Could Obama win another term?

That was the big question in this week’s post at Communities Digital News. The answer (spoiler alert): You bet he could. President Obama is possibly the best campaigner the Oval Office has seen, and he certainly has more tools to help him than any of his predecessors.

An under-the-radar element of this discussion is that it sprang from a comment Obama made speaking in Africa, where he told a group of African diplomats to move away from governmental systems which allow someone to declare himself “President for Life.” He’s right, of course, but the comment had a hint of first-world arrogance. (Imagine the optics of a white American President saying the same thing.) It’s a good thing he said it, though, and that he escaped criticism for doing so.

It would be a really, really, really, really bad idea for Metro to post Muhammad cartoon ads.

No one has the right to gun another person down due to speech. Obvious, right?

At the same time, mocking someone’s religion is impolite. It’s not punishable by violence, but you could understand the discomfort someone would fee when the key figures of their religious tradition are mocked. That should be obvious, but people still seem to like draw cartoons of the Muslim prophet Muhammad.

The Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority will not accept an ad featuring the winning cartoon from the Texas “Draw Muhammad” contest which ended in gunfire earlier this month. Good for them. It’s one of the few good decisions Metro has made. (Though they, did go overboard by banning all issue-related ads through the end of the year. Perhaps Metro can’t help but be a little wrong.)

What does the American Freedom Defense Initiative think would happen if such ads went up on Metro? Anyone with $1.70 and patience for delays can jump on the Metro without so much as a pat-down or a peek inside a suspiciously bulky book bag. It is, like many places, a “soft” target for terrorists now. Muhammad cartoons would make it a desirable target as well. “Soft” and “desirable” and “not chocolate chip cookies” is not a good spot on the homeland security Venn diagram.

Sure, a violent response from radical Islamic terrorists would be evil and wrong, just as it was in Texas. But it is not unpredictable, and because of that there are many people – train passengers, Metro staff, and the like – unintentionally in the crosshairs.

They would not engage in any speech at all, yet would bear the brunt of the repercussions. In fact, they may not want to engage in such speech at all – since Muhammad cartoons are offensive not only to the radicals who will respond with violence, but for the civilized who won’t respond at all. There’s no need to needle the latter to poke the former.

By rejecting the Muhammad cartoons, Metro is not limiting free speech. In the first place, that’s because Metro owns the ad space, and should be able to rent it to whomever they choose. But beyond that, there will be plenty of people who don’t want to bear the predictable consequences of that speech. Why should anyone be allowed to put words in their mouth?

It’s not just isolationism

A new Politico poll shows an American public hesitant to jump into conflicts in Iraq and the Ukraine. The rise of non-interventionist Republicans over the past five years has echoed that shift in public opinion, but it has also shined the light on an argument among GOP thought leaders, usually positioned as interventionism vs. isolationism. (Gov. Rick Perry and Sen. Rand Paul recently duked it out in this ring.)

That’s a false choice, based on what the Politico survey shows. Consider this interview:

Respondent Deborah Cantrell, a Georgia nurse who intends to vote for Democratic candidates this fall, said she supports pulling back from Iraq and Afghanistan and believes the situation in Ukraine is “very complicated.”

“I think any time ethnic nationalism goes on, it’s really bad,” said Cantrell, 58. “I hope we don’t get terribly involved right off the bat because I’m not sure we can do anything to make it better. I generally don’t think we can go in and have people behave properly just because we’re there.”

Cantrell’s assessment is more nuanced than a simple claim that, “It isn’t any of our business.” She’s concerned with ability; Intervention as a concept is almost a moot point because, in her view, wouldn’t solve the problem even if done successfully.

With recent conflicts shrouded in complex issues that stretch back decades if not centuries, Americans may feel U.S. involvement would be at best a superficial band-aid on a multi-generational flesh wound. Barring a direct attack on the United States, that will be the real hurdle for interventionists looking to win support in coming election cycles.

This Week’s Lesson: Don’t be a Jerk

After exposing catty gossip and American state secrets, WikiLeaks has been taken down – but not by government action.  Amazon refuses to host the site on its servers, and the quest for a new home is proving difficult.

Some proponents of internet regulation are pointing to this as an excellent reason to support net neutrality.   Like any media outlet, Wikileaks is entitled to freedom of the press; the problem here is that Amazon owns the press – and Amazon is exercising its freedom to tell Wikileaks founder Julian Assange to take a long walk off a short pier.  (Admittedly, with some coaxing from Joe Lieberman, but it’s still Amazon’s call.)

Amazon didn’t want to put up with an organization revealing state secrets for the sole reason of embarrassing America.  In short, Assange was a jerk and they no longer wanted to deal with him.

In a parallel move, the House of Representatives chastised tax cheat and self-proclaimed “honest guy” Charles Rangel.  Rangel tried to wrangle up support from his email list, sending a blast message calling on supporters to call their members of Congress and urge them to speak out against a censure vote.  (Side note: Wouldn’t most of the supporters on Rangel’s email list have Rangel as their Congressman?  This email blast couldn’t have been that effective.)

Rangel called it a “political” vote, claiming throughout the process that his 11 ethics violations did not merit the rebuke of his peers.  Yet, incredibly, rebuke him they did – overwhelmingly and in the first truly bipartisan vote Congress has seen in some time.

As Washington Times reporter Kerry Pickett found out, Rangel doesn’t view himself as someone who has to answer questions.  Maybe that’s why Rangel, like Julian Assange, ran out of friends so fast:

Over the water’s edge

After a weekend out of town and out of the loop, I woke up to news video footage of President Obama addressing a press conference at the NATO summit.  I had to track down the exact quote because it seemed so unbelievable:

Sounding frustrated on the last day of the NATO summit, Obama said military officials, senior members of past Republican administrations and European states backed the treaty with Russia…“There is no other reason not to do it other than the fact that Washington has become a very partisan place,” Obama said.

There’s a lot going on here.

Of course, there’s the crutch of partisanship as an argument – as if Democrats don’t reflexively balk at ideas that are proven to work when proposed by a Republican.

But more disturbing is the argument that petty bickering from another side is stalling the work of the American government.  It’s a fine political argument when making a stump speech intended to motivate supporters and convince independents, but a wholly different animal when delivered on foreign soil.

If it weren’t for the TSA controversy, conservative pundits would likely be all over the President for this comment.

Google: booking it out of China?

The big technology news today is that Google is threatening to leave China, leading to a wave of speculation on what that may mean for both the gatekeeper of internet information and the Chinese economy.

On the surface, Google has said this is about human rights and cyber attacks – which are likely, at least, factors in their decision. But this isn’t the first time Google’s China operation has been in the news in the last few weeks.  Recall that Google’s efforts to make all books available online has run afoul of copyright holders in China (as it has here in the States) and even spawned a lawsuit.  Negotiations on what Google would pay the authors of the works it scanned and made available to search users were subsequently put on hold.

While Google’s exit strategy is a good way to draw attention to human rights, in the end it may be a way to beat the Library Cops.

(Disclosure: I have worked in a minor role on projects involving Google’s book settlement in the past, although I do not now.)

Taxing creatively to subsidize creativity

A government report in France has proposed taxing internet advertising to subsidize creativity:

France could start taxing Internet advertising revenues from online giants such as Google, using the funds to support creative industries that have been hit by the digital revolution, a newspaper reported on Thursday… The levy, which would also apply to other operators such as MSN and Yahoo, would put an end to “enrichment without any limit or compensation,” newspaper Liberation quoted Guillaume Cerutti, one of the authors of the report, as saying.

The reasoning, apparently, is that internet giants provide a bridge between users and free content – reaping  rewards through advertising dollars while content creators are left out in the cold.  While those content creators should have the right to control access to their products, this scheme doesn’t come close to doing that; it does, however, limit internet platforms that more creative artists might use to gain exposure.

Google has it’s problems, but no one can debate that their business model is creative.  Google monetizes free stuff – from search to email and calendar applications to information tracking – by collecting information at every step of the way and using it to fuel a highly targeted and personalized advertising platform.

The ill-conceived subsidy outlined in the report, on the other hand, taxes that money to funnel money to the music industry.  In other words, the report lays out a system that rewards content generators who aren’t creative enough to figure out a way to monetize their product.

Did you see that story on anything but Michael Jackson?

In the 17 hours or so since Michael Jackson’s death has been reported, an interesting rift has developed in online communications.  Apparently, some folks who have been discussing the Iran elections are upset that so many people are discussing celebrity deaths:

Twitter screen shot

This is probably a reflection of a few things.  First, there is an age gap in appreciating Michael Jackson’s career.  If you were born after 1985, your first memories of Michael Jackson are probably the world premiere of the “Black or White” video, and increasingly fragile physique, and a series of bizarre controversies and allegations of inappropriate conduct around young boys.  But it you are in the first generation to have MTV (back when it was ’round-the-clock music videos) or older, you remember that Michael Jackson almost single-glovedly invented the concept of pop music entertainment.

There’s also the fact that news, like politics, is local.  The loss of an iconic American pop culture figure is naturally going to mean more to Americans than election protests halfway around the world.  (And it’s worth noting that the folks who decide what news gets on TV have a role to play.  This week’s DC Metro crash probably wouldn’t have had the same coverage if it happened on a public transportation system for a city that doesn’t host a major bureau for every news organization in the known universe.)

They have a point, and it isn’t the only story getting swept under a rug.  Mark Sanford’s Argentinian dalliances have been muted outside South Carolina, and the Barack Obama health care debate is moving along on Capitol Hill in the background of the national consciousness.

The great thing about modern media is that, even if the “mainstream” press is obsessed with one story, an avid reader can seek out information from other sources.  And it for media analysis junkies, it provides a platform for discussions that simply don’t happen in one-way broadcast media.  In no other environment could the worlds of Michael Jackson and Iranian Fundamentalists collide in quite the same way.

If only there was some way to combine the issues…

Iranians can still Tweet – thanks, W!


Maybe Hillary Clinton “wouldn’t know a twitter from a tweeter,” but Jared Cohen does.  He’s the 27-year-old State Department official who, realizing the need to keep lines of communication open among Iran’s protest movement, picked up the phone and asked Twitter to delay their scheduled service interruption.  He had established a relationship with Twitter executives at least since he organized a State Department envoy of new media crepresentatives earlier this year.

MTV lauded the foresight with the headline, “Iranians Keep Twittering Thanks To Young Obama Official.”  Unfortunately, MTV disproves its own headline with its story, revealing the shocking truth that Cohen was actually hired by Condoleeza Rice three years ago.

The guy hired by George W. Bush’s administration kept Iran talking using technology and new media.  The Obama appointee doesn’t even know the name of the technology.