Inventing the Future

Negative Interest Loans?

Hey, suppose we had a rational way to evaluate business and home loan risk. I don’t think we can truly solve our financial/social crisis without fixing the underlying risk-valuation issue.1

However it’s done, let’s imagine for moment that we had such a thing. Furthermore, let’s imagine that we had some way of assessing that risk relative to benefit for those doing the loaning. If the government is loaning, that means public benefit (under some political process).

If we did have such a thing, wouldn’t the most efficient way of stimulating the economy be to provide business and public loans at an interest rate based on that assessment? In particular, worthy projects might get zero or even negative interest, depending on how much we turned up the dial on desired stimulus. It’s not a blind hand-out, as borrowers have to justify their projects and make regular payments. The loan can be called in the usual way if payments aren’t made. The stimulus is in adjusting the balance-point of go/no-go.

Would Republicans support such a plan? Would Democrats? If labeled as a banking system, then I suppose neither. But what about defining it as a rational way of conducting the stimulus? With a side-benefit of kick-starting a more efficient and maybe less corruptible system of risk evaluation?


1.. Maybe something involving public peer review ala all that yummy mesh, P2P, and social network stuff?

Posted in Inventing the Future, Memology | Also tagged , | 4 Comments (Comments closed)

Tales of the Sausage Factory

The Attack on Oprah: A Case Study Of The Strategies of the Conservative Noise Machine.

If I told you after the Palin announcement that Republicans would attack Oprah, you’d have called me crazy. Oprah is beloved of the precise demographic Rs hope to win over by naming Palin. It would be suicide! Besides, what would be the grounds for the attack?

Then when I told you “because she is keeping her promise to keep politics off her show,” you would say I was doubly nuts. “Impossible! Everyone knows that when Oprah backed Obama she made it clear that she was not going to leverage her show for him. How on Earth are the Republicans going to turn that into an attack?”

Welcome to PalinPetition.com. You will find that after the initial blip on Sept. 5-6, it has slowly leaked into the mainstream media. I discovered it via the ever excellent Benton Foundation media headlines service, which linked to this trade press piece. I expect it will start to dominate the cable and broadcast news rounds via FOX and other conservative commentators soon. Timing will no doubt depend on focus group polling on whether Obama is gaining traction or if passion about Palin begins to wane. But from the current ferment in the vectors, I’m pegging it to be next week’s distraction.

The fact is that the developing attack on Oprah is an excellent case study of how the Republicans manipulate both their base and the mainstream media. It also highlights what Obama and the Ds need to do to defend. It is not simply about going after smears or going negative sooner stronger or any of these things. It is to understand that the Republican stategists at this level do not wait for targets of opportunity, nor do they hitch their train to a single issue or person. It is a matter of understanding overall methods of operation and developng proactive counter-strategies rather than reactive counter strategies. Along the way, it also helps highlight the current problem with our mainstream media and illustraights how the Rs are taking advatange of the internet in non-obvious ways.

Full analysis below . . . .

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Posted in How Democracy Works, Or Doesn't, Tales of the Sausage Factory | Also tagged , | 9 Comments (Comments closed)

Tales of the Sausage Factory

Rarely Do I Catch The Daily Show In A Factual Error . . .

So I will crow over this silly little mistake. The normally excellent Indecision2008 Blog has misidentified Senator Ben Cardin as the Senator from Maine in this blog post. He is, in fact, the Senator from Maryland.

This is important since Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe, the Senators from Maine, (a) are women, (b) are Republicans, and (c) voted in favor of the FISA “compromise,” whereas Cardin voted against it. I shall leave it as an exercise to the reader which they think is the most important difference and whether either Cardin, Collins, or Snowe should feel offended that Indecision08 got them confused. Although I do agree with the main thrust of the blog entry that Ben Cardin is not nearly as sexy as Charlize Theron no matter what state he is from or his political party.

But in any event, I do think Indecision08 should run a correction.

(I promise to do real blogging again soon, just a bit busy at the moment.)

stay tuned . . .

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Tales of the Sausage Factory

The Final FISA Sellout and My One Last Desperate Push for Sanity

The capacity of the Democratic Leadership to destroy the party will never cease to amaze me. In 2006 the Dems ran to take over Congress on a platform that included, among other things, ending illegal wiretaps on Americans. Now, the same Democrats propose to grant immunity to the telcos who cooperated with the Administration on a theory that — and I kid you not — if we don’t immunize the telcos for breaking the law this time, they might not break the law for us next time. Alternatively, some argue we should not “punish” companies whose only crime was that they cared so deeply about the safety and security of the United States that they “stepped up to the plate” when the President asked them to break the law and spy on people for their own good. Of course, these same selfless, patriotic, noble companies refused to implement judicially authorized wiretaps because the DoJ neglected to pay the fees. But it appears that Republicans, and now a sufficient number of Democrats, understand that we cannot expect patriotism to extend to things that actually cost megacorporations money. You can read this shameful betrayal of everything the Democrats pledged in ’06 here, with EFF’s analysis here.

What makes this more astounding is that there is not a single, rational reason for the Democrats to do this, and every reason not to do it. The Republicans tried to scare monger and make this an issue for them. That tactic failed miserably. You may recall how back last winter when the Republicans pulled out all the usual stops about how this was about national security and blah blah blah. No one bought it. The magic deadlines lapsed and nothing happened.

So either the Democratic Leadership continues to suffer from a pre-11/06 mentality, or they think they can continue to abuse their active base and collect corporate contributions as well. After all, the thinking goes, it’s not like the mainstream electorate cares about this and its not like the netroots are going to vote Republican. So why not treat them the way we’ve treated unions, African Americans, and unions over the years? i.e., talk tough, but cave when it counts because we know there are no consequences for it.

I’ve already made my impassioned plea based on the ideal of the Rule of Law. Now, in a last desperate effort, I shall make my plea based on practicality and — in what is apprently the universal language of party leadership — cash.

Democrats, meet me below . . . .

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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)

My Thoughts Exactly

Democratic People's Republic of Massachusettsistan

From yesterday’s Boston Globe, this depressing story about how the Massachusetts legislature does everything behind closed doors & under control of the Party Leaders. This is the way things inevitably turn out in a one-party state.

It’s almost enough to make one think of voting Republican (and maybe that’s why we seem to elect Republican governors like Romney pretty regularly). But the Republicans who run for state office here are generally even more abhorent than the Democratic hacks who run the show now, so we’ll probably stick with what we have. The Democrats may practice machine politics, but at least they’re not obsessively homophobic & insanely jingoistic warmongering anticonstitutionalists, which is the Republican trope here in Massachusetts as it is elsewhere across this great nation of ours.

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Tales of the Sausage Factory

Why you can't split D Block and PSST

Unsurprisingly, folks are now proposing to split the D Block from the public safety spectrum, auction the commercial spectrum, and use the money to build a separate public safety network. This got a bunch of attention at today’s House Subcommittee hearing. Despite my frantic attempts to subtly signal I had something relevant to say, no one wanted to hear my opinion on the matter (or anything else either, apparently my opening statement was sufficiently overwhelming that the Republicans did not dare challenge me and the Dems felt nothing further was required). Too bad, because I could have spared everyone about an hour of yacking by explaining why it won’t work.

Or, more technically, to make this work requires such drastic changes in the band plan that it is impossible to predict how much money such an auction would make, if anything. I’m aware Dr. Bazelon gives an estimate of $5 billion or so in his testimony, but I think his use of the A Block demand as a proxy is overly optimistic. Trying to predict spectrum auction results is always perilous, because there are so many factors and every spectrum auction is different from every other in significant ways. But in this case, the difference between the A Block issues and the possible D block issues are of significant magnitude that I anticipate major problems.

Bottom line: I think it would take months to resolve the engineering issues, and that an auction based on necessary rules would fetch very little money.

More below . . . .

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Tales of the Sausage Factory

The FCC's New Broadband Data Gathering: Even the Deregulators Are Losing Patience.

It is a delightful bit of timing that this piece on European broadband comes the same day the FCC voted to amend its broadband data collection for the annual “State of the Broadband” Report. I’d say it was a happy coincidence, except that there are so many articles about how Europe is kicking our broadband bottom these days that the odds were good someone would publish something contrasting the growing penetration (and associated economic benefits) in Europe with the anemic growth in the U.S.

Which highlights the key take away from the FCC’s decision to ramp up data gathering and propose looking at pricing. Even the Republicans in Washington are starting to lose patience. I will provide analysis of the substance (as far as we can tell before an order is published) in a later post, but this point is sufficient important it bears posting on its own.

You will find no shortage of telco/cable shills or hardcore deregulators willing to sing the happy happy joy joy song over our current “wildly competitive” broadband market, or explain why these international rankings are misleading, irrelevant, or just plain wrong, the song no longer gets applause and the excuses are wearing thin. All five FCC Commissioners went to the Consumer Electronics Show this year. They’ve gone on tours of Silicon Valley, talked with venture capitalists and start ups, traveled around Europe and Asia, and — most importantly — are not stupid. In 2005, the industry promised big things if the FCC would only deregulate them and set them free. It’s now 2008. In that time, we have seen a parade of other countries streak by us while we plod along and fall increasingly far behind.

Do not let the last minute squabbling between the Commissioners about the details of the Report and upgraded standards fool you. While the Democrats would definitely like to see more done to get at real data, and while McDowell still frets that the cost of collecting data outweighs the benefits and that using labels for speed tiers is too subjective, everyone wants to find out what the real state of broadband deployment is and how we are going to make it available and affordable for everyone. We’re done with happy songs, the FCC is signaling. If industry wants to avoid the kind of massive reregulation the FCC and Congress would bring to bear under a Democratic administration, you need to start getting it in gear and providing real data. Whether industry will take the hint, or whether it will still find it preferable to remain in a state of denial, still remains to be seen.

Stay tuned . . . .

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Tales of the Sausage Factory

Nothing Like Biting Industry On The Ass To Get Republicans Hot For Process

OK, color me cynical, but I find this recent bipartisan interest in the fairness of FCC processes a source of some considerable eye rolling on my part. Not because the issue isn’t timely, important, etc., etc. But because it wasn’t until the cable industry started bleating their little heads off that this amazing bipartisan consensus suddenly emerged.

For some background here, I wrote my first major paper on how badly the FCC processes suck rocks back in 2003. I and my employer, Media Access Project, have complained about the crappy way the FCC behaves going back to when the Democrats ran the show and the Media Bureau routinely issued “letter opinions” and developed “street law” that eventually became binding agency precedent. The whole business of how stations could circumvent the ownership limits by engaging in local marketing agreements (LMAs) and joint sales agreements (JSAs) which sold everything but the actual license was bitterly fought by MAP and goes back to the Bush I administration. And yes, I fully agree with the recent GAO Report about how FCC processes favor industry over the public because the long-standing relationships between FCC staff (including career staff well below the Commissioner level) and industry become back channels for critical information and influence.

But it sticks in my craw no end to see Republicans come alive to this issue for the first time because it bit the cable industry on the rear end instead of sticking it to the public interest community.

Nor am I overly thrilled with my friends and colleagues in the movement who seem to believe that Martin invented this mess. Certainly Martin has used every procedural device and negotiating tactic available to him. He is, as I have observed on more than one occasion, a hard-ball player. And his hrdball negotiating tactics — a huge list of agenda items, last minute negotiations, everything Adelstein complained about in his concurrence at te last meeting — have clearly generated ill-will and suspicion among his fellow Commissioners.

But when I think about all the crap that Powell pulled as Chairman with nary an eyebrow raised and compare it to the conduct of this FCC, I could just weep. Martin met with us in the Public Interest Spectrum Coalition (PISC) on multiple occasions when Senate Democrats wouldn’t even invite us to testify. And I still remember back in 2003 during the Comcast acquisition of AT&T Broadband that it was Martin who insisted that Powell issue a written denial of our motion to get access to certain agreements so that we would have a basis for appeal.

So while I normally am in full agreement with my friends at Free Press, I must vehemently dissent from their apparent insistence that Martin has debased the FCC’s processes to new depths. Martin’s FCC is such an improvement over the pro-industry/anti-public interest/don’t bother us because we pre-decided it cesspit that was the Powell FCC that these allegations can arise only because Free Press did not exist when Powell was running the first dereg show. As George Will noted, Michael Powell met a total of twice with public interest groups (once with my boss, Andy Schwartzman, and once with Consumers Union’s Gene Kimmelman) and conducted exactly one public hearing outside of DC before issuing his ownership order — in far off Richmond Virginia.

And as for the recent Tribune merger — please! I certainly disagreed with the result, but Martin has nothing on Powell’s former Media Bureau Chief Ken Ferree. Ferree twisted FCC law and process like a pretzel to give Tribune a waiver extension it didn’t deserve. This is the same Ken Ferree, btw, who informed the public interest community that the FCC would hold no public hearings on media ownership because the FCC didn’t need “foot stomping” to make a decision. Indeed, the list of the sins of Ken Ferree — whose arrogant disregard for process remains unsurpassed in the annals of the FCC — could fill several more pages of blog postings.

And while all this crap was going on, we had nary a peep from the Republicans in Congress. But as soon as Martin made it clear he intended to actually enforce the existing law against the cable industry, SUDDENLY Congressional Republicans woke up to due process issues and beagn to fret about “abuses of power” and Martin being “out of control.”

I can forgive my colleagues in the movement who weren’t around the first time. And I understand the Congressional Democrats, who were either out of power when Powell was running the show or simply not yet arrived on the scene. Certainly Markey and other Congressional Democrats were equally loud in their complaints about process when Powell sprang a spanking new “diversity index” on the public with no warning as they have been n recent weeks against Martin — but being in the minority their protests amounted to little. But when I hear Republicans like Barton and Upton, who positively applauded sticking it to the public time and again, rush to the defense of the poor beleaguered cable industry on process grounds, I have to say something. Even for the self-serving cynicism and hypocrisy that passes for principles in the Republican party these days, this is just too much.

I certainly hope the concerns of Mr. Boehner, Mr. Sunnunnu, and the other Republicans that have suddenly become obsessed with process persist after their master in the cable industry get what they want.

Stay tuned . . . .

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Tales of the Sausage Factory

And Suddenly, the Universe Changed

Well, it’s been busy in the Senate today. While all the Senators were locked down by police on a mistaken report of gunfire, they took the time to confirm Robert McDowell for the FCC. For the first time since Michael Powell left in March 2005, the FCC is now back to 3 Republicans and 2 Democrats.

Over the last year, several controversial items have accumulated that the 2-2 Commission could not agree upon. For example, the long-awaited proceeding on media ownership rules, wherein the FCC will again try to relax or eliminate most ownership limits.

Critically, McDowell’s appointment strengthens Martin’s hand to approve the Comcast/Time Warner/Adelphia merger without significant conditions (whereas just yesterday I was hoping Martin would have to persuade the Democrats to agree to an order). The critical question — does Martin want to approve the merger without conditions? As I have written before, Martin has shown himself willing to stand up to the cable industry in the name of competition. For example, Martin co-authored an Op Ed with Senator McCain supporting imposing a la carte on cable.

So, what will Kevin Martin do? He has a free hand for the first time in his history as Chairman. Once again, I urge you all to help Martin make the right decision by following this link to file a comment urging the FCC to deny the Adelphia Transaction, or impose significant conditions.

As for the rest of the media ownership rules, the AT&T/BellSouth merger, and everything else in the media & telecom world

Stay tuned . . . .

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