Under the Open Internet rule passed by the Federal Communications Commission in 2010, which preserved the concept of “net neutrality” under President Obama, broadband providers may not block access to lawful content, applications, services or non-harmful devices. Broadband providers could not target lawful Internet traffic to be delivered to users may slowly than any other traffic. And providers could not favor Internet traffic based on consideration of any kind, and Internet service providers were banned from prioritizing content and services of their affiliates.

The new rules planned by Trump’s FCC, mistitled “Restoring Internet Freedom,” would allow big internet service providers such as Comcast, Verizon and AT&T to craft any kind of data packages that the market will bear and throttle bandwidth, lie about unlimited plans and favor big payers or affiliate partner traffic over competitive traffic. Losers would include Netflix, Amazon and Hulu and other content providers who do not own their own distribution. Small businesses and start-ups may be out of luck if they can’t afford high-speed bandwidth. If you’re a normal person and want access to the Internet, get ready for all kinds of airline industry-style charges. You’ll either accept a slower connection or pay extra for going over a threshold on your unlimited data plan.

Tech commentator Shelly Palmer noted, “In practice, you’re likely to get amazing speed and service for video content you don’t care about and terrible service while trying to use the things you really want. The solution: pay more.”

One of the arguments against net neutrality is that it addresses a problem that might happen in the future, not a problem that actually exists. But Kevin Drum of MotherJones.com writes (11/28) that the probability that internet providers would sign exclusive deals with big companies so that their sites are nice and fast, while the also-rans are sluggish and unreliable “is pretty close to 100%. Hell, some internet providers have already come pretty close. Netflix pays Comcast for fast service on its lines. In the past, T-Mobile has ‘zero rated’ certain sites so they don’t count against your data limit. These should be viewed as opening salvos, not full-blown non-neutrality, but they’re certainly a sign that monopoly internet providers know they have a very valuable commodity that they can auction off to the highest bidders if they’re allowed to.”

Rep. Ro Khanna (D-Calif.) noted that in Portugal, with no net neutrality rules, internet providers are starting to split the net into packages. Michael Hiltzik of the Los Angeles Times noted that Britain has a similar plan. “Although both countries are part of the European Union, which has an explicit commitment to network neutrality, they’re allowed under provisions giving national regulators some flexibility. These regulators can open loopholes permitting ‘zero rating,’ through which ISPs can exclude certain services from data caps … The potential for abuse is obvious: The system gives ISPs the ability to set terms for any service’s inclusion in one of these special tiers.

“In early January the FCC staff, in one of its last published reports before President Trump appointed Pai chairman of the FCC, concluded that zero-rating deals offered to broadband customers by AT&T and Verizon violate net neutrality principles. The deals ‘present significant risks to consumers and competition…because of network operators’ potentially unreasonable discrimination in favor of their own affiliates,’ the staff reported.

“The arrangements that offended the FCC staff were AT&T’s ‘sponsored data’ and Verizon’s ‘FreeBee Data 360.’ AT&T, according to the FCC staff, gives content providers the ability—for a fee—to offer programming to its subscribers without its counting toward the subscribers’ monthly data usage limits. The problem is that AT&T offers this service to programmers at terms worse than those it gives DirecTV, which it owns … Verizon pulled the same stunt to favor its own go90 video service, the FCC staff found.”

“This is just the start,” Drum wrote. “At the moment, ISPs like Comcast and Verizon are being careful because they don’t want to do anything to jeopardize the elimination of net neutrality. But once they’re convinced it’s gone for good, they’ll start experimenting to see how far they can push things.

“Can I prove this? Of course not. But it’s obvious that in a non-neutral market, ISP’s can make a huge amount of additional money by charging content providers for fast service. So why wouldn’t they do it? It’s not as if their customers can switch to someone else, after all.”

OPEN INTERNET ONE OF FEW THINGS STANDING BETWEEN US AND TRUMP’S AUTHORITARIAN RULE. If the Republican-dominated Federal Communications Commission removes net neutrality protections, which FCC Chairman Ajit Pai said will happen Dec. 14, that would suddenly create all kinds of vulnerabilities for independent media, Victor Pickard, associate professor of communication at the University of Pennsylvania’s Annenberg School, told Meagan Day at JacobinMag.com (11/27). “There are clear dangers associated with vertical integration, where the company that owns the pipes is able to control the dissemination of information, and able to set the terms by which we access that information. When we think about, for instance, dissenting political news sources that don’t have the resources to compete in a pay-to-play media environment, we see that there are obvious political hazards,” said Pickard, author of America’s Battle for Media Democracy.

“And more than that, we could start to see scenarios where ISPs don’t like the political views that are being disseminated from a particular news outlet. Without net neutrality they would be free to block or slow down content from those sites. There have been cases like this already. In 2005, the company Telus, which is the second largest telecommunications company in Canada, began blocking access to a server that hosted a website that supported a labor strike against Telus. Anyone involved in journalism or activism should be concerned about this kind of retaliation and censorship.”

Joan McCarter added at DailyKos (11/28), “It’s likely not going to be just independent media that becomes vulnerable. Consider Trump’s jihad against CNN, and how he appears to be using his Department of Justice to block AT&T from acquiring Time Warner in retribution for CNN’s coverage of him. We don’t know how this particular story is going to play out yet (and yes, there are reasons to cheer this merger not going through) but it’s clear that Trump and his administration will retaliate against the media.”

“The open internet has been essential for the resistance and for new civil rights movements,” McCarter noted. “It has ‘decentralized the media and allowed black activists in a modern movement against police and state violence to bypass discriminatory media gatekeepers and reveal the extent of the state’s abuse,’” as Malkia A. Cyril wrote at TheAtlantic.com (5/8/17). The ability to record police abuses in real time and to disseminate that footage quickly—or even in real time—and cheaply makes the open internet the primary tool for fighting for social justice, McCarter noted.

“It makes its potential loss at the point in time, with the Trump administration in power, so much more dangerous for this nation’s future,” McCarter concluded.

CORPORATE NEWS LARGELY IGNORED FCC PLAN TO KILL NET NEUTRALITY. Just over two weeks before the FCC was set to vote on chairman Ajit Pai’s plan to decimate net neutrality, a new study published (11/28) by Media Matters for America found that corporate cable and broadcast news coverage of Pai’s proposed net neutrality repeal has been sorely lacking—and, in some cases, nonexistent.

Based on an examination of television segments aired on major news networks in the week since Nov. 20—the day Politico reported that Pai was planning a “total repeal of net neutrality rules”—the study found that NBC, ABC and CBS have devoted just over two minutes combined to net neutrality.

Of all the major corporate networks Media Matters examined, MSNBC devoted far and away the most coverage to the FCC’s “scorched-earth” attack on the open internet, with 46 minutes and 37 seconds.

“In the wake of the breaking news, MSNBC represented 90% of all cable coverage” of net neutrality, the study found.

Media Matters goes on to observe that both NBC—which “has not covered net neutrality at all”—and MSNBC are both “owned by internet service provider Comcast, which stands to benefit from the repeal.”

Civil rights organizations, consumer advocates, environmentalists, more than 500 businesses, massive tech companies and even some right-wing publications have denounced Pai’s effort to eliminate “the internet as we know it,” Jake Johnson noted at CommonDreams.org (11/28).

Pai’s plan “ignores the will of people from across the political spectrum who overwhelmingly support these protections,” Matt Wood, policy director at Free Press, concluded in a statement. “It ignores the law and the courts, which have repeatedly upheld the 2015 Title II rules. And it ignores the vibrancy of the internet marketplace following adoption of that 2015 order, with incontrovertible economic data showing that both investment in networks and online innovation are flourishing under the very same rules Pai wants to destroy.”

WAR OVER DIRECTION OF BANK WATCHDOG. The battle over who will control the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau apparently will drag on, after the Trump-appointed judge who’s been assigned to the case decided Mick Mulvaney, on loan from the Office of Management and Budget, can continue as the interim acting director while he considers the lawsuit over the agency that was set up in 2010 as watchdog of the financial services industry.

US District Judge Timothy Kelly decided to hold off on issuing a decision in the lawsuit brought by CFPB deputy director Leandra English, who was appointed acting director by outgoing CFPB chief Richard Cordray on Friday (11/24). The lawsuit asserts that President Trump — who appointed OMB head Mulvaney as interim CFPB director the same day that Cordray appointed English — had no standing to do so under the 2010 Dodd-Frank law that created CFPB. The White House argues that the president has the authority to choose his own acting director under a Federal Vacancies rule, which English’s lawyers have disputed.

Judge Kelly (11/28) denied a request for an emergency order that would have blocked Trump from from appointing Mulvaney as the acting director of the CFPB.

According to the law that set up the CFPB, Charles B. Pierce noted at Esquire.com (11/28), English has the proper claim to the office “because the CFPB deliberately was set up to be as independent as possible from presidential political influence—in short, to keep people like this president* from installing a crony like Mick Mulvaney in the job of shredding the agency he’s supposed to be running. This argument insists that English should run the CFPB until the president* nominates, and the Senate confirms, a proper successor to Cordray.”

While serving in Congress, Mulvaney voted to kill the bureau, arguing it has too much power and issues unduly harsh regulations, and he has worked alongside Trump to roll back some of the agency’s rules, Ally Malloy noted at CNN (11/27).

On Monday morning (11/27), Mulvaney showed up at the CFPB office and pushed back against a staff-wide memo English had sent as “Acting Director” by emailing a staff memo of his own. In it, he instructed employees to “disregard any instructions you receive from Ms. English in her presumed capacity as Acting Director” and added that anyone who received such instructions should “please inform the General Counsel.”

During a televised press conference on Monday afternoon, Mulvaney — still acting as interim CFPB chief — said that he had already “imposed a 30-day freeze on the watchdog’s hiring, issuance of new rules or regulatory guidance, and payments from a civil penalties fund” in his new role as director, USA Today reported.

Mulvaney also promised that the CFPB under the Trump administration would be “dramatically different” from the way it was under President Obama and former director Cordray, who often drew Republicans’ ire for his crackdowns on financial institutions and butted heads with them over forced arbitration clauses in credit card company agreements. (As CNBC notes, Republicans recently overturned a CFPB rule banning such arbitration clauses, sparking outcry from consumer advocates.)

TRUMP DISRUPTS NAVAJO CODE TALKER RECEPTION WITH ‘POCAHONTAS’ SLUR. Donald Trump is a bully who has repeatedly demonstrated that his train of thought has no filter, but even then it was some surprise that he chose to insult Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s Native American heritage at an event honoring a group of surviving Navajo code talkers, who served with the Marines in World War II on the front lines in the Pacific’s key battles, relaying messages in a code based on Navajo to frustrate any Japanese who might have been monitoring radio traffic.

“I just want to thank you because you are very, very special people. You were here long before any of us were here,” Trump told the code talkers. “Although, we have a representative in Congress who has been here a long time ... longer than you — they call her Pocahontas!”

The Navajo code talkers in attendance, and their families, were at first stunned by the president’s crude remark, and then they were insulted. (Trump made his comments while standing in front of a portrait of Andrew Jackson, the former president who is loathed by Native Americans for signing the Indian Removal Act of 1830, then defying the Supreme Court’s attempt to block the removal of Native Americans from the Southeast in the Trail of Tears, in which thousands of Native Americans died of cold, starvation and disease during the harrowing trek to the undeveloped Western territories.)

When White House dissembler Sarah H. Sanders was asked about Trump’s use of a racial slur, she denied it was a racial slur and added, “I think what most people find offensive is Senator Warren lying about her heritage to advance her career.” What Sen. Warren has done was to claim Native American heritage, based on statements by her parents and grandparents that her great-great-grandmother was Cherokee, which would make her 1/32nd Cherokee. There is no evidence that she used the claim of Cherokee blood to advance her career.

Michael Smith, a former Marine whose father, Samuel “Jesse” Smith Sr., was a WW2 code talker, told the Huffington Post he was disappointed by the president’s remarks during a rare White House recognition of the Navajo veterans. Smith’s father served in the 4th Marine Division and fought in the battles of Roi-Namur, Saipan, Tinian and Iwo Jima.

Smith, who watched video of the ceremony, said the event began on a positive note but that it had been eclipsed by the incident. “Isn’t that unfortunate that the legacy of these men can’t be paramount over the statement ― a derogatory statement, I felt ― that Mr. Trump made about a senator,” Smith told HuffPost.

Appearances by the code talkers are rare due to their age and an association bylaw that asks code talkers to disassociate themselves from politics, Smith says.

Jefferson Keel, president of The National Congress of American Indians, agreed with Smith, responding in a statement (11/27):

“We regret that the President’s use of the name Pocahontas as a slur to insult a political adversary is overshadowing the true purpose of today’s White House ceremony,” stated NCAI President Jefferson Keel, a decorated US Army officer and Vietnam War combat veteran. “Today was about recognizing the remarkable courage and invaluable contributions of our Native code talkers. That’s who we honor today and everyday — the three code talkers present at the White House representing the 10 other elderly living code talkers who were unable to join them, and the hundreds of other code talkers from the Cherokee, Choctaw, Comanche, Lakota, Meskwaki, Mohawk, Navajo, Tlingit, and other tribes who served during World Wars I and II. … And we honor the contributions of Pocahontas, a hero to her people, the Pamunkey Indian Tribe in Virginia, who reached across uncertain boundaries and brought people together. Once again, we call upon the President to refrain from using her name in a way that denigrates her legacy.”

Ironically, Trump and his father misrepresented their family’s origins after World War II. Trump’s grandfather was an immigrant from Germany, but the family hid its German heritage, in large part because Fred Trump was trying to sell apartments, often to Jewish tenants, in the aftermath of World War II, the Boston Globe reported (7/16/16)

“He said, ‘You don’t sell apartments after the war if you’re German,’ ” John Walter, a family historian and one of Donald Trump’s cousins, said in an interview. “So he’s Swedish, no problem.”

As late as 1987, in his bestselling book The Art of the Deal, Donald Trump was continuing with the ruse, writing that his grandfather “came here from Sweden as a child.”

Walter said that he told Fred and Donald to knock it off and own up to their German heritage. He also said George Steinbrenner — the New York Yankees owner who was also of German descent — told his friend Fred Trump, “Cut that nonsense out. You don’t need that anymore.”

By 2000, when Donald Trump wrote another book, he said his grandfather “came here from Germany as a child.” The lie about Swedish heritage had been abandoned.

When asked why his father claimed he was Swedish, Trump told the Globe, “Well, he spent time in Sweden. And he talked about Swedish because of the fact, you know, we happened to be at war with Germany, which I guess makes sense in a lot of ways doesn’t it? But he spent time in Sweden.”

“Our country was at war with Germany,” he added. “So being from Germany didn’t necessarily play so well for a period of time.”

TRUMP HAS PLAYED GOLF THREE TIMES AS MUCH AS OBAMA IN FIRST YEAR. For years, Donald Trump has criticized his predecessor, President Barack Obama, for playing golf while on the job.

Since taking office, Donald Trump has likely played three times as many rounds of golf as Obama had at this point in his presidency, according to CBS News’s Mark Knoller who has kept a tally since Obama’s presidency. By Knoller’s count, Trump has spent all or part of 87 days at one of his golf clubs, plus one in Japan. Obama had played 24 rounds of golf and George W. Bush had played seven rounds.

“Trump’s White House lacks any semblance of transparency, so it’s hard to get an exact number on how many actual rounds of golf the orange dictator-wannabe has played,” Einenkel noted. “But at the very least we can all agree that Trump has spent more time at golf courses as a president than anyone else in their first year of office.”

SOLAR & WIND ENERGY NOW CHEAPER THAN COAL & NUKES. In one of the fastest and most astonishing turnarounds in the history of energy, building and running new renewable energy is now cheaper than just running existing coal and nuclear plants in many areas, Joe Romm reported at (11/20).

A widely-used yearly benchmarking study — the Levelized Cost of Energy Analysis (LCOE) from the financial firm Lazard Ltd. — reached this stunning conclusion: In many regions “the full-lifecycle costs of building and operating renewables-based projects have dropped below the operating costs alone of conventional generation technologies such as coal or nuclear.”

Lazard focused on the cost of a power for a plant over its entire lifetime in North America, and how the “increasing economic advantage of renewables in the US” will drive even deeper penetration of solar and wind here.

Lazard notes that in North America, the cost for utility-scale coal remained flat and the cost of nuclear soared. “The estimated levelized cost of energy for nuclear generation increased [about] 35% versus prior estimates, reflecting increased capital costs at various nuclear facilities currently in development,” the analysis found.

Indeed, while solar and wind have dropped dramatically in price since 2009, nuclear power has simply priced itself out of the market for new power.

The lifecycle cost of electricity from new nuclear plants is now $148 per megawatt-hour, or 14.8 cents per kilowatt-hour, while it is 5 cents per kwh for utility scale solar and 4.5 c/kwh for wind. By comparison, the average price for electricity in US is 11 cents per kWh.

NO ONE WANTS KXL PIPELINE, BUT NEBRASKA APPROVES IT ANYWAY. A Nebraska state panel voted to approve an alternative route for TransCanada’s Keystone XL pipeline (11/20) in a major milestone for the controversial project.

The decision came just days after the existing Keystone pipeline leaked more than 200,000 gallons of crude oil in South Dakota, and a little more than two years after the Obama administration first denied the project’s cross-border permit on economic and climate reasons.

The pipeline, if constructed, would carry 830,000 barrels of diluted bitumen a day from the tar sands of Alberta, Canada, to refineries along the Texas Gulf Coast. From a climate perspective, the project would add an additional 181 million metric tons of carbon dioxide to the atmosphere each year — the same as 51 coal plants, Natasha Geiling noted at (11/20).

Donald Trump promised to revive the proposal during the 2016 presidential campaign, and signed an executive order in January directing the State Department to reconsider TransCanada’s cross-border permit. Less than 60 days after the executive order, the State Department announced that it would approve the company’s request.

Nebraska Public Service Commission, which is charged with making decisions about oil pipelines throughout the state, under a 2011 state law known as the Major Oil Pipeline Siting Act, was only allowed to consider whether the pipeline would be in the best interest of the state — it was prohibited from considering safety risks, like spills or leaks, in rendering its decision.

Opponents of the project argued the pipeline would not be in the interest of the state as it would likely reduce property values for landowners along the proposed route, as well as potentially have an adverse impact on wildlife and natural resources. Supporters argued the pipeline would create jobs and would be a safer way to bring oil to market than by train. Trump has claimed the project would create 28,000 “great construction jobs,” though the State Department estimated the number would be closer to 3,900 and only 35 permanent jobs would be created to maintain, inspect and repair the pipeline once operational. The pipeline would also be exempt from a Trump administration order mandating that pipelines be constructed with American steel.

Ultimately, the commission chose to approve the “mainline alternative” by a vote of 3 to 2.

Paul Miller, president of TransCanada’s liquid pipelines business, has said that TransCanada is still searching for customers for the project, telling investors during a September call that the company would “make an assessment of the commercial support and the regulator approvals” after the Public Service Commission rendered its decision. If constructed, the project would not be operational until close to 2020 — meaning that the economic benefit of the project would likely be tied to what happens with an increasingly volatile international oil market. Low oil prices have already hurt the Canadian tar sands industry, with some of the country’s largest companies reporting billions in net losses in 2015.

COAL BARON CONVICTED IN MINE DISASTER MULLS SENATE RUN. As if 2017 wasn’t weird enough yet, coal baron Don Blankenship, who served a one-year sentence in federal prison for conspiring to willfully violate mine safety standards in connection with the Upper Big Branch mine explosion that claimed 29 lives in 2010, is considering running for the US Senate in 2018 for the seat held by Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va.

Blankenship, the ex-Massey Energy CEO who contends the US Mine Safety and Health Administration caused the Upper Big Bend blast after it reduced the ventilation air flow through the mine, would square off against US Rep. Evan Jenkins and West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey in the Republican primary.

Four investigations, however, found that the disaster was caused by worn and broken equipment that sparked and ignited accumulations of coal dust and methane gas. Blankenship had ordered Massey Energy to put safety improvements on hold, writing to one executive in 2008 that “We’ll worry about ventilation or other issues at an appropriate time,”

In February, Blankenship’s petition for a rehearing of his appeal of his conviction on the misdemeanor charge was denied by the US Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals. In January, the court already had ruled that US District Court in Charleston committed no reversible errors and denied Blankenship’s battle to get his conviction overturned.

Blankenship declared himself an “American political prisoner” on his blog and distributed 250,000 copies of a 67-page diatribe

Blankenship will likely have a difficult time campaigning throughout the state, because, he cannot leave the state of Nevada, where he moved this past summer, without permission from his probation officer or a federal judge, Natasha Geiling of ThinkProgress noted (11/29). Blankenship’s supervision ends in May, two days after the Republican primary.

COMCAST HINTS AT PLAN FOR PAID FAST LANES AFTER NET NEUTRALITY REPEAL. For years, Comcast has been promising that it won’t violate the principles of net neutrality, regardless of whether the government imposes any net neutrality rules. That meant that Comcast wouldn’t block or throttle lawful Internet traffic and that it wouldn’t create fast lanes in order to collect tolls from Web companies that want priority access over the Comcast network.

Now, with a Republican majority in charge of the Federal Communications Commission and preparing to drop net neutrality rules, Comcast’s stance has changed, Jon Brodkin reported at (11/27). While the company still says it won’t block or throttle Internet content, it has dropped its promise about not instituting paid prioritization.

Instead, Comcast now vaguely says that it won’t “discriminate against lawful content” or impose “anti-competitive paid prioritization.” The change in wording suggests that Comcast may offer paid fast lanes to websites or other online services, such as video streaming providers, after the FCC under Chairman Ajit Pai, a former executive at Verizon, eliminates the net neutrality rules next month. With no FCC rules against paid fast lanes, it would be up to Comcast to decide whether any specific prioritization deal is “anti-competitive.”

Comcast’s promise not to “discriminate” suggests that its paid prioritization would be available to anyone who wants it and can afford it, Brodkin noted. Offering paid fast lanes to anyone at similar rates could help prevent the Federal Trade Commission from stepping in to block unfair trade practices.

From The Progressive Populist, December 15, 2017


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