The Politics of the Disassociated Man

Much to the chagrin of the anarchist, politics will always exist. Politics supersedes government. By definition politics is the conflict over the leadership, structure, and policies of government.  Government is the institutions and procedures through which a territory and its people are ruled. The mistake most make when analyzing politics is to confine the concept to the power struggle for control for government. There is plenty of political theater to keep us preoccupied.

Yesterday’s vote in the Senate to reverse a repeal by the Federal Communication Commission’s net neutrality rules is an example of such political theater where congressional Democrats hoped to leverage a vote for the return of net neutrality rules into an appeal to 86% of Americans who support the open internet principles to remember the Left during this coming November’s mid-term elections.

In this case the ripple effects of the attempt may be short-lived. The House now has to take up the resolution that vacates the repeal and even if the House passes the Senate’s resolution, there is the threat of a veto by the President and given Republican control of the House, both passage or an overturn of a veto is highly unlikely.

Whether voters even inject into their decision matrix the Democrats’ net neutrality vote, I believe, given increases in oil prices and the threat of inflation that net neutrality will be the last factor to be considered in the voting booth.

The importance of politics exceeds dramatics on C-SPAN. When you replace “government” with the word “society”, politics takes on a clearer and probably scarier meaning. Politics is really about the conflict over how society is structured and led, including the decision on how resources will be used, where ownership of resources will be directed, and the values that society will follow.  Government and the types of government available for use are merely tools for managing the conflict including managing resources and value.

Government rises to the top of organizing options when there are too many conflicting values. The United States is an example. I like to argue that the United States stopped being a country when it attempted the incorporation of non-European people into society. During the era after the American civil war, the United States embarked on becoming a nation-state, becoming too diverse and too large to organize itself organically based on traditional values. As a democratic nation-state becomes more diverse in part because its political leaders recognize that to maintain market share they must attract more voters, ironically, there is an increase in marginalization. There is only so much room under the tent that one can occupy without getting wet.

For the marginalized group or individual that prefers avoiding the rain with their own umbrella or poncho, navigating the politics is typically a non-option. They see government’s rules and initiatives as having failed them so participating in the conflict to control government is a waste of time. They would rather practice societal politics sans government participation. Getting others in society to get them what they want, when they want it, and how they want it may be achieved through voluntary exchanges of value outside of government rules and institutions. And given the over ninety percent of property is in private hands and when combined with digital communications technology, renewable energy, and shared transportation, the ability to become disassociated increases.

For the politician that wants to increase her market share in the political market place, disassociation creates a dilemma.

Old school regulation of internet service providers raises the threat of less broadband competition and more consolidation

Yesterday’s vote in the U.S. Senate that upended the Federal Communications Commission’s repeal of its net neutrality rules was more political grandstanding than good policymaking. S.J. Res. 52 nullified the Commission’s “Restoring Internet Freedom” rules that would have gone into effect on 11 June 2018. The Restoring Internet Freedom rules reclassified broadband access service as an information service; reinstated private mobile service classification of mobile broadband internet access service; required internet access service providers to disclose information about their network management practices, commercial terms and conditions, and performance characteristics; and eliminated the internet conduct standards and bright-line rules.

By repealing the Commission’s Restoring Internet Freedom rules, the Senate signaled its preference for the Commission’s 2015 Open Internet order. The order, based on the premise that broadband access providers posed a threat to openness on the internet and could hinder the virtuous cycle of innovation being introduced by edge providers, the Commission created a regulatory framework that classified broadband access service as a telecommunications service. The 2015 order also established what it referred to as “bright-line” rules that prohibited paid prioritization; the throttling of traffic from websites; and the blocking of consumer access to the legal online content of their choice. In addition, broadband access providers were required to provide consumers with information as to their network management practices, network performance, and commercial terms and conditions. The rationale for this transparency was the need to ensure that consumers made choices based on accurate information.

With its declaration that broadband access is a telecommunications service, the 2015 order subjects broadband access providers to certain sections of the Communications Act of 1934, specifically sections 201, 202, and 208. Although the Commission expressed an intent to not regulate the rates that broadband access providers charge consumers, including edge providers, section 201 of the Communications Act allows broadband access providers to establish different classifications of service.

For example, services may be classified into day, night, repeated, unrepeated, letter, commercial, press, government, etc. So, while no content delivery service can pay a broadband access provider a little extra in order to have their traffic placed ahead of another content provider while in the same class of service, section 201 allows broadband access providers to establish different classes of service that content providers can explore and use.

Let us assume that for some reason the resolution is also approved in the U.S. House of Representatives and President Trump fails to issue a veto. Given the application of sections 201, 202, and 208, small broadband access providers may be faced with the opportunity of being acquired. If a large broadband access provider offers various classes of broadband access, it in essence is carving out smaller markets within which it will dominate. If a broadband access provider carves out a classification that competes with a smaller broadband access provider, that smaller provider will face existential choices. Either lower its rates to where it no longer sees a profit and eventually leaves the market or be acquired which means getting to non-existence a lot faster. The 2015 Open Internet order could well be an example of how regulation stifles competition.

Lastly, I would expect that states will want to get in on the action. I have made this argument before. Under a 2015 Open Internet order regime, states will reassert themselves as the frontline for consumer protection. State public utility commissions don’t see themselves as agencies that sit around and handle consumer complaints all day. They rather those annoying complaints be addressed by their states’ respective attorneys general. State public utilities would rather flex their muscles in the pricing arena and will probably tailor state rules that align with sections 201, 202, and 208 of the federal communications act. The rules and the accompanying administrative procedures that broadband access providers would have to comply with will become burdensome on smaller players.

The result: regulation creating a less competitive market.

It’s not about suppressing black votes, Mr Booker. It’s about cutting off the Democratic Party’s meal ticket

Senator Cory Booker, Democrat of New Jersey, today raised an issue concerning Steve Bannon’s attempts to target black voters during the November 2016 elections. In testimony before the U.S. Senate Committee on the Judiciary, Cambridge Analytica’s former director of research testified that Steve Bannon, former assistant to President Donald J Trump, sought to use data harvested by Cambridge Analytica as part of a campaign to discourage blacks from voting. Mr Booker wants us to ignore the possibility that more blacks are turning away from his party.

The reason for the butthurt over Mr Bannon’s alleged targeting of blacks has nothing to do with black voter suffrage per se. Mr Booker’s issue is that if Mr Bannon or others like him are successful in steering blacks either away from the polls or worse yet to other candidates, then the Democratic Party would be in serious trouble.

According to data compiled by BlackDemographics.com, a significant portion of the black population is affiliated with the Democratic Party. In 2012, 76% of the black population were affiliated with the Democratic Party, either calling themselves Democrats or aligning with Democratic principles or values. You would have to go back to 1968 to see the affiliation percentage exceed 90% (93%).

As for the percentage of blacks who vote for the Democratic candidate, between 1936 and 2012 that percentage was equal to or greater than 90% on four occasions; in the years 1964, 2000, 2008, and 2012. There are a couple data points that may be concerning Mr Booker and his colleagues. While a couple data points do not make a trend, they should be something to keep one’s eye on.

Back in 2000, seven percent of the black population affiliated themselves with the Republican Party. By 2004, that percentage more than doubled to 15%. A priori, that jump may have had to do with the U.S. involvement in a two-front war in the Middle East and George W. Bush’s ability to sell the U.S. on his ability to prosecute the war. Also, Mr Bush attempted to stimulate the economy during the 2001 to 2003 period via tax cuts and the one-time issue of checks to households.

By 2008, however, the portion of the black populace affiliated with the Republican Party fell to four percent, but the portion of blacks affiliated with “independent” climbed to 20%. Apparently, more blacks wanted to hedge against the probability of being on the losing side of history. Vote for the first black president without moving into the Democratic playpen. By 2012, black Republicans went back home with 16% of the black population affiliating with the Republicans.

What may be underlying these numbers is a change of heart and direction on the part of younger blacks when it comes to the Democratic Party. According to NPR, black voter turnout fell from 66.6% of blacks in 2012 to 59.6% of blacks in 2016. Over four million black voters stayed home and according to the NPR report part of the reason is that a growing number of blacks no longer believe they have a home in the Democratic Party. Blacks may no longer see voting as the best way to change their economic or social plight as the population still sees unemployment rates higher than whites and neighborhoods that are run down and facing abandonment.

No, Mr Booker. It appears that something more substantive is going on to turn away blacks from the poll other than a sponsored ad running on the right-hand side of a person’s Facebook page.

Why is net neutrality a partisan issue and how is it negatively impacting privacy rules?

Net neutrality shouldn’t be a partisan issue. The internet isn’t a government agency even though a number of governments around the world would like to restrict their citizens access to it and regulate the content that flows through it. If the internet, as it is viewed in the United States, is a means by which liberty, equality, and democracy intersect and are expressed, then shouldn’t the Republican and Democratic wings of Congress unite on those three pillars of American society?

Is there any contention in the area of liberty as it pertains to the internet?  It does not appear that way. The left replaces the word “liberty” with “freedom” and sticks pretty close to the traditional wording of the open internet, meaning no blockading of consumer access to the legal content of a website.

The right would agree with the left that consumers should be able to access the legal content of their choice. This issue goes to the fundamentals of conservative philosophy, liberty.

Regarding equality, I see contention. On the left, equality on the internet means that traffic from one website is treated the same as traffic from another website. A broadband access provider should not be allowed to throttle a site’s traffic prior to delivering the traffic to a consumer. The principle of equality would also hold, according to left internet philosophy, regarding the issue of paid prioritization. Paid prioritization occurs when a content provider pays a broadband provider for the privilege of special treatment of its traffic. The broadband provider may provide the content provider with “faster lanes” or some other privilege that grants that content deliverer’s traffic some priority over other traffic.

The right may not necessarily disagree that paid prioritization grants a one provider an advantage over another. Whether that advantage is fair or merely a valid business decision is the question and if the decision to provide priority to one type of service versus another is reasonable, then why not?

Prioritization occurs every day. Take the example of packages sent via a common carrier such as the post office. A consumer of postal services has an option of paying to send mail via regular mail or by priority mail, getting his package to its final destination within the next one or two days. The content of the mail may be such that rush delivery is of the essence.

Taking a flexible approach to prioritization may be in keeping with varying demands of different applications. In its recommendation for bipartisan legislation on net neutrality, the Information Technology & Innovation Foundation noted that:

“Legislation should allow clear flexibility for traffic differentiation for applications that require it, avoiding an overbroad flat ban on prioritization, while clearly prohibiting anticompetitive conduct. Legislation should put some restrictions on paid prioritization to limit the potential for abuse, such as a simple ban on exclusive dealing or a requirement
to offer similar terms to all customers.”

Finally, the left has made vigorous arguments that broadband access providers have the potential to threaten democracy on the internet because of their technical capability to block and throttle traffic. This potential bad behavior would restrict a consumer’s ability to choose or produce the content of her choice.

While conservatives may empathize with the self-expression argument, I would expect a two-pronged rebuttal. First, since broadband access and the internet (for the most part) is a private, commercial enterprise, there is no state action intervening in a citizen’s right to participate in the political process. That alone should make the concerns about democracy moot. Second, it is not in a broadband provider’s best business interest to discourage the use of its network. The more users and more traffic exchanged, the greater the revenues and profits and lower the operational costs of the network.

Given the heightened concern over the last two years about privacy on the internet, the left and right wings of Congress should use the need to bring certainty to privacy as a catalyst for closing the philosophical gaps in the vision for the internet. Privacy is being placed on the backburner which is unfortunate because while most consumers are fine for the most part with the internet as it is (growth in ecommerce is one such indicator of the internet’s health), codifying net neutrality principles, general principles that the left and right agree with, in the form of a statute plus providing bright-line rules on privacy and privacy enforcement will bring certainty to consumers of broadband services as to a safer internet and certainty to broadband providers that wish to continue investment absent the nightmare that a back-and-forth that the current regulatory framework creates.

Politicians need to familiarize themselves with the new face of labor new technology has created

Too many politicians have been emphasizing employment in the area of technology and not paying enough attention to how technology has changed society and, in some ways, contributes to further divides in society. Nor are politicians demonstrating an understanding of the basic technological platform that underlies the economy and how this platform is evolving in order to produce at increasing efficiencies and higher returns on capital.

The Third Industrial Revolution described by thought drivers such as Jeremy Rifkin encompasses an integration of communications, energy, and transportation networks running on top of the internet of things. The internet of things is a digital world where it is projected in 12 years that 100 billion devices will be connected not just to the internet but to each other.  But this revolution is more than connectivity; it is about productivity and explaining the impact of greater productivity to the voter will be the tricky part for incumbent politicians and new entrants alike.

For example, the Trump Effect post the 2016 general election where markets responded positively to Mr Trump’s election was based on expected deployment of new transportation, energy, and communications infrastructure along with increased gross domestic output and incomes. The technology sector has been an overall darling of the market and politicians have been quick to tout the low hanging fruit of innovative new technology as a potential driver of economic growth.  And the numbers seem to support technology’s prominence.

American Entrepreneurship reported last March that since 2010, employment in the technology sector has expanded by 200,000 jobs annually. Approximately 11.5 million workers are employed by the tech sector, contributing $1.6 trillion to United States gross domestic product. Demand for tech workers is outstripping supply.

But even as demand for technology workers remains strong, the manufacturing sector, the one Mr Trump touts a lot on the continuous campaign stump, is seeing less hiring and ironically increased productivity. Pew Research reports that real employment in manufacturing fell from approximately 17.5 million in 1987 to 12.4 million in 2017, a decrease of 29%. During the same period, the real productivity index for manufacturing increased 81%.

Should politicians spend time providing workers a more balanced picture of the economy by educating workers on the need to pursue skillsets necessary for higher paying tech jobs? Yes, especially if they want to distinguish themselves as more trustworthy and knowledgeable about the economy than their opponent.

Properly educating the American worker (and hopefully garnering more votes as a consequence) will require politicians to explain the “productivity paradox.” In an article posted on Vox.com, Timothy B. Lee explains why the increase in innovation is apparently accompanied by a decrease in productivity. As technology innovates rapidly, progress is made in producing cheaper versions of items that have existed for decades. These items become more abundant with the savings eventually spent on more personal services items, items that are produced in slower growth industries.  Ironically, wages in these personal services areas, such as health care, child care, education, consulting, etc., trend upwards. A smaller number of producers will provide the nation’s material goods while slow growth industries take up a larger share of the national economy.

So, although productivity in manufacturing is increasing, the former factory worker will have to start looking for jobs in the slower growth areas of health, education, child care, and other personal services.  Had Republicans been frank during the 2016 campaign about the changes new technology is creating in the labor market, they would have been able to better neutralize criticisms from the left that current policies from the Trump administration are hurting the very people who voted for him. It is probably too late to make corrections to the lack of messaging on technology to avoid losses in the upcoming midterms but adjusting the narrative right after the midterm elections would be wise.

Cleta Winslow. Atlanta Political markets. Atlanta Political wars

Political war reminds me a little bit of trade wars. When country A is not allowed to sell its goods and services in Country B, Country A raises a fuss. It threatens a trade war. It puts tariffs on Country B’s goods and services. It accuses Country B of currency manipulation. Country A may even go as far as waging a military action against Country B in order to destroy Country B’s currency and disrupt the trade alliances Country B has with its neighbors. Country A’s goal is to be the dominant economic actor on the block. It will put up with a weakened Country B as along as Country B trades with the world on Country A’s terms.

Political wars are similar. This tidbit is not new but we need to be reminded: candidates are battling for power and privilege. To the extent that they have to craft welfare programs to win votes, what they can do for you is secondary. How they see themselves in political history, their legacy, is more important.

Political wars are quietly continuous. A smart incumbent maintains the illusion that she is looking out for her constituents by presenting the optics of an engaged and caring politician. Take Cleta Winslow, a member of the Atlanta city council representing the West End.  Ms Winslow has served as the District 4 representative for a quarter of a century. For the ten years I have lived in District 4, Ms Winslow has not faced much a challenge, at least until the last election challenge where fierce loyalty especially by older residents helped her keep her seat.

Demographics can be a potent weapon when warding off potential threats to one’s dominance of a political market. That weapon can backfire especially here in the West End as the residents become ethnically diverse. Loyalty t o Winslow based on what she did in the 1990s and her attempts to save a firehouse back in 2008 can only go so far with a younger African American population that sees bleak economic opportunities and more whites with capital moving in to takeover relatively cheap real estate.

The consumers of Ms Winslow’s goodie bags are leaving and new entrants into the 30310 political market may not like what she is selling. A couple contenders in the last city election were able to raise sizeable amounts of campaign funds and as the 30310 political market becomes more diverse, Ms Winslow’s political trade days may draw to a close.

Strategy wise, a potential deathblow to Ms Winslow’s hold on the 30310 political market would be a salvo of economic initiatives, preferably salvos that circumvent her influence as much as possible and led by potential candidates. These individuals should win over as many allies as possible to avoid last year’s scenario where there were too many opponents on the ballot. Opponents cannot afford to have their optics and influence diluted by too many candidates on the ballot. It creates too much noise.

New residents could just exercise patience and watch the demographics change in their favor, but delay won’t help the young and underemployed who would benefit the most from the election of an economic visionary.

Will states seize the opening if net neutrality rules are resurrected?

11 June 2018. On this date the decision by the Federal Communications Commission that repealed the 2015 Open Internet Order will go into effect. Democratic members of the United States Senate hope to vote on a resolution that nullifies this recent decision by the Commission. In other words, the Democrats want to roll back to the way things were in 2015 with the Commission regulating broadband internet access service as if broadband access was a telephone service.

The Senate’s vote, expected to take place the middle of next week, is expected to go nowhere in the U.S. House of Representatives where Republicans hold firmer control. Partisanship is expected to rein supreme. And even if the House were to join the Senate in condemning the Commission’s decision to repeal net neutrality regulations, President trump is expected to veto the bill, sending it back to Congress where an override of the veto has next to no chance of happening.

For students of federal government, this congressional review action demonstrates a major weakness in the legislative branch of federal government. Congress may hold the purse strings, but when it comes to wielding any power, Congress is slow, its actions cumbersome. It is no wonder it gets accused of doing nothing. It is not that it doesn’t try. Congress is designed not to usurp the power of the executive, but simply to keep him or her in check.

Congressional Democrats could have expended energy drafting legislation that not only codified open internet principles but addressed transparency and privacy of consumer data handed over to social media firms such as Facebook or Twitter.  But when it’s time for political theater, no place is better than the chambers of Congress. Senator McCarthy’s search for communists. The Warren Commission. The Nixon impeachment. Iran/Contra hearings on Oliver North’s gun trading in Nicaragua. The Clinton impeachment. All great theater. Democrats may want to add to this list a vote on net neutrality.

Unfortunately for the Democrats, Congress will slide into a couple summer recesses mixed in with campaigning for the November 2018 midterm elections. Except for uninformed millennials and assorted nerds, there will be little attention paid to net neutrality.

Twenty-two states will give repeal the college try, however. A lawsuit filed by a number of state attorneys general hopes to show that the Commission’s action was arbitrary and capricious. I suspect that even if the states were successful in their attempt to overturn the repeal via the courts, I don’t see them doing much on the state utility commission level to regulate broadband access providers.  Just let their states AGs expend resources to tackle on a case-by-case basis complaints alleging throttling, blocking, and lack of transparency on the part of providers. Regulating broadband as a telephone service is fun to say and probably gets a few voter brownie points, but states have spent the past two decades moving away from utility-style regulation of phone services and are not about to roll the clock backward.

Besides, the old heads like me who were members of the public utility commission staffs that did the regulating have moved on and aren’t interested in revisiting the ghosts.