various sorts of fascist lunacy in the so-called ‘united states’

The NYT attacks the First Amendment and embraces censorship of “disinformation”
Kevin Reed, WSWS, Oct 28 2020

In a lengthy essay published on Oct 18, the NYT has come out against free speech rights guaranteed by the First Amendment to the US Constitution and called for government censorship to stop the spread of “disinformation.” The cover story, which appeared in the online edition of the NYT Magazine under the headline “The Problem with Free Speech in an Age of Disinformation,” was written by Emily Bazelon, a staff writer who has also contributed to the Atlantic, Vogue and the WaPo. Bazelon states:

The problem with free speech is that the US is in the midst of an information crisis caused by the spread of viral disinformation.

She defines viral disinformation as “falsehoods aimed at achieving a political goal,” as opposed to misinformation that “refers more generally to falsehoods.” While Bazelon never gets around to explaining precisely what the “political goal” of disinformation is, she presents this as her primary concern:

The overwhelming amount of information, the anger encoded in it, these all serve to create chaos and confusion and make people, even non-partisans, exhausted, skeptical and cynical about politics.

In other words, Bazelon and the NYT fear that the information available online today, especially on social media platforms, makes it possible for millions of people who are angry and politically alienated from the capitalist two-party system to seek a left-wing and socialist alternative to the Democrats and Republicans. In a significant passage, Bazelon explains:

It’s an article of faith in the US that more speech is better and that the government should regulate it as little as possible. But increasingly, scholars of constitutional law, as well as social scientists, are beginning to question the way we have come to think about the First Amendment’s guarantee of free speech. They think our formulations are simplistic—and especially inadequate for our era.

Although they are hiding behind “scholars of constitutional law” and “social scientists,” the assault of Bazelon and the NYT on the guarantee in the Bill of Rights that the government “shall make no law abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press” could not be clearer. They are stating that the free speech protections in the First Amendment are too “simplistic.” They are “inadequate” for the present day, and some speech must be censored. In particular, Bazelon argues for suppressing speech “which may be doing more damage to the discourse about politics, news and science.” She continues:

It encompasses the mass distortion of truth and overwhelming waves of speech from extremists that smear and distract.

Since her essay has been published by the Democrat Party-connected NYT, readers may erroneously conclude that Bazelon is writing about the “extremists” among the far-right and fascist supporters of Trump and the Republican Party, who spread falsehoods about the deadly coronavirus pandemic and lies about mail balloting in the 2020 presidential election. However, while Bazelon is calling for censorship of the right wing, this is not her primary target. In a veiled reference to left-wing criticism of the Democrats, Bazelon says that concerns about “overwhelming waves of speech from extremists” actually “spans the ideological spectrum.” Attempting to tie the growing popular support for socialism to ongoing and unsubstantiated claims of Russian interference in US elections, she writes that the problem of “troll armies,” including “a flood of commenters often propelled by bots,” are “grimly effective at muting critical voices.” Who are these “critical voices” being “grimly” muted? They are none other than the corporate media establishment, including the NYT itself, seeking to keep mass opposition to the fascist Trump administration within the confines of the two-party system. For Bazelon and the NYT, commenters who criticize the Democrat Party from the left must be labeled as “troll armies” and “bots,” who do not qualify for constitutionally protected free speech rights. Attempting to justify her attack on these basic democratic rights, Bazelon quotes constitutional scholar Tim Wu of Columbia University, who recently wrote:

The use of speech as a tool to suppress speech is, by its nature, something very challenging for the First Amendment to deal with.

Citing Wu, Bazelon writes:

Perhaps our way of thinking about free speech is not the best way.

She then goes on to argue that the previous democratic conception of “good ideas” winning out in the “marketplace of ideas” has been made obsolete by “unfettered speech.” The First Amendment was adequate as long as the distribution of news and information was controlled by a handful of newspaper publishers and radio and television broadcasting companies within a government-regulated environment, but not anymore, she says. The expansion of the internet “weakened media regulation” and enabled “a few American tech companies to become the new gatekeepers.” The US government gave “platforms like Google, Facebook and Twitter” too much freedom to do whatever they wanted. Rather than millions or billions of people participating in online political discussion in a “virtual public square,” Bazelon writes that the social media platforms have enabled an environment where “Lies go viral more quickly than true statements.” In reality, the problem for Bazelon is not the promotion of lies and disinformation, something that the NYT has specialized in for decades, but the promotion of the “wrong” information. This is a newspaper that has relentlessly promoted the massive lie of Russian interference in US elections, going back to 2016 without ever presenting factual evidence to prove the allegation. The NYT was also a prime perpetrator of the lie of “WMDs” that preceded the US invasion of Iraq in 2003. The newspaper has also supported the persecution and locking up of journalists who have exposed the lies and crimes of US imperialism, most notably Julian Assange. One can assume that such falsehoods are considered by Bazelon to be “good ideas,” but woe to the “extremists” who expose these media lies and publish the truth online and on Twitter or Facebook. The embrace of censorship by the NYT comes as no surprise given the now infamous statement by the paper’s executive editor Bill Keller regarding First Amendment rights exactly one decade ago. On Nov 29 2010, Keller wrote:

Freedom of the press includes freedom not to publish, and that is a freedom we exercise with some regularity.

The fact is that the NYT has emerged over the past four decades as the public-relations arm of the CIA and the US military-intelligence state. Long gone are the days when the NYT published the Pentagon Papers in 1971 and exposed the crimes of US imperialism in south-east Asia and the unconstitutional actions of several US Presidents based on the principle that the press had a First Amendment right and an obligation to publish information that is significant to the public’s understanding of government policy. Now, nearly fifty years later, with a few words changed here and there, the NYT’s essay on the First Amendment is indistinguishable from a screed from a tsarist censor or the official pronouncement of the Inquisition. The fundamental position put forward is that the state, with the collaboration of online and social media tech companies through “banning” and “third-party fact-checking,” must determine what information is “true” or “false.” This is the complete opposite of the meaning of the First Amendment, which holds that the people must decide what is “true information” and what is “disinformation” and the state must not interfere in this democratic process. In wrapping up their brief for political censorship arising from “America’s information crisis,” the NYT and Bazelon conclude by calling on federal, state and local government to fund corporate-controlled newspapers and radio and TV stations. She also endorses various government actions being taken to censor online content. These actions include the Trump administration’s effort to abolish Section 230 immunity, which protects online service providers from being prosecuted for content posted on their platforms by users, the House Judiciary Committee investigation into the antitrust practices of Amazon, Apple, Facebook and Google, and the anti-Chinese campaign for the divestiture of the short-form video-sharing platform TikTok from its Beijing-based owner ByteDance.

The open attack on free speech rights by the NYT is consistent with its position last week, when Facebook and Twitter both censored posts linked to an article in the NY Post about Joseph Biden and his son. In an unprecedented act, Twitter shut down the NY Post account as well as that of White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany and blocked all sharing of links to the NY Post article. Although Twitter was forced to reverse itself, the NYT refused to refer to the actions by the social media companies as censorship and argued that the accuracy of the NY Post article had not yet been established by “third-party fact-checkers.” The fundamentally reactionary and undemocratic argument advanced by the NYT and Bazelon is that the government and social media platforms must intervene online and establish for the public what are “good” and what are “bad” ideas. They claim that when “good ideas” of the ruling establishment are rejected as false as a result of online debate and commentary, the opposition views should be identified as harmful “unfettered speech” and blocked. As we have maintained on the WSWS, all censorship initiatives by the US government and social media platforms are ultimately directed against the development of socialist politics and organization within the working class. All factions of the ruling political establishment and the corporate media defend the capitalist system, and have no problem spreading lies about history, war and the struggles of the international working class. The attack by the NYT on the First Amendment demonstrates that, should Biden succeed in defeating Trump in the 2020 elections, and successfully remove him from the White House, a Democrat Party administration will extend the assault on democratic rights in the US that has been deepening over the past 25 years.

Faceboook moderators forced to return to offices as COVID-19 continues to spread
Mike Ingram, WSWS, Oct 28 2020

Facebook moderators are being forced to return to offices in Europe and the US as positive tests for COVID-19 continue to surge. An Oct 20 report by nonprofit publication Rest of World states that workers in Hyderabad were forced to return to offices this summer, as COVID-19 cases were surging in that country. The workers are employed by Genpact, which employs around 1,600 moderators in India. Genpact is one of several companies Facebook uses around the world to outsource content moderation. Some 15k workers world-wide are employed as moderators for Facebook. Facebook claims that moderators are working in person only if they choose to do so, but Rest of World cited current and former Genpact employees who said people are being forced to go to work. The report cites a senior moderator who said Genpact employees were informed they could lose their jobs if they didn’t come to the office. The moderator added that there was a threatening factor behind it, saying:

The operations team told them these are important orders.

In the middle of a pandemic and economic recession, workers are fearful of losing their jobs. Rest of World cites a former content moderator who left Genpact after being sent home in March at the beginning of the lockdown but remains in contact with former coworkers, as saying:

Genpact is doing it because there aren’t any jobs and people are getting laid off. So people are too scared to actually say anything. And I think that’s what Genpact is taking advantage of.

Prior to the pandemic, moderators in India were paid less than $2 an hour and wages were supplemented by food benefits, either through in-office meals or through a prepaid meal card. When Genpact employees were sent home during the COVID-19 lockdown, that benefit disappeared. Genpact says it is continuing to provide packed meals and snacks for on-site workers. The potential loss of this essential subsidy is added pressure on workers to show up at the office despite concerns for their health. In Dublin, moderators working for contractor CPL were forced to go into the office as the country returned to its highest tier of COVID lockdown after the company categorized them as “essential workers.” The Guardian reported moderators employed by the contractor CPL said they were told they are considered essential workers and therefore not bound by Ireland’s Level 5 restrictions, which require everyone to work from home unless they are “providing an essential purpose for which your physical presence is required.” Facebook announced in August that employees were allowed to work remotely until Jul 2021, but this does not include moderators, who review the millions of reports flagged to them by Facebook users, as they are predominantly employed thorough third-party contractors. A moderator anonymously told the Guardian:

People are feeling that they’re being exploited. Facebook themselves, they are making almost all their employees work from home. Even people working in the same team, on the same project as us, we’re doing the same work, Facebook is letting them work from home and not us.

When CPL recalled staff to the office in July, as the Irish lockdown was partially lifted, the company made no distinction regarding the topics moderators were working on. All staff were informed:

Your role involves ensuring the safety of online communities and the internet. The company has concluded that your job cannot be undertaken from home.

Moderators were told that in the event of a confirmed COVID case, the office would be closed for 72 hours but since the end of September, according to the Guardian:

There have been three such cases, according to emails sent to staff, but the office has not closed.

Within days of contractors employed by Accenture returning to its Facebook facility in Austin, Texas, at least one worker had tested positive. according to an email cited by the Intercept:

We have learned that one of our people working Facebook Domain 8 on the 12th floor has tested positive for COVID-19. This individual was last in the office on 10/13, became symptomatic on 10/14 and received a positive test result on 10/16. Currently, this person is in self-quarantine.

Earlier, the Intercept reported that it had obtained an audio recording of an Oct 2 virtual meeting in which an Accenture manager said:

Some of the questions we’re getting are what happens when I get sick, or what happens when somebody in the office gets sick. So now I’m going to dive in to, you know, how Accenture handles these situations. Some of you have been in buildings where there have been notifications sent that somebody has tested positive, and that is a reality of where we’re at today, and that will happen as people test positive, and it’s not necessarily something to worry about (audio cuts out briefly) “been in direct contact.

Facebook has said that moderators working on sensitive topics, such as terrorism or self-harm, were not allowed to do so from home, citing concern for their mental health while working in isolation. A February 2019 report in the Verge, titled “The Trauma Floor: The secret lives of Facebook moderators in America,” reports on working conditions for moderators at Cognizent in Phoenix, Arizona and Tampa, Florida: “Collectively, the employees describe a workplace that is perpetually teetering on the brink of chaos,” the authors state. They describe it thus:

Team leaders micromanage content moderators’ every bathroom and prayer break. People develop severe anxiety while still in training, and continue to struggle with trauma symptoms long after they leave. The counseling that Cognizant offers them ends the moment they quit, or are simply let go.

Google providing US DHS with tech platform for virtual border wall
Kevin Reed, WSWS, Oct 28 2020

According to documents published recently by the Intercept, Google is now working with the Trump administration on a high-tech surveillance project being developed at the US-Mexico border. The documents, related to a federal contract with the Customs and Border Protection (CBP) division of the US Dept of Homeland Security, show that Google is providing cloud services as part of the artificial intelligence (AI) infrastructure for a virtual southern border wall. The Intercept report describes the virtual wall as a combination of “surveillance towers and drones, blanketing an area with sensors to detect unauthorized entry into the country.” CBP is developing its Autonomous Surveillance Towers program with automated surveillance operations “24 hours per day, 365 days per year” that can “identify items of interest, such as people or vehicles.” The system is based on a series of high-resolution and infrared cameras that the US government claims are a “true force multiplier for CBP, enabling Border Patrol agents to remain focused on their interdiction mission rather than operating surveillance systems.”

The Intercept reports that Google is quietly providing the cloud AI services through a third-party contracting firm called Thundercat Technology. This relationship is confirmed from a redacted contracting document that had been obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request by a research firm called Tech Inquiry that was founded by former Google research scientist Jack Paulson. The Virginia-based Thundercat Technology is a shell company that specializes in reselling the information technology services of other companies in US government contracts. According to their website:

Thundercat Technologies is unique in that we work with many different agencies across the DoD, Civilian, and Intelligence communities.

Among its many US government customers are the FBI, the DoD, the DIA and the Defense Information Systems Agency. The DHS services contract, signed on Aug 27, shows that Thundercat Technologies is providing “Cloud support services for INVNT team” of CBP. Very little public information is available about INVNT, which stands for “Innovation Team,” a special department within CBP devoted to the implementation of “disruptive” and “cutting-edge” commercial high-tech solutions. Although the specifics of Google services on the virtual wall project are not known, the Intercept has also published a 10-page statement of work document entitled “Google Cloud for INVNT” from a previous agreement that goes back to Apr 2016. This document shows that Google’s AI platform and Internet of Things cloud technology has been integrated with advanced camera imaging hardware. The document says:

Google Cloud Platform will be utilized for doing innovation projects for C1’s INVNT team like next-generation Internet of Things, Natural Language Processing, Language Translation and Andril [sic] image camera and any other future-looking project for CBP. The GCP has unique product features which will help to execute on the mission needs.

As pointed out by the Intercept, the reference to Anduril (misspelled as Andril in the Google Cloud document) is highly significant. The report says:

Anduril operates sentry towers along the US-Mexico border that are used by CBP for surveillance and apprehension of people entering the country, streamlining the process of putting migrants in DHS custody.

Additionally, Anduril is a start-up defense technology contractor founded by 28-year-old Palmer Luckey, an extreme right-wing Trump supporter and open advocate of collaboration between big tech and the US military. The Intercept says:

Anduril’s virtual wall system works by rapidly identifying anyone approaching or attempting to cross the border (or any other perimeter), relaying their exact location to border authorities on the ground, offering a relatively cheap, technocratic, and less politically fraught means of thwarting would-be migrants.

Anduril also sells “intelligent air support” to the US government, with its Ghost 4 autonomous small unmanned aircraft system (sUAS). The Anduril website says:

Ghost 4 is modular, man-portable, waterproof, and combines long endurance, high payload capacity and a near-silent acoustic signature for a wide variety of mission capabilities. It is designed and manufactured in the US to meet the needs of our military users. It provides real-time surveillance, intelligence, and reconnaissance capabilities, creating a clearer common operating picture which enables service men and women make more informed decisions.

The Ghost 4’s UAS drones operate in conjunction with the Anduril “Sentry Towers” According to the Intercept:

These towers bundle cameras, radar antennae, lasers, and other sophisticated sensors atop an 80-foot pole. Surveillance imagery from both the camera-toting drones and sensor towers is ingested into ‘Lattice,’ Anduril’s artificial intelligence software platform, where the system automatically flags suspicious objects in the vicinity, like cars or people.

It is clear that the Thundercat Technology contract enables Anduril to plug its surveillance image data gathering systems into the AI and deep learning systems of Google Cloud services. Among the capabilities of Google’s Natural Language tool, for example, is “to reveal the structure and meaning of text … extract information about people, places, and events.” According to company marketing materials, this technology can be paired with Google’s speech-to-text transcription software “to extract insights from audio conversations.” Through its contract with DHS, Google is working directly with those in the tech industry like Anduril who are open advocates for the use of advanced systems for war and the anti-immigrant agenda of the Trump administration. The Intercept report says:

CEO Palmer Luckey has personally donated at least $1.7m to Republican candidates this cycle. On Sunday, he hosted President Donald Trump at his home in Orange County for a high-dollar fundraiser.

Anduril also counts among its investors Peter Thiel, a right-wing venture capitalist who functions as a tech advisor to Donald Trump and who is also an investor in the IT firm Palantir, a top provider of IT and big data mining solutions for US intelligence agencies. Palmer Luckey has been vocally hostile to the opposition among Google employees to the collaboration between the tech giant and the US military. When Google employees forced company management to abort a contract with the US DoD’s Project Maven in 2018, Luckey accused the company of “abandoning the Pentagon.” He went on to say that Google permitted “a fringe inside of their own company” to allow foreign adversaries to adopt superior AI military capabilities to the US. Exposing the extreme nationalist views prevalent among this layer of American tech executives, in 2019 Luckey said the following about the employees who signed the petition objecting to the Project Maven contract:

You have Chinese nationals working in the Google London office signing this letter. Of course they don’t mind if the US has good military technology. Of course they don’t mind if China has better technology. They’re Chinese. They’re not going to have any loyalty.

The revelation that Google is developing AI for a CBP border surveillance system, and working with companies like Anduril, makes clear that the fight to stop advanced technologies from being deployed for repressive and military warfare purposes requires a political struggle against the entire capitalist system and for socialism.

As US vote total surges, Trump, Republicans seek to block counting
Patrick Martin, WSWS, Oct 28 2020

Six days until Election Day, some 70m people have already cast ballots, either in early voting or by mail, a figure which is more than half the total turnout in 2016, when 138m voted. In 2020, as many as 160m people are expected to vote, with as many as 100m voting early or by mail. While the ballots remain secret and unopened, most states report the number of registered Democrats, Republicans and independents who have already voted, and these figures suggest a huge lead for the Democrat Party, not surprisingly given the efforts by the Trump campaign both to denigrate mail balloting and to dismiss fears of the coronavirus, the main reason for the surge in early voting. According to a tabulation Monday by the WaPo, many heavily Democrat states have already seen early voting numbers as high as 60% of the total turnout in 2016, including Washington (67%), Colorado (62%), Oregon (58%), Massachusetts (50%) and California (48%). By contrast, many heavily Republican states have early votes at a much lower percentage of 2016 turnout, including Missouri (19%), Oklahoma (14%), Alabama (7%) and Mississippi (5%).

Significantly, there have been extremely high early voting numbers reported in the more closely-contested “battleground” states, indicating that voters in those states are following the voting recommendations of the Biden rather than Trump campaigns. The most remarkable number is in Texas, where 7.4m people have already voted, more than any other state, and a figure that is 82% of total 2016 votes. This suggests that voter turnout in the second-largest state, long dominated by the Republican Party, is skyrocketing, particularly in the urban areas where hostility towards Trump and the ultra-right is more prevalent. Other battleground states with high early voting numbers compared to 2016 total votes include North Carolina (67%), Ohio (66%), Nevada (66%), Florida (63%) and Arizona (60%). All but Nevada were won by Trump four years ago. All indications are that by the time the polls open on Election Day, as much as three-quarters of the Democrat Party vote will already have been cast, while Republicans will dominate the same-day, in-person voting. This explains why the Trump campaign is seeking to disqualify as many of the mail ballots and early in-person votes as possible, through bogus claims of fraud.

These efforts have the backing of the right-wing majority on the US Supreme Court, as demonstrated by Tuesday’s decision to strike down a lower court decision allowing the state of Wisconsin to count mail ballots arriving as late as nine days after Nov 3 as long as they were postmarked by Election Day. Counting these late-arriving ballots is an effort to offset the deliberate slowing of the mail by the US Postal Service under the direction of Trump crony and Republican fundraiser Louis DeJoy. In supporting this outrageous and reactionary ruling, Justice Brett Kavanaugh cited the 2000 court decision in Bush vs Gore, the 5–4 ruling that awarded Florida’s electoral votes and the presidency to George W Bush, although Al Gore had won the popular vote nationwide and was the likely winner in Florida if all votes had been counted. It was the first time that Bush vs Gore has been cited as a precedent, a signal that the right-wing majority on the court will do everything in its power to award the 2020 election to Trump.

Republican-controlled state governments have sought to manufacture a pretext for suppressing as many of the mail ballots as possible, by barring election officials from counting or otherwise processing these ballots before Election Day, and then demanding that they deliver “final” results overnight after the polls close. This would compel election officials to count all the mail ballots in a single day, a practical impossibility, since ballots that have been passed through postal processing frequently are creased, bent or otherwise damaged, cannot be fed into tabulating machines and have to be counted by hand. In some Republican-controlled counties in Pennsylvania, officials have even decided as a matter of policy to begin counting mail ballots only after all in-person ballots have been tabulated. Given the partisan split in voting methods, this amounts to counting all the Republican votes first, while leaving the Democrat votes to the end, if time permits. In Michigan, the Republican-controlled state legislature rejected pleas that the record 2.1m in early and mail ballots should be counted before Election Day, with the tallies kept secret. Instead, they gave election officials only an additional 24 hours to process unopened mail ballots, removing outer envelopes, checking signatures, but not opening the actual ballot or tabulating any votes.

Perhaps the most systematic anti-democratic campaign is being waged by the state government in Texas, whose 38 electoral votes are the basis for any Republican effort to win the Electoral College. On Tuesday, the Texas Supreme Court issued a ruling confirming the order by Texas Governor Greg Abbott which limits the number of mail-ballot drop boxes to one per county. This means that rural Loving County in west Texas, with fewer than 100 inhabitants, has as many drop boxes as Harris County, which includes the city of Houston, with a population of 4.7m. This difference becomes critical going forward, because ballots put into the mail from now on are unlikely to be delivered before Nov 3, and voters who fill them out will have to take them to the county drop box if they want them to be received in time to be counted. Nonetheless, the 17-page court ruling made the specious argument that Abbott’s policy would “not disenfranchise anyone,” because voters could still put their ballots in the mail. On Monday, the Texas Army National Guard announced it was preparing to send up to 1k troops to five major cities (Houston, Dallas, Fort Worth, Austin and San Antonio) to reinforce the police in the event of disturbances following the Nov 3 election. Guard officers compared the action to the deployment ordered by Governor Abbott against widespread protests against police violence that erupted after the police murder of George Floyd last May.

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