Category Archives: Open Government

Facing the dark side of Information Power

Three things cannot be long hidden: the sun, the moon, and the truth-  Buddha

As we the people come to realize and celebrate the power and accessibility of good information we face the unprecedented fact that information, this nation’s uniquely renewable resource, has been brutally weaponized.

Not that anyone needs more evidence, this piece in the NYT tells the story with clarity – and a flair.  (https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2017/06/23/opinion/trumps-lies.html?_r=1)   Wired also offers a fresh analysis of the basics in this recent article:  https://www.wired.com/story/president-trumps-lies-and-untruths/?mbid=nl_7217_p1&CNDID=44690478

And yet the fact is that the forefathers created this democracy on the fundamental premise that we the people are thoughtful, informed, educated and oriented to search for truth. Today’s clash between truths and alternative facts is cataclysmic. The good news is that the torrent of alternative facts does not drown but inspires truth seekers to resist in creative and wondrous ways.

The fact that Congress is even now taking steps to unlock the work of the Congressional Research Service is a case in point. ( https://marytreacy.wordpress.com/2017/07/02/congress-moves-to critical-research/)  In ways too diverse and numerous to describe concerned individuals and organizations are “taking arms” to resist prevarication. Some related stories.

Clearly, this nation faces an unprecedented challenge.  Instinctively we assume that the rules of logic prevail. It helps to face the harsh reality of the dilemma, to rethink the very nature of prevarication.  Consider this thoughtful article: https://www.wired.com/story/president-trumps-lies-and-untruths/?mbid=nl_7217_p1&CNDID=44690478

One creative – and mind-expanding —  approach is to view reality through a different lens, that of the artist.  A good prompt to refocus the observational lens can be is this article published in Hyperallergic.( https://hyperallergic.com/387008/the-trump-regime/)   To peer with greater depth into the creative imaginations of several contemporary artists explore this digital display: https://hyperallergic.com/tag/drawing-in-a-time-of-fear-lies/

The man who lies to himself and listens to his own lie comes to a point that he cannot distinguish the truth within him, or around him, and so loses all respect for himself and for others – Fyodor Dostoevsky

 

 

Congress moves to expand access to critical research

Though probably unscheduled, the pending expansion of access policy re. reports of the Congressional Research Service (CRS) is super-timely.  CRS staff research and reports are valued as authoritative , timely and consequential resources, heretofore reserved for members of Congress, their staff, and info mavens. .  Extending access to the general public is something like a digital fireworks display for seekers of authoritative information.

For decades the debate has centered on one key question:  Does “confidentiality” demand that the work product of CRS staff serve Congress members and staff only, or does it rightfully belong to the public. In fact, though insider seekers of truth had routes to the motherlode access was a practice more honored in the breach than in the practice.

Here’s how Wikipedia describes the less-than-free flow of information https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Congressional_Research_Service_reports.  And that has been the practice for decades.

Until last week when access advocates announced that there is a light at the end of the legislative tunnel.  Members of the House Appropriations Committee passed the legislative branch appropriations bill which includes “strong language” mandating that all non-confidential CRS reports be made publicly available.” Though no legislative initiative is ever “over till it’s over” hopes are high that the full House will concur and that the Senate will pass a companion bill.  With all due respect to CRS and the virtue of solid research and truth-telling, this bill will probably not make headlines or warrant a filibuster.  And yet, in the current environment, access to authoritative, unbiased, current information matters more than ever!

In his comments on the legislative state of things the American Library Association spokesperson wrote this:

The Committee has debated this issue for several years, and after considering debate and testimony from entities inside the legislative branch and beyond the Committee believes the publishing of CRS reports will not impede CRS’s core mission in any impactful way and is in keeping with the Committee’s priority of full transparency to the American people. Within 90 days of enactment of this act CRS is directed to submit a plan to its oversight committees detailing its recommendations for implementing this effort as well as any associated cost estimates.

The timing is ideal.  As Americans celebrate the 4th with fireworks, parades and picnics this small step for the democracy is a giant step for an informed democracy.  The quantity and quality of CRS reports is beyond belief  – Check out the history of CRS publications here:  https://fas.org/sgp/crs/misc/

Assuming that this legendary level of quality is allowed and funded to continue, we will be better informed citizens, capable of more informed decision-making.  Something like the forefathers had in mind when they signed their names….

Let the people know the facts, and the country will be safe.

Abraham Lincoln, 1861

Archivists challenged to look ahead for looking back

The sounds of the past enrich our understanding of the nation’s cultural history and our history in general.  Carla Hayden, Librarian of Congress

We live in what Harlan Cleveland dubbed a “temperocentric” world, a world that expresses ideas in fewer than 140 characters, and then moves on……

This is digital age, when thoughts expressed in 140 characters start a war, when a signature replaces a thoughtful disquisition, when Facebook and emails can be manipulated and alternative facts thrive, the work of the archivist is ever-more challenging and still more essential.

And then my thoughts rambled:  I wondered future researchers will ever know how decisions were made……. At the core is a deep concern about the implications of those tweets for government transparency and accountability?

More concerning is the degree to which the ephemeral nature of information and communication will relieve them of responsibility – culpability – for the consequences or blur the causes of their actions.]

It is cold comfort to learn that the President’s tweets are safely archived, available for researchers who will bear the burden of explaining this era:  http://www.trumptwitterarchive.com.  Still tweets, even archived tweets are of scant value.

The serious work archiving President’s papers is in the hands of archivists. abby Zimet’s article published just yesterday in Common Dreams, offers a good – actually fun-to-read– overview of one major effort to cope with the Trump archives.  https://www.commondreams.org/further/2017/05/09/lots-copies-make-stuff-safe-saving-trumps-bigly-dumb-words

Clearly, it is a mighty challenge to capture the archival record of this era, much less to assure permanent access to past public documents. In recent months archivists have welcomed the assistance of informed volunteers – archivists, librarians, researchers, historians and others concerned with preservation of real facts have met the challenge.  Though it’s a finger in the dike of information flow our nation’s recorded history is at risk.

Without archives many stories of real people would be lost, and along with those stories, vital clues that allow us to reflect and interpret our lives today. ― Sara Sheridan

UPDATE:  https://arstechnica.com/tech-policy/2017/05/ex-feds-confident-comeys-devices-and-files-are-safe-even-if-fbi-wont-confirm/

 

 

 

 

 

 

Digital Access to Obama Administration Archives — A priority in progress

Writing about the current President’s tweets prompted me to focus with greater interest on just what’s happening with the archives of the Obama administration.

It did not take long to appreciate that reality exceeds expectations.  With the cooperation of the Obama Administration archivists are committed to assure access to massive amounts of information by and about President Obama’s eight years in the White House.  To give some idea of the massive research possibilities: The Obama administration is providing the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) with more than 250 terabytes of electronic records, including roughly 300 million emails.

NARA will start digitizing the unclassified records using a “new model” for the storage of presidential records. The Obama Presidential Center in Chicago has made a commitment to fund the digitization of all unclassified records of the Obama presidency.

In a May 3rd article in FCW, Chase Gunter describes how NARA is shifting to digital preservation strategies; Gunter writes that “henceforth the unclassified records of the Obama Administration will be archived using a new model for the storage of presidential records.  Instead of building a new site for the records they will be housed in existing NARA facilities and the agency will work on preserving and making them accessible in digital format to the greatest extent possible.” (https://fcw.com/Articles/2017/05/03/obma-records-digital-asps?p=)

Some basics re the Obama Administration archives:

March for Science – Minnesotans march to protest federal cuts

When I first posted mention of the March for Science a couple of months ago both the date and the concept seemed remote.  In recent weeks we have all learned more than we want to know about the  horrendous cuts to federal funding for science – everything from EPA to NIH to NOAA and more (https://www.nytimes.com/2017/03/16/climate/trump-budget-science-research.html?_r=0)

As a community and as a nation we experience the imperative to resist in a public way, to speak out, to stand up – and to march – essentially to remind ourselves and our nation that science matters. On Saturday, April 22, Earth Day 2017, thousands of Americans will gather in Washington, DC for a march not unlike the Women’s March in January – only warmer.

As with the Women’s March there will be satellite marches throughout the nation.  In Minnesota, a coalition of individuals from all walks of life will gather to march to the State Capitol.  Promoters of the Minnesota March say that these teachers, researchers, librarians, students, nonprofits, labor unions and faith groups share a common mission to (in the words of my high school teacher) “combat ignorance.”

The March will start at Cathedral Hill Park at 11:AM ( https://goo.gl/maps/dRjQxoPqS6Q2) with a Noon rally at the State Capitol. Marchers are encouraged to wear blue and green.  (Unlike the Women’s March, parkas, thermal underwear and boots are optional)

Learn much more here:  http://www.MarchForScienceMN.com/march

Minnesotans have a unique opportunity to learn and think about the mission of the March through a series sponsored by the East Side Freedom Library in St. Paul.  All are welcome to participate in the April 8 Solidarity Saturday: Science, Not Silence discussions:  http://eastsidefreedomlibrary.org/event/solidarity-saturdays-science-not-silence/

The web offers a wealth of information about the March – background, mission, examples of proposed and current budget  cuts, and why science matters more than ever.

One source of particular relevance is PLOS, a “peer-reviewed open access scientific journal published by the Public Library of Science. It’s a great – and accessible – update on what’s happening in the world of science.  A recent op-ed by PLOS co-founder Harold Varmus, explores “why Trump’s NIH cuts should worry us,” Another PLOS post by Judith Reichel speaks to the relevance of the March, “Standing up for science – Now more than ever.”  More about PLOS here.  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/PLOS_ONE

Among other resources I enjoyed are book reviews of a current popular read entitled “Rigor Mortis: How sloppy science creates worthless cures, crushes hope, and wastes billions.   Though I have yet to read the book, the reviews motivate me to dip into what seems to be accessible to this lowly liberal arts major who knows little but cares mightily about the ongoing attacks on science.

Planners provide many options for keeping abreast of and engaged in plans for the Minnesota March for Science:

Email: info@MarchForScienceMN.com
Facebook: /MarchForScienceMN
Instagram: @MarchForScienceMN
Twitter: @ScienceMarchMN
Snapchat: @ScienceMarchMN

International Fact-Checking Day – Not a day but a rallying cry!

Though the sun has set, it’s not too late to make note of the important fact that today, April 2, 2017, is International Fact-checking Day.  The irony is that the notice I had read bears the headline “Why April 3 is International Fact-checking Day.”  Clearly, I did not fact check the date!!!

Briefly, this is the third annual global initiative, a collaboration of a host of fact-checking entities, hosted by the Poynter Institute for Media Studies.  (http://www.poynter.org/about-the-international-fact-checking-network/ ) “These organizations fact-check statements by public figures, major institutions and other widely circulated claims of interest to society.”

Leaders of the effort underscore that “International Fact-Checking Day is not a single event but a rallying cry for more facts – and fact-checking – in politics, journalism and everyday life.”

The Code of Principles to which members of the International Fact-Checking Network (IFCN) are committed to this code, launched on September 15, 2016.

  • A commitment to nonpartisanship and fairness;
  • A commitment to transparency of sources;
  • A commitment to transparency funding & organization;
  • A commitment to transparency of methodology;
  • A commitment to open and honest corrections.

For much more information about the IFCN, including an extensive listing of verified signatories form around the world, click here:   http://www.poynter.org/fact-checkers-code-of-principles/

As we face the dystopic post-truth age of alternative facts and outright fabrications we look to the IFCN to live by these principles – and above all to underscore the reality that facts matter more than ever in “information age” when misinformation and disinformation are the weapon of choice for those who would weaken, or ultimately  defeat, democracies that depend not on customers but on an informed citizenry.

 

 

 

 

 

Freedom of Info Day 2017 captured on video by The Uptake

Under the circumstances, it seems as if we may need a Sunshine or Freedom of Information or Right to Know Month.  And yet we need to start by catching up on Minnesota’s FOI Day event.  Fortunately, The UpTake (recipient of the 2017 Career Freedom of Information Award,  http://theuptake.org/2016/03/16/live-at-noon-the-uptake-honored-with-career-freedom-of-information-award/)  has captured the day on video.

Locally Freedom of Information Day 2017 was sponsored on Thursday, March 16, by the Minnesota Coalition on Government Information.  Each year the Coalition honors an individual, agency or nonprofit with the John R. Finnegan Freedom of Information Award.  This year the Award went to Tony Webster, avid user of FOIA and government information.

Keynote speaker was Patrice McDermott, long-time Executive Director of  OpenTheGovernment.org, a DC based coalition of advocacy organizations that support the principles of transparency and accountability, primarily though not solely, at the federal level.

McDermott’s thoughts on the current challenges to the principles articulate in the First Amendment deserve view, discussion and ways that citizens and advocacy group must tackle the challenges we face today

Thanks to The Uptake, the event is captured here on video: http://theuptake.org/2017/03/16/tony-webster-honored-for-freedom-of-information-work/

More on FOI day and Sunshine Week here:  https://marytreacy.wordpress.com/2017/03/06/freedom-of-information-day-2017-an-unprecedented-challenge/