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Notes and observations on the press, politics, culture, technology, and more. To post a comment that may be used in a future installment of Media Log, or to request e-mail delivery, contact dkennedy[a]

Friday, November 08, 2002

Goldman to Finneran: No new taxes! Democratic political consultant Michael Goldman -- a leading liberal who advised Robert Reich during his gubernatorial run -- has written an open letter to House Speaker Tom Finneran begging him not to raise taxes, thereby letting Governor-elect Mitt Romney take credit for solving the state's fiscal crisis à la Bill Weld in 1990. It's a great read. But it's on the Salem News site, so hurry up and read it! Salem News links expire faster than unpasteurized cream.

posted at 11:50 AM | link

I want my TNR -- on time. Got my pre-election issue of the New Republic yesterday afternoon. Thanks, Marty! If I had a bird cage, I could do something with it. Meanwhile, please get your circulation department to take a look at the Weekly Standard's website. Rupe and company let paid subscribers download the entire issue as a PDF file on Saturday, at the same time that the print edition is coming off the presses. If you've got a fast enough printer, you could even print out the entire issue and take it to the bathroom with you.

Meanwhile, TNR keeps offering less and less of its print-edition content online. That's understandable -- giving content away on the Web hasn't exactly proved to be a viable business model. But that's the beauty of what the Standard is doing. It's only available to readers who've already bought subscriptions. And you get the entire magazine, including advertisements -- thus negating an argument one of your editors once made to me in explaining why TNR couldn't be made available to subscribers electronically.

Marty, I would even be willing to subscribe only to an electronic edition of TNR -- for a substantial discount, of course. But think of all the production costs and postage you'd save. And you'd have at least one less pissed-off customer forced to look at coverlines such as "Can the GOP Convince Blacks Not To Vote?" two days after we already know the answer.

posted at 9:26 AM | link

Thursday, November 07, 2002

The bumpy road ahead. The Democrats' intramural war over the next two years will be fought between the moderate, neoliberal branch that dominated during the Clinton years and the paleoliberals who always harbored a grudge over Bill Clinton's accommodation to the center.

Today the New Republic's Peter Beinart stakes out the neoliberal ground while the Nation's David Corn speaks up for that old-time liberalism. Not that they disagree entirely -- both urge the Democrats to challenge George W. Bush's tax cut for the rich, something the party was notably loath to do in the past election. For the most part, though, they lay out different visions for the Democrats -- although not radically different, since both Beinart and Corn are more or less on the same side.

Both of these pieces are worth reading for any liberal who's wondering where we go from here.

posted at 10:03 AM | link

Wednesday, November 06, 2002

The Republican victory. The Democrats lost the Senate -- and George W. Bush finally gained the legitimacy he failed to earn two years ago -- because Daschle, Gephardt, et al. tried to campaign on a gutless, vacuous agenda. Later today, will publish a post-election roundup, including a few thoughts from me. Meanwhile, if you -- like me -- are a liberal who's gnashing your teeth today, let me add to your pain: the Weekly Standard's David Brooks gets it exactly right. Can the Democrats learn?

posted at 10:08 AM | link

A Mass. tax backlash. Before last night, the scenario for solving the state's fiscal crisis if Mitt Romney were elected governor was simple. The legislature would pass a tax increase. Romney would veto it. The legislature would override Romney's veto. And everyone would get back to business as usual. Romney would fulminate, and try to use the "Democrat tax hike" to boost Republican numbers in the legislature in 2004. But with deficits looming as far as the eye can see, he wouldn't be all that upset to have the extra money.

Well, you can now rule that scenario out. Not only was Romney's victory by a wider margin than anyone had expected, thus giving a boost to his anti-tax message; but Question One, Libertarian gubernatorial candidate Carla Howell's radical proposal to eliminate the state income tax, lost by a margin of only 55 percent to 45 percent. Given such circumstances, the Democratic-controlled legislature can no longer be expected to go out on a political limb and raise taxes. As WLVI-TV (Channel 56) Jon Keller observed last night, not a single poll had predicted Question One would do that well, which demonstrates pretty decisively that there's a lot more anger and frustration among voters than any of the prognosticators had realized.

In fact, the Globe/WBZ-TV (Channel 4) poll of November 1 showed Question One losing by 59 percent to 34 percent; on September 29, the margin was 58 percent to 31 percent. What that means is that virtually everyone who made up her or his mind at the last minute voted for a massive tax cut that would leave the state on the brink of bankruptcy.

Of course, late deciders are also the least informed and most disengaged part of the electorate. So when Romney said he could cut taxes without harming services by going after the bureaucracy, these voters actually believed him. At some point Romney can be expected to pay a price for his disingenuousness, but not this week. His victory was so broad that he won an absolute majority -- nearly 50.6 percent -- even if the votes of all five candidates are tallied up. And if you assume that Shannon O'Brien would have received all of the votes that went to the Green Party's Jill Stein, she still only would have gotten 48.4 percent.

Mitt's got a mandate. We'll see how well he delivers.

posted at 9:57 AM | link

Tuesday, November 05, 2002

Kristof's ugly smear. New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof today charges that "liberal Web sites" are raising the possibility that Minnesota senator Paul Wellstone -- killed in a plane crash a week and a half ago -- was the victim of an assassination by his political enemies on the right. "The White House team that executed Vincent Foster must have struck again," Kristof sneers. His so-called point is that liberals are reacting to George W. Bush and the Republican Party with the same demented paranoia that marked conservatives' stance toward Bill Clinton and the Democrats.

Kristof's use of the word "liberal" suggests that mainstream Democrats are calling for an investigation into whether Bushies planted themselves on Minnesota's equivalent of the grassy knoll and shot down Wellstone's plane. But he offers no evidence in trying to make the case for moral equivalence. Cartoonist Ted Rall -- who's way to the left of liberal -- recently wrote a piece claiming that "some Democrats and progressive Americans" are raising questions about the Wellstone tragedy. But, like Kristof, Rall names no names, and in the end he concludes that the conspiracy theory is highly unlikely. There's also some chatter on the websites of the Independent Media Centers, which, frankly, are way to the left of Rall. Conservative commentator Andrew Sullivan, writing in, had to strain to find another nutty conspiracy theorist, a Dr. Michael I. Niman of Buffalo State College. And even Niman ends up admitting that Wellstone's death was probably just an accident.

It's not that no one is raising questions about Wellstone's death. It is, after all, not difficult to find websites that raise questions about whether the earth is round, or if people really did land on the moon. But Kristof's tone suggests that I should be able to read the latest on the Wellstone conspiracy at the website of, say, the Democratic National Committee. Please. When Clinton aide Vince Foster committed suicide, no fewer than two special prosecutors were ordered by congressional Republicans to look specifically into the question of whether the White House had him assassinated. Even the sex-crazed Ken Starr concluded that was ridiculous. As Times columnist Bill Keller pointed out on Saturday, Republican congressman Dan Burton of Indiana, a member of the House leadership team, once went so far as to shoot bullets into a watermelon in a twisted attempt to prove his Foster-was-murdered theory. (Presumably Burton would have used a cocoanut if he believed Foster had really killed himself.) Where are the Democrats calling for an investigation into the Wellstone "assassination"? The answer is that there aren't any.

Conservative paranoia during the Clinton years reached the highest levels of the Republican Party. By contrast, Kristof offers no evidence that anyone other than a few people on the far left believe the Bush White House had anything to do with Wellstone's tragic death. Kristof's charge amounts to a smear against Democrats and liberals, unsupported by facts.

posted at 9:51 AM | link

Monday, November 04, 2002

Embrace, extend, and standardize. Last week I was cleaning out an old desk when I found a box of five-and-a-quarter-inch floppy disks. They contained much of the work I'd done in graduate school, including my master's thesis. And though I didn't throw them out, they are also utterly worthless: the documents imbedded on them were created on a Radio Shack Color Computer, a machine with its own perverse and obscure operating system, abandoned by the world some 15 years ago.

Which brings to mind last Friday's decision by US District Court Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly to give Microsoft little more than a slap on the wrist in the seemingly endless antitrust case. The suit had long since been abandoned by the federal government, but it continues to be pursued like Moby Dick by a handful of Ahab-esque attorneys general, including Tom Reilly of Massachusetts. The desultory media coverage Kollar-Kotelly's ruling generated shows that we live in a world considerably different from the one that existed in 1997, when the Clinton administration first filed suit. Amid the wreckage of the New Economy, Microsoft -- a technology company that makes real products and turns a real profit -- now looks pretty good.

Moreover, the commodification of the personal computer and the software that makes it useful has advanced considerably during the past five years. Bill Gates likes to talk about the "freedom to innovate," but that's always been ridiculous. Microsoft's products over the years have invariably been derivative and, in many cases, inferior to products that came to market first. The company's real innovation has been to bring dozens of competing standards under one roof and to enable nearly everyone who uses a personal computer to speak the same language. I don't like Microsoft Word, and I don't use it. Yet the ability to share files created with Word makes for a much more efficient universe. I pay a price for my obstinacy, having to use kludgy translation software whose results are imperfect at best. Even more important, files created with Word today are likely to be readable in at least some form 15 years from now, unlike my poor lost master's thesis. For the vast majority of us, innovation is nice, but standards are better. The Wall Street Journal editorial page today puts it this way:

We've always argued that Microsoft's sin, if you'd call it that, was primarily in giving consumers what they wanted -- a standard operating system for hardware and software makers alike. Quibbles over the company's hardball business strategies aside, the main effect of its monopoly position was to get new Web tools to consumers quickly and efficiently, vastly speeding up the PC revolution.

That's too sunny a spin, but it's right on the facts.

The frustrating thing, and one many Microsoft critics seemingly can't get over, is that Gates and company won by waging total, relentless war against their competitors, illegally (don't forget that) exploiting the monopoly their Windows operating system enjoyed to harm other products, such as Netscape Navigator and Sun's Java. Last week, ran a detailed, two-part report that Microsoft's tactics continue: the company has reportedly incorporated features of streaming-video software called Burst into its Windows Media Player, and is being sued by

My view of the Microsoft case is admittedly colored by two factors. First, I own some Microsoft stock. Second, I don't use any Microsoft products, with the exception of Internet Explorer for the Macintosh. (I also sometimes use Mozilla, an "open source" alternative to Explorer that is supposed to be the choice of concerned anti-Microsofties everywhere. Guess what? It's not as good.) Yes, I like standards, but I've gambled that Apple has succeeded in establishing an alternative standard that will be supported well into the forseeable future. So, yes, I'd like my stock to increase in value, and no, I don't believe that anyone is forced to use Microsoft products, which is what the Tom Reillys of the world would have you believe.

Mr. Attorney General, if you'll abandon your futile quest, I will send you a box of five-and-quarter-inch disks. The postage is on me.

posted at 9:06 AM | link

Sunday, November 03, 2002

Why O'Brien isn't leading Romney by six points. "There's nothing that I have concretely said that I would support" -- Shannon O'Brien, on the possibility of a gas-tax increase, in today's Boston Herald. Got that?

posted at 12:39 PM | link


Boston Phoenix senior writer Dan Kennedy is writing Media Log while on leave. He is working on a book, tentatively titled Little People: A Father Reflects on His Daughter's Dwarfism -- and What It Means to Be Different, to be published by Rodale in the fall of 2003. His archives and links to published works can be found at

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