Archive for the ‘states rights’ Tag

The End Is Not Near   Leave a comment

I thoroughly agree with this. In my book Life as We Knew It, it takes a nuclear attack to bring us to crisis, but in reality, the weight of our own empire is going to eventually tear us apart … and that’s not a bad thing in the long run. Alaska would certainly be better off if it wasn’t a pretend state of the United States. We’re told we’re not a colony, but we’re not allowed to grow an economy, we have to ask permission of the mother country to sell our resources and we aren’t allowed to pursue our own interests. I’m sure other states feel the same way. Lela

 

The End is Not Near, It has Begun
By Jack Perry
April 15, 2016

I’ve gotten some emails from folks asking my opinion on “How’s it all going to end?” As in, what major crisis is going to finally cause the American Giant to fall down and go boom? Guess what? There won’t be a major crisis that does it. It’s going to be a slow cascade reaction of crisis and disasters. What’s more, it has already begun. We’ve already seen several of these disasters. More are on the way. The end has begun and is upon us.

Source: The End Is Not Near

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.

 

Finding the elusive reset button   Leave a comment

The winter of our discontent: ‘Reset button’ to improve state-federal relations may prove elusive – Fairbanks Daily News-Miner: Editorials.

This is part and parcel with what I was discussing with Thom Stark yesterday.

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.

Lela on Sovereignty   1 comment

Lela Markham Davidson Ditch CorrectedThis is what Thom had to say last week on states rights.

We definitely see the Civil War from different perspectives. The United States of American (formed under the Articles of Confederation) came into being when the Americans decided that they would no longer tolerate the caprice of George the III and elitism of Parliament. The American colonies seceded from Great Britain. They tried to do it peacefully, but England chose to prosecute a war against them by moving on strategic locations like Boston, New York and Charleston. The colonists had no choice but to fight back or be subjugated. Consider Ft. Ticonderoga to be the 18th century equivalent of Ft. Sumter. And just as the Revolution might have been averted by George and Parliament recognizing the rights of the colonists, the Civil War was an unnecessary event caused by the political cowardice of Congress and the hubris of President Lincoln. Had the South won the war instead of the North, we might view all this differently.

A primary element that has separated the United States of America from virtually every other nation in history is the concept of it being “a nation of laws, not a nation of men.” For a country to be considered a nation of laws requires that nation adhere to its foundational laws — which here in the US is the Constitution. Subsequent statutory law is meant to be subordinate to Constitutional law, not subject to the political whims of a president, Congress or even the Supreme Court. The 9th and 10th amendments make it clear that the states did not think they were ceding their sovereignty when they ratified the Constitution. Several states required the Bill of Rights in exchange for their ratification of the Constitution. Those amendments could be set aside, of course, by the procedure established for modifying the Constitution, but they haven’t been. They’ve just been ignored. The very fact that state legislatures must ratify amendments to the Constitution speaks to an understanding of states rights that no longer exists in this country.

When laws are too numerous, abusive, designed to help or penalize one group at the expense of others, are formulated by unelected bureaucrats, or are subject to the caprice of the monarch in the White House, then the law is no longer based on the Constitution and we are no longer a nation of laws, but of men.  Goodbye liberty, hello tyranny.

I’m not sure liberty is such an old-fashioned idea. It appears people still have a longing for it. And states are much more able to protect liberty for their small citizenship than is a huge federal government.

You’re mixing apples and oranges with your examples, by the way. Neither are really states rights issues. Tesla is suffering from government-corporation cronyism while Comcast and AT&T in Chattanooga are suffering from government competing against them in the marketplace. Michigan gets revenue from the car manufacturers while Tesla is an outside company that provides little or no revenue to Michigan while competing with their bread-and-butter industry. I’m not saying its right. I’m just explaining it.

If government were small and permitted only to do a very few things, this would not be an issue because it would not need as much revenue. Neither example has to do with states rights because the federal government does the same thing. The federal government’s record on both is not substantially better than those of states. Google Goodyear, Dole Fruit, and Solyndra for examples. Both issues could be solved satisfactorily by the government getting out of business. Here in the Alaska, the cab drivers of Anchorage are seeking to keep Uber out and the City of Anchorage must decide whether to stay cozy with their revenue providers or do what the people want? Hmm … We’ll see how that works out.

Meanwhile, a private company called Quintillion is bringing fiber optic to parts of the state by laying the cable from England down the Dalton Highway Corridor. They’re being helped by favorable State permitting and Department of Transportation allowing them to use some remote facilities, but government is by and large not paying for it. The attached article does a good job of explaining the project and future plans.

The State of Alaska was offered this opportunity with the same stimulus funds Chattanooga is using to fund EPB, but Sarah Palin declined, so the Native corporations listed in the article (private companies) stepped up to provide fiber optic to several villages using private funding. I suspect that within five years, a high-speed fiber network will be available throughout the Railbelt region — still privately funded. GCI and AT&T are already investigating doing it in Fairbanks. That’s progress without government intervention.

But these are not states rights issues. These are examples of the government’s unhealthy interference in the private marketplace — either by favoring some companies or setting itself up as a competitor against others. States rights has to do with federal overreach into areas where state governments can and should be in control.

Have you ever heard of Positive Train Control? The train received GPS information about its location and where it is allowed to safely travel. Equipment on board enforces this information and prevents unsafe movement. It’s a good technical innovation that could save lives in the dense Northeast rail corridors. And since those rail routes cross state lines, you can make an argument for interstate (federal) control.

Applied to Alaska, however, it’s stupid.

First, not surprisingly, the Alaska Railroad goes nowhere near a state line, so there’s no interstate argument here. Driven by the National Transportation Safety Board, the Federal Railroad Administration has demanded that the Alaska Railroad develop a PTC system for collision-avoidance, speed control and a centralized control station. The system has a price tag of around $160 million, which is more that the ARR’s annual operating budget. If the equipment is not in place by the end of 2015, the ARR will no longer be able to provide passenger service, which will devastate our tourism industry.

The reason for this is that Alaska only has one rail line between Seward and Fairbanks, 500 miles apart. But here’s where it gets silly. Only four trains run on that track every day. While there are sidings about every five miles, the north-bound and south-bound trains meet twice daily in Denali Park. Since they exchange passengers at that point, they wait for one another. While operating, they keep in touch with the dispatch center and each other through radios and sat phones. Top speed is also only 50 mph and with a transit time of 12 hours (the federally mandated limit for train operators), there is always a second pilot and fireman on board, so falling asleep or dying at the controls is not a problem. We also use Automatic Train Control which is similar to PTC  without the hefty price tag. Bottom line is, we’ve never even had a close call on the ARR and the odds of such an event are extremely low. Our waiver application was denied and we’re now working on a deferment until 2018 so we can get the financing together (oil prices being what they are, you know?)

Thom StarkPTC is simply a one-size-fits-all federal law that says single track is a head-on collision in the making and therefore you must install this expensive system regardless of whether it is needed. THIS is a states rights issue. When federal bureaucrats who are not familiar with a situation try to make regulatory law from a distance without regard to what makes sense in a state — then the federal government is out of hand and needs to be set back.  And it’s not an interstate transportation issue because the Alaska Railroad goes nowhere near another state.

That’s just one example. I could give you at least a dozen more examples of where the federal government imposes edicts from on high, often through regulatory law, that place unfunded mandates on states that do not make sense for those states.

I’m waiting for the day the federal government mandates we all drive electric cars, turning the highway commute time from Fairbanks to Anchorage from seven hours to three days due to recharges. Now that would be idiocy! But can we deny that it’s coming?

Thom Stark’s View on State Sovereignty   1 comment

Last week the conversation turned toward issues of sovereignty, Indian nations and states rights. Here is Thom’s reply.

Thom StarkFirst of all, I see no point regarding Indian sovereignity on which we disagree. However, ours is, in John Adams’ phrase, “a nation of laws, not men” (although, granted, he was talking about the Constitution of Massachussetts, not the USA), so Supreme Court decisions on the subject, however imbecilic, are binding – at least, until they’re overturned. Thus, recognized Indian nations have sovereignity. I suspect it’d be nigh impossible to change that situation today – mostly because of opposition from the left, rather than the right.

But we both agree that racial discrimination, regardless of how and where it takes place, is indefensible. I merely noted that, given the history of Indian nations such as the Cherokee in the USA, the desire for revenge on the white man is understandable. That does NOT mean I approve of it. Only that I understand it as a product of human nature. Black people, Asians, even those of Irish extraction have similar, legitimate historical grievances about their treatment at the hands of the USA and its laws, but even the staunchest leftist nitwit would hardly argue that the Irish, for instance, have any present cause for complaint about their status in America. I hope – and expect – that the same will eventually be true of every other minority in this country.

Of course, my mother’s side of the family is of Irish extraction all the way back to the Potato Famine, so …

You bringing up the Articles of Confederation is interesting, given that the full title of that document is the “Articles of Confederation and perpetual Union.” There was, in fact, no provision whatsoever for succession from the original Confederation, and the Constitutional Constitution of 1787 was called to amend that document, rather than to draft an entirely new one. Some constitutional scholars maintain that the Constitution should, indeed, properly be viewed as a wholesale amendment of the Articles of Confederation (and perpetual Union), rather than as an entirely new document. It’s also worth noting that the Declaration of Independence is a manifesto, but its various other sub-declarations are more in the nature of rationale than legal principle – or else “that all men are created equal” would have entirely precluded the original Constitution from enshrining slavery based on race.

And, yes, people have been arguing whether there is any legal basis for succession ever since the Constitution’s formal ratificaiton and adoption in 1789. The problem with those who maintain that succession is a right reserved to the states is that it – along with much of the concept of states rights – is a notion entirely outmoded by actual historical precedent. The South tried and failed to make succession stick. Their failure has made the inviolability of the Union a principle of American law ever since.

It’s also interesting that you cite James Buchanan’s inaction and general fecklessness as somehow laudable. Prior to George W. Bush, he was widely considered the absolute worst U.S. president of the lot (worse even than Andrew Jackson – and that’s really saying something). His unwillingness to lead, especially his failure to use the bully pulpit of his office to advocate for the preservation of the Union by, for instance, vetoing the Missouri Compromise, greatly emboldened the secessionists. (It also constituted the straw that finally broke the back of the Whig party camel, which led directly to the formation of the Republican party and the subsequent election of Abraham Lincoln to the presidency, btw.) The man was a vacillating weakling, not a hero.

Since Lincoln correctly saw the integrity of the Union as crucial to the survival of the United States as a viable entity, he quite rightly rejected the notion of the legality of secession. Fort Sumter was a Union military asset. Legally speaking, it did not belong to South Carolina. Today, as then, EVERY military base within the USA (and outside of it) is Federal property, immune from state and local law, taxation authority, and power of eminent domain. That Sumter lay within the territory claimed by South Carolina did not – and does not – alter that. The ONLY legal mechanism by which SC could have laid claim to it was via negotiation, and the Union had every right to resupply its garrison in the meantime.

By attacking a Federal reservation, South Carolina was and remains responsible for committing the act that precipitated the bloody conflict that Confederate apologists like to think of as “the War of Northern aggression.”

It was no such thing. Instead, it was as true a civil war as any in history (there have been lots and lots of those, going back at least as far as the Romans), which was the direct result of Southern aggression, not that of the North.

DSC01494The relationship between the states and the federal government is a constantly-evolving one. That evolution has steadily moved in the direction of reducing the states’ power in favor of increasing Federal authority. You can argue whether that’s a good thing or a bad one, but the trend is inevitable and unstoppable.

I personally believe it’s a Good Thing overall. Far too many states employ their power to sanction absurdly anti-consumer legislation, such as excluding Tesla from selling cars within their borders to protect existing automobile dealership franchises, and forbidding municipalities like Chattanooga from extending their gigabit fiber networks to suburbs outside of its city limits. That’s monopolist protectionism in its rawest, ugliest form – but it’s a states rights matter, so they’re allowed to continue such deeply corrupt practices. (And, if the Tea Party members of Congress get their way, the FCC will be forbidden from interfering in the cable industry’s campaign to keep that last one in place.)

Screw that idiocy. It’s the 21st century, not the 18th. It’s past time that we as a nation recognized that the notion of states rights is increasingly as outmoded as the professions of locomotive fireman or gaslighter.

Lela on Indian Nations and States Rights   4 comments

Thom, this is why I like our conversations. You force me to dig back into my memory and, when it fails, research. Last week you said I was off base on the Civil War and you ended up defending Indian sovereignty against someone who is a member of a tribal nation. That’s kind of ironic, I think.

 

DSC01494First, I don’t agree with you about the payback thing. We need to stop the back-and-forth retribution attitude and move forward. I’m pretty sure if I dig deeply enough I would find a white ancestor who killed Indians in retribution for my ancestor Barasallai killing white settlers in the Michigan wilderness circa 1810-ish. To be angry at one and not the other would be inconsistent and to be angry at both would be schizophrenic. There are parts of both sides of my heritage that I love and parts of both sides that I find regrettable. “Move on and let the dead bury the dead” is my motto. I don’t see a racist behind every bush trying to bring back Indian transportation. I see people who look a lot like my dad who are mostly trying to be my friends, who may not understand my family history … as I may not understand theirs. I don’t hold them accountable for the actions of their long-dead ancestors. I only hold them accountable for what they personally do to me and then I give them the rough side of my tongue if I feel it’s necessary. I don’t need special status to do that. It’s a natural right we’re all born with as humans.

The Wendake (Wyandot in the US) share a reservation with the Cherokee in Oklahoma, but I admit my grasp of Cherokee history was mostly confined to a PBS special. The Wyandot were “free” by the 1830s, they had been accepted as American citizens, which meant they had a very different history than the Cherokee and other tribes who refused to assimilate. They chose to reconstitute as a tribe in the 20th century. Most of my immediate family had already assimiliated, but my grandmother registered with the tribe and my mother became friends with distant cousins in Oklahoma.  I’ve never lived on the reservation, but I do visit and I am a full-fledged voting member of the tribe. And now I’ve brushed up on my Cherokee Nation history and I understand why they were angry, but I still don’t understand why my cousins feel we should join them as our experiences were very different.

The Wyandot consider themselves to be a nation too, but you know – I don’t buy into it. Especially groups like the Cherokee and Wyandot who have no blood quantum standard for membership — it feels a little bit like a scam. Because I am a member of the tribe, I can claim to be an American citizen when it’s convenient. I can vote for President and claim Constitutional protections. When things aren’t convenient, I can claim to be a citizen of the sovereign Wyandot Nation, slip into the Cherokee Nation reservation and they’ll protect me. Literally, I’ve seen them (all of the tribes that share the reservation) circle the wagons (pun intended) and hide someone from outside authority, which walks on egg shells on Indian land. I don’t buy that. It’s having it both ways and that argues against my belief that we’re all pink inside and equality means all races being treated the same under the law.

It’s all predicated on two decisions in the 1830s that were dancing around Indian apartheid. The SCOTUS refused to hear the Georgia case because, they said, they couldn’t determine if Indians were American citizens, sovereign nations outside of the United States authority or some sort of enclave under US protection. Since they refused to rule, transportation – which was what the Cherokee were trying to prevent – was undertaken. Less than a year later, the SCOTUS ruled they were sovereign citizens of their own nation who could resist transportation on their own land, but the Trail of Tears had already begun, so they had no land on which to resist, but also because they weren’t citizens, they had no rights in US courts to protest what was happening to them. Those decisions were used later with other tribes to assert that Indian “nations” didn’t have a right to the land the US gave them by treaty because it was not their ancestral land. Pretty sweet Catch 22 — unless you happened to be a member of one of the unassimilated tribes.

At about the same time, the exact same US government that transported the Cherokee against their will offered the Wyandot money for their land in Ohio and a substitute grant of land in Kansas. The Wyandot agreed if they could become American citizens. The citizens stayed in Kansas when it became an organized territory. Those that didn’t become citizens were transported to Oklahoma in the 1870s, because non-citizen Indians didn’t have any rights. Whoa, there’s a pattern there!

I am not saying what the US and Georgia did to the Cherokee was right. I have some personal theories about how American history would have turned out had the government done things differently, but they didn’t and that can’t be changed. What if wasn’t, which leaves us with what is. Today, because white folks feel guilty for the actions of long-dead white folks against long-dead Indians, Indian nations now have special rights.  I object to that because it continues the cycle of racism and retribution. Can’t we all just be Americans? No white privilege, no Indian pride, just folks? American culture is a crazy quilt of glorious diversity and I love that.  Not only should you respect my culture, but I should respect yours — or at least your right to celebrate it. What would be so wrong with actual post-racial America? That only happens when all American citizens are equal before the law, but if I have special status, then I am more equal than you are. I want to be judged by the content of my character, not the color of my skin.

Now, once again, setting aside the slavery issue and just looking at states rights …

The bombardment of Ft. Sumter was equivalent to the shot heard round the world, when the British moved on vital American interests and the Americans moved from diplomacy to defending themselves. South Carolina seceded from the union in December. Between that time and President Lincoln’s inauguration in March of 1861, the seceding states tried hard to avoid aggression and President Buchanan took no military action, noting that while he believed the states had no constitutional authority to secede, he could find no constitutional authority for him to prevent it. While refusing to allow the resupply of Ft. Sumter, the South offered a peace treaty and to buy the military installations it was asking the Union to vacate. Because Buchanan was a lame-duck president, he didn’t move on those requests, but they could have settled the issue peacefully. Instead, Lincoln came into office and, like King George before him, refused to acknowledge the rights of the people of the seceding states to self-determination and moved to resupply Ft. Sumter, which controlled Charleston Harbor.

Last week, you said no country could be expected to ignore the bombardment of one of its military facilities. True, except that South Carolina had declared its independence and asked what it viewed as an army of occupation to leave. And, there is American precedent for that. No country could be expected to accept the encroachment of an aggressive neighbor in their most vital port. The bombardment of Ft. Sumter was no different than the siege of Boston or the bombardment of New York during the Revolution. For the Southerners, the Union Army were refusing to leave their country when asked peacefully. The Union Army had taken aggressive military action to entrench themselves in a strengthened position in control of a vital South Carolinian national asset. What choice did South Carolina have but to defend its territory or submit to what amounted to colonial tyranny? Had Lincoln taken Buchanan’s view on the situation, the bombardment never would have happened. Instead, he forced the issue and South Carolina moved before he could take control of their harbor.

I don’t know how we can say it was okay for the Americans to stand up against British colonial aggression and protect the arms cache at Concord and yet turn around and say it wasn’t okay when our government took the role of England against the Southern states. It amounted to the same thing.

Secession is in American blood, after all. We seceded from Great Britain in 1776 AFTER they forced the issue. During that war and for several years after, each of the rebelling colonies considered itself a sovereign nation cooperating with a dozen similar sovereigns in a relationship of shared goals. The Articles of Confederation explicitly asserted that each state retained its “sovereignty, freedom and independence”. It was too loose a confederacy to work and the Articles could not be amended, which is why they were replaced by the US Constitution. Most states joining the union were of the belief that they had retained the right of secession. New England threatened twice, the South threatened over tariffs in the 1830s and the border states threatened during the Civil War. Clearly half the states in the union are on record for thinking they had a right to secede.

Just because the Constitution lacks a specifically stated right to secession does not mean there isn’t one. The 10th Amendment states “the powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.” In other words, the federal government was always supposed to be subordinate to the states or to the people — and was until the Civil War. The US Constitution was written by people who believed wholeheartedly in the revolutionary right of a free people to change their government anytime they see fit. They had just done that within their lifetimes. It’s enshrined in the Declaration of Independence. Notably, Abraham Lincoln himself expressed a similar sentiment in 1947 on the floor of the US House of Representatives:

“Any people, anywhere, being inclined and having the power, have the right to rise up and shake off the existing government, and form a new one that suits them better. This is a most valuation, a most sacred right, a right which we hope and believe is to liberate the world.”

I guess “any people, anywhere” did not include the Southern states when he was President. They had no “sacred right”.

James Madison, father of the Constitution, argued in the Convention that the Constitution would be “analogous to conventions among individual states” and  “a breach of any one article by any one party leaves all other parties at liberty to consider the whole of the convention as dissolved.” From the Southern point of view (and I must thank a Southern friend for explaining this to me), the United States had breached several articles of the Constitution and thus the whole of the convention was dissolved.

Thom StarkI don’t think you can argue that prior to the Civil War, most Americans thought that secession was not allowed or that states rights lacked validity. The very way in which the western states were admitted into the union suggests they saw states rights as important. Why was Missouri allowed to be a “slave” state and Kansas was admitted as a “free” state if not because states were recognized as having rights?

But you are entirely right that since that time, most people have been of the opinion that states have no rights, but that’s based on the Union winning the war, not on any changes in the Constitution undertaken by all parties. I’m arguing that states should have their rights restored and that if the federal government continues to force its one-size-fits-all tyranny on the states, they will eventually breed another round of secession and civil war. Recognition of states rights as Constitutionally intended could possibly prevent the dissolution of the union.

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