Tales of the Sausage Factory

Guest Post: Bailout Or Bust

I’m pleased to post a guest blog posting from Professor Alan L. Feld of Boston University School of Law. Two disclaimers are in order. First, the views expressed herein by Prof. Feld are his own, and not those of B.U. Second, he is my Dad — a matter on which I am quite pleased and proud.

For his position on the proposed auto industry bail out, see below . . . .

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My Thoughts Exactly

Bush and Paulson to Nation: “UP AGAINST THE WALL, MOTHERFUCKERS!!”

If you’re not reading Atrios as the class war goes into high gear (the money class has the virtual Panzers and hellfires fired from drones and legions of off-the-books Blackwater goons, but to quote the late great tripped-out lizard king himself, ‘you got the guns but we got the numbers’), you really should be. I love this dog bark: Nationalize it all, baby. It’s Kapitalism with a kapital k! Fuck yeah! And don’t forget to bail out Phil Graham’s foreign bank while you’re at it.

This is fun! The Republicanism of the Bush/Cheney/Rove/Norquist era has always been about nihilism, the pure joy of fucking shit up, vandalism, destruction, and setting loose the dogs of war. But until now they’ve pretended it was about other stuff. As the movie comes to its climax, Dracula is showing his fangs: no more pretense of being a misunderstood minor aristocrat from foreign Transylvania. It’s bloodsucking time, suckas, and you sure look tasty to me!

Man, I’ve got to find my old Jefferson Airplane records. There’s a song a need to hear, the perfect soundtrack for this rape and plunder, the New Republican Anthem :


We are forces of chaos and anarchy
Everything they say we are, we are
And we are very
Proud of ourselves
Up against the wall
Up against the wall, motherfucker
Tear down the walls
Tear down the walls

But please, President Bush, don’t be so totally mean. I mean, don’t bogart that joint, dawg. Everybody needs to get toked up to watch this show, dontcha think?

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Inventing the Future

Everyone in the Pool

The US Senate just passed a bill to outlaw discrimination in employment or insurance based on genetic testing. No one voted against it. It is expected to pass the house and be signed by President Bush.

No one thinks it’s ok to base insurance on genetic information?

Then why the hell do we allow insurers to charge so much more based on the absence of a Y chromosome? (I own a day care that is unusual in providing insurance for our staff. They are mostly women, and the extra costs are staggering.)

I had thought that insurance was supposed to be about pooled risk. Actuarial studies were supposed to be used to figure out how much total risk the insurer faced, so that they could set overall rates to be solvent and actually provide their service when needed. Instead, insurers seem today to default on payments. Moreover, they seem to use actuarial studies (and past-payments to individuals) to manage profit from micro-pools or individual accounts. Instead of being about pooled risk, today’s insurance is more like an individual savings plan.

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Tales of the Sausage Factory

A Black Day For The Rule of Law

The Senate has voted to give retroactive immunity to the phone companies for spying on Americans without a warrant.

As I have written elsewhere, this does violence to the Rule of Law. As usual, the defendants of this measure make the best case against it. As Senator Orin Hatch explained:

“And frankly, if we do not give retroactive immunity, there is not a general counsel of any of these companies that would [again] expose their company to the … litigation that has come since.”

Which is precisely the point. It should not be possible, let alone easy, for the Executive Branch to provide an end run to the Constitution and the law. That a majority of the Senate will retroactively concur in this law breaking — even applaud it and encourage it! — makes mock of the very notion that we are a free people in the land of the free governed by laws, not men, safe from the tyranny of Kings because their power is restrained.

As a Republic, we will recover. We have suffered such stains and indignities on the law in the past. Korematsu and the internment of Japanese Americans, the warrantless surveillance of civil rights leaders, The Espionage Act in World War I, which made it illegal to criticize the government’s military recruitment efforts. The list goes on. Then the pendulum swings back. We stand ashamed, offering compensation and apologies, shaking our heads at what people do and wondering how a previous generation could have erred so dramatically.

What is appalling here is that this is not done in the first rush of panic, pain and fear following the attacks. It is not prompted by “false intelligence.” There are no excuses for those Democrats who have ONCE AGAIN given President Bush everything he asks for, after promising us in 2006 that “the blank check is over” and that the Democratic landslide signaled a return to a government of checks and balances, accountability and oversight? And these Democratic Senators will come to us again in 2008, and expect the party faithful to once again fall in line?

I still have hopes for the House Democrats. Recently, Representatives Dingell, Markey and Stupak reminded their Senate colleagues of their duty to exercise oversight of the Executive to protect the rights of all Americans. Perhaps these champions of freedom will convince their House colleagues to stand firm in the face of White House pressure, telco PAC contributions, and the craven example of their colleagues in the Senate.

But it is a black day for the Rule of Law, and a black day for the Democratic party. Let every Democrat that has dared adopt a haughty attitude to Republicans for supporting domestic spying, torture, and the assault on our consititution hang his head in shame. Let our tongues be stilled. For our leaders have proven no better than theirs. And will not we, like the sheep we have accused them of being, quietly return them again to office?

Stay tuned . . . .

Posted in How Democracy Works, Or Doesn't, Tales of the Sausage Factory | Also tagged , , | 5 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 . . . .

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Wetware and Hard Science

A slice off the old epidermis.

Human cloning work moves away from the embryo, but the reasons aren’t moral.

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Inventing the Future

Cheney assumes presidency tomorrow

When President Reagan was shot, Vice President Bush Sr took over for a short time. That was the only time the VP had ever assumed the power of a living president before or since — until the current administration.

Tomorrow will be the second time that Cheney has done this. (Washington Post story)

Posted in I Fear These Things, Inventing the Future | Also tagged , | 1 Comment (Comments closed)

Tales of the Sausage Factory

AT&T's $10 DSL and the Renomination of Commissioner Tate: What The Senate Confirmation Hearing Should Ask

The Consumerist runs this good but inaccurate report on AT&T’s offering its mandated $10 DSL intro rate for those who have not subscribed to DSL previously. AT&T accepted this as a merger condition when it acquired BellSouth last year. What Consumerist gets wrong is that this condition comes not from the FTC, which did not review the merger (regular readers will recall that it was the Department of Justice Anti-Trust Division that gave the merger a thumbs up with no conditions). The price control aspect came from the FCC, as part of the bucket ‘o concessions AT&T made after it failed to get McDowell unrecused and suddenly had to respond to Democrats rather than blowing them off with bogus concessions.

This matters for two reasons. First, it means that complaining to the Federal Trade Commission, as suggested by Consumerist, is not exactly effective. FTC had nothing to do with the condition and won’t enforce it under their merger authority. If AT&T makes it damn hard for people to order the cheap rate, then there might be a claim as an unfair or deceptive trade practice, but I think that is kind of a stretch.

No, the place to complain is at the Federal Communications Commission. While it doesn’t hurt to file a complaint with the FCC’s Enforcement Bureau, you will also want to make sure that you copy it to the FCC’s record in the AT&T/BellSouth merger via its Electronic Comment Filing System (ECFS). The relevant docket number is 06-74.

But, more importantly, this raises some serious questions that Congress needs to ask not merely about AT&T’s commitment to honoring the merger conditions, but also about the FCC’s willingness to enforce them — especially in light of statements made by Chairman Martin and Commissioner Tate at the time of the merger. Fortunately, President Bush’s decision to nominate Tate for a second term provides an excellent opprtunity for members of the Senate Commerce Committee to put these questions to Commissioner Tate directly.

Because while $10 DSL is important, this is also important to other AT&T merger conditions, such as network neutrality condition. And while, unlike many of my colleagues, I don’t think Martin or Tate are mindless Bellheads or wholly owned subsidiaries of AT&T, I do think it’s important to get them pinned down on the record that they will vigorously enforce the merger conditions and not allow AT&T to weasel out by “complying” in a way that deprives these conditions of meaning.

More below . . . .

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Inventing the Future

Follow-up on “The Sign”

The first night night after attaching the letter to the political sign against meanness, the sign remained. Someone had pulled it out half way to steal this second sign, but thought better of it.

The second night the same. This time the sign wires were bent, but the sign remained.

Then we went away for two days. The sign was gone. Just the twisted wires remained.

Our friend in the cause brought us another replacement without asking. Actually, she brought two. She had been watching. We’re the first house in the neighborhood and prominent. And this isn’t any neighborhood. It is a mostly green-built conservancy full of kids and parks and porches behind small setbacks. Lots of salesmen and teachers raising kids. It is also the home of the Republican candidate for State Attorney General. A former U.S. District Attorney appointed by President Bush, he funded much of his compain by mortgaging his house.

We left the twisted wires and put in the new sign. Without the letter. Wife Robin had suggested all along that we just keep replacing the sign, and she had suggested — ok, she barred me — from retaliating with email to the neighborhood and letters to the editor. I wondered if the folks who had been told by their pastors to vote against gays would appreciate this example of turning the other cheek.

Anyway, the sign remained. No one stole the third sign. Yet bucking Democratic victories state-wide, our neighbor won his bid for Attorney General, and the people of the state of LaFollette voted to ammend the constitution so as to prohibit the state from ever granting couples rights to a group that Tuesday’s voters disapproved of.

We lost. But in my way I took a stand and I feel good about that. Our next Attorney General didn’t speak out in the neighborhood nor with the press for either private property or private love. But a few folks in the neighborhood have come out and told us about how they feel good about our little play. I feel that the wonderful thing about democracy is not that we each get to cast a vote. Mathematically, that just doesn’t matter. It is that in voting we have to decide. We can just do what we’re told to, but even that is a choice. I feel like we contributed to the inner decision process of a tiny-few people on both sides. That’s not a bad thing.

Posted in "A Republic, if you can keep it", Inventing the Future | Also tagged | 1 Comment (Comments closed)

Inventing the Future

I need help

There’s a lot that the nation needs to clean up in the aftermath of Katrina. I have faith that we will — as long as we don’t get bored, pour another drink, and choose to feel better before the work is really done. Racism. Bureaucracy. Anarchy. Incompetence. Posse Comitatus.

There’s a particular issue that I’m interested in. I’m looking for is a word or phrase to help me define a tiny a piece of what I’m seeing. The concept isn’t any more or less important than the others that are being discussed. I’d like to find a label for the concept, so that we can talk about it, without simply saying “President Bush is bad.” That just cuts off conversation for 50% of the country. That’s not fair, and it doesn’t fix the problem.

There’s something happening here.
What it is ain’t exactly clear.
There’s a man with a gun over there.
Telling me I’ve got to beware.

The concept that I’m thinking about goes back to classical Rome. One faction would simply kill its enemies. It would reward only its political members. A guard would bear fasces before The Leader in a triumphant parade. Then the leader of the faction would eventually be murdered. It was all something like a To-The-Death form of a generic T-shirt that I’ve recently seen: “The local sports team from my area can beat the local sports team from your area.”

We’ve seen a lot of this from Karl Rove. Outing spies that criticize the administration, telling Barbara Walters how he was beat up as a geeky kid but nobody’s beating him up now, or openly excluding industry experts from US delegations to trade conferences because “They didn’t win the election.” We’ve seen it in blue state vs red state discretionary spending and base closings, and we’ve seen it in on-the-ground preparations for New Orleans vs Houston. I feel this is wrong, but it isn’t obviously and universally regarded as wrong.

My Republican wife is convinced that this is some sort of partisan genocide. I’m looking for a word that describes this as obviously and blatantly a Bad Idea. Not just soccer hooligans rooting for their team, but partisan soccer hooligans with their fingers on the Button.

Posted in I Fear These Things, Inventing the Future | Also tagged | 4 Comments (Comments closed)
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