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First POST: Complications

BY Micah L. Sifry | Thursday, March 19 2015


  • It's Sunshine Week: After I chided Jason Ross Arnold for his on-the-one-hand, on-the-other-hand review of the Obama administration's transparency record in Tuesday's First POST ("spoken like a true academic," I wrote), he good-naturedly emailed me and offered the full text of his review, which was abridged in the Washington Post. Here it is, published yesterday on techPresident. I take back my jab at academics. Notably, Arnold pulls no punches in saying the Obama administration "will not serve as the model for the most transparent administration yet to come."

  • The AP's Ted Bridis reports that the Obama administration has set a record for censoring or denying access to files requested under the Freedom of Information Act.

  • On the other hand: New White House chief data scientists DJ Patil sits down for a nerd-to-nerd talk with Andrew Flowers of Beyond nerdy: "Data, when it’s open, provides transparency. It gives us an ability to view into the government, see how it operates. And it gives us a form of checks and balances, to make sure we’re doing it properly. It’s the American public’s data. They have a right to it."

  • Whoops! Republican online strategist Liz Mair announced late Tuesday that she was resigning from Gov. Scott Walker's as-yet-unannounced presidential campaign in the wake of criticism from the head of the Iowa Republican Party for her daring to question the importance of that state's early caucuses. Mair had tweeted, back in January, about Rep. Steve King's rightwing cattle show: "In other news, I see Iowa is once again embarrassing itself, and the GOP, this morning. Thanks, guys." She also added, "The sooner we remove Iowa's front-running status, the better off American politics and policy will be."

  • Now, Mair gets some revenge, tweeting "It's a sad commentary that self-described Iowa Rs are emailing me calling me things like 'pig,' 'bitch,' and 'dyke,'" and reinforcing her solidly factual critique of King.

  • Writing in Medium's Backchannel, Dan Pfeiffer breathlessly predicts that Meerkat, a new instant broadcasting app currently catching fire at SXSW, will "revolutionize politics." He writes, " If 2004 was about Meetup, 2008 was about Facebook, and 2012 was about Twitter, 2016 is going to be about Meerkat (or something just like it)." Well, I'm not so sure. First off, it's not true, as he claims, that "up until about two weeks ago, broadcasting an event required a large and quite expensive satellite truck, a ton of expensive cables and expensive satellite time." Actually, since 2008, when the Qik app appeared (first for the Nokia N95 and later for the new generation of smartphones), we've had this capability. And Ustream and Livestream are also easy-to-use live video apps.

  • Worse, Pfeiffer, a former senior advisor to President Obama, imagines that raw footage of a candidate sidling up to voters in the early primary states is going to somehow earn a real audience, "break[ing] down barriers between the voters and campaigns." I doubt this very much--unless Meerkat or some competitor joins forces with a start-up like Rhinobird (full disclosure, developed by a friend, Felipe Heusser) that aims to make it easy for people to create and curate channels of live video content. Even so, it's not at all likely that people are going to rush to watch the most mundane live campaign trail mix.

  • Democracy is the process of rebooting itself, moving away from centralized, complex and failure-prone systems, write John Boik, Lorenzo Fioramonti and Gary Milante in Foreign Policy. Instead, they say:

    Civil society groups, cities, organizations, and government agencies have begun to experiment with a host of innovations that promote decentralization, redundancy, inclusion, and diversity. These include participatory budgeting, where residents of a city democratically choose how public monies are spent. They also include local currency systems, open-source development, open-design, open-data and open-government, public banking, “buy local” campaigns, crowdfunding, and socially responsible business models.

  • France's government is starting to block websites on the grounds that they promote or advocate terrorism, part of what the Intercept's Glenn Greenwald decries as a "growing attack on free speech by Western governments."

  • Coming up next Tuesday (with a live webcast at noon ET): Berkman Fellow (and PDM colleague) Kate Krontiris will report on the results of research conducted last year by Google's Civic Innovation team. The title of her talk: "America's Complicated Relationship with Civic Duty."

  • Microsoft's Civic Graph, a work-in-progress mapping the civic tech ecosystem, has a new online home at

  • Announcing the theme for Personal Democracy Forum 2015: "Imagine All the People: The Future of Civic Tech." Plus, lots of newly confirmed speakers.