$15 minimum wage on Aug. 8 ballot in KCMO plus Trump’s attack on net neutrality

This episode will discuss two issues: The primaries in Kansas, August 1, and Missouri, August 8 including the $15 per hour minimum wage initiative on the August 8 ballot in Kansas City, MO, and voter ID requirements including the new photo ID requirements to vote in Missouri elections.

Then, we will discuss the efforts of Trump’s Federal Communications Commission (FCC) on “Restoring internet freedom or destroying net neutrality?”

  • Net neutrality will be discussed further at a Forum eleven days from now, August 5, 4-5:30 PM in the KKFI Annex, 3901 Main St., KCMO.  Park and enter in the back.


August Primaries 

KS Primary:  Next Tuesday, August 1, primaries will be held for a variety of local offices in Kansas in some but perhaps not all Kansas jurisdictions.  Kansas voters can get sample ballots from their county elections office.  On the web, you can search for “election office” with the name of your county, e.g. “jocoelection.org” for Johnson County, and “www.wycokck.org/election” for Wyandotte County.  The ballot for at least parts of Johnson County includes only a single race for the board of the Shawnee Mission School District.  At least parts of Merriam, KS, have a contested race for a city council seat.  

If you are registered to vote in Kansas but won’t be able to go to the polls August 1, you can vote in person in the county election office.  

Missouri Election:  The following Tuesday, August 8, will see elections in many Missouri jurisdictions.  The Kansas City, MO, ballot will include three initiative Questions:  The first is adamantly opposed to streetcar expansion, requiring voter approval before the city can spend more time and money considering streetcar expansion.  The second would provide funding for it.  I’ll be surprised if both pass.  

The third Question asks Kansas City voters to approve an increase in the minimum wage to $15 per hour.  This is being requested especially by StandUpKC, which is the local incarnation of the national Fight for 15 movement.  The Facebook page of Stand Up KC is announcing a Faith, Justice, and Action dinner this Thursday, July 27, at St. Mark’s Hope and Peace Lutheran Church.  

The debate on the minimum wage is the same as for every minimum wage question:  Conservatives insist that people will lose jobs, because many businesses, especially small businesses, will not be able to afford to pay the higher wages, they claim.  People supporting an increase in the minimum wage claim that increasing the minimum wage will actually boost the economy, because poor people will have more money to spend — and will spend most of it.  

There actually has been a moderate amount of research in this question, summarized in the Wikipedia articles on “Minimum wage” and “Minimum wage in the United States”.  The minimum wage is different in different jurisdictions, which create opportunities for natural experiments.  Different studies support different sides of this minimum wage question, though the vast majority of studies have found that the impact on unemployment is small to nonexistent, within the range of experience.  

In 1933, President Franklin Roosevelt signed legislation setting the minimum wage at 25 cents per hour, but that was overturned by the Supreme Court in 1935.  In 1938 congress passed the Fair Labor Standard act that include a 25 cents per hour minimum wage, which was supported by the Supreme Court in 1941.  That 25 cents adjusted for inflation is equivalent to $4 in 2015 money.  

Moreover, that 1938 minimum wage was roughly equivalent to the average annual income, Gross Domestic Product per capita, at the time.

Since 1938, the minimum wage has been increased many times while it lost value due to inflation.  Adjusted for inflation to 2015 dollars, it peaked in 1968 at almost $11 per hour.  

However, the average annual income increased faster than the minimum wage between 1938 and 1968, and the $11 per hour was roughly only 88 percent of the nation’s average income at the time.  The nation could more easily afford that than it could the minimum wage in 1938.

But the average income does not account for income inequality.  For that, it’s easy to look at the median income:  Fifty percent are below and 50 percent are above the median.  Census data on that the median family income began in 1947.  From that date until around 1970, the median family income grew at roughly the same rate as the average.  Since 1970, the average has more than doubled but the median has increased roughly only 25 percent.  The gap amounts now to roughly $40,000 per year for the typical American family.  If we round that down to $36,500, we see that the gap is roughly $100 per day for the typical American Family.

Part of the explanation for that gap is that increases in the minimum wage have not kept pace with inflation.  Nationwide today, it averages roughly $7.25 per hour, down considerable from the $11 per hour in 2015 dollars that it was in 1968.  Doubling the minimum wage to $15 per hour would bring it up to only 56 percent of the average, far below the 88 of the average that it was in 1968.  

For more information on this, I recommend the Wikipedia article on “Income inequality in the United States” as well as the articles previously mentioned on “Minimum wage” and “Minimum wage in the United States.” 

Missouri Voter ID:  One more comment about the elections:  You need to bring appropriate proof of identity.  Last November, Missouri voters approved by 63 to 37 percent a constitutional amendment requiring a photo ID to vote.  This seems to have been based on a widely held belief promoted by conservatives and media like Fox that the nation has a major problem with vote fraud by people who are not legally eligible to vote.  

If you have solid evidence to support this belief, I want to know.  Everything I’ve seen says that there is not substantive problem with people voting who are not eligible to vote, which could be fixed by requiring photo IDs to vote.  

For example, the Secretary of State of Kansas, Kris Kobach, is the only Secretary of State in the nation authorized to prosecute this kind of vote fraud, having received that authority in 2015 after claiming for four years that Kansas had a massive problem of voter fraud that the local and state prosecutors were not adequately addressing. At that time, he “said he had identified more than 100 possible cases of double voting.”  By February 7, 2017, Kobach had filed nine cases and obtained six convictions. Six convictions, not a hundred.  Six.  Moreover, all six cases involved double voting, which would not have been prevented by the voter ID laws passed in Kansas and Missouri.  Zero.  

But voter suppression is real.  In 1980, Republican strategist Paul Weyrich famously said, “I don’t want everybody to vote. … [O]ur leverage in the elections … goes up as the voting populace goes down.”  Since 1981, the Republican National Committee has been under court order, repeatedly renewed, to cease and desist from voter caging and similar voter suppression techniques.  They keep doing it and get away with it, presumably because the mainstream commercial broadcasters believe they make more money by largely suppressing reports on this issue.  

This is a special case of a more general problem that progress on many and perhaps all substantive issues is blocked, because every plausible countermeasure threatens someone with substantive control over the media.  

Most people still get most of their news from commercial television.  This is a problem, especially since between 1975 and 2000, the mainstream commercial broadcasters fired nearly all their investigative journalists except for a few with popular programs like 60 Minutes.  

This was great for business, because it reduced the risks of exposing problems and special favors that major advertisers got from government that they did not want in the public eye.  Few if any businesses thrive by biting the hands that feed them.   

Net Neutrality 

We now turn to the primary primary issue for tonight’s show:  Net Neutrality. That is the principle that Internet Service Providers (ISPs) like Comcast, Verizon, and Spectrum (formerly Time Warner Cable) should not be allowed to censor, throttle or block people’s internet usage to favor their own material or that of web sites that pay extra to have their content delivered at today’s standard “high speeds”. The accompanying figure indicates that over 60 percent of land line users abandoned an attempt to access a web site if they had to wait more than about eight seconds; over half of mobile phone users abandoned sites where they had to wait more than 30 seconds.

Net neutrality threatens the major media as well as the telecom giants, because it means that anyone can compete in the marketplace of ideas based solely on the quality of their presentation.  

The Friends of Community Media (FCM) hosted a Forum July 15, which included a videoconference with Ernesto Falcon, an attorney and Legislative Council with the Electronic Frontier Foundation in San Francisco.  The Pacifica Network has podcasts from a 6-minute interview with Falcon from July 13 as well as 28 minutes from his comments at the FCM Forum July 15.  

History of net neutrality 

In 2015, the FCC issued a “Title II Order” that made it illegal for ISPs to discriminate on data sent via land lines;  mobile phones were exempted.  Trump’s FCC chair, Ajit Pia, claims that investment in new internet infrastructure declined as a result of that order and should be reversed. Others claimed that most available data contradict Pai’s claims, and he seemed to have selected only data that supported an unreasonable claim. Still others insist that the First Amendment is much more important than any particular set of investment numbers.

In particular, the FCC’s pending Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) on “Restoring Internet Freedom” is officially driven by the claim that the 2015 “Title II Order” has caused telecom companies to reduce their capital expenditures in broadband.  Falcon noted that no such claims are made by the companies in their filings with the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), where misleading claims can lead to lawsuits by investors.  They major telecoms and their supporters only make such claims where there are no effective penalties for making misleading statements.

The FCC’s pending action to overturn net neutrality will be discussed at a Forum on August 5, 4-5:30 PM organized by the Friends of Community Media. That forum will feature comments Gordon Elliott and probably others.  Elliott is an engineer with considerable Internet experience.  Graves is an engineer and statistician, whose research on many issues of public policy led him to see net neutrality as an important strategy for progress on many other issues.

What you can do 

If you wish to comment on net neutrality, one of the best way to do that as an individual is “BattleForTheNet.com“:  This makes it easy to send an “express comment” on this issue to the FCC as well as sending comments to your elected representatives in the US House and Senate.  Almost 12 million such comments have been filed to date.

The FCC also accepts “standard filings”, which are most commonly PDF files, but doc, docx, and txt formats can also be submitted.  These are especially useful for organizational comments.  Over 7,000 such filings have been submitted so far.  You can see the format by looking at other standard filings.  You can search these by going to “www.fcc.gov/ecfs” and entering “17-108” in the box for Proceedings (then press “enter” to get the software to respond to that).  When I entered “Friends of Community Media” just now, I got the document that FCM submitted for the July 17 deadline.  When I entered “Spencer Graves” with “17-108”, I got two “Express” filings and one “Standard”.

Beyond that, you are encouraged to organize visits to your elected representatives in the US House and Senate to let them know how you feel about net neutrality.  FCC Commissioner Michael O’Rielly said, “Thankfully, our rulemaking process is not decided like the Dancing with the Stars context, since counts of comments submitted have only so much value.”

Commissioner O’Rielly’s comment suggests that the almost 12 million comments from citizens so far may not be enough to stop Trump’s FCC from destroying net neutrality unless enough of those people form groups and make appointments to visit their elected representatives to ask for the position of each of your elected representatives in the US House and Senate.  IndivisibleKC and MoveOn are two organizations in the greater Kansas City area organizing people to do things like this on issues of concern to them.  Ernesto Falcon of the Electronic Frontier Foundation singled out Senator Moran of Kansas as a key individual locally, because he has sits on key committees and has in the past shown a reasonable understanding of the issues at stake, especially regarding innovation.

Transcript of interview with Ernesto Falcon, Legislative Council for the Electronic Frontier Foundation, recorded July 13, 2017

The following is a transcript of an interview conducted via teleconferencing between Spencer Graves and Ernesto Falcon on July 13, 2017, available from the Pacifica Network.

Graves: The following is an interview with Ernesto Falcon, an attorney and Legislative Council for the Electronic Frontier Foundation, which is one of the leading citizen advocacy groups specializing in the law of the Internet. I’m Spencer Graves, a journalist with 90.1 FM, KKFI, Kansas City Community Radio. This interview was recorded Thursday, July 13, 2017. Mr. Falcon, without referring people to your web site, eff.org, could you please tell our listeners what you would like the public to do about the current Federal Communications Commission’s Notice of Proposed Rulemaking on “Restoring Internet freedom”, which is the freedom of major telecommunications companies like Comcast and AT&T to censor your Internet usage?

Falcon: We’re kind of approaching it in a number of ways. We’re trying to activate the public so they make their voice heard. The attorneys at the EFF are filing their own legal brief in terms of the issues and the impact of the policy decisions that are being made, and whether those are within the content of the law. And we’re trying to activate as many technologists and folks who were involved in the actual building and running of the Internet to weigh in with the regulator. A very different set of experts that are necessary to talk. Those are all the things we are doing in a real quick summary. The hope would be that small businesses, small Internet service providers, and just the general activism around this space will make it clear the politics on this is very much one-sided. And Chairman Pai wouldn’t proceed, or if he does proceed, then it’s a different posture that we’ll probably have to fight it out in the courts at the end of the day.

Graves: Do you have any specific suggestions regarding possible content of official comments?

Falcon: No one has to be an attorney to file comments to the FCC. All the FCC really needs is why are the rules important to them. As they stand today. In other words, no discrimination, no blocking, no throttling, and net neutrality generally. Why is that important today? What is the impact on them if those rules were removed? What’s the harm that would occur? And then general piece of what the FCC should do, which is, I suspect, stay the course. Don’t change the underlying legally enforceable regime of net neutrality. Don’t abandon that and hope that the major ISCs behaving nicely.

Graves: I’ve heard that if comments are filed in a certain way the FCC is required to pay more attention to them.

Falcon: Yeah, in the sense that the format would be easily, concretely, by going over it the way I just talked about it, the you’re explaining that I’m a local business or a local organization or what have you. You’re impacted by the law, and the changes in the law would have the following adverse consequences to me to do what I do. Whether it’s a commercial product or some sort of other organization or mobilization tools or whatever they do depends on the Internet, depends on the openness of the Internet to be successful. So that’s the stuff that get’s attention, because the FCC has to respond to the concern its order by explaining how it’s in the public’s interest to do what they’re doing. Um, There’s that. And then there’s the bulk, the major numbers of comments from average citizens, who just want to free up the Internet, and they just make it very clear in one or two sentences don’t mess with the rules the way they’re at under Title II. I support net neutrality, right. This chairman is indicating that he will give less attention to, which is unfortunate, I think. I think that’s kind of a disservice in terms of his job as a public servant. But that’s what they’re doing, and at the end of the day, this is a matter of, uh, the administrative agency has to work with the public.

You’re based in Kansas City, correct?

Graves: Yes.

Falcon: The most fundamental important thing for you guys in the state of Kansas is the Senator that’s our representative in Congress, Senator Moran. I think he’s a Republican that understands the importance of the Internet openness, but he’s also sympathetic to the ISPs, so he just needs to hear a lot from people in the State of Kansas saying, you know, I like net neutrality and the rules that exist today. Please don’t change those as my Senator. What are you doing to protect my interests? I’ve long worked with his office in the past, and I think he’s someone who really understands the importance of innovation and openness and kind of Internet freedom on a very different level from what I think many other politicians do. My hope would be that everyone locally kind of activates and makes those calls. You have two Senators and a member of the House that are pretty critical because they have a lot more of a say.

This Missouri delegation, I think, is just as important. But Senator Moran in Kansas, the reason why he’s also a lead Senator on telecommunications policy is he sits on a committee of direct oversight over the Communications Commission, so he has a lot of a more direct saying.

People need to take it to the next step, which is you know, plan to meet your elected officials, your two Senators and member of the House in the coming weeks, and be very active, because it’s only through mobilization that we’ll win this.

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