Shervin’s Story & The StartupVisa Movement

Hey guys, there’s an awesome movement afoot here in Washington, DC, in favor of the StartupVisa program.  It’s a great program that’ll help bring the best and the brightest minds to the USofA.

Check out this video about the program and the story of my friend Shervin.

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Looking For Something More…

Note: This is a post about political discourse not about political ideologies.

I’ve always been interested it in politics. I’m sure a lot of that stems from all the great time that I spent with my dad growing up, when he worked for various politicians within the Michigan legislature.  I remember, when I was as young as 8, going door to door to pass out fliers for a political candidate.

I remember when I came to Washington, DC when I was in 8th grade for a Promise Keepers conference.  I remember being in awe of all the austere buildings and the powerful men and woman that worked in them to make our country as great as it is.

It’s kind of ironic that I now live inside the Beltway, inside Washington DC, and a stones throw from the Capitol Building.  (Well maybe it’s a bit more than a stones throw but I can see the Capitol Building out the window of my apartment.)  Plus I don’t work in politics, like I would have originally thought when I was a youngin’.  I work in technology.

While I’m still very interested in politics,  I grow exceedingly frustrated with the level of political discourse that I hear day in and day out coming out of the hallowed halls and from the political mainstream and even Internet media.   At times, it feels akin to baboons throwing feces or baboons thumping their chests, while they wait for the rest of the animals in the jungle to acknowledge how they are the greatest in all the land.

Instead of hearing true discussion of the ideas, with the goal of coming to the outcome to best serve the American people, politics is more how can someone craft a strategy which will allow them to best their opponents and ride back to their districts on white horses so that they can preserve their powerful positions for as long as humanly possible.  It seems like politicians only really care about listening when it comes time for them to get re-elected.

Granted, I realize that I’m making broad generalizations.  I’m sure there are politicians across the country whom really care about actual governing and whom thrive on the what their constituents have to say.   These are just my general feelings after 25 years of life.

Tonight, I went a bookstore in Northern Washington, DC to see Joe & Mika from MSNBC’s morning television news show Morning Joe.   Mika was out promoting her new book.    I’m drawn so much to their show because I feel like it’s the only political show that doesn’t make me feel stupider for having watched it.   I don’t feel like it’s trying to appeal to the lowest common denominator.  There are smart guests and thoughtful discussion from all the parties.  While there may be heated discussions over times, it’s always in the spirit of wanting to work together and flesh out the best way to look at the issue.

It was interesting at the talk/book signing that Joe and Mika were doing.  You’d think that with Joe taking more of the “first chair” on the show and him being a Conservative Republican that the bookstore would have been teeming with Republicans.  It was actually almost the opposite.  My buddy Shaun and I were some of the only Republicans in the room.   I think the popularity of the show amongst both sides of the aisle shows that the desire for thoughtful discourse is something that transcends political party.

My only beef with the television show Morning Joe is, what am I supposed to do after the show is over at 9am?  Television is great but it’s only a one way medium.  I can’t have that conversation back with the people on the set of Morning Joe.

There needs to be some type of grassroots organization that’s built to help extend and promote these type of thoughtful conversations between people that want to see progress in this country.  I guess maybe it’s why I ultimately moved away from a career in politics to that of technology, entrepreneurship, and working at a start-up.  Entrepreneurs look to how they can work together and solve problems.

The thoughtful and intellectual conversations that I had around the tables of coffeehouses and out in the quad, while I was at university, were amazing and some of the best experiences of my life.  Now that I’m out in the world, working, and trying to find my way, where and how can I find the community that wants to find and discuss ways to move forward and then actually go out and pursue them?

What if a Congressman or Government Agency had a Community Manager?

I’m sitting here at Transparency Camp. Some of the conversations today got me thinking.

If all the data that we want opens up, standardizes, and were able to make great tools, how are we going to get folks to use them? How are we going to get folks wanting to participate in a relationship of trust with the government? You’re not going to get a rush of people just by creating the tools.

When it comes to communicating with the American people, it seems like most congressman and government agencies don’t actively pursue public response and participation into the process. They wait for people to come to them.

I live in Washington, DC so my representative to Congress is Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton. My only interaction with her has been the multi-page and multi-color newsletter that I got in the mail a few weeks ago. It makes me think that she doesn’t really care about keeping me up to date about what’s going on or actively soliciting my opinion.

What if a congressman or government agencies had a community manager? This would be a person that everyone in the community knew. On the Web site, there’d be a photo of them and every possible way to get ahold of them. They’d hang out at coffee shops, bars, churches, town squares, barbershops, or any public place where their constituency spent their time. I could easily walk up to them and talk to them about what my problem is or what’s on my mind.

Or…How cool would it be if government agencies and congressmen had Get Satisfaction pages? It’d be manned and monitored by the community managers.

Maybe if there was this culture of community within Congress and the governement maybe I’d feel like it’d be more worth while for me to get involved… to check/use the great tools that are made by folks like the Sunlight Foundation or even Thomas from the Library of Congress.


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TransparencyCamp – My Thoughts The Day Before…

So… tomorrow, I’m attending TransparencyCamp here in Washington, DC. It’s going to be a convening of the tribe of people who’re interested in sharing “knowledge on how to use new technologies to make our government transparent and meaningfully accessible to the public.”

Now more then ever our federal government needs Transparency. Yesterday, President Barack Obama presented us with his $3.55 trillion dollar spending plan for 2010. *gulps* That’s a lot of money. Thats an incomprehensible amount of money.

If we’re going to be forced to accept this radical increase in the size of government then bureaucrats need to go out of their way to forge a new relationship of trust with the American people. If they’re going to ask for all this money, they need be reporting back to me on a regular basis about what they’re doing with it and what kind of return we’re getting.

These are the discussions that I’m hoping will be had this weekend at TransparencyCamp. I hope that the organizers are able to attract more then just the advocates and the thought leaders. They need to bring the decision makers to the table. That’s the only way we’re going to get change. Let’s get some people to lay it on the line and start making and announcements and commitments to making this happen, otherwise it’s just an intellectual exercise.

Will you be at TransparencyCamp this weekend? If so, drop me an e-mail. I’d love to meet up. – justin@clearspring.com


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WaPo Columnist Dana Milbank Compares Twittering Congressmen to High School Kids

Washington Post columnist Dana Milbank published a column this morning slamming congressman for using Twitter and Qik to give color commentary and play by play  last night during President Obama’s address to a joint session of Congress.

In the column he says…

President Obama spoke of economic calamity and war last night in that solemn rite of democracy, the address to the joint session of Congress. And lawmakers watched him with the dignity Americans have come to expect of their leaders: They whipped out their BlackBerrys and began sending text messages like high school kids bored in math class.

This column seems very telling to the extent which many members of the old guard just don’t get where the world is going.

I don’t want to be communicated to by politics in page long press releases or newspaper op-eds that are full of buzz words and empty rhetoric.  I want to to get the unfettered access.  I want to hear their unfiltered thoughts and I want to be able to hold conversation with them about these thoughts.

Twitter and Qik are great tools for this transparency… for this level of access and conversation.

It is our government.  These politicians represent us and thus should do anything and everything they can to connect and form relationships with us their constituents.


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Broadcasting the Inauguration Live on Qik

Since about 4am this morning, I’ve been able to look out the window of my apartment and see a steady stream of people walking towards the Capitol Building for the Inauguration of Barack Obama as President of the United States.

As long as the AT&T network works and my iPhone battery holds up, I’ll be broadcasting what I see live on Qik.  Just go to this address: – http://qik.com/justinthorp

Stop by and join one of my streams.  It’d great to have a conversation with folks across the country as we experience today together.

Sunlight Foundation Launches Apps for America

The cool folks at the Sunlight Foundation have launched their annual development contest Apps for America.  Basically, you create something cool with one of their APIs and you’re in the running to win a pretty substantial prize.  Check it out.  The deadline is March 31st.