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.
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.
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:
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).
Express your feelings about Net Neutrality hitting on one (or more) of three key points:
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.)
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.)
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?
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.
David Erik Nelson . . .
Go forth and tell your government how you want them to handle regulating this vital public utility.
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:
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.
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.
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:
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.
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 reps.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.
Here are a few examples moral hazards unique to the Executive Branch ALL DRAWN FROM JUST THE PAST 24 HOURS OF NEWS:
“President Trump has given at least 16 of his staff, including chief of staff Reince Priebus and adviser Kellyanne Conway, ethics waivers to work on issues they handled as lobbyists or in their former jobs.“
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:
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.
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:
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.
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 would 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?
Listen: Basically all consumer goods are imported.Go through your things now and look for labels: your phone, tv, and computer are Chinese; your shirts are Bangladeshi and Cambodian, your pants Mexican and Nicaraguan. There is exactly one U.S. factory making men’s underwear; those undies are awesome, and cost ~$28 each.
If Trump places a 35% tariff on foreign goods, you’ll need a $6,000/year raise in order to keep treading water (in that your spending on imported manufactured goods—about 38% of the average American household budget—will go up by 35%). Alternately, you can spend $28 for each pair of Made in the USA underwear, $12 for every pair of socks, and I guess not have an iPhone or TV or vitamin supplements or anything with a rare-earth magnet in it (i.e., a computer, a hybrid car, many power tools, many car covers…the list goes on).
The only reason that most Americans haven’t noticed that our real (inflation-adjusted) household incomes have been flat since 1965 is because we’ve enjoyed the enormous savings on manufactured goods that comes with globalization. I’m foggy on why anyone wants to give that up—even if, by some crippled miracle, a huge tariff leads to t-shirt and underwear manufacturing returning to U.S. soil, we don’t have the capacity to produce those things at volume any more. I think there’s only a single jersey cotton weaving mill left in the U.S. It would take years to get factories retooled (or, hell, built; many of those old factories are now lofts, open-plan offices, and unoccupiable attractive nuisances). In the meantime you have the same crappy job you did in October, and you’re paying 35% more for the same shoes and kids pajamas and phone chargers and disposable razors.
So what were Trump voters voting for if it wasn’t the economy, stupid? I really can’t imagine; I didn’t vote for him.
In celebration of their 10th anniversary Pseudopod—a consistently solid horror fiction podcast—is running a kickstarter:
Pseudopod has an excellent track record—both in terms of delivering the goods and doing right by their contributors—and impressive longevity (10 years of weekly operation publishing fiction for free is hard going; I know from experience). Their goal is to raise funds to increase what they pay artists and ensure their longevity. These are Good Things™
Kick in a few bucks; the 21st Century is nuts, and perhaps the nutsiest thing is the jaw-dropping array of free arts & letters we each enjoy every day—but it can only be free on the daily if we all kick in now and again. This is one of those moments.
Add bonus: there are some really nifty backer premiums, including this rad-as-hell mug and their first ever anthology, For Mortal Things Unsung—which features both reprints of pieces they
bought for the podcast (including mine), as well as new work A.C. Wise, Jim Bihyeh, and others.