Free Markets, Free People

Billy Hollis


You don’t say: “New IRS head says taxpayers no longer trust agency”

Acting Commissioner Danny Werfel  says the taxpayers don’t trust the IRS, and he intends to conduct “a thorough review of what went wrong and how to fix it.”

Just a suggestion, Danny, but why don’t you start by telling these folks to either tell us the full story or hit the road? Treasury IG: No IRS employee interviewed by us would acknowledge who ordered the targeting of conservatives


The problems of a post-modern legal system

A columnist at the Washington Post (via Insty) looks at the Rosen case, and finds some problems with the logic at the Justice Department.

The essential question is the definition of criminal conduct. It’s against federal law for authorities to “search a newsroom for the purpose of obtaining work product or documentary materials relating to a criminal investigation.” This presumably applies to reporters’ emails as well.

The law makes an exception if a reporter is suspected of criminal behavior. That’s why Rosen was named a co-conspirator – that’s the only way the Justice Department could get a judge to go along with their fishing expedition. In the Post column, the columnist Erik Wemple says:

It [the Justice Department] told a judge that Rosen may well have committed a violation of the Espionage Act as it pursued its e-mail search warrant.

But it turns out that the Justice Department apparently has no tangible evidence of any criminal behavior by Rosen. They’ve already said they have no intention of prosecuting him.

David Schultz, a lawyer for the AP it it’s own Justice Department scandal, spots the contradiction in that:

”They’ve done the expedient thing that allows them to get what they want without giving the press an opportunity to object,” says Schulz. “If they did not believe Rosen was committing a crime, they shouldn’t have been invoking that part of the PPA. Either they were really accusing him of a crime or they weren’t. I mean, you can’t have it both ways.”

Clearly, Mr. Schultz does not understand post-modern reasoning. For today’s leftists, there are no contradictions when someone is defending the left. That’s because they merely change definitions as necessary to eliminate the contradiction.

Look at their recent attempted re-definition of the word “scandal”. If you ask a typical English speaker what a scandal is, they’ll describe a situation where a person or organization got caught doing something they were not supposed to do – often illegal, usually unethical, and typically embarrassing. The IRS targeting of conservative groups, the Benghazi debacle and subsequent cover-up, and the Justice Department abuses of the AP and Fox News obviously fit that definition.

To the left, though, the word “scandal” means whatever they need it to mean to further the leftist cause. So they have taken up the mantra that these things are not “real scandals”, with the implication that they are not scandals at all. They want to own the terminology in every discussion, and bend it to whatever suits their present argument. That’s why I’ve stopped arguing with them. By the fundamentals of their own philosophy, it’s impossible for them to lose an argument because the objective standards of logic, reason, and reality don’t apply to them. To them, the only thing left is “narrative”, and they reserve the right to hold onto their own narrative no matter how obviously nonsensical it might be.

The narrative rules all for a post-modernist because it’s fundamental to post-modernism that words have no objective meaning. Just as there is no objective reality to them, there is no objective meaning either. A word means whatever a leftist can convince the present listener that it means, and the leftist reserves the right to redefine the word for another listener tomorrow if that helps promote tomorrow’s narrative.

The problem is that a legal system depends upon reliable meaning of words. If words can be redefined to suit the whims of someone in power, then no one can ever know whether they are obeying a law or not.

The Obama administration is so steeped in post-modern leftism that they don’t get this, or don’t care. So we see Holder’s Justice Department adapting the word “co-conspirator” and claiming criminal behavior to justify it, all out of pure expedience. They needed to accuse Rosen of being a co-conspirator to get what they wanted, so they simply told a judge that he was one. Hey, it’s just a word! It has no objective meaning, so we can redefine it to mean whatever we want!

As always, when they do that, they don’t think they’ve done anything wrong. They feel no shame or remorse over it. They get legitimately confused when a contradiction is pointed out, because in their world-view, there is no contradiction.

To a leftist, “co-conspirator” can mean one thing when leftists are in power, and something quite different when they are not. If Bush/Ashcroft had done exactly what they did, the very same people in the Justice Department who named Rosen a co-conspirator would be howling about it 24/7. They would be hectoring anyone who would listen that a journalist with no evidence of criminal behavior can’t possibly be named a ‘”co-conspirator”, and probably beating the drum for impeachment for anyone involved. But since they’re the ones doing it, the reaction among the left has been muted and mostly apathetic.

It is obvious to we Enlightenment types that it’s not possible to have a functioning legal system for a free society based on expedient re-definition of the terms used in laws. That’s why the Right has been opposing this folderol all the way back to FDR’s flouting of clear Constitutional language. It’s clear to anyone who understands plain English that a person growing wheat in their backyard for their own use has no relationship to “interstate commerce” as anyone before 1930 understood it. But it was expedient to simply pretend the term meant something else, to rationalize giving the government more power.

So this problem isn’t new. The difference today is that it used to be rare. Now it’s business as usual. Clinton’s defense against everything questionable that he ever did depended on re-defining words such as “sex” and “is”. Holder’s Justice Department clearly thinks they can simply dictate what words like “co-conspirator” mean.

A legal system allowing such re-definition to suit those in power is built on sand, awaiting the first strong shake to liquefy and bring it down.


I get email…

I get a lot of email from that link over on the left side of this site. Interesting conversations, offers to review books, and the like are welcome and worthwhile. 

But spammers are everywhere, so 98%+ of it is an amazing variety of worthless trash. Perhaps even more amazing (and frustrating) is that much of it slips right through even the best spam filters, probably because it’s about politics instead of bobbydangler enlargement.

A warning if you’re ever considering doing political blogging and exposing your email address: the CAN-SPAM act has an exemption for certain political purposes. In particular, if Senator Bigslush ever gets your email address, he is free to send you whatever he likes until the end of time, or until he gets pushed out of office, whichever comes first. He probably won’t include an opt-out link. He has about as much consideration for your time as you would expect a DC politician to have. He probably thinks you get a charge from getting an email headed with "From the Office of Senator Ben Dover Bigslush".

Many political lobbying groups construe themselves to be exempted from CAN-SPAN as well. On top of that they pass email lists around like addicts sharing needles. Like true spammers everywhere, they don’t really give a damn whether you have any interest in their message. So when the crack whore next to them passes on your email address, you’ll start getting "press releases" about "sustainable wind farms" or other science fiction, whether you like it or not.

Media sites also engage in the spamming game. Politico is one of the worst; I’ve blocked them more times than I can count, and noticed a new round from them just this week. It starts “Good Morning! Here are today’s top POLITICO stories. Thanks, Stacy”, with no unsubscribe link of course.

Fortunately, gmail allows various ways to block such messages. For the politicians, I use easily constructed filters. I have 85 of those filters at last count. The science fiction “press releases” get marked as spam.

Then there are the PR flacks. A few are borderline acceptable. I’m not interested in an interview with the Director of Mining Affairs for Outer Framistan, but I could see where others might be.

Moving further into bottom-feeding territory, there are the search engine optimization (SEO) sharks. The people running these companies are some of the most contemptible in the Internet industry.

One of their annoying techniques is to pretend they’re doing me a favor. Their usual form is offering a "guest post", which strikes me as a strange way to say "unpaid advertisement".

Many of their messages are bot-generated, which does open up some humor possibilities. The blog Popehat often takes on these parasites, and recounts some of the nonsensical results. Here’s a small sample:

I would like to inquire re: your interest in blog post submissions. My associates and I have wide range of experience in many areas. I believe we can offer you web traffic driving articles of interest to your readers, on topics such as PONY , _INSURANCE , and FIRST AMENDMENT OPPONENT. Also of interest may be PONY VICTIM COUNSELING , MENTAL HEALTH , CRAZY FUCK!NG LAWYER, and BRONY PSYCHOLOGY .

These clumsy online marketing efforts typically offer slavish, insincere praise on what a great blog we have. Well, yeah, ours really is. But they don’t know us from a blog about knitting mittens for cats, because the only reason anyone connected with them ever visited the site was to harvest our email addresses.

These link whores also have another annoying characteristic. They usually send a helpful follow up spam message a few days later to make sure I saw their first spam message.

In some respects, that makes them worse than spammers for fake embiggening pills. Those guys rarely send messages that read "I wanted to make sure you got my last message about how much you must need a bigger bobbydangler."

Another SEO ploy is offering to purchase ad space – at rates so low that the time spent on paperwork won’t be recovered until sometime in 2025. The real bottom feeding vermin offer link exchanges: "I’m sure you are eager to link your site, which attracts thousands of page views a day, to my site, which gets five views a week, all from deceptive search results on Google." I completely understand and even appreciate such a request from another political blog, but not from people with the morals of a snapping turtle.

I love political blogging and wish I had more time for it. Dealing with various sorts of spammer is a small price to pay, and good email tools handle a lot of the load.

It does bother me, though, to realize that there is an entire range of people out there, from pompous politicians to media sites like Politico to SEO con artists, who have no compunction whatsoever about wasting the time of anyone they can find to annoy.


Suggested title for a book on the current scandals: “We told you so, you f@(%!ng fools!”

In the book In Denial: Historians, Communism, and Espionage, a great story is told about historian Robert Conquest. He wrote a book in the 1980s about the abuses of Stalinism, and got the usual roasting from Soviet apologists in academia. They accused him of cherry-picking data, failing to see Stalin’s supposed good points – the usual blather of Marxist-friendly social science academics.

After the fall of the Soviet Union, opened archives showed that Conquest not only had it right, but was actually a bit conservative is his assertions. His publisher suggested an updated edition of the book incorporating that information, and asked Conquest if he wanted to change the title.

Conquest responded “How about ‘I told you so, you f*cking fools’”? *

I’m feeling that same impulse after reviewing the cascade of scandals over the last few weeks.** Anyone who wasn’t mesmerized by Obama and actually paying attention already knew that:

1. Benghazi was not just a tragedy. It was one of the most massive screw-ups ever perpetrated by the State Department, and there was clearly a cover-up to keep the rest of us from finding out the what, where, when, how, and why.

2. The IRS was targeting and harassing limited government groups.

3. Fast and Furious was a botched effort to engineer evidence in favor of gun control.

4. Fox News was being targeted by the administration from its earliest days.

Various folks on the right could see all this, yet our supposed smart media pundits at major organizations are still expressing surprise at every new revelation. In other words, we told you so, you f*cking fools. And we were ignored, or even ridiculed as paranoid and obsessive.

I learned a valuable lesson in my first job out of graduate school. The software company I worked for was acquired by a giant corporation. The executives from that giant corporation came down for meetings after the acquisition. After listening to them for a day, I concluded that they were incompetent fools.

But I had some doubt. How could they have reached such a position of authority and still be such fools?

Yet, in the ensuing years, under their leadership, the giant corporation lost tens of millions of dollars running that small software company into the ground. They ended up selling it after five years for about five percent of what they paid for it. So yeah, those guys really were the incompetent fools I thought they were.

I now assume that if I have good reasons to believe something, the assertions of powerful or influential people don’t change my mind. I assume they are simply ignorant, willfully blind, or actively deceptive. This round of scandalous outrages by the Obama administration is just another confirmation of that assumption. If media types and establishment politicians didn’t realize these problems existed before last month, then they are f*cking fools, no matter how high they have risen in the political class.

On the other hand, if they knew the problems existed and did nothing, they are despicable villains and not fit to be in the job they hold. Not in their own eyes, of course. As Robert Conquest found out, to those on the left, even Josef Stalin isn’t really a villain.

* I first saw the anecdote about Conquest in a review of the book in Reason Magazine, Fools for Communism. I got the book, which is a concise, good read. If you want examples of willful blindness by lefties, In Denial is a great source.

** Many writers predicted Obama scandals early in his term. I’m pretty sure they feel the same lack of surprise, even if they don’t express it in such a vulgar way.


Hey, Washington Post. I got yer questions, right here.

I notice via Instapundit that a dying, incurious, partisan, biased newspaper is whining that they should be able to “ask questions” without worrying about being exposed to authoritarian thuggery. Well, sure, but why the whining? They’ve been able to ask any questions they liked since Obama came to prominence, but they’ve asked damn few of them. As Insty puts it:

Want to preserve your ability to ask questions? Try asking questions.

In case the problem isn’t obvious, let me list some questions they should have asked over the last five years:

1. Does Obama share views on what America is really like with his “God damn America!” preacher of twenty years, Jeremiah Wright? Did he really spend twenty years at the church and consider Wright a mentor, yet never hear enough to understand his pastor/mentor’s views?

2. What influence did admitted terrorist Bill Ayers have on Obama? And by the way, exactly why is a terrorist who feels zero remorse qualified to participate in political society? Are you not at least mildly curious about that? Have you tried to get Ayers to explain, or at least quoted his own words in interviews he granted before his association with Obama came to light?

3. Who authorized Fast and Furious? How was Brian Terry’s death handled internally at the Department of Justice?

4. Who authorized the raids on Gibson Guitar? Were they politically motivated? Why wasn’t their main competitor, Martin, investigated? Did Martin commit exactly the same acts, yet get off scot free?

5. Is an admitted tax cheat qualified to be Secretary of the Treasury?

6. How did an avowed Marxist, Van Jones, get control over tens of millions of federal money as a high official in the Obama administration? Who vetted him? Who selected him? Was Obama involved with that decision? Does Obama think it’s acceptable for a Marxist to be a high federal official?

7. What does Obama think about his wife spending more on a single vacation than a typical middle class family makes, gross, in their entire lives? Is she entitled to that kind of treatment? By what virtue? What if Laura Bush had taken multiple such vacations? Would the Post have been any more curious about that?

8. Why is a part-term Senator with no executive experience qualified to be president? Is that risky? Is it more risky than having the governor of a small state as a vice-president?

9. Obama stated “We won”, and apparently reached a deal with Boehner which he then recanted, subsequently demanding further concessions. Does that mean he is responsible for the impasse with Republicans over the debt ceiling, sequester, etc.? Should the Republicans negotiate in good faith with someone who has behaved as Obama has behaved? Would that be wise on their part?

10. Does Obama believe there are any natural limits on the power of government? If so, what are they? What does he think government should never be allowed to do?

11. What happened in Benghazi? What decisions were made, and who made them? Was it a back-room deal gone bad? Did the administration mistakenly give anti-aircraft missiles to al Qaeda and then try to get them back? Why were requests for security turned down? Did the administration cover up significant details simply to delay disclosure until after the election? Does the Post think that is acceptable behavior for a president? What would they say if Bush had done something similar in fall 2004?

12. Where did the stimulus money go? Who got it? What are their ties to Obama? Did the stimulus achieve any portion of its promised economic effect? Why is our economy still mired in low growth and high unemployment, even after giving Obama the stimulus he claimed would fix those problems?

13. Speaking of high unemployment, are the official numbers cooked to make the administration look good? Why had the pool of people no longer seeking employment grown so fast? Is it really just baby boomers retiring? If not, who are the others? Should we develop alternative unemployment rates that take into account people who have dropped out of employment seeking simply because of despair over ever finding a job?

14. Was it appropriate for Obama to comment at all on the Trayvon Martin case? Now that all kinds of exculpatory evidence is surfacing in the case for Zimmerman, has Obama changed his opinion of the case? Is there any reasonable evidence that Zimmerman was motivated by racism?

15. Are White House reporters afraid of asking tough questions directly of Obama? If not, why were so few such questions asked during Obama’s first term?

16. Is is appropriate that Obama does so few press conferences? Does he owe more expansive explanations of his policies to the American people?*

17. What is the complete list of people involved in the IRS targeting of Tea Party organizations? How long did it last? Was there a cover-up to keep the information hidden until after the election? Why? Do bureaucrats in the IRS consider it their job to judge the political implications of their work (which would be the case if they hid the information before the election)? If so, is that consistent with the supposed principles of supposedly non-partisan federal service? Do we need to consider alternative taxation systems just to rid the federal government of this sort of abuse?

18. Are individual tax audits random? What are the inputs to the random process? Are the actual statistics on audits consistent with the presumably random process? If not, who did the interventions that caused the people audited to no longer be random? Was it for partisan purposes?

19. Did the targeting and de facto suppression of Tea Party groups have an impact on the 2012 elections? If so, how big?

20. The Tea Party groups were ignored, and even laughed at, when they claimed the IRS was targeting and abusing them. What would the national media have done if, say, an offshoot of the Southern Poverty Law Center, or Planned Parenthood, had made such claims?

21. You now seem upset that a Fox journalist was named as a “co-conspirator”, apparently to facilitate a fishing expedition to find a leaker in the administration. What about the campaign by the White House to discredit and ostracize Fox News back at the beginning of the Obama administration? Was that proper, or an abuse of power? Do other media outlets consider Fox News a legitimate media organization? Is the claim by the Obama administration that Fox News was biased in favor of the other side imply that the media organizations they like are biased in favor of their side?

22. How do you feel about the editors of your cross-town newspaper being requested by the Obama administration to get rid of a troublesome columnist? Did you know that columnist was subjected to an IRS audit with no obvious cause?

23. Why do areas of the country with high gun ownership tend to have lower violent crime rates? Is the Supreme Court decision regarding gun ownership as an individual right being properly considered and observed by political leaders across the nation? If not, why it is OK for them to flout the Constitution?

24. Did the federal government really order 750,000,000 rounds of ammunition? If so, why? Since it’s way more than would ever be needed for their nominal excuse of “training”, what do they expect to use it for? 

25. How much is the cost of healthcare coverage going up because of Obamacare? Is Obama’s promise that “if you like your coverage you can keep it” being kept? Is the law so complex and contrary to its promises and stated intent that it should be repealed wholesale?

26. Why is college so expensive? Why has it increased in price much, much faster than inflation? Are federal loan programs partially at fault, allowing colleges to raise prices in concert with increased loan availability?

27. What’s the outlook for people in their twenties? Why is their unemployment rate so high? Are they held back from pursuing opportunities because of student loans? Were they encouraged by universities to pursue pointless degrees just to take out those loans, even though the universities knew there would no demand for those skills after college?

28. Are college speech codes a violation of the Constitution? Is the recent attempt by the Obama administration to impose a uniform, highly restrictive and ambiguous speech code a violation of free speech? What is the purpose of those speech codes? Do universities foster diversity of thought, as they claim?

29. Why did so many green energy companies take large federal loans and then go bankrupt? What were the political connections of the owners of those companies with anyone in the federal government? Who made the decisions to award those loans, and what criteria were involved in the decisions?

These are just off the top of my head. I could do more with some research. This is enough to show that the Washington Post and the rest of the national media have been failing to ask obvious questions for years.**

No doubt some of these subjects received cursory coverage, but it’s clear that the Post and most of their national media colleagues were not interested in detailed answers to any of these questions. There hasn’t been anywhere near the effort put in that the New York Times, for example, invested in an unfounded smear on John McCain in 2008.*** Only when the Obama administration started clearly abusing the press using the power of the legal system, and they could hypothetically see themselves on the other end of the abuse, do they final develop a shred of curiosity about anything that might reflect badly on Obama or the Democratic left.

Why didn’t they ask all those other questions? Because they were afraid of the answers they would get.

Honest answers to these questions would challenge a host of mistaken assumptions these popinjays in the media carry around with them. They might discover that authoritarianism and leftism go hand in glove. They might start wondering about Obama’s competence. They might find out that their political opponents (and make no mistake, they chose the leftist side in the political battle long ago) are not ignorant racist Southern white males, and have a point about the dangers of big government. They might find out that people like Jesse Jackson and Barack Obama are the main causes of racial tensions rather than those supposedly racist white males.

They might notice that the parts of the country where minorities suffer the worst are all governed by liberal Democrats and have been for decades. They might realize that it’s not accidental that the educational systems in those areas are all miserably bad. They might question whether public sector unions actually have the well-being of the public in mind.

They might discover that leftism isn’t sustainable, that our debt mountain will inevitably collapse, and that the country is headed for a financial meltdown that will likely lead to civil violence.

Finally, they might notice that they had been played for chumps and useful idiots by the Obama administration since the first time he got in front of them.

But they won’t. They will be like the academics that defended the Soviet Union and Marxism right up until 1991, and afterwards never apologized nor admitted that they had it wrong for decades. Some of them are still Marxists, in fact, and will go to their graves convinced that Communism is fine when run by the right people.

Just like the journalists and editors at the Washington Post, New York Times, Boston Globe, et. al. long ago convinced themselves that their mission was to “make a difference” and “change the world” by promoting the tenets of leftist collectivism, and will go to their graves blaming something else, anything else, for the failure of that philosophy.

* For the record, I don’t think a president, of any party, owes the media anything. A president may go to the press when he thinks it helps him govern, and ignore them when they are an impediment. But I doubt that the preening members of the national press agree with me.

** Some of these areas might very well wind up being no big deal. I find it highly unlikely that all of them would turn out so. We certainly can’t find out without some investigative journalism, and the current crop of stenographers in the media seems unwilling or unable to do it.

*** I don’t even like John McCain, and refused to vote for him, but I can recognize a smear when I see one.


It’s easy to be smug when you think you’re smart and virtuous. Exhibit A: Lois Lerner

Over at Cold Fury, Mike is discussing the spectacle of Lois Lerner taking the 5th before Congress. He observedquoted DrewM at Ace of Spades:

What a smug SOB she is. She sat there like she’d done nothing wrong and was above it all.

That is not due to any intended deception on her part. She believes that she did nothing wrong, all the way to her core of her being.

First, as Heinlein said, no one is a villain in their own eyes. They always manage to rationalize why their immoral or unethical actions were actually just peachy if everyone knew the whole story about them.

But it goes beyond that with today’s leftists. They are steeped in post-modern philosophy, so steeped in fact that they can’t even think outside the patterns imposed by that philosophy. There are axioms that they believe cannot be violated, and that reality can never falsify.

One axiom is that leftists are wise, beneficent people who are eminently qualified to boss everyone else around by virtue of their superior intellect and good intentions. The direct corollary to this axiom is that any time they fail in the real world, the fault must be ascribed to someone not on the left.

Reality doesn’t matter here. Any non-left group will do as the scapegoat, even squishy establishment Republicans. Any excuse (non-doctored "doctored" emails, non-hacked "hacked" Twitter accounts) will do.

That leads to another axiom: anyone who opposes the left deserves whatever the left can inflict on them. Anyone opposing the left has shown by that very fact that they are morally deficient, have bad intentions, and are possibly less than human.

So it’s not wrong to discriminate against them, violate the law to deny them access to the political process, throw them in jail for non-existent or flimsy reasons (such as carrying a perfectly legal gun in the trunk of their car), tax them until their ears bleed, seize their property because someone else happened to be parked there with a joint, seize their property because they changed the course of a creek that only runs once every three years, throw them out of college for inoffensive remarks that accidentally offend another hyper-sensitive leftist, take their children away from them for indoctrination by the state, and prohibit them from doing a thousand things that used to be perfectly legal and have no demonstrated harm or ill effects.

In fact, it’s not simply that it’s not wrong to do those things. It’s virtuous to do such things to those who oppose the left. Lois Lerner can sit there and be smug in the face of Republican questions because she’s positive in her heart and soul that she was doing good to impede and harass the Tea Party organizations. It was a virtuous act, as far as she is concerned, and she does not feel the least shame or guilt over it.

It’s an inconvenience that she and the rest of the oppressive leftists who love government got caught, of course.  They have to manufacture narrative, dance around those bumbling Republicans who have to put up a show for the people back home, and, perhaps worst of all, they’ll have to suspend their oppression of their political enemies during a short cosmetic period before they get back to business.

But never, ever expect today’s left to show remorse for any act they undertake, no matter how illegal, immoral, or unethical it might be. For them, whatever behavior benefits the left is, by definition, virtuous. 

*** Update 11:40 CST ***

The very next article I read is an excellent example of one of the points above. Kirsten Powers in USA Today is doing her best to defend the indefensible.

A synopsis of her article is:

“These scandals can’t possibly be blamed on liberalism because liberals are good, virtuous people. Therefore the Republicans who are claiming these scandals indicate flaws in big government are unfairly twisting the truth for political advantage. Big government is clearly wonderful when run by virtuous liberals.”

Notice how this dovetails into the idea that the left is never at fault when things go wrong, and thus a scapegoat must be found. It was big-government advocates who put the tax system in place, appointed people with the willingness to suppress opposing viewpoints with the power of the IRS, and covered up those actions as long as possible. Nevertheless, the real villain in the investigation is small government advocates!

She dismisses those who actually did the political oppression as aberrations and peripheral to the entire debate. But those who indict big government using the very actions of big government are somehow bad actors.

There’s no debating people who will simply deny the facts sitting on the table because their worldview does not permit them to think liberalism/leftism has any flaws.

Look, I know the flaws of free market economics. Some abuses will occur, usually transient and corrected in the long term by the market, but real for a time. I know allowing radical freedom means some people will make bad choices.

I don’t claim limited government is without flaw, nor that everyone on the right is a saint. But history and our internal desire for freedom tell us that limited government is the best system we can get.

At least it has feedback built in to correct flaws. Perhaps the biggest indictment of today’s leftism is demonstrated by Kirsten’s column: she and her ilk are incapable of taking feedback on the flaws of the political system she prefers. All she can do is blame problems on the other side, and keep maintaining against all evidence that her side does not have the flaws that it so evidently does have.

*** Update 15:00 CST ***

Looks like Congressman Issa wasn’t any more impressed with Lerner’s smug “I’m so, so innocent” performance than the rest of us. He’s hauling her back and telling her that her opening statement claiming innocence means she waived 5th Amendment rights. (Via Drudge)


Top ten newspapers and their circulation–a six month update

Six months ago, I did some numbers and commentary on declining newspaper circulation.* By chance, I noticed a couple of web articles that give some more current numbers, so I decided to revisit the older article and see how things are proceeding.**

Here is a table I created with print numbers from 2004, mid 2012, and late 2012-early 2013 for the current (2013) top ten newspapers. The current top ten list is taken from an AP article on Huffington Post, and is ranked by their current circulation.

 

Newspaper

2004

2012

Early 2013

6 mo +/-%

Total +/-% since 2004

WSJ

2101017

1499204

1480725

-1.23

-29.52

USA Today

2192098

1627526

1424406

-12.48

-35.02

NYT

1119027

717513

731395

1.9

-34.64

LA Times

983727

489792

476148

-2.79

-51.60

Wash Post

760034

434693

432454

-0.52

-43.10

Chicago Sun-Times

453757

361523

392889

8.68

-13.41

Chicago Tribune

603315

388848

368145

-5.32

-38.98

NY Daily News

712671

389270

360459

-7.40

-49.42

NY Post

642844

344755

299950

-13.00

-53.34

Denver Post

340169

236223

223871

-5.23

-34.19

 

Back in November, I said

USA Today looks vulnerable to me, because it looks like the easiest national newspaper to replace with a web-based aggregation app. They do very little original reporting except for the sports section. They have not yet ramped up a decent web presence, and it’s pretty late in that game.

In the latest numbers, USA Today’s print circulation is down a staggering 12% in just six months. I’d like to say I was prescient, but that’s so much, I suspect that the data isn’t comparable. I suppose it could be correct, especially if they lost a major hotel chain or two as a distribution channel. It does seem indisputable that they they are on a long term trend of losing circulation fairly rapidly.

It appears that USA Today did ramp up their web presence somewhat. The reported number of “web subscribers” went from about 86,000 to 250,000. I suspect they’ve started counting the numbers differently; that much increase out of the blue, with no special reason for more eyes on their site, looks unlikely. Since they have no paid web subscribers, it almost doesn’t matter anyway because the revenue from web advertising isn’t going to support their current business model. (The uncertainty about web numbers is one of the reasons I think the methodology might have changed enough to make the print comparisons suspect.)

I also noted circulation alarms for the Washington Post last time:

The Washington Post looks vulnerable too. It also has limited web presence, and print circulation is down a staggering 40%+ in eight years.

The six month circulation change isn’t too bad for them, but Ed Driscoll noted yesterday that their financials have taken a big hit in that time period. Their earnings are down 85%. 

There are a couple of reasons I don’t pay much attention to the web numbers. First, it’s hard to compare the numbers or get any idea of trends without details on their methodology for counting “subscribers”. For example, they could take the count of people who have gone through a silly registration process where they ask for an email. Someone might register that way for one article and never come back. Or it might be based on visits, but there are lots of ways to fudge those, depending on how you count and define things.

Second, I’m guessing they are using a methodology that’s favorable to their numbers, and they still lag. For example, the largest reported number of web subscribers by any of the majors is about half of what the Drudge Report gets in unique daily visits. Drudge’s monthly unique visits would make that ratio fifteen to one instead of two to one. I mentioned last time that Huffington Post has passed NYT in daily visits.

The overall story means steadily decreasing revenues for everyone except possibly the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times, and I wouldn’t be too sure about the Times. Occasionally a regional paper will have a good run and make up some ground, as the Chicago Sun-Times has done recently (passing the Tribune on circulation in fact), and I called out the San Jose Mercury News for impressive growth in the last post. But those cases are rare, and don’t seem to be long lasting effects.

Way less money to spend is convenient in some respects, though. It’s easy for an editor to rationalize ignoring a complex story such as Benghazi. Unconsciously, he may not want to cover it because of the danger to his precious historic president, but he can tell himself he just doesn’t have the resources.

One of the messages the right needs to communicate and make part of the popular understanding is how declining revenues have constrained the reporting at major newspapers. That would be one way to explain to people, without getting partisan about it, that those newspapers shouldn’t be regarded with the authority most everyone gave them thirty years ago.

 

* The Washington Post link in that blog post, showing 2012 circulation figures, is dead now. It was apparently based on an AP story, and got removed after a while. I found the original AP story on Yahoo, with all the numbers from the original cite. It’s here.

** I should repeat the same caveat as last time: I am looking primarily at print circulation declines, and so I have to do some arithmetic because the newer numbers combine web and print. Those numbers also give the web number, so I subtract to get the presumed print circulation. It’s possible that I’m misunderstanding what the web numbers mean. Some of the “web subscribers” might also receive a print edition. In that case, the print numbers would be higher. But since I think the industry would want those numbers to look as high as possible, I don’t think they’re defining things that way.


For our readers in software development–a new technology called the agilo-modulizer

Today seems like a perfect day to tell you about some new technology I’ve been involved with for software development. Here’s a ninety second video with a high level description, made by the video training company that I did a course with last year:

 

I know some of our regular commenters, particularly looker, will be interested in this technology.


If we had just bought what the establishment GOP was selling, they would have thrown in undercoating for free

I don’t visit The Corner at National Review as often as I used to. Their pop-behind ads annoy me too much. But with good stuff from Jonah Goldberg, Mark Steyn, Andrew McCarthy, and a few others of that ilk, I still go by from time to time, despite the ads.

Almost as annoying as the ads are the Gentry GOP types who are constantly providing cover for establishment Republicans. Ramesh Ponnuru leads that crew. Ponnuru had a post yesterday, with a follow-on today, that both serve as a fine illustrations.

Both are about the intricate strategerizing (as another establishment Republican might put it) around the so-called fiscal cliff. I tried to understand what he was getting at. I really did. But it all just came out as complicated blather to promote some kind of go-along-get-along viewpoint. I never did understand his argument. I’m pretty sure that he wants the Republicans who blocked the last deal to get with the program and support the establishment cohort led by Boehner, but even after reading his posts through twice I still don’t get *why*.

He ends the first piece with this paragraph:

That some Republicans are willing to see higher taxes for the sake of anti-tax purity is topsy-turvy enough. Adding to the vertigo: The Republicans (inside and outside the House) who fret about blurring the party’s definition are the ones who are doing most to blur it. They are the ones who are, in most cases, accusing Republican leaders of seeking to raise taxes when they are actually trying to cut taxes as much as they think possible—cut them, that is, from the levels the law already has in place for 2013. They’re the ones who are accusing most House Republicans of  “caving” to the Democrats, even as some of them prefer that the Democrats get their way entirely. That’s where the convoluted politics of this moment have led us.

This word salad sounds like an old Dilbert cartoon to me. In it, Dilbert is asked to sign a document stating "Employee election to not rescind the opposite action of declining the reverse inclination to not discontinue employment with the company."

The Gentry GOP’s equivalent seems to be "Voting for the bill to raise taxes in order to not raise taxes while electing to stand firm on not doing anything on spending while ensuring the previous action of claiming to reduce spending." Or something like that. I’m not really sure.

On stuff like this, I am a firm believer in the Asimov principle. In an introduction to one of his books, he said (approximately) "When I read something I don’t understand, I don’t assume I’m stupid." There are plenty of reasons for something to be incomprehensible that don’t have anything to do with me:

- The author might not know what he’s talking about

- The author might be a very bad communicator, and so just can’t explain himself very well

- As in the Dilbert example, the author might be trying to obfuscate the issue

For the entire discussion over the fiscal cliff, from Democrats, the media, or establishment Republicans, I’m going with the last explanation. It’s pretty clear at this point that the whole thing simply does not matter that much in the long term. No proposal being taken seriously will do anything to alter our long term trajectory. So the entire episode is just for political maneuvering.

That’s the part Ponnuru doesn’t seem to get, or at least he doesn’t assign any real weight to it. He doesn’t understand why twenty or so Republicans just won’t go along with the gag.

I get it completely. They have the intuition that they are being gamed.

Analyzing the details doesn’t help, because those details are intentionally confusing, and leave entirely too much room for statists to make things come out the way they want later.

If you’ve ever been subjected to the car salesmen who insists that this wonderful deal he’s offering you won’t be good tomorrow, you know the dynamic here. Those in the GOP who won’t go along with the game sense that the ruling class is using the same technique, with the fiscal cliff deadline as the nominal justification.

In general, I’m sick of any argument by an establishment GOP type that it’s necessary to do X to avoid being blamed for Y. Much of this fiscal cliff discussion seems to be in that vein. I’m sick of it because it pre-supposes that there is a path where the GOP won’t be blamed for the bad things that happen. That’s ridiculous.


Where will newspaper circulation and influence be in 2016?

Given the pathetic performance of our media during the Benghazi tragedy/debacle, I’ve been wondering just what will happen to the media before the next election after this one. I decided to look at where they were a couple of cycles ago, to get some historical perspective. I thought QandO readers might be interested in the results and my own speculations.

I had seen this article in the Washington Post a few days ago, giving circulation of the top 25 newspapers. I found another source showing circulation of the top 100 newspapers in 2004. So I fired up Excel and entered the top 15 from 2004 to see where they are now, and also noted the new members of the top 15 that were not there in 2004.

One adjustment was called for. I restricted the comparison to print copies. I’m assuming the 2004 figures were only print copies, or that web “copies” were insignificant. However, the Post reported circulation for 2012 with print and web combined, though they did note the web number. So the spreadsheet subtracted web circulation from total circulation to get print circulation.

Here are the results, with percentage increase or decrease in print circulation calculated. Almost all “decrease”, as you shall see.

 

Newspaper

Gross 2012

Web 2012

Net Print 2012

2004

%+- for 2012

USA Today

1713833

86307

1627526

2192098

-25.7549

WSJ

2293798

794594

1499204

2101017

-28.6439

NYT

1613865

896352

717513

1119027

-35.8806

LA Times

641369

151577

489792

983727

-50.2106

Wash Post

462228

27535

434693

760034

-42.8061

NY Daily News

535875

146605

389270

712671

-45.3787

NY Post

522868

178113

344755

642844

-46.3703

Chicago Tribune

411960

23112

388848

603315

-35.5481

Newsday

392989

114620

278369

553117

-49.6727

Houston Chronicle

325814

91331

234483

549300

-57.3124

Dallas Morning News

410130

64788

345342

528379

-34.6412

SF Chronicle*

229176

0

229176

499008

-54.0737

Arizona Republic

275622

839

274783

466926

-41.1506

Chicago Sun-Times

432455

70932

361523

453757

-20.3267

Boston Globe

230351

49432

180919

446241

-59.4571

     

 

New in top 15:

   

 

Denver Post

412669

176446

236223

340169

-30.5572

Tampa Bay Times

313003

13610

299393

348502

-14.0915

San Jose Mercury News

529999

43318

486681

279539

74.10129

* SF Chronicle dropped out of the top 25, so circulation was obtained from another web source.

This table isn’t really fair to newspapers that are making decent money through their web versions, but from what I can tell, that group has one member among the majors: the Wall Street Journal. NYT is the other major with a decent paid web subscription, but they won’t talk about their web financials anywhere I can find, which tells me the web is probably losing money for them.

WSJ and NYT also share the distinction that, if you include their web numbers, circulation has gone up instead of down. However, I found out that the Times has stalled in their monthly unique visitors. They were passed last year by the Huffington Post. So while the web has helped stem the decline in NYT readership, it won’t continue to do so unless they can get their web numbers increasing again.

I can’t find a reliable source that tells how much the other top newspapers really make through the web, either in circulation fees or in advertising, but I’m guessing it is a small fraction of what they made on the equivalent “circulation” in print in 2004.

So, just looking at print, and assuming revenue from the web is way less than revenue from equivalent print subscriptions, these guys are hurting. There is only one legitimate success story in the bunch: the San Jose Mercury News. Everyone else had gone down, with several losing over half their circulation in just eight years. The Tampa Bay Times managed to break in the top fifteen by merely losing fewer readers than any 2004 top 15 member.

Even among the ones towards the top, the signs of their distress are clear. I see USA Today when I’m on the road because many hotels give it away free. I rather doubt that this is a high-profit distribution for USA Today, and I’ve watched the daily edition get steadily thinner and thinner in the last few years. I don’t have actual numbers, but I think it’s at least one-third smaller than it was eight years ago. If they didn’t have one of the most comprehensive sports sections in the country, I think they would be even worse off.

The legacy press is driving on fumes. Over and above their shattered credibility, or in some respects because of it, their economic model is stressed to the breaking point.

So where will they be in 2016? I think the NYT and WSJ will tread water, the WSJ because they have a reasonably viable economic model and have not totally squandered their credibility, and the NYT because the left simply won’t let them sink.

The others, though, have a more chancy outlook. USA Today looks vulnerable to me, because it looks like the easiest national newspaper to replace with a web-based aggregation app. They do very little original reporting except for the sports section. They have not yet ramped up a decent web presence, and it’s pretty late in that game. I’ve noticed that fewer hotels have it than I used to see. I was in two hotels in Pittsburgh a couple of weeks ago, and neither of them had it.

The Washington Post looks vulnerable too. It also has limited web presence, and print circulation is down a staggering 40%+ in eight years. With their concentration on politics, the operating model of the Post requires a certain level of spending to maintain. If they drop much further, they simply might not be able to be viable on the newspaper side. I suppose they can cross-subsidize from their other divisions such as Kaplan, but that doesn’t seem like a stable long-term strategy to me.

The problems get worse for any newspaper that isn’t explicitly national. The local papers’ major advertising revenue sources generally include department stores, movies, and automobiles. All of those are threatened by the web. It never enters the mind of a twenty something to buy a newspaper to find movie listings, and Amazon is killing department stores all over the country. Craigslist is wiping out local newspaper classifieds, and Monster.com and it’s relatives are wiping out the Help Wanted sections. 

I think the legacy press will remain a force through the 2016 election. They still have some reserves to draw on, at least economically. But their reserves of credibility are diminished more than their circulation numbers, so the influence will be considerably diminished.  

After that, I don’t know. For all I know, news in 2020 may be delivered primarily via Facebook, with your friends “Like” preferences driving what you are offered. Or Apple might so something to leverage the iPad 7. No doubt Google will try something, and their strength with advertisers might be their hole card. None of those answer the question, though, of where the content will come from.

Getting away from traditional papers for content might require some kind of crowd-sourced solution. AP or Reuters would be obvious candidates to try that, but I don’t think either one has the web savvy or the cultural savvy to succeed.

I think the Cheezburger network has as much chance of success at crowd-sourced news as AP or Reuters. As awful as that sounds, though, I’m not sure it’s worse than depending on the New York Times.