Archive for August 18, 2008

By Michael Janover – The Rocky Mountain News

OK, I’m old. I was around when Channel 2 went on the air in Denver in the early 50’s and brought us Blinky the Clown. It was exciting. Television. In Colorado!

In the mid-60s, cable TV and the dish staked their claims, and folks in the mountains could finally see Star Trek and Mary Tyler Moore. A whole new world was opening, no longer limited by four or five basic channels. Cable and satellite promised real choice. Hundreds of channels! Wow! You could see anything!

So what happened to all the choices?

Why is it that TV and the movies are always the same old, same old?

For one thing, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) made it possible to merge control of the television and film industries into fewer and fewer networks. What started out as infinite possibilities gradually became three super networks. These entities gobbled up the studio system and the cable channels. Creative decisions were gradually assumed by corporate boards that prefer safe, tested and bland to innovative, daring and dramatic. It’s one of the reasons hard news became infotainment, and rich, life-changing drama is now “reality” programming.

Too much creative control is in the hands of too few people who aren’t creative.

The beginning of the 80s was the start of the Computer Age. I went out and bought a Kaypro, a clunky box, with black screen and glowing green text. It was great. Totally cutting edge.

Computers became more wonderful with color graphics and the mouse thingy, but the most amazing and subversive change was INTERNET. In a few short years, it turned the planet into one big neighborhood; and with broadband access, it also offered interactivity.

We are no longer simple couch potatoes in front of the living room TV. Today, we’re interactive potatoes and use computers to communicate, shop, or read and comment about everything from elections to Dancing With the Stars. We converse with people around the country and world as if they lived across the street. How quaint and microscopic those “hundreds of channels” seem now.

Blogs and YouTube are the new political language. They were vital in the Writer’s Guild’s recent successful struggle with management – the very people who own the mainstream media. Truth is, the Internet does more to democratize the world than any of the wars currently being waged. It truly offers an infinity of choices that TV can’t deliver, and freedom of interactivity that telephones only dream of.

Something this massive and good just begs for someone to control it, don’t you think?

Well, that group has surfaced. It’s not the Chinese government, not even your government. No, it’s the telecommunications companies. The same folks who offer you three-tiered packages of programming instead of just charging you for the shows you want to see; the same people who offer expensive long distance packages when you can do better for next to nothing over the Internet; and the same people who want immunity from prosecution for accidentally illegally wiretapping millions of our phone conversations.

Since the telecoms deliver the Internet to you, they think the government should grant them the power to control how you use it. They want to make more money and put limits on what you see and how you see it. In their world, websites should be charged for the privilege of being seen by their customers. And sites should pay extra for making it possible for consumers to download their material faster (– by removing the telecom’s artificial restraints). Failure to pay these tolls results in your site not being seen, or in ultra-lengthy download times that drive impatient users elsewhere.

Imagine going online to CNN or to download music or watch an old TV show, but the feed is so slow that it no longer works properly. The grass on your lawn is growing faster. Why? Because someone didn’t pay tacked-on fees to the local cable or phone company, and the feed was restricted.

The Telecoms are spending millions to convince Congressional candidates that giving them control makes for a less expensive, better Internet. As you read this, they’re donating money like there’s no tomorrow, because after this election, the new Congress will be forced to decide if Telecoms should be given this power.

“Net Neutrality” basically means “Leave the Internet alone,” and it’s the battle cry for those who think handing over management and control of information to a few mega-corporations is the worst possible idea.

Net Neutrality isn’t another “nutty left wing crusade.” Internet giants like Google and Microsoft, consumer advocates such as Consumer Reports, small businesses who might be relegated to the slow lane, and iPod users who might find it harder to download tunes — all want to maintain Net Neutrality.

“Maintain” is the magic word. Net Neutrality doesn’t ask for new regulations; it only wants to be sure that the freedom we already have is preserved. If you believe in a true open market and don’t want to give your freedom of choice to some corporate Big Brother, if you don’t want your Internet experience censored or restricted, if you enjoy watching YouTube or visiting Facebook without limitations – you probably support Net Neutrality without even realizing it.

It’s time for you to speak up and ask a few questions. Now is when you have the clout. Does your Senate candidate support maintaining freedom of the Internet – or increasing profits for the Telecoms? If you don’t know, find out.

For more detailed information on the fight to save the Internet, please check out, a fact sheet put together by Free Press, the Consumers Union, and Consumer Federation of America.

Michael Janover grew up in Denver and went to school and graduated from CU in Boulder in 1967. He’s been a WGA writer since 1978, worked for HAWAII 5-O, Wide World of Disney and wrote THE PHILADELPHIA EXPERIMENT while in Hollywood. He also helped start the Colorado Film School

For more on the FCC involvement read:  FCC shouldn’t tolerate abuses by Internet’s corporate gatekeepers Your internet does depend on your action.


Source: Brian Finlay-OpEd-The Baltimore Sun

The impending closure of the FBI’s investigation of the anthrax-laced mailings of 2001 has generated new interest in the question: Are we safer today than we were when anthrax was distributed up and down the Eastern seaboard, killing five people and sickening 17 others? Unfortunately, the answer is probably no – despite our government’s best efforts to prevent a future bioterrorist incident.

Bioterrorism is like no other national security threat. What makes defending against it so challenging is the blurred line between beneficial research and destructive intent. For example, some of the same knowledge and equipment used to generate new lifesaving drugs could also inflict mass casualties in the hands of bioterrorists. As globalization spreads these biotechnologies around the world in support of improved public health, potentially dangerous knowledge is being placed in the hands of more individuals in more countries than ever before.

The problem can be domestic, as illustrated by the 2001 anthrax attacks, which the FBI says were launched by Bruce E. Ivins, a researcher at Fort Detrick in Frederick. Since 2001, 11 U.S. government agencies have spent upward of $50 billion to meet the threat of biological weapons. This has resulted in the rapid growth in the number of research organizations – public and private – that are handling dangerous biological agents. The inability of the military’s secure facility to prevent dispersion of anthrax highlights the practical complications of monitoring minute but deadly quantities of pathogens and toxins.

The problem is compounded many times over internationally. According to unclassified U.S. government sources, al-Qaida and an unknown number of other terrorist organizations, as well as Iran, Syria, North Korea and nine other countries, are pursuing offensive biological weapons programs. In many cases, their efforts are linked to – and masked by – civilian programs with allegedly peaceful purposes.

The biotechnological revolution has stimulated drastic worldwide growth in biological research and development and pharmaceuticals. For instance, in 2006, the Iranian drug market reached an estimated $1.58 billion, and it is expected to grow 50 percent by 2011. As part of its national development strategy, Tehran has made a concerted effort to encourage foreign drug companies to enter the Iranian market, introducing new technologies and capacities into that country to service its public health needs. But some experts allege that Iran has used these same capacities to develop small quantities of bioweapon agents, such as ricin, plague and the smallpox virus.

Iran has also opened its doors to a British pharmaceutical company to conduct clinical trials on a product containing botulinum toxin. The company’s decision to conduct trials may have involved the sharing of critical dual-use information. The willingness of legitimate foreign companies to share sensitive data with state sponsors of terrorism raises serious questions about our capacities to control sensitive biological agents, toxins and know-how.

In large part, we are not safer since 9/11 because of governments’ inability to effectively compete with the rapid pace of emerging biotechnologies, especially in separating their peaceful from their potentially hostile uses. This challenge cannot be addressed solely by increased government funding. Today, the threat is increasingly diffuse, ranging from small-scale, moderately sophisticated terrorist cells to legitimate biopharmaceutical companies that may unwittingly provide processes or materials for offensive bioweapons research.

The critical convergence of biotechnology and the rise of catastrophic terrorist intent highlights the need for greater cooperation between the public and private sectors in the areas of public health and national security. We need to incorporate industry and government into a coordinated strategy to monitor and regulate the proliferation of the most sensitive biological technologies. This means that the Food and Drug Administration and the rest of the Department of Health and Human Services must realize that decisions made in the name of public health could well have an impact on U.S. national security.

For example, the FDA is considering the approval of drugs by foreign companies whose dual-use research is prohibited by U.S. law for U.S. companies on national security and other grounds. The proliferation of high-security biosafety laboratories has occurred without any apparent consideration of the added risk of dangerous biological substances being handled at more locations and by more researchers.

Similarly, the biotech and pharmaceutical industries should appreciate that they too have a stake in the nonproliferation of dual-use technologies – certainly for reasons of national security, but also as it impacts their bottom line if their technology becomes a security risk.

All parties need to begin exercising stricter control over their technologies and inculcate security concerns into their decision-making by taking the threat of biological weapons as seriously as the threat from nuclear weapons. Until that happens, we will all remain more susceptible than we should be to the next bioterrorist attack.

Brian D. Finlay, senior associate at the Henry L. Stimson Center in Washington, is an expert on nonproliferation of weapons of mass destruction. His e-mail is

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