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Monday, August 26, 2013

When Does Real Broadband Come To Rural America? The Answer Better Include The Word 'Soon'

This post is in response to an excellent Wired article found here being discussed on Google+ right now.

The internet has passed from being a luxury to being a necessity. We use it to shop, pay bills, keep in touch, for entertainment, for learning, and to see the world. In those regards, it's no different than our highway or postal systems, both of which we regard as necessities.

Imagine if you had to travel overland between cities. Imagine how your produce would look if it came to you spoiled because of the time it took to get it to you because of a broken highway system.

If 30% of the US was without electricity or running water, we'd call it unacceptable, yet 70% with "broadband"* is considered acceptable because half of those without are in rural areas (The 2010 census shows 15% of Americans living in towns of 2500 or less or in no community at all).

I'm very familiar with this dichotomy. I live in extremely rural Georgia. Windstream is my telco ISP; no cable ISP or any other copper or fiber options. None. That leaves wireless, and as the article shows, stream one HD movie and you're done for the month. You would have to pay a couple thousand dollars per month in many cases to purchase the overage data allowance you would need to do things on a daily basis that most Americans never think about.

Satellite is no better than wireless as it again caps you at such a low level - 2GB - that  you'd only get through half of one HD movie and you'd be done for the entire month.

It's ridiculous, yet these companies are allowed to call these plans "broadband". The only plan Windstream offers in my area is 3Mbps down, 1Mbps up, and they almost never deliver that. Add to that that their 'packet loss' and 'jitter' are among the highest of any telco ISP and you can't even use a VOIP phone, play online games, watch online movies, or do anything that requires a rock-solid connection.

I've taken the matter up with my US Congressman, but despite being a Democrat, he's one of the handful of Blue Dogs left who take the side of Big Business over that of his constituents. 

The 'white space' ISP concept seems promising, but we're likely years away from seeing that...if it ever happens at all.

Imagine this scenario and see if you think it would be acceptable:  Having gotten tired of being unable to access the same services and products that urban- and suburban-dwellers can, farmers, wood-products producers, mined-minerals producers, energy producers all went on strike. Or maybe not a strike, just a slowdown. 

You go to the grocery, but there's no fresh locally-grown produce at all. Oh, your grocer bought some from 40 times the price you'd been paying for the local stuff. Unacceptable?

You go to put gas in your car. Fortunately, you noticed the price per gallon before you started pumping. It went from about $4/ $160/gallon. Unacceptable?

You decide that driving isn't going to work, so you decide to upgrade your phone. You go to your wireless provider and pick out a phone, then find out that it's gone from $200 with a $8000...with a plan. Unacceptable?

If those things are unacceptable, how is it acceptable that those of us who bring you your food, your lumber, the rare-earth metals and other products that go into your phone, and your fuel have to do without the necessity that true high-speed internet is?

Unacceptable! But you can bet your ass it's coming, because rural Americans are pissed off!

*Broadband is a term the FCC allows to cover much more than what most of us would include in the word. My current Windstream "broadband" is 3Mbps down, 1 up. But I average half that. Wireless and satellite both advertise higher speeds, but give you an unrealistic data cap that averages half an HD movie. That's not broadband, that's an insult.

Civilian Conservation Corps Redux - It's Deja Vu All Over Again At Area 54

The rewiring of America could easily and less-expensively be done with a national service plan like the CCC. 

Besides rebuilding our transportation infrastructure, our electrical grid and fiber optic futures could be secured while simultaneously providing young - and older - with work that anyone would be able to look back on with pride; work that would pay instead of unemployment or other Federal, state, or local aid. Work like our grandfathers were proud to point to and say, "I built that!"

Imagine large tent cities where CCC 'Conservants' come in after a disaster and help communities clean up and rebuild in a matter of weeks rather than long months, or even years like after Katrina. 

Imagine government and industry partnering to provide Master Builders, Master Electricians, Master Masons, Master Plumbers, Master Roofers, Masters of all sort to train apprentices - Conservants - in a trade that they can use the rest of their lives and which will always be needed. 

Imagine that people learn to work together as one rather than pulling each on his own end of the rope so that nothing ever gets done. Imagine those Conservants going back to their communities after their 1-2 years of service to the republic and rather than sowing seeds of discontent, become the new voices of reason, just as millions of our brave warfighters have learned in their times of service.

The Great Recession was far deeper than almost anyone knew. We can point fingers, or we can fix it, but an industrious hand has no time for pointing. 

We have a national need. We have millions still out of work. We have gridlock in Washington, DC. And we have a proud history written in stone, wood, and forestland, the Crown Jewels which are our National Parks. The enduring structures built by our forefathers who served in the CCC are signs that when America wills it, we can - literally, if need be - move mountains. Our will can also protect them. Either way, it takes willpower to do it.

We don't have these testaments to the strength of our American resolve because our leaders thought small. On the contrary, they thought large, they thought in terms of centuries rather than decades, and they thought to wield the greatest weapon in our American arsenal in the war against apathy: American grit.

What we need is a President with the same, built from the steel that Detroit once hammered into the finest cars in the world. We need a President who can grip the reins of this mighty American beast and lead us down the path of renewed national service. 

He or she will certainly face opposition, mainly from Big Business whose current leaders are so blinded by short gains that they can't see the long game. That President will need to channel the man who championed our national park system - Teddy Roosevelt. That President will need to wield the bully pulpit if necessary and not back down from using it. He or she will need to lash opposition with the whip of public shame for failing to take up the cause until such time that they shrink from view and either join the cause, or retire in shame.

Between FEMA, our nation's military, and volunteers with needed skills who can teach Conservants, we can form a cadre.

There are over 11 million unemployed Americans. No single person or politician is to blame for that; we all share in that burden, and in the responsibility for its cause. But it's time to move on. This is how we do it.


Some of you will no doubt say that it will cost too much. I answer that by saying that we're already paying it, we should get something for our money. This will have the added value of an ongoing national service program that can help train those who have no plans for college, or help those who do set aside a special educational fund created just for Conservants.

Yes, it will be an enormous undertaking. Yes, it will require building a cadre. Yes, it will require purchasing equipment or repurposing military equipment and then letting our military have the new replacements.

Yes, it will take resolve. Yes, there will be a rocky path. Yes, there will be corruption. Yes, there will be dissent. Yes, there will be every sort of crime committed by the same demographic wherever they are.

Yes, we can do it.

Or, we can sit on our hands and hope this crisis fixes itself.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Star Trek, Class Warfare, and Workers' Futures

When you watch a movie like any in the Star Trek franchise, you notice that you don't see a lot of industry happening. Why? Well, much of it isn't relevant to the storyline and would even be distracting, but part of it is that so much would have been automated, by then.

Look at modern factories around the world. Cars are largely assembled by robots. Robotic shipping systems send my packages from Amazon to other receiving and sorting systems in other places so that they might make their way to me via the USPS, UPS or FedEx. 

I live in farm country. I remember doing some of the same tasks as a teenager in Summer jobs that I see being done faster and more efficiently by machines, now. Near where I live, a company makes farm equipment and is on the cutting edge of design and innovation. I expect that some of the farm tasks we currently see migrant workers perform will soon be done by machine. Tractors and other equipment are already being fitted with GPS and systems which guide them through fields to plant and harvest with an efficiency that humans alone can't match. 

So, what will happen to people? Are people going to be made irrelevant and useless? I don't think so. I think automation will free us to do the things we want to do, not just the things we have to do. We won't need to direct all of our energies to earn enough to feed our families and ourselves. We will be able to go, explore, see, research, meet, experiment, and do. Automation might be what saves us from ourselves. Think about it, if people have more time to go and meet others, that is to say to meet people unlike themselves and whom they might never meet if they're tied to a job, they're much more likely to come to understand those people and rather than war...we might wage dinner.

But one's keep would still need to be earned. Surely a future in which one need only contribute to the common weal by means other than manual labor or monotonous mental exertion would be able to find niches where each of us could help move the race forward, outward to the stars, and for those who just couldn't break the old mindset, perhaps help them to look out to new horizons beyond Earth's or even Sol's influence.

But there are roadblocks to that utopian future. First, those who currently possess the wealth aren't going to want to part with it easily. They're not going to voluntarily take on a hundred people to support who do no work for their pay, but who simply draw a paycheck. So the first obstacle is figuring out how to insure that wealth and income are more evenly distributed. This might mean massive purchases by government. As ugly as the concept of nationalization is, it might be the only means of avoiding massive unemployment. The alternative is a dystopian 'Elysium'-like future where the wealthy owners live wholly apart from the rest of us in our downtrodden world. In a sense, it's where we are now minus the separation that the future holds. We're already going in that direction; the wealthy pay less tax now than ever, meaning they get to keep their wealth and use it to avoid the very things which have come to burden the rest of us who are kept just above absolute poverty, many living paycheck to paycheck with no real hope of ever getting ahead. Make no mistake, the wealthy like it that way. 

Next, once the wealth and income are distributed more equally, you have to figure out a way to allow innovators special consideration without tipping the balance and returning to the current system of inequity. This will probably lead to more disagreement than any other area save the next one. But note that I said innovators, not investors. There will probably always be a class of people who believe that it's their right to profit as middlemen. There may be a place for them in the future, but not one that I can see.

Under our current system, wealth is usually passed on by inheritance, but inheritance will necessarily disappear - other than family mementos - in a crowded world. Do the math. If in one generation, 10% of the world's land area is owned, then that percentage will only grow in time. At some future point, it will all be owned, but the population will have exploded, increasing almost exponentially. So, because a relative few families own so much, many others must do without anything at all. That's not fair. It's not fair to future generations who would stand no chance to own something themselves.

The only fair way is the way some societies do it: When a person dies, his house and land are returned to public holding. If he has a family, then of course they can remain in that house, but it passes into their name on loan, not in perpetuity. If several family members died and left no one to occupy their homes, those would go back to public holding. Essentially, we would be saying that this Earth belongs to all of us, not just a handful of us; we just borrow it and therefore accept responsibility for keeping it maintained for future generations in return for free rent. A great deal of flexibility would accrue to the property holders so that they would be able to modify the properties as they saw fit as long as no permanent damage was done and the property was returned in at least as good shape as when it was given for use.

We would want to establish criteria for participation, too. Not work in the sense we see it now, but pitching in when new technologies need to be built or where talent could be utilized, something to earn one's keep.

On the one hand, there's Utopia, and on the other its opposite, dystopia. Our future probably lies in between those two extremes. We can make the same deal that we have for the last few thousand years and continue to go nowhere in fixing the problems that the 99% experience, or we can do as Albert Einstein suggested when he noted that insanity is doing the same thing over and over but expecting something different: We can change the way people see each other. We can treat others, everyone, as equals, even if we disagree with them. We can stop looking down at the family with the rundown car and clothes purchased at Walmart and we can start accepting that they too matter, just as much as anyone else.

Does that sound Utopian? If so, then it's probably the opposite that we deserve.

A Path To Our Republic's Future - Learning To Pull As One

We were taught, and we taught our children, that individualism is the highest form of freedom, but we failed to learn the lessons that our parents and grandparents learned from the Great Depression and two World Wars, times that brought the republic together through national service, much of which was in the military.

We've forgotten that the infrastructural backbone of our nation was built in part by the CCC or Civilian Conservation Corps. The Corps built roads where none previously existed, bridges that span our nation's waterways and chasms, and the built-to-last structures we see in our National Parks and National Forests. Along the way, people learned trades that served them well the rest of their lives, they helped build the engine which powered America's greatest growth boom, and they often made friends for life serving alongside their fellows. They learned to pull together rather than pull apart.

I envision a modern CCC wherein every able-bodied citizen - and I consider many who are deemed 'disabled' to be able to help as they may - serves 1-2 years depending on job skills and possibly the ability to "re-enlist" for 1 term of 1-2 years, all of whom help our republic recover from the deeply-damaging Great Recession. I see Conservants help to rebuild our parks, roads, and bridges, and help lay a network of fiber optic trunks and dark fiber that will continue to serve us long into the future. I see them helping lay tens of thousands of miles of underground power cable, bringing electricity from the great wind farms of the Midwest and West to our cities and rural areas not capable of generating enough wind energy to meet their own needs. I see them building solar collection farms. I see them helping to clean up toxic waste dumps. I see Conservants laying the bricks and mortar on new government buildings built in a grand fashion to last rather than the brick-facade, steel building, temporary structures we now see. These would be monuments to the CCC's past and future accomplishments, built in a manner that will allow them to be flexible for future remodeling and which will stand to remind us that universal service is a boon for our society.

We see the path that crass commercialism, rampant runaway capitalism, and mass consumption has taken us down, all of what we've wrought being the result of individualism. A new CCC would again show us what the value of teamwork can accomplish. It would show us that it's far better to get to know our neighbors than to remain fearful of them through our ignorance. And a new CCC would elevate our republic back to the top spot among nations, not through idle boast, but through the quiet acknowledgement that comes from one's peers at a job well done. We would again achieve a status worth emulation rather than revulsion, and would do so by means of care and tender concern for that we love rather than ugly show of force abroad.

Our republic still reels under the staggering weight of the Great Recession, an economic kill switch on our future unless we rewire our way of thinking. We need a boost from within rather than a loan from without. The time has come for us to return to a program whose grand achievements still stand as reminders of what we can do when we pull as one.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Political Zombies and Vampires - Dealing With The Undead In The Next Election

I was wrong before when I thought that the political center couldn't be falsely spiked any further to the right, but now I believe people when they say that there's still plenty of crazy to go around among Conservatives. 

They're already so close to the edge that Google Maps shows them to be in 'Heere Bee Dragons' territory, but they've got their parkas and tinfoil hats on, strapped into their kayaks, and they're ready for the plunge over the Rim of the World with all moral compasses pointing due South.

Maybe they'll see the giant tortoise on whose back rests the Flat Earth that so many in their party believe in on their way down...out...up...or where-the-hell-ever it is they're headed.

I'm not sure that even they know, anymore.

The Tea Party wants to steam full ahead with every divisive tactic they have in their arsenal. I think they might, one day, miss having people who, you know, cast votes. I want to say that nothing would please me more than the Tea Party's passing, but I've been wrong about "misunderestimating" political craziness before. I might actually find that, in the future, they're the sane party on the Right. Just not right now. 

I saw a daytime photo of Ted Cruz, Michelle Bachmann, and Rand Paul together, yesterday. First of all, I didn't think that those people actually showed up in photos or mirrors much less could withstand the sunlight. But I thought I caught a glimpse of Bachmann's wife...sorry, husband...flipping me off in one of those Harry Potter-type photos where the subjects actually move around. It scared me less than it should have; I guess I'm getting used to the Politically Undead.

It seems like Hillary will probably run in 2016. That's a good thing, I think. The Right will be lined up against her and may trip themselves up trying to prevent her from staging Occupy West Wing. It's going to be a bloodbath, whatever happens. If she has any skeletons left in her closet, they're bound to get their bones rattled. This is once where osteoporosis might be your friend, if you're her; the skeletons could crumble and take the wind out of the rightwing nutfudge fringe's sails. 

It's just as likely that they'll tear themselves to pieces in the primaries. I'm buying popcorn futures as I type this. I smell blood, and it's got Type V for Vampire written all over it.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Post-Disaster Fraud and Victim Abuses; What Happens When FEMA Fumbles

This is an excellent Utne Reader long-read piece here on the legalized fraud after Katrina, and probably occurring after Sandy and the multiple tornado disasters in the Midwest, too. 

The officials at ICF, one of the for-profit organizations mentioned in the article, ought to be ashamed of themselves, but I'm sure a quick thought about their bank accounts helps to assuage any pang of guilt they might suffer. Frankly, the DOJ needs to take a hard look at ICF and other contractors and subcontractors. I bet you can't swing a dead cat without hitting a fraudster, but it's unlikely they'll ever be prosecuted, or even indicted. If the crime is big enough, so is the parachute. 

Add to all that that this is Louisiana we're talking about, a state where fraud, graft, and collusion not only have homes, but have bank accounts, IRAs, and beach houses (complete with bodies in the foundations). 

When I read that FEMA had paid $229K each for those crappy little 300 square foot trailers (shipping and setup included!), I almost shat my kidneys. Whiskey Tango Foxtrot, FEMA? Are you guys drunk, stoned, or just so goddamned stupid that maybe the next time you need to buy something, you should send a teenager with a credit card, because they couldn't do any fucking worse! 

Tell me, who had his hand in somebody's pocket on that deal? I don't know what you got besides a bunch of grossly overpriced mobile homes, but I bet you had to see your proctologist and get a shot for it!

I know, I know, we'll never be free from fraud as long as humans are involved. But when the fraud occurs to those who have already suffered so much, who have lost everything, and whom the system has squatted and crapped on, it's exponentially worse. 

Monday, August 19, 2013

Response to Sanjay Sanghoee's blog on HuffPo

The current class war began January 20, 1981, the day that Ronald Reagan took office. He and Nancy made it a point to undo the populism that Jimmy Carter had brought to the White House, with Nancy infamously holding $5M cocktail parties while the country went through 3 separate recessions, all caused by what his former-opponent-cum-Vice-President George HW Bush had labeled 'Voodoo Economics' or what came to be known as 'Trickle-Down Economics'. 

Reagan was a strong proponent of privatization and of limited government. You have to ask yourself why. Why do the wealthy want limited government? Is it just because they want lower taxes? No, that's not all. Limited government means limited power to oversee things like predatory lending, byzantine derivatives, shoddy work at top-tier prices, sub-standard materials in things like roads and bridges, and on and on. If they can get by on the cheap, they pocket the difference. If they can get by without that pesky guy from the Labor Bureau looking over their records, they can pay people whatever they want and pretend they only worked half as many hours, thereby pocketing the tax difference.

Take every "white collar" crime you've heard of from Martha Stewart's insider information to defense contractors underbidding and overcharging. Make 10,000 copies of each crime, then mix them all up and scatter them piecemeal all over your list of corporations. That's what privatization will lead to, but it will conveniently skip that annoying indictment and prosecution process and won't lead to jail, but to a new cabana in the USVI.

Privatization is the glue that binds class warfare as well as the engine that powers it. If the wealthy own it, the government can't very easily control it, and when they own every-damned-thing, the government will be a toothless tiger. 

Remember what the poet John Donne said, and think about it in a privatization context: "If a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less. As well as if a promontory were. As well as if a manor of thy friend's or of thine own were." 

When we allow a single piece of public property that should remain in public holding to pass to privatization, America will be the less.

Saturday, August 17, 2013

In Defense of Intellectual Liberal Bias

Both denial of rigor and denial of objective truth are functions of neoconservatism as manifests in the Tea Party movement and in objectivism. One has no further to look than a brief watch of Fox News or any of the other conservative news outlets to see it in practice.

The liberal bias which intelligence takes is that it prefers on the side of flexible humanism rather than the dogmatic, theocratic reality of conservatism in any form.

This bias manifests as concern for the present and future - both of which can be manipulated and remain transmogrifiable - than for pining for an imagined and concrete past to the point of rewriting it to fit one's paradigm.

It manifests as fascination with the truth that only science can provide rather than the veneration of creationist myths.

Liberal bias means searching for the truth in whether it's better to be materially wealthy or fraternally rich.