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THE most serious question at Sotomayor’s hearing was asked by… Franken?

Holy Hemiola, Republicans are a repetitive bunch.  Did any one of them ever have an independent thought?  The way they zeroed in on her “wise latina” word combination was like some SETI scientists looking for meaningful patterns in vast field of verbal graffitti, like none of the other billions of words Sotomayor has ever uttered made sense.  In some very no-so-subtle ways, they managed to communicate that a latina woman should show more deference to a southern white gentleman, that life experiences are strictly forbidden for Democrats but perfectly OK for Republican nominees like Concerned Alumni of Princeton Alito and “high tech lynching” Thomas, and that with 7 white men out of 9 members of the court (that’s 78% for those of you who are keeping track), this is a population that needs to be protected, the poor things.  Let me get this straight:  white males are the downtrodden of the earth, put upon and underpriveleged and that’s why we need so many of them on the court.  Women?  ehhhhh, not so much.  I would hope that women voters in Republican districts would keep this in mind when they go to the polls in 2010 but as my mom says, people have short memories.  They will forget what empty headed, arrogant, clueless, condescending jerks Jeff Sessions and Lindsay Graham were.

Franken, on the other hand, will be known for his Perry Mason moment instead of the most important question asked at the hearings.  Here’s the question:

Now, you may be wondering why Franken would be concerned with “net neutrality”.  I’m going to take a guess here that it’s for the same reason he was a founding member of Air America.  Back in 2003, corporate media controlled the horizontal and the vertical.  Well, it still does.  The propaganda might be coming from a pseudo-Democratic White House but it’s still propaganda and there are precious few sources of push back.

Air America’s flagship station was a tiny station in NYC, WLIB, with a very weak signal.  In central NJ, just 36 miles away, I could barely pick it up on my car radio.  During some of the more critical news stories of 2003-2004, I couldn’t get it at all.  There was a competing station from Indiana, of all places, that was a superbroadcaster.  The Indiana station would crank up the volume up to 11 and blast right wing talking points, overwhelming that tiny whisper from Air America.  I noticed that Indiana wouldn’t always be blasting away.  It only happened when I wanted to hear a different opinion on an important news story.

That left me with live streaming Air America from the internet.  Now, I might live right in the heart of telecommunications R&D central, not far from ATT and Lucent and all the rest.  But my internet providers are very, VERY limited.  There are days that I swear they are blocking access or slowing down the download speeds to sites I want to access.  I’m sure I’m just being paranoid but isn’t this Franken’s point?

Who owns the internet?  Is it the corporations who laid the cables or us?  Do we have a right to access it to exercise our first amendment rights or is it possible for a Supreme Court judge to say, “I said you have a right to free speech.  I didn’t say Verizon FIOS had an obligation to carry your words to the rest of the world.  If you want to be heard, buy a megaphone and try not to get arrested for disturbing the peace”

The corporations might say they own the cables but *WE* paid for them.  Everytime we made a phone call or emailed our mothers or purchased that electric raclette grill from amazon or downloaded Lady Gaga from iTunes, we pay for laying down new lines through the hefty fees added to our bills every month.  Isn’t that the excuse that these companies are always making for raising the rates?  They have to add new lines, update the technology?  Ok, we paid for that.  Did we forfeit our right of free speech when we entered into an agreement with these companies?  That is essentially the question Al Franken asks.  Sotomayor responds that it depends on the policy established by Congress.

Ahhh, back to those bastards.  So, if Congress gives away the store to ATT, FIOS, Embarq and the like, is our only recourse to vote them out of office?  And if we want to run alternative candidates, how to we make sure these candidates get a fair hearing?  The internet has the capacity to change the electoral landscape by allowing candidates to circumvent the corporate media gatekeepers.  But if you don’t have free, unfettered access, is this really possible?  Is it possible that in 2010, we will see candidates who want to primary incumbents blocked by service providers from doing so?

The problem is not a hypothetical “maybe”.  It could happen now.  The question goes to the very heart of our system of democracy.  The right to free speech, to be heard, to foment insurrection if necessary, was the first right that was granted to us in the Constitution by people who knew what it means to need to overthrow your government.  These days, we would prefer to overthrow our government at the ballot box. But if you can only make your voting decisions based on disinformation, if it is legal for corporations to promote disinformation for its own benefit and if those corporations are granted the protection of “personhood”, doesn’t this infringe on the rights of the individual to be heard and have the power of full citizenship?

We need only look to Iran for the answer to this question.  Their election was highly questionable, so highly questionable that they demanded a recount or a new election.  Instead, the government cut off their access to the internet, their ability to organize and then ruthlessly suppressed the protestors.  Could it happen here?  Hell, yes.  All we need is a bunch of hyperbolic blowhards on cable news networks terrifying people into thinking it could provoke another 9/11 and we’re there, baby.

How do we prevent that from happening?  That’s essentially what Franken is asking.  How do we exercise our free speech when someone else has our voice and can turn down the volume?  Does that old playground boast, “It’s a free country, I can say whatever I like” still have any real meaning?  Sotomayor’s answer, to me, was less than satisfying.  I think she will be deferential to the corporation’s lawyers when the issue finally makes it to the USSC.  I’ve been wrong before but let’s just call it a hunch.  It’s like her answer on abortion.  Yes, women have a right to privacy with their doctors- under certain circumstances.  Maybe I’m dense or something but if someone else is setting the “circumstances” under which you have a right to privacy, then there isn’t much privacy.  But I digress.

The more important issue is freedom of speech.  It precedes all others.  It allows you to question authority and persuade your fellow citizens.  Without it, there would be no discussion of abortion or gun rights or health care.  Or at least, no competing opinions.  And as technology has changed the way we access our information, allowing us to benefit from the internet’s advantages of speed and relational information, those of us who do not control that access will be at a severe disadvantage as citizens.  We might as well be wearing a gag.

Which is just how the monopolies like it.

Podcast of the day: Control of the media has been going on ever since there was a printing press.  Check out Melvyn Bragg In Our Time’s Seventeenth Century Print Culture.  King Henry VIII was one of the first to crack down on the press by banning the vernacular bible and forbidding women and servants from reading it.  They might get the notion that they knew what it meant.  Sounds like Lindsay Graham’s kind of guy.

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34 Responses

  1. A very interesting post.

    While I didn’t exactly like her response I think I understand it. What she seems to be saying is that the Congress is responsible for clarifying it’s intent behind the language in a bill or statute they write. And I cannot disagree with that assessment.

    I agree with EVERYTHING you stated in this piece. And I share your concern that what happened in Iran could also happen here. In fact, after the last primary season they are coming very close to doing just that. With a complicit media controlling the message and the ability to limit dissent.

    Maybe Franken will be able to force Congress to clarify their position. So many of them are in the pocket of the corporations that I think it unlikely anything will be clarified anytime soon. But I sincerely hope I am wrong.

    As long as the ordinary American does not see Net Neutrality as anything more than a few buzz words from fringe group bloggers (in their minds. not a personal observation), etc. they will not be compelled to demand that their elected representatives take appropriate actions in their best interests.

    • And I share your concern that what happened in Iran could also happen here. In fact, after the last primary season they are coming very close to doing just that. With a complicit media controlling the message and the ability to limit dissent.

      Maybe that’s why the Rs are so overly concerned about gun control.

  2. Rachel Maddow Show – Pat Buchanan with freshly-laundered white sheet, blasts Sotomayor (WARNING this will be offensive to minorities and women)

    • Shaddap Pat, Sotomayor’s judicial experience and performance at her confirmation hearings flies in the face of your canard about her being like Harriet Miers, gimme a break.

    • I don’t know how she kept her cool and her sense of humor.

      Hell, YES, this is offensive. Sometimes Pat is the only one making any kind of sense (especially when speaking with his colleagues on MSNBC), but he’s really being an a-hole here.

      • Pat is a smart wingnut, but he is still a wingnut.

        • Pat is very smart, and has rational opinions on many things OUTSIDE the area of race. Once he strays into that area, he loses his shit.

          Sort of like Newt, who when he is doing pure political analysis of the strengths and weaknesses of candidates, parties, election races, etc is one of the best and most perceptive. But when he starts in on economics or social issues, he’s an idiot.

          With people like that, it’s almost as if you can see the switch toggle on/off. If you watch them long enough, you can tell exactly the moment they go into or out of “rational mode”.

  3. Buchanan forges that men have been promoted/accepted into institutions for having less qualifications for years.

  4. forges = forgets

  5. Superb post, RD. Excellent framing of the issues. I wish I could say that I was a Sotomayor fan, but I’m not. Do I appreciate that a woman has been nominated? Absolutely. Unfortunately, Sotomayor strikes me as an “apologetic woman”–someone who’s been trying so hard to fit into a white male world that she’s become apologetic for being herself. Her statements in these hearings, as well as her appeals court decisions, reek of someone trying not to rock the boat. Give me a Ruth Ginsburg or a Hillary Clinton any day–women who think it’s okay to be women.

    • How is Sotomayor apologizing for being herself?

      • Take a look at what Ruth Ginsburg said in her SC hearings about a woman’s right to control her own body and then look at what Sotomayor said about Roe v. Wade. Big difference, IMO.

        • If Sonia is being Sonia and answering the way Sonia feels best to answer (rather than being Ruth and answering the way Ruth would answer), how is that apologizing for herself? I don’t get that. I can appreciate if you find her too moderate or not decisive enough on abortion rights, etc., but that is not the same as being an apologetic woman. IMHO.

  6. Who owns the internet? Is it the corporations who laid the cables or us? -RD

    I think it is a violation of FREE SPEECH, plain and simple. We don’t own the sidewalks we protest on, right! Free Speech has to be protected as new developments appear, otherwise what is the difference between what they are doing and what the Chinese government is doing in blocking access…a government or a country is the same thing, same result and Free Speech suffers.

    • I am still under the ‘flu’ influence, that was supposed to be ‘company. 😳

    • But, don’t we need permits and permission to protest on the sidewalks?

      • Yes and “free speech zones”, like at conventions. WTF is up with that? Those need to go.

        • But, if you get rid of “free speech zones” then you won’t be able to keep abortion protestors away from clinics. Thet’re based on the same judgements.

          Another law of unintended consequences.

  7. That was a good question and good issue to address. A number of large internet providers incl. comcast and att, have been caught recently violating net neutrality principles by filtering and slowing down internet traffic both of certain characteristic types (e.g., VoIP) as well as from certain sites. And they have been caught illegally shutting off customers that they deem are taking too much bandwidth, even thought the bandwidth used is less than what they promise is available. In other words they all overbook and get testy when people actually use it.

    It’s a very important issue not only for commerce and fairness and free speech in general, but also it’s about a very few mega corporations controlling, well, just about every part of your life. It’s actually very scary what they can do if they want.

    And sadly, just like GS and others in the financial world with their influences, these groups kind of own most of congress and the WH and general get what they want.

    • I have one line that is supposed to be maximum (their top, top speed) and they got all bent out of shape when it kept crashing and I kept calling. I even got one of those boost thingies and it was at their end. Many, many calls later they got it going, but recently it is going blink, conk again.

      • That’s pretty bad. And those “max” speeds we have in the US are such a joke compared with many other countries.

        • Median US broadband speed is something like Finlands divided by 10 (or more). We’re pretty wired but lag badly in broadband speed to the home.

  8. Pat was out of line..

  9. Instead, the government cut off their access to the internet, their ability to organize and then ruthlessly suppressed the protestors. Could it happen here? Hell, yes.

    Didn’t Obama just recently put that ability in place…that the government can shut down the internet at their will?

  10. Fascinating post. I realize that Sotomayor is very, um, middle-of-the-road. Considering where the right side of the road is, that may be not so good. But what the hell, I’m willing to overlook all kinds of stuff just because … I’m not even sure why. Just because I like the way she comes across and I admire her, I guess.

    But it’s very disturbing that on two galaxy-sized issues of Constitutional principle, a woman’s right to decide on her own medical procedures and now net neutrality, she fudges. I’m sorry, but no, it is not up to Congress to make a pig’s breakfast of the issue and then for the Court to work with that. The Court is the last check and balance when the other branches of government trash our constitutional rights.

    Very disturbing that she doesn’t seem to see it that way.

  11. The Christian Mafia & The GOP

    • Make some pop corn this one is a shocker and a long one…might distract us even from the Health Care and the Second Stimulus Package for the ‘POOR MILLIONAIRES’…so stay sharp. 😯

  12. 7 white men on the court? Did clarence Thomas get a skin graft or do we just discount his color because he is conservative? How about the fact that we have no geo-political spread?

    • Stevens, Scalia, Souter, Roberts, Breyer, Alito, Kennedy- that’s 7 white guys
      Thomas- score one for African Americans, in roughly the same proportion as their % of population
      Ginsberg- one woman, NOT representative of the percent of population.
      By my calculations, there should be at least 4 and possibly 5 women to be truly representative of America.
      But by golly, the white guys are covered!
      I hope we don’t have to put up with their whining for too much longer.

  13. Excellent post. Do you really think the election in Iran was rigged? I don’t. I believe the veteran reporters on Iran who were not surprised at all.

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