Archive for the ‘Thom Thursday’ Tag

The Conversation Continues   Leave a comment

Christian AnarchyLast week, Thom responded to my double-post and this week we continue the conversation on interventionism.

 

Thom Stark is the author American Sulla, an apocalyptic thriller series. Lela Markham is the author of Transformation Project, an apocalyptic dystopian series. Both these series look at America following nuclear terrorism.

Thom Responds on Interventionism   2 comments

The last couple of weeks (Here and Here), I played devil’s advocate by putting on the perspective of the countries we meddle with and asking the question “Might the US be the reason the world is such an unstable place?” This week, Thom replies to me.

Thom StarkYou have an … unusual … view of history, to say the least. I’m afraid it’s also more than a little misinformed – again, to say the least. Two weeks worth of your essays have created quite a collection of topics, so, rather than going through them point by point, I’ll try to confine myself to addressing the major ones.

Except your “sympathy for the devil” discourse on Hitler, that is. That one is simply too egregiously wrong for me to duck.

Adoph Hitler was born in 1889. Far from being a 10-year-old boy, in 1918 he was a corporal serving as an artilleryman in the German army. His experiences on the front lines inspired in him a lifelong hatred of Germany’s officer class, based on his resentment about having been repeatedly passed over for promotion, while officers he considered incompetent were awarded medals and promotions of their own. (He talks in considerable detail, and with great heat about those experiences and his contempt and anger towards the military in his autobiographical book, My Battle, btw.)

Nowhere in your imaginative portrait do you account for the future Fuhrer’s deeply irrational antipathy towards Jews, Gypsies, homosexuals, communists, and intellectuals, all of whom would be targets of systematic pogroms after he became Reichschancellor. Nor do you seem to in any way acknowledge his galloping megalomania, paranoia, and determination to dominate, control, and modify to his liking every single aspect of German civil life – all of which contributed to Germany becoming a menace to world civilization as the putative Thousand-year Reich. And, again, all of that, along with his blueprint for conquest and subjugation, first of Europe, then of the entire world, I know, not because it was spoon-fed to me by rote, but because, as a teenager, I actually read Mein Kampf. About the same time, I also read Paul L. Shirer’s massive, detailed, and thoroughly-documented The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich – a book I also recommend to you.

Likewise, your portrayal of the liberal/corporate elite meeting to conspire to change the character of America seems equally cockeyed to me. Just as a single example, J. Pierpont Morgan’s U.S. Steel cartel was dismantled by Theodore Roosevelt’s trust-busters. When Morgan offered to make any changes the Justice Department required (including substantial divestments) in order to allow his steel monopoly to continue, he was informed that there were no changes he could possibly make in order to satisfy the Feds – and that they were determined to end his monopoly, and make a very public example of him in the process. That he would then conspire with Teddy’s cousin to bring about a novus ordum seculorum is risible, at best.

And T.R. himself was a big fan of interventionism, as well. Spanish-American War, anyone? Moro Rebellion, perhaps?

Your explanation of the roots of WWI is equally flawed. The assassination of Archduke Ferdinand was merely the final act of a long-building confrontation between the Germanies and the allies of Western Europe. When Austria declared war on Serbia over the assassination, Germany was obligated by treaty to follow suit – which then, in turn, brought France and England into the war because of their treaty obligations to Serbia. By the time of the sinking of the Lusitania – the event that precipitated the U.S. entry into active conflict with Germany – it’s true enough that the English were blockading German ports. It is also true, however, that Germany was doing its best to return the favor. It was just a lot harder for them to cut off access by sea to England than it was for the British navy to shut down German ports, because of their respective geographies (England controlled Gibraltar, so it could exclude trans-Atlantic cargo from access to conquered Mediterranean ports, and the German ones were all Baltic-facing, and conveniently close to one another for blockade purposes).

Churchhill’s after-the-fact rationalization notwithstanding, the sinking of the Lusitania is what forced us into the war. It was a passenger liner, and in no sense a legitimate target for the German navy. Public outrage over its sinking left Franklin Roosevelt and Congress no choice but to formally declare war.

Speaking of which, your father knew exactly why we entered WWII – because the Japanese navy conducted a sneak attack on Pearl Harbor, in a bid to foreclose our navy from opposing their planned invasion of the Phillipines. (The fact that the Japanese ambassador had orders to present the President with a declaration of war half an hour before the scheduled attack isn’t well-known – he got caught in traffic on the way to the White House, btw – but it wouldn’t have made any difference, because Japan’s formal declaration of war would have obligated Germany to declare war on us, as well.) It was only in the wake of the allied invasion of the German homeland that the reality of the death camps had any meaningful impact on the American public’s perception of the true horrors of Nazism. Before that, they were just “the bad guys” because they had declared war on us after the Japanese surprise attack.

And I know that, because, as a child, I voraciously read my father’s collection of Yank, the armed forces newspaper, with its many first-person accounts of war in Europe and the Pacific, and its detailed portraits of life on the front lines by reporters such as the great Ernie Pyle.

Yes, our Lend-Lease program infuriated Hitler. But, nonetheless, he was never willing to unilaterally declare war on us, because he knew full well that America would add enormously to Allied power, should it become a combatant. The Japanese bombing attack on Pearl Harbor and Hickam Air Field forced his hand.

Treaty obligations, you know?

But let’s talk about American post-WWII interventionism.

If you expect me to defend the CIA’s policy of covertly destabilizing leftist regimes during the Cold War, I’m going to have to disappoint you. It’s important, though, to realize that the Agency’s geopolitical machinations were a product of the Dulles brothers dominance of foreign policymaking at the time. John Foster Dulles, Eisenhower’s Secretary of State, was a rabid anti-communist, and his brother Alan was Director of the CIA. Between them, they managed to create incredible ill-will toward this country in the name of fighting the global spread of communism – and, more importantly, they did so in the most foolishly short-sighted and counterproductive possible manner. And that same policy of destabilizing left-leaning governments and installing repressive, autocratic, often military governments in their place didn’t end with les frères Dulles, either. It continued throughout the Cold War, everywhere from Peru to Grenada.

Nor was that the worst of the CIA’s sins. The disastrous Bay of Pigs invasion was an Agency operation – and so was the Gulf of Tonkin “incident.” That was a completely manufactured causus belli. It was the pretext on which Congress authorized introducing American combat troops into the Vietnam conflict, and it was a complete fliction. Not even President Johnson knew that the CIA had simply made it up out of whole cloth, manufacturing every bit of evidence, to force us into physical conflict with North Vietnam – whose overtures for American assistance John Foster Dulles had contemptuously rejected when Ho Chi Minh approached the State Department for help in overthrowing the French colonial occupation of the North.

So I think we agree on the issue of CIA culpability for American interventionism during the Cold War.

We’re also in agreement about the calamitous invasion of Iraq in 2003. About whether we were justified in leading a coalition to eject Iraqi forces from Kuwait, maybe not as much, though. There, Iraq was, in fact, the unprovoked aggressor, overrunning the country of Kuwait in order to appropriate its oil fields. Our treaty obligations to Kuwait forced us into war with Iraq over that invasion. Yes, it’s true that we had previously supplied Saddam Hussein with weapons and financial support in his wars with Iran. Whether that was a good idea or not is arguable. It certainly kept Iranian expansionism contained at no cost in American lives. What’s inarguable is that our invasion of Iraq to topple his regime was utterly misbegotten. There was no justification for that, Judith Miller’s recent aplogism notwithstanding, because the actual intelligence community assessment was that Saddam’s Iraq posed zero direct threat to the USA. Iinstead, it was the cherry-picked intelligence that the never-to-be-sufficiently-condemned Douglas Feith (the odious Wormtongue to Dick Cheney’s Saruman the Black) dredged up from among the dissenters to the consensus view that was used to justify the invasion to the UN and the American people.

That disastrous adventure was prompted not by the CIA – which opposed it – but by the vision of the neo-con nitwits at the Project for a New American Century. PNAC was a think tank from which emerged most of the staffers for Cheney’s Office of the Vice-President, as well as highly-placed members of the Defense and State departments under the Bush administration. Their thesis was that America should embrace its role as the world’s policeman, and impose regime change on rogue nations by force. One of their central tenents was the the USA needed a permanent military base in the heart of the Middle East from which it could with impunity project power throughout the region. That was music to Cheney’s ears, and, with the lure of all that high-grade Iraqi crude just waiting for Halliburton Corporation to exploit, it constituted the impetus for invasion and conquest of Iraq.

It was the PNAC idiots – Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, and Paul Wolfowitz among them – who advocated and pushed through that invasion in the wake of 9/11 … which was entirely a pretext, because they’d been plotting the takeover of Iraq since the very outset of the Bush 43 era. Throughout, they remained purposefully blind to the consequences of that entirely-unprovoked aggression: the destabilization of the principal bulwark against Iran, the inevitable disintegration of Iraq as a political entity, and the inflaming of Islamic enmity towards the U.S., despite being repeatedly warned of the probability of those outcomes by CIA and State Department analysts who (unlike the ideologues of PNAC) had made careers out of studying and trying to understand the region. And, likewise, having been repeatedly cautioned that the all-volunteer military’s strength was completely inadequate for the task of occupying a hostile country the size and unruliness of Iraq (cautions that cost a number of highly-capable generals their careers under Rumsfeld, who demoted or reassigned them to dead-end postings, replacing them with bootlickers and yes-men).

So that, too, is an area on which we agree.

However, you’re way, way off base in asserting that the CIA was behind either the Orange Revolution in Ukraine, or the toppling of Viktor Yanukovich’s government. Yanukovich was the architect of his own downfall, as documented in the New York Times investigative piece titled Ukraine Leader Was Defeated Even Before He Was Ousted:

http://www.nytimes.com/2015/01/04/world/europe/ukraine-leader-was-defeated-even-before-he-was-ousted.html

It was Yanukovich’s fateful decision to order his police to fire on peaceful, unarmed protesters that lost him the support of his own allies, including the Ukrainian military. And his ouster was not illegal under Ukrainian law, because Ukraine’s parlaiment voted to remove him from office. In other words, Ukraine’s elected government declared him unfit to be President and removed him from office, not the CIA. Only Putin and his propaganda organs insist the CIA was involved – and Putin, as you well know, has a long history of lying with his bare face hanging out whenever it’s politically convenient for him to do so.

On the other hand, I can’t blame him for taking advantage of the situation to take control of Crimea. It had always been part of Russian until Nikita Khrushchev (who, let’s note, was himself Ukranian) transferred it to Ukraine in 1954. Nor do I disagree that a partition of modern Ukraine into a rump state and a Russian province is unlikely. In fact, that’s probably been Putin’s goal all along.

Lela Markham Davidson Ditch CorrectedNone of which invalidates my central thesis that the current balance of world power, in general, is a product of the Cold War-era global American military empire. I’m not now, and never have been, an advocate of military interventionism, except as required by our treaty obligations. I’m convinced that we shoud go to war only as a last resort, and only against an active aggressor’s actual military invasion of an allied nation’s soil. However, as a lifelong student of history, I well understand that creating a power vacuum inevitably leads to armed conflict among nations that might benefit from attempting to fill that vacuum. That’s why I advocate keeping our military empire, purely as a deterrent to such would-be opportunists. If we should abandon our military presence in Europe, it would unquestionably provoke war between Germany and Russia over the historic buffer state of Poland. Likewise, if we pulled out of Japan, South Korea, and Thailand, that would precipitate a war between Japan and China for control of the Spratly Islands in the North China Sea. In both cases, treaty obligations would force us to intervene. Without the bases necessary to effectively project conventional military power in those regions, nuclear war would result.

And that would be the ultimate – and final – intervention.

Thom Stark is the author American Sulla, an apocalyptic thriller series. Lela Markham is the author ofTransformation Project, an apocalyptic dystopian series. Both these series look at America following nuclear terrorism.

The Conversation Continues   Leave a comment

Christian AnarchyYou know how it is. Sometimes your day just gets busy. Hang on for Thom Stark.

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.

Lela on Federal Overreach   Leave a comment

Thom had something come up, so I’m posting instead. Thom’s latest article highlighted some very interesting issues of crony capitalism and government competing against private enterprise. I don’t want to venture far from that, so I’m mainly expanding upon my reply from last week.

Chattanooga’s fiber optic case is an example of government stepping into a role where private enterprise is available to do the job. In stark contrast, you have Michigan and other states banning Tesla’s direct sales in order to protect existing industries, which is a form of crony capitalism. Neither of these are states’ rights issues. Last week, I explained that the solution to these issues is not setting aside state sovereignty. When government, whether federal or state, picks winners and losers in the marketplace it reduces competition which ultimately harms the consumer by saddling them with higher costs and fewer options.

I “get” why the City of Chattanooga wants a fiber optic system. It allows a smart grid system that will give the municipality total control over the electric consumption in people’s homes. That’s not how they advertise it, of course, but that is the natural outcome. I fail to see a direct benefit to electric consumers of having the government in control of their electric consumption, but further, I just plain object to the use of federal dollars to provide cable television to a local market already served by commercial providers. Here’s an article on the subject:  http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/the-switch/wp/2013/09/17/how-chattanooga-beat-google-fiber-by-half-a-decade/.

I would note that here in Alaska, many services are or previously were provided by government because no private providers existed. Growing up our electric, water, sewer, and phone were provided by the City of Fairbanks and if they had not provided those services … private enterprises would have developed to provide them. How do I know? Because outside of Fairbanks’ city limits, an electrical cooperative was formed to provide electricity, a telephone company was created to provide telephone, and a water company came into being to provide water to the urban area just outside the city limits. It took longer, but it happened. Eventually, the electric cooperative bought the municipal electric company, the telephone utility was sold to a private telecom and the water company took over the water and sewer system (this was not a money-maker and the City essentially gave it away). They even found a buyer for the district steam heat utility. All of these government utilities are in private hands, even in the very government-heavy state of Alaska.

Tesla is a different situation and a prime example of crony capitalism. GM and Ford provide a great deal of tax revenue to states like Michigan. Tesla does not. When these moribund corporations whined that they couldn’t compete against this newer company, Michigan chose to support the companies that provide the state with revenue rather than the competitor who doesn’t. I don’t agree with that. I’m just explaining how it worked. That is crony capitalism at its most bald, protecting entrenched industries against new competition.

And, if you involved the federal government …?

We actually know how that would turn out because it already has. The federal government bought GM for a period of time to keep it from going out of business. It heavily subsidized Chrysler. Crony capitalism exists at all levels of government, but it is particularly egregious at the federal level. If Tesla isn’t allowed to sell cars in Michigan, state residents can find a way to purchase the car in another state. It’s inconvenient, but doable. If the federal government decides something can’t be sold in the United States — now it’s a much larger issue that affects us all.

Neither of these issues is a states’ rights issue. We have lots of examples where the federal government imposes a one-size-fits-all standard on the entire country that doesn’t make sense for some states. I brought up the issue of Positive Train Control, which might have some benefits in the Lower 48, particularly on the dense Northeast rail network, but is going to shut down passenger train service in Alaska, where it isn’t even needed.

Here are some examples of other federal overreach. The one that catches my eye is the EPA’s proposed cutting of 30% of carbon dioxide emissions from coal plants by 2030.  This is another example where some states can easily achieve this, but others (Alaska) cannot. Obviously solar energy is not going to work for us. Wind energy works great where there’s lots of wind, but no so much in the still Tanana Valley. Geothermal would be amazing, but for practical reasons we haven’t built our communities on the sides of volcanoes. The vast majority of our electric generation in Alaska comes from coal and we have an 800-year supply at current consumption levels. So a 30% reduction in carbon dioxide emissions from coal plants likely means at least a 25% reduction in electrical usage here in Alaska.

Can you imagine what not having electricity means in Alaska? Just imagine what it means where you live and then imagine it where the winter nights are 20 hours long and the temperatures drop to -50F without wind chill.

Now break the illusory icicles off your beard and consider why I might think a one-size-fits-all federal standard for everything is a really bad idea.

 

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 States Rights   1 comment

Thom Stark and I are engaged in friendly debate about our societal divisions. Last week he offered his take on things. This week, I’m offering two articles in response. Here’s what I wrote yesterday. It will be fun to see which adventure Thom chooses.

 

Lela Markham Davidson Ditch CorrectedI don’t think we need to discuss the evils of chattel slavery any longer, but the Civil War was an unnecessary abuse of federal power. I’m going to engage in a bit of speculative history here. Just prior to the secession, there was a somewhat disorganized move for an Article V convention of the states to propose amendments to the Constitution that would have addressed the slavery issue within a few years. It was one of the reasons the Southern states seceded when they did. The European cotton glut was coming as was the depletion of Southern soils by overplanting. Regardless of the slavery issue, the South was headed for a severe economic depression. if the North had simply waited, the Southern states would have needed help in five years anyway and they might have returned, willing to give up slavery for the security of being part of the union. I can’t prove something that didn’t happen, but a study of conditions surrounding the Civil War suggests the possibility that Reconstruction could have been a voluntary restructuring without the war or the abuse. If not, we’d have another Mexico south of the Mason-Dixon line and east of the Mississippi – poor, struggling, but proudly defiant – and probably sending illegal immigrants across our border to bring home wages to the Confederacy.

Instead of finding a peaceful constitutional solution, the North prosecuted the Civil War and Reconstruction, which settled nothing beyond that “might makes right” and if one section of a country holds another section’s nose in something disgusting long enough, everyone’s  children won’t miss the rights that they never knew they had. Often their grandchildren or great-grandchildren rediscover them, especially if they read the Constitution and the writings of the Founders. You got to love the Internet for giving us access to those great writings that the public schools worked hard to treat so shallowly when  we were growing up.

States’ rights were part and parcel and guaranteed in the Founding and they didn’t go away. They just got beaten into submission for a century and a half and now they’re back. This time, they have a much more compelling argument. chattel slavery was against American ideals and was bound to fail for economic reasons. Tocqueville foresaw its demise when he floated the Ohio River. Today, liberty – the idea that an individual has a right to live as he or she wishes so long as they are not harming others – is a much prettier ideal. It’s not going to be popular with people who want to be taken care of, but for those of us who aren’t afraid to trust ourselves, it’s a compelling proposal that plays to the Founding principles of the nation.

Centralized government is the enemy of individual rights. Again, de Tocqueville recognized this, noting that a single voice crying to Paris would never be heard in the massive bureaucracy that was the French government in 1820s, but that in the United States, individuals did not need to be heard in Washington because we had local, county and state governments and those were much easier to petition and mostly free of federal control so that they could actually accommodate the individual. If an issue was big enough that we needed a louder voice (to be heard in DC perhaps), individuals in America formed associations and these were very effective. He also noted a tendency in America where individuals and communities would simply ignore laws from Washington DC  that they didn’t agree with. Although admitting that such freedom would never fly in France,  he thought these to be strengths in America that we should not lose sight of.

We have lost sight of them, largely owing to the abuse of the South by the North during Reconstruction. I don’t think we can appreciate how much that has affected the entire country. whenever Alaska mentions that we appear to have a colonial relationship with the rest of the country and that we think we might do better on our own, we are immediately bombarded with the message that such an attempt would lead to war and reconstruction. I always think, “Why?” If we do it peacefully and maintain friendly relations with the country most of us were born in, why does secession have to lead to war? Why can’t a state decide that it wants a little separation from der Mother Counter for its own benefit? Our Founders mostly thought that was what they were ratifying when they signed onto the Constitution.  We lost that after the Civil War and the idea that we must all look to Washington DC for permission to “plant and sow” has gradually infused the society.

Thom StarkI think that top-down system that does not take individual and regional differences into account is one of the factors leading to the extremism we see in the country today. It’s not that red states or blue states are stupid or even equal but that we are refusing to accept each other’s differences as equally valid in a free society. The population centers tend to think their way is what we all should do because they have the concentrated population to outvote those in less densely populated parts of the country, which is reflected in the electoral map. It’s not even the tyranny of the majority – it’s the tyranny of concentration of the population and how our votes are counted. We’ve been in this deadlock long enough to know that it is not a temporary condition. The blue states thought they had conquered the electoral nation, but it looks like the red states are on the ascendency. Which isn’t going to solve anything. It’s the same old tug-of-war. Sooner or later something is going to break and the question is:

Will we find a peaceful solution or resort to civil war again?

Lela on Group Politics and the Evil of Special Interests   2 comments

Thom Stark and I are engaged in friendly debate about our societal divisions. Last week he offered his take on things.

 

DSC01494Seriously, Thom? Us and them? How can there be a definable“us”? Given the group politics of our era it’s at best a moving target.

How does an elected official (or, worse an unelected bureacrat) decide whose values are higher?  Southern politicians thought they were protecting “us” (whites) against “them” (blacks) by passing Jim Crow laws. Today white racists are “them” and non-racists of all colors are “us” … or are they? I’m a member of an Indian tribe and on the reservation, white people are “them”. My cousins talk about “them” like lower animals and do it in front of me, because I’m supposed to be a member of the tribe and hostile to white people, but they forget that I spend most of my life as just a person among  people. The law says Indians are allowed to discriminate against Thom Stark (and my husband Brad) on the reservation.  It’s racist as hell, but the tribal coucil and my cousins don’t see that. It’s just “us” and “them”.

Government officials like herds. They’re easier to direct , control and marginalize. It is easier to choose winners and losers among groups and to ascribe antisocial motives to individuals who fail to comply with their herd.  It’s also easier for the officials to justify marginalizing one group over another based on the selected criteria of the moment.  A century ago as an Indian woman, I had no rights in American society. That wasn’t in the Constitution, but government officials said my grandmother was a member of a group that was outside the law and therefore had no rights. Now as an individual I have all the rights that you do, but as a member of a group, I have the authority (I won’t deign to call it a “right”) to discriminate against you on the Rez because elected officials (the tribal council) say I may do that and federal officials have agreed the council has the authority to make that judgment. Wow, that sounds suspiciously like a Jim Crow law, doesn’t it?

Thom StarkI don’t see you as a member of some “other” group. I see you as an individual and it is a whole lot harder to look an individual in the eye and treat him as if he weren’t really human. Special interest politics has gone by a lot of different names, but it really comes down to limiting the opportunities and marginalizing the humanity some people in order to maximize the opportunity and magnify the humanity others. It’s choosing winners and losers in society and patting ourselves on our backs for our continued lack of self-awareness.

 

I’m running out of time to post today and covering both of Thom’s topics in a concise manner has proven difficult, so this is going to be a two-parter.

Stay Tuned for Thom Stark   Leave a comment

Thom StarkThe conversation continues ….

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