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First POST: Auld Lang Syne

BY Nick Judd | Tuesday, January 1 2013

Is Congress' chaos a symptom or a disease?

  • A fiscal cliff deal is heading through Congress that pleases no one, especially people who expect their elected officials to behave like adults.

    More disturbing to Nancy Scola is that pleas for transparency, even rules that House leadership has embraced in the past, have apparently been cast aside in the heat of the moment as untenable given the circumstances. This leads to more chaos, rinse, repeat, with no solution in sight:

    With the so-called fiscal cliff, it's been a messy rush to the finish, and in a hundred different little ways the public has been prevented from engaging in the process. CBS White House correspondent Mark Knoller complained that even reporters like himself were having trouble gaining information. "Sure would be nice if Pres Obama's meeting today with Congressional Leaders was open to press coverage," Knoller tweeted on Friday. "Or we were to get a live audio feed." There's also fact that this whole episode is reaching its conclusion on New Year's Eve.

    It's not as if any of what needed deciding was a real surprise ... Its behavior this week is akin to packing for a long-planned trip by throwing everything into a giant black garbage bag -- something generally frowned upon in polite society ...

    That's one real lesson from the flourishing of web technologies over the last few years, actually; the application programming interface, or API, is the structure that lets one piece of software talk to another. The trick is publicly stating what it is you're up to. In a real way, transparency has let tiny developers build world-changing, or at least really neat, tools off of platforms like Facebook and Twitter.

    By contrast, it's very difficult to plug into chaos. And we shouldn't underestimate the degree to which people -- representatives and senators included -- assume that the fault for their ignorance is their own, rather than a product of the fact that there's no good information to be had.

Piling on ...

  • Pandodaily's Sarah Lacy takes this opportunity to suggest that Silicon Valley entrepreneurs "get shit done," as opposed to people in government and politics who "perform theatre for six months:"

    [When] it comes to well-meaning allegations that “what’s wrong with Silicon Valley” is we don’t apply enough energy, cash, and ingenuity to the innovating the democratic and political process, let’s remember just how broken that process is. There is a fundamental cultural gap between Washington and the Valley that makes Wall Street and Silicon Valley look like sentence-finishing, milkshake-sharing BFFs.

... from inside a glass house

  • Clarifying a Twitter post, former Obama for America technologist Catherine Bracy writes that Silicon Valley "feels like, and often is, a bunch of Stanford guys making tools to fix their own problems:"

    Barely any of them start from an entrenched social problem and work backwards from there. Very few of them are really fundamentally improving society. They’re making widgets or iterating on things that already exist. Their goal is to make themselves as appealing—or threatening—to a big player as possible so they can get bought out for a few hundred million dollars and then devote the rest of their lives to a) building Burning Man installations, b) investing in other people’s widgets, or c) both. They really don’t care that much about making the world a better place, mostly because they feel like they don’t have to live in it.

Around the web

News Briefs

RSS Feed thursday >

Civic Hackers Call on de Blasio to Fill Technology Vacancies

New York City technology advocates on Wednesday called on the de Blasio administration to fill vacancies in top technology policy positions, expressing some frustration at the lack of a leadership team to implement a cohesive technology strategy for the city. GO

China's Porn Purge Has Only Just Begun, And Already Sina Is Stripped of Publication License

It seems that China is taking spring cleaning pretty seriously. On April 13 they launched their most recent online purge, “Cleaning the Web 2014,” which will run until November. The goal is to rid China's Internet of pornographic text, pictures, video, and ads in order to “create a healthy cyberspace.” More than 100 websites and thousands of social media accounts have already been closed, after less than a month. Today the official Xinhua news agency reported that the authorities have stripped the Internet giant Sina (of Sina Weibo, the popular microblogging site) of its online publication license. This crackdown on porn comes on the heels of a crackdown on “rumors.” Clearly, this spring cleaning isn't about pornography, it's about censorship and control.


wednesday >

Another Co-Opted Hashtag: #MustSeeIran

The Twitter hashtag #MustSeeIran was created to showcase Iran's architecture, landscapes, and would-be tourist destinations. It was then co-opted by activists to bring attention to human rights abuses and infringements. Now Twitter is home to two starkly different portraits of a country. GO

What Has the EU Ever Done For Us?: Countering Euroskepticism with Viral Videos and Monty Python

Ahead of the May 25 European Elections, the most intense campaigning may not be by the candidates or the political parties. Instead, some of the most passionate campaigns are more grassroots efforts focused on for a start stirring up the interest of the European electorate. GO

At NETmundial Brazil: Is "Multistakeholderism" Good for the Internet?

Today and tomorrow Brazil is hosting NETmundial, a global multi-stakeholder meeting on the future of Internet governance. GO

Brazilian President Signs Internet Bill of Rights Into Law at NetMundial

Earlier today Brazil's President Dilma Rousseff sanctioned Marco Civil, also called the Internet bill of rights, during the global Internet governance event, NetMundial, in Brazil.


tuesday > Reboots As a Candidate Digital Toolkit That's a Bit Too Like launched with big ambitions and star appeal, hoping to crack the code on how to get millions of people to pool their political passions through their platform. When that ambition stalled, its founder Nathan Daschle--son of the former Senator--decided to pivot to offering political candidates an easy-to-use free web platform for organizing and fundraising. Now the new is out from stealth mode, entering a field already being served by competitors like NationBuilder, Salsa Labs and And strangely enough, seems to want its early users to ask for help. GO

Armenian Legislators: You Can Be As Anonymous on the 'Net As You Like—Until You Can't

A proposed bill in Armenia would make it illegal for media outlets to include defamatory remarks by anonymous or fake sources, and require sites to remove libelous comments within 12 hours unless they identify the author.


monday >

The Good Wife Looks for the Next Snowden and Outwits the NSA

Even as the real Edward Snowden faces questions over his motives in Russia, another side of his legacy played out for the over nine million viewers of last night's The Good Wife, which concluded its season long storyline exploring NSA surveillance. In the episode titled All Tapped Out, one young NSA worker's legal concerns lead him to becoming a whistle-blower, setting off a chain of events that allows the main character, lawyer Alicia Florrick (Julianna Margulies), and her husband, Illinois Governor Peter Florrick (Chris Noth), to turn the tables on the NSA using its own methods. GO

The Expanding Reach of China's Crowdsourced Environmental Monitoring Site, Danger Maps

Last week billionaire businessman Jack Ma, founder of the e-commerce company Alibaba, appealed to his “500 million-strong army” of consumers to help monitor water quality in China. Inexpensive testing kits sold through his company can be used to measure pH, phosphates, ammonia, and heavy metal levels, and then the data can be uploaded via smartphone to the environmental monitoring site Danger Maps. Although the initiative will push the Chinese authorities' tolerance for civic engagement and activism, Ethan Zuckerman has high hopes for “monitorial citizenship” in China.


The 13 Worst Bits of Russia's Current and Maybe Future Internet Legislation

It appears that Russia is on the brink of passing still more repressive Internet regulations. A new telecommunications bill that would require popular blogs—those with 3,000 or more visits a day—to join a government registry and conform to government-mandated standards is expected to pass this week. What follows is a list of the worst bits of both proposed and existing Russian Internet law. Let us know in the comments or on Twitter if we missed anything.