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Four Things That Truckers Can Teach Silicon Valley about Innovation and Politics

October 11th, 2013

Yesterday, TechCrunch ran a piece on why innovation has no place in fixing problems in our democracy, like the shutdown. I say, if 3,000 independent big rig truckers with a Facebook page can organize to gridlock Washington DC–literally!– to protest the shutdown, are we really going to just throw our hands up? Thousands of profiles on AngelList include “democratization”, and we can’t do anything to democratize democracy?

In Silicon Valley, where others see pain, we see opportunity. Think of all the amazing example how we harness the adoption of new communication technologies to empower consumers. Google organizes the worlds information at our finger tips. Amazon and eBay let us conveniently buy anything from anywhere with the click of a mouse. Facebook and Twitter let us exchange photos and updates with a swipe on our iPhones. Politics may lag, but it is not different in kind.

So, how can citizens harness technology to impact their government?

  1. Make informed voting decisions. Politicians respond to electoral pressure. The best way to ensure that politicians make decisions that are informed is to make sure that the electorate is informed. Where do the candidates stand on the issues? Technological innovation can ensure that there is no excuse for not knowing!

  2. Make their voices heard. Extremist voices are dominating the conversation in Washington. That can only be counteracted if the voice of the moderate middle express their opinions too. Technology can help politicians hear from the majority, not just the radical fringe.

  3. Understand different points of view. Much of the polarization comes from the fact that we are increasingly living in echo chambers of our own devising, from customized feeds to hyper-targeted media. Technology helped create this problem, but technology can also help solve it, by creating spaces that prioritize exchanging diverse viewpoints, rather than reinforcing existing ones.

  4. Take action. As the big rig truckers show, technology can be an incredibly effective tool for organizing grassroots action. Developing tools that allow more people to catalyze and take part in such actions means less power for well funded fringe groups and more power for the people.

Technology can make all these tasks of a good citizen easier and more effective. This government shutdown should be a wakeup call, not a free pass. The opportunity is enormous, so what are you doing to help innovate our democracy?

Disclosure: I am a founder and trustee of e-thePeople.org, a non-partisan, non-profit whose mission is to leverage new communication technologies to make it easier to be a good citizen.

1. technology, 2. politics

Dinner with Barack: How to sell mass influence

September 17th, 2012

Everyone decries money in politics. The typical phrase used is “selling influence to the highest bidder.” Considering how much money is in politics, it is actually remarkable infrequently reported cases of overt corruption you hear. But how do politician sell access and influence for money?

The Obama campaign is perfecting a new technique: the raffle. Here’s an email I received from the campaign earlier today:

Subject: I’m saving a seat for you
From: Barack Obama <info@barackobama.com>

   I’m only going to get to sit down to dinner with grassroots supporters on this campaign one last time.
   It’s one of the most meaningful things we do, and represents exactly the kind of politics we believe in: All of us, at one table, together.
   So if you’re someone who is helping to build this campaign, I want to meet you. I want to thank you in person. And I’d love to hear what’s on your mind.
   This is the last time we’ll be able to sit down together for one of these — so I hope you’ll take me up on it.
   Your donation of $19 or whatever you’re able to chip in will automatically enter you.
   Thanks.

Barack

P.S. — Flight and hotel are on me. All you have to do is come and eat.

It is a fairly safe assumption that many donors, even small ticket donors, are asking themselves, “What’s in it for me?” Even for those who prefer Obama to Romney, why not free ride off everyone else’s donations? This raffle solves the problem by holding out the possible of a free trip and meal with Obama. Viola: money for access.

But a raffle is a bit different than selling access to the highest bidder. A raffle isn’t constrained to the number of people who can fit in David Geffen’s backyard– any number of people can enter. So the entry price can be much lower (here just $19, what a bargain!) Influence is sold here at the mass market level.

No such thing as a free lunch, you say? Well, then I guess I won’t be seeing you at dinner with Barack then!

2. politics , , , ,

Stop SOPA & PIPA

January 18th, 2012

We must stop SOPA and PIPA, two proposed pieces of legislation that would serious undermine our freedom of expression.

If these laws pass, essentially anyone would have the right to shut down my companies web site, www.tips.by, merely because it hosts shared content on an overseas web site. I am part of a tech community that is innovating and creating new jobs.

As a father of four children, I oppose this legislation that further criminalizes sharing. I am pro-sharing.

As a founder of e-thePeople, I think that sharing of information is the cornerstone of democracy. It’s called the first amendment, because it is the fundamental right that protects all others.

Sign Google’s petition here: https://www.google.com/landing/takeaction/

Spread the word on Facebook & Twitter. Black out your profile image too before the government does.

1. technology, 2. politics, 3. et cetera , ,

The connection between Elana Kagan and Young MC

May 10th, 2010

Break it down, fellas! Malcom Gladwell criticized my alum mater asking “Why are Hunter’s results so disappointing?” Hunter students have IQ scores three and a half standard deviations above the mean and are given the best classroom resources, so they are not as distinguished as they should be: “Although most of our study participants are successful and fairly content with their lives and accomplishments,” the authors conclude, “there are no superstars . . . and only one or two familiar names.” Thank you, Obama, for providing yet another piece of evidence against this unfair criticism.

First, I present to you, Elena Kagan, Obama’s pick for the Supreme Court. Is that a big enough superstar for you, Malcom?

Elena Kagan with Obama

Second, I present to you Young MC. Watch this video to be reminded how great he is. No gimmicks just hip hop. Bust a move!

Want to see more Hunter superstars? I rest my case!

2. politics, 3. et cetera , , , , , ,

MLK

January 18th, 2010

I haven’t watched this video in years. Perhaps the greatest speech ever recorded on video.

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Will the US Govt support Google in its battle vs China?

January 13th, 2010

It is exhilarating news that Google is going to step up to bat against China for the case of freedom of information. I think that Jonathan Zittrain has a great take on the situation:

My hope, and expectation, is that Google engineers who might have been a bit halfhearted about implementing censorship mandates in google.cn could be full-throttle in coming up with ways for Google to be viewed despite any network interruptions between site and user. There are lots of unexplored options here. They’re unexplored not because they’re infeasible, but because most sites would rather not provoke a government that filters. So they don’t undertake to get information out in ways that might evade blockages. Here, Google would have nothing more to lose, so could pioneer some new approaches. Circumvention of filtering (or other blockages, for that matter) tends to happen on the user side of things, seeking out proxies like the Tor network, or anonymizer.com.

I love how Zittrain examines the situation from a strategic perspective, with moves and responses. I also find it provocative to consider what a massive organization like Google could do to help Chinese citizens workaround government filters.

But I think that Zittrain does not follow his chess game to its ultimate conclusion. If Google can help a large minority of Chinese citizens to get unfettered access to information, the Chinese government will press the US to enforce its policies. Presumably, Google can win the spy-vs-spy tech game with China. But China has a lot of political chips to cash in to try to win the support of the US government to rein in Google.

Already, the State Department is recognizing that this issue is extremely important (although they have not yet announced a policy or substantive statement). But when push comes to shove, will it support Google in its battle vs. China?

I certainly hope it does. Go google!

1. technology, 2. politics , , , ,

Must watch video: Lessig on Copyright

November 9th, 2009

How copyright shapes, and is shaped by, the values we wish to promote in culture and society? Should copyright promote a society of consumers or a society of producers? How has technology changed the very paradigm that copyright was envisioned by our founders? Lessig’s lecture is a tour de force.

1. technology, 2. politics

Missing the game winning shot

September 4th, 2009

Fred Wilson wrote an interesting list of 10 characteristics of great companies. My contribution was suggesting an 11th characteristic: “Great companies fail repeatedly – and learn from their mistakes. ” But even more importantly, check out this classic Michael Jordan ad that is the inspiration for that idea:



My transcription of it:

Michael Jordan talking: “I’ve missed more than 9,000 shots in my career. I’ve lost almost 300 games. 26 times, I’ve been entrusted to take the game winning shot, and missed. I’ve failed over and over again in my life my life. And that is why I succeed.”

Gives me tingles to watch it!

1. technology, 2. politics, 3. et cetera , , , ,

An alternative to health care “townhall” meetings

August 18th, 2009

I worry that the townhall on health care may give many Americans the wrong impression about what is possible for citizen deliberation. So, I was very happy to see Jim Fishkin’s interesting editorial in the NYT explaining how deliberative polling would be a better alternative. Here’s how he frames the issue:

“CONGRESS on Your Corner” has turned into “Your Congressperson Cornered.” Around the country, lawmakers are finding their town hall meetings disrupted by hecklers, many echoing anti-health-care-reform messages from talk radio and cable television. Supporters of reform will surely countermobilize, leading to more outbursts and demonstrations. Forget, for a moment, that these impassioned voters have turned these meetings into political sideshows. Are town halls actually the best way for lawmakers to connect with their constituents?

The two key insights from Fishkin’s deliberative polling design: (1) you can use random sampling to ensure that every citizen is equally likely to be invited to participate and (2) deliberations require structure (e.g., information packets and moderated small group discussions).

Although there are some quibbles with his methods (a la the snarky title “Towhnalls by Invitation” given by the NYT editorial board), I think that deliberative polls are exactly the right form of public consultation for this kind of issue. And Jim and his colleagues have had demonstrated success in contexts even more contentious than the current health care debate in the US:

At the center, we have collaborated on more than 50 deliberative polls around the world. The process has certainly been shown to help overcome sharp divisions. In a 2007 deliberative poll in Northern Ireland on education reform, the percentage willing to agree that “most Catholics” or “most Protestants” were “open to reason” rose 16 points. Those agreeing that most Protestants or Catholics were “trustworthy” also increased considerably.

One we held in Bulgaria, about policies toward the Roma, or Gypsies, produced strongly reconciliatory policies at a time when loud fringe groups wanted to build walls around the Roma communities. And in a deliberative poll in Brussels just before the recent European Union elections, people from 27 countries, partaking in discussions in 21 languages, moved to support more tolerant policies toward immigrants.

Jim concludes by asks us to imagine with these deliberative polls could work for improving the health care debate. I think the answer to that is “yes.” But even more broadly, I think the question is: how improve the design of our democracy to facilitate “more civil and constructive” as these contentious issues continue to be raised? Hopefully we can improve the current dialogue on health care, but also make progress on improving the environment for politics and issues for future issues as well.

2. politics

The Isle of Libertarian Men

August 7th, 2009

Peter Thiel, founding CEO of PayPal and early Facebook investor, has written an controversial and interesting essay “The Education of a Libertarian.” The controversial part is where blames the death of “capitalistic democracy” on welfare and women:

“Since 1920, the vast increase in welfare beneficiaries and the extension of the franchise to women — two constituencies that are notoriously tough for libertarians — have rendered the notion of “capitalist democracy” into an oxymoron.”

But interesting part is where he proposes a realistic utopia for Libertarians. In particular, he proposes that “seasteading” is the best hope for a libertarian utopia since it is “more realistic than space travel” and less “imaginary” than an escape to cyberspace.

(As an aside, he presents a novel argument that current financial crisis was created by too much government rather than unfetter capitalism. He thinks that the crisis was “facilitated by a government that insuranced against all sorts of moral hazards.”)

He acknowledges that his past efforts to promote libertarianism have been less effective than he’d like because his was just “preaching to the choir.”  So, if you can’t convert everyone to libertarianism, who needs them?  Retreat to cyberspace for the time being, then to islands in the sea.  But ultimately, we ought to have a separate space pod for each Libertarian — that is utopia indeed.

Regardless of your political ideology, I think that this essay is provocative and worth reading in its entirity;.  Enjoy!

1. technology, 2. politics , , , , ,

Kids protest education cuts in CA budget

June 9th, 2009

Funny video. Ironically, though, these particular kids seem to be doing just fine.

1. technology, 2. politics , , ,

The future of online politics

May 29th, 2009

Key people from Youtube (Steve Grove), Facebook (Randi Zuckerberg) and Twitter (Chris Sacca) talk about “Government 2.0“. Very interesting commentary about who is driving the show: it’s Obama and then a bunch of small protestors, etc., from around the world. An interesting 50 minutes.




A good question at the end about what is the new role of the fourth estate. But no good answers to the problem of outreach vs. accountability.

1. technology, 2. politics , , , , , ,

Dead-ender

May 15th, 2009

Dick Cheney can really raise my dander. Watching this video of how defends the indefensible makes my blood curdle. Perhaps the most appalling aspect is that he was too cowardly to defend these horrible policies when he was in power, and he could have been held to account for his decisions in a meaningful way.

Visit msnbc.com for Breaking News, World News, and News about the Economy

I do not think that Obama should engage Cheney on the issue of torture. The Obama administration should reach out to Republicans in Congress and issue a joint statement that Cheney’s recent media tour is entirely self-serving, and distracts the nation from the real issues at home and abroad.

And we should figure out a way to banish apologist-in-chief and fellow dead-ender Bill Kristol to an even deeper, darker corner of the Internet.

2. politics , ,

“War on jobs”

April 7th, 2009

A talk by Mike Rowe of Dirty Jobs fame. Absolutely brilliant and riveting.

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