Posts tagged with 'Stephanie Mencimer'
Four months after the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) supposedly settled the issue, the battle over Net Neutrality is still raging. If anything, it’s just beginning to heat up. On April 8, the Republican-controlled Congress resolved to repeal the FCC’s recent legislation surrounding Internet protections, and conservative activists are fighting tooth and nail to push back any apparent gains before they are realized. At the same time, media reform advocates say that the FCC’s December ruling on broadband policy did not go far enough in establishing consumer-friendly regulatory guidelines across both Internet and mobile platforms.
Meanwhile, the impact of the announced merger between AT&T and T-Mobile is still up for debate, and federal officials are raising anti-trust concerns against Google.
Genachowski comes to Oakland
Last week, FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski met with mayors from the Bay Area in Oakland to tout a mobile apps contest (a partnership with the Knight Foundation) as a way to reduce the digital divide, which has left one-third of Americans without broadband access. Genachowski remarked that those facing digital exclusion were primarily immigrants, minorities, disabled people, and other underserved communities. However, as I reported for Oakland Local, the visit was perhaps more notable for what Genachowski didn’t say.
At the press conference I attended, Genachowski didn’t take any questions, so asking him about the omission of Net Neutrality provisions for wireless carriers wasn’t possible. Nor could I ask him about the upcoming threat posed to low-power TV stations by mobile TV, which could hit 20 U.S. markets this year. Mobile TV could deprive low-power stations of critical bandwidth. Many of these stations reach diverse demographics that are underserved by network and mainstream cable television.
FCC Commissioner at NCMR: System ‘Out of Control’
The lack of a two-way discussion between the nation’s most powerful telecommunications official was disappointing, especially since numerous concerns remain over how the FCC will enforce media policy moving forward. As FCC Commissioner Michael Copps recently said at the National Conference for Media Reform, held April 8-10 in Boston: “just give us some sign that the FCC is putting the brakes on a system that is spinning dangerously out of control.”
Copps’ fiery speech was only one of many highlights at the NCMR, which was attended by thousands of people that are passionately interested in changing media. Some of the most inspiring moments included panels on music journalism and localism; comics as journalism’s future; race as a media issue; and how old-school journos are adapting to today’s new media world; and performance artist Sarah Jones inhabiting a range of different characters at the opening plenary.
House Disapproves of Net Neutrality
In a follow-up to an earlier story, Truthout’s Nadia Prupis writes about an April 8 resolution by Congress to repeal the FCC’s Net Neutrality regulations. The vote, which passed 240-179, was largely partisan, with only six Democrats crossing party lines to support it. Republicans characterized the FCC’s regulation of the Internet as a “power grab,” questioning the agency’s authority to establish guidelines for cyberspace.
But Democrats countered that the resolution “disables a free and open Internet” and is an attempt to stifle innovation in the tech sector, a charge which is disputed by right-wing nonprofits like FreedomWorks. As Prupis reports, however, that group has received funding from both Verizon and AT&T, and the telecommunications companies “stand to benefit if the law is overturned.”
Despite the partisan rhetoric, the vote was largely symbolic, as the Democratic-controlled Senate is not expected to endorse the resolution.
Tea Party: Net Neutrality = ‘Media Marxism’
As Mother Jones’ Stephanie Mencimer reports, Net Neutrality has also come under fire from the Tea Party. Mencimer points out the irony of such a stance, noting that while an open Internet allows “even the smallest, poorest tea party group… the potential to reach a large audience,” the right-wing activists “inexplicably equate net neutrality with Marxism.”
Tea Party spokesman and Virginia Senate candidate James Radtke is quoted as saying “Net neutrality is an innocuous sounding term for what is really media Marxism.” He goes on to call it “an ideological attempt by those on the left to control the greatest means for the distribution of information ever devised.”
Yet Mencimer points out that much of the netroots activism practiced by the Tea Party has relied on an open Internet, unrestricted by ideological content, which Net Neutrality is intended to protect.
“The tea party’s position on net neutrality,” she writes, “has seemed counterintuitive, given just how badly conservative activists could be screwed by the big cable and phone companies should net neutrality rules be repealed. The whole movement has been organized online, making the Internet’s level playing field a crucial element to its success.”
Wireless Mega-Mergers and Ethnic Communities
New York Community Media Alliance’s Jehangir Khattak details how the AT&T/T-Mobile mega-merger could impact ethnic communities. The skinny: Ethnic populations “could be confronted by reduced service access and higher costs,” Khattak writes.
Khattak outlines the basic provisions of the merger and AT&T’s spin; according to the company, the deal could bring 4G LTE technology to 95 percent of the U.S. population. He also speaks with several members of the ethnic press, who voice concerns that the deal might allow the telecommunications giant to “control the quality of services, such as by dictating the available applications, software or the amount of data they’d allow to be transferred.”
Another concern: the “arcane”, “jargon-ridden” tech-speak of media policy is difficult for immigrant populations to decipher.
Khattak also notes that Genachowski’s compromise on Net Neutrality suggests the FCC Chairman is “unlikely to take the hard line, pro-regulatory stance… expected of him” by ethnic media advocates.
Google Under Federal Scrutiny—Again
Also in Truthout, Nadia Prupis reports that Google has come under scrutiny by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and the Department of Justice, which are considering launching an antitrust probe against the popular search engine.
As Prupis writes, “The DOJ recently approved Google’s $700 million deal with travel company ITA Software, but antitrust regulators are concerned that the acquisition may threaten competition in the travel information industry; specifically, the FTC is worried that Google could use the software to direct users to its own sites, depriving similar web sites such as Orbitz, Kayak and TripAdvisor of fair competition.”
The FTC’s interest in the case comes on the heels of DOJ’s antitrust division filing a civil lawsuit to block Google’s acquisition of ITA, citing concerns that airfare websites should have access to ITA’s software to keep competition “robust.” Though Google reportedly agreed to license that software to competitors, the FTC’s concern indicates that serious questions remain about Google’s potential to unfairly dominate the market, should the deal go through.
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by Zach Carter, Media Consortium blogger
Welcome to the final edition of Campaign Cash, which tracked political spending during this year’s midterm elections. Stay tuned for more reporting on money in politics from members of The Media Consortium. To see more stories on campaign funding, follow the Twitter hashtag #campaigncash.
Anonymous millionaires just helped elect dozens of ultraconservative congressional candidates, by pumping millions of dollars into national Tea Party organizations. And guess what’s at the top of the legislative to-do list for those same Tea Party groups? Blocking campaign finance reform legislation.
As Stephanie Mencimer explains for Mother Jones, one of the nation’s largest Tea Party organizations, the Tea Party Patriots, is already coming out guns-a-blazing against any lame duck effort to crack down on secret corporate spending in elections.
And with good cause. The Tea Party’s appeal, after all, is based on its populist, grassroots image. If anybody knew that secret right-wing millionaires were bankrolling the entire operation, the “movement” would lose its luster.
But whether reformers are able to force front-groups to disclose their donors or not, the broader effort to eliminate undue corporate influence from the political process will take years.
by Zach Carter, Media Consortium blogger
Today is the first election in American history in which corporations have been allowed to spend their own money to buy political favors. This legalized corruption comes courtesy of the Supreme Court’s ruling in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, which injected massive amounts of corporate cash and unprecedented levels of secrecy into American politics.
And all of this crazy corporate spending will not be restricted to elections. That’s right. As Jesse Zwick reports for The Washington Independent, two front-groups founded by GOP strategists Karl Rove and Ed Gillespie plan to keep running ads attacking Democrats well after the elections are over.
As Zwick emphasizes, this is actually a way to help keep one of the organizations, known as American Crossroads GPS, from breaking the law. Many groups that spend money on elections register as 501(c)(4) organizations, which must devote no more than half of their activity to political operations. In return for limiting their political activity—advocacy or condemnation of specific candidates—they don’t have to disclose who their donors are. So groups like American Crossroads GPS plan to run “issue ads” focusing on the budget deficit and immigration reform this fall to balance out the ads directed at specific candidates that they’ve already run.
Under the Citizens United ruling, so long as corporations or wealthy elites launder their political expenditures through a front-group, they can give as much as they want without ever being held publicly accountable. But the high court’s decision also allows these front-groups to keep their actual expenditures secret as well. It’s not just that we don’t know who is funding them—in many cases, we also don’t really know what they’re funding.
by Zach Carter, Media Consortium blogger
They’ve been flying around in a private jet like Wall Street CEOs, except they’re heading to “grassroots” rallies instead of merger talks. Meckler and Martin don’t say how outraged, ordinary citizens can find the money to support such extravagance, and they don’t have to. Thanks to the Supreme Court’s ruling in this year’s Citizens United v. the Federal Election Commission, they can now accept unlimited funding without disclosing the identities of their donors.
No one would even know about the jets themselves, but Meckler and Martin never counted on Mother Jones, or a reporter named Stephanie Mencimer. Using public flight-tracking information, the Tea Party Patriots’ flight schedule, and some serious attention to details in the group’s own videos, Mencimer was able to figure out which jet the not-so-populist duo were using. She then traced the plane to Raymond F. Thomson, founder and CEO of a semiconductor company called Semitool, which he sold last year for a cool $364 million.
It’s both sad and hilarious to see the secret financial arrangements of the super-rich masquerading as grassroots activism. But it also shows the lengths to which reporters must go to actually report on political spending in the wake of Citizens United. There is no documentation to follow, just the contrails of private jets.
Despite a lofty launch last week, the good ship Bipartisan is sunk, at least so far as the economic stimulus is concerned. President Barack Obama and House Democrats bent over backwards to appease the GOP by including several tax breaks and excluding a major anti-foreclosure measure from the package, but when it came time to vote, zero House Republican backed the bill. Lawmakers who actually care about the fate of the U.S. economy are furious. Every day spent haggling with obstinate Republicans means heavier economic damage. What’s more, many of the tax breaks the GOP insisted on are simply terrible policies, whatever the economic climate.
“Not surprisingly, some Democrats who did deal with the GOP as if they were reasonable want to reverse the concessions they gave up,” Steven Benen writes for The Washington Monthly.
Even some conservative economists want to strip out the Republican provisions. On this week’s Stimulus Plan NewsLadder, many reporters and bloggers respond to Martin Feldstein‘s newfound opposition to the stimulus package, as revealed in a Washington Post op-ed. Feldstein, who was chief economic adviser to President Ronald Reagan, initially came out in support of the package but recently reversed his opinion, but on surprising grounds. While progressives have noted that some of Feldstein’s criticisms of the House bill are off-base, they have also emphasized that his take on several stimulus plan tax cuts, actually come from the ideological left. As blogger Dylan Matthews put it in a guest blog for Ezra Klein at The American Prospect: “You know when your stimulus package is too cautious? When Marty Feldstein is attacking it from the left.”
One of Feldstein and the left’s major problems with the package: the corporate “net operating loss carryback” (NOL) giveaway. The NOL carryback works like this: companies who lost money in 2008 will get an immediate refund for taxes paid on previous, profitable years. Right now, the carryback limit is two years. The stimulus bill would change the law to refund companies every penny they paid in taxes for the past five years, so long as the company lost more than that five-year sum in 2008.
Tax cuts can be economically helpful when they create incentives for people to act in socially beneficial ways. For example, offering a company a deduction for starting a windfarm creates jobs and establishes an environmentally friendly power plant. Giving away billions of dollars to companies simply because they lost money, by contrast, encourages nothing. What’s more, many businesses lost money in 2008 because they were in bloated sectors that needed to get smaller. The U.S. has too many banks and too many homebuilders—that’s one of the reasons why so many banks and homebuilders are struggling right now. A lump-sum payment will not fix the underlying problem.
Not all of Feldstein’s recommendations are good ideas– Josh Marshall of Talking Points Memo offers a particularly good rejection of his push for increased military spending—but Feldstein’s argument nevertheless makes the Republican leadership look like a total farce. “His critique is nothing like the Republican claptrap we’ve been hearing over recent days,” Marshall writes. “In fact, in some respects it’s like stuff I’ve been hearing from Democrats.”
House Democratic concessions on the stimulus involved more than new tax cuts—they also excluded several important provisions to keep the GOP happy. Republican leaders successfully lobbied Obama to bar mortgage bankruptcy reform from the bill, blocking the most important legal step necessary to reduce foreclosures. It is the second time Obama has urged Democrats to abandon the bankruptcy rule change to garner Republican support for a major bill—the first was the Wall Street bailout bill that passed in October. Even if the bankruptcy legislation passes at some point in the future, many borrowers in trouble now will lose their homes before the law changes.
“That stance has piqued some Democrats, who are beginning to wonder if the push for bipartisan agreement is worth the cost of waiting,” Mike Lillis writes for The Colorado Independent. “For each day that Congress dallies, these lawmakers say, thousands of Americans lose their homes to foreclosure.”
According to the Center for Responsible Lending, we will see 6,000 foreclosures every day this year on subprime mortgages alone.
Let’s conceptualize how the bill could change the mortgage landscape. Imagine that you get laid off and start working a job with lower pay, rendering your mortgage payments unaffordable. In many circumstances, your bank would want to modify your loan so that you owe them less money, because the alternative—foreclosure—creates an even bigger loss for the bank. The trouble is, banks frequently do not have the ability to alter loans, because they sell them to a third party investment bank. The investment bank packages the loan into a security with a hundred or so other mortgages and then sells it to dozens of investors. Now, hundreds of signatures are required to modify your mortgage—and not all of the investors have your interests at heart. Some would rather see you default on your mortgage, because they know the decreased value of the security will hurt their competitors more than it will hurt them.
But if bankruptcy courts could compel loan modifications, all of this investor warfare would be avoided. You file for bankruptcy and the court will “cram down” the amount you owe on your mortgage and banks or investors simply eat the difference as a loss. No taxpayer-funded bailout necessary.
Obama’s economic work will not stop with the stimulus legislation. Major regulatory reform is needed on a variety of financial fronts, not the least of which is preventing borrowers from getting stuck with predatory mortgages in the first place. As Stephanie Mencimer of Mother Jones notes, the Federal Reserve appears to be softening its long-time anti-regulatory stance. The steps are small, but significant. While the Fed’s new rules barring some abusive credit card billing practices didn’t go far enough, they mark the first time the Fed has acknowledged that common lender practices are straightforwardly unfair. The central bank has even hired a consumer activist as a policy adviser.
For all its faults, however, Obama’s stimulus gets several important policies right. In a piece for The Nation, Robert Pollin notes the dramatic new shift in tone regarding the compatibility of environmental sustainability and economic justice. After decades of debate that pitted the plight of workers against saving the environment, people are finally waking up to the idea that we might create good paying jobs to fight global warming.
For now, the recession continues to grind on, with strange and depressing surprises appearing everywhere—even grocery store shelves. Jim Hightower unveils a new trend among producers to shrink product sizes while maintaining their prices, effectively raising the cost to consumers. The shrink-ray tactic has been deployed on toilet paper, cereal, peanut butter and who knows what else. Thanks to tricky marketing and packaging, you might not even realize when you’ve been ripped off.
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