Thursday, March 31, 2011

The Latest Dumbo/Teabagger Mania: CFL (Compact Flourescent Light) Bulbs!

How stupid are Dumbos and Teabaggers? Look at U.S. Representative Michele Bachmann (R-MN-6): dumber than dirt and bat$hit-crazy, too! Today, The Krait (Gail Collins of the NY Fishwrap's Op-Ed page; Collins' distaff colleague on the Op-Ed page — Maureen Dowd — was nicknamed "The Cobra" by The Dubster aka POTUS 43.) bites the Dumbos/Teabaggers on their dumbasses. Ever heard of the "Light Bulb Freedom of Choice Act"? It's an IQ-test for determining idiocy. It's also the latest contribution of Representative Bachmann in the U.S. House of Representatives. Next, she will offer "The Repeal of the Law of Gravity" bill. If this is a (fair & balanced) exposure of vacuity, so be it.

[x NY Fishwrap]
Let There Be Light Bulbs
By Gail Collins

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Of all the controversies now raging in Washington, the one I find most endearing is the fight over federal regulation of light bulb efficiency.

“Instead of a leaner, smarter government, we bought a bureaucracy that now tells us which light bulbs to buy,” complained Representative Michele Bachmann in her Tea Party response to the president’s State of the Union address.

Bachmann has strong opinions on this matter. She is the author of the Light Bulb Freedom of Choice Act, which would repeal a federal requirement that the typical 100-watt bulb become 25 percent more energy efficient by 2012.

Bachmann hateshateshates that sort of thing, as you would expect from a woman whose Earth Day speech in 2009 was an ode to carbon dioxide. (“It’s a part of the regular life cycle of the earth.”)

Hysteria over the government taking away our right to buy inefficient light bulbs has been sweeping through certain segments of the Republican Party. Representative Joe Barton of Texas, sponsor of the Better Use of Light Bulbs Act, says we’re about to lose the bulb that “has been turning back the night ever since Thomas Edison ended the era of a world lit only by fire in 1879.” Barton’s vision of the standard 100-watt incandescent is so heroic, you’d think it would be getting its own television series.

“When Congress dictates which light bulbs folks in South Carolina must buy, it’s clear the ‘nanny state’ mentality has gotten out of control in Washington,” said Senator Jim DeMint, one of 27 co-sponsors of a Senate bill calling for repeal of the new efficiency standards.

The great thing about this battle, which has spawned predictions of widespread light-bulb-hoarding, is that it will take your mind off Libya, Afghanistan, Iraq and the pending government shut-down. It’s a little like the Donald Trump presidential candidacy, only less irritating.

Opponents of the law claim that the newer, more energy-efficient and cost-saving breeds of bulb give a less pleasing light, although that doesn’t seem to have dissuaded the American consumers from moving away from the incandescents in droves. The National Electrical Manufacturers Association says demand for the allegedly beloved old bulbs has dropped 50 percent over the last five years.

A terribly cynical mind might suspect the whole hubbub was just for political show. [Senator] Jeff Bingaman [D-NM], the chairman of the energy committee, said he had not actually been accosted by any of his fellow senators begging him to help get angry light bulb aficionados off their backs.

“I heard the statements at the committee hearing, but nobody’s walking the halls lobbying me about this,” he said.

That was the famous hearing during which Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky began with a rant about light bulbs and wound up complaining that his toilets back home didn’t work. “You busybodies always want to tell us how we can live our lives better,” he said passionately. “I’ve been waiting for 20 years to talk about how bad these toilets are.”

If Paul has been stewing about his bathroom fixtures since 1991, it may go a long way toward explaining his rather gloomy worldview. But the crux of his argument came at a different point, when he demanded to know whether Kathleen Hogan, a Department of Energy official, was “pro-choice.”

“I’m pro-choice on light bulbs,” Hogan said cannily.

Paul, not to be dissuaded, claimed that Obamaites favored “a woman’s right to an abortion, but you don’t favor a woman’s or a man’s right to choose what kind of light bulb.”

The proper comparison here would really be between the energy-efficiency regulations and the government rules that set minimum standards for sanitation and medical care when an abortion is performed. If you were willing to overlook the fact that any attempt whatsoever to equate abortions and light bulbs is completely nuts.

It’s a classic Tea Party herd of straw horses. Paul managed to lump the light bulb regulations with things his supporters hate (abortions/federal government telling me what to do) while ignoring the fact that the rules are much closer to things they like, such as standards that guarantee that if they go to a hospital or clinic, the place will be clean and staffed by qualified personnel.

Although the Rand Paul crowd is blaming the light bulb regulations on Obama, the rules were actually signed into law in 2007 by George W. Bush. And as Roger A. Pielke Jr., a professor at the University of Colorado, Boulder, wrote in a Times Op-Ed article recently, Washington has been in the standard-setting business since 1894, “when Congress standardized the meaning of what are today common scientific measures, including the ohm, the volt, the watt and the henry, in line with international metrics.”

You have to wonder if, back in 1894, there was a general outcry against the federal government trying to tell an American citizen how big his ohm should be. Ω

[Gail Collins joined the New York Times in 1995 as a member of the editorial board and later as an op-ed columnist. In 2001 she became the first woman ever appointed editor of the Times editorial page. At the beginning of 2007, she stepped down and began a leave in order to finish a sequel to her book, America's Women: 400 Years of Dolls, Drudges, Helpmates and Heroines. Collins returned to The Times as a columnist in July 2007. Besides America's Women, which was published in 2003, Ms. Collins is the author of Scorpion Tongues: Gossip, Celebrity and American Politics, and The Millennium Book, which she co-authored with her husband, Dan Collins. Her new book is about American women since 1960. Collins has an undergraduate degree in journalism from Marquette University and an M.A. in government from the University of Massachusetts-Amherst.]

Copyright © 2011 The New York Times Company

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Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Rearranging Furniture On The Deck Of Our Economic Titanic

In mid-March 2011, this blog featured a critique of capitalism; read it here. That critique, written by Neo-Marxist, Paul Mattick, is joined today by an non-Marxist critique of today's version of capitalism by Michael Lind. If you think it's hunky-dory that General Electric paid no corporate income tax while earning a record profit, read no further because you will turn into a pillar of salt. If this is a (fair & balanced) critique of greed, so be it.

[x Salon]
The Failure Of Shareholder Capitalism
By Michael Lind

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The verdict is in: The Thatcher-Reagan-Blair-Clinton model of capitalism is a failure.

By cutting taxes, slashing wages and destroying unions, the U.S. was supposed to lead the world in high-tech industry. But a recent study by the Asian Development Bank found that the majority of the added value of iPhones assembled in China come from high-tech companies in Japan, Germany and South Korea, whose inputs dwarf those from American companies. For a generation we've been told that the European and Asian capitalist countries were doomed by statism and high wages. Instead, they dominate global high-tech industrial production, while the U.S. continues to be deindustrialized.

Oh, well, who needs manufacturing, anyway? Let the rest of the world make things; we'll invent them and live off the royalties. Right? Wrong. The tech sector employers only a tiny number of Americans — and offshoring the production of goods invented here will only shrink that number further.

Most Americans work in the nontraded service sector. In the last decade, as the economist Michael Mandel has pointed out, almost all of the new jobs have been created in health, education and government, which share one characteristic in common: low productivity and rapidly escalating costs. The other big growth area, before the 2008 crash, was in the largely unproductive FIRE (finance, insurance, real estate) sector, where high salaries enticed smart young Americans who might have manufactured useful goods and services into manufacturing the toxic financial products that brought down the world economy. The homeland of Margaret Thatcher became even more dependent on a bloated financial sector than the over-financialized U.S.

Still not convinced that the Anglo-American model of the last generation is a failure? Orthodox economists recite the dogma that if productivity goes up worker compensation will follow. But according to the economist Alan Blinder in a Wall Street Journal Op-Ed titled "Our Dickensian Economy" last year, since 1978 productivity in the nonfarm business sector has grown by 86 percent, while real compensation — wages plus benefits — has grown only 37 percent. Take out the increased benefits, which tend to be eaten up by cancerous health insurance costs, and the real average hourly wage has not increased in 35 years.

Where have those missing gains from productivity growth gone? To a small number of rich American shareholders, CEOS and highly paid professionals, thanks to "shareholder capitalism."

Shareholder capitalism is the doctrine that companies exist solely to make money for their shareholders. It is frequently contrasted with stakeholder capitalism, which holds that companies exist for the benefit of their customers, workers and communities, not just for ever-fluctuating number of mostly remote and unengaged passive investors who just happen to own stock in them, often without even being aware that they do.

The rise of shareholder capitalism in the U.S. is often dated to an influential article in the Journal of Financial Economics in 1976, titled "Theory of the Firm: Managerial Behavior, Agency Costs and Ownership Structure" by Michael C. Jensen and William H. Meckling. They argued that shareholders should demand higher returns from complacent corporate managers. The idea of shareholder value was publicized by a 1981 speech in New York by Jack Welch, who had just taken over General Electric, and by Aflred Rappaport's 1986 book Creating Shareholder Value.

The shareholder value movement sought to persuade corporate managers to ignore the interests of all stakeholders like workers, customers and the home country, other than shareholders. Granting CEOs stock options, in addition to salaries, was supposed to align their interests with those of the shareholders.

The theory had an obvious problem: Who are the shareholders and what are their interests? Most publicly traded companies have shares that are bought and sold constantly on behalf of millions of passive investors by mutual funds and other intermediates. Some shareholders invest in a company for the long term; many others allow their shares to be bought and sold quickly by computer software programs.

Unable to identify what particular shareholders want, CEOs with the encouragement of Wall Street have treated short-term earnings as a reliable proxy for shareholder value. According to shareholder value theory, breaking up a firm and selling its pieces might maximize shareholder value in the short run more than long-term investments that would not pay off for many years. So could shutting down factories in the U.S. and turning the American branch of a global manufacturing company into an importer and vendor finance company.

While the shareholder value theory had some influence in Europe and East Asia, it never displaced the stakeholder models of capitalism that exist outside the English-speaking world. As the Financial Times columnist Martin Wolf observes:

...[T]he idea that a company is an entity that can be freely bought and sold is culturally specific. It is the view, above all, of Anglo-Americans. It is not shared in most of the rest of the world. The reason for this divergence is that, for many cultures, a company is viewed as being an enduring social entity. I once read that, for many Japanese, one can no more sell a company over the heads of its workers than one can sell one's grandmother. In this view, goods and services can be bought and sold. Companies, like countries (or, as we all now agree, people), must not be.

Only in the English-speaking world, with its tradition of radical libertarian ideology, could a head of state like Margaret Thatcher declare: "There is no such thing as society." According to a 2007 article in the Journal of Business Ethics, 31 of 34 corporate directors, each of whom served on an average of six boards of Fortune 200 corporations, agreed that their duty to shareholders would require them to cut down a mature forest or allow a dangerous, unregulated toxin into the environment, if that increased shareholder value.

Because they never wholly accepted the shareholder value ideology, other capitalist nations have not seen fit to follow the Americans and British in steering most of the gains from economic growth away from workers to CEOs and shareholders. In Europe, average CEO pay is half the American level. The average European CEO makes 25 times as much as the average employee in the same company. The ratio in the U.S. is 100 to 1.

America's most dysfunctional industries have the best-paid CEOs. The U.S. spends twice as much on healthcare as other developed nations, with no better results, and the runaway cost of medicine in the U.S. is the biggest threat to the economy in the long run. And yet a Wall Street Journal CEO compensation study in 2010 found that healthcare CEOs did much better than their equivalents in more productive industries like energy, telecom and consumer goods.

The disproportion between the compensation of American financiers and their foreign equivalents is even more grotesque. In 2008 Jamie Dimon, the CEO of JP Morgan Chase, the world's fourth largest bank, was paid $19.6 million. Jiang Jianqin, the head of the world's largest bank, the Industrial and Commercial Bank of China, earned $234,000 — 2 percent of Jamie Dimon's compensation.

Shareholder value capitalism in the U.S. since the 1980s has even failed in its primary purpose — maximizing the growth in shareholder value. As Roger Martin, dean of the Rotman Business School at the University of Toronto points out in a recent Harvard Business Review article, between 1933 and 1976 shareholders of American companies earned higher returns — 7.6 percent — than they have done in the age of shareholder value from 1977 to 2008 — 5.9 percent a year.

For his part, Jack Welch has renounced the idea with which he was long associated. In a March 2009 interview with the Financial Times, the former head of GE said: "Strictly speaking, shareholder value is the dumbest idea in the world."

In the aftermath of the failed 40-year experiment in shareholder capitalism, Americans need not look solely to other democratic nations for models of successful stakeholder capitalism. The U.S. economy between the New Deal and the 1970s was a version of stakeholder capitalism, in which the gains from superior growth were shared with workers, CEOs were moderately paid and the rich engrossed far less of the economy. In reconnecting with America's native tradition of stakeholder capitalism, American companies can learn from the example of Johnson & Johnson, whose credo was written by Robert Wood Johnson in 1943:

We believe our first responsibility is to the doctors, nurses and patients, to mothers and fathers and all others who use our products and services.... We are responsible to our employees, the men and women who work with us throughout the world.... We are responsible to the countries in which we live and work and to the world community as well... We must be good citizens... and bear our fair share of taxes.... We must maintain in good order the property we are privileged to use, protecting the environment and natural resources.... Our final responsibility is to our shareholders.... When we operate according to these principles, the shareholders should realize a fair return. Ω

[Michael Lind is Policy Director of New America's Economic Growth Program and the author of The American Way of Strategy: U.S. Foreign Policy and the American Way of Life (2006). Lind holds a B.A. from the University of Texas-Austin, an M.A. from Yale University, and a J.D. from University of Texas-Austin.]

Copyright © 2011 The Salon Media Group, Inc.

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Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Goodbye — Hello: Tom Tomorrow's "This Modern World" Is Moving From Salon To The Daily Kos

The world is in flux: The Butcher is leaving the Gray Lady and so is Angry Bob (Herbert) and now Tom Tomorrow is relocating to the Daily Kos next week. If this is (fair & balanced) funny-paper business, so be it.

[x Salon]
This Modern World — "Lights Out"
By Tom Tomorrow (Dan Perkins)

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March 29, 2011
A Period Of Transition
By Tom Tomorrow

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I don’t really remember the exact date, but at some point in late 1994 or early 1995, I met my editor from the SF Examiner, David Talbot, for lunch at the Rincon Center food court in San Francisco. Over some cheap take-out, he explained that he’d been working on some sort of new “web magazine” called Salon, in which he hoped to run my cartoon. Seemed like an interesting idea, and I threw out the names of various other cartoonists he might also want to run, including Ruben Bolling, Keith Knight, and Carol Lay. And for more than a decade, the four of us formed the core of what was effectively the internet’s first comics section.

Fast forward to the present day, and after a couple rough years of attrition and budget cuts, mine is the only cartoon left running in Salon — and today marks my last appearance there.

I’ve had an extraordinary run at Salon, and it has been a fantastic platform, which I have been privileged to share with many talented contributors over the years. But as Blinky notes in this week’s farewell cartoon, I’ve been there for about a million years in internet time. My contract was up for renewal at the end this month, and I was feeling vaguely ready for a change, when I was approached by Markos Moulitsas with an intriguing offer — the chance to not only publish my own work on the Daily Kos, but to serve as the site’s Comics Editor, to help create an entirely new space online for political cartoons.

I’ve been quietly agitating for something like this for quite a while. These are difficult times for cartoonists, particularly those of us working in the subgenre of altweekly cartooning. The papers are still vital to my survival, and I’m grateful beyond measure to the many editors who continue to run my work in print each week — but the larger trend over the past few years has not exactly been encouraging. Too many papers have decided that they no longer have any use for this art form which grew in their stead, adapting itself entirely to their rhythms, and as that market contracts, there’s been no simultaneous expansion online. The niche that editorial cartoons filled in newspapers is almost entirely occupied by "Daily Show" clips online. Why do so few political sites feature political cartoons? Why did the Huffington Post, with verticals devoted to almost any topic you can imagine, never launch a comics section?

I’ve got a chance to help counter that trend, in some small way, at a site I’ve been reading since 2002. (I believe I actually sent Markos some of his earliest traffic, back–as absurd as it sounds now–when my little vanity site had the higher readership.) It’s an experiment for both of us, I think, but an exciting one. My cartoon will start running there next Monday. Over the next few months we’ll be adding others, and, I hope, building up a go-to destination for progressive cartoon commentary. Ω

Tom Tomorrow/Dan Perkins

[Dan Perkins is an editorial cartoonist better known by the pen name "Tom Tomorrow". His weekly comic strip, "This Modern World," which comments on current events from a strong liberal perspective, appears regularly in approximately 150 papers across the U.S., as well as on Salon and Working for Change. The strip debuted in 1990 in SF Weekly.

Perkins, a long time resident of Brooklyn, New York, currently lives in Connecticut. He received the Robert F. Kennedy Award for Excellence in Journalism in both 1998 and 2002.

When he is not working on projects related to his comic strip, Perkins writes a daily political weblog, also entitled "This Modern World," which he began in December 2001.]

Copyright © 2011 Tom Tomorrow & Salon Media Group, Inc.

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Monday, March 28, 2011

The Juicebox Mafia

Roll over, Walter Lippmann and roll over David Broder! Make way for Beutler, Weigel, Yglesias & Klein. These Young Lions blog, send flaming e-mail, and tweet and are moving into the circle of talking heads on 24/7 cable news. If this is a (fair & balanced) changing of the guard, so be it.

[x NY Fishwrap]
Washington’s New Brat Pack Masters Media
By Sridhar Pappu

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One winter evening, Brian Beutler, 28, a reporter for the online publication Talking Points Memo, sat with his friend and roommate Dave Weigel, 29, a political reporter for Slate and a contributor to MSNBC, at a coffee shop on U Street. Recovering from a cold as snow fell outside, Mr. Beutler spoke about his younger — well, relatively younger — days in the city.

“Everyone’s gotten a little bit older and a little more boring,” Mr. Beutler said, speaking of a wave of Washington bloggers who have come of age together. “Four years ago, we were far less professionalized, and the work was less rigorous and less stressful. So in addition to being younger, we were also a bit less overwhelmed. That all has changed.”

In only a few years, these young men and others like them have become part of the journalistic establishment in Washington. Once they lived in groups in squalid homes and stayed out late, reading comic books in between posts as more seasoned reporters slogged their way through traditional publications like The Hill and Roll Call. Now the members of this “Juicebox Mafia,” as they were first called by Eli Lake of The Washington Times, in a reference to youth, have become destination reading for — and respected by — the city’s power elite. Indeed, arguably they are themselves approaching power-elite status (as well as, gasp, age 30).

“I look at those guys and call them ‘Facebook pundits,’ ” said Tammy Haddad, the venerable Washington hostess and cable news veteran. “They’ve risen up the media food chain. They’re acknowledged by the White House. They measure their success in a different way than the old guard in this city used to.

“It’s a whole new stream — a new vein of voices engaged and engaging with the power centers in Washington,” added Ms. Haddad, known for the boldface-name-dotted brunch she holds annually before the White House Correspondents’ Association Dinner.

There is precedent for such packs of smart, self-important young men in other capital cities. More than 50 years ago, Gay Talese wrote of “the witty, irreverent sons of a conquering nation,” led by George Plimpton, who once tromped through Paris.

Of course, Washington is not and never will be Paris. In a city where Ms. Haddad’s brunch is known simply as “Tammy’s” and where young Congressional staffers and reporters still cling to the bars on Capitol Hill, the scene these young men inhabit is as foreign as Mars. On Friday evenings it’s not uncommon to spot them at rock places like Black Cat or the 9:30 Club, or (juice boxes forsooth) drinking overpriced beer from cans — or even Mason jars — in grungy enclaves like the American Ice Company. But they’ve also rerouted the aspirations of young journalists here, for whom a job in print media was once the holy grail.

“This is the age of the individual voice, liberated by the new media,” the former New Republic editor Andrew Sullivan — whose reinvention as a prodigious, immensely well-read blogger has inspired many to take to their laptops — said in an e-mail. “Anyone in the younger generation who yearns for a column on the Washington Post op-ed page is seeking oblivion.”

That hasn’t stopped traditional outlets from reaching out to them — with mixed results. In the years surrounding the 2008 presidential election, The Washington Post employed Mr. Weigel; and The American Prospect and then The Post made his peer Ezra Klein into a multiplatform superman of blogging-twittering-column writing. The Atlantic and then Think Progress — the online arm of the liberal Center for American Progress Action Fund— transformed Matt Yglesias from a formerly bored Harvard kid who hated reporting into an Internet star.

They are cognizant of their evolution.

“I came here, and I had no professional affiliation,” Mr. Klein, 26, said over lunch at Potenza, a decidedly grown-up restaurant in downtown Washington. “I just had a blog that was mine, but I came out here and was trained as a magazine writer, and that was just a much more formalized way of journalism. You made calls. People answered calls. You took down what was said in a respectable account, and that began to influence my blogging. It became a lot less of an ‘Ezra affair.’

“I think you can accuse me of having a much more staid tone than I had in college,” Mr. Klein said, “because I’m a bit older, and you learn when people are reading your work you should be much more careful about what you say and what kind of motives you ascribe.”

Yet this newly discovered caution didn’t prevent Mr. Klein from attacking Senator Joe Lieberman during the health care debate when he wrote that Mr. Lieberman was “willing to cause the deaths of hundreds of thousands of people in order to settle an old electoral score.”

“I’ve said before, I’ve regretted using that phrasing,” Mr. Klein said. “What frustrated me was so many people talked about how long that health care bill was, but didn’t take the next step to say, ‘O.K., I really need to work hard to explain it to people.’ Usually when people talked about the bill’s length, they talked about it not as part of their job, but they tended to see it as a failure of someone else. And that’s not the way I look at complicated policy. When I look at complicated policy, it’s up to someone like me to explain things clearly. If that takes a lot of time, so be it. I have a blog, and I’ve got a lot of space.”

Being in the Brat Pack of the moment doesn’t protect its members from public comeuppance. After the Daily Caller — a conservative Web site run by Tucker Carlson — published e-mail that Mr. Weigel had written in an off-the-cuff, off-the-record manner for the listserv “JournoList,” he resigned from The Post, under pressure.

Betsy Rothstein, editor of the media Web site FishbowlDC, has relentlessly accused the Juicebox Mafia of arrogance (Mr. Klein has blocked her site from his Twitter feeds). “Their sense of themselves is so inflated,” Ms. Rothstein said. “I sometimes think they do good work, but if you’re in their pack, even if what you say makes no sense, you’re golden. I think their popularity is a myth.”

And Douglas Brinkley, the Rice University professor and historian who is working on a biography of Walter Cronkite, expressed nostalgia for an earlier, more in-the-trenches generation of correspondents who didn’t rely on tweeting and linking to generate content. “I’m not making a judgment,” Professor Brinkley said. “What I don’t like is that before, people would start in foreign bureaus all over the world before making their way to Washington. You would be pushing into your deep 20s and have a really deep global background. What you’ve seen is a devaluation of serious journalism in favor of reporters who are able to create a brand identity.”

Mr. Sullivan, 47, disagreed. “I think they are more talented than the journalists of my generation and less self-important than the boomer generation,” he wrote. “People forget how hard it was to get a platform of any kind in the old days. The gatekeepers were few and strict. Lots of talent never got a chance, and I admire the way these bloggers have opened up the D.C. conversation.”

Sitting in a darkened bar not far from the Washington Convention Center, drinking bourbon, Mr. Yglesias, 29, wistfully recalled his days as a student in Cambridge, Mass., where he developed his own blog with the help of his college roommate, who knew something about this new thing called HTML. It was through this blog that he found, among others, Mr. Klein — like-minded policy obsessives who had found an outlet in the early part of the last decade.

“I’m actually glad I was able to avoid a certain amount of dues-paying,” Mr. Yglesias said. “But I flatter myself and would be completely egomaniacal if I didn’t think that there was a certain amount of luck involved. There’s a reason why dues-paying is normally involved in this sort of thing.

“I always think of myself as an explainer,” he continued. “I just try and put sophisticated ideas into the news cycle and connect people with smart ideas that are relevant. One person can only make so much of a difference. I made it my mission years ago to address filibuster reform, and now they’re debating it on the Senate floor. I consider that an achievement I played a part in, and if it succeeds, it’s even more of an achievement.”

In an ending worthy of “St. Elmo’s Fire,” Mr. Yglesias now lives with his girlfriend, Kate Crawford, 27, who works at a trade association for science museums. Mr. Klein is engaged to Annie Lowrey, a 26-year-old reporter for Slate. “They’ve grown up,” Ms. Lowrey said of her fiancĂ© and his cohorts. “They’re not spring chickens anymore.”

Back at the coffee shop, Mr. Weigel noted another way the group’s behavior had shifted since its early days in Washington.

“We had a weekly trivia team, and Ezra was often on it,” he recalled. These days, he said, “I think functionally you couldn’t commit to that on a weeknight, because Ezra’s on TV four times a week.” Ω

[Sridhar Pappu is a graduate of the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University. In 2007, Pappu joined the Washington Post as the lead political writer for "Style." Prior to that, he wrote for The Atlantic Monthly, and, before that, he wrote the "Off The Record" press column for The New York Observer.]

Copyright © 2011 The New York Times Company

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Sunday, March 27, 2011

A Dog On The Internet Must Learn New (HTML5) Tricks!

[x New Yorker]
"Nobody Knows You're A Dog" (1993)
By Peter Steiner

This blogging dog on the Internet is going geek today. Recently, HTML5 has shown up on this blogger's techie radar. Full disclosure, this blogger is barely fluent in the HTML of the early 1990s. If this is a (fair & balanced) affirmation of "change or die," so be it.

[x NY Fishwrap]
In A New Web World, No Application Is An Island
By Steve Lohr

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The Web is poised for a comeback.

How’s that? Isn’t the Web already the crucial utility of online commerce, information and entertainment? In many ways, it certainly is. The Web’s importance is indisputable — but there are signs that it is slipping. Investment, innovation and energy have been shifting elsewhere in computing — mainly, to shopping, gaming and news applications for smartphones and tablet computers.

These applications often tap into Web sites for information on all manner of things. But they do not reside on the open Web, and cannot be searched and linked to one another in the same way Web applications can. Think of the apps tailored for Apple’s iPhones and iPads, or those made for Google’s Android operating system. Social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter have similar characteristics, as walled gardens that are connected to the open Web but are separate from it.

This is the trend that Wired magazine described last September, under an intentionally exaggerated headline: “The Web Is Dead.”

And Tim Berners-Lee, the Web’s creator, issued a warning in the December issue of Scientific American. “The Web as we know it,” he wrote, “is being threatened.” The danger, he added, is that “the Web could be broken into fragmented islands.”

But the Web’s fortunes may soon brighten remarkably. The scenario relies on a collection of technologies, already years in development, that is starting to make its way into the mainstream of computing. HTML5 is the geeky umbrella term for this assemblage. (It’s the fifth generation of HyperText Markup Language, which is the way Web pages are written in code.) Engineers say the technology will make it possible to write Web applications, accessed with a browser, that are as visually rich and lively as the so-called native applications that are now designed to run on a specific device, like an iPad or an Android-based tablet.

The Web browsing software that is needed to bring HTML5 to life has recently arrived. Last week, Mozilla, the maker of Firefox, released the newest version of its browser, showing off its support for the new technology. A week earlier, Microsoft brought out its new Internet Explorer tuned to run HTML5. The Safari brower from Apple, meanwhile, also supports the new technology, and the company has particularly embraced HTML5’s video-playing feature as an alternative to Adobe’s Flash player. And the Chrome browser team from Google has long been a leader in HTML5 development.

The technology, by all accounts, is an innovative achievement. HTML5 represents the “next big step in the progress of the Web,” says Jeffrey Jaffe, chief executive of the World Wide Web Consortium, which guides the development of technical standards. Paul Mercer, a veteran Silicon Valley software designer, says the technology will make it possible to “achieve the dream of expressive, interactive applications on the Web that are Cupertino-class,” a reference to the headquarters of Apple, where Mr. Mercer worked for years.

There are also potentially sweeping business implications, executives and investors say. The technology could alter the playing field in the emerging market for digital media and mobile applications, creating new market opportunities.

“Right now, we’re in a native apps world,” says John Lilly, a venture partner at Greylock Partners, a venture capital firm in Silicon Valley. “But people are underestimating the power of the Web. I think we’re going to see an explosion of Web-based apps over the next couple of years.”

Indeed, start-up companies like Zite and Flipboard present media content in magazine-style pages on the iPad, using HTML5. The free software from Flipboard, for example, taps a user’s online social networks for reading recommendations. Flipboard is also working with publishers, offering them tools for automating the display of pages on the iPad.

“You’re seeing this increasing move to HTML5 among publishers,” says Mike McCue, the company’s C.E.O.

In theory, the technology could give publishers a powerful counterweight to Apple, the early dominant distributor of paid media content. Apple has leading devices in the iPhone and iPad, and media companies use its software to tailor their content for them. And the company’s App Store is the hub for retail distribution online.

Publishers flinched, though, when Apple announced in February the terms for digital newspaper and magazine subscriptions sold through its App Store: Apple will get a 30 percent cut and the customer information, unless a subscriber agrees to pass some of that data on to a publisher. The 30 percent is the same that Apple collects on music and games sold through its store. Publishers had been pushing for better terms and sharing of customer information, because they would be selling continuing subscriptions instead of one-time transactions, like an individual song or an album.

Most major publishers are experimenting with HTML5 today. (The New York Times version, using the new technology, is at

Yet even if HTML5 allows publishers to make applications that shine on the iPad without Apple’s software, the distribution power of Apple won’t necessarily decline. The company could still end up running the leading marketplace in online publishing sales if the iPad remains the runaway leader in tablet computing — just as the popularity of iPod music players has reinforced sales at the company’s music store.

So far, publishers mostly plan to use the new technology to streamline digital development, thereby cutting costs. Ideally, they say, HTML5 would be the main technology used for all mobile programs, with some tweaking of applications on each device.

“If HTML5 lives up to its promise, that would make my life easier,” says Joe Simon, chief technology officer at CondĂ© Nast. The publisher has built dozens of iPhone and iPad applications in recent months for its 18 magazines, and will soon introduce Android applications for the Motorola Xoom for The New Yorker and Wired.

THE rivalry between the worlds of the Web and native applications, analysts say, is set to play out over the next couple of years. There are strong advocates in each camp, even within companies. Google, for example, straddles the two worlds, with its Android team as well as its developers of HTML5 technology.

Sundar Pichai, vice president for product management for Google’s Chrome browser, is betting on the triumph of HTML5. “In the mobile world, the dominant model is native apps,” Mr. Pichai concedes, but he adds that the real competition is just beginning. “As these ecosystems evolve,” he says, “I think the incredible advantages of the Web will prevail.” Ω

[Steve Lohr is senior writer and technology reporter for The New York Times. He was a foreign correspondent for the Times for a decade, based in Tokyo, Manila and London. He has had articles published in several magazines including The New York Times Magazine, The Atlantic Monthly and The Washington Monthly. And he was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize in 1998 for coverage of Microsoft and its antitrust battle with the United States Government. He is the author of Go To: The Story of the Math Majors, Bridge Players, Engineers, Chess Wizards, Maverick Scientists and Iconoclasts—the Programmers who Created the Software Revolution (2001).]

Copyright © 2011 The New York Times Company

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Creative Commons License
Sapper's (Fair & Balanced) Rants & Raves by Neil Sapper is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License. Based on a work at Permissions beyond the scope of this license may be available here.

Copyright © 2011 Sapper's (Fair & Balanced) Rants & Raves

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Take The Dumbo Exit & You'll Get To Oblivion Sooner!

Imagine Texas without an I-10, an I-20, an I-40, or an I-35. Imagine Colorado without either an I-25 or an I-70. Imagine any state without an Interstate Highway. The national highway system that began with a Dumbo president (greater than St. Dutch) in 1956 — Dwight D. Eisenhower — is now part of the national fabric. Even the Dumbos and the Teabaggers know better than calling for the dismantling of the Interstate Highway System. However, the IH-System was soooooo 20th century and we are now in the 21st century and a national high-speed rail system is needed in these times of global warming and climate change. We cannot afford huge trucks on the super-slabs belching atmosphere-eating exhaust. John Young echoes Fareed Zakaria in telling us that we are in a gigantic hole and we need to stop digging. However, the Dumbos and Teabaggers are slow learners and we need to take a shovel to the sides of their collective heads. If this is a (fair & balanced) version of Cassandra's vision, so be it.

[x Austin Fishwrap]
Think Of The Greater Good Rather Than Individual Pangs And Angst
By John Young

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President Dwight Eisenhower puts all of his political capital on the line to advance an audacious notion: a national highway system. He is rebuffed when states refuse to play along. They complain that even if the federal government pays 90 percent, these will be their highways to maintain, with costs associated. They want no part of it.

That, of course, didn't happen. The states understood the benefits of that initiative to lift the nation, and regional economies, into better days — post-frontier days, post-Dust Bowl days.

Fast-forward to the new governor of Florida, who recently pushed the pause button on comparable progress.

Rick Scott turned down $2.4 billion in the federal stimulus bill for a high-speed rail project from Miami to Orlando. Scott's argument: The railroad system would be unlikely to pay for itself and would require state subsidies ultimately. (Like interstate highways, possibly?)

Scott's decision drew huzzahs from the tea-bag core by which he secured a razor-thin victory in November. It also frosted off some fellow Republicans in Tallahassee who know the jobs and economic activity now will go elsewhere.

Admittedly, Scott's position is easy to peddle to any interest not along the proposed rail line. What use is it to them?

And you wonder how Eisenhower made the pitch to those who wouldn't have an Interstate 35 or Interstate 10 facilitating speedier traffic their way.

High-speed rail? Audacious. But those who dismiss its potential, even if it requires subsidies as do airports and superhighways, are trapped in their own conventions. They are trapping society at the same time.

Scott's hard-right constituents called his rejection of the stimulus dollars brilliant. The person looking smart now, however, is Fareed Zakaria, whose piercing essay, "Yes, America is in decline" ["Are America's Best Days Behind Us?"] in the March 14 Time magazine assailed the rush to climb into our shells regarding public investment.

One wonders where we would be today if a Republican like Eisenhower curled up in a shell instead of building for the future.

One thing that the interstate highway system did was truly link states into a whole. Time illustrated Zakaria's commentary with an American flag diced into red, white and blue tatters. One could say the same about long-range communal considerations such as infrastructure and education.

"We are cutting investments and subsidizing consumption — exactly the opposite of what are the main drivers of economic growth," Zakaria writes.

Gee, FDR, we can't tax-cut and toll-road our way back to prosperity?

One can think of few fiscal moves that would be harder on a region's economy than to shut down community colleges. Yet that's what Texas legislators were about to do to Odessa College, Frank Phillips, Brazosport and Ranger College. How anyone could have seen such a move as preferable to tapping an emergency fund, or otherwise finding revenue to continue these colleges' operations, bespeaks a dark, backward state of mind that afflicts us.

Unfortunately, policymakers aren't thinking of the greater good, but of individual pangs and angst.

"American politics is now hyper responsive to constituents' interests," writes Zakaria. "All those interests are dedicated to preserving the past rather than investing for the future."

The battle today pits the impulses of tax cuts and insularity versus infrastructure and education, and it's a rout.

The nation will be poorer for it.

"Together, the unifying forces of our communication and transportation systems are dynamic elements in the very name we bear — United States. Without them, we would be a mere alliance of many separate parts." That was Eisenhower promoting the Federal Aid Highway Act of 1956. Ω

[John Young was the editorial page editor and a columnist of the Waco Tribune-Herald for 25 years. A Denver native, Young was editor of the Valley Courier, a small daily in Alamosa, CO, prior to his time in Texas. His column is carried regularly on the Cox News Service and New York Times News Service. Young has moved back to Fort Collins, CO and serves as an adjunct in the Department of English of the Front Range Community College. Young is a graduate of Colorado State University.]

Copyright © 2011 The Austin American-Statesman

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Creative Commons License
Sapper's (Fair & Balanced) Rants & Raves by Neil Sapper is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License. Based on a work at Permissions beyond the scope of this license may be available here.

Copyright © 2011 Sapper's (Fair & Balanced) Rants & Raves