The blotter: Week ending 28 November 2010

Business

We can’t tax the rich because taxes take money out of the economy is a 30-year-old chestnut of conventional wisdom that is neither. As Dave Johnson, writing for Campaign for America’s Future, notes, in the 1980s “we cut taxes, increased military spending, and cut investment in our infrastructure, and the result was huge budget deficits and slower economic growth.” In the 1990s we reversed course, raising taxes on the rich and increasing infrastructure investment. In the 2000s we again reversed course, back to cutting taxes and reducing investment in infrastructure. Johnson points out that the ideas floating around DC in the 2010s is to cut the safety net and middle class services even more. Taxes on the rich don’t take money out of the economy; deficit interest payments, paid by the middle class takes money out of the economy. How many cycles will it take for us to learn this? According to Albert Einstein, “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”

Meanwhile, Wall Street’s high rollers are apparently out in force again. Like nothing ever happened. Susanne Craig and Kevin Rose, writing for the New York Times, call it “exuberance.” Open bars, hip-hop stars in costumes, women dressed like Playboy Playmates, cosmetic dermatology, the New York auction houses, expensive restaurants, half-million dollar summer rentals in the Hamptons, whopping bonuses, rented dwarfs; they’re all back. Like nothing ever happened.

Internet

Twitter cofounder Biz Stone wants to use the social media service to create a news network according to a Reuters report by Matt Cowan. The news network, as envisioned by Stone, might not be run by Twitter and would be a collaboration with existing news organizations. Stone is almost certainly aware that for some of us, Twitter already is a news network.

Law

The US Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) is exceptionally proud of itself, having arrested a 19-year-old naturalized Somali-American citizen for a terrorist plot the FBI itself spent months encouraging and funding. Mohamed Osman Mohamud allegedly attempted to blow up a bomb at the lighting of the Pioneer Square Christmas tree in Portland, OR. US corporate media and both major political parties are buying the FBI version of events without question. The only actual source cited by any of the corporate media accounts is an FBI affidavit (.pdf; 3.4MB). Historically, FBI affidavits have often been wildly inaccurate, uncorroborated, and unreliable. None of this is to say, of course, that Mohamud isn’t guilty of the alleged charges, but that remains to be seen, after a trial. It’s just that when the corporate media parrot the government’s position, it’s best for the citizenry to be skeptical in the media’s stead. Glenn Greenwald, writing for Salon, has the only appropriately skeptical reporting on the matter.

Media

For US$1 per day, Rupert Murdoch hopes you’ll by his Daily. That’s right, in the internet age, Murdoch is convinced a sustainable business model is yesterday’s news (or at least last night’s) today. As David Carr writing for the New York Times, observed, “The Daily will be a newspaper, an ancient motif on a modern device. It will be produced into the evening, and then a button will be pushed and it will be ‘printed’ for the next morning.” It’s the antithesis of the web’s continuous publication cycle. But then, Murdoch hates the web as evidenced by the paywalls he’s building around his web properties. Clay Shirky does the calculations and figures that the paywall around the Times of London has reduced traffic to the site by 97 percent. When the only tool you have (or think you have) is a hammer, everything looks like a nail. Murdoch is spending US$30 million to bring the iPad app to market. That’s an expensive hammer. Worse than a daily publishing cycle is the lack of links — inbound or, reportedly, outbound — the web’s coin of the realm. I suspect Murdoch is going to end up putting his Daily on the shelf of his other trophy failures. Right next to MySpace.

The Nation has traditionally been one of my go-to sources for US national news. Historically, it’s one of the best written and edited magazines on the planet. When Mark Ames and Yasha Levine wrote “TSAstroturf: The Washington Lobbyists and Koch-Funded Libertarians Behind the TSA Scandal” on 23 November 2010, it seriously marred The Nation‘s stellar reputation. The piece seriously overreached without a shred of evidence or even any facts, irresponsibly employing a tactic of the conservative right: The stalk-and-takedown of an individual related to the story. Glenn Greenwald, writing for Salon, called it “a shoddy, fact-free, and reckless hit piece….” Ames and Levine assert that those who object to the new TSA full-body scans and aggressive pat-downs are controlled by the Koch brothers who are attempting to manufacture a scandal. Instead of responding to Greenwald’s criticism coherently, Ames and Levine just dig the hole deeper. Not until five days later — 28 November 2010, the US Thanksgiving holiday included — did Nation publisher and editor-in-chief Katrina vanden Heuvel issue an apology and partial, but far from complete, acknowledgment of the mistake.

Publishing

The UK High Court has ruled that digital news monitoring services — and their customers — must pay newspapers behind paywalls for their content. Newspaper Licensing Agency (NLA) brought the suit against Meltwater, a public relations monitoring service. NLA held that Meltwater, similar media monitoring services, and their customers who subscribe to news alerts about mentions of their companies must pay the source publications for “copying” their stories. paidContent: UK has the best coverage and analysis of the ruling.

WikiLeaks (currently under a distributed denial of service attack) dropped it’s latest media bomb when it released US State Department cable communications dating from 2008. The Bush and Obama administrations, the cables reveal, both required American diplomats to spy on foreign dignitaries. The Guardian has an interactive guide to the 250,000 cable communications. As Dan Gillmor tweeted shortly after the publication of the material acquired and distributed by WikiLeaks, “PhD dissertations will be written comparing WikiLeaks coverage by various media orgs. Working from same material, different perspectives.”

User experience

If you still think that search engine optimization (SEO) is a legitimate area of practice and something to which you should be paying any attention at all, read David Segal’s story for the New York Times about how an eyeglass vendor bullied, abused, stalked, and threatened his customers in order to game his way to the top of Google’s search results. As Segal cites the vendor as posting on a consumer research website two years ago, “It’s all part of a sales strategy, he said. Online chatter about DecorMyEyes, even furious online chatter, pushed the site higher in Google search results, which led to greater sales. He closed with a sardonic expression of gratitude: ‘I never had the amount of traffic I have now since my 1st complaint. I am in heaven.’” Google is very secretive about its search algorithm but has repeatedly acknowledged that it relies partially on inbound links from other sites: The higher the authority of the linking website, the more weight is given to the inbound link in the search results algorithm. Unfortunately, this vendor has figured out that Google can’t separate positive inbound links from negative ones. Segal, disappointingly, doesn’t press forward by asking (and answering) what Google should do about this. Jeff Jarvis, in his BuzzMachine, outlines the complexity inherent in ranking inbound link sentiment. Boiling the problem down to its essence, Jarvis writes, “It’s not as simple as it seems, for Google and its algorithms are now a set of laws of the web and if you intervene in one way, you may trigger the law of unintended consequences in another.” Jarvis recommends that Google set up a trusted jury of peers to intervene on a case-by-case basis. Oh, and instead of focusing on SEO, focus on compelling content for your websites. Both may work — for now — but only one’s legitimate.

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