Nel's New Day

January 14, 2014

Either Protest or Lose the Internet

A three-judge panel of the Circuit Court of Appeals (Washington, D.C.) made a ruling today that has far-reaching effects for decades to come if it isn’t overturned. In its wisdom, the FCC has tried to protect the open net, but the judges of the appeals court struck down these regulations that would have guaranteed that all consumers have equal access to content on the Internet.

The term “net neutrality” means very little to most of us until we try to understand why our computer access is extremely slow. According to the judges, sites that pay a special fee can legally speed up access to their websites—or conversely slow down or block competing sites and services. Cable operators such as Comcast and telecommunications firms such as Verizon, which won today’s lawsuit, can pick the winners and losers. Netflix will have to pay Internet providers big bucks so that slow speed doesn’t make its films look like garbage.

The court struck down the two net neutrality rules: one prevents discrimination in favor of or against websites, and one prevents blocking specific sites. They did leave standing the requirement that carriers disclose their discrimination and blocking. As an example, any carrier can block the blog that you are reading, this one for example, for no reason as long as they tell consumers that they are blocking the site.

Fortunately, today’s ruling keeps the current net neutrality in effect until January 2018. After then, big corporations can do whatever they want unless the U.S. Supreme Court, where judges are totally technologically clueless, overturns today’s ruling. As telecommunications lawyer Marvin Ammori said, “AT&T, Verizon, and Comcast will be able to deliver some sites and services more quickly and reliably than others for any reason. Whim. Envy. Ignorance. Competition. Vengeance. Whatever. Or, no reason at all.”

Telecom companies claim that they want to provide better service to all customers. That’s always an excuse from big business. That claim has already been shown as false because regulators are fighting to keep them from degrading services for the corporations’ benefit. In 2007, Comcast was caught holding down traffic from BitTorrent, a video service competing with Comcast’s personal on-demand video. Yet even after Comcast was found guilty of violating the basic standard of Internet transmission, the FCC permitted its acquisition of NBC, giving Comcast more incentive to discriminate its transmissions.

Comcast appealed the guilty ruling. Three years after Comcast blocked several basic, legal Internet technologies, the D.C. Circuit ruled that the FCC lacked the jurisdiction to stop Comcast from its discrimination. Congress gave the FCC the power to regulate “telecommunications services” (which many believe include the Internet services provided by cable and phone companies) but not “information services” (which everyone agrees includes Twitter, Google, and other services riding on top of the Internet lines). That is, the FCC can regulate cable and phone networks but not apps and websites.

The conservatives may say that this is just the result of competition, but they’re wrong. The U.S. has no practical competition because most of the households have just one option, the local cable provider. Some might get Internet service from Verizon and AT&T, but right now they’re slower than cable companies. Others have telephone fiber services, but Verizon and AT&T have stopped these services. Don’t have it now? You won’t in the future.

The profiteering monopoly goes back to 2002 when Chair Michael Powell led the FCC to reclassify cable modem services as “information services” instead of “telecommunications services.” Congress gave the FCC the power to regulate “telecommunications services” (which many believe include the Internet services provided by cable and phone companies) but not “information services” (which everyone agrees includes Twitter, Google, and other services riding on top of the Internet lines). That is, the FCC can regulate cable and phone networks but not apps and websites. With this action, the FCC lost the ability to regulate these services. Powell got his payoff: he’s now a chief lobbyist for the cable TV industry.

In 2010, the FCC tried to resume the regulatory defense of net neutrality but failed against the fierce opposition of the cable and telecommunications industry. Any steps forward were killed in court today.

The FCC has five commissioners, but the chair sets the agenda and controls the agency through its budget and staffing. FCC chair during the 2010 ruling, Julius Genachowski, and his general counsel had promised to reclassify Internet service, but he has caved. A few months after the 2010 Comcast ruling, he cut a deal with AT&T filled with loopholes, including exemptions for the mobile method of accessing the Internet, now the dominant method. AT&T let it go because he promised not to reclassify cable and telecommunications industry that would put them under FCC regulations.

Today’s ruling is so egregious that the FCC may be forced to do something about it. Verizon, AT&T et al. will argue that network neutrality is dead and only Congress can bring it back to life. In truth, the FCC has the power to take care of the mess. Now FCC Chair Tom Wheeler, unfortunately former head lobbyist of both the cable and wireless phone industries, is in charge of fixing the mess. According to Ammori, Google, Netflix, Mozilla, eBay, IAC, and other tech companies long supporting network neutrality don’t seem to have the stomach for a fight. Those left to defend net neutrality are consumer groups and people across the country who are asking on Reddit, Facebook, and Twitter how to preserve Internet freedom.

Although the court left an opening for FCC or Congress to create net neutrality, corporations own Congress. That leaves the FCC. Wheeler needs to change his lukewarm attitude to a more compelling belief in net neutrality. A belief in the “marketplace” doesn’t work, because cable and telephone firms control that marketplace. If you want your Internet to look like your cable, where you passively receive anything that your cable company chooses to send you, then you don’t need to protest. If you want what you have now, then it’s time to write your elected representatives and the FCC. Here’s one way you can start.

July 31, 2013

Jail, Threats, Fraud, Cookies, and More

Some news you might not see in mainstream media:

The Wall Street Journal’s announcement that the game Monopoly was doing away with its jail sentence, making the game look way too much like reality, created a great deal of hoop-la. Even John Oliver, Jon Stewart’s summer sub on The Daily Show, got into the excitement. It seems, however, that WSJ was wrong. Jail, at least in Monopoly, is here to stay. Wonder what else Rupert Murdoch’s WSJ is wrong about.

monopoly-jail-top630

Putting a picture of Jane Austen on the Bank of England bank note also caused great interest, especially for the people who sent rape and death threats to the major campaigner for using Austen’s picture. British people caught two of them, one a 21-year-old man who sent a about 50 abusive tweets every hour for 12 hours to Caroline Criado-Perez after she successfully lobbied for replacing Charles Darwin on the ten-pound note starting in 2017.

It wasn’t enough for these men that the picture of World War II prime minister Winston Churchill will replace the face of 19th-century social reformer Elizabeth Fry on the five-pound note beginning in 2016. Without the addition of Jane Austen, the only woman on Britain’s money would be Queen Elizabeth II, whose face is on every British coin and banknote.

A Twitter representative, Mark Luckie, waited four days to talk with her about the abuse, temporarily blocking her attempted communication with him. Publicity connected the past seven days of threats and abuse has required police and politicians to take notice of the abuse toward Criado-Perez and Labor MP Stella Creasy, who came out in Criado-Perez’s support.

If you’re still smoking, you might be interested in knowing that cigarette companies have switched to clay in their filters, the same substance used in kitty litter. A dozen tobacco companies have avoided as much as $1.1 billion in taxes by making their cigarettes heavier with this filler filler, exempting their product from a 2,653 percent increase in federal excise tax  on non-”large cigar” tobacco products. Taxes for a rolled tobacco product weighing at least three pounds per 1,000 increased only 155 percent. Treasury Department spokesman Thomas Hogue said, “If you meet the definition of a large cigar, then you’re a large cigar.” Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL) recently introduced legislation to equalize the tax structure that could make $3.6 billion in new taxes over 10 years.

Changing from kitty litter cigarettes to electronic ones won’t make people safer. Sales are rising for these alternatives, but no one knows the health problem because they aren’t regulated. The primary byproduct of electronic cigarettes is definitely not a “harmless water vapor,” as manufacturers claim.  In Scientific American, Stanton Glantz noted that the smoker inhales a collection of dangerous substances including acetaldehyde, nickel and cadmium. With every puff, both smokers and the people near them inhale formaldehyde, toluene, and nicotine.

The FDA tried to ban imports of electronic cigarettes from China by declaring them “unapproved drug/device combination products” but lost in court. Manufacturers maintain that these are healthy alternatives to cigarettes in the same way that tobacco companies used to swear that cigarettes were also “healthy.”

China also wants to buy Virginia-based Smithfield Foods, the world’s biggest pork processor and hog producer. Shuanghui International is willing to pay $4.7 billion. In 2011, it was discovered that some Shuanghui products contained a hazardous and banned chemical used to make meat leaner. Smithfield president Larry Pope said that there wouldn’t be any problems, and it would bring more jobs to the United States. Other food safety issues in China have included rat meat passed off as pork and thousands of pig carcasses floating on a river. Smithfield already uses an additive, banned in China and Russia, to bulk up animals with muscle instead of far, without increasing the amount of feed.

People have known for decades about the dangers of lead in paint, but Sherman-Williams is being sued because it knew over a century ago that the company knowingly poisoned people. Ten California cities and counties are seeking $1 billion from the company to strip the leaded paint that remains on millions of residences throughout the state. The United States banned lead paint for residential use in 1978, several decades after other countries forbade its use. Once thought to be more dangerous for children, new research finds that lead effects for adults may be worse, causing dangers from increased blood pressure and stroke.

Pepsi may also be in trouble after it was discovered that the caramel coloring in drinks contains high levels of a probable carcinogen. Both Pepsi and Coca-Cola were told to adjust their formulas to avoid a cancer warning label in California. Coke products no longer tested positive in May for the chemical, but Pepsi products outside California still contain it. Pepsi said that the chemical won’t be removed from its drinks until February 2014 but gave no timeline for world-wide distribution. FDA said that a person would have to drink 1,000 cans of soda a day to reach the doses used in rodents to cause cancer, but California has still added 4-Mel to its list of carcinogens.

Detroit is so broke that it’s threatening to sell all its art in the museums and not pay contract pensions. No schools, no roads, no utilities, no services. But it is spending almost one-half billion dollars on a new hockey arena. That’s what you get with an “emergency financial manager” appointed by the Republican governor.

North Carolina

North Carolina has finished its hate-filled legislation, and Gov. Pat McCrory has duly signed all the hateful bills, but publicity about them hasn’t ended. The latest story started with a small group of women going to McCrory’s mansion to protest the most recent anti-abortion bill  that he had promised not to sign—and then did. at McCrory’s mansion.  Various French princesses have been credited with the statement, “Let them eat cake,” when referring to peasants suffering from famine. McCrory changed the term “cake” to “cookies” when he delivered a plate of chocolate-chip cookies to the protesters. Four security guards stopped traffic in the street, and McCrory walked to the middle and pointed at one of the women. She walked up to him, and he handed the plate of cookies, saying, “These are for you. God bless you, God bless you, God bless you.”

McCrory wouldn’t talk to the protesters; he just handed over the plate after he lied to them and took away their constitutional right to choose reproductive health care. The crowd responded by chanting, ”Hey Pat, that was rude. You wouldn’t give cookies to a dude.” McCrory said that the critics exaggerated the impact of the law that closes 15 out of 16 clinics that provide abortion and bars state residents from paying for the coverage through state health exchanges. [Photo by Corey Lowenstein @ News Observer]

Cookies…-no-thanks

Cumulus Media, the second-largest owner and operator of AM and FM radio stations in America, will not be renewing its contracts with both Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity on its 40 channels that have hundreds of radio stations. Although they may have already signed with rival syndicate WOR, the future of right-wing radio may be in jeopardy. The majority of its listeners, primarily white, are disappearing because most of its older demographic. Limbaugh blamed the ad buyers, saying that they are Limbaugh recently acknowledged difficulty selling ads, complaining ad buyers are “are young women fresh out of college, liberal feminists who hate conservatism.” For months, Cumulus has been telling investors that Limbaugh is costing the company millions of dollars in lost advertizing.

If your electricity bills going up, it might be because of banks rigging the market. This week, the Federal Regulatory Commission fined JP Morgan Chase $410 million fine, following a penalty of almost $500 million against the British bank Barclay two weeks ago. JP Morgan agreed to pay a civil penalty of $285 million and return $125 million in wrongful profits without either admitting or denying its guilt in using energy traders to fix prices. The situation isn’t unique: financial markets are controlling market forces in oil, currency exchanges, and hard commodities from precious metals to aluminum. Industry deregulation in the 1990s permitted banks to directly deal in physical commodity markets instead of being limited to financial products based on commodity prices.

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