What to do with Atlanta’s city jail

The news …

Late last May, Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms signed legislation allowing her to close the Atlanta City Detention Center and establish a task force to study how best to re-purpose including establishing a “center of equity” in place of a public safety policy based on incarceration.

Mrs. Lance Bottoms has received push back over the initiative from political rival and two-time former mayoral candidate Mary Norwood.  Mrs. Norwood, who serves as chairman of the Buckhead Council of Neighborhoods, argues that the better public safety policy would be for the city to sell the facility to Fulton County.  Such a move would help Fulton County increase its capacity for housing inmates while ensuring the city keeps offenders off the streets.

The politics of the positions ….

Mayor Lance Bottom’s office has been selling their decision to close the facility as a move toward a better policy for addressing incarceration and recidivism. Mrs. Lance Bottoms would like to see a center of equity that provides services aimed toward the incarcerated, including programs that help the formerly incarcerated find work.

In response to Mrs. Norwood’s opposition to Mrs. Lance Bottom’s plan, the Mayor’s office may be looking at Mrs. Norwood stance as posturing for another mayoral showdown in 2021 or the continuing licking of wounds from the tight November 2017 race.  The Atlanta Journal Constitution quoted the Mayor’s spokesman, Michael Smith, saying that, “There is one mayor at a time.  The people of Atlanta elected and entrusted the one they chose in 2017 to make meaningful decisions that will change the trajectory of our communities.”

Could the 2021 election change community trajectory?

What I found interesting in this spat between two potential 2021 rivals was a lack of discussion on the economic and aesthetic component surrounding the Atlanta City Detention Center.  The city jail and the immediate surrounding areas are eyesores.  Jail bondsman offices and a homeless population are mainstays around the jail.  Given the proximity of the city jail to two economic initiatives designed to boost the attractiveness of downtown, a discussion as to how this facility or even a “center of equity” would be in keeping with the schemes is surprisingly lacking.

One initiative is on the way.  The Centennial Yards project, formerly known as “The Gulch”, is expected to ramp up in 2020.  The project is expected to provide a mini-city within Atlanta comprised of offices, residences, and retail space.

On the drawing boards but highly likely given its track record is Georgia State University’s vision for its downtown campus. Looking like something out of Star Trek‘s space station Yorktown, (Kelvin timeline), GSU’s plan calls for more green space, an enhanced student center, as well as more administrative office and student resident space for a growing student body population.

I just can’t see any of this taking place within an eighth of a mile of a grubby city half block that has a jail located on it.

Mrs. Norwood may be taking the middle road by advocating a mere sale of the facility to Fulton County.  As she represents an affluent investor community in Buckhead, she would probably get on board with a proposal to just remove the entire facility as a way to entice movement into a new “Gulch” community that will bring in city revenue.

And, in my opinion, to ensure that a shift in the trajectory occurs, a Buckhead community flexing its muscle may be able to pull it off.  Atlanta’s demographics are changing.  Neighborhoods like mine in the West End are gentrifying.  Any references to Atlanta as the “Chocolate City of the South” are part of an increasingly distant and cloudy memory.  The Black Slate was able to amplify support for Mayor Bottoms in 2017, but as the population continues to shrink in the face of less affordable housing, will the Black Slate be able to replicate 2017 in 2021?  If not, we may be seeing what remains of Mayor Bottoms’ social agenda being pushed further away from the city core.

Conclusion …

If Atlanta keeps in mind the economic development changes occurring downtown, I don’t see why it would keep any remnants of an incarceration policy that it finds distasteful.  If the city wants to retrain former inmates in job skills, Georgia State’s main or satellite campuses may be more than equipped with teaching and clinical expertise and classroom facilities to handle that job.  The real cost may be the political costs of implementing recommendations the Mayor’s task force comes up with for re-purposing the city’s jail.

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John Lewis sponsors a bill providing low income taxpayers some relief

The news …

U.S. Representative John Lewis, Democrat of Georgia, appears to have some bipartisan support for a tax bill he announced earlier today.  The chairman of the House Ways and Means Oversight subcommittee along with the ranking member, U.S. Representative Mike Kelly, introduced the Taxpayer First Act.   Mr. Lewis and Mr. Kelly appear to have done a good job of putting together bipartisan sponsorship getting 26 other Democrats and Republicans to give their support.

The bill seeks to do or improve the following:

  • Improve the independent appeals process;
  • Limit the capacity of private debt collectors to target low income citizens by not allowing collection activity by private debt collectors against taxpayers whose income does not exceed 200% of the poverty level;
  • Prohibits collection of fees associated with the filing of an offer-in-compromise on taxpayers whose income does not exceed 250% of the poverty level;
  • Excludes from collection under qualified collection contracts taxpayers whose income consists substantially of disability insurance benefits; and
  • lengthens the time to pay taxes under an installment agreement from the current five years to seven years.

My initial thoughts …

I’ve visited the Internal Revenue Service office on West Peachtree Street in Atlanta a number of times.  Mostly the non-affluent are there trying to work out our tax issues.  Life happens and when you have to make decisions between paying rent and caring for a family or sending the IRS a check, family and rent will take precedent.

Under all the glitter of “The Real Housewives of Atlanta”, the movie and music production scene, and the high-end cars you may see whizzing around the city is a population under stress.  By one account the poverty level in Atlanta is approximately 22.4% meaning that almost 100,000 people in Atlanta live under the burden of poverty. You can hear the stress on the buses and trains as poor people head to work.  You can hear the financial stress in consumers’ voices as they express their concerns about food prices and the choices between one item and the other.

I don’t believe the bill goes far enough.  If Mr. Lewis is really concerned about the stresses of tax payment on the poor, he would add language that gets rid of the interest that accumulates on tax bills.  Poor people will never get from under the stress of late tax payments of they have onerous interest being added to their tax bills.  This only compounds the stress from owing student loans, taking care of sick family members, or trying to put children through college.

What’s next …

This is the second go-round for the bill. An original version of the bill (H.R. 1957) was passed by the House last April but issues regarding whether the IRS could dismantle a Free File Program caused an impasse in the Senate and a decision was made to remove the bill from Senate consideration and re-introduce a bill without the Free File Program.

 

A philosophy of “political” engagement for the individual anarchist

Navigating the path to a good life in the realm of politics …

The good life is one where the individual pursues her self-awareness without the encumbrance of mass tyranny.  An individual anarchist that places personal liberty above all else will have as a goal near non-existent contact with government.  She will do what is practical to keep government off of her back.  She will, for example, file her tax returns and pay her taxes, taking advantage, of course, of any means of reducing her tax obligation that keeps her at the same time off of the government’s radar.  She should keep herself in a position to keep government at bay.

Does this mean that the individual anarchist must involve herself in politics?  That may depend on how you define politics.

The politics of human interaction …

I am a realist.  I acknowledge that 245 years ago, a bunch of well-financed strong men wrestled control of this jurisdiction from a strong man sitting in England.  I acknowledge that these strong men created a government for the day-to-day exercise of administration of this jurisdiction’s resources, and that if I am to navigate this environment in order to maintain myself and my family, then there will be some minimal exchange of information or currency between me and this government and the people who exercise non-thinking obedience to its policies.

Does this mean that I have to engage in the institutional practice of the administration of public affairs?  Does this mean that I have to vote in an election or run for public office?  Does this mean that I have to fund political campaigns and take bets on a better candidate?

The answer to the above is no.  Acknowledging the State’s existence creates no requirement that you feed the Beast.  Rather you should call the Beast out through constant critique.  To borrow from Emile Armand, “the work of the anarchist is above all a work of critique.”  The individual-anarchist, in order to enhance her chances of optimizing individual liberty, must live and need be agitate from the outside.  What “political” mechanism, then, should she use?

Political ‘string theory’ ….

The relationship between elected officials and the electorate is based on an exchange of a politician’s position and and a voter’s perception.  This exchange creates an equilibrium that is maintained where a politician conveys to a voter necessary and sufficient information that meets or guides a voter’s perception as to how well the environment of the political economy is doing.  For example, Donald Trump conveys to his constituency that his policies are leading to job growth.  His base, after consuming available data, continue to perceive that things are going well.

But the individual-anarchist may see Mr Trump’s policies as impeding her ability to, say, develop and use her own private energy resources.  At this point she may have two alternatives. She can be silent and allow Mr Trump’s policies and the electorate’s erroneous perception to crush her, or she can engage in a temporary strategic partnership with like-minded individuals to critique Mr Trump’s policies.  This is where the political string theory comes in.

Under this theory, the equilibrium between elected official position and voter perception lies on a fabric of data flow between both parties.  Warp the fabric by introducing surprise; by introducing information, and this relationship changes.  The goal of the temporary, strategic partnership of individual anarchists should be to publish accurate, data rich “surprise” that disrupts the inertia in the political system.

This type of agitation cannot occur from inside the system for two reasons.  First, the system’s core has in place editorial roadblocks that will dilute, eviscerate, eliminate the messaging.  Instead, the messaging should aim to pick off elements of the mass electorate who may be more susceptible to independent thought, those who may be sitting on the fence. Those who doubt the efficacy of the political elite.

The second reason for agitating from the outside is to ensure that the messengers are not co-opted.  Take for example the Libertarian Party.  Their policies or positions have yet to take hold with a significant amount of the American population. By operating within the mechanics of the electoral system, they have morphed into nothing but closet Republicans.

Conclusion …

“Political” engagement for the individual anarchist must be temporary and purposeful.  Prolonged engagement runs the risk of creating organizations that eventually exist for the sole purpose of maintaining existence.  Prolonged engagement means diluting your individuality. To be the effective critic, the new data introduced must be a surprise, truly new information that makes disruption all the more effective.

 

Blacks need a new political law game

The political battle between the Executive and the Congress has been intense to say the least over the last twenty-seven months since Donald Trump took office.  With post-Mueller report hearings ramping up next week, the saga only promises to continue way into campaign season.

My friends and family have expressed varying degrees of interest, with a significant number of opinions fueled more by emotion and less by critical thinking.  For example, the constant reference to “collusion”, a term that has no legal meaning, is disconcerting because it provides an example of how people are ignoring the particulars (even when readily available for examination) and rolling with the globs of misinformation thrown onto the plate most times by the mainstream media.

Black congressional leadership wasting political power …

What should also be disturbing is how two of the highest ranking blacks in the Congress, Maxine Waters and Elijah Cummings, are spearheading the charge in the impeachment debate.  Their distaste for the sitting president is evident, but what is less evident is how the use of a potent political law instrument as impeachment is supposed to translate into any increase in political power, wealth, or capital for black people.

If anything, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has expressed caution about pursuing impeachment, appreciating the argument from some inside her party that pursuing impeachment could have a negative impact on the Democrats’ ability to oust Donald Trump from the Oval Office in November 2020.  Mrs. Pelosi’s hesitancy on impeachment should have provided Ms. Waters and Mr. Cummings an opening to show leadership and go against the impeachment grain, not because it would be in line with Speaker Pelosi’s sentiment, but as a signal that the energy expenditure behind impeachment does nothing for their prime constituency: black people.

When you are marginalized, you agitate …

With at least 51 voting members in the U.S. House, blacks in the Congress are in a position to be the pivotal swing vote on a number of issues including impeachment. Numerically, black members of the House, where articles of impeachment would originate, could clog the wheel by holding back approximately 20% of the Democratic vote.  With this leverage, black congressmen could attempt concessions from either the House leadership or from President Trump, though it is less likely that the black caucus would try to negotiate with the President for fear of becoming a pariah in the Democratic Party.

Therein lies a telling dilemma. If the premier block of black congressmen cannot leverage numerical strength without fear of reprisal, what good is their strength?  Another irony is that for a group of congressman that represent a marginalized group, their fear of marginalization within Congress does not put them in a position to do more for their black constituents.

Maybe the answer is to stay outside the box …

On the other hand, maybe blacks, particularly those who embrace their status as marginalized, need an approach to political law that allows them to carve out their own independent niche; one that unapologetically finds the seams or openings in the political economy in order to access capital or create substantive platforms for constructing true communities. Current black leadership is too afraid to do that.

Elizabeth Warren’s anti-trust approach to internet companies disregards the autonomy of making a market

Last March, U.S. Senator Elizabeth Warren, Democrat of Massachusetts, made an argument for dismantling three of the internet’s biggest portal companies: Amazon, Facebook, and Google. Ms. Warren asserts that these companies have too much power over the private lives of Americans as well as over the economy.  Through their economic and political behavior, Amazon, Facebook, and Google have, according to Ms. Warren, have stifled the ability of smaller players to enter and innovate in the internet markets.

Elizabeth Warren’s Argument

Ms. Warren asserts that Amazon, Facebook, and Google use two strategies to create dominance on the internet.  The first strategy is the use of mergers by large internet portals to effectively eliminate competition.  Under this strategy, Amazon, Facebook, and Google buy out their competition, at times, according to Ms. Warren, at a discounted price.

The second strategy used by internet portals is to create proprietary marketplaces to limit or eliminate competition.  Under this scenario, a portal like Amazon creates a competitive product for sale on its website and uses its scale to price out a competitive product that is also offered for sale on Amazon’s website.

Ms. Warren believes this dominance can be addressed by by taking two steps.  First, portals such as Amazon, Facebook, and Google would be designated as platform utilities.  This means that Facebook would have to divest itself of a service provider that competes with other service providers that use Facebook’s platform to connect to its consumers.

The Problem with Ms Warren’s Approach

Ms. Warren’s approach is similar to the regulatory approach used in the 1990s where local telephone companies that wanted to provide toll services beyond their local areas had to set up separate subsidiaries.  The two differences between the telecom scenario of the 1990s and Ms. Warren’s platform utility model is that telecoms didn’t have to divest these companies, but operated them separately.

More important, these telecom companies were still utilities exercising monopoly control of local service areas.  Until 1996, their local rates were still regulated and they still needed permission to add certain local services.  Their monopoly power resulted from the inefficiencies that would occur from multiple firms trying to provide the same telecommunications services in limited geographic space. Monopoly power granted by the state to these firms was the response by the State to the problems occurring from congestion.

The Open Internet Eliminates Monopoly Power

Amazon, Facebook, and Google, for all their dominance in the e-commerce space operate in the open internet.  In the open internet, any firm or other association of individuals with the right search algorithms, expert technical knowledge, and adequate capital, can set up servers almost anywhere in the world, and start a competing service or carve out a niche portal service.  The internet’s technical openness is rivaled only by its global nature.  Amazon, Facebook, Google may be dominant in the American e-commerce market, but constant regulatory threats by the European Union and hostility to them from China reduces their perceived dominance.  Ms. Warren has not shown how these firms can dominate a global network of 100,000 interconnected computers that operate on an open architecture.

Internet Portals are Not Utilities

It should also be mentioned that the internet itself is not a utility.  In 2015, Federal Communications Commission member Michael O’Rielly made this point during a speech.  Mr. O’Rielly said the following:

“It is important to note that Internet access is not a necessity in the day-to-day lives of Americans and doesn’t even come close to the threshold to be considered a basic human right. … People do a disservice by overstating its relevancy or stature in people’s lives. People can and do live without Internet access, and many lead very successful lives.  It is even more ludicrous to compare Internet access to a basic human right. In fact, it is quite demeaning to do so in my opinion.”

When we think of utilities, we think of monopolies that, due to their efficient delivery of vital services such as water and energy, are granted an exclusive market within which to provide those services.  As alluded to earlier, because of the open nature of the internet and its global reach, it is near impossible for one firm to have an exclusive market, unless a government decides to grant it, and that move would be irrational because government exclusivity would block the very cross-border data flows facilitated by an open internet.

Acquisition of Apps and Brick and Mortar Stores by an Internet Portal Does Not Create Monopolies

The second step Ms. Warren would take to squelch internet portal dominance would be to designate regulators that would prevent Amazon, Facebook, or Google from merging with other firms and thus eliminating competition.  She provides a couple examples: Facebook and WhatsApp; Google and Waze; Amazon and Whole Foods.  There are two problems with her examples and the conclusion that these “mergers” are not competitive.

First, these were not mergers but acquisitions. Two information portals, Facebook and Google, acquired two information assets.  Given the services these assets provide, Facebook and Google made the business judgment that adding these services to their portfolios made sense from a services and revenue perspective.  Amazon, first and foremost an online retailer, added a retail food service from which Amazon’s subscribers could purchase groceries at a discount.

Ms. Warren failed to argue how Facebook’s ownership of a messaging service keeps other firms from developing their own messaging service.  She failed to explain how Google’s acquisition of Waze keeps other technology firms from creating an app that provides drivers with directions. Ms. Warren also fails to show how Amazon is keeping, say Kroger, from creating its own grocery delivery service.

It would be one thing to say that these firms monopolized physical infrastructure to the point where other firms would see increasing costs of entry, but the internet’s openness, combined with access to technical talent and expertise and cheap capital means that the assets purchased by Amazon, Facebook, and Google are themselves subject to competition.

Conclusion: Internet Openness and its Global Nature Keeps Monopoly Power in Check

The open and global nature of the internet combined with access to expertise, talent, and cheap capital works to mitigate monopoly behavior.  As technology evolves and entrepreneurs innovate, the services rivaling WhatsApp, Waze, or even Facebook will emerge.  Given the current make-up of the Congress and the low probability of Elizabeth Warren winning the Democratic nomination, the likelihood of her proposals being enacted via law or administrative fiat is close to zero. This does not mean that internet portals concerned about this type of overreach should stay less than vigilant in preparing to push back against them.

Atlanta should avoid the net neutrality debate. It’s not good for business

Internet Innovation Alliance co-founder Bruce Mehlman posted an article yesterday discussing the positive impact relaxed regulatory requirements can have on investment in and deployment of broadband networks. According to Mr. Mehlman, investment in broadband rose by $1.5 billion to $76.3 billion.  He contrasts this to the $3.2 billion decline in investment between 2015 and 2016.

What made the difference? According to Mr. Mehlman it was the decision last year by the Federal Communications Commission to repeal their 2015 open internet order, a decision that put into regulatory code a number of net neutrality principles.  The 2015 order treated broadband access providers as telephone companies by applying consumer and telephone network management rules that were based on communications law from the 1930s.  That approach, according to Mr. Mehlman, just can’t fly in the 21st century.

Unfortunately, Washington has been embroiled in a debate over how net neutrality principles should be applied.  There is a consensus among opponents to and proponents of net neutrality principles that consumers should be able to access web content of their choice; that content providers should not have their traffic speeds throttled by broadband access providers; and that broadband access providers should be transparent about the terms and conditions of their services.  Whether a rule by a regulatory agency is the best approach to ensuring these policy goals is an issue.

Getting to yes on net neutrality may be best brought about by an action of Congress.  Defining net neutrality in the law and laying out the components of its meaning will give content providers and broadband access providers definitive guideposts that help settle any conflicts in the future.  Without a congressional action, the industry and consumers run the risk of a back and forth regulatory battle driven by changes in political power, particularly when a new presidential administration takes over and a new chairman is appointed.  That type of uncertainty every four years is not good for consumers or business.

As more people and businesses move to Atlanta, regulatory certainty becomes an asset for the person who telecommutes; for the financial technology company that needs to maintain connection to its app subscribers; to the student who relies on distance learning to complete assignments.

Treating a broadband provider facing competition from three or four more broadband providers as if they were a monopoly local telephone company in 1934 won’t contribute to Atlanta’s continued growth.

The State’s role in integrating artificial intelligence into America’s economy

Artificial intelligence has the capability of creating another resource that can be optimized or consumed by a nation-state.  Increases in computing power and better designed algorithms along with access to increasing amounts of data translates into an increased amount of information that can be extracted via machine learning.

Venture capitalist Nick Hanauer postulates that a nation’s prosperity is a function of the rate at which we solve problems.  If he is correct, then problem solving requires that we maximize the amount of available information to find the best answer.

If information is the jet fuel for a Fourth Industrial Revolution economy, data is the oil that has to be extracted and refined. Companies such as Amazon, Facebook, and Google are using machine learning to provide better customer and subscriber experiences with their product.  They are among the largest of the data miners.  Their efforts, along with those of other technology companies is expected to contribute to economic growth beyond a baseline (no-artificial intelligence) scenario.

For example, Accenture reports that labor will see an increase in productivity of 35% by the year 2035 due to the application of artificial intelligence.  Annual growth rates in value added to gross domestic product are approximated at 4.6% by 2035. With capital and labor (due to a cap on the capacity of cognitive ability) reaching their limits as contributors to increased economic growth, artificial intelligence, taking its place along capital, labor, and entrepreneurship as a factor of production, is expected to help the economy exceed its current limits in three ways:

  1. Automating physical tasks as a result of artificial intelligence’s ability to self-learn;
  2. Augmenting labor by giving labor the opportunity to focus on creativity, imagination, and innovation; and
  3. Diffusing innovation through the economy.

With these promises of growth comes the fear on the part of labor that artificial intelligence will eliminate the need for a substantial portion of current jobs.  Even while experts and academics tout artificial intelligence as a complement to labor; as an augmenter of labor’s cognitive skills, there is still the fear that this emerging technology will create a valueless human workforce.  This perception creates a dilemma for a government that sees democracy under the attack globally.  Is artificial intelligence going to exclude millions in the name of efficiency? If so, what use is there from participating equally in an electoral process of the economy leaves you out?

Government will have to prepare a messaging campaign if it is to maintain its legitimacy as a distributor of economic equity in the face of an increasingly digitized economy and society. The potential destructive nature of artificial intelligence is scarier than what has been presented in movies like “2001: A Space Odyssey” or “Terminator.” Immediate benefits of artificial intelligence may flow first to those who already have high tech skills or hold or have access to great amounts of capital. In other words, AI is the ultimate nail in the coffin for the capital gap. Those with access to or control of capital will only see their control over the data and information that feeds it get larger. If you can’t process data or package useful information, you are nonexistent. Just useless furniture. It won’t be some AI robot that kills you off. It will be a human with money and enhanced cognitive skills that decide we are valueless.

As Erik Brynjolfsson, Xiang Hui, and Meng Liu pointed out last month in an article for The Washington Post last month, “No economic law guarantees that productivity growth benefits everyone equally.  Unless we  thoughtfully manage the transition, some people, even a majority, are vulnerable to being left behind even as others reap billions.”

As Professor Yuri Harari notes, technology is not deterministic, however.  It is people who make decisions as to how their political economy will shift and change.  Brynjolfsson, Hui, and Liu note that voters need to urge policymakers to “invest in research that will design approaches to human learning for an era of machine learning.”

The evidence does not show that policymakers are being prodded to move on the issue of artificial intelligence. Not surprising since voters are not knowledgeable about the issue either.  Artificial intelligence is not on the top of any poll responses from voters.  As regards to Congress, the only major action has been companion bills S.2217 and HR4625 where Congress wants the Secretary of Commerce to establish a federal advisory committee on the development and implementation of artificial intelligence.  While the bills provide good working definitions of artificial intelligence and machine learning and has among its concerns economic productivity, job growth, and labor displacement, allowing a bill to sit in committee for ten months is not the kind of speedy intelligence that artificial intelligence needs to be complemented by.