Monthly Archives: February 2009

In which yours truly saves the newspapers

Can Newspapers Survive? is the topic of my latest column, which, among other things, tackles the $64,000 question: how do you get people to pay for stuff they read online?   I have an answer.  Maybe.

Walter Isaacson, former managing editor of Time, recently got into the fray with a proposal to make web media content available for micropayments similar to iTunes… If you see a link to an interesting article on, say, The San Jose Mercury News website, you don’t have to buy a $20 subscription to the publication – you can pay a nickel or a dime to read the individual item.

While this is a promising idea, it has substantial drawbacks. Those nickels and dimes can add up, and if your monthly bill is high enough, you may think twice the next time you feel like clicking on a link.

A better approach may be to make news and analysis content available only through media portals or carriers, similar to cable television providers. A subscription to a carrier would give access to any news site (newspaper, magazine, blog) that is a part of its package.

Read the rest.  Add your thoughts, praise my acumen, or tell me why I’m so wrong it’s not even funny.


Filed under journalism, media

The morality of bailouts: A solution?

Lately, there has been a lot of discussion of the moral aspect of anti-crisis measures that, in effect, allow people to get away with bad or at least irresponsible behavior — specifically, bailing out homeowners who took out mortage loans they couldn’t realistically afford.  Today’s New York Times has letters in response to a David Brooks column on the topic.  Says Brooks:

The financial bailouts reward bankers who took insane risks. The auto bailouts subsidize companies and unions that made self-indulgent decisions a few decades ago that drove their industry into the ground. The stimulus package handed tens of billions of dollars to states that spent profligately during the prosperity years. The Obama housing plan will force people who bought sensible homes to subsidize the mortgages of people who bought houses they could not afford. It will almost certainly force people who were honest on their loan forms to subsidize people who were dishonest on theirs.

Unfair?  Maybe, says, Brooks, but necessary for the greater good of all:

[G]overnment isn’t fundamentally in the Last Judgment business, making sure everybody serves penance for their sins. In times like these, government is fundamentally in the business of stabilizing the economic system as a whole. … Individual responsibility doesn’t mean much in an economy like this one. We all know people who have been laid off through no fault of their own. The responsible have been punished along with the profligate. It makes sense for the government to intervene to try to reduce the oscillation. It makes sense for government to try to restore some communal order.  …

…. To stabilize that communal landscape, sometimes you have to shower money upon those who have been foolish or self-indulgent. The greedy idiots may be greedy idiots, but they are our countrymen. And at some level, we’re all in this together. If their lives don’t stabilize, then our lives don’t stabilize.

A letter-writer from Iowa agrees:

Many of us have done nothing wrong. Some are still renting because we were too responsible to buy a house we could not afford while others struggle to faithfully pay for ones they could.

The foolish should not have taken on mortgages they had no realistic possibility of paying. But reality is not what should have been, nor is it what we wish for. Reality is only what currently is.

If the foolish go under in droves, the wise and responsible will quickly follow. In saving them, we also save ourselves.

True enough.  The purely libertarian/Ayn Randian solution of leaving everyone to face the consequences of their  poor choices runs into several major obstacles.  One is that, as Brooks argues, because the economy makes us all interdependent, the innocent would sink along with the guilty.  (And that’s not even to mention people — including children — who will suffer for bad or foolish choices made by a family member.)    Another is that standing by while large numbers of people “sink” for their reckless or self-indulgent decisions (again, often along with innocent family members) will either severely demoralize society or breed callousness.

There is, however, an alternative to letting the foolish and reckless go under — taking a few of the wise and responsible down with them — or forcing other, more responsible people to pay for their folly.

Provide the assistance — but in the form of loans. Let the people, companies, and states on the receiving end of taxpayer-funded rescue repay the money later, when they’re back on their feet.  At low interest.  Or even zero interest.   But there should be no such thing as a free bailout.

(Cross-posted to


Filed under economy, moral issues

Russian headline of the year

Remember this story?

Vladimir Putin supposedly shooting a female Siberian tiger with a tranquilizer gun during a visit to a wildlife preserve, saving a TV crew that just happened to be nearby, and then helping measure its teeth and outfitting it with a radio collar?

This just in from Vladivostok daily (February 11):

After encounter with Vladmir Putin, female tiger gives birth to three cubs
After encounter with Vladimir Putin, female tiger gives birth to three cubs

(Hat tip: Lipkovich.)

Sure he’s a man of many skills, but who knew?


Filed under Putin, Russia, Russia bloggers

Defending motherhood from straw men (or women)

This caught my eye of National Review‘s blog, The Corner:

Momma Mia!: The Case of Candace Parker [Kathryn Jean Lopez]

A married 22-year-old is subject to scorn for embracing motherhood.

The link is to a column by Colleen Carroll Campbell, described as “an author, television and radio host and St. Louis-based fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center.”  Campbell writes about 22-year-old Women’s National Basketball Association star and Olympic gold medalist Candace Parker, a player for the Los Angeles Sparks and wife of Sacramento Kings forward Shelden Williams who recently announced that she was pregnant.  According to Campbell:

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Filed under antifeminism, feminism, motherhood, women's sports

Who owns the spirit of innovation?

I am not a doctrinaire libertarian.  Non-doctrinaire enough, for instance, to think that the funding in the Obama stimulus package for expanding broadband Internet coverage to rural areas may be a good idea.  So far, providing reasonably priced high-speed Internet to rural areas is not profitable enough to be feasible for markets, and lack of broadband Internet access is increasingly a major handicap (even in access to job opportunities, education, and consumer goods — particularly for people in isolated areas).

At the same time, this kind of statement from Barack Obama at the signing of the stimulus bill brings out the libertarian in me:

“Just as President Kennedy sparked an explosion of innovation when he set America’s sights on the Moon, I hope this investment will ignite our imagination once more, spurring new discoveries and breakthroughs in science, in medicine, in energy, to make our economy stronger and our nation more secure, and our planet safer for our children,” Mr. Obama said on Tuesday.

The space program was a great achievement (though see some libertarian critiques).  Still, the real impetus for innovation and new discoveries — in which the U.S. still leads the world — has always come from private industry.  And that’s something one hopes the leader of the Free World would understand.


Filed under Barack Obama, economy

Finally, a Putin-Medvedev rift?

The Washington Post reports that there may be trouble in the Kremlin’s two-tsar show.   The signs: Dmitry Medvedev has ordered the revision of a Vladimir Putin-backed bill expanding the definition of treason; has reportedly prevented the Putin-sought sacking of an official who couldn’t control the protests in Vladivostok; and has met with Dmitry Muratov, editor-in-chief of Novaya Gazeta, to express condolences on the murder of Novaya reporter Anastasia Baburova, shot dead along with human rights lawyer Stanivslav Markelov.  (At the meeting, Medvedev told Muratov, whose paper has been harshly and often scathingly critical of the Kremlin, that “no one has to like” Novaya Gazeta, but it’s great that it exists and criticizes the government.  This is in stark contrast to Putin’s attitude toward the 2006 murder of another Novaya Gazeta reporter, Anna Politkovskaya.)

In another interesting development, “one Russian official … said Putin and Medvedev recently decided that a note-taker should keep minutes of their discussions because ‘misunderstandings’ had arisen following past meetings.”  (Putin: “But Dima!  We agreed that you were just there for window-dressing and I’d still make all the decisions!”  Medvedev: “Actually, Vova, that’s now how I remember it.”)

And now, the latest news: (Russian-language link): Medvedev has appointed several sharp Putin critics to the President’s Council on Human Rights and Civil Society.

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Filed under Dmitry Medvedev, Russia, Vladimir Putin

Other than that, Mrs. Lincoln…

Camille Paglia’s assessment of Obama’s first weeks:

Why in the cosmos would the new administration, smoothly sailing out of Obama’s classy inauguration, repeat the embarrassing blunders of Bill Clinton’s first term? …

Surely common sense would dictate that when Congress is doling out fat dollops of taxpayers’ money, due time should be delegated for sober consideration and debate. The administration’s coercive rush toward instant action, accompanied by apocalyptic pronouncements of imminent catastrophe, has put its own credibility on the line.But aside from the stimulus muddle, Obama has been off to a good start. True, I was disappointed with the infestation of the new appointments list by Clinton retreads and slippery tax-dodgers. Nevertheless, I was very impressed by Obama’s relaxed, natural authority with military officers on Inauguration Day… I applauded the signal Obama sent to the world by starting the closure of the Guantánamo detention center.

As it happens, I too mostly like Obama’s early and, I think, balanced war-on-terror moves.   But the most important component of those moves, so far, is symbolic.  (Guantanamo has not actually been closed, and many key aspects of detainee treatment are still to be resolved.)  Note that the two things Paglia is most impressed by have to do, first and foremost, with image.

What about the substance?

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Filed under Barack Obama, economy

One way to unclench a fist

What was that about stopping the “drift” in U.S.-Russian relations?

My column at looks at the latest — Russia’s heavy-handed push to get (or, to be exact, bribe) Kyrgyzstan to shut down a U.S. air base essential to U.S. and NATO operations in Afghanistan: US Gets a Punch in the Nose From Russia

Of course, this is is not catastrophic news.  Tadjikistan and Uzbekistan may step up to the plate.  Kyrgyzstan may prove receptive to further blandishments from the U.S. (more money, less support for the internal opposition).   The interesting part is that, as I point out in my column, and as a number of Russian commmentators have been pointing out in recent days, Russia benefits from the U.S./NATO effort in Afghanistan: if it weren’t for the allied troops, Russia would now have the Taliban problem on its hands.  Yet Russia shells out a huge amount of money in loans and debt write-offs to Kyrgyzstan just to show the Americans.  Not exactly the beginning of a beautiful friendship.

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Filed under Russia, Russian-American relations