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.
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 email@example.com) 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.
I just joined the Internet Defense League. Think of it as the cat signal for the Internet. You’ll see a signup at the top of this blog, or just go to the Internet Defense League site. If you are so inclined as I was, please donate to the launch of the cat signal.
Our goal is to help protect the Internet forever from bad laws, monopolies, and bad actions. When the internet is in danger and we need millions of people to act, the League will ask its members to broadcast an action. With the combined reach of our websites and social networks, we can be massively more effective than any one organization.
We are in the middle of a massive societal shift from a hierarchical world to a networked world. The Internet Defense League will be on the front lines of creating a massive network to keep the Internet safe forever. I’m proud to be a part of it.
I believe that Senator Mark Udall is doing a superb job for Colorado. I’d like to encourage you to support Mark’s re-election campaign by joining me for an event at BMOCA in Boulder on June 17th. I’m co-hosting the event with a bunch of folks who have been very involved in the Boulder startup community, including Dennis Arfmann, Libby Cook, Howard Diamond, Brad Feld, Jim Franklin, Marc Graboyes, Don Hazell, David Huberman, Roger Koenig, Nancy Pierce, Jason Mendelson, Bill Mooz, Michael Platt, Beau and Lucy Stark, Phil Weiser, and Joe Zell. Please come join us for a fun evening of discussion, networking, and a chance to talk to Mark about what’s on your mind.
I’ve been a supporter of Mark’s for many years and have always been blown away by his willingness to engage thoughtful in any issue he is presented with. Most recently, Mark took a leadership role in defeating SOPA/PIPA and was one of the first Senators to come out publicly against PIPA. During this process, Mark and his staff put real effort into understanding the issues and, rather than sitting on the sidelines and seeing what would happen, leaned in, took a stand, and had a big impact helping shift the tide in the Senate against PIPA.
I believe the Boulder startup community is extremely lucky to have Mark Udall as one of our Senators. I don’t often make political appeals on this blog, but in this case I feel that it’s critical that we continue to have intelligent, thoughtful, and independently minded representatives who are willing to actually understand what is going on with issues, rather than succumb to lobbying pressures. Mark is one of the good guys – let’s make sure he knows we support him.
I’ll be at the BMOCA event all evening so it’s a chance to spend some time with me also if you’d like. I’ll make sure I’m available to anyone who shows up about anything that’s on your mind. So join me on June 17th to support Senator Mark Udall.
I spend all of my working time in the domain of software, Internet, and entrepreneurship. Over the past few years I’ve gotten increasingly involved in a handful of political situations – local, state, and national – that directly impact companies either in the ecosystem I’m part of or that I’ve invested in. Many of these political situations stifle entrepreneurship, innovation, or opportunities for these companies.
I’ve come to appreciate the importance of organizations of like-minded individuals working together to advocate clear positions and help acceleration entrepreneurship and innovation. Historically I’ve been very reticent to formally join anything, preferring to help as much as I can as an individual contributor. Recently, I’ve stepped up my involvement in some non-profits, adding Startup Weekend and Startup Colorado to the list of non-profits I’m working with in addition to my longstanding role as chair of the National Center for Women & Information Technology.
When my long time friend Don Dodge reached out and asked me to join the board of the Application Developers Alliance, I said yes. Developers are at the heart of the universe I work in and central to many of the things I do. Making sure they have a voice in the rapidly evolving software / Internet ecosystem on a global scale is important to me. Hopefully I can be helpful.
My partner Jason has a longer post up on Senate Bill 1933, but I’m supporting S. 1933, otherwise known as “Re-opening American Capital Markets To Emerging Growth Companies Act.”
In short, this act would allow for an IPO on-ramp that would minimize costly and burdensome regulation on smaller offerings. If you have contacts in the Senate, now is the time to let them know that you support it too.
Yesterday I was with yet another non-US entrepreneur who is struggling to get the right visa to stay in the US and build his company here. This entrepreneur happens to be from England and his business partner (and best friend since they were kids) is also English, but managed to get into the US because he fell in love with and married and America a while ago. The business partner lives in Denver so they started the company in Denver a year or so ago.
They are a small company right now with a pretty interesting product and vision. One founder lives in the UK, the other lives in Denver. The UK founder travels to the US when he can get a travel visa, but he’s been careful not to get offsides since he’s been in the visa application process for a while. They’ve spent a bunch of money on legal fees, continue to chew up money on travel from the UK to the US, and have to deal with the uncertainty (both timing and functional) around the visa process.
Along with some others, I’ve been trying to get something called The Startup Visa Act passed in Congress and turned into law. The biggest thing to come out of it for me personally has been a deep understanding of how the process of an idea to bill to law works.
After two years of advocating for this, there is extremely broad support throughout Congress for this concept and it has been written into many of the job creation / startup type bills that are out there. But – nothing has been passed. The White House made some policy changes over the summer which have been somewhat helpful, but are still making their way through the USCIS bureaucracy, which means many of these policy changes are not yet being implemented, or people in the field at USCIS have no idea how to implement them.
In hindsight, I realized I’d made a giant mistake. Rather than call it the “Startup Visa Movement”, we should have called it the “Stealing Jobs From Foreign Countries Act.” I haven’t yet come up with the right acronym for it (SJFFCA doesn’t quite work, but I’m sure some of you out there could acronymize this.) Instead of positioning this as a “Startup Thing” or a “Visa Thing”, we should have just taken the same cynical approach to titling the activity that many in Washington do. I mean, c’mon, how could any red blooded America object to stealing jobs from foreign countries?
Every week I am in contact with at least one foreign entrepreneur who is struggling to stay in the US and build their company here. Over the past year, it’s probably been several hundred which represent thousands of jobs and who knows how much innovative, amazing stuff. Hopefully the new USCIS Entrepreneur in Residence program will help figure out how to make the Startup Visa a reality. Or maybe Congress will finally take some action and get a bill passed. Either way, I know that as every day passes, we are missing a huge opportunity in this country by making it hard for non-US citizens to stay here and build their high growth entrepreneurial companies.
After sleeping 13 hours on Friday night and then 14 hours last night it’s pretty clear that a week like last week isn’t sustainable for me. At brunch today, Amy guessed that I worked 80 hours between Monday and Friday, ran three days (after coming off a double long weekend where I did two 10 mile runs), travelled from Boston to NY and then NY to Boston late at night, and generally wore myself out.
I’m heading out for a 15 mile run in Boston and expect I’ll be garbage collecting all the random thoughts from the week. The backdrop in my world was dealing with SOPA/PIPA, which I’m glad is dead, for now. Based on all the rhetoric over the weekend, I have no doubt that it’ll be back soon as an issue and/or woven into some other bill that seems totally innocuous. Regardless, the experience around this over the last few months has impacted me pretty profoundly – both in my disdain for politics as usual, liars, and ass covering as well as my pride for grassroots leadership and the power of the Internet and the Web to get the word out and engage people.
I hope to spend zero minutes on this topic this upcoming week, although I put that in the fantasy category as I’m sure reality will interject itself. In the mean time, I encourage you to go take a look at a few more posts just to cement in your mind what is going on so you can be prepared for the next wave of it.
Joel Spolsky has two last things about SOPA/PIPA and then he will shut up. I hope he never does – he’s brilliant, articulate, and totally gets it. His two suggestions are to (1) use what we’ve learned to start lobbying for our own laws and (2) figure out a way to shift political ad dollars from TV to the web. It’s free to advertise on YouTube – let’s force it to be free to advertise on NBC, or at least so prohibitively expensive on a relative basis that it’s not worth it.
H.R. 1981 – Protecting Children From Internet Pornographers Act of 2011 – has embedded in it an amendment that’ll have your internet service provider tracking all of your financial dealings online. And yes, the sponsor of this is Lamar Smith, the same guy who sponsored SOPA. I wonder how many more bills there are out there like this – I certainly have no time or bandwidth to deal with them since I’m trying to help create the future.
Does Online Piracy Hurt The Economy? A Look At The Numbers. Here is some empirical evidence in Forbes that it doesn’t.
If Congress wants jobs, it can’t want SOPA. Talking point #1 for SOPA/PIPA morphed into “piracy costs jobs.” Over the course of last week, there were many people who were polite against being against piracy (for example, I am), but I don’t know of one who said “but piracy actually costs jobs and I can prove it.” I’ve concluded the piracy costs jobs thing is classic talking point rhetoric – if we hear it enough times then it must be true. Wouldn’t it be ironic if there was actually net job growth based on the dynamics of the current content economy?
If you were involved in opposing SOPA/PIPA recently, thank you for your efforts. These were horrible bills at some many levels and they needed to be shut down. The cynic in me knows that this is far from over but for now I’m going to go for a run and try not to think about it too much.