I just finished reading the fascinating new book More Awesome Than Money: Four Boys and Their Heroic Quest to Save Your Privacy from Facebook by Pulitzer Prize winner and New York Times reporter Jim Dwyer. The Wall Street Journal describes the book as the efforts of "four idealists frustrated with Facebook's control over our personal data...to create an alternative," and why they didn't ultimately succeed. Other than being a fascinating story, with drama and even tragedy (specifically, the suicide of brilliant, charismatic co-founder Ilya Zhitomirskiy), the book covers important issues facing all of us in the age of social media, the "cloud," etc.: privacy, the digital "Panopticon," the profit motive vs. creating something socially beneficial, how promising technologies do or don't end up getting funding to move forward, implications for society, even human identity itself. I make absolutely no pretensions to being an expert on any of this, just someone interested in the subject. So, I asked my friend Yosem Companys -- who teaches high-technology entrepreneurship at Stanford University, runs social media for Stanford's Program on Liberation Technology, and previously worked as consiglieri and CEO of Diaspora (with a crucial role to play in "More Awesome than Money") - whether he would be willing to answer a few questions. He graciously agreed. Here's the interview, edited for conciseness and clarity. Note: I've decided, due to the interview's length (16 questions and answers), to break it up into four parts. Here are questions #1-#4.
Question #1: How would you explain what Diaspora was trying to accomplish? Do you believe this is widely understood?
Yosem Companys: People still don't get that Diaspora was, and continues to be, something that is profoundly different from all dominant social networking sites: a DECENTRALIZED network.
Question #2: Why does decentralization make Diaspora "profoundly different from all existing social networking sites?"
Yosem Companys: Well, I should say "public decentralization," as Facebook privately decentralizes its servers to optimize your user experience, but publicly doesn't allow you to run your own version of Facebook on your server. That is the fundamental difference between Diaspora and Facebook, and between Diaspora and any of the new "Facebook Killer" flavors of the month (such as Ello). On Diaspora you have the potential to control your own server -- and, by extension, your own data -- because Diaspora is simply an open-source software package that you download and install on your own server. Others can do the same, and then you connect to them and they connect to you via server-to-server connections, such that you could never see that data they choose to keep private from you, and vice versa (and no one else could either, including the government or malicious hackers, were that data encrypted). Of course, you could use a server running Diaspora that was set up by someone else the same way that you use a centralized social-networking site like Facebook, and that is indeed what most people do. But the revolutionary potential of Diaspora was in giving everyone the option to run their own server and customize the Diaspora software at will, something not possible on most other social-networking sites. Because the software is open source, you can both make modifications to the code and rest assured that open-source developers will patch any security holes, once discovered.
That headline may seem to have a simple answer - yes, of course we should want to see a right-wing, corporate tool like Virginia House Speaker Bill "ALEC" Howell defeated. I mean, Howell's been a huge obstacle to Medicaid expansion and any other progress in this state, so good riddance, right? Except for a few hypothetical downsides I've heard bandied about by Virginia Dems I've chatted with recently.
1. Obviously, a Tea Partier like Susan Stimpson would be no better than Howell on policy. It's hard to imagine, but it's possible she might even be a smidge worse in some ways. Although, basically, we're choosing between horrible and awful here, so it's not exactly much of a choice from a progressive perspective.
2. The defeat of Howell, or even a close call for that matter, might push Virginia Republicans even further to the far right (yeah, I know, is that even possible?!?), as more "mainstream" (yeah, I know, are there any of those left?) Republicans become yet MORE terrified of being primaried from their right.
2a. A related point - this would make Virginia Republicans even less willing to compromise than they are now, taking them from "0.00001% chance" to "absolute zero chance."
3. Howell's likely successor as Virginia House Speaker would be Kirk Cox, who some Dems tell me would be even worse than Mr. ALEC. I'm not buying that one. I mean, Howell's so awful, I just can't imagine Cox being any worse.
Now, having listed a few potential downsides to a Susan Stimpson primary win over Speaker Howell, here are some positives I can see.
As the night of November 4th wore on, it became clear that your political future lay firmly in the hands of Northern Virginia Democrats. Had the progressive counties of NoVa not loyally stood with you, you would now be out of a job.
This reality may conflict with your self-image as a "radical centrist" who likes to show your "independence" by poking your fingers in our eyes. Perhaps you're still fondly re-reading the yellowing news clips of your 2001 campaign, of its NASCAR races and turkey hunts.
But politically speaking, that was ages ago. The architect of that campaign, Mudcat Saunders, defected last year to endorse the ultra-right-wing Ken Cuccinelli. And last week, the NASCAR crowd jettisoned you like so much spare fuel.
They're not coming back, Senator. For better or for worse, there is no center remaining in American politics today. There are only two sides between which every politician must choose.
The results of last week's election mean that you're stuck with us extremist, wild-eyed liberals, Senator. You can no longer postpone paying attention to your base.
You need us - but the truth is that we need you too. We need you to stand up for our values and defend us from all the threats that the new Republican Senate majority represents for our country and our world.
So let's start with the reality that the scientific community is shouting at us to focus on.
...the executives of pretty much every other fossil fuel company? Are they really any better than Blankenship, when their companies' products (oil, coal, fracked gas, etc.) have been definitively proven to cause: "acid rain, which damages crops, forests, and soils, and acidifies lakes and streams;" "ground level ozone, or smog, which can burn lung tissue, exacerbate asthma, and make people more susceptible to chronic respiratory diseases;" particulate matter, which "can cause chronic bronchitis, aggravated asthma, and premature death;" release of harmful substances like mercury, "a toxic heavy metal that causes brain damage and heart problems;" "SO2 pollution, which takes a major toll on public health, including by contributing to the formation of small acidic particulates that can penetrate into human lungs and be absorbed by the bloodstream;" etc.
According to this table at Scientific American, particulate pollution from fossil-fueled power plants in the United States ALONE leads to the following every year: 679k "upper respiratory ills," 630k "lower respiratory ills," 603k asthma attacks, 59k cases of acute bronchitis, 30k premature deaths, ad nauseum. Finally, note that a study by Harvard researchers found that coal's "public health costs in the Appalachian region alone are $75 billion annually;" while "health impacts of air pollution from coal-fired power plants cost $187 billion" per year.
So who's held responsible for all this? Where are all the other Don Blankenships who need to be indicted?
Cross posted from Scaling Green. Note that our local rag, the Washington Post, was prominent in this one, just as they were prominent in ginning faux hysteria over Ebola. And then there's the 60 Minutes debacle. And don't even get us started on the Faux "News" fossil fuel and right-wing propaganda network.
How can any of us forget the breathless media coverage over the supposedly failed Department of Energy renewable energy loan program and the non-scandal "Solyndra scandal?" For instance, Media Matters reminds us:
The media's coverage of the DOE's loan program over the past few years has been overwhelminglynegative and often egregiously misinformed. Coverage frequently focused on Solyndra, a solar panel manufacturer that received a $535 million federal loan guarantee before going bankrupt in 2011, suggesting the company's fate was representative of the program's success as a whole.
At CBS News, then-correspondent Sharyl Attkisson issued a report on Solyndra that was rife with factual errors. The report helped earn Attkisson an award from Accuracy In Media, a conservative organization known for pushing anti-gay misinformation and bizarre conspiracy theories. CBS subsequently pulled Attkisson from a planned appearance at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) to accept the award.
Fox News demonized DOE loan programs at every turn, criticizing even companies who received no funds at all from the guarantee program.
Well, now it turns out that all of this was not just slightly erroneous, but wildly false. In fact, it turns out that DOE has "loaned $34.2 billion to a variety of businesses, under a program designed to speed up development of clean-energy technology," while collecting enough in interest payments to offset the miniscule (2.28 percent) default rate, leaving the program with an overall surplus to taxpayers of $30 million. Which means that the DOE loan program basically helped jump start the U.S. cleantech industry (e.g., Media Matters points to "DOE's role in the success of the electric car company Tesla Motors," which actually "has a higher success rate than venture capitalists") at a net profit to taxpayers.
Yet, despite this huge success story, in much of the media all we've heard has been "scandal," "failure," "picking winners and losers," and other nonsensical, fossil fuel industry talking points. Now that the media's entire narrative has unraveled, the question is, to quote Media Matters, whether "after years of breathless negative coverage...these media outlets will provide a more prominent a platform to inform media consumers of evidence that counters their previous narrative?" Personally, I'm not holding my breath.
If you needed any more evidence that Democratic "leaders" are wedded to their deadly "stupid policy AND stupid politics" combo approach, which has served them (and us) so well despite it being a complete debacle in every way, today we have yet another prime example -- the Keystone XL Canadian tar sands export pipeline.
For the first time in the six-year fight over the controversial Keystone XL pipeline, both houses of Congress will hold a vote on the proposed project, giving each side in a Louisiana Senate election a chance to boost its candidate.
The two lawmakers locked in the runoff contest, Sen. Mary Landrieu (D) and Rep. Bill Cassidy (R), seized control of the congressional agenda Wednesday, extracting assurances from House and Senate leaders that votes will be held to bypass President Obama's authority and authorize construction of the pipeline.
A large showing of Democratic support for the pipeline could complicate the administration's decision-making process, given the party's dismal showing at the polls last week. Environmentalist allies of the president are solidly against the project and have been doggedly lobbying the administration against approving it.
Yes, here we have the CLASSIC example of both bad policy AND bad politics for Democrats. The bad policy part should be obvious: at a time when we need to be rapidly slashing our greenhouse gas emissions, the Keystone XL pipeline would encourage development of some of the filthiest, most destructive, and also most expensive (around $80 per barrel to product the crap) oil on earth. And, as an added "bonus," the Keystone pipeline wouldn't even directly (or indirectly, for that matter) benefit the US, as this is a project to export Canadian oil to markets in Asia (e.g., China) and elsewhere, while benefiting mostly foreign investors. Oh, even better: the pipeline project would create just "35 permanent, full-time jobs and 15 temporary contractors." That's not "35,000" or whatever, it's a grand total of 35 total jobs. Hell, why not just open a WalMart or whatever, it would probably create more jobs (albeit low-paying ones) and be a lot less environmentally damaging! (snark)
As for the politics of Keystone XL, it's not like it's going to save Mary Landrieu as a U.S. Senator. And even if it did, by some utterly bizarre miracle, it wouldn't save the Democratic U.S. Senate majority, which they've already lost. More broadly, this is NOT a winner with the Democratic base. To the contrary, as a new Pew poll finds, just 32% of liberal Democrats support this boondoggle, with 56% against. Can you imagine Republicans bringing something to a vote where conservatives were against it by a 56%-32% margin? Uhhhh...no. As for Democrats overall, it's 43% support vs. 46% oppose. In sum, on top of being idiotic/crazy policy, Keystone XL is not a winner for Democrats politically either. There's that wondrous combo -- stupid policy AND stupid politics -- which Democratic "leaders" appear to love so much. A few more examples?
Virginians’ Support for EPA’s Proposed Clean Power Plan and Tackling Climate Change
Richmond, VA – Since the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) first began collecting them, more than 7 million Americans have already submitted public comments in support of national standards to limit dangerous carbon pollution from power plants, including 210,825 public comments submitted from Virginians. This reflects the strong desire of Virginians across the commonwealth for solutions to address climate change and its impact on our health and the economy.
At a press conference in Richmond’s Capitol Square, a coalition of Virginia groups supporting these essential clean air safeguards gathered to showcase this public support and urge Virginia’s leaders to support the Clean Power Plan. Following the event, a sample of these comments will be delivered to Virginia’s leaders such as the Department of Environmental Quality and Virginia’s U.S. Senators.
Speakers included Sarah Bucci with Environment Virginia, Bob Keefe, Executive Director of Environmental Entrepreneurs (E2), and Terra Pascarosa, Virginia Representative with Mom’s Clean Air Force and her 2-year old son.
These organizations offer the following statement in support of the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Clean Power Plan:
Dominion Transmission has begun its last-ditch effort to get landowners to agree to survey by having an attorney send letters to 226 landowners along the proposed route of the Atlantic Coast Pipeline.
The letter says things like it's to the benefit of the landowners to agree to survey so owners can direct surveyors to sensitive areas of their property. But it also makes clear landowner requests cannot be guaranteed.
It also talks about how allowing survey helps Dominion gather the necessary information for the federal government. In the end, the letter says Dominion has done everything it is legally required to do and that Dominion is just sending this one last request before it gets a court order to trespass on private property. The letter says nothing about the pending lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of VAcode section 56-49.01.
In the Richmond Times Dispatch article Dominion states 73% of 2,500 landowners have agreed to survey. 73% equals 1,825 landowners. Why has Dominion only mailed 226 letters? What happened to the other 449 landowners. Of the 226 letters 189 are to Virginians. 90 of whom are in Nelson, 46 in Augusta. One would think Dominion would realize its proposed ACP isn't wanted in these areas and might look elsewhere! They prefer to bully and threaten our citizens.
Our General Assembly and other elected officials have allowed Dominion to have its way for far too long. Dominion has become much too into itself. They're in for a fight they aren't used to waging. The opposition is organized and growing. Perhaps regular citizens can show our elected officials how its done...how to fight for what's right and to stop new fossil fuel infrastructure that will certainly contribute to climate change.
Yesterday I blew open the claim from the Warner campaign that they ran significantly ahead of Democratic performance in Southwest and Southside Virginia. But I had a thought on a more nuanced pro-Warner argument that I wanted to question today.
Putting aside the grand claims of Warner's success in rural Virginia, suppose there's an argument that with the older, more white electorate that by its very nature turns out in off-years Democrats have to campaign as more centrist, bipartisan political creations in order to hit roughly the same performance we see in presidential turnout years, even in rural localities. Trying to run as a proud Democrat and campaign on issues that mobilize our base risks alienating more voters than it turns out to the polls, a la Udall in Colorado.
While I can't explain away what happened in Colorado, I can provide some counterpoint to the idea that the only way to sustain Democratic performance in an off-year is to run as a watered down centrist.
What if you compared Mark Warner's 2014 performance with another Virginia Democrat who lost in a lower turnout off-year, Tom Perriello in 2010?
For this I only compared the localities that were entirely within Virginia's 5th District prior to the 2010 redistricting, which also meant not including the split counties of Bedford, Henry, and Brunswick. I dropped the cities of Martinsville and Bedford (which no longer exists) because they were entirely contained in those split counties, these are a geographically cohesive sample.
I only looked at the two-party vote, ignoring the role of the two independent candidates in each election. In all but two localities (Danville and Halifax), Perriello received a higher percent of the vote than Warner. In some it was minor; their difference in the city of Charlottesville was half a percent. In others it was much larger, like almost 6% in Buckingham.
The result is that while both candidates lost the combined counties, Perriello received 48.9% of the vote and Warner only 46.9%. As noted, it's not just explained by liberal areas like Charlottesville. Perriello ran better in several small rural counties like Buckingham, Greene, Appomattox, and Campbell.
(I listened to this program, and yeah, it was extremely lame, particularly on the part of the Warner campaign representative, who simply had nothing interesting to say. - promoted by lowkell)
Today I attended VPAP's "After Virginia Votes" panel discussion on the 2014 election featuring senior strategists for both the Warner and Gillespie campaigns. Aside from helping to lower the average age in the mostly octogenarian filled room at George Mason University's Fairfax campus, I attended to hear how Warner advisor David Hallock would try to spin the near defeat for his boss.
Sadly, the sometimes candid conversation between David Hallock and Paul Logan paled in comparison to the sparks between Chris LaCivita and Ellen Qualls during VPAP's 2013 analysis. Now that was an analysis worth attending! LaCivita is an unapologetic political hack, in the most delightful way possible, who never shies away from defending his dirty approach to politics. No wonder many of my friends simply call him "the devil." Compare that to Logan and Hallock shifting uncomfortably in their seats trying to defend the practice of spamming inboxes in order to raise low donor funds.
Hallock at several times made the point that the lack of engagement during the midyear election depressed both volunteer enthusiasm and eventual voter participation, particularly among the Democratic base. While bemoaning the difficulties of getting Democratic constituencies to the poles, he clung to defending Warner's "statewide" campaign that stressed bipartisanship and reaching out to Southwest and Southside Virginia.
Perhaps Democratic disengagement is not a fact of life for midterm elections, but a byproduct of the type of campaign Warner ran?
In his concluding remarks, Hallock made the case that the Democratic Party needs to do a better job of engaging our voters and turning them out in off-year elections.
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