Monday, February 24, 2014

Anything But Ancient Artifacts

After a weekend of watching college athletics, the Olympic Closing Ceremonies, and reading online, our staff members were all struck by how far physical technology has come in just our lifetimes. At the same time, some not-so-modern realities have begun to make us wonder how much real progress we've actually made, especially in the United States.

From the anti-union vote in Tennessee last week - which is now being officially contested because of improper interference by Republican lawmakers - to the 'Jim Crow'-style anti-gay bill now sitting on the desk of Arizona Governor Jan Brewer, many Americans find themselves having to re-fight many of the same battles small-minded extremist conservatives lost forty and fifty years ago.

From the corrupt actions of Wisconsin's Republican Governor Scott Walker and New Jersey's Republican Governor Chris Christie, to the class warfare being waged against workers, to the modern-day version of slavery the one-percent seem to want to reinstate, it seems that both the workers and the wealthy have forgotten the lessons America learned in the post-World War II period, often driven by labor unions.

Sadly, it appears America may be about to repeat some of those same kinds of Stone Age mistakes on a global platform, specifically the internet.

Over the weekend, streaming content giant Netflix finally agreed to pay the ransom demanded by telecom giant Comcast, so that Netflix customers could finally watch their videos smoothly. Under the net neutrality law Congress signed in 2010, and under the longstanding de facto net neutrality rules, there shouldn't have been any problems for either Netflix or its customers.

Long before the right-wing activist Supreme Court struck down the net neutrality law, telecom companies like Comcast were already illegally throttling internet speeds for some kinds of content and some providers, while speeding it up for others. In short, under their unethical rules of conduct, if your internet service provider doesn't agree with your opinion? Too bad for you, they have the right to make getting to your personal or business website brutally, painfully slow for your customers. And if the Comcast/Time Warner merger is allowed to go through? Companies like Comcast will likely swallow up most of their competitors, creating only three or four massive companies that own nearly all the access to the internet in the U.S. - and leaving you even less choice for internet than you already have.

For those of you who might be confused by arguments about technology, consider this situation in terms of media. In the United States, there is no law about who can say they are a "news" provider. There are so many outlets, all across the ideological spectrum, that call themselves "news" organizations, but are very far from legitimate news organizations.

Americans looking for an unbiased perspective - which the news is supposed to provide - may be surprised indeed to hear about how the Russian-backed, now-former government of Ukraine recently paid U.S. conservative "news" websites to push their anti-western propaganda.

That, by the way, is one of the reasons the FCC wanted to do a survey of newsrooms and journalists across the nation - to make sure Americans were getting a true diversity of opinions, as well honest, unbiased news. Sadly, the FCC gave in once again to the cries of right-wing radio and Fox "News", and decided to back off on their survey, pointing Americans back down the road of corporate media censorship.

Humans, in general, tend to welcome new technology while at the same time decrying some of the changes it brings. However, there are some things that should be obsolete and forgotten. Bigotry, segregation, indentured servitude, and oligopoly are all ideas that need to go the way of the dodo bird, slavery, or even manually building pyramids.

In contrast, the principles of justice, honest pay for honest work, and competing fairly in the marketplaces of both business and politics, are ideas that are anything but ancient artifacts.

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