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“In Washington DC, it’s not right vs. left, it’s old vs. new” – Senator Michael Bennet
I’ve been thinking about this since I heard it last Sunday evening in a conversation with FCC Chair Tom Wheeler. I was part of a fascinating private group discussion with him and came away with a lot of respect for him and appreciation for how he approaches things. While I’m on a year hiatus from political stuff, I was intrigued by the opportunity to meet with him given my close relationship with Phil Weiser (CU Law Dean), and Phil’s deep respect for Tom.
In the midst of the conversation, this line from Michael Bennet, one of our Colorado Senators, popped out.
Michael’s statement rang true with me. But it’s not just in Washington, it’s everywhere. This is the classic incumbent vs. innovator challenge and we are seeing it play out aggressively across all industries and geographies as the machines, especially the software in the machines, have the impact on society that many of us have been anticipating and investing in for a long time.
The confusion – and conflict – in our society around this is just beginning. The mess in DC is just a starting point. Suddenly cities like San Francisco are struggling to reconcile two diverging classes – the rich and the poor – with the middle rapidly being squeeze out of the city. Cities like Chicago and Seattle are seriously considering trying to regulate a new generation of innovators, in the form of Uber and Lyft, while at the same time trying to present themselves as forward thinking innovative places to live. We went through this last year in Denver with Uber and my instinct at the time was that this is just the tip of the iceberg.
It’s a really big iceberg. The incumbents are extremely powerful and love the status quo. Sure – they aren’t stagnant, but they’ll use all the tools available to themselves to protect their flanks. And the attackers aren’t from the left or the right, but from the new.
I’ve spent my entire professional career working on the new. I’ve always felt frustrated by the incumbents, by the bureaucracies, and by the old way of doing things. I’m not very nostalgic and spend most of my energy looking and moving forward, rather than trying to protect what I have.
Over the past few years, I’ve felt like the dynamic I’m describing was accelerating. There were days I just felt like I was getting older, but when I reflect on it, it’s no different that it always has been throughout history. While time marches on linearly at a very consistent cadence, change does not. It comes in fits and spurts and is as chaotic as the early days of any fast growing company. It’s not predictable, and when it accelerates, lots of crazy shit starts to happen.
I don’t have a solution to this, nor do I think there is one since it’s a completely unstable and dynamic situation. Many humans instinctively resist change. We fear the uncertain. We try to control what we can’t control.
Accepting the mess is part of the beauty of being human. All this has happened before, and all of it will happen again.
Near the end of the week last week, the lastest “the US government is spying on US citizens” scandal broke. For 24 hours I tried to ignore it but once big tech companies, specifically Facebook, Google, and Yahoo, started coming out with their denials about being involved in PRISM, I got sucked into all the chatter. I was able to ignore it yesterday because I took a digital sabbath but ended up reading a bunch of stuff about it this morning.
While I’m a strong believer in civil liberties and am opposed to the Patriot Act, I long ago gave up the notion that we have any real data privacy. I’ve regularly fought against attempts at outrageous new laws like SOPA/PIPA but I’m not naive and realize that I’m vastly outgunned by the people who want this kind of stuff. Whenever I get asked if I’ll write huge checks to play big money politics against this stuff, I say no. And recently, I’ve started quoting Elon Musk’s great line at the All Things Digital Conference, “If we give in to that, we’ll get the political system we deserve.”
I read around 50 articles on things this morning. I’m no more clear on what is actually going on as the amount of vagueness, statements covered with legal gunk, illogical statements, and misdirection is extraordinary, even for an issue like this one.
Following are some of the more interesting things I read today.
- We are shocked, shocked…
- Government Says Secret Court Opinion on Law Underlying PRISM Program Needs to Stay Secret
- It’s our own fault… Deal with it.
- Tech Companies Concede to Surveillance Program
- Is the NSA outsourcing its domestic spying to Israel?
- Nothing To Hide
- No One Is Talking About The Insane Law That Lets Authorities Read Any Email Over 180 Days Old
- Room 641A
- What If China Hacks the NSA’s Massive Data Trove?
And I always thought PRISM was about teleportation.
And finally, the Wikipedia article, like all Wikipedia articles, is the definitive source of all PRISM information at this point, at least to the extent that anything around PRISM is accurate.
I’ve regularly blog about patent trolls harassing startups and impeding innovation, the experiences of immigrant founders, and the battle for a free internet. While I’m fortunate to have this blog, and other writing opportunities as a platform to give voice to these stories, I also realize that to really have a meaningful impact, we need the startup community to be involved in government.
That’s where Engine Advocacy comes in. A few months ago, I joined the Advisory Board of Engine to lend my support to an organization that is doing amazing work for the startup ecosystem. We’re trying to create a startup community that can mobilize to make the government listen and understand the issues that have a unique impact on our community.
Here’s an example of great work that Engine has done: During the fight against SOPA/PIPA last year it seemed to a lot of outsiders that the internet community’s reaction happened overnight. What many people don’t know is that there were hundreds of organizations and businesses working together for months to make that one-day blackout so impactful. Engine connected 15,000 calls from individuals to their Senators that day. The sheer volume of calls shut down the Senate switchboard, twice.
Engine is always monitoring the issues, doing great research, keeping members informed so that we can identify any threats early, and respond as a community. There are many ways that startups can get involved, perhaps the simplest being just keeping up-to-speed on tech policy.
At the end of this month, Engine is bringing startups to Washington, D.C. to talk to lawmakers about issues that are really important to the startup community — issues like immigration, software patent reform, and keeping the internet free and open. You can get involved by becoming an Engine member today. Go to D.C. with them. Send them your stories.
Ultimately, we’re not just Silicon Valley, or Boulder., or any other geographically-defined tech scene. We’re a powerful community that is creating jobs and improving the economy — basically, doing all of those things that Senators and Members of Congress talk about making happen. It’s time they listened to us. Let’s make the startup community a stronger voice in Washington.
On that same day the White House announced A New Front Door for Immigrant Entrepreneurs President Obama said that he was not supportive of the STEM Jobs Act of 2012. Infuriating.
I’ve been working on making it easy for foreign entrepreneurs to get a visa to start a company in the US since September 2009 when I wrote the post The Founders Visa Movement. This morphed into the Startup Visa Movement and I’ve written extensively about it over the past three years on my blog in the Startup Visa category. While some progress has been made through administrative changes at the USCIS and better education of USCIS and CBP about what an entrepreneur is, we are still falling extraordinarily short of where we could – and should be.
With every success (I got an email from an entrepreneur yesterday who I helped who had just gotten a green card) there is a nightmare, such as the well-known and well-loved Boston entrepreneur who was actually stopped at the border at Logan Airport a few weeks ago, told by CBP that she was lying about her visa, and tossed in jail for several days. A mad scramble among some of the Boston startup community leaders, led by Katie Rae at TechStars, resulted in this entrepreneur “only” being jailed for a few days. Jailed! President Obama should call her personally and apologize and give her a green card on the spot.
Vivek Wadhwa wrote a great summary of the recent decision of President Obama not to support the STEM Jobs Act of 2012 in his Forbes article Why Immigration Reform is Destined to be Another Obamacare. It’s more of the “all or nothing” strategy around immigration I’ve been hearing from the White House since 2009. Obama is a strong proponent of immigration reform, but he wants comprehensive immigration reform, rather than incrementally improving things. There are so many easy fixes that are non-partisan, such as the STEM Jobs Act, and it’s crazy that there isn’t a leadership focus on fixing the straightforward ones now, especially those that impact job creation, innovation, and entrepreneurship.
I’m extremely bummed out by President Obama’s position on this. Several months ago I had a conversation with one of my friends in the White House who implored me to support the STEM Jobs Act and was enthusiastic about the idea of little wins on this front. Clearly his perspective diverged from the broader White House strategy, which I fear will result in nothing done on this front.
In addition to Vivek Wadhwa’s recent article, he’s written an excellent book called The Immigrant Exodus: Why America Is Losing the Global Race to Capture Entrepreneurial Talent. I’ll be writing a longer post about it shortly but if this is a topic that you care about his book is a critical one to read.
For all the foreign entrepreneurs who can’t get appropriate visas to start their companies in the US, and to all of the amazing foreign entrepreneurs who put up with our idiocy and nonsense as they continue to struggle through the US immigration process, deal with visa hell, and get accused of lying by CBP, I humbly apologize to you. It’s embarrassing, and stupid, that as a country, especially one built on the the premise of “liberty and justice for all”, can’t get our act together on this front.
Please ask Boulder City Council to vote NO on proceeding with inadequate decision criteria November 15.
There is a critical vote in Boulder City Council on this Thursday, 11/15, about the “Off Ramps” in the exploration to explore the municipalization of Boulder’s power system. My understanding was that this was still in an exploration phase. Apparently, this particular vote is to effectively eliminate the “off ramps” that would potentially cause Boulder not to municipalize in case it wasn’t economically feasible.
My partner Jason wrote an important post yesterday titled Boulder It’s Time to Get Serious About Our Energy Situation – Call City Council. His key finding in his early exploration was:
This Thursday, on November 15, 2012 the City Council will vote on these off ramp metrics. In other words, this is the framework they will rely on to determine whether or not Boulder is going to go-it-alone on power. And I feel these metrics are very flawed and bias the decision to separate, rather than unbiased to get us to the correct decision. I’ve spent time with several folks in the community who are experts on these matters and who are spending their own time and money analyzing these metrics. They are convinced they are flawed and I’m convinced their scientific method is sound.
Please send an email to Boulder City Council immediately (send the email to firstname.lastname@example.org) that you do not support a vote for adequacy of the “off-ramp” decision metrics proposed by Heather Bailey (which are the current metrics). They do not represent our risks of greatly increased electric rates, reduced reliability, and unsupportable bond debt due to creating a Boulder municipal power enterprise.
Please vote NO on proceeding with inadequate decision criteria November 15.
For more detail, take a look at the thorough presentation by Roger Koenig.