Best interview of a president. Ever.

obama-seinfeld

A couple of thoughts. One, this is easily the best interview of a president I’ve ever seen. Two, while common sense tells me Jerry Seinfeld prepared questions, some were so spontaneous (seemingly) I can believe they were off the cuff. Finally, it’s difficult for me to watch this without trying to imagine the GOP knuckleheads doing one of these. I suspect it will be a long time before we have another president with the comic timing of Obama.

Citizenfour

citizenfour_posterWe ain’t the good guys anymore. That was my take-away from Citizenfour, Laura Poitras’ documentary on Edward Snowden. This is far and away the best documentary I’ve ever seen and it was damning. As for who’s a good guy and who isn’t, well, maybe there aren’t any good guys anymore. I’ll tell you who is not a good guy… Barack Obama. Yep, the guy I voted for, twice. Even made some donations to the first campaign. I’d say I fucked up but come on… Sarah Palin?!

As it became clear President Obama was a very different cat than Candidate Obama, I told myself he’s better than George Bush and Dick Cheney. But you know, that doesn’t make you a good guy. It just makes you not those bad guys.

Same goes for the USA. Yeah, there are some countries with really shitty governments. But that’s a pretty low bar. Turns out our shit does stink and it’s time we took a good whip.

At some point in the film I found myself thinking, “Fuck it. I hope the Republicans take the Senate. And the House. A whole bunch of Democrats have been complicit in what the NSA and the rest of the intelligence “community” have been up to and they get no more support or votes for me.

I’ll calm down but I won’t be the same. It’s that strong a film. I’ve turned off comments here but would be happy to discuss privately, one-to-one. With anyone who has seen the film.

“I do not expect to see home again”

snowden

“We collect more digital communications from America than we do from the Russians. […] We hack everyone everywhere. We like to make a distinction between us and the others. But we are in almost every country in the world. We are not at war with these countries.”

“A lot of people in 2008 voted for Obama. I did not vote for him. I voted for a third party. But I believed in Obama’s promises. I was going to disclose it [but waited because of his election]. He continued with the policies of his predecessor.”

More of Edward Snowden interview here.

What if that’s not how things work?

From an Ezra Klein interview with Chrystia Freeland, editor of Thomson Reuters Digital and author of “The Plutocrats: The Rise of the New Global Super Rich and the Fall of Everyone Else.” The Q&A was packed with interesting insights. Take a moment to read the full piece at the link above.

“Yes, the people with merit and inventiveness should be at the top, but we want the natural outcome to be harmonious. And the scary thing is, what if that’s just not how the economy will work for the next 20 or 30 years? What if even if we get education and economic policy and all the rest of it right, that we’re not there? Do you say, okay, the way it’s working now is not consistent with how we imagine this democracy should work and therefore we believe the rich should be taxed more aggressively to support the middle class? That’s a very different way of thinking about the economy and the social contract. And after Romney’s loss, the scary thing for the super-rich becomes actually maybe they’re not going to be the ones to decide.”

“If you’ve developed an ideology that what’s good for you personally also happens to be good for everyone else, that’s quite wonderful because there’s no moral tension.”

“I’ve heard from people who worked in the White House that (Obama) doesn’t like rich people. I don’t actually think it’s true. I think he has a kind of Harvard Law School sense of kinship with these guys. He’s a member of the same technocratic elite. He could have taken that path. He has an admiration for those skills. But what he doesn’t have at all is a belief that the pure fact of having made a lot of money makes your views more valuable, or makes you more interesting or smarter than anyone else.”

“They were playing chess while we were playing checkers”

Robert Draper asks the question in a longish piece (Can the Republicans Be Saved From Obsolescence?) in the NY Times. The pieces that grabbed my attention had to do with technology. A few examples (from many):

“1.25 million more young people supported Obama in 2012 over 2008.”

“Obama was the very first candidate to appear on Reddit. We ask our clients, ‘Do you know what Reddit is?’ And only one of them did. Then we show them this photo of Obama hugging his wife with the caption ‘Four more years’ — an image no conservative likes. And we tell them, ‘Because of the way the Obama campaign used things like Reddit, that photo is the single-most popular image ever seen on Twitter or Facebook.’ ”

“Romney’s senior strategist, Stuart Stevens, may well be remembered by historians, as one House Republican senior staff member put it to me, “as the last guy to run a presidential campaign who never tweeted.”

“They were playing chess while we were playing checkers,” a senior member of the campaign’s digital team somberly told another top Romney aide shortly after the election.

The post-Post Office epoch

First, go directly to MediaFile and read John C. Abell’s brilliant post there. I’m way over the line by posting his full piece here but it is so good I don’t want to risk the link rot.

THE FUTURE – Has it been only 30 years since the U.S. Postal Service, bowing to a hostile Congress, sought to stay alive by ending Saturday delivery of first-class mail — and setting in motion one of the most remarkable and rapid cultural and infrastructure revolutions in history?

To mark the anniversary of the post-Post Office epoch, let’s relive its history. The announcement in February 2013 that regular Saturday mail delivery would be ending became a touchstone moment. The Economist reported that America was doomed. Liberals decried the “decimation” of an institution they insisted bound us together as a nation. Conservatives, who had applauded a Republican-led Congress’s insistence on forcing the Post Office to make enormous pension plan pre-payments, reveled in the prospect they’d transformed the institution.

The fight was never far from the surface. When it became a 2016 presidential campaign issue, it ensured that the next president would have to do … something. But no candidate committed to anything more than “reform.”

When President Hillary Clinton was elected, progressives were relieved — but even they had no idea how audacious she would be.

In her first inaugural address, Clinton seized the moment to advance what she called “Manifest Digital Destiny” — a.k.a. the Hillary Doctrine. That would be: The Internet is a birthright of American citizens. In creating a right to the Internet, she would have an almost Lincolnian impact on the nation for generations to come: Affordable, ubiquitous broadband would set us all free. To hasten the transition, she provided a bit of incentive: The Post Office, hobbling for years, was to be shuttered within her first term. The new broadband network would take its place.

To make it happen, Clinton knew she’d need some muscle. That’s why she made Susan “The Enforcer” Crawford chairwoman of the Federal Communications Commission. Crawford had once been Obama’s special assistant for science, technology and innovation policy. But it was Crawford’s relentless, populist campaign against the “telco cartel,” crystallized in her 2012 book, Captive Audience: The Telecom Industry and Monopoly Power in the New Gilded Age, that made her the choice for the job. In the book, Crawford argued that the United States had squandered its enormous lead in the digital revolution — and that communications companies were squarely to blame.

It wasn’t long before the wireless companies understood the future of the grid ‑ namely, that it wasn’t the ATM that it had been. It was clear what Clinton and Crawford — whom Matt Drudge had dubbed the Digital Duo — meant when they spoke of “taking a fresh, comprehensive look” at spectrum policy. Once the corporate sector’s hold on broadband was loosened, various new entries pulled together, out of self-interest, to bathe the nation in cheap, plentiful connectivity. Everyone benefited: The wealthy received their multiple data plans combined into one, much cheaper plan. The poor received tax credits to pay for service whose cost was capped by law.

Once people could connect, they needed something to connect with. Of all industries, it was the newspapers that did the most to meet the hardware need. (Occasionally, desperation breeds innovation.) At the 2017 Newspaper Association of American convention, a consortium of newspaper publishers declared the death of print “by this time next year,” and put the Associated Press — sort of the chief operating officer of the American newspaper industry, anyway — in charge of the logistics.

The AP’s plan was bold: Newspapers were to liquidate all vestiges of the old era. Printing plants were melted down, newsprint shipments were nixed, and fleets of trucks were decommissioned. The proceeds more than paid for their initiative to put a Newspapers of America-branded tablet in the hands of every homeowner, free of charge. (Like the National Biscuit Company before it, Newspapers of America would later just make their name NewAmerica, since nobody remembered what a newspaper was.) They even offered hands-on tech support to make sure Aunt Bea could Skype and send e-mail — and hadn’t forgotten to subscribe to the local news app.

The pieces were now in place to eliminate the hand delivery of nearly everything. Everything that could be digitized now was — from legal documents to personal mail to invoices — because it had to be, the life-sucking crutch that was the Post Office now gone.

Naturally FedEx, UPS and the other package giants were the first to gain, aided by an innovation from Jeff Bezos, serving as honorary Post-Postmaster General. Bezos took a cue from stamps and simplified the laborious FedEx form, replacing them with personalized QR codes. When scanned, the code would automatically deduct the cost of shipping from a pre-registered PayPal account.

Post-P.O. Box franchises also flourished, with Amazon, which already had a locker system in place in big cities, taking the lead. But then, Starbucks got in the game, and when working people realized they could send their mail to their local coffee shop and pick it up on a coffee break, it was easy to let go of the very idea of home delivery. Starbucks used its mail reception as a loss leader – if you were coming for your package, you were coming for a latte.

Nevertheless, the private mail companies soon saw their revenue drop as people adjusted to the new era. Paying bills became frictionless. Banks saw the opportunity: They had always pushed their e-payment services — a way to keep customers “loyal” by making it difficult for them to leave. But then it dawned on them to be post-ost offices as well, especially to receive all their depositors’ bills, paying them up to pre-set amounts, providing overdraft insurance if necessary on the fly (and on the cheap).

Of course, catalog companies were bereft until Google stepped up and digitized all new catalogs gratis with spare bandwidth from the Google Books Library Project (those AdSense profits come in handy). Those pop-up alerts from the J. Peterman catalog on that tablet provided by your local paper warm the inner grandma in us all of us.

Sure, lots of people still grumbled about the end of curbside service. (Even in 2013, some people were still ranting about the lack of drive-in movie theaters). It’s a good thing Andreessen Horowitz Gore saw the opportunity to back a little startup called the “Post-Post Office Squad” — founded by Mark Zuckerberg. Zuck pivoted from what turned out to be a social network fad to get into on-demand mail delivery for the masses.

The P-POSse — that’s what they call those college kids — offered individualized delivery service and smartphone-enabled locker management. (FedEx later bought it for $1 billion, having phased out its antiquated delivery squads. Zuckerberg later said, “Finally, I don’t have to lose sleep over that Instagram purchase anymore.”)

But for most, 3D printers were enough. The industry’s fax-era tagline – you ring, they render – helped the technology go mainstream, along with major price drops. What private companies couldn’t deliver, a printer could create.

As everyone now knows, it’s been smooth sailing for decades. But there is still a legacy to the USPS. Most of the smaller post offices were recommissioned decades ago. But the big ones remain in some big cities. They’ve been turned into Apple stores.

Just the other day some urban archaeologists took a tour of Grand Central Station in New York — one of the grand palaces from the days of the USPS (Grand Central Station, not the Grand Central Terminal devoted to bullet trains). They found a relic — one of those one of the original Newspapers of America-branded tablets. As the group leader told the New York Post News Times: “It still worked.”

Technology Talent Gap

Among employees who work for Google, Mr. Obama received about $720,000 in itemized contributions this year, compared with only $25,000 for Mr. Romney. That means that Mr. Obama collected almost 97 percent of the money between the two major candidates. Apple employees gave 91 percent of their dollars to Mr. Obama. At eBay, Mr. Obama received 89 percent of the money from employees. Democrats had the support of 80 percent or 90 percent of the best and brightest minds in the information technology field.

“Welcome to the team. Don’t fuck it up.”

This article in The Atlantic was one of the more interesting pieces I read about the 2012 campaign and election. A few excerpts:

“If you look like an asshole, you have to be really good.”

They didn’t have to buy the traditional stuff like the local news, either. Instead, they could run ads targeted to specific types of voters during reruns or off-peak hours. 

With Twitter, one of the company’s former employees, Mark Trammell, helped build a tool that could specifically target individual users with direct messages. “We built an influence score for the people following the [Obama for America] accounts and then cross-referenced those for specific things we were trying to target, battleground states, that sort of stuff.”

Last but certainly not least, you have the digital team’s Quick Donate. It essentially brought the ease of Amazon’s one-click purchases to political donations. “It’s the absolute epitome of how you can make it easy for people to give money online,”

They learned what it was like to have — and work with people who had —  a higher purpose than building cool stuff.

They started to worry about the next Supreme Court Justices while they coded.

“The Odd Couple: Romney Vs. Gingrich”

This isn’t part of some clever but inscrutable master plan, put on by the hidden hands who run this country, to fool or distract the masses. This is an unscripted fuck-up of heroic dimensions, radiating downward from the highest levels of our society, playing out in real time for all of us to watch. Our oligarchy has thrown a rod.

(Romney) is incapable of sympathizing with people who can’t pay their bills, because their condition is tied too closely in his mind with the question of how he made his enormous fortune: If you ask Romney to imagine what life is like for someone who’s broke, what he hears is you accusing him of making that happen.

This, of course, was the final irony: that South Carolina – a nest of upright country church folk proud of their exacting morals and broad distrust of buggery, stem cells and Hollywood relativism – had chosen as its values champion Newt Gingrich, a man who has been unfaithful not just to two wives but also two religions (raised Lutheran, he is currently Catholic by way of Southern Baptist)

There is a distinct odor of corrupt indulgence around Gingrich that may not bother sinners like you and me – but sure as hell ought to bother Southern evangelicals, who a decade and a half ago wore us all out wailing about the nearly identical personal failings of one William Jefferson Clinton, another flabby, smooth-talking hedonist who, in the pulpits of America’s megachurches, was whispered to be the earthly vessel of Satan himself.

If Gingrich ends up winning the nomination, Obama will essentially be running against the political version of Gilbert Gottfried or raw garlic – strong tastes that some like quite a lot, but many more can’t stand to even be near. If that happens, every Democratic flack from Leon Panetta to Obama himself will have to wear restraints to keep from publicly crying out in joy.

— Matt Taibbi on Romney and Gingrich (Rolling Stone, January 30, 2012)

“Bottom-Up Revolution”

From an opinion piece on Al-Jazeera, by Paul Rosenberg 

Obama, however, is just one political figure, reflecting the more general state of US politics – particularly elite opinion and major economic interests. His ambivalence is, in this sense, an expression of America’s fading power. Obama’s belated attempts to play catch-up with the Arab Spring are but one facet of a more general loss of previous dominance.

And this from Wadah Khanfar, on the obsolecense aging Arab regimes:

This outstanding change, this historic moment, was totally lost on ageing governments that thought they were dealing with a bunch of kids who only needed to vent and then go home to their aimless lives. But they were wrong: because their ideas were old, their opinions were old, their minds were old, and their spirit was old. Ignorance can sometimes be a tool of destiny.

I’m finding Al-Jazeera a very credible and refreshing source for world news.

And then there’s this from a recent NYT story:

The Obama administration is leading a global effort to deploy “shadow” Internet and mobile phone systems that dissidents can use to undermine repressive governments that seek to silence them by censoring or shutting down telecommunications networks.

The effort includes secretive projects to create independent cellphone networks inside foreign countries, as well as one operation out of a spy novel in a fifth-floor shop on L Street in Washington, where a group of young entrepreneurs who look as if they could be in a garage band are fitting deceptively innocent-looking hardware into a prototype “Internet in a suitcase.”

Reminds me of all those Stinger missles we gave the Taliban fighters to use against the Russkies.