Fighting the Power

Via Alan Jacobs, here's Henry Porter in the Guardian warning about the vast evil perpetrated on the unwary by Google:

Google presents a far greater threat to the livelihood of individuals and the future of commercial institutions important to the community. One case emerged last week when a letter from Billy Bragg, Robin Gibb and other songwriters was published in the Times explaining that Google was playing very rough with those who appeared on its subsidiary, YouTube. When the Performing Rights Society demanded more money for music videos streamed from the website, Google reacted by refusing to pay the requested 0.22p per play and took down the videos of the artists concerned.

It does this with impunity because it is dominant worldwide and knows the songwriters have nowhere else to go. Google is the portal to a massive audience: you comply with its terms or feel the weight of its boot on your windpipe.

Its boot on your windpipe!  Because of a commercial disagreement with another enormous industry over the acceptable size of royalty payments!

Whatever.  But what I'm really curious about is whether the PRS really thinks it can get 30 cents per play for YouTube music videos.  At a guess, that sounds too high by a factor of ten or a hundred.  What are they thinking?

More Gay Marriage

More good news on the same-sex marriage front: the Vermont legislature has voted to override Gov. Jim Douglas's veto of a bill allowing gays and lesbians to marry.  Score one more for the good guys.

Kevin, David, and I have all weighed in on CNBC and its problems. What none of us managed to mention in our posts is that the Progressive Change Campaign Committee (PCCC) is running a campaign called 'Fix CNBC' that has gathered over 20,000 signers (me included!) for a petition that reads, in part:

Americans need CNBC to do strong, watchdog journalism – asking tough questions to Wall Street, debunking lies, and reporting the truth. Instead, CNBC has done PR for Wall Street. You've been so obsessed with getting "access" to failed CEOs that you willfully passed on misinformation to the public for years, helping to get us into the economic crisis we face today.

You screwed up badly. Don't apologize – fix it!

CNBC should publicly declare that its new overriding mission will be responsible journalism that holds Wall Street accountable.

PCCC just handed thousands of signed petitions over to CNBC's world headquarters in New Jersey, after a stop at Wall Street in downtown Manhattan. The results are below, and pretty funny.

Blackwater is set to lose its State Department contract next month, the cash cow that transformed a small firearms training firm in North Carolina into a global private security concern. The loss of the contract, according to a State Department official quoted by the Middle East Times, means that Blackwater (recently renamed "Xe") will lose up to half of its income. As Dan Schulman and I have reported, the firm is looking to other crisis areas to make up the difference, namely Africa, but it's difficult to imagine that the dollar spicket there will ever rival security contracting's halcyon days in Iraq. The Middle East Times piece goes on to argue that the need for Blackwater, which ultimately undid itself by killing 17 Iraqis in a Baghdad traffic circle in September 2007, was the result of gross mismanagement and lack of preparation by American officials early on in the occupation. Worth a read.

I'm usually a fan of MSNBC's First Read, a newsletter written by NBC reporters Chuck Todd, Mark Murray, and Domenico Montanaro that drops in your email box every morning. It's heavily weighted toward politics and optics, and discusses virtually nothing about policy, but in that way it's a good guide to the daily obsessions of the mainstream media.

But this line from today's edition, about Obama's just-concluded overseas trips, strikes me as strange:

Was the trip a success? While the president didn't get Europeans to commit to a stimulus and didn't get more combat troops for Afghanistan, it's hard to say that it wasn't a P.R. triumph. The reception Obama got from world leaders was extraordinary, and the latest New York Times/CBS poll suggests he got a bump in his poll numbers. But his presidency won't be judged what happened on this trip; rather, it will be judged on what happens afterward.

Isn't that true about all polling? Why add this little disclaimer now? First Read cites polls all the time. Like I said, optics not policy. If the writers are going to note here that the public's opinion of Obama's trip is ultimately ephemeral and the long-term real-world effects of his governance are what really matters (which is obviously true), shouldn't they do that next time they tout an NBC poll? A new NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll shows that in the wake of GM's bankruptcy, Obama's favorability has dropped 15 points. But that is not a crisis for the President; his presidency won't be judged on these events, but on whether or not the auto industry can eventually be saved and if the economy returns to form. I'm willing to bet I never see that sentence.

The Kitchen Sink

Nick Baumann summarizes all the platforms Robert Gates proposes gutting in next year's Pentagon budget:

In Gates' proposed budget, the F-22, VH-71, the Navy's DDG-1000 Destroyer, Airborne Laser Missile Defense (a laser mounted on a Boeing 747), and the Army's Future Combat Systems program are all targeted for modification or elimination.

And don't forget the C-17!  That's a lot of platforms.  Question: is going after so many programs at once (a) brilliant or (b) insane?  I can make a case for either, but I can't quite convince myself which one it is.

The North Koreans launch a missile that fails to place a satellite into orbit and what does former Reagan Pentagon official Frank Gaffney, Jr. say? That this episodes indicates that the evildoers of North Korea could be planning to hit the United States with a super-duper secret electromagnetic pulse weapon that would throw America back into the Stone Age, that the U.S. ought to hit Kim Jong Il hard before such a catastrophe happens (whether an attack on North Korea triggers a major war in Asia or not), and that President Barack Obama is planning to "submit" to the Taliban and Muslim nations. Yes, that's what Gaffney said when he and I discussed--is that the right word?--the North Korean missile launch on Hardball on Monday night. What's the connection between an EMP sneak attack from North Korea and Obama surrendering to the Taliban? I'm not sure. But it's easier to show than to explain:

You can follow David Corn's postings and media appearances via Twitter by clicking here.

Revenge of the Kids

The Census Bureau's Current Population Survey Voting and Registration Supplement is out!  Are you excited yet?

The graph on the right comes from Charles Franklin and shows the turnout rate by age for the past three elections.  2008 is in red, and turnout among 18-29 year-olds is up by about two percentage points from 2004, which in turn was up by about eight points from 2000.  Turnout rates for all other age groups were down slightly compared to 2004.

More data is here, compiled by Michael McDonald.  Highlights: youth turnout might have been up in 2008, but it was still more than ten points below the turnout rate of every other age group.  The turnout rate was down for whites and up for every other ethnic group.  And early voting increased from 20% of voters to 30% of voters.  In fact, early voting has more than quadrupled since the early 90s.

Guess what? Those endless fields of corn, soybeans, or alfalfa are not the thriftiest way to farm. Not in dollar terms. Not in environmental terms. So why are continuous and no-till farming still such staples in American agriculture? Because you & I subsidize them with our tax dollars. Farm welfare for the corporate farm.

A 13-year study out of the University of Wisconsin assessed pastures planted with multiple crop species, as well as organic fields, and compared them to conventional alfalfa and corn farms at two sites in southern Wisconsin from 1993 to 2006.

The simple conclusion: Diversified systems were more profitable than monocropping and organic systems were more profitable than the Midwestern standards of continuous corn, no-till corn, no-till soybeans, and intensively managed alfalfa.

Even adding risk premiums into the equation did not give monoculture the edge expected by the researchers. Bottom line: monoculture is riskier and less profitable than organic and rotational farming.

The authors' advice: Government support of monoculture is outdated and should be shifted to programs that promote crop rotations and organic farming practices.

When that happens—you know what?—we'll all be able to afford food that is better for us and better for the planet. Let's go, Thomas J. Vilsack, Secretary of the US Department of Agriculture, hailing from Iowa, land of the newly progressive. Lead the way.

According to Lisa Belkin, "Researchers at the University of Queensland found that children born to older fathers have, on average, lower scores on tests of intelligence than those born to younger dads. Data they analyzed from more than 33,000 American children showed that the older the man when a child is conceived, the lower a child's score is likely to be on tests of concentration, memory, reasoning and reading skills, at least through age 7."

It gets worse: higher risk of autism, bi-polar disorder and schizophrenia. Not good news, but it does sort of even the cultural score in which past-their-prime women are understood to be the greatest risk to the children they bear 'late' in life. Damaged goods. Darwin makes them chase younger women to bear their healthy children, not mid-life crises. But what if younger women start looking at that "distinguished" guy driving the red 'vette and thinking like Belkin?

The push and pull between timetables and dreams, between our bodies and our babies, is at the core of many women's worldview, which also means it is at the core of relationships between the sexes. This tension feeds the stereotype of woman as eager to settle down and men as reluctant, and it's the crux of why we see women as "old" and men as "distinguished."
If those underlying assumptions were to change, would all that follows from them change as well? A world in which each man heard his clock tick even a fraction as urgently as each woman could be a very different world indeed. All those silver-haired sex symbols, and balding sugar daddies, and average-Joe divorced guys who are on their second families because they can be while their exes are raising their first set of kids—what if all of them became, in women's eyes, too darned old?
What if 30-year-old women started looking at 50-year-old men as damaged goods, what with their washed-up sperm, meaning those 50-year-olds might actually have to date (gasp!) women their own age? What if men, as the years passed, began to look with new eyes at Ms. Almost Right? Would men of all ages come to understand—firsthand, not just from the sidelines—the fear that the very passage of time will put your not-yet-conceived baby at risk?
Welcome to the club boys.