So I know I haven’t blogged in a long time and also said I wouldn’t be blogging until after I finished grad school in a few weeks, but yesterday’s proposed rule change from the FCC has me absolutely on edge.
Amid reports that America is actually more like an oligarchy than a democracy, that governors of some states are forbidding city governments within those states from establishing a minimum wage and banning paid sick leave, and that mining companies are now union-busting and undoing hundred year-old labor reforms, suddenly the FCC has completely reversed course on net neutrality, essentially ceding the internet to corporate entities.
Quickly, here’s what happened: internet access isn’t currently regulated as a “common carrier” like a railroad nor like a public utility like electrical service, and federal courts recently ruled that the way in which the FCC was regulating internet providers under the “open internet” guidelines set forth by the Obama administration was illegitimate. This left the FCC scrambling to find a way to continue to protect net neutrality. Instead, yesterday the chairman of the FCC came out saying the FCC would no longer attempt to defend net neutrality and would actually encourage a “fast lane” on the internet.
What does that mean? Basically, Comcast, Verizon, Cox, Time Warner, etc will not all provide the same connection to the same internet any longer. If you’re a company like Facebook or Netflix, you will have to pay those companies more to get “fast internet” while they feel free to slow down other internet service as they please. Not only does this stifle innovation by putting small companies that can’t afford this “fast lane” at a tremendous disadvantage, but you better believe companies like Netflix will not let these new fees eat into their margins and instead will pass costs onto the consumer in the form of higher prices. Your internet may become even slower and less reliable, your favorite services will cost more. While consumer advocates have been pushing for the federal government to regulate the internet as a public utility like electric power, drinking water, sewers, etc…, the FCC has announced its intention to go the complete opposite direction and hand over the internet wholesale to corporate interests. Not to mention that Comcast is still trying to merge with Time Warner to create a supergiant telecom that will dominate the world and swallow your children (I assume anyway, I haven’t read the corporate charter for the proposed new entity).
I mention this not only because I care about net neutrality, but because, coupled with those events I mentioned at the top of this blog, coupled with the recent McCutcheon Supreme Court decision and the constant battle of campaign finance and money in politics, what we’re talking about is a continual and consistent landslide of this country, our politics, our policies, and the things we use and love to corporate interests. If you couldn’t tell, I have two feet now firmly planted atop my little soapbox here. Our country is being bought and sold right under our noses and our political and judicial systems are proving completely unable or unwilling to stem the tide. In the name of economic growth, in the name of increased profits, we are crushing labor rights, making private what once was public, and granting increasing access to the haves and increasing desperation and disenfranchisement to the have-nots. If we do not reclaim our political processes for the people rather than for the corporate interests that are currently dictating policy in our state and federal legislatures, we tacitly agree to drifting further and further afield from the values that saw this country in its greatest ever phase of economic expansion and improvement in general quality of life (WW2-1978ish).
These values: the necessary balance and cooperation between labor and capital, the pursuit by business of long term stability and growth over short-term profit, the idea of value maximization rather than profit maximization, and the central idea that a rising tide of economic growth should lift all boats, not lift the yachts while leaving the rest of us to play Life of Pi on our shitty metaphorical row boats – these values are being abandoned. Those who know have little to no voice or authority, those who might do something about it either don’t know or don’t care, and those fighting so vociferously for corporate welfare often don’t even realize what they’re fighting for. Take the poor former mine worker in West Virginia who depends on public assistance, lost his job because he had no union, suffers because of the poor environmental regulation on his water quality and the destruction of the natural resources around him, and can’t afford medical care or get a new job, yet goes to a Tea Party rally and shouts to keep the government out of corporate business because someone with a lot of money (Koch brothers) funded an emotional appeal to bend his fear until he is fighting like hell against his own interests.
My point is, the cancer here is not just in the monied interests which pursue more money at all costs, not just in our political system which has utterly collapsed under the weight of money, gerrymandering, and broken media, but in ourselves. We have stopped talking about class. We have stopped talking about public value. Our politics are about scandal, about fear, about cults of personality, and about ideology over humanism and communitarianism. We are selling away our interests and our country piece by piece because we don’t care, because we don’t know, because we don’t understand or we don’t feel like we can change it.
There is no boogeyman. You have your McCutcheons, your Koch’s, your Soros’s, etc…, and they undoubtedly wield huge influence, but here’s the truth as I see it: no one is running the show. There is no vast conspiracy. There is a system that rewards some behaviors and not others, and we have been content to let the rules of that system subtly shift until it has become something wholly unrecognizable. Yes, we can debate the relative merits of different welfare systems. We can debate drug laws, public vs. private schools, abortion vs. anti-abortion, gun rights, stand your ground laws, common core curriculum: we can debate all of it, and that’s politics, and whatever side of those debates you’re on, we can still be friends and have a spirited discussion over beers until we can’t speak in complete sentences any more, but when we talk about the fundamental promise of our country, what we’re talking about is the economic birthright of every person to some piece of the gigantic there’s-way-more-than-enough-for-everyone pie that is the American economy.
We’re not talking about 50/50 one side vs the other Republican Vs. Democrat: we’re talking about what benefits the vast majority of us (net neutrality, labor rights, companies that pursue stability and long term growth, economic development instead of GDP growth), vs what benefits vast companies which only distribute those gains in their boardrooms and not in their payroll.
I never thought I’d be this guy, standing here shouting (via blog, I guess) at the world to “wake up”, but we seriously, seriously have to wake right the fuck up. Whatever your pet issue, whatever your politics, I promise you they are petty bullshit next to this rising tide that destroys our communities, our environment, and increasingly, our chances at improving our lots in life.
I’m going to continue to take some time off from blogging here as I finish my degree program these last few weeks, but I am going to rededicate myself to more impartial blogging that is more purpose driven and proposes more answers than questions after I return.