AT&T, Time Warner, and the Need for Neutrality

The biggest tech firms now have so much power that even minor changes to, say, Facebook's Feed algorithm can detectably alter the national mood, or change voter turnout patterns. Yet there are few regulations around how this power can be used, and most applicable laws are incredibly outdated. Antitrust laws haven't been updated in two or three generations, and relevant privacy laws concerning tech were written in the 80s.

Thus we are in the unfortunate scenario where a bad case by the government has led to, at best, a merger that was never examined for its truly anti-competitive elements, and at worst, bad law that will open the door for similar tie-ups. To be sure, it is not at all clear that the government would have won had they focused on zero rating: there is an obvious consumer benefit to the concept — that is why T-Mobile leveraged it to such great effect! — and the burden would have been on the government to show that the harm was greater.
The bigger issue, though, is the degree to which laws surrounding such issues are woefully out-of-date. Last fall I argued that Title II was the wrong framework to enforce net neutrality, even though net neutrality is a concept I absolutely support; I came to that position in part because zero rating was barely covered by the FCC’s action.
What is clearly needed is new legislation, not an attempt to misapply ancient regulation in a way that is trivially reversible. Moreover, AT&T has a point that online services like Google and Facebook are legitimate competitors, particularly for ad dollars; said regulation should address the entire sector. To that end I would focus on three key principles:
  • First, ISPs should not purposely slow or block data on a discriminatory basis. I am not necessarily opposed to the concept of “fast lanes”, as I believe that offers significant potential for innovative services, although I recognize the arguments against them; it should be non-negotiable, though, that ISPs cannot purposely disfavor certain types of content.
  • Second, and similarly, dominant internet platforms should not be allowed to block any legal content from their services. At the same time, services should have discretion in monetization and algorithms; that anyone should be able to put content on YouTube, for example, does not mean that one has a right to have Google monetize it on their behalf, or surface it to people not looking for it.
  • Third, ISPs should not be allowed to zero-rate their own content, and platforms should not be allowed to prioritize their own content in their algorithms. Granted, this may be a bit extreme; at a minimum there should be strict rules and transparency around transfer pricing and a guarantee that the same rates are allowed to competitive services and content.
The reality of the Internet, as noted by Aggregation Theory, is increased centralization; meanwhile, the impact on the Internet on traditional media is an inexorable drive towards consolidation. Our current laws and antitrust jurisprudence are woefully unprepared to deal with this reality, and a new law guaranteeing neutrality is the best solution.

The War for a White Electorate

This is an increasingly dangerous time we're living in. An extremist nativist movement is fueling  (an actually rather-politically-moderate) backlash, following decades of increasing corruption at the top, and polarization at the bottom. Too few people have been involved in politics, or even paid attention; we need to educate ourselves about what's going on, then run for office or support those who are.

Our present trajectory resembles nothing more than the early 20th century, where rampant nativism, racism, and economic inequality produced a broad politics of dispossession and disenfranchisement. Mass immigration from southern and Eastern Europe brought a radically restrictive immigration regime meant to preserve the political and cultural dominance of “Anglo-Saxons” as well as cumbersome registration laws meant to curb the influence of those immigrants, who settled in the urban north. America in the early 20th century saw a “sustained, nationwide contraction of suffrage rights,” writes historian Alexander Keyssar in The Right to Vote: The Contested History of Democracy in the United States, its causes ranging from deep racial hostility and prejudice to an economic and social elite who “found it difficult to control the state under conditions of full democratization.”
Even in a moment of progressive activism, political experimentation, and labor militancy, it took economic depression and war to fully reverse that contraction and infuse American government with substantive democracy. With luck, we can accomplish the same for a new generation without requiring the same trauma and catastrophe.

Trump Can't Reverse the Decline of White Christian America

If Trump is not literally a demon from Hell, he is among the most committed self-idolators I can think of. Yet a majority of self-identifying "conservative" "Christians" in America would vote for someone so evil. This was a bargain with the devil. You reap what you sew...

One of the most perplexing features of the 2016 election was the high level of support Donald Trump received from white evangelical Protestants. How did a group that once proudly identified itself as “values voters” come to support a candidate who had been married three times, cursed from the campaign stump, owned casinos, appeared on the cover of Playboy Magazine, and most remarkably, was caught on tape bragging in the most graphic terms about habitually grabbing women’s genitals without their permission? White evangelical voters’ attraction to Trump was even more mysterious because the early GOP presidential field offered candidates with strong evangelical credentials, such as Ted Cruz, a longtime Southern Baptist whose father was a Baptist minister, and Marco Rubio, a conservative Catholic who could talk with ease and familiarity about his own personal relationship with Jesus.
It is perhaps an open question whether Trump’s candidacy represents a true change in evangelicals’ DNA or whether it simply revealed previously hidden traits, but the shift from values to nostalgia voter has undoubtedly transformed their political ethics. The clearest example of evangelical ethics bending to fit the Trump presidency is white evangelicals’ abandonment of their conviction that personal character matters for elected officials. In 2011 and again just ahead of the 2016 election, PRRI asked Americans whether a political leader who committed an immoral act in his or her private life could nonetheless behave ethically and fulfill their duties in their public life. In 2011, consistent with the “values voter” brand and the traditional evangelical emphasis on the importance of personal character, only 30 percent of white evangelical Protestants agreed with this statement. But with Trump at the top of the Republican ticket in 2016, 72 percent of white evangelicals said they believed a candidate could build a kind of moral dike between his private and public life. In a head-spinning reversal, white evangelicals went from being the least likely to the most likely group to agree that a candidate’s personal immorality has no bearing on his performance in public office.
Fears about the present and a desire for a lost past, bound together with partisan attachments, ultimately overwhelmed values voters’ convictions. Rather than standing on principle and letting the chips fall where they may, white evangelicals fully embraced a consequentialist ethics that works backward from predetermined political ends, bending or even discarding core principles as needed to achieve a predetermined outcome. When it came to the 2016 election, the ends were deemed so necessary they justified the means. As he saw the polls trending for Trump in the last days before the election, in no small part because of the support of white evangelicals, Russell Moore was blunt, lamenting that Trump-supporting evangelicals had simply adopted “a political agenda in search of a gospel useful enough to accommodate it."
White evangelicals have entered a grand bargain with the self-described master dealmaker, with high hopes that this alliance will turn back the clock. And Donald Trump’s installation as the 45th president of the United States may in fact temporarily prop up, by pure exertions of political and legal power, what white Christian Americans perceive they have lost. But these short-term victories will come at an exorbitant price. Like Esau, who exchanged his inheritance for a pot of stew, white evangelicals have traded their distinctive values for fleeting political power. Twenty years from now, there is little chance that 2016 will be celebrated as the revival of White Christian America, no matter how many Christian right leaders are installed in positions of power over the next four years. Rather, this election will mostly likely be remembered as the one in which white evangelicals traded away their integrity and influence in a gambit to resurrect their past.
Meanwhile, the major trends transforming the country continue. If anything, evangelicals’ deal with Trump may accelerate the very changes it was designed to arrest, as a growing number of non-white and non-Christian Americans are repulsed by the increasingly nativist, tribal tenor of both conservative white Christianity and conservative white politics. At the end of the day, white evangelicals’ grand bargain with Trump will be unable to hold back the sheer weight of cultural change, and their descendants will be left with the only real move possible: acceptance.

Michael Pollan on Psychedelic Drugs and How to Change Your Mind

Interesting interview with Michael Pollan on the therapeutic uses of LSD and 'shrooms (when used correctly, assisted by professionals). This sounds like an incredibly promising line of research: non-addictive, with uses for helping ease or cure addiction, depression, etc.

Push to Abolish ICE Takes National Spotlight

What HSI proposes is merely splitting the two ICE sub-agencies, in order to avoid the current politicization of the whole organization. But both agencies have very little oversight (as seen in the latest fraud scandals just now coming to light). ICE either needs to be abolished and its functions returned to their pre-9/11 departments, or Congress needs to create drastically more stringent accountability rules, and the leadership swept away and replaced with people of character.

Special agents in charge of most field offices run by Homeland Security Investigations now support eliminating Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
HSI is one of two subagencies within the department known as ICE, created 15 years ago under the umbrella of the Department of Homeland Security.
Reacting to the recent executive order on immigration by President Donald Trump, federal agents representing 19 of the country’s 26 HSI field offices have written a letter to Homeland Security Secretary Kristen Nielsen that recommends dissolving ICE altogether and spinning off HSI and another subagency, Enforcement Removal Operations...

Largest US nail manufacturer 'on the brink of extinction' because of the steel tariffs

Trump either doesn't know or doesn't care about the basics of trade. He implements policies that he thinks will sound good on tv, damn the consequences. Instead of taxing imported "finished goods" (products) which we have a competitive edge in, he taxes "inputs" (raw materials) which our high-tech manufacturing needs as cheap as possible. This likely means we're going to trade higher-wage jobs for a few lower-wage jobs. And the specific tariffs are mostly harming our closest allies' economies, giving China more leverage.

The Mid-Continent Nail plant in Poplar Bluff, Missouri, laid off 60 of its 500 workers last week because of increased steel costs. The company blames the 25% tariff on imported steel. Orders for nails plunged 50% after the company raised its prices to deal with higher steel costs.
Glassman called President Donald Trump's trade policy misguided. He noted that the company had doubled its work force since 2013, and thrived despite increased competition from China.

Trump’s Pentagon Quietly Made A Change To The Stated Mission It’s Had For Two Decades

Ominous, indeed:

For at least two decades, the Department of Defense has explicitly defined its mission on its website as providing “the military forces needed to deter war and to protect the security of our country.” But earlier this year, it quietly changed that statement, perhaps suggesting a more ominous approach to national security.
The Pentagon’s official website now defines its mission this way: “The mission of the Department of Defense is to provide a lethal Joint Force to defend the security of our country and sustain American influence abroad.”

A Stanford researcher says we shouldn’t start working full time until age 40

The headline's a little misleading, but the ideas make sense. We cram too many major life goals into about a 20 year window, when we could spread them out. I'd love to see what people would do if they could rearrange their working years across their life. I bet we'd live longer, enjoy life more, and solve political problems more easily.

A woman who is 40 years old today can expect to live another 45 years, on average, while 5% will live to see their 100th birthday. The average 40-year-old man will live another 42. For many people, most of those years will be healthy enough to continue work that doesn’t involve intense physical labor. So why are we still packing all of our career and family obligations into a few frantic decades?
Rather than a four-decade professional sprint that ends abruptly at 65, Carstensen argues, we should be planning for marathon careers that last longer but have more breaks along the way for learning, family needs, and obligations outside the workplace.
“We need a new model,” Carstensen says of the current norms around career pacing. The current one “doesn’t work, because it fails to recognize all the other demands on our time. People are working full-time at the same time they’re raising children. You never get a break. You never get to step out. You never get to refresh. . . .We go at this unsustainable pace, and then pull the plug.”