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Disaster In Japan

Andrew Sullivan with a round-up of live blogs

Naked Capitalism:

When a smaller earthquake struck near Tokyo a couple of days ago, I wondered if worse was on the way soon.

Japan has been overdue for a major earthquake, given their historical frequency. Perversely, there was much more worry about the impact of a major quake on Japan when it was an economic force to be reckoned with (perhaps a subconscious wish to cut the seemingly unbeatable Japanese down to size?). While the horrific death count that resulted from the last great quake in 1923, led the Japanese to impose vastly tougher building codes and continue to improve upon earthquake-related technology, events like this too often have a nasty way of defeating careful planning. But this tremblor, which registered a formidable magnitude 8.8, was off the northern coast, but still has produced serious disruptions in Tokyo. There are no good reports of the damage yet.

Choire Sicha at The Awl:

Livestream news from Hawaii seem to show non-devastating waves and pullbacks as the tsunami spreads out from its source in Japan, but at “fairly significant numbers,” according to the islands’ tsunami guy. Japan is still reporting a shockingly low death toll from such a significant event; but that toll is expected to rise. In Hawaii, people seem nervous but assured: “I’ve cut my feet on this reef a few times but nothing like this,” said the KHNL newscaster a few minutes ago, looking at the exposed Diamondhead reef, which is now getting some water again. So far they’ve seen surge of about six feet; it’s now expected to top out at 8 or 9 feet. In the 1946 tsunami, waves lasted all day; this is not expected to be as severe, but you’ll see “odd behavior” all day around Hawaii. After 7 a.m., foot-size waves are expected to reach California.

Michelle Malkin:

Keep the people of Japan in your prayers. The earthquake and tsunami that hit the northern part of the country has caused devastating loss of life and destruction. Readers in Hawaii e-mail that they have prepared for coastal flooding as well. Be safe, friends.

Ed Morrissey:

I lived most of my life in Southern California, where natives take a blasé attitude towards most quakes, but a few of them are memorable.  My first day running an alarm center in Southern California was the day of the Northridge quake seventeen years ago, which only hit 6.7 on the Richter scale and killed 33 people, destroyed a freeway overpass, and did major damage.  The Richter scale is logarithmic, which means that an 8.8 quake released more than 1000 times the energy of a 6.7.

Jack Spencer at Heritage:

Reports coming from Japan say the quake caused millions of people to evacuate buildings, and the government ordered people near several of the country’s nuclear power plants to leave. Concerns about a radiation leak at the Fukushima Dai-Ichi No. 1 reactor, one of Japan’s 11 nuclear reactors, led to the precautionary evacuation. The biggest concern is that the electricity shortage at the plant is making it difficult for crews to operate the plant’s reactor cooling system quickly.

It is important to remember that the evacuation efforts are cautionary measures rather than indicative of any certain danger posed by the nuclear reactors. Japan’s nuclear power plants, like our own, are built to withstand earthquakes. Plants are engineered to shut down the moment an earthquake hits. Beyond that, each nuclear power plant is fitted with numerous and layered safety mechanisms to ensure the integrity of the facility.

Indeed, even if all of those systems fail, which has not been the case in Japan based on current information, the physics of light water reactors (the type operated in both Japan and the U.S.) make them inherently safe. The same water used to cool the reactor is also necessary to sustain the nuclear reaction. Should the ability to cool the reactor be lost because of an inability to pump coolant to the core, as is the case with the one Japanese reactor, the nuclear reaction will cease. However, it is much too early to even assume that has happened.

Digby:

I was watching the live coverage of the tsunami in Japan last night and could not believe what I was seeing. It was something out of a movie — a movie that I would have thought was somewhat ridiculous until I saw this surge from the birds eye view. Unbelievable.

I’m sitting here now, six blocks from the beach in California, waiting for the wave to hit the west coast. Luckily it doesn’t appear to be dangerous to us at this point.

The good news is that if the Republicans have their way, when one of these things does hit us in this earthquake zone, we won’t have warning:

Thursday night’s massive earthquake in Japan and the resulting tsunami warnings that have alarmed U.S. coasts, seem likely to ignite a debate over a previously little-discussed subsection of the spending bills currently being debated in Congress.

Tucked into the House Republican continuing resolution are provisions cutting the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, including the National Weather Service, as well as humanitarian and foreign aid.

Presented as part of a larger deficit reduction package, each cut could be pitched as tough-choice, belt-tightening on behalf of the GOP. But advocates for protecting those funds pointed to the crisis in Japan as evidence that without the money, disaster preparedness and relief would suffer.

“These are very closely related,” National Weather Service Employees Organization President Dan Sobien told The Huffington Post with respect to the budget cuts and the tsunami. “The National Weather Service has the responsibility of warning about tsunami’s also. It is true that there is no plan to not fund the tsunami buoys. Everyone knows you just can’t do that. Still if those [House] cuts go through there will be furloughs at both of the tsunami warning centers that protect the whole country and, in fact, the whole world.”

The House full-year continuing resolution, which has not passed the Senate, would indeed make steep cuts to several programs and functions that would serve in a response to natural disasters (not just tsunamis) home and abroad. According to Sobien, the bill cuts $126 million from the budget of the NWS. Since, however, the cuts are being enacted over a six-month period (the length of the continuing resolution) as opposed to over the course of a full year, the effect would be roughly double.

I realize that the productive wealthy can’t be taxed but I hope they’re all thinking ahead and employing their own natural disaster experts or they might suffer right along with the rest of us.

Noah Kristula-Green at FrumForum:

I grew up in Japan from Kindergarten through high school, so when I learned about the earthquake that struck the country this morning, I immediately had flashbacks to the many disaster preparedness drills I had gone through growing up. The images on the television of the aftermath of the earthquake are undoubtedly extreme and the level of damage from this natural disaster is more than any that I can remember from my lifetime. In addition to the news on television, a glance at facebook shows that many of my friends from Japan are scared as well. It seems that many phone lines are not working and I am sure the mobile phone networks are over-saturated as well. I’m also learning interesting pieces of news, apparently the roof of an ice skating rink my friends and I used to go to as a kid has collapsed.

However, only Japan could be hit with an 8.9 scale quake and come out of it with only hundreds dead. Similarly large earthquakes in less prepared countries have killed tens of thousands almost instantly. (A 7.5 earthquake in Bangladesh killed 90,000 people within minutes in 2010).

When it comes to earthquake preparedness, Japan does set the gold standard. In addition to strict building codes, a concerted effort is made to train and drill the entire population. Schools regularly practice evacuation routes, classrooms keep enough helmets in stock for all students, and reminders about where the safest place to be during a quake (under tables or in doorways) are constantly reiterated. I have vivid memories of an earthquake simulation truck that would travel around to educate people about what a large quake would feel like. The truck would be cut open to reveal a diorama of a living room. A series of springs would be activated to shake the diorama at levels up to and beyond the scale of quakes that Japan would normally be hit by.

Just as important as the civil preparedness, the security of Japan’s infrastructure is also a high priority. Its nuclear power plants have managed to be controlled despite initial concerns of a cooling problem.

Earthquakes are also excellent times to remember that Japan’s architects and construction companies are some of the best and most thorough in the world. Web video is already circulating of Japanese skyscrapers swaying dramatically.  This video may look shocking to the uninitiated, but it is actually a very good thing: it is much better for a building to move and sway with the earthquake as opposed to resisting it.

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The Word From Madison, Wisconsin

Alex Altman at Swampland at Time:

Thousands of Wisconsin’s union workers and supporters crowded into the state capitol in Madison for a second day to protest a bill that would strip key collective-bargaining rights from public employees. The measure, introduced last Friday by new Republican Governor Scott Walker, would take away public-worker unions’ ability to negotiate pensions, working conditions and benefits. State and local workers would have to foot more of the cost for their pensions–around 5.8 %–and more than twice that percentage of their health-care costs. Nearly all public workers–the bill exempts police, firefighters and state troopers–would be able to bargain only for salary, and any wage increases would be tied to the Consumer Price Index. (Raises beyond that capped figure would require a special referendum.) With Republicans now in control of the state legislature after November’s electoral victory, the measure is expected to pass as early as tomorrow. You can read the statehouse’s summary of the bill here.

There’s no question Wisconsin has a deficit problem. The state has a short-term budget shortfall of $137 million, and over the next two years the deficit balloons to more than $3.6 billion. Walker says the “budget repair bill” would save some $30 million this fiscal year, which ends June 30, and $300 million during the following two. “I’m just trying to balance my budget,” Walker told the New York Times. “To those who say why didn’t I negotiate on this? I don’t have anything to negotiate with. We don’t have anything to give. Like practically every other state in the country, we’re broke. And it’s time to pay up.” He says the measure will help avoid up to 6,000 layoffs.

The measure has infuriated the state’s 175,000 public-sector employees, who say they’re being scapegoated by a governor whose party has no love for unions.Other newly installed Republican governors, from Florida’s Rick Scott to Ohio’s John Kasich, have zeroed in on cutting state-employee rolls and rights as a way to close sagging budget gaps. But Walker’s plan, which guts entrenched rights, is perhaps the most dramatic. “It is up to us to fight for the right of workers to have a collective voice on the job,” said Wisconsin AFL-CIO president Phil Neuenfeldt. “This proposal is too extreme.”

David Vines at Huffington Post:
For the last two days, protestors have been marching on the Wisconsin State Capitol, protesting Governor Scott Walker’s new union-busting budget proposal. Last night, a public forum was held and protesters got a chance to speak inside the Capitol to let their voices be heard. As of early Wednesday morning, citizens are still speaking to the Joint Finance Committee in the Capitol.

Scroll Down For Latest Updates.

*All times are Central Standard Time

Tuesday, February 15, 10:42 PM: Thousands of demonstrators are inside the Capitol, demanding a chance to speak in an open forum. Officials have been allowing citizens to sign up on a list, but are debating closing down the list due to overcrowding and public safety reasons. Video here.

11:20 PM: I conducted interviews with three members of the University of Wisconsin community, which can all be seen below.

“I’m worried about the future,” Jason Kempe, a Spanish teaching assistant, told me. “I don’t have a problem with losing, but I do have a problem with abolishing the ability to negotiate,” he said. Watch the full interview here.

Then I spoke with Chris McKim, a recent UW graduate who recently spent time abroad in Nepal. “Where I was living in Nepal, they are coming out of 15 years of civil war over very basic human rights, one of them the right to peacefully assemble and collectively bargain in unions,” McKim said. “To see something like that stripped from us here at home, it’s horrifying.” Watch the full interview here.

“We want our professors to be the best and we want our TA’s to be the best,” said Meghan Ford, an undergraduate student at the University of Wisconsin. “They work extremely hard and to take away their pay like this is a basic violation of human rights, not just worker’s rights.” Watch the full interview here.

Wednesday, February 16, 12:22 AM: It’s past midnight here but the crowd has not thinned out much.

I just talked to Leif Brottem, a sixth-year PHD student and research assistant at UW-Madison. “Taking away health insurance and taking away bargaining rights of the union really… it’s going to negatively effect the university’s ability to attract students which are the lifeblood of the university.” Watch the full interview here.

Then, I interviewed Zachary DeQuattro, a TAA member and Zoology teaching assistant at UW-Madison. “I’m here tonight in support of my wife whose a Madison school teacher, and in support of myself and other graduate students,” DeQuattro told me. He said of the proposed bill, “It’s really the start of losing the whole union setup. The union will be eaten up trying to re-certify every year and it’s just a real shame.” Watch the full interview here.

12:51 AM: Just got word from a student upstairs that this hearing will likely go on all night. The Republicans may leave at 2:00 when they initially anticipated the forum to end, but I’m hearing that this will go on all night.

2:00 AM: It is officially 2:00 AM and the forum is still going strong. I’m with a few hundred people in the atrium of the building, some of whom are fast asleep.

2:02 AM: All of the lights went off for about 10 seconds, which was met with cheers from some of the people gathered here, but they were promptly turned back on. “Maybe someone just leaned on the light switch,” a friend of mine joked.

Choire Sicha at The Awl:

Just in case you’re busy tracking unrest in Bahrain or elsewhere around the globe, you should also know that Wisconsin’s capitol is still actually totally occupied, due to its governor being an enemy of working people everywhere. Live coverage here and here.

Josh Marshall at Talking Points Memo:

Over the last few days we’ve had a growing number of emails from readers saying what’s happening now in Wisconsin is important and we should be on it. As you can see from our current feature, we agree. And we are on it. So I wanted to take a moment to explain just why I think this is so important.

On one level, this is just a meaty news story. The newly-inaugurated right-wing Governor of Wisconsin is using the state’s budget crisis to drastically change the rights of union organizing in the state. He’s even added the weird and bizarre touch of proactively hinting that he might call out the state National Guard to calm any labor unrest. The key point is that Gov. Walker is going well beyond cross-government retrenchment to making wholesale changes to rights to collective bargaining. In response, labor and its progressive allies are mobilizing in a huge way to counter the effort. [Click here to see our slideshow of what’s happening on the ground in the state capitol today.] The Governor excludes police and firefighters from the changes to the labor laws. But at least the firefighters in the state seem to be standing with other public sector union members in what’s turning into a huge public battle.

That in itself would make it a story we’d want to be all over. But it’s quite a bit more than that. Whichever side of the policy issue you’re on, I think the outcome of this situation is going to have ramifications across the country. Republicans came out of the 2010 election pumped up and feeling that they had a huge mandate to fundamentally change government in this country. I don’t think the elections really told us that at all. But these things are decided by results post-election not by analysis of the election returns. And that’s what’s being determined right now.

Ann Althouse:

I said imagine how Democrats would react if Tea Partiers had a demonstration like that — replete with misspelled signs and signs depicting a Democratic Party politician as Hitler or with his head in a noose.

The fact is that the Republicans decisively won the governorship and both houses of the state legislature — probably with next to no votes from the people who came to the demonstration. If you’re asking — like Shilling — for the Republican legislators to listen to democracy, they should look at the last election, the people all over the state who voted for them and, presumably, for fiscal responsibility and shared sacrifice.

The people around the state were probably at their jobs yesterday, not able to travel here, into the heart of the state’s liberal politics, to do a counter-demonstration and show their numbers (the numbers recorded last October at the polls). Did the demonstrators — many of whom were teachers — try to speak to those people or did they mostly look inward, at each other, pumping up their own resolve?

What are the people around the state supposed to think of them — teachers who have pretty nice jobs and who decided they could go somewhere else for the day instead? What did those teachers teach? I didn’t notice any of them trying to speak to the people of the state, trying to win anyone over. In fact, there were chants — simple, repeated words that don’t try to explain and persuade — and ugly signs full of name-calling and violence. There were plenty of nice people too and gentle signs, but the nice to ugly ratio was worse than at the Tea Party rallies I’ve seen, and Democrats aimed such contempt at the Tea Partiers. Why should the Tea Party-type people of the state be impressed by the other side’s crowds?

Eric Lach at Talking Points Memo:

Speaking on Morning Joe Thursday morning, Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) compared the current situation in Wisconsin, where Gov. Scott Walker (R) has inspired days of protests by proposing a budget that would remove key bargaining powers for public employee unions, to the recent unrest in Egypt that toppled the 30-year authoritarian rule of Hosni Mubarak, saying it’s “like Cairo has moved to Madison these days.”

Host Mika Brzezinski asked Ryan what he made of the protests and Walker’s “stand.”

“He is basically saying, state workers, which have extremely generous benefit packages relative to their private sector counterparts, they contribute next to nothing to their pensions, very, very little in their health care packages,” Ryan responded “He’s asking that they contribute about 12% for their health care premiums, which is about half of the private sector average, and about 5.6% to their pensions. It’s not asking a lot, it’s still about half of what private sector pensions do and health care packages do. So he’s basically saying, I want you public workers to pay half of what our private sector counterparts are, and he’s getting, you know, riots. It’s like Cairo has moved to Madison these days. It’s just, all of this demonstration. It’s fine, people should be able to express their way, but we’ve got to get this deficit and debt under control in Madison, if we want to have a good business climate and job creation in Wisconsin.”

Ryan then seemed to compare what’s happening in his state to anti-austerity protests that took place in Europe last year.

Ben Smith at Politico:

The Democratic National Committee’s Organizing for America arm — the remnant of the 2008 Obama campaign — is playing an active role in organizing protests against Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker’s attempt to strip most public employees of collective bargaining rights.

OfA, as the campaign group is known, has been criticized at times for staying out of local issues like same-sex marraige, but it’s riding to the aide of the public sector unions who hoping to persuade some Republican legislators to oppose Walker’s plan. And while Obama may have his difference with teachers unions, OfA’s engagement with the fight — and Obama’s own clear stance against Walker — mean that he’s remaining loyal to key Democratic Party allies at what is, for them, a very dangerous moment.

OfA Wisconsin’s field efforts include filling buses and building turnout for the rallies this week in Madison, organizing 15 rapid response phone banks urging supporters to call their state legislators, and working on planning and producing rallies, a Democratic Party official in Washington said.

The @OFA_WI twitter account has published 54 tweets promoting the rallies, which the group has also plugged on its blog.

“At a time when most folks are still struggling to get back on their feet, Gov. Walker has asked the state legislature to strip public employees of their collective bargaining rights. Under his plan, park rangers, teachers, and prison guards would no longer be able to fight back if the new Republican majority tries to slash their health benefits or pensions,” OfA Wisconsin State Director Dan Grandone wrote supporters in an email. “But that’s not even the most shocking part: The governor has also put the state National Guard on alert in case of ‘labor unrest.’ We can’t — and won’t — let Scott Walker’s heavy-handed tactics scare us. This Tuesday and Wednesday, February 15th and 16th, volunteers will be attending rallies at the state

Wis Politics:

In protest of the budget repair bill that will strip public union workers of almost all of their collective bargaining rights, Senate Democrats have walked away from a floor session.

Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald said Dems are refusing to come to the floor to debate and vote on the bill.

Fitzgerald said at some point, if needed, Republicans will use the State Patrol to round up Democrats to bring them to the floor. The bill passed the Joint Finance Committee on a partisan 12-4 vote Wednesday night and was due to be taken up by the Senate today.

During last night’s debate on the repair bill, Republicans on the JFC amended the bill to remove a provision stripping pension and health benefits from limited term employees.

The GOP amendment will also mandate local governments offer civil service protections to public employees similar to those state employees receive. Democrats on the committee, unsatisfied with what they felt were insignificant changes, voted against the amendment.

“We have to continue to fight,” Rep. Tamara Grigsby, D-Milwaukee, said. “This is one battle in the war.”

Republican leaders expected it to pass through the Legislature unchanged except for the amendment added in the JFC.

A few audience members broke down in tears as the committee moved toward a vote.

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Filed under Economics, Legislation Pending

Damn, We At Around The Sphere Had $200 On Joe Klein Again

Mark Halperin at Time:

McCain wordsmith revealed as “anonymous” author of “O” the novel.

Confirmed by sources, but there were lots of in-plain-sight clues that led to Salter’s Maine door.

(Flashback: Page Six touted Salter.)

–Simon and Schuster topper Jonathan Karp was Salter’s editor on books he did with Senator McCain.

–Salter has been holed up in Maine since leaving his job in the Senate.

–The descriptions that Karp has given of the author matched Salter.

–Salter’s non-denial denial was the closest to a confession of any suspect who was publicly asked.

–There is a story early in the book based on a real-life tale that would have been known only to a McCain campaign insider such as Salter.

Garance Franke-Ruta at The Atlantic:
It was obvious from skimming ‘O: A Presidential Novel,’ written by “Anonymous” and published Tuesday after an intense publicity campaign, that its author was male, on the political center-right, and not a professional writer. The writing lacked the finesse of a pro, described women in vivid physical terms, and imagined for the president a disdain for liberal Democrats that echoed the way conservatives talk about liberals, rather than the way reporters or mainstream Democrats do

Kathryn Jean Lopez at The Corner:

A little D.C. parlor game at the moment is guessing who the author of the Anonymous novel O: A Presidential Novel, is. The New York Post’s Page Six pointed to former longtime John McCain adviser Mark Salter. Mark Halperin today says he has it “Confirmed by sources” that Salter is Mr. Anonymous. This morning, for what it’s worth, this is what Salter had to say to me: “I can’t confirm I’m the author. Been asked by the publisher, as have many others, not to comment on it.”

All I really know is if Salter wrote it, it’s a good read.

UPDATE: I should make clear: I haven’t read O yet. Assessment is a gamble, being familiar with Salter’s past writing.

Choire Sicha at The Awl:

Well that didn’t take too long: Mark Salter has been “officially” fingered as the author of O, the fictionalized, non-sadomasochistic work of fiction about the president, written by someone described by the publisher as someone who “has been in the room with Barack Obama.” You remember Mark Salter as the man who writes everything for John McCain. Oh I see. Political ops. The book has been in print for two days. “Trite, implausible and decidedly unfunny,” says the New York Times!

Truth in advertising first. I haven’t read the novel, though I really like the graphics of the “O” and the “ears” as well as the brilliant blue of the cover.

Recently, I ventured into a cluster of leading conservatives with whom I had a great social encounter and saw the book in my friend’s living room.

Not having read it, I asked the host and others if they enjoyed it — and the response was “I just couldn’t get past the first few dozen pages. I tried twice.”

This person also said that Joe Klein’s brilliance in Primary Colors is that Klein really had an sympathy and understanding for the tough and miserable life politicians had to lead, an empathy for them. My friend said that he didn’t feel that O‘s author had that same respect for the profession.

I then mentioned that I had been hearing rumors that former McCain chief of staff and co-author of nearly all of McCain’s books, Mark Salter, might be the author.

My friend said, “But Mark Salter can write!!”

Just shows that you never know — until you know.

David Weigel:

Was Jonathan Karp on the level when he promoted this? Sort of. The author, we were told, was someone who’d been “in the room” with Barack Obama. That was a loose enough classification to apply to Sarah Palin or to Markos Moulitsas. But the book was also promoted as an insider account of how Obama thinks, which wouldn’t have been possible if it was marketed honestly as “what a confidant of the man Obama defeated in 2008 thinks about Obama.”

The Salter authorship (unconfirmed! barely!) does allow us to revisit a few interesting items in the novel. Is the contempt that “O” feels for Sarah Palin supposed to be in the president’s voice or Salter’s? The president’s, although Palin’s dizzy quotes and decision not to run don’t come from nowhere. Also, the six page section in which the war hero senator’s speechwriter screams “Whhhhhhhyyyyyyyyyy?” makes more sense now.*

*I am kidding about this but it’s worth a disclaimer when you’re discussing a stunt.

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Egypt On January 28th

Again, Andrew Sullivan

Allah Pundit:

Things are happening fast so let’s get a thread up. A 6 p.m. curfew has been imposed and, thus far, widely ignored. Tanks are starting to roll as I write this and there are reports on Twitter of “loud explosions” and live ammo being used in downtown Cairo. The Telegraph has a screencap from Al Jazeera showing Mubarak’s party headquarters in the city on fire; other party headquarters have been ransacked in Mansoura and Suez. The State Department says it’s deeply concerned and is calling on Mubarak to enact reforms and allow peaceful protests — although I think we’re past that point by now. Mubarak was supposed to speak at around 11 a.m. but nothing from him yet.

Sad to say, your best bet at the moment is by clicking the image below and watching the live stream from Al Jazeera English. Its agenda is no secret — Hezbollah and Hamas are particular favorites — but they’re on the top of the minute-by-minute news here like no one else. So much so, in fact, that their feed may go down at any moment: Word earlier was that Egyptian police were banging on the door of their Cairo bureau headquarters.

Stand by for updates, needless to say.

Spencer Ackerman at Danger Room at Wired:

Protesters have flooded the streets of Alexandria and Suez. In Cairo, they’re publicly praying in the thoroughfare. And the Egyptian government can’t seem to stop them, despite the crackdown on internet access and cellular communications.

The past four days’ worth of protests in Egypt, spurred by those that dethroned the Tunisian government on Jan. 14, have been accelerated by social media. The #Jan25 hashtag gave the leaderless revolt an internal organizing tool and global communications reach. So it shouldn’t be surprising that the Mubarak regime responded by ordering the withdrawal of over 3,500 Border Gateway Protocol routes by Egyptian service providers, shutting down approximately 88 percent of the country’s Internet access, according to networking firm BGPMon.

But the so-called “Day of Wrath” is uninterrupted. On al-Jazeera a few minutes ago, a functionary from Mubarak’s National Democratic Party called the uprising “unprecedented” and conceded that the government needs a “non-traditional way of dealing with this,” including “action against corruption, against poverty… [giving] more freedoms.” He said all this while police and the Army are firing tear gas at the demonstrators.

Sepoy:

It isn’t a domino effect.1 What happened in Tunisia, isn’t what is happening in Egypt and what is happening in Yemen and what is happening in Lebanon and what will happen in Oman. The internet or twitter or facebook is not behind this.2 Neither is al-Jazeera.3 Each of these states have their very particular histories, very particular teleologies which are more decisive – whether politically or symbolically – than anything in the social media netscape bullcrap. Yes, there are striking similarities: the dis-enfrachised populations, the dictators or prime-ministers propped up by Europe or America (those chaste defenders of freedom everywhere), the young and the connected. Yes, no one wants this to happen – America and Europe would rather eat crow than actually admit to a democratic program in Middle East or Africa (teh Mooslims!) and there are powerful and entrenched forces within these states who will not tolerate any challenge to their hegemony.

Choire Sicha at The Awl:

You know what is the worst possible thing the Egyptian government could have done? Detaining just-returned possible opposition candidate Mohamed ElBaradei. That won’t inflame protests at all! Not that they need inflaming in the slightest; Cairo is apparently choking with tear gas. The good news? People arrested may not stay in jail for long: Al Jazeera reports that in Suez, “the police station in the port city has been taken over by protesters who have freed detainees.” Meanwhile, French journalists have been arrested and CNN’s cameras have been seized by police, as the country believes it can silence news about the brewing revolution.

Abe Greenwald at Commentary:

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s latest statement in response to the protests in Egypt should be immortalized as a classic articulation of the absurd, approaching the level of “Let them eat cake.” As hundreds of thousands of Egyptians defy a state-imposed curfew, set fire to Hosni Mubarak’s party headquarters, overturn cars, and set off explosions nationwide while demanding that Mubarak leave the country, Clinton took a moment out of her day to note the following:

We are deeply concerned about the use of violence by Egyptian police and security forces against protestors. We call on the Egyptian government to do everything in its power to restrain security forces. At the same time, protesters should also refrain from violence and express themselves peacefully. We urge Egyptian authorities to allow peaceful protests and reverse unprecedented steps it has taken to cut down means of communications.

That is, to be sure, the best, most admirable line for the administration to take – if today were January 20. On January 28, it is not merely late; it is surreal. The protests are not peaceful and the regime is not so much cracking down as it is fighting for its survival. The time to urge a dictator to grant his people freedoms is before he’s flitting between burning buildings. But back when that was the case, the Obama administration was too busy being pragmatic and humble to raise the issue of human rights in Egypt.

Justin Elliott at Salon:

As protests rage on in Egypt, the close relationship between the U.S. government and the regime of Hosni Mubarak has already garnered a lot of attention. But it’s also worth taking a moment to examine the lobbying muscle that Egypt employs to secure its interests in Washington, including a mammoth $1.3 billion annual military aid package.

Seven firms are currently registered foreign agents for Egypt, including one, the Podesta Group, that has close ties to the Democratic Party and the Obama administration.

Founded by brothers Tony and John Podesta in the late 1980s, the Podesta Group has been retained by some of the biggest corporations in the country, including Wal-Mart, BP and Lockheed Martin. Tony Podesta’s bio boasts that “if you want something done in Washington, DC, you go to Tony Podesta.” After starting the firm, John Podesta went on to serve as Bill Clinton’s chief of staff and, more recently, to found the Center for American Progress, a liberal think tank closely associated with the Obama administration.

The Podesta Group counsels Egypt “on U.S. policies of concern, activities in Congress and the Executive branch, and developments on the U.S. political scene generally,” according to forms filed with the Justice Department in 2009.

Records also show Tony Podesta himself meeting with members of Congress, governors and generals in recent years to discuss U.S.-Egypt relations and the military aid package and to introduce Egyptian officials to American power brokers.

Marc Lynch in Foreign Policy:

Mubarak’s regime has been wounded at its core, and even if he survives in the short run the regime will have to make major internal changes to regain any semblance of normality. An Egyptian regime which spends the next years in a state of military lockdown will hardly be a useful ally. It’s not like there’s an active peace process to compromise. The Islamist scarecrow shouldn’t work, given the Muslim Brotherhood’s limited role in events (despite the efforts of the Egyptian regime to claim otherwise).

More broadly the costs to the Obama administration with Arab public opinion of being on the wrong side of this issue will be enormous. This isn’t about the “magical democracy words” of the past few years — it’s about a moment of flux when real change is possible, whether or not the United States wants it. Accepting Mubarak’s fierce gambit now would put an end to any claim the United States has of promoting democracy and reform for a generation, and alienating the rising youth generation on which the administration has placed so much emphasis. It would also make Cairo the graveyard of Obama’s Cairo speech and efforts to rebuild relations with the Muslims of the world. The United States will be better positioned to push such changes in the right direction if it maintains a strong and principled position today — regardless of whether Mubarak or someone else ends up in control. The cautious strategy right now is the same as the principled one, whether Mubarak falls or if he survives.

The Obama administration has handled developments in the Arab world skillfully over the last month. It has done a good job of siding with the universal demands for freedom and political rights, without taking overt sides. It has wisely avoided trying to stamp the events as “made in America.” Now conditions are changing rapidly, and now is the time for the administration to move to a new level. I’m hoping that we’ll soon hear some strong words from administration officials about Egypt.

UPDATE, 11:40am:   Secretary Clinton is now scheduled to give a statement on Egypt in about 10 minutes.   Good.  I know that a lot of Arabs are disappointed with Obama’s perceived silence on Egypt over the last few days (and furious over Biden’s comment) but there’s a long way to go.    The Obama administration is going to have to play a key role in talking Mubarak down if it comes to that, and the right intervention there would be at least as important, probably more important, than public statements.  There is a longer game here than posturing for the cameras — getting this right is the point.

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They Write Op-Eds, Too, Part III

Barack Obama in The Wall Street Journal:

For two centuries, America’s free market has not only been the source of dazzling ideas and path-breaking products, it has also been the greatest force for prosperity the world has ever known. That vibrant entrepreneurialism is the key to our continued global leadership and the success of our people.

But throughout our history, one of the reasons the free market has worked is that we have sought the proper balance. We have preserved freedom of commerce while applying those rules and regulations necessary to protect the public against threats to our health and safety and to safeguard people and businesses from abuse.

From child labor laws to the Clean Air Act to our most recent strictures against hidden fees and penalties by credit card companies, we have, from time to time, embraced common sense rules of the road that strengthen our country without unduly interfering with the pursuit of progress and the growth of our economy.

Sometimes, those rules have gotten out of balance, placing unreasonable burdens on business—burdens that have stifled innovation and have had a chilling effect on growth and jobs. At other times, we have failed to meet our basic responsibility to protect the public interest, leading to disastrous consequences. Such was the case in the run-up to the financial crisis from which we are still recovering. There, a lack of proper oversight and transparency nearly led to the collapse of the financial markets and a full-scale Depression.

Over the past two years, the goal of my administration has been to strike the right balance. And today, I am signing an executive order that makes clear that this is the operating principle of our government.

This order requires that federal agencies ensure that regulations protect our safety, health and environment while promoting economic growth. And it orders a government-wide review of the rules already on the books to remove outdated regulations that stifle job creation and make our economy less competitive. It’s a review that will help bring order to regulations that have become a patchwork of overlapping rules, the result of tinkering by administrations and legislators of both parties and the influence of special interests in Washington over decades.

The Executive Order

Chris Good at The Atlantic. More Good:

The business community is praising President Obama’s new regulatory initiative, while retaining a degree of skepticism that meaningful change will come.

Obama rolled out a plan this morning to minimize the burdens of regulation on businesses, introducing it in a Wall Street Journal op-ed. Obama said the administration will seek input from businesses, and he issued a memo and executive order requiring executive agencies to review existing regulations and make compliance info searchable online.

“We welcome President Obama’s intention to issue an executive order today restoring balance to government regulations,” said Thomas Donohue, president and CEO of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the nation’s most prominent business group.

“While a positive first step, a robust and globally competitive economy requires fundamental reform of our broken regulatory system.  Congress should reclaim some of the authority it has delegated to the agencies and implement effective checks and balances on agency power,” Donohue continued, in a statement issued by the group.

Health care and financial reform should be examined as well, Donohue said: “No major rule or regulation should be exempted from the review, including the recently enacted health care and financial reform laws.”

It remains to be seen what will come out of this new roll-out. Obama has held a tricky relationship with business as president: Business coalitions like the Chamber supported his stimulus plan at the outset of his presidency, but the pushes to reform energy, health care, and Wall Street didn’t thrill them as much.

Jonathan Adler:

It reaffirms the basic principles outlined in President Clinton’s Executive Order 12866, issued in September 1993, and continues to require agencies to conduct cost-benefit analyses of proposed rules.  As noted in the President’s op-ed, it also requires agencies to engage in  “retrospective analysis” of existing rules so as to accelerate the pace at which outdated regulations are revoked.  Specifically, it requires all agencies to develop a plan for such retrospective review within 120 days.  If the White House Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs ensures such reviews are meaningful, this could be a significant and positive step.

Michelle Malkin:

While the Sherlock Homes of 1600 Pennsylvania sleuths around in search of “the right balance” that they’ve skewed catastrophically over the last two years, the mother of all job creation-stifling regulations — Obamacare — awaits repeal.

“Balance” my you-know-what

Bruce McQuain at Q and O:

Of course on the other side of that are those saying “since when is it a function of government to decide what gas mileage a car must get?”  The entire premise that it is a function of government is built on belief in a “justified” level of intrusion far beyond that which any Constitutional scholar would or could objectively support (that’s assuming he is a scholar and an honest one).  In fact the example perfectly states the obvious difference between big government advocates and small government advocates.  BGA’s think it is government’s job to dictate such things – that it is a function of government to do so.  SGAs believe it is the market’s job to dictate such things and that government shouldn’t be involved in these sorts of things.

So in essence, while the Obama op/ed has all the proper buzz words to attempt to sell it as a pro-business, small government move, it is in fact simply a restatement of an old premise that essentially says “government belongs in the areas it is now, we just need to clean it up a little”.

This really isn’t about backing off, it’s about cleaning up.  It isn’t about letting the market work, it’s about hopefully making government work better.  And while Obama claims to want to inform us about our choices rather than restricting them, I’ll still be unable to buy a car that doesn’t meet government standards on gas mileage even if I want one.

Now that may not seem like something most of us would want – few if any of us want bad gas mileage and the cost it brings – but it does illustrate the point that government regulation really isn’t about providing choice at all, it is and always will be about limiting them.  And all the smooth talking in the world doesn’t change that.   It’s the nature of the beast.

Choire Sicha at The Awl:

The president’s last executive order was signed between Christmas and New Year’s. It codified the bias in hiring towards college graduates (and more and more in America, those without college degrees will never have access to decent work!), but at least demanded the creation of entry level positions in the government for recent college graduates and veterans. The Wall Street Journalextends a statement from the president today, promoting his new executive order, which we shall call Operation Untangling. The plan apparently means that every government agency must identify which of their regulations are stupidest, and make them go away, supposedly. For instance, Obama trumpets that they just changed the EPA regulations that ensured saccharine was treated as a toxic chemical. American, onward and upward, very, very slowly. Anyway there’s lots of dog whistle noises in here about business and regulation that are designed to appeal to particular people but judging from the reaction, it’s just another chance for everyone to complain from various opposing viewpoints about how America is broken.

Mike Konczal at Rortybomb:

It’s fine as far as it goes. Here’s where it would be helpful if Obama picked some fights and put out some reform markers, because I can’t tell if this is just cover to go after proxy access rules as a way of making peace with the business community.   It’s worth noting that, as far as I read it, we’d have the same exact financial crisis, the same criminal securitization chain, the same uncapitalized derivatives positions, the same shadow banking panic if we regulated the financial sector with these guidelines.

And the things that actually acted on these principals in the past two years – the CFPB which has consolidated regulatory burdens across agencies in order to make regulations more clear, interchange reform which created a market between credit cards and debit cards to de facto create a market rate of credit at the individual merchant level – were bitterly opposed by the industries in question.

More generally I don’t like the notion that regulation is conceptually some sort of brakes on markets, a dial that can be turned up or down until some sort of optimal space is hit. I think of regulation as a means of handling the consequences of a specific market, both by setting up the terms on which the market plays as well as the mechanisms for handling conflicts and the way things collapse.  How does a firm fail?  How do other firms compete, and under what terms is information disclosed to the market?  In some ways this is obvious: the nuclear energy market would not exist in its current form without the government.  I’d be more likely to support for crazy loans if our bankruptcy courts were designed to modify primary household debt and also if we reformed the bizarre way we deal with junior liens, a conflict people knew about at the beginning of the housing bubble.

Ann Althouse:

And here‘s the underlying Wall Street Journal op-ed by Barack Obama, which features an illustration of a man — not Obama… he looks a bit like Don Imus — in a gray business suit, running with scissors — running with scissors! — cutting his way through an abstract field of red tape. In the op-ed, Obama is all about carefully and thoughtfully weighing the value of particular regulations in relation to the burdens they impose, so the picture is amusingly inapt.

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So The Summer Will Be Ending Just The Way The Summer Began

Max Fisher at The Atlantic:

An oil rig off the coast of Louisiana in the Gulf of Mexico has exploded, sending all 13 oil workers into the Gulf, one of whom remains missing. A search and rescue effort by the U.S. Coast Guard is already underway. The explosion comes shortly after oil finally stopped flowing into the Gulf (for the moment) from another rig that had been severely damaged by a large explosion. Fortunately, early reports say this explosion occurred at an oil rig that is not currently producing, drastically reducing the potential for further environmental damage.

Despite strong encouragement from many liberals and environmental activists, that crisis did not secure sweeping energy reform legislation or the full Democratic backing of long-sought cap and trade proposals. Even President Obama’s offshore drilling moratorium was initially knocked down by a state court. In the wake of that long and difficult episode, many are greeting this most recent event with deep, almost macabre cynicism about our ability to learn from disaster.

Michelle Malkin:

Pray for the workers. Brace for the political aftermath.

Allah Pundit:

DHS claims that the rig wasn’t producing oil and gas when the explosion hit. Time to breathe easy? Maybe not: CNN’s Ed Henry is hearing from the Coast Guard that the platform was in production and that it … wasn’t equipped with a standard blowout preventer. (The crew did, however, allegedly start emergency shutdown before bailing out.) As of an hour ago, the rig was still on fire but I’m not sure what the status is now. Jindal is set to speak within an hour or so. Stand by for updates galore.

Update: WDSU says that because it’s a platform, not a rig, it’s not actively engaged in drilling.

Update: A tip from a reader who, unlike me, knows what he’s talking about:

If the platform is not a drilling platform then it doesn’t need a traditional blowout preventer. The difference being is that with drilling the oil is being forced out at a high rate, therefor need a blowout preventer that can hold back all that pressure. If this platform is a production platform, all it needs is something to stop the flow in the pipes which is flowing with much lower pressure.

Update: How much oil and gas was the platform churning out? CNN:

“Mariner has notified and is working with regulatory authorities in response to this incident,” the statement said. “The cause is not known, and an investigation will be undertaken. During the last week of August 2010, production from this facility averaged approximately 9.2 million cubic feet of natural gas per day and 1,400 barrels of oil and condensate.”

Update: Oh boy. Here we go:

The Coast Guard is saying that a mile-long oil sheen is spreading from the site off an offshore petroleum platform that exploded in the Gulf of Mexico off Louisiana.

The site of the explosion is west of where BP’s massive spill occurred.

Update: Ah, a comforting explanation for the sheen. It’s not oil bubbling up from the seabed; it’s oil that had already been captured and stored on the rig.

Also, Mariner indicated that the fire — which was first reported to the Coast Guard by workers on a nearby rig around 9:20 a.m. (10:20 a.m. ET) — was not sparked by an explosion. It started at one of the platform’s seven active wells, the company said, though its cause is under investigation…

Jindal said that Mariner has told him that all seven wells have been closed off and that what is burning now is from fuel in storage, and not from an active leak.

Jonathan Cohn at TNR:

The Coast Guard says it has rescued all 13 workers and, so far, it looks like we’re not in for a repeat of the Deepwater Horizon disaster, according to New Orleans Times-Picayune. This rig, which is owned by Mariner Energy, was in much shallower waters–340 feet deep rather than a mile.

And while the well was producing oil, Mariner officials say that workers shut down the operation before evacuating. The officials also said they observed no leaking oil during a flyover, conducted while the rig was still burning.

The Times-Picayune reports that the drilling “had nothing to do with the drilling operations that fell under the government’s controversial moratorium after the BP spill.” But oil and gas industry officials remain worried this incident will set back efforts to end the moratorium:

…oil and gas industry insiders, who have fought for months to get the moratorium lifted, are concerned that the accident will be perceived as something that a moratorium would prevent.

“It’s certainly disheartening, and it is going to be yet another challenge for the industry,” said Chris John, president of the Louisiana Mid-Continent Oil & Gas Association.”We were making some progress on the moratorium. This certainly will complicate matters.”

Yes it will. And I can’t say it upsets me. While this incident may not strengthen the case for the existing moratorium, it should certainly remind people that there are hazards inherent in offshore oil operations–and that we should be working harder to reduce our reliance on fossil fuels.

Update: Coast Guard officials are now saying they did not see an oil slick on the water, following reports suggesting they had.

Mary Katherine Ham at The Weekly Standard

James Joyner:

Aside from snark about the irony that this didn’t happen when oil men Bush and Cheney were at the helm, I’m not sure what to make of this.  Clearly, federal regulation of Gulf oil drilling has been spotty — and that certainly extends to the Bush-Cheney tenure, when this well was drilled.  And some companies seem to have markedly more violations than others, with no meaningful penalty.

Choire Sicha at The Awl:

Why should we care? We all know that oil apparently just goes away. Just like Gulf War I prepared us for Gulf War II, so has Gulf Spill I inured me to this latest.

Also I don’t really need to think about the fact that Mariner Energy, which owns the blown-up oil rig, has at least two top executives who worked at Enron, right?

Richard Lawson at Gawker:

Luckily, it was non-producing and there are no reported deaths. But man, oil companies really shouldn’t have listened to that sinister Explode-O-Rig 5000™ salesman.

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Every Few Years, We’ve Got To Declare Something “Dead.” It’s In The Constitution Or Something.

John Hudson at The Atlantic with the round-up

Chris Anderson at Wired:

You wake up and check your email on your bedside iPad — that’s one app. During breakfast you browse Facebook, Twitter, and The New York Times — three more apps. On the way to the office, you listen to a podcast on your smartphone. Another app. At work, you scroll through RSS feeds in a reader and have Skype and IM conversations. More apps. At the end of the day, you come home, make dinner while listening to Pandora, play some games on Xbox Live, and watch a movie on Netflix’s streaming service.

You’ve spent the day on the Internet — but not on the Web. And you are not alone.

This is not a trivial distinction. Over the past few years, one of the most important shifts in the digital world has been the move from the wide-open Web to semiclosed platforms that use the Internet for transport but not the browser for display. It’s driven primarily by the rise of the iPhone model of mobile computing, and it’s a world Google can’t crawl, one where HTML doesn’t rule. And it’s the world that consumers are increasingly choosing, not because they’re rejecting the idea of the Web but because these dedicated platforms often just work better or fit better into their lives (the screen comes to them, they don’t have to go to the screen). The fact that it’s easier for companies to make money on these platforms only cements the trend. Producers and consumers agree: The Web is not the culmination of the digital revolution.

A decade ago, the ascent of the Web browser as the center of the computing world appeared inevitable. It seemed just a matter of time before the Web replaced PC application software and reduced operating systems to a “poorly debugged set of device drivers,” as Netscape cofounder Marc Andreessen famously said. First Java, then Flash, then Ajax, then HTML5 — increasingly interactive online code — promised to put all apps in the cloud and replace the desktop with the webtop. Open, free, and out of control.

But there has always been an alternative path, one that saw the Web as a worthy tool but not the whole toolkit. In 1997, Wired published a now-infamous “Push!” cover story, which suggested that it was time to “kiss your browser goodbye.” The argument then was that “push” technologies such as PointCast and Microsoft’s Active Desktop would create a “radical future of media beyond the Web.”

“Sure, we’ll always have Web pages. We still have postcards and telegrams, don’t we? But the center of interactive media — increasingly, the center of gravity of all media — is moving to a post-HTML environment,” we promised nearly a decade and half ago. The examples of the time were a bit silly — a “3-D furry-muckers VR space” and “headlines sent to a pager” — but the point was altogether prescient: a glimpse of the machine-to-machine future that would be less about browsing and more about getting.

Michael Wolff at Wired:

An amusing development in the past year or so — if you regard post-Soviet finance as amusing — is that Russian investor Yuri Milner has, bit by bit, amassed one of the most valuable stakes on the Internet: He’s got 10 percent of Facebook. He’s done this by undercutting traditional American VCs — the Kleiners and the Sequoias who would, in days past, insist on a special status in return for their early investment. Milner not only offers better terms than VC firms, he sees the world differently. The traditional VC has a portfolio of Web sites, expecting a few of them to be successes — a good metaphor for the Web itself, broad not deep, dependent on the connections between sites rather than any one, autonomous property. In an entirely different strategic model, the Russian is concentrating his bet on a unique power bloc. Not only is Facebook more than just another Web site, Milner says, but with 500 million users it’s “the largest Web site there has ever been, so large that it is not a Web site at all.”

According to Compete, a Web analytics company, the top 10 Web sites accounted for 31 percent of US pageviews in 2001, 40 percent in 2006, and about 75 percent in 2010. “Big sucks the traffic out of small,” Milner says. “In theory you can have a few very successful individuals controlling hundreds of millions of people. You can become big fast, and that favors the domination of strong people.”

Milner sounds more like a traditional media mogul than a Web entrepreneur. But that’s exactly the point. If we’re moving away from the open Web, it’s at least in part because of the rising dominance of businesspeople more inclined to think in the all-or-nothing terms of traditional media than in the come-one-come-all collectivist utopianism of the Web. This is not just natural maturation but in many ways the result of a competing idea — one that rejects the Web’s ethic, technology, and business models. The control the Web took from the vertically integrated, top-down media world can, with a little rethinking of the nature and the use of the Internet, be taken back.

This development — a familiar historical march, both feudal and corporate, in which the less powerful are sapped of their reason for being by the better resourced, organized, and efficient — is perhaps the rudest shock possible to the leveled, porous, low-barrier-to-entry ethos of the Internet Age. After all, this is a battle that seemed fought and won — not just toppling newspapers and music labels but also AOL and Prodigy and anyone who built a business on the idea that a curated experience would beat out the flexibility and freedom of the Web.

Matt Buchanan at Gizmodo:

Chris Anderson’s new Big Idea—that the open web is giving way to a mere transport system for closed or semiclosed platforms like Facebook or iPhone apps from the App Store—is not very new. In its current iPhone-y, app-y incarnation, it’s at least a couple of years old. Wired even participates in the very phenomenon it bemoans, with its very fancy iPad app. (Because it has to: “The assumption had been that once the market matured, big companies would be able to reverse the hollowing-out trend of analog dollars turning into digital pennies. Sadly that hasn’t been the case for most on the Web, and by the looks of it there’s no light at the end of that tunnel.”) And the general idea itself goes back even further—Wired proclaimed the browser was dead in 1997, as he points out.

It’s true that the open, free-for-all web is besieged, but in a lot of ways Anderson doesn’t mention, like the potential neutering of net neutrality principles or the ongoing bandwidth crimp that could hamper innovative-but-data-intensive services—and, in turn, push users toward the kind of boxed services (cable VOD or ISP preferred content) that has Anderson so nerve-wracked. Like Comcast giving preferred access to NBC’s content by not counting it toward your monthly data allowance (since Comcast owns half of NBC now), or Verizon speeding up YouTube over Vimeo. You can look at it as a hardware problem vs. a software problem—and if the hardware is screwed, so is the software.

Erick Schonfeld at TechCrunch:

These shifts happen in waves. First the browser took over everything, then developers wanted more options and moved to apps (desktop and mobile), but the browser will eventually absorb those features, and so the leapfrogging continues. The ubiquity of the browser overcomes most of its technical deficiencies. Even in mobile, people will become overwhelmed by apps and the browser will make a comeback.

Rob Beschizza at Boing Boing:

Wired uses this graph to illustrate Chris Anderson and Michael Wolff’s claim that the world wide web is “dead.”

ff_webrip_chart2.jpg

Their feature, The Web is Dead. Long Live the Internet, is live at Wired’s own website.

Without commenting on the article’s argument, I nonetheless found this graph immediately suspect, because it doesn’t account for the increase in internet traffic over the same period. The use of proportion of the total as the vertical axis instead of the actual total is a interesting editorial choice.

You can probably guess that total use increases so rapidly that the web is not declining at all. Perhaps you have something like this in mind:

graph2.jpg

In fact, between 1995 and 2006, the total amount of web traffic went from about 10 terabytes a month to 1,000,000 terabytes (or 1 exabyte). According to Cisco, the same source Wired used for its projections, total internet traffic rose then from about 1 exabyte to 7 exabytes between 2005 and 2010.

So with actual total traffic as the vertical axis, the graph would look more like this.

3.jpg

Clearly on its last legs!

Matthew Ingram at Gigaom:

As with some of his other popular writings, Anderson seems to be coming to this realization rather late in the game, and has resorted to a sensationalized headline to grab some attention. We at GigaOM (and plenty of others who cover the web and technology space) have been writing and talking about the rise of the app economy — and particularly the rise of mobile apps thanks to the iPhone, as well as the iPad and Google’s Android platform — for more than two years now. As Om has pointed out on a number of occasions, the success of Apple’s iPhone and application store has accelerated the evolution of the web from a free-for-all to a selection of specific apps for specific needs.

Om’s favorite comparison is to the real world of home appliances: we don’t just have a single all-purpose appliance — instead, we have toasters and coffee-makers and can-openers and other devices that perform specific tasks. So, too, we now have applications for maps, applications for photos, applications for reading books, and apps for video and location-based “check ins” and dozens of other things. That doesn’t mean the web is dead; it means that the web, and the way we use it, is evolving. Instead of wandering around on the web looking for interesting websites by using services such as Yahoo or AOL, we’re using task-specific devices in a sense.

Anderson is right in a technical sense when he says that the web is “just one of many applications that exist on the Internet, which uses the IP and TCP protocols to move packets around.” But he also gets it wrong when he conflates the demise of the web browser with the demise of the web itself. Plenty of applications are using web technologies such as HTTP and REST, just as web browsers do. In a sense, they’re like mini-browsers for discrete applications, and although it’s almost a footnote in the Wired piece, HTML5 has the potential to allow developers to create (as some already have) websites that look and feel and function exactly like apps do. (For more on that, read our recent GigaOM Pro piece on the potential of HTML5.) Where does that fit in the “web is dead” paradigm?

It’s also worth noting (as others have as well) that the chart Wired uses with its story is misleading, or at least the way it’s being portrayed is misleading. (It also has the wrong dates, according to TechCrunch.) It shows the amount of total U.S. Internet traffic that different types of content have accounted for over the last decade (as calculated by Cisco). At the far right-hand side of the graph, video is seen as making up a large proportion of that traffic, while something called “the web” makes up a much smaller proportion than it did in 1995. But this does little to prove Anderson’s thesis, since the bulk of video is still viewed using websites such as YouTube and Hulu — and the fact that we have a lot more video traffic than we used to isn’t exactly a revelation.

Choire Sicha at The Awl:

Between 2000 and 2010, Americans with Internet access went from 124 million to 230 million.

(The world at large, by the way, went from 393 million Internet users to 1.5 billion, but let’s keep the focus on America, right Wired? Because we’re so much more interesting and also we buy iPads.)

Rob Beschizza made a related point extremely well. He notes: “According to Cisco, the same source Wired used for its projections, total internet traffic rose then from about 1 exabyte to 7 exabytes between 2005 and 2010.”

So, just in terms of basic Internet-using population in any event, as the “web use” “declined” by half over the last ten years as a percentage of use accorded to Wired, the real world activity presumably, at the same time, “stayed constant due to the doubling of the Internet-user” in the U.S.

Except use of the web blew up far more than that.

There’s a number of other questions I have about these numbers, which are almost the only numbers in the piece, apart from a claim by Morgan Stanley that in five years, more people will use the Internet over mobile devices than PCs.

For instance: doesn’t this chart measure data usage as traffic? Would that perhaps be why the “video” section is so swollen?

Alexis Madrigal at The Atlantic:

The problem is Anderson’s assumption about the way technology works. Serious technology scholars long ago discarded the idea that tech was just a series of increasingly awesomer things that successively displace each other. Australian historian Carroll Pursell, in reviewing Imperial College London professor David Edgerton’s The Shock of the Old, summarized the academic thinking nicely:

An obsession with ‘innovation’ leads to a tidy timeline of progress, focusing on iconic machines, but an investigation of ‘technology in use’ reveals that some ‘things’ appear, disappear, and reappear…

Edgerton has the same flair for the flashy stat that Anderson does. For example, to illustrate the point that newer and older technologies happily coexist, he notes that the Germans used more horses in World War II than the British did in World War I. More prosaically, some of the electricity for your latest gadget was probably made in a power plant that’s decades old. Many ways to bind pieces of paper — staplers, binders, paper clips, etc — remain in common usage (“The Paperclip Is Dead!”). World War I pilots used to keep homing pigeons tucked inside their cockpits as communication tools (see above). People piloting drones and helicopters fight wars against people who use machetes and forty-year old Soviet machine guns; all these tools can kill effectively, and they all exist right now together.

But that’s not how Anderson presents technology in this article. Instead, technologies rise up and destroy each other. And there’s nothing you or I can do to change the course of these wars. This is the nature of technology and capitalism, and there is not much room for individual decisionmaking or social influence in the algorithm.

Ryan Tate at Gawker:

Where did this argument first appear? Funny you should ask!

  • Irony 1: Wired released its cover story package first to the Web, on Wired.com. You won’t find it in Wired‘s iPad edition, and it’s not out in print yet. The death of the web might be the “inevitable course of capitalism,” but it apparently pays better to deliver that news via a dying medium.
  • Irony 2: Revenue is up at Wired‘s profitable website this year, despite a fairly severe reduction in staff last year. Yet Anderson, who has no control over Wired.com, writes that most Web publishers haven’t been able to “reverse the hollowing-out trend of analog dollars turning into digital pennies… and by the looks of it there’s no light at the end of that tunnel .” That tunnel being the one Wired, itself, is not in, apparently.
  • Irony 3: At the same time, circulation — and thus revenue, almost surely — are down for Wired‘s iPad edition, which was approaching (and possibly even surpassing) 100,000 copies for the debut issue but has since fallen off — to less than a fourth of what it was, one source claims. However large or small the decline, it could certainly be corrected; dropping off from a big bang launch is common enough in print and online media alike.But Wired’s iPad tumble does raise the possibility that Anderson is speaking as much from his hopes as from his analysis when he writes, “We are choosing a new form of Quality of Service: custom applications that just work.” The iPad team belongs to Anderson, after all (unlike, again, the web team).
  • Irony 4: Isn’t this the guy who wrote a book called Free and noted, “You know this freaky land of free as the Web. A decade and a half into the great online experiment, the last debates over free versus pay online are ending?” Eh, maybe not so much; Anderson today writes, “Much as we love freedom and choice, we also love things that just work, reliably and seamlessly. And if we have to pay for what we love, well, that increasingly seems OK.”

To his credit, Anderson also runs a feature in which publishers Tim O’Reilly and John Battelle get the opportunity to basically tell the editor he’s nuts. (Battelle: “Splashing “The Death of the Web” on the cover might be, well, overstating the case just a wee bit.”) In the online package, Wired.com editor Evan Hansen does likewise (“the web is far too powerful to be replaced by an alternative that gives away so much of what developers and readers have come to love and expect”).

Like any provocative editor, in other words, Anderson has people talking. (See also this take from Rob Beschizza at BoingBoing and from blogging pioneer Dave Winer; TechMeme has more reaction.) Now we get to sit back and watch as the author/consultant/editor tries to explain why nearly the entire conversation about the Death of the Web is happening on the Seemingly Quite Alive Web. That should be, at the very least, entertaining.

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