I don’t see Nancy Pelosi’s State of the Union “power move” as a power move at all

Speaker of the U.S. House Nancy Pelosi yesterday sent President Donald J. Trump a letter withdrawing her invitation to the President to deliver his State of the Union address before the entire Congress in the House chamber. Mrs. Pelosi cited lack of funds to provide a secure venue for the event. The move has been cited by some as a power move that scores political points for Mrs. Pelosi and her Democratic Party as 2019 sees the potential challengers for the Oval Office come out of the wood works.

It is not necessary for Mr. Trump to deliver a report on the State of the Union via a speech before Congress. As Mrs. Pelosi herself pointed out, pursuant to Article II Section III of the Constitution the President, “shall from time to time give to the Congress Information of the State of the Union, and recommend to their Consideration such Measures as he shall judge necessary and expedient … ”

Mr. Trump can simply send an executive summary attached to a voluminous report addressing how the political economy of the United States is doing. The “State of the Union” is constantly on display, given access to economic material found online and the constant buzz of a 24-hour news cycle.

This move by Mrs. Pelosi could backfire even in light of the move scoring short term points with the party faithful. This is the era of the internet and the 24-hour news cycle previously mentioned. Mrs. Pelosi, rather than subjecting Mr. Trump to an Obama-Wilson moment where a Republican congressman from South Carolina, Joe Wilson, called former President Barack Obama a liar during an address before both chambers of the Congress in September 2009, seems to be letting Mr. Trump off the public embarrassment hook. Democratic boo birds would not have passed at the chance of subjecting Mr. Trump to vocal push back during a partial government shutdown.

Instead, Mrs. Pelosi risks having Mr. Trump look (or at least attempt to look) Kennedy-esque as when during June 1963, President John F. Kennedy addressed the nation in the aftermath of threats of violence at the University of Alabama in response to racial integration efforts at the university. Mr. Trump, ever the marketer, has options in the 21st century. He could, for example, pack a fairground or gymnasium with thousands of middle Americans and deliver his interpretation of the State of the Union without the blandness called for in the formal setting of Pelosi’s House. With cable news, C-SPAN, and the internet as his platform, Mr. Trump could signal a willingness to circumvent the Democratic-controlled House by speaking directly with no filter to the American people.

In the end, Mrs. Pelosi’s power move may end up looking like a sour move.

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Diversity is a fraud

As a black person I have grown increasingly suspect over the years of calls for diversity. It is not that I have succumbed to another race’s false sense of superiority over mine.  It is because diversity is really nothing but an expression of weakness by blacks in America.  It is a rallying cry for inclusion of those blacks who consider themselves the cream of the crop and deserving to be placed ahead of other blacks due to their education and their networks. Diversity is a willingness to shun the need to generate and contribute real economic value settling instead for creating arguments that have at their base the need to make white people feel guilty. Diversity is a feel good political package sold to black voters who stand as much of a chance of breaking glass ceilings as the Atlanta Falcons have at playing in the Super Bowl in Atlanta next year.

As an expression of weakness, calls for diversity are calls for permission to enter a house you are otherwise unwelcome in.  We’ve heard the arguments. “Inclusion is the right thing to do.” “Dr. King died because he believed we are all equal in character.”  ” It is immoral to exclude people, etc. etc.”  It really boils down to begging to be included, basing arguments on weak moral grounds that can fade away when tough economic times appear and animal spirits rise up to battle for scarce capital and jobs. 

Diversity benefits only those who come from a certain pedigree.  In the real world, diversity doesn’t get most blacks a full time job with benefits. What gets people work in the real world are skillsets that bring value to an employer’s efforts at output and a network that through his new employee an employer can tap into.  This is especially important in an information driven economy where workers are no longer “nodes for manufacturing”, where the emphasis is on an employee’s manufacturing skills, but instead is a “node of information”, where the employee uses technology to gather data that helps his employer make the best resource allocations. 

The flip side to this argument is that blacks may not be in the position to be “information nodes” given centuries of being locked out of certain networks.  My answer is, tough.  After being in North America for 400 years and 153 of those years post slavery, Black Americans have had opportune time to accumulate the educational and work experience to access information, garner the appropriate skills, and build valuable networks. Instead of diversifying ourselves into a system dominated by a racial majority and created for a racial majority, blacks need to offset the negative repercussions of the current system by supplementing the current system with a dose of increased self-reliance.

Earlier I described diversity as a feel good political package designed by a political party dominated by white people and sold by an educated small black elite to the masses of black voters.  It is a weak package that is comprised of slight modifications to existing civil rights and labor laws with no meaningful transfer of capital involved.  It is empty with the only blacks getting paid being the fraternity and sorority boys and girls who have some mid-level office driving cars that they look good in. Diversity has not translated into a political economy that takes us to a higher form of human engagement, one where the basic needs of all are truly provided for. 

Diversity is a fraud.

Current black elected leaders are in no position to provide a disruptive campaign finance model that helps poor blacks

I am seeing no serious attempt  on the part of blacks to step up our political game.  Oh yes, we may have a Stacey Abrams, Ben Jealous, Andrew Gillum, or Mike Espy run for a governor or U.S. senate seat.  We may even show case a couple “winners” like Corey Booker, Kamala Harris, or Tim Scott, but in the larger scheme, beyond these “one-zee, two-zees”, are blacks posing a meaningful impact in the area of national politics? 

What I am seeing so far post mid-term 2018 is the current national black political leadership moving lockstep with Democrat Party messaging, messaging that does not address economic needs of blacks.  To assess the  needs of blacks, you need look no further than the income disparity and wealth gap between white and black people in America.  According to research by the Pew Research Center, the adjusted income for households headed by blacks was $43,300 versus those households headed by whites came in at $71,300.  Pew also reported that median net worth of white households was 13 times higher ($144,000) than that of blacks ($11,200).

As we saw in the last major recession, not having a wealth cushion can be disastrous for households that lose their income.  Having some wealth that can be monetized can help tide a person over until the storm passes, but for many blacks, there may not be any chances of seeing the eye of the financial storm because the first wall of the hurricane wiped them out. 

In the political theater, not having a wealth cushion also means diminished influence on elected officials, during a campaign and post elections.  Being able to finance targeted and strategic messages or finance a campaign’s operational spending increases the chances of being listened to during the interval between elections, when policy making occurs.  Blacks are disproportionately participate in general elections and forego midterms or even some local elections. But worse, blacks are likely less inclined to keep up with the granular needs of day-to-day governance.   Not donating to campaigns or keeping constant pressure on elected officials only makes overlooking blacks as a constituency easier for elected officials.

Sure there are advocacy groups out there that allegedly speak on behalf of “people of color”, but these groups tend to look out for the concerns of the fringe upper crust of minority groups. the highly-educated, higher-wage types who do not reflect the needs of the vast majority of everyday blacks.

This is the downside of being low-income in a political eco-system that stresses buying the eardrums of candidates, where candidates need money to run campaigns while poor blacks have to decide between electric bills, food, or rent. 

It would be beautiful to construct a campaign finance model that disrupts the status quo of political party leadership and incumbent elected officials.  A disruptive system that keeps black elected officials especially focused on why the masses elected them won’t be created by blacks beholden the party leadership and messaging that does not serve blacks.

  

There is nothing progressive about opposing zero-rated broadband service

When liberal organizations attacked zero-rated broadband access services offered by internet service providers, they may have lost some of their progressive bona fides.  Fortunately for them the 2016 general elections and the 2018 midterm elections did not make net neutrality in particular or broadband access in general a battleground issue.

Here in Georgia, broadband got nary a mention during the gubernatorial debates with both candidates, former Georgia state senator Stacey Abrams and Governor-elect Brian Kemp giving the nod to increasing consumer access to broadband services, especially for citizens living in rural areas.

I sense that Mr Kemp would have no problem with mobile wireless providers targeting rural consumers with their zero-rating plans.  Under zero rating, a wireless provider may choose not to apply data usage caps where a subscriber is accessing particular content, whether the content is provided by a third-party of by the wireless carrier itself.  For example, Verizon may decide not to reduce the amount of data available to me by the amount of time I choose to view a video on Facebook or on one of Verizon’s media properties.  In other words, my data cap would not take a hit.

I can see two primary benefits from such a non-pricing plan. First, for new subscribers being introduced to mobile web service, it provides the consumer with incentive to become familiar with more sources of content and services.  Second, the value of the carrier’s network increases as demand for its content and services increase.  While overall costs of operating the network may go up as more subscribers establish accounts, cost per subscriber should fall providing incentive for keep the price each subscriber pays flat.

Especially given the second benefit, the incentive to keep subscriber rates flat, I would think that progressives would promote zero rate pricing for broadband.  Progressives tend to position themselves as protectors of the middle class and if there is an issue that progressives should empathize with when it comes to the middle class are the increases in consumer prices the middle class encounters given wages that have been flat for decades.  One would also think that as the U.S. economy and educational system requires workers, producers, and students to have access to data via the internet that progressives would encourage consumers to jump on the opportunity to get on the internet at a lower cost.  Instead opponents of zero rating have been emphasizing the alleged negative impact zero rating has on competition between content providers.

For example, the Electronic Freedom Frontier, an internet freedom advocacy group, is concerned that zero rating will divert consumer eyeballs to large content providers such as Facebook that can afford to subsidize a broadband access provider’s lost revenue in exchange for more traffic being sent to the large content provider.  That the consumer may be incentivized to probe content or spend more time on broadband networks is of very little concern to EFF.  The potential threat to market entry by smaller or newer players appears to be more of their concern.

Given this stance by EFF, it is no wonder that the zero rating narrative, while bantered about inside the Washington, DC beltway, has no traction with the general public.  Politically it is a non-starter with a general public made up of consumers that are more concerned with getting bang for their dollars versus whether a content provider has the innovative or content creative capabilities to enter the content market.

For progressives, zero rating is another example of how the Left has strayed away from matters that mean the most to most Americans.

 

Don’t expect a Trump-Democratic love fest over the AT&T-Time Warner merger

Last July, the U.S. Department of Justice filed an appeal of a U.S. District Court-District of the District of Columbia finding that AT&T’s acquisition of Time Warner Media would not hurt competition. The Justice Department, according to The Hill, believes the acquisition would harm competition where AT&T might not provide access to its newly acquired content by other competing content providers or video delivery networks.

Democrats today hinted that once they take-over the U.S. House, they would investigate the Trump administration’s opposition to the merger. Since the campaign for the presidency in 2016, Mr. Trump has verbalized his concern that a merger between the telecommunications giant and the media giant would be a bad thing because of the size of the new entity. In addition, Mr. Trump has expressed no love for CNN, the cable news network that would be one of the crown jewels on AT&T’s new portfolio.

As if any one needed a reminder of the no love lost between the Trump administration and the Atlanta-based news organization, one needed look no further than the spat between CNN’s Jim Acosta and President Trump during a press conference last week. Mr. Trump had no problem suspending Mr. Acosta’s access to the White House.

Congressional Democrats have attacked the merger from the net neutrality angle. Democrats such as Senator Ed Markey have come out against the merger in part due to antitrust and consumer protection reasons. According to Senator Markey, telecommunications policy should ensure that, ” … those with the best ideas, not simply the best access, can share their content with the world.”

But given that net neutrality was not at the top of voters’ holiday shopping list last week, I don’t expect Democrats to approach the Trump administration with anything that looks like a temporary truce. According to analysisanalysis by Gizmodo, a sweep of 1,180 campaign websites saw very few office seekers trumpeting the call for a free and open internet. Real household issues, such as healthcare and the economy, were on the top of family priorities.

I’ve read analysis where it is expected that outgoing Republicans licking their wounds from their 2018 defeat will vote to approve the resolution that passed last May in the U.S. Senate to repeal the Federal Communications Commission’s Restoring Internet Freedom order. This order, passed in 2017 by the Commission, repealed a 2015 Commission order that implemented net neutrality rules. The argument is that outgoing GOP congressmen who probably leaned toward the open internet philosophy would want to appease their former constituents by supporting net neutrality rules. I don’t see that happening.

I expect that outgoing Republicans will pay attention to whatever housekeeping matters are on the agenda, including tomorrow’s testimony by Federal Reserve chairman Jerome Powell before the House financial services committee. Besides, why would a GOP former congressman want to relieve themselves of their conservative bona fides so early after an election. You just don’t relieve yourself so quickly of political capital that you will need for any future political endeavors.

Government’s role in regulating access to personal data

Yuval Noah Harari recent wrote an article for The Atlantic where he posed the question, “How do you regulate the ownership of data?” Professor Harari argues in the article that data is the most important asset today, moving ahead of land and machinery.  “Politics will be a struggle to control the data’s flow”, says Professor Harari.

Last spring saw the United States Congress’ struggle to at least map out a course through the turbulent waters of data privacy as members of the House of Representatives and Senate took the opportunity to grill Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg about his company’s handling of personal data obtained from the social media giant by a consultancy.

Part of this struggle may be due in part to the popularity of social media network platforms. Facebook has climbed from a digital bulletin board developed in the early 2000s in an Ivy League college dorm room to a global subscribership of over two billion people.  Former president Barack Obama’s Twitter following is in the millions while the current president, Donald Trump, is not shy or slow to taking to Twitter to either connect with and inform his base of supporters or attack the traditional media for what he perceives as unfair coverage of his administration.

Professor Harari notes that users of social media network platforms have not reached the point where they are ready to stop feeding the “attention merchants.”  Speaking on the difficulty subscribers may have in exchanging personal data for “free” services, Professor Harari points out that:

“But it, later on, ordinary people decide to block the flow of data, they are likely to have trouble doing so, especially as they may have come to rely on the network to help them make decisions, and even for their health and physical survival.”

Professor Harari offered up one solution, nationalization of data, to stem the abuses that corporations may impart on addicted social media and internet consumers, but admits that just because an asset is in the hands of government doesn’t mean things will necessarily go well.  Hence the question, how should the ownership of data be regulated?

The question will require public policymakers and politicians go through the exercise of defining “personal data.”  Would personal data be any characteristic about you? Would it be about any marker, no matter how temporary or permanent, that can be attached to you?  Must the “data” be something that the consumer actually produced?

Politically, attention merchants would want a narrow reading of the definition of personal data.  A narrower reading of personal data means being able to obtain more information pursuant to fewer restrictions. While this outcome would be ideal for corporate entities in the business of brokering data, I don’t see Republicans, even with their mantra of promoting business, enthusiastically endorsing less restrictive collection of personal data given the public’s concern for privacy.

State resources either Abrams or Kemp can use to drive rural broadband in Georgia.

At first blush, the stances of the two candidates for Georgia on the issue of broadband deployment are pretty much standard fare.  Citing her responses to a questionnaire by the Georgia Chamber of Commerce Democratic Party candidate Stacey Abrams describes broadband an essential business service.  To boost the economy of rural Georgia, Ms. Abrams mentions her support for the Georgia Department of Transportation’s efforts to expand broadband along the state’s rights-of-way.

Ms. Abrams is referring to the Georgia Department of Transportation’s Georgia Interstate and Wireless Broadband Deployment P3 Project.  The primary goal of GDOT’s broadband project is statewide expansion of GDOT’s NaviGAtor traffic management system.  GDOT considers NaviGAtor as a first step toward bringing broadband to more of the state’s citizens.  GDOT states that by recycling its assets i.e. state rights-of-way, GDOT can accomplish the mission without any additional tax revenues. Once private partners are on board, the project is slated to take 25 years to design construct, and deploy the fiber optic cable and small cell network along 1,300 miles of state rights-of-way.

Republican Party candidate Brian Kemp echoes Ms. Abrams sentiments about broadband being a game changer for rural Georgia.  While not citing GDOT’s NaviGAtor, Mr. Kemp cites similar benefits offered by the state’s program including eliminating fees for use of state rights-of-way; exploring tax incentives for tech companies and entrepreneurs  committed to expanding high-speed internet access in rural Georgia, and incentivizing public/private partnerships with the use of low interest loans.

Rural broadband deployment has moved further to the front of the national policy agenda line.  Federal Communications Commission chairman Ajit Pai, himself a native of rural Kansas, has been touting closing the rural digital divide since joining the FCC.

Georgia, according to the website BroadbandNow, is America’s 20th most connected state, but has some work to do when it comes to increasing the availability of alternatives for 1.4 million residents who have access to only one wired provider. Approximately 870,000 Georgia residents do not have access to a wired connection with at least 25 megabits per second download speeds.

Georgia has already taken steps to help bring more broadband networks to its citizens. In addition to GDOT’s NaviGAtor traffic management system, the state’s Department of Community Affairs is required to develop the Georgia Broadband Deployment Initiative,  a program that provides for funding for the purpose of delivering broadband to unserved areas.  Money is to be spent on capital expenses and expenses directly related to the purchase or lease of property or to communications services or facilities. Through the funding of qualified political subdivisions i.e. cities, counties, etc., Georgia hopes to promote trade, commerce, investment, and employment opportunities.

An additional state resource that Georgia can use to close its rural broadband divide is the OneGeorgia Authority.  OneGeorgia, with the use of two funds, provides financing for rural areas committed to developing their economies.  By law, Georgia’s governor serves as OneGeorgia’s chairman, putting either Ms. Abrams or Mr. Kemp in a power position to drive rural Georgia’s broadband deployment in particular and the state’s economic growth overall.

 

 

The likelihood of net neutrality being codified in statute looks dim…

Republicans in the U.S. House and U.S. Senate have been pushing for legislation that codifies net neutrality principles, making them a part of federal law.  Even with control of both chambers of the U.S. Congress, Republicans have not been able to convince enough Democratic members of Congress to get on board with passing a law that would avoid the back and forth pendulum between promulgating and repealing net neutrality rules on the agency level at the Federal Communications Commission.

Last spring, 52 U.S. Senators, including three Republicans, voted to reinstate net neutrality rules that were repealed in December 2017 by FCC chairman Ajit Pai’s Restoring Internet Freedom Order.  Mr. Pai’s treatment of net neutrality keeps the emphasis on one of the open internet’s four principles, transparency but leaves the other three principles; throttling, paid prioritization, and blocking, up to the “network effect”, where broadband access providers argue that discouraging use of the internet by blocking, throttling, or discriminating between carriers would lead to a devaluation of their networks, thus an illogical approach to take.

GOP control of the House is under threat this November.  If election sentiment carries over into the midterms, it is likely that the Democratic Party will capture the House.  Rasmussen Reports found that 47% of likely voters in the United States’ midterm elections are likely to vote for the Democratic Party while 42% of likely voters may cast their ballots for the Republican Party.

In the U.S. Senate, Republicans hold 51 seats while the Democrats hold 47 seats. Two independents, Angus King of Maine and Bernie Sanders of Vermont, caucus with the Democrats.  The Democrats need at least four seats to regain control of the Senate.

In the U.S. House, Republicans hold 236 seats to the Democrats 193.  Democrats need to pick up at least 25 seats to garner a House majority.

Will Democrats run on net neutrality as an issue? Based in polling from Pew Research, net neutrality is likely not an issue to grab the eardrums of voters.  For all voters, economic issues overall took first place, according Pew’s poll.  When broken down, the top six issues were:

  1. Immigration
  2. Health care
  3. Education
  4. Politicians/Government systems
  5. Guns/gun control/gun laws
  6. Economy/economic issues

For Democrats, while the top three overall issues for all voters were also a part of the Democrats of top three issues, gun control, politicians and government systems, and jobs rounded out the bottom three of their top six concerns.

House Democrats are aligning with their base’s apparent lack of priority for net neutrality.  Looking at a sample of 102 House Democrat websites, only four (3.9%) of those sites mentioned net neutrality, the open internet, or internet freedom as a key issue.

The low priority given to net neutrality this campaign season by voters and House Democrats tells me that Democrats will be in no hurry to join Republicans in drafting a bipartisan net neutrality bill.