1.17.2009

Minneapolis Star Files for Bankruptcy

From Marketwatch.com

If you just got off the bus, newspapers are in trouble. They have been for a while, and if you listen to talking heads and other analysts, they'll tell you the decline began once the Internet became ubiquitous across the nation. The genuine experts will tell you newspapers started losing subscribers and revenue as far back as 1990 - when CNN and other 24/7 news outlets became popular. Some say the newspaper is completely dead and will be washed away by the Internet. Others don't quite have such a pessimistic view. And me? Well as always I have an opinion too.

I don't think ALL newspapers will fail - if they did then a significant portion of the online news we get would also fade away. This may surprise some youngsters but Google doesn't report the news - they just distribute it. So if the news reporters go out of business, you won't see as much news on Google. I do think that the newspapers that remain will be much smaller.

The way I see it, local newspapers don't take advantage of their strength. They still operate as if they are the one and only source of news for the region they serve. Nothing could be further from reality. To illustrate my point, let's look back at 9/12/2001 - the day after the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center. The paper had already run for Tuesday 9/11/01 when the first plane struck. By 9:20am EST the story was all over the place - every online site, every TV station, every radio station, every office water cooler from New York to Tokyo. The issue was discussed at length worldwide, so when the paper printed - there was nothing "new" in the "news".

So what could the news industry do? Well, no one can report on local news quite like the local newspaper and local TV stations. CNN isn't going to report a story about a superintendent of my local school system embezzling money - unless of course they have no other news to report. Even if they did, CNN would rely on local news outlets to provide that content. In other words, let the national press - USA Today, Wall Street Journal, etc. have the world stage - they're outselling the local guys anyway. Provide stories that we cannot get anywhere but the local paper, such as an in-depth exposé on local controversies/issues. So when war breaks out in Somalia - the local paper shouldn't have a headline about it unless there's a connection to the region and the story is about that connection.

I understand from listening to my favorite news outlet - NPR.org - that many newspapers are moving towards commentary and opinion, gleefully giving up their attempts at objective impartiality. That might be good in the short run, but will ultimately lead to even smaller newsrooms. Why? Because although a news outlet may officially become "liberal" or "conservative" or of some other persuasion, not every reporter will fit that description, nor would they want to be associated with a liberal paper if they are a conservative writer. They will then look for a conservative paper to join, or create one themselves. And thus the outlet will have a smaller pool of reporters and other workers. Not to say it can't be done, I'm just saying it is leaves the public begging for a new paper when the only one in town turns liberal and by extension alienates the conservative base in the region (or vice-versa). The last 3 presidential election cycles should have proven by now that the USA is split almost evenly between liberal (Democrats) and conservative (Republican) so why would a newspaper want to cut out half of what few subscribers they have left?

That's my two cents.... What's your take?

1.12.2009

The Bush Legacy

In this story, there's only one thing I agree with Condoleezza Rice on - that history cannot be judged in the here and now. Bush's legacy and it's effect on the world won't be known for years or even decades. Will it be positive? Not likely. Will it be negative? I bet it would. This story (and a related story) shows that 75% of the US is glad to see the president gone. I count myself among them, but in the spirit of fairness, let's consider the pluses and minuses of the Bush Administration.

Hear Condi's statements here

+ George W. Bush can make decisions. Can he ever. I have to give him a lot of kudos on this one because making decisions is what the job of President is. He decides what he wants to do, does it, and makes no apologies. Best example - the 2004 presidential campaign against John Kerry. Bush made Kerry look stupid simply by deciding he didn't want the gay/lesbian vote. President George W. Bush declared that he did not favor gay marriage and would prefer a constitutional amendment against gay marriage. This scored him HUGE points among the religious right - the conservative base - while at the same time putting pressure on Kerry to either A) also support an amendment against gay marriage, thereby showing he's no different than Bush, or B) say he is in favor of gay marriage and thus take the gay vote and alienate a powerful and much larger evangelical voting bloc. Kerry did neither showing he cannot make tough decisions, and thus lost the election.

+ Early on, Mr. Bush appointed the best Secretary of State we've had in a while - General Colin Powell. A respected man held in high regard throughout most of the USA and the world. In my opinion the best cabinet choice Bush made in 8 years. Too bad Bush didn't listen to him.



+ Mr. Bush decided long before 9/11 that Saddam Hussein had to be dealt with, and the cat and mouse games Saddam was playing with the world had to end. I agreed with that assessment at the time. In retrospect, however I have since learned that Saddam was playing his only card of self defense. He had no choice but to make the outside world THINK he had weapons of mass destruction. Otherwise his enemies could move in on him and he had lots of enemies: Iran (by virtue of he 8 year war he started in the 80s), Kuwait (and by extension the Western World), and of course Israel. He had no reason to believe that the West, particularly the UK and the US would protect him should Iran decide to invade. WMD was a bluff.

+ Bush's promise to cut taxes gave him points among voters during the 2000 campaign. And he followed through on that pledge - a rarity in politics. So I'll give him kudos on that too.

+ The President has shown the ability to work with Democrats - albeit reluctantly. More recently, he even agreed with Democrats on a relief package for the auto industry. Not sure if this is genuine leadership or playing to the crowd.

That's the positives - very few as you can see. None of which have any long-standing effect on the world. Why? Due to the negatives I'll list here shortly. We were friends with Russia, our Cold War adversary, but no longer are we friends. We had friends in the Middle East, whom we have since alienated. We had friends in Asia who depended on our leadership and stability who have since lost confidence in us. And then there's the people of Iraq. They are now "free" to choose their own path, just as long as we approve. What if Iraqis chose Communism as their official form of government? Communism is more naturally aligned with Islamic law than any other modern government. Would the Bush Administration continue to provide military and police support to such a government? Of course not. How would we feel if China came to our "rescue" and removed a dictator, and told us we have only Communism to choose from? It would feel a lot like an occupation, and less like liberation. The Bush Administration doesn't understand this, which is why I highly doubt history will look favorably on Bush. Now, let's get to the negatives. Pull up a chair and get some coffee because this may take a while.

- Afghanistan. The premise behind going into Afghanistan is because the ruling party then - the Taliban - refused to cooperate in apprehending Osama bin Laden or any of his lieutenants. Under International law, Afghanistan was not required to assist the US. There is no extradition treaty between the US and Afghanistan and never was, yet Afghanistan was a sovereign nation. What if Osama had moved to Malaysia where we have friendly ties and no extradition treaty? Would Bush have invaded Malaysia? Probably not, but that is the precedent the Bush Doctrine set - attack others before they even think about attacking you. That philosophy has eroded America's good standing in the world and has undercut our influence.

- Iraq. Bush and then-Secretary of Defense, Donald Rumsfeld, steadfastly refused to accept the military's recommendation of 500,000 - 1M troops. A strategy that would have worked in two important ways: 1) we would have had the ability to hold the territory that we cleared of insurgents, and 2) if Bush turned out to be right and we didn't need that many troops, then we could have begun to draw down much sooner giving he impression that we are leaving. Of course, that didn't happen and now Iraq has eerie similarities to Vietnam. In Vietnam we would fight the enemy, take over their territory, leave the position to fight elsewhere then the enemy came right back into the territory we just left. That's a strategy for perpetual warfare.



- Iraq, part 2. War is expensive - be it a minor conflict like Somalia or a full-fledged world war. When you know war is coming, you need all the cash you can get. In this case Mr. Bush cut taxes at a time when we were going to war and when our troops didn't all have the gear they needed. I understand from others that we sent our soldiers in the battlefield with only a few HumVees with armor. They should have all had armor. Bush tried to fight this war on the cheap and that never works.

- Iraq, part 3. According to published reports both in the media and from the CIA, there was no ties between Iraq and al Queda. Their respective leaders had no fondness for one another. Osama didn't like Saddam for his treatment of other Muslims or for the invasion into Kuwait. Saddam was by all accounts a classic, stereotypical dictator who was paranoid of anyone from anywhere usurping his power. Moreover he wanted to be the greatest leader the Middle East had ever had and be acknowledged as such by his peers, countrymen, and everyone else in the Arab world. Osama bin Laden however stole his thunder and was far more popular outside Iraq than Saddam would ever be. Saddam was despised outside Iraq whereas Osama was held in high regard among the common people. The idea that Saddam would give weapons of any kind to an enemy is ludicrous but that's the sales pitch Bush gave us and we bought it.

- Iraq, part 4. Removing Saddam was one thing, what we did afterward is entirely different. And in this I give Bush very low marks. I could go on and on with a string of examples, but suffice it to say, we are an occupying force in Iraq tying to impose our will. We are demanding a democratic state in Iraq. That is NOT liberation for the Iraqi people since they were not given a choice of government.

- The Home-front. I'm discouraged, saddened, confused, and utterly disappointed that I was not asked to help in the war effort. We have countrymen fighting for us, making themselves a target so that we aren't targeted at home, but yet Mr. Bush only asks that we just keep shopping and spending money so we can keep the economy flowing. For those of us with no family overseas, the war is nothing but a backdrop now. For those of us who are fighting or have family members fighting - the sacrifice is all ours. That's not how America wins wars. We win wars where all of America participates - by recycling, saving energy, BUYING US TREASURY BONDS to fund the war, among other things. That's the least we could do.

- Israel/Palestine. This issue is by far the most frustrating for me. Mr. Bush waited until his 7th year in office to take up this issue??? It's not new!!! And now that he has set the precedent of pre-emptive strikes, we have no leverage to pressure Israel to stand down. And because we have taken up arms against Muslims, we have no leverage to pressure Palestinians. I hope he doesn't seriously expect any fruits from this labor.



- Russia. Although I cannot say this is all Bush's fault ( I think Vladimir Putin would have distanced himself from the US regardless of the President), he didn't help matters. Major and minor wars start when one country tries to inject their own beliefs onto others. There were many other ways to express our position without antagonizing Russia. Not that the US should be afraid of Russia, we should be afraid for the people stuck in the middle - such as Georgia and Kosovo and other former Soviet states. Unless we are willing and able to take on Russia - which we can't do because we are in Iraq and Afghanistan - then we need to back down and work things out with Russia.

- China. Don't lecture China. They aren't Americans and they are trying to avoid our many mistakes as they march steadily towards capitalism and some modified form of democracy. If we are to allow US companies to do business in China, then those companies have to follow the laws of China - as distasteful as we may think they are. It's no different than if a Chinese company opened shop in the US - we would fully expect them to follow our laws. Just because our laws make sense to us, doesn't mean they are reasonable to the Chinese and if they choose not to comply what happens? They would face some form of legal punishment. Same applies in reverse when US companies do business in China. The Communist regime is loosening rules albeit very, very slowly, but they are trying to avoid the chaotic anarchy that followed the fall of the Soviet Union. As well they should.

- Economy. There are a lot of errors here - starting with the aforementioned error of cutting taxes when war is imminent. Ridiculous. That's like someone buying a new house, car, and boat, then going to their boss the next day and say - "Hey boss, I need you to cut my salary. I'm taking home too much money". Would YOU do that? I know I wouldn't, and can't think of anyone foolish enough to do so. But that's exactly what President Bush did when he cut taxes in 2003, just to fulfill a campaign promise.

- Economy part 2. As much as I hate regulation, it is absolutely necessary. Without it, companies would run amok doing whatever they want whenever they want. Take note: the largely unregulated investment banks collapsed, while the largely regulated commercial banks did not. That isn't a coincidence.

- Environment. Just as with the Iraq war, the president did not listen and is incapable of understanding the scientific facts of the status of our environment. The threat is very real, and although the scientific community is still investigating, thus have various hypotheses, the proof is in the polar ice caps (melting at an alarming rate), the mountain snow-caps (also melting), and coral reefs (disappearing rapidly). It must be taken seriously, which this president did not.

- Other issues. Oddly, many of the other issues he could have worked on, would have helped tremendously with the issues mentioned already. For example, some form of universal health care, funded by the US government, would have freed up a LOT of cash for businesses large and small as well as helped keep their employees healthy and working. We didn't even get a discussion. The Green Revolution in the US, could have not only addressed the environment, but could give us a path to migrate to as other jobs are cut. Instead of manufacturing cars, we would manufacture wind turbines or solar panels. Again, never discussed.

History may very well acknowledge George W. Bush to be a great visionary, but it is very hard to see from this day and age. In fact I would argue that even if history does come to that conclusion, chances are it would be later revised when historians acknowledge that this president didn't complete what he started. It took yet another president to close the chapter on the Iraq occupation among other things. My personal opinion is that he set the next president up for greatness. If President-elect Barack Obama can successfully bring two wars to an end, mend fences with our allies, and disarm our enemies, HE would then be the one remembered most by the people, and eventually by history.

1.01.2009

Welcome to 2009

What a wild 2008 we had! What will 2009 bring? More of the same? More stability? More chaos? Of course no one knows, so let me offer my prediction along with everyone else.

December 2009 will look vastly different than December 2008. There will be more certainty, better leadership, but the same problems. The difference will be the outlook for the future. We will have solid ideas and/or understanding of where we are going.

Politically, the mood will change in 2009. We are getting a president in Barack Obama who wants the entire nation to focus on a single, national task. Only a handful of presidents have ever tried, and most them did so during war where war was the focus of our attention. Mr. Obama has TWO wars AND an economic focus - talk about ambition!

Economically, there will be more of the same calamities we witnessed in 2008, probably through June - albeit of a smaller scale. Wall Street will continue to decline. Main Street will see a light at the end of the tunnel, but won't be in much better shape than Wall Street. All industries not already touched by the recession will feel the effects. The Dow will not recover this year.

Crisis around the world will continue unabated. Darfur will get only lip service. Zimbabwe will continue its decline with only minimum action on the part world leaders. More civil unrest in the Congo, and possibly new unrest in Rwanda. Venezuela will capture the world's attention on some new matter of state. And of course the Israeli-Palestinian conflict will receive press coverage, opinions from world leaders, continued talks, but no action. Germany's fiscal policies in dealing with a worldwide recession will prove correct. China will continue its long, arduous, but controlled, steady conversion from Communism. Iraq will suffer serious setbacks among impressive gains. Pakistan will find itself tested, on the world stage, on several matters including the Mumbai attacks and allegedly allowing a safe haven for Islamic extremists in their country along the border with Afghanistan.

In sports - the Chicago Cubs will go yet another year without a World Series Championship (a pretty safe prediction, no?) The Yankees will surprisingly not win a championship. Baseball's crown jewel goes to the most unlikely team in 2009. I'll say it will be either Baltimore Orioles or the Washington Senators. In football, the choices are a lot easier since the championship game is played in January and the playoff teams are already set. As much as I favor the NY Giants, it is very difficult to repeat, so I'm going with the Tennessee Titans.

Also, maybe Danica Patrick will win the Indy 500 this year. Or better yet win the IRL championship!

Well, here's to a fantastic 2009. May we all be blessed.

Happy New Year!

NPR Topics: News