Lobbyists (And, Oh Yes, Everyone Else), Start Your Engines: FCC Opens The Floor For Comments On Net Neutrality

from the and-we're-off dept

As was mostly expected, the FCC this morning voted 3 to 2 (along expected party lines) to move forward with Tom Wheeler's Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM), which effectively flings open the doors to the public comment period concerning what the FCC should do about net neutrality. As we've been discussing, the basic idea the FCC is proposing will open up a potentially bifurcated internet with fast lanes and slow lanes, even as the FCC insists this isn't true. Of course, the main point the FCC has been making, which is accurate, is that what happened today doesn't change anything. They're basically just setting up the process for the eventual changes that could have a very large impact.

After folks on Wheeler's own side threatened to revolt, combined with a lot of public pressure, Wheeler apparently did a last minute revising of the plans, to make it more explicit that he'd like the public to weigh in on paid prioritization and Title II reclassification. It also appears he's added in this vague concept of a "ombudsperson" who will supposedly try to make sure that we don't end up with ISPs behaving badly.

At this point, what we basically have is open season on lobbyists trying to influence the FCC one way or another, eventually leading to some sort of rulemaking, followed (inevitably) by a bunch of lawsuits from broadband providers who aren't going to be happy with any solution. And, of course, the potential (unlikely as it may be) for Congress to get involved.

Stacey Higginbotham over at GigaOm has the best rundown of the issues up for comment in the NPRM. If you're trying to understand what exactly people are really commenting on (beyond the broad claims of "net neutrality" "open internet" "fast lanes" "reclassification" "common carriers" and the like), that's a good place to start. I know folks like to view this on a more simplified yes/no level, but this isn't an issue that neatly fits into a series of simple yes or no options, in part because of two big reasons: (1) telecommunications law is a massive mess and (2) this is all a symptom of the real problem: the lack of meaningful competition.

And while Wheeler has suggested that the FCC is willing to knock down laws that block competition, we'll believe it when we see it in action. On top of that, Wheeler made it clear today that he still sees the interconnection issue as a separate issue, even thought it's becoming clear that that's where the real problem is. Oh, and while lots of people are calling for Title II reclassification, and there are many reasons to believe that may be the best solution, it's also exceptionally messy as well, because Title II has lots of problems as well. The FCC would need to deal with those problems, via forbearance, which creates a whole different set of headaches.

In short: this is a very messy process, and there are many, many places where it can (and likely will) go wrong.

But, that doesn't mean that everyone should just throw up their hands and go home to their (increasingly slow) internet. The broadband lobbyists will not be doing that. And, of course, they know quite well how to play the lobbying game and how to work the ins-and-outs of everything above. It is why it's going to become increasingly important to become much more informed on a variety of these issues and the true implications of the choices the FCC makes in the coming months. If you would like to weigh in, and I do suggest everyone seek to share their comments with the FCC, I would suggest first spending a little time more deeply reading through the full set of issues and what the pros and cons of different options may be. You can file comments directly with the FCC or via a very, very handy Dear FCC tool that the EFF put together.

Update: And... many hours later, the FCC has finally released the actual NPRM. Take a look.

Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  1.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, May 15th, 2014 @ 11:09am

    Without Title II classification, the FCC has no legal teeth to enforce anything. The Verizon vs FCC appeals ruling made that abundantly clear. Which is why this whole slow lanes/fast lanes mess came about in the first place.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  2.  
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    Jill, May 15th, 2014 @ 11:09am

    Old Media wins again

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  3.  
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    Geno0wl (profile), May 15th, 2014 @ 11:17am

    Why the big players are silent

    I was wondering why Google, Facebook, or MS seem so silent on this particular issue. Don't they have as much to loose as netflix?
    except they actually DON'T have as much to loose.
    Sure the ISPs could hit them up for fees and such for service....but they can afford it just fine.
    You know who can't afford it?
    New startups without much capital.
    So on the surface this would appear to hurt Google/Facebook/MS, but ultimately this "law" would be good for incumbent service providers by giving them an inherent leg up on startups.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  4.  
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    Mason Wheeler (profile), May 15th, 2014 @ 11:18am

    this is all a symptom of the real problem: the lack of meaningful competition.

    Every time you say this, I wonder what the alternative is. Providing connectivity requires infrastructure; to compete with Comcast or TWC, you have to be a company of comparable size.

    This is a market that is highly prone to the formation of natural monopolies, for the same basic reason that the delivery of water and electricity is, and it ought to be handled the same way: by classifying and regulating internet connectivity providers as public utilities.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  5.  
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    Jeremy Lyman (profile), May 15th, 2014 @ 11:38am

    Hammer Title II

    I don't really get why we're discussing any of the rest of these proposals. Internet Connectivity is a Telecommunication Utility and needs Common Carrier Regulation under Title II of the TelCom Act.

    Competition and neutrality will sort themselves out once we acknowledge the ISPs as Infrastructure and not Content Providers. Right?

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  6.  
    identicon
    kj1313, May 15th, 2014 @ 11:39am

    Re: Why the big players are silent

    Not sure but they must come out against thos.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  7.  
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    Mike Masnick (profile), May 15th, 2014 @ 11:45am

    Re: Why the big players are silent

    I was wondering why Google, Facebook, or MS seem so silent on this particular issue. Don't they have as much to loose as netflix?

    Actually, all three of those companies signed onto the net neutrality letter. And all three are also lobbying on the issue. Some of us believe that all three should be doing more, but to say they've been silent is not accurate.

    http://www.techdirt.com/articles/20140507/16114227154/over-100-internet-companies-call-fcc- to-protect-open-internet.shtml

    So on the surface this would appear to hurt Google/Facebook/MS, but ultimately this "law" would be good for incumbent service providers by giving them an inherent leg up on startups.

    That is a very legitimate concern. I think it's short sighted for some of the big companies to think this way, but it wouldn't surprise me if some individuals in those companies do think that way.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  8.  
    identicon
    jilocasin, May 15th, 2014 @ 11:51am

    "Wild west" doesn't refer to the user of the internet but the providers....

    Capitalism in action. If you remove government regulation you don't get a free market utopia all you get is an ugly race to the bottom in pursuit of more and more profit.

    We have seen that in every segment it's been _deregulated_ (not like history, or even a quick game of monopoly doesn't provide enough examples) a few at the top make out like bandits and the rest..... well it isn't so pretty.

    Broadband is a _natural_monopoly_. Monopolies, natural or otherwise, need to be regulated. Anyone who doesn't see that hasn't been paying attention (or is profiting off that monopoly). Why are ISP's (Verizon, ATT&T) trying so hard to ditch fixed line POTS? Because they are regulated as Common Carriers (Title II). Well that and the ridiculously _under_regulated_ wireless market.

    Why invest in infrastructure to provide a better, faster, more capable experience? More innovations, jobs, economic growth and prosperity, a higher standard of living... nah. It's easier and more profitable (at least in the near term) to leverage your monopoly position to squeeze higher and higher profits out of worse and worse service. Just look what happened when the last Verizon CEO wanted to convert to fiber (a good solid long term strategy) to position Verizon to offer better, more sustainable service for years to come. Short term Wall St. investors crucified him for wasting money that could have been paid out in the current quarter.

    Broadband _is_ a _utility_. It needs to be regulated like one. Water, roads, electric, telephone, broadband all utilities, all need to be regulated for the greater good of the country.

    If Verizon, CableVision, Time Warner, AT&T, etc. don't want to be regulated as the common carriers that they are, fine. There's the door. Just remember to leave the tax payer bought and paid for infrastructure there on your way out. It's not like they've been doing such a bang up job taking care of it anyway.

    Being an ISP isn't a sexy business, but it is a needed one.

    Reclassify Broadband providers as "Common Carriers".

    Split any companies into a portion that handles the internet/telephony and everything else. [while your are at it do the same with the cable and satellite television companies]

    Internet Service Providers should do just that, be a company that manages/upgrades/maintains the "pipes" in other words provides access to the internet. Allow any number of companies to offer internet features/functions on those pipes (email, telephony, web hosting, file hosting, video, etc.).

    Tax (yes I said the ugly "T" word) everyone to maintain the shared infrastructure. It's nothing new. We have a gas tax to help maintain the highway system, a 911 tax to help fund 911 service, we could use another one to help offset the cost of maintaining the infrastructure. Users would be charged a _reasonable_ amount for internet access based on the level (speed) they want. Nothing for slow/emergency access (think 1/1 service for the poor and elderly) more for 10/10, 100/100, 1000/1000, etc. With an internet surcharge that goes to fund the backbone.

    Current telcoms will absolutely _hate_ it. Which only goes to prove that it's the right thing to do. Everyone else will love it.

    As they say, "A rising tide lifts all boats". Faster, more stable, reliable internet access will improve jobs, medicine, education, etc. We managed to get electricity, running water, telephone service to pretty much the entire country in ages past. There's no reason we can't do the same with broadband (and no, cellular/satellite service is _not_ a realistic replacement for fixed line broadband). We just have to put an end to the dysfunctional disincentives that reward companies for holding back the rest of the country in the selfish pursuit of larger profits for themselves.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  9.  
    identicon
    zip, May 15th, 2014 @ 11:57am

    ISP skullduggery

    It was only a few years ago that ISPs were routinely blocking ports, throttling bandwidth, sending out forged RST packets, and conducting deep-packet inspection, in a ruthless attempt to kill off P2P file sharing. Worst still, everyone at the ISPs, from CEOs to tech support, denied that any of this was even happening.

    I would at the very least like to see this kind of skullduggery outlawed.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  10.  
    identicon
    S. T. Stone, May 15th, 2014 @ 12:19pm

    Re:

    Every time you say this, I wonder what the alternative is.

    Municipal networks.

    The telcos hate those things with a passion, though.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  11.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Anonymous Coward, May 15th, 2014 @ 12:33pm

    Re:

    Near as I can tell, to break the monopolies one needs to take control of what I will call the 'central office' in telephone parlance or the router that serves the node you and your neighbors share. Once there is control of that point, one should be able to assign a billing relationship to each endpoint. That billing relationship should not have to be the incumbent provider. This would be competition.

    As was pointed out to me yesterday, at least one gas provider still has a monopoly, even though they are a utility. It would be easy enough to plug another system into that gas system and then set the billing up according to the end users wishes. This would be competition.

    But these are the things that all of the current providers desperately wish to sweep under the carpets and never let out again. This is the status quo. This is what their end result best case scenario is. Some of the rest of the tap dancing is merely palaver to cover up their real intent. Remember, AT&T took 10 years to fight their break-up, not that they thought they would ever win, but to set the playing ground afterwards.

    Competition is the real enemy. Competition will kill their current business plans. Their current business plans have everything to do with quarterly profits and nothing to do with customer satisfaction, at least until the customer stops paying them, then no holds barred to get them back.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  12.  
    identicon
    Applesauce, May 15th, 2014 @ 12:40pm

    Price of an ombudsman?

    What is it going to cost to buy an ombudsman? Can I get that job? Sounds profitable.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  13.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, May 15th, 2014 @ 12:45pm

    Because the consumer has done so well under the FCC so far look at all the disruption and the tumbling costs due to innovation from new players.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  14.  
    identicon
    RD, May 15th, 2014 @ 12:58pm

    Nationalize the Last Mile

    Nationalize the Last Mile, take it away from ALL current incumbents. May as well, WE paid for it all anyway.

    Then open the last mile to ANYONE, free of charge. The current players don't even have to take out their equipment, they can just use most of the infrastructure they already have. But now new or smaller players can offer service over the same lines and compete on price, services, and we would have ACTUAL COMPETITION.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  15.  
    icon
    John Fenderson (profile), May 15th, 2014 @ 1:39pm

    Re: Nationalize the Last Mile

    I agree, except not the "free of charge" part. Charge a reasonable rate (enough to maintain the infrastructure) to the ISPs who are using it. The rate should be the same for all of them.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  16.  
    icon
    Internet Zen Master (profile), May 15th, 2014 @ 2:57pm

    Re: Re: Nationalize the Last Mile

    Better yet, make sure the revenue generated is used to actually maintain/update the infrastructure. And by maintain/update I mean regularly scheduled maintenance, not this 'procrastinate about fixing the problem until the shit hits the fan' mentality some ISPs seem to have.

    Most major ISPs need to quit focusing on quarterly profits and figuring out new ways to screw over their customers(Comcast) and actually do their jobs properly.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  17.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, May 15th, 2014 @ 3:52pm

    Re: Why the big players are silent

    It's lose, not loose

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  18.  
    icon
    Mason Wheeler (profile), May 15th, 2014 @ 3:53pm

    Re: Re: Re: Nationalize the Last Mile

    Most major ISPs need to quit focusing on quarterly profits and figuring out new ways to screw over their customers(Comcast) and actually do their jobs properly.

    Gasp! What are you, some sort of evil Communist heretic pinko Nazi?!?!

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  19.  
    icon
    Violynne (profile), May 15th, 2014 @ 5:24pm

    I don't see the point in telling the FCC how I feel.

    My name isn't Chris Dodd, Carey Sherman, Brian Roberts, Randall Stephenson, Daniel Mead, Stephen Burke, or Jeffrey Bewkes, just to name a few of the CEOs who actually run the FCC.

    Good luck, public. You're certainly going to need it since the decision has already been made.

    This joke of a regulatory office is just placating the public.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  20.  
    icon
    LAB (profile), May 15th, 2014 @ 5:47pm

    I really want to see if Wheeler and the FCC will strike down local and state legislation that impedes municipalities from providing internet access.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  21.  
    icon
    art guerrilla (profile), May 15th, 2014 @ 6:16pm

    Re: Re:

    which is EXACTLY why Big Inertnet types have been hopping all over the country getting state/local lawwhores to pass legislation to make it ILLEGAL for muni's/etc to compete with them...
    its, like, so-o-o-o unfair...
    fuckers...

    EVERYTHING i was taught as a kid that was pure, unalloyed EEE-VIL in a small dee democracy, is coming to pass...
    and there are close to ZERO lawwhores who stand up against it happening...
    asymptotically close to zero...

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  22.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, May 15th, 2014 @ 8:52pm

    "The rules proposed would prevent carriers from blocking or slowing down "certain websites", and non-paid content must be provided at the same rate the subscriber paid for, or at least not arbitrarily slowed down or blocked."

    http://soylentnews.org/article.pl?sid=14/05/15/215257

    So now ISP's will offer much slower subscription options to subscribers (and/or they will stop upgrading their subscription options to meet future demands) and only paid content will be given those higher speeds. IOW, this is just a mere formality to simply give ISP's what they want with the 'solution' or 'compromise' merely being how they market and advertise it to consumers.

    You will be able to get Full HD content, for instance, but you will be paying a whole lot more to access the same content than what you would otherwise pay or what someone else in another country would pay. Someone from another country may just pay a subscription fee and their much cheaper Netflix fee, for instance. In America the consumer may pay the same or a higher subscription fee but they will pay a much higher Netflix fee or they will pay much more per full HD movie that they watch due to the fact that those full HD movies need to pay for that extra bandwidth. Then ISP's can turn around and claim they offer fast bandwidth to consumers at a cheaper price ... (but only from content suppliers willing to pay extra for it and hence charge consumers more for those services).

    I would say capitalism at its finest except ... this isn't capitalism. It's what we get when we allow governments to set regional monopolies and it's what we get when we have a government that bases its decisions on corporate campaign contributions and revolving door favors.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  23.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, May 15th, 2014 @ 8:55pm

    Re:

    and, also, lets not forget that advertising is a means to pay for bandwidth. So companies may advertise a lot more to get their content paid for and that will increase your overall bandwidth (that is advertising plus requested content) but it will do little to increase your useful bandwidth (requested content only). The ratio of advertising to useful content will tip in favor of more advertising and the amount of useful bandwidth that you get will be lower.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  24.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, May 15th, 2014 @ 10:57pm

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Nationalize the Last Mile

    Nah that would be Comcast. In the Animal Farm sense of Communist.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  25.  
    identicon
    Robert, May 16th, 2014 @ 1:26am

    Re: Hammer Title II

    That is exactly what needs to be challenged. Can you make private phone calls via that service, yes or no. Once the answer is yes, then in order for the carrier to define the nature of the transmission they must intercept and monitor it and thus invade you privacy and illegally search you transmission in order to alter it's access.
    You have a right to private phone calls and basically that is what the internet is, a private communication between you and someone else, what happens to that communication after that is up to you or the person you are communicating with, not constitution breaking in between middlemen.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  26.  
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    toyotabedzrock (profile), May 16th, 2014 @ 1:55am

    Are we allowed to suggest Wheeler commit suicide?

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  27.  
    icon
    Jeremy Lyman (profile), May 16th, 2014 @ 6:00am

    Re:

    If you're not part of the solution...

    How hard is it to chime in and raise your voice?
    https://www.dearfcc.org/

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  28.  
    identicon
    Bengie, May 16th, 2014 @ 8:04am

    Re:

    FCC would have no legal teeth with the current rules. Congress said the FCC would have to get new laws past or reclassify ISPs.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  29.  
    icon
    Ninja (profile), May 16th, 2014 @ 10:57am

    Re: "Wild west" doesn't refer to the user of the internet but the providers....

    Hats off dear sir. Great post.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  30.  
    identicon
    Pragmatic, May 19th, 2014 @ 6:11am

    Re: "Wild west" doesn't refer to the user of the internet but the providers....

    Capitalism in action. If you remove government regulation you don't get a free market utopia all you get is an ugly race to the bottom in pursuit of more and more profit.

    Laissez-faire capitalism. FIFY. Reasonably regulated (for consumer protection and to prevent against anti-competitive practices) capitalism in a fair and open market would be peachy. We can has fair and open market? *Pic of begging kitten*

    We have seen that in every segment it's been _deregulated_ (not like history, or even a quick game of monopoly doesn't provide enough examples) a few at the top make out like bandits and the rest..... well it isn't so pretty.

    And each time that happened the apologists said one of two things. 1) They're doin' it wrong, or 2) if you wanna make an omelette, you gotta break some eggs.

    At no point will they ever acknowledge that their entire approach is wrong because... something something holy writ something ideological purity, you socialist!

    Broadband is a _natural_monopoly_. Monopolies, natural or otherwise, need to be regulated. Anyone who doesn't see that hasn't been paying attention (or is profiting off that monopoly). Why are ISP's (Verizon, ATT&T) trying so hard to ditch fixed line POTS? Because they are regulated as Common Carriers (Title II). Well that and the ridiculously _under_regulated_ wireless market.

    Yes, but as the esteemed Mason Wheeler and others have told us, they need to be treated as municipal utilities.

    Why invest in infrastructure to provide a better, faster, more capable experience? More innovations, jobs, economic growth and prosperity, a higher standard of living... nah. It's easier and more profitable (at least in the near term) to leverage your monopoly position to squeeze higher and higher profits out of worse and worse service. Just look what happened when the last Verizon CEO wanted to convert to fiber (a good solid long term strategy) to position Verizon to offer better, more sustainable service for years to come. Short term Wall St. investors crucified him for wasting money that could have been paid out in the current quarter.

    Which is why they shouldn't have control of infrastructure. Where were the free market enthusiasts to denounce them? *Crickets*

    Broadband _is_ a _utility_. It needs to be regulated like one. Water, roads, electric, telephone, broadband all utilities, all need to be regulated for the greater good of the country.

    Yep. But do allow some competition to avoid nepotism and wasteful spending on "consultants," etc. You don't want to swap one type of corruption for another.

    If Verizon, CableVision, Time Warner, AT&T, etc. don't want to be regulated as the common carriers that they are, fine. There's the door. Just remember to leave the tax payer bought and paid for infrastructure there on your way out. It's not like they've been doing such a bang up job taking care of it anyway.

    Damn straight!

    Being an ISP isn't a sexy business, but it is a needed one.

    Consolidation and centralization are worrying trends and we need to fight it where we find it.

    Reclassify Broadband providers as "Common Carriers".

    Split any companies into a portion that handles the internet/telephony and everything else. [while your are at it do the same with the cable and satellite television companies]


    It might be easier to separate the highways from the vehicles, as it were. Let municipalities, etc., have the right to run the infrastructure and let competition over connectivity suppliers increase.

    Internet Service Providers should do just that, be a company that manages/upgrades/maintains the "pipes" in other words provides access to the internet. Allow any number of companies to offer internet features/functions on those pipes (email, telephony, web hosting, file hosting, video, etc.).

    Tax (yes I said the ugly "T" word) everyone to maintain the shared infrastructure. It's nothing new. We have a gas tax to help maintain the highway system, a 911 tax to help fund 911 service, we could use another one to help offset the cost of maintaining the infrastructure. Users would be charged a _reasonable_ amount for internet access based on the level (speed) they want. Nothing for slow/emergency access (think 1/1 service for the poor and elderly) more for 10/10, 100/100, 1000/1000, etc. With an internet surcharge that goes to fund the backbone.


    I'd call it "connectivity provider" to prevent confusion. The actual services would be your features and function providers, etc.

    Current telcoms will absolutely _hate_ it. Which only goes to prove that it's the right thing to do. Everyone else will love it.

    If we do it properly. If we end up with the opposite evil, i.e. a corrupt local monopoly, people won't thank you. We need a way of holding connectivity providers to account if they fall short of their stated goals.

    As they say, "A rising tide lifts all boats". Faster, more stable, reliable internet access will improve jobs, medicine, education, etc. We managed to get electricity, running water, telephone service to pretty much the entire country in ages past.

    That's because we didn't have a nationwide mania for laissez-faire, hatred of government on principle, and an irrational fear of socialism so intense that the word is practically synonymous with "pedophile" or "terrorist."

    There's no reason we can't do the same with broadband (and no, cellular/satellite service is _not_ a realistic replacement for fixed line broadband). We just have to put an end to the dysfunctional disincentives that reward companies for holding back the rest of the country in the selfish pursuit of larger profits for themselves.

    There is a reason... the misguided pursuit of laissez-faire economics in the teeth of the evidence of over two hundred years that it doesn't freakin' work... for the majority. The fact that it makes a few lucky sociopaths rich is what keeps it going, and that's why we're here, at the logical endpoint.

    If you want the people to accept it, whatever the cost to themselves, you've got to make them afraid of even discussing alternatives by creating a bogeyman and relating any alternative to it. Convince them that their personal freedom depends on their solutions. Job done.

    If you want to get even the religious on board, you've got to convince them it's a moral issue. Finito. Next.

    And if you want people to dismiss empirical evidence while proclaiming that it has intellectual respectability, work in as many pretentious turns of phrase and pseudo-mathematical equations based on theory alone as you can. Complete.

    So there you go. Unless you can get people to properly evaluate the way they think without freaking out at the notion of actually thinking, nothing will change.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  31.  
    identicon
    Pragmatic, May 19th, 2014 @ 6:16am

    Re:

    Let's wish them luck; I do, too. At the end of the day, we've got a corrupt system run by a corrupt government that a complacent nation will not bring to heel. If we activists get a fire lit under them, perhaps our friends and neighbors will come along, if only to watch it burn.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]


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