Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Downtown Oakland's Massive Thursday Party

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To say that Steve Snider - my friend known for the revival of the downtown Oakland party scene and who served on the Mayor's Sports and Entertainment Task Force, and is now part of the Uptown District team that's behind this party to take place tommorrow - gets involved with anything small would be a joke.

While "Oakland Uptown Unveiled" isn't the largest event ever held in downtown Oakland, it's certainly the biggest one for the Uptown. This area, which just five years ago was still considered a place not to be for any but the most experienced Oaklanders, has taken off.

Where the Broadway / Grand development is today was once the home of a sleepy rental car establishment. Luka's across the street was the long time location of "The Hof Brau" where old-timers spent a day talking with friends and eating large meals. Another Oakland of another time.

Now, the area has a number of great and popular restaurants, from Flora to Pican and the Franklin Square Wine Bar. It's also the focus of "Art Murmur" which features Oakland art galleries in an open studios tour that takes place at the beginning of each month.

Oakland Uptown Unveiled consists of six blocks of 15 bands on three stages: The Uptown Stage, The Fox Stage, and The Van Kleef stage, named after Oakland Legend Peter Van Kleef. Some of the bands set to play include John Santos, The Kev Choice Ensemble, Miko Marks and Damon & The Heathens. (I've seen Damon & The Heathens and they have a cool sound, not to be missed.)

Also the Fox Theater will be open so you can take a look around the facility. If you want a preview, here's my video from the opening gala:

This video was created during a media event at Pican; it opens with my explanation of what's happening around the Uptown:

This should be a great event; wish it were on the weekend as I return from Georgia, but that happens. Really, it should be two days and not just one Thursday, but it's a great start.

For more information, visit the website

Iran Elections: Iran Minister threatens protestors with death

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As the song says, "it's getting hot in here", or more like hotter. According to Reuters, Iran Minister Mohammadreza Habibi has issued a statement threatening death to protesters. That's a lot of people, several million, including now (according to the Huff Posts Nico Pitney) Iranian soccer stars who wears green in solidarity with the protestors, which makes him a protester.

On the matter of the Huffington Post, it's blocked in Iran as the government continues its efforts to stamp out the impact of the Internet. I'll bet there's a proxy for it somewhere...

Meanwhile, Iran blames Washington for the protests siting "Intolerable" meddling. They missed the mark; they should blame San Francisco, the capital of New Media.

More updates on my video:

Chevron accuser paid $200K to Ecuador court's economist

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Ecuador's President Rafael Correa - does he know about this?

As you may or may not know, San Ramon, Ca-based Chevron is in a legal battle against an organization called "The Amazon Defense Coalition" (ADC) which represents a group of citizens in the Amazon River Delta region of Ecuador that the ADC charges were the victims of environmental damage caused by oil production by Chevron from 1968 to 1992, when Chevron / Texaco sold it's facilities to the state-run organization PetroEcuador.

One of the key claims made by ADC was that an economist, Richard Cabera, appointed by the court in Ecuador where Chevron's being sued, discovered damage estimated at $16 billion; Cabrera then updated his study to $27 billion. While Chevron has long dsiputed that study, the ADC, and much of the media, used those numbers in articles and blog posts to dramatize the extent of Chevron's alledged impact. But a new finding has been reported, one that should alter the course of events in this case; Cabrera was paid $207,000 by the ADC, according to the work of blogger Bob McCarty.

Normally, an expert is called as a witness during a trial and represents one side, either the plaintiff or the defense. In this case, Ecuador had a court-appointed economist who's by that title is supposed to be non-biased. But the discovery that Cabrera was paid $207,000 - and McCarty has photos of the check to prove it right on his blog - effectively tosses out any claim that Cabrera's unbiased. The ADC disputes this idea.

Karen Hinton, the terrific PR and communications representative for the ADC told McCarty it's common for such expertise to be paid for both in Ecuador and in America. But in the USA, expert witnesses are paid for by either side to present their case, not an unbiased view, unless supeonaed by the court to testify. But in that case if one is using the English system and this appears to be the case in Ecuador, the expert witness is required to be unbiased, so this revalation of payments goes against even the English code.

According to the affiable McCarty, Chevron not only didn't pay Cabrera, they were not approached to do so and didn't want to because they asserted his resume was "thin." With this, the Ecuadorian court employed him anyway.

McCarty's investigative work led him to pin-point the writer of the checks:

Similarly, all of the checks were issued by Selviva, a limited-liability company formed in Ecuador in 2004 by Alberto Wray, the lead attorney in charge of the litigation when it began in Ecuador the previous year, and three other individuals.

Wray has been working on the case against Chevron with Donziger as far back as 2003. The fact that Wray has been writing these checks to Cabrera and in turn the economist is Ecuadorian court-ordered, also backs Chevron's fear that the trial is fixed to go against them.

In fact, Chevron's assertion of a "kangaroo court" scenario is such the firm approached the U.S. Department of Commerce earlier this year calling for a "close review of Ecuador’s eligibility under the Andean Trade Preference Act (ATPA)" according to a letter sent to me just a few days ago by Chevron's media department. At first, the letter seemed of little value so early in the court case process and it came "out of the blue" without request by me; now it's of high value as the ATPA clearly deals with such issues as corruption in trade operations and legal systems.

What is the ATPA?

According to the U.S. Government, the ATPA was:

enacted in December 1991, to help four Andean countries (Bolivia, Colombia, Ecuador, and Peru) in their fight against drug production and trafficking by expanding their economic alternatives. To this end, the ATPA provided reduced-duty or duty-free treatment to most of these countries’ exports to the United States.

The ATPA consists of a 20-point set of criteria so loose in interpretation that Chevron could claim Ecuador was not operating in a "fair trade" fashion and indeed, as part of the "Business Community Roundtable" has done so. The portion of the letter sent to U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk and that I have obtained and is the meat of all this reads as follows:

We are writing to urge your close and careful review of Ecuador’s continued eligibility under the Andean Trade Preference Act (ATPA) required by section 208(a)(2) (19 U.S.C. 3206). As you know, ATPA was originally enacted in 1992, and extended by the Andean Trade Promotion and Drug Eradication Act (ATPDEA) as part of the Trade Act of 2002, to foster the rule of law and legitimate economic development opportunities in the Andean region. While both Peru and Colombia have successfully used this program to promote economic diversification and new opportunities, while also strengthening their own legal systems and respect for the rule of law, the same cannot be said of Ecuador.

In particular, there are serious concerns within the U.S. business community about breaches of the basic rule of law that are occurring in Ecuador, contrary to the basic eligibility requirements of section 203(c). As found by the State Department in its annual human rights report on Ecuador released in February 2009, there are concerns with “corruption and the denial of due process within [Ecuador’s] judicial system.” U.S. businesses have also continued to see Ecuador’s repudiation of its legal obligations to U.S. investors and a politicization of the judicial system.

Given these basic gaps in the rule of law, we believe that the automatic renewal of Andean preferences for Ecuador would send the wrong message to other developing countries in the hemisphere and throughout the world that have worked to meet the basic eligibility criteria to qualify for U.S. trade preferences. We note that Bolivia has already lost its ATPA benefits as a result of its failure to meet the ATPA eligibility criteria and that Bolivia’s actions continue to worsen.

We urge you, therefore, to closely review Ecuador’s eligibility to continue to receive preferences under the ATPA.

Remember, this letter isn't just from Chevron; it represents a number of U.S. businesses that have experienced problems operating in Ecuador, most notably Occidental Petroleum, which was kicked out of Ecuador in 2006 after an alledged breach of contract with the government, which then took over its oil production facilities and even the luxury cars left behind.

While there's no official indication the U.S. Government will step in and respond to the letter, written June 9th, this new information of payments to Cabrera will change the climate around which the letter was written. Indeed, before the discovery, the Government was clearly aware of problems of corruption in Ecuador:

Ecuador has been reported to suffer from high levels of corruption. Weak judicial institutions, sometimes susceptible to political influence and lack of transparency in regulatory bodies, are frequently cited as root causes of corruption in Ecuador. There are few non-governmental institutions that fight corruption. President Correa has cited fighting corruption as an important administration goal.

What about the Amazon's people?

The main problem of environmental damage caused by oil exploration will not be solved by this trial, and these payments are a great indication this will not happen, if that was ever Ecuador's objective. I think Donziger's a very good man with the right idea, but the wrong focus, and working with the wrong people. Ecuador has shown no real sign of true interest in solving the environmental problems caused by oil exploration.

Oil spills are common in the Amazon to this day, and while Chevron's not been a player in oil exploration there since 1992, many companies from the European Union and Canada have.

Oil is that country's number one revenue-generator. President Rafael Correa has crafted a public image of being an "environmentalist man of the people" and attracted World attention with his request for $4 billion from companies to avoid producing oil in the Yasuni National Park within the Amazon.

Correa's idea is innovative, but gives pause. He's asking for companies to pay to keep the oil under Yasuni untouched, but there's a problem: oil production's already taken place in Yasuni and there's every indication Ecuador's gotten no takers for Correa's deal because of the knoweldge that the Yasuni's "touched" already. Moreover, and this is little reported, Correa has said that if doesn't get the $4 billion, Ecuador will "drill there anyway" which means Petroecuador expands operations. Correa's real interest has been the continued nationalization of oil production, almost, it seems, by any means necessary.

So much for environmental concerns; Correa's playing genius-level politics. The reality is Ecuador's zoned a whopping 65 percent of the Amazon for oil production according to a recent study you can download here. Who's really watching out for the living conditions of the poor of Ecuador's Amazon region? That's a good question. A very good one, indeed.

Digital Britain? How About Digital Oakland?

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The Twitterverse is abuzz with the news of the "Digital Britain" report introduced by Stephen Andrew Carter, the Minister for Communications, Technology and Broadcasting or "Lord Carter" in the UK. The idea of the report is to lay a framework for future development of the digital media industry in Britain. But this is a terrible first start; it's just a PDF report! (You can get it here!)

When I think "digital media" I expect a video, podcast, and blog complete with a website of some kind. Not in this case. There's no real good website at all, just pages and a forum that has way down in the page an embed of a video from the first Digital Britain event, a stodgy affair featuring a bunch of older British white guys, rather than a diverse set of young people, the common theme in the industry.

That's the problem.

Digital industry policy should be formed with the most common consumers of it in the room, and the suited group in the video's not it; the grassroots bloggers, programmers, and vloggers are. It's no wonder Digital Britain's policy's appear to favor large old media telecommunications firms (an indefinite 3G license to original holders without competition for them is a terrible idea) almost at the expense of the little but innovative players in digital media. Moreover it seems to be some kind of rationale for the funneling of public dollars to a few big companies, like iTV.

The other problem with the report is that it focuses on Britain as if the rest of the World doesn't exist. In the matter of copywrites, the report explains a desire to essentially liberalize rules but how? What if the material doesn't come from the UK, as is often the case? I think the whole initiative's a good start but an example of what not to do; such efforts must be both "local" and international.

Local in that there should be a "Digital Oakland" where Oaklanders set their own digital media policy directives. Or Digital London, Chicago, Dallas, Atlanta, and so on. In fact, Oakland's a terrific place to have a "Digital Oakland" conference. We've got our share of large firms, like search engine operator, and a healthy group of members of the Twitterverse coupled with vloggers like myself, a government that's really behind the curve on this stuff (sorry but it is), and a large set of people who want to know more about how to access and use digital media for business and for life. Oakland's perfect.

Digital Oakland. I like the sound of it.

Iran Elections: Iran's Government tries to block the Internet

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For the third straight day, protests have rocked Iran from large cities like Tehran to small towns and villages. The very idea that President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad would be reelected in a fixed vote count has stirred the passions of millions of Iranians and the World's watching this revolution in the making.

Twitter, again, has been the communications focus of the goings on in Iran, almost exclusively. The micro-blogging service's importance has become so great the U.S. State Department asked the San Francisco firm to avoid shutting down for maintenance, but it did, for just one hour and according to the Twitter blog, just enough time to increase capacity to handle the demands of this event. 

The amount of information communicated through Twitter has been of stagger proportions. While Kara Swisher may write that some say Twitter is "inane and half-baked",, the fact that Iranians can use their cell phones to tweet information and share photos has done more than the mainstream media in telling the World what's happening. And what's happening now is the Iran government's attempting to block all Internet information from "escaping" the country; they've targeted blogs, websites, and now email accounts. The security minders have used Twitter to ferret out the in-country communicators but without much success; the constant use of new tags combined with the Iran government's lack of expertise with Twitter, has made their effort a cat-and-mouse game.

Meanwhile the information continues:

redditgirl reports Gmail is accessible by proxy. Another tweet by someone reports on gunshot wounds being treated. Yet another reads that Yahoo main can be had via proxy. A whole new set of web proxies has developed to get around the Iranian Government. And at this point you're wondering just what the hell a proxy is? The simplest explaination is proxies a way of using another online IP identification to get around systems that block standard ones. This cyber organic process of evolution is a wonder to watch and to be a part of. People around the World, but especially in North America and Europe, have taken part in the formation of a way out for Iran protest information. Essentially, the World is working against the Iranian Government. Consider this "Cyber War Guide" to helping protestors:

The purpose of this guide is to help you participate constructively in the Iranian election protests through Twitter.

1. Do NOT publicize proxy IP’s over Twitter, and especially not using the #iranelection hashtag. Security forces are monitoring this hashtag, and the moment they identify a proxy IP they will block it in Iran. If you are creating new proxies for the Iranian bloggers, DIRECT MESSAGE them to @stopAhmadi or @iran09 and they will distributed them discretely to bloggers in Iran.

2. Hashtags, the only two legitimate hashtags being used by bloggers in Iran are #iranelection and #gr88, other hashtag ideas run the risk of diluting the conversation.

3. Keep you bull$hit filter up! Security forces are now setting up twitter accounts to spread disinformation by posing as Iranian protesters. Please don’t re-tweet impetuously, try to confirm information with reliable sources before retweeting. The legitimate sources are not hard to find and follow.

4. Help cover the bloggers: change your twitter settings so that your location is TEHRAN and your time zone is GMT +3.30. Security forces are hunting for bloggers using location and timezone searches. If we all become ‘Iranians’ it becomes much harder to find them.

5. Don’t blow their cover! If you discover a genuine source, please don’t publicize their name or location on a website. These bloggers are in REAL danger. Spread the word discretely through your own networks but don’t signpost them to the security forces. People are dying there, for real, please keep that in mind…

This has been passed and copied from blog to website to blog, and now, it's news and away from the clutches of the Iranian Government. (When one starts to refer to a government in terms reserved for monster movies, you know it's got a problem. And on that note, the blog iRevolution has great tips on using the Internet to get information out and around "represssive environments.")

Fake Twitter Accounts

And on the matter of repressive environments comes a list from the blog of "fake Twitter accounts" believed to be created by the Iranian Government. One is to block these accounts:

# (unconfirmed)
# (Retweeting same message over and over)
# (Writing fake articles on the Iranian Election Twitters)

The Beauty of Flickr in all this mess

Twitter's also a kind of portal to other online social networking content platforms, like Flickr.

And what's happening on Flickr's a mess.

One of the most popular destinations has been the Flickr page owned by faramarz, who 's uploaded photos of protests and violence are both breathtaking and shocking.

What is amazing to see is the number  of Twitter accounts that have changed their identification photos to green in solidarity with Iran's protest movement.  I can't say I've ever seen anything like this and I have to totally disagree with those who's tried to downplay Twitter's impact and laugh at TIME Magazine CEO Ann Moore, who talked of "putting the digital genie back in the bottle" as if it can be controlled. What a howler!

I've said this to anyone regardless of their attention span: New Media is organic and not something one can "control" because it's nature - in technology and in application - is to spread out, seek new areas, and avoid being trapped. It's a pure reflection of and expression of the human desire for freedom. A fact that scares the hell out of control freaks everywhere.

We're witnessing the full-flowering of the potential of New Media as it has evolved to this point. The next level will be when we're able to see live streams of events via Twitter or a Twitter-like system.   Perhaps the cellphone-based service holds the key as it improves in product quality.  Time will tell, and it seems sooner rather than later.