Ajit Pai, Chairman of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), is at it again, undercutting support for dissemination of broadband internet service when it doesn’t suit the interests of major telecommunications companies. His latest effort involves capping spending on the FCC’s Universal Service programs, which are intended to make broadband available to poor urban neighborhoods and underserved rural areas. Mr. Pai and the other two Republican commissioners on the five person board have voted for the plan, and the next step will be a three month public comment period before the commissioners take a final vote. If most people commenting on the plan are against it, then Mr. Pai and his fellow Republican commissioners will likely ignore their wishes and subvert the comment period with shenanigans intended to muddy the waters, just as they did two years ago with the net neutrality rule change.
Government support – or lack of it – for promoting broadband internet service for the entire country is a mishmash of conflicting goals, regulations, and laws at the federal, state, and municipal levels. The FCC under Mr. Pai serves the interests of telecommunications companies, which often do not coincide with those of citizens, while paying lip service to broadband service for all. The current president, who appointed Mr. Pai chairman, is hopelessly muddled in his understanding of the aims and actions of his own administration, as he demonstrated once again in his recent comments about how farmers cannot connect benefit their operations by connecting to broadband service because of deficient infrastructure in the countryside. Of course he and his followers do not care about the facts behind that deficiency, and he may get around as he always does to blaming Barack Obama and Democrats generally for the problem while he does nothing to alleviate it and his administration actively makes it worse.
A United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) photo of a crew installing electric service lines in the countryside. The Rural Electrification Act of 1936 brought service to underserved areas through electric cooperatives owned by members, bypassing private utilities which saw little profit in the enterprise.
State legislatures around the country continue passing laws intended to cripple the ability of municipalities to take matters into their own hands and get broadband service to small towns and outlying areas. The legislators, mostly Republican, pass these laws at the behest of lobbyists for the major telecommunications companies, who claim services provided by municipalities would undercut their ability to compete. But the big companies aren’t interested in competing in small towns and the boonies anyway! Really they’re afraid it’s a good idea that will spread, and therefore they attack it as socialism, by which they mean it’s bad. Large telecommunications companies, like the large banks, are all for socialism when it benefits them.
The Flintstones: “They’re the modern stone age family!”
Municipal governments and regional electric cooperatives are the only groups trying to ensure broadband service for poor and rural citizens, and trying to do it without price gouging. They get little help from federal and state governments, which often work either at cross purposes are try to undermine their efforts, again with the strings being pulled behind the scenes by Verizon, AT&T, Comcast, Charter, Sprint, and the rest of the big telecommunications companies. Naturally absolutely everyone says they are all for expanding broadband internet service at reasonable rates to poor and underserved areas – who wouldn’t come out in favor of that? – but the actions of many legislators, regulators, and company executives tell a different story. It would be best for citizens – customers – if everyone from the top down in government and private industry worked consistently and uniformly toward the one goal they all claim to be their mission, which is better serving the public, no matter who they are or where they live.
On Monday, five Georgia state legislators introduced a bill that would require all men over the age of 55 to report to law enforcement every time they ejaculate sperm. The bill obviously has no chance of passing, and is meant to make a statement about a bill that did recently pass which makes abortion illegal in Georgia after about six weeks of pregnancy, when doctors can detect a heartbeat from the fetus, but also more generally about how men, particularly older, white men, use legislation to exercise control over women’s bodies.
The nation’s abortion laws are constantly under attack, predominantly from groups on the religious right. They seem to think they are the only ones concerned with the ethical issues surrounding abortion, as if the women facing that choice have little or no concern about ethics. There are women as well as men in the anti-abortion groups. The women should know better than the men the difficult nature of the decision to abort a pregnancy, yet they still favor taking the decision away from the person most concerned with making it.
Micrograph by scanning electron microscope of human sperm cells magnified 3140 times. Pore size of the polycarbonate filter in the background is 1µm, or 1 micrometer.
Since the ethical questions will likely never be sorted out to the satisfaction of all parties, we can only resort to legal answers. There is in this country something called the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution. Since it was adopted shortly after the Civil War, it was initially intended to apply to recently freed slaves, to ensure they received equal protection as citizens under the law regardless of their former status. The Equal Protection Clause has been invoked on behalf of many other causes in the past 150 years, and it seems it should apply to the abortion debate regarding how one class of citizens – women – are subject to laws that do not apply to another class of citizens – men.
Of course there are many physiological differences between men and women, perhaps the most important being that men do not carry an egg, fertilized or not. Men do contribute their sperm toward fertilizing women’s eggs. It seems that if men are not willing to cede legal control of their sperm to make sure it does not contribute to unwanted fertilization of eggs, then they should be willing to relinquish all legal oversight of fertilized eggs in women’s bodies. The eggs reside in women; that’s just the way it is.
Michael Palin sings “Every Sperm Is Sacred” in the 1983 film Monty Python’s The Meaning of Life. It’s not only Catholics who espouse this philosophy, but religious people generally.
Until such time as legal, medical, and ethical considerations are sorted out regarding whether men can have fertilized eggs or fetuses implanted within them, it seems they should have very little to say about women’s unwanted pregnancies. That a woman is contemplating aborting her fetus suggests a man has already expressed himself inappropriately. Men should leave women in peace to make the hard decision to abort or not to abort. It’s in the complications following the latter decision, after all, that men and all of society can contribute positive energy to the new mother and her baby to make life better for them instead of continuing to add to their troubles.
Over 75 percent of the American people have smartphones, and since voter participation in elections hovers around 50 percent of eligible citizens, the idea has come around to increase voting by making it possible for people to use their smartphones for that purpose. This year, West Virginia is trying out smartphone voting on a limited basis. The biggest concern with this practice is ballot security from smartphone to tabulating facility, usually a government office such as in a county courthouse. The medium used for that transmission would, of course, be the internet.
Pedestrians in the Rahova neighborhood of Bucharest, Romania, on October 27, 2014, days before the first round of the Romanian presidential election on November 2. Photo by J Stimp.
Now the internet is many wonderful things, but numbered among them is not airtight security for the general user. Some users haven’t the faintest idea about or concern for the security of their system, whether it be on a desktop or laptop computer, a tablet or a smartphone. It’s clear that the integrity of internet voting by smartphone or any other device would need to be maintained by a third party, since the users themselves are unreliable.
The voting system would have to be capable of freezing out “man-in-the-middle” hacks, which have historically been the greatest vulnerability of internet communications and the most commonly exploited by hackers. Think of it as the postal system, in which Party A mails a letter to Party B by entrusting it to Party C, in this case the United States Postal Service, with the understanding that in between point A and point B no one will intercept and read it, save perhaps a Postal Inspector who can show probable cause.
The internet has never been even as secure as the postal system. More often it has been like the party lines that used to exist on some phone systems around the country. Until the security problems can be fixed, smartphone voting is unlikely to see widespread use. The safest system for voters is still paper ballots filed either by mail or in person at a polling place. Voting should be easier, not more difficult, as all the voter suppression laws passed by Republican controlled state legislatures have made it, with the idea that low turnout favors their candidates.
Voters wait in line to cast their ballots in the U.S. presidential election in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, on November 8, 2016. Note how some are looking down at their smartphones, a common sight in public places now. Photo by Voice of America News.
Relatively few people are motivated to spend a long time waiting to vote in a queue that may keep them outdoors in bad weather, though some do appear willing to endure similar conditions in order to purchase the latest iPhone. Smartphone voting is a great idea for increasing participation in elections, but sadly it is one that needs work before becoming wholly viable, if it ever does. Until then, voters can still bring along their smartphones to their polling places to keep themselves entertained while they wait.
For more than a decade, Republicans have been working overtime to bring Jim Crow voter suppression schemes back to the polls, this time on a nationwide basis. Their excuse is the supposed need to combat voter fraud, a decidedly small scale offense. Republicans are at their best when ginning up hysteria, however, and the frenzy they have created over voter fraud has resulted in state laws which have the side effect of stifling voter turnout by citizens who historically vote for Democratic Party candidates.
The most blatant case in this year’s election is the Georgia gubernatorial race, where Republican Brian Kemp is running against Democrat Stacey Abrams. Mr. Kemp also happens to be the Georgia Secretary of State, a position which puts him in charge of overseeing the state’s elections. He has refused to recuse himself from that position, more or less stating as his reason “Trust me.” Georgia voters can be excused for scoffing at his stance considering how Mr. Kemp has done everything in his power as Georgia Secretary of State to suppress turnout by racial minority voters. Former president Jimmy Carter, a decent man, has spoken out to urge Mr. Kemp to resign from his office as Georgia Secretary of State while he seeks the governorship, but it appears his remarks are too little too late, and at any rate are falling on deaf ears when they come to Mr. Kemp and his acolytes.
African-American patron going in the colored entrance of the Crescent Theatre in Belzoni, Mississippi, on a Saturday afternoon in October 1939. Photo by Marion Post Wolcott (1910-1990).
It’s bad enough that miscreants like Brian Kemp have been allowed by state legislatures to get away with Jim Crow voter suppression, and even encouraged by having those efforts codified in state law, but to then allow that person to oversee his own election is beyond belief. That’s like the referee of a football game saying “Trust me” as he suits up in the uniform of one team and plays for them while he pretends to call penalties for both sides impartially. There should be state laws prohibiting this obvious conflict of interest, but even while there are no laws on the books, simple decency would dictate that Mr. Kemp voluntarily recuse himself.
In Cleveland, Ohio, in March 2016, Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders spoke about voter suppression.
But no, we have most certainly passed beyond the bounds of simple decency in our society and in our politics. The only thing citizens can do is steel themselves to vote no matter what obstacles indecent people put in their way. They can accept rides to the polls for early voting from partisan activists, and as long as everyone is open about that there’s nothing wrong with it, no matter how Georgia State Patrol troopers may feel about it.
From her 1985 album Who’s Zoomin’ Who?, Aretha Franklin sings “Freeway of Love”.
This midterm election and all local and statewide elections are important for the very reason that they put in place the lawmakers who set the agenda for what happens on the national stage. It is not enough as a dutiful citizen to wake from slumber once every four years to turn out for the presidential election and then go back to sleep. That is not what Republican groups like the nefarious Project Veritas have done, who are at work every day with a kind of addled, mentally and spiritually unbalanced zeal to reshape the country in their own image. Based on the conduct of many state legislatures and school boards across the country and the draconian policies they have slipped under the door, they have been succeeding while everyone else slept.
“Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex.” — Section 1 of the Equal Rights Amendment.
It’s a fair guess that at some point in their lives most women have had someone, usually a man, but sometimes another woman, urge them to smile more, as if it were incumbent upon women to always appear pleasant and non-threatening. No one tells men to smile, except maybe for pictures. This past week, on Wednesday, May 30, Illinois became the 37th state to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA), leaving the amendment one state short of the approval by three fourths of the states required to become law. That’s reason to smile. Celebration, however, may still be a long struggle away.
When the United States Congressapproved the ERA in 1972, they sent it on to the states with a seven year limit for ratification written into the proposal, something that had become common practice ever since the proposal for the 18th Amendment (Prohibition), with the one exception of the 19th Amendment (Women’s Suffrage). After ratification stalled at 35 states in 1977, Congress eventually granted an extension on the time limit until 1982. The amendment has remained in limbo since then, until 2017 when Nevada, under pressure from a renewed groundswell in the women’s rights movement due to current events both in politics and in the workplace, ratified the amendment to move the total to 36.
Alice Paul, on the right, leader of the feminist movement in America and vice president of the Woman’s Party, meets with Mildred Bryan, youngest Colorado feminist, in the Garden of the Gods at Colorado Springs, where on September 23rd, 1925, the Party launched its western campaign for an amendment to the Constitution giving equal rights to women. Photo by H.L. Standley.
There is some questionwhether the amendment will indeed become law with ratification by a 38th state because of the time limit imposed in its proposal by Congress, and because a handful of state legislatures have rescinded their ratification since the 1970s. There is nothing explicit in Article V of the Constitution, which deals with the amendment process, stating Congress should impose a time limit on ratification. In the 1921 case of Dillon v. Gloss, the Supreme Court inferred from Article V that Congress had the power to impose a time limit, settling that argument on shaky ground. In 1939, in the case of Coleman v. Miller, the Supreme Court sent the ball back into Congress’s arena of politics on whether ratification by states after the expiration of a time limit had any validity, and whether states were allowed to rescind ratifications. Those questions have remained unchallenged, and therefore unsettled, ever since.
In an episode of the 1970s television show All in the Family, Archie Bunker argues with his neighbor Irene Lorenzo , played by Carroll O’Connor and Betty Garrett, about equal pay for equal work after Irene starts working at the same place as Archie. 46 years after Congress passed the ERA in 1972, the issue remains unsettled.
There has been a development since 1939 that further clouds the entire issue of a time limit on ratification, and that is the full ratification of the 27th Amendment (Congressional Pay Raises) in 1992, after a delay of 203 years since its passing by Congress in 1789. No time limit had been imposed by Congress in 1789, of course, but since it nonetheless became the law of the land after hundreds of years of languishing in the docket, it raises the question of the legality of the decision in Dillon v.Gloss and sets a precedent for proponents of the ERA to follow in seeking to overturn the expiration of its time limit in 1982. If and when a 38th state ratifies the ERA, that state most likely being Virginia, the matter will probably bounce from the courts back to Congress, where it will have to be settled politically, making the upcoming 2018 congressional midterm elections important for yet one more reason. Until then, smile when you feel like smiling, or not at all.
Strange, megalomaniacal words from a potential head of state, who would become the 45th president of the United States after his 2016 campaign. Enough voters believed him, whatever “it” might have been in their own minds, to make him president in 2017. “It” was left open to interpretation in the election. Whatever “it” was, the strongman would fix “it.” That was good enough for a significant portion of the electorate to put him into office regardless of the will of the majority expressed through the popular vote.
The fireball and developing mushroom cloud of the Castle Bravo thermonuclear weapon test over Bikini Atoll in the Marshall Islands of the South Pacific on March 1, 1954. Photo by the United States Department of Energy.
Since the election of the 45th president, people have speculated on what will contribute to his ultimate demise, a speculation which seems natural considering the 45th president’s proclivity for self-destructive public pronouncements via Twitter and his other activities. The president’s critics have said he will be impeached, or that the Vice President and Cabinet will invoke Section 4 of the 25th Amendment to the Constitution. These are all pipe dreams, because they imagine real political courage among high level members of the Republican Party, which is not about to manifest itself.
American psychologists will deliver pronouncements on the president’s mental state and people will call on that account for his removal, invoking Section 4 of the 25th Amendment, but his removal will never happen as long as Republican leaders lack the will to effect it. Republicans hold majorities in the federal House and the Senate, as well as in State Legislatures and Governorships. To attempt the removal from office of a Republican president without their approval and active participation is pointless. Section 4 of the 25th Amendment is dependent every bit as much on political considerations as on physical and psychological evaluations of the president. Invoking it will be difficult, to say the least.
In the 1964 film, Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb, directed by Stanley Kubrick, the president is portrayed as a mild-mannered, reasonable character surrounded by eccentric lunatics. What if the situation were different in that the head of state was the lunatic? In this scene, Peter Sellers plays Dr. Strangelove and President Merkin Muffley, and George C. Scott plays General “Buck” Turgidson.
Will the 45th president shoot himself in the foot? Quite likely, considering his past behavior. Will that be enough to secure his removal from office? That depends on the reactions of other Republicans in legislative offices and in the presidential administration, and while they may look to psychologists’ reports for corroborative evidence, ultimately they will base their case on legal and fiscal wrongdoing and their own political calculations, looking to a history in legal precedent that is cut and dried.
“All politics is local.” ― An old saying, most famously uttered by former Speaker of the House, Thomas P. “Tip” O’Neill
This fall the Supreme Court will hear the case of Gill v. Whitford, a partisan gerrymandering case from Wisconsin, where redistricting lines drawn up by Republicans in the state legislature in 2011 after the 2010 census resulted in grossly unbalanced election results, such as in the 2012 election when, despite a majority of the votes statewide going to Democrats, Republicans nonetheless won sixty of the ninety-nine State Assembly seats. While the case is specifically about the redistricting lines drawn for state elections, there are implications for national elections because state legislatures also draw the lines for federal congressional districts. National election results have similarly tilted toward Republicans winning more seats in the House of Representatives than simple vote tallies warrant, and Democrats typically gain fewer seats than vote totals should grant them.
“The Gerry-Mander”, a political cartoon by Elkanah Tisdale (1771-1835), published in the Boston Centinel in 1812. The district depicted in the cartoon was created by the Massachusetts legislature to favor the incumbent Democratic-Republican party candidates sponsored by Governor Elbridge Gerry over the Federalists.
Gerrymandering has been around since the founding of the Republic, ever since Article 1, Section 2 of the Constitution specified that the states had the power to apportion congressional districts based on census results every ten years. There’s nothing in there about how the states should draw the lines, though the 14th Amendment, adopted 149 years ago on July 9, 1868, set guidelines for citizenship and equal protection under the laws for all citizens, and that has been invoked by the Supreme Court to overrule racially motivated gerrymandering. State legislatures have nevertheless taken the broad leeway left in Article 1, Section 2, and run with it, with both parties divvying up the cake as they liked if they had enough votes from their own members to push new district lines onto the books. Once one party or the other established districts in their favor, subsequent elections had the effect of consolidating their power.
There have been partisan gerrymandering cases brought before the Supreme Court in the past, but the Court has always been reluctant to step into what it has deemed politics as usual, and their rulings have always been narrow enough to have little effect on the practice of partisan gerrymandering. The Court has been more willing to rule broadly against racial gerrymandering by applying the equal protection principles of the 14th Amendment. It’s hard to see the ultimate ruling in Gill v. Whitford deviating from past rulings unless one or more of the conservative justices rule against the State of Wisconsin, and by extension the Republican party. The Court is currently split 5-4 along party lines, with Republicans in the majority.
This gerrymandering case is a reminder of how failure to pay attention to state and local politics can result in a minority party exercising disproportional power. There are more important elections than the presidential one every four years. The party that turns people out for local school board elections, for city council elections, and for state legislature elections every year, year after year, is the party that ultimately takes power in the national elections. Those seemingly insignificant elections lay the groundwork and set the rules for what follows on a grander scale.
Motivated people turn out for elections, and Republicans have done a much better job over the past thirty or more years of motivating their people than Democrats have done with their people. They have done so with with some dubious tactics, it’s true, mainly motivating people through fear and loathing of The Other, whoever or whatever that might prove effective at the moment. That was easily seen in the 2016 election.
On a national scale, where state boundaries do not change, the Electoral College has worked to gerrymander the presidential election result on behalf of the Republican candidate as Democrats lose strength in the small towns and countryside of the middle of the country. For instance California, the most populous state in the nation, and one with a strong Democratic party majority, has 55 electoral votes (53 congressional districts plus 2 Senate seats) to offer the Democratic presidential candidate whether that candidate wins the state with a simple majority of one vote or an overwhelming majority of three million votes.
This is from a network television appearance by George Carlin in the early 1990s. No foul language warning necessary.
In the language of gerrymandering, Democrats are effectively “packed” into California and other highly urban states, mostly on either coast. Getting rid of the Electoral College and deciding the presidential election with a simple nationwide majority vote would eliminate this gerrymandering effect, but with Republicans controlling the Presidency, the Senate, the House of Representatives, the Supreme Court, 33 out of 50 governors’ offices, 31 out of 50 state houses, and 37 out of 50 state senates, that won’t be easy.
Magpie Eating Cake, an 1865 painting by Rubens Peale (1784-1865).
It would take working from the grass roots on up instead of snoozing until 2020 and dreaming the current Republican president will be impeached along the way. It would also mean holding the Democratic party establishment to account for selling out the middle and working classes while they chased after financial and professional elites. Since the Democratic party establishment has shown no inclination to change in response to the 2016 election debacle, however, it appears the best course in the years ahead will be to discard the Democratic party apparatus altogether and form an entirely new major party. It’s not like that has never been done before.
“Better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to speak and remove all doubt.” ― Abraham Lincoln*
Today is Inauguration Day in the United States, and a new president will be sworn into office by Chief Justice John Roberts with the following words from Article 2, Section 1 of the Constitution:
“I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will faithfully execute the Office of President of the United States, and will to the best of my Ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.”
“Gimme Shelter” by The Rolling Stones. A cry of protest from long ago that is just as relevant today.
It has become a tradition for presidents to use a Judeo-Christian Bible when taking the oath of office. There is no demand in the Constitution or other legislation to swear on the Bible, or on any book. People taking an official oath may legally place their hand on their heart, and many do just that. The third paragraph of Article 6 of the Constitution implies that an oath taker could use any holy book he or she desires:
“The Senators and Representatives before mentioned, and the Members of the several State Legislatures, and all executive and judicial Officers, both of the United States and of the several States, shall be bound by Oath or Affirmation, to support this Constitution; but no religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States.”
When Keith Ellison, a Muslim, was elected to Congress from Minnesota’s 5th District in 2006, conservatives raised a fuss about whether the nation’s first Muslim elected to Congress should be allowed to take his oath of office using the Koran. In the end Ellison, a Democrat, used an English translation of the Koran owned by Thomas Jefferson.
What should be self-evident is that the words are what matter most about an oath of office, not the manner of taking it. How then to account for today’s outgoing President, a constitutional law scholar, signing into law the 2012 National Defense Authorization Act, one section of which authorizes the president to order the military to arrest and indefinitely imprison people anywhere in the world, including American citizens? Today’s outgoing President now bequeaths that unconstitutional authority to the incoming President, a thin-skinned narcissist with a vengeful streak, the Tweeter-in-Chief. God DAMN it!
“Dreams” by The Cranberries. Like all dreams, this one is open to interpretation.
Chattanooga Mayor Andy Berke with FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler in 2014.
Rural communities and small cities took a blow to their prospects for municipally provided broadband internet service on August 10th when the U.S. Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati ruled against the Federal Communications Commission’s 2015 order to preempt state laws in North Carolina and Tennessee. Wilson, North Carolina, and Chattanooga, Tennessee, had petitioned the FCC to allow them to build municipal broadband networks and the FCC had acted under a provision of the 1996 Telecommunications Act directing it to remove barriers to broadband investment and competition. The Sixth Circuit Court ruled the FCC did not have the power to supersede state law.
19 states have laws hampering the ability of local governments to provide broadband service, with the corporate-funded American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) offering sample legislation to more states. As Michael Copps, a former FCC commissioner and now an advisor to Common Cause, put it “Let’s be clear: industry-backed state laws to block municipal broadband only exist because pliant legislators are listening to their Big Cable and Big Telecom paymasters.”
The FCC defines broadband as an upload speed of at least three megabits per second and a download speed of no less than 25 megabits per second, and maintains a map displaying the different types of service available around the country. Even in larger cities where broadband is more commonly available, however, consumers have few choices of internet service provider because for all practical purposes carriers such as Comcast operate as regional monopolies.
The possibility of building municipal broadband networks has been an option in areas of low population density where private internet service providers often display little interest in building out their network for what they see as small return on their investment. People in poorly served areas sometimes turn to satellite service, though it has drawbacks in the form of high latency speeds and throttling of service for users who have reached certain data caps. In the same areas, wireless service can be spotty, with generally low data caps at high cost.
It appears the debate over net neutrality and whether to treat broadband service as a utility may revive, and it will be up to Congress to either strengthen the FCC’s regulatory powers over the states and the industry or to enact legislation defining internet service providers as common carriers, something companies like AT&T and Verizon fought tooth and nail against during the last round of discussions in 2014.