Last Chance for Net Neutrality

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Fight for it

I’m not an internet expert, or particularly technologically adept. Chat still blows my mind. Honestly, phones–not smart phones or cell phones, but just the technology that transforms the thoughts in our head and the vibrations in our throat into signals that can cross continent-spanning wires and then transmogrify themselves back into speech–still make me dizzy.  I don’t understand anything.

But I do know that net neutrality is a good thing from a liberal and a libertarian and a “get off my land” point of view. There is little counter-argument save for deception, misdirection, and flat-out lies. Do you want the internet to be democratic, or do you want it to be ruled by capitalism? That’s the only question.

And tomorrow is the last day for comments before the venal dork Ajit Pai tries to strike the final blow to the promise of the internet.

Comment! It might not do anything, but dammit, it might.

At one point, the internet was the home of libertarian weirdos and liberal dreamers. It was Thomas Pynchon’s fantasy world, this strange conspiracy-driven non-land, this battle ground where the lines that defined this country were broken and made jagged and impossible to follow. The lines always won, but we still tried to break them. We fought for the ideals that first imagined a new land out of unbroken forest. The internet was where the crushing waterwheels of conformity were overwhelmed by the floodwaters. It was the weirdest place, and it was a non-place.

And now it has been defined and delineated and emasculated by the worst of our capitalist dungeon-masters and our need for cheap entertainment. It’s been subsumed by the worst of our culture. In what seems like the final days, we realize something terrible and permanent: the internet didn’t change us. The internet amplified us.

But goddammit, it is still early. The battle has yet to be won. We can still fight. The sexless creeps that make up the Trump admin want to give it all away. They’ll probably win. But they don’t have to.  Comment. Fight. Keep things weird. Weird isn’t always great, but it beats the goddamn alternative.

We await silent Tristero’s empire. Or, at least, I do.

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Bear Eras Update: It Turns Out People Like National Monuments

 

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Surprisingly, most people like the way this looks without oil derricks. 

Last week, we revisited our old friend Bear Ears National Monument, which is Patient Zero for the GOP’s attempt to destroy the Antiquities Act. They don’t like the idea that land can be set aside just for public use, and not for the gain of private extraction and logging concerns. It’s one of the driving motivations of the contemporary GOP: the idea that the government is an alien, and that if something can be sold and converted into capital, it should. It’s why the Sagebrush Rebellion is one of the primary events in modern Republican history.

But, it turns out, just as people don’t like being kicked off their health care in order to finance tax cuts for the rich, people also like the idea that we should have unspoiled land for everyone to enjoy, not just for the few to profit off of. And they let Ryan Zinke’s Department of Interior know just that.

Most regulations are subject to public comment, which lets lawmakers know where people tend to stand on things. The attempt to eliminate or reduce 27 national monuments is no different. They received an incredible 1.3 million comments. And the results? It was close!

Charlottesville, Virginia-based Key-Log Economics used an innovative combination of crowdsourcing and machine learning, to comb through and analyze every one of the 1.3 million comments that were publicly available by the end of the official comment period. They found that 99.2 percent of comments oppose the possible elimination of the national monument designations or a reduction in their size and protected status.

(That the study was conducted in Charlottesville is just a coincidence, but does provide nice harmony about who wants to unite the common good and the forces arrayed against it.)

This is unsurprising! Most people are in favor of national monuments. But that’s one of the more insidious things about the Republican Party. They simply don’t care what most people want. And they have always used the manipulation of language (government overreach, private land, etc) to convince people to support things that they don’t actually support.

Any Western GOP politician, from Chaffetz to Zinke, has the speech down pat. The government wants to take over this land! They’ve taken it over without actually setting foot in it, a bunch of Washington bureaucrats! We want to return it to the people.

“The people”, here, are of course private concerns, who would shoot your ass for trespassing on their newly fenced-off land. But it sounds seductive, and is part and parcel of their overall philosophy that the government is the enemy of the people, and not the expression of our politics. It is contempt for democracy at the most basic level.

But we can push back. Who knows if these comments will do any good. Zinke is already showing himself to be a good Trumpista by wildly spinning the results.

Comments received were overwhelmingly in favor of maintaining existing monuments and demonstrated a well-orchestrated national campaign organized by multiple organizations. Opponents of monuments primarily supported rescinding or modifying the existing monuments to protect traditional multiple use, and those most concerned were often local residents associated with industries such as grazing, timber production, mining, hunting and fishing, and motorized recreation. 

Well-orchestrated national campaigns. You can almost hear him whispering “Soros” and “fake news.” They contrast this with locals, though at least they are honest enough not to hide the mercenary motivations.

Again, this is part of the GOP and right-wing emotional strategy. A bunch of elites want one thing, and are ramming it down the throats of the hard-working locals, simple folk, really, who just want Uncle Sam off their back. Never mind that they aren’t going to be doing much huntin’ or fishin’ on Amalagamted Strip-Top Mining land. It’s freedom is what it is.

Don’t ignore either the way that the “national” campaign is sneered at, as if we as Americans shouldn’t have a say in our national heritage. It is the politics of division, as if a few people in one area have the full rights over who we are as a nation. It’s really a funny sort of patriotism. The million comments are dismissed because they came from people who care enough to comment, which is, I guess, a bad thing.

Will it work? I don’t know. I kind of feel like this is one of those things that could go either way. It is so unpopular that in a normal system they’d have to back off, but it is also under the radar enough that it can slip under the constant deafening storm of nonsense. But if the Antiquities Act goes, our national heritage is up for sale. It’s something to keep fighting.

****BONUS COMMENTING COMMENT***

You can now comment on the Water of the United States Act, which the admin wants to roll back. I think it is a bad idea. If you have an opinion, comment. It actually does mean something.

 

 

Weekend News Roundup: Gorka, Tillerson, and Harvey

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There’s a Soviet-era sci-fi book by the Kyrgyz writer Chingiz Aitmatov called The Day Lasts More Than A Hundred Years. I really liked it as a book (though it has been like 18 years since I’ve read it), but love it as a title. It’s a truism every day, of course, the long pace of a day, with each individual tumbling thought taking up its own space, elongating the day beyond memory. But it is especially true in our moment of nitwit authoritarianism, when we’re so consumed with the daily thrum of horror and inanity that time itself is distorted.

All of this is a long way of saying that a whole lot happened since Friday. Let’s do a quick breakdown of the hits (we’ll have a standalone post on the Arpaio pardon).

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A Gentle Sugesstion to Trump’s “Oil and Gas Allies” Who Are Worried About Too Much Deregulation

 

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“But no one told us explicitly not to do this!” 

 

Politico offers us another example of “terrible people who are stunned by how bad Trump really is” (we can also call this “The Mitchie”).

Publicly, petroleum companies and their trade groups are cheering Trump’s efforts to undo former President Barack Obama’s environmental regulations, including restrictions on fracking-related pollution, pipeline permits and offshore drilling. But quietly, people in the industry are growing worried that deregulation could backfire on them, according to interviews with a dozen executives, lobbyists, lawyers and analysts.

Among their fears: Laxer rules could set the stage for an environmental disaster like 2010’s BP oil spill in the Gulf, which blackened the industry’s reputation and spurred a regulatory clampdown.

“Every industry wants regulations that make sense, but you don’t need to roll things back so far that it opens an opportunity for outsiders to criticize, or something bad happens,” said Brian Youngberg, an energy analyst at the investment firm Edward Jones.

A person at one oil and gas company expressed similar worries. “It’s not helpful if regulations are streamlined so as to allow something to happen — say, a methane explosion or a spill — and we’d be painted with it as an entire industry,” said the person, who requested anonymity to speak freely.

Now, far be it from me to tell titans of industry what to do, but if you are worried about public reaction to you destroying the air and water, if not actually worried about destroying the air and water, maybe you could do more than the absolute minimum required of you by a government bound and determined to make every single corner the end of Wigan Pier?

But, I guess by untying their hands, Trump is truly binding them to their fate. What are you supposed to do, you know? Be marginally less profitable? And so it goes.

With Bear Ears, We See The Fullness of the GOP (Bonus: The Worst Dude!)

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Interior Secretary Zinke: This is nice. Could use some derricks.

In December, not knowing much about him, I tentatively declared Interior nominee Ryan Zinke to be potentially “not terrible?” It wasn’t exactly high praise, but even that most mild of optimism (or a lower level of dread) was misplaced.

BEARS EARS NATIONAL MONUMENT, Utah — Parts of this sprawling region of red-rock canyons, towering mesas and ancient Native American sites in southeastern Utah could lose their strict federal protection as a national monument, under a recommendation that Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke is expected to issue on Thursday.

Shrinking the Bears Ears National Monument and reopening much of the land for possible mining and drilling would be widely seen as a direct blow to former President Barack Obama’s environmental legacy, and the first major test of a century-old conservation law.

Bear Ears is the opening for them. This was a piece of land set off almost entirely due to indigenous concerns, which in and of itself already goes against conservative philosophy. It’s not the Democrats really understand that there are multiple nations still on this continent, in different occupied territories, but conservatives want to entirely wipe that idea out, subsume it all under the guise of America.

And America, for them, is business. We’ve talked endlessly about the idea of how the modern GOP is set up in opposition to the idea of “the common good,” whether that is the shared responsibilities of public health or helping people not be trapped by the circumstances of their birth. But its apotheosis is in how it treats the sprawling and beautiful land that makes up this country, however it was gained.

They want to dig it up and convert it into wealth. Not for everyone, of course. For miners and loggers, mostly. For large companies. For those already wealthy. The argument is that the government shouldn’t control the “people’s land”, logic which is easily disproven, but very seductive on its face. Public land reverts to the states, which sells it to private companies, which tear it up.

The Trump admin has wanted to do this from Day 1, which really any GOP government would have done. He’s particularly eager to sell the country off, since he’s a cheap monster with no respect for anything but himself, but this would have happened with any Republican. It’s what they do.

Bear Ears has been at the top of their list since President Obama designated it last year. To them it was the ultimate in tyrannical over-reach, since it was just for Indians, and since there are precious, precious minerals under it. Jason Chaffetz even launched an investigation into how a staffer at Bryce Canyon could have made a mail slot for Bear Ears unless there was prior collusion (I’m not kidding).

Bear Ears was at the center of anti-Obama paranoia, fraudulent terror, anti-Native activism (of which DAPL is a huge part), and of course the assault on public land. This is the door they want to push through in order to break the Antiquities Act. Any action will be challenged in court, and challenged for years, and with hundreds of federal seats open, and the potential for more Supreme Court posts, they feel confident they’ll win.

They genuinely don’t think that the President should be able to protect land from capitalism. They don’t think anyone should. And they’re going to use Bear Ears as the first test case to erode the Act that has allowed us to celebrate the wild and impossible beauty of this still-forming continent. These are people who gaze into the vast western sunsets and say “Not bad. Could use some mines.”  Make sure you call your Senators and Reps and tell them to fight to protect the Antiquities Act.

Oh, and a bonus! Here’s the worst person.

Mike Noel, a Utah state representative, said that reducing or eliminating Bears Ears would be “a victory for our state.” Federal management of land in his state had constrained drilling, mining and grazing, he said, adding that Washington had no business setting aside so much land for the strict protection that monument status affords.

“When you turn the management over to the tree-huggers, the bird and bunny lovers and the rock lickers, you turn your heritage over,” Mr. Noel said.

Rock lickers?

New Afghanistan Strategy Essentially the Max Power Theory Of Counter-Terrorism

(I’m going to try, but probably unsuccessfully, to ignore the grotesque spectacle of a deeply unpopular President, aided in his minority-of-voters election win by both the remnants of slave power and of a foreign power, sending more soldiers off to die. That’s America, baby. I’ll even try to leave personal animosity out, with a discussion of his unique pathologies only as relevant to the strategy. Which are very relevant. Basically, I’ll leave out his talking about unity a day before he pardons Joe Arapio, using soldiers as a way to stifle dissent, and how you can’t talk about Arlington the same week you praise Lee. Christ, this guy.)

In case you can’t see the above clip, or for some reason don’t have the context for it, it’s a Simpsons episode where Homer wants more respect, and so changes his name to “Max Power”.  If memory serves, he got it from a hair dryer. That leads to this exchange, where he’s talking about the new Max Power experience.

Homer: There’s three ways of doing things: there’s the right way, the wrong way, and the Max Power way.

Bart: Isn’t that the wrong way?

Homer: Yeah, but faster.

To me, this has always been as perfect a summation of US foreign policy as there can be. The need to “do something” in order to “show leadership” and “set a clear standard” is always a disaster, with the idea of reputation being more important than success. In other words, it is somehow better for our reputation as a superpower to invade somewhere and fail than to not intervene at all. It’s the Max Power way.

But never, I think, have I seen a more clear example of this than in President Trump’s Afghanistan speech last night. The strategy is to focus entirely on counter-terrorism, sending in more troops (though it is unclear how many more) in order to fight ISIL, the Taliban, al-Qaeda, and sundry other baddies on both sides of the Durand Line, it seems. We’ll also be training the Afghan army to fight on its own.

This could be an interesting strategy, except that a) that’s essentially what we’ve been doing since most of the soldiers now fighting and dying were toddling around in short pants, and b) it is, by design, divorced from political and diplomatic realities on the ground.

Trump said time and time again that we aren’t there to nation build, and we aren’t there to play nice. He gave lip service to making sure the government was viable, but considering we don’t yet have an ambassador, it seems like lip service is all we’re going to get. That basically means that we’re going to be bombing Afghanistan and will be there as a force dedicated to killing, and not, say, helping young girls get to school.

And I get that! It’s tough. No more pussyfooting around, snowflake. Let’s let our boys do what they do best. Kill people and break shit. Right?

Right. Except that in no way has that ever helped stop militancy, and certainly never stopped terrorism. The history of the last 16 years has taught us that. There’s no doubt a lot of people will die, many of them “bad guys”. There will also be a lot of civilians that die, many more with a looser combat conduct code. (US-led attacks on ISIS in Raqqa have killed 100 civilians this week.)

This acceleration of less-discriminate violence will be playing out without a strong political component, which to me makes it madness. It is our Yemen strategy on PCP. It’s doing the wrong thing, but faster, and with the volume turned up on Ride of the Valkyries. I’d say it is doomed to failure, but our Afghanistan policies probably have been from the start, through multiple administrations. This will just make the failure bloodier and costlier.

That isn’t to say there is no political component. Trump spent plenty of time threatening Pakistan and cajoling India to pay more. Neither of these are bad on their face, of course. The problem is that he is treating India like a responsible grown-up partner, Pakistan like a vassal state, and Afghanistan like a colonial battleground. This is part of the weird retrograde foreign policy that has formed within the Adminstration, a combination of the British East India Company and a cult of personality.

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The world here is essentially America’s to do with what she wants, and what she wants is for Donald Trump to make deals. Unilateral if possible, but the deal is this: you do what we say. It’s colonial and personal, and ultimately absurd. It’s clear that Trump is not a good negotiator, and this is compounded (and predicated by) his ignorance of everything in the world. So he likes to say big things, act tough, and then hope that no one notices when things fall apart. It’s how he’s always done things, but now there is nowhere to hide. Even the smart people around him can’t avoid getting sucked into the black hole or his detached malevolence.

That’s why this “policy” is what it is. It is a reality show, Let’s be Forceful, but without any substance behind it. That it is real, and real human being, American and Afghan, will die with piteous cries or in a blinding instant of non-being, makes it even more loathsome. There is no chance at success, but there is a chance at holding up some head or another for cameras and preening about how toughness leads to victory.

You can tell it is nonsense because Trump spent a long time saying how he wasn’t going to tell our enemies when we’re going to attack, a reference to how he thinks Obama did so. This is a reference, I think, to Mosul, a battle for which Trump took credit, even though he spent all fall complaining that the war for the city wasn’t a sneak attack.

To me, this shows that he still knows nothing. He really thinks it is possible to take a city without first massing troops. He’s so cable-news addicted he thinks that we actually announce attacks, and that he’s the first guy to say we shouldn’t. He’s so self-absorbed that he bases his statements on being tougher-sounding than Obama. He wants to project toughness without actually backing it up. He wants cheap and easy victories without caring about the long-term problems. He wants to do the wrong thing as quickly as possible. It’s the Max Power way.

North Korea, White Nationalism, and Reality TV: The Key To the Fake King

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Look, I’m sorry, I love this image.

In Deadspin today, Burneko talks about why he doesn’t think Trump is a real ideological Nazi or Confederate or even an actual white supremacist. I sort of disagree, but this is a solid point.

Honestly, even his white supremacism is a second-order thing, an artifact of the coincidence that he, himself, is white, and cannot tolerate less than personal supremacy. He likes the things in the world that gratify him, and those things happen to be good for preserving the power of white people, men in particular, literally any of whom he’d run over with a combine harvester in a moment if it got the New York Times to treat him like a True New York Big Shot.

There’s a lot to that, I think, especially about how he’d uncaringly destroy the people who for whatever reason adore him. He has no problem crushing the people closest to him, his advisors and staff and defenders. Indeed, he likes cruelty, probably because it reminds him that, despite being a mush-headed coward, he still has unearned power.

He clearly doesn’t care about any of his voters. As Burneko puts it, ““Nazi” and “Republican” and “fork” and “war” and “hello”: For Donald Trump these are just noises you make with your mouth. You make the ones that get people to look at you; if they also smile, fine, but if their eyes widen in shock or horror or disgust, that’s fine too, so long as they don’t look away.” I do think he’s a pretty old-school Queens/Staten Island racist, but he played it up more to get the people cheering. He’s a wrestling heel and a reality show savant (that’s not a compliment). He knows how to gin up conflict for the cheap seats.

Indeed, that’s confirmed by a post late yesterday in the Times.

The president’s top advisers described themselves as stunned, despondent and numb. Several said they were unable to see how Mr. Trump’s presidency would recover, and others expressed doubts about his capacity to do the job.

In contrast, the president told close aides that he felt liberated by his news conference. Aides said he seemed to bask afterward in his remarks, and viewed them as the latest retort to the political establishment that he sees as trying to tame his impulses.

First off, people who are stunned: you’re idiots. This is who he has always been. It isn’t like he somehow became a different man over the 200 days of his Presidency. Everyone knew this was exactly how it would go, so don’t act surprised. When Gary Cohn resigns because his conscience was rocked, don’t treat him as a hero. He’s a goddamn dope if he ever thought differently.

But it’s the last line that’s key. The political establishment is trying to “tame his impulses”, and that’s why he feels great. It doesn’t matter what he said, it doesn’t matter how divisive it was, it doesn’t matter that he broke up his precious CEO conclaves or emboldened Nazis or hurt his chances of passing policies. He was able to be Trump.

That’s what it is all about. That’s what it has always been about. He wants to be the swaggering anti-PC cowboy he envisioned back in his old draft-dodging days, and wants to be seen as the big man who tells it like it is because he’s the only one smart enough to know that George Washington owned slaves, and because all he really wants is attention.

The key to this is his reality show days, which are the main reason he is now President, as terrible an indictment of the United States as that is. On his show, he pretended to be the titan of business and the guy in charge, deciding on the fates of supplicants depending on if they pleased him or not. In reality, producers decided who came and went. At least, according to Clay Aiken, but come on: does Trump seem like the guy who makes real decisions?

He doesn’t. He just likes the trappings of power and fame. A perfect example of this was the North Korea showdown. Trump blustered and blathered, but the DoD played it straight, and Nikki Haley did her job, and we didn’t move to DefCon 1 or anything. Indeed, Trump’s statements seemed outside the process. He was the fake President.

The problem is that he is still the real President, and he made the situation more tense, and could have made it catastrophic. On TV, he could pretend to be the boss and say stupid shit, and it didn’t matter. But here, all you have is people trying to do their jobs under a guy who has no concern for protocol or the right way to do things, because they constrain Trump from being “Trump”.  He doesn’t know anything, doesn’t make actual decisions, doesn’t care to handle things, but wants to be seen as the boss. Wants to be seen as the swaggering tough. And that’s enormously dangerous.

When he adopts the language of white nationalism because he likes to be seen as anti-PC, it is dangerous. When he threatens North Korea because he likes to be seen as bold, it is dangerous. When he is willing to say anything because he can’t stand being anything other than his own stupid caricature, it is dangerous.

The entire Donald Trump candidacy and presidency has been about serving this empty ego. It’s about propping up his fraud. Maybe that’s the only way to get through to his most stubborn supporters. Just keep pointing out that at no way, in no form, has this ever been about them. It never will be.