In A Future Age heads to Washington DC

This Saturday, reasonable Americans will be gathering on the Washington Mall, and In A Future Age will be onhand to document the sanity.

In the midst of all the political vitriol, hypocrisy, and insanity being expressed on the campaign trail, it is important to document the reasonable among us.

After all, no one really bats an eye when reasonable people open their mouth.  People pay attention when crazy people bring up crazy solutions.

If we are going to find solutions to entitlement reform, climate change, and other complex, divisive issues, we are going to need all the reasonable people we can get.

Those who give out ideological purity tests are not reasonable.

Those that do not try to understand science, but instead adopt the ‘scientific’ views of their favorite radio jock are not reasonable.

Those who have been unable to compromise, especially when their country needs them to, and then have the audacity to claim that they will do so in the future are unreasonable, until proven otherwise.

Those that would rather sit on their hands then move one inch from their ideological platform, because they hold a minority and believe that is the only way to gain political power are unreasonable.

As a society, we need to elect reasonable people – people who will be friends and make deals with people they disagree with, in order to find solutions.  We used to have a lot of reasonable people in Washington.  In fact, there are still a few, like Orin Hatch, Barack Obama, and Russ Feingold.  However, weight of this political moment is on those who represent the extreme, who will not compromise.  Unfortunately, that will not get us anywhere.

In Washington on Saturday, we reasonable people will gather.  We will act reasonably.  I’ll be back next week with photos and an account of the event.  Washington D.C., here I come.

Frank Caprio through the lens of Seth Godin

Seth Godin, marketing guru, has an interesting take on the anger and the outliers in this election season.  If you aren’t familiar with his work, I encourage you to check out his blog and his books.

In any rate, Frank Caprio’s outburst, along with many of the reactionary statements of so-called Tea Party candidates, makes a certain amount of sense through Seth’s analysis.  The question is, will America buy it?  Godin writes that “When attention is scarce and there are many choices, media costs something other than money. It costs interesting. If you are angry or remarkable or an outlier, you’re interesting, and your idea can spread.”  The fact of the matter is that policy change is hard work, and it takes both political talent as well as consensus building skills.  Political candidates who are adept at playing the Howard Beale angry man, if they are elected, will have to actually affect change.  These outliers will undoubtedly prove unable to build consensus, and we the people will be back at square one.


How media changes politics

If you want to get elected in the US, you need media.

When TV was king, the secret to media was money. If you have money, you can reach the masses. The best way to get money is to make powerful interests happy, so they’ll give you money you can use to reach the masses and get re-elected.

Now, though…When attention is scarce and there are many choices, media costs something other than money. It costs interesting. If you are angry or remarkable or an outlier, you’re interesting, and your idea can spread. People who are dull and merely aligned with powerful interests have a harder time earning attention, because money isn’t sufficient.

Thus, as media moves from TV-driven to attention-driven, we’re going to see more outliers, more renegades and more angry people driving agendas and getting elected. I figure this will continue until other voices earn enough permission from the electorate to coordinate getting out the vote, communicating through private channels like email and creating tribes of people to spread the word. (And they need to learn not to waste this permission hassling their supporters for money).

Mass media is dying, and it appears that mass politicians are endangered as well.


Frank Caprio, Lincoln Chafee, and the state that I am in


Democratic Gubernatorial Candidate Frank Caprio


For one day, Rhode Island entered the national political spotlight. President Obama was on his way into town to raise money for David Cicilline, the Providence Mayor who is running for Rhode Island’s First Congressional District. Frank Caprio, the Democratic Gubernatorial candidate who once shopped his candidacy to the Republican Party, is angry at the President for not endorsing him over rival Independent Candidate Linc Chafee. Of course, the President decided not to give an endorsement out of respect to Chafee, his friend from the Senate. Chafee endorsed the President in 2008, and a skeptic might call this quid pro quo.

So Caprio, in either a political calculation or a fit of rage, decided to go out on talk shows and tell the President he could take his endorsement and shove it. His strategy will backfire, much like the national Republican strategy will backfire. Caprio could have respectfully stated that the endorsement was not important, that the President must make his own decision, and Caprio would have appeared the mature leader. Instead, Caprio pulled out typical Rhode Island shenanigans by calling the non-endorsement “political.” Of course its political!


New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg endorsed Independent Gubernatorial Candidate Lincoln Chaffee


The President came into office with the intent of trying to mend the political divide, to nurture compromise and cooperation. The Republicans, from day one, decided to abstain from the problems of the day, and refused to compromise. They offered their blueprint, and claimed that if Democrats did not adopt it entirely, it was not bipartisanship. Lincoln Chafee is one of a dying breed – an honest to God centrist. He is willing to compromise and build coalitions. We need many more men like Chafee and President Obama. Republican Gubernatorial Candidate John Robitaille likes to criticize the “old politics” but his Republican Party is just as adept at playing them. Robitaille tells audiences what they want to hear, and talks in platitudes – Robitaille even hides his views on climate science.

The Republicans are unable to work effectively with Democrats to deal with the serious problems of our day. They have already shown that they are not ready to get down to the serious work of dealing with long term entitlement reform, climate change, and building a 21st Century economy in clean energy. Caprio has not shown the maturity or leadership qualities that our next Governor will need to deal with the serious challenges we face. Michael Bloomberg and President Obama are right about Chafee. He is the best choice for Governor of Rhode Island.

It was President Obama as campaigner in chief who swooped into Rhode Island to speak to workers in Woonsocket and raise about $500,000 for the Democratic push to retain control of the U.S. House and boost Democratic 1st District Congressional candidate David Cicilline. After speaking in Woonsocket, Obama was surrounded by an adoring political crowd of about 425 supporters at the Rhode Island Convention Center who paid a minimum of $500 each to si … Read More

via On Politics

Bioneers by the Bay, and the Marion Institute ROCK!

This weekend I attended an amazing event:  CONNECTING FOR CHANGE: A Bioneers by the Bay Conference Presented by the Marion Institute.  After a fantastic weekend at Bioneers, I am recharged and motivated.  Some of the best minds of our generation spoke to the 2000 folks, young and old, who spent the weekend at the conference.  Van Jones, one of the Friday keynote speakers, spoke about an optimism he had, and exhorted the audience to not be down.  In a memorable section, he compared hope to the desire to lose weight, and change to actually doing the work, day in and day out, to lose weight.  Change is hard work, he said.  Despite only spending six months working in the White House, Jones said it was still a fantastic opportunity to see how decisions are made behind the curtain.

One theme that was touched on by both Alan Khazei, founder of City Year, and Annie Leonard, creator of The Story of Stuff, was relearning what it means to be a citizen.  Leonard said that we are not going to create a sustainable society by shopping, but rather, by working together and building community.  Leonard later ran a workshop, in which she discusses principles of systems thinking, and engaged the audience to suggest leverage points where sustainability can be fostered.  Khazei’s recent book, Big Citizenship, is one I am looking forward to reading.

Several successful entrepreneurs spoke about their successes; Seth Goldman, co-founder of Honest Tea, discussed Coca-Cola, organic tea, and the company’s recent guerilla marketing strategy; Eric Henry, creator of the sustainable company Cotton of the Carolinas, spoke of the challenges of growing both local and organic cotton, and a new business model called ‘Dirt to Shirt in 750 miles.’  David de Rothschild gave a keynote address about the Plastiki project, where he recently took a sailboat created from plastic bottles  across the Pacific; Rothschild then ran a workshop for a group of 20 of us about how to create successful guerilla marketing campaigns.  Greg Mortenson, author of Three Cups of Tea, and builder of schools in Afghanistan, spoke about his efforts, and produced a sustained two minute standing ovation.

There were several contributions from Rhode Island, as well.  Adeola Oredola, Executive Director of Youth In Action, a non-profit organization run by Providence teenagers, spoke about her own upbringing in Providence, and the reason she remains committed to improving the lives of children in her Washington Park community. Providence residents Michalle Saintil and Rudy Cabrera both performed some of their inspiring spoken word verse.

Bioneers is so big that one cannot experience the entire conference: at any one point there are simultaneous workshops and speakers, plus local businesses and demonstrations.  The Marion Institute, organizers of the conference, did an amazing job.  One of my favorite opportunities was lunch, catered by a local restaurant, with opportunities to engage fellow conference goers and speakers in conversation.  The atmosphere was intimate and open.   I made lots of exciting connections.

One moment of the conference shocked me and gave me pause.  One of my biggest inspirations, and a leading figure in changing the way we consume, told us that they recently received death threats and are under FBI protection, after ongoing criticism by Glen Beck.  I don’t want to mention the name here, but it reminded me both about the seriousness of the problems we face, and the power of those that resist change.  However, listening to Greg Mortenson, Diane Wilson, Alan Khezi, Van Jones, David De Rothschild and Annie Leonard speak about what they as individuals have accomplished, it was clear to me that we all have power to make a big difference, if we can only get the courage to take the first step.

I can’t wait until next year!

Connecting For Change

Another busy week.  Tomorrow I am off to New Bedford, where a ton of exciting folks from the world of sustainability are gathering.  Annie Leonard (The Story of Stuff), Van Jones, and Greg Mortenson (Three Cups of Tea) are the major keynote speakers.  Connecting For Change: a Bioneers By the Bay Conference, presented by the Marion Institute for its 6th year,  promises to be an inspirational weekend.  If you are at the conference, stop by the Marlboro College table and say hi.

Patagonia: aligning values and workforce

Patagonia is a leading designer, distributor, and retailer of high quality, technical outdoor clothing and gear.  They are based in Ventura, California, but also have a major facility in Reno, Nevada, a manufacturing facility in Japan, and retail outlets around the world.  Patagonia received numerous awards for its working culture, including 2000 WORKFORCE Optimas Award and the 2010 Top Small Company workplace award.  Patagonia is routinely listed on lists of the top companies to work for, including a list produced by Working Mother that judges companies on how friendly they are to working mothers.  What makes Patagonia such a great place to work for?  In a word, it comes down to the company’s integrity.  The company has clear values, and treats both its employees, its customers, and the environment in line with those values.  

Patagonia’s mission statement reads: “Build the best product, cause no unnecessary harm, use business to inspire and implement solutions to the environmental crisis.”

Their core values are:

Quality (the pursuit of ever greater quality in everything we do)

Integrity (relationships built on integrity and respect)

Environmentalism (serve as a catalyst for personal and corporate action)

Not Bound by Convention (our success – and much of the fun – lies in developing innovative ways of doing things).

As a company, Patagonia has very distinctive strategic objectives, which come from their mission and values.  They want to build high quality gear, to the specifications of the most demanding customers and operating environments.  At the same time, Patagonia also wants to “cause no unnecessary harm” – it wants to minimize the impact of its products on the environment, and it wants to strive as a company to make positive contributions to the environment. It wants to conduct itself in an unconventional manner – with complete integrity, by being honest and transparent with its customers on how it operates.  It also wants to create unconventional solutions to help achieve its objectives.

These strategic objectives are achieved through the work of Patagonia’s employees.  In fact, Patagonia’s former HR director told Workforce Magazine earlier this year that the company identifies its culture in its employees, not the other way around. Patagonia nurtures its workforce success by hiring employees that are enthusiasts of its products and the sports they are made for, and committed environmentalists.  Patagonia provides opportunities for its employees to get outdoors with flexible work schedules.  It also offers employees the opportunity to work on environmental internships around the world.  Patagonia thus expects, and creates the opportunities for employees to embody its values in and out of the workplace.  Patagonia values unconventional tactics as well as transparency, and the company encourages its employees to pursue projects such as The Cleanest Line, a blog for employees, customers and enthusiasts to communicate on, as well as The Footprint Chronicles, an employee inspired examination of the environmental impact of Patagonia products.    Finally, the company expects to produce a world-class quality product, and provides world-class quality benefits to the employees that make the product.  Integrity, which is one of Patagonia’s core values, is visible in the way the company speaks, but also acts – it lives up to its ideals.

No Mr. Brooks, follow the money


David Brooks

Image via Wikipedia


David Brooks is a sensible conservative; he writes for the New York Times, which means he gets written off as some sort of centrist by those on the Far Right, but I appreciate the way he approaches the complex issues of our time.  Brooks ponders the philosophical meaning of our problems, and strives for well thought analysis instead of trite ideological rants.  I always enjoy his columns, even those I disagree with.  Today, he argued that criticism of campaign spending is overblown, because money just doesn’t influence elections as much as people assume.

First of all, Brooks points out that based on a few studies, Democrats in competitive races are outspending Republicans.  He then examines polling showing Republican advantages in many races, and concludes that the money spent had no effect.  Brooks argues that independent group spending is only a 10th of political party spending, and that there is no way to prove that independent spending is more effective than party spending.  Finally, he argues that people do not respond to the din of political advertising.  Speaking about the Colorado Senate contest between Michael Bennett and Ken Buck, where there have been 5,358 pro-democratic ads and 4,928 pro-Republican ads, Brooks writes that “This isn’t persuasive; it’s mind-numbing. No wonder voters tune it all out. Amid this onslaught, there is no way a slightly richer ad campaign is going to make much difference.”

On his last point, Brooks is both right and wrong.  On one hand, people do not respond to marketing like they used to, political marketing included.  With the spread of smartphones, even our formerly quiet parks are now forums for messaging.  We have ready access to e-mail and other media, at every moment.  We are saturated.  On the other hand, because of the Supreme Court decision in the Citizens United case, corporations can again open the spigot of campaign spending.

The Center for Responsive Politics, the same group that Brooks quotes, reports that as a result of the Citizens United case, there is record spending by independent groups in this Midterm Election.  Unprecedented spending, and despite the Supreme Court insisting that corporations must disclose their political spending, this does not mean that the ad must make that support clear.  Instead, innocent sounding fronts called Citizens for a Better America or Minnesota Forward collect the corporate cash and hide its source from the American public.  Of course, you hear similar complaints from Republicans over Union spending.  Citizens United only served to make the political waters murkier, rather than more transparent.  Brooks views the effect of this new spending as insignificant:

“In the end, however, money is a talisman. It makes people feel good because they think it has magical properties. It probably helps in local legislative races where name recognition is low. It probably helps challengers get established. But these days, federal races are oversaturated. Every federal candidate in a close race has plenty of money and the marginal utility of each new dollar is zero.  In this day and age, money is almost never the difference between victory and defeat. It’s just the primitive mythology of the political class.”

Brooks is naive here.  People should know where the money comes from.  Voters should know what special interests the candidates are supported by, and which candidates their businesses support.  Voters should be able to use that information to decide whether they want to continue to support that business.  Voters should know when businesses write legislation that is blindly adopted by candidates the businesses supported in previous elections.  Voters should understand the complexity behind the significant problems we face.

There is one way to level the playing field: federal financing of election spending.  That levels the playing field and leaves the ideas and promises of the respective political parties as the only currency.  Of course, voter education will be a tough nut to crack. The political system aims for the lowest common denominator; voters are conditioned to listen on that level.  We should celebrate citizen involvement in elections, in the day to day grind of political life.  Citizens should participate in their Democracy, not only during exciting elections, but every day.  It can start at the community level, with citizens more actively engaged in the decisions their elected representatives make on their behalf.  In the end, it comes down to participation and engagement.