Google’s “White Space” FCC Proposal Heralds New Day for Telecom and Broadcasting

24th March 20087:54 am

March 24, 2008
I hope today’s news today that Google has written a formal letter to the Federal Communications Commissions requesting permission to use so-called “white space” spectrum on an unregulated basis is the first shot in a long overdue legal fight to free our nation’s airways from unnecessary, counterproductive over-regulation that primarily benefits a handful of enormously powerful, well-connected media and telecommunications corporations.

As I explained in a column some years ago, the federal government’s current spectrum allocation policies, which were established decades ago, have long since become technologically obsolete and completely unnecessary for the purposes that were originally intended and that were narrowly permitted under the Constitution, namely, to prevent signal interference that would otherwise have made commercial broadcasting impossible. That was true at one time. But it has not been true for many years, perhaps decades now. If Google puts up its dukes and really fights this fight it is hard to see how the U.S. Supreme Court will have any rational choice other than to throw out the fed’s current rule-making authority in the spectrum allocation business in favor of requiring the FCC to enact regulations that permit spread spectrum or spectrum sensing technologies that enable anyone to use the airwaves without hurting anyone else and, most importantly, without government permission. In the end, it’s a free speech issue. If the federal government does not have to restrict the use of the airwaves to enable broadcasting then why on earth should it do so?

Up til now, the big money has all been behind allowing the federal government to allocate spectrum that just a few huge companies can then control. Google and its high-tech allies, including, in this case, Microsoft, have the financial resources to prevail against against the big telcos and media companies in the federal courts and, if needed, in Congress. So kudos to Google for taking the first step in what could be a long but very worthwhile legal battle. If Google pushes the spread spectrum/spectrum sharing issue in the courts the only way they and the American public can lose is if the U.S. Supreme Court agrees to shred constitutional protections for free speech and freedom of the press.


March 22, 2008

Eeeek! I lost everyone’s email address!

Eeeek! Followed by ugh…

I just realized that my email address book was one of the items not saved after my hard drive crash on Thursday. I was able to resurrect about a dozen addresses from memory, but the rest, 15 years worth maybe, are gone. Lost little electrons on a now inoperable encrypted hard drive. What a strange feeling. Anyway, if you are a friend or contact, even if you have recently been in touch with me via email, please do me a favor and send me an email asap, empty is fine, so I can add you back to my address book. It’s a drag, but considering the stuff I did save, it could have been much worse. I know many of you check in here from time to time, so please do help me keep in touch.


March 21, 2008

Hewlett Packard is Back: Stock Price to Follow?

I went shopping yesterday at Fry’s and online to replace my less than 2-year old Sony Vaio desktop PC after its very large and very unreliable hard drive went fully belly up, clunk, scrape, blue screen of death and all (yes, I was reasonably fully backed up, whew, and warning to the wise: these things do happen, although it is the first time it ever happened to me…)

Anyway, I was blown away, really quite impressed, and totally surprised to end up buying a Hewlett Packard PC, my first ever HP-PC. If my experience is common, I suspect it means HP will continue to gain market share.

I’ve owned pretty much every brand of PC, starting with an IBM, then one called Leading Edge, a Compaq, some clones, and at least two Sony’s, one of which was a pretty decent machine. But I never bought an HP which, for a variety of reasons, always seemed like an uncompelling alternative. In fact, back in 2001 I even panned the inept way HP merchandised their products.

This time around, I checked out all the usual suspects, DELL, Gateway, even ACER, both online and at the store. In both venues one thing was clear: HP’s more diverse and versatile product line stood head and shoulders above the competition. I haven’t paid much attention to this beat since around 2000-1 when I covered it pretty extensively for CNBC.com. But it seems pretty clear to me that in the time that has passed HP has leapfrogged the field.

I was dazzled by the choices and price points available at Fry’s. HP had a computer for every niche. And when I visited HP’s website it was much more user-friendly, intuitive and helpful than either Dell, Gateway or Acer’s. Flat out, the HP site did a much better job of quickly matching my needs with the right product at a great price. When I got stuck at one point I pushed a “call me” button on the site and about a minute later my phone rang with an HP salesperson on the other end, smart, who was able to rapidly guide me through the rest of the transaction. Even better, she already had my partial order in front of her when she called so closing the deal was a breeze.

As I say, I don’t cover tech stocks these days. And I have not looked all that closely at the company’s detailed financials other than noticing what looks like a pretty reasonable current and forward P/E. But, for what it’s worth, after I bought my new HP computer, I bought some of the company’s stock, too. HP is definitely back.


March 18, 2008

Memo to Blogosphere: Let’s Drop the Term Mainstream Media — “MSM” — and Instead Use Corporate-Owned News Media — “CONM”

I’ve been wanting to suggest this for quite some time, so here goes.

Memo to bloggers everywhere, on both the Left and the Right:

Please, let’s all drop the misleading and unhelpful acronym “MSM” from our shared vocabularies as bloggers and use the term “Corporate-Owned News Media” or “CONM” (pronounced “CON-UM”) instead.

Here’s why:

The term “mainstream media” carries a connotation that the views expressed within are part of some mainstream. I understand the history of the term. That it was meant to describe what “most” members of a particular professional group were doing. But as a term “MSM” has outlived its usefulness and is, in the context of current events, misleading and far too generous.

Rhetorically speaking, if the MSM represents some part of the “mainstream,” then that would put its critics, again, rhetorically speaking, somewhere in the fringes, I would suppose.

But, in our cacophonous diversity, we bloggers are the mainstream.

And what we object to, in growing numbers, are media, the news media in particular, that pollutes the vital public information streams on which our democracy depends, or manipulates the electoral process with propagandistic Big Lie techniques that lead to the sort of ineffective, counterproductive social policies that have brought our great nation low. The term Corporate-Owned News Media, “CONM,” is a far more apt descriptor of this increasingly apparent underlying socio-political-economic malignancy.

What’s more, the term “CONM” also far more accurately focuses attention on the underlying source of the most problematic issues currently attributed to the MSM, including by more explicitly identifying the at least reasonable suspicion that hidden corporate agendas can play a role in advancing the public disinformation campaigns we so frequently see.

For these reasons and more henceforth I’m going to stop using the term “MSM” and instead use “CONM,” with a short explanation the first time I use it in each post. I hope others will consider doing so as well.

Sample use:

After watching the CONM continue to repetitively rebroadcast excerpts of the speeches of Rev. Jeremiah Wright today, over, and over and over again, in an obvious effort to smear Senator Obama by association, calling FOX and CNN and the rest of their ilk part of the American “mainstream” is a kindness I can no longer stomach. Their corporate agendas are showing. The least we can do is call them on it.

posted by Hal Plotkin | 05:21 PM | Comments (0)
Not This Time: Obama on Guilt by Association

From Senator Obama’s speech today, “Toward a More Perfect Union”:

“We can play Reverend Wright’s sermons on every channel, every day and talk about them from now until the election, and make the only question in this campaign whether or not the American people think that I somehow believe or sympathize with his most offensive words. We can pounce on some gaffe by a Hillary supporter as evidence that she’s playing the race card, or we can speculate on whether white men will all flock to John McCain in the general election regardless of his policies. We can do that.

But if we do, I can tell you that in the next election, we’ll be talking about some other distraction. And then another one. And then another one. And nothing will change. That is one option.

Or, at this moment, in this election, we can come together and say, “Not this time.”

This time we want to talk about the crumbling schools that are stealing the future of black children and white children and Asian children and Hispanic children and Native American children. This time we want to reject the cynicism that tells us that these kids can’t learn; that those kids who don’t look like us are somebody else’s problem. The children of America are not those kids, they are our kids, and we will not let them fall behind in a 21st century economy. Not this time.

This time we want to talk about how the lines in the Emergency Room are filled with whites and blacks and Hispanics who do not have health care; who don’t have the power on their own to overcome the special interests in Washington, but who can take them on if we do it together.

This time we want to talk about the shuttered mills that once provided a decent life for men and women of every race, and the homes for sale that once belonged to Americans from every religion, every region, every walk of life. This time we want to talk about the fact that the real problem is not that someone who doesn’t look like you might take your job; it’s that the corporation you work for will ship it overseas for nothing more than a profit.

This time we want to talk about the men and women of every color and creed who serve together, and fight together, and bleed together under the same proud flag. We want to talk about how to bring them home from a war that never should’ve been authorized and never should’ve been waged, and we want to talk about how we’ll show our patriotism by caring for them, and their families, and giving them the benefits they have earned.

I would not be running for President if I didn’t believe with all my heart that this is what the vast majority of Americans want for this country. This union may never be perfect, but generation after generation has shown that it can always be perfected. And today, whenever I find myself feeling doubtful or cynical about this possibility, what gives me the most hope is the next generation – the young people whose attitudes and beliefs and openness to change have already made history in this election.”


March 15, 2008

Must Obama Answer for Rezko, Power and Rev. Jeremiah Wright?

Is anyone else getting just a little bit sick of the corporate news media’s relentless guilt by association smears on Senator Barack Obama? After months of pummeling him with charges that did not stick, his critics have evidently decided one way to cut him down to size is to continually link him with other people he knows who have screwed up in some way.

It’s the cheapest trick in the book.

I don’t know about you. But I know I am not terribly interested in what someone who knows Obama has said or done unless Obama himself is involved in some direct way.

An off-the-record comment made by an unpaid foreign policy adviser?

A former contributor who may be a real estate hustler?

Controversial passages from sermons made by his local charismatic minister?

If there was a real story in any of these items it would have been to surface the comments that were made or actions taken, determine if Obama agreed or participated, and if he didn’t to then file the story in the “no-story” circular file. That is what a responsible journalist would do. Instead, we get a barrage of “when did he stop beating his wife?” stories that continue to run long after the relevant exonerating information is known. These repetitive stories accomplish nothing, other than tarring Obama in the most unfair fashion, by associating him with comments or actions for which he bears absolutely no direct personal responsibility.

To be fair, Senator Clinton should also not be held responsible for stupid comments made by her supporters, such as the recent dust-up over comments made by former vice presidential nominee Geraldine Ferraro. In some cases, stories like these are just byproducts of the old journalistic “gotcha” formula. In other cases they are pretty obvious plants, part of an attempt to kill with a thousand cuts. But either way, editors would be wise to think about whether they’re really worth the ink. Some better ideas for stories: asking the candidates about say, a foreign policy, or an economic policy, maybe?

Over the last few days, Obama has been typically patient in answering questions about these associations. But at some point in time I hope he, or someone, stands up and points out, with the appropriate traces of indignity, just how ugly and un-American guilt by association really is. Journalists who participate in it are reckless and irresponsible. Asserting guilt by association is just plain sleazy.


Weintraub Cites Kenworthy’s Work on Income-Inequality

My cousin, sociologist Jeff Weintraub, just forwarded a highly informative post, must reading, excerpting the work of his friend, Lane Kenworthy. Both deserve praise for bringing scholarly attention to a topic that often gets ignored or denied here in Silicon Valley. Perhaps some facts will help. Couldn’t hurt. Here are some excerpts of Weintraub’s excerpts of Kenworthy’s highly useful post:

Lane Kenworthy (Consider the Evidence) March 9, 2008 The Best Inequality Graph

Income inequality in the United States has been rising since the 1970s. What is the most effective way to succinctly convey this fact?

Here is my choice (a pdf version is available here)


bestinequalitygraph-figure1-version3.png

The chart shows average inflation-adjusted incomes of the poorest 20%, middle 60%, and top 1% of households since the 1970s. The incomes include government transfers and subtract taxes. For the bulk of American households, incomes have increased moderately or minimally. For those at the top, by contrast, they have soared.

Read the Rest


distributionofthepie-figure1-test1.png

From 1947 to 1973 [i.e., the quarter-century after WWII that looks to many people, in retrospect, like a “golden age” of continuous economic growth, increasingly pervasive affluence, and decreasing income inequality in all western societies–JW], incomes at each of these three levels grew at an annual rate of about 2.7%. That was approximately the same as – actually slightly faster than – the rate of growth of the economy as a whole; GDP per capita during that period grew at a rate of 2.5% per year.

Since 1973 incomes in the middle and lower portion of the distribution have increased much less rapidly: 0.8% per year at the 60th percentile, 0.5% per year at the 40th, and just 0.3% per year at the 20th. Is this because the economy as a whole has failed to grow? No. The annual growth rate of per capita GDP since 1973 has been 1.9%. Instead, it’s because most of that economic growth has gone to those at the top of the distribution.

The dashed lines in the chart show what incomes at the 60th, 40th, and 20th percentiles would have looked like had they grown at the same 1.9%-per-year pace as the economy since 1973. The difference is striking. Incomes for a very large swath of the American population would be much higher – $15,000 to $30,000 higher – if economic growth since the mid-1970s had been distributed more equally.

One local fable shattered by these data is the prevalent myth that stock options did a lot to close the income gap over the last few decades. More recently, we’re even hearing worried claims from area CEOs and even members of our local congressional delegation (Democrats!) that our middle class will suffer the most, and in very great numbers, if the recent long overdue federal reform mandating stock option expensing by corporations is not repealed. Reviewing the data, though, it looks like it must have been a pretty thin slice of the middle class that scooped up all those stock options despite some pretty misleading and self-serving claims.


March 13, 2008

Gaining Traction in the Blogosphere

I just learned that Blogged.com has named my humble little outpost in the blogosphere the 10th best blog focused on higher education policy issues. Poking around, I also found out I am 12th on their list of best blogs with content related to the Democratic Party and, by the skin of my teeth, also on their list of the country’s top 100 political blogs. Naturally, I’m flattered.

The news comes just a few weeks after this blog was picked up by the Blogburst syndicate, which is yielding upwards of 2000 headline impressions a day in affiliated publications such as Reuters and the Chicago Sun Times. Originally, this whole blogging thing started out for me as just an outlet for thoughts and ideas I could not publish elsewhere. But lately, more and more it’s beginning to feel like an engine that’s starting to turn over. The timing of all this is very welcome, though, particularly given the announcement about a revolutionary new non-profit media-related venture that I plan to make in this space in just a few days. More on that shortly.


March 08, 2008

Obama Must Rise Above Clinton’s Fear-Mongering

Okay, so I was wrong. I thought voters would see right through Senator Hillary Clinton’s fear-mongering “kitchen-sink” tactics, and particularly that deplorable “it’s 3 A.M” ad she ran, and toss her to the curb in Texas and Ohio. Instead, her tactic of literally scaring up votes still works despite the GOP’s recent overuse of Reichstagian politics. We’re sure to see more of the same from her. That’s so sad. And a tiny bit scary, because it’s beginning to look like Senator Clinton feels that to save the American political village she needs to burn it down first. I wonder if, deep down in her heart, Clinton really thinks it is a good thing, part of what she always wanted to do with her life, to spend millions of contributor dollars seeking to capitalize on the fears of the American public. That is exactly what she is doing with all those venomous ads, her many innuendos, and her increasingly personal derision of her opponent and his capacity to inspire others.

So how should Senator Obama respond? First, by NOT taking the bait and firing back tit for tat. Focusing on Clinton’s refusal to release her income tax records, for example, or taking other similar potshots at her, however well deserved, just pulls Obama and his campaign down into the gutter with Clinton.

Obama should stick to his original game plan, the one that worked so well in South Carolina, and focus his counter-attack not on Clinton per se, but instead on her tactics. More specifically, Obama should talk about what fear has done to this country. He should explain how all that works, how fear leads to a willingness to believe the worst about a situation, our options and even ourselves. And he should talk more about that hope stuff he seems to know something about, how hope can lift us up and help us see what’s best about a situation and how it can help us envision a better world and unite us more sufficiently to realize common aspirations. And finally, he should also offer more detailed and specific examples of the exact types of practical social progress that a coalition built on hope could achieve in this country.

Clinton has picked up the sword of fear. Obama can choose to fight fire with fire and everything burns. Or he can continue to develop an inspiring new language of hope that reminds America, in very specific terms, that fear is the easiest and most dangerous of political weapons. Obama needs to mount a Rooseveltian cusade against fear itself. And, in the process, he will also remind America what is now obvious to those of us who have been paying close attention: Clinton will say or do pretty much anything to get elected. What Obama needs to do now is to find a way to rise above those tired old political tactics like a big balloon. Hope is the answer.


March 04, 2008

Friends Create Obama Works Website

Some of my friends recently created a new website that focuses on Senator Barack Obama’s appeal to working families. In addition to trying to perform a public service, I think they also want to give the Obama campaign a new online resource they can use as the two remaining Democratic presidential campaigns battle for working class eyeballs online — and for their votes. It’s often said that people vote their pocketbooks. So putting together a website that focuses on bread and butter issues makes sense. You can check it out here.


March 01, 2008

Hillary Clinton Plays the Fear Card in Texas

I hate to sound like a Hillary basher. Really, I am not. In fact, I used to truly admire the woman. But I’m simply astonished that she has stooped to Karl Rovian fear-mongering tactics in her now desperate bid to derail the Obama juggernaut.

New York Times

February 29, 2008
New Clinton Ad Prompts Reply From Obama
By KATHARINE Q. SEELYE

WACO, Tex. — Playing on anxieties about national security, Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton has produced a “red phone moment” advertisement that suggests she would be better able to respond to a crisis than Senator Barack Obama.

“It’s 3 a.m. and your children are safe and asleep,” says a narrator as threatening music surges over dark black-and-white images.

There’s a world crisis and the White House phone is ringing. “Your vote will decide who answers that call,” the narrator says. “Whether it’s someone who already knows the world’s leaders, knows the military — someone tested and ready to lead in a dangerous world.”

It ends with a photo of Mrs. Clinton wearing glasses and picking up the phone.

Mr. Obama, responding to the ad during a stop in Houston, said it raised “a perfectly legitimate question.”

But, he said: “We’ve seen these ads before. They’re the kind that play on people’s fears to try to scare up votes.”

What’s even worse than the ads, however, was Senator Clinton’s politically tone-deaf response when Senator Obama called her on her obvious attempt to use fear to motivate voters.

“My opponent says it’s fear mongering to talk about national security and the fact that we’re at war,” Senator Clinton told a crowd at the historic stockyards in Fort Worth, according to the Political Swamp blog. “Well, I don’t think people in Texas scare all that easily.”

Her response is so patronizing it made me cringe. But beyond that, it also makes me want to ask: “Where has she been?”

President Bush and Vice President Cheney have demonstrated exactly how easily the American people can be scared and how powerful fear is when used as a political weapon. The war in Iraq, the attack on our civil liberties, the attack on gay rights, the loss of other freedoms, even the very re-election of GWB, were all products of the GOP’s well-oiled fear machine.

Senator Obama, on the other hand, confidently says Clinton’s gambit won’t work — and I think he has that right. He seems to understand what Clinton does not: that we are all just sick and tired of being afraid. We want a different, better, more uplifting type of national leadership, leadership focused on what we can hope for, what we should strive for and what we can accomplish as a nation, rather than a leadership this is all about why we should be afraid.

Senator Clinton’s approach is woefully out of touch with the mood of the country — and clearly out of touch with the mood of the Democratic Party. Sadly, it appears Hillary will go out, at least if there is any justice she will go out, playing a fear card that is likely to backfire. It also raises the question many of my friends have been asking for weeks now, which is: “If Hillary is really ready to be president on Day One, why wasn’t she ready on Day One to run a better campaign?”