Friday, May 25, 2012

FCC Chairman Supports Broadband Charges

Not everything from the past is worth revisiting.

Nitasha Tiku wrote the following for Beta Beat:
Sometime in the mid-nineties, my dad got an AOL account. Roughly two seconds after that, I fell down the rabbit hole of anonymous chat rooms and never quite got out–that is when I wasn’t getting the deadly, dreaded dial-up busy signal. AOL charged by the hour back then. Until the service switched to a flat monthly rate in October, 1996, the clock was always ticking, forcing you to make the Sophie’s Choice of where to spend your time online.

Now it seems the industry is heading back in that direction. Not by-the-hour, mind you, but a usage-based pricing model that would prompt viewers to consider whether, say, spending the weekend watching Friday Night Lights on Netflix is really worth it. (Answer: Clear eyes, full hearts, can’t lose.)

Last week, Comcast began testing a usage-based pricing model and at the cable industry trade show in Boston yesterday, Julius Genachowski, chairman of Federal Communications Commission expressed support for the notion.

Mr. Genachowski said tiered pricing, will “increase consumer choice and competition” and yield in “lower prices for people who consume less broadband.” Although, as Electronista notes, “he did not clarify what mechanism would drive prices down.”

Public interest groups have decried the potential impact broadband data caps will have on the market and innovation, not to mention the biases baked in the plans. Comcast, for example, counts Netflix video into its data plan, but lets its own XFinity service stream away.
Initially Genachowski promised to rein in companies restricting internet activities but his position on the matter seemed to have evolved over the past couple years.

In a 2010 statement defending a FCC ruling in favor of Net Neutrality regulations, Genachowski wrote the following:
And as we heard in a letter from more than two dozen leading technology CEOs:“Common sense baseline rules are critical to ensuring that the Internet remains a keyengine of economic growth, innovation, and global competitiveness.” The innovators, entrepreneurs, and tech leaders recognize, as I do, the vital need for investment in broadband infrastructure.

But– based on their in-market experience – they also tell us that broadband providershave natural business incentives to leverage their positions as gatekeepers of the Internet in ways that would stifle innovation and limit the benefits of the Internet.They point out that, even after the Commission on a bipartisan basis announced open Internet principles in 2005, we have seen clear and troubling deviations from open practices.
What did Genachowski have to say at the recent industry-sponsored trade show and how does that differ from his position a couple years ago?

Genachowski said usage charges would “increase consumer choice and competition” and yield in “lower prices for people who consume less broadband.”

That does not seem true if you consider Comcast's attack on competition by favoring its own Xfinity streaming services over competition.  Customers who are in a Comcast market will have less choices then before.  

Xfinity TV packages range from $29.99 to $84.99 per month, with the higher packages including movie channels like Showtime or HBO, and this doesn't include Comcast's streaming programs.  You can then add any of their numerous streaming services to any package ranging in price from $4.99 to $14.99 per month, with each streaming bundle offering different content.  By comparison, Hulu Plus and Netflix are both $7.99 per month and they don't break up the content into separate micro-purchases.  A consumer with Comcast would be forced to pay higher prices for less content because of the pricing setup.

This is very reminiscent to the actions taken by Microsoft to stifle competition and secure a monopoly for its browser, Internet Explorer, and should be a clear indicator to any regulator that usage-charges would diminish consumer choice and competition, as is already evidenced by Comcast selectively charging usage fees for their competitors like Netflix.  Ever since Microsoft lost their case against the United States, the browser market had greatly diversified, with Google's Chrome browser recently overtaking the one-time giant.  Consumers have choice.  They can select between Opera, Firefox, Safari, Chrome, or Internet Explorer, and without Microsoft stifling the competition, these competitors are able to bring to market products people want.  

Ask yourself this: Would Netflix or Hulu ever gained traction if Comcast or any other cable company were able to use their billing structure to make them uneconomical?

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Republican's Hypocritical Anti-Anonymity Bill!

I just read the following on The Huffington Post regarding The Internet Protection Act being floated around in Albany:
A new bill in Albany has its sights set on anonymous internet trolls. The Internet Protection Act would require sites to have online commenters identify themselves.
The Act, sponsored by Assemblyman Dean Murray (R-East Patchogue) and Senator Thomas O'Mara (R-Big Flats), would require New York-based websites to "remove any comments posted on his or her website by an anonymous poster unless such anonymous poster agrees to attach his or her name to the post."
Assemblyman Jim Conte (R-Huntington Station) explained that the legislation "turns the spotlight on cyber-bullies by forcing them to reveal their identity or have their post removed."
The legislation would also prevent people from posting anonymous criticisms of businesses. "Too often, rival businesses will post negative and false posts to hurt their competition," writes Conte.
And lastly, the bills would help politicians. Conte again: "...the legislation will help cut down on the types of mean-spirited and baseless political attacks that add nothing to the real debate and merely seek to falsely tarnish the opponent’s reputation by using the anonymity of the Web."
Why do I find this interesting?

I think of all the arguments defending anonymous political donations - mostly coming from conservatives - and then I see these proposals - coming from conservatives.

It seems a bit hypocritical for these people to promote a bill that blatantly attacks free speech while other forms of "free speech," namely non-profits that are allowed to collect unlimited funds without disclosing their donor information, are allowed to make "mean-spirited and baseless political attacks that add nothing to the real debate and merely seek to falsely tarnish the opponent's reputation by using" their anonymity.

Just consider the numerous "news" articles that cite anonymous sources, unnamed staffers and aides, and off-the-record officials.  Would a candidate telling an anecdote that eventually makes its way to the web find themselves in violation of this law?  Would journalists protecting their sources be rounded up and put in jail? 

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Rick Scott's Spanish Holiday!

"I only know how to steal money!"

If you want to attract more business to your state would you hit up a country in economic free fall or would you try and attract investors with liquidity and visit nations that have money to spare?

Apparently Florida Governor Rick Scott has decided to ignore the latter and instead take a group of 60 people to Florida's 33rd highest global trading partner - Spain.

In case you haven't read the news, Spain's economy, while being the fourth largest in Europe, has been in a recession and forecasts show it will remain in a recession until next year

Angeline Benoit wrote the following for Bloomberg Businessweek:
Gross domestic product will contract 0.8 percent in 2013 after shrinking 1.6 percent this year, the Paris-based OECD said in a report today. That compares with the International Monetary Fund’s forecast for 0.1 percent growth after contracting 1.8 percent this year.Spain’s borrowing costs have jumped more than 100 basis points since Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy said on March 2 that the country will miss its 2012 budget-deficit target, approaching the 7 percent level that heralded bailouts in Greece, Ireland and Portugal.“A further increase in the risk premium on yields of Spanish government bonds would raise private-sector funding costs and deepen the recession,” the OECD said.Private consumption will fall 1.8 percent next year and government consumption 4.5 percent as a result of austerity measures and deleveraging in the private sector, the OECD said. Unemployment will rise to 25.3 percent, it said.
Spain's unemployment rate is almost triple that of Florida's and currently the Euro is worth less than the dollar, meaning that any company in Spain would get more for their money in Spain - not to mention a vast pool of workers to pick from.

Not only that, but Rick Scott signed into law a bill that "prohibits state and local governments from hiring companies that work in Cuba or Syria for contracts worth at least $1 million."  Spain is Cuba's 4th largest trading partner.  Scott's anti-trade law can really damper Spanish businesses from coming to Florida, reducing the number of eligible businesses that can do business.  

Let's face it, if you are a large company in Spain you are probably doing business in Cuba, which means you can't do business in Florida, unless of course Rick Scott won't try to persuade businesses to move operations overseas with tax breaks, subsidies, and government contracts, but even then, Florida's slow economic growth and high unemployment are a  wonderful selling points.  Don't you think so?

Read more here:

Friday, May 18, 2012

The GOP's Obamacare Strategy Unraveling

The day of reckoning is soon approaching for health care reform as the Supreme Court prepares to release their opinion on the constitutionality on all or part of the administration's signature law and with an election to boot, Republicans are being very cautious in how to approach the situation.

If the law is upheld and they are strongly opposing the law, they will surely be dealt a political blow and their candidate, Mitt Romney, would surely suffer at the polls.

If the law is struck down in its entirety, they could toot their horns and claim they are the true defenders of the constitution, but then what's next?

If only part of the law is struck down, in particular the individual mandate, do they praise the parts of the law that are popular in a desperate attempt to score some additional political points?

Not only that but not all Republicans are on the same page.  Remember those ultra-conservatives that were elected in 2010?  They may not like the idea of their party backing something the spent a few years branding as "socialism," "communism," or any other anti-American "ism."  Such conflicts have recently come to light when Politico obtained an email chain full of conservative activists, Republican leadership and healthcare policy staffers, and think tank insiders called The Repeal Coalition.

Is this the liberal answer to the conservative nontroversy surrounding the Google Group JournoList founded by Ezra Klein?

Republicans can't quite decide whether they want to do anything at all.  What ever happened to all those alternative plans the Democrats supposedly ignored during the health care debate?

Jake Sherman wrote the following for Politico:
Wesley Denton, an aide to Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.), questioned whether the “GOP now against full repeal?”

“Should we change the name of this [listserv] to ‘partialrepealcoalition’ or ‘someofobamacareisprettygood’?” Denton wrote to the group.

Brian Worth, a GOP leadership staffer responsible for coordinating with outside groups, shot back that “the House has already passed a full repeal bill.”

“Has the Senate passed that bill yet?” Worth asked Denton, in the email chain.

Russ Vought, a former House Republican staffer who is now at Heritage Action for America, bluntly said, “that has absolutely nothing to do with it.” The “House GOP is going to cave after winning an election on full repeal … and before winning the next election to finish the job.”

“Unreal,” he said.

The common Washington narrative holds that Boehner, Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) and Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) have trouble wrangling the members in the House Republican Conference. That might be true — at times.
This list may just be nothing.  We pretty much expect the GOP to cave to the conservative wing of the party, but considering it is an election year and considering the fate of health care reform is hanging by a thread, Democrats could have a way to stick it to Republicans and beat them to the punch.

Congressional Democrats could start proposing legislation identical to the popular parts of health care reform in hopes that Republicans, in their ever so obstructionist ways, oppose those very provisions they (and the rest of America) like.  Democrats will also get a contingency plan in place in case the entire law is repealed.  Not only that, but if only the mandate is struck down Republicans can then either support the Democratic proposals and try to find funding (most likely through unpopular cuts) or advocate repeal - both of which would prove unpopular with a majority of voters.  

If the Republicans propose the popular parts first and the Democrats sign on, the Republicans can claim bipartisan victory and Romney will claim he invented compromise.

Just a thought...

Saturday, May 12, 2012

New Kansas Liquor Law Violates Constitution?

The Kansas legislature recently sent Governor Brownback a bill that loosened some of the states' liquor laws while tightening other restrictions.  Some of the bill's provisions cut back on some regulations, such as allowing bars to offer happy hour specials, permit micro-distilleries of liqour to sell and serve their products much like the way microbreweries can, allow liquor stores to offer samples of beer, wine, and liqour, and allow for farm wineries where people can grow grapes, produce wine and sell it on site or at other locations, and allow people sampling wines to buy bottles on site.  While those parts of the law seem reasonable, there is another portion that appears to violate the constitution - more specifically the Interstate Commerce Clause.

The provision of the law in question bans out-of-state ownership of wineries and microbreweries.  The bill completely disregards the protections from state-based discrimination promised by the Commerce Clause of the Constitution and the principle of the Dormant Commerce Clause. Unless Congress says otherwise, states may not regulate inter-state commerce.

Republicans are fond of referencing both the Constitution and states' rights but considering the regulation of inter-state commerce is an enumerated power, meaning the Constitution specifically reserves this power for the federal government - not Kansas.

This isn't anything new.  Up until 2009, Kansas outlawed importation of alcohol from other states other than by a licensed distributor, making it illegal for Kansans to order beer, wine, or liquor from out of state breweries or wineries, including by telephone, internet, and mail order.

Not only would the law be unconstitutional, it would also be anti-free market, but I doubt anyone will challenge this legislation should it be signed into law.

Update - After positing my opinion that the actions taken by the Kansas legislature are unconstitutional, I had a tremendous push back from individuals of the conservative persuasion who insisted the state had all rights to regulate commerce within its borders despite the implications on the rest of the nation.

In support of my argument, I offer this court case: H.P. Hood & Sons v. DuMond, 336 U.S. 525 
H. P. Hood & Sons obtained milk from producers in New York for distribution in Massachusetts. Hood maintained three receiving depots in New York and applied to the New York Commissioner of Agriculture and Markets (Du Mond) for a license for another plant. Du Mond denied the license under Article 21 of the Agriculture and Markets Law of New York which stipulated that licenses for new plants could not be issued unless the Commissioner was satisfied that issue would serve the public interest and would not cause destructive competition in a market already adequately served.

Petitioner Hood argued on appeal that the law placed an unconstitutional burden on interstate commerce. The Court of Appeals affirmed and the United States Supreme Court granted certiorari.
The issue and majority rule:
Can a restriction imposed under state law be valid if its statutory purpose and practical effect would be to curtail the volume of interstate commerce for the benefit of local economic interests?

No. A restriction imposed under state law is invalid in light of the Commerce Clause if its statutory purpose and practical effect would be to curtail the volume of interstate commerce for the benefit of local economic interests.

A State may not promote its own local economic advantages by curtailing the volume of interstate commerce. A local embargo is invalid under the Dormant Commerce Clause. The denial of the license to Hood is neither consistent with nor authorized by the Federal Agricultural Marketing Agreement Act.

There is a distinction deeply rooted in our history and law between the power of the States to shelter the people from menaces to their health or safety, and the States’ lack of power to burden interstate commerce for their own economic advantage. Our economic unit is the nation and the states are not separable economic units.

Friday, May 11, 2012

Rush Limbaugh Insinuates Shepard Smith Is Gay

Following the president's announcement on Wednesday coming out in support of gay marriage, Fox News host Shepard Smith said that the president was on the "right side of the 21st century." He then asked fellow Fox News employee Bret Baier if the GOP would campaign against same-sex marriage "while sitting very firmly, without much question, on the wrong side of history on it."

These comments apparently caught the attention of conservative blowhard Rush Limbaugh, causing Limbaugh to attack Smith for his comments, and by doing so seemingly attacked Smith's sexuality and insinuated he was gay.

"Shep, where has the issue won?" Limbaugh asked. "Where has the issue been victorious, Shep, outside your house? Where has the issue won an election? What state? Tell me where it's happened."

Limbaugh was obviously making the claim that Smith is a closeted homosexual.  How's that for civil discourse?

Mitt Romney Tries To Catch Up To Obama On LGBT Issues

"I can beat that guy.  Forget marriage.  I'll let gays adopt!"
It seems Mitt Romney is playing a little bit of catch-up with the president this week ever since Obama announced the completion of his "evolution" and his support of same-sex marriages.  First Romney took to the airwaves to reaffirm his belief that marriage is a sacred institution and only men and women should be married.  Romney even went as far as to say civil unions that offer the same rights as marriage would be unacceptable, but he did add that gays should be allowed to visit each other in the hospital should they get sick.  There is a comforting thought.

Now Mitt Romney dropped another LGBT gem in hopes of winning back the gay vote (like that was ever going to happen): Romney stated that gay couples should be allowed to adopt, but his coming out in favor of gay adoptions isn't really a big win for the governor but more like a condescending call for necessity.

"I happen to believe that the best setting for raising a child is where this is the opportunity to a mom and a dad to be in the home," Romney said to Fox's Neil Cavuto. "I know there are many circumstances where that is not possible, through death or divorce. I also know many gay couples are able to adopt children. That's fine."

“And that if two people of the same gender want to live together, want to have a loving relationship and even want to adopt a child, in my state individuals of the same sex were able to adopt children. In my view that’s something that people have the right to do, but to call that marriage is, in my view, a departure of the real meaning of that word.”

First, I find that his defense of marriage is disingenuous.  He talks about the "real" meaning of the word but when you attempt to give homosexual couples guarantees by another name - "civil union" - Romney still isn't happy.  That is probably because he feels his marriage to be watered down when others are allowed to enjoy the same rights granted to married heterosexuals.

Secondly, Romney still believes men and women together are best equipped to raise children, but when that fails, he thinks it is okay to go down the line and tap the last resort for child rearing: gays.  Romney doesn't believe gay couples should be on an equal footing with straight couples.

“We have to have a president who’s willing to say that the best opportunity an individual can give to their unborn child is an opportunity to be born in a home with a mother and a father,” Romney said at the CNN debate. “We battled, for instance, to help the Catholic Church stay in the adoption business. The amazing thing was that while the Catholic Church was responsible for half the adoptions in my state — half the adoptions — they had to get out of that business because the legislature wouldn’t support me and give them an exemption from having to place children in homes where there was a mom and a dad on a preferential basis.

In the debate Romney lamented the fact that the Catholic Church could no longer conduct adoptions in Massachusetts because they wanted to give preferential treatment to straight couples.

Does that sound like someone who is interested in equal rights?

Republicans Block Marijuana Raid Defunding Bill

Republicans are all for states rights.  Just ask any one of them and they would cry about the overreaching federal government.  Recently a bill came up in the House that would defund the raids on medical marijuana dispensaries by federal agents.  Remember what Mitt Romney told a Colorado reporter recently: "I'm not running on marriage and marijuana, those are state issues, right? Aren't they?" he said following the interview."

Well, it looks like all that talk about states' rights was just a bunch of bull.  Republicans overwhelmingly voted against the bill on Wednesday (88 percent of Republicans voted against the bill).
"If states' rights aren't a good enough reason to pass this amendment, do it because of compassion. Compassion demands it," said Rep. Sam Farr from California. "We offer this amendment for terminal cancer patients," he added, "for AIDS victims, for persons who suffer chronic pain. We offer this amendment not only to protect those people, but we offer this amendment to protect the states that are progressive enough to provide alternative medical options to those who need it."

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Mitt Romney Lies To Local Reporter

A local Colorado reporter approached Mitt Romney on Wednesday and proceeded to ask Mitt Romney some questions ranging from same-sex marriage to medical marijuana and immigration.

"Aren't there issues of significance that you'd like to talk about?" Romney responded. "The economy? The growth of jobs? The need to put people back to work? The challenges of Iran?"

"I'm not running on marriage and marijuana, those are state issues, right? Aren't they?" he said following the interview."


This is interesting considering Romney the candidate has endorsed an amendment to the constitution banning same-sex marriage, superseding the states, and medical marijuana, no matter how a state classifies it, would still be illegal under federal law.

Also, Romney blew off the important questions asking if there were more significant issues they would rather talk about, but if you consider the actions of Republicans across the nation, it would appear that Republicans are the ones who are avoiding what Romney calls "issues of significance."  Just look at the vote in North Carolina on Tuesday to ban gay marriage - why weren't Republicans more interested in focusing on the economy?

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Out-Of-Touch Romney: "I'll Take A Lot Of Credit' For Auto Industry Recovery

"Whatever that guy did that worked I thought of first!"
Vice-President Joe Biden made a comment close to two weeks ago at an event at New York University in which he touted President Obama's record and contrasting those accomplishments with statements made by then-presumptive GOP nominee Mitt Romney.

“If you’re looking for a bumper sticker to sum up how President Obama has handled what we inherited, it’s pretty simple: Osama bin Laden is dead and General Motors is alive,” Biden said. “Gov. Romney is counting on our collective amnesia. But Americans know that we cannot afford to go back to the future.”

Mitt Romney has made numerous comments in the past regarding the hunt for Osama Bin Laden and the auto industry bailout.

In an Associated Press story on April 26, 2007, between Romney and reporter Liz Sidoti, Romney was quoted as saying the following in regards to Osama Bin Laden: "It's not worth moving heaven and earth and spending billions of dollars just trying to catch one person."

Romney later clarified his comments back in 2007 and again more recently with his flippant "of course" response, but that is beside the point - Romney put his foot in his mouth.

In regards to the auto industry, Romney was known for criticizing the bailouts famously saying "let Detroit go bankrupt" and go through a managed bankruptcy, which in 2008 he said "would propel newly competitive and viable automakers, rather than seal their fate with a bailout check."

A year later Romney claimed Obama stole his idea.

 “Mitt Romney had the idea first,” said Eric Fehrnstrom, a Romney spokesman, citing the Times opinion article. “You have to acknowledge that. He was advocating for a course of action that eventually the Obama administration adopted.”

Three years after that Romney is claiming that he deserves all the credit for saving the auto industry because of the idea of a managed bankruptcy he advocated, despite the fact that Romney served no official (or unofficial) role in the auto industry dealings.

"I pushed the idea of a managed bankruptcy," Romney said. "And finally, when that was done, and help was given, the companies got back on their feet. So I'll take a lot of credit for the fact that this industry's come back."

Let's ignore the fact that without the bailouts Chrysler would have not survived.  The federal judge who presided over the bankruptcy hearings stated back in March told ABC News the following: "One thing is clear, without government support in one fashion or another, there were no sources of funding.”

It seems the Romney campaign is taking a cue from the Obama campaign.  Throughout the GOP primary, Obama and his surrogates have been touting the inspiration Romneycare provided for Obamacare.  Romney must have seen that strategy as working for Obama so now Romney is trying his own brand of taking credit.

During an MSNBC debate back in 2007 Romney said the following regarding the hunting of Osama Bin Laden:

"We'll move everything to get him. But I don't want to buy into the Democratic pitch that this is all about one person — Osama bin Laden — because after we get him, there's going to be another and another. This is about Shia and Sunni. This is about Hezbollah and Hamas and al-Qaida and the Muslim Brotherhood. This is a worldwide jihadist effort to try and cause the collapse of all moderate Islamic governments and replace them with a caliphate.
"They ultimately want to bring down the United States of America.
"This is a global effort we're going to have to lead to overcome this jihadist effort. It's more than Osama bin Laden.
"But he is going to pay, and he will die."
Since then President Obama had found and killed Osama Bin Laden as well as destroying al-Qaeda's leadership, taking out 20 of their 30 top leaders.  It is only a matter of time before Mitt Romney will say that he would "take a lot of credit" for those actions as well.