Posts about Politics

The Argo election

The release of Argo — a wonderful film — comes ever so coincidentally a month before the presidential election and a month after the murders of our diplomats in Bengazi.

It’s timing that can be exploited. I half wonder whether that helped inspire Romney’s campaign to double down on its attacks regarding Bengazi, trying to make Obama look like Carter (for those of us old enough to remember) and himself like Reagan (well, there is the hair).

But it could go the other way. Tonight in the crowded theater, the audience needed to let out applause after the Americans arrived safely home (no spoiler there) and even again at the end of the credits. In the long, awful saga of American involvement in the Middle East, there was only one other time when I remembered hearing such a release of pride and overdue relief: when Obama announced that we’d gotten Osama Bin Laden.

So will Argo — which undoubtedly will do well at the box office — make more Americans mindful of the morass in the Middle East or of one victory there? Of course, I have no idea. But I do expect it to be exploited, since anything and everything — even Big Bird — has been in this election.

* * *

I do recommend seeing Argo. It doesn’t try to do much more than tell an amazing tale that couldn’t be told for years. That’s enough. It’s plenty. Ben Affleck, the star and director, passes up innumerable opportunities to play for cheers (the audience tonight wasn’t sure when to applaud, only that it wanted to) or to shove us to the edge of the seat (we do know how it turns out, after all) or to go for an exploitive political message (many others will do that for him). It’s just good story-telling.

* * *

Another note: In April 2003, a bit more than a year after I started blogging, I happened upon news of the arrest of an Iranian blogger named Sina Motalebi, revealed by another Iranian blogger, then in Canada, named Hossein Derakhshan and also known as Hoder, who is given more or less credit for helping start the blogging scene in Iran.

From them both, I learned much about Iran and about the power and potential of blogging. I marveled then at how this new medium made connections possible even to a country that I had envisioned mainly from TV reports in the ’70s of those 444 captive days and of angry Iranians in black chanting for our downfall. Argo brings back those memories. It also reminds me that Hoder — who in charming naiveté once declared his candidacy for the Iranian parliament on his blog and who went through some strange times later — is now in prison in Iran for 19 and a half years. It is still a frightening place.

Sina made it out of jail and out of Iran. He found his way to London, where he now works for the BBC and where last April — nine years after I first heard of him online — Sina’s 9-year-old son resurrected his father’s original blog, called Webgard, with this message: “My dad was originally the creator of this blog so this post is partly to say that, how much the Iranian government try, they will never stop bloggers like me and my dad, how much they harass, torture, and basically make the fear into normal people… They will never take our freedom.”

#fuckyouwashington

So I was angry. Watching TV news over dinner — turning my attention from scandals in the UK to those here and frankly welcoming the distraction from the tragedies in Norway — I listened to the latest from Washington about negotiations over the debt ceiling. It pissed me off. I’d had enough. After dinner, I tweeted: “Hey, Washington assholes, it’s our country, our economy, our money. Stop fucking with it.” It was the pinot talking (sounding more like a zinfandel).

That’s all I was going to say. I had no grand design on a revolution. I just wanted to get that off my chest. That’s what Twitter is for: offloading chests. Some people responded and retweeted, which pushed me to keep going, suggesting a chant: “FUCK YOU WASHINGTON.” Then the mellifluously monikered tweeter @boogerpussy suggested: “.@jeffjarvis Hashtag it: #FUCKYOUWASHINGTON.” Damn, I was ashamed I hadn’t done that. So I did.

And then it exploded as I never could have predicted. I egged it on for awhile, suggesting that our goal should be to make #fuckyouwashington a trending topic, though as some tweeters quickly pointed out, Twitter censors moderates topics. Soon enough, though, Trendistic showed us gaining in Twitter share and Trendsmap showed us trending in cities and then in the nation.

Screen shot 2011-07-24 at 7.33.24 AM

Jeff Howe tweeted: “Holy shit, @JeffJarvis has gone all Howard Beale on us. I love it. And I feel it. Give us our future back, fuckers. #FUCKYOUWASHINGTON.” He likes crowded things. He’s @crowdsourcing. He became my wingman, analyzing the phenom as it grew: “Why this is smart. Web=nuance. Terrible in politics. Twitter=loud and simple. Like a bumper sticker. #FuckYouWashington.” He vowed: “If this trends all weekend, you think it won’t make news? It will. And a statement. #FuckYouWashington.”

And then I got bumped off Twitter for tweeting too much. Who do the think they are, my phone company? Now I could only watch from afar. But that was appropriate, for I no longer owned this trend. As Howe tweeted in the night: “Still gaining velocity. Almost no tweets containing @crowdsourcing or @jeffjarvis anymore. It’s past the tipping point. #FuckYouWashington.”

Right. Some folks are coming into Twitter today trying to tell me how to manage this, how I should change the hashtag so there’s no cussin’ or to target their favorite bad man, or how I should organize marches instead. Whatever. #fuckyouwashington not mine anymore. That is the magic moment for a platform, when its users take it over and make it theirs, doing with it what the creator never imagined.

Now as I read the tweets — numbering in the tens of thousands by the next morning — I am astonished how people are using this Bealesque moment to open their windows and tell the world their reason for shouting #fuckyouwashington. It’s amazing reading. As @ericverlo declared, “The #fuckyouwashington party platform is literally writing itself.” True, they didn’t all agree with each other, but in their shouts, behind their anger, they betrayed their hopes and wishes for America.

@partygnome said: “#fuckyouwashington for valuing corporations more than people.”

@spsenski, on a major role, cried: “#fuckyouwashington for never challenging us to become more noble, but prodding us to become selfish and hateful…. #fuckyouwashington for not allowing me to marry the one I love…. #fuckyouwashington for driving me to tweet blue.”

@jellencollins: “#fuckyouwashington for making ‘debt’ a four letter word and ‘fuck’ an appropriate response.”

@tamadou: “#fuckyouwashington for giving yourselves special benefits and telling the American people they have to suck it up or they’re selfish.”

@psychnurseinwi: “#fuckyouwashington for having the compromising skills of a 3 year old.”

I was amazed and inspired. I was also trepidatious. I didn’t know what I’d started and didn’t want it to turn ugly. After all, we had just witnessed the ungodly horror of anger — and psychosis — unleashed in Norway. I’ve come to believe that our enemy today isn’t terrorism but fascism of any flavor, hiding behind anger as supposed cause.

But at moments such as this, I always need to remind myself of my essential faith in my fellow man — that is why I believe in democracy, free markets, education, journalism. It’s the extremists who fuck up the world and it is our mistake to manage our society and our lives to their worst, to the extreme. That, tragically, is how our political system and government are being managed today: to please the extremes. Or rather, that is why they are not managed today. And that is why I’m shouting, to remind Washington that its *job* is to *manage* the *business* of government.

The tweets that keep streaming in — hundreds an hour still — restore my faith not in government but in society, in us. Oh, yes, there are idiots, extremists, and angry conspiracy theorists and just plain jerks among them. But here, that noise was being drowned out by the voices of disappointed Americans — disappointed because they do indeed give a shit.

Their messages, their reasons for shouting #fuckyouwashington and holding our alleged leaders to higher expectations, sparks a glimmer of hope that perhaps we can recapture our public sphere. No, no, Twitter won’t do that here any more than it did it in Egypt and Libya. Shouting #fuckyouwashington is hardly a revolution. Believe me, I’m not overblowing the significance of this weekend’s entertainment. All I’m saying is that when I get to hear the true voice of the people — not the voice of government, not the voice of media, not a voice distilled to a number following a stupid question in a poll — I see cause for hope.

I didn’t intend this to be anything more than spouting off in 140 profane characters. It turns out that the people of Twitter taught me a lesson that I thought I was teaching myself in Public Parts, about the potential of a public armed with a Gutenberg press in every pocket, with its tools of publicness.

* * *

For an excellent summary of the saga as it unfolded on Twitter, see Maryann Batlle’s excellent compilation in Storify, as well as Gavin Sheridan’s Storyful. CBS News Online’s What’s Trending was the first in media to listen to what was happening here. David Weigel used this as a jumping off point for his own critique of Washington and the debt “crisis” at Slate. Says Michael Duff on his blog:

Everybody knows you guys are running the clock out, waiting for the next election. But you can’t have it both ways. You can’t go on TV to scare the shit out of us every day and then expect us to wait patiently for 2012.

You can’t use words like “urgent” and “crisis” and then waste our time with Kabuki theater.

Either the situation is urgent and needs to be solved now, or it’s all just an act that can wait for 2012. This isn’t 1954, gentlemen. The voters are on to you now. We know you’re playing a game and we know you’re using us as chess pieces.

That’s why #fuckyouwashington is trending on Twitter. We’re tired of being pawns.

Every politician in Washington needs to pay attention to this outrage, and remember who they’re working for.

And then there’s this reaction from no less than Anonymous: “@jeffJarvis you’ve started a shit storm. Nice going.”

: MORE: Handelsblatt writes about the Twitter movement.

And a Washington Post blog chimes in.

Here’s TechPresident’s chimes in. “>report.

Discussions occurring with this post at CommentIsFree on the Guardian and HuffingtonPost.

Süddeutsche Zeitung on #fuckdichwashington.

: The next day: ABCNews.com covers the tag — and finds a safe way to illustrate the story.

Here’s The Wrap wrapping it up.

And the story has been covered in France, where #fuckyouwashington sounds, well, elegant and sexy:

Here’s the CBS Early Show report on the tag:More CBS: It’s online show What’s Trending also reported on the event. Stupidly, they disable embedding of videos. That won’t help them trend, will it? But here’s an old-fashioned link.

Here’s NBC’s wimp-out presentation of #fuckyouwashington.

KABC local TV report here.

: A week later: The hashtag passes 100k tweets and Howie Kurtz and I talk about it on Reliable Sources:

Human in the throne?

In March, 2007, for a Guardian column, I asked the then-head of now-PM David Cameron’s web strategy whether the man would continues making his personal, folksy videos if he moved into No. 10. Sam Roake replied: “If it suddenly stopped, that would be seen as a very cynical move . . . You can’t stop communicating.” This, he argued, is “a new stage of politics” that is about “sustained dialogue with the public.”

We shall see.

The new No. 10 moved to new YouTube, Flickr, and Twitter addresses. They are putting up press conference videos and linking to photos of the PM.

Yes, but will he talk with the people from the kitchen, as he used to? His last Webcameron video asks people to vote (you’d think he’d at least have one saying thank you). We haven’t yet seen the PM buttering toast. Will he? Can he?

Barack Obama got to office using the internet to be human and then he took on the imperial form of the office, mostly giving pronouncements. And he now inexplicably tries to paint himself as a techofuddy. Nicolas Sarkozy also got to office using video to present himself as human. Now, I suppose, he’s more human than ever — though inadvertently; when I search YouTube for his name, the first video is of him drunk at the G8. Germany’s Angela Merkel, who frankly never came off as terribly warm and human, nonetheless make a podcast.

Can a politician who takes the highest office stay human? In this age, can he or she afford not to? I think Roake was right: not to continue communicating eye-to-eye makes the persona of the campaign into theater or it makes office into theater.

Here’s a video I did of Cameron in Davos in 2008 asking him about talking to small cameras:

Why I’m voting for Chris Daggett

Actually, I already voted for Chris Daggett. Sent in my absentee ballot the other day.

To my New Jersey friends, I urge you to take the pledge, vote for Daggett, and declare independence from the corrupt and incompetent party politics of this state.

I’m a life-long Democrat but this time, in the race for governor of New Jersey, I’m voting independent.

It’s as if I got three votes in one:

daggettbadgeI’m voting for Daggett because I am confident he is the best candidate for the office. Daggett happens to be a neighbor of mine and I’ve gotten to know him better as I’ve helped the campaign in very small ways in recent days, shooting Flip videos and sitting in on strategy sessions. This is the first time I’ve ever done that; as a professional journalist I bought the doctrines of separation and objectivity and so actual involvement in my community was verboten. But online, I’ve been preaching the new gospel of transparency and interaction and after telling you that I voted for Clinton and then Obama, I’m now telling you that I’m voting for and actively supporting Daggett (I also contributed to the campaign).

Daggett is the one candidate making the tough decisions about the budget and taxation. He has a plan to reduce property taxes while also holding down local spending, which will force municipalities to find new efficiencies through collaboration. He holds a doctorate in education and I trust him to work to improve the schools. Daggett is an experienced manager and a good man. So he has my vote.

At the same time, I’m also voting against the two parties – and there are my other two ballots. Chris Christie is aggressively unimpressive and, worse, a cynic who tried to foist a platform without a plan on the state; I wouldn’t trust him any more than the worst Jersey pol – and that’s saying a lot in this place. John Corzine is a smart and decent man and has made tough decisions, I think, but he has not proven to be a good manager (I wish he’d stayed in the Senate). But as the Star-Ledger said in its endorsement of Daggett, it is time to repudiate the parties. They deserve it. We deserve better.

Daggett has had incredible momentum in the polls, passing the 20 percent mark more than a week ago while both of his opponents fall into a dead heat. All Daggett needs to win is 33.1 percent. But his biggest challenge is that people who want to vote for him fear that he can’t win or that they’ll be helping the person they don’t want get into office. Daggett’s answer: “It’s never wrong to vote for the right person.” He really can win.

(more…)

Celebration

I was a skeptic about Barack Obama, hearing emptiness in his words and fearing inexperience in his resume. No more. I was hoping to be proven wrong and so far it’s becoming clear that I was wrong. I have been delighted with his leadership since the election, his appointments with experience, his openness to former opponents, his magnetic attraction to a center, his image. I also underestimated his ability to carry the symbolism of his election. Dare I say it: When we most need it, he brings hope.

Fred Wilson is disappointed with inaugurapalooza because it isn’t different. I’m not. I think the symbolism is important: everything that existed is passed to the next generation. That doesn’t say that things aren’t changing. It says the platform is changing hands and that’s where the change comes: what you do with it.

All the Obama fans who growled at my doubts about him and my support of Clinton can nya-nya me now. But I don’t think that’s what this day is about. It’s about unity. At least for today.

Bailout, schmailout

In any loan, the lender demands to know the use of proceeds. It is beginning to appear that we, the people, aren’t getting even that from the use of our money in the bailout.

The Times’ editorial this morning complains that banks may use the bailout funds to buy other banks. NPR’s Planet Money last week reported on fine print that would allow the banks to use the funds to pay dividends to shareholders (there’s some Talmudic debate on that) or buy back stock, only enriching the owners. I heard on local New York TV yesterday — for what it’s worth — that the bailout means “good news” for Wall Street employees: higher bonuses. The strictures being put on banks are merely lipstick-on-pig limitations on executive pay. BFD. They should be explicit requirements on the use of funds.

As Planet Money’s Adam Davidson said, my blood is boiling.

Now we have GM trying to remake itself into a bank to get a piece of the bailout bonanza.

First, our money should be used to shore up credit and confidence and we should be demanding that a condition of getting a penny.

Second, if you want to bail out GM and other companies, I’ll give you a new idea: Take over their health insurance obligations.

If you’re going to socialize something, don’t let it be the banks. Let it be the common good of health care. Take over health insurance and make it universal.

How will we pay for it? Taxes, of course. But won’t that put GM back in the hole? No, because it has no profit to tax. You want to redistribute wealth, then this will have the profitable paying for health care and it will take a huge and looming burden off the big, old giants, giving them a chance — one last chance — to get their acts together.

Making health care portable and universal will also, I predict, release a flood resignations as people no longer feel trapped by their jobs because it is the only way to get coverage. This can lead, in turn, to new efficiencies in companies and a wave of entrepreneurism (and with it, innovation, wealth creation, and new tax revenue). Let’s try trickling up.

And if we’re going to use federal funds to try to improve the economy, I say we should be using it to provide universal broadband internet access better than anyone in the world: our new interstate. It will lead to more new companies, new jobs, new skills, better government, more competitiveness on the world market, and better education.

And while I’m playing New York Times columnist, giving my prescription for the nation as if I were running it, I’d take advantage of low oil prices by putting a tax on fuel that guarantees a minimum price to both keep demand low and, far more important, to fund immediate and for-once-real development of — and tax credits for — alternative energy, which will also create jobs and make us competitive in the world market.

The tragedy of the bailout is that we could use this tremendous resource and get nothing for it.

: LATER: Tom Evslin has a different proposal for a gush-up (vs. trickle down) approach (tagged ‘unscientific economics’).

A new economy

At a Newhouse School/New Yorker event yesterday, Gary Hart said that President Obama (presuming) could not rebuild a 20th century economy out of this wreckage but will need to build a 21st century economy.

That is what I tried to argue in this post about the Google economy — or rather, the new economy that already exists that we can see through the lens of Google. I’ve turned it into an op-ed my agent is flogging now.

Also at the event, former senator Bob Kerrey, now president of the New School, gave an eloquent and passionate defense of the new media economy and how new it is. He reminded the audience that Jerry Brown wowed the nation in the ’92 debates when he held up a 1-800 number. Wow, how hip, we thought. Kerrey said he reads papers and magazines only out of habit and he revels in getting so many more sources for news today. Asked whether media are better today, he didn’t hesitate answering yes.

He also admitted to watching collections of Joe Biden gaffes on YouTube the day before. He likes Biden. But “it was hilarious.”

I asked whether and how government – rather than just politics and its coverage – would change because of the internet. He said that if Obama wins and appoints Jamie Dimon as Treasury Secretary and more like him, we’ll see “technology used to reduce the overall size of government,” especially at regulatory and administrative levels.

One more note: Kerrey has a sense of humor we should wish for in a president. Made me wish I’d paid more attention to his presidential campaign in the day.

The rise of the third estate

No one’s in charge. I didn’t think that’d be worse than having the bozos we had in charge. But it is.

You’d think the one thing our politicians would be competent at is politics. But they couldn’t even count votes.

We knew the White House was a vacuum. Congress is a vacuum. Wall Street is lie. Detroit and the era it represents is dust. Journalism is sinking like a wet witch.

Who’s in charge? It’s falling to us, the people. We’re in charge. Problem is, we’re not ready. We’ve used the internet so far to organize some knowledge and yell at each other. We are just beginning to create the tools to organize ourselves. If only the meltdown of every authority structure could have waited a few years. Then again, necessity is the mother of organization. New structures don’t replace old structures while they’re still in place. New structures fill voids. And, boy, do we have some voids to fill.

Two paragraphs from the end of my book:

Whatever causes they take up, Generation G will be able to organize without organizations, as Clay Shirky wrote in Here Comes Everybody. That ability to coalesce will have a profound destabilizing impact on organizations. We can organize bypassing governments, borders, political parties, companies, academic institutions, religious groups, and ethnic groups, inevitably reducing their power and hold on our lives. In an essay in Foreign Affairs in 2008, Richard Haass argued that the world structure is moving from bi- and unipolarity (i.e., the Cold War and its aftermath) to nonpolarity (i.e., no one’s in charge). We are in an open marketplace of influence. Google makes it possible to broadcast our interests and find, organize, and act in concert with others. One need no longer control institutions to control agendas.

Haass chronicles the dilution of governments. Bloggers Umair Haque and Fred Wilson have written about the fall of the firm, and earlier I examined the idea that networks are becoming more efficient than corporations. In my blog, I follow the crumbling of the power of the fourth estate, the press. One could debate the stature and power of the first estate, the church. What’s left? The internet is fueling the rise of the third estate—the rise of the people. That might bode anarchy except that the internet also brings the power to organize.

Our organization is ad hoc. We can find and take action with people of like interest, need, opinion, taste, background, and worldview anywhere in the world. I hope this could lead to a new growth in individual leadership: Online, you can accomplish what you want alone and you can gather a group to collaborate. Being out of power need not be an excuse or a bar from seeking power. That may encourage more involvement in communities and nations—witness the youth armies that gathered in Facebook around Barack Obama, a powerful lesson for a generation to have learned.

But in the pinch and crunch, we still haven’t managed to elect candidates truly of the people: the first politician to emerge from the web. We haven’t created financial networks of scale; Prosper.com is cute but it’s not the next BofA. We are only beginning to organize the new infrastructure of information and news; Wikipedia and Digg are fast and big but shallow.

I’m reminded of Bob Garfield’s chaos scenario for advertising, in which he argued that the old media world would crumble before the new media world was ready for marketers and advertising dollars would fall into the crevice between. That is what is happening with our political and financial and industrial and journalistic leadership. The old is crumbling fast — and angry voters yesterday helped push it over the cliff. But what now?