2011 - %3, April

The Top Media Policy Stories of the Week

| Mon Apr. 18, 2011 4:23 PM EDT

Editor's note: Every other week, The Media Consortium rounds up the latest media policy news in a blog called the The Wavelength, posted below.

Four months after the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) supposedly settled the issue, the battle over Net Neutrality is still raging. If anything, it's just beginning to heat up. On April 8, the Republican-controlled Congress resolved to repeal the FCC's recent legislation surrounding Internet protections, and conservative activists are fighting tooth and nail to push back any apparent gains before they are realized. At the same time, media reform advocates say that the FCC's December ruling on broadband policy did not go far enough in establishing consumer-friendly regulatory guidelines across both Internet and mobile platforms.

Meanwhile, the impact of the announced merger between AT&T and T-Mobile is still up for debate, and federal officials are raising anti-trust concerns against Google.

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Do Democrats Prevent Gay Teen Suicides?

| Mon Apr. 18, 2011 4:00 PM EDT

Gay, lesbian, and bisexual (LGB) teens who live in communities with greater proportions of Democrats may be less likely to commit suicide. That's according to a new study from Columbia University's Mailman School of Public Health.

The study looked at a survey of about 32,000 11th graders in 34 Oregon counties, about 4 percent of whom were LGB. It found that LGB youth living in supportive social environments were 25 percent less likely to try killing themselves. In order to measure social support, the study looked at a community's political party affiliation, as well as the prevalence of schools' anti-bullying and anti-discrimination policies and Gay-Straight Alliance groups.

Suicides among gay youth have received a lot of attention in recent months, particularly after a spate of deaths last fall. (The most dramatic, perhaps, was the Rutgers University freshman who leapt off the George Washington Bridge after his roommate streamed a video online of him in an encounter with another man.)

Researcher Mark Hatzenbuehler, who conducted the study, said in a press release that the results would provide a "road map" to reducing suicides. But he expressed concern about the lack of progress in some communities. In Utah, for instance, Mormons have strongly opposed Gay-Straight Alliances.

Suicide is the third leading cause of death among all 15- to 24-year-olds and even higher among LGB youth (PDF).

On Partisan Rhetoric and Fainting Couches

| Mon Apr. 18, 2011 2:35 PM EDT

After listening to the delicate flowers in the GOP whine for the past week about how brutally partisan President Obama's deficit speech was, I thought I should remind them of some of the things Paul Ryan said in his budget plan. Here's a taste of what Obama was responding to:

Where the President has failed, House Republicans will lead....[The president's budget] Locks in reckless spending spree....Never reaches primary balance — failing to clear even the low bar the administration set for itself.

....The President and his party’s leaders embarked on a stimulus spending spree that added hundreds of billions of dollars to the debt, yet failed to deliver on its promises to create jobs. Acute economic hardship was exploited to enact unprecedented expansions of government power.

....Since his inauguration, the President has promoted a heavy-handed compliance culture in the energy sector, brimming with regulations and reckless spending on government-appointed winners and losers.... Gas prices have more than doubled since the President took office. Burdensome and ineffective regulations on businesses in the service of dubious environmental goals have driven up the prices of many products and services, while creating barriers for needed capital investment and job creation.

....The insistence by the President and his party’s leaders on spending money the government does not have has yielded trillion-dollar deficits now and into the future....By failing to address the unsustainable growth of autopilot spending programs, the President’s budget commits this nation to a crushing burden of debt.

I'll forego my fainting couch for the moment. I'm pretty sure I can handle this kind of rhetoric. But somebody needs to remind Republicans that tough partisan talk wasn't exactly invented last Wednesday by President Obama's speechwriters.

Who's Being Rude?

| Mon Apr. 18, 2011 2:03 PM EDT

Andrew Sullivan lodges a familiar complaint:

I've gotten progressively ruder with my friends, who, even when just hanging out in the evening, keep their iPhones and Blackberrys in their hands. I understand the desire to check your email, stocks, Facebook wall, OKCupid or Grindr message in those moments when you simply have to walk or sit on a train or scarf some lunchtime Chipotle. But when you are actually among people you know, the act of glancing down at your mobile device is simply bad manners. It states absolutely that your current interaction is not as important or as interesting as any number of online connections. It's rude. And it misses the point.

The point is that these devices can enhance your social life, not replace it. And yet they seem like cuckoos in our social nest. I know I'm not one to talk. I communicate directly with probably ten times the number of people online that I do by face or physical presence. (Summers in Provincetown change that ratio dramatically, thank God.) But I try not to do both at once.

I feel precisely the same way. And not uncoincidentally, I think, Andrew and I are close to the same age. As near as I can remember, I have never heard this complaint from anyone under the age of 30 or so.

So: is this behavior rude? Or is it rude only if you're socializing with old fogies who consider it rude, sort of the way you watch your language around people who you know are offended by four-letter words? Or is it not even that, but simply a cultural change, like calling someone to thank them for a gift instead of writing a card, and it's us fogies who are being rude by refusing to understand that this behavior is neither offensive nor meant to be offensive? It's just the way teens and twenty-somethings live.

There's no answer to this, of course. I will probably go to my grave thinking it's rude, but unlike Andrew, I long ago decided to simply live with it because it seems so obviously to be a value-neutral cultural change, not something intended to annoy people.

But that's only for the young. If you're over 50, you don't get that forbearance from me: for our generation, it's just rude, full stop. When you're socializing, turn the damn thing off.

(Part of the) DOD Clears McChrystal (Kinda)

| Mon Apr. 18, 2011 1:36 PM EDT

Nearly a year and untold taxpayer dollars later, the Department of Defense's inspector general (DODIG) has finally released its findings (PDF) on the Rolling Stone-documented antics of Gen. Stanley McChrystal and his Afghanistan staffers. Their conclusion: Meh. Whatever.

McChrystal, you'll recall, fell on his sword and was replaced in Afghanistan by Gen. David Petraeus after the "runaway general" was documented flipping subordinates the middle finger, drinking Bud Limes, and holding forth over a court of subordinates that called official functions "fucking gay" and badmouthed their seniors, from the US ambassador in Afghanistan up to Vice President Joe "Bite Me" Biden and President Obama. The military's findings on l'affaire McChrystal came last week in the form of a short memo to Army investigators, quietly dropped on the DODIG's website. In it, military inspectors write that "the evidence was insufficient to substantiate a violation of applicable DoD standards with respect to any of the incidents on which we focused...None of the matters we reviewed warrant further investigation."

Farmers to Clinton: Slow Down on Pipeline Project

| Mon Apr. 18, 2011 12:43 PM EDT

It's been a few weeks since we checked in on the proposed Keystone XL pipeline, a project that would carry oil from Canada's tar sands down to refineries in Texas. Farmers and landowners in the states along the 1,661-mile pipeline's proposed route have raised concerns about the impact of potential spills or leaks to the Ogallala aquifer, which provides irrigation water to much of the Great Plains.

Last week, the National Farmer's Union, the second-largest organization representing farmers in the United States, sent a letter to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton asking her to delay approval of the pipeline until there are assurances that the land and water in the region will be adequately protected. The group's president, Roger Johnson, wrote in a letter obtained by Mother Jones:

The protection of our groundwater resources is critical not only to continuing farm operations, but as a source of drinking water for the vast majority of rural residents. NFU opposes any infrastructure or resource development that jeopardizes the health, safety and quality of the Ogallala and other freshwater aquifer resources. Given the inherent corrosiveness of the type of petroleum that the Keystone XL pipeline is intended to transport, the health of groundwater resources in the Ogallala and many other freshwater aquifers could be placed in jeopardy.
Because of these environmental and health risks, we urge you to delay approval of the proposed Keystone XL pipeline until farmers and ranchers are guaranteed adequate environmental protection. NFU supports an understandable process that clarifies when and how eminent domain can be used and who has what liability when there are damages from pipeline failure. We urge you to utilize every resource available to you to safeguard the natural resources upon which our nation and our family farmers, ranchers and rural residents depend.

Last month, the State Department granted more time for consideration of the project, and last week the agency issued a supplemental environmental impact statement (though enviro groups argue that it still does not thoroughly examine the potential dangers of the pipeline). There will now be a 45-day public comment period and a 90-day comment period for other federal agencies, like the Department of Energy and the Environmental Protection Agency, to weigh in on the pipeline project.

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Downgrading America

| Mon Apr. 18, 2011 12:35 PM EDT

Standard & Poor's issued a warning today that it might downgrade U.S. debt if no deal is made to rein in the deficit. Or, more precisely, it might not downgrade debt, but might declare that America's AAA rating isn't quite as good as some other countries' AAA rating. Or something. In any case, Matt Yglesias says we should ignore them:

The thing about the United States of America is that we’re not an obscure country. Nor is our sovereign debt an obscure financial instrument. No major investor is going to be outsourcing his research on the desirability of American bonds to the S&P ratings service. There are two metrics to keep an eye on when assessing American debt. One is the interest rate the Treasury has to offer to get people to buy the debt. Currently that number is low. The other is the “spread” between bonds that are indexed for inflation and bonds that aren’t indexed for inflation which serves, among other things, as a gauge of market assessment of the risk that we’ll have no choice but to inflate the debt away. Currently that number, too, is low.

I agree with this completely, and I've made a similar comment in the past. And yet.....

And yet, there's something to think about here. One of the reasons I take our medium and long-term deficit fairly seriously, even though current financial indicators suggest the market is unconcerned, is that financial indicators can turn around in a flash. There are limits to how far a big country like the United States can get from fundamentals, but we're still susceptible to the kinds of mob emotion that power both bubbles and bank runs. And the thing is, there's never any telling what might spark such a turnaround. One day everything is fine. Then Bill Gross announces that he's no longer thrilled about holding treasuries. The next day S&P makes some negative noises. A day after that the Chinese government cuts back on treasury purchases. Then an auction of 10-year bonds is slightly soft, and suddenly everyone panics.

This most likely won't happen. Certainly not anytime soon, given the underlying fundamentals of the American and global economies. Still, it could happen in the near future, and there's no telling what might set it off. So in that sense, this kind of announcement from S&P actually is meaningful. Maybe not today. But a similar announcement someday might be. It's true that major investors don't outsource their opinion on U.S. treasuries to S&P, but even major investors can get nervous if enough people start telling them they're being idiots. Sometimes perceptions are as important as reality.

The End and the Beginning of the Tea Party

| Mon Apr. 18, 2011 12:17 PM EDT

Time's Michael Scherer on the evolution of the tea party:

Back in 2010, the Tea Party, though diffuse, came to stand for something. It was a populist movement of fiscal conservatives angry at President Obama and upset at the institutional Republican Party....Enter the 2012 Republican primary season. Every one of the semi-declared candidates in the field want to claim a part of the Tea Party mantle as their own, and everyone has a slightly different definition of just what that mantle means. In the meantime, pretty much every candidate in the race has a reason to claim Tea Party support.

....In short, anyone and everyone is “Tea Party.” The term is open-sourced. And though it will continue to be used over the coming months as a short-hand for the populist, unsettled upsurge in the Republican Party, it will mean less and less. Barring a third party run, there is unlikely to be a single Tea Party candidate because most candidates will claim Tea Party support, and since Tea Partyers in Iowa will have a different set of self-defining traits that Tea Partyers in New Hampshire. Your Tea Party is not my Tea Party. His Tea Party is not her Tea Party. We are all Tea Party, and none of us are Tea Party, because Tea Party everywhere, and as a result, nowhere in particular.

Yes indeed. Or as I put it a few months before last year's election:

The sheer size of the tea party movement may be as much a curse as a blessing. An insurgent movement can retain its vigor if it remains limited to true believers, but once it takes the reins of power, it has no choice but to offer a winning platform if it wants to keep its influence. The tea partiers are thus likely to be victims of their own success: When everyone's a tea partier, then no one's a tea partier.

....The tea party movement is likely to provide plenty of drama this November, but if the historical record is anything to go by, it won't last long after that. As with the earlier incarnations, its core identity will slowly fade away and become grist for CNN retrospectives, while its broader identity becomes subsumed by a Republican Party that's been headed down the path of ever less-tolerant conservatism for decades. In that sense, the tea party movement is merely an unusually flamboyant symptom of an illness that's been breeding for a long time.

The tea party is dead, and at the same time, the tea party will be with us forever. Doesn't that just send a tingle up and down your spine?

Tax Day Charts!

| Mon Apr. 18, 2011 11:53 AM EDT

Courtesy of Dave Gilson, here's a whole bunch of handy charts for tax day to show you who's paying how much to whom. For example, the chart below shows average effective tax rates for various income levels. Note that the federal tax system as a whole (including both payroll and income taxes) is fairly progressive at the bottom half of the income scale but then flattens out. Someone making an absolutely average income pays about 16.3% of their income in taxes, and that goes up to only 19.8% for someone at the very tippy top. That's pretty damn flat for an allegedly progressive tax code. More here.

Lobbyists: Obamacare’s Awful! (But Take Advantage of It Anyway)

| Mon Apr. 18, 2011 11:06 AM EDT

The right's opposition to health-care reform is riddled with contradictions, as their recent flip-flop on Medicare cuts has made plain. The latest example comes from the National Federation for Independent Businesses, a right-leaning lobbying giant that has opposed the Affordable Care Act from the start—has become the only trade association to join a lawsuit to repeal it. In advance of Tax Day, the NFIB has sent out a memo explaining six ways that the law's health insurance tax credit for small businesses will be hard to obtain and not helpful anyway, Politico reports

But the NFIB concluded the memo on a very different note, admitting that it could benefit those businesses who qualify: 

Despite our concerns with the structure of the credit and the criticisms written above, NFIB urges any small business to consult with an accountant to determine whether filing for the credit is a good idea. If they determine that filing is beneficial, then by all means the business should file and get whatever dollars the law will offer.

The NFIB’s caveat is a telling admission that federal health care reform does, in fact, have benefits for small businesses, some of which are available immediately and others—like the insurance exchanges—which will be available further down the line. Such benefits have convinced other small business advocacy groups and trade associations to split from groups like the NFIB. As I reported in January, local members have also pulled away from the Chamber of Commerce and its fierce opposition to health reform for the same reasons. 

Unfortunately, many Americans still don't know what's actually in the federal health law. But if even the fiercest opponents of reform are willing to admit some of the benefits, it's a sign that support for the law could grow further down the road.