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And shop the Amazon Emergency Prep Store. Plus, Emergency & Long-Term Storage Food Deals. When bad things happen, it’s good to have food.

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Winter’s over. What with all the Zika news, I’m guessing that the mosquito control stuff will be a big item this year.

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And shop the Amazon Emergency Prep Store. Plus, Emergency & Long-Term Storage Food Deals. When bad things happen, it’s good to have food.

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Winter’s over. What with all the Zika news, I’m guessing that the mosquito control stuff will be a big item this year.

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FCC COMMISSIONER: Colleges Endangering Free Speech.

Ajit Pai, the son of immigrants from India, grew up in Parsons, a city of 10,000 in rural Kansas, before going to Harvard University and the University of Chicago for law school. His parents came to the United States with “about $10 in their pockets, a willingness to work very hard, and a belief in the American Dream.” . . .

It seems to me that something is changing in American society, and particularly on college campuses. There’s the old saying that I may not agree with what you say, but I’ll fight to the death for your right to say it. That kind of ethos is increasingly rare.

That poses a special danger to a country that cherishes First Amendment speech, freedom of expression, even freedom of association. I think it’s dangerous, frankly, that we don’t see more often people espousing the First Amendment view that we should have a robust marketplace of ideas where everybody should be willing and able to participate.

Largely what we’re seeing, especially on college campuses, is that if my view is in the majority and I don’t agree with your view, then I have the right to shout you down, disrupt your events, or otherwise suppress your ability to get your voice heard.

That’s something, I think, that poses a danger to what I call the culture of the First Amendment. The text of the First Amendment is enshrined in our Constitution, but there are certain cultural values that undergird the amendment that are critical for its protections to have actual meaning. If that culture starts to wither away, then so too will the freedom that it supports.

Well, when President Trump starts going after anti-Americans, suddenly academia will re-appreciate the virtues of free speech. And that’s why the President should probably always be a white male Republican — because that’s what it takes to make the rest of the establishment appreciate the Bill of Rights.

THE RISE AND FALL OF ZIGGY STARDUST AND THE VIDEOFREEX FROM MARS. We now take for granted YouTube’s ability to birth DIY performers who eventually acquire large followings and of course, video cameras built into smart phones and tablets have become ubiquitous. But just as DARPA was crafting the notion of an interconnected network of computers in the late 1960s, portable DIY video technology was also being birthed during that period, as authors Doug Hill and Jeff Weingrad write near the beginning of their 1985 book Saturday Night: A Backstage History of Saturday Night Live. Without Sony’s invention, “It’s possible that the underground [comedy movement, which SNL creator Lorne Michaels tapped into for his first stars and writers] might have bypassed television altogether had it not been for the Sony Corporation’s introduction in the late 1960s of portable video cameras and recorders that were affordable by the public at large:”

That technology spawned a movement known as guerrilla television, which was populated by hundreds of long-hairs carrying Porta-Pak units, nascent auteurs who’d previously had no access to the mechanisms of television production and who set out to invent their own kind of programs. One such guerrilla remembers showing up with his partner at the house of a famous Hollywood writer, hoping to tell him some of their ideas. They were laden with gear, their hair hung well past their shoulders, and they wore fatigue jackets and pants. The memory of the Manson murders was still strong at the time, and the writer’s wife, answering the door and seeing the equipment they were carrying, thought it was some kind of machine gun and ran screaming back inside.

In his latest film review at NRO, Armond White explores the Videofreex, one of the leftwing underground groups producing guerrilla television in the years that preceded SNL, the subject of a new documentary Here Come the Videofreex:

Entitlement is quite different from “Civil Rights,” and Here Come the Videofreex helps us understand how the two things became closely linked and then were tied in with the self-satisfaction of media domination. Directors Jon Nealon and Jenny Raskin observe those Sixties youth who felt that through the then-new video technology they could more accurately address the proletariat — a sense of righteous free expression like the social networking of cell phones, Twitter, and innumerable blogs. They were eventually crushed by corporate media’s ultimate indifference. CBS sacked the Videofreex but let them keep the “worthless” technology, which led to the Videofreex’ brief pirate TV enterprise.

It’s amazing to see this all laid out in an indie documentary while we currently contend with the bewildering, flip-flopping propaganda of MSNBC, Fox Cable News, and the shamelessly pandering CNN — all 21st-century videofreaks with small regard for reporting or objectivity. Their “news” cycles merely exploit American politics.

Co-director Raskin had worked on the 2013 Our Nixon, the most compassionate of all Watergate documentaries, which most reviewers misunderstood — seemingly deliberately. Today’s media politics all result from class privilege: Millionaire newsreaders follow the dictates of their behind-the-scenes tycoon bosses (broadcasters committed to the status quo and partisan politricks). They’re determined to influence the voting and polling patterns of viewers and readers. This is what the now-aged provocateurs of Here Come the Videofreex teach us. Parry Teasdale, Davidson Gigliotti, Skip Blumberg, Chuck Kennedy, Carol Vontobel, Ann Woodward, Bart Friedman, and others recall their pasts without guile, even as they lament their inability to fully “democratize” the U.S. media.

And note this: “When a veteran hippie mused, ‘Turning people on to video was like turning them on to grass,’ it seems stunningly naïve. It’s also au courant.”

Which dovetails well with an encomium to a man who also seemed to singlehandedly craft his own culture during the early 1970s, David Bowie. As Nick Gillespie writes in the latest issue of Reason, “David Bowie Was a Time Traveler from Our Hyper-Personalized Future — The star who made it cool to be a freak,” though a very different “freak” from the Videofreex, needless to say:

In 1987, he returned to West Berlin, where he had made an exceptional set of records in the late 1970s, including several with his muse and protégé Iggy Pop. There he played a concert so loud it could be heard in communist East Berlin. The Internet abounds with footage from the show, which is capped by an absolutely brilliant version of “Heroes,” his ballad of doomed lovers who literally meet in the shadow of the Berlin Wall to steal a moment (“I can remember standing by the wall, and the guns shot above our heads”).

Just days after the concert, President Ronald Reagan also performed in Berlin, delivering one of his most memorable lines: “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall.” Who’s to say that the example of Bowie, who personified not only the freedom of expression but the sybaritic desire that the Communists had unsuccessfully tried to stamp out, wasn’t as important to the Wall’s destruction as the arms race? The day after his death, the German government tweeted, “Good-bye, David Bowie…Thank you for helping to bring down the #wall.”

Bowie was exceptionally well-read (his list of 100 favorite books ranges from Madame Bovary to The Gnostic Gospels) and was renowned for his knowledge of blues, folk, jazz, and experimental music. (He introduced U.S. audiences to the German avant garde perfomer Klaus Nomi on Saturday Night Live, of all venues.) Yet only fools look to celebrities and artists—especially rock stars—for moral instruction and political programs. We’re wiser to seek artists for inspiration and ideas on how we might expand our own horizons and think about our own possibilities.

It’s in this sense that Bowie was a time traveler from our own future, where we all feel more comfortable not just being who we are but in trying out different things to see whom we might want to become. Certainly, an entire species of performer, from U2 to Madonna to Lady Gaga to Jay-Z (who sampled “Fame” in his 2001 track “Takeover”) were influenced by him.

And unlike many rock stars, Bowie created continuity with earlier forms of popular music, not only by covering various old songs (“Wild Is the Wind” is a memorable instance) but by incongruously appearing with Bing Crosby on der Bingle’s 1977 Merrie Olde Christmas TV Special, which gave birth to Crosby and Bowie’s enduringly beautiful and strange duet of “Peace on Earth/The Little Drummer Boy.”

Back in 2007, I wrote a piece for the Rand-themed New Individualist magazine titled “Welcome to My.Culture — How Emerging Technologies Allow Anyone to Create His Own Culture.” (Somehow, when the piece went to the Web, the subhead replaced the editor’s original title from the print edition, unfortunately):

Through television, newspapers, radio, and advertising, the mass culture of the twentieth century created easily understandable points of reference for virtually everyone. Often, these were low and crude and coarse. But everyone knew who Ralph Cramden was. Who Batman was. Who Vince Lombardi was. You might not have known who Gene Roddenberry was, but you knew that NBC had a show starring a guy with pointed ears.

Today, however, we’re looking at that shared culture in the rearview mirror, and with mixed emotions. In fact, we’re witnessing the death throes of mass culture. It’s being replaced, not by the elder President Bush’s “thousand points of light,” but by a thousand fractured micro-cultures, each of which knows only a little bit about what’s going on in the next micro-culture thriving on the website next door.

As James Lileks of and the Minneapolis Star-Tribune’s told me a couple of years ago: “Take a basically divided populace—the old red and blue paradigm—and then shove that through a prism which splinters it into millions of different individual demographics, each of which have their own music channel, their own website, their own Blogosphere, their own porn preferences delivered daily by email solicitations. I mean, it’s hard to say whether or not there will eventually be a common culture for which we can have sport, other than making fun of the fact that we really lack a common culture.”

This trend has both good and bad aspects. But before we turn our attention to that—and what it may bode for our future—it might be useful first to review how we got here.

Though I have no doubt that I’ll be repulsed by their reactionary socialist-anarchist message, I’m looking forward to seeing the Videofreex documentary, at least when it comes to Amazon Prime or Netflix. Decades before YouTube, iPhones and GoPros, their taking advantage of the first portable video technology was itself the real revolution (a textbook example of McLuhan’s “The Medium is the Message” aphorism). Gillespie makes a very good case that Bowie was a similar sort of revolutionary — and the recording studio technology he (and his frequent producers Tony Visconti and Nile Rodgers) mastered is similarly now available inside of a reasonably-equipped PC. And as old media continues to be an even vaster version of the vast wasteland that JFK’s FCC Chairman Newton Minnow infamously described, making your own culture as an alternative seems more important than ever. Think of it as the Nockian Remnant with iPhones.

FREEDOM MARCHES ON: West Virginia lawmakers eliminate permits for concealed carry guns.

IT’S NOT “SLIPPING AWAY,” IT’S BEING DELIBERATELY EXTINGUISHED BY POWER-HUNGRY ASSHOLES: FCC commissioner: U.S. tradition of free expression slipping away.

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DON’T WORRY, CORNELL IS HERE TO TEACH YOU HOW TO BE “INCLUSIVE” WITH YOUR “HOLIDAY DECORATIONS”: Just in time for the holidays, Cornell University’s Department of Environmental Health & Safety recently issued “guidelines” about holiday decorations.

Among its list of decorations “that are NOT Consistent with Either University Assembly Guidelines or the University’s Commitment to Diversity and Inclusiveness”: a bizarre variety of Christian and Jewish symbols, including “crosses” and the “Star of David,” as well as secular “holiday” items, including mistletoe and “stars at the top of trees.”

So Cornell, would you mind explaining how a Star of David is either offensive to your university’s values, or a “holiday decoration” for that matter?

Read more about it over at The Torch.

THEY’LL DO FOR IT WHAT THEY’VE DONE FOR HEALTHCARE, IF THEY’RE ALLOWED: Congressional Q&A: Feds finding ways to grab control of Internet.

Since the Federal Communications Commission passed Title II regulations reclassifying Internet service providers as common utility companies in February, Rep. Marsha Blackburn, R-Tenn., has been at the forefront of the fight to reverse them. Critics say the rule change represents an overreach by the FCC, erodes consumer protection and curtails free speech rights.

If a federal court takes action, there may be no need for a congressional solution. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia is set to hear oral arguments against the rules on Dec. 4. Blackburn has led a coalition of 22 lawmakers in filing an amicus brief supporting appellants in the case, arguing that Congress never granted the FCC the statutory authority to reclassify an industry on its own.

This should play out like MCI v. AT&T, but the courts have been AWOL a lot on administrative overreach.

CNN FAILS TO GRASP SOCIAL MEDIA, suspending reporter Elise Labott for two weeks for editorializing “House passes bill that could limit Syrian refugees. Statue of Liberty bows head in anguish,” in a tweet, Ed Morrissey writes:

A two-week suspension isn’t going to convince anyone that CNN reporters (or any reporters) are robots without their own biases and opinions. If anything, it’s better for consumers to have those out in the open. Media bias was obvious long before Elise Labott hit Twitter, and suspending her over this tweet isn’t going to convince anyone that it’s been cured, at CNN or anywhere else.

In fact, that is one of the merits of social-media interaction — so that consumers can interact with and get to know reporters. CNN obviously values that promotional value, or they’d order Labott and other reporters off of Twitter and Facebook altogether. If reporters do nothing but tweet headlines, there would be no value to their engagement at all; CNN tweets headlines all day long, and people can find links there if that’s all they want.

CNN is apparently still clinging to the notion of “objectivity” like one of the legendary stories of Japanese soldiers stranded on desert islands and still claiming allegiance to the emperor long after the war had ended. “Objectivity” was a fable the MSM needed to promote during the early days of the original national broadcast networks, first radio in the 1920s, and TV after World War II, to convince the American public — and the FCC — that it was delivering a neutral product that appealed to the largest possible audience. (A premise the MSM regularly broke with impunity, of course.) Building a national broadcasting network was staggeringly expensive, which is why for decades TV channel choices were so limited; today, anyone can start a Website with just a few clicks of a computer mouse.

In the 1980s, CNN broke the big three TV networks’ logjam on the news. Perhaps its current management might join the rest of us in the 21st century someday.

Of course, Labbott’s suspension raises another question for CNN viewers: if the network is going to continue to pretend to be “objective,” then why do all their reporters’ Kinsley-esque gaffes keep occurring from the left?

THIS IS UNACCEPTABLE: Hilton is the latest hotel suspected of blocking customers’ personal Wi-Fi.

It always seemed improbable that Marriott was the only one. Last year the hotel chain paid $600,000 to America’s Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to settle a complaint that it had blocked customers’ personal wireless modems and hotspots at “at least one” of its hotels, forcing customers to sign up for expensive in-house internet access instead. Now Hilton has found itself in hot water over the same charge. In August 2014, the FCC received a complaint from a customer alleging that the Hilton hotel in Anaheim, California, was also blocking visitors’ Wi-Fi hot spots unless they paid $500 to access the hotel’s own wireless service. The FCC says it has also received similar complaints involving other Hilton properties. . . .

Other than Marriott and Hilton, two other firms have been charged in connection with blocking guests’ Wi-Fi. In August 2015, Smart City Holdings, a telecoms firm, was fined $750,000 for blocking hotspots at several convention centres across America where it was providing internet access. The commission recently also said it intended to fine M.C. Dean, a technology firm, $718,000 “for apparent Wi-Fi blocking at the Baltimore Convention Centre”.

More power to the FCC’s elbow. After Marriott was caught, it lobbied for a change in the law that would allow it to interfere with its guests’ connections. Fortunately it backed down in the face of widespread incredulity.

Don’t mess with my personal wi-fi.

ON THE UPSIDE, THIS OUTDATED DOCTRINE WEAKENS TRADITIONAL MEDIA RELATIVE TO NEW MEDIA: The Donald On ‘SNL’: Equal Time Isn’t Needed; The FCC rule was meant to foster debate, but today is more likely to chill it.

The Radio Act of 1927 created the equal-time doctrine when airtime was a scarce commodity, so important for electoral success that federal regulation was deemed the only way to protect the public interest.

Lawmakers’ intention was to foster debate. But in practice the doctrine often has the opposite effect. In 1952, for example, the criteria to qualify under the equal-time doctrine were so broad that they covered presidential candidates from 16 minor political parties. That meant stations could not give time to Democrats or Republicans without potentially providing the same amount of time to candidates from the Socialist Party or the Prohibition Party. As a result, broadcasters shied away from political candidates.

Congress noticed, and by 1959 it had adopted exceptions to the doctrine. Among them, “bona fide news” broadcasts or documentaries wouldn’t trigger equal-time obligations.

At first the FCC maintained that political debates would still trigger equal-time requirements. To ensure that the Nixon-Kennedy debates could be broadcast without worry that stations would be forced to trot out every also-ran, Congress temporarily suspended the doctrine in 1960. The FCC would later “revise” its equal-time interpretation and conclude that political debates were “bona fide news events.”

Over the years the FCC has continued to broaden exceptions to allow political candidates more leeway. Candidate appearances on “The Tonight Show” starring Johnny Carson or “The Late Show” with Stephen Colbert have also been categorized as bona fide news events.

Perhaps the GOP should start demanding stricter enforcement. . . .

WELL, NOW WE KNOW WHERE TRUMP STANDS ON THE FIRST AMENDMENT: “And if the tweets don’t work, he’ll threaten to sue critics or stick the FCC on them for daring to criticize him on TV,” Betsy Newmark writes in the midst of a lengthy roundup of the day’s events. “Just the temperament we want in a president. Rich Lowry said that Carly Fiorina ‘cut [Trump’s] balls off with the precision of a surgeon’ and then tweeted that Fox News owes him an apology for using ‘such foul language on TV’ and the FCC should fine him for saying ‘balls’ on TV. And this is the guy whose big appeal is that he doesn’t try to be all politically correct. Lowry ridicules Trump’s thin skin….How typical that Donald Trump wants to and thinks it’s possible to censor political speech on cable TV. Just more proof that he’s a true liberal pretending to be a conservative.”

Related: Trump turns to the government for help — again.


It’s reassuring to see an agency that dates back to the first term of FDR and the days of Orson Welles and the Mercury Theater on AM radio keeping an eye on the Internet considering how equally limited the bandwidth is there.

GOODBYE, TWISTED PAIR: FCC Sets Rules for Copper Phase Out. “Critics have charged that phone companies are allowing their old copper networks to decay to force customers to shift to fiber service. But some 37 million households—many of them headed by elderly people—remain on legacy copper, commissioner Mignon Clyburn noted at the hearing. Other holdouts live in rural areas that lack cellular and broadband service. Some prefer copper connections because they are independent of local power lines, and offer better 911 emergency service.”



All of the media kabuki about being “objective” dates back to a philosophy from the days of the first national radio networks 90 years ago. As I wrote several years ago in the New Individualist magazine, with the birth of mass media, journalists had to convince the public (and the FCC) that they were “objective,” since they were increasingly the only game in town until media began becoming democratized once again and as Alvin Toffler would say, “demassified,” via talk radio, Fox News, the Internet, and the birth of the Blogosphere.

In the 21st century, nobody buys the notion about journalists being objective, and news outlets and their spokesmen such as CNN’s Jeffrey Toobin would be far better off if they started being honest with their customers, and openly declaring their allegiances.

TENURE’S DEMISE BEGINS?: A Wisconsin state legislative committee approved a measure that would, if ultimately enacted, cut $250 million from the University of Wisconsin over two years, and eliminate state laws guaranteeing tenure.  The $250 million cut can be absorbed with little effect by eliminating the unnecessary layers of bureaucracy. As for the tenure reforms:

The elimination of tenure protections was first suggested by [Gov. Scott] Walker back in February, but was considered a longshot proposal. The Joint Finance Committee, however, is tremendously influential, and its decision to send the rollback to the floor of the legislature is seen as making passage much more likely.

By itself, the measure wouldn’t end tenure, but it would remove the current protections it has under state law and allow universities to set their own policies on the matter. In response, current UW system president Ray Cross said the school’s board of regents will act to enshrine tenure as university policy in a meeting later this week.

More details:

In addition to removing tenure from state law, the budget committee called to make it easier for tenured faculty to be fired or laid off. One provision eliminates current law requiring that tenured faculty only be removed for just cause and only after due notice and hearing. Another provision gives Regents authority to lay off any employee, including tenured faculty, if budget circumstances call for it. Seniority protections would go away, although seniority would be one factor considered in who loses jobs.

Darling stated that Wisconsin is the only state that has job protections for tenured faculty written into statutes, which Radomski said was a point of pride for many faculty and a reason faculty find System campuses a desirable place despite comparatively low salaries. The GOP motion calls for the Board of Regents to determine whether to have tenure and what it would entail.

UW faculty are fighting mad. I have mixed feelings about this, and it’s not because I have tenure (which I do).  Undoubtedly, tenure inherently creates some “dead wood”–faculty that slack off and lose interest in their jobs once they know they have a presumptive job for life.  And it would be nice to have a higher education system that reflects a real world ethos of rewarding excellence and punishing lethargy–among faculty, staff and administrators.

On the other hand, the original justification for tenure in higher education (and notice that this emphatically does not apply to lower education, where elementary, middle school and high school teachers do not undertake scholarship as part of their job) is that the job does generally require and involve scholarship, and sometimes that scholarship is politically controversial. Tenure was designed to ensure that scholars could feel free to express their views, without fear of retribution based on viewpoint discrimination. And frankly, it’s conservative professors who need this protection the most, as they are inherently swimming in a sea of progressive colleagues/deans/administrators/sharks who would be tempted to “punish” conservative scholarly viewpoints and activities. These concerns potentially could be allayed with robust statutory protections against viewpoint discrimination, but this would encourage expensive litigation whenever a faculty member is fired. Whether these costs would outweigh the benefits isn’t as clear as it may seem initially.

In any event, the Wisconsin legislature’s proposal represents a thoughtful beginning to an important discussion about what tenure means, and when it is needed (if ever).

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A bill introduced to the Texas House of Representatives would make it illegal for private citizens to record police within 25 feet.

House Bill 2918, introduced by Texas Rep. Jason Villalba (R-Dallas) on Tuesday, would make the offense a misdemeanor. Citizens who are armed would not be permitted to record police activity within 100 feet of an officer, according to the Houston Chronicle.

Only representatives of radio or TV organizations that hold an FCC license, newspapers and magazines would have the right to record police.

Not only is this a First Amendment violation, but there’s also a due process right to record the police.

JOHN FUND: Comrades for Net Neutrality: The powers behind the FCC’s muscling of the Internet. “Our job is to make media reform part of our broader struggle for democracy, social justice, and, dare we say it, socialism.”

ROBERT MCDOWELL: Overturn The FCC’s Power Grab.

Thursday marked the largest government intervention into the Internet ecosphere in American history. By equating the dynamic 21st century Internet to the telephone system of 1934, the Federal Communications Commission has thrust powerful but antiquated utility-style regulations onto the U.S. tech economy. . . .

The FCC’s power grab discards the bipartisan light-touch regulatory framework laid out during the Clinton administration. That hands-off approach made the Net the greatest deregulatory success story of all time.

History teaches us that utility-style regulation raises costs to consumers, reduces investment and innovation, and creates uncertainty due to the politics-driven nature of “mother may I innovate” government mandates. Regulation only grows. Now the Internet cannot escape that fate.

The ultimate result of more government encroachment will be something akin to the sagging European Internet market, where investment in broadband infrastructure is only one-fourth of America’s due to heavy-handed regulations. Even worse, this new power grab could trigger expanded intergovernmental powers over the Web through existing telecom treaties, jeopardizing Internet freedom.

What many in Silicon Valley don’t understand is that, according to the Supreme Court’s 2005 Brand X decision, nearly any “tech” company that builds a telecom-style network to deliver its content and apps has the potential to be captured by the FCC’s new rules. If the agency tries to exempt some companies but not others, it will be choosing the politically favored over everyone else.

Well, that’s the whole point of this exercise, one suspects. I mean, isn’t it always?

FCC COMMISSIONER MIKE O’RIELLY ON THE “NET NEUTRALITY” RULES: “When you see this document, it’s worse than you imagine.”

I dunno, I can imagine an awful lot. But we know it’s awful because they kept it secret before they enacted it. More:

The historic vote was cheered by internet activists, President Barack Obama and many in the tech community. However, few people have seen the actual orders. On Friday the FCC was finalising its documentation for publication – it it is not expected to release the orders until next week at the very earliest.

Pai said the new rules would mean “permission-less innovation is a thing of the past”. The new rules will ban broadband providers from creating fast lanes for some or slowing the traffic of others for commercial reasons. They will also give the FCC the power to police conduct by broadband providers on a case-by-case basis.

Internet service providers will not be allowed to “unreasonably interfere with or unreasonably disadvantage” consumers’ access to content and services.

O’Rielly said this would mean that any company looking to start a new service would have to seek permission ahead of time. He said anybody looking for new business opportunities in the document would be best off becoming a “telecoms lawyer.”

So at least there’s an upside!

FIRST THE FCC, NOW THIS: Obama to ban bullets by executive action, threatens top-selling AR-15 rifle. No, this isn’t somebody’s paranoid fantasy. At least, it isn’t somebody’s fantasy.

“UNINTENDED” CONSEQUENCE: Google warns FCC plan could help ISPs charge senders of Web traffic.

EXPIRATION DATE, REACHED: Senator Obama: ‘Irresponsible’ For FCC To Vote On Rules Unreleased To The Public. That Senator Obama seemed like a sensible fellow. Too bad he’s not President now.

GORDON CROVITZ: The Great Internet Power Grab: We’ve come a long way from Steve Jobs as ‘phone phreak’ to Tom Wheeler as ruler of the Internet.

The era of open innovation can be dated to 1971, when teenager Steve Jobs and his engineer friend Steve Wozniak became “phone phreaks.” They sold kits to create routing tones spoofing government-regulated phones into making free long-distance calls. Evading the absurdly high prices that federal regulators set for AT&T calls felt like civil disobedience. The same spirit of disruptive innovation led them to found Apple.

Last week Washington abandoned open innovation when the chairman of the Federal Communications Commission yielded to President Obama ’s demands and moved to regulate the freewheeling Internet under the same laws that applied to the Ma Bell monopoly. Unless these reactionary regulations are stopped, they spell the end of the permissionless innovation that built today’s Internet.

Until now, anyone could launch new websites, apps and mobile devices without having to lobby a regulator for permission. That was thanks to a Clinton-era bipartisan consensus that the Internet shouldn’t be treated as a public utility. Congress and the White House under both parties kept the FCC from applying the hoary regulations that micromanaged the phone system, which would have frozen innovation online.

Last week’s announcement from FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler rejects 20 years of open innovation by submitting the Internet to Title II of the Communications Act of 1934. Once Mr. Wheeler and the commission’s Democratic majority vote this month to apply Title II, the regulations will give them staggering control. Any Internet “charges” and “practices” that the bureaucrats find “unjust or unreasonable is declared to be unlawful.”

This is an open invitation to entrenched companies challenged by new technologies.

Hey, “permissionless innovation” may make the country rich, but it’s hell on people who buy and sell permissions for a living.

Related: Colorado Regulator Going After Unregulated Yoga Instructors Works For Regulated State Chain.

OF COURSE IT DOES: The FCC’s Big Internet Power Grab Comes Directly From the White House: Tom Wheeler’s Title II net neutrality push is the result of an “unusual, secretive” push from the administration. The Internet is a threat to them. Thus, they must control it.

WHAT COULD GO WRONG? The FCC Will Make The Internet A Public Utility. Hey, nothing says “forward-looking and dynamic” like “regulated utility,” amirite?

WAIT, I THOUGHT THE OBAMA ADMINISTRATION HATED BIG BUSINESS: Ending Welfare for Telecom Giants: The FCC’s spectrum auction brought in nearly $45 billion. Why were some big bidders using taxpayer dollars?

What is astonishing about the manipulation of the bidding process is how cavalier the parties are. The two Dish-related companies—Northstar Wireless and SNR Wireless—didn’t exist until a few months before the auction, and each reported to the FCC that it was a “very small business,” as neither had any gross revenues. Yet together the two companies magically managed to place bids more than seven times those of spectrum-hungry T-Mobile . They claim to be small so they can qualify for federal money to cover 25% of the cost of a bid that suggests they have incredibly deep pockets. . . .

Plays like these shut out genuine small entrepreneurs. The Wall Street Journal reported on Jan. 30 that Stephen Wilkus, who worked for 27 years as an engineer at Alcatel Lucent , quit his job a year ago to bid in the auction. He set up a partnership whose investors included a few family members with controlling interests in other companies. As a result, lawyers told him he wouldn’t qualify for small business credits. With some understatement, the article concludes that Mr. Wilkus was “irked to see entities related to [Dish co-founder and Board Chairman Charlie] Ergen, a billionaire, obtain that same credit.” We don’t blame him.

The FCC’s rules are a labyrinth that only a lawyer could love. Even if everything was done by the book, why are the FCC’s rules set up this way? Does it make sense to milk taxpayers to benefit corporate behemoths? Should the FCC allow companies that don’t need the help to claim billions of dollars in taxpayer-funded discounts? Is it fair to deny designated-entity benefits to entrepreneurs who do need help entering the wireless business? We’d say no on each point.

It’s as if the whole thing is designed to protect existing companies donors from competition.


WHAT COULD GO WRONG? Wait! What? FCC ponders plan to route U.S. 911 calls through Russian satellites.

HAPPY NEW YEAR: Marriott plans to block personal wifi hotspots.

Marriott is fighting for its right to block personal or mobile Wi-Fi hotspots—and claims that it’s for our own good.

The hotel chain and some others have a petition before the FCC to amend or clarify the rules that cover interference for unlicensed spectrum bands. They hope to gain the right to use network-management tools to quash Wi-Fi networks on their premises that they don’t approve of. In its view, this is necessary to ensure customer security and to protect children.

The petition, filed in August and strewn with technical mistakes, has received a number of formally filed comments from large organizations in recent weeks. If Marriott’s petition were to succeed, we’d likely see hotels that charge guests and convention centers that charge exhibitors flipping switches to shut down any Wi-Fi not operated by the venue. The American hotel industry’s trade group is a co-filer of the petition, and Hilton submitted a comment in support: this isn’t just Marriott talking. . . .

Earlier in 2014, the FCC fined Marriott for jamming guests, exhibitors, and others’ Wi-Fi networks at the Gaylord Opryland resort in Nashville. The hotel chain agreed to pay the FCC $600,000 in fines and create a compliance plan, with regularly filed updates, for all its properties.

I want to control my own connections. I don’t want Marriott to be able to shut off my personal hotspot and force me onto their own network.

JOSH BLACKMAN: The Constitutional Limits Of Prosecutorial Discretion. Also, Prosecutorial Discretion With Rubber Stamps.

Josh’s discussion also reminds me of MCI V. AT&T, 512 U.S. 218 (1994), in which the Supreme Court held that the FCC couldn’t stretch a statutory provision allowing it to “modify” tariff requirements into a general rule eliminating the need for most of the industry to file tariffs at all. That seems fairly analogous to what Obama is doing with immigration, and possibly a better fit than Heckler v. Chaney.

On the contra side, though, there’s the case I always bring up when people suggest that executive power has exploded in recent years, U.S. v. Spawr Optical. (Also discussed here.) Spawr is a Court of Appeals case, not a Supreme Court case, and turned on some particularly sweeping statutory delegations, but still. . . .

Meanwhile, some thoughts from Ilya Somin.

I also think that if the Supreme Court wants to hear this in a hurry, it can. If it takes it in the ordinary course of business, we’ll probably see a decision in June of 2016. Could Obama — already seen as passively aggressively undermining Hillary in other ways — have put a long-range torpedo into the water that will explode around the time of the Democratic Convention?

RICHARD EPSTEIN: Hands Off The Web. “The AT&T decision to hold back on its investment is the canary down the coal mine. Preemptive rate regulation will not do anything other than retard the huge expansion of the Internet that has taken place under current legal regimes. Government regulation of the Internet can, and should, wait until some specific abuse materializes down the road, as might well be the case. Right now, the President and the FCC could do the public great service by sitting quietly on the sidelines.” Insufficient opportunities for graft in sideline-sitting.

TO BE FAIR, THEY’RE NOT MEANT TO BE GOOD IDEAS, THEY’RE MEANT TO CONSOLIDATE POWER: Net Neutrality—and Obama’s Scheme for the Internet—Are Lousy Ideas.

Meanwhile, here’s my FCC testimony on this subject from five years ago.

UM: Obama: Government Should Regulate Internet to Keep it Free. “So President Obama has announced that the Internet should be regulated as a public utility. He’s asking the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to reclassify internet service providers (ISPs) from “information services” under Title I as telecommunications providers under Title II regulatory guidelines. This is all being done in the name of ‘Net Neutrality,’ keeping the Internet free and open, prohibiting ‘fast lanes’ for certain services and sites, making sure no legal content is blocked, and all other horribles that…have failed to materialize in the absence of increased federal regulation.”

It’s about control. Because everything he does is about control.

FCC COMMISSIONER AJIT PAI: The government wants to study ‘social pollution’ on Twitter.

Named “Truthy,” after a term coined by TV host Stephen Colbert, the project claims to use a “sophisticated combination of text and data mining, social network analysis, and complex network models” to distinguish between memes that arise in an “organic manner” and those that are manipulated into being.

But there’s much more to the story. Focusing in particular on political speech, Truthy keeps track of which Twitter accounts are using hashtags such as #teaparty and #dems. It estimates users’ “partisanship.” It invites feedback on whether specific Twitter users, such as the Drudge Report, are “truthy” or “spamming.” And it evaluates whether accounts are expressing “positive” or “negative” sentiments toward other users or memes.

The Truthy team says this research could be used to “mitigate the diffusion of false and misleading ideas, detect hate speech and subversive propaganda, and assist in the preservation of open debate.”

Hmm. A government-funded initiative is going to “assist in the preservation of open debate” by monitoring social media for “subversive propaganda” and combating what it considers to be “the diffusion of false and misleading ideas”? The concept seems to have come straight out of a George Orwell novel.

The NSF has already poured nearly $1 million into Truthy. To what end? Why is the federal government spending so much money on the study of your Twitter habits?

Some possible hints as to Truthy’s real motives emerge in a 2012 paper by the project’s leaders, in which they wrote ominously of a “highly-active, densely-interconnected constituency of right-leaning users using [Twitter] to further their political views.”

Tar. Feathers.

MARRIOTT BUSTED FOR jamming customers’ portable hotspots to force them onto expensive hotel wifi.

SPYING: Feds to study illegal use of spy gear.

The Federal Communications Commission has established a task force to study reported misuse of surveillance technology that can intercept cellular signals to locate people, monitor their calls and send malicious software to their phones.

The powerful technology — called an IMSI catcher, though also referred to by the trade name “Stingray” — is produced by several major surveillance companies and widely used by police and intelligence services around the world.

The FCC, in response to questions from U.S. Rep. Alan M. Grayson (D-Fla.), plans to study the extent to which criminal gangs and foreign intelligence services are using the devices against Americans. FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler, in a letter dated this month, said the commission had authority over the surveillance technology and had established a “task force to combat the illicit and unauthorized use of IMSI catchers.”

The task forces’s mission, Wheeler wrote, “is to develop concrete solutions to protect the cellular network systemically from similar unlawful intrusions and interceptions.”

I’d like something that protected me from spying by my government. We used to have something called the Constitution for that.

THIS ADMINISTRATION ISN’T VERY GOOD AT WEBSITES: After website failure, FCC extends deadline for net neutrality comments.

COMMUNICATIONS: FCC chairman regrets that AT&T and Verizon control the best spectrum.

WASHINGTON FREE BEACON: Meet Ajit Pai: Commissioner who blew the whistle on the FCC policing the newsroom has more work to do.

IT’S ONLY EVIDENCE OF BIAS IF THEY DONATE TO REPUBLICANS: Byron York: Four of five FCC study authors gave to Obama.

A significant problem with the now-suspended Federal Communications Commission plan to have government contractors question journalists about editorial decisions and practices was that it was a partisan exercise. The plan originated among Democrats on the FCC; the commission’s two Republican members didn’t even learn about it until it was well under way.

There was also a one-sidedness in the research behind the project. The FCC enlisted scholars from two big journalism schools, the University of Southern California Annenberg School for Communication & Journalism and the University of Wisconsin-Madison Center for Communication and Democracy, to determine the “critical information needs” about which journalists would be questioned. The study, delivered in July 2012, listed five authors: Ernest J. Wilson III, Carola Weil, and Katya Ognyanova from USC, Lewis Friedland from Wisconsin, and Philip Napoli from Fordham University. (Weil is now with American University.) Four of the five, it turns out, contributed to President Obama’s campaigns.

It’s partisan Potemkin villages all the way down.

IRS SCANDAL UPDATE: The Hill: House Targets IRS With Taxpayer Protection Bills.

Related: Echoes Of The IRS In The FCC Snooping Scandal.

A SMALL VICTORY FOR FREEDOM: FCC throws out plan to question reporters about news coverage.

ORWELLIAN: FCC TO “MONITOR” NEWS. What’s next, a Political Officer at each station?

Related: Howard Kurtz: The FCC Should Butt Out of America’s Newsrooms.

BYRON YORK: New Obama initiative tramples First Amendment protections. “The initiative, known around the agency as ‘the CIN Study’ (pronounced ‘sin’), is a bit of a mystery even to insiders. ‘This has never been put to an FCC vote, it was just announced.’”

BUT REMAINS UNAPPRECIATED: Surprise! GOP Fights FCC on Behalf of MSM Freedoms – And Wins!

MICHAEL GRAHAM STANDS UP FOR PRESS FREEDOM: Dear FCC, It’s None Of Your God**** Business. Yes, and that’s what every media outlet should be saying.

STATE CONTROL: The FCC Wades Into the Newsroom: Why is the agency studying ‘perceived station bias’ and asking about coverage choices? You might say they’ll regret this when a Republican is in the White House, but I think this is about making sure that never happens.

LIFE IN THE ERA OF HOPE AND CHANGE: One Year Later, Unlocking Your Phone Is Still A Crime. “It was a clear case of crony capitalism on behalf of some of the largest companies with the largest lobbying shops in Washington, D.C. . . . The resulting public outcry, perhaps the largest online response since SOPA/PIPA, led the White House, FCC and Members of Congress to condemn the ruling by the Librarian of Congress and to support cellphone unlocking. One year later, despite an overwhelming consensus in favor of unlocking, unlocking your phone, without permission from your carrier, is still a crime. It’s difficult to find another issue that has such overwhelming and bipartisan support, and it’s difficult to understand why Congress still refuses to act.”

WORRIED ABOUT NET NEUTRALITY? Maybe It’s The FCC That Should Really Concern You.


I enjoyed The New School very much, and have been shipping copies around to my small circle of academic friends with open minds. Great stuff.

Being a one-time faculty brat and more or less surrounded in consanguinity and geography by liberal educators, these are all topics that have intrigued me even before you started linking away on Instapundit. So I have a couple of unsolicited thoughts and reactions, which you may or may not find worthy.

On the question of declining standards, especially in primary and secondary education, conservatives tend to focus on institutional blockages, such as bloated administrations, unions and the application of post-modern ideology of one sort or another. I note, however, that here in Texas we have lower costs per student, no unions, and very little liberal ideology. Rather, the attack on standards has come from the right, and the extremely tight central control of education at the state level. My new mother-in-law is an old school Texas high school teacher, and very articulate on the subject. Can’t we all just teach science whether involving primate reproduction or natural selection? (Notwithstanding that, Texas gets by far the best results in math and science of any large state, spending around half per student of New York and New Jersey, so it must be doing something right, but that’s its own interesting subject.)

I think the biggest threat to standards comes from the intersection of democracy and heterogeneity. One cannot both cater to voters (whether in local elections anywhere or statewide in Texas) and impose high standards, except in those relatively rare circumstances where the voters themselves are fundamentally homogeneous (e.g., the Eanes school district in suburban Austin, which is very white, affluent, and excellent).

Put another way: Among (1) rigorous standards, (2) heterogeneity or socioeconomic “diversity” in the constituent population, and (3) democratic control of the schools, pick any two. The objective of any shared enterprise is the least common denominator of its participants. That is why businesses and other effective organizations spend so much time selling their objectives to their internal constituents (employees, investors, donors, and congregants). Schools with diverse constituents under democratic control cannot even forge a consensus objective to sell internally, so the least-common denominator is very low.

So: The schools worked in to the 1960s because America was much more homogeneous, and schools were especially so.

The question is, what to do about it? I would argue that the effectiveness of charter schools (and voucher-supported systems) comes from the self-selection: In effect, they eliminate heterogeneity in attitudes about education, at least, and (furthermore) they substitute market choice for majority-wins democracy. Yes, they also allow schools to bypass unions and get vastly more productivity out of the administration (my kids went to the Princeton Charter School, which is superb, and there were only two employees who did not teach), but I think these factors are less important than vesting control of individual schools in like-minded people with a shared vision and objectives.

Anyway, I’d be interested in hearing whether you think there is merit to that argument.

On the book itself, there were only three observations I would make. First, I absolutely agree that one of the things that sustains colleges is that employers leverage not just college transcripts but college admissions decisions as a way to distinguish applicants. Selective colleges are just about the only institutions in America who are allowed to say who makes the cut and who does not without any real oversight or risk of liability. This has been very useful for employers, because their own judgments are now subject to such intense scrutiny, especially for any business large enough to be a federal contractor. (The stories I could tell about the Office of Federal Contract Compliance… on the list for my retirement.)

The only way to break this, I think, is to revise OFCC rules, and that will require a Republican administration with some testicular fortitude. If only. But a topic perhaps worth exploring if you are going to develop this angle.

Second, I am not sure I understand the argument for allowing student loans to be discharged in bankruptcy. Student loans go mostly to people who are ipso facto insolvent. If you could discharge the loans in bankruptcy, why wouldn’t everybody just do that when they graduate? Yeah, bankruptcy carries a bit of a stigma and could damage one’s credit rating and therefore one’s borrowing capacity for a few years, but the stigma is declining and a huge student loan obligation is as big an obstacle to obtaining credit as a low credit rating. And, obviously, if the practice became widespread lenders would start discounting the significance of it.

If *that* happened, presumably, private lenders would stop making student loans, and that would put (even if desirable) fiscal pressure on universities. Perhaps that was your point, but if so I do not think you hammered it home.

Third, to my mind the most arresting point you made comes on page 60 in the “exit” paragraph: “While it’s harder than it used to be to get ahead in America, even with a college degree, it’s probably easier (and more comfortable) than ever to just barely get by.” For some reason, I had not framed it that way in my mind, caught up as I was in the back and forth about whether our material quality of life is really higher even though our incomes have stagnated (not mine, fortunately, but all y’all).

Anyway, thank you for writing that. I hope you sell a ton of them.

P.S. No problem from quoting from this on the small chance you would want to, but I’d prefer without attribution.

Very interesting stuff. To clarify, my bankruptcy proposal involved a waiting period of at least five and probably more like ten years post graduation. That addresses the “insolvent graduate” problem.

NEWS FROM THE STUPID PARTY: The Hill: GOP bills would ban in-flight calls. “Republicans in the House and Senate are preparing legislation that would ban airlines from allowing cellphone calls during flights. The push from Rep. Bill Shuster (R-Pa.) and Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) comes as the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) prepares to move ahead with lifting the prohibition on in-flight cellphone calls.”

Two points: (1) Phones don’t work at altitude unless the airlines add equipment to let them work; and (2) Let the market, that is, those airlines, set the policy. So much for the GOP’s small-government brand, not that either Lamar! or Shuster were ever much good for that.

HISTORY: What Happened To All of Obama’s Technology Czars?

As usual, “screw up, move up” is standard bureaucratic operating procedure.

Let’s start with the “federal chief information officer.” In 2009, Obama named then 34-year-old “whiz kid” Vivek Kundra to the post overseeing $80 billion in government IT spending. At 21, Kundra was convicted of misdemeanor theft. He stole a handful of men’s shirts from a J.C. Penney’s department store and ran from police in a failed attempt to evade arrest. Whitewashing the petty thief’s crimes, Obama instead effused about his technology czar’s “depth of experience in the technology arena.”

Just as he was preparing to take the federal job, an FBI search warrant was issued at Kundra’s workplace. He was serving as the chief technology officer of the District of Columbia. Two of Kundra’s underlings, Yusuf Acar and Sushil Bansal, were charged in an alleged scheme of bribery, kickbacks, ghost employees and forged timesheets. Kundra went on leave for five days and was then reinstated after the feds informed him that he was neither a subject nor a target of the investigation. . . .

A mere 29 months after taking the White House job, Kundra left for a cushy fellowship at Harvard University. In January 2012, he snagged an executive position at, which touted his “demonstrated track record of driving innovation.”

In 2011, Obama appointed former Microsoft executive and FCC managing director Steven VanRoekel to succeed Kundra. At the time, he promised “to make sure that the pace of innovation in the private sector can be applied to the model that is government.” Mission not accomplished.

Next up: Obama’s “U.S. chief technology officer.” In May 2009, the president appointed Aneesh Chopra “to promote technological innovation to help the country meet its goals such as job creation, reducing health care costs and protecting the homeland. Together with Chief Information Officer Vivek Kundra, their jobs are to make the government more effective, efficient and transparent.”

Chopra’s biggest accomplishment? A humiliating cameo in December 2009 on “The Daily Show” with liberal comedian Jon Stewart, who mocked the administration’s pie-in-the-sky Open Government Initiative. Chopra resigned three years later, ran unsuccessfully for Virginia lieutenant governor and now works as a “senior fellow” at the far-left Center for American Progress, which is run by former Clinton administration hit man turned Obama helpmate John Podesta.

More comedy at the link.

GLAD TO BE OF HELP: Reader Jon Marr writes:

I like to support Instapundit where I can by purchasing from Amazon through your links. If I would likely buy something anyways, why not toss a few coins in the case?

But your tip about the Furinno Laptop Table turned out to be a real find. For a variety of health reasons, including diabetic neuropathy in my legs and a bad back, I spend many days working in bed on my laptop, and this table is fantastic! It’s endlessly adjustable, provides an extremely stable platform, and best of all, get’s the laptop up off my legs which has resulted in a lot less pain and lets me adjust my legs frequently for comfort while working.

Thank you for this tip, and all you do.

Like I said, glad to be of help. The Insta-Wife has used it as a standing desk, but the booklet that came with it suggests that it’s a great reclining laptop desk, too. Glad it worked out. And thanks for the support!

CHANGE: Appeals court skeptical of FCC’s Internet access rules.


Some standing desks are kind of pricey, but this is cheap.

CONGRESS SHOULD PRE-EMPT: Don’t Blame Big Cable. It’s Local Governments That Choke Broadband Competition.

Despite public, political, and business interest in greater broadband deployment, not every American has high-speed internet access yet (let alone a choice of provider for really fast, high-capacity service). So who’s really to blame for strangling broadband competition?

While popular arguments focus on supposed “monopolists” such as big cable companies, it’s government that’s really to blame. Companies can make life harder for their competitors, but strangling the competition takes government.

Broadband policy discussions usually revolve around the U.S. government’s Federal Communications Commission (FCC), yet it’s really our local governments and public utilities that impose the most significant barriers to entry.

Read the whole thing.

JAMES TARANTO: Is This Column Legitimate?

Uh-oh, Sen. Dick Durbin of Illinois, best known for likening American servicemen to Nazis, is looking to limit your First Amendment rights, if not ours. “Everyone, regardless of the mode of expression, has a constitutionally protected right to free speech,” he writes. So far so good. “But when it comes to freedom of the press, I believe we must define a journalist and the constitutional and statutory protections those journalists should receive.”

That goes against the America’s entire constitutional tradition. In Lovell v. Griffin (1938), Chief Justice Charles Evans Hughes wrote for a unanimous Supreme Court: “The liberty of the press is not confined to newspapers and periodicals. It necessarily embraces pamphlets and leaflets. These indeed have been historic weapons in the defense of liberty, as the pamphlets of Thomas Paine and others in our own history abundantly attest. The press in its connotation comprehends every sort of publication which affords a vehicle of information and opinion.” . . .

Further, a government that grants privileges also has the power to take them away. A shield law would make those designated as “legitimate journalists” beholden to powerful politicians–especially when, as today, most journalists are ideologically sympathetic to the party in power. The Durbin shield proposal looks less like real protection than a protection racket.

Well, Durbin is from Illinois. More here.

Note that, as Eugene Volokh and I have both pointed out, the Constitution’s term “freedom of the press” means “freedom to publish,” not “freedom for the institutional Press.” But Durbin’s a partisan ignoramus, so he can’t be expected to know this sort of thing. I mean, he’s only a Senator, and there’s no IQ test for that job. . . .

THE INSTA-WIFE ON WSJ TV: Why Men Are Boycotting Marriage. Talking about her new book, Men On Strike. If you haven’t bought it yet, why not?

Screen Shot 2013-06-18 at 2.40.31 PM

JULIUS GENACHOWSKI AND JONATHAN ZITTRAIN: Let’s Test an Emergency Ad Hoc Network in Boston.

RICHARD EPSTEIN: The Real Lesson Of The IRS Scandal: Federal agencies from the FDA to the EPA to the FCC threaten the rule of law..

HOW’S THAT HOPEY-CHANGEY STUFF WORKIN’ OUT FOR YA? (CONT’D): An Industry Man For The FCC. ” There is no question that Mr. Wheeler, who was chief executive of the National Cable Television Association for five years and the Cellular Telecommunications and Internet Association for 12 years before becoming a venture capitalist, understands the industry. The question is whether his long career representing the interests of telecommunications companies would make it hard for him to be an independent and fair regulator when consumers have few choices and pay high prices for cellphone, cable TV and broadband services. He was also a big “bundler” for Mr. Obama in the 2008 and 2012 campaigns, which means that he raised hundreds of thousands of dollars in campaign donations from relatives, friends and business associates. Political campaigns disclose their donors, but they are not required to disclose which of them were recruited by bundlers like Mr. Wheeler. Given his background, it is almost certain that he raised money from people whose companies he would regulate, creating potential conflicts of interest.”

CHANGE: FCC mulls relaxing policy for TV indecency.


Figuring it might have been from a friend, Chao clicked it open and — what do you know? — it, too, was from

So she did exactly what wireless companies advise customers to do. She called her provider, Verizon Wireless, and asked that be blocked from sending any more texts to her phone.

The Verizon rep agreed to do this, but informed Chao that a $9.99 monthly service charge already had been applied to her account — just because she had clicked on the text.

“Opening a text can’t possibly be interpreted as consent to receive whatever service they’re trying to sell,” Chao, a lawyer with the California Department of Insurance, told me. “But that’s what they’re trying to get away with.

“I don’t see how this could even be legal.”

Me, neither — and lawyers I’ve spoken with say it probably isn’t. Nor do I understand how Verizon could be a willing accomplice in this racket by allowing easy access to a customer’s bill.

Tar. Feathers.

JOURNALISM: Wi-Fi “as free as air”—the totally false story that refuses to die.

The frenzy began Monday morning when the Washington Post reported that “the federal government wants to create super Wi-Fi networks across the nation, so powerful and broad in reach that consumers could use them to make calls or surf the Internet without paying a cellphone bill every month.” Best of all, network access would be free. “If all goes as planned, free access to the Web would be available in just about every metropolitan area and in many rural areas,” the Post reported. The clear implication: this was a bold—and entirely brand-new—plan.

Unfortunately, the piece was basically nonsense. What had really happened was in fact unbelievably boring: the Post simply observed an incremental development in a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) at the Federal Communications Commission over the issue of incentive auctions that might free up some additional unlicensed spectrum for so-called “White Space Devices” (read our explainer) operating in and around the current over-the-air TV bands. (I told you it was boring; in addition, the basic debate over White Space Devices was actually settled in 2008.)

From this thin material, which basically consisted of Internet service providers and tech companies sniping at each other in long legal documents, with no decisions being made by anyone and no new proposals of anything, the Post then reported—on the front page, above the fold of the country’s eighth-most highly circulated newspaper—that the FCC plan could lead to free Internet for most US residents.

So much for all those layers of editors and fact-checkers.

UPDATE: Reader Drew Kelley writes: “Another demonstration that the media-class is basically composed of moochers, who want everything on somebody else’s dime.”

INFLIGHT ELECTRONICS: Even the FCC Thinks It’s Dumb That We Have To Turn Off Electronic Devices During Takeoff.

OBAMAS DID MILLION-DOLLAR MEALS IN THE WHITE HOUSE WHILE JOBLESS AMERICANS LOOKED FOR WORK: And trust me, there is much more to this story than a president and First Lady using tax dollars to make like Gatsby. Today’s piece in The Washington Examiner is just the first course, so to speak.

WASHINGTON POST: GM’s Vaunted Volt Is On The Road To Nowhere, Fast. If GM and Obama have lost the Post . . . .

THE HILL: FCC Backpedals From Internet Tax Proposal. “The Federal Communications Commission is rapidly backpedalling from a proposal to tax broadband Internet service after a public outcry over the issue. Democrats and Republicans at the agency are now blaming each other for pushing the idea in the first place.”

HOPEY-CHANGEY: FCC eyes tax on Internet service. “The FCC issued a request for comments on the proposal in April. Dozens of companies and trade associations have weighed in, but the issue has largely flown under the public’s radar.”

I remember the good old days when taxes were passed by Congress.

HOUSE GOP: FCC ‘twists the facts’ in report to justify regulation.

FCC: Verizon Can’t Charge Extra For Tethering.

STREET VIEW SCANDAL UPDATE: “According to the FCC report, Google’s collection of Street View data was not the unauthorized act of a rogue engineer, as Google had portrayed it, but an authorized program known to supervisors and at least seven other engineers. The original proposal contradicts Google’s claim that there was no intent to gather payload data: ‘We are logging user traffic along with sufficient data to precisely triangulate their position at a given time, along with information about what they were doing.’”

TRANSPARENCY: FCC Approves New Rule on Political TV Advertising.

The Federal Communications Commission approved new regulations Friday requiring broadcasters to publish political advertising data online, a move that could shed light on who is trying to influence elections amid unprecedented campaign spending.

Television stations already are required to track purchases of political advertising and make the information publicly available, but posting it on the Web will make it easier to access. Only stations affiliated with ABC, NBC, CBS and Fox in the top 50 media markets will be required to post data on new ad buys this year, with smaller stations expected to follow in 2014.

I’d like to see the New York Times’ advertising figures, too. Since they supported this rule, perhaps they’ll provide them. . . .

WHY IS THIS THE FCC’S BUSINESS? FCC pushes for tablet computers in schools.

OF COURSE IT DOES: White House Opposes FCC Overhaul Bill.

ROBOGATE UPDATE: Top Republican says ‘Democrat front group’ is orchestrating illegal Rush Limbaugh robocalls.

The automated calls are illegal because they do not state who they are from (there is no known group called The Women of the 99 Percent) or provide a callback number, as required under the US Telephone Consumer Protection Act of 1991.

‘It is typical that a Democrat front group like this thumbs their noses at the same federal campaign finance laws they like to tout in their own campaign literature,’ Brady said.

He added that it was ‘no coincidence’ that the districts receiving the calls were all on ‘the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) hit list’, he demanding an immediate inquiry.

Republican strategists view the calls are part of a concerted effort by Democrats, from President Barack Obama down, to shift the focus of November’s elections away from the sputtering economy and onto what the Left has branded ‘the Republican war on women’.

Separately, a number of voters have complained to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) about the calls, requesting that the Obama administration initiate a federal investigation.

Federal and state investigators have the power to subpoena records from telephone companies, allowing them to follow the money to the source of the illegal calls.

Follow the money, indeed.

TRANSPARENCY: FOIA Data Suggest FCC More Secretive Than CIA.

PETITION: Call For The FCC To Remove Bill Maher.

SHUT UP, PLEBES: FCC Inquires Into Its Own Authority To Regulate Communication Service Shutdowns. “The Federal Communications Commission is reviewing whether or when the police and other government officials can intentionally interrupt cellphone and Internet service to protect public safety. A scary proposition which will easily become a First Amendment issue. Does the FCC have the authority to [regulate local or state authorities' decision to] take down cellular networks if they determine there is an imminent threat? The FCC is currently asking for public input (PDF) on this decision.”

A cellular or Internet shutdown should be interpreted as a serious warning sign of ongoing government misconduct.

Related: Courts, not FCC, Should Protect Free Speech against Mobile Service Shut-offs. Shutting off service should be a strict-liability tort, with no government immunity. Not that that’s likely. Responsibility is for the little people.

CRONY CAPITALISM (CONT’D): Documents show Obama’s FCC used regulatory muscle to destroy LightSquared’s competition.

DOCUMENTS: Lightsquared Shaping Up As The FCC’s Solyndra. I think we’re going to find that every federal department has its own Solyndra.

THE HILL: FCC moves to kill LightSquared over GPS interference concerns. “The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) moved to reject LightSquared’s planned wireless network on Tuesday after the president’s top adviser on telecom issues said there is ‘no practical way’ to prevent the network from disrupting GPS devices.”


UPDATE: A reader emails:

Im a flight attendant at a major U.S. airline, and I keep current on the talk concerning the onboard experience. I feel you are being much too glib about the latest wrinkle in the electronics use debate.

Pilots dont taxi and takeoff with manuals on their laps. Especially at takeoff and the first four minutes of flight, they are extremely busy and focused on getting and keeping that aircraft in the air. They arent consulting manuals; in fact, they take directions from the air traffic controllers to change headings or attain a certain altitude.

As for the ipads, they would not be used below 10,000 ft, JUST AS PASSENGERS’ ELECTRONICS are not to be used during that phase of flight. The ipads benefit lies in its weight versus the heavy manual case all pilots carry, and its ease of use. Multiply that across an entire fleet, times how many flights a day, and in a year’s time you have considerable savings in fuel AND in a smaller measure, savings on the bodies of pilots hauling around manuals all year.

But as a flight attendant, I want to point out another reason for passengers to power down electronics once the boarding door closes: from that time until the aircraft passes through 10,000 ft of altitude, the most incidents, malfunctions, crashes, equipment failures, and aborted takeoffs have historically occured. And as the person tasked with emptying that aircraft in a crash, or keeping it from emptying if no emergency exists, I want your undivided attention. I want you, the passenger, undistracted, until we are out of that critical phase of flight.

We dont mark 10,000 ft because the view is pretty at that height. We dont mark it because pilots are busy. We mark it because past events have been studied. If you want distracted passengers, unready to egress, or follow cogent commands, go catch a cruise in Italy. But avoid airplanes, please.

Well, that kinda makes sense. But it’s not what the FAA says: “Since I wrote a column last month asking why these rules exist, I’ve spoken with the F.A.A., American Airlines, Boeing and several others trying to find answers. Each has given me a radically different rationale that contradicts the others. The F.A.A. admits that its reasons have nothing to do with the undivided attention of passengers or the fear of Kindles flying out of passengers’ hands in case there is turbulence. That leaves us with the danger of electrical emissions.”

Bottom line: “The only reason these rules exist from the F.A.A. is because of agency inertia and paranoia.”

HMM: AT&T presses Congress to pass spectrum bill that restricts FCC.

EUGENE VOLOKH HAS AN ARTICLE OUT ON FREEDOM OF THE PRESS, and notes that the phrase is about the freedom to publish, not freedom for the “institutional Press,” though modern speakers sometimes suggest otherwise. That’s right, of course. I’ve noted that both here on the blog and in my FCC “Open Internet” testimony. As you might expect, however, Eugene’s treatment is far more thorough and comprehensive.

ELECTRONIC DEVICES ON TAKEOFF: The Federal Aviation Administration has its reasons for preventing passengers from reading from their Kindles and iPads during takeoff and landing. But they just don’t add up. Key bit: “The only reason these rules exist from the F.A.A. is because of agency inertia and paranoia.”

LIGHTSQUARED FLUNKS AGAIN: “At this point, some people at the FCC and in the White House should start feeling a little … nervous. Yesterday afternoon, the Departments of Defense and Transportation released a joint statement stating that LightSquared is about as bad on navigational equipment as everyone knew it would be.”

GORDON CROVITZ: Dropped Call? Blame The FCC.

IT’S NOT JUST LIGHTSQUARED: Regulators could sanction Falcone over trading.

Philip Falcone, a hedge fund manager who became an overnight billionaire by betting on the collapse on the U.S. housing market, is now fighting to keep his career afloat.

The investor, who has since bet much of his Harbinger Capital Partners money on a cash-strapped wireless telecom company, said on Thursday that U.S. securities regulators are considering filing civil fraud charges against him and what is left of his once $26 billion hedge fund empire. . . . Harbinger now manages less than $4 billion and roughly half of the money is tied up in its investment in LightSquared LP, the upstart wireless telecom on which Falcone has bet the ranch. LightSquared is running low on cash and its outstanding debt trades at a steep discount as its fortunes have floundered due to a number of technical issues.

Recently the company’s technology was said to interfere with the global positioning system, the widely used technology involved in everything from navigation to managing irrigation. Some lawmakers have accused the Federal Communications Commission of fast-tracking LightSquared’s project, although the agency says its process has been engineering-based.

“Now the FCC is faced with the real possibility that it made a multibillion-dollar grant of valuable spectrum to someone who could be charged with violating securities laws,” said Iowa Senator Chuck Grassley. “The FCC chairman should lead the effort to provide documents and offer insight into how the agency decided to give Mr. Falcone, Harbinger Capital and LightSquared this multibillion-dollar grant.”


GPS SAVES THE WORLD, but who will save GPS?

The enemies threatening the future of the GPS are many:

Next-generation mobile broadband services angling for a piece of the electromagnetic spectrum relied on by GPS;
Cheap GPS jammers flooding the highways, thanks to consumers worried about invasive police and employer surveillance;
Cosmic events, like solar storms;
Future location technology that will ultimately push those services to places where GPS simply cannot go

“The results will be immediate and disastrous,” kicks off Stanford engineering professor Brad Parkinson, widely known as the father of GPS, while introducing the fifth annual Stanford University symposium on Position, Navigation and Time on Thursday.

Parkinson isn’t just presenting; he’s holding court. The renowned GPS pioneer and former combat airman is on a first-name basis with generals, and has taught the finer points of satellite location for decades. The audience contains a conspicuous number of his former students who have come from around the world to pay homage — many of them now among the world’s GPS elite. Throughout the day, he’ll interrupt speakers with questions from the floor, and each time be received with warm and universal deference.

Right now, though, he is hammering the FCC, and its tepid response to an influential rising mobile broadband player, Lightsquared, that may be threatening the integrity of GPS signals.

Yeah, but their political donations go to the right people.

CHANGE: FCC Cracks Down On Religious Broadcasters.