Apr 042017

by Bill Onasch

Net Outrages

Many are justifiably upset by the repeal of an Obama administration privacy rule that banned Internet Service Providers from selling their customer’s browsing history and geographic locations without their permission. Your security software, and even religious purging of “cookies,” can’t stop these gatekeepers to the Internet seeing and recording your every move.

But most of those complaining have a presence on FaceBook and use its handy free features to share photos, video, news and perhaps a little gossip, with designated “friends.”

They don’t realize that such proprietary exits off the open Internet have always legally, and very profitably done the same thing ISPs are now free to do. Highly automated Sub Rosa intelligence collected on FaceBook is eagerly sought by many, especially advertisers to more precisely target customers. This is what enabled the ubiquitous “free” service to magically make young Mr Zuckerberg one of the richest capitalists in the world.

Of course, both police and criminals also regularly monitor FaceBook searching for leads. Sometimes crimes are committed on FB, such as a recent live video feed of a gang rape. Many employers check out the FB pages of job applicants. And FaceBook is the biggest platform for fake news.

I’m not calling for a FaceBook boycott but I wanted to explain some of the reasons why I have so far resisted the enticement of this sometimes anti-social media. I advise using its many handy tools with caution.

But there are other pernicious online threats that we can’t choose to avoid. Edward Snowden—at great personal risks that remain a danger for him–collected and published in redacted form, evidence that the NSA and other U.S. spy and secret police agencies could, did and almost certainly still do, use sophisticated methods to collect enormous volumes of private information. This is done not only abroad, including intercepting “secure” communication of Germany’s Chancellor Merkel, but also illegally to American citizens in the USA. Snowden deserves a Medal of Honor rather than exile in Russia.

Speaking of Russia, every day seems to bring fresh allegations that Moscow used hacking and targeted fake news, in an effort to influence U.S. elections. If true, it certainly would be nothing new. In the chaos of the dismantling of the Soviet Union the U.S. government poured a lot of money in to manipulating elections in Russia and Ukraine. Boris “Buy Me A Drink” Yeltsin, at least in rare moments of sobriety, certainly knew the identity of his patrons.

As long as repressive governments and greedy merchants call the shots, we can have little expectation of privacy on or off line. While we can ignore the hucksters, we resent intrusion in to those parts of our lives called private for good reason. Most of us may have some regrets but—unlike the ruling class and their politicians–few have anything to be ashamed of.

We can’t afford to be so intimidated by what some view as the tardy arrival of 1984 that we stop exercising our hard won constitutional guarantees of free speech, free media and freedom of association. Someday we will expand those to include a free Internet as well.

The War to End All Wars

That is, of course, what we now call the First World War. It began in August, 1914 with the British Empire, Czarist Russia, and France squaring off against the Kaiser’s Germany, the Emperor’s Austria-Hungary and Turkey’s last Ottoman Sultan–each hoping to expand through global domination. They were well matched militarily and endured three years of incredible carnage with little change in battle lines.

What finally broke the impasse was the entry of the United States on the side of the gang led by the British. Soon American factories were replenishing and upgrading supplies to new allies as well as 10,000 American troops landing every day in France—116,000 never coming back alive. In November, 1917 the Bolshevik revolution took Russia out of the war. In November, 1918, the Kaiser fled to neutral Holland and there was a defeated socialist revolution in Germany—followed by an armistice that ended the fighting.

This Thursday will mark the centennial of America’s entry in to what began as a European war. I was reminded of this by Monday’s Kansas City Star joining in exploiting this bloody anniversary to promote the World War I museum, located in the Liberty Memorial complex, hosting a gathering with a theme of “In Sacrifice For Liberty and Peace.”

The air space over the this event may get crowded. There will be a fly-over by an elite squadron of French jet fighters trailing red, white and blue smoke as well as an American B-2 bomber from a nearby Air Force base. No Luftwaffe appearances are expected.

Ceremonies on the ground were dubbed a “head of state event.” Sadly, President Trump will be entertaining Chinese President Xi at Mar-a-Lago and Vice-President Pence must be available to break a tie vote in the Senate. Only a handful of foreign ambassadors and defense ministers will join American brass hats, along with 3,000 carefully vetted ticket-holders, passing through security metal detectors. The Veterans of Foreign Wars, whose giant neon sign atop their national headquarters can be seen from my home, chipped in 100,000 dollars to protect these VIPs.

There was no mention in the Star’s puff piece about the substantial opposition among the American people to getting involved in this war. This was articulated within the working class by the Socialist Party and the Industrial Workers of the World. They sacrificed much advocating peace and many lost their liberty—some even their lives at the hands of patriotic vigilantes.

The IWW began their national free speech fight against government banning of protests with some innovative tactics right here in Kansas City. They handcuffed themselves to lamp posts and began reading passages from the Declaration of Independence. As the cops managed to haul one off another quickly took their place–with an aim of filling the jails. The Star at the time gave extensive coverage to these nonviolent civil disobedience actions.

At the personal insistence of President Woodrow Wilson, Eugene V Debs, the most prominent socialist in American history, was tried and convicted of sedition charges for delivering an antiwar speech in Canton, Ohio. He received nearly a million votes for President while ensconced in the Atlanta penitentiary. This too will be ignored by Thursday’s event–as well as by reporters who could have found detailed accounts in the Star morgue.

We can mourn the 38 million deaths of conscripted workers and farmers, along with massive “collateral damage” to noncombatants, during the First World War. But our class has nothing to celebrate about this crime committed by rival ruling classes. And in the midst of today’s wars of intervention we should follow the maxim of the great Debs—For us there is no war but the class war.

The Next Best Thing To Being There

Regular readers know that I admire and boost the East Side Freedom Library project in St Paul. Though I know the founders and many volunteers from my earlier two decades of residence in the Twin Cities, I have not yet had the chance to visit the premises—something I plan to do soon after being confident I-35 has seen its last snow of the season.

This morning a long-time friend and comrade in St Paul forwarded a video link that includes many photos of the building and some of its varied activities in background to co-founders Peter Rachleff and Beth Cleary recounting the history of ESFL and some of its future plans. I highly recommend that you first watch the video and then check out this month’s ambitious program of events. You’ll feel rewarded by the inspiration as well as education they offer in this turbulent period.

That’s all for this week.

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