Obama calls for Free and Open Internet

The White House email today was all about Obama asking the FCC to consider new rules making the Internet free and open and keeping it that way—to regulate it as a public utility, the way we regulate phone companies.
So why didn’t Obama say this before the election? Maybe some of the many young people who stayed home and didn’t vote—and who live on the Internet and are tuned in to the net neutrality issue—would have actually come out and voted.
My best guess is that Obama knew if he said it before the election the big money donations coming to the Democrats—that at least kept them in the game with the big money going to the Republicans—would have dried up.

And to me that is the problem with too much money in the system—and why this recent Tom Toles cartoon shows us trying to dig through piles of campaign money to find some democracy—it isn’t that one side or the other spends more or even wins more often when they spend more. Rather, it is that when so much money is spent on both sides it drives the agenda to being that which the big money wants, and it ignores the agenda that the people want. The big money donors do not want an open and free Internet. They will make more money if they can control the Internet the way they want to.

In the election aftermath analysis I’ve heard, many are pointing out that several months before the election it looked like the Democrats would make income inequality a big issue in the elections, and then in the weeks leading up to the election they completely dropped it and stopped talking about it (the hard fought for ballot initiatives addressing minimum wage had gotten on the ballots months before and couldn’t be taken off, and they all won handily). I don’t think the Democrats thought the issue had gone away or that it would not play well with the voters. I really believe they got the message that if they kept talking about it the big money contributions, and all the dark SuperPac money would have dried up, because the people who have the money to make those kind of donations do not want income inequality to be talked about. So it didn’t really matter in many ways which candidates they gave their money to. In the end, it bought them what they wanted; an agenda and an election where the issues they wanted out of the spotlight became effectively invisible. Just like their identity.

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That’s what they are all saying about the midterm results. They are actually only historic in that history repeats itself. Democrats and Republicans now know what the other felt like in 2006, when the Democrats swept and took over both houses of congress in the midterms of Bush’s second term. The coverage was nothing but bad theater, and the results only surprising to those who were still in denial about the effect of big dark money and the new voter suppression laws that were rushed into effect after the supreme court threw out key parts of the voting rights act last year.

I’ve seen the meme this morning that we need a new word to describe this midterm, as Obama used thumpin’ and shellacking to describe the defeat in the midterms of his first term. Well, the appropriate new word is obvious; buyout.

As reported in USA Today, 42 people contributed one third of the over $600 million raised and spent by super PACs this election cycle.
That is about three times as much in the 2010 midterms, for those of you who believe Citizens United really didn’t change anything.
(And I’m not saying that history repeats and nothing changes AND that it is different since Citizens United. The point is that the Citizens United decision locks in even more the status quo and is making it ever harder to get the change we need, to get our government working for the people.)

I’m sure those 42 people got their money’s worth. We can’t know for sure who funded which super PAC because the supreme court has said that money is speech and that this speech can be anonymous, and loud. According to the same article, super PACs outspent the political parties by more than 107 million dollars in this cycle. Feeling good, are we, about chipping in that $3 contribution that the dozens of emails you got every day begged for? Believing it made a difference?

Let’s look at the senate and see if money played any apparent role in who won the races. This information is available from many sources.
While it is true–as the Atlantic Journal-Constitution and the Sunlight Foundation report–that three of the five biggest super PAC donors this year were liberals, plenty of money was spent on both sides. Let’s look at what was spent in the key senate races that flipped from Democrat to Republican hands and gave control of the senate to the Republicans.

While some of these results aren’t definitively final, it’s unlikely any, or at most one, will flip from their current status when the final few votes are counted. Much of the data on money comes from Open Secrets. The vote totals I got from CNN and they can easily be found in many places. The dollar totals here are outside money—that is, money not spent officially by candidates and their parties (dollar totals do include money spent by political Party Committees—yes, the distinctions get complicated, and as long as they are confusing, those with the money are happy), but by outside super PACs, which are not supposed to coordinate with the candidates, though they can coordinate with each other. And, as their donors are completely secret, it is impossible for us citizens to really have any idea who they coordinated with. And with the Republicans taking over, who knows, this could be the last time we are even allowed as much information as we are now. The chart at Open Secrets divides the money into spent into “for Democrats,” “against Democrats,” “for Republican,” and “against Republicans.” I’m going to total it up, so for Democrats includes money spent for Democrats and against Republicans and when I say for Republicans it includes money spent for Republicans and against Democrats.
I think these are the eight senate races that flipped a seat from Democrat to Republican.

Prior, the Democratic incumbent—333,535 votes
Cotton, the Republican challenger—478,388 votes
Senate seat flips from Democrat to Republican.

Outside super PAC Dark Money spent:
For Democrats: $15,320,845
For Republicans: $24,003,348

(Only 73% of the vote has been counted)
Begich, the Democratic incumbent—102,054 votes
Sullivan, the Republican challenger—110,203 votes

Outside super PAC Dark Money spent:
for Democrats: $23,268,040
for Republicans: $17,444,923
DARK MONEY LOSES (pending final results)

3. IOWA:
Open seat, with Democrat Harkin retiring
Braley, Democrat—491,669 votes
Ernst, Republican—586,856 votes
Seat flips to Republicans

Outside super PAC Dark Money spent:
for Democrats: $15,693,106
for Republicans: $32,280,816

Hagan, Democratic incumbent—1,364,758 votes
Tillis, Republican challenger—1,413,269
Seat flips to Republicans

Outside super PAC Dark Money spent:
for Democrats: $42,100,841
for Republicans: $34,660,699

Udall, Democratic incumbent—844.006 votes
Gardner, Republican challenger—923,883 votes
Seat flips to Republicans

Outside super PAC Dark Money spent:
for Democrats: $35,875,785
for Republicans: $33,493,454

open seat, Democrat Tester retiring
Curtis, Democrat—145,343 votes
Daines, Republican—210,524
Seat flips to Republicans

Outside super PAC Dark Money spent:
for Democrats: $489,538
for Republicans: $ $555,159

open seat, Democrat Tim Johnson retiring
Weiland, Democrat—82,408 votes
Rounds, Republican—140,721 votes
Pressler, Independent—47,728 votes
Seat flips to Republicans

Money Spent:
for Democrats: $2,816,069
for Republicans: $1,665,142

open seat, Democrat Jay Rockefeller retiring
Tennant, Democrat—155,396 votes
Capito, Republican—279,901 votes

Money spent:
for Democrats: $247,303
for Republicans: $751,747

It can be difficult to get exact counts on money. NBC gives the totals spent on what they have as the ten key senate races as $429 million, or $230 million spent by Republicans to $198 million spent by Democrats on radio and television advertising. Hard to think there is anyone who didn’t see the ads dozens of times in the markets where they were shown.

So looking at pure dollar figures, the forces of Dark Money won four races and lost four races (in the spending game). They won all the races in the results of flipping the seat to the Republican side. And if it had gone the other way, and the Democrats gained the eight seats, the loser would still be the American people. Do we really want elections that are funded by 42 rich people? Is that how democracy works?

And ask yourself this: Do you know anyone who was excited to vote by all the political ads they saw on television? I didn’t. Along with everyone I know, I simply wanted it to be over, to be done with being inundated by ads. That also is not democratic, and it is the goal of all the Dark Money spent on both sides; to convince the voter it doesn’t matter, and there is no reason to be involved or vote. That also is not democracy.

And here is the larger point. There is just too much money spent on the races. For all the problems we have, all the things we should be spending money on, and instead, we spend it on this. The total, just on the eight races listed above, which is a fraction of what was spent nationally, was:

Imagine the number of teachers who could have been hired. The number of bridges that could have been built. The number of wind farms that could have been built. By ignoring the needs of our country and spending so much on elections, we are jeopardizing our future as a nation, as a democracy.

How do we change it? Well, we need those 42 people who financed a third of the dark money (and all the others in the next tier below them) to spent their money differently. They won’t do it voluntarily. So we need to tax them. And that won’t happen until we change Washington. And unfortunately, that probably won’t happen until there is another Great Depression that really wakes people up and and we elect a new Roosevelt who will actually bring about good change.

For distraught Democrats, take heart. It’s all a game, and in two years it will be your turn to win. In 2016, there will be twice as many Republican senate seats as Democratic seats up for reelection, the reverse of this year. All of which means this election was, despite the salivating talking heads, not in any way a repudiation of Obama or his agenda. (I mean, the Dems who lost all ran from the Obama agenda. The ones who embraced it—Durbin in IL, Merkley in Oregon, etc., won.) It was simply a matter of who was up for reelection this time, and that history repeats, and like all second term midterms the party not in the white house wins big. So go ahead, Republicans, get all excited, believe the hype that this time it really is a repudiation of liberalism and that you will have a permanent Republican majority. Have your fun for two years. And see how you do when you are the majority and have to govern, not simply obstruct. Things will cycle in two years. They always do. It’s part of the game.

All the money spent could not prevent the Democratic candidates, as a whole, from acting, as Jon Stewart said, like kittens curled into a ball hoping the Republicans wouldn’t kick them too hard in the head. Just part of the game that is always played. As long as the Washington power elites remain in power, they really don’t care much which party is in control. (If you don’t think it is all just a game to keep those in power in power, regardless of party, read “This Town: Two Parties and a Funeral, Plus, Plenty of Valet Parking in America’s Gilded Capital” by Mark Leibovich.)

As for the complete repudiation and mandate meme, well, despite all the dark money, some people actually did vote for senate candidates.
Republican candidates got 9,531,603 votes
Democratic candidates got 8,813,407 votes
So clearly the only conclusion is that 100% of the American people have rejected everything about the Obama agenda.

The makeup of the senate will now be 52 Republicans, and 45 Democrats, with a couple independents and a couple races still to be called.
What that means in our strange system, is that with just over half the senators, the Republicans will get to chair 100% of the committees in the senate and control 100% of the agenda. That has been just as absurd when the Democrats were in control.

It is also not a repudiation as much as a demonstration that voters have no idea. In Alaska, the Republican won handily while so did a ballot measure to raise the minimum wage. Did voters not know the Republicans are against raising the minimum wage? It hasn’t exactly been a secret. In Colorado they threw out the incumbent senator to elect a Republican who still supports a personhood amendment (despite his waffling and backtracking), while they also defeated a personhood measure on the ballot by about two to one. More than a repudiation of Obama, the results are a demonstration of voter disconnect.
(On the down side, big agra like Monsanto again defeated GMO labeling measures in Colorado and Oregon, so there is still nowhere in the United States where you have the right to know what is in the food you buy and eat. How is that freedom, Republicans? Oh right, it’s just freedom for corporations you are concerned with.)

In 2012, though Republicans won many more house seats, in total across the country a million more votes were cast for Democratic House candidates than for Republicans (thanks to the gerrymandering, the Republicans won more seats). I’m guessing the same is true this year. The information is not easy to find, and I don’t have time to go through and add the totals of 435 races. You can find plenty of information on how many seats were won and even how much money was spent. How many votes were cast, well, I guess if they made a big deal of that, we might get the idea our votes don’t really matter and we’d get upset, and realize that the majority party in Washington represents a minority of the people, and that would keep them (the politicians and the pundits and the media) from being able to keep playing their power games in secret.

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Making the case for Obama

Got this graphic from an Obama email in the last day or two. And sure, you could list other things that haven’t gone as well. The point is, it is very easy to make a case TO run on Obama’s record. If the Dems take a beating tomorrow as predicted, they have no one to blame but themselves. And if the Dems lose the senate you can honestly ask what difference it makes when some of their own senate candidates wouldn’t even admit they had voted for Obama.

They could have turned around the negatives if they had been on message and out there repeating these five points every single time they were in front of the media.

Kind of sad they have been so pathetic. Of course the media is more pathetic. They only report on the horse race. Have seen very limited media coverage of these points. Guess reporting facts would seem partisan, and they don’t want that.
Mainly, I think the whole country is glad that after tomorrow they can turn on the tv again without being inundated with political ads. And therein lies one of our big problems. All the ads do is make everyone want it to be over; they do little to involve voters with ideas or facts or make us want to vote for anyone. Okay, enough rant.

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In 1966 comedian Jack Parr said “Don’t vote–it only encourages them.” Parr wasn’t the first to tell the joke, and while the humor still works, the reality is the reverse. We are no longer represented by our elected officials, and the more we don’t vote, the more they are encouraged to continue to ignore the electorate and simply obey their big money donors.

So we have to vote. It is the only chance we have to encourage them to pay attention to us rather than to big money. And it is far more important to vote in midterms and local elections than it is for president. At least, that is, if we want a democracy and not a dictator. And if you don’t vote tomorrow, then don’t complain about anything. Voting is our best tool to change things, even in races where we know the outcome. Higher turnout over time will make them pay attention to us. If both candidates are abhorrent, then write in someone you like. Write in yourself. But vote. If we want to live in a representative democracy, voting is the most important thing we can do. Not voting is exactly what they want us to do, and when you don’t vote, you’re conceding defeat without even fighting. If you have complained about anything in Washington, or your state, or your town, in the last two years, then if you ever want to complain again, you have to vote. Otherwise, you are simply part of the problem you were complaining about.

And because people have voted, we have, and can again, see amazing good change in short time (consider marriage rights, pot legalization, etc. We can do the same with things like guns, but only if we vote). See you at the polls tomorrow.

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Pre-election Punditry

Dave Johnson has a column at Campaign for America’s Future today, responding to David Brooks column in the New York Times today. I didn’t read Brooks column. Johnson quotes the relevant passages, including:”…there’s a completely obvious agenda to create more middle-class, satisfying jobs. The federal government should borrow money at current interest rates to build infrastructure, including better bus networks so workers can get to distant jobs. The fact that the federal government has not passed major infrastructure legislation is mind-boggling, considering how much support there is from both parties.”

Johnson is infuriated that Brooks blames both parties, and goes on to give numerous examples of what anyone who has paid attention (and sadly, that is way too few of us) already knows—it is not both parties. In fact, Obama and the Democrats have tried again and again to do what Brooks suggests, only to be thwarted at every turn by Republican obstructionism. And no, David Brooks isn’t that dumb. He knows this. He is simply playing politics. There is an election in a couple weeks, after all. Claiming both parties are responsible is simply his two cents to suppress the democratic vote. After all, if the center right god says there is no difference between the parties, why vote?

It’s similar to the recent Paul Krugman article in Rolling Stone praising Obama. The article has gotten a ton of liberal backlash from Thomas Frank (in Salon) and others for now praising Obama for many of the very same things he, Krugman, himself, has criticized Obama for in the past. Krugman isn’t dumb, he simply knows there is an election in two weeks, and the outcome will matter, so now is the time to remind people (we all only hope the voters are more thoughtful than the reactionary pundits) the ways in which the glass is half full, the ways in which Obama has succeeded. After the election, no matter the outcome, we should again do all we can to push Obama to do things that are good for the country. At the moment, since perhaps even a majority of Americans only pay attention to politics for a week before elections, it seems very obvious to me, if not to Dave Johnson or Thomas Frank, why Brooks and Krugman have written what they have this past week. Although perhaps they are all only playing their parts. Krugman and Brooks are bigger names with bigger audiences; they are trying to reach a wide audience of people who often don’t pay much attention to politics, in hopes to provide a small push in the November 4th elections—Brooks to convince people everyone in the political class is the same so it doesn’t matter if you vote, and Krugman to remind people of the positive things Obama has done in hopes of getting a few Democrats who would otherwise stay home (as far too many under 35 do in the midterm elections) to actually go out and vote on election day.

(Along with Krugman’s column, Rolling Stone also has a useful list reminding us what Obama has accomplished. Some of the points are maybe too snarky: “Osama bin Ladens alive 2009: 1, Osama bin Ladens alive 2014: 0.” Others are useful and far too little known: “Gigawatts of wind power installed when Obama took office: 25, Gigawatts of wind power installed through end of 2013: 61.”)

Johnson and Franks have smaller audiences and are more preaching to their choirs, which is there way of getting out the vote.
It is sad that in modern America, one side of the political spectrum spends so much energy, usually in vain, to get people to go out and vote for politicians and policies that would help them. And the other side of the political spectrum is filled with rabid people who always vote (especially in primaries, skewing things to the extremes), and their pundits and politicians spend their energy trying to suppress, in various ways, any votes that may be against their agenda.

We can dream of a country and a system where a great majority of people vote, and do so with confidence that their vote matters and that the people they elect will represent them. Right now that is only a dream, and it will be a long hard fight to turn it into a reality.

Mark Twain wrote that he never voted, because it only encourages them. Still a funny line, though the reality has reversed today. We all took Twain too much to heart, so the politicians can do nothing for the people and get away with it. Whether an election race where you are has a real choice or not, we have to vote. It is the only thing that has a chance to frighten those in power who have for too long ignored us.

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No Republican Response, no Democratic Response Either

I have about 10 problems with Lakoff’s wish list. In short, it’s not my wish list. And that is why I do not hope he goes in that direction, regardless of political expedience.

He might go further than I want in some cases, and probably not in many others.
I want conditions applied to making the pipeline. I want universal min. wage increase.

Democracy is NOT based on empathy, much as we might want empathy to be integrated into the law.
Democracy is based on a cold, hard presumption of rights and rule of law. That idea smacks of empathy, but it pushes the concept farther than most would agree to. Empathy is nice; I would say it is the proper evolutionary step beyond democracy.

The reference to "you didn’t build it" was true, and not a mistake. It was just twisted by the right; and should serve as a lesson in real-politics for Lakoff: it’s not just okay, but proper to plan with the likely opposition in mind.

This is Lakoff’s own inappropriate spin: " Wage Slavery: take what you are offered or someone else will." That is not slavery, that is capitalism. Too bad, Bucko, that’s how it works. Obama’s "lift people up the ladder phrase implies how he gets capitalism more than the blogger does. Changing pensions is not a theft, it’s breaking a promise. Go ahead, say it, George.

Hydrocarbons are not immoral; they are just costly in several ways. I mean, would they become moral if they had less or no environmental impact? Of course, stop being such a provocateur!

Seems he ran out of steam at the end of the laundry list; no conclusion.

I want him to maintain a posture that avoids "us versus them," despite the fact that the other party does that.
I want the "Republican response" either abolished. It implies that President is first a partisan, and second the president, which is false. I the two parties in Congress want to debate as they should, make a Democratic AND a Republican "response."

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Ah, to dream…

George Lakoff has a column today describing what he would like to hear in tomorrow night’s State of the Union address. If you don’t like the real speech, read Lakoff’s vision to feel better.
I too would like Obama to say all this tomorrow night, and like Lakoff, know he won’t say much, if any, of it. The reason I would like to hear him say this stuff is Lakoff’s main point, that only by saying it over and over does it get into the public conversation and consciousness.
No, it is not a list of things that are remotely doable in the RealPolitik of the present (at least not only that). The point is these things will never become possible if they aren’t talked about, and talked about from the top. And they are things that have to be done for the future strength and success of the country (and if you think they aren’t, right wing, you shouldn’t be afraid of the conversation). At least that’s my take.
He even has a line for you, Jim, on species preservation! “Species Are Us! We are part of the continuum of life with all species. Bees matter. Don’t let them die off. Songbirds matter. Frogs matter. Salmon matter.”

This is from Bob Reich’s latest column:
“When asked if they believe government will do the right thing most of the time, fewer than 20 percent of Americans agree. Fifty years ago, when that question was first asked on standard surveys, more than 75 percent agreed.” This is perhaps the crux of most of our problems. No one believes anything politicians say, because we (rightly) don’t see them as telling the truth. If Obama gave a speech like the one Lakoff wants, it would not likely lead to a lot of short term policy changes, and it would shock and surprise a lot of people, and for many young people especially, it would feel like the first time a politician had said something honest.

Of course it won’t happen, and not just because it’s not who Obama is. The system is so rigged that no one who would give such a speech will ever be allowed near the money required to run for office and get elected. So the best we can hope for is nicely phrased platitudes about how America is wonderful and our best days are ahead of us, which at best will make us feel a little better for the next 24 hour news cycle and may give the president a temporary boost of a couple points on his approval rating. And in the end, the speech doesn’t really matter. It has become so choreographed and boring there are as few surprises as their are at the conventions. So fewer and fewer watch every year. One more reason that what we really need is a SOTU like the one Lakoff describes to wake us up out of our doldrums.
Alas, I fear we will awake on Wednesday morning still lacking what we need.

Happy New Year!
Keep warm (I write from Chicago).

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