Populism rules

The Austrian presidential election is going to a lap of (dis-)honor. The highest court decided to repeat the run-off ballot, which was narrowly won by the green party’s candidate Alexander Van der Bellen, a former economy professor. The loser in this election was the vice chairman of the right-wing populist party Norbert Hofer. Hofer and his party sued against the validity of the election. Even though there was no hint, that any vote was counted incorrectly, some of the election laws were violated (opening of the outer envelop of the postal votes too early, not all election-observer were present at all times, …). However, the highest court ruled, that the possibility for voter fraud is already enough to revoke the election.

Now the Austrian people have to pay for another election. Much worse is the chance to get an illiterate populist as a president. What a shame for Austria, if Norbert Hofer makes it.

Recently some reporters asked him, if he would have sued against the result of the election, even if he was the winner. Of course he would, Norbert replied. Obviously he didn’t expect the follow-up questions: The election in question was already the second round. In the first round with six candidates, Norbert Hofer got the majority of votes, which qualified him and the runner-up Alexander Van der Betten to the run-off ballot.

In the first round of the election exactly the same violations were observed, which eventually led to the annulment of the second round of the election.

The question to Norbert Hofer was: Why didn’t you sue against the result of the first round? But Norbert lied: I didn’t know about the violation of the election regulations at that time point.

Let me offer some options for an honest answer:

  1. I won. Why should I do anything against it?
  2. My interpretation of law is flexible, dependent on my advantage.
  3. I am used to defend my version of the truth. Why should I act differently this time?
  4. I do anything to win. Since I was the winner, there was no reason to act.
  5. There was a certain risk to upset the public, which would have reduced my chances in the run-off ballot.
  6. My advisers told me to keep calm about the violations of the law. I do what my advisers tell me to do.
  7. Everything happened behind my back. I have no idea, what’s going on.

There is probably some truth in each of these answers, even though none of them was selected by Norbert Hofer.

Conspiracy competitors

Recently I saw the first episode of the latest season of X-Files. They blamed their government to be ill-disposed against their own people. As examples they mentioned the Tuskegee syphilis experiment and Henrietta Lacks (Here is a link to the transcript). I did not know about the syphilis experiments but I read a book about the latter.

Henrietta Lacks is the donor of the first cancer cell line called HeLa, which could grow and divide outside of a human body in cell culture medium. This was the start of a new era in cancer research, because the effects of cancer drugs on human cancer cells could be tested in a petri dish. They didn’t ask for Henrietta’s or her relatives permission to take her cells and didn’t inform her family well about the detailed circumstances. Henrietta died but her family believed she became a kind of zombie, because a small part of her, the cells in culture, was still alive. You can still purchase these cells here.

If you read some of my blog posts and in particular my blog title you might get the impression I believe in a bigger plan behind the conspiracy I am writing about. I strongly reject that, but I do believe that main drivers of conspiracy, the effects of capitalism and neo-liberalism are not good for average people. Like during all times of human history a few win and the majority loose until the next revolution, when people request their share of wealth.

However, my tiny blog is not changing much. Currently I have about 400 readers per month. Other pages on the net with similar goals are more powerful and influential. For a moment, I would like to refer to these well written news-sites, the professional blog pages and my conspiracy blog as “us”.

The parties in this fight

There is no doubt that some of our critical statements are not well taken by some parties. The US and other governments, large corporations in general and specific companies in particular are frequent targets of our critics. Of course we are the opponents.

The weapons

How are the recipients fight against these attacks? Since this is an information war, it’s all about the public image and opinion. I would like to stress a citation of Mahatma Gandhi: First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win. Let’s focus on steps one to three, because the outcome is fairly unclear.

The strategy

Ignoring the drone papers and trying to to sweep the NSA affair under the carpet belongs to step one (they ignore you), X-files is the proof, that we are already at least in step two (they laugh at you) of the battle against us. The production company Twenty Century Fox (Rupert Murdoch) is surely a big player in the American entertainment business. They produced and published X-Files by making a joke about us. Exposing conspiracy became entertainment. The connections X-Files make in this TV format have some references to the real world but are ridiculous, unrealistic, and are surely no reason for concerns. X-files is a cartoon magazine.

Perhaps we already reached step three (they fight you) because they try to undermine our serious concerns and make a fool out of us by damaging the public image of conspiracy warnings in an entertainment program called X-Files.

The outcome

In X-Files we have a serious competitor with a huge public attention and audience. It’s a only tiny needle, which fulfills people’s need for a dose of conspiracy. We did not even get a glimpse idea of the real power of our competitor.

The world is changing

It has been a while since my last post in January this year. In the meantime lots of things changed in the online world. The naive part of the population (including me) realized, that the secret services around the world do more sophisticated spying, than opening hand-written letters with steam. A brave young man, Edward Snowden, was willing to give up his normal, comfortable life, to inform the world about the spying program of the NSA and GCHQ. There is a house in Vienna (18., Pötzleinsdorferstrasse 126 – 128) that belongs to the US embassy. There are rumours, that this house is used by the NSA. According to a newspaper, there is a direct connection to the back-bone of Austria’s internet in this house, capable of transmitting up to 70% of Austria’s telecommunication traffic. I assume that my country is not an exception and similar houses exist all over the world.

Since I know about these details, I don’t feel save anymore. It feels like, all my online activities are monitored. The Austrian Computer Association postulate the required actions in an open letter to the government. The cornerstones are:

  • transparency and democratic control of all surveillance activities
  • disclosure of all contracts with the USA and other countries regarding data transmission
  • data protection according to European law (in particular regarding the safe-harbour contracts)
  • definition of human rights for online activities
  • European companies should be founded that provide computer cloud services to break US monopolies
  • Security evaluation of software used in the government
  • Diplomatic steps to stop the spying programs (also economic espionage)
  • Freedom of press (see my last post) in particular for journalists and others reporting about this topic

The president of Brazil made a brave step ahead. I hope others will follow.

Free press – required in 2013 ?

In the 17th and 18th century, the Age of enlightenment, intellectual interchange of topics of public interest, like social developments and science, became an important achievement. Throughout the centuries, people were fighting for its preservation and broadening to other fields. The driving forces were opposition to “superstition, intolerance and some abuses by church and state” (Wikipedia). Let me update this list and add “abuses by (online) corporations” , to make it more current. The Freedom of the press as well as the Freedom of speech are crucial measures to keep this achievement.

The rise of the Internet fits perfectly into this concept. Potentially everybody can reach a huge audience. But it quickly turned out, that professional journalists can do the job much better, than average people (like me). Skillful writing abilities, careful investigtion of the background, and statements based on facts are required to inform the public properly, in order e.g. to cause the dismissal of corrupt members of parliament or ministers, report about environmental hazards, or provide information about wrong developments. We need these journalists more urgent than ever and we must pay them properly. I have subscriptions of two Austrian quality newspapers, even though I don’t have enough time to read most of their articles.

News aggregators like Google news are taking articles from online newspapers, without paying for the content, shifting online traffic from newspapers to Google. Protests came from Brazil, Great Britain, and others. Imagine what happens to a single newspaper, if Google reacts on its protest and kicks it out of its search engine results. At least it’s online appearance becomes virtually invisible. If most newspapers from a region join together, like the ones from Brazil’s National Association of Newspapers, they could undermine Google’s divide and conquer strategy.

Many news publishers around the world sell their newspapers via a specific App for Apple or Android phones and tablet computers, some of them like newspaperdirect for many newspapers in parallel. Apple and Google are just involved in the distribution of the App and content is taken directly from the publisher’s servers.

But there are more and more publishers, who devote their online content entirely to Apple and sell it directly via Apple’s iTunes. Plans for that exist for several years and since October 2011 there is a new Apple iOS application (impossible to un-install) called Newsstand. It seems to be a big success. Apple takes a 30 percent cut on all newspaper sales.

If this distribution model takes over a significant share of the newspaper market, this is the end of free press. Then the online giant Apple can not only control distribution and earn much money, they can put pressure on the content of the publication. There is a conflict of interest: Free speech (customers) and making money (Apple). Critical journalists won’t survive long, when the Apple guidelines apply, making them changing their opinions. There is a history of Apple regarding other iTunes content, which I call censorship.

The online giants, including Facebook and Twitter, live on the input of people. Their assets are entirely produced by their users. They provide a fantastic and very expensive infrastructure apparently for free, but cannibalize your content and abuse it for their own interests. At least institutions payed by the taxpayer should be forced, not to produce value for them. This happened to the Austrian National Broadcasting (ORF). I support this prohibition of social media activities, but several shortsighted politicians do not (Brosz, Cap).

So what is the solution for this online dilemma? Firstly, publish online on servers under your control. This applies equally to people and institutions. Secondly, create standards and rules for online publications, that guarantee freedom of speech and fair payments for journalists and control it by independent institutions.