Political meetup in Provo

I updated my Financial Crisis Reading List today with two must read books:

Republic, Lost: How Money Corrupts Congress and a Plan to Stop It by Lawrence Lessig. (http://amzn.to/IbaKyL)

Throw Them All Out by Peter Schweitzer. (http://amzn.to/HLOVu8)

A week or so ago, I had lunch with someone who has read almost everything on my reading list. My first question was, “are you depressed?” We quickly turned the discussion to, “what can be done about the corruption of our representative democracy and our financial system.” We both think the outrage people are feeling towards government has been manifest by the Tea Party and the Occupy Wall Street movements, but neither effort seems to have any real power to challenge the status quo of the two major political parties and the massive fund-raising machine that continues to elect the same people to Congress, despite the overall 10-12% approval rating.

We’ve started a small political discussion group in Provo, to see if we can agree on things that can be done to channel our disillusionment in productive ways.

Let me know if you are interested in learning more.

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Who is looking at your profile on LinkedIn?

Who is looking at your profile on LinkedIn?

If you are in the job market, or are an entrepreneur building a new company, or if you create value through business development partnerships, there is a feature on LinkedIn that you should probably know about. It’s pretty powerful and could lead you to explore opportunities that you otherwise wouldn’t have considered. But it might also seem a little spooky, as it did to me earlier today. I’ll explain in a minute.

LinkedIn premium users have access to some cool features. One is called Who’s Viewed Your Profile? I probably only check this every month or two, mostly out of curiousity, because I’m not really in the job market, and I haven’t yet talked publicly about any future entrepreneurial ventures.

Another premium feature is Jobs You May Be Interested, which is clearly in beta because today it suggested I consider applying for a “Nursing Adjunct Faculty” position at the Waubonsee Community College in Sugar Grove, IL. Hmmm. Hadn’t thought of that. But back to the real story…

Today I noticed that “someone at US Government” had viewed my profile. Normally it doesn’t just say “someone” but it actually gives me a name, pic, and company name of the person who looked at my profile. This was a little strange.

When I clicked to see who that someone might be, I was given a list of about 10 US Government employees who may have been the person looking at my profile. I don’t know why LinkedIn can’t be more specific. I find this rather odd. Nevertheless, I quickly saw that none of them were from the FBI or from any other department that might be singling me about because of my anti-political-party, anti-corruption, anti-war sentiments (which are actually becoming fairly mainstream, IMHO.) But I wondered how I would feel if I thought, or suspected, or knew that my personal political views and speech were being monitored by a taxpayer paid employee. (Maybe they are. I just don’t know for sure and I don’t even suspect it.) I wonder if Steve Jobs knew the FBI had a huge file on him. For a moment I truly felt empathy for millions of bloggers and social networkers in countries where speech is closely monitored. I can’t imagine actually living in a country where I felt singled out. It must be very stiffling, and would require great courage to express one’s opinion. In the past 2 days I’ve seen references to one country where the death penalty may be imposed for a subversive tweet, and that Indonesia may have a law that imposes up to 12 years in prison for the same.

On the contrary, I feel very safe expressing my free speech online here in the United States, and I feel very empowered using social networking tools to connect with technologists, entrepreneurs, and investors who are trying to build things and change the world. While I’m not as young as I used to be, I’m feeling an increasing sense of optimism that change is coming to world, not top-down change from political leaders or parties, but change inspired by like-minded, technology-empowered, socially-connected citizens of the world who want peace and respect and opportunity and liberty to be available to all.

I’m excited to 1) continue to develop my programming skills and 2) to build social tools that will enable millions of people to improve their lives and improve the world. That’s what’s up next for me, I hope.



from PaulAllenGplus’s Zipl.us Google+ Feed https://plus.google.com/117388252776312694644/posts/ZkR7ZMDqmZm

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OnDC 09: panel on politics and social media

Moderator: Peter Corbett, CEO iStrategy Labs

Kevin Merritt, CEO Socrata, Inc. (A venture backed startup in Seattle that helps government agencies get data online and it social)

Vijay Ravindran, was at Amazon 7 years, @catalyst, now at Washington Post

Tom McInerney, Lt. General U.S. Air Force (ret.), Fox News Analyst

Mike Allen, chief political correspondent for Politico

Panelists were asked what was impressive to them so far about technology in politics and government. One mentioned the Pres. Obama campaign’s use of social media. Someone else said how IdeaScale and Google Moderator are being used in town hall meetings.

Vijay. Wikipedia’s announced move to use moderation in high profile pages, will ultimately make them more useful. At the Post, we’ve had success with whorunsgov.com, that shows government structure down at a lower level than Wikipedia.

Peter. This is about influencer identification and analysis. What other technologies are used for this? How can this harm or help our democracy?

Mike. There is great commercial value in being able to identify the right people and communicate with them. 3121 [an initiative of National Journal] is like Facebook for Congress. It’s named after the Congressional switchboard phone number. The idea is that someone will emerge in that community who will be the place you go if you are Rep and want to hear about immigration or if you are a Demo and want to hear about climate. It could be a low-level person. To be able to communicate through that person, to other higher level people, might be very helpful.

Vijay. It seems like Comcast’s customer service policy on Twitter is influenced by how many followers a customer has on Twitter. That has interesting implications if it spreads. Before, you had a broadcast mechanism to talk to voters; in our new social media world where you might be connected to 1,000 people and myself to 5, talking to a bunch that are connected to 1,000 — the multiplicative value makes you more valuable than you used to be. It changes the value in campaigns with young people, and it won’t be purely connected to turnout percentage.

Peter. So a young person may be willing to share a video or write a blog post or give $1?

Peter. How will things be different in the next election cycle? Anything you are excited for?

Mike. We are concerned about the fact that even though the technologies are billed as connecting people, they are in fact, sometimes isolating people. As more people get news from HuffPost or Fox, we aren’t having the common conversation we used to have. If a national campaign wanted to really move a story, have a big splash, they used to have to deal with AP, or Washington Post, or NY Times, but now there are a million places they can go to break a story. Politicians don’t need the Post or Politico. Their own content is now accessible. As we look ahead to 2010, the campaigns will have less and less worry about what we write about them, and will put more energy into reaching them directly. Campaigns are worried about their TV commercials being TIVOed (and skipped).

Peter. So is our democracy being strengthened by this or not? Is this better?

Mike. We love the fact the there is more you can get, and more premium quality. You used to have to read what your local news gave you. Now you can click away. You can see the raw speech, the raw materials for my story. You don’t need my account. There is a premium on understanding, explanation, things you can’t get from the raw materials yourself. I talk to journalism students. More smart people are reading more than ever.

Tom. Pres. Obama didn’t have a track record before, but now he’ll have a host of things about bills, etc. He’ll now live on what his accomplishments are. But he’ll have to justify what unemployment is, what the debt is. I don’t read the papers I used to read, I just get everything online. People consume a lot of content. It’s going to be interesting in the 2010 election, to see what role online plays vs. what the facts are and what people have to depend on. I’m in the TV business and everything is based on a 4-minute segment. You get 2 and the anchor gets 2. Your points have to come across quickly. It’s not in the depth. They do put a lot of background material up. Visual, sensual images have a powerful role to play. They can be quick and decisive.

Peter. How does the democratization of data play a role in our daily lives?

Kevin. Social media topic is an important one. I’m personally not very focused on the election process. We don’t look at that. But with regard to the use of social media, a couple of thoughts and concerns. One is: social media in general makes politicians more approachable than they have ever been. I went to an event 4-5 months ago Congressman Honda was there. Maybe it was because I had visited his page on Facebook, his feed on Twitter, I approached him, probably because I had the tangible sense that he was another human being. I don’t have a crystal ball on technology, but someone will take advantage of FB as a platform. Many people use Facebook Pages, but underlying this is a way to get into the social graph of influencers, people with large networks, there will be creative folks leveraging the platform for campaigning or fundraising. Vijay made a good observation on young folks being neglected, to them becoming a core central focus in the election process. We shouldn’t do that to the exclusion of those folks not comfortable yet with social media. Google Moderator had hundreds of thousands of logins during the Presidential Townhall. Kudos to the Sunlight Foundation for creating some interesting data sets that look at the political process, fundraising, lobbying, etc. I see interesting work in the future as more of these data sets come online, like Congressional calendars, as transparency comes into the process, you’ll see interesting ways of combining this data. We’ll get new learnings from this.

Peter. On the topic of transparency, exposing relationships, lobbying etc. Something was reported recently about lobbyists not having to register.

Mike. Pres. Obama is thinking of extending his lobbying restrictions to boards…. White house put out a letter today about lobbying rules. Facebook as a platform for candidates in 2010 — how little the surface has been scratched. David Plouffe, campaign manager for Obama, his book is coming out on Nov. 3, anniversary of election. He will say their key driver was email. FB and Twitter was helpful for the optics. But it really didn’t change things. Texting and raising money online is why he is president.

Q. Has the quality of news coverage suffered because of sound bytes?

Tom. You have to be on point and talk in sound bytes. On the radio you can do 15, 30 min, an hour.

Mike. Who covers the expensive stories? Few reporters travel with the president now. Few cover the wars. It’s because of the economics. When a paper loses $1 in paper, they gain $0.10 online. So we have more talk, but not necessarily more facts.

Peter. Last week a discussion started happening around news organizations converting to non-profits.

Mike. Pres. Obama said he would be open to it.

Tom. Mike Young can give you views from Iraq and Afghanistan that are very informative. Online, you can get good stuff and bad stuff online, but how can you tell which is which?

Audience question: how will fund-raising change in the next election cycle?

Vijay. They didn’t abandon the big fund raisers, but they incrementally added new ways to raise money online. There hasn’t been a lot of innovation in getting money through social. Like what examples of making money from Twitter. There have been donation apps on FB that have raised like $28 and have gone no where. With all the tools in the platform, you’ll see people taking a cut. It’ll be done as an additive. If they think they can run their whole campaign this way, it will be a short shelf life.

Peter. If you have someone’s email address, a couple of companies can analyze their social graph and target their friends.

Tom. The Obama campaign did that and those that did it have turned it into a commercial effort.

Kevin. Medicare, and all the procedures that take place in it, one of the big pieces that is not visible is the cost of these procedures. At Socrata, we were up for renewal on our medical plan. One item was $5 m lifetime maximum benefit, the other was $2 million. I have no idea how much things cost, like open heart surgery. So we are taking medical transactions, and stripping out all the personal identifiable information … you can do some trending and analyzing. With an Attorney General office, we are looking at the cost per unit of a prescription drug at any pharmacy in the state. Some places may charge twice as much per unit. So as we think about health care reform, part of it is giving people some sense of what things cost.

Kevin. We have 35 years experience working with email, we consider them records. But is a Facebook comment considered a record. Am I allowed to moderate it, or is it a violation of a freedom speech issue? White house is taking every social interaction as a record and they print it off and send it off to an archive. Once there is more clarity about what a record is….

Vijay. Most politicians use social media to broadcast their message more inexpensively and not really as a two-way exchange. How many comments from politicians have you read on their message boards or fan pages?

Peter. How many blog posts does it take to kill a tree? [Referring to the Obama administrations printing and archiving of all online comments]

Peter. You used to be able to target for political affiliation on Facebook, but it was taken down about a year ago. I don’t know why.

Vijay. In 2008, one side used social media a lot more than the other side. My sense is that it’s much more of a political leaning element as much as it is the age group, their social circles. I see as many libertarians using social media effectively as liberals.

Peter. Gallup poll showed 63% favorable for Obama, but I used ScoutLabs which showed bloggers were only 52% favorable to Obama–why the difference?

Someone mentioned a Twitter hashtag #tcoc to follow “top conservatives on twitter”

Vijay. The media doesn’t know how to cover these trends.

Q. what is the political killer app of 2010?

Peter. One thing I’d like to see is a very sound, fantasy candidate system. Where whoever wins, all their money goes to their candidate.

Vijay. I’d like to see something like Google Wave to be able to parse the unstructured conversations that are occuring …

Kevin. Micropayments and virtual goods might be tied together to raise funds on Facebook.

Q. Will republicans reach the level of sophistication like demos did in 2008?

Peter. A very specific candidate ran and won. Brand Obama was good. He had about 3MM subscribers to his SMS.

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Liveblogging OnDC — David Boaz, EVP Cato Institute

Entrepreneurism and free markets work. Johann Norberg from Sweden at Cato institute says entrepreneur is a hero. A hero makes the world better for people. That’s what entrepreneurs need. They need freedom to create and freedom for consumers to choose. There are obstacles to that. Corruption is the biggest obstacle in many countries. Because we eliminated more obstacles than anyone else, we led the world in prosperity. For my lifetime, half the world was free, half was socialist.

During my life, many people thought that planning could create more wealth than freedom and free market. But over time it became clear by looking at all the data and all the comparisons, that central planning doesn’t work as well. Look at North Korea vs. South Korea at night. Half is lighted. Half is not.

Free markets still face challenges from interventions of all sorts, cronyism, corruption. We’ve always had some elements of this. In the past 13 months they’ve gotten pretty painful here. Bailouts, TARP, Health care takeover. Frenzy of special interest lobbying. Obama complained to George Stephanopolous on TV a couple weeks ago that some people think he’s taking over the whole economy. He’s not. Just health care, finance, education, automotive, etc, etc.

This what is Nobel prize winner Hayek called “the fatal conceit.” The idea that smart people can make better decisions than consumers in the market.

I don’t think Obama really wants to nationalize the means of production. He just wants to use government money and regulations to expand political control over the economy. The more this happens, the more lobbying will occur. It won’t surprise anyone that lobbying expenditures are rising. All of this investment in lobbying reflects what Willy Sutton said when asked why he robbed banks, “that’s where the money is.” Why do companies lobby Washington, “because that’s where the money is.”

Ralph Nader organization: “the amount spent on lobbying reflects how much the government intervenes in the economy.”

Hayek explained this in “The Road to Serfdom”:

As the coercive power of the state will alone decide who is to have what, the only power worth having will be a share in the exercise of this directing ….

If you want money flowing to the companies that have powerful lobbyists and good congresssmen, maybe this is a good idea, but we must realize that politicians rather than consumers will pick winners and losers.

The $700 billion TARP was mostly cooked up in secret, but no sooner was it out than lobbyists flooded the hill. By the time it passed it included provisions for Puerto Rico’s rum producers, makers of children’s wooden arrows, things in Nancy’s Pelosi’s district, all kinds of pork projects. Official story is always that every project that is funded goes through a federal procurement process, but that isn’t true.

The truth is that when you lay out a picnic, you get ants. And this is the biggest picnic ever laid out.

The Washington Post is doing a pretty good job of telling us what is happening. For example, at JP Morgan Chase [I missed what he said about them.] Citigroup’s general counsel is now working in DC, not in New York. Chairman of Blackrock used to talk to federal officials a couple times a month. Now he talks to them everday.

The problem is not just wasteful spenidng. It’s the intrustion of politics into business decisions. This is what has wrecked economies all over the world.

What do you get? The President firing the CEO of GM. Members of Congress pressuring GM to keep inefficient dealers open. Every CEO has a board, plus 536 bosses in Washington.

This creeping hand didn’t start in the past year. The biggest entrepreneurial success in the country may have been Microsoft. But in our modern politicized economy, some call it the parasite economy, no good deed goes unpunished for long. The government started launching investigations of monopoly, some competitors joined the attack. I don’t like how the govt lured Microsoft into this. Washington people started to threaten Microsoft that they had to play the Washington game. So in 1995 Microsoft hired a lobbying firm, hired a PR firm, got involved in trade associations. In 1998, Bill Gates wrote, “it’s been a year since I’ve been in DC. I think I’m going to making the trip a lot more.” I think that is a tragedy. Our most important asset is human talent. And now some portion of the brains at Microsoft is spent, not on pleasing consumers, but on getting on the right side of Washington.

Same story with Google. Again, some nerdy brililant engineers invented a product that revolutionized our lives. I can’t imagine doing research without Google. I couldn’t do my job with Google Desktop search. And some of us appreciate it. And others don’t like to see a company becoming indispensable. Google got the same kind of treatment Microsoft did. Now both companies have to compete in courts, halls of congress, halls of Federal Trade Commission and Justice Department.

Two hunters in the woods see a bear coming. One starts putting on tennis shoes. “You can’t outrun a bear.” “I don’t have to, I just have to outrun you.”

We are not yet at the level of Russia. “Because the government plays such an immense role in their economy litle can be done without bribing officials.”

I did wince when I saw that Mr. Gao (sic) from China said that the US doesn’t have a Chinese version of socialism, but “socialism with American characteristics.”

Sales of Atlas Shrugged and Road To Serfdom have been soaring.

Maybe mine is an anti-keynote addreess. I see titles here like “Tapping The Trillions”.  I wish the March of Entrepreneurs to Washington was to ask the Federal Government to stop doing all that they are doing.

There are “Political entrepreneurs” who make money by gaining influence in Washington. There are “Market entrepreneurs” who make money by selling products in the consumer marketplace.

Market entrepreneurs are the good guys. Too many people come to DC to become political enterprenreurs.

He said the term Laissez Faire originated in like 1680 in a conversation between Colbert (sic) and Ms. Lejandre (sic), the mercantilist minister asked how the French state could be of assistance to them. The entrepreneur basically said, “Leave us alone.” If government leaves entrepreneurs alone, they will raise the standard of living 8 times in the next century.

My keynote message is this: farm the great plains, not the capital. Network with computers, not politicians. Invent new ways for consumers, not to get influence in Washington.

Ask government to cut corporate tax rates, remove regulatory obstacles.

Ask them to stop centralizing everything.

Audience member asked a question about how to balance government involvement and the private sector. David said the government should do much less. He mentioned the entrepeneur who invented shipping containers. The containerization of shipping drops shipping costs by 97%. Government is going to do procurement, I think it should do a lot less regulation. We know about our unsustainable commitments to entitlements and deficits. Even if you are aware of this problem, it’s even harder to detect the cost of having the government involved in doing everything.

Another audience member asked a question about long term vs. short term. David answered by saying the investors generally take a longer term view than governments. Governments usually take at a short-term view–based on the next election. When the prescription drug benefit was passed, did Pres. Bush care about the fact that it would cost  a trillion in the next decade? No, he wanted to do something for the seniors before the next election. Capital markets are much better at long term investments.

When you get drunk, you will get a hangover. We have made a lot of bad decisions, there is no easy answer to solve this. Reducing corporate taxes will create more jobs. When you make it more difficult to fire workers, people become more reluctant to hire. Even if my plan were implemented today, unemployment would go to more than 10%, but I do believe it would come down more quickly after that.

Another audience member said she thought Google did a good job working with Washington on the spectrum auction. David said, I think Microsoft initially came to Washington for defensive reasons because they were being assaulted. But once they get here and hire a lobbyist, there is a danger of getting sucked in, when a lobbyist says, “if we can get this comma changed in the tax law, then that company will pay instead of you.” Maybe the answer is don’t make your lobbyist a senior vice president, make him a junior vice president.

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Social Media and Elections: The Revolution Will Not Be Televised, revisited

A few years ago Howard Dean’s campaign manager Joe Trippi published a book called “The Revolution Will Not Be Televised.” I attended the AlwaysOn Summit at Stanford in 2005 when he came and spoke about his experience managing the Dean campaign. (And I bought three signed copies of his book, for me and my two friends who were trying to launch a political site called iCount.com — we never pulled it off.)

Trippi shared amazing stories about the real-time nature of the first web-savvy presidential campaign. The Dean campaign was electrified by smart use of the web for organizing volunteers and responding to them–making it their campaign, their candidate, their election to win or lose. Dean raised huge amounts of capital from small donations, but lost the primary, ironically in large part because TV helped turn the tide against him.

Trippi recalls his experience with the campaign as they went from long-shot to front runner in less than a year:

For the better part of a year, I have been the one person inside Howard Dean’s presidential campaign saying that we could actually win. Back when I signed on as campaign manager, back when we had seven people on staff, $100,000 in the bank, and only four hundred thirty-two known supporters, back when you answered the phones yourself or they just kept ringing, back when Howard Dean was little more than an asterisk, the last name on a long list of Democratic presidential candidates, I was the one looking people in the eye and telling them: Look, we’re gonna win this frickin’ thing. Now, here it is the end of 2003, and we’re actually on top, ahead in the polls, in the process of raking in more than $50 million, $15.8 million in this fund-raising quarter alone—a record—most of it from small donations of $100 or less. And whose fund-raising record are we beating? Our own! From the quarter before. We have an army of almost 600,000 fired-up supporters, not just a bunch of chicken-dinner donors, but activists, believers, people who have never been politically involved before and who are now living and breathing this campaign. Through them, we have tapped into a whole new vein of democracy and proven the Internet as a vibrant political tool. Now everyone is paying attention.

The amazing thing about the Dean campaign was that it had to create a lot of online community organizing tools from scratch. They did take advantage of Meetup.com, but that social network has never really gone mainstream. Facebook wasn’t even founded until 2004, and even then it was limited to college-aged students. It wasn’t opened to the general public until September 2006, and now there are countries where almost half the population are Facebook users. In the U.S., there are now 85,526,360 Facebook users. That is 28.1% of the population. And the continuing growth of Facebook in the U.S. is staggering. In July, that number was 69 million.

Last night I bought the “revised edition” of “The Revolution Will Not Be Televised” on my Amazon Kindle so I could see what Trippi had to say about the Obama campaign — he was on the Edwards team — and to read his thoughts about the rise of Facebook and Twitter, and the impact of these social media on elections.

Commenting on the 2006 election cycle, Trippi says:

By the time 2006 was over, at least two U.S. senators—Tester in Montana and Jim Webb in Virginia—owed a large part of their victories to early support from online activists.

But by 2008, online (YouTube, Facebook, Twitter) made a huge impact in the presidential campaign, and Trippi thinks politics will never be the same again.

He shared one story of how an individual Facebook user could help energy a campaign:

Back in February, before I joined the Edwards campaign, Farouk Olu Aregbe, a twenty-six-year-old in Columbia, Missouri, was so excited about Barack Obama’s candidacy that he started a group on Facebook.com named “One Million Strong for Barack.” I didn’t know who the hell the guy was—no one knew who the hell the guy was—but by the time I joined Edwards in April, just six weeks later, more than four hundred thousand people had joined Farouk’s quest to bring one million supporters into Obama’s camp.

Trippi clearly feels awe for the massive growth of social networks and how easily campaigns can now engage with voters and be directly influenced by their democratic power. He makes it clear in his book that he feels extremely grateful to have been a part of the Dean campaign–the first major online presidential campaign, even though it ultimately lost–and for all the opportunities to consult worldwide that his leadership there has given him. But I can tell that he would have loved to have been on the winning team this time around–the first presidential election that was really fought and won with social media. He says:

DeanLink and DeanSpace paled in comparison to MySpace and Facebook and the millions and millions who were members of social networks as 2008 approached. Where Dean had had a photo gallery, now Flickr.com allowed millions to post photos, “tagging” them so that if you searched your favorite candidate’s name you could view every picture taken at a rally and posted just a few hours before. Our primitive text messaging network on Upoc.com may have been visionary at the time, but just four short years later it was nothing compared to Twitter, the hot new mobile social texting network.

Trippi believes that future candidates will be elected not from traditional “top-down” “big donor” party-insider based campaigns, but rather they will be chosen and funded by the grass roots, which he calls the “netroots.” In other words, We The People, who can now self-organize, choose our candidates, attract volunteers and raise gobs of money from small online donations. He seems quite optimistic about the chances for the people to take back politics after 50 years of corrupt transactional politics that have resulted in more and more TV ad spending and less and less voter turnout and activism.

This phenomenon will certainly not appear in all races at all levels at the same time. Famed science fiction writer William Gibson did say, “The future is already here. It is just unevenly distributed.”

But during every subsequent campaign cycle there will be a greater and greater chance that grassroots candidates who are truly skilled in using social media will emerge. They will be able to capture the imagination of large voter blocks, create new engagement with volunteers and voters, and win elections with less money needed for television ads and direct mail. Last year a 21-year old in South Carolina was elected to the school board after running a Facebook-only campaign.

Of course all campaigns are eager to reach large online populations with their message and raise money.

In 2000, presidential campaigns raised $528.9 million. In 2004, that jumped to $880 million. And in 2008 the campaigns raised $1.74 billion, an increase of 3.29x in just 8 years. During that same time, the number of Internet users in the U.S. more than doubled. Today almost 3/4ths of the U.S. population are online and more than a third of them are now on Facebook.

Barack Obama raised $745 million during the campaign. (Source: OpenSecrets.org Barack Obama Page) Obama campaign spokesman Ben Labolt said the campaign had more than 2.5 million total donors.

That really is amazing. Fund raising online is a very smart thing for campaigns to do. But that is not Trippi’s point in talking about a revolution in politics and it is not what interests me either.

What is most exciting of all to me is the prospect of elected representatives using social media not only during campaigns but after they are elected. They have the potential to make the act of governing open, transparent and accessible to all. They have the ability to use social technology to energize the citizenry to solve major problems, whether through the agency of government or from private initiative.

I started college as a political science major, but after college I’ve been in high tech for the past 20 years. Like Trippi, I’m a gadget guy and fascinated by technology, but I also love politics. I have a deep passion for our country and its founders, for our constitution, and for the liberty and justice the founders sought to secure for all by forming the union, with all its checks and balances.

As I study history, I find that many of the most important checks and balances are now gone. The federal government has usurped over the past 100 years many of the powers that were originally left to the states and the people. Today, a few people in Washington wield enormous power and influence and are subject to almost no checks and balances. Can you imagine what the founders would have thought — after all they risked to defy King George III for his abuses of power — when the US Congress voted in late 2008 to give a single individual — the Secretary of Treasury — the ability to use $700 billion of taxpayer dollars to try to prevent an economic collapse? He had the power to to pick and choose which financial institutions to bailout and which to let fail. I think giving such power to one person is unprecedented in American history. We definitely need a revolution from this kind of governing!

When the $700 billion become available to the Treasury department, the rule of law was out the window, and the politics of influence were in full force. On Nov. 11, 2008 the New York Times published an article entitled “Lobbyists Swarm The Treasury for a Piece of Bailout Pie.”

Jeb Mason, who as the Treasury’s liaison to the business community is the first port-of-call for lobbyists. “The government shouldn’t be in the business of picking winners and losers among industries.”

Mr. Mason, 32, a lanky Texan in black cowboy boots who once worked in the White House for Karl Rove, shook his head over the dozens of phone calls and e-mail messages he gets every week. “I was telling a friend, ‘this must have been how the Politburo felt,’ ” he said.

I personally believe in limiting the role of government and simultaneously unleashing the creativity and philanthropy of the private sector to solve problems. French philosopher Frederic Bastiat’s “The Law” describes what he viewed as the proper role of government — to protect life, liberty and property. He criticized governments that engaged in “legal plunder” by taking goods from one group of people and distributing them to another. As fellow Frenchman Alexis d’Tocqueville admired US citizens for their civic and religious involvement and self-government, Bastiat admired the United States for limiting its government for the most part to its “proper domain.” But he criticized the US for two abuses of governmental power, slavery and tariffs, and was prescient about the risk that these could “bring terrible consequences to the United States.”

… look at the United States [in 1850]. There is no country in the world where the law is kept more within its proper domain: the protection of every person’s liberty and property. As a consequence of this, there appears to be no country in the world where the social order rests on a firmer foundation. But even in the United States, there are two issues – and only two – that have always endangered the public peace. Slavery and Tariffs Are Plunder What are these two issues? They are slavery and tariffs. These are the only two issues where, contrary to the general spirit of the republic of the United States, law has assumed the character of plunder. Slavery is a violation, by law, of liberty. The protective tariff is a violation, by law, of property. Its is a most remarkable fact that this double legal crime – a sorrowful inheritance of the Old World – should be the only issue which can, and perhaps will, lead to the ruin of the Union. It is indeed impossible to imagine, at the very heart of a society, a more astounding fact than this: The law has come to be an instrument of injustice. And if this fact brings terrible consequences to the United States – where only in the instance of slavery and tariffs – what must be the consequences in Europe, where the perversion of law is a principle; a system?

As in Europe, the role of government in the U.S. has now expanded in virtually every conceivable way. Government spending as a percentage of GDP has grown from under 10% in 1900 to more than 40% in 2009-2010. (Source: usgovernmentspending.com)

I am personally optimistic and enthusiastic about the role of social media in future elections and in government. Efforts like the Sunlight Foundation, Project Vote Smart, and GovTrack.us hold great promise. Now imagine when these and many other citizen-empowering web sites become social by using Facebook Connect or other technologies! Imagine if government data and actions become so open and transparent and social that millions of Facebook users every day could actually be involved in self-government, instead of merely playing Farmville and Mafia Wars.

At FamilyLink.com, we are taking our first baby step to participate in the intersection of social media with politics and government by launching SocialFire.com. Our politics page will track the number of Facebook supporters and Twitter followers for every major election in the U.S.

We have the ability to help campaigns attract thousands of additional supporters and followers and to run “flash polls” that can get hundreds of immediate answers to any question that political campaigns want to ask. We have used our internal survey tool since March and have gotten more than 30 million answers from our site visitors to help us decide what products, services, and features to develop next.

Our Socialfire team is talking with several candidates who could jump start their 2010 campaign by using our poll and advertising capabilities to attract hundreds or thousands of supporters/volunteers/donors.

If you are in politics, you should draw an important lesson from the Dean and Obama campaigns. You should realize that campaigns will be won and lost based on how effectively you use social media, in particular Facebook and Twitter, to engage with your potential supporters, volunteers, and donors. Since the average Facebook user now has 130 friends (source: Facebook press room), if a political campaign gets 10,000 active Facebook supporters, then through those 10,000 they actually have the ability to reach 1.3 million people!

Only 6 current Senators or challengers for the US Senate in 2010 currently have more than 10,000 Facebook followers, including Senator John McCain. Two of these are high profile challengers, Peter Schiff (running against Connecticut Senator Chris Dodd) and Rand Paul (Senate candidate in Kentucky), son of former US Presidential candidate Ron Paul, have more than 10,000 Facebook followers.

And the funding is already starting to flow to these social media savvy campaigns. Paul has raised more than $1 million already for his Kentucky Senate race from more than a thousand donors. Peter Schiff’s campaign is approaching $1 million as reported on his official Facebook page.

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Needed: Transparent Government and Transparent Media Coverage of Elections

I am tempted sometimes to wring my hands in despair at the sorry state of the Federal Government, at our $8+ trillion national debt, at our incredibly low popularity ratings around the world, even from our allies, at our lack of global competitiveness in some key industries, of our economic slowdown, and most of all, at the incredibly biased and inane media coverage of politics and elections.

But then I think about how the internet is changing everything, and how the ideas of openness and transparency and collaboration for the common good are powerful and viral and may never be able to be caged again. And my discouragement melts away. I look forward to the time when these concepts infuse our electorate with the information and tools they need to make better decisions than we have in the past few decades, when the power of the media has been concentrated in the hands of a few people within a few companies.

In 2006, a law was passed and signed by President Bush that is a first step towards helping every US Citizen learn how the government spends tax dollars.

Here’s what Edwin Feulner of the Heritage Foundation said in 2006 about how to reduce federal spending, as he reported on this ball:

There’s a simpler, cheaper and more permanent solution: Allow 300 million Americans to review how government spends our money.

That’s the idea behind the Federal Funding Accountability and Transparency Act, a measure co-sponsored by an unlikely duo: conservative Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) and liberal Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.), with strong support from Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.).

The bill would require the Office of Management and Budget to build an easy-to-use Web database containing detailed information about all the grants and contracts the federal government hands out. This database would allow virtually anyone to see how much money a federal program received and how it spent that money.

As I understand it, the web site expectmore.gov was supposed to be the place where we can learn how much money is being spent on every federal program and every federal contract. Currently the site has an Alexa rating of about 11,000, so it is quite popular, but it seems to simply report generally on the efficiency of each federal program. Many federal programs are currently rated ineffective, meaning that they aren’t demonstrating results and therefore are a waste of taxpayers money, but I can’t seem to find anything on this web site that tells how much money we are spending on each program. I actually thought that was the main point of the new law.

In fact, I searched for “site:expectmore.gov dollars” and “site:expectmore.gov million” in Google and found fewer than 10 hits for both terms combined.

If we ranked the ineffective programs by dollars wasted, instead of alphabetically, and if we allowed for citizen input as to the qualitative effectiveness or ineffectiveness of various programs, rather that just letting the government do all the ratings, then this tool could be a powerful way to combat waste and to shrink the federal budget, as one wasteful program after another faces the scrutiny of an informed populous.

Another hopeful sign is that transparent government is being pushed in several states, and many are beginning to publish their entire budgets online. Of course, it would be easy for any state government to publish the budget in such a way that the average person wouldn’t even begin to figure it out. But I assume that overtime some best practices will be adopted by state and local governments, or that some private enterprise will figure out how to take the raw data from state and federal governments and roll it up into a very user friendly interface, allowing citizens to provide feedback to elected officials on all their fiscal decisions.

Okay, so the trend towards transparent government is already underway. But what about transparent media?

I would love to see media companies and reporters to stop pretending to be objective.

Anyone reporting on stocks is required by federal securities law to disclose their position in a stock so that their “reporting” doesn’t influence the value of the stock.

But no one, to my knowledge, in the political arena, is required to disclose any bias whatsoever. A major news anchor could be a sworn enemy of a particular party or candidate, and could be using all of his/her influence to bias the elections against them, but no one knows.

Now I’m not someone who believes in a grand media conspiracy, where the boards of directors of all the major media companies get together to decide who the next President of the United States will be.

But I believe that everyone in the media has a personal bias, and that very few individuals take their journalistic calling seriously enough to be able to report on news in an unbiased way. I remember seeing a sign on a university professor’s door (he was a communications professor) with a quote from about 1910 by the Dean of Columbia’s School of Journalism to the effect that the profession of being a journalist basically “went to hell” when students stopped studying history and started studying communications. So now, instead of having deep content expertise, many journalists and media company employees understand entertainment and psychology, and know how to create certain reactions among their viewers/listeners/readers with attention grabbers and sound bites. Instead of having deep knowledge so they can inform us, they have skills so they can manipulate us.

Is that completely unfair? Or do you think is actually true?

One example: if anyone in the mainstream media really wanted Mitt Romney to be elected the next President, don’t you think someone would have reported that he actually won in Wyoming, and that he actually leads in the delegate count so far?

Instead, everyone is saying Michigan is his last stand. The media seem to want to declare certain candidates have lost. And voters can easily be affected by this. No one wants to “waste” their vote, by voting for someone that the media declares has no chance to win an election. So Giuliani is clearly losing momentum in Florida.

The young people in the country, who seem to avoid the mainstream media and get their news almost exclusively online, from all kinds of sources, including millions of blogs and from their social networking friends, don’t seem to mind wasting their votes for Ron Paul. Any online poll, any poll that uses cell phone text messaging for voting, and both the MySpace and Facebook “primaries” overwhelmingly went to Ron Paul and to Barack Obama. And yet the mainstream media for the most part ignores this.

But as the social networking generation get older, every four years the mainstream media will lose more influence, and more and more voters will be informed in other ways.

I think there is an opportunity for a media entrepreneur to embrace transparency and emerge as a trusted source for a generation of US citizens that don’t trust government or media to be objective. I think someone could launch a news company where EVERY reporter’s bias is revealed in every report that is made.

Sometimes the bias is so subtle:

  • a silly picture of John Edwards next to a handsome picture of Obama. So who chose those pictures and why?
  • Ron Paul gets the same percentage votes as Giuliani in New Hampshire, but his name doesn’t show up on the pie chart because there isn’t enough room for it.
  • Romney wins Wyoming but no one reports it.
  • Again, I’m not saying there is a single media conspiracy underway, but I do think that transparency is coming. Either the mainstream media will embrace it, or someone else will emerge that really does create a trustworthy media company, and will eat their lunch as the social networking generation increasingly ignores CNN and Fox News and goes elsewhere for their information.

    Until we get transparent media here in the U.S., I find that often times the best source of news is from the UK. I am impressed by the journalism in the Economist magazine, the Financial Times, and sometimes get good information from the BBC. In a recent search, the best explanation I could find on the confusing delegate counts for the Republican and Democratic primaries was from the Guardian, another UK paper.

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Romney rockets to first place tie in New Hampshire

See Washington Times article, same headline

Mitt Romney’s polling numbers in New Hampshire (Zogby phone poll) now put him in a first place tie with John McCain. This is big news.

Success breeds success, and Romney’s fundraising success is causing many people who had only heard of McCain, Giuliani, and Gingrich to take a closer look at Romney. And it turns out that the more people learn about him, the more they tend to like what they see. He is so presidential in every way–but at the same time he is not a career politician with all the baggage that politicians bring with them to office.

I support Romney for President for numerous reasons, but primarily as a business person, I’m afraid our country is heading for insolvency, unless someone outside of Washington steps in to cut our federal spending, our taxes, and make us competitive in this global marketplace.

Unlike any other presidential candidate I’ve ever known, Romney has the business experience as an extremely successful venture capitalist turning large insolvent companies into lean, mean, profitable machines. That takes an incredible ability to recruit the right people to get the job done, and the vision and determination to make it happen. I think Romney’s cabinet would be the most effective in history. Even during the campaign he is showing an amazing ability of attracting talented people who get the job done.

Our Congress is filled with attorneys. I’ve heard Utah Senator Bob Bennett (with his history in business) say that he has to explain the most simple business principles and practices to other Senators. Many of them have no idea what small businesses have to do to succeed. (Like bringing in more revenue than you spend!)

Wouldn’t it be great if we could send more business people (and more engineers) to Washington, who would actually have the sense to generate results, rather than to create legislation and programs that sound good but have no chance to really work. Our elected officials often boast that they “did something” because they worked tirelessly to pass some legislation. But it takes years before it becomes apparent that the programs don’t work, and by then, everyone has forgotten who passed it in the first place.

I think a Romney presidency would be different. I think his goal would not be merely to pass legislation, but to actually generate measureable results — because that is how a venture capitalist thinks.

I also like his conservative views on social issues. He is polling first in New Hampshire among those who are “conservative” and “very conservative” and I think this will be more and more commmon as he becomes better known in other states.

Romney is also now #1 in Google News searches among Republican Candidates, according to Google Trends. This means more people are hearing about him and wanting to learn more about him. His name recognition will surely begin to soar, as he is clearly now one of the three Republican front-runners, and people will continue to go online to learn more about him.

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Why I Support Mitt Romney for President

This morning Mitt Romney announced his 2008 presidential bid in Michigan. His theme is innovation and transformation. Here is the full text of Romney’s speech from the NY Times.

I’m excited by Mitt’s candidancy and want to publicly declare my support for him. My blog is not a political blog by any means, but it is a personal one, and occasionally I like to express my personal opinions on a variety of topics, not just entrepreneurship.

I like many other candidates as well. Who isn’t fond of Rudy Giuliani for his amazing leadership in the wake of the 9/11 attack? My family will always be grateful to him for his strength and grace. He is a great leader. I’m also very fond of Mike Huckabee, former governor of Arkansas. I appreciate his social conservatism and his optimism for the future. I love his concept of horizontal and not vertical politics.

From the Economist:

Mr Huckabee talks of “horizontal” and “vertical” politics. Horizontal politics means the bad old ways: Democrat versus Republican, or liberals against conservatives. Vertical politics means that people forget their differences, and their leaders elevate them as a whole. Mr Huckabee’s two most admirable vertical presidents are John F. Kennedy and Ronald Reagan. The other man from Hope inclined more to the horizontal.

I am supporting Romney because I believe he will be the most capable administrator of the largest government in the world, and that he will tackle head on problems that traditional politicians have swept under the carpet for decades, postponing any solutions because they are afraid of the political fallout for rocking the boat.

Unlike most Washington politicians who are lawyers, Romney is a successful businessman, a turn-around artist, who helped build a very successful investment firm by acquiring and turning around companies and creating new value within these enterprises.

I truly believe that Romney’s approach to governing this nation will be solid and sound because it will be based on tried and proven business, leadership and financial principles, learned from very large-scale real world business experience — experience that no other candidate has.

In a nation that needs a financial turnaround (our national debt is $8.7 trillion and climbing fast — check out this national debt clock). We need a turn around artist, a gifted and articulate leader with a great vision for change and a penchant for surrounding himself with results-oriented people who won’t get embroiled in petty partisan politics, but who will actual make the difficult decisions necessary to solve the problems we are facing.

As an investor, Mitt Romney had to find CEOs who could deliver results and he did. He knows how to identify and attract great people to his team. When he stepped in to save the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City, he built a team that turned these games into a huge success, when they had been on the brink of serious disaster.

As the governor of Massachusetts, Romney turned a huge deficit into a balanced budget, while at the same time addressing major health care and educational issues at the state level (where they should be managed.)

I do not want to see the federal government try to solve health care and education issues. It’s extra-constitutional in my opinion, since the Tenth Amendment clearly says, “The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved for the States respectively, or to the people.”

I don’t believe that a Romney Presidency will be anything like the Bush Presidency. Bush didn’t seem to recognize the difference between what the constitution of a state like Texas allows a governor to do, and what the federal constitution of the United States allows the Federal Government to do. I think there has been a greater expansion of the federal government in education under Bush than under all previous presidents, Democrat or Republican, combined.

Bush also isn’t known for identifying and recruiting the best people to solve the biggest problems we face. He is well known for his deep loyalty to his friends. That just doesn’t work well when you are talking about running a $2.9 trillion budget and playing on the world stage with the highest possible stakes. Your team has to deliver results, or you have to get a new team.

I believe Mitt Romney will form the most effective and efficient team of any president in modern history. I believe the national debt will be attacked head on. Romney will recognize that our nation will become insolvent if we don’t change our current course. He will find a way to reduce the tremendous burden the national debt places on every American.

I believe that his leadership will inspired new solutions in education, energy, and health care, but that they won’t be top down federal government mandates. I think he will be open minded to out of the box thinking and innovation. As an investor, he’s definitely manifest the ability to see where things are going and back the right ideas and people. He’ll do the same as President of the United States.

Warren Buffett (I attended the Berkshire Hathaway shareholder meeting in 2005) compared the United States to a family farm. The family members wanted to live beyond their means, beyond what the normal harvest would support, so every year they would sell off a little piece of property to subsidize their wants. While Buffet is a democrat, and I don’t him to endorse Mitt Romney, I do believe that these two speak the same economic language. They both have rare gifts, and both of them are using their gifts to bless humanity. Buffett’s pledge of $31 billion to the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation demonstrates his desire to do good. Mitt’s willingness to subject himself, his family, and his religion to unprecedented and vitriolic attacts, in order to win the presidency and help turn this country around demonstrates his desire to be a public servant.

Romney’s ability to raise money for his campaign (click here if you’d like to donate), to get key endorsements, and to build a campaign team in every key state, is indicative of his administrative abilities. His poll numbers are strengthening in Iowa, New Hampshire, and elsewhere, including his “three home states” (Utah, Michigan, and Massachusetts).

Most voters still know little or nothing about Romney, but as his name recognition increases, as the online search volume about Romney continues to grow, more and more people will come to appreciate all that he offers in this campaign to turnaround the country. It’s happening already. He looks and talks and acts like a president.

I am tremendously excited for the 2008 campaign, the most open campaign in fifty years, with the most diverse field of candidates in history. Everyone will have unprecendent access to online information about every candidate, to most of their speeches (in text, audio and video format) and with more information about their track record than ever before.

I am not looking forward to all the attacks that will inevitably come at each candidate, especially the front-runners. I wish we could have a “kinder, gentler” blogosphere. But I know that is a vain wish. We live in a very polarized country (the red states and blue states and all that) and politics fires up a lot of people to do and say a lot of things they normally wouldn’t do or say.

But rather than attack, I encourage bloggers to try to be positive, to support the best ideas from all the candidates, and to elect a president that will lead this country in the right direction.

I encourage everyone to take a very close look at Mitt Romney, whose great capacity to solve problems and create value for stakeholders will help build an America that we can be proud of. An American that will remain a great nation with strong families and communities, stay competitive in the face of unprecendented challenges from Asian economies, and once again provide leadership to the world to rally together in times of crisis, when our enemies attack.

I believed in Reagan and I believe in Romney, and I’ve struggled to believe in between.

(Note: thanks to all my readers who corrected my earlier post about the national debt being $8.7 billion, instead of trillion. A silly mistake. If it were only $8.7 billion, Warren Buffett could have retired the debt by himself. But it’s 1,000 times worse than that. The national debt clock shows that each family/household in the United States would be responsible for $138,497 of that debt–a bit less than the median home price in this country.

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Governor Romney Interviewed by Bill O’Reilly

I’m trying to find a recent video clip from Fox News. I heard that Bill O’Reilly suggested on The Factor earlier this week that Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney is the only Republican presidential candidate for 2008 that can rally the conservative base. Has anyone seen that clip?

I did stumble across this clip from last month where Governor Romney explained his decision to not provide taxpayer funded security for the controversial visit to Harvard by the former President of Iran. Powerful stuff here.

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