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Bill Would Require Public Information To Be Online

CmdrTaco posted more than 4 years ago | from the common-sense-approach dept.

The Internet 139

Andurin writes "A bill that was introduced in the US House of Representatives last week would require all Executive Branch agencies to publish public information on the Internet in a timely fashion and in user-friendly formats. The Public Online Information Act would also establish an advisory committee to help craft Internet publication policies for the entire US government, including Congress and the Supreme Court. Citizens would have a limited, private right of action to compel the government to release public information online, though common sense exceptions (similar to those for FOIA) would remain in place."

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Funny thing about "common-sense exceptions"... (5, Insightful)

jeffb (2.718) (1189693) | more than 4 years ago | (#31569482)

While "common sense" is terribly rare in government, "exceptions" are never in short supply.

Re:Funny thing about "common-sense exceptions"... (2, Insightful)

zappepcs (820751) | more than 4 years ago | (#31569558)

And it's a shame that transparency and accountability have to be mandated by law. This is the one step forward.... wait for the two steps back.

Re:Funny thing about "common-sense exceptions"... (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31569688)

It would seem a shame that this must be mandated by law, except that it requires effort and money. Shouldn't a responsible government attempt to conserve both to do it's primary job?

Re:Funny thing about "common-sense exceptions"... (1)

PPalmgren (1009823) | more than 4 years ago | (#31569758)

The "two steps back" are the industrial scissors you need to maneuver the red tape maze that is the federal government. Those scissors cost taxpayer money. Big government is like a black hole that sucks in money and spits out hawking radiation in the form of pennies.

Re:Funny thing about "common-sense exceptions"... (1)

characterZer0 (138196) | more than 4 years ago | (#31569972)

Big government is like a black hole that sucks in money and spits out hawking radiation in the form of taxes.

Fixed that for you.

Re:Funny thing about "common-sense exceptions"... (1)

imakemusic (1164993) | more than 4 years ago | (#31570276)

The government pays me tax?

Re:Funny thing about "common-sense exceptions"... (2, Informative)

ls671 (1122017) | more than 4 years ago | (#31570612)

> The government pays me tax?

Yep: "In order to preserve total energy, the particle that fell into the black hole must have had a negative energy "

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hawking_radiation [wikipedia.org]

See, it all works out, the government pays you taxes.

By the way, we have just issued you a payment of -38,889$

-The government

Re:Funny thing about "common-sense exceptions"... (1)

imakemusic (1164993) | more than 4 years ago | (#31570848)

But aren't taxes the thing that the hole is sucking in?

Re:Funny thing about "common-sense exceptions"... (1)

TubeSteak (669689) | more than 4 years ago | (#31571172)

See, it all works out, the government pays you taxes.

By the way, we have just issued you a payment of -38,889$

-The government

It must be nice to live in a country where roads, food safety, police/fire/ambulance service, clean water, worker safety, public education, etc come free of charge without any taxes.

Bonus: The countries that are exactly like that, are only that way because the USA buys their oil.

Re:Funny thing about "common-sense exceptions"... (1)

samkass (174571) | more than 4 years ago | (#31571484)

Bonus: The countries that are exactly like that, are only that way because the USA buys their oil.

And US states. Alaska is the biggest socialist government in the northern hemisphere, and the rest of the country pays Alaskan citizens cash for the privilege of buying their oil.

Re:Funny thing about "common-sense exceptions"... (1)

geekoid (135745) | more than 4 years ago | (#31569994)

You seem to have forgotten about the services it provides. It doesn't take in money and then do nothing.

Re:Funny thing about "common-sense exceptions"... (1)

PPalmgren (1009823) | more than 4 years ago | (#31570120)

Of course, I was just trying to point out that administrative overhead for any function in big government is notoriously wasteful. I also wasn't trying to say that I disagree with this public info requirement, just disagree with having so many mandates that you have to fill out hours of paperwork to order a pack of pencils (sarcastic example but you get the picture).

Re:Funny thing about "common-sense exceptions"... (1, Troll)

Bigjeff5 (1143585) | more than 4 years ago | (#31571178)

A wonderful example of this is the public school system in America.

On average the government spends about $6k per student per year. Private school tuition, however, averages about $3k per student (that's factoring the super-expensive schools, most are cheaper), and you would have a very difficult time arguing that private school students are less educated than their public school counterparts.

So where does that $3k per student go, if not to educate the kids?

One word: Administration.

In a private school, generally the only people above a principal is some sort of board of directors or an owner. Public, however, has an entire management infrastructure above the principal, and in fact the principal of a public school would be considered lower-middle management.

It's the same story with all government programs, and it's the reason they -always- cost significantly more than their private counterpart. Where a private charity can spend 75 cents on the dollar toward whatever charitable issue they are attempting to promote, government programs spend more like 40-50 cents on the dollar. All government programs have significantly more layers than even the worst private programs, and it's simply because it is all run out of a single organization, and so requires a massive administration to manage.

Re:Funny thing about "common-sense exceptions"... (2, Informative)

brusk (135896) | more than 4 years ago | (#31572386)

Are you taking into account other sources of revenue for private schools? Many of them raise money from alumni and/or are church-sponsored and also have their administration done in part by the church. You simply can't compare the tuition to the cost (even assuming your numbers are valid; I'd like to see a source).

And since it's timely: medicare is actually more efficient than private health insurance, and a LOT less goes to administration than at private insurers.

Re:Funny thing about "common-sense exceptions"... (1)

demonlapin (527802) | more than 4 years ago | (#31573456)

Medicare doesn't have a billing or collections department; it has the IRS. It doesn't have an actuarial process; it pays a percentage of what private insurers pay. These things help

As for schools, private schools have lower costs than public schools - in general. Private schools are generally better places to work, so they can get away with not paying as much money. (Indeed, sometimes teachers work there just to get the tuition discount for their children.)

Re:Funny thing about "common-sense exceptions"... (2, Informative)

chris mazuc (8017) | more than 4 years ago | (#31573564)

Check your facts [capenet.org] . The only private high school where I live is significantly more expensive than you claim it to be. Try $10,700 [smrhs.org] /year. And that doesn't include books, uniforms, or anything other than tuition.

Re:Funny thing about "common-sense exceptions"... (2, Insightful)

david_thornley (598059) | more than 4 years ago | (#31574382)

Also, remember that private schools can accept whomever they want, while public schools have to take anybody. This makes private schools more economical in several respects. For example, they can keep enrollment steady, while the public school system has to be able to accomodate growing and shrinking enrollment. Private schools don't have to take students with expensive problems.

Moreover, I don't know where you live, but $3K/student/year doesn't sound like the private schools around here. If there are such in your area, I'd suspect they have other sources of funding. Many private schools are associated with churches, and get some sort of assistance from them.

Re:Funny thing about "common-sense exceptions"... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31572570)

It doesn't do nothing but nothing it does is done efficiently...

Re:Funny thing about "common-sense exceptions"... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31573374)

You seem to have forgotten about the services it provides. It doesn't take in money and then do nothing.

More's the pity. Getting government to do nothing for me would be an improvement on the current situation.

Re:Funny thing about "common-sense exceptions"... (2, Insightful)

c++0xFF (1758032) | more than 4 years ago | (#31570174)

You'd think that transparency and accountability would naturally fall out of a democracy: voters should want to know as much as possible about the candidates so as to cast the right vote.

Unfortunately, the opposite happens: voters don't care enough to demand openness, so the politicians try to keep anything damaging (and more) a secret. That's why this has to be mandated.

Re:Funny thing about "common-sense exceptions"... (1)

jfengel (409917) | more than 4 years ago | (#31572170)

You'd think that transparency and accountability would naturally fall out of a democracy

Originally, "transparency" required a fair bit of work. Most government work was conducted on paper. Even just making photocopies of it required a fair bit of work, and indexing it so that people could find relevant things would be even more work. Disclosure couldn't be the default state.

Computers turn that on its head. Nearly everything is done on computers now, and making everything available by default is easy. It should take effort to make something classified.

Make FOIA essentially unnecessary: if something can be disclosed, disclose it without people asking for it. It's not like it requires work.

Re:Funny thing about "common-sense exceptions"... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31570962)

While "common sense" is terribly rare in our government

Fixed that for you.

Re:Funny thing about "common-sense exceptions"... (1)

jdgeorge (18767) | more than 4 years ago | (#31572142)

While "common sense" is terribly rare in government, "exceptions" are never in short supply.

"Common sense" is also terribly rare everywhere outside of government, and "exceptions" are extremely common in everyday life. The blame for this aspect of the proposed legislation in question lies not with the government as such, but the fact that there are people involved.

hmm (1)

poetmatt (793785) | more than 4 years ago | (#31569486)

I wonder how loosely defined public information will be for this? Meanwhile what's the use with foia exemptions?

Re:hmm (0, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31569870)

Depends who you ask.

Democrats will say that anything that makes them look bad shouldn't be "public". Anything that makes them look good should be, however.

Republicans will say that everything should be secret. No matter what they do, it makes them look bad.

Half Right (0, Redundant)

headkase (533448) | more than 4 years ago | (#31571166)

Anything that makes anyone look bad should be on top of the pile! After all, isn't it the point that Citizens should be looking to remove the "bad" from government as much as possible? Hiding something just because it may offend some and galvanize others is no way to keep the wheels of government clean.

One place where they could mess up... (1)

sdpuppy (898535) | more than 4 years ago | (#31569614)

user-friendly formats

What is considered user friendly?

Word docs (but then you'll get docs with options such that only MS Word can read ?)

text ?

PDF ?

Re:One place where they could mess up... (2, Insightful)

mcgrew (92797) | more than 4 years ago | (#31569738)

HTML would be logical, so it'll probably be PDF; governments seem to love PDF, not realizing that it's meant for printing, not reading.

Re:One place where they could mess up... (3, Funny)

BergZ (1680594) | more than 4 years ago | (#31569850)

Rush Limbaugh sayz: "Government loves PDFs because they aren't searchable".

Re:One place where they could mess up... (1)

geekoid (135745) | more than 4 years ago | (#31569946)

haha, mod +1 funny.

I don't think that government agencies should be using PDFs, to say they aren't searchable is ludicrous.

Did you make that up, or did he actually say that?

Re:One place where they could mess up... (3, Informative)

BergZ (1680594) | more than 4 years ago | (#31570014)

Rush Limbaugh: Democrats "have reformatted the [economic recovery] bill -- they've made it a PDF file when they posted it. ... And, so, you can read every page, but you cannot keyword search it. It's not a text file as legislation normally is as posted on these public websites. They don't want anybody knowing what's in this." http://mediamatters.org/research/200902130016 [mediamatters.org]

Re:One place where they could mess up... (0, Troll)

mi (197448) | more than 4 years ago | (#31570460)

The Left-fringe link you posted blasts Rush Limbaugh for "lying" about the posted bill being unsearchable. What they don't seem to allow for, however, is that the file could've been posted the way Rush describes it initially, and then — perhaps even in response to Rush's criticism — replaced by a properly searchable file.

I, for one, have seen many PDF-files, which were simply scans of printed documents — unsearchable bitmaps...

Re:One place where they could mess up... (2, Insightful)

BergZ (1680594) | more than 4 years ago | (#31570682)

Yes, some PDFs are unsearchable, but the PDF (which Limbaugh was specifically talking about) wasn't one of them. Limbaugh was in error. I posted the direct quote of Limbaugh from Media Matters, because: (1) I know some people don't like MM, so that you wouldn't have to click the link. (2) It was the first result from google. I'm lazy. You're free to google the quote for another source if you care that much. I think I've done everything I possibly can to reasonably accommodate your sensitivities.

Re:One place where they could mess up... (1)

mi (197448) | more than 4 years ago | (#31572598)

Yes, some PDFs are unsearchable, but the PDF (which Limbaugh was specifically talking about) wasn't one of them.

We don't know that for sure — it is possible, that, when Rush was preparing for his broadcast, the file was non-searchable... It could've been replaced by the searchable version by someone with a clue after Rush made his comment...

Re:One place where they could mess up... (1)

BergZ (1680594) | more than 4 years ago | (#31572926)

Or maybe it could be a combination of factors, such as: (1) Rush Limbaugh isn't very technologically savvy and (2) he's pushing an ultra-rightwing agenda where "government can do no right" is orthodoxy. Look, there was that time when Limbaugh thought he had a copy of Obama's college thesis. He immediately took it to air as serious news, only to later realize he had been pranked by internet satirists. IIRC when Rush found out he had been punk'd he claimed the "thesis" was 'fake but accurate' (insert heavy sigh). http://www.nydailynews.com/news/politics/2009/10/25/2009-10-25_limbaugh_falls_for_obama_thesis_hoax__but_is_in_no_rush_to_apologize.html [nydailynews.com] The man just ain't that bright.

Re:One place where they could mess up... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31573086)

Either prove this by posting file modification date discrepancies, or by the word of someone from the inside. You're saying it might be true because it isn't false. Nice Middle Ages logic, that.

Re:One place where they could mess up... (1)

mi (197448) | more than 4 years ago | (#31573240)

You're saying it might be true because it isn't false. Nice Middle Ages logic, that.

Exactly — anything not false might be true... This is just as correct today as it was in the Middle Ages...

Re:One place where they could mess up... (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31570780)

Take note, Europeans. This is the type of lunatic that infects half of America.

Re:One place where they could mess up... (2, Interesting)

thijsh (910751) | more than 4 years ago | (#31570818)

Besides the well-known bitmap that looks like a bad fax there is also an option to purposely make a PDF unsearchable. The text is normally encoded twice, once as the actual shapes in PostScript format and another time as plaintext metadata. I've seen PDFs that were not searchable because this metadata had been disabled, but the text was a real vector and not a bitmap scan.
On the other hand I also have a lot of scanned PDFs that had automatic OCR done by the scanning software, and these are in fact searchable (and the text is selectable although a little off-target sometimes)... So both vector and bitmap encoded PDFs can optionally contain the plaintext required for searching, but this is in no way mandated by the format. So I guess both were right and wrong, and would know that this is not inherent to PDF if they looked a little further...

Re:One place where they could mess up... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31571336)

Did you misread the parent's post? He claimed the bill was silently modified following Limbaugh's statement, replacing it with a searchable document.

*facepalm*

Re:One place where they could mess up... (1)

FlyingBishop (1293238) | more than 4 years ago | (#31572534)

While PDFs are searchable, they are a PITA to search, and this is using any of the major PDF software.

I actually think the bill should just mandate XML and PDF for all documents, with CSV also available when applicable.

Leaving such horribly vague wording in there will only cause problems.

Re:One place where they could mess up... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31574464)

Did you make that up, or did he actually say that?

I love how so many Rush Limbaugh quotes fall into this category.

minimal conversion sounds best (1)

Weezul (52464) | more than 4 years ago | (#31570086)

You want basically the original format whenever reasonable because conversion requirements will reduce throughput.

A government document was usually designed for printing, making PDF the logical choice. If we're talking raw data, then xml, mysql, etc. are all more appropriate. HTML would be reasonable when we're talking documents presented on internal intranets or such.

Imagine a word discussion document circulates through email with various parties making modifications wiki-style, but then a final procedure alters the document considerably. If an outside group ask for access to the internal discussion document, they should receive an html document, not the word file. A PDF is inappropriate here because the discussion document was never seriously organized for printing.

Re:minimal conversion sounds best (2, Interesting)

c++0xFF (1758032) | more than 4 years ago | (#31570258)

That brings up a good question: how are the documents (especially bills and amendments) created, internally? Do they just have interns punching away at Word documents or have they commissioned some sort of specialized collaboration software?

Your mention of "wiki-style" gets my mind whirling with cool concepts for ways of making bills easier to share between congressmen and more open to the public.

Re:minimal conversion sounds best (1)

mcgrew (92797) | more than 4 years ago | (#31572182)

A government document was usually designed for printing, making PDF the logical choice.

Printing is for snail mail and forms; for a tax return, PDF would be logical. For a document meant to be read on a computer it isn't.

If we're talking raw data, then xml, mysql, etc. are all more appropriate.

A table is a table; use plain text, which is easily converted to any data storage format you wish, and you can then crunch the data using xml, mysql, or even NOMAD. Even a spreadsheet, if the data are in a single table.

Re:One place where they could mess up... (2, Insightful)

jank1887 (815982) | more than 4 years ago | (#31570464)

Aren't most printed documents meant for reading?

Generating a (generally) fixed representation document in electronic format that matches almost exactly what will be printed, still preserves searchable text, and uses an Open Standard is now a problem?

The Federal government is almost exclusively Microsoft office product dominated. Should publishing the .doc file be preferable? or MS's 'save as HTML' format? I believe Google has adequately demonstrated that PDF is easily searchable/indexable. Conversion software is free. (Ghostscript/viewer is installed by default on many government PC's). I'd say, stick with it.

Re:One place where they could mess up... (1)

mcgrew (92797) | more than 4 years ago | (#31572144)

All documents are meant for reading, but PDF is meant for printing BEFORE reading, and is a pain to read on a terminal screen. PDF is for layout, HTML for markup. PDF would be logical for something like a tax form that's meant to be printed out, filled in and snail mailed back (tax forms).

Should publishing the .doc file be preferable?

Not if they want universal access. Actually, I'd prefer plain text of it's data.

Re:One place where they could mess up... (1)

jefu (53450) | more than 4 years ago | (#31574008)

PDFs are pretty bad for reading in many ways. All the paging bits (numbers, margins) takes up space and the margins and flow tend to be inflexible, so resizing a PDF reader window tends to just chop off bits or add whitespace on the edges. Worst are double column documents which (especially in PDF readers with noisy toolbars and on monitors that don't have lots of vertical resolution) often mean you need to scroll to read the bottom of one column, then back up to get the top of the next one, then down again. Aaarggghhh! (I just read a 130 page document like this, would have printed it, but it was just a draft).

Be nicer to have them in a well designed xml markup (I know, I know...) with support for real semantic markup (this term gets indexed, this one goes in the glossary, this refers to court decision X, this sentence refers to this marker in document Z) and a toolset to produce PDF, HTML and other formats as required. Support for reader generated annotations could also be useful.

Re:One place where they could mess up... (1)

testadicazzo (567430) | more than 4 years ago | (#31572122)

Plain text would be logical. Then voluntary efforts can easily write automatic routines for extracting useful data.

"Compel" with exceptions and "limited" rights? (2, Funny)

Rogerborg (306625) | more than 4 years ago | (#31569680)

You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.

Re:"Compel" with exceptions and "limited" rights? (4, Insightful)

Improv (2467) | more than 4 years ago | (#31569802)

All rights are limited and nuanced. Society is not (and should not be) math-y -- the real world is too complex and demands too much comprimise for logicians to be satisfied :)

Re:"Compel" with exceptions and "limited" rights? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31570938)

+99 insightful

Hard not to like this (5, Insightful)

Improv (2467) | more than 4 years ago | (#31569770)

Some other countries have had laws like this for awhile. It's a kind of bill that I can't imagine either party or any politician disliking out of principle.

Example of public information in Ireland (3, Interesting)

zoney_ie (740061) | more than 4 years ago | (#31569846)

I don't know that we have such a law in Ireland despite a *lot* of online information. Some Irish examples:

Irish Statute Book: http://www.irishstatutebook.ie/ [irishstatutebook.ie]
Oireachtas (Houses of Parliament): http://www.oireachtas.ie/ [oireachtas.ie] (including all past parliamentary debates)
Citizens Information: http://www.citizensinformation.ie/ [citizensinformation.ie]

All very useful for both everyday use (particularly the latter) and political research (although it would seem our journalists aren't that interested in searching the parliamentary debates to dredge up interesting material - there's a *lot* there but it doesn't appear in the media!)

I can see how the proposed US legislation if properly implemented might help (but might be completely unworkable). In the Irish case, those three websites are the tip of the iceberg as there are a plethora of official sites (even if for example citizensinformation collates and presents much of the pertinent information in one place). Most or all government departments for a start have their own sites. For a lot of government services, people have to act through their local county council - each of these has its own website (some are very proper and comprehensive, others are less so).

Examples of the 36 or so council websites (you might check these e.g. for waste/recycling facilities, contact details for water or local road problems):
Dublin City: http://www.dublincitycouncil.ie/ [dublincitycouncil.ie]
Cork City: http://www.corkcity.ie/ [corkcity.ie]
County Cork (rural south): http://www.corkcoco.ie/ [corkcoco.ie]
County Mayo (rural west): http://www.mayococo.ie/ [mayococo.ie]
County Meath (Dublin commuter/eastern): http://www.meath.ie/ [meath.ie]

Re:Hard not to like this (3, Insightful)

QuantumRiff (120817) | more than 4 years ago | (#31570110)

Did you not hear about the amendment that Al Franken proposed a few months ago? After the big public relations nightmare that happened, he introduced a bill to not allow contracts with companies that force employees into arbitration, giving up their rights to the courts in case of Rape. A whole bunch of the Minority party was against it.

Re:Hard not to like this (1)

Improv (2467) | more than 4 years ago | (#31571068)

The interests break down as:
Such a law would be bad for business efficiency
Such a law would be good for some conceptions of justice
Such a law would be bad for people who believe in an absolute (or very strong) right to free contract

It's not hard to see how people might go different ways on it. I'm far to the left of the democrats, and so it's an easy "yes" for me.

Re:Hard not to like this (1)

CrimsonAvenger (580665) | more than 4 years ago | (#31570596)

It's a kind of bill that I can't imagine either party or any politician disliking out of principle.

You have a very limited imagination, then. I have no trouble at all imagining a politician disliking the idea of letting the riff-raff in "flyover country" read the bills he's proposing....

mandated increases in govt spending ... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31570932)

Yeah, there are still a few politicians left whose dislike of mandated increases in federal government spending arises from principle rather than some party line.

Re:mandated increases in govt spending ... (1)

Improv (2467) | more than 4 years ago | (#31571134)

True, but many of them are also strong believers in "rule of law". I suspect that even many libertarians/minarchists might support a bill like this because they see government as a logician might - clear rules and openness are probably worth the cost from that perspective. Republican libertarians have, for example, advocated auditing the fed despite the cost of that audit.

As a socialist, this is one of the few areas where I can find strong common ground with LPers :)

Executive Branch Only? (4, Insightful)

TheNinjaroach (878876) | more than 4 years ago | (#31569808)

It's a great idea but I find it a bit funny that the legislative branch is not included in this bill.

Re:Executive Branch Only? (1)

Late Adopter (1492849) | more than 4 years ago | (#31570484)

It makes sense, the executive branch is the one actually doing things. The only thing such a bill would cover in the legislative branch is the process of lawmaking, which is largely done by Thomas already anyway, leaving the remainder closed by intent (whether it should be or not is up for debate).

Re:Executive Branch Only? (-1, Flamebait)

Ichido (896924) | more than 4 years ago | (#31573272)

It's a great idea but I find it a bit funny that the legislative branch is not included in this bill.

Not "Funny" just business as usual. King B. Hussein Obama has spoken.

"Common Sense Exceptions" defined as... (1)

Flounder (42112) | more than 4 years ago | (#31569856)

...anything we decide we don't want to let you know about.

Executive Branch Only? Who cares? (4, Insightful)

stoicfaux (466273) | more than 4 years ago | (#31569984)

What exactly is going to be disclosed that isn't already being disclosed? Personally, I'm more interested in what Congress (and the lobbyists) are doing than I am in the President, since the Legislative is the branch that actually creates laws.

Re:Executive Branch Only? Who cares? (2, Insightful)

Late Adopter (1492849) | more than 4 years ago | (#31571326)

You're not interested in what Medicare is doing? NASA? The VA? FEMA?

The executive branch is the one that actually spends this country's money (for the most part). It would be nice to see how they're doing what Congress funded them to do.

Healthcare debate fiasco COULD have been avoided: (2, Insightful)

Cornwallis (1188489) | more than 4 years ago | (#31570060)

if this had been in effect.

Cough-cough, cough-cough, cough-cough...

Re:Healthcare debate fiasco COULD have been avoide (3, Funny)

imakemusic (1164993) | more than 4 years ago | (#31570322)

That sounds like a nasty cough.

You should see a doctor.

Re:Healthcare debate fiasco COULD have been avoide (2, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31573088)

in three months or so eh?

Re:Healthcare debate fiasco COULD have been avoide (1)

stoicfaux (466273) | more than 4 years ago | (#31571044)

What fiasco? The Public Option was removed and a compromise was reached on the Abortion aspects. Sounds to me like the system worked as intended...

Re:Healthcare debate fiasco COULD have been avoide (1)

Cornwallis (1188489) | more than 4 years ago | (#31572770)

What fiasco? The Public Option was removed and a compromise was reached on the Abortion aspects. Sounds to me like the system worked as intended...

LOL!!!

Re:Healthcare debate fiasco COULD have been avoide (1)

Hatta (162192) | more than 4 years ago | (#31574650)

Yes, the system worked as intended. It lined the pockets of major corporations, and allowed politicians to pander to their base.

Re:Healthcare debate fiasco COULD have been avoide (1)

slimjim8094 (941042) | more than 4 years ago | (#31573226)

All this stuff was online and accurate information was all over the place. The problem was certain groups and companies spreading falsehoods about it (death panels?) and people being too stupid to recognize cynical lies.

Had the fiasco been about the bill, it wouldn't have been about "yous gonna kill my gramma!" and the demise of America into simultaneously Nazi Germany *and* Russia.

In other words, the problem is not the lack of information. It's the fact that people hear what they want to hear, or otherwise get sucked in by propaganda, and refuse to have their minds changed even though the facts are readily available.

Why Just Executive? (5, Insightful)

anorlunda (311253) | more than 4 years ago | (#31570084)

Why do all these transparency things only apply to the executive branch of government?

I think it should be just as important to the public to know who lobbied which congressman and how as it is to know who talked to the White House about energy policy or heath care.

How about emails? Is there any rational arguments why rules about email archiving and disclosure are different for the different banches.

I'm afraid that the real answer to my question is that Congress always exempts itself from any kind of onerous rule. Just think how angry the public would be if they could read all those blackberry messages sent between members of the same party.

The judicial branch may have better arguments for secrecy, but even there the default rule ought to be openness. Let them argue case by case to exempt different classes of records.

All three branches would argue that public disclosure puts a chilling effect on honest deliberations. True, but all three branches need to deliberate to make decisions. Again, there's no reason to give different treatment to any of the branches.

Re:Why Just Executive? (2, Insightful)

Registered Coward v2 (447531) | more than 4 years ago | (#31570910)

Why do all these transparency things only apply to the executive branch of government?

I think it should be just as important to the public to know who lobbied which congressman and how as it is to know who talked to the White House about energy policy or heath care.

How about emails? Is there any rational arguments why rules about email archiving and disclosure are different for the different banches.

I'm afraid that the real answer to my question is that Congress always exempts itself from any kind of onerous rule. Just think how angry the public would be if they could read all those blackberry messages sent between members of the same party.

Congress does often exempt itself; part of the argument, no doubt is "we're the elected representatives of the people and so must be free to conduct their business without hindrance. I guess there is some Constitutional validity to that; but I'd guess the real reason is they are afraid of what would happen if people really knew what went on and there was a paper trail to hold them to there actions. That's why they do votes that don't require recording actual votes (no one can prove how you voted); allow remarks to be amended and extended in the record; etc.

I don't think they all are bad or evil; and I'd bet many would like more transparency, but the realities of the political process makes them afraid of anything that may show up in an attack ad. Of course, if voters had some spine as well and voted for politicians that would take a stand, even if it is unpopular, because they believed it was the right thing for the country; then we'd get a better government.

As much as people like to lambaste the late Ted Kennedy; at least he was willing to work for things he believed in and work across the aisle to accomplish goals. When Orrin Hatch and Ted Kennedy can not only work together, but maintain a civil and apparently friendly relationship, you get a government that works. That was the model of Nunn, Goldwater, Jackson, et. al. Goldwater's autobiography is an interesting insight into Washington politics written by someone who clearly understood there was a difference between disagreeing and being disagreeable. Of course, in the end the right disowned him because he dared to disagree with some of their cherished truths. When we're reduced to name calling and insults we might as well be back in elementary school.

In the end, we get the government we deserve.

Re:Why Just Executive? (1)

Bigjeff5 (1143585) | more than 4 years ago | (#31571348)

Because, Congress are the ones making the law, and they sure as hell aren't going to give up THEIR secrecy.

Just like they've exempted themselves from this healthcare bill, or at least most of it. It's one of the first things they did, and nobody made a big deal about it.

One thing you should be asking is if everything is going to be so much better under this bill, why doesn't it apply to the people who wrote it?

Re:Why Just Executive? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31572096)

So the question that you're asking is:

Why don't the corrupt legislators pass laws that make it easier to identify corruption in the legislature instead of passing laws which make it easier to pay attention to the corruption of anyone but themselves?

Ah, Ok. Just making sure.

User friendly formats (1)

Kabuthunk (972557) | more than 4 years ago | (#31570150)

User friendly formats... pfft, they probably have a loophole to that and will put them in .pdf format :P.

Is PDF "user friendly"? (3, Interesting)

mi (197448) | more than 4 years ago | (#31570166)

PDF seems to be the format of choice for this sort of thing. Indeed, in addition the Adobe's own reader, free ones like kpdf exist too and, for some reason, politicians care to preserve the exact formatting of the pages. (Yes, I know, lawyers need that, but they could — and do — just as easily refer to the sections and paragraphs...)

But the format could be perfectly evil by, for example, prohibiting printing of the viewed document... For example, the New Jersey Fire Prevention Code [iccsafe.org] are deliberately non-printable — and even kpdf obeys that restriction (you can still print it by running it through pdf2ps first, but try to teach your mother that).

On top of that, it is also too easy to just scan a printed page into a PDF — as a monolithic (and thus not searchable) bitmap.

Is the law being discussed smart enough to address these two problems? I don't think so...

Re:Is PDF "user friendly"? (1)

betterunixthanunix (980855) | more than 4 years ago | (#31570372)

"But the format could be perfectly evil by, for example, prohibiting printing of the viewed document"

Which is only evil if your PDF reader respects restriction flags...oh, right, in the USA that is required by law. Yup, bad idea.

Re:Is PDF "user friendly"? (4, Informative)

mi (197448) | more than 4 years ago | (#31570844)

Which is only evil if your PDF reader respects restriction flags...

It is evil regardless of that — whether it is successful or not, the very attempt by the government to prevent me from printing a legal document is evil...

oh, right, in the USA that is required by law.

Actually, in the case of kpdf, it can be switched off: edit the share/config.kcfg/kpdf.kcfg (an XML-file), and flip the ObeyDRM switch from true to false.

Re:Is PDF "user friendly"? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31572478)

Hacker! Evil hacker!

Re:Is PDF "user friendly"? (1)

Dynedain (141758) | more than 4 years ago | (#31570494)

On top of that, it is also too easy to just scan a printed page into a PDF — as a monolithic (and thus not searchable) bitmap.

Running OCR on a pdf is pretty simple. Acrobat has that functionality built-in, and Google already does it for any PDFs they index.

and btw... the new /. interface BLOWS CHUNKS

Re:Is PDF "user friendly"? (1)

simcop2387 (703011) | more than 4 years ago | (#31570592)

actually kpdf/okular only obey those restrictions by default, there's a setting in there that lets you ignore all of those (quite useful for things like the fire prevention code)

Exceptions are a good idea. For a different reason (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31570270)

As someone who works in (local) government, those exceptions are a really good idea. We have a lot of information about the public... That is you.... Technically, most all of it is public record. But we've deliberately not put much of it online, as it would be gold mine for identity theft. You can still come in and ask for it, but letting some Chinese hacker download the whole thing is _not_ a good idea.

How about congress? (3, Interesting)

SWPadnos (191329) | more than 4 years ago | (#31570278)

They should make a law that requires transcripts of all discussions with lobbyists to be published.

And define a lobbyist as "anyone who claims to represent the opinions of anyone else".

Re:How about congress? (1)

Jawn98685 (687784) | more than 4 years ago | (#31572904)

Wrong. Categorically wrong. Lobbyists, by definition, represent "special interests". The stereotypical example is the industry influence-buyer, with his wad of cash, free private jets to "golfing" getaways, etc., but any group with enough money to make the exercise worthwhile can buy influence too. Trade unions are a good example of the other end of the "who buys government influence" list. But the important point is that none of these groups, nor the government officials they "buy", are beholden to the electorate anywhere near as much as they are beholden to the group who wrote the check and handed it over with a wink. The result? Corruption of the very foundation of representative democracy. Yes, that's an assertion that borders on hyperbole, but it is, alas, often all too true.

useless unless (3, Interesting)

frovingslosh (582462) | more than 4 years ago | (#31570574)

There is actually a lot of public information "on-line", but it is rendered almost useless because many .gov websites ban spiders from crawling through them and Google (and I assume others) obey this ban. I have actually found some information that was very valuable to me, but only because I found and followed the right links. These pages on a public website under the .gov tld were never indexed and could not be found easily as a result.

I would suggest that the law require that spiders not be banned from open public sites, otherwise it is a sham. I would also suggest that Google considers who really owns the information on .gov sites and considers programming its spiders to not obey such a bogus instruction.

Re:useless unless (1)

bendodge (998616) | more than 4 years ago | (#31572292)

This tidbit is far more interesting than the main article here. Can you cite some specific examples of this? I'd assume it's in robots.txt. This is an issue that could easily be rallied around:

-X agency blocks Google! We want freedom of information!
-We need to ban blocking searching!
-Not much to be partisan about.
-Not expensive.
-Not overly technical.
-A short, specific bill could easily fix it permanently.
-Congresscritters might like it, because it sounds good - "I forced the government to be transparent!"
-It's the sort of issue talk show hosts would like, because it's sensational and easy to whip people up about.

So, can we start finding which agencies do this?

Re:useless unless (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31572744)

That can be fixed easily since these are public documents.
Some experts who are regulars here can roll out a portal for that is weeks if not days.
IIRC, it's called wikinomics / crowd-sourcing or something like that - basically the wikipedia model.

Re:useless unless (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31574122)

Sounds like we need a dedicated search engine for .gov that takes the vigilante approach.

Which Bill? (3, Funny)

dzfoo (772245) | more than 4 years ago | (#31570646)

Gates or Clinton?

Or (Heaven forfend) O'Reilly?

      -dZ.

Re:Which Bill? (2, Funny)

Larryish (1215510) | more than 4 years ago | (#31571778)

George Clinton?

Re:Which Bill? (1)

dzfoo (772245) | more than 4 years ago | (#31573402)

Yes, George Bill Clinton Gates. The richest president of funk.

        -dZ.

Devil's advocate... (1)

MikeRT (947531) | more than 4 years ago | (#31570814)

This mandate will likely result in little of value for the tax payers because it is a general mandate, not a specific one. Most of us here know what happens when you do that with a software project. Government is not only no different, but is often worse. What is truly needed is targeted transparency. For example, all Inspector General reports should be posted online unless their publication, **in the opinion of the IG, not agency** presents a clear and present threat to national security or danger to the lives of government employees, private citizens or property. All government contracts should be posted online where possible. All competing offers as well.

ALL information to be published online. (2, Insightful)

SmallFurryCreature (593017) | more than 4 years ago | (#31571110)

Yes sir, all relevant information to be published online.

With regards to "Yes Minister".

Who Pays? (1)

b4upoo (166390) | more than 4 years ago | (#31571338)

Although I am almost rabid about the freedom of the public to know all things I wonder if anyone has estimated the costs involved in making all of the mentioned material available in digital form. It might eat up an awful lot of tax dollars.

Re: Who Pays? (1)

OrwellianLurker (1739950) | more than 4 years ago | (#31572732)

Although I am almost rabid about the freedom of the public to know all things I wonder if anyone has estimated the costs involved in making all of the mentioned material available in digital form. It might eat up an awful lot of tax dollars.

The cost of transparency pales at the cost of secrecy.

I have another idea... (1)

dwiget001 (1073738) | more than 4 years ago | (#31571792)

How about the House of Representatives (and the Senate, for that matter) propose a constitutional amendment like the following:

Any member of the U.S. House or Senate, any standing President and any federal appointee, or civilian worker) that violates their oath of office (House and Senate "... support and defend the Constitution...", President "... protect and defend the Constitution...", etc.) be charged with treason and prosecuted the the U.S. Federal court system. Upon conviction, for House and Senate members, they are removed from office, jailed for a period of at least five years but not more than ten, fined 10 times the amount of tax payer money they have been paid since their offense, and prohibited from ever serving in the U.S. government in any capacity whatsoever (cannot be elected to any Federal office, cannot be appointed to any position, cannot be hired to work in any capacity in the Federal government).

And, any U.S. House or Senate member, Presidential staff member, or other federal appointee or civilian that *failed* to report the violation of the oath of office, shall be subject to the same exact penalties.

Re:I have another idea... (1)

brusk (135896) | more than 4 years ago | (#31572494)

Nice, a vague treason law. Those are always conducive to the free expression of opinion in a democracy.

Too Much Information (1)

dcw3 (649211) | more than 4 years ago | (#31573928)

While I'm all in favor of transparency in government, I hope this doesn't lead situations similar to what is going on in my local. The county government here posts all tax information related to peoples homes online. This includes the current assessment, owners names, price paid, etc. And while it's all nice that this is available online, it has become the source of junkmail, and datamining by companies looking for folks fitting certain demographics. Fortunately, the county finally saw the light, and allowed us citizens to opt out of having our names posted, and replacing them with "Name Withheld by Request". So, now I get junk mail addressed like that.

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