FCC Caving in on Net Neutrality – What Next?

net-neutrality-graphicsbank-FCCNew Orleans  OK, let’s get this straight.  Compared to other developed countries around the world in the United States we already have slower and more expensive internet, and few workable programs to assure equality of access.  Under a Democratic President though we should be able to expect some progress in this area though, right?  Instead we wake up to find that we have a Federal Communications Commission, that is now going to embark on a massive cave-in to corporate media concerns and move to allow the evisceration of “net neutrality,” despite the many FCC pledges to protect the internet and keep it free and open to all.  Pinch me now, this must be a nightmare.  This can’t be happening!

            But, it is. 

            This must be what happens when the President appoints a corporate communications lobbyist as the FCC chair?

            Just as a reminder of what we are on the verge of losing, if the FCC successfully eliminates net neutrality that means that the big cable and internet access companies, like the monopolists at Comcast, can create toll roads requiring companies like Amazon, Netflix, Google or others to pay them for faster access for their products than “regular” internet, and of course in jacking the costs to them, the costs to us will also rise dramatically, pushing monetizing universal access even farther away from equity and more towards income.   Google is trying to lay its own high speed optical networks to hedge against the Comcasts and their rising rates, but such networks will be built in certain cities, not everywhere of course.  Past the issues for consumers, the end of net neutrality means new, upstart tech startups won’t be able to afford the access that allows them to compete against the new, wannabe legacy companies like Facebook, Google, and the like.  Does any of this sound like a win for any of us

            Given this horror, is there any way that the FCC or the Justice Department could ever allow Comcast to consolidate control of cable access through its merger monopoly purchase of Times-Warner cable?  Rationally, we should think not, but it’s scary.  It looks like the fix is in, and when the fix it is in, it’s always about protecting the insiders and penalizing the outsiders, which means the rest of us.

            With all of the big internet moguls visiting the White House recently and repeatedly to complain to the President about the NSA, their lost business, and their weird views of the world and how it suits them, it’s impossible for me to believe the subject of a profound policy pivot on “net neutrality” or the Comcast merger, never made it to the agenda list.  I have a bad feeling that the Silicon billionaires may be talking out of both sides of their mouth and saying to their public that they want “net neutrality,” while signaling to the government that they are OK with it going its own way, as long as their companies are protected and the door is slammed behind them.

            This all just smells bad to me, and worse may be coming if we all become “Comcast country” as well.

Supreme Court Ok’s Building A Separate and Unequal Educational System

affirmative-action-1024x825New Orleans   There are now more than a dozen states that have banned the use of race as an affirmative action tool in determining admission to state funded colleges and universities.   The Supreme Court in reviewing a ban by voters in Michigan determined on a 6-2 vote that it was OK with them.  They went out of their way to say that they were not determining the constitutionality of affirmative action itself, but that they were saying that the majority of voters could decide these questions.  Justice Sotomayor in a spirited dissent argued that the Supreme Court and the Constitution have responsibilities to protect the rights of smaller, minority groups against the tyranny of the majority.  Protecting individuals from the collectivist majority is a fundamental plank of conservative ideology, so it must have been some twisting in the plush, leather chairs as they read her decision. 

            But, where does this leave the rest of us?  In Michigan, race-blind admissions has already decreased the enrollment by African-Americans by 25%.  In California, though overall enrollment by Hispanics has surpassed whites in all nine state universities, enrollment in the more elite parts of the state system has plummeted.  It seems absurd not to recognize that we have a current problem, not just a historical divide.

            Experts are speculating that income will be the placeholder for many higher education institutions in their attempt to balance enrollments to assure great equality in opportunity.  There has certainly been a lot of jaw flapping, largely from elite universities, about doing more to enroll lower income students, but the results have been negligible.  It takes extensive outreach to high schools outside of their usual recruiting route and partners with connections in lower income communities that elites just don’t have given the rapid expansion of the American income and class divide.

            There’s no reason for optimism though.  An expert on income-based affirmative action at Georgetown University was clear in saying, “But it won’t solve the problem, since our system of higher education now faithfully reproduces race and class differences across generations.  In the end you can’t avoid dealing with race.”  Kati Haycock of Education Trust was as pointed in noting the on-the-ground reality in our schools, “…wishing that the people who spend so much time trying to end racial preferences in higher ed would work to end the racial differences in the education we provide K-12, which is why we need the racial preferences.”

            What she is really saying, and the really insidious impact of the Court’s decision and the right’s effort to take race out of higher education, is that there is a permanent institutionalization of a parallel, separate and unequal educational system since the advent of integration of public schools.  With mass education in urban, public schools overwhelmingly minority and lower-income, and middle income whites in separate private, parochial and cosseted suburban systems, they need to knock down equalization barriers in order to protect the de facto educational apartheid from K-12 and beyond. 

            This isn’t just a setback for affirmative education in state funded higher education, this is a body block to the notion of opportunity in America and the very future of our civic life and democracy.

UAW Objections Withdrawal A Sign They Want a Second Shot Soon

UawHouston    Politicians and the in-plant anti-union committee at Volkswagen in Chattanooga were both chortling and celebrating the announcement that the UAW had withdrawn its election objections before the NLRB hearing on the issues raised in its recent, narrow defeat.  They are laughing too soon.  They are actually totally misreading the organizing tactics, and interpreting a tactical withdrawal as a concession, rather than the more accurate understanding that this is a huge signal from the UAW that they are in fact deepening their commitment to keeping the campaign alive for a second shot at an election.

            There are never any future guarantees in organizing about when the time might be right to go another round, but the UAW at the crossroads faced two choices.  One was to fully engage on the legal struggle around their objections and run the clock out for years in back-and-forth appeals.  This is usually the “long game” after an election defeat where basically the union tries to save face institutionally and to maintain other organizing efforts by giving organizers and leaders’ talking points framed on the notion that there’s still a heartbeat, that justice will be done, and hope is a plan.  It’s a sad organizing strategy since even miraculously winning a second election after years would have tended to alienate the workforce, making a better result difficult. 

The other choice, which is bolder organizing, is to immediately get the clock ticking for a second election, and this is clearly what the UAW is doing, signally in truth that they are committed to the campaign and in fact that they like their chances inside the plant and, perhaps as importantly, with Volkswagen.  You can bet that UAW organizers have done extensive work in the last three months to reassess their “yes” votes and gauge the hardness of the “no” votes and whether they can turn them if they can offset the onset of fear and panic before the last vote count.  You can also bet that UAW leaders have had extensive discussions with Volkswagen union leaders in Germany, who have board seats in the company, about how a second election would work and how the company would react.  The signs have obviously been encouraging on both counts.

            The clock works this way.   The election was February 14th.  A second election could be held at the earliest in only nine more months, and the UAW could file as early as mid-January, only eight months away.  With a unit of a couple of thousand, that’s like tomorrow!

            The other reason it is easy to read the UAW’s intentions can be found in their statements upon the withdrawal.  Shrewdly, they withdrew by laying down the gauntlet to the Tennessee governor and local business establishment to hurry up and restore the $300 million in incentives for VW to locate a new SUV line in Chattanooga which would add another 1000 workers to the mix.  This is a win-win for the UAW.  It gets them back into the framework of being a job creator rather than a job threat, which had sunk their first vote.  If the Governor and the union baiters can’t convince VW to add the line, they are losers, bullies, and blowhards, and the UAW doesn’t have that problem on its shoes.  Moving the campaign right now to restore the commitments to add the line also turns the bargaining power from the politicians back to the company and its allies.  The UAW is no company union, but any Tennessee politicians have to know that VW is not going to add 1000 workers in Chattanooga without a behind the scenes commitment that the pols and the local chamber will keep out of its employee relations in the plant.  This time the Governor and the locals may have to decide if they want a 1000 jobs more than they hate the union.  If the line doesn’t get added by VW, then the Governor and the union-haters are defanged in a 2nd election.  If the line does get added, there will categorically be non-interference concessions privately made to the company, the UAW will have publicly been on the right side in advocating for more jobs, and will face a second election, the workers willing, on much, much stronger ground.  And, they will face it with the same workforce on the re-run election, because even if a plant is added, it won’t be ready in nine months or even two years in all likelihood.  None of this is to say that there won’t be bombast from the peanut gallery, but it will be a distant hum in the background in a second election, not in the workers’ faces as they go to vote.

            Does this kill off the other UAW organizing efforts with transplants in Mississippi with Nissan and with Mercedes-Benz in Alabama?  Of course not.  Both of those drives have been multi-year commitments by the UAW already and will continue to be.  Neither from all reports are anywhere near ready to go forward now, so at this point the UAW will try to rebuild its momentum with its battle-tested committee in Chattanooga, who must correctly feel that they weathered the worst the opposition could throw at them and came within 100 votes, have reassessed their yeses and maybes, and are hunkered down for another run at a second election.  Best for the UAW to wait for the momentum to change with a win, and let Mississippi and Alabama continue to toughen up so they can be ready to capitalize on a VW victory.

            There are no guarantees, but all signs indicate the UAW has now made a decision that it is in it to win it for as long as it takes.  Good news for workers in the South and everywhere!

April Showers Bring Volunteer Flowers

photo 5Dallas    Driving from Little Rock to Dallas on Easter morning, the red clover along the interstate seemed a foot high in Arkansas and started to peter out in Texas to be replaced by bluebonnets along the embankments and the wonderful site of seeing parked cars along the highway disgorging whole families who wanted to have their pictures taken, stretched out in the luxuriant growth.  Spring is an exhilarating time for lots of reasons, but in this part of the country April showers don’t just bring May flowers, it also means Spring Break and a host of volunteers coming to help out in New Orleans and elsewhere.

            Easter weekend meant huge crowds at Fair Grinds Coffeehouse where the sales’ totals rivaled Jazz Fest, our best time of the year, all of which means more support for ACORN International’s organizing, but the real thrill was the work of scores of volunteers on our projects.  Our sister organization, A Community Voice, had crews out in the Lower 9th Ward helping on various home repair and cleanup projects, as well as in the Upper 9th Ward going door to door on house visits to alert people to coming community meetings.  We had a bunch of help at the ACORN Farm as well doing spring planting with the seedlings that have been hardening up and waiting to hit the ground.  I loved seeing a picture of the “community space” which we will use for all kinds of meetings in the new St. Claude building and the coming second location for Fair Grinds.  A crew of volunteers had painted the space a vibrant, bright, happy yellow which will improve the quality of the business done there immensely.   Another crew had dug out the driveway so that we can lay down pea gravel for outside tables for folks to talk, visit, meet, and enjoy a cup of coffee and computer access simultaneously.  The volunteers come from colleges, churches, and private clubs, and each spring we are both surprised and delighted to see them, and are reminded again what a boost a well-organized volunteer program can be to all of our community efforts.

            Reading a recent New Yorker article about an aircraft carrier operated by 5000 sailors, pilots, and others, I had noticed an interesting quote from Captain Brain Luther about his crew on the giant U.S.S. George H. W. Bush that seemed, how might I say this, non-military almost, but it touched on the question of volunteers:

If you help them create good memories, they’ll forget a lot of the bad stuff.  I’m an old-fashioned forward thinker.  Mission first, people always.  We’re on a warship, so certain things have to be the way they are.  But every sailor on this ship is a volunteer.  They gave something up to be here.  So we have to give ‘em something back.  A lot of it is standard leadership.  Eat after they eat, sleep after they sleep.  Never give an order if you don’t understand what it’ll mean they’ll have to do.

Another quote worth noting was from Clinton Stonewall III of Birmingham, Alabama who was making some remarks as he was being promoted to lieutenant commander:

I want to thank each and every one of you, especially those who kept me upright and squared away.  I put out to sea with family members.  And everything we do, whether it’s up here on the flight deck…getting catapults ready, serving in the meal line, whatever it is you’re doing, it’s all for me.  You got my back.  And I got yours.  If you’re a leader out here, you need also to be a servant.  The bottom’s a reflection of the top.  ‘If you don’t look good, I don’t look good.’  I think Vidal Sassoon had it right when he came out with that.  And if I’m looking good here today it’s because of you.  It’s because of you.

It’s not surprising to find that the community and culture of the military can resonant with an organizing culture so strongly, and neither is a surprise to find that there’s no amount of appreciation that is too much.

Thanks to a lot of great work, workers, and volunteers, we’re all looking good every day in this work, and there’s no amount of thanks that is enough for the value they bring, over and over and over again, and the importance of keeping that circle unbroken.

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The Melian Debate: One of the Great Organizing Exercises

Discurso_funebre_periclesLittle Rock  In a brilliant essay in the New York Times “Stone” series on philosophy, the moderator and a professor at the New School, Simon Critchley, decided to spit in the wind on Easter Sunday of all days, the miraculous day of hope for Christians taking the giant and glorious leap of faith in believing in the resurrection of Christ, the son of God, being raised from the dead so that we might have eternal life.  Rather than going toe to toe with the Christians, he summarized the classic Melian Debate, reported by perhaps our first historian, Thucydides, which was a staple for many years of ACORN’s annual one-week long, introductory “new” organizer training sessions, and a touchstone for many community organizing networks.  We had first appropriated the Melian Debate into a training role play, after Madeline Talbott, our field director at the time, monitored some sessions done by the Gamaliel Foundation with Greg Galuzzo and his team in Chicago, and adapted it annually thereafter to the joy and sometimes chagrin on each new crop of promising community organizers.

You can easily understand why from Critchley’s summary from Thucydides:

In “The History of the Peloponnesian War,” Thucydides, the sober and unsentimental historian, describes a dialogue between the representatives of the island of Melos in the Aegean Sea, which was allied with Sparta, and some ambassadors from invading Athenian military forces. The ambassadors present the Melians with a very simple choice: Submit to us or be destroyed.

Rather than simply submit, the Melians wriggle. They express hope that the Spartans will come to rescue them. The Athenians calmly point out that it would be an extremely dangerous mission for the Spartans to undertake and highly unlikely to happen. Also, they add, rightly, “We are masters of the sea.” The Spartans had formidable land forces, but were no match for the Athenian navy.

The Melians plead that if they yield to the Athenians, then all hope will be lost. If they continue to hold out, then “we can still hope to stand tall.” The Athenians reply that it is indeed true that hope is a great comfort, but often a delusive one. They add that the Melians will learn what hope is when it fails them, “for hope is prodigal by nature.”

What we need in the face of a hard factuality is not hope, but courage in the face of that reality.

With consummate clarity and no small cruelty, the Athenians urge the Melians not to turn to Promethean blind hopes when they are forced to give up their sensible ones. Reasonable hopes can soon become unreasonable. “Do not be like ordinary people,” they add, “who could use human means to save themselves but turn to blind hopes when they are forced to give up their sensible ones – to divination, oracles and other such things that destroy men by giving them hope.”

At this point, the Athenians withdraw and leave the Melians to consider their position. As usually happens in political negotiations, the Melians decide to stick to exactly the same position that they had adopted before the debate. They explain that “we will trust in the fortune of the Gods.” In a final statement, the Athenians conclude that “You have staked everything on your trust in hope … and you will be ruined in everything.”

After laying siege to the Melian city and some military skirmishes back and forth, the Athenians lose patience with the Melians and Thucydides reports with breathtaking understatement, “They killed all the men of military age and made slaves of the women and children.”

And, as Critchley, so aptly states, almost as if acting as a trainer in our long ago summer sessions, “Thucydides offers no moral commentary on the Melian Dialogue. He does not tell us how to react, but instead impartially presents us with a real situation. The dialogue is an argument from power about the nature of power.”  We would leave our organizers to work out their own response to the Melian Debate as they played their roles in the exercise with enthusiasm, and I leave you to work out your answers to this age old debate about how to face hard reality with the best mixture of will, courage, and, yes, even some hope.

Shoot to Learn

shootingLittle Rock    At dusk we rode to an abandoned area miles from people and highways and placed targets on old logs nestled up against a large hillside berm.  The uncle and brother-in-law had been a gun safety instructor in the National Guard, and carefully explained to each one of the novice shooters who had never fired pistols and hardly ever touched a shotgun, how to load, where to carry the firearm, and how to work the safety, before they pointed down range and took their shots.   Later, across a patch of indented valley, everyone took shoots at the skeet, until they were able to hit one in the air.  And, everyone learned something, including how much of living and dying is luck, and, let’s tell the truth, they all thought it was both fun and exhilarating.

The National Rifle Association, the fabulously right wing NRA, and politicians of the same persuasion were highlighted recently for running raffles to harvest names of potential supporters by giving away tricked up shotguns, and then using the names of the losers to launch their foaming at the mouth fundraisers.  There’s nothing illegal or unethical about that.  My brother-in-law, sometimes sympathetic to their pleas, has never swallowed that bait or joined the NRA, not trusting what might happen, and that’s probably smart as well.   I was a gifted member as a boy, given a membership free for a year after having taken a gun safety instruction at Philmont Boy Scout Ranch in New Mexico when I was 13 years old.

Watching one movie after another and TV series of every description, guns seem like toys and part and parcel of some kind of magical realism, where death becomes more colorful than real.  In our cities,  the OG’s, rap culture, guns blazing, is part of the constant comment.  Wildly, various legislators want to arm teachers and pretty much anyone and everyone else wherever they are and whatever they were doing for reasons unknown with abilities untested.

How do we put all of this together, rationally?

People need to understand how dangerous guns are.  Simply being afraid of them isn’t enough.  They doesn’t quite dispel the exotic or teach the respect, and defeat the mystery, which can be compelling and attractive.  People need to feel the kick, and reckon with the fact that they have so little control on the course and direction of the bullets, even in the best of situations.

And yet, the issue for the gun folks is the desire to either carry a concealed weapon or to brandish one openly.  What warped romanticism imagines in a modern, high tech society that an atavistic, Thunderdome world of armed and dangerous people would make anyone safer?

Wilderness skills, hunting and gun safety, and similar competencies are invaluable, but our mothers were right, “there is a time and place for everything,” and contrary to the fear deep in the heart of so many, that’s not in either cities or public places, where the armed, become mainly the dangerous, and the truly dangerous are perhaps still able to distinguish the amateurs from the professionals, and life and death are important to keep very separate in harmony and balance, none of which works down range.