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Towards a New Conservatism
Copyright (c) 1999 Jay Fenello -- All Rights Reserved

Over the last several years, a fight has been raging over the very future of Internet.  Those who have been following it closely, know that this fight is really about the establishment of Global Internet Governance.

The story begins with the phenomenal success of the Internet.  What was once a sleepy, little research experiment funded by the U.S. Government, the Internet has grown to become a world-wide frontier of freedom, ideas, education, entertainment and commerce.

Along the way, the informal processes used to govern the Internet became obsolete.  And when governments and organizations tried to address the issues that required world-wide decisions, they realized that no-one was in charge!

To address this situation, a couple of alternatives were possible.  One involved getting legislation passed in over 200 countries throughout the world!  Not very likely, and certainly not very efficient.

Instead, the Clinton administration proposed a U.S. based, non-profit corporation to assume the management of the coordinated technical functions of the Internet. This new organization would use "flow down" contracts that would specify every right, as well as every obligation, for anyone wishing to use the Internet.

Last year, the Commerce Department decided that ICANN was to be this organization.  It has been embroiled in controversy ever since.

According to Commerce, ICANN was to be "a globally and functionally representative organization, operated on the basis of sound and transparent processes that protect against capture by self-interested factions, and that provides robust, professional management. ICANN's processes need to be fair, open, and pro- competitive.  And ICANN needs to have a mechanism for evolving to reflect changes in the constituency of Internet stakeholders."

Instead of these lofty ideals, ICANN has devolved into the worst kind of power grab.  Here is a description of recent ICANN Board activities, as reported by Ken Freed, a technology writer who has been closely following this debate

"Tally the Board's closed-door meetings, the Board's stealth appointments of questionable players to key postings, the Board gerrymandering membership in advisory committees and supporting organizations and its at-large council to favor "gTLD" players, the Board rewriting its ICANN Bylaws as suits its needs, the Board funding itself through taxation without representation by declaring a fee (tax) on every domain name registration, the Board's self-destructive streak, shown by alienating Network Solutions, the Board backing reactionary censorship plans, the Board stonewalling all attempts to organize true independent review, and this just a sampling. Each new week seems to bring some fresh cause for complaint."

So what is actually at stake?  Here's a summary as reported in Business Week

"After all the talk over the past few years about how difficult it will be to regulate conduct on the Internet," says David Post, a cyberlaw specialist at Temple University School of Law, "the domain name system looks like the Holy Grail, the one place where enforceable Internet policy can be promulgated without any of the messy enforcement" problems.

Thankfully, ICANN has yet to complete its power grab. Not only have diverse organizations like Ralph Nader's CPT and Americans for Tax Reform gotten involved, but Congress has held two hearings, and launched an investigation into possible collusion at the Justice Department, and illegal fundraising by the Clinton administration.

Unfortunately, though, ICANN is *very* close to fulfilling its mission.

One of the reasons for its impending success is the lack of an organized opposition.  Not to say that an opposition does not exist.  Some say that there is no need for ICANN, nor anything like it.  Anarchy, they argue, has worked well for the Internet, why must we change it.

Others say that ICANN needs to have unlimited power, for its mission is too complicated to be bothered with rules and procedures, especially when its role is nothing less than providing "adult supervision" for the unwashed masses.

But perhaps the most damaging of the ICANN critics, are those who complain about the blatant abuses of ICANN, while they continue to support it because "ICANN is the best of the alternatives available."

So what does all this have to do with Newt Gingrich?

Everything . . . for the fight over Internet Governance is the same as the fight for conservative values that has been raging in the United States ever since the Reagan Revolution, and even before.

For the benefit of our oversea's friends, Newt is one of the visionary leaders of the American conservative movement.  This movement was responsible for the Reagan Revolution, as well as the Republican "Contract with America".

To get an idea of just how powerfully and profoundly these efforts have affected our present reality, it is necessary to revisit the state of the union that existed before the Reagan Revolution changed everything

Newt on Liberalism:
Ronald Reagan took a country in malaise, whose elites were shattered, at a time when democracy was demoralized, when the Soviet Union had invaded Afghanistan, the Iranians had seized American hostages, we were a weak, pathetic country.  Our economy was falling apart, inflation was running amuck, we were entering the worst recession since the Great Depression. We had a government out of control.  And in three short years, Reagan led the American people to reestablish their sense of being American, to revalue the principles that made this country great, to cut taxes and de-bureaucratize, to launch the entrepreneurial economy we now live in, to reestablish the faith in technology and science which he had personally lived through in his lifetime, to create the military which contained the Soviet empire, and to design the strategy which defeated the Soviet Union without a war.

After hearing these words, I realized how profoundly different the world is today because of a man named Ronald Reagan, because of visionaries like Newt Gingrich, and because of a set of principles known as conservatism.

In some ways, the Internet is a direct result of Reagan policies.  And in many ways, the Internet is the embodiment of Reagan ideology.  To adopt an authoritarian despotic council to rule the Internet today will have just as profound an effect on our future world as Reagan had on ours.

And just like conservatism vastly changed our current reality, the decisions we are about to make about ICANN will vastly change our future reality.  It is for these reasons that conservatives *must* get involved in the Internet Governance debate.

Newt on the Conservative Agenda:
What I'm suggesting to you is, in the tradition of Reagan in 1970, that what we really need is to focus on vision and values and principles, because that's where we win.  We lose tactical fights over details, because we don't control the news media, the left does.  And because we represent an alternative to the way people are taught in public schools.  I mean, we're talking about a much freer society, with much greater entrepreneurship, with much more volunteerism, with a much leaner government.

Over the last several weeks, I have made extensive use of the Internet to expose the extreme bias the press has exhibited in their coverage of the ICANN fracas.  Due to the power of the Internet, these efforts have apparently worked.  Here are some recent articles exposing the ICANN power grab


The Conservative movement faces these same media biases.  Instead of talking about principles and values, the press prefers to cover the sleaziest and least important issues in Washington.  These biases will only get worse, given the current trend at media consolidation as represented by the Viacom/CBS merger.

Today, the Internet is a powerful weapon against these forces.  Tomorrow, given the current direction of ICANN, it may not be.

This is yet another reason why conservatives *must* get involved in the Internet Governance debate, and use the Internet in their traditional efforts as well.

Newt on U.S. Leadership:
Lastly, I believe deeply, with all of my heart, that the United States has to lead in the world.  I believe we have no choice.  I think as a country and as a movement, we have to take seriously the principle, not just that we were once anti-communist, not just that before that we were anti-Nazi and anti-fascists, but that we are pro-freedom, that we believe that every person on the planet has been endowed by God with the right to be free. They've been endowed by God with the right to be safe.  And they've been endowed by God with the right to pursue prosperity and pursue happiness.  This has been a remarkable country -- people who came here for freedom, people who came here for religious liberty, people who came here for the right to pursue a better life.  This is a country which has said to the entire planet, "You have a chance.  You matter.  You are a real human being."  From the founding fathers, to the American Civil War, to the oration of Lincoln, to the willingness in the First and Second World Wars, to 50 years of sustaining the Cold War to defeat the Soviet empire, to the civil rights movement that insisted that all Americans had the right to vote, the right to work, the right to buy a house.  Over and over, for 220 years, and if you go back to the Colonial Period for another 150 years before that, there has been a constant, daily effort to create greater freedom, greater safety, and greater prosperity.  It is a struggle which will never end.

I have often wondered when this fight over Internet Governance would end.  Thanks to Newt, I now realize that it never will.

I recently visited Yad Vashem (sp), the Holocaust Museum in Jerusalem, and was grimly reminded of how Wilhemian Germany could decay in one generation to Nazi Germany, how Jews who fought in the First World War and were full professors at the university could end up in a concentration camp with their entire family exterminated.  Evil is always possible.  People always are willing to seize power to control and exploit others.  The struggle for freedom is eternal, and you retain only by being willing in each generation to do your best.

I can think of no stronger message to send to the hoards of academics, lobbyists, business leaders, and government bureaucrats who support ICANN and this illegal and immoral takeover of the Internet.

When you support an organization that ignores its own rules to pursue an agenda, an organization that approves rule changes *after* the fact to justify its actions, it is only a matter of time before these same "procedures" are used against you!

And when you consider that ICANN is still in its courtship period pending the full transfer of authority from the U.S. Government, just wait until after the honeymoon!  Anyone who thinks that ICANN will become more reasonable *after* it has consolidated power had better study history NOW!

We are very lucky.  We stand on the shoulders of generations who have bled, worked, thought, argued, fought passionately in politics as well as war.  I think the challenge to us is to lift our eyes from the bickering of Washington, the negativism of the elite media, all the temptations of political schism, to recreate for the American people the dream that all of us can be free and safe and prosperous, and to offer policies that work, based on principles that are sound, based on values that are universal. And I think that if we will do that, then just as Ronald Reagan over a 20-year period moved this nation, I believe we will, in fact, give this country a fabulously better future, and through our example, give the entire human race the opportunity by the middle of the century to be free, safe and prosperous.  I believe that is our moral calling.

Newt's speech was one of the best I've heard in a very long time.  It's great to have Newt back -)

And just as Newt has argued for a return to conservative values and principles, so too must we fight to embrace conservative values in our newest frontier -- the Internet.

In closing, I suggest that the Internet Governance debate should become the cornerstone of the "New Conservative Movement" -- and the Internet should become the venue.

Not only is this a way to combat any further erosion in the hard fought battle against liberalism, but it will help to export the best that America currently has to offer.

Remember, we can't win the war if we don't control the high ground -- the Internet is the high ground!


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