Joho the Blogpolitics Archives - Joho the Blog

June 30, 2015

Greek crisis: Five explainers

Here are five posts explaining the Greek economic crisis clearly enough even for me, which is an accomplishment. They were gathered by Peter Kaminski [twitter:peterkaminski] whose Net-fu is unmatched.

1 Comment »

May 17, 2015

CNN’s side of the conversation

Bernie Sanders gave as good an interview as he could this morning on CNN, trying to stick to the issues as Brianna Keilar repeatedly goaded him to attack Hillary Clinton, or to comment on the horse race. She asked only two questions about policy matters, and they were as non-incisive as questions could be. Twice Sanders said that he would not personlly attack Clinton, and turned the question back to Keilar, asking if the news media would focus on the serious issues facing the American 99.9%.

Just listen to CNN’s side of the conversation, taken from the transcript:

  • You’ve acknowledged that you don’t have the cash, that you don’t have the campaign infrastructure that Hillary Clinton, say, has and certainly as you enter the race, she is the one that you have your sights set on. What’s your path to victory?

  • Hillary Clinton talks a lot about income inequality, how you differentiate yourself on this from her?

  • Your candidacy was assessed by “U.S. News and World Report” like this. It said, “Like Obama in 2008, Sanders can serve to help define Clinton and make her a stronger candidate. Unlike Obama, Sanders can keep Clinton on her game without getting her tossed out of it.” You look at that assessment. Are you a spoiler here? Are you aiming to be a shaper of the debate? Or do you think that you really have a pathway to victory?

  • I just wonder is this going to be a civil debate with Hillary Clinton? Even if you’re talking about issues and not personality or the fact that she’s establishment, you have to go after a leading candidate with a hard edge. Are you prepared to do that?

  • Trade a big issue –

  • in the Senate and now we’re looking towards the House, where Republicans, oddly enough, may not have the votes along with Democrats for this initiative of President Obama’s, something you oppose. You have come out and said this is a terrible idea. Hillary Clinton has not. She is on the fence. Should she take a position?

  • I want to ask you about George Stephanopoulos, the host of This Week, who has been in the news. You appeared on his show on May 3rd and on that program he asked you about your concerns over the money raised by The Clinton Foundation. You have said that The Clinton Foundation fundraising is a fair issue to discuss. He had donated $25,000 over three years or $75,000 in total, $25,000 each year. He didn’t disclose those donations. And to viewers, to superiors at ABC. He didn’t tell you either, even though you discussed it.

  • If you take her at her word, Elizabeth Warren’s not getting into this race; Are you looking to gain that pocket of support to Hillary Clinton’s left?

  • Overall, I don’t hear a lot of forcefulness from you; a lot of people who observe politics say this is a contact sport. You have to have sharp elbows. Even if it’s not going fully negative in character assassination

  • But are you prepared to sharply point out where your Democratic opponents have not, in your opinion?

  • Senator Bernie Sanders, thank you so much for being with us. We appreciate it.

I wish I had confidence that if CNN were to hear their side of the conversation, they’d be even a little bit ashamed of how they’re failing in their essential job.

But no. CNN’s post about the interview led with the most negative thing they could find in the interview: “Bernie Sanders casts Hillary Clinton as newcomer to income fight.”

Senator Sanders, you have your answer.


Seriously, Reddit would do a much better job interview Sanders.

3 Comments »

May 4, 2015

A civic-minded man

I was walking on the street in front of Wheelock College today when I saw an elderly man, nicely dressed, stopping as he walked along to pick up the plastic bags stuck in the shrubbery. “Thank you,” I said as I passed by him.

It was Mike Dukakis, whom you might remember from such projects as being the former governor of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts and the Democratic Presidential candidate who ran against George Bush the Senior.

He chatted me up: My name, what I do, etc. I complimented him on setting such an example. When I beat him to a ruptured styrofoam coffee cup, he offered to throw it out for me, but I instead relieved him of some of the trash he was carrying because Mike Dukakis. He continued on his way.

Talk about being civic-minded! What a decent, humble man.

3 Comments »

April 22, 2015

HillaryHusseinClinton.com

I registered HillaryHusseinClinton.com to keep it out of the hands of those who do not support her. For $13, why not?

I suppose I should have registered BarackRodhamObama.com just for the sake of symmetry.

1 Comment »

April 16, 2015

Hillary in the uncanny valley

As a strategist for nine successful presidential campaigns and a selectman’s race in an Indianapolis (not the Indianapolis), I’d like to offer Hillary Clinton some free advice:

Get yourself out of the uncanny valley. When you try to be sincere and folksy you get just close enough that it’s a bit uncomfortable to watch.

Say what you will about Clinton’s campaign announcement, you have to admit that the tiny vignettes were effective.

Did you doubt that they were real people? Nope. Were they charming? Yup. Would you like to see more of them, including giving the fish kid his own sitcom where he teaches life lessons to the gay engaged couple and to the woman who’s about to retire? I’m already setting my Tivo!

What was the one moment of ickiness? Clinton bringing the whole scene to a screeching halt with her announcement “I’m getting ready to do something too.” The delivery was poor and the idea itself clanged against the first minute and a half of the video: ordinary folks talk about what they’re doing, and Hillary Clinton equates that with running for president. “We’re not so different, you and I: we both do things.”

Unfortunately, these issues of personality and performance count far more than they should. So, if we want Hillary Clinton to be president (and I do), then she needs to not be “warm and approachable.” When she tries, it just doesn’t work for her.

Ms. Clinton, I have no doubt that you are a delightful person when out of the public eye. But after more than twenty years of experience, we ought to conclude that in the public eye you’re socially awkward. Fine! Lots of us are. (You know someone who’s not? Your husband. Try to avoid standing next to him.)

So, how about if you embrace that awkwardness? Let it work for you. Be a bit shy. Bumble visibly. Get angry at heartless questions, like ones that act as if you were somehow personally responsible for the murder of your friend, Ambassador Chris Stevens. When not giving a speech, stop giving the internalized version of that speech; talking points are for See ‘n’ Say toys.

But recognize that when you do speak from the heart in public, it’s still always going to sound stilted and a bit uncomfortable. Acknowledge that. Make a joke. If you can’t be comfortable with yourself, at least be comfortable with that lack of comfort. You’re super-competent and will be the best-prepared president in decades, so it’s ok for you to have a personality flaw.

Because that’s what you really have in common with the rest of us.

1 Comment »

March 22, 2015

New definition of “cringeworthy”

The House Judiciary Committee has posted a page with ten gifs to explain to the nation’s youth the folly of President Obama’s immigration actions. (Hat tip to Peter Kaminski.)

6 Comments »

March 3, 2015

[liveblog] David Sanger on cybersecurity. And Netanyahu

David Sanger of the NY Times is giving a Shorenstein Center lunchtime talk about covering security.

NOTE: Live-blogging. Getting things wrong. Missing points. Omitting key information. Introducing artificial choppiness. Over-emphasizing small matters. Paraphrasing badly. Not running a spellpchecker. Mangling other people’s ideas and words. You are warned, people.

David begins by honoring Alex Jones, the retiring head of the Shorenstein Center with whom he worked at the Times.

David tells us that he wrote his news analysis of the Netanyahu speech to Congress last night, before the talk, because people now wake up and expect it to read about it. His articles says that a semantic difference has turned into a strategic chasm: we’ve gone from preventing Iran from having the capability of building a weapon to preventing Iran from building a weapon. Pres. Obama dodged this question when David asked him about it in 2010. If the Iran deal goes through, says David, it will be the biggest diplomatic step since Nixon went to China.

Probably six years ago David had just come back from writing The Inheritance, which disclosed that GW Bush had engaged in the first computer attacks on Iran. He came back to the newsroom saying that we need to start thinking about the strategic uses of cyber as a weapon, beyond worrying about kids in a basement hacking into your bank account. This was an uphill struggle because it’s extremely difficult to get editors to think about a nontraditional form of warfare. Drones we understand: it’s an unmanned aircraft with familiar consquences when it goes wrong. We all understand nuclear weapons because we saw Hiroshima. Cyber is much harder to get people to understand. To make matters worse, there are so many different kinds of cyber attacks.

When you think about cyber you have to think about three elements, he says. 1. Cyber for espionage, by states or by thieves. 2. Cyber for economic advantage, on the cusp between business and govt. E.g., Chinese steal IP via operations run out of the Chinese Army. The US thinks that’s out of bounds but the Chinese think “What’s more important to our national interest than our economy? Of course we’ll steal IP!” 3. Cyber for political coercion, e.g. Stuxnet. This tech is spreading faster than ever, and it’s not just in the hands of states. We have no early concept of how we’re going to control this. We now claim Iran was behind cyberattacks on Las Vegas casinos. And, of course, the Sony hack. [He recounts the story.] “This was not a little drive-by attack.”

He says he would have predicted that if we got into a cyber war with another country, it would be an attack on the grid or some such, not an attempt to stop the release of a “terrible” commercial movie. “We’re in a new era of somewhat constant conflict.” Only now is the govt starting to think about how this affects how we interact with other companies. Also, it’s widened the divide Snowden has opened between Silicon Valley and the govt. Post-Snowden, companies are racing to show that they’re not going to cooperate with the US govt for fear that it will kill their ability to sell overseas. E.g., iPhone software throws away the keys that would have enabled Apple to turn over your decrypted data if the FBI comes along with a warrant. The head of the FBI has objected to this for fear that we’re entering a new era in which we cannot get data needed to keep us secure.

The govt itself can’t decide how to deal with the secrecy around its own development of cyber weapons. The Administration won’t talk about our offensive capabilities, even though we’re spending billions on this. “We can’t have a conversation about how to control them until you admit that you have them and describe the circumstances under which you might use them.”

Q&A

Q: [alex jones] Laypeople assume that there are no secrets and no privacy any more. True?

A: By and large. There’s no system that can’t be defeated. (Hillary Clinton must have come to be so suspicious of the State Dept. email system that she decided to entrust it to gmail.) There’s no guaranteed system. We’d have to completely redesign the Internet to make it secure.

Q: [alex] What’s the state of forensics in this situation?

A: It’s not a sure thing. All govts and law enforcement agencies are putting a lot of money into cyber forensics. In the nuclear age, you could see where the missiles are coming from. Cybercrime is more like terrorism: you don’t know who’s responsibile. It’s easy to route a cyberattack through many computers to mask where it’s coming from. When the NYT was hacked by the Chinese govt, the last hop came from a university in the South. It wouldn’t have been so nice to have assumed that that little university was actually the source.

The best way to make forensics work is to have implants in foreign computing systems that are like little radar stations. This is what the NSA spends a lot of its time doing. You can use the same implant for espionage, to explore the computer, or to launch an attack. The US govt is very sensitive about our questions about implants. E.g., suppose the NSA tells the president that they’ve seen a major attack massing. The president has to decide about reacting proactively. If you cyber-attack a foreign computer, it looks like you struck first. In the Sony case, the President blamed North Korea but the intelligence agencies wouldn’t let him say what the evidence was. Eventually they let out a little info and we ran a story on the inserts in NK. An agency head called and officially complained about this info being published but said more personally that releasing the fact that the govt can track attacks back to the source has probably helped the cause of cybersecurity.

Q: Are there stories that you’re not prepared to publish yet?

A: We’ve held some stuff back. E.g., e were wondering how we attacked Iran computers that were disconnected from the Net (“air gap”). If you can insert some tech onto the motherboard before the product has been shipped you can get access to it. A Snowden document shows the packaging of computers going to Syria being intercepted, opened, and modified. Der Spiegel showed that this would enable you to control an off-line computer from 7 miles away. I withheld that from the book, and a year or two later all that info was in the Snowden docs.

Q: [nick sinai] Why haven’t the attacks on the White House and State Dept. been a bigger story?

A: Because they were mainly on the unclassified side. We think it was a Russian attack, but we don’t know if was state-sponsored.

Q: How does the Times make tradeoffs between security and openness?

A: I’m not sure we get it right. We have a set of standards. If it would threaten a life or an imminent military or intelligence operation we’re likely not to publish it. Every case is individual. An editor I know says that in every case he’s withheld info, he’s sorry that he did. “I don’t blame the government” for this, says David. They’re working hard to prevent an attack, and along comes a newspaper article, and a program they’ve been working on for years blows up. On the other hand, we can’t debate the use of this tech until we know what it can do. As James Clapper said recently, maybe we’re not headed toward a cyber Pearl Harbor but toward a corrosive series of attacks, institution by institution.

Q: At what point do cyberattacks turn into cyberwarfare?

“Cyberwarfare” is often an overstated term. It implies that it might turn into a real-world war, and usually they don’t. Newspapers have to decide which ones to cover, because if you tried to cover them all, that’s all you’d cover. So the threshold keeps going up. It’s got to be more than stealing money or standard espionage.

Q: Will companies have to create cyber militias? And how will that affect your coverage?

A: Most companies don’t like to report cyber attacks because it drives down their stock market valuation. There’s a proposed law that would require a company to report cyber attacks within a month. The federal govt wants cybersecurity to come from private companies. E.g., JP Morgan spends half a billion dollars on cyber security. But there are some state-sponsored attacks that no private company could protect itself against.

Q: How does US compare with our enemies? And in 30 yrs how will we remember Snowden?

A: The usual ranking puts US on top, the British, the Israelis. The Chinese are very good; their method seems to be: attack everyone and see what you get. The Russians are stealthier. The Iranians and North Koreans are further down the list. A year ago if you’d told me that the NKs would have done something as sophisticated as the Sony attack, I would have said you’re crazy.

I have no problem believing both that Snowden violated every oath he took and multiple laws, and that the debates started by the docs that he released is a healthy one to have. E.g., Obama had authorized the re-upping of the collection of metadata. After Snowden, the burden has been put on private companies, none of which have taken it up. Also, Obama didn’t know we were listening in on Angela Merkel. Now all those programs are being reviewed. I think that’s a healthy kind of tradeoff.

Q: What enduring damage has Snowden done?

A: The damage lies between immediate to enduring. Immediately, there were lots of intelligence programs that had to be redone. I don’t see any real damage outside of a 5 year frame.

Q: Might there be a deal that lets Snowden come home?

A: A year ago there was interest in this in order to find out what Snowden knows. But now the intelligence services feel they have a handle on this.

Q: Netanyahu speech?

A: Politically he probably did a little more damage to his cause than good. Some Dems feel coerced. On the substance of it, I think he made the best case you can make for the two biggest weaknesses in the deal: 1. It doesn’t dismantle very much equipment, so when the deal’s term is over, they’ll be up and running. 2. We’re taking a bet that the Iranian govt will be much easier to deal with in 10-15 yrs, and we have no idea if that’s true. But Netanyahu has not put forward a strategy that does not take you down the road to military confrontation.

2 Comments »

February 3, 2015

[liveblog][shorenstein] Peter Hart on the Presidential Race

Peter Hart

Peter Hart is giving a lunchtime talk at the Shorenstein Center titled “The Mood of America & the Presidential Race 20016.” Peter is a pollster

NOTE: Live-blogging. Getting things wrong. Missing points. Omitting key information. Introducing artificial choppiness. Over-emphasizing small matters. Paraphrasing badly. Not running a spellpchecker. Mangling other people’s ideas and words. You are warned, people.

Peter begins by lauding Alex Jones, who has led the Center for fifteen years and is leaving at the end of this semester.

Peter says it’s an “interesting time” and is going to report on a poll taken just before the State of the Union address.

The Michigan Consumer Index for 45 years has measured how positive we feel (looking at positive and negative words and phrases). We are nowat the highest level since Jan. 2004; its Sentiment Index has improved 20% since July 2014. This is a major change. A year ago, about 1 in 4 was satisfied and 7 in 10 dissatisfied. This month, it’s now far more balanced. Women and African Americans are showing an especially large gain in satisfaction.

Top priorities? For Republicans, 87% say it’s defeating ISIS. Democrats: 87% Creating jobs, and defeating Isis is at 71%. Some items show up among independents and Democrats that don’t show up for Republicans: Independents and Dems want to fix and keep ACA, fund the infrstraucture, and reduce inequality and increase the minimum wage. Iran’s nukes aren’t on the Democrats top concerns, but are the Republican agenda. (Only items that concern more than 50% of respondents are listed.)

Peter looked into Colorado in particular, via focus groups, and what stands out is the absolute hatred Americans have of the gov’t and of Congress in particular. People are bothered, frustrated, and uncertain. He tells about one respondent named Jennie. 43 yrs old. In procurement and contracts. Republican. She’s against marijuana legalization because of the economic implications. She’s voted straightline Republican for years. But she says, “I don’t know where I’ll be in 2016.” Peter asked, “Which candidate would you like to spend an hour with?” Answer: Elizabeth Warren. Jennie: “I think if she ran, she could be the next president. Personable, knowledgeable, and has a good handle on what’s going on in the country.”

When they got into the discussion, it turned out Jennie’s furious with Boehner because he said “Anyone who really wants a job, has a job.” But Jennie’s husband has been unemployed for 18 months. On immigration, she’s a Republican, but on education she says she was told people need more education so she went back to college. Now her student loan debt each month is twice her rent. It feels to her that everything in DC is stacked against her. “Jennie is a great example of what the Republicans will be facing in 2016. It’s not a matter of left and right.”

Q&A

Q: [alex jones] How relevant will today’s polls be about how people will actually vote?

A: Not. Things change. The one Repub who came out of these focus groups was Rand Paul. Jeb faces the problems that he’s his brother’s brother, and people don’t relate to him. The numbers by themselves don’t make any sense. Remember the 1.5 hours when Herman Cain was the front-runner? The key is to see who has a theme, something to say to the country.

E.g., In 1998 al Gore came up to me at a party and wanted to go over every candidate who might run against him. I told him not to worry about that now but about what you want to say about to the country. He ended up with a “lock box” [SNL] At least Jeb Bush has a vision about where this nation should go. I think that makes him formidable. Same for Rand Paul. But the polls at this point are of no value.

Q: If you were advising the nominees, what would you tell the Dem and Repub to run on?

A: Two things, as always: Safety and economic security. Clearly Isis is at the top of the list. Look at Boston and Paris. It’s no longer a war. It’s radical terrorism. So, who’s going to make us feel secure? More important: how do we get our mojo back, a sense of economic security, confidence?

Q: What about immigration, gay marriage, etc., that are especially important to conservative Republicans.

A: The Republican candidates all have to travel the same path to get the nomination; it goes through social conservativism. Immigration remains a hot button issue. Same sex marriage has been litigated and the Republicans will figure out a way that they don’t have to face it head on. They’re on the wrong side of history on that one.

Q: The southern branch of the Dem party has captured it, but the primary states determine the nominee. Now there’s talk of a southern primary to trump that.

A: They will go through the same fights. The Republicans will get killed in the polls on immigration until they change, as Perry has. But it’s always the same purple states that decide the election, and the primary calendar doesn’t help you.

Q: The big primary states that the Republicans have to play to generally aren’t going to vote Republican in the general election.

A: We break out numbers for Tea Partiers, and there are huge gaps, up to 40%, from non-TP Republicans.

Q: Is Rand Paul Tea Party?

A: Yes and no.

Q: Who will it be in 2016?

A: No way in the world I’ll answer that. [laughter] The betting odds are Hillary Clinton and Jeb Bush if you really had to pick at this stage. Would I bet? No.

Q: If it is, does either have an advantage in 2016?

A: A counter-cyclical thought: I’d handicap the advantage to the Republicans. From 1958 forward, we had a clue in the 6th year of a two-term presidency as to who the candidate will be. The off-years tell us that the Republicans can’t be ignored. So I put the odds a little better on the Republicans.

Q: Anything distinctive now in talking to people than in years past?

A: Two elements are striking. 1. Anger is much closer to the surface. In the past it would have been discouragement. 2. I don’t think people recognize how hard it is and how much of a struggle it is. How many of us have relatives facing a real economic struggle? [Not many hands go up. It’s Harvard.] This is the first generation that we think may be going backwards economically.

Q: Income inequality doesn’t show up in the Republican answers, maybe because they treat “income inequality” is a Democratic buzzword.

A: A single word can change results dramatically. We work on phrasing things well. Our phrase was “reducing income inequality between the rich and the poor.” Maybe that wasn’t neutral enough.

Q: Are the Dem and Repub demographics what makes the difference on the income inequality question? Are the Republicans you interviewed wealthier?

A: My favorite state is W. VA. It voted for Michael Dukakis but is now a solidly red state. It’s the only state in which there hasn’t been a big demographic change. They’ve just gone from economic to values voters.

Q: Since income inequality didn’t show up, how do you explain why the Republican candidates are now raising it?

A: Because they recognize that’s where the country’s at. That’s Jennie.

Q: Income inequality is less resonant than inequality of opportunity. Do you get at the distinction in your polling?

A: Not directly.

Q: As a pollster how do you think about identity? E.g., people vote for someone in part because they want to have a beer with him/her. How do you ask about that?

A: I spend a lot of time thinking abaout this. I think we make Congressional choices with our heads. Gubernatorial, mayors, and presidents are much more gut choices. In 2000, I asked a focus group: Let’s suppose that for the next 2 months you now have a 2-hour commute, and to get into the HOV lane you have to have either Bush or Gore in your car. Overwhelmingly people said Bush. They said: Bush will be interesting, we’ll talk about baseball. With Gore, they’d fall asleep at the wheel. But if you ask who you’d want as your lifeline on Who Wants to Be a Millionaire: Gore. Obama started with a personal connection but has become a much more remote figure as president. People don’t relate to him.

Q: [me] Do the political leanings çorrelate with news sources such as TV, newspapers, Internet, radio…?

A: The Net has been growing. Newsprint has been diminishing. The difference between a Fox viewer and an MSNBC viewer is day and night. Younger voters have a much wider sphere of getting information. Traditionally, when the source was TV, they tended to have more surface knowledge vs readers of newspapers.

Q: How is the hatred and frustration going to affect motivating people to vote?

A: I tend to believe that voting participation will be up in 2016 but you won’t have the same degree of interest in the African-American community unless there’s an African-American on the ticket. The most interesting group will be the under 30s. They voted in overwhelming numbers in ’08 and ’12. 2012 surprised us. If they turn out again, that will say something about participation going forward. If the two candidates are perceived as being the same, that will depress sturnout. [I may have gotten this wrong.]

Q: I’ve long been puzzled that Americans vote against their interests. But I’m wondering if the Republicans in fact reflect the true America. The Democrats represent a hodgepodge of special interest pressure groups.

A: The Democrats have always figured that people always vote their pocketbooks. But if you look at the Republicans for the past 10-20 yrs, it’s not economics alone. The Democrats have always been a pressure interest party. By talking to all their special interests, the Democrats lack a persuasive national msg. The Tea Party has cost the Republicans in the same way.

Q: Would it be political suicide to convene a constitutional convention to address the level of dissatisfaction?

A: It’d be a big step. In 2012 we thought a 3rd party could get double digit percentage of votes. In 2014 we thought there might be a broom party: sweep ’em out. I think there’s still a possibility of that.

Q: How do the issues for independents and Republicans line up with the State of the Union?

A: The things that are important to get done are the ones we can’t get done. If the Republicans continue to do silly things, the SOTU agenda will give the Democrats an advantage — silly things like opposing health care and immigration reform. This could make the Republicans look like the irresponsible party. McConnell is trying to steer them in the other direction.

Q: I like your 6th year analysis. But the economy also tends to be pretty predictive of the general election. Is that model going to hold? This is an unusual recovery.

A: The consumer index I started with is going to soar. But I worry about Democratic Fatigue. I think Obama has figured out his legacy. He’s been a weak figure over the last 4 years. I think the public is now seeing a more positive persona. He’s going to be known as a liberal-left president. Does that make the country move more centrist?

Hillary’s campaign will be bigger than life. Everyone will have an opinion. It won’t be like Gore. She’s polarizing right from the beginning. In 2008 when she finished her run, 43% had positive and 41% negative. When Secty of State, it was 55% [?] positive. Now she’s back down.

Q: What do we make of the invitation to Netanyahu?

A: An ill-chosen decision. It may play very well to one segment of the Republicans but it’s so far away from Arthur Vandenberg. You don’t do something like this, especially right before an Israeli election.

Q: Are Clinton and Bush identified as their own people, or as Bill’s wife or George’s brother?

A: Hillary is definitely perceived as her own person. Everyone has a sharp definition of her and feeling about her. Her husband is 100% asset. Jeb is not defined enough, and people have more questions. A lot needs to be filled in. The one that’s working for him is that he has conceptualized 2016 and done so in a smart way: the country wants to figure out how to come together. He’s about consensus not confrontation.

Q: Did you reality-test people’s ideas about the deficit? Do people know that the deficit has gone down?

A: The public is lousy when you deal with all of those questions about the budget.

Q: If not Hillary, who might it be?

A: Anybody’s guess. The Democrats have a bench that’s one deep.

Q: Is Jerry Brown a possible candidate?

A: In his own mind.

Q: Would Warren be a viable candidate?

A: 1. Warren is perfect on one issue for an awful lot of Americans. But is she perfect in foreign policy, as Commander in Chief, etc.? 2. She has the potentiality of being the Robert Kennedy of 2016: Electric and different enough that you don’t know where it will go.

Do I think she’ll get in? No.

1 Comment »

January 8, 2015

New Clues

The project with Doc that I mentioned is a new set of clues, following on The Cluetrain Manifesto from 16 years ago.

The clues are designed as an open source publishing project: The text is in the public domain, and we’re making the clues available at Github in various computer-friendly formats, including JSON, OPML and XML.

We launched this morning and a happy hell has broken loose. So I’m just going to posts some links for now. In fact, I’m copying and pasting from an email by Doc:

Gotta run…

4 Comments »

December 2, 2014

Micah Sifry: Why the Net’s effect on politics has disappointed us

This is a liveblog of Micah Sifry’s book talk hosted by the Berkman Center for Internet & Society at Harvard University. It is not a perfect transcript of the event. It was created collaboratively by Erhardt Graeff, , Nathan Matias, Sands Fish, Dalia Othman, Mayte Schomburg, and David Larochelle. and me. It’s also posted at the MIT Center for Civic Media blog, from whom I have stolen this html-ized version. I have done a tiny bit of cleanup, and inserted a few comments in brackets…

Micah Sifry at Berkman Center

Micah Sifry is the co-founder and editorial director of Personal Democracy Media, Kate Krontiris (today’s moderator) met him a few years back and asked him what an online Civic Hall would look like. Now “Civic Hall” will be opening soon in NYC in January as a brick and mortar institution.

Kate Krontiris: Why did you write this book? What case studies or sparks made you think there’s something to write about here?

Micah Sifry: I had a persistent editor at a small publishing house (OR Books). Great people to work for. The impetus for the book was the sense after ten years of long engagement observation in the the tech politics scene in the USA and a little abroad, through PDF conferences and blogging at techpresident, I finally got my head around what was bothering me. I thought I could lay out what I wanted to say about the hopes and aspirations for the internet, and what did and did not happen. Starting point was 10 years ago with explosion of civic participation around Howard Dean campaign. What we thought would happen, what has happened, and what we can do to shift the course.

The disruptive moment is over. [It certainly seems like it. But disruptive moments are like the Spanish Inquisition.] The expectation that reducing the barrier to entry would lead to a democratization of power has not been fulfilled. We need to distinguish what the internet seems to be good for in the political arena for small -d democratization and what it is not. My book focuses on two areas: (1) the changes in the political campaigning space in how they use tech, data analytics and their supporters, and how the role of the citizen in influencing the process has shrunk rather than increased. (2) How advocacy orgs have also adapted to mass connectivity and mass participation, largely by using Big Data, analytics, A/B testing, etc., to extract some value but not to empower people in any quantifiable way

We have not changed the political operating system in any major way or the way we expected. The percentage of money coming from small donors is essentially constant from 2004 to 2012, without even considering the superpacs enabled by the Citizens United case. We thought that the number of small donors would explode, but today we are seeing that most of the money is coming from large donors.

So there’s a lot of soul searching to be done by the tech community.

Also: there’s the problem of the attention economy and the perverse effect that we have made self expression so easy, but we have not made the listening function work at a pace that keeps up with all the expression.

Kate reads an excerpt from Page 48:

The result is a body politic that has grown more and more distorted. It has a gigantic mouth and two huge fists, left and right, that spend most of their time swinging at each other. Its heart still beats strong, and often it races in response to emotional events. But its ears and eyes are deafened and blinded by all the noise and flash; its stomach only rarely gets to digest anything; and its leg muscles are atrophying from lack of use.

Present Shock” by Douglas Rushkoff crystalized this: The future is here and it’s broken the present. We’re losing our collective attention, which is what we need for political action. Each advocacy group may get your attention, but that collectively pollutes the commons. The only things that seem to interrupt that are hugely emotional spectacles and giant crises like hurricanes cutting off NYC’s power.

Silver lining: We’re a little more resilient in response to crises. And I don’t want to leave the impression that I think the internet is bad. I love the internet as much as I hate the internet now.

Kate: In the book, you make the observations:
1. The effective use of tech is no longer a low barrier. You need money and power to wield these tools well.
2. The Net’s better at gathering Stop energy than Go energy.
3. We don’t have very good tools for doing things together.

Can you talk a little bit more about your chapter on big data? You talk about Obama being the most technological president. Can you talk a little bit about that?

Micah: I wanted to put to rest the question: What happened after 2008? Why didn’t Obama come to DC with his list of millions of energized supporters? They trained tens of thousands of organizers in a rigorous way. Why didn’t that go forward? Why was it so easily smothered?

The answer is only in part due to Obama. We now know he is nowhere near the community organizer he was portrayed as. He’s a technocrat and very cautious politician. You can blame Rahm Emanuel and the other people around him but he’s the one who picked ’em. The question is: Why didn’t the base fight that?

I think the answer is that the tools the Obama campaign used were not designed to make it easy for the base to organize itself. There was a time in 2008 when Obama signalled he was going to shift his position on the FISA wiretapping bill. A group formed on MyBarackObama and swelled to 20,000 people, the largest group there. It forced Obama to deal with it and issue a statement saying, “I heard you, but here’s what I believe,” followed by his advisors spending three hours liveblogging…and the issue went away. The question is why we let that happen.

When Obama came in, there was no transition plan for the base. We can’t just blame the top. We have to asked ourselves why Americans don’t have a stronger tradition of assertion. In my book, I don’t spend enough time exploring where that culture comes from: lack of history, forgetting that politicians need to be held accountable, very weak local communal organization. So I’m not sure this generalizes to other countries. E.g., Spain has a stronger tradition of local self-organization. The Podemos party is using Reddit and Loomio to do face-to-face organizing, showing that other paths are possible. There was a moment when the Obama team reached out to the supporters and there was a high response and support them and many of them expressed their interest in running for local office, but nothing happened. A lot of people didn’t take matters into their own hands because of deep cultural issues. I think of this as “learned deference.”

Also, a failure of leadership. The history of the Democratic party is that there’s a moment when the people try to keep the pressure on, and then they lose. E.g., Clinton and Labor.

Kate: We’ll get to a moment of optimism, but not yet.

Micah: Yochai Benkler read the manuscript, didn’t find much to disagree with, and said that afterwards he felt like crawling under a rock. [There’s your cover blurb, Micah!]

Kate: Let’s talk about another force shaping the body politic: big technology companies are another group affecting these efforts. What role do you see these companies playing now and what do you think these companies can do to more positively promote civic life?

Micah: The people inside the companies think they’re benign. They have very little self-awareness of the possibility that the effect of what they’ve created could be dangerous. I’ve been banging on Facebook for years to get them to open up and tell us more about the experiments they’ve done where they tweak the news feed or put the “megaphone” to encourage people to vote. In 2012, in the 10 weeks before the election, they pushed hard news to the top of the feed of two million users. If your friend shared a link to a news story, they would put those articles at the very top. They then went back and surveyed that group. The self-reported results of the survey were that people who saw the news higher up reported that they were significantly more likely to vote and pay attention to government. They were planning to publish an academic paper about the results and the issue with academic papers is that we’ll get to see the results and learn from them years after the event.

News publishers are afraid to question the power of social media platforms. The power of these platforms is enormous and we have to take their word on their experiments. There needs to be independent auditing of Facebook algorithms by other qualified technologists, so that if Facebook says it does something in a neutral and random way, we can see if it was actually neutral and random. It’s good when companies do things like encouraging people to be organ donors, but as they have a drive to maximize profits, it will be important to watch the effect they have on society.

We have to be concerned that so much of our public discourse occurs on private platforms. Why should an Orthodox Jew who doesn’t want to be on Facebook be forced to be a member of Facebook in order to participate in a town hall with their member of Congress? If Walmart were hosting town hall meetings and required people to have Walmart cards to participate, we would be up in arms. Why do congress-people do that with Facebook?

Another piece of important work for us is building the public internet. The government should be doing this, but isn’t. You can get a permit for a meeting in a public park, but you can’t congregate on a government website. I can’t get an email address from the Post Office. We’ve allowed too much thinking about what a public internet should look like fall under the carpet.

We can distinguish among the platforms. Twitter is a better platform than Facebook for enabling public discourse on a topic. But that is about to change, as they start diddling with their platform and you’ll see less of what you want to see and more of what they want you to see.

Kate: So you’re interested not only in the algorithm and its transparency, but also about the kind of platform on which we might have public discussion?

Micah: Yes, we need to have public platforms. Our communication is happening on private connections. The US has twice tried to deal with crises in public infrastructure. Access to clean water in NYC in the 1800s when there was a cholera epidemic from drinking water polluted with sewage. Moms and dads bought water sources in upstate New York and built aqueducts to bring it into the city. And that’s when it became the premier metropolis in the United States.

Second there was the provision of a telephone dial tone. Today, public broadband is the dial tone of the twentieth century: that is another aspect of building the public infrastructure and Internet that we need.

Micah: We should also talk about Stop/Go. The Wealth of Networks is a bible to me, as I expect it is to lots of people in this room. I agree that the networked public sphere is a better public sphere than the mass media public sphere. But there is a flaw in the examples Benkler puts in the Wealth of Networks. The cases, where the public has a greater interest than moneyed actors, whether it’s Diebold having flaws in their electronic ballot machines; or the Sinclair Network trying to put out partisan videos right before an election, and a civic network organizes and protests, and Sinclair withdraws them; or SOPA/PIPA is another example, where Hollywood overreaches and the Internet public, with the help of large companies rises to oppose the legislation…

What do these cases have in common? An outrageous action. People know what they want to stop Diebold, Sinclair, SOPA/PIPA, stop Wikileaks from being taken off the Web.

The Internet is very good at “stop moments” but not “go” moments.

What tool would you use to enable a consensus to form among a group of people if you’re working on the Web and there isn’t an existing consensus? A wiki? When Wikipedia decided to go dark in support of the SOPA/PIPA protest, they used Jimmy Wales’ Talk page. Try to read it. It’s 55 screens long on my laptop. There’s no way that people read all that. You might say it was sufficient because people came to agreement, but, it’s not at all clear to me that the minority voices came to agreement.

The most painful example: Egypt. There was consensus for the Stop: to get Mubarak out of office. But when they briefly had an opening to create a new government, they failed. They fractured. We have a disease of too much ease in expressing yourself and not enough listening and coming to agreement.

Kate: Is there fundamental clash between Internet organizing and community organizing?

Micah: We have to change the toolset. We need easy to use tools that replicate the processes that community organizers use, to avoid privileging face to face; not everyone can get to a community meeting at night.

Loomio has a great opportunity to fix this gap. This is a tool that was written by folks in New Zealand who participated first hand in the occupy protests in Wellington. They realized that the consensus-based decision-making broke down when scaling in space or time.

The problem with Loomio is that it works well if you are already part of a bounded group. If the group feels like they have a common purpose they are bound to, then Loomio works great for them. We haven’t solved the problem of getting people to that point of common purpose. It may be unsolvable.

Kate: In the last chapter you reflect on the Snowden moment and what it means for us. You are by nature hopeful and optimistic, yet this book suggests that we shouldn’t be optimistic. Is that right? When you finished writing it did you think there are reasons to be hopeful?

Micah: I’m hopeful constitutionally for lots of different reasons. But I think seeing things clearly is the starting point for acting in better ways. Maybe I’ve cleared some cobwebs. That’s the prerequisite for taking better action going forward: understanding what has happened before.

Lots of complicated thoughts about the Snowden affair. The constitutional optimist in me is with Cory Doctorow who says the moment of peak apathy by privacy and surveillance is over. We’re seeing some changes in tech. E.g., WhatsApp adopted privacy encryption for 100s of millions of users. It’s a reason for optimism that some companies are opting for privacy as default.

We have a political sickness. I don’t know a single Congressperson who’s called for clemency for Snowden. There’s been political pressure for reform, but that’s been blocked. But there will be more.

I had lunch with Ben Wizner [twitter: benwizner, who is Snowden’s ACLU lawyer. First off, Snowden’s film may be nominated for an Oscar and will be on HBO which will give millions a chance to learn more about him. Second, Snowden is incredibly popular among people. He articulates what the Internet should be in a way that many young people recognize. The fact that 3-4M people have told the FCC that they want Net Neutrality is a pretty big deal; I’m surprised this issue is even still alive.

On the other hand, we’re creatures of convenience. Yesterday I gave a talk at Nicco Mele‘s class at the Harvard JFK school. I said to the students, “You know, if you’re not paying for something, you’re the product.” People’s eyes light up and say, “I never thought of that!” On the other hand, people may not want to know they are the product. That might be when the scales fall from people’s eyes. I expect to see more clashes along these battle lines.

I have one request to make: We need to stop referring to “privacy policies.” I’m on the board of Consumer Reports and I’ve been urging them to adopt this change.

It’s not privacy if they have your data. It’s fine if you want to give that away, but don’t refer to it as privacy.

I write something called First POST, which you can all subscribe to; it’s free. And when I go to put that together, every day I see where someone is doing something good with the internet.

Kate: Thanks. I feel better.

Micah: Don’t feel too much better.

Micah Sifry at the Berkman Center

Halley Suitt: What should those policies be called?

Micah: Daily usage policies

David Larochelle: At the beginning you talked about filtering out Citizens United when comparing then to now. Maybe without the Net things would be much worse than they are now.

Micah: If you look at political contributions, the percentage of money going from small donors (Anyone who gives less than $200 is considered a small donor) has gone from 8-10% in House races and from 12-14% in Senate races since 2004 to 2012. There are a handful of candidates, like Elizabeth Warren, who have amassed a serious war chest from small donations. They’re just a few, not enough to say that the operating system of politics has changed. The most depressing statistic of all is that if the barrier to participation in politics has been lowered by the Internet, why are 4-10 races per state unopposed? People don’t bother because they know the incumbent is going to win. The problem is gerrymandering, pork, learned deference, corrupt local power structures — many other things than technology go into the lack of society opening up in the way we hoped.

Let me give a silver lining, because I see so many grim faces. The one change I would credit to the open media system the Net has enabled is the rise of women and minorities into parity. We’re living through a calamitous moment when you think about how gender and race are emerging online and demanding parity. The idea that Bill Cosby could be taken down after decades of successfully suppressing rape allegations— his defense just shattered. Every day, another bastion of male power starts to crumble, like the fraternity system. Women are 51% of the population and not 51% of the power, but open media is enabling an assertion. This is not without horrible misogyny, harassment and attacks on women in response, but this is a rising force that is actually getting stronger with each battle.

David Weinberger: I love the book, and I love you. I have two reactions to the book. I am totally depressed by it. I was an optimist and something of a techno-determinist. But I think there is something optimistic in what David Larochelle just said. When I was a lad and you wanted to get information from your congressperson, you had to go and get a one-page mimeographed copy of their position paper, on maybe a dozen topics. Our ability to get information now is amazing. There is a bigger change than we could have anticipated in how we engage in politics. On the other hand, nothing has changed as you pointed out; the money has made things worse. So there are forces outside of technology (as you say). Technology is not enough to overcome these powers. In the longer game though I still have hope.

Micah: I still have hope too. The optimist in me is amazed that the week SOPA/PIPA happened there had been almost no mainstream media coverage, but the Pew survey of what people were paying attention to that week showed that old people were paying attention to the cruise ship that sunk but young people were paying attention to the SOPA/PIPA issue.

David W: Not just that they were paying attention but the depth of understanding that they had about this issue was so much more than they would have had before this new technology existed.

Micah: We may be at the extreme end of arc here and might unlearn some bad behaviors. We are constantly attracted by what the next spectacle is that attracts our attention. I hope that by pointing that out we might collectively decide to stop doing it. We still have way more good stuff to look at that might keeps us sitting still. Clay Shirky says we don’t have info overload, we have filter failure. He’s hopeful that our filters will get better and better and get pure signal. Nicholas Carr says that we in fact have filter success, not filter failure, because we are getting fed the good stuff — the algorithms are working in our Facebook feed—and we are getting too much of it.

The best example I have in my book is on SeeClickFix. SeeClickFix fascinates me a lot; it’s based in New Haven, CT. It’s basically 3-1-1 + location + phone. It started when Ben Berkowitz wanted to report something to city hall. This started when it became easy to put things on Google Maps. He and some friends spent a weekend hacking together a way to post a report to a map and allow comments on it for others to participate.

City hall started to get emails from people putting up issues on SeeClickFix and asking for service. And the city ran with it rather than ignoring those emails. SeeClickFix is now operating at scale in New Haven. They have 17,000+ registered users from a population of about 140,000. This is altering how the city works there. In the book, I write about a report a lady submitted about a stray dog (see the excerpt on TechPresident).

This is an example of local civic life being enacted….

Kate: what you call thick engagement..

Micah: … Thick engagement means to me more than click and sharing, but rather knowing each other and having a sense of obligation. [Micah tells an anecdote about SeeClickFix being used to enable neighbors to watch out for one another.]

SeeClickFix has created an augmented reality that makes things better for everyday life (read Micah’s post on SeeClickFix from June). New Haven’s municipal website gives real estate for a live feed of recent reports from SeeClickFix. By the way, SeeClickFix is a for-profit. It begins to knit together the opportunity for greater civic action. E.g., food deserts, intersections where lots of people have been hit by cars.

So I think there’s a way to design for thick engagement that improves people’s lives. But it can also be used in a Big Brother way. E.g., Waze is giving its traffic data to civic managers in Rio de Janeiro, but the drivers don’t have any sense that they are contributing their data. SeeClickFix enables people to share a common location to form interest groups. Waze did that in Europe, but not once it was bought by Google.

Richard Parker: I hear you talking about pessimism and I think about starting Mother Jones 40 yrs ago: Nixon, Vietnam, etc. And I’m not as pessimistic as you are. I’d like to see this discussion become part of a larger public discussion. Thomas Piketty has begun this conversation. Big Data frightens more people than it encourages them. The environment has become a mobilizing issue. The discussion of tech if nested within the wider environment might bring more empowerment.

Micah: Richard, I think that first of all the shiny optimism about tech is losing some of its sheen. The conversation around inequality and the degree to which the Silicon Valley version of how the tech economy is working is finally on the table. There are conflicting goals: there are a lot of us fighting for expanded broadband access because the way the economy works now you can’t even apply for a job without wifi. There’s a lot of boostering going on about how important it is to open up free or low-cost access, but we have to skate past the question whether the Net is empowering those without power or entrenching those with power already. I don’t feel like that discussion is being engaged all that well right now.

On the other hand, I think there is a cultural desire for magical power that tech still embodies for people. It’s like secular religion. When Apple introduced the iPad that moment got more international attention than Obama’s first State of the Union speech which was probably a more important event. That’s part of why every day we share these amazing examples of altruism or collective action that the Internet enables and helps us discover, and that’s a good thing. We have the capacity to do self-organized, non-market-based collective action at world scale. We’re not doing it yet, but it’s a potential yet to be realized and could be a very very very powerful thing.

Felipe Heusser: I agree that when you look at a significant portion of Internet users as a herd, there are reasons to be pessimistic. What is the role that you assign to smaller intermediaries: companies, organizers, NGOs? Rather than arriving at consensus around something, what about smaller groups that push for more specific issues? In our work on civic technology, we got lobby legislation passed after a big campaign — our tenth campaign. Over time, we’re getting better at politics, using tech tools to create awareness, while also playing the field of lobbying. When we used both elements, we were able to get legislation passed. Might organizing institutions be getting better at the Internet and Internet organizers be getting better at politics?

Micah: I think what you were asking was in reference to the American political context. I don’t know how you guys managed to pass that strong legislation in Chile. What I would say about that is you always get a moment of transition wherein there is an opportunity to make change. The longer the government is in power, the harder it is to make changes. Obama was great on transparency on his first day in office, but the longer he’s in office, the worse he gets about it. You have to use that window.

We need something like the NRA for the internet. People need to believe that the internet is a fundamental part of their identity like owning a gun. We need internet lover’s leagues. This is one of the unfinished moves in our emerging political process as more people express their desire for an open internet. [This is a remaining strand of optimism in Micah’s thought: Getting more people on line, especially those with less power, and good things will happen.] Those people are out there they are just not organized. And there are members of congress that probably know that they have constituents that care about the internet. I tried to convince Google to mobilize the 2-3M people they had on their SOPA/PIPA list, but no.

Tim Davies: in the case of See Click Fix, the state is collaborating with the public. In other cases like OpenCorporates, we see civic technologies as a balance to power, providing open data so essential to a civic infrastructure. What key civic infrastructures are needed, in addition to public space and broadband?

Micah: I’m intrigued by the Indieweb movement, the idea that we can own our own stake and claim to a piece of cyberspace. As people think about themselves not wanting to be products, the answer is to think about how to be an owner of your own space online. There are many ways to do that- maybe the library that trains students on how to do research could also train them how to be your own person online.

I should really talk about Civic Hall. It’s basically PDF all year round. We are trying to create a space where people like NGOs, activist, and technologists can get together and experiment. We have a space opening next month in the heart of Silicon Alley that will hold about 150 people.

Mayte Schomburg: Although Internet conversations can reveal to us what the public is passionate about, government doesn’t always pick up on the conversation. The system is very self-referential and does not have the incentive to pick up on what is politically relevant. In our small NGO in Germany (Publixphere.net), we’re working on non-partisan spaces for deliberation around politics. Originally, we were thinking that this should be provided by the state. However, in Germany, we have a lack of trust of the people in politics who we are trying to reach, so as things stand at the moment we don’t even accept state funding. Institutions have been slow to catch up to movements. We realized that the government wasn’t going to do it, and that it’s now too late for them to have the legitimacy to create public space. If someone were to create public Internet for political discussion in the US, would the government be the right entity to create this?

Micah: I kind of like Germany at the moment having twice seen the horror of what can happen with big data. The Germans are most attuned to those issues. I like that GErmans have sufficient distrust of the state to form alternative ways to do what you are describing. For me, the state is the option of last resort. I would like something independent that is then supported by government.

In order to make the connection to enable political discourse, I think it’s important that governments create processes to open two-way channels. The head of the rules committee of the Utah House of Representatives opened up a space for comments online to share. People keep trying to open things up to a group of people not bound by common purpose, it fails. Richard Durbin tried this too until the graduate student working for him went back to school. But when people who have power make the efforts, there is a possibility.

Be the first to comment »

Next Page »