Monday, February 02, 2004

Kerry and the lobbyists. In case you missed it, here is the Saturday report by the Washington Post's Jim VandeHei on John Kerry's reliance on campaign contributions by lobbyists. The nut:

Kerry, a 19-year veteran of the Senate who fought and won four expensive political campaigns, has received nearly $640,000 from lobbyists, many representing telecommunications and financial companies with business before his committee, according to Federal Election Commission data compiled by the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics.

That $640,000, as it turns out, is more than any senator has received from lobbyists over the past 15 years.

The New York Times covers much of the same ground.

Of course, this pales when compared to the special-interest money that George W. Bush has raised. But anything that dilutes the Democratic message is potentially troubling. It's not hard to imagine Bush flinging this charge at Kerry in a debate, should Kerry be fortunate enough to win the Democratic nomination.

And on television, everything flattens out, with Bush's anticipated $200 million looking more or less equivalent to the pittance that Kerry is likely to bring to the table.

Mixed messages. The Zogby tracking polls now show John Edwards up by five in South Carolina and Wesley Clark just barely ahead in Oklahoma. Kerry seems to have solid leads in Arizona and Missouri.

What does this mean? Who knows? I suspect that the Clark campaign is dead, but that the general hasn't figured it out yet. That leaves Edwards as the last man standing, unless Howard Dean's strategy of winning by losing every primary catches on.

Could it be that, after Tuesday, the nomination will essentially come down to a Kerry-Edwards face-off? If nothing else, it would confirm John Ellis's "Rule of Two."

Post-radio radio. For some time now, I've watched with bemused disdain as various critics wax rhapsodic over satellite radio. This piece, by Dan DeLuca in yesterday's Philadelphia Inquirer, is typical.

I'm not saying DeLuca's wrong - heck, I've never heard XM or Sirius, the two competing services. Rather, I'm saying that his and others' enthusiasm is misplaced. Corporate consolidation destroyed free radio. Now, to replace it, there's something fairly cool, except that you have to pay a monthly fee. For this I'm supposed to celebrate? And it's still a top-down, corporate-owned model.

There's another, ground-up model that is slowly coming into focus. I'm not quite sure what to call it, but for now let's call it "MP3 to Go." Let me explain it by telling you what I did this morning.

Just before I left for work, I downloaded Christopher Lydon's two-part interview with Franz Hartl and Dan Droller, two young political activists who are behind something called Music for America. I've written about Lydon's MP3 interviews before. This time, though, I was able to skip the time-consuming step of burning what I'd downloaded onto a CD.

The secret: iTrip, a little gizmo from Griffin Technology that plugs into my iPod and transmits an FM signal to my car stereo. Mrs. Media Log got me one for Christmas, but it's taken a lot of trial-and-error to get it working properly.

First, because we live in an urban area, signal interference made it all but useless. I solved that by finding a heretofore undiscovered button on my dashboard that lets me lower the antenna. Then, the extraordinary bass that the iPod puts out was threatening to blow my car speakers - until I found a "Bass Reducer" setting that brought the boom-boom down to something like a normal level.

How was the interview? Well, okay. Hartl and Droller are a couple of idealistic kids who got involved in the Dean campaign last March, after the mainstream media virtually ignored the massive February 15 protests against the then-pending war in Iraq. There's a lot of blather about "open-source politics," the power of blogs, the Internet as an organizing tool, and the like. They're certainly not wrong - for that matter, I think they're heading in the right direction. But this probably sounded a lot more compelling a few months ago, when Lydon first posted it.

The larger point is that radio - or something like it - may slowly be evolving in a DIY direction even as corporate owners push homogenized garbage over the free airwaves and hypersegmented content over the satellite services.

"MP3 to Go" isn't by definition a free, grassroots service. For instance, if you go to, you'll find all kinds of things you can pay for - audio books, or recent broadcasts of NPR fare such as All Things Considered and Fresh Air, allowing you to time-shift your listening. But the point is that the satellite is closed. "MP3 to Go" is open, available to money-making and free services alike.

"MP3 to Go" is by no means at the tipping point: it's still a pain in the ass. (Although the popularity of file-sharing shows that plenty of people will do it.) But it's an incredibly promising technology for inventing a new kind of radio, and one that isn't the least bit dependent on the corporate model that we've all come to detest.

If someone can figure out a way to eliminate another step or two, this is going to take off.

No comments: