Sunday, September 7, 2008

Who called?

I'm feeling really down about the new polling numbers . What is happening? Why is this race so close?

I'm thinking about places to hide and weep, when my phone rings. Its Hope. She's calling from the Obama campaign to invite me to the opening of a field office. She's a volunteer.

Things seem a little better again...

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Playing with "lifestreaming"

After reading this article about "lifestreaming", I got a little curious.

Lifestreaming is apparently a name for software that aggregates all the feeds that you create on the web. For example, your posts, your blog posts, your Flickr posts, your Facebook status posts, etc. all have RSS feeds, and you can tell your lifestreaming service to automatically aggregate all those feeds to create a kind of uber blog.

To show that its different from a blog, some are experimenting with different layouts, such as posts that scroll horizontally like a timeline rather than vertically like a traditional blog.

I'm not really sure what use they are. I could see how it could be usefull for me to look at my own "lifestream" to remember something important I tagged or something on the Internets. But I'm not sure how other people would use a person's lifestream. Or why they would bother.

But in the interests of finding out, I made one, here. So far I'm still not sure why someone else might want to read it, but it is kind of fun seeing all the stuff I've been posting. Heck, its got me posting two blog posts in a row!

Perhaps, though, that's only productivity borne of novelty. We'll see!

GAL Justice

I've been learning about discussions of Global Administrative Law, which is a legal framework for understanding all the various global bodies that now create so many regulations and standards that are important for how our global society works.

I ran across this article on CNN today about a Justice Department prosecution of individuals who had stolen 40 million credit card numbers.

The article points out that the crime is a global one. "Three of the defendants are from the United States; three are from Estonia; three are from Ukraine, two are from China and one is from Belarus."

The individuals were apparently prosecuted under American law. I'd be curious to know how effective American law is at prosecuting people outside of America who commit crimes like this. Are other countries bound to extradite the perps? Is there an automatic procedure, or does every extradition have to be negotiated individually?

When more crimes can be global like this, what structures of justice are most effective for protecting the rights of the accused, punishing guilty people, and even deciding what the rules for a global justice system should be? Who has the power?

Monday, August 4, 2008

Offshore drilling is useless.

From TIME magazine:

The Bush Administration estimates that expanded offshore drilling could increase oil production by 200,000 bbl. per day by 2030. We use about 20 million bbl. per day, so that would meet about 1% of our demand two decades from now.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Defending the New Yorker cover

After reading this article on WireTap magazine criticizing the recent New Yorker cover with the Obamas. Among other things, the article considers the image to be not satire but racism veiled as irony. One comment suggested that the image ought to be contained in the thought bubble of a bigot, to make explicitly clear that the image is "satire". But after reflecting on what the image says, as I should have already, I have come to appreciate the image as I think it was intended - a satire that challenged its readers to make their own judgments, and that implicates all of us in perpetuating the stereotypes it depicts, rather than blaming them on an imaginary bigot.

Good satire challenges the reader's own responsibility to the issue. If the New Yorker cover had a thought bubble from a "Fox News Exec" or a white hillbilly to clarify that the New Yorker does not believe these things about the Obamas, the reader would be excused from considering their own responsibility in propagating the false allegations and stereotypes. "Oh," we might think, "the New Yorker is not saying that I think this, or that our society is painting this picture". By blaming the racist images on another, the cover would excuse us from confronting our own complicity in propogating these ideas, and from considering how we out to respond to them on a personal level (Actually, the same cartoon with a thought bubble around it would be the real piece of racism).

Satire looses its bite when we contextualize it out of its meaning. The most famous piece of satire in perhaps all of English literature is Jonathan Swift's, "A Modest Proposal", in which he suggests that Irish babies ought to be eaten to control the island's population. At no point does he suggest that he's only joking. He also does not provide a literary thought bubble, such as "The following is what a bad person might say". He presents his case about baby eating and relies on the intelligence and morality of the reader to figure out that his piece is satire.

This New Yorker cover challenges us to confront our own stereotypes and make our own judgments. It neither blames the stereotypes on someone other than the reader nor relieves us of the responsibility of thinking about, understanding and then responding to the image ourselves.

When I first saw the cover, I, too, was shocked. But upon reflection, I think have learned a little about stereotypes and my own and my society's often unknowing role in propogating them. And isn't that exactly the point of good satire?

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Governance without Government with Al Gore

Maybe you have seen Al Gore's Challenge to the American people. We should come together as a county and abandon oil in 10 years. There are some interesting aspects in the speech that relate to expanding notions of what counts as governance.

For example, the video looks a great deal like what such a speech would look like if an elected leader had made it. American flags fill the back of the video. He is wearing a dark grey suit and a plain dark red tie, a favorite of Presidential candidates and Presidents alike. The video's framing suggests an official act of government.

Mr. Gore's language also links his challenge to Presidential acts of the past. He explicitly compares his challenge to President Kennedy's successful appeal to send an American to the moon.

The address is almost Presidential. It has the potential to guide viewers to link this challenge with official acts of government, and to view Al Gore's appeal almost like an appeal by government. With Congress and the President suffering historically low approval ratings, what does it mean when other leaders reach out to the country? It reminds me a little of how many of us found more comfort from Rudy Giuliani than the President after the attacks in New York City of 2001.

In both of these cases, it seems the institutions of national government have not filled the needs that many around the county feel. And so we turn to others who we think will lead our governance better than our government is doing.

Its curious that there is a distinction between governance and government, and that the latter is not always doing the former, and that the governed will search for their own sources of governance when their government is getting them what they want (and there are probably plenty of dangers with a situation like that, as well as opportunities).

But abstractions aside, its a little frightening that its happening now. Why is the national government having such a difficult time responding to an increasingly urgent crisis?

Here's the speech (And here's to hoping that we accept the challenge!):

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Online organizing against lifting the ban

Online organizing, with petitions, facebook groups and I recently heard about a Twitter petition, are one way to raise your voice (although don't stop there!).

Here is one petition against lifting the ban on drilling for more offshore oil. If you find others, please post them in the comments.

Only a dysfuctional system would drill for more

CNN reports that Al Gore has come out strongly opposed to drilling for more oil.

"It is only a truly dysfunctional system that would buy into the perverse logic that the short-term answer to high gasoline prices is drilling for more oil 10 years from now," Gore said.

Mr. Gore puts very well what many of us have been wanting so badly to articulate. Another way to say it is to adjust an old truism - The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result. And the definition of insanity that gets you put away for being a danger to yourself and others is doing the same destructive thing over and over and expecting a different result.

To cure an addiction, you don't give yourself "just a little more" of your drug of choice, you find ways to take yourself off of it entirely.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

CNN and Snow on a fine line

CNN may not have learned much from yesterday's NYTimes
about media independence.

The New York Times reported that the Pentagon and the Administration have been promoting their message about the Iraq war through the supposedly independent analysts that all of the major news outlets have been employing.

There is nothing wrong with the government trying to get its message out to the public. The problem is this: The news media and the government cultivated an illusion that these individuals were in fact independent voices. They wore the skin of unimpeachable and objective observers of world events. But they were in fact carefully cultivated by the administration to articulate a specific position on Iraq and the conflict there.

And now CNN has hired Tony Snow, former White House Press Secretary, as a political contributor. Perhaps they hired him explicitly to bring a conservative voice to the network. But I hope that CNN is very careful about the kind of commentary they ask from him.

Larry King asked him who would win in November. Tony Snow replied, "I think [Sen. John] McCain's going to win, actually, because I think security and the economy both break his way."

Statements like this are fine if Mr. Snow is clearly portrayed as an advocate and not an objective analyst of political affairs. But it seems like it would be quite easy for him to take on the air of an analyst. At that point, statements of advocacy masked as analysis become at least a little pernicious.

Monday, April 21, 2008

McCain's Borrow and Spend Bill

S. 2890 a bill introduced by Sen. John McCain.

OpenCongress describes this bill as intended "to amend the Internal Revenue Code of 1986 to provide for a highway fuel tax holiday." The bill will eliminate the gas tax between Memorial Day and Labor Day of 2008.

Even McCain acknowledges that the money of the gas tax goes to something useful. So to make up the difference, his bill will replace the funds lost from the tax with money from the General Treasury. In essence, Sen. McCain is borrowing money from an already cash strapped federal government that is paying for two wars, huge tax cuts for the wealthy, and out-of-control defense spending.

Once again, a leader of the Republican Party is borrowing money from the government and tax-paying citizens to fund a project with only short term benefits and long term negative economic and environmental consequences.

Some complain that the Democratic party likes to "tax and spend". As this bill demonstrates, the Republican party is just as fond of spending (if not more so), but it gets shy when it comes to asking for the funds to pay for its adventures in foreign countries.

Proposing taxes sufficient to their spending would force the GOP to be accountable to an American public that is reluctant to have its money spent on frivolous projects. Instead, the GOP has developed a penchant for cutting taxes and hiding its spending by borrowing.

It borrows from social programs like education and social security. It borrows from the health of the environment. It borrows from workers' livelihoods. It borrows from the resources and the people that the United States needs to rely on in the future.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Collaborative law-making, Law professors debate and a web 2.0 project creates

Penn Law Professors debate collaborative environmental law-making

Here are their arguments, as I understand them:

Coglianese argues that the purpose of environmental law-making should be the greatest public good, and that collaborative law-making processes become dedicated not to the public good, but to making a deal among competing interests. The results of such processes then often reflect the lowest common denominator to which parties could agree.

Orts argues that command-and-control statutory processes for environmental law-making are just as dominated by deal-making as collaborative processes, but at least the latter invites deal-making into the open. The principle weakness of command-and-control law-making is that (1) law-makers do not have all the information that they would need to make a good decision and a collaborative process would find more information and that (2) policy decisions are value judgments and collaborative processes can enable those who hold opposing values to negotiate a settlement, rather than allowing the decision to be made by third-party policy-makers.

As a partisan of Wiki-wisdom and participatory civil society, I lean towards Orts at first. But Coglianese's criticisms strike several serious blows. For example, I can accept that many policy decisions are values judgments that can't be decided by "experts". When the law-makers are not elected by and accountable to the public, then I would agree that these individuals should not adjudicate the values of a community they do not legitimately represent. But if they are elected officials, they are not alien "experts", but rather individuals chosen precisely to make these value judgments on behalf of the community. In the end I am torn between their two arguments.

So to cut the gordion knot, I'll just point to a different model of collaborative law-making. (Whew. Two paths diverged and I left the forest) At the Sunlight Foundation has written a piece of proposed legislation entitled, "Transparency in Government Act". The bill's text is written like blog entries - un-editable to users. But there is endless space for comments next to the text. And the bill's authors are free to incorporate or not incorporate comments into their text.

This model escapes the deal-making, lowest-common-denominator-finding problem that Coglianese associates with collaborative law-making. How? It says, "Forget you. This is my bill, and it will say exactly what I want it to say". But it is collaborative in two senses. First, it is collaborative in the sense that the software and mission of the site invite participation from internet users. Second, the bill takes shape in public and outside of the traditional avenues of bill creation such as closed Congressional legislative shops.

In this way, does not dilute its strength through collaboration, while at the same time earning the benefits of public participation, debate, fact-gathering and perspective-enlarging.

A caveat: the process is an iterative one. It supplements rather than replaces traditional legislative processes, because its bill must still be introduced, accepted and legitimized by a representatives of the entire community.

I'm so excited about and the prospect of open-source, publicly created legislation that it seems likely there will be more about it on this blog....


Too much division of labor causes a dearth of democracy?

John Dunn in his book Democracy. A History quotes the French revolutionary theorist, the Abbe Sieyes,

The more a society advances in the arts of trade and production, the moore we see the work connected to public functions should, like private employments, be carried out less expensively and more effectively by men who make it their exclusive occupation.

For one thing, the quote illustrates that Marx was not the first theorist of capitalism to influence and inspire revolutionary thought. Dunn points out that Sieyes' determination that public offices should be held by career public officials in an advanced society comes directly from Adam Smith and his theories of the division of labor.

And today, public functions are often carried out by men and women who exclusively occupy them. Our vision of modern democracy is deeply intertwined with this vision of divided labor throughout society. This vision contrasts sharply with democracy's first fans. In ancient Athens, each citizen (of course, those citizens were only upper class wealthy males) had a responsibility to participate in public life. Today many people shy away from participating in public roles that reach outside of their job description.

What does it mean for a state with democratic aspirations to nurture a culture which tells people to butt out of public affairs unless they are professionals? Do we have a duty to play a role in governing our community?

Friday, February 8, 2008

To the media: don't hush democratic politics!

CNN is not the only news source saying that "Democrats dread drawn-out, costly campaign."

This is a sort of wacky argument. Elections are supposed to be opportunities for Americans to choose their elected officials. In a related point, a person's vote is supposed to mean something.

Now let's consider the GOP. With Romney gone and Huckabee not doing too well, McCain seems to be the Republican nominee. This is true despite the fact that many Republican states have yet to vote. So every voter who lives in a state that has not yet voted is effectively disenfranchised by the early end of the Republican race for the nomination.

On the other side of the aisle, Democrats in states like Maryland and Pennsylvania have a rare opportunity - for the first time in a long time - our votes for the Democratic candidate are meaningful. Don't lets let this power go to our heads.

The power of the vote exists whatever CNN says. But its message is nonetheless damaging. When major media outlets predict winners, those choices become more likely to win simply by virtue of having been choses as a winner. Perceptions of "who is going to win" will influence people's decisions about who to vote for.

So by saying the Democratic party is in trouble because the race might not be over long before the finish line, CNN is supporting the GOP over the Democratic party. This is just as bad as when its analysts suggest the GOP is split and weak because its members disagree with each other.

The democratic process NEEDS conflict. It needs individuals and parties to disagree with one another, and it relies on different interests getting together to hash out compromises and build new common ground.

Message to CNN: Stop stuffing the ballot boxes of public discourse, and let democracy, in all its squalid glory, function as intended.

And to the Democratic Party: Fight. For all you're worth, fight for what you believe in, as long you keep your ethics and your moral standards about you.

Here's to a long race and an exciting convention!

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

The Wallists - What kind of security do we really want?

"They made a desert and called it peace"

There is an article in Le Monde today titled (trans. by me) "Israel may build a wall on the Egyptian frontier". This new wall is a response to Monday's suicide attack in Israel in which two Palestinians allegedly slipped into Israel from Egypt. You may also remember a few days ago that Palestinians managed to get through a breach in a border wall into Egypt and transported food, fuel and furniture back into the Gaza Strip.

There are a lot of walls being thrown up in democratic countries these days. Israel has got a big one. US politicians on the right love to talk about "securing the border" with a fence and super-modern surveillance gadgetry. What is behind all this "wallism"? And where's it headed?

I don't know, but it seems to me that many people have been seduced by a particular variety of security. They have come to see "security" as the absence of foreign threats. If you build walls and watch people carefully, you can keep foreign threats away.

Unfortunately, it is hard to determine how far "wallism" would let itself go. If one's answer to feelings of insecurity is to restrict movement and keep people farther apart from each other, domestic security will come to depend increasingly upon walls as well. How to keep inner city crime out of the suburbs? Build a wall. How to keep suburban crime out of the downtown business district? Build a wall. And outside of their home districts, only let people travel to their places of business.

Security is more subtle than walls. It is not just a negative "absence of danger", it is a positive feeling of well-being and connectedness to one's surroundings.

Israel's new wall seems to me to be a sign that it is getting too easy to answer the problems of security by building walls. We are right expect "security" from our politicians, but I don't think we should be so eager to accept such a false solution.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

I am wondering about the real importance of blogging to democracy.

Lawrence Lessig's Free Culture agrees with many other advocates of the blog. He argues that blogs allow for asynchronous public discourse. That is, discourse in which people talk about public issues, but they don't all have to be in the same place at the same time. For decades, local democratic traditions of town halls and the like have been atrophying. Lessig and others believe that blogs create a kind of virtual town hall. They also argue that blogs take control of public discourse out of the hands of the corporations that own the news media.

On the other hand, other internet experts have pointed out, correctly, I think, that the internet tends to make people focus on their own increasingly small areas of interest and expertise. I could read blogs all day and only ever read ones that I agree with.

So are blogs a tool of democracy or of narcissism? I guess it depends on how a blogger uses them. But are there rules or cultural norms that bloggers should be expected to follow to make blogs a more effective space for public debate?