Net Neutrality Did Not Die Today

Net Neutrality Did Not Die Today
Apr 23 2018

When the FCC’s “Restoring Internet Freedom Order,” which repealed net neutrality protections the FCC had previously issued, was published on February 22nd, it was interpreted by many to mean it would go into effect on April 23. That’s not true, and we still don’t know when the previous net neutrality protections will end. 

On the Federal Register’s website—which is the official daily journal of the United States Federal Government and publishes all proposed and adopted rules, the so-called “Restoring Internet Freedom Order” has an “effective date” of April 23. But that only applies to a few cosmetic changes. The majority of the rules governing the Internet remain the same—the prohibitions on blocking, throttling, and paid prioritization—remain.

Before the FCC’s end to those protections can take effect, the Office of Management and Budget has to approve the new order, which it hasn’t done. Once that happens, we’ll get another notice in the Federal Register. And that’s when we’ll know for sure when the ISPs will be able to legally start changing their actions.

If your Internet experience hasn’t changed today, don’t take that as a sign that ISPs aren’t going to start acting differently once the rule actually does take effect;  for example, Comcast changed the wording on its net neutrality pledge almost immediately after last year’s FCC vote.

Net neutrality protections didn’t end today, and you can help make sure they never do. Congress can still stop the repeal from going into effect by using the Congressional Review Act (CRA) to overturn the FCC’s action. All it takes is a simple majority vote held within 60 legislative working days of the rule being published. The Senate is only one vote short of the 51 votes necessary to stop the rule change, but there is a lot more work to be done in the House of Representatives. See where your members of Congress stand and voice your support for the CRA here.


The Reinvention of America

The Reinvention of America
Americans don’t realize how fast the country is moving toward becoming a better version of itself.
By James Fallows
May 2018 Issue

I have seen the future, and it is in the United States.

After a several-year immersion in parts of the country that make the news mainly after a natural disaster or a shooting, or for follow-up stories on how the Donald Trump voters of 2016 now feel about Trump, I have a journalistic impulse similar to the one that dominated my years of living in China. That is the desire to tell people how much more is going on, in places they had barely thought about or even heard of, than they might have imagined.

In the case of China, that impulse matched the mood of the times. In the years before and after the world financial crisis of 2008, everyone knew that China was on the way up; reporters like me were just filling in the details. In the case of the modern United States, I am well aware that this message runs so counter to prevailing emotions and ideas as to seem preposterous. Everyone knows how genuinely troubled the United States is at the level of national politics and governance. It is natural to assume that these disorders must reflect a deeper rot across the country. And indeed, you can’t travel extensively through today’s America, as my wife, Deb, and I have been doing in recent years, without being exposed to signs of rot, from opioid addiction to calcifying class barriers.

At the time Deb and I were traveling, sociologists like Robert Putnam were documenting rips in the social fabric. We went to places where family stories matched the famous recent study by the economists Anne Case and Angus Deaton of Princeton, showing rising mortality among middle-aged whites without a college degree for reasons that include chronic disease, addiction, and suicide. In some of the same cities where we interviewed forward-moving students, civic leaders, and entrepreneurs, the photographer Chris Arnade was portraying people the economy and society had entirely left behind. The cities we visited faced ethnic and racial tensions, and were struggling to protect local businesses against chain stores and to keep their most promising young people from moving away. The great majority of the states and counties we spent time in ended up voting for Donald Trump.

What we learned from traveling was not that the hardest American challenges of this era are illusory. They’re very real, and divisions about national politics are intense. So we made a point of never asking, early on, “How’s Obama doing?,” or later, “Do you trust Hillary?” and “What about Trump?” The answers to questions like those won’t take you beyond what you’ve already heard ad nauseam on TV.

Instead we asked people about their own lives and their own communities. Reporting is the process of learning what you didn’t know before you showed up. And by showing up in Mississippi and Kansas and South Dakota and inland California and Rust Belt Pennsylvania, we saw repeated examples of what is happening in America’s here and now that have important and underappreciated implications for America’s future.

Serious as the era’s problems are, more people, in more places, told us they felt hopeful about their ability to move circumstances the right way than you would ever guess from national news coverage of most political discourse. Pollsters have reported this disparity for a long time. For instance, a national poll that The Atlanticcommissioned with the Aspen Institute at the start of the 2016 primaries found that only 36 percent of Americans thought the country as a whole was headed in the right direction. But in the same poll, two-thirds of Americans said they were satisfied with their own financial situation, and 85 percent said they were very or somewhat satisfied with their general position in life and their ability to pursue the American dream. Other polls in the past half-dozen years have found that most Americans believe the country to be on the wrong course—but that their own communities are improving.

What explains the gulf between most Americans’ hopeful outlook on areas and institutions they know directly and their despair about the country they know only through the news? Would it make any difference if more people understood that the local progress they see was not an isolated anomaly but part of a trend?

I make no pretense that our proposed answers to those questions are precise or scientific. We traveled as broadly as we could. We listened; we learned. We were looking for civic success stories, and we found them. But we also ended up in places where well-intentioned efforts had failed. So we steadily adjusted our conclusions. We ended up convinced that the national prospect is more promising than we’d felt before we started—full of possibilities that the bleak trench warfare of national politics inevitably obscures.

My own form of American nationalism, intensified both by living outside the country and by travels within it, arises from love of the American idea: inclusion, expansiveness, opportunity, mobility, the open-ended struggle to make the nation a better version of itself. After living in Japan during its amaze-the-world era of the 1980s, I wrote a book arguing that the proper U.S. response was not to try to be more like Japan but instead to be “more like us”—which was the book’s title. (Its subtitle was Making America Great Again. Sigh.)

America is becoming more like itself again. More Americans are trying to make it so, in more places, than most Americans are aware. Even as the country is becoming worse in obvious ways—angrier, more divided, less able to do the basic business of governing itself—it is becoming distinctly better on a range of other indicators that are harder to perceive. The pattern these efforts create also remains hidden. Americans don’t realize how fast the country is moving toward becoming a better version of itself.

How can this be? Let me explain.

Six years ago, as part of The Atlantic’s 2012 election-year coverage, Deb and I went to central Pennsylvania to watch Mitt Romney try to swing the state against Barack Obama. Romney did what he could. Obviously he fell short, but what stayed with us was the landscape he passed through.

Romney rode from one forlorn coal or manufacturing community to another in a big chartered bus that had iconic small-town scenes painted on its sides, along with the slogans “Believe in America” and “Every town counts.” In an old battered metal-casting shop in Weatherly, in Carbon County, he talked to a nearly all-white crowd about the region’s loss of factory jobs and the need to bring them back. “This is about saving America!” he said.


The Ugly Coded Critique of Chick-Fil-A’s Christianity

[Note:  This item comes from friend Judi Clark.  DLH]

The Ugly Coded Critique of Chick-Fil-A’s Christianity
The fast-food chain’s “infiltration” of New York City ignores the truth about religion in America. It also reveals an ugly narrow-mindedness.
By Stephen L. Carter
Apr 21 2018

The New Yorker has been taking it on the chin lately for its essay about Chick-fil-A’s “infiltration” of New York City. Although most of the piece is about the evils of fast food and the chain’s ubiquitous “Eat Mor Chikin” advertising campaign, the essay has been excoriated for its anti-Christian tone. “The brand’s arrival here feels like an infiltration, in no small part because of its pervasive Christian traditionalism,” we’re told. Not just that: “Its headquarters, in Atlanta, are adorned with Bible verses and a statue of Jesus washing a disciple’s feet. Its stores close on Sundays.” 1  And lest we forget: “The restaurant’s corporate purpose still begins with the words ‘to glorify God.’”

What the author really seems angry about is that the company’s CEO opposes same-sex marriage. But the framing of the piece made Christianity the villain, and the headline — “Chick-fil-A’s Creepy Infiltration of New York City” — was sufficiently troubling that Nate Silver quickly tweeted “This is why Trump won.” Fair point. Religious bigotry is always dangerous. But there’s a deeper problem here, a difficulty endemic to today’s secular left: an all-too-frequent weird refusal to acknowledge the demographics of Christianity. When you mock Christians, you’re not mocking who you think you are.

A 2015 Pew Research Center study of race and ethnicity among U.S. religions provides some basic facts. In the first place, if you’re mocking Christians, you’re mostly mocking women, because women are more likely than men to be Christians. The greatest disproportion is found among black Christians, of whom only 41 percent are male. So you’re mocking black women in particular.

Overall, people of color are more likely than whites to be Christians — and pretty devout Christians at that. Some 83 percent of all black Americans are absolutely certain that God exists. No other group comes close to this figure. Black Christians are far more likely than white Christians (84 percent to 64 percent) to describe religion as very important in their lives. Of all ethnic groups, black Christians are the most likely to attend services, pray frequently and read the Bible regularly. They are also — here’s the kicker — most likely to believe that their faith is the place to look for answers to questions about right and wrong. And they are, by large margins, the most likely to believe that the Bible is the literally inerrant word of God. In short, if you find Christian traditionalism creepy, it’s black people you’re talking about.

It’s true that, politically, black Americans are overwhelmingly Democrats, and that’s true of black Christians as well. On the other hand, black Christians tend to be socially conservative: the least tolerant of homosexuality, the most likely to oppose same-sex marriage and the least likely to believe in evolution. 2  If you’re maligning traditional Christianity, the people you’re maligning are disproportionately black.

And then there’s this fascinating table:


Facebook is actually stalking everyone

[Note:  This item comes from friend Geoff Goodfellow.  DLH]

Facebook is actually stalking everyone
By Post Editorial Board
Apr 21 2018

Facebook is stalking you, even if you’re not signed up — and it really, really doesn’t want to stop.

The latest proof, notes Bloomberg View’s Leonid Bershidsky, came just days after CEO Mark Zuckerberg told Congress how hard the company struggles to stay transparent, and after Facebook announced its intent to give all users the protections ordered in Europe by the EU’s new General Data Protection Directive.

That proof is Facebook’s quiet word that it will shift its terms of service to move all non-European users into the jurisdiction of its US headquarters, rather than its international HQ in Dublin.

The change means the EU rules, which kick in May 25, won’t protect users on five continents as they otherwise would’ve.

Lawyers may have demanded the move, since violations of the GDPD could cost Facebook more than $1 billion in fines. But Zuck admitted to Congress that he’s already letting lawyers make too many calls: “Long privacy policies are confusing,” which is “one of the things we’ve struggled with over time” — without ending the confusion.

But that’s not the only way Facebook falls down: It’s nearly impossible to figure out how to turn off any of its data-collection features — and actually impossible to turn off some.

Even if you tell it to stop using your data to select which ads you see, Facebook still stalks you on the Web to build its profile of your preferences — keeping track in case you change your mind?

Then again, Zuckerberg admitted that his company tracks countless non-members across the ’Net, though he denied knowing the term “shadow profile” — the common tech-world phrase for info gathered on folks you haven’t signed up.

For that matter, Facebook also uses facial-recognition data without your explicit “opt-in” consent — one of countless exploits that the EU rules will forbid.

And it’s all about driving up the company’s advertising revenues — its true Holy Grail, for all Zuck’s talk of “building a global community that works for everyone.”

That drive is also surely behind a complaint we’ve been hearing from more and more writers: Though you can have thousands of followers — people who’ve actively told Facebook they want to see your posts linking to your writings — those posts still don’t pop up in many feeds.

It seems the company’s algorithms discriminate against anything that might move you to spend much online time away from Facebook (unless you’re sent there by a paid ad).

At some point, this hunger for advertising cash is going to produce a “global community” that works for . . . no one.

Arron Banks, the insurers and my strange data trail

[Note:  This item comes from friend David Reed.  David’s comment:’This piece from the Guardian shows well how the “agreements” about data sharing are nonsense.
It’s as if a con man is not guilty because he told you he needed all your data to use to get money out of Africa, then uses it to get your tax refund… Insurance company holds data permanently after failing to make a good offer for you to get auto insurance?’.  DLH]

Arron Banks, the insurers and my strange data trail
Carole Cadwalladr just wanted to insure her car. Six months later, she found a mass of personal details held by a firm she had never contacted that is run by Leave.EU’s biggest donor, Arron Banks. How did it get there?
By Carole Cadwalladr
Apr 21 2018

If a 29-year-old Peugeot 309 is the answer, it’s fair to wonder: what on earth is the question? In fact, I had no idea about either the question or the answer when I submitted a “subject access request” to Eldon Insurance Services in December last year. Or that my car – a vehicle that dates from the last millennium – could hold any sort of clue to anything. If there’s one thing I’ve learned, however, in pursuing the Cambridge Analytica scandal, it’s that however weird things look, they can always get weirder.

Because I was simply seeking information, as I have for the last 16-plus months, about what the Leave campaigns did during the referendum – specifically, what they did with data. And the subject access request – a legal mechanism I’d learned about from Paul-Olivier Dehaye, a Swiss mathematician and data expert – was a shot in the dark.

Under British data protection laws, “data subjects” – you and me – have the right to ask companies or organisations what personal information about them they hold. And, a series of incidents had led me to wonder what, if any, personal information Leave.EU – the campaign headed by Nigel Farage and bankrolled by Arron Banks, a Bristol-based businessman – may have held on me. By the time I submitted my request in December, I’d already been writing about them and their relationship with Cambridge Analytica for almost a year – the first piece in February triggering two investigations by the Electoral Commission and Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO).

But, in November, I appeared to touch a nerve. Leave.EU’s persistent but mostly lighthearted attacks on my work began to change in tone. Conservative MPs had started to criticise the government’s Brexit plans, it had been revealed that Robert Mueller was investigating Cambridge Analytica, and it was in the middle of this that Leave.EU put out a video: a spoof video that showed me being beaten up and threatened with a gun. It was intended to creep me out. And it did. What else, I wondered, did Leave.EU have planned? What else did it know about me? And where had it come from? Companies House shows dozens of companies registered in Banks’s name and variants of his name – Aaron Banks, Aron Fraser Andrew Banks, Arron Andrew Fraser Banks, to name three – including a private investigations firm, Precision Risk and Intelligence Ltd. Andy Wigmore – a director of Eldon and Leave.EU’s spokesman – had told me previously that all insurance firms had access to police databases for fraud prevention purposes.

So, on 17 December last year I submitted a request to Liz Bilney, chief executive of both Leave.EU and Eldon Insurance Services, that asked for the personal information held on me by 19 of Banks’s companies.

The letter triggered a steam of abuse, Banks and Wigmore revealing the contents of my letter in a series of tweets. The next day, I complained to the ICO that my attempt to access my private data, as is my right under British law, had been disclosed publicly and used as the basis to attack me further. The ICO found them to be “likely” in breach of the Data Protection Act and said it had written to notify them. Bilney asked me to pay £170 – you can charge up to £10 for each request by law – and just over a month later I received two folders of data, one relating to the personal information held on me by Leave.EU and the other by Eldon Insurance Services.

The second folder was a surprise. And not just to me. “We have no information on you dopey! You are a political adversary not a customer…” Banks had tweeted at me. And when I’d complained, he said: “You aren’t a customer, we don’t hold any data on you and frankly a journalist asking questions isn’t private, dopey!”

He was right: I wasn’t an Eldon customer. But there it was: my Eldon data, a spreadsheet, that showed it had gathered 12 different sets of data on me from threedifferent sources. These were identified by different codes and a legend supplied with the spreadsheet revealed the codes represented software companies. And there was my data: Eldon had my name, age, address, email address, friends and family who had been on my car insurance and how I had been scored for risk.

How did Eldon have it? And where did it come from? Was I – or had I been – a customer of Eldon at some point? I hadn’t, it turned out, but a search of my inbox revealed that on 27 July last year, I’d taken out car insurance on the basis of a quote I’d obtained from The telling detail was that it was sent at 13.34, the same time as the final entry on the spreadsheet.


Come On! A master class

Come On! A master class
By Rod Janssen
Apr 13 2018

It is seldom one attends an event where you sit there in total awe. This was a Thought Leadership Forum co-organised by the Club of Rome and the European Policy Centre on April 12th in Brussels.

The event was discussing the recent report to the Club of Rome – Come On! Capitalism, short-termism, population and the destruction of the planet, co-ordinated and co-authored by Ernst Ulrich von Weizsäcker from Germany and Anders Wijkman from Sweden, co-Presidents of the Club of Rome.

The Club of Rome, with its 1972 report, Limits to Growth, has always forced us to think about what we are doing, what sustainable pathway we are on (or are not on) and how we must move forward. As the preface to the new book states about Limits to Growth, “the book served as a shock to a world as yet largely unaware of the long-term effects of continued growth in what we now call the human ecological footprint.” It was a shock but somehow we have continued to ignore at peril the long-term signals.

Let’s quote the preface again:

“The world is again in a critical situation. We see the need for a bold new beginning. This time, however, we believe it is particularly important to look at the philosophical roots of the current state of the world. We must question the legitimacy of the ethos of materialistic selfishness that is currently the most powerful driving force in the world, and we welcome Pope Francis’s initiative in addressing a deeper lying crisis of values, a central issue which the Club of Rome identified many years ago. The time has come, we believe, for a new Enlightenment or for otherwise overturning current habits of thought and action that only consider the short term.”

The new book is essential reading for all of us. In the preface they explain about the surprising title:

“Come on” has several different meanings in the English language. In casual language, it is often spelled “C’mon” and means “don’t try to fool me.” We consider this the meaning for Chaps. 1 and 2 of the book. We don’t want to be fooled by the usual descriptions of the state of the world and the usual, corresponding answers, which can make things worse, not better. And we don’t want to be fooled by outdated philosophies. Another meaning of the title is thoroughly optimistic: “Come on, join us!” This is the meaning for Chap. 3 of the book, which we consider an exciting journey of real solutions . . .

The authors argue that the human footprint is increasing fast and, if not reversed, will eventually lead to a collapse of the global economy. In their view, profit maximisation – under the principle of shareholder value first – and saving the planet are inherently in conflict and there needs to be a vastly improved balance between humans and nature, markets and the law, private consumption and public goods, short-term and long-term thinking, and between social justice and incentives for excellence. They propose an overhaul in the way that governments, businesses, financial systems, innovators and families interact with our planet.

Herman von Rompuy, former Belgian Prime Minister and President of the European Council, introduced the event, stating that the report provides a new philosophical approach. So true. We all know something must be done but somehow we are unwilling to really move out of our comfort zone.

Ernst Ulrich von Weizsäcker and Anders Wijkman know how to shake us to our very roots, while being so non-confrontational and being so positive for the way forward. Yes, we need to re-think the policy framework. Yes, we need a new philosophy. Yes, we need to look at how the banking system works. And importantly, we need to base our new philosophy on balance – not the distortions we are faced with now in a myriad of inequalities.

The book offers many positive, practical examples, success stories and opportunities. Many areas of action concern policies at EU level and are of direct relevance to the current policy debate, for example, a move towards a circular economy can help overcome mineral scarcity, significantly lower carbon emissions and increase the number of jobs or regenerative agriculture can stop soil erosion, enhance yields and build carbon in the soil.


Could intelligent life have existed on Earth millions of years before humans?

Could intelligent life have existed on Earth millions of years before humans?
By Charles Q. Choi
Apr 21 2018

Reptilian menaces called Silurians evolved on Earth before humankind — at least in the “Doctor Who” rendition of the universe. But, science fiction aside, how would we know if some advanced civilization existed on our home planet millions of years before brainy humans showed up?

This is a serious question, and serious scientists are speculating about what traces these potential predecessors might have left behind. And they’re calling this possibility the Silurian hypothesis.

When it comes to the hunt for advanced extraterrestrial civilizations that might exist across the cosmos, one must reckon with the knowledge that the universe is about 13.8 billion years old. In contrast, complex life has existed on Earth’s surface for only about 400 million years, and humans have developed industrial civilizations in only the past 300 years. This raises the possibility that industrial civilizations might have been around long before human ones ever existed — not just around other stars, but even on Earth itself.

“Now, I don’t believe an industrial civilization existed on Earth before our own — I don’t think there was a dinosaur civilization or a giant tree sloth civilization,” said Adam Frank, an astrophysicist at the University of Rochester and a co-author of a new study on the topic. “But the question of what one would look like if it did [exist] is important. How do you know there hasn’t been one? The whole point of science is to ask a question and see where it leads. That’s the essence of what makes science so exciting.”

Artifacts of human or other industrial civilizations are unlikely to be found on a planet’s surface after about 4 million years, wrote Frank and study co-author Gavin Schmidt, director of NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies. For instance, they noted that urban areas currently take up less than 1 percent of Earth’s surface and that complex items, even from early human technology, are very rarely found. A machine as complex as the Antikythera mechanism — used by the ancient Greeks, it is considered the world’s first computer — remained unknown when elaborate clocks were being developed in Renaissance Europe.

One may also find it difficult to unearth fossils of any beings who might have lived in industrial civilizations, the scientists added. The fraction of life that gets fossilized is always extremely small: Of all the many dinosaurs that ever lived, for example, only a few thousand nearly complete fossil specimens have been discovered. Given that the oldest known fossils of Homo sapiens are only about 300,000 years old, there is no certainty that our species might even appear in the fossil record in the long run, they added.

Instead, the researchers suggested looking for more-subtle evidence of industrial civilizations in the geological records of Earth or other planets. The scientists focused on looking at the signs of civilization that humans might create during the Anthropocene, the geological age of today, characterized by humans’ influence on the planet.

“After a few million years, any physical reminder of your civilization may be gone, so you have to look for sedimentary anomalies, things like different chemical balances that just look wacky,” Frank said.

One sign of industrial civilization may have to do with isotopes of elements such as carbon.

For instance, humans living in industrial civilizations have burned an extraordinary amount of fossil fuels, releasing more than 500 billion tons of carbon from coal, oil and natural gas into the atmosphere. Fossil fuels ultimately derive from plant life, which preferentially absorb more of the lighter isotope carbon-12 than the heavier isotope carbon-13. When fossil fuels get burned, they alter the ratio of carbon-12 to carbon-13 normally found in the atmosphere, ocean and soils — an effect that could later be detected in sediments as hints of an industrial civilization.