Monthly Archives: April 2009

Patrick is right on taxes

Jon Keller may be right in observing that Gov. Deval Patrick has completely botched his communication strategy, and has thus rendered himself irrelevant on Beacon Hill.

But who can disagree with the governor when he says he’ll veto the 25 percent sales-tax hike now being considered by legislative leaders if they refuse to reform their corrupt ways of doing business first?

We probably need a decent-size tax increase. We have been lurching from fiscal crisis to fiscal crisis for the better part of two decades now, as our appetite for spending continues to exceed our willingness to pay for it.

But even a liberal weenie like me is unwilling to fork over another penny until pension outrages like this, no-show jobs and the like have been eliminated once and for all.

And if Patrick is finally ready to engage and fight, who’s to say this battle can’t be won?

Update: Keller responds.

Singling out Obama for his religion

I haven’t done any research on this, so I’m running the risk of being wrong. But it seems to me that Catholic leaders used to reserve their venom for pro-choice elected officials who were also fellow Catholics. I could point to any number of examples, but you may recall there was some buzz during the 2004 presidential campaign that John Kerry would be denied communion because of his pro-choice stance.

So it strikes me as an unfortunate escalation for Catholics who oppose abortion rights to protest Notre Dame’s decision to invite President Obama to speak at the university’s commencement and to award him an honorary degree. As the Boston Globe’s Michael Paulson reports, Harvard Law School professor Mary Ann Glendon, a well-known conservative Catholic, is the latest to take part in the protest, as she has refused to accept an award on the same platform as Obama.

Trouble is, Obama is not a Catholic, or even a conservative Protestant. Rather, he is a member of the United Church of Christ, a liberal Protestant denomination that supports abortion rights (notwithstanding the fact that he quit his UCC church over statements made by his former minister, the Rev. Jeremiah Wright). Indeed, the UCC is part of the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice, which issued a statement shortly after Obama’s inauguration praising him for overturning Bush administration policy on global reproductive-health assistance.

Are Notre Dame’s critics — including Mary Ann Glendon — suggesting that a Catholic university can’t honor a non-Catholic if his religious beliefs differ from Catholic doctrine? It certainly sounds that way, doesn’t it? How far do they intend to go with this?

Herald, GateHouse circulation down, too

The Boston Globe has the figures I was missing. According to the Audit Bureau of Circulations, the Boston Herald’s weekday circulation is down 17.4 percent, to 150,688, and its Sunday readership has dropped 9.6 percent, to 95,392.

The Patriot Ledger of Quincy and the Enterprise of Brockton, both GateHouse papers, lost readers as well, but not by as great a percentage.

Free the Kazakhstan Internet

Yevgeniya Plakhina

The InterContinental Hotel in Almaty, Kazakhstan, is about as isolating an experience as you can imagine. The luxurious surroundings — and the ever-present security guards — effectively separated the several hundred journalists attending last week’s Eurasian Media Forum from whatever was going on outside.

So it was something of a surprise when that separation was breached last Friday afternoon. Between a panel on the global media crisis, which I moderated, and a panel on blogging, in which I participated, several people approached us with handouts, warning of proposed laws that would crack down on Kazakhstan’s burgeoning blogosphere. We exchanged pleasantries, and that seemed to be that.

Then, during the blogging panel, one of them — an audacious 24-year-old woman named Yevgeniya Plakhina, wearing a shirt that proclaimed “SHHH!” — got up and demanded to know why six of her friends had been arrested for demonstrating against the proposals.

The moderator, Vladimir Rerikh, a Kazakh journalist, clearly wanted the issue, and Plakhina, to go away. But Danny Schechter, a well-known American progressive journalist, spoke up on Plakhina’s behalf, and she was able to continue pressing her case. (Here is Schechter’s account.) The organizer of the conference, Dariga Nazarbayeva, the daughter of President Nursultan Nazarbayev, could be seen talking on her cell phone, leaving the hall and returning several times.

Afterward, Plakhina, a reporter for the newspaper Respublika, was hanging around in the lobby. I approached her for an interview and asked to take her picture. I explained that I would be posting her picture on my blog, and asked if that would create any problems for her. She said it would not, and posed willingly.

According to the materials Plakhina gave me, the Kazakh government proposes to regulate all online media — forums, chatrooms, blogs and social networks — by the same laws that currently govern mass-media outlets, which are not exactly based on the principles of the First Amendment. The legislation, if passed, could result in the blocking of foreign mass-media Web sites as well. In addition, the mass media would be prohibited from calling for peaceful demonstrations, according to the materials.

Plakhina told me that her group, For a Free Internet, began on March 2 by leaving comments on the prime minister’s blog — more than 70 on the first day, and 400 within a week. The comments were all expunged, she added, and moderation was turned on, making it impossible to leave any further messages.

On March 7, the campaign staged a flash-mob event in front of the office of the national Internet provider, she said. She gave me a DVD of the event.

I asked her whether she was surprised that she was allowed to speak. “Well, yeah, that was surprise. Maybe because they don’t know my face yet,” she said, laughing. She added that she may have been allowed to go on because Rerikh, the moderator, didn’t know what she was saying: “Well, thank God the moderator doesn’t speak English.”

Her friends were quickly released from jail. In an e-mail exchange yesterday, Plakhina told me:

Yes, my friends were released shortly after the session finished. I guess, the authorities were scared of international scandal, and released my friends. An advisor to the president on mass media Yermukhamet Yertysbayev has taken an active participation in releasing my friends. He came up to me at media forum and asked what happend with my friends, made a call and they’ve been released. They haven’t been charged with anything because we didn’t even start the demonstration (well, it was supposed to be a flash mob, not even a demonstration). Policemen had nothing to charge us with.

Kazakhstan is not North Korea, but neither is it a country where press freedom is firmly established. Several days ago, according to the Associated Press, an opposition newspaper publisher was imprisoned because he had not paid damages in a libel suit that, according to his supporters, was politically motivated.

Reporters Without Borders ranks Kazakhstan as 125th out of 169 countries in terms of press freedom. In addition, as Adil Nurmakov of Global Voices Online (one of numerous signers of Plakhina’s letter) has reported, the blogging platform LiveJournal has been censored by the government. (Not to get too self-righteous: the United States ranks only 36th in the Reporters Without Borders report, and 119th in its “extraterritorial” practices, including its imprisonment of an Al-Jazeera videographer at Guantánamo for six years.)

Plakhina’s group is trying to take advantage of the fact that Kazakhstan is about to assume the chairmanship of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, arguing that the proposed laws are contrary to the democratic spirit of the OSCE.

EurasiaNet has a thorough account of the proposed legislation.

During my brief time in Kazakhstan, I got the impression that the government is trying to move beyond its repressive past. The country, a former Soviet republic, also seems to be an island of stability in a volatile part of the world. It would send a strong and encouraging message if the government drops its proposal to censor speech online.

For more information, you can contact For a Free Internet at blokirovke {dot} net {at} gmail {dot} com.

Newspaper circulation slide continues

Daily newspaper circulation continues its seemingly unstoppable slide, and the Boston Globe once again has been hit particularly hard. According to audited figures reported by the trade magazine Editor & Publisher, weekday circulation of the Globe for the past six months has fallen 13.6 percent, to 302,638. On Sundays, the Globe has fallen 11.2 percent, to 466,665.

I do not have direct access to the figures, reported by the Audit Bureau of Circulations, so I can’t tell you what’s going on at the Boston Herald. E&P is only providing numbers for the top 25 papers.

Two bits of perspective.

First, for many years, the Globe’s advertising rates were based on a guarantee that its Sunday circulation would remain above 800,000, and its weekday circulation would be north of 500,000. So this is pretty devastating, especially in light of last week’s news that advertising revenue at the Globe, Boston.com and the Worcester Telegram & Gazette was down 31.6 percent over the first quarter of 2008.

Second, as always, it’s important to keep in mind that Boston.com attracts more than 5 million unique visitors each month, making it the most successful regional newspaper Web site in the United States. If only there were a way of translating that success into revenue.

A disturbing profile of Geithner

The New York Times’ monumental profile of Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner is pretty disturbing.

Despite Geithner’s clear pattern of getting too close to the bankers he was supposed to be regulating during his time as president of the New York Fed, he still manages to come across as a man of integrity. So that’s not the issue.

Rather, the issue is that Geithner came to trust those bankers far more than he should have, a mindset that led him to get it wrong consistently.

It seems pretty clear that President Obama would have been better served by an outsider, albeit one with the technical expertise to see us through the financial crisis. Geithner’s got the technical expertise, but is simply too close to see the big picture.

Coming tomorrow

Welcome, Danny Schechter readers, who may be looking for my blog item on an important Internet freedom-of-speech issue that we were confronted with during our time in Kazakhstan at the Eurasian Media Forum. The News Dissector, ever more diligent than I am, has already weighed in. I expect to have something up tomorrow morning.