But 19% Profit still ain't chopped liver
By Greg O’Brien, Codfish Press
Is the traditional newspaper business beyond the grave, or is it in the throes of a slow, agonizing certain demise? While industry observers arrange for flowers, the death rattle, analysts note, is chilling: paid circulation and ad revenues are plummeting at most dailies and weeklies, and pink slips are being handed out with the frequency of those old phone message sheets once left in your mail slot at work.
But are rumors of the industry’s ruin greatly overstated? “I don’t so much mind that newspapers are dying—it’s watching them commit suicide that pisses me off,” Molly Ivins, the blunt and penetrating Texas columnist, wrote earlier in the year. Ivins, citing the Wall Street Journal, said that publicly traded U.S. newspaper publishers reported profit margins last year of 19.2 percent, down from 21 percent in 2004. “That ain’t chopped liver—it’s more than double the average operating profit margin of the Fortune 500,” she writes.
“So, if newspapers are ridiculously profitable, how come there’s panic on Wall Street about them?” Noting a 13 percent drop in paid circulation since 1985, she adds, “So we’re looking at a steady decline over a long period, and many of the geniuses who run our business believe they have a solution. Our product isn’t selling as well as it used to, so they think we need to cut the number of reporters, cut the space devoted to the news, and cut the amount of money used to gather news, and this will solve the problem. For some reason, they assume people will want to buy more newspapers if they have less news in them and are less useful to people.”
In a recent Sunday Ideas section, The Boston Globe weighed in with a thoughtful perspective on how high-profile millionaires and billionaires are now considering acquiring some of the nation’s largest papers; among would-be investors are former General Electric CEO Jack Welch and advertising maven Jack Conors who have expressed an interest in acquiring the Globe from its parent, the New York Times. Espousing the tenants of independent, public-minded journalism, Ted Venetoulis, a publisher heading an investment group bidding on the Baltimore Sun, told Globe staff writer Drake Bennett, “We are taking a much longer view of the newspaper institution, we’re not just interested in flipping it.”
Embracing the “community contract"
The future of newspapering— assuming the industry responds appropriately to the challenges and opportunities of the web—rests with owners willing to take the longer view. Perhaps a look back to the old school of publishing is as edifying as a focus forward. Embracing the “community contract” he had for decades with his readers, the late Henry Beetle Hough, legendary editor and publisher of the Vineyard Gazette on Martha’s Vineyard, wrote in his classic work, Country Editor, “Instead of being qualified in a profession, it seems to me that I have taken root in a place.”
Newspaper publishers and investors should take stock of Hough’s wisdom, and take root in a place, not just profits out of it. Their futures and the future of the industry itself will depend on it.
Sadly, conventional wisdom suggests they won’t get it.
By Greg O’Brien, Codfish Press
Political pork is a meal, it appears, best served these day to Democrats as a seismic shift in Washington will now allow the new party in power to pig out on earmarks for public projects, slapping on the feed bags as their Republican counterparts have done in the past. Taxpayers for Common Sense, a non-partisan budget watchdog, has put an all-points bulletin out for such a binge, as predictable on Capitol Hill for the party in power as the outcome of roll calls. “Earmarks,” also called “spending by zip code,” are provisions tucked into bills by members of Congress to tap tax dollars for politically favored beneficiaries and projects.
“The federal appropriations process has become out of control—lawmakers are stuffing appropriations bills with billions of dollars in earmarks for wasteful, pork projects,” the taxpayers group warns in a website action alert.
While Democrats have spoken out for months against “special interest earmarks” inserted by Republicans into bills “in the dark of the night,” The New York Times noted recently, the party leadership seems to be queuing up for a spirited diversion of monkey see, monkey do. “What’s good for the goose is good for the gander,” Sen. Patty Murray, a Washington Democrat who will become chairwoman of the transportation subcommittee said in a speech last fall, shielding an Alaskan Republican’s earmark of more than $200 million for bridge to a remote area serving 50 people, the so-called “Bridge to Nowhere,” the Times report noted.
Other cases in point, the Times reported, are supplementary “pet projects” of Sen. Ted Stevens, the Alaska Republican, outgoing chairman of the Senate defense appropriations committee, and his replacement, Sen. Daniel K. Inouye, the Democrat from Hawaii. Taxpayers for Common Sense reports that Alaska this year fed on more than $1 billion in earmarks ($1,677 per resident), and Hawaii received more than $900 million ($746 a resident). Total earmarks, according the Congressional Research Service, have tripled over the last 12 years to 16,000, adding up to a whopping $64 billion a year.
“Though each party would have you believe that the other is more corrupt, the reality is that both parties are guilty,” the taxpayers association said in a bulletin last month on lobby-induced earmarks. “What is clear to us is that corruption and graft in Congress is the only bi-partisan issue on Capitol Hill at the moment.”
Pork barrel politics are nothing new to Washington. Examples of such can be traced as far back as the Bonus Bill of 1817, introduced by John C. Calhoun to construct roadways linking the East and South to the West, using the “earnings bonus” from the Second Bank of the United States. What is most alarming in recent years are the bloated attempts at it, and the bi-partisan binging for more.
If Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi, soon to gavel the House, wants to signal change, she will end this squandering of public monies, and down the pork food pantry.
By Greg O’Brien, Codfish Press
The mid-term elections are sopping with biblical overtones. The “thumping” of Republicans, some say, is analogous to the Great Flood where the GOP was swept out of office, and the Almighty chose two of each to be saved; in this case enough Democrats from each state for control of the Congress. When the votes were counted and exit polling completed, it was no revelation that this Great Judgment ushered in a period of tribulation for Republicans and a bottomless pit of torment. “But the sons of the kingdom will be cast out into outer darkness. There will be weeping and gnashing of teeth,” notes Matthew 8:26.
A USA Today/Gallup Poll, published Tuesday, gives the “casting out” greater perspective. Of those surveyed, 61 percent said they preferred Democrats, long relegated to coat checking in the U.S. House, to have more sway in directing the nation than President Bush. The fallout was more absolute in Massachusetts where Republicans today are about as relevant as abstaining from meat on Friday.
Post elections, Republican soul-searching is at full gait, and many in the party are now looking to the Father, George Herbert Walker Bush, the 41st, to lead the tribe out of the wilderness, and show the Son, Dubya, the 43rd, some direction. Effecting this biblical analogy, Jon Meacham, writing in Newsweek, quotes from the Song of Moses, “Remember the days of old, consider the years of many generations; ask they father, and he will show thee; they elders and they will tell thee.”
In a country today as blue in some parts as the sea, many Republicans—lightening rods for conservative family values—are likely pondering: Why Lord? Why me?
The answer, in a word, is: arrogance—arrogance over Iraq, arrogance that Republican proclamations are infallible, arrogance that begot lust and a gluttony for power. Republicans, who love to quote scripture, ought to consider the passage on judgment in Matthew 7:22. It reads, “Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name?”
“And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!’”
Arrogance has no political bounds. History is replete with the haughtiness of Democrats, who must be wise about what they have wished for. The public has no stomach for the hauteur. If God is indeed a Republican, perhaps the Lord let Republicans in these mid-term elections take one for the team. Conventional wisdom says the Almighty would not stoop to the level of either party. In any case, Democrats can no longer run on the Republican record; instead of just saying “no,” they now must provide answers.
In these heady, backslapping, high-fiving days for Democrats, it would be prudent of them to recognize that Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid are not running this country. They are caretakers for those without party affiliation who have placed them there.
To think otherwise would be arrogant.
The CITGO sign is a Fenway landmark . Now Allston-Brighton City Councilor Jerry P. McDermott also has stepped to the plate, urging the replacement of Fenway’s iconic Citgo sign with an in-your-face American flag to demonstrate Chavez is the consummate “el diablo.” The sign, with its five miles of neon tubes, is owned by Citgo Oil, a Venezuelan subsidiary, and has withstood five hurricanes with winds over 80-miles-an-hour, but will it survive the political bluster?
Action Needed To Reduce Dependence On Foreign Oil
By Greg O’Brien, Codfish Press
The devil made him do it! Or was it politics? Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, facing reelection in December and a vote next month for a Latin American seat on the U.N. Security Council, was in full sulfuric gush himself last week when he attacked George Bush, bringing down a holy hell of vitriolic rebuffs from Democrats and Republicans in the throes of mid-term elections that may rest on who is perceived as most patriotic—a term to be defined by the final count.
Not-ready-for-primetime Chavez, a “Caracas crackpot,” as the New York Post intoned, called President Bush “the devil” in a speech last Wednesday before the United Nations, making a sign of the cross that must have had Michael the Archangel at Defcon Five. Legions of Republicans and Democrats have responded with predictable election year hyperbole, outdoing one another with superlatives. House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi has called Chavez “an everyday thug,” and New York Gov. George Pataki has given this anthropoid the Bronx rush, suggesting he “start giving some of the rights you’ve abused here in New York to the people of Venezuela.”
Allston-Brighton City Councilor Jerry P. McDermott also has stepped to the plate, urging the replacement of Fenway’s iconic Citgo sign with an in-your-face American flag to demonstrate Chavez is the consummate “el diablo.” The sign, with its five miles of neon tubes, is owned by Citgo Oil, a Venezuelan subsidiary, and has withstood five hurricanes with winds over 80-miles-an-hour, but will it survive the political bluster? A former CIA counter-terrorism agent and Army Special Forces commander has now engaged with predictable off-the-mark incoming—targeted at his opponent in the 10th District congressional race, five-term incumbent William Delahunt. Republican contender Jeff Beatty, in a stretch that would challenge even Kevin Youkilis, has accused Delahunt of consorting with the enemy. Delahunt, a member of the House International Relations Committee, brokered a critical first-in-the-nation deal with Chavez and Citgo last November to distribute 12 million gallons of discounted home heating oil to low-income residents of Massachusetts, individuals at risk in the chill of a bitter winter. Delahunt has condemned Chavez’s U.N. remarks, but has insisted, as he should, that he will pursue discounted Venezuelan oil for the needy. No other oil companies to date have responded. “President Chavez’s remarks were singularly inappropriate,” Delahunt said in a statement. “Americans and Venezuelans alike seek a better future, and expect our leaders to help illuminate the way, not to wallow in personal attacks.”
Lost in the debate is the real devil here—the fact that this nation has no thoughtful energy policy to reduce our reliance on foreign oil, an omission that requires our dependence on oil-rich despots that wouldn’t otherwise make our short list of dinner invitations. Major U.S. oil companies, meanwhile, continue consuming record profits, as much in some cases as $100 million a day, with little appetite for assisting those in need.
The devil is in the details, and the particulars here point to politics and profit, as usual.
By Greg O'Brien, Codfish Press
Used to be the greening of America meant lugs like Riley, Ryan and O’Brien lumbering off passenger ships at Ellis Island in New York or the Customs House in Boston in the mid 1800s, fleeing the Great Famine. Now it’s code for a growing conservation movement, “the moral equivalent,” President Jimmy Carter once said, “of war”—a conflict that is giving rise on a personal front to more creative recycling, fuel efficient cars, low-energy homes and windmills. And just in time, or perhaps a generation or two late, as the planet hurtles towards a global warming tipping point with polar ice caps melting faster than cubes in a glass of Pepsi, droughts that are scorching the earth and pock-marking the land with wrinkles and scars, inundating tides that are swamping coastal communities and drowning life-giving wetlands, and raging infernos ignited by freaks of weather that are consuming precious forests the size of Rhode Island.
Hype? Not likely if you have a pulse. Add to the equation the environmental threats from rapidly urbanizing and polluting countries like India and China, and you have an earth not at the tilting point, but flat on her back.
“The task of avoiding ecological disaster may seen hopeless, and some environmental scientists have, quietly, concluded that it is. But Americans are notoriously reluctant to surrender their fates to the impersonal outcomes of an equation,” Newsweek declared weeks ago in a cover treatment headlined: The New Greening Of America.
“One by one—and together, in state and local governments and even giant corporations—they are attempting to wrest the future from the dotted lines on the graphs that point to catastrophe.”
In any pending collapse, there is great potential to react in ways that distract from the challenge, to alienate a mainstream of public opinion that will be required to address this crisis. The green movement to succeed must stay on message—police itself from such diverting minutia as earth-friendly facial creams to biodegradable kitty litter.
Not so nutty California, 12th in the world in carbon dioxide emissions, is on point with a Democratic-controlled legislature and a Republican governor that are muscling power plants and oil refineries in the desert southwest both inside and outside state borders to cut climate-changing, greenhouse gas discharges significantly, or do business elsewhere. “California, in fact, is making a huge bet: that it can reduce emissions without wrecking its economy, and therefore inspire other states—and countries—to follow its example on slowing climate change,” The New York Times reported Friday.
This is one California fad that ought to catch on. Energy cleanup and conservation require nose-to-nose confrontation. With all the deafening commotion today over politics, the economy and world order, more leaders, observers and followers need to be yelling “fire” when it comes to the state of the plant. Saving Mother Earth with thoughtful policies and regulations is not a liberal issue. It’s our responsibility as siblings.