U.S. State Department withdraws Kindle contract proposal

In June, the U.S. State Department was close to a $16.5 million, no-bid deal with Amazon that would have provided Kindles to overseas programs. State has now withdrawn its request for proposal. It plans to “conduct additional market research” and open up to more vendors.

State Department postpones Kindle press conference

On Friday the State Department announced that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos would hold a press conference to announce the Kindle Mobile Learning Initiative this Wednesday, June 20. Now the event has been postponed until an unspecified “later date.”
In the press release sent out on Friday afternoon, the program was described as a “public-private partnership with Amazon and the U.S. government” designed to create “a global e-reader program that introduces aspects of U.S. society and culture directly to young people, students, and international audiences in new ways and expands English language learning opportunities worldwide.”
I have asked the State Department why the event was postponed and will update this post when I hear back. Update: State Department spokesman Philippe Reines says the event had to be postponed due to Clinton’s schedule at the G-20 Mexico Summit and Rio+20 conference this week.
Here’s the full e-mail sent to press:

Please be informed that The Kindle Mobile Learning Initiative event scheduled for this Wednesday, June 20th has now been postponed until a later date.
We apologize for any inconvenience. Please do not hesitate to contact us at [email protected] if you have any questions.

Earlier today, Marc Maurer, the president of the National Federation for the Blind, sent a letter to Hillary Clinton stating that because e-readers are not accessible to the blind, “any agreement by the United States to procure inaccessible Kindle, or other, e-readers is a violation of the law, including Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act.” Infodocket has the full letter. It’s unclear whether the letter is the reason the event was postponed. In 2009, the NFB and other advocacy organizations for people who are blind sued public universities over pilot projects that would bring the Kindle to classrooms. Those cases, litigated by the United States Department of Justice, settled in early 2010.
Last week, State’s no-bid contract with Amazon became public. State spokesman Philippe Reines told me on Wednesday that the contract wasn’t official yet and that State was waiting for Amazon’s response to its proposal. Reines told me on Friday that “there’s no deal,” still just a pilot program. “Amazon has to respond. The two sides need to work out details. The event isn’t to announce a deal. It’s to talk about the initiative.”
According to the information we have so far, the State Department would spend $2.29 million in the first year of the program, including a purchase of 2,500 Kindles, and the maximum cost of the program over five years would be $16.5 million, including a maximum of 7,000 Kindles per year. As I reported last week, the potential program’s non-device costs are substantial but we don’t know yet which e-books will be preloaded on the Kindles.
See also
State Department speaks out on Amazon Kindle deal
Why is the U.S. State Department paying Amazon $16.5 million for Kindles?

How Twitter lets politicians route around the media

One of the most disruptive aspects of social media is that it allows newsmakers such as politicians to reach an audience directly, instead of going through traditional channels. This is changing the relationship between sources and the media not just in the U.S. but everywhere.

Why the Internet is America’s greatest weapon

Belarussian president Alexander Lukashenko is the latest dictator to try and quash unrest by banning social networking sites. But whether or not his fears are accurate, the truth is simple: many countries now think the success of the Internet is indistinguishable from America’s political ambitions.

Is the net the “Che Guevara of the 21st century”?

Che Guevarra by Albert Korda, public domainThe Internet has been called many things over the years, but even its most vocal supporters and critics might have been surprised by the characterization put forward today by U.S. State Department official Alec Ross.

Speaking at the Activate Summit in London, Ross — senior adviser on innovation to secretary of state Hillary Clinton — claimed it was “the Che Guevara of the 21st century”. He suggested that there was a common thread between Cuba’s famous professional revolutionary and the Internet, since it (like him) had become the world’s premier disruptive political force.

“Dictatorships are now more vulnerable than they have ever been,” he explained, “In part, but not entirely, because of the devolution of power from the nation state to the individual.”

It made for a catchy soundbite, and one which has already gotten some attention. But does it tell us anything else?

I suspect that Ross’s comparison was intended to suggest that technology now has the ability to “lead” revolutions, in the way that Guevera did, and by doing so upset the order of things. While the role of individual tools such as Facebook and Twitter in the recent uprisings across the Middle East had been overblown, he said, social networks did allow ordinary people to organize and encourage popular resistance movements.

“They devolve power from the nation state — from governments and large institutions — to individuals and small institutions,” he added. “The over-arching pattern is the redistribution of power from governments and large institutions to people and small institutions.”

Yet it’s a complicated comparison. Depending on where you stand, Che is either a symbol of resistance to authority (which is why his face is plastered across the walls of student dorm rooms around the world) or an icon who represents dangerous threats to security. The Argentinian-born revolutionary was, after all, considered an enemy of the United States, with American intelligence officers pivotal in helping to hunt him down to the point where he was caught and executed in Bolivia in 1967.

Today, Ross has helped Hillary Clinton adopt a strong position on internet freedom, with powerful speeches and strong words against censorship. But even when it’s the network that’s encouraging rebellion, the complex relationship with those who challenge authority still cuts both ways. After all, when Wikileaks publishes diplomatic cables, or when members of leaderless hacking collectives voice their displeasure — the same administration that champions Internet freedom reacts by shutting down. The doors close, the protests are labeled a crime, and those who (by Ross’s characterization) have been swept up by the network’s power, such as private Bradley Manning, are thrown into the brig.

It’s not entirely clear to me what Ross meant, but there’s certainly a contradiction at the heart of it.

Today we tend to see a fairly straightforward binary between repressive regimes that fear technology and try to suppress it, and the revolutionary or dissenting movements who use the network to voice their anger. And in the West, for Clinton and the White House, that’s great as long as it’s happening in a way we’re comfortable with. Yet it’s not necessarily far removed from the activities of Anonymous or Lulzsec or other impersonal protests.

The truth is that the Internet may destabilize the establishment even more — or more effectively — than Che Guevara ever did, because, in the end, and no matter how the authorities paint it, there’s no indication that the leaderless turmoil that the Internet can promote will stop at the border.

Clinton: We Love Net Freedom, Unless It Involves WikiLeaks

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton gave a rousing speech today about the need for an open Internet and freedom of speech, but she made one notable exception: Wikileaks. It’s apparently fine to persecute that organization for leaking diplomatic cables, even though it has done nothing illegal.

Daily Sprout

Biting Mad About Bus Emissions: A woman in New York City bit a driver’s arm (through three layers of clothing) because she was upset his bus was not a hybrid. Ouch and yikes. — New York Daily News

Cleaning Up Cement Production: Mexico-based cement maker CEMEX and Spain’s Acciona plan to build a $550 million, 250-megawatt wind farm in Oaxaca that will generate the equivalent of a quarter of the electricity CEMEX consumes in Mexico. — Fortune’s Green Wombat

Study: Ethanol Not So Bad After All?: A new study on corn-based ethanol finds U.S. corn ethanol reduces greenhouse-gas emissions by at least twice as much as previously thought, but overlooks the effects land-use changes. — WSJ’s Environmental Capital

Stimulus for Norway Clean Energy: Norway’s government said today it plans to increase spending on clean energy projects by 80 percent this year as part of a $2.9 billion stimulus package. — Reuters

Jon Wellinghoff, Energy Regulator in Chief: The new Federal Energy Regulatory Commission Acting Chairman’s history suggests he’ll promote energy efficiency, distributed electricity generation, and full integration of renewable resources into the national energy portfolio. — NYT’s Green Inc.