Startup Tech to Get Government ID

I’ve been studying barriers to voter engagement and how technology can help. One barrier is that three million Americans don’t have a government-issued ID.

Thirty-three states have passed voter ID laws that typically require government-issued photo ID to vote. Most of the strict versions are in Republican states. They are the new poll taxes; thinly veiled ways to suppress poor and minority voters.

Government IDs are used not just to vote but to claim public assistance benefits, sign checks, and even enter some government buildings. The most common ID is a driver’s license but as autonomous cars hit the road, driver’s licenses will likely start to phase out.

ca-id-goodTo counter this, I can imagine a TurboTax for IDs. Give your information over the phone or through a mobile or web app and it walks you through how to obtain a Social Security Card, driver’s license, passport, or other ID. When people must appear in a location like the DMV, the app can handle scheduling, reminders, and directions. A network of volunteers can help those who need a higher touch. Sites like and VotePlz can serve as models.

Another tack could be to work with a civically-minded state like California or Washington that would make it easy to get a government-issued ID from out of state. Many of the voter ID laws say any state ID will do. Some states may try to counter this in future elections by requiring an in-state ID but an out-of-state ID might at least work in the short-term and help people get services that require ID.

Those without IDs are likely among the remaining few without internet access. 92% of Americans now own a cellphone and 86% own a smartphone. Community centers like churches, charities, and libraries can help fill the gaps, including through mobile devices that can be taken to where people are.

Pressure should continue on governments to create fair systems but as technologists, we should think about how we can change the systems bottom-up.

Fake news: lay the lie, spring the truth?

Rick Gerkin had an idea I like for countering fake news stories: flood the web with them.

Many markets for high-value products – cash, clothes, handbags, even drugs and rhino horns – have counterfeits. The early counterfeiters reap big profits but once fakes proliferate and get detected, buyers and sellers get savvier and develop authentication methods.

Imagine if truth in journalism organizations published fake news traps across the political spectrum. Publish little lies and big lies, cover many politicians and celebrities, piggyback on lies told by nefarious groups – flood the market with fake “fake news” stories.

Separately, increase funding to non-partisan fact-checking sites like Snopes, FactCheck, and Politifact. Build their coverage and credibility and recruit all kinds of people to be bullshit detectors. When the flood goes viral, encourage people to call B.S. and link to fact-checkers, especially among friends and loved ones stuck in an echo chamber.

These fake news traps can even spring themselves. Once a story reaches a certain number of views, it could reveal itself as fake and link to a fact-checker. “Surprise, you’ve been punked!” Lay the lie, spring the truth.

More satire sites like the Onion could also train people to be on guard. The fake news writer in the below article claimed to be a satirist but satire is meant to be understood as false.

Not only could all this drown out nefarious fake news and bad journalism, it might get people in the habit of fact-checking.

Will people just believe bad journalism they like regardless? Does the amount of false information in society follow a parabola or an asymptote? I think it depends on the costs of believing and spreading lies.

People don’t like being branded as foolish, especially in small circles. Sharing an Onion story thinking it’s true is embarrassing. In the broader public, algorithms could create a “bullshitter score” for how often people share fake news. Make these scores public and searchable and auto-tweet them at bullshitters to foster accountability.

“But a flood of fake news will just make the problem worse!”

Fake news and bad journalism are already pervasive and will get worse since they’ve shown to be effective.

Reality eventually “asserts itself,” as Obama told Trump. The goal is to force everyone to hit the reality wall as soon as possible so we can emerge warier and savvier, preferably before the next election.

“But fake news groups will just create their own fake ‘fact-checking’ sites.”

This is true and inevitable. Counterfeiting and bad behavior in general is a game of cat-and-mouse. There is no silver bullet.

The closest things are 1) intellectual and moral education; and 2) transparency. Until we develop ways to spread both, we need more carrots and sticks.

I get this is out there and maybe a bad idea but the current system isn’t working. Thoughts?

Thoughts on the Election

Devastated. Still processing what this means. Here are a jumble of thoughts, some quite raw. I hope you continue sharing yours.

-To all those who will be attacked and marginalized by this election, my heart breaks for you. Please remember that half the country tried to protect you. We are still here.

-The civil rights movement broke through when the privileged and oppressed sacrificed together, enabled leaders like MLK and LBJ, and applied pressure from radical groups like the Black Panthers. We may need these again.

-In now the last eight presidential races, from Bush I vs. Dukakis to Trump vs. Clinton, the more charismatic candidate won regardless of experience or competence. Trump was more disliked but inspired more enthusiasm and that made the difference.

-I hope some of our officials, on the down low, are double-checking that no significant voting fraud occurred. My guess is the polls were indeed just way off, but given the multiple state actor attacks on our infrastructure and the importance of this election, double-checking is warranted.

-Hillary Clinton won the popular vote despite blatant voter suppression. If we had a true democracy, she would be President.

The electoral college has now screwed the Democratic candidate twice in the last five elections. Constitutionally eliminating it is likely impossible given approval from 2/3 of Congress and 3/4 of states is needed.

However, eliminating it is possible by passing the National Popular Vote bill in a couple more states. This should get more attention.

-Republicans should not interpret their win as a mandate. It is, at best, a guarded and temporary willingness to work together.

I support some of the agenda that Trump has announced, such as lowering corporate taxes, reducing FDA regulation, encouraging charter schools, and steering some government programs toward privatization. I do believe some well-intended progressive policies have hamstrung innovation and choice.

However, I deeply disbelieve Trump’s ability to execute these policies well. Conservatives must remember how Bush II ran on fiscal conservatism, then started an unnecessary $2 trillion war and doubled the national debt.

-Further, if Republicans try to undo marriage equality, abortion rights, global alliances, and sensible environmental protections, as I unfortunately expect, the 48 Democratic senators must find their spines, channel Bernie, and filibuster until the Senate floor feels like home.

I hate gridlock but I believe Republicans are more responsible for breaking the norms of bipartisanship. It’s fair for Democrats to use the obstructionist Republican playbook until leaders from both sides agree to restore functional norms, preferably into law. Democrats should not be Ned Stark; they should be Tyrion.

-To Trump supporters, especially those I know and care about: I still care about you. Some of you are in real pain and I didn’t see how much. I am genuinely sorry.

Some real talk: the closeness of this election was enough to trigger change. This didn’t need to be taken over the deep end.

Please suspend disbelief for a moment. Watch the basket of deplorables video, listen to how Clinton talks about the pain of the disillusioned, and read about her thirty years of service helping others. She has flaws and made mistakes but she would have fought for you.

Then read Trump’s history of lies, lawsuits, bankruptcies, threats, and overall cruel behavior. Please explain to me why you believe he is willing and able to help you more. Especially explain how he would help fellow Americans who are not like you.

When I think about the gap between what could have been and what will be, I feel despair.

-But that gap has passed so here we are, sharing a turbulent ship. We are facing climate change, global terrorism, massive job automation, and yet out of fear and anger, you took a flare gun to our hull and blasted a gaping hole. You have our attention now, but it’s going to take a while to forgive how you got it and even longer to repair the damage, if we can.

-Another tragedy is that the damage may be subtle at first. Cancer and rot don’t alert us on four year schedules. If nuclear weapons proliferate, ISIS rebuilds its ranks, or global warming tips, the alert may take ten years but shock us in scale. Long cycles make it too easy to misattribute cause and effect, especially willingly, and may doom us to repeat mistakes we don’t have time to make.

-This election result – no election result – can sanction cruelty. Look at the abuse being reported on Twitter. We must seek to understand each other but mutual respect and human rights are non-negotiable table stakes, full stop.

Without them, the abused will feel, like Trump voters, that they have nothing left to lose. The result could tear the country apart.

-Many will use their voices to prevent that. Personally, I am passionate about exploring exit, as Balaji has outlined. California seccession is a pipe dream given 3/4 of states would need to approve, but we should be experimenting with new cities, countries, and systems of governance.

There are only 196 countries for 7.1 billion people. Surely we can create a few more to form a market of governments, apply competitive pressure, and better align citizens by values. As we increasingly see, diversity of values can only stretch so far. I think exit activity will now accelerate.

-Finally, venting is important but it must be channeled into action. A separate post will be about options I see.

What a Difference 2% Makes

This is an important piece on how we should not over-interpret the meaning of this very close election. If 1 out of 100 voters flips their vote, Clinton wins handily.

While I do think liberals should care more about the plights of conservatives – and vice versa! – the larger takeaway is that the nation is extremely and evenly polarized.

What will be fascinating is how both parties could remake their platforms and form new coalitions:

-Trump may push for protectionist policies that appeal to unions and the working class, both traditionally Democratic. The UAW president just announced support for Trump on crushing NAFTA.

-Democrats may move farther left on social justice, campaign finance, student loans, and progressive taxes to activate millennials who love Sanders and Warren.

-Pre-election, Trump was kinda socially liberal, supporting marriage equality, abortion rights, and even transgender rights. He reversed during the election but if he returns to his original views, he would neuter the religious right.

Trump is so wildly inconsistent that it’s hard to say where he pulls his party. His famously short attention span and lack of principles could lead him to reverse his stances on whims.

Congress might corral Trump as he learns he needs them to pass anything, but maybe Trump can rile his base to keep Congress in line. We may see more conflicts between a president and his party than we’ve seen in a long time.

Two Ideas to Repair Our Political Divide

1. #RuralLivesMatter. Democrats shouldn’t abandon substantive issues but should value rural whites more than spotted owls and bathroom signs, especially if they want those people to not elect a psychopath. Political capital is limited so you have to prioritize.

2. An exchange program that subsidizes rural and urban people to switch locales for a bit. I suspect for many, it’d be like visiting a different country inside the same country.

How many of us have been to a NASCAR race, an evangelical mass, or a firing range? How many long-term rural residents have been to a four-star restaurant, an engaging college lecture, or a yoga class? If we travel to gain a new perspective, maybe we’d benefit from starting at home?

We could make it a reality series. President Trump could host it!

The Need For Instant Video Recording

“When something is described as a toy, that means it has everything an idea needs except being important. It’s cool; users love it; it just doesn’t matter.

But if you’re living in the future and you build something cool that users love, it may matter more than outsiders think.”

-Paul Graham

In an upcoming future where abusive behavior may rise, instant video recording will become important. Google Glass ($1,500 in 2013) and Snapchat Spectacles ($130 today) were widely criticized as expensive toys.

When this tech is under $50 with facial recognition, location tracking, and automatic uploading to social media and police, it will sell millions of units. (Especially because there are lots of non-security uses, too.)

We still need better non-lethal personal security tech, but it’s no coincidence that reports of UFOs and bigfoot plummeted when smartphones went mainstream.


Trump and Arafat

“After the summer of ’82, Arafat became more than ever a symbol, and maybe nothing more than a symbol, of the Palestinian refusal to disappear. He was judged by Palestinians less for what he produced than for what he represented.

No one put it better than a Palestinian coed at the West Bank’s Bir Zeit University. When I asked her why she stood by Arafat when he had brought his people nothing but defeat, she said with tears in her eyes, ‘Arafat is the stone we throw at the world.'”

-Thomas Friedman, From Beirut to Jerusalem