Tuesday, January 12, 2021

Demmy-Crats Aren't Allowed To Do That!

Hell has a new resident.

Human piece-of-filth Sheldon Adelson finally died.  Adelson was one of the richest men in the world, and owned casinos all over the planet.  Casinos have ruined the lives of countless people, who gambled their life's savings away and as a result, have ended up as perpetual debt slaves.  Not only that, but casinos end up attracting ancillary businesses - drugs and prostitution.  What's not to like?  Making billions off of human suffering?

Well, OK, that's free enterprise.  And if people want to sink themselves in to perpetual poverty through gambling, drug use, car leases, or student loans, I guess in our libertarian society, we have to let them. But gee-whiz, do we have to then listen to their whiny complaints about how unfair life has been to them?  Do we then have to bail them out of their own malfeasance?  Maybe in addition to "forgiving" student loan debts, we should "forgive" gambling debts, lease payments, and credit card debt as well?  

You laugh - it has happened in the past, with these government-sponsored "mortgage adjustments" where people got free money from Uncle Sam so they could have a nicer house than you or me.  Far more were merely foreclosed upon and booted out onto the streets, however.  Pining for social change to fix your personal problems is short-sighted.  Maybe Goldman Sachs will get a bailout, you and I won't.  So don't borrow too much money, and pay back what you did borrow.  I did.  $38,000 of student loans - ten grand more than the average amount students have today.  Adjusted for inflation, three times that amount.  Do I get a refund check from Ms. AOC?  Of course not - life is unfair, and realizing that was the first step to getting ahead in an unfair world.

But I digress.

In a recent article online, this nugget popped out at me:
In 2015, Adelson acquired the Las Vegas Review-Journal in a secret bid, after the newspaper published exposés about his empire. Last November, the paper rejected Trump’s effort to deny his loss to Joe Biden in Nevada, urging Trump to accept the result.
OK, so at the last minute, he sobered up and realized Trump was a liability.  He did get what he wanted out of Trump, which was a one-state solution for Israel.

But what was interesting was that when a newspaper criticized him, he simply bought the newspaper and turned it into a pro-Adelson mouthpiece.  When you have $33 Billion, you can do shit like that.  Where was the cry of outrage at the "censorship" involved in this?  I mean, from the right, not the left.

When Rupert Murdoch bought up media outlets across the USA, including the National Geographic and the Wall Street Journal, no one blinked an eye. When he formed Fox News and made it into a right-wing hate-spewing media outlet, no one claimed it was "unfair" - particularly when the only "fair and balanced" portion was liberal snowflake Alan Colmes - who was quickly ditched.  No one complained that Fox News didn't have the right to exclude left-wing views.

It is a simple proposition - again, in our libertarian society - that if you own a business, you should be able to run it as you see fit.  In fact, this has been a centerpiece of Republican right-wing thinking as of late.  "We reserve the right to refuse service to anyone!" they say.  And under the law, they can, provided they are not denying a public accommodation based on race or religion or gender.

So the era of the "whites only" water fountain are gone.  You can't exclude Jews from your Motel.  It gets a little trickier with sexual identity, which has been the hill the GOP has decided to die on.  No more baking cakes for Angry Lesbians (I am being redundant here).  Hey, you can't have a Lesbian wedding these days without the attendant controversial lawsuit against the Christian photographer you intentionally hired, right?  "Come on, Edna, we have to find a photographer with a Jesus Fish on his Yellow Pages listing - there has to be one in our town!"

Isn't it odd?  People on the Left are shunning the businesses run by, or who employ, any of the Capitol rioters.  And as a consumer, you have a right to do this.  I mean, why spend your valuable dollars at a business that promotes hate?  Why spend a penny at a company that employs right-wing nazzies, or worse yet, is owned by them?  It makes no sense - or about as much sense as employing a right-wing fundamentalist hateful Christian to bake your wedding cake or photograph your wedding.

But I digress - yet again - but not by much.  The left can be as hypocritical as the right.

Anyway, a plethora of Social Media sites decide to de-list Trump and other haters from their "platforms" just as Fox News "de-listed" Colmes and Sheldon Adelson "de-listed" his critics from the local paper. When you own the newspaper, you get to dictate the editorial content - that's how newspapers work. They are not a public service, nor a government entity, but a private enterprise.

Don't like it?  Publish your own newspaper!

"Oh, but Bob, that's hard!  I would have to, you know, buy a printing press and ink and hire reporters and stuff!  I can't afford to do that!  And since my views are so weirdly 'out there', no one will sponsor me or invest in such a project!"

And therein lies the key.  We have a consensus in our society as to what "norms" are.  And living outside these norms - and seeing norms change over time - you become acutely aware of this. Until fairly recently, we had a lot of "gatekeepers" in our society - gatekeepers who denounced fringe thinking on the Left and Right and kept oddball conspiracy theories, lies, and other odious views off-the-air and off the front page.

Oh, sure, there were always copies of Mein Kampf and The Protocols of the Elders of Zion floating around, but "good society" frowned upon these things as being the province of trashy, uneducated, and unsophisticated folks.  Of course, back then, we all strove to be sophisticated.  Our role models back then were a wee bit more upscale than we have today.  We all wanted to be the couple in the 1957 Cadillac commercial, going to a tony restaurant wearing tuxedos and furs - first-nighters!  Today, well, our celebrities and role models all dress like trash and have criminal records.

Fringe views are "out of the closet" and Social Media - which provided a level playing field for all sorts of views, presented every aspect of the spectrum as being equally valid.  So even ideas as stupid as "flat earth" have taken hold.  Because on social media, there are no people to dispute them - and the few that do are shouted down, and their attempts to discredit bad ideas are, themselves, deemed to be proof of the conspiracy.

I don't own Google. I don't own Blogger.  Google could erase my entire blog tomorrow, and I would have no recourse. After all, I have not paid them a cent, and I had to agree to a "Terms of Service" to post here.  Would this be censorship?  A violation of my first amendment rights?  No, simply because the first amendment applies only to government censorship.

And here is the irony of the whole thing. Trump went against Social Media - the very creature that created him.  It was akin to McCarthy going against the US Army - he took it a step too far.  Section 230 absolves Social Media companies from lawsuits based on the content on their sites. If a poster on Facebook libels someone, that person can't sue Facebook, but only the poster themselves. If Section 230 is abolished, Facebook would have to police all of its postings more thoroughly - a Herculean task, to say the least.  It would effectively shut down Facebook, unless they cancelled all the accounts which spewed objectionable content.

See the irony yet?  If Trump gets his way, it would result in more censorship, not less.

Trump threatens to abolish section 230, but if he had done this, the first account Facebook would be forced to take down would be Trump's - and that of all his minions who have slandered and libeled so many people, including the Dominion voting machine company.  Facebook would have to shut down all accounts that promoted violence or plotted criminal conspiracies. In short, Facebook, Twitter, and all other social media companies would have to do what they finally got the balls to do this week, in order to deal with section 230 being abolished.

You have to be careful of what you wish for. If section 230 were abolished, Parler would have gone out of business, too. What the social media companies are doing now is exactly what Trump asked for.

But getting back to censorship, if you run a private enterprise, you are allowed to gatekeep if you want to. You are not required to host the KKK at your hotel. You are not required to run ads in your newspaper promoting a Nazi rally. You are not required to print letters to the editor extolling anti-vaxxer conspiracies.  And I know this because Republicans told me this was the case.

Now today, when their extremist views are removed from privately run media outlets they are outraged. "This isn't fair!"  they claim, "You have to provide us with equal time!"

Ah, yes, equal time - something else Republicans abolished back in the Reagan era and are now complaining about. When I was a kid, the FCC mandated that television stations (all three of them) had to provide "equal time" to opposing views, as the airwaves were owned by the public, and an FCC license was a privilege to have. Some crank would then appear on the evening news and rant about something, but it wasn't very often.

As Cable TV became popular, it seemed that "equal time" was no longer necessary. Cable companies provided a "public access" channel so any nutjob with a camera could create their own videos.  And they did. Since then, "equal time" was abolished, and television stations were no longer required to provide a platform for opposing viewpoints.

Hoisted by their own petard, no?  Republicans eliminated "Equal Time" and now demand it.

Republicans are now arguing that "platforms" like Facebook or Twitter or even cloud hosting sites like Amazon Media Services (AWS) are like the old off-the-air television stations, as the Internet is a "public good" and should be accessible to all.  After all, we created the Internet, we should be able to regulate it!  But that ship sailed a long time ago, and the US can no longer claim ownership of a worldwide network.

When I first went on the Internet, it was using a DOS-based computer and a dial-up modem.  It was a text-only deal, and you could go on discussion groups, which were unmoderated.   Back then, to get on the Internet, you had to be a computer nerd, and not many people had a "home computer" as we called them, back then.  Maybe you had an analog "car phone" or a two-way pager.  But no smart phones, laptops, pad devices, texting, or web browsers - the latter because there was really no "web" to speak of.

But since only computer nerds went on the Internet, there was an unwritten code of behavior, which shamed those who violated it.  No Spam. No Trolling. No Flame Wars. Once they let just anyone on the Internet (including those clueless AOL people) all hell broke loose, and everyone fled the Alt discussion groups in short order, as they were flooded with SPAM.

Those "discussion groups" still exist today, of course, and you can still send and receive ASCII text data over the Internet - in fact, you do every day, it is just that your browser acts an interface to shield you from all that messy HTML data.  Back then, you had a "terminal program" which emulated the old-style "computer terminals" that we used to dial-up to mainframes. It was a lot of obscure codes and symbols you had to use.  Ironically, if you access one of these text groups today, you would do it through your browser, and likely through a website that would access such groups.  Some folks refer to this as "the dark web" and it is a place where odious things like 4chan exist, and the source of the term "alt" in "Alt-Right".

Today, it is like the Ham radio of the Internet.  Sure, it is still out there, but who listens to Ham radio?  And not surprisingly, there are a lot of conspiracy theorists who blather on, on the shortwave. No one is "censoring" these views. But then again, CBS, NBC, and ABC aren't broadcasting them, either.  FOX does, a little bit, but even they have their limits, and you can't force them to broadcast views they don't agree with.

The irony is richer than that, however.  Trump has used libel suits in the past to silence his critics, and he has argued that libel laws should be strengthened, so that rich people like him can shit all over little people by hitting them with a SLAPP suit.  Today, it looks like his minions and perhaps even people in his administration may face the wrath of the libel suit. Dominion voting has filed a $1.3 Billion suit as a result of the outright lies that have been created by the far-right. Expect more suits to follow.  What?  You can't just accuse a major corporation of a made-up conspiracy and face no consequences?

So in a way, Trump is getting what he wished for - and finding out it was a meal that left a bad taste in his mouth.  Social media is what gave us Trump, Boris, Brexit, Qanon, Erdoğan, and so on.  And not surprisingly, many foreign politicians are becoming alarmed by social media's sudden grappling with a conscience. After all, if you can't foment the flames of nationalism online, how can you stay in power?

The additional irony is, of course, that governments censor content all the time. Angela Merkel of Germany has decried the "de-listing" of Trump from social media. Yet Germany still has laws in place which make it illegal to even display the swastika or promote Nazi ideology. Germany knows all-too-well how ideas can kill.  Hell, Germany outlawed Scientology!

Qanon believers decry censorship, yet the primary tenet of their belief system is that they are fighting a worldwide child sex ring. Every government in the world has outlawed child pornography - is this "censorship" as well?  Clearly, the first amendment itself has its limits. There are some things that don't pass muster as "free speech".  Where that bright line is, depends on what country you are in.  Nazi symbols are outlawed in Germany, they are merely viewed as poor taste in America.  Child porn is outlawed nearly worldwide, although Japan was late to the game and still allows publication of child porn comic books.

The issue isn't whether censorship is allowed, but where you draw the line on what is, and what isn't allowable, and whether censorship is government-sanctioned or the right of private individuals and private enterprise.  Am I compelled to allow for "opposing views" on my blog by enabling unmoderated comments?  I think not.

What it comes down to, of course, is just raw power politics. Trump wants to use cries of "censorship" when it suits him, and then censor others with libel suits. He wants to "punish" social media by abolishing section 230, but only to shout down liberal ideas - not sacrosanct rightist ones!  It is a classic heads-I-win, tails-you-lose scenario.

I mentioned before that at the introduction of any new type of media, there is a corresponding rise in revolutionary thought on the right or left. The printing press allowed for pamphleteer, which in turn allowed people to spread ideas far faster than the previous method - giving speeches.  The radio lead to the rise of dictators in Germany, Japan, and Italy, as one voice could instruct the masses in a new way of thinking.  Television brought us new levels of craziness, as you can't win a televised war. Maybe the revolution won't be televised, but the video images of riots in 1968 elected Nixon to the Presidency.

The revolution won't be on Facebook, either.  Social media has created yet a new monster, and it may take some time for our society and our collective consciousness to deal with it.  Just as we eventually turned away from "radio preacher" Father Coughlin and his antisemitism, maybe we will turn against the latest iteration of this sort of hateful nonsense. And maybe the events of the last week are a turning point of sorts.

After watching a weekend of Fox News, Trump has doubled-down his bet on "election fraud" and insists his speech riling up the crowd was "perfect."  Maybe he is hoping this time around, the angry mob will be better organized.   And with Twitter, Parler, Facebook, and other forms of social media, they can effectively organize.  Shutting down right-wing social media, at least for the next few weeks, may be merely a means of survival.   During times of war - and we are at war, no doubt about it - the government has censored the media. The very least Facebook and Twitter can do is the same.  Maybe it might even work.

Maybe.  We can only hope.  It seems that a lot of people are turning away in disgust and finally realizing that conspiracy theories and fringe beliefs are a dead-end, not only for the individual, but society as a whole.  Not only that, but people are realizing that fringe beliefs are bad for business as well. You can't go up against big business anymore than McCarthy could go against the Army.  And just as a pizza shop owner in NYC discovered that racist slurs are bad for business, people are realizing, perhaps too late, that you don't have a "right" to have customers, if you align your business with fringe beliefs or allow your business to be a platform for them

Facebook had to get rid of Qanon not because they care about the greater social good, but because they realize eventually normal people would turn on Facebook if they continued to support fringe ideas.  And besides, these kooks don't buy anything, other than survival gear and penis enlargers, as The Odious Glenn Beck discovered to his dismay.

I linked to the "Car Nuts" car wash that aligned itself with Qanon. The company has since changed owners and changed its name, and its website explicitly and prominently disclaims any connection with the previous owner.  It seems there is a connection here - failed businesses, failed careers, failed dreams - all tend to steer one to fringe beliefs.

One rioter ran a failing kayak rental place in Michigan. Another has a failed drain-cleaning business. Others have extensive arrest records - one for dealing marijuana and LSD - the very drugs the GOP has strove to keep illegal.  In a way it is like the gang of criminals and thugs recruited for the Brownshirts, and later, the SS. It is a fascinating, if not horrifying development.  These are the sorts of people who should be leading the nation?

Again, turning away from extremism isn't "censorship" - it is just common sense.  If you can't articulate your politcal position without restoring to racism or violence, then what was your point?  Speaking of which, what exactly is the tyranny these "patriots" are liberating us from?  Because, when asked, they get awfully vague, other than to desire to keep Trump in office.  These are not "freedom fighters" but Trump's private army.

And no, we don't have to give a platform to invading armies.