June 19, 2024

From Texas Statehouse to YouTube, a Filibuster Is a Hit

But her abortion rights advocacy and her pink sneakers might have never gained national attention had she been in a state without a reliable live stream of the Legislature. Ms. Davis’s 11-hour filibuster inadvertently illuminated the stark technological differences that exist from state to state when it comes to broadcasting the public’s business.

In nearly a dozen states, there is no live video of legislative proceedings, only audio; in some other states that purport to provide video, the Web streams barely work. Even the audio, though, is of value to reporters, activists and ordinary citizens.

As journalism organizations continue to cut back on the number of reporters stationed at statehouses across the country, state-level equivalents to C-Span on television and online are supplying new ways to bear witness to the machinations of state and local government.

Some of Ms. Davis’s supporters and detractors will surely be watching on Monday when the Texas Legislature reconvenes and takes up the bill again. In Texas last week, The Texas Tribune made up for the state Senate’s digital shortcomings. Months before Ms. Davis’s vivid protest, the nonprofit news organization, based a few blocks from the state Capitol building in Austin, had gained access to the stream provided by state-controlled cameras there and set up a live YouTube channel for the legislative session.

While the same stream was also accessible through the Senate’s own Web site, that site looked almost comically old-fashioned compared with YouTube. Thus it was through YouTube that Ms. Davis’s filibuster was widely seen and shared.

“It’s great to see a channel like The Texas Tribune using YouTube to take a local story national — and probably won’t be the only time we’ll see this happen,” said Kevin Allocca, a trends manager at YouTube.

Online videos have been going viral for almost a decade, but what came out of the filibuster in Texas was something distinct: viral live video. Whether from a statehouse balcony or an activist’s smartphone, scenes that were once edited and distilled for television are increasingly being streamed live to an audience that spreads the news, or at least the pictures, themselves.

Streams from independent journalists at Occupy Wall Street protests in 2011 sometimes drew tens of thousands of viewers. More recently, links to live streaming video of mass protests in Turkey, Brazil and, as late as Sunday, Egypt, have been popular on social networks like Facebook and Twitter.

When the Texas Senate stream on YouTube peaked in popularity shortly after midnight Wednesday, as the end of the legislative session dissolved into chaos, 182,000 people were tuned in, about the same number watching MSNBC, one of the cable news channels that was mercilessly criticized for not broadcasting the Texas debate live.

People didn’t necessarily need MSNBC, though, because they had YouTube.

The theatrical aspects of Ms. Davis’s filibuster and the seriousness of what was at stake “all resulted in people saying to their friends, ‘You have to look at this!’ ” said Andrew Lih, a professor of journalism and director of new media at the University of Southern California Annenberg School of Communication and Journalism.

Many, probably most, of the online viewers wanted to see the Senate bill fail. They organized around Twitter hashtags like #StandWithWendy. But some anti-abortion campaigners followed the filibuster too, along with the politically minded who simply enjoyed watching what The Dallas Morning News called a “knife-fight within the confines of Robert’s Rules of Order.”

The heavy online viewership helped to prompt television networks and other news outlets to follow up the next morning and subsequently. On “Meet the Press” on Sunday, Ms. Davis said she and other state Democrats would keep battling against the abortion bill and said even if it passes, as many analysts expect, “obviously there will be challenges to it going forward.”

Thanks to the heightened interest in the bill, The Texas Tribune Web site had “far and away the highest traffic day in our history,” said Evan Smith, its editor in chief. Visitors have pledged about $37,000 to the nonprofit organization, from a total of 37 states, reflecting the nationwide scope of the sudden attention.

Mr. Lih said that The Tribune had done something significant “by getting the Senate video, which existed already, into a portal where the people hang out,” that is, YouTube. “That is pretty simple but powerful,” he said. (The Texas Tribune has a partnership with The New York Times to provide expanded coverage of the state.)

Data from the National Conference of State Legislatures indicates that all 50 states stream live audio of floor proceedings. Most also stream video, but the quality and accessibility varies widely. In some states, lack of funds has caused hardware and software upgrades to be postponed.

In Texas and in most other states the productions are handled in-house, raising concerns about potential interference. (At several points during the abortion bill debate last Tuesday, the stream was muted while private discussions took place, much to the consternation of viewers who were unaware that this was standard procedure.)

But in eight states, there are nonprofit groups that produce gavel-to-gavel coverage of all three state branches of government, according to Paul Giguere, the head of the Connecticut Public Affairs Network and a national association of ones like it.

“Ordinary citizens have an inherent right to watch their state government in action if they choose to,” Mr. Giguere said.

His association is piecing together a national strategy with the hope that it can convert more states to a more independent model. “We can’t replace reporters. What reporters do is critical,” he said. “But we can be a primary source.”

Article source: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/07/01/business/media/from-texas-statehouse-to-youtube-a-filibuster-is-a-hit.html?partner=rss&emc=rss

Senate Backs Bill to Force Tax Collection on Internet Sales

WASHINGTON — A bipartisan coalition in the Senate easily passed legislation on Monday to force Internet retailers to collect sales taxes for state and local governments, sending the issue to the House, where antitax forces have vowed to kill it.

But the 69-to-27 vote in the Senate will give the measure significant momentum. Hundreds of retailers are flying to Washington this week to pressure House lawmakers and counter the arguments of small-government groups, including Grover Norquist’s Americans for Tax Reform, which wields great influence in the House.

“After 20 years, there is finally light at the end of the tunnel for our brick-and-mortar businesses,” said Representative Steve Womack, Republican of Arkansas, and the bill’s House sponsor. “Saving local retail business depends on it, and it’s now up to the House to act.”

The Internet sales tax bill — called the Marketplace Fairness Act — is a rarity in Washington these days, a significant tax measure that has split antitax groups in Washington from reliably Republican Main Street businesses beyond the capital. That divide has given the measure at least a chance to reach President Obama, who supports it.

With Republicans in Congress equally split, Senator Richard Durbin of Illinois, the Senate’s No. 2 Democrat, joked Monday that C-Span watchers would see something “historic” and “precedent-setting:” “The Senate is actually going to vote for a bill.”

The legislation would allow states to force online retailers with more than $1 million in annual out-of-state sales to collect sales taxes from all customers and remit those taxes back to state and local governments. States would have to provide software to help calculate the taxes for thousands of jurisdictions.

Its sponsors intentionally kept the bill simple — just 11 pages in length — to ease passage. In contrast, the Congressional Joint Committee on Taxation on Monday released a 568-page report to the House Ways and Means Committee on options for overhauling the tax code compiled by 11 bipartisan House working groups tackling that issue. The release was intended to push forward comprehensive tax reform, but it only underscored how difficult a task that will be in a divided Congress.

The Senate Internet tax debate revolved around advocates’ arguments that applying sales taxes online is only fair, since traditional brick-and-mortar retailers must levy such taxes already. Supporters said the bill was not a tax increase but a guarantee that taxes already owed would actually be paid. The Senate, they said, was standing up for the right of states to collect taxes as they see fit.

“The first thing we have to make sure everybody understands is this isn’t a tax issue,” said Matthew Shay, chief executive of the National Retail Federation, which pushed for the legislation. “States determine the level of sales taxes to be collected. All we want to do is make sure the taxes are collected that are due.”

But opponents say they will try to slow the process down in the House and shift the conversation to their issues: fears that the complexity of collecting the taxes will put many Internet retailers out of business or subject them to an avalanche of audits from state and local governments around the country.

In a “Memo for the Movement,” a coalition of 52 conservatives on Monday demanded that House Republican leaders not bring the Senate bill straight to the House floor and also said House conservatives “should reject any bill that expands the authority of out-of-state governments to regulate businesses with regard to online taxation.”

Signers included Mr. Norquist, the keeper of the no-new-taxes pledge that almost every Republican in Washington has signed, conservative luminaries including Phyllis Schlafly and Richard Viguerie, and the heads of Heritage Action, the Heritage Foundation’s political arm, the Tea Party Patriots, Americans for Prosperity and FreedomWorks.

“We’re fairly confident that at the very least, we will slow this down,” said Dan Holler, a spokesman for Heritage Action. “Then we have to make the arguments that can win.”

With conservatives in Washington organizing against it, the bill faces an uphill climb in the House, but not a steep one. The House bill already has 65 co-sponsors, almost half of them Republican, and those Republicans include veteran conservatives like Representatives Joe Barton of Texas and Spencer Bachus of Alabama. Proponents point to their own conservative supporters, including Al Cardenas, chairman of the American Conservative Union, and Arthur Laffer, a conservative economist.

The House Judiciary Committee chairman, Bob Goodlatte of Virginia, has said he will at least consider the measure. After the Senate’s passage, Mr. Goodlatte made it clear he would take his time with the legislation and would insist on significant changes. He suggested he may force more uniformity in sales tax rates and add legal recourse for Internet retailers facing multiple audits. But he did not indicate he planned to delay the issue in his committee. Conservative voices in Washington are being countered by reliably Republican business voices from home. Representative Tom Price, Republican of Georgia and a House conservative leader, said Monday that he was just starting to hear from both sides, including district retailers coming to his office.

Mr. Price said he was undecided on the issue, but he noted the bill would now go to the House Judiciary Committee, not the tax-writing House Ways and Means Committee. That itself could ease the bill’s passage.

Article source: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/05/07/business/senate-backs-wider-internet-tax-collection.html?partner=rss&emc=rss

Today’s Economist: Simon Johnson: The Debt Ceiling and Playing With Fire


Simon Johnson, former chief economist of the International Monetary Fund, is the Ronald A. Kurtz Professor of Entrepreneurship at the M.I.T. Sloan School of Management and co-author of “White House Burning: The Founding Fathers, Our National Debt, and Why It Matters to You.”

Congressional Republicans are again threatening not to increase the ceiling on the amount of federal government debt that can be issued. On Wednesday, they agreed to postpone this particular piece of the fiscal confrontation, but only until May. The decision to turn the debt ceiling into a confrontation is a big mistake for the Republicans and extending the indecision is likely to prolong the agony of uncertainty and have damaging economic consequences for the country.

Today’s Economist

Perspectives from expert contributors.

I made these points at a hearing on Tuesday of the House Ways and Means Committee, but unfortunately the Republican majority seems determined to persevere with its destabilizing strategy. (The hearing can be viewed on C-Span’s Web site; see the playlist on the right.)

In most countries, decisions about government spending and revenue bring with them an implied, even automatic decision about how much debt to issue. Spending minus revenue in a year gives you the annual deficit (a flow), while government debt is a stock of obligations outstanding.

Think of it as a bathtub. Spending is water coming in from the tap, and revenue is water leaving through the drain. If there is more spending relative to revenue, there is more water in the bathtub – and the amount of water is the debt.

In the United States, for odd historical reasons, Congress makes two separate decisions, one on the flow (spending and revenue) and the other on the stock (the allowed limit on the debt, known as the debt ceiling).

But once you have decided on the rate of flow into and out of the bathtub, the stock at any given moment is a given. So what happens if Congress suddenly decides that there should be a cap on the water in the bathtub, without altering the flow in or out?

To complicate matters, keep in mind that some of these fiscal flows have already been committed, for example, in terms of interest payments due on existing debt, salaries for active military personnel and Social Security payments. You cannot suddenly grab more revenue out of thin air.

The main problem is that no one knows what would happen if the federal debt were to hit its legal ceiling.

Would the government be forced to default on some obligations to bondholders? Would there be some other form of default — for example, in terms of nonpayment for goods and services already contracted? Or would there just be complete chaos in our fiscal affairs, a throwback to the mid-1780s, before the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia and before Alexander Hamilton took the public debt firmly in hand?

In the past, the potential for confusion around binding debt-ceiling limits was well understood. The debt ceiling was therefore raised without too much fuss, and the party in opposition would typically object in principle but not put up a real fight. Plenty of other ways are available for Congress to affect revenue and spending (the flow) without throwing everything into disarray by insisting on a stock of debt that is inconsistent with previous commitments.

This changed in summer 2011 when some Republicans decided to dig in behind the idea that they could force the federal government to default if they did not get what they wanted. For some, this was about forcing big spending reductions. For others, federal government default was actually the goal; see this commentary from July 22, 2011, by Ron Paul, a Tea Party favorite who was a member of Congress at the time. (His son, Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky, is currently opposed to increasing the debt ceiling, even on a temporary basis as agreed this week.)

In summer 2011, I warned about the effects of this confrontation over the debt ceiling, contending that it would create a great deal of uncertainty and slow the economic recovery. I particularly stressed the damage that would be done to the private sector — exactly contrary to what the House Republicans asserted they wanted. I also testified to this effect before the Ways and Means Committee on July 26, 2011, although I cannot say my arguments had any impact on Republican thinking.

Recent research by Scott Baker and Nicholas Bloom of Stanford and Steven Davis of the University of Chicago looks carefully at what has generated uncertainty about policy over the last 25 years or so. Their Web site is a must-read, as is the latest version of their paper on the topic (updated Jan. 1). This chart from their paper was a main point in my five minutes of opening verbal testimony.

This index is composed of four series of data, weighted so that 50 percent is from news articles containing the terms uncertain or uncertainty and economic or economy and policy relevant terms, and 16.63 percent each from the number of tax laws expiring in coming years, a composite of ranges for quarterly forecasts of federal, state and local government expenditures, and a one-year consumer price index from the Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia.Scott Baker, Nicholas Bloom and Steven Davis This index is composed of four series of data, weighted so that 50 percent is from news articles containing the terms uncertain or uncertainty and economic or economy and policy relevant terms, and 16.63 percent each from the number of tax laws expiring in coming years, a composite of ranges for quarterly forecasts of federal, state and local government expenditures, and a one-year consumer price index from the Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia.

They find that while the financial crisis of 2008 and its aftermath greatly elevated policy uncertainty in general, the debt-ceiling confrontation in summer 2011 produced the highest level of uncertainty since 1985, when their analysis begins.

Uncertainty about policy creates doubts in the minds of people about what is going to happen to the economy. The natural response in the face of heightened uncertainty is to delay making decisions — people do not go on vacation or buy a car, and business owners and companies do not hire people unless they absolutely need them.

Slap everyone in the face with such concerns after a big financial crisis and you get a slower economic recovery and fewer jobs.

Most economists would say there is no chance that the United States would ever default; this would be an act of collective insanity far in excess of anything ever seen in this country or anywhere in the world. But what really matters is not the view of analysts and commentators. The real issue is whether decision makers throughout the economy think that default or some other disruptive event could occur.

The evidence from Professors Baker, Bloom and Davis is clear. The debt-ceiling fight in summer 2011 made people more uncertain about what was to come.

This is consistent with the fact that August 2011 was a very weak month for job creation. According to the Government Accountability Office, this political confrontation also pushed up the cost of borrowing for the government. And uncertainty of this kind increases risk premiums around the world, because investors want to be compensated for higher risks. This put more pressure on European sovereign debt at an inopportune moment, pushing up yields across the troubled euro zone (including, but not limited to Greece).

In the hearing this week, the Republican line was that the debt ceiling offered a “forcing moment.” This is plainly a threat; otherwise there is no sense in which it is “forcing.” What is the threat? No one knows; even the three Republican witnesses could not agree on what would happen if the debt ceiling were breached.

The threat lies between some form of default and some other form of unprecedented disruption to public finances. Expect uncertainty — perhaps at the level of August 2011, perhaps even higher.

This is an irresponsible way to run fiscal policy. As Representative Sander Levin of Michigan, the senior Democrat on the Ways and Means Committee, put it: “House Republicans continue to play with economic fire. They are playing political games and that undermines certainty.”

The Republicans should take the debt ceiling off the table.

Article source: http://economix.blogs.nytimes.com/2013/01/24/the-debt-ceiling-and-playing-with-fire/?partner=rss&emc=rss

Room For Debate: Did Bernanke Come Clean?


Ben Bernanke's press conference on April 27Joshua Roberts/Bloomberg News Ben Bernanke held the first news conference in the Federal Reserve’s 97-year history on Wednesday.

Ben Bernanke, the Federal Reserve chairman, broke with the Fed’s long tradition of being opaque about its decisions by holding a news conference with reporters after the regular meeting of the Fed’s policy-making committee on Wednesday.

The committee released a statement saying that the central bank would try to foster job growth without risking higher inflation.


We asked some analysts to critique Mr. Bernanke’s responses to reporters’ questions about unemployment and the slow recovery — and to point out what he didn’t say.

 Read the Discussion »


Topics: Ben Bernanke, Economy, Federal Reserve, inflation, unemployment


Article source: http://feeds.nytimes.com/click.phdo?i=85bbc796c944bfe1e6dcfd8263c0be63