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“Sad But True”: The Only Way To Save The Open Internet Requires Sucking Up To Corporate Titans

The Internet as we know it will permanently change if new rules proposed this week by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) allow Comcast or AT&T to create a “fast lane” on the Web for companies that pay a fee. Content providers who buy off telecoms for faster speeds would simply outmuscle their counterparts, stifling innovation from startups that can’t afford to compete. If my local McDonald’s opened a special lane to their register that was closed to all competing traffic, while reaching the Burger King down the street required hacking through a mile of jungle, I’ll probably just get a Big Mac instead of a Whopper.

The FCC had to act, because of an appellate court ruling in January blocking their previous open Internet rules. But net neutrality advocates wanted the agency to reclassify broadband Internet as a common carrier service, as they do with telephones, preventing discrimination on whatever passes through the pipe. Instead, FCC Chair Tom Wheeler, a former cable industry lobbyist, opted for an alternative that will enrich Internet service providers (ISPs) and lead to a permanent digital divide. Wheeler’s justification, that no content would face discrimination, but telecoms can charge for faster service, has been roundly criticized, and with good reason. But will anyone be able to mobilize against the powerful interests pushing through the proposed rules?

There’s a recent precedent for Internet-based mobilization actually bringing down a corporate giveaway that initially looked inevitable. In 2011, Congress appeared close to sneaking through the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) just before the Christmas holidays. The bill would have empowered the government to compel ISPs to shut down websites based on subjective audio or video copyright claims. It was a giant wet kiss to the movie and music industries, a bill that would have effectively eliminated user-generated content on the Web (could Facebook be expected to police their entire site minute-by-minute for copyright infringement?) and allowed media conglomerates to take over. You won’t be surprised that the staffers in House Judiciary Committee chair Lamar Smith’s office who wrote the bill left right afterward to become entertainment industry lobbyists.

But the Internet, in a coordinated pushback, beat SOPA, amid virtual silence from broadcast media, whose parent companies supported the bill. Web users of all political stripes bombarded Congress. At one point, Tumblr announced they were generating 3.6 calls per second. On January 18, 2012, hundreds of websites, including Wikipedia, participated in the largest Internet strike in history, redacting their content and posting links to help people register constituent complaints. Lawmakers walked away from the bill in droves; in the end, it never even got a vote.

The net neutrality fight shares some common elements with the SOPA battle. The universe of people affected—everyone who uses the Internet—is sufficiently big to enable a mass coalition. Demand Progress, a group active in the SOPA fight, has already begun to mobilize in conjunction with RootsAction, gathering 26,000 signatures on a petition in a matter of hours.

But the SOPA fight was truly trans-partisan, as conservatives made common cause with progressives against censorship of their websites. That potential doesn’t exist on net neutrality, as Republicans have rejected what they consider government regulation of the Internet. So the fight already begins with a narrower base. In addition, it’s easier to target individual members of Congress over proposed legislation, than rules from independent regulatory agencies (although, considering that the Obama Administration reaffirmed their commitment to net neutrality just two months ago, activists can try to hold them accountable).

Most important, net neutrality advocates likely need buy-in from corporate America. In a recent political science study, Martin Gilens of Princeton and Benjamin Page of Northwestern found that economic elites and organized business interests can have significant impact over public policy, while ordinary citizens just don’t. When the government acts in the interest of citizens at all, it’s often an accidental by-product of public preferences coincidentally matching those of business groups.

Many took this study to mean that the United States now functionally operates as an oligarchy rather than a democracy. It may actually mean that in America, citizens are typically disorganized on most public policy questions, particularly in an age of labor union decline, but can reverse that through mass organizing. Whatever your perspective, the SOPA fight offers a perfect case study. That effort really took off when Google, Reddit, and other major websites decided to join the fight, counterbalancing pressure on the other side from Hollywood. Tech giants knew that their businesses would be damaged by onerous copyright restrictions. The public interest and the interests of at least one set of elites aligned.

It’s not yet clear whether the same coalition will materialize to fight the FCC. The larger incumbent content providers, like Yahoo and Google, may well like paying for a faster Internet pipe, because it narrows competition to those who are already established. Netflix has already started paying for priority speeds, in a deal with Comcast for better back-end transit. In addition, Google is both a content producer and, through Google Fiber, an Internet service provider, and can reap profits by charging tolls for their fast lane. The company has been veering away from net neutrality for quite some time. Notably, the Internet Association, a coalition featuring Google, eBay, Netflix and other tech bigwigs, has said nothing about the FCC’s proposed rules yet, despite nominally supporting net neutrality. Google did not respond to a request for comment for this article.

This transformation by Google and others is common. As formerly upstart companies mature, they suddenly grow comfortable with regulations that favor incumbency—as long as they’re the incumbents. For a movement-based response to the FCC to succeed, activists must peel off companies willing to stay true to their word, and essentially rebuild a new corporate coalition that can engage their user base.

Netflix seems like an obvious choice. Despite their previous dealings, the streaming video giant has lashed out against Comcast for “arbitrary interconnection tolls,” and publicly opposed the merger between Comcast and Time Warner. Surely Netflix executives understand that a telecom industry freed to charge for faster broadband speeds will be able to raise prices over the years, and gouge incumbents. Netflix can go along with the arms race, or help to end it before it begins. Their leadership will attract smaller Internet players that can take more risks, because a pay-to-play Internet really does threaten their survival.

In this case, you can easily recognize the seeds of mass mobilization, which may provide enough political cover for a Netflix or Twitter to act. Tech communities with big audiences have responded to the FCC announcement with outrage. People intuitively know and resist the concentration of power controlling the tools they use every day. Several Democrats have criticized the proposal, from Cory Booker to Bernie Sanders to Nancy Pelosi, who actually urged people to contact the FCC with their criticisms. The ferocity of the backlash may have rocked the FCC back on their heels a bit, but time is short, with a May 15 meeting to move forward on the proposal looming.

But the sad fact of modern political life is that democratic action requires more than mere expressions of dissent, or the expectation that politicians who share our tribal sympathies will work on our behalf. To reach the critical mass necessary to succeed, savvy political organizing in the 21st century now includes convincing the business sector to recognize their interests and when they’re imperiled.

 

By: David Dayen, The New Republic, April 24, 2014

April 26, 2014 Posted by | Cable Companies, Corporations, Net Neutrality | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“And They Didn’t See It Coming?”: The Kochs’ AFP Starts Scrubbing Its Bundy Support

It was just two weeks ago that affiliates of Americans for Prosperity, a conservative political operation financed by Charles and David Koch, decided to extend support to Cliven Bundy. Despite the Nevada rancher’s defiance of the law and court orders, and despite the fact that he denied the legitimacy of the United States government, AFP helped promote Bundy’s cause and mock the Bureau of Land Management for trying to enforce federal law.

Then Bundy started speculating about whether African Americans were “better off as slaves,” at which point the AFP apparently decided to join the stampede away from the radical Nevadan.

Americans for Prosperity Nevada, the state affiliate of the Koch Brothers-backed group, appears to have hastily deleted social media posts expressing support for Cliven Bundy, the renegade rancher who exposed himself as a racist in recent press conferences.

A tweet sent by AFP Nevada on April 10 urging followers to read more about the #BundyBattle, which involves Bundy’s refusal to pay fines for allowing his cattle to graze on public land, has been deleted. A Facebook graphic that the group posted criticizing the Bureau of Land Management for enforcing grazing laws against Bundy has similarly disappeared.

The instinct to run away is understandable, and it’s hard to blame AFP officials for waking up yesterday and wondering what in the world they’d gotten themselves into.

But the scrubbing is of limited utility given that screen-grabs and caches exist. Media Matters, for example, still has the content online that AFP is trying to take offline.

And all of this only serves to reinforce the question: what was the right thinking?

If you missed last night’s A block, it’s worth your time.

“[L]et us all pray that it is out of ignorance that the National Review comparing him to Gandhi and the right-wing activists comparing him to Rosa Parks, and the Fox News channel booking him and his family over and over and over and over and over again as heroes, and the Republican senator calling his armed supporters pointing guns at federal law enforcement officers ‘patriots’ – let us pray that that was happening under a veil of ignorance. Let us pray that they had no idea that there is a long-standing fairly violent right-wing movement in this country that is born in the defense of slavery and that causes people to say weird stuff about sheriffs being the supreme authority and the federal government not existing.

“Let us pray that the right and these Republican senators made a hero out of this guy in bloody ignorance of where he was really coming from.

“But it is a choice as to whether or not you do your homework before you try to mainstream a guy like this. The turn today to ‘let me tell you another thing I know about the Negro,’ that was telegraphed way, way, way in advance here. Anybody who chose not to see it coming now has this mess all over themselves.”

And as of today, the AFP’s solution is to clean up this mess by pretending it never said what it very clearly said.

As for Bundy, he apparently keeps talking, and is now attempting to invoke the legacies of both Martin Luther King Jr. and Rosa Parks in his defense.

The far-right movement really knows how to pick ‘em.

 

By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, April 25, 2014

April 26, 2014 Posted by | Cliven Bundy, Koch Brothers | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“The Piketty Panic”: Out Of Ideas, Conservatives Are Terrified

“Capital in the Twenty-First Century,” the new book by the French economist Thomas Piketty, is a bona fide phenomenon. Other books on economics have been best sellers, but Mr. Piketty’s contribution is serious, discourse-changing scholarship in a way most best sellers aren’t. And conservatives are terrified. Thus James Pethokoukis of the American Enterprise Institute warns in National Review that Mr. Piketty’s work must be refuted, because otherwise it “will spread among the clerisy and reshape the political economic landscape on which all future policy battles will be waged.”

Well, good luck with that. The really striking thing about the debate so far is that the right seems unable to mount any kind of substantive counterattack to Mr. Piketty’s thesis. Instead, the response has been all about name-calling — in particular, claims that Mr. Piketty is a Marxist, and so is anyone who considers inequality of income and wealth an important issue.

I’ll come back to the name-calling in a moment. First, let’s talk about why “Capital” is having such an impact.

Mr. Piketty is hardly the first economist to point out that we are experiencing a sharp rise in inequality, or even to emphasize the contrast between slow income growth for most of the population and soaring incomes at the top. It’s true that Mr. Piketty and his colleagues have added a great deal of historical depth to our knowledge, demonstrating that we really are living in a new Gilded Age. But we’ve known that for a while.

No, what’s really new about “Capital” is the way it demolishes that most cherished of conservative myths, the insistence that we’re living in a meritocracy in which great wealth is earned and deserved.

For the past couple of decades, the conservative response to attempts to make soaring incomes at the top into a political issue has involved two lines of defense: first, denial that the rich are actually doing as well and the rest as badly as they are, but when denial fails, claims that those soaring incomes at the top are a justified reward for services rendered. Don’t call them the 1 percent, or the wealthy; call them “job creators.”

But how do you make that defense if the rich derive much of their income not from the work they do but from the assets they own? And what if great wealth comes increasingly not from enterprise but from inheritance?

What Mr. Piketty shows is that these are not idle questions. Western societies before World War I were indeed dominated by an oligarchy of inherited wealth — and his book makes a compelling case that we’re well on our way back toward that state.

So what’s a conservative, fearing that this diagnosis might be used to justify higher taxes on the wealthy, to do? He could try to refute Mr. Piketty in a substantive way, but, so far, I’ve seen no sign of that happening. Instead, as I said, it has been all about name-calling.

I guess this shouldn’t be surprising. I’ve been involved in debates over inequality for more than two decades, and have yet to see conservative “experts” manage to dispute the numbers without tripping over their own intellectual shoelaces. Why, it’s almost as if the facts are fundamentally not on their side. At the same time, red-baiting anyone who questions any aspect of free-market dogma has been standard right-wing operating procedure ever since the likes of William F. Buckley tried to block the teaching of Keynesian economics, not by showing that it was wrong, but by denouncing it as “collectivist.”

Still, it has been amazing to watch conservatives, one after another, denounce Mr. Piketty as a Marxist. Even Mr. Pethokoukis, who is more sophisticated than the rest, calls “Capital” a work of “soft Marxism,” which only makes sense if the mere mention of unequal wealth makes you a Marxist. (And maybe that’s how they see it: recently former Senator Rick Santorum denounced the term “middle class” as “Marxism talk,” because, you see, we don’t have classes in America.)

And The Wall Street Journal’s review, predictably, goes the whole distance, somehow segueing from Mr. Piketty’s call for progressive taxation as a way to limit the concentration of wealth — a remedy as American as apple pie, once advocated not just by leading economists but by mainstream politicians, up to and including Teddy Roosevelt — to the evils of Stalinism. Is that really the best The Journal can do? The answer, apparently, is yes.

Now, the fact that apologists for America’s oligarchs are evidently at a loss for coherent arguments doesn’t mean that they are on the run politically. Money still talks — indeed, thanks in part to the Roberts court, it talks louder than ever. Still, ideas matter too, shaping both how we talk about society and, eventually, what we do. And the Piketty panic shows that the right has run out of ideas.

By: Paul Krugman, Op-Ed Columnist, The New York Times, April 24, 2014

April 26, 2014 Posted by | Economic Inequality, Income Gap | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Ignoring Precedent And Denying Reality”: The Court Stacks The Deck Against Minorities

Affirmative action has opened doors for disadvantaged minorities and made this a fairer, more equal society. The Supreme Court under Chief Justice John Roberts apparently wants no more of that.

This week’s big ruling — upholding a Michigan constitutional amendment that bans public universities from considering race in admissions — claims to leave affirmative action alive, if on life support. But the court’s opinion, ignoring precedent and denying reality, can be read only as an invitation for other states to follow suit.

Justice Sonia Sotomayor’s thundering dissent should be required reading. She sees what the court is doing and isn’t afraid to call out her colleagues on the disingenuous claim that the ruling in Schuette v. Coalition to Defend Affirmative Action is limited in scope. It has implications that go beyond college admissions to other areas, such as voting rights, where majorities seek to trample minority rights.

By “rights,” I mean not affirmative action but the principle, upheld repeatedly by the court, that the political process should be a level playing field. In Michigan, with the high court’s blessing, anyone who wants to advocate for affirmative action is at a disadvantage. Instead of banning the policy outright — which would at least be honest — the court paints it with a bull’s-eye and strips it of defenses.

The case involves the University of Michigan — my alma mater, by the way — which has spent nearly two decades trying to defend taking race into account, as one of many factors, in deciding admissions.

The university is governed by an elected board of regents, some of whose members have campaigned on their views for or against affirmative action. Opponents of what they call “racial preferences” tried but failed to elect enough like-minded regents to end the practice, so they proposed an amendment to the state constitution that says Michigan’s public universities “shall not discriminate against, or grant preferential treatment to, any individual or group on the basis of race, sex, color, ethnicity, or national origin.” Voters approved the measure in 2006 by a wide margin.

This may sound reasonable, even admirable, but here’s the problem: With the amendment, voters changed the political process in a way that unfairly burdens racial minorities.

There was, after all, an existing process for influencing the university’s admissions policies. You could lobby the regents. You could run ads to pressure the board. You could campaign for board candidates who shared your views. You could run to become a regent yourself.

You can still do any of these things if you want to influence the university’s admissions policies in any other way — if you want, say, more places reserved for “legacy” applicants who are the sons and daughters of alumni. But if you want to influence the board in favor of race-sensitive admissions, you have only one option: an onerous, expensive and almost surely futile attempt to amend the state constitution yet again.

As Sotomayor wrote , “The effect . . . is that a white graduate of a public Michigan university who wishes to pass his historical privilege on to his children may freely lobby the board of that university in favor of an expanded legacy admissions policy, whereas a black Michigander who was denied the opportunity to attend that very university cannot lobby the board in favor of a policy that might give his children a chance that he never had.”

If stacking the deck in this manner is acceptable in university admissions, why not in voting rights? Sotomayor’s dissent recounted the long history of attempts by majorities to change the political process in order to deny racial and ethnic minorities the chance to achieve their goals. The court has recognized a duty to protect the process rights of minorities — until now, apparently.

Once Sotomayor dispensed with the other side’s legal arguments, the court’s first Hispanic justice — she is of Puerto Rican descent — gets personal.

Race matters, she wrote, “for reasons that really are only skin deep, that cannot be discussed any other way, and that cannot be wished away.”

She went on, “Race matters to a young man’s view of society when he spends his teenage years watching others tense up as he passes, no matter the neighborhood where he grew up. Race matters to a young woman’s sense of self when she states her hometown, and then is pressed, ‘No, where are you really from?’ . . . Race matters because of the slights, the snickers, the silent judgments that reinforce that most crippling of thoughts: ‘I do not belong here.’ ”

To young people of color, the Roberts court replied: Maybe you don’t.

 

By: Eugene Robinson, Opinion Writer, The Washington Post, April 24, 2014

April 26, 2014 Posted by | Affirmative Action, SCOTUS | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“End College Legacy Preferences”: The Deck Is Stacked At Every Level In Favor Of The Rich

Someone reading about the Supreme Court’s decision upholding Michigan’s ban on affirmative action — and by extension similar measures passed by voters in California, Texas, Florida and Washington — might develop the misimpression that affirmative action is on the wane. In fact, it’s alive and well: Public and private colleges routinely give preferential treatment to children of alumni.

If you have kids, or plan on having them someday, you know that acceptance rates at elite colleges are at historic lows. Stanford led the stingy pack, admitting but 5 percent of applicants, with Harvard and Yale trailing close behind at 5.9 percent and 6.3 percent respectively.

For “legacies,” the picture isn’t nearly so bleak. Reviewing admission data from 30 top colleges in the Economics of Education Review, the researcher Michael Hurwitz concluded that children of alumni had a 45 percent greater chance of admission. A Princeton team found the advantage to be worth the equivalent of 160 additional points on an applicant’s SAT, nearly as much as being a star athlete or African-American or Hispanic.

At Harvard, my alma mater, the legacy acceptance rate is 30 percent, which is not an unusual number at elite colleges. That’s roughly five times the overall rate.

The disparity is so great it makes the most sense to conceptualize college applications to elite colleges as two separate competitions: one for children whose parents are legacies, the other for children whose parents aren’t.

Admissions officers will hasten to tell you that in a meritocracy many legacies would get in anyway. Let’s pause to consider the usefulness of the term “meritocracy” in a system where the deck is stacked at every level in favor of rich, white students before conceding the premise. It’s surely true that many children of alumni are brilliant, hard-working and deserving of a seat at a top college. That’s quite different from saying the system is fair. In 2003, Harvard’s admissions dean said that the SAT scores of legacy admits were “just two points below the school’s overall average.” These are students who have enjoyed a lifetime of advantage. We’d expect them to have outperformed nonlegacies, at least by a bit, and yet they’ve done slightly worse.

Reasonable minds can differ on the morality and wisdom of race-based affirmative action. Where I teach, at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, which is about as egalitarian as institutions come, I’ve seen firsthand what the data show: College is a ticket out of poverty, and exposing young men and women to diverse classmates and role models raises the ceiling on what they believe is possible for themselves. That said, I acknowledge the desire for a colorblind, meritocratic society as an honorable position. But how can anyone defend making an exception for children of alumni?

One needn’t have a dog in this hunt to be troubled by legacy. It’s disastrous public policy. Because of legacy admissions, elite colleges look almost nothing like America. Consider these facts: To be a 1 percenter, a family needs an annual income of approximately $390,000. When the Harvard Crimson surveyed this year’s freshman class, 14 percent of respondents reported annual family income above $500,000. Another 15 percent came from families making more than $250,000 per year. Only 20 percent reported incomes less than $65,000. This is the amount below which Harvard will allow a student to go free of charge. It’s also just above the national median family income. So, at least as many Harvard students come from families in the top 1 percent as the bottom 50 percent. Of course this says nothing of middle-class families, for whom private college is now essentially unaffordable.

These facts will trouble any parent of modest means, but it’s time to recognize this as an American problem. Together with environmental destruction, social inequality is the defining failure of our generation. The richest .01 percent of American families possess 11.1 percent of the national wealth, but 22 percent of American children live in poverty.

There are only two ways this gets better. One is a huge reformation of the tax structure. The other is improved access to higher education. Few investments yield a greater return than a college degree. Education has great potential to combat inequality, but progress simply isn’t possible if legacy persists.

To justify this practice there would need to be, in lawyer language, a compelling justification. There is none. Elite colleges defend legacy as necessary to fund-raising. It isn’t. Neither Oxford nor Cambridge nor M.I.T. considers legacy. Their prestige is intact, they attract great students, and they have ample endowments. Moreover, technology has transformed fund-raising. Presidential candidates raise money through grass-roots campaigns; colleges can, too.

Legacy evolved largely as a doctrine to legitimize the exclusion of Jews from elite schools. It endures today as a mechanism for reinforcing inequality, with particularly harsh consequences for Asians, and fundamentally contradicts the rhetoric of access in which elite colleges routinely engage.

Harvard, Yale, Stanford, Princeton and Columbia collectively have endowments of about $100 billion. They have the means to end this abhorrent practice with a stroke of a pen and the financial resources to endure whatever uncertainty ensues. Just a hunch, but I think the economically diverse students admitted to these great colleges would be successful and generous to their alma maters, not in the hope of securing their child a place in a class, but out of genuine appreciation of a legacy of equal access.

By: Evan J. Mandery, Professor at John Jay College of Criminal Justice; Op-Ed Contributor, The New york Times, April 24, 2014

April 26, 2014 Posted by | Affirmative Action, Economic Inequality | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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