Broadband as a public right of way (via Virtual Democracy)

I have often discussed net neutrality in my blogging sometimes at considerable length and sometimes with considerable passion. I have not discussed the broad band implications. I am not really familiar with broad band. This gentleman is.

He discusses this part of the issue with obvious knowledge. If you are interested in this aspect of the net neutrality issue, this is a good read.

James Pilant

Broadband as a public right of way This essay was written in support of the Super Santa Barbara 2011 art exhibit on net neutrality In the forty-one years since UC Santa Barbara became the third node on ARPANET (the government funded precursor to the Internet), generations of Santa Barbarans have been born into lifescapes increasingly dominated by “online time.” The growth of the Int … Read More

via Virtual Democracy

Net Netrality Endangered By The Mushy Middle!

Americans are conditioned by their upbringing to compromise, to share, and to make deals. This makes it easier to get along with people and facilitates the development of relationships. But anyone who has eaten an entire bag of M&M’s knows that there can be too much of a good thing.

Now, there are people in this society, some of them famous, who say over and over again, that what we ought to do, is get the two sides together and compromise.

Net neutrality is the current target of these people. Now, here are our choices, we can allow corporate ownership of the internet or we can maintain it as a public property, so to speak, allowing all equal access. I have to tell you, I don’t see a lot of middle ground. They say if the internet goes to corporate ownership, we will have the right to complain. Well, I have the right to complain about lots of stuff, but the people who are concerned with my complaints are not many. More to the point, throw my complaint up against the power and influence of a giant multi national corporation and that phrase about snowballs and the nether regions leaps to mind.

It’s not hard for me to figure that this web site with no advertisement and no income production is not going to be a priority for a corporate controlled internet. I will wind up with long, long waits for those wishing to see my site and for many there will be no wait at all because they will never be able to see my site. My voice will disappear. That gives me a stake in the outcome and it doesn’t make me friendly to a compromise that really allows no other option but surrender to private ownership of the internet.

Sometimes, you can’t compromise. Sometimes, you can’t give int.

This is one of those times.

James Pilant

Iraq Not Rebuilt – $Billions Wasted

Just wonderful! Of course, it’s not much of surprise, there were already news stories and photographs of disastrous building projects and corporate contractual malfeasance. But here we are, billions in the hole, no doubt costing American lives as the Iraqis looked around and waited for us to fulfill promises our private contractors had little intention of doing in the first place. As long as the money rolled who cared about results. Here’s the lead in from the AP report

A $40 million prison sits in the desert north of Baghdad, empty. A $165 million children’s hospital goes unused in the south. A $100 million waste water treatment system in Fallujah has cost three times more than projected, yet sewage still runs through the streets

As the U.S. draws down in Iraq, it is leaving behind hundreds of abandoned or incomplete projects. More than $5 billion in American taxpayer funds has been wasted — more than 10 percent of the some $50 billion the U.S. has spent on reconstruction in Iraq, according to audits from a U.S. watchdog agency.

That amount is likely an underestimate, based on an analysis of more than 300 reports by auditors with the special inspector general for Iraq reconstruction. And it does not take into account security costs, which have run almost 17 percent for some projects.

Newspaper Columnists – Business Ethics Roundup 8/24/2010

David Moon at Knoxvillebiz decries reliance on the federal government. He is particularly incensed by the money provided to Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, (Mortgage giants). I disagree with his position but I agree this whole bailout business has been a boon to the banks and little has been asked in return. I worry about the mortgage holders, not the villains who preyed on them like deranged vultures.

Edward Lotterman at TwinCities.com explains the difference between cyclical and structural problems in the economy. He explains that the problems besetting us are structural and take a long time to sort out. Lotterman is excellent teacher of economics. If you follow his columns you will pick up the jargon and understand the key terms.

Tell me I’m awesome every day — I’ll pay you. is the intriguing name of Jay Hancock’s current column. It seems there is a company that will call you up once a day for a month for $10 and tell you how awesome you are. I will now quote the quote Mr. Hancock uses from the company’s advertisement (Do you suppose I will ever get the opportunity to quote the quote from another quote?) –

With AwesomenessReminders, a real person will call you every day to tell you how much you rock. If you’re not around, we will leave you a voicemail. Our founder, Zack Burt, has studied psychology in-depth at the university level and found that social reinforcement is critical to maintaining our “frames”, also known as our “point of view”. Getting positive social feedback, via a daily reminder call, is instrumental to progress. Experts agree. This study from Wake Forest University also shows that social feedback has clear effects on self-esteem, even if individuals claim that they are unaffected by social feedback.

Keith Chrostowski from the Kansas City Star quotes Milton Friedman, “The social responsibility of business is to increase profits.” (This, of course, is a magnificent philosophy if the destruction of your nation is your intent.) Chrostowski is urging the formation of “B” corporations. This kind of corporation is designed to make a profit and do good, socially useful good. This turns Mr. Friedman’s insane prediliction for Utopian abstractions on its head. There is a web site where the “B” corporation idea is being pushed. You might give it a look.

Jon Talton in his column, Sound Economy, writes about the demise of “Shareholder Nation.” This was the idea that the great majority of Americans would realize the sound investment qualities of the stock market and invest their money. These Americans were taken to the cleaners in the last two years and are fleeing the stock market and its pseudo security. The idea of shareholder nation has fallen victim to the cold, naked greed and incompetence of our banking class.

Loren Steffy, writing for the Houston Chronicle, explains the game that British Petroleum is playing with those injured by its gross incompetence. It seems that if you accept payment now before you have any real concept of the continuing damage you sign away your right to sue. If you refrain from accepting the settlement offer, you face years of litigation. It is difficult to find any column by Steffy to be anything but a good read, very consistent high quality.

It is difficult decision for me to make, but I have decided to talk about the government response to the spill and here is my opinion.

The federal government’s response to the catastrophe in the gulf was ill conceived, strongly favorable to BP, a failure of leadership and grossly incompetent. The government failed in its most basic responsibility to protect its citizens and threw its lot in with the perpetrators of a vast economic disaster. It is difficult to conceive of any possible decision making worse than what the government has done. It calls into question the basic competence of the current administration.

Internet Nirvana! Wow, Let’s All Go There!

Former Federal Communications Commission Chairman Michael Powell let loose his thoughts on net neutrality.

Mr. Powell’s statements quoted from the article

“The Silicon Valley netroot community, a very powerful community, a very important constituency to this administration, is strongly, almost religiously committed to this issue in a very coordinated way and that provides a lot of power and impetus to keep this issue moving and to push the more extreme versions of net neutrality,” Powell said. He later joked the Internet was “nirvana.”

Mr. Powell is a member of the Chicago School.

When he was appointed to the FCC in the 1990’s, he is notorious for his response to a question about the “digital divide.”

“I think there is a Mercedes divide. I would like to have one, but I can’t afford one.”

In other words, internet access is a luxury that you pay for, not a right you need to function effectively as a citizen, a student or a worker.

He was for internet neutrality when it served his purposes. But now he has discovered the nearly infinite amount of money, can be made from scrapping it, he wants it gone.

Could he have some interest in the demist of the net neutrality? Well, he is on the board of Cisco. The company could make enormous sums from the end of net neutrality.

It does seem that Cisco is, well, a little ruthless in its competitive techniques.

Now, about that “nirvana” thing. The Chicago School is passionate about turning every conceivable resource into a private purchasable good. That includes water!

You see, in his mind, if you can divide it up and make money with it, that’s the logical and intelligent thing to do. If you want to maintain equal access you’re equivalent to a religious loon seeking “nirvana.”

Equal access is democratic and people centered. There is no such thing in his world. It’s like Santa Claus or the Easter Bunny as far as he is concerned.

And if you don’t see it his way, you’re just too stupid to grasp reality.

Now, the reality in his world is this, everything from politics to health care to love follows certain economic rules. These rules are dictated by nature. There is no dispute possible with their logic or power. The most effective way for a society to function is my maximizing choice, and if that choice is determined best by concentrations of economic power, than so be it.

See, the strange world we inhabit is not that world and therefore we are the mental peons he has so sadly to deal with day by day.

I feel sorry for him.

James Pilant

Ethics Blogs Roundup July 3rd, 2010

Lauren Bloom has a post wondering how often British Petroleum has lied.

Gael O’Brien on the website, The Week in Ethics, has another post about British Petroleum, in which she discusses the human toll using an an example the life of William Kruse. This is some fine writing. I’d give it a look if I were you.

David Gebler writing from the web site, Free Management Library, discusses safety and costs from an ethical standpoint. Here’s a nice quote from the article:

“However, as we have seen from the fallout from the Gulf Oil Spill, the recent mine accidents in West Virginia, as well as FAA intervention on airline safety issues, relying on government identification of safety issues may no longer be a viable fall back position for companies that have greater knowledge of the issue than the government.”

Shel Horowitz writing from his blog, Principled Profit, argues against the government guaranteeing loans to private companies to build nuclear power plants. He discusses the dangers of nuclear power plants. I am astonished at the hypocrisy of people who continuously shout “free market” to drown out alternative ideas thinking that the government guaranteeing loans to private industry is anything more than corporate hands in the public till. It’s a complete rejection of capitalism. If private industry and investors are unwilling to bear the risks of building nuclear power plants, should they be built?

Enraged!

I teach Business Ethics. What happened in the health care debate in the last few days is to ethics what a fire hydrant is to a dog. I am enraged. Does anybody at any time, talk ethics about this issue? And I am definitely absolutely not talking about joe lieberman’s, “I am standing for God and country based on how pettily I can act at the moment.” Revenge is not ethics.

How do I explain any of this to students? Health care reform makes them buy private insurance? Whose idea of reform is this? What do I tell them? Their government’s cure for rising health care costs is to make them buy insurance from private companies? How do I explain the importance of ethics, honor and duty, when it is not rewarded? What kindness, consideration and care have the insurance companies done to merit this? Have they been free of fraud and wrong doing?

Should I just re entitle the class Anti-Ethics: how to get ahead and don’t worry, God won’t get you later?

I can’t explain this to ME. There is no way anyone could have told me this debate would work out this way.

I believe in democracy, that people should have some kind of say in how the government functions. I believe that we are in a serious crisis in the field of health care and that it is severely damaging the country not to mention causing death and suffering for many people.

For decades, in poll after poll, the American people have said over and over again that this system is not working. In Congress over the last few days a consensus has been reached to strengthen the current system, essentially rewarding the same actors and fools who have created this crisis in the first place.

We as a free people will be forced to buy private insurance. Let me explain private to you. If the government does it, I can vote, I can complain and the government can make changes. Elected people like staying elected and even fairly small threats to their electability will motivate them. Private industry has a different motive, profits. I have no way of influencing their decisions. None. Zip. Zero.

You might say: Well James, you can buy another insurance policy, get something cheaper. Really? The insurance companies have an exemption from the anti-trust laws. They do not have to compete. With the government mandate that I have to buy insurance, I am being tied and fettered, thrown helpless into the profit making hands of an insurance company. I will be fined, possibly imprisoned if I do not. I can be relatively confident that the government and private industry will make sure I either pay or suffer.

I could go on for page after page, but what’s the point? I’m not a lobbyist. I don’t make campaign contributions in the thousands of dollars. I have e-mailed my representatives with no response at any time on these issues.

As far as I can tell in the minds of those people I had the misfortune to vote for, I don’t exist. My life has no relevance to the people in Washington.

So, tell me, what do I tell my students?

James Pilant

Selling Public Property to Balance The Budget?

Selling Public Property to Balance The Budget?

Robbie Wills poses the question above on his web site.  Below is the full article. Beneath it is my response.
Kimberly Leonard writes for Stateline.org that some states struggling to balance their budgets are moving to sell or lease public property such as state office buildings, prisons and major tollways, a strategy attacked by some as a short-term fix.  Arizona and California lawmakers, for example, have pursued “sale-leasebacks” of state buildings. Connecticut is planning to sell unused office buildings, vacant land, cars and equipment.

Should Arkansas state entities such as the Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality or the Arkansas Teachers Retirement System, both of whom own their own buildings, follow a similar path?  Should we be unloading surplus vehicles and other equipment?

Here’s the link and here’s an excerpt:

The deals afford the states quick cash, while guaranteeing investors a profit after recouping the cost of the building through the long-term lease payments from the state. Arizona officials said they have received about 100 inquiries from interested buyers, including real estate investors, financial investors, the private sector and nonprofits.

My response is below.

Dear Sir:

I believe that selling state property is a badly conceived idea. This property belongs to the citizens of the state in perpetuity. It is difficult to conceive the costs to future generations based on current evaluations. For instance, there were large areas of poor scrub land in Oklahoma that yielded oil. Who knows what treasures lay beneath the soil of Arkansas? As some of the studies I have included links to indicate, it’s extremely difficult to calculate value for even short periods of time.  

You might argue that many of these shifts of public property could be done as leases. But the leases I have seen in the press are for periods of time like 75 years. For all intents and purposes that is forever as far as this generation is concerned. We have an ongoing responsibility to the citizens both future and current that should not be abdicated by putting it off.

Politically there are powerful interests determined to promote this kind of privatization. Are the people of Arkansas well served by a new and determined group of lobbyists whose successful efforts could result in millions and eventually billions of dollars of profit diverted from public possession and public needs? Citizen activism is a brief phenomenon. Lobbyists and business interests are eternal.

Would these be fair deals? Arkansas budget shortfalls are likely to be regular in the future with important needs unfunded in the short term. How hard are the Arkansas negotiators likely to be when the budget must be completed on a fixed schedule and vital public needs are at stake? The City of Chicago negotiated in the middle of a budget crunch and signed on to a very poor deal.

The Texas Legislature researched and debated the subject quite heatedly. They killed the deal amid concerns that they simply could not figure out the proper value and what kind of safeguards the public deserved.

South American began the privatization process almost twenty years ago by privatizing highways. What happened? It was a disaster. The promised benefits failed to materialize. The report concludes that private public partnerships on roads are always suboptimal. (page 5)

In conclusion, privatization is a short term solution for long term budge problems, a band aid when surgery is necessary. The benefits are unproven, disputable or simple not there. These kinds of decisions that transfer public property to the private sector are worthy of the greatest possible scrutiny and they seldom receive it.

Let me point out one additional matter. If privatization is always better than public management, why are you employed?  If you and your colleagues are unable to find viable revenue for the state’s future and incapable of creating highway authorities and other governmental bodies capable of good performance, why shouldn’t you be privatized? (Forgive me, I would never suggest actual privatization nor do I wish to infer you are not working hard or performing a valuable service to Arkansas. I am merely taking the argument for privatization to its logical conclusion.)

If democracy is the best form of government, what does yielding up large portions of the public’s possessions to private industry say about our ability to govern ourselves? The citizens of the United States have faced war and a succession of economic crises. We don’t have to yield to these challenges by quick fixes. We are the people who will show the world how a democracy even in the most serious of economic difficulties can survive and prosper.

Sources

Dennis Enright’s testimony before the United States Senate (2008)

http://finance.senate.gov/hearings/testimony/2008test/072408detest.pdf

Dennis Enright’s testimony before the Texas State Senate Committee On Transportation and Homeland Security (August 12, 2008)

http://www.senate.state.tx.us/75r/senate/commit/c820/handouts08/081208/Dennis_Enright.pdf

Report of the Legislative Study Committee on Private Participation in Toll Projects

ftp://ftp.dot.state.tx.us/pub/txdot-info/library/pubs/bus/tta/sb_792_report.pdf

This was hardly a recommendation and on July 8, 2009, the Texas Legislature denied the Texas Department of Transportation the authority to build privatized toll roads in cooperation with private developers.

 http://enr.ecnext.com/coms2/article_intr090708LoneStarStat

This is U.S. PIRG’s report on toll roads and protecting the public interest.

http://www.uspirg.org/home/reports/report-archives/transportation/transportation2/public-roads-private-costs-the-facts-about-toll-road-privatization-and-how-to-protect-the-public-texas

The City of Chicago decided to lease out their 36,000 parking meters. The Office of the Inspector General released a devastating report that the city has rushed through the deal and had not properly analyzed the costs.  

http://www.chicagoinspectorgeneral.org/pdf/IGO-CMPS-20090602.pdf