Nel's New Day

May 8, 2017

Don’t Mess with Our Internet!

 

John Oliver, comedic satirist on HBO who was once on Jon Stewart’s The Daily Show, closed down the FCC comment website three years ago when he asked people to fight for net neutrality. The people who fought for an open net won, but a new administration led by Dictator Donald Trump (DDT) and a new FCC chair (Ajit Pai) appointed by DDT want to reverse the freedom to close the net. Last night, Oliver gave a brilliant description that thoroughly explained the situation. By this afternoon, the FCC had received over 100,000 comments.

People are permitted to comment on impending policies, but government websites have become much more convoluted. To simplify a need to wander the government links, Oliver has set a link that leads to making a comment. It’s www.gofccyourself.com which takes you to https://www.fcc.gov/ecfs/search/proceedings?q=name:((17-108)). The process is still a bit convoluted. On the screen, press Submit a Filing at the top of the page and then Express Comment. The top box to complete requires the number of the case (17-108). There is also a telephone number to call with comments. (Pai has said that he’s looking at the “quality,” not the “quantity” of comments.)

You can also sign this petition.

Once again, Oliver’s commentary loaded the servers, and the site went down for a while. FCC is rather grumpy about it, blaming the crash on a denial-of-service attack on its website:

“These were deliberate attempts by external actors to bombard the FCC’s comment system with a high amount of traffic to our commercial cloud host.”

The outcry came from people who wanted to preserve internet rights, the same people who persuaded FCC Chair Tom Wheeler to reclassify internet server providers (ISPs) as “common carriers” under Title II of the Telecommunications Act. In that way, companies cannot create “fast lanes” from preferred websites or slow down others because of larger or smaller payments to the ISPs.

Big ISPs have flooded the media with op-ed pieces praising Pai and his intention to get rid of Net Neutrality. Almost every piece came from those who have links to a group getting money from the cable and phone companies trying to bury Net Neutrality. People from these groups provided millions of dollars to these groups whose representatives are trying to persuade the public that they should be controlled by big business ISPs because NTA and CTIA pays them: the Technology Policy Institute, the Institute for Policy Innovation, Digital Liberty, the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation (ITIF), the American Legislative Exchange Council’s (ALEC) Task Force on Communications & Technology, wrote an April 28 piece for The Hill attacking the Obama administration’s Net Neutrality rules, and the Free State Foundation.

“Net neutrality is a solution in search of a problem,” according to ISP officials who typically claim that blocking has never happened. They say the market would prevent blocking by forcing ISPs to reopen their networks. They’re wrong. Here are a few abusive problems in search of a solution:

Madison River:  In 2005, North Carolina ISP Madison River Communications blocked the voice-over-internet protocol (VOIP) service Vonage. The FCC stepped in to sanction Madison River and prevent further blocking after Vonage complained, but it lacks the authority to stop this kind of abuse today.

Comcast: In 2005, the nation’s largest ISP, Comcast, began secretly blocking peer-to-peer technologies that its customers were using over its network so that users of services like BitTorrent and Gnutella were unable to connect to these services. Investigations in 2007 confirmed the Comcast action that they did not tell their customers.

Telus: In 2005, Canada’s second-largest telecommunications company began blocking access to a server that hosted a website supporting a labor strike against the company as well as another 766 unrelated sites.

AT&T: From 2007–2009, AT&T forced Apple to block Skype and other competing VOIP phone services on the iPhone to keep users from any app allowing them to make calls on such “over-the-top” voice services. The same thing happened to the Google Voice app in 2009.

Windstream: In 2010, this DSL provider with more than 1 million customers confessed to illegally seizing copped user-search queries on the Google toolbar within Firefox and redirected them to Windstream’s own search portal and results.

MetroPCS: In 2011, one of the top-five U.S. wireless carriers announced plans to block streaming video over its 4G network from all sources except YouTube and then supported Verizon’s court challenge against the FCC’s 2010 open internet ruling, hoping to continue its anti-consumer practices.

Paxfire: In 2011, the Electronic Frontier Foundation found that several small ISPs were redirecting search queries via the vendor Paxfire which would intercept a search at Bing and Yahoo to redirected it to another page. In that way, the ISPs could collect referral fees for delivering users to select websites.

AT&T, Sprint, and Verizon: From 2011–2013, these three companies blocked Google Wallet, a mobile-payment system, for force users into ISIS, a similar system that the companies had participated in developing.

Europe: A 2012 report from the Body of European Regulators for Electronic Communications found that violations of Net Neutrality affected at least one in five users in Europe.

Verizon: In 2012, Verizon Wireless blocked people from using tethering (sharing) applications on their phones that let users circumvent Verizon’s $20 tethering fee and turn their smartphones into Wi-Fi hot spots. By blocking those applications, Verizon violated a Net Neutrality pledge it made to the FCC as a condition of the 2008 airwaves auction.

AT&T: In 2012, AT&T announced that it would disable the FaceTime video-calling app on its customers’ iPhones unless they subscribed to a more expensive text-and-voice plan.

A court struck down the FCC’s rules in January 2014, and FCC Chair Tom Wheeler opened a public proceeding for a new order in May of that year. Millions of people urged the FCC to reclassify broadband providers as common carriers, and in February 2015 the agency did just that by voting to regulate high-speed internet service as a utility. Last year the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia upheld these net neutrality regulations. Since his appointment in January 2017, FCC Chairman Pai has sought to dismantle the agency’s landmark Net Neutrality rules because cable companies have claimed that they are reliable enough to monitor themselves.

During the court proceedings, Verizon lawyer Helgi Walker freely confessed that the company wanted to prioritize websites and services willing to pay more money and then give them better access. She added that Verizon wants to block online content from companies and individuals not willing to pay enough to her company. Five time she said in court:

“I’m authorized to state from my client today that but for these rules we would be exploring those types of arrangements.”

When Judge Laurence Silberman asked if Verizon should be able to block any website or service that doesn’t pay the company’s proposed tolls, Walker said: “I think we should be able to; in the world I’m positing, you would be able to.”

Last month, the GOP Congress took away online privacy protections by overturning FCC’s Title II net neutrality broadband privacy order. ISPs can now sell personal information about their subscribers. Major providers are pledging to protect customers’ data, including browsing data, but they haven’t provided any definition of that they supposedly won’t be selling. And Verizon, Comcast, and AT&T plan to deliver ads “based on the websites visited by people who are not personally identified”—which means that they are collecting your browsing data. In a filing to the FCC earlier this year, CTIA, representing the major wireless ISPs, argued that “web browsing and app usage history are not ‘sensitive information'” and that ISPs should be able to share those records by default, unless a customer asks them not to.

To a complaint about the lack of privacy, Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner (R-WI), 73, said, “Nobody’s got to use the internet.” GOP politicians are out of touch with the voters in many ways, especially because staffers do most of their work. Even DDT, known for his prolific tweets, refuses to use email most of the time. Assistants print out online articles for him to read from hardcopy. DDT supposedly wants to roll back net neutrality—most likely because he wants to roll back any progress by President Obama—but most likely he has no idea what net neutrality is.

Naysayers claim that protesting will do no good. Pai is using “jobs” as his excuse to give more money to big ISPs although they invested more money with net neutrality than before it. An open meeting on the topic is scheduled for May 18.

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December 17, 2015

Prison Reform: Don’t Trust the Koch Brothers

The United States is the largest police state in the world, with more prisoners than China or Russia both in absolute numbers and as a percentage of the population. Charles and David Koch, worth over $100 billion by ripping off the middle class and poor as well  as heavy investors in the oil industry, are now backing a bipartisan attempt to reduce the number of incarcerated people in the U.S. which has the highest imprisonment rate in the world, especially burdening the poor and people of color.

While the press has been complimentary about the Koch brothers’ efforts in this arena, the two wealthy men may have a nefarious motive—protecting their corporations to block prosecution of corporate violations of environmental and financial laws designed to protect the public. Their proposed changes would, at the public’s expense, effect more problems in holding executives and their employees responsible for violating U.S. laws while protecting financial interests of the wealthy and corporate leaders. For at least five years, the Kochs and their American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) have pushed to increase the “intent” standard for criminal violations, particularly for so-called “white collar” crime and executive suite criminals. The result would provide huge benefits for Koch Industries and their corporate friends.

After the Senate passed bipartisan legislation to make the criminal justice system fairer, the House took a Koch idea that has now passed its Judiciary Committee. Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner’s (R-WI) bill fails to address mass incarceration but instead requires prosecutors to prove that a person or corporation “knowingly” engaged in illegal conduct and additionally “knew” or should have known that the conduct violated federal law. If passed, the bill “would make it much harder for prosecutors to criminally prosecute companies that swindle the public, endanger their workers, poison the environment or otherwise imperil consumers,” said Rob Weissman, President of Public Citizen. Koch Industries is one of Sensenbrenner’s top contributors in this election cycle.

An “intent” requirement called “mens rea” requires that prosecutors prove a person intended to cause harm and violate the law before imposition of long prison sentences. Criminal laws for acts of violence typically have this mandate, but federal law does not have to prove intent in many federal laws for white collar crimes such as environmental violations and financial crimes under the Dodd-Frank financial reform law. For example, federal law does not require proof that a company or its leaders intended to violate the law by polluting waterways or crashing the economy. Just the existence of these acts can hold corporations and their leaders criminally liable because of complexity of hierarchy and authority.

The Upper Big Branch Mine disaster killing 29 workers from cost-cutting led to an unusual criminal conviction for the former CEO of Massey Energy. This conviction could not happen with the Koch brothers’ bill in the House. Frank O. Bowman, law professor at the University of Missouri, explained:

“Requiring that prosecutors prove that a corporate executive is both consciously aware of the conduct of their subordinates and consciously aware that the conduct of those subordinates violates criminal law is very, very difficult. This would make [white collar] prosecutions more difficult than they now are, and they are already hard.”

Over-incarceration is not a problem for corporations and their leaders because the Justice Department has a large number of deferred prosecutions in exchange for defendants’ promises not to break the law in the future. Koch’s “intent” standard on all federal crimes would undermine the few corporate criminal prosecutions that could take place. Sensenbrenner’s bill prevents such guilty pleas as the one from Jensen Farms, that killed 33 people from a failure to follow food safety standards with its cantaloupe. The default intent requirement would lessen prosecutions of violations in the Clean Water Act, the Clean Air Act, the Endangered Species Act, the Resource Recovery and Compensation Act (RCRA), etc.

Naturally the Koch brother’s bill protects the Koch Industries. In 2000, Forbes reported that “a federal grand jury indicted the privately held company and four of its employees in September on 97 related charges for alleged violations that took place at the company’s refinery in Corpus Christi, Tex.” The Koch brothers may not have deliberately intended to spew 91 metric tons of toxic chemical benzene into the air and water before hiding their actions from federal investigators. Yet the lack of protections and emissions monitoring resulted in 15 times the legal limit of benzene to be emitted from the refinery. Benzene is a Group 1 carcinogen causing acute myeloid leukemia, lymphocytic leukemia, non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, multiple myeloma, reduced production of bone marrow, suppression of T-cells, chromosomal aberrations, reduction of birth weight, and other health problems.

The Koch brothers donated $378,500 directly to George W. Bush’s campaign and the GOP as well as unknown quantities of money to other groups. Bush’s AG, John Ashcroft, reduced the charges for violations, which could have cost the company over $500 million, and dropped all except one count for the Koch Petroleum Group. Koch paid only $20 million.

The Koch brothers said that this experience inspired their interest in criminal justice reform. For example, Koch Industries Associate General Council Marsha Rabiteau gave a presentation titled “Overcriminalization: Liberty, and More, At Risk for Corporations and Their Employees,” with the “intent” requirement to solve any prosecution of corporations. Heritage Foundation has an “Overcriminalization” project, and the Koch-backed National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers has a report called “Without Intent: How Congress Is Eroding the Criminal Intent Requirement in Federal Law.”

Rabiteau also maintains that corporations cannot form any “intent” to be held liable for a criminal act—despite the Supreme Court’s declaration that a corporation is a “person” for the purposes of “free speech.” She argues corporate criminal justice law reform is vital to punish wrongdoers “with laws that are clear and adhere to our Anglo-American heritage.” This reference furthers separates white collar criminals from a criminal justice system that largely falls on non-Anglo-Americans.

The debate over the Dodd-Frank financial reform bill in 2010 led to two Koch-backed groups, the National Association for Criminal Defense Lawyers (NACDL) and the Heritage Foundation, issuing a comprehensive joint report and project, “Without Intent,” criticizing “overcriminalization” and the lack of intent requirements in the federal criminal code. The report’s co-author, Tiffany Joslin, is Deputy Chief Counsel for the House Judiciary Crime Subcommittee—chaired by Sensenbrenner—and the report has been repeatedly cited in the congressional debate on criminal justice reform. Fortunately, even intense lobbying didn’t keep “intent” out of the Dodd-Frank Act criminal provisions–at least then. A large part of Koch brothers’ business comes from oil speculation; they created the first oil derivatives in 1986 and worked with then-Sen. Phil Gramm to deregulate energy speculation with credit default swaps in 2000 with the “Enron Loophole.”

Although the Koch brothers’ NACDL received positive press, the group has a large section focused on helping some of the wealthiest white-collar defense firms in the country and reshaping the law to address “overcriminalization” just for corporations. The current Director of NACDL’s White Collar Crime Project, Shana-Tara Regon (now Shana-Tara O’Toole), has testified on Capitol Hill in favor of an intent requirement for white-collar crimes. She has also co-authored op-eds with the Heritage Foundation favoring intent laws, and has represented the organization on the “Congressional Task Force on Overcriminalization.” In 2011, Regon testified before Congress to put “intent” into the white collar crime law, the 1977 Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA), which prohibits U.S. corporations from bribing foreign public officials. The FCPA prosecutes an average of 14 cases per year. While Regon testified, the Kochs were involved in a bribery scandal in France.

The Koch-backed ALEC, which increased the number of prisoners and length of prison time through its success in “three strikes you’re out” and “truth in sentencing” bills, now criticizes the lack of intent for white collar crimes. An ALEC focus, however, is prison privatization to benefit its corporate funders such as Corrections Corporation of America (CCA). When Walmart started funding ALEC, the group pushed bills to create mandatory minimum sentences for shoplifting, enacted new penalties for retail theft, and even added sentencing enhancers for using an emergency exit when shoplifting to fill the private prisons. For corporations however, ALEC adopted the Criminal Intent Protection Act as a “model” bill for states to impose a strict criminal intent requirement.

At the same time as the publication of Michelle Alexander’s The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness, ALEC and other Koch-backed groups worked on voter suppression laws to greatly decrease voting power for people of color. The high-level Koch operative Mike Roman led the perpetuation of voter fraud myths through race-baiting after Barack Obama was elected president.

When the Koch brothers talked about incarceration reform, I had a slight ray of hope. It’s gone.

January 16, 2012

MLK Day 2012 Shows How Backward We’ve Become

Over half a century ago, a 26-year-old Martin Luther King, Jr. led the boycott of segregated Montgomery (AL) buses; today we honor his memory by celebrating his birthday. Fifty-seven years later, what is our status on racism? Some believe that electing a black president of the United States means that we have achieved tolerance, that bigotry is gone. Looking closely at the culture of the nation today shows a far different picture.

Many of our nation’s “leaders” make racial remarks, sometimes unaware of how ignorant their statements are. Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich  insulted black through the insinuation that these are the only poor people in the country and that they’re poor because they’re lazy.

Kansas Speaker of the House, Mike O’Neal, forwarded two emails, one calling the First Lady “Mrs. YoMama” and the other wishing Psalms 109:8 on Obama: “Let his days be few; and let another take his office,” a statement followed by “Let his children be fatherless, and his wife a widow.” He said that forwarding the first one was an accident, “To those I have offended, I am sorry. That was not my intent.” [He certainly couldn’t admit that the content was wrong.] About the second email he said he didn’t really mean that he wanted President Obama to die—a statement commonly used by those who persist in sending out the email.

Earlier Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner (R-WI) declared Mrs. Obama a hypocrite for leading the Let’s Move campaign because she supposedly has a “large posterior.” Ironically, Sensenbrenner made his crude comment at St. Aidan’s Episcopal Church in Hartford (WI) while talking with 72-year-old Ann Marsh-Meigs and other parishioners during the church’s Christmas bazaar.

The racial difference between the Democrat and Republican parties shows a clear polarity: Hispanics favor Obama over Romney by 68 to 23 percent while the Republican Party is 92 percent white. At the same time that seniors 65 years of age and older, overwhelmingly white, benefit from a Medicare plan far superior to that of President Obama’s health care plan, yet 50 percent of them oppose the Affordable Care Act.

These statistics may not indicate racism to deniers. We’ll continue. How about Republican methods of skewing the vote? Four years ago in South Carolina, the state holding a primary in five days, conservatives spread the false rumor that John McCain had illegitimately fathered a black child.

South Carolina is also one of several GOP-controlled states passing a law mandating voters to have government-issued photo identification. Many people without this photo ID remember the old poll taxes and literacy tests that led to the passing of the 1965 Voting Rights Act, one of the most important victories of Dr. King and the Civil Rights Movement. Despite the number of politicians who wander around claiming that there was no intent to disenfranchise minority voters—indeed it wouldn’t at all, according to them—a study shows that more than 5 million voters would lose their citizens’ rights, the majority of them minorities as well as young and old voters. In South Carolina, 82,000 registered minority voters lack state-issued identification, according to the state’s recent statistics.

Arizona, according to state law, terminated its ethnic studies program in Tucson because of the claim that classes designed to teach about a particular ethnic group “promote resentment toward a race or class of people.” Faced with losing $14 million dollars in state funds, the city’s schools are even removing books on the basis of their ethnicity, literally taking them out of the hands of students. Even William Shakespeare’s play The Tempest has been taken from the classrooms. Teachers have been told to avoid any curriculum in which “race, ethnicity and oppression are central themes.”

Another banned book in Tucson is Occupied America: A History of Chicanos, which was described as unbiased and factual by an independent audit of Tucson’s ethnic studies program commissioned by Arizona Supt. of Public Instruction John Huppenthal. He declared the Tucson program in violation of state law, and the board chose not to contest his decision in court.

In Tucson’s school district, founded by a Mexican-American, more than 60 percent of the students come from Mexican-American backgrounds. The administration has removed every textbook dealing with Mexican-American history, including Chicano!: The History of the Mexican Civil Rights Movement by Arturo Rosales, featuring a biography of longtime Tucson educator Salomon Baldenegro.

An audit of students by David Scott, the school district’s director of accountability and research, found that students enrolled in the Mexican American Studies program did better than their peers. He wrote, “Juniors taking a Mexican American Studies course are more likely than their peers to pass the [state’s standardized] reading and writing … test if they had previously failed those tests in their sophomore year…. Seniors taking a Mexican American Studies course are more likely to persist to graduation than their peers.”

These narratives are only the tip of the iceberg, but they demonstrate the worsening state of affairs in this country. As the conservatives gain more power, they increase their bullying because they consider themselves the elite. To quote Joseph Welch who brought down Sen. Joe McCarthy during the 1950s witch hunt, “Have you no sense of decency?”

We’ll have to wait until at least one person in the nation is brave enough to ask the conservatives the same thing: “Have you no sense of decency?” WWKD: What would King do?

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