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March 30, 2009

[f2c] Politics

Tim Karr, campaign director of Free Press, moderates a small panel: Nathaniel James ( Media and Democracy Coalition) and Ellen Miller (Sunlight Foundation).

Tim: We’re in a period of turmoil, torn between “two distinct value systems”: Mass media and social media. Now is the crucial time for making the right policies. We’re seeing a perfect alignment of three movements: media reform, free culture, and open government. The principles of the unity of these three movements: Openness (neutral, nondiscriminatory net), transparency, innovation (through copyright reform), privacy, access.

Ellen: As Andrew Rasiej says, technology is not a slice of the pie, it’s the entire pan. (Ellen talks about the origins and current projects of the magnificent Sunlight Foundation.)

Nathaniel mentions that he’s very involved in One Web Day. But his talk is about fighting for the freedom to connect. He says the process of providing access needs to include a diverse swath of the country. The Internet policy process ought to be as participatory as Internet culture itself. “Are we building programs that allow empowerment and peer to peer education?”

Q: Politically, what’s it look like with the new administration and Congress?
Tim: We’re more hopeful. “The more the public gets involved in the sausage-making, the more visionary and courageous our politicians become”
Nathaniel: The Dems and Reps are equally opportunity offenders in this area.
Ellen: When it comes to the new admin, “it’s a delight to be pushing on an open door.”

Q: [googin] We’re seeing an increase in bottom up business, not just in media.

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March 28, 2009

Q: How do you know when your question-asking site is broken?

A: When you get 104,003 questions for the President.

I applaud the Obama administration for soliciting online questions for the President’s online town hall. And they let us all see the questions that our fellow citizens (of the US and the world) were submitting. Excellent!

But if you get that many different questions, it’s pretty much guaranteed that you really got far fewer unique questions. If people can’t easily find the question they had, they asked it again. This dissipates the votes on the questions as well.

I don’t know how to fix it other than by manual intervention, or possibly automagic natural language processing, or some such. Or maybe you could show people questions like the one they just posed (through just a little bit of automagic NLP) and offer to let them vote for those questions rather than pose their own. This might cause some clustering around questions: Why ask “You, dude, when are you going to make pot legal? PS: You can come by our place in White Plains any time if you do.” when you’re shown that the question, “Do you support the legalization and taxation of marijuana?” already has 983,455 votes?

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February 21, 2009

Government mandates stimulus outlays be RSS’ed

Aaron Swartz reports that the stimulus bill requires that government agencies use RSS [LATER: or Atom] to report on the stimulus money they disperse, so that those who are interested can get automatically updated. And those who are interested will include institutions and individuals aggregating that information so that the alarms can sound … and, we hope, the bouquets can shower down.

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February 8, 2009

Wikileaks posts what our Congresspeople knew and when they knew it

From the Wikileaks’ post:

Wikileaks has released nearly a billion dollars worth of quasi-secret reports commissioned by the United States Congress.

The 6,780 reports, current as of this month, comprise over 127,000 pages of material on some of the most contentious issues in the nation, from the U.S. relationship with Israel to abortion legislation. Nearly 2,300 of the reports were updated in the last 12 months, while the oldest report goes back to 1990. The release represents the total output of the Congressional Research Service (CRS) electronically available to Congressional offices. The CRS is Congress’s analytical agency and has a budget in excess of $100M per year.

Open government lawmakers such as Senators John McCain (R-Arizona) and Patrick J. Leahy (D-Vermont) have fought for years make the reports public, with bills being introduced–and rejected–almost every year since 1998. The CRS, as a branch of Congress, is exempt from the Freedom of Information Act.

CRS reports are highly regarded as non-partisan, in-depth, and timely. The reports top the list of the “10 Most-Wanted Government Documents” compiled by the Washington based Center for Democracy and Technology. The Federation of American Scientists, in pushing for the reports to be made public, stated that the “CRS is Congress’ Brain and it’s useful for the public to be plugged into it,”. While Wired magazine called their concealment “The biggest Congressional scandal of the digital age”.

A mere scan of the list of titles is fascinating. For example, here’s what our representatives have been told about the number of civilian casualties in Iraq. Here’s 1998’s Sono Bono Copyright Act explained in terms our legislators could understand. Here are the legal basics of the Elian Gonzales case. Here is the background our reps got on Israel’s 2005 disengagement from Gaza.

This stuff looks even-handed and informative. And, had it been made public at the time, not only would we citizens have been educated, we could have enhanced, disputed, and corrected oversights and biases.

Not to mention the effect these might have had as “social objects.” If they had been released publicly when they were given to Congress, they might have shaped public debate around dispassionate starting points. [Tags: ]


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