Article 43

 

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

The New Secessionists

By Chris Hedges
Truthdig
April 26. 2010

Acts of rebellion which promote moral and political change must be nonviolent. And one of the most potent nonviolent alternatives in the country, which defies the corporate state and calls for an end to imperial wars, is the secessionist movement bubbling up in some two dozen states including Vermont, Texas, Alaska and Hawaii.

These movements do not always embrace liberal values. Most of the groups in the South champion a neo-Confederacy and are often exclusively male and white. Secessionists, who call for statewide referendums to secede, do not advocate the use of force. It is unclear, however, if some will turn to force if the federal structure ever denies them independence.

These groups at least grasp that the old divisions between liberals and conservatives are obsolete and meaningless. They understand that corporations have carried out a coup d’tat. They recognize that our permanent war economy and costly and futile imperial wars are unsustainable and they demand that we take popular action to prevent citizens from being further impoverished and robbed by Wall Street speculators and corporations.

“The defining characteristic of the Second Vermont Republic is that there are two enemies, the United States government and corporate America,” Thomas Naylor, who founded Vermonts secessionist movement, told me when I reached him by phone at his home 10 miles south of Burlington. “One owns the other one. We are not like the tea party. The underlying premise of the tea party movement is that the system is fixable.”

Naylor rattles off the stark indicators of the nation’s decline, noting that the United States stands near the bottom among industrialized countries in voter turnout, last in health care, last in education and highest in homicide rates, mortality, STDs among juveniles, youth pregnancy, abortion and divorce. The nation, he notes grimly, has trillions in deficits it can never repay, is beset by staggering income disparities, has destroyed its manufacturing base and is the planets most egregious polluter and greediest consumer of fossil fuels. With some 40 million Americans living in poverty, tens of millions more in a category called near poverty and a permanent underclass trapped by a real unemployment rate of 17 percent, there is ample tinder for internal combustion. If we do not undertake a dramatic reversal soon, he asserts, the country and the global environment will implode with catastrophic consequences.

The secessionist movement is gaining ground in several states, especially Texas, where elected officials increasingly have to contend with secessionist sentiments.

“Our membership has grown tremendously since the bailouts, since the tail end of the Bush administration,” said Daniel Miller, the leader of the Texas Nationalist Movement, when I spoke with him by telephone from his home in the small town of Nederland, Texas. “There is a feeling in Texas that we are being spent into oblivion. We are operating as the cash cow for the states that cannot manage their budgets. With this Congress, Texas has been squarely in their cross hairs, from cap and trade to the alien transfer and exit program. So many legislative pieces coming down the pike are offensive to people here in Texas. The sentiment for independence here is very high. The sentiment inside the Legislature and state capital is one of guarded optimism. There are scores of folks within state government who are supportive of what we are doing, although there is a need to see the public support in a more tangible way. This is why we launched our Let Texas Decide petition drive. We intend to deliver over a million signatures on the opening day of the [state legislative] session on Jan. 11, 2011.”

Miller, like Naylor, expects many in the tea party to migrate to secessionist movements once they realize that they cannot alter the structure or power of the corporate state through electoral politics. Polls in Texas show the secessionists have support from about 35 percent of the stateԒs population, and Vermont is not far behind.

Naylor, who taught economics at Duke University for 30 years, is, along with Kirkpatrick Sale and Donald Livingston, one of the intellectual godfathers of the secessionist movement. His writing can be found on The Second Vermont Republic website, on the website Secession News and in postings on the Middlebury Institute website. Naylor first proposed secession in his 1997 book “Downsizing the USA.” He comes out of the “small is beautiful” movement, as does Sale. Naylor lives with his wife in the Vermont village of Charlotte.

The Second Vermont Republic arose from the statewide anti-war protests in 2003. It embraces a left-wing populism that makes it unique among the national movements, which usually veer more toward Ron Paul libertarianism. The Vermont movement, like the Texas and Alaska movements, is well organized. It has a bimonthly newspaper called The Vermont Commons, which champions sustainable agriculture and energy supplies based on wind and water, and calls for locally owned banks which will open lines of credit to their communities. Dennis Steele, who is campaigning for governor as a secessionist, runs Radio Free Vermont, which gives a venue to Vermont musicians and groups as well as being a voice of the movement. Vermont, like Texas, was an independent republic, but on March 4, 1791, voted to enter the union. Supporters of the Second Vermont Republic commemorate the anniversary by holding a mock funeral procession through the state capital, Montpelier, with a casket marked Vermont.Ӕ Secessionist candidates in Vermont are currently running for governor, lieutenant governor, eight Senate seats and two House seats.

“The movement, at its core, is anti-authoritarian,” said Sale, who works closely with Naylor and spoke with me from his home in Charleston, S.C. “It includes those who are libertarians and those who are on the anarchic community side. In traditional terms these people are left and right, but they have come very close together in their anti-authoritarianism. Left and right no longer have meaning.”

The movement correctly views the corporate state as a force that has so corrupted the economy, as well as the electoral and judicial process, that it cannot be defeated through traditional routes. It also knows that the corporate state, which looks at the natural world and human beings as commodities to be exploited until exhaustion or collapse occurs, is rapidly cannibalizing the nation and pushing the planet toward irrevocable crisis. And it argues that the corporate state can be dismantled only through radical forms of nonviolent revolt and the dissolution of the United States. As an act of revolt it has many attributes.

“The only way we will ever stop these wars is when we stop paying for them,” Naylor told me. Vermont contributes about $1.5 billion to the Pentagon’s budget. “Do we want to keep supporting these wars? If not, lets pull out. We have two objectives. The first is returning Vermont to its status as an independent republic. The second is the peaceful dissolution of the empire. I see these as being mutually complementary.

“The U.S. government has lost its moral authority,” he went on. It is corrupt to the core. It is owned, operated and controlled by Wall Street and corporate America. Its foreign policy is controlled by the Israeli lobby. It is unsustainable economically, socially, morally, militarily and environmentally. It is ungovernable and therefore unfixable. The question is, do you go down with the Titanic or do you seek other options?”

The leaders of the movement concede that sentiment still outstrips organization. There has not been a large proliferation of new groups, and a few old groups have folded because of a lack of leadership and support. But they insist that an increasing number of Americans are receptive to their ideas.

“The number of groups has not grown as I hoped it would when I started having congresses,” said Sale, who addresses groups around the country. “But the number of people, of individuals, of websites and the number of libertarians who have come around has grown leaps and bounds. Many of those who were disappointed by the treatment of Ron Paul have come to the conclusion that they cannot have a Libertarian Party or a libertarian Republican. They are beginning to talk about secession.”

“Secessionists have to be very careful not to be militaristic,” Sale warned. “This cannot be won by the gun. You can be emphatic in your secessionism, but it won’t happen by carrying guns. I don’t know what the tea party people think they are going to accomplish with guns. I guess it is a statement against the federal government and the fear that Obama is about to have gun control. It appears to be an assertion of individual rights. But the tea party people have not yet understood how they are going to get their view across. They still believe they can elect people, either Republicans or declared conservatives, to office in Washington and have an effect, as if you can escape the culture of Washington and the characteristics of government that has only gotten bigger and will only continue to get bigger. Electing people to the House and Senate is not going to change the characteristics of the system.”

The most pressing problem is that the movement harbors within its ranks Southern secessionists who wrap themselves in the Confederate flag, begin their meetings singing Dixie and celebrate the slave culture of the antebellum South. Secessionist groups such as the Southern National Congress and the more radical League of the South, which the Southern Poverty Law Center has labeled a racist hate group, openly embrace a return to uncontested white, male power. And this aspect of the movement deeply disturbs leaders such as Naylor, Sale and Miller.

What all these movements grasp, however, is that the American empire is over. It cannot be sustained. They understand that we must disengage peacefully, learn to speak with a new humility and live with a new simplicity, or see an economic collapse that could trigger a perverted Christian fascism, a ruthless police state and internecine violence.

“There are three or four possible scenarios that will bring down the empire,” Naylor said. “One possibility is a war with Iran. Another will see the Chinese pull the plug on Treasury bills. Even if these do not happen, the infrastructure of the country is decaying. This is a slower process. And they do not have the economy fixed. It is smoke and mirrors. This is why the price of gold is so high. The economy and the inability to stop the wars will alone be enough to bring us down. There is no escape now from our imperial overstretch.”

Chris Hedges spent two decades as a foreign reporter covering wars in Latin America, Africa, Europe and the Middle East. He has written nine books, including Empire of Illusion: The End of Literacy and the Triumph of Spectacle (2009) and War Is a Force That Gives Us Meaning (2003).

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Posted by Elvis on 04/27/10 •
Section American Solidarity
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Sunday, April 11, 2010

Concentration Of Wealth Is Destroying Democracy

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By George Washington
Washington’s Blog
April 11, 2010

As I WROTE in 2008:

The economy is like a poker game ... it is human nature to want to get all of the chips, but noted that - if one person does get all of the chips - the game ends.

In other words, The game of capitalism only continues as long as everyone has some money to play with. If the government and corporations take everyone’s money, the game ends.

The fed and Treasury are not giving more chips to those who need them: the American consumer. Instead, they are giving chips to the 800-pound gorillas at the poker table, such as Wall Street investment banks. Indeed, a good chunk of the money used by surviving mammoth players to buy the failing behemoths actually comes from the Fed.

No wonder billionaire George Soros says that the way US Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson was handling the situation was “very reminiscent of the way the central bankers talked in the 1930s”, the time of the Great Depression.

And no wonder Nobel-prize winning economist Joseph Stiglitz stresses putting poker chips back in the hands of the little guy ...

This is not a question of big government versus small government, or republican versus democrat. It is not even a question of Keynes versus Friedman (two influential, competing economic thinkers).

It is a question of focusing any government funding which is made to the majority of poker players - instead of the titans of finance - so that the game can continue. If the hundreds of billions or trillions spent on bailouts had instead been given to ease the burden of consumers, we would have already recovered from the financial crisis.

As FDRs Fed chairman Marriner S. Eccles explained:

As in a poker game where the chips were concentrated in fewer and fewer hands, the other fellows could stay in the game only by borrowing. When their credit ran out, the game stopped.

As I pointed out last AUGUST, and again LAST MONTH, fewer people have more of the chips than at any time since before the Great Depression. And SEE THIS.

Indeed, radical concentration of wealth not only destroys the economy by stopping the poker game, it also destroys democracy.

Everyone knows that politicians are BOUGHT AND PAID FOR by the financial service giants. And the 800 pound gorillas just keep getting BIGGER AND BIGGER.

As Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis said:

We may have democracy, or we may have wealth concentrated in the hands of a few, but we can’t have both.

Dennis Kucinich SAID in January:

There’s nothing liberal about the bailouts. There’s nothing liberal about standing by and watching banks use public money to get their executive bonuses. There’s nothing liberal about giving insurance companies carte blanche to charge anything they want for health care… Since when did that become liberal?

***
Every area of the economy is still about taking wealth from the great mass of people and putting it into the hands of a few. If you donҒt have an economic democracy, you dont have a political democracy.

Indeed, when wealth and power become too concentrated, capitalism becomes virtually INDISTINGUISHABLE FROM SOCIALISM OR FASCISM.

How soon we forget ... Antitrust laws were enacted to protect the economy and democracy, but - like the Depression-era laws separating depository banking from investment banking - ARE NOT BEING ENFORCED.

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Posted by Elvis on 04/11/10 •
Section Dying America
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The True Cost Of Offshore Tech Support

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Why offshore tech support may be costing practitioners more than it saves

By Christina Wood
Gripeline
April 6, 2010

In ”HP’S BIG BET ON BETTER TECH SUPPORT,” I pressed HP’s Jodi Schilling, vice president of America’s customer support operations at HP, to talk about offshore support. While I couldn’t get many particulars on that, I did learn that HP is intent on becoming a leader in customer support.

Thus, I asked Gripe Line readers if they thought HP’s support initiatives are working. Among the responses I got were from-the-trenches accounts of how offshore support has been a game-changer for technical support for HP—and the industry in general. These accounts were so fascinating that I’m staying on that topic a bit longer.

So far in the discussion of offshore outsourcing of support, we’ve HEARD FROM DISAPPOINTED CUSTOMERS and from HP DECISION MAKERS on the challenges of providing that support. Today, we hear from the technicians who provided support here in the United States and exactly how sending that support offshore changed their job. From these frontline accounts, sending support offshore does not look like a money saver for the company providing the support. It doesn’t appear to have improved the support experience for customers, either. It certainly hasn’t made these support engineer’s jobs any easier.

Offshore tech support: End of the “HP Way”

In fact, as Gripe Line reader Susan sees it, moving support operations offshore has cost some dedicated support engineers their jobs, all while angering the customers they served.

“I worked for 18 years in the HP enterprise support center that many customers knew as the Response Center,” writes Susan. “So I read ‘HP’s big bet on better tech support’ with a different eye than most. The Response Center was staffed by hundreds of enthusiastic and energetic, U.S.-based engineers who loved their work and put heart and soul into making every customer interaction as positive and productive as possible.

“We watched our jobs disappear when HP opened its Costa Rica Solution Center, which caused a huge spike in the complaints and angry feedback from customers who had grown to trust HP support. There is no ‘HP Way’ culture in the new center because there is no one there to pass on that legacy. I am proud to have worked for a company that empowered me to give the best possible support to customers. It has been sad to watch HP slowly disintegrate and become just like any other company, concerned more with the bottom line than with being a company that sets the standard for support,” Susan continues.

The hidden cost of offshore tech support

Gripe Line reader Ronald offered a story that demonstrates the circuitous route a support call can take on its way to being resolved, as well as the numerous bumps—not just technical—it can hit along the way.

Ronald writes, “In 2005, I was a PC Support Technician for Siemens Business Services, which was awarded a multi-million-dollar support contract from consulting firm Bearing Point nationwide (BE). Siemens turned around and outsourced Tier 1 support to an HP Call Center in India. If the HP technicians could not resolve a problem, they were instructed to escalate it to my division, Tier 2. We were physically located at BE branches in the U.S. The support techs in India were polite but had heavy accents, which often made it hard to understand their instructions. And their technical skills were sub-standard. Rumor had it that despite this lack of know-how, BE turned a blind eye because HP was an important consulting client.”

Putting politics and geography between a question and its answer had one notable result for the customer: wasted time.

“I remember a couple of times where the offshored HP support tech wasted hours on the phone with a consultant before sending the call to us here at Tier 2,” Ronald says. Once Ronald’s Tier 2 support team got these callers, their problems were often easy to solve. Ronald clocked the resolution for one issue he received frequently at less than five minutes.

So why not teach the Tier 1 support in India to better solve these problems or quickly escalate them? “This was impossible,” says Ronald. Not only was Tier 1 support on another continent and in another time zone and culture, it was in another company. “As far as we were concerned, India was on another planet.”

If it is the low cost of sending support offshore—combined with advances in telephony that make these overseas calls easy and cheap—Ronald suggests that companies take a harder look at the real costs, factoring in the wasted time, customer frustration, and the lack of productivity of the U.S company in need of support. “If BE’s goal was to outsource to save money,” says Ronald, “they failed miserably.” In fact, BE filed for bankruptcy protection in February 2009.

“Corporate bean counters should look beyond the rock-bottom cost of outsourcing,” suggests Ronald, “and instead audit the quality of support they plan to get this way.”

SOURCE

Posted by Elvis on 04/11/10 •
Section General Reading
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Saturday, April 10, 2010

Next Level DPI

Free Press Calls on FCC to Investigate Windstreams Search Practices
ISP’s Alleged Hijacking of User Searches Demonstrates Urgent Need for Net Neutrality and Greater Transparency

By Lynne Rose
FREE PRESS
April 2, 2010

Windstream Communications, a mid-size DSL Internet service provider, is believed to be HIJACKING USER SEARCH QUERIES MADE THROUGH THE FIREFOX BROSWER’S SEARCH TASK BAR, according to news reports and user comments. Windstream appears to be intercepting valid search queries entered via the Firefox tool bar, using either deep packet inspection technology or software installed on local computers by Windstream, and redirecting users to a search engine on a Windstream-owned page.

S. Derek Turner, research director at Free Press, made the following statement:

“We are still waiting for all the facts to come in, but if initial allegations are true, Windstream has crossed the line and is actively interfering with its subscribers’ Internet communications. Hijacking a search query is not much different from deliberately redirecting a user from NYTimes.com to WashingtonPost.com, and a limited ‘opt-out’ capability is not enough to justify Internet discrimination. This is further proof of the need for strong open Internet rules, comprehensive transparency and disclosure obligations, and a process for relief at the FCC.

“We hope the FCC will investigate Windstream’s practices immediately, and move expeditiously to pass open Internet rules without loopholes allowing pernicious activity such as the alleged search engine hijacking.”

SOURCE

---

Windstream in windstorm over ISP’s search redirects

By Matthew Lasar
ARS Technica
April 6, 2010

Responding to a medium-sized uproar, Windstream Communications says it is sorry about those CUSTOMER SEARCHES performed by Firefox users and redirected from Google to IT’S OWN SEARCH ENGINE, and the Little Rock, Arkansas-based ISP has now got the situation under control.

“Windstream implemented a network change on Friday, April 2 that affected certain customer Web browser search box queries, producing search results inconsistent with Windstream’s prior practices,” a spokesperson for the voice/DSL service told us. “Windstream successfully implemented configuration changes today to restore original functionality to these search queries after hearing from affected customers.”

The question, of course, is whether the company accidentally or deliberately rigged its network software to produce those “inconsistent” results. We asked, but not surprisingly didn’t get an answer to that query.

Not the behavior I expect

As ARS readers know, there’s money to be made from the typing errors of Web users. Input a slight misspelling of a popular domain name and you’ll wind up at an ad-saturated site designed to harvest all such instances. Then there are the Internet service providers that take this business one step further. Screw up a domain by a single character and you wind up at an ISP-sponsored or -partnered search engine, complete with ads on the site waiting for your impression or click.

It appears that Windstream inadvertently or deliberately took this activity to the next level, according to its own statement and the complaints of some of its customers, reproduced on the Windstream forum page of DSL Reports. Here’s one protest:

“Dear Windstream,
For future reference: When I use google via the firefox search bar I actually want to go to google not searchredirect.windstream.net

This redirect happens in both windows and linux even if dns is hard set in router and tcp/ip settings

It took me 45 minutes to figure out how to disable this ‘feature’

searchredirect.windstream.net/prefs.php you can disable this ‘feature’ here

Honestly this isn’t the kind of behavior I expect out of my isp and I consider it very unprofessional.”

To these forum concerns a Windstream support person initially posted this reply: “We apologize as this is an issue that we are aware of and are currently working to resolve. You should not be getting that redirect page when you are doing your searches. We should have this resolved soon.” Next Windstream’s Twitter page declared the problem is fixed: “Windstream has resolved unintentional issues with Firefox search. Apologies for the troubles you’ve had.”

But this episode raises some serious worries, among them: how much should your ISP be allowed to monkey around with your Web browsing activity under any circumstances? Free Press has already called for the Federal Communications Commission to investigate this affair.

“If initial allegations are true, Windstream has crossed the line and is actively interfering with its subscribers’ Internet communications,” the reform groups’ S. Derek Turner declared. “Hijacking a search query is not much different than deliberately redirectingђ a user from NYTimes.com to WashingtonPost.com and a limited ‘opt-out’ capability is not enough to justify Internet discrimination. This is further proof of the need for strong open Internet rules, comprehensive transparency and disclosure obligations, and a process for relief at the FCC.”

The issue has been resolved

ARS asked Windstream about these concerns. Not surprisingly, the ISP isn’t crazy about the probe idea. “We don’t think an investigation is necessary since the issue has been resolved,” the company told Ars.

In truth, WE’D BE A BIT SURPRISED if the FCC jumped on this conundrum too quickly. Everybody’s waiting to hear what the DC Circuit Court of Appeals has to say about the Commission’s authority to sanction Comcast for P2P blocking, and most observers don’t expect it to go well for the agency [update: the court has ruled]. As the Free Press statement suggests, the FCC’s authority around these ISP issues is still a work in progress.

But given that ICANN has already condemned the practice of ISP redirection in the case of misspelled or nonexistent domain names, it doesn’t seem like we’ve heard the last about this issue. Indeed, Windstream’s quick response to subscriber complaints suggests the service knows that the watchdogs are watching. Windstream’s latest repairs of its search system “do not require customers who chose to opt-out to do so again,” the ISP assured us.

SOURCE

Posted by Elvis on 04/10/10 •
Section Privacy And Rights • Section Broadband Privacy
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The Gentlemens Agreement

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By Susan Crawford
Susan Crawford’s Blog
April 5, 2010

The American Consumer Satisfaction Survey shows that were happier with fast food providers, Internet search engines (by far), Internet retail sites (Netflix is way up there), and energy utilities than we are with the cable industry.  WeҒre happier with most consumer products, in fact - from gasoline to life insurance - than we are with the cable industry.  Only the airlines make us similarly unhappy.

Why is that?

Part of the problem may be the absence of competition.  The major cable players - Comcast, Time Warner, Cablevision - have divided up the country among themselves.  They do not compete in any of the top 25 metropolitan areas except New York (and theres a little competition in DC).

So Chicago, Philadelphia, Boston, San Francisco, Detroit, Houston, Seattle, Miami, Denver, Sacramento, Pittsburgh, and Baltimore are all Comcast areas.  Time Warner has Los Angeles and Cleveland.  Cox has Phoenix.

Even J.P. Morgan couldnҒt get independently-owned railroads to agree not to compete with one another in the late 19th century.  Not that he didnt try.  In 1890 one of MorganҒs associates was excited by the prospect of a Western Traffic Association that would include a director from each railroad and set uniform rates:  Think of it - all the competing traffic of the roads west of Chicago and Saint Louis placed in the control of about 30 men!Ӕ But the effort fell apart because some of the independents insisted on cutting rates and invading each others territories.  (Morgan later had the same problem with shipping lines between the US and the UK - Cunard refused to cooperate.)

Morgan had more success when the railroads started going bankrupt during the 1893 panic, and he was able to reorganize (Ҕmorganize) them.  According to Ron Chernow, author of The House of Morgan, just about every bankrupt road east of the Mississippi eventually passed through such reorganization - one-sixth of the countryԒs trackage.  Morgan took seats on the boards of these railroads and transferred their stock to voting trustsӔ controlled by himself and his associates.  He tidied up the market, avoiding ruinous competition and new entry.  Chernow:  By 1900 the nationӒs railroads were consolidated into six huge systems controlled by Wall Street bankers.

That’s the familiar Morgan story, but whats perhaps unfamiliar is that Morgan thought competition was a completely unrealistic proposition.  Given the enormous upfront investment and heavy carrying costs involved in running a railroad, he thought there was no option:

“The American public seems to be unwilling to admit . . . that it has a choice between regulated legal agreements and unregulated extralegal agreements.  We should have cast away more than 50 years ago the impossible doctrine of protection of the public by railway competition.”

Morgan was happier with unregulated extralegal agreements for the railroads: carving up territory, avoiding rate wars, and maintaining firm control.  The railroads gave steep rebates to powerful shippers (sound familiar?), which led to a call for regulation by small businesses and farmers who couldnԒt get neutral nondiscriminatory access to the lines.  But initial regulatory efforts failed to squelch those rebates, the railways gave free passes to all the state legislators, and Morgan sailed onward.

Obviously the cable situation isnt exactly like the railroad systems of the 19th century.  The major cable systems arenҒt owned by the same people.  There is no cable czar.

But the major cable systems do apparently have a gentlemens agreement in place - something even Morgan couldnҒt achieve.  With Verizons FiOS taking the pressure off (and with satellite unable to provide high-speed Internet access that matches cableҒs), theyre undisciplined by current competition.  Barriers to entry are so high (as for a new railroad) that itҒs extremely unlikely any new competition is going to emerge.  These barriers get even higher when cable distributors become content providers as well.

The cable systems are also undisciplined by regulation save for rates for basic cable and a few other elements of their operation.  In their role as content providers, program access and program carriage rules dont seem to be working very well.

So, take it from JP Morgan:  do you want regulated legal agreements, or unregulated extralegal agreements?  Competition is not going to change next yearҒs numbers on the American Consumer Satisfaction Survey.

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Posted by Elvis on 04/10/10 •
Section Dying America
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