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Stevens Bill: Banning Wikipedia? February 16, 2007

Posted by publicpolitics in Censorship, Libraries, Political Technology, U.S. Congress.
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The Congressional response to the problem and the pseudo-problem of online predation via social networking sites has reached a new nadir. Ted Stevens introduced Senate Bill 49 last month . The putative legislation requires that “any school or public library that gets Federal Internet subsidies would have to block access to interactive Web sites, including social networking sites, and possibly blogs as well.

Here’s the newest from Sen. Ted Stevens, the man who described the Internet as a series of tubes: It’s time for the federal government to ban access to Wikipedia, MySpace, and social networking sites from schools and libraries

Source: computerworld.com

The new bill is closely related to DOPA ( HR5319) a bill that passed the House. But Marianne Richmond, among other commentators, rightly states that the bill goes well beyond that previous piece of censorious legislation. One part requires that sites distributing adult content excise the adult content from the homepage and to publish a warning on the homepage. The real menace comes in title 2, the subsidies section. This section also appears to require that schools monitor the net activities of students when not supervised by faculty.Such a duty would cause no end of headache and heartache for parents, school administrators, and teacher, even if , as would probably be the case, the more onerous duties were removed through a series of court cases. Who needs this expense? Who wants to generate this much confusion?


Pelosi Airways: Flying Blind February 10, 2007

Posted by publicpolitics in U.S. Congress.
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The next time you are sitting in economy class, with your knees bent nearly to your chin and a screaming kid on either side of you, think of how nice it would be to fly with Nancy Pelosi, who might just get her own new plane to commute to and from her California home.

Last week, articles appeared in The Washington Times claiming that the new House Speaker had requested a new airplane that was much larger and more expensive than the one that her Republican predecessor, Dennis Hastert, used to travel to and fro. The Times article attributed the request to Pelosi herself, and Republican blogs had a field day. The Times had its story only partially straight. While it is true that the new plane will be capable of flying non-stop from Washington to California, the replacement requisition came not from Pelosi, but from Bill Livingood, the House sergeant at arms:

“The fact that Speaker Pelosi lives in California compelled me to request an aircraft that is capable of making non-stop flights for security purposes, unless such an aircraft is unavailable,” Livingood, who has been at his post for 11 years, said in a written statement.

Source: cnn.com

Pelosi had already denied the Republican claim that she had asked for a new plane, and the story reports that John Murtha is planning to conduct hearings on Congressional travel arrangements and perks.

That is a good idea. Pelosi has expressed her willingness to travel commercially, along with the rest of us. The Pentagon points to security issues as the reason for providing military transport to selected legislators Let’s hope that the proposed Murtha hearings don’t continue to beg the real question here, which is not whether our representatvies should have a more or less costly means of government transport. The ii issue Murtha and others ought to address is this: if security arrangements on commercial airlines are not tight enough to protect nearly all of our elected officials, are they really good enough for the rest of us?

Related Documents: Congressional Research Service 98-385(PDF) House Sergeant at Arms

Pentagon Letter to Pelosi(PDF)

Tags: YEARS | unavailable | statement | Security | request | purposes | non-stop | making | lives | larger | Issue | flights | compelled | capable | aircraft | Washington | speaker | Politics | PELOSI | nancy | Livingood | California

Will the 110th Congress Challenge Bush’s Domestic Spying Program? December 17, 2006

Posted by publicpolitics in U.S. Congress.
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Federal agents continue to eavesdrop on Americans’ electronic communications without warrants a year after

President Bush confirmed the practice, and experts say a new Congress’ efforts to limit the program could trigger a constitutional showdown.

David Kravets, Associated Press

Experts differ on whether the Congress can effectively challenge the secret program begun soon after 9/11. The President puts up the familiar argument that in wartime, the constitution permits such extraordinary invasiveness and secrecy. The legislative options are limited when a president is determined, and this one seems to be. The veto in this divided Congress is a powerful tool because it is difficult to override if the executive can muster any loyalty at all. The American Civil Liberties Union’s challenge to the Bush spying program will be heard in the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals January 31, 2007. The case is American Civil Liberties Union v. National Security Agency, (06-2095). That is one step short of the Supreme Court, and if Bush is affirmed, we are one step closer to a national security state. There are already remedies for situations where monitoring is truly needed, and Bush should use them. The establishment of a permanent, secret wiretap power is an essential step in the buildingofa totalitarian state. A Supreme Court precedent in favor of the Bush program would be much harder to overturn than rapid and vigorous legislative opposition before the case gets that far.

Tags: WARRANTS | Trigger | Spying | showdown | program | looms | Limit | EXPERTS | ELECTRONIC | efforts | EAVESDROP | Domestic | confirmed | communications | Agents | Virginia | San Francisco | Richmond | president | Constitution | Congress | Bush | AMERICANS

Information War: Feds Close Science Libraries December 12, 2006

Posted by publicpolitics in Health and Science Policy, Information policy, Libraries, U.S. Congress.
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The NASA library in Greenbelt, Md., was part of John C. Mather’s daily routine for years leading up to the astrophysicist’s 2006 Nobel Prize for shedding new light on the Big Bang theory of universal origin. He researched existing space hardware and instrumentation there while designing a satellite that collected data for his prize-winning discovery.

So when he learned that federal officials were planning to close the library, Mather was stunned.

Tim Reiterman

Last week, I blogged about the EPA libraries closing, but it turns out the story is more complicated- and more menacing. Tim Reiterman of the L.A. Times calls the recent shuttering of federal research libraries a “quiet war on information.” And the story is changing. The explanation for the EPA libraries last week was that some libraries were being shut down as an attempt to modernize them-specifically, to digitize their holdings in the name of greater access.This week, America is waking up to find that not only were the pesky EPA libraries closed, but that the General Services Administration headquarters library , where investigators explore real estate, communications, and aspects of government finance was closed earlier this year, along with the Department of Energy headquarters(!) library.

The Bush administration has a lukewarm attitude to scientific research of all kinds, apart from weapons research, and most scientists knew that a long time ago. It takes some doing, however, to evoke the ire of the American Library Association. Emily Sheketoff, head of the ALA’s Washington office, claims that “crucial information generated with taxpayer dollars is now not available to the scientists and the public who need it.This is the beginning of the elimination of all these government libraries. I think you have an administration that does not have a commitment to access to information.”

The hardest hit agency, the EPA, has asked the GAO to investigate the reduction of its $7 million library budget by $2.5. The EPA claims that all EPA generated documents would be online by January, and that the other 51,000 reports would be digitized in two years. A copy of each book would be kept for interlibrary loan purposes.

Critics say that research will be slowed and perhaps prevented . Book dispersal problems, lost inventory, the high cost of or impossibility of digitizing some copyrighted items all loom as possible obstacles, just as the nation prepares for what is certain to be the most vigorous debate in several years about climate change and alternative fuels.

Members of Congress have voiced their opposition to the closure of the EPA libraries in the form of a letter to EPA administrator Stephen Johnson signed by ranking members of several legislative committees, including the Committee on Energy and Commerce, the Committee on Science, the Committee on Government Reform, and the Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure.

Tags: prize-winning | instrumentation | YEARS | UNIVERSE | THEORY | shedding | Satellite | routine | research | origin | library | leading | hardware | federal | existing | Designing | data | daily | collected | astrophysicist | Prize | nobel | NASA | Mather | John | information | greenbelt | GAO | EPA | Bush | BANG | ala

Another hand recount of votes in Washington : Reichert -Burner race refuses to die December 4, 2006

Posted by publicpolitics in Political Technology, Seattle Politics, U.S. Congress.
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King County Elections officials today [MON] are scheduled to start preparations for a hand recount in the congressional race between Congressman Dave Reichert and Democratic challenger Darcy Burner. And as KUOW’s Derek Wang reports, the results will not change the outcome.


The last election for governor in Washington state occasioned an historic vote recount involving hundreds of ballots and it reversed the outcome of the race, giving the nod to Christine Gregoire over Republican Dino Rossi. The Nov 7th election has brought about another recount, this time in the close race between incumbent (and victor) Dave Reichert and his surprisingly effective Democratic challenger, Darcy Burner

The ballots to be recounted come from two precincts from the King County municipality of Issaquah. The Seattle group, Voters for Democracy in America, is requesting a hand recount of some 925 votes because they don’t trust the transparency of the electoral process, and believe that the computers and software that’s used to count and tabulate the votes, is secret, according to Hannah McFarland, the group’s director. King County maintains that a rigorous internal audit failed to reveal any irregularities. The audit was performed the day after the election. Since Reichert won the election by over 7,000 votes, the recount cannot change the election outcome. As of this writing, the citizen’s group is willing to pay for staff costs, but disputes a $10,000.00 fee for security costs, which the county says is mandatory.

Tags: Reichert | Kuow | Darcy | software | scheduled | results | Reports | Recount | Preparations | officials | CONGRESSIONAL | Challenger | Wang | Vote | Seattle | McFarland | elections | derek | DEMOCRATIC | dave | county | congressman | burner

Hastings graceful, Pelosi careful as she steps over ethical land mine November 29, 2006

Posted by publicpolitics in U.S. Congress.
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In a statement (published in the Miami Herald), Representative Alcee Hastings, the former front runner for head of the House Permanent Committee on Intelligence in the 110th Congress, takes his rejection gracefully- even allusively. The candidate said in a press conference that while he was obviously disappointed with the decision… we learn in Ecclesiastes, however, for everything there is a season.

And given the thin Democratic majority, the ethical hue and cry surrounding the stillborn Murtha fracas , and the need to starve the right-wing slime machine of material insofar as it is possible to do so, it is definitely not the season to appoint a formerly impeached official to the chair of this important committee, no matter how able he might have been. Of course, that is no reason to leave Jane Harmon in the seat of power. Harmon, a conservative Democrat, appears to many to have endorsed the Bush regime’s reign of secrecy and executive privilege with far too much enthusiasm.
Keep looking, Nancy, Surely the talent pool provides more choices than a formerly impeached official, competent though he may be in the tasks ahead, and a Bush regime collaborator,.

Tags: YEARS | statement | meeting | PELOSI | nancy | hastings | Congress | California

Will Pelosi Replace Harmon with Impeached Judge? November 27, 2006

Posted by publicpolitics in U.S. Congress.
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Nancy Pelosi should know how the right wing slime machine works- in fact, she should know that as well as she knows her own name. There was an enormous hue and cry over her plan to elevate the unindicted Murtha over less fishy rivals. Now, it appears from several news sources that she plans to replace Jane Harmon( D-California )as the head of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence with one of only seven federal judges in American history to be impeached by the Senate and removed from the bench.This individual, one Alcee L.Hastings of Florida , is to replace Harmon, who garnered the ire of Democratic leaders with her Republican like stands on national defense, and particularly on the controversial wiretaps authorized by the Bush administration. According to Marc Shepperd, Pelosi is angry in part because Harmon was invited to the confidential White House briefings on the domestic spying programs, and refused to breach confidentiality.

Tom Hayden sets out the resentments against Harmon pretty clearly. Harmon agreed to keep the proceedings confidential before she went to the meetings, and could have refused an unconditional promise of secrecy. That she chose not to could be viewed as an ethical lapse, not in the keeping of her promise but in the making of it. A persuasive case for any reasonable national security measure is often its own guarantee of confidentiality. When people agree that a national security issue is one, they usually do not have to be compelled to secrecy. And as recent history has shown, public knowledge of extra-legal security measures is no longer sufficient to kill them.

The real problem here, as Hayden points out, is not that Harmon is a conservative pro-war democrat. Rather, the difficulty lies in the nature of a state that has gone one step beyond the military industrial complex. The state is now corporate-military-industrial, and Hayden cites Robert Kagan to good effect:

“The best infromation strategy is to avoid  attention-getting divided confrontations in the first place and to keep the public’s attention as divided as possible . We can dominate the world only quietly”

Hayden goes on to point out that Harmon is unprepared to take on this state-within-a- state because she shares so many of its assumptions. That rings true. The United States is the world’s imperial hegemon now, and there is good evidence that the growth of the military-corporate establishment is so well embedded in American life that it cannot be checked by the usual democratic means. With a collaborative media and a public content to live with an effective political spectrum defined by two right hands, the moderate right and the far right, the chances of our collective political leadership being able to think far enough outside of this frame are becoming remote indeed.

None of this is, of course, sufficient to explain Pelosi’s intentions. Harmon’s imagination and political will are too limited to make her the right person for the job. She is almost completely a creature of the ruling elite, with all of the foibles of vision and lack of imagination that this entails. But given the right’s substantial media power and Hastings’ flawed ethical credentials, his appointment would be a disaster, even though it is probably true that he would make an excellent, hell-raising Committee chairman. Note the coercion here- the ruling framework of politics, its rhetorical and instutional infrastructure, simply does not allow a once impeached person to be correct on anything, or good on anything else. Hayden is correct- the machine is strong, and conditions choices in ways that are forceful, stealthy, and nearly irresistable. It is no more correct to damn Hastings in advance than to say Rush Limbaugh is always wrong because he takes the odd recreational painkiller. Limbaugh’s opinions are nearly always wrong because of their intrinsic qualities, not because of the notorious drug habits of their author. And Hastings might make a fine contribution to the Committee, despite his past. But should Pelosi stand against the iron rules of this new political order now, on this issue, with this candidate?

No-regrettably- no. She should look elsewhere for this appointment.

A Reform Road Map: GAO issues first oversight recommendations to 110th Congress November 23, 2006

Posted by publicpolitics in U.S. Congress.
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In advance of what is expected to be the start of a busy season of congressional investigation and oversight by the new Democratic majority next year, Congress’s independent investigation agency has produced a roadmap the new committee chairmen could use as a starting point.

Jeffrey Young

The Government Accountability Office is the “independent” research service of the federal government, and its new report on Suggested Areas of Oversight for the 110th Congress suggests that the need for reform in certain areas is urgent . In its 80 year history of providing documents to Congress and the public, the GAO (renamed and reorganized in 2004) has never issued a specific set of recommendations for oversight to a Congress. It is , as Jeffrey Young claims, a roadmap that could be used as a set of agenda points for the newly Democratic Congress. And both House and Senate Democrats would be well advised to use the report in just this way- as a set of points for intelligent reforms that would, by the bipartisan nature of it’s authorship, bolster claims of bipartisanship and militate against too many distractions, provincial concerns,and the destructive ad hominem politics of recent years.

The report was deliberately delayed until after the midterm elections, a move that might be interpreted cynically were it not for the fact that David Walker, Comptroller General of the United States, and his team sought a bipartisan consent to the delay. The report is divided into three sections, as follows, with specific topics( slightly abbreviated) listed under each.

Topics for near term oversight:

1. Reduce the tax gap
2. Address government acquisition and contracting issues
3. Transform the business operations of the Department of Defense
4. Ensure the effective integration and transformation of the Department of Homeland Security
5. Enhance information sharing within and improve oversight of the nation’s Intelligence agencies
6. Enhance border security and enforcement of immigration laws
7. Ensure the safety and security of all modes of transportation and the adequacy of funding .
8. Strengthen efforts to prevent the proliferation of chemical, nuclear, and biological weapons, as well missiles.
9. Ensure a successful transformation of the nuclear weapons complex
10. Enhance computer security and deter identity theft
11. Ensure a cost effective and reliable 2010 census
12. Transform the Postal Service’s business model
13. Ensure fair value collection of oil royalties produced from federal lands
14. Ensure the effectiveness and coordination of U. S. international counterterrorism efforts
15, Review workplace safety.

Policies and Programs in need of Fundamental Reform:

1. Review efforts to stabilize and rebuild Iraq and Afghanistan
2. Ensure a strategic approach to catastrophic events
3. Reform the tax code
4. Reform Medicare and Medicaid to improve integrity and sustainability
5.Ensure the adequacy of energy supplies and infrastructure
6. Reform immigration policy
7 Assess military readiness and existing plans to assure the sustainability of the all-volunteer military
8. Assure the quality and competitiveness of the U. S. education system
9. Strengthen retirement security through Social Security reform, pension savings, and promoting financial literacy
10 .Examine the costs, benefits, and risks of key environmental issues
11. Examine housing programs
12. Insure the equity and integrity of farm programs
13. Review efforts to improve the image of the United States

Governance in the 21st Century:

1. Review the the need for budget controls and legislative process revisions in view of long-term fiscal imbalances.
2. Pursue the development of key national indicators
3. Review the impact of management reforms enacted in recent years
4. Review the effectiveness of the federal audit community
5,. Modernize the Federal government’s organizational and human captial models
6. Re-examine the Presidential (political) appointment process
7. Ensure transparency of executive policies and operations
8. Monitor and assess corporate financial reporting

Of course, everyone will have something to add to the subsections of this list: I would like to have seen , for example, an entry in the short term objectives about climate change,. but as a starting point, this document has virtues. It is long on the general and short on specifics, and that will be useful when legislators begin to snipe at each other’s programs for being irrelevant or unimportant, as will certainly happen in this ideologically split Congress. When the growling and backstabbing begin, legislators can keep trundling rhetorically to assert that their issues are “in the Oversight report”- one written by the closest thing we have to an independent Federal watchdog.

Download or read the full report

Tags: chairmen | Democratic Party Agenda | Congressional Agenda | roadmap | report | produced | oversight | Majority | investigation | independent | expected | CONGRESSIONAL | Committee | agency | advance | walker | Iraq | Government | GAO | DEMOCRATIC | DEM | afghanistan

Rangel Renews Call for Draft: Time to Ask Alfred November 20, 2006

Posted by publicpolitics in U.S. Congress, War Policy.
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The incoming Democratic chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee said yesterday that he will push to renew the military draft, as lawmakers in both parties sharpened their criticisms of the situation in Iraq and struggled for consensus and solutions.

Charles Babington, Washington Post, 11/20/06

It is clear that the war in Iraq is a resounding failure of both conception and execution. Yet Charles B. Rangel(D-NY) has been calling for a renewal of the draft for quite a long time now. That he has renewed his call after a narrow Democratic victory in the recent elections, a victory that was made possible by discontent with the war speaks to something- but what on earth could it be?

Rangel believes that if the risk of being conscripted is spread equally throughout society and not confined to the children of the poor (as it primarily is with our present volunteer system), lawmakers will be reluctant, out of sheer self-interest, to export their own youngsters to the combat zone. A politician as canny and experienced as Rangel probably does not believe his proposal will pass. His proposal is a consummate rhetorical and political gesture, designed to draw attention to the glaring fact that the children of the political elite do not face the same set of social circumstances as the rest of us. The argument seems to be that the prospect of their own children going to a modern war would be enough to cause legislators to be cautious.

This strikes me as a variant on one of the oldest, and least credible arguments found in the history of war. Alfred Nobel, for example, believed dynamite was a weapon so terrible that it might guarantee world peace. Rangel seems to believe the same of his policy.

Of course, as the Nobel argument and many like it illustrate, there is very little that puts people off war, and a draft is unlikely to do so, particularly in a polity where the chief legislators do not have conscript-aged children.. There are precious few instances in history where increasing the capacity to make war leads to peace. And political regimes, particularly enlightened ones susceptible to rational arguments of self-interest, are often in power for only fleeting moments, while the machinery of a bureaucracy such as is necessary to conscription is the very devil to eliminate. The last 12 years, and particularly the last 8, should be testimony enough , but if not, Mr. Rangel can go ask Alfred what the outcome will probably be of new weapons or fearsome policies designed to end war by increasing a government’s ability to wage it.

Tags: troops | struggled | situation | sharpened | Renew | Parties | levels | LAWMAKERS | incoming | Fighting | Draft | criticisms | consensus | chairman | Ways | uproar | Rangel | means | Iraq | DEMOCRATIC | Committee