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?