Tagged: Republicans

Geeks + Democrats = Net Neutrality


Yes – there’s still the risk of Big Money court battles ahead

Senior Republicans have conceded…that the grueling fight with President Obama over the regulation of Internet service appears over, with the president and an army of Internet activists victorious.

The Federal Communications Commission is expected on Thursday to approve regulating Internet service like a public utility, prohibiting companies from paying for faster lanes on the Internet. While the two Democratic commissioners are negotiating over technical details, they are widely expected to side with the Democratic chairman, Tom Wheeler, against the two Republican commissioners.

And Republicans on Capitol Hill, who once criticized the plan as “Obamacare for the Internet,” now say they are unlikely to pass a legislative response that would undo perhaps the biggest policy shift since the Internet became a reality…

The new F.C.C. rules are still likely to be tied up in a protracted court fight with the cable companies and Internet service providers that oppose it, and they could be overturned in the future by a Republican-leaning commission. But for now, Congress’s hands appear to be tied.

The F.C.C. plan would let the agency regulate Internet access as if it is a public good. It would follow the concept known as net neutrality or an open Internet, banning so-called paid prioritization — or fast lanes — for willing Internet content providers.

In addition, it would ban the intentional slowing of the Internet for companies that refuse to pay broadband providers. The plan would also give the F.C.C. the power to step in if unforeseen impediments are thrown up by the handful of giant companies that run many of the country’s broadband and wireless networks…

“We’ve been outspent, outlobbied. We were going up against the second-biggest corporate lobby in D.C., and it looks like we’ve won,” said Dave Steer, director of advocacy for the Mozilla Foundation, the nonprofit technology foundation that runs Firefox, a popular Web browser, referring to the cable companies. “A year ago today, we did not think we would be in this spot.”

The net neutrality movement pitted new media against old and may well have revolutionized notions of corporate social responsibility and activism. Top-down decisions by executives investing in or divesting themselves of resources, paying lobbyists and buying advertisements were upended by the mobilization of Internet customers and users.

Our beneficent Telecom rulers and their Republican flunkies will not stop pimping their case, of course. The lies they constructed as part of their agitprop during the campaign to influence the FCC will become a plank in the Republican campaign for the White House in 2016.

Should they win full control of the United States government – those of us who stay behind in the GOUSA to fight a rear-guard action against the building of a Brave New World of Corporatism [Mussolini felt that sounds better than fascism] will no doubt be relegated by law to dial-up, standard def and B&W TV. And flip phones.

Wal-Mart discovers that treating employees like serfs doesn’t work

Last week, we learned that Wal-Mart was giving the lowest paid of its hourly employees a raise. In a blog post, Wal-Mart Chief Executive Officer Doug McMillon said that as of April, the company will pay a minimum of $9 an hour. That is $1.75 more than the federal minimum wage of $7.25, which has been unchanged for almost six years. Next February, Wal-Mart’s lowest hourly rate will rise to $10. All told, about a half-million Wal-Mart workers in the U.S. will be affected.

There has been lots of theorizing about why the nation’s largest retailer did this: See this, this and this. But I have a much simpler explanation: The Wal-Mart business model is broken.

As in any complex situation, there are many nuances and wrinkles: This was inevitable; state minimum-wage laws had already mandated those minimums (or higher) for at least two-thirds of the employees in Wal-Mart’s stores. In the years since the last federal minimum-wage increase, many of Wal-Mart’s employees had fallen below the poverty level and the strengthening economy has made it harder to attract and retain employees.

There is also the issue of the negative PR generated by Wal-Mart’s low, low wages. As we discussed back in 2013, many of its full-time employees receive a full array of federal and state welfare. Wal-Mart has become the nation’s largest private-sector beneficiary of taxpayer-supported public assistance (see “How McDonald’s and Wal-Mart Became Welfare Queens”). Indeed, the U.S. taxpayer has been subsidizing the wages of this publicly traded, private-sector company to the tune of $2.66 billion in government largess a year.

Although many factors contributed to the move, the simple reason for the increase is because Wal-Mart has stopped growing. Same-store sales have been little changed or declining for some time now. When we look at the underlying causes, the company’s workforce, and how it is managed, are the prime suspects…

Labor is seen as a cost driver rather than a sales driver. Managers do not have much direct control over sales, almost never making decisions on merchandise mix, layout, price, or promotions. But managers do have control over payroll costs and are evaluated regarding whether they meet weekly or monthly targets for payroll as a percentage of sales. At times these pressures have been such that Walmart managers have put pressure on employees to work off the clock.

With a bonus structure designed to drive down labor costs, guess what Wal-Mart managers did?

Cutting on salary and benefits, however, didn’t necessarily lower costs. About 44 percent of Wal-Mart’s hourly staff turns over each year. That’s a lot of people, because the company employs 2.2 million workers worldwide. Hiring replacements is a costly and time consuming process.

Consider competitors such as Costco: It has average hourly wages of $20 and a turnover rate of “17% overall and just 6% after one years employment,” according to the Harvard Business Review. HBR estimates the full cost of “replacing a worker who leaves is typically 1.5 to 2.5 times the worker’s annual salary.” That is no small chunk of change.

My favorite Recovering Republican, Barry Ritholtz…always my first read at Bloomberg news sites.

Behavior rooted in the attitudes and analysis of 19th Century Republican royalty ends up unproductive pretty consistently. Enjoying the fruits of the economic crash provoked by the financial-real estate band of thieves and frauds, Walmart was able to draw its serfs from the supersized pool of unemployed, underemployed and maybe-never-again-employed made accessible by free market economic ideologues.

But, just as those who don’t study history are doomed to repeat mistakes, those who don’t include economics studies as part of understanding history are doomed to repeat the biggest mistakes before their competitors. How much time do you spend shopping at Sears, Borders or Radio Shack? Driving there in your Oldsmobile.

Not paying your employees enough to shop at your own store is a second-order issue. One that Republicans couldn’t care less about. An example of pig-headedness masquerading as fiscal conservatism.

Walmart appears to be trying to enter the 20th Century – if not the 21st. Anyone think the Walmartians in Congress will learn from their example?

Pot/DC: Conservatives hate democracy like they hate change – UPDATED

image

Marijuana advocates’ hopes that the U.S. capital would easily follow in the footsteps of Denver or Seattle in clearing the way for lawful pot use are set to go up in smoke this week.

Voters in the District of Columbia last year passed a measure clearing the way for pot possession, but members of Congress have used their power over the city to prevent local officials from coming up with any plan to let the drug be sold legally for recreational purposes.

With the congressional review period for the new measure set to expire on Wednesday, District of Columbia pot users will be left in a murkier position than those in Colorado and Washington state, which fully legalized marijuana last year…

The uncertainty stems from Initiative 71, a referendum approved by 65 percent of District voters in November. A key argument by supporters was that marijuana laws unfairly victimized black people in Washington, who represent about half the city’s population…

Initiative 71 ran into opposition in Congress, which has oversight over the heavily Democratic District of Columbia. Republicans inserted a provision in a spending bill in December that barred the District from using any funds to legalize pot.

Representative Jason Chaffetz, the chairman of the House of Representatives Oversight and Government Reform Committee, has vowed to block legalization

OK, maybe Congressional Republicans, Blue Dog Democrats, don’t hate change, progress, democracy, Black folks and women as much as the bigots in the Tea Party caucus. The end result is the same when questions come down to civil rights, to an individual’s right to make a choice from a range of options outside the 19th Century.

Want to decide if you will have an abortion, use birth control, get married to someone unapproved, smoke a little weed instead of chugging a 12-pack of lite beer, spend your vacation in Cuba? Not if the clown show masquerading as conservatism gets its fear-ridden way. Nothing new about cowardice and ignorance pretending to have an ideology. It still stinks on ice when ordinary citizens have no alternative except to go even further backwards.

UPDATE: Made it past Congressional curmudgeons!

Republican War on Women now demands rape audits

war on women

House Republicans are currently advancing the “No Taxpayer Funding For Abortion Act,” or HR 7, a measure that would impose sweeping restrictions on abortion coverage that could make the procedure less affordable for Americans across the country. In addition to preventing low-income women from using their Medicaid coverage to access abortion, HR 7 could also have dramatic implications for the tax code and the private insurance market. One of its most controversial provisions could actually require the Internal Revenue Service to conduct audits of rape victims.

Why? Because HR 7 eliminates medical-expense deductions for abortion care, essentially raising taxes on the women who opt to have an abortion. Like many abortion restrictions, this provision includes an exemption for victims of rape and incest, as well as women who encounter life-threatening complications from their pregnancies. But in order to enforce those exceptions, the IRS would have to verify that the women who are claiming a medical-expense deduction for an abortion fall into one of those three categories, to ensure they’re not committing tax fraud.

This is coming from the creeps who fund their politics on the basis of servicing corporate tax fraud.

Essentially, that would empower the government agency to have the final say over what “counts” as a sexual assault or a life-threatening situation. And that, in turn, would force victims to prove their case.

“Imagine having to recount a sexual assault — a horrifyingly painful, personal experience — to a tax collector,” NARAL Pro-Choice America says in an action alert to its members to encourage them to mobilize against HR 7. “An anti-choice bill in Congress would do just that. It could force sexual assault survivors who access abortion care to prove the assault occurred…”

But even when abortion restrictions do include some kind rape exception, as HR 7 does, the issues don’t end there. Exceptions for rape victims have some unintended consequences. They require some kind of system to separate the women who have become pregnant from sexual assault from the other women who want to end a pregnancy for a different reason. They essentially necessitate “rape audits.”

Today’s flavor of conservatism has rejoined 19th Century religious fundamentalism that still considers women to be nothing more than servants, obedient to the family patriarch. With politics to match.

Will Democrats walk away from obedience to Wall Street?

FDR vs big banks

America’s presidential election is still nearly two years away, and few candidates have formally thrown their hats into the ring. But both Democrats and Republicans are hard at work figuring out what will appeal to voters in their parties’ respective primary elections – and thinking about what will play well to the electorate as a whole in November 2016.

The contrast between the parties at this stage is striking. Potential Republican presidential candidates are arguing among themselves about almost everything, from economics to social issues; it is hard to say which ideas and arguments will end up on top. The Democrats, by contrast, are in agreement on most issues, with one major exception: financial reform and the power of very large banks.

The Democrats’ internal disagreement on this issue is apparent when one compares three major proposals to address income inequality that the party and its allies have presented in recent weeks. There are only small differences between President Barack Obama’s proposals (in his budget and State of the Union address), those made in a high-profile report from the Center for American Progress, and ideas advanced by Chris Van Hollen, an influential member of Congress. (For example, Van Hollen recommends more redistribution from higher-income people to offset a larger tax cut for middle-income groups.)

Against this backdrop of programmatic unity, the difference of opinion among leading Democrats concerning Wall Street – both the specifics of the 2010 Dodd-Frank financial reforms and more broadly – stands out in bold relief.

But a serious challenge to all of these views has now emerged, in proposals by Senator Elizabeth Warren, a rising Democratic star who has become increasingly prominent at the national level. In her view, the authorities need to confront head-on the outsize influence and dangerous structure of America’s largest banks.

Warren’s opponents like to suggest that her ideas are somehow outside the mainstream; in fact, she draws support from across the political spectrum. In last month’s fight against Citigroup’s successful effort to roll back Dodd-Frank, for example, Warren’s allies included the House Democratic leadership, the Independent Community Bankers of America, Republican Senator David Vitter, and Thomas Hoenig (a Republican-appointed vice chair of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation).

Warren’s message is simple: remove the implicit government subsidies that support the too-big-to-fail banks. That single move would go a long way toward reducing, if not eliminating, crony capitalism and strengthening market competition in the financial sector. This is a message that plays well across the political spectrum. And growing support for Warren’s ideas helps the Federal Reserve and other responsible regulators in their efforts to prevent big banks from taking on dangerous levels of risk.

RTFA. Consider the possibility that the Democrat Party – unlike Republicans – might challenge subservience to Wall Street or be satisfied with populist lip service to core reforms pressed by Elizabeth Warren, Bernie Sanders and many others?

A really big poll about Progressive Proposals

After 1,000,000 votes were cast in the Big Ideas Project, the Progressive Change Institute ran a national poll to see whether these ideas are popular with voters.

The short answer? Yes, they are!


Click to enlarge [really big .pdf]

583 (38.9%) of those interviewed identified themselves as Democrats, 382 (25.5%) as Independents, and 507 (33.8%) as Republicans.

Voters were asked to rate proposals on a scale of zero to ten where zero means they strongly oppose the idea and ten means strong support for the idea and a desire to see it become law. Zero to four represents opposition for a proposal. Five is neutral. Six to ten is supportive.

I love that the reality of modern communications snuck in and 25% of interviews were conducted via cell phoned.

Republican “patriots” block US steel for Keystone XL pipeline


Stacks of steel pipe for Keystone XL Pipeline

Senate Republicans blocked two attempts to amend legislation forcing approval of the Keystone XL pipeline that would have required the project be built with domestically produced steel and that the oil be used in the U.S

Republicans made circumventing President Barack Obama’s review of the Keystone project their first major legislative effort since taking control of both the House and Senate this month. The Republican-backed bill the Senate is considering would let TransCanada Corp. (TRP) build the $8 billion pipeline.

The Republican-led Senate voted to table the no-export amendment offered by Senator Edward Markey, a Massachusetts Democrat, in a 57-42 vote, effectively killing the measure.

Republicans also blocked consideration of an amendment to require the steel used to build the pipeline be produced in the U.S. Senator Al Franken, a Minnesota Democrat, said half of the materials would come from outside the U.S.

Meanwhile, the Republican half of the usual 2-party TweedleDee and TweedleDumb competition has already started – with GOP mouthpieces lying about their concern over mediocre wages for American workers, underemployment. All issues exacerbated by Republican policies for decades. Absurd.

Congressional supporters of the project don’t have enough votes to override a threatened Obama veto of the legislation to short-circuit the review.

Supporters say the project will create jobs and improve U.S. energy security. Critics say it’s a risk to the climate and a threat to farmland and water resources in the states the pipeline would cross.

The kindest provable estimate of permanent jobs running the pipeline comes from the State Department. 50 jobs.

Republican priority in Congress — paying off the owners of the whorehouse!

school for scoundrels
Click to enlarge

So how did House Republicans kick things off when they came back into session this week? Answer: They quickly passed a few noncontroversial bills (the Hire More Heroes Act, etc.), but then came the real top priorities. Something about abortion? Or gun rights? Maybe an immigration bill? Some other tea party hot button?

Nope. First up was a new rule that would speed the bankruptcy of the Social Security disability fund. It passed. Next they tried to sneak through a massive omnibus bill full of goodies for Wall Street

Democrats rushed in to squash the Republican Frankenbill. H.R. 37 came up for a vote Wednesday under a suspension of the rules, meaning that it needed a two-thirds vote. So Democrats would have to supply several dozen votes for the bill to pass….“It has not yet been 24 hours since members of Congress have been sworn in,” said Democrat Dan Kildee (D-MI) on the House floor, “When Main Street had its needs we couldn’t get a hearing. When Wall Street asks, we suspend the rules without taking a breath.”

House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi termed it a “brazen attempt” to “sneak through a New Year’s present to big banks.” Ultimately, enough Democrats shied away from the bill for it to fail by a vote of 276 to 146. Only 35 Democrats voted with all but 1 Republican in favor. The lack of two-thirds support means that the bill would not survive a Presidential veto either.

There you have it. All the tea-party stuff will come eventually, but the very first actions of the Republican House were ones to hurt disabled workers and give a huge gift to Wall Street. Actions speak louder than words, and these were their first actions. Welcome to 2015.

Meanwhile, mainstream media – which conservative fools say is guided by the Left – sits quietly and obedient, rewriting excerpts from press releases by Mitch McConnell, John Boehner and Joseph Goebbels.

OK, I made up the last name.

Point being, there is no criticism or comparison with years of unproductive stonewalling by today’s version of Republican conservatism. Our Free Press tiptoes away from any acknowledgement of the class basis of Congressional folderol. Of course. They are owned by the same pimps.

The completion of the Republican transition into the Christian Confederacy Party is left at the feet of the Tea Party nutballs. They aren’t yet allowed total control of the Republican Party. But, they get to stand and chant dirges from the Dark Ages as counterpoint to Smiling Mitch-and-Serious John’s sophistry lessons.

Ground broken for California’s 130-miles high-speed rail project

Gov. Jerry Brown and state political leaders on Tuesday celebrated their perseverance over lawsuits and skeptical lawmakers and voters as they ceremonially started work in the Central Valley on the initial 29 miles of the nation’s first high-speed rail system.

Speaking to about 700 supporters of high-speed rail in a vacant lot in Fresno, the governor was cheered when he called critics — about 30 of whom protested outside the fenced-off festivities — “pusillanimous … that means weak of spirit,” and said the state owed it to the future to think big and invest in projects like high-speed rail.

Brown noted that the State Water Project, BART and the Golden Gate Bridge all faced opposition in their time. “We need to be critiqued,” he said, “but we still need to build…”

While high-speed rail backers made speeches and signed a symbolic section of rail in lieu of cutting a ribbon or wielding golden shovels, a new Congress whose Republican majority has vowed not to contribute more federal funding to California’s high-speed rail project took office in Washington. They include House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Bakersfield, whose district would be bisected by the fast rail line…

Surely no one expects a 21st Century Republican to favor transportation, logistics and commerce considered modern in most nations.

Along with the financial challenge comes the need to complete the project without significant delays or massive cost overruns, and the question of whether state legislators have the political will to keep the project going when it runs into trouble.

The current construction is expected to be completed by 2018…The authority expects to award a contract this month for the next phase, which would take the tracks south to Bakersfield. Once that stretch is completed, with work overlapping the initial leg, the plan is to work on a connection to Palmdale, not from Bakersfield but from Burbank. Not only is that a critical stretch in connecting high-speed rail into the Los Angeles area, but officials believe it could operate as a profitable line even before the connection to the valley is completed.

By 2017 or 2018, the agency expects to have a 130-mile stretch through the valley that can be used as a test track for high-speed trains. And by 2022, it expects to be able to run trains from Merced to the Burbank Airport. Connections to San Francisco’s Transbay Transit Center and Los Angeles’ Union Station would be finished by 2029.

Critics…waved signs with such messages as blah, blah, blah, blah, blah!

In the same time period China is scheduled to build several hundred miles of standard rail – only travel at 110mph – for Thailand connecting Bangkok and major cities to Laos and southern China. Myanmar’s main industrial areas will be linked to the deep-sea port of Dawei. 2000 miles of rail will be built in a trilateral project for India, Myanmar and Thailand – linking those nations to Laos, Cambodia and VietNam. The ASEAN north-south corridor will be extended down to Malaysia and Singapore.

Besides ASEAN nations, there are six more partner countries – China, India, Japan, South Korea, Australia and New Zealand, combining half of the world’s population.

Good thing ain’t many of them as backwards as American conservatives.

What’s the scoop on NSA’s Xmas Eve document dump?

While many Americans were cozying up on the afternoon of Christmas Eve, the National Security Agency was busy posting dozens of quarterly reports detailing incidents where it potentially violated U.S. laws through improper monitoring of U.S. citizens and foreigners…

Yes, they hoped no one would notice.

The NSA, like other American intelligence agencies, relies on a 1981 executive order that legalized the surveillance of foreigners living outside of the U.S. It uses that same executive order “to sweep up the international communications of countless Americans,” the American Civil Liberties Union writes.

…The NSA report’s executive summary reads, “After foreign intelligence or counterintelligence information is acquired, it must be analyzed to remove or mask certain protected categories of information, including U.S. person information, unless specific exceptions apply.”

“Data incorrectly acquired is almost always deleted,” it continues.

Bet that makes you feel secure.

Of course, it doesn’t happen quite like that. Edward Snowden’s 2013 leaks revealed the NSA is monitoring more than 1 billion people globally. Its spying on Americans is expansive.

The American Civil Liberties Union filed a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit that has been dredging up documents since July 2013. These most recent documents are a series of quarterly reports turned over to the President’s Intelligence Oversight Board. They date from late 2001 to mid-year 2013…

The heavily redacted reports detail many, many incidents where NSA agents pulled up the wrong information with the database. Each incident is followed by a statement that the data was either not accessed or the query and results were deleted.

Other reports cover agents being granted access to data without the proper training or using searches that were no longer meant to be in effect. Raw data was at times accidentally emailed or kept on an unsecured computer.

There is also at least one instance where an NSA employee purposefully sought out data that was both unnecessary and illegal. One document states a woman went through her husband’s phone contacts “without his knowledge to obtain names and phone numbers for targeting” over a period of 2-3 years…

The Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board published a report in January stating the case for ending phone records collection. But legislators have yet to pass any limits on the NSA’s power.

Anyone who believes Congress controlled by Republicans and Tea Bag Nutballs will clamp down on the NSA should know I have a seawater resort I’d like to sell them in La Bajada, New Mexico.

Not that the usual clot of Republicans, Blue Dog Democrats and just plain cowards of both parties are likely to make any bipartisan changes in NSA or CIA or FBI practices.