Saturday, December 31, 2005

Reflection on the Future - NYE 2006

It's new years eve

and time to offer some reflections. Currently, I'm listening to friend of my little brother downstairs in the basement. They arrived expecting to have a party and are asking why there's no ice in the icebox. My little brother is lying to himself and his family in order to say that he's not throwing a party - even though it may well happen.
I was put off by young men such as Chris and Darren and others who have a sense of entitlement about the future. It reminds me of the recent letters by Washington Post readers in today's Free for All. Laurence B. McCullough and Timothy Barnum respond to Robert J. Samuelson's Dec. 28 column, "Our Entitlement Paralysis." I found the Samuelson peice to be a fair portrayal of our current predicament. We cannot sustain the current Social Security when the Baby boomers retire, therefore we should rexamine the rationale for wealthy retirees to receive benefits.
It was the sense of entitlement that struck me. Baby Boomers through no perceivable forethought of their own, populated and developed the world according to their vision, a result of Manifest Destiny \ American Dream myth.
As we can see, the world is rejecting that worldview that says, I'm entitled to something if I paid for it. The wealth derived from war and turn of the century sweatshop industrialization, and the great depression was used to create capital for subjecting the world and its populations to the whim of the ruling elite class.
Now, we see the that capitalism depends on infinate growth through the burning of finite fossil fuels to sustain the current level of comfort and luxury for the ruling class and much of middle class USA.
What bothers me about the kids in the basement is they don't seem to get the big picture. I see them watching Ultimate Fighting Championship on New Years Eve, waiting for me to leave so they can start binge drinking and listening to really really shitty music.
I suppose some of my concern results from the fact that they treat me like an "adult" (and for the most part I feel compelled to act like one if only to show them a good example) which means that they are still very much kids. But they are commercialized and socialized kids, who do not seem to care about the true meaning of Christianity or to be concerned by the increasing suspensions of civil rights designed by our founding fathers to guard against oppression.
We've heard about the Washington state patriot test given to 10th graders. What we Gen X people are learning should be that an intervention is necessary with our younger brothers and sisters. We need to be active role models of community alliance and awareness. I was inspired by an Indymedia comment which directed readers to take action and then report on the experiences. That is truly what is needed to show our empowerment-needy brothers and sisters the way to gain the Future.

Monday, December 19, 2005

Beware Digital Spectrum Corporate Give-away

The debate about the digital spectrum sell-off and the requisite analog TV conversion raises serious questions about control over the airwaves which, at least in theory, belong to the public. In reality, we’re seeing that our airwaves are managed by a cumbersome federal government in collusion with multinational broadcast media corporations. It really is a fascist conspiracy that attempts to subvert public control over public assets, while kicking-back $3 billion to the corporations who control the media oligopoly. Although the digital spectrum conversion is intended to generate federal funds by the sale of unlicensed spectrum (around $10 billion have already been earmarked by King George II for deficit relief), the money would be better spent on our community media outlets and public broadcasting efforts.
The government does not have the consent of the governed in this case, if only due to the fact that very few people know what’s happening with our airwaves or our money –small wonder given that the commercial media companies have no interest in raising public awareness of this issue.
Bestowing greater control and the right to license or sell-off digital spectrum upon our local communities is the best way to serve the public interest. Local governments have the most accountability in elected officials and are best able to meet the needs and reflect the values of the community. The public interest is what airwaves are for, spectrum is not a commodity to be bought and sold to the highest bidder only to aid big government’s fiscal mismanagement. New unlicensed digital spectrum should be given to the communities that it will serve, to benefit the community directly without the federal middleman.

Monday, December 12, 2005

Solar mends "fraying electric supply"

letter to the Washington Post

It’s unfortunate that Peter Behr’s concern for our electric supply does not include encouragement for solar energy [“Powerless” Dec. 11, Outlook B5]. The most accessible form of renewable energy, provided daily without interruption, is not subject to the whims of deregulated power companies looking to maximize profits. Our elected officials can choose to install photovoltaic panels on government buildings and give businesses and homeowners incentives to do the same as is widespread in states such as California and Oregon. Solar power tied into the grid also bypasses the daily reliance on transmission lines to bring power from distant sources. Instead, the power is generated where it is being used eliminating the efficiency loss from high-tension lines. Furthermore, DC’s building height restriction is highly conducive to uniform installation standards. Solar power is a good first step towards creating energy independence – if only our elected officials could see the light.

Monday, December 05, 2005

Yes for "a la carte" cable options


I am writing to offer my enthusiastic endorsement of FCC Chairman Kevin Martin’s suggestion of “a la carte” cable subscription options. As quoted in a Washington Post story by Arshad Mohammed [Business D1, Nov. 30] Martin’s Nov. 29 testimony to the Senate Commerce Committee Open Forum on Decency, “concludes that purchasing cable programming in a more a la carte manner in fact could be economically feasible and in consumers’ best interest.”

From a consumer’s perspective, I could not agree more. A la carte pricing, the cable subscription option whereby consumers pay for only the channels they want is the saving grace many consumers have been waiting for. Because I choose not to pay for offensive programming, I have been forced to refuse cable television altogether. Even basic cable packages include networks that air offensive or self-serving programs. It won’t be enough for the cable industry to self-regulate because I don’t believe they’re acting in the public’s interest in the first place.

Consider the arguments the cable industry executives use against a la carte pricing. “[I]t would reduce their advertising revenue [gasp!] and crowd out niche channels that would not attract enough viewers to survive if sold on their own.” Well, as a consumer, neither of these seem to affect the public interest. That is to say, most existing customers will likely keep their standard package for the flat rate – it’s hard to believe niche channels (most of which are owned by larger media conglomerates anyway) will suffer unnecessarily from a la carte pricing. In fact, the “niche” channels are simply a vehicle for advertising sales as I will explain below.

The cable industry is not entirely threatened by a la carte pricing as it turns out. Just a few days after Martin’s testimony, Cablevision Chairman Charles Dolan said he agrees with Martin that a la carte pricing is in the best interests of the consumer. As quoted on, Dolan states,

our experience indicates à la carte will result in a more affordable service for all with more programming options. [Chairman Martin’s] approach, in our view, is consistent with the best traditions of retailing in this country. Consumers should not be obliged directly or indirectly to buy services they do not want. Cablevision has expressed its support for à la carte over the years and in earlier testimony to Congress. We hope Chairman Martin’s remarks encourage a move by the industry in this direction.

But the odds are against the industry taking this action on its own. In a piece by Leslie Brooks Suzukamo,
Industry analyst Josh Bernoff of Cambridge, Mass.-based Forrester Research explains that networks force cable companies to buy their lesser channels in packages along with the good ones in order to sell more commercials. A la carte pricing would jeopardize this guaranteed advertising and he says, “the industry would do almost anything to prevent it.”

In a piece by Paul Kapustka,
another protect-the-status-quo research house, Legg Mason,
said in a report Tuesday that several economic factors -- including the fact that many cable channels might go out of business in an a la carte scheme, or that cable prices might rise -- will keep such ideas out of upcoming telecom reform legislation. "For now, the economic realities of such a requirement are likely to be too problematic for Congress to agree on legislation," the Legg Mason report concluded.

I’m struck by the argument this pro-industry report suggests: to save cable channels that might go out of business in an a la carte scheme, consumers must continue to subsidize “niche” channels they don’t even want – just so they can watch programs on a few channels they do want. What happened to free-market competition? If the channel can’t make money on it’s own merit, wouldn’t the invisible hand of capitalism replace it with a better alternative? Why are consumers obligated to pay for unwanted channels just to enable the industry to make more money?

It’s obvious that the cable industry does not want to cater to consumers, they want to sell advertising - but what recourse do consumers have against the giant media oligopoly? Several lawmakers including Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) are favoring a la carte pricing but because so many in Congress are bought out by or invested in the entertainment industry, we’ll have to wait until the new FCC report on a la carte pricing comes out.

In the meantime, I would urge those who want the right to refuse offensive media in your own homes to contact the FCC and your legislators to tell them this is option is important to you.