Conor Kennedy, son of Robert F. Kennedy Jr., was arrested Wednesday at a climate change rally in Washington, D.C. The 18-year-old ex-boyfriend of singer Taylor Swift joined his father and dozens of other environmental activists in an act of civil disobedience against the proposed Keystone XL pipeline.
Kennedy dated Swift for several months last summer, but rumors surfaced in the fall that the couple was still together. Sources suggested in January that Swift was looking to rekindle her romance with Kennedy.
Robert F. Kennedy Jr., the president of Waterkeeper Alliance, said in an emailed statement from his organization, “It’s unfortunate that civil disobedience is the only recourse against a catastrophic and criminal enterprise that will enrich a few while impoverishing the rest of humanity and threatening the future of civilization.”
Along with the Kennedys, 350.org founder Bill McKibben, Sierra Club Executive Director Michael Brune and actress Daryl Hannah were also arrested. Hannah was previously arrested for separate Keystone pipeline protests in Texas last October and at the White House in August 2011.
McKibben said in a statement from Tar Sands Action, “We really shouldn’t have to be put in handcuffs to stop KXL–our nation’s leading climate scientists have told us it’s dangerous folly, and all the recent Nobel Peace laureates have urged us to set a different kind of example for the world, so the choice should be obvious.”
Last week I was part of a delegation of entrepreneurs from ten states gathered in Washington, D.C. to share ideas about how to promote start-up activity in their respective regions. The good news? The United States is in the midst of a start-up boom. But the rest of the world is too. The challenge we face is how to keep America at the forefront of this revolution.
It’s easier than ever to start a company today. One of the many truths cited by panelists at last Tuesday’s “State of Entrepreneurship Address” (hosted by the Kauffman Foundation at the National Press Club) is that today you can accomplish with $1 million what used to require $10 million just ten years ago. As a result, there are many, many more companies being formed today; and this is undoubtedly a good thing.
However, entrepreneurs are not always pursuing truly original ideas. Consumer-facing, peer-to-peer commerce start-ups are hot, but how many tie-sharing services does the country really need? (Yes, there is hot competition in this space.) Ideas like these are attractive because they are easy to act on quickly. But harder problems like truly innovative biotechnology and next-generation manufacturing cannot be incubated in a few weeks by Red Bull-drinking, Ramen-eating young programmers. We run the risk of creating the cult of the McStartup.
There are concrete things we can do at the federal level to improve the situation; but likewise, they’re not easy. We need to reform our patent laws. Patent trolls (people who acquire and squat on patents with the sole intention of hassling people who innovate using those ideas) are a significant and growing problem for young companies. It’s not reasonable that companies can exist solely for the purpose of shaking down firms who are doing the hard work of commercializing technology. While we heard that the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office is streamlining its application processes (a much needed improvement), this can’t solve the patent troll problem.
Similarly, our immigration policies currently repel some of our most promising entrepreneurs. We need to make it easier for the world’s best talent to come to America and start new companies, and we need to retain the people who come to the U.S. to obtain higher education. The future of the American economy rests with the formation of new companies. The proposed Startup Visa Act will enable entrepreneurs to get a two-year visa if they can show that an investor is willing to invest in their start-up venture. After two years, they must demonstrate that their venture has created at least three new jobs. The Startup Visa Act is vital to helping the U.S. remain at the forefront of research and entrepreneurship globally. But as important as that is, it is not enough.
Because as much as there is a start-up boom in the US, the rest of the world has been experiencing the same phenomenon. Since 2009 I’ve traveled the world with the Silicon Valley-based 500 Startups (as part of their “Geeks on a Plane” trips), and the same interest in entrepreneurship is blooming throughout Europe, South and Central America, and Asia. Beijing and Shanghai have a booming entrepreneurial culture. As Tom McDonnell of the Kauffman Foundation said on Tuesday, “The American Dream is alive and well, all around the world.” We need to do what we can to ensure that the U.S. continues to be the best place to realize the American dream.
According to 2012 estimates, the U.S. is 16th in the world for broadband penetration, speed, and price. Our lax regulatory policy has led to a duopoly for broadband in most markets, with high prices and slow service compared to much of the rest of the world. South Korea boasts faster, cheaper broadband than the United States. And entrepreneurs there are starting businesses that take advantage of that abundance. While there are bright spots here (Chattanooga, Tenn., has created a formidable broadband network which is spurring entrepreneurship), our successes with broadband are in spite of our regulatory policy rather than because of it. We can do better.
One of the best drivers for entrepreneurship is population density. The U.S. East Coast corridor is one of the most densely populated places on the planet, but our transportation regulatory policy has led to laughably bad and expensive train service between D.C. and Boston. Lowering the friction for travel between these cities would create even more density, and lead to even more of a renaissance in idea sharing and collaboration. But heavy regulation of rail service makes it impossible to try an innovative idea like allowing qualified start-up entrepreneurs to use excess capacity on Amtrak and travel at the last minute inexpensively. Entrepreneurs in D.C. should be fully connected to the start-up scene in New York, but right now it’s hard to make that happen. Again, we can do better.
The Federal SBIR (Small Business Innovation Research) program helps entrepreneurs commercialize technologies that are of interest to the Federal government, and provides a strong return on investment for the American people. But the application process is long and labyrinthine, and can take two or more years to navigate. Brilliant entrepreneurs on the cusp of real, commercial breakthroughs are held up waiting for bureaucracy. It’s time we streamline the application process it and make it as efficient as possible.
But there are many bright spots. In its first six months, the White House Innovation Fellows program has already led to new innovative ideas like RFP EZ, an easy way for small companies to do business with the government. That model is already being copied by several states. A new batch of White House fellows has just embarked on a new set of challenges. This program can serve as a model for how we can fix many of the problems that ail us.
We’re heading in the right direction. But our lawmakers need to know that the rest of the world is too. Berlin, Vancouver, Sydney, and Sao Paolo are emerging as hot cities for start-ups. Small shifts in regulation can ensure the United States will remain the global leader for innovation and new company formation. We just need the courage to lead the way.
This post is part of a series produced by The Huffington Post and Startup America, in recognition of the latter’s two-year anniversary. Startup America’s regional leaders met with White House officials on February 5th to discuss fostering startup ecosystems throughout the country. To read all the posts in the series, click here.
HP’s efforts to clean house and resuscitate its business continues: a report from ReadWrite says Hewlett-Packard is planning to re-enter the tablet market at some point this year with an Android-powered device using Nvidia’s Tegra 4 system-on-a-chip. This would be HP’s first tablet since 2011’s HP Touchpad, which was quickly and unceremoniously liquidated and dumped from the company’s lineup six weeks after its introduction.
HP’s decision to use Android for its new tablet also serves as the last chapter in the long, convoluted story of WebOS, the mobile operating system that HP bought when it acquired Palm in April of 2010 under then-CEO Mark Hurd. Hurd was pushed out of the company in August of that year, and his successor Leo Apotheker was intent on making HP a software and services company. Apotheker’s rapid discontinuation of the TouchPad and his confidence-shattering announcement that HP might get rid of its consumer PC business were just two of the reasons why he too was shoved out of the company in favor of current CEO Meg Whitman. Whitman then released WebOS to the open source community, effectively washing HP’s hands of the operating system.
By using Android instead of WebOS, HP will at least have a popular operating system that enjoys good (if not always tablet-centric) third-party developer support. However, the company will be going up against stiff competition from the likes of Samsung, Asus, Lenovo, and other PC OEMs that are all trying to grab their own piece of the tablet pie. Dell, one of HP’s chief competitors in the PC market, gave up on Android tablets after its Streak lineup failed to leave a mark.
Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R) announced on Wednesday that he will not join the federal Medicaid expansion under Obamacare, the Associated Press reports.
The federal health care law offers states federal money for Medicaid in an effort to insure up to 17 million people nationwide. The expansion would apply to those who earn up to 133 percent of the federal poverty level, or $15,282 this year. But the Supreme Court ruled last year that states could opt out of that plan.
Walker becomes the 14th Republican governor to turn down federal money to expand Medicaid in their states. According to the AP, Walker said Wednesday that he still aims to halve the share of uninsured non-elderly adults in Wisconsin.
“I want to have fewer people in the state who are uninsured,” Walker said, according to the Wisconsin State Journal. “And I want to have fewer people in this state who are dependent on government.”
Walker put forth his own health care proposal that would make fewer people eligible for Medicaid and instead force more people to buy private health insurance, according to the AP.
Pennsylvania, Florida, Georgia, South Carolina, Mississippi, Louisiana and Texas have also rejected the federal Medicaid expansion. Six Republican governors, including the those in Michigan, Arizona and Ohio, have said they plan to sign on.
Assange announced his intentions late last year and is now putting himself forward as a candidate of the newly formed WikiLeaks Party from the state of Victoria in the Australian Senate as part of the September 14, 2013 federal election. The party has yet to be formally registered with the Australian Electoral Commission and does not show up yet on its website.
The domain names wikileaksparty.com and wikileaksparty.org—neither of which are live—are registered to Tim Neal of Warrnambool, Victoria, Australia—264 kilometers (164 miles) southwest of Melbourne. Neal appears to be a deputy national president of the Australian Democrats party. Neal also seems to have been a candidate for Senate in the past, according to a Facebook page.