Archive - 2007

1
Case Foundation Walks the Talk
2
Journalism 2.0
3
I'm Not Sure We Are Having an Election
4
Great Gift Giving Ideas from ChangingthePresent.org
5
The Disasterous Election Day in San Francisco
6
So Many Cool New Sites, So Little Time
7
From the Absurd Annals of Post 9/11 Paranoia
8
If We're Going to Hell in a Handbasket . . .

Case Foundation Walks the Talk

The Case Foundation (full disclosure: I am currently working on a project with the Foundation) announced yesterday a new grant challenge aimed at catalyzing a large number of donors to give this holiday season. Beginning last year, Case has focused on providing opportunities to highlight and reward the power of individual giving and activism.

As the Washington Post reports (registration stupidly required here) this morning. Here’s the gist of the article:

The Case Foundation, the philanthropy of Steve and Jean Case, is promoting America’s Giving Challenge, which aims to draw people who do not consider themselves to be philanthropists to donate as little as $10 to charities around the world. The foundation is working with Network for Good and GlobalGiving, nonprofit groups that allow donors to conduct online searches for charities to support.

The foundation has also begun a similar challenge on Facebook. Facebook users can donate to any of 1.5 million charities through the site’s “causes” section and have their donations and causes displayed as part of their personal profiles.

The Case Foundation is giving away $750,000 in the two online efforts, which start today and end January 31. People who recruit the most friends from their social networks will each receive $50,000 to donate to charity. The 100 charities that garner the highest number of online donations will each get $1,000.

There are many exciting aspects of this grant program. One in particular is recognizing the power of friends instead of just dollars to support causes. Young people in particular are not only not in a position to fund causes with large dollars, but don’t see the world through that lens alone. That’s the power behind the social networking sites; friends are their commerce and Case is recoginizing that and bringing that same passion to their causes.

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Journalism 2.0

When I speak to groups this question inevitably comes up, “I don’t know what information to trust online.” Fair question. I also struggle with the opposite problem, there are so many information sources that I feel overwhelmed trying to read through them. Well, wait five minutes in the Connected Age and someone will have a new application to solve any problem. Welcome NewsTrust!

NewsTrust has taken the idea of social networks and applied it to journalism. In their words it is:

The free NewsTrust.net website features daily feeds of quality news and opinions, which are carefully rated by our members, using our unique review tools. We rate the news based on quality, not just popularity. NewsTrust reviewers evaluate each article against core journalistic principles such as fairness, evidence, sourcing and context.

NewsTrust presents news articles to their membership who review tools using criteria such as fairness, evidence, sourcing and context. Reviewing articles takes some time and consideration on the part of members – but thoughtfulness has never been time-free. NewsTrust is built upon two powerful characteristics of the web: the power of reputation systems (ratings systems that a large number of users or customers can help shape and increase their trust over time), and the power of social networks to help build and shape large communities over time.

The folks at NewsTrust did a lot of testing and research prior to their launch. The site is based on solid research that indicates that citizens who are not journalists can provide valuable feedback on the quality of news articles. According to its website, NewsTrust had initial seed funding from the Mitch Kapor Foundation, the Ayrshire Foundation and the Tides Foundation, as well as Craig Newmark (Craigslist), Doug Carlston (Public Radio International), Fabrice Florin and other private donors. It recently secured multi-year funding from the MacArthur Foundation for $450,000.

NewsTrust is one of the most exciting developments I’ve come across in a while – it really does have transformational possibilities.

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I'm Not Sure We Are Having an Election

My friend, Micah Sifry, writes here about the woeful information on the Board of Elections websites for New York State. According to the Board, the next primary election in New York is last September, to match last November’s election. It wouldn’t be quite so woeful, I guess, if the primaries were scheduled for next fall, about a year away, but we’re having a presidential primary in New York State in two months!

This is similar to what I saw and wrote about in California on Election Day (here), it didn’t appear that California’s officials who decertified almost all of the machinery used on Election Day, have a game plan for their primary that also happens in about 60 days.

This may be one of the few instances when when we should be thankful that the Board of Elections in New York State is so utterly incompetent — at least we haven’t spent millions of dollars on election machinery that doesn’t work!

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Great Gift Giving Ideas from ChangingthePresent.org

I just received an email from my friend, Robert Tolmach, the brains behind Changing the Present. Here’s what he has to say about a very giving way to give this holiday season:

In the next few weeks, we’re all about to spend $100 BILLION on gifts. Unfortunately, some of that money will be wasted on things like unwanted fruit cakes and pen & pencil sets. . .

Now, there’s an exciting alternative!

At ChangingThePresent.org you can give donation gifts, which help make the world a better place. It’s amazing what your gifts can accomplish: preserve an acre of the wilderness; fund an hour of life-saving cancer research; or even provide a child with her first book, so she can learn how to read.

With over 1,000 gifts, from $2 to $5,000, from hundreds of leading nonprofits, it’s easy to find an inspiring gift for everyone on your list.

Just imagine the impact we can make together as this new kind of giving catches on! Please help by sharing this email with your friends.

www.ChangingThePresent.org

Changing the world, one gift at a time

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The Disasterous Election Day in San Francisco

I happened to find myself in San Francisco on Election Day this past November 6th. Oh, what a disaster – really, I couldn’t believe that a major city in America would have an voting process that was broken from end to end. I wrote it up for my friends at the Personal Democracy Forum. Here’s it is:

On September 20th, I spied a small article in the San Francisco Chronicle with the headline, “S.F. election results won’t be known for weeks.” The Secretary of State of California, Debra Bowen, determined that ES&S Systems, makers of the AutoMARK touch screen voting machines, had sold machines to several counties, including San Francisco, that were not certified by the state. I dug a little further and found out that the the Secretary of State had already determined that the Eagle optical-scan machines bought by California in 2000 inconsistently read some pen markings. The bottom line is that after seven years of reforms, millions of dollars in new machinery, San Francisco county cannot certify this election until a hand recount of ballots is completed.

I decided to go to San Francisco to see for myself why it is so difficult for a city sitting on the edge of Silicon Valley to elect a mayor. The voting debacle in San Francisco was a many pieced jigsaw puzzle, only the pieces don’t fit together neatly or logically, the whole is not the sum of its parts.

The first polling precinct I visited on election day was the back room of a recreation center in the Petrero Hill neighborhood of San Francisco. The building looked and smelled like a Catholic boys school from 1952, with various shades of beige minglingwith the old scent of sweat socks. On the walls were yellowed newspaper accounts of past athletic glories including an article about O.J. Simpson’s induction into the Football Hall of Fame in 1985( Potrero Hill Community Center was Simpson’s childhood playground). As I pushed open the door to the voting room I realized too late that the hinges of the door were very loose, and the door smashed into the wall making a thunderous crashing sound. The boom startled the four poll workers who had been heads-down asleep on their tables;it was 2:30 pm and I was the eleventh person to show up that day. In addition to one adult woman, there were three teenage boys working the polls, products of the state’s effort to recruit high school teens to replace aging poll workers. When I announced myself as a writer and not a voter, their grumpy looks turned steely and suspicious. I asked a question about the voting booths carrels — were they private enough? — but was met by dismissive stares. I waited a while for a voter to show up, but to no avail and soon moved on to the next polling place.

Two stops later I found myself at the Sojourner Truth Child Care Center. There I was met by a friendlier crew of three high school girls, one high school boy and two adults staffing the polls. Sixteen people had voted by 3:30 pm, but no one came inwhen I was there. We had a lively conversation about how few people voted. Vanessa, the gregarious poll inspector, raised the issue of only one person running for Mayor as part of the reason that voting was so low. There were in fact over a dozen people running for mayor, but her point, that there wasn’t a serious, contested race, was certainly true.

Vanessa has worked at the polls for almost a decade. It’s good, fun work, she said, and next year there will be three elections to keep her busy. The teens here had the same answer that all of the teens I talked to on Election Day had for why they had volunteered to work the polls, “Good money, and no school.”

Finally, at the Thurgood Marshall High School I found voters. The after-work crowd began to trickle in around 4:30. Richard, the poll inspector, had been working the polls for nearly 20 years – and he had a lot to say about it. I had read about the problems with the voting machines, that the current versions used in San Francisco County had not been certified by the state. But this wasn’t the real problem, Richard said. The real problem was the ranked voting system that had been adopted three years earlier by the city and was being used for the first time in a mayoral election.

In 2004, San Francisco County adopted a ranked order voting system for its elections. Voters select a first, second and third choice for mayor to ensure that someone gets fifty plus one percent of the vote and to avoid costly run off elections. Nice idea, nicer still if there was more education of voters about the new system since all of the voters I watched seemed surprised and perplexed when given the ballots. But, that wasn’t the real problem. The real problem is that ranked order voting and the Eagle optical scan machine are not a good fit; in fact, they are election oil and water.

Each voter received a ballot from one of the poorly-trained high school kids who didn’t mention anything to them about how the new system worked. The ballot had three long columns, each identical. A voter is supposed to mark their first, second and third choices from left to right. Of the fifteen voters I watched fill out the ballot, two did it right, and the rest split between marking the same person three times or marking their first choice once in the first column and leaving the second two columns blank. Voters then took their ballot to the scanning machine and fed them in. If they had filled out the ballot correctly, the ballot passed soundlessly into the large container below the scanner. But at least half of the time the ballots were rejected by the scanner. This set off a loud beeping by the machine. If your pants were split or you had spinach between your front teeth, people might privately stare and even chuckle inside, but how would you feel if you had just voted for the adult video store owner for mayor of San Francisco and it set off a loud beeping of a machine and a rush of a poll worker to find out about the problem?
When the voting machines began to beep, a printout appeared from the back of the machine, like the running tabs on an old accounting machine. But, the poll workers didn’t look at the printout. Poll workers are people and it is human nature for them to try to help a voter figure out the problem, which means looking at the voter’s ballot, which means looking at how they voted. Voters have a total of three tries to fill out a ballot correctly, and from what I saw, poll workers looked at the ballots each time to try to stop the beeping in the first place or avert it with the second ballot. I’ve always suspected that my father voted for Republicans once he stepped inside the voting booth, but I’ve never known for sure because his vote, cast alone in the voting booth, is private. Voters in San Francisco were deprived of this fundamental right.

After years and millions of dollars spent planning, buying, and implementing new election machinery and systems with the worthiest of intentions, the results are dismal.

The voting system in San Francisco is not ailing or inconsistent or disheveled, it’s flat out broken. Millions of dollars of new machinery down the drain, poorly trained poll workers and poorly educated voters, voters who come to vote and find out that they’re not registered, or not at the right polling place. And, while states and counties bumble toward electoral meltdowns, the confidence of voters continues to swoon southward.

As a digital utopian, I am in fully in favor of moving to online voting as quickly as we can. In the meantime, after watching this debacle and with the presidential primaries in California just four months away, I was left thinking that a better system right now for Californians would be a paper ballot that voters check off with any pen and drop into a ballot box.

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So Many Cool New Sites, So Little Time

I’ve seen so many cool new sites in the last week but two in particular that I wanted to share:

  • Witness’ long awaited video hub, called The Hub, is up and running. It is billed as a “global platform for human rights and actio.” The Hub enables human rights activists around the world to upload videos of human rights abuses right to the site. This ensures that activists working on the ground in countries with repressive regimes can bear witness to abuse without implicating themselves by airing the videos themselves. This is disaggregation in the best sense of the term; a video channel particular to the human rights arena under the guiding direction of a quality organization that knows how to share information effectively. Witness is also a wonderfully transparent organization having recently released it’s annual “Performance Assessment Dashboard” a candid assessment of the organization’s progress over the last twelve months.
  • Another quality organization, The Sunlight Foundation, announced it’s participation in a new service called, ” Government Documents that gives anyone with an Internet connection the power to investigate the federal government. ” Created in partnership with Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, the tools allows individual and teams of citizens to review where and how projects are funded by Congress and the interactions between Congress (particularly individual elected officials) and the federal agencies.
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From the Absurd Annals of Post 9/11 Paranoia

Late last week, it was reported that the State of Pennsylvania was not going to publicly release the state’s list of polling places due to fears of a terrorist attack. As we all know, Pennsylvania has been the epicenter of roiling terrorist battles over the past few years resulting in the need to keep all public data hidden from – well, from everyone. My sarcasm spilleth over.

Governor Rendell quickly reversed this ridiculous decision.

So, we’re good, right? This silliness is passed until the next ridiculous government decision that will be mocked and quickly reversed. But, here’s the catch, it isn’t an isolated incident of fear-based decision making, this ridiculousness represents a pattern of post-9/11 knee-jerk reactions from the feds to towns and villages across the country that result in benign information kept hidden, to far worse, treating citizens like enemy combatants as I wrote about a few weeks ago when Carol Ann Gotbaum was manhandled, shackled, and eventually killed in police custody in Phoenix Airport.

The pendulum swung to its farthest extreme six years ago in the aftermath of the attacks, and through the vigilance of the press and citizen journalists it has begun to swing back. But, here’s the key question, we know the wheels of justice turn slowly, and the wheels of inane bureaucracies turn even more slowly — but when are they going to begin to turn on their own, back to a norm of openness and transparency, of the primacy of information and citizen engagement over secrecy and fear?

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If We're Going to Hell in a Handbasket . . .

we’ll buy the basket through a catalog. In 2005 alone, more than 19 billion (Billion!) catalogs were mailed in the US alone. Too often, we don’t want these catalogs, our name was purchased by a company that just sends out a huge amount of catalogs and hopes someone, somewhere will buy something. It’s annoying, moreover it’s wasteful. And now there’s a great new website called Catalog Choice to help us manage what we get and stop getting what we don’t want to get. The site is sponsored by the Ecology Center. It is endorsed by the National Wildlife Federation and the Natural Resources Defense Council, and funded by the Overbrook Foundation, the Merck Family Fund, and the Kendeda Fund.

The site has a greater user interface, it’s easy to sign up (for free!) and opt out of the catalogs that you don’t want to get anymore, reducing the clutter in our mailboxes and landfills at the same time. You register for the site (you will get an email to click on it and verify your address, so make sure to use a real email), then type in the names of the catalog you don’t want to receive anymore.  Try it, it’s so easy, fun and makes a difference!

To follow up on last week’s post, 10questions.com sponsored by TechPresident is really taking off! As of yesterday, Micah writes that over 20,000 votes for videos have been cast. The New York Times, a partner in the development of the site, had this to say about it yesterday. Hurry up and vote (or better post a video and vote) before time runs out!

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