Thursday, December 23, 2010

The FCC’s New Years Regulations and the Future of Information

By Sally Schilling

The Club will be ringing in the New Year with discussions of one the most controversial topics of 2010: regulation of the Internet.

In what has been a year of contentious issues over Internet regulation – from China’s Internet censorship to Wikileaks’ exposure of secret government documents – this week’s actions by the Federal Communications Commission may have been a turning point in the future of the freedom of information on the Internet.

The FCC approved a “net neutrality” regulation that orders non-wireless Internet providers to ensure the free and equal flow of all content. But the new regulation does not require wireless Internet providers to do the same. In effect, broadband companies can choose to limit access to sites and applications. The New York Times has labeled the new net neutrality regulation as the creation of two classes of Internet access: fixed-line and wireless.

Yesterday, Craig Aaron, managing director of media reform group Free Press, told Amy Goodman, host of news program DemocracyNow!, that having loose rules for wireless Internet providers is an important issue because more and more people are using wireless Internet. “[This regulation] condones discrimination in wireless space, which is the future of the Internet,” he said.

According to Aaron, the problem with allowing wireless providers to prioritize content is that it will inhibit the benefits that the Internet can provide for the public. “[The new regulation] jeopardizes the growth of the Internet as an unrivaled source of economic innovation, democratic participation and free speech,” he told Goodman.

When Goodman – a major proponent of free speech – spoke to the Club back in April, she praised Internet site Wikileaks for its posting of an Iraq war video showing American soldiers murdering two Reuters journalists in Iraq. She said that if the American media were to expose to the public the truth about the wars in the Middle East for just one week, the American people would not allow the wars to continue. Unfortunately for Goodman, the future of controversial sites like Wikileaks may be subject to the selective priorities of Internet providers.

Recently, Apple dropped its Wikileaks application due to what Apple says was a violation of their terms of service. This action by Apple – and other large companies such as Amazon and Visa that have stopped Wikileaks services – along with the new net neutrality regulation, suggests that the future of the free flowing information on the Internet will remain a hot topic for a long time to come.

The Club is hosting Josh Silver, founder of Free Press, to talk about Internet and journalism policy in the public interest. Ask him what the real implications of the new “net neutrality” regulation are for the future of journalism and politics in America when he comes to the Club on January 31 at 6 p.m.

Amy Goodman spoke at the Club in April. You can watch her program here:

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Gloria Duffy to Discuss New START Treaty Dec. 23 on KQED's Forum with Michael Krasny

In a busy day on Capitol Hill in Washington today, the U.S. Senate passed a number of bills, with perhaps the biggest one being the ratification of the New START Treaty with Russia, which will lower the number of nuclear weapons each country is allowed to have and it will enable the return of on-the-ground inspections in each country.

The treaty was a priority of the Obama administration, which also drew on broad bipartisan support in its campaign to get the treaty passed. The bill passed today by a vote of 71-26. A two-thirds majority is required by the U.S. Constitution for the ratification of treaties by the Senate.

Commonwealth Club President and CEO Dr. Gloria Duffy, a former nuclear arms negotiator in the Clinton administration, will discuss this new treaty tomorrow (Thursday, December 24) at 9:00 a.m. Pacific time on KQED Radio's "Forum with Michael Krasny." That's 88.5 FM in San Francisco or 89.3 FM in Sacramento, or you can listen to live streaming from the KQED web site.

From Commonwealth Club of California

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Hillary Clinton's Commonwealth Club Remarks Continue to Spur Debate

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton (right) discusses U.S. environmental and foreign policy with Commonwealth Club Vice President and Climate One Director Greg Dalton. Photo by Sonya Abrams.
When U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton appeared before a giant crowd at The Commonwealth Club in San Francisco in October, she discussed a wide range of issues. Mexico's drug war, technology, expansion of diplomacy, Afghanistan, a crude oil pipeline.

It is that last item, the pipeline, that is causing lasting controversy. As – a Washington, D.C.-based political web site – reports today, critics such as Republican Sen. Mike Johanns (Neb.) have gone after the secretary for saying the Obama administration was inclined to approve a pipeline that would bring crude oil from Alberto into the United States.

Politico reports:
“The State Department and the Obama administration are in a real jam,” Sen. Mike Johanns (R-Neb.) told Politico. “They want to look very environmental, and I just think they’re just struggling on what to do with this thing.”

Johanns and other critics of the pipeline lambasted Clinton for comments she made in October suggesting the department was “inclined” to greenlight the pipeline even as thousands of comments were still being reviewed as part of an ongoing environmental assessment.

... Johanns has contended that Clinton’s remarks will inevitably lead to lawsuits citing that the department had come to a premature conclusion if it grants the pipeline. “For her to come out and say we’re inclined to grant it when the public comments had not been fully reviewed certainly is going to lay the groundwork for someone to claim that the process was arbitrary and capricious,” he said.

... Clinton has since emphasized — as recently as in a letter last week to Sen. Ben Nelson (D-Neb.) — that the department has not finished its review of the plan to build a 1,700-mile pipeline through five states — entering Montana, through South Dakota and Nebraska before meeting up with an existing pipeline in Kansas. It then continues in Oklahoma and into Texas.

“In order for the State Department to make a sound decision, it is important that we conduct our review in a thorough and transparent manner, taking into consideration all relevant factors, including both environmental and economic impacts,” Clinton wrote.
The Politico article does not quote Clinton's original comments at length. However, here is the original comment the secretary of state made in her on-stage conversation with Climate One Director and Commonwealth Club Vice President Greg Dalton:
DALTON: Another international issue that you signed in on last year was the Alberta Clipper, a pipeline from Alberta that brings tar sands, oil sands directly into Wisconsin to the U.S. Midwest. This is some of the dirtiest fuel in the world. How can the U.S. be saying climate change is a priority when we're mainlining some of the dirtiest fuel that exists?
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, there hasn't been a final decision made. It is –
DALTON: Are you willing to reconsider it?
SECRETARY CLINTON: Probably not. And we — but we haven't finished all of the analysis. So as I say, we've not yet signed off on it. But we are inclined to do so and we are for several reasons — going back to one of your original questions — we're either going to be dependent on dirty oil from the Gulf or dirty oil from Canada. And until we can get our act together as a country and figure out that clean, renewable energy is in both our economic interests and the interests of our planet — I mean, I don't think it will come as a surprise to anyone how deeply disappointed the president and I are about our inability to get the kind of legislation through the Senate that the United States was seeking.
Now, that hasn't stopped what we're doing. We have moved a lot on the regulatory front through the EPA here at home and we have been working with a number of countries on adaptation and mitigation measures. But obviously, it was one of the highest priorities of the administration for us to enshrine in legislation President Obama's commitment to reducing our emissions. So we do have a lot that still must be done. And it is a hard balancing act. It's a very hard balancing act. But it is also, for me, energy security requires that I look at all of the factors that we have to consider while we try to expedite as much as we can America's move toward clean, renewable energy. And the double disappointment is that despite China's resistance to transparency and how difficult it was for President Obama and I to drive even the Copenhagen Agreement that we finally got by crashing a meeting of China and India and Brazil and South Africa, which –
DALTON: I would have liked to have seen that one.
SECRETARY CLINTON: Yeah, that was — [audience applause] — well, so we got the Copenhagen Agreement and China did sign up for it. But at the same time, they're making enormous investments in clean energy technology. And if we permit that to happen, shame on us. And it is something that United States should be the leader in. It is one of the ways to stimulate and grow our economy and create good jobs. So that's just a small window into the dilemma that we're confronted with.
You can read an excerpt of her entire program in the digital edition of the current issue of The Commonwealth magazine.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Elizabeth Edwards, RIP

Elizabeth Edwards appeared at The Commonwealth Club of California in Silicon Valley on October 24, 2006. Photo by Paul Eric Felder.

Elizabeth Edwards, an attorney and the wife of former two-time Democratic presidential candidate John Edwards, passed away today after a long battle with cancer. She was only 61.

Edwards discussed her book Saving Graces in her October 2006 appearance at The Commonwealth Club in Silicon Valley.

We're sorry to report that we don't have audio or video of that speech available. You might want to check out John Edwards' own 2006 address to the Club, which is available in streaming audio.

States Step out in Cancun

Greg Dalton, Club vice president and director of its Climate One program, is in Cancun this week for the climate conference taking place there. He blogs:
With international negotiations stuck in the sand and the political climate in Washington DC hostile to the reality of "global weirding," much of the discussion at the Cancun climate conference is about what states and cities can do to keep moving forward. Seen in that light, the United States looks firm around the edges and is starting to appear flabby in the middle.

California has been a bright spot at these conferences for the past several years and it's aura is shining even stronger these days following the results of this fall's election. Lauren Faber, Assistant Secretary of the California Environmental Protection Agency, crowed that more people (nearly 6 million) cast ballots to sustain the state's core clean energy policy (AB 32) than voted for or against any other candidate or issue around the United States.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Where Does Unemployment Rank Among Washington's Priorities?

By Sally Schilling

While Congress is focused on Bush tax cuts, former Newsweek senior White House correspondent Richard Wolffe says the government’s first priority should be addressing unemployment.

President Obama’s Council of Economic Advisors put out a report last week warning that if Congress does not extend unemployment benefits, which expired on November 30, two million people could lose coverage in December and as many as 600,000 jobs could be lost over the next year.

Facing an inevitable congressional stalemate on tax-cut issues, Obama told legislators that they should work beyond political lines on unemployment benefits. Wolffe told MSNBC that Obama’s optimistic “moving beyond party politics” message is not a demand for action so much as a political strategy.

Wolffe – who, at the very beginning of the campaign, was asked by the Obama himself to write a book about his journey to the presidency – said that though bipartisan action on unemployment benefits is highly unlikely, speaking about the parties working together is what Obama needs to do to get re-elected.

The president needs to appeal to independent voters, Wolffe said, and independent voters want to see the parties working together. Having the inside scoop on the White House (his new book, Revival, describes his first-hand look at the challenges Obama faced in the first two years of his presidency), Wolffe thinks he knows exactly what is behind Obama’s every move.

So is Obama’s focus on getting re-elected a sign that unemployment doesn’t merit immediate attention?

A recent New York Times article compared the unemployment crisis today to quicksand, and said if the issue remains unaddressed, could become more like cement. Catherine Rampell wrote in the Times that instead of resolving high unemployment, European countries have grown to just accept it, and the U.S. could very well do the same. “The real threat, economists say, is that America, like some of its Old World peers, might simply become accustomed to having a large class of permanently displaced workers,” writes Rampell.

Millions of Americans undoubtedly feel that the urgency of the unemployment crisis is real, but, Wolffe’s observations suggest, Washington is too tied up in politics to act. Does Richard Wolffe think there is still hope for Washington to make a move before high unemployment becomes a permanent fixture of our economy? Come ask him when he speaks at the Club at 6 p.m. on Tuesday, December 7.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Gloria Duffy to Discuss START Treaty, Koreas on Ronn Owens 12/2

Commonwealth Club President and CEO Dr. Gloria C. Duffy will appear on Ronn Owens' popular KGO Newstalk Radio program tomorrow at 10 a.m. Pacific time. She will be discussing the volatile situation on the Korean peninsula and the up-in-the-air prospects for ratification of a new nuclear arms control treaty with Russia.

San Francisco Bay Area audiences can listen on the radio at AM 810; out-of-area audiences can hear it live streaming from KGO's web site.