Want to save local news? Kill off local newspapers. Really.

Consider this verdict based on the evidence of economics: Local print newspapers ought to die. Now. That’s what one observer believes, and he’s pretty convincing.

CATEGORY: JournalismNewspapers are on their deathbeds now, burdened by several diseases associated with print. Their physical infrastructure — printing presses, distribution means such as delivery trucks, the large buildings that typically house them (and heating, cooling and electrical costs), news stands, and single-copy racks — is too expensive to maintain. The advertising revenue that system once gleaned in bucketloads is now merely a trickle.

Newspapers’ core product — presumably valuable local news — is insufficient to fill the space around the ads, so fluff of little or no value to local readers — wire copy, advice columns, national and international news, crossword puzzles, sports agate copy, and so on — occupies the remaining space.

Ben Thompson, who writes and speaks about strategy and business, argues to save local news, everything not associated with local news ought to be stripped away. A journalist entrepreneur focused solely on local news could fund that operation with subscriptions — not advertising, he says.

Continue reading

Journalism’s new (not really) vehicle for delivering news — email newsletters

CATEGORY: JournalismI don’t read The Washington Post any more. I don’t see a hard copy. I don’t go prowling around its website.

Instead, I read four of its newsletters delivered by email every day. In fact, WashPo offers 68 newsletters culled from the work of its journalists and pundits. So it’s easy to select the kind of news anyone might want (rather than have an algorithm do it).

These newsletters are well-crafted and not necessarily hastily churned-out hodgepodges of factoids. For example, the Daily 202 (all about news from the American capital), begins like this today:

10 important questions raised by Sally Yates’s testimony on the ‘compromised’ Michael Flynn

Sally Yates’s Senate testimony in three minutes

THE BIG IDEA: Sally Yates’s riveting testimony Monday raised far more questions than it answered. Most of all, it cast fresh doubts on Donald Trump’s judgment. [boldface in original]

Each Daily 202 from WashPo is designed to be quickly read. Each item is one or two paragraphs and contains a link or two for further consumption.

WashPo’s not alone in the newsletter game. Continue reading

Donald’s new executive order gives really rich people another dark-money weapon

President Donald signed an executive order this week, intending to relax tax-law consequences on churches that endorse political candidates. In his zeal to “protect and vigorously promote religious liberty,” he opened the door to yet another avenue for really rich people to subvert democratic choice in U.S. elections.

https://www.legalzoom.com/sites/legalzoom.com/files/uploaded/articles/maintaining_tax_exempt_status_in_a_nonprofit.jpgDonald’s language a few months ago foreshadowed this: “I will get rid of and totally destroy the Johnson Amendment and allow our representatives of faith to speak freely and without fear of retribution.” Well, he can’t do that. Congress makes law, not presidents.

However, his executive order “discourages the IRS from going after churches aggressively for their political expression.” The Johnson Amendment “prohibits tax-exempt charitable organizations such as churches from participating directly or indirectly in any political campaign to support or oppose a candidate. Continue reading

Export U.S. coal to Asia? Not so fast, say three West Coast states — and Canada?

Coal-Train-300x268It appears Canada may no longer be a willing partner for American coal companies wishing to export coal to Asia. No economically feasible alternatives to get coal to Pacific Rim markets exist for those companies, either.

News item from October 2016:

BILLINGS, Mont. (AP) — A coal company with mines in Montana and Wyoming said Thursday that it’s begun exporting fuel to Asia through a Canadian shipping terminal, after its years-long effort to secure port access in the U.S. Pacific Northwest has come up short.

That’s not surprising. The use of coal in America, as S&R explained last year, has stalled — and it’s not going to rebound despite President Donald’s promise to revive the coal industry. So the owners of big coal mines in Montana and Wyoming are looking to export coal to Asian markets to shore up revenues.

But the states of California, Washington, and Oregon have opposed coal export terminal projects in Oakland, Calif.; Bellingham, Gray’s Harbor, and Longview, Wash.; and Port of Morrow, St. Helens, and Coos Bay, Ore. So coal corporations have decided to ship through Canadian ports on its western coast. For now, maybe.

Continue reading

United Airlines and its ‘calculated misery’: happy customers just aren’t needed to make money

The future of Oscar Munoz, the CEO of United Airlines, has just been re-accommodated.

You remember him, of course. After airport dragoons dragged a boarded, seated, paying customer off a United aircraft, Munoz’s first PR apology contained what Scholars & Rogues has called the “word of the year”: “I apologize for having to re-accommodate these customers.”

telemmglpict000125651009-large_trans_nvbqzqnjv4bqbe6o56qrl4zbrlmqqi7ubfvse9jsn00kzbur3ixhagoWell, that’s cost him. Munoz had been groomed to move upstairs from CEO to chairman of United Continental Holdings, the airline’s owner. (You do remember, of course, that Continental agreed to merge with United seven years ago.) Well, Munoz won’t get that top job.

United’s twin clusterfucks of policy execution (overbooking issues) and PR aftermath (“re-accommodated”) have derailed Munoz’s career — well, a little. He may lose about $500,000 from his bonus, because it’s tied in part to what airlines call KPI — key performance indicators, as indicated in consumer satisfaction surveys. But don’t shed a tear for Munoz — he received $18.7 million in total compensation for 2016, more than triple that of 2015. Continue reading

What does it mean to be a “good ancestor”?

usa-2074What is a good parent? What is a good grandparent? These terms don’t mean what they used to.

I heard a comment a few weeks ago about someone who wanted to be thought of as a “good ancestor.” It has stuck with me, and I have been wrestling with what, if anything, is meant by the phrase. It’s a serious attempt to capture something that up to a decade or two ago would never have been in question. Up until recently, ancestors generally were good in the same way. They tried to make a career and livelihood for themselves that could be passed on to their children, or to equip their children with the tools necessary to survive and, hopefully, to prosper. My grandparents took this responsibility seriously—this is why some of them emigrated to America from Germany. And this sense of responsibility preceded them by generations, and was passed on to their children, who tried to, and sometimes even succeeded in, passing it on to my generation. Leaving the world a better place was a given.

But the world has changed. All of this took place in a world that seemed to have no limits—natural capital, if it was thought about at all, was thought to be inexhaustible. But we know now that this is not true. Not only is natural capital, the foundation of the global economic system, exhaustible, some parts of it (such as water) are being depleted at a more rapid rate than anyone could have anticipated. Continue reading

Economic development, and the decline of rural prospects, is a tale of many cities

Economic neglect unleashes the stalking demons of fear and bigotry.

We have seen those demons basking in the movements which gave us Brexit in the UK, Donald Trump’s election in the US, and which may soon yield Marine le Pen as the new Vichy leader of France.

I have started visiting small towns and cities around the UK in an effort to both understand what is happening there, and to promote small business investment in those areas.

I won’t post all the episodes here, but you can follow along at Coffee Conspiracies on YouTube.

In this episode, I look at the data for every local authority in England and Wales and consider the opportunities and threats for their communities.

HB2 cost NC a lot more than $3.76B

The AP says the “bathroom bill” cost North Carolina $3.76 billion. The real damage is likely much, much higher.

The AP yesterday released an analysis indicating that reaction to North Carolina’s discriminatory HB2 – the “bathroom bill” – cost the state a staggering $3.76 billion in lost business, projected over 12 years. That’s a remarkable hit to economy, but as I read the full details of how the AP arrived at that number, I can’t help wondering just how badly they underestimated the true damage that former governor “One Term” Pat McCrory and the rest of the jackals in the state GOP caused NC.

Have a look at the WaPo article linked above, then consider: Continue reading

Business

The Ploughman: a modern business fable

No one likes to be thought a fool.

Farmer Moran needed a new workhorse, so he went to the local auction. There he spotted a strong, lean stallion he thought would be fine. He asked the owner about the horse, but the owner advised him against it. “This is Lightning,” he said. “Lightning is a thoroughbred. What you want is a draught horse.”

Moran, though, was confident in his own judgment. Undeterred, he outbid everyone for Lightning.

He got the horse home and harnessed him up, but Lightning proved no end of trouble. Continue reading

If Congress decides to spend $1 trillion on infrastructure, keep tabs on who gets it

The grades are in. The nation’s infrastructure is close to failing.

aging-infrastructureThe 2017 report card of the American Society of Civil Engineers, posted today, gives the infrastructure on which America depends for commerce, defense, recreation, flight, food, water, waste — almost everything — an overall grade of D+.

From the ASCE report:

The 2017 grades range from a B for Rail to a D- for Transit, illustrating the clear impact of investment – or lack thereof – on the grades. Three categories – Parks, Solid Waste, and Transit – received a decline in grade this year, while seven – Hazardous Waste, Inland Waterways, Levees, Ports, Rail, Schools, and Wastewater – saw slight improvements. Six categories’ grades remain unchanged from 2013 – Aviation, Bridges, Dams, Drinking Water, Energy, and Roads.

The areas of infrastructure that improved benefited from vocal leadership, thoughtful policymaking, and investments that garnered results.

Scholars & Rogues has long considered addressing the nation’s infrastructure needs essential for the nation’s economic, cultural, resource, and domestic security (see here, here, here, and here). Continue reading

delete-uber

Uber “Greyball” scandal: it’s time to consider the death penalty for corporations

delete-uberUber says they’ll stop using Greyball. But this is only the latest outrage from America’s most incorrigibly corrupt business. Time to#DeleteUBER. As in, delete the company. Permanently.

You may say I’m a dreamer / But I’m not the only one

The American corporation exists for one purpose: to “maximize shareholder value.” Thanks to a variety of factors, including a Supreme Court decision that codified this particularly sociopathic view, employees don’t matter, communities don’t matter, the environment doesn’t matter, and really the only commandment when it comes to bending the rules is “thou shalt not get caught.” Continue reading

Wendell Berry goes global, sort of

The Essential Wendell BerryPaul Kingsnorth is a British writer, of both fiction and non-fiction. His fiction includes The Wake, nominated for the Booker a few years ago, which involved him creating a variant of Old English to tell the story. His non-fiction includes Real England, published more than ten years ago, but still topical in its description of the alienation even then afflicting England’s middle and working classes—much like the US. More recently, he has been involved in establishing a group, Dark Mountain, which describes itself as “a network of writers, artists and thinkers who have stopped believing the stories our civilisation tells itself.” That’s a pretty good description of where many of us are these days.

We have been led to believe a raft of stories about ourselves that turn out to be, well, just not true. Capitalism will kill us, it’s pretty clear. Globalization has helped a number of countries pull themselves up, but it turns out to be more of a zero-sum game than predicted, and the environmental consequences of unbridled capitalism are rendering places actually unlivable now. The neoliberal project brought us two of the most undesirable US presidential candidates in history, and the morass of US politics shows every sign of deteriorating even further. Continue reading

Four charts that prove Under Armour CEO Kevin Plank has no idea what he’s talking about

Kevin Plank is a successful businessman with strong opinions. The data, though, suggests he places ideology above facts.

Under Armour CEO Kevin Plank

Under Armour CEO Kevin Plank

If you’re a huge sports merchandise brand, you never want your marquee superstar endorser going after you in the press. But that’s what happened this week when Under Armour CEO Kevin Plank told CNBC that “[t]o have such a pro-business president is something that is a real asset for the country.”

The aforementioned marquee superstar, 2014-15 NBA champion and reigning MVP Steph Curry of the Golden State Warriors, took a shot:

“I agree with that description, if you remove the ‘et.'”

The two have now apparently gotten on the same page after some top-speed backpedaling by Plank, who has taken great pains to clarify that he only meant his praise in a strictly business sense. It’s fun when CEOs get hauled out to the woodshed.

The problem is that even the business-specific comment illustrates what a fact-resistant barking fucktrumpet Plank is. Continue reading

delete-uber

Lyft’s anti-Trump letter and ACLU support illustrate how American companies ought to behave

delete-uber#deleteUBER: When we use them we directly support anti-competitive and unconstitutional behavior.

Uber is a douchebag company run by douchebags. I first realized this when I learned of their willingness to play really, really dirty with competitors.

Uber employees allegedly posed as customers ordered and then canceled rides from Lyft, decreasing Lyft drivers’ availability, wasting time and gas, and possibly sending real customers to Uber instead. Lyft told CNNMoney in August that 177 Uber employees—contractors armed with a burner phone and a credit card—ordered and canceled more than 5,000 rides.
Continue reading

Few rules, fewer regulators — President Donald’s shrink-the-government plan

In the absence of rules and sheriffs, bandits will multiply.

CATEGORY: PoliticsLawGovernment3The end game of the heavily mediated engine driving American political strife boils down to these questions:

  • What is the appropriate size of the federal government?
  • Who should decide that?
  • Who should run the “right-sized” government based on what values determined by whom?

Big, big money was wagered in the 2016 election cycle on the outcome of this game as gazillionaires of the right and left poured donations (wonder how many are legal?) into competing PACs, SuperPACS, and 501C’s.

The Democrats shouted: We need social equality. Continue reading

Politics: Democrats vs Republicans

Obama, Holder to lead fight against gerrymandering

Competition is good. Free markets are good. Give everyone a shot at the brass ring. Get rid of regulations that stifle competition and opportunity.

Thus spake many a Republican (and often a Democratic) politician, saying they only want to hand business interests in America a clear road to economic growth and apparent prosperity for all.

So why do those same politicians, at federal and state levels, balk at attempts to introduce competitiveness in elections?

What, you say? American state and federal elections are not competitive? Continue reading

The LL Bean/Trump row: time for (another) free speech lesson

You have the right to speak. You have no right not to be disagreed with.

Let’s start with a brief quiz.

Bob says X. Fred says no, X is wrong. Has Fred:

a) infringed Bob’s free speech rights, or
b) engaged in free speech the way the Framers intended?

Answer below, in case you don’t understand how freedom works.

This isn’t a big deal, really, but I saw something this morning that reminded me just how little Americans understand liberty. So I thought I’d offer a brief refresher for those who slept through Civics class.  Continue reading

Wealth

The despicable inequality and cruel egalitarianism of wealth: towards a draft wealth tax to fund a basic income

Automating dull jobs into obsolescence

Part 3 of a series.

WealthTo those who have, more shall be given. Cities get more investment. From those who have little, more shall be taken. Small towns are finding that they are excluded from the excitement happening everywhere else and little investment goes their way.

The idea of capitalism – that goods should bear market prices, that justly acquired property is yours, and exchange between willing participants be free of encumbrances – is everywhere under threat.

There is, however, little policy difference between the extreme-left and extreme-right populist response. Both demand a remarkably statist approach to government, and both are perpetually outraged by “elites.” For each, elites appears to mean liberal educated people, rather than the wealthiest 1%.

What is most noticeable is how this wave of populism – from Brexit, to Donald Trump, to Italy and France – has united the working and capital class against liberal, educated middle class folks.

There is one difference between them, though: the extreme-right are hardcore bigots. Continue reading

Capitalism

The despicable inequality and cruel egalitarianism of wealth (Part 2): the innovation and wonder of Capitalism

Design is local but manufacturing and distribution are international

Part 2 of a series.

CapitalismLet’s recognise that Capitalism has brought a billion people out of absolute poverty over the past decade, that it is an astonishing way to allocate talent and enthusiasm to its best use, and that it’s not going anywhere soon.

In 2008, I wrote a research paper looking at the impact of globalisation on South Africa’s recently opened (post-Apartheid) economy, as well as the likely trends for the future.

The textiles industry, which had been a massive employer for South Africa, had been crippled. In 2008, from my report:

“Over the past ten years, labour unions started to take hold of the environment which led to a lot of fragmentation in the industry,” says Noel Paulson, Edcon’s Group Quality Executive. “A lot of the factories found that dealing with labour issues for the manufacturing process was very time-consuming and costly. Continue reading