Thinking about Privacy Policies

I am in the process of developing and publishing an Android app to the Google Play store. Part of the process of doing so is developing and publishing a privacy policy.

Initially, I thought this would be super-simple: Don’t collect information, then there is nothing to share or to establish policies about sharing. Simple. However, in the real world, things are seldom so simple as they might at first appear.

The first complication came when I realized that although my app does not (and probably never will) gather and pass on usage statistics, the places from which users might download my app, which will include a web site run by yours truly in addition to the Google Play store, certainly will gather such statistics.

Virtually every web server on the Internet logs each and every request it receives, and these log messages typically contain, at a bare minimum:

  • The time a request arrived.
  • The IP address the request arrived from,
  • The URL of the resource being requested, and
  • Basic information on the user agent (i.e. web browser) used to make the request. Such information typically includes the operating system that the user agent was running under.

So, say you are an AT&T customer in Brooklyn who uses your Samsung Galaxy S21 to download a copy of my app. I (or Google) will be able to tell from your IP address that you are an AT&T customer in the New York City metro area. We may even be able to tell that you were in the borough of Brooklyn, and that you were using a Galaxy S21. If we share your IP address with AT&T Wireless, they will be definitely able to determine exactly who you are, what hardware you used, where you used it, and (if you were doing something unlawful and/or abusive) take action against you for what you did.

Some Internet users are shocked to discover this. If you are one of those, consider yourself educated.

Why is this done? Not always for nefarious purposes! In fact, not usually for such. Gathering such data can be extremely useful for dealing with things like abusive users (they exist), troubleshooting software and network problems (they are inevitable), or managing the growth of traffic to a web site or to a cellular network.

But it’s still pretty simple, right? So I am collecting basic usage statistics (and Google Play will doubtless collect some on my behalf that it can share with me in reports). Just do not share the information!

Well, there is the matter that I could end up in jail on a contempt of court charge for adhering to such a policy: what if a law enforcement officer or a process server arrives at my door armed with a warrant or a subpoena?

Okay, then, exclude that and nothing else. Solved!

Not so fast, yet again! What if my app becomes popular with violent white nationalists and neofascists? I am, after all, promising to gather a fairly minimum amount of information and to be as reluctant as possible in sharing it; that makes my app attractive to such individuals.

It also makes it attractive to those breaking laws to undermine oppression and to advocate for more freedom, which is my main intent. If that sounds reckless to you, just ponder that any oppressive order has always considered it a crime to undermine said order; revolutionary politics is intrinsically criminal politics. Lech Wałęsa was a criminal; Martin Luther King was a criminal; Mahatma Gandhi was a criminal. If the Founding Fathers of the United States had failed in their endeavor, they would have been prosecuted and for the most part executed for the crime of treason against the British Empire.

The only exceptions to the above rule are certain situations when the revolutionaries are judged to be sufficiently tiny in number and powerless so as to pose little or no threat to the established order. And as soon as they gain enough power to cease being so, watch out! The velvet gloves will be replaced by an iron fist.

But I digress. So now I must craft an exception for things like neofascist and white nationalist politics. While I do not want to, and do not have any intent to, regularly monitor the download logs, I want to be free to cooperate with antifascist organizations should my cooperation prove helpful to the cause of fighting fascism.

That, of course, begs the question of just what, precisely “neofascist and white nationalist politics” is. However I define it, it opens up the prospects of all sorts of word games: “No, I am not a ‘fascist,’ you stupid leftist. I am a ‘nationalist’ and an ‘identitarian.’”

Now I am stuck trying to anticipate those word games, all the while also having a privacy promise that still is meaningful to the vast majority of people, even people whom I might politically disagree with, who are nonetheless not fascists and whose beliefs must be accepted as part of the diverse spectrum of beliefs in any free and open society.

In the real world, things are seldom so simple as they might at first appear.

Danger, Joe Biden, Danger!

Make no mistake, the refugee crisis along the southern border represents a real danger for Biden and a real opportunity for the fascists.

The Democrats are already swimming against the tide: their majority in Congress is razor-thin, and midterm elections tend to go badly for the party that occupies the White House. A refugee crisis would be just the thing the fascists need to whip up their base and get people to forget what a disaster Trump was.

Remember how the Trump regime was rightly excoriated for the deliberate cruelty of its policy of separating children from their families? Well, now unaccompanied minors are showing up en masse at the border, asking for refugee status. They have, in other words, been pre-separated from their families, largely by the actions of those families themselves.

What does that say, that large numbers of families are now willing to impose the same cruelty on their children that hateful fascists once wished on them? The most logical explanation, I think, is that families are doing so because the conditions the children are experiencing when with their families, both in the refugee camps, and before the families fled their home countries, is so bad that, as bad as child separation is, it is being judged as better for the affected children.

Conditions, in other words, must be really bad for those refugee families.

Any solution to the crisis must therefore be focused on resolving that problem, and not just making things more difficult at the border itself. Such latter measures are unlikely to work very well. Most likely a massive military deployment (with shoot-to-kill orders), and the impressment of the survivors into Nazi-esque forced labor and death camps would do the trick, but obviously that’s beyond the pale for any civilized country to so much as contemplate.

Measures that fall much short of that are unlikely to be sufficiently discouraging. Remember, families are already volunteering to send their children into concentration camps that fall short of death camps. The border wall is both incomplete and porous (it is easy to defeat with standard tools, and smaller individuals, such as children, can squeeze through the slats).

The conditions that are pushing refugees across the border must be addressed. The quickest short-term fix would probably be to fund improvements at the holding camps in Mexico. Once COVID-19 is under better control, we can (and should) resume admitting refugees, and on a widespread scale.

The fascists will howl that the latter is being done to destroy their vision of America, and they would be right. This is very much a reason why we need more immigration to the USA.

Letting more immigrants in is good for many reasons, and one of those reasons is that it dilutes the power of the fascists, because recent immigrants tend not to become fascists. Immigrants, as a rule, simply make for better citizens of an open and free society than does Trump’s base of Christian fascists. It is probably politically toxic to admit this, however, so don’t expect any establishment figures to do so. (Such frankness is something I can get away with, because I am just a semi-anonymous nobody with a blog.)

That said, however, it is far better to not be compelled to flee one’s country of birth in the first place than to be admitted as a refugee in a foreign country. That is going to be a harder nut for establishment politics to crack, because it means questioning U.S. neo-imperialism, which is directly responsible for regimes like the one in Honduras (installed with the approval of the Obama administration) that are prompting so many to become refugees in the first place.

The bottom line is that Biden must move swiftly and decisively on addressing the issues that are forcing Central Americans to move north. Failure to do so would not only be a moral weakness, but a weakness from the standpoint of realpolitik as well.

Dumb Dems, Part Two?

In one of my more obvious (to me) insights, I correctly predicted that the Democrats would end up sorely regretting their decision to go nuclear in 2013.

Well, here we go again.

Or do we? The most likely measures fall short of an outright kill of the filibuster and are more a scaling-back of it. Of course, as the article linked above argues, that is likely to beget further scalings-back.

One thing that bears pointing out is that weakening the filibuster is less Constitutionally harmful than the continued evolution of an imperial presidency, and the latter becomes more likely if Congress is paralyzed by an unweakend filibuster. The filibuster is mentioned nowhere in the U.S. Constitution; it is merely one of the many “Rules of its Proceedings” the Senate chose to establish for itself per Article I Section 5, and it can just as easily weaken or abolish that provision as it first created and then strengthened it.

Yes, strengthened it. It is far easier to filibuster something today than it has historically been. A filibuster is nowadays mostly a simple matter of paperwork. It used to be the case that Senators opposing the measure had to actually be physically present and take turns speaking in order to talk a bill to death. In fact, returning to this past state of affairs is probably the most likely measure to be enacted.

In a real sense, this time, there is less room to maneuver. Fail to pass a new civil rights bill, and we head into a new Jim Crow era of near-permanent minority rule. So the Democrats’ hand is being forced in a way that it was not in 2013.

But this does not in any way change what Ruth Marcus wrote in the article linked above; a backlash is still likely to come. It is one reason for my general pessimism about the political future of the United States.

Relations with China Will Not Get Better

Really, this should come as about zero surprise; in fact, I predicted it back in 2019. (That was pre-pandemic, and I got many of the specifics wrong, but the general gist of relations swirling down the toilet with China not just being all Trump’s fault has aged well.)

Many Marxists foolishly supported (or refused to oppose) tyranny in the USSR, falsely believing that the principles of socialism would inevitably produce freedom despite the immediate result of the revolution in Russia producing a new and more oppressive tyranny. Many on the Right criticize such naïveté, and rightly so.

Well, it was equally stupid to think that a totalitarian dictatorship could inevitably be steered towards becoming an open society by the magic of capitalism and markets. Capitalism has proven itself compatible with states of profound unfreedom more than once, so it should come as no surprise to see it exhibit compatibility with so-called “socialism with Chinese characteristics.”

A falling-out was going to happen regardless of Trump, so it should be no surprise that the end of the Trump era has not changed the general downward spiral of US/China relations.

So Much for the Lincoln Project

One of its co-founders has been exposed as a sexual predator, and a significant number of its top luminaries have departed the organization in the wake of that revelation.

The whole organization now has the stench of death hovering over it. It’s probably only a matter of time before it collapses and is no more. Or maybe it will linger on as a sad shell of itself. The distinction is somewhat academic; what matters is that henceforth, the Lincoln Project will no longer be the powerful influencer it once was.

It was probably a long time coming. I would suspect that there had been significant stresses and strains in the organization for some time, but it was held together largely by the desire to stay united and work to defeat Trump. It is not a coincidence that the collapse happened after Trump lost and Biden took office. A similar thing happened to the Western-Soviet alliance after Hitler was defeated.

There is still very much a need for anti-Trump politics on the center right, and I hope that some new organization (or organizations) rise to take the place of the Lincoln Project.

Yes, It’s War

This is in clarification to my most recent post, where I advocated that Trump and his family be targeted for prosecution so as to ruin their future political prospects (and by implication, the future prospects of American Christian fascism).

Make no mistake: that is precisely what I advocated. This is war. Either the fascists win, or the non-fascists win. Fascism must be crushed, by any means necessary. It is that simple.

There is of course no way on Earth that the present administration could strip the veneer off and say it plainly like I just have. Thankfully, they do not have to.

Pretexts are unnecessary in order to prosecute Trump. All that is needed is to reverse the disgusting precedent that nobody in a position of great power ever gets held accountable in the USA. That is it.

Biden recently tweeted that presidents should not be above the law. Make it so, and the powerful get held to account, in a politically necessary way. Refuse to make it so, and the Republic dies.

It is your choice, Messrs. Biden and Garland.

So Much for Impeachment

Technically, I should have titled this “so much for conviction after impeachment,” because the impeachment part has already happened. But anyhow, it is now clear that there is no better Republican party.

Actually, there hasn’t been for some time. But hope springs eternal in the hearts of Establishment pundits, all evidence to the contrary notwithstanding. Sure, there’s a few exceptions to the general rule. But the Romneys and Raffenspergers will be dealt with by the Trumpist fascist majority soon enough. The GOP is now the party of Trump and it is not going to be the party of anything else.

And why shouldn’t it be? Fascism sells in the USA. Not overall, of course, but well enough (thanks to an antiquated political system) to rule with minority support. The fascist party lost the last national election by under 50,000 votes, despite being responsible for 75 times more dead Americans than Al Qaeda.

Put that in your pipe and smoke it. If that’s how close to victory the fascists can get in circumstances that abnormally adverse for them, how are they likely to do once things return to normal?

It is imperative that non-fascists use the power we temporarily have to weaken the fascists as much as possible. A critical aspect of this is to target the Trump crime family, for reasons I will explain below. Given that conviction in the Senate is not going to happen, this means prosecution for lesser crimes at the state and federal levels. Conveniently, there is almost certainly a number of criminal acts that various members of that family can be prosecuted for.

And yes, the Trumps really are a head of a monster that can be lopped off. If it’s a hydra, it’s not a normal hydra: a few of its heads are much more important than most of the others. Lopping off those important heads might not kill this hydra, but they will weaken it considerably.

This is because of the nature of the support for political authoritarianism in the USA: it is tightly bound to the support for economic authoritarianism. Americans are indoctrinated to revere the latter. The capitalist is seen as an economic hero, responsible for wealth creation, whose private property rights are to be honored and protected. The workplace is his property, and his employees had damn well better know their place in it.

Even by capitalist standards of profit maximization, Trump was not a very good businessman, but that doesn’t matter: he was seen by many as being a good businessman. In addition to simply being a businessman, his businessman’s authoritarianism was a big part of his whole show business persona; just witness his famous “You’re fired!” tagline. He was, in short, perfectly primed to become an authoritarian leader, if (as he did) he chose to pursue a career in politics.

There really isn’t anyone else comparable. Josh Hawley, Tom Cotton, and Ted Cruz are all authoritarian career politicians. Being a politician is a career that is nowhere near as highly revered as being a businessman. In fact, politics tends to be denigrated precisely because of the threat that a regulatory state can potentially pose to the business class. There are other right-wing businessmen aplenty, of course, but none with the show business background and popular exposure Trump had.

Going after Donald Trump and his family is therefore likely to significantly hurt the prospects of American Christian fascism. The Senate won’t convict, so that means the imperative falls on the criminal justice system.

And yes, the odds probably disfavor accountability via the latter as well. It is why I am so pessimistic about the future of the American Republic. It is also why if, contrary to my expectations, Trump and his cronies do get punished, my outlook will change to be significantly more optimistic.

So, I certainly hope that I am incorrect in my pessimism and that Trump gets criminally prosecuted. It is probably the single most important thing that can be done at the present moment.

The Crisis Is Not Over

Not by a long shot. Everything that Biden talked about being an issue in his inaugural speech (e.g. COVID-19, climate change, race relations, lies/polarization) is still very much an issue, and none of these issues have magically vanished.

All of these issues still threaten our major institutions, and worst of all, those institutions are themselves an issue. They are undemocratic, because they were designed to be undemocratic: they were designed by white, male property owners for white, male property owners. They have mechanisms like an unproportionally-allocated Senate and the Electoral College which were explicitly designed to limit the influence of popular power.

It gets worse: not only do those undemocratic institutions work to limit the power of left-wing politics, they fail to work to limit the power of extremist right-wing politics. Perversely (and counter to original intent), they enable it: Trump would have never won in 2016 in a system that reflects the will of the popular majority.

So the system will continue to resist any attempts to change either itself, or the other crises that it needs to get busy on addressing. COVID-19 is likely an exception to this rule; Biden should be able to address it mostly by fully applying already-existing anti-pandemic tools. It also may be possible to punish powerful individuals responsible for the failed coup attempt (the question is whether the will to do so can be found inside the system).

But as for the other crises, they will continue to work to destabilize the general situation, and the mechanics of the overall system will work to see that right-wing voices get disproportionate influence and power.

Prediction: No Major Violence in DC

Why? Basic insurgency dynamics. The insurgent force has inferior strength, therefore must rely upon surprise and striking soft targets. DC is right now the precise opposite of that.

Violent attacks are more likely at other targets that are not being so heavily defended, or even at targets that are not being much defended at all. It is simply not possible to defend every target of actual or symbolic value.

For example, virtually every community, even many very small ones, has a post office. Any community of appreciable size has multiple post offices. Such facilities are symbolic of the Federal government because the Postal Service is run by the Federal government. There is no way that every post office in the country can be secured.

And that is just one class of symbolic targets. There are Forest Service offices, BLM offices, National Wildlife Refuges, National Parks (and Monuments), FEMA facilities, Federal office buildings, etc. scattered all over the map. (Military facilities, too, but those are not soft targets and thus unlikely to be attacked.)

The only possible exception to the unlikelihood of an attack in DC, one that cannot be ruled out, is an inside job of some sort, one involving disloyal Federal forces. Measures are being taken against such possibilities, but they might not be successful. I will still go out on a limb and say such a thing is not likely.

Somewhere, somehow, something probably will be attacked. But a direct attack on the inauguration in DC is unlikely. If one happens, it will prove to have been a suicide mission for the attackers.

Trump May Really Get Punished

Note I said may. Both political parties are in a state of moral compromise. The Republicans have degenerated into fascism. The Democrats are possessed of an institutionalized Stockholm syndrome, and have long been too timid to seriously confront the Republicans.

This, however, is different. It’s basic realpolitik. If a ruling order cannot defend itself against existential threats, thereby ensuring its perpetuation into the future, that ruling order is not long for this world. If Trump’s putsch is not severely punished, it becomes yet another tool in the toolbox for the Republicans to use, and it will be used again.

It is for this reason that Biden has since the coup attempt backed away from his continual emphasis on unity, making tweets like this:

Our president is not above the law.

Justice serves the people — it doesn’t protect the powerful.

The rest of the party is generally doing likewise. They did drag their feet a bit, but they chose to impeach. All House Democrats, even the most wavering-prone centrists, supported the impeachment. This is in itself quite likely the opening shot in what will be a string of increasingly stinging rebukes, as it gives Trump the unique besmirching of being the only president to be impeached twice.

Even a small gaggle of Republicans voted to impeach. By the time the vote to convict works its way into the Senate agenda, the fraction of Republicans choosing to back away from Trumpism may well be larger. It seems there is political blowback brewing: a majority of Senator Hawley’s constituents now think he should resign.

Another good thing is that, if there is any Attorney General capable of breaking with the precedent of presidential impunity, Merrick Garland is it. He is a Justice Department institutionalist, and he is not a progressive. The latter point is a feature, not a bug. It is politically easier for a moderate to go after Trump than it is for a progressive, because the former is naturally more insulated from charges of political motive.

It took the coup attempt to wake the Democrats (and many in the general public) up and underscore that, yes, Trumpism really is a form of fascism, and must be dealt with accordingly. But wake them up it apparently has.