"Online technology," Leigninger writes, "can bring the political system closer to the people,
can dramatically enlarge the number and diversity of people who
participate in public life, and can help them participate in much more
intensive and productive ways."
Andrew Rasiej, founder of PDF, says the organization's mission is to "reinvent democracy for the 21st century." It started in 2004. Back then, "people didn't understand what personal
democracy meant," Rasiej told ABC News. "By 2008, with the pervasiveness of the
Web with platforms like Facebook and MySpace and YouTube, it's obvious
that you can be involved in political life in a meaningful way by using
the Internet to inform yourself, to share your opinion and more
importantly, to organize with others to change results."
At PDF online, you can sign up, and through an online community, "meet the people who
are making that change happen, discover the tools powering the new
civic conversation, spot the early trends, and share in understanding
and embracing this dynamic new force."
Though I have not yet attended a meeting of PDF, I've been intrigued and involved in electronic democracy efforts since the mid-1990s. To me, the next step in creating a new democracy online is to build online structures that mirror real-life civic and political structures, but in ways that are flexible, fluid, intuitive and understandable enough to encourage participation AND accountability.
civic and party activists and precinct workers who electronically identify their allies in each neighborhood, meet face-to-face, listen to each other, discuss and debate and mobilize on local , statewide and national issues, are aware of who in the neighborhood needs a nudge to vote in primary and general elections. These cyber-precinct workers or ward-healers are tied into online databases like the Voter Activation Network (VAN), and work together on letter-writing campaigns, get out the vote efforts, and other forums of civic activism and engagement. Alliances are fluid: two people who may be in the same political party and who work together on a national political campaign may take opposite positions on local issues, and vice versa. Two people who may take diametrically opposed positions on national political issues may agree passionately on local issues. That is the essence of democracy and why civility and mutual respect must rule.
the city and county-wide online communities in turn link to, tie in to and have representatives of a plethora of national political campaigns and civic organizations and networks, so that a citizen can enter the online democracy at any point in the loose-knit structure and begin to engage on the local, statewide or national level.
Inevitably, citizens will find that their voice is heard most easily at the most local level. Online as well as off, government and civic entities are most likely to be most responsive on the local level.
Building electronic democracy is about civic engagement. It is not a partisan exercise, though the political parties and advocacy groups that best build and utilize online networks and structures and PARTICIPATE will probably have the most success off line, in the real world.
Given the closeness of the Democratic nomination contest, there can be little doubt that the Obama campaign's superior use of the Internet to organize supporters in key states (or to allow them to self-organize online) and to inspire an unprecedented 1.5 million donors to give more than $265.4 million (through the end of April) was a key factor in his victory.
If I were a McCain supporter, I would be deeply worried by my candidate's lack of Internet savvy (he doesn't even use a computer), as revealed in this Personal Democracy Forum clip, in which an advisor defends McCain by saying "he's AWARE of the Internet." On Facebook and MySpace, Obama has six times more supporters than McCain does (Obama has more than a million supporters on Facebook alone), but McCain's advisors don't seem to care: "We don't need Facebook; they're not our voters," one advisor told the PDF.
If Obama wins in November, the Internet is likely to have been as important if not more important to his victory as television was to John F. Kennedy in 1960.
I didn't make it to New York for the Personal Democracy Forum, but I'm enjoying the videoclips, the articles and blog reports online. The mission of PDF is to "reinvent democracy for the 21st century." Elizabeth Edwards, who wowed the crowd in 2006 with her knowledge of the Internet and passion for online communities, charmed the audience again when she teleconferenced from her living room in Chapel Hill using Skype. (The transmission included a surprise appearance by her husband John.) The video images and sound transmissions from this free software were extraordinarily good, providing a great demonstration of how public figures and audiences can interact face to face in this new era without all the time and expense of travel. I wonder if "to Skype" will become as common a verb as "to Google."
"As a member of the audience, I found it a lot
more interesting to see Elizabeth Edwards in her own surroundings -- on
a yellow couch with a pink rose print, in front of oak furniture,
pottery, and a grandfather clock in the background -- than it would
have been to see one more speaker behind a podium and under a
spotlight. And, without the technology behind Skype, I doubt I ever
would have seen anyone nominated for vice president come home from work
without the self-consciousness and self-editing that usually comes from
knowing you're on camera."
Kathy Gill of About.com made some interesting observations about the "twitter" conversation among audience members while Elizabeth spoke.
Micah Sifry offers interesting background on how the Skype teleconference came about rather spontaneously, with a MAC user from Chapel Hill going to the Edwards' house to set up Skype.
John Huth in video conference and online chat in 2005.
I just learned, through an Internet search of death notices, that my friend John Harvey Huth passed away on April 26, 2008 in Arlington, VA at the age of 86. John was a true pioneer in using computer technologies to reduce the isolation of senior citizens and to improve their lives in nursing homes.
I regret that I never got a chance to tell him what a contribution he made.
His blog, which I helped him set up, lives on as a repository of his innovative ideas and as something of a model for what present and future pioneers in the field can accomplish. I only wish he were here to see the full fruition of his vision.
I knew something was amiss when I left numerous messages on John's answering machine over the last several months, but did not receive a return call. When I visited Washington in early May, I went by his house in hopes of finding him. His car was out front, but no one answered the door. John's wife died in October, 2006, and he had no children. I didn't know who his next of kin was.
When I called his number a few days ago and it was disconnected, I surmised that he had died. I've made calls to Capital Hospice in Arlington, and Everly Wheatly Funeral Home, which were listed in his death notice, but haven't been able to connect with anyone who actually knew him. I feel alone in a sense of loss and am posting this blog in hopes that someone who knew him might eventually reply.
I first met John in 2002 while he was volunteering at Sligo Creek Nursing Home in Takoma Park, MD. We shared a vision -- that tablet pc's which translate handwriting into text could overcome the computer phobia of senior citizens who do not type, and that email, the web, webcams, photo slideshows, and videoconferencing with friends and relatives could greatly improve senior citizens' connections with the world.
Those were great ideas, but the computer phobia of residents and staff of nursing homes proved to be far greater than I expected. After making initial progress in feeling comfortable with computers, several nursing home residents experienced cognitive setbacks that meant we had to start all over again, so that you'd spend half an hour getting a resident to simply open a web browser or send an email of one sentence in length. The setbacks caused me to abandon the project in frustration.
But John persevered. He was the bulldog who kept on pushing for practical ways to implement the vision. A year later he called me to report success in creating a model program at the Hebrew Home of Washington. I examined it, was duly impressed, as were editors at The Washington Post, who accepted my freelance piece about his work, "Bridging the Digital Divide: Teens Help Seniors Go Online."
I miss John, and will go on some long walks to have some more conversations with him.
Having written extensively about the potential power of online neighborhoods nationally, I'm pleased to see the extent of electronic democracy in Chatham County, NC, where I now live. Though Chatham is a relatively rural community, it seems to have thriving online communities.
Despite President Bush's declaration that the U.S. "does not torture," the Senate Armed Services Committee has produced evidence that it was the policy of the U.S. government after 9/11 to use almost any aggressive technique, including beatings, electrical shocks, sexual humiliation, waterboarding, starvation, tying detainees, enforced nudity for weeks, and repeated kicks in the groin by female interrogators. A lawyer for the CIA's Counterterrorist Center, Jonathan Fredman, told the committee that the only limit to the aggressive techniques was "if the detainee dies, you're doing it wrong."
Thousands were falsely imprisoned, without any evidence of their guilt, and many of them were tortured and abused. At least 25 detainees were murdered out of a total of 100 detainee deaths, according to Larry Wilkerson, Colin Powell's former Chief of Staff.
U.S. Army General Antonia Taguba, who led the investigation into prisoner abuse at Abu Ghraib, has accused the Bush administration of committing "war crimes" and called for those responsible to be held account, according to the McClatchy Washington Bureau.
"After years of disclosures by government investigations, media accounts and reports from human rights organizations, there is no longer any doubt as to whether the current administration has committed war crimes," Taguba wrote. "The only question that remains to be answered is whether those who ordered the use of torture will be held to account."
Many former detainees eventually released as innocent still suffer from trauma, the Associated Press reports on a study by Physicians for Human Rights. Further, "military lawyers warned the Pentagon that some of the methods it used to interrogate and hold detainees after the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks violated military, U.S. and international law. Those objections were overruled by the top Pentagon lawyer, who said he was unaware of the criticism."
Meanwhile, an eight-month McClatchy Newspapers investigation in 11 countries on three continents has found that hundreds of men have been wrongfully imprisoned by the U.S. in "Afghanistan, Cuba and elsewhere on the basis of flimsy or fabricated evidence, old personal scores or bounty payments."
Andrew Sullivan: "Defending suspected terrorists' human rights isn't popular - especially when those suspects are foreign, have brown skin and speak a different language. But if most Americans fully understood how many innocents have been swept into the Bush gulag, they might be more circumspect."
On December 2, 2002 the U.S. Secretary of Defense, Donald Rumsfeld, signed his name at the bottom of a document that listed eighteen techniques of interrogation--techniques that defied international definitions of torture. The Rumsfeld Memo authorized the controversial interrogation practices that later migrated to Guantanamo, Afghanistan, Abu Ghraib and elsewhere, as part of the policy of extraordinary rendition. From a behind-the-scenes vantage point, Phillipe Sands investigates how the Rumsfeld Memo set the stage for a divergence from the Geneva Convention and the Torture Convention and holds the individual gatekeepers in the Bush administration accountable for their failure to safeguard international law.
The Torture Team delves deep into the Bush administration to reveal:
· How the policy of abuse originated with Donald Rumsfeld, Dick Cheney and George W. Bush, and was promoted by their most senior lawyers
· Personal accounts, through interview, of those most closely involved in the decisions
· How the Joint Chiefs and normal military decision-making processes were circumvented
· How Fox TV’s 24 contributed to torture planning
· How interrogation techniques were approved for use
· How the new techniques were used on Mohammed Al Qahtani, alleged to be “the 20th highjacker” (but the Pentagon in May 2008 dropped all charges against him)
· How the senior lawyers who crafted the policy of abuse exposed themselves to the risk of war crimes charges
Maybe NBC has overdone its coverage of Tim Russert's death, but the Today show interview with Tim's son Luke was truly remarkable. Every father and son could only hope to have the kind of relationship that Big Russ, Tim and Luke had together. Related story. And my friend Bruce Johnson has some moving reflections about Tim Russert's faith.
Watching the tributes to Russert, from both the left and right, I'm led to believe that he was a true journalistic role model and hero. When I was in journalism school, I had lots of role models and heroes to look up to, among them Walter Cronkite, Eric Sevareid and Tom Wicker, most of whom have little or no relevance to young journalists facing an entirely different set of industry circumstances and pressures today. Russert stands as a model of fairness, and great enthusiasm for life.
But we may not see his like again in television journalism. "The emotional farewells to Russert, which ultimately came to feel excessive, seemed rooted in journalism's crisis of confidence," wrote Howard Kurtz in The Washington Post. "The NBC analyst was hailed as a symbol of old-fashioned, carefully
balanced, substance-driven reporting, an approach that, while not
exactly extinct, often seems drowned out by today's loudmouth
Russert's death, and the retirement of Len Downie as executive editor of The Washington Post, represents the end of an era, an era when big media devoted huge resources to ferreting out the news, and when their work truly mattered. With declining audiences, declining revenues, declining staff, declining public confidence in the media, journalists are nostalgic for their days of glory.