A Modest Proposal in the Wake of the Repeal of Net Neutrality

SILVER LINING ALERT: While the imminent repeal of Net Neutrality will, over time, prove to be a major net loss for folks in general, there are three groups that could make hay while this new, crappy sun shines:

  1. Victims of revenge porn
  2. Victims of child pornography
  3. Their lawyers

Why? Internet providers have fought for and won the freedom to build revenue streams around regulating which packets traverse their networks how fast—and even to completely throttle some packets based on whatever criteria they like.  If they can do that, then they can certainly be held accountable for what is distributed through their networks.  They are no longer neutral conduits of information—and they have deep pockets.

I, for one, am saddened by this likely fatal blow to a free and open Internet—but I really, really look forward to watching victims—of hacks, of interpersonal betrayal, of privacy invasion, of documented childhood sexual assaults—sue the ever-loving shit out of Verizon, Comcast, AT&T, et al.

Go get ’em, Tigers!

Freelancers: You’re Freaking Out too Much about Working too Little

Short version: Most office workers in the United States have a nearly 9-hour workday, but are only productive for about 3 hours.  I.e., if you are a freelancer doing work that an office worker might do, then you can almost certainly make a decent living on ~3 hours per day. 

Please stop beating yourself up and running yourself ragged.  Focus on doing good work for half of each day and you’ll be just fine.

Here’s the Chart Your Bigoted Cousin Needs to See

You know when your cousin–or whoever–archly intimates that Those People don’t really need food assistance or tuition assistance or healthcare subsidies or whatever, because “You always see Them with nice clothes or a new iPhone or a big flatscreen TV!” or whatever?

Remember this chart.  And then show him this chart. 

Similarly, when he points out that folks used to be able to work a summer in a factory and pay for a full year of college, back before affirmative action and illegal immigrants took all the decent jobs from hard-workers and gave them to the under-qualified and under-productive–please, once more, remember this chart.  And then show him this chart.

Poor people have nice TVs because wages have gone up a little and the price of TVs has dropped like a brick.  Cousin Bigoty can’t afford to get his kids an education because wages have gone up a little and tuition has shot the moon.


That said, economically speaking this chart is by no means a slam dunk for any particular political worldview. Check this article, with its nearly 180-degree interpretations of this chart: The same data can be read as either an indictment of failed socialism being inevitably co-opted and driving up the cost of necessities, or as an indictment of late capitalism giving the masses their “bread and circus” while denying them the necessities of serviceable healthcare, housing, and education.

For my part, it looks to me like what happens when you have massive (and growing) income disparity: Everything divides into either run-away Veblen goods or near-disposable commodities (from the perspective of those at the nose-bleed heights of the top of the hockey stick). This chart illustrates why, for many Americans, America no longer feels great, and similarly why all the trade protectionism and corporate tax giveaways and draconian immigration restrictions in the world will never make America great again. 

Looking for Something to Call Your Reps About? May I suggest Mick Mulvaney?🇺🇸📞

Long story short: Mulvaney the current head of the Office of Management and Budget, and last week the President also made him acting director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB).  This is a little odd, since Mulvaney is on the record calling the agency a “joke” that he’d eliminate—but that’s all just talk.  What’s fundamentally rotten is that Mulvaney received roughly half a million dollars in donations from financial organizations that have been fined muy mucho dinero by the CFPB.

I’m not casting aspersions on Mulvaney or claiming he’s done—or would do—anything wrong; I’m sure he’s a great guy, and plausibly has many good ideas that make him highly qualified to filly two essential 120-hour/week gov’t positions.  But just as a thought experiment, say you had a kid in day care, and that day care hired someone who seemed like a fine pick and totally passed the criminal background check, but had also accepted millions of dollars from a group of notorious and powerful pedophiles.  Would this cause you concern?

Anyway, please take a minute and call your reps, and explain that you think there is maybe a moral hazard here.

*Record Scratch* *Freeze Frame* Yup, that's me; you're probably wondering how I ended up in this situation. Lemme tell ya; it all started…
*Record Scratch*
*Freeze Frame*
Yup, that’s me; you’re probably wondering how I ended up in this situation. Lemme tell ya; it all started…

Call yr reps!🇺🇸🔥📞 Today’s Topic: EPA funding

This is an easy one: the budget currently under consideration cuts the Environmental Protection Agency’a funding by ~30%. Right now the EPA has one (1!) toxicologist serving the six-state region that includes Michigan (where we just had an enormous lead-tainted-public-drinking-water problem). That’s down from four toxicologists a few years back—and even with 4x the staff they were overburdened.

It simply isn’t possible to assure safe air and water with the EPA running at two-thirds power—and if we want to increase domestic manufacturing, then we’re going to need to be even more diligent than we are today. Call yr reps and urge them to push for full funding of the EPA.

Take 5 Minutes to Tell the FCC to Preserve Net Neutrality

Long story short:  “Net Neutrality” means that, just as the phone company must route all calls with the same priority and quality, broadband providers (like Comcast and AT&T) must treat all web traffic the same, and not, for example, make connections to Netflix super crappy so that you feel obliged to pay for OnDemand in order to watch Mad Max: Fury Road or Sophia the First.

You have until July 17 to tell the FCC how you feel about that.  Submitting an official comment—one someone actually reads and takes seriously—is super easy:

  1. Go to this link and click “Express” (to get a form you can fill out and submit right there) or click “New Filing” (to upload a document you’ve already written).
  2.  Express your feelings about Net Neutrality hitting on one (or more) of three key points:
    1.  How has Net Neutrality impacted your life? Do you have an online business that would be FUBAR if Amazon got priority connections?  Did a service that organically arose as a result of the net being an equal access zone improve your life (examples: Things you’ve learned off of YouTube, clients/jobs you’ve connected with over LinkedIn or Monster.com or a freelancing community, relatives you re-connected with via Facebook or genealogy websites, supportive communities you found in this forum or that sub-reddit, etc.)
    2. What do you understand you are buying when you pay for broadband? Is it more like a telephone line—a “telecommunications service” that creates value by giving you a clear connection to the information and services you want—or is an an “information service” in and of itself, that is, a service that creates value by giving you information?  (Under FCC rules, telecommunications services require greater regulation than information services.)  If you go online and go to YouTube to watch a video, then Facebook to kibitz with pals, then check your Gmail, your broadband is a telecommunications services.  If, on the other hand, you boot up your laptop, rub your hands together, and say “Ah!  Time to go check the Comcast website for the latest news and weather, then go to the Comcast Cat Video service to watch some cat videos, then head on over to ComcastBook to chat with my pals!”, then it probably makes more sense to call Comcast an “information service.”  (Yes, I realize most of the “Comcast information services” I listed don’t exist; that’s the point.  They offer few “information services,” and most other ISPs don’t even offer those.)
    3. Competition.  If your current ISP decides to start blocking YouTube traffic and slowing Netflix to a crawl, can you just lickety-split change services to one that treats all traffic equally, or is it hard, expensive, or impossible to switch, or even shop around, because competition is too scarce?

(Ars Technica has a great article going into detail about this approach to discussing Net Neutrality with the FCC.  Highly recommended read!)

Here’s a draft of my comment:

I do not believe that the FCC should reclassify broadband as an “information service.”  As a consumer, it’s plain as day that I’m purchasing “telecommunications service” from Comcast when I pay for my broadband access.

Although I’ve had broadband Internet access through either AT&T or Comcast for at least 15 years, I have never used either company for any of their “information services.”  I currently use Apple, Amazon, and Google for cloud storage, FastMail and Apple for email hosting, NearlyFreeSpeech.net for web hosting, DynDNS for domain name services, ArborDomains for domain name hosting, the University of Michigan for my VPN, and Verizon, Skype, or Google for telephony.  Heck, even though Comcast *does* offer cable TV and streaming video, I don’t use that service (they dropped the only channel I wanted), instead relying on Netflix, YouTube, Apple, and Amazon.

Comcast actually does a pretty good job of providing me with a telecommunications service–but to call that an “information service” is as obtuse as calling the highway system a “grocery service” simply because the grocery store has produce delivered via truck.

When I pay Comcast, I’m paying them for fast and reliable broadband service, connecting me to the many “information services” I want, value, and pay to use.

Thank you for your time and attention.

All Best,

David Erik Nelson . . .

Go forth and tell your government how you want them to handle regulating this vital public utility.

Call Your Reps! (White House Conflicts-of-Interest, Independence Day 2017 Edition)🇺🇸📞

Today is a great day to call your reps and leave a message!  Wish them a Happy Independence Day and tell them what you’d like them to focus on when they get back to the office tomorrow.  If I may, I’d suggest they focus on White House conflicts-of-interest—perhaps by taking action on the following bills: 

In the House of Representatives:

  1. H.R. 371: Require the President and Vice President be included under current law that prohibits federal office holders from engaging in government business when they stand to profit (guess who the only two Executive Branch members currently exempt are?).  Also requires the PotUS and VP put their assets in a certified blind trust and disclose to the Office of Government Ethics when the make decisions that impact their personal finances.
  2. H.R. 305: Amend the Ethics in Government Act of 1978 to require the disclosure of some tax returns by presidential candidates.  Requires sitting presidents to disclose three prior years of federal tax returns.
  3. H.Res. 186: Direct the Secretary of the Treasury to provide President Trump’s tax returns and other financial info to Congress post haste.

In the senate:

  1. S.65: Requires the President, Vice President, their spouses, and any minor children to divest of any potential financial conflicts of interest by transferring assets to a qualified blind trust.
  2. S.Con.Res. 8: Calls on the PotUS to “follow the precedent established by prior Presidents and convert his assets to conflict-free holdings, adopt blind trusts,” etc. and not take actions that favor the Trump Organization. Also declares that, lacking an “express affirmative authorization by Congress,” the PotUS’s financial dealings with foreign governments or their agents are indeed violations of the Emoluments Clause.

My personal view is that, regardless of where you are on the political spectrum, you should support these bills—they’re just common sense in the modern age, where anyone with even the simplest 401k, tiniest nest-egg socked away in an IRA, or humblest mortgage has a vested interest in myriad domestic and foreign policy issues.

But even if you think all of these bills are total BS, call your usa-american-flag-waving-animated-gif-26reps.  Please call your reps and tell them that.  We should all be invested not in a system that has this or that policy outcome, but in a system where the vast majority of citizens actively participate to guide us toward whatever outcome may be.  I totally accept that I’ll often be on the losing end, policy-wise, because my beliefs and experience just don’t match up with the majority—but I’ll be damned if I’m gonna gently and quietly acquiesce to a country molded around the manic delusions of a vocal, belligerent, ideologically extreme minority of the electorate.

Don’t know what to call your reps about today? May I suggest “White House conflicts of interest”?

Here are a few examples moral hazards unique to the Executive Branch ALL DRAWN FROM JUST THE PAST 24 HOURS OF NEWS:

Giving your reps a call (click the link and scroll to “Power User Mode”) is quick, fun, and easy! Don’t miss this opportunity to prevent a violent uprising by Winter 2017!🇺🇸📞💻☝️

Offered for Contrast: The Case Against the Case for Impeachment

This argument strikes me as willfully obtuse (in the 20thC impeachment has been about a preponderance of wrongdoing, not a single gotcha), but I offer it to contrast most of what I’ve shared over the past few days:

OPINION: The Comey memo offers zero evidence to impeach Trump

(This "America golem" is Nazi propaganda from WWII, but remarkably apt these days.)
(This “America golem” is Nazi propaganda from WWII, but remarkably apt these days.)

For the record, over the past week it’s become increasingly clear that our representatives need to start saying the word “impeachment“—which is, recall, a formal Congressional statement of charges and investigation, not a fancy way of saying “removal from office.”  Is it time for removal from office?  I have no fucking clue.  Is it time to formally level charges?  It sure seems that way—but I don’t know, and am in no position to figure it out.  It is certainly time for us to accept that we need to seriously talk about this, not just throw the word around in histrionic fits.  It’s like the word “cancer” or the phrase “I’m dying”: We use these a lot as shorthands for things like “I feely sorta achy” or “I’m super-duper tired,” but there are also times when you do have cancer, when you are dying, and you need to actually start to talk about that with your loved ones.

And we’re in that place now, the place where we have to talk about cutting off our nose not to spite our face, but to save it before the cancer metastasizes.

This isn’t because the PotUS fired Comey for the stated reason that he was sick of “this Russia thing,” and it isn’t because he spilled the beans to that same hostile foreign power, and it isn’t because he tried to obstruct the early stages of the investigation into Trump-Russia ties back in February and it isn’t because he quite clearly benefited from—and plausible in some form, by action, inaction, or willful ignorance, colluded with—election meddling by that foreign power.  It isn’t because he, his staff, and his family have very publicly sought to personally profit from holding the Office of the PotUS, and it isn’t because everyone in his inner circle seems to treat the very notion of “ethics” the way a dog treats an especially sexy throw-pillow, and it isn’t because of the breaking-strain bend he’s put in the Emoluments Clause, and it isn’t because of his stated seditious animosity to the rule of law as it is widely recognized in this country—especially as pertains to the 1st, 4th, and 14th Amendments.  It is because of the preponderance of those things and more, taken all together, without pause, without recrimination, without apparent shame or the recognition that each of them is not simply Bad, but actually contemptuous of the very notion that governments are instituted among regular folks like us (not inflicted upon them) and derive their powers from the consent of the governed (which again, is us).  His high crime, if nothing else, is that he acts with contempt for us and for our institutions.

“What is his impeachable offense?”

Dude, at this point, what isn’t?

Tech Companies: “How Dare You Suggest We’d Help Build the Muslim Registry We Already Built!”

So, when I saw this item the other day, I immediately thought of this blog post I penned in January 2015.  tl;dr on all this:

Trump transition team has been publicly mulling over creating/reviving a “Muslim Registry.” The Intercept started calling social media/tech companies and only one—Twitter—said “We’d never help with this!” (FYI, IBM has been down this road before, and yet still somehow doesn’t know the right answer to this question).  Yesterday, Facebook finally clearly said “No way! We won’t do it! We’d never build a Muslim Regsitry!”

But here’s the thing:

  1. As I pointed out back in Jan 2015, these companies have already built these databases.  They know when you are sleeping, they know when you’re awake, they know if you’ve been bad or good or if you even give two shits about Santa Claus.
  2. More to the point, the abstract threat I wrote about back in Jan 2015, when it freaked me out a little that Amazon had clearly flagged me as a Jew, became real in the Spring of 2016 when a bomb threat was called in to the Jewish Community Center housing my daughter’s daycare.  Because I sit on the Board of our congregation (which uses that building regularly for our religious services), I ended up touching base with the local police and FBI agents investigating the incident.  As it turned out six JCCs across the U.S. (in locales as far-flung as St. Louis, New York, and Louisiana) received the same threats at the same time—and all had very similar names.  When I did some googling, I found that all of us were listed together alphabetically in online Jewish education directories, with our phone numbers and addresses.  I.e., someone was just working their way down a list. This time around, it was just to make phone calls and fuck with us and our kids.  Next time?  Who knows; here’s what said in 2015, and it’s still about the same:

[I]n Amazon’s datacenter, I’m a row in a table. The index on that row is something like “CUSTOMER #2045674” and the cells include “kindle-owner” and “SF reader” and “owl pellet buyer” and “Jew” and my mailing address. Just another row, among millions–until that table gets resorted by the “Jew” column, and then I’m a box waiting to be ticked off by God-knows-who for God-knows-what-reason. Maybe they want to send me free Xanukah candles! Maybe they want to send me a bomb disguised as a printer cartridge! I guess I’ll have to wait for the mail man to come and find out then!

So I guess it’s swell that Facebook and IBM and Amazon and whoever else handwould never-ever-ever build the Muslim Registry they already built, but what if they maybe entirely accidentally do build a registry (which they already built, which is already being used to facilitate hate crimes and international terror)?  What then?

FYI, in business jargon, this is an externality.