My Letter To Congressman Tiberi About Net Neutrality

Today is Internet Slowdown Day.  It’s a form of protest intended to educate people to the concept of net neutrality — the notion that all websites should load with equal speed, and access providers shouldn’t be permitted to sell faster access to the those who can afford to pay top dollar for it and relegate the rest of us to the slow lane.  WordPress, the nifty website that hosts our little blog, is one of the companies that is participating in Internet Slowdown Day.

I think this is an important issue, and not just because I’m a blogger who can’t afford to pay for the internet fast lane and who hates the spinning circle of death, besides.  So, I did something that I’ve never done before:  I wrote an email to my congressman, Representative Pat Tiberi, using his website to do so.  Here’s what I wrote, after the initial introductory paragraph:

I found nothing on your website to address the issue of net neutrality. Therefore, I wanted to write to encourage you to support the concept of net neutrality and oppose any legislation or regulations that would allow internet providers to slow down certain websites or prefer certain internet addresses over others.

The internet is a great thing precisely because it allows ordinary people to voice their views and, in some small way, influence public debate and the direction of national policy. The internet therefore is a bastion of democracy and fairness in a world in which the media has become increasingly consolidated and corporatized.  I think bloggers (and, in the interests of full and fair disclosure, I should note that I am one of them) make an important contribution to American culture precisely because they are independent voices. Whatever we might think about the political or social views that bloggers express, we need more independent voices, not fewer.

The blogging culture in America has thrived because bloggers’ views can be delivered to readers, or to anyone who taps in the right Google search, on a level playing field with the titanic companies that otherwise dominate American media. If the principle of net neutrality is not preserved, that will no longer be true. People who might otherwise read a blog to access a different point of view will encounter the dreaded spinning circle that says that no connection yet exists, become frustrated, and move on to some larger website that can afford to pay for faster access without waiting to see what the humble bloggers have to say. In our impatient, hurry-up world, where we’ve come to expect and demand instantaneous internet access, such a result means that the independent voices will effectively be stilled, and the consolidation and corporatization of the media will become even more pronounced. Let’s not let that happen!

Congressman Tiberi, I know that there are many issues before Congress, but I think this is one of special importance where the decisions being made could have significant ramifications for the future of our country and our culture of free speech and open communications. I hope I can count on your support for net neutrality and your opposition to any initiative that would quash the voices of the little guys.

If you also think that the notion of net neutrality is an important one, please write your representative or Senators and let them know of your views.  Let’s try to keep the internet a public forum in which all can participate equally.

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The New Columbus Bus Line

The Bus Riding Conservative never misses a chance to lecture the rest of us, often in mind-numbing detail, about the joys of using the Central Ohio Transit Authority.  So I wasn’t surprised when the BRC sent me a clipping of a story about COTA establishing an express bus link between Columbus and New Albany.

IMG_3045When I read the article, I happily realized that it wasn’t the normal boring BRC fodder about the thrill of bus riding.  There actually was an interesting aspect to the story, namely this:  the newly established express bus route is for people who are commuting from downtown Columbus to New Albany, and not the other way around.  The express bus will leave downtown at five scheduled times between 6 a.m. and 8 a.m., make a stop at Easton Town Center, the colossal shopping megaplex on the I-270 rim, and then will rumble on to the New Albany Business Park.  New Albany then will pay for a shuttle service to take people from the COTA stop to other locations within the business park.

That’s interesting for two reasons.  First, it shows that the efforts to bring businesses out to the suburbs are bearing fruit — so much so that COTA sees a market for an express bus that helps the workers at those business get out to their jobs.  It makes me wonder how much contracommuting is going on in the Columbus area.  Second, the fact that people are living downtown and needing a ride out to the ‘burbs to work suggests that we might be able to avoid the prospect of runaway suburban sprawl that was forecast by a recent study by a city planning firm.

The area around Columbus is mostly flat farmland, so it’s not exactly full of scenic wonders.  Still, I’d rather keep the fields of amber waves of grain (or, more accurately, corn and soybeans) than see more concrete, Home Depots, and Kohl’s outlets.  The city’s footprint doesn’t need to grow any larger.  Encouraging people to live downtown, and helping them get to jobs out in the suburbs, is one way of keeping that from happening.

The President’s Speech About ISIS

Tonight President Obama will give a nationally televised address about the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, the group of murderous terrorists who have seized territory in those countries and intend to establish their own nation.  It’s an important speech for the President, and for our country.

It’s important for the President because he desperately needs to reestablish his credibility in the area of foreign affairs.  He has been dogged by ill-advised comments, like the one describing ISIS as a kind of “junior varsity” squad, that paint him as possessing a curious mixture of overconfidence, naivete, and ignorance about history and human motivation.

The President seems to believe that an inevitable historical arc will move us toward a world of eternal peace, diversity, and right-thinking people who inevitably will adopt every democratic liberal precept — without realizing that there are fanatics, like those who make up ISIS and Boko Haram, that are dead set on establishing an historical arc that bends in precisely the opposite direction.  In the past, President Obama has been unwilling to admit that he’s made mistakes, but if the brutality of ISIS at least causes him to shed his rose-colored glasses about the dangerous world outside our borders that’s a step in the right direction.

As for the country, it’s important that we recognize that ISIS is a different, and immensely significant, threat.  Unlike itinerant terrorist groups like al Qaeda that move from place to place depending on local conditions and shifting political winds, ISIS intends to establish a nation.  It has captured funds and an arsenal of weapons from Iraq and seeks to control oil wells and oil refineries that would provide long-term, ongoing funding for its terrorist aims.

There is an additional dangerous element to ISIS.  Any group that would videotape and publicize its beheading of innocent journalists obviously doesn’t subscribe to accepted social norms, and ISIS’ treatment of civilians and captured soldiers in Syria and Iraq further speak to its utter brutality and depravity.  ISIS actively seeks to recruit like-minded jihadists from countries across the globe, including the United States and Great Britain, and it’s not shy about describing its intention to take the jihadist fight to our homeland.  We should take them at their word.  No one should doubt that ISIS poses a grave threat to America, and if we don’t act to punish and defeat them the threat will only grow more severe.

According to the Washington Post, tonight the President will announce a plan to launch airstrikes against ISIS in Syria, and Secretary of State John Kerry is in the Middle East building support for broader action against ISIS.  This seems like a mirror image of the situation before the first Gulf War, when the actions of a rogue state threatened to destabilize an entire region and spread chaos on a much wider scale.  It’s time for the United States to form and lead a coalition, again, to defeat the latest rabid threat to the world to spring from ever-fertile grounds of the Middle East.

If President Obama is willing to accept that responsibility, I support him.  I don’t think we have any choice.