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    • The End of the Rebels in the Ukraine and the Ukraine’s Future
      We’re down to street fighting in Donetsk.  The Russian leaders resigned in the last two weeks.  The rebels appear to be done, at least in terms of their conventional military phase (of course, I could be wrong depending on how much stomach Ukrainian troops have for house to house fighting).  It seems like that would [...]
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Wednesday News

Good Morning Conflucians!!!

First up in weird news, in case you’re not already getting that apocalyptic vibe from earlier this week, more birds have suddenly died, this time not in Arkansas, but in Louisiana:

Birds dropping dead from the skies and rivers flowing with tens of thousands of dead fish sounds like a cheesy Hollywood movie about the Apocalypse. Or the ravings of a Revelation-obsessed street preacher.

But residents of several US states are coping with the reality of mystery mass wildlife deaths, which have left officials scratching their heads and jumpy members of the public joking (nervously) about the end of the world.

Today it emerged that about 500 red-winged blackbirds and starlings had been found dead in Louisiana. Their tiny corpses littered a short stretch of highway near the city of Labarre after apparently falling dead from the sky.

That would be spooky enough. But the Louisiana bird die-off came just a few days after up to 5,000 blackbirds fell to earth in neighbouring Arkansas in the small town of Beebe. Residents there had reported stumbling upon the bodies littering the ground and even being hit by them as they fell. One woman said she was struck while walking a dog. Another avian corpse bounced off a police car.

In even more grim news, anglers and other members of the public reported that more than 80,000 drum fish had suddenly died in the state’s Arkansas river, about 100 miles west of Beebe. The silvery bodies of the fish floated in the river and washed up on its sides having died at roughly the same time. In another incident, hundreds of miles away on the Maryland coast of Chesapeake Bay, tens of thousands of dead fish also washed up on the shore.

Yea, that’s what I said. WTF? I’ve got rosary beads, incense, a statue of Sheba, among a few other things. What are you holding onto for dear life? What was the name of the other horseman anyway?


In a related news, Goldman Sachs and some Russian group invested nearly 1/2 billion in Facebook. That’s right, those two know everything there is to know about a whole hell of a lot of people now. Wonder if their joint bank account number is 666 by any chance. Note to self, get more statues of other religious figures. Here’s some coverage:

The “great vampire squid” of finance, Goldman Sachs, has invested $450 million in the emerging great vampire squid of cyberspace, Facebook. As the New York Times’ DealBook reported, the deal is gives Goldman a leg up on the huge fees investment banks will get when the social-networking company eventually sells shares to the public. And as the Times and Wall Street Journal also report, Goldman will also haul in huge fees from those clients who want to invest themselves.

Meanwhile, Facebook gets the capital to keep buying talent and startups, and to fuel its expansion in all kinds of other ways — and it gets to sell stock in what amounts to a shadow stock market that’s growing faster than regulators seem willing or able to understand, much less deal with.

This looks like a better deal for Facebook than its investor, putting Facebook’s value at $50 billion, which makes sense in today’s increasingly bubble-like market. Silicon Valley is going a bit wild again– not as crazy as the late 1990s, mind you, but there’s a froth element to the local economy.

Given a deal of this size and importance, there should be some SEC scrutiny. Yea right. But some report that there might be:

Goldman Sachs Group Inc.’s plan to offer clients up to $1.5 billion in Facebook Inc. equity may invite U.S. regulators to take a closer look at whether the owner of the world’s most popular social-networking site is circumventing disclosure rules, securities lawyers said.

The Securities and Exchange Commission, whose rules require any company with more than 499 investors to disclose financial information, is already scrutinizing the market for trading shares of closely held companies including Facebook, according to a person familiar with the inquiry, who declined to be identified because the matter isn’t public

Goldman Sachs invested $450 million in Facebook and is planning to create a special purpose vehicle for its clients to make additional investments worth as much as $1.5 billion, according to two people familiar with the matter who spoke on condition of anonymity because the deal is private. Some private companies avoid crossing the disclosure threshold when investors’ funds are channeled through a single entity, such as a private equity firm or hedge fund.

“The real question is, what are the details of this special purpose vehicle?” said James Angel, a finance professor at Georgetown University’s business school in Washington. If the investment is designed to circumvent the rule, “the SEC should be looking very closely at it.”

Good thing we have a Democratic president that is looking out for us and will do what’s right. Oh wait, no we don’t, she was tossed under the bus. Instead we have an empty suit actually owned by Goldman Sachs. Oh yea. Why is this feeling even more biblical all of the sudden? Maybe we could have some leaks about all these things, about how Goldman Sachs helped fund an unknown candidate, about the Banks and their shady deals, about corruption in government at many levels. No, instead we get none of those useful leaks, but instead leaks that lead us to more wars in the middle east. Nice distraction.


Let’s see what our grand congress has in store for us this session. First we have this from Slate about how the Dems sound like Repubs and the Repubs sound like Dems:

The parties have switched not only offices but arguments. Democratic Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz said Republicans were going to spend “countless hours trying to repeal health care reform rather than focusing on jobs, the economy and deficit reduction. Every minute wasted on trying to repeal health care reform fruitlessly is one less minute the Republicans will spend on job creation and turning this economy around.” If that sentiment sounds familiar, it’s because it was a Republican refrain during the House’s debate over health care in 2009 and 2010.

Sometimes this required the Democrats to contradict themselves. They complained that the GOP House effort to repeal health care was a meaningless show because the Democratic Senate will never allow such a measure to proceed. But when defending their record on economic issues from the last session, they pointed to bills they passed that they knew would never get past a Republican filibuster in the Senate.

Democrats also complained that the Republicans were adding to the deficit and have shut them out of the legislative process. Next week, when the House votes to repeal health care (or, “job-killing health care,” as they call it), Democrats will not be allowed to add amendments. They were also not allowed to participate in writing the rules under which the measure will be considered. Democrats did this kind of thing when they were in power, of course, but they say Republicans had pledged to be more open and transparent.

Oh dear. WaPo has more coverage on the upcoming battle over health care insurance bailout. Expect this to be a lot of noise and distraction for a while. Such theater. A Republican bill written by the health insurance lobby where the Repubs (and insurance companies) pretend to hate it and Dems (sadly actually) like it. And the working class are screwed again. As usual.


It looks like there will be some turnover from both the WH staff and the VP staff. There’s some noise about Gibbs possibly leaving. And now we’re hearing that Biden’s CoS is stepping down. Along with that, LATimes has a few more rumors:

The White House staff reshuffle continued Tuesday with Vice President Joe Biden announcing that his chief of staff is leaving, while speculation swirled that the president may appoint a well-connected Chicagoan to a top post.

Biden’s chief of staff, Ron Klain, is resigning to become president of Case Holdings, the holding company of AOL cofounder Steve Case. Over the last two years, Klain helped position Biden as an influential figure in the White House while assisting in the confirmation of a pair of Supreme Court nominees: Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan.

His departure surprised even some members of Biden’s staff. Klain had been mentioned as a possible candidate for President Obama’s chief of staff, but the president may be opting for someone with a higher profile.

After Rahm Emanuel quit to run for mayor of Chicago, Obama appointed longtime aide Peter Rouse to the chief of staff job on an interim basis.

Now, Obama is considering William Daley for a senior position, possibly chief of staff. Daley is the brother of outgoing Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley, and he served as Commerce secretary under President Clinton.

As the great David Bowie once said: “Ch-ch-ch-ch-Changes.” Something tells me none of these changes are going to be for the better. Any bets?


In some rather funny, in a macabre sort of way, news, a murderer was found guilty in part because of his google search history:

Julie Jensen died as a result of ethylene glycol in her system, an ingredient found in antifreeze. On the morning of her death, someone attempted to “double-delete” (apparently unsuccessfully) the computer’s browsing history, which included a search for “ethylene glycol poisoning.”

Jensen was found guilty of first-degree homicide in 2008 based on this and other incriminating evidence, including a letter written by his wife before her death. He appealed the conviction, arguing for one that the warrantless police search of his computer violated his Fourth Amendment rights. The Wisconsin Court of Appeals did not agree as he had signed a consent form.

As the article humorously mentions, does that mean we’ll be getting a CSI Internet Division spin-off?


In sort of related news, CA Supreme Court ruled that police can search your cell phone without a warrant when you’re under arrest:

The California Supreme Court ruled Monday that police do not need a warrant to search a cell phone carried by someone under arrest.

The justices determined a Ventura County deputy had the right to conduct a warrantless search of the text messages of a man he had arrested on suspicion of participating in a drug deal.

The state court ruled 5-2 that U.S. Supreme Court precedent affirms that police can search items found on defendants when they are arrested.

I understand this in terms of searching your pockets, etc. But the problem with this ruling is one of not keeping up with technology. With smartphones these says, searching what’s in your very powerful large computer (in a small space) that can include pretty much every important document found in your house, bank, accountant, etc. That is, all of your personal records of note could actually be on your phone. This can also provide full access to all of your email, all of your social media accounts, and all of your history of communication of every sort for years. It’s possible that your smartphone could easily be the equivalent of raiding your home, your lawyers office, your doctors office, etc. I hope this issue is revisited with those issues in mind sometime soon. In the mean time, I’ll suggest some privacy protection ideas in a later post.

In other court news, CA Prop 8 is heading directly to the state Supreme Court and bypassing the 9th circuit (more accurately, the 9th circuit just punted):

Instead of resolving a thorny “standing” issue itself, and thus launching the appeal on its way to the United States Supreme Court, a three-judge panel instead first asked the Supreme Court of California for guidance on whether the private litigants who appealed the August 2010 ruling striking down the same-sex marriage ban had the legal right to do so.

The 9th Circuit just acted, to be sure, but not even the most conservative legal scholar can dare call this an instance of “judicial activism.” Instead, the tactical punt from one San Francisco court to another is consistent with a centuries-old judicial concept: never decide what you don’t really have to decide, especially when you have a plausible excuse for not deciding it. Here, the 9th Circuit blamed the not-completely-unexpected detour on the lack of “controlling state precedent” on the question of what to do with an appeal where, as here, both the sitting governor (the since-departed Arnold Schwarzenegger) and the sitting attorney general (the since made-governor Jerry Brown) refused to carry it out.

By diverting the case away from the federal courts and toward the state supreme court, by asking for clarification of state law by and from the state’s highest court, the 9th Circuit has almost certainly delayed a substantive ruling on the merits of the case for at least a year and likely longer. The standing issue will likely have to be briefed all over again before the state high court, and a new oral argument date will likely have to be set, and then a new vigil will begin for people all over the world who are waiting for final word from the courts on whether same-sex couples have a constitutional right to marry.  All of this will take six to nine months, at least.


In news of the “is that news?” department, many people are obsessing and perplexed that Sarah Palin re-tweeted a pro DADT tweet. Yes, you got that right, just by Palin re-tweeting something (with no extra quote), people are actually spending time trying to figure out what she might have meant. I kid you not:

Online pundits are trying to interpret Sarah Palin’s stance on “don’t ask, don’t tell” after she echoed an Internet post by a conservative lesbian commentator who slammed the opposition to the policy’s repeal.

Tammy Bruce wrote Monday on Twitter that “this hypocrisy is just truly too much. Enuf already – the more someone complains about the homos the more we should look under their bed.”

Palin’s retweet of the post raised questions about her own stance on the military’s policy, which was repealed by Congress late last year. The former 2008 Republican vice presidential nominee hasn’t spoken about the policy except to say last February that she was surprised at President Barack Obama’s support for a repeal because it was not a priority at the time.

Palin representatives did not immediately respond to requests for comment Tuesday, but Politico said the retweet is a hint that Palin supports the repeal. Gawker said Palin is not “in the context of her party, rabidly homophobic,” then wondered if perhaps she didn’t understand the tweet or pushed the wrong button.

Now our pundits are reading tea leaves. Oh wait, that’s what they’ve always done. They really should get out more.

That’s a bit of what’s in the news. Chime in with what you’re reading.

The truth is biased


Big Tent Democrat:

There is a new celebratory quality to journalism that manifests itself in different ways. In the Beltway, it’s being in with the government In crowd. That means sacrificing objectivity and the truth.

Davies seems to have allowed, indeed he appears to be celebrating, his belief that Assange is a loathsome figure (not about the sex he makes clear) interfere with his duties as a journalist.

Can Nick Davies be considered an objective reporter on Wikileaks or Assange in the face of that admission? Similarly Wired magazine appears to have made similar moral judgments about Assange. In an e-mail he sent to Glenn Greenwald, the entirety of which he published himself, Wired’s Ryan Singel wrote of Assange and Wikileaks:

Suffice it to say I’m disappointed by your article, which I find to be warped by your allegiance to Wikileaks, which gets nothing but glowing accolades from you, despite ample evidence that Assange and Wikileaks aren’t acting in good faith.

Now whether Assange or Wikileaks are acting in good faith is an important part of the Wikileaks story, but it strains credulity to believe that a reporter who has concluded that Assange and Wikileaks “aren’t acting in good faith” can present itself as, in the words of Newsweek, “objective and nonpartisan.”

First of all, let me remind you that BTD thought media bias was a good thing when it came to selecting the Democratic nominee:

As most of you know by now, the difference maker for me in supporting Barack Obama in the primaries was the fact the he is the Media Darling of the election.

Secondly, while the media should be somewhat objective and neutral at the beginning of researching/investigating a story, by the end they should have formed an opinion. They can’t put aside their own knowledge and experience and that will affect their perceptions.

More importantly, we rely on reporters (and cops) to evaluate what they see and hear and give us an accurate picture of what they think really happened. But, just like cops, they need to present us with ALL the information they have gathered so we can double-check their conclusions.

How many times in recent years have we seen the media present both sides of as story as equally credible when they’re not? How often have they given us a completely one-sided presentation?

Both approaches are equally wrong.


Caveat: I’m talking about what’s called “investigative journalism.” When reporting on something like a political debate the media should try to present both sides as accurately as possible so the voters can form their own opinions. But even then they should fact-check misstatements and incorrect information.


Keith Olbermann suspended for donating to Democrats


Politico:

MSNBC host Keith Olbermann has been suspended indefinitely without pay after POLITICO reported that he made three campaign contributions to Democratic candidates.

MSNBC President Phil Griffin said in a statement Friday: “I became aware of Keith’s political contributions late last night. Mindful of NBC News policy and standards, I have suspended him indefinitely without pay.”

Olbermann made campaign contributions to two Arizona members of Congress and failed Kentucky Senate candidate Jack Conway ahead of Tuesday’s election.

Olbermann, who acknowledged the contributions in a statement to POLITICO, made the maximum legal donations of $2,400 apiece to Conway and to Arizona Reps. Raul Grijalva and Gabrielle Giffords. He donated to the Arizona pair on Oct. 28 — the same day that Grijalva appeared as a guest on Olbermann’s “Countdown” show.

NBC has a rule against employees contributing to political campaigns, and a wide range of news organizations prohibit political contributions — considering it a breach of journalistic independence to contribute to the candidates they cover.

I find myself in the strange position of defending Olby.

He is a citizen and has the right to support candidates just like everyone else. It’s not like his political leanings were a secret.

There are plenty of other reasons that MSNBC could cite for suspending or firing Olbermann, like the many sexist statements he has made on the air.


More discussion at Memeorandum



Given #1: The media is not your friend

Mike Lux can’t understand why the networks are getting all giddy about the TeaParty movement.  It’s all they ever cover.

To be clear, the tea partiers aren’t the only angry people in America. There are plenty of working class swing voters who aren’t inclined to buy into the tea party stew of racism, nativism, and Ayn Rand style libertarianism, but are deeply troubled that the jobs situation isn’t improving and that no one in government seems to be looking out for them. There are plenty of progressive activists angry at the Wall Street bankers, the health insurance companies, and the other corporate interests that are screwing them, and are angry that too many politicians seem to be in their pocket. In both cases, Obama and his fellow Democrats still have the opportunity to reach them, still have the ability to make absolutely clear whose side they are on. If Democrats show those voters that they will reject those special interests, and fight hard for average folks’ interests, they can still win this election. If they show voters that they are just as angry about what’s been done to regular people as the regular people, they will have a better 2010 than anyone is predicting right now.

The media loves-loves-loves this tea party story, but the tea partiers really aren’t anything new, and they don’t represent a very big group of voters. There is a lot of anger out there, but most of it is righteous anger that Democrats can and should tap into – anger that Wall Street and other bad actor big companies have been allowed to destroy our economy, and that no one is taking them on for it.

I have to go back and do my research but wasn’t OpenLeft one of the places that was dumping all over “the bubbas” during the primaries?  You know, the working class women who weren’t in love with Obama because they knew poison when they saw it? Well, whatever.  We’ll come back to that later.  The primaries are where this problem started.  If only Mike Lux would have a Soylent Green moment about them, we could start talking the same language again and get on with it.

Anyway, about the TeaParty.  Mike probably already knows the answer to this.  There have been reports in various places, the latest in The Big Short by Michael Lewis, that Hill staffers are glued to cable TV. The media shapes their worldview with  distortion and misdirection and bad information. Yep, you can put any stupid thing you want on CNN or CNBC and Congresscritters act like Rupert Murdoch and the other media owners have sunk their electrodes deep into the brains of the American public. But it isn’t true.

What the media has the power to do is amplify the voices it likes and mute the voices it doesn’t like.  It likes the TeaPartiers because they are militantly anti-government, anti-immigrant, anti-progressive.  Sweeet!  The neo-feudalists don’t have to lift a finger.  Well, that’s not strictly true.  We know that hard-ass Republican movement conservatives are funding the TeaParties.  But it’s a drop in the bucket compared to all of the attention they’re getting.

Nevertheless, there are people on Capitol Hill who are watching that nonsense and getting the heebie-jeebies.  OMG, the TeaParty is on the march!  They’re in your Walmart.  They’re pissed off.  They want you to do Republican things and be all bi-partisan and sell out women. And it’s working so well. Congress is scared to death of TeaParty people.  They’re so scared that they don’t even see the ax that’s about to fall on them from their (former) friends.

Mike, the media is never going to cover your frustration with the Democratic party.  The Democrats aren’t listening to you because they are transfixed by Fox News.  No matter how much you tell them they are pissing you off, they will ignore you because you and your rowdy band of progressive activists are not on the TV.  If the cameras aren’t covering you marching on the Mall and shouting slogans or throwing cherry bombs through the windows of some Democrat who just voted on the most regressive Republican health care reform bill in history, then you don’t really exist to those Hill staffers. And the cameras are never going to cover you, no matter how many millions you get to march on Washington.

Even Corzine’s loss and Martha Coakley’s defeat won’t register for awhile because it takes effort to analyze the polls and it’s so much easier to hear some blond spokesmodel tell you what those elections really meant based on some slanted poll the network conducted.

If you want to make a difference, you have to stop trying to get your politician’s attention through the media.  The people you want to reach are those very same voters you dumped on during the 2008 primaries.  Remember the working class?  Yeah, well, they don’t even know you exist.  They don’t read blogs.  But they might read a bumpersticker.  They might read guerilla messaging.  You can infiltrate them with signs and unanswered questions.  You could write a book.  Don’t fill it with tree hugging, birkenstock wearing, vegan, recycling crap though.  They really don’t care about that stuff.  They want to know whether you feel for them and their unemployment status.  Do you know what it’s like to work so hard and never seem to get ahead?  Have you ever had to take a 30% cut in salary to keep the lousy job you have?  Can you sympathize with the newly unemployed couple who can’t pay the mortgage on their house and will soon have no home for themselves and their two kids? Have you seen your friends with PhDs in the sciences wandering around the grocery store, not knowing what to do with themselves because they’ve lost their jobs and their industry has gone to Hyderabad for the indefinite future?

Those are the people you have to reach out to, not your politicians.  Not all of those working class schlubs are watching Fox.  They are waiting for a different answer.

You will not get good media.  If you get to be popular, the parties will dump on you.  Your friends will abandon you.  You will face humiliation, jeers, lies about you.  People will find out where you live and put dead bunnies on your doorstep.  You will not get to sit at the kewl lunch table.

You know what?  Forget about the media.  Hillary did and she almost beat the bastards.  She was knifed by her own, not by Fox news.  Go around them, Mike.  Be the anti-media.  Get all mysterious.  When you start to attract their attention, don’t return their phone calls.  Play hard to get.  Deliver your messages without them.  When the pols lose and lose and lose, they’ll eventually get a clue.  The Republican party is a lost cause.  The Democrats have an infection that needs to be cured.  But don’t put your faith in either one.  Put your faith in the people you scorned in 2008.  Women, working class people, Hillary supporters, the FDR style liberals.  Get them on board, Mike, and you can turn this thing around.

But don’t expect the media to acknowledge your existence.  They have you right where they want you right now.  Silent and invisible. Accept that as a given and move on.

Hate NBC Olympics coverage? Blame merger mania.

Watch the snow and imagine Vonn skiing through it

Violet Socks is not the only person PO’d with NBC’s coverage of the Olympics. (There are plenty of complaints here and here.) Violet can’t see coverage in real time and she apparently works from home.  I can’t see it at all at work, not even with my dual recording DVR because there’s nothing to record in real time that I want to see.  NBC is even time delaying their broadcasts to the west coast.  That’s right, if you live in Seattle, you can’t see what’s going on in Vancouver, just up the road a spell, until 8PM when NBC, who has exclusive broadcasting rights in the USA, will turn to its marketing department to determine what you want.  If you are an American, NBC will presume that you don’t give a rat’s ass about the rest of the world’s athletes.  You will get highlights of events where Americans are expected to medal (or is that podium? ).  Interspersed with your carefully selected and edited sports niblets will be a ^&*(load of commercials and some nauseating human interest stories of determination and perserverence triumphing over heartbreaking personal loss and devastating injury.  (yeah, right, Lindsey Vonn’s shin injury was catastrophic.  Tell it to the podium)

It’s like getting dial-up Olympics coverage from AOL in a gigabit ether world that exists but that your municipality has forbidden you to get.  (No, I’m no bitter at all that I’m stuck on sucky DSL because my only other option is Comcast).

Why should you care?  Oh, I dunno.  I guess it’s because showing the games in real time should be a no brainer.  It’s not 1972 anymore and this is not the Wide World of Sports where, by the way, I think they showed every skiier from every country in their coverage of skiing.  This is 2010 where we *should* have instant access to everything.  If NBC is giving us sh^&&ty coverage, we should be able to turn to online sources for events in real time, that is, if they weren’t blocked by American IP address.  We should be able to go to a Canadian or European broadcaster for our downhill fix.

So, what’s going on here?  Ok, as  professional merger survivors, let me and my friends hazard a guess as to why NBC is failing to live up to our expectations.  Right now, Comcast and NBC are trying to merge.  Here’s how that goes: the first day that a merger is announced, all work comes to a screeching halt.  Formerly productive people spend their time speculating on the political chess game that is going on in their departments.  Who’s in, who’s out.  Projects are put on hold pending further review.  Projects that are going gangbusters prior to a merger announcement slow down to a trot.  People twiddle their thumbs while their overlords stab each other in the back, swing their dicks around and use their prodigious MBA’s to implement the idiotic plans of the consulting group they just hired to “transform” the place.  Then, because “we are too menny“, there must be layoffs.  The formerly productive workers cancel their living room furniture purchases and concentrate on getting their houses ready for a quick sale.  They spend hours grooming their resumes and making calculations of their gross yearly income based on the severance package that the company beancounters have sent out.  They sweat and worry and make appointments with their doctors to get the old bods in good working order while they still have health insurance.

Und zen zey vait.

How long will it take before all of the alpha males (and they are ALWAYS male) decide that they have strutted and preened enough to satisfy the shareholders, taken their cut and skeedaddled before everyone can get back to work?  Eventually, it happens.  Everyone is now one big happy company with values like “innovation!” and “Creativity!”.  But by that time, creativity has taken a backseat to survival.  When the Olympics roll around, the creative, innovative departments look around at their reduced headcount and their devastated budget and the even more manipulative and controlling overlords and they punt.  Just do it the way you did it last time.  Forget that there is new technology.  You don’t have the time, manpower or money to do it better.  Yeah, the shareholders (and you are probably one of them, which gives “conflict of interest”a new meaning) won’t get their bang for their buck but they won’t notice for at least another quarter.  And by then, your management will be looking for new “opportunities”.

Creativity?  Innovation?  Pleasing your customer base?  Who the f&*( has time for that when you’ve just kept your job by the skin of your teeth and the Idiots in Charge are too impressed with their business school credentials to listen to you anyway?

So, Comcast/NBC, when they finally merge, will push out content in time delay, like they do now, like it is 1972.  Only a few voices will stand up and call them on their borg like “You will be assimilated.  Resistence is useless” attitude.  We will fall farther and farther behind our Canadian, Asian and European counterparts.  We will have a free market, laissez faire, anything goes market place in the US where no one benefits but the consultants and the people who jettison at the last minute with golden parachutes, leaving everyone else with the bag and the blame.

So, what to do?  Well, we can’t prevent every merger but Al Franken is working on preventing Comcast/NBC.  Imagine if every innovation was given the same short shrift if the Comcast/NBC merger goes through.  Your cable company will control the horizontal and the vertical and you’ll NEVER see Lindsey Vonn ski in prime time- ever.

Ain’t America great?

To contribute to the only loud mouth in the Senate willing to stand up for us against the borgs, click here.

Now’s your chance to put your foot down and say “NO!” to more mergers, less freedom of speech, less control over content, less innovation.

Technical Corner – The iPad hype edition

There has been so much hype over Apple’s forthcoming tablet offering that I thought it was worth a look. Not just because it may or may not be an interesting product, after all other tablets have been on the market for a while, but how it might effect things we’re interested in including print journalism and book publishing and blogging. Well, that and it might be a nice distraction from the SOTU speech. Oh, and this is my first post. I really meant to do something political first, but time just got away from me. Hope you like it.

Background/Rumors

Rumors of a tablet from Apple have been around for a long time. Since 1983 in fact. A really nice timeline and summary of events can be found in this Engadget article. Some of the speculation and wild Apple fandom has been a bit weird. Walt Mossberg is a technical reviewer at the WSJ and has gained some fame for his reviews. Here is a great spoof of a muppet version of him reviewing the Apple iPad (here called iSlate):

Publishing/Journalism

What I think is interesting though relates to what’s been happening to print journalism and to the book publishing world of late. As we’ve seen, a number of companies are pursuing e-book products from web based for the desktop to small handheld devices like Amazon’s Kindle. In addition, the boom of smart phones have also included e-book capabilities.

There are a number of interesting factors involved with the various offerings that have been worth watching. One is the store model. It would appear from Amazon’s recent changes, followed by Googles, that the iTunes store model has won out. This is a model where there is little in the way between the original creator (of music, applications, books, periodicals, etc.) and the user. And the ratio of 70% to the creator and 30% to the store is shared by most now. There are still music publishers and book publishers in the middle of many offerings, but independents in those areas are gaining ground. And interestingly what I think has made that possible, given the zillions of competing products, is social networking. More specifically it’s the advent of Crowd Sourcing which is one way to manage and make sense of too many offerings. But of course a stores own editorial staff providing reviews and featuring products is probably still a major factor.

The other area that makes a lot of difference in usability is the means of displaying the material on the screen. There are a number of competing screen technologies, and many of these are just emerging. The choice of technology here also depends on what you want  your device to do. If it’s only about reading text, then the current electronic ink based approaches are pretty nice. These e-ink systems require no backlighting and so are easier on the eyes. However if you want a multi-purpose device, then e-ink as it is won’t work because it is too slow at refreshing for complex graphics. There are newer technologies that can function like normal LCD screens, but then can switch to e-ink type screens. This appears to be the most promising for multi-purpose devices, but has a ways to go.

Now back to print publishing and journalism. As we all know, newspapers seem to be dying in the US. They offer their papers for free online using an ad based model for revenue. That is wildly popular. But to the detriment of print subscriptions. And unfortunately many newspaper businesses aren’t set up for an online only business. Previous attempts to charge for online papers has failed. WSJ being the main exception. In the textbook realm, Terry McGraw, McGraw-Hill CEO, Tuesday on CNBC said the following:

Yeah, Very exciting. Yes, they’ll make their announcement tomorrow on this one. We have worked with Apple for quite a while. And the Tablet is going to be based on the iPhone operating system and so it will be transferable. So what you are going to be able to do now is we have a consortium of e-books. And we have 95% of all our materials that are in e-book format on that one. So now with the tablet you’re going to open up the higher education market, the professional market. The tablet is going to be just really terrific.

As much as newspapers might get a boost with this technology, I think e-books is where the action will be. Time will tell though.

Product Review

Today Apple introduced their “latest creation” the iPad:

The new iPad

iPad showing NYT

iPad Contacts Book

iPad Showing Contacts Book

It looks like they’ve done a nice job. We have a new slick gadget to be sure. They’ve nicely integrated audiobooks, music, video, TV/Movies, apps, etc. It has the benefits of mobile platforms which in the end will be the critical thing I think. It has 10 hours of battery life, which is pretty nifty. And similar to other efforts, it’s very green. But what’s interesting now is the e-book application and integration with the newspaper, magazine, and book publishing worlds. (Note: images above thanks to Engadget).

The New York Times has developed an application for the iPad. They’ve made quite a nice interface that, well, makes it really nice to navigate through sections and articles. And they’ve nicely integrated embedded video. They appear to be working with other newspaper publishers to do the same. The question not answered is what the business model will be for NYT. I suspect it will be free for basic stuff and subscription for additional functions like archives, etc. And like current online papers, the ad model will be used.

In the e-book world, they have initial deals with Penguin, HarperCollins, Simon&Schuster, Macmillan, Hachett among others. The iPad has a bookshelf store, iBookStore (of course). And they have a book reader built in, iBooks (of course) that acts as a book reader and book library. Clearly the book and magazine world is where they’ve put most of their effort. Sorry newspapers. The current library of books seem to be in the range of $5 to $15. There is a big effort for educational/text books, so expect to see more there. This appears to be the biggest deal for the show today.

But to me, a big issue is that they’ve added creation related software since the device is powerful enough. So their iWorks product is available for the device. Which means you can use it for blogging, writing, etc. And you can get a hardware keyboard accessory if you like. There were lots of other applications demoed. I quite liked the Brushes demo which allows you to use the device as an art tablet.

And now the requisite price info:

WiFi (only): 16GB – $499, 32GB – $599; 64GB – $699 (available in 60 days)

3G (and WiFi): 16GB – $629, 32GB – $729, 64GB – $829 (available in 90 days, contract with AT&T)

End of the show shows a street sign showing Technology (street) and Liberal Arts (street) and Steve saying they’ve always tried to be at the intersection of technology and liberal arts. OK, completely cheesy. In fact it was a laugh out loud bit.

What does it all mean?

A nice gadget. Perhaps a big deal in the e-book business. Perhaps not. Time will tell. Will it change the world? No. To me though, it’s symbolic of our creativity, ingenuity, and innovation in the face of a horrible economy and seemingly the end of our country as we know it. Unlike our administration and congress, it gives me a bit of hope. But then again, it’s just a gadget, and I’m clearly biased about cool techy gadgets. Tell me what you think.

Update

Just adding a photo that shows off the e-book aspect (the real winner I think):

iBooks on the iPad

If the Dems want to get back on their feet, they need to kick the moles out of NPR

Tokyo Rose

So, the Wurlitzer is on full crank and the Villagers are all a-twitter about how the Democrats took the country too far left.  Of course, that’s what they would say.  They’re THE VILLAGERS.  They are paid to keep the status quo nice and comfy for themselves and their friends. I’m going to let the Democrats in on a little secret:

No one on the left pays any attention to them anymore.

Yep. It’s true.  The Washington Post and the NYTimes could be spending the money they pay those courtiers on beefing up their international news bureaus.  People might actually start reading their papers again.

Frankly, my Dems, we don’t give a damn what David Brooks or David Broder says anymore.  We only pay attention to Joe Klein because his stupid musings are so easy to debunk and his name is, well, amenable to juvenile mockery.  Paul Krugman *used* to be our goto guy but he’s lost the plot recently and thinks that propping up Obama is more important than actually Change!™ing things.

But people have to still get their news from somewhere.  I gave up TV news of all kinds last year.  I don’t watch network or cable “news” of any kind.  I got sensitized to the propaganda and now, whenever I hear the prepared talking points with just the right psychological spin, I break out in hives and can’t breathe.  No, now I’m forced to surf the net both domestically and internationally and sift through the information with the skills of a professional data miner looking for nuggets of truth among the truthiness.

Not everyone has the time to do this.  So, verily I say unto you Democrats who are wringing your hands that your message is failing to get out among all of the “Americans are really center right people” and “Obama is a socialist” BS, don’t forget about NPR and the Public Broadcasting System.  I used to be a faithful listener and donater to NPR news programming for nigh on 20 years, ever since I was in college.  But during the Bush years, the place got so infested with GOP moles and taken over by the “both sides of the story are equal” folks that I don’t listen anymore.  Planet Money was pretty good for the first couple of months until their sponsors became the same kinds of companies they were reporting on.  My morning and evening commutes are now podcast only hours.

One thing you guys failed to do, (ok, one of the THREE things you failed to do right after 1.)failing to elect the true Democrat and 2.) handing the keys of your party apparatus to a bunch of neo-liberal jerks from Chicago who cut their teeth at Enron) was you failed to control the message.  Maybe you can’t restore the fairness doctrine right away, not that you shouldn’t at least try, but you didn’t make use of the tools you have.  You have the power of the purse.  You could get rid of the “Wealth Management” underwriters.  You could have kicked Steve Innskeep type guys to the curb and restored NPR to its former glory of reporting fairly and accurately instead of turning the place into a incubator for Juan Williams and Mara Liason who took their Tokyo Rose acts to Fox News.

In fact, why *didn’t* you do all of those things when you had a chance?  Republicans with your numbers would have done it.  Sometimes, I have to wonder about your personal safety in a room with sharp objects.

So, if you don’t want to lose your shirts and reputations this fall, and it looks like that’s where you’re headed if you don’t do something quick, you’d better shore up your messaging machine and push left as hard as you can.

Don’t say we didn’t warn you.


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Will the iSlate save journalism?

The tubez are all abuzz over Apple’s upcoming announcement on January 26.  Gadget enthusiasts all around the world are speculating about what Apple’s Steve Jobs is going to pack into the new iSlate, if that’s what it’s called.  There’s an online document of the alleged specs that have us scratching our heads and salivating at the same time.  The screen is either going to be 7.5 inches or 10 inches.  (Whip out your big ten inch, Steve!)  Other fantasy document specs include a 120 GB hard drive, a new OS called Clouded Leopard (Jeez, we should have seen that one comin’) and a built in projector.  OooooOOOOOoooo!  That one has piqued my curiosity.  It kind of makes sense too.  If the screen is only big enough to type on a touch screen, how will you view the content?  Ohhh, project it onto something.  D’oh!

Steve Jobs, if you’re out there, I promise to be your best friend if you let me review one of them big ten inches.  And I’ll be nice.  Because I don’t know if you’ve noticed this or not but there are a lot of gearheads out there who think a WiFi Newton on speed is not really necessary, especially if you have a laptop or iPhone.  I can envision busloads of schoolchildren dumping their lead weight laden backpacks for iSlates.  Maybe there’s a way to turn this sucker into an electronic notebook device for labrats that they can use to jot down how many moles of whatever they used for their reactions and that they can upload to a server later.  And I guess the skeptics haven’t been through an airport in the last 9 years where you have to dump the contents of your carry-ons whenever some authority figure demands it.  Who wouldn’t want the convenience of a neat  device you can carry in your hands that is a little bigger than a Kindle while you listen to your music through your stereo bluetooth as you stand in the Security line reading a document your downloaded from your cloud account or a copy of the NYTimes from the iTunes store?

Now, about that media content the iSlate is supposedly going to deliver in living color.  The newspaper industry is hurting.  What Craigslist hasn’t snatched from the classified section, the internet has downloaded for free.  Of course, the newspapers have brought some of this down on themselves.  Someone at the Times with a degree from Acme Business School made the idiotic decision to charge for the Op/Ed columnists a couple of years ago at the same time that  blogs started teeming with good Op/Ed writers while leaving (what should have been) the news content unguarded on the net.  The real assets of the newspaper business, should they care to invest in them, are the news collecting bureaus around the world.  There’s no substitute for actually being there, as we have learned from the Iranian protest movement and Twitter.

With Twitter, the news certainly looks fresh and has the immediacy of being there but there’s virtually no way to make sure that what is being posted is true and not a plant.  Unfortunately for the Times, there’s no way for us to tell if they’re just reporting propaganda either.  Remember Judy “Gorgeous Glass” Miller and her quaking Aspen friends who were all connected at the roots?  Was that a bizarre story or what?  When the paper that writes the stories becomes the story, it starts to lose credibility.  I know that I dropped my subscription specifically because of Judy Miller.  But it I had a subscription today, I would probably have cancelled it this morning when I found out that Arthur “Punch” (or is it “Pinch”?) Sulzberger, the Times publisher, is friends with Steve Rattner who is trying to primary Kirsten Gillibrand by running Harold Ford Jr. for Senator of NY.   Great!  Just what we need.  Another pandering male conservative Democrat because female senators are so plentiful. I don’t even know Pinch (or Punch) and I already dislike the fact that he feels he can arrogantly use the power of his mighty ink to scuttle Gillibrand simply because his friend Caroline Kennedy didn’t get the plum appointment when Hillary resigned.  It makes him look vengeful, petty, selfish and careless.  Sort of like Arthur Frobisher or some other self-centered and corrupt uber rich person with a conscience that only extends to his own personal wealthy clique.

Would I pay a subscription for the NYTimes on an iSlate?  I guess it would all depend on the content.  I lived for a couple of years without Paul Krugman or had to get his column via backdoor means.  I suppose if Punch (or Pinch) would leave the writing and editorializing to the real journalists and if I could be certain that those journalists weren’t part of some bizzare neocon plan to take over the world, I might cough up a few cents every day to read it on an iSlate.  But I hope that Jobs is busily getting the rights to a bigger movie library to project onto a nearby wall.  I wouldn’t bet my company on the likes of Punch or Rupert Murdoch.  They can’t be trusted.

Saturday Morning News and Views

Good Morning Conflucians!!!! What’s happening out there in the world?


The big story of this slow news day seems to be the attempted “terrorist attack” in Detroit.

ABC News: Man Attempts to Set Off Explosives on Detroit-Bound Airplane

Federal officials and police are interviewing a Nigerian man, who allegedly tried to “explode” a powdery substance aboard a Northwest flight from Amsterdam to Detroit, injuring himself and two other passengers, law enforcement officials said.

The man said he was directed by al Qaeda to explode a small device in flight, over U.S. soil, ABC News has learned. Authorities have no corroboration of that information, and the credibility of the suspect’s statements are being questioned, officials said.

The suspect was identified as Abdul Farouk Abdulmutallab, 23, who according to federal documents is an engineering student at University College of London.

The latest from CNN: Device was on fire in terror suspect’s lap, plane passenger says

A Nigerian man is “talking a lot” to the FBI, said a senior U.S. official, after what the United States believes was an attempted terrorist attack on an inbound international flight.

The initial impression is that the suspect was acting alone and did not have any formal connections to organized terrorist groups, said the official, who is familiar with the investigation.

The suspect, identified by a U.S. government official as 23-year-old Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, ignited a small explosive device Friday, shortly before a Northwest flight from Amsterdam, Netherlands, landed at Detroit Metro Airport in Michigan.

Passenger Jasper Schuringa told CNN that with the aid of the cabin crew, he helped subdue and isolate Abdulmutallab.

Abdulmutallab was taken into custody and is being treated for second- and third-degree burns on his thighs, according to federal law enforcement and airline security sources.

CNN World: London police hunt airline terror link

Counterterrorism officers are searching buildings in London in connection with the alleged terrorist attempt aboard a flight to Detroit, police said Saturday.

The officers were believed to be searching locations including an apartment block in central London, but a spokeswoman for the city’s Metropolitan Police would not say specifically where and what they are looking for, or how many officers are involved.

She also said the police are making several inquiries at the request of U.S. authorities.

Continue reading

Yes Sarah, there is a media conspiracy

Matt Taibbi

 


Matt Taibbi mostly talks about the media conspiracy against Sarah Palin, but I want to focus on another part of his post:

 

1) The political media has always taken it upon itself to make decisions about who is and who is not qualified to be taken seriously as candidates for higher office. Without even talking about whether they do this more or less to Republicans or Democrats, I can testify that I witnessed this phenomenon over and over again in the primary battles within the Democratic Party. It has always been true that the press corps has drawn upon internalized professional biases, high-school-style groupthink and the urging of insider wonks to separate candidates into “serious” and “unserious” groups before the shots even start to be fired.

[...]

2) When that does happen, when the press corps decides to abandon all restraint and go for the head shot, it usually tells us a lot more about the reporters’ bosses and what they’re thinking than it does about the reporters themselves. Your average political reporter is a spineless dweeb who went to all the best schools and made it to that privileged seat inside the campaign-trail ropeline by being keenly sensitive to the editorial wishes of his social and professional superiors.

[...]

The tone for all this behavior is always set somewhere way up the corporate totem pole, and it always reflects some dreary combination of simple business considerations (i.e. what’s the best story and sells the most ads) and internalized political calculus (i.e. who is a “legitimate” candidate and who is an “insurgent” or a “second-tier” hopeful). It’s not that the reporters are making this judgment themselves, it’s that they have to listen to what the apparatus Up There is saying all day long — not just their bosses but the think-tank talking heads they interview for comments, the party insiders who buy them beers at night, the pollsters and so on.

And when all these people start getting in their ears about this or that guy doesn’t have “winnability,” or doesn’t have enough money to run, or has negatives that are insurmountable, all that thinking inevitably bleeds into the coverage. It’s not that the reporters are “biased.” They just don’t have the stones, for the most part, to ignore all the verbal and non-verbal cues they get from authority figures about who is “legitimate” and who isn’t.

[...]

That said, even back at the very beginning of the campaign, before the signal came down that it was okay to start giving Obama big sloppy blowjobs on the air, when reporters were all slamming the one-term Illinois Senator for being a “lightweight” prone to “rookie mistakes” (those among us whose version of recent history imagines Obama being handed the 2008 election by the campaign press seem always to forget that part, but go back and look — the “Hillary is the presumptive frontrunner” period lasted a solid nine or ten months), Obama’s press handlers observed the prime directive. They did not interfere with the reporters’ civilization. There was a “let the chips fall where they may” attitude that helped out a lot when the Beltway consensus finally shifted and the money started pouring in behind the candidate; there was no bad blood to overcome when the press had to change its mind again and embrace an “Obama is now the presumptive frontrunner/We are now at war with Oceania” posture.

(emphasis added)

Matt is being a little disingenuous. He writes for Rolling Stone magazine, and they were treating Obama like a top-tier candidate way back in February 2007, when he barely had two years in the US Senate.  But Matt’s post still begs the question – who sent the signal telling reporters to treat Obama as a contender?

In a sane and rational world Obama would never have been considered a viable candidate.  He was certainly a rising star and a possible Vice-Presidential candidate, but considering his lack of experience and accomplishment, he should never have been taken seriously as the Presidential nominee.  The media made him a contender – so who decided that the media should do so?

Matt also ignores the fact that Obama raised $99 million in 2007 – more than all the other Democratic candidates except Hillary raised combined.  He raised that in approximately equal amounts in each quarter throughout the year, even though he was running a distant third behind Hillary and Edwards until late in the year.  Where did that money come from?

(Hint: It wasn’t from college kids sending in their lunch money.)

Matt Taibbi obviously knows more than he is telling.  The secrets he’s keeping would reveal how the leaders of the Democratic party and the media conspired to ignore the voters and make Obama the nominee.

The same people who selected Obama are trying to destroy Sarah Palin.  Who are they, and why are they doing these things?

Whose democracy is it anyway?

 


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