Who’s sticking up for internet users

Really loved this John Cassidy post on net neutrality and the need to stick up for ordinary internet users.  Lots of good stuff:

In order to foster innovation and preserve diversity, it’s inarguably important to defend the right of small Web sites and content providers to use the Internet on the same terms as giants like Netflix and Amazon and Facebook. But here’s my question: In making this case, why didn’t the President also make a stand on behalf of the tens of millions of ordinary Web users who are being grossly overcharged for online connections, which by the standards of countries like Sweden, Japan, and South Korea are often slow and buggy? [emphasis mine]

In the case of net neutrality, the danger of harm is largely in the future. With few exceptions—the Netflix case was one—there haven’t yet been many cases of content providers claiming that I.S.P.s have failed to convey their data or slowed it down. In the case of Internet users, the damage is already being done every minute, every day, and every month. Without any real competition in many parts of the country, I.S.P.s like Comcast, Time Warner, and Verizon are assiduously exploiting their market power to extract monopoly rents for an inferior product. That sentence will no doubt result in my being deluged with industry-sponsored studies purporting to show that this isn’t true. But the facts are pretty clear, and you only have to get on a plane to confirm them: in many parts of Europe and Asia, Internet connections are cheaper and better than they are in the United States…

One thing is clear: someone needs to defend the interests of ordinary Internet users. For almost twenty years now, the White House, Congress, and regulators have adopted a hands-off approach, in keeping with the industry argument that this was necessary to stimulate investment and innovation. And the results are clear. As Susan Crawford explained, earlier this year, in an interview with Ezra Klein, the editor-in-chief of Vox, the big I.S.P.s “systematically provide extraordinarily expensive services for the richest people in America, leave out a huge percentage of the population, and, in general, try to make their own profits at the expense of social good.”

Cassidy also offers potential policy options.  This is definitely among the better pieces I’ve read on understanding the whole issue.  And further emphasizes how dumb our current policy of allowing us all to be screwed by Comcast, Time Warner, etc., is.  (But, hey, big corporations are always right.  Wouldn’t want to interfere with “regulation.”).

Photo of the day

Via In Focus, this is the border of Switzerland and Italy:

Climbers leave the summit of Breithorn at 4,164 meters (13,661 feet) on the ridge marking the border with Switzerland (left) and Italy in the Alpine resort of Zermatt on August 4, 2014. (Reuters/Denis Balibouse)

The 100 year electoral map inversion

Post from Andrew Gelman over at the Monkey Cage on how the map went from this in 1896

To this in 2000

What happened?  Short version: social issues.  Long version:

We are used to our current political divides, but in many ways the political alignment of 1896 also makes economic sense, with the richer northeastern states supporting more conservative economic policies. Even in a world in which parties have static positions on issues, there is no obvious way that liberal New Yorkers, say, should vote: should they follow the 1896 pattern and support business-friendly policies that favor local industries, or should they vote as they do now and support higher taxes, which ultimately redistribute money to faraway states with more conservative values? A similar conundrum befalls a conservative Mississippian or Kansan in the other direction. In that sense, it perhaps is plausible that, although economic issues have been and remain most important in any particular election, social issues can be the determining factor that can, over a century, reverse the electoral map.

On a quasi-related note, really enjoyed this NPR story on how the whole “red vs blue” came to be (in part because so few people realize it only dates back to 2000 and was largely an historical accident).

Local control of education

The simple fact is that pretty much every nation that outperforms us on education (and there’s a lot!) has a national education curriculum is pretty compelling.  The idea that say the Iredell County, NC Board of Education is better suited to choosing what students learn than a national collection of education experts seems absurd on it’s face.  Not to mention the fact that there are all sorts of obvious inefficiencies in a mobile society such as ours when curriculum varies significantly by locality.  Yet, the doctrine of local control of education if firmly embedded in the American fabric.  From Gallup:

In your opinion, who should have the greatest influence in deciding what is taught in the public schools here -- the federal government, the state government, or the local school board? 2014 PDK/Gallup poll

Again, if you stop and think about it, this is preposterous.  It’s silly enough that students in Alabama should learn different things about math, literature, science, history, etc., from those in Arkansas, but the idea that neighboring counties should take entirely different approaches to what students learn just makes no sense.  Alas, Americans are seemingly quite convinced otherwise.

Mega Quick hits (part I)

iLots and lots of good stuff this week.

1) Paul Krugman on how you (or at least the Republican Party) never gets punished for being obviously and provably wrong on economic policy.  (“Look, people who don’t look like you are getting your hard-earned money!”)

2) Hooray for Obama for forcefully advocating net neutrality.  Boo to Republicans for opposing it… because Obama favors it?  What politicians purposefully take the side of Time Warner and Comcast over small businesses and American consumers?!  Great Oatmeal illustrated piece on net neutrality.  And a really nice Wired explanation of the key points (from earlier this year):

The real issue is that the Comcasts and Verizons are becoming too big and too powerful. Because every web company has no choice but to go through these ISPs, the Comcasts and the Verizons may eventually have too much freedom to decide how much companies must pay for fast speeds.

And, of course, you can’t beat John Oliver on net neutrality.

3) Amazingly, a FIFA investigation of FIFA has concluded that FIFA has done nothing wrong.  I’m shocked.  Shocked.

4) Hanna Rosin catches up with famed fabulist Stephen Glass 15 years after his crimes.  Great stuff.

5) Chait eviscerates the absurdity of the new legal challenge to Obamacare like no other.  Dahlia Lithwick and Barry Friedman say maybe we don’t actually have to worry all that much.  I hope they are right.

6) Pope Francis demotes far-right, Communion-denying Cardinal.  I love this guy more every week.

7) Seth Masket argues that big money does not threaten party control, but rather enhances it.

8) Well now that Kansas has re-elected Sam Brownback, their state budget looks worse than ever.

9) If you are a podcast listener and not listening to Serial, get with it already.  Here’s 10 theories on what really happened.

10) Kevin Drum identifies long-term trends shaping American politics.  (It’s from two years ago, but it’s good stuff).

11) Jeffrey Toobin writes that being a lawyer is still great if you come from an elite law school.  Otherwise, not so much.

12) I love the ego depletion model of willpower.  And all the research seemed pretty damn convincing in Willpower.   But new research says not so fast.   

13) Vox on the best way to lose weight.

The one thing you need to know from science about dieting is rather straightforward. What works is cutting calories in a way that you like and can sustain. That’s it. Fewer calories means more weight loss. It’s really that simple. You can stop reading here if you want….

“It’s the wrong question,” he added. “The better question now should be ‘what is the best diet for different individuals, and how can we match them to those diets?'” To understand this, Gardner said researchers would need to look at people’s behaviors, microbiomes and genetic makeup, and how they respond to particular diets. Until science reveals this more refined picture, remember Caulfield: simplicity is the revelation.

14) Charter schools can be great for truly at-risk kids, but those based on a model of working teachers to the bone, really don’t seem scalable.  It’s good to see some of the intensive charter schools figuring out that maybe they can do this and still let their teachers have a life.

15) Why do obese women earn less money.  Shockingly, the answer is discrimination.

16) When people don’t like the solution to a problem, they will just deny the problem exists.  So says new social science research.

17) Great column from Charles Blow summarizing the history of race and party politics in America.  A very effective and succinct summary of the key development in the last 50 years of American politics.

18) 18 Common words you should replace in your writing.  Yeah, a pretty good list.

19) Enjoyed UNC grad Jason Zengerle on the athletic/academic scandal and Roy Williams:

Except that Williams didn’t actually table his suspicions (however vague he maintains those suspicions were). He acted on them and, although he didn’t bring an end to the “paper classes” scam, he at least ended his team’s participation in it. In the cesspool that is big-time college sports, that’s a commendable course of action. As an athletic department official at one college sports powerhouse put it to me, “Out of the 300 Division One basketball coaches, 290 of them would have looked the other way and perpetuated the fraud, 8 of them would have stopped participating in it, and maybe 1 or 2 would have actually blown the whistle on the whole thing.” Looking at the situation that way, what Williams did isn’t just defensible. It might actually be admirable.

The problem for UNC and Williams, of course, is that, were they to embrace such an argument, they’d be admitting just how debased big-time college sports have become. And, despite acknowledging that their university perpetuated an academic fraud for 18 years, they’re still not willing to admit to that general level of debasement


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