Tales of the Sausage Factory

This Is Ready From Day 1?

In his most recent emphatic response to the financial crisis that cannot in any way be blamed on the former Chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee (because really, it was those bozos over at Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs and possibly the folks over at the Judiciary’s Subcommittee on Antitrust), former Deregulator turned Regulatory Hawk John McCain told a cheering crowd of supporters that if he were President he would fire SEC Chairman Christopher Cox.

“The chairman of the SEC serves at the appointment of the president and in my view has betrayed the public’s trust,” McCain said. “If I were president today, I would fire him.”

Firey, determined, definitely a stern rebuke to the Bush Administration and its lackeys who — although confirmed by McCain and the rest of the Republican Senate back in 2005 despite nasty bad bad partisan allegations that Cox had been involved in some shady investment schemes — certainly have nothing to do with McCain the Reformer!

Except, of course, that the Chairman of the SEC does not serve at the pleasure of the President and cannot be “fired,” only impeached by Congress. The President can “demote” Cox by redesignating someone else on the Commission as Chairman — which would probably prompt a Chair to resign before letting that happen. But still, saying you would fire someone you have no authority to fire? This is ready from Day 1?

I suppose I could give McCain the benefit of the doubt and assume he knows the actual law, and that he was just shorthanding “I can’t actually fire him, but I would certainly embarrass him and harass him out of a job faster than a Wasilla Librarian who refused to censor books!” To the more dramatic “I would fire him and then be all embarrassed when I was told I can’t actually do that.” But either way, it’s a pretty stupid response when McCain spent all his time as Chair of the Commerce Committee perfectly happy with the way the SEC regulated the financial sector. (I know, I know, wrong committee, not my fault . . . .)

Stay tuned . . . .

Posted in General, Tales of the Sausage Factory | Also tagged , , , , | Comments closed

Tales of the Sausage Factory

Republicans Begin To Understand the Poitics of Fear (That They Won't Be Reelected): Senate Rejects Relaxation of Ownership Rules

One of the things the Republicans did when they controlled Congress was to set up a process by which Congress could directly overrule an administrative agency. Called a “Resolution of Disapproval,” it must be passed by both houses of Congress and signed by the President like any other law. But the effect is to wipe away the agency action and restore the status quo to life before the agency action.

In 2003, when the FCC first relaxed the media ownership rules into practical non-existence, Congress was still firmly in Republican control. Mind you, many Republicans also disliked the FCC decision and wanted to see it overruled. Some disliked eliminating ownership limits because they understood that if a few companies control the news and therefore control public opinion, the own you forever. Others only hated the FCC relaxation of ownership rules because their constituents absolutely hated the relaxation of ownership rules and made that clear in no uncertain terms. But the Republican Congressional leadership stood staunchly with the Bush Administration (which backed the FCC’s decision to deregulate) and they prevented it from ever coming to a vote on the floor of the House.

Flash forward to now. Back in December, the FCC voted to relax the newspaper-broadcast cross ownership limit. Senator Dorgan introduced a Resolution of Disapproval back in March. Despite a strongly worded veto threat by the White House, the Senate passed the resolution last night in a near unanimous vote. I say “near unanimous” because it was a voice vote, which means that it is impossible to tell the exact number or who voted how, but that it must have had overwhelming support since no one asked for a roll call vote.

After years of exploiting the politics of fear, the Republicans are learning a politics of fear all their own. It does not matter that this was a Republican FCC, or that the Bush White House is threatening a veto. After two losses within two weeks in “safe” southern districts, the fabled Republican Party discipline is disolving into a mad scramble for the lifeboats. With the public in an ugly mood and conservatives now once again on the receiving end of “media bias,” no one wants to go on record proudly standing by “our beloved Commander and Chief” to defend Rupert Murdoch’s right to own as many newspaper/television combinations as he can grab.

It’s not over yet, of course. Not by a long shot. While I would certainly hope and expect that Pelosi will schedule a vote in the House as soon as possible, I also expect Bush will veto the bill. That would require the House and Senate to vote for an overide, which may prove a harder thing to do — especially once the President and his big media buddies start twisting arms and calling in favors. But while we can’t afford to grow overconfident or assume this fight is won, we can certainly feel both that the momentum is on our side and that we have accomplished something really huge here.

And, in my nasty neurons and snarky receptors, I am savoring the new “Republican politics of fear.”

Stay tuned . . . . .

Posted in Media Ownership, Tales of the Sausage Factory | Also tagged , , , , | 6 Comments (Comments closed)

Econoklastic

And Now for D Block

It’s apparent to anyone who has been following the 700 MHz auction that the plan to allocate spectrum for a nationwide public safety network which would allow a private company to deploy the infrastructure and sell access to the network to private users, who could be preempted by public safety users in an emergency, isn’t going to happen. D Block has miserably failed to reach its reserve price for a number of reasons, not the least of which was the apparent bullying of Frontline by the Public Safety Spectrum Trust’s agent Morgan O’Brien which led to Frontline’s withdrawal from the auction.

Fellow Wetmachiner Harold Feld’s trenchant analysis lays out the options for D Block. I have a few things to say on the matter as well.

A national public safety broadband system is a vital national security interest of the United States. The notion of handing vital national security infrastructure over to private enterprise is one of the worst ideas the Bush administration has ever had. It hasn’t worked well in Iraq and it’s a non-starter for D Block. Let’s drive a stake through the heart of the idea that private providers can more efficiently deliver a vital public good than government can. The FCC should simply shelve the D Block proposal until the new Congress is elected.

The new Congress should definitively decide whether a national public safety network is, as the 911 Commission opined, a vital national security need. If so, it should appropriate the funds for the federal government to build and deploy the necessary infrastructure. It’s what Dwight Eisenhower did with the interstate highway system. The 700 MHz auction has already raised nearly twice the projected revenue. Either a national public safety is needed or it isn’t.

Such a federally-built public safety network offers an additional benefit. There is little additional marginal cost to building a network which allows capacity to be used by others while allowing public safety to preempt them during emergencies. Such capacity could be offered at cost to municipalities for community wireless broadband networks. The presence of such a government-owned network would force the major wireless broadband providers to cease redlining rural and inner-city America, closing the digital divide, as well as provide partial reimbursal to the Treasury for the costs of building the network. We would have our third broadband pipe, and it would be a joint federal-state-local asset.

If a national public safety broadband network is needed, we should do it right and the government should build it, or the Democrats and Republicans in Congress should publicly admit that there is no compelling national security need. And if it is built, it should be built with the benefit of all Americans in mind, not just the profits of the corporate greed machine.

Probably won’t happen, for all the reasons Harold cited. But it makes me nostalgic for a visionary like Dwight Eisenhower (and those are words I don’t often utter).

Posted in Econoklastic, General | Also tagged , , , , | 2 Comments (Comments closed)

Tales of the Sausage Factory

Have The Senate Democrats Finally Learned?

With the Protect America Act (aka FISA on ‘roids) set to expire at 12:01 a.m. Friday, and the Senate deadlocked on the question of immunity for telcos, the Administration once again tried to employ its favorite strategy. Rather than support any kind of extension the Bush Administration is demanding that the Senate pass telco immunity or risk a veto. The conservative chorus brays how the Democrats are outing national security at risk. And why not play chicken with a vital issue of national security? This strategy has worked for Bush time and again, with no real consequences.

Still, the script did not go quite to schedule this time. When it became clear that the President could not force through the Senate Bill he wanted and get the needed changes in the House (the House Bill does not contain immunity for telcos), the President backed down and grudgingly agreed to a 15-day extension of the existing “Protect America Act.”

The question here is whether or not the Senate Democrats have learned that the temper of the country has changed. We all care about national security. But increasingly, the American people have grown disgusted with the way this Administration plays politics with national security and whittles away at civil liberties. But many Democratic leaders remain traumatized by the 2002 elections, when voters caught up in the post-9/11 scare and the hype in preparation for the invasion of Iraq decided to overlook things like the Enron and Worldcom scandals and voted out war heroes like Max Clealand who expressed even the slightest doubt about supporting our Commander in Chief in “this time of war.” And so, despite the election of anti-war Democrats in 2006, despite the President’s abysmal approval ratings, despite the fact that the majority of Americans now consider the Iraq War an enormous mistake and want to see it ended, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and the President’s media cheer leading squad continue to use the same rhetoric as if it were still 2002, and too many Democrats still tremble.

Let us be perfectly clear. The one issue delaying this bill is the question of retroactive immunity for Bush’s telco pals. While I understand why Bush would go to the wire for his buddies, why any Democrat would voluntarily so undermine the rule of law baffles me. The one conclusion I can reach is that too many of them remain mired in the belief that if the Democrats are seen as “playing politics with national security” then they will lose in ’08.

But as Chris Dodd and some other Senate Democrats understand, and as the House Democrats understood when they passed a bill without the telco immunity provision, the universe has changed since 2002. Even if political exigencies justified such an abandonment of principle as granting telcos retroactive immunity, too many Senate Democrats have the political calculation wrong. With the Democrats chosing among candidates determined to end the war and both of whom have promised to fight telco immunity, and with Republicans poised to nominate the man who has consistently defied the Administration on torture and other issues where the Administration has played the “national security” card, the message from the people should be clear: The free ride for the Administration to savage our civil liberties is over! The panic is past, and our natural distrust of a government granted unlimited power to “protect us” has returned.

I hope that the members of the Senate, particularly the Democratic members who have supported telco immunity, will take these two weeks to learn this valuable lesson. Because if you act as if it were still 2002, and give the President everything he asks for, you may indeed succeed in setting back the clock. In 2006, the American people proved we had enough of wireless wire tapping, and that enough of us were finally willing to vote out a party that supported an assault on our civil liberties. Must we prove that lesson again in 2008, by once again voting out a party that, to praphrase Benjamin Franklin, seeks to trade liberty for security only to discover it has neither?

All the rights they promise — all the wrongs they bring
Stewards of the Judgment, suffer not this king!

Stay tuned . . . .

Posted in How Democracy Works, Or Doesn't, Tales of the Sausage Factory | Also tagged , , , , | 4 Comments (Comments closed)

Tales of the Sausage Factory

Why Teens Are Smarter Than Regulators — The Difference between Ubiquity and Substitutibility

Greetings gentle reader! Welcome to another chapter in my occasional series “What All Policy Wonks Need to Understand About Economics So They Can Spot The Industry Baloney” aka “The Econ 101 Gut Check.”

In today’s lesson, we look at two concepts often confused with one another. UBIQUITY, which means how widely available something is; and SUBSTITUTIBALITY, which means whether people regard one thing as a substitute for their first choice. Most arguments for deregulation of the media and the internet rest on confusing these related but very different concepts. For example, the argument that the availability of video clips on YouTube or other types of content creation confuses ubiquity and substitubality, as does the argument that cellphones compete with DSL and cable for broadband access.

But according to this USA Today article (reporting on this study by the PEW Internet and American life project), teenagers who actually use this stuff on a regular basis understand the differences perfectly. And if regulators, policy types, or even just folks who care about getting it right for its own sake want to get our national media and broadband polices right, then we better learn from these teenagers and get the difference between ubiquity and substitutibility straight.

Class begins below . . . .

Read More »

Posted in General, Series of Tubes, Tales of the Sausage Factory | Also tagged , , , , , , , | 3 Comments (Comments closed)

Tales of the Sausage Factory

Action Alert: Senate Judiciary Mark Up On FISA — Call To Oppose Telco Immunity

The Senate Judiciary Committee is scheduled to mark up the FISA reform legislation today, Thursday November 15.

The bottom line is that now is the time to call the Senate Judiciary Committee and ask them to oppose retroactive immunity for telecom companies that helped the Bush administration spy on Americans without warrant.

MYDD has this post with a call to action and announces that they will cover the cost of your phone call to the Senate Judiciary members. Follow the link to Chris Dodd’s campaign website to take action now!

[UPDATE 7:14 PM Thursday, by John]: I just got an email from Senator Dodd’s office announcing victory in the Judiciary Committee today. I’ll enter the letter in a comment below the fold.

Stay tuned . . . .

Posted in How Democracy Works, Or Doesn't, Tales of the Sausage Factory | Also tagged , , , | 2 Comments (Comments closed)

Econoklastic

The Best Senator Money Can Buy

The mainstream media is finally picking up on the real story behind Senator Jay Rockefeller’s (D-WV) push for immunity for the big telecom companies for cooperating with the Bush administration in illegally surveilling the communications of U.S. citizens: the huge spike in telco contributions to Rockefeller in 2007, particularly from AT&T and Verizon executives. According to today’s Washington Post, AT&T and Verizon have given $47,350 in 2007, up from $5,000 in 2006 and $7,000 in 2005.

AT&T attributes the increase to Rockefeller being a senior Democrat on the Senate Commerce Committee up for reelection in 2008. However, the contributions from all other major telecoms companies belie this excuse: $4,000 in 2005, $4,900 in 2006, and $5,250 in 2007. The rest of the telecoms industry raised their contributions to Rockefeller by 7.14% in 2007; AT&T and Verizon increased their contributions by 847%.

I’d say the difference has more to do with Rockefeller chairing the Senate Intelligence Committee and shepherding legislation which would free AT&T and Verizon from roughly 40 pending lawsuits which charge the telcos with violating the privacy rights of U.S. citizens by cooperating with the Bush administration’s warrantless surveillance programme.

The story of the AT&T and Verizon contributions was broken by Ryan Singel on Wired’s Threat Level blog.

This is one more example of why progressives need to treat the Democratic Congress with the same skeptical eye that they did the Republicans. Rockefeller has sold out to the telcos and progressives should respond by refusing to support his reelection. It’s better to see real enemies in office than false friends who can be bought to betray you; it would be even better to see real progressives in primary challenges to Democrats who are bought by corporate interests.

Posted in Econoklastic, General | Also tagged , , , , , , , | 3 Comments (Comments closed)

Tales of the Sausage Factory

I Go Away for a Week and AT&T Gets Cocky

So I trot off to enjoy my regular vacation from the 21st Century at the annual Pennsic War to discover that AT&T has taken my brief absence as an excuse to get cocky and suck up even more to the Bush Administration by block Pearl Jam’s anti-W lyrics. “Oopsie,” says AT&T. “All an honest mistake! Really!” Except — surprise! — it now appears that AT&T may also have blocked other groups during other live performances when criticizing Bush.

Isn’t it amazing how these “accidents” always seem to go in one direction rather than another? For example, wasn’t it just the most amazing coincidence last year when Comcast “accidently” snipped off an embarassing clip from a video on demand news report?

One may ask why these companies try to get away with such nonesense. The answer is (a) it doesn’t hurt them to try; and (b) they do get away with it. Especially when it comes to time sensitive speech, there is really no penalty for AT&T, Comcast, or any other megacorp with market power to engage in this form of corporate censorship.

On the other hand, as I observed recently, the potential rewards of sucking up to this administration can be quite considerable. AT&T has certainly shown it knows how to suck up to this Administration. And, in return, the Bush Administration Department of Justice let through the AT&T/BellSouth merger with a nod and a wink.

So we can expect to continue to see such “accidents” in the future, while the corporations and their cheerleaders brush off such corporate censorship as inconsequential random events that cannot possibly warrant prophylactic regulation. That we have achieved the worst excess of government censorship through the simple expedient of outsourcing is ignored and disregarded by these Libertarian defenders of the status quo in much the same way they ignore the reality that certain forms of regulation are a necessary prerequisite to genuinely competitive markets. But better the forms of free speech and the trappings of competition then actual free speech and real competition — if the cost of achieving either is to admit a flaw in the sacred dogma of the Gods of the Marketplace.

Stay tuned . . . .

Posted in Censorship Public and Private, Tales of the Sausage Factory | Also tagged , , , | 4 Comments (Comments closed)

Tales of the Sausage Factory

700 MHz Endgame: Has AT&T Asked Bush to Put Thumb On Scale?

Unsurprisingly, in the swirl of folks around this week’s House Commerce “iPhone” Hearing, rumors and gossip about the 700 MHz Endgame abounded. In the nasty-but-sadly-believable category comes a rumor that the Bells have asked (through a wholly owned subsidiary in the House) for the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) to do a “study” on whether any open access condition (of any definition) or other incumbent restriction (such as the spectrum caps urged by the Public Interest Spectrum Coalition) will depress auction revenue.

To those who know how these things usually work, the first question is “Why Ask OMB and not the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) or the Congressional Research Service (CRS), which usually do this sort of thing?” And to those of us who have lived through the last 6 years of an Administration that spells “research” P-R-O-P-O-G-A-N-D-A will cynically answer, “because that way the telcos can make sure they get the ‘right’ result.” Unlike CBO or CRS, which are under the control of Congress and generally take their research pretty seriously, OMB is directly under the control of the Bush administration.

Man, Telco spying for NSA is just the gift that keeps on giving. First the Bush Justice Department behaves like a nice little lap doggie and rolls over and plays dead for AT&T buying BellSouth. Then Bush tried to give the Bells retroactive immunity for what they did. Now, according to rumor, Bush will help the telcos rig the auction to keep the status quo.

Some needed background and why the oft-repeated idea that open access will automatically reduce auction revenue is a load of nonsense below . . . .

Read More »

Posted in Spectrum, Tales of the Sausage Factory | Also tagged , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment (Comments closed)

Tales of the Sausage Factory

Last Month's FCC Network Neutrality Items

Sorry this is so late, but it’s been a busy time, what with Passover and the rush for the FCC’s upcoming 700 MHz auction. But I figure it is still worthwhile to keep folks updated on net neutrality at the FCC.

Of course, last month’s FCC meeting had a lot going on. Take a gander at the agenda for the March FCC meeting (March 22). Notice anything unusual? Yep, it’s veerrrrrryyyyy loooooonnnnnggggg. Thirteen items. So long, in fact, that Chairman Martin called an “intermission” in the middle. At one point Commissioner McDowell sheepishly admited he was still drafting his separate statement on the item to be voted, becasuse he hadn’t gotten a chance beforehand.

I wish I had time to go into detail on these things. I hope to eventually catch up and write about things like the access to inside wiring proceeding and the digital radio rules.

But for now, I will limit myself to the declaratory ruling ruling on wireless services and the Notice of Inquiry on Net Neutrality. As discussed below, the FCC majority once again proves that while they can’t deregulate fast enough, taking action to protect our right to speak freely with one another always needs “more study.”

More below . . . .

Read More »

Posted in General, Tales of the Sausage Factory | Also tagged , , , , , | 1 Comment (Comments closed)
  • Connect With Us

    Follow Wetmachine on Twitter!

Username
Password

If you do not have an account: Register