The Libby trial meta-discussion

Back in 2004, I was one of the bloggers credentialed to cover the Democratic National Convention in Boston, and was surprised to find how much we bloggers were part of the story. Some of that is because of the scripted nature of conventions with their outcomes already predefined. There wasn’t much for uncertainty, other than about the bloggers. There is much less certainty with the Libby trial, but still there are some interesting discussions of the role of bloggers.

Somehow, during the convention, these discussions seemed misplaced. Yet as I wander deeper into discussions about media reform, I am thinking that the meta-discussion about bloggers may be an important part of the story.

Yesterday, I wrote a blog post asking How should Media Bloggers cover the Libby Trial?. I received quite a few different replies.

Managing Transitions

(Cross-posted at Toomre Capital Markets)

Over the past few months, many people have wondered why Ned Lamont lost to Joe Lieberman in last November’s general election. There are many possible explanations which have been discussed extensively elsewhere. One that hasn’t been discussed much is based on the idea that a campaign, in many ways, is much like a business startup.

Campaigns usually start with a lot of enthusiasm and great ideas, but without a lot of funding or necessarily a clear idea about where things will go. They try to build a strong organization out of nothing. If they are successful, at some point they need to manage the transition from an insurgency to front-runner, similar to how a startup needs to manage the transition from startup to a major corporation. It is a difficult transition for many campaigns to make, just as it is for businesses to make that transition.

I’ve often hoped that some day, a group will come along with the expertise necessary to help campaigns make this transition, and I imagine that many investors in startups have similar hopes for a similar sort of group for technology firms.

My thinking about this has been shaped by my work as a technology executive on Wall Street. During my tenure in two different leadership roles, I used the services of Sharon Horowitz, PhD. as an executive coach and organizational consultant. I learned a lot from her about things like managing corporate politics and getting technologists to work better together. It was a great help as I moved into leadership roles. She has now teamed up with some other interesting luminaries to form CenterNorth, an advisory service helping technology organizations and companies in all stages of development, including startups.

While CenterNorth does not consult to political campaigns, I wonder why there aren’t companies out there helping campaigns better manage their growth cycle. I believe it would have helped the Lamont campaign and other campaigns I’ve been involved with.

CenterNorth appears to be offering a valuable service to technology firms. I wish the folks there well and will be interested to track their success.

The problem is not the calendar

(Originally published at Greater Democracy)

On a couple mailing lists I’m on, people are talking about different ways to address problems in our electoral system. There are, of course, the issues of voting integrity, but there is also an interesting discussion about changes to the primary calendar. I’ve spent a bit of time thinking about this and have a different view from many of the folks on the list.

Let me suggest that we are looking at the issue the wrong way. Perhaps the issue isn't that because a few small states like Iowa and New Hampshire vote early, they get more say in whom our next president will be. The idea of spreading out the primary season across several months so that we can have more retail politics, more chances for people to shake hands with the candidates is, IMHO, a great ideal. Perhaps the problem isn't the schedule, but the way it is being manipulated by corporations and large money donors.

People look back at 2004 and complain that the race was over before most of us even got a chance to vote. They cite examples of the way the media played the Dean Scream. Well, the problem with the Dean Scream wasn't a problem with Gov. Dean or the people of Iowa. It was a problem of the large corporate controlled media. Until we address that problem, it doesn't matter whether we have all our primaries on one day or spread out over several months. The media will control the message. Focusing on Media Reform is likely to have a bigger effect on making the primary process much more open and inclusive then any juggling of the calendar will. I do agree with some of the people on the lists that juggling the calendar without addressing this issue could make the problem even worse.

The other major complaint is the role of money in the campaign process. If you don't do well in Iowa and New Hampshire, your money dries up and your campaign can't keep going. Again, is this a problem with the folks in Iowa or New Hampshire, or is it a problem with the role of money in the political process? The Dean campaign did some amazing things getting everyday people to contribute small amounts to his campaign. In the end, that didn't do the trick, but it raises a couple interesting points.

First, if we want to address the problem with primaries not being democratic enough, we need to do something about the role of money in campaigns. We need to fix the campaign finance system. This takes me back to big media. What is the biggest expense for campaigns? TV Ads! Yup, that's right, it goes back to funding those large corporate media institutions that are thwarting our democracy. If we want reform, we need to move campaigns away from the 30-second spot to something that encourages democratic participation. An interim step might be to free the airwaves and allow campaigns free airtime to get their message out. The big media corporations will fight tooth and nail against this. After all, they get billions of dollars from political advertising. So, if they won't do this, perhaps we need to pull and end run around them. That is why posting video online is so important. All of the Democratic candidates are ramping up their online video capabilities. This may have more of an effect than any changes to the schedule will have.

Then, there is the issue of people saying that they don't need to vote because it has already been pretty much decided in Iowa and New Hampshire. Yup, it's those old cynics fouling up the works again. Well, personally, I believe that my vote matters, even though I vote much later in the cycle in Connecticut. I got out and voted for Howard Dean last time. What we need to do here, again is less about catering to cynics, then it is about trying to promote civic engagement. Let's teach civics! Let's get people involved. Spreading out the primary calendar so that there can be more one on one engagement between candidates and voters probably does a better job of it than compressing everything into one day.

For me, I believe that I can be more involved, living in a state a couple hundred miles away from an early primary state with the current calendar than I could be if we had one national primary day. I can go to New Hampshire and freeze my butt off, meet some candidates and have some real conversations. If they change the schedule I can perhaps volunteer to serve appetizers at a fund raiser for people contributing $2000 each in New York City, but I'm not likely to get into any real discussions about where we need to be going as a country.

Yes, we need to change things to make sure that everyone gets to participate in the presidential primaries. I believe that Media Reform, Campaign Finance Reform and better civics education are much better tools to make this happen than moving to a national primary day.

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Quick Random Stuff

I've recently been in a comment and email discussion with Pamela Weatherill, who writes a blog called the New Century Notebook. She is doing a quick and easy survey of bloggers. If you blog, please stop by and fill it out.

I was also on a conference call yesterday with Sen. Schumer, where he talked about his new book, Positively American. It sounds like a book worth reading.

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Virtual foreign exchange trading

(Originally posted at Toomre Capital Markets.)

Every day, around $2 trillion of currencies are traded, dollars, yen, euros, as spot trades, as well as various types of derivatives, including forwards, forex swaps and options. This sort of volume makes the $200,000 traded daily on the Second Life spot exchange seem particularly small. However, with Second Life’s economy at least tripling annually, it may well be a market worth exploring in detail.

There are various things needed for an efficient market. First and foremost, you need good market data. Second Life provides some good economic data on a daily basis, but is it possible to get this data on a real time basis? Could we set up a market data feed?

At TCM, we look at how to pull together emerging innovations in the financial services industry by thinking outside of the box. Read more to find out what we’ve done so far with Second Life and how it could be used with other emerging tools.

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