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The Wrongologist

Geopolitics, Power and Political Economy

FCC Says America Doesn’t Need Fast Internet

The Daily Escape:

Gibraltar, looking toward the Atlantic, 2016 – photo by Wrongo

The FCC has just said that Americans might not need a fast home internet connection. Instead, mobile internet via a smartphone might be all the public needs. From Ars Technica:

The suggestion comes in the FCC’s annual inquiry into broadband availability. Section 706 of the Telecommunications Act requires the FCC to determine whether broadband (or more formally, “advanced telecommunications capability”) is being deployed to all Americans in a reasonable and timely fashion. If the FCC finds that broadband isn’t being deployed quickly enough to everyone, it is required by law to “take immediate action to accelerate deployment of such capability by removing barriers to infrastructure investment and by promoting competition in the telecommunications market.”

Today’s Wrongologist column is for all of those people who said “both parties are the same, it doesn’t matter who you vote for”. Nothing like the “small government” folks at the FCC telling America what type of internet access we need.

During the Obama administration, the FCC determined that broadband wasn’t reaching Americans fast enough, particularly in rural areas. And, they did not consider mobile broadband to be a full replacement for a home (or “fixed”) internet connection via cable, fiber, or other technologies.

Last year, the FCC concluded that Americans needed BOTH home and mobile access:

34 million Americans, about 10% of the country, still lack access to fixed broadband at the FCC’s benchmark speed of 25Mbps for downloads, 3Mbps for uploads…

The FCC also concluded under then-Chairman Tom Wheeler that since home internet connections and smartphones have different capabilities and limitations, Americans should have access to both instead of just one or the other.

But now we have a Republican administration. Ajit Pai, the GOP’s new FCC Chairman, is poised to change that policy by declaring that mobile broadband with speeds of 10Mbps downstream and 1Mbps upstream is all anyone needs. This is a deep tongue kiss from the FCC to the broadband industry.

More from Ars Technica: (brackets by the Wrongologist)

This [Agit’s plan] would be the first time that the FCC has set a broadband speed standard for mobile; at 10Mbps/1Mbps, it would be less than half as fast as the FCC’s home broadband speed standard of 25Mbps/3Mbps.

In Europe you can now routinely get 250Mbps internet service, and higher speeds in parts of Asia. Good job FCC!

The changes were signaled in an FCC Notice of Inquiry, the first step toward completing a new analysis of broadband deployment. The document asks the public for comments on a variety of questions, including whether mobile broadband can substitute for fixed Internet connections.

Pai has previously made it clear that he thinks mobile broadband can substitute for fixed connections. In 2012, Pai’s first year as a member of the FCC board, he criticized the then-Democratic majority for concluding that mobile internet service can’t replace home Internet.

Those who work from home need faster speeds, and the number of “at home” workers is growing. Companies have learned that letting employees work from home gets them a lifestyle improvement by ending the weeks of their year spent commuting. Working from home also lets companies lower their commercial rents.

Consumer internet usage will increase. With the current costs of mobile data, an evening of Netflix delivered by smartphone will put the average US consumer over their data plan maximum. The data caps in most mobile plans are low, and the costs of overages are high. Reliability is another issue. The service is fragile in storms, and unstable under high volume usage, such as at large public gatherings.

Do you remember the good old days when we made fun of Russia and China for their quaint infrastructure? Now, Republicans are trying to pretend the future doesn’t exist.

Maybe America doesn’t need interstate highways, local roads might be good enough. Pai is playing to Trump voters: Why would they want anything faster than mobile? They get Trump’s Twitter feed, so what else to they need?

You don’t like this? Is it making you angry?

You should know what to do by now. Hint: It usually happens on a Tuesday.

Music appreciation: Today we hear “Hymn to Freedom” by the Oscar Peterson Trio. It was written in 1962 in support of the Civil Rights movement. Here it is live in Denmark in 1964, with Oscar Peterson on Piano, Ray Brown on Bass and Ed Thigpen on Drums:

Freedom from the FCC and the Ajit Pai’s of the world is what we need.

Those who read the Wrongologist in email can view the video here.

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United Airlines: Try Doing The Right Thing

The Daily Escape:

Kravica waterfall in Bosnia Herzegovina -photo by Vedrana Tafra

Wrongo needs to start by saying that he has nearly 800,000 lifetime air miles on United Airlines (UAL) and, after the forcible removal of a paying passenger, he will try to avoid flying them again.

You know the story: United Express in Chicago loads passengers on a plane heading to Louisville. Then four employees arrive, needing seats. United was unwilling to offer enough compensation to induce passengers to give up their seats, and ordered four passengers off of the aircraft. Three left, but one refused, saying he had to be in Louisville in the morning.

United officials called the Department of Chicago Aviation, (part of the City of Chicago), the type of government agency that you never even knew existed, to remove him. Officers grabbed his arms, dragged him screaming across the armrests and along the floor and off of the aircraft, apparently injuring him in the process.

Unusual situations like this test organizations and their leadership. The key information here is that UAL wanted to make space to carry their own staff. The flight was not “overbooked”, UAL wanted to take back seats of a few paying passengers to accommodate their own staff. Apparently, UAL had bungled its own logistics, and then looked to its paying customers to solve the problem.

Poor customer service like this exists because of corporate culture, and because the company rarely has to pay a price for it.

In Wrongo’s past, he managed 1000 employees who had technical support and/or customer service contact with the public. We had a mantra: Know when to Do The Thing Right, and know when to Do The Right Thing. 95% of the time, the job is to follow established procedures, to guide the customer to a pre-established solution that had been vetted, one that was company policy.

Our staff’s job was to “do the thing right” in those cases, to follow our processes.

5% (or less) of the time, our people would see something novel, outside the scope of established policy. Something that called for reaching an equitable solution that wasn’t in any manual.

Then, our employees needed to “do the right thing”.

These aren’t difficult concepts to instill, they are entirely consistent with most people’s personal experience, and usually with their views about fairness.

United should try empowering people to do the right thing, when going by the book fails the customer. Whatever it might have cost to compensate volunteers, it would have been far cheaper than what UAL will now pay to this passenger.

This also illustrates how America is changing: Large corporations are willing to use the police to enforce their policies. The passenger’s choice was to comply with police demands, or face physical intimidation, or worse. And Chicago’s sub-contracted police were too eager to jump into the fray.

We should ask: Did the injured passenger break any law by refusing to give up his seat? If that’s the case, the plane was filled with lawbreakers. If not, why was an element of the Chicago police doing UAL’s dirty work?

The Seventh Amendment of the Constitution guarantees a jury trial for civil cases in the federal courts:

In Suits at common law, where the value in controversy shall exceed twenty dollars, the right of trial by jury shall be preserved

The $20 amount is trivial in today’s economy. But that idea of a jury trial has been killed by corporatist judges on the Supreme Court, and other courts, and has been replaced the company’s terms of service. When you agree, it takes away most of your rights — disputes are resolved through arbitration that the corporation almost always wins. In this case, UAL’s terms of service gives them almost unlimited authority when dealing with its passengers, including a rule regarding “refusal of transport” (Rule 21) and “denial of boarding compensation” (Rule 25).

But that doesn’t justify bad corporate behavior. Or violence.

But, thanks to Congress’s bipartisan policy of ignoring anti-trust laws for several decades, just four firms now control the vast majority of domestic flights, and they don’t really compete with one another. This is from the DOT’s report on airline competition:

Less competition means you don’t have to worry as much about annoying people with delays or overbooked flights. It also means you can make a lot more money. There’s less pressure to cut ticket prices — even when the price of oil, an airline’s biggest cost, is plummeting — and it’s easier to introduce ever-more obnoxious fees and charges.

UAL isn’t worried about you sharing a video of a passenger being dragged off their plane, because you have no real choice when you fly from certain cities.

Ultimately, the responsibility to blunt this trend is ours. Replace Citizens United. Remove corporatist judges. Keep our police on a short leash.

Don’t just upload a video, organize your neighbors and vote!

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Saturday Soother – April 1, 2017

The Daily Escape:

(Wildflowers near Lake Elsinore CA March 2017 − photo by Lucy Nicholson)

The large print giveth, and the small print taketh away, and we had an excellent example this week. From the NYT:

More than 550,000 people have signed up for a federal program that promises to repay their remaining student loans after they work 10 years in a public service job. But now, some of those workers are left to wonder if the government will hold up its end of the bargain — or leave them stuck with thousands of dollars in debt that they thought would be eliminated.

The Department of Education has said in a legal filing that borrowers could not rely on the program’s administrator to say accurately whether they qualify for debt forgiveness. The thousands of approval letters that have been sent by the administrator, FedLoan Servicing, are not binding, and can be rescinded at any time.

The debt forgiveness program covers people with federal student loans who work for 10 years at a government or nonprofit, a group that includes public school employees, museum workers, doctors at public hospitals and firefighters. The federal government approved the program in 2007. And along with this bad news, there is no transparency: When the NYT contacted FedLoan, a spokesman referred questions to the Department of Education, who declined to comment on the suit, or on any of the issues it raised, including whether any mechanism exists for borrowers to challenge a denial.

Loopholes. America loves loopholes. We aren’t a nation of laws, we’re a nation of loopholes.

If all of this wasn’t enough wrong for you this week, Devin Nunes and the White House played “I’ve got a secret” with the House Intelligence Committee and the American people. That brought the usual grandstanding from Republicans, but nothing can top what Rep. Ted Yoho (R-FL) who unintentionally told the truth while defending Nunes on MSNBC:

You gotta keep in mind who he works for…He works for the president. He answers to the president.

Soon, a Yoho spokesperson was walking that back. Yoho, Yoho, and it’s back to school he goes. To learn a bit more about who Congress critters work for.

I know, these two stories sound like April fool’s day fibs, but sadly, both are true.

You need a break, so Wrongo suggests a hot mug of Tanzania Peaberry coffee. Put your feet up and brush off the week’s trail dust. Let’s relax with Mozart’s Violin Concerto No. 3 in G major. He wrote this in 1775. He was only 19 at the time, but was already the Konzertmeister at the Salzburg court. Here is Hillary Hahn with the best 23 minutes of your Saturday:

Those who read the Wrongologist in email can view the video here.

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New FCC Chair Guts Net Neutrality

Today we premiere a new feature, the “Daily Escape”, a photo that hopefully will take you away from all that is wrong just now. Some photos will be by Wrongo, but most will be from professionals. They will not have any particular relevance to the topic of the day. They are here to help you pause for a moment, and go to a different place.

Today’s Daily Escape: George Peabody Library, Johns Hopkins University

Now, on to what’s wrong…

The principle that all Internet content should be treated equally as it flows to consumers is called “net neutrality”. Net neutrality looks all but dead under Trump’s new head of the FCC. From the NYT:

In his first days as President Trump’s pick to lead the Federal Communications Commission, Ajit Pai has aggressively moved to roll back consumer protection regulations created during the Obama presidency.

Mr. Pai took a first swipe at net neutrality rules designed to ensure equal access to content on the internet. He stopped nine companies from providing discounted high-speed internet service to low-income individuals. He withdrew an effort to keep prison phone rates down, and he scrapped a proposal to open the cable box market to competition.

Before he became FCC Chair, Pai served as an FCC commissioner, one of the Republican minority under the Obama administration. In that role, he opposed reclassifying broadband providers as common carriers, which allows the agency to regulate them like utility companies, a necessary step if the FCC was to enforce net neutrality rules. That reclassification might be next to go.

Today consumers can pay Internet service providers for a higher-speed Internet connection, but regardless of the download speed they choose, under new Chair Pai’s plan, they might get some content faster, depending on how much their content provider has paid the service provider.

Tim Wu at the New Yorker offered some insight: (emphasis by the Wrongologist)

With broadband, there is no such thing as accelerating some traffic without degrading other traffic. We take it for granted that bloggers, start-ups, or nonprofits on an open Internet reach their audiences roughly the same way as everyone else. Now they won’t. They’ll be behind in the queue, watching as companies that can pay tolls to the cable companies’ speed ahead

The new rule gives broadband providers what they’ve wanted for about a decade: the right to speed up some traffic at the expense of others. The motivation is not complicated. The broadband carriers want to make more money for doing what they already do. Never mind that American carriers already charge some of the world’s highest prices for a service that costs less than $5/month to provide.

In the large-scale server market, Internet traffic is nearly free. In that market, a terabyte of data costs about $1/month. That’s 1000 gigabytes/month, if you are not familiar with usage of that size.  The home user pays 10x to as much as 1000x more than that per month; $100 for 100 gigabytes of traffic is not uncommon. A recent offer from AT&T for 45 M/bit internet is $30/month, which includes 1TB of data/mo. So 1000 gigabytes costs $30, or $1 per 33 gigabytes, but, if you exceed ATT’s limit, the price goes up dramatically: You would have to pay $10 per each additional 50 GB.

No volume discount for you, but Netflix will get one.

Requiring access fees for faster service will be good for Netflix, since it won’t have to worry as much about competitive traffic, particularly from small companies. The ultimate result will be to lock in the current set of incumbents who control the internet, ushering in the era of big, fat, (and possibly) inefficient monopolies.

Republicans and big corporations like to say that they are against regulation because the free market should rule. That economic efficiency brings lower prices.

It is always a lie.

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All Aboard The Bailout Train

In February 2014, Wrongo alerted that hedge funds and other Wall Street firms had been buying up single family homes, many of which had been foreclosed on during the housing crisis between 2007 and 2010:

Most rental houses in the US are owned by individuals…but a new breed has emerged: Wall Street-backed investment companies with billions of dollars at their disposal. In just the last two years, large investors have bought as many as 200,000 single-family houses and are now renting them out.

Tim G, a Wrongologist reader who is an expert in mortgage finance, commented at the time that he hoped that:

Fitch/Moody’s and any other rating agencies learned their lesson from 2007, and won’t (as you suggested) just slap AAA ratings on these. By definition these rental properties carry much more risk, since if they are vacant for any period, the incentive to keep paying drops quickly.

Well, slap they did. You know the drill from 2008; the new game was just like the old game: The new bundled securities were AAA rated by the same rating agencies. The bonds were sold to those seeking high yield without commensurately high risk.

Now we have a new wrinkle. Wolf Richter is reporting that Invitation Homes (owned by private equity giant, Blackstone) today owns 48,431 single-family homes. This makes Invitation Homes the largest landlord of single-family homes in the US. They just obtained government guarantees for $1 billion in rental-home mortgage backed securities. From Richter:

The disclosure came in an amended S-11 filing with the SEC on Monday in preparation for Invitation Homes’ IPO. Invitation Homes bought these properties out of foreclosure and turned them into rental properties, concentrated in 12 urban areas. The IPO filing lists $9.7 billion in single-family properties and $7.7 billion in debt.

The plan is to have a successful IPO, and then refinance some of the debt with the sale of $1 billion of government-guaranteed rental-home mortgage-backed securities.

Fannie Mae, a government-sponsored entity (GSE) that was bailed out, and then taken over by the US government during the 2008 financial crisis, is providing the guarantee of bond principal and interest, and the offering documents call them “Guaranteed Certificates”. More from Wolf: (emphasis by the Wrongologist)

This is the first time ever that a government-sponsored enterprise has guaranteed single-family rental-home mortgage-backed securities, issued by a huge corporate landlord. It’s an essential step forward in financializing rents: taxpayer backing for funding the biggest landlords.

These government guarantees allow Invitation Homes to pay lower interest rates. The bottom line is that Invitation will have cheap financing for future home purchases, and thus lower costs and greater profits.

It’s a sweet deal: low-cost funding made possible by government guarantees, is a special gift that was agreed to by the Obama administration. Other corporate landlords will want to follow in Blackstone’s footsteps, and it is difficult to see how Fannie Mae will choose not to guarantee the other firms.

Bloomberg reported on a Dodd-Frank mandated stress test conducted by the Federal Housing Finance Agency. It showed that during the next severe economic downturn, Fannie Mae and its sister Freddie Mac would need between $49 billion and $126 billion in taxpayer bailout money.

Socialize the losses, Part Infinity.

The Blackstone deal looks like new policy: The government subsidizes the largest landlords, helping increase their profits from renting out the same single-family homes that individual homeowners lost to the same financial thugs during the housing foreclosure crisis. The mission of Fannie Mae is to promote home ownership, not to give real estate entrepreneurs a way to limit their losses.

This guarantee was worked out under Obama’s watch, but Blackstone did not make it public until it updated its filing with the SEC this week. The timing is curious. The public disclosure comes after the Trump team is in charge, meaning Obama wouldn’t face criticism, and the Trump Administration will certainly let the deal stand.

This is worse than the government’s gift of TARP to Wall Street. That at least had optics that said it protected Main Street. But, this securitized mortgage market doesn’t involve Main Street, and the market isn’t even in big trouble.

This isn’t a bailout. It’s a grift. The Kleptocracy is now more entrenched than in 2008.

How ironic. Big business gets a sweetheart government deal, while the GOP moves to cut social programs.

Will this add new jobs to the Trump economy?

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Saturday Soother – January 21, 2017

Did Wrongo miss anything yesterday? We had multiple meetings, and thus, no chance to see the “You Bet Your Country” reality show that premiered in DC.

Look on the bright side, there are now only 1,459 days left in the reign of DT, so two things to focus on:

  • Work hard to save the ACA, and
  • Remember to toast to the health of Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Stephen Breyer every day.

Today is the Women’s March in Washington DC. Two days in a row of firsts for our Orange Overlord. Yesterday, he was sworn in as the 45th president. Today, he sees his first mass protest in the form of the Women’s March, and companion marches (600 at last count) around the country and the world.

New York Magazine tweaks the main stream media’s coverage thusly: (brackets by the Wrongologist)

…the media’s treatment of the [women’s] march has been so fretful that you’d be forgiven for thinking that this grass-roots demonstration of hundreds of thousands on behalf of women’s rights is an example of feminism in crisis and disarray.

Whenever there are protests from the left, we’re always adjured that we’re doing it wrong and/or that our “message” is defocused or unclear. Leftwing protests get little coverage in the MSM. Wrongo has observed that when there are rightwing protests, they are typically universally covered by the MSM. Plus their “message” is always described as clear, and unequivocal.

There have been protests at most recent inaugurals, but they have been generally along the parade route, as there were in DC today. The car and trash can burnings made today’s DC protests look more like what we see in European capitals.

What the Women’s March envisions is a protest that creates as much buzz as the inauguration itself. That means the organizers are attempting to create a widespread, and diverse coalition for this event. The hope is: (1) a huge crowd shows up to protest; (2) the protest is marked by its size and the quality of its direct action (without violence); (3) the obvious fissures in the coalition remain unclear to the public until long after the march.

The March on Washington in August, 1963 was one of the largest political demonstrations in American history. The organizing idea was a protest for “jobs and freedom”. You may not remember that John Lewis’s original speech at the March on Washington was highly controversial. Now, 54 years down the road, no one cares, because of the power of Lewis’s personal history, and the fact that the march ultimately led to the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

The March on Washington was broadcast on TV, because we had not yet become jaded about protests, and the White House was vulnerable from both sides of the racial divide. The Women’s March is only expected to be live-streamed via cell phone. The networks will give us highly edited snippets on the evening news.

The value of these large public protests are in building a more unified opposition movement. Perhaps it will happen this time, although there is a risk that it fizzles like the Occupy Movement did.

The Tea Party began building their national presence with a rally of maybe 7000 people in tri-corner hats, enabled by a few Congress Critters. That was enough for the media to legitimize their birth. Perhaps it will work for the Women’s March: it will become a viable movement only if the commitment to messaging and building a national presence in Congressional districts and statehouses is carried through.

What will be more significant for the future are the state capitol and major city rallies once the protesters leave Washington. Resistance IS the message: The voters did not deliver Trump an overwhelming mandate to do the things his juggernaut is planning to shower on America.

Handled correctly that could make Trump and the GOP vulnerable. The Wrongologist will post a first-person report from an attendee at the Women’s March, on Tuesday.

But today is Saturday, and you need to mellow out a little. Here is something radically different, yet completely familiar. This is the Austrian brass ensemble Mnozil Brass performing Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody”. What better tribute to Freddie Mercury? These guys are demonstrably horny and have lots of brass. High energy, and completely entertaining:

Those who read the Wrongologist in email can view the video here.

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Amazon’s Echo and Personal Privacy

Wrongo’s daughter gave him an Amazon Echo Dot for his birthday. Bob Lefsetz says that Amazon is becoming the new Apple: (brackets by the Wrongologist)

The Echo came with almost no instructions. Simple packaging. Not a work of art, like [Steve] Jobs’ creations, but far from the old Microsoft where there’s so much info you’re inundated.

Simple and slick, particularly when it comes to using Echo to listen to music on Spotify, (assuming that you have Spotify premium) because Alexa eliminates a step. Before the Echo, you navigated your PC or mobile to Spotify’s site, entered the artist or track you wanted to hear in Spotify’s clunky search engine, then waited for the track to pop up, and then clicked on it to play.

With Alexa, you say the name of the track and/or the artist, and tell Alexa you want to hear it on Spotify, and it begins playing. Very nice.

Alexa brought in yuuge sales numbers for Amazon this season. Bloomberg reported:

Sales for Echo speakers based on Alexa’s voice-recognition software were nine times more than the 2015 holiday season…Echo and Echo Dot were the best-selling products across Amazon this year…

Sales were so good that Amazon sold out of its Echo speakers in mid-December. The Echo shortage shows voice-activated assistants have found a strong niche with consumers. But there’s a potential dark side to having an Alexa device: Alexa’s job is to listen to you speak, and then recognize and use those data.

This begs the question of whether you should have any expectations of privacy if Alexa is plugged in. If you think this is an academic question, consider that police in Arkansas want to know what an Amazon Echo device may have heard during a murder:

Authorities in Bentonville issued a warrant for Amazon to hand over any audio or records from an Echo belonging to James Andrew Bates. Bates is set to go to trial for first-degree murder for the death of Victor Collins next year.

Sound Orwellian to you? Your hot new Xmas gift may be the Trojan horse that kills your privacy.

Police say Bates had several other discoverable smart devices, including a smart water meter. The water meter shows that 140 gallons of water were used between 1 AM and 3 AM the night Collins was found dead in Bates’ hot tub. The police think all that water was used to wash away evidence of what happened that night.

The data from the water meter, and the request for stored Echo information raise questions about what constitutes individual privacy in the internet of things (IoT). Due to the “always on” nature of the Echo, authorities want any saved audio the speaker may have picked up that night. The Echo is supposed to be only activated by certain words, but it spoke random answers to Wrongo, when not asked a question, if the room it was in was filled with people over the holidays.

What’s more, Echo captures audio and streams it to the cloud when the device hears a wake word, such as “Alexa.” What the owner says are called “utterances” by Amazon, and they are stored in the cloud until a customer deletes them either individually, or all at once.

Why does Amazon save your words? Probably because you can order items from them via the Echo. A record of the sale could be necessary in a dispute.

In the Bates case, Amazon would not provide the police with any information that Bates’ Echo had logged on its servers. It later released a statement:

Amazon will not release customer information without a valid and binding legal demand properly served on us. Amazon objects to overbroad or otherwise inappropriate demands as a matter of course.

So, Amazon just told the Bentonville police and police everywhere what they have to do to get your stored information: Your privacy is in play if you have an Echo, and you get arrested.

We have an expectation of privacy in our homes, but these devices listen to you, they talk to each other, and to companies like Amazon and Spotify, so the challenge to individual privacy seems very clear. Governments from city to federal, will try to develop any information they can about a criminal case. If those data are gleaned from a smart device in your home, it’s just another data point, and it will become your job to make the case that your Constitutional rights were violated.

The Constitutional question is whether the data you generate in your home through internet-connected devices are data that you own at all. Do you share ownership with corporate America?

Does the state have rights to your private information if they say they need it?

Tip: Alexa has a microphone off button. Use it. Its possible that Amazon can’t hear you then.

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GOP Plans To Gut Dodd-Frank

Do you trust the banks and brokerage houses to govern themselves? Do you think that reducing banking regulations will help the economy, or your personal financial situation? Before you answer:

  • Remember that the economic meltdown of 2008 was caused by overreach by the financial industry.
  • Remember that it took the next eight years to climb out of the Great Recession and return to pre-2008 employment levels.

Dave Dayen in the Fiscal Times points out that there will be a vote this week in the Congress that will say a lot about how willing the Democrats in Congress will be to fight the deregulation avalanche that’s about to come crashing down on We the People. From Dayen: (brackets and emphasis by the Wrongologist)

As early as Wednesday, the House will take up H.R. 6392, the Systemic Risk Designation Improvement Act. This bill would lift mandatory Dodd-Frank regulatory supervision for all banks with more than $50 billion in assets, meaning those financial giants would no longer be subject to blanket requirements regarding capital and leverage, public disclosures and the production of “living wills” to map out how to unwind [the bank] during a crisis.

The intent of the new regulation authored by Blaine Leutkemeyer (R-MO), isn’t about helping the biggest banks, but the relatively smaller regional players, firms like PNC Bank, Capital One and SunTrust. An estimated 28 institutions would be affected. The eight “global systemically important banks” would remain subject to the standards: Citigroup, JPMorgan Chase, Bank of America, Goldman Sachs, Wells Fargo, Bank of New York Mellon, Morgan Stanley and State Street Bank.

But the so-called regional banks are not small operations. These 28 regionals have combined assets of about $4.5 trillion. It is useful to remember that in the 2008 crisis, regional banks like Washington Mutual and Wachovia also came crashing down.

The American Banker says that the Financial Stability Oversight Council (FSOC), the new super-regulator charged with monitoring systemic risk, will be gutted by the Trump administration: (brackets and emphasis by the Wrongologist)

Because the FSOC is headed by the Treasury secretary…[a cabinet post selected]…by the White House, a Trump administration is unlikely to continue any of the council’s…priorities, including the designation of nonbanks or continued regulation of those firms already designated.

It is obvious that if this bill passes and is signed by President Trump, financial regulation will be relaxed, not by repeal, but through atrophy. Republicans want to replace any mandatory rules for regulation with discretionary ones. That way they can claim that they’re merely improving the system by putting the decisions in the hands of the experts instead of members of Congress.

A next step will be to hire regulators dedicated to turning a blind eye to what the financial industry does. The chair of FSOC is the Treasury Secretary. Trump’s candidates for Treasury Secretary include Steven Mnuchin, Trump’s national finance chair and the most likely choice for Treasury, who sits on the board of directors of CIT, a financial services company with more than $50 billion in assets. The Treasury Secretary will ensure that the rest of the FSOC board is made up of regulators and presidential appointees who share Trump’s laissez-faire philosophy.

President Obama will veto this bill if it passes the Senate before January 20th. But the Republicans plan to roll it out this week, instead of waiting for Trump to enter the Oval Office. They want to gauge just how much backbone Democrats have after their thumping in the election. More from Dayen:

This is really a moment of truth for those Democrats. If Republicans put up a big bipartisan vote in the House for this, the Senate will be more inclined to try to pass it down the road. And it will serve as a test case for Democratic resolve more generally.

Wall Street-friendly Dems have already endorsed tailoring Dodd-Frank rules to eliminate smaller regionals from the rules. This bill is a big change, and the question is whether Democrats play ball with Trump’s deregulation agenda, or will they recognize the harm it will cause?

This is an early test for those Dems whose seats are at-risk in 2018 and 2020.

Financial deregulation has rarely been a partisan political matter. Democrats and Republicans have typically worked together to roll back rules and loosen up the Wall Street casino.

HR 6392 could represent a return to those times, or it could be the moment when Democrats join together and say “no”, forcing Republicans to support the banking industry agenda on their own.

Party line resistance by Democrats could be in their longer-term best interest.

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Monday Wake Up Call – October 24, 2016

The US government had a program to pay bonuses to recruits at the height of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, as an incentive to get soldiers to reenlist. Now the Pentagon wants the money back from 10,000 soldiers in California. The California National Guard used the program to entice thousands of soldiers with bonuses of $15,000 or more to reenlist and go to war, more than a decade ago.

It turns out that government audits have revealed widespread overpayments by the California Guard, who handed out the money more liberally than other state Guards. As a result, nearly 10,000 soldiers, many who served multiple combat tours, have been ordered to repay their enlistment bonuses, and if they refuse, they are slapped with interest charges, wage garnishments and tax liens.

Are we missing something? These soldiers signed a legal contract with the government in order to get the re-enlistment bonuses. The soldiers certainly delivered on their end of the contract; the time they spent in the service was honorably served. So why shouldn’t the CA National Guard have to give the money back, rather than individual soldiers? They caused the problem.

Isn’t the correct pressure point Gov. Brown and the CA state legislature, rather than individual soldiers?

This is way beyond wrong. Not the soldiers’ mistake, and it shouldn’t be their problem.

The forced repayment by veterans of their enlistment bonuses to the government a decade after they were given the bonuses specifically to re-enlist is unconscionable. As a veteran of an earlier era, it makes Wrongo’s blood boil to read this piece.

Monday’s Links:

A Twitter account tracks dictators’ planes to and from Geneva. The planes are registered to or used by despots when they fly into and out of Geneva, Switzerland. The 80 or so planes being tracked, are registered to governments, or known to be used by royal families or leaders. Only 80 planes? Shouldn’t that list be expanded?

This is what work-life balance looks like at a company with 100% retention of moms. For 33 years Patagonia has had an on-site child care center that bears little resemblance to what anyone might imagine corporate on-site child care looks like. It is run by teachers, some of whom are bilingual and trained in child development. Learning takes place outdoors as much as in. Parents often eat lunch with their kids, take them to the farmer’s market or pick vegetables with them in the “secret” garden. And the worst is that this is not all that hard to do.

The White House hosts South by South Lawn (SXSL), the Obama administration’s riff on Austin’s annual multimedia showcase, South by Southwest. From poking fun at Kanye West, to curating playlists, to singing with Willie Nelson, to hosting this SXSL festival, President Obama has taken advantage of his musical know-how in ways that we will surely miss. On the mainstage, Common makes an unannounced appearance, rapping about the racial injustices of the prison system; he’s later spotted chatting with Obama senior advisor Valerie Jarrett. At sunset, the Lumineers played “Stubborn Love”—which Obama included on his 2015 summer playlist.

Feral cats are being deployed in NYC war on rats. There are a lotta rats in NYC, some of whom are in suits and office suites. The feral cat is designed to help address the brazen denizens of NYC garbage. However, in the book Coyote America: A Natural and Supernatural History by Dan Flores, we learn that there are over 5,000 coyotes living “underground” in NY City that are already on rat patrol.

Time for our Monday Wake up, and it’s the Pentagon’s turn. They should wake up and rescind those re-payments, and refund any money that they have collected from GIs who paid the price to get their enlistment bonuses.

To help the Pentagon get back on track, here are the Talking Heads with “Life During Wartime” from their 1979 album, Fear of Music. This live version comes from the 1984 movie “Stop Making Sense”, a Talking Heads concert:

Those who read the Wrongologist in email can view the video here.

Sample Lyrics:

Heard of a van that is loaded with weapons,
Packed up and ready to go
Heard of some grave sites, out by the highway,
A place where nobody knows

The sound of gunfire, off in the distance,
I’m getting used to it now
Lived in a brownstone, lived in a ghetto,
I’ve lived all over this town

 This ain’t no party, this ain’t no disco,
This ain’t no fooling around
No time for dancing, or lovey dovey,
I ain’t got time for that now

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Sunday Cartoon Blogging – September 18, 2016

Luckily, it only comes up every four years:

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Colin Powell’s emails were hacked, and America loved it:

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OTOH, Powell lied at the UN about WMDs. That helped start an unnecessary war in which many died. People have short memories. His standing should not be revived by a few blunt emails.

Hillary is back on the road. Is it too little vision, too late?

cow-fainting-spell

Dems should be ashamed, ashamed that their candidate runs so poorly with the young. That she is an ineffective campaigner. This is reminiscent of the summer of 1988, when Dukakis spent a week in August in Nantucket thinking he was ahead in the polls (Clinton spent two weeks in the Hamptons). She and her team are badly misdiagnosing what drives voters. Every response seems weak and ineffective.

Wells Fargo caught in phony account scheme:

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Wells fired 5300 “low level” employees, roughly 1% of the workforce, for signing up customers for checking accounts and credit cards without their knowledge. About 2 million sham accounts were opened, complete with forged signatures, phony email addresses, and fake PIN numbers, created by employees who were hounded by supervisors to meet daily account quotas. But the executive at the top of this hot steaming pile, Carrie Tolstedt, left in July with a $125 million retirement package.

Trump retracts his birther scam with an untrue swipe at Hillary Clinton:

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From Mark Shields  on the NewsHour about Trump’s birther nonsense:

He wasn’t only the loudest and the highest-profile and the most persistent and the most well-publicized birther, he, Donald Trump…lied. He lied consistently and persistently.

And, today, without explanation or excuse, he just changed his position and tried to absolutely falsely shift the blame onto Hillary Clinton…he debased democracy. He debased the national debate. He appealed to that which is most ignoble or least noble in all of us.

From David Brooks on the NewsHour:

Usually, there’s some tangential relationship to the truth…But now we’re in a reverse, Orwellian inversion of the truth with this. And so we have a team of staffers and then the candidate himself who have taken the normal spin and smashed all the rules. And so we are really in Orwell land. We are in “1984.” And it’s interesting that an authoritarian personality type comes in at the same time with a complete disrespect for even tangential relationship to the truth that words are unmoored…And so what’s white is black, and what is up is down, what is down is up. And that really is something new in politics.

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