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First POST: Agility

BY Micah L. Sifry | Friday, October 25 2013


  • "For the first time in history, a president has had to stand in the Rose Garden to apologize for broken Web site." That's Clay Johnson and Harper Reed in the New York Times op-ed page, explaining "Why the Government Never Gets Tech Right." Their proposed solution: start a "Government Digital Service" like in the United Kingdom, have the White House stop all large IT purchases, and shift to the "Agile" method of incremental software development.

  • In case you were wondering, there is no comparison between what the Obama campaign did with technology and the construction and launch of So sayeth former Obama 2012 techies Harper Reed, Catherine Bracy, and Carol Davidsen in Mother Jones.

  • Liberal journalists like Joan Walsh of Salon and Ezra Klein of the Washington Post are arguing over how to criticize the roll-out of without feeding right-wing hysteria about Obamacare.

  • The federal contractors working on testified before Congress yesterday, admitting that it wasn't fully tested before launch. Meanwhile, the President and other top officials were enthusiastically pitching its benefits, seemingly oblivious to its problems.

Meanwhile, back in No-Such-Agency land:

  • In case you missed it: "This is what happens when you talk too loudly on the Acela to a reporter 'on background'." Especially if you are the former NSA director Michael Hayden and an activist like Tom Matzzie is sitting nearby with Twitter at hand.

  • Angela Merkel's pique at the NSA's listening in on her mobile phone is serious, writes The New York Times' Roger Cohen, a veteran Europe-watcher. "To infuriate her, and touch the most sensitive nerve of Stasi-marked Germans, amounts to sloppy bungling that hurts American soft power in lasting ways," he writes.

    The perception here is of a United States where security has trumped liberty, intelligence agencies run amok (vacuuming up data of friend and foe alike), and the once-admired “checks and balances” built into American governance and studied by European schoolchildren have become, at best, secret reviews of secret activities where opposing arguments get no hearing.

  • The Guardian's James Ball reports that the NSA was monitoring the phones of at least 35 world leaders, according to leaked NSA documents.

  • The New York Times' editorial page editor Andrew Rosenthal minces no words in condemning how Obama administration officials have responded to recent stories about the NSA's dragnet spying on France and Germany: "this is not the first time we’ve had this problem of obfuscation, misdirection, cover up and even outright lying about surveillance."

  • Edward Snowden releases a statement to the ACLU, in tandem with this Saturday's rally, which is on the 12th anniversary of the signing of the Patriot Act.

  • In one paragraph, independent security expert Bruce Schneier distills how and why the Internet, which once seemed to be a force for disrupting power, now seems to be concentrating it again:

    The truth is that technology magnifies power in general, but rates of adoption are different. The unorganized, the distributed, the marginal, the dissidents, the powerless, the criminal: They can make use of new technologies very quickly. And when those groups discovered the Internet, suddenly they had power. But later, when the already-powerful big institutions finally figured out how to harness the Internet, they had more power to magnify. That’s the difference: The distributed were more nimble and were faster to make use of their new power, while the institutional were slower but were able to use their power more effectively.

  • Noted: While groups like Credo Mobile, MoveOn and Care2 have emailed their members in the DC area about Saturday's rally, in addition to signing on to the coalition, we've seen very little engagement by big e-groups in the NSA issue, let alone by other big membership organizations. You'd think with such a wholesale assault First Amendment rights of free speech and association and Fourth Amendment right against search and seizure, there would be more concern expressed by online political organizers about the NSA's broad undermining of democratic principles. After all, these folks make a living from encouraging other people to be active online.

In other news around the web:

  • Nothing to see here, move along. Michael Tracey of the Daily News connects the dots between Senator-elect Cory Booker's appointment of Facebook's Director of Public Policy (aka, lobbyist) Louisa Terrell to be his Senate chief-of-staff and that big $100 million gift three years ago from Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg to Newark, which was facilitated and celebrated by Booker, its mayor. Key quote: "If he’d poached a top lobbyist from, say, ExxonMobil or JPMorgan, might we have expected at least some nominal consternation from transparency-in-government advocates?"

  • David Karpf, GWU Professor (and techPresident contributor), has a must-read profile of Ben Brandzel and the Online Progressive Engagement Network (OPEN) in the latest issue of The Nation. He starts with OPEN's first retreat last January (look closely at the photo and you will see Aaron Swartz in the front row), and then rolls the clock backwards, documenting Brandzel's previously unheralded role as the "Johnny Appleseed" of online progressive organizing around the world. GetUp (Australia), Avaaz (global), 38Degrees (UK), LeadNow (Canada), Campact (Germany) and Jhatkaa (India) have all been advised by Brandzel.

  • Speaking of Jhatkaa, the group">has started its first few online petition campaigns.

  • Wow. NBC News profiles Dishad Othman and his online monitoring project, which uses a network of spotters to alert civilians by mobile phone of incoming Scud missile attacks. The site's "technology tracks when a missile is fired, and -- using a formula involving trajectory and speed -- calculates a likely landing point.  Then it sends warnings to subscribers to seek shelter." Othman is a Syrian Kurd living in Washington, DC.

  • New Media Ventures has launched an Innovation Fund and is awarding grants in the $10K-$25K range to nonprofit startups that use "media and technology to drive progressive change." The deadline is Nov. 8th.

  • Is Wikipedia in trouble? This feature story in Technology Review by Tom Simonite suggests that while it is one of the most popular sites in the world, its most precious resource--its volunteer editors--are dwindling as a result of too much bureaucracy. Wikimedia Foundation's executive director Sue Gardner puts it this way: “The Wikipedians remind me of the crusty old desk guy who knows the style guide backwards,” she says. “But where are the eager cub reporters? You don’t get the crusty old desk guy out at three in the morning to cover a fire. That’s for the new guy, who’s got a lot of energy and potential. At Wikipedia we don’t have a sufficient influx of cub reporters.”

  • Comedian Russell Brand predicts an anti-capitalist revolution is around the corner, and Channel 4's culture and digital editor Paul Mason, agrees. Apparently so do analysts at the Gartner Group. Brand is more serious than Jon Stewart on Crossfire in this interview with a very stodgy Jeremy Paxman, by the way. And he knows how to use "lachrymose" in a sentence.

  • Should journalists learn to code? NPR senior strategist and digital maven Andy Carvin answers with his own version of this question "Colonials Debate: Should Essayists Also Master the Mechanisms of the Printing Press?" Note to self: Beg Carvin to blog more often.