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Archive for February, 2010

Liquor license limits could increase, as long as it means less people drinking and does not benefit locally-owned businesses.—

The way to woo a legislator, as any lobbyist can attest, is through their stomach. And, apparently, it is even more effective if the food is served up by a national chain that has not opened in Utah.

A House committee passed a substituted version of HB223 that will rejigger population ratios for full-service restaurant licenses, wine & beer restaurant licenses, and tavern licenses. The first two will increase enough to hopefully provide a cushion for the currently maxed-out restaurant licenses, especially liquor, the bill’s sponsor, Rep. Gage Froerer, said. Tavern licenses, which permit a bar to serve only 3.2 beer, will be reduced because there is currently a relatively significant surplus. A side benefit to decreasing tavern licenses is that legislators can crow to their constituents that they actually reduced the amount of potential liquor that could be served in this, ahem, fine state.

The bill will not address private club licenses, because those are licenses to get people drunk. Currently, there are 10 clubs waiting for a license—and some of them have been waiting for months—almost all of which are assuredly owned by locals. You know, Utah’s Own.

Not that helping local businesses actually matters to the Legislature. What really seemed to sell legislators on the committee: Buffalo Wild Wings and Dave & Busters. Multiple developers spoke about both chains, and possibly others, wanting to open in Utah. But with only one full-service liquor license currently available—chains like to open at least a half-dozen places at the same time—they are not willing to risk it.

In fact, Froerer told the committee at the end of the hearing, the revised bill was not even really a liquor bill. Instead, he described it as “jobs bill.” Somehow, even with that reference to one of President Obama’s initiatives, the bill passed the committee and now heads to the House floor.

Maybe, it’s that legislators are actually fans of “It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia,” and the sell-out episode of said show convinced them they needed a Dave & Busters. In that case, how about a cold Coors Light, representative?

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Tequila News

As a college student, I loved visiting Tijuana. Crazy women. Rocking nightclubs. Cheap tacos. Insane cab drivers. And free tequila.

Outside of almost every bar, restaurant and dance club, aggressive Mexicans pushed free tequila on willing Americans. I quickly learned that there was an easy way to play their game: Accept their offers, go into the clubs, take the shots, and leave. Repeat until one of the clubs actually had enough people to promise an entertaining night.

This business model equates the approach used by many media organizations, especially daily newspapers, on social networking sites. Visit any Twitter feed  or Facebook page for a daily newspaper and what you see are endless offers for free tequila, or in their case, headlines. Many feeds are actually automatically programmed to post the headline of every single article, blog, photo album, or news alert loaded to their home page.

In the world of the daily newspaper business model, this approach makes sense. After all, the goal is to get people to come to their website, which is where they have advertising and, of course, increased traffic means increased advertising revenue. But it’s a flawed approach.

Yet like the tequila barkers in Tijuana, it may be the best approach for their business goals. After all, if nobody visits the newspaper’s website or subscribes to the print edition — which is really the end goal, sadly — they don’t make money. Just like the bar doesn’t make money if nobody buys drinks.

There is a better way. Newspapers should work to remain the fulcrum of conversation, just as they have been for decades. To accomplish that, they need to engage people outside of their fiefdoms. Whether it’s Facebook, Twitter or the next evolution of social media, newspapers should not simply tempt people with headines, but provide them content. And then, when people resond with questions or comments, the conversation should be propelled by the media organization.
This is the approach that I believe will make a news organization, and the journalists it employs, relevant a decade from now. However, the challenge for most mainstream news oranizations is that they need money now to maintain their daunting overhead, so they look to short-term solutions like headline spam.

Even if a mainstream media organization actually does commit to a long-term strategy, the obvious question is how. The answer: nobody knows, yet. There are people who are very good at social media marketing, and a lot of people with good ideas. But nobody has unlocked the secret.

Over the past few years, I have immersed myself in social media, especially Twitter and Facebook. And I’ve done it for professional more than personal reasons. Along the way, I’ve struggled to find the balance between promoting my work and not simply spamming friends and followers, and also how to shine a light on my personality, flaws and all, without becoming one of those cautionary stories about people serving entirely too much of their personal lives up for public consumption.

Initially, I planned this post to be a simple guide to using social media. But that will have to come later, and likely will be in the form of an all-to-common list. And I guarantee that whatever I write will be wrong, at least for some people, because right now, there is no right way to use social media.

Which, in my mind, is actually a big part of the fun.

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Cowering Donkeys

Utah Democrats demonstrate their primary skill: acquiescence.

Resolutions carry pretty much no practical weight, yet they can offer the chance to deliver strong rhetorical punches. Running them is a strategy that Republican legislators, especially those struggling to distinguish themselves, embrace annually. Democrats, however, flail helplessly to get completely innocuous resolutions pass, and then let most of the Republican-sponsored resolutions sail through, even when they are being run for nothing more than partisan bombast.

To wit, Tuesday morning’s House Government Operations Committee. First on tap for resolutions, HJR20. Simply put, it encourages—but does not require—school districts to build “green” buildings that will save energy, money and potentially make kids healthier.

Simple, right? Wrong. Because it’s sponsored by Democratic Rep. Mark Wheatley of Murray, Republican committee members took it to task. Rep. John Mathis, R-Vernal, zeroed in on the inclusion of the word “climate” in the resolution, even though the phrase “climate change” was not used. Instead, the bill reads “current climate and energy challenges,” which is pretty non-debatable, considering that the Utah climate, changing or not, forces schools to deal with both extreme heat and extreme cold. And energy challenges are obvious, and are one of the primary reasons for the opposition to carbon regulation (Drill, baby!).

What does Wheatley do? Tells the committee he probably should have avoided the word “climate” in the resolution, and then agrees to take it out.

Other committee members take up the climate issue, but also fret about the added cost of building green schools. Quick test, to see if anyone remembers what they read three paragraphs ago: Will the resolution require green buildings?

No.

Yet how does Wheatley respond? By explaining that green buildings only cost 2 to 3 percent more to build, but will save $100,000 dollars per building, if not more. Good start, except when asked how much an average school costs to build — the most obvious question to his assertion — he doesn’t know.

That’s right. Doesn’t know what is probably the most basic fact that should be known. Hell, make up a number, throw out an average. Do something.

Somehow, the resolution passed, but not without dissenting votes.

Later in the meeting, Rep. Julie Fisher, R-Fruit Heights, brought her HCR2 to the committee. This is one of the many state’s rights bill/10th Amendment bills that are the rage for conservatives around the country. It basically tells the federal government to get the hell out the state business.

Not coincidentally, they are telling the federal government to butt out when it’s run by a Democrat. So, it should be construed as a direct shot at the Democratic Party. Even if Utah Democrats don’t like to align themselves with the national party on a lot of issues, they should treat it like a family. It’s fine for them to criticize each other, but if outsiders start throwing stones, there will be hell to pay.

Except, there wasn’t. After some great cheerleading from Republican committee members and a Founding Father lecture from Rep. Craig Frank, R-Cedar Hills, the bill passed unanimously.

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Kill The Newspaper

A new Facebook group has launched, aimed at saving the printed newspaper. Almost everyone I know in the news business has joined this group in the last few days. I haven’t  joined, and I won’t. Here’s why.

The newspaper, as in the actual printed product, is quickly becoming irrelevant. Any news organization continuing to print a newspaper is practically guaranteeing their eventual failure, because they will never learn to become an online news organization. Their focus will remain on the printed product and the business model of that product, which runs counter to online success.

For me, this is a scary thing to say. I grew up on printed newspapers and have made my living working for them. I still do, in fact. Even suggesting that newspapers will not survive is considered sacrilege by many fellow journalists.

But let me be clear: I am not just saying that newspapers will eventually die. I am saying they need to be killed now if news organizations want to survive.

My entire career, I’ve listened to those who believe in newspapers preach the irreplaceable societal benefits of a newspaper, the civic importance of a local daily, and the resiliency of those newspapers (hell, I’ve even given the speech myself). After all, they survived radio, they survived television. They can survive the Internet.

Except, they can’t. Radio and TV had new, exciting features, but the same business model: Our readers/listeners/viewers will come to us instead of everyone else.

The Internet, especially in the last few years, has turned that model on its head. Online, people expect things to come to them. By things, I mean everything from friends to advertisers to news organizations. Specific to news, they are getting their news from news aggregators, bloggers, friends sharing links, and (for old-school new-media types) e-mail blasts. In all of those cases, the information is coming to them.

Yet newspapers continue to try to bring people to them, only now it’s with their websites. Those newspaper look and feel like a daily newspaper, which is not a compliment. Annoying ads interfere with reading, good stories with bad art are buried in a dead sea of headlines while weak stories with good art dominate the sliders. Technology that was new five years ago remains a foreign concept, especially tags, RSS feeds for specific writers or topics, and (amazingly) hyperlinks to other stories on their own sites.

When a newspaper actually does venture into social media, it’s sually nothing more than glorified spam, in the guise of headlines. The focus remains getting people to their websites, instead of trying to make themselves part of conversation. (Attempts by individua journalists are much more varied, and really a topic best left to another post).

As for those who still prech the intangibles of newspaper reading (the Sunday paper with coffee argument), I don’t dispute them. Only, my Sunday morning coffee is going to include something else that has been lost to the online revoluton: conversation. The headlines can wait.

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Global warming claims get legislators hot and bothered.

Climate change happens, sometimes for the better and sometimes for the worse. What is not happening, however, is a definitive reason attributable to man.

People, put down the pitchforks, at least the ones pointed at me. That’s not my argument, that’s the argument made by Rep. Kerry Gibson, R-Ogden, in pushing HJR12. That resolution urges the Environmental Protection Agency to step away from regulating greenhouse gases as pollutants. It also originally referenced “tricks” played to support the global warming “conspiracy,” although that was amended.

The resolution passed the House Natural Resources Committee Thursday morning, with only Rep. Phil Riesen, R-Salt Lake, voting against it.

First off, a little legislative education: resolutions mean nothing. Squat. They sound good and are great ways for mid-level legislators with a passion for a specific issue to rally their troops. Resolutions are also great time wasters, as evidenced by the 75 minutes spent by the committee railing against climate change.

Resolutions, however, make great political theater. And this debate was no exception. In short, here’s the highlights:

  1. Gibson says that those who believe that man is causing global warming don’t want to hear opposing viewpoints. They also get emotional, which makes debate difficult. “When we become so emotional, the facts get lost. Too many times, when facts are presented on the other side, they are ignored by the so-called experts.” He also said that the proponents of CO2 caps rely too heavily on “sky is falling” arguments.
  2. Randy Parker, Utah Farm Bureau chief executive officer, then tells the committee that, in fact, the sky is essentially falling because of proposed taxes taxes on CO2 production. “It will create energy shortages and will, in fact, create food shortages.” Also, “alarmists have hijacked the debate,” which apparently angers alarmists on the other side of the debate, like Parker. He also references the “global warming credibility crisis,” and points to leaked e-mails as proof that this whole global warming issue is a sham. Taking a left turn into Messin’ With The Big Dog Land, Parker spends a few minutes smacking around BYU professors who questioned a scientist who testified in 2009 to the committee, and demands that BYU apologize for the professors. Finally, he gets to the real heart of the matter: cow farts. Don’t tax them.
  3. (Note: At this point, we’re about 30 minutes into the hearing). Gibson and Parker expand on threat to farmers if cow farts are, indeed, taxed and energy prices rise due to the CO2 taxes, since farming cannot happen without using lots of coal power or fuel. Parker drives the nail home by asking, “Do Americans really want to rely on China, Mexico, and India to meet their basic needs?” In other words, the sky is falling, and it will suck for Americans when they have to climb the gigantic wall on the Mexican border to meet said basic needs.
  4. Rep. Mike Noel, R-Kanab, asks a question. Well, he’s supposed to. He basically rants about … well, the sky falling. And global warming (human-caused) is a conspiracy that the weather is disproving.
  5. Riesen also asks a question, sort of. He talks about how he wants to protect Earth and air for future generations, because he will die in the next 20 years (but will live forever as the voice on Trax trains … that is him, right?). I’d love to say he ranted, but he doesn’t rant. (In fact, nobody rants like Noel, which is actually a skill I highly admire. He is really a Utah Republican version of Lewis Black.)
  6. Gibson says that what he really wants is substantive debate where everyone gets a chance to air their opinions on global warming. By the way, at this point, he has had the floor (which he shared with Parker) for almost an hour.
  7. Rep. John Mathis, R-Vernal, the committee chair, asks for public comment. He also reminds the public that the committee is running out of time, so they need to keep their comments “short and concise.” You know, for the sake of debate.
  8. The public speaks, including a U. engineering professor who introduces the other side of the global warming debate into the mix with, well, blah blah blah (everyone has heard the reasons, right?) That, however, only incites another Noel rant that is, sadly, cut short by Mathis. Also, a couple of other industry folks who support the resolution testify.
  9. Noel rants, again. This time, it’s about why the global warming research is part of a deep conspiracy. The committee, running out of time, soon passes the resolution.

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SMILEY.jpgBlooming Legislation

Capturing rainwater is an easy “green” renovation for homeowners. It’s also illegal in Utah, something Senate Majority Leader Scott Jenkins, R-Plain City, wants to change. On Feb. 1, the Senate approved his bill with a 25-2 vote, which would allow property owners to collect up to 2,500 gallons of rainwater on their property for use on that same property. Senate Bill 32 now moves to the House, where Rep. Ben Ferry, R-Corrinne, a farmer, has said he wants to amend it to require people collecting rainwater to register with the state. However, this is an important issue for Jenkins, whose clout as majority leader will likely trump objections from so-called small-government conservatives like Ferry.

SAD.jpgSenior Moment
Sen. Chris Buttars, R-Pluto (er, West Jordan), has apparently decided that education—at least, the senior year of high school—is wasted on the youth. In Buttars mind, the 12th grade is just one big party and should be canceled so that those ne’er-do-well seniors can do something useful with their time. (Exactly what Buttars thinks 17- and 18-year-olds would do with more free time isn’t clear.) Buttars actually suggested this informally prior to the start of the 2010 Legislature, but at the time it seemed so outlandish that seasoned political observers (read: me) assumed that Buttars had said it after (accidentally, of course) living life more elevated than the Mormon Word of Wisdom allows. During a Feb. 1 budget subcommittee, however, Buttars expanded on his idea and promised a bill to accomplish it. Cutting the 12th grade would save the state $102 million, which, if passed, would mean that no other state funds education as piss-poorly as Utah.

SMILEY.jpgThe Weis Stuff
John Weis might not be the next congressman from Utah’s 2nd District, currently held by a kinda-Democrat, Rep. Jim Matheson. But he will be a challenger within the Democratic Party to Matheson, who is typically anointed as the candidate without question. Weis was selected as the “Citizen’s Candidate” by a panel of liberal political activists on Jan. 30 at the Salt Lake City Main Library after responding to a Craigslist ad. Weis, an immunology professor and researcher at the U of U, describes himself as a married father of two who is a gay marriage supporter, outdoor enthusiast and “logical” thinker. In response to the challenge, Matheson organized another conference call with people who love and adore him.

Originally published in the Feb. 4, 2010 City Weekly.

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Nixing Nicotine

The e-cigarette is touted as the healthier alternative to smoking cigarettes, at least if the marketing is to believed. For at least some current e-cig users, the marketing is not a lie.

Brian Anderson told the House Health and Human Services Committee Tuesday morning that the e-cigs, which are essentially inhaled shots of nicotine, have given him the best shot at escaping cigarettes and their harmful additives.

“I found a way to get away from cigarettes,” he said. “I feel healthier because I’m not getting the tar and carcinogens.”

Anderson and few other citizen activists went to the Legislature Tuesday to testify against HB71, which would ban new tobacco and nicotine products. That includes e-cigarettes and what the bill’s sponsor, Rep. Paul Ray, R-Clearfield, described as flavored tobacco candies.

Ray said those candies are intended to bring in a new generation of tobacco users, by appealing to kids and teenagers who find smoking distasteful.

At one point, Ray even compared the tobacco companies to terrorist organizations — an analogy that is probably appreciated by all of those legislators who accept political donations from said tobacco organizations, aka Al-Ciga — and said that “if terrorist organizations were killing as many people as tobacco companies in a year, there would be all-out war.”

Note: At this point, it’s probably fair to point out that, in fact, the U.S. is at war with terrorists, and has been for quite a few years. His confusion may understandably have stemmed from the fact that for most of that time, it has been called the “War on Terror.”

The bill eventually passed the committee, with the ban on selling e-cigarettes firmly in place (possession will still be legal). There is a caveat, however, that if the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approves the e-cigs, they automatically become legal to buy in Utah.

During public testimony, however, another citizen lobbyist told the committee that the dangers of cigarettes are the chemicals, which e-cigs eliminated. Joyce Mitchell urged them to consider how they could help smokers and others, since e-cigs don’t have nasty side effects like secondhand smoke.

“Nicotine is being horriblized (sic) here. It does reduce aggression and anxiety and improves mood and alertness,” she said during public testimony. “They’re a pharmaceutical that you can take for yourself.”

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