Archive for October, 2009

The battle for “net neutrality” is heating up, and just like in the health care debate, the misinformation campaign on the right is beginning as well.  The FCC has proposed regulations that will preserve the open architecture of the Internet, guaranteeing that all content providers are created equal in terms of access.  Not surprisingly, the telecoms are jockeying for a model that can best be compared to the Priority Mail system at the Post Office.  That model would charge providers a fee to ensure faster delivery.  Large providers such as Google could pay the telecoms extra to make sure their packets of data are pushed ahead of content by others who choose not to pay to play.

The beauty of the Internet is that it’s open to everyone.  Users pay a connection fee to the telecoms — a fee that is in part based on delivery speed.  The faster the connection (via Ted Steven’s infamous series of tubes), the more you pay.  But everyone has equal access to those tubes.  Nobody’s content gets priority delivery.  The Internet has a democratizing aspect.  People can communicate across political and geographic borders at near real-time speed.  During the aftermath of the Iranian election last June, the Internet proved a vehicle for getting the truth out — that a significant segment of the Iranian populace were willing to stand up and publicly criticize the government for what they saw as a fraudulent vote.  Would news of their demonstrations, and the violent response of the government and its henchmen, have gotten out but for the Internet?

That’s what makes the response on the US right to net neutrality both intriguing and predictable.  Sen. McCain claims that net neutrality would make the Internet subject to government take-over.  Glenn Beck calls it a threat to free speech.  How Orwellian can they get?  Precisely the opposite is true.  Both of them are dancing to the beat of their corporate overlords.   McCain’s position is laughable given that a year ago he couldn’t even manage to do his own email.  Now he (or more likely one of his aides) twitters.  Not surprisingly, McCain has benefited significantly from telecom campaign contributions.  And we all remember his “Bomb, bomb, bomb, bomb, bomb Iran” quip.  Is it really any wonder that he wants as much corporate control over the Internet as possible?

And then there’s Glenn Beck, who is convinced that President Obama’s rescue of General Motors means that the government can now track all GM owners via OnStar.  I guess he really wants GM to fail, too, right along with President Obama.  His latest insanity is claiming that having an open Internet architecture impinges on free speech.

Next we’ll have the equivalent of death panels.  So, what’s the solution?  Read the various bills and amendments.  Follow the discussion.  And research the ties between various members of Congress and the organizations and corporations that fund their campaigns.  Then, using facts, speak out and speak up.  Lobby your representatives.  Yes, this in addition to lobbying your local and state representatives.  Remember, democracy is a contact sport.  Unless we let them know that we know, they will continue to represent the special interests.  If we stay asleep at the switch, we give up our power.


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We’ve heard for years that all politics are local.  My community will be electing city council and school board members next week.  But once again I feel I don’t know much about the candidates.  Our local paper has, not surprisingly, endorsed the status quo.  I’m not satisfied with the status quo, but getting information about the other candidates can be a challenge.  One is a perennial candidate who runs largely self-funded campaigns just about any time there is an election.  Once elected, he tends to play the role of agitator — not necessarily a bad thing — but his tactics are such that his ability to influence changes is limited.

As a “small blue light in a sea of red,” I find local elections particularly depressing events.   In recent years, the school board in a neighboring community was convinced (as a result of a young man attending a single school board meeting!) to add intelligent design to the science curriculum. While a depressing events, this can also be seen as the ability of a single voice to effect change.  So that’s the focus of this post.

We progressives need to recognize democracy as a contact sport.  Unlike our opponents, we tend to think in terms of national elections.  We need to get active at the local level.  Naomi Wolf, in “Give Me Liberty,” lays out a road map of how to effect change.  President Obama, during the campaign, reminded us that we are the change we’ve been waiting for.  That means we need to be at least as active as our opponents have been.  And, if democracy is a contact sport, we need to engage at the local level.  It’s not enough to vote every four years and think that will do it.  Conservatives get it.  They’ve been active at the local level — attending city council meetings, planning commission meetings, and school board meetings.  If that single young man could make a difference, so can we.

It’s scary to speak up.  I understand how much easier it is to write our Congressional representatives.  We can be relatively anonymous that way.  There’s a certain amount of safety firing off an email or even a hand-written letter or a phone call.  Showing up at a local meeting means we have to claim our beliefs.  We might get booed, or even shouted down.  But in speaking up, we provide evidence that there are other views — not only to the powers that be but also to the others in attendance.  If we can make our case intelligently and with conviction, we can have an effect.  We need to remind our local representatives that we are watching and voting.  And we may affect the others in attendance — showing them an alternate viewpoint and challenging to rethink their views.

Now, have I done this in the past?  No.  But I’ve become convinced that it is necessary.  It’s difficult and time consuming.  And it becomes all the more difficult when we have family obligations — dinners to fix, homework to supervise, etc., especially after a long day at work.  But here are a few suggestions that will make juggling those obligations a bit easier.  Find someone who shares your views and tag team at meetings — divide them between you, take notes and share them.  Find someone who can’t attend meetings but who will research the issues. Watch the meetings on your local access station and then follow up with letters and phone calls to local officials.  Make  your voice heard.  When election time comes around, host candidate meet and greet events so that you get to know where they stand on the issues.  Voter pamphlets, at least here in California, are notoriously poor at communicating much about the candidates.  Some states don’t even have them at all.  And there are organizations that will, for a fee, send out official-looking “endorsement” flyers that are meaningless when it comes to providing voters with useful information about the candidates.  Robo-calls rarely provide much information and are more often push-polls designed to damage the opponent or calls from someone in a higher office endorsing one or more of his cronies.

While there is gang activity here, like in many cities, it concerns me when the candidates for school board seem to be focused more on policing in the schools than on curriculum or figuring out how to reduce the dropout rate.  To be sure, schools need to be a safe place for our kids to learn.  But let’s not forget that most kids will rise to meet expectations that challenge them to be better and to learn more.  And engaged kids are less likely to be disruptive.  This band-aid approach to treating symptoms is endemic in many areas of society.  Rather than doing the hard work, the hard thinking, about what causes a particular problem, it’s easier to apply a band-aid, regardless of whether that will do anything to remedy the situation.

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In the months since President Obama was inaugurated, many people who voted for him have been disappointed that change hasn’t happened more quickly, that some of the cherished changes haven’t happened yet.

Sen. Reid has just announced that he is sending a consensus health care reform bill to the Congressional Budget Office for scoring.  The good news is that a public option is still alive and well.  Apparently, the “opt-out” version is the one that will be going to CBO for scoring.  This represents huge progress for the millions of Americans who are struggling to pay for health insurance and health care.  And it demonstrates that when people speak up, the Senators listen.  Despite repeated polls that consistently showed public support for increasing choice and competition, the lobbyists’ voices seemed to be carrying the day.  Late last week, the tide began to turn.  Why?  Because hundreds of thousands of people took the time to telephone their elected representatives, voicing support for the public option.

True, the proposal Sen. Reid is sending to the CBO may not be as robust as some would prefer.  It’s a long way from single-payer.  But it represents a sea change from what health insurance reform looked like just a few weeks ago.  The opt-out system as currently proposed would give individual states a year after implementation to decide they don’t want their citizens to be able to participate in a publicly-run, not for profit, self-sustaining insurance plan.  The challenge facing the Senate leadership is essentially a political and procedural one — how to ensure that a threatened filibuster can be avoided or broken.  That requires all 58 Democrats and the 2 Independents who caucus with them to stick together.  Should any one of them not vote for cloture, meaningful reform could not happen.  A final vote would require only 50 Senators to approve it, with the Vice-President casting the tie-breaking vote.

Sure, in an ideal world, this issue would have some measure of bipartisan support.  But as Sen. Reid pointed out, unlike in previous years, he can count the total number of moderate Republicans on two fingers.  In the past, moderate Republicans were able to work with Democrats to forge the kinds of compromises necessary to get bills passed.  Things have changed.  Those two GOP moderates are under enormous political pressure to block change.  So Democrats must go it alone.

One of those moderates, Sen. Olympia Snowe, prefers a trigger to the opt-out plan.  It presumes that the industry will voluntarily comply work to lower rates.  Absurd!  Rather, the public option should be open to anyone who is dissatisfied with their current insurance, not just those who are currently or find themselves uninsured.  And it should be implemented much sooner than 2013.  Else, like the banks have done in anticipation of the new credit card regulations taking effect that would limit interest rates, rates will rise before the new requirements are implemented.

My personal belief is that health insurance companies should not profit from the misery of their customers.  Being not-for-profit doesn’t mean that they should operate as a charity or that their executives shouldn’t be compensated, but the greed that is an inherent component of capitalism shouldn’t get between consumers and their health care.

The lesson of the past few weeks in the health care reform debate is that concerned people do matter.  As horror stories of real people who were denied coverage, or had coverage rescinded or found that despite insurance, they had been bankrupted by medical bills began to cut through the stories of doom and gloom promoted by the industry, people got angry.  And they spoke up.  On a single day, over 300,000 calls came into Congressional offices.  Think about it.  One in ten people took the time to get involved.  We are, in fact, the change we’ve been waiting for.  We just need to take action.

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Reality TV has become a staple of the network lineup.  These shows are cheaper to produce, thus maximizing profit for the studios.  But is there a hidden cost that we need to address?

It appears that the parents of the so-called “Balloon Boy” are now being suspected of staging an elaborate hoax to catapult them onto their own reality show.  But are they all that unique?  There is the Duggar family whose claim to fame is 18 kids and counting.  And there is the Gosslins with their brood and their disintegrating marriage.  There are other families whose situation is outside the norm, whether due to size or physical challenges.  They’ve managed to parlay their situation into a financial bonanza.  Is it surprising that the so-called “Octo-mom” figured that a reality show would alleviate the financial burden of raising 14 children?  Or that the Heenes looked at a reality show as a way to improve their economic future?

I wonder about the effect of these shows on the children involved.  It would appear that, for example, the Gosslins’ original motivation was to provide for their unexpectedly large family.  But such a decision can have unexpected ramifications.  Whether the perks include tummy tucks, hair transplants, fancy vacations or big, beautiful homes, at what point do the potential for those to increase viewership result in exploitation of the family and especially of the kids?  It would be very difficult to turn down some of these perks, even if the family has that degree of control over “creative content.”

And what culpability do the rest of us bear in all this?  Viewership determines ad rates, and whether we like it or not, that’s the raison d’etre for TV — to make money for the corporate owners.  Programming is simply the hook to get us to watch the commercials.  If people stopped watching these shows, they would cease to exist.  But some of us seem to enjoy watching train wrecks…  So it’s unlikely that reality shows will go away completely.  But I can hope.

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One of the standard arguments against same sex marriage is that it somehow threatens “traditional” marriage.  In my previous post I said that to date no one had been able to provide a rational explanation of how that threat works.  Well, Federal Judge Vaughn Walker has the same concern.  And to nobody’s surprise, the attorney for the group that sponsored California’s Prop 8 couldn’t provide any evidence to back up his claim.  “I don’t know. I don’t know,” exclaimed lawyer Cooper.

Let the evidence be heard.  I’m sure there will be some “independent” studies that will attempt to demonstrate that somehow same sex marriage is the threat the right wants to convince us of.  But I suspect their studies will be as independent as the one Price Waterhouse Cooper did at the behest of the health care lobby — one that ultimately even Price had to admit was flawed because of the limitations placed on them.  So they distanced themselves from it to retain some shred of credibility.  Hopefully, Judge Vaughn and ultimately the Supreme Court justices will be able to separate fear from reason.

To provide some background, several years ago, San Francisco began performing same sex marriages — clearly an attempt to bring the issue to the courts.  The California Supreme Court ruled that the issue had to be decided by the state not at the city level.  It later ruled that same sex marriage was legal in California.  That prompted the opponents of same sex marriage to sponsor an amendment to the state constitution that defined marriage as between one man and one woman.  Following passage of the amendment (Proposition 8), the court chose not to overturn it on the narrow grounds that it didn’t represent a “major” change under California law, thus requiring legislative initiation.  Supporters of gay rights have now taken the issue to the Federal Courts, where the challenge is based on the “equal protection” clause.

One might ask why the Supreme Court of California seems to be of two minds on this issue.  The answer is that in California, Supreme Court justices are appointed by the governor but retention is subject to popular vote.  This situation certainly limits their independence…  In the past, a Chief Justice was unseated for her opposition to the death penalty.  California is definitely a purple state.  The urban and coastal areas tend to be more liberal while the interior and rural areas are more conservative.  Additionally, California’s initiative process allows the people to vote on issues that would be confined to legislative action in other states.  And Californians, like people in every other state, can be persuaded to vote their fears rather than their hopes, their better angels.

It is up to our judicial system to look beyond the fears, beyond the narrowness of mind to look at the larger issue involved — that of equality.  It’s really very simple, although some people try to use fear to try to confuse us.  Remember, the only thing we have to fear is fear itself.  To date, when judges and justices — even ones appointed by Republican presidents — have ruled in favor of equality and against discrimination, the cry has been heard throughout the land that they are those nasty judicial activists, legislating from the bench.  One can only wonder how much equality would exist were the rabble to have its way.  So, what we need is judges and justices with sufficient spine to make the Constitution serve us all, to live up to the idea that we were all created equal.  Brown v. Board of Education ruled that separate is inherently not equal.  While the issue at hand was segregated schools, the principle is the same.

The battle for equality has already taken a long time.  It may take longer.  But it will be won.  When our schools became more integrated a generation ago, those kids learned that they had far more in common that they had previously thought.  We are all the better for it, despite the tensions that still exist in many communities.  Most of us now have friends of various races.  That is a big change from my parents’ circle of friends.  A similar generational shift is occurring relative to gay rights.

There is an understandable impatience with the pace of progress.  It is painfully slow.  And those who oppose gay rights use fear in abundance to try to persuade us.  Remember, the only thing we have to fear is fear itself.   For those who are impatient that President Obama has not yet overturned Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell and the federal Defense of Marriage Act, I would ask them to reconsider any decisions to pull back, to criticize how he’s holding the mop.  Clearly, the state of the economy has had to be at the top of his priorities.  And he views health care reform as critical to an economic recovery.  Those two things affect each and every one of us –both straight and gay.  Wouldn’t we want him to place those at the top of his agenda?  Well, the economy is beginning to recover, and health care reform is wending its way through Congress, albeit progress is painfully slow on both fronts.  I recall Candidate Obama reminding us that we must be the change we want.  We must not become discouraged at the pace of progress, even though we would prefer greater change and faster change.  We must not opt out.  We must not sit back and complain.  We must work harder.  We must write our representatives at all levels.  We must lobby them as hard as those who want the status quo to continue.  Else we have nobody else to blame for failure.  We worked hard for Obama’s election.  We must keep working to overcome the voices of intolerance.

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All men (and women) are created equal.  Equal protection under the law.  These and other similar statements are part of the bedrock of the American system.  It all sounds so easy, but it’s definitely been easier for some Americans than for others.

Advances in civil rights don’t come easily in this country.  It took nearly 150 years for women to gain suffrage after we became the United States of America.  One of the arguments against suffrage was that it was contrary to Biblical teaching.  Again, during the struggle for equal rights for blacks, some wanted to use scripture to argue against such rights.  Today, while bias still exists against both women and blacks, both groups have made undeniable gains. The latest group of Americans who are seeking equality are homosexual (including bisexual and transgender) people.

We all have gay members in our circle of family and friends, whether or not they are openly so.  They are our sons and daughters, our brothers and sisters, our cousins, our neighbors, our colleagues.  They get up in the morning, eat their breakfast, read the paper, go to work, pay their taxes.  They contribute their time and talents to our economy.  We buy their products and services.  But when they fall in love and want the blessings and the responsibilities of a loving intimate relationship, they somehow become unacceptable to us.  When they fall ill, their partners are denied the opportunity to visit them in hospital and to make important medical decisions on their behalf.  In most states they are not permitted to legalize their commitment to each other, to take on the legal and economic responsibilities of marriage, to care for each other in the ways that the rest of us can.  Why?  Simply because of who they are — because they are attracted to members of their own sex.

As in the struggle to keep women and blacks “in their place”, the reasons used don’t make much sense.  Here in California, as in other states, the argument against gay marriage is that somehow it will threaten so-called traditional marriage.  I have yet to hear a rational argument of how allowing a gay couple to marry can possibly pose a threat to anyone else’s marriage.  I know women who married, only to learn that their husbands were gay men trying to be straight.  I watched as these women struggled to understand how these men, men they had loved and trusted, left them not for another woman but for a man.  As one of them said, “I knew how to fight another woman for my husband, but not how to fight a man.”  They struggled to explain the situation to their children, children that both parents cherished.

Do we really want to go back to that?  Do we really want our straight children to face the heartbreak of learning that a spouse is gay?  Do we really think that our gay brothers and sisters do not deserve the chance for the kind of relationship that marriage can be?  I’ve heard some, mostly people in unhappy marriages, say that gays should at least have the opportunity to be as miserable as they are!  Some still argue that homosexuality is a choice — to them I have a simple question:  When did you choose to be straight?  Do you honestly think that people would choose to be a member of a group that is so maligned by so many? Others argue that while orientation may not be a choice, the response to it is a choice and that gays should remain celibate.  That expectation is as unnatural and probably as difficult as celibacy is for Catholic priests — and it doesn’t offer the promise of special rewards not open to non-clergy.

The so-called homosexual agenda that some people on the right like to try to frighten the rest of us with is simply bogus.  Homosexuality has existed from the beginning of time, and it will exist until the end of time.  My own view is that it is related to the biochemical reactions that determine gender itself in the very early stages of fetal development, that if that reaction is somehow changed, the linkage between gender and sexual orientation can be affected.  We know that some people are born with “confused” gender — whether displayed in physical traits or buried in their DNA.

The bottom line is that equal doesn’t mean almost equal.  It doesn’t mean equal, except for …  Equal means equal.  What people do in the privacy of their bedrooms shouldn’t determine how close they are to equal.

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Although I’m still taking pain meds, I feel like I’m reasonably lucid and beginning to heal.  My jaw dropped when I learned this morning of President Obama’s selection for a Nobel Peace Prize.   I agree with those who say that it wasn’t based on accomplishments, at least not yet, but I’m most curious to learn more about the rationale of the selection committee.  I’ve since learned that the committee is selected by the Norwegian Parliament and as such would be expected to represent a Norwegian view of foreign affairs — internationalist in outlook and generally predisposed to Obama’s stated goals in restoring the role of diplomacy.

Interestingly, it isn’t the first time that the award went to encourage a process that needs to proceed.  One example of that would be the award to Desmond Tutu in 1984 as Tutu engaged in the struggle to overturn apartheid in South Africa.  Similarly, Henry Kissinger and Le Duc Tho shared the award as the process to end the Viet Nam war wore on.

Some may say that the award is more of an expression of relief that George W. Bush is no longer the US president.  Others complain that Ronald Reagan should have won the prize during his lifetime.  There have been many deserving people who haven’t been so honored.  What is clear is that it puts even more pressure on the president to work toward his goals in furthering a more peaceful and nuclear-free world.  It’s also very apparent that the world wants the United States to step up and reclaim a true leadership position.  But their vision is that we would lead, not impose our views and vision on everyone else.  That, in turn, puts pressure on each and every one of us regular Americans to work together to achieve a measure of civility at home in order to further the efforts to achieve peace in some of the world’s hot spots.

America stands to gain should the president’s efforts bear fruit.  That means that we all benefit — the whole world benefits.

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