Mojo - January 2010

We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for January 21, 2010

Thu Jan. 21, 2010 6:33 AM EST

Paratroopers of Bravo Troop, 1-73 Cav, 2nd Brigade Combat team, 82nd Airborne Division board onto a C-130 Hercules aircraft at Pope Air Force Base early Thursday morning Jan 14, 2010 to deploy in support of the earthquake that occurred in the capital of Port-au-Prince, Haiti earlier this week. The 2nd BCT is the 82nd Airborne Division's Global Response Force that has been training for real world emergency response missions. These are the first group of paratroopers going to Haiti to provide Humanitarian Aid. (US Army photo by Sgt. Shelman Spencer.)

 

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Need To Read: January 21, 2010

| Thu Jan. 21, 2010 6:30 AM EST

More on the messy Mass. aftermath as well as the other must read stories from around the web and in today's papers:

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The NY Times Paywall: Worth the Wait

| Wed Jan. 20, 2010 4:30 PM EST

This morning, Kevin commented on the announcement by the New York Times that it intends to build a paywall around its content... starting next year:

This is sort of odd. Why wait until 2011? The technology for tracking visits isn't very hard to implement. And why announce this without answers to basic questions like "how many stories can I read for free?"

Reading between the lines of their carefully worded announcement, I think the answers to his questions are pretty clear. The Grey Lady has an out-sized presence in the American media market. Any move she makes is both influential—and unsettling.

The lead time allows the Times' other competitors here and abroad to carefully rethink their online media strategies. The current online model practiced by most major newspapers—put everything on the Web for free—is less of a strategy and more an accident of history. The Internet pounced on a profitable and antiquated industry and has been diverting content and revenues it ever since. On the bright side, this change has brought about the advent of blogging and an unparalleled era of free information. But as Times' media critic David Carr noted, "people who remain reflexively bullish on free ignore the fact that the clock is ticking on many of the legacy businesses that produce that content." (For "legacy business," see the Los Angeles Times.)

If other news sites don't choose to fight over the NYTimes.com readers repelled by its paywall, a surprise beneficiary of their new strategy could be Steve Brill's much-hyped Journalism Online venture. Carr dismissed working with third parties like Brill, Amazon, or Apple, saying, "the golden rule in digital matters is that the man in the middle makes the gold." Still, smaller rivals like the LA Times or Chicago Sun-Times could find working with a middleman preferable to being out of work.

The early announcement also allows NYTimes.com visitors and operators time to measure each other up. Readers can begin thinking about how much they value the site's exhaustive, multimedia coverage of Haiti, politics, style, business, and much else—or they can start looking for a free website to get their breaking news. And if they are only occasional visitors to NYTimes.com, the change is unlikely to adversely affect them. The metered system proposed by the New York Times Company will allow readers to see some articles for free each month.

In turn, NYTimes.com can test the water in the buildup to their metered wall. If readers begin preemptively avoiding the site, that's valuable information—not cause to abandon the scheme. NY Times Co. can take that trend into account when they calibrate the free-stories-to-subscription-price ratio they need to bring in online subscribers without decimating traffic-driven online advertising revenues.

And, as Reuter's Felix Salmon observed in his examination of the economics of the paywall, the metering system they plan to adopt is dynamic: "When advertising is strong, access can be ramped up, and when advertising is weak, it can be restricted, in an attempt to maximize subscription revenues." But getting it about right from the get-go is important so the site doesn't annoy too many visitors, who'll become accustomed to having set number of freebies.

This is an important step forward for the Grey Lady. I only hope the rest of the news industry follows her lead.

Business Groups Plot Legal Challenge to EPA Regs

| Wed Jan. 20, 2010 3:21 PM EST

The Senate could vote on Thursday on an amendment from Alaska Republican Lisa Murkowski that would bar the Environmental Protection Agency from regulating greenhouse gas emissions. But should Murkowski's effort fail, industry groups have a Plan B: they're hoping to tie up emissions rules in a tangle of costly lawsuits.

I reported last week that the Chamber of Commerce will probably challenge the agency's finding that greenhouse gas emissions endanger public health. (That finding triggered the agency's responsibility under the Clean Air Act to regulate such pollutants). And last Friday, executives and lobbyists from more than two dozen trade groups huddled in the law offices of Sidley Austin LLP to discuss their legal strategy, according to The Hill.

The groups that attended the meeting represent many of the nation's biggest polluters. They included the Chamber, the American Chemistry Council, the American Petroleum Institute, the National Petrochemical and Refiners Association, the National Association of Manufacturers, the American Public Power Association, and the Edison Electric Institute.

The meeting was convened by the firm's general counsel Roger R. Martella Jr., the same former Bush EPA staffer-turned-lobbyist who helped draft Murkowski's attempt last fall to block EPA rules on carbon emissions. He now lobbies on climate on behalf of clients like the National Alliance of Forest Owners and the Alliance of Food Associations.

It's not surprising that industry groups are assembling a war room to fight EPA curbs on carbon dioxide. But what is interesting is that the group was apparently divided on the best course of action. The Hill observes that "two camps have emerged." One wants to challenge whatever rules the EPA issues, while another wants to question the science of global warming itself.  One thing's for sure: With cap-and-trade legislation looking less likely by the minute, the fight over the EPA is about to heat up fast.

Has Obama Won in Iraq?

| Wed Jan. 20, 2010 1:29 PM EST

On a day when there's nothing but dismal, depressing news on the Obama front, Juan Cole credits the president for what Cole deems his first major foreign policy success: the US drawdown in Iraq. While he acknowledges the presence of US bases there (which will likely never leave), Cole credits Obama for his adherence to a strict timetable for withdrawing American troops from Iraq's cities despite his generals' opposition, for turning over security (however feeble) to Iraqi forces even in dangerous regions like Al-Anbar Province, and for essentially ending the war as we once knew it. Cole adds:

Contrary to the consensus at Washington think tanks, Obama is ahead of schedule in his Iraq withdrawal, to which he is committed, and which will probably unfold pretty much as he has outlined in his speeches. The attention of the US public has turned away from Iraq so decisively that Obama's achievement in facing down the Pentagon on this issue and supporting Iraq's desire for practical steps toward sovereignty has largely been missed in this country.

Not only will the US drawdown in Iraq greatly improve the image of the US in the Arab world and allow for more cooperation with Arab countries, but it will probably help US-Turkish relations, as well. Turks often blame the US for backing Iraqi Kurds and allowing a resurgence in Kurdish terrorism via the Kurdish Workers Party (PKK), to some 5,000 of whose fighters Iraqi Kurdistan has given safe harbor. The US will soon be out of that picture, and Turks and Kurds will have to pursue their relations on a bilateral basis.

I mostly agree with Cole here. That the US' actions in Iraq haven't made major news in quite a while—apart, that is, from their withdrawal from Iraq's cities—is telling, and Obama does indeed deserve credit for standing up to people like Gen. Ray Odierno and sticking to the Status of Forces Agreement with the Iraqis. It's probably the best foreign policy move Obama made in his first year as president.

Iraq remains, however, in political turmoil, and Iraqi-led security leaves a great deal to be desired. (The Iraqis do claim to have thwarted another major bombing on their ministries, after several deadly attacks rocked Baghdad last year.) Sure, American troops are mostly removed from the car bombings and violence still rippling through Iraq's cities, but the turmoil that remains is the US' legacy. The victory may be Obama's, but any kind of lasting success seems far off for the Iraqi people.

Murkowski EPA Amendment Expected Tomorrow

| Wed Jan. 20, 2010 1:23 PM EST

We'll find out tomorrow precisely which strategy Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) plans to employ in her mission to bar the Environmental Protection Agency from regulating greenhouse gases. Her press office just announced that the senator will give a floor speech tomorrow in which she'll indicate whether she plans to tack an amendment blocking EPA regulations onto debt-ceiling legislation, or whether she'll offer a separate "resolution of disapproval" barring any EPA restrictions on carbon emissions.

Murkowski's move comes as Democratic leaders are growing increasingly worried about advancing their legislative priorities in the aftermath of Republican Scott Brown's win in Massachusetts on Tuesday. What was already expected to be a very tough vote on climate legislation just got a lot tougher. In fact, EPA regulation of carbon dioxide is starting to look like the last—and possibly only—hope for curbing emissions anytime soon. Murkowski's office argues, however, that she's not trying to prevent emissions cuts, but that she simply wants to keep the policy debate in Congress rather than letting the executive branch write the rules. And she's getting support from at least one Democrat—Virginia's Jim Webb.

"There’s been a lot of criticism of Sen. Murkowski’s motives," says Robert Dillon, the senator's spokesman. "The fact is all she’s asking for is an up or down vote on whether the EPA should be allowed to regulate greenhouse gases under the Clean Air Act." 

UPDATE: Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-La.) said on Wednesday that she is has been working with Murkowski on her efforts to block EPA regulation, and may formally support her measure. "I am considering that right now," Landrieu told reporters. Landrieu, a big supporter of the oil and gas industries, has been a vocal opponent of legislation to cap emsissions. Virginia Democrat Jim Webb has also expressed support for Murkowski's efforts.

UPDATE: Sen. Ben Nelson (D-Neb.) said he may also support Murkowski's efforts, reports Energy & Environment News.

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Obama Puts Social Security on the Chopping Block

| Wed Jan. 20, 2010 11:36 AM EST

Hope for lasting liberal change was washed away on Tuesday—not just with the loss of the Democrats' super-majority in the Senate, but with a closed-door deal that would lead to cuts in bedrock liberal programs such as Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid. While Massachusetts voters were casting their ballots to install Republican Scott Brown in Ted Kennedy’s Senate seat, President Obama was hammering out an agreement with Democratic leaders to support a commission on the deficit with the power to propose reductions to entitlement programs. This proposal represents a capitulation to conservatives in both parties, and leaves liberals surrendering not only on health care, but on the core achievements of the New Deal and the Great Society.

The Vindication of "No"

| Wed Jan. 20, 2010 11:34 AM EST

The main takeaway from Scott Brown's win in the special election in Massachusetts on Tuesday has to be that Mitch McConnell and the Senate GOP's strategy of filibustering absolutely everything the Democrats proposed was incredibly effective. The Republicans managed to prevent the Democrats from passing their main agenda items, confirming 175-plus administration officials, or even confirming most of Obama's judicial nominees. Most important, the GOP was able to stall while the national mood shifted and Democrats became increasingly associated with the poor economy and (ironically) the "gridlock" in Washington.

This is great news for Republicans in the short term. House Democrats are wilting at the prospect of passing the Senate health care reform bill unchanged, which is the measure's best remaining chance for making it into law. The national environment is looking increasingly GOP-friendly, and the Republicans appear poised to romp in the 2010 midterms.

In the long run, however, the vindication of the "party of 'no'" strategy will hurt conservatives just as much as it's hurting Democrats now. When the GOP is back in power, Democrats will surely adopt the same strategy the Republicans are employing now. Major conservative agenda items—things like privatizing Social Security—will inevitably run into filibusters (remember, Republicans haven't had over 60 percent of the votes in the Senate since the '20s). Conservative judges and presidential appointees will be even harder to confirm than they were in the Bush years. The GOP will be left with the only thing it's been able to pass in recent years: war resolutions and tax cuts for the rich. How'd that work out last time?

Yuval Levin is Right

| Wed Jan. 20, 2010 11:09 AM EST

The National Review's Yuval Levin, reacting to Scott Brown's win on Tuesday, writes:

Democrats are of course not in fact powerless at all. But they have adopted an agenda that only a supermajority could pass (if that, even a supermajority couldn’t pass cap and trade), and with every indication of public opposition have only intensified their determination to pursue it, putting themselves on the wrong side of independent voters while persuading themselves that people would come around because this health care bill is something liberals have wanted for three generations.* They have made it impossible for themselves to change course without a massive loss of face and of political capital.

It's not often that Mother Jones agrees with the National Review. But I have to say that Levin is mostly right (at least in this particular section of his post). The Democrats aren't powerless. They still have large majorities in both houses of Congress—they could pursue passing a revised bill through the reconciliation process (unlikely) or have the House pass the Senate's version of health care reform (also unlikely, but slightly less so). And Levin is right that the Democrats did adopt an agenda only a supermajority could pass.

That's because real reform of anything—unburdened by the limitations that reconciliation rules impose—really does require 60 votes in the Senate to overcome the inevitable filibuster. That affects Republicans, too. Bush's main reform effort—the partial privatisation of Social Security—would almost certainly have failed to overcome a Democratic filibuster. Tax cuts and wars aren't reform. The Democrats wanted to actually do something, and they nearly succeeded. They still could. After all, as Levin writes, it's impossible for them to change course without "massive loss of face and political capital." It'll be interesting to see what they do.

*My one objection to the above block quote would be to point out that this health care bill is not what "liberals have wanted for three generations." It's far too conservative for that to be true.

We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for January 20, 2010

Wed Jan. 20, 2010 6:33 AM EST

An MQ-1C Sky Warrior unmanned aircraft system from sits dormant in a hangar. The Sky Warrior aircraft has the ability to remain airborne for up to 24 hours straight to conduct continuous missions in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom. (US Army photo from Sgt. Travis Zielinski, 1st ACB, 1st Cav. Div., USD-C.)