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.

  

Does an “open internet” promote a representative democracy? No, because democracy is not its job

Techopedia defines the open internet as “a fundamental network (net) neutrality concept in which information across the World Wide Web (WWW) is equally free and available without variables that depend on the financial motives of Internet Service Providers (ISP).”

The political debate over net neutrality over the last three years has focused on the ability of ISPs such as Comcast and AT&T to discriminate against third-party content provider traffic in favor of ISP content, to the extent that ISPs are expected to use their gateway status to slow down traffic from certain websites or outright block subscriber access to certain websites.

The internet as a platform plays an important role in American commerce as American consumers are expected to spend an estimated $7.8 billion on Cyber Monday. Net neutrality violations could mean lost advertisement revenues for content providers who are unable to get their products and advertisements in front of consumer eyeballs.  Being cut out of $7.8 billion of revenues during the holiday season could pose an existential threat for small businesses depending on those holiday sales to break even or stay in the black.

Besides the issue of staying in the black is the issue of whether an open internet promotes the components of American political culture; whether an open internet or lack thereof poses an existential threat to the American republic.  I think as currently construed, an open internet does not pose an existential threat to the American republic. On the contrary, when it comes to navigating the political-economic environment of the United States, knowledge on how well American representative democracy is working is best ascertained by reviewing hard political-economic data published by public agencies or academic or other research institutions.

The open internet has inundated the political economy with junk. It has Americans sacrificing value of specialized information for volumes of narcissistic junk.

First, why has the internet not eroded the American republic?  Contrary to the hoopla surrounding assertions that the Russian government sponsored psychological warfare on the American electorate during the November 2016 elections, the populace participated in the selection of the electors that voted for the president of the United States. More votes were cast for president in 2016 (135,719,984) than were cast in 2012 (128,768,094).

In addition, what I refer to as “insurgent” parties, i.e., the Green Party, the Libertarian Party, etc., did better in 2016 than they did in 2012.  The Gary Johnson-led Libertarian Party ticket picked up approximately 4.5 million votes in 2016 compared to 1.3 million votes in 2012.  The Jill Stein-led Green Party almost tripled its 2012 showing during the 2016 campaign, with approximately 1.5 million votes cast for the Green Party in 2016 versus approximately 470,000 votes in 2012.

Rather than eroding representative democracy, an argument could be made that the internet provided less expensive outlets for insurgent parties to get their messages out to the voting public.  I saw more of Gary Johnson and Jill Stein on YouTube than I did mainstream press.

America’s founding aristocracy chose a republic as the best vehicle for promoting the three major components of American political culture: liberty, equality, and democracy.  Does the open internet help promote these characteristics of American political culture? I would argue only if the government expressly decides to use the open internet itself in order to accomplish these goals or requires by charter that every private entity operating on the internet do so.

Liberty is freedom from government control where Americans expect a great degree of economic and personal freedom without the government unreasonably regulating personal and commercial behavior.  The open internet itself does not have this responsibility. In the end it is just a communications platform.  Problems would arise if government were to use the internet for surveillance purposes, i.e., use deep packet reading to ascertain what messages you are sending over the internet or, under the guise of “smart city” technology, surveil minority neighborhoods to regulate citizen movement.

Nor does the internet have the responsibility of creating political equality. Political equality refers to the right to participate in politics equally based on the principle of “one person, one vote.”  Notwithstanding the alleged Russian interference in the 2016 general elections, the “one person, one vote” characteristic of American political culture is, again, the responsibility of national and state governments.  Online voting as a concept is in its infant stage.  And while the Russians allegedly interfered by waging a messaging campaign via social media, there were other outlets, both online and offline, where Americans could get their information and strengthen their “one vote” with knowledge.

Lastly, there is democracy itself, the right to cast that one vote for the candidate of your choice.  How does the unimpeded flow of information across 100,000 interconnected global computer networks impact your ability to choose a leader? The above discussion summarizes the answer: it doesn’t.  Yes, one could go to the internet and look up information on a candidate, but there are millions of Americans with no access to broadband that function normally in society; that buy groceries, go to work, and yes, vote, without having to access the information floating around the internet that is deposited by various sources.  Besides traditional media, they probably access information from the original sources i.e. city council meetings; public access television, government agency public information offices, and make just as accurate a political decision as the woman surfing the internet in her bunny sandals and pajamas.

Yes, the internet has afforded millions of people to express themselves in cyberspace via blogs, websites, podcasts, and online videos, but the open internet neither promotes or hinders democracy.  Only humans can and there are other sources of information through which humans can accumulate knowledge on liberty, equality, and democracy.  Democracy is the responsibility of government and its citizens.  The open internet is neither savior, devil, or panacea….

The “economy” is doing better but I am seeing more homeless in Atlanta

I am seeing more homeless people in my West End Atlanta neighborhood. I have seen at least one sleeping in his vehicle. Others make use of the parks to sleep at night.  What I see on the ground does not coincide with the claims made in Washington of a booming economy.

WABE, citing data collected from the city of Atlanta, reported that the homeless population numbers around 3,000 people and is allegedly on a decline.  And last year, the Atlanta Journal Constitution reported that Atlanta ranks among America’s neediest cities based on 21 metrics including child poverty and the number of uninsured. Homelessness is the result of a number of factors including the lack of affordable housing, poverty, discrimination, and shifts in the economy. Can city policies adequately impact these factors?

Take the factor of affordable housing. Atlanta mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms has made affordable housing one of her top public policies, but it appears to me that such an approach falls out of line with one important goal of a city: to generate tax revenue necessary for providing the amenities that keep citizens interested in living in Atlanta.  Land owners want to see property values rise and see an increase in the revenues that their properties generate.

Also, as city leaders continue their efforts to make Atlanta a job center, they have to keep in mind that as part of the efficiencies offered by a city is the location of housing close to job centers.  Housing located close to job centers may also end up being some of the most costliest housing.

I ride into Buckhead every day from southwest Atlanta. I have blogged before about how the MARTA train feels more like those conveyor belts loaded with coal that go into a furnace to fuel a production facility.  In this case the human coal are the lower and middle income individuals heading into Buckhead to work a job that, ironically, may be on the chopping block in a few years due to artificial intelligence.  If these people can’t afford to live close to an employment center where they can walk to work, the pressures of living will really increase when they have to find alternative employment.

But even with current employment, there may not be enough affordable housing available because landlords will be under pressure to meet rising property taxes resulting from the increased values of their properties, at least in the short run. This rise in value and ensuing property taxes will result from increased demand for housing that Atlanta expects to face over the next ten years.

Let’s not forget the upward pressure expected on interest rates over the next two years.  Property owners will have to increase rents in order to cover higher mortgage rates.  For the city of Atlanta it means higher bond servicing costs as the city continues to raise money through bond issues for its development and operational needs.

Affordable housing, because of the above pressures, won’t increase in supply.  Only an economic downturn may bring about cheaper rentals but even that will be short lived because a downturn in the economy means a slowdown in hiring and the specter of non-affordability due to increased lost income.

Politics wise, it is time for elected officials, particularly Democrats, to eliminate the affordable housing mantra from their campaign slogans.  They won’t be able to achieve it at any meaningful scale.

 

City of Atlanta’s response to Brian Kemp’s victory: silence

Today, Stacey Abrams acknowledged that a court-facilitated path to the governor’s office in Georgia is not there. Although not a traditional concession that the race is over, her Republican challenger, Brian Kemp, can now proceed to taking over the governorship without the distraction of court challenges.

What does this mean for the city of Atlanta in the short term? Besides having a ground level view to a smooth and peaceful transition of power intended by the designers of American democracy, I believe not much. The city’s residents are preparing for the holiday season, with Thanksgiving next week and Christmas coming in the next five.

Over the next two years I suspect that residents will take note of predicted changes in the economy, specifically increasing bank rates, inflation, and increasing bond yields on Treasury notes.  As the population continues to increase and demand for housing along with it, Atlanta’s lower income class will be the first to feel the financial pressure as homes become less affordable, businesses raise prices, and the gains in labor start to fade.

Although local elected officials will bear the brunt of increasing criticism for the state of the city’s economic affairs, Mr. Kemp, in order to ward off a successful election challenge in 2022, will have to come up with an economic management plan that at least prevents Atlanta from spawning the next challenger.

As for Atlanta city government’s relationship with the Governor and the Georgia General Assembly, I have yet to see whether one exists.  If today is any indication, Atlanta’s mayor, Keisha Bottoms, had not, at the time of this writing, issued a press release congratulating the governor-elect.

It also does not help that Mrs. Bottoms has aligned herself with the “sanctuary city” movement where local city officials and civic groups have challenged federal immigration laws requiring cooperation with federal agencies in the detention of undocumented foreigners residing in the United States.

Having not spent time herself as a member of the Georgia Assembly, nor, based on her bio, no time in political or non-political positions requiring engagement with the governor’s office or the general assembly, Mrs. Bottoms seems to be falling further behind on the legislative and executive front as a result of not being in a position to foster these relationships.

That said, it is still early in the political game heading into the 2019 legislative session. There may be time to build those relationships.

 

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.