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Are Republicans Really Ready to Embrace Net Neutrality?

| Fri Dec. 19, 2014 12:32 PM EST

Well, this is unexpected. Democrats are generally in favor of net neutrality, the principle that all websites should be treated equally by internet service providers. Companies can't pay extra for faster service and ISPs can't slow down or block sites they don't like. Naturally, since Democrats are in favor of this, Republicans are opposed. But maybe not all that opposed:

Republicans in Congress appear likely to introduce legislation next month aimed at preventing Internet providers from speeding up some Web sites over others....Industry officials said they are discussing details of the proposal with several Republican lawmakers, whom they declined to name. The officials also said the proposal is being backed by several large telecommunications companies, which they also declined to name.

One important piece of the proposed legislation would establish a new way for the FCC to regulate broadband providers by creating a separate provision of the Communications Act known as "Title X," the people said. Title X would enshrine elements of the tough net neutrality principles called for by President Obama last month. For example, it would give FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler the authority to prevent broadband companies from blocking or slowing traffic to Web sites, or charging content companies such as Netflix for faster access to their subscribers — a tactic known as "paid prioritization."

...."Consensus on this issue is really not that far apart," said an industry official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the talks were ongoing. "There's common understanding that rules are needed to protect consumers."

Huh. I wonder if this is for real? The reported price for supporting this legislation is relatively small: the FCC would be prohibited from regulating the internet as a common carrier under Title II, something that even net neutrality supporters agree is problematic. The problem is that although Title II would indeed enshrine net neutrality, it comes with a ton of baggage that was designed for telephone networks and doesn't really translate well to the internet. This would require a lot of "regulatory forbearance" from the FCC, which is almost certain to end up being pretty messy. A new net-centric Title X, if it truly implements net neutrality, would be a much better solution. It would also be immune to court challenges.

One possibility for such a law would be a modified version of net neutrality. My sense has always been that the real goal of net neutrality supporters is to make sure that internet providers don't provide fast lanes for companies willing to pay more, and don't slow down or block companies they dislike (perhaps because the companies provide services they compete with). At the same time, everyone acknowledges that video requires a lot of bandwidth, and internet providers legitimately need incentives to build out their networks to handle the growing data demands of video. So why not have content-neutral rules that set tariffs based on the type of service provided? Video providers might have to pay more than, say, Joe's Cafe, but all video providers would pay the same rate based on how much traffic they dump on the net. That rate would be subject to regulatory approval to prevent abuse.

I dunno. Maybe that's too complicated. Maybe it's too hard to figure out traffic levels in a consistent way, and too hard to figure out how much video makes you a video provider. Maybe rules like this are too easy to game. In the end, it could be that the best bet is to simply agree on strong net neutrality, and then let ISPs charge their customers for bandwidth. If you watch a ton of Netflix, you're going to pay more. If you just check email once a day, you'll get a cheap plan.

In any case, it's interesting that President Obama's announcement of support for strong net neutrality has really had an effect. It apparently motivated the FCC to get more serious about Title II regulation, and this in turn has motivated the industry to concede the net neutrality fight as long as they can win congressional approval of a more reasonable set of rules. The devil is in the details, of course, and I have no doubt that industry lobbyists will do their best to craft rules favorable to themselves. Luckily, there's a limit to how far they can go since it will almost certainly require Democratic support to pass a bill.

Anyway, this is all just rumors and reports of rumors at this point. Stay tuned to see if it actually pans out.

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We Should Respond to North Korea. But What If We Can't?

| Fri Dec. 19, 2014 11:01 AM EST

Over at the all-new New Republic, Yishai Schwartz sounds the usual old-school New Republic war drums toward North Korea. "The only way to prevent future attacks," he says, "is for foreign governments to know that attacks against U.S. targets—cyber or kinetic—will bring fierce, yet proportionally appropriate, responses." And time is already running out. We should be doing this now now now.

Right. So what's the deal, Obama? Why all the dithering in the face of this attack? Are you just—oh wait. Maybe there's more to this. Here's the Wall Street Journal:

Responding presents its own set of challenges, with options that people familiar with the discussions say are either implausible or ineffective. North Korea's only connections to the Internet run through China, and some former officials say the U.S. should urge Beijing to get its neighbor to cut it out…But the U.S. already is in a standoff with China over accusations of bilateral hacking, making any aid in this crisis unlikely, the intelligence official said.

Engaging in a counter-hack could also backfire, U.S. cyberpolicy experts said, in part because the U.S. is able to spy on North Korea by maintaining a foothold on some of its computer systems. A retaliatory cyberstrike could wind up damaging Washington's ability to spy on Pyongyang, a former intelligence official said. Another former U.S. official said policy makers remain squeamish about deploying cyberweapons against foreign targets.

…North Korea is already an isolated nation, so there isn't much more economic pressure the U.S. can bring to bear on them either, these people said. Even publicly naming them as the suspected culprit presents diplomatic challenges, potentially causing problems for Japan, where Sony is based.

I'd like to do something to stomp on North Korea too. Hell, 20 million North Koreans would be better off if we just invaded the damn place and put them all under NATO military rule. It's one of the few places on Earth you can say that about. However, I'm sensible enough to realize that things aren't that easy, and there's not much point in demanding "action" just because the situation is so hellish and frustrating.

Ditto in this case. A US response would certainly be appropriate. And honestly, it's not as if there's really anyone taking the other side of that argument. But given the nature of the DPRK, a meaningful response would also be really hard. America just doesn't have a whole lot of leverage against a place like that. What's more, if we do respond, it's at least even odds that it will be done in some way that will never be made public.

So let's cool our jets. Armchair posturing might make us feel better, but this isn't a partisan chew toy, and it's not a matter of the current administration being insufficiently hawkish. It's a matter of figuring out if there's even a way to respond effectively. Like it or not, it might turn out that there isn't.

Watch Stephen Colbert End Final Episode with an Epic Celebrity-Soaked Sing-Along

| Fri Dec. 19, 2014 8:11 AM EST

Stephen Colbert bid farewell to "The Colbert Report" with a joyous sing-along of "We'll Meet Again," which saw cameos from nearly every friend of the show you could imagine, from Jon Stewart, James Franco, Samantha Power, Patrick Stewart, Bill de Blasio, George Lucas, Big Bird, and many more. The inimitable Randy Newman played piano.

It was a spectacular moment that concluded with our beloved host riding off into the night in Santa's sleigh, a unicorned Abraham Lincoln and non-unicorned Alex Trebek in tow.

Earlier on, Colbert managed to actually cheat death by defeating the Grim Reaper in a rousing, violent game of chess. "I just killed death. I'm immortal!" Here's to hoping there's more to come from our favorite right-wing blowhard:

10 Movies About Freedom of Expression Hollywood Should Rewatch ASAP

| Fri Dec. 19, 2014 6:00 AM EST

On Wednesday, the powers that be at Sony officially pulled the plug on The Interview, after hackers behind the company's unprecedented hacking scandal threatened to unleash a September 11th-like terrorism scheme if the film was released as scheduled.

The Interview was supposed to be a dumb movie starring James Franco and Seth Rogen, in which the two conclude their adventures in North Korea by blowing up the country's man-child leader, Kim Jong-Un. This was supposed to be a movie no one was particularly interested in discussing, because it frankly sounded terrible. It should have marched on to its dumb release on Christmas Day, but alas, Sony capitulated to what were most likely empty threats. Paramount went even further by barring theaters from showing "Team America."

If movies have taught us anything over the years, it is that when someone tells you not to express yourself creatively, you tell them to fuck off, and dance your little heart out. Standing up to the forces of artistic oppression and censorship is the main lesson of literally every single film Hollywood has ever made.

With that in mind, here are 10 movies Hollywood should rewatch:

1. Footloose

Threat: Don't dance.

Resolution: Fuck 'em. Dance.

2. Pleasantville

Threat: Don't paint.

Resolution: Fuck 'em. Paint.

3. Hamlet 2

Threat: Don’t do an awful play.

Resolution: Fuck 'em. Do your awful play in an old abandoned warehouse.

4. Shakespeare In Love

Threat: Don't let a girl act.

Resolution: Fuck Colin Firth. Let Gwyneth act. 

5. Mr. Holland's Opus

Threat: Don't play rock & roll.

Resolution: Sit on it, William H. Macy. Rock out.

6. The People versus Larry Flynt

Threat: Don't sell pornography and joke about Reverend Jerry Falwell having sex with his mother.

Resolution: Make as much pornography as you want. Joke extra hard about Reverend Jerry Falwell having sex with his mother.

7. Pump up the Volume 

Threat: Don't do a radio show where you tell truth to power.

Resolution: Pump up the volume.

8. Pirate Radio

Threat: Don't play dirty rock & roll on the radio.

Resolution: Who's going to stop us? You? You and what Navy? Oh, the Royal Navy, I see.

9. Cradle Will Rock

Threat: Don't put on a leftist musical.

Resolution: Find another theater. Put on your leftist musical.

10. Dirty Dancing

Threat: Don't dance in a sensual way with the guests.

Resolution: Fuck 'em. Cue Patrick Swayze: "Sorry about the disruption, folks, but I always do the last dance of the season. This year somebody told me not to. So I'm gonna do my kind of dancin' with a great partner, who's not only a terrific dancer. Somebody who's taught me that there are people willing to stand up for other people no matter what it costs them. Somebody who's taught me about the kind of person I wanna be. Miss Frances Houseman." 

Stop putting baby in a corner, Hollywood. 

 

8 Weird Things You Can Buy for the Republican or Democrat In Your Life This Holiday Season

| Fri Dec. 19, 2014 6:00 AM EST

With five shopping days left until Christmas—and four for Hanukkah, slacker—you might be feeling pressure to come through with some great gifts for friends and family. Not to worry: the Republican and Democratic parties are here to help! From decorative lapel-wear to straight-talkin' tees, the parties' respective online stores are offering a festive array of gift selections this holiday season. Here are some real winners, sure to please the partisan in your life. In no particular order:

1. Limited Edition American Eagle Brooch

National Republican Congressional Committee

From the National Republican Congressional Committee comes this "exquisite piece." For the low price of $72—or $200 for three!—you can show off your American pride while helping "preserve our Conservative House Majority."
 

2. ACTION Mugs

Organizing for Action

Take an executive action and order these mugs. Delicious-looking hot cocoa, shortbread cookies, and cozy blanket do not appear to be included.
 

3. George W. Bush Quote Mousepad

National Republican Congressional Committee

For that someone who could use a bit of W. wisdom with each click they make. At $15, it's a steal from the NRCC—and it could appreciate in value with any additional Bush presidencies.
 

4. I Am Organizing For Action, Long-Sleeve-T Edition

Democrats.org

There's no better way to communicate that you're organizing for action than this handsome, olive long-sleeve tee that says, "I am organizing for action." For $20, it's a solid choice for that community organizer you know with a flair for subtlety.
 

5. George H.W. Bush Autograph Socks

Republican National Committee

From the color combo to the presidential signature, these socks are just beautiful. They were supposedly designed for H.W. himself—widely known to be a sock man—and for $41 (get it?!), this is the ideal gift for the boat-shoe-wearing College Republican in your life.
 

6. Very Blue Shirt

Democrats.org

Great gift! Unless you have trouble distinguishing between identical shades of blue, or if you have issues with the Democrats' logo rebrand. But it's $30, and the DNC says it can "withstand sports," so it's still an OK buy. It'll really complement that sweet arm tat.
 

7. Anti-Tea Party Travel Mug

Democrats.org

There's nothing quite like a good travel mug with a strong opinion. At $30, this is a certified "great gift." The mug has even pissed off the Daily Caller—a priceless value-add.
 

8. "Official" Cheney GOP Cowboy Hat

Republican National Committee

The clear winner this holiday season: this limited-edition hat from the RNC, engraved with Dick's signature, and lined with a gold Republican Party seal. For a cool $72, you can "help elect our next Republican president" while channeling America's favorite Republican vice president. It'll be sure to add that stylish touch to your enhanced cattle-rustlin' techniques.

Disclaimer: Obviously, you should not buy any of these things. Nobody wants to talk politics at Christmas. Don't make Mom get into this.

One Little Survey Question Explains All of Politics

| Thu Dec. 18, 2014 10:59 PM EST

Jonathan Bernstein points to a new Kaiser survey that examines opposition to the individual mandate in Obamacare. Here's what they found:

It remains among the least popular aspects of the law — with just a 35 percent approval rating. But when people are told that the mandate doesn’t affect most Americans because they already have coverage through an employer, support jumps to 62 percent.

It only takes a modest bit of reading between the lines to figure out what's really going on here: when people find out that the mandate doesn't apply to them personally, lots of them are suddenly OK with it. In case politics has always mystified you, that's it in a nutshell. Now you know.

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Nebraska and Oklahoma Sue to Overturn Legal Weed in Colorado

| Thu Dec. 18, 2014 8:23 PM EST
Nebraska is mad that Colorado pot is crossing its border

The attorneys general of Nebraska and Oklahoma petitioned the US Supreme Court on Thursday to overturn pot legalization in Colorado, arguing that its legal weed has been spilling across their borders and fueling crime.

"The state of Colorado has created a dangerous gap in the federal drug control system," the suit alleges. "Marijuana flows from this gap into neighboring states, undermining Plaintiff states' own marijuana bans, draining their treasuries, and placing stress on their criminal justice systems."

The Department of Justice pledged last year not to interfere with pot legalization in Colorado and Washington, but only if the states met a list of conditions, including preventing legally purchased marijuana from being diverted to states where it's illegal. Nebraska and Oklahoma are now arguing that the Supreme Court should compel the DOJ to act.

Evidence has been mounting that Colorado can't contain all of its weed. In June, USA Today highlighted the flow of its marijuana into small towns across Nebraska. Since 2011, the paper reported, felony drug arrests in Chappell, Nebraska, a town just seven miles north of the Colorado border, have jumped 400 percent.

But marijuana reformers argue that governments can't contain illegally purchased weed either, and that a few growing pains on the path to a more sensible drug policy are inevitable. "These guys are on the wrong side of history," Mason Tvert, communications director for the pro-legalization Marijuana Policy Project, said in a statement. "They will be remembered similarly to how we think of state officials who fought to maintain alcohol prohibition years after other states ended it."

Nebraska attorney general Jon Brunning has actually become too eager to support the alcohol industry, Tvert adds. Between 2008 and 2012, beer, wine, and alcohol interests donated $86,000 to Brunning. In 2012, he advocated for a lower tax rate for sweetened malt beverages such as hard lemonade. "It appears he is fighting to protect their turf," Tvert says. "He should explain why he thinks Colorado adults should not be able to use marijuana instead."
 

Mystery Chart of the Day: What's Up With All the Skinny Economists?

| Thu Dec. 18, 2014 5:22 PM EST

The chart on the right is excerpted from the Wall Street Journal. It shows which occupations have the lowest obesity rates, and most of it makes sense. There are folks who do a lot of physical labor (janitors, maids, cooks, etc.). There are health professionals who are probably hyper-aware of the risks of obesity. There are athletes and actors who have to stay in shape as part of their jobs.

And then, at the very bottom, there are economists, scientists, and psychologists. What's up with that? Why would these folks be unusually slender? I can't even come up with a plausible hypothesis, aside from the possibility that these professions attract rabid obsessives who are so devoted to their jobs that they don't care about food. Aside from that, I got nothing. Put your best guess in comments.

Rick Perry Is One Lucky Dude

| Thu Dec. 18, 2014 2:00 PM EST

From James Pethokoukis:

The energy sector gives, and the energy sector takes. The stunning drop in oil prices looks like bad news for the “Texas Miracle.” (Texas is responsible for 40% of all US oil production — vs. 25% five years ago — and all of the net US job growth since 2007.) This from JPMorgan economist Michael Feroli: “As we weigh the evidence, we think Texas will, at the least, have a rough 2015 ahead, and is at risk of slipping into a regional recession.”

Man, Rick Perry is one lucky guy, isn't he? It's true that the "Texas Miracle" may not be quite the miracle Perry would like us to believe. As the chart below shows in a nutshell, the Texas unemployment rate has fared only slightly better than the average of all its surrounding states.

Still, Texas has certainly had strong absolute job growth. However, this is mostly due to (a) population growth; (b) the shale oil boom; and (c) surprisingly strict mortgage loan regulations combined with loose land use rules, which allowed Texas to escape the worst of the housing bubble. Perry didn't actually have much to do with any of this, but he gets to brag about it anyway. And now that oil is collapsing and might bring the miracle to a sudden end, Perry is leaving office and can avoid all blame for what happens next.

One lucky guy indeed.

Yeah, Democrats Are Pretty Pro-Corporate Too

| Thu Dec. 18, 2014 12:39 PM EST

A couple of days ago I poured cold water on the idea that tea partiers might join up with the Elizabeth Warren wing of the Democratic Party to form some kind of populist anti-corporate coalition. "Every once in a while they'll get themselves exercised over some trivial issue of 'crony capitalism' like reauthorizing the Export-Import bank," I said, but the truth is that the tea partiers have no real devotion to anti-corporatism. They just want to cut taxes and slash welfare.

Over at National Review, Veronique de Rugy tries to make the case that ExIm is more important than I'm giving it credit for, but I'm not buying it. Sorry. It's just a shiny object of the moment that's both small and costs virtually nothing. On the other hand, I'm entirely willing to buy de Rugy's suggestion that Democrats aren't especially anti-corporate either:

Please. They talk the talk, but when it’s time to vote, they rarely walk the walk. In the end, not unlike a number of Republicans, Democrats rarely miss an opportunity to support big businesses. They support the Department of Energy’s 1705 loans, which mostly go to wealthy energy companies, and they never fail to join Republicans in saving other corporate energy subsidies; they support the reauthorization of OPIC, which mostly benefits large corporations; they support farm subsidies, which mostly benefit large agro-businesses at the expenses of small farms; they support Obamacare, which among other things amounts to a huge giveaway to the insurance industry; they support auto and bank bailouts; and for all their complaints about Wall Street, they managed to write a law, Dodd-Frank, that in some ways protects the big financial institutions that they claim to despise.

I'd quibble with some of this. Obamacare is indeed good for the insurance industry, but it's not that good. And anyway, this is mostly due to the fact that the structure of American health care is historically dependent on private insurance, and it's just not possible to completely overhaul that overnight. In this case, Democrats caved in to special interests as much because they had to as because they wanted to.

Still, it's true that most Democrats are pretty cozy with corporate America. There's a smallish anti-corporate wing of the party, but it rarely has much influence because (a) it's usually outnumbered in the Democratic caucus and (b) there's essentially no anti-corporate wing of the Republican Party to team up with. Being pro-corporate is one of the few bipartisan issues left in Congress. There are lots of fights over small stuff, but it's mostly just window dressing that hides widespread agreement over the big stuff.