Wednesday, February 26, 2020

Blogger Candidate Forum: For The Record: Senator Bernie Sanders

Hello Everyone:

It is Wednesday, the Wednesday before Super Tuesday, March 3, 2020 and time for the weekly edition of Blogger Candidate Forum.  The Candidate Forum checked its registration status and is good to go.  If need you need any and all voter information, please go to either your state's secretary of state's for fan in California--or and vote.  Who is feeling the Bern?

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Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT)

Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders (I) is a man on fire.  He came within a razor's edge of winning the Iowa Caucus, decisively won the New Hampshire primary, and scored a big in the Nevada Caucus last weekend.  The Gentleman from Vermont is currently sitting on of top polls and is on track to score major victories on Super Tuesday, March 3, 2020.  During yesterday evening's debate in South Carolina, Senator Sanders took some serious hits but manged ran out the clock.  What is it about the Gentleman from Vermont that has really caught on this election cycle?  With no viable moderate Democratic president nominee to challenge the Gentleman from Vermont, may be "The One."  Let us look at Senator Sanders' 2019 congressional report card in order to get an idea about kind of president Senator Bernie Sanders would. 

The Candidate Forum wants to begin here because this is The Candidate Forum wanted an objective gauge.  One caveat, the scores assigned to the Gentleman from Vermont, or any member of Congress, is a way to quantify aspects of his legislative in order for you to draw your own conclusions.  Keep this in mind, this post is not an endorsement for the Gentleman from Vermont or any candidate.  The information presented here is solely for advisory purposes.
Senator Bernie Sanders has been the junior senator from Vermont since January 4, 2007.  He is an independent who caucuses with the Democrats and is up for re-election in 2024.  Prior to joining the Senate, he served in the House of Representatives as his state's at-large representative, caucusing with Democrats from 1991 to 2006.  The congressional record tracking site (date accessed Feb. 26, 2020) compiled statistics for Senator Sanders based on a series of metrics.  Let us begin with his leadership score.

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In his over decade of service in the Senate, ranked the Gentleman from Vermont  "3rd bottom/follower compare to Serving 10+ Years" (Ibid).  Govtrack computed his score by looking at how often other Members of Congress co-sponsor their bills, based on PageRank, Google's algorithm for ranking pages on the internet.  The concept behind the score is "if X cosponsors Y's bill but Y does not cosponsor X's bill, then X is a follower relative to Y being a leader" (Ibid).  The foundation for each score is based on the number of links you have to your your website gets from other websites.  Obviously, the more times people clink on the link to your website, the higher the score.  The score is tabulated by forming a matrix with co-sponsoring data then input to PageRank yielding a number that is the score (Ibid).

Another factor that goes into assigning a leadership score is the number of years in service.  Currently their are 42 senators, including the Gentleman from Vermont, who have served in the upper chamber for over ten years.  Of those 42 distinguished men and women, the Gentleman from Vermont ranks 40th with a score of .30; putting him in the 5th percentile of all senators with similar tenure and in the 14th percentile for all senators (Ibid).  What this means is he ranked near the bottom of senators with ten or more years of service in getting influential co-sponsors but ranked 13th in the number of bills co-sponsored (312; Ibid).  As for introducing bills, the Gentleman from Vermont introduced 23 bills in over ten years, ranking him 31st for senators with similar tenure; tied for 72nd overall.  Of the bills he introduced, precisely 0 were signed into law.  This brings up the question of Senator Sanders' ability to work with colleagues from the Republican side of the aisle and with the House.

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Cheers to bipartisanship
    Once upon a time, Republicans and Democrats would argue policy by day and go for drinks afterward.  Sadly, those days went the way of the of iPod.  However, if Congress remains split: the House controlled by the Democrats and the Senate controlled by the Republicans, the next president will have to work across the aisle to get his or her agenda passed.  This is not wishful thinking out loud, this is fact.  How does Senator Bernie Sanders rate in the category of working with his Republican colleagues? Dismally.

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The Presidents of The United States
Since 2007, of the 23 bills and resolutions he introduced in the Senate, exactly one has a co-sponsor from another party.  Among senators serving ten or more years, the Gentleman from Vermont is 41st out of 42 senators with ten or more years in the chamber; tied for 98th out of 100 senators overall for the fewest bipartisan bills (Ibid).  Another key metric is working with the House of Representatives.  Members of both chambers often work together on the same issue by introducing companion bills.  During his senate tenure, the Gentleman from Vermont introduced companion bills and resolutions 13 times; putting him in a tie for 16th among senators with ten or more years of service and tied for 31st among all senators (Ibid).

These statistics do not exactly inspire confidence in Senator Sanders' ability to get his agenda passed should he become the 46th President of The United States.  It also speaks to the inflexible nature of Senator Sanders' social democratic ideology.  As the second most ideologically liberal member of the Senate, the Gentleman from Vermont appears to have difficulty working with his moderate Democratic colleagues and Republicans, whose support is crucial to getting key agenda items, like Medicare for All, passed.  On the positive side,the low to middling scores suggest that there is room for improvement but he will have to step it up as the election cycle rolls on.  This means a more rigorous effort to expand his voter base to include soft Trump supporters and moderate Democrats with an agenda that demonstrates flexibility and path to get things done.   

Monday, February 24, 2020

Wiring Rural America For The Future

Hello Everyone:

A lovely Monday afternoon to you.  Today we are going to talk about rural broadband.  Before we get started, a few news items: Have you registered to vote?  Yes?  Good for you.  No?  Stop reading, go for voter registration information, then come back and read the post.  Next, it was a bad week for former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg.  First he made his debate stage debut and promptly got chewed up and spit out into a million pieces by Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA).  Mayor Mike will appear on the Super Tuesday ballot March 3, 2020.  Finally today in New York City, disgraced movie producer Harvey Weinstein was convicted on two counts of sexual assault and rape.  Mr. Weinstein faces trial on additional charges in Los Angeles.  Onward.

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Farmer checking his tablet device

Across the United States, rural communities are being excluded from contemporary society and the 21st century economy.  Rural Americans want the same thing as the urban counterparts: faster, cheaper internet service that would allow them to work remotely and go online to shop, get access to the latest government information, read the latest news and current events.  In 2018, the Federal Communications Commission voted on whether mobile phone data speeds are fast enough for online activities.  The choice Americans face is: "Is modest-speed internet appropriate for rural areas, or do rural Americans deserve access to far faster service options available in urban areas?" (; Jan. 16, 2018; date accessed Feb. 18, 2020).  It sounds like a curious question but with at least 39 percent of Americans, living in rural areas, without internet access that meets the FCC's minimum definition of "broadband service, the question of broadband service in rural areas has taken on a sense of urgency.  Shall have a look at the issue?

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Rural broadband connection map

From the beginning of the internet age, rural America has had less internet access than urban areas.  Take a look at the map on the left-hand side: What you see is that as move away from urban areas, high-speed connections are less frequent and wireless phone service and signals get weaker.  There are even swaths of the continental United States that have no connection whatsoever.  Although internet speeds and mobile phone service has improved, one key issue remains: "Cities' services have also gotten better, so the rural communities still have comparatively worse service" (; Jan. 16, 2018).  National standards have not been helpful.  As more of daily life takes place online, the FCC-set minimum data-transmission speeds for broadband service has gotten faster, but not fast enough.  "The current standard--at least 25 megabits per second downloading and 3 megabits per second uploading--is deemed 'adequate' to stream video and participate in other high-traffic online activities" (; Jan. 16, 2018).  However, not even these FCC-set minimums are available in rural areas.  What is needed is a comprehensive national broadband plan.

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Since the thirties, lawmakers have know that rural communications is a market failure (; Feb. 6, 2019; date accessed Feb. 18, 2020), something that results when "private companies cannot or will not provide a socially desirable good because of a lack or return on investment (Ibid).  During the thirties utility companies--telephone and electric companies--hesitated to provide service to rural America, citing sparseness of population and vast geography.  As a result, President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed into law the Rural Electrification Act of 1936 to provide loans and grants to rural utility companies.  The Rural Electrification Act was a major success: "Within 20 years, 65 percent of farmers had a telephone and 96 percent of them had electricity" (Ibid).  In the 21st century, we have a new problem in rural communications, this time it is broadband internet.

The Center for Rural Affairs reports,

The Pew Research Center finds that only 63 percent of rural Americans have a broadband internet connection at home, and 24 percent of rural adults consider access to high speed a major problem in their local community... (; Jan. 2, 2020; date accessed Feb. 18, 2020)

University of Virginia professor Christopher Ali wrote in 2019,

...In 2017, a full 30 percent of rural Americans (or 19 million people) and 21 percent of farms lacked broadband access.... We need a national rural broadband policy, demonstrating that the United States is serious about becoming a fully connected nation (; Feb. 6, 2019)

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The Clinton administration replaced the Rural Electrification Administration with the Rural Utilities Service, which has subsidized internet connectivity since 1995 (Ibid).  The Federal Communications Commissions provides an annual $8.8 billion for broadband service to rural, tribal, and low income communities, with at least $4.6 billion designated for rural.  The Rural Utilities Service (an agency of the Department of Agriculture) annually awards $800 million per year in rural broadband loans and grants. In the summer of 2018, Congress allocated an additional $600 million to subsidize broadband expansions to the most underserved communities.  This was an addition to the $7.5 billion rural broadband loans and grants allocated by the 2009 Recovery Act.

Thus, the lack of broadband service in rural communities is not a matter of money, that is obvious from the billions of dollars annually awarded in grants and loans from the F.C.C. and the R.U.S.  The real  issue is "rural America has not seen broadband deployed and adopted at the same speed and effectiveness that it had with electricity and telephone service almost a century ago" (; Feb. 6, 2019).  The problem is the lack of coordination in federal policies, which has allowed the telecommunications companies to receive a large chunk of the fund with little in the way regulatory accountability.  The vague set of loan and grant guidelines make it difficult for communities and, shockingly some states have laws actively prohibit or throw up obstacles to prevent towns and cooperatives from wiring their communities. (Ibid).

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Rural Minnesota is good place to see where and how federal broadband policies have succeeded.  Minnesota is a national leader in broadband deployment plans.  It allows business professionals to reduce the cost overhead that comes with having to maintain a separate office just to digitally file paperwork and with a dedicated WiFi service.  It helps keep rural Minnesota student on top of their school work because about 70 percent of teachers assign homework that requires an internet connection.

Nearly every state has some sort of broadband deployment plan.  However with so many plans come infinite definitions of what broadband is, target speeds, eligibility requirements for, and a myriad of unique priorities.  Thus what is needed is a comprehensive national rural broadband plan.  Prof. Christopher Ali writes,

Standardizing state rural broadband policies isn't enough: We need a plan to identify and galvanize stakeholders--not just the major telecommunications companies--to inspire change in our current policy approach and democratize the funding process, and to champion the cause of rural broadband across the country.... (; Feb. 6, 2019)

A national comprehensive rural broadband plan would designate a single agency--ideally the Rural Utilities Service with offices in every state--as main coordinator for broadband.  Right now, rural broadband service is handled by the F.C.C. and the Rural Utilities Service, who are two different agencies with conflicting agendas in charge of allocating a lot of money.  Goes without saying, a one agency would definitely reduce federal expenditures, coordinate and encourage more data sharing, collaboration and coordination between the agencies.

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This plan would require creating a new national broadband map, using minute data rather than broadband providers' reports of advertised speeds instead of actual speeds to the F.C.C., and where broadband use is determined by census tracts rather than individual households.  Prof. Ali observes,

The F.C.C., which manages the current national broadband map, has grossly overestimated broadband deployment throughout the country because when a single building in a census block is reported to have broadband, the entire block is considered "served" (Ibid)

Designating a single agency would streamline the application process from the F.C.C. and subsidies from the Rural Utilities Services, making it easier for smaller companies to file.

Prof. Ali's suggestion for a national broadband plan also requires a change in the relationship between the telecom companies and federal subsidies.  He writes,

...A national rural broadband plan would democratize the rural broadband subsidy system, abandoning the legacy rules that force the Rural Utilities Service and the F.C.C. to give the bulk of subsidies to the major telecommunications companies, which deliver only the bare minimum speeds to comply with the law.  This money should be provided on a competitive basis without reserving the bulk for major companies and leaving smaller ones, like local independent providers, cooperatives and municipalities to fight for the scraps (Ibid).

One example is CenturyLink which receives over $505 million a year from the F.C.C. but it is only legally required to provide the turtle-slow download speed of 10 megabits per second and upload speeds of one megabit (; Feb. 6, 2019).  There are cooperatives that mount heroic efforts to wire their communities.  Alliance Communications in Rock County, Minnesota manages the fiber optic network and The People's Rural Telephone brought fiber-optic broadband to McKee, Kentucky, one of the poorest communities in the state.  What both these companies, and ones like them, have in common is a genuine desire to serve their members with a public serve rather than a quick return on their investment.  All too often, there are too many people who are left out of the discussion on who benefits and how from broadband connection in the digital age of American agriculture.

A national comprehensive rural broadband plan would allow the United States to show the global marketplace that it serious about being competitive in the global marketplace.  The current lack of universal broadband means that the U.S. remains behind the competition in community connectivity, agriculture, data procession, telemedicine, education, and a variety of other industries.  The lack of connectivity means the U.S. has no stake in global competition and we are continuing to lose ground because the major telecommunications companies receive the lion's share of funding and fail to deliver.  The United States loses because the agencies in charge of rural broadband do not have an accurate census of who has and does not have broadband.

Federal policies must change so that they support cooperatives like Alliance Communications and The People's Rural Telephone, who are wiring their communities despite the lack of a coordinated federal effort.

Wednesday, February 19, 2020

Blogger Candidate Forum: Bloomberg

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MIchael Bloomberg
Hello Everyone:

It is Wednesday and time for The Blogger Candidate Forum.  This evening the remaining candidates in the Democratic primary will take the stage in Nevada for another debate round.  A quick reminder, the Nevada Caucus takes place on Saturday and Super Tuesday is March 3, 2020.  If you need voter registration information, go to  Thanks  Making his debut on the stage is former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg.  Mayor Bloomberg's entry into the race presents an ethically vexing challenge for Democrats, especially those who lean more progressive.

Mayor Bloomberg is a billionaire with governmental experience.  He was mayor of the United States' largest city during which he presided over stop-and-frisk policing, which disproportionately men of color.  He supports many of the same causes progressively-minded voters supports: combating climate change, education, sensible gun control law, yet has said some very questionable things about women and minorities.  He is the founder of media and information company Bloomberg LP in 1981, raising questions of journalistic objectivity.  Mayor Bloomberg a vast fundraising infrastructure and is self-financing his campaign.  He generously donates and award grants to many worthwhile causes that progressive minded voters support and this is where the problem lies.  The fact that Mayor Bloomberg is staggeringly wealthy and has a seemingly endless fund-raising sources gives rise to this thought: Should Mayor Bloomberg become the candidate and beat the president, every bill signing or policy announcement is going to carry the taint of influence buying.  The question is Mayor Michael Bloomberg right candidate for the times?

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The remaining viable candidates

Tonight's debate, the ninth one thus far, will feature Mayor Bloomberg, who made the stage after polling at 19 percent, compared to VPOTUS Joe Biden (D-DE; 15 percent) and Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA; 14 percent).  Good enough to put in second place behind the front runner Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT) who polls at 31 percent.  Since his late entry into the race, this past November, the second place finish is indicative of a surge in the polls, fueled by a massive advertising campaign on the social media, targeting the bigger more expensive states that vote later.  Without going through the early rounds over the summer, Mayor Bloomberg has managed to position himself as a stealth candidate.  Both the Gentleman from Vermont and VPOTUS have already called him out over buying the election.  Let us drill a little deeper.

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Tom Steyer and Michael Bloomberg

 Mayor Michael Bloomberg is joined by Tom Steyer, a billionaire tech entrepreneur from the San Francisco Bay Area.  Mr. Steyer is also self-financing his campaign.  Here are some numbers to consider: Thus far Mayor Bloomberg has spent $417.7 million and Mr. Steyer $193.6 million of their own money  This sounds mind-blowing but $417.7 million is pocket change for Mayor Bloomberg whose estimated net worth is $64 billion.  "It's a bit more than six-tenth of 1 percent--the equivalent of someone worth $100,000 spending $650."  The potential here is the release of a tsunami of spending unlike previous campaign.  This unimaginable spending spree, for sacred Democrats, and the case for Mayor Bloomberg: Whatever his faults, he brings with him a bottomless war chest that he can access to defeat the president and carry with him congressional Democrats.

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Mayor Bloomberg and Senator Sanders

Moderate Democrats may be willing to overlook Mayor Bloomberg's contradictory political history because he has the bottomless war chest as the antidote to the Gentleman for Vermont's socialism.  The concern for moderates is that his socialism will be too politically toxic or VPOTUS Biden is simply not up to the task.  For moderates, the Bloomberg campaign offers a compromise, albeit a grudging compromise.  Jonathan Chait of New York magazine observed,

Winning the president is starting to look hard,... How about buying it instead? 

This sounds like a winning strategy: "Trump has been a cruel and erratic president, and to his critics, defeating hims is of paramount more importance."  Most Democrats believe that money corrupts the political process and it would be better if Mayor Bloomberg spent his billions elsewhere.  Be that as it may, the current political process is what it is, and subjecting every campaign to a political purity test is far less important than winning right now.

This is how a bad system corrupts good people--"they do it by enlisting our self-interest to convince us to betray our values."  To be brutally frank, the American campaign finance system is a disaster.  Most candidates cannot self-finance their campaigns, forcing them to spend far more time than they care to making donor calls and attending fund-raising functions.  Even then, donations are limited to $2,800 per individual.  Since the Supreme Court believes that political spending is a form of protected free speech, the wealthy can spend as much on their campaign or on Super PACs to advocate their agendas.

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Senators Sanders and Warren

Thus populists like Senators Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, and, yes, the president, have risen to the forefront because of Americans' disdain for a political process that has been hijacked by the wealthy.  "Bloomberg isn't so much a defense against those critiques as he is a confirmation of them."  The populists and the president (ironically) rally their supporters by claiming the system is rigged, elections sold to the highest  bidder, contemporary liberalism is window dressing on corporate America.  Mayor Bloomberg's campaign may be a test of whether this statement is true.  He may market (the appropriate term is this case) himself to centerists as the best option to the populists, "but in leveraging his fortune to fight them, he offers the country the (hopefully) false choice between populism and oligarchy."

In response to the Bloomberg surge, his critics have filled the Twitter-verse with clips of Mayor Bloomberg making disparaging comments about minorities, transgendered people, presiding over a sexually hostile workplace, and praising the controversial stop-and-frisk policy.

New York Times columnist Ross Douthat wrote:

Trump's authoritarian tendencies are naked on his Twitter feed, but Bloomberg;s imperial instincts, his indifference to limits on his power, are a conspicuous feature of his career.  Trump jokes about running for a third term:  Bloomberg actually managed it, bulldozing through the necessary legal changes.  Trump tries to bully the F.B.I. and undermines civil liberties; Bloomberg ran New York as a miniature surveillance state.  Trump cowed the Republican Party with celebrity and bombast; Bloomberg spent his political career buying organizations and politicians that might otherwise impede him.  Trump blusters and bullies the press; Bloomberg literally owns a major media organization.  Trump has Putin envy; Bloomberg hearts Xi Jinping 

The silver lining here is that it is a false choice, for now.  The myth of electability says that Mayor Bloomberg is a better choice than the Gentleman from Vermont or VPOTUS.  This is false.  The fact is the history of American elections is littered with losing campaigns of self-financing candidates, albeit none at the scale of Mayor Michael Bloomberg.