Friday, June 27, 2008

Obama's New Solution


Last week I blogged about my lost faith in McCain, as well as the fact that I see two indications this may be the year the People began to take back the political process, if not their country (see McCain's YouTube Problem). There I discussed the first of these indications, the rise of a citizen media, especially using YouTube as a national television network not under the control of the wealthy elite and the incompetent networks. This will forever change politics and public discourse. But there are two pillars of power: knowledge and money. YouTube and the Internet have allowed people to take back control of the dissemination of information. Knowledge is now available. All we need are the skills to separate the wheat from the chaff. But what about money?

Politics up until now has been in the hands of the wealthy and corporate elite because the American media market is so expensive. A minimum of a hundred million dollars is needed to get any significant exposure that can reach a sufficiently broad base of voters. And realistically, two or three hundred million are needed to compete. The citizen media can get information out, but it can't buy exposure (otherwise you have to already be looking). Thus not only must we take back control of the media, beating the rich at their own game there, but we must also beat them at the money game. True, they outbuy us in cash. But we outnumber them. And now we're starting to notice.

Not only is Barack Obama's campaign primarily funded by ordinary citizens, with very little from any particular special interest group, but (far more importantly) he raised nearly three hundred million dollars from nearly three hundred thousand donors, something never before imagined. Ten times more of that total came in small donations (under $200) than for any other candidate in history, something also never thought possible before now (see Small Donors Rewrite Fundraising Handbook, but also the must-read article in The Atlantic discussed below). In fact, the majority of the money Obama has raised so far (up to mid-2008) has come from individual donations of $200 or less.

The staid assumption has been that only ultra-rich special interests could provide the vast cash required to campaign competitively in the enormously expensive U.S. media market. That assumption has now been refuted. If this continues into future elections, we will see more candidates funded by the people than by the corporations, which would forever transform American politics, shifting the balance of power (at least in good part) back to where the Constitution says it belongs: We the People.

Think about it. If everyone who will vote for a candidate donated a mere $50, their candidate would have more than enough resources to campaign competitively and win more votes and thus more donations, all without having to court special interests (in what amounts now to a system of legal bribery). Do the math: a mere one million voters would generate fifty million dollars; ten million voters, five hundred million; twenty million voters, one billion dollars. All without a single donor ever giving the candidate any more than just fifty bucks. Once.

Though sometimes people hear about Obama's top donors being some corporation or other, these are bundlers of employee donation networks, which are actually collections of small donations volunteered by employees, not voted or negotiated or required or encouraged by the companies delivering the money. This is true for all candidates, so you often can't count on donor lists to tell the difference between these sources and others more sinister, such as bundlers who actively go out and "find" the cash support to bundle up for a candidate, a tactic routinely used to bypass campaign finance law, giving lobbyists who bundle inordinate influence on candidates. But not all bundling works like that.

For example, the second largest contributor to Obama's campaign is the University of California (see Open Secret), at nearly half a million dollars (still tiny compared to his total war chest), but obviously the UC board of directors didn't vote to pull hundreds of thousands of dollars out of the state education budget to send to a political candidate: the money comes from a voluntary donation network that allows employees to donate whatever they want to whomever they please, just like company charity donation programs. Thus, UC did not lobby for Obama or pay him anything, it just collected the private donations of individual citizens and sent them on (see the quite correct analysis of similar obfuscations by We Need Obama). Though this does give bundlers some influence, it is not even remotely the same thing as getting a privately-negotiated windfall from a cabal of oil men using a bundler as a cut-out, or gaining any other mass of lobbyist-raised donations the same way, or, say, getting the free use of the Enron corporate jet for campaign travel (like Bush), or other acts of covert bribery.

In essence, no company or lobbying group or fat cat can say to Obama "we brought you a million dollars last campaign, so you owe us, or else you won't be seeing that million in the next campaign," because no one actually controls any of his funding (at least not any significant amount of it), which is almost all volunteered by individual supporters (and even if the portion that wasn't were withdrawn, he would still have more money than McCain had raised before this quarter). Thus Obama is really only beholden to the people who are voting for him, because most of his money (in fact all the money he would ever need) comes from them, and the only way to keep that money coming is to make them happy. In other words, to make voters happy. In other words, to make We the People happy. And that's the way democracy should work.

It would be a shame if we voted instead for Old Politics, rather than proving to ourselves and the future, that we want this other kind of politics. We want the New Politics. We want candidates who get paid by their voters and no one else. Obama isn't there yet, but he is the first to nearly get there, and the first to try. Hence a vote for Obama is a vote for change, in a far more momentous and fundamental way than most people realize. After all, which sort of world do you want to live in? Decide. Then vote for it in November.

As I said in my last post, and again in comments there, though no candidate is ever a hero and every human being is flawed, and though Obama has to play the game a lot (so there is a lot of rhetoric that can't be taken seriously from him anymore than from any other candidate), and though I'm sure he is a devout Christian and plays that up as much as possible (as one evidently must), on balance he is the better choice even apart from giving our stamp of approval to his way of raising money. But we have the latter reason, too.

Some still argue Obama is inexperienced. A really good article about the new politics of citizen finance is Joshua Green's "The Amazing Money Machine" for The Atlantic. Green's article also illustrates the best case against the claim that Obama is too inexperienced to be President. It's a claim that makes Silicon Valley laugh: nearly every great company in history has been launched to success by young men with sparse-to-nonexistent resumes. It's the old and "experienced" CEOs who seem far more prone to tank the companies they're over-paid to fix. As one successful businessman said, "We recognize what great companies have been built on, and that's ideas, talent, and inspirational leadership."

The fact of the matter is, you don't need experience. You hire it. It's called a cabinet. No candidate can ever have the experience needed to run the country. There is just too much to know. Hence good leaders rely on talented expert advisors and employees, whose experience is what this country really needs. Just think what the difference would have been if Bush had put an experienced man in charge of FEMA instead of a know-nothing political buddy whose most recent qualification was serving as the Judges and Stewards Commissioner for the International Arabian Horse Association. Hillary Clinton and John McCain have no more experience relevant to running FEMA than Obama does, or Bush did. Hence what matters is who they appoint to run it, not whether they have the experience to run it themselves. And the same applies to every other responsibility of government. Thus what matters is not experience, but judgment. Who will exercise the best judgment in hiring advisors and administrators?

The people understand this, even when they get it wrong. Evidently half the country thought an inexperienced Bush had the judgment to run this country well, when instead he ran it into the ground, becoming an eternal textbook example of bad decision-making (which pretty much most people now acknowledge).
But this wasn't because of his lack of experience, it was because of his lack of judgment. Even decisions the President must make him(or hers)self can only be sound if based on the judgment, experience, and advice of other men and women who know what they're talking about, something Bush doesn't get, as he surrounds himself with yes-men instead of anyone with real competence or candor. That's why the Iraq War has been such a travesty that it's made the U.S. the laughing stock of the world. McCain may be a military man, but he has never conducted wars, and would not know any better how to do that than anyone else. He would rely on the Joint Chiefs every bit as much as Clinton did or Obama would. In fact, the less interference from the President in war matters the better (as Clinton quickly learned the hard way).

But no matter what you think about that, we can change the future if we all started donating $50 to the candidate we want to see President. If every candidate could bring in several hundred million dollars from just a couple of million voters, think how politics would forever change in this country. And whether you support Obama or not, please think about joining this revolution in Presidential campaign finance. Make it a permanent reality in America. And yes, that even means you Third Party fans. Regardless of who you ultimately vote for, imagine if every member of the Libertarian Party gave $50 to Bob Barr. He would then have ten million dollars to campaign for more support. If he could use that to leverage a tenfold increase in that support, he'd have a hundred million dollars. And with the kind of exposure that could buy, if he really is an inspiring candidate (a caveat that third party fans too often forget), he could win over just a few million more citizen donors. He only needs 3% of registered voters to send him fifty bucks and he would have as much money as Barack Obama.

If you really want to break the two party system, is this not the way? For now, I'm voting for Obama because he's the best man who can actually get there, and McCain scares me in a way he never did before. But I'm also voting for the new politics that Obama's campaign has proven really does work. Because I want to see this become the way that things are always done.

15 comments:

Hallq said...

Richard, you are, without a doubt one of the smartest, most articulate, most level-headed people I know of. All the more reason to take this post as evidence I should not vote for Obama. You sit down to make the positive case for voting for him, and your main theme ends up being his fund raising efforts? Rather than anything that would indicate he'd be a good president? If that's your best shot, I have good reason to doubt that there are any good arguments for voting Obama anywhere.

Your post relieves me of the need to make any extended anti-Obama argument here, because you state, unprompted, my main reason for not voting for him: too much of what he says cannot be taken seriously. At the end of the day, do your objections to McCain amount to much more than that? A new system of fund raising counts for little if the ability to rake in small contributions is based on talent at superficial appeals, rather than substance.

Shorter above: is a candidate who can be taken seriously too much to ask?

Jon said...

It might be that Obama is somewhat of a special case. He is a rare (once in a generation) and inspiring speaker and he has the momentum of a very frustrated and hungry Democratic electorate. IMO, if he's missing one of these factors, he doesn't raise nearly has much online to out strip special interest monies.

Also, can it be done on a federal and state congressional level?
Given what I think are the two primary reasons Obama has succeed, I would hazard a guess of no.

Let's hope a significant number of Americans will grasp the idea of investing in their candidates and thus government. I have my doubts since the average person doesn't even invest very much even for their own retirement.

Pikemann Urge said...

I think this is one of Richard's finest posts. It isn't really about Obama, it's about democracy - it's about everybody.

Imagine giving your candidate of choice just $50 every four years. That means all you have to save is four cents per day. Four cents per day from the end of one election to the beginning of the other one.

Is this not amazing? Think about it!

FWIW even if McCain wins there's no way that the USA is going to continue its backwards slide. I mean, McCain just has higher standards than Bush ever had. I won't say it will be pretty but it won't be a hell, either.

jason_turambar said...

"Obama courts conservatives with new faith program"

http://hosted.ap.org/dynamic/stories/O/OBAMA_FAITH?SITE=WIMIL&SECTION=HOME&TEMPLATE=DEFAULT

nice.

Ben Dench said...

I find the new politics very exciting, The internet has allowed us to take power (in the forms of money and knowledge) out of the hands of corporations and put it into the hands of the people. But what can we do to insure that things stay this way? Aren't you terrified at the prospect that the internet might be privatized? Is that a real concern, or has it all been just talk?

Apostate said...

It's nice to know that even if he isn't beholden to anyone, he'll pander anyway - for free.

Note the recent right-wing framing of abortion, FISA, faith-based organizations, etc. It's too bad that a candidate who has the power and ability to promote progressive framing is instead playing the same old game of moving to the center - strike that - to the right.

harpoonflyby said...

I would not take for granted that "citizen media" as it appears today bears itself out to be anything like an information savior we should praise. I would like for it to be so of course, but I have to imagine that so too were the praises of prior forms of media. Today it has a marginal impact on how people make decisions, but as it emerges, you can bet there will be a myriad of ways for it to come under control. Looking at history I am not sure that this wasn't also the technological presumption brought by TV, radio, newspapers, and book publishing. As long as there is a form of expression there will be those who seek to control it, and it happens at the very peak of its worship by the rest of the world

Ben Dench said...

harpoonflyby:

"Looking at history I am not sure that this wasn't also the technological presumption brought by TV, radio, newspapers, and book publishing."

While I'm sympathetic to our need to keep the internet from being privatized, I don't think the conclusion here follows from the premises. I forget what the name of this fallacy is, but other examples would be "We've made vaccines for diseases in the past, therefore we will be able to make a vaccine for AIDS" or "People didn't think we could fly or go to the moon, but we did, therefore we will one day be able to travel through time."

The internet is different from TV, radio, newspapers, and books in relevant ways. All of those are relatively one way. You watch TV, listen to the radio, read newspapers and books--but you interact with the internet. Right now we are actively participating instead of passively taking in information. You don't need a printing press or broadcasting station to post on the internet--the only thing you need is the same thing you use to access it in the first place: a computer and internet connection. Anyone can post on the internet--time slots aren't a problem like with TV and radio, printing resources aren't a problem like with newspapers and books. And you don't have limited circulation like if you tried to launch your own pirate radio station or put out your own publications--what you post is available to everyone in the world who is interested in it, sorted by topic. It's not the same.

Also, worth pointing out, the printed book really did revolutionize things like never before. Elite control things now, but it is harder with a literate populace than it would be otherwise. Even with things as bad as they are, we are not in the dark ages anymore.

Richard Carrier said...

Hallq said... You sit down to make the positive case for voting for him, and your main theme ends up being his fund raising efforts?

Where did I give the impression this was my whole case for voting for Obama? I'm just blogging on one issue (see previous post where I explained why I'm picking these two issues to talk about: it has nothing to do with stumping for Obama, although I do think it supports that effort, but rather with announcing two major new trends in politics). Your acting as if I blogged on his alternative fuels policy and how it is innovative, and then claiming all I am arguing in favor of voting for Obama is his fuels policy. Why would you act like that? It's just strange.

Rather than anything that would indicate he'd be a good president? If that's your best shot, I have good reason to doubt that there are any good arguments for voting Obama anywhere.

I have not heard a more irrational, fallacious argument in a long time. Why do you assume this is my "best shot" or indeed even a post about why to vote Obama? It's a post about a major shift in campaign financing strategy that may change the future of politics even if Obama isn't elected. Are you high?

Your post relieves me of the need to make any extended anti-Obama argument here, because you state, unprompted, my main reason for not voting for him: too much of what he says cannot be taken seriously.

More fallacies. My "a lot of rhetoric" you transform into "too much of what he says." Logic out the window here. Not all of what he says is rhetoric, and "a lot" is not "too much," especially when I said no other candidate does any less in this regard (thus relatively speaking, he can't have done too much, since you must vote for someone unless you will irrationally choose the worst of two evils by not voting, and I have not presented any evidence that he has done more than McCain, but rather more the reverse).

At the end of the day, do your objections to McCain amount to much more than that?

Yes. I make that very point in my previous post: that the problem with him seems worse than mere politicking. I have no problem with rhetoric and game playing. There is no way to get elected without it. Like it or not, that's a fact. What I have a problem with is disturbing abandonments of ideals (and worrying memory problems, I might add).

A new system of fund raising counts for little if the ability to rake in small contributions is based on talent at superficial appeals, rather than substance.

You can't assess simply from what I've said whether Obama's support is based on mass irrationality or a genuine assessment of his worth as a candidate. So this remark is rather pointless here. It's analytically true. But is it factually applicable? I say no. But you'd have to research what Obama has really said and done before coming to your own conclusion. And since you seem to declare a single blog post enough to set you off Obama, it doesn't look like you believe in research.

Shorter above: is a candidate who can be taken seriously too much to ask?

Straw man: I never said Obama can't be taken seriously. If you phrase your question without the bullsh*t: "Is a candidate who always talks straight too much to ask?" then the answer is "Yes, it is," because it is physically impossible for any such candidate to get elected. You need to work with reality, not some fantasy armchair model of how the world works.

Richard Carrier said...

Jon said... It might be that Obama is somewhat of a special case. He is a rare (once in a generation) and inspiring speaker and he has the momentum of a very frustrated and hungry Democratic electorate. IMO, if he's missing one of these factors, he doesn't raise nearly has much online to out strip special interest monies.

I don't think this will matter in the future. Now that it has been proven that this works, future candidates won't have to be Clintons or Obamas, they'll just have to be charismatic and well-intentioned enough to win people over, and that's not a once-in-a-generation thing. There are plenty such people around, it's just that previous politics locked them out. But with the new politics, they may have a chance. But I'll agree that only time will tell.

Also, can it be done on a federal and state congressional level? Given what I think are the two primary reasons Obama has succeed, I would hazard a guess of no.

I disagree. Those levels require far less cash (a state senate race should require no more than a fiftieth of a presidential campaign budget, on average, and a house race will require far less than that). So think "$10 from every voter" and do the math for your local congressional district and compare previous campaign budgets. Can that be done? Certainly. You just have to try, and be worth it.

Let's hope a significant number of Americans will grasp the idea of investing in their candidates and thus government. I have my doubts since the average person doesn't even invest very much even for their own retirement.

I, too, have cynical doubts about my fellow Americans. But it's working this time. So there is a glimmer of hope.

Richard Carrier said...

Jason_Turambar: Notice how Obama's faith-based plan differs from Bush's in the single detail everyone insisted it should: it maintains the separation of state and church. Even state-church advocacy groups agree Obama's plan is acceptable. I have no problem with it myself.

Apostate said... Note the recent right-wing framing of abortion, FISA, faith-based organizations, etc. It's too bad that a candidate who has the power and ability to promote progressive framing is instead playing the same old game of moving to the center - strike that - to the right.

I think you have been duped by Republican propaganda. Obama actually hasn't moved anywhere. He has always been centrist and his policies have changed little on the political spectrum. I'll be blogging about this next month. But in short, the Republicans need people to believe the same old flip-flop, shuffle-to-the-center storyline they always construct against their opponents. But this time they have to fabricate it. Because the actual facts don't support their version of events.

I suspect this already by your mention of FISA: Obama actually returned liberal values to FISA. If you have heard otherwise, you've heard propaganda, not fact. Likewise, he has always supported faith-based initiatives, as long as the separation of state and church is maintained (via the lemon test), so his proposing one now is not new, nor is it conservative (it's actually liberal, because it jettisons the conservative elements introduced by Bush and moves the policy left of center, not to the right). And as far as abortion goes, Obama has always been opposed to elective late term abortion. The Republicans are now painting that as a change of policy. It is not. It is and remains the same centrist policy he has always embraced. In fact, so have I. I've been on record against elective late term abortion for years. And I'm certainly no right winger.

Richard Carrier said...

Ben Dench said... Aren't you terrified at the prospect that the internet might be privatized? Is that a real concern, or has it all been just talk?

That's about as likely as permanent martial law. Which is to say, possible given the right historical contingencies, but at present highly unlikely, at least any time over the next twenty years (hard to predict beyond that). At least, I assume by "privatized" you mean subject to total corporate control of content (the internet actually is partly privatized already, in the sense that it isn't wholly owned by the state--only some of it relies on state servers).

Something truly radical would have to happen to make it possible to end net liberty. And even then, it would be very expensive to enforce, and would have to be unconstitutionally draconian. For we could just set up our own internet and bypass the server system controlled by corporations--computer technology is that cheap now. So the only way to prevent that is to so fascistically police the bandwidth channels as to prevent the formation of a volunteer internet, which would be such a clear violation of free speech only a truly Orwellian future could make that politically achievable.

Richard Carrier said...

Harpoonflyby said... I would not take for granted that "citizen media" as it appears today bears itself out to be anything like an information savior we should praise...Today it has a marginal impact on how people make decisions

I'm not so sure. It appears to be influencing millions already, and rising. That's not marginal.

...but as it emerges, you can bet there will be a myriad of ways for it to come under control.

I can't think of one (at least one that is futuristically plausible or likely).

Looking at history I am not sure that this wasn't also the technological presumption brought by TV, radio, newspapers, and book publishing.

Ben Dench is right:

Those actually don't serve as a black-and-white counter-example at all: for all the faults of those technologies, especially in their most refined state of abuse now, we are still better off (as in more informed) with them than without them. And as Dench notes, this is especially the case for the book industry. In fact I would add that it is proportionally the case as the medium is inexpensive to implement. Since publishing books is far cheaper than broadcasting television, it is proportionally freer of control, even now, and in fact more so now, as publishing is becoming cheaper (fifty years ago my book might never have been published, now it costs a mere two thousand dollars for infinite stock, my only price barrier being advertising, and yet, incidentally, the internet has vastly economized this for me as well).

But in any case, what has made these traditional media tank in value lately is monopoly power. And yet the internet is radically different from them in this very respect.

For example, printing and advertising and distributing books is vastly expensive, thus the ability to mass market books inevitably falls into the hands of conglomerates. For this naturally happens over time in every industry: competitors buy each other out, amassing more capital, until only a few mega-wealthy owners remain, and in fact the only thing that keeps this from becoming one single owner is antitrust law.

But the internet is exactly the opposite: (1) it costs relatively almost nothing to publish and distribute there, and far less to market there. And this will never change. In fact, it will only get cheaper, not more expensive. (2) no one owns anything in the sense that would allow anyone to "buy out" everyone else. Even to the extent that buy-outs are possible, this tactic is permanently limited, since the number of independent "publishers" will remain a constant as new parties enter the field, no matter who buys out whom. This is because competitively starting up a new shop is so cheap almost anyone can do it (unlike, again, publishing, where large corporations have the advantage of investment in machinery, etc., making it nearly impossible for small upstarts to compete).

Likewise, television networks are limited in number by bandwidth and the vast cost of producing and broadcasting video, thus again subject to monopoly control by the wealthy elite. The internet is neither limited by bandwidth (the number of channels allowed is effectively unlimited) nor by vast cost (production and broadcasting costs next to nil in comparison with television), and thus will not be subject to conglomeration or control by a wealthy few.

And so on. The point is: this medium is unlike any that has come before. And that's going to change things, one way or another.

harpoonflyby said...

The counter-arguments against my point about the non-infallibility of the internet misses something very crucial. Simply because you can publish for free doesn't mean that you will affect anybody, much less, the right people, much less masses of people. Web publishing is simply the inverse of the publishing paradigm.. In the old world, you have to make all the right relationships and have something incredibly important to say (importance is filtered by the mainstream who calculate returns on investment of your message, not, based on the availability of your ideas), in order to be published. On the internet, nobody is going to help you spread what you have to say, and even if what you're saying is something truly revolutionary, the effect of it merely existing is tantamount to posting a sign in your front yard.

Of course we are made smarter and we are better off for these former forms of media, and publishing - I never said that it didn't start out as a great benefit to society.. My point was that right now we are made far dumber for these forms of publishing, which I would hope would not be a very controversial

Furthermore, I also never said that the internet was the same thing as the former mediums of TV, radio, newspapers, I said that like the former mediums, the means of gathering attention, owning markets, and spreading awareness, will come under control by private or state means. Who controls the means of gathering attention? The traditional owners of media. This is precisely how Obama, a person who has stated very little about how he will change the existing system of government, got elected, likewise this is how McCain gets marked to take the fall in this round. Bush got elected back in 2000 with exactly the same hidden agenda. What then has the internet changed in 8 years, not much by this measurement

State control already happens in China today, what makes private control anything less plausible? Perhaps control will come in the form of stricter dollar/bandwidth limits - which is what we have today. Or the censoring of certain channels of distribution, such examples include Comcast internet choking bittorrent connections.

Certainly, a widespread belief that it can never happen to the internet, will allow it to happen much faster, because we won't be looking out for it.

Richard Carrier said...

Harpoonflyby said... Simply because you can publish for free doesn't mean that you will affect anybody.

Certainly. There has to be another ingredient that generates eyes-on. But there is an enormous difference between making something available to anyone and everyone, and restricting all channels of communication through an elite filter. The internet bypasses that filter, by allowing us to democratically choose our own filters (or avoid filters altogether). Internet publishing is still vastly more efficient: it costs far, far less to be seen by far more people than any traditional medium. The effect has been and will be revolutionary.

My point was that right now we are made far dumber for these forms of publishing.

I disagree. It will make us smarter, by requiring us to be more active in our acquisition and evaluation of sources of information and by exposing us to a greater variety of information over time. The science is supporting this conclusion, as studies of teen uses of the internet, I do believe, show a direct (even if currently small) correlation between internet use and both academic success and IQ, not an inverse correlation as you seem to expect.

On the internet, nobody is going to help you spread what you have to say.

Actually, everyone helps you. Word-of-mouth networks now contact everyone on the internet (via email and bulletin boards and, as here, blogs and comments). The six-degrees of separation rule has been formally proven, so all you need is something that grabs the attention of six levels of contacts in order for what you publish to reach a vast audience. In other words, if you publish something that one person finds important enough to tell his primary contacts, and those contacts do the same, and so on. Thus, all you need is to have something important and engaging enough that it stimulates word of mouth through enough levels of contacts.

That's why blogging has been so effective at moving political policy and traditional media, why the McCain "You Tube Problem" became national news, why contemporary myths and legends are growing less effective (thanks to clearinghouses like FactCheck and Snopes that an increasing number of people are learning to check), and why the Secular Web has been so successful (I suspect it has played a major role in recent measures of rising secularism among the internet-using population--even if only a minority of users are presently aware of it), among other things.

It's so ubiquitous now I have actually stumbled on personal stories involving me, including a Saudi woman whom I met by happenstance at a San Francisco party who was deconverted by reading my online writings in Saudi Arabia. Imagine her surprise when she realized who I was, and mine at how far my influence has extended. I've had similar incredibly coincidental encounters with people from the Philippines, Poland, Australia, etc. There is no way that could ever have happened with traditional publishing or media. And I didn't spend any money or do anything to advertise or "make all the right relationships." And I imagine myself as obscure. Just think how widely nontraditional internet communicators who aren't obscure are impacting the world. Now project how it will be twenty years into the future.

Who controls the means of gathering attention? The traditional owners of media.

I largely agree (in fact that's one of my main points in my companion post about democratized financing of campaigns). But I don't agree completely--to the contrary, the internet is actually destroying the scope and degree of this control.

For example, Google Ads (and a similar program on YouTube) is a new model that compromises traditional control over avenues of promotion. And again, as I said, word-of-mouth can now cross the country and the world, bypassing all traditional channels of promotion and extending quite widely throughout the population (no one had to advertise McCain's You Tube Problem--the videos were being viewed by millions and millions of voters before this fact astonished traditional media enough to compel them to report on it).

To take one example I know well, I've sold thousands of my (traditionally-print) books with no marketing or PR department, almost no advertising budget, and not a single advertisement in any traditional medium. Though sales are now half per month what they averaged in the book's first two years, the book keeps selling. Try pulling that off with "traditional owners of media" controlling "the means of gathering attention."

And in politics this is certainly the case, contrary to your claim. Obama made more money through internet donations than any candidate has ever raised by any other means in the history of the nation. His ability (and that of neutral watchdog sites like FactCheck) to combat every lie and smear instantly with detailed documentation, organized online for easy consultation, greatly expanded his ability to defeat every usual guarantee of his failure: black skin, biracial parents, Muslim education, liberal politics, son of a non-citizen immigrant, first name Obama, middle name Hussein. Think about it. His victory with that baggage in tow would have been inconceivable even four years ago. By contrast, McCain's unbelievable ineptness at controlling his image and campaign online is exactly what killed him, in direct parallel to the game-changing nature of new media in the Nixon-Kennedy debate.

State control already happens in China today, what makes private control anything less plausible?

The constitution and the universal right to vote.

Perhaps control will come in the form of stricter dollar/bandwidth limits - which is what we have today.

So far these are insignificant. When they become significant, mark my words, they will become illegal.

And yet even so, this has zero effect on our ability to produce through free venues like YouTube or Blogspot, in addition to email, bulletin boarding, etc. Bandwidth fees only affect mainstream producers following a traditional corporate model. The rest of us aren't affected, because the main avenues of exposure (like YouTube and Blogspot) are and will remain entirely free.

Or the censoring of certain channels of distribution, such examples include Comcast internet choking bittorrent connections.

And look what happened to them for trying that.

And again, that isn't even the kind of thing I'm talking about. These were services trying to bypass commercial data transfer channels (like phone service), not services that have anything to do with citizen media, like video and text distribution (so let's see ComCast try blocking YouTube or Blogspot or any email distributor or bulletin board or website like the Secular Web or FactCheck--then we'll talk).

A widespread belief that it can never happen to the internet, will allow it to happen much faster, because we won't be looking out for it.

This is demonstrably false. Everyone is looking out for it and bitchslapping it when it rears its head. That's precisely why no one of sense believes it will ever happen, not because it's impossible, but because we're the ones stopping it (just Google the issue and count how many hundreds of thousands of pages are devoted to monitoring and challenging every attempt at it). And we have the constitution, the law, and the voting public on our side. In fact, ultimately, we the people control the Internet. Any actual attempt to take that control away from us (by, for example, trying to silence online Wired articles against efforts to restrict public access) will not go well for the silencers. The entire nation will rise up against them, and Congress knows it.

Maybe in some hypothetical, radically different, fascist future we'll lose all this, but the way things are going now, that seems about as likely as a giant meteor vaporizing Kansas. Yeah, it can happen. But don't buy any futures in it.