Saturday, April 24, 2010

Activists Unite and Act to Save the Internet Now!

Media activists everywhere need to start heating up the "Internets" and telephone networks to support the FCC in efforts to reclassify broadband as a "telecommunications service" (as it was originally defined) so the FCC can keep the Internet open and free of corporate gatekeepers, as it has been to date.

The previous FCC action under the Bush Administration appointees' majority control to change the definition of broadband to primarily an information service allowed a truly terrible court decision that, if allowed to stand, would take away the FCC's ability to regulate broadband in the public interest. But that definition of the Internet and broadband is deeply flawed.

The Internet is NOT just an information service. It's far bigger than that. It has become the public square of America, where conversation occurs and information and opinion is exchanged. As such, access to it must continue to be open, low-cost, and free of corporate tollbooths and gatekeepers.

Without strong Net Neutrality protections and the ability for the FCC to enforce them, the Internet will cease to be a public platform for free speech, equal opportunity, economic growth and innovation. Instead, companies like AT&T, Verizon and Comcast, which have a commercial incentive to limit the free-flowing Web, will decide whose voices are heard. Those corporations have already infringed on their customers rights in the past and blocked content. Strong consumer protections are essential to maintain.

America historically has subsidized the building of infrastructure for transportation and communication, and then regulated it in the public interest so that goods, services, and information could flow freely. That provided equality of economic and educational opportunity absolutely vital for the development of our robust and innovative economy.

Allowing corporations to rule the roost with regard to the Internet violates deep American values and economic principles that have been a key to our success and prosperity.

Congress charged the FCC to regulate communications and telecommunications in the public interest. The FCC still has the power to protect the public interest. Both law and legal precedent support that. Please raise your voice and be heard. Join the push to get millions of people doing so too. We have to ensure that the FCC can keep the Internet open, accessible, and affordable for all the people - not just to serve corporate bottom lines. Maximum profits are not the most important value for a democratic society. The free flow of information and goods is what matters most of all. Read more at

Saturday, September 26, 2009

America's survival in a climate of lies

America, "we have us a situation," to paraphrase Tom Hanks in Apollo 13. America is going to have great difficulty surviving as a free and democratic society, at the rate things are going these days. We have a disastrous state of widespread disinformation: black and gray propaganda (black is defined as outright lies done intentionally, and gray as the spread of unverified information that can serve the spreaders' interests), many originating in chain emails.

Those statements of disinformation, or pieces of them, get picked up in various media that come across as credible, and echoed repeatedly. Pundits hammer the points, and politicians often take them up too.

What are citizens to think when something is repeated in a bunch of sources? That it must be true, of course. But many times it is not. Repetition can be a propaganda tool.

It serves the interests of some powerful segments of society to have us citizens be fooled or at least confused. If conflicting information is presented, we are left doubtful of what the truth really is. That confusion keeps us from speaking out in favor of policies that will benefit many of us, or has us speaking against policies that in reality would be ones that would help the majority of society.

The manipulation of the thoughts, feelings, and emotions of the public is a science that has been studied and gotten increasingly effective over time. Advertisers, people in public relations, and politicians are some of those who make use of what the research shows.

Some purveyors of these lies profit financially from the sale of books or DVDs and from speakers' fees. Others benefit by having their power enhanced, and then profit financially too. Still others who turn to propaganda do it from ideology. They may believe it is in the best interests of the country to win at all costs, and that they are saving us from something.

That is just wrong. They harm the life we have together in America. The tone has gotten ugly and political violence is rising. People have already died (the part-time census worker in Kentucky, the Holocaust museum security guard, Dr. George Tiller and others), and in my judgment, widespread distortions of truth were behind those acts of violence. At the very least, the perpetrators and those who support them are hearing just one side, for the most part.

We have had twenty or more years of largely one-sided coverage of issues in vast and influential segments of our media, through cable news channels and radio stations that lack consistent fair reporting on the pros and cons of issues and events. Brain research shows that unused parts of the brain lose abilities and connections, and the evidence suggests that when we don't hear and have the opportunity to weigh the evidence on both sides of issues on an ongoing, regular basis, our brains end up losing the capability of thinking complex issues through. How will the nation survive if that becomes more and more true of the vast majority of us?

I urge you to do lots of fact-checking from disinterested sources. I judge a source as likely to be fair when it criticizes statements from either side, and doesn't claim every statement by the party I prefer is truthful. I have found (from the Annenburg School of Communication) at the University of Pennsylvania) and PolitiFact (from the St. Petersburg (Florida) Times) to be two that fit that definition. Both allow you to subscribe, which I have done. I get emails perhaps once a week from these organizations. ( is another helpful fact-checking tool.)

Also, start getting your news from sources that regularly present a full picture of complex issues and don't spin information to favor one side or another. I highly recommend National Public Radio and PBS. Because both do not depend solely on corporations to fund them, they do not have the same degree of pressure to avoid certain types of coverage or spin things a certain way. Since corporations profit from particular political decisions, many of them act in ways that promote their bottom line regardless of truth or fairness. They regularly use the clout of their advertising dollars to steer the political discussion in ways that serve those interests.

A good rule of thumb to have is to doubt all chain emails and check them out, especially if they seem designed to make you angry, afraid or upset. Even if a small portion of the content ends up being true, don't assume it all is. That is one propaganda technique. The credibility of one piece of information transfers to other information in the same email, article, or broadcast.

Try to keep aware of the financial interests of particular sources. Where is their paycheck coming from? Are they a "pundit" (a dealer in opinion) or a reporter (a dealer in facts)? Wikipedia is a good quick way to check up on sources, although it can be manipulated and should not be relied on too much.

Not that I think the profit motive makes every corporation or person lack credibility, nor do I think they all try to steer us away from the truth, by any means. But it helps us to know that as we attempt to weigh the credibility of sources.

I am praying (hard!) that we can turn things around. It looks discouraging right now but other things that seemed impossible to overcome (like apartheid and the Iron Curtain) eventually ended, so I have hope. And I'm speaking up. Feel free to share this with others if you think it has merit.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Clinton endorsed? Say it ain't so!

The Des Moines Register's endorsement of Hillary Clinton baffles Texas Democrats like me. With her high negatives, especially in red states, Hillary potentially could electrify the dispirited Republican base, jolting them from their apathy. Their loathing may cause her to have negative coattails that could sweep a number of Democratic legislators (such as East Texas Democrats) from their seats and undercut Democratic challengers around the country. Such an outcome could reshape the country for a generation to come.

State legislatures have the power to redistrict in ways that solidify the power of the majority party, as Tom DeLay’s allies in the Texas legislature demonstrated in 2003. DeLay's plan cost Texas four of five Democratic members of Congress targeted by redistricting. Blue state voters may underestimate the potential negative impact of a Hillary nomination on congressional and legislative races in red states.

If I’m right, a Hillary candidacy would be costly for the chances of Democrats to make gains needed in order to get their agenda through Congress. For a decade Republicans have diverted money previously invested in the health, education, and general welfare of Americans away from our own citizens into a bottomless pit to fight the global war on terror. If her nomination weakens the Democratic Party's control of Congress, as it might, whatever legislation Hillary is able to get through Congress is likely to look more like the Republican agenda than a Democratic one - assuming she can even win the election. That would be a real shame.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Seeking justice in a questionable new power

The power Congress granted to the U.S. Attorney General to unilaterally declare that certain states have the right to fast track death penalty cases is fraught with the potential for abuse and mistakes. The system of justice in this country is too prone to human failings of error and sin to make it advisable for fast-track power to be given to anyone. But since Congress did so in the reauthorization of the USA PATRIOT Act, it is incumbent on the DOJ to provide checks and balances to offset the likelihood of problems.

Too many of those convicted of capital crimes have been given inadequate representation when they have been unable to afford to hire an attorney. Here in Texas we have had legal counsel appointed who fell asleep or didn't ask a single question to challenge the case against their client. They have not been provided with financial resources to investigate whether there might be exonerating evidence either.

Both competent counsel and adequate resources to investigate should be a prerequisite before any effort to fast track is done.

Other problems include the many incentives in the system for district attorneys, law enforcement officials, prosecutors, and judges to act in haste or even with malice or other self-interest in pushing for the death penalty. Politically, it has been a winning campaign issue in most of the country to be perceived as tough on crime and pushing for the maximum punishment. The fact that promotions and personal advantage often ride on being perceived as tough on crime make this an area ripe for abuse.

In addition, problems with the way a police line-up was conducted have led to false identification of suspects by eye-witnesses and victims.

In the past few years, new evidence has led to the overturning of numerous convictions in cases where innocent people have been given the death penalty. The death of even a single person innocent of the crime calls into question the whole rationale for the death penalty.

Stringent safeguards ought to be put in place. The Attorney General should do any fast-tracking only after consultation with those whose career advancement doesn't depend on being perceived as tough on crime. The inclusion of members of the Innocence Project and those who lean against the death penalty, as well as those that support it should be a critical component in order to have a broad and diverse group of people providing input, particularly when a penalty of life or death is involved. That diverse input should be built into the system.

The regulations the DOJ puts in place should be written with these questions in mind:
What will the DOJ do to ensure that those convicted of capital crimes are fully informed? Will the DOJ mandate the presentation of the fast track timeline to each prisoner at the time of sentencing? Will you put into place guarantees that failure to provide that information in a way that the defendant can access (orally for those who cannot read, in Spanish for those who lack English, etc.) should be grounds for ineligibility for a fast track process?
That would be a way to discourage misguided or corrupt officials from throwing roadblocks in the way of those trying to appeal a conviction. For Christians and Jews, God is clear (see Exodus 24:7) that it is immoral to put an innocent person to death.

Saturday, August 18, 2007

The Hillary Blues Should Be Seeing Red

Recent polling in California puts Hillary's support among likely Democratic voters at 49%. Trailing by wide margins were Barack Obama at 19% and John Edwards at 10%.

Blue state supporters of Hillary must not have gotten in touch with what her high negative numbers mean. As a Democratic activist in Texas, hearing poll results like this scares the bejeebers out of me. Even a good many Democrats here have negative feelings about Hillary -- a visceral repugnance, not just mild distaste. A state party leader told me he believes that if Hillary is the Democratic nominee all the East Texas Democrats in the legislature can kiss their seats goodbye, which would hurt Democrats in Texas for a generation by decimating the party here and throughout the South. (With legislatures in charge of drawing boundary lines for congressional districts, even incumbent Dems in Congress are vulnerable, as Texas Democrats saw under Tom DeLay's tenure.) I took his words seriously, but checked his perception with a female district judge, someone I trust and know is progressive. She too says Hillary would be disastrous for Democrats in Texas, and probably in other red states as well.

If Hillary is the nominee, some of the most effective negative ads against her probably won't even be swiftboat-type ads. No, they'll just run pictures of times she was caught with a remarkably sour look on her face. Two occasions stick out in my memory. One was during a State of the Union speech during Bush's first term. The other was during the 2004 Democratic National Convention as Howard Dean began to speak. As Dean supporters began to roar, cameras turned, catching Hillary and Chelsea sipping wine in a private box as a most unlovely look crossed Hillary's face. Howard Dean is beloved by many and is much respected by red state activists grateful for his "50 State" strategy after years of the DNC sucking money out of Democrats in red states without reinvesting any of it in building up the party in our states. Sneeriing about Bush will kill her with independents and disaffected Republicans, and sneering at Dean will be turn off others. Put those together and I believe she's unelectable, no matter how much apparent disarray the GOP seems to be in. Remember who controls most of the airwaves in this country. They'll have endless opportunities to rant and rave and bash.

I wish Hillary's supporters would pause and take stock. But of course the corporate media is very fond of Hillary and Bill since Bill supported the 1996 Telecommunications Act which allowed vastly more consolidation of their industry. So they'd love her to be the Democratic nominee (if not necessarily President), and you can bet negative pieces on her will be few and far between--until after the nomination. (Perhaps Rupert Murdoch's meeting with Hillary not long ago should alert the grassroots.) As fond as Big Media is of the Clintons, they still prefer Republicans because the GOP is even more open-handed about giving away the public airwaves to their great profit than was Bill. If Hillary were to be the nominee, you can bet they'd be glad to put up with her--if they can't get someone even better for their bottom line. With a Republican president they wouldn't have the slightest worry that healthcare reform would be enacted, where a Democratic president - even one so cozy with big corporations- might pose a risk. I suspect they are hoping Hillary is our nominee, but will turn on her in the end. As we saw with Dean, the MSM can shut a campaign down in short order if they want to. They can and do shape perceptions very effectively - and have mastered the art of playing on our emotions.

Monday, August 13, 2007

Censure?! Hell, No, We Need to Impeach Them!

I cannot tell you how frustrated I am to see anyone suggest we censure the President and Vice-President. Censure? Where is that in the Constitution? What does it do? Absolutely nothing!

Impeachment is the only thing that can restore our Constitution and roll back these terrible, unlawful precedents so that future presidents cannot claim them.

If you haven't seen the Bill Moyers Journal interview of Bruce Fein and John Nichols on the topic of impeachment, you should. Go to and follow links to Bill Moyers Journal.

Congress is way behind the American people on this. In fact, they are standing in our way. If they won't do something, they should all resign and get out.

Saturday, January 06, 2007

Wake Up, Congress! Your Public Has Spoken

The culture of corruption coming from Washington has raised a stench that got my attention here in the Texas Hill Country. Like any American paying attention, I was appalled at the out-of-control and secretive earmarks, the blatant exchange of money for votes on favorable legislation, the favoritism shown to lobbyists and the legislation they pushed based on connections and donations, and allowing them to provide wording on bills. These practices are bad for the country and subvert the people's vested interest in good governance.

Now there is the opportunity to have reforms and get a fresh start. Setting the rules for lobbyists, legislation, and ethics is a high priority for almost all citizens of whatever party. We want to see very strong measures to prevent the same old practices from creeping in. There is truth in the idea that power corrupts and all those in powerful positions need checks on it. That is why Americans want a separate Office of Public Integrity, as is proposed in the Lieberman-Collins Amendment in the Senate. We also want an end to anonymous earmarks. Congress should not be in the position of policing itself. It is all too clear they do not do a good job of it.

Many Americans have woken up from complaisance and are scrutinizing every action of Congress very carefully to see if it adheres to principles of ethics and our Constitution. Real ethics reform with teeth in it is essential to restoring a sense of confidence in our government. We want change, and we want it now. Listen up, Congress.