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INSIDE POLITICS
Inside Politics: Who else is fed up with cable bundles?

The digital spy vs. spy political intrigue, tweetnados, social media-cracy and e-maledies of the past year or two have scraped some scabs off a long festering irritation I’ve had for a couple decades. The irritation began in the ‘80s when our solar system’s drift through the galaxy brought Earth into contact with the alternate reality (realities?) of the cableverse.

On first entry into the cableverse we idealistic baby boomers became intoxicated with the notion that we would finally be able to access TV free of advertising. We’d have a menu of specific entertainment, educational, news, documentary channels, etc., and simply pay only for desired programming. Good programming would thrive by the nourishment of the market place. Inferior programming would atrophy and die a natural death. Instead bundling and retro-style advertising materialized on a grander scale than ever previously imagined.

Fast forward to the present: The gawdawful adverts are bad enough. Still worse, to access basic cable service consumers must buy bundles that generally contain lots of programming we don’t like, want or watch. Cableverse has come to encompass other delivery methods as well, but the bundling concept is much the same. It’s an example of when “more for your money” is a bad deal.

I’ve often thought it may even be an unconstitutional deal.

Most bundling is some variation of lathering up a pen of pigs with gobs of lipstick. When the hogs jump through the screen rendering your living room a sty, the buyer’s remorse never goes away.

Technology is now such that cable providers can and should allow total channel (or program) selection on a pay-as-you-go basis. The argument is often made (It may even be true, although I doubt it) that the cost of individual channel selection might be slightly more expensive on a per-channel basis than providing a bundle. But I don’t care, and I’ll tell you why.

Cable bundles invariably contain a wide spectrum of channels that contain programming that I not only don’t want but that run deeply contrary to my personal value system. When my only option for basic cable service is to subsidize programming objectionable to me, I find that at odds with the capitalistic concept of “let the marketplace decide.” It also pressures me to support things I abhor — sometimes at a level fundamental to my core values.

There are several categories of programming individuals should not be forced to subsidize just to receive basic cable service. These would at least include politically slanted programming, religious programming, morally objectionable programming, programing outside one’s interest and just plain stupid programming.

When I stay in motels whose cable carries only Fox News, I leave a polite note on the feedback card objecting to forcing me to watch and subsidize conservative news bias without access to a neutral or progressive news source. If you’re a conservative, you likely feel the same if only MSNBC is available (although I’ve never encountered that).

Someone should not have to subsidize religious denominations contrary to their personal beliefs just to have access to basic cable. Non-believers should not have to subsidize religious programming at all just to have access to basic cable, any more than devout believers should have to subsidize atheist programming.

The same argument applies to a range of categories, although these two examples strike me as the most contrary to the fundamental principles set forth in our Constitution.

I’ve communicated these thoughts in the past to cable providers. The routine response is along the lines of “Well, just don’t watch channels or programs you don’t like.” Of course, that is not at all the point. Bundles funnel money to causes and philosophies I spend much of my waking day, personal energy and finances resisting.

The infrastructure required to enable commercial cable service invariably involves some tax-supported public resources. These include rights-of-way provisions and maintenance, transmission lines, licenses, channel assignments, etc., etc. These public “subsidies” should be recognized and also merit concern when considering how programming bundles actually encroach on Constitutional protections.

If you agree that a substantial portion of the programming in cable bundles is just plain lame, you should also question the “fairness” of having to buy so much prepackaged rubbish for simple access to more “essential” offerings. A lot of that rubbish includes material most families don’t want their young exposed to. Yes, I know you can “block” channels. I also know that young people today can hack a channel blocker faster than I can answer my new smartphone.

Cable bundling strikes me as an issue more worthy of elected officials’ time and energy than whether to require front license plates on cars. It’s a genuine conservative/progressive/family-values cross-over issue that Democrats and Republicans should be able to and rightfully ought to address at an appropriate level of government.


Mailbag
Letter: Driver in bus rollover deserved better

Driver in bus rollover deserved better

This concerns the rollover bus accident in April. The school spokesperson issued a standard boilerplate statement about how shocked and saddened they are but with no real information. They had multiple counselling sessions with the students, involved or not in this accident.

What about the driver? I would guess he is shocked and saddened and worse as well but is being offered no support by the district. Instead, he was fired. They say they stand behind the drivers, and they do as the drivers are booted out the door.

The cause of the accident was reported by investigators as driver inattention and distraction. Yes, there is a lot of distraction when carrying a busload of kids, especially for a period of time after heading out on a new trip. The district was cited with violations by state investigators, which would indicate at least contributory negligence. I strongly suspect the driver was pressured into making this trip without the proper rest time, which could have caused any inattention, but am left to guess as they will not give out this information.

They say you are driving the world’s most precious cargo, so why are garbage truck drivers paid more? I cannot imagine a worse job with more personal liability and less employer support. You even get to go to work twice every day!I have driven school bus, so I know what it is. The lack of support of any kind for this driver is wrong, especially now that he is facing law violation charges himself, in addition to whatever personal grief he may be trying to deal with.

Mike Leeds

Buhl


Columnists
OTHER VIEW
Other View: Donald Trump Jr. is not a traitor

We now know that Donald Trump Jr., a high-level adviser to his father’s presidential campaign, attempted to obtain opposition research from the Kremlin. To Trump’s opponents, this finally proves explicit collusion between Trump’s campaign and the Russian government.

Still, it was astonishing to see the defeated candidate for the vice presidency of the United States, Tim Kaine, argue that the son of the incumbent president may have committed treason. He was not the only one to make the allegation, which proliferated on social media; journalists bombarded White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders with questions about “treason.”

Assume everything that is being alleged against Donald Trump Jr. is true: that is, he knowingly met with a representative of the Russian government for the purpose of obtaining information, probably illegally obtained, that was harmful to the campaign of Hillary Clinton. Is this treason against the United States?

As a technical legal matter, no, and not even close. Article 3 of the United States Constitution limits the crime of treason to two specific offenses: levying war against the United States, and adhering to their enemies, giving them aid and comfort. It was deliberately crafted to exclude a wide variety of political offenses, such as criticizing the government.

None of the Trump Jr. allegations suggest conduct analogous to levying war against the United States, which generally requires some use of force in an attempt to overthrow the government. Nor does it amount to adhering to the enemy; for purposes of the Treason Clause, an enemy is a foreign nation or group with which the United States is in a state of war, either declared or actual. We are not in a state of war with Russia. In the 1950s, Julius and Ethel Rosenberg were executed for espionage, not treason, because the Soviet Union, although an implacable adversary, was not technically an enemy. We were formally at peace with the Soviet Union then, and we are formally at peace with Russia now.

So for purposes of American treason law, the details of Donald Trump Jr.’s relationship with Russia are irrelevant. He could be a paid foreign agent of Russia; he could take an oath of allegiance to Russia; he could even bug his father’s White House bedroom on behalf of Russian intelligence. None of those actions would amount to treason in the narrow sense that our Constitution defines it.

Nonetheless, Trump Jr.’s alleged conduct raises serious questions under other provisions of federal law, all of which will be closely evaluated by Robert Mueller’s investigative team. A determination that Trump Jr. did not commit treason is a far cry from finding his actions to be legal. It is against the law, for instance, for U.S. political campaigns to accept anything of value from foreigners.

In a broader sense, though, I understand Kaine’s invocation of treason. Coordinating with a foreign government to interfere in American elections is fundamentally wrong, deeply un-American, and, as noted, almost certainly illegal under a variety of federal statutes. In many other countries, this conduct would be obviously treason, no questions asked. Although I am not familiar with the details of Russian law, I have no doubt as to how Vladimir Putin would treat a Russian citizen who coordinated with the CIA to interfere with a Russian election.

American law, however, is different. We have chosen to define treason narrowly, and the body of law dealing with treason is arcane and not always easy to understand. As the U.S. Supreme Court put it in 1945, the Treason Clause’s “superficial appearance of clarity and simplicity . . . proves illusory when it is put to practical application. There are few subjects on which the temptation to utter abstract interpretive generalizations is greater or on which they are more to be distrusted. The little clause is packed with controversy and difficulty.”

The upshot is a significant gap in our legal vocabulary. We do not have a good term to describe behavior that is not technically treasonous but nonetheless constitutes a betrayal of the United States. I do not have a good solution to fill this gap, but our political and legal discourse would be improved if we had one. In the meantime, even well-trained lawyers such as Kaine will instinctively reach for the label of treason in circumstances similar to those of Donald Trump Jr.