Monday, December 31, 2007

Party Like It's 2008

Reuters gets my vote for the best news story starting off 2008:

On New Year's Eve Ridaa al-Azzawi squeezed into his pointy snakeskin boots, his tight black sweater and his snazzy corduroy flared jeans, hustled down to a Baghdad hotel ballroom and partied for peace.

2008 arrived in a less-violent Baghdad, and residents said it was the first real party they had seen in years.

At the stroke of midnight, exuberant locals fired into the air with automatic rifles, sending red tracer fire streaking over the city, as fireworks lit up the sky.

"The security has changed and it took us by surprise. We're very happy. Especially us young people," said al-Azzawi, a 22-year-old student taking a break from dancing to a traditional Iraqi band in the ballroom of the Palestine Hotel.

"I haven't seen a happy place like this in so long. I wanted to see if I could maybe meet a few girls!" he said. "I only hope the Iraqi people can enjoy more happy times like this."

Salah al-Lami, 27, the singer who performed at the Palestine ballroom and then for another New Year's Eve crowd at the Sheraton Hotel across the street, said it was the first time he had sung before a live audience in four years.

"This will be the year that we take our freedom!" he told Reuters after singing through a boisterous set in front of a packed dancefloor.

"When I went up on the stage and started singing I felt like I was performing for my family."

Belly dancers also took the stage, and revelers showered a female singer with dinar notes, the Iraqi audience's ultimate sign of approval.

My warmest wishes to everyone throughout the world for peace, security, freedom and happiness in 2008. May it be our best year ever!

Rant: Intolerance, Prejudice, Hatred and Stupidity

I live in a small southern rural town in Mississippi. Our town has about 10 restaurants (not counting fast food), but about 40 Baptist Churches. We are the buckle of the Bible Belt.

So no one will be surprised when I tell you about the backlash against the movie The Golden Compass. In our town there is a reactionary prejudice against the movie falling just inches short of an organized boycott.

It will come as no surprise for you to hear that reactionary conservative Christians tell me they won't allow their children to see the movie, let alone read the books. Of course they haven't ever read the books themselves, or seen the movie. They just know that theaters shouldn't "show that trash."

I'm betting that not one of my regular liberal leaning or progressive readers is the slightest bit surprised at the ignorant, intolerant, closed minded, prejudiced, and stupid attitude of the right wing fundamentalist conservatives.

Meanwhile back in the civilized, multi-cultural, blue state metropolitan world, progressives and so-called liberals are inflamed with a level of outrage, hatred, intolerance, prejudice and closed minded stupidity over the hiring of neo-conservative Bill Kristol as a weekly op-ed columnist writer for The New York Times.

Boycotts of the Times are actually in the works. Letters to the editor are flying. Threats abound.

Kathleen Reardon, blogging over at Huffington has
published a letter she recommends all Times readers use as a template for similar letters to the editor of the Times:

"....if you hire William Kristol, it will be the final cut. You will have betrayed everything I have ever admired in the Times. I am serious about this.

I will terminate my email and any premium subscription. I will no longer purchase the Times or the Herald Tribune at newsstands. My interest in the success of your publication will cease, and I will get all my news from elsewhere. Any regrets I may have will be assuaged by my knowledge that your hiring of that arrogant, blockheaded, smirking, war-mongering scumbag proves you have finally lost your way."

I am sickened and disgusted that people I want to respect are behaving exactly like right wing zealots. They refuse to allow "the liberal newspaper of record" as one blogger put it, to be sullied by a real and genuine exchange of ideas.

Kathleen, what I've always admired about the Times is their willingness to present diverse opinions, even highly unpopular ones. The Times could be counted on to discuss in their op-ed section homosexuality, racism, genocide and the environment when those ideas were unpopular or radical.

Why would anyone think the well water of liberalism would be poisoned by ideas? Don't they realize that the well water, indeed our very soul, is replenished by the spring water of fresh ideas, divergent opinions and civilized debate and discussion.

These so called progressive anti-Kristol zealots are identical in every prejudiced, closed mined, intolerant, hate filled, fearful way to the fundamentalists who fear the ideas of an atheist writer who wrote a fantasy book now turned into a movie.

The Golden Compass will not ruin small town southern life, and Bill Kristol will not ruin the New York Times.


On a related note, New York Times editorial page editor Andy Rosenthal both
confirmed and defended the decision:

Times' editorial page editor Andy Rosenthal defended the move. Rosenthal told shortly after the official announcement Saturday that he fails to understand “this weird fear of opposing views....We have views on
our op-ed page that are as hawkish or more so than Bill....

“The idea that The New York Times is giving voice to a guy who is a serious, respected conservative intellectual — and somehow that’s a bad thing,”

Rosenthal added. “How intolerant is that?”


Saturday, December 29, 2007

Could Andrew McCarthy and Juan Cole BOTH Be Right?

The very tragic loss of Benazir Bhutto in Pakistan this week has exposed the horrible inflammation hiding just below the superficial skin of the "civilized" Middle East.

I think most Americans had a fairy tale view of Pakistan.

I believe most Americans felt that Pakistan was, for the most part, a civil society hampered by an over zealous military that all too often took control by ousting democratically elected leaders.

In our mind former General, now President, Musharraf was holding back Democracy (with a big "D") is a vain attempt to hold on to power.

And, in our mind, Benazir Bhutto was the beacon of "Democracy," about to bring back light to a darkened society.

As it turns out we Americans have watched too many movies like Lord of the Rings and The Chronicles of Narnia. Pakistan is no middle earth and Bhutto was no hobbit.

Our view, as Americans, is shaped all too often by the pathetic portraits painted in water colors by the national news networks. Sixty second sound bites on FOX, CNN and the nightly news actually do have a fairy tale quality to them.. No in depth reporting. No one actually scratching the surface looking at the infection.

And how did MSNBC, FOX and others react to Bhutto's death? They paraded endless sixty second interviews with political hacks about which candidate for US President benefited the most from Bhutto's assassination.


And so I point you all to two diverse corners of the blogosphere for some real in depth discussion of the real implications of Benazir Bhutto's life and death on Pakistan and the middle east. The two views I propose you read and take to heart appear at first to be diametrically opposed. But are they really?

First I strongly recommend you read Andrew C. McCarthy's article Benazir Bhutto: Killed by the real Pakistan in National Review Online.
A recent CNN poll showed that 46 percent of Pakistanis approve of Osama bin Laden.

Aspirants to the American presidency should hope to score so highly in the United States. In Pakistan, though, the al-Qaeda emir easily beat out that country’s current president, Pervez Musharraf, who polled at 38 percent.

President George Bush, the face of a campaign to bring democracy — or, at least, some form of sharia-lite that might pass for democracy — to the Islamic world, registered nine percent. Nine!

The real Pakistan is a breeding ground of Islamic holy war where, for about half the population, the only thing more intolerable than Western democracy is the prospect of a faux democracy led by a woman — indeed, a product of feudal Pakistani privilege and secular Western breeding whose father, President Zulfiquar Ali Bhutto, had been branded as an enemy of Islam by influential Muslim clerics in the early 1970s.

Although he certainly doesn't mention McCarthy by name, I believe Juan Cole's blog entry of Friday, December 28, 2007 written one day after McCarthy's article, was a direct response and a full frontal assault on McCarthy's analysis.

I am appalled by the rightwing US pundits who are taking advantage of Bhutto's assassination to blame "the people of Pakistan" for "extremism." Benazir's party would have won at least a plurality in parliament. The PPP is a moderate, middle class party, and it has done well in unrigged elections during the past 20 years. She was killed by an extremist of some sort. The Muslim fundamentalist parties usually only get 3 percent of the vote in national elections, and they got 11.3 percent of the popular vote in 2002 only because Musharraf interfered with the PPP and Muslim League campaigns.

Cole is a widely respected expert on the middle east. And, initially in his article, Cole comes off as a wise and reasonable statesman compared to McCarthy's wild eyed fanaticism.

The trouble is that once you get past these opening salvos the articles almost say exactly the same things. Pakistan is a deeply troubled country being run amok by radical Islam. It turns out that Cole and McCarthy disagree mostly about the percentages, not the outcome.

In effect Cole is saying that a majority of moderate Pakistanis are being run roughshod by a minority bent on civil war. And Cole believes civil war is only a heartbeat away.

The seriousness of the situation in the streets of some of Pakistan's important towns and cities doesn't seem to me to be being reported in the US press and media. In contrast, Pakistani newspapers are giving chilling details of large urban centers turned into ghost towns on Friday morning, with no transport available, hundreds of thousands of persons stranded far from home, shops closed, and banks, gas stations, police stations and automobiles torched.

Folks, I've seen civil wars and riots first hand, and revolutions from not too far away, and this situation looks pretty bad to me.

Meanwhile McCarthy writes an essay that I swear I've read nearly word for word in dozens of Juan Cole's own columns (I'm not implying plagiarism at all, just a strange convergence of ideas):

For the United States, the question is whether we learn nothing from repeated, inescapable lessons that placing democratization at the top of our foreign policy priorities is high-order folly.

The transformation from Islamic society to true democracy is a long-term project. It would take decades if it can happen at all. Meanwhile, our obsessive insistence on popular referenda is naturally strengthening — and legitimizing — the people who are popular: the jihadists. Popular elections have not reformed Hamas in Gaza or Hezbollah in Lebanon. Neither will they reform a place where Osama bin Laden wins popular opinion polls and where the would-be reformers are bombed and shot at until they die.

I'm used to McCarthy proposing Bush-lite Democracy and Cole saying it' can't be done. But in this case I really believe they are both saying the same thing, even while taking veiled potshots at each other.

Pakistan is not ready or willing or able to embrace Democracy today. This Islamic minority (or majority) are not ready for changes that give power to the people. Changes that would trade sharia law for Amnesty International,

This is a clash of cultures, a clash between the past and the future. Pakistan is simply another Afghanistan or another Iraq. It is one more battlefield in the was between Islamic radicals like al-qaeda and the Taliban and moderates who merely yearn for peace and stability.

Yes, it does sound a lot like The Lord of the Rings and the war for middle earth. But don't expect good to triumph over evil. And don't expect an ending in 2 hours and 40 minutes. Or even three installments.

Monday, December 24, 2007

Separation of Church and State

As I wrote about Mike Huckabee (immediately below) I was reminded of an essay I had written here in this blog two years ago about the real nature of the separation of church and state in the United States.

Huckabee and others who think the United States is (or was) a "Christian Nation" that has now somehow lost its way because of the ACLU and "secular humanists" like me, need to read up a little on their history.

Therefore, in the spirit of Christmas, I've edited and expanded this bit of history of Christmas in the United States from my original essay.
You can read the complete essay here: The Truth About Christmas Trees

Separation of Church and State was much stronger when our country was founded than it is today. Christmas itself WAS NOT a government holiday. In fact, stores and businesses did not close on Christmas until just a little over 100 years ago. Congress held sessions on Christmas Day.

Scrooge was not unusual in expecting his employees to work on Christmas. It was not a "holiday." In fact it was Dicken's "A Christmas Carol" than began a movement toward making Christmas a Holiday. Dickens was considered a radical and a socialist and a general trouble maker.

Calvin and protestant leaders rejected both the celebration of Christmas and Easter as pagan trivializations of sacred events.

The White House NEVER had a Christmas tree until President Franklin Pierce, our 14th President set up a tree in 1856. And he was nearly impeached for adopting the German pagan tradition. It was a huge controversy.

Christmas DID NOT become a National Holiday until 1870!!!

Alabama was the first state to make Christmas an official holiday in 1836.

Believe it or not, the southern states celebration of Christmas was one of reasons for the Civil War!!!

It wasn't just slavery that set the southerners apart from the righteous Northerners. Southern States celebrated Christmas (Arkansas and Louisiana joined in passing Christmas Holiday laws), but Northern states strictly forbid any such celebration!! At one time you would be fined in Boston for openly celebrating Christmas!!

In the early 20th century Teddy Roosevelt again banned the Christmas Tree from the White House, but this time on the grounds of conservation. As an ardent conservationist, he led a battle against cutting down trees for decoration. The White House must set an example.

But I'm certainly not going to ban Christmas from these pages. I wish you all a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!

the Wizard.....

Mike Huckabee

I've got a certain grudging respect for Mike Huckabee. The man has a a level of intellectual honesty, integrity and honor all too often missing in today's pandering politicians, especially those running for President.

As I watch the "makeover of the week" by candidates like Mitt Romney and John Edwards, it is refreshing to see a candidate who actually knows what he believes, a candidate who doesn't need to wait for the latest opinion poll before taking a stand.

Because Huckabee and I disagree on virtually every major issue, I cannot possibly support him for President, but he is one candidate I can actually respect.

Huckabee is at the center of a firestorm over this television ad:

Secularists, many liberals and those who desire a true separation of church and state object to the overt Christian nature of this ad. But in spite of a withering attack on this ad, his public persona and Christianity itself, Huckabee remains firm, confident and relaxed.

Elizabeth White, reporting for the Associated Press, writes:

SAN ANTONIO - Republican presidential candidate Mike Huckabee made no apologies Sunday for the religious tone of a recent holiday campaign commercial and said it is important to look for Jesus at this time of year.

"You can find Santa at every mall. You can find discounts in every store," Huckabee said from the pulpit of Cornerstone Church.
"But if you mention the name of Jesus, as I found out recently, it upsets the whole world. Forgive me, but I thought that was the point of the whole day."

Speaking at a later church service, Huckabee said: "I got in a little trouble this last week because I actually had the audacity to say 'Merry Christmas.' Isn't that an odd thing to say at this time of year?"

Huckabee also discussed the ad during an interview on CBS' "Face the Nation" before delivering the sermons.

Asked whether he was running for president of Christian America, Huckabee said he was campaigning to be the "president of all America, to be the people's president. And that's how I served as governor."

Separately, The Dallas Morning News on Sunday endorsed Huckabee for the Republican presidential nomination. The newspaper said that while he is not an "ideal candidate," he "is the change agent the nation most needs."

The Morning News also endorsed Democrat Barack Obama "because of his consistently solid judgment, poise under pressure and ability to campaign effectively without resorting to the divisive politics of the past."

I can understand the logic of a paper that would endorse Huckabee on one hand, and Obama on the other.

I don't believe Huckabee can win, nor do I think he should, but I appreciate a candidate who is genuine and honest and has a certain quiet courage of conviction.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Food for Thought

Democrat (now Independent) Senator Joe Lieberman Endorses Republican Senator John McCain in his bid for President in 2008. I greatly admire both Lieberman and McCain.

This move deserves thought and certainly McCain's bid for the Republican Presidential Nomination deserves consideration. I wonder if McCain might chose Lieberman as his running mate?

Also worth consideration: Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama and, just maybe, Rudy Giuliani.

Not worth even a second thought: Mike Huckabee or John Edwards.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

"Democrats are lost in time...."

From today's USA TODAY:

Our view on war in Iraq:

Surge's success holds chance to seize the moment in Iraq

Instead, Democrats are lost in time

Iraq remains a violent place, but the trends are encouraging.

U.S. and Iraqi casualties are down sharply. Fewer of the most lethal Iranian-made explosive devices are being used as roadside bombs. In community after community, Sunni groups who were once in league with al-Qaeda have switched sides and are working with the U.S. forces.

On the Shiite side of Iraq's sectarian chasm, something similar is happening. About 70,000 local, pro-government groups, a bit like neighborhood watch groups, have formed to expose extremist militias, according to Stephen Biddle of the Council on Foreign Relations.

But as much as facts have changed on the ground, little seems to have changed in Washington. There are plans to withdraw some troops next year, but there is no clear picture of the endgame in Iraq. How long will troops be needed? Exactly what do we expect success to look like? Will we leave behind a permanent presence?

None of the answers are any clearer than they were when the news began improving. In fact, they seem fuzzier.

On the Republican side, the White House has been busy making excuses for the Iraqi government's failure to move toward national reconciliation ...

Congressional Democrats, meanwhile, seem lost in a time warp. They could try to impose new benchmarks that acknowledge the military progress. Instead, too many seem unable or unwilling to admit that President Bush's surge of 30,000 more troops has succeeded beyond their initial predictions. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., who in the spring declared the war lost, said last week that "the surge hasn't accomplished its goals." Anti-war Democrats remain fixated on tying war funding to a rapid troop withdrawal. Yet pulling the troops out precipitously threatens to squander the progress of recent months toward salvaging a decent outcome to the Iraq debacle.


The Iraq war, which has cost so much in U.S. lives and treasure, deserves far more than muddling through with fingers crossed. It demands a credible, long-term plan that will allow the United States to get out in a way that preserves U.S. interests in the region, not a political stalemate that forces it to stay in.

I couldn't possibly agree more.

Read the complete editorial here:

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Intelligent Design

This Christmas Season I've been thinking about "Intelligent Design."

And I want you to look at the pictures below and consider the wonders of life. God's amazing capacity for creation. These Turkish Angora kittens are simply beautiful.

Except for the fact that they glow in the dark. And that these remarkable glowing kittens were designed by man.

Well, man did have a little help. The original design of the cat has existed for thousands of years. But scientists in South Korea did tinker with the genes and cloned these new cats that glow in the dark under ultraviolet light! Genetic engineering is advancing at light speed (if you'll pardon the pun).

The South Korean Ministry of Science and Technology reported Wednesday that "South Korean scientists have cloned cats by manipulating a fluorescent protein gene, a procedure which could help develop treatments for human genetic diseases."

It is a side-effect that the cloned cats glow in the dark when exposed to ultraviolet beams.

The Ministry's Press Release continued "The ability to produce cloned cats with the manipulated genes is significant as it could be used for developing treatments for genetic diseases and for reproducing model (cloned) animals suffering from the same diseases as humans."

And yet all this is happening while we have candidates running for President who absolutely refuse to acknowledge the possibility of evolution or other basic scientific facts.

And it's happening at a time where religious fundamentalists deny women in almost 1/3rd of the world even the most basic of human rights. The right of women to vote, the right to own property, the right for women to even walk alone in public is forbidden in all too many countries and regions of the world.

Scientists is South Korea are advancing rapidly on techniques which hold the promise of curing diseases, preventing birth defects, extending life and, eventually, designing new species of life.

Today we have adorable kittens that glow in the dark. How soon will it be until every child wants one?

How soon will it be until scientists endow kittens or puppies or horses or cows with the intelligence of man? It will happen. Will we give them the right to vote? Don't laugh. The question will arise.

And we will "improve" humans, too. For better or worse.

If are scientists are truly gifted maybe they can create human leaders who won't continue to deny basic scientific facts.

And maybe, if our scientists are truly gifted, they can design humans who will actually treat other humans with the respect, honor, and dignity that each one of us deserves.

Or maybe we will just glow in the dark.

Sunday, December 09, 2007

Remembering Rosa Parks

File this tragic story under "look how far we've come."

I just couldn't helping thinking about the legacy of the"Mother of the American Civil Rights Movement," Rosa Parks (pictured in the right) as I read the news about the beating of Sarah Kreager on a Baltimore, Maryland bus this past week.

Sarah Kreager seems to be guilty of two crimes, maybe three. Sarah is homeless. And Sarah wanted to take a seat on the bus. And, a third possible crime, Sarah is white.

Sarah Kreager was beaten and nearly killed by nine black teenagers on the bus when she attempted to take a seat near the youths.

I had hoped and prayed we were past all of this. I had hoped society had progressed beyond the racial prejudice, social prejudice and economic prejudice that ruled America back on December 1st in 1955. That's the date that Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat on a Montgomery, Alabama bus for a "white passenger."

Rosa Parks was guilty of being poor and tired and black.

I've adapted and edited the Rosa Parks story below from various
Wikipedia articles about Rosa Parks and the Montgomery Bus Boycott:

On December 1, 1955, Parks became famous for refusing to obey bus driver James Blake's order that she give up her seat to make room for a white passenger. This action of civil disobedience started the Montgomery Bus Boycott, which is one of the largest movements against racial segregation. In addition, this launched Martin Luther King, Jr., who was involved with the boycott, to prominence in the civil rights movement. She has had a lasting legacy worldwide.

In Montgomery, the first four rows of bus seats were reserved for white people. Buses had "colored" sections for black people—who made up more than 75% of the bus system's riders—generally in the rear of the bus. These sections were not fixed in size but were determined by the placement of a movable sign. Black people also could sit in the middle rows, until the white section was full. Then they had to move to seats in the rear, stand, or, if there was no room, leave the bus.

After a day at work at Montgomery Fair department store, Parks boarded the Cleveland Avenue bus at around 6 p.m., Thursday, December 1, 1955, in downtown Montgomery. She paid her fare and sat in an empty seat in the first row of back seats reserved for blacks in the "colored" section, which was near the middle of the bus and directly behind the ten seats reserved for white passengers.

As the bus traveled along its regular route, all of the white-only seats in the bus filled up. The bus reached the third stop in front of the Empire Theater, and several white passengers boarded.

So, following standard practice, bus driver Blake noted that the front of the bus was filled with white passengers and there were two or three men standing, and thus moved the "colored" section sign behind Parks and demanded that four black people give up their seats in the middle section so that the white passengers could sit.

Years later, in recalling the events of the day, Parks said, "When that white driver stepped back toward us, when he waved his hand and ordered us up and out of our seats, I felt a determination cover my body like a quilt on a winter night."

By Parks' account, Blake said, "Y'all better make it light on yourselves and let me have those seats."

Three of them complied. Parks said, "The driver wanted us to stand up, the four of us. We didn't move at the beginning, but he says, 'Let me have these seats.' And the other three people moved, but I didn't."

The black man sitting next to her gave up his seat. Parks moved, but toward the window seat; she did not get up to move to the newly repositioned colored section.

Blake then said, "Why don't you stand up?" Parks responded, "I don't think I should have to stand up." Blake called the police to arrest Parks.

Now, nearly 52 years later to the day, Sarah Kreager has had a similar experience. And, while I'm certain Rosa Parks was terrified, Sarah was actually beaten and nearly killed. Only the intervention of the bus driver, who was also African-American, and a neighbor living near a bus stop saved Kreager's life. The nine middle schoolers would possibly have killed her had others not intervened.

When Sarah tried to take a seat on the bus, one middle school student told her that the seat was "reserved." when she chose another, the youth jumped over and told her "that one is reserved, too." The incident was repeated again and again until Sarah finally held her seat. Then she was attacked and beaten.

From the
Baltimore Sun:

In a written report, MTA police said the beating took place after one of the boys kept jumping in front of Kreager, claiming that the open seats on the bus were reserved. When Kreager finally found a seat, the teens began throwing punches at her and her boyfriend, according to the report. Police said her male companion, Troy Ennis, was also beaten.

…Jawauna Greene, an MTA spokeswoman, confirmed that investigators were considering racial hostility as a potential motivation for the assault, which left the female victim, Sarah Kreager, 26, with broken facial bones and other injuries after she was punched, kicked and dragged off the bus.

Although I'm not at all certain this is really a hate crime, but just wanna-be gang type violence by a group of young teenagers who got out of control.

Nine teens against one tired, sick, homeless woman.

I wonder if these teens realize the sacrifice Rosa Parks made for all Americans, black and white, back in 1955?

I wonder if they even know who Rosa Parks was?

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

The CRB Drives Another Nail Into the Coffin

The details of the Copyright Royalty Board's decision on royalties to be paid by the Satellite Radio came pouring out today, setting up a three level royalty system that insures the death of Internet Radio.

You can read Reuter's full report here:
Sirius, XM Royalties Set

But here is the bottom line. The Copyright Royalty Board (CRB) of the U.S. Library of Congress set royalties for Satellite Radio's music playing channels at 6 percent of gross revenues for 2007 and 2008, 6.5 percent for 2009, 7 percent for 2010, 7.5 percent for 2011 and 8 percent for 2012.

While that may sound high it's a tiny fraction of the rates the very same Copyright Royalty Board imposed in Internet Radio.

In fact, in the ultimate insult, the CRB specifically rejected the virtually identical proposal from the Internet Radio Broadcasters, then they turned around and presented these reasonable and livable rates to a virtual radio monopoly, the soon to merge XM and Sirius companies.


No one, least of all the CRB, can explain this outrageous action.

As an end result we have a three tier cost system for radio broadcasting. On the low end of the scale you have AM and FM radio who pay NOTHING!!! All music is gifted to AM and FM's corporate giants at no charge what-so-ever.

Then you have Satellite Radio who will pay a high, but manageable, 6 to 8 percent of revenues for the identical sound recording being gifted to AM and FM radio.

Finally you have Internet Radio who must pay rates often in excess of 100% of revenues for the same recordings.

Advertisers and subscribers support all three formats of radio at virtually identical revenue rates, which is, of course, logical. Major advertisers like Phillip Morris or General Motors aren't going to pay more per listener for the privilege of having their ads on Internet radio than they will pay for Satellite or conventional AM and FM radio.

Internet Radio, straddled by the competition of AM and FM and Satellite Radio, cannot arbitrarily raise its ad rates. They'll get what the market will get. And AM and FM radio, with no sound recording royalties to pay at all, can artificially keep ad rates low.

Meanwhile Internet Radio cannot pay the royalties awarded by the CRB in one of the most discriminatory rulings in history. There simply is no excuse for an agency of the U.S. Government to willfully and purposely drive an entire industry out of business in favor of it's competitors.

Will Congress finally act, as it has long threatened? We do urge you to continue to write your Congress member and keep him or her informed.

Saturday, December 01, 2007

The Sounds of Silence

Bloomberg News reported stunning news this week about Internet Radio that shook up the business community and political circles, not to mention the rapidly growing legions of Internet Radio listeners: both AOL and Yahoo are on the verge of shuttering their Internet Radio operations!

This isn't news at all to radio industry insiders who had predicted that the Recording Industry Association of America's (RIAA) bizarre royalty demands made it totally impossible for any Internet Radio operation to ever break even, let alone make a profit. The RIAA has demanded huge per listener/per song royalties that literally mean the more listeners Internet Radio attracts, the greater the financial losses.

Imagine if some group owned a copyright on hamburger buns and they demanded that McDonalds lose 5 cents on every hamburger sold, regardless of price or sales volume. Obviously McDonalds would react by closing their restaurants!

This is exactly what the RIAA has done. And yet they are "shocked" that AOL and Yahoo would consider closing their radio stations. Bloomberg reports:

Nov. 28 (Bloomberg) -- Yahoo! Inc. and Time Warner Inc.'s AOL unit may shut down their Web radio services after being hit with a 38 percent increase in royalties to air music.

"We're not going to stay in the business if cost is more than we make long term," Ian Rogers, general manager at Yahoo's music unit, said in an interview.

Yahoo and AOL stopped directing users to their radio sites after SoundExchange, the Washington-based group representing artists and record labels, began collecting the higher fees in July. Those royalties may stifle the growth of Internet radio, which increased listeners 39 percent in the past year, according to researcher ComScore Inc. in Reston, Virginia.

Radio sites have been "dealt a severe blow," said Jeffrey Lindsay, an analyst at Sanford C. Bernstein & Co. in New York, "It seems very unlikely that at this stage a solution will be reached."

Yahoo, based in Sunnyvale, California, is promoting a music service offering videos and songs for sale rather than its Launchcast, the largest Web radio site, Rogers said.

As a result, the number of people using Launchcast fell 11 percent to 5.1 million in October, according to ComScore. AOL Radio users declined 10 percent to 2.7 million from 3 million.

"The current math doesn't add up,'' said Lisa Namerow, managing director of AOL Radio in Dulles, Virginia. "If the rates remain as they are, it would be very challenging to sustain a business that is profitable.''

"We're really re-examining the radio model," AOL's Namerow said. "Shutting down the business is a possibility if Webcasters and the music industry don't come to an agreement."

It remains terribly unclear why the RIAA wants to kill Internet Radio. One thought is that the major labels want total control over the industry, forcing independents and unsigned artists off the air. Others believe that the big labels simply don't understand the medium and equate Internet Radio with file sharing. Still others see Internet radio as the stalking horse for future battles with AM and FM radio who pay no artist royalties what-so-ever and never have.

Regardless of the reason, the very existence of Internet Radio is threatened.

Here are some simple math facts. Yahoo's Internet Radio operation, the largest in the world, expects advertising revenue to rise 4.7 percent to $45 million in 2008. That sounds good doesn't it?

Except, the RIAA demanded royalties would increase 19 percent this year. An impossible financial burden. Moore importantly, if Yahoo actually increased listeners, the usual solution to increased costs, the royalties would rise even higher..... much higher.

Increased listeners are actually the enemy. Hence all Internet Radio operations, including Yahoo and AOL, have stopped advertising or promoting their services and have created bizarre listener caps and automatic shut downs to reduce active listeners.

only hope is that Congress will step in and demand reasonable royalty rates. At this point Internet Radio operators would like to settle for the exact same rates already granted by the RIAA to Sirius Satellite Radio earlier this month.

The question remains as to why the RIAA wants Internet Radio to pay so much more than satellite radio. It is interesting to note that satellite radio plays virtually no independent and unsigned artists. The bland blend of music available via satellite is virtually all big record label controlled.