Offering frequent news and analysis from the majestic Evergreen State and beyond, The Cascadia Advocate is the Northwest Progressive Institute's unconventional perspective on world, national, and local politics.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

U.N. Security Council votes unanimously to approve sanctions on Libya

At last, the United Nations is doing something about Muammar Abu Minyar al-Gaddafi's violent crackdown on protesters seeking the replacement of his dictatorship with a democratic government for Libya:
The UN Security Council has voted unanimously to impose sanctions on Muammar Gaddafi's Libyan regime for its attempts to put down an uprising.

They backed an arms embargo and asset freeze while referring Colonel Gaddafi to the International Criminal Court for alleged crimes against humanity.

US President Barack Obama has said the Libyan leader should step down and leave the country immediately.

He still controls Tripoli, but eastern Libya has fallen to the uprising.

Discussions on forming an anti-Gaddafi transitional government are reportedly under way.
The unanimous vote was made possible in part by support from Libya's own ambassadors to the United States and the United Nations, who have turned on Gaddafi, courageously recognizing that they would have no moral standing if they continued to speak for his regime. The ambassadors helped persuade reluctant Security Council members to vote for the resolution, making it a unanimous action.

Resolution 1970 marks the first time the Security Council has unanimously voted to refer a member state to the International Criminal Court (ICC).

The White House announced yesterday that President Obama has sent a letter to the Speaker of the House and the President of the Senate outlining actions taken against the Libyan regime. It begins as follows:
Pursuant to the International Emergency Economic Powers Act (50 U.S.C. 1701 et seq.) (IEEPA), I hereby report that I have issued an Executive Order (the "order") that takes steps with respect to the situation in Libya.

I have determined that the actions of Colonel Muammar Qadhafi, his government, and close associates, including extreme measures against the people of Libya, constitute an unusual and extraordinary threat to the national security and foreign policy of the United States. The order declares a national emergency to deal with this threat.
The purpose of the order is to freeze, or block, the property and interests in property of the Libyan dictator and his top cohorts.

Today, the White House said that President Obama talked with Germany's chancellor, Angela Merkel, and expressed the view that Gaddafi should step down immediately. Here's an excerpt from the readout of the call:
The President stated that when a leader’s only means of staying in power is to use mass violence against his own people, he has lost the legitimacy to rule and needs to do what is right for his country by leaving now. The leaders reaffirmed their support for the Libyan people’s demand for universal rights and a government that is responsive to their aspirations, and agreed that Qadhafi’s government must be held accountable. They discussed appropriate and effective ways for the international community to respond. The President welcomed ongoing efforts by our allies and partners, including at the United Nations and by the European Union, to develop and implement strong measures.
America's embassy in Libya is already closed, and many other NATO nations are following suit, closing up their buildings and recalling their personnel home. A chartered plane evacuated the last U.S. Embassy personnel and American citizens requesting help leaving the country to Istanbul on Friday. Prior to that, several hundred Americans were able to get out of Libya on a ferry bound for Malta.

As important as the Security Council's action is today, it won't necessarily be the catalyst for ousting Gaddafi, who so far has defiantly refused to relinquish power. If Libyan rebels can't dislodge him, his brutal regime may simply remain in place.

That raises the question.. what should we do about it? It's obvious the people of Libya want Gaddafi gone. Protesters are courageously standing up and getting shot at. Hundreds — or thousands — have already died. Sanctions will only accomplish so much. If Gaddafi feels like he has nothing to lose, and simply won't step down, then the Security Council should consider military intervention.

Sending in a U.N. force comprised of troops from many nations would set an example. The U.N. does too much condemning of human rights violations and not enough to actually put a stop to needless violence and bloodshed.

Libya is rising up against its dictator — its people should have the support of the international community in their pursuit of the right of self-determination.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Lynn Allen: 1948-2011

This morning, we received the tremendously sad news that one of NPI's founding board members, Lynn Allen, is no longer with us. The news was not entirely unexpected, as Lynn had been in the hospital fighting Stage IV ovarian cancer since January, but it was a still a shock, as we all knew it would be.

Words simply can't describe the pain we all feel at this moment. Lynn was one of the kindest, brightest people that any of us has ever known.

Lynn AllenShe has played an integral role in NPI's development; for instance, last summer, she took it upon herself to host our first board retreat, which ended up being an incredibly productive gathering.

Lynn was also the catalyst for the first two NWroots Conferences in Olympia in 2006 and 2007 — the first netroots-oriented gatherings to be held at our state's capitol. As the co-organizer, I can attest that without her organizational skills, know-how, and facilitating prowess, those events simply could not have happened.

Lynn brought so much to the table as a board member. She was resourceful, strong, and wise, always ready to provide dependable advice to any of us. But more than that, she was a dear friend.

Words that come to mind when I think of Lynn include considerate, compassionate, caring, helpful, hospitable, unselfish, and trustworthy.

Lynn represented the best of us. She was passionate about improving the human condition, as we all are. Particularly late in her life, she chose to focus on outreach to rural communities, and spent many long hours on the road driving between farms and gathering places in Eastern Washington.

She was deeply interested in helping netroots activists learn offline organizing techniques, and helping veteran grassroots activists master new technologies. Building stronger ties between the grassroots and the netroots was a favorite topic that we touched on in our many conversations.

Lynn was born October 6th, 1948 on Mercer Island, just a few weeks before Harry Truman defeated Thomas Dewey in one of the most memorable elections in American history. The oldest of four children, she grew up here in the Evergreen State and graduated from Mercer Island High School in the 1906s. She received her bachelor's degree in history from the University of Washington in the early 1970s.

As a college student, Lynn was a vocal opponent of the "police action" in Vietnam, and joined other students in protesting the conflict loudly and often.

Lynn was also briefly an instructor at Seattle's Alternative School No. 1.

When she was twenty-eight, she moved to the Bay Area, living in San Francisco and then Alameda. She eventually became interested in organizational management and joined The Villard Group, serving as a consultant for a number of companies, including Intel (which has a significant Left Coast presence) and Bank of America.

Lynn enjoyed traveling; when she was younger she went on a memorable trip to South America (Chile and Argentina). She also spent time in Western Europe.

In 2004, she served as Chris Gregoire's campaign blogger, chronicling life on the campaign trail and profiling volunteers. Following the campaign, she joined Jon Stahl, Jeff Reifman, and Yoram Bauman at Evergreen Politics, where she often posted her reflections on current events. In 2009, she began regularly blogging at her own site, Rebuilding Democracy.

Lynn initially intended for Rebuilding Democracy to be a nonprofit consultancy offering consulting, training, leadership development, technical and new-media assistance to Democratic and progressive organizations to help them strengthen their grassroots organizing capacity. But she was so dedicated to the rural outreach that she was doing for the Institute for Washington's Future that she only ended up investing a limited amount of time developing Rebuilding Democracy. However, she always thought of RD as her virtual home.

And it will continue to be. I am pleased to announce that NPI intends to maintain Rebuilding Democracy as a permanent archive of Lynn's many creative works.

Before Lynn passed away, she gave us the authority to protect and present her blog posts, photographs, and videos for all time.

We are deeply committed to preserving her legacy, and in the coming weeks, we will finish importing Lynn's posts from Evergreen Politics (which is now defunct) into Rebuilding Democracy, along with the entries Lynn authored for Chris Gregoire's campaign log in the autumn of 2004. You can take a look at the archive in formation by visiting Rebuilding Democracy.

To say that Lynn will be missed is an understatement. As a friend, as a leader, as a source of knowledge, she is irreplaceable. To know her was an honor and a privilege, which all of us will be incredibly thankful for forever.

She will always be in our hearts.

FROM GAEL: Lynn’s presence will be part of our future in a different way – we will keep bringing back her ideas and wisdom as we continue her work and passion. Henry David Thoreau’s words (from his book, “Walking”) are all I have right now:
I trust that we shall be more imaginative, that our thoughts will be clearer, fresher and more ethereal as our sky, — our understanding more comprehensive and broader, like our plains, - our intellect generally on a grander scale, like our thunder and lightning, our rivers and mountains, and forests, — and our hearts shall ever correspond in breadth and depth and grandeur to our inland seas.
Carpe Diem – Seize the Day.

FROM STEVE: Lynn was a dedicated progressive who provided inspiration to many. Besides serving on NPI's board, she was active in the Democratic Party as well as other organizations like the Institute for Washington's Future. Her blog posts on Evergreen Politics and most recently on Rebuilding Democracy were good and thoughtful reads. Lynn will be missed. Our best tribute to her is to continue our efforts for a better democracy with renewed dedication and commitment, knowing that she will be sorely missed but she is counting on us to carry on.

FROM RALPH: Lynn showed her devotion to liberal democracy by the work she did. I met her while she worked as outreach coordinator for Darcy Burner's campaign for Congress. Lynn inspired me by her work to create Rebuilding Democracy: a noble project, though it fell short of her plans for it. Lynn was a caring advocate for so many worthy causes. Her sense of purpose, leavened with inherent calmness and good cheer, will be missed.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Winter storm warning updated for Western Washington: Plenty of snow, ice on the way

Although much of the snow that fell today in central Puget Sound (especially in the lowlands) didn't stick, the National Weather Service is warning that tomorrow and Friday are going to be quite different. Here's their 3:40 PM update:
The low tonight is expected to be around 27° Fahrenheit, or approximately -2.77° Celsius. Tomorrow's high, meanwhile, will be just one degree above the freezing point, according to the forecast. That means whatever precipitation falls tonight will likely be on the ground tomorrow in the form of snow and ice.

University of Washington meteorologist Cliff Mass notes:
Temperatures are relatively mild from a day's worth of heating, but melting of precipitation and the ingestion of cool, dry air from the north should help it turn to snow. I think Seattle commuters will be fine....the roads are warm and salted (sound likes a good meal!)...but tonight could get very interesting very fast if this boundary locks over someone.
Snow is already on the ground throughout Island, Skagit, Snohomish, Kitsap, Whatcom, Clallam, Jefferson, and San Juan counties. It looks like snow and ice will soon be blanketing King County, although thankfully, conditions won't become too treacherous until after the evening commute is mostly over.

UPDATE, 5:48 PM: Ice pellets are now coming down in sheets in Redmond. There may also be snow later... we'll see.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Bill Bryant to run for governor?

Seattle Port Commissioner Bill Bryant is on the verge of officially declaring his candidacy for governor of Washington, several people have told NPI in recent days.

Bryant, a Republican, was first elected to the Seattle Port Commission in 2007. He defeated one-term reformist Alec Fisken, who was swept out of office despite having fought against the corrupt regime of former Port CEO Mic Dinsmore.

Although he identifies as a Republican, many of his views are at odds with the Republican base, which is fervently right wing. Ideologically, Bryant is a biconceptual — a person who uses both the progressive and conservative worldviews in different areas of his or her thinking. In the eyes of the extreme right wing, that makes him a Republican In Name Only, or RINO.

If Bryant opts to seek the state's highest elected office, his biggest obstacle will ironically be fellow Republican Rob McKenna, who has long wanted the job. McKenna has already run and won statewide, and has spent much of his time as Attorney General laying the groundwork for a future gubernatorial campaign. Many who follow Washington politics believe McKenna would be the most formidable candidate that the Republican Party could field.

It's hard to see how Bryant, who has only one successful campaign in King County under his belt, could muster more votes in the August 2012 winnowing election than McKenna. McKenna has waged many successful campaigns, including two statewide (in 2004, when he defeated Deborah Senn, and in 2008, when he defeated John Ladenburg). Besides having stronger name recognition, McKenna also has more experience raising money.

Why Bryant would want to run against McKenna is a mystery to me. Perhaps his ambition matches McKenna's, even if his profile doesn't.

If McKenna were not running, Bryant's candidacy would make a lot of sense. Republicans don't have a deep bench in Washington, and most of the statewide elected positions are held by Democrats, including the offices of governor, lieutenant governor, treasurer, lands commissioner, and insurance commissioner. Secretary of State for-life Sam Reed is the only other Republican holding office in the executive branch.

McKenna himself actually represented only a thirteenth of King County before he successfully made the jump to attorney general in 2004; whereas Bryant represents all of King County in his capacity as a Seattle Port Commissioner.

Winning a countywide office in the state's largest county, as a challenger, is no small feat. Then again, Bryant did not have competition from a fellow Republican when he ran for Port Commission in 2007.

Interestingly, in 2004, McKenna had a Bryant-like opponent in the primary: Mike Vaska, who is also a member of the Mainstream Republicans of Washington. McKenna easily dispatched Vaska in that contest, even though Vaska was the better candidate and had credible support.

If Bryant does run for governor, he will have to decide in short order whether he also wants to seek reelection to the Port Commission this year (he's up).

We'll be watching for any forthcoming announcement from Bryant, and we'll also let you know if we hear of any further developments.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Electric car fees: A nineteenth century solution to a twenty-first century problem

Transportation policy in Olympia isn’t exactly what could be described as innovative. When advances in technology obviate old ways of doing things, our lawmakers – let’s not mislead anyone by calling them leaders – reach backwards for solutions instead of looking forwards.

Case in point: a proposal by Senator Mary Margaret Haugen (D-10th District), chair of the state Senate's Transportation Committee, to charge the relatively few Washingtonians who currently own all-electric vehicles a $100 fee to ensure that they make a contribution to building and maintaining our state highways.

“Electric cars will be driving on the highways right along with all the other cars. One of our biggest issues is preservation and maintenance of our existing highways. We believe they should be paying their fair share," Haugen said when introducing Senate Bill 5251 last week.

It makes sense that owners of any vehicle using our highway system should be helping to pay for upkeep, maintenance, and safety improvements.

Yet even though the reality of dwindling gas-tax revenues have been staring them in the face for years, the best solution lawmakers can come up with is to add to the patchwork of fees, taxes and tolls that already exists. Their approach is simplistic, unimaginative, and completely lacking in political leadership.

Their plans do not even begin to address the true challenge of finding a comprehensive, long-term solution to transportation funding. Haugen’s proposal is a short term idea born of the need to look like something is being done instead of doing something that makes sense.

After all, if owners of all-electric vehicles should pay $100 because their cars never use gas, then why not charge hybrid gas-electric vehicles $50 because they only use gas half the time? Why not charge a Geo Metro a higher registration fee because it uses less gas than a Hummer?

Tacking on another fee is politically expedient and doesn’t require too much thinking. Unfortunately, all it does is build on a funding scheme from a previous century, and not necessarily the twentieth. Why can’t the people responsible for transportation policy expand their horizons a bit beyond the nineteenth century in which they’re stuck and embrace twenty-first century technology?

Almost everyone agrees that transportation infrastructure should be funded based on usage – that’s the logic behind fuel taxes and tolls in the first place, and it’s still a valid rationale. What’s changed is technology, and that’s where the solution lies.

Gas taxes made since when it was the only practical method of assessing highway usage – and was equitable when most vehicles got pretty much the same performance out of a gallon of fuel. But owners of vehicles should contribute to highway construction and maintenance based on how much they use the system, not how fuel-efficient or inefficient they are, using more equitable measures such as vehicle weight and miles traveled.

A flat fee – based on each pound/mile traveled – would be a fair way to assess road usage. Vehicle weight is a static measure established by vehicle manufacturers; vehicle miles traveled is a variable easily assessed using GPS technology, which could also be used to charge parking fees by measuring how long a vehicle remains curbside (although there are serious privacy concerns with using GPS to track motorists' whereabouts; another approach may be necessary).

Owners of a small, fuel-efficient vehicle that doesn’t weigh very much but racks up a lot of mileage would pay just as much as a large local delivery truck.

Owners of vehicles that don’t use a drop of gasoline would make a contribution to highway construction and maintenance every bit as valuable as gas guzzlers.

A comprehensive solution like this wouldn’t be easy to implement – meaningful change seldom is. It would require unconventional thinking on many different fronts – in other words, leadership.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Permanent Defense turns nine

Nine years ago today, Permanent Defense was born... and I became an activist.

It's hard for me to believe, but an astonishing one hundred and eight months have gone by since NPI's first project (which actually predates NPI) came online. I can still remember drawing up the initial plans for the site, channeling all of my frustration and concern about voters' mindless acceptance of Tim Eyman's initiatives into something much more solid than unhappy feelings.

I became an activist that day without realizing it.

I knew I was taking a stand against a threat to Washington's future, but what I didn't know is that I'd discovered my destiny.

My involvement in politics has greatly shaped who I am and what I believe. There's been ups and downs, and some of the downs have been rather painful. But what surprises me is how determined I still feel after nine years of doing this. I've never burned out, though at times I've been quite weary. (I can certainly empathize with those who have decided they just don't have the time to be an activist.)

If I had to choose this path again, knowing what it would entail, I would, because improving the human condition is that important to me.

I have been fortunate, in this endeavor, to meet some truly wonderful people, who have assisted me in helping to realize NPI and PD's potential — and are continuing to do so. I started this journey myself, but these days, I've got plenty of company in NPI's staff and board, and for that, I am tremendously thankful.

I couldn't do what I do without them.

Nine years is a long time to be committed to something. It's an even longer span of time when you consider how relatively young the digital age still is. Permanent Defense is older than most of the local blogosphere and even much of the national blogosphere (Daily Kos, for instance, is several months younger than PD).

Permanent Defense is also many years older than much of the technology it now runs on. It was originally built with a buggy Java applet which took a long time to load over the slow dialup connections that were more common at the time.

Now it's powered by a robust free software stack that NPI's staff can manage over broadband from just about anywhere, even when we're in motion.

The evolution in the project's technology is symbolic of the larger evolution the project has undergone, and that I've undergone as an activist.

When I started Permanent Defense, I had no training, no resources, no volunteer help, no advanced knowledge in server administration or even website construction. I used a few basic tools that were available to me to build Permanent Defense in its first incarnation. I resolved to keep the project going and keep improving it for as long as I could. To date, I've been successful, and as I mentioned, I've got the best help I could ask for.

As I do every year, I've posted a statement recapping the last year of operations and looking ahead to the next one.

You can read this anniversary message on PD's site.

In conjunction with PD's ninth anniversary, we're launching a Rapid Response team, comprised of supporters who'd like to help NPI's staff man the first line of defense against right wing initiatives that threaten Washington's common wealth.

If you'd like to become part of the team, you can sign up over at Permanent Defense's volunteer page. Serving on the team is a great way to make a difference if you don't have a lot of time to devote to the cause, and allows NPI's staff to do more organizing and infrastructure-building.

Thanks to all who have supported Permanent Defense and NPI in the past, especially early on. Here's to a successful tenth year of opposing right wing initiatives and fighting Tim Eyman.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Hosni Mubarak relinquishes power in Egypt

The dictatorship has been toppled at last:
Bowing to 18 days of a popular revolt that showed no sign of slowing down, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak resigned Friday and handed over power to the military, an ignominious end to his 30 years of U.S.-backed authoritarian rule.

The streets of Cairo erupted with celebratory gunfire, honking car horns and cheers from hundreds of thousands of protesters who'd braved tear gas, rubber bullets, attacks from government-allied thugs and communications disruptions to organize a revolt that was unprecedented in Egypt's modern history.

Vice President Omar Suleiman made the announcement on state television Friday evening, less than 24 hours after a defiant Mubarak had refused to go.
Mubarak has left Cairo for his private residence on the Sinai Peninsula; it's not known if he plans to stay in the country or ultimately leave.

The Swiss government has frozen assets that may belong to Mubarak, according to news reports, to deter theft of state property.

We at NPI congratulate the people of Egypt on this momentous development. We fervently hope that the recent protests will lead to free and fair elections, and a democratic, civilian government that is truly representative of all Egypt.

We salute the resilience and determination of the hardiest protesters, who kept the pro-democracy movement alive in the face of violence and rallied thousands of other Egyptians to the cause. Were it not for their steadfastness, Hosni Mubarak would still be in power. They demanded change and brought it about by refusing to walk away after taking a stand.

In ousting Mubarak, they have also succeeded in humbling America's arrogant political establishment, whose main priority seem to be protecting our access to oil.

As recently as a few weekends ago, Vice President Joe Biden was on camera reinforcing the administration's support of Hosni Mubarak. Asked if it was time for Mubarak to go, he said no, and then added this:
Mubarak has been an ally of ours in a number of things. And he’s been very responsible on, relative to geopolitical interest in the region, the Middle East peace efforts; the actions Egypt has taken relative to normalizing relationship with – with Israel. [...] I would not refer to him as a dictator.
Mubarak has had control of Egypt for three decades. He never won power democratically or fairly. He was, in fact, a dictator, and his regime was an autocracy, as our Vice President undoubtedly knows. At the time he made those comments, Biden probably didn't want to call a spade a spade because he didn't want to anger Mubarak. Which just goes to show how messed up our foreign policy is. As a democracy, we should be supporting the democratic aspirations of other peoples. It's pretty sad that our government waited until Mubarak was in a tough spot before changing America's position and backing democratic reforms.

Pro-democracy activist Wael Ghonim, who serves as the head of marketing for Google Middle East, has already headed off the inevitable congratulatory statements from heads of state in Europe and North America a few hours ago by tweeting, "Dear Western Governments, You've been silent for 30 years supporting the regime that was oppressing us. Please don't get involved now."

MORE: The Guardian has a running account of new developments.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Save the Date: NPI's annual Spring Fundraising Gala will be April 28th, 2011

I'm excited to announce this afternoon that we have finalized a date for our Spring Fundraising Gala, which is unquestionably the best opportunity we offer to learn about what we do and support our work. This year's event will be taking place Thursday, April 28th, 2011, at the Community Center at Mercer View.

And yes, that's the same place where last year's event was held.

We figured it made sense to hold it there again because so many folks told us they liked the venue after the conclusion of the 2010 gala. It does have many advantages: it's halfway between Seattle and the Eastside, it's within easy walking distance of transit, and it's a beautiful facility with a well-equipped kitchen.

In the weeks to come, we'll be unveiling more information about the event, including our speaking lineup.

Tickets are, however, going on sale right now at a special early-bird rate; you can buy an individual or household ticket by clicking one of the buttons below. Prices will be going up when additional details are made public, so if you'd like to save a bit of money while securing your seat, now is the time to act.

Buy an individual ticket ($40):

Buy a household ticket ($70):

If you've never been to our gala in the past, picture an eclectic evening with tasty food, jazz music, great company, and speakers like Major General Paul Eaton (Ret)., Darcy Burner, Chip Hanauer, Jon Soltz, Suzan DelBene, Dow Constantine, Hans Dunshee, and John de Graaf. That's what our event is like. It's your chance to meet our staff and board and become better acquainted with other supporters of NPI.

Students who want to volunteer to help put on the event can get in the door free. If you're interested in volunteering, please get in touch with us.

We look forward to seeing you on April 28th!

Sunday, February 6, 2011

AOL buys The Huffington Post for $315 million

Cementing its evolution from Internet service provider to digital content collective, AOL announced today that it has agreed to acquire The Huffington Post for $315 million, giving it control of one of the world's most popular opinion sites.

According to AOL's news release, Arianna Huffington — who founded the site that bears her name in 2005 — will take on a fairly important role within AOL going forward, reporting to AOL CEO Tim Armstrong:
As part of the transaction, Arianna [...] will be named President and Editor-in-Chief of The Huffington Post Media Group, which will integrate all Huffington Post and AOL content, including Engadget, TechCrunch, Moviefone, MapQuest, Black Voices, PopEater, AOL Music, AOL Latino, AutoBlog, Patch, StyleList, and more.
The press release did not outline any strategy for how its disparate network of sites — which becomes even larger with this deal — will be integrated. However, the New York Times reports some consolidation is coming:
AOL’s own news Web sites like Politics Daily and Daily Finance are likely to disappear when the deal is completed, and many of the writers who work for those sites will become Huffington Post writers, according to people with knowledge of the deal, who asked not to be identified discussing plans that are still being worked out.
"By combining HuffPost with AOL's network of sites, thriving video initiative, local focus, and international reach, we know we'll be creating a company that can have an enormous impact, reaching a global audience on every imaginable platform," Huffington argued in a blog post announcing the deal.

The transaction, which was actually inked just a few hours ago at the Super Bowl in Dallas, has already received approval from the boards of each company, and is likely to close within a few weeks.

We at NPI are opposed to increased media consolidation and concentration, so, unlike some of Arianna's fans, we're not cheering this acquisition.

That said, it's nowhere close to being as harmful to the public interest as most of the megadeals that have happened since the 1990s (for instance, Comcast's successful pursuit of a controlling stake in NBC Universal, News Corporation's procurement of Dow Jones, Disney's purchases of Marvel and Pixar, or even AOL's ill-fated merger with Time Warner, which was undone in 2009 when AOL was jettisoned, er, spun off, as its own company once more).

AOL is a company with a troubled history. Whether its current trajectory is viable or not remains to be seen. It will be certainly be interesting to see what happens when Arianna assumes control over AOL's many cyber properties.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Tweeting the revolution

Someone wake up New Yorker columnist and bestselling author Malcolm Gladwell and drag him to the 21st century. While opining on the events in Egypt, Gladwell completely dismissed the role and value of social networks in the revolution.
Right now there are protests in Egypt that look like they might bring down the government. There are a thousand important things that can be said about their origins and implications: as I wrote last summer in The New Yorker, “high risk” social activism requires deep roots and strong ties. But surely the least interesting fact about them is that some of the protesters may (or may not) have at one point or another employed some of the tools of the new media to communicate with one another. Please. People protested and brought down governments before Facebook was invented. They did it before the Internet came along.
Malcolm Gladwell doesn't get it. I'm not aware of anyone trumpeting Twitter and Facebook as the saviors of the world and giving them sole credit for the uprising of the people against the Egyptian government. Gladwell comes off as a self-important (though uninformed) luddite.

We've seen social networks play prominent roles in the exchange of information that assisted with demonstrations against governments in both Iran and Egypt. In both cases, these tools allowed the people to bypass the official state media and organize opposition to government. Mr. Gladwell cites East Germany and the French Revolution as examples of successful revolutions that used the technologies of those days: the phone and the human voice, respectively. What's so different about Egyptians using the technology of our day?

There exists an old adage that the pen is mightier than the sword. This explains why the government of Egypt has shut down the Internet and mobile communications networks. President Mubarak and his administration believe that if they control the flow of information, they can maintain their precarious grip on power. It's also the reason why China is censoring news about the revolution in Egypt. President Hu doesn't want any of his countrymen getting any ideas.

Social networking, whether through Twitter, or Facebook or YouTube, democratize the media, taking the power out of the hands of elites and into the hands of the people. In the case of revolution, these tools make it easier for people to organize. But social media also gives scribes like Malcolm Gladwell who work for dead tree publications much to fear from people like us.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Charlotte selected as site of 2012 Democratic National Convention

Charlotte, the largest city in North Carolina, has been selected as the host city for the 2012 Democratic National Convention, the party announced today.

Charlotte, North CarolinaThe Queen City beat out St. Louis, Missouri, Cleveland, Ohio, and Minneapolis, Minnesota for the honor of hosting the Democratic Party's next quadrennial gathering, where Barack Obama is expected to be nominated as the standard-bearer for President of the United States.

To the right: Uptown Charlotte, North Carolina, as seen from the Westin Hotel. Photo: Willamor Media. Republished under a Creative Commons license.

“We’re honored that the Democratic National Committee chose Charlotte to host its 2012 convention,” said Charlotte Mayor Anthony Foxx in a news release.

“Thanks to the hard work and support of so many throughout our community, we have an unmatched opportunity to show the world what a beautiful, energetic, innovative and diverse city we are building in Charlotte. As we tell the story of Charlotte, and what a great place our city, state and region are to live and do business, we also will tell the story of America to our fellow citizens and our neighbors around the world.”

"More than anything else, we want this to be a grassroots convention for the people," First Lady Michelle Obama told members of the Democratic National Committee in an email revealing the party's choice of host city.

"We will finance this convention differently than it's been done in the past, and we will make sure everyone feels closely tied in to what is happening in Charlotte. This will be a different convention, for a different time," she added.

The Charlotte Observer, the city's newspaper of record, has been having a field day in the wake of the announcement. It's already published a half-dozen convention related articles, analyzing the logistics, economic impact, and security apparatus of the convention:
Observer editor Mary Newsom also has a blog post up making fun of some of the traditional media outlets for using outdated photos of the city to accompany their stories about Charlotte getting picked to host the convention.

Reading her tongue-in-cheek commentary makes me glad I selected a more recent photo (taken in 2008) for visual relief in this post.

Charlotte's selection will probably not please UNITE HERE, the hotel workers' union. UNITE HERE had earlier asked the Democratic Party not to choose Charlotte because the city has no unionized hotels.

However, organized labor in North Carolina is supportive of having the convention in Charlotte. Some union leaders have suggested that the convention's presence could serve as catalyst for organizing efforts within the Queen City, as was the case in Denver, Colorado. (At least one hotel in Denver unionized in advance of the 2008 Democratic National Convention, and the labor movement achieved other concessions as well).

While we're sympathetic to UNITE HERE's concerns, we would urge its leaders to consider the selection of Charlotte as an opportunity. UNITE HERE could launch a campaign to organize hotels in the Queen City in advance of the convention, concentrating its resources in a place where they are undoubtedly sorely needed.

Given that North Carolina will be a key battleground where Democrats will be playing defense (Barack Obama carried the state in 2008) it makes sense to hold the convention there. The Republicans will also be in the south, having chosen Tampa for their convention.

St. Louis would also have been a decent choice, but the decision has been made, and the convention is going to Charlotte.

Congratulations to the people of Charlotte and to North Carolina progressives. We look forward to visiting your state in 2012.

POSTSCRIPT: BlueNC and Pam's House Blend, two well-known progressive blogs in North Carolina, each have threads about the host city announcement.