Debriefing of our DC Trip

The White House at night

Here’s our debriefing of our DC Trip. We’ll get more videos up over the next few weeks on FastCompany.tv — we filmed most of the interviews with our two-camera HD setup, and they take time to edit.

Themes that kept coming up this week in our interviews?

  1. Our broadband access sucks in the United States. We only have the 15th best connectivity out of all the countries in the world, Representative Ed Markey told me. On the other hand, the CEO of the National Cable and Telecommunications Association defended our broadband status, and explained why countries like South Korea are ahead (I’ll wait until we get the videos up to cover this disagreement in more depth).
  2. Advertising is something that elected officials will watch and get involved in. Several talked with me about Internet advertising tracking devices: it was clear they are worried about our privacy, and FCC Commissioner Jonathan Adelstein is worried about the effects of advertising on children. I will do more videos in the coming months on this issue, probably at Google.
  3. Technology usage has a long way to go in government. I had several conversations with both congressmen and everyday government workers who told me that entire departments were still storing all their data on paper, at great waste. John Culberson told me one of his goals is to get all parts of government data onto computers so that people can watch better where their dollars are being spent.
  4. Our kids aren’t being well educated. Alec Ross told me about being a high school teacher in a Baltimore school in a poor district. His kids had tattered 25-year-old text books. Several of our interviews mentioned that our eductation system needs to be rebuilt to make sure our workers are competitive with those from India and China. More scientists and technologists are needed, they told me, and we’re just falling behind other countries here.
  5. Our immigration policies are screwed up. Getting the smartest people to move to the United States and getting them visas is not something we do well anymore. Ironic in the land of immigration. A couple of Congressmen said that we need reform of the H1-B system, which, they told me, builds a system of indentured servitude. Because a big company probably sponsors an immigrant’s H1-B visa, they aren’t able to leave that big company to do something more entrepreneurial, which would help our economy out more.
  6. There’s a lot of concern for our kids, that probably will turn into legislation. The FCC Commissioner, for instance, talked to my son about his concerns about the porn industry. Advertising, porn, sexual attacks, and other things came up in our conversations.
  7. Gas prices. The reminders were all over the Capitol (we walked what seemed like every hall) in bumper stickers stuck to doors, signs outside of Congressional Offices, and were brought up in almost every conversation. Heck, a Democrat, Tim Ryan, told me he supported Nuclear Energy and incentives to get electric cars back in usage. Now, go back to the 1970s. If he had said something like that inside a Congressional Office he would have quickly been strung up in the closest tree.
  8. AT&T, Apple, and Early Adopters don’t have many friends in Congress. Zoe Lofgren, D-CA, even told me she’ll dump her iPhone as soon as Google’s Android is out because she doesn’t like AT&T and also doesn’t like the closed nature of the iPhone. Only two congressmen use Macs. Out of 435 Representatives and 100 Senators. That also demonstrates that there aren’t many early adopters in Congress. Blackberries are used everywhere, though. Many Congressmen showed me that they carried two Blackberries: one for their campaigns and one for government business. Alec Ross told me that Barack Obama has very fast thumbs and is legendary for being able to whip out notes on his Blackberry.

Some things that stick in my mind from the week?

  • The newest museum in Washington DC, the Newseum is stunning. It was far better than I was expecting. They had the top of the World Trade Center there. The biggest piece of the Berlin Wall (and a guard tower). The Pulitzer Gallery there hit my soul hard. The centerpiece of the museum is a huge 2-million-pixel screen that cost more than $3 million and the world’s largest hydraulic elevators. We got a great video tour over on my Qik Channel.
  • I was able to use Qik in the parts of the White House we got a tour of with two exceptions: 1. near the Oval Office (we got within a few feet of the door) and 2. while the President was outside. Even the “pro” camera guys can’t be live with the President outside. Everytime you see him on TV outside he’s tape delayed by at least 10 minutes.
  • Sitting on the balcony of the Speaker of the House was just, plain, cool.
  • My favorite politician that I met? A Republican. John Culberson. Not because he uses social media, either. But because he votes against his party often (more than 20 times against George Bush’s proposals) but also because he has so many interesting things in his office. Zoe Lofgren is pretty cool too. Gotta love it when the first time you meet someone they start talking to you about what you think of Google’s Android.

More later, especially as I decompress and do some more thinking about the trip and what I learned.

25 thoughts on “Debriefing of our DC Trip

  1. Thomas said: “Why is that any of your business? It’s my problem to solve to figure out how to afford the gas, not yours, or the government’s”

    True. The government’s business, though, is to watch out for imperfections in the market caused by external costs and to correct them if possible. The environment is a public good and optimally everybody who “uses” it (e.g. by driving a car and thus polluting the air) should pay for this. This applies to everything, of course, not just driving. A lot of the cost of a 99 cents cheeseburger at McD has been externalized to the environment, the suffering of the animals, and the health system. How does the government cope with externalities? Tax the bad stuff and give tax exempts for doing good stuff. Tough to do since these impacts are almost impossible to measure and the line between a few well-intended corrections of the market and a planned economy is quite thin.

    Perhaps tom’s question should rather be, “Why is gas still so cheap that people can afford to own 5.6 L pick up trucks even if they don’t really need them?” (and IMHO this is true for the gas prices in Europe, too).

  2. Thomas said: “Why is that any of your business? It’s my problem to solve to figure out how to afford the gas, not yours, or the government’s”

    True. The government’s business, though, is to watch out for imperfections in the market caused by external costs and to correct them if possible. The environment is a public good and optimally everybody who “uses” it (e.g. by driving a car and thus polluting the air) should pay for this. This applies to everything, of course, not just driving. A lot of the cost of a 99 cents cheeseburger at McD has been externalized to the environment, the suffering of the animals, and the health system. How does the government cope with externalities? Tax the bad stuff and give tax exempts for doing good stuff. Tough to do since these impacts are almost impossible to measure and the line between a few well-intended corrections of the market and a planned economy is quite thin.

    Perhaps tom’s question should rather be, “Why is gas still so cheap that people can afford to own 5.6 L pick up trucks even if they don’t really need them?” (and IMHO this is true for the gas prices in Europe, too).

  3. “If Government could help get even more dollars to new ultra-low-gas mileage cars, that’d really help as well.”

    Why should my money go to a private business to build a car I do not want? If there is clear demand for such cars, then these companies should a a clear profit motivation to build them.

    But, let’s say they can build them in the next year or two, and replace their whole fleet of offerings across ALL major auto manufacturers. These cars will be much higher priced than their gasoline counterpart, as companies will need to recoup their initial technology investments. Second, so say you are one of the first to trade in your current gas engine car for one of these more fuel efficient cars. What happens to your gas car? Does it get sent to the junkyard? Taken out of circulation so as not to be resold? Well, then you have less cars available in the market, thus driving up the price of the new cars even more.

    Not everyone is going to go down to their favorite car dealer and buy these cars once they are available. There will still be millions of gasoline powered cars on the road, for quite some time. So, those cars will need gas. Thus, the need for drilling and refineries.

    Then, how do you incent current home owners to switch to solar power? And if you say “tax breaks”, I again ask why my money should go to subsidize your solar panels? That, again, will take years. I agree with you 100% about nuclear power. But, good luck with that. The same Sierra Club nutroots that live around you will oppose building nuclear power plants at the same level, or even moreso, than theyy do drilling.

    tom:
    “Americans drive the biggest gas guzzlers on the planted and then complain about high fuel prices… I mean, who needs a 5.6 L V8 pick up truck?”

    I do. Well, I don’t really NEED one, but I choose to own one. And a Suburban. And a 30 ft boat that takes gas, not diesel. Why is that any of your business? It’s my problem to solve to figure out how to afford the gas, not yours, or the government’s

  4. “If Government could help get even more dollars to new ultra-low-gas mileage cars, that’d really help as well.”

    Why should my money go to a private business to build a car I do not want? If there is clear demand for such cars, then these companies should a a clear profit motivation to build them.

    But, let’s say they can build them in the next year or two, and replace their whole fleet of offerings across ALL major auto manufacturers. These cars will be much higher priced than their gasoline counterpart, as companies will need to recoup their initial technology investments. Second, so say you are one of the first to trade in your current gas engine car for one of these more fuel efficient cars. What happens to your gas car? Does it get sent to the junkyard? Taken out of circulation so as not to be resold? Well, then you have less cars available in the market, thus driving up the price of the new cars even more.

    Not everyone is going to go down to their favorite car dealer and buy these cars once they are available. There will still be millions of gasoline powered cars on the road, for quite some time. So, those cars will need gas. Thus, the need for drilling and refineries.

    Then, how do you incent current home owners to switch to solar power? And if you say “tax breaks”, I again ask why my money should go to subsidize your solar panels? That, again, will take years. I agree with you 100% about nuclear power. But, good luck with that. The same Sierra Club nutroots that live around you will oppose building nuclear power plants at the same level, or even moreso, than theyy do drilling.

    tom:
    “Americans drive the biggest gas guzzlers on the planted and then complain about high fuel prices… I mean, who needs a 5.6 L V8 pick up truck?”

    I do. Well, I don’t really NEED one, but I choose to own one. And a Suburban. And a 30 ft boat that takes gas, not diesel. Why is that any of your business? It’s my problem to solve to figure out how to afford the gas, not yours, or the government’s

  5. Robert,

    I just returned to Australia from a 5 week “study trip” to Europe and the US.

    My observations in some ways copy yours:

    1) The US in many ways has become the land of mediocracy. NASA can shoot people to the moon but in daily live every day Americans don’t seem to be able to work out the most basic things to get by. For example I watched people trying to operate a car park payment station for about 10 minutes. Learned a lot about accommodating the lowest common denominator.

    Experienced the most idiotic payment machine interface on the planet: San Francisco BART.

    And amongst many other things wondered why I get personally greeted by the fuel pump at the gas station and get targeted advertising but the credit card reader only accepts credit cards if inserted in a particular way.

    2) Americans drive the biggest gas guzzlers on the planted and then complain about high fuel prices… I mean, who needs a 5.6 L V8 pick up truck?

    3) Germany must be one of the most environmentally aware countries on the planet. Germany apparently has more wind farms than any other country in the world. While flying over Amsterdam I noticed a multi thousand wind turbine power plant in the middle of the ocean… at the same time Australian politicians dismiss wind power as not viable for Australia. WTF?

    4) Broadband always seems be slowest in your own country regardless of were you are from… visited Germany and thought there 3G mobile network was pretty speedy compared to Australia’s… then visited San Francisco only to be greeted by free Wifi Networks on every street corner. The apartment where I was staying had a 22/ 2 Mbit Internet connection. Something most Australian’s can only dream about. Yet on a recent trip to far North Australia I had 3G coverage about 200 kms away from the nearest town. At the same time I had plenty of black spots with zero mobile coverage in San Francisco.

    5) Australia appears to be one of the most expensive countries in the world… how come a bottle of red wine is cheap after it was carted all the way to Germany? And why is it that I can buy a 4 bedroom house with garage in San Francisco for less than what a 2 bedroom apartment would cost in Sydney. Makes no sense.

    6) … and the list goes on.

    In conclusion I wish our politicians would get out of their ivory towers and perhaps take a closer look at daily live in their own country as well as look at what works really well for other countries and then look at ways to implement it locally.

    My biggest head scratcher though seem to be the immigration policy of the US. I am a University educated engineer who has worked the past 15 years in multiple large corporates. I would love to work in the US but currently my only options are:

    a) sign my live away and get a transfer through a big corporate… not ideal.
    b) put up US$ 500K and start my own company (anybody got 500K spare cash?) c) enter the green card lottery (never won anything in my live)
    d) jump the Mexican border and live the life of an illegal immigrant.

    Not very good prospects…

  6. Robert,

    I just returned to Australia from a 5 week “study trip” to Europe and the US.

    My observations in some ways copy yours:

    1) The US in many ways has become the land of mediocracy. NASA can shoot people to the moon but in daily live every day Americans don’t seem to be able to work out the most basic things to get by. For example I watched people trying to operate a car park payment station for about 10 minutes. Learned a lot about accommodating the lowest common denominator.

    Experienced the most idiotic payment machine interface on the planet: San Francisco BART.

    And amongst many other things wondered why I get personally greeted by the fuel pump at the gas station and get targeted advertising but the credit card reader only accepts credit cards if inserted in a particular way.

    2) Americans drive the biggest gas guzzlers on the planted and then complain about high fuel prices… I mean, who needs a 5.6 L V8 pick up truck?

    3) Germany must be one of the most environmentally aware countries on the planet. Germany apparently has more wind farms than any other country in the world. While flying over Amsterdam I noticed a multi thousand wind turbine power plant in the middle of the ocean… at the same time Australian politicians dismiss wind power as not viable for Australia. WTF?

    4) Broadband always seems be slowest in your own country regardless of were you are from… visited Germany and thought there 3G mobile network was pretty speedy compared to Australia’s… then visited San Francisco only to be greeted by free Wifi Networks on every street corner. The apartment where I was staying had a 22/ 2 Mbit Internet connection. Something most Australian’s can only dream about. Yet on a recent trip to far North Australia I had 3G coverage about 200 kms away from the nearest town. At the same time I had plenty of black spots with zero mobile coverage in San Francisco.

    5) Australia appears to be one of the most expensive countries in the world… how come a bottle of red wine is cheap after it was carted all the way to Germany? And why is it that I can buy a 4 bedroom house with garage in San Francisco for less than what a 2 bedroom apartment would cost in Sydney. Makes no sense.

    6) … and the list goes on.

    In conclusion I wish our politicians would get out of their ivory towers and perhaps take a closer look at daily live in their own country as well as look at what works really well for other countries and then look at ways to implement it locally.

    My biggest head scratcher though seem to be the immigration policy of the US. I am a University educated engineer who has worked the past 15 years in multiple large corporates. I would love to work in the US but currently my only options are:

    a) sign my live away and get a transfer through a big corporate… not ideal.
    b) put up US$ 500K and start my own company (anybody got 500K spare cash?) c) enter the green card lottery (never won anything in my live)
    d) jump the Mexican border and live the life of an illegal immigrant.

    Not very good prospects…

  7. Thomas: Congress probably can’t do much about education, but they can certainly put a lot of pressure on states to fall in line.

    I disagree that an alternative energy proposal would take years to bear fruit. First of all, as gas prices are going up demand is falling. I can see it on the busier trains and lighter traffic on freeways. That ALREADY is an alternative energy proposal bearing fruit. Now add on some solar, some new drilling, some nuclear, and watch things turn fast. Plus car companies are already under economic pressure to get more fuel-efficient vehicles out there. If Government could help get even more dollars to new ultra-low-gas mileage cars, that’d really help as well.

  8. Thomas: Congress probably can’t do much about education, but they can certainly put a lot of pressure on states to fall in line.

    I disagree that an alternative energy proposal would take years to bear fruit. First of all, as gas prices are going up demand is falling. I can see it on the busier trains and lighter traffic on freeways. That ALREADY is an alternative energy proposal bearing fruit. Now add on some solar, some new drilling, some nuclear, and watch things turn fast. Plus car companies are already under economic pressure to get more fuel-efficient vehicles out there. If Government could help get even more dollars to new ultra-low-gas mileage cars, that’d really help as well.

  9. Brian: it’s very hard to get stuff done in politics. Heck, look at John Culberson. He’s a Republican and voted against George Bush 20+ times. That’s just one guy! Getting Congressmen to see eye to eye is very tough. Especially with a weak President like this one is.

  10. Brian: it’s very hard to get stuff done in politics. Heck, look at John Culberson. He’s a Republican and voted against George Bush 20+ times. That’s just one guy! Getting Congressmen to see eye to eye is very tough. Especially with a weak President like this one is.

  11. “Our kids aren’t being well educated. Alec Ross told me about being a high school teacher in a Baltimore school in a poor district. His kids had tattered 25-year-old text books. Several of our interviews mentioned that our eductation system needs to be rebuilt to make sure our workers are competitive with those from India and China. More scientists and technologists are needed, they told me, and we’re just falling behind other countries here.”

    Hmmm…..I’ve read The Constitution numerous times, and I don’t recall anywhere where it grants the Fed Govt the authority to act here. Thus, this would seem a state and local issue to solve. What Article am I overlooking?

    “Gas prices. The reminders were all over the Capitol (we walked what seemed like every hall) in bumper stickers stuck to doors, signs outside of Congressional Offices, and were brought up in almost every conversation. Heck, a Democrat, Tim Ryan, told me he supported Nuclear Energy and incentives to get electric cars back in usage. Now, go back to the 1970s. If he had said something like that inside a Congressional Office he would have quickly been strung up in the closest tree.”

    Any alternative energy proposal will take YEARS to bear fruit. In the meantime, we have to have Federal Courts begin to throw out any lawsuit that intends to prevent oil companies from drilling on land they already lease, and stop politicians from rolling over when the Sierra Club comes calling to prevent off-shore drilling. And while Congress is at it, they might look in the mirror and consider reducing some of the gas taxes. They are equally guilty here.

  12. “Our kids aren’t being well educated. Alec Ross told me about being a high school teacher in a Baltimore school in a poor district. His kids had tattered 25-year-old text books. Several of our interviews mentioned that our eductation system needs to be rebuilt to make sure our workers are competitive with those from India and China. More scientists and technologists are needed, they told me, and we’re just falling behind other countries here.”

    Hmmm…..I’ve read The Constitution numerous times, and I don’t recall anywhere where it grants the Fed Govt the authority to act here. Thus, this would seem a state and local issue to solve. What Article am I overlooking?

    “Gas prices. The reminders were all over the Capitol (we walked what seemed like every hall) in bumper stickers stuck to doors, signs outside of Congressional Offices, and were brought up in almost every conversation. Heck, a Democrat, Tim Ryan, told me he supported Nuclear Energy and incentives to get electric cars back in usage. Now, go back to the 1970s. If he had said something like that inside a Congressional Office he would have quickly been strung up in the closest tree.”

    Any alternative energy proposal will take YEARS to bear fruit. In the meantime, we have to have Federal Courts begin to throw out any lawsuit that intends to prevent oil companies from drilling on land they already lease, and stop politicians from rolling over when the Sierra Club comes calling to prevent off-shore drilling. And while Congress is at it, they might look in the mirror and consider reducing some of the gas taxes. They are equally guilty here.

  13. Thanks for taking us to Washington and sharing your experience. Watching the videos I couldn’t help but think it was like bringing Channel 9 to Washington.

    Keep up the good work and take time to enjoy the summer.

  14. Thanks for taking us to Washington and sharing your experience. Watching the videos I couldn’t help but think it was like bringing Channel 9 to Washington.

    Keep up the good work and take time to enjoy the summer.

  15. Robert. I have followed your trip to DC with interest. This is a great summary of the things you learned and I am excited to read and hear more about the trip. I will be very interested to hear any more on the state of broadband access in the US, both wired and mobile broadband. I often wonder why the brand new subdivision (in a Houston suburb) I live in does not have access to high speed fiber connections. I wonder the same why I pay 50.00 a month for low end DSL in rural Iowa for my mother in law. It is a pretty sad state of affairs.

  16. Robert. I have followed your trip to DC with interest. This is a great summary of the things you learned and I am excited to read and hear more about the trip. I will be very interested to hear any more on the state of broadband access in the US, both wired and mobile broadband. I often wonder why the brand new subdivision (in a Houston suburb) I live in does not have access to high speed fiber connections. I wonder the same why I pay 50.00 a month for low end DSL in rural Iowa for my mother in law. It is a pretty sad state of affairs.

  17. I’m so glad you blogged/documented your trip so extensively.

    I have to wonder, though, were all of these politicians briefed on who you are and what kind of things you are involved with before they met you? Did they know that you would be amazed if they talked to you about Android in your first meeting? Are they just normal politicians who will do/say anything to stay in power? I have suspicions that the majority are those type of public officials, but I would be very pleased if some of your later posts prove me wrong. I do not want politicians talking out of both sides of their mouths, telling lobbyists and the American people exactly what they want to hear…and then doing nothing about it.

    I hope you were not duped by everyone you met in Washington and I’m looking forward to hearing more about your trip.

  18. I’m so glad you blogged/documented your trip so extensively.

    I have to wonder, though, were all of these politicians briefed on who you are and what kind of things you are involved with before they met you? Did they know that you would be amazed if they talked to you about Android in your first meeting? Are they just normal politicians who will do/say anything to stay in power? I have suspicions that the majority are those type of public officials, but I would be very pleased if some of your later posts prove me wrong. I do not want politicians talking out of both sides of their mouths, telling lobbyists and the American people exactly what they want to hear…and then doing nothing about it.

    I hope you were not duped by everyone you met in Washington and I’m looking forward to hearing more about your trip.

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