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 12:36 PM | Permalink
Twitter: @laurenweinstein
Google+: Lauren Weinstein

July 04, 2012

Internet Rights, Internet Wrongs, and Internet War

Today is the day of the year when we in this country especially celebrate the men who less than three centuries ago, meeting largely in secret and often well-plied with various alcohol-endowed beverages, formally laid out the ideas and documents that represent the United States' foundational constructs.

That concepts such as the Bill of Rights have endured through the evolution of the USA from a slave-owning, agrarian culture to the modern world of smartphones and the Internet, both thanks to (and in spite of) the actions of politicians, courts, and others since then, is nothing short of a practical miracle.

Those Founding Fathers could not possibly have imagined the scope of vast changes that were to come -- with the possible exception of Ben Franklin, who could probably be teleported from 1776 to 2012, would take a few days to orient himself, and then would start both websites and dating.

Yet while they couldn't see the future, they did undeniably know human nature. And human nature hasn't really changed at all since the founding of this nation, or likely since the rise of Homo sapiens or even earlier.

It's not as clear that the same can be said for all of us fighting to preserve freedom and other crucial aspects of the Internet.

In fact, it often appears that we show all of the appreciation of human nature, especially regarding the political realm, that one might expect from your average damp sponge.

And make no mistake about it, the forces allied on the other side of these battles are by and large showing vastly more foresight and effective acumen.

Some of what they're doing seems relatively passive. You get the sense that they can't wait for more of us Internet "old-timers" to drop out of the picture, so that our inconvenient quotes will stop appearing in otherwise glowing press accounts of their arguments for turning the Net into more of a policing mechanism than a bastion of free speech.

More critically though, they know how to play the political game. They lobby extensively. They directly fund those politicians who are aligned with designated "Internet control" objectives. And they spend a lot of time laughing at us.

For they realize that when it comes to achieving our goals in a necessarily political sphere, we are rank amateurs, enormously outclassed.

Arguably the best we've come up with to date was the one-day SOPA blackout, which did push back SOPA/PIPA legislative efforts for the time being, but in reality the push to pass such legislation in other forms, including potentially devastating CISPA and other "cyber-scare" profiteering laws, is continuing with renewed force.

And there's only so many times we can pull the blackout trick, like a small child threatening to hold his breath until he gets his way. Such stunts may attract attention the first couple of times -- and even have some impact -- but will be increasingly ignored going forward.

Unfortunately, our efforts seem to be heading toward less effectiveness, rather than more.

The current "Declaration of Internet Freedom" project appears to be mainly a "feel-good" campaign, unlikely to have any significant positive impact, and already is being loudly ridiculed.

What we actually need now, if we are to save the Internet from being morphed from a tool for freedom into a mechanism of restrictions and oppression, is much more akin to a declaration of war than a declaration of freedom.

I don't mean a war of guns and bombs, nor even campaigns of website blackouts or other protests.

I refer to a war played fair and square within the political arena -- a war aimed at helping to elect politicians who understand the Internet and freedom, and who have their brains in the 21st century, instead of the 19th.

A war with the goal of no longer ceding political control of these issues to those parties who very much want to figuratively crush freedom on the Internet under their Testoni dress shoes.

The "weapons" toward our ends in such battles are available, if we are willing to grasp, employ, and deploy them.

Perhaps the most obvious of these, and one that should likely be the focus of immediate attention, is the much maligned Super PAC.

We might despise them, but Super PACs are now a fact of life, and are being utilized to the hilt by forces aligned against Internet freedom and related issues.

For us to ignore the power of Super PACs to affect the political process would be foolhardy in the extreme.

I strongly urge that serious consideration be given to the establishment of a Super PAC to not only lobby in the name of protecting freedom and other rights on the Internet, but to also directly promote the election of politicians with sensible views regarding Internet freedoms, technology, and the intersection of these areas with individuals and society at large.

I understand the reluctance that many techies -- myself included -- have felt toward engaging in any such course directly related to the political process. We have been disappointed many times, and the urge to just utter some expletives and turn our backs is strong indeed.

We must fight this compulsion that would have us avoid the messiness, the pain, the sheer illogic that so often seem to be part and parcel of politics and politicians.

Because if we don't learn to "play the game" the way the big boys do in Washington and other seats of government around the world, we and our ideas will be steamrolled. If we refuse to utilize all legal tools at our disposal to affect the political process in the name of our own goals, we and Internet freedoms will be crushed.

And that would be catastrophic -- for us, for the Internet, for freedom, and ultimately for the entire world.


Posted by Lauren at 10:01 AM | Permalink
Twitter: @laurenweinstein
Google+: Lauren Weinstein