Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Romney as Ambassador-in-Chief

July 31, 2012, 7:10 p.m.

When Experience and Common Sense Matter

Mitt Romney got about as positive a review from me as he would have a reasonable right to expect from anyone identified as an Obama-supporting Democrat. "Why Mitt Romney," March 26, 2012 ("My wife sees in some politicians a quality she calls 'Elvis.' Bill Clinton had 'Elvis.' Romney clearly does not. What I see in Romney is a bright, well informed, analytical, hard working, focused, pragmatic, problem-solving manager. A little touch of 'Elvis' would be comforting, but it doesn't trump the other qualities. . . . Some reports of his relationships as governor with the Massachusetts legislators are a little troublesome. [Michael Barbaro, "Legislators Recall Governor Who Didn't Mingle," New York Times, March 10, 2012, p. A1 (". . . Mr. Romney was an unfamiliar breed: a data-driven chief executive used to delivering unquestioned orders, . . . an emotionally remote figure who tended not to socialize . . .")]. . . . A president can probably get by with no 'Elvis,' but they all need a little 'LBJ.'").

Why do I care who the Republicans nominate? For the same reason I care who the vice presidential candidates are: because they could be president. It matters to America who lives in the White House. If it can't be the best man or woman America has to offer, second best is "the least worst."

That's why I care.

OK, so I did have a bit of fun once I found out about Romney's six homes. "Homes: Weeks' Salisbury, Romney's Six; How Much Home is Enough?"

Of course I disagree with a great many of his positions on the issues. And having watched what that Republican-controlled House of Representatives did with a Democrat in the White House, I shudder to think of what would happen with a Republican president (regardless of how meritorious his positions on the issues).

But after some of my prior choices either never got into, or got in and then dropped out of, the Republican primary, it still seems to me that Romney was clearly the best of those left standing.

And so my position on Romney remained for the four months since that March blog entry -- until this past week.

To explain my concern it's necessary to go back to the last presidential campaign in 2008. "Experience" -- as a qualification for a presidential candidate -- became an issue, especially after Hillary Clinton made it such a big issue. It provided an occasion for me to reflect upon just what experience would be helpful for a president to have had. Nicholas Johnson, "Politics: Assessing Candidates' 'Experience,'", The Gazette, March 30, 2012, p. A9.

I wrote:

There’s little significant difference between Sens. Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton as lawyers who are well educated, thoughtful, widely informed and fully capable of formulating proposals on numerous topics. Both are articulate, though Obama has the charisma advantage. But the experience qualifying someone to be president requires a lot more than having been married to one, proposing good ideas or world travel. As someone who has served during the administrations of three presidents, I believe the presidency is one of the most complex administrative jobs imaginable. There’s no perfect, qualifying “experience.” But two things can help.
One is experience at administering large institutions: a federal cabinet-level department, a state government, military branch, major university or corporation. The other is the understanding and rapport earned by having worked in institutions with which a president must relate: city, county and state government; the federal executive, legislative, judicial and administrative branches; international organizations and embassies; labor unions and Wall Street, among others.
By these standards both Democrats and Sen. John McCain are unimpressive. None has served as mayor or governor; none has headed a cabinet department; none has helped administer the Pentagon or CIA; none has worked for international organizations, been ambassador to the United Nations or a foreign country; none has been a union officer or corporate CEO. None has headed delegations negotiating with foreign governments over trade agreements, release of hostages or treaties.

It didn't occur to me earlier to subject Romney to the same checklist as I did the three leaders in 2008. Now having done so, he comes off pretty well. He's had experience at management and administration (Governor of Massachusetts, the Salt Lake Olympics, Bain, and his current campaign). He's knowledgeable regarding state government and Wall Street. Where he's shy on my list are (1) his lack of experience as a member of Congress, the Senate, a Cabinet-level position, administrative agency, city or county government, Pentagon or CIA -- primarily Washington institutions.

(2) He's short on foreign relations experience, what I listed in describing candidates Clinton, McCain and Obama, above, as individuals, "none [of whom] has worked for international organizations, been ambassador to the United Nations or a foreign country; none has . . . headed delegations negotiating with foreign governments over trade agreements, release of hostages or treaties."

What concerns me after the events of this past week is more than his lack of experience in foreign affairs.

We have no training program for potential presidents. And almost no individual will have had the opportunity to amass experience in each of the areas I think useful. (However, in 2008 Governor Bill Richardson of New Mexico came close, having been a governor, member of Congress, cabinet officer, a U.N. ambassador, and successful negotiator for the return of hostages. President George H.W. Bush had somewhat comparable prior experience.) Nor do I think having had all that experience is a necessary prerequisite to a successful presidency -- as illustrated by Harry S. Truman, John F. Kennedy, and Lyndon B. Johnson, all of whom had service in the U.S. Senate as their primary training.

So "on the job training" regarding something will probably be necessary for almost anyone serving as president -- including Romney. No problem there. But there is a difference between an absence of experience, a clean slate, along with an ability to learn, on the one hand, and Romney's gaffes and demonstrations of an instinct for insensitivity to foreign relations on the other.


"Mr. Romney’s choreographed visit here caused a diplomatic stir after his comments on the British Olympics preparations and whether Londoners would turn out to support the Games prompted a rebuke from Prime Minister David Cameron and grabbed the attention of the news media.

“'There are a few things that were disconcerting, the stories about the private security firm not having enough people, the supposed strike of the immigration and customs officials, that obviously is not something which is encouraging,' Mr. Romney said in an interview with NBC on Wednesday.

[Photo credit: Stephen Crowley, New York Times.]

"That brought a tart rejoinder from Mr. Cameron: 'We are holding an Olympic Games in one of the busiest, most active, bustling cities anywhere in the world. Of course it’s easier if you hold an Olympic Games in the middle of nowhere.' The allusion was to Salt Lake City, which hosted the Games that Mr. Romney oversaw in 2002. . . .

"News of Mr. Romney’s remarks led The Times of London’s Web site at one point under the headline 'PM rebuffs Romney over readiness for Olympics,' and The Guardian’s Web site offered up a story titled 'Romney’s Olympics blunder stuns No. 10 and hands gift to Obama.'

"Mayor Boris Johnson even used the candidate’s words to rally thousands of Londoners at the end of the 69-day Olympic torch relay in Hyde Park, saying, 'There’s a guy called Mitt Romney who wants to know whether we’re ready.' . . .

"He [Romney] also mentioned that he had met with the head of the MI6 foreign intelligence agency to discuss Syria and 'the hope for a more peaceful future for that country' — another comment the British press seized on as a gaffe because, they wrote, visiting dignitaries typically do not discuss their private meetings with the MI6 chief.

"In his original remarks on Wednesday, Mr. Romney also seemed to question the enthusiasm of the British public for the Games . . .."

Ashley Parker, "Romney’s Remarks on Olympics Cause Stir in London," New York Times, July 26, 2012.


"Mitt Romney offended Palestinian leaders on Monday by suggesting that cultural differences explain why the Israelis are so much more economically successful than Palestinians, thrusting himself again into a volatile issue while on his high-profile overseas trip.

"His remarks drew a pointed rebuke from the Palestinian leadership, which angrily noted that Mr. Romney had failed to mention the years of trade restrictions imposed by Israel. . . .

"[H]is remarks put him in the choppy crosscurrents of Israel-Palestinian affairs where American presidents have often served as mediators. . . .

"He added, 'As you come here and you see the G.D.P. per capita, for instance, in Israel, which is about $21,000, and compare that with the G.D.P. per capita just across the areas managed by the Palestinian Authority, which is more like $10,000 per capita, you notice such a dramatically stark difference in economic vitality.' [The correct figures: "Israel, in 2009, had a per capita gross domestic product of roughly $29,800, while, in 2008, the West Bank and Gaza had a per capita gross domestic product of $2,900, according to the Central Intelligence Agency." Editorial, "Mitt Romney Stumps in Israel," New York Times, July 31, 2012, p. A20.] . . .

"The remarks, which vastly understated the disparities between the societies, drew a swift rejoinder from Palestinian leaders. In an interview with The Associated Press, Saeb Erekat, a senior aide to President Mahmoud Abbas of the Palestinian Authority, called Mr. Romney’s remarks racist.

“'It is a racist statement and this man doesn’t realize that the Palestinian economy cannot reach its potential because there is an Israeli occupation,' Mr. Erekat said. 'It seems to me this man lacks information, knowledge, vision and understanding of this region and its people.'

Mr. Romney did not speak to the deleterious impact of deep Israeli trade restrictions on the Palestinian economy, an effect widely described by international organizations including the World Bank, which recently reported that 'the government of Israel’s security restrictions continue to stymie investment.'”

Ashley Parker and Richard A. Oppel Jr., "Romney Trip Raises Sparks at a 2nd Stop," New York Times, July 31, 2012, p. A1 "Mr. Romney hit an applause line by calling Jerusalem Israel’s capital and agreeing to consider moving the United States Embassy there from Tel Aviv. But those policies would complicate America’s ability to act as a broker in Israeli-Palestinian peace efforts." Editorial, "Mitt Romney Stumps in Israel," New York Times, July 31, 2012, p. A20.


"'Solidarnosc' [the trade union Solidarity] is in no way involved in the . . . initiative to invite Mitt Romney to Poland,' the 700,000-member union announced Monday.

"'Regretfully,' added Solidarnosc international department head Andrzej Adamczyk, 'we have learned . . . about Mitt Romney's support for the attacks against trade unions and labor rights.'" John Nichols, "Polish Labor Isn't Happy To See Romney," National Public Radio, July 31, 2012.

video platformvideo managementvideo solutionsvideo player

[Gregory J. Krieg and Emily Friedman, "Mitt Romney Trip an 'Embarrassing Disaster,' Obama Aide Says," ABCNews, July 31, 2012.]

The accompanying press representatives, irritated that there had been only one opportunity to question Romney during the three country tour, at which he had only addressed three questions, pressed with shouted questions at one point in Poland. Romney's aide responded, "Kiss my a**" and to one reporter, "Shove it." Not surprisingly, this did not mollify the press, thereby ending the tour on a similar note to that with which it had begun.

Romney has shown a form of insensitivity, or disconnectedness, from Americans on occasion. As I wrote in "Why Mitt Romney," March 26, 2012, "Nor do I find his seeming inability to speak the language of ordinary Americans disqualifying -- that his tie to NASCAR fans is that he knows a number of folks who own race teams, his appeal to UAW members is that his wife has two Cadillac cars, that his income from lecture fees is only a modest $300,000-plus. I find such unscripted comments almost charming in an odd sort of way. For more from this perspective, see Ashley Parker and Michael Barbaro, "The Retooled, Loose Romney, Guessing Voters’ Age and Ethnicity," New York Times, December 28, 2011, p. A1."

You may find Romney's insensitivity something between off-putting to disqualifying. Or you may see something almost charming in his efforts to reach out to others notwithstanding his occasional inability to do so -- owning a dancing horse, traveling with a dog strapped to the top of one of his cars, or outfitting his La Jolla garage with an elevator to stack the other cars.

But that's at home. When a president, or presidential candidate, is in another country he or she is America, and what might have been laughed off at home can become an international incident abroad. Or, as with Romney's comments about Jerusalem as Israel's capital, moving the U.S. Embassy there, and what was taken as criticism of the Palestinians, something that may eliminate that president's ability to continue to play the role of peacemaker.

None of this changes my thought that Romney remains the best of the Republican candidates this year. And I am willing to cut him some slack for his inexperience in the nuances and sensitivity of foreign relations. But even for someone as inexperienced as Romney, my confidence in him was shaken by this series of unfortunate performances. That his instincts would have revealed him to be so lacking in sensitivity and just plain old common sense, I must say I do find troubling.

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Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Glass Steagall, Happy Valley and The Dark Knight

July 24, 2012, 10:30 a.m.

Institutions, Conflicts of Interest, and Remedies

What do the global economic collapse, the Penn State outrage, and the Aurora, Colorado, massacre have in common?

They all involve institutional structures, behavior, and inherent conflicts of interest that produce predictable horrible consequences.

I. Glass Steagall

Following the Great Depression, it became so obvious as to be beyond denial that it is impossible to "regulate" the abuses that will occur if traditional banks are permitted to also function as "investment banks." The only truly effective prescription was recognized to be prophylactic: prohibit the combination.

The Glass Steagall Act was that prohibition. And it worked.

Until the "deregulation" mantra of the 1980s, and the growing political power of these "casino banks," ultimately led to the repeal of Glass Steagall during President Clinton's administration -- amidst Chicago-school promises and predictions of a "market" governed by "self-regulation."

A decade later we began living through the consequences of that self-regulation, and we've yet to dig ourselves out of the hole it's left in the world's economy.

It was inevitable this would happen. We're talking about an industry that manufactures nothing, and makes its money by buying and selling the symbols of money, and measures its firms' success by their ability to create ever-increasing profits quarter after quarter. The executives' conflicts of interest are in colored neon lights. The pressures to ultimately manipulate the LIBOR rate (with its impact on trillions of dollars of symbols of money), and sell electronic symbols of "assets" candidly named "sub-prime," are irresistible.

Why was Glass Steagall not re-enacted after 2008? Why were even feeble efforts at regulation opposed by many and watered down by all? Why did regulators sit idly by as the same guys who brought us down in 2008 continued the same practices in 2012?

Because the members of the U.S. House and Senate also have a conflict of interest. The American people have never demanded, in an organized and effective way, public financing of campaigns, or even that the most gross practices in political fundraising be reigned in. Institutionally, our political system is awash with cash.

Every morning when the sun comes up, a senator who wishes to be re-elected knows that, by sundown, he or she has to find, somewhere, $10,000 for their next campaign. Let me repeat that. A senator must raise, every day, seven days a week, 365 days a year, $10,000. (See, Nicholas Johnson, "Campaigns: You Pay $4 or $4000," Des Moines Register, July 21, 1996, p. C2.)

If that was your task where would you go? The notorious bank robber, Willie Sutton, said he robbed banks because "that's where the money is." That's where the money still is, and that's where elected officials go.

But there's a price that you and I pay for this system. These campaign contributions (or more accurately, bribes) are not "gifts," they are "investments." (Investments, incidentally, with a pay-back of something between $1000-to-$1 to $2000-to-$1. See, Nicholas Johnson, "Campaigns: You Pay $4 or $4000," Des Moines Register, July 21, 1996, p. C2.) Because if a politician expects to stay in politics, as they say in Texas, "You dance with the one that brung ya'."

This behavior by our elected officials may be greedy or unethical on the part of some. But it is for all a consequence of the institutions we have permitted to be built, and the inherent conflicts of interest they impose on the participants -- as much for elected officials who must beg for millions from special interests as for financial institutions' executives, whose performance is measured in profits and stock prices.

II. Penn State

It's one thing to try to overlook "the elephant in the living room."

But it is really difficult for a university's administration, students, coaches, players, faculty and staff to pretend that they do not see the elephants in the classrooms and lecture halls, student dorms, president's office -- and the herd of elephants trampling the grass on the campus grounds. See "College Football Scandals Larger Lessons."

The conflicts of interest, the pressures, are everywhere. A coach who is told to maintain his athletes' grades knows full well that he or she was hired, may be fired, and will be compensated, on the basis of wins and losses. A non-tenured faculty member is aware that the grade awarded class members who are starting football players may affect the outcome in Saturday's game -- and may fear the impact on their tenure decision. A football player may be forced to a choice between the afternoon lab sessions required for his medical school dreams, and the compulsory practices if he's to stay on the team. University presidents, athletic directors and other administrators, make decisions in an environment in which football is exceedingly important in recruiting students (with their tuition dollars; and possibly even the recruiting of some faculty), maintaining alumni loyalty (and contributions), school spirit locally and reputation nationally -- and, last but certainly not least, millions of dollars in skybox rental, season ticket, TV and bowl game revenue. "UI Held Hostage Day 378 - Feb. 3 - Athletics," and Nicholas Johnson, "Cheaper Than a Rain Forest," Iowa City Press-Citizen, February 3, 2007. And see, "Name Game & Other Moral Dilemmas"; and "Revenue is Needed."

This institutional structure, these conflicts of interest -- like those in the financial industry, and the impact of campaign finance on public policy -- are inevitable, they are built in. That doesn't excuse administrators' failure to act at Penn State -- nor University of Iowa administrators participation in an advertising campaign with a beer company that can't pass the laugh test. (Nicholas Johnson, "A Busch in the Hand is Worth . . .."

The solution? As with Glass Steagall, there are only two paths that I can see. Admittedly, as Robert Frost might have put it, "Higher education came to a fork in football's road -- and took neither." I am not so naive as to think either would ever be followed.

One is represented by the University of Chicago President and Chancellor Robert Maynard Hutchins' decision to simply abolish the school's football program.

Another is one I've written about over the years. Many in the sports business tell me it's a good idea -- but only privately, after insisting I never reveal their names, and acknowledging it will never be done.

In summary: keep "college football," but remove it from the academy. Treat it like the farm club system it is for the NFL. An independent, for-profit corporation would own the teams, pay the players and coaches. Schools could offer an education to players who wanted it, but there would be no "student-athlete" pretense, no requirement players be enrolled. See, e.g., "UI Held Hostage Day 378 - Feb. 3 - Athletics," and Nicholas Johnson, "Cheaper Than a Rain Forest," Iowa City Press-Citizen, February 3, 2007.

III. Guns and Media Violence

By now you've got the idea.

The extent of the NRA's control of elected officials -- like the control exercised by the financial community -- was most dramatically exhibited this week by the two leading candidates for president of the United States. Neither one of them, or any of their campaign staff, even whispered anything that could be interpreted as "gun control."

Other countries look aghast at our gun laws. What explanation can there possibly be for a policy that makes assault rifles, and other military killing equipment, available to ordinary citizens? See, "Guns Do Kill -- 30,000 Americans a Year," and Nicholas Johnson, "A Public Health Response to Handgun Injuries: Prescription -- Communication and Education," American Journal of Preventive Medicine (May/June 1993) ("So long as we are unwilling to adopt effective, fail-safe solutions--actually removing these instruments of carnage from our midst--the price exacted for this "freedom" will continue to be thousands of lives of children and adults.").

There are undoubtedly some elected officials who think this is a really nifty policy. But all are aware that if they do not vote the NRA line they will likely find themselves on the unemployment lines.

Media violence is also in some measure a function of a conflict of interest.

When I was concerned about the subject, as an FCC commissioner and subsequently as chair of the National Citizen Committee for Broadcasting, there were some 3,000 studies documenting the relationship between media violence (TV and film) and violence of various kinds in society.

But the fact is that violence sells. Variety reports "The Dark Knight's" $161 million opening weekend made it the highest grossing 2D film ever. If you were a studio CEO, how much of that would you be willing to sacrifice to get the support of violence critics? Hollywood TV writers used to complain about New York network executives who essentially ordered them to insert violence in shows (where the writers didn't think it was consistent with the story) to maintain ratings -- especially to carry over during the commercials.

Without regulation, the levels of violence (and sexploitation) in TV and film will continue to escalate up to the point at which the audience is (if ever) turned off by it, and revenues decrease rather than increase.

The bottom line: We are all responsible for our own behavior. There is no "excuse" for what happened on Wall Street, at Penn State, or the sale of assault rifles used in Aurora. But if each of us is to have the freedom to be the best that we can be, if we are ever to have a prayer of reducing the unethical behavior throughout our major institutions, we also must examine and reform the institutional structures, incentives and conflicts of interest that encourage the worst in each of us.

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Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Did George Stoney Invent YouTube?

July 18, 2012, 10:25 a.m.

A great man has died. His contributions deserve to be recognized.

If you think it an exaggeration to compare George Stoney's contributions to American democracy with those of Jefferson and Madison, just read on.

[Photo credit: NYU.] First, some prosaic basics -- from his obituary in the New York Times:
"George Cashel Stoney was born on July 1, 1916, in Winston-Salem, N.C., and worked his way through the University of North Carolina, earning degrees in English and history. He studied at Balliol College, Oxford, and received certification in film education at the University of London. He worked as a field research assistant in the South for civil rights groups in the 1940s, was a photo intelligence officer during World War II and afterward worked as a newspaper reporter. He made films for state government agencies before beginning his own film company."
So he was a documentary filmmaker, you say. So what?

The obituary's lead sentence offers a clue: "George C. Stoney, a dean of American documentary film and a leader of the citizens movement that gave every American the right to a public-access television show of his or her own, died on Thursday [July 12, 2012] at his home in Manhattan."

It continues, "Mr. Stoney devoted himself to training community activists in the use of film as a tool for voiceless people. His role in the creation of public-access television was rooted in a hope that it would become an outlet for that kind of community-building documentary film. * * * Mr. Stoney . . . helped found the [New York University's] Alternate Media Center, a university project for training students and community members how to use video cameras, a technology that was new at the time. That project led to his interest in another newly emerging medium — cable television — and the opportunity its vastly expanded spectrum presented for grass-roots filmmaking. . . . [He, and Red Burns] helped create the National Federation of Local Cable Programmers, which began lobbying industry and government regulatory agencies. If cable companies were going to put their cables beneath or above public streets, they argued, they should be required to give citizens a share of the new cable broadcast spectrum — public access. That requirement was added to federal communications law in 1984."

So what's the big deal about "public access" channels on cable? (The cable television franchise for Iowa City's cable system has six channels set aside for the people and institutions of Iowa City: City of Iowa City, Public Library, Kirkwood Community College, University of Iowa, and Iowa City Community School District.) The sixth channel is Iowa City's "Public Access TV" channel 18 -- literally available for essentially uncensored cablecasting by any citizen or organization in the community.

The "big deal" is the radical and innovative nature of this concept.

From the time the first Alpha Male came down out of the trees, through the kings and other rulers of the Middle Ages, to the owners of today's media conglomerate corporations, the concept of "free speech and press" has pretty much been limited to those who owned one.

For a long time in England even the ownership of printing presses was limited to those the King chose to license.

There has been some progress since those days, when any criticism of the government was punished as "sedition," and questioning of the church was "blasphemy." But there are still governments, and religions, today that severely punish such criticism.

Nor is the United States free of these restraints. There is not a lot of encouragement of children to "question authority," or otherwise speak up. ("Children should be seen and not heard.") And notwithstanding the lack of civility in some political discourse, many adults are as reluctant as children to speak up. ("It is better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to open your mouth and remove all doubt." Or, from the song "Please Don't Talk About Me When I'm Gone," "if you can't say anything real nice/It's better not to talk at all is my advice.") Even among elected public officials, as Speaker Sam Rayburn used to advise the new members of the U.S. House of Representatives, "To get along, go along."

The recent Penn State scandle illustrates the lengths to which institutional leaders will go to avoid criticism of an institution -- whether a university, school district, corporation, presidential candidate, hospital, military or other governmental unit -- and the extent to which employees are intimidated into silence, sometimes involving very serious violations of law or safety of which they are aware.

Thus, it is not surprising that the mass media have the power that they do. As has been said, whoever controls a nation's mass media controls that nation. And in the U.S. the mass media is not only controlled by big business (in the sense of the national corporations providing the media's advertising revenue), with today's large conglomerate control of media, the mass media is big business.

In a very real sense, it is only those media owners who have free speech rights. Of course, many ordinary citizens may have a letter to the editor published in the local paper, call into a talk radio show, or appear as a guest on TV. The point is, they are not there "as a matter of legal right." They are there "as a matter of grace," granted by the media owner.

Without going through all the legal citations and analysis, the bottom line is that the Supreme Court of the United States has ruled that not only do you not have a right to have your letter to the editor published in the paper (Tornillo), you do not even have a right to buy advertising space if the paper would rather not distribute your message. You don't have a right to buy radio or television time (CBS and BEM), or put a commercial (let alone a program) onto the regular cable or satellite channels (Midwest).

"Public access" on cable was not the result of George Stoney's efforts alone. It was the combination of technology (the early "porta-pack" video cameras), the cable industry (that mostly hated public access, but found it a useful bargaining chip in competing with rivals for lucrative municipal franchises), the "revolutionary" 1960s (the anti-war, pro-African American, and women's movements), the growing awareness of activists of the role of media (and corporate censorship) in bringing about (or preventing) change.

But he had laid the foundation for the radical idea of citizen creation of video before even the five- and twelve-channel cable systems ("Community Antenna Television," or CATV). As soon a video cameras and recorders became small enough to haul around in a truck, he and Red Burns were experimenting and demonstrating the power of video communication in building communities, and empowering citizens to address their common challenges.

With regard to the charge that Al Gore "claimed that he 'invented' the Internet," Snopes says it's "False." ("Despite the derisive references . . .Al Gore did not . . . say anything that could reasonably be interpreted that way.") What he did say was that he had taken "the initiative in moving forward a whole range of initiatives . . .."

Similarly, as an FCC commissioner I grasped George Stoney's vision, and "took the initiative to move forward" -- and embed in FCC regulation, in exchange for my vote -- the requirement that public access channels be provided by cable systems. (The Supreme Court subsequently held that this provision exceeded our Congressionally granted authority to regulate those things "reasonably ancillary" to our regulation of broadcasting; whereupon the Congress responded by enacting the requirement.)

We think of American democracy's evolution as involving the extension of the right to vote, from the original requirement that voters had to be white, males, who owned land, and were over the age of 21, to African-Americans, non-landowners, and ultimately women, and all over 18. (And this year some express concern that the legislative efforts to require "photo ID" may be a way of walking back some of that progress.)

Some 200 years ago, the political dialogue took place on the village green after church, in town meetings, and with single-page posters on store windows. During the first half of the 20th Century it took place in the pages of newspapers and on the local radio stations.

There was no real forum for the ordinary citizen whose message would be censored by the media owners.

Today we still have dominant media. The 90% of the TV audience that was "owned" by ABC, CBS and NBC is now split up among hundreds of cable and satellite channels. Newspapers still have functional local monopolies -- among hard copy print. But they are also available online, where they compete with billions of Web sites, Facebook pages, and other sites.

And among those sites is YouTube, today's version of public access cable channels.

Did George Stoney invent YouTube? No; no more than Al Gore invented the Internet, or I invented public access channels.

What he did invent was a radical and powerful contribution to the concept of democracy: given the power of the media, and the extent it is channeled into rivers of newspaper chain ownership and multi-media conglomerates, if "self-governing" is to remain a goal of the First Amendment, there simply must be a way for citizens to participant in the mass media process.

His was a life well spent. A good friend who will be missed.

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