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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

Transparency and Public Shaming: Pakistan Tackles Tax Evasion

In Pakistan, where only one in 200 citizens files their income tax return, authorities published a directory of taxpayers' details for the first time. Officials explained the decision as an attempt to shame defaulters into paying up.

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wednesday >

Facebook Seeks Approval as Financial Service in Ireland. Is the Developing World Next?

On April 13 the Financial Times reported that Facebook is only weeks away from being approved as a financial service in Ireland. Is this foray into e-money motivated by Facebook's desire to conquer the developing world before other corporate Internet giants do? Maybe.

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The Rise and Fall of Iran's “Blogestan”

The robust community of Iranian bloggers—sometimes nicknamed “Blogestan”—has shrunk since its heyday between 2002 – 2010. “Whither Blogestan,” a recent report from the University of Pennsylvania's Iran Media Program sought to find out how and why. The researchers performed a web crawling analysis of Blogestan, survey 165 Persian blog users, and conducted 20 interviews with influential bloggers in the Persian community. They found multiple causes of the decline in blogging, including increased social media use and interference from authorities.

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tuesday >

Weekly Readings: What the Govt Wants to Know

A roundup of interesting reads and stories from around the web. GO

Russia to Treat Bloggers Like Mass Media Because "the F*cking Journalists Won't Stop Writing"

The worldwide debate over who is and who isn't a journalist has raged since digital media made it much easier for citizen journalists and other “amateurs” to compete with the big guys. In the United States, journalists are entitled to certain protections under the law, such as the right to confidential sources. As such, many argue that blogging should qualify as journalism because independent writers deserve the same legal protections as corporate employees. In Russia, however, earning a place equal to mass media means additional regulations and obligations, which some say will lead to the repression of free speech.

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Politics for People: Demanding Transparent and Ethical Lobbying in the EU

Today the Alliance for Lobbying Transparency and Ethics Regulation (ALTER-EU) launched a campaign called Politics for People that asks candidates for the European Parliament to pledge to stand up to secretive industry lobbyists and to advocate for transparency. The Politics for People website connects voters with information about their MEP candidates and encourages them to reach out on Facebook, Twitter or by email to ask them to sign the pledge.

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monday >

Security Agencies Given Full Access to Telecom Data Even Though "All Lebanese Can Not Be Suspects"

In late March, Lebanese government ministers granted security agencies unrestricted access to telecommunications data in spite of some ministers objections that it violates privacy rights. Global Voices reports that the policy violates Lebanon's existing surveillance and privacy law, Law 140, but has gotten little coverage from the country's mainstream media.

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