Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Transit Podcasts 1 and 2


In what looks like a theme, we did a Left Ahead! show today on transportation. The MA Lt. Gov., Tim Murray, spoke to what's been done and what's in the works here.

Next week, we'll bring in former Gov. Mike Dukakis. He has the current title of Distinguished Professor, Department of Political Science, Northeastern University. To us, he is a passionate mass-transit advocate...and trolley rider.

(Apropos of nothing, Tim and Mike like their nicknames. I'm not sure if there's anything equivalent for the current governor, Deval Patrick. Certainly another one, Willard Romney, didn't go by Willy, preferring his odd middle name, Mitt.)

The Dukakis show will be Tuesday, March 2nd at 2:30 p.m. Eastern. You can catch the live stream then here. Later, it will be at that URL, at Left Ahead! and on iTunes.

I'll paste the player for Tim Murray's show here. Go to Left Ahead! or iTunes to download the MP3 of it.


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Thursday, February 18, 2010

Lt. Gov. Details Rail

MA Lt. Gov. Tim Murray knows trains...and what they can mean. He comes on our Left Ahead! show Tuesday, 2/23 to speak to his vision, what the administration has done and what's ahead.

Listening options: Catch the live stream Tuesday at 2:30 Eastern. If you can't, check Left Ahead! afterward to listen and grab the file.

As former mayor of the commonwealth's second largest city, Murray has long understood the impact rail and mass transit have on regional and statewide development. He'll talk about what smart rail and other transportation can mean to workers, businesses, tourists and our larger economy.

Listen in as we talk enabling legislation, 21st Century passenger and freight rail, transit oriented development, and economic impacts.

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Saturday, February 13, 2010

Michelle Channels Lady Bird

Before I clumsily chip at First Lady Michelle Obama’s new crusade, I must say that it beats Lady Bird Johnson’s by at least the width of Texas.

Barack Obama’s wife has turned to Let’s Move: America’s Move to Raise a Healthier Generation of Kids. Lyndon Johnson’s uxorial unit went for a Highway Beautification Program. Both projects far exceed the proverbial rich spouse operating an antique shop or art gallery.

Lady Bird was shallower in some ways and deeper in others. Michelle has boldly claimed the “national goal of solving the challenge of childhood obesity within a generation.” Lady Bird reflected both the tenor of her time and the culture of her native Texas.

Specifically, she said, “You know, driving for pleasure is the No. 1 American recreation. We are a nation of people who use automobiles. And so, to make the highways more beautiful would certainly add a lot to our pleasure in living. ” At the same time, she understood the primacy of appearances and worked to raise money, increase awareness and lead efforts to fix up blighted areas of the nation’s capital. She accurately noted that residents would more like take pride in areas that she’d call beautiful.

Michelle too only kind of gets the issue. This very wealthy, high privileged and not coincidentally trim lawyer/homemaker/Presidential mate looks around and researches to understand the realities of a fat America. In particular, she feels for obese children — the five foot tall 400 pounders — all too common.

I recall my own such sense of that maybe nine years ago when we were on a historical sites trip with our two youngest and spent an overnight in York, Pennsylvania. The closest restaurant to our motel was an Old Country Buffet (part of a chain). There, we saw a higher concentration of steatopygous and hyperfat folk than anywhere we had been in the South or elsewhere.

It was an all-you-can-eat joint. We had no idea what that could mean. I recalled in college going to a fried-chicken place in South Carolina where we students would go and eat two or three plates of food, to regret it for the next two days. The OCB was a different world, parallel in many ways to normal reality and vastly disparate in others. In college, we were pathetic, unskilled amateurs.

At least half the customers could not even pretend to fit on their sturdy (of course, OCB furnished big, old oak chairs with no restricting arms) seats. They were up and down several times each, adults and kids alike. They were masterful in pyramiding their plates and huge ice cream bowls. I walked in feeling a bit chubby and out of shape, but I was positively reed-like in this room.

The buffet’s FAQ gives, if you pardon, a taste of the customer expectations. For one Q&A:

Q. I am on a restricted diet that only allows me to eat very small portions. Can you offer a discount?

A. This question arises occasionally, including from guests that have recently had surgery. It is important to understand that our pricing is based on a reasonably sized “meal,” not a specific “quantity of food” or an “unlimited” amount. Individual guests have widely differing perspectives on what they feel is an appropriate meal size. We serve more than 150 million guests per year and each one has unique menu expectations and health requirements. For simplicity sake, we adopted a uniform pricing approach when the company was formed over 29 years ago and this has become a hallmark of our business.

That speaks to several factors in the fattening of us. One that many in Michelle’s circles may forget or not know is that Americans want their share, their fair share. Another is that the assumption is that we are the sole arbiters of how much is enough.

Not So Simple

Moreover, our eating patterns relate also to economic stratum, family and ethnicity among other factors. At its worst, some people live in what Michelle joins others in calling food deserts, that is places without accessible groceries and other markets that stock affordable healthy fruits, grains and vegetables.

So while the nutrition basics are widely taught in schools, on TV and after-school programs, many parents scraping by with the parent(s) working long hours at low pay have neither the money nor the time to get and prepare healthy food. That has never been a problem in Michelle’s house.

So, what’s a well-intentioned First Lady to do? Well, her Let’s Move shopping cart has both good stuff and junk food-ism in it. For example:

Empower Consumers. A silly gesture of having the FDA encourage or require easy-to-grok nutrition labels on the front of packages. Nearly all customers will ignore those as they do the box-side labels. Like either the parent or child will stop eating or drinking when the listed serving size is consumed.

Provide Parents with a Rx for Healthier Living. The American Academy of Pediatrics will educate nurses and doctors, who in turn will educate patients.This is good and bad in one. First and positively, health-care pros have been notoriously ignorant about nutrition; it’s well past time they came up to speed. Unfortunately, this also will rely on the lazy-doctor/nurse metric of BMI, body mass index. Rather than observe and palpate children, they would use this highly flawed mass measuring system for individuals. Athletic, muscular children will be stigmatized as overweight or obese and scrawny, underdeveloped ones with no muscle tone and often large amounts of excess fat around organs will come off as healthy. There are easy ways of quickly measuring the meaningful body fat with inexpensive, hand-held devices that would be an order of magnitude better than the glorified height/weight chart that is BMI.

Major New Public Information Campaign. A marginally efficient but harmless PR and announcement servies from NBC, Disney and such won’t hurt.

Serving Healthier Foods in Schools. This one gets to the asphalt. For many kids, the only healthy one or two meals they could get five days a week would be in school. Our state and federal governments have too long encouraged and subsidized dreadfully bad foods in school — fatty, sugary and full of refined carbs. We have paid farmers and processors to churn out that junk and then the schools put it in front of the kids and get astonished when they chub up and pig out. Coupled with this is the beginning of an pledge to get the major school-meal contractors to provide good nutrition, although they get five years when they could do it in a couple of months.

Eliminate Food Deserts. The feds are committing $400 million a year to getting decent groceries where they do not exist. Again, this would work best if the parents had the money to buy fresh fruits and vegetables instead of the much more affordable starches and sugars. Michelle shows her dilettantish bent here by including an Increase in Farmers Markets, as though the families who most need produce could afford what she easily buys.

Increasing Physical Activity. Yes, this is crucial and her program says it in multiple almost identical ways. Unfortunately, she has not striven for the progressive solutions that address the underlying problems. I say that we grew up with and benefited from daily PE. Most schools don’t and would have to expand their days 30 to 60 minutes to do so. They should, they must, if we are to have healthy kids. This is doable and belongs in any such proposals.

Real Solutions

I think Michelle deserves an A for intention, but only a C or C- for execution. She is just one more voice crying about this very real problem. She is slick and persuasive, as is her husband. Their voices will carry some additional power and can’t hurt.

Unfortunately, she’s stayed too close to the surface on this one. She should also identify and address underlying problems. There aren’t that many and the only intractable one is getting poor and almost-poor parents into decent paying jobs. Education is not as big a solution as providing people with options. There’s not doubt in my mind that if parents can roll their grocery carts down the aisles, and have enough cash to buy anything, they’d come home with a lot healthier food and have kids that show the benefit.

The two first ladies so long distant in tenure share a theme in their crusades. Appearances account for much and more or less equal the the more meaningful interior. That is at once superficial and substantive.

Lady Bird’s billboard-free interstate highways really didn’t do much beyond give drivers a marginally more pleasant trip. Yet, her insistence that beautifying D.C. had the effect of repairing ratty buildings and helping instill or renew pride in the residents, in turn lowering crime rates and such.

Michelle’s latest effort could easily be similar. She too is taking an airy approach to a complex problem. The brutal fact is that the best hope for healthy kids would be for their parents or equivalents to have decent paying jobs. That would lead to a better mix of healthy (relatively expensive) food, more leisure and hence more activity.

She can’t ensure such income improvement and her Let’s Move doesn’t pretend to try. It certainly can’t hurt and is likely to help some kids. Even coupled with existing messages in schools and larger society, it’s not going to be a revolution though…any more than Lady Bird’s highway program meant the end of litter and ugly roadside views.

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Cross-Post:
This appears at Harrumph!

Monday, February 08, 2010

Party of No and Don't Know

To the Chinese, this is a year of the tiger. It should be the year Dems in D.C. find their spine.

The traditional Asian view of tigers differs from Occidental ones. Tigers are deep in thought and intellect, but very short in temper. The latter is what has been missing among our Dems. Of course, we recommend that they not leave home or enter the House or Senate without their spines.

I'm glad to see that more of us are calling for Congressional Dems and of course that President to call the Republicans' bluff. Make them filibuster, make them openly halt the work of Congress, just because they can. Make them show the American people that the Dems have the ideas and the fixes and they are pathetic, impotent naysayers. Whip out the Victorian era "Fie on you, foul villain!" curses.

A calmer view to the same effect was the admonition today from my favorite Financial Times columnist, Clive Crook. In his, Republicans and the politics of No, he wrote of the disfavor the Obama Administration wallows in:
This shift is remarkable not just for its speed but also for how little the party has done to deserve it. In the longer run, this surge may even hurt the Republicans, because it is rewarding them for having almost nothing to say...The Republicans’ main achievement has been to contain their own internal conflicts. The trouble is, they have done this entirely by uniting against their self-wounding opponents rather than by forging an alternative programme.
The spineless Dems, with a 60, now 59-Senator majority has done the minimal to restore our nation's health after the financial meltdown and eight years of the gigantic borrow-and-spend deficits that marked Bush the Lesser and in many ways his father's and Reagan's administrations.

All that craziness was only too clear in the hoots and cheers the wacky Tea Party folk have been getting and that tundra mayor Sarah Palin got in her Obama-slam speech over the weekend. We should set aside the emotionality of the TPers and the distortions and outright lies of the failed GOP VP candidate. The importance is that many Americans need to believe in those fantasies.

They are frightened and pretend they are being rational and self-righteous. They turn on Obama after a year to fix huge problems 8 to 20 years in the making and ask with Palin how his hope thing has worked out. Sure the thoughts behind the slam are irrational, but they truly need to feel safer, financially, physically and, well, as Americans. They want to believe that with great American effort we can defeat terrorists in a short time, while so many other nations around the world have not been able to in decades. They want to believe in far too many fantasies to record.

Back on planet earth, it's not enough to counter Palin's lies and whittle away at the troubles facing the nation. Dems need to make bold strikes in legislation and execution to keep the recovery underway. The GOP has shown too clearly that they 1) want the Dems to fail so they can get back in Congressional control and be grossly incompetent again and 2) have no proposals or solutions themselves (see Crook's one exception in Paul Ryan).

The Dems need to swallow hard, very hard and say, "Try to stop government and legislation when you have no alternatives. You will fail and the country will see you for what you are." Yes, that takes guts, but it's what those in Congress are supposed to do in hard times. These are as hard as times get, boys and girls.

By the bye, we'll be kicking this can up and down the hall tomorrow, Tuesday, February 9th at 2:30 Eastern on Left Ahead! The live stream is here and the show will be available on both sites and iTunes afterward.

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Wednesday, February 03, 2010

From GOP to Pop! Pow!



Winger talking heads and Boston Herald columnists alike are fairly soiling their Depend® diapers in squealing excitement. We're about to have a Republican U.S. Senator from here for the first time since Edward Brooke snuck away in a fusillade of allegations, personal and financial.

This Scott Brown is easy to ridicule. He was also nearly useless as a state senator. However, most obviously, on the surface, he is pretty in a two-pint beer goggles way and as my high-school chum Paula Delancey used to say, "Sometimes pretty is enough."

Of course, what gets the right panting is that he is at least a partial antidote to the GOP diseases. Effeteness is a chronic and bad one. Finally most Americans admitted that Republican politicians and the party were ineffective and out of ideas. In fact, most looked at the legacies of the Reagan and Bush 1 and 2 periods for the economic, diplomatic and policy disasters they were. We did want to be believe we could have guns and butter, we really did want to think that borrow-and-spend debt accumulation was somehow not taxation and national destruction. No matter how many times we click our heels or they sprinkle their elephant dust, those weren't, aren't and won't be true.

The party and wingers should, in fact, revel in this victory. In their glee that has been stifled so long and so often, they do extrapolate too far and wide though. That Brown's win came in the stereotypical liberal, Democratic Massachusetts is allegedly proof of the GOP's renewed mojo. This goes far beyond counting chickens before the eggs hatch. This victory is supposed to show that Americans are willing to forgive decades of GOP failures. As portent, many times too much rests on the jutting Play-Doh® chin of soon-to-be-Senator Brown.

Instead let us reflect on two key political and cultural issues:
  1. As Aasif Mandvi so cruelly and brilliantly portrayed it on the Daily Show (see 'possum symbol for the DNC and click the clip below), the GOP doesn't have to kill the Dems — "We're already dead." Congressional Dems have not pressed their agenda, much less forced it.
  2. Then in this commonwealth, there is in fact a political portent, but it almost certainly will not be massive Republican victories in 2010 and 2012 Massachusetts elections. Instead, it is past time to flush the DINOs out and end up with a real GOP here.
Depending on whether you count registered voters or actual ones, prima facie Republicans are under 16% of the electorate and about 10% of the legislature. Again at first glance, that seems very Democratic and undemocratic. Of course, a slim majority of voters are unenrolled in any party. They tend to vote for Dems most often, in no small part because typical Republican candidates are gormless and without a meaningful platform, and in many elections, no GOP pol is on the ballot.

More important, we have ended up with a large DINO base. While the rest of the nation looks at how the Dems outweigh the GOP in voter registration among that 49% of affiliated voters, they are badly deceived. For example, we almost always go for Dems for President, but trade off on our own governors by party. Many voters love the idea that if only the executive branch is a different party, somehow that's a magical check against political abuses. You may pause to laugh derisively now, but that has been a solid campaign strategy for the local GOP for decades here. Also, for legislative offices, when half-way decent Republicans run, they get like 40% to 49% of the vote. The tipping point on many races is within reach.

As we are seeing though, they could actually have a platform and candidates. For the commonwealth, it is probably more significant that 2010 GOP gubernatorial candidate Charlie "Don't Ask About the Big Dig" Baker has been shoveling contributions into his wheelbarrows. Cynics note how much comes from such toxic interests as health-care giants, but it's still the cash he wants for media buys and such.

A strong showing in November by Baker could be much more meaningful for the health of two-party politics here than the Senatorial race. For one, even if Brown sticks in office and doesn't stupidly run for Prez or VP in 2012 or 2016, it's likely to be a long time before Sen. John Kerry's seat is up for grabs. More important, big contributions to and votes for Baker and maybe some MA legislators might rouse the DINOs from their caves.

Shadow Republican Party


It seems pretty plain that closet Republicans and conservative Dems run as Democrats for practical reasons. They bet that GOP candidates will lose, that voters just don't have the stomach for smearing those ovals.

If and when it becomes politically safe to say, "Oh, I realized I have more in common with GOP positions. I'm changing registration," that could seriously change the rules, methods and of course numbers here.

Many wealthy suburbs and rural areas lean a bit right anyway. The election returns short of Presidential votes show that. They often have surprisingly reactionary pols, at least on social issues. We've seen quite a few who sponsor those anti-gay, anti-immigrant, anti-SSM and other I'm-agin-it legislation.

How much cleaner it would be if those legislators could put on their trunks and come trumpeting out of the political closet. Wowsers, would the complexion and discourse change if voters had more choice than GOP clowns on one side and self-interested Dems on the other.

That would also sharpen the games of both sides. Finally, Republicans would have to stop being the party of no and put some real ideas on the table. They like sniping at the Dems and have been terrified to present anyting meaningful. When their answer to all Dem initiatives is we like it the way it was, they bore us into defeating them.

Dems too would have to commit. If they really want to contrast themselves, they'd have to advance progressive and populist proposals. Amusingly, they have allowed the party of plutocrats to pretend to be populists, when their policies mean to suck the blood from the middle and working class and chew on their bones.

People should have a choice. Some will go with fantasies, like give up more of your liberties and we'll make you absolutely safe from terrorists or that perennial one that you can have guns and butter because our economy will grow in an endless spiral if you give your money to the wealthy.

If voters here had the incentive to affiliate with a party, we'd see those and other big changes. We'd see a lot more ownership. With that would come financial and other support for GOP candidates, particularly if those were former Dem legislators.

We have had a shadow Republican party here for far too long. It's much larger than the piddling 15% or so GOP registration. It's the lawmakers and voters who lean right enough if only they got the choices.

A more honest GOP/Dem enrollment would make it harder for the Democrats, but that's not bad. They'd have to be real Dems, real progressives, real politicians.

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Don't Ask Policy Fatally Wounded


OK, no pun intended, but I blew it. I can mealy-mouth it a bit and say my premise that President Obama was weak in his passing and faint call for Congress to end don't-ask-don't-tell may have been accurate, but I can't deny that this train is ready to leave the station.

Thanks, Mr. O.

Yesterday, two big old brass hats called for the overturn of the inefficient and vindictive policy. Testifying before the Senate Armed Services Committee, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Mike Mullen said, "Speaking for myself and myself only, it is my personal belief that allowing gays and lesbians to serve openly would be the right thing to do." Of course, in military and political parlance rank is rank. He wasn't just speaking for himself.

Mullen's commanding officer, the President, had said what he wanted. Mullen is now right there on record. Moreover, Defense Secretary Robert Gates followed him with a similar call for a repeal of DADT.

There opposition here is not so much the old boys, rather the alter kaker crowd. No one more epitomizes it than the still anti-gay Sen. John McCain. Even yesterday, his talking head was parsing his irrational resistance to the obvious, to fairness and to decency. Trying to align his previous statements that when the Pentagon calls for repeal, the Senate should immediately consider it, Spokeswoman Brooke Buchanan said, as the WAPO put it, "Mullen said repeatedly that he was speaking for himself and not for the military, and she dismissed Gates's testimony because he was expressing the Obama administration's line."

The old snarler himself said the testimony "disappointed" him. "At this moment of immense hardship for our armed services, we should not be seeking to overturn the 'don't ask, don't tell' policy," he said bluntly, before describing it as "imperfect but effective." To those on planet Earth, of course, this just the time, when we have been bleeding highly qualified interpreters, soldiers and officers. And as Obama and is military minions have noted, it's the right thing to do...civil rights, fairness, equality and all that.

Today's New York Times lead editorial on the subject dismisses each of the the alter kaker objections. It states simply, "Their action leaves no further excuse for Republican lawmakers to go on supporting this discrimination."

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Tuesday, February 02, 2010

Deval Loves the Battles Podcast

Deval mugTruth be told, today’s podcast with Gov. Deval Patrick was a little bit of a love fest. The usual trio had supported and endorsed him in his campaign and will again. Yet, we are like many progressives — impatient.

Amusingly he brought out one of his anecdotes about his friend Barack Obama. When Patrick complained that he hated the raising-money and bragging aspects of politics, Obama said, “Get over it.” He seems to have done that and let us know early and in detail how much his administration has accomplished.

He also detailed what he’d still like to do this year and in the next four if he wins re-election this fall. As he put it, “It’s a terrible time to cut and run.” That’s shades of FDR and don’t change horses in mid-stream.

Cross-post note: This appears at Left Ahead!

He told us what to expect in jobs-creation drives, why and how we are closer to CORI reform than ever, why he admires Scott Brown (hating the Senate special-election outcome but respecting the effort and involvement of the campaign Brown ran), and what it means when he and the legislature have at each other. In the latter case, he first says that after the criticism and complaints, the legislature “does what I ask them to do.” His words to people like me are not to read too much into that. We should, he says, accept there will be differences and just look to the legislation or other result.

Listen in as he talks about his own compromises on the sales tax and on what progressive goals he has in his sights. He also touched on his campaign strategies against GOP challengers and the broad differences in how he and they view budget issues.

We weren’t obnoxious in liking our Governor (although Lynne did endorse his re-election on the air). He was thorough in talking about what he has done and hasn’t. We need to have him on again to finish the conversation.

~Mike

Click the arrow below to listen or head to Left Ahead! to download the file.


Monday, February 01, 2010

Publishers Stroll from Glacier

Windsor walls

Online payments are the big battle for beleaguered billionaires and their slightly poorer near peers. The Rupert Murdoch types cannot abide the idea that somewhere someone is getting something they touched for free.

No doubt that the basis of capitalism is that people or corporations own goods or services they make available for a price. Anything short of profit is called charity or foolishness (often the same to some capitalists). Yet publishers in this world only want conditions to be immutable so long as their profits are as higher or higher than they have been.

Lackaday, that very naughty net has made them look up from their counting tables.

Kind of Disclaimer

I’m prejudiced here. I have always loved newspapers and want them to flourish.

Growing up, we had two to four dailies delivered, depending on the pickings where we lived. I was a newspaper delivery boy. I went to j-school, climbed the ladder as writer, columnist and editor of the student paper (high school and college) and then worked dailies and weeklies in the South. As an adult, I’ve always gotten daily papers, as well as numerous news, literary and specialty magazines. I’m a print guy first, one who has simply added computers and net technologies on top.

I love the feel and smell of good books and magazines.

Survival of the Most With It

All that written, I have no doubt nearly all U.S. newspaper publishers and top editors are atavistic. They have also moved in recent decades with all the speed of a sloth and the judgment of an oat tree.

I’ve touched on this a few times, like here and part two here at Marry in Massachusetts. We got a different view in a Left Ahead! podcast with Martin Langeveld. He was a newspaper publisher and has quasi-retired into among other thing a principal at CircLabs, which aims to help publishers figure out this pay-to-view thing. (Another slight disclaimer is in order; he and his wife were classmates of mine in high school. I disagree with some of his positions, but I know and like them both.)glacier

For this part of the discussion, the big point is that newspaper types saw the internet and its effects coming and coming and coming. It was much less like a train and more like a glacier. Unless you got out of the way or rode that glacier, it was going to take everything in its path. You had lots of time, but you had to decide what to do.

They have remained fairly paralyzed with inaction, indecision and more than a little delusion. Like watching that glacier, they saw new advertising options appear. They heard ad customers say Criag’s List was cheaper and more effective for classifieds and that online advertising offered highly targeted demographics with verifiable click through counts to ideal customers. They even heard to their humiliation that their favorite disdained group, bloggers, were getting snippets of ad revenue that should rightfully be theirs.

One type of response was to try to ride that glacier. Nearly all papers are online in one form or another. While screaming haughtily that they owned the news, damn it!, they responded to their declining ad money in exactly the wrong way — cutting expenses from the bottom, notably reporters.

Duh, as the yellowish Mr. Simpson says. Think, our product is better and worth reading and advertising in, even though we are giving you less of it, less local and foreign news, nothing unique, and nothing you can’t find in dozens of other places.

After slashing their differentiating advantage, reportage, they had yet other dumb tricks to perform. One we have seen even in our stodgy Boston Globe, is blogging. While on the one had ridiculing and demeaning blogs, even refusing to link to those whose ideas and leads they steal, the glib Globe has its own set.

From the beginning of this reaction, we see how out of it newspaper editors and publishers can be. The model is to take decent reporters and columnists and heap blogging duties on them. At the same time there are fewer writers, the remaining ones are supposed to do that on top of their jobs. Rather than giving the writers a chance to pick up a new skill, this looks from the outside at least, like the old “you’re lucky to have a job at all and will do as we tell you” routine.

The blogs show the coercion. Their posts are uniformly boring, show little effort and take no advantage of the medium.

Money, You Say

There’s a credible argument that most existing newspapers need to and should die. Their functions actually would be better performed by new media that understand reasonable financial models, the technology to deliver great stuff in the right formats with the right content, and some courage. The latter would be to do what’s necessary to provide salable product, without being immobilized by a primitive capitalist’s terror that someone might get something of yours without paying for it.

Yet, almost to a one, print publishers seem to have tiny brain pans, more driven by emotion than intellect. You can see that in how lamely they try to extract money from readers and advertisers to make up for their losses in the past decade or so (don’t lose sight of that glacier!).

Consider the scheme too many tried to maintain their many decades old system of high cash flow and higher rates of return. Those are the realities that changed due to the net and most publishers refuse to accept that. Instead:

  • Some came online after many other papers and immediately put up a solid paywall. Almost all content was in headline or incomplete form, requiring a subscription or per-article fee to view.
  • Others, like the Boston Herald here, showed its delusions like raggedly underwear. It tried to charge to read its columnists online. Let’s not even get into the value of a given piece by any of their writers, but suffice it to say, that failed quickly and totally.
  • Still others look at mixed models, offering full access to subscribers and small payments for beyond a monthly limit (the metered model). The FT reports that The Guardian has considered six paywall models.

For complete paywalls, your content has to be damned superior and useful to make a go. The number one fantasy of net-come-lately publishers is that if they pay to produce content, everyone else should be delighted to buy every morsel from them. News Corporation’s Rupert Murdoch is the troll under the bridge here, threatening, popping up, then withdrawing. He rants everywhere that news is not cheap and that anyone putting anything from his publications online anywhere without his permission and payment to him is simply stealing.Page 3/free mix

He even wants to charge for online access to the sleaziest of his pubs, The Sun. Yes, the Page 3 bare breasted babe rag is that valuable, Murdoch would have it.

Amusingly enough, one of his properties, the Wall Street Journal seems to have learned enough from the Financial Times to make some cash online though. In its announcement two months ago that it would copy these two somehow, someway, the New York Times seemed unsure whether it would be micro-payments or some other model. Its bosses do want some kind of paywall though.

A short-term answer may well lie in the partial success of the WSJ and FT experiments. They were not foolish enough to block and drive away casual surfers with solid firewalls and total blocking of content. Instead they provide an example that even the dullest publisher can profit by emulating. They charge for real value.

You don’t have to be in the financial press to consider what they do. Yet, it is obvious for them because it can translate into reader benefit. Some of their articles and columns have specialized and even unique information and analysis. Those who pay for a print or online subscription have a little (or arguably sometimes large) advantage. They are happy to pay.

So, while publishers watch the glacier some more and figure out in what direction to move, publishers can ask themselves what value they can add to attract paying customers (and loyal subscribers). The answer most certainly should not involve firing their writers. Honestly, what were they thinking?

Likewise, many local dailies and weeklies used to be best at hyperlocal content or sports or photography. They have done their best in efforts to cut costs that they eliminated the staff who could maintain those selling points. Moreover, to use a local example, when Bostonians want hyperlocal content, they are more likely to click on UniversalHub, an aggregator of local blogs and other news, plus some original reporting. Such concentrations of news are what the net can excel at and newspapers have largely ceded.

They need to produce content so useful or so entertaining or so whatever they can be best at that people will pay for it. That may seem obvious, but publishers so far have largely tried to replace old advertising and subscription revenue with increased charges for diminished content. I like to compare that to switching your high-end chocolate chip cookie ingredients to milk instead of bittersweet chips, mystery fat instead of butter and while you’re at it, making them smaller. Oh, and raise the price. Think. Think. Think. Why would fewer people be buying your cookies?

Those who continue to fantasize that they can charge everyone for any crap they publish might think of The Guardian’s editor, Alan Rusbridger. As part of a recent talk, he included, “It would be crazy if we were to all jump behind a pay wall and imagine that would solve things.” He is looking at many financial models, including some version of limited paywalls, but he does not seem to delude himself.

(Tip of the toupee to the FT’s John Gapper for the source of that quote.)

Cross-post: This appears at Harrumph!

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Prop. 8 from Both Sides


If the California same-sex marriage battle in federal court seems complex, Slate offers all the reminders you need. In A road map to Perry. v. Schwarzenegger, a law professor and a lawyer draw on the virtual white board.

There's nothing new in the lengthy piece. On the other hand, the complex arguments and what the federal judge faces in deciding now that we are at closing statements are myriad and befuddling. Chief U.S. District Judge Vaughn Walker might favor or disfavor this or that approach.

We interested voyeurs are on hold. The sides have 30 days to prepare their final rhetoric, reason and flourish. Then they make closing arguments and wait with the rest of us. Afterward, the losing side will surely do their best to get this up to the Supreme Court, which may or may not consider it.

If the legislative process is messy sausage making, such slow and intricate court cases are slower and more methodical. Think watching to see when and even if the waves will reach your beautiful sand castle.

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