July 25, 2012

The Right-Wing's "Big Lie" Attacks Against the Internet

I don't usually discuss partisan issues per se in this blog. While I am much more likely to address political matters in other discussion venues, I've generally avoided them here.

However, given the right-wing's new, incredibly dishonest and fraudulent attack on the Internet, I no longer have the luxury of keeping politics in a separate compartment in this case. While both main political parties indeed have dirt on their hands when it comes to the election process, the GOP and its sycophants have driven events to an anti-science, anti-reality new low.

I'm not an expert on their other areas of lies such as climate change denials. I'll leave addressing those to professionals in the relevant fields.

But if there's one thing I do know, it's the Internet and its history, because that's where I've spent my life from the Net's very early days onward.

The immediate issue began July 13th, when President Obama gave a speech in which he correctly noted that we are all dependent on shared resources and infrastructures, much of which is related to government activities.

Our interstate and most of our other road systems were massive government projects that likely could never have been accomplished any other way. Obama noted this. In the vast majority of cases your own business didn't actually construct the road you use to drive in and out -- you're using shared resources that are part of government services. Yes, we all contribute taxes toward this, but the point is that these are community resources which normally wouldn't exist without government involvement.

Obama also noted in that speech, again utterly correctly, that government research created the Internet. Yep. That's true. That's history I know firsthand from back in my days at UCLA, at ARPANET (the direct ancestor of the Internet) site number one.

Mitt Romney's attack machine saw Obama's speech as yet another opportunity to deploy their particular brand of repeatedly twisting words and dishonestly editing videos. And the rest of the right-wing propaganda machine (and if you don't believe these are all coordinated with the Romney camp, there's a bridge in Brooklyn I'd like to sell you) jumped on the bandwagon.

Their attacks -- the current Romney "We Did Build This" campaign -- is proceeding along several vectors. First, they used third-grade sensibilities to try interpret Obama's words to have been saying that businesses did not build themselves -- when anyone with a modicum of intelligence could clearly hear, with Obama's remarks in context, that he was referring to the shared infrastructure resources of roads, bridges, and so on.

For that matter, only someone who believed that Obama was a communist (or is it fascist?) Kenyan national -- with a secret plot for an Illuminati takeover -- would assume Obama didn't believe private businesses didn't build themselves. Of course they did. Obama did not say they didn't. All he did say was that, in essence, no business is an island -- we all depend on community, shared resources and government.

At one point in this saga recently, the Romney campaign started trotting out small businessmen to loudly proclaim that they built their own businesses.

This became embarrassing to Romney when one of the most visible of his examples turned out to have benefited from well over a million dollars of government contracts and loans.

Since the "twisted words" approach didn't seem to be paying off as well as the Romney team had hoped, they switched gears over the last few days, and are now attacking "the context" of Obama's speech, with Romney saying it is "foreign to the American experience." No kissing up to the "birthers" there, eh?

This attack on the reality that government has been a critical driving force that has caused private industry to flourish, is pretty much what I'd expect from a man who built his fortune not by creating wonderful things, but by tearing down companies and stashing his fortunes in complex investments and offshore tax havens. Small wonder he's so dogmatic about not letting us see the details, the expected financial transparency of presidential candidates (including his own father) notwithstanding.

To further the "government is the root of all evils" attack meme, Romney and the rest of the right-wing decided it was time to do some "revisionist" work on the history of the Internet, in the guise of Gordon Crovitz's ludicrously biased and inaccurate "Who Really Invented the Internet?" column in the Wall Street Journal. (I refuse to give them a link to this -- it's easy enough to find.)

Virtually everybody who was involved in the Net's genesis fired back that Crovitz was either crazy lying and/or crazy confused about this (I assume politically-motivated both).

Articles immediately appeared in Slate, Wired, Scientific American, and on and on, calling out Crovitz for his nonsense.

This triggered a defensive reaction from forgettable minds like FOX's John Stossel (once a respected consumer reporter, before he joined the dark side), who spouted even more inanities, including the false claim that only when ARPANET was declassified was it able to bloom. Problem there John -- ARPANET was not a classified network. Oops!

The reality of course is that government, specifically the Defense Department's Information Processing Techniques Office of the (Defense) Advanced Research Projects Agency, most certainly did create the Internet. The key work was done under ARPA contracts with ARPA funding.

That money went to research firms, universities, and a wide array of other entities who spent many years building the foundation for what is now the global Internet of today.

Without ARPA's involvement, this would never have happened.

At the time, the big telecom companies like AT&T wanted nothing to do with this project. They not only declined to participate, but they literally laughed at the very concept of an "end to end" packet switched network that could provide the kind of open platform that has allowed the Internet to so grandly evolve. AT&T and the like had their own proprietary, monopoly era ideas, and while they didn't exactly stand in our way, they certainly didn't try to cooperate either -- and back then they were pretty much the only telecom game in town.

Without the government's involvement, you would not be reading these words, at least in the way you are today. There would almost certainly be some sort of other data networks, but most likely very much in the vein of the old monopolistic, tightly-controlled telephone model, with highly restricted options and per-message charges to match -- with something like a "Bell System Property - Not For Sale" engraving on every device.

Given that the actual history of the Internet is quite clear, why would Mitt Romney's minions attempt to distort the truth in this area so badly?

Simply because this has become part and parcel of GOP standard operating procedure. Today's GOP has become so anti-science and anti-truth that they make their once 1960's standard-bearer, Senator Barry Goldwater -- chastised as an ultra-conservative at the time -- look like a veritable liberal today by comparison.

We can stipulate that Mitt Romney and the GOP are faced with a serious demographic problem. Their core constituencies are diminishing in numbers rapidly, forcing them to appeal to their ever more hard-core (and frequently wacky) rightmost edge.

If the GOP and Mitt Romney have a lucid case to make that their policies -- despite contemporary evidence -- would be better for this country and all of us (including people without health insurance or offshore bank accounts), then one would hope they could make their argument without resorting to the tactics of tyrants such as dishonest editing and falsified histories.

Because at least when it comes to the history of the Internet, we know you are outright liars.


Posted by Lauren at July 25, 2012 12:36 PM | Permalink
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