If justice perishes, human life has lost its meaning
– Emmanuel Kant.
August 19, 2019
“I’m mad as hell…and I’m not going to take it anymore!” Shouts Howard Beale erupting during the middle of his newscast in a beige rain coat, his wet, gray hair plastered to his head. It is the beginning of his transfiguration into a mythical cult hero, now an enduring totem crying out against social injustice.
So, who is the eponymous Howard Beale…and why has he become the iconic symbol for outrage and political activism against the collective insanity, the social ailments and depravity existing in the world? And why is he now more relevant than ever?
Howard Beale is the fictional central character from the film Network (1976). In the film, Beale, the anchorman for the UBS Evening News, struggles to accept the inequities of the world he reports. The film concludes with the murder of Beale on national television; a voice over darkly proclaims him “the first known instance of a man who was killed because he had lousy ratings”.
You can view the eerily prescient, brilliantly written (by Paddy Chayefsky) 13 min. video excerpt, along with the actual screenplay text, which distills and delivers the moral payload of the film: the socio-pathology of world domination by the mega-corporations of capitalism (at 7 min. into the video) at:
To better comprehend and appreciate the social phenomenon of a Howard Beale, we must first understand how man’s intrinsic imperative to grapple with the inherent social contradictions of living in a so-called civilized society has been ameliorated by art. Through the millennia, the innate human compulsion to connect with his fellow man beyond the quotidian task of survival through various art forms has somehow survived, despite desperate attempts by despots to silence it. Art is a meta-level of consciousness: An affirmation of the human condition and all its wonder, and it must not be left unsaid, its foibles and flaws. To create is as intrinsic in the human spirit as the biological urge to procreate.
Early manifestations of art as a powerful agent of social change can be found in the art form of the novel. The novel with a purpose is, one contends, a preaching novel. But it preaches by telling things and showing things. The preaching, the moralizing is the result not of direct appeal by the writer, but is made—should be made—to the reader by the very incidents of the story. It is the complaint of the coward, this cry against the novel with a purpose, because it brings the tragedies and grief of others to notice. Take this element from fiction, take from it the power and opportunity to prove that injustice, crime and inequality do exist and what is left? Just the amusing novels that entertain.
Throughout history, some of the greatest agents of social change have been ignited through works of fiction—including classics: Harriet Beecher Stowe (Uncle Tom’s Cabin; or, Life Among the Lowly—1852), Charles Dickens( A Tale of Two Cities—1859), Herman Melville (Moby-Dick; or The Whale—1851), Aldous Huxley (Brave New World—1932), John Steinbeck (Grapes of Wrath—1939), and George Orwell (1984—1949).
So just as the opening question in Ayn Rand’s iconic Libertarian novel Atlas Shrugged, is, “Who is John Galt?” — he is no longer a person but a symbol for Libertarian ideology and unfettered free-market capitalism. Howard Beale is the liberal antithesis of Galt…raging against the inequities of a rigged corporate system of hyper-capitalistic greed and avarice. Capitalism run amok.
It is through this ancient and sacred tradition of allegory, of striving to deliver their moral payload, that is documented as far back as the Paleolithic cave paintings of Lascaux 20,000 years ago. By connecting to the primordial instinct to share the experience of the human condition through captivating storytelling, in all its art forms, thus passing on cumulative wisdom and tradition through parable for generations to follow. I believe the highest and indispensable calling of the artist is to be a prophet, essentially a healing secular shaman, historian and conscience of civilization.
The exponential technological evolution of the forms of artistic expression now allows us to put words to music, and more cogently, words and music to moving images, and through the internet essentially dismantling the traditional broadcast paradigm from one to many, to…many to many. In its highest form unfettered democracy unleashed – it can promote a synergy of magnanimous ideals and enlightenment. Or sadly, a powerful force for the promulgation of malice and far too often, willful arrogant ignorance.
I believe that if Howard Beale was actually alive, he would be screaming full volume, leading a roaring chorus of outrage, “I’m as mad as hell…and I’m not going to take it any more!”
Ah…but the good news is…Howard Beale Lives On!! His domicile is:
Hunter Beale, Howard Beale’s not-so-kinder, gentler “son”… is still “mad as hell”, and is carrying on his father’s work with even more ferocity…of fighting the international mega-corporations and collective world-wide insanity of apathy to climate change and injustice.
Which brings us to the current perverse political landscape. The ubiquitous media dominated by the domineering bully pulpit of bombastic, divisive and nativistic narrative, propagandized by the Bully-in-Chief, and through the tacit advocacy of sycophantic Republicans, is crowding out any altruistic counter-narrative.
And this is where art, as a powerful agent of social change must now intervene. We need a new story that explains the present and guides the future, says author George Monbiot. Drawing on findings from psychology, neuroscience and evolutionary biology, he offers a new vision for society built around our fundamental capacity for altruism and cooperation. As Monsboit insightfully states, you cannot expect to change someone’s toxic inner narrative without first offering an alternative which appeals to the innate altruism of man to replace it. But first, a prelude of moral outrage must occur, a chorus of disparate voices across all party lines, races and religions, most especially the so-called Christians, of calling out the absence of moral outrage against the abject immorality and injustice of the status quo; a contagious viral epidemic chanting, “Where is the outrage?”
It has been said, that the role of the artist is to live out loud. The visuals arts can communicate in even more powerful ways mere words cannot. Painting, photography, sculpture, dance and cinema can connect at a visceral metaphysical level that can, when done with passion and purity of intent, bypass the intellect, directly penetrating our primal core. It is long past due to counterbalance the cacophony of the increasingly alarming zeitgeist of malicious, indeed malignant narrative. Artists must now, more than ever, take up the clarion call to not just offer an alternative narrative but to shout it from the rooftops as Howard Beale exhorts us all in the film Networks: “I’m mad as hell…and I’m not going to take it any more!” Life imitating art…in other words, Be Beale!!
The calling out of the blind worship of capitalism, industry, technology and oblivious reliance on fossil fuel, despite imperative warnings of 97% of the credible scientific climate community, is being subverted by the Trump administration and the alt-right media, most especially state-run TV, Fox “News”. The idiot light on the dashboard is now frantically flashing red, admonishing us to shut down the engine of greenhouse gases…before any more irreparable damage is done. It is the tragic replay…over and over again…of the Greek mythos of Nemesis, (Gr. to pay what is due) divine retribution for man’s hubris as he blithely allows the slow systematic Matricide of Gaia. Tortured and slowly suffocated by a blanket of CO2 at the hands of Her own ungrateful children—a deadly irony—with the same inexorable efficiency of the technology that caused it.
Literature, music, journalism, all art-forms, and yes, especially film-making must now respond as if the survival of democracy as we know it is to endure. Because it does. For it is no less an existential crisis for the survival of fully formed civilized humans, than reckoning with climate change. Indeed climate change cannot realistically be solved without first confronting the injustice of the status quo. The Great Wake-up. It is time for a Neo-Renaissance – an explosion of scientific innovation to combat climate change, Simply stated it is time to change the national narrative from ME…to WE.
If the timid among the Democrats fail to even attempt to hold this miscreant Pretend President Trump accountable, the profound negative consequences of ignoring the rule of law, I believe places the democracy in extreme unprecedented peril.
The Democrats would lose all moral authority to govern. If not this president, at this time, then when?
Trump must be held accountable and subjected to the process of impeachment…whether he is convicted or not by the Senate, or the country will have tragically, perhaps irredeemably, lost it’s way and forfeited any moral authority on the world stage…to our allies…and more importantly, our enemies, most especially Putin and the Ruskies, the PRK and Iran.
History will not be kind to those who failed to do the right thing, to execute justice in the face of such overwhelming compelling evidence of criminal misconduct/malfeasance for fear of some adverse political consequence…including those in the HR and especially the Senate. With the overwhelming mid-term victory in the HR, the people have vociferously and unambiguously spoken…and it will only get louder if the Democrats demonstrate the courage and political will to DUMP TRUMP.
Make all of them walk the political plank by recording their vote on impeachment for history and let the people see who voted along strictly partisan lines, then carpet bomb the airways with TV campaign ads calling them out as partisan political hacks who value party over country. This could spark a collective epiphany of voters, potentially replacing most of the 22 GOP Senate seats up for re-election in 2020 giving the Democrats the trifecta in 2020 and perhaps a filibuster-proof Senate majority. Then let’s clean house, including confirm a liberal Supreme Court Justice for Ginsburg, drain the swamp and reclaim the land formerly known as America.
Nobody knows what the considerable judicial power of a formal impeachment inquiry could reveal. Tax returns etc.. It’s just the top of the first inning. The political landscape can change almost overnight…IF…and only IF congress does its constitutionally mandated duty.
History informs and instructs us that for years nothing seems to happen…then in weeks, years can happen…
“The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.” — Edmund Burke.
I hope you good men and women of goodwill, will join me at http://howardbeale.org and the already 1.5 millions Americans who have signed the on-line petition: https://impeachdonaldtrumpnow.org/
To the artists: BE BEALE! Noli Timere!! (Be not afraid! The dying words of Irish poet Seamus Heaney)
Michael Kominsky (aka Hunter Beale)
Word count: approx. 1,800 Character count: approx 11,000 (incl. spaces)
* In accordance with the “fair use” doctrine I hereby grant permission, indeed encourage the use of the material including extensive quotation, reference to, and incorporation of, into any literary work, including fiction, for “purposes of criticism, commentary, review parody, reporting and teaching” with proper author attribution.
An excerpt from Michaelangelo’s Renaissance: a distillation of the causes of climate change and proposed cures…
– Chapter 63 –
If justice perishes, human life has lost its meaning
– Emmanuel Kant.
My dinner with Ivan, under the circumstances of the recent revelation, was not something that I was looking forward to. I was preoccupied…in an unsettled state of agitation…and probably not very good company. But, out of respect for I-T, I was determined to show up and try to put a good face on. And I was indeed, to be very glad that I did. It would form the foundation for the transfiguration of my very soul. My Great Wake-up.
As we pulled up to the Ivan’s home, the sun was slowly creeping toward the cloud shrouded horizon, casting amber shards of sunlight like kleig lights on Cascadia Bay. It somehow seemed to settle me…the magnificence of it made my little problems have less importance. I was overwhelmed with a deep a sense of awe, and yes, gratitude that I lived in a place in the world that was endowed with such natural and diverse beauty, near the sea and the majestic Cascade mountains, the Western Alps with the snow-covered sentinel Mount Baker leaping out of the horizon to the East.
I-T’s home was situated in Fairhaven, one of the oldest parts of town founded in the late 19th century. It sits on a hill with a commanding view of the Bay. It’s a modest but well-maintained classic craftsman bungalow with a vintage covered porch the width of the house with a swing bench seat suspended from above with a chain on each end, just wide enough for two, facing the due West overlooking Cascadia Bay of Puget Sound.
Hawk and I with faithful Oso in tow trudge up the many concrete steps to the classic heavy oak front door with a segmented lights across the top. Immediately the sound of a barking dog inside gets Oso’s attention, and he begins his low muffled barking, his tail waging furiously.
As we step on to the porch, the front door opens to Ivan’s smiling face. There is also a large black muzzle with coal black eyes peering out, connected to large black Labrador, that I swear is smiling…barking unmenacingly, tail wagging being restrained by the collar by Ivan.
“Zelda…cool it! Hey, Mick…Hawk. Who’s this lovely piece of canine with ya?” he says nodding toward Oso.
Oso sidles up to Zelda, dwarfing her, and starts sniffing her muzzle, whereupon she lays down and rolls over on her back totally submissive.
“Hey I-T. Meet Oso…” I say.
“Well now…looks like Oso had Zelda with a ‘wuf’. She’s usually not that uh…easy…looks like she could use some work on her canine comportment.” I-T says smiling.
“Yea…Oso’s kind of used to that…he gets by on his looks, sorta like his ol’ man most of the time.” Hawk says.
“Not to worry I-T…he’s gelded…and harmless around females…like his Uncle Hawk.” I say.
“Geez…you two ever stop pimpin’ each other? Ever think about gettin’ married? Com’mon in…” he says smiling, as he leads us into the comfortably appointed cozy front room with a fireplace with two huge fixed pane windows framing the front door facing the Bay. It’s an old original house probably built in the late 20’s which appears to have been faithfully restored, complete with oak quarter-sawed hardwood floors, beautiful oak architectural details, doors and window trim. It’s full of floor to ceiling oak bookcases loaded with hard-cover books, many with leather bound spines. Permeating the air, the same nostalgic scent of the stacks at the UCB library where I spent many a happy hour listening to classical music while surrounded by the world’s great literary works.
“Here…” I say handing him the bottles of Grey Riesling and Merlot.
“Excellent…white and red…and mit a cork, yet…impressive.” he says placing the wine on the candlelit dining room table already set beautifully for dinner with a large bouquet of yellow and lavender fresh cut tulips.
Zelda and Oso, now cavorting around the front room, are pretty hard to ignore or to talk over.
“I’m going to put the woofs out in the backyard…let ’em get acquainted…so we can talk.” he says walking out toward the kitchen with both dogs rambunctiously following him out the rear door.
I notice that there is a middle aged man and a woman seated in a overstuffed sofa, probably in their late sixties, who are now both standing as Ivan returns to the front room with a stunningly beautiful woman with flawless sable skin, taller than Ivan with long slender graceful arms, and fine, delicate features. Her eyes are wide-set, dark and luminous with a charming slight overbite and luscious lips, framing a smile of pearlescent perfect white teeth set off nicely by large hand-wrought silver hoop earrings. Her ebony hair is long, worn up on top of her head, exposing her long slender nape. She looks like a one of those Kiplingesque East Indian Princess you’d see on the cover of a National Geographic. She’s wearing some kind of brightly colored shift…an ethnic print of warm earth tones, accented with an flowing diaphanous ochre sarong that seems alive with her aura…a feminine shimmering sunrise.
“This is my wife…Sanjana. Sanjana…Mick Kozlov and Hawk Shapiro.” he says.
“Pleasure…Sanjana” I say
Hawk recognizing that Sanjana’s East Indian, being a devout practitioner of Hatha Yoga he places his massive palms together just below his chin, and bows slightly at the waist, “Namaste”
“Namaste” Sanjana says smiling beguilingly returning the salutation to both of us.
“And this is my father and mother…Joseph and Ruth Tarnowski…visiting from New York City. Mom and Dad are giving a talk and a book signing at Village Books in Fairhaven tomorrow night. They’ve just did a book signing to overflow crowds at The Town Hall venue in Seattle yesterday, sponsored by Elliot Bay Books. After here they’re on to Vancouver the next night to a Chapter’s Bookstore in Kitsalano which will complete the Left Coast promotional tour of their book, which they collaborated on…Worker Cooperatives – The Antidote to Capitalism.” Ivan says which no small degree of filial pride.
Guess the radical apples from the Big Apple don’t fall too far from the tree.
“Joseph Tarnowski…from New York City. Growing up I’d heard your name and work mentioned by my father, S. G. Shapiro, many times.” Hawk says.
“Yes…of course. Simon Shapiro…a fellow traveler. I’ve met him, but know him mostly by his tireless work and writings representing the legal rights of the underclass…a fierce advocate for social justice.” Joseph says smiling effusively extending his firm hand to Hawk, then to me.
“Happy to meet you both.” I say nodding to Ruth Tarnowski while shaking Joseph’s hand.
“So you’re going to give a talk tomorrow night at VB?” Hawk says.
“Yes indeed. Apparently because of the large crowd expected, the venue has been moved to the auditorium of the local community college in North county to accommodate the large turnout. It is rumored that some folks from North county…conservatives and Libertarians plan to picket the event and to ‘engage the socialist commies’” he says with air quotes “uh…that would be my wife and I in the Q and A following our presentation.” he says smiling.
“Pop…some of those folks up there in North county are pretty tightly wound…reactionaries…it’s like a 50’s time machine up there…especially the evangelicals and the gun-ho neo-cons in petty coats and leisure suits…some of ’em still fightin’ the Cold War with the Commies.” Ivan says.
“Ah…but where else can you still find a good ol’ boy Saturday Night Tractor Pull?” Hawk says.
“People up there do not eat granola…and do not uh…suffer graciously those who do.” Ivan says
“Not to worry son, your mother and I have dealt with it many times. Should spark some lively debate…always a healthy proposition.” says the smiling socialist gadfly.
“Maybe if you were you show up in some county-chic Oshkosh bib coveralls, you’ll get invited for dinner…and if they really like you…show you their Vintage Tractor collection…” I say.
Joseph Tarnowski is a short compact man, thick in the middle with receding thinning gray hair, gold wire rim glasses framing lively light intelligent coffee eyes with a constant facetious glimmer.
Ruth Tarnowski is almost the same height, attractive, slender and elegantly dressed with modest makeup and understated jewelry. Her hair is professionally colored and coiffed with blond highlights. Manhattan elegance. Her eyes are deep set, inviting, warm and engaging but seem to belie a tough no-nonsense aura just below the surface typically accompanying piercing, unblinking azure eyes.
Both seem very comfortable in their skin which is probably where Ivan got his sang-froid in the face of great adversity that I had witnessed first hand at the student demonstrations at UCB in the sixties…his enormous and unrelenting moral and physical courage in confronting the power structure of ‘the establishment’.
Two young girls, maybe pre-teens emerge from the kitchen. They appear to have acquired the best from both sides of the family tree, tall and slender with a cafe latte complexion, with Ivan’s gray eyes with long thick black lashes and beautiful thick shiny wavy raven hair of their mother.
“These are my girls…Maya, the older…and Monique.” Ivan says proudly.
“Hiya Maya the older and Monique.” I say.
“Hello.” Hawk says.
They smile shyly, nod toward their mother, who nods back, then retreat back to the kitchen to continue helping their mother prepare dinner.
“Real beauties…by the time they’re old enough to date…you’re gonna have your hands full keepin’ the boys in check, Ivan.” Hawk says.
“Got plenty time to perfect my deterrence strategies…since they won’t be allowed to date until they’re…oh…say thirty.” he says with a grin which draws a smile and eye roll from their mother who disappears back into the kitchen.
Sanjana Singh-Tarnowski comes into the front room, and announces, “Dinner is served…please take a seat anywhere .”
“Maya and Monique, please sit between Mick and Hawk…to keep them separated.” says Ivan with his seemingly ever present smile.
We all adjourn to the dining room where we are silently joined by Maya and Monique who are now seated between Hawk and I, making a total of eight.
“So Sanjana, how did you happen to encounter this raving radical Ivan?” I ask.
“Be glad to Mick…but first I’d like to hear about Ivan’s days at UCB…as a revolutionary…” a smiling Sanjana says getting the daughter’s attention.
“Okay…fair enough…Ivan and…” I start to say when I’m interrupted by Ivan, “Mick Kozlov you have the right to remain silent…any thing you say can and will be used against uh…me. And unless you wish to be sharin’ a bowl of Kibbles and Bits with the woofs, for dinner…” Ivan says smiling, making a zipper motion across his mouth with his hand, nodding toward his two daughters who are rapt to hear about their father’s radical past.
“In other words…stifle yourself, Edith…” says Hawk a la perfect Archie Bunker from the 70’s sitcom All in the Family.
“Sanjana, I believe you know my attorney Mr Shapiro here, and having been duly advised of my uh…rights…by counsel, besides of which, I’m very hungry, having caught the delightful aroma of the food, I choose to invoke the Fifth. Maybe sometime when it’s just us adults…” I say in full diplomatic retreat.
“That uh…interesting, eh?” Sanjana says.
“You have no idea…I’ll put this way…he has every bit earned and is fully vested in the nickname Ivan the Terrible.” I say.
“Okay. Maybe another time.” Sanjana says.
“Maybe not…” Ivan says staring at me with a now thin, pasty smile.
The bill of fare is nothing short of spectacular with multiple dishes of exotic ethnic East Indian concoctions, each one more savory than the last, some with curry…others, subtle unrecognizable seasoning on several different kinds of meat and vegetable dishes served with authentic ethnic Indian music, sitar, accompanied by tabla drums barely perceptible in the background with the faint scent of patchouli incense. Obviously Sanjana has taken a great deal of time and care in the preparation. Much to Hawk’s pleasant surprise, without so much as even an errant Tofu.Sure beats the hell out of Kibbles and Bits.
Conversation is lively, punctuated by a toast first to Sanjana for the lovely meal, then to Ruth and Joseph Tarnowski. The wine is flowing and everyone’s enjoying themselves with lots of laughter, good food and good cheer reminiscent of the wonderful Italian dinners my own mother Maria used to throw for our family and friends.
“Sanjana…before we were uh…interrupted…you were going to tell us how you met Ivan the Terrible One…” I say.
“Well…I guess I should probably start with how I ended up here. My mother and father…were refugees from the constant civil wars and strife in India during the conflict for liberation from Colonial English rule in the late 40’s lead by Mahatma Gandhi. My father, a professor at the University, was highly educated in Europe…and London. He was able to secure a visa because he was offered a job with the American government state department in San Francisco, as a translator because of his fluent English, and mastery of many Hindi dialects.
After we relocated, my mother became pregnant with me. He attempted to go back to try to bring some of his family to America, his mother and father and siblings. In the process, sadly he was killed, in one of the riots in New Delhi by the separatists seeking independence from predominantly Hindu India…in what would later become the Muslim state of Pakistan. He was Hindu, and like Gandhi, did not support the partitioning of the Muslim and Hindu states based on religion. I was born here in the U.S. in 1948 in Fremont California just South of the Bay area where there was already a growing East Indian population. I was just a baby and never really knew him.” says Sanjana.
“Even though Sanjana was raised Hindu, after 9-11 many of the shall we say less enlightened…uh…inbred jingoistic patriots” Ivan says barely able to contain his anger, “…just assumed that because she was obviously from South Asia, that she was Muslim which sadly trickled down to our daughters in school, with verbal attacks and insults…so much so that we decided to place them in a private school…Arcadia, where we felt they would be more safe and less distracted.” Ivan says.
“If I may…Maya and Monique…can I ask you how you dealt with the insults?” I say.
“Mr Kozlov…Monique and I were raised by our parents to never retaliate. When Meghan Allison asked me if my mom and dad were terrorist, I admit that I was like really tempted?…to lash out at her…for being so…stu-u-u-PID. I just took a few deep breaths…and stifled my anger…barely…smiled and said, ‘Meghan, when you’re ready to listen…I would be happy to try to clue you in.’ And I was really glad that I hadn’t lashed out at her…because a week later Meghan…her sister McKenzie and her mom Jessica were all killed in the pipeline explosion.“ Maya says with Monique nodding in agreement.
“Well said, Maya…” says the uncharacteristically avuncular Hawk patting Maya’s hand.
“Indeed, Maya. Sorry Sanjana…please go on about how you met Ivan…” I say.
“Thank you Maya…I’m very proud of you both, apane priyajanom ko…sorry, Hindi for my dear ones. So…I was attending graduate school here at Moody University in 1977, majoring in ethnic studies, when President Carter pardoned the draftees that had relocated to Canada. Ivan was on his way back home to America after years of living in asylum from the U.S. Draft, in Vancouver British Columbia. He got off the Greyhound bus to stretch his legs, and somehow found his way to the campus.
I met Ivan one day when he was wandering around the campus of Moody U. He seemed lost. So I asked him if he needed some help in finding his way some place. He said, “Yea now that you mention it, I’ve actually been lost for oh…about the past ten years. And if you’re not too busy at the moment I was wondering if you could like help me find my way back to some semblance of a normal life in America.” As you know, Ivan can be very persuasive.” Sanjana says turning to Ivan, smiling mischievously.
“And the rest is his-tor-ee…as they say…since that day, we’ve never been apart.” Ivan adds reaching over gently placing his hand on top of Sanjana’s his eyes tearing up.
“Sounds like Kismet to me. So how’d you end up in environmental studies Ivan” I say.
“Yeah…well, to be honest, not a terribly high-minded decision on my part. I had just enough undergrad credits from UCB to enter grad school here, so I enrolled in the newly formed College of Ecology, frankly because it was new, had a lot of openings, and it was the only one I could get into that late date.” he says grinning.
“And now?” I say.
“Sanjana is the Dean of the East Asian Studies curriculum here, a tenured professor with a PhD in East Indian Studies and as you know, I’m Dean of Environmental Studies. Sadly, unless in the unlikely event something very cogent dramatically intervenes, my present task is bearing witness and carefully documenting the demise of human civilization…the coming of the 6th Mass Extinction.”
“Jezus Ivan…” Hawk says picking up butter knife “ got anything sharper than a dull butter knife, to like open a vein? Ooops…Sorry man…forgot about the girls here at the table.” Hawk says..
“Not a problem Hawk…they’ve heard it all before…many times.” Ivan says smiling.
I look at the girls who just roll their eyes in unison and smile demurely as Daddy is obviously just starting to tune up…again.
“Despite imperative warnings of 97% of the credible scientific climate community…the merchants of doubt are still winning the debate. Here’s the reality of betting against the science of climate change. The odds of winning that bet, are just about the same as playing Roulette. Betting the house, the car and the wife and kids…everything you own…and civilization as we know it, on one number and spinning the Roulette wheel. That’s right 37 to 1 odds against, that you’ll win. Redefines a sucker’s bet. The idiot light on the dashboard is now frantically flashing red, admonishing us to shut down the engine of greenhouse gases…before any more irreparable damage is done. It is the tragic replay of the Greek mythos of Nemesis, Greek…to pay what is due, divine retribution for man’s hubris as he blithely allows the slow systematic Matricide of Gaia…tortured and slowly suffocated by a blanket of CO2 at the hands of her own ungrateful children—a deadly irony—with the same slow irrepressible efficiency of the technology that caused it.” Ivan says.
“Isn’t there anything that can be done to stop it? I mean, there has to be some scientific solution to this.” I say. “Mick, the problem we are facing has less to do with the science and more to do with the politics…not a climate crisis….but rather a climate of crisis management, rife with non-feasance and malfeasance…shortsighted reactionary ideology…a tragic and I must say potentially terminal crisis in political will and leadership.” Joseph Tarnowski says . “And as a sociologist slash anthropologist“ adds Ruth Tarnowski “we see that, the geometric evolution of the compression of time has resulted in short term tactical thinking of maybe a seven year horizon, instead of long term strategic thinking, like the early indigenous peoples of seven generations. This shrinking of the human construct of perception of time through technology…has created a pervasive sense of immediacy…a priority of short term gain…of quick profits which through the years has resulted in the systematic attack and successful de-certification of collective bargaining units by the Corpocracy along with the tacit ever-present threat of cheap unregulated labor of Globalism. Workers have been coerced into a perpetual state of fear and anxiety—petrified of taking the risk to confront it for fear of tangible short-term loss for some theoretical long-term gain…to them just an abstraction…for now.” “So what’s the solution…where do we go from here?” Hawk says.
“The first step toward grappling with such a huge complex problem, is a recognition, as painful as it may be…of the existential, and by extension, political reality. Defining and quantifying the problem and breaking it down into discreet manageable parts. The most problematic and difficult, yet imperative component of all—the politics of a massive shift in the collective consciousness of humanity. In short…from the ME to the WE. And while we’re at it, a repatriation…a resurrection of pre-patriarchal governance…sans testosterone…the only sure way to end all wars. ” says Ruth Tarnowski with a wry smile.
“And just how would you propose to make that happen?” I say.
“Obviously, it’s a political improbability to even try to legislate something even resembling compassion…and an even greater practical impossibility to attempt to enforce make nice.
“So again, how would you suggest we go about that short of becoming a police state…and forcing everybody to make nice…or else…” I say sarcastically.
“Becoming a police state…Ha! It’s already a fait accompli my dear boy. Just wait until the catastrophic consequences of climate change come home to roost. Chaos and anarchy on the streets of the good ol’ U-S of A…the police and the military are already preparing and planning for it…quietly putting infrastructure in place, including the wholesale militarization of local police force assets…subsidized by the Feds…recycling all those hundreds of billions of tax payer dollars of war surplus equipment and ordnance…ultimately to be used against the very people who paid for them. The magnitude of the irony is…well…” Ruth says.
“Hard to get your head around? So what are you saying, Ruth? Time for a massive revolution?” I say.
“I’m afraid the inescapable answer to that is…a categorical Maybe! Not quite yet. It would first have to start with a revolution of consciousness….a revival of the innate sense of humanity and compassion that has been implacably eroding through the monopolization of consciousness by technology…commoditizing everything…even our human interaction and relationships through social networks, that enables the sociopathy of Capitalism…so gradually as to be almost imperceptible.” Ruth says.
“Sounds like a definite Maybe… So do you actually think it’s possible to put the genie of technology back in the bottle?” I say.
“No Mick…I’m not that naïve…nor am I a Luddite. So I’m not saying that there are not some profoundly positive innovations and uses of the Internet. But the technology has evolved at a much, much higher rate than our capacity to deal with it intelligently. Our relatively primitive un-evolved lizard brains still function for the most part at a primal level…seeking pleasure…and the avoidance of pain. Like the Sorcerers Apprentice…possessive of enormous power of technology, but lacking the wisdom to deal with it.
We live in a collective trance…tranquilized by the trivial. The technology appeals to that part of the brain that seeks, and becomes addicted to pleasure…much like a drug…or alcohol. And if we’ve learned anything from the so-called spectacularly failed war on drugs…and don’t even get me started on the Corporate Prison-Industrial complex!…is that the only answer in combating abuse and addiction, is through education and early intervention. So okay…like most addictions, humans over time become inured…or normalized with it…constantly escalating usage to feed a growing addiction.” Ruth says.
“Ya know Ruth…” Hawk says “this whole discussion about the profound influence of technology on the traditional American concept of democracy and capitalism, causes me to imagine what a postcapitalism society might look like. While the neo-liberals…the oligarchs, continue to embrace an increasingly automated production model…to keep costs and therefore prices lower and lower by forcing the workforce to compete with the tireless efficiency of computers and robotics, it seems to me, the great irony is, that they have failed to grasp that it will be technology that will usurp and up-end the traditional free-market capitalist paradigm. Because of the colossal failure of capitalism to deliver a sustainable decent quality of life to the working class majority…the constant grinding of the laissez-faire machine, slashing the workforce, forcing workers to do increasingly menial work that takes no pride in production. Serving only the Deity of Efficiency…undignified work that is essentially without any meaning beyond rate of return for their masters…slave labor paid just enough to survive so they can come to work another day. And for this profound increase in productivity they are rewarded with stagnant wages…treated like indentured servants with disrespect and contempt by their employers. The Neo-Dark Ages…nothing more than a Lord and vassal relationship…with time clocks. But as history has demonstrated with the arrival of the the Renaissance, the universal humanity of man naturally seeks and flourishes in the light of human dignity, mutual respect…egalitarianism. Maybe…just maybe a true democracy will emerge.”
“Why Hawk…well said…spoken like a true revolutionary!” a smiling Ruth says to a blushing Hawk.
“Proving Hawk’s not just another pretty face, Ruth…” I say with a smirk toward Hawk who better than anyone else knows full well that his face could be considered anything but pretty. Masculine yeap…very.
Undaunted by my amiable needling, Hawk continues, “And in this so-called Information Age, of which I have been involved in since its genesis, there is no more of a pure model of democracy than the open source model of information sharing, free and therefore without scarcity, natural or artificially induced. I think it will be the vehicle for the restructuring and reshaping of a new world order. Just consider the launch of Wikipedia, online digital encyclopedia in early 2001. All the information…more importantly knowledge, not the same thing, domiciled there will be easily accessible online, freely distributable with relatively few intellectual property restrictions. It will be publicly subsidized through donations, maintained and curated by volunteers…without compensation. If indeed knowledge is power…as prophetically declared in the 16th century by philosopher Francis Bacon, it will revolutionize, literally, and reconstitute the power structure. The Information Age, eventually will bite the gluttonous hand of the capitalists that have feed it. Because pricing of goods and services is dependent on scarcity, the explosion of an open and free information economy will evolve it away from a classic hierarchical capitalistic model. From the few to many…to the many to many economy.”
“And the natives are getting restless…” Ivan says “The end of capitalism is coming and the Captains of Capitalism are now beginning whiff the putrid scent of discontent. I think the larger question now becomes how will the Ace of Spades…the ultimate dark trump card of the coming catastrophic consequences of unmitigated climate change, redefine the social order…once the collective primal instinct of survival, caused by scarcity is unleashed…with a vengeance. A game changer.”
“Indeed son. In the meantime in the face of knowing what’s coming, we need to plant a tree…to incorporate into the curriculum for our children, at a very early age, how to recognize the limitations of technology…to place the use and our reliance upon it in a proper perspective. Basically, technology and media literacy. At some level, long term, the addiction to dehumanizing technology…our blind reliance on it, as more of an end…than a means, poses a far greater risk to the survival of civilization than say…any existential biological pandemic.” Ruth says.
“Okay Ruth…so what’s your vision on how to accomplish that?” I say.
“Ah…didn’t say I know the how silly boy…” Ruth says playfully slapping my hand, “…that’s a much harder question…that’s your job bubbala!” a smiling Ruth says, “the solution of which will have to come from yours and future generations. But we have little time to waste…as the society is already unwittingly voluntarily, and probably irreversibly on a massive scale, relinquishing and abrogating it’s privacy rights. It’s imperative that we infuse future generations, now…with the moral and legal implications…with a recognition that the rights of the individual, embodied in the Bill of Rights, must remain sovereign. Inevitably the Corporacy…and by extension the state…will insidiously and systematically, through gradual accretion attempt to usurp our right to privacy on the basis of some straw-man overblown argument of security.”
“So Big Brother is already watching?” I say
“Yes, but only to a degree, for now, Mick. But it most probably will not unfold like Orwell’s masterwork, 1984, initially…but rather by slick seduction through propaganda by the Corpocracy, known euphemistically by the innocent and harmless sounding, marketing…of the seek-pleasure-avoid-pain media and technology…as depicted in Aldous Huxley’s incredibly prophetic “Brave New World…written in 1932!” Ruth says.
“So it won’t start out with Big Brother…or the state controlling the message?” I say.
“No…first by the Corporacy…or Little Brother, lead by the Great Profit of the Capitalism…with an F…Monsieur Baron du Bottom-Line…through selective seductive dissembling that will gradually compromise our resistance to give up our personal sovereignty…our privacy aka…liberty. Big Brother will come later after all the heavy lifting has been done. So first be afraid…be very afraid of Little Brother…because the Corpocracy is not bound by as many of those uh…inconvenient Constitutional strictures or prohibitions…as the state is. ” Ruth says.
“So from years of working in I-T,” Hawk says “it’s obvious to me that while we’re being paranoid about Big Brother is watching, Little Brother has been quietly encroaching…infringing on our right to privacy…like Google, Yahoo, Microsoft, Amazon and social networks like on-line dating, building up massive amounts of linked aggregate metadata at an astonishingly granular level…which by the way, they can sell to third parties without our knowledge or consent…based on our buying habits, our key word searches and links we click, etcetera…even our political proclivities…everything about each one of us that uses the internet…which at that level of linked data collection is tantamount to content. So they don’t even have to have privy to our correspondence.”
“So if I hear you right, Ruth…you’re saying what’s needed is not just a modern day equivalent of a Great Awakening of consciousness…but also A Great Wake-up to the potential pathologies of technology and those who would abuse it for their nefarious self-interest?” I say..
“Precisely!…A Renaissance…a rebirth of sorts…or a Neo-Renaissance if you will…before it’s too late.” she says.
“Well, if what you say is true about the militarization of law enforcement…how could a revolution by…and for the people be successful against such overwhelming military might?” I say.
“Well, to me there seems to be no other viable alternative but to take it to the streets. The French philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre said it best, mon ami…’I was not the one to invent lies: they were created in a society divided by class and each of us inherited lies when we were born. It is not by refusing to lie that we will abolish lies: it is by eradicating class by any means necessary’ and I underscore, any.” says Hawk his eyes smoldering with anger, apparently his anger management strategy on temporary sabbatical.
“So you advocate the use of violence to that end, Hawk? So you’re a closet Karl Marx…advocating the violent overthrow of the government?” Ruth says.
“More like a Groucho…” I say, which Hawk now in his heat-seeking missile mode brushes off.
“Hey Mick…mon ami…make like Harpo willya?” he says with zipper mouth motion.
“Geez…what a…what for it…?” I say.
“Dear Ruth…yes, I would…and not necessarily as a last resort which may be too late. I still can recall the words of Malcolm X, in 1965…just before he was assassinated…indelibly burned into my consciousness…when the defenseless Blacks were mercilessly being beaten and slaughtered, ‘We declare our right on this earth to be a man, to be a human being, to be respected as a human being, to be given the rights of a human being in this society, on this earth, in this day, which we intend to bring into existence…by any means necessary’. It was not until the Blacks began to arm themselves…to fight back in the North…in the Bay area with the Black Power Movement…the Black Panthers…that’s when the White establishment began to sense their vulnerability…that they could not gratuitously inflict violence on Black people with impunity…without Black blow back.” Hawk says.
“And so you think that violence would have expedited the cause of civil rights of the Black people?” Ruth asks.
“I don’t know…but it sure as hell would have caused some folks in the Jim Crow South to take pause…to realize that they could themselves be exposed to physical violence…that some of their lily white asses, literally was in the game.” Hawk says.
“And when the oppressed are so far down…Bob Dylan’s, “When you’ve got nothing, you’ve got nothing to loose.” I say.
“You’re so far down…that down looks like up. Ruth, as a another Jew, I would think that you, of all people, would realize that the Jews in Germany during Hitler’s reign of terror…millions of our people, men, women and children where exterminated…like vermin. Meekly following like lambs being lead to slaughter during the Holocaust. But had they resisted en masse…by any means necessary, including armed resistance, like the French Resistance…the outcome may have been much different than six million Jews being eradicated…erased like they never existed.” Hawk says.
“I understand…and indeed share your anger, but in your rage, you’re blaming the victim, Hawk. And by the way…remember that historically our people are from the merchant class…not warriors…we finance and supply wars…not fight them, present company excluded.” Ruth says smiling facetiously.
“Yeah…like the Rothschilds, just shopkeepers doing a bisl gesheft …a little business, eh?…finance and supply both sides…so they’re always on a winning side…and if you believe in Karma…well I won’t even go there with the Holocaust. Dammit Ruth…seems to me that having that almost genetic Jewish victim mentality was, and still is large part of the problem. Yeah…I know it’s part of the process…a result of the oppression. But when some of the Blacks had finally had enough, their response to violence was, Yessuh, Massa Whitey, I’ll turn the other cheek…so you can kiss the other cheek…of my black ass. And guess what, some of the Whites suddenly started to get more than a little circumspect about how they treated Blacks…’cause they were scared shitless…why? Because now, they sensed that what was once considered a birthright, could be taken away from them by violence. Now they had something they could lose.” Hawk says still seething.
Ruth says, “In many ways the Blacks, have much the same narrative as the oppressed Jews through the millennia of history…treated like sub-humans…even in literature…the benign but no less pathological stereotypes…going as far back as Shakespeare for the Jews, and even before…just because of their ethnic origin. Okay, so granted, short term, they got the attention of the oppressors. So how, exactly, as a practical matter would you propose that this armed insurrection be implemented…and financed, remember, I am a Jew…” grinning, “…and perpetuated long term, and more importantly what does the end game look like? The streets flowing red with the blood of Americans killing other Americans? Another American civil war? In the end, exactly what did that solve? Just how’d that work out for everybody?” Ruth says.
“Well, I haven’t figured that part out…yet…that’s a much harder question… ”says a sheepishly grinning Hawk with air quotes repeating Ruth’s earlier answer, “but I can tell you this…for me personally?…as Emiliano Zapata said during the Mexican Revolution…I’d rather die on my feet, than live on my knees…” Hawk says still in anger relapse mode.
“Touche, Hawk.” says an smiling Ruth, “Noble and laudable words, Hawk…I have no doubt as to their sincerity. “
“Don’t know the when…or the how…but inevitably, the world’s headed for a fiery broadside collision on the corner of Main Street…and Wall Street…between regressive Capitalism and Progressivism. And…there will be blood…flowing in the streets….” Hawk says.
“Maybe so. But consider this, my dear enraged gladiator friend. An armed insurrection would be exactly how the government…and the oligarchs would like it to unfold…thereby justifying a full and overwhelming military response. Long term…not a winnable war for the revolutionaries. No…if history tells us anything, including the liberation and decolonization of India from the British lead by Gandhi…and in this country the successful prosecution of civil rights by the Blacks in the 60’s lead by Martin Luther King Jr…it must be through the same massive passive aggressive response, non-violent demonstration and civil disobedience including rolling strikes and boycotts by the workers. But first it will require the complete solidarity and mobilization of many of the workers…committed worker solidarity is the key…the necessary condition precedent.” Ruth says.
“But how do you get all the workers to unite? I mean isn’t that rather idealistic, if not Panglossian to expect that kind of worker unity?” I say.
“My widowed mother…” Sanjana says, “often spoke of the demonstrations by her people in New Delhi…the heroism of the waves of Mahatma Gandhi’s followers, as they stood, totally defenseless, in complete commitment, to Satyagraha….non-violent defiance against the government dragoons. As the soldiers mercilessly beat them…as each wave of the injured were carried off, then replaced by the one behind, each wave heroically stepping up into the breach…knowing that they were going to be brutally beaten. Until finally some of the soldiers became so physically exhausted, their blows no longer had any power…either physical or as intimidation over the protestors. Some of soldiers were so moved by the heroism and self-sacrifice that tears were streaming down their faces…many of them, knowing that they would face harsh disciplinary action themselves, refused to continue beating their fellow citizens.”
“Inspiring Sanjana…I have often wondered if I would be capable of such physical…and moral courage…to take a beating without fighting back.” I say.
“Yes, Mick…that’s what makes it even more remarkable. The protestors had won…without resorting to physical retaliation…creating a tide of massive moral outrage that swept over the country, which inspired even more protestors to join in…until through geometric progression, a tipping point of critical mass was reached. Eventually the sheer magnitude of humanity, willing to sacrifice their bodies, and the international moral outrage, finally overwhelmed the resource…and resolve of the British. It was a noble moment in the history of civilization…and the history of India in particular…liberation from English Colonial rule. And it was accomplished without ostensibly firing a single shot by the dissidents.” Sanjana says.
“Thank you my dear daughter…for that. The eventual triumph through such extraordinary moral and physical courage by just common, but far from ordinary folks, later would serve as a successful model for the non-violent civil rights protests in the Jim Crow South, lead by Gandhi’s disciple, Reverend King. ” Ruth says placing her hand gently on Sanjana’s, her eyes tearing up.
“Heroic indeed, Sanjana. Like the lunch counter sit-ins where the Blacks suffered merciless beatings…for what? merely asking to be served? But do you really think that today’s generation of selfish, relatively affluent people of the West are capable, more to the point, willing to make such selfless sacrifice? I think it was Gandhi, who when asked the question, What do think of Western civilization? replied, I think it would be good idea…” I say.
“Yes…I do, Mick…I believe Civil Rights legislation in the mid 60’s was a direct result of the peaceful non-violent demonstrations by the Blacks in the South lead by Reverend King. And my students are just as committed to righting social wrongs…like gender equality…and for the LGBT community…as our generation during the 60’s against discrimination based on race.” Sanjana says.
“Now that you mention it, of course…I lost a young man who was like a son to me. Trey Mahoney sacrificed his unfinished life…attempting to make them listen. To do the right thing. His only crime was that he was gay…and for following his broken heart as to whom he chose to love, he was assassinated by the establishment.
“And Selma in ’65…and C-Wash…” says Hawk
“Indeed. But for the horrific images coming into the living rooms of Main Street America…via the six o’clock news, of the gratuitous violence and attack of the defenseless, peaceful non-violent demonstrators who were marching from Selma to Montgomery, the capitol of Alabama…no Voter Rights Act of 1965. Hawk and I and of course Ivan, lost one of our dearest, most committed and courageous brothers there, Charles Washington…the ultimate sacrifice…martyred…thank you for reminding me, Sanjana,” my throat tightening up.
“Rest in peace…C-Wash…” Hawk says bowing his massive hairless glistening head deferentially.
“Yes, and RIP brother Mario Savio, taken from us in 1996…at fifty-three. They said it was a heart attack…but I believe it was a broken heart that finally took Mario. Weltschmerz…world pain…or world weariness from the recognition of man’s capacity for inhumanity and lack of compassion for one another.” Ivan says one of Mario Savio’s closest friends…and collaborator in the FSM at UCB.
“Rest in peace…Mario Savio, Charles Washington 1940-1965…at 25, Selma, Alabama and Byron Brawley 1942-1967…at 24, Kontum Province, Vietnam.” I say
“Indeed, Mick. But…again if we look at the history of tectonic social change…general rolling strikes, Syndicalism has been a common union organizing principle in a number of European countries, including France, Spain, and Italy. To be successful, it requires no more than twenty percent of the workforce, in America maybe 40 million of the total 150 million total workforce across the complete spectrum of the production of goods and services to bring the oligarchs to their knees in less than two years…” Ruth says.
“So if the workers are the real producers of wealth for the oligarchs…no producers…no excessive cash flow…no obscene wealth?” I say.
“And no oligarchs…” Hawk adds.
“Ergo bubala… A bloodless reversal of the current slow motion Corporate coupe de etat. From that point on, the tacit ever-present threat of general strikes would force the few remaining oligarchs to deal with the reality that ultimately it is the worker…the producers of goods and services that hold the power.” says Ruth.
“Hmmm…sorry Ruth…but I have to say that this uh…strikes me somewhat as Marxist utopianism…rooted in collectivistic idealism. Can you cite like some big and meaningful example, and I don’t mean some obscure little victory of labor in some banana republic podunk country, where this actually affected a profound and lasting reorganization of a social order?” I say.
“Sure. Thought you’d never ask…big boy.” the affably smiling Ruth Tarnowski says, with her lively penetrating blue eyes dancing, “…the most striking example, no pun intended, of successful non-violent revolution through general strikes was that of 1989…in Poland were part of a revolutionary wave that eventually resulted in the Fall of Communism in the Communist states of Central and Eastern Europe by the end of 1991. Just think of the power of that…all those Trillions with a T, of dollars spent by the USSR and the U.S….on armament over four decades…and in the end it was a civil implosion…ordinary working class people…that was more powerful than the technology of any man-made implosion-type thermonuclear weapon, that ultimately defeated the so-called Red Menace…the fall of the Iron Curtain. So…sometimes for decades and decades…nothing happens, then in few weeks…decades happen. That one big enough for ya miene bubala, Mickey? Hmmm?” says a warmly smiling Ruth Tarnowski.
“Okay, Ruth…ya got me…I can buy that. But look what happened with the power vacuum created by the collapse of Communism. The same oligarchs, the apparatchiks become born-again Capitalist…and ended up with all the marbles…again.” I say.
“Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it… George Santayana…” Joe says, “using the aftermath of the dissolution of the USSR as a negative paradigm, this revolution will be forced to heed the harsh lessons of the collapse of Communism…or it too shall fail…just as spectacularly. Which translates into the necessity for bold, visionary…and very vigilant leadership. That’s where the people of your generation come in, Mick…old enough…possessing of institutional memory to remember the past failures and follies of history like the American imperialist interventions…the war in Vietnam, the attempts at the overthrow of the democratically elected socialist governments in Iran 1953, Chile in 1973, Afghanistan in 1979 and Nicaragua starting in 1981 ending with Iran-Contra in 1985, to just name a few of America’s greatest hits…your tax dollars at work…meanwhile back on the home front, a wholesale assault…the deregulation of Capitalism, including the privatization of the vital functions of government. Your generation is still young enough, and energetic with wisdom of life experience to shepherd the process, to mentor the children of our lovely grandchildren’s generation…to keep it from straying off course.” Joseph Tarnowski says.
“So are you sayin’ it’s time to start mobilizing…like yesterday…for a uh…revolution?” I say.
“Yeap…you get it…with a little more re-socialization” she says with air quotes “I just may turn you two schatzi’s into little lefty revolutionaries yet!” Ruth says facetiously with a wicked smile.
“Welcome to my world, boys…” says a grinning Ivan.
“So Ruth…what and when’s the next step?” I say.
“To survive this unprecedented global threat to our very existence will require a radical reordering of civilization’s deeply devolved and perverse priorities. The great tragedy is that the American working class for the most part is ignorant of the fact that they are essentially slaves, wage slaves as Marx put it, to a rigged system where our democracy, or what’s left of it, like a defective gene through incest has run amok…mutated into this obsequious, antithetical servant of Capitalism. I like to quote Harriet Tubman, African-American abolitionist and humanitarian when she said I freed thousands of slaves, but I could have freed thousands more…if only they had known they were slaves. For millions of people with today’s obscene disparity of wealth, poverty is the new slavery.” says Ruth Tarnowski.
“So the answer lies with the media…to sound the alarms…a massive media campaign…a clarion call to action?” I say.
“I’ll let Joe answer that since he’s the economist…besides I’m tired of hearing myself talk.” she says with genuine humility.
“Okay, Ruthy…you can take the rest of night off…save a little of that fire for tomorrow night at the book signing…honey, you’ve more than earned your dinner tonight…” he says with an authentic love and respect, affectionately patting her hand.
“Mick, it was during the 80’s with the Reagan administration, that the war against labor unions, huge tax income tax reductions for the wealthy including inheritance tax, massive deregulation and lax anti-trust regulation and enforcement started in earnest, with mainstream media becoming increasingly concentrated and consolidated in the hands of just a few major corporations, with no efficient competitive alternative.” Joe says.
“Like the one with the biggest…uh…megaphones usually wins the argument…” I say.
“Yea…like here’s ya megaphones…right here…” says the Hawkster turning away from the girls seated next to him in a rare display of decorum, grabbing his genitals, doing a spot-on wiseguy, which draws a snigger from the girls.
“A-hem…uh…correct. The notion that the solution to climate change is through more Capitalism is a naive myth promulgated through the slick dissembling known by the euphemism marketing…essentially propaganda…a society distracted from the crucially important social issues by a constant bombardment of our senses with inane, vulgar minutiae, through technology…social media, electronic gossip mills, the contemporary bread and circus of the Roman Empire…promoted by corporate mainstream media—the sycophantic handmaidens of the Corporacy. As Neil Postman prophetically wrote in 1985, in Amusing Ourselves to Death…echoing Huxley’s Brave New World…the public is more oppressed by their addiction to amusement…pleasure, than in Orwell’s work, 1984…where they were oppressed by state control.” Joe says.
“Yes…I’ve read Postman, Chomsky and Zinn and others, extensively. And I too recognize and have often acknowledged the profound prescience of Huxley’s fictional masterwork. So the system is so broken…so corrupt…that it’s not fixable?” I say
“Yeap….ironically from the third rate actor…like most things Hollywood, pretended president Ronald Reagan’s so-called shining city on a hill…a Potemkin Village” he says with air quotes “…and that old majestic mansion…up on the shining hill that from a distance looks like all it needs is a fresh coat of paint to restore it to it’s original splendor?…belies the reality that it’s been so infested with termites and rats, of the two legged kind…for so long, that it’s rotting from the inside out. And no amount of propping it…mere cosmetic change, is going to save it from eventually collapsing under it’s own weight. And as Ruth says…poverty is the new slavery…and all the tweaking…all the so-called reforms around the edges only serves to lengthens the chains…it does not break them.” says Joe.
“So…time for what…bulldoze the bureaucracy?” Hawk says.
“An apt metaphor, Hawk…yes…and like any other structure that’s in danger of collapse, first it needs to be condemned…then the demolition needs to planned and controlled to prevent a precipitous, chaotic collapse.” Joe says.
“So…doz it all the way down to the foundation…and start over?” I say.
“I’m afraid so…sadly, nothing less will suffice. But if the democratic foundation is solid, and I believe that it is, in time, the process of rebuilding on that foundation can begin.” Joe says.
“Assuming there is the equivalent of a Great Awakening…since there is so much economic inter-connectedness through Globalism, what’s the rest of the world going to be doing…while America is tuning up for American Revolution 2.0?” I say.
“Through Globalism the highly formidable virulent strain of Capitalism, particularly prevalent in America over the past century has now metastasized all over the world, indeed tout le monde…the so-called American Dream has become the World Nightmare…” Joe says.
“Greed…without borders…America’s main export…” interjects Hawk.
“Agreed.” says a smiling Joseph Tarnowski, “so…the old bromide especially in the era of Globalism, when the American economy sneezes…the rest of the world catches a cold, was never more relevant, that is as long as the American dollar is the international primary reserve currency. By the way if that should ever change…the collapse of the dollar would throw the world into a global depression…economic chaos and anarchy. In Europe, for example because it’s so fractured politically, with so many competing issues of inter-state sovereignty…with no true central government or bank, perhaps the potential for a contemporary equivalent of the French Revolution in terms of a bloody violence and anarchy is even greater. Reign of Terror 2.0. And you can be sure that abroad…as well as here…of asymmetrical warfare…by non-state actors, leftovers and dead-enders of the former oligarchy who failed to get the memo, desperately attempting to retain power by exploiting the chaos for financial…and hegemonic gain.” Joe says.
“Yeah…but…” I start to say when I am eerily confronted by a memory seeping in from my past life as an M-F, Yes…exploitation…as Jason Mahoney presciently declared, years ago in the early 80’s while convening and Chairing the Entrepreneurial Corporate Caucus, the ECC with the other plutocratic Masters of the Universe about the coming chaos caused by climate change, ‘… never, ever…let a serious crisis to go to waste. This crisis will provide the opportunity for us, the ruling class to do things that we could not before…’
“Hell-o-o? Earth to Koz-mick…yes, but what, Koz?” Hawks says mercifully interrupting the dark reverie of my past with Captain Ahab which sends a chill down to my toes. Hmmm…what the hell is that about? Some unfinished business…from long ago?
“Uh…sorry…a Proustian moment…Remembrance of Things Past…” I say, “So…you were saying, professor?”
“Sure…” Joe continues, “Mick. So…Capitalism has now devolved into an international Sociopathology, with the disparity of wealth world-wide, rivaling even the excesses of the mythical Gilded Age, when John D. Rockefeller…of Standard Oil…his net worth today adjusted for inflation would be a staggering 340 billion with a B…and in Europe, the notorious war profiteer Nathan Mayer Rothschild, worth about 350 billion.”
“Man…didn’t know there was that many zeros. The Second Gilded Age…redefines disparity of wealth to a whole ‘nuther level.” I say.
“Louis Brandeis—Associate Justice on the Supreme Court summed it up best, We must make our choice. We can have democracy in this country or we can have great wealth concentrated in the hands of the few. But we can’t have both.” Joe says.
“Jezus…this level of obscene wealth…like, today’s Capitalism is to a democracy…is uh what…pornography is to love? Hawk says.
“And to extend your metaphor professor, in the process of rebuilding, engineer it to withstand the inevitable challenges…of internal political and seismic external hazards, like the social dislocation caused by the calamitous destruction and chaos from climate change.” I say.
“Sadly, climate change for the most part, is a done deal, Mick. We could have largely prevented the catastrophic consequences of it had we only listened to the respected climate scientists like James Hansen of N-O-A-A, as far back as the 80’s.” Ivan interjects. “So…not exactly a very rosy forecast for the planet…or its inhabitants?” I say. “Nope…but it’s totally self-inflicted. As the indigenous peoples have known for millennia…Gaia has only rules. She is impartial…She knows no mercy. We knew her rules…yet we continued to disrespect Her. Break Her rules…and you pay. You can pay Her now…or you can pay Her later, but in the end, She always gets paid…like the credit card that’s been maxed out with minimum payments, the principal and interest are now due but with obscene deferred compound interest.” Ivan says. “I guess in the end, the people get the kind of government…and planet they deserve. ” I say. “Not much consolation, but yes. Tragically, it is the innocent children, who have inherited a civilization on the verge of collapse. Like one continuous 50 year New Year’s Eve drunken profligate orgy of willful, indeed arrogant ignorance by their hung-over parents, the Biffs and O-blivias…it’s the day after and the kids are stuck with paying the bill for cleaning the big mess up…to hose the place down to make it even liveable. The civilization in some perverse degraded form will survive…it always does. But history, will not be kind to our generation for allowing this totally unnecessary fiasco to happen.” Ivan says. “So no magic bullet solutions…no last second Hail Mary game-winning pass.” I say
“Hey Hawk…pass me that butter knife, will ya pal.” I say.
“Now, with the inexorable inertia of it, the positive feedback loop of the melting polar caps, glaciers and perma-frost, and the release of methane gas, along with dramatic sea warming, increasing levels, causing more calamitous extreme weather events…well, the only realistic hope is to mitigate it. No one, not the government…not the scientists are willing to publicly admit it for fear of starting a panic stampede for the exits…a mass exodus. We are now entering the adaptive phase of dealing with the inevitable consequences of anthropocentric climate change, including in the not too distant future, by 2050, dramatic increase of sea level and average global temperature, displacing hundreds of millions, with mass migration of the populace of the planet to the Northern latitudes…like the Pacific Northwest…perhaps even in the lifetime of our children, a dystopic diaspora of marauding starving masses of desperate peoples, roaming and foraging to merely subsist. Chaos and anarchy.” says Ivan.
“Jezus…Sounds like it’s time for a Hemlock Happy Hour…” Hawk says.
“Yeah…nice uplifting message, Ivan…so now what?” I say.
“Well guys, most of us with children…and grandchildren will choose not to indulge in Hawk’s…uh…Hemlock Maneuver, as we are now charged with a solemn duty. To prepare ourselves…our families and loved ones to start to form self-sufficient, defensible communities with others who share the same vision and are able…and more importantly, willing and committed to begin preparation for the inevitable. Survival, with some modicum of quality of life, including the preservation of the arts, and culture, will depend on the ability of these enclaves to produce their own food, water and sustainable energy…to be completely self-sustaining…indefinitely. Everything will have to be produced locally…including security, as the government or what’s left of it, may not necessarily have the resources, or the will to protect the populace against the onslaught. Sadly…it will become almost a tribal kind of existence, probably for several decades, at least until the world population through attrition, including starvation, disease, civil strive…and war, becomes viable” Ivan says.
“So what’s your estimate for viable world population?” I ask
“Oh…optimally about three to five billion tops, with zero growth…eventually finding a homeostatic balance of population and resource for the planet to support.” Ivan says with a cavalier, almost clinical insouciance.
“Jezus, Ivan…you’re talking almost a fifty percent reduction of the current levels of world population?” I say.
“Unfortunately…your math is correct, Mick. Vast portions of the planet probably 20, even as much as 30 degress North and South of equator will become essentially uninhabitable. That’s why the revolution must occur first…to form the political infrastructure to try to ameliorate the worldwide chaos and dislocation caused by climate change…to allow in a relatively orderly way, for the regeneration and re-emergence of a new world order. A more egalitarian society, not solely based on acquisitiveness as the main priority, but more on social justice and the universal rights of man.” Ivan says.
“Ivan, I have to say, nice speech, man…but it sounds more than a trifle quixotic, almost naively utopian to me” I say.
“Indeed. But that’s no reason not to strive for it, Mick…at the risk of sounding cliché…to let the perfect be the enemy of the good.” Ivan says.
“Mick, as Ivan says, the planet…is already pretty much fully cooked…stick a fork in it.” Joe says
“So what you’re saying Joe is…no matter what we do…basically we’re forked, eh?” Hawk says smiling.
“Ha!…” says Joe laughing, “yeah…pretty much…well put Hawk. Even the well-meaning mainstream environmentalist have failed to grasp that the current mutation of Capitalism is as capable of self-reform—as a career crack addict living in daily denial—lacking the political will and courage to deal with climate change. No…Capitalism as it exists today is not the solution…it is the problem.” Joseph Tarnowski says who appears content to have his wife and long time collaborator and equal partner, a highly respected professor of Sociology and Anthropology, unthreatened by the intellectual brilliance and virtuosity in her own right, carry the mantle for social reform in particular as it relates to her area of expertise of the social sciences.
Quite a potent tag-team duo.
“Hmmm…well I didn’t expect to be breaking bread tonight in the presence of revolutionary uh…royalty “ Hawk says with exaggerated air quotes to emphasis the irony “…with contemporary iterations of Rosa Luxemburg…and Karl Marx. Raise your glasses to Ruth and Joe…and to all the fellow travelers for the cause of social justice…of the past, the present and the future…everywhere” says Hawk smiling holding up his glass of wine.
“Here! Here!…well said Hawkster.” I say raising my glass.
“Indeed…” says Ivan raising his glass with Sanjana.
“Why thank you Hawk! We take that as an esteemed compliment…” Ruth says smiling broadly raising her glass.
“Very kind of you…thank you. And here’s to S. G. Shapiro…truly a Sui Generis.” says Joe Tarnowski raising his glass.
“It certainly was intended as such, Ruth…I only wish Papa…uh…S. G. could have been here to join in this discussion with these esteemed fellow travelers.” Hawk says wistfully.
“Uh…don’t wish to sound ignorant…but…uh…” I say
“Dat train dun already left da station…” Hawk interjects always enjoying needling his pal.
“Rosa Luxemburg?” I say throwing Hawk a contrived exaggerated sarcastic smirk.
“A Marxist theorist, economist and revolutionary socialist of Polish-Jewish descent…one of the leaders of the German Revolution of 1918…which essentially ended the First World War after of abdication of the Kaiser…aka Mom.” Ivan Tarnowski says with a proud smile.
“A beautiful as well as brilliant bubba…” Hawk says winking at a blushing Ruth Tarnowski.
“Uh…by the way…she was martyred at the age of 47. Well, folks, on that happy note…this is probably a good place to call it a night. If you want to hear more about the book…the uh…WMD contra the oligarchy by WSDE, Workers Self Directed Enterprises or Worker’s Cooperatives, the rest of this dog and pony show will be appearing at the auditorium of the community college tomorrow night at 7 PM. Might want to get there a little early to get a good ringside seat.” Ivan says only half-jokingly.
So we bid a good evening, thanking Ivan and Sanjana for a lovely dinner and the stimulating thought provoking conversation with Joseph and Ruth Tarnowski.
It is reminiscent of many an evening of long hours of discussion and yes, debate spent…sometimes into sunrise…with Mario Savio, Charles Washington and Byron Brawley at UCB about many of the things discussed tonight…which enlightened and informed my, at the time, jejune world view. Sadly those principles that those young men, the best and the brightest, sacrificed their lives for…I am now profoundly ashamed to confess, that somehow, I allowed to erode…to eventually become dormant. And moi…seduced by the siren call of the Gods of Capitalism…of wealth and luxury, by the Corpocracy. Until now.
So…we collect Oso, who has apparently fallen in deep lust with Zelda, and is reluctant to leave as exhibited by his intense whining all the way home to Chez MAK.
I’ll try to unpack and process all we heard tonight from some very committed, intelligent, and yes inspiring folks, manana, hopefully after a good night’s sleep. Ha!
Tomorrow night, maybe we’ll take in the second act of the Ruth and Joe Road Show if for no other reason than to provide some security backup in case the North county crowd gets a little rowdy.
Still reverberating in my consciousness…
Your generation is still young enough, and energetic with the wisdom of life experience to shepherd the process, to mentor the children…to keep it from straying off course…
Including my own son…Michael…my son!? Jezus.
I finally fall asleep about 3 AM after staring at the ceiling for several hours of counting the knots in the knotty pine ceiling, pondering my past with the diabolical Captain Ahab. Indeed…definitely some unfinished business…from long ago…the brutal murders of Sora Eagle Feather and Marla Dyson. And for El Negrito and J. Murdock Mahoney et al…some Koz-assisted-Karma.
And by the way, make that second term U.S. Senator J. Murdock Mahoney, from the Great Centennial State of Colorado…with the motto Nil Sine Numine…Nothing Without Providence. Here’s ya Providence…right here, Jason…
Join the over 1.5 million who have signed the online petition to IMPEACH TRUMP NOW!
Fogitabout the adverse political impact on the democrats and focus on the greaterr paramount issue: the rule of law and the profound negative consequences on the democracy if the spineless democrats fail to even attempt to hold DT accountable? The democrats would lose all moral authority to govern. If not this president at this time, then when?
I personally can not allow myself to be intimidated by the fear of a possible violent response by his miscreant minions to diminish my moral conviction that Trump must be held accountable and subjected to the process of impeachment…whether he is convicted or not by the Senate, or the country has tragically, and perhaps irredeemably, lost it’s way and forfeited any moral authority on the world stage…to our allies…and more importantly, our enemies, most especially Putin and the Ruskies, the PRK and Iran.
History would not be kind to those who failed to do the right thing, to execute justice in the face of such overwhelming compelling evidence of criminal misconduct/malfeasance for fear of some adverse political consequence…including those in the HR and especially the Senate. Why do you think the democrats won the midterm HR so overwhelmingly? The people have spoken…and it will only get louder if the democrats demonstrate the courage and political will to DUMP TRUMP.
Make all of them record their vote on impeachment for history and and let the people see who voted along strictly partisan lines, then carpet bomb the airways with TV campaign ads calling them out as partisan political hacks who value party over country. This could spark a collective epiphany of voters, potentially replacing most of the 22 GOP Senate seats up for re-election in 2020 giving the democrats the trifecta in 2020 and perhaps a filibuster proof Senate majority. Then let’s clean house, including confirm a liberal Supreme Court Justice for Ginsburg, drain the swamp and reclaim the land formerly known as America.
Nobody knows what the considerable judicial power of a formal impeachment inquiry would reveal. Tax returns etc. etc. etc.. It’s just the top of the first inning. The political landscape can change almost overnight…IF…and only IF congress does it constitutionally mandated duty.
History informs and instructs us that for years nothing seems to happen…then in weeks, years can happen…
“The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.” — Edmund Burke.
RE: COMCAST – WHATCOM COUNTY CABLE TV FRANCHISE AGREEMENT ETC.
My name is Michael Kominsky. I have been a resident of Whatcom County since 1997 and a subscriber of cable tv and internet service starting with TCI and eventually the successor in assignment, Comcast Inc. on and off for almost twenty(20) years. I currently subscribe to Comcast broadband internet service and I am a customer of Directv, DBS(Direct Broadcast Satellite) for video services for the past several years. And frankly if there was an efficient competitive alternative for Broadband Internet available in my area at the 100mbs speed I need for my business, I’d leave Comcast in a NY minute.
By way of background, I was an executive with TCI from 1982 for about ten(10) years, as a regional manager involved in cable tv system operations, including the negotiation and renewal of cable tv franchise agreements in California and Nevada. Part of my job description was the implementation/operation of PEG (Public Educational Government) channels and local origination/public access channels.
As president of the Nevada State Cable TV Association in the early 1980’s, my legislative responsibility included lobbying for cable tv deregulation legislation at the state level and Washington DC, ultimately spawning The Cable Communication Act of 1984. This federal legislation was the result of an intense lobbying effort for various state and national NGO’s, including the NCTA(National Cable TV Association) with a great deal of telecom/cable corporate influence AKA money behind it. It greatly diminished local, state and federal regulatory authority over cable tv franchises and its purveyors. Some for the good…but much more for the not-so-good side of the ledger for regulatory entities. In retrospect, frankly not one of my proudest professional accomplishments.
Because of my cumulative professional experience working in telecommunications I believe it may offer some unique insight in the technical, operational and contractual aspects and issues of the relationship between a franchisor, like Whatcom County and the franchisee, Comcast.
So you are probably asking yourselves, why would he bother to invest so much of his time to write this meandering technical tome? Doesn’t he have a life? Fair question…one which I confess I have asked myself many times over the past now five(5) months. Trying to get information, which I feel should be available to the public without bureaucratic road blocks from Whatcom County/Comcast, at times, has been one of the more exasperating experiences of my professional life. Sorry, but it’s just not supposed to be this hard…or excessively time consuming. In this case—gratuitously so.
Frankly it is in stark contrast with the level of cooperation and responsiveness I have received from same/similar requests for information from the City of Bellingham just last week. All of the questions proffered (as relevant), below were answered completely and comprehensively by the City of Bellingham within three(3) days of request with several follow-up questions answered in another two(2) days.
But the more I begin to investigate…to dig deeper, the more I realized that there was a fundamentally unfair, superior bargaining position held, and exploited, by Comcast Corporation, over its customers/subscribers(as an ostensible monopoly by virtue of the economic impracticability of an over-built, efficient competitive alternative cable tv/broadband internet provider). And that any attempts at correction or reform would be met with substantial corporate bureaucratic resistance—a frustrating gauntlet, designed eventually to cause the customer to throw up their hands in disgust and give up. I know this, because it almost worked with me…almost.
So the answer to the question of why, is a very simple one. After numerous rancorous dealings with Comcast and hearing the horror stories of other customers locally and on the internet, with same or similar unsatisfactory resolution of complaints, I can best distill my motivation as eloquently stated by Howard Beale, the disaffected antihero main character in the 1976 film Network, “I’m mad as hell…and I’m not going to take it any more…”
What follows is a narrative of my impressions, of the status of cable tv/internet service, my critique of contractual performance by both Whatcom County and Comcast Inc. based on information released by the County, (albeit limited and in some cases non-responsive and incomplete) with the desired result that perhaps an amelioration of the quality of service and customer satisfaction can be a achieved, both on the supply side, and the regulatory side. You will notice that some of the issues raised appear more than once, sometimes in multiple sections. Because of their perceived critical importance, I felt it necessary to reaffirm the point, in different sections and different ways. I apologize for any perceived unnecessary redundancy.
Should the County be interested, I would be willing to entertain the possibility of the submission of a more detailed list of my recommendations, which perhaps could provide constructive input in crafting a franchise renewal. Your questions or comments can be forwarded to my email at: E-mail Me —using line numbers in the left margin (of the .pdf) only, to more easily reference sections of this document.
While not brief, this narrative is extremely direct and candid, by some standards perhaps gratuitously so. It was not my intention to cause offense to anyone…it’s a gift. If I have done so I do apologize. Please forgive, I’m sure, the many typos etc. That now out of the way, please read on…
I. – CABLE TV FRANCHISE HISTORY – WHATCOM COUNTY/CITY OF BELLINGHAM:
1. 1996 – January: Franchise Agreement ratified between Whatcom County and TCI
2. 1996 – February: Franchise Agreement ratified between the City of Bellingham and TCI
3. 1999 – TCI was purchased in 1999 by AT&T, whose cable television assets were later acquired by Charter Communications and then Comcast Corporation. The franchise is assigned to AT&T with tacit ratification by Whatcom County of all the original terms/conditions without apparent review or revision.
4. 2002 – Comcast acquired all assets of AT&T Broadband, thus making Comcast the largest cable television company in the United States with over 22 million subscribers. The franchise is assigned to Comcast with tacit ratification by Whatcom County of all the original terms/conditions without apparent review or revision.
5. 2008 – The City of Bellingham received a renewal notice from Comcast in March 2008, which was in advance of budget and planning efforts. The City budgeted for legal consulting and began negotiating in 2010 ending with a renewal agreement in December of 2011.
6. 2008 – Whatcom County received a renewal notice from Comcast in March 2008, in which no formal action was taken by Whatcom County to initiate negotiation for a franchise renewal.
7. 2011 – Cable TV Franchise agreements with the City of Bellingham and Whatcom County expired.
8. 2011 – City of Bellingham and Comcast complete negotiations and ratification of Cable TV franchise in December of 2011. There is no record provided to me by Whatcom County as to any response to Comcast or the disposition of that request.
9. 2011 – July of 2011, Comcast formally files an application for Franchise (renewal). After querying Whatcom County there is no record of any substantive/meaningful or otherwise attempts at initiating negotiations with Comcast for a franchise until February of 2016.
10. 2014 – COMCAST OF WASHINGTON IV, INC.,a Washington corporation merges into COMCAST CABLE COMMUNICATIONS MANAGEMENT, LLC, a Delaware limited liability company with tacit ratification by Whatcom County of all the original terms/conditions without apparent review or revision.
11. 2016 – There is no record of Whatcom County having made any attempt to enter into negotiations with Comcast to renew the original franchise agreement of 1996, which again, expired in 2011. When asked the direct question by me on January 29, 2016:
If not, what are the official reasons of record for the County not pursuing a franchise agreement renewal, especially in light of the fact that it was common knowledge that the City of Bellingham had initiated renewal negotiations (a concurrently expiring county franchise agreement) with Comcast in 2011 and completed the renewal process in 2011?There has been no meaningful explanation from Whatcom County from the County as of February 5, 2016 as to why(?).
II. – COMCAST INC. – A BRIEF CORPORATE HISTORY:
1. 1969 – The company was re-incorporated in Pennsylvania in 1969, under the new name Comcast Corporation. The name “Comcast” is a portmanteau of the words “Communication” and “Broadcast”. Comcast’s initial public offering occurred on June 29, 1972, with a market capitalization of US $3,010,000.
2. 2002 – Comcast acquired all assets of AT&T Broadband (the successor to TCI), thus making Comcast the largest cable television company in the United States with over 22 million subscribers.
3. 2014 – COMCAST OF WASHINGTON IV, INC.,a Washington corporation merges into COMCAST CABLE COMMUNICATIONS MANAGEMENT, LLC, a Delaware limited liability company.
III. – COMCAST INC. – RECORD FOR CUSTOMER SATISFACTION AND SERVICE:
1. In 2004 and 2007, the American Customer Satisfaction Index (ACSI) survey found that Comcast had the worst customer satisfaction rating of any company or government agency in the country, including the Internal Revenue Service. The ACSI indicates that almost half of all cable customers (regardless of company) have registered complaints, and that cable is the only industry to score below 60 in the ACSI. Comcast’s Customer Service Rating by the ACSI surveys indicate that the company’s customer service has not improved since the surveys began in 2001. Analysis of the surveys states that “Comcast is one of the lowest scoring companies in ACSI.
(Source: Wikipedia Jan 2016 https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/American_Customer_Satisfaction_Index )
2. As its customer satisfaction eroded by 7% over the past year, revenue increased by 12%.” The ACSI analysis also addresses this contradiction, stating that “Such pricing power usually comes with some level of monopoly protection and most cable companies have little competition at the local level. This also means that a cable company can do well financially even though its customers are not particularly satisfied.”
3. The Consumerist runs an annual “Worst Company In America” contest with the winner determined by a series of reader polls. The single-elimination tournament is similar in format to college basketball’s March Madness being held simultaneously. Companies that have advanced to the final four are included in the table below. The winning company is sent a “Golden Poo” trophy. In recent years, silver and bronze poos have been sent to the other finalists (Source Wikipedia Jan 2016 – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Consumerist) :
4. Comcast customers filed more than 2,000 complaints against the company from April to June 2015, according to documents released by the Federal Communications Commission.
The documents were obtained from the FCC through a Freedom of Information Act request by CityExplainer, a Baltimore-based blog. CityExplainer yesterday posted an article about the complaints and made them all available to read in a spreadsheet: FCC Complaints – Spreadsheet
and PDF: FCC Complaints – PDF
There were many complaints about data caps, billing problems, service outages, slow speeds, and poor responses from customer service representatives.
“You’ll see senior citizens and others complaining about unrelenting billing errors, people complaining about alleged data throttling and data caps, and residents’ sad tales of dealing with technicians who come—or don’t come—to their homes to fix problems,” the blog post said.
Some consumers claimed Comcast is violating net neutrality rules, though this was often due to people misunderstanding the FCC’s regulations. One person claimed that Comcast “charg[ing] more for faster Internet services… violates the regulations on net neutrality,” which is not correct. The core net neutrality rules prohibit blocking, throttling, and charging Web services for faster access to consumers, but not different price tiers for home Internet service.
Comcast is the largest cable and broadband provider in the country, with about 22.3 million TV customers and 22.5 million Internet customers (with a lot of overlap between those two groups).
6. A personal note:
The genesis of my efforts to undertake this mission to attempt to help insure local governmental transparency and accountability in dealing with Comcast Inc. started with a Letter to Comcast Corporate Customer Complaint Resolution Dept. of September 18, 2015 after a tedious, unpleasant and very unsatisfactory resolution with Comcast on billing and service issues, commencing in August of 2015.
My exposure to the Byzantine Comcast complaint resolution process, subjected me to:
● a gauntlet of protracted periods on hold, being ping-ponged from one rep to another, some of which sadly were barely intelligible, with English a second language at best, from remote locations like India, the Philippines and Mexico, with little or no authority to make any exceptions/concessions to the dogmatic parochial company policy.
● incompetence, incoherence and arrogance. All too familiar to many customers.
● Comcast’s “corporate resolution team” reeked with high-handed disdain. I found their rote recitations of arguments against, for essentially fair customer treatment, shallow, condescending and without merit—legal or otherwise delivered with relative impunity, due to their dominant market share.
As one can see from the chart below Comcast’s subscriber base of 22.3 million is twice that of it’s nearest cable tv purveyor competitor, Times Warner at 11 million subs. In 2015, Comcast attempted to acquire Times Warner Cable, but in April of 2015 Federal Regulators refused to allow the merger based on an anti-competitive hegemonic market share. But it clearly demonstrates the intent of Comcast Inc. to create a monopolistic market share—a cable cartel.
After numerous attempts to get some satisfaction from Comcast/Whatcom County for my complaints for poor service and billing/business issues, sufficiently exasperated with the dismissive and unhelpful treatment, I realized that many others were probably suffering from the same kind of corporate misconduct. I begin to record the conversations with Comcast to preserve the discussions for the record. When I informed the corporate complaint representative, he vehemently objected to my doing so. Why, I asked “would you have a problem with recording a conversation with your company, especially when your company at the very beginning of each call states, “This call may recorded for quality assurance purposes…” “No…You cannot do that!” he said.
“Oh?” I replied, “Unless Comcast is concerned with the poor quality of customer service offered being documented, what is the legal or other basis for this prohibition?” He said “you do not have permission…period.” But refused to offer a legally valid reason for doing so. I then informed him that if a customer had any objection to having the call recorded which might include the release of personal customer information etc.(that Comcast required for authentication) which might allow a nefarious staff person to co-opt one’s identity, that there was no other option for the customer available offered by Comcast to avoid this recording policy. This potentially creates a moral hazard, as some of these customer reps are paid relatively little compared to their American counterparts, living in economically challenged places like Manila, Philippines and Guadalajara, Mexico, which would make it almost impossible to trace the origin of the breach of security/privacy of the customer.
I further advised him that I, and anyone else calling Comcast was granted explicit permission by Comcast’s own initial preamble, “This call may be recorded…” as this statement taken on its face clearly does not differentiate who may…or may not…record the conversation. The recordings speak volumes of the perverse practices of customer service. This I believe demonstrates Comcast’s selective invocation of legal/privacy issues, and high-handed corporate attitude in dealing with its customers. Because of their superior bargaining position and apparent lax regulatory oversight, as was/is the case with Whatcom County, they believe that they can get away with just about anything without fear of regulatory consequence/enforcement.
I suspect this is the real reason Comcast does not want their phone conversations recorded—having had a similar experience “I feel your pain…”:
Time Magazine 2014 – Recording of Man’s Attempt to Cancel Comcast Will Drive You Insane
“If Dante’s Inferno had been written today, an extra circle of hell would be dedicated to dealings with cable providers. Former tech editor Ryan Block posted a maddening 8-minute portion of his phone call with a Comcast “customer retention” specialist desperately (and aggressively) trying to stop Block from canceling his service.
This recording picks up roughly 10 minutes into the call, whereby she and I have already played along and given a myriad of reasons and explanations as to why we are canceling…”
(Source: http://time.com/2985964/comcast-cancel-ryan-block/ )
(8 min. of the actual call https://soundcloud.com/ryan-block-10/comcastic-service)
Customer Recorded 2013 – Customer Service Meltdown (non-edited) – You Tube 851,215 views (The poor guy has a nervous breakdown…if it wasn’t so pathetic it would be hilarious)
Over 2,600 95% negative comments about Comcast
( https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RVdNobKNMig )
As one can see from the above references/citations I am not alone in my dissatisfaction. The high volume of complaints to the FCC as referenced above of over 2,000 in just a three month period of 2015 speaks volumes of Comcast’s deficiencies and apparent big-corporation disregard and dismissive attitude toward its customers. From personal experience I can tell you that it is no small investment in time to file a complaint, even on-line, with FCC, usually done as a very last resort after exhausting all avenues of dispute resolution with the local franchising authority and beyond exasperating Comcast “customer service”.
Comcast holds the dubious honor for the highest volume of such FCC complaints for any purveyor of video/internet providers including wireless and DBS (Direct Broadcast Satellite).
7. This prompted further attempts to obtain some semblance of a timely, fair and equitable resolution, which eventually lead me to the revelation that Whatcom County and Comcast were ostensibly operating without a franchise renewal (the original agreement had expired in 2011). This in turn caused me to review the expired agreement as to provisions for redress for unsatisfactory customer service and other issues, such as quality of service. I discovered that Comcast was, in my opinion, in material breach of contract by not meeting the provision specifically addressing customer service and complaints for over thirteen(13) years at least (since the acquisition by Comcast in 2002). More later on that.
After over three(3) months of trying to get some material/comprehensive answers from Whatcom County—for some very simple and direct questions— only after filing a complaint with the Assistant Attorney General of Washington State (Advocate for Open Government) did I begin to receive a written, somewhat material response (January 25, 2016) from the Whatcom County Executive’s Office, which administrates the cable tv franchise agreement.
As alluded to earlier, this spawned the creation of the website Howard Beale. (http://howardbeale.org/)
(Outrage is contagious…catch it here and become a carrier) inspired by the classic never more timely, relevant and prescient film Network (1976).
“I’m mad as hell…and I’m not going to take this anymore!” the immortal clarion call of Howard Beale from the film and the central character therein.
IV. – PAST/CURRENT ISSUES—THE FRANCHISE AGREEMENT
1. Expired Franchise:
As Whatcom County has not responded to the question as to whether there have been any amendments or revisions to the terms/conditions of the original franchise agreement, one would assume that the terms/conditions of the original agreement of 1996 remain unmodified with no written extension for over five years from the expiration date of 2011 which under Washington State RCW 62A.2.201 Formal requirements; statute of frauds.
( http://app.leg.wa.gov/Rcw/default.aspx?cite=62A.2-201 )
RCW 18.36.010 Contracts, etc. void unless in writing.
( http://app.leg.wa.gov/RCW/default.aspx?cite=19.36.010 )
In the following cases, specified in this section, any agreement, contract, and promise shall be void, unless such agreement, contract, or promise, or some note or memorandum thereof, be in writing, and signed by the party to be charged therewith, or by some person thereunto by him or her lawfully authorized, that is to say: (1) Every agreement that by its terms is not to be performed in one year from the making thereof; …
it would seem to me, render the franchise agreement/contract void and therefore unenforceable with regard to the obligations of Comcast to Whatcom County, otherwise why even have an effective expiration date? It is now going on 6 years with no new agreement. An ostensibly exclusive contract(natural/functional monopoly) with Comcast of approximately $14 million dollars ($34 million City and County) total annual gross cable tv revenues(not including “unregulated” internet and VOIP telephony) from the County. On a essentially a handshake? Why?
On the COB website under Comcast cable franchise:
(Source: http://www.cob.org/gov/dept/it/Pages/franchise.aspx )
COB Home > Government > Departments > Information Technology Comcast cable franchise A cable television franchise agreement is a legal agreement between the City and Comcast Cable, and is required by state and federal law. The agreement
authorizes Comcast to install facilities in City streets,
and mandates obligations that Comcast must meet.
Assuming this statement to be factually correct as evidenced by the relatively timely renewal of the franchise agreement with the City of Bellingham, is Comcast’s operation of a cable tv/internet sysem in Whatcom County in violation of state and federal law? As it is now going on six (6) years with no new agreement, at the very least it begs the question: Why?
1.a.) The question as originally proffered to the County on December 18, 2015:
If so, under what legal/contractual basis of an expired agreement? If not, under what legal/contractual basis is Whatcom County administrating the Federal and Statutory legally mandated contractual relationship between the County and Comcast?
The response from Whatcom County on January 25th 2016: By implied working agreement of the parties, which mirrors the prior formal agreement of the parties. Case law arising from disputes between jurisdictions and cable providers over continued payment of franchise fees following expiration of an agreement supports the requirement of continued payments by the providers so long as they continue to use the right-of-way. In this case there has not been any such dispute, and Comcast has continued payment of its franchise fees as it had under the previous agreement.
1.b.) And again on December 18, 2015: While the City of Bellingham renewed the Comcast Franchise Agreement in 2011, which expired in 2010, after over five (5) years, what is the reason that Whatcom County has not complied with Federal and State Law re Cable Franchise Agreements?
Whatcom County on January 25th 2016: The County is not out of compliance with federal or state law pertaining to cable franchise agreements. The County continues to receive the franchise fee and for all practical purposes Whatcom County and Comcast have been working under the terms of the expired agreement.
My response to the above explanations proffered by Whatcom County:
(Disclosure: I am not an attorney)
While I disagree with the legal interpretation/posture advocated by the County, so as not to further waste any more of my valuable time, I do not elect to debate the finer points of the legal argument offered, which would only, in my opinion, succeed as intended in obscuring the larger issues and principal relevant question posed which has never been directly answered: Why would the County with an ostensibly exclusive contract with a date certain expiration of over six(6) years ago, worth by my calculation annual cable tv gross revenues (not including “unregulated” internet and VOIP telephony) of approximately $14 million dollars ($34 million City and County) annual total in the County, pursuant to RCW 18.36.010 Contracts, etc. void unless in writing not deem it necessary to have a current, valid written contract? To allow this condition to persist for over five(5) years, essentially on trust? With not one compliance audit of franchise fees payments in over twenty(20) years?
For further illumination on the requirements of FCC Rules and Regulations re Cable TV:
Please go to: Registration of a Cable System and State and Local Regulation of Cable Systems at: https://www.fcc.gov/media/engineering/cable-television
If even a minute fraction of the large amount of money at stake was personally that of the County Executive or any member of the County Council, would they not demand that the contract be current, enforceable and in writing?
It is quite clear that due to the unique technical and geographic circumstances, that the franchise agreements with the City of Bellingham and Whatcom County, do not exist in a vacuum and as a practical matter their respective interests are indivisible. Because they both utilize one in the same provider with one system of common infrastructure of delivery which extends through the City to the outermost parts of Whatcom County should make it obvious that some sort of symbiotic relationship should have prevailed to preempt this obvious policy/operational inconsistency, and political confusion to prevent:
● further economic detriment to the County and customer dissatisfaction from arbitrary policy by Comcast, and;
● anachronistic technological provisions (1996—which according to Moore’s law equivalent to almost a century ago in technological time, Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Moore’s_law).
I can conceive of no beneficial economic, technical, customer…or any other reasons/circumstances whereby it would have been to the advantage of Whatcom County not to have renewed the franchise agreement at the very least concurrently with the City of Bellingham, and preferably in concert with that process, including terms and conditions. The above responses provided by the County seem to reflect more of a protective/defensive posture—rather than advocacy on behalf of its residents and the Comcast ratepayers. On the contrary. This apparent Laissez-faire policy may have inured to the great economic/operational benefit of Comcast, with I submit, perhaps a tacit motivation to perpetuate the expired contractual status quo. Or…a legal term of art, with perhaps applicable meaning here, Cui bono (Latin)…who benefits?
Frankly, the explanation is perceived by me—intellectually and legally— as lacking merit, even meretricious…a self-serving excuse for inaction. After querying the County in several separate correspondences and several different ways, the absence of the County being open and willing to provide some valid rationale, leaves one being forced to conclude that the whywas, just because we can(?), which creates the appearance of hubris—counter-productive to open, transparent governance.
I believe that Whatcom County for the past at least five(5) years, and most probably eight(8) total will have been deprived of franchise fee payments based on the current 4% instead of 5% (by Federal statutory limit, with no justification necessary to the franchisee for the maximum) from Comcast, which extrapolated could potentially be as much $1,000,000 – $1,200,000 of lost revenue, never to be reclaimed. By no means sofa cushion small change. Like the man said, a million here…a million there…pretty soon you’re talking real money. More on that below.
Additionally, this does take into consideration critical issues like the increased liability exposure per occurrence of an excess judgment against the County with liability insurance limits (contractually required of Comcast including the cost of the premiums) almost half of that of the City of Bellingham and a Performance Bond of one-tenth of the City ($25,000 vs $250,000) which would give the County far more leverage(with a higher ceiling of $250K) to enforce a more comprehensive customer satisfaction/service requirements through fines, penalties and liquidated damages. More later below.
According to the County, there is no record of any substantive/meaningful or otherwise, attempts by the County at initiating negotiations with Comcast for a franchise until February of 2016, with the initiation of discussion set on the agenda in late February by the relevant committee of beginning the process of “discussion” before even entering into negotiation/renewal almost six(6) years later. From my experience, typically these negotiations and ratification take a minimum of twelve(12) to twenty-four(24) months as in the case of the City of Bellingham. Which means that the provisions, including but not limited to critical issues such as customer service safeguards, franchise fee payments/percentages, Performance Bonds and Liability Insurance limits etc., in the absence of any mutually agreed amended extension, the expired franchise agreement as initiated in 1996 will continue possibly into 2018, twenty-three(23) years since inception and eight(8) years after expiration.
This fact seems to reinforce an attitude of governmental insouciance by the County, and yes, sadly the malodorous whiff of malfeasance, especially in light of the fact the City of Bellingham franchise renewal (the original of which expired in 2011 concurrently with Whatcom County) is only for ten(10) years expiring on 2021. One has to wonder, just how long this franchise renewal issue would have been further neglected, had it not been raised by the subject inquiry resulting in further lost revenue to the County?
2. Failure to maintain complaint logs as specified in the original franchise agreement:
Pursuant to Section 9. CUSTOMER SERVICE POLICIES:
Section 9. CUSTOMER SERVICE POLICIES. 9.1 Response to Customers and Cooperation with County. TCI shall promptly respond to all requests for service, repair, installation and information from subscribers. TCI acknowledges the County’s interest in the prompt resolution of all cable complaints and shall work in close cooperation with the County to resolve complaints. Definition of Complaint – For the purposes of Section 9, with the exception of Subsection 9.3, a “complaint” shall mean any communication to TCI or to the County by a subscriber or a person who has requested cable service; a person expressing dissatisfaction with any service, performance, or lack thereof, by TCI under the obligations of this Franchise.
9.4 Reporting Complaints. TCI shall maintain a log of all subscriber complaints and make this log available for County inspection. The log shall include the date, name, address, telephone number of complainant. The log shall also contain the subject of the complaint, date and type of action taken to resolve the complaint, any additional action taken by TCI or the complainant and record whether or not the complainant was satisfied with the resolution or action taken. The log shall be maintained in a way that allows for sorting, deletion of fields, and manipulation of data per County specifications. Upon request by the County, TCI shall provide a comma delimited ascii file of all subscriber complaints containing the above information.
The log shall be submitted on a monthly basis to the County or person or agency designated by the County. The County may request the log more frequently if it is deemed necessary. The County may contact any complainant listed in the log in order to insure satisfactory resolution of complaints with respect to this franchise.
The official written County response: “While Whatcom County occasionally receives complaints about Comcast from citizens, these are forwarded on to Comcast. No log of such complaints is maintained.”
The expired Franchise Agreement language cited above clearly indicates that this requirement is not discretionary with the unequivocal use of mandatory shall, and therefore should be deemed critically important, and as such, should only be waived by a mutually agreed duly executed document. There is no record with the County of any such waiver being granted.
After pursuing customer complaint logs from Comcast through the County, for over three(3) months, finally this is one example, of five(5) years) of the risible Comcast reports for year ending 2014 declaring only thirty-four (34) total complaints which strains the outer boundaries of credulity/credibility. At best, it can only be characterized, charitably as self-serving. Clearly, the legislative intent of this provision was to enable the County to monitor the performance of Comcast so The County may contact any complainant listed in the log in order to insure satisfactory resolution of complaints with respect to this franchise.(actual language from the agreement):
As such, I believe this to be so serious a contractual transgression, that it should have been, (and currently) considered a material breach of contract with immediate remedial action required by Comcast, subject to:
7.5.1 Remedies. Other than the liquidated damages specified in Section 4.3.3 of this Franchise agreement which relate to the construction schedule, the County shall have the right to assert the remedies set out below in the event TCI violates any provision of this Franchise agreement. These remedies are intended to embody the County’s and/or the public’s rights under The Whatcom County Home Rule Charter to the extent permitted by law. a) To the extent the County deems necessary to remedy the default, proceeding against all or any part of any security provided under the Whatcom County Code or this Franchise, including without limitation, any bonds, security funds, or other surety. Should the County take this action, TCI shall be responsible for all direct and actual costs related to the foreclosure action including, but not limited to, legal and administrative costs; b) Commencing an action at law for monetary damages or seeking other equitable relief, including specific performance; c) In the case of a TCI’s default as to a material provision of the Franchise, proceeding to revoke the Franchise; or, d) Requiring TCI to correct or otherwise remedy the violation prior to considering the approval of any proposed rate increase if rate regulation is authorized by law and is in effect.
Without compliance with this reporting provision, which has been the case since Comcast was assigned the franchise agreement in 2002, the County is left with no objective data to gauge Comcast’s compliance, and therefore, no power of enforcement of this very critical issue of customer satisfaction and service, especially in light of the highly questionable/dubious record of Comcast as cited in III. – COMCAST INC. – RECORD FOR CUSTOM SATISFACTION AND SERVICE:(supra).
In doing some research with the City of Bellingham it would appear that Comcast has also been derelict in its obligation re Customer service/complaints reporting required under provision:
8. 3 Quarterly Report
Grantee shall, provide City with information which shall describe in detail Grantee’s compliance with customer service standards.
Until called to their attention from this inquiry, COB was not aware of this deficientcy—it is currently being addressed by the COB staff.
3. Franchise Fees:
In response to the County below the question re franchise fees:
3.a.) December 18, 2015: Why hasn’t Comcast tendered the additional 1% franchise fees above the 4% paid for a total as evidenced by the accountings provided to the County by Comcast for the last five(5) years at least?
Whatcom County on January 25th 2016 : The County’s interpretation of implementation of Section 6 as outlined in Section 11 requires the County to have 2 PEG channels to prior to collecting a 5% franchise fee. The County is not aware of the need for additional PEG channels especially with the use of BTV10 from the City of Bellingham.
Setting legal points and authorities aside for my disagreement with this legal interpretation of contract law of this provision, which frankly, I believe to be a moot point, had Whatcom County renegotiated the franchise agreement in a timely manner and had a final agreement been ratified before the expiration date of 2011, under Federal statute: Franchising authorities may charge the cable operator a fee for the right to operate a cable system in that franchise area; however, the franchise fee paid by the cable system can be no more than five(5) percent of its annual gross revenue. A franchising authority may use the money collected from this fee for any purpose. A cable operator may list any applicable franchise fee as a separate item on the subscriber’s bill.
(Source FCC website: State and Local Regulation of Cable Systems https://www.fcc.gov/media/engineering/cable-television)
In other words, there is no justification necessary—no state/federal regulations or statutory requirement to list the reasons or how it will be allocated in the franchise agreement to the franchisee(Comcast) for the franchisor(the County) to be able to charge the maximum 5% which then can be internally allocated in any manner that the franchisor sees fit.
4. Difference in Franchise Fees Between the City of Bellingham and Whatcom County:
With regard to the flawed argument some may attempt to proffer that an increase in franchise fees would have just been passed-through to the County subscriber in the form of a rate increase: I am able to find no language in the subject franchise agreement explict or implied, nor should/would there be in a novation of the contract, which would allow a direct pass-through dollar-for-dollar provision by the franchisee. If the City of Bellingham subscribers are paying 1% more on their applicable franchise fee services for the same services at billed the same price( ie. Limited Basic Service $25.91/mo. which has been verified) Comcast is passing through the franchise fees to the subscriber.
This is not to be confused with the collection of state/local sales taxes, FCC Regulatory Fee and Broadcast TV Fee, which are collected and tendered to third parties not a party to the franchise agreement. Franchise fees should be considered part of the general cost of doing business along with any other expensible items like pole rental from telcos/power, rent/lease paid for business offices etc, the increase of which would not be passed-through on the customer bill dollar-for-dollar—in this case rent paid for the use of public land as right-of-way by the company for its cables. Why should Comcast be allowed the use of public-right of way rent-free by passing it through to the landlord? However, the Communications Act provides the transparency of the franchise fee by listing it(only) so that customers of the cable company understand the fee imposed by the government upon the cable company for things like Regulatory – compensation to the government for the cost of regulating cable television: consultants, auditors, administrators, and inspectors.
5. Cablenomics 101 or Corporate Welfare:
The term fee in this instance is somewhat of a misnomer: it is not the same as a tax, for lack of a better term, fee merely defines the methodology—a statutorily uniform and consistent means of calculating the rent/lease for use of public right of way by applying a percentage to the applicable revenues. Since a franchise fee should not be considered a tax, in a so-called “competitive” bidding process in Request for Proposals or Renewal Request, it should be part of the competitive beneficial offerings (financially absorbed as operating overhead by the franchisee) in the negotiation process, and any explicit, or implicit pass-through provisions should be specifically negated contractually. Only utilities like electric and natural gas are allowed to pass-through expenses like franchise fees dollar-for-dollar because of the fact they enjoy a legal/actual monopoly mandated by the state, their rate of return is highly regulated by the state, including executive compensation. Kimberly J. Harris Chief Executive Officer, President and Director of Puget Sound Electric(WA) makes an $898K annual salary.
From my experience as cable tv executive, I can tell you that the pre-tax cashflow for all the systems under my budgetary control was in excess of 45% and in some areas considerably higher. Net profits are only regulated by market forces, such as efficient competitive alternatives or in the case of Comcast, the lack thereof. (in most markets Comcast operates as a relatively unregulated natural/functional monopoly). Brian L. Roberts CEO of Comcast Inc. —net worth is $1.47 Billion(December 2015). He receives annual compensation of $26.4 million (2014).
CEO compensation of an UN-regulated monopolyComcast versus a regulated monopoly utility PSE is almost thirty(30) times greater. Who do you think pays for that?
In 2014 Comcast reorganized as a state of Delaware Corporation, (even though its corporate headquarters is in Philadelphia PA), including giants like the usual suspects American Airlines, Apple, Bank of America, Berkshire Hathaway, Cargill, Coca-Cola, Ford, General Electric, Google, JPMorgan Chase, and Wal-Mart. These companies do business across the nation and around the world, their Delaware corporate addresses, are essentially tax haven drop boxes. (Source The New York Times 2012 – How Delaware Thrives as a Corporate Tax Haven: http://www.nytimes.com/2012/07/01/business/how-delaware-thrives-as-a-corporate-tax-haven.html?_r=0 )
6. To Pass-through or not to Pass-through:
Since the fee is paid to the local government, when it is broken down on a per-customer basis on the bill it appears to be a tax to the customer, possibly igniting antipathy against government officials. If it just appeared on accounting statements as a lump sum payment by the cable provider, it would be perceived by the public more as a fee-for-service(or rent), which is how local governments regard it—general operating overhead included with the cost of doing business. As such, in the absence of a direct pass-through provision, the increase should not be passed through dollar-for-dollar. However, the Communications Act does provide(heavily lobbied for by the Cable TV Industry) for transparency of the franchise fee so that customers of the cable company understand the fee imposed by the local government upon the cable company. Also, since customers will immediately notice any increase in the (listing of the) fee, and may interpret it as a “tax increase”, listing it on the bill may discourage local governments from pushing for an increase in the fee when the franchise agreement is renewed.
(Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cable_television_franchise_fee )
Further, whether the subscriber realizes it or not, for political reasons because there is an obvious desire to have perceived rate parity between the City of Bellingham and Whatcom County subscribers, all the services offered to subscribers of both franchise areas are most likely billed(highest common denominator) at the same higher franchise rate of the City. The only noticeable difference is the innocuous line item on the subscriber bill indicating the dollar amount of franchise fees paid, which is somewhat misleading because the difference between that number for the same level of service for both City and County subscriber is 1% less for the County, which may be retained by Comcast. Even if, in fact Comcast is passing the franchise fees through, (I believe invalidly so, which should be researched) the net impact on an average expanded basic monthly(about $40/mo) cable tv only (excluding exempt internet/telephony services) including HD upgrade etc. of $44 would be only about $0.44/mo.
7. A Tale of Lost Revenue or Who’s Minding the Store?:
I submit that since the City of Bellingham is charging a 5% franchise fee, the rates that are charged by Comcast for both the City and the County are theoretically predicated on that basis. This means that an increase in franchise fees to 5% by the County should have had a neutral impact on cable tv/internet rates charged by Comcast. The difference would be of course, that Comcast would get to keep approximately an additional $150,000 a year based on a franchise fee rate of only 4%, which goes right to the corporate bottom line. Not a bad deal for Comcast, for providing essentially NO added value to subscribers of the County.
In any case, I believe that Whatcom County for the past five(5) years at least, has been deprived of franchise fee payments of 5% from Comcast, irretrievably lost revenue in the amount of approximately $700,000, and most probably (extrapolated) eight(8) years, the total by the time the renewal is ratified, will have been deprived of, conceivably as much as $1,000,000 – $1,200,000.Unless/until The County is willing to proactively demand “claw-back” revenues retroactively, and/or immediately address this issue re current revenues, which from the above reticent posture stated by County, would tend to make this issue moot. Certainly, at the very least, this issue can be raised as “bargaining chip” in future negotiations for a renewal.
Prepared by Michael Kominsky based on information from Whatcom County records. The gross revenues do not include exempt internet and telephony(VOIP) revenues as per Federal statue. As such, the actual gross is probably considerably higher than an average of $14 million annually.
8. Performance Bond and Liability Insurance:
Here is just one example of an important difference, among many, between the City of Bellingham and Whatcom County Franchise agreements which I believe could possibly unnecessarily expose Whatcom County to a potential excess liability judgment, (with Comcast enjoying/benefiting a lower insurance premium which again goes right to the bottom line.
In an increasingly litigious environment against local/state governments most especially, personal injury and privacy infringement, has Whatcom County amended the requirements for Performance Bond and Liability Insurance of the Franchisee, or is it still at the limits of 1996 as originally negotiated?
Note, the 2011 City of Bellingham performance bond is ten times($250,000 vs $25,000) that of the 1996 agreement with the County, and the liability limits for PI & PD per occurrence almost double ($5,000,000 vs $3,000,000) as well as double for including claims for damages invasion of the right of privacy; for defamation of any person, firm, or corporation ($2,000,000 vs $1,000,000) to wit:
City of Bellingham 2011:
11.5 Performance Bond Within 30 days after the Grantee’s acceptance of this Franchise, Grantee shall post a performance bond, in the amount of two hundred fifty thousand dollars ($250,000), to ensure Grantee?s faithful performance of the terms of this Franchise. Neither the provisions of this section, any bond accepted by the City pursuant thereto, nor any damages recovered by the City thereunder shall be construed to excuse faithful performance by Grantee or to limit liability of Grantee under the Franchise or for damages, either to the full amount of the bond or otherwise, except as otherwise provided herein.
Whatcom County1996: 11.3 Performance Bond. Within 30 days after the award of this Franchise, but in no event sooner than the final reading of the Franchise ordinance, TCI shall submit to the Chief Civil Deputy Prosecuting Attorney, which shall be filed with the County, a performance bond running to the County, with good and sufficient surety licensed to do business in the State of Washington and approved by the County in the amount of $25,000, conditioned that TCI shall well and truly observe, fulfill, and perform each term and condition of the Franchise. This bond shall be conditioned that in the event TCI shall fail to comply with any one or more of the provisions of this Franchise, then there shall be recoverable jointly and severally from the principal and surety of such bond, any damages suffered by the County as a result thereof, including the full amount of any compensation, indemnification, or cost of removal or abandonment of property as prescribed; said condition to be a continuing obligation for the duration of the Franchise and thereafter until TCI has liquidated all of its obligations with the County that may have arisen from the acceptance of the Franchise by TCI or from its exercise of any privilege herein granted…
City of Bellingham 2011: 11.8 Grantee Insurance Grantee shall maintain, throughout the term of the Franchise, liability insurance in the minimum amounts of: (a) $2,000,000 for personal injury or death to any one person and $5,000,000 aggregate for personal injury or death per single accident or occurrence. (b)$2,000,000 for property damage to any one person and $5,000,000 aggregate for property damage per single accident or occurrence. (c) $2,000,000 for all other types of liability, including claims for damages invasion of the right of privacy; for defamation of any person, firm, or corporation; for the violation or infringement of any copyright, trademark, trade name, service mark or patent; or, for damage to any other person, firm, or corporation arising out of or alleged to arise out of failure to comply with the provisions of any statute, regulation or resolution of the United States, State of Washington, or any local agency with jurisdiction…
Whatcom County 1996: 11.7 TCI Insurance. TCI shall maintain, throughout the term of the Franchise, liability insurance insuring the County and TCI, their respective officers, employees and agents, with regard to all claims and damages specified in Section 11.5 herein, in the minimum amounts of: (a)$3,000,000for personal injury or death to any one person; b) $3,000,000 for personal injury or death resulting from any one accident $3,000,000 for property damage resulting from any one accident; and c) $1,000,000 for all other types of liability…
9. PEG and Public Access Channels:
BTV10 on cable channel 10 is the local PEG channel which now offers Public Access on a limited basis. It is viewable by virtually every subscriber on Comcast cable tv including the City of Bellingham and all of Whatcom County. It is totally subsidized by the franchise fees revenues from City of Bellingham subscribers, who pay an additional surcharge on their monthly bill of .50/mo. which is allocated for capital expenditures/improvement of equipment and resource. It serves a vital purpose to the community by being a vehicle for providing open and transparent governance, along with a great deal of locally produced public service programming.
A recent and very important, and I believe vital example is the BTV10 production of Earthquake planners are getting ready, are you? VMC Disaster Event on Saturday Jan 23. Building Community Resilience in the Face of the Really Big One. I attended personally, although it was well attended frankly the audio amplification was distorted and the very informative graphic slides projected were not readable from many places in the Whatcom Middle School Auditorium.
Fortunately, about one week later the entire almost two(2) hours of the program which was recorded and post-produced by the staff at BTV10 was available on the COB You Tube Channel
Volunteer Mobilization Orientation on Disasters
The video was professionally shot and edited, viewable in excellent HD quality. But the important distinction from being there in person is that the video and audio quality was excellent, clean and crisp, and the critical support material like the slides was done with close-up and very readable. And of course the video could be paused and portions replayed to allow for a more comprehensive understanding of the material. The presentation by Dr Rebeka Paci-Green, a professor at WWU, was very professional and informative, with some very useful recommendations for preparedness that everyone should become cognizant of for when, not if, the Big One Comes, a potentially catastrophic 9.0 Cascadia subduction fault earthquake. It was followed by a very informative panel discussion with questions taken from the audience.
I believe this dramatically demonstrates the increased reach and promise…and the true community value of locally produced and originated programming for the public good.
County subscribers were able to view this program, and many other important public service programs despite the fact that Whatcom County does not contribute to the underwriting of BTV10. Why doesn’t the County recognize the importance of this important public resource and pay their fair share of subsidy?
Why is it that the County Council airs its meetings by special arrangement with the City, with a fixed insertion rate of $95 per meeting of the regular/general meetings held at least twice per month, plus any other special meetings aired on BTV10? Additionally Whatcom County contracts with an independent outsourced production entity to produce the programs for airing.
So despite the fact that the County collects no franchise fees allocated to the PEG channel, they incur the expense of production and insertion, which is paid out of the general fund revenues. My estimate is that this is costing the County perhaps a $1,000 per month, which begs the following questions:
Why would the County not want to collect an additional amount of franchise fees (up to 5%) to help offset this expenditure?
Why would the County, as a matter or equitability, not want to participate in a partnership with the COB and help fund PEG and Public Access, to pay their fair share, as a good community citizen and help dilute some of the overhead etc., currently being underwritten 100% by the COB, levied completely to the City subscribers?
Finally, as a resident of the County because the County does not contribute to the maintenance of BTV10 I and others, as producers of useful and entertaining video content, including PBS documentaries and PBS How-to programming on teaching oil painting, all the content that I could make available to the Public Access Channel, is not eligible for viewing, because, and rightly so as a matter of equity, the County contributes nothing to this effort.(Source: MetaMEDIA Communications http://metamediacom.tv )
My recommendation is that during the franchise negotiations for renewal with Comcast, that the County and the City of Bellingham enter into discussions to formalize a collaborative effort of providing and nurturing a robust PEG channel and a locally originated programming venue(s) as equal partners— as contributors of content and in the subsidy and administration.
V. – SOME GENERAL RECOMMENDATIONS:
1. A comprehensive review the negotiated final franchise agreement between the City of Bellingham and Comcast. I have reviewed the agreement and I believe that it could serve as a workable template for a County agreement, as all the legal “heavy lifting” has already been done. With some minor modifications, I believe a final draft of an agreement with ratification, could be accomplished in six(6) to twelve(12) months. Otherwise I think it could take up to twenty(24) months for complete novation. Comcast should have no objection to this agreement as it has essentially already been ratified with the COB and Comcast.
2. Appoint and cost-share, a staff person as a designated/dedicated Ombudsman to handle all customer complaints from both County and COB with one contact point via a web portal(a trackable web based complaint form with email status updates to the subscriber) along with a single phone number to avoid confusion and to streamline and expedite the dispute resolution process. The complaints can then be forwared directly to Comcast via the web interface, with the disposition stored in a COB/County database as a means of tracking Comcast’s compliance (customer satisfaction) with the franchise agreement, giving the County greater enforcement.
3. Make the expiration date of the agreement concurrent with the COB agreement, in 2021(and reporting requirements and payment of franchise fees concurrent for comparison purposes etc.). So that the renewal period would have only the number years remaining to 2021, if the agreement is ratified by 2018, three(3) years before further renewal for both the COB and the County concurrently. This will insure consistency, and continuity and avoid the political confusion of two different agreements, with different terms and requirements, and would put the COB and Whatcom County back on the same renewal cycle.
4. At the very least, adopt the strong provisions of the customer service Section 8 Reporting Requirements of the COB franchise agreement. Also pursuant to the existing (expired franchise agreement of 2010) 7.5.1 Remedies. d) Requiring TCI(Comcast) to correct or otherwise remedy the violation prior to considering the approval of any proposed rate increase if rate regulation is authorized by law and is in effect.
In other words, require Comcast to meet the current reporting requirements of customer complaints forthwith under Section 9 Customer Service Policies with 30 days notice to cure the material breach of contract, or face regulatory action from the County to the fullest extent allowable under the franchise agreement (before granting any regulated rate adjustments).
To wit: 9.4 Reporting Complaints: TCI shall maintain a log of all subscriber complaints and make this log available for County inspection. The log shall include the date, name, address, telephone number of complainant. The log shall also contain the subject of the complaint, date and type of action taken to resolve the complaint, any additional action taken by TCI or the complainant and record whether or not the complainant was satisfied with the resolution or action taken. The log shall be maintained in a way that allows for sorting, deletion of fields, and manipulation of data per County specifications.
5. In the section of the agreement regarding franchise fees, stipulate to 5%(from the current 4%) on all applicable revenues without justification, or earmarking/allocating any portion of the franchise to a specific category such as PEG etc.
Because the funding/underwriting requirements for PEG etc. will be fluid and subject to change from year to year, I would suggest incorporating a reference to a specific interlocal agreement available for public inspection, and online, which would address the issue of allocation of franchise fees internally, with regard to the subsidy/administration of PEG and Public Access etc. which can be addressed at an administrative staff level with ratification if necessary by the both the County and COB councils. This approach would allow both the COB and County more flexibility to make changes, without having to amend or revise the franchise agreement which would of course require ratification by Comcast Inc.
6. As a condition precedent to ratifying a Renewal agreement with Comcast, pursuant to Section 11.2 Auditing and Financial Records, demand a full compliance audit for franchise fees paid (at Comcast’s expense) to include whether Comcast is passing-through franchise fees, if so, that those fees are also not being expensed on the Profit/Loss from 2011 through 2015.
Publication of this Document in its entirety: http://howardbeale.org by February 17, 2016
End of document: approximately 9K words.
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(Please note–If using Firefox make certain the WIN MEDIA plugin is installed. Unfortunately Chrome browser >40.0 does not support WIN MEDIA plugin. MS Internet Explorer plays the clip after you allow the add-on to play.)
From the movie Network(1976)
Written by Paddy Chayefsky and Directed by Sidney Lumet
Even if you have seen it before, I would recommend watching it again. A Great American Classic…
A brilliant scene which distills and delivers the moral payload of the film: the sociopathology of world domination by the Mega-corporations of Capitalism.
Almost forty years later—never more relevant than today…
After attempting to prevent a corporate merger by exhorting his television viewing acolytes to write their congressman to protest and scuttle the merger, Howard Beale(Peter Finch) has been called into the corporate offices of the network to receive the message of the Gospel of Capitalism delivered chapter and verse from the President of the Corporation Arthur Jensen(Ned Beatty):
An enormous office with two walls of windows towering over the Manhattan landscape and through which SUNLIGHT streams in. Arthur Jensen is rising from behind his massive desk.
Good afternoon, Mr. Beale. They tell me you’re a madman. CAMERA DOLLIES to include Howard just coming into the room.
HOWARD (closing the door behind himself)
How are you now?
(as mad as a hatter) I’m as mad as a hatter.
Who isn’t? Don’t sit down. I’m taking you to our conference room which seems more seemly a setting for what I have to say to you. He takes Howard’s arm and moves him to a large oaken door leading out of Jensen’s office.
I started as a salesman, Mr. Beale. I sold sewing machines and automobile parts, hair brushes and electronic equipment. They say I can sell anything. I’d like to try and sell something to you.
They pass into: INT. THE CONFERENCE ROOM – C.C. AND A. BUILDING
Valhalla, Mr. Beale, please sit down.
He leads Howard down the steps to the floor level, himself ascends again to the small stage and the podium. Jensen pushes a button, and the enormous drapes slowly fall, slicing away layers of light until the vast room is utterly dark. Then, the little pinspots at each of the desks, including the one behind which Howard is seated, pop on, creating a miniature Milky Way effect. A shaft of white LIGHT shoots out from the rear of the room, spotting Jensen on the podium, a sun of its own little galaxy. Behind him, the shadowed white of the lecture screen. Jensen suddenly wheels to his audience of one and roars out:
JENSEN You have meddled with the primal forces of nature, Mr. Beale, and I won’t have it, is that clear?! You think you have merely stopped a business deal that is not the case! The Arabs have taken billions of dollars out of this country, and now they must put it back. It is ebb and flow, tidal gravity, it is ecological balance! You are an old man who thinks in terms of nations and peoples. There are no nations! There are no peoples! There are no Russians. There are no Arabs! There are no third worlds! There is no West! There is only one holistic system of systems, one vast and immane, interwoven, interacting, multi-variate, multi-national dominion of dollars! petro-dollars, electro-dollars, multi-dollars!, Reichmarks, rubles, rin, pounds and shekels! It is the international system of currency that determines the totality of life on this planet! That is the natural order of things today! That is the atomic, subatomic and galactic structure of things today! And you have meddled with the primal forces of nature, and you will atone! Am I getting through to you, Mr. Beale? (pause) You get up on your little twenty-one inch screen, and howl about America and democracy. There is no America. There is no democracy. There is only IBM and ITT and AT and T and Dupont, Dow, Union Carbide and Exxon. Those are the nations of the world today. What do you think the Russians talk about in their councils of state Karl Marx? They pull outtheir linear programming charts, statistical decision theories and miniMax solutions and compute the price-cost probabilities of their transactions and investments just like we do. We no longer live in a world of nations and ideologies, Mr. Beale. The world is a college of corporations, inexorably determined by the immutable by-laws of business. The world is a business, Mr. Beale! It has been since man crawled out of the slime, and our children, Mr. Beale, will live to see that perfect world in which there is no war and famine, oppression and brutality. One vast and ecumenical holding company, for whom all men will work to serve a common profit, in which all men will hold a share of stock, all necessities provided, all anxieties tranquilized, all boredom amused. And I have chosen you to preach this evangel, Mr. Beale.
HOWARD (humble whisper)
Because you’re on television, dummy. Sixty million people watch you every night of the week, Monday through Friday. Howard slowly rises from the blackness of his seat so that he is lit only by the ethereal diffusion of light shooting out from the rear of the room. He stares at Jensen spotted on the podium, transfixed.
I have seen the face of God! In b.g., up on the podium, Jensen considers this curious statement for a moment.
You just might be right, Mr. Beale.
That evening, Howard Beale went on the air to preach the corporate cosmology of Arthur Jensen.
A Letter to Comcast Corporate Customer Complaint Resolution Dept. of September 18, 2015:
My exposure to the Byzantine Corporate Comcast complaint resolution process, subjected me to a gauntlet of incompetence, incoherence and arrogance. All too familiar to many customers. Comcast’s corporate resolution ‘team’ reeked with arrogance and disdain. I found their rote arguments against, for essentially fair customer treatment, shallow, condescending and without merit—legal or otherwise.
The reason I have tendered this most recent complaint is a very simple one. Comcast has been placed on notice that I and others, “Are mad as hell…and we’re not going to take this anymore.” A Howard Beale moment, sprouting a website
as a national repository and clearing center for complaints against Comcast to influence and otherwise help convince the various local Franchising authorities to take affirmative regulatory action against Comcast’s arbitrary and unfair rates and business practices.
Comcast has awakened a sleeping giant of public outrage, with its callous disregard for customer satisfaction, lack of fairness with customers, exorbitant rate structure, and its now highly documented dubious business practices.
It is now very obvious to me, and others, that Comcast clearly is not capable of voluntary internal reform. Comcast just doesn’t get it…
So it will have to be imposed upon Comcast. As a former executive with TCI cable, a regional manager, I am well acquainted with how to approach franchising authorities to exert pressure on the franchisee. It will start here in the Pacific NW and spread nationally.
In the meantime I will forcefully campaign locally for a revision in the Franchise agreement, along with spearheading an effort to BOYCOTT COMCAST CABLE TV SERVICE.
You will soon be receiving many many demands for out-of-service credit, by virtue of customers monitoring Comcast internet service with automated software, logging and documenting every outage and fluctuation of bandwidth, in as little as 5 second intervals.
I see no point whatsoever in having further dialogue with Comcast. I will not waste my valuable time any further in dealing with Comcast’s risible so-called customer service.
And be advised that if there is even the slightest hint of any retribution against me personally by Comcast, in the form of degradation of service, etc. it will be detected, documented and referred to the proper enforcement agency, including the FCC—with a forceful legal response seeking general and punitive damages.
Keep up your arbitrary and excessive rate structure, and you’ll soon find yourself regulated as utility, like telephone, which essentially internet service has evolved to and which I and others will forcefully pursue.
You can now close this complaint. As, unless and until Comcast is willing to revise its arrogant and high-handed corporate mentality, we have nothing further to discuss…until the next complaint filed through the local franchising authority.
Sincerely, Another Dissatisfied Customer
With regard to the up-time and quality of internet service (bandwidth) I have installed a program which monitors the actual cable modem, creating an outage log. Here’s the one that I currently use…with a free trial, thereafter a one charge of $9.95. It’s a small program(MS Window only) easy to setup and use, running in the background. I have no business or other relationship with this product.
Since installing it on September 3rd over about two weeks, I have logged over 34 outages, and various bandwidth deficiencies, (logged after the big windstorm)…ranging from several seconds to 15-20 minutes in duration. At some point when enough of these specific outages, and deteriorated services are documented and reported to the local Franchising authority, they should be forced to take action against Comcast. Hopefully prompting a review of the franchise agreements, adding enforceable performance provisions, conditions and covenants to hold Comcast accountable for their poor service etc. Ultimately assessing per occurrence penalties against Comcast for violation of contractual/Franchise obligation.
Also, with this logged info you can pursue an out-of-service credit for internet with Comcast.
If one’s service is bundled with broadband internet, and you are threatened with a rate increase or contract liquidation penalties, I would advise you contact your local Franchising, the City of Bellingham or Whatcom County authority to intervene on your behalf to complain that Comcast is violating it contractual obligation to provide consistent and quality service, including customer service, seeking relief from such punitive actions by Comcast.
Those demands will also be forwarded to the franchising authority documenting the inferior, shoddy service in violation of the Franchise agreement, and the inadequate response from Comcast to remedy it. Pressure will be brought to bear to the local government to assess monetary penalties against Comcast for each occurrence thereafter.
Comcast possess a virtual monopoly on broadband internet in most of its markets. It is demonstrative of the Corporate Hubris of monopolistic/oligopolistic large corporations, that continue to gobble up competitors: the corporate concentration and consolidation of media, both content and delivery…resulting in an ABSENCE OF AN EFFICIENT COMPETITIVE ALTERNATIVE IN THE MARKETPLACE.
In the absence of an efficient competitive alternative for broadband internet, there is one service that Comcast does offer, where more than one efficient competitive alternative does exist to Comcast’s Cable TV service. One way you can send a direct message to Comcast…to where it hurts. It would become very expensive for Comcast to lose customers in mass…for this corporation, where customer value and retention is paid only hollow lip service—taken for granted.
DBS (Direct Broadcast Service) offers that alternative. This should not be construed as a promo for DBS, but rather to enlighten others of available alternatives. I make no recommendation as to either Directv or Dishnet. However I currently have Directv. The rates are highly competitive with Comcast, and from my own experience, the service is much more reliable, the video quality superior, as it is delivered directly by satellite to your service location without the issue of land-line distribution electronic artifacts and disruption from windstorms etc.