Questions and Observations

Free Markets, Free People

Out with the old, in with the new

Print and broadcast journalists aren’t at all happy with the direction of or future of journalism according to a Pew poll. The decline stated with the internet boom and hasn’t let up.  Most print and broadcast editors think that without a new revenue stream (traditional advertising isn’t what it used to be by any stretch of the imagination) their employer will go out of business 5 to 10 years.

Almost all of them blame the internet for their problems. For instance:

In an era of shrinking newsrooms, 58 percent of the editors said journalism was headed in the wrong direction. Sixty-two percent said the Internet had changed the profession’s fundamental values, with most citing a loosening of standards.

Someone – anyone – how did the internet make them “loosen” their “standards”?  Note the word used is “make”, not “cause”.  “Make” has a completely different connotation than does “cause”.  And yes, I’m in the weeds on semantics, but it is important.  If, in fact, those 62% actually said (or believe) “the internet made me do it”, then you have found the reason “journalism”, as we know it today, is in decline and it has nothing to do with the internet whatsoever.

Remember the “three layers of editors” comment years ago that was thrown out there as a reason journalists were better than the pajama-clad blogging hoards?  Remember how that’s been thrown back in the face of the MSM countless times since?

The editors complain about being unable to find a way to charge their on-line readers as one of their problems.  Of course, the unknown there is whether present on-line readers deem their free stuff worth paying for.  My sneaking suspicion is they know they don’t.  There’s nothing particularly unique to be had on their site (exceptions being newspapers focused on local communities) that can’t be found for free elsewhere.  That’s the real dilemma – what can they offer that is unique and sought after in terms of information, that the public is willing to pay to access?

To this day, most have said “not much”.

So what are we seeing here?  We’re seeing the buggy whip industry go out of business.  We’re seeing the creative destruction for which capitalism is so famous.  News is beginning to be delivered in a way that has fundamentally changed that industry.  What used to be the exclusive realm of the news providers (with source subscriptions which were prohibitively high for most independent subscribers) has now found its way into the realm of news consumers.   I can read AP just as well on the net as I can in a newspaper.  There is no reason for me to subscribe to the paper to read what I can on-line.  So the local paper is no longer my first choice to read the news AP provides.

This is no different than what cable news has done to network news.  For decades, TV news was delivered by appointment.  That is, you had to make time at 6pm or so to sit down and watch was presented or you’d miss out on what was happening in the news.   Along comes CNN and appointment news is dead.  Now, when you’re ready, you can sit down and catch up on what’s happening in the world.  The appointment TV business model was essentially dead (although it still doesn’t seem to know that, even as its rating numbers seem to confirm it).

But even with cable TV, we were only apprised of what they deemed newsworthy.  If they chose not to run it, it wasn’t news.  Along comes the internet, and that breaks up their journalistic monopoly of steering the news agenda.  Now, as we’ve seen a number of times, stories the media buries are surfaced and given visibility that eventually forces those known as the MSM to pay attention and cover them.  That screws with both their agenda and their credibility.

As for opinion journalism, the net has also broken that monopoly up as well.  There are literally millions of opinions available now with the democratization of publishing the net offers through blogs.  And as many have found, you don’t have to be a journo grad to write well or have a worthwhile opinion.  So now, instead of having a limited number of opinions available, we have more than we could ever read.

So while the old media laments its decline and most likely it’s eventual demise, let’s remember there’s a new media out there in the midst of founding and forming itself.  Some smart person will eventually put the business model together that works and makes a good profit.  This isn’t about the news media going silent, that will never happen.  It is about the break up of virtual monopolies of news delivery because of technology.  When the old media enjoyed those semi-monopolies (they were really very high bars to entry into the market) what they delivered was worth the money they charged.  Now, because the same thing can be found for free thanks to technology, their product doesn’t have the same worth and is losing its subscriber base.

I’m reminded of the Gutenberg bible.  Ironically it’s a legend in the printing industry because through the invention of the printing press, which enabled the printing of hundreds of copies of the bible, the monopoly of the clergy as the sole possessors of “the word” was broken – as was their power as the sole interpreters.

This is exactly the same process in action now.  The MSM needs to realize that the “old days” are dead and are never coming back – ever.  And they had better realize that instead of  thinking of themselves as a news broadcast or a newspaper, they need to understand that they have to be in the business of providing news that is unique and valuable (valuable enough consumers will pay for it) or they’ll go the way of those buggy whip companies I mentioned earlier.

~McQ

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Our politically correct Orwellian national security

First they eliminated the fight against global terrorism and reduced it to collection of “overseas contingency operations”. Terror events are now called “man-made disasters”. We’re no longer confronted with “Islamic extremism”. How do I know this? Because it has been dropped from use as acceptably describing our enemy in the National Security Strategy . So has “jihad” and “Islamic extremism”. We now, apparently, confront “violent extremism”. I would appear that it can just pop up anywhere without any real basis for its being.

Mona Charen reports that the decision has been made to no longer describe rogue nation North Korea as a rogue nation. I have to tell you, if NoKo is a “rogue” nation, there are no rogue nations. NoKo has been a rogue nation since it became a nation. It is a tyrannical kleptocracy – a pirate state – but not “rogue”. Apparently that’s a bit to harsh. And we certainly don’t want to refer to Iran as that.

God forbid we actually call our enemies of the world that which they really are.  That might put them on notice that we’re on to their game and aren’t happy about it.

And there’s really no level to which this foolishness isn’t being extended. Heck even the GITMO inmates apparently need a name change:

The detainees in Guantanamo, too, have had a name change. They will no longer be called “enemy combatants.” The new name hasn’t been chosen yet, though cynics might just use “former clients of Obama Justice Department lawyers.”

Yes political correctness gone mad, but look where it is being applied. At the executive level of the government of the United States. Euphemisms that ignore the specific problem or nation in favor of non-discriminatory (everyone can be a latent “violent extremist” so we don’t have to specifically single out those who are) word salad.

Bottom line: We are fighting Islamic fundamentalist extremists who have had a jihad against us for decades. They are stateless terrorists. They get some of their support from rogue nations.

Why in the world is it so hard to say it like that? Or better yet, what’s the utility in ignoring it?  Why are the specifics of the truth deemed too offensive or antagonistic to state? And what purpose is served by ignoring those specifics in favor of broad categorical words that do very little to define the problem we actually confront?

And, finally, if those words are out of bounds, how does one put a specific strategy together to confront the real security problem facing us vs. some nebulous and useless piece of bureaucratic crap with this “approved” language which ends up doing a one-over-the-world hand-wave and calling itself our “strategy”?

~McQ

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Observations: The Qando Podcast for 11 Apr 10

In this podcast, Bruce, Michael and Dale discuss the state of the economy, and the Obama  Administration’s childlike foreign policy. The direct link to the podcast can be found here.

Observations

The intro and outro music is Vena Cava by 50 Foot Wave, and is available for free download here.

As a reminder, if you are an iTunes user, don’t forget to subscribe to the QandO podcast, Observations, through iTunes. For those of you who don’t have iTunes, you can subscribe at Podcast Alley. And, of course, for you newsreader subscriber types, our podcast RSS Feed is here. For podcasts from 2005 to 2009, they can be accessed through the RSS Archive Feed.

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BlogTalk Radio – 8pm (EST) Tonight

Call in number: (718) 664-9614

Yes, friends, it is a call-in show, so do call in.

Subject(s):

Unemployment – Will it improve or are we looking a a permanent loss of some jobs?

Nuclear treaty – Good for the US or a give-away

Israel – What’s up with our relationship there?

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Things to think about on a beautiful Sunday

So, after jamming the health care reform legislation through Congress, Democrats begin to turn a wary eye toward November and the mid-term elections.

A good portion of them have deluded themselves into thinking Bill Clinton was right – that after they passed the legislation all the furor would subside and Americans would accept the new legislation – even embrace it.   The term “Judas goat” comes to mind.  And I think for those who bought into that nonsense, they realize they’ve certainly been led into the electoral slaughter pen. The Obama post law-signing sales tour has been anything but successful in changing the public’s perception of the law.  And it certainly hasn’t cooled the anger about its passage.

Some Democrats are giving up to “spend more time with their families” as has Bart Stupak.  They see the writing on the wall and don’t like what they’re reading.  Others are gearing up for a fight that many experts are sure they’ll lose.   Of course there are those on the left who’re sure the tide will turn.  James Carvelle recently said the GOP “peaked too soon”.  I don’t think so.

However, what are the Democrats going to do to reverse this trend that sees them losing big in November.  Well, the word was they were going to do energy next.   And that energy would contain a utility tax being called “cap-and trade lite”.  Frankly I don’t see them trying to introduce any new tax before November unless they’re just a lot less intelligent than they should be.

But they have to do something to take the public’s mind of HCR and do something positive for their chances in November.  I was thinking about that when this headline caught my attention – “Hispanic loyalty to Democrats wanes” with the sub – “Inaction on immigration reform has key voting bloc less enthused about election.” Ah ha! Why is this potentially the issue that will be most important to Dems prior to November – because of the nature of the election.

“The number of Latinos who say they are enthusiastic about midterm elections is the lowest we’ve ever seen,” said Barreto, whose firm polls extensively among Hispanics. In 2006, 77 percent of Hispanics were excited about voting. In a recent poll, however, just 49 percent were excited.

As Barreto noted, midterm elections usually feature lower turnout, which means victory hinges on energizing the party’s core supporters rather than persuading swing voters.

So Barreto is asserting that Hispanics are inclined to vote Democratic and unlike the 2006 mid-terms, have much less interest in voting in this mid-term because, well, see the headline.

Conclusion – look for a flurry of activity addressing “comprehensive immigration reform” in an attempt to energize the hispanic vote prior to November and, I’d guess, try to lure some independents back as well. Whether they get anything done or not is probably not as important right now, in the short time span involved, than appearing to make the effort. Whether that will be enough to save them remains to be seen.

But if it doesn’t – then what? What would a lame duck Democratic majority Congress attempt from November to January. My guess, and that’s all it is, with nothing to lose, they’d go for broke and try to ram as much of their agenda through as possible. And that means they’ll be working on a comprehensive energy bill, to include cap-and-tax, and possibly a VAT tax, and be prepared to introduce them the day following the mid-terms. Success might not be easy, but if Nancy Pelosi knows she’s losing her speakership and Harry Reid finds himself out of a job – anything is possible.

~McQ

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Homes for our troops

I’m in DC finishing up the Milblog conference – which was very good by the way.  Blackfive won a Milbloggie and I got to meet a heck of a lot of good people.  One was John S. Gonsalves.  He’s president and founder of Homes for our troops (www.homesforourtroops.org).  He builds homes for our military members who’ve been severely disabled by war injuries.   They’re hi-tech (voice command activation, automatically opening doors, etc – when needed) that allow the injured solder to  have a much more normal life in a house built to specification that fit the requirements of his or her new needs.  He builds them all over the country and is always looking for volunteers in construction, plumbing, electricians, etc.  If you’re so inclined, get a hold of John and volunteer your services.  Hit his website and contact him or if you prefer, drop me a line and I’ll give you his contact info.  If you’re not much of a carpenter or electrician, but want to help, they are always in need of donations.   Last night, John’s organization was given a $3,500 at the Milblog Conference dinner.  Seriously, I’m very impressed with what they do and he and his organization fill a crying need.

~McQ

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Possible SCOTUS picks

Daniel Foster at NRO lays out what most people feel are the most probable picks by President Obama for the upcoming vacancies on the Supreme Court:

Merrick Garland –  a former federal prosecutor and current D.C. Circuit appeals judge. A Clinton appointee, Garland is well-liked by Democrats and even some Republicans in the Senate.

Elena Kagan – The first-female Solicitor General and probably first-runner-up for the Sotomayor seat, Kagan has a record of the kind of cagey jurisprudence that is ideal for a tough confirmation battle. She is well-respected by just about everybody on both sides, but lacks the paper trail that would reveal just how far to the left she’d sit.

Diane Wood – Another Clinton appointee, considered the heaviest liberal counterweight to the conservative Chicago Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals dominated by Richard A. Posner. Wood was a colleague of President Obama at the University of Chicago Law School.

Pamela Karlan – A professor at Stanford Law School, Karlan is a longshot once was described by the New York Times as a “snarky. . . Antonin Scalia for the left.” Karlan is openly gay, and an outspoken liberal.

As Foster says, Pamela Karlan is probably the least likely of the 4 listed to be nominated, but still a possibility.  Since it is a liberal seat that’s being filled, the current balance won’t change.  From what I’ve read, the least liberal of the bunch is Garland, and, as Foster implies, is the one with the most reasonable chance of confirmation of the four.  If he’s the nominee, I’d imagine that the GOP won’t put up that much of a fight.  If, however, any of the other three should be nominated, expect a fight.  Also expect the usual charges of sexism to be thrown out there during that fight.

~McQ

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The Internet: Still Not Getting It

It’s been an interesting week for me, because I’ve run into three situations that illustrate to me that, even though the Internet has been around since 1995, and has been hugely important to business–and politics, of course–since 2000, it’s clear that many people are still unclear about it.  Ive been a web developer since ’96, and have been the Managing Principal of WebmasterDeveloper.Com since 2003.  There was a time when I just assumed that no one knew anything about the Internet, and that sort of attitude among customers was defensible. In 2010, however, those days should be long gone.

But that attitude is still out there, and I’ve been hit over the head with it repeatedly this week.

Client 1:

This client created an affiliate marketing web site, aimed at a group of customers to which they have direct access through their other lines of business.  They spent months crafting the web site to provide the best affiliate programs they can think of.  After going live with their web site a few weeks ago, they’ve had 1 sale, and about 40 affiliate click-throughs.  They were shocked that their direct marketing of the site to existing customers has had such a dismal response.  In the course of conversation with the client, I asked, “Did you ever do any surveys of your customers to see what kind of offers would have value to them?  The answer:  No.  We didn’t want to spend a bunch of startup capital doing that.

They’ve spent thousands of dollars building a web site without any knowledge about what their customers want.  They’ve never talked to their customers; never gotten any idea of what their customers need, and how to fulfill that need.  They’ve spent every penny on building a web site to fulfill a need they haven’t even defined with their customers.  And now, since the customers aren’t responding, they’re concerned that there may be some sort of technical problem.

Client 2:

“I haven’t been getting any orders from my web site.  Apparently, the web host shut my site down for non-payment, but I don’t remember getting any notifications that there was a problem with my credit card. Anyway, can you see what I owe, so I can pay them, and you guys can download my site and transfer it to another web host?”  As it happens, the web host not only sent out email notifications, but made phone calls to try and collect payment, with no response.  In May of 2009.  Of course, their web site files are loooong gone.

So, the client clearly hasn’t even looked at his own web site for at least 10 months.

Client 3:

This client is completely changing their web site to become the single point of contact with their customer base.  Their customers will have to pay an annual fee just to see the products they sell, then use the web site to submit initial bids for salvage auctions.  I informed the client via email that we needed content from them.  I received an angry phone call from the client, who screamed at me, “I just want to concentrate on my business, which is [widget salvage]!  I don’t want to spend all my time doing web design!  That’s what I pay you for!”

In other words, the client wants to make the web site his sole source of initial interaction with his customers, but he is uninterested in writing any content for it.  His web site will be the primary public access that customers have to his company, but working on the web site is a distraction from his real business.

And the real kicker is, on the day we finished the initial programming, he drops the bombshell that the site’s design–which he approved on January 27–is completely unacceptable, and he wants to completely redesign the site.  This is akin to approving the blueprints for a home construction project, then kiting in on the day the contractor finishes laying the last bits of carpet and exclaiming, “I wanted four bedrooms, not three!”


All of these clients, despite their differing details, have one glaring thing in common:  It’s the assumption that once something goes out onto the Internet, it works because pixies sprinkle magical fairy dust on it.  Tinkerbell waves her wand, sparkly bits fly through the air, and money just comes rolling in to your bank account.

In the real world, the Internet operates on the same principles any brick and mortar business does.  You still have to perform due diligence.  You still need to market to your customers.  You still need to go into the office–even if it’s a virtual one.

Nothing magical happens simply because people can access your business online, rather than jumping in the car and driving to it.

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Democrats: How do we game CBO so VAT doesn’t look so bad?

Mary Katherine Ham reports that the CBO is being hit with a lot of questions about the Value Added Tax (VAT) by Congress.  Taking Paul Volker at his word, they’re obviously in the beginning stages of trying to make the VAT “not as toxic an idea” as it has been in the past. As the title implies, the masters at gaming the CBO are probably already hard at work.

Said CBO chief, Douglass Elmendorf:

“Many people in Congress are interested in it,” he said of the VAT, a national sales tax that adds between 10 and 20 percent to purchases in European countries where it’s been implemented. “We’ve had conversations with a number of members and their staffs.”

You don’t say?!  I know, dear reader, you’re as shocked as I am, aren’t you?

A couple of points – this is going to be constantly misrepresented as a “national sales tax”.  It’s not a national sales tax.  VAT is a tax levied against every step in the production process rendering any retail good 10 to 20% higher than it would have been without the tax.  No one is going to add 10 or 20% at the register – instead everything you purchase will have that additional cost of taxation already added to its final purchase price.  It’s a nicely hidden tax (thus very attractive for the looters in DC) that saves you being reminded of it at the register everytime you buy something.  You’ll just see your overall purchasing power erodeded by whatever the VAT percentage is.

Oh, and that will be in addition to the income tax.   You didn’t think the IRS was going away, did you?  Finally, it certainly isn’t a progressive tax as it will lower the purchasing power of the poor much more than that of the rich.  And we all know what that means – somewhere there’s going to be a subsidy or a kick-back to consumers  of certain levels of income.  And yes, you’ll pay for that as well. Trust me, this will only end up being fully levied on the despised “rich”, as usual in t.

Revenue, folks, revenue – the beast is hungry and insatiable.  And it has a very serious problem looming the future.  It wants no part of lean and mean.  Instead, it wants to be fat, happy and expanding – and VAT would do that.  And you, dear wage earner, are the means to its dreams.

~McQ

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