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The 15 Weirdest Wikipedia Pages Edited From Congress

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REUTERS/KEVIN LAMARQUE/LANDOV

Since the beginning of July, Twitter account @congressedits has been cataloging and publicizing edits made to Wikipedia articles from IP addresses linked to the United States House of Representatives and related offices. If a congressperson, staffer, intern, or anyone using a computer affiliated with Congress makes a change to Wikipedia, @congressedits tweets it out.

While many edits made are simple grammatical or factual ones (birth dates, district numbers, etc.), other changes have been downright bizarre. In response to @congressedits, Wikipedia has issued a 10-day ban on anonymous edits made from House IP addresses. Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales said, "There is a belief...that it only provoked someone—some prankster there in the office—to have an audience now for the pranks, and actually encouraged them rather than discouraged them."

The ban means @congressedits has been quiet since last week, but these examples are a taste of what was going on from the esteemed halls of our government.

1. Horse Head Mask

The Edit: Added "President Barack Obama shook hands with a man wearing a horse head mask in Denver."

[Revision Info]

This is true, and a more fleshed-out version of this fact appears on the current Wikipedia page. Good edit, anonymous staffer (or congressperson).

2. It's Always Sunny In Philadelphia

The Edit: "Bon Jovi" and "Ludwig Van Beethoven" added to the list of musical artists featured in the series.

[Revision Info]

Both names still appear on the page, marking some of the most important and lasting work to have ever come out of the U.S. House of Representatives.

3 and 4. Choco Taco

*

The Edits: "In addition, Choco Tacos have been a staple of vending machines in the Rayburn House Office Building of the U.S. House of Representatives honoring former Speaker Samuel Rayburn's devotion to his favorite snack" added, as well as the category "American brands."

[Revision Info]

While the "American brands" category remains, the tidbit about Choco Tacos being former Speaker Samuel Rayburn's favorite snack was removed. While unsubstantiated, it's certainly not a stretch—they are a delicious ice cream snack.

5. Journalism

The Edit: "In 2014, the Wikipedia page on Journalism was used as click-bait to remind reporters that a more important story is the refusal of House Republicans to raise the minimum wage, pass immigration reform, extend unemployment insurance, and improve our roads and bridges" was added.

[Revision Info]

That this change appeared under the section describing how the Internet has affected journalism and that it is being used as an example in various news stories and lists about the Congressional Wikipedia edits means we've formed a Russian nesting doll of self-referentiality with nothing more than questionable source material. And you still had to read about the various refusals of House Republicans, meaning the whole thing worked. The scaffolding holds.

6. Ben Smith

The Edit: "Smirnoff Ice enthusiast" added to the Buzzfeed editor-in-chief's page.

[Revision Info]

Sounds about right.

7. Gender Identity Disorder

The Edit: "This whole article is transphobic. Trans people's identity isn't a disease. Just because I have a penis doesn't make me less of a woman" added at the end of the post.

[Revision Info]

This looks to have been in response to another argument that has since been stricken from the page, which, at varying stages of edits, looks like an Internet comments section.

8. The Atlantic

The Edit: "The Atlantic's Megan Garber broke the story of Wikipedia's Choco-Taco entry being edited anonymously from a U.S. House of Representatives IP address" added.

[Revision Info]

An edit coming from an anonymous congressional IP address about an edit that was made from an anonymous congressional IP address. We have officially crawled up our own posteriors.

9. Moon Landing Conspiracy Theories

The Edit: Added that Moon landing conspiracy theories are "promoted by the Cuban government."

[Revision Info]

This bit of info actually remains, although it is more thoroughly sourced: "James Oberg of ABC News said that the conspiracy theory is taught in Cuban schools and wherever Cuban teachers are sent."

10. Reptilians

The Edit: Added "These allegations are completely unsubstantiated and have no basis in reality" to the page about reptilian shape-shifters ruling the world.

[Revision Info]

Must've been tough typing that with those clawed, scaly hands.

11. Assassination of John F. Kennedy

The Edit: Added that Lee Harvey Oswald acted "on behalf of the regime of Fidel Castro, and that Jack Ruby also acted behalf of the regime of Fidel Castro."

[Revision Info]

Still waiting to confirm Castro's involvement with the Choco Taco.

12. Wendy's

The Edit: Added "french fries" to products.

[Revision Notes]

Good catch.

13. Internship

The Edit: Added the adjective "great" to describe internships.

[Revision Notes]

Anonymously editorializing Wikipedia pages is the future of brown-nosing.

14. Mediaite

The Edit: Mentions that the website is a "sexist transphobic" blog "that automatically assumes that someone is male without any evidence."

This is a reference to a story about a previous anonymous congressional edit that was written with gendered pronouns.

[Revision Info]

And the thrilling game of cat-and-mouse being played in cyberspace continues.

15. Phish

The Edit: Added "modes" as something Phish blends besides genres.

[Revision Info]

Good thing these are anonymous, because that is very embarrassing.

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6 Things Americans Should Know About Net Neutrality
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Net neutrality is back in the news, as Ajit Pai—the chairman of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) and a noted net neutrality opponent—has announced that he plans to propose sweeping deregulations during a meeting in December 2017. The measures—which will fundamentally change the way consumers and businesses use and pay for internet access—are expected to pass the small committee and possibly take effect early in 2018. Here's a brief explanation of what net neutrality is, and what the debate over it is all about.

1. IT'S NOT A LAW; IT'S A PRINCIPLE

Net neutrality is a principle in the same way that "freedom of speech" is. We have laws that enforce net neutrality (as we do for freedom of speech), but it's important to understand that it is a concept rather than a specific law.

2. IT'S ABOUT REGULATING ACCESS TO THE INTERNET

Fundamentally, net neutrality is the principle that Internet Service Providers (ISPs) should not be allowed to prioritize one kind of data traffic over another. This also means they cannot block services purely for business reasons.

To give a simple example, let's say your ISP also sells cable TV service. That ISP might want to slow down your internet access to competing online TV services (or make you pay extra if you want smooth access to them). Net neutrality means that the ISP can't limit your access to online services. Specifically, it means the FCC, which regulates the ISPs, can write rules to prevent ISPs from preferring certain services—and the FCC did just that in 2015.

Proponents often talk about net neutrality as a "level playing field" for online services to compete. This leaves ISPs in a position where they are providing a commodity service—access to the internet under specific FCC regulations—and that is not always a lucrative business to be in.

3. INTERNET PROVIDERS GENERALLY OPPOSE NET NEUTRALITY

In 2014 and 2015, there was a major discussion of net neutrality that led to new FCC rules enforcing net neutrality. These rules were opposed by companies including AT&T, Comcast, Time Warner Cable, and Verizon. The whole thing came about because Verizon sued the FCC over a previous set of rules and ended up, years later, being governed by even stricter regulations.

The opposing companies see net neutrality as unnecessary and burdensome regulation that will ultimately cost consumers in the end. Further, they have sometimes promoted the idea of creating "fast lanes" for certain kinds of content as a category of innovation that is blocked by net neutrality rules.

4. TECH COMPANIES GENERALLY LOVE NET NEUTRALITY

In support of those 2015 net neutrality rules were companies like Amazon, Facebook, Google, Microsoft, Netflix, Twitter, Vimeo, and Yahoo. These companies often argue that net neutrality has always been the de facto policy that allowed them to establish their businesses—and thus in turn should allow new businesses to emerge online in the future.

On May 7, 2014, more than 100 companies sent an open letter to the FCC "to express our support for a free and open internet":

Over the past twenty years, American innovators have created countless Internet-based applications, content offerings, and services that are used around the world. These innovations have created enormous value for Internet users, fueled economic growth, and made our Internet companies global leaders. The innovation we have seen to date happened in a world without discrimination. An open Internet has also been a platform for free speech and opportunity for billions of users.

5. THE FCC CHAIR ONCE QUOTED EMPEROR PALPATINE

Ajit Pai, who was one of the recipients of that open letter above and is now Chairman of the FCC, quoted Emperor Palpatine from Return of the Jedi when the 2015 rules supporting net neutrality were first codified. (At the time he was an FCC Commissioner.) Pai said, "Young fool ... Only now, at the end, do you understand." His point was that once the rules went into effect, they could have the opposite consequence of what their proponents intended.

The Star Wars quote-off continued when a Fight for the Future representative chimed in. As The Guardian wrote in 2015 (emphasis added):

Referring to Pai's comments Evan Greer, campaigns director at Fight for the Future, said: "What they didn't know is that when they struck down the last rules we would come back more powerful than they could possibly imagine."

6. THE TWO SIDES DISAGREE ABOUT WHAT NET NEUTRALITY'S EFFECTS ARE

The Star Wars quotes above get at a key point of the net neutrality debate: Pai believes that net neutrality stifles innovation. He was quoted in 2015 in the wake of the new net neutrality rules as saying, "permission-less innovation is a thing of the past."

Pai's statement directly contradicts the stated position of net neutrality proponents, who see net neutrality as a driver of innovation. In their open letter mentioned above, they wrote, "The Commission’s long-standing commitment and actions undertaken to protect the open Internet are a central reason why the Internet remains an engine of entrepreneurship and economic growth."

In December 2016, Pai gave a speech promising to "fire up the weed whacker" to remove FCC regulations related to net neutrality. He stated that the FCC had engaged in "regulatory overreach" in its rules governing internet access.

For previous coverage of net neutrality, check out our articles What Is Net Neutrality? and What the FCC's Net Neutrality Decision Means.

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Big Questions
Can You Expel a Sitting Senator?
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In light of recent allegations, Republican Senator Cory Gardner of Colorado this week said that if Alabama Senate candidate Roy Moore “refuses to withdraw and wins, the Senate should vote to expel him, because he does not meet the ethical and moral requirements of the United States Senate.” Meanwhile, Senator Bob Menendez, Democrat of New Jersey, has been involved in a high profile corruption trial, with calls that he should resign or be expelled if convicted. Has anything this drastic ever happened before?

Yes, but not for a very long time. Once you’ve been voted into the Senate, it’s difficult to get you out.

REFUSING TO SEAT

Refusing to even seat a senator is very rare, but one example from over 100 years ago also involved Alabama.

In 1913, Alabama Senator Joseph F. Johnston died just a few months after the ratification of the 17th Amendment to the Constitution. The Amendment allowed for direct election of senators, as well as clarifying the role of the state in calling special elections. Alabama’s governor put up Representative Henry Clayton, but he soon resigned the appointment. This was followed by Frank Glass, a local newspaper editor. As Glass was about to be seated, senators worried that his appointment was illegitimate (similar fears had surrounded Clayton). As one senator said at the time, “I believe that the [17th] Amendment means exactly what it says. It is perfectly plain and unambiguous. It simply means from this time forward every senator of the United States must be elected by the people, unless the legislature of a state by express terms empowers the executive to make temporary appointments to fill vacancies. The legislature of the state of Alabama has not given such power to the executive.”

By a vote of 32-31, the rest of the Senate agreed and refused to seat Glass, leading to a special election in 1914 that brought in a new senator.

Since then there have been multiple attempts to not seat a senator—most famously Roland Burris in 2009, who was appointed by Illinois governor Rod Blagojevich under the cloud of corruption charges (though he was ultimately let in). But in reality a refusal to seat a senator is unlikely to succeed.

In 1969, the Supreme Court ruled in Powell v. McCormack that as long as a duly elected representative met the age, citizenship, and residence requirements of the Constitution, they could not be excluded from the House. They could be expelled after taking their seat, but not excluded. Since it’s generally felt that this ruling extends to the Senate, it would likely not be possible to exclude an elected senator from their seat. But once that seat is taken, expulsion becomes a possibility.

EXPULSION

The United States Constitution states that, “Each House may determine the Rules of its proceedings, punish its members for disorderly behavior, and, with the concurrence of two-thirds, expel a member.” However, this is exceedingly rare.

The first time it happened was in the 1797 case of William Blount, one of the first two senators from Tennessee. According to the Senate, Blount had worked on a plan to take control of Spanish Florida and Louisiana and transfer them to the British with the help of Native Americans and frontiersmen. This plot was discovered and Blount was expelled, but not until he was impeached by the House of Representatives (the House has the sole power of impeachment, and it falls to the Senate to try the impeachment). The Senate ultimately decided not to try the impeachment, although whether that’s because senators believed that they themselves are unimpeachable or because Blount was unimpeachable because he had already been expelled and thus ceased being a senator is up for debate.

The next attempt at expulsion was in 1808, when Ohio’s John Smith was caught up in the Aaron Burr controversies. When it came to vote, the tally was 19 yeas for expulsion and 10 nays. Since the Constitution requires a two-thirds majority, Smith was saved from expulsion by one vote, although he would resign soon after.

The largest crop of expulsions was in 1861 and 1862, in regards to senators from southern states. As some senators were still officially members of the Senate, despite representing seceding states, it was felt that their status should be clarified by expulsion. As a result, 10 senators were expelled on July 11, 1861 (the expulsion order of one of the senators, William K. Sebastian of Arkansas, was later posthumously revoked after it was determined the charges “were as regards Sebastian merely a matter of suspicion and inference and wholly unfounded as to fact” and he didn’t commit conspiracy against the government). Later, a few more senators were expelled on the charge of supporting the rebellion. Including Sebastian, a grand total of 14 senators would be expelled during the Civil War. Since then, no senator has been expelled.

That’s not to say there haven’t been attempts. Cases since the Civil War have ended in either an exoneration or the senator leaving office before the vote. The most recent near-expulsion was Nevada Senator John Ensign in 2011 under accusations that he broke federal laws while attempting to cover up an affair. At the time, Senator Barbara Boxer of California said the case was “substantial enough to warrant the consideration of expulsion.” Ultimately, Ensign resigned.

It has been 155 years since the last senator was expelled. Whether—or when—that fact will change only time will tell.

Have you got a Big Question you'd like us to answer? If so, let us know by emailing us at bigquestions@mentalfloss.com.

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