Friday, December 21, 2012


I read that Instagram says it now has the right to sell your photos without payment or notification. Instagram made the wise move and backed down from the new policy but it wasn't the policy that caught my attention in the first place. I was amused by the irked Twitter user who quipped that "Instagram is now the new iStockPhoto, except they won't have to pay you anything to use your images."

I have a suggestion for this Twitter user if he (or she, as the case may be) feels so victimized: don't put your photos on Instagram in the first place! It's not as if they have a gun to your head and there are plenty of other sites where you can post your photos. Move on and stop complaining.

Could you imagine if everyone moved on from Instagram? A world without Instagram would be a world without blurry, scratched, sepia-toned, "artsy" pictures. Would it be such a tragedy to go back to the times of having to look at crisp, clear, 8-megapixel photos with accurate color tones again?

The Twitter user clearly thinks it's unfair to use someone else's property without paying them for it. To make things even, he should ask Instagram to, oh, I don't know -- let him use Instagram without paying for it. Oh, wait ... he already does.

Instagram from xkcd

Friday, November 30, 2012

Negotiating 101

The GOP has been claiming for a long time that President Barack Obama refuses to make a proposal for dealing with the "fiscal cliff" -- at least not one with specifics. Calling their bluff, the president sent Treasury Secretary Timothy F. Geithner to visit congressional leaders and make a proposal. It calls for $1.6-trillion in tax increases, $350-billion in cuts in health programs, $250-billion in cuts in other programs, and $800-billion in assumed savings from the wind-down of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. That's pretty specific.

Of course, now that he's complied, Republicans are reviling the president for doing just what they had been asking him to do all along. They're feigning offense for him not make any concessions in his proposal. Of course, had they wanted some concessions, the Republicans should have laid their own proposal containing those concessions on the table before the president presented his. But because they lack the spine to do so, they're instead faced with the president's proposal.

Republicans shouldn't be surprised by the terms in the president's proposal. For over a year, he's been very clear on his position and what he would do if he were reelected. The terms of his proposal look like what he campaigned on. America elected him based on that, so he owes it to the American people to try to get those terms in his proposal.

Of course, this is out of character for the president, so that could explain why Republicans are taken aback. For most of his first term, the president used very different negotiating tactics. He would tell Democrats what his position on the issue was. Then he would make an initial proposal to the GOP that looked more like what Republicans had been telling their base they wanted. Seeing the president begin his negotiations at the point where they previously would have started, the Republicans would move even further to the Right and claim an ultra-conservative position as their starting point. After that, the president would make yet more concessions to the GOP without even being asked for them or getting any concessions from them in return. When agreement was finally reached, the president would call caving in to the GOP "bi-partisan legislation."

After being reelected by over 60-million Americans and a landslide in the Electoral College, Obama doesn't roll that way anymore. He's beginning negotiations with a proposal that has everything he wants. But the Republican leaders should stop complaining because the president knows he's not going to get everything he's asking for anyway. He's just using better negotiating tactics than he has in the past.

Rather than crying to the press, the GOP should come up with their counter-proposal and lay it on the table. Then one side discusses which of their terms are really important to them and which ones are not so much, and the other side does the same with the terms in their agreement. With that information, the parties can take specific terms and make offers like agreeing to give up one thing if the other party gives up another or one party can offer a term to the other in exchange for a term they want. Eventually, the parties move closer together and both sides get some things they want but neither gets everything they want. That's the way negotiations should work and the president has only taken the first step in that process so far.

Tuesday, October 02, 2012

Are you better off?

Tomorrow I expect to hear Mitt Romney asking the question, "Are you better off today than you were four years ago?" In anticipation of that question, allow me to prepare the electorate to answer. The answer is an unequivocal "yes."

Doesn't Romney remember the state the American economy was in when President Barack Obama took office? The financial sector was on the verge of a total collapse, the stock market was crashing, Americans were losing 750,000 jobs each month, credit was completely dried up, the auto industry was going bankrupt, our gross domestic product was shrinking at a rate of 9% annually, consumer confidence was at an all-time low, banks were failing right & left, and home values were depreciating at a breakneck pace. Essentially, the American economy was rapidly heading for a full-on depression.

Today, the Dow is close to the heights it was back in 2007 and almost as high as it has ever been. Chrysler & GM repaid the American people and GM is again the world's leading auto manufacture. The private-sector has added American jobs for thirty straight months. Credit is available to businesses again. American GDP has increased every quarter since Obama took office. Americans are consuming again. Even home values have stabilized (and begun ticking up in some areas). Private Sector Payroll Employment

Even though the American economy is admittedly tepid now, compared to when Obama entered the White House, it seems like the economy has been pushed up a very steep hill, not off the edge of a cliff. In other words, the answer to the question "Is the typical American economically better off now than four years ago?" is without a doubt "yes" -- much better off!

It was two terms of George W. Bush's fiscal policies that led to the Great Recession. Now when you look at the Romney/Ryan platform regarding the American economy, it is altogether indistinguishable from Bush's when he was in office. To quote the president who led America to four years of budget surplus and into the strongest economy since WWII, the GOP is saying about Obama, "We left him a total mess. He hasn’t cleaned it up fast enough. So fire him and put us back in."

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Romney is not a felon

It’s time for all of Mitt Romney’s supporters to stop criticizing President Barack Obama for calling Romney a felon. Neither Obama nor his campaign team have ever called Romney a felon. In fact, I doubt Obama even privately thinks that Romney is a felon.

The issue stems from Romney filing forms with the SEC on behalf of Bain Capital that state Romney was the CEO, president, and managing director of Bain in 2002. Yet Romney has claimed during his current campaign for president that he was not actively involved in the business matters of Bain Capital after 1999. The two claims seem to be contradictory.

In response, Obama’s deputy campaign manager Stephanie Cutter told reporters, “Either Mitt Romney, through his own words and his own signature, was misrepresenting his position at Bain to the SEC, which is a felony, or he was misrepresenting his position at Bain to the American people to avoid responsibility for some of the consequences of his investments.” Yes, Cutter did use the word “felony” but look at it in context.

This is an either-or statement. It doesn’t say that Romney is a felon. It says he’s either a felon or he misrepresented his position at Bain to the American people -- one of the two but not both. When Obama tweeted that “if you don’t buy Mitt Romney’s excuse that he 'retroactively retired' from his buyout firm, you’re not alone,” he made it clear he believes it’s actually the latter. But misrepresenting yourself to the American people is not a crime.

Obama is making the claim that Bain outsourced American jobs to foreign countries under Romney’s stewardship. But this activity occurred predominantly after 1999, so it’s in Obama’s best interests politically for the 2002 SEC filings to be factual, not fraudulent. He wants to make the case that Romney had executive authority over Bain when it was offshoring jobs, so Obama and his supporters want the electorate to believe the SEC filings’ statement that Romney was the CEO at that time.

Saturday, June 30, 2012

National Geographic and the social media

National Geographic (NatGeo) has been active in social media for a few years. In May of 2009, its facebook Page already had slightly fewer than half a million “Fans” (as Likes were referred to at the time), its tweet stream had 7,780 Followers, and its YouTube Channel had over 150,000 subscribers. In the three years that have transpired since then, its numbers have increased exponentially. However, NatGeo’s strategic application of social media does not seem to have grown up with its numbers.

The primary objective for NatGeo’s use of social media is most likely to advance its mission:

The National Geographic Society has been inspiring people to care about the planet since 1888. It is one of the largest non-profit scientific and educational institutions in the world. Its interests include geography, archaeology and natural science, the promotion of environmental and historical conservation.
On Twitter, @NatGeo currently has over 2-million Tweeps following its tweet stream. It also has a facebook Page that almost 11-million users have Liked. The YouTube Channel now has almost 700,000 subscribers and NatGeo’s videos on it have been viewed over 750-million times. Besides its primary web site, these constitute the bulk of NatGeo’s social media presence. In addition, NatGeo leverages its brand in TV by establishing National Geographic Channel’s own unique Twitter @NatGeoChannel and facebook Page.

There’s no denying the growth but NatGeo could do an even more effective job of capitalizing on those strong numbers. For example, when facebook Pages used to have Tabs, NatGeo used them to highlight special offers, contests, reviews, and more content. Granted, the use of their facebook page has been hampered by the new Timeline layout but the only features they’re using now are the Photos and Likes. They have plenty of content to also engage users with Timeline features like Videos, Events, Notes, and the Map. But the biggest insult to its audience is that NatGeo doesn’t allow those who Like their Page to post anything on their Timeline. It screams, “We’re not interested in what you have to say.”
National Geographic's facebook Page

Its tweets also lack a sense of connecting with @NatGeo’s Followers. The only retweets in its tweet stream are of other NatGeo @s. While Tweeps regularly retweet and mention NatGeo, there’s no reciprocation. There is not a single @mention of any of its Followers. Even though hashtags could significantly increase @NatGeo’s visibility in Twitter searches with all of the unique topics its content covers, @NatGeo uses very few of them. #lostOpportunity
National Geographic's Twitter stream

The posts on both the facebook Page and tweet stream are predominantly hyperlinks to content on NatGeo’s primary web site but the content they post differs substantially one from the other. NatGeo publishes both short clips and full-length shows on its YouTube Channel but the use of the “real estate” on the front page indicates that its primary objective for the Channel is to drive its audience to new content on their primary web site that is not yet available on YouTube.
National Geographic's YouTube Channel

In all fairness, NatGeo’s primary web site is itself a social medium. Visitors to the site are permitted to post their own Comments on News articles and Photo of the Day. NatGeo publishes Community Rules for visitors to follow and there’s a healthy amount of Web 2.0 activity on its web site. Nonetheless, NatGeo would be better served to extend its social presence rather than trying to centralize it on their primary web site.
National Geographic's web site

In its latest social media promotion, NatGeo is generating interest in its Chasing UFOs series. All tweets composed between 8:00 p.m. last night and 3:00 a.m. EDT this morning containing the hashtag #ChasingUFOs will be rolled into a single message. Then on August 15, exactly 35 years after the Wow! signal was detected, NatGeo’s crowdsourced message will be transmitted back into space towards the origin of the mysterious signal. If an extraterrestrial alien responds, I'll rescind my criticism of NatGeo’s social media efforts.

Posted by David Ward for the first assignment in Developing a Social Media Strategy

Tuesday, April 03, 2012

"Progressive" is not synonymous with "Liberal"

Visitors to The Zone often think I'm a Liberal but I have to correct them. A Progressive does not lean to the Left. But he doesn't lean to the Right either. A Progressive leans forward.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Noise stage right

I've been hearing a lot of rhetoric that is incendiary and over-the-top in this election season, especially from political figures -- people who make a case for why we should elect them to represent us and run our governments. The more I hear, the louder it seems to be from the GOP. I'm not saying that Democrats never use incendiary rhetoric that's over-the-top. I'm just saying that it seems to be much more ubiquitous coming from The Right.

I heard Republican governor of Virginia, Bob McDonnell, say "I'm worried about the war of this administration on the American tax payer" today. And it just sounded so absurd to me. I had this picture of President Obama ordering his generals to roll tanks down the streets, firing shells at tax payers as they go. It was just so incendiary and over-the-top. I don't even know what he meant by "war on the tax payer." Why couldn't the governor have just clearly stated what part of Obama's tax policy he disagrees with instead of equating it to a "war"?

Then when Democrat governor Martin O'Malley from Maryland responded, he said "I think these cultural -- don't like to use the term 'wars' -- these cultural, divisive, wedge issues; the roll back of women's rights; the rollback of women's access to contraception and health care; roll-back of voting rights; roll-back of workers' rights; all these things that take us back, are not strengthening the economy and creating jobs." He was just all-around more conciliatory and rational in his argument. And it struck me as to how representative this discussion was of the discussion I hear in the body politic at large.

Probably the most incendiary name-calling I hear is Republican politicians calling President Obama a socialist. The term is deliberately chosen to be derisive, yet I hear it all the time from The Right, in spite of the fact that it simply is not the truth. The money the government loaned to auto makers has been repaid and the companies are being run by the corporations, not by Obama. And the government didn't take over health care with the "reform" law, it turned health care over to private insurance companies by mandating that every American buy health insurance from them. Even Socialists themselves say that Obama is not socialistic.

I don't have any hard statistics or other empirical evidence about what direction the noise is coming from. All I have is what I read, see, and hear, which is clearly more incendiary rhetoric from The Right than from progressives. When a Democrat responds, the naturally tendency is to make a reasoned argument in support of a progressive position (Nancy Pelosi excepted). Perhaps it's because, all other things equal, there is a presumption to maintain the status quo. The burden rests on the proponent of change to demonstrate why a progressive position should be supported, and hyperbole does not make a convincing argument.

Am I the only one who sees the preponderance of over-the-top rhetoric coming from Republican politicians? If so, where would I find all these cases of Democrats using incendiary rhetoric?

Monday, February 27, 2012

Santorum's church

On This Week yesterday, Rick Santorum said "I don't believe in an America where the separation of church and state is absolute." With complete conviction, he went on to say "the idea that the church can have no influence, no involvement, in the operation of the state is absolutely antithetical to the objectives and vision of our" nation. I challenge Santorum to show America where these objectives and vision are documented -- he, of course, could not.

But even were I to concede that the vision of our nation is that the church have influence and involvement in the operation of the state, I'm sure it would be easy to convince him to oppose that vision. All that would have to happen is to make the church with the influence and involvement the Church of Latter-day Saints. Suddenly Santorum would believe in an America where the separation of church and state is absolute. And I'm not saying that Santorum opposes Mormons in particular -- he would oppose the influence and involvement of Islam or Judaism in the operation of the state just as much.

Santorum's position that church and state should not be separate is based on the presumption that the church with the influence and involvement is Christianity. If he were to win the GOP nomination, Santorum would have a hard time getting the vote of Americans of other faiths -- or of no faith at all.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Endangered species

Normally I'm a proponent of scientific advancement but, when I read about a new breeding program aimed at keeping moderate Republicans from going extinct, I was skeptical. It'll probably work out okay in captivity but they'll never be widespread in the wild. The far-right subgenus will eat the moderates alive. And with their aversion to contraception, they'll crowd the moderates out of the population by their advanced reproductive rate. Even if they didn't crowd them out, the far-right could easily drown out the moderate voice with their constant howling over non-existent threats. I'm afraid the moderate conservatives will only thrive in the confines of a column in the Gray Lady (e.g. David Brooks) or the far northeast territory (e.g. Susan Collins).

Not how to create jobs

I was watching a guest on the Nightly Business Report tonight speak about employment not increasing in America the last couple years. He went on to say that the way to increase employment is to make it easy for job creators to get credit and to reduce regulation. You would think that being a business show, the guest would not be so wrong.

Let's break this claim down to see how wrong it is, starting with the idea that extending credit to employers would make them hire more employees. It's possible that it would in some economic environments but not in this one. Right now, businesses are flush with cash, so credit is not what they need. If they really wanted to hire employees, they would just dip into their retained earnings. But they're not because there's not enough demand to make businesses confident about hiring. And the businesses that do need credit don't have retained earnings for the same reason -- there's insufficient demand for their products. So extending credit to them would not make them hire more employees either.

Reducing regulation isn't going to create jobs either, and for pretty much the same reason -- reducing regulation doesn't have any impact on demand. It might make it easier for a company to operate or make more profit but that's not why businesses hire more employees. They hire more employees because sales are going up and they need more staff to make more widgets or provide more service. Again, regulation does not fit into that equation but, again, demand does.

So, even though the guest was on a business show, he was wrong -- making it easy for job creators to get credit and reducing regulation is not how to create jobs. To increase employment, there needs to be an increase in demand, which is accomplished by stimulus in this economic environment.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

The Conservative moniker

I've been watching the GOP presidential hopefuls falling all over themselves to be more "conservative" than the next, as if being "the" Conservative is a badge of honor. The irony is that, much as those GOP hopefuls use the term "liberal" derisively, the term "conservative" has a negative connotation to me. It has nothing to do with conservative values -- I share conservative values on a number of issues myself. The reason I cringe when someone claims to be a Conservative is because hypocrisy, fallacy, and hyperbole seem to run rampant in that crowd. I recognize that the same traits can be found among liberals but it's the exception more than the rule, whereas they seem to be ubiquitous on The Right. Sadly, it appears that hypocrisy, fallacy, and hyperbole are very effective at swaying public opinion.

Friday, February 03, 2012

Newt-land: the mirror image of reality

Newt Gingrich was on the stump today and I saw an excerpt of his speech. He was echoing the same claims he has been making for months now. He was essentially telling the crowd that President Barack Obama has:
  • raised taxes
  • increased regulation
  • is anti-American energy
  • wages class warfare
Of course, the crowd probably believed every one of these claims, even though they are all blatant lies.

In fact, Obama has ratified every extension of tax rates brought to his desk on taxes that would have otherwise increased according to law from before he was in office. He requested authority to consolidate federal agencies, which reduces regulation, and has consistently stated support for eliminating obsolete regulations that unnecessarily stifle business. His official energy policy is to develop more energy here at home and reduce our dependency on foreign oil. And he's bailed out bankers and forced millions of Americans to buy health insurance from private corporations, which heavily favors the wealthy.

Basically, Newt is 180-degrees wrong on every count.