How the Internet Can Stop Hurting its Own Cause with Net Neutrality

Despite an outpouring of emails, phone calls, virtual signatures, and–more prevalently–Facebook posts, tweets, and comments in Reddit threads, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has decided to open up discussions on a proposal regarding net neutrality. This is the part of the proceedings where things get interesting, though the internet seems to have already come to a conclusion about the eventual outcome.

Popular Twitter account @YourAnonNews tweetedFCC votes to KILL #NetNeutrality” in response to the decision. Reddit’s /r/Technology subreddit pushed a thread to the front page of the website titled “Today, the FCC will destroy the internet. It’s been fun.” Defining net neutrality and preserving it in a way that ensures an equal and open internet is abundantly important. But if the internet wants to protect it, expressing their wishes through hyperbole isn’t the way. For people who aren’t paying attention, it now appears like a decision has already been made. It hasn’t. Here’s a few ways that the internet can better achieve its goal of maintaining net neutrality so we don’t get this far down the road the wrong way in the future.

Spread Accurate Information

Much like the sensational language of internet activists in response to the FCC’s proposal, some information passed around prior to the decision caused more confusion than clarity. Combating that going forward is one of the best things those who want to preserve an open internet can do–and that should be all of us. As visually effective as scare tactics like images of packaged website subscriptions and the like may seem, they don’t accurately reflect the current conversation. The linked image specifically dates back to at least 2009–and let’s be honest, no one is going to pay for Friendster.

The proposal put forward by the FCC may, through a long and slippery slope, eventually lead to a worst-case scenario that resembles cable television packages, but it looks paranoid when FCC Chairperson Tom Wheeler promises, “There is one Internet. It must be fast, it must be robust, and it must be open.” It’s easier and more relevant to the conversation to discuss the immediate concern: Internet fast lanes, or paid prioritization. Were this to be allowed, it would allow internet services providers (ISP) to charge companies more for faster connections to their consumers. This directly effects the content providers, which could pass the prices on to consumers. It makes for a pretty easy flow chart, even if it doesn’t look quite as intimidating as the packaged websites graphic.

But, and this is the important part, the FCC isn’t directly proposing paid prioritization. It was believed that an earlier draft included the fast lane proposal, but it’s presented differently in the final document. “We ask the question, should there be a ban in paid prioritization as an action of blocking?” Wheeler explained. That doesn’t rule it out either, but it does make it easy to target directly. It’s one of the major issues the FCC is calling for public comments on.

And it’s worth noting that this is already happening. Netflix has already had to pay up to Verizon and Comcast to ensure it had the fastest connection to consumers as possible–a practice already essentially allowed and unchanged by net neutrality regulations thanks to a practice called interconnection. It’s necessary to comment on and defeat paid prioritization by the FCC’s definition, but the practice won’t be stopped without broadening the regulations to also deal with interconnection.

Which brings us to the next step.

Setting Good Rules will Prevent Bad Rules

The internet has spent most of its time reacting to proposed regulations, working itself into a frenzy every time a new proposal threatens the idea of net neutrality. Killing these harmful acts as the arise is only effective for so long–eventually you have to stop trying to kill pests with a fly swatter as they come in and just shut the door. The best way to do this is to stop reacting to bad rules and start implementing good rules. The lack of net neutrality regulations is what allows ISPs to violate the principle in the past.

Take, for example, the court case between the FCC and Comcast in 2008. After discovering Comcast was actively interfering with peer-to-peer file sharing users, using fake reset packets to trick connections into believing their peers had hung up, the FCC attempted to sanction the company. Comcast sued, arguing that net neutrality rules weren’t formally filed and weren’t legally binding, and the D.C. Court of Appeals agreed with the service provider.

Part of the problem with net neutrality thus far has been the framing of the regulations. The last set of rules put were put in place under former FCC chairman Julius Genachowski. Dubbed the 2010 Open Internet Order, it required increased transparency from ISPs, prevented service providers from blocking content, and prohibited network owners from “unreasonable” discrimination. The lack of clarity in the rules led the DC Circuit Appeals Court to strike down the order after Verizon challenged it. And, with those rules blocked, ISPs can now block whatever they choose. In theory, as University of Virginia law professor Tim Wu explains, AT&T could prevent people on its network from communicating with T-Mobile users.

This can and will continue to happen if more clear and effective legislation isn’t enacted.

The easiest way to do this is by…

Declare the Internet a Utility under Title II

As difficult as it will be to politically, the best thing the FCC can do is to reclassify broadband under Title II, making it a public utility the same way telecommunication is. This ensures that public networks are open and available at the same rates without discrimination–thus preventing the fast lane fear.

This was how internet services were initially classified back when most connections were accessed via dial up from common carriers. It changed when cable companies began to offer their own internet services, the FCC under the Bush administration made the decision to designate both cable and DSL as “information services” rather than “telecommunications services,” thus removing the common carrier label. It’s that decision, made over a decade ago now, that has put the FCC in its current predicament –though failing to attempt to rectify it sooner is the fault of the current administration.

While political opposition to this decision is strong thanks to the deep pockets of ISPs who want to keep their freedom to restrict web usage as they please, there is one thing that is working strongly in the favor of this motion: The courts. While the D.C. Court of Appeals has ruled against the FCC in the past–the two cases mentioned previously both were ruled on by the same judge, Judge David Tatel–they have been rather clear within the language of those rulings as to what the FCC needs to do. Judge Tatel went as far as to agree with the FCC’s policy goals and stated, “broadband providers represent a threat to internet openness and could act in ways that would ultimately inhibit the speed and extent of future broadband deployment.” There’s more than a hint toward openness to reclassification if the FCC is willing to attempt it.

As mentioned, there will be plenty of opposition to this idea, and the last time the idea was raised it was promptly squashed. And it’s not all political positioning. It’s important to acknowledge that…

There are Legitimate Arguments Against Net Neutrality

As cut and dry as this whole thing seems–and for the most case, is–there are some concerns regarding net neutrality that are worth consideration rather than immediate dismissal. The internet changes constantly and crafting regulations to tailored to it will prove increasingly difficult as it evolves. Hell, the Title II solution uses language that was put in place back in 1996 and is already out of date in how it defines telecommunications.

There’s also a fear that regulations will discourage both innovation and growth in network infrastructure. Forcing networks to treat all internet traffic the same eliminates the ability to experiment with premium services. Heavy traffic users pay the exact same as lighter users and companies that account for more internet activity pay the same for connection speed as websites that sit dormant and without traffic, and one could make an argument that this is unfair. Additionally, if rules were to cost service providers profit, they would be less likely to invest in upgrading their infrastructure–a process that requires billions of dollars to build and expand.

It’s easy to argue that the benefits of net neutrality greatly outweigh the theoretical concerns–telephone companies seem to be doing just fine despite being common carriers after all–but it’s important to understand the worries of those wary of regulation. Now that we know both sides of the debate, it’s easier to go to bat for net neutrality in a way that addresses opposing view points. So…

What Do We Do Now?

The second phase of the fight for this particular proposal takes place in two parts, both taking place for a 60 day stretch. The first will serve to collect initial comments on the proposal; The second will serve to take comments that respond to the first round of discussion. That’s enough time for some opportunistic opinion swaying.

All of those petitions you signed, form letters you sent, and links you shared? Get ready to do it all again–just remember how effective it was last time. (That is to say, not very.) Those tactics are fine starting points, if not a bit passive. Improving upon those methods is imperative to this part of the proceeding.

Here’s how to step it up:

1. Email (openinternet@fcc.gov) or leave a comment on FCC Docket 14-28.

When doing so, make it a unique. Do not send a single line comment and do not just copy and paste a pre-made script. These will get lumped into the category of mass mailers and while the committee will be able to see the total number of times a generic comment has been submitted, it appears underwhelming. Imagine a single people of paper “x1,000″ on it to signify it was sent one thousand times as opposed to one thousand individual pieces of paper stacked up.

In addition, try to address specific parts of the proposed rule. State objections to specific rules and convey why you object. It contributes to the conversation and makes your comment more likely to be read. Also, make sure to offer support for parts of the proposal that you agree with. Remember, setting up good rules is the best defense against bad rules. These are the questions the FCC is asking the public. Try to answer them:

  • Should there be an outright ban on fast lanes?
  • Should broadband access be classified as a Title II common carrier?
  • Should the new Open Internet provisions also cover wireless (mobile) broadband?

If you don’t want to write a unique message yourself, grab one of those scripts and throw it in a content spinner so it at least looks like you made an effort.

Oh, and remember to be civil. You fucks. Every comment is in the public domain after the proceeding and if you just curse out the committee you’re going to look like an ass.

2. Don’t forget that social media posts are awareness rather than participation. Spreading the word to as many people as possible is important to make sure the dialogue includes as many people as possible, but the FCC isn’t recording your Facebook posts or tweets (that would be the NSA that records that information), or in my case, blog posts.

3. As always in these situations, contact your representatives. Make sure they know your position as a voter and as their constituent. If there’s one thing elected officials fear, it’s no longer being an elected official.

If you don’t know who your elected officials are (First consider taking a few steps back from “What is net neutrality?” and start back at “What is a representative government and how do I participate?”), then you can find out who they are and how to contact them at WhoIsMyRepresentative or at ContactingTheCongress. The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) has even made it easier. Enter your zip code and phone number and they will connect you with your representative’s office.

Is There Anything Else?

Sheesh, I don’t know. I guess not. I feel like this is quite a bit. A good start at the very least, wouldn’t you say? I mean, I don’t even know how you got this far. Did you skip stuff? Don’t skip stuff. Go back and start again. Also this is my way of telling you I have no clue how to close this thing, but I’m pretty much done. So, yeah. Scram, kid.

flattr this!

US Credit Rating Lowered By S&P

Alright people, we need to sit down and have a little chat. We saw a bullshit “Budget Control Act” pass through the House and Senate on the backs of politicians who only intend to create an illusion of safety so they can continue their business of extraordinary spending and pocketing of money without anyone questioning them. This act was supposed to right the economy, set straight our budget woes, save us from default. So what happens? The stock market tanks and late Friday night Standard & Poor’s (S&P) lowered America’s credit rating from AAA to AA+. But we’ll come back to the credit score, because that rating from the S&P a whole heaping pile of “go fuck yourself. For now, let’s focus on why the Budget Control Act is seventy-four pages of self-satisfying political twattery.

Let’s take a look at what this deal accomplishes, aside from providing just enough of a distraction to the general public that they’ll completely ignore the problem until it affects their pocket directly.

  • The deal will produce $2.1 trillion in budget cuts and debt limit increases over a ten year period.

This is a good place to start, because it sounds like a big number and that has seemed to be enough to suffice for the majority of the public, who hear that figure and assume “Oh, that sounds like it’s enough to fix things.” Here’s a scary fact: That number is minuscule for a plethora of reasons. Firstly, our budgeted spending for the current year (2011, if you’re reading in a time machine or are incapable of looking at the date of this post) is $3.82 trillion with a revenue of $2.17 trillion. Some fancy mathematical figurings will show our deficit for this year alone to be $1.65 trillion. This act barely covers THIS YEAR’S DEFICIT, which is being added onto a national debt of $14.57 trillion. So a $2.1 trillion reduction in that number is a step in the right direction, right?

Yeah, no. Here’s this thing that is totally excluded in these figures: They don’t account for the debt that will be accumulated over the next ten years as well. Let’s go back to the number for how much we spent this year: $3.82 trillion. There is a built in– a built in– budget increase of $7 to 9 trillion dollars over that same ten years. So now you’re cutting $2.1 trillion of somewhere around $21.5-23.5 trillion. Does everyone realize how ridiculously insignificant of a change that is? Going on a year by year basis, that’s a cut of $210 billion on a debt that increases by $700 to $900 billion. If you drew those on a graph to see where they would intersect, they fucking wouldn’t. Unless it was at the axis intersection of “Pretending to Address the Issue” and “Go Fuck Yourself,” because that is what our representatives have been doing have have said to the American people by passing this act.

  • The deal provides at least one dollar of actual spending cuts for each dollar in debt limit increase.

Hey, here’s a better idea: Stop increasing the debt ceiling. This answer should seem pretty obvious, right? How did we end up with so much debt? We kept spending and borrowing money that we didn’t have to pay for the spending. So how do we reduce that debt? Did you answer “Borrow more than we ever have before?” You did? I didn’t realize you were an elected official. If a regular person, a citizen of this country, was in debt and attempted to borrow more to get out of debt, they would be turned away immediately and would be laughed out of the bank. American politicians just passed the exact same plan as that for a way to decrease the budget and then congratulated themselves on how great of a job they did. All this means is that we’re cutting spending by just enough to stay under debt ceiling– the newly raised debt ceiling, that is– for long enough that we can ignore the problem for a little bit longer. At least that was the plan.

And then the markets crashed. The Dow Jones dropped over 500 points on Thursday. If you don’t know the stock market, just know that the idea of a 500 point drop is usually enough to make most traders shit themselves and panic. Expect to see more of that on Monday. The Nasdaq was down nearly a full percent as well on the backs of reports that tech spending is down, which was a touch call to make seeing as pretty much all spending is down because no one has any goddamn money. And then the S&P dropped the US credit rating from AAA to AA+.

The strange thing about this is that the drop in the credit score is probably well deserved. In fact, it probably should have happened a while ago, we’ve kind of been in the nation version of that friend that is constantly bumming money off of others for some awesome project that is going to make everyone rich for some time now. But here’s the reason that the decline in credit rating coming from the S&P is the biggest pile of bullshit that has ever been presented: The S&P is the same organization that rated all of the sub-prime mortgages– you know, the ones caused the housing bubble burst that helped put us in this situation in the first place– as AAA securities. Here’s why: Banks choose who will rate the securities. When the choose an organization to rate them, they pay a fee to the rater. If the rating given is low, the bank isn’t going to take that security. So S&P inflated the ratings to approve the sub-prime mortgages so they could receive the fee. While this isn’t all their fault and these mortgages should have been addressed long before they had time to become an issue, for them to now downgrade the US’s credit score when they fucked up in the first place is laughable. Or it would be laughable if it wasn’t so depressingly frightening.

The Obama administration has challenged the S&P’s downgrade decision, stating that their analysis is off by trillions of dollars– and the S&P agrees. They just aren’t sure if they’re going to change the rating back yet or not. The fact of the matter is they’ve been artificially boosting America’s credit rating for years, just as they did with the sub-prime mortgages. But to lower it now seems ludicrous considering the Budget Control Act, despite being a pathetic excuse for a solution, met every requirement that was put forth by the credit rating agencies. Moody’s, another credit rating organization, is maintaining the US as a AAA rating.

Should we as a collective nation be afraid of what is coming? Yes. Very much so. Monday is more than likely going to be a shit show on the stock markets. Gold is more than likely going to increase exponentially and the US dollar is going to be valueless. A lowered credit rating may not come now after the reassessment, but it will be looming again soon. Good luck trying to borrow money with a damaged credit rating and a worthless monetary system. People don’t invest in something they know they won’t get their money back on, and America is looking like a pretty terrible investment.

flattr this!

The Debt Ceiling is Really Confusing

I wanted to take a moment to tackle the pressing issue in American politics at the moment: the debt ceiling. However after some analysis of my understanding of the issue, combined with the general explanations provided by the 24 hour news networks, I came to the conclusion that no one really has a clue what is going on. So I think it’s best we take a step back and try to simplify this problem as much as possible so everyone knows that America will not implode on August 2nd.

First things first, what in the world is the debt ceiling? It is the legal limit of how much the government can borrow. It’s been in place since World War I and was established to allow for blanket borrowing up to a given point. It’s also been raised around 100 times since it’s inception, so that given point is kind of arbitrary in the sense that we’ve just pretended it doesn’t exist every time we’re about to hit it.

This brings us to another question, just how high is the debt ceiling? It’s $14.6 trillion dollars, up from just over $1 trillion in the 80’s. Now maybe you’re asking how did it get that high? That’s a fair question. Here’s an analogy for you:

You live in a pretty standard ranch style house. You’ve started filling the house with a bunch of cool stuff that you bought. As it turns out one of the things you bought, we’ll say a life size replica of a female giraffe that measures just short of 16 feet tall, will not fit standing up under your 10 foot ceilings. But it is too good to give up, and you don’t want to cut it down or anything, so instead you head over to the bank to borrow some money to raise your ceiling. Yeah, it’s going to cost you quite a bit, but the bank is pretty sure you’re good for it and you keep insisting that you are. So, money is lent, the ceiling is raised, and you now have your awesome giraffe standing in all its long-necked majesty.

Now you know you have this loan from the bank, and it’s not due for awhile. You should probably start paying that back, but there’s this great sale on oversized spiral staircases at Staircase Depot. Unfortunately, your 16 foot ceiling isn’t high enough to justify taking advantage of this sale. Luckily for you, though, you’re the head of your community organization committee. Community fees are due to paid soon, so you decide you’ll just raise the cost a little bit and take some of that money for your remodeling. After all, it’s going to benefit everyone for you to have that money and you’ll pay  them back eventually. So you up the fees, keep some cash, and up your ceiling to about 40 feet because why not?

Now, you’re way over your head in debt and you know you cannot pay it off. But here’s the thing: you added a pool to the main floor of your house and it would be totally badass to have a diving board up at the top of the stair case. You just need about 8 more feet so there’s room to jump up without hitting the ceiling. Everyone in your neighborhood is kind of pissed at you so you can’t ask for any money from them, and the bank is still tapping it’s foot waiting for you to come through on that loan. So you hit up your Asian friend. He’s surprisingly not that great at math, so he lends you the money with the idea that you’ll pay him back with interest in the future.

Now you’ve got everything you could possibly want and you didn’t have to sacrifice a single thing to get it. Reality hits hard for you when everyone wants their money back and at the same time. There’s not a whole lot of room for the ceiling to go at this point without risking either cutting down some of your purchases inside the house (you call them “programs”). If you raise the roof any further, it’s going to be held up with twigs, rotted 2×4’s and some duct tape. It won’t hold for long if you take that route, and people that have lent you money are going to just start taking things from you to get back their investment. It’s time to make some changes.

That is where we’re at right now. So that brings us to one last, important question: What happens if we don’t pay back the debt? Well like with any debt, it defaults if it’s not paid off. What happens if we default? We’re not really sure. There’s a few potential outcomes.

  1. Nothing. We’re safe. Nothing changes, everyone we owe money to just assumes we’ll figure this out, and we keep on going like nothing ever happened. Odds on this are low because, well, that’s kind of how we got here.
  2. The stock market essentially collapses and costs everyone with investments in the system a nice chunk of change. Wall Street takes the hit, but main street keeps operating.
  3. When we default, our credit score drops from a AAA to AA, which means higher interest rates on our loans. If that happens, all of our AAA level loans will be sold for next to nothing. We’ll be looking at a bit of an economic meltdown that will lead to a lot of unemployment and inflation.
  4. Open the floodgates and welcome to Hell on earth, just in time for 2012. Everything tanks for America and China demands their chunk of our debt be repaid. We’re looking at warfare at this point. America’s military is far superior to China in every way but numbers, and don’t expect a desperate American military to play by the standard “polite” rules of war.

Option for is clearly an extreme and about as unlikely as option 1. More than likely, the result will be somewhere between 1 and 3. Where exactly, we have no idea. All we know is it’s time to lower that spiral staircase a few flights and maybe shorten the neck of that giraffe statue. It’s time we start living under a stable, sustainable ceiling.

flattr this!

To Whom It May Concern: The Oxford Comma

As of yesterday, the Oxford Comma is dead. You probably knew it by its more common name, the series comma. That or you didn’t know it at all because you don’t pay attention to punctuation. If you read enough of these blog posts you very easily could argue that I don’t either, but I am familiar with Mr. Comma. I’m a frequent user of this particular piece of punctuation. To some, it’s just another stroke of a pen or tap of a key. To others– to me– it’s a way of life. For those of you who don’t find yourself listing things in sentence form very often, the removal of the Oxford comma from the University of Oxford Style Guide isn’t a big deal. You’ll go through your day completely oblivious to the pain the rest of us will endure because of the editorial blunders that this will create.

It may serve everyone better for me to explain what exactly the Oxford comma is. When you three or more items in a sentence, the comma that can be found after the second to last item in a list and before the coordinating conjunction that procedes the final item is the Oxford, or serial, comma. For those of you that are still lost, it’s the period with a tail on the end. This comma has been under attack for years. The Associated Press stopped acknowledging its existence years ago. I stopped acknowledging the Associated Press as well and while they are yet to respond to my actions (as far as I know, I am ignoring them after all), one can only imagine they are reeling. Here’s an example of a sentence with and without the Oxford comma:

With the Oxford Comma: “Steve’s favorite things include dragons, elliptical bikes, and giving change to the homeless.”
Without the Oxford Comma: “Steve’s favorite things include dragons, elliptical bikes and giving change to the homeless.”

Do you notice a difference? You don’t? (I’m answering for you.) Well allow me to explain why this little exclusion will eventually cause the death of any literary editor I may deal with that enforces such ludicrous exclusions of punctuation.

To better help you understand how maddening this seemingly diminutive change truly is, I’m going to give you a play-by-play of how I read these two sentences. My thoughts will be in italics because I think at a slight slant.

With: “Steve’s favorite things include Ok, (this is an indication that a list is coming so I am prepared for several items) dragons, (Alright, weird start but maybe he’s a medieval kind of kid. How does someone become interested in dragons, exactly? Are there dragon clubs? Would dragon clubs be clubs for fans of dragons or a club for ACTUAL dragons? Oh, there’s still more to this list. Carry on.) elliptical bikes, (he clearly enjoys working out, or perhaps he finds the bike to be a modern take on the trusty steed one would need to fight a dragon. Regardless, there is at least one more item coming as there was a comma after that item.) and giving change to the homeless (that Steve sure is a stand up gentleman and that sentence sure was clear and concise.)

Without: Steve’s favorite things include (List again, no problem.) dragons, (still fucking weird) elliptical bikes and giving change to the homeless (There is no comma separating these things to indicate they are different things so now they are grouped together and I have no idea why. I can only assume Steve only realizes his love for elliptical bikes when he gives change to the homeless, or whenever he is on an elliptical bike he only thinks of how much faster he would be able to get change to homeless people if he just had a real bike. Either way it doesn’t make any sense and I’m no infuriated at the idea that Steve is clearly extremely dysfunctional in most social situations and has created some sort of correlation between two completely irrelevant things AND he’s fucking obsessed with dragons. Steve is no longer a stand up gentleman. Steve is a monster and must be stopped.)

DO YOU SEE? Do you see the difference? Do you see why this will annoy the everliving shit out of me? Things that are not meant to be grouped together need separation. If you want to chalk this up to OCD that’s fine, you’ve got a strong case. I don’t like it when my food touches on my plate either. Regardless, these things do no belong in the same space on the page.

“But AJ, what about when there’s just two things in a sentence and you just separate them with ‘and?’ There’s no comma there and everyone knows exactly what you mean.”

Great point, asshole. Let me tell you why this is different. The rest of the items in the list are divided from one another with a comma. During the course of a list, if two things belong together, they are combined with an “and” but kept as a separate clause with the freaking comma. For example: “My favorite bands are Simon and Garfunkel, Hall and Oates, and Outkast.” Without that comma Hall and Oates, best known for their 70’s and 80’s synth-pop, have now added the southern hip-hop group Outkast, best known for phrases like “pimpin’ ho’s and slammin’ Cadillac doors,” to their ensemble. As much as I love Hall and Oates, and as much as I love Outkast, I prefer to keep my Private Eyes album away from my copy of Southernplayalisticcadillacmuzik.

There are critics who say the Oxford comma is wasteful. To them I ask, “are we running low on commas?” It’s not a natural resource. It’s a piece of punctuation and one that keeps sentences better structured. We all need to tighten down during hard economic times, but cutting commas will gain no support from me. You all limit yourselves, “no more than 10 commas this week” you may say. Me? I’ll be swimming in unique clauses that remain separate but equal. The Oxford comma is a tool that is useful, logical, and a necessity. We must not let it perish, or else independent clauses will forever spill into one another, creating unfortunate combinations of terms. We must say no. No to less commas. No to the elimination of the Oxford commas. There shall be commas for all!

(I’ve always wanted a rally cry, but I never thought it’d be about punctuation. Eh, I’ll take it.)

flattr this!

Wisconsin: Welcome to the New Democracy

After spending the end of my last post talking about how it’s difficult to blog about events that are still taking place, I figured I should totally do it again anyway.

As a citizen of Madison, Wisconsin and a registered voter, I would be remissed to not touch on what is happening at the capitol building of this city. Before getting to that, let us first set the stage of how we got here. The state gubernatorial elections took place last November and yielded a heavy favor to Republican candidate Scott Walker. From the very start of his campaign, he ran on a platform of vowing to cut benefits and wages of state workers. One of his first acts as governor of Wisconsin was, to what should have been no surprise, attempting to pass a bill that would eliminate many of he collective bargaining rights of union workers. Included in this was the loss of negotiating benefits, the limiting of discussion on wages, and raising pension and health care contributions. This proposal was met, also to no surprise, with some reservations from state workers and union members. Seeing as the state of Wisconsin is the largest employer in the state of Wisconsin, it seems like a strange fight to pick. Yet, here we are. But I’m not worried about the politics of it all. I’m not going to tell you what side is right and what side is wrong. The intentions of Scott Walker have been made remarkably clear by Scott Walker himself, and the contents of his bill can be readily found online. What I am more interested in is the response to Scott Walker’s bill.

On Friday, February 11, 2011, Mr. Walker openly discussed his plans for the state budget and how he planned to cut away at the state’s deficit and rein in spending. Rumors swirl of protests to be made by union members across the state. Walker readies the Wisconsin National Guard in case of massive strikes. On Monday, February 14, 2011, it was made clear that Walker would attempt to pass the bill as quickly as possible. Small protests begin at the capitol building in Madison, Wisconsin. On Tuesday, February 15, 2011, it is announced that Scott Walker will make his budget address not at the capitol building, where protests were now in full force, but at Vita Plus, a local livestock food manufacturer. It was intended to have a Legislative meeting at Vita Plus, a privately owned business that could block protestors from being near the legislative process, but as it turns out, that would be illegal. Over the course of Wednesday and Thursday, the size of the protests grew larger. Reports of over 25,000 people were widely spread. Unions across the United States began to join in a show of solidarity for the members of the Wisconsin unions. Madison became the hot spot of national headlines. President Barack Obama made a point to comment on the ongoing situation, calling it an “assault on unions.” Walker replied with a vaguely threatening “stay out of my business.”

If one followed every point of this event, one would see two very different but very important branches of “new” democracy. On one hand, you have Governor Scott Walker, who is attempting to force feed legislation down the throats of the people on the grounds that he’s in power and he knows what is best. On the other hand, you have a huge group of a frustrated and motivated work force who oppose the proposed changes and are making their voice heard. I fear, as we all should regardless of political affiliation and position in regard to this particular issue, that American democracy is headed in the direction that Mr. Walker is taking it. While change comes in many forms and is often feared by some, it should never be an action of brute force. This is a lesson that Mr. Walker has yet to learn. With every piece of opposition that he is met with, he has responded with threats of flexing his power, manipulating laws, and telling others to “stay out of it.” This is not how a system in which elected officials represent the citizenry works. On the other hand, the protestors who so strongly oppose this bill are willing to “shut down the state” in order to make their voices heard. They remain stagnant on the steps of the capitol, making their voices impossible to ignore. When the citizenry oppose the government, this is what needs to happen. The electorate do not exist to be ignored at all times aside from elections. They are a living constant in the process of democracy. The system of checks and balances in the United States government include the legislative, executive, and judicial branches. This is what we are taught. But what is often forgotten in the checking process is the constituency, the voting public. If you oppose a piece of legislation, it is your job to make your voice heard. What is happening in Wisconsin isn’t about what side is right and wrong. It is about a group of citizens standing up to a politician because they feel wronged. What is happening on the steps of the Wisconsin capitol is democracy live.

And if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got to go be a part of it.

flattr this!

What’s Going On In Egypt, Part 2: Wait, what happened? Edition

Since part one of this series of posts, a lot has changed in Egypt. Have you ever put something in the oven and then forgot about it until you smelled burning? Egypt smells like burning. Everyone turned their back for a minute and suddenly a dictator has stepped down the military is in control. It also appears the fire of Egypt is spreading across the region as Iran and Bahrain have seen protests in the past few days. Because of this, my interest has shifted from “why did this happen?” to “what the hell is going to happen?”

First, it’s important to understand that with the military in control, Egypt is still under emergency law which allows censorship, suspends the constitution, and allows police to arrest and jail citizens without charge. Basically, emergency law states, “You know those rights you have? Yeah, we’re gonna need those back.” It has been in place place since Hosni Mubarak took control and is how he maintained his power for thirty years, because it’s hard to speak out against someone who just arrests you and prevents anyone from reporting it. The Egyptian military has vowed to address all issues that the citizenry has requested, and most likely will as the majority of military personel are serving as part of Egypt’s minimum service requirements. The military has been on the side of the protestors for the majority of the protest process and it more than likely won’t change now. The military has thus far dissolved the parliament and plans to organize elections to take place in six months. Until then, they plan to amend the constitution, presumably changing the first amendment to “No assholes as government officials.” Hopefully one of the new amendments will also state that the constitution can’t be suspended, it’d be a shame to have them write a whole new one just to have it ignored. The military also stated it would abide by all international treaties, including their peace treaty with Israel, which is relieving to Israelites who are freaked the fuck out. They’ve had a rough history with Egypt. Something about plagues, I’m not sure. It’s all very vague.

So with Egypt’s future hanging in the balance and constantly changing over the course of the next six months, it’s been very hard to write a blog post about. They won’t stop changing things. If you watch the news feed constantly roll in new footage and stories and pictures, it’s easy to lose track of what exactly is going on.

If you follow the major news networks, you know the concern as Egypt builds their new government is influence of a group called the Muslim Brotherhood. If you have as much understanding of them as the major news channels, you know nothing of them aside from their name and they are probably scary. Let’s cover a few things about them first.

What is the Muslim Brotherhood?
The Muslim Brotherhood is the oldest and largest Islamist political group in the world. It aims to use the Qur’an as the reference point for laws and home life. This seems extreme to some, mostly those who consider America to be a Christian nation and think the Bible should be the point of reference for laws and home life.

Is the Muslim Brotherhood a violent organization?
Yes and no. They do not condone violence, nor have they since their inception in 1928. Despite this, it has been accused of inciting violence throughout the Arab states at various points in its history, generally when it supports the removal of a governing body such as British control over Egypt in the 1940’s. There have been several groups that have broken off from the Muslim Brotherhood who have turned to violence, but they are not representatives of the Brotherhood. They often distance themselves from the Brotherhood because of the Brotherhood’s conservative position in regards to violence.

Is the Muslim Brotherhood a terrorist organization?
They condemned the attacks of September 11, have distanced themselves from terrorist organizations, and have been criticized by Osama bin Laden for betraying Islamic leader Sayyid Qutb. So in short, no. I feel like if you get criticized by Osama bin Laden, you’re doing pretty good at not being a terrorist organzation.

How strong is the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt?
In 2005 they won 20% of the seats in parliament by running as independents, giving them the largest opposing majority of the dictatorship disguised as a republic with emergency law (Fun fact for next time, no emergency lasts 30 years, let’s catch on a little quicker). Because of their success in the 2005 election, the Muslim Brotherhood and its leaders were rewarded with jail sentences and a ban from the country’s politics. Currently it is assumed that the members of the Brotherhood being held captive will be freed, and they will continue what they have done throughout the entire protest process: remain nonviolent and supportive of a democratic government. Those radicals.

If things ever slow down in Egypt, maybe I can write a competent blog post with some decent information, but as it stands and things are all over the place, it’s difficult to do. Hopefully this will give you a better understanding of the current state and the future of Egypt, and why the Muslim Brotherhood isn’t to be feared, unless you’re an irrational talk show host who needs to stir your audience and do something to garner yourself attention. If that’s the case, we can’t be friends. Unless you put me on your show. There, the line has been drawn.

flattr this!

What’s Going on in Egypt? (Part 1)

I worried that doing a blog post about Egypt would be pointless. It’s been over two weeks since the citizenry began protesting in the streets. The story has been the on-again-off-again discussion of the talking heads on every twenty-four hour news station. I’ve spoken with family and friends about the issue. Basically, I thought it would be too little, too late. There is no one to inform. And then Pew Research Center released this data from recent polling that 52% of American adults have reported hearing little or nothing about the anti-government protests. Over half of America is unaware of the protests in Egypt. Over half of America is unaware of the protests in Egypt. Over half of America is unaware of the protests in Egypt. Over half of America is unaware of the protests in Egypt. Please, please, please, please let this survey be wrong. Let it be a joke. Tell me those who were polled were all in on some massive conspiracy to continue to make America look completely ignorant and aloof in regards to events around the world. We aren’t this dumb, right? We as a collective nation are not so imbecilic, so disinterested, so inattentive to the world around us that over half of us don’t have a clue that there is a revolution directly involving 80 million people going on right now, right?

We’re all fucked, aren’t we?

Just for the record, that is not where Egypt is. For full disclosure, that screen capture is from 2009 and I consider myself as much a viewer of Fox News as I consider myself a viewer of MSNBC. I am not one. I don’t watch the news cycle on these channels, at least not on purpose. I totally would if any of them either a) Began reporting the news rather than just commenting on it or b) stopped referring to themselves as news channels. They are simple requests. I digress, this is not about berating the cable channels, this is about educating. I have a handful of fans and followers. If I can say they know what is going on and I am not contributing to the 52% of Americans that don’t know about the protests (52% of Americans don’t know about the protests! Seriously. this is a statistic I cannot stop repeating. It has been engraved in my brain permanently and no matter how hard I try to scrub off the grime of disgust and the staining disappointment, it will remain.), I will be happy. So, class starts now.

(Aside: Ok, class starts in a minute. If you clicked on the link to the polling information you’ll notice that the 52% statistic doesn’t appear until the third paragraph. This means one of two things to me: Either Pew Research Center didn’t find think those numbers were that relavent or, the far scarier and probably more accurate answer, they weren’t even shocked by it. Pew Research Center is one of the most respected names in data collection and surveying and odds are they weren’t even shocked to find out that over half of Americans were unaware of a global event. Whoever through that story together initially probably had that as the lead information and the editor overrode it. “You really think anyone is going to be surprised Americans are stupid? Bury that in there somewhere else, everyone knows that already.” I am frightened for the people of this nation. Maybe more than that, I am frightened for myself. 1 out of every 2 people I talk to is a complete idiot, that’s what I’m going to take from this. I could have assumed, but I would have hoped I was wrong. Nope, dead on. Thanks for confirming half of you are morons America. Alright, no class begins)

Basic Information:
Egypt is a northern African nation with a population of just under 80 million people. It declared its independence by constitution in 1971. Over 99% of the population are native Egyptians, but it is one of the most traveled to tourist destinations in the world. It is also one of the most diversified nations economically in the Middle East. With one of the richest histories of any nation in the world, Egypt is 387,000 miles of worldly belongings, ancient landmarks, and historical culture.

Government:
The government is led by a gentleman (and I use that term lightly) by the name of Hosni Mubarak. Mubarak is considered the president of Egypt, but that’s kind of like calling Hitler a Jew; Technically true, but they have clearly misinterpreted it their respective positions mean. Also Hitler was about as respective of Jews as Mubarak is of the Presidential Republic in place as Egypt’s government. Mubarak took control after Anwar Sadat was assassinated in 1981. Since then, Mubarak has enjoyed reelection after reelection, thanks in part to a strong platform of political reforms that include such progressive ideas including “Hosni Mubarak is President whether you like it or not”, “if anyone opposes Hosni Mubarak they will be imprisoned or killed” and “no voting political parties or other candidates can run against Hosni Mubarak despite Egypt having a republic.” While these reforms are fairly uncommon for a republic government, they are fairly standard procedure for a dictatorship. So let’s go ahead and assume that’s what Mubarak is running.

Demographics:
90% of the 80 million people of Egypt are Muslim. A large majority of the remaining 10% are Christians, and the last sliver of the population is mostly unreported because a court order in 2006 declared that Islam, Christianity, and Judaism are the only recognized religions. Bare in mind that American politicians are calling the man who supported this legislation a “good friend,” “not…a dictator,” and “an American ally.”

Tomorrow I’ll cover why protests are taking place, what America is doing about it, and what the future has in store for Egypt. Also, what the hell is the Muslim Brotherhood?

flattr this!