Any time someone plasters on a smile and tells you that things are going to get a whole lot better once you’re really free, make sure you know where your wallet is.
We could see this in action with the FCC: Republican congresspeople telling docile news cameras that they couldn’t wait to reduce the burden of red tape and regulation, and take the web back to how it used to be before this ‘Obama-era’ regulation to force net neutrality.
(If you haven’t lost as many hours to the right-wing internet as I have, save yourself some time: ‘Obama-era’ means ‘bad, definitely Muslim and probably commie.’ It’s a dog whistle you can hear from space.)
Americans should be free to choose which telco to get screwed by, dammit.
And now, they will be, unless Congress gets off its ass.
As well as plenty of justified trepidation about what a net-neutrality-less internet will be like, a lot of other commentators have drawn attention to a nasty undercurrent about the way this whole deal was rammed through.
Perp #1: The Shill
Let’s start with a quick recap of what we already know.
Here’s perp #1:
He’s Ajit Pai, head of the Federal Communications Commission, a federal body that sets regulations for communications systems like phones and faxes, as well as TV.
The FCC is also the body that enforces censorship of broadcast TV nationwide in America, and because it’s a quasi-independent body with little official oversight and not a lot of democratic accountability, it’s been political since its inception.
Specifically, Republican administrations have used the FCC as a vehicle to stamp down on things they think are bad, like cursing and nakedness on TV, as a way to show off their moral rectitude. So Pai’s not totally new.
He is among the most hated men in America, and it’s not because every picture of him looks exactly the same.
Although now you mention it…
(I think one of those on the bottom row may have been photoshopped.)
Pai’s SmileBot 3000® vibe may be creepy. His attitude to destroying regulations that actually keep the internet free is a lot creepier.
Here he is explaining all the things you’ll still be able to do on the Internet once you stop worrying your silly little head about freedom:
See? You could get a bulk deal on fidget spinners and watch TV.
(Boy, that aged well.)
In between jumping around posts at the Justice Department and working as a lawyer for the FCC itself, Pai held a post for a while as a lawyer at Verizon.
Which made a few people raise eyebrows when he stepped into his current role and almost the first thing he did was to start giving telecoms companies exactly what they want: the right to spy on you and rip you off.
In the past, the FCC has been silly, questionably competent, brazenly political and more than a little out of touch.
In its Feinstein-and-Gore attempts to impose a Nurse Ratched version of ‘heartland values’ on an America that increasingly isn’t trying to hear that bullshit, it has been symptomatic of a democracy that’s still weighed down by the fears of the post Civil War South, the main reason why rural areas with tiny populations regularly get to outvote American cities that have bigger populations than most countries.
What it’s never been before was brazenly, laughing-in-your-face-about-it corrupt.
Yeah, like that.
So who put Ajit Pai in charge of regulating the very telecoms companies he used to work for? (The words ‘used to’ were inserted on the insistence of our legal team and in no way reflect reality.)
Perp #2: The con man
I know, me either.
He would generally love the opportunity to increase the number of things businesses can do to people, and to businesses smaller than themselves, without getting any comeback, because… well, because that’s just who he is.
Trump wants a world where actual people matter less than ‘legal persons’ – ie, corporations. You want to verify that? Take a look at how much money his businesses owe to contractors.
In fact, don’t – I found it. It’s about $5 million. On his DC hotel alone.
It’s usually small contractors that get the shitty end when another Trump bankruptcy rolls around.
(It pales into insignificance next to the sums he owes banks – across all the businesses that bear his name, the debt burden is estimated at $1.8 billion.)
What does Trump’s dubious financial situation have to do with Ajit Pai?
To answer that question, we have to look at perp #3.
Perp #3: The fixer
Meet Michael Cohen:
You gotta love a classic ‘oh shit’ face.
Michael Cohen is Donald Trump’s personal lawyer. I think the president might be in trouble, because when the Southern District New York court that’s hearing the Stormy Daniels case asked him if his client was a crook, Cohen took the Fifth – based on the advice of his own lawyer.
Hoo boy. When your lawyer has a lawyer, who advises him to dummy up about you to save himself… not a good look.
The reason this matters to us is that Cohen was Trump’s slush-fund merchant. Money funneled to Cohen found its way into Stormy Daniels’ pockets, via a shell company.
And huge payments were made to Cohen’s porn-star-paying shell company, Essential Consultants LLC, by a Russian business in the run-up to the Trump election. Totaling well over $1m, the payments stopped only in January this year.
We know that Cohen took money from Trump and gave it to other people. And we know he took money from Russians, though whether he gave that money to Trump or just donated it to a veterans’ charity because he’s such a fine American still isn’t at all clear.
So when you hear that AT&T, one of America’s biggest telcos, funneled money to Cohen for months running up to the net neutrality repeal, you probably have a bit of a hunch who it went to.
But, you’re thinking, that’s crazy. No-one could be that crooked and that dumb.
Wrong, my friend.
That money went to Ajit Pai.
AT&T paid Ajit Pai for the right to steal from you and spy on you.
Not in favors or a cushy board-of-directors gig or a word in the right ear.
That money was paid by AT&T to Cohen in the months leading up to the FCC’s repeal of net neutrality. As soon as it came to light, AT&T’s chief lobbyist and vocal net neutrality opponent, Bob Quinn, resigned – just like totally innocent people always do.
Maybe it’s something to do with the private dinner he had with Ajit Pai a month after AT&T hired Cohen? I mean, that kind of does make him look guilty, you must admit.
Thing is, $600,000 isn’t even that much in the scale of things. If everyone in New York City gave just seven cents, we could beat it. If we could find 600,001 people willing to spend a dollar on net neutrality we could plain old buy it back.
So I have a modest proposal.
I contacted Ajit Pai to ask him how much it would cost us to have him turn net neutrality back on.
Yeah, me either.
What might make more of a difference is calling your Congressional representative. The FCC is under Congress’ oversight, and Congresspeople really want to get reelected. In many cases, they’re a lot more conscientious than people like Pai, too – not that that’s setting the bar high.
Here’s how to chase them up and make them fight for your rights:
In the meantime, assume that your telco wants to throttle your internet access and spy on you – and that they will shortly be allowed to by law.
There’s still a way you can keep yourself safe: