Foglio's Field Notes

Leif Utne's random rants, musings and meditations

Archive for the ‘politics’ Category

Word Cloud of Obama’s State of the Union

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Image courtesy of Wordle.net

This word cloud was based on Obama’s prepared remarks.

Written by leifutne

January 25, 2011 at 9:55 pm

Why MoveOn Should Introduce Me to My Neighbors

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Recently, my dad proposed in his back-page column in the May/June Utne Reader, titled “An Open Letter to MoveOn,” that the nation’s premier progressive organization should go beyond issue-driven campaigns and “lead a community organizing movement across America.” (Yes, in case you’re wondering, my dad founded Utne Reader, and I worked there as a writer and editor for eight years.)

I couldn’t agree more. I especially like his suggestion that MoveOn stage a series of large revival-style cultural events designed to introduce members to each other:

MoveOn could kick off the movement by hosting stadium-sized events, harking back to 19th-century chautauquas and tent shows. Attendees would sit together according to particular affinities: parents of young children, schoolteachers, health care workers, clergy, small-business owners, elders. Like-minded participants could share their ideas about particular issues, like clean, green energy and single-payer health care. Or, if seating were assigned based on zip code and postal route, people would meet their neighbors in a positively charged environment.

All this would be interspersed with musical entertainment, stand-up polemic, and perhaps a Jumbotron visit from Obama himself. Consider it an extended-family/neighborhood reunion in which participants would meet some long-lost relatives for the very first time.

After the event, attendees would all receive lists of the 20 other participants who live closest to them. House parties would follow. Instead of discussing issues, we would simply get to know each other by telling each other our stories of “self, us, and now.”

(Telling stories of “self, us, and now” is a technique used in the Camp MoveOn organizer trainings, one of which my dad attended last year, and which inspired his column.)

I’d be thrilled to attend a rally of 5, 10 or 20 thousand MoveOn members in my area, knowing that I’d hear great bands and speakers and have a chance to meet and converse with other progressives in my neighborhood.

People often accuse MoveOn of mere “clicktivism,” of sapping the activist energies of grassroots progressives by calling on people to sign petition after petition on narrow issue campaigns. People either feel they can just click and be done with it, or they get tired of the incessant calls to action and tune out, the argument goes.

That argument is unfair. MoveOn has done more in the past decade than any other organization to build the American progressive movement, to give it a sense of identity and an outlet to flex its political muscle. The group has pioneered new models of online advocacy and fundraising, developing many of the tools and strategies that are now de rigeur in both issue and electoral campaigns across the political spectrum. Most importantly, MoveOn has experimented with new ways to move people from online to offline. Every person who signs a MoveOn petition is invited to take further action — write or call Congress, donate to the campaign, attend a rally, vigil or organizing meeting. MoveOn was largely responsible for mobilizing people to turn out on what became the largest global day of protest in history, the simultaneous anti-war rallies in hundreds of cities across the US and around the globe on the eve of the Iraq War in 2003. And if it weren’t for MoveOn paving the way, and providing critical early support, the presidential campaigns of both Howard Dean and Barack Obama might never have been possible.

Yet some criticism is justified. MoveOn’s sheer scale (5 million members) and obsession with numbers can make individual activists feel insignificant and campaigns feel impersonal.

As the de facto connective tissue of much of the progressive movement, MoveOn has an opportunity to go beyond issue campaigns and strengthen the movement by introducing its members to each other. Not under the rubric of any particular campaign or action. Simply connecting people to each other at the local level so they can start conversations and build community would be a powerful step toward revitalizing and re-engaging progressives, many of whom tuned out after pouring their hearts out to put Obama in the White House.

Introducing MoveOn members (like myself) to each other and inviting us to share stories of “self, us, and now,” and to start conversations about our hopes and dreams for our families, neighborhoods, country and planet could be the best way to inoculate the body politic against the cynicism and hatred emanating from the Tea Party, Congress, and the media. It would surely lead to more committed local activism, would surface new issues and ideas, and could rekindle the sense of hope and possibility that drove so many of us to pound the pavement and open our wallets for Obama in 2008. As my dad says: “This could be the start of an earthshaking nationwide movement.”

So how about it, MoveOn? Please introduce me to my neighbors.

Written by leifutne

September 15, 2010 at 5:13 pm

Getting to Know Deanna (An excerpt from the book Share This!)

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[Cross-posted, with minor edits, from the Zanby blog. -LU]

My good friend, co-conspirator, social media maven, and all-round diva of awesomeness Deanna Zandt has a new book out. And it mentions Zanby! Share This! How You Will Change the World With Social Networking (Berrett-Koehler) is chock-full of anecdotes and case studies drawn from her own life as a social activist, artist, and media maker. Deanna illustrates the many ways social media improves our relationships and enables new forms of political and social expression that are changing the world for the better.

One of those anecdotes recounts how Deanna and I met up in Brooklyn two years ago. (And it gives a nice plug for Zanby.) We barely knew each other before that, having met in passing at a conference. But, thanks mainly to Twitter and Facebook, we were able to connect, build trust, and grow a friendship with a depth and speed that would have been virtually impossible just a few short years earlier, considering that she lives in Brooklyn, I live in Seattle, and we see each other once a year, if we’re lucky.

Here, with Deanna’s permission, is an excerpt from pages 41-43 of Share This! where she tells our story:

Your Life Makes History

Now that relationships and trust influence how we receive and manage digital information, we’re becoming more connected, and thus we have the capacity to be more empathetic. That trust-created empathy will lead us away from the isolation and resulting apathy that we’ve experienced as a culture, arising from the 20th century’s focus on mass communications and market demographics.

Here’s a story about how building trust through social networks has worked for me. A couple of years ago, I spoke at a conference in northern California. After my song and dance, Leif Utne, the vice president of community development for the software company Zanby, came up to introduce himself. He was working on a project that he wanted to get my employer, Jim Hightower, involved with. We exchanged contact info and became Facebook friends; later we started following each other on Twitter.

About a year and a half later, Leif messaged me to say that he was coming to Brooklyn for a visit and wanted to know if I’d like to get coffee. Sure! Of course! When we sat down a few days later, I asked him how the baby was–he and his wife had spent a long time adopting a baby from Guatemala, and Leif had even lived there for ten months. He lit up and showed me recent photos, and then asked how my dog, Izzy, was adjusting to life in Brooklyn. I had adopted her from a rescue organization, and we laughed at how the processes for adopting dogs and children were eerily similar.

Leif asked if he could show me a new online service that he’d taken a job with, one that would give groups a way to connect their memberships. Absolutely, I said. We did a run-through, and he talked about some of his company’s successes. I started thinking of clients who could really use something like this tool and offered to put him in touch with them.

My online friendship with Leif is significant for several reasons. Social media enabled a kind of “identity authentication” between us. I was aware of Leif’s family’s work with the Utne Reader before I met him, but being connected via social media gave me insight into some of his values and interests. And vice versa. More important, though, it allowed us to collect seemingly unrelated fragments of information about one another over time, and to create a wide-angled picture of the other person with those fragments. Technology writer Clive Thompson calls this phenomenon “ambient awareness” of the people around us.

It doesn’t impact my life at all to know that Leif is heading to the airport, and he probably doesn’t care that I spent an extra 30 minutes with my dog in the park this morning. But over time, we are able to see a portrait of one another’s lives take shape and feel connected. While Leif’s trip to the airport doesn’t affect my daily life, if he misses his plane, I feel bad for him. There’s the empathy, simply by being aware of another person’s “mundane” activities. Our portraits of one another facilitated an in-person conversation that otherwise would have been stilted and awkward:

“So, you, uh, have kids?”

“No, you?”

“Yeah, one. A little boy.”

“Uh-huh.”

Instead, we were able to tap into what we care about pretty quickly, and the landing into the “business” end of the meeting was much smoother.

Admittedly, experimenting with what it means to share different parts of our lives can sometimes be uncomfortable. Chip Conley, the CEO of a family of boutique hotels in northern California called Joie de Vivre, offers a case in point. In 2009, he wrote about the fallout from photos he posted to Facebook from his latest Burning Man trip. Some workers were surprised to see Conley in a tutu and a sarong. The complicated part wasn’t that he didn’t want them online, or that his investors or board members didn’t want them online; it was that some employees struggled with seeing their fearless leader show a carefree side of himself that didn’t “fit” with the standard work environment. We’re all still determining what we each individually consider acceptable amounts of information, as well as what we’ll tolerate organizationally and culturally.

Thanks to the alienating effect of mass communications, our ability to converse directly with one another, and to engage with the larger culture in a meaningful way, has withered. While no one has figured out a precise formula for what amount or mix of sharing creates empathy, presenting real pictures of real lives indisputably frees us from our pigeonholes. Social networks give us the opportunity to reengage with one another.

Order Share This! at your favorite bookstore, or online at Amazon, Powell’s, Barnes & Noble, or Indiebound.

Written by leifutne

September 14, 2010 at 3:49 pm

I’m going to Netroots Nation 2010

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This week I’m making my first trip to Sin City. On Wednesday I head to Las Vegas for Netroots Nation 2010, an annual confab of 2000+ progressive activists, bloggers, techies and politicos, taking place at the Rio Hotel. According to a press release, this is “the largest gathering of the Democratic base ahead of the midterm elections… Energizing the Netroots was key to Democratic successes in 06’ and 08’ and will be important again this year.”

I’ll be there representing Zanby, which will have a big presence in the exhibit hall. We’ll be showing off the latest version of our innovative platform for online collaboration, group management, and social networking. And we’ll be touting some recent client projects like Rework the World and The UpTake.

We will also be sharing booth space with our friends and allies at Warecorp, a full-service custom web dev shop, The UpTake, an award-winning video citizen journalism outfit (and Zanby client), and Mobile Roots, maker of mobile apps for political campaigns.

So if you’re going to Netroots, drop by our booth and say hi!

More from the press release:

Speakers at the conference include: Senator Reid, Speaker Pelosi, Secretary LaHood, Sen. Al Franken, Elizabeth Warren, Gov. Brian Schweitzer, Ed Schultz, Sen. Jeff Merkley, Sen. Ben Cardin, Sen. Tom Udall, Rep. Alan Grayson, Rep. Raul Grijalva, Rep. Jared Polis, Rep. Donna Edwards, Rep. Jerrold Nadler, Van Jones, Rich Trumka, Tim Wise, Lizz Winstead, Majora Carter, Markos Moulitsas, Tarryl Clark, Bill Halter, George Goehl, Phaedra Ellis-Lamkins, Deepak Bhargava, Gerald McEntee, Eliseo Medina and many more.

You can see the full schedule here: http://netrootsnation.org/agenda

Written by leifutne

July 19, 2010 at 1:48 pm

Posted in politics, tech

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Issue Ads: New way to fund journalism, or a fool’s bargain?

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Last weekend at the Journalism that Matters-Pacific Northwest conference, Bart Preecs proposed an intriguing new business model for funding coverage of the Washington State legislature. He pointed out that issue advertising — those  is the only ad category that is growing right now. Last August, BusinessWeek blogger Jon Fine wrote:

For the foreseeable future, and for that matter probably forever, we are in a world where major legislative battles will be accompanied by major ad campaigns… Through mid-August, $436 million had been spent on issue-related ads this year.

That roiling font of cash is awfully enticing, especially in a down economy where the job category of “professional journalist” is beginning to look almost as anachronistic as “typesetter” or “bootblack.” According to Bart, $52 million was spent in 2009 on lobbying the Washington State government. Just one percent of that could fund a decent online journalistic operation, adding several full-time reporters to the state capitol press corps. To capture that revenue, Bart proposed creating a web-based directory listing all of the organizations that spend that money. Each directory page would include info about an organization and a summary of its legislative priorities and positions. It would also include links to other organizations opposing its positions on those issues. As in the Yellow Pages, the listed organizations could pay a premium to sponsor a large section of the page, which could include their own written statements on the issues, perhaps with links to their position papers, or banner or video ads about their positions.

I have a couple of concerns about this business model:

1. I’m not sure it’s viable. What is the incentive for a lobby group to spend money on a premium listing, especially on a directory page that includes links to their opponents, when they can already get their messages out unfiltered via existing TV, radio, print and online ad buys? Organizations like the Washington Hospital Association or the Washington Association of Realtors are generally more interested in drawing public attention to the issues as they frame them and often shy away from attention to themselves. That’s why there are so many “astroturf” (fake grassroots) front groups. This raises questions about who the intended users of this directory would be. The general public, or political insiders? For the general public, such a directory would be a great resource, bringing more transparency to the murky sausage-making that happens in Olympia. But those advertisers aren’t promoting transparency with their dollars. They’re trying to sway legislators’ votes, which too often means clouding the issues by rallying public opinion around hot buttons like “big government,” “cap-and-tax,” and “socialism!” If, however, the site is targeted at political insiders, maybe a subscription model, or a freemium service would be better.

2. Increasing reliance on issue-ad dollars to fund political journalism may be bad for political journalism (and for democracy). Lobby groups are boosting their ad spending for a reason. It gives them a platform to deliver their messages directly to the public, unfiltered by journalistic scrutiny. The vast (and growing) majority of that money is coming from well-heeled interests often pushing messages that are very harmful to the public and the planet. Consider, for example, the barrage of ads last year against Obama’s healthcare reform proposal, or the Employee Free Choice Act, or the campaigns greenwashing nuclear power, so-called “clean coal,” and companies like Exxon and BP.

Such ads make this progressive’s skin crawl. And the FCC can’t regulate them for truth the way the FDA regulates health claims or the FTC polices truth-in-advertising for consumer products. I fear that creating more real-estate for such messages will outweigh the public good from the journalism those ads help to underwrite.

I realize it may not sound like it, but I’m a staunch advocate of free speech, an actual card-carrying member of the ACLU. And I’m not naive enough to think I can just wish those ads away.

What we need is to reinstate the Fairness Doctrine for broadcast media. For online media like the lobbying directory Bart proposes, we need a code of ethics and some new practices around truth-in-advertising. I’d suggest:

  1. All advertising must be clearly marked as paid-for by the sponsor, for obvious reasons; and
  2. User comments should be enabled on all political ads. User comments would allow advertisers’ claims to be challenged in the same forum where they appear, and would engage the audience actively in the discussion/debate on the issues. Some online ad networks, including Federated Media, have tested ads that enable user comments. I would personally be impressed with advertisers who are willing to engage in a conversation with their audience in this way. But I have doubts about it’s attractiveness to most of the big money advertisers, which brings us right back to square one.

I commend Bart’s initiative. We are all desperately seeking new business models to fund the political journalism that is so vital to a functioning democracy, and drinking from the firehose of issue ad dollars is tempting. But unless we can come up with effective ways to safeguard against unethical ads and promote greater transparency, we may be making a fool’s bargain.

Written by leifutne

January 13, 2010 at 6:25 pm

Lord Monckton’s Dangerous Denial

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A few days ago a friend forwarded me a link to this video of a speech by noted climate change denier Lord Christopher Monckton of Brenchley, asking what I thought of it. I watched that entire video — all 95 minutes of it — and in short, I think it’s bunk. Monckton is such a charlatan I hesitate to even dignify his buffoonery with a response. However, my friend asked me earnestly what I thought of the presentation, so I wanted to respond earnestly.

Also, it’s been awhile since I’ve taken a deeper look at the climate deniers’ current arguments. (I usually just avoid them as a waste of time.) And another friend sent me the link to a shorter video clip from the end of Monckton’s talk (see video at bottom), where he describes the Copenhagen treaty as a threat to “democracy” and “freedom.” So I figured this would be a good chance to brush up on my response.

While I cringe at most of Monckton’s nasty one-liners — characterizing environmentalists as a “communistic” murderous faction bent on world government, or mocking Al Gore’s accent (“Nahn Lahs”) — his presentation of the science does seem impressive on its face. But I know that the serious scientific community has long considered him a dangerous fraud with a talent for political theater.

Since, like Lord Monckton, I’m not a scientist, I can’t pretend to be qualified to debunk his claims point-by-point. I don’t even understand many of his graphs and formulas. But as one of his critics points out, “just because somebody uses a lot of numbers and formulas, that doesn’t make their analysis either scientific or credible.” And there are many more voices in the scientific community (real scientists, no less!) that I find far more credible than Monckton.

So I asked around a bit. No one seems to have yet done a thorough response to Monckton’s entire 10/14 speech in St. Paul, but I found a few useful links that address different pieces of his presentation. The first is a response to his statement in the video below, which has been making the rounds of the right-wing blogosphere. The other links discuss some of the bogus scientific claims he has been recycling for years — many of which showed up in his speech — and his decidedly non-scientific background.

1) PolitiFact: British climate-change skeptic says Copenhagen treaty threatens “democracy,” “freedom” PolitiFact, Oct 20, 2009
This piece fact-checks Monckton’s statement about the Copenhagen treaty with numerous academics and diplomats. According to PolitiFact’s Truth-o-Meter, Monckton’s whoppers earn a “pants-on-fire” rating.

2) In Congressional Hearings, Amateurs Invited to Confuse Climate Science Stacy Morford, SolveClimate, Mar 27, 2009

3) American Physical Society stomps on Monckton disinformation Climate Progress, July 19, 2008

4) This is a dazzling debunking of climate change science. It is also wildly wrong.
Deniers are cock-a-hoop at an aristocrat’s claims that global warming is a UN hoax. But the physics is bafflingly bad.
George Monbiot, The Guardian, Tuesday 14 November 2006

5) Christopher Monckton the “Viscount of Brenchley”
DeSmogBlog.com

To put Monckton’s role in the climate “debate” into perspective, here’s John Holdren, the White House science adviser, who said at a conference late last year:

Members of the public who are tempted to be swayed by this vocal fringe should ask themselves how it could be, if human-caused climate change is just a hoax, that the leaderships of the national academies of sciences of every country in the world that has one are repeatedly on record saying that global climate change is real, dangerous, caused mainly by humans, and reason for early and concerted action to reduce those causes; that this is also the overwhelming consensus view among the faculty members of the earth sciences departments at every major university in the world.

The fact is that anybody who could believe that the cream of the part of the world scientific community that has actually studied this phenomenon could be co-opted by hoaxers or suffering from mass hysteria is just not thinking clearly.

UPDATE: Here are two more links to useful resources critiquing Monckton’s “science” (thanks to Brad at Hill Heat):

Written by leifutne

October 27, 2009 at 4:21 pm

Join Blog Action Day 2009: Climate Change

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This Thursday, October 15, is Blog Action Day 2009, and the theme is climate change. Join me and more than 6,000 other bloggers around the globe as we do some major collective consciousness-raising about climate science, climate solutions, and the UN climate negotiations coming up in December in Copenhagen.

Written by leifutne

October 13, 2009 at 11:37 am

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