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Techies For Teachout-Wu

Micah L. Sifry* and Andrew Rasiej in TechPresident:

The defining battle of the 21st century is between open and closed systems and New York State is one of the ultimate closed systems. Politics here in our home state is systematically corrupt, in the sense that self-dealing and lack of accountability are the norm in Albany. Three men--the Governor, Andrew Cuomo, the Assembly Speaker, Sheldon Silver and the Senate Majority leader, Dean Skelos--make all the decisions about the state budget with no transparency or participation by other legislators, let alone the public. State "ethics" rules allow sitting legislators to hold jobs in the private sector and keep their incomes and clients secret, with the result that the public has no way of knowing who is greasing whose palm. Gubernatorial campaign contributions are "capped" at the ludicrously high level of $60,000, but widespread loopholes allow big donors and industries to effectively shovel millions to their favored candidates and party committees. And a long-standing gentlemen's agreement between the two major parties to not attack each other's stronghold in the legislature (Democrats control the Assembly, Republicans the Senate) has fostered a culture of impunity in Albany that has only been jostled, but not cleansed, by the frequent indictment of sitting lawmakers.

Boss Tweed has risen from the grave.

Four years ago, when he was first elected governor, Andrew Cuomo promised to bring greater transparency and accountability to state government, but sadly he has done little to live up to that goal. His most cynical and telling move last year was to charter a special state commission to investigate corruption in Albany, vesting it with independent subpoena powers, and then blocking attempts by that very commission to look into donors and activities that led back to his own administration. (This blockbuster investigation by The New York Times has all the details.)

There's a reason why the politicians currently running New York State get away with this kind of behavior: they rarely face strong competition. The political operating system is nowhere near as open as the Internet. Through gerrymandering, incumbents pick their voters before the voters pick them. Ballot access rules favor the two major parties. (Cuomo, who has a well-earned reputation as a backroom political bully, showed little compunction in trying to use those rules to knock Teachout off the ballot--despite her collecting 45,000 petitions, three times the number of signatures required to quality.) Unlike New York City, where a robust public financing system gives a wider range of candidates a real opportunity to run for office, money and media flow to power in Albany and stagnation is the result.

Teachout and Wu are running to disrupt this status quo and they need our votes, If you have ever complained about Albany, you forfeit your right to whine about state politics if you sit this one out. There's now a week until the primary and a number of things readers can do to help Teachout and Wu make the strongest showing possible.

Well, I hope that Teachout marks Cuomo up good for Howie Hawkins and I'd be a happy camper if Tim Wu became Lieutenant Governor.

That said, we're seeing the strengths and weaknesses of Dean Democrats, here, the first strength being networking. (Read the whole thing for Teachout's background, and Sifry's, in the Dean campaign, and Jeebus, wouldn't Dean have been better than Kerry. It's always better to have a candidate whose head isn't made from wood.) They also see tech as means of changing the world! For good! and one of the ways tech can do that is transparency. Yes, transparency is a good thing, but I don't think it speaks in any direct way to power relations. For example, Warren believes that human readable mortgage forms are important to prevent foreclosure fraud. Maybe so, but far more critical to the housing bubble was clever salesmanship on commission, with the sales fueling and fueled by massive accounting control fraud by an elite with impunity to the law. Transparency as an ideal has nothing to say to this, or to projects like replacing a centuries-old and successful land-title system with buggy, fraud-enabling software like MERS. And I also have big doubts about tropes like political economies having "operating systems." One doesn't just "reboot." More subtly, the politics as operating system trope implies that we (the wise ones, us techies) are out here, and politics (messed up, hairy, buggy) is in there. This is very much "progressive" technocratic thinking, a la the Progressives of the early 20th Century. People like the Populists, and Wobblies, and the CIO were a lot smarter about and more focused on power than the Progressives...

NOTE * Here's Sifry's bio at the Sunlight Foundation.

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