Thursday Reads

Out of Town News, Harvard Square

Good Morning!!

Gee, it’s great to be back in Beantown, even though my house looks like it was hit by a tornado. I already had books stacked all over the place because of my book selling project. I brought more books with me from Indiana, and I haven’t completely unpacked and put my stuff away. I’ll be cleaning up for a couple of days. At least I got everything out of the car today and went to the grocery store. Driving 1,000 miles in two days makes me really spacey though, so if I don’t make sense in this post, please try to make allowances.

You’ve probably heard already that Robert Gibbs plans to leave the White House in February to be an “outside political adviser” to Obama’s 2012 campaign. It’s the top story on Memeorandum right now.

“Robert, on the podium, has been extraordinary,” Mr. Obama said, declining to answer questions about who he intends to hire for any position. “Off the podium, he has been one of my closet advisers. He is going to continue to have my ear for as long as I’m in this job.”

Mr. Gibbs will remain part of the president’s inner circle of political advisers, along with David Axelrod, a senior adviser, and Jim Messina, a deputy chief of staff, who also are leaving the White House to focus on the president’s re-election effort. Mr. Gibbs will defend Mr. Obama on television – and will expand his presence on Twitter and other Internet platforms – as well as beginning to define the field of 2012 Republican presidential candidates.

“Stepping back will take some adjusting,” Mr. Gibbs said in an interview Wednesday morning. “But at the same time, I have a feeling that I will keep myself quite busy, not just with speaking, but continuing to help the president.”

He said he has no intention of establishing a political consulting or lobbying business, but he intends to work from the same downtown Washington office where David Plouffe has spent the last two years.

When I first heard this news, my first thought was about the role that Gibbs played in 2004, when he resigned from the Kerry Campaign and joined an “independent” group that produced the infamous attack ad that showed a photo of Osama bin Laden while the announcer described Howard Dean’s supposed deficiencies in foreign policy. It sounds like Gibbs will be more out front in 2012, but I’m betting he’ll still play the attack dog role–smearing opponents and generally saying the things Obama doesn’t dare say himself.

According the NYT story,

The leading potential replacements for press secretary include Jay Carney, a spokesman for Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr., along with Bill Burton and Josh Earnest, who work as deputies to Mr. Gibbs. Other candidates also could be considered, an administration official said.

Emptywheel says Robert Gibbs will now become part of the group he derided as press secretary: “the professional left.”

Back when Gibbs was attacking the Professional Left, he made a distinction between the Progressives outside of DC and those inside DC squawking on the cable programs.

But if Gibbs is going to stay in DC, hanging out on Twitter, and appearing on the speaking circuit, doesn’t that make him a card-carrying member of the Professional Left?

Except the bit about him being so conservative, of course.


Out in the land of real Americans, 1 of 6 of us lives in poverty–including many senior citizens.

Read the rest of this entry »


Monday Reads

Good Morning!!

I’m still stuck in central Indiana and there seems to be a blizzard bearing down on the Northeast. They’re predicting 18 inches in northwest greater Boston where I live. I’m hoping I’ll manage to get back there soon, if weather permits.

I had to call the guy who has been helping me with the snow the last couple of winters and ask him to shovel my house out so I don’t come home to piles of solid ice in my driveway and on my front walk. I hope everyone who is getting hit by the blizzard will be okay!

While I was checking up on the Boston weather forecast, I came across this interesting story in The Boston Globe.

If you were around in the late ’50s and early ’60s, you may recall a famous song by the Kingston Trio about the Boston subway system, then called the MTA.

In June of 1959, packaged sandwiches and envelopes of nickels began pouring into the Park Square headquarters of Boston’s Metropolitan Transit Authority, postmarked from as far off as California and Hawaii. All were addressed to Charlie — “the man who never returned.’’

The Kingston Trio’s “At Large’’ album was headed to number one, and listeners couldn’t get enough of the opening track, “M.T.A.,’’ about a fellow trapped on the subway because he lacked a nickel for the exit fare. The hit would go on to become a campfire staple and slice of Americana, widely embraced, frequently parodied, and adapted for styles from country to punk.

It turns out that the song the Kingston Trio recorded was

…actually a sanitized version of the original, a campaign song for a 1949 Boston mayoral candidate who opposed the subway fare hike. But by 1959, the candidate had been blacklisted and run out of town, and the song’s most political lyrics were simply edited out

because another folk group, The Weavers (which included Pete Seeger) had been blacklisted because Seeger and another member of the group, Lee Hayes were called to testify before the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC), and both refused to name names.

Now the Boston transit authority (now called the MBTA) is displaying the uncensored lyrics of the song along with the backstory at selected subway stations. “Charlie on the MTA” was Walter O’Brien’s campaign song–a protest about a fare increase in subway fares.

The MTA had been formed just two years earlier from the ashes of the Boston Elevated Railway Co., a private company whose shareholders had received a guaranteed dividend for years even as the transit company relied on public subsidies. When lawmakers eventually bought them out to abolish the company, shareholders made out handsomely. Then the taxpayers footing the bill got slapped with the fare hike.

Does that remind you of anything in the present?

“The Progressive Party saw that as a bailout of private interest and inappropriate use of taxpayer money, and [then the fare increase] was one wrong piled upon another,’’ said Jim Vrabel, an activist and historian determined to reclaim the song’s origins. “It’s been kind of trivialized and made kind of a cute song, and people don’t realize the serious political background of it.’’

I hope you’ll take the time to read the entire article. It provides quite a bit of information on what it was like for artists, politicians, teachers, lawyers–really just about anyone left-leaning, during the McCarthy era.

Below is a video of the song will the original lyrics.

If only we had a Walter O’Brien today! He couldn’t afford to pay for advertising so he hired trucks to drive around playing the song in the streets of Boston. Can you imagine the great songs that could be written about the bankster fraud and bailouts and all the people who are paying by losing their homes and livelihoods?

I found another fascinating piece of history via Memeorandum. From the BBC News: “Coded American Civil War message in bottle deciphered.”

In the encrypted message, a commander tells Gen John Pemberton that no reinforcements are available to help him defend Vicksburg, Mississippi.

“You can expect no help from this side of the river,” says the message, which was deciphered by codebreakers.

The text is dated 4 July 1863 – the day Vicksburg fell to Union forces.

The small bottle was given to the Museum of the Confederacy in Richmond, Virginia, by a former Confederate soldier in 1896.

Also via Memeorandum, “death panels” are back, according to The New York Times: Obama Returns to End-of-Life Plan That Caused Stir

When a proposal to encourage end-of-life planning touched off a political storm over “death panels,” Democrats dropped it from legislation to overhaul the health care system. But the Obama administration will achieve the same goal by regulation, starting Jan. 1.

Under the new policy, outlined in a Medicare regulation, the government will pay doctors who advise patients on options for end-of-life care, which may include advance directives to forgo aggressive life-sustaining treatment.

I don’t have a problem with that as long as it doesn’t lead to denying care to elderly people who want it. Of course knowing that this administration is going to be embracing the Catfood Commission Report, I’m a little leery of what else they might be planning for us old folks. Ice floes anyone?

In other news, via Raw Story, Janet Napolitano has no sympathy for people who feel violated by thugs pawing their breasts, buttocks, and genitals: Napolitano: Pat-downs are here to stay

Airline passengers should get used to invasive full body scans and enhanced pat-downs, the Homeland Security secretary suggested Sunday.

CNN’s Candy Crowley asked Janet Napolitano if she expected changes to the controversial Transportation Security Administration (TSA) screening procedures in the near future.

“Not for the foreseeable future,” Napolitano replied.

“You know we’re always looking to improve systems and so forth, but the new technology, the pat-downs — just objectively safer for our traveling public,” she said.

Okay, Janet, how about you have a “pat down” performed by a TSA thug on national TV? Then you can make an announcement about how great it was. The youtube would go viral, millions of people would see your sales pitch on the internet, and perhaps a few would be convinced. Oh, and is the government going to bail out the airline industry when millions of people stop flying?

I guess that doesn’t worry Napolitano though. She plans to start “stepping up security” at malls, and train stations.

“What we have to do is say, well, what other ways are they thinking to commit an act, because our job is not only to react, but to be thinking always ahead, what could be happening,” Napolitano said.

“And so we have enhanced measures going on at surface transportation, not because we have a specific or credible threat there, but because we know, looking at Madrid and London, that’s been another source of targets for terrorists.”

Soon you may have to go through a naked scanner and/or “enhanced patdown” (aka groping session) in order to get into a mall. Oh joy! Thank goodness I do most of my shopping on line…

A few new Wikileaks tidbits…

The New York Times has a story on how the DEA has become a global organization.

The Drug Enforcement Administration has been transformed into a global intelligence organization with a reach that extends far beyond narcotics, and an eavesdropping operation so expansive it has to fend off foreign politicians who want to use it against their political enemies, according to secret diplomatic cables.


Because of the ubiquity of the drug scourge, today’s D.E.A. has access to foreign governments, including those, like Nicaragua’s and Venezuela’s, that have strained diplomatic relations with the United States. Many are eager to take advantage of the agency’s drug detection and wiretapping technologies.

In some countries, the collaboration appears to work well, with the drug agency providing intelligence that has helped bring down traffickers, and even entire cartels. But the victories can come at a high price, according to the cables, which describe scores of D.E.A. informants and a handful of agents who have been killed in Mexico and Afghanistan.

In Venezuela, the local intelligence service turned the tables on the D.E.A., infiltrating its operations, sabotaging equipment and hiring a computer hacker to intercept American Embassy e-mails, the cables report.

More at The Independent: Panama row reveals US drug agency’s power

The El Paso Times: WikiLeaks tells why drug king is still free

and the BBC News: Wikileaks: Governments ‘sought US wiretapping help’

At The New Republic, Norm Scheiber explains Why Wikileaks will be the death of big business and big government.

That’s about it for me. What are you reading this morning?

Blog Authority? Huhn?

About a year or so ago, I decided to look into what made a blog successful or not successful.  Of course, a lot of this depends on the purpose of your blog.  If it’s only to share your photos and family news, then just getting your relatives and friends on line and with the program is enough.  If you’re selling something it’s another thing.  I watched a neighbor build a blog for a B&B, one for a small theater, and another for a Wine and Cheese delicatessen.  They were looking to reach and service new and existing customers.  Political and opinion blogs have a different goal and a somewhat different metric. Since we’re in that category, I’m going to share the methodology and metrics with you.  I also want to let you know why this interests me.

There are several places you can look to see how ‘seriously’ a blog is taken by the blogosphere.  Just recently, an academic study–yup, you know me– was done to create a Blogosphere Authority Index and you can find the results for political blogs here. You may recognize several of the blogs rated there including  Corrente. Lambert does a fine job at doing the things which create the atmosphere for a high rating for a political blog.  First, he makes sure his posts are relevant to the subject.  Second, he does a good job at getting links and ping backs from other blogs; especially those with higher ratings like, say Crooks and Liars. He makes comments and networks with other bloggers.  That particular referenced study looks at both left and right wing blogs.  I focused on the left wing or ‘progressive’ blogs.

There are several rating places that examine blogs.  They don’t really look at the ‘truthiness’ of the blog, but at how effective it is at attracting readers and links. is probably the major one.   There’s also Alexa.  Alexa’s rating is the  measure that I mentioned a few weeks ago when I said we started out some where in the ranking world with a number approaching 12 million.  Our three month ranking stands today at 956,644 which includes only about 6 weeks of active blogging and interaction . The rest of the three month period basically relates to my using this site as a file cabinet for my economic/finance items.  If you just look at our last month’s traffic, then, you’ll see our 1 month rating is 383,450.  That’s a huge change and you’re part of it!!   Alexa goes on traffic or page views so it ranks how many people go to a blog.

Technorati has a different set up.  It rates a blog not only by overall standing, but by how well that blog attracts other blogs’ attention.  It also ranks you by different subject categories.  We’re really moving up in the U.S. political blog category. We now rank 257.  Just today, we went up 367 places.   Here’s that data.

257. Sky Dancing
Recent: Julian Assange Arrested by Scotland …

U.S. Politics
Auth: 543
Moved positive places Change +367

Read more:

Wonkette was on the same page, so I took a snapshot of their numbers for comparison. Wonkette has traditionally been a highly-rated progressive blog with an active community.

236. Wonkette

Recent: So This Is What Compromise Looks …

U.S. Politics
Auth: 554
Moved negative places Change -2

Since we’re relatively new at this, we’re changing quite rapidly and may not settle into our true average for another month or two.   I’m going to refer back to a few links above to give you an idea of how blogs are evaluated so you know what the numbers I just gave you actually mean.  Here’s an explanation for Techonorati from bulletproof blog.

Launched several years ago as a blog search engine designed to simply aggregate and organize the global online conversation, has ultimately evolved into a full-fledged online indexing and rating service, providing data on authority and influence. Simply plugging in the name or address of a blog into the search bar will provide the blog’s authority score and ranking. The authority score, which identifies a blog’s level of influence in its specific genre, is based on traffic statistics, linking behavior, and its relevance to popular topics. A blog’s ranking indicates where a given blog ranks among the authority scores of all blogs. The ease and expediency of make it one of the first places that you should stop when evaluating the influence of a blog.

The BAI study–the academic one–that created a “Blogosphere Authority Index” has different methodology and you can find the explanation in a section of the paper published here.  The index attempts to blend a variety of different measures including influence.

This example is an illustration of four distinct areas of influence: network centrality, link density, site traffic, and community activity. To create a comprehensive ranking system, this paper identifies the best-available proxy for each of these types of influence, converts them to ordinal rankings, and then combines them into a single index of authority.

There is a score for site traffic (the number of people who visit a blog), the activity of the community (that would be the number of people that return to the blog and comment), and then there’s the interaction with other blogs through listings and pingbacks.  This isn’t just listing some one on your blog roll.  You have to actively quote the blog with an active link to it and your community needs to be interested enough in that link to go there.  The other blog also needs to reciprocate.  People that are really interested in bumping up their influence numbers have to go from blog to blog and actively get links and ping backs.

Other than academic curiosity–of which I have plenty–what does this mean? Well, one of the things it means is that your community and  your blog is recognized as part of a bigger and important discussion on things.  In this case, that would be the U.S. political area. It also means that when politicians are looking for focus groups or looking at how people feel about things, you’re included because your community and blog has numbers, authority, and peer-acknowledged information.

So, our little blog that could has made some important steps in the last 4 -6 weeks.  First, we’ve been linked to by Memorandum which is a site that lists political issues and blogs that discuss them.  They don’t do that for all blogs.  It’s a list that is followed by bloggers, the media, and politicians. Being linked there ups the exposure of the opinions here for both front pagers and down pagers.  It also means that we’re more likely to be read by others and linked to by others which, as I’ve stated, means we go up in authority and down in ranking.  (You want a high Technorati authority rating but a low ranking. You want to be 1000 on authority and less than 100 or ranking.  The 100 ranking or less says you’re in the top 100 blogs in that category.)

So, does this mean that all of us front pagers want to be the Big Orange Cheeto?  Well, speaking for me and just me,  HELL no!!  I don’t want a blog that has thousands of comments no one reads or can respond to and cares about.  So, that’s not my intent with following these things.  Oh, and you can follow these things too with the links I’ve given here and several buttons I stuck way down in the left hand corner of the leftmost column.  The deal is that in politics you want to be part of the conversation.  That happens only when you reach a certain point in these rating and ranking services.  They pay attention to who we all are.  This is especially true during election years.  If you were out and about in 2008 or before–as most of us were–you could tell who was important by how many folks would come and dump the meme du jour of whatever candidate on your message thread.  It was also pretty obvious that some politicians were interested in certain demographics and if they found it at any particular blog, they would actually read or follow that blog.

So, this is why I follow these metrics and mention them ever so often.  First, it assures me that we are doing a good job here, because it shows us where our readers come from, who they are, and how many of them there are reading us and returning to read us.  It’s a metric that can be used to measure if we’re meeting our goals of having a conversation that matters.  Second, it’s a metric that that measures if our conversations not only matter to us but, if they can make a difference in the bigger scheme of conversations.   I would like us to be a vehicle that some senator or congressman or governor could trip across.  Our numbers assure us a seat at some tables.

Any way, I hope I haven’t bored you with too many details, but this is why I’d like to celebrate that our three month Alexa traffic rating is good and our 1 month rating is outstanding.  More people are joining our conversation and our conversations are more likely to be read by people that could matter.

Bravo and brava!  Sky Dance on!!