Friday, September 30, 2011

FBPAC: Something not to "like" about Facebook

The debate about Internet privacy has been swirling around for a long time.

For example, most people know that search engines like Google and Yahoo track what Web sites you visit when you're surfing online. And, people know these companies use this information to serve up context-based online advertising provided by them, which earns them money.

This all has led some people to be uncomfortable with the amount of diverse information these companies amass about people (which is even greater if you also use these sites for things like your email, contacts and document cloud storage).

But this week, the Internet privacy issue took a new turn when social media giant Facebook announced that it is forming a political action committee called "FBPAC."

According to The Hill, sources at Facebook confirm that the purpose of FBPAC will be to support political candidates who promote economic innovation and information sharing.

On the one hand, this announcement probably isn't that surprising. After all, Facebook already politicized itself earlier this year by hosting a town hall meeting for President Obama at its corporate headquarters in California. The company also has been aggressively pursuing high-profile Obama administration officials for jobs at Facebook.

But, on the other hand, we have to stop and wonder if there isn't something bigger going on here.

Facebook is the largest social networking site in the world with more than 800 million active users worldwide. Facebook knows boundless information about each of these people that would be of priceless value to political campaigns: their age, their likes and dislikes, and most importantly, their network of friends and associates. Let's face it, people basically post their life on Facebook.

Until now, Facebook has marketed itself as somewhat of a public service. People always understood that Facebook was a private company, but there has never been any suggestion of a political undercurrent. In fact, Facebook itself has very strict rules about its users using the site to promote their own personal business activities. If you use Facebook too aggressively to promote yourself, expect your account to be deactivated.

Now, however, it's Facebook itself that is at issue. Information is Facebook's currency, and campaigns pay limitless dollars to other to cultivate their own databases with this information so they can spread their message. But, if FBPAC so chooses, they could presumably benefit from all of this information for free, not to mention the possibility that FBPAC could promote candidates on Facebook.

We're sure Facebook would say they have no intention of mining and using data to promote its PAC activities. But, with recent revelations about Facebook's aggressive tracking of its users, can Facebook really be trusted?

More to the point, FBPAC would seemingly have access to an enormous cache of information about Facebook users which is being collected outside the governance of federal campaign finance law. Even if there is no personally-identifiable information involved and the information is related solely to trends and demographics, this information would be tremendously valuable to FBPAC and its supported candidates. However, Facebook would not be responsible for reporting on the collection and aggregation of this data through Facebook, only FBPAC would be responsible for reporting activities related to the use of such data for political activity.

In one word, all of this can be summed up as follows: scary.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Warren discusses GOP politics on NECN

Meredith Warren joined NECN's Steve Aveson and Democratic political analyst George Bachrach to talk politics on today's edition of The Morning Show.

Warren discussed last night's GOP presidential candidate debate in Florida, which she says Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney won being confident and talking about what he would do as president.

The segment also featured discussion of U.S. Senator Scott Brown and his Democratic challenger, Elizabeth Warren.

Click here or on the link above to watch the video on

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Vote in our latest poll!

OK, now it's your turn. We want to know what you have to say.

There's a burning question on our minds. If you're a Democrat or an Independent voter, do you think someone should run against President Obama in 2012 - as a DEMOCRAT in the DEMOCRATIC PRIMARIES?

Everywhere we go we run into people who are talking about the 2012 race for President. Of course, there's lots of discussion about which of the potential GOP field of challengers would be the best person to run against the President in 2012. But, at the same time, we're hearing from lots of Democrats who are disillusioned with President Obama and who think he is no longer the best representative of Democratic ideals.

So, what say you? Should there be a primary?

Cast your vote in the poll on the right. Voting will remain open through this Sunday night, and we'll post results (along with our thoughts) next week.

Thursday, September 08, 2011

Talk is cheap: Observations from a going-out-of-business sale

On my way to the office this morning, I decided to make a quick stop at Borders in Methuen.

I’ve been getting the bookstore’s e-mails for weeks now, warning that they are going out of business, that their books are now up to 90% off the original price, and that they are “Going…Going…GONE.”

Although good deals make me happy, I felt anything but as a Borders employee unlocked the doors at 9 a.m.

“I’m so sad you guys are closing,” I told her, which was probably a dumb and insensitive thing to say to someone working all day to close their own place of employment.

“So am I,” she said. “The discounts are going up another 10 percent today, just so you know.”

More than half the store was empty bookshelves. The magazines were gone and so were most of the new releases and latest bestsellers. Biographies, Politics and Government, and Business and Management still had a pretty good selection.

Books filled with observations about how to fix our country and its politics penned by Newt Gingrich, Dick Morris, George W. Bush, David Plouffe, Sarah Palin, Mike Huckabee, Jimmy Carter, Keith Olbermann, Thomas Friedman and even Meghan McCain still lined the shelves and Borders was practically giving them away at 90 percent off.

As I stood there in the cavernous store full of “going out of business” signs, employees disassembling fixtures, and fellow customers grumbling about the poor economy, three words came to me: “Talk is cheap.”

Last night, the Republican presidential candidates spent two hours talking about how they would tackle the poor economy and turn things around for struggling, out-of-work Americans.

Tonight, when President Obama delivers his jobs speech, we will witness his best attempt to convince those who once supported him that he can get us out of this mess if given another four years in the Oval Office.

Americans are watching and listening, but they are tired of the rhetoric, the semantics and the assurances. They want action. They want their jobs back. They want their businesses to work. They want leaders they can put their faith in to pull this off.

Before my Borders experience this morning, I ran into a neighbor as I was getting into my car. From previous conversations, I know he owns a small software consulting business in Lawrence.

This morning, he was carrying a brand new computer to his car.

“How’s business?” I asked.

“Actually, pretty good. I just hired a new employee,” he answered.

This guy did what our government and its leaders couldn’t last month. He actually created a job. Our leaders should take a lesson from him and give us what we really need right now: a little less talk, and a lot more action.

Wednesday, September 07, 2011

Worried about your wallet? Why this week is important for you.

Imagine you are a single person, out living on your own. Your annual salary is $44,000. Yet, all told, you spend about $74,000 a year, putting the $30,000 difference on a credit card. You've been spending money like this for a long time, and over the years, you've racked up about $294,000 in personal debt. You keep telling your skeptical creditors you're trying to cut back... but you recently negotiated a deal whereby your debt is projected to rise to about $400,000 over the next ten years.

Now, imagine yourself as one of ten people who live in a small apartment building. You're still working, but the guy down the hall lost his job and is struggling to make ends meet as he looks for work. Another person is fortunate enough to have a job after having been laid off, but they're making less than a few years ago because they're "underemployed."

If you all met in the hallway to discuss politics, seven out of ten of you would say the country is on the wrong track. Looking back at the past year, four of you would likely say that things have gotten worse for you economically over the past year, and five of you would say things are no better or worse; only one of you would say your lot has improved. And seven of you would say we still have a ways to go before we hit the bottom of the current recession; half of you think there will be another recession over the next few months.

Does all this sound too imaginary to be true, or does it seem like just another set of meaningless statistics? Well, it's very real. The numbers in the first paragraph are proportionately accurate representations of America's financial position given how much we spend each year as a nation and where our national debt stands. The second paragraph is based on current national unemployment figures. And, the statistics in the third paragraph are based on a recent MSNBC/Wall Street Journal national poll (click here for poll).

This is the context in which the GOP candidates will speak tonight as they vie to replace President Obama and seek to fix these problems. And, it's the same context in which President Obama will give his jobs speech to a joint session of Congress tomorrow night.

The question on the mind of many Americans will be which side has the most credibility to solve the problems we face. After all, one thing is for sure -- whether it's the Democrats or the Republicans or someone else, American needs someone to do something for fix things, fast. Because, if things don't turn around, America itself is in danger of being just another statistic.

Tuesday, September 06, 2011

Van Magness talks presidential politics on NECN

Fred Van Magness was a guest on The Morning Show on NECN this morning to discuss presidential politics.

In particular, Van Magness discussed declining poll numbers for President Obama and what it all means for Republican candidates in 2012.

You can view the full video here or by clicking on the image below.

Friday, September 02, 2011

Zip? Zilch? Nada?

We were expecting today's report on unemployment during the month of August to be sluggish. It doesn't take an economist to know that America is still deep in the grip of an economic crisis and that people all across the country still need jobs.

But we were surprised when we saw that there was no change in employment numbers in August.

None. None at all.

And, according to FoxNews, that's the first time that's happened in any month since February, 1945.

We wonder what the political fallout will be.

Ironically, we actually think this is the perfect news for President Obama as he awaits to unveil his new jobs plan to a joint session of Congress next Wednesday -- oops, strike that -- next Thursday. A report of no net job change is the best evidence the President could use to base his case that federal action is needed to kick-start job creation and to convince employers to add workers to their payrolls.

Well... almost perfect, that is. Because, at the same time that news of stagnant unemployment helps the President to make his case for a jobs plan, it also highlights the obvious fact that he has been in charge of the economy during these bleak times. In fact, things actually got worse while he was President. (Unemployment was at only 7.8 percent when Obama took office -- it's now 9.1 percent.) No matter how much the President wants to blame prior inhabitants of the Oval Office, or Congress, or greedy corporate executives for the economy, he is still the one and only President here and now. That gives the President a huge credibility problem heading into his speech next week. And, while the fact that there was no increase in unemployment is a good thing, the lack of an increase in jobs means that 14 million Americans are still standing in the unemployment line - truly depressing news for job seekers all over.

The political question is: to what extent can the President's Republican opponents convert this into an opportunity to expose the President's poor performance and credibility gap on job growth? (After all, unemployment is hardly a recent phenomenon, but President Obama is just now announcing a jobs plan, almost three full years into his presidency...) To succeed, Republicans need to make a convincing case why the President's purported action on jobs is too expensive and too late -- and, if the President really knew how to create jobs, wouldn't he have tried to do it already? Indeed, they need to do an even better job at this than they did at exposing the President's lack of credibility in wanting to cut the national debt after increasing it by several trillion dollars over the first portion of his term. Republicans also need to come up with a plan of their own for improving the economy. Even if Republicans disagree with what the President says next Thursday, they need to match his specific proposals with specific actions of their own, whatever those might be.

Because, at the end of the day, it all boils down to simple facts: Americans want -- and need -- their jobs back. They're tired of business-as-usual in Washington, D.C. They're tired of a stagnant economy.

Or, to paraphrase the President, Americans want change they can really believe in.