Hart Bochner: All The News That’s Unfit…

So the Wall Street Journal this past weekend endorsed the notion of Dick Cheney running for President in 2012. The idea is that if Obama is soft on national defense and, God forbid, there were another terrorist incident on home soil during his first term, then no one is better positioned to come to our rescue than the former vice president.

This country never likes to examine its past misgivings, but let's have a gander at Cheney's eight year tenure in the White House. While he continues to boast that he managed to keep us safe from further attacks after 9/11, he fails to mention it was on his watch that the tragedy occurred in the first place. During his first summer in office, both he and Bush repeatedly ignored the Daily Intelligence Briefings stating Bin Laden was 'determined to strike within the United States'.

In June of 2002, I remember watching Dan Rather on the CBS Evening News report that Cheney was being investigated by the SEC for cooking the books when he ran Halliburton. The charge was Cheney had taken year-end earnings projections and made them retroactively current to the second-quarter, thereby jacking the price of the stock. Rather quoted Bush as telling Cheney to 'go deep,' i.e. laying low until the situation hopefully passed.

Things were eerily quite for about six weeks until one sunny Sunday, when Cheney suddenly emerged from his bunker outside D.C. and appeared at a rally declaring, out of nowhere and in no uncertain terms, that Saddam not only possessed WMD, but was intending to use them on us in the immediate future.

The rest is history. Lie after lie has been barked from this man's obscene mouth to serve his self-interests and those of his greedy cronies. Never mind he sold the public on a war that made no sense on any level (former terrorism advisor Richard Clarke likened our attack on Iraq as 'tantamount to FDR bombing Mexico after Pearl Harbor'), as long as it fed the coffers to invade another culture for their oil, anything to sell the deal. Steal from the poor and give to the rich? Wipe out EPA laws to fatten the wallets of corporations? Suspicious no-bid contracts to repair the heartbreak in New Orleans? Small business tax deductions of up to $100,000 for purchasing SUVs? Dick had your back.

The fact is that Dick Cheney, who during the buildup to the Iraq invasion accused anyone not in support of the effort as being unpatriotic, now, all this mess and these years later, can't seem to go quietly into the night and leave his scorched earth to heal. Whenever the finger gets pointed at him, here he comes again, on the airwaves, making outrageous claims in his defense. When asked by Fox News a couple of months back if he felt Obama had made us more susceptible to another terrorist attack, Cheney, with that smug grin of his, replied, 'I do.' And last Sunday, in the pathetically obsequious Chris Wallace non-interview on Fox, Cheney admitted that he had broken the law and violated the Geneva Convention, that his enhanced interrogation techniques though clearly illegal, were justifiable in the name of protecting America.

As I've stated in a previous blog, Attorney General Eric Holder must pull out all the stops and fully investigate this man and his minions to ensure this type of unpatriotic patriotism from ever happening again.

Otherwise, let's bring Dick back in 2012 to finish the job of ruining the rest of the planet.


Hilary Schneider Sells About $1 Million of Yahoo Stock; Chief Accountant Leaving

Hilary Schneider, the EVP of North America at Yahoo (NSDQ: YHOO), has sold about $1 million worth of company stock in three separate tranches, in a transaction on August 31, according to an SEC document just filed. Likely this is a pre-arranged sale; we’ll have more when we hear back from the company. Meanwhile, in another filing, Yahoo disclosed that Michael Murray its SVP, Finance and Chief Accounting Officer, will leave on September 30, 2009; he has been at this position since Dec 2004. His boss and CFO Blake Jorgensen left earlier this year. This continues the string of top officials to leave Yahoo over the recent months since Carol Bartz joined as CEO.


Tony Blair To Appear On Letterman

NEW YORK — Tony Blair is set for his first appearance on David Letterman's "Late Show."

CBS says the former British prime minister will visit the late-night host on Tuesday for his first appearance on the show.

He's likely to talk about his current projects, including pushing for peace with Palestinians and seeking a climate change agreement.

He also has a foundation that tries to promote understanding among different religions and is teaching at Yale University.

Also on Letterman that night will be actress Julianna Margulies (MAR'-goo-leez), who is promoting her new series on CBS.

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On the Net:

Late Show: http://tinyurl.com/m5xw6a


Nielsen: Web, Mobile Video Viewing Up, But Not At TV’s Expense (For Now)

Nielsen is out with its latest Three Screen Report, which tracks American’s consumption of video content on TV, the web and via mobile, and while it’s no surprise that more people watched video on their phones and online—up 70 percent and 46 percent, respectively—what’s interesting is that the uptick hasn’t come at the expense of TV.

Americans watched 141 hours of TV each month in Q209; that’s up by about 2 percent (or two hours more, per month) versus Q208. We’re also using our DVRs more—watching an hour more of time-shifted TV per month, than in the same quarter last year.

In a statement, Jim O’Hara, Nielsen’s President of media product leadership, paints a rosy picture of the steady increase in consumption, saying that consumers have chosen to “add elements to their media experience” instead of replacing them. But broadcast and cable networks concerned about ratings (and ad revenue) slumps shouldn’t jump for joy at the stats yet—because a deeper dive reveals that Americans are increasingly multi-tasking while they’re watching TV.

Around 57 percent of all Americans with internet access at home are watching TV and using the web simultaneously at least once per month, and on average, we’re watching TV about a third of the time that we’re online. Overall, Nielsen says we’re spending close to two hours and 40 minutes multi-tasking in this way each month (which actually seems a little low), but it’s just more proof that the captive audience the TV networks are used to charging high CPMs for, isn’t exactly captive.

And as the number of hours we spend multi-tasking while watching TV increases, likely does our ability to tune out when those expensive 30-second spots come on; even more reason for advertisers to balk at locking in big, high-priced campaigns during the upfronts—or even decide to spend more on video ads on sites like Hulu and TV.com.


Victoria Lautman: Hello Britain, Meet Chicago: Granta Takes a Toddlin’ Town Tour

Russia did it. So did Africa. Even India pulled it off, along with London. Now, it's Chicago's turn to inspire a hefty new issue of Granta, the esteemed British literary journal which, when spied on a coffee table, seems to instantly confer upon the subscriber a mantle of elevated intellect, or at least the appearance of it.

Founded by an enterprising group of Cambridge students back in 1889 (and named after the local river), Granta experienced its share of dicey times in the last century but has managed, since reinventing itself in 1979, to ignite admiration, ballyhoo and not a little envy. Privately funded by a megabucks Swedish philanthropist living in England, the journal places no restrictions on length for individual pieces, its contributors are well-paid and among the most sought-after international literary voices, and the requisite themes, like "Fathers," "Country Life," "Shrinks" and "Bad Company," to name a few, are amorphous enough to allow maximum flexibility.

Lately, seismic upheavals in Granta's leadership have also generated scrutiny: in just two years, three separate editors assumed, then abandoned, the magazine's helm. But editor number four, John Freeman, hopes to steer for a good long haul. After becoming Granta's American editor in December 2008, he was promoted to "acting" editor of the entire shebang, whiplash-quick, a mere six months later. The 34-year old dynamo appears equal to the task -- accessible, enthusiastic and energetic -- all despite being obliged to shuttle monthly between Manhattan and London in a position that contrasts with Freeman's more sedentary life as a famously-prolific literary critic and president of National Book Critics Circle awards. Add "author" to that list: in October his first book, The Tyranny of E-mail, will be published by Scribner.

But it's on September 14 that Granta 108, the first volume shaped completely by Freeman, will become available to the world. The Chicago issue crams 288 pages-worth of poems, essays, riffs and stories behind a cover illustrated by the city's own Chris Ware. Nearly all of the content was commissioned specifically for this issue, and many of the Chicago-based authors in the Table of Contents -- Aleksandar Hemon, Stuart Dybek, Sandra Cisneros, Alex Kotlowitz -- are certainly expected contributors. But there are plenty of surprises tucked among the 22 entries: Don DeLillo on Nelson Algren, a new poem by Anne Winters, an essay about Obama by Nigerian Nobel Laureate Wole Soyinka, plus a searing memoir by a previously-unpublished young author, Maria Venegas and an excerpt from Peter Carey's forthcoming novel, which does not take place on The Third Coast.

How this issue came to be, and how it will be received "across the pond" were all on my mind when I caught up with John Freeman by phone after he touched down in New York.

Why so hot on Chicago? Were any other cities aced out?

It wasn't even close! It had to be Chicago, or we would have just turned to another theme. London was the only other city issue we did, 10 years ago, and it was our best-selling issue in British history. It would be nice if the same thing happened in America with the Chicago issue, but it will also be so interesting to our readers in England. Right now, Chicago is having a real cultural moment. There are so many good writers coming out of the city, and the city itself is evolving out of its industrial past, accepting new immigrants from many different parts of the world, so the heady mix of the city's population is changing too, and obviously Barack Obama is also a powerful symbol of that. But if Chicagoans read the issue and feel this is exactly what the city is like, that will be the toughest litmus test for me. I'm not from Chicago, so we relied on the writers to tell us the stories that mattered. I hope everyone feels it does the city justice, not as boosterism, but as a work of art.

Were your British colleagues all on board, or did it require strong-arm tactics?

It took a few months, and I have to say it was a bit like Chicago politics, requiring some wheedling, convincing and cajoling. They all know of the city, but mainly through its familiar mythology of the past, like Bellow and Dillinger, Sandburg and Capone. The Chicago of today is less familiar to them, which to me made it such a clear choice for the theme. I wanted very much not to be nostalgic or to belabor things about Chicago's past that are familiar. And once everyone was on board, it was so exciting to watch them fall in love with Chicago from afar. When Chris Ware's cover art came in, even I was overwhelmed, it's so beautiful. 2009-09-01-Granta108.jpg

How daunting was it to secure that melange of contributors?

It was tricky. We didn't have much time to make the issue, and certain people were left out simply because of time constraints, they couldn't make the deadline. There was also such a limited amount of space, at a certain point we couldn't have added a single piece, even if it came directly from God. That was frustrating, but since we ran out of space, we'll have tons of stuff on the web site granta.com, 20 additional pieces, and we'll publish one a day there, all free. But I don't think we could have possibly put together a better Chicago issue, and I'm very happy with how it turned out.

Besides the luminaries, there's Maria Venegas, still a student and never published. Where did you find her?

Part of our work at Granta is to visit colleges and universities, opening dialogues and offering discount subscriptions. We always invite everyone to submit, and in this case, we found Maria through that process. She's a student at Hunter College in New York, but came from Chicago, and her advisor, Colum McCann, said "check her out." Hers is a powerful piece of writing -- very incisive about violence and how it runs through a family.

In commissioning these pieces, did you get what you expected

No, actually. We started with the idea for this issue, and then the writers wound up shaping it, some by turning in a piece that's different from what was asked for. But it's better for the writers to choose the direction of the piece. For instance, I had no idea Wole would write an important piece about Obama from the perspective he chose, or that Chicago writer Thom Jones -- who hasn't published for a while -- would produce a light and funny piece about working in a corn flake factory. And personally, I was so eager to get in a poem by Anne Winters, who I think is terrific. But she was the first we wrote to, then the very last we heard back from, only a day or two before going to press.

How did Peter Carey's excerpt get in there? It's got nothing to do with Chicago ...

Well, that was just something we decided to include. We had a chance to put it in, it's a fantastic book (titled Parrot & Olivier in America), so it does fit tangentially into the theme of the issue. But this is like the best piece of fiction we've ever run, a masterpiece, and I just wanted the issue to have the best writing. We'll always have a few pieces that break off a bit from the theme, and I figured if readers get tired of all the writing about Chicago, at the end they'll have this bonus.

What's missing? Anything at all you wish you'd bagged?

Yes: Barack Obama. He was the one person I wanted badly to include but who I never heard back from. I even tried through back channels, just to get even one, just one little paragraph! But the Memoirist-In-Chief has a lot on his plate. Hopefully he'll be able to read the issue and enjoy it. He's such a good writer, the kind that, were he not president, we would love to publish...me and several thousand other magazine editors.


Faisal Ghori: Building Hope: What Yahoo!’s Acquisition of Maktoob.com Means

Hope is often in short supply in the Middle East, but that may be quickly changing, at least for the region's entrepreneurs. On August 25, Yahoo!, the Internet giant, announced that it will acquire Maktoob.com, the Middle East's largest web portal and online community founded and operated in Jordan. As the very first acquisition of a Middle East-based technology company by an American technology giant, this is nothing short of a sea change for the region. Overnight it has bolstered the region with instant credibility and given its entrepreneurs reason to hope that they too can succeed in creating companies. The acquisition, in short, has fundamentally altered the technology landscape in the Middle East.

In a day and age when business in the Middle East has become synonymous with Dubai, this story's genesis is found in the rocky crags of Jordan. Better known for Petra and the Dead Sea, Jordan has been the region's leading base for technology startups. While Dubai may boast of an Internet City, more of the region's startups were founded and operate in Jordan than anywhere else in the Middle East. This can be owed in large part to investments made by King Abdullah II in the technology sector. Amongst its peers, Jordan is the only Middle Eastern nation with a technology incubator and a fledgling technology ecosystem. Proverbially overnight, Samih Toukam, CEO and founder of Maktoob.com, and his team have accomplished what Jordan has spent the better part of a decade trying to do: garner international attention for its technology sector. This is nothing short of a coup; Jordan and the region's entrepreneurs are now in the spotlight.

For Toukam the road to success has been considerably longer than overnight. He founded the company in 1997 when the Internet was still nascent in the Middle East. Originally founded as an Arabic online email service, over the past 12 years Maktoob.com (literally meaning "written" in Arabic) expanded into a full-fledged search portal and online community, providing a vast array of services ranging from matrimonials to local sports. By any measure Maktoob.com is the Middle East's undisputed Internet leader, with over 16.5 million unique users.

It is not surprising then that Maktoob.com was the first regional Middle Eastern technology company to be acquired. However, what is surprising is that the acquisition happened now. If nothing else, the acquisition signifies that the Middle East has now for the first time become relevant in the eyes of American Internet giants, and with their attention, the region has become globally relevant for its technology-based entrepreneurship. This significance has not been lost on Toukam. For him the acquisition signifies that "it's time to invest in the Arab world. The market is ready and has huge growth potential and there is good talent and brains out there and also good exits for your investments."

Given the lack of initial public offerings (IPOs) as a viable exit (no technology company has ever gone public in the region), the acquisition will assuage investors' concerns about exiting a technology investment in the Middle East. Emile Cubeisy, Managing Director of IV Holdings, a venture capital firm that invests in technology companies in the Middle East, says the acquisition "is an important milestone, in that it proves to Arab entrepreneurs that if you focus on building true value in your businesses, execute patiently and with professionalism, and go through the full stages of growth, real exit opportunities will emerge." While IV Holdings is one of a handful of regional venture capital firms, American technology giants like Intel, Microsoft and Cisco began investing a while ago with other American investment firms slowly following their lead. Tiger Global, a US investment firm, was amongst the largest stakeholders of the company. Maktoob.com's acquisition will now make it increasingly harder to ignore the 300 million audience that comprise the greater Middle East.

Maktoob.com's accomplishment was not without its difficulties. In the typical investment cycle of technology startups, an investment lasts between five and seven years. For Maktoob.com, it took nearly twice as long. Throughout the region, nearly 13 years after the Internet was introduced, entrepreneurs still refer to the technology market as being in its infancy. Ahmad Humeid, perhaps the region's earliest serial tech-entrepreneur, observes that regionally e-commerce activity and quality of Internet content remain "dismal" with Middle Eastern nations widely censoring the Internet, and the overall environment for technology companies remains bleak. Clearly, the Middle East has not done as well as other global technology hubs including Israel, Europe and Asia, all of which can point to billion dollar companies from their shores. It is rumored that Yahoo! acquired Maktoob for around $85 to $100 million. While this amount is significant for Jordan and the region given its small scale, it would not move the needle in Shanghai, London, or Tel Aviv.

Yet, Maktoob.com, with its widespread reach, did move the needle enough in Sunnyvale, Ca., for Yahoo! to move off the sidelines. The acquisition has done for Jordan and the region what AOL's acquisition of Mirabilis, the maker of the chatting client ICQ, did for Israel nearly a decade earlier: it has provided vital lifeblood for technology based entrepreneurship. For all of Ahmad Humeid's pessimism, he remarks that for him the acquisition "represents a real breakthrough. It sort of gives me a push to hold on to the dream of building something worthwhile on the 'Arab Internet.'" Regionally, that type of hope is worth much more than whatever Yahoo! paid to acquire Maktoob.com.