Monday, August 25, 2008

Week of 08/25/2008

Lame-Duck President’s Lame Blame Game
– by David Matthews 2

“Bush Blames Congress for Gas Prices.”

“Bush Blames Democrats for High Gas Prices.”

“Bush Blames Congress for Budget Deficit.”

“Bush Blames Congress for Bad Economy.”

“Bush Blames Democrats for Mortgage Crisis.”

“Bush Blames…”

“Bush Blames…”

“Bush Blames…”

Oh hell, I can go on and on but you pretty much get the point, don’t you?

Those are recent headlines, but they effectively summed up the points being made. You don’t really need to read the articles themselves, even though common sense says that you should just to hear the arguments being used.

George W. Bush, the man who didn’t care what history thought of him, the man who didn’t care what the world thought of him, the man who didn’t care what America’s Founding Fathers would think of him, the man who didn’t care about rules or laws or even the United States Constitution itself, is proving through his words and deeds as being not only the most dystrophic U.S. President in human history, but also a spineless weasel of a human being.

For seven long years he paraded himself about as the proverbial Big Man on Campus, harkening back to his old college days when he could be wild and free. He used 9/11 as the excuse to bully his way into getting anything and everything he ever wanted. Laws didn’t matter. He just signed away an Executive order or re-wrote the law with a “signing statement”. Rules didn’t matter. He just declared “executive privilege” and “national security”. The Constitution itself didn’t matter. He just excused that as a “goddamned piece of paper”.

But now that he’s on his way out of office (and that day cannot come soon enough for this commentator), he suddenly decides that HE DOES CARE about some things… like his legacy. Like how history will remember him.

And he wants people to think that suddenly he’s not the strutting BMOC peacock that he has been carrying himself as. Not the rude, crude, crass frat boy who belts out “Yo Blair” at a G8 Summit with food still in his mouth. He’s not that big… no, he’s just a “good ol’boy” president who really can’t do anything except talk tough. No, it’s all the fault of Congress. THEY supposedly have all of the power. THEY supposedly have all of the authority. So if anything bad happens, it should be THEIR fault. But he’ll take the credit for any and all of the good stuff.

Take, for instance, our sham of an energy policy. It was forged in secret by the Vice-President and then languished in a mostly-GOP-controlled Congress until people started complaining about the rising price of gasoline in 2005. Then Bush Junior told the American people that he DID have the solution all this time… and Congress was holding it up. Mind you, this was 2005, with a veto-proof GOP-dominated Congress that had already demonstrated it was nothing more than a rubber stamp for the White House. Didn’t matter. Public pressure forced it into a fast-track to his golf-course table for a public signature, at which point he said “oh, by the way, this bill that you helped bring to my hands won’t fix your problems, but it MIGHT help you out ten years down the road.”

Duuuuuuuuuuude… we got punked by the White House!

Prices continued to clime year after year, with no relief in sight, and Frat-Boy George says “you know, I really don’t have a magic wand that would bring gas prices down, but tell you what I can do… I’ll rescind the executive order that my daddy wrote about offshore drilling and maybe Congress will do the same.” Then when prices DO go down, the conservatives and neo-conservatives immediately claim that it was ALL because of George W. Bush, their messiah.

Duuuuuuuuuuuude… we’re getting punked by a bunch of ass-kissers!

And now, of course, it’s all the fault of CONGRESS… or so according to our Frat-Boy-In-Chief… that we’re in this mess right now. Specifically, it’s all the fault of the DEMOCRATS in Congress. The same Democrats that are despised by their own people. The same Democrats in Congress that are so inept and woefully incompetent that they can’t even tie their shoelaces without going into a filibuster. The same Democrats that are so spineless that they’ll let the Republican minority STILL call the shots. THOSE Democrats.

Let’s get brutally honest here… it is nothing short of despicable, detestable, and deplorable to have the current President of the United States claim political impotence when he spent the past seven years claiming to have absolute, unquestionable, and unchallengeable authority to do whatever he wants to do. Either the president is lying about having absolute and unquestionable power then, or he’s lying about having no power today. There aren’t too many choices in this matter.

Then again we are dealing with a Frat-Boy-in-Chief that that has a hard time accepting certain realities, such as the continued economic hard times that many Americans are going through. At most he will admit that we’re going through some “tough times”, but he will continue to spew his cultish mantra that the economy is “doing great”… even as banks teeter towards insolvency. The economy is “still going strong”… even as homeowners teeter towards foreclosures. Unemployment is “the best is has ever been”… even as companies shut down stores, factories, and offices, and lay off thousands.

Does that sound like someone who has a clear and SOBER grasp of the world we live in? Or does that sound like a perpetual frat boy still trying to claim that a “D” grade is perfectly acceptable for Good Governing 101?

Bear in mind that many of the problems that we are facing in America today came across the desk of George W. Bush, our Frat-Boy-in-Chief. The changing of banking and bankruptcy rules which contributed to the housing bubble and the sweeping foreclosures were signed into law BY HIM. They were passed by a Congress still dominated and run by Republicans, not Democrats, and it was HIS signature – George W. Bush – on both of those bills! The energy policy, which he first claimed was our “salvation” and then said that it wouldn’t even help us out for a decade, was crafted by HIS Vice-President through secret meetings that HIS OWN OFFICE fought hard to keep confidential. It was passed by a FILIBUSTER-PROOF GOP majority in 2005 and signed into law BY George W. Bush.

And yet George W. Bush finds it easier to blame Congress for the bad things in our economy. He would rather blame Democrats that have only held power in Congress for ONE YEAR for the social and economic troubles that took YEARS to ferment and were brought in with HIS signature.

Is that or is that not the hallmark of a failure?

Basic economic reality is that you cannot take credit for the good without taking responsibility for the bad. Any sound businessman will tell you that. Real leaders don’t blame others for their own failures. Real leaders accept responsibility for their own FAILURE to properly lead others.

There were things that Bush Junior could have done, even back when he wielded his so-called “political capital”. He could have pushed for offshore drilling as early as 2005 as a way to help alleviate the dependency of foreign oil. He could have pushed for the permanent suspension of “boutique blends” that would have allowed refined gasoline be refined and marketed anyplace in the country. He could have recalled his Energy Secretary and told him that changing the fuel efficiency standards to go up only 5mph by 2020 is unacceptable and that it needs to go up 5mph by next year.

He likes to say that “Wall Street got drunk.” But what he doesn’t want to admit was that HE was the one – along with the GOP-ruled Congress – tending the bar and serving the drinks at that kegger.

In short, there WERE things that could be done, but Bush Junior found it better to simply pass the buck and pass the blame over to Congress, and specifically the Democrats, when the REAL burden has always been on HIS shoulders.

Once upon a time, there was a placard in the Oval Office that says “The Buck Stops Here”. Through his actions, or lack thereof, George W. Bush has placed a brand NEW placard in the Oval Office. One that says “The Blame Starts Here”.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Week of 08/18/2008

The Hypothetical Hillary Screwjob
– by David Matthews 2

In the world of professional wrestling, there is a word called a “screwjob” which describes the kind of surprise plot twist that leaves the favored wrestler losing a match without actually being “beaten” by his opponent. Sometimes this is used so a “bad guy” can retain his championship title. Or sometime it’s done for him to win that title. Or sometimes it is done to introduce a serious change in storylines. Or sometimes it is done to justify an otherwise absolutely absurd result. (Repeat after me: “The NEW World Championship Wrestling Heavyweight Champion – David Arquette!”)

But the screwjob doesn’t happen just in scripted sports entertainment venues. Every so often you come across some truly unscrupulous people. People who really know the human condition and human behavior well enough to pull off some grand scheme to either swindle some money, right some cosmic wrong, or else act for their own personal entertainment as they slowly deprive a young man of his hopes and dreams. (Okay, that last part was probably sharing just a little too much information.)

In fact many a grand conspiracy theory involves the use of complicated plot twists and careful manipulations to bring you to the end result. And what brings down a lot of these theories is the fact that you have to have A LOT of things in play for it to be pulled off.

So before we go any further, let me preface this by saying that the plotline that you are about to read is COMPLETELY fictional! It is, as of this point, nothing more than the wild imagination of a politically independent commentator. Should it become something physical, though, this commentator holds no responsibility for the outcome, but would take the credit correctly guessing it.

The Scenario

We start with a very simple premise: after months of hard-hitting grueling campaigns, with accusations being thrown right and left, Senator Barack Obama manages to edge out Senator Hillary Rodham-Clinton in the total number of pledged delegates, but still not enough to secure a hypothetical nomination for the Democratic Party’s candidate for President of the United States. As the primaries and caucuses wind down, though, more and more super-delegates – those independent delegates within the DNC who can vote for anyone – start declaring their support for Obama. Eventually enough super-delegates declare their support for Obama to secure that hypothetical nomination.

I say “hypothetical” because it still only exists on paper. It doesn’t really matter until the actual party convention in Denver when those delegates cast their votes.

And even though Hillary promises her supporters that she will continue to fight on all the way to the convention itself, she’s now facing an avalanche of calls from all sides to stand down. Those within her party want her to stand down, those originally supporting her want her to stand down, and even independent voices are calling on Hillary to admit defeat and stand down. The only people pushing for her to continue are her own dwindling supporters and the Republicans.

So how do you turn that around? How do you pull off the biggest political upset in the history of the United States?

Step one: Stand down.

Hillary suspends her campaign. She doesn’t admit defeat; she just says that she’s standing down for the good of the party and she asks that her people support Obama in order to retake the White House. She calls up Obama, congratulates him on running an excellent campaign, and asks that he help recover the millions in campaign money that she loaned herself. This takes the pressure off from her critics, and it doesn’t poison the party’s chances of winning in November, no matter who will eventually represent the Democrats.

Obviously her supporters, whipped into an estrogen-crazed frenzy over the months, don’t want the run to end, so she has to tell them to put all of that energy into beating the Republicans in November. But privately, the fires are still being stoked. If anyone asks, they can just say they’re pushing for the running-mate spot, even though it was pretty obvious during the campaign that Hillary Rodham-Clinton and her supporters refuse to play second-banana to ANYONE.

Support for Obama is lukewarm at best. The former President Clinton still carries some resentment. The former first-daughter doesn’t really campaign as much as when she was doing so for her mother. Hillary makes some appearances, but that’s pretty much it. Obama, meanwhile, gives an equally lukewarm push for supporters to help pay off Hillary’s self-imposed debt. In fact, it sometimes is given as an afterthought.

Step two: Fulfill the promise.

Hillary calls up Obama and tells him that there is still division in the ranks of the Democrats. There are still plenty of Clinton supporters that are carrying a grudge over what happened in the spring, and they may decide to stay home unless they’re given a peace offering.

“What kind of peace offering?” Obama asks.

“Help me make sure that Florida and Michigan get full representation at the convention,” she replied.

“We’ve been thought his before,” Obama hypothetically says. “In fact there was a very nasty meeting about that in May to settle the matter.”

“I know,” Hillary hypothetically says, “but you need the support of those two states to win in November, and my fear is that enough voters may either decide to stay home or vote for that spoiler Ralph Nader to give the election to John McCain, and you can’t afford for that to happen.”

“I don’t know, Hillary… that’s going to reopen some nasty wounds.”

“Yes but even with full representation, you still have enough delegates to secure the nomination, and this is something that I sort of promised to the Democrats in those two states that I would fix, so with you helping to make that a reality it will go a long way to showing unity within the ranks.”

“What about Dean?” he asks, referring to DNC Chairman Howard Dean. “Dean was pushing hard for those two states to be punished for breaking his rule.”

“Screw Dean!” Hillary bitterly responds in this fictional exchange. “Dean is nothing! He’s nobody! He’s a seat-warmer! I helped to put him in that job and I can take him out of that job anytime I want to! He doesn’t call the shots during the elections, we do. He does whatever we tell him to do. So are you with me on this?”

Obama thinks for a minute before replying. “Okay Hillary, if it helps to smooth things over with your people, I’ll talk to my people and we’ll see if we can make this happen.”

“Thanks Barack,” she replies with a devilish grin on her face. “You won’t regret this, I promise you… *Tee-hee!*”

(Reminder to Hillary supporters, this is STILL all fictional.)

Step Three: Back on the ballot

Polls come out, and even though Obama still has a hypothetic lead, it’s slipping. The Swift Boat attacks have begun hitting Obama in earnest, and it is clear at this point that Hillary will NOT be the running mate on the Obama nomination.

Now it’s time for another hypothetical call.

“You know, Barack,” Hillary says fictionally, “I was thinking… do you know what would really help your campaign at this point? Having my name in nomination during the roll call at the convention.”

“Excuse me?” Obama replies.

“No, seriously. I mean, I know that traditionally my name would be put up by the delegates of the first state and then withdrawn immediately afterwards, but what if my name stayed in there and we recognize all of the delegates that I had gathered?”

“Wait a minute… how does that help my campaign? Doesn’t that show the division that exists within our party? Isn’t something that the Republicans would want us to show?”

“Precisely,” she says hypothetically. “We let them THINK that we’re fragmented! But in reality we’ll be stronger than ever. I’ll be giving my speech on the night before the roll, so I’ll smooth things over and let people know that you are really the best and brightest this party has to offer. By the time the roll is called, the whole thing will still be just a formality, but all of the people who dedicated their lives to help out my campaign will be properly recognized and thanked for their fine service.”

“I don’t know,” Obama says hesitantly in this fictional exchange, “I thought that pushing for getting Florida and Michigan full representation would smooth things over. Now you’re telling me that this roll call thing would do it?”

“Oh, I… I mean, YOU… still need Florida and Michigan… to win in November, but this move would help with the rest of the Democrats. Besides, you’ll still end up winning the nomination. The whole roll call process is pretty much just a formality anyway.”

“I’m still hesitant about this.”

“Tell you what: our people… yours and mine… will make the announcement jointly, and then we’ll put out a statement recognizing that you are the eventual nominee for the Democrats. That way there will be no surprises going into this. Will you do this? For the party?”

After a few moments of hypothetical pondering, Obama replies. “Okay Hillary, I’ll get my people to go over the statement and I’ll contact the convention organizers to make sure that your name stays in nomination during the roll. I’m sticking my neck out on this, Hillary. It better pay off.”

“Oh it will,” she replies with a devilish grin. “It will… *Tee-hee!*”

(Remember, this is STILL just hypothetical!)

Step Four: The Turnaround

During the Democratic National Convention, delegates, lobbyists, party players, and party members all discuss the various issues that they will have to deal with in November. They party at fundraisers, they raise oodles of campaign money… and they make deals.

Bill Clinton speaks and gives a rousing memorable speech to challenge the Democrats to be the kind of people they were when they elected him in 1992. Hillary speaks the next night, and her speech sounds surprisingly presidential. And… surprisingly absent from her speech is any reference to Barack Obama as the eventual Democratic nominee. In fact some pundits speculate that this was the speech that Hillary WANTED to give if she had secured the nomination.

Obama, meanwhile, is oblivious to the turns of events as he is preparing for his masterpiece address after the roll is done the following night. He believes that this is finally HIS moment.

Step Five: The Screwjob

The Roll Call begins and the representatives of the fifty states and various territories and the District of Columbia step in front of the microphone, bark out their area, something unique about their area, and then their total delegate count for those going to Senator Obama and those going to Senator Clinton.

But it doesn’t take long for people to realize that something is off. As the state representatives start barking out numbers, Hillary starts getting more and more delegates. At first they’re written off as the few uncommitted super-delegates finally making their choices. But then more and more delegates originally promised to Obama suddenly go to Clinton.

Cameras in Senator Clinton’s suite show the senator silently watching with sly grin on her face. Her husband is chuckling.

The members of the media and their paid experts start buzzing about with hypothetical questions. It’s clear that at some time during the past few months since suspending her campaign, or maybe even during the convention itself, deals were being made between Clinton and all of the super-delegates. The fix was in, but would it be enough?

Pundits start speculating about what would happen should Obama lose his technical majority, or if Clinton should fail to secure the 2118 required delegates. What sort of deals would have to be made? How would this end? Could Clinton pull it off?

All across the country, Republicans laugh heartily at the news of this sudden insurgency. They’ve been praying for this very division to take place and here it was. They knew that even if Obama manages to win the day, it will show that the party is sill fragmented. And if Hillary pulls it off, then John McCain has a fighting chance to win in November.

Obama’s campaign people are in full crisis mode. This was something that they never counted on. They knew that Hillary Clinton was devious and manipulative, but they never would have counted on her pulling this particular stunt. They hope that there is still time to stop the process, to at least force a second vote so they can work over the delegates that switched, find out why and what it would take for them to switch back.

But no such luck, for as the representative from Wyoming gives his final count, it is clear that Hillary Rodham-Clinton has secured 2119 delegate votes, one vote over the threshold. She is now the Democratic Nominee for President of the United States. The Clinton campaign people are in joyful estrogen-laced ecstasy. Hillary is giving her trademarked cackle. Bill is beside himself in glee. The Obama camp is beside themselves in anger and betrayal. The members of the media are gushing about what a coup this was and announce that a whole new political game is being played.

The question: Can it happen?

Let’s get brutally honest here… the hypothetical scenario that I just presented to you IS just that, hypothetical. It is an incredible work of fiction. And in order to pull off the greatest screwjob in the history of politics, Hillary would have to make a lot of deals.

The funny part is that much of the groundwork to lead into that hypothetical scenario has already happened!

Getting Obama to ask supporters to recoup her campaign funds? Done.

Getting Obama to push for Florida and Michigan to get full representation? Done.

Getting Hillary’s name on the list of nominees during the roll call? Done.

The only thing missing would be convincing over 300 super-delegates to either vote for Hillary, or, at the very least, to reconsider their support for Obama. A daunting task if not for the fact that the focus on Hillary and her supporters pretty much dissipated once she suspended her campaign in June. Two-and-a-half months of being “under the radar” gives them plenty of time to work on those super-delegates.

And let’s not forget that a DNC super-delegate is free to change their support at ANY TIME until the roll call. They are not bound to any regional turnout. That was the whole reason why the position was created in the first place.

Then there are the consequences of this kind of political insurrection. It’s one thing to have disgruntled Clintonistas having to grudgingly support Obama. It’s another to have hardcore Democrats that have gotten used to accepting Obama as their presumptive nominee suddenly having to support Clinton with but a few weeks before debates. And as I pointed out earlier, the Republicans would LOVE to see this kind of insurrection, because it shows that Democrats are divided and disgusted at their own games. If Democratic chaos can get a manipulator like Richard Nixon elected in 1968, then it can get a political chameleon like John McCain elected forty years later.

The essential message is this: screwjobs DO happen in the real world, and they happen when we are the most gullible. And with Obama’s stance as the presumptive nominee essentially resting on nothing more than the word of some 300 super-delegates, he’s certainly not in a position to be too presumptive… especially since those super-delegates are under NO obligation to stay true to their word.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Week of 08/11/2008

Carter Was Not Right
– by David Matthews 2

“Jimmy Carter was right!”

That is the mantra of liberals as they discuss America’s continued energy dysfunction.

“President Carter was right,” they would say in their own unique ways in newspaper column all across America. “We don’t need to drill for more oil. We don’t need higher fuel mileage or to get rid of the SUV. We just need to put on a sweater when it’s cold, turn down the thermostat, and not drive as much and we’ll get through this just fine! If we did those things when Jimmy Carter was still president, then we wouldn’t have this problem today!”

What a load of bull!

Okay, first of all, Jimmy Carter wasn’t right when he put the onus on the American people and just told them to “grin and bear it” back in 1979. The American people were looking for leadership for support, and instead they got sympathy. The two are not interchangeable!

To be honest, telling Americans to simply put on a sweater when it is cold wasn’t the only thing that Carter did, but it is the only thing that sticks out in the minds of Americans. Carter was the one that pushed for fuel efficiency standards. He started that dismantling of President Nixon’s price controls for oil, which he believed caused much of the gas shortages in this country. He put in solar panels and a wood-burning stove in the White House. He even set down a doctrine in 1980 that said that any action that impeded the importing of American oil from the Persian Gulf was tantamount to an act of war.

That doesn’t sound like any liberal today, does it?

But we don’t remember him for those things. We remember him for telling Americans to just “grin and bear” the discomfort.

And now, thirty years later, we’re still having problems dealing with our energy resources. But instead of gas shortages, we now have obscene price spikes. In Jimmy Carter’s days, three-fourths of our oil was domestic. Now almost three-fourths of the oil we consume is imported. Thirty year ago, we were calling for the elimination of price controls. Now we are actually DEMANDING price controls.

If Carter was “right”, as the liberals continually claim he was, then why have the conditions we are in become inverted?

It’s not because Carter was “right”… because he wasn’t… but because we are still looking for leadership, and so far we haven’t got any.

People don’t like being told that they have to fix a problem themselves. As someone who has to deal with technical support, this commentator knows the mentality all-too-well. When friends or relatives call on me to fix their computers, they don’t like being told that THEY have to do most of the work. They just expect me to show up, do my magic, and everything works again. Quite often, they’ll feign ignorance and/or sheer incompetence. “I’m technically-illiterate” is their mantra. Guess what? I was too… but I figured stuff out on my own, and so can you!

But the truth of the matter is this… there are some things that are beyond the scope of our own actions. For instance, when it comes to energy resources, we don’t set the policy that allows the oil companies to export our own oil to other nations while becoming more and more dependant on foreign imports. We don’t have any control over that. Our government does. We can’t control the fuel emission standards for the vehicles we can purchase. We can only choose to buy the vehicles that are available. We can’t tell the automakers to make a car that gets at least 50 miles to the gallon. We tell them and they laugh. Our government controls those standards. Only our government can tell the automakers that they have to make a car that gets at least 50 miles to the gallon.

In those instances where we the people have no power to make the changes needed, we need government to do their jobs. In those instances, we are looking for those in charge of government to reassure us that those things will be done. In those instances we are looking for leadership.

In Carter’s tenure, there was an ongoing accusation that the oil crisis was artificially generated by the oil companies to eliminate the price controls on gasoline. Rather than investigate the oil companies and promise to prosecute them if such proof did exist, the government gave the oil companies exactly what they wanted. Not exactly a sign of leadership that the American people were looking for.

In fact, Carter’s so-called “Crisis of Confidence” speech was pretty much a reaffirmation of the common perception that our government let its people down.

So now here we are again, thirty years later, and we are still looking for leadership. We are still looking for ways to get us out of the problems that we are in.

And what are we hearing instead? We are hearing that America is “addicted to oil”. We are hearing a lot of talk about alternatives, a lot of talk about wanting to find new sources of oil, but very little action itself.

We have members of Congress pointing fingers at each other and demanding action on only one solution while busy crucifying the other side for their favored solution. They are more interested in gridlocks and deadlocks and running out the clock until the next vacation than in doing anything substantive.

And what sorts of alternatives are being proposed by the two men who want to replace our current Doofus-in-Chief? Well, we have one presidential wannabe who wants to give Americans a gas tax holiday, and the other wannabe wants to tax the hell out of Big Oil’s profits (which doesn’t work anyway) to give Americans $1000.

And the guy currently in the Oval Office still thinks that giving Americans $600 per person somehow rejuvenated the economy. This is the same Doofus-in-Chief that stayed on vacation in 2005 while New Orleans flooded and America was suffering from outages. Leadership was needed then, and our “fearless leader” was blatantly negligent.

And our liberals are busy patting themselves on their backs and crowing that “Jimmy Carter was right!”

Let’s get brutally honest here… Jimmy Carter was not right. Jimmy Carter was wrong about a lot of things. He was wrong in believing that making a speech reaffirming the government’s failure will somehow inspire change. He was wrong in believing that taxing the profits of Big Oil wouldn’t somehow be passed down to the consumers. But more importantly, he was wrong in believing that Congress would actually carry out any of his programs as he intended.

Carter believed in his speech that “We will protect our environment. But when this Nation critically needs a refinery or a pipeline, we will build it.” And yet we have placed the demands of the Environmental Protection Agency above the need of a new refinery or a new pipeline to the point where both are sorely needed and yet they’re not being built. If Carter was right, then why weren’t they done when the Democrats were in charge of things in 1993? Instead, why were sweetheart deals brokered with other nations whereby we would give them our oil and we would become more and more dependant on foreign sources?

In short… if Jimmy Carter was so “right”, then why were Democrats busy doing the complete opposite of what he believed needed to be done?

And if he was “right” then, why is it that the opposite is happening today? Why are Democrats pushing FOR price controls and NOT pushing for higher fuel efficiency standards sooner rather than later? Why are Republicans pushing FOR tapping into prohibited areas for oil and yet not worried about the countless areas that the oil companies ALREADY own that are going untouched? Why is it that an OIL MAN is coming up with energy alternatives that would appease the liberals, and yet the liberals can think of nothing but ulterior motives?

And why is that liberals are so busy beating their chests about why Carter was “right” thirty years ago when he talked about us having to “grin and bear it” and not about the other programs that he was pushing for at the time?

It is true that someone took Carter’s words of action to heart. A certain body of government took up Carter’s call for alternatives and made it real. That body of government made the hard sacrifices needed thirty years ago to break their dependency on foreign oil. Today more than half of that country’s motorists run on vehicles powered by alternative fuels that are more efficient than anything American alternatives can offer. That country is now unaffected by the skyrocketing price of oil. They don’t need to worry about OPEC or APEC or any other foreign source getting stingy. And they are the number two oil exporter in that area.

I’d love to say that it was our government that did what needed to be done thirty years ago. But it wasn’t America that made the dream of energy independence a reality. It was Brazil.

Today we can’t even begin to try to do what the Brazilians pulled off, for that kind of action requires leadership and a plan. We have neither here in America. We just have career politicians pointing fingers at each other and worrying more about keeping their jobs than in actually doing them. We have consumers that are experiencing the same helplessness and the same hopelessness as was experienced thirty years ago. And we have those in the media that are boasting about how the failures of a politician thirty years ago somehow are validated today.

If Jimmy Carter was “right” thirty years ago, then we would not be having this conversation. We would instead be breathing a sigh of relief in knowing that the antics of third world leaders would have no effect on the American economy. We would not be worrying about the price at the pump hitting $4 a gallon or $5 a gallon. The airlines would not be able to justify crappy customer service and excessive fees. Automakers would be opening new plants rather than closing down current ones. We would not be worrying about how people would be heating their homes in the wintertime and fretting over how many people would freeze to death. We would, instead, be worrying about the other nations and how they would be coping with skyrocketing gas prices.

And we would not need liberal commentators in that hypothetical world to proclaim that “Jimmy Cater was right”, because, if it were true, then the proof would be all around us.

Monday, August 4, 2008

Week of 08/04/2008

An Uneasy Mix: The FCC and Net Neutrality
– by David Matthews 2

It was something that was not what you would consider to be in their nature.

This past week, the Federal Communications Commission, in a 3-2 vote, ruled that the cable giant Comcast was guilty of interfering with the free flow of information on the Internet when they admitted to blocking users from using file-sharing programs such as BitTorrent. This, according to FCC officials, violated the concept of “Net Neutrality”; the belief that treats all electronic information equally and says that users should be free to access all information provided on the Internet no matter the size.

Comcast officials freely admitted manipulating specific port information so that Internet users using BitTorrent would not be able to communicate with the website’s file-sharing servers until it was after the set timeout period. The end result would be an endless string of disconnections. They claimed that they had every right to restrict information to file-sharing programs because available bandwidth for cable providers is limited and that heavy users, such as those who use file-sharing programs, hog that bandwidth for themselves.

The majority of FCC Commissioners said that this violated a 2005 FCC policy that requires that requires that broadband Internet providers provide access that is widely deployed, open, affordable and accessible to all consumers.”

Imagine that… an agency of the federal government actually ADVOCATING for the free-flowing exchange of information!

And not only ANY agency… but one with a long history of CENSORSHIP!

Indeed, when anyone thinks of the FCC, they see nothing but a bunch of blue-penciled blueballed moralist prudes running around fining radio and television broadcasters for naughty words spoken or naughty images seen. These are the people who force broadcasters to bleep out naughty words, and then fine the broadcasters when the words are bleeped because people can still read lips, and then fine the broadcaster again even with the words bleeped and the mouths blurred because people still “could figure out” what was being censored.

But the FCC is more than just in charge of what is being said or seen on radio and TV. They are also in charge of phone and cable lines, the very means to connect to the Internet. This is the original justification that Congress gave in creating the FCC back in the 1930’s… even though their true purpose was to control information. It was created to oversee the framework of communication.

That brings us back to Comcast. Although the decision caries no financial penalty, the FCC ordered Comcast to stop the practice of delaying connections, submit a compliance plan to the FCC to show how they plan on stopping the practice, and to disclose the plan to the FCC and to the public.

Comcast officials claim that BitTorrent and other file-sharing services are an undue burden on available resources. But according to the FCC’s decision, Comcast’s true motive for blocking these services was a little more self-centered. Since file-sharing services like BitTorrent were used to transfer large files like movies, this posed a threat to Comcast’s Video-On-Demand service. After all, why PAY for movies when you can download them off the Internet? That’s the justification the FCC gave to step in.

Although, as a Comcast user myself (for TV only), I have to say that it is a very weak justification. Yes I can download videos and put them to DVD and watch them on TV if I choose, but that takes a lot of work. And the quality isn’t that great to begin with. Why would I want to do that when I can order them off my cable box, record them to my DVR, and watch them at my leisure? Or better yet, why not just buy the DVD itself and then I can watch them over and over again? It simply does not make sense.

Still, the decision stands, and netizens are jubilant about the FCC voting in their favor. “Net Neutrality LIVES!” Or so they proclaim.

But does it really?

I have my doubts. I believe there is something a little more ominous behind this decision.

Let’s not forget that we are still dealing with a federal agency whose true purpose of existence was to control and limit the free exchange of information. That is what censorship is in its purest form. It is the control and limitation of the free exchange of information. That simple fact contradicts what is at the very core of Net Neutrality, which is to consider ALL information equal.

Let’s get brutally honest here… to trust the free exchange of information to the FCC is like entrusting your daughter’s virginity to a serial rapist. They may sound nice and charming, but you know what will happen at the end of the day.

There is an ulterior motive behind this uncharacteristic decision, and it is one that should give all supporters of Net Neutrality pause.

As the FCC commissioners were debating this very issue, Congress is being pushed to enact Net Neutrality legislation. Legislation that would actually FORCE a policy of Net Neutrality for all Internet providers. Not just the cable providers or the DSL providers or even the dial-up providers, but for ALL providers, no matter the method of access. A policy that says that it doesn’t matter WHAT the website is or WHAT the content is or WHAT the method is, providers cannot limit or prevent access to it if it is accessible by the public.

This flies in the face of the plans and schemes being hashed out by providers like Comcast, AT&T, Virgin Media, and longtime online provider America Online. They have long since been planning on setting up a series of boutique “access plans” whereby CERTAIN features or CERTAIN access is available for some, and others can only be available after paying a much HIGHER fee. They can also pimp their access plans to the webmasters themselves, demanding that they pay the providers a fee so that their users can freely access the information.

Oh, you like watching videos through YouTube? Well XYZ provider thinks that you should be watching them through Metacafe instead, so they’re going to hinder or block your access of YouTube and a few other online video sites so that you have no choice but to watch them on Metacafe… because they paid XYZ to do so. And if you really want to watch videos on YouTube, then you’ll just have to upgrade your access to XYZ’s more expensive “premium business” service.

That’s the plan, and the big corporate providers have been working nonstop to put that plan into place. The only thing that can stop that is Net Neutrality.

So what the providers have to do is stop the legislation, and the best way to do that is to say that it’s really not needed, because there supposedly is a policy in place already to enforce it. That’s the 2005 broadband policy.

Now follow closely, because it gets funky from here.

Imbedded in that broadband policy is a little codicil that says that the policy of Net Neutrality is “subject to reasonable network management”. In other words, you can’t have a policy of Net Neutrality if it means killing your network.

So… how do you define “reasonable”? You don’t! Just like you can’t define “indecent”! It’s a subjective term being used in an objective policy. The FCC gets to determine what “reasonable” is, just like they have been allowed to define what “indecent” is. That’s not exactly good for the people who support Net Neutrality, because the FCC has shown bias towards corporations in the past.

So in order to get the people pushing for that legislation to back down, the FCC had to demonstrate that the system currently in place works. They need a fall guy. They need someone or some corporation that would pose as a convincing villain that would be willing to be “slapped down” by the FCC.

Comcast certainly fits the bill. Their customer service reputation has been pretty low for a while now, and in recent hearings hosted by the FCC, Comcast actually PAID people to fill all the available chairs so the people in favor of Net Neutrality wouldn’t be allowed in to provide testimony. Villainy most foul indeed!

Now if the FCC had sided with Comcast, saying that their reasons for blocking peer-to-peer file sharing were in fact “reasonable”, what would have happened? All of those netizens that have been watching this case intensely, waiting for the commissioners to do “the right thing”, would have been outraged by the decision. They would have gone to their legislators and said “SEE? The FCC can’t fix squat! They can’t be trusted! We need Net Neutrality legislation in place NOW!”

But because the 3-2 margin was in favor of the netizens instead of for Comcast, the netizens are rejoicing! They’re celebrating because they believe that the system WORKS now. They don’t have to call their legislators. They don’t have to have legislation in place, because the FCC has their backs!

Or… so the netizens believe.

Now I realize that this is all just speculation on my part… but this sounds too much like a scam! And the only things that I have to back it up are some observations.

For instance, they say that politics make for strange bedfellows… so where were the strange bedfellows for Comcast? Why were they leaving Comcast out to seemingly twist in the wind?

Where were the groups that would normally be out there to demonize peer-to-peer file sharing programs like BitTorrent? Where were the representatives from the RIAA and MPAA? Why weren’t they educating the public on how peer-to-peer programs are used to violate federal copyright laws and how Comcast was doing them a favor? Where was Metallica’s Lars Ulrich, a vocal opponent of file-sharing programs? Where were the religious groups and the anti-porn groups to castigate peer-to-peer users because those programs could also be used to pass around porn?

For that matter, where were their fellow providers? Why weren’t they putting on a full-court media press to back up Comcast executives? Wouldn’t they be in the same proverbial hot water under any other circumstance? This should have been an all-out political war, both in the media and behind-the-scenes. And it wasn’t. Doesn’t that sound just a little bit suspicious?

Plus… no fine? From the FCC? The same government agency that was willing to fine Howard Stern just for saying “good morning” on the air? The FCC not issuing a fine is like asking their baby-faced Chairman Kevin Martin to become a Wiccan! It just doesn’t make sense if it’s all on the up-and-up.

In short, this is just too damn suspicious!

Of course now everything is in the hands of the FCC. THEY get to determine what is “reasonable”, just like they get to determine what is “indecent” for radio and TV. And maybe the next time Comcast or some other provider pulls the same trick, the vote won’t be 3-2 in favor of the netizens. After all, what was their sin? Not telling the public they were doing it. That can be easily remedied, providing their fellow providers do the same thing.

All in all, the Internet community should not be praising or rejoicing over this decision by the FCC. They should not treat this as a vindication, but rather for what it really is… a short-term measure at best until we can put real Net Neutrality legislation on the books. Because it doesn’t matter if it is done by a handful of rich and powerful corporations or by one all-powerful institution called government, the regulation of online information is in contradiction to the very nature of the Internet. The less such regulation there is, the better.