Category Archives: Internet

Tribute to Robert Parry: Investigative Journalist and Patriot

Robert (Bob) Parry was born in 1949 and died suddenly from pancreatic cancer in January 2018. An enthusiastic tribute to him and his work was recently held in Berkeley California. A video of the event is online here.

Although Robert Parry never became personally famous, many readers will recall news stories he played a key role in bringing to public consciousness. He uncovered the “Iran-Contra scandal” where the US secretly sold weapons to Iran via Israel with profits supporting mercenary “Contras” attacking the Nicaraguan government. He uncovered Lt. Col. Oliver North secretly working at the Reagan White House to supervise support for the Contras. He exposed CIA collusion with criminals sending weapons to the Contras and receiving tons of cocaine on return flights from Colombia and Central America.

In 1988, Parry co-authored an article which documented CIA and State Department activities to misinform the public to promote the desired public policy.

Next, Parry worked with the television documentary “Frontline” to uncover the “October Surprise”. That story involved Ronald Reagan’s election team clandestinely negotiating to delay the release of American hostages held in Iran. These stories appeared in mainstream media but were ultimately swept under the carpet.

The CIA-Contra-Cocaine Connection

The story about CIA complicity with drug-dealers was especially explosive because of the impact of drugs in poor communities across the US. There was an epidemic of cheap crack cocaine flooding poor and especially African American communities.

Robert Parry originally reported the CIA-Contra-Cocaine story in the mid 1980’s. Ten years later, in 1996,  investigative journalist Gary Webb uncovered what happened after the cocaine arrived in the U.S.: crack cocaine had flooded poor and African American communities, especially in California. The negative consequences were huge. The San Jose Mercury News published Gary Webb’s investigation as an explosive front page 3-day series titled “Dark Alliance“.

The story was initially ignored by the foreign policy and media establishment. But after two months of rising attention and outrage, especially in the African American community, a counter-attack was launched in the New York Times, Washington Post and LA Times. The LA Times alone assigned 17 reporters to what one reporter dubbed the “Get Gary Webb team“. They picked apart the story, picked apart Gary Webb’s personal life and distorted what he wrote. The attack succeeded. The Mercury News editors published a partial “correction” which was taken to apply to the whole story. Gary Webb was demoted and then “let go”. His reputation was destroyed and he ultimately committed suicide. An 2014 movie titled “Kill the Messenger” made in consultation with Gary’s family and Bob Parry, depicts the events.

When the establishment media was going after Gary Webb, with the quiet encouragement of the CIA, many journalists were silent or joined the pack attack. Later, when an internal CIA investigation confirmed the veracity of Webb’s research and writing, they mostly ignored it. Robert Parry was one of the few national journalists to defend Gary Webb and his reporting from beginning to end.

At the Berkeley tribute, journalist Dennis Bernstein recalled being with Bob Parry and Gary Webb:

I remember the power that those guys had with audiences. It was easy to understand why people would be afraid of them. They were truth tellers.

The Birth of Consortiumnews

As other western journalists were being pressured into compliance or driven out of the profession, Robert Parry chose a different path. Together with his oldest son Sam Parry, he launched the first investigative magazine on the internet: Consortiumnews. In his last article Bob Parry explained:

The point of Consortiumnews, which I founded in 1995, was to use the new medium of the modern internet to allow the old principles of journalism to have a new home, i.e., a place to pursue important facts and giving everyone a fair shake.

For the past 23 years, Consortia has published consistently high quality research and analysis on international issues. To give just a few examples: In March 1999, Bob Parry surveyed the dangers of the Russian economic collapse cheered on by Western neoconservatives while Mark Ames exposed the reality of Russian economic gangsters. In February 2003, Consortia published the First Memorandum to the President by Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity (VIPS) after Colin Powell addressed the UN Security Council. VIPS presciently warned of “catastrophic” consequences if the US attacked Iraq.

In 2005, Bob Parry exposed the bias and deception behind the rush to blame the Syrian government after Lebanese leader Rafik Hariri was assassinated. In April 2011, as the US was pushing to overthrow Gadaffi in Libya, Parry drew parallels to the disastrous consequences of overthrowing the socialist leaning Afghan government three decades earlier.

Beginning in 2014, Bob Parry exposed the dubious accusations regarding the downing of Malaysian Airlines MH-17 in Ukraine. Over the past two years, Bob Parry wrote and edited dozens of articles exposing the bias and lack of evidence behind “Russiagate”. A few examples can be seen here.

Commitment to Facts and Objectivity

Sam and several other speakers at the Berkeley Tribute noted that Robert Parry was not ideological. He believed in following the leads and facts wherever they led.  The new editor of Consortia, Joe Lauria, said:

Bob was not a lefty radical… He was just reporting the facts and where they led. That turned out to be kind of a left wing position in the end because that’s what happens when you follow the facts wherever they go. But he didn’t start out from an ideological position or have a preconceived notion of what the story should be.

Bob Parry’s investigations in the 1980’s revealed the U.S. administration plans and propaganda aiming to “glue black hats” on the Nicaraguan government and “white hats” on the Contra opposition. Thus he was well prepared to critically examine the disinformation campaigns accompanying “regime change” campaigns over the past decades: from Yugoslavia to Iraq, Libya, Syria, Ukraine and others.

Under Bob Parry’s leadership, Consortia has exposed “fake news” at the highest levels. As journalist Norman Solomon said at the tribute:

It’s important to remember that the most dangerous fake news in the last few decades has come from the likes of the front page of the New York Times and Washington Post. There are a million dead Iraqis and many dead Americans to prove it.

Bob Parry wrote several books including Lost History: Contras, Cocaine, The Press and Project Truth (1999), Fooling America: How Washington Insiders Twist the Truth and Manufacture the Conventional Wisdom (1992), and America’s Stolen Narrative: From Washington and Madison to Nixon, Reagan and the Bushes to Barack Obama (2012).

Challenging the New McCarthyism

In his last article, published just two weeks before his death, Parry informed Consortia readers about his health issue. He speculated on possible contributing factors including “the unrelenting ugliness that has become Official Washington and national journalism.”

Parry described the decline in journalistic standards and objectivity:

This perversion of principles – twisting information to fit a desired conclusion – became the modus vivendi of American politics and journalism. And those of us who insisted on defending journalistic principles of skepticism and even-handedness were increasingly shunned by our colleagues, a hostility that first emerged on the Right and among neoconservatives but eventually sucked in the progressive world as well…. The demonization of Russian President Vladimir Putin and Russia is just the most dangerous feature of this propaganda process – and this is where the neocons and the liberal interventionists most significantly come together. The US media approach to Russia is now virtually 100 percent propaganda.

At the Berkeley event, writer Natylie Baldwin addressed this issue. In her presentation she said:

Robert Parry referred to the phenomena of careerism and group think. He argued that it was ruining journalism …When our most experienced academic expert on Russia, Stephen Cohen, can hardly get an interview on CNN and cannot get an op-ed published by the New York Times or the Washington Post, but a neo-con ideolog like Michael Weiss, who has no on the ground experience or educational credentials about Russia can be hired as a commentator by CNN on the subject, it’s dangerous. When someone like Rachel Maddow, who from her past investigative reporting knows better, has allowed herself to be used as a cartoonish purveyor of anti Russia propaganda, virtually ignoring coverage of more immediate issues facing average Americans and distracting them away from confronting the Democratic Party’s failures and dishonesty, it’s dangerous.

Natylie Baldwin elaborated on the current critical situation and need for honest and objective journalism, stating:

Our media, like our political system, is in crisis. Indeed, these two crises reinforce each other as both our media and our political system are corrupted by money and have been largely reduced to a cheap spectacle. According to polls, large majorities of millennials have contempt for these establishment institutions. They’re open to and looking for alternatives to these broken systems. This makes Robert Parry’s legacy and the space for genuine investigative journalism that he fostered at Consortia more important than ever.

Reflections on Bob Parry

Joe Lauria said:

Bob was a skeptic but not a cynic – there’s a big difference.

Sam Parry said:

Dad was a patriot. I think that he really loved America. He loved our ideals, he loved the people, he loved the idea of holding the institutions that govern us accountable. That was his passion. That was what he was all about and what really drove him and propelled him through his life.

Australian journalist John Pilger wrote about Robert Parry:

His founding of Consortia was a landmark. He was saying in effect, ‘We must not lie down in the face of media monoliths, the Murdochs, the liberal pretenders, censors and collaborators.’

Bob Parry exposed the double standards and bias of mainstream media but maintained connections there. At the east coast Celebration of the life of Robert Parry, former neighbor, family friend and executive editor of the NY Times, Jill Abramson, made the understated but accurate summary:

Bob Parry certainly did his part to challenge the established order.

Robert Parry’s website continues; his work and life continue to inspire.

The Next Step: The Campaign for Julian Assange

The modern detainee in a political sense has to be understood in the abstract.  Those who take to feats of hacking, publishing and articulating positions on the issue of institutional secrets have become something of a species, not as rare as they once were, but no less remarkable for that fact.  And what a hounded species at that.

Across the globe prisons are now peopled by traditional, and in some instances, unconventional journalists, who have found themselves in the possession of classified material.  In one specific instance, Julian Assange of WikiLeaks stands tall, albeit in limited space, within the Ecuadorean embassy in London.

Unlawful imprisonment and arbitrary detention are treated by black letter lawyers with a crystal clarity that would disturb novelists and lay people; lawyers, in turn, are sometimes disturbed by the inventive ways a novelist, or litterateur type, might interpret detention.  The case of Assange, shacked and hemmed in a small space at the mercy of his hosts who did grant him asylum, then citizenship, has never been an easy one to explain to either.  Ever murky, and ever nebulous, his background and circumstances inspires polarity rather than accord.

What matters on the record is that Assange has been deemed by the United Nations Working Group in Arbitrary Detention to be living under conditions that amount to arbitrary detention.  He is not, as the then foreign secretary of the UK, Philip Hammond claimed in 2016, “a fugitive from justice, voluntarily hiding in the Ecuadorean embassy.”  To claim such volition is tantamount to telling a person overlooking the precipice that he has a choice on whether to step out and encounter it.

The whole issue with his existence revolves, with no small amount of precariousness, on his political publishing activity.  He is no mere ordinary fugitive, but a muckracker extraordinaire who must tolerate the hospitality of another state even as he breathes air into a moribund fourth estate.  He is the helmsman of a publishing outfit that has blended the nature of journalism with the biting effect of politics, and duly condemned for doing so.

Given such behaviour, it was bound to irk those who have been good enough to accept his tenancy. The tenancy of the political asylum seeker is ever finite, vulnerable to mutability and abridgment.  Assange’s Ecuadorean hosts have made no secret that they would rather wish him to keep quiet in his not so gilded cage, restraining himself from what they consider undue meddling.  To do so entails targeting his lifeblood: communications through the Internet itself, and those treasured discussions he shares with visitors of various standings in the order of celebrity.

On March 27, his hosts decided to cut off internet access to the WikiLeaks publisher-in-chief. Jamming devices were also put in place in case Assange got any other ideas.  Till that point, Assange had been busy defending Catalan separatist politician Carles Puigdemont against Germany’s detention of him, in the process decrying the European Arrest Warrant, while also questioning the decisions made by several European states to expel Russian diplomats in the wake of the poisoning of double agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter.  It was just that sort of business that irked the new guard in Ecuador, keen on reining in such enthusiastic interventions.

What seems to be at play here is a breaking of spirit, a battle of attrition that may well push Assange into the arms of the British authorities who insist that he will be prosecuted for violating his bail conditions the moment he steps out of the embassy.  This, notwithstanding that the original violation touched upon extradition matters to Sweden that have run their course.

Former Ecuadorean President Rafael Correa had denounced his country’s recent treatment of Assange.  In May, Correa told The Intercept how preventing Assange from receiving visitors at the embassy constituted a form of torture. Ecuador was no longer maintaining “normal sovereign relations with the American government – just submission.”

Times, and the fashion, has certainly changed at the London embassy.  Current President Lenín Moreno announced in May that his country had “recently signed an agreement focused on security cooperation [with the US] which implies sharing information, intelligence topics and experiences in the fight against illegal drug trafficking and fighting transnational organized crime.”  Tectonic plates, and alliances, are shifting, and activist publishers are not de rigueur.

The recent round of lamentations reflect upon the complicity and collusion not just amongst the authorities but within a defanged media establishment keen to make Assange disappear. “This quest to silence free speech and neuter a free press,” suggests Teodrose Fikre, “is a bipartisan campaign and a bilateral initiative.”

There has been little or no uproar in media circles over the 6-year period of Assange’s Ecuadorean stay, surmises Paul Craig Roberts, because the media itself has changed.  The doddering Gray Lady (The New York Times for others), had greyed so significantly under the Bush administration it had lost its teeth, “allowing Bush to be re-elected without controversy and allowing the government time to legalize the spying on an ex post facto basis.”

Both President Donald J. Trump and Russia provide the current twin pillars of journalistic escapism and paranoia.  Be it Democrat or Republican in the US, the WikiLeaks figure remains very wanted personifying the bridge that links current political behemoths.  For the veteran Australian journalist John Pilger, “The fakery of Russia-gate, the collusion of a corrupt media and the shame of a legal system that pursues truth-tellers have not been able to hold back the raw truth of WikiLeaks revelations.”  Such rawness persists, as does the near fanatical attempt to break the will of a man who has every entitlement to feel that he is losing his mind.

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

Pushing Huawei Out: Australia, the Solomon Islands and the Internet

Be wary of the Chinese technological behemoth, goes the current cry from many circles in Australia’s parliament.  Cybersecurity issues are at stake, and the eyes of Beijing are getting beadier by the day.

The seedy involvement of Australia in the Solomon Islands, ostensibly to block the influence of a Chinese company’s investment venture, is simply testament to the old issues surrounding empire: If your interests are threatened, you are bound to flex some muscle, snort a bit, and, provided its not too costly, get your way.  Not that Canberra’s muscle is necessarily taut or formidable in any way.

The inspiration behind Canberra’s intervention was an initial contract between Huawei and the Solomon Islands involving the Chinese giant in a major role building the high-speed telecommunications cable between Sydney and Honiara. Even more disconcerting might be the prospects that it would work, supplying a cable that would enable the Chinese to peer into the Australia’s own fallible network.

What made this particular flexing odd was the spectacle of an Australian prime minister congratulating himself in securing tax payer funding for the building of a 4,000 kilometre internet cable even as the domestic National Broadband Network stutters and groans.  Another juicy point is that Huawei was banned from applying for tendering for the NBN in 2012.

As the world’s second largest maker of telecommunications equipment was told, “there is no role for Huawei in Australia’s NBN”. The then Attorney-General Nicola Roxon explained that the move was “consistent with the government’s practice for ensuring the security and resilience of Australia’s critical infrastructure more broadly.”  Better an incompetent local provider of appropriate “values” than a reliable foreign entity.

The move against Huawei has largely centered on fears voiced by the intelligence community in various states that Beijing might be getting a number up on their competitors.  In February this year, the FBI Director Chris Wray expressed the US government’s concern “about the risks of allowing any company or entity that is beholden to foreign governments that don’t share our values to gain positions of power inside our telecommunications networks.”  Doing so would enable them to “maliciously modify or steal information” and provide “the capacity to conduct undetected espionage.”

Such comments tend to suggest envy; the US intelligence community chiefs know all too well that they, not a foreign entity, should have the means to conduct their own variant of undetected espionage on the citizens of the Republic, not to mention the globe.

The concerns fomented by Huawei’s alleged profile are such to have featured in the telecommunications sector security reforms pushed by the Turnbull government.  When they come into effect in September, they would permit the government “to provide risk advice to mobile network operators or the relevant minister to issue a direction.”

Labor backbencher Michael Danby has also pushed the line that Huawei is materially compromised by its links to the Chinese Communist Party, a point that only becomes relevant because of its expertise in technology infrastructure.  By all means allow Chinese companies to “build a fruit and vegetable exporting empire in the Ord and Fitzroy River” but be wary of the electronic backdoor.

“On matters like the electronic spine of Australia, the new 5G network which will control the internet of things – automatically driven cars, lifts, medical technology – I don’t think it’s appropriate to sell or allow a company like Huawei to participate.”

Certain figures backing Australian intervention can be found, though they tend to take line of ignoble Chinese business instincts.  Robert Iroga of the Solomon Islands Business Magazine noted that no public tender was made, with Huawei getting “the right… this is where the big questions of governance comes.”

Ruth Liloqula of Transparency Solomon Islands spoke of “paying under the table to make sure that their applications and other things are top of the pile.”  None of these actions, however, are above the conduct of Australia’s own officials, who tend to assume that matters of purity seem to coincide with those of self-interest.

The message from Canberra has fallen on appropriate ears.  Penny Williams, Canberra’s Deputy Secretary of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, told her counterparts in the Solomons that a study had been commissioned on the undersea cable project.  Miracle of miracles, it “found a number of solutions that would provide Solomon Islands with a high speed internet connection from Australia at a competitive price.”

DFAT’s head of the Undersea Cable Task Force Pablo Kang also had the necessary sweeteners for his target audience; the project, appropriately managed by Australia, would be cheaper than the Huawei alternative.

It will be a delightfully grotesque irony should the Internet speed on the Solomons be quicker than their Australian counterparts, who specialise in lagging behind other countries.  In May, the Speedtest Global Index, which provides monthly rankings of mobile and fixed broadband speeds across the globe, found Australia languishing at an inglorious 56 on the ladder.  (A relatively impoverished Romania comes in at an impressively kicking number 5.)  Should that happen, the political establishment in Honiara will feel they have gotten the steal of the decade.

Dazzled by Tech: Universities, Googlification and Microsoft

The mechanical, robotic striving of university politburos and their jack boot managers have always been interesting when it comes to one particular topic: the role of technology and its adoption.  For it is in technology that the mediocre paper clip shuffler can claim to have achieved something – on someone else’s back, naturally.

The shift to Google by universities as a storage and communication mechanism was something taken with a breezy obliviousness to its implications.  For Google, it was a magical boon: mass concentration of staff and student data, cloud facilities, the magic of information.  Such decisions are generally taken without asking the staff who actually use it – the nature of university management is piously anti-democratic, with all the usual balloons of sentiment about faux consultation and the like.

Google’s move into the university sector with a mixture of predatory zeal and seductive wooing was inexorable, mimicking the cyber colonisation drive of Steve Jobs at Apple (“computers are bicycles for the mind”).

In schools, Google has built a relentless, unquestioned empire, taking root in such systems as Chicago Public Schools, the third largest school district in the United States.  As the New York Times noted in May 2017, such an event heralded “the Googlification of the classroom.”  Teachers became Google grunts advertising products to other schools, bypassing school district officials.  Students became Google converts, effectively disabled from considering any alternatives and indifferent to pure knowledge.  They have become the new worker bees.

University managers were tickled and thrilled by the jargon, the applications, the idea of productivity, sending out such messages to staff as follows:

“The College is Going Google!  What does this mean?  How will it impact teaching and learning at The College?  Many K-12 school districts are using Google Apps for Education, providing their students with access to Google productivity tools as early as primary school.  Students coming to The College in the next five years may never have opened Microsoft Word, but will be familiar with the sharing, collaborating, and publishing with Google tools. Are you ready?”

Such gush and wobbly prose characterised the nature of such unwanted missives.  (Most staff, at least the sentient ones, could not have cared less.)  And Google was certainly winning over its competitors, most notably Microsoft.  In 2011, it scored the coup of coups by netting University of California at Berkeley.

The Californian giant displayed those usual budgetary considerations typical of such decisions: Google, for one, was cheaper and easier on the bottom line.  Office 365 would also require the initial installation and configuration of local software as a preliminary for any migration to be effectuated. “Office 365 offers an integrated experience for on-premise and cloud users,” went the explanatory document comparing Google and Office 365.  “This comes at a greater ongoing, operational expense and complexity of maintaining central infrastructure.”

Google, on the other hand, would be able to do amply more with significantly less – and at goggle eyed speed.  “A UC Berkeley migration to Google [from CalMail] can start faster and with less infrastructure investment.”

But some universities, after conducting their whirlwind Google romance, soured over the giant company.  UC Berkeley students and alumni contended in a law suit in 2016 that Google had given the false impression that email accounts would not be scanned for commercial purposes.

In 2015, Macquarie University reconsidered a move it undertook in 2010 to migrate some 6,000 staff from its Novell GroupWise to Gmail.  Students had already commenced using Gmail in late 2007.

Again, as with UC Berkeley, it is worth scrutinising why the university initially decided to go with Google over Microsoft, that ever contending beast in the tech boardroom.  The reasons are crusty as they are old: “The university rejected Microsoft as an option at the time,” explained Allie Coyne in ITNews, “for being too expensive.”

Being careful to market such economic reasons appropriately, the Macquarie public relations unit was keen to emphasise that the university had only gone with Google after being reassured that generated data would be hosted in the European Union.  With data protections being more securely moored in the EU, this was a consideration decorated to sell.  To have hosted it in the US would have naturally brought the US Patriot Act and Digital Millennium Copyright Act into play.

With a change in hosting policy on the part of Google, Macquarie found itself veering into the arms of Microsoft and Office 365.  That company had, it so happened, opened two Australian data centres in 2014, a point that alleviated the infrastructure impediments that bothered the paladins at UC Berkeley.

The move to Office 365 is simply exchanging one demon’s credentials for another, and the rosy line being parroted by university management must be unpacked with diligence.  The example offered by RMIT University, for instance, in abandoning Google is fittingly opportunistic, with one email circulated amongst staff finally revealing why one of Australia’s largest teaching institutions is moving to Office 365: “RMIT strategic vision is to expand into China.  Google is NOT supported in China.”  A truly mercantilist sentiment.

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.

The Moral Mask

It feels as if world events are in overdrive, and sometimes it’s hard to escape the thought that there is no longer much point in trying to analyse, or make sense of, a trajectory increasingly out of control.

I see little evidence that those of us in the segment of the world political spectrum likely to read these words need much persuasion — nor that those who consider us dupes of the Evil Vladimir, or apologists for what was once called the “Yellow Peril”, could ever have any inclination to even glance at the arguments and sentiments of those they consider so utterly deluded.

In fact, the plethora of information (both truth and lies), and the amazing communicative possibilities most of us now have at our disposal, have brought with them a world in which no one is very often persuaded of anything: for every fact we present, they have access to an official or cleverly crafted lie with convincing-looking documentation that demonstrates our ostensible mendacity and subversion.

What pre-internet thinker – is it possible that bygone age ended only 20 years ago for most of us? — would have ever thought that a technological world in which every voice can be heard worldwide would solidify, rather than threaten, the role of propaganda in public life? Or that near-universal access to technology enabling impressively thorough research at incredible speed would be one of the major factors in eliminating political consensus and rendering nearly obsolete the recognition of facts as such?

Well, perhaps there are brilliant minds out there who foresaw it all. But consider me dumbfounded. While there is a range of similarities between our world today and those described by Orwell and Huxley in their famous novels of future horror, there are other aspects that render this a different universe altogether, and one that continues to shock me.

Assuming that it WERE, in fact, possible to persuade people who accept their governments’ colossal lies and distortions that those same lies are, in fact, exactly that – lies — one would be required to acquaint most of them with the most basic facts of recent history. For remarkably, almost unbelievably, in a world where all of us have limitless information and history at our fingertips, most people know nothing about recent history – and the vast majority is not even curious about it.

Pointless though it may be, I continue to attempt to jog the memory of these amnesiacs. It seems somehow therapeutic to my own shaken sensibilities as well to see this recent history on paper or on the screen from time to time. Perhaps it is an act of self-defense against the fear that soon I, too, will be unable to remember what really happened. And so, repeatedly, I write about the real face behind the moral masks worn by the empire’s minions.

“Enemies” Custom Made to Order While You Wait

While I am not a Muslim, nor a Russian — as a matter of fact, I am American with no religion whatsoever — I feel it only fair to point out the following to those who view US-NATO-Israeli-Saudi propaganda as credible:

1. In 1953, American President Dwight Eisenhower used the CIA (which has admitted this) to overthrow Iran’s democratically-elected leader Mossadegh, who wanted to nationalize the oil companies. The CIA and its allies put Shah Reza Pahlavi on the throne. The Shah murdered and tortured opponents and/or imagined opponents via his secret police SAVAK. He was eventually overthrown by Ayatollah Ruholla Khomeini and the mullahs who transformed the nation into the Islamic Republic of Iran. Everyone in Iran knows all about this, but most Americans and many Europeans do not. Obviously, the USA had a major role in shaping modern Iran, whatever one thinks of Iran’s policies (I for one consider most of what the USA and Israel and Saudi Arabia say about Iran to be utter bollocks, largely in support of Israeli angst and Saudi Wahhabi-Sunni hostility to Shi’ism).

2. ISIS evolved out of the terror group “Al-Qaeda in Iraq”, which emerged AFTER the US invasion of Iraq and was led by former officers in Saddam Hussein’s army, an army that was disbanded and left to its own devices by the American forces in Iraq. Some of these officers developed the newer ISIS model while they were held in the infamous American torture prison in Iraq, Abu Ghraib. Obviously, the USA bears major responsibility for the creation of ISIS, WHETHER OR NOT it is true that the US and Israel continue to work with ISIS consciously for strategic purposes. US ally Saudi Arabia is also known to have put much funding into ISIS through private channels, as Hillary Clinton and others have publicly admitted.

3. The original Al-Qaeda, like much else which is dangerous in today’s world, developed directly out of American — and interestingly, also Polish — hostility to the Soviet Union and Russia. US National Security Adviser to the President, Dr. Zbigniew Brzezinski, Polish-American and passionate Russia-hater, persuaded US President Jimmy Carter to attack the Soviet-supported communist government of Afghanistan in the 1970s by arming and funding Osama bin Laden and other jihadis (sound familiar?). Later, bin Laden turned against America because (in his own words) the US stationed troops in Islam’s Holy Land of Saudi Arabia, and Al-Qaeda was born. A huge percentage of modern Islamist terror evolved from this seed, not only in the Hindu Kush and Middle East but now in Africa as well. Obviously American catastrophic imperial foreign and military policy are responsible, both directly and indirectly, for much of the unrest and violence in the Islamic world and exported out of it, not to mention the colossal refugee crisis associated with that violence and the American wars there.

Red Alert: Unfiltered Truth on MSNBC

I posted a video of it in social media twice because I consider it so significant: famous economist Jeffrey Sachs stated emphatically on national American TV this week (“Good Morning Joe”, MSNBC) that the US and President Barack Obama started the war in Syria via the CIA. I have a feeling that they would never have allowed him on the show if they had known he was going to say that. TABOO BROKEN … imperialist media twits sit stunned with egg on faces, military man stutters incoherent bullshit in response … Sachs is not exactly a radical, and he is too renowned and respected to simply be told he is full of it by such habitual sycophants. Too bad he didn’t go even further and tell the show’s co-host Mika Brzezinski that her father put into action the policies that resulted in the existence of Al-Qaeda and ISIS, and have left half of the Middle East and Hindu Kush in ruins and/or at war, millions dead, and created a horrific refugee crisis. But I am grateful for what he did say.

On the Value of Human Lives Outside of the USA and the EU

I should be used to it by now, but I continue to be stupefied by the following dynamic:  As John Steppling, in his recent article “The Sleep of Civilization” wrote:

Most White Americans, as a general statement, think they are better than the rest of the world. And most Americans have scant knowledge about the rest of the world. So the belief in cultural (and moral) superiority is based on what? The answer is not simple, but as a general sort of response, this trust in “our” superiority is built on violence. On an ability to be effectively violent. Most British, too, think they are superior to those “wogs” south of their emerald isle. But since the setting of the sun on Empire, “officially”, the British hold to both a sense of superiority and a deep panic-inducing sense of inferiority — at least to their American cousins. They are still better than those fucking cheese eating frogs or the krauts or whoever, but they accept that the U.S. is the sort of heavyweight champ of the moment. Meanwhile, the tragic and criminal fire at Grenfell Towers in London elicited a public discourse that perfectly reflected the class inequality of the UK, but also reflected, again, the colonialist mentality of the ruling party and their constituency … But that is exactly it. The colonial template is one etched in acid in the collective imagination of the West. At least the English-speaking West. Expendable natives…which is what Jim Mattis sees everywhere that he dumps depleted uranium and Willy Pete. It is what Madeleine Albright saw in Iraq or Hillary Clinton in Libya or Barack Obama in Sudan, Yemen, and…well… four or five other countries. It is what most U.S. police departments see in neighborhoods ravaged by poverty. As in those old Tarzan films, when the sound of drums is heard, the pith helmeted white man notes…”the natives are restless tonight”. When one discusses Syria, the most acute topic this week, remember that for Mad Dog and Boss Trump, or for the loopy John Bolton, these are just natives in need of pacification. Giving money to ISIS or Daesh, or whoever, as a cynical expression of colonial realpolitik, is nothing out of the ordinary. It is what the UK and US have done for a long while. It’s Ramar of the Jungle handing out beads to the *natives*.

Although every indicator and every new disaster outside of US-EU-NATO countries confirms once again, clearly and unmistakeably, that most citizens of the United States and Europe consider the lives of those in other parts of the world to be worth far less than their own … astoundingly (at least to me), it nonetheless continues to be possible for the US and European governments to build public support for military strikes in those parts of the world by feigning horror over civilian casualties in wars in such places – casualties occurring in many cases, as now in Syria, in wars for which the United States itself is responsible, wars which the USA encouraged quite deliberately with arms and money and CIA involvement.

But in this new presstitute House of Mirrors media world, no large media entities call the insane Nikki Haley to account when she stands in the United Nations Security Council holding up pictures of dead children in Syria – whether real (and there certainly are plenty of dead civilians there) or once again faked by Western-supported jihadis and their associates – and blames Russia for their deaths in a war organized and kept going by the US and Saudi Arabia. Recently Haley closed one such nauseating and vulgar mountebank performance by stating, “But pictures of dead children mean nothing to countries like Russia.” I’m sure that would come as news to the parents and families of the vast numbers of Russian children who died during World War II while the USSR was defeating Hitler, during most of which time America sat back and waited, hoping Hitler would conquer the Soviet Union. It is now estimated that 26 million Russians died before their time in that war, known euphemistically in the USA as “The Good War” and widely thought to have been won by the American military.

Ms Haley’s Dead Children Show contains no mention of Yemen where, according to the NGO Save The Children, 50,000 children are believed to have died from disease and starvation in 2017 alone as a result of the genocide against the Houthi people carried out by Saudi Arabia with massive support from allies including the USA, the UK, France, and Germany. But those who wear the Moral Mask are shameless and highly selective.

YouTube, Censorship and Nasim Aghdam

People like me are not good for big business, like for animal business, medicine business and for many other businesses.  That’s why they are discriminating and censoring us.

Nasim Najafi Aghdam discussing YouTube

She claimed to have detested it, issuing fiery calls on her social media outlets, and asserting that this creature was demonic in its effort to limit talent, expression and the profits of others.  Nasim Najafi Aghdam of San Diego spoke with a steely confidence that certitude brings, a self-perceived clarity of thought on such topics as veganism, the right to protest and animal rights.

“For me,” she stridently told the San Diego Union-Tribune at a People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals protest in 2009 outside Camp Pendleton, “animal rights equals human rights.”  In Iran, she came to be known as Green Nasim, commanding a certain degree of social media heft.

On Tuesday, that mind of screened clarity manifested itself in a shooting spree at YouTube headquarters.  Three were wounded, with the sole death being Aghdam, who took her life after the bloody spray.  On Wednesday, San Bruno’s police chief Ed Barberini claimed rather laconically that the suspect was expressing her anger at “the policies and practices of YouTube.”

Prior to that, a point confirmed by a Mountain View police representative, Aghdam had been found sleeping in a car on Tuesday morning.  “Our officers made contact with the woman after the licence plate of her vehicle matched that of a missing person out of Southern California.  The woman confirmed her identity to us and answered subsequent questions.”  Nothing, according to the officers conducting the interview, suggested future intentions.

The attack showed no evident discrimination. There were no set agendas against specific employees, nor was it even clear at first instance whether those wounded were, in fact, employees.  What the alleged shooter seemed to see was a ruthless target in the abstract, a brutal tech giant that had betrayed its mission.  Aghdam’s father, Ismail Aghdam, warned police that she might well be paying the technology company a visit, so disgruntled was she.

Her personal website spoke of there being “no equal growth opportunity on YouTube or any other video sharing site”. Growth would only take place “if they want you to.”  That particular point was stimulated by a change in YouTube policies requiring that individual channels have 1,000 subscribers and 4,000 “watch hours” over the previous twelve months before qualifying to run advertisements.  One of Aghdam’s channels sported 1,579 subscribers, but in failing to meet the other threshold requirements, the account was demonetised.

Other restrictions were also the subject of Aghdam’s opprobrium, who attempted over time to build up the image of the technology company as an arbitrary censor.  One video she posted received an age restriction. She railed against those “new close-minded YouTube employees [who] got control of my Farsi YouTube last year in 2016 & began filtering my videos to reduce views & suppress & discourage [sic] me from making videos!”  The result of imposing such a limit precluded the video from receiving moneys.

So we return to that same problem: the digital frontier, far from flat in its egalitarian access, is vertical, hierarchical in its hold.  Power only devolved to the mass community of users in an artificial sense, giving that charming impression that the plebs controlled the production and creation of content.

Community standards are always cited, but these are ultimately set and determined by the particular provider, cajoled in parts, reviled in others.  In YouTube’s case, such policies zero in on vulgar language, violence or disturbing imagery, nudity and sexually suggestive content, or videos portraying harmful or dangerous activities.

YouTube, as a provider of content generated by individual users, has found itself in a brutal middle, harried by a range of groups keen to limit or advance particular platforms.  The morally righteous and surveillance-minded take issue with its permissiveness, seeking controls over such content as “hate speech”; other individuals find it unduly controlling, limiting engagement, debate and speech.

Last year, its “restricted mode” setting designed to permit libraries, schools and parents filter out content deemed inappropriate to children invariably screened other sources.  The videos of gay pop duo Tegan and Sara, fell foul of the provision. Vlogger Calum McSwiggan’s video featuring his coming out display to his grandmother also became the object of digital filtering, while Rowan Ellis would suggest a “bias somewhere within that process of equating LGBT+ with ‘not family friendly’.”

YouTube’s initial response contained a steadfast denial. “The intention of Restricted Mode is to filter out mature content for the tiny subset of users who want a more limited experience.  LGBTQ+ videos are available on Restricted Mode, but videos that discuss more sensitive issues may not be.” Experiments by various users testing this claim suggested otherwise.

It its subsequent and hurried note was the tone of a servant to numerous lords, seeking to placate and improve upon previous erring.  “We recognise that some videos are incorrectly labelled by our automated system and we realise it’s very important to get this right.  We’re working hard to make some improvements.”

These provide cold comforts to those recipients of bullet wounds, and certainly did nothing to calm the disturbed an impassioned Aghdam, self-proclaimed as “the first Persian female vegan bodybuilder.”  But again, where the gun is a logical extension of frustrated rights and social impotence, furious redress has come to be an almost reasonable, if predictable expectation.

Precarious Communications: Julian Assange, Internet Access and Ecuador

Being a netizen, to use that popular term of sociological derivation, can be a difficult business. It presumes digital engagement, often of the sharper sort.  To become a fully-fledged member of such citizenry, however, presumes access, a degree of Internet speed and appropriate platforms. Absent those, then different forms of activism must be sought.

Governments and authorities the world over have come to appreciate that either the activity itself is controlled (limiting internet access, for one), or the content made available on the Internet (the Great Firewall of China).  The resonant cliché there is that the one who controls the narrative controls history, or can, at the very least, blind it.

Out of such tensions and tussles comes Julian Assange, a member of that unique breed of cyber insurrectionists, ducking and weaving through the information channels with varying degrees of success. To function as a publishing figure, he requires access to the Internet, a phenomenon that presumes an acephalous society.

For years, his enemy has been the concentration of information in the hands of the few, the greedy sort who horde information from the commonweal as they encourage ignorance.  Publishing classified material has become a form of enlightenment, and it remains a furious debate waged across the political spectrum.

Little wonder, then, that Assange has become a political activist par excellence. If only he were merely, as Britain’s junior minister Sir Alan Duncan would have it, a holed up “miserable little worm.”  Better a worm, retorted Assange to the minister’s remarks in the House of Commons, “a healthy creature that invigorates the soil, than a snake.”

He encourages others to revolt, and promises assistance to the restless.  In March last year, he delighted in queries about the problems posed by the leaked CIA cyber-espionage toolkit.  The interest of Silicon Valley firms had been piqued.

“We have decided to work with them,” explained Assange at his online press conference, “to give them some exclusive access to some of the technical details we have, so that fixes can be pushed out.”  Such advice would assist the companies to patch their products and render the task of accessing data by intelligence services more onerous.

Such announcements, not to mention frenzied activity on such social media platforms as Twitter, can only take place by the good grace of his hosts of five years, those staff at the Ecuadorean embassy in London whose patience has, at times, been tested.

The pact between the Ecuadorean state and tenant Assange is hardly one of steel. It more resembles rubber, stretching or narrowing accordingly.  When it has suited Ecuadorean interests to protect a troublesome political celebrity whilst permitting him to niggle the likes of the United States, Assange has been permitted vast, anarchic leeway.

Nick Miroff in the The Washington Post went so far as to deem Ecuador’s initial treatment of Assange as that of one who had won a trophy.  Even as the Ecuador’s Rafael Correa took measures against the press in his country, he would still “poke Washington in the eye and look like a champion for press freedom”.

When still president, Correa dressed it all as a matter of obligation. “Ecuador fulfilled its duty, we gave him sovereign asylum, and finally the Swedish judicial system has closed the file and will not press charges against Assange.”

On Wednesday, the rubbery aspect of the relationship took another shape.  Assange’s access to the internet would be halted.  His digital mischief, it seemed, had gotten out of hand:

The government of Ecuador warns that Assange’s behaviour, through his messages on social networks, put at risk the country’s good relations with the United Kingdom, the other states of the European Union, and other nations.

Such interventions tend to be inconsistent and arbitrary. In 2016, when WikiLeaks had emerged as an information guerrilla force of prominence in the US presidential election, the embassy took similar measures to cool the ardour.  Assange had gotten overly zealous, when, in fact, he was simply fulfilling his brief. “The government of Ecuador,” came the reasons in 2016 from the Ecuadorean Foreign Ministry, “respects the principles of non-intervention in the affairs of other nations, does not meddle in electoral campaigns nor support any candidate in particular.” Gradual, tentative realignments were taking place in Latin America, and the trophy tenant had lost some lustre.

On that occasion, WikiLeaks had released hacked Democratic National Committee emails and those of Hillary Clinton’s campaign advisor, John Podesta. The US intelligence viewpoint on this was simple and simplistic: Assange had become a proxy of Russian interests. Undue electoral interference had been featured.  Forget, they insisted, on the light darkly shining upon the Clinton stranglehold of the Democrats, and the sordid plotting against Bernie Sanders.

What prompted the latest clipping of Assange’s wings?  Tweets, perhaps, shot through on Monday challenging the British-led account that Russia was directly responsible for the poisoning of Sergei Skripal and his daughter in Salisbury.

He had hardly been scurrilously contrarian with his remarks, though the current atmosphere turns tentative questions into howls of dissent.  Odd, he claimed, that the expulsion of Russian diplomats had taken place “over an unresolved event in the UK and that the US expelled nearly three times as many diplomats as the UK”.  While Russia might well have been involved, current evidence in the absence of independent confirmation was unverified and skimpy.

As with any testy relationship marked by a degree of self-interest, partners will squabble.  Compromise will be sought, though this is hardly likely to quell Assange’s insatiable pursuit of activism.  As the latest move suggests, arbitrariness is hard to avoid, and Assange remains a guest.  What matters is whether the reins will continue to be pulled in. Courtesy and good graces tend to shrink in the face of brute politics.

Next Stage Of Net Neutrality Conflict Begins

On Thursday, the FCC’s net neutrality rule was published in the Federal Register. This was the official start of the next phase of the campaign to protect the open Internet as a common carrier with equal access for all and without prejudice based on content (net neutrality).

There are multiple fronts of struggle to make net neutrality a reality: Congress, the courts, states and communities. This is part of a campaign to create an Internet for the 21st Century that is fast, reliable and available in all communities.

Polls show widespread support for net neutrality. Last year, polling found 77% of people in the United States “support keeping the net neutrality rules, which are already in place” and 87% agree that “people should be able to access any websites they want on the internet, without any blocking, slowing down, or throttling by their internet service providers.” The FCC’s net neutrality rule does the opposite of the national consensus, and if members of Congress want support from Internet users, they need to reverse the FCC’s rule.

Tech Policy Poll conducted by Civis Analytics, 2,475 adults,

June 22-23, 2017.

Open Internet Survey conducted by Republican consulting firm IMGE

and commissioned by INCOMPAS, 1,502 registered voters

between June 26-29, 2017.

Net Neutrality Survey conducted by Ipsos and commissioned by Mozilla, 1,008 adults,

May 24-25, 2017.

 

Repeal the FCC Anti-Net Neutrality Order In Congress

Under the Congressional Review Act (CRA), Congress can reject a federal agency’s decision. The net neutrality movement has 60 legislative days to push Congress to reverse the FCC’s order and return net neutrality rules that reclassified the Internet under Title II of the Federal Communications Act. Title II classification ensured the Internet was a common carrier with equal access for all. The movement is working in both bodies of Congress to put elected officials on record for their positions so they can be held accountable.

Net neutrality proponents have been organizing for a Resolution of Disapproval under the CRA since the FCC announced its decision last December. There are already enough co-sponsors to ensure a vote in the Senate, but we are one vote away from victory. Right now all Senate Democrats, both independents, Senators Bernie Sanders (VT) and Angus King (ME), and one Republican, Susan Collins (ME), have agreed to vote for the resolution. This has the Senate in a tie, which would be broken by Vice President Mike Pence.  There are several possible Republicans; e.g., Sen. John Kennedy (LA), Sen. Lisa Murkowski (AK), Sen. Dean Heller (NV), Sen. Dan Sullivan (AK), Sen. Cory Gardner (CO), and Sen. John McCain (AZ), who might join Collins in opposing the FCC rule.

Next Tuesday, February 27, the Internet coalition has organized a #OneMoreVote national day of action. Go to Battle for the Net’s #OneMoreVote campaign to encourage your Senator to get behind the CRA. There will be a rally for the #OneMoveVote campaign outside the Senate in Washington, DC as part of the national day of action.

The Internet Service Providers’ position is being advocated for by the right wing group, Freedom Works, who defends the FCC’s repeal of net neutrality. They will be holding a day of action on Monday. They are taking the CRA challenge seriously and can no longer ignore us.

There has also been organizing in the US House of Representatives. On January 16, Representative Mike Doyle (PA-14) unveiled the names of 82 original co-sponsors of his CRA resolution. Including Doyle, the list totals 83 and includes House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi. A majority of House members are needed to move forward.

This movement intends to make net neutrality an issue in the 2018 election.  Republicans, in particular, are worried about a Trump-caused election against them, resulting in large numbers of retirements. Voters across the political spectrum support net neutrality. Republicans need to join the national consensus or pay a political price.

After we succeed in both Chambers, President Trump will need to decide if he is with the people or the telecoms. If we are successful in both Houses of Congress, we will have built a lot of political power that will be dangerous for Trump to ignore.

Net Neutrality in the Courts

The publication of the FCC rule repealing net neutrality also restarts litigation to challenge the FCC rule, which seeks an injunction to stop the rule from being implemented. State attorneys general, public interest groups and internet companies are all taking legal action in the US Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit. The goal is for the FCC rule to be remanded for reconsideration and for it to be enjoined pending the outcome of the litigation. Courts tend to favor federal agencies, but we have a strong case.

The central arguments will be that the FCC’s action was arbitrary and capricious and abuse of their discretion by reversing net neutrality rules. Further, the FCC misinterpreted and disregarded critical evidence on industry practices, and their decision will harm consumers and businesses. In addition, the procedures followed by the FCC violated the Administrative Procedures Act.

Over the next ten days, lawsuits will be filed by several net neutrality advocacy groups. Those that have filed or pledged to do so include Free Press, Public Knowledge and the Open Technology Institute. In addition, 22 states and the District of Columbia have refiled their lawsuits against the FCC to restore its original rules. Mozilla and Vimeo have also filed suit to protect net neutrality.

Map of Community Networks, January 2018

Net Neutrality in States and Local Communities

The campaign for net neutrality is also working at the state and local level. In more than half of the states, net neutrality protections are moving forward.

In CaliforniaHawaiiNew YorkMontana and Vermont legislation is in the works that would preserve internet neutrality. The FCC’s new rule says states are not allowed to pass their own net neutrality laws, but many are trying to do so with various legal workarounds. It is likely these state and local actions will require litigation to be put into place.

Governors are also working to protect net neutrality. The first governor to act was Montana’s Steve Bullock. Now governors in Vermont, Hawaii, New Jersey and New York have signed executive orders requiring their states to only do business with internet providers that abide by net neutrality rules.

And there is activity at the community level. A new map from Community Networks shows that more communities than ever are building their own broadband networks to end big telecom’s monopoly. They range from large networks in Chattanooga, Tennessee to small town networks connecting a few local businesses. The map includes more than 750 communities as of January 2018, including 55 publicly-owned municipal networks serving 108 communities, 76 communities with publicly-owned cable networks reaching most or all of the community, and 258 communities served by rural electric cooperatives, among others. Nineteen states have barriers in place that discourage or prevent local communities from creating publicly-owned local networks.

People Will Ensure the Internet Serves Us All Equally

The paths we are on in the courts, Congress and the states are challenging, but every step this campaign takes builds the political power of the Internet equality movement. The Internet movement is never going to give up on its demand for net neutrality, as well as related issues of equal access to high quality broadband for all, no matter your level of wealth or income.

We need to build an Internet for the 21st Century. The reign of FCC Chairman Ajit Pai will be seen as an era of regression. In the end, we will strive for the country to recognize access to high quality Internet as a human right and a public good. Pai’s backward steps will be used to launch us to an even stronger future where we create a public broadband system that serves people, not corporate profits. Join our Internet campaign Protect Our Internet and take action today at Battle for the Net.

As we discussed in our radio show with two top experts on Internet issues, the failure to treat the Internet as a common carrier violates legal principles going back before the founding of the United States. The ideas that the mail was a common carrier or that public transit treated everyone equally are the root concepts for net neutrality. We need to continue to build power to ensure Internet access is seen as a human right and a tool of free speech with equal access for all.