“A purpose of human life, no matter who is controlling it, is to love whoever is around to be loved.”

— Kurt Vonnegut Jr.

(via David)

Keystone Politics and Working With Constraints

Last weekend, I upgraded Keystone Politics with new software and put into place a plan for a new direction that I’ve been contemplating for a while.

Why did I do this? After all, I had a profitable little home on the web.

Keystone Politics will turn five this year. In that time, we covered two presidential elections from the ground in a key swing state, plus congressional races and all manner of local political minutiae. But increasingly, a majority of our traffic wasn’t coming from the community, but from random searches on Google.

This could have been semi-profitable inevitably, but we were missing something.

Community.
I founded Keystone Politics on the idea that when citizens are better informed, they’re more likely to want to participate. And when we spend time discussing what’s going on in our government, we’re more likely to make good decisions at the voting booth. So, while KP looked like just another news site, my goal has always been for it to be part of an ongoing democratic discussion.

But We Weren’t Getting There.
Over the past year, I started to get the nagging feeling that we’d stagnated. We weren’t getting many new users, and the conversations sometimes felt like deja vu.

A New Beginning.
So I look at our relaunch as a new beginning, but it’s important to recognize the reality, which is that we’re a very small business with a lot of constraints – namely, time and money. But that’s what makes the whole thing fun. I’m going to work hard on KP to turn it into a place where people want to gather online.

It certainly hasn’t gone out without a hitch. I’m still running into problems while I learn Movable Type, but I’m confident that this is an excellent foundation for a huge leap forward over what we had for the past five years. We won’t get there today, we won’t get there tomorrow, but hopefully most days we’ll look up and realize we’re on the right path.

More on the FDIC and Bank Closures

From the Times:

As a bank teeters, the F.D.I.C. swoops in virtually overnight and
shifts as many good loans and deposits as possible to a healthy bank.
The F.D.I.C. persuades the healthy bank to accept some of the bad loans
by agreeing to take a share of certain future losses.

What is
left is a miserable stew of failed real estate projects, vacant land,
boarded-up houses and loans to defunct or bankrupt businesses, among
other stories of misery from these recessionary times. About 4 percent
of the assets from bank closures last year were bad, totaling some $15
billion in loans and property that once belonged to institutions like
the Douglass National Bank of Kansas City, Mo., and Sanderson State
Bank of Sanderson, Tex.

This is the stuff that no healthy bank
wanted to buy, losing propositions, or in the diplomatically
bureaucratic language of government, “assets in liquidation.”

How’s Your Bank Doing? The FDIC’s Friday Closures

This will be old news to insiders, but someone was just telling me about Bauer Financial’s bank star ratings; they give a instant look at the health of local and regional banks. Take a look at Georgia (lots of bad banks) versus New York (relatively few bad banks). (no permalinks to those pages, so use the link above)

Why is this important? It might give you a bit of a sneak peak into banks that could soon be on the FDIC’s Friday closures list. So as not to cause bank runs, the FDIC announces bank takeovers around 5:30 on Friday. (“No advance notice is given to the public on bank closures.” -FDIC) Take a look at the full list – a handful every year from 2000-2007, and now 2-4 per week. Massive.

(Former) Sen. Norm Coleman – Low, Sure. But This Low?

Jonathan Chait explores the media’s disparate treatment of the Norm Coleman and Rod Blagojevich scandals:

What, you say–Norm Coleman? Yes, Norm Coleman!
Let me explain. The soon-to-be-former senator’s scandal is pretty
simple. Nasser Kazeminy, a wealthy businessman and close Coleman
friend, allegedly paid him $75,000 under the table.

And
by “allegedly,” I mean “almost certainly.” Here’s how the almost
certainly true alleged scheme worked. The payments to Coleman came in
the form of what Tony Soprano would call a “no-show job.” One of
Kazeminy’s companies is called Deep Marine Technology. Kazeminy
allegedly ordered Deep Marine’s CEO, Paul McKim, to make a series of
$25,000 payments that would go to Coleman’s wife. According to McKim,
Kazeminy was utterly blatant. He said the reason for the payments was
that Coleman needed the money and McKim should disguise them as a
legitimate business transaction.

The intermediary they picked was an insurance company owned by Jim
Hays, a major Coleman donor who had given contracting work to Coleman’s
wife, Laurie. Hays admits getting the $75,000, according to the
Minneapolis Star Tribune, but says he “provide[d] insurance advice” to Deep Marine and denies the money went to Laurie Coleman.

This
is very hard to believe. Deep Marine was already paying $1 million per
year for insurance from a London company that specializes in underwater
offshore lines, which is Deep Marine’s business.

Sometimes I Start Something New – GovTechNerd

Despite the fact that I’m as busy as ever (or maybe busier), I’ve started something new. I think that the technology that powers democracy and civic life is something we should be talking about, and while I participate in discussions about it in other forums, I thought that GovTechNerd could be a good home for some detailed tech-wonkery. Here’s why:

I’ve found that a lot of the discussion about information technology in
government is dominated by the big players out there – Microsoft, HP,
IBM, etc. Even if we consider that a 30,000 foot view (and I think it
would be incomplete if we did), there’s a level below that’s
interesting – how do citizens interact with government? How can we make
that better? And how can government do its job better? These are
sometimes policy questions, but as often as not they’re implementation
questions.

So this is a place for us to share our successes and our challenges at the local, state, and federal level.

So if you’re interested, I look forward to you joining me at GovTechNerd. It’s an open community where anyone can start a blog and contribute. Please do.

(PS – It’s also part of a bit of a personal realignment of priorities. I’ll be stepping back from Keystone Politics a bit; if you haven’t noticed already, I’m only the Tuesday-Thursday blogger now.)