Sunday, February 1, 2009

Back on track with blogging

Thanks for being patient the last few weeks as my blog has been pretty much idle. I've had to focus on my job and it was taking up a lot of my free time. Thank you to many of my readers for sending me tidbits and suggestions for posts; it was great to know that people are following the events in bringing transparency to government (or not).

A lot has happened during the time when I wasn't posting, including the inauguration of our new president, Barack Obama. Here's a quick update on some of what has happened:

  • No five-day window for commenting on new laws. (thanks to Eitan for this link) President Obama has signed his first bill into law as president, the Lilly Ledbetter fair pay act. Whatever you think of the law, we should definitely be disappointed that Obama did not handle his first signing in the way he promised. During his campaign, Obama promised to post all non-emergency bills on the White House website for comment from the public before signing them - and this promise is even repeated on the White House website (see the last line of the "Participation" paragraph). Frustratingly, there doesn't seem to be any place on the website where such bills are actually posted! (PolitiFact has the full story here). I understand that they just got the website up and running, so I'm hoping this is a failure of organization, not a change in principle. It will be interesting to see how they handle the potential stimulus legislation.
  • A not-so-transparent stimulus proposal. The House has passed a stimulus bill with a price tag of over $800 billion, and Obama is calling for the stimulus to speed through the senate so he can sign it into law. The prospect of this kind of spending has Americans debating the the best way to try to save the rapidly deteriorating economy. Here's the catch - no one seems to know the facts, myself included! The House bill is 647 pages long (and it took a few minutes of google searching to find it), so I think it's safe to say few citizens have read it. The House website doesn't even mention it on the hope page. Neither does the White House! I managed to find a website: which will be used to track the spending, but only after the bill is passed! I will write more about this soon - it's such a critical opportunty for transparency and we just aren't getting it!
  • The bizarro White House website. (thanks to Ian for this link) Some people aren't waiting for Obama to lead the way on citizen participation. Jim Gilliam has taken matters into his own hands, and created White House 2. You can check out his introductory video here, and it sounds like a great idea. He tries to solve the problem of swarming an issue by requiring people to force-rank their priorities. You can make medical marijuana your number one issue, but you can't shout louder to get more attention. And you can't have a dozen issues all as your number one, you have to make tradeoffs. The website then summarizes all the input that people have given into a list of national priorities. There's even a tool to show how Americans rate the spending items in the stimulus plan. I wish the real White House site had such great tools!
  • White House tech hiccups. Obama's young and web-savvy team arrived in the White House to find it was a little more old school than expected. No facebook, no IM, no myspace and even no WiFi! On top of that, they even had their email services go down for a while. For the big man himself, it appears he will get to keep his BlackBerry (though not a version you could buy for yourself) and may even have a computer on his desk in the oval office.
  • Obama launches Organizing for America. I have to admit that I haven't yet had a chance to read up on the details, but this post by Marc Ambinder explains the basics: Obama and his aides have launched a group to encourage Americans to get involved and promote his agenda. They will use email, texts, house parties and all the usual campaign tools to get the job done. I'll give this a full post later, once I know more.
  • Restoring science's place in society. More on this later, but it was really amazing to hear Obama talk about this so firmly in his inauguration.
OK, I'm sure that I've missed a lot, but hopefully this helps everyone get a little bit caught up on all the exciting developments.

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