Saturday, 11 August 2012

The Truth, The Whole Truth, And All That Lies Between

Today's post is about where we get our information from, what makes us choose to accept it and why. I resent being manipulated and I'd like to encourage my readers to feel the same way and to be willing to dig for the truth whether they find it convenient or not. This is why.

One of my pet hates is people who don't like reality much. The moment you hit a hot button topic or present an inconvenient fact, they change the subject. Present an avid Ayn Rand fan with the facts about the economy and it's the 50 V the other 50%, which of course denies the huge disparity in wealth between the members of the upper 50%. That's the idea. But when your much-vaunted political system relies on denial and spin, it's not worth much, is it?

Those people in the Google Plus thread I linked (then muted when I got fed up of the trolls) aren't the only ones who do that. Willful ignorance and a refusal to engage in politics to bring our great and glorious leaders to heel (requires persistence, template emails, and the odd petition) has led to people just accepting what they're told and refusing to question their worldview. Here are a few things to start pushing back against.

Religious nutbaggery

I'm actually a Christian, and somewhat conservative, but as a lover of truth, when something like this comes along I get annoyed because it lets the side down — and I don't like being lumped with it. Go on, read it. When you've finished rolling your eyes at the Creationist nonsense (I can't bear more than a minute on that page. The stupidity annoys me!), hop over to this Facing South report on Alabama Public Television veteran broadcaster Allan Pizzato and his deputy Pauline Howland, who were fired from their jobs for discussing their concerns over the possibility of airing The American Heritage Series, a 10-part programme by Texas-based evangelical David Barton's group WallBuilders LLC, a fundamentalist series which, due to its religious nature, violates their broadcasting license. Alabama has cut its appropriation for Alabama Public Television by 50% since 2008. The idea is, it seems, to rid Alabama of Godless liberal public televison services. Well we know what they're planning to replace it with. If that's what's available to the majority of the population, who are being encouraged to mistrust other sources of information, is it any wonder they're trailing in education, particularly in science-related studies?

Police brutality

Any notions you have of freedom of speech and expression, particularly when reporting newsworthy events, shouldn't be taken too seriously. Adam "Ademo" Mueller, a journalist and co-host of radio show Free Talk Live, is facing 21 years in prison for reporting on police brutality toward students at a school in New Hampshire in the USA. You see, he recorded the conversations he had with a Manchester police captain, the Manchester High School West principal and a school secretary, then included soundbites in a video post. He told them who he was and what he does, but he's being held on charges of illegal wiretapping because they claim it was without their consent. But it's common for journalists to record the conversations they have with people, then use the transcripts in their reports. The idea that public officials on duty have privacy rights in a public space while on duty is ridiculous. Why is this happening? Hopefully, the jury will throw it out and let the man go.

Government overreach

Federal attorneys appealing the May 2012 injunction from Judge Katherine Forrest against the NDAA provision that permits reporters and others who have not committed crimes to be detained without trial have refused to tell the court whether or not they've complied. If the government has arrested anyone under Section 1021, the government could be held in contempt of court. Judge Forrest's ruling was based on the fact that

"An individual could run the risk of substantially supporting or directly supporting an associated force without even being aware that he or she was doing so.”

Journalists are particularly afraid that their association with the people they want to interview could get them into trouble. Over-broad wording in legislation appears to be a hallmark of this administration, and I hope to see more narrowly worded, specific laws with the Constitutional rights and necessary checks and balances included in the next batch. Assuming we get a new administration in November, not the same one, only worse. This is supposed to be about protecting us from terrorists. It's not, don't let that fool you. I've seen a lot of comments in the social media about this keeping us safe. It doesn't. It's about control by FUD (fear, uncertainty, and doubt).

I've come across a sneak attack on internet freedom this morning:

The CleanIT project hopes to develop a flagging system for “terrorist” content. It wouldn't be mandatory, but Internet providers would be encouraged to take down or block the flagged material. The aim is to create “a non-legislative 'framework' that consists of general principles and best practices… to counter the illegal use of Internet,” says the group. - Ars Technica

Takedowns wouldn't work on sites hosted outside the EU, and blocking has been proven ineffective on the Pirate Bay, so why are they still pursuing that? I've already started an Internet Freedom Movement campaign on the issue. The people involved may be on a hiding to nothing but I'm not taking any chances. Please get involved, we need all the help we can get on this. Mission creep is a huge issue when it comes to things like this: the laws under which Richard O'Dwyer is being threatened with extradition were originally about tackling terrorists. Can you see what I'm concerned about now? When the freedom of speech and expression goes, it's over. I suppose the powers that be hope to hide behind this as a "voluntary arrangement" with our ISPs to avoid the kind of blowback they got from ACTA, but if they're calling people who campaign against their treaties "terrorists," how do they expect us to trust them?

Accountability, or lack thereof

The Banksters are getting away with it, as I've noted before. Today it emerged that Goldman Sachs, a byword for arrogant incompetence, will not be facing criminal charges for corruption and fraud. They will, however, fund a program that counsels young adults in New York City's main jail complex on Rikers Island to the tune of $9.6 million as a "social impact bond." The idea is to reduce recidivism. This is interesting in a country where private prisons run entire economies by inventing crimes to incarcerate people for. Meanwhile it seems that all of the attempts to hold the Banksters to account are causing them to switch their support — and campaign fund donations — to Mitt Romney. I really wish he had more of a will to "punish the success" of these frauds.

Meanwhile, the Department of Justice is working with
BlackwaterAcademi on a “Deferred Prosecution Agreement” that allows Academi to spend the next three years convincing the government that its dodgy dealings were all done by the firm’s former owners. If they fail, they face federal charges. Whether or not the $7.5 million they've spent on this is worth it remains to be seen. If you're rich enough it seems you can buy your way out of anything. A brief search has brought up some interesting information about were founder Erik Prince spends his money.

Speaking of justice, gaffe-prone US Presidential candidate Mitt Romney has named Tea Party favourite Paul Ryan as his running mate.

Ludwig von Mises, whom Ryan has also cited as an influence, once summed up Rand’s philosophy in a letter to her: “You have the courage to tell the masses what no politician told them: You are inferior and all the improvements in your condition which you simply take for granted you owe to the effort of men who are better than you.” - New York Magazine

Given that the oil subsidies Paul will take from the poor and needy (but not the defense budget) would benefit his family and those of the GOP cabinet members (if the Republicans win), I can't see any changes in his right-wing policies any time soon. Path to Prosperity? For him and his most generous donors. What do less well-off Republicans see in him? They think they're on the winning side and that they're better than the rest of us. That's what makes Ayn Rand's work so appealing to them. They can all call themselves John Galt.


Just when we had a really good scare story brewing and the headlines were starting to heat up with hyperbole, along comes a bucket of freezing cold water to douse the sparks before the fire started burning. We were all agog at the news that Wikileaks had uncovered a nefarious plot to hide from us the fact that a detailed surveillance system more accurate than modern facial recognition technology has been installed nationwide in the US of A. RT and ZNet have picked it up and an anti-Wikileaks group called AntiLeaks have claimed to be responsible for the massive DDoS attacks on Wikileaks that have STILL got the site timing out at the time of writing this. So what's going on? Is Wikileaks acting the drama queen to get our attention by crying foul? Is Stratfor, the purported spy company, behind all this in the hope of landing a contract? Or are all the antics part of a spooky conspiracy by [insert bogeyman here]?

MS/NYPD City-wide surveillance plan

Microsoft, which has always been a bit of a in internet punchbag, is apparently teaming up with the police in New York police on a pilot city-wide surveillance scheme, which they intend to sell on to other municipal authorities all over the world. It's all to protect us from terrorism (naturally. And the kids, the gangsters, and assorted other bogeymen), but Mayor Michael Bloomberg says it can be more widely (think "Occupy protestors"). At $40 million, it's a snip.

Mobile tracking

A team of British researchers has developed an algorithm that uses tracking data on people’s phones to predict where they’ll be in 24 hours. They've actually won a prize for this. It's freaky enough that people want to do this for marketing purposes, but the idea that we're like tagged animals being tracked everywhere we go freaks me out. I often leave my phone at home for this reason. If I want to be tracked, even if it's "only" about being served ads, I'll let you know. What's crazy about this is that if I complain, I'm considered a crank because it's considered acceptable. I just wish there was a way to opt out, but our mobile and internet service providers appear to be heading in the opposite direction.


There's some good news today: Australia is set to shelve its controversial data retention proposals as a result of a public backlash. The public consultation is still open if anyone wants to take part, and will be there till 20th August 2012. Kicking off online has had a significant impact on legislation and treaties this year, and I'm hoping to encourage people to get more engaged by bragging about what we achieve when we work together.

Search results

The popularity and relevance of linked items brings them to the top of the search results, but Google is under pressure to demote links to unauthorised copyright material. The problem is, how can you tell who owns the copyright? What about the bogus takedowns? When the system is all about controlling distribution, the controllers will fight tooth and nail to hold the exclusive rights to do this, but in an age where copying has never been easier, it's becoming increasingly difficult. That's why they want to control the internet. And that's why we need to stop them.


Apart from the election-year madness and the looming threats to our freedom, we're actually doing quite well. Beneath the headlines and the roiling commentary we've actually moved into a better position. People are getting more engaged and we're achieving a lot in terms of stopping laws we don't want and pushing for better alternatives to what we've got. Our governments have provided us with opportunities to have a say in the laws being made and I'm very pleased about that. Although attempts to manipulate us are legion, the majority of us seems to be smart enough to see it for what it is and put a stop to it when push comes to shove.

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