We've noted repeatedly that while Silicon Valley giants like Facebook and Google are portrayed as net neutrality supporters, that hasn't been true for many years now. Google stopped giving a damn about the idea back in 2010 or so when it started eyeing the broadband (Google Fiber) and wireless (Android, Project Fi) markets. Similarly, Facebook has never really been much of a genuine supporter, and has actively undermined the concept of net neutrality overseas in developing nations. Once they became powerful and wealthy enough, they stopped seriously worrying about the threat posed by broadband monopolies.
But as Netflix has grown more powerful, its advocacy for net neutrality has waned proportionally. The company has repeatedly made it clear that now that it's large and successful, it no longer really has to worry about being bullied by ISPs like Comcast, since it can now afford to pay the abitrary troll tolls they're keen on erecting around the internet:
"It’s not narrowly important to us because we’re big enough to get the deals we want,” Hastings said. It was a candid admission: no matter what the FCC decides to do with Title II, Netflix isn’t worried about its ability to survive. Hastings says that Netflix is “weighing in against” changing the current rules, but that “it’s not our primary battle at this point” and “we don’t have a special vulnerability to it."
That's arguably myopic, and it's unlikely the next Netflix is quite so confident. Because Netflix is wealthy and powerful enough to fend off anti-competitive efforts by AT&T, Verizon and Comcast, doesn't mean the death of the rules won't be problematic for thousands of small businesses, startups and entrepreneurs who'll be operating on a decidedly-tilted playing field.
Netflix doubled down on its myopia this week during the company's conference call with analysts and the media, when CEO Reed Hastings tried to insist that the death of net neutrality rules here in the States was no big deal. Why? Apparently, "consumer expectations" will somehow magically keep telecom giants on their best behavior:
"Around the world net neutrality has won as a consumer expectation," Hastings said Monday during a video discussion of Netflix's second-quarter financial performance. "Broadly around the world consumers have the expectation and ISPs are delivering it," he added, referring to Internet service providers.
"The net neutrality advocates have won the day in terms of those expectations," he said.
That's not how any of this works.
Consumers can have all the "expectations" they want in terms of a healthy, open internet. But expectations mean nothing in the face of limited broadband competition and napping or compromised regulators, since there will soon be no penalty for behaving anti-competitively. ISPs right now are on their best behavior because they're worried about adding fuel to the looming lawsuits against the FCC. But should ISPs win in court, we'll quickly get a crash course on how little "expectations" will matter in the face of unchecked monopoly power.
Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s unexpected victory has made it clear that the progressive movement activated by Bernie Sanders in 2016 is far from dead.
Policies like single-payer health care and a $15 minimum wage have become the rallying cries of ambitious Democratic politicians, and they increasingly find support among the general public. One poll commissioned last year found that even a plurality of self-identified Republicans now think that public colleges and universities should be tuition-free.
So it’s no surprise that all manner of Democratic politicians are now rushing to portray themselves as progressives.
In Michigan, businessperson Shri Thanedar has spent millions of dollars on television ads casting himself as “the most progressive Democrat running for governor,” and promising that he would bring single-payer health care to Michigan.
“Health care is not a privilege; it is our fundamental right. I will bring single-payer health care to Michigan,” Thanedar says in a TV commercial. “Agree? Vote for Shri.”
But there’s reason to be skeptical.
Over the last year, investigations by The Intercept have revealed many facts which cast doubt on Thanedar’s progressive branding. He donated thousands of dollars to Sen. John McCain’s presidential campaign, he was spotted clapping and nodding approvingly at a Marco Rubio presidential rally, and several Michigan political consultants have claimed that Thanedar once consulted them about possibly running as a Republican.
Now, an interview with The Intercept reveals that Thanedar’s much touted single-payer health care “plan” appears to be nonexistent.
In a conversation I had with Thanedar this spring, the candidate made it clear that, if elected, he would push the federal government to establish a single-payer plan. But when asked what he would do if a national single-payer plan failed, Thanedar struggled to offer a viable, state-level solution.
When I pressed him on what a Michigan state single-payer system would look like, Thanedar’s answer reflected a troubling ignorance about the difference between federal and state programs. He replied: “I would expand the Medicare and allow people to buy into it.”
“But Medicare is a federal program,” I pointed out, which a governor has no authority to expand.
Moreover, even if a governor did have that authority, Medicare expansion is not the same as single-payer health care. The former would create a competitive, government-run insurance option that individuals could buy into, and which, in theory, would drive down private insurance prices. But a single-payer system entails a government-run health system that would cover everyone automatically, like Medicare does for seniors. Although he claimed to support a single-payer system, Thanedar was actually describing a public option.
“It is, it is,” he conceded when I pointed out the discrepancy.
“So what would you do in Michigan?” I once again followed up.
“Well you know, Massachusetts did it at the single state level, on which the Obamacare is based on. But my commitment is there I would get together experts and make it happen and work with that. It’s not an easy thing,” he replied. “It’s a complex thing. There are cost issues, there are a number of other issues that need to be dealt with. But I’m very convinced in the long run, it will save us money and it’s the right thing to do.”
I then asked him if there would still be private insurance under a statewide single-payer plan. Typically, private insurance is relegated to a supplemental role in a single-payer system.
“Again, I’m not prepared to, you know, give you a full, you know, this is all still things to be thought about,” he replied.
“And so you’re fine putting everybody in Michigan into one government plan and not having private insurance in Michigan?” I once again prodded. The answer to this question is politically relevant, since access to private insurance options has become a stalking horse for conservatives who oppose single-payer.
“I’m not saying that,” he insisted.
“But that’s what single-payer is though by definition, right?” I followed up, emphasizing the marginal role private insurance plays in a single-payer system.
“It is. It is,” he conceded.
Finally, Thanedar concluded that the system is complex, and explained that what he’s offering is to provide the leadership necessary to achieve a state single-payer system if a national plan doesn’t emerge “in a reasonable time.”
“I am for single payer. It’s a complex system. It needs to be all worked out. We need to get experts. We need to draft a proposal and some great number of details in it. And all of that needs leadership and a commitment by the leadership. And I’m not coming in with a solution to every complex problem Michigan has,” he said. “But I’m coming in with a commitment to provide leadership.”
Thanedar has since come out in support a plan to extend universal health care coverage to all Michiganders under 19 years old by strengthening the state’s “Healthy Kids” health care program, which currently provides support to certain pregnant women and children.
Listen to the full interview here:
When asked to comment on this piece, Thanedar again affirmed that he would do everything in his power to pass a national single-payer program, and explained that “if it cannot be done at the national level, I will work tirelessly to implement a single-payer healthcare system in Michigan with a goal to cover every Michigander.”
One of his opponents, former Detroit Public Health chief Abdul El-Sayed, is also running on establishing single-payer. But unlike Thanedar, El-Sayed has a detailed strategy for how to accomplish it. Last month, he released a plan to establish “Michicare,” which would levy payroll and business taxes to establish state-funded public coverage for all Michigan residents. El-Sayed is not shy about the fact that he would raise taxes in order to finance the system, but he estimates that the average Michigan family, earning an income of $48,432, would save around $5,000 a year in costs by switching to “Michicare” from their private health insurance provider.
Abdul El-Sayed was recently interviewed on the Intercepted podcast about his plan to create a single-payer health care system in Michigan, among other topics. Listen to the segment beginning at 24:55.
But despite having a more well-developed plan, El-Sayed’s middle-class background means he does not have the same resources to advertise his health care plan as does Thanedar, who, not without controversy, made a fortune in the chemical testing industry.
As a result, there’s a real risk that the public might be misled.
In a race where single-payer health care has become an important campaign issue, Thanedar’s vague, but well publicized, commitment to single-payer may undercut El-Sayed’s campaign, and derail the only detailed plan for a state-based single-payer program. The most recent polling on the Michigan race has Thanedar in a statistical dead heat with El-Sayed, with both men trailing former Senate Democratic leader Gretchen Whitmer by a considerable margin. The votes that Thanedar is pulling would theoretically be enough to put El-Sayed — who has hired a stable of Bernie Sanders alumni to run his campaign — in a competitive race with Whitmer.
But by coopting a progressive message and splitting the progressive vote, Thanedar has helped Whitmer, an establishment candidate, take a comfortable lead.
Whitmer is the daughter of former Blue Cross Blue Shield CEO Richard Whitmer. She’s the only Democratic candidate in the race who does not back single-payer, saying that it’s not “realistic” in Michigan at this time. BCBS Michigan lobbyists threw a fundraiser for Whitmer earlier this year. And she’s currently taking heat from an unidentified group who have paid for ads attacking her from accepting “big money” from insurance companies.
In this context, casting oneself as a progressive has become an important way to distinguish oneself from establishment politicians like Whitmer, and all the connotations of corporate corruption that come up with them — even if the label doesn’t fit.
Already, potential 2020 candidates for the Democratic nomination have taken postures designed to do just that. For instance, a number of senators have pledged to stop taking corporate political action committee money. But as several campaign finance experts explained to The Intercept, this move is mostly a “cheap gesture.” Many of these senators never took much corporate PAC money to begin with — instead, they raked in the bulk of their fundraising from large individual donors, including both corporate lobbyists and executives.
Given the increasing marketability of “progressivism,” it’s unlikely that Thanedar will be the last politician to don that mantle without adopting the policies to match. As long as progressive and populist policies are well-received by the general public, candidates for higher office have incentive to adopt sloganeering designed to appeal to this growing portion of the electorate. As a result, progressive voters may be increasingly unable to take politicians’ claims of “progressivism” at face value.
Top photo: Michigan Democratic gubernatorial candidate Shri Thanedar during a debate on June 20, 2018, in Grand Rapids, Mich.
More than 100 state and local elected officials from 20 states on Tuesday joined the call to abolish Immigration and Customs Enforcement, adding momentum to a push that, until recently, was dismissed as a fringe left rallying cry. In a joint statement, state legislators, mayors, city council members, and county officials made their demand clear: “The experiment that is ICE has failed, and must be ended as soon as possible.”
State senators and representatives from Arizona, Connecticut, Illinois, New Mexico, Rhode Island, and Illinois signed the open letter, which is being reported for the first time by The Intercept. They were joined by officials from dozens of cities in 14 other states and the District of Columbia.
“While this escalation of policy is particularly devastating and inhumane, it is part of a larger crisis that has been building in our communities for years because of the rampant and brutal enforcement tactics of Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the lawless federal agency that, since its creation in 2002, has terrorized immigrants and separated families in the communities we live in and represent,” the statement reads.
“It’s not an agency that can be fixed or reformed.”
Immigrant communities and rights groups have drawn attention to abuses by the agency for years, but the call to “abolish ICE” has found renewed urgency in the year and a half since Donald Trump took office, and particularly in the two months since the Trump administration began to implement its “zero tolerance” border policy. What was started by some grassroots immigration activists turned into a viral hashtag and eventually became part of the platforms of several progressive Democratic candidates. It even made its way to Congress, where Reps. Mark Pocan, D-Wis., and Pramila Jayapal, D-Wash., have promised to introduce a billto eliminate the agency.
Helen Gym, a Philadelphia City Council member who signed the statement, said that state and local elected officials joined the movement because they are the ones closest to the ground, which means they see the toll that ICE’s “inhumane tactics” take on immigrant families and communities.
“I think the clarity around ‘abolish ICE’ is important because it’s not an agency that can be fixed or reformed,” Gym told The Intercept. The function of the agency should not simply change names or absorb into a different department, she added, “it needs to be dismantled.”
City Council member Helen Gym, right, accompanied by Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program recipients, and activists, speaks during a news conference in Philadelphia on Sept. 11, 2017.
Photo: Matt Rourke/AP
Another signer of the joint statement, Hartford City Council member Wildaliz Bermúdez, said that “instead of spending $6 billion on an agency that terrorizes immigrant communities and raids our schools, local businesses, and places of worship, we should be investing our taxpayer dollars in infrastructure, education, and creating good jobs.”
A number of senators who are presumed to be 2020 presidential hopefuls — Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., Bernie Sanders, I-Vt, and Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass. — have also joined the push to abolish ICE, but there appears to be no consensus on what the alternative should be. Left-wing activists have proposed a moratorium on deportations, while more moderate Democrats say the agency is simply in need of reform. Still, the odds that Congress will undertake any substantial overhaul of the agency in the foreseeable future are dismal, as lawmakers have so far failed to pass a comprehensive immigration bill, including a fix for DACA, which both sides of the aisle have claimed to support. Nonetheless, the calls to dissolve ICE are quickly shifting the Overton window and bringing a section of the left anchored in maximalist demands into the political mainstream.
Pocan and Jayapal have said they will introduce the abolish ICE bill, which Pocan first announced in late June, in the coming weeks. In a Tuesday statement by the Working Families Party about the letter issued by the state and local officials, Pocan is quoted as saying that Democratic members of Congress want to end Trump’s “use of ICE as a personal deportation force and implement an immigration system that upholds the dignity of all individuals.”
“By abolishing ICE and transferring its necessary functions to other agencies,” Pocan added, “we can ensure that the President can no longer terrorize countless immigrant families, while making our nation safer from actual threats.”
Top photo: Demonstrators march in the Little Village neighborhood calling for the elimination of the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement and an end to family detentions on June 29, 2018, in Chicago.
Ma bell isn't much fun at parties. While traditional telcos desperately want to pivot from broadband and cable to video and online advertising, that transition has been challenging. Especially for a sector that has spent the last 30 years as government-pampered regional mono/duopolies. Many of these companies are good at running a network or lobbying government to stifle competition, but they're simply not very good at things like creativity, innovation, or disruption. That was recently made abundantly clear by Verizon's face plant after it tried to launch a sexy new Millennial-focused video platform dubbed Go90.
AT&T suffers from the same disease, and it may soon manifest in abundance.
You'll recall that AT&T's $86 billion acquisition of Time Warner was allowed to proceed after a comically narrow reading of the market by U.S. District Court Judge Richard Leon. At absolutely no point in his 172-page ruling, did Leon show the faintest awareness that AT&T wants to use the gutting of the FCC, the elimination of net neutrality rules, and vertical integration synergistically to behave anti-competitively in the broadband and streaming video space, something that's obvious to anybody that has spent thirty seconds watching AT&T do business.
Leon took AT&T lawyers' arguments completely at face value, resulting in him failing to even apply a single meaningful condition to AT&T's latest megamerger.
And while the death of net neutrality, regulatory capture and rubber-stamped merger mania are all wonderful things for AT&T, there's still one little problem AT&T needs to overcome in order to capitalize on its wide, open anti-competitive runway: it's just not very good at this whole creativity or innovation thing. While it's clear that AT&T executives think they're really good at innovation, there are growing concerns that the company is going to meddle with HBO and erode many of the things that made the channel a standout over the last twenty years.
Those concerns weren't exactly eliminated when AT&T executives spent a big part of last week proclaiming that HBO needs to dramatically shift its focus in order to be "successful." That was a recurrent theme at a recent town hall meeting at the network’s headquarters in Midtown Manhattan, where AT&T execs like John Stankey proclaimed that HBO needs to get significantly larger:
Mr. Stankey described a future in which HBO would substantially increase its subscriber base and the number of hours that viewers spend watching its shows. To pull it off, the network will have to come up with more content, transforming itself from a boutique operation, with a focus on its signature Sunday night lineup, into something bigger and broader.
“I want more hours of engagement. Why are more hours of engagement important? Because you get more data and information about a customer that then allows you to do things like monetize through alternate models of advertising as well as subscriptions, which I think is very important to play in tomorrow’s world.”
Of course Netflix has been taking heat for focusing on quantity over quality, resulting in a string of high-profile duds. And AT&T's version of "monetization" has historically involved things like charging broadband users more money if they want to protect their own privacy. If you're an HBO exec and alarm bells aren't ringing in your ears, you likely haven't paid enough attention to AT&T's scattershot efforts to dominate media pre-merger. Stankey then tried to equate the experience HBO was about to go through under AT&T management to child birth:
“You will work very hard, and this next year will — my wife hates it when I say this — feel like childbirth,” he said. “You’ll look back on it and be very fond of it, but it’s not going to feel great while you’re in the middle of it. She says, ‘What do you know about this?’ I just observe, ‘Honey. We love our kids.’”
On the plus side, it's clear that AT&T wants to spend billions on original content to help the new AT&T-owned HBO to match Netflix blow for blow in the streaming wars. On the flip side, AT&T's corporate culture (indisputably anti-consumer, viciously anti-competitive and historically hostile) is inevitably going to clash with HBO management. HBO has creatively crafted some of the best television in the last decade. AT&T, in turn, has expertise in things like killing net neutrality and finding new, creative ways to rip off taxpayers and its own customers.
That there are going to be tensions between the two companies likely isn't debatable. And, while success is certainly possible, whether AT&T can shake off some of its own worst habits and "improve" HBO -- without eliminating all of its finest traits in the process -- is going to prove interesting to watch.
Now, it's getting its software to pitch in. Reuters reports ICE is detaining more people than ever, keeping them imprisoned while their court cases -- which may take years to adjudicate -- are pending. Up until recently, ICE would make a determination on the risk level of detainees, allowing some to post bond and stay with their families while their court cases played out.
That's no longer the case. The system ICE uses to make this determination -- detain/release -- is still being used. But the info fed into it no longer matters. Thanks to Trump's orders, there's no determination being made. The software is a facade that spits out a single answer, no matter what info its given.
To conform to Trump’s policies, Reuters has learned, ICE modified a tool officers have been using since 2013 when deciding whether an immigrant should be detained or released on bond. The computer-based Risk Classification Assessment uses statistics to determine an immigrant’s flight risk and danger to society.
Previously, the tool automatically recommended either “detain” or “release.” Last year, ICE spokesman Bourke said, the agency removed the “release” recommendation, but he noted that ICE personnel can override it.
This caused detentions to triple in 2017. And the software, which is supposed to perform a risk assessment, no longer does anything at all. It may be overridden by ICE personnel, but why would any ICE employee bother? The president made it clear he wants immigrants locked up or kicked out. A rigged machine makes it easy to ignore mitigating factors in favor of treating everyone as the "worst of the worst" ICE is actually supposed to be targeting.
At this point, it makes no sense to even have the system running. ICE may as well drop the charade and just detain everyone. The discretion was built into the system, but that's been removed. That leaves everything up to the discretion of ICE officers, who have zero motivating forces pushing them towards more lenient behavior.
This is another small step towards diminishing the protections of the Constitution. The government operates a system that pretends to offer a fair balancing of relevant factors, but has secretly removed one of the two options immigrants are supposed to have. Couple this with President Trump's tweet about stripping away the last vestiges of due process at the border and you have a government progressively undermining the rights that actually make America great.