Wednesday, December 22, 2010

FCC Taps Reasonable Man to be Net Neutrality Czar

In a 3 to 2 decision along party lines, the FCC voted to adopt an Order that purportedly codifies and makes enforceable the open Internet principles that have been kicking around since 2005, aka “net neutrality.”

The actual Order isn’t public yet, but the FCC news release as well as the public statements of the Commissioners yesterday indicate that it (1) mandates Internet Service Providers to be transparent about their network management practices, (2) prevents wireless ISP’s from blocking websites, and wireline ISP’s from blocking content, applications, services and devices, subject to reasonable network management practices, and (3) prohibits wireline ISP’s from “unreasonably discriminating” in the transmittal of traffic.

For clarification, I guess, the Order makes it clear that “reasonable network management shall not constitute unreasonable discrimination.”

This all sounds pretty reasonable, right? Most people agree that the public’s interest in the Internet -- the infrastructure of today’s democracy and platform for free speech and innovation -- deserves protection and oversight. Most also agree that the government can’t and shouldn’t build out networks to serve America’s 308 million people. Businesses should be encouraged by market forces to invest in networks, and need freedom to fairly exercise judgment in the management of their enterprise.

The often used metaphor likens the Internet to an “information highway” in need of basic rules of the road. Excessive tolls, detours and bumps slow down the information traffic and the modern economy. The Internet is the 21st century Interstate on which goods and services hum along to good people everywhere at the same clip. On the asphalt highway you get a ticket for going too fast or driving recklessly. On the Internet it’s been a free-for-all, until now.

The long-awaited cop on the Internet beat is someone you might recognize. The Reasonable Man, that prudent fictional character who mows his own lawn in shirt sleeves, drives an American car, takes the flag in when it rains, and whose conduct sets the standard in tort law will now work a second job over at the FCC.

What constitutes “reasonable network management” when technology is evolving at the speed of light and millions of dollars are at stake will likely be determined by 3 to 2 decisions at the FCC along party lines until some court or the Congress gets involved, and even then “reasonableness” will depend on one’s view of the world. If you believe government should protect the public’s interest and ensure the equal opportunity to succeed, reasonable network management tactics will be scrutinized very carefully and free speech and democracy will be accorded substantial weight on the scales of justice.

If, on the other hand, you believe corporations’ First Amendment rights, and the “right” of big business to accumulate unfettered power and wealth are more deserving of protection than ordinary people and the public good, then any interference with the machinations of big-business is, well, unreasonable.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Pelosi Is No Lame Duck

January 4, 2011
The deal struck between the White House and Republicans that would have extended the Bush tax cuts and greatly enhance the coffers of the countries richest people -- dead and alive- -- failed to make it on to the House floor for a vote before the 112th Congress convened on January 3, 2011.
In a surprise move that has some Democrats euphoric and Republicans stunned, Speaker Nancy Pelosi exercised her authority for the final time and blocked the vote.
“We will not let these Bush tax cuts go through the gate. The gate is closed, and don’t think about going over the fence. The fence is too high, and you all are too fat to pole vault in. You don’t look good in jumpsuits, and real parachuting went out of style with George H.W!  We are not going to give millionaires and billionaires more money when most Americans are struggling to make ends meet. This proposed legislation would add billions of dollars to the deficit,” she said before grabbing two bottles of Chardonnay and jumping out of the House Chamber window on to an inflatable slide. 
Above the hum of the private jet waiting below, the crowd heard these last words, 
"To the Republican who called me a m—-f—er, f—- you! I've been in the business 23 years. I've had it. That's it."

Sunday, December 5, 2010

I can see Augusta From my House

Maine’s same-stream media featured two columns in Sunday’s Kennebec Journal about the candidate who publicly criticized the Republican choice for Speaker of the House. The two share four themes: the controversial Republican choice for Speaker of the House, the Maine Clean Elections Act (“MCEA”), the machismo of “doing doors,” and the familiar tale of guys who have never won a State House race telling a woman who has how to do it. 
The liberal guy of course questions the wisdom of her spending less money than most other candidates, and calls it “campaign malpractice” that she won by 58% of the vote. The 2655 people who supported her must not have read the studies he cites faulting her campaign methodology.  The Democrats who did read them going in to the November election lost. Oh well.  Better luck next time!
The conservative, a man of the People, just wants to repeal the Maine Clean Election Act. He and the GOP know better than the all the real people who worked like dogs to get this law on the ballot in 1996 in order to cut the cord between wealthy special interests and politicians. That 80% of all legislative candidates use Maine’s Clean Election law isn’t important. Spending $1196 legally on a computer (my God!) to run a campaign that will cost taxpayers ultimately $717 is a sin, and his Clean Election candidate who stiffed the State for $1.2 million and used MCEA funds in an uncontested race is patriotic, or something like that.
Both guys do share one major concern. The fact that she didn’t knock on peoples’ doors when they weren’t home or having dinner really bugs them. This is how elections have been won and lost forever. How dare she do things differently?
Maybe we aren’t ready for grizzlies, but Maine could use some mamas in the media. 

Friday, November 26, 2010

Please Forgive Us, Mr. Speaker

On December 1st the Speaker of the House for the 125th Maine Legislature will be elected by the 78 Republicans, 72 Democrats and 1 Independent who won their election on November 2nd. Because the Republicans now have a majority of the seats, for the first time in 36 years their candidate will be voted in and become the third most powerful person in Maine state government.

Some Democrats are faced with the dilemma of whether to participate in the traditional pageantry of casting “one unanimous vote” for the presumptive winner, or not.

The Republican Speaker-elect’s baggage is now widely known. Stories abound in the news that as the owner of True’s Pharmacy, Robert Nutting was found to have overcharged the State of Maine $1.6 million for rubber gloves, incontinence pads and liners between 1997 and 2001. He spent “over six figures” on fancy lawyers, counter-sued the state, and then declared Chapter 7 bankruptcy after paying back only $433,188 leaving Maine taxpayers holding the bag for $1.2 million.

Speaker-elect Nutting maintains that overcharging the state repeatedly using a formula that marked up some products 143% instead of 40% an “honest mistake.” He blames complicated rules and the stranglehold of government bureaucracy for his troubles.

Don’t take it personally, Mr. Speaker, if some of us can’t push our green button next week and vote to usher you in. You see, this isn’t really about you, but rather what you stand for, and what we are elected to do.

We might be willing to take you at your word that you were a victim of “the system,” but you represent that very small population of people who can beat the system. You made a very large mistake as the owner of a business that made millions of dollars overcharging for supplies sold to poor people. You have not repaid your debt to society, are not taking personal responsibility for your actions, and are nevertheless being elected to be the Speaker of the House. This is at a time when most people don’t have similar opportunities for redemption and coronation.

A time more people are poor -- the national poverty rate is above 14%

A time when more people are hungry-- one in seven people in Maine, as a matter of fact, which now also has the distinction of being number 2 in the nation for extreme food insecurity.

A time when American businesses earned profit at the annual rate of $1.659 trillion in the 3rd quarter of this year, the most on record.

At a time when nationally the unemployment rate is 9%, and millions of people are underemployed and working two or three jobs to keep afloat, we are being asked to hand you a job that holds tremendous power, a salary that is 50% higher than the rest of us elected members of the House of Representatives, provides health insurance and other benefits, pays a generous per diem and includes numerous other perks, all paid for by the people who elected us.

We know your constituents have sent you back three times since your little “incident,” but keep in mind the good people of Harlem, New York have voted to send Charles Rangel back to Congress since 1971. Most people, including Democrats, still support the November 2010 finding of the Ethics Committee that Mr. Rangel is guilty of 11 counts of violating House ethics rules, and further support the sanction of public censure and his removal as Chair of the House Ways and Means Committee. Some things aren’t just about partisan politics, but what’s right and what’s wrong.

For many the quality of life has slipped so dramatically that what were once aspirations for a better life for future generations are now coping strategies to stay housed, fed and employed. This is wrong. Recreation is a luxury we can’t afford. This is not your fault, but you being elected to lead the peoples’ house after making a mistake that cost ordinary people over a million dollars, and spending more money on lawyers defending yourself and filing for bankruptcy than some families make in a lifetime, wreaks of a system that is rigged to lift only some. The American Dream no longer is open to the public but to only a very small group that you belong to, and most others don’t.

People are angry at government and believe politicians are incestuous and self-serving. For some of us Democrats, casting a vote for you as a gesture of good-will, or to avoid unpleasantness, or in hopes you might put us on a certain committee, or staff our office, or keep our favorite secretary on the payroll makes us complicit in this game. And this feels wrong.

We are hoping you won’t be too hard on us if we push that red button, Mr. Speaker. We aren’t voting against you, but rather voting for the people who are hungry, out of work, beaten down by greedy corporations, and taxed to pay your salary.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Getting Good and Old, Again

Serenity might be too strong a word, but forgive yourself. My mind is foggy from heavy injections of sugar, butter, and tryptophan -- two slices of pies short of Thanksgiving nirvana.
As a kid Thanksgiving was ambiguous. No mandatory church service was a plus. Food as a holiday theme certainly was welcome, but some of it was really gross. Stuffing, for example. Soggy chunks of onions and celery? No thanks. Canned green bean casserole with chow mein noodles? Really? 

There was love in the air, with a touch of family tension. Leading up to sitting down for dinner, the momentum in the kitchen was palpable and intense. Humming sounds of mixers, the buzzing of an electric carving knife and whisking accompanied by the oven door opening and closing, again and again, in crescendo. Foil-covered bowls and pots outnumbered guests. "Stir the gravy!" Mom barked to Grandma. It was hot. The dishes and pans to wash were overwhelming.
Then I got married and marched to the beat of Martha Stewart. I toiled over an artichoke stuffing with free-range walnuts that nobody liked. The turkey was blessed and fed a last supper of organic grain before it was killed, wrapped and priced accordingly. Roasted root vegetables with sprigs of herb we grew in pots on our deck were not quite the hit I hoped for. That fourth trip downtown in heavy traffic for the Gewurtztraminer we absolutely needed for dinner made me cranky. The dishes that I transferred the food to from the pots to look good on the table were even more overwhelming, and not dishwasher safe. With a headache from our unique and expensive wine, everything was more challenging. My kids didn't eat Thanksgiving dinner and were hungry for macaroni and cheese. And I made it for them.
Thank God middle age has set in.  I look in the mirror and the blurry, older version of myself accepts that I was never much of a fancy cook and I no longer care. That's what older sisters are for, right? All I want is family, friends and my dog to be around and relatively happy. Flowers and candles beats fussing with complicated decorations. A "natural" Butterball Turkey is very content in my refrigerator. A pretty box of Bell Stuffing is sleek enough in its simplicity, and the ingredients thankfully too small to read. Pie-making is happily surrendered to my cheerful and enthusiastic daughter. I am able to turn a blind eye to my son drinking soda, eating cookies and playing video games minutes before dinner. It's their smiles and laughter I crave.

I drink the wine that is closest to me, and open. 

Even dog hair blowing around in tumbleweeds in the right light can be artistic. With this age comes freedom to give in to the unique energy and momentum of our family.  The recipe for fond memories, it turns out, is pretty simple.
Presented on Thanksgiving is an opportunity to live in the moment of the incredible abundance that surrounds me, and I'm deeply grateful to have the good sense to seize it.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Democrats: Surfs Up

The tsunami of GOP and Tea is still flooding our country. The choices seem to be ride this wave and succumb to fear-mongering and blaming the most vulnerable among us for the corporate theft of our nation’s dignity, or drown. 
Or is there a Third Way?
Take it from a Rhode Islander now living in Maine - when a big breaker is coming at you, dive under it! Come up on the other side and catch your breath. Get ready to take the next white horse for a ride.
The backside of the 2010 election wave looks like a Saturday Night Live version of Messrs. Smith Goes to Washington. An army of wide-eyed GOP freshmen marching in to the capital, flag pins prominently displayed and pocket constitutions in tact, ready to repeal healthcare reform and the deficit, and “take our country back.” 
Just how far back are we going to let them take us before we snap out of it and take credit for the good work that has been done on our watch? We reduced taxes for the middle class! We saved an American car company and increased jobs!  For God sakes, we brought most of our kids home from Iraq and put them on our health insurance plans.
Democrats, we are down but we are not out. We just need to keep working hard to help ordinary people, and brag more. We need some attitude.
The number of new jobs created during the eight years of the Clinton administration was 23 million, and the number of new jobs created during the eight years of the Bush administration was 3 million.  The difference is more than just an old-fashioned math problem. Since Obama came to office the hemorrhaging of jobs that occurred on W’s watch began to decrease, and now jobs are being created. This is so totally radical, right? Why aren’t we screaming from the rafters?
The biggest middle class tax cut in U.S. history was the largest single component of the stimulus bill recently passed by Democrats, accounting for $300 billion of the $800 billion total. Right on, Blue Dudes!
If you had invested $100,000 in the stock market on the day Barack Obama was sworn in, it would be worth around $180,000 today. $100,000 invested the day George W. Bush took office was worth $65,000 eight years later. That’s, like, gnarly.
Republicans right now have a success problem of their own. They have a bunch of know-it-alls with sights on the 2012 coronation and now this pesky little thing called “governing,” is in their lap. 
This is our chance. Right now we must begin writing the rest of the real story. With attitude!

Friday, November 5, 2010

Democrats: Our Dog Died

Your first child was a large Golden Retriever named after jazz great Miles Davis. He had a large head, muscular shoulders, and a fur coat that was gorgeous. With the exception of your brother-in-law Fred, everyone you knew loved Miles. He was handsome, well-behaved, good natured and smart.

Miles got old and strange bumps appeared on his body. He walked so slow it was painful to watch, but you did for many years. His legs began to give out. Smelly “gifts” were left for you around the house. Then Miles died and your hearts were broken. You buried him in the yard, held hands and cried.

After a while, when the grieving faded and the fond memory of Miles replaced the emptiness, a sense of freedom snuck up on you. No longer did you have to brave the elements to walk him twice a day. The tumbleweeds of fur and fragrance of wet-dog were noticeably absent. You were a lighter load when traveling and more nimble. Having Miles was wonderful, and not having Miles was good, too.

Democrats, our dog died on November 2, 2010. What was large, promising and wonderful became bumpy, old and dysfunctional. We will miss it dearly. Fond memories of being the majority party will hopefully soon replace the confusion and remorse we feel now as the minority.

Soon, however, we will be liberated.

No longer are we saddled with the sole responsibility of governing in a time of world-wide economic turmoil and terrorism. The Republican machine can show Americans how exactly we reduce spending, the deficit and taxes simultaneously with fighting the good fight in Afghanistan. The conservatives can crack the nut of the unabashed and grotesque spending of money in the United States on political campaigns. The GOP can demonstrate how in the era of powerful interest groups and extremists Government can represent We the People.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Chamber of Secrets

While scary in real life, the vast amount of secret money the U.S. Chamber of Commerce is stockpiling to purchase the next election is fodder for fiction if you are J.K. Rowling flirting with the idea of writing another book. How hard could it be to write a sequel to this Harry Potter favorite and describe all the Democrats petrified by a big-business basilisk?
Just like the Gringotts Wizarding Bank, the US Chamber houses secret vaults for Dow Chemical, News Corporation, Prudential Financial, Goldman Sachs and other corporate behemoths that are filled with cash and gold coins, and guarded by gremlins resembling a cross between Dobby and Karl Rove. Millions of unmarked payola dollars have been carted out by the “non-profit” Chamber in Washington, DC, and used to shape the healthcare reform law, soften the financial regulation bill, and spin myths about climate change. Now thanks to the Supreme Court’s decision, Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, these same Chamber gremlins are secretly financing the campaign of a witch. Really. 
If the Chamber of Secrets isn’t titillating enough for today’s “conservatives,” Rowling might write, “Harry Potter and the Half-Stud Prince.” The sordid saga of Clarence Thomas, and how one justice’s obsession with pornography has shaped American jurisprudence and campaign finance law.  After all, Thomas didn’t think the Citizens United case “went far enough.”

Sunday, October 17, 2010

The Wealthy on Welfare. A True and Tragic Irony

The boogeyman in this years’ election in Maine is welfare, which is curious because only one complaint about the public assistance system was made to the state representative of Maine’s richest community in four years. 
“Jim” worked as the director of a neighboring city’s public assistance program for decades and was on the verge of a comfortable retirement when he called his state representative. “There is fraud and abuse of the system by people who don’t speak English,” Jim told her. “These people are collecting benefits they don’t deserve.” 
Jim’s state representative agreed to set up a meeting with Jim and the Commissioner of Health and Human Services to hear more about this “problem.” Jim then fell off the face of the earth. Numerous calls made by his representative to him went unanswered. Email communication ceased. 
Months later the state representative was running past Jim’s house. She saw Jim in his truck and asked, “why didn’t you follow through with the meeting I set up with the Commissioner? Why didn’t you call me back, Jim, or respond to my emails?”
Jim said he was not going to “get involved” after all. He was ready, he said, to enjoy his well-deserved retirement.
A welfare director living large on a retirement benefit supported by an assistance program he believed was corrupt but did nothing to fix is “ironic,” right? 
Whose job was it to investigate the so-called abuse of this program, Jim?  How exactly are we supposed to fix a “problem” no one is willing or able to document? 
Isn’t the real problem, Jim, that we lack the integrity and moral compass to put the collective good ahead of our own?
What’s worse than welfare is a political system that no longer addresses the complicated problems we face as a society, but instead uses fear and myths to generate anger that is directed at the most vulnerable among us. What’s worse than welfare are individuals whose gaze is locked on their own reflection and who don’t see themselves as part of both the problem and solution. Personal responsibility is more than just a campaign slogan. 

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Save the Self-Storage Stalls for Senators

We shopped for so much stuff on credit that our homes burst at the brim and another American industry was born and is now bankrupt. Seedy self-storage stalls still litter the landscape to remind us of the decadent decade that almost destroyed our country.

Our problem went from the corporations and banks lending us too much money to buy things we didn't need, to these same corporations and banks buying our elections and bribing our politicians with the bailout we provided.

What if we transformed these self-storage barracks into sanctuaries for senators bird-dogged by special interests? Imagine the transformation when thick satin finish paint covers the walls, and polished wooden floors are sprinkled with wool rugs, a comfortable bed, a porcelain basin filled with lavender water and all the sustenance needed to win an election and govern.

True self-storage could become possible for the people we elect to solve our collective problems. With only the company of soft light and even softer music our leaders could with clear conscience re-connect to their values and the values of their community. These refurbished enclaves would offer soul-storage for the weary who are hunted by day for votes by well-heeled dogs, and who must hunt each night to fill their war chests.

The battle of the campaign is brutal. Greed and extremists are fierce enemies. Our den, though small, will nourish and strengthen. Government of, by and for the People will abide there.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Wireless is no exception to net neutrality

After reading 113,038 comments on the preservation of an open Internet, you might think the Federal Communications Commission would have enough information to make its rules about net neutrality.

Not so. Once again the FCC has invited public comment, this time about two specific issues: whether net neutrality rules should apply to wireless broadband, and whether ISP’s should be allowed to offer “specialized services” that would fall outside the net neutrality purview. Let’s talk about the wireless issue this time, and touch base later about specialized services.

The big ISP’s argue wireless should be exempt from open Internet rules because of an alleged spectrum crunch, and the obvious physical differences between wireline and wireless networks.

Wireless traffic is predicted to increase by almost 4000% from 2009 to 2014 (yikes) and there is a limited amount of spectrum available to handle the traffic, they say.

Also, unlike physical wireline or fiber networks where ISP’s can plot the location of their customers and connections and plan accordingly, wireless customers move around all over the place all the time, and sometimes crowd together in areas. The Obama inauguration on the Mall when millions gathered and sent photos of themselves back home or to Facebook might be an example.

I am excited about filing comments with the FCC as the Digital Democracy Project Director for Common Cause urging the good Commissioners to protect the Internet and keep it open – regardless of how one accesses it. Traffic jams and crowding are in fact very good reasons to have basic rules of the road apply and be enforceable. Don’t you think?

Friday, September 3, 2010

Monkey Business

An artist would draw the three monkeys to resemble Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck and Sarah Palin at a tea party.  Pouring from the spout into each cup would be money. The caption would read, "hear no facts, see no facts, and speak no facts."

You are no artist, though, so when the epiphany strikes, a  thousand words gush out all over your blog explaining why these iconic leaders of the free world lie.

El Rushbo, Glenn and Sarah's pathological lying is caused by rare medical conditions.

Completely deaf until he got a bionic ear, Rush now gets his facts directly from Steve Austin, the Six Million Dollar Man. Every time Rush alludes to the President as "Imam Obama," he gets six million bucks, and a new wife every 100th time he suggests Obama wasn't born in the United States. It works out pretty good for Rush, considering his disability.

Glenn Beck is going blind and (according to him) is too damn lazy to learn braille. No wonder why, as he was "restoring honor" in front of the Lincoln Memorial last week he said, "I went to the National Archives, and I held the first inaugural address written in his own hand by George Washington." This is completely false, of course. What he was really holding was his new $2 million Fox News contract. He just couldn't see it.

If the blind leads the blind, both will fall in to a ditch, but if the Blind leads the Tea Party, he gets rich. Now you get it.

Sarah 'Barracuda' Palin's primary diagnosis is, of course, being a beautiful woman, but its her zoophilia that best explains her speech impediment. This mama grizzly took down a moose, field dressed it, and turned it in to chili before shooting that cute helpless wolf from a helicopter (or was it a caribou?) No wonder why she can't speak.

You think back when as Governor she blurted, "we're gonna consider how to manage the public's expectation desiring the lawmakers and the public acknowledge these are short-term temporary funds that should not lead to government growth two years from now when the dollars are gone, and we will...we will consider on a case by case basis whether the dollars need to be applied for or the dollars that are in the budget today could or should be vetoed. It's going to be a long process still in deciding what to do with the dollars."

It makes a lot of cents now.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Thanks be to Comcast

An envoy from Pakistan was in Washington, DC last Thursday at the Federal Communications Commission public meeting to observe U.S. democracy in action. The cautionary tale in American governance to take back to the old country is big and bulky, but the carry-on message is simple: watch out what you wish for.

Once upon a time the connection to the Internet was classified by the FCC as an “information service” under Title 1 of the Telecommunications Act, and everyone agreed to an Internet Policy Statement that protected consumers and ensured (so we thought) open access to content and applications of our choice.

Comcast managed its network in a way that blocked our ability to access certain lawful content and use certain lawful applications. Public Interest groups filed a complaint. The FCC said Comcast violated federal policy. Comcast adopted a new system of bandwidth management. The FCC issued an order telling Comcast to disclose the specifics of its new approach. Comcast complied with the order.

End of story, right?

No, instead Comcast sued the FCC - which led to the now infamous Comcast court decision stating the FCC does not have authority to regulate Internet service providers’ network management under Title 1.

(How do you translate “open a can of worms” in Punjabi, anyway?)

So the FCC announced it will open a proceeding to classify Internet connectivity under Title II in order to expand broadband, protect an open Internet and foster competition. It held its standing-room only meeting in Washington. Commissioners gave passionate speeches and produced a whopping 48 page Notice of Inquiry with 116 paragraphs filled with hundreds of questions that interested parties can comment on before August 12, 2010.

One glaring omission in this tome of questions: Comcast, what in God’s name were you thinking when you sued the FCC?

Business hates uncertainty we are told. Uncertainty chills investment. Everyone knows this, and that litigation in federal court is a crap-shoot where campaign contributions don’t dictate outcomes. “Opening a proceeding creates so much regulatory uncertainty that it harms incentives for investment in broadband infrastructure and makes providers and investors alike think twice about moving forward with network investments under this dark regulatory cloud,” according to Commissioner Baker.

The Comcast decision has led to the FCC proceeding with no end or next step in sight, and gives certain members of Congress one more opportunity to bicker, preen and strut. Meanwhile convoys of lobbyists will get even fatter by the second when they “comment” ad nauseam the daylight out of the time clock.

One thing is for certain. We don’t know what is going to happen at the FCC or in Congress. We do know who to thank, however.

Monday, June 14, 2010

4G government, or a trap for the wary?

While members of Congress, the FCC and various public interest groups scurry around frantically trying to find the way to network neutrality following the Comcast decision, Google, Verizon and other leading broadband and high-tech companies have declared independence from the U.S. Government.

The Broadband Internet Technical Advisory Group, or "BITAG," includes unelected representatives from AT&T, Cisco Systems, Comcast, DISH Network, Echostar, Google, Intel, Level 3 Communications, Microsoft, Time Warner and Verizon. These powerful dignataries' stated intent is to find common ground with respect to an open Internet, and create a high-tech bureaucracy that's way cooler than the crazy sausage-making we fondly refer to as democracy.

The BITAG will create policies, resolve disputes, issue advisory opinions, establish best practices and encourage staff from federal agencies such as the Federal Communications Commission, Federal Trade Commission and Department of Justice to "observe." Look but don't touch, says the big BITAG.

Ironically these masters of the cyber-sphere want to copy the advertising industry's practice of self-regulation. Most ad agencies, however, would not choose a name like "BITAG" that means "trap" in Filipino.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Let's all roll up our sleeves and protect the Internet

In a recent letter to FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski, Maine Republican Senator Olympia Snowe invites her colleagues in Congress, the FCC, industry and public advocacy groups to “roll up our sleeves and update existing laws” that pertain to the Internet.

Snowe, a self-described “long-time champion of network neutrality,” rebukes the “hyperbole and rhetoric from both sides” of the issue since the FCC announced its proposal to reclassify broadband under Title II of the Communications Act of 1934. She says we must resist the temptation to try and fit emerging technology and the wonders of the 21st century communications network in to the stilted and aging telephony laws of the past.

"Just as technologies, networks, and services have dramatically evolved over the past decade, so too must our policy and regulation--to better reflect the changes in the landscape and ensure our continued competitiveness in the global digital economy.”

As a member of the Senate Subcommittee on Communications, Technology and the Internet, and one of few GOP backers of network neutrality, Snowe is seeking what she calls the only true “middle ground.” Described at this point as a “new and appropriate framework” that will include rules to protect consumers and prohibit anticompetitive practices, Snowe also wants to ensure broadband providers have the flexibility to effectively manage their networks and ensure quality of service to all customers.

Friday, June 4, 2010

Nobody's Perfect

Nagging is really quite easy when you live with teenagers. Effortless, in fact. Whether it's asking them to turn off screens after 6 or 7 hours, stop throwing the basketball against the white painted living room walls, or simply pointing out that the pile of Stridex Acne pads on the bathroom floor is pretty good evidence they missed the trash can, the response is the same. Stop nagging me.

Excellence at nagging apparently causes utter and complete ignorance of professional sports. You are not capable of filling out a bracket for March Madness, and clearly not a suitable candidate for a birthday Celtics game. Nagging and sports illiteracy pretty much sum things up for you these days, except for the little bit of weirdness that has also set in. Demanding hugs in exchange for meals is weird. Getting misty when they dress up for a dance or are found snuggling with the dog is weird. Sending them text messages just to say you miss them is really weird. 

It's been described as the worst call in baseball in the last 25 years when with two outs in the ninth inning Detroit, Tigers pitcher Armando Galarraga almost threw a perfect game but the first-base umpire, Jim Joyce, called the runner safe at first base. But he wasn't really safe. It was a mistake and Joyce apologized. Galarraga accepted the apology.

You think this is nice. You point out (or nag, rather) that sportsmanship is about more than winning. You predict good things will come to both pitcher and umpire because of their actions. You appreciate at last athletic role models worthy of the money and status they garner. You are so weird.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Welling Up About Oil

President Obama is being lambasted about his lack of emotion, or more interesting, his inability to show emotion about the BP oil spill. Maureen Dowd of the New York Times goes on and on about it, and others in the so-called "main stream" media are also a little too emotional about whether Obama is sufficiently emotional. Newsweek, David Broder and the blogosphere continue to analyze whether the president is too hot or too cold.

Most women are used to being dismissed occasionally as "too emotional" about something or other. No matter who delivers the message, it burns. Temper tantrums are celebrated when BMOC's on the field or in the boardroom do something ordinary, but chicks shedding a few tears or sporting a red face is, well, embarrassing. 

Double standards are standards, though, and Mr. Obama might fail his first test.
Just how should a president respond to the worst environmental disaster this generation has ever faced? What is the appropriate tone to take with a multinational corporation who is simultaneously responsible for the catastrophe and the fix? Do you care whether your president can show emotion, or do you want a caring president to show he can lead to the solution of this horrific problem?

When Hillary Clinton choked up in New Hampshire during the presidential primary in 2008 and had her emotional moment, pundits and psychiatrists analyzed and deconstructed every word and all three tears that formed puddles in her eyes as if she had spoken in Russian tongues. It was a transformative moment - for the media.

This cry baby's advice to the president: let a few tears flow for the reporters, and then get back to plugging that damn hole for the rest of us.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Everything is Happening at Once

Everything in the universe is interconnected. Everything evolves - nothing stays the same. Everything is happening at once.  The same can be said about the Internet, and in the coming months Congress, the Federal Communications Commission as well as state legislatures around the country will attempt to redesign U.S. telecommunications laws to adapt to the changing ecosystem.

Developed in the 1960's by the U.S. Defense Department to connect government research facilities, the Internet now connects people in 65 countries around the world. No nation, person or corporation owns or controls it. You might say the Internet is the quintessential public resource.

While the laws of physics are the same throughout the universe, the laws attempting to regulate access to the Internet are different in different places. Information is power, and the Internet is the information highway. Policy makers in the United States will be deciding what basic rules of the road should govern access to this critical infrastructure. Telecom companies, who own the on and off ramps and sell services that connect users, are shouting that any regulation is a "government takeover" of the Internet.  Interest groups, on the other hand, fear continued anarchy on the net will lead to corporate control of what we say and hear, and ultimately what we think.

What ordinary people want is community and the opportunity to succeed. We want the freedom to express our ideas and access the unfiltered ideas of others. We want government and corporations to be held accountable. We want stability and expect effective oversight of public resources.

The coming year demands a commitment from leaders, industry players and the American public to work together and craft sound Internet policies that will support the continued use by everyone of the Internet to dispel the ignorance and misery of the world.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Marley is such a bitch

Asking us to send additional troops to Afghanistan, throw the public option under the bus, and consider off-shore oil drilling was one thing. Suggesting we fork over cold cash to read the online Wall Street Journal, listen to Glenn Beck and stop mudslinging is entirely something else. There's only so much of this stuff we can take, Mr. President.

Sure enough, though, Mr. Audacity himself in a commencement address to the students at the University of Michigan and 80,000 of their closest friends prescribed how to keep our democracy healthy. First, we must recognize the need for some government and work to make it smarter and relevant to today's world. Second, Americans need to be nice to each other, open-minded and seek out alternative points of view, even if it means listening to Rush Limbaugh. Third, people must get involved.

One and three seem reasonable enough, but number two is outrageous and un-American. It's not just the fringes of the ideological spectrum who delight in muckraking and vilification. Character assassination is an innate thread in the fabric of our society. An important segment of our economy is built upon this fundamental value and the last thing we need is Jon Stewart and Tina Fey at the trough slurping up welfare benefits.

Closer to home an example involves a certain Marley named after Bob the Rastafarian but a girl who happens to be an adorable 17 month-old yellow lab. Teenagers who love her more than pizza and television find it hysterical and ridiculously edgy to say out loud for the benefit of their mother, "she is such a bitch."

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

So au courant is green

Plugged-in and contemporary treehuggers intent on decarbonizing the world are endearing, and you are reasonably tolerant of vivacious Gen Y'sters endlessly jabbering about green jobs. You would drive a hybrid car if you could afford one and you want renewable energy. Fresh and awake you are cool as jade most of the time.

It's when you turn a shade of army green in a sea of emerald, hunter and celadon that stinks. The bronze skin tone of friends recently vacationed in Mexico turns your eyes from hazel to celery. Your bunions in flip-flops behind supple perfectly pedicured feet in line at Hannafords give you a glow of olive drab. Wine cellars, lake houses, tickets to Europe, boats, pools, MacBooks and book contracts surround you and stir nauseating embarrassing thoughts. You hate that dark green place.

Oh but the spring green grass is sparkling and virile! You have hip friends and family and your life is lush. Snap out of it! Sustainable living is maintaining a 5 to 1 ratio of feeding and yelling at your kids, and you're out of milk.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Barrel Chested Patriots

Guns and breasts, it turns out, have a lot in common. A parade of women bearing their souls and naked torsos marched on Congress Street in Portland last week, and men will show off their guns this Sunday in an "open carry" march.

Yes, the second amendment says you have the right to carry a gun, and Maine law apparently grants you and all your fat friends the right to walk in public without a shirt. Why walk when you can jog? Why just carry a gun when you can carry a gun with no shirt?

Far be it from us to suggest these two groups have issues with sexuality and were neglected as children. We are just sayin' these people missed class the day protesting was taught by their liberal college professors. Normal deviants protest against something, war for example, or for rights they seek like equal pay.

Let's assume hypothetically soldiers have never quartered in your house without your consent. Now assume for the sake of argument the third amendment to the constitution says "no soldier shall in time of peace be quartered in any house without the consent of the owner."

Are you and your friends going to dress up as soldiers and roam about the neighborhood with signs that say "Americans for soldier-free homes?" Of course not. That would be ridiculous.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

A Modern Proposal

It is a melancholy object to those who Google, twitter or travel in the world, when they see in the United States the presidency, corporate boards, congress, and investment banks, crowded with the male sex, followed by three, four, or six ex-wives, all in suits and importuning every deity for an alms. These mothers, instead of being able to work for their honest livelihood, are forced to employ all their time working for less while caring for more. Parents, grandparents and helpless infants remain their charge, who as they grow up either live at home for want of work, or leave their dear native country to fight in Iraq or Afghanistan. Some of these women sell their soles to please everyone all the time.

Mother's Little Helper in this fast-paced digital era is of course her phone. Swiftly switching applications enables shopping, banking, answering interrogatories and advising her teen what is and is not acceptable to wear at a dance, all the while in her seat waiting for speeches to end and votes to be cast.

Her phone is her alter-ego. She calls her mother back, again, while car pooling doing kegal exercises. "Pay credit card bill today" reminds the friendly blue-lit box. Pretending to listen to the witness testifying, she emails her client. Late at night she smiles when the two-toned text ring she knows is her friend chimes. Decompressing and still working. Updating Facebook. Planning a trip. Checking if anyone has ever read her blog.

Sexting, that cute portmanteau with a bad rap, marketed just right could be the next Cuisinart for today's working woman in a committed relationship short on alone time. Sure, there is the little problem of the USA Patriot Act and domestic spying by Uncle Sam (that could be really embarrassing) and obviously sexting is not for kids. For the conservatives, though, high-speed digital relations are non-carnal. For the germophobics its all clean. Liberals with iPhones can photo-shop. Gay and lesbian couples have equal rights. For exhausted underpaid working mothers it could be one more time-saving, family friendly application.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Tea Partier for a Day

Under the penalty of perjury you sign the 19 pages that make up your tax return, and channel Sarah Palin just a little bit. The weight of the document and its solemnity might be justified if you actually made a lot of money, or had sophisticated off-shore investments to report, but you didn't. What brings your Tea Party chi to the surface is perplexity about the return's actual meaning, and certainty the annual ritual of its preparation will cost you more than a thousand bucks.

The thick year-end package from the payroll company for your one part-time employee was startling, but the 29 page "how to file your tax return as a state legislator" memo on account of a $13,000 salary was the kicker that launched the day dream. There you are, standing at a podium in a rent-a-Chanel suit, waving your tax return while sounding off about the federal government takeover of our lives. One particularly flip and snarky sound bite, "the IRS is a gangster!" earns you passionate cheering from the crowd and a reference in Bill Clinton's speech. A parody on Saturday Night Live is imminent.

You are awakened from the dream by the CBS News/New York Times report about real Tea Partiers.

You are not invited to the party after all. Being white and miffed on tax day doesn't cut it. You're not angry enough, you believe President Obama was born in Hawaii, you don't carry a gun and, most importantly, you don't make enough money.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Nattering Nabobs of Net Neutrality

The United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia issued a decision on April 6, 2010 that winds back the Net Neutrality agenda of the FCC. The court said in a 36 page decision that the Federal Communications Commission does not have authority to regulate an Internet service provider's network management practices.

The facts of the case are simple. Comcast interfered with its customers' use of "peer-to-peer" network applications. These apps allow users to share large files directly with one another, and use a ton of bandwidth. Comcast says it was simply managing its network capacity. The FCC issued an order saying Comcast was violating a federal Internet policy that gives consumers the right to access lawful Internet content and run applications of their choice.

The problem, according to the court, is that there is no specific statute that gives the FCC authority to tell Comcast what it can and can't do with its network. Regulations to promote and preserve an open Internet can't be woven from whole cloth. Congress has to pass a law first.

The FCC is not a quitter, though. "Today's court decision invalidated the prior Commission's approach to preserving an open Internet. But the Court in no way disagreed with the importance of preserving a free and open Internet; nor did it close the door to other methods for achieving this important end," says FCC Spokesperson Jen Howard.

In an election year, when corporations can give unlimited amounts of money to campaigns, and Google and Facebook are up against Telecom giants like Comcast and Verizon, we are in for a treat!

Friday, April 9, 2010

The End

Being a cog in the wheel of state politics can be frenetic. Ringing bells call lawmakers to their seats, gauntlets of lobbyists chatter, and herds of people stampede through the marble halls of the capital to create a cacophony of sound that over time becomes familiar and strangely comforting.

The energy at the end of a legislative session is particularly intense and addictive if you are a player, and mind-numbing if you're not.

For legislators self-appointed to the center of hot issues, procrastination is no longer an option at the end. Controversial bills must be resolved, and chaotic lines in the sand are drawn. Held in captivity for long hours and sleep deprived, these people exist on raw emotion and arguments erupt. Doors slam and tears flow. It's high drama.

For the rest of us, the final day of the legislative session can't come soon enough. Spouses and children are no longer enamored with our public life and rightfully skeptical the 17th time we predict this day at the capital will be our last. Our clients are antsy and irritable. Tax returns stating ridiculously low income aren't filed. Houses need cleaning, flower beds beg to be raked and our hair needs to be cut.

We are all grateful for the increasing amount of sunlight, and welcome the screaming peepers at dusk and chorus of birds in the early morning that cheer us to the finish line.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Estimated Prophet

Catching President Obama in Portland, Maine reminds you of going to a Grateful Dead concert. Friends with connections get tickets and you hit the road. Sun shining, music playing and windows open, you tap out rhythm on the steering wheel as carloads of happy Democrats whiz by on their way south from the capital to the show. Obama Biden bumper stickers and dark suits replace Steal Your Face and tie dye, but the feeling is the same. You are connected by a common purpose.

After parking blocks away you make the pilgrimage with the masses to a place transfixed by the event. Instead of buying a veggie burrito from a nice Dead Head, you grab some Thai noodles at Whole Foods and a water bottle. What had been the dingy Expo Center on Saturday for your daughter's track meet is now the center of the universe. Peaceful protesters and people looking for tickets mill around, bells ring and police stand at attention.

Being a part of the establishment has its perks. The blue ticket you scored gets you on the fast track with the usual suspects. Former governors, candidates for governor, legislators, congress people, and big donors get shepherded in by volunteers you also recognize from conventions and caucuses. White ticket-holders are in a line that hasn't moved since 5 AM.

Inside the echo chamber some people fill in the bleachers, some jockey for media exposure and schmoozing, but you go to the floor in front and join believers who want to look the President in the eye.

Jerry Garcia caused hysteria simply by tuning his E string. Jerry! Jerry! Jerry! And the Obama staffer who places the Presidential seal on the podium and tests the sound system receives a standing ovation. Yes we can! Yes we can! Yes we can!

Preaching to his choir Barack Obama is relaxed and playful. He is among friends who are high on victory. His speech is good, but it's more than the words that inspire. It is a confidence in our country and in us that makes some middle-aged women jump up and down, and scream. It's the promise of a future for our children. It is hope, and yes, things have changed.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

A Tall Regular, Please

People who don't drink coffee give you the jitters. When you shuffle to the market early for the Sunday paper and a cup of joe and see your new co-worker suck down a large diet soda, it is a peek through the window of her soul. You might get along, but definitely are not mates. When you meet that new friend at Star Bucks and he orders a Red Bull, you can hear the air go out of the conversation bubble.

Tea Partiers make you a little nervous too. These young people carrying signs (and guns) remind you of a Buffalo Springfield song because what they stand for aint exactly clear. Tea Party paranoia strikes deep, and into the GOP it creeps. When Scott Brown won the senate race in Massachusetts they said "hooray for our side" until he stepped out of line and voted for the jobs bill. Too much aspartame in their brew might be making these Partiers nutty.

It could be time to stop, children, and join the Coffee Party Movement. "Government is not the enemy of the people, but the expression of our collective will, and we must participate in the democratic process in order to address the challenges that we face as Americans," say the Coffee Partiers as they twitch and shake.

Sure sounds stimulating. Coffee Party USA has a Facebook page with 94,516 Fans and planning National Coffee Party Day on March 13th.

Maybe you will just throw some fish on the grill, turn up the music, and wait for the Wine Party.

Friday, February 26, 2010

A Fairy Tale

Once upon a time a fat telecom company named Pyg swaggered in to the shire throwing coins to the people and shouting from a megaphone, "I will bring connectivity to your hinterlands and employ your villagers. Let me in!" Smiling people from away threw confetti and sang songs about Pyg's goodness as the mayor handed him the keys to the castle.

After the neighbors welcomed Pyg with casseroles and bean suppers, they waited patiently to be connected to the rest of the world. They waited and waited but their screens remained dark and their telephones became silent. The people became angry and marched in the streets. Pyg then took off his mask and said, "I am big but not strong or smart enough to connect you. I must go to the City to get more coins and confetti."

Gee Wallaby Ibis was a nice little telecom company. She and her friends dreamt of someday befriending Pyg and working together in his castle. They tried and tried without success. One day they rolled up their sleeves and began connecting the village to the world in a new way. The good people on the farms and in the hills were happy because their blue screens lit up and their phones began to ring.

When King O announced a connecting contest, Gee Wallaby Ibis and her friends invited Pyg to join them and seek the prize, but Pyg was jealous and cranky and refused.

Using the best blacksmiths and the strongest metal, Gee Wallaby Ibis and her friends built a beautiful and sturdy chain to connect the entire shire with the wide wonderful world. After the king's knights spent 40 days testing the chain, Prince Locke rode in to the square and declared with pomp and circumstance Gee Wallaby Ibis the winner. Trumpets sounded. The people cheered, "Hurray! We will be connected at last!"

Pyg's castle began crumbling around him as he seethed with anger. Instead of using the coins he got in the City to fix his castle, he bought a new mask and disguised himself as a Gentleman Blacksmith. Whispering to the people that Gee Wallaby's chain would break and they would be lost at sea, the Gentleman Blacksmith began spreading fear and doubt in the land. In hushed and somber tones he told the people that Pyg had a bigger and better chain hidden behind the castle walls.

Some of the good people became very afraid and confused. They urged Gee Wallaby Ibis to send back the prize, and give her chain to the Gentleman Blacksmith to fix.

The wise elders of the community gathered and spent many days thinking. The people waited with baited breath until finally the wisest of all stepped forward and told the people, "The Gentleman Blacksmith is a Pyg in disguise who must fix his own castle. Gee Wallaby Ibis built a beautiful new chain that will connect us. Let us have courage to change the things we can!"

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Shaksper N Luv

Parting is such sweet sorrow when you drop him off at the bus station this cold dark February morning in Maine. Its sweetness is the reminder that you are not affixed to each other by children, mortgage or habit alone; its sorrow the many lost opportunities for closeness.

A pair of star-cross'd lovers is a polite way to describe your beginning. He was dating someone his mother adored, and you were dating your boyfriend's (former) best friend. Being theoretically unavailable made flirting at the restaurant while you both worked harmless. Continuing to serve and pour each other wine after your shifts together, alas, was not.

What's in a name? That which we call a rose By any other name would smell as sweet, but when that funny Valentine from "TC" arrived in the mail your heart pounded. His last name had not yet come up in conversation. Love is a smoke and is made with the fume of sighs, and sharing cigarettes between dances at Nectars had left no time for formal introductions.  Added to your college drama were the recent advances of that blond European student, Thor C.

"I would not wish any companion in the world but you, and by the way, what is your last name?" you ask when you finally find him, breathless from running. His answer and mutual blushing complete the meet-cute.

The course of true love never did run smooth, and yours took the road from Burlington, Vermont down to Boston, and then north to Portland.  Love is like a child, That longs for everything it can come by, and your two kids are no exception. Weeks pass sometimes without a second alone together. A rendezvous at a basketball game or ski meet is a date.

If music be the food of love, then texting is the poetry that now connects us. Your Valentine's words are few because his phone and style are old school, but less is sometimes more.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Oh My Blog!

You have been meaning to blog about President Obama's commanding performance in Baltimore with the GOP. The leadership races coming out of the woodworks in Augusta give you the creeps. You are on the fence about the story of the Baptists kidnapping the Haitian kids, and downright nauseous when you think about John Edwards. The woman suicide bomber in Pakistan killing school girls is disturbing and thought provoking. The United States of America policy of "don't ask, don't tell" is almost hard to believe.
So much material and so little time!

Sunday, January 24, 2010

The Chair Now Recognizes the Senator from Monsanto

Being the strict constructionalists they are, the five Supreme Court Justices who struck down campaign finance reform this week really had no choice but to interpret "Congress shall make no law abridging the freedom of speech" in the First Amendment to mean that corporations have the constitutional right to pump billions of dollars in to elections.

Justice Clarence Thomas alone thinks Congress can't even require corporations to report spending on elections or put disclaimers with their advertisements. Corporations should be treated like the rest of us, in his view. This is an odd channeling of the founding fathers, who counted a slave as only three-fifths of a person.

Campaign finance laws are off the books so once again we will enjoy the fruits of deregulation.  A big business bail out will be accomplished in less than five working days when the right people get elected, and the advertising industry can hire all the white guys who got laid off recently to create clever and misleading Swift Boat campaigns. Our White House can be re-named the Gillette House for a hefty sum to pay down the deficit. It's not all doom and gloom.

For now, though, shareholders are people too. We might just decide to read the 500 page company prospectus to see how our money is being "invested" in political speech before it's lost. Our democracy might be sold to the highest bidder thanks to the Supreme Court, but good old fashioned capitalism means we can vote with our dollars. We can buy things from companies that pledge to exercise rights of free speech fairly and reasonably. We can choose to not buy Lipitor and hybrid seeds.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

The Quick Brown Fox Jumped Over the Lazy Democrat

The story of Scott Brown winning the Massachusetts senate seat is an excellent reminder that politics is a lot like sports. People root for the underdog. A game in which one side gets crushed isn't that fun and sometimes you cheer for the other team when one of its skinny little players makes the free throw.

The new senate score of 59 to 41 means the Republicans made it to the finals. The crowds are going crazy and rushing down on to the field. The pundits are doing the Monday morning quarterback routine. It is not clear what, if anything, the outcome will actually mean for most people and it doesn't apparently matter.

We know Senator-elect Brown gives a really long, boring and unscripted speech. He will therefore fit right in the Washington scene, and no doubt there is a bet somewhere being made on the odds of a scandal coming to light before the re-election in 2012. The drama will continue. The Democrats and the Republicans will chew on the outcome of this race for months, and exploit it shamelessly for money, jokes and sweet revenge. We will exacerbate our carpel tunnel with feverish clicks of the remote.

Meanwhile in Portland, Jome Murphy is being charged with assault for spraying protesters and police with fox urine. He apparently was sick and tired of the whining going on below his apartment about alleged poor working conditions for restaurant workers and took the matter in to his own hands.

Lord knows some trial lawyer will argue Murphy's got Second Amendment rights to pack fox urine and protect his home from liberal union radicals. President Obama and his social secretary are busy planning a Tea Party for Senators Snowe and Lieberman. The world keeps spinning and Fox News is undoubtedly enjoying its day in the hen house.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

The Enemy Of Your Enemy Is Your Friend

Technology evolves at the speed of light, while most of us lumber along with multiple gadgets and distractions. Do you worry that your Twitter account isn't interfaced with your Facebook Page? Are your photos lost somewhere up in the cloud? Do you spend every waking moment checking your messages and updating your status?

Recurring nightmares of being stranded on an island with an obsolete laptop, Windows Vista and a flip phone convince us it won't be long before we are left behind like the woolly mammouth.  Technology is in the driver's seat. We fret it will soon take over our minds and control the world.

Despots in Iran and Communists in China want to take over the minds of people and control the world. People in these places who oppose regimes will be censored, tortured and killed if they fail to conform to oppressive and tyrannical government policies.

Nazila Fathi is a reporter who barely escaped from government forces seeking to squash her efforts to shine light on the fraudulent elections in Iran last June. She lives now in exile but is able to continue her journalism about the escalating situation because of the Internet and creative use of technology by people still there. "Bluetooth" has become a verb. "A protester Bluetooths a video clip to others nearby, and they do the same. Suddenly, if the authorities want to keep the image from escaping the scene, they must confiscate hundreds or thousands of phones and cameras," she says. Information is able to go AWOL and reach Fathi's notebook and ultimately the pages of the New York Times.

In China, government hacks trying to collect information about human rights activists from Google's network suffered a surprise power outage. Google, an American corporation, has taken a stand for civil rights. If China is going to censor its pipes, peek in to it's files and black out topics like "Tiananmen Square," then Google is gonna pick up its ball and go home. We hear cheering in the streets. Google unplugged the People's Republic!

The same technology we fear may control us is fighting authoritarian regimes that fight to control us.

Friday, January 15, 2010

The Gray Lady

Two colors are considered complementary if gray is produced when they are combined. Gray has no opposite. Gray can be spelled grey and still mean the same thing.

If a committee of Democrats and Republicans reach consensus, sometimes the resulting policy is gray. There is good and bad mixed together. Black and white, stirred but not shaken. The moral value is not striking or vivid.

If a committee of Democrats and Republicans reach consensus, the political culture mandates the rest of the herd to follow along. You are discouraged from engaging in independent thought and analysis. The overarching goal of unanimity is supposed to override any motivation to seek out alternatives. Challenging assumptions is perceived as an act of disloyalty. Depending on your perspective, this policy-making machine is either groupthink or progress.

Leadership is demonstrated in politics when decisions reached by consensus are still open to absorb and integrate ideas that may benefit the people we are elected to serve.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Good News!

With all of the headlines focused on the budget crisis, it may be easy to miss some of the good news. In the last few months, Maine received a huge boost to our efforts to build our broadband infrastructure – a virtual superhighway that is quickly becoming the frontier of commerce. Linking our rural communities to the Internet is vital for the development of Maine’s economy and our future.

That’s why the $25.4 million award to the state from The National Telecommunications and Information Administration for GWI’s “Three Ring Binder” ( middle mile project is so important.

As the House chair of the Broadband Strategy Council (BBSC), I am very excited that the federal government has chosen to accept the council’s recommendations to fund the biggest of the four major broadband infrastructure projects the BBSC recommended.

This project is a public-private effort which will allow Maine telecommunications companies and vital Maine institutions to enhance broadband Internet access in rural Maine, and the end result will be high-speed Internet connections in more than 100 additional towns throughout the state.

The success of funding this much-needed project in Maine is the result of hard work and collaboration through a public-private partnership, which serves as a wonderful example of how the people of Maine can invest in their economic future, even when times are difficult.

To understand the terminology, a “last mile” project refers to the final leg of delivering connectivity from a communications provider to a customer. Any plan to provide that last mile of connectivity to a given area has to overcome the absence of what the telecom industry calls a “middle mile” connection to the Internet. The middle mile connection is similar to an electronic artery capable of carrying large volumes of information at high speeds to large geographic areas. In many areas of Maine, such digital arteries simply do not exist.

When the BBSC began its assessment process last summer, it measured each project against the overall goal of a secure and reliable telecommunications network that provides broadband access to unserved and underserved populations and regional areas. We put a special emphasis on projects that would foster economic development, create jobs and enhance the delivery of goods and services.

GWI’s “Three Ring Binder” project met all those criteria, as it will significantly improve the telecommunications infrastructure of our state and greatly enhance our ability to compete in the global economy.

Maine can put aside partisan differences and get good work done to help people and businesses prosper. This is good news!

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Just How Excellent Are You, Mr. President?

Americans love baseball, apple pie, loaded questions and torture, if you swallow the logic of 40 year-old syndicated columnist Jonah Goldberg.  His column yesterday in the Portland Press Herald connects the dots between a ridiculous poll and some anecdotes to conclude that most Americans do not support President Obama, want waterboards for Christmas, and are hungover following a raucous year of liberal orgies.

"And a Rasmussen Reports poll last week found that 70 percent of respondents either support waterboarding the Christmas Bomber suspect or are unsure whether we should."  Therefore, Goldberg concludes, there is no "kindling for a prairie fire of progressive activism."

Oh. Okay.

Goldberg goes on to say, "Perhaps there are no laws of history. Perhaps, for all the liberal celebrating last year, the reality is that Obama fulfilled his mandate the moment he was sworn in as President Not-Bush, and it's hangovers for as far as the eye can see."

Putting aside the very poor grammar and writing technique (because we are liberal pansy cream puffs), can you imagine answering the phone and being asked if you "support" waterboarding the Christmas Bomber?

When did you stop beating your wife? How fast was the car going when it went through the intersection?

Polls are like statistics - they can be made to prove anything. Statistics can at times be dangerous. Ask W.I.E. Gates about the guy who drowned crossing a stream with an average depth of six inches.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

That's My Boy

"Okay, fine, I promise I won't comment on any of your posts."

It seemed like a reasonable compromise at the time, and that's what it took to be his Friend. In retrospect it was a small price to pay for a meaningful perspective on this big, smart-ass, handsome guy.

I would silently observe his life as if up on the balcony looking down. Lots of sports references, yet surprisingly they were very funny and insightful. Jokes made me LOL. Thankfully there were no drug references or inappropriate language. A few too many beautiful girls "friending" him constantly, but otherwise I was impressed, and proud.

It was December 24th in the evening but unfortunately I hadn't yet put on my kerchief or settled down for a long winters' nap. Instead, I was on Facebook when what to my wondering eye should appear but a post by him that said "twas the night before Christmas."

For reasons unknown on that cold night I went to the dark side and broke my promise, and I will forever regret it. I typed in, ever so slowly, a comment. Yup. I did it. I confess. I wrote, "not a creature is stirring except a 14 year-old in the basement playing NBA 2K10."

He unfriended me immediately. Repeated apologies and begging for forgiveness have not changed his mind. The kid has got principles, and he isn't budging. Not even an offer that he re-Friend in lieu of buying me a birthday gift was acceptable. He rightfully throws back in my face verbatim lectures about the importance of keeping your word that I gave to him not so long ago.

My only hope, at this point, is that some of what I have said about redemption has also sunk in.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Money for Nothing and the Chicks for Free

The second session of the 124th Maine Legislature convenes on January 6, 2010. The Epiphany. Wouldn't it be great if three kings brought gifts totaling $438 million to fill the hole in the Maine state budget? Hope springs eternal, but it's likely the kings aren't showing up, and neither is the second coming of Almighty Stimulus. We can't afford to do everything for everyone who wants and perhaps deserves a government hand-up.

Does everyone you know want a program to help them and simultaneously believe government wastes money on unnecessary programs? As the big business with the high paid lobbyist you argue convincingly in a soft voice and expensive suit at a reception that your company employs hundreds of people whom you pay a decent wage and provide health insurance, therefore you deserve a break. It's the least government can do since without you more people would be on the government rolls sucking money from the tax payers. You pay high income and property taxes and its fair for government to offer some carrots in the mix. There is always North Carolina, after all.

If you are a small business, you wipe the sweat from your brow, look government in the eye and plead for common decency and mercy. You are tilling the soil, milking the cows and baking the artisan breads that keep the "rural" in rural Maine. You add community and landscape to the Maine economy, and have practically nothing to show for it but some scar tissue and a blue ribbon from the Common Ground Fair. Surely your small family enterprise deserves a subsidy to account for the outlandish corporate welfare that props up the distended and grotesque behemoths that put Main Street out of business.

You might just be a really angry individual who went to one of those Tea Parties and can't understand why the government is bailing our banks and investment companies out with your money when you and your neighbors' houses are being foreclosed and no one in your family can find a job. The government, damn it, should be protecting freedom and guns. Period.

And then of course there is you, child. You don't even realize that your health, hopes and dreams barely ever make it in to the conversation. You have no lobbyist to fight for quality childcare and innovative schools. Your parents are working around the clock like dogs and can't afford to take even a sick day off, and nobody is putting quarters in the jar for your college education. You eat bad food because it’s cheap, play video games because no chaperone is required and are denied the wonder and glory of the natural world because you aren't allowed out of the house alone.

So what do you think the government should be doing?