MoJo Blogs and Articles | Mother Jones Mother Jones logo en Hey Wonk Reporters, Liberate Your Data! <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body> <p>When it comes to data journalism, everyone's a critic.</p> <p>The launch of three major data journalism operations in only a few weeks&mdash;the revamped <a href="" target="_blank"><em>538</em></a>, <a href="" target="_blank"><em>Vox</em></a>, and the <a href="" target="_blank"><em>New York Times</em>' <em>The Upshot</em></a>&mdash;have produced a slew of opinion pieces. They are summarized quite nicely in <a href="" target="_blank">this piece</a> by <em>Guardian</em> journalist James Ball, but the one critique that sticks with me the most is the idea that we are at a moment in which there is lots of content <em>about</em> data but not so much actual, you know, data.</p> <p>This may all seem like journalistic navel gazing, but it matters.</p> <p>Here's how journalism used to work: as a one-way process where the reporter, in her or his ivory tower, would selectively throw nuggets down to the world. That information would be (hopefully) gratefully received by the reader, but the relationship was almost entirely one-directional and couldn't be imagined any other way. What could the consumer ever possibly have to offer? Why would you share your sources or your raw information? It wasn't that long ago that reader's feedback for a newspaper was relegated to the letters page&mdash;how else could you possibly interact with the journalist who had written the story?</p> <p>Here's how statistics used to work: Data was published in books written by statisticians. They were the only people who understood the numbers and had the tools to deal with that data.</p> <p>Both of those models reflected the technology of the time and both are now broken, forever. Journalism today is at least as much about working with the community as it is telling the world what you think happened. The ethos of open journalism is that reporting becomes better by gathering the expertise of the world and helping to curate it.</p> <p>Statistics and data have changed too. Governments everywhere have thrown open their vaults and released it to the world. The transparency revolution is not happening as quickly or as smoothly as we'd like, but since the launch of <a href=""></a> in 2009 the idea of data being available in anything other than open formats should be laughable. Now citizens have a sense of entitlement when it comes to raw information. We paid for it to be collected, so why shouldn't we have it?</p> <p>For a while, data journalism started to bring those two fields together, combining the flood of open data with a new type of reporting. It wasn't just about analyzing the data, it was also about making it available and showing your work; taking the lessons learned from computer-assisted reporting in the 1960s and 1970s and using today's tools to make it easier to lay bare what could be gleaned from the numbers.</p> <p>This new, improved data journalism could start to perform a valuable democratic function: becoming a bridge between those who have the data (and are terrible at explaining it) and the world, which is crying out for raw information and ways of understanding it.</p> <p>Wouldn't it be odd if the reverse started to happen, if we moved back to a time when raw data was something only the chosen experts could analyze for themselves? Lots of content, not much data.</p> <p>There are a number of news websites out there who do make the data free, besides <a href="" target="_blank"><em>Guardian Data</em></a>, which I used to edit. Take a look at the <a href="" target="_blank"><em>Los Angeles Times</em> data desk</a> or <a href="" target="_blank"><em>La Naci&oacute;n</em></a> in Argentina, which has led the way in the sometimes risky process of opening up that country's data and making it available and understandable. The <a href="" target="_blank"><em>Texas Tribune</em></a> publishes data every day and provides tools to help readers understand it (and those data pages bring in the majority of the site's overall web traffic). And <a href="" target="_blank"><em>ProPublica</em>'s news apps team</a> produces amazing data exploration tools which help make sense of the world. When <em>Mother Jones</em> compiled a <a href="" target="_blank">database of every mass shooting in America</a>, it <a href="" target="_blank">made its data transparent</a>, and other news organizations like the <a href="" target="_blank"><em>Boston Globe</em></a> and <a href="" target="_blank"><em>The Wire</em></a> made new visualizations and conducted different analyses based upon it.</p> <p>These news organizations all have something in common: They make their work and raw data available for you to download and explore yourself as a matter of routine.</p> <p>For context, it's worth checking out <a href="" target="_blank">this piece</a> by Alex Howard at the Tow Center. He quotes <em>Los Angeles Times</em> Data Desk editor Ben Welsh on his role: "As we all know, there's a lot of data out there&hellip;and, as anyone who works with it knows, most of it is crap. The projects I'm most proud of have taken large, ugly datasets and refined them into something worth knowing."</p> <p>This is data journalism for me: storytelling informed by the numbers that have become as common as oxygen around us. The reader interface of those stories can be anything from data visualizations to in-depth investigations and, yes, explainers. But the defining feature is that combination of storytelling with the actual, transparent data&mdash;being the readers' guide to the world around them but also helping them navigate the river of raw information by assuming they are grown up enough to engage with it for themselves.</p> <p>When you read a piece of data journalism, how does it make you feel? Do the numbers and data seem just as inscrutable as ever, or do you think that you could actually do it yourself, given a little patience and time? Do you feel thankful to the author for generously sharing their wisdom with you, or disenchanted that the truth seems just as far away as ever?</p> <p>Journalists may have been traditionally scared of math and numbers, but today we have tools to help us navigate datasets that would have been unimaginably inscrutable a few years ago. From analysis to producing visualizations, the power has shifted from the professional statistician toward the reporter because <a href="" target="_blank">literally anyone can do it</a>.</p> <p>But reporting on data is not the same as making it open. Take detailed election results, for instance. This is the essence of democracy, yet because news organizations pay for it they are reluctant to publish the raw numbers for anyone else to download and use. Journalism needs to get over that reluctance, and those who pride themselves as being data journalists should actively combat it.</p> <p>Two years ago I wrote about the <a href="" target="_blank">central responsibility of the champions of data journalism</a>. It remains unchanged:</p> <blockquote>News organizations may be campaigners for open information but by withholding that data, become complicit in a system which essentially keeps data private until it's no longer commercially valuable. It's all very well calling for governments to throw open the doors of their data vaults, but if you are not willing to be open too, what is that worth?</blockquote> </body></html> Media Media Top Stories Thu, 24 Apr 2014 10:06:21 +0000 Simon Rogers 250451 at Koch-Linked Firm Devoted to Grooming "Electable" Candidates Signs Up Arkansas GOP Leader <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body> <p>In January, <em>Mother Jones</em> <a href="">broke the story</a> of one of the newest affiliates of Charles and David Koch's sprawling political machine, a consulting firm named <a href="">Aegis Strategic</a> created to identify, recruit, and groom free-market-minded candidates for elected office. Aegis <a href="">bills</a> itself as a one-stop shop for aspiring politicians, able to handle general consulting, fundraising, direct mail, social media, and more. The firm is run by <a href="">Jeff Crank</a>, a radio host and two-time congressional candidate who previously ran the Colorado chapter of Americans for Prosperity, the advocacy group founded by the Koch brothers.</p> <p>When we reported on the firm earlier this year, Aegis Strategic had only one client: Marilinda Garcia, a New Hampshire state lawmaker running for Congress. But new campaign filings show that Aegis has since signed up at least one more congressional hopeful: <a href="">Bruce Westerman</a>, the Republican majority leader of&nbsp;the Arkansas state House.</p> <p>Westerman is <a href="">running to replace</a> Rep. Tom Cotton in Arkansas' 4th Congressional District. (Cotton is now running for Senate and hoping to oust the incumbent Democrat Mark Pryor. Americans for Prosperity has <a href="" target="_blank">spent</a> <a href="" target="_blank">millions</a> of dollars <a href="" target="_blank">attacking</a> Pryor on the airwaves.)&nbsp;Westerman's campaign paid Aegis $4,000 for strategy consulting in March, campaign records show. (In January, Westerman also <a href="">tweeted</a> a photo of himself with Brad Stevens, Aegis Strategic's director of candidate identification, with the message, "Caught up with part of campaign team.")</p> <p>According to Westerman's campaign website, he's the first GOPer to lead the Arkansas House in 138 years. And he wouldn't be in that position without the help of the Kochs' political network,&nbsp;especially Americans for Prosperity. During the 2012 election cycle, AFP reportedly spent upwards of $1 million in Arkansas&nbsp;on mailers, a bus tour (featuring Cliff from the TV show <em>Cheers</em>), phone banking, and grassroots canvassing. That effort helped flip both the state House and Senate&nbsp;from Democratic to Republican control. AFP figured so prominently in the 2012 cycle that the <em>Arkansas Times</em> <a href=";showFullText=true">named</a> the Koch brothers "Arkansans of the Year."</p> <p>Both&nbsp;of&nbsp;Aegis' two congressional clients&nbsp;also have received financial support&nbsp;from Kochworld. Garcia received a $2,500 donation from Koch Industries' political action committee, two $2,500 checks from AFP-New Hampshire's Greg Moore, and $250 from Alan Philp, whom Aegis <a href="" target="_blank">lists</a> as its&nbsp;chief operating officer. Westerman also&nbsp;got a $250 check from Philp.</p> <p>Now, after AFP helped Westerman take the helm in Arkansas, another offshoot of the Koch political operation is working to send him to Washington.</p> </body></html> MoJo Congress Dark Money Elections Money in Politics The Right Top Stories Thu, 24 Apr 2014 10:06:11 +0000 Andy Kroll 250431 at This Town Was Almost Swallowed by a Coal Mine <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body> <p><iframe allowfullscreen="" frameborder="0" height="354" src="//" width="630"></iframe></p> <p><span class="section-lead">Holzweiler, Germany, </span>just escaped impending death.</p> <p>A tidy village of stone houses clustered around an aging cathedral, it's only 40 minutes up the Autobahn from the modernist bustle of Cologne, the country's fourth-largest city. The drive winds past farms spiked with towering wind turbines, standard-bearers of Germany's nationwide green energy overhaul. But Holzweiler's quiet sidewalks are also precariously close to one of Europe's largest open-pit coal mines.</p> <p>When I visited last fall, residents of Holzweiler and a cluster of neighboring villages had been living on borrowed time. The villages were in the way of the expanding mine, and locals had been told by the government that within a matter of years their homes would be bulldozed to get at the coal&mdash;the world's dirtiest kind, known as lignite&mdash;buried underneath.</p> <p>Gisela Irving, a 78-year-old Holzweiler resident, keeps a small garden and a few chickens here that she raises with the help of a big, shaggy mutt named Butch. Gisela told me the region's threatened destruction was hard to reconcile with its bucolic present.</p> <div class="inline inline-center" style="display: table; width: 1%"> <img alt="Gisela Irving" class="image" src="/files/giselaMJmaster.jpg"><div class="caption"> <strong>Gisela Irving lives in Holzweiler, Germany, which was just spared from being swallowed by a coal mine. </strong>Tim McDonnell</div> </div> <p>"It's a peaceful world," Gisela said, stooping to pluck a green pepper. "I very often say it's a little bit of a paradise."</p> <p>Paradise peters out just a few blocks from this yard, where the cobblestone street turns to mud and the houses&mdash;many already vacated&mdash;yield to prairie. Since the early 1980s, Gisela has watched the coal mine&mdash;called Garzweiler after the first town cleared away to make room for it&mdash;inch closer to her door. In her yard, we could hear the low, not-so-distant churning of massive digging machines.</p> <p>Gisela and her neighbors had spent years pleading with the regional government to block the machines' steady march; yellow ribbons adorned the gates of many houses here, signs of solidarity against the encroaching mine. In December, Germany's top court ruled that Garzweiler was important enough to the national power system for the company operating it, RWE, to proceed with plans to pay for the demolition and relocation of these towns. Last month, the government decided to spare Holzweiler, but nearby towns haven't been so lucky.</p> <p>It's a familiar battle for many Germans: Since World War II, open-pit lignite mines have displaced roughly 35,000 people, <a href="" target="_blank">according to RWE</a>. The same drama playing out here is also unfolding in <a href="" target="_blank">the country's other main coal region</a> south of Berlin.</p> <p>Germany's struggle with lignite mining is taking place behind the scenes of its green energy revolution, known here as the <em>Energiewende</em>. If Germany&mdash;which bills itself as one of the planet's most climate-friendly nations&mdash;can't kick its coal habit, can anyone?<br> &nbsp;</p> <p><span class="section-lead">Outside Holzweiler is a grassy hilltop</span> where one can see a row of massive smokestacks&mdash;power stations fired by the local coal&mdash;nestled among a dozen wind turbines.</p> <p>It's a strange contrast: Over the last decade, Germany has become a world leader in creating electricity from renewable sources, like the sun and the wind, that don't spew climate-warming greenhouse gases. The government has committed to some of the world's most aggressive climate goals: By 2050, it wants to slash its greenhouse emissions by 80 to 95 percent compared to 1990 levels while getting at least 80 percent of its power from renewable sources. Renewables already provide nearly a quarter of the country's electricity, double the US rate and among the highest in Europe.</p> <p>Energy policymakers in the US are keeping a close eye on Germany, because curbing coal use is a central tenant of President Obama's climate action plan. This year the Environmental Protection Agency is pushing a twin pair of proposed regulations to limit carbon emissions from new and existing coal plants. Obama's coal strategy is more head-on than the German model, which looks more like death by a thousand solar panels, and which is proving to be a very slow death indeed.</p> <div class="inline inline-center" style="display: table; width: 1%"> <img alt="yellow ribbon" class="image" src="/files/yellow-ribbon-MJ.jpg"><div class="caption"> <strong>At the edge of Garzweiler, a yellow ribbon is "a sign of solidarity for the people who are going to lose their houses," says Dirk Jansen, a local anti-coal campaigner. </strong>Tim McDonnell</div> </div> <p>Despite its progress with renewable energy, Germany is still dependent on coal for nearly half its power&mdash;a larger proportion than even the US. And there's little hope for that to drop anytime soon. In 2013, coal's share of the country's energy mix rose 1.5 percent over the previous year, nearly three times the growth in renewables.</p> <p>The Garzweiler mine will keep operating into the 2040s, according to RWE. At 35 million metric tons each year, it unearths about a third as much coal as the US's top-producing mine. But the scale here is still overwhelming: It covers 18.5 square miles&mdash;that's half the area of Manhattan. Stand on one side, and the pit stretches all the way to the horizon. An excavator wheel as tall as a seven-story house continuously shovels out coal, which is loaded onto a 57-mile network of conveyor belts to be delivered to the nearby power plants.</p> <p>And this is no ordinary coal. Most US mines produce bituminous coal, which forms deep underground at high pressure, has a relatively high energy content, and resembles a hard, black rock. Most coal produced in Germany, on the other hand, is lignite, which forms close to the surface (hence the open-pit, rather than deep-shaft, mine) and is brownish, moist, and crumbly. Its energy content is substantially lower, meaning much more must be burned to produce the same amount of electricity. Lignite also produces 6 percent more carbon emissions per unit of energy than bituminous coal, and 80 percent more than natural gas. Add that up, and the impact is startling: Just one lignite-fired power plant produces up to 50 million metrics tons of CO2 each year, according to the European Climate Foundation. That's about as much as the state of Montana. But more importantly it's fully half the level of carbon emissions Germany aims to produce in total by mid-century.</p> <p>That's why experts say that if Germany wants to meet its ambitious climate goals, phasing out coal will be the biggest challenge.</p> <p>"Coal will have to be displaced soon," says Lutz Weischer, a German energy analyst with the World Resources Institute. "But currently we don't see that happening."<br> &nbsp;</p> <p><span class="section-lead">At the end of March, HOlzweiler</span> finally got some good news. In a compromise between the coal industry-aligned Social Democratic party and the climate-focused Green party, the state government decided to limit Garzweiler's growth&mdash;a rare move for this historic seat of coal production. Holzweiler, which was first settled in Roman times, will be skirted by the mine and spared from destruction. An estimated 1,300 people won't have to relocate, and about a fifth of the mine's coal will stay buried.</p> <div class="inline inline-center" style="display: table; width: 1%"> <img alt="garzweiler" class="image" src="/files/garzweiler-MJ.jpg"><div class="caption"> <strong>The Garzweiler lignite mine will continue production into the 2040s. </strong>Tim McDonnell</div> </div> <p>But about 2,000 people in neighboring villages still face relocation, at RWE's expense, so that the company can access roughly a billion metric tons of coal.</p> <p>RWE, for its part, tries to ensure that "the personal impact to these people is as low as possible," according to Thomas Birr, a senior strategist with the company. "I acknowledge the personal and emotional challenge of those people we have to relocate, and we take that into account, of course," he adds.</p> <p>With many of its residents moved out, the nearby village of Immerath is already a ghost town. Gisela drove me to a street that dead-ends into the mine, a place she calls "the edge of the world." The brick houses were shuttered and crumbling, the edge of the village literally eroding away.</p> <p>"I've got the impression that people from outside Germany have got the feeling that we are more or less perfect and everything is correct," she said, over the roar of excavation machines in the pit below. "It's not."</p> </body></html> <p style="font-size: 1.083em;"><a href="/environment/2014/04/germany-battle-coal-energiewende"><strong><em>Continue Reading &raquo;</em></strong></a></p> Environment Video Climate Change Climate Desk Corporations Energy International Top Stories Infrastructure Thu, 24 Apr 2014 10:06:09 +0000 Tim McDonnell 250011 at Why American Apples Just Got Banned in Europe <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body> <p>Back in 2008, European Food Safety Authority began pressing the chemical industry to provide safety information on a substance called diphenylamine, or DPA. Widely applied to apples after harvest, DPA prevents "storage scald"&mdash;brown spots that "becomes a concern when fruit is stored for several months," according to <a href="">Washington State University</a>, reporting from the heartland of industrial-scale apple production.</p> <div class="sidebar-small-right"><strong><a href="" target="_blank">Read about 7 more dodgy food practices that are banned in Europe&mdash;but just fine in the United States.</a></strong></div> <p>DPA isn't believed to be harmful on its own. But it has the potential to break down into a family of carcinogens called nitrosamines&mdash;not something you want to find on your daily apple. And that's why European food-safety regulators wanted more information on it. The industry came back with just "one study that detected three unknown chemicals on DPA-treated apples, but it could not determine if any of these chemicals, apparently formed when the DPA broke down, were nitrosamines," Environmental Working Group shows in an important <a href="" target="_blank">new report</a>. (The EFSA was concerned that DPA could decay into nitrosamines under contact with nitrogen, a ubiquitous element, EWG notes.) Unsatisfied with the response, the EFSA banned use of DPA on apples in 2012. And in March, the agency the <a href="">slashed</a> the tolerable level of DPA on imported apples to 0.1 parts per million, EWG reports.</p> </body></html> <p style="font-size: 1.083em;"><a href="/tom-philpott/2014/04/europe-just-banned-apples-you-eat"><strong><em>Continue Reading &raquo;</em></strong></a></p> Tom Philpott Food and Ag Top Stories Thu, 24 Apr 2014 04:01:28 +0000 Tom Philpott 250446 at Not Everyone Needs to Learn Programming, But Every School Should Offer It <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body> <p><a href="" target="_blank">From the <em>Washington Post</em>:</a></p> <blockquote> <p>In a world that went digital long ago, computer science is not a staple of U.S. education, and some schools do not even offer the course, including 10 of 27 high schools in Virginia&rsquo;s Fairfax County and six of 25 in Maryland&rsquo;s Montgomery County....Across the Washington region&rsquo;s school systems, fewer than one in 10 high school students took computer science this academic year, according to district data.</p> </blockquote> <p>That first stat surprises me. My very average suburban high school offered two programming courses way back in 1975 (FORTRAN for beginners, COBOL for the advanced class). Sure, back in the dark ages that meant filling in coding sheets, which were sent to the district office, transcribed onto punch cards, and then run on the district's mainframe. Turnaround time was about two or three days and then you could start fixing your bugs. Still! It taught us the rudiments of writing code. I'm surprised that 40 years later there's a high school in the entire country that doesn't offer a programming class of some kind.</p> <p>The second stat, however, doesn't surprise me. Or alarm me. It's about what I'd expect. Despite some recent hype, computer programming really isn't the kind of class that everyone needs to take. It's an advanced elective. I'd guess that no more than 10 percent of all students take physics, or advanced algebra, or art class for that matter. Ten percent doesn't strike me as a horrible number.</p> </body></html> Kevin Drum Education Tech Thu, 24 Apr 2014 01:27:28 +0000 Kevin Drum 250496 at Darren Aronofsky: We Nearly Abandoned "Noah" Because of Concerns About Diversity <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body> <p><iframe allowfullscreen="" frameborder="0" height="354" src="//" width="629"></iframe></p> <p>The release of Darren Aronofsky's film epic <em>Noah</em> last month left many pop-culture writers wondering: Why was the cast&mdash;the film's representation of humanity before the great flood&mdash;so white? Ari Handel, who cowrote <em>Noah </em>with Aronofsky, drew <a href="" target="_blank">critical</a> <a href="" target="_blank">responses</a> a few weeks ago when <a href="" target="_blank">he answered that very question</a>, saying that "as a mythical story, the race of the individuals doesn't matter" and that the film's characters were "supposed to be stand-ins for all people." PBS host Tavis Smiley <a href="" target="_blank">called</a> Handel's comments "one of the most demeaning and dehumanizing portrayals of nonwhite humanity."</p> <p>Speaking Wednesday at an <a href="" target="_blank">event</a> sponsored by Climate Desk, the Center for American Progress, and the Sierra Club, Handel took a second crack at addressing the criticisms about the film's lack of diversity, and he attempted to clarify his earlier comments.</p> <p>Handel said that he and Aronofsky thought about the issue of diversity in the film before they even started writing it, and "there were times along the way when we almost abandoned the project because we weren't sure how to solve the problem."</p> <p>"In this story, God, the highest moral authority of all, says very clearly that one family is good and deserves to be saved, and everybody else on the planet is wicked and deserves to die," Handel said. "So those are really high moral stakes. And what was clear to us and essential was that we could not, no matter what, show racial differences between who lived and who died, or we'd be making a terrible, terrible statement." Handel said that because of this, "we looked to make a cast, both on the boat and off the boat, who had as little difference as possible. And I want to be clear that there's no reason that that cast had to be Caucasian. We could have cast any Noah and built the world around him." After Russell Crowe was chosen for the role of Noah, he said, "the rest of the casting followed from there."</p> <p>"I think Ari said it perfectly," added Aronofsky, who similarly said that "we nearly abandoned the project several times because we knew it would be an issue."</p> <p>You can watch Aronofsky's and Handel's comments above.</p> <p>Here's Handel's full answer:</p> <blockquote> <p>I'd actually like to respond to that because comments that I made, people took offense at, and I felt badly about that, because I felt things that I had said had been interpreted in ways that I didn't intend.</p> <p>The truth is we thought about the question of diversity, of humans, in the film from the very beginning, even from when we were starting to write it, even before we started writing it. And there were times along the way when we almost abandoned the project because we weren't sure how to solve the problem.</p> <p>And the problem really comes down to this for us: You know, this is the story, the story of Noah is, in this story, God, the highest moral authority of all, says very clearly that one family is good and deserves to be saved, and everybody else on the planet is wicked and deserves to die. So those are really high moral stakes. And what was clear to us and essential was that we could not, no matter what, show racial differences between who lived and who died, or we'd be making a terrible, terrible statement.</p> <p>But the problem is there's eight people on the boat, they're in one family, they're almost all from the same blood&mdash;you know, related by blood, so there's no way to come even close to showing the full diversity of human beings on this planet amongst the survivors.</p> <p>So actually what we did is, we went the other way. And we looked to make a cast, both on the boat and off the boat, who had as little difference as possible. And I want to be clear that there's no reason that that cast had to be Caucasian. We could have cast any Noah and built the world around him.</p> <p>In the end, as you know, we cast Russell Crowe, who is a tremendous actor and was a great fulfillment of Noah. And the rest of the casting followed from there.</p> </blockquote> <p>And here's what Aronofsky said after Handel spoke:</p> <blockquote> <p>You get into&mdash;I think Ari said it perfectly. It becomes an issue because once again, it's about you know, is it historical, or is it mythical? For us, I think the way we got out of it was saying, there was no solution to it, and as Ari said, we nearly abandoned the project several times because we knew it would be an issue. But it just came down to, we felt that it was just something I was very passionate about since I was a teenager, telling this story. And it was&mdash;something good would come out of it.</p> </blockquote> <p><em>Image credit: Niko Tavernise/Paramount</em></p> </body></html> Environment Climate Desk Religion Top Stories Wed, 23 Apr 2014 23:55:54 +0000 Molly Redden 250466 at Net Neutrality Finally Dies at Ripe Old Age of 45 <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body> <p>Apparently net neutrality is officially dead. The <em>Wall Street Journal</em> reports today that the FCC has given up on finding a legal avenue to enforce equal access and will instead propose rules that explicitly allow broadband suppliers to <a href=";mg=reno64-wsj" target="_blank">favor companies that pay them for faster pipes:</a></p> <blockquote> <p>The Federal Communications Commission plans to propose new open Internet rules on Thursday that would allow content companies to pay Internet service providers for special access to consumers, according to a person familiar with the proposal.</p> <p>The proposed rules would prevent the service providers from blocking or discriminating against specific websites, <strong>but would allow broadband providers to give some traffic preferential treatment,</strong> so long as such arrangements are available on "commercially reasonable" terms for all interested content companies. Whether the terms are commercially reasonable would be decided by the FCC on a case-by-case basis.</p> <p>....The FCC's proposal would allow some forms of discrimination while preventing companies from slowing down or blocking specific websites, which likely won't satisfy all proponents of net neutrality, the concept that all Internet traffic should be treated equally. The Commission has also decided for now against reclassifying broadband as a public utility, which would subject ISPs to much greater regulation. However, the Commission has left the reclassification option on the table at present.</p> </blockquote> <p>So Google and Microsoft and Netflix and other large, well-capitalized incumbents will pay for speedy service. Smaller companies that can't&mdash;or that ISPs just aren't interested in dealing with&mdash;will get whatever plodding service is left for everyone else. ISPs won't be allowed to deliberately slow down traffic from specific sites, but that's about all that's left of net neutrality. Once you've approved the notion of two-tier service, it hardly matters whether you're speeding up some of the sites or slowing down others.</p> <p>This might have been inevitable, for both legal and commercial reasons. But that doesn't mean we have to like it.</p> </body></html> Kevin Drum Regulatory Affairs Tech Top Stories Wed, 23 Apr 2014 22:38:15 +0000 Kevin Drum 250476 at Here Is "Stone Cold" Steve Austin's Wonderful Defense of Gay Marriage <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body> <p>Hello. Good afternoon.</p> <p>"Stone Cold" Steve Austin's <a href="" target="_blank">defense of gay marriage</a> is filled with cursing and common sense. All in all, pretty great!</p> <blockquote> <p>I don't give a shit if two guys, two gals, guy-gal, whatever it is, I believe that any human being in America, or any human being in the goddamn world, that wants to be married, and if it's same-sex, more power to 'em. What also chaps my ass, some of these churches, have the high horse that they get on and say, 'We as a church do not believe in that.' Which one of these motherfuckers talked to God, and God said that same-sex marriage was a no-can-do? Okay, so two cats can't get married if they want to get married, but then a guy can go murder 14 people, molest five kids, then go to fucking prison, and accept God and He's going to let him into heaven? After the fact that he did all that shit? See that's all horseshit to me, that don't jive with me.</p> </blockquote> <p><a href="" target="_blank">Listen:</a></p> <p><iframe allowfullscreen="" frameborder="0" height="480" src="//" width="640"></iframe></p> <p><em>(via </em><a href="" target="_blank">Deadspin</a><em>)</em></p> </body></html> Mixed Media Gay Rights Wed, 23 Apr 2014 22:37:52 +0000 Ben Dreyfuss 250471 at There's an Award for Comprehensible Writing in Government. Guess Who Won. <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body> <p>It's like the Oscars, but for paperwork.</p> <p>The Clearmark Awards, sponsored by the DC-based <span style="font-family: Verdana, Arial, sans-serif; line-height: 24px;">Center for Plain Language,&nbsp;</span>are handed out annually to the government agencies, corporations, and nonprofits that produce the most coherent literature. On Tuesday, for the 11th-consecutive year, the nominees gathered at the National Press Club in downtown Washington to nibble on chocolate mousse and celebrate their colleagues for making bureaucratic copy comprehensible. Up for awards were the Social Security Administration, for its redesigned website; the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals, for its revision of its rules of procedure; and the National Diabetes Education Program, for its&nbsp;pamphlet on taking care of your feet. In a year in which a broken website became a symbol of bureaucratic ineptitude, these were the heroes the media never told you about.</p> </body></html> <p style="font-size: 1.083em;"><a href="/politics/2014/04/center-for-plain-language-awards-cfpb"><strong><em>Continue Reading &raquo;</em></strong></a></p> Politics Regulatory Affairs Top Stories Wed, 23 Apr 2014 20:05:56 +0000 Tim Murphy 250406 at The Fourth Amendment Takes Yet Another Body Blow <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body> <p>This week the Supreme Court has handed down decisions on affirmative action and child porn that have gotten a lot of press. But the affirmative action decision was probably inevitable, and the child porn case is an oddball example of statutory interpretation that probably has no greater significance.</p> <p>More important is <em>Navarette vs. California</em>, which has real potential to do some long-term damage. In this case, a 911 caller reported an erratic driver, who was then pulled over and eventually convicted of transporting four bags of marijuana. The police had no probable cause to stop the driver except for that one anonymous phone call, but <img align="right" alt="" class="image image-_original" src="/files/images/Blog_Constitution_0.jpg" style="margin: 20px 20px 15px 30px; border: 1px solid black; border-image: none;">the Court upheld the conviction anyway. Justice Scalia is typically apoplectic in his dissent, <a href="" target="_blank">but nonetheless makes some good points:</a></p> <blockquote> <p>It gets worse. Not only, it turns out, did the police have no good reason at first to believe that Lorenzo was driving drunk, they had very good reason at last to know that he was not. The Court concludes that the tip, plus confirmation of the truck&rsquo;s location, produced reasonable suspicion that the truck not only had been but still was barreling dangerously and drunkenly down Highway 1. In fact, alas, it was not, and the officers knew it. They followed the truck for five minutes, presumably to see if it was being operated recklessly. And that was good police work. While the anonymous tip was not enough to support a stop for drunken driving under <em>Terry v. Ohio</em>, it was surely enough to counsel observation of the truck to see if it was driven by a drunken driver.</p> <p>But the pesky little detail left out of the Court&rsquo;s reasonable-suspicion equation is that, for the five minutes that the truck was being followed (five minutes is a long time), Lorenzo&rsquo;s driving was irreproachable. Had the officers witnessed the petitioners violate a single traffic law, they would have had cause to stop the truck, and this case would not be before us. And not only was the driving irreproachable, but the State offers no evidence to suggest that the petitioners even did anything suspicious, such as suddenly slowing down, pulling off to the side of the road, or turning somewhere to see whether they were being followed. Consequently, the tip&rsquo;s suggestion of ongoing drunken driving (if it could be deemed to suggest that) not only went uncorroborated; it was affirmatively undermined.</p> </blockquote> <p>The problem here is obvious: the Court has basically said that an anonymous 911 call is sufficient <em>all by itself</em> to justify a police stop and subsequent search of a vehicle.</p> <p>In this particular case, it's likely that the 911 caller was entirely sincere. But that's surely not always the case, and this decision gives police far greater discretion to stop pretty much anyone they like for any reason. You don't even need to roll your front bumper a foot over the limit line in an intersection to give them a pretext.</p> <p>If we're lucky, this case will become a footnote, with the precise nature of its facts giving it little value as precedent. But if we're not so lucky, it's yet another step in the Supreme Court's decades-long project to chip away at the Fourth Amendment. When an unknown caller is all it takes to trigger a search, the entire notion of "probable cause" is pretty much consigned to the ash heap of history.</p> <p><strong>UPDATE:</strong> A regular reader points out that my summary isn't entirely accurate. Under <em>Navarette</em>, an anonymous tip is enough for police to stop a vehicle, but to search it they still need some suspicion of illegal activity. In this case they "smelled marijuana."</p> <p>That's true, and I should have said so. The reason I didn't is that I figure this was basically pretextual. There's <em>always</em> a post hoc reason if the police decide they want to search your car. And even if you think the cops really did smell something, they never would have gotten there without the stop, and there was no reason for the stop in the first place. This strikes me as a pretty direct line from anonymous tip to search, with only the thinnest pretense of probable cause.</p> <p>I admit that my cynicism here isn't legally relevant. But honestly, once you allow the stop, cops will find a reason the search the car. There's simply nothing in their way any longer.</p> </body></html> Kevin Drum Courts Crime and Justice Wed, 23 Apr 2014 18:21:55 +0000 Kevin Drum 250441 at