there are all sorts of nationalist and fascists groups. It is safe to say that Facebook, as a capitalist institution, does not want to host these groups but until recently has not been able to do anything about it.

Planning Beyond Capitalism Meets Suzy Cream Cheese Facebook

Six years ago Barbara and I co-founded an organization called Planning Beyond Capitalism. The name pretty much says what we are up to. As an anti-establishment organization our main problem was, and still is, outreach. We stumbled and bumbled our way with the help of some anti-establishment social media whizzes who convinced us we could reach a lot more people through placing ads on Facebook. Facebook calls it “boosting”. At first, we were skeptical because the language used in placing an ad on Facebook seemed to have nothing to do with politics. They were ads for businesses. They encouraged us to “pick the right brand” and “target our audience” for best “market return”. We weren’t a business and we weren’t a non-profit. The best category we could find was “community organization”.

One of the things we do on Planning Beyond Capitalism is to select one article from a left-wing news source and write one post and commentary each day. We call this “Capitalist News Interpreted”. We publish these posts daily on Facebook, but don’t “boost” them. But every couple of months or so we write a longer article, in which we make an analysis of world events, mostly in the United States, from the perspective of our organization. We put these in the category of Perspectives. Over the course of two or three years we found four or five political newsletters in which to publish our perspectives. In addition, we decided to “boost” those perspectives on Facebook.

Our pattern was to boost our perspective for one week for the cost of $30.00 to run for one week. This money came out of our own pockets. We were able to select our demographics – age, gender, interests – and we could post it to almost any country in the world. In selecting our audiences when we first started boosting our posts, the choices of “anarchism” and “socialism” were available for us to select. Typically, in a single week we reached about ten thousand people – with a ratio of people in that audience of people who “liked” our perspective from about 20% to 33%. The number of “shares” in a week ranged from 75 to about 250 depending on the article. In the process of doing this, we began hearing from people in other parts of the world. Some of those people then began to write for us.

We were pretty amazed that Facebook approved of virtually all our perspectives in 2016 and 2017 despite our anti Democratic Party, anti-capitalist slant. Here are some of our titles:

No Pink Wooly Caps for Me

Open Letter to the Sandernistas: The Political Revolution Continues – Hearts, Bodies and Souls

Planning Beyond Capitalism meets Big Brother Facebook

Things began to change for us on Facebook when I published an article on April 1st of this year claiming the Democratic Party was worse than the Republican Party for 90% of the population. After we posted a link to it on our Facebook page we tried to boost it.

Greater of Two Evils: Why the Democratic Party is Worse than the Republican Party for 85% of the U.S. Population

Facebook rejected our ad and we contested that rejection. They said it was sensationalistic, involved hate speech and promoted violence. We contested this rejection and after two arguments from us, won our appeal. We ran the ad for two weeks because of its popularity. It reached 38,000 people, had many hundreds of shares and we gained about 100 new followers.

The next article we published was written by an Iraqi comrade of ours living as a citizen in Russia. The article was about why Russians are upset with Americans.

Why Russians are Upset With Americans – Seen Through the Eyes of an Iraqi

This ad was again disapproved by Facebook but for different reasons: it was “political”. We contested this as well. Below is our argument:

We have been boosting posts on FB for 2 years. Every single one of them has political content. Why is this particular one being singled out? However, this is the first article that we’ve published about Russia, written by someone living in Russia. We believe that you are not authorizing this ad because it is a favorable account of the Russian people, which does not conform to the Democratic Party’s anti-Russian ideology. This article was written by a Russian citizen and is written from his own observations and viewpoint. Furthermore, his sources are documented and it is neither sensationalistic nor violent. We are not advocating for Russian foreign policy. We are talking about average Russian citizens. If you read the article, you would see that your response is exactly the reasons Russians are upset with Americans. Their experiences are suppressed, while we maintain the stereotypes of them as in the cartoon image that leads the article. This, to us, constitutes blatant discrimination. 

Facebook’s response was a boilerplate line about what constitutes a political post. Their policy about political ads had changed as of May 7th, 2018. It implied that their disapproval had nothing to do with its content. It was because the category was “political”. We were told that in order to consider having our ad approved, we had to register as a political organization. In order to do this we needed to:

  1. Be citizens of the United States
  2. Provide proof of citizenship
  3. Provide a residential address
  4. Provide a drivers license number
  5. Provide a Social Security number

All this – simply to place a political ad. Doesn’t this sound like we are registering to be investigated by the FBI or CIA? Oh, no that’s just left wing paranoia.

Further, they said it would take up to six weeks to verify this and to approve our ad. But not to worry, they would delete all our information once it checked out.

As the author of the article on Russia, Jamal pointed out his other two articles that had been accepted by Facebook were far more political than the one they just rejected. But that was before their change of policy. Jamal rightfully pointed out that the rejected article was more historical, sociological and cultural than political. However, the upper middle class honchos of Facebook, having taken one class in political science in the United States, cannot tell the difference between sociology, political economy, and culture. Their formula is:

Russia = political = bad

America = Democratic Party = good

To paraphrase an old country tune, “Take this job and shove it”, we told Facebook to “take your political registration and shove it”.

No, there is no “Iron Curtain” in the US. That is for Russians.

Our Analysis of Facebook

We think it is reasonable to suspect that Facebook wants to get rid of its “political underground”, the groups that exist beyond the two party system. Why? For one thing people at both extremes of the political spectrum are likely to buy the products that are advertised on their pages. The second reason is that our ads are chump change for them. Getting rid of us will cost them close to nothing in revenue. The third reason is political. Facebook, like most media institutions, is committed to the Democratic Party. Cleaning its house of “Fake News” (the news and opinions of the socialist or fascist sides of the spectrum) will steer people back to reasonable choices like the Democratic Party. It is our belief that this change in policy requiring organizations like ours to register as political groups has occurred in 2018, in part, because this is an election year.

There are other indicators Facebook is closing ranks. In selecting an audience for our article, we noticed the choices given under political interests on the left, the furthest left available to choose was “very liberal”. There was no socialist choice even though a self-proclaimed socialist ran as a Democratic in the 2016 primaries.

If anyone reading this has recommendations for alternatives to Facebook that would allow us to place political ads to broaden our reach, please contact us. It’s time for those of us on the far left to find an alternative to Big Brother Facebook.

• First published at Planning Beyond Capitalism

Social Networks as Dead Ends for Activists

There was a time when the internet was an experiment in anarchy, but it is increasingly becoming an experiment in “stateness”, meaning police-order. Social networks are in crisis. Our governments are losing patience with them, grilling geek after geek to demand they be more loyal to the nation-state and take a more active role suppressing apparently foreign points of view.

The unplugging of the entire internet by NATO countries to stop vaguely defined “Russian trolls” – a nationalistic smear for rebellious social media users living not in Russia but our own countries – cannot be ruled out. As laughable as this possibility may seem to internet users, Western leaders are dead serious about the issue. They consider users who mock them online as existential threats. That they may eventually give up and unplug everything will be touched on here, but it also needs more consideration at a later date.

For now, the focus must be on what might happen to the major social networks. If they are profoundly reshaped by geopolitical tension and paranoia, will they be of any continued use for publishing anti-establishment slogans and views? How will the new Cold War affect the freedom of writers and independent creators to express themselves through social networks?

Lawmakers in the US, the UK, the EU, and other NATO-aligned political structures are wrathful towards social networks due to the influence they indiscriminately offer anyone who signs up to them. Since the US election of 2016, we have watched staff from Twitter, Facebook and Google get grilled by screaming American and British lawmakers. The ageing lawmakers, not willing to take any chances in the “neuland” of the internet (so described by Angela Merkel) treat social networks with the utmost disdain and hostility. For them, the internet is a war-fighting domain, a battlefield of states with fixed front lines, a red zone where insurgents snipe at them. For them, the objective must be to silence anyone who disagrees with them and glorify anyone who does agree with them.

According to the traditional paranoid geopolitical mindset, social networks have to even be regarded as unwitting hostile actors. By offering people the chance to choose their own sources of information and even reproduce those sources and share those sources to others, social networks undermine loyalty to the nation-state, making it harder to spread Nineteenth Century ideas of loyalty and incite new petty wars with other nation-states. Our fossilized politicians, longing for the day when every young man had to complete mandatory military service and longed to die for the flag, seek to lobotomize the youth and restore nation-state loyalty to execute warlike aims against geopolitical foes Russia and China.

While hostility of ageing politicians towards social networks may be worrying, their complete intellectual failure and lack of understanding of what they are dealing with is encouraging. Their obsession with the current major social networks – Twitter and Facebook – suggests that they regard social media in the same way that they view news media. In their view, social networks are just some other big companies that need to be reined in. Just one or two big actors need to be forced to conform to the regime’s ideology, like the well-behaved top news journalists broadcasters, and the politicians’ authority will be restored. The “trolls” will be defeated. The youth will start to respect the bleary-eyed generals and politicians who were kept awake at night by them.

Unfortunately for every internet creator, the reactions of Twitter, Facebook and Google have been cowed. All are eager to prove their nationalist loyalty, particularly to the US state, because their websites’ physical infrastructure is based on the territory of the US state. They have the American regime’s gun to their heads, just like the television stations. Google serves the Pentagon loyally, but may be incapable of preventing its platform’s exploitation by the Pentagon’s enemies and critics due to the sheer number of targets flooding their scopes.

It is possible that the frail politicians so concerned about “trolls” will be able to cower in safety very soon behind a wall of new media enforcement, but it will not last forever. If the power of individuals to express themselves freely at major social networks, chiefly Twitter and Facebook, is sabotaged, communities will move gradually to other social networks and continue their activity there. The centre of media attention will shift away from dullness and conformity to somewhere more interesting once again.

A major consideration for alternate media when selecting social networks has likely been the presence of third party applications that can amplify one’s views across social media by providing automated posting services. These upset the traditional dominance of the wealthy and the powerful over the press. Very low overhead is required to establish a publication using various automation and aggregation tools to create feeds that offer a wide different spectrum of news and commentary than the mainstream. Attacks against automation under the guise of fighting “fake news” and “bots” are therefore an excuse to hamper small and independent media projects that lack the staff to manually post every item of content to the social networks. This assumes that the social networks are really going to fight automation.  The BBC and its supporters are mindless bots, if we look seriously at Twitter’s rules, and yet the people whose accounts get suppressed by Twitter are not bots but real people targeted by the British regime for holding dissident views.

Perhaps the flight of dissenting users to some future alternative social network should settle the battle between politicians and trolls. But it would probably only anger Western politicians even more, as they regard all alternative media as extremist, so the counterinsurgency would rage on. Not able to pressure the alternate social networks, politicians may resort to the brute force of the law, seeking court orders to block every app or social network being used to hurt political egos or express disloyalty to the state. But websites can be cloned and mirrored, and insurgent networks would be continuously made available again, as is the case with the various “putlockers” endlessly springing up to avoid the court orders that are always too slow and ineffective to counter free streaming.

There is every reason to think that many of the most effective anti-government critics would still be able to thrive even on the mainstream social networks, merely by altering their choice of language and modifying aspects of their behavior to evade the automated tools being used to remove them. Resistance can vary between passive and active forms, and rejection of national loyalty and lack of support for war will always be possible in any forum even if everyone else is a bloodthirsty and rabid nationalist. Advocacy for the removal of censorship and the destruction of the yokes used to enforce conformity and faith on a social network would always be considered a moderate and neutral view, making it possible to support more rebellious creators without joining them.

The inevitable failures of an online counterinsurgency described above could eventually prove too much for some governments to bear, and the result would be the complete destruction of the internet – something states will always be able to do. They might first attempt “balkanization”, forcing users to only register for accounts at social networks if they reside in the country where the social network is based. If that occurs, websites like Twitter and Facebook would fall into the geopolitical space of NATO, and support of NATO war aims and propaganda would become a compulsory requirement of all users, with everyone lobotomized to be docile supporters.

Balkanization would fail to achieve anything. As recent hunts for “trolls” have demonstrated, they are not actually foreign, nor are they automated. The alleged Russian enemies, “trolls” and “bots” are real people. They are not hackers from Russian spy agencies, but independent authors, journalists and creative people – civilians located inside our own countries who hold anti-war and anti-colonial views on foreign policy. Such innocent people look like they will be the new targets in the next “accidental” rampage by our incompetent regimes against perceived anti-state threats.

If they pursue and yet fail to achieve anything against trolls through political pressure, court orders, and geopolitical militarization of the social networks, politicians who view trolls as a true threat to the state will inevitably advocate a total ban on the internet. It is for this final contingency that independent writers and serious activists must prepare themselves.

It is not enough to have a collection of friends and followers on some top social networks, and even a robust email list may not be enough to sustain one’s writing. Real contacts and a real publishing history outside the social networks, even in print, are a requirement to sustain anti-establishment momentum and the propagation of balanced views. Anything less, and the paranoid regime can delete you and all its other critics with the push of a button. The conservation of social media-based activists on lists and their transformation into published authors is one way for them to save themselves from simple bans, at the same time amplifying their voices ever more.

The development of the Mont Order society to connect and preserve dissenting influencers on social networks can only help. It may be that teaming up to use a variety of applications, technologies and email clients based under different geopolitical poles of influence (the US, the EU, Russia and China) may be the only route towards independent political writing and advocacy under the suffocating conditions of the new Cold War. Such a strategy, pursued early on before it is even necessary, would allow dissident gatherings on social networks to survive purges, hostility, court orders, balkanization and even the plug being pulled completely by these paranoid regimes we have tolerated.

Much of what is forecasted here is dark, and perhaps too dark. Perhaps the internet isn’t really doomed to die at the hands of paranoid and vain politicians trying to defoliate it to fight their critics. Perhaps police-order is not achievable across the internet. It could be that many of the stages of counter-insurgency would require so much legal reform and such a high budget that most of the politicians concerned will die of old age and be replaced by a more tech-savvy and relaxed generation before their aims are even close to being achieved. Nevertheless, it is prudent to seek out and imagine counter-strategies to survive even the most heavy-handed actions by politicians against critics.

Admiring Facebook: Mark Zuckerberg goes before Congress

This is a dance of confused ends and mistrustful glances, mixed with occasional moments of misplaced adoration. Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook fame has never been an empathetic sort and his testifying before the US Congress has done nothing to dispel that assessment.  That stands to reason: the least sociable of types, the most awkward of individuals in engaging with beings, creates the most networked social creation on the planet. In doing so, he becomes the president and promoter of surveillance capitalism, its chief priest and sovereign.

Across the spectrum, from the banal views of everyday citizenry, to information hungry political groups keen to mobilise through the forum, Facebook has been, in various ways, tolerated, even celebrated.

There has been a treasured obliviousness, a deep ignorance and refusal to consider the implications of surrendered privacy in the market of surveillance capitalism. Over the corpse of privacy, the technological charge initiated by Facebook has been feted and embraced by alibis and accessories comprised of one huge body of users.

Much of this latest data trauma and insistence has occurred because people have suddenly fallen out of love with the FB.  Warnings by the noisy technocrati (Kim Dotcom, Julian Assange) that this surveillance machine ought to be boycotted have gained some traction.  That this has links with Russia, the victory of President Donald Trump in 2016, and the selling and passing on of consumer data that might, however improbably, have influenced that result, is all important.  It is impossible to have imagined this level of interest had the White House found itself ensnared by the Clinton junta.

This week’s Congressional hearings, ostensibly to tease through the Cambridge Analytica scandal involving the collection of personal, identifiable data of up to 87 million registered Facebook users, have yielded a certain bounty of confusion and indignation. Rather than suggesting attention to detail, genuine concern, and tangible responses, the proceedings have demonstrated a counterfeit interest.  Keeping apace of this judicious lack of awareness about the technology company is a certain creepy adulation that has afflicted the Zuckerberg-Congress show.

True, there were moments of reflective discomfort for Facebook’s founder before a joint session of the Senate Judiciary Committee and the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee.  Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) was promising heat and rigour in a statement prior to proceedings. “I’m glad Mr. Zuckerberg has agreed to face the music.  His company has shamelessly shredded the privacy rights of users.”

There were moments of such promise.  “Mr. Zuckerberg,” shot Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL), “would you be comfortable sharing with us the name of the hotel you stayed in last night?”  A pause followed. “No.”  Senator Durbin was unrelenting. “If you’ve messaged anyone this week, would you share with us the names of the people you’ve messaged?”  Zuckerberg’s response was cautious.  “No, I would probably not choose to do that publicly here.”

Other senators seemed indifferent to the reasons they were there, avoiding their brief altogether. Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) tried to squeeze a confession about of the Facebook CEO that his company was somehow biased against conservatives.  He also wondered whether the firing of Palmer Luckey, founder of Oculus, was occasioned by a clash of political views.  On neither point would Zuckerberg budge.

Senator Orrin Hatch (R-UT) revealed his cursory knowledge of Facebook’s hoovering qualities in one striking question: “So, how do you sustain a business model in which users don’t pay for your service?”  Such situated ignorance gave Zuckerberg some breathing space, wriggle room for smug relief.  “Senator, we run ads.”  The response from Hatch was hardly one of disapproval. “I see.  That’s great.”  Capitalism, digital or otherwise, is good.

While there was the mandatory, rehearsed indignation and concern, Zuckerberg soon realised that he had something of a fan base amongst his interrogators.  Hardly a reason to be surprised: Facebook has become indispensable as a political bridge to constituents.  “I’ve got 4,900 friends on my Facebook page,” Senator Thom Tillis (R-NC) bored Zuckerberg with.  “I delete the haters and save room for family members and true friends on my personal page.”  He professed to be “a proud member of Facebook, just got a post from my sister on this being National Sibling Day.”

Senator Roy Blunt (R-MO) was crawling with admiration, the sort induced by starlets of their drooling admirers.  “My son Charlie, who’s 13, is dedicated to Instagram, so he’d want to be sure I mention him while I was here with you.”  Move over privacy, the love-in between Facebook and Congress is a pact of indestructible steel.

At stages, members of Congress quite forgot what the fuss was all about.  Before them was a demigod, a superlative American statement of innovation, supporter of STEM, warrior against disease.  This was a chance for them to bask in some reflected glory, not to mention pitching in for projects that might lure Facebook to various electorates.

Rep. Eliot Engel (D-NY) cast out a fishing hook with hope.  “I hope you might commit to returning to Westchester County [place of Zuckerberg’s early days] perhaps to do a forum on this or other things. I hope you’ll consider that.  We’ll be in touch with you but I know that Ardsley High School is very proud of you.”

Senator Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV) was angling for more infrastructure from the Lord God Zuckerberg. “My state, I’m from West Virginia, and thank you for visiting and next time you visit, if you would please bring some fiber because we don’t have connectivity in – in our rural areas like we really need, and Facebook could really help us with that.”

Rep. Kevin Kramer (R-ND) suggested a prospective pool of future employees for the tech giant.  The company’s base could thereby be diversified.  “Maybe even your next big investment of capital could be in some place like, let’s say Bismarck, North Dakota.”

The coup de grâce, the confession that seemed to implicate founder, company and interrogator, was the admission by Zuckerberg that his own data has been the subject of appropriation and use.  Everyone had found the “malicious third party”, those shady geniuses creating apps sporting personality quizzes.  (Aleksandr Kogan and Cambridge University researchers, no less!)  The irony of this went begging out the door, as did much credibility over the process of hauling Facebook’s founder before a body that long ago descended into murmurs, formalities and school child admiration.

Haiti: An Example of Fake News by Omission

The people who created Facebook and Google must be smart. They’re billionaires, their companies are worth multi-multi billions, their programs are used by billions around the world.

But all these smart people, because of Congressional pressure, have swallowed the stories about “fake news”. Facebook hired a very large staff of people to read everything posted by users to weed out the fake stuff. That didn’t last too long at all before the company announced that it wasn’t “comfortable” deciding which news sources are the most trustworthy in a “world with so much division”. We all could have told them that, couldn’t we?

Facebook’s previous efforts to ask its users to determine the accuracy of news did not turn out any better. Last year, the company launched a feature that allowed users to flag news stories they felt were inaccurate. The experiment was shuttered after nine months.

“Fake news”, however, is not the problem. News found in the mainstream media is rarely fake; i.e., actual lies made from whole cloth, totally manufactured. This was, however, a common practice of the CIA during the first Cold War. The Agency wrote editorials and phony news stories to be knowingly published by Latin American media with no indication of CIA authorship or CIA payment to the particular media. The propaganda value of such a “news” item might be multiplied by being picked up by other CIA stations in Latin America who would disseminate it through a CIA-owned news agency or a CIA-owned radio station. Some of these stories made their way back to the United States to be read or heard by unknowing North Americans.1

Iraq’s “weapons of mass destruction” in 2003 is another valid example of “fake news”, but like the CIA material this was more a government invention than a media creation.

The main problem with the media today, as earlier, is what is left out of articles dealing with controversial issues. For example, the very common practice during the first Cold War of condemning the Soviet Union for taking over much of Eastern Europe after the Second World War. This takeover is certainly based on fact. But the condemnation is very much misapplied if no mention is made of the fact that Eastern Europe became communist because Hitler, with the approval of the West, used it as a highway to reach the Soviet Union to wipe out Bolshevism once and for all; the Russians in World Wars I and II lost about 40 million people because the West had twice used this highway to invade Russia. It should not be surprising that after World War II the Soviets were determined to close down the highway. It was not simply “communist expansion”.

Or the case of Moammar Gaddafi. In the Western media he is invariably referred to as “the Libyan dictator”. Period. And he certainly was a dictator. But he also did many marvelous things for the people of Libya (like the highest standard of living in Africa) and for the continent of Africa (like creating the African Union).

Or the case of Vladimir Putin. The Western media never tires of reminding its audience that Putin was once a KGB lieutenant colonel – wink, wink, we all know what that means, chuckle, chuckle. But do they ever remind us with a wink or chuckle that US President George H.W. Bush was once – not merely a CIA officer, but the fucking Director of the CIA!

Facebook chief executive Mark Zuckerberg now says: “We decided that having the community determine which sources are broadly trusted would be most objective”; “broadly trusted” sources being those that are “affirmed by a significant cross-section of users”.

Right, a significant cross-section of users – Will that include me? Highly unlikely. Broadly trusted sources – Will that include media like my Anti-Empire Report? Just as unlikely. Anything close? Maybe a single token leftist website amongst a large list, I’d guess. And a single token rightist website. Zuckerberg and his ilk probably think that the likes of NBC, NPR and CNN are very objective and are to be trusted when it comes to US foreign-policy issues or capitalism-vs-socialism issues.

On January 19 Google announced that it would cancel a two-month old experiment, called Knowledge Panel, that informed its users that a news article had been disputed by “independent fact-checking organizations”. Conservatives had complained that the feature unfairly targeted a right-leaning outlet.

Imagine that. It’s almost like people have political biases. Both Facebook and Google are still experimenting, trying to find a solution that I do not think exists. My solution is to leave it as it is. There’s no automated way to remove bias or slant or judgment from writing or from those persons assigned to evaluate such.2

Fake news by omission – the Haiti example

“I’m happy to have a president that will bluntly speak the truth in negotiations,” Eric Prince commented on Breitbart News. “If the president says some places are shitholes, he’s accurate.”3 Thus did Mr. Eric Prince pay homage to Mr. Donald Trump. Prince, of course, being the renowned founder of Blackwater, the private army which in September 2007 opened fire in a crowded square in Baghdad, killing 17 Iraqi civilians and seriously wounding 20 more.4

Speaking of Haiti and other “shitholes”, Prince declared:

It’s a sad characterization of many of these places. It’s not based on race. It has nothing to do with race. It has to do with corrupt incompetent governments that abuse their citizens, and that results in completely absent infrastructure to include open sewers, and unclean water, and crime. It’s everything we don’t want in America.

Like the US media, Prince failed to point out that on two occasions in the recent past when Haiti had a decent government, led by Jean-Bertrand Aristide, which was motivated to improve conditions, the United States was instrumental in nullifying its effect. This was in addition to fully supporting the Duvalier dictatorship for nearly 30 years prior to Aristide.

Aristide, a reformist priest, was elected to the presidency in 1991 but was ousted eight months later in a military coup. The 1993 Clinton White House thus found itself in the awkward position of having to pretend – because of all their rhetoric about “democracy” – that they supported the democratically-elected Aristide’s return to power from his exile in the US. After delaying his return for more than two years, Washington finally had its military restore Aristide to office, but only after obliging the priest to guarantee that he would not help the poor at the expense of the rich – literally! – and that he would stick closely to free-market economics. This meant that Haiti would continue to be the assembly plant of the Western Hemisphere, with its workers receiving starvation wages, literally! If Aristide had thoughts about breaking the agreement forced upon him, he had only to look out his window – US troops were stationed in Haiti for the remainder of his term.

In 2004, with Aristide once again the elected president, the United States staged one of its most blatant coups ever. On February 28, 2004, American military and diplomatic personnel arrived at Aristide’s home to inform him that his private American security agents must either leave immediately to return to the US or fight and die; that the remaining 25 of the American security agents hired by the Haitian government, who were to arrive the next day, had been blocked by the United States from coming; that foreign and Haitian rebels were nearby, heavily armed, determined and ready to kill thousands of people in a bloodbath. Aristide was pressured to sign a “letter of resignation” before he was flown into exile by the United States.

And then US Secretary of State Colin Powell, in the sincerest voice he could muster, told the world that Aristide “was not kidnapped. We did not force him onto the airplane. He went onto the airplane willingly. And that’s the truth.” Powell sounded as sincere as he had sounded a year earlier when he gave the UN a detailed (albeit imaginary) inventory of the chemical, biological and nuclear weapons in Iraq, shortly before the US invasion.

Jean-Bertrand Aristide was on record, by word and deed, as not being a great lover of globalization or capitalism. This was not the kind of man the imperial mafia wanted in charge of the Western Hemisphere’s assembly plant. It was only a matter of time before they took action.5

It should be noted that the United States also kept progressives out of power in El Salvador, another of Trump’s “shithole” countries.6

Liberals today

On January 24 I went to the Washington, DC bookstore Politics & Prose to hear David Cay Johnston, author of It’s Even Worse Than You Think: What the Trump Administration Is Doing to America. To my surprise he repeatedly said negative things about Russia, and in the Q&A session I politely asked him about this. He did not take kindly to that and after a very brief exchange cut me off by asking for the next person in line to ask a question.

That was the end of our exchange. No one in the large audience came to my defense or followed up with a question in the same vein; i.e., the author as cold warrior. The only person who spoke to me afterwards had only this to say as he passed me by: “Putin kills people”. Putin had not been mentioned. I should have asked him: “Which government never kills anyone?”

Politics & Prose is a very liberal bookstore. (Amongst many authors of the left, I’ve spoken there twice.) Its patrons are largely liberal. But liberals these days are largely cold warriors it appears. Even though the great majority of them can’t stand Trump they have swallowed the anti-Russia line of his administration and the media, perhaps because of the belief that “Russian meddling” in the election led to dear Hillary’s defeat, the proof of which sees more non-existent with each passing day.

Sam Smith (who puts out the Progressive Review in Maine) has written about Hillary’s husband:

A major decline of progressive America occurred during the Clinton years as many liberals and their organizations accepted the presence of a Democratic president as an adequate substitute for the things liberals once believed in. Liberalism and a social democratic spirit painfully grown over the previous 60 years withered during the Clinton administration.

And shortly afterward came Barack Obama, not only a Democrat but an African-American, the perfect setup for a lot more withering, health care being a good example. The single-payer movement was regularly gaining momentum when Obama took office; it seemed like America was finally going to join the modern advanced world. But Mr. O put a definitive end to that. Profit – even of the type Mr. Trump idealizes – would still determine who is to live and who is to die, just like Jews intone during Rosh Hashanah.

Poor America. It can travel to other planets, create a military force powerful enough to conquer the world ten times over, invent the Internet and a thousand other things … but it can’t provide medical care for all its people.

Now, three of the richest men in the world, the heads of Amazon, Berkshire Hathaway, and JP Morgan Chase, which collectively employ more than a million people, have announced they are partnering to create an independent company aimed at reining in ever-increasing health-care costs for companies and employees alike. The three men will pursue this objective through a company whose initial focus will be on technology solutions that will provide US employees and their families with simplified, high-quality and transparent healthcare at a reasonable cost. Almost no details were made available on how they plan to do this, but I predict that whatever they do will fail. They have lots of models to emulate – in Canada, Europe, Cuba and elsewhere – but to an American nostril these examples all suffer from the same unpleasant odor, the smell of socialism.

I say this even though their announcement states that the new company will be “free from profit-making incentives and constraints”.7 And Warren Buffet, head of Berkshire Hathaway, is cited on CNN as follows: “Warren Buffett says America is ready for single-payer health care. The billionaire investor tells PBS NewsHour that government-run health insurance ‘probably is the best system’ because it would control escalating costs. ‘We are such a rich country. In a sense, we can afford to do it.’”8

Of course, the US could have afforded to do it 50 years ago. I really hope that my cynicism is misplaced.

The Trump Bubble (Written before the market crashed)

Repeatedly, President Trump and his supporters have bragged about the “booming” stock market, attributing it to the administration’s marvelous economic policies and the great public confidence in those policies. Like much of what comes out of the Donald’s mouth … this is simply nonsense.

The stock market is, and always has been, just a gambling casino, a glorified Las Vegas. Every day a bunch of people, (gamblers) buy and/or sell one stock or another; sometimes they sell the same stock they bought the day before; or the hour before; or the minute before; the next day they may well do the exact reverse. All depending on the latest news headline, or what a corporation has done to elicit attention, or what a friend just told them, or a fortune teller, or that day’s horoscope, or just a good ol’ hunch. Or they make up a reason; anything to avoid thinking that they’re just pulling the lever of a slot machine.

And many people buy certain stocks because other people are buying it. This is what stock market analysts call a speculative bubble. Prick the confidence and the bubble bursts. “The stock market,” Naomi Klein has observed, “has the temperament of an overindulged 2-year-old, who can throw one of its world-shaking tantrums.”

Walter Winchell, the 1960-70s powerful and widely-syndicated gossip columnist of the New York Daily News, famously wrote that he lost his faith in the stock market when he saw that a stock could jump sharply in price simply because he happened to mention something related to the company in his column.

And all this occurs even when the stock market is operating in the supposedly honest way it was designed to operate. What are we to make of it when sophisticated investors devise a computer scam for instantaneous buying and selling, as has happened several times in recent years?

Yet President Trump and his fans would have us believe that the big jump in stock prices of the past year is testimony to his sterling leadership and oh-so-wise policies. What will they say when the market crashes? As Trump himself will crash.

Driverless police cars

Yes, that’s what they’re thinking of next. Among other things these cars will be able to catch speeders and issue tickets. But here’s the real test of the system’s Artificial Intelligence – can the police car be taught how to recognize a young black man, drive to within a few feet of him, and fire a gun at his head?

  1. Philip Agee, Inside the Company: CIA Diary, published in 1974.
  2. Washington Post, January 19, 20, 23, 25, 2018.
  3. Breitbart News radio program, January 12, 2018.
  4. Wikipedia entry for Eric Prince
  5. William Blum, Killing Hope, Chapters 22 and 55; Rogue State, pp. 202-3, 219-20.
  6. Killing Hope, Chapter 54.
  7. Business Wire, January 30, 2018.
  8. CNNMoney, June 28, 2017.

They Keep Saying: “Hope is the Only Thing Left”

But no matter what environmentalists do, our best efforts are insufficient. We’re losing badly, on every front. Those in power are hell-bent on destroying the planet, and most people don’t care. Frankly, I don’t have much hope. But I think that’s a good thing. Hope is what keeps us chained to the system, the conglomerate of people and ideas and ideals that is causing the destruction of the Earth.

To start, there is the false hope that suddenly somehow the system may inexplicably change. Or technology will save us. Or the Great Mother. Or beings from Alpha Centauri. Or Jesus Christ. Or Santa Claus. All of these false hopes lead to inaction, or at least to ineffectiveness. One reason my mother stayed with my abusive father was that there were no battered women’s shelters in the ’50s and ’60s, but another was her false hope that he would change. False hopes bind us to unlivable situations, and blind us to real possibilities.

— Derrick Jensen, essay, “Beyond Hope

Life Measured in Gold

What is a life worth in this poisoned pen world of American deception? I have been scouring the depths of this culture for decades, 4.5 to be exact, looking for signs of hope, dredging the bowels of a country that has never been what so many today believe it was/is/will be. Ever.

I also balked for 4.5 decades at the silliness of Americans who hands down (70 percent) give the US Military Killing Machine the highest marks of all humanity coming out of the intestines of this genocidal country. These high school football games now have flyovers from attack jets and commandos from helicopters. Big fat tears for the mercenaries, and oh how this is normalized behavior.

Pretty soon, the camo and drones will be at your favorite daycare center recruiting.

Get this shit about America, ending this 2017, with Trump and friends as the new Kamikazes (all politicians and corporations love what Trump is and how he got there) pushing the national agenda for the more than just simple daft American consumer – offended by kneeling . . . getting a refund:

And if legislation from Indiana State Representative Milo Smith passes, the Colts would be required to offer those fans who feel disrespected refunds if Colts players kneel during the national anthem of home games, according to the Indianapolis Star.

“To me when they take a knee during the national anthem, it’s not respecting the national anthem or our country,” Smith said. “Our government isn’t perfect, but it’s still the best country in the world and I think we need to be respectful of it.”

You have to wonder if the refund includes all taxes paid since this country is run by economic hit men, buggering the people believing in government of, for, by, with the people, so called representational democracy? How many cents on the dollar go to US Military Inc. and the Little Eichmann’s running the complex that is guns-punishment-armaments-high tech tools of enslavement? Is it fifty-five out of every buck? Sixty cents? Do the extractive thugs with their massive externalities paid for by you and me and the rest of the world, is that tax refundable? Up to what, 70 cents of every dollar paid to Uncle Sam’s Killing Machine?

How many of those dollars will get refunded? All those offshore untaxable accounts? We getting refunds on that big fat kneeling of the millionaires/billionaires? Think I can cash it all in because I am offended by the high crimes insulter that is the Mafia Donald Trump for putting his knee into our proverbial groin and up against our children’s children’s proverbial necks?

I am reminded of other people’s writing looking at the blasphemy of a happy new year, let’s hope 2018 is better:

Those in power love it when we hold on to our fake optimism year after year, instead of revolting against these worn out celebrations. They love it when they see millions of mindless consumers storming stores to buy and consume more shiny and glittering gifts, as if they are genuine signs of loving and caring for each other. They love it when we keep quiet and do business as usual while “hoping for a better new year.”

An Angel in Every Household

This Wish for an Angel bullshit is America, all cuddly with Disneyland pudge, all teary-eyed flatulence when the old millionaire hands out Big Macs to the swollen masses who are homeless and dying.

In any case, there are a few bright spots for me coming into this next stage of the electrical storm, 2018 Surveillance-Punishment-Alternative Reality US/White race (sic): a teller (soon to be extinct professional) at my local bank gets it about Facebook and Zio-Zuckerberg selling us all out; and she cancelled her Page, and she understands the surveillance society she is now in, as a 28-something Latina in White-White Portland. She has plans to circumvent the reality of the controllers to her own reality.

Then there’s my buddy who is 64, Jim, and who’s worldly, playing Texas Hold ‘em in several small towns along the Columbia River and making money under the table while collecting social security checks and talking about the history of Switzerland, he’s really happy that his taxes in Washington (where he has 75 acres and a home next to my 20 raw acres) are doing what they should: providing roads, public services, fire control, all the necessary bureaucracy to keep people going and to deliver vital services.

The bright hope is that many significant people in my life knowing they are not living/working/existing in their own house, as my African-American friends say every time we face the hell of incorrigible bosses who berate and pencil-push us into corners at whichever job we find ourselves in. There are people running staffing agencies in my life who try and try to make the lives of their temps more tolerable, and try to hike up hourly wages and act as go-betweens between the employee (temporary) and the outfit bosses, typically as ugly as a Jeff Bezos fulfillment (sic) center, also known as a dead-end hell hole (for the lack of livable wages and the redneck drill sergeant supervision).

Uber fascist, Jeff, forcing journalists to not be, err, real journalists —

Jeff Bezos, owner of The Washington Post, has instituted a new policy with regard to employees’ social media behavior… a new social-media policy at the Washington Post prohibits conduct on social media that “adversely affects Post’s customers, advertisers, subscribers, vendors, suppliers or partners.”

In such cases, Post management reserves the right to take disciplinary action “up to and including termination of employment.”

His paper’s new social-media policy specifically lists the following among the types of communications which are now prohibited:

Disparaging the products and services of The Post’s advertisers, subscribers, competitors, business partners or vendors.

Ahh, this perniciousness will engulf all corporations’ policies. Imagine, a journalist who can’t “disparage” things, people, corporations, ideas, products, services. The Age of Bizarre turn into the Age of Dumb and Dumber. The devil’s in the details, and I predict in 2018 Mr. Bezos will be positioning himself to run for POTUS soon — more devils in the White House:

See the source image

See the source image

Will Anyone Really Care in a Hundred Years if There is No Amazon (forest)?

I am attempting to be cogent here coming into 2018, trying to make the deadline for this DV end-of-the-year piece so its fine editor (here, Dissident Voice, going on 17 years or more as a radical news source) can scramble and get pieces ready for that artificial tick of the clockwork. My lamentation is that as each day in 2018 unfolds, the powers will make it more difficult to even launch anything small and terse and dissident like this blog. Imagine doing all this work for free, and the question is when the lights go out because of Verizon and ATT and Comcast, all these great pieces and ideas, more than a decades’ worth, thousands, whoosh, vanished into the digital thin air.

Which brings me to my hook here, one that I will be returning to in other pieces coming up in the year of the dog. I am taking issue with this laborious and loud lament usually stated by non-working class elites, or quasi-elites –

“Well, in a hundred years, what will our great-great grandchildren think how we left the world? In a hundred years, the people will be asking, ‘What the hell was that generation thinking doing/allowing/creating/destroying/ promoting/justifying . . . THAT?”

The “that,” conveniently, is a fill-in-the-blank answer, but the reality is there is no hundred years from now species of man/woman/child/they/it, or archetype of an American who would even have the context or knowledge to ask anything of the sort. The fact is we are on a pathway to completely damaged people, a neo-species of sick, psychologically dented, ethically demented, drawn and quartered spirits, people, youth and old, tied to the giant 24/7 15-minutes of attention on a million stories cycled into the next and the next 15 minutes. Trivial and shallowness, recycled, meaningless, cult of the famous-infamous, proud to know the football scores and the murderers and NYSE’s predictions for another year of gluttony.

People also held by gut diseases, by vaccine injuries, by persistent organic chemicals eating at their mitochondria, their DNA, or the off-gassing grossness in every corner of their lives, cesspools called ponds, eddies of slurry called rivers, black lagoons and gyrating garbage patches as beaches, clear-cut forests, oh, so inundated cities, half water logged.

Do we think in a hundred years there will be memory, human memory, as the kingpins of punishment and debt collude to turn everyone as obsolete. The horror, the horror, Kurtz might say in the Heart of Darkness, not about the white princes of the British Isle, but pointed at the masters of the economics of this universe, those three men owning the wealth of a 150 million, and those thirty titans of obsolescence and greed and exploitation toppling wealth of nations, more in those 30 men’s wallets than 3.5 billion of us collectively.

There will be no teenager in 2080 asking, “Man, what were you thinking killing the great barrier reef?” No millennial in 2100 admonishing, “How could they have allowed every single waking and sleeping and breathing moment be to surveilled by Big Brother Corporation-Government?”

No activists in 2100 running around the country with their big banner drops off the top of buildings stating, “Our grandparents are responsible for the oceans rising, the end of civilization, and my chronic and genetic illness!”

There Will Be Blood and We Do Need those Stinkin’ Badges

This is the same soft-shoe soft-headed thinking that runs Hollywood and Madison Avenue, that ensconces in the hallways of schools and colleges. There is no future world of dystopia and endless rot where a new generation a century from now, or even a few radicals or dissidents, will be admonishing past generations.

What they will have will be how they think. Acceptance is the gulag, now or in a century. Acceptance now is 11 million babies dying a year of treatable diseases. The accepting masses young and old today are here watching mountains explode and insects going extinct and oceans emptying out and accepting the infinite death ray of flat screens and Netflix-HBO-Amazon-20th Century Fox. Entertaining ourselves now into stupidity, and back to the superficiality that so many Americans have that causes them to think they are smart.

It ain’t gonna happen, generations in the future catching on, lamenting, knowing, and admonishing and understanding what each season brings in this madness of pre-post-retrofitting industrialization into the hyper madness of drones-artificial people/intelligence/ecologies/relationships/thinking.

Jeff Bezos and Musk and Google offspring and Zuckerberg zygotes will be the ruling classes of information flow, the arbiters of history found, kept and scrubbed. This is the time of the carnival, the sideshow, the blaring idiot Trump genuflecting to the waitresses and the go-go dancers while his effete sidekicks like Zio-Christian Pence take it all with the glee of televangelists hiding kiddie porn and their rhinestone g-strings.

The spectacle is our own downfall, the spiraling vortex of more and more aberrations turning into regular, every day, every minute events. The homeless wandering, bused from city to city; floating islands of crap, zfor the jobless to pick through; the obsolete, more and more people coughing up spare kidneys, letting the grand illusionists pull skin off of them for the $500 ready in hand entertainment, fun.

There are bigger and more horrific things than the barbarity of the Spanish Inquisition or the Crusades or the Nazi pogroms of experimentation with the mammals in their concentration camps. We are now in full-throttle Mengele mode, where each cell in us, the deplorables, the 90 percent, or 80, is bought and sold by the corporatists, the disrupting economists, the evil twins of racism and inequity. Segregation now is based on zip code, decay, urban rot, and the evils of war and profits so lovingly embraced by the elites here and the majority in a place like Israel are quickly transformed into the divide and conquer the rich are so deftly able to promulgate each week, each 24/7 million rip-off deals a day.

Mad-Mad-Mad World of Ad Men

Here, let me explain: It’s the power of marketing the lies of capitalism, of prompting the psychological warfare of USA exceptionalism, of inciting the us against them-isms of a modern age now, teaching the lesser of evils throughout a person’s lifetime that warps memory and erases not only history but humanity. And, unfortunately, what I call the shifting baseline syndrome allows what is happening now, today, to be normalized, and valorized.

Pissing in a cup during a job interview? Sheriff’s deputies protecting repo men and women? Banks getting away with foreclosing on not only homes, but lives? What baseline do I go by? In my time, the cops had no right to ask what was in my glove compartment or trunk on a traffic stop. In my day, people tried stopping someone jumping off a bridge instead of calling 911, after whipping out Smartphones videotaping it and then saying, ‘Jump . . . jump’ right before the selfie.

In my day and age, there was a modicum of interest in learning about ecosystems and how to protect wetlands, mangroves, grasslands, deltas, riparian areas, mountain tops.

In my day and age a healthy reef in the Sea of Cortes was dozens of moray eels and turtles and a hundred fish species by the thousands in one 50 minute dive (scuba) piloted by dolphins and sharks.

In my day, there were reliable journalists – mostly print, sometimes small-town journalists (I was one) – who could tell you about a topic like zoning for a new stadium on many levels, from many perspectives for hours on end!

I won’t even get into details around how pathetically ruined Homo Sapiens will be coming out of this America’s womb in fifty years – chronic illness is now hitting 50 percent of the population, but put that at 90 percent in 20 years, and half of the population will have several chronic illnesses. What’s it going to look like in 80 years?

Count that as auto-immune issues out the rooftop, attention deficit issues, constant brain fog and arterial clogging, aches and autism, abnormal blood draws and diabetes, General Anxiety Disorders and fear of thy neighbor, and a bloody mix of bacteria loads, gut ailments, paranoia, and fear of one’s own shadow. Day to day, the surveillance state ramps up, and the poverty level increases, the one-credit card voucher away from being homeless pervades, digital and computer fatigue sets in, automation and artificial intelligence overtake human relations, and the list goes on and on, so it is hilarious to think there is some Cormac McCarthy world of people wandering the earth looking for that one spit of land or some mossy forest where goblins and fairies will bring back the good old days, a time of human humanity!

The Truths Are in the Eyes of the Billionaires

You’ve got Trump saying, err, tweeting, “Bring on the Global Warming, man, with all this snow in Erie, Pennsylvania, ha-ha-ha,” and you have Purdue University president Mitch Daniels calling those of us who question glyphosate and Golden Rice as immoral:

The attack on GMO technology is the most blatant anti-science of the age. But it’s far worse than that. Lives are at stake, and while scientists, regulators, and business people are naturally reluctant to fight back, it’s morally irresponsible not to.

Daily, in 2018, the fight will be with those who have been brainwashed into thinking mandatory vaccines are legal and ethical, and that anti-GMO activists are loony, and that our food as produced by the chemical industry is more than safe.  Here, the power of those multi-billionaires and the chemical purveyors on planet earth will be tested:

Report on, the food-health nexus!

The World Bank and United Nations funded 900 scientists over three years in order to create an International Assessment of Agricultural Knowledge, Science and Technology for Development (IAASTD). Its conclusions were diametrically opposed, at both philosophical and practical levels, to those espoused by Bill Gates and clearly state that the use of GM crops is not a meaningful solution to the complex situation of world hunger.

Changing Seed and Plant Variety Protection Laws in
Tanzania—Implications for Farmer Managed Seed Systems and Smallholder Farmers

Monsanto Weed-killer Roundup Causes Cancer, California Says

European Union (EU) recently determined that it will renew glyphosate for another five years —a shorter renewal than it could have been, but not ideal when what we really wanted was a rejection of the license renewal altogether.For over two years, this vote was delayed as member states debated whether or not glyphosate is a carcinogen. The World  Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) designated glyphosate a probable carcinogen in March 2015, a decision that IARC has continued to defend despite attacks from industry interests on multiple fronts (including from members of the U.S. House of Representatives).

The grand illusion is each community, each unique people’s we might imagine in the future will be covered in more than a trail of tears to the tenth power. More than slaves to debt and confusion, and commerce will be exacting punishment for being a being. More pain than what befell the first nations people, all those abused scoundrels, the immigrants – European illegals coming into a land that was once a nation of people and tribes. This recessive gene pool gave birth to the abused and abuser on a very special scale. This grand deception called America Great Again is more than the PT Barnum scam of credit and debt, land theft, gilded syphilitic ones determining the number of bellies bloated and brains blown away.

The very premise of these 50 states and territories, this country shitting on Puerto Rico while oligarchs and kleptomaniacs stuff billions inside the cadavers of their enemies, isn’t even the real shame.

The reality is Americans are bamboozled into believing they are god’s second chosen people, that the entire mess of this hyper-military society is somehow legitimate, a god-send to the other continents.

I have faced down the scourge and scrooge that is capitalism, credentialism, credit scores, and what one has to demonstrates his or her credence in society – status, money, power and say, and voice. I have failed in 60 years, and turning 61 in the Year of the Dog just militates my points of abject failure of my own voice having any weight.

The reality of who is and who isn’t an outlier forever is determined by how much scratch one accumulates, and how much limelight is shined upon him or her and the weight of digital ink expended.

I have listened to people say my position of precarity is all tied to the gravity of the decisions I’ve made throughout my pittance of a life. Every single decision I have made have put me behind the proverbial eight ball – healthy, both of mind and body, but underemployed, under-developed, under-realized, and precarious: one broken leg from poverty, one motorcycle accident away from institutionalization, or one verbal altercation with a cop from being dead on arrival.

Big Sugar Daddy in the Sky

More and more people are looking at the big daddy in the sky excuse, as if the bad one faces, and the deadly unraveling of one’s life are predestined, ordained a billion big bangs ago, controlled by the drone operator in the sky, the boss, head honcho of heaven.

The talk of the world now is mishmash of billionaire and millionaire sputtering illusions and delusions of grandeur. We have the multi-millionaire Obama interviewed by the ultra multi-millionaire Prince Harry and the world goes a shudder:

Barack Obama Expertly Snubbed Trump in Prince Harry Interview: The prince also couldn’t resist asking the former president some rapid-fire questions about cigarettes, celebrities, sports, and Suits.

We can’t talk about social justice anymore, or talk about the social contract, or the deadly poisoned well that is capitalism. We can’t talk about what might be better, a whole set of better ways to be humane and human, or how socialism and anarchy and humanism and communitarianism and collectiveness might hold some key to sanity and salvation for ones worthy of saving in our hurtling 8 billion human inhumane world.

Worth, value, integrity, something deeper inside the soul than transactional thinking, or this comedy of errors we call American politics. The news is not fit to print, and the Hollywood and Madison Avenue worlds are not real, yet dominate the axiom of perception being THE reality, the show that counts.

Ode to Hope

Oceanic dawn
at the center
of my life,
waves like grapes,
the sky’s solitude,
you fill me
and flood
the complete sea,
the undiminished sky,
tempo
and space,
sea foam’s white
battalions,
the orange earth,
the sun’s
fiery waist
in agony,
so many
gifts and talents,
birds soaring into their dreams,
and the sea, the sea,
suspended
aroma,
chorus of rich, resonant salt,
and meanwhile,
we men,
touch the water,
struggling,
and hoping,
we touch the sea,
hoping.

And the waves tell the firm coast:
‘Everything will be fulfilled.’

— Pablo Neruda

Even Some Rich Know They Are Filthy Rich! 

Celebrity culture, and the cult of money. The destructive nature of capitalism married to Zionism and commerce and automation and digitization is hardly recognized in the very nature of a Jeff Bezos, working hand in hand with CIA, killing the book industry, this purveyor monopoly and headmaster of the watchtower shadowing individualism and uniqueness.

The spoils of the monsters of money will be a handsome extra $1 trillion for 2017. These Storm-troopers of Capital are so filthy and filthy rich that some of their tribe even plead for taxation, plead for the lot of them to give it away. Even in the world of superficiality, sports, the head honcho of one team is lambasting his filthy and illegal gains:

Spurs coach Gregg Popovich was asked why he thinks it’s important to give back to the community: “Because we’re rich as hell and we don’t need it all, and other people need it. Then, you’re an asshole- if you don’t give it. Pretty simple.”

It has nothing to do with the democrats losing the election. It’s got to do with the way one individual conducts himself. And that’s embarrassing, it’s dangerous to our institutions and what we all stand for and what we expect the country to be. But for this individual, he’s in a game show, and everything that happens begins and ends with him, not our people and our country. Every time he talks about those things, that’s just a ruse. That’s disingenuous, cynical and fake.

Or, how about:

Federal prosecutors have requested records related to a $285 million loan that Deutsche Bank gave Jared Kushner’s family real estate company one month before Election Day, the company confirmed this week.

The records were sought by prosecutors in Brooklyn and do not appear related to special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s investigation into Russia’s interference in the 2016 election.

A Kushner Cos. spokeswoman said that the firm is cooperating in the review of what it called a “routine” transaction.

Fourteen $ an Hour and the Trumps Laugh All the Way to Bedlam 

Here’s a job announcement, for Portland, Oregon, one I am qualified to perform beyond simple basic skills and experience. This is for $14 an hour!! This is what I have always pointed out in my articles that all big ideas and concepts can be tied to the microcosm — this job for hip, up and coming, California dreaming Portland, Oregon, with a housing crisis, homeless crisis and drug abuse crisis. Get it? A non-profit seeking someone with a master’s, helping disabled people get on their feet, the entire suite of services, and it’s FOURTEEN dollars an hour! In my day and age . . . .!!!

1) An understanding of workforce development programs, policies, and initiatives
2) An understanding of the process by which individuals:
a) define career goals,
b) prepare for, find and retain employment,
and c) build skills for career advancement
3) An understanding of labor market resources and how to access them
4) An understanding of the special employment needs of diverse groups and the ability to make appropriate adaptations to address these needs
5) An ability to both provide and facilitate good customer service
6) An ability to develop and track program outcomes and task analysis
7) An understanding of basic computer technology used in job development

Some Major Responsibilities Include:

• Work side-by-side with a newly placed customer at a job site
• Analyze the job, and break into manageable components
• Identify and solve problems before they become crises for the customer, employer or co-worker
• Teach effective job retaining skills
• Use the least intrusive methods possible on the job
• Gradually reduce the time spent at the job site as the customer becomes better adjusted and more independent • Work closely with local school district

Qualifications: • 1) EOP Training, and 2) APSE (or ARCE) Certification or DHS approved equivalent (can be completed within 6 months of hire)

• At least 1 year of experience working with individuals who experience disability
• At least 1 year of experience working or educated in a specific field that includes supervisory and/or training duties and/or marketing and/or sales
• First Aid certification
• Pass a criminal history background check
• Approved driving record
• Self-motivated, self-directed
• Proficient communication skills, written and oral (i.e., interpersonal skills)
• Ability to work in collaboration with TCP staff, local and state agencies, and businesses

Oh, so, let’s get back to that 100 years down the line, when most people will be unemployed, in clinics as harvest factories, or at-home care facilities, organs harvested, and each blink of the eye counted as a tax. How those Bezos sort of people love killing us with their disruptive technologies of obsolescence:

McKinsey counted more than 70 entire professions in which at least 90% of activities can be automated, ranging from mail clerks to ophthalmic lab technicians, tire-repairers, butchers, food preparers and bakers.

But many Americans don’t think they need to adapt, with 80% saying their job definitely or probably will exist in its current form in 50 years, according to the Pew Research Center.

“We often think about automation as applying to front-line, low-wage, low-skill activities and jobs — and what we’ve discovered is there are some activities that are high-wage, high-skill that are actually very susceptible to automation,” said Michael Chui, a McKinsey Global Institute partner in San Francisco who studies the issue. “Almost every job in the economy has a significant percentage of activities that can be automated.”

The professional service robot industry expects to sell a third more units from 2016 through 2019 — 333,200 in all — than it sold in the past 17 years, says the International Federation of Robotics. They could be used in place of professionals, whether it’s medicine, agriculture, hospitality or even the supermarket down the street.

Consider: —Restaurant workers. In fast-food, San Francisco-based Momentum Machines already makes a hamburger-flipping robot. Several chains are gradually introducing self-ordering stations.

Shelf stockers. In stores, San Francisco-based Bossa Nova Robotics has developed a robot that is checking shelf inventory in a test at Lowe’s, the home-improvement chain.

Journalists. Automated Insights has created a software suite called WordSmith that writes thousands of automated stories every month, including Minor League Baseball game accounts and earnings reports for the Associated Press, basketball game recaps for Yahoo! Sports and financial content for dozens of other clients.

Bookkeepers. Accountants — perceived as a steady 9-to-5 job with an average salary of $67,190 in 2015, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics — are poised for a total makeover. About one in five people in the finance and insurance sector primarily perform data processing — and about 85% of that work can be automated, McKinsey estimates

Love as Antidote?

Enough said about the coming year, the coming decade, this century. Automatons, and disease. Am I supposed to end the year, 2017, with hope, with something?

Try this out for size:

Do not be dismayed by the brokenness of the world.
All things break. And all things can be mended.
Not with time, as they say, but with intention.
So go. Love intentionally, extravagantly, unconditionally.
The broken world waits in darkness for the light that is you.

— L.R. Knost

Google’s New Search Engine Bias is No Accident

Alternet has gone public with concerns about the way Google and Facebook have limited traffic to its website and, more generally, undermined access to progressive and independent media.

Its traffic from web searches has dropped precipitously – by 40 per cent – since Google introduced new algorithms in the summer. Other big progressive sites have reported similar, or worse, falls. More anecdotally, and less significantly, I have noticed on both my own website and Facebook page a sharp drop in views and shares in recent weeks.

Alternet is appealing for financial help, justifiably afraid that the drop in traffic will impact its revenues and threaten its future.

Nonetheless, there is something deeply misguided, even dangerous, about its description of what is happening. Here is how its executive editor, Don Hazen, describes Alternet’s problems:

Little did we know that Google had decided, perhaps with bad advice or wrong-headed thinking, that media like AlterNet—dedicated to fighting white supremacy, misogyny, racism, Donald Trump, and fake news—would be clobbered by Google in its clumsy attempt to address hate speech and fake news. …

So the reality we face is that two companies, Google and Facebook—which are not media companies, do not have editors or fact-checkers, and do no investigative reporting—are deciding what people should read, based on a failure to understand how media and journalism function.

“Bad advice”, “wrong-headed”, “clumsy”, “failure to understand”. Alternet itself is the one that has misunderstood what is going on. There is nothing accidental or clumsy about what Google and Facebook are doing. In fact, what has happened was entirely predictable as soon as western political and media elites started raising their voices against “fake news”.

That was something I and others warned about at the time. Here is what I wrote on this blog late last year:

But the claim of “fake news” does usefully offer western security agencies, establishment politicians and the corporate media a powerful weapon to silence their critics. After all, these critics have no platform other than independent websites and social media. Shut down the sites and you shut up your opponents.

Google and Facebook have been coming under relentless and well-documented pressure from traditional media corporations and the political establishment to curb access to independent news and analysis sites, especially those offering highly critical perspectives on the policies and behaviour of western corporations and state bureaucracies. These moves are intimately tied to ongoing efforts to spread the dishonest claim that progressive sites are working in the service of Russia’s Vladimir Putin in his alleged attempts to subvert western democracies.

Shadowy groups like PropOrNot have been springing up to make such wildly unsubstantiated claims, which have then been taken up as authoritative by traditional corporate media like the Washington Post. It is noticeable that the list of sites suffering sudden downturns in traffic closely correlates with the progressive websites defamed as Putin propaganda outfits by PropOrNot.

The pressure on Google and Facebook is not going to ease. And the two new-media giants are not likely to put up any more resistance than is absolutely necessary to suggest they are still committed to some abstract notion of free speech. Given that their algorithms and distribution systems are completely secret, they can say one thing in public and do something else entirely in private.

Other comments by Hazen further suggest that Alternet does not really understand the new environment it finds itself in. He writes:

Ben Gomes, the company’s vice president for engineering, stated in April that Google’s update of its search engine would block access to ‘offensive’ sites, while working to surface more ‘authoritative content’. This seemed like a good idea. Fighting fake news, which Trump often uses to advance his interests and rally his supporters, is an important goal that AlterNet shares.

Fake news can be found across much of the media spectrum: in the New York Times, CNN, BBC, Guardian, as well in Donald Trump’s tweets. It has existed for as long as powerful interests have dominated the media and its news agenda – which is since the invention of print. Fake news cannot be defeated by giving greater powers to huge media conglomerations to decide what people should hear. It is defeated by true media pluralism – something we have barely experienced even now, in this brief heady period of relative online freedom.

Alternet is treating Google and Facebook, and the powerful corporate interests behind them, as though they can be tamed and made to see sense, and persuaded that they should support progressive media. That is not going to happen.

Like the media barons of old, who alone could afford the economies of scale necessary to distribute newspapers through delivery trucks and corner shops, Google and Facebook are the monopolistic distribution platforms for new and social media. They have enormous power to decide what you will see and read, and they will use that power in their interests – not yours.

They will continue to refine and tighten their restrictions so that access to dissident media becomes harder and harder. It will happen so subtly and incrementally that there is a real danger few will notice how they have been gradually herded back into the arms of the media corporations.

Intergenerational Socialist Solidarity: Face-to-Face vs. Facebook

Orientation

What does it mean to be a political agitator in the 21st century? Until about a year ago, political agitation for me was inseparable from face-to-face interaction in one-on-one group settings or in making or listening to a public speech. This was the foundation for building and sustaining political solidarity. But is there a place for agitation on Facebook? After all, in political Facebook groups there is discussion about what is going on in the political economy but how much do these discussions contribute, if anything, to building socialism. Is it “just talk” which doesn’t lead anywhere, or does Facebook discussion move people to then take action in face-to-face settings? Is participating in Facebook political discussions an incipient form for political activity or is it a distraction from it? While face-to-face agitation is clearly superior in terms of getting anyone to commit to anything, face-to-face is limited in its reach. The Facebook group Jill Stein Dank Meme has about 50,000 members. The reach of Facebook is overwhelmingly superior to face-to-face.

My other question has to do with whether intergenerational solidarity can be built better through face-to-face encounters or on Facebook. In face-to-face interaction, status indicators of class, race, gender and age are present. You can find out where the person lives, what kind of work they do, and who their friends are. Knowing these things both can provide the deepening of political relationships as well as boxing them in. But on Facebook this kind of information can be somewhat suppressed. In terms of building political relationships does relative anonymity work for or against building an intergenerational political community? I do not have answers to these questions, but I do want to share my experiences in with both settings and then draw some tentative conclusions.

In the first section I want to show the power of face-to-face intergenerational influence by telling a story of the impact of three encounters I had with the anarchist Murray Bookchin in the early 1970’s. In the last section I will discuss my own fledgling influence over young socialists on Facebook over the past few months. In order to show the power of face-to-face interaction, I need to talk about the class and political implications of my first 22 years before meeting Murray as a testament of how powerful face-to-face can be.

From grease ball to proto-hippie

I am no red diaper baby. I was born to a conservative Italian Catholic family in 1948 in Brooklyn. My mother’s father was a shoemaker in a tiny store on Bushwick Avenue. He had no employees. My father’s side of the family was very poor (“on the dole”, as they used to say). His own father deserted them and his single mother, along with six other siblings, raised him. My father’s side of the family resembled some of the old James Cagney movies: his brothers were all petty criminals — numbers runners, betting on the horses, loan sharks – and the women joined the convent to pray for the men. My father had drawing talent, which he cultivated despite his family making fun of him. When he was 17 he took his pen-and-ink sketches into Manhattan and some of the commercial artists took him under their wing. He was the only one on his side of the family to “make good”.

My parents understood that while economically they were middle class they really were not culturally middle class. They hoped to bridge the gap by sending me to Catholic schools—grammar school, high school and college. When we moved from Brooklyn to Jamaica, Queens they did not know which neighborhoods had Catholic schools that were middle class. The grammar school they sent me to, Saint Nicholas of Tolentine, was in a working class neighborhood. Most of the kids I went to school with were Irish or Italian and their parents were butchers, firemen or cops. Class conflicts arose between how my parents wanted to raise me against the expectations from these kids. I had the same situation when I played baseball in the sandlots. In both cases I got my first taste of what Erik Olin Wright called “contradictory class locations.” In both cases working class kids won. You either learned to fight or you were ostracized, shunned or tormented as only children can do. Like most people of my generation, I can testify that Catholic grammar school was hell on Earth. Holy Cross High School wasn’t much better. For twelve years I received about 30 hours a week of authoritarian propaganda along with another two hours on the weekend. By my junior year the cracks were starting to show.

Thanks to “Murray the K” of WINS radio station, I got exposure to rhythm and blues music, which besides baseball, was an island of sanity. I used to go to the Brooklyn Fox Theater which was predominantly working class. Then I stumbled across three rhythm and blues stations—WWRL, WLIB in New York and WKJR, in Newark. I used to go by myself to the Apollo Theatre in Manhattan to catch some of the acts.

When my parents enrolled me in a Catholic community college it was the last straw. I dropped out of college, moved away from home and back to Brooklyn. I went to work in music stores in Manhattan, including the famous Colony Records, for a couple of years. By this time it was 1968, the Attica riots, the Anti-war and Civil Rights movements were coming to a head. Thanks to a few of the political “freaks” in the music store I finally made the transition from “Flatland” to “Spaceland”, as mathematician Edwin Abbot called it.

After about a year I applied to VISTA to avoid the draft for the Vietnam War. Then I received a letter from VISTA inviting me to their training program in Atlanta. I “decided” to go (as much as a 20 year old “decides” anything). I lasted a week. There was one of the VISTA orientation leaders who I really liked. On about the fifth day of training, our group was on a bus with him heading for some workshop. I cornered him on the bus and asked him some very pointed questions. He admitted to me he was a Communist and this was all reformist crap. That was all the reassurance I needed.

By force of circumstances that would require more space than I have, I spent the next two years hitchhiking around the country with a six-month stint in Denver Colorado. Once I began hitchhiking, I started to develop an interest in reading. I didn’t have a mentor to teach me the order in which to read things. So when I settled in Denver, I developed my own six month reading program in which I read about 6-8 hours a day five days a week, in addition to holding down a part-time job as a library page in the Denver Public Library. I read about the history of socialism, the elite theory of Mosca and Pareto, McNeill’s Rise of the West, Mumford and Wilhelm Reich – who was white-hot at the time.

Despite being enthralled with my new self-education, I was lonely. I attended some of the demonstrations in the city, but they all were about single issues. I wanted to find a socialist group which could frame these issues, but I didn’t know where to look. All the books I read were about anarchism as a historical movement. Woodcock’s history of anarchism claimed that anarchism had its day. I didn’t quite believe that. Weren’t there contemporary anarchists?

I made friends with people who had a radical bookstore in Denver. There was some anarchist literature in the bookstore, but it seemed like there was a current anarchist organization that was writing about contemporary issues. One guy, Tuggie, was very friendly to me. He told me about their collective, but I really did not know what the next step was. I felt that there was some secret code I had to decipher to “join the movement”, but I couldn’t figure out what it was. I was too embarrassed to ask.

In any event, Tuggie showed me a book called Post-Scarcity Anarchism by Murray Bookchin. I tore through that book in three days. “This guy must be alive!” I thought. No more dead anarchists for me! I found out Murray lived in New York. I packed my stuff and moved back to New York and stayed with my parents till I could find a place to live.

First Encounter with Murray

Some time in January of 1972, feeling very lonely, I decided to see if I could find Murray in the phone book. Part of me thought “If you were a famous anarchist, would you have your phone number in a phone book?” Hell no! But desperately I poured through the Manhattan phone book anyway. I couldn’t believe it! There was his name in the book. What the fuck! Now for the real test. Do I have the nerve to call him up? There was something about the way Murray wrote that book that made him seem approachable. After about an hour of pacing around in the kitchen, I picked up the phone and called. Of course, I hoped no one would answer to let me off the hook. But someone did answer. It was some kid about my age. “Can I speak with Murray?” I said, my heart racing. The kid said “sure”. After a few seconds of talking behind the scene, Murray came on the phone. “Murray, you don’t know me,” I blurt out, “but I read your Post Scarcity Anarchism book and I want to be part of this. I’m pretty isolated now. Can you give me some direction?” He asked me if I wanted to come over. What the fuck! “Yeah! Where are you?” He gave me his address. It was something like 2nd Avenue and East 6th street. I told him I lived in Jamaica, Queens and I would be there in about 45 minutes. I left the house and probably ran the entire five long blocks to reach the subway.

I reached his address. It was kind of a beat-up apartment building, but nothing was going to stop me. A young kid answered the door. I think his name was Joel Whitehouse. Very friendly, he said “are you Bruce?” I nod nervously. He directs me to the kitchen where Murray must have been holding court. There must have been about three kids my age. Murray asked me some questions about myself. I was able to convey to everyone that I was serious about anarchism, that I had some experiences that qualified me, including some LSD trips which I’m sure met with approval from the other kids, if not Murray. The whole time I was there all of them made me feel that I was welcome and that I was part of something larger. Most of the time was spent with them telling me places I could go to get plugged in. That was the best 90 minutes of therapy I ever had! I don’t remember if I hugged Murray or not. Being Italian it wasn’t far-fetched, but I think I was too much in awe of him to do that.

Romance among the anarchists

Within the next day or so I started to volunteer at the War Resisters’ League. I did phone calling, leafleting and general office work. People were very nice to me but I could see that there were tensions between some of the volunteers. What came as a shock to me (and which I’ve never gotten over) was how miserable leftists treat each other over the slightest theoretical differences. I thought leftists would embody the new world we wanted to create in how they lived and treated each other. I guess I was too much of a psychologist or process junkie to understand that a lot people join the movement for reasons other than to just build socialism, as Eric Hoffer argued.

At one of the War Resisters League meetings I noticed a woman named Susan. I first worked with her one-on-one as a volunteer. She was very kind in explaining to me how things worked. Now at the meeting I saw her power to articulate things at a higher level in a group meeting. I become even more attracted to her. We continued to build a relationship. Finally after a couple of months, I asked her if she had a boyfriend. “Yes”. I was disappointed, but not surprised. Then she said “are you asking me out?” “Well I was going to” I said, “but you are taken”. “My boyfriend and I do not have a monogamous agreement”, she responded. This confuses me. “You mean you want to go out with me even though you have a boyfriend?” “Yes”, she replied.

Now I am really turned on and petrified all at the same time. We fooled around. A week or two later she told me her boyfriend, Jack, who lives in the West Village, is looking for a roommate. “Would you be interested?” she asks me. Whaaaatttttt?? “Yeah,” she said, “I told him about you and he’d like to meet you.” So this is what Emma Goldman went through, I thought to myself. “OK, I’ll meet him”. I meet Jack and like him very much. Nothing between Susan and me is mentioned. I say I need to think about being his roommate. I have to figure out whether I want to go on as a threesome and jeopardize my potential living situation with Jack or do I want to be safe, stop seeing Susan and just work on building a stable home-life with Jack. In one of the few sane decisions of my 20’s, I decided on the second course. Susan seemed to take everything in stride when I explained that I am in over my head. I continued to volunteer with War Resisters League, go to demonstrations with Jack and Susan and others and work for United Parcel Service at night unloading trucks.

Second Encounter with Murray

At UPS I worked a graveyard shift: 11 at night till 3 in the morning. I took the train home from the Long Island City plant back to the village, got to sleep about 4:30 AM and was up by about noon. One day in the late morning I was on 6th Avenue in the West Village around 8th Street where the great basketball games go on, and had just come out of a supermarket. I saw an older guy walking toward me. It looked like Murray. “Could it be? I haven’t seen him since I met him a couple of months ago at his place. It is him!”. I didn’t expect him to remember me because I figured I was just one of hundreds of lost hippies looking to him for direction. But I was also happy to see him because I was in a much better place psychologically, and wanted to show him I turned out okay and was no longer a basket case.

“Murray, remember me? You invited me to your house a couple of months ago?” He looked at me hard, and then said “yes” after pointing his finger at me a couple of times. “How are you doing now?” I rolled my eyes and said “I am in such a better place now. I volunteer at the War Resisters League and I live in the West Village with another anarchist roommate. I work at UPS at night unloading trucks.” After a pause, I looked him straight in the eye and said “you really helped me Murray”. “Well, good” he said. That was the last time I ever spoke with him directly. In retrospect, I wish I could have said “I’ll never forget you”, but I had no way of knowing it would be the last time.

Third Encounter with Murray –

One of the benefits of working with the War Resisters League was that I also found out about radical events around Manhattan. One event was a book club meeting, which I think was sponsored once a month on a Thursday night by the Libertarian League. I had never heard of this, but one of my comrades told me about it. When he told me Murray Bookchin was going to speak, I was ecstatic. Two weeks later I came upon this sturdy one or two story red brick building. I got there 30 minutes early to look around. There were these wonderful old people, but they were not like the old people I was used to: cranky, complaining about their children. These people were warm, offering me cookies. They were like my Italian grandparents, but they were radicals. Around me I could hear others arguing about the Spanish and Russian Revolutions. I remember someone telling someone else he knew Lenin was full of it even before the Bolsheviks took power. However, I began to feel uncomfortable when the number of old people in the room kept growing. I began to feel out of place. Then Murray came in and immediately started talking with the old-timers. Slowly, close to 7:00 some people my age began to drift in. Murray ambled to the lectern at about ten minutes after seven and began speaking. Within about 10 minutes the place was packed. People were standing around the perimeters. There were now many people my age, naturally late.

I was riveted by what Murray had to say, but I was also able to take a step back and notice what was before me. This was a truly intergenerational event that I had never seen before. Well, of course, I did: when I was in church as a child with my parents. But this was no church like I had ever seen! It was better than any church. My eyes moved around the room. I saw old people listening, young people listening and the room was electric.

Imagine this intergenerational gathering as a gathering of trees. On the periphery were the old grandfather trees on their way out, yet soaking it all in, many, perhaps, feeling more confident that with Murray at the helm, the next generation couldn’t go too far off. At the core were us seedling trees, green and immature. At the center, at the heart, stood Murray Bookchin, spanning the generations, in his prime. That is one of my fondest radical moments ever.

Many people may disagree with all of Murray’s politics or some of it, as I do now. But few would deny that despite being 50 years old he had a way with people in their twenties, at the very time when Jerry Rubin or Abbie Hoffman were saying to never trust anyone over 30. When I tell my story about my encounters with Murray to older anarchists they shake their heads and say that was typical of him. It was all in the setting of political organizing. He did not get this following because these people were his students. He was drawing people to him for 10 years before he was eventually given a professorship. Murray knew how to build intergenerational solidarity like no one I had ever seen.

I’ve been a college teacher for 27 years and I certainly have influenced students. I have learned to get along with people 40 years younger than I am, but this is not political organizing. Most of my students have to take my classes for reasons that have nothing to do with my political views or me. Murray drew people to him without having anything to hold over them like a grade.

From Face-to-Face to Facebook

At this time last year I had no Facebook page and was completely cynical about the whole operation. But last spring my partner and I hired a social media movement consultant, Susan, to help us with our political website, and she insisted we have a Facebook Page. Since my partner manages our website and already had her own Facebook account, I figured I’d leave it to her. It was only a casual comment by Susan that helped me change my mind about Facebook. She talked about people who went on Hillary’s page in order to “start up trouble”. Since she was no doubt a supporter of Clinton, I had to be delicate. I asked about what you had to do to make comments. When I found out how easy it was, my mind began racing. At the time I was very excited about the followers of Bernie Sanders as possible converts to socialism, but wasn’t sure how to reach them. Then I thought about Facebook. I searched for the most left-wing group of the Democratic Party, which seemed to be “Bernie or Bust” Facebook group. Posting on my partner’s Facebook account, I then began agitating for the Sandernistas to get out of the Democratic Party. As my posts were controversial and constantly generated responses, my partner began to insist that I get my own account. After a couple of weeks of arguments, I agreed. I lasted on Bernie or Bust until primary night when I was kicked off. I did this for two months until the primary was over. Then I switched to the Jill Stein Dank Meme group and tried to move people to make a more explicit commitment to socialism. Before any of you think I have become obsessed with Facebook and spend all my time there, I actually treat it as a job. I spend an hour every morning on it. This is part of my political commitment to agitate every day.

Is Intergenerational Solidarity Possible on Facebook? Is it Desirable?

I am very fussy about who my Facebook friends are. I examine their posts, look at their profile, and peruse the groups they belong to before deciding to accept their friend requests. As I said earlier, the status markers like class, race, gender, age, occupation and where they live are less easy to determine. What is even more interesting is that I don’t seem to care, since no one asks me about the kind of work I do or where I live, maybe it doesn’t matter to them much either. Still, one thing does stand out. Most of the “friend requests” I receive include their tiny profile pictures. They are not large enough to see clearly unless I go to their page. But when I look at their pictures occasionally I am astounded by how young they seem. Some of my Facebook friends look like they are still in high school, and I’d say most are in their twenties. I am old enough to be their grandfather, yet here we are pecking away. There is a group called “Baby Communist Support Group” which specifically helps young comrades to get their bearings. I have sometimes used my training as a psychologist to help people in this group with depression and anxiety in the similar ways that Murray helped me in my first encounter with him. What’s cool is that they don’t ask me for my credentials, nor do I volunteer them.

Is there such a thing as electronic intergenerational solidarity? The cynic in me says no. You have built nothing with these people. They know nothing about you and there is no continuity developing. It is true that when I have tried on occasion to take the next step: to send an email or have a phone conversation, it has not worked very well. Other than my partner – and 4 or 5 other friends that I know personally as well as through Facebook, I have not yet met a single one of my Facebook friends. If I never actually meet any of my Facebook friends, is that a sign the whole project is a failure? If we never talk on the phone or exchange emails, does this mean I am deluding myself? Most of all, if the fruit of all these electronic interactions does not result in the formation of joint political in-person actions, like founding a party and engaging in a strike does that mean I am not doing any “real agitation”?

Granted Murray Bookchin influenced many people, not just because of building face-to-face political relationships, but because he wrote books, made public speeches and attended conferences. Still he could not reach potentially thousands of people every day. I am no Murray Bookchin, but I have thousands of young people I can influence every day by investing at least an hour or longer if I choose. Am I co-creating intergenerational solidarity? Am I wasting my time? My conclusion is that Facebook is good for spreading seeds far and wide and talking people through the clarification and support stages of being political radicals. Face-to-Face work is for nailing down the time, place and circumstances and for building a political practice. However, all the political practice that develops can in turn return to Facebook for consolidating and spreading more seeds.

Since my story is experiential and I claim no expertise, I welcome your feedback either in direct emails or by sending me articles pertaining to the subject.