What Real Telecom Regulation Looks Like

You probably hate your cell phone service provider. Most of us do. They do things like require us to buy their plans if we want a specific phone; massively overcharge us for text messages, which cost almost nothing for them to provide; and make us buy a new charger every time we want a new phone. If you're wondering exactly how badly you're being screwed, you might be interested in this report (PDF) from Consumers Union and five other non-profits that are arguing for stricter regulation of telecom companies. You may also be interested to know that the people who live in the socialist dystopia called the European Union no longer have the cell phone charger problem. In that regulation-devastated hellscape, the telecom commissioner is pushing for per-second billing, regulators are working to lower roaming fees, and telecoms have agreed to make a universal charger that will work with all phones. Meanwhile, here in the good old US of A, most people pay over $500/year for cell phone coverage—"much more than users in most other developed nations," according to Consumers Union.

The text messaging situation is especially ridiculous. The money quote from the nonprofits' report:

[C]onsidering how little data is transferred in an SMS message, at 20 cents per message, consumers pay the equivalent of almost $1,500 per megabyte of data transferred, a rate over seventeen times more expensive than receiving data from the Hubble Space Telescope.

Behold the wonders of the unfettered free market!

John Roberts Is Not Michael Jackson's Lover

Chief Justice John Roberts did not like Michael Jackson. The New York Times' Caucus blog dug up some old memos Roberts wrote while he was working for the White House Counsel's office during the Reagan administration. In a memo criticizing a proposal to invite Michael and his brothers to the White House, Roberts wrote:

I hate to sound like one of Mr. Jackson’s records, constantly repeating the same refrain, but I recommend that we not approve this letter.... In today’s Post there were already reports that some youngsters were turning away from Mr. Jackson in favor of a newcomer who goes by the name "Prince," and is apparently planning a Washington concert. Will he receive a Presidential letter? How will we decide which performers do and which do not?

There's some evidence that Justice Roberts may have been pulling for a different performer. Consider this, from another memo:

Why, for example, was no letter sent to Mr. Bruce Springsteen, whose patriotic tour recently visited the area?

Why, indeed? The music of the future governor of New Jersey was famously embraced by Reagan during the 1984 presidential election campaign. On a related note, President Obama regularly invites musicians to the White House: Stevie Wonder, for example, has already performed there.

That Afghanistan Election

Kevin is off until Tuesday. I'm blogging for him until then.

As I noted recently, keep your eye on Afghanistan's ongoing presidential election. From AFP:

Afghan President Hamid Karzai on Saturday criticised the US ambassador's presence at a meeting calling for a decentralisation of his government, adding he would fight such moves "tooth and nail".

Karzai said ambassador Karl Eikenberry's attendance at a press conference this month, where a leading rival to the president in the August 20 elections had called for the change, was deeply sensitive and "raises concerns".

This was especially because of recent US and British media reports of plans laid in "Washington and in London to bring a change into the structure of governance in Afghanistan to weaken the central government of Afghanistan," Karzai said.

There's been plenty of tension between the Obama administration and Karzai. At his first White House press conference, President Obama noted that Karzai's government was "very detached" from the rest of the country. That was quite a slam.

Since then--especially when Obama unveiled his strategic review concerning Afghanistan and Pakistan--the White House has tried to downplay its dissastisfaction with Karzai. But Karzai is accutely aware of it. And now he's making it part of his reelection strategy. This might help him. His government has been plagued by corruption and incompetence. But there's a lot of popular anger at the United States military for its bombing assaults, which kill innocent civilians, and its raids on homes, which humiliate and intimidate Afghans. If Karzai holds on to power by playing the anti-USA card, it will not make Obama's already difficult job in Afghanistan any easier.

You can follow David Corn's postings and media appearances via Twitter.

 

U.S. Army Spc. Stephen Highberger, left, and Pvt. Charles Joiner from Bravo Company, 1st Battalion, 4th Infantry Regiment, U.S. Army Europe, sit in a patrol base on an overnight mission near Forward Operation Base Lane, Zabul Province, Afghanistan, March 13, 2009. (U.S. Army photo by Staff Sgt. Adam Mancini/Released)

SCOTUS Rules for White Firefighters

In a 5-4 decision that split along ideological lines, with Justice Anthony Kennedy siding with Antonin Scalia, John Roberts, Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito in the majority, the Supreme Court ruled Monday that a group of white firefighters in New Haven, Conn., were unfairly denied promotions based on their race. The ruling overturns Sonia Sotomayor's appellate court decision.

The firefighters who brought the suit, Ricci v. DeStefano, claimed reverse-discrimination when the city threw out results of a promotion exam because no black and only two Hispanic firefighters would have been promoted. 

The city scrapped the test because it feared promoting a disproportionate number of white firefighters would leave them in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, which prohibits workplace discrimination. Blacks and Hispanics account for nearly 60 percent of New Haven's population.

New Haven officials claimed they feared a lawsuit from the minority firefighters on those grounds if they let the test results stand, but the court ruled that "fear of litigation cannot justify an employer's reliance on race to the detriment of individuals who passed the examinations and qualified for promotions." However, the court held the city cannot be sued for throwing out the test results.

Ruth Bader Ginsburg, reading her dissent form the bench, said the white firefighters had "had no vested right to promotion...The Court today holds that New Haven has not demonstrated 'a strong basis in evidence' for its plea. In so holding, the Court pretends that '[t]he City rejected the test results solely because the higher scoring candidates were white.'"

Read the entire ruling here (PDF).

McCain and the Internets

Kevin is on a break until tomorrow. I'm filling in until he returns to the helm.

Remember that delicious story last year about John McCain's admission that he could not use a computer on his own? It seemed to symbolize his out-of-touchness--especially when he had to run against a candidate who seemed to have the Internet in his DNA. At the annual Personal Democracy Forum conference, which began this morning in New York, the first panel discussion included Mark McKinnon, who was an adviser to the McCain campaign (until Barack Obama won the Democratic nomination) and Joe Rospars, who handled new media for the Obama campaign. Andrew Rasiej, the founder of PDF, opened the chat with what he thought was a quasi-provocative question: Mark, did McCain really not understand or use the Internet?

McKinnon should have had an answer to this obvious question. Something like:

Well, he was not the most ardent user of email and computers, but he quickly became one and certainly understood the signficance of the Internet in commerce, communication, and democracy. Look, he's actively Twittering these days. And his Twitters about Iran even get attention from reporters who then ask the White House about them. So he's fully engaged with this stuff.

But McKinnon said none of this. In fact, the GOP consultant didn't even try to answer the question. He went on about how the digital revolution has changed politics, journalism, and the music business. (McKinnon is a failed professional songwriter.) He talked about how the Internet has made it so much easier for campaigns to harnass the enthusiasm of volunteers. (Duh.) He praised Obama--whom he had told McCain he could not work against--for his campaign's innovation. (Duh, again.) He took a shot at Al Gore for claiming to have invented the Internet. (Which Gore did not claim.)

But McKinnon didn't say anything about McCain and the Internet. He totally ducked the question. I would take that silence as confirmation of that 2008 meme. Any other explanation?

You can follow David Corn's postings and media appearances via Twitter.

Eco-News Roundup: Monday, June 29

A merry Monday to all. Here's a selection of green-tinged stories from our other blogs you might have missed: 

Sleeping With the Enemy: Canst the Greenpeace layeth down with the GOP?

Double the Cats, Double the Fun!: Feline Friday tradition continues, but with twice the catness.

Quantity v. Quality: Michael Jackson coverage swamps meaningful House debates on the climate change bill.

Climate=PASS: Climate aka green jobs bill passes the House.

 

Iran: What's Next?

Kevin is still away. He'll be back on Tuesday. I'm filling in until then and will be blogging from the Personal Democracy Forum conference on Monday.

On Sunday, thousands of Iranians protested against the government, gathering at the Goba mosque in Tehran. Mir Hossein Mousvai's wife and presidential candidate Mehdi Karroubi, were part of the demonstration. Mousvai, according to some reports, addressed the crowd via a cellphone. But this rally, smaller than previous demonstrations, will likely not cause the headline writers of The New York Times to reconsider the title on Sunday's dispatch from Iran: "In Tehran, a Mood of Melancholy Descends."

It does seem that the opposition might have lost steam--though we ought to recall that it took the last Iranian revolution two years to take hold and take power. On Sunday, a Tehran  filmmaker I've met via email sent me the below dispatch. This person is a Karroubi supporter and wants those of us in the West to realize that not all the opposition Iranians are Mousavi fans. It's a good point, since conventional media coverage often does turn complicated, full-of-nuance situations into binary, easy-to-shorthand episodes. S/he believes the opposition could regain momentum in the days ahead and writes:

It's been said both Mousavi and Karroubi are under house arrest, but every once in a while they are allowed to appear in public. Karroubi stayed in the Goba mosque just half an hour while he joined protesters and walked away with them. I think he couldn't stay more.

Well it's like new wave of demonstrations gonna start in next days, people talk about making a long human chain tomorrow. New faces coming up, just like [cleric] Hadi Ghaffari and some Ayattollahs. There is video and audio file of Ghaffari's speech against Khamenei on the Internet. It's just released today and I think in couple of days the whole country know about it and it may encourage people to go on.

People were waiting for Hashemi Rafsanjani's speech. They counted on him to stand in front of Khamenei. But after two weeks he spoke today and in a very moderate way supported Khamenei. Now it's like the waiting is over and there is no middle path to go.

You know , I think the government also enjoys this situation! I mean if they wanted to steal votes they could do it in a more convincing way. They could simply say Ahmadinejad has 500,000 more votes than Mousavi. They want to make the people angry. Ahmadinejad calls people who voted for other candidates "dust." Khamenei threathens the nation while he could have made a more cautious speech.They attack ordinary people. I don't know what the hell is going on behind the scenes, but pieces of puzzle just don't match.

I think Mousavi was not the man this nation needed, All he talked about before election was that "I have these plans because Khomeini wanted this for this society". It's sad the people who were pissed off at religion suddenly started repeating his religious slogans. People wanted a secular government but since Mousavi came everybody just forgot that aim.

What really upsets me is that we were 13 million voted for Karroubi. We protest the election results. Most of the politician arrested in past days were supporters of Karroubi, but the whole world consider us in the opposition as Mousavi's supporters!

Those of us watching from far away cannot easily suss out what is happening in Iran, and alas, the same applies to the nation's own citizens.

You can follow David Corn's postings and media appearances via Twitter.

Updated, Full Text Version of Waxman-Markey Climate Bill

If you—like Reps Joe Barton (R-TX) and John Boehner (R-OH)—are having problems locating a full text version of the Waxman-Markey climate bill, HR 2454, complete with amendments, we've linked to them here.

While the GOP made a fetish out of secrecy when they were in charge, there is still a lot of work to be done to increase goverment transparency. Part of that effort is to allow everyone to have access to pending legislation in a timely manner, including but not limited to the honorable gentlemen from Texas and Ohio.

Transparency is a good idea; it ought to be the law. And, guess what? There's an organization trying to make that a reality. Read the Bill supports House Resolution 554, which would require that all legislation be available online for public review for a minimum of three days before it could be voted on.

Check them out. Happy reading.

---------------

Osha Gray Davidson is a contributing blogger for Mother Jones.