skimmerhat

Rick Santorum ended his improbable run for the White House on Tuesday after leading a Republican tilt to the right that could dog the more moderate front-runner, Mitt Romney, in November’s election.” - Reuters, 4/10/12

As we’ve said before, political cartoons are often a great way to convey a message that might otherwise require a few hundred words. So, we’ve been sharing them on the blog here and there. And here is another one (not exactly the pledge we remember in elementary school).

We also started a political cartoon board on Pinterest. Check it out; we are hoping to start releasing some skimmerhat original political cartoons in the coming months.

Ultimately, though, we want to help change the problems we see in these political cartoons so our government is held more accountable and our representatives more accurately reflect the voices of Americans.

— Spencer

Startup Riot Tomorrow

"The Dow briefly broke through the key 13,000 level for the first time since May 2008, but failed to close above the milestone." - CNBC, 2/21/12 

We’ve mentioned it in past blog posts, but tomorrow we are attending Startup Riot here in Atlanta. Thirty startups will be presenting along with a couple keynote talks and plenty of networking and discussion amongst people heavily involved in the startup community across the Southeast.

Although we aren’t presenting it should be an awesome opportunity to learn from other startups, meet people and spread the word of skimmerhat. Below is the email we received from Startup Riot this morning which outlines what to expect (ignore the typo about Seattle…we are not going to Seattle). Diggin’ the headline.

We’ll definitely be posting over the next couple days on the experience, so be on the lookout for that.

— Spencer

"The parade, borne out of a simple conversation between two St. Louis friends a month ago, was the nation’s first big welcome-home for veterans of the war since the last troops were withdrawn from Iraq in December." - AP, 1/28/12

Here is a quick look at the various functions/paths that users and candidates will utilize within skimmerhat. We will get into more of the details of each as we go, but this graphic provides a solid early glimpse (click on the picture to enlarge).

— Spencer

On Fear & Common Sense

"Partisanship in America is at a 25-year high, according to a new Pew Research Center survey, with the majority of that movement to the two ideological extremes coming in just the last decade.” - Washington Post, 6/4/12

A quote we really like at skimmerhat is: “If we’re going to win our never ending war against the idea of being afraid, there are going to be casualties, including common sense.”

It can be applied to various aspects of one’s life — from talking to the pretty girl across the room to taking a new direction that breaks up the status quo.

The quote speaks to us on a couple levels. First, on beginning a business venture, something none of the current founders have ever done from scratch. It’s an adventure. And second, on beginning a business venture in a space as volatile and divisive as government and politics (we’ve written on a similar topic here).

Perhaps, the second point has never been more true than now. The excerpt from the Washington Post in italics at the top of this post displays as much. The article delves into the partisanship that seems to be taking a stranglehold on progress, especially in Congress.

They write:

What’s even more remarkable than that rapid growth in partisanship is the fact that there has been almost no noticeable change in other major demographic categories on Pew’s values question. White/black, men/women, religious/not religious — no matter where you fall in these demographic categories the difference between how you and your opposite broadly conceptualize values has not changed markedly since Pew started polling on this in 1987.

The partisanship that has been created has many layers and just as many reasons one could point to in how or why it has grown over the years — whether it’s the politicians, the citizens, the money, the media or a combination of everything.

But that isn’t a discussion for this blog post. The problem is staring us in the face — dissension and gridlock. The proper discussion is what will we do from here?

As Americans, we can’t be afraid to get our hands dirty and attempt something different. Fear of what could happen leads to acceptance of the present; it is the most efficient way to stifle change and progress.

We also must go ahead and throw common sense to the wind. A vision for the future requires us to loosen our grip on the world as it is now because if we are going to realize a different state, it isn’t going to make much sense to any of us at this point in time. Any great advancement in the history of the world seemed inconceivable to a group of people at one time.

This applies to our government and its politics. If Americans are to create the country we collectively think we can, we must be unafraid and accept the casualties, including common sense.

It will undoubtedly require a good bit of time and a solid dose of mental compromise as well.

At skimmerhat, we believe the sharing and discussion of ideas are at the core of this advancement, not party dogma or political rhetoric. Which is why we are building a platform dedicated to finding and funding candidates who share your ideas — the citizens and individuals who make our country what it is.

With this, we are cooking up a new primary feature for the site when we go live. It’s one that hasn’t been included in any of our videos or posts yet, but it embraces the concept of ideas. We will have more updates on this in the very near future, so please stick with us.

And as always, if you are interested in following skimmerhat, take a look at any of our social media links on the sidebar to the right or sign up on our email list.

— Spencer

Transparency & Sunlight

U.S. officials say a rocket launched by North Korea failed moments after being fired, but the White House still described the launch as a “provocative action” that threatens regional security and violates international law.” - AP, 4/12/12

In launching skimmerhat, we strive to make a positive impact on the political system. With this, though, we acknowledge the awesome organizations out there that are already making a substantial impact through the Gov 2.0 and open gov movement.

One is the Sunlight Foundation, a non-profit, nonpartisan organization that uses the power of the Internet to catalyze greater government openness and transparency, and provides new tools and resources for media and citizens.

At the end of the month, the Sunlight Foundation is putting on an event called Transparency Camp in Washington D.C. The first Transparency Camp was held in 2009, but we are pretty excited to be attending this year’s version of the weekend-long event. Here is a description:

TransparencyCamp is an “unconference” for opengov: an event where, each year, journalists, developers, technologists, policy-makers, government officials, students, academics, wonks, and everyone in between gather to share their knowledge about how to use new technologies and policies to make our government really work for the people — and to help our people work smarter with our government.

As an “unconference,” TransparencyCamp emphasizes the important contributions that each and every attendee brings with them into the sessions, workshops, and conversations associated with this event. In fact, attendees (yes, all of them) are brought into the process of making the schedule for the conference with the organizers and are encouraged to step up and lead sessions themselves. (Check out our 2011 Recap video below to get a better sense of what we mean.)

We’ve seen a lot of productive, amazing results from TCamp in years past: US-based TCamp attendees have started unique, globally recognized initiatives, including CityCamp and CrisisCommons, and our international guests have gone on to organize TCamps in their own countries. As the year 2012 is bursting with major questions about government transparency, openness, and accountability, we hope that participants take the opportunity to use TransparencyCamp as a platform for to get (or at least get close to) answers.


It will be great to be around people who expect and are working for more accountability out of our government, and as skimmerhat grows, we want to align with organizations and other companies who keep transparency and openness in the forefront of conversation when it comes to our government.

— Spencer

time to get un-lost

"Nearly everyone in Sanford agrees on one thing: The death of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin is a tragedy. But his death has taken on a whole new meaning here, where media outlets from around the world have descended, to figure out just what happened more than a month ago when neighborhood watch volunteer George Zimmerman shot and killed Martin." - CNN, 3/29/12

According to the most recent data from RealClearPolitics.com, 81.5 percent of Americans disapprove of the job that Congress is doing. And, this is not to suggest that 18.5 percent of Americans actually approve of Congress. No, that number is just 11.8 percent. That’s right. Barely one out of every 10 Americans approve of the job Congress is doing. 

Americans aren’t happy. In fact, it’s more than just not being happy. They’re angry. Very angry. And, they want change. 

But, there’s a problem.

"I’m really grateful to be part of a generation that wants change, ‘cause we should all want change," Hofstra University graduate student Jennifer Campbell told the AP. “But I’m not sure what that change is, or if they know what that change is.”

Ah. There’s the rub. It’s impossible to effect change if one is not sure what that change should be. It is much like being lost in the woods without a clear sense of where to go to get out.

To make matters worse, some people, including some of those within the Occupy Movement, are actually against taking any direction at all. 

Spencer, skimmerhat’s Chief Operations Officer, once visited Occupy Atlanta to hand out literature for a candidate with whom he was volunteering at the time. The response he got from those down there was neither positive, nor negative. They weren’t against his candidate, or for the candidate. 

They weren’t with any candidate at all. ‘We don’t support anyone,’ Spencer was told in effect. 

And, that’s the major problem with where our country is. We’re all angry. We all want change. But, many don’t have any idea what that change looks like, and those that do have some idea refuse to take action.

Not taking action is like sitting lost in the woods, hugging a tree, hoping to be rescued. While that may work in survival situations, where trained rescuers are actively searching for you…it doesn’t work that way with politics. 

The Establishment likes an electorate that is confused, frightened, and directionless. It makes it easier to take advantage of them. What they fear is an electorate that is educated, aware, and — worse of all — actively working for change.

Skimmerhat wants to rescue people from the woods. Skimmerhat knows that only by taking an active role in making change will people finally have the government they want. 

That’s why we’re not only providing the tools to make people more educated about candidates, but we’re also providing the tools for people to take that next step — the action step. Donating to candidates is the easiest — and, in a sense — the best way to start taking control of our government.

Skimmerhat will let voters find candidates they want to support. And, it will allow them to do just that. 

We can’t sit back and wait for someone to rescue us from our current problems. That isn’t happening. We must do what’s within our power to save ourselves. 

We have more power than we think. 

— Andrew

If you’ve perused through the skimmerhat blog, you know we are building a platform to engage small donors through the strength of ideology. But, as we do this, Super PACs continue to funnel massive amounts of money into political races. The Sunlight Foundation — through the above link — does a great job showing just how much money that is and how large the stream has become. Check it out.

— Spencer

Under new consular fees published Thursday in the Federal Register, the cost of processing a formal renunciation of U.S. citizenship skyrocketed from $0 to $450. The announcement locks in fee hikes that had been proposed in 2010 and instituted on an interim basis.” - AP, 2/2/12

As you can probably tell if you have browsed around, skimmerhat is predicated on issues and ideology. Earlier, we gave a very general glimpse into how we see the flow of skimmerhat working once when it is completed. There is geographical navigation, the matching (or survey) navigation and ideological navigation, all of which end with the option of a donation. Though the concept of “ideas” is tied throughout skimmerhat, the area in which it will be most apparent is through ideological navigation.

This will be where users can begin to dig into the issues that are most important to them, finding where candidates stand and discussing topical issues or legislation (like SOPA, for instance), and then voting candidates or threads of discussion up or down. This is also where the idea of crowdsourcing begins to take shape, in which users push the candidates and ideas that resonate with them to the top.

However, deciding exactly how ideas and issues will be presented is easier said than done. In an earlier post, we pointed out that one’s ideology may be represented by any number of aspects including the economy, education, health care, labor law, criminal law, the justice system, the provision of social security and social welfare, trade, the environment, minors, immigration, race, use of the military, patriotism, and established religion.

All of this can get complex, especially when you start to consider the user experience. We don’t want our users getting bogged down in navigation.

Often, certain political issues may be categorized a number of ways.

The image above (click to enlarge) is an early sketch of how we see some issues possibly overlapping. It begins with a set of “pillars,” like Energy. But what if you are looking for where a candidate stands on the Keystone Pipeline? Would you begin digging into Energy or Environment? Well, we want to have the relevant issues/candidates/discussion in the relevant places, so you can navigate without worrying about that. A discussion of the Keystone Pipeline would ideally be linked to both Energy and Environment. As you can tell, there are quite a few places where ideas are tied to more than one pillar. Each is color-coded to quickly see the overlap.

Again, we are in the process of moving through situations like this (luckily for us, Max is very adept at tackling intuitive problems) and the sketch above is a working document (we haven’t finalized the pillars/etc.). But as we construct our prototype, define the requirements we want in our platform and then develop it, we want to make sure your experience on skimmerhat is as seamless as possible.

— Spencer

"Raising the spectre of a Greek exit, the German chancellor said “solidarity for the euro” was threatened by the ongoing political crisis in Athens." - The Telegraph, 5/14/12 

At a social gathering a few nights ago, we were talking to a successful businessman about skimmerhat and the larger idea behind what we are building. Beyond business, he has also been involved in political campaigns, either as a paid or a volunteer staffer.

During the discussion, he admitted something that we believe an increasing number of Americans are feeling: “I don’t care much any more about Republican or Democrat, right or left, I care about solving problems.”

When it comes down to it, it is hard to imagine many citizens disagreeing with that — the idea of creating an atmosphere where we can solve problems rather than choose sides.

While defining one’s individual ideology will obviously place him/her at different points on a map, when you begin talking about ideas and the weight of those ideas in a free-thinking and open way, you can begin solving problems rather than create the divisiveness that is crippling to progress — the latter of which is on display on the federal level as Americans are being held hostage by the process.

Regardless of political affiliation, a quote from Noam Chomsky sums up the type of discourse that ultimately harms, but is often seen in, America:

The smart way to keep people passive and obedient is to strictly limit the spectrum of acceptable opinion, but allow very lively debate within that spectrum - even encourage the more critical and dissident views. That gives people the sense that there’s free thinking going on, while all the time the presuppositions of the system are being reinforced by the limits put on the range of the debate.

Americans are tired of bring placed in a box when they go to the voting booth, turn on the television, or listen to the radio.

Let’s not limit the spectrum of acceptable opinion.

Technology is a great way to turn this debate on its head — as it has in so many other industries — and give the power to individuals.

With technology, perhaps, we can lower the barrier to entry for citizens to engage in and make sense of the process and find candidates from across the country who represent their ideas while also taking action to make his/her election a reality.

Perhaps, we can also lower the barrier to entry for candidates who find it difficult to fundraise, especially when facing candidates backed by the deep pockets of PACs and Super PACs.

With skimmerhat, we are hoping to turn the perhaps into a reality.

— Spencer

Voter Destination Unknown?

In its second-biggest case this term, the court - fresh from hearing the Obama healthcare overhaul case - will consider on Wednesday whether a tough Arizona immigration crackdown strayed too far into the federal government’s powers.” - Reuters, 4/22/12

We’ve written a good amount about the anger and confusion Americans are feeling right now with their representatives, especially those in Congress. The emotional disconnect is fuel for skimmerhat’s initiative — supplying Americans with a tool to help have their voices more accurately represented in Washington. The three main steps to reach this goal include education, action and accountability.

As Americans, we must learn who is running and what their ideology is, take action to get them into office and, finally, hold them accountable once they assume their position as a public servant.

We at skimmerhat are developing a platform to make this systematic and fluid, rather than fragmented and cumbersome.

The first step — education — is an important one in order for the next two to have an impact. So, as we build, we wanted to know where Americans go to learn about candidates running for Congress. And, what that experience is like.

Although we want to solve Americans’ disconnect with our representatives, we must first help with the process of voter education, if there is a problem there in the first place.

Of course, we had our assumptions, but we wanted our own research, along with the research we’ve read, to prove these assumptions. So far, we gathered 150 responses from respondents who are registered to vote, comprise all age groups and almost all of whom do not know about skimmerhat or the platform we are buidling.

Here we asked where respondents currently gather info about Senate/House candidates:

As you see, the majority of people already use Internet sites or blogs to research candidates, while their individual party structure ranks last.

In the “Other” category, two respondents listed the individual website of candidates while another said “Friends and family not affiliated with a party.” And a few more listed specific news channels or radio talk shows.

Then, we asked the respondents how they would classify the information-gathering process:

Time-consuming and confusing clearly outranked any other options. This section is where we received the most interesting answers in the “Other” category, which shed more light into the minds of voters. Here is a sample of the written responses:

  • So much bad media, lousy questioning and hard to find the truth. However, it is there if you are informed and know where to look. If NOT informed, and you get news from only one source, you simply are not going to have the information you need.
  • Don’t know who to believe.They are so 1 party minded they only print the bad about the other ones.
  • The process is challenging because there is not enough information forthcoming and readily available.
  • Slanted. It can be difficult to sort out the truth behind the story.
  • Sometimes it isn’t clear who is running where until right before voting day.
  • Haphazard
  • Cryptic

If those answers, combined with the overall response to the question, don’t make you question the process of gathering information on Congressional candidates, nothing likely will.

When you look at various aspects of our government, it is obvious that citizens need better access, more transparency and more intuitive tools in order to make the decisions that can improve our government. We believe we are building one with skimmerhat that, along with other tools in the Gov 2.0/open government movement, will prove significant in Americans realizing our country’s potential in the years to come.

If you have comments, questions or additions to this post, let us know.

— Spencer

Watch on skimmerhat.tumblr.com

"American Jim Yong Kim was tapped Monday to be the next president of the World Bank, besting Nigerian finance minister Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala following the first-ever challenge to the U.S. nominee in the institution’s history." - CNN, 4/16/12

This is our third installment for our co-founder testimonial series.  Meet Andrew Davis!

Iran and six world powers began rare talks on Saturday to try to halt a downward diplomatic spiral over Tehran’s nuclear program and ease fears of a new Middle East war.” - Reuters, 4/14/12

The above image shows some early results from our survey that we shared with everyone early last week. We have received around 150 respondents thus far, which is great.

The insight we are receiving on voters in addition to market trends that we follow will be huge as we continue to build and mold skimmerhat into something that is useful and powerful for Americans.

So take a look at the numbers, and let us know if anything surprises or perplexes you. And note that all the numbers we listed are a plurality, or received the most votes in comparison to other choices. For example, the 42% who said they would donate to a candidate is greater than the number who said they would not or were unsure.

We will share more info in the coming weeks and apply a more aesthetic appeal, but take this for it’s worth. Which is a group of statistics we found interesting as we gather the results.

- Spencer

"CBS News legend Mike Wallace, the "60 Minutes" pit-bull reporter whose probing, brazen style made his name synonymous with the tough interview - a style he practically invented for television more than half a century ago - died last night." - CBS News, 4/8/12

We are compiling voter feedback on elections in the Senate and the House while trying to find how Americans go about gathering information on Congressional candidates. Overall, we want to know how engaged you are with elections in Congress. It is only ten questions, and it will help skimmerhat help you even more. So if you have a few minutes, please click the above link in the title of this post and take it. Or go here: http://www.surveymonkey.com/s/MMNSN29

We’d be very appreciative. Thanks!

— Spencer

Watch on skimmerhat.tumblr.com

"Global food prices rose in March for a third successive month, driven by gains in grains and vegetable oils, the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization said on Thursday, putting food inflation firmly back on the economic agenda." - Reuters, 4/5/12

We created a few videos from the co-founders to give our own testimonials on launching skimmerhat and how we see skimmerhat becoming a vital tool to Americans. Here is the first video from Max.

"Stocks rose to multiyear highs on the first session of the new quarter after a solid reading on domestic manufacturing." - WSJ, 4/2/12

A friend passed along a link over the weekend to an interesting and brief glimpse into the fundraising efforts of Congressmen, courtesy of NPR.

It outlines just how much time and effort is put in to raising money for elections:

And this second job — the raising-money job — doesn’t happen in the nice congressional offices, with the rugs on the floor and landscape paintings on the wall. That would be against the rules.

So senators and congressmen go across the street to private rooms in nongovernmental buildings, where they make call after call, asking people for money.

In other words, most of our lawmakers are moonlighting as telemarketers.

 

"If you walked in there, you would say, ‘Boy, this is the about the worst looking, most abusive looking call center situation I’ve seen in my life,’" says Rep. Peter Defazio, a Democrat from Oregon. "These people don’t have any workspace, the other person is virtually touching them."

There are stacks of names in front of each lawmaker. They go through the list, making calls and asking people for money.

The fundraising never stops, because everyone needs money to run for re-election. In the House, the candidate with more money wins in 9 out of 10 races, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, a nonpartisan group that tracks money in politics. In the Senate, it’s 8 out of 10.

That last statistic is eye-opening, though not entirely surprising as we’ve written about the importance of money in winning elections here and here.

As PACs and Super PACs receive more and more attention for the outrageous amounts of money they raise, the focus on dollars in political races will only grow.

So, where does skimmerhat fit in? After all, our platform is predicated upon finding candidates with like-minded ideology and then donating to them.

In that sentence, though, the action item is flipped from the NPR excerpt above. It is not politicians directly seeking out donors. Instead, it is citizens intuitively seeking candidates and then donating to them. The citizens are engaging the politicians.

There is no sure way to know how this relationship will play out, but we plan to build the best tool possible for individual citizens — small donors or otherwise — to find and fund candidates based on the strength of ideology while evening the playing field, so to speak, of the deep pocketed candidates and donors of the political establishment. And we want it to be transparent and open. In the same way we demand our politicians to be.

We can’t wait to see what happens. If you are interested in receiving the latest news on skimmerhat and keeping up with our development, sign up on our email list.

— Spencer

Afghanistan wants the United States to clearly spell out what sort of military presence it will leave behind once most of its combat troops leave by the end of 2014, a senior Afghan official said.” - Reuters, 3/31/12

We’ve shared a few political cartoons before that exhibit the country’s anger at Congress, so here is another. Although many Americans certainly feel this way, does it have to be a cyclical or constant emotion?

We don’t think so.

— Spencer

youtube

President Barack Obama’s health care overhaul is front and center at the Supreme Court for three days of hearings to determine the fate of a law aimed at extending health insurance to more than 30 million Americans.” - AP, 3/26/12

This new video is hot off the press and delves into how and why we are building a better way to find and fund candidates. It is predicated upon our belief that ideas are powerful. But actions change history.

President Barack Obama will voice confidence on Monday that the United States can further reduce its nuclear weapons stockpile while maintaining its strategic deterrent and international commitments, a White House official said.” - Reuters, 3/25/12

The above picture is a shot of a marketing package we are sending out. It contains additional info on skimmerhat, a QR code link to a skimmerhat video and an actual skimmer hat.

We wear the hats pretty often. Hopefully, others will be joining us.

— Spencer