It’s Axiomatic — A Free Press Needs Net Neutrality

March 9th, 2014

Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty. (Washington, D.C.) (public domain)
Freedom of the press is guaranteed only to those who own one. A.J. Liebling minted that axiom in the New Yorker magazine in 1960. Later that decade, researchers began work on creating packet-switching networks, and a U.S. government project created a network of networks called ARPANET, the forerunner to the Internet. And with the rise of the Internet came the fall of that axiom. Today news organizations, as well as individual persons, can freely publish, without an expensive printing press, to a wide audience.

All bits are created equal. That axiom sums up the rule of net neutrality -- that the Internet moves data packets from end to end, blind to their content, and without bias to their origin and destination. That equality came naturally from the plain old telephone system that most persons once used to get on the Internet. Like the telegraph system that came before it, a telephone system is deemed a "common carrier," a public delivery service that treats all cargo -- phone call communications in this case -- equally. By law, the telephone company could not interfere with a phone call, whether dialing Mom or dialing-up one's ISP. The system heeded the rule of net neutrality, which gave us the open playing field for uncensored and inexpensive publishing, and the rapid rise of the Internet to become one of the greatest achievements of humankind.

The price of freedom is eternal vigilance. Today, freedom of press and speech is threatened by the big telecommunications companies. No longer do most persons pick from one of many ISP's to dial-up. Now they must use the only available ISP -- the telecom that owns their DSL, cable or cellular network. And no longer are those telecoms classified "telecommunication services," which are common carriers. During the Bush II administration, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) instead classified those telecoms as "information services," which are not common carriers. The FCC at that time also issued openness principles that tend towards net neutrality. But in 2010 a federal court, in a case brought by Comcast, ruled against the FCC enforcing those principles for an "information service." So the FCC turned those principles into its Open Internet Order. But just this year a federal court, in Verizon vs. FCC," ruled against the FCC enforcing that order for an "information service." In court, Verizon claimed that it had "editorial discretion" over data that travels on its lines. With that claim, and with the known cases of big telecoms fiddling with data flow, we can foresee a rollback of press freedom, and the rise of an axiom like the old one -- "Freedom of the press is guaranteed only to those who own an Internet gateway."

Where there's a will, there's a way. That timeless axiom often runs up against another old one -- "Money talks." Right after the "Verizon vs. FCC" ruling, press and Internet freedom organizations began a campaign to reclassify the telecoms as common carriers. And two weeks later, they delivered a petition with a million signatures urging that to the FCC. But Michael Powell, who headed the FCC when it first freed big telecoms from common carrier responsibilities, and is now the head lobbyist for the telecoms, warned that such an act by the FCC would bring "World War III." And so the battle line is drawn: on one side the will of the masses of Internet users and news organizations, and on the other the big money of a few mega-corporations. So far, Chairman Tom Wheeler has said the FCC will not reclassify, and will pursue new (most likely weaker) rules. And while some Democrats favor making net neutrality the law of the land, such a bill would face a stonewall of virtually all Republicans.

If you want something done right, do it yourself. But the fight for press and Internet freedom goes beyond the FCC and Congress. One way to get around big telecom high prices, low speeds, and their plans to control the Internet, is to have your local government build its own network. Such publicly owned networks and ISP's now operate in cities such as Chattanooga; Bristol, Virginia; and Lafayette, Louisiana. Each of those cities' systems runs on fiber optic lines, offers 1Gbps speed, and serves residential, as well as business, customers. Those customers get much more speed and reliability for their dollar. And they get a connection with net neutrality -- the freedom to read and publish without interference.

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Two Huge New Fake Trade Agreements to Skirt, Stomp Democratic Sovereignty

December 30th, 2013
Corporoo Stomps Justice (Public Citizen)
During the "Progressive Era" of the early 20th century, many states passed laws – up to a complete ban with penalties against officers – to keep corporations from meddling in politics. Today, big corporations warp politics in ways that go beyond meddling. One way is corporate spending for elections. Another way is the legal bribery system of lobbying at political fundraisers and the revolving door between government and corporate lobbies or boardrooms. A third way is through the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), where corporate agents hand their ready-to-pass bills to Republican lawmakers. And a fourth way is through the "free trade agreement," which might better be called "fake trade agreement" (FTA), because it is less about trade than about skirting and stomping democratic sovereignty. Since NAFTA, the U.S. has signed on to twelve more FTA's, and is now driving talks to wrap up two huge new FTA's, the Trans-Atlantic Free Trade Agreement (TAFTA) and the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP).

The way TAFTA and the TPP would skirt democratic sovereignty is by investor-state enforcement. That mechanism lets a foreign corporation skip a member country's courts and sue at an international tribunal for acts by the country's legislature or executive that might have hampered the corporation's planned profits. From such suits under U.S. FTA's, countries have so far paid corporations $400M, much of it for public health and other public interest policies. For instance, S.D. Myers, Inc., got $5.6M from Canada for its ban on exporting PCB's, which the company planned to treat in Ohio. The ban was to comply with the world-wide Basel Convention to control and reduce production of hazardous waste. Today, 15 claims for $14B, all leveled against public health and other public interest policies, are pending. For instance, Lone Pine Resources, Inc., wants $241M from Canada, for Quebec's moratorium on fracking, a gas drilling process that poisons and injects into the ground millions of gallons of water. Lone Pine had permits to frack on 30,000 acres directly beneath the St. Lawrence River. TAFTA and the TPP would offer investor-state enforcement to some 75,000 corporations, and surely bring many more such cases.

The way these two huge FTA's would stomp democratic sovereignty is by overriding certain current, or banning certain future laws. According to released corporate wish-lists and leaked secret documents, corporate agents seek to stuff these pacts with such goodies as:
  • a rollback of the U.S. Dodd-Frank financial law limiting use of federally-insured funds for speculation (the Volcker Rule) (TAFTA-1),
  • a ban on keeping commercial and investment banking separate (like the Glass-Steagall Act did) (TAFTA-1 & TPP-1),
  • a ban on tougher regulations for too-big-to-fail foreign banks (TAFTA-1 & TPP-1),
  • a ban on a financial transaction tax (TAFTA-1),
  • rollbacks of food safety standards (U.S. corps want to push chlorinated chicken, muscle-enhancing drugs in pork, and more pesticide residue; European corps want to push more uncooked meat, less-than-grade A milk, and more tolerance for contaminated food.) (TAFTA-2),
  • a ban on legal fuel efficiency standards for cars (TAFTA-3),
  • a ban on buy-green rules in government contracts (TAFTA-3),
  • a ban on energy efficiency labels, like "Energy Star" (TAFTA-3),
  • a ban on reporting greenhouse gas emissions during fuel production (Such reporting reflects badly on tar sands oil.) (TAFTA-3),
  • overriding car standards, such as for tailpipe emissions, with those made by treaty negotiators (TAFTA-3),
  • a ban on including hydrofluorocarbon (HFC) refrigerants in greenhouse gas limits (TAFTA-3),
  • a ban on requiring airlines to pay for their carbon emissions (TAFTA-3),
  • a ban on tax credits for more climate-friendly fuels (TAFTA-3),
  • a ban on limiting GMO seeds and cultivation, and on labeling GMO products, until actually proven harmful (TAFTA-4),
  • a ban on buy-local rules for governments (TAFTA-5 & TPP-3),
  • a limit on governments negotiating lower drug prices for their health care programs (TAFTA-5),
  • a lowering of patentability standards for medicines, and for surgical and treatment methods (TPP-4),
  • a extension of copyright limits, such as out to 120 years after creation for corporate owned works (TPP-2),
  • a rollback of fair use of copyrighted material for criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching, scholarship and research (TPP-2), and
  • a mandate that ISP's become copyright enforcers that cut off Internet access (TPP-2).
While the Obama administration does not support all of the corporate goodies, it does reportedly support and insist on many of them, and is pushing for rapid conclusion to these treaties. Resistance has come from Congress, as 151 Democratic and 23 Republican congressmen have signed letters against re-instating the fast-track rule, which would enable ramming-through these FTA's without Congressional debate. And steady resistance comes from freedom and public interest organizations such as Public Citizen, the Electronic Frontier Foundation and the Progressive Democrats of America.

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Another Global Warming Day

December 22nd, 2013

The Vermilion River (Ohio) 2013-12-22
One day past the Winter Solstice, after 34 hours of rain melted last week's half-foot of snow, the flooding Vermilion River rushes on its winding way to Lake Erie. This seems to be another global warming-type day -- heavy rain, instead of snow at solstice time. Now, I understand that you can't for sure peg any one unusual weather event to global warming. It's the overall increase in number and severity of such events that you can, with certainty, peg to global warming. 300 years ago, before the Industrial Revolution and the keeping of weather records, who can say a very rainy solstice did not occur? And, by the same token, if the Industrial Revolution had never occurred, or if 20 years ago we had begun to steeply ramp down fossil fuel burning, who can say we would not have a flooding river today? But, leaving aside conjecture, the truth is that every day is a global warming day -- because that is the world we live in. And every weather event is a product of our warmer and still-warming planet, as it ruthlessly seeks a new balance.


The Vermilion River rushes and winds on to Lake Erie, 2013-12-22


The Vermilion River over its banks, 2013-12-22

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George Washington Warned of Those Like Reagan, Norquist, Cruz – Enemies to National Government

October 13th, 2013

George Washington as Commander-in-Chief of the Continental Army
In his farewell address, George Washington gave advice and warnings to help the citizens of the United States keep the Constitution and their liberty. He warned of "overgrown military establishments," political parties, favoritism for a foreign nation, change to the Constitution based on "mere hypothesis and opinion", encroachment of one department of government upon another, undermining religion, piling up debt, unwillingness to pay taxes, and permanent alliances with foreign nations. But Washington's first, and maybe strongest, warning was of "internal and external enemies" that would weaken the citizens' bond with their national government.
The unity of Government, which constitutes you one people, … is a main pillar in the edifice of your real independence, the support of your tranquillity at home, your peace abroad; of your safety; of your prosperity; of that very Liberty, which you so highly prize. But … it is easy to foresee, that … much pains will be taken, many artifices employed, to weaken in your minds the conviction of this truth; as this is the point in your political fortress against which the batteries of internal and external enemies will be most constantly and actively (though often covertly and insidiously) directed ...

We can, I think, find the internal type of such enemies among the leaders of the modern conservative movement, from the "Reagan Revolution" to today's Teabag Party congressmen. Among those in that movement that have acted to weaken the citizens' bond with their national government are:

  • President Ronald Reagan, who, after gaining office by treasonous plot, said, "[G]overnment is not the solution to our problem; government is the problem," and went on to sell public assets dirt cheap, turn CIA propaganda methods against the American public, and run a dirty administration with many officials convicted of crimes, or leaving office after charged with misconduct.
  • Grover Norquist, a Republican leader who said: "I don't want to abolish government. I simply want to reduce it to the size where I can drag it into the bathroom and drown it in the bathtub." Norquist has hamstrung the federal government by getting almost every Republican congressman to sign his anti-tax pledge, which forbids boosting government revenue by raising income tax rates or closing loopholes. And Norquist has helped damage the regular give-and-take of legislatures throughout the nation by driving the Republican Party to take a hard-line. He said: "Bipartisanship is another name for date rape." And: "We are trying to change the tones in the state capitals - and turn them toward bitter nastiness and partisanship."
  • Senator Ted Cruz, a Teabag Party leader, who, near the beginning of his recent 21-hour Senate floor talkathon, said:
    "[T]he problem [in Washington] is bigger than a continuing resolution [to fund the government]. It is bigger than ObamaCare. It is even bigger than the budget. The most fundamental problem ... is that the men and women in Washington aren't listening [to the people]."
    And what did Cruz (but not the polls) say that the people want "the men and women in Washington" to hear? It's: "Stop Obamacare." Thus, by his logic, stopping the nation's healthcare law also becomes bigger than funding the government! And so Cruz backs the teabag-led Republican House congressmen in their strategy to undo the healthcare law, using their powers to shutdown the federal government, and to forbid it to pay its bills-come-due, as bargaining chips.

Of fevered factions, such as the teabag Congressmen, that would damage the regular functioning of democratic government, George Washington gave a special warning:

... The very idea of the power and the right of the people to establish Government presupposes the duty of every individual to obey the established Government.

All obstructions to the execution of the Laws, all combinations and associations, under whatever plausible character, with the real design to direct, control, counteract, or awe the regular deliberation and action of the constituted authorities, are destructive of this fundamental principle, and of fatal tendency. They serve to organize faction, to give it an artificial and extraordinary force; to put, in the place of the delegated will of the nation, the will of a party, often a small but artful and enterprising minority of the community; and, according to the alternate triumphs of different parties, to make the public administration the mirror of the ill-concerted and incongruous projects of faction, rather than the organ of consistent and wholesome plans digested by common counsels, and modified by mutual interests.

Post Script

George Washington did not expect that his advice would be strongly followed, but hoped that it might be helpful to his compatriots from time-to-time.

In offering to you, my countrymen, these counsels of an old and affectionate friend, I dare not hope they will make the strong and lasting impression I could wish; that they will control the usual current of the passions, or prevent our nation from running the course, which has hitherto marked the destiny of nations. But, if I may even flatter myself, that they may be productive of some partial benefit, some occasional good; that they may now and then recur to moderate the fury of party spirit, to warn against the mischiefs of foreign intrigue, to guard against the impostures of pretended patriotism; this hope will be a full recompense for the solicitude for your welfare, by which they have been dictated.

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How Helen Keller Learned Speech, Enjoyed Song and Niagara

August 20th, 2013

Phonetics is the study of the sounds of human speech, from formation by the speaker to reception by the listener. Some examples of formation are: the "K" sound, which comes from the back of the mouth as the back of the tongue contacts the soft palate; the "P" sound, which comes from the two lips put together; and the "N" sound, which comes when the front and sides of the tongue seal against the alveolar ridge sending the voice to resonate in the nasal cavity. A deafblind person, having no hearing to receive the sound nor sight for lipreading, might use tactile lipreading to receive the sounds being formed. Helen Keller, though adept with a manual alphabet, favored this method, laying fingers on the speaker's throat, lips and face. By imitating the vibrations and movements she felt, and after much hard practice, she learned to speak with her own voice. She wrote:

... In reading my teacher's lips I was wholly dependent on my fingers: I had to use the sense of touch in catching the vibrations of the throat, the movements of the mouth and the expression of the face; and often this sense was at fault. In such cases I was forced to repeat the words or sentences, sometimes for hours, until I felt the proper ring in my own voice. My work was practice, practice, practice. Discouragement and weariness cast me down frequently; but the next moment the thought that I should soon be at home and show my loved ones what I had accomplished, spurred me on, and I eagerly looked forward to their pleasure in my achievement.

"My little sister will understand me now," was a thought stronger than all obstacles. I used to repeat ecstatically, "I am not dumb now." I could not be despondent while I anticipated the delight of talking to my mother and reading her responses from her lips. It astonished me to find how much easier it is to talk than to spell with the fingers, and I discarded the manual alphabet as a medium of communication on my part; but Miss Sullivan and a few friends still use it in speaking to me, for it is more convenient and more rapid than lip-reading.

Helen Keller and Anne Sullivan demonstrate tactile lipreading.

However, with her great joy in speaking, later came great disappointment in not being able to do it normally. When lecturing, an interpreter stood beside Keller to repeat her sentences for the audience to understand.

It is not blindness or deafness that brings me my darkest hours. It is the acute disappointment in not being able to speak normally. Longingly I feel how much more good I could have done if I had acquired normal speech. But out of this dark experience I understand more fully all human strivings, thwarted ambitions and the infinite capacity of hope.

Helen Keller speaks of great disappointment. (Speech begins at 1:49)

Keller was also able, by laying fingers on the face, to enjoy song, as she did with Enrico Caruso. The New York Times reported:

Caruso ... sang with power that brought tears to the eyes of other Metropolitan singers who were in the room. And as he sang his voice grew husky with the pathos of the song.

"Though I cannot see your face, I can feel the pathos of your song." said Miss Keller.

And Caruso said, with his lips against her hands: "In your fingers I can feel your soul. In your blue eyes your soul is shining."

Miss Keller almost collapsed, so powerfully had the voice of the tenor stirred her.

Keller answered those that wonder how she could enjoy music and natural beauty that most take-in by hearing and sight.

We went to Niagara in March, 1893. It is difficult to describe my emotions when I stood on the point which overhangs the American Falls and felt the air vibrate and the earth tremble. It seems strange to many people that I should be impressed by the wonders and beauties of Niagara. They are always asking: "What does this beauty or that music mean to you? You cannot see the waves rolling up the beach or hear their roar. What do they mean to you?" In the most evident sense they mean everything. I cannot fathom or define their meaning any more than I can fathom or define love or religion or goodness.

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