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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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