Micah Sifry and Andrew Rasiej are co-founders of Personal Democracy Media, an organization working at the intersection of technology, politics, government and civic life. Their ninth annual Personal Democracy Forum convenes next week in New York City. We caught up with them on the eve of the forum to talk about two new factors that could help shape the 2012 elections — the growing power of social media and the Internet and the explosive influence of corporate money post-Citizens United.
Lauren Feeney: Can the democratizing power of the Internet counteract the corrosive power of money in politics?
Micah Sifry: I think in the long run the answer is yes, but in the short run — meaning the next six months — probably not. More and more people are discovering that they can participate in the daily conversation through which politics is influenced. It’s no longer just a spectator sport. In the age of television, all you could do was watch; you couldn’t talk back. In the age of the Internet, you can talk back, you can talk with each other, and millions of people are starting to do that. But many millions more are not. That’s why money is still such a powerful force in driving politics. There’s a spectrum of voters; from low information to high information. The high-information voters are the people who wake up every day and think: I’m not just going to read the news, I’m going to help shape other people’s opinions — I’m uploading, I’m sharing, I’m rating, I’m commenting. They are the online participatory class. But we live in a country with 300 million-plus people, and a lot of them are very turned off from politics. They don’t pay a lot of attention; they don’t think it matters. Those low information voters are very susceptible to the type of messaging that you can still buy with money. MORE
In this handout picture from the U.S. Navy, U.S. Navy Seals train with a SH-60F Seahawk helicopter assigned to the Tridents of Helicopter Anti-Submarine Squadron Three on the flight deck of the USS Enterprise at an undisclosed location at sea. (AP Photo/U.S. Navy, Lance H. Mayhew Jr.)
As he campaigns for reelection, President Obama periodically reminds audiences of his success in terminating the deeply unpopular Iraq War. With fingers crossed for luck, he vows to do the same with the equally unpopular war in Afghanistan. If not exactly a peacemaker, our Nobel Peace Prize-winning president can (with some justification) at least claim credit for being a war-ender.
Yet when it comes to military policy, the Obama administration’s success in shutting down wars conducted in plain sight tells only half the story, and the lesser half at that. More significant has been this president’s enthusiasm for instigating or expanding secret wars, those conducted out of sight and by commandos. MORE
This article was originally published on ProPublica.
The National Association of Broadcasters is asking a federal appeals court to block a rule passed by the Federal Communications Commission last month requiring TV stations to post political ad data on the Internet.
In a petition for review filed Monday with the U.S. Court of Appeals in Washington, D.C., the broadcast industry group argues that the rule is “arbitrary, capricious, in excess of the Commission’s statutory authority inconsistent with the First Amendment, and otherwise not in accordance with law.”
The association represents, among others, the parent companies of NBC, CBS, Fox and the broadcasting arm of the Washington Post. MORE
Recent months have seen a flurry of headlines about cuts (often called “threats”) to the U.S. defense budget. Last week, lawmakers in the House of Representatives even passed a bill that was meant to spare national security spending from future cuts by reducing school-lunch funding and other social programs. MORE
Jeff Chang is the author of Can’t Stop, Won’t Stop: A History of the Hip-Hop Generation. His 2005 book chronicled the post-civil rights era showing how hip hop “crystallized a multiracial, polycultural generation’s worldview, and transformed American politics and culture.” He is the executive director of the Institute for Diversity in the Arts + Committee on Black Performing Arts at Stanford University. Named by Utne Reader as “one of the 50 Visionaries Who Are Changing Your World,” Chang has been a USA Ford fellow in literature and a winner of the North Star News Prize.
We talked with Chang earlier this week about the history of hip hop music and culture in the United States, and the way in which it has become a force for protest — and revolution — on the worldwide stage.
[Parental Advisory: Some embedded music videos contain profanity.]
Riley: You have proclaimed that hip hop is the most socially important music of our time.
Jeff Chang: I think hip hop tells the hidden story of the latter part of the twentieth century and the beginning of this century in terms of the underside of the American dream and, by extension, what has happened in and amongst youth all around the world. Although not all hip hop is exclusively political, a good amount of it speaks to the kinds of pressures that young people have been facing because of globalization, changes in policing and the incarceration of youth and oftentimes, the breakdown of institutions and structures in the communities that hip hop comes from. I’ve always listened to hip hop with that kind of an ear, listening for the seams and where the seams start coming apart, in terms of what it seems to be as popular music, as a critique of society and the economy, and the larger context of the right now.
Individually the poor are not too tempting to thieves, for obvious reasons. Mug a banker and you might score a wallet containing a month’s rent. Mug a janitor and you will be lucky to get away with bus fare to flee the crime scene. But asBusiness Week helpfully pointed out in 2007, the poor in aggregate provide a juicy target for anyone depraved enough to make a business of stealing from them.
The trick is to rob them in ways that are systematic, impersonal, and almost impossible to trace to individual perpetrators. Employers, for example, can simply program their computers to shave a few dollars off each paycheck, or they can require workers to show up 30 minutes or more before the time clock starts ticking. MORE
That sound of shattered glass you’ve been hearing is the iconic portrait of Jamie Dimon splintering as it hits the floor of JPMorgan Chase. As the Good Book says, “Pride goeth before a fall,” and the sleek silver-haired, too-smart-for-his-own-good CEO of America’s largest bank has been turning every television show within reach into a confessional booth. Barack Obama’s favorite banker faces losses of $2 billion and possibly more – all because of the complex, now-you-see-it-now-you-don’t trading in exotic financial instruments that he has so ardently lobbied Congress not to regulate.
Once again, doing God’s work — that is, betting huge sums of money with depositor funds knowing that you are too big to fail and can count on taxpayers riding to your rescue if your avarice threatens to take the country down — has lost some of its luster. The jewels in Dimon’s crown sparkle with a little less grandiosity than a few days ago, when he ridiculed Paul Volcker’s ideas for keeping Wall Street honest as “infantile.” MORE
Richard Wilkinson is an epidemiologist and a leader in international research of inequality. He is also the co-author of The Spirit Level: Why Greater Equality Makes Societies Stronger with Kate Pickett. Their book has been described by The Sunday Times of London as having “a big idea big enough to change political thinking. In half a page,” the Times says, “it tells you more about the pain of inequality than any play or novel could.”
His TED talk — “How economic inequality harms societies” — has garnered over 1 million views on the TED website since October 2011.
We caught up with him to talk about how inequality can be dangerous to our health.
David Schwartz is the chief curator of the Museum of the Moving Image and curator of The Living Room Candidate: Presidential Campaign Commercials 1952-2008, an online exhibition featuring more than 300 television commercials dating back to 1952, when the first campaign ads appeared on TV. We caught up with Schwartz to learn more about the history and art of the campaign ad.
Lauren Feeney: Was there ever a “good old days” of campaign advertising? A time when they were fair, honest and substantive?
David Schwartz: From the very beginning, campaign ads were not substantive. The first televised campaign ads were the Eisenhower Answers America ads, which were 20 seconds long. They identified key issues and made very simple statements. The message was: Washington’s a mess, it’s filled with corruption, we’re stuck in the war in Korea, prices are too high, and Eisenhower is the outsider who’s going to come in and fix that. The ads repeated those points over and over again. They weren’t filled with lies, I guess, but they were quite simplistic.
If you look at some of the Kennedy-Nixon ads from 1960, there is a fair amount of substance in them compared to what you see today. There’s one Kennedy ad about religion where he outlines his feeling about whether he can be an effective president and a Catholic, and it actually goes on for almost two minutes and shows a real train of thought and an argument being made. You don’t really see that today. You tend to see 30-second ads with sound bites and quickly edited images.
Members of the National Nurses United union are campaigning for a small tax, or “Robin Hood” tax, that the financial sector would pay on commercial transactions of stocks and bonds. Proponents say the tax could generate billions of dollars — which could go toward debt reduction, social services and job-training programs — and has the potential to curb one of the causes of the financial crisis: speculative trading on Wall Street. Those opposed to the tax argue that additional costs could be damaging to markets, and that banks would pass the costs on to consumers in the form of higher commission rates and other fees.
In this essay, economist Robert Pollin, the co-director of the Political Economy Research Institute at UMass-Amherst, explains the financial transaction tax in greater detail, and shares why he thinks it’s the right idea. MORE