Open for Business at Davos


Welcome to the United States.   We’re a great place to do business.

In America you come first!  Just look at what we’ve got:

  • Powerless unions.
  • No stupid rules for working conditions.
  • Do what you want to the environment.
  • Hire and fire as you please.
  • Healthcare plans optional.
  • Employers win all legal challenges.
  • Play states against each other for gifts.
  • Lowest taxes anywhere—the “locals” are not your problem!

You may have lost your colonies, but now there is the new America:

The land where you don’t have to care!

DACA is Not a Sideshow


The language around DACA has made it a lot more polarizing as an issue than it should be.  There’s a reason for that, so we need to talk through the basics.

The DACA program involves people who came here at an age when they had no control, who have lived their lives here, who haven’t done anything wrong, and who have enough education to be (as much as can we can tell) on a path to contributing to the economy.  Obviously that just talks about the people, not the issues surrounding them.

The primary issue is what this says about immigration.  The answer is actually not much.

– This isn’t saying anything about open borders.  No one on any side is supporting that.

– This isn’t letting the parents on or off the hook.  That’s a tricky question, but no one is making them citizens.  The parents are not the issue.

– This isn’t giving future waves of immigrants a reason to come here.   By now this is anything but a sure thing, and there are plenty of other reasons for people to come.

– This isn’t an attack on the rule of law.   It’s a case of clemency like any other, where there are arguments for and against.  They didn’t deliberately break the law and have thus far been decent people.

– Most of the stated concerns about foreign immigration don’t apply here.  They’re not culturally different, they speak English, they haven’t taken anyone’s jobs away, and they personally haven’t broken the law.  Their departure is not going to make other peoples’ lives better.

– As for the most basic argument—that’s 700,000 more immigrants we don’t need—the fact is that most of the population fits the category of people whose ancestors came from places where they weren’t on the top of the heap.

What is true is that deporting them is enough of a moral issue that we ought to think about it.  We are talking about sending people to a country they don’t know with a language they don’t speak and washing our hands of the whole affair.  There is no actual hurt from these people.  Most of the country doesn’t seem to want that, but it seems we’re doing it because we can.

What kind of a country does that?   There’s an answer to that question, step-by-step:

– It’s a country where immigration officials have been encouraged to treat anyone who comes through their hands as a potential criminal without rights.

– It’s a country that’s doing everything possible to give up on support of the poor.

– It’s a country actively backing away from support of education, healthcare, social security, and the middle class just generally.

– It’s a country moving toward a level of inequality unheard-of since the 19th century—where slogans about benefits for everyone are as false now as they were then.

It’s no accident that such a country would want to demonize the DACA people.   The less people think about human consequences the better.  Let the others think it’s still their country.


We should think carefully about the DACA people.  They’re not the right targets for outrage.  And it’s not just about them.

A Net Neutrality Catalog


The repeal of net neutrality is outrageous on so many fronts that it becomes a sort of catalog of the kinds of damage that the administration is doing wherever it can.  Here are a few points, one by one.

  1. Bad policy

As point of departure, net neutrality is the doctrine that separates internet service providers from the content they carry.  ISP’s carry bits, content is not their business.  End users can access any server on the network, and service providers just connect like anyone else.

Without net neutrality, ISP’s are free to provide service classes and pricing based on server identity, traffic characteristics, or anything else.  It’s hard to predict precisely what will come out of it, but one thing is clear.  The big ISP’s (Verizon, AT&T, and Comcast) have spent a fortune to get this ability for differential services and pricing, so that’s what we’re going to see.  The universal internet is no more.  One way or another we’ll be nickel-and-dimed forever.

The net neutrality fight has a long history, going back to the breakup of the Bell System and the regulatory distinctions between basic communications and enhanced services.   Telephone companies and later ISP’s have always wanted to use their communication networks for competitive advantage.  They’ve also tried to kill new competitive internet-based technologies such as VPN’s, FaceTime, and Skype.   Net neutrality has kept the internet competitive and unconstrained, so they’ve fought it for decades.  Their cover story has always been that they need extra profits to expand and modernize their networks, but they’ve been doing just fine all along.

With the repeal they’ve hit the jackpot.   There are no constraints on what services they can provide, no constraints on what they can do to the competition, and no follow-up to make sure those extra profits benefit anything but the bottom line!

  1. Supported by outright lies

Here is a quote from the new FCC chairman Ajit Pai (a former Verizon executive) in support of the decision:

“Returning to the legal framework that governed the Internet from President Clinton’s pronouncement in 1996 until 2015 is not going to destroy the Internet. It is not going to end the Internet as we know it. It is not going to kill democracy. It is not going to stifle free expression online. If stating these propositions alone doesn’t demonstrate their absurdity, our Internet experience before 2015, and our experience tomorrow, once this order passes, will prove them so”.

That is an amazing piece of deliberate deception.

The “internet experience” from 1996 until 2015 was net neutrality.  It was used to push back against one carrier-sponsored violation after another.  (That’s what kept VPN’s, FaceTime, and Skype.)  The “legal framework” changed in 2015, because constant carrier legal challenges caused the Obama administration to put net neutrality on a more solid legal footing.  There was no change in regulatory behavior in 2015, and the only thing that history proves is that the carriers cannot be trusted without explicit regulation.

Contrary to what Mr. Pai says, his repeal of net neutrality is not moving us back to a pre-2015 world.   This is a whole new carrier-sponsored future.

  1. Selling out the future to the past

It already tells you something that the repeal is a case of Verizon, AT&T, and Comcast against Apple, Google, Microsoft, and Facebook.  That isn’t saying Apple, etc. are angels, but they are the current bases of American economic preeminence—as opposed to the technical equivalent of the coal industry.  And the situation for new, innovative companies is even worse.

Instead of doing everything possible to encourage innovation, we have behaved as if innovation was the enemy, cutting funding for education and research and shutting down the influence of science in government.   This is just one more example.

  1. Selling out the population to big business

The net neutrality repeal goes under the triumphant title of “The Restoring Internet Freedom Order”.

However the freedom they’re talking about is freedom from public scrutiny.  The repeal order punts away responsibility for oversight of Internet Service Providers—just at the time when the internet is becoming a more and more essential part of everyone’s life.   It has already become the carrier for most voice services and is in the process of taking on that role for cable.

The repeal gives that responsibility to the FTC, which is in no way equipped to handle that class of issues.  The FTC’s own FTC, FCC Outline Agreement to Coordinate Online Consumer Protection Efforts describes nothing more than data to be supplied by the ISP’s.   There is no discussion of enforcement for wrong-doing or even of basis for oversight.

Broadband access is anything but a competitive industry—at best there are two players in any locality.  As one commentator put it, the repeal is “a wholesale dismantling of oversight for some of the least-competitive and least ethical companies in America”.

  1. Ideology over reality

In the Regan years Republicans were already gung-ho for deregulation.  But at least they used to give reasons why they thought it would work.  When they killed the “Fairness Doctrine” for even-handed television coverage, the argument (from former FCC commissioner Fowler) was “the common man isn’t stupid and is quite capable of forming reasoned opinions among a welter of competing voices”.  I.e. the proliferation of channels—particularly with cable—made regulation in their eyes unnecessary.

This time there’s no attempt (other than a misstatement of history) to explain why the repeal “is not going to stifle free expression online”.  In fact with at best just two broadband carriers in a local area, we’re talking about a concentration of influence that dwarfs anything that existed for television.  Without net neutrality we have two gatekeepers—with their own interests—managing the world as we see it.   And there is a lot of history to say where that can lead.

  1. Media censorship

This final point may seem exaggerated, but the threat is real.  We’ve just seen that ISP’s have the power.  It’s only a question of who wants to use it and how far they will go.

The Trump administration has engaged in anti-democratic policies across the board and has repeatedly threatened news media with legal action to suppress criticism.  Repealing net neutrality makes censorship just a matter of directing a handful of carriers.

Given the wide unpopularity of the network neutrality repeal, we have to consider that carrier benefits and Republican ideology may not be all there is to it.   Whether or not the Trump people have actual plans for managing the carriers, it’s hard to believe they haven’t thought about it!

So there’s no getting around it—net neutrality is a protection we can ill afford to lose.


Illusion and Reality

238542495_21bb5b1747_oMuch has been made of the role of Trump as a divisive force in American politics.  While there is no question about Trump’s behavior, blaming Trump for divisiveness makes this seem like a one-of-a-kind personality problem.  That’s an all too common illusion.  The reality is a much bigger story.

Growing up in the post-war US it is easy to forget that democracy and rule of law are by nature fragile.  For most of human history the rich and powerful have just run things for their benefit.  Rule of law gets in the way, and those who expect to be in control tend to find that intolerable.  As has been carefully-documented, forces for oligarchy are more powerful now than they’ve been for quite some time in this country.  Growing inequality and the Citizens United decision show both the current power of those forces and their ability to get more of it.  That is today’s reality.

The facts in this piece are not new but haven’t gotten enough play.   The main reason is that the illusions in the foreground—Trump’s tweets or the Republican Party squabbles—drown out the rest.   It’s worth going through these basics, because otherwise (as with divisiveness) it’s too easy to believe nonsense.

The major players in the game are well-known, but their clout and goals are underappreciated.  The starting point is the Koch organization and its allies.   The Koch organization channels money from ultra-rich donors into a political organization with 1600 employees and a bigger budget than the Republican party itself.   Most of their money is “dark”, passed untraceably through nominally charitable (but tightly-controlled) think tanks into Political Action Committees.  The Kochs were responsible for the Republican takeover of Congress and of the state legislatures—they focused unheard-of money on the states prior to 2010, so as to be able to gerrymander based on the 2010 census.  Citizens United showed their power in the Supreme Court—Roberts and Alito were both named via the Koch-funded Federalist Society—and the Gorsuch relationship is even closer.  Finally all of that speaks through their primary propaganda channel—Rupert Murdoch (net worth $14.7 B) and Fox News.

The stated goal is to return the US to something like the 19th century Gilded Age, where a handful of rich individuals ran the country through money and influence.  The Progressive Era, which followed and limited their control, is viewed as the start of a national decline.  Any social welfare spending or constraint on business saps the strength of the country.  Overall, a robber-baron economy even Adam Smith wouldn’t endorse.

It was recognized early-on that such a program would not be popular, so it was necessary to provide a cover.  For that purpose (as documented) they systematically created an alternative reality, developed by the think tanks, promulgated by Fox News, and represented politically by front organizations—most notably the Tea Party and Donald Trump.

Strangely, it is still not common knowledge that the Tea Party was created and funded by the Kochs.  Trump is a different story.   He was not their first choice, but with their guy Pence in the background, he proved to be an almost ideal populist mask. It’s no accident that the one major legislative achievement of the Trump administration was the passing of their tax cut.   That was not AN issue—it was THE issue, and the achievement was not Trump’s but theirs.   It signified their full control of the Republican Party.

The features of the “alternative reality” are worth describing in more detail, as they cover a good bit of our daily cacophony.  This is less a system of beliefs than a framework for propaganda:

  1. The single most important goal has been to divide and conquer the electorate by creating divisions and mutual enmities among groups. Divisiveness is not a byproduct but an explicit goal.

Racism was one starting point.   Under Obama is was easy to claim that blacks were cheating to get more than their fair share.  Large fractions of the country still believe, quite incorrectly, that the whole social welfare system exists primarily for blacks.  Even the non-Fox press does a good job of reinforcing that misunderstanding.

It was only one step beyond that to go after the past alliance of liberals and the working class.  No message has been more enthusiastically repeated on Fox News than “they hate us and think we’re stupid”.  That message is neatly aligned with racism—they dress differently, they listen to different music, they’re not us—they’re the enemy.   They stole your jobs.  Cutting them down to size is at least as satisfying as actually getting a job.  What’s more education is bad:   It just turns your kids into people like them!

Finally this all gets reinforced with fear.  This is a very dangerous country.  Blacks and foreigners are all out to get you.   You need to know who your friends are.

So discussions of divisiveness or “polarization of the electorate” are missing the point.  While the left tries to figure out where they went wrong with the working class, Murdoch’s resources remain on-message, promoting hatred of “others” and everything they stand for.

  1. The other major message promotes the oligarchs themselves.

Job creators are god-like figures who dispense jobs as gifts.  Growth, produced by them, is the miracle solution to all problems.  You don’t need ideas or plans, just them.

Government is corrupt and inept.   Sometimes, as with the EPA, it is actively malicious.  It makes laws that impinge on our freedoms.  It wastes money with social welfare programs for ungrateful non-white cheats.  Education is useless indoctrination.  Even the police cannot be trusted to do their job—we need more good people with guns.  And everything government does is financed with money stolen at our peril from the job creators.

So we need to cut their taxes, eliminate constraints on their behavior, and make sure they get as much of the pie as possible.  Further it turns out that all government services they don’t need (healthcare, social security, education, …) are candidates for cuts.  We just need defense and self-funded infrastructure (to go where the money is).


That’s where we are.   Trump and the Republicans may get all the press, but the real powers know exactly what they’re worth:  Trump is a loose cannon but easily manipulated, and the Republicans are replaceable buffoons already scared of their next primaries.

The 2018 and 2020 elections will be fought against the Koch organization and Murdoch for control of the country.   Given that democracy is on the line, the rest of us had better win.