Promises Broken: Copperpocalypse Redux

(length warning)

I have already warned you about the disastrous consequence of eliminating copper-based landline telephony (or POTS as aficionados refer to it―Plain Old Telephone Service). I won’t repeat those cogent and valid arguments here.

Let me blog-roll in a good discussion of the issue from Baker on Tech: Phones can’t go to POT(s) anymore!

This is another case of a broken promise. We, the people, gave the railroads 11 million acres in California alone, in exchange for the promise of passenger service in perpetuity. With the help of the supine federal Interstate Commerce Commission, we lost the passenger service and the railroads kept the land, worth hundreds of millions of dollars. They didn’t keep their end of the promise. I want the land/money back.

AT&T has asked the California Public Utilities Commission to roll over and play dead, allowing AT&T to pull every inch of copper in the state, stop repairing existing lines, and refuse to install any new ones. The pretense phase of the hearing―excuse me―the comment phase―is a mere bump in the road on the way to allowing AT&T to abandon every Californian in a rural area, all those who live in areas with crap Internet service (usually the poor), and those who have no reliable cellphone reception (like me: hilly terrain).

The state will thus join such stalwarts of consumer protection as Arkansas, Florida and North Dakota in its craven capitulation to the corporation that co-owns it (along with the state’s other utilities).

Alas, those affected will either go uninformed about the “comment period” or uninformed about the consequences.

Why yes, this does infuriate me.

Find a professional examination of the issue here.

Here’s where the broken promise comes in. We gave AT&T and its successors a century of monopoly profits in exchange for providing universal service. We should ask for some of that money back. AT&T has cocked its snoot at the idea of universal service; who knows how many Californians will now be communication-free, and in danger for their lives in case of disasters and power outages. Landlines work in disasters. Cellphones don’t.


The Death of the Middle Class

LinkedIn led me to this fantastic Robert Reich blog post: How the oligarchy shrank America’s middle class: Why American capitalism is so rotten, Part 8. I know for a personal fact that every word of it is true. I would quibble with the headline however: it is not capitalism that is rotten, it is the people running it and controlling it.

As with Reich, my working class father supported a middle class family. In my case, my high-school-educated dad could do it because he was a member of the Teamsters Union. Of course, Reich details a number of other factors besides decreasing unionization which hollowed out the middle class. Check it out.

One aspect of the problem is the decline of unions. Again, it infuriates me that today’s history-ignorant working class asks, “What do we need a union for?” If they knew anything, they’d know the answer is wages, working conditions and pensions. Their excuse for opposing unions: they are corrupt, they just collect my dues and do nothing for me. As with many aspects of American life, they work so hard against their own self-interest it is dizzying. There are signs this dynamic is changing. I hope the trend continues, and that I am not mistaking the first robin for spring.

It didn't continue; news came this week that labor union membership has reached an historic  low. WOTWU! Now!


Not Really Labor

This is my repeating Labor Day item. One-third of the public (according to surveys) doesn’t know what day it is.

I am a life-long supporter of, believer in, student of and beneficiary of the American Labor Movement. I know writing is not really labor.

I am a beneficiary because my father, who became a Teamster after selling the family dairy and remained one for the rest of his life, was able, with just a high-school degree, to provide an upper-middle class life to our family of four which included regular vacations, a terrific pension and great medical and dental coverage. Take that, gig economy. For that matter, take that, non-union American journalism.

Alas, with the exception of three years in the Wire Service Guild at AP and UPI, and 11 years in the American Federation of Teachers as a teacher, I spent most of my working life without the protection and support of a union. The Oregon Journal, a Newhouse newspaper, was the stepchild of a bitter strike, so I worked with a staff full of scabs. Wonderful people, great journalists, but most with start dates during the strike that destroyed the paper’s independent existence.

CMP, where I spent 21 years, used to say it didn’t need a union because the company treated its employees fairly, and for the most part that was true as long as the founders were in charge—less so later.

I have been attributing the “never done any” quote to AFL-CIO leader George Meany for decades. I still contend he said it, even though the Internet disagrees. Turns out it is from G.B. Shaw’s Man and Superman.

Poet Octavius Robinson: “I believe in the dignity of labor.”

Chauffeur Enery Straker: “That's because you've never done any, Mr. Robinson.”

Some of my thoughts on labor and class.


Fourth Of July continued…

To be fair, when the founding Fathers (no founding mothers, alas, except the ones whose husbands were sock puppets) wrote “All men are created equal,” the authors of the Declaration of Independence meant white men who owned property. I do not think their narrow view of humanity erases the revolution they wrought. And, in fact, if not for them, we probably won’t have painfully, gradually expanded that promise to include women and people of color

For example, while clearly a military and political genius, Washington was also a brutal slave master whose wealth came from the labor of the people he enslaved.  It's complex and nuanced, and Americans do not, as a whole, do complexity and nuance well.

Of course, the Supreme Court has now relieved women of the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, but maybe that will change again some day.


Impossible Things Happen

Without specific reference to anything in the news, I  note.  with interest Michael Moore’s list of things we thought would never happen:

“I told you there’d be no Republican Wave in last November’s elections. That red states like Kansas, Kentucky, and Montana are going to vote in favor of abortion rights (they did!). Years ago, you said “no way will this happen” when you learned of the movement to ban smoking in every bar, restaurant, airplane and workplace in America. You also told me the Berlin Wall would never come down, Mandela would never get out of prison, the Soviet Union would be with us forever and a Black man could never get elected president of the United States!”


Explaining Biden’s Ad Lib

From my UPI chat group:

You are a freshman, especially in the first few weeks.....Basically, a coach or a teacher or a Dean of Boys (disciplinarian) type..catches you goofing off, rough-housing, cutting class, etc..and tries to set you straight nicely.....but then again, most of these guys (yes, mostly male teachers)  have no time for you when you piss them off...and  (to your later chagrin) also taught health, biology, mechanical drawing, woodworking, or some other B.S. credit you need in your Sr. year to graduate...and....verbatim or in spirit they the gist was...." Ok for now, Mr. Big Shot, but let's see how you do in your Senior Year, just wait....."


Shareholders and Stakeholders

(length warning) For most of the 20th century, corporations recognized that shareholders were not the only stakeholders: that the law implied (but alas, did not state) that corporate officers had a fiduciary duty to their community and their employees.

Then along came GE’s Jack Welch and his ilk: our ONLY stakeholders are shareholders. Everyone else can go spit.

You know what he did to GE; if not, you can look it up. But to make American corporations once again reasonable and responsible citizens would not require much. Make it a matter of law that communities and employees (and maybe even customers) are stakeholders and that they are owed either a duty of care or a fiduciary duty.

My father, a milkman and devout Teamster, came back every year from the employee meeting with management (of which there was only one), with the same complaint. “Management are idiots. Every year they say they are going out business.” Ironically, I ended up majoring in management, although it took me 25 years to practice it (for two years).

Alas, eventually his dairy did go out of business. But thanks to the Teamsters, my dad kept his seniority, his benefits and his pension; the last because of a brilliant Teamster innovation: the union ran the pension fund, not the individual employers. Your employer goes bankrupt? Your pension is fine. I’ll bet my fellow UPI alumni wish the Wire Service Guild was managing their pension.

Along this line, Dad never begrudged Hoffa his corrupt use of the Central State Teamsters Fund to build Las Vegas for the mob. For one thing, dad was part of the Western States Teamsters fund. More importantly to him, “Central States never lost a dime. Mobsters pay their bills.”


The Internet Blows It Again: The Night Cronkite Stood Up

Today, all television network news anchors stand up to deliver the news to the small handful of old people still watching them. But in the 1970s, anchors sat behind a desk. Except this once.

OK, it isn’t fair to say the Internet is bad on history; it covers most of the big stuff. But, whereas every minute detail of every event in the 21st century is preserved in detail (admittedly, some of it only in the Internet Archive), I was astounded to find an epochal event, involving the Most Trusted Man in America, is, as far as Google knows, completely undocumented. So, it’s up to me.

Here’s how CBS describes the event: “CBS News presented a two-part, 22 minute, overview of the Watergate scandal in October 1972. The first segment was 14 minutes, the second was eight.”

No mention of the fact that Nixon persuaded CBS Chairman William Paley to cut the second segment down.  More importantly, the press release makes no mention of the broadcasting first that took place that night.

I remember it well. I was in Edwin Diamond’s Eastgate apartment with my then-fiancé  Sherry Grobstein. We were using the large, primitive videotape technology of the time to record the CBS Evening News for the MIT Network News Study Group (back in the days before you could just order a copy of network news shows from Vanderbilt).

We were news junkies in my childhood home; I had been watching NBC and CBS news since 1960. So, I gasped with surprise when Cronkite began the first Watergate segment. He stood up and walked across the studio to gesture at graphics. “Unprecedented,” I shouted. Edwin wasn’t there, so I tried to raise him on the phone. Sherry, not so much a news junkie, was unimpressed.

“What’s the big deal,” she asked? Many commentators then and now will say the big deal was that Cronkite devoted more than half of the program (the show was 22 minutes after commercials) to Watergate.

But to me, then and now, the big deal was that he took the never-before-seen step of standing to deliver the story, as if to say, “This is so important I’m going to do something I’ve never done, so you’ll sit up and notice.” No one, not Douglas Edwards, nor John Cameron Swayze nor Huntley nor Brinkley nor Harry Reasoner had ever come out from behind their desk on the air.

I am surprised and baffled that this move, much commented on at the time, is nowhere to be found on the open Internet. I assume it’s behind a paywall somewhere in a news organization’s expensive archives, but I’ve now laid it out for the researchers and essay-writing journalism students of the future; if they Google Cronkite and Watergate, and scroll down to the third or fourth page of results, they will end up here.


Fourth of July Addendum

A note from Robert Malchman led me to create this addendum, which I have appended to my annual Fourth of July column.

To be fair, when they wrote “All men are created equal,” the authors of the Declaration of Independence meant white men who owned property. I do not think their narrow view of humanity erases the revolution they wrought. And, in fact, if not for them, we probably won’t have painfully, gradually expanded that promise to include women and people of color. For example, while clearly a military and political genius, Washington was also a brutal slavemaster whose wealth came from the labor of the people he enslaved.  It's complex and nuanced, and Americans do not, as a whole, do complexity and nuance well.

Of course, the Supreme Court has now relieved women of the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, but maybe that will change again some day.