The runway at Minneapolis St. Paul International Airport is littered with the carcasses of airlines that thought they could compete for a little slice of Northwest Airlines' pie. Nobody can drive a competitor out of its home turf better than Northwest. But one gets the sense that this time, it's different. For one thing, Minneapolis St. Paul isn't the home turf for Northwest anymore; Atlanta is.
Southwest Airlines is starting service to the Twin Cities on Sunday and -- unlike many of the dearly departed upstarts -- people have actually heard of them.
What's more, aside from the fact it knows how to undercut airfares -- and not charge for checked baggage -- it also knows how to market itself. In fact, it may be the best-marketed airline in the country in addition to being one of the few that actually makes money.
Case in point: On Saturday, Southwest is holding a "tweet up" (a mixer) at The Newsroom on Nicollet Mall. The airline uses Twitter to communicate -- almost as if it's a human (It actually is a human, of course. It's Southwest employee Christi Day.) It's got 65,000 "fans" on Facebook, where it dominates the social networking scene for airlines by answering individual questions.
The airline is all about irreverence. Sometimes it works; sometimes it doesn't. A jet with a swimsuit model painted on it (photo) has been its latest controversy, dubbed the "porno plane."
Will an aggressive marketing strategy allow Southwest to compete head to head with Northwest after the hubbub of its arrival fades? After all, remember Krispy Kreme doughnuts?
People have been bad-mouthing Northwest for years, then sticking with the carrier even when a competitor moved into town. And if Northwest matches Southwest fares, which they've indicated they will, will they keep the customers who are loyal to their WorldPerks frequent flyer miles program?
On the first hour of MPR's Midday this morning, Gary Eichten will explore "the Southwest Effect." Will it make a difference to you?(6 Comments)
The members of Congress get free postage and in the past they've created newsletter-like mailings to tout their accomplishments. These days, they've dropped the illusion of news and are treating the mailers more like what they really are -- pre-campaign literature.
In the age of 24/7 cable news, congressional Web sites, the YouTube congressional channel, Facebook, and Twitter, it's still 1857 in Washington. Members of Congress say the "franking privilege" is necessary to "keep in touch" with constituents.
Mine arrived last night from my representative -- Michele Bachmann -- touting her opposition to the economic stimulus package. Its claims were unsubstantiated and unattributed.
Her mailing isn't unusual for members of Congress. One representative -- U.S. Rep. Scott Garrett, R-New Jersey, spent more than $200,000 on the privilege in the first three quarters of 2008.
In the 2007-2008 Congressional session, a Republican proposed eliminating the free mailing. He got only one co-sponsor and the bill was sent to a committee where it died without a hearing.
An alternative bill -- H.R. 2788 -- would've required lawmakers to indicate how much money went into the production and mailing. Only two Republicans signed on as co-sponsors and it, too, was sent to a House committee to die.
Good luck trying to find out how much your congressperson is spending on the privilege. The House keeps printed copies of disclosure documents, but they're only available in Washington; they're not posted online.
Does your congressperson use the privilege? Do you read the newsletters? What have you learned from them?(4 Comments)
Richard Dawkins, author of "The God Delusion," is on Midmorning this morning. I'm thinking people are going to need an outlet to react to what he has to say, so News Cut will step into the line of fire. Dawkins says atheists should be just as forthright in their views as those who believe God is real.
I'm not in the studio so please don't use the blog to get questions to Dawkins. Use the comments section to discuss his assertions.
9:08 a.m. - Dawkins and Miller mix it up over her assertion that he's recruiting people to become atheists. "In the preface I was stating my wildest dreams, but I hadn't realized the extent to which atheists are in the closet waiting to be called out." By the way, here's his Web site.
9:11 a.m. - "Why is it so important?" Miller asks. "Truth matters," Dawkins says, which brings up a constant struggle for me in matters of religion. Both sides of this equation say it's "the truth." But how we do know?
9:12 - Why does Dawkins choose to describe God as people's "imaginary friend?" He says the claim of a universal power "who put things in motion" is an impingement on science.
Miller says the description of "imaginary friend" makes it sound "infantile." Dawkins says it should.
9:17 a.m. "It's not up to me to provide the evidence," Dawkins says.
He says the idea that Jesus died for our sins is "obvious nonsense." OK, where does this conversation go after that?
9:22 a.m. - Dawkins says believers mix doubt and belief inconsistently. "You have just suggested that somebody who begins by saying 'I don't know,' then says 'and I know Jesus was raised by the dead and born to a version.... It's the Christians who say 'beyond a doubt...'"
9:25 a.m. - "Why do you bother to call yourself a Christian instead of saying you believe in a higher power. He suggests it's more intellectually honest to say one believes in a higher power but can't be sure," he says to a caller.
9:27 a.m. - A caller rejects the notion that beautiful things are a sign of God. "Why can't they just be beautiful in and of themselves?" she says.
9:29 a.m. - There is growing evidence for a kind of universal morality which transcends different religious traditions.Things like The Golden Rule, are -- if not universal -- extremely widespread. There's increasing evidence they're part of our brain heritage.
9:30 a.m. - Caller: "We don't all believe that there was a virgin birth etc., but those things aren't required to believe in the message. You can't lump all believers of God into the Christian fundamentalist camp."
Dawkins, however, says mystery is something to be solved, not something to revel in.
9:33 a.m. - Says some mysteries will never be solved. Pressed on the question of what is "truth," he says he's criticizing the attitude that "I love mystery. You're spoiling it for us."
"Might it be an insolvable mystery?" Kerri asks.
9:35 a.m. -"I believe it's worth working on," he says. He says the answers may come from neuroscience and computers. "Computers are capable of feats of mimicry of mental process. We will have man-made computers that are conscious in the same way we are."
9:41 a.m. Caller: "I'm sick of this nonsense called religion." But says people who declare "God doesn't exist" are as arrogant as those who say "God exists."
"I am not certain there is no God," Dawkins replies. "No scientist should say categorically, 'there is no anything.' You have to doubt everything and be open to evidence. There could be a supernatural being -- I bet there is a superhuman being somewhere in the universe."
9:46 a.m. Relays the story of the night P.Z. Myers got expelled from the Minneapolis screening of Expelled, a film about Creationism.
Here's the NY Times version.
9:49 a.m. - Caller: What came before the Big Bang. Also relays a story about a near-death experience by a relative.
"I'm not a physicist so I can't answer the question," he said about the Big Bang. He says whatever came before is a big mystery and it's not going to be helped "by postulating divine intelligence."
9:51 a.m. - Kerri asks if Dawkins believes his convictions will be as strong on the day he dies?
I'm not convinced of anything. I can't say categorically that there is no life after death. It seems implausible. Brains don't survive death and they evolve over millions of years. He says it is implausible to say that when your brain dies, your spirit goes on.
Dawkins is speaking tonight at Northrup Auditorium at the University of Minnesota.
Audio of today's interview will be available shortly.
Every day at 1:15, the news staff meets to go over what's in the works. Here's what we're working on for the next 24 hours:
This afternoon on All Things Considered:
Stephen John talks to Emily Dewey, the wife of the Mahnomen deputy sheriff who was shot last month.
Lorna Benson says researchers at the University of Minnesota have discovered that a relatively common, and FDA-approved compound, can prevent spread of HIV. This story is online here. The blog post is here.
In part two of MPR's continuing series on how the state budget is playing on Main Street, Dan Gunderson reports that if health care programs are cut back, the hospital keeps admitting patients. Medical Assistance now makes up 10% of the hospital's revenue but reimbursement keeps dropping. Here's the whole series from Fergus Falls.
The producers are also trying to follow-up on the story from Duluth in which a handcuffed, orange jump suit-clad woman was married to her beau before being shipped off to Arkansas to face charges of illegally using credit cards.
Thursday on Morning Edition:
Dan Gunderson looks at how a proposal for 15 regional service centers for human services might change things. This is part of the series (linked above) about how Gov. Pawlenty's budget proposal is playing.
Mark Zdechlik files a report on a proposal from Al Franken to change the federal fundraising rules to make it easier to raise money to pay expenses in the Senate race trial.
Thursday on Midmorning:
At 9, Majora Carter speaks on environmental racism. She's the keynote speaker Saturday for the 2009 Nobel Peace Prize Forum in Northfield.
At 10, they'll discuss national politics and, I suspect, the "who's in charge of the Republican Party" angle. Is it Rush?
Thursday on Midday:
At 11, former Gov. Arne Carlson will discuss the state budget. Former Gov. Al Quie was on the program on Monday.
Now it's your turn. Tell us three stories we should be talking more about.(1 Comments)
For the ability to elicit a pure jaw-dropping reaction to a news story, the award today goes -- again -- to the New York Times for its story on a debt collector to the dead.
Even better for those of us in the constant search for the elusive local angle, it involves a debt collection firm in Minneapolis (Golden Valley) -- DCM Services, which -- the story says -- specializes in calling the distraught relatives of the recently departed.
Dead people are the newest frontier in debt collecting, and one of the healthiest parts of the industry. Those who dun the living say that people are so scared and so broke it is difficult to get them to cough up even token payments.
Collecting from the dead, however, is expanding. Improved database technology is making it easier to discover when estates are opened in the country's 3,000 probate courts, giving collectors an opportunity to file timely claims. But if there is no formal estate and thus nothing to file against, the human touch comes into play.
For those who survive, many tools help them deal with stress: yoga classes and foosball tables, a rotating assortment of free snacks as well as full-scale lunches twice a month.
Most new employees don't make it past 90 days and for those that do, there's yoga classes and foosball tables, free snacks, and full-scale lunches twice a month. (The company says it was named one of the best collection places to work.)
The company gets no love from the people who commented on the article. Says one:
I have personally spoken with several people from DCM while helping my daughter sort through the mess that her father's suicide left. No matter how "nice" the person was on the other end of the phone, the industry is preying on the innocent. It speaks volumes of the state of this country when debt collectors masquerade as "grief counselors".
If you work or have worked for a debt collection agency, I want to talk to you.(8 Comments)
If Bemidji is any example, Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak's plan to impose a fee for street lights could be a tough sell.
When he announced his revamped city budget last month, Rybak didn't disclose details of his fee proposal other than to say it would raise $850,000 and residents won't pay more than $20 a year.
Bemidji gave initial approval to a $25 a year fee ($60 for businesses) for street lights last week but City Councilor Barb Meuers announced this week that she is withdrawing her support for the fee, according to the Bemidji Pioneer.(1 Comments)