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Cable Industry Lobbyists Write Republican Talking Points on Net Neutrality

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Following the vote last week by the Federal Communication Commission to unwind the net neutrality rules enacted during the Obama administration, House Republican lawmakers received an email from GOP leadership on how to defend the decision. The email was shared with The Intercept and the Center for Media and Democracy.

Net neutrality is the principle that internet service providers must treat all web traffic in the same way. If the FCC eventually undoes the Obama-era regulations in their entirety, an ISP like Comcast could demand that websites pay it fees in order not to slow or block them. Large companies like Facebook would easily be able to afford such charges, but smaller companies might not, creating an uneven playing field.

“Want more information on the net neutrality discussion?” wrote Washington state Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, chair of the House Republican Conference. “Here is a nifty toolkit with news resources, myth vs reality information, what others are saying, and free market comments.”

The attached packet of talking points came directly from the cable industry.

The metadata of the document shows it was created by Kerry Landon, the assistant director of industry grassroots at the National Cable and Telecommunications Association, a trade group that lobbies on behalf of Comcast, Cox Communications, Charter, and other cable industry companies. The document was shared with House Republican leaders via “Broadband for America,” a nonprofit largely funded by the NCTA.

“The FCC is wisely repealing the reckless decision of its predecessors to regulate competing internet service providers,” reads one of the document’s talking points. “We rightly protest when governments around the world seek to place political controls over the internet, and the same should apply here in America,” according to another.

The document also refers GOP caucus members to quotes they can use from other industry-funded nonprofits to defend the decision to repeal net neutrality through the rollback of Title II reclassification.

To respond to the “myth” that “only internet providers oppose utility regulation,” the document suggests citing a number of civil rights organizations that have opposed net neutrality.

The same groups cited by the talking points, however, are heavily funded by ISP companies, including AT&T, Verizon, and Comcast, and the group that mobilized certain civil rights leaders to sign onto a campaign against net neutrality has a long history of work on behalf of the cable industry.

“NCTA is one of hundreds of organizations engaged in public policy on communications, technology and media and it is common practice to provide policymakers with information and background on key issues,” said Joy Sims, a spokesperson for NCTA. “We are always happy to provide briefings, materials and other information to the media, policymakers and others.”

Broadband for America, the cable industry-funded group that passed the document to House Republicans, has long acted as a go-between for cable industry money to flow to allied pundits, lobbyists, and consultants.

The organization has enlisted a bipartisan set of talking heads to speak out against net neutrality. Harold Ford, the former Democratic lawmaker, and John Sununu, the former Republican senator, have been paid handsomely by the group while appearing in the media to warn about the dangers of adopting net neutrality.

Broadband for America has also retained a broad set of consultants to influence the telecom policy debate. The DCI Group, a Republican firm that specializes in “astroturf” campaigns designed to create fake grassroots support for political clients, has been paid at least $8,284,685 since 2012. SKD Knickerbocker, a firm founded by prominent Democrats, has received at least $3.1 million from Broadband for America.

In 2014, Broadband for America touted a lengthy list of allied groups that shared their opposition to net neutrality rules. But many of the groups on the list, including the Ohio chapter of League of Conservation Voters and a radio program dedicated to supporting veterans, said they were added to the list without their knowledge.

Rep. McMorris Rodgers did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Update: May 23, 2017, 12:28pm. 
This piece was updated to include a comment from NCTA.

Top photo: The hearing room at the Federal Communications Commission headquarters in Washington, on Feb. 26, 2015.

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GOP Busted Using Cable Lobbyist Net Neutrality Talking Points

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The GOP has been caught using talking points provided by the cable industry in their ongoing assault against net neutrality. Last week, as the FCC majority was voting to begin dismantling popular net neutrality protections, House Republican lawmakers received an email from GOP leadership on how to defend the decision. That e-mail included a "toolkit" (pdf) of misleading or outright false talking points that, among other things, attempt to portray net neutrality as "anti-consumer."

"All major internet providers strongly support a free and open internet," the packet

falsely claims

at one point. "Market and finance experts unanimously predict a massive drop off in investment under utility regulation," it

incorrectly states

in another section. "In practice, these regulations have proven to be anti-consumer," the authors bizarrely conclude.

The packet then comically cites a rotating crop of telecom-funded think tank studies and telecom-written op-eds as supporting evidence for these repeatedly-debunked positions.

"Want more information on the net neutrality discussion?" asked Washington state Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, chair of the House Republican Conference in the e-mail pushing the talking points. "Here is a nifty toolkit with news resources, myth vs reality information, what others are saying, and free market comments."

Rodgers failed to mention that the "nifty" package of pre-formulated ideas came directly from the cable industry.

According to analysis of packet metadata by the Intercept, the package was put together by Kerry Landon, the assistant director of industry grassroots at the National Cable and Telecommunications Association -- the cable industry's biggest lobbying and policy organization. The package was also circulated by Broadband for America, a lobbying coalition funded by most of the biggest broadband providers.

While everybody knows (or should know) that this is how pay-to-play government works, it doesn't make the episode any less grotesque. For its part, the NCTA was quick to insist in a statement that politicians parroting pre-scripted talking points while they ignore the desires of consumer constituents is just how this stuff works.

"NCTA is one of hundreds of organizations engaged in public policy on communications, technology and media and it is common practice to provide policymakers with information and background on key issues," said Joy Sims, a spokesperson for NCTA. "We are always happy to provide briefings, materials and other information to the media, policymakers and others."

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I wrote ‘The Art of the Deal’ with Trump. His self-sabotage is rooted in his past.

President Trump’s behavior hasn’t changed in decades. It probably never will. (Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post) Why does Donald Trump behave in the dangerous…
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Plant life in Antarctica is booming because of climate change, researchers say

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Researchers in Antarctica have discovered rapidly growing banks of mosses on the ice continent’s northern peninsula, providing striking evidence of climate change in the coldest and most remote parts of the planet.

Amid the warming of the last 50 years, the scientists found two different species of mosses undergoing the equivalent of growth spurts, with mosses that once grew less than a millimeter per year now growing over 3 millimeters per year on average.

“People will think of Antarctica quite rightly as a very icy place, but our work shows that parts of it are green, and are likely to be getting greener,” said Matthew Amesbury, a researcher with the University of Exeter in the United Kingdom and lead author of the new study. “Even these relatively remote ecosystems, that people might think are relatively untouched by human kind, are showing the effects of human induced climate change.”

The study was published Thursday in Current Biology, by Amesbury and colleagues with the University of Cambridge, the British Antarctic Survey and the University of Durham.

[Trump’s budget expected to massively slash research on renewable energy — and ‘clean coal’]

Less than 1 percent of present-day Antarctica features plant life. But in parts of the peninsula, Antarctic mosses grow on frozen ground that partly thaws in the summer — when only about the first foot of soil ever thaws.

The surface mosses build up a thin layer in the summer, then freeze over in winter. As layer builds on top of layer, older mosses subside below the frozen ground, where they are remarkably well preserved due to the temperatures.

Amesbury said that made them “a record of changes over time.”

Soil samples from a 400-mile area along the northern part of the Antarctic peninsula found dramatic changes in growth patterns going back 150 years.

The Antarctic peninsula has been a site of rapid warming, with more days a year where temperatures rise above freezing. The consequence, the study found, was a four- to five-fold increase in the amount of moss growth in the most recent part of the record.

Photos taken by the authors during the research also captured some strikingly green Antarctic landscapes, like this one on Green Island:

Green Island moss bank with icebergs in background. (Matt Amesbury)

“This is another indicator that Antarctica is moving backward in geologic time — which makes sense, considering atmospheric CO2 levels have already risen to levels that the planet hasn’t seen since the Pliocene, 3 million years ago, when the Antarctic ice sheet was smaller, and sea-levels were higher,” said Rob DeConto, a glaciologist at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, who was not involved in the study but reviewed it for The Washington Post.

“If greenhouse gas emissions continue unchecked, Antarctica will head even further back in geologic time…perhaps the peninsula will even become forested again someday, like it was during the greenhouse climates of the Cretaceous and Eocene, when the continent was ice free,” DeConto continued by email.



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The authors agree the current observed changes are probably just the beginning. “These changes, combined with increased ice-free land areas from glacier retreat, will drive large-scale alteration to the biological functioning, appearance, and landscape of the [Antarctic peninsula] over the rest of the 21st century and beyond,” they wrote.

The moss growth is still modest compared to what’s happening in the Arctic, where a large-scale greening trend has even been captured by satellite. In the Arctic, there’s now so much plant growth that some scientists are hoping it will at least partially offset the loss of carbon from thawing permafrost beneath those plants.

Those days are probably very far off for the Antarctic, but it’s clear the continent used to be a very different landscape.

“We’re starting back on a journey towards that sort of environment,” said Amesbury. “Certainly, Antarctica has not always been the ice place it has been now on very long timescales.”

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We tracked the Trump scandals on right-wing news sites. Here’s how they covered it.

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The past week of Trump scandals for people reading mainstream news outlets has gone something like this: President Trump fired the FBI director who was investigating his campaign’s connection with Russia — and then the next day, Trump shared classified information with Russian officials.

But on conservative news outlets, the narrative was very different. It was about an FBI director whose firing was long overdue, and a liberal media desperate to take down Trump.

To pinpoint exactly how this played out for a reader visiting only conservative-leaning sites, we analyzed the front pages of Breitbart.com and FoxNews.com and compared them with NYTimes.com. We wrote a program to screenshot the front pages of these sites every three hours after the Comey firing using the Wayback Machine’s internet archives.

Here’s how the Comey firing played out:

And here’s how the past week of scandals played out:

That means the conservative media narrative went something like this:

  • Trump fired FBI Director James Comey for his mishandling of the Clinton investigation and his stubborn insistence on continuing the Russia investigation despite no evidence of collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia.
  • The liberal media drove this narrative to take down Trump, who only wanted the investigation “done properly,” and then started to question Trump’s mental stability.
  • The “deep state” leaked classified info to the Washington Post. Plus, Trump has the right to disclose classified information to Russians, and National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster agrees.
  • Comey is getting revenge with memos that reveal Trump asked him to shut down the investigation into his first national security adviser, Michael Flynn.

My colleague Jeff Guo watched Fox News for an evening and has a brilliant piece on how Fox News covered Trump sharing classified information with Russian officials, which explains how some of this happens. But here, I want to focus on two strategies that create these splintered memories.

The first is the context that conservative media just sidesteps; this obfuscation allows an audience to form a different account of events.

The second is the role of additional characters in these storylines — specifically the “liberal media” and Democrats colluding to manipulate the public.

Let’s be clear about what’s happening here: Right-wing media is creating coherent alternate storylines with different characters and different context — but a narrative that competes with contextual facts that support a more accurate story. Even amid some of the most troubling presidential news in decades, a huge portion of this country is having a very different experience of these events, and repeating it over and over. Our collective memories — and, in turn, our shared culture — are being splintered.

One way to form an alternate storyline: by ignoring context

Let’s focus on the Comey firing here.

The New York Times stayed laser-focused on how Comey wanted to expand the Russia investigation just days before his termination. This framing falls in line with reporting from several other outlets, as well as Trump’s interview to NBC saying that he fired Comey because of the Russia investigation.

But Breitbart and Fox News removed that context from their coverage.

Breitbart only mentioned the Russia investigation to reiterate that Trump’s connections with Russia — or lack thereof — were a settled matter. The big red “enough about Russia” summarizes their coverage.

Fox News barely mentioned Russia. Instead, it focused on Comey’s handling of the Clinton email investigation and who would replace Comey — and then ultimately pivoting to other stories to lead the site on Thursday, May 11, before coming back to focus on Trump saying he supports a Russia probe “done properly.”

These are fundamentally different stories. One is about a president who is interfering with an investigation, and the other is about an FBI director whose firing was a long time coming.

It’s quite disconcerting when a major piece of context is missing from your understanding of a story. This is a literary technique many TV shows use to keep the audience on their feet. (Game of Thrones comes to mind.) But in this case, the reveal might never come. After all, according to a poll, two in three Republicans still believe Comey was fired over the Clinton investigation.

The additional character in the right-wing storyline: the liberal media

The major player in right-wing media is the villainous “liberal media.”

If you happened to stumble upon on some other news source, you could connect the dots and perhaps believe Trump wanted to muzzle the FBI probe. But the character of a liberal and manipulative media — in cahoots with the Democratic Party — helps resolve the dissonant information. These stories essentially serve as a vaccine against other information.

When the Washington Post broke the story about Trump revealing classified information to Russians, the headline on Breitbart was about the Post — and how it was colluding with the “deep state” to leak information:

Breitbart ran a piece during this news frenzy quoting conservative commentator Pat Buchanan, who said on Newsmax TV that the media is the “opposition party.”

“There is a cultural left and a political left and a media, if you will, [that] are a conglomerate,” he said. “They were determined to break and bring down Nixon from the day he was nominated. ... And the same forces, similar forces, are trying to break and bring down Trump.”

Newsmax TV

Fox News’s Tucker Carlson said the mainstream media’s reaction to the Comey firing was “media hysteria.”

And in covering the interview where Trump admits to firing Comey over the Russia investigation, Breitbart’s headline was about how NBC’s Lester Holt interrupted Trump nine times in two minutes.

It is coherent with the storyline that the media is colluding with Democrats to obscure information from the public. While news was spreading about Trump sharing classified information with Russian officials, Fox News and Breitbart focused on a story about DNC staffer Seth Rich leaking material to WikiLeaks before he was killed — a story that Rich’s family refuted, and that other outlets didn’t cover.

There’s been plenty of ink spilled about how “fake news” is affecting current discourse, but something more disturbing is happening: We’re experiencing different realities of the same event — and that reality is solidified every time these alternate storylines are repeated.

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The Republican’s Guide to Presidential Behavior

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accuse a former president, without evidence, of an impeachable offense

employ top aides with financial and other connections to a hostile foreign power

blame the judiciary, in advance, for any terror attacks

call the media “the enemy of the American people”

demand personal loyalty from the F.B.I. director

threaten the former F.B.I. director

accept foreign payments to your businesses, in possible violation of the Constitution

occupy the White House with the help of a hostile foreign power

intimidate congressional witnesses

allow White House staff members to use their personal email for government business

neglect to fill thousands of crucial federal government positions for months

claim, without evidence, that millions of people voted illegally

fail to fire high-ranking members of your national security team for weeks, even after knowing they lied to your vice president and exposed themselves to blackmail

refuse to release tax returns

hide the White House visitors’ list from the public

vacation at one of your private residences nearly every weekend

use an unsecured personal cellphone

criticize specific businesses for dropping your family members’ products

review and discuss highly sensitive intelligence in a restaurant, and allow the Army officer carrying the “nuclear football” to be photographed and identified by name

obstruct justice

hire relatives for key White House posts, and let them meet with foreign officials and engage in business at the same time

promote family businesses on federal government websites

tweet, tweet, tweet

collude with members of Congress to try to shut down investigations of you and your associates

threaten military conflict with other nations in the middle of news interviews

compare the U.S. intelligence community to Nazis

• display complete ignorance about international relations, your own administration’s policies, American history and the basic structure of our system of government

skip daily intelligence briefings

repeat untruths


If you’re a Republican legislator, stick this list on the fridge and give it a quick read the next time you get upset at a president.

If you think we have left something out, please leave a comment with this article, or on our Facebook page. We’ll update the Congressional Republican’s Guide with some of your suggestions in a follow-up article.

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