Genesis

I am energized and believe in what I am doing. I am starting a company that helps progressive political campaigns win elections.

Setting aside important concerns about the role of money in politics for just a moment, offering financial support to collective efforts is a basic part of any free and civilized society.

My new company, Vasker, helps progressive campaigns find new donors and learn more about their existing donors. Vasker helps progressive campaigns change the world.

The last thirty days have been a flurry of software development and meetings and legal paperwork. I have a beta customer who is eager to try the system out. I am figuring out scalability and user interface and sales strategy issues. And my house is a mess.

The short term mission is to work with customer #1 to refine the product into an insight-generation machine that will give them fundraising superpowers. That success story will be the springboard for everything else.

Longer term, I will build a profitable platform for progressive donor prospecting nationwide that connects people with the capacity and interest to help with the campaigns that can make a difference. A win-win.

Back to work!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Inequality

A few night’s ago, I watched Robert Reich’s Inequality For All, followed by Netflix’s documentary on Mitt.

The only segments during which I was put off by Inequality for All were the personal stories from people who were struggling financially.  In some cases they were moving stories (though I can’t recall any), but you can find one person in most any circumstance, and yet that doesn’t create a sufficient rationale for policy action. I get it though — put a personal face on what could be a dry economic argument.

What I found much more compelling were the descriptions of the virtuous cycle inherent in the progressive economic vision, and the explanation of the reasons for the rapidly increasing income inequality.

The virtuous cycle goes something like this:

  • Pay good wages ->
  • Workers have spending money ->
  • Increased economic activity ->
  • More jobs ->
  • Increased tax revenue ->
  • Increased capacity for government to invest in education and infrastructure ->
  • Higher quality jobs that pay good wages…

It is easy to see the flip side, the vicious cycle, that results from pressing wages downward.

Reich explains that a variety of factors have resulted in the greatest level of income inequality since the Great Depression. After thirty years of relative prosperity and a strong middle class, things began to change in the late seventies.

Weakening labor unions resulted in a decline in average worker wages.  More families struggled, and women began to enter the workforce in droves. The flood of new labor (and sexism, I assume) pushed wages down further.

Reagan slashed taxes, resulting in lower spending on infrastructure and education. Global supply chains meant companies could find cheaper labor elsewhere.  Technological automation demanded a highly skilled work force, largely to be found in other countries.

While real wages declined, the real estate boom of the nineties encouraged homeowners to leverage their equity.  After all, why not take out a new loan at 10% while your asset is appreciating at 20%? This was all encouraged by a rapacious and rapidly growing financial sector.

As similar phenomena preceded the Great Depression, the result of all this was the economic crisis of 2007-2008, from which we’re still reeling in a lot of ways.

Income inequality is inevitable and desirable, to a degree. After all, there must be a system of incentive and differentiation. But concentrating the wealth of the nation so extremely isn’t just unfair, it’s a prescription for broad economic calamity.

. . .

The Mitt Romney documentary was cringe-inducing. For all it will feed Mitt-bashers’ appetites, it also revealed him as a human being with a loving family and good intentions.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Citizen University and Next Steps

Last month I attended Citizen University, an event and organization created by Eric Liu, co-author of Gardens of Democracy, which I have mentioned previously as inspirational.

Lawrence Lessig was the keynote speaker. I first remember hearing of him when he was focused on copyright, Creative Commons, piracy, and open source. Now, he’s focused on money in politics.

His opening speech made the case that just as barriers to voting by non-whites were firmly yet surreptitiously established and defended for generations, now the barriers to political influence exist for all but the very rich.

I’ve also recently skimmed parts of his book,  “Republic, Lost”.  The influence of money is apparently difficult to prove scientifically, academically. But he explains the indirect ways it occurs — through the focus of time and attention, through prioritization of communication, through issue familiarity, etc.

Later in the day I attended a session on how to influence societal opinion (or something like that) presented by Zach Silk. He was impressive, a career campaign consultant, and I’m meeting with him next week.

In the meantime, I’ve completed a personal development exercise that purports to identify my core values. The result:

  1. Compassion
  2. Freedom
  3. Justice
  4. Creativity
  5. Innovation

The idea is that if you are consciously aware of your core values, then any time you’re wondering how to decide or what to do next, you have a firm foundation, a set of criteria to apply and make the decision/action obvious.

Given my list, doing a software startup that “helps the good guys win elections” sounds right up my alley.

I’m meeting with political operatives and other advisers this month to vet some ideas.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Decisions Make Everything Happen

Decisions make everything happen, good and bad.  Maybe not earthquakes and lightning strikes, but all human/social happenings, like blackouts, and riots, and gentrification, and squalor, and the rise and fall of property values and food prices. Though the phenomena may be a few steps removed, each is the result of public policy decisions made by people.

This was a point made casually by Christine Gaspar, of the Center for Urban Pedagogy, at an event in Seattle last night.  From their site:

The Center for Urban Pedagogy (CUP) is a nonprofit organization that uses the power of design and art to increase meaningful civic engagement.

Another phrase I liked from her presentation was “making policy public”. One of their projects was to take pages of densely-worded legalese regulating street vendors into a booklet-poster piece that could inform both the primary-immigrant vendors themselves,  and the cops who interacted with them. I was reminded of my medical marijuana advocacy days, and the complexities of the law, and the long FAQ I wrote, and how a competent information designer could have helped.

It’s a noble mission.  Even though I have a secret love for unraveling dense legalese into understandable rules of the road, and such legalese is needed to ensure absolute clarity before bureaucrats and judges, the information should be readily accessible to regular citizens.

 

Kshama Sawant’s Inauguration

Yesterday afternoon, I attended the inauguration of Seattle’s mayor and newly elected city council members. But really, I was only interested in seeing one of them, Kshama Sawant.

Born in India, she holds a B.Sc. in computer science, and a PhD in economics. She ran on the Socialist Alternative ticket and her platform included a $15 minimum wage, a “millionaire tax” to fund public transit and bikeways, and rent control. She supported the same-sex marriage, GMO labeling, and marijuana legalization initiatives.

Her inauguration was covered by the New York Times, the Guardian, Japan Times, The Nation, and al Jazeera (video).  Salon.com called her one of 2013’s five biggest political heroes (alongside the Pope).

Local media described her inauguration speech as “defiant” and “blistering“.  I called it “fiery”.  And moving.

Why’d I go to the event? Because I sensed that something historic was happening. And because I wanted to experience the emotional charge that comes from being a part of a passionate crowd.

Also, the issue of economic inequality is a social justice issue.   Nearly everyone thinks it’s crazy that CEOs of big companies earn, on average, $7000 an hour.

To continue the campaign for the $15/hour minimum wage, a new organization, 15Now, is getting going.

I don’t know that I’ll get involved with this movement, but I gave them twenty bucks and signed up to receive email updates. It was good to have a taste of the electricity that’s generated when people who are being screwed get organized and fight for justice.