Banking on Trouble Ahead

Banking on Trouble Ahead

This stunning article in the most recent issue of The Atlantic reinforces what I had to say here and here and here. The author, Simon Johnson, is a professor at MIT’s Sloan School of Management who was the chief economist at the International Monetary Fund during 2007 and 2008.

March 17, 2009 Features Story on

My oldest friends and readers will be most amused by today’s column in (yes, my old publisher) about David Cohn’s, which is a project of our Center for Media Change, Inc. Here is my favorite part:

In thinking about how to make the editorial model more “dynamic,” Cohn circled around one idea: pitching to the public, rather than to publishers.

“Traditionally .001 percent of the population gets to set the news agenda, and they were called editors. They were the ones with freelance budgets, they could hire people and tell them what was important to cover.

“What I’m trying to do is increase the number of people who set the editorial agenda,” Cohn says.

What a pleasure it is to work with David. Most experts think professional journalism is hitting a brick wall. But like me, David also sees what’s happening as a hurdle that will leave us in a better place when we get over it in the only way we can, by building deeper and more authentic relationships between journalists, readers and the communities we cover. It’s a tough path. And some days it feels like a bar-room brawl. But it is pretty terrific to look over my shoulder from time to time and see David standing there, slugging away.

March 06, 2009

Free Textbooks at Foothill-De Anza: First Annual Report

Three years ago, at my request, the Foothill-De Anza Community College District Board of Trustees enacted the first ever Policy on Public Domain Learning Materials in the country. The policy made providing support to faculty who wish to create, use, or organize free public domain learning materials as substitutes for commercial textbooks an official purpose of our college district. It also instructed our administrators to report back to our board at least once a year on their progress.

This past year, 2008, marked the first full year of implementation of the policy and its associated programs under the leadership of the very able (brilliant, actually) Dr. Judy Baker, who is emerging as one of the most significant leaders in the international movement for Open Education Resources.

Among the highlights of her presentation was the news that at De Anza College in Cupertino students saved nearly $90,000 (a conservative estimate) in the very first quarter in the first classes where these free materials are being used. Even better, nearly 1,000 faculty members at twelve other community college districts have indicated they also want to follow Foothill-De Anza’s lead on this, which is practical now that our college district has organized an international consortium of community colleges, with more than 80 member institutions, to begin collaboratively developing and improving more free public domain learning materials.

We are now on track toward the goal I set last year: substituting free public domain learning materials for commercial textbooks in 1/2 of the top 25 community college classes in California over the next ten years, which will save students more than $1 billion dollars. Money that would go right back into their pockets while also providing them with free, high-quality textbooks they can print or not print, as they like, and also keep rather than be forced to sell back to their college bookstores. Exciting stuff. Here is a link to the powerpoint presentation Dr. Baker made to our board, which highlights the progress over the past year.

This project is pretty significant for community college students, of course, and for our economy in general, which needs to see more students succeed more quickly and at lower cost. But I also believe this progress illustrates how we can use innovative new approaches to improve the delivery of many other types of government services and in the process, rebuild critical public support for our most vital public institutions, including our schools.

March 02, 2009

We Must Stop Conyers Misguided H.R. 801

This outrageous news just in from Larry Lessig:

Right now, there’s a bizarre proposal in Congress to forbid the government from requiring scientists who receive taxpayer funds for medical research to publish their findings openly on the Internet. This ban on “open access publishing” (which is currently required) would result in a lot of government-funded research being published exclusively in for-profit journals — inaccessible to the general public.

Why on earth would anyone propose this? A new report by shows that sponsors of this bill received twice as much money from the publishing industry as those on the relevant committee who are not sponsors. This is exactly the kind of money-for-influence scheme that constantly happens behind our backs — and the public gets hurt…

The main sponsor of the bad publishing bill is John Conyers (D-MI). Who’s against this bill? 33 U.S. Nobel laureates in science, 46 law professors, groups like the American Library Association, the Alliance for Taxpayer Access and open access advocates.

Stopping this legislation may not be easy. The other side will undoubtedly try to muddy the waters in the months ahead with a variety of dubious claims backed up, no doubt, by some of the few scientists who still prefer closed publishing systems. But Larry is absolutely right. I made a similar argument in a column ten years ago. We are talking about research paid for by taxpayers. The results should be available to taxpayers. So in that sense, Conyers’ H.R. 801 really represents an attempted theft of public funds.

Conyers is a hero of the labor and civil rights movement. In more recent years, though, he’s also often advocated on behalf of a variety of big money broadcasting and publishing interests.

Check out Larry’s Change Congress here. And row if you can.

About the Author /

My published work since 1985 has focused mostly on public policy, technology, science, education and business. I’ve written more than 600 articles for a variety of magazines, journals and newspapers on these often interrelated subjects. The topics I have covered include analysis of progressive approaches to higher education, entrepreneurial trends, e-learning strategies, business management, open source software, alternative energy research and development, voting technologies, streaming media platforms, online electioneering, biotech research, patent and tax law reform, federal nanotechnology policies and tech stocks.