4th of July Weekend Music Festival*

(*Update 3/12/07:  Some of these videos are no longer available.  The IP police have snatched away all but the last two from YouTube.) 

For your singing and dancing pleasure over the next five days. No lip-syncing — all of this is live!

I’ll be back Wednesday. If you leave a comment while I’m gone, I won’t be able to post it til I get back, but I will post it then. (Unless you’re a spammer!) Have a blast. Be safe.

Neko Case: Hold On, Hold On (from the Tonight Show, 2006)

Frank Sinatra and Antonio Carlos Jobim: Medley (from a 1967 TV special, “A Man and His Music”)

Steely Dan: Reeling in the Years (early 1970s, not 1978 as the screen graphic says)

Little Feat: Fat Man in the Bathtub (1975)

Al Green with an All-Star cast: Let’s Stay Together (From “The Green Room.” Includes Macy Gray, Mary J. Blige, Bonnie Raitt, Michael McDonald, Hall & Oates, Joss Stone, Darius Rucker and others)

Aretha Franklin: Respect (1967)

The Beach Boys: Wendy (from the Ed Sullivan Show, probably 1964)

The New Pornographers: Use It (from a concert in Vancouver, 2005? — Neko Case is absent.)

Challenging Times, Challenged Tribunes

On the one hand, you’ve got the New York and Los Angeles Times’ publication of information on how the U.S. government seeks to monitor the international flow of money that might fund terrorism through SWIFT, the “financial industry-owned co-operative supplying secure, standardised messaging services and interface software to 7,800 financial institutions in more than 200 countries.” The Bush Administration performs its investigations pursuant to lawful subpoenas, and there was no evidence that, as of yet, this program has abused anyone’s legitimate rights to privacy.

Were it not for the high stakes involved, these stories would have provoked giant yawns. I’m sure the reporters involved would have preferred these stories be accompanied by some ominous-sounding movie music to give them the sense of drama they otherwise lacked. It would have been far more newsworthy — far more scandalous — if these reporters had come across SWIFT and learned that the U.S. had failed to examine its data.

The most disturbing thing about these stories was, to me, the fact that the government pleaded with the newspapers to withhold the story on national security grounds, and the newspapers refused. As NY Times editor Bill Keller explained it:

We weighed most heavily the Administration’s concern that describing this program would endanger it. The central argument we heard from officials at senior levels was that international bankers would stop cooperating, would resist, if this program saw the light of day. We don’t know what the banking consortium will do, but we found this argument puzzling. First, the bankers provide this information under the authority of a subpoena, which imposes a legal obligation. Second, if, as the Administration says, the program is legal, highly effective, and well protected against invasion of privacy, the bankers should have little trouble defending it. The Bush Administration and America itself may be unpopular in Europe these days, but policing the byways of international terror seems to have pretty strong support everywhere. And while it is too early to tell, the initial signs are that our article is not generating a banker backlash against the program.

(snip)

A secondary argument against publishing the banking story was that publication would lead terrorists to change tactics. But that argument was made in a half-hearted way. It has been widely reported — indeed, trumpeted by the Treasury Department — that the U.S. makes every effort to track international financing of terror. Terror financiers know this, which is why they have already moved as much as they can to cruder methods. But they also continue to use the international banking system, because it is immeasurably more efficient than toting suitcases of cash.

Keller’s defense seems King Canute-like. The government’s concerns aren’t valid because we say so. There’s no banker backlash. The terrorists know you’re watching them. What’s the big deal? It’s all so “puzzling.” The description of the government’s argument as “half-hearted” sounds like the kind of thing a teenager says. “Yeah, Dad, I heard you, but I didn’t think you really meant it.”

Either Bill Keller is out of his depth, or he’s being less than honest. Is he suggesting that if the Administration had been more “full-hearted,” he would have withheld the story? As it happens, Treasury Secretary John Snow violently disagrees with Keller’s characterization, but either way it’s absurd.

If the SWIFT surveillance program were unlawful, abusive of legitimate privacy expectations, or some kind of subterfuge with an illegitimate purpose, an editor would be perfectly within his or her rights to have dismissed the Administration’s concerns and exposed the wrongdoing. But the Times fails to provide such a justification.

As Keller himself says, “A reasonable person, informed about this program, might well decide to applaud it. That said, we hesitate to preempt the role of legislators and courts, and ultimately the electorate, which cannot consider a program if they don’t know about it.” By the logic of that rationale, any classified program the news media comes to find out about should be publicized, on the sole basis that it is secret.

So, the stories were a bad idea, and are being defended disingenously. But on the other hand, the backlash is disingenous, too.

If you have listened to right-wing talk radio or read any of the affiliated blogs, there is a consensus among this crowd that the NY Times, LA Times and anyone else who published this story should be prosecuted for espionage. Or — the more moderate position — that the reporters and editors should be subpoenaed to provide the names of the leakers, and the leakers should be prosecuted. Resolutions are being issued in Congress condemning the release of the information — and then are being condemned by the bloggers as insufficiently tough. Some have called for the Congress and White House to revoke the press credentials for the NY and LA Times.

As The Nation’s Scott Sherman reports, the notion of prosecuting the press originates from an literal reading of a Red-baiting-era amendment to the U.S. Espionage Act by Commentary writer Gabriel Schoenfeld.

In his research into the 1917 Espionage Act and subsequent espionage statutes, Schoenfeld discovered Section 798 of the US Criminal Code, enacted by Congress in 1950, which reads, “Whoever knowingly and willingly communicates, furnishes, transmits or otherwise makes available to an unauthorized person, or publishes…any classified information…concerning the communication intelligence activities of the United States…shall be fined not more than $10,000 or imprisoned not more than ten years, or both.” (His italics.) This, Schoenfeld believed, was the “completely unambiguous” smoking gun he needed against (reporter James) Risen and the Times–both of whom, he felt, had “damaged critical intelligence capabilities” and undermined national security with the NSA story. Schoenfeld knew when he wrote the essay that no journalist had ever been prosecuted under Section 798, but his purpose was to stiffen the spine of the Justice Department. “The laws governing what the Times has done are perfectly clear,” he concluded. “Will they be enforced?”

Schoenfeld said he unearthed and publicized his interpretation of the law in hopes he would “set in motion a ‘chilling effect,’ however slight….” Schoenfeld is a scholar with a think-tank background, who has said he doesn’t anticipate there will be, in fact, any prosecutions. But his legal theory has become a rallying cry for the right-wing; not just the professional tub-thumpers, who recognize the danger of this approach, but to their loyal readers — the people who vote and who fight for our country.

Hugh Hewitt proudly cites an Iraq-based military blogger, Sgt. T.F. Boggs, who wrote Keller saying this:

You have done something great in your own eyes-you think you have hurt the current administration while at the same time encouraging “freedom fighters” resisting the imperialism of the United States. However, I foresee a backlash coming your way. I wish I had a subscription to your paper so I could cancel it as soon as possible. But alas, that would prove a little tough right now since I am in Iraq dealing with terrorists financed by the very men you are helping.

Thank you for continually contributing to the deaths of my fellow soldiers. You guys definitely provide a valuable service with your paper. Why without you how would terrorists stay one step ahead of us?

Talk about waving the bloody shirt! Sgt. Boggs is perfectly entitled to feel this way, but the way Hewitt and others are using his words clearly is designed to stir up hatred of the NY Times, LA Times and the news media in general. Do they realize that when you start a fire like this, how quickly it can get out of control?

John McIntyre of Real Clear Politics, perhaps incautiously, gives away the game and reveals what this furor really means to the right:

Politically, this is a clear winner for Bush and the GOP. The issue plays to Bush’s strengths and continues to paint the picture of the President as a stalwart fighter, protecting America’s safety while the left-wing press does their best to undermine as many successful anti-terror programs as possible.

The Times and the far left are so completely out of touch with where the country is on national security and terrorism issues they probably thought this disclosure would hurt Bush politically. They are clueless.

It serves the interests of the right-wing to keep this pot boiling until November. Democrats who thought they could win back Congress this year by “nationalizing” the election will now face the same strategy aimed at them — Republicans equating a vote for Democrats to a vote for the traitorous, law-breaking media.

All of this damages the country, and the institutions of liberty that distinguish our country from all others. It seems clear to me that the root of the problem is the carelessness and arrogance of the folks at the top of the media pyramid today. A responsibility comes with the job of running the nation’s most powerful journalistic entities to think through the consequences of the actions one takes — not just on one day’s newspaper, but on the fragile web of rights and permissions that keep a free press free.

History shows that it is all too easy to persuade Americans to give up on these rights. Given the open-ended nature of the war on terror, we could lose those rights for a generation or more. Condemn the right-wing for all that they do to push America in the direction of less freedom, but condemn the intellectually shallow media for giving the right-wing all the ammunition it needs.

The Bidens Get A Room

joebiden.jpgWhat is it about Sen. Joe Biden? Why do these things keep coming out of his mouth? From The Hill:

Speaking to a group of 130 twenty- and thirty-something supporters of his leadership PAC last Thursday, Biden indicated that while he thinks he could be an effective chief executive, as far as the job itself goes, he could take it or leave it.

“I’d rather be at home making love to my wife while my children are asleep,” he said.

The image of Joe Biden making love, period, does not warm the imagination. But then add to it the fatuous response of his flack:

Biden’s PAC spokeman, Larry Rosky, said the line illustrates that “this is not an egostistical pursuit for him” and that he is “frankly totally in love with his wife.”

I guess Rosky had to say something, but come on. Most of us would rather be home making love to our wife, or husband, or somebody than doing what we do for a living. That’s why they call it “work.” That’s what we work for.

Only a gargantuan ego like Biden would think a preference for carnal bliss makes him an extra-special swell guy. I guess he wants us to say “Gosh, the sacrifices Joe Biden is making.”

George Washington, crossing the Delaware. Abe Lincoln, splitting rails. Franklin Roosevelt, overcoming polio. And Joe Biden, not having sex with his wife so he can attend a PAC fundraiser.

Solar Power Meets Nanotechnology at Caltech

Cal-Tech and BP Solar will collaborate on a project to deploy nanotechnology to provide cheaper and more efficient solar energy. From a joint press release:

For an initial five-year period, researchers at Caltech and BP will explore a method of growing silicon by creating arrays of nanorods rather than by casting ingots and cutting wafers, which is the current conventional way of producing silicon for solar cells. Nanorods are small cylinders of silicon that can be 100 times smaller than a human hair and would be tightly packed in an array like bristles in a brush.

A solar cell made up of an array of nanorods will be able to efficiently absorb light along the length of the rods while also collecting the electricity generated by sunlight more efficiently than a conventional solar cell.

The Caltech solar nanorod program will be directed by Nate Lewis, the George L. Argyros Professor and professor of chemistry, and Harry Atwater, the Howard Hughes Professor and professor of applied physics and materials science. In addition, eight postdoctoral researchers and graduate students will work on the project.

“Nanotechnology can offer new and unique ways to make solar-cell materials that are cheaper yet could perform nearly as well as conventional materials,” says Lewis, an expert in surface chemistry and photochemistry.

Lewis’s group will investigate uses of nanotechnology to create designer solar-cell materials, from nanorods to nanowires, in order to change the conventional paradigm for solar-cell materials.

“Using nanorods as the active elements opens up very new approaches to design and low-cost fabrication of high-performance solar cells,” adds Atwater, an expert in electronic and optoelectronic materials and devices.

nanorod.jpgI’ve been joking with friends lately that the solutions to global warming are going to come from nanotechnology. But it looks like I might’ve been right!

Just on an intuitive level, look at it this way. All energy systems operate inefficiently to some degree. Some of that inefficiency translates into pollution. Inefficiency also stands in the way of conservation.

Nanotechnology, in particular molecular manufacturing, has the potential to produce products at a minuscule fraction of the energy required to make those products today. (Look at this video for a sense of what the molecular manufacturing gurus think is coming in the next 20 years or so.) Or, assuming we continue to rely on fossil fuels, nanotechnology could be used to filter out greenhouse gases at power plants, trapping them for disposal. It can also be used to greatly reduce the inefficiency of transferring energy from its natural source into its end use — by changing, say, the molecular structure of what we use to transmit energy.

Some potential exists, perhaps, for nanotechnology to be applied directly to reducing the existing, dangerously high levels of carbon dioxide in Earth’s atmosphere. Many scientists believe we are already “past the point of no return” to avoid the dramatic effects of global warming — that in fact we are already seeing them.

If so, it won’t be enough to cut future emissions, even at dramatic levels, although it is no less vital that we do so. The logical consequences of such a view is that we need to focus more attention on getting carbon dioxide that is in the air now, stripped out of the air. Nanotechnology would surely play a role in this admittedly outlandish idea, because of the large amounts of energy required. But wouldn’t it be just too elegant if the Caltech/BP research project resulted in an applicable solar solution to the energy needs of an air-stripping project?

I don’t want to sound like P.T. Barnum or Jimmy Swaggert about all this. Nanotechnology sounds many alarm bells, even among its advocates. For all its potential to shift our economy away from its reliance on high-energy manufacturing, this magic genie poses a host of other environmental, economic and global security threats. But it often surprises me how low on the news media’s radar screen the march of nanotechnology appears.

For example, the story at the start of this post about Caltech, a major local university, and BP, the successor-by-acquisition to LA’s own Arco? Big news here, here, here, and here. But in Caltech’s hometown media? This story in the LA Times, buried on the bottom of page 2 of the Business section. Nothing in the Daily News. Nothing in the Pasadena Star News.  Nothing in the San Diego Union Tribune, in the city where the announcement was made.  From what I can tell, both Caltech and BP Solar put out a news release on this yesterday, and paid PR Newswire to distribute it. The editors saw it and said “ehh.”

But there was lots and lots of room for this. Nothing like Hooters, puppies and an outbreak of prudish hypocrisy to distract our media from what we used to call news. Maybe Caltech should talk to Hooters about setting up a foundation for global warming research.

(I’ll run a pilot program right here. I’ll tag this post “Hooters” (along with the more appropriate tags) and see how many extra hits I get.)

‘Greatest Generation’ Backlash

Whatever halo of countercultural glory shined over the late Dr. Timothy Leary dims to near blackness with the publication of the new biography by Robert Greenfield. According to reviews (here , here, and here), the world-famous avatar of expanded consciousness, who plotted with novelist Aldous Huxley on how to bring peace to the world through sharing their LSD stash with Kennedy and Krushchev, is revealed as a cold, selfish, drunken desperado who betrayed or sold out pretty much everyone everyone who helped him, including his own children.

In his review, the New Yorker‘s Louis Menand, a favorite writer of mine, takes an incidental swipe at Leary’s highly praised age group, not all of whom fought in WWII:

Leary belonged to what we reverently refer to as the Greatest Generation, that cohort of Americans who eluded most of the deprivations of the Depression, grew fat in the affluence of the postwar years, and then preached hedonism and truancy to the baby-boom generation, which has taken the blame ever since. Great Ones, we salute you!

This is a new book idea for Tom Brokaw to add to his series: “Nobody’s Perfect: Misfits of the Greatest Generation.”

Menand sees Leary as having achieved his greatest influence through use of marketing messages that were immediately copied by Madison Avenue:

Leary’s immortal message to (his) audience—“Turn on, tune in, and drop out”—was quickly picked up on and widely pastiched. Greenfield cites a commercial for Squirt: “Turn on to flavor, tune in to sparkle, and drop out of the cola rut.” This is not very surprising, for a couple of reasons. One is that in the mid-nineteen-sixties the language of commercial culture was drug vernacular. Almost everything advertised itself as the moral, legal, and sensory equivalent of a drug experience, from pop music to evangelism. (Billy Graham: “Turn on Christ, tune in to the Bible, and drop out of sin.”) All sorts of products claimed to turn you on, get you high, blow your mind. But the other reason Leary’s phrase was adopted as an advertising slogan is that it was designed to be an advertising slogan. The inspiration came from a fellow pop visionary, Marshall McLuhan. In 1966, McLuhan and Leary had lunch at the Plaza Hotel in New York City; there, in Leary’s account, the media-wise McLuhan offered the following counsel:

“The key to your work is advertising. You’re promoting a product. The new and improved accelerated brain. You must use the most current tactics for arousing consumer interest. Associate LSD with all the good things that the brain can produce—beauty, fun, philosophic wonder, religious revelation, increased intelligence, mystical romance. Word of mouth from satisfied consumers will help, but get your rock and roll friends to write jingles about the brain.”

But Leary hardly needed this advice. Long before 1966, he made a point of giving then-legal LSD to intellectuals, writers, professors and other “influentials” who spread the word among kindred spirits, and then to their fans and followers. Musicians in particular proselytized by example, through the acknowledged influence of LSD on their work.

No different from putting a brand-name cigarette in an actor’s fingers, a bottle of beer in front of a ballplayer, or a designer outfit on a red-carpet regular. PR 101.

Reconsider Term Limits–but Get Rid of Gerrymandering*

When I worked in City Hall, my boss, Mayor Tom Bradley got snared into a rather convoluted scandal involving his membership on a bank’s board of directors, and his alleged efforts in 1989 to steer some of the city’s short-term cash deposits to that bank.

I admire Tom Bradley, and took his explanation on face value — that the president of the bank called him and said something like, “The city has all this money to deposit, and it only deposits with traditional banks. Newer banks like mine, that are owned by minorities, aren’t getting any of the action.” To Tom Bradley, discrimination like this was what he was in office to fix, so he referred the matter to the people who made these decisions.

Bradley was wrong not to notice the potential conflict of interest in his request, and was wrong not to realize that a request like this from “Da Mayor” would be interpreted by city staff as either a regal command, or an improper one, or both. He should have couched his request as a “for instance.” Undoubtedly, the president of his bank had a point about the city’s cash deposit policies. But Bradley should’ve realized he wasn’t the guy to address it on behalf of a bank that paid him to be on its board. I’m certain Bradley had no untoward intent, and federal investigators eventually agreed.

All this is prelude to today’s story about a movement among Los Angeles business and civic leaders to stretch term limits for the City Council and, possibly, the mayor and other citywide officials from two terms to three.

Term limits on councilmembers was one of the consequences of Bradley’s banking scandal, which prompted a City Hall ethics reform wave. Back in 1990, City Hall types talked about it all the time. People took principled positions:

  • Term limit opponents saw it as a denial of democratic rights. If you like your councilmember enough to keep them in office for 20 years, you shouldn’t be deprived of the right to re-elect them.
  • Supporters saw it as a way to break up powerful fiefdoms. Once these councilmembers got entrenched in office, it was impossible to defeat them, because they could use their incumbency to extract campaign contributions, and to starve any foes from getting any. Only a total incompetent or a crook could be ousted from office, the theory went. And even then, incumbency gave an incumbent a big advantage.

My position was that the city should try a “pilot program” — so we could get rid of the current crop of incumbents, but not change the democratic system. I was sort of joking, probably because term limits seemed so beside the point.

The problem with the city council, as well as the state legislature, is non-competitive elections. Nobody deserved to win elective office without a serious challenge that would force a discussion of the issues. If they could survive serious challenges for 20 or 30 years, God bless their good fortune and talent.

But throughout California, the system is rigged to give virtually all incumbents, and many of their anointed successors, a free ride. Careerist politicians are still careerist politicians; they just move around more to outrun term-limited unemployment, forming convenient alliances with other politicians to permit job recycling, and promoting friends and former aides to replace them.

How is this possible? The public is not happy with their government, including the City of Los Angeles. Turnout is ridiculously, shamefully low in elections, with even civic-minded folk gradually falling off because the results are usually foregone conclusions for legislative seats.

In my opinion, the rigging begins every ten years when new district lines are drawn. These district lines not only look funny, they are designed to frustrate the democratic process. It’s not just that gerrymandered districts help scoop up like-minded or culturally similar voters, which is what everyone knows about the practice. It’s that they carve communities up that might otherwise organize and fight for power.

When I lived in Park La Brea, you could climb up the roof of one of those towers and look out on four council districts. Obviously, those four members didn’t want everyone in the Miracle Mile/Fairfax area to have enough power to unite behind a local leader. They wanted us to be as confused and disorganized as possible, and make it tough for any newcomer to command enough attention from a geographically contiguous area to mount a challenge to an entrenched incumbent.

Term limits didn’t fix this problem, and weren’t designed to. Combining gerrymandered districts with term limits guaranteed that local and legislative politics would be as insider-y as possible.

I do agree with this point from today’s story:

“Whether it is the airport or the ports or the Wilshire Corridor, the difficulty of getting things done requires a good deal of time and a sustained commitment to a vision,” said George Kieffer, a partner at the Manatt, Phelps & Phillips law firm and a key player in the Civic Alliance. “That’s more and more difficult to do with people looking at short-term horizons and other offices.”

In City Hall, things move so slowly, you can’t expect to see anything through in just eight years, especially if you spend the first two learning your job, your next two running for re-election, and your last two running for a new office, assuming you stay that long.

The City itself, a shambling, inefficient but vital operation, needs a kind of unconditional tough-love and vigilant attention from its Council and mayor. The current crop of elected officials act more like tourists, marvelling at some things, jumping in fright at others, but never really settling in long enough to understand all its dimensions.

So if someone wants to consider dumping or modifying term limits, I think that’s good. But before committing to that single tactic, I suggest some goals clarification questions to the Civic Alliance (which apparently doesn’t have a website, by the way):

Is the only thing you want longer terms? Don’t you really want better governance? How is better governance achieved? How can we increase voter involvement and turnout? How can we make elections more competitive? How can we ensure our elected officials are more responsive, responsible and vested in the city’s success?

*revised 6/26/06 evening.

Spare a Thought for “Customer Service John”*

By now you probably know all about Vinny at Insignficant Thoughts, the former AOL customer who performed a vital public service by recording an intensely maddening and offensive experience with "John" at AOL Customer Service when he tried to cancel his account.

There's also been some attention to the story of Brenda, who tried to cancel her mother's account after her mother died in a car wreck:

After explaining that my mother was killed in the accident, the rep told me that he was sorry that my mom was unhappy with the service. He then suggested lowering the number of hours per month to reduce the bill. I said "she was killed." The rep then said, "I understand what you are saying, I'm just trying to come up with a solution." He actually got snippy with me. AOL finally told me that my mom would have to call and cancel the service herself (even after I provided the coroner's ID number for the incident, etc.). I told them that if they could reach her that they should let me know how they did it.

This is a story almost every ex-AOL subscriber (and many current subscribers who gave up trying to quit) can relate to. I was a customer beginning in 1995, but once I started using a broadband connection in 2003 or so, I didn't need AOL anymore. Every month, my wife would look at our credit card bill and ask, "Why are we still paying them?" "Okay, okay, I'll cancel it." One day, at least a full year after I had stopped using AOL at any time for any reason, I finally did the deed, and it was every bit as miserable of an experience as you can hear for yourself on the tape.

Back in the 90's, AOL was called "the training wheels of the Internet," and that is true. It must be tough to be in the training wheels business after everyone figures out how to ride without them. Quite apparently, it is the policy of AOL to fight any customers who want to leave, and to not take "cancel" for an answer.

This is a PR nightmare. Vinny at Insignificant Thoughts brought his tape to Consumerist and Digg, where NBC found it. They played it on the Today show and constantly on CNBC. Understandably, "AOL is braced for backlash," according to PR Week. AOL's VP of Corporate Communications Nicholas Graham called Vinny, and also printed out some 300 comments on Vinny's website for senior AOL executives to read. But before any of that, AOL made the classic corporate maneuver:

Customer service John no longer works at AOL, but Graham said the company is continuing to address the lingering questions about customer service.

The firing sends an implied message that "Customer service John" was an anomaly, a renegade, a rogue employee. But the 300+ comments Graham reviewed on "insignificant thoughts" should have told him the opposite was true. "Customer service John" was doing what the firm evidently trains all its customer service employees to do — make it so hard to cancel an AOL account that some fraction of customers will give up trying. According to AOL, the policy works, although, of course, AOL wants us to see it differently:

While Graham said the company had a number of factors on its side, including an internal report that found that one in two people who called in to cancel an account ended up staying with the service (because they only really needed troubleshooting help), a service so large as AOL is bound to have some hiccoughs…

One in two?? Half the people who call to cancel only needed help "troubleshooting?" Does that seem credible to you? Do AOL executives believe the "internal report?" My guess is that many of those who "ended up staying with the service" did so because they buckled under the relentless combination of sales pitches, nosy questions and stalling tactics that AOL puts its customers through.

Listen here for another tape that closely resembles my experience. The customer finally says: "Is this how I'm going to be rewarded for giving you ten years of my money is that you're going to bust my balls now?" My sentiments exactly.

"Customer service John" took a bullet for AOL — a sacrifice I doubt he volunteered for. By making him appear to be unique, AOL's standard operation procedures get a pass. Nowhere in the PR Week article or anywhere else does Graham say "We've got a problem. We agree it's inappropriate to make our customers go through such hoops to cancel. We're changing our practices." If they were, he would have said so.

Clearly, the AOL PR plan is to "brace for backlash" — and continue as before, hoping the bad publicity will just blow over.

I take it as a sign that AOL doesn't plan to be around much longer, and just wants to collect as much customer cash as it can before the big adios. Because a company that was interested in long-term relationships, or that believed some of its ex-customers might return, wouldn't behave this way.

(*Edited 6/24/06 to reflect correction from Vinny.)