Sharpening our wits on the grindstone of Life: April 2006 .comment-link {margin-left:.6em;}

Sharpening our wits on the grindstone of Life

Friday, April 28, 2006

Save the Internets

Save the Internet: Click here

The opposition is taking their usual stand: there's no issue, let's just ignore it. They claim that net neutrality will hamper research and development and leave consumers with fewer choices. Sound familiar? That's what they said before the Ma Bell monopoly was broken up decades ago. Do we have fewer phone service choices now, with stale technology? I think not, as new services and equipment are introduced faster than we can break or lose our cell phones, unlike the Ma Bell days when a brick-like rotary phone rusted before a new one was needed.

For the uninitiated, net neutrality would guarantee surfers acess to all internet content, not just the content that your internet service provider (ISP) wants you to see. Alyssa Milano puts it very succinctly:

Wal-Mart refuses to fill certain prescriptions because they are ethically against them. Why couldn’t the corporations limit our access to information they are against? They could, especially if large Internet providers like AT&T are successful in their current behind-the-scenes campaign to get Congress to gut Network Neutrality—the Internet’s First Amendment and the key to Internet freedom. Network Neutrality is the idea that all information online is treated equally, so Internet companies have to make the smallest blog just as accessible as the largest corporate website.

Network neutrality was addressed in the Markey Ammendment, which was up for vote in the House this week as part of telecommunications legislation. Unfortunately, the ammendment was defeated by a 34 - 22 vote, primarily along party lines. As expected, Republicans backed the big telcos, but the big news is that the Subcommittee on Commerce and Energy defeated Markey's last attempt 23 - 8, showing a marked shift in attitudes. Those who changed their vote this time credited the explosion of public interest in the issue.

More info on net neutrality can be found at It explains how ISPs will be able to give preferred connections and access speeds to sponsors according to how much the sponsor pays them. As a result, those companies willing to pay more to ISPs will have a bigger presence on web surfers' PCs, virtually shutting out small business, non-profit, and amateur content providers like me.

Television, newspapers, sattelite, and cable TV are already controlled by large corporations, and show you want they want you to see. At present, the internet is unimpeded in it's content. Sure, not all of this content is good, but at least we still have a choice what we want to access. This will be gone if big business is allowed to control the internet.

AT&T, Comcast, Verizon and Time Warner are spending millions lobbying congress not to sponsor net neutrality.

They want to tax content providers to guarantee speedy delivery of their data. They want to discriminate in favor of their own search engines, Internet phone services, and streaming video — while slowing down or blocking their competitors.

These companies have a new vision for the Internet. Instead of an even playing field, they want to reserve express lanes for their own content and services — or those from big corporations that can afford the steep tolls — and leave the rest of us on a winding dirt road.

On the other side are bloggers, consumer advocates, internet pioneers, and those who'll benefit from a gate-free internet like Yahoo, Google, and EBay. They've seen borderline abuses and want to prevent the slide toward corporate midsets such as these:

  • In 2004, North Carolina ISP Madison River blocked their DSL customers from using any rival Web-based phone service.
  • In 2005, Canada's telephone giant Telus blocked customers from visiting a Web site sympathetic to the Telecommunications Workers Union during a labor dispute.
  • Shaw, a big Canadian cable TV company, is charging an extra $10 a month to subscribers in order to "enhance" competing Internet telephone services.
  • In April, Time Warner's AOL blocked all emails that mentioned — an advocacy campaign opposing the company's pay-to-send e-mail scheme.

Although the Markey Ammendment was defeated, the fight for net neutrality is far from over, as the Communications Opportunity Enhancement Act moves to the full house for a vote. This act (referred to as COPE) favors ISPs and would affectively kill Net Neutrality in the House. However, if passed it must reconcile against Senate legislation before it can be signed into law.

Though Senate Commerce Committee chairman Ted Stevens (R-AK) has said he supports the idea of Net Neutrality in principle, he has stopped short of endorsing putting the principle into codified law.However, Senators Olympia Snowe (R-MI), Byron Dorgan (D-ND), and Ron Wyden (D-OR) have all introduced legislation in the Senate that would ban network providers from degrading content or creating "toll lanes" where content providers can ensure better access to their sites in exchange for paying more money.

There is still time to make your voice heard. If you value unlimited access to the internet, join with Save the Internet in letting our elected officials know we don't want the internet controlled by the telecommunications industry.

Although COPE will encompass many changes to how telecoms, cable companies, and municipalities deliver Internet services to customers, the blitz of opposition to a "tiered Internet" has brought mainstream public attention to an issue Matt Stoller says the telecoms wanted kept quiet.

"The telcos have spent hundreds of millions of dollars and many years lobbying for their position. We launched four days ago, and have closed a lot of ground," he said. "Over the next few months, as the public wakes up, we’ll close the rest of it."

Save the Net Now

Vote for a change

Chet Edwards, who's running as the incumbent in District 17, and Nick Lampson, who's running as a challenger against Tom DeLay's replacement in District 22, are in line to receive some campaign funds from Barbara Boxer's PAC for a Change.

There are many critical races that will be decided this November -- races that will determine whether Democrats will regain control of Congress. So today I'm inviting you to decide which two Democratic House candidates -- one incumbent and one challenger -- we should support next.

The decision will be based on online voting, so if you want to see these guys get a little more in their campaign funds, go here and vote for them. Every little bit helps, and your vote will count. I thank you, and your country will thank you.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Ejamucashun reform, Texas style

In the wake of the Carole Keeton Strayhorn's estimate of an $8.2 billion surplus in the state budget, the fighting 79th (yet another sequel) approved $2.4 billion for school property tax relief in a stopgap measure designed to put a bandaid on our ailing school system. Of course, this does nothing toward providing adequate pay for teachers, enough books to go around, or habitable classrooms, but it provides lawmakers with good sound bites in an election year.

"We can go home and tell the people
that we have reduced the property taxes, that the schools will stay open in June," said Rep. Warren Chisum, R-Pampa.

"We're here to lower property taxes
," [Rep. Patrick] Rose said. "The quicker we do that, the sooner we can work on education reforms."

They also tentatively approved business tax expansion by an 11 vote margin (wanna guess who was for and against?), shrinking loopholes so only the shrewdest of businesspersons will be able to avoid it. Unless you're a doctor - er, I mean "health care provider" - 'cuz then you're exempt.

Perry butt-kisser Beverly Woolley (R-Houston) managed to slide in a provision that the good news of property tax reduction will be announced to voters - er, I mean taxpayers - by Perry's Secretary of State, whose office has nothing to do with taxes. It should be announced by the Comptroller, but that happens to be Perry's opponent in the upcoming gubernatorial election, Carole Keeton Strayhorn. Woolley claims it's for transparency. She's right, 'cause it's very transparent to me. Perry wants voters to get the good news from him, at taxpayer expense, right before the November election.

Some questioned the propriety of allowing the letter to come from the office that handles elections rather than tax issues.

The office that normally handles taxes is held by Perry's November opponent in the governor's race, Comptroller Carole Keeton Strayhorn.

The letter would likely go out to voters just before November election day, this year only.

Still on the agenda for this special session is a cigarette tax increase that started out strong, but has been filtered so much that the American Lung Association and the American Cancer Society have withdrawn their support of it. There's also a shrewd plot to capture sales tax from auto sales by taxing blue book value on cars sold, rather than the sale price.

Funny, but I don't see anything that says the Lege is fixing the school system. Wasn't that what the special session is supposed to be all about? Oh, I forgot - this is an election year. We can't fix the school system without raising taxes, and no one is going to risk re-election by even mentioning it. Especially with all those grass-roots republigoons hanging around the capitol holding the sign on the "L" on their foreheads to show solidarity.

For more information on these issues, check out Capital Annex for an analysis of House Bills 1 through 5, and a comprehensive history of school finance in Texas.

Also, Eye on Williamson County has a primer for yesterday's House debate.

Sunday, April 23, 2006

The real state of the union

Bush jerks off yet another world leader

Looking for the real state of the union? WaPo had the abbreviated verson on Friday (via Easter Lemming Liberal News). Updates on Hu's blues, Rove's woes, the Plame game - it's all there.

Saturday, April 01, 2006

More smoke and mirrors on April Fool's Day

This morning, POTUS used his weekly radio address to attempt to convince America that his tax plan is needed to grow the economy. I don't know about you, but the measley $300 I got didn't help my economy much - it barely made a dent in my gas tank, now that I'm paying twice what I used to fill up my car. I'd say that was a poor trade. The rich get the gold mine, the rest of us get the shaft.

"The evidence is overwhelming: The opponents of tax cuts were wrong," he said. "Tax relief has helped to create jobs and opportunities for American families, and it's helped our economy grow."
So where's the evidence? This is another example of the Bush administration's strategy. Repeat it often enough, and it becomes the truth. Not only is there no evidence, there's not even any indication that any economic sector is improving, other than for oil companies and wartime contractors. The only people putting more money in their pockets are CEOs of large corporations and the lobbyists who funnel their contributions to right-wing politicians.

Bush is down in the polls, which find most Americans objecting to the war in Iraq, and has said he recognizes that midterm election politics is making Republicans in Congress nervous. He used the popular GOP call for tax relief to appeal to Americans' pocketbooks with the April 15 filing deadline approaching.

"As tax day approaches later this month, many American families are now finishing their tax returns," Bush said. "And as you do, an important debate is taking place in Washington that will affect the amount you will pay in the years ahead."

That's funny, I just finished my tax return, and it still seems I'm paying more in taxes even though the deduction and exemption levels have gone up. It's got to be smoke and mirrors, because the only time I ever see anything related to tax relief is when the Treasury sends me my pittance to make it look like I'm getting some money back.

Someone is making a killing off of this tax relief scam, but it isn't the average taxpayer. Otherwise, why would dubya keep harping on the necessity of tax relief in order to score points. It can't be the poor schmucks who believed him when he got the "morality" vote in 2004. Most of them can't afford accountants and have to do their own tax returns, so surely they can see that the wool is being pulled over their eyes.

These tax cuts for the wealthy are being underwritten by our children and grandchildren. The bills have to be paid eventually, and the national deficit is at an all time high. Today's families are already paying the price for dubya's war with the lives of their husbands, wives, sons and daughters. We will continue to pay the price for this war in generations to come for the monetary debts incurred by this fiasco.

It's time we said, "No more!" We've had enough of this administration giving our money away to their friends while the rest of us scrimp to make ends meet; and our youth, the future of our country, go off to fight and die in a war that was started by a man who just wanted his place in history as a wartime president.

In his response to the presidential broadcast, retired Army general Wesley Clark pretty much ingored the tax cut issue, treating it as a mistaken priority.

He argued that the nation "is in danger from the administration's mistaken policies and priorities."

Clark offered a litany of missteps, from the failure to get bin Laden to the more than 2,300 U.S. military deaths in Iraq and the thousands wounded. Domestically, he cited several challenges, including rising gasoline prices, illegal immigration and the impact of global warming.

In addition to dissing the tax cut issue, he reiterated that the govenment has a duty to provide security to its citizens - something the Bush administration has failed to do by ignoring Osama bin Laden and starting a war that did more for terrorist recruitment than Al Qaeda could have done in a decade.

"This administration has taken us on a path to nowhere - replete with hyped intelligence, macho slogans and an incredible failure to see the obvious," Clark said in the broadcast.

The administration "has shown tragic incompetence in everything from nation building in Iraq to disaster relief in Louisiana," he said. "Let's face it: We're not going to win the war on terror unless we start making more friends and fewer enemies in the world, and we're not going to be able to protect the American people without a new strategy."

Clark joined House and Senate Democrats on Wednesday in calling for a strategy that would provide U.S. agents with the resources to pursue bin Laden, redeployment of U.S. forces from Iraq, better equipment for the military and improved screening of containers and inbound cargo.

So there you have it. On April Fool's Day, the president attempts to fool us again, while his opposition tells it like it is. Who will you trust? Or better yet, who will you vote for in the next election?