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Lela Markham on Monopolies   Leave a comment

Lela Markham Davidson Ditch Corrected

Thom Stark last week made the case for a government monopoly in high-speed Internet and this week, I respond

Thom, you actually think the Senate is less dysfunctional than the House? In 2014, the House passed over 350 bills that went to the Senate and simply were never taken up. Many of these bills were not bills Democrats would have voted for, but they weren’t even allowed to come up for a vote, which leaves constituents wondering where their elected representatives stand. And it doesn’t look like the Senate is doing any better in 2015, judging by how they dealt with the TSA authorization and its entanglement with the Obama immigration edict.

Alaska does have two Senators, which is equal to any other state, but just because a Senator claims to represent a state doesn’t mean that they do. ObamaCare was overwhelmingly unpopular in Alaska – instate pollsters found upwards of 70% opposition. Lisa Murkowski was the ranking minority member on the HELP committee during the writing of this thing (which is why she lost the GOP nomination for Senator in 2010; we weren’t fooled by her “no” vote on the Senate floor)) and Mark Begich was the 60th vote for passage (which is why he lost his 2014 reelection bid). Clearly they were not representing their constituents in their actions. The problem is that we’re stuck with them for six years if they go rogue. There is no accountability for Senators for six years between elections since they are no longer selected by state legislatures. You can impeach a President, you can recall a governor, but there is no mechanism to get rid of a Senator whose constituents realize they’ve made a grave mistake. Alaska really tried to recall Begich. The petition for recall had 100,000 signatures (1/8 of the population of the state) and nowhere to go. House members are much more sensitive to the opinion of the voters who put them in office because they face election every two years. Yes, people should be smarter about voting for elected representatives and not just vote for the sock puppets the two major political parties put forth as our only choices. Changes in ballot access laws to allow more third party and independent candidates would probably help there. Again, Alaska is not the only state with this problem. Other states have similar issues and largely for the same reasons.

Now for the main issue —

Access to the Internet is important and wrapped up in concepts of freedom of speech and association, but that does not require government involvement to protect it. Steve Jobs did a great job of creating a “build it and they will come” industry with his own money or the money of willing investors. I have no objections to private individuals innovating great ideas that open people’s eyes to new ways of living and making money from it. I object to government forcing innovation by edict and expecting the taxpayer (or the ratepayer in the EPB case) to foot the bill for services they have not chosen for themselves. If I’m a EPB ratepayer who does not choose to indulge in the Gig, I should not have to subsidize the ratepayer who believes it’s necessary for him to have it. If I’m a taxpayer in Alaska, I should not have to pay for someone who lives 5000 miles away from me to have a clear Netflix picture.

I reject the whole concept of “human rights”, by the way. Words have meaning that cannot change without consequences. Human “rights” are a made-up concept using a vocabulary that obligates the productive members of society to provide for the wants of the less-productive members of society in an arbitrary system determined by the zeitgeist of the contemporary era. I espouse natural rights, which are part and parcel with being a human being because they are constant throughout time and easily discoverable, but they also do not obligate anyone to provide them for me. I have a right to take care of my own needs, to the produce of my own labor and to the property that I claim through the exercise of my own production. I think, therefore I can express an opinion; therefore, I have a right to free speech. Each and every one of us has natural rights; they are the same for each one of us and we may not infringe upon the natural rights of others in the exercise of our own natural rights. Natural rights are those areas of our lives that only belong to us as individuals. They are so personal that nobody can violate them without also violating our humanity and therefore treating us as less-than human. We don’t have rights because the government decided to grant them to us. Our rights are inherent in our nature as human beings.

So, is Internet access a basic human right? Is it somehow sub-human for a person to live without access to the Internet? I think it would be degrading to deny someone access to such a powerful information and entertainment tool, but nobody is doing that. Access to the Internet is ubiquitous in the United States, a state of affairs largely created by tech companies that wanted to make money off the desire of Americans to have access to the Internet almost everywhere we go. What we’re discussing is Internet speed and whether government needs to provide greater and greater speed. And that’s where you and I don’t agree.

Yes, Europe has higher Internet speeds because the governments of Europe mandated them and coerced money from the more productive members of their society to build the networks. But as I noted in my last post on this subject, American companies are building those networks without government funding. It’s not happening as fast as a mandated build-outmight, but it’s also funded by users and what they will pay rather than by government and what they can steal from my pocket.

I’m under no illusions about the telecom corporations and their “altruism”. In Atlas Shrugged, the companies fighting against the government are trying to keep from becoming what the American telecom companies are – crony capitalists. Remember what I said about monopolies in my last post? All monopolies are bad for the consumer, but monopolies are virtually impossible to maintain without government intervention. The monopoly of cable companies is not a natural phenomenon and it is the epitome of a government monopoly. First, I can get Internet from three channels right now – telephone wire, satellite and cable and there are five companies competing for my business. That is because of an Alaska Supreme Court case that broke a federally applied monopoly over phone and cable lines in Alaska. The FCC ruled in the 1980s that ACS could do all the phones and GCI could do all the cable and not overlap, citing a natural monopoly because of geographic isolation (common administrative ruling in Alaska, btw). When an Alaska court ruled otherwise in the early 2000s, the FCC didn’t assert that prior regulation and so now we have competition for Internet in Fairbanks and Anchorage and networks built by them rather than the government. We don’t have fiber optic, but it’s coming — not that I think I need it.

EPB, on the other hand, got a $112 million porkulus grant, but according to this Washington Times article, EPB electric customers are footing the bill for more than $390 million in bond payments to cover construction costs related to the fiber network. That’s a lot of money essentially hidden in the electric bills of people who may not have opted for the Gig. Why should they? A gig a second is about 50 times faster than the national average for Internet. The average user in a home does not currently need that sort of speed for what is largely a news and entertainment venue, so the residential customers are not going to pay for the Gig. There’s going to be handful of individuals willin to to pay for it and probably some companies (who actually may benefit from those speeds), but all the ratepayers will see their electric rates go up to subsidize the system. Worse, the City of Chattanooga owns EPB, so when EPB billed the City of Chattanooga for installing the fiber optic cable, it was actually billing itself and guess how the City of Chattanooga will pay for that build-out? Taxes. Not only are the residents of Chattanooga paying more for their electricity to subsidize the ulta-high-speed Internet of a handful of users, they will also be paying more in taxes for the same system.

It’s the rotten beauty of a government monopoly.

Thom StarkI have no problem with Google choosing to bring fiber optic cable to neighborhoods in Kansas City, etc., and to temporarily forego profits as a long-term investment. I’m willing to bet that Google already has a plan in place for making phenomenal profits from this investment within three years (which is how long the IRS will let them charge off a loss in a local market). If they don’t turn it around that quickly, I’ll be surprised, but I won’t really care, because Google is a private company making a decision for the long-haul rather than the short term. Good for them.

The City of Chattanooga and EPB (which is owned by the City) is not a private company. It has no investors willingly providing financial capital in expectation of an eventual dividend. It’s financed by the ratepayers and taxpayers of Chattanooga, who will never see a return on their stolen money. They’ll bitch about their taxes and their electric rates and may not even realize these costs are so high because the City wanted to build a luxury for the few thousand users who can afford the monthly fee.

Telecom and cable companies have, by FCC and local regulations, generally been required to blanket entire cities, offering connections to every home. There’s a 1934 law that requires nationwide “wire and radio services” to every household at a “reasonable charges”. In exchange for wiring a community, telecommunications providers were often granted a monopoly to assure they could make money. Cable television companies made similar deals with cities and the FCC in the 1960s. There’s been some liberalization (uh, deregulation) of that system since the emergence of the Internet. Cities have opted for a more selective approach because the more competitive companies like Google argued that universal coverage was too risky and the returns were too low. My understanding is that Google is building its high-speed network as it finds demand, neighborhood by neighborhood. In neighborhoods in Kansas City, they asked residents to pay $10 to preregister for a gig of service which now costs $70 a month below a certain limit. It skipped certain areas entirely because they were too thinly populated or because of construction challenges. Google conducted preregistraton in 364 neighborhoods in KC; all but 16 met Google’s threshhold for connection. The brokerage firm Bernstein Research found that the potential customer base would be very profitable for Google.

Ah, but what about the poor neighborhoods? Well, yeah, rich people can afford things poor people can’t. Trying to make high speed Internet coverage universal will only slow down development of high speed Internet. That’s already happening. Los Angeles solicited plans for universal gigabit fiber networks and Google decided not to participate. Verizon was required by cities and some state laws to offer its FiOS services universally and it stopped expanding to new cities in 2010, citing the need to recoup its cost of capital. Yes, government could force it to be done as they did with EPB, but again, I object to people being forced to pay for a service they are not using and do not want. If someone wants the Gig, they should have to pay the full costs for it, not be subsidized by someone who would rather spend his money financing his retirement or sailing the Bahamas.

For me, it’s all about the liberty to choose what to do with my own resources.

Thom Stark is the author of the American Sulla trilogy, a political thriller. Lela Markham is the author of The Willow Branch, an epic fantasy. We also have opinions about the real world and thought we would share our conversation with readers.

Broadband & States Rights with Thom Stark   1 comment

Thom Stark and I are continuing our conversation. One of the goals of this dialogue, similar to what I am doing with Becky Akers (Conversation with an Anarchist) is to show that reasonable people can disagree in a sincere and robust manner without acting like Neanderthals. Thom is what I would term a progressive and I am a conservative-libertarian-edging-toward-voluntaryist. We aren’t going to agree on many issues, although we have found areas where we agree more than we disagree. And that, my readers, is what American liberalism is all about. Lela

Thom StarkLet’s start with your assertions regarding Chattanooga’s fiber optic MAN, shall we?

First off, the PPIC study you cite speaks in only very general terms about the economic benefits of very-high-speed Internet access. Widely-available advances in technology create social change (automobiles, anyone?), but that change does not usually happen overnight. Sure, broadband availability does not seem to have resulted in a significant increase in work-from-home employment. However, that is most likely because management practices are inherently conservative – and managers insist on being able to physically keep an eye on their employees. (Heck, I was working from home one day a week back in the very early 1990’s, when I was employed by Wells Fargo Bank, back when dialup via 56K modems was pretty much the standard Internet access paradigm – but that was because my supervisor realized early on that no one has to crack a whip over me.) The so-called “virtual corporation” is still mostly a theoretical construct. Give it time.

The fact that the main uses private citizens have for the Internet are entertainment-oriented is not a valid reason to scorn gigabit access. Entertainment is a gigantic part of the American economy. Consumers throw billions and billions of dollars at it every year – and, the music business aside, the entertainment slice of our economic pie gets bigger in both absolute and relative terms every year. We are now at the front end of a general revolution in the way that audio-visual entertainment is delivered. That is a Good Thing. People are sick of cable companies’ anti-consumer “tiers” of service that require them to subsidize programming in which they have no interest in order to receive two or three channels they actually want to watch – and that business paradigm is on its last legs now. In ten years, that will have withered away – and it’s actual broadband access that will enable it.

Which takes us to the definition of broadband.

You cited an FCC study that determined that 85% of the American public already has access to broadband Internet connectivity. The thing is, that was under the old definition of broadband – a definition that the rest of the developed world quite rightly considered ridiculously inadequate – which was the one the cable companies and telcos the Bush administration’s version of the FCC to write into law. In the telcos’ world, 4 megabits down and 1 up equals “broadband”. Meanwhile, in Finland, where Internet access is legally considered a human right, the standard requires 100 megabit connections to qualify as broadband (and that level of service is available for the equivalent of $40/month). On January 29, the FCC raised the minimum service standard to qualify as broadband access to 25 megabits down, a move that was long, LONG overdue, and that reduces the number of Americans who have broadband connections to 72%. I would argue that even that definition remains wholly inadequate – but at least it’s less of a sad joke than the old one.

The thing that made Steve Jobs the visionary that he was is that he understood that people often don’t have any idea they need something until someone shows them what they’ve been missing. Digital music players were around before the iPod, but it took Jobs’s marketing campaign to make them ubiquitous. Virtually nobody cared about smart phones until the iPhone was released. Now everyone has one. Ditto tablet computers and the iPad. The same thing is true of broadband. Until you personally experience what it’s like to have websites load as if they’re on your own hard drive, until you experience high-definition streaming video, while downloading a DVD’s worth of patches and enhanced content for your kid’s favorite videogame – and you do both things while he’s logged into the Xbox network – you have no idea what you’re missing. Once you do experience it, you wonder how you ever got along without it. Experiencing is believing. So the argument that broadband access hasn’t created any major, direct economic benefit to consumers fails on two fronts: first, that the definition of broadband the PPIC study employed really wasn’t broadband at all, but rather the fiction of broadband foisted on the public by the telcos and cable operators, and second, that enough time has not elapsed since even most Americans had even that laughable definition of broadband access to see direct economic benefits accrue from it. Meanwhile, the indirect economic benefits are non-trivial. The rise of original programming for streaming video services has created quite a few jobs, for instance, and there are many more on the way, as the cable MSOs discover that the whole basis of their industry is eroding away, as more consumers realize that they really don’t have to simply accept the tiered-access paradigm any more.

So, now, to Chattanooga.

Back when dinosaurs ruled the Earth, and the Apple II was the be-all and end-all of microcomputing, I labored in the vineyards of cable TV programming. I’ve seen the industry from the inside. It stinks. The business model is based on franchise agreements with municipalities that give MSOs exclusivity within the franchise service area. That means no other entity is ALLOWED to provide cable service within the franchise area. Thus, once the agreement is signed, the cable company is handed a monopoly, typically one that runs 20 years, with an automatic renewal provision that prevents the city from inviting competitors into the franchise area unless the franchisee can be proven to have broken the terms of the franchise. Effectively, that means a perpetual monopoly – and cable operators don’t hesitate to sue to enforce those monopolies. (Incidentally, that’s because, back in the late 1960’s, rural and mountain communities had to get down on their knees and beg MSOs to build CATV systems for their TV-deprived citizenry. This was decades before the cable companies discovered that they could also deliver Internet service via the same cabling system that served their customers TV shows – nearly a decade and a half before DARPAnet became the Internet, in fact.)

Comcast and its ilk are, in fact, parasites, not Atlas Shrugged-style “makers”. They fight tooth and nail to avoid investing in system upgrades that would enable their customers to enjoy higher bandwidth, because “what have you done for me this quarter?” is the Gospel of the MBAs that run them. They don’t give a damn about their customers, other than as sources of essentially free money. (Once the system is in place, there’s no real expense – other than billing – to the MSO to continue to provide Internet access for its subscribers. The only reason they raise the monthly Internet subscriber fee every year is to funnel more money into the pockets of shareholders, so the CEO can brag to his board of directors. Programming costs for TV content continue to rise – but the cost of providing Internet access do not.)

Again, Comcast was asked to build a fiber-to-premises system for Chattanooga. It declined, citing the tired old arguments of lack of demand and the cost of upgrading the system. Tom Wheeler, the Chair of the FCC has rightly (and publicly) laughed at those arguments, because they are 100% the south-end product of a north-facing bull.

As for your contention that the surrounding municipalities’ electric ratepayers will be required to provide $2 million “support” for the system’s expansion into suburban Chatanooga, that’s more cable company propaganda. The expansion requires cabling. That cabling has to go somewhere. The two choices are underground – which is VERY expensive – or on poletops. Comcast is claiming that using the electric utility’s power poles will cost the ratepayers $2 million a year in additional costs, while, in fact, the cost to maintain the fiber plant will NOT be borne by electric ratepayers. Broadband subscribers will pay that cost. (The service life of a power pole is not significantly affected by adding a fiber optic line to the burden it carries, btw. Again, as Disreali probably did not say, there are three types of lie: lies, damned lies, and statistics. Comcast LOVES to use statistical arguments.)

There are, in fact, multiple private companies that are rolling out fiber access to municipalities around the country these days. Google is in the lead in this respect, and its ISP business is designed to break even, not turn a profit.

Heresy, right?

Not really. Google realizes that the key to every profit-making venture in which it engages is Internet use. Enabling gigabit access at reasonable prices is, for Google, essentially cultivating the field in which its profits will grow.

That’s because, unlike Comcast and its shabby sisters, Google’s executives understand the concept of enlightened self interest. They know that it’s in their best interest to give the razors away, because their customers will be buying razor blades from them for the rest of their lives.

BTW – Outside of Silicon Valley and the SOMA district of San Francisco, Seattle is probably the biggest tech hub in the country. OF COURSE it has lots of competition in its ISPs. Chillicothe, Ohio, by contrast, has effectively none. There’s the incumbent telco and its DSL offerings, and Time Warner. That’s basically it, unless you count the outrageously expensive, data-limited LTE connectivity offered by wireless service providers. I don’t.

Lela Markham Davidson Ditch CorrectedAs for Alaska’s Congressional delegation, I don’t think you really have much room to complain about unequal representation. Yes, Don Young is your only Representative, in a House of 435 such reps. The thing is though, you have two senators, just like every other state in the Union. The fact that they’re both sock puppets for the oil industry (and thus unresponsive to the needs of their constituents) is the fault of your electorate, not the bicameral national legislature. All U.S. legislation (other than treaty adoption) requires the votes of both Houses, so, in reality, Alaskans have just as much power in this respect as other states do. And, as frustrating as the Senate’s use of cloture to derail lawmaking that would otherwise pass by majority vote can be, I think the founding fathers were wise to divide our lege into upper and lower houses. The current edition of the House is full of yahoos, few of whom seem to have any faint idea of the notions of compromise and negotiation, but instead devote themselves to flinging verbal feces and pounding their chests. Nowadays, that chamber is so dysfunctional it can’t get out of its own way. So, one representative, a dozen, 23? Who cares? The current House of Representatives is pretty much entirely irrelevant, politically speaking. The action that matters is all in the Senate – and there, Alaskans stand equal with every other state.


Lela on Monopolies   1 comment

Lela Markham Davidson Ditch CorrectedI am not completely opposed to government providing services, Thom. I’m on record supporting the State of Alaska building and owning (then leasing to a private company) a large-diameter natural gas pipeline from the North Slope to tidewater for export to the Asian market. Although government not interfering in the private market is my default position, I support the gas line being built by the State of Alaska for a variety of reasons.

The State of Alaska is an odd duck among state governments.  In many ways, Alaska is more a resource corporation than a government. Governor Walker is the CEO, the Legislature is the board of directors, and the people are the shareholders. The people currently pay no income or statewide sales tax and we receive a dividend on the state’s long-term investment account. The state government is funded by the sale of our resources by the permit holders – Conoco-Phillips, British Petroleum, etc. Our cut of the proceeds is substantial. In this, we are more like Saudi Arabia than Ohio.

For almost 60 years, the energy companies have promised they would build a gas pipeline, but somehow they never get around to it. Alaska neeeds to diversify our economy and Interior residents desperately need energy relief (home heating diesel was between $2.60 and $3.80 a gallon this last year; it takes approximately 1500 gallons to heat an average sized home for six months of winter; electricity is 24 cents a kilowatt hour — that’s what I mean by DESPERATE). If the State of Alaska were truly a resource corporation, building a pipeline would be an investment strategy that would pay huge dividends in the future, but because we think of it as a State government, we’ve just waited and waited until we’ve finally recognized that private industry has no real interest in building the gas line until it completely benefits them. This speaks to the colonial nature of Alaska, a subject for later. While I would oppose the State using my tax dollars to build the thing, I support it taking the money the oil companies pay for our resources, leveraging credit against our existing resources, and building the gas line ourselves, with the goal of diversifying our economy and ending dependence upon the federal government.  Chattanooga’s situation is entirely different.

The City of Chattanooga is a taxpayer subsidized entity and government exists to meet public needs by providing infrastructure and services when there are no other ways to provide them. You could argue, as the City of Chattanooga claims, that EPB is building needed infrastructure that the private sector isn’t interested in, but I don’t think that’s accurate. The Internet certainly makes my work and play easier, but studies have shown that more than half of Internet usage is entertainment – You-Tube, Netflix, iTunes, Hulu, and Amazon Instant Video. Branching into rural areas is expensive for an ISP, which is why Comcast and ATT were delaying, waiting for technological improvements, but also citing a low level of interest from users. Chattanooga already had broadband, just not fiber optic. Unlike the Alaska gas line, ulta high-speed Internet hasn’t been decades in the making. City of Chattanooga started talking about it in 2008 and applied for stimulus funds in 2009. It really was a “need” created by the $7.2 billion for broadband investment in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (what we call the stimulus). According to this study by the Public Policy Institute of California broadband Internet has so far not resulted in more jobs and does not appear to increase telecommuting or other home-based work. Non-fiber optic broadband is widely avaialble – about 85% of US households had it in 2006. Some rural and suburban areas are still waiting, but it’s not necessary for government to provide it. Here in Alaska, many communities still don’t have regular cable, let alone fiber optics. When the Palin administration decided not to participate in stimulus-funded broadband, a group of Alaska Native corporations along with Arctic Slope Telephone Cooperative partnered with Quintillion to bring fiber optic under the Arctic Ocean to villages that currently only have satellite access. It’s coming down the Dalton Highway and will be accessible by other Alaskan communities by 2016.  And I will oppose my City government spending the money to build onto it and instead ask our local Internet providers to do it. Of course, Fairbanks already has broadband and there’s a lot of question whether anyone would notice the difference between traditional broadband and fiber optics. Programmers at Apple might. Ordinary humans … probably not. Speaking of Apple, Seattle is getting fiber optic broadband provided by a private company  which is also expanding in Denver, Portland, Minneapolis-St. Paul, Orlando, Phoenix, Tucson, Albuquerque, and Spokane. Rates are comparable to what EPB is charging, which also is counter to your assertion that government can do it cheaper. If government didn’t do it, Century Link, AT&T or Comcast would have done it and probably at a lower cost to the consumers.

The reasons I see private enterprise as generally preferrable to government-provided  services are several. Private enterprise allows customers to make choices. When my phone provider was providing lousy Internet service several years ago, I switched to a cable provider and got better service for a smaller monthly rate. I didn’t need a government official to tell me that I could get better service for less at a competitor. I researched that myself and made my own decision. Government monopolies tend to be very zealous of their customers. I can’t opt out of the City-provided weekly trash service at my home, even though there is a private provider nearby that could do the exact same pickup for $20 cheaper a month. I also like that private provider because I know that he is providing the service for a fair rate, not subsidizing the cost of my garbage pick up with my taxes.

Which is the problem I see with Chattanooga’s EPB. The money to build it came from the paychecks of American taxpayers across the country – from people who may never know fiber optic cable and probably won’t miss it. That’s money down the drain as far as they are concerned – money that could have been used to fund their retirements, or pay down their mortgages, or send their kids to college. Instead, it’s providing a good clear Netflix picture for someone in Tennessee.

EPB admits that expanding into rural areas will require that Chattanooga electric ratepayers subsidize fiber optic to those new areas, which has got the local taxpayers as well as the ratepayers up in arms. Yeah, sure they won’t need to pay shareholders – otherwise known as investors – but EPB also submitted a bill to City of Chatanooga and two other nearby towns for nearly $2 million. Where will that money come from? Taxes! According to that same article, subscriptions for the new cable service are only 2/3s of what was projected, suggesting the public wasn’t all that interested in one gig in the first place. Apparently, a couple of start-up tech firms relocated to Chattanooga for the Gig, but they can relocate to several other cities for a gig within the next year, so Chattanooga’s tech-hub dreams may not come to fruition, but the higher rates and taxes will be with residents for a good long while, as will the federal debt that ballooned to fund programs like this.

To me, all monopolies are bad, regardless if they are private or governmental. Natural monopolies do occur sometimes in utilities. It’s difficult for more than one company to distribute water to a neighborhood, for example, although historically electricity and gas were provided competitively in several US cities before the era of government-created monopolies began in the 1880s. The fact that I can get Internet from three different networks at my house – phone, cable and satellite – suggests that there is no natural monopoly for Internet . Monopolies can set their own rates without fear of customer reprisal. If my electric company gouges me (24 cents kwh), there’s not a lot I can do about it except go to the ratepayers’ annual meeting and whine along with my fellow abused ratepayers which (trust me) does nothing to lower the cost of electricity to my home.  Going to the State Public Utilities Board doesn’t lower rates either because they cite natural monopoly and the impossibility of properly evaluating rates in geographic isolation. Our electric cooperative, by the way, is a not-for-profit entity, supposedly owned by the ratepayers. Bottom line is – monopolies usually work against the consumer.

I’d love to discuss regulation sometime, but I want to say one last thing about states rights and federalization.

The Civil War is dead history, Thom, but states rights will continue to be an issue for as long as the federal government does not recognize the rights of states to govern within their own borders and the rights of individuals to choose what sort of state they want to live in. Federalism was always at the heart of the Constitution, but like many a good idea, it’s been subverted by a lack of understanding of our history and the growing power of government.

Where were Alaska’s Congressional delegation on Positive Train Control? We could argue that our two senators are essentially useless shills for big oil companies and don’t actually work for the State of Alaska. Alas, that is the unintended consequence of the 19th Amendment. We elect senators for six years during which time they have absolutely no accountability to the citizens who elected them or the states those citizens live in until their next election. Lisa Murkowski just started running for reelection in 2016 and it’s amazing to watch how pro-Alaskan she is now that she has to face the voters again. Begich and Murkowski claimed they argued on our behalf, but they voted for the bill that authorized PTC nationwide, so ….  I don’t think either offered any amendments to exempt rail lines that aren’t actually at risk of a head-on collision. Don Young did resist it and claims he is resisting it. He did vote against it.

The bigger issue however is that Alaska (and most Western states) are poorly represented in Congress. Don Young is one voice in 465. Larger population states do not understand the challenges of smaller population states and, therefore, enact laws that often do not makes sense for states with lots of land and few people because these laws are predicated on the idea of limited land and large populations that exist in the more urban large population states. Here’s a visual. Crunch Alaska’s landmass down and we fit into the states east of the Mississippi. We have three votes in Congress. The states east of the Mississippi have 350 votes in Congress. With that ratio, you might as well shout into a hurricane and expect to be heard.

Thom StarkAlaska is not the only state in that predicament. Small population states have no effective voice in Congress against large population states. The anti-federalists foresaw this problem, by the way. With the exception of Texas and Arizona, the states that complain the loudest about federal overreach are the states that have the least representation in Congress.  They’re also the ones that many of these mandates don’t make sense for because they lack the population to support unfunded mandates. Many of these states struggle economically because almost all of the land and therefore most of the resources belongs to the federal government, which doesn’t want to develop its resources, but would rather suck the taxpayers dry. Small population states suffer from a triple whammy of an artificial land shortage, illogically applied laws and regulations combined with inadequate Congressional representation. Faced with the intransigence of the federal administrative state, the affected states apply to their Congressional delegations, but those elected officials can’t be heard over the clamor of large-population states patting themselves on the back for solving a problem that the small-population states saw no evidence for. When a small-pop state goes to Congress with a real problem that requires a solution different than would be available in a large-pop state, we’re told our way can’t be used because it wouldn’t work in New York or California and all laws must be applied evenly, so we apply once more to our congressional delegations who have no real power in Congress … which leaves us laying out $161 million for a train monitoring program to prevent a problem that doesn’t exist in Alaska outside of a John Voigt movie.

We’ll come back to this subject, I think.


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