The Internet meets GOP “reality”

I’ve been steaming about Net Neutrality for a week now. I think I’m as upset about this as about anything Trump has done so far. I’m not sure why. Despite prognostications that the Internet will suddenly drastically change without Net Neutrality, it’s pretty unlikely.

Yes, ISP’s have tried to throttle traffic in the past — Netflix seems to be a particular target — but I don’t think it’s likely to happen on a wide scale, at least anytime soon. First, the optics of that would be terrible and people would call for a return of net neutrality and this would be an ultimate loss for ISPs. Second, it’s not as if you won’t be able to get Netflix, or Google or Amazon or other companies overnight, and those companies could pay anyway.  Two things would happen without net neutrality: 1) prices for faster lanes would get passed onto consumers and 2) startups would have a harder time competing.

Those are both bad, but they miss the point. Because despite the argument, this isn’t actually about Net Neutrality for the ISPs. This is about price regulation. See, when the FCC was denied authority to enforce Net Neutrality via their old framework, they reclassified ISPs under a different regulation, which essentially classified them as monopoly telephone companies. This gives the government the ability to control way more than net neutrality, most notably by controlling prices.

Now, ISPs are about the most hated companies in the country. They’re more hated than any company since, well, the old telephone monopolies. Terrible service, inflated prices and a poor product tend to do that. I think ISP’s are terrified that the government will step in and say “you don’t get to charge $50 for broadband that’s so slow it doesn’t actually qualify under the definition of broadband.”

So maybe ISPs are right to be scared. We can leave the debate for whether they SHOULD be regulated for another time. But I think what’s bothering me so much is just the sheer audacity of the lies they’re telling to make it even slightly palatable to their base. Let’s be clear, this is really unpopular. The lies are not intended to convince everyone they’re right. They’re just intended to give the conservative media a point they can defend so they have SOME support in their corner.

Let’s be clear. Nobody believes that telling monopolies and duopolies that they can’t discriminate against websites that consumers are trying to reach is “micromanaging the internet.” The “analyses” showing that broadband investment is down are transparently slanted to show a trend that isn’t there.

The fact is, this is just another example of President Moneybags selling out to rich donors and lobbyists and acting against the interests of Americans. And as long as he can keep his base focused on guns, gays, abortion, God and immigration, he can get away with whatever the hell he wants. I wonder if they’re ever stop buying it.

Double Standards

The Al Franken controversy is hard for me. I’d like to think I’m above things like Confirmation Bias and Cognitive Dissonance. But to be truly open minded is to be aware of your shortcomings and biases. I like Al Franken. He’s my favorite Senator by far and was well before I read his excellent book Giant of the Senate a few months back.

I love that he just goes and stands up for his constituents without seeking glory. He grills committee witnesses, but not for the camera. He doesn’t seem to be doing all this to climb the ladder for the next highest office. And he’s one of only a couple of politicians that don’t strike me as steeped in the power structure of the party. Even politicians I like have this slimy feel, like they’ve had to just play the game so they could please the right people, the powerful people, and get money and backing from the party powers that be. I don’t get that feel from Al. I’m sure he is steeped in it more than it seems, but he really seems to want to just do this because he wants to make a positive difference.

So when news first broke on this, I didn’t want to believe it. I hoped that it wasn’t true. It only took about 20 minutes before Al himself confirmed it. Man, that stung. Talk about disappointment, even if he probably said about the best thing you could have said in hindsight, it doesn’t take away his terrible actions. I think I’m not the only liberal struggling. 

How can we say that powerful men that have abused their positions must be removed if we can’t do the same ourselves? How can we defend against accusations of double standards with Trump and Roy Moore if we can’t clean our own house?

But those are political questions. What we need to really understand is where this movement is going. I have so many women I care about that have been subject to discrimination and inappropriate behavior. This can’t go on, but I don’t know how we get there. I do, however, know a couple of things:

  1. We can’t fire every single man in America, or even every single famous and powerful man, who has acted inappropriately.
  2. And if we try to, there will be a massive backlash against the movement.

Now, I’m not sure where either path leads us. With Trump in office, this issue isn’t going away soon. Funny how winning an election often motivates the opposition into creating real change sometimes. But sometimes being riled up just leads to a million people proposing a thousand things and none of it comes through. The movement needs to have an end.

So off the cuff (literally I’m thinking this up as I type it) here’s what I propose:

First, this isn’t just about sexual predation. Just as insidious are the bosses who say that “you can’t do that because you’re a woman” or worse yet never even say that but still hold them back. Obviously trading sexual favors for advancement is despicable, but the general holding back of women in the workplace is an everyday occurrence for a huge number of women. This movement needs to send a message that discriminating against women will not be tolerated, and that even very powerful men can be brought down.

Second, we need to clean our own house first. Possibly the worst of this is in government. itself. The reports coming out of statehouses and legislating bodies are terrible, and you probably could have guessed it even without those reports. And I have talked with a woman in federal law enforcement that has had to endure systemic sexism that would practically bring down the CEO of a private company if it happened on his watch. Democrats need to crack the whip on government Cabinet heads.

Third, we need a legislative agenda. I think something which makes it easier for women who have been discriminated against to seek justice in courts would be a potential start.

Fourth, we need a way to figure out how to listen to women and respect their stories without calling for the hanging of any man accused of harassment before the facts can come out.

For example, is this common behavior from Franken or is it out of character? What was the context? Did he have power over this woman (women)? How serious was the transgression? Yes, he should be censured. Yes, he should face consequences. Yes, he has fallen off his pedestal, probably permanently. But dare I say it, if there is any gray area, then we at least need to consider the whole of the good of the man. Heaven forbid I be judged on the single worst thing I’ve ever done in my life.

Context matters. Bill Clinton was a horndog who had no self control when a young intern threw herself at him. It’s disgusting and he is forever disgraced by it, and it still followed Hillary to the end. But he also didn’t use his power over her for sexual favors. And he didn’t hit on high school girls who didn’t welcome his advances like Roy Moore. There are degrees of evil.

Kevin Space is apparently a drunken lecher who will shamelessly and aggressively hit on any young hunk of meat that crosses his path. And yet, in none of the reports about him does any accuser say that he refused to stop when they said no, or that he exercised his power over them to control their careers, at least that I’ve read. It’s terrible behavior, but compare that to Weinstein, who systematically (over decades) used young actresses — over which he wielded almost judge-like power — to ruin or build their careers for sexual favors. It’s probably the creepiest kind of sexism I can think of.

Neither is acceptable, but should both get the same punishment of permanent banishment from Hollywood? They probably will, but as more accusations come out against more actors and producers, each with their own unique circumstances and nuances, it will get harder and harder to instantly evict them all, and we’ll have to ask ourselves: how do we listen and respect accusers without a knee jerk lynch mob?

And let Al Franken know, because he’s wondering the same thing. Is he an immature horndog like Bill Clinton? A serial aggressor like Kevin Spacey? A comedian who didn’t know where to draw the line? And will it matter, or will he get the banished just the same?

Chew on that bone Republicans. Chew away!

Once again, the republicans just can’t let it go. They’re so DESPERATE to pass what they promised, nevermind that nobody actually wants that.  Now they’re adding Obamacare repeal to the tax plan.

They just…can’t…let…it…go.

They might say they’re only repealing the mandate, but the law falls apart without it. It’s not like Obama just felt like making everyone buy insurance because he’s a closet commie.

But this time it’s more complicated because it’s being added to find more money to pay for tax cuts for the rich. See, Republicans have to stay within 1.5 trillion over a decade or they can’t pass this within the stupid rules in the Senate that were never designed to be used this way. But since their agenda is never going to be bipartisan, that’s where we are.

But I digress. They have to stay within $1.5T, and the corporate tax cut alone will cost, even using conservative estimates, $1.1T after accounting for increased growth. Throw in another $300B for repealing the estate tax and all you’ve got left is window dressing to be able to say it’s really a middle class tax cut. Hence the scramble to find ways to increase other taxes without pissing off their voters.

How they’ll make this work is a mystery (even aside from the fact that increasing the deficit for economic stimulation seems like a bad idea in an already strong economy) and as far as I can see, they’re just trying to pass SOMETHING so they can hammer it out in Senate/House conference.

But there are only so many possibilities. Republicans REALLY don’t like being hemmed in by reality. They kept trying to come up with some magical solution to ensure everyone is covered by affordable health insurance without requiring healthy people to buy health insurance. They keep trying to find some inexplicable cause for why our planet is warming (cosmic radiation!) even though we know it’s either the sun or the atmosphere, and it’s not the sun. Now they want to believe they can find at least half a trillion in wasteful tax deductions without hurting significant portions of the middle class. There are just only so many places to look. Mortgage interest deduction, state and local tax deduction and charitable interest deduction.

All of these are pretty popular among the upper middle class. Whether we should have them is perfectly debatable, but when your chief salesperson sells this tax cut as a cut for the middle class that won’t benefit the wealthy, you’re kinda backed into a corner.

The corporate tax cut SHOULD be cut. The Laffer Curve is usually pretty laughable, but this is one of those times when cutting taxes could actually be revenue neutral. But that’s at about 30%, maybe even 28%. That sounds like a really good idea right? But republicans blazed past that and just kept right on going until it seemed obscene.

I don’t think of myself as especially anti-corporate, but does anyone think that what we really need right now is to increase profits for major international corporations? Not that it’s bad, it’s just not the pressing need our country faces right now. And it’s a terrible way to stimulate the economy.

I’m not sure what republicans will pass on this. Surely they’ll pass something. If they’re smart, they’ll pull the corporate tax cut back to AT LEAST 25% and drop their push on the estate tax. Do that and this gets a whole lot easier.

The President’s war with the news media just got real

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As inappropriate as his past comments have been, they haven’t carried any official weight, but all of the sudden, this is a serious problem.

AT&T has been told by the US Department of Justice that it needs to sell CNN, Time Warner’s cable news channel, to get its $84.5bn acquisition of the media company approved, according to three people with direct knowledge of the negotiations.

There are a few different versions of the story going around, but either way it’s a problem. In the worse case, this is nothing short of dictator-style strong arm tactics and an impeachable offense for sure.

In the best case, this is people who want the merger to go through trying to use this to make Trump look bad so it will get approved. But even if it’s the latter, this still shows just how inappropriate the President has been acting, because it opens him up to this kind of accusation and affects official policy.

I’m not sure if Trump doesn’t know that it’s inappropriate to bash the media and pressure the Justice Department to investigate your political opponents, or if he just doesn’t care, but this is probably as upsetting to me as any twitter or speech insult he has thrown out there. Freedom of the press and the justice system from authoritarian strong men is as fundamental to our democracy as anything.

2 trends from last night’s election that will determine if the GOP finally turns on Trump

Democrats are absolutely giddy about last night’s elections. The press is loudly pronouncing that this is a repudiation of Trump and a foreshadowing of 2018’s mid-terms. Much of that feels like putting the cart before the horse. But there were two trends that seem significant, and you can bet republicans are watching them right now. How they decide to interpret those trends could either push them closer to Trump’s agenda or finally drive them away from him. Continue reading

New study claims link between smoking and cancer

A groundbreaking new government study risks the ire of President Trump by claiming that smoking causes cancer. Author of the report, Dr. Obnoxiously Obvious, said “This report confirms what we have known for decades.” Asked for a quote from the White House, Baghdad Bob said…I mean Sarah Huckabee Sanders said, “This report confirms the need for more study on whether smoking causes cancer. Calls to disrupt an industry that provides thousands of jobs to Americans without absolute proof are premature.”

Link to smoking causes cancer

Republicans and the case of the curious tax cuts

It used to be that republicans were the adults. The grown ups had to make the hard decisions. “You can’t have everything you want, we have to pay for it,” they said.  Well, at least that’s what they said. We’re learning that the GOP will say pretty much anything plausible to defend their desired outcome.

This was the party that couldn’t give us fiscal stimulus to get us out of the great recession. Dems made the stimulus much smaller than economists said was necessary to get GOP votes, and they didn’t get a single GOP vote anyway. This was the party adamant that we had to jeopardize our very creditworthiness with the debt ceiling fights, refusing to pay for spending we already authorized, because spending was out of control. OUT OF CONTROL, I SAY!!! This is the party that couldn’t bring itself to support things like hurricane aid, children’s health insurance or a host of other obviously needed things without offsetting the funding somewhere else.

But now that they want to get something passed, all that piety about fiscal responsibility is out the window. The supposed deficit hawks either never were in the first place, or folded faster than cheap card table on Jello wrestling night at the Elk’s Lodge. Putting on his best hypnotic eyes prop, republican Steve Womack said:

“I believe that the biggest remedy for our fiscal situation is growth in the economy,” he added. “I am not averse to some deficit spending in order to create long-term sustained growth.”

For those of you versed in the art of bullshit, he’s saying “we were insincere in our past criticisms of deficit spending.” You also saw a key republican admit that he’s counting on the tax cuts to pay for themselves over time. It’s unreal they’re still trying to sell this shit as fertilizer.

Meanwhile on the left, liberals are screaming at the top of their lungs so that not a single dem steps out of line, calling this Trump’s waterloo.  This type of opposition is harmful and makes Americans cynical about government. They just want government to do the right thing. Putting aside republican hypocrisy and liberal schadenfreude, could good come out of this?

Three problems

First: The Mr. Moneybags problem

The biggest problem the GOP has is that their package benefits the wealthy. They are highly aware of this, as they dropped their demand to lower their highest tax bracket (though they did raise the income needed to hit it to a million bucks). But the biggest cuts to the wealthy come in the form of killing the Estate Tax and reducing corporate taxes.

Now, to be clear, corporate taxes do need to come down. The problem for the GOP is that in order to help large businesses with a genuinely useful tax cut, they can’t just screw smaller businesses and make a two level tax system. Unfortunately, we already have that as large corporations take advantage of extensive loopholes that smaller businesses can’t afford. But the GOP effort to even this out with a pass through business tax cut just makes things messy and complicated for small businesses. I think the GOP’s heart is mostly in the right place here, regardless of their corporate fundraising motivations, even if it doesn’t quite work.

The Estate Tax on the other hand, is another matter entirely. This is just a transparent giveaway to wealthy donors. You have to be so rich to get hit by this that even most congressmen will ever pay it. The “Death Tax” is sold as a penalty you have to pay for dying. If that were so, I would have no problem repealing this. They money you get from it is small enough that it would only pay for 8% or so of our non-defense discretionary budget. Ok, maybe not nothing.

But the real reason we need the Estate Tax, and the reason it was created in the first place, is to prevent an aristocratic society like colonial England, where wealth and power accumulated in the hands of an elite class…not unlike modern America. Think I’m joking? Watch republicans trip over themselves chasing a few dozen wealthy donors.

Candidates scrambling for donor help is nothing new. But the early efforts this year to secure big-name funders have further blurred the hazy lines between candidates and unlimited-money outside groups, while reshaping Senate races around the country — propelling unknown candidates to prominence, scaring off potential opponents and heralding millions of dollars of outside spending as Republicans prepare for tough campaigns against Democratic senators.

The really notable part of that quote is “scaring off potential opponents.” We’ve created a system where a handful of kingmakers decide which candidates even get to be in the race. Even at the presidential election level, a single donor can keep a primary candidate in the running for months.

And surely you need not look to actual legislation, where the most insidious bills pass almost unnoticed and clearly benefit only a handful of wealthy donors and corporations.

Second: The rationale problem

The second problem the GOP has is that their justifications are so flimsy that they barely pass as excuses at all. In one article, they tout how the economy is doing better than it has been in decades, but then say how this is needed to boost the economy. We’re already at 4.1% unemployment. What do they think is going to happen by juicing the economy even more? Sure, some people would like to have better jobs, but giving tax cuts isn’t going to fundamentally restructure our entire economy to give low skill workers better jobs.

Trump’s economists say the corporate tax cut will raise wages by a laughable $4,000. I mean literally laughable. I’m not sure how they stood on the podium, or keyboard or wherever they made these proclamations, and kept a straight face. The last tax cut for “job creators” that was supposed to help American workers ended up getting mostly invested overseas in emerging markets. True, this tax cut would help repatriate profits, but you know as well as I that it’s more likely to go to investors, or private jets, or just about anywhere that doesn’t involve paying workers a crisp dollar bill more than they have to to retain employees.

But perhaps most convincingly, tax cuts just don’t work to juice the economy. Sure, it can be stimulative. But even ignoring the offsetting deficit problems, the effect is swamped by larger economic factors.

Third: The GOP is desperate for a win, even if it’s a bad win

I actually don’t have a problem with some of the proposals. I don’t think the government should be subsidizing home buying (maybe once it was a good idea) or paying for up to a third of someone’s state taxes. But the current proposal accomplishes neither major and meaningful reform, nor does it effectively stimulate the economy at a time when it is needed.

Oh, and if you didn’t notice, despite the strongest economy in a long time, we still have a deficit so large that we have to borrow to pay for almost 100% of our non-defense discretionary spending. Think about that. Every non-defense government program you can think of outside of medicare, medicaid, social security, food stamps and welfare is unfunded.  That’s more remarkable when you consider the first two are self funded. Now you know why republicans are having such a hard time finding spending cuts. It’s already razor thin.

And the GOP thinks we need a tax cut.

Finally, the GOP is simultaneously a dog with a bone and a teenager fretting about getting laid. They’re the dog because they just don’t have any idea what they stand for without being a) against Obama and b) for tax cuts. It’s so ingrained in them that it’s honestly going to be fascinating what happens if they actually succeed here. Will they try to pass ANOTHER tax cut? It seems ridiculous, but the Laffer Curve was just as ridiculous when the GOP passed their last deficit-exploding tax cut under Bush. I thought back then, “what will they do now?” Will they eventually propose negative taxes?

And they’re also a fretting teenager because they’re so worked up about passing SOMETHING, ANYTHING so they can look like they can govern that they seem to have lost sight of whether they care if their bill is good or not. It’s as if when they pass this all the pressure to govern will be off, and they can just go back to gutting environmental and consumer protections and investigating Hillary.

But again, what happens if they succeed? Trump seems to think this will make him a republican hero and leader. Politico posed the potential opposite. With no agenda to pass anymore, will the GOP have no reason to make nice with a president that has been attacking them? It could actually leave him even more isolated and attacked by his own party.

And of course don’t forget that the tax cut has to actually do some good. What happens when the economy doesn’t get juiced? When workers don’t benefit? When the deficit explodes?  I suppose creating their own reality was never a problem before.