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United States

Government Web Sites Are Not for the Incumbents 189

Hal Plotkin has a column pointing out a severe deficiency in how the U.S. government handles web sites - they are often designed more to promote current office-holders than to conduct governmental affairs. The practice of using official resources for partisan political purposes is not new - the big rush actually hit about 3-4 years ago - but we could make such better use of the web, if only...
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Government Web Sites Are Not for the Incumbents

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  • by Ravenn ( 580407 ) on Saturday October 26, 2002 @03:37AM (#4535955) Homepage
    Those who seek the power are least deserving of it.

    Ravenn
    • After seeing the election ads in a state far from where I used to live I have too agree. When you don't know the history of the jerks running you wonder why anyone would vote for them.

      Maybe the USA should just do away with the elections and pick someone by lottery. The looser has to serve the term. Of course you would have to give them tests to make sure that they are not crazy and have an IQ of at least 90. That should filter out the mastakes like George Bush.
    • Golden rule for golden rules:

      All "rules" which attempt to say that those which are similar in one aspect are necessarily similar in another aspect should be ignored.

      ----

      Anyway, there are those with both ambition and desire to help others or wield power responsibly. They tend to find better ways of influencing the game of power than direct government politics, though.
  • by j14ast ( 258285 ) on Saturday October 26, 2002 @03:39AM (#4535958) Journal
    the big new here is ?
    i mean the president (take your pic any one ive been alive for) has flown all over the counrty on tax payer provided planes and fuel to campain for OTHER canadates in tight races not to mention a convient trip to a party fund raiser
    • Actually the President gets billed for these, and has to pay for them (or his party does). Of course it doesn't always happen that way, but it usually does. (I forget when they started cracking down on this, think it was the 60's).
      • Sure. You're telling me that Bush and the Republican party pay for trips in Air Force One that are basically for party affairs and endorsements? Riiiight.
        • I believe they pay a set fee, probably similar to what a first class ticket or a charter flight would cost. Obviously nowhere near the actual cost of fuel and labor expenses needed to get a luxury 747 around the country.

          It is of course a bit silly to point to "Bush and the Republican party" when it's clear that presidents of both parties have done this and will more than likely continue to do so in the future.

      • And she complained bitterly about partisan use on both sides.
        I recall her complaining bitterly about a trip to Thailand for the Secretary of State. She said 'SEC State', but with the distance between the decks of our homes across which we spoke, I thought she said 'Sex Aid'. I recall thinking that very decadent (having been to Phattaya Beach a few times in the Nav', myself). Took a few repeats to straighten that one out...
        OTOH, pilots are required to log a certain amount of hours to retain proficiency. So they wind up logging them in support of activities that are easily objectionable. Andrews AFB is functionally an international airport in service of the gubmint.
        However, I don't consider any of this a bad thing, in general. You really want your leadership to have freedom of mobility. You also don't want them showing up looking like they flew economy everywhere they go. Do you really want your representatives vicitimized by luggage handlers?
        Yes, these travel facilities are subject to abuse like web sites. How about some useful feedback? Why don't we celebrate good leadership, good use of technology to articulate issues and garner feedback? Whores that politicians are (speaking as an IT whore myself), they are going to respond in the desired fashion to votes in the ballot box that reward desired behavior. So, who are some good examples?
        • You really want your leadership to have freedom of mobility. You also don't want them showing up looking like they flew economy everywhere they go. Do you really want your representatives vicitimized by luggage handlers?

          Let's see. . .what CAN'T they fly Coach: the rest of us do. And as for baggage handlers, why not subject them to the joys of our new Federalized (and supposedly "Professionalized". . .) Baggage Handlers and screeners. Thay're SUPPOSEDLY there to represent us, as opposed to being the Senator from Disney or whereever.

          Then again, if **I** was running things, I'd have Congresscritters and Senators living in general-issue family housing on any of the local military bases in the DC area. After all, if it's good enough for our boys and girls in uniform, it oughta be good enough for a Congressman or Senator....

    • by Zeinfeld ( 263942 ) on Saturday October 26, 2002 @06:47AM (#4536246) Homepage
      I guess I should comment as I was the first person to set up a politics Web site and originally proposed using the Web to the Clinton Gore '92 campaign.

      The Web does not need to be simply another channel for PR. With Clinton-Gore the idea was partly PR but also what Mark Boncheck called Disintermediation. What we wanted to do was to have a clear channel between the politicians and the people, clear of press 'interpretation'.

      The point is not that people are going to trust the politicians more than the press, they will not. However it does prevent the press from some of its wilder distortions. During the '92 campaign the media made much of 'fact checks', doing a reality check on the statements made by both sides. What they never told the people is that they relied 100% on press releases put out by the parties, this was an innovation of James Carville that the GOP quickly followed.

      The point of Whitehouse.gov was that the people should have access to the same information as the journalists. That is why we put every whitehouse press release on the web site and through an email server and onto USEnet from day 1 of the administration. This was originally done at MIT and the site later moved to the EOP itself.

      The two people mainly responsible for putting the government online were Gore and Gingrich. Gore genuinely believed in the Web and Internet, that is why the GOP had to invent the lie of his claiming to have invented it - to deny him the ability to discuss a major achievement.

      Gingrich had a much harder challenge. The congress is divided in many ways, although the speaker controlls the house floor the committee chairs control their individual committees. Gingrich wanted the whole process of government to be transparent so the people could see what was going on. The committee chairs and the lobyists did not, any such democratising move would threaten their power. It would no longer be possible for last minute changes to be made to a bill in secret before it was rushed through committee. This is how many major legislative abuses take place. During the DMCA the lobyists for the RIAA inserted a clause to steal the returned rights of the artists. This was done behind closed doors without the knowledge of many committee members, let alone the people.

      In comparison the UK hansard web site is genuinely open. The site was set up to eventually replace the printing and distribution of 'the vote' which is the collection of papers sent to MPs every day. As such the site has every bill and critically every proposed ammendment at the same time the members get it.

      • ...for chiming in. Clinton/Gore should count the WH site a critical step towards openness in gov't as one of their greater achievements. I think they were pioneers not just for gov't, but for substantive use of the Web. The C-G years were otherwise marked by so much political negativism -- X trying to stop Y from doing Z, etc. -- that too little was accomplished. (And some of what was, needs undoing.)

        The problem, as the original post indicates, is to ensure ongoing integrity, regardless of who is in office. I think many politicians are incapable of reasonable objectivity. Posting raw materials is a good thing, but as someone who has spent time researching the Congressional Record, much of that stuff is indigestible for most folks. It would be nice to have a nonpartisan digest of the political activity, kind of like the OMB is supposed to be to financial analysis.

        What a wonderful thing the Web is for accountability. Now if someone would teach the press and pundits to use it. For one, I am sooooo tired of the "invented the Internet" thing. I can imagine folks like Leno going, "So what if it's not true, it's funny" ... if they even know.

        Anyway ... thank you for your work!
        • The problem, as the original post indicates, is to ensure ongoing integrity, regardless of who is in office.

          Quite right, to see what kind of politician we have running the country take a look at Governor Cashmore's diary [salon.com]. From the biography on the site:

          American has had many scheming politicians but few as devious as Governor Cashmore. Free from both ideological commitments and moral scruples, Governor Cashmore believes that in a country where electors consider only their own self-interest, electors should do likewise.

          Governor Cashmore's self interest consists of the pursuit of money, power and sex in roughly equal measure. He is happiest though when he manages to achieve all three at the same time, for example taking a 'bung' (campaign bribe) from an interest group and embezzling all or part of it to buy sex from a prostitute.

          Governor Cashmore's constituents are perhaps fortunate that his lack of moral scruples allows him to also double-cross the corporations and interests who fund his campaigns, even if only for the purpose of keeping them dependent on him so that he can touch their purse in future years.

          It is difficult to say what motivates Cashmore's compulsive quest for sexual gratification. Some might argue that his insatiable appetite for power in all forms motivates his interest in sex. Others might counter that his addiction to sex drives him to seek the ultimate aphrodisiac, power. Whatever the reason these interests are inseparable and the Governor documents his conquests in both fields, recording the conquest of a member of his campaign staff ('exercise') or a call from the President with equal satisfaction.

      • ... until that dark day when they shut down the open relay. I had a lot of fun telnetting into it and using it to create nearly perfect forged e-mail from "bill@whitehouse.gov". Because I used the actual whitehouse.gov server as the relay, even the path of Received headers looked good.

        Of course, most people don't even know how to find the headers much less know what they mean, so forging e-mails to your more gullible friends can still be a riot.

  • Typical Politics (Score:4, Insightful)

    by geronimo_jerry ( 620406 ) on Saturday October 26, 2002 @03:44AM (#4535975) Homepage

    It's standard practice in .gov to "rewrite" some of the findings, achievements, etc. of the previous administration to appeal to the current politicians thoughts and ideals.

    I've always thought what a waste of time and resources it is for a particular State to rewrite road signs and post the picture and "thoughts" of the current governor on the backs of road maps. Of course there's many things you see, such as this /. article that shows just how much waste (and graft) occurs in .gov.

    No matter how the politicians spin things, their primary goal is to get reelected. Very few policitians have enough guile to tell the establishment (and stick to their guns) that they're only there for one/two terms, to make a difference.

  • wait.... (Score:3, Funny)

    by standsolid ( 619377 ) <(moc.dilosdnats) (ta) (ynnek)> on Saturday October 26, 2002 @03:46AM (#4535978) Homepage
    The US Government promotes candidates currently in office... this can't be fair. we didn't elect them there in the first place.

    -1: sarcastic
  • by SkulkCU ( 137480 ) on Saturday October 26, 2002 @03:47AM (#4535981) Homepage Journal

    IIRC, there are some limitations to updating an office holders website close to an election.

    Certainly incumbents hold many advantages... but perhaps the most important is the turnout: to a large degree, its the same people, especially in an "off-year" election. I'd ask anyone who's unhappy with the way things are to GO VOTE on NOV 5th.

    If you have to write-in a candidate just to feel good about your vote, go ahead and do that. Vote for that potted plant, even. I need a laugh.
  • by Guppy06 ( 410832 ) on Saturday October 26, 2002 @03:55AM (#4535994)
    "they are often designed more to promote current office-holders than to conduct governmental affairs."

    And the other avenues of communications aren't? How is Congressman Tauzin's self-promotional website [house.gov] different from, say, the form letter I got from Congressman Tauzin explaining how good the Tauzin-Dingel through franked mail (who needs to buy stamps when you're a member of Congress?) in response to the complaint I sent to him about said bill? Tell me how that letter and all the other form letters various members of Congress send to concerned voters isn't just so much political advertising?

    No, I'm not saying all members of Congress are guilty of this (at the very least somebody read letters I've sent to my Senators, for example), but there are some who are quite guilty of this, and all we've seen come of it is legislation against using franked mail within X number of days of election day.

    Come back when you've noticed the problem in general and not just the websites in particular.
  • Term Limits (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Omkar ( 618823 )
    What we need are congressional terms limits and less seneiority priviliges. Once representatives realize that gorverning should be a short detour from their normal lives, and not an occupation, our government should improve.
    • Re:Term Limits (Score:4, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward on Saturday October 26, 2002 @04:51AM (#4536090)
      Goes much deeper than that. Government has more in common with organized crime than anything else anymore. Guess who give law enforcement their marching orders to set up those road blocks? Insurance companies do it with webs of non-profits that interface with the department of transportation and other related departments. A massive juggurnuat to generate tickets. Have a peek at the department of transportation web site for the country and your state. See who their their non-profit "partners" are. And then do a little rearch on those groups. What will you find? Insurance company executives sitting at the boards. Mixed in with the insurance company non-profits are public-relations non-profits, which are basically mercanaries the insurance companies hire to conduct "studies" that are presented to your lawmakers. And like the happy drooling dogs they are, the government obeys.

      If that's not enough, these mercenaries do other things too. They interact with the judicial system. If anyone cares to read it, I've found some material presented by the department of transportation that encourages, and gives instructions, for government prosecutors on the finer points of judge shopping and jury tampering.

      Just look for the phrase "judge shopping". And if that interests you, read on to the bit where they instruct how to influence juries.

      http://www.nhtsa.dot.gov/people/injury/alcohol/d wi enforce/pdf/4systemfailures.pdf

      This isn't just some personal conspiracy theory I brewed up for your entertainment. I was fighting a speeding ticket and had to slog through several hundred pages of government publications and that's when I discovered this stuff. And I suspect /hope it may be in the news some day because it's very illustrative of how the government works at certain levels. I can't stress this enough because we havn't been educated to understand how the country really operates, and it's rare to see such a clear specimen of "undocumented" government processes as the complex dance between the department of transportation and the insurance companies.

  • by abbamouse ( 469716 ) on Saturday October 26, 2002 @04:02AM (#4536012) Homepage
    1. Minor complaint: The article headline is backwards. These sites are biased toward the incumbents, as the article notes.

    2. If we want less bias, have a nonpartisan agency write the bios and update the pages. Something like the Congressional Budget Office -- not immune to politics, but one step removed from the process and beholden to no single representative.

    3. Incumbents win over 90% of Congressional races and have for some time, so the bias issue really isn't all that important. There is so much inherent bias in the fact that incumbents get to do newsworthy things in front of cameras that websites don't really change anything.

    4. The real scandal about government websites, especially the Congressional ones, is the almost total lack of content. The home pages should include all votes cast by the representative -- Thomas [loc.gov] is clunky and difficult to use. As the artcile notes, it would also be nice to know when the official is up for re-election. Personally, I'd also like to see links to FEC campiagn finance reports on the same page to make correlating funding sources and voting patterns easier, but asking Congress to commit mass political suicide is probably not a realistic option.
  • by The Fanta Menace ( 607612 ) on Saturday October 26, 2002 @04:05AM (#4536022) Homepage

    ...is designed to favour the incumbents.

    The two big parties have enough funding to brainwash the masses into thinking that they are the only parties capable of winning, yet their policies differ very little.

    The net effect is that by voting for either of them, you are voting for the status quo - nothing ever happens and they keep lining their pockets.

    Vote for someone else. Left or right, it doesn't matter, just shake out the incumbents.

    • From MoveOn.org [moveon.org] ("working to bring ordinary people back into politics") -- download your very own "Regime Change Begins at Home... VOTE!" poster. [moveon.org]
    • Vote for someone else. Left or right, it doesn't matter, just shake out the incumbents.

      Thats what I used to say, but I just don't care anymore. They're all a bunch of corrupt bastards. You want my vote? Supporting term limits is the ONLY way you'll get it.
    • >> ...brainwash the masses...

      How is belief in democracy in keeping with this attitude about the people? We're all part of "the masses".
    • I do not understand why term limits are a good thing. Why shouldn't people have the right to vote for who they want? Are term limit supporters suggesting that we should not trust the majority of voters, because they are easily duped by these web sites, tv ads, etc.? If that is the case, perhaps we shouldn't let voters vote at all--we simply can't trust them.

      Here in California, we experienced one of the biggest problems with term limits with our recent energy crisis. When everything came to a head, there were two big issues--first, everyone that had voted for the ridiculous deregulation system that was put in place had been termed out of office; there was no one to be held accountable. Second, no one had the experience keeping a government functioning during a crisis--they all looked like deer in the headlights.

      In what other job do we say after only a few years "oh, you've gained experience? Well, time to go, even if you're doing a really good job and everyone likes you."

      The argument that legislators were "supposed" to be part-time workers doesn't sway me either. There are so many complex issues that our government has to deal with that no one would have a chance to learn them well. That's exactly what has happened in California--in fact, the power of lobbyists has increased here. No one terms out the lobbyists, so they have a lot more experience than the legislators they are dealing with. Since the legislators have so little time to get really experienced on any issue, it is a lot easier for the lobbyists to convince them to see their side of the issues.

      The San Jose Mercury News had an article about term limits in California a little while ago:

      http://www.bayarea.com/mld/mercurynews/news/politi cs/2770226.htm [bayarea.com]

      It actually does provide pros and cons of term limits; I just don't find the pros too convincing.

  • Nothing New... (Score:5, Interesting)

    by radicalsubversiv ( 558571 ) <michaelNO@SPAMsherrards.org> on Saturday October 26, 2002 @04:05AM (#4536026) Homepage Journal
    While this is certainly an unfortunate practice, it's hardly a new one, except perhaps with regards to the internet.

    One of the many benefits of incumbency is the access to government resources which can be used in functionally political ways. The most basic of these is what is known in the business as "franking," whereby congresspeople can send mail to their constituents on the public dime. In 1994, the Republicans ran on a platform of reforming the franking rules, but quickly changed their minds when they found themselves in office.

    As with most problems related to political campaigning, the only real fix I see is public campaign financing [publiccampaign.org]. By allowing anyone, incumbent or challenger, who can demonstrate a certain threshold of public support (typically through collecting a large number of very small contributions), the advantages of incumbency, fund-raising connections, etc. can be mitigated, candidates can be free to spend their time speaking to the issues, rather than raising money, and, once elected, they won't be quite so loyal to big-money interests.

    (If you live in Massachusetts, be sure to vote yes on Ballot Question 2, to preserve our Clean Elections public-financing system. [massvoters.org])
    • Re:Nothing New... (Score:4, Interesting)

      by thales ( 32660 ) on Saturday October 26, 2002 @09:32AM (#4536569) Homepage Journal
      " the only real fix I see is public campaign financing"


      Public finicing will force me to contribute to canidates that I not only disagree with, but ones whom I find morally repugnant. If a Klansman, a Communist or a Nazi wishes to run for office they have that right. I have the right to refuse to contribute to thier campaign in addition to refusing to vote for them now. Public finicing will strip me of the right to refuse to contribute to canidates who I disagree with.


      The high cost of political campaigns is a symptom of an illness, not the illness itself. Most contributions are made for one of two reasons, somebody wants to use the Government to fuck somebody or somebody wants to avoid getting fucked by a special intrest group. Limit the powers of the government and the reasons people donate the money goes away. You don't see multimillion dollar campaigns for dogcatchers because dogcatchers have little power. Limit the powers of government and the size of the campaigns will immeditally shrink.

      • Re:Nothing New... (Score:3, Informative)

        by realgone ( 147744 )
        I have the right to refuse to contribute to their campaign...
        No. You don't.

        (1) A well-established system of matching funds [fec.gov] already exists within the electoral system. Any party-based candidate who qualifies, including that Klansman, Communist, or Nazi, can have their campaign funded in part by your tax dollars.

        (2) More generally, you have no power to control how or on what your taxes are spent. (Other than the occasional referendum and, indirectly, by electing representatives who reflect your values.) I not only disagree with, but find morally repugnant, some of the U.S.'s current big-stick approaches to foreign policy. But this gives me no right to withhold my taxes from those efforts. (Although some have tried [americanpoems.com] in the past...)

        (3) Limit the powers of the government and someone else steps in to fill that power vacuum. Guess who? Big business and those special interest groups you mentioned. Unless you're in a Capra movie, in which case Jimmy Stewart will step up to bat.

        • No. You don't.

          Yes, I do.

          The matching funds program that you reference is funded by the voluntary "Presidential Election Campaign" checkoff on the 1040 form (and its variants).

        • I currently have the right to check "No" on the section of my Income tax forms to prevent that dollar of matching funds from going to presidental canidates, and I allways check the "No" box to prevent canidates that I disaprove of from benifiting from my work.

          Shrinking the powers of the government includes severe limits on it's ability to raise money through taxiation. Again I favor going to the root of the problem, to limit the governments powers to raise the money in the first place, rather than attempting to limit the use of the funds after they are taken from the citizens by threat of armed force.

          Last of all How are Big business and those special interest groups going to force me to obey them if they can't purchase those favors from a government that no longer has the powers to sell? Microsoft can't send armed men out to force me to buy Office . Peta can't send armed agents out to remove the meat from my freezer. Greenpeace can't send armed agents out to sieze my car if they don't like it's milage.
      • I've have often thought that once everyone, or nearly everyone is wired we should only allow communication about canidates and their positions to be posted on a government sponsored website. This way it could have the benefit of making a level playing ground and will keep campaign costs down. Each candidate would get a certain amount of webspace and that's it. If you can't get your position across with 200 Meg of space then something is wrong.

        Granted this would take a constitutional amendment to pass but that does not make it impossible. Think about it, people were actually able to ratify a constitutional amendment banning alcohol, why not campaign reform? The beauty of it is that once people start really moving on such a scheme the big corporations will start a media blitz to try and convince people to not support it. Their efforts will only drive home the point that they need to be taken out of the equation.

        Government is supposed to be for the people, not for the corporations.
        • We have an artcle about the government using government sites as a means of aiding the reelection of incumbments, and you want to ban anyone but the government from posting information about the canidates?


          I Can't think of a better way to raise the reelction rate of incumbments all the way up to 100% or to insure that the present monopoly on power enjoyed by the Republicratic party that pretends to be two partys is in place forever.

  • by davmoo ( 63521 ) on Saturday October 26, 2002 @04:28AM (#4536056)
    ...once he/she is elected to office is to do everything they can to guarentee they get re-elected the next time around.

    I am a firm believer in term limits, and public financing of campaigns. I also believe how congresscritters are paid needs to be changed. Some dork making a hundred grand a year is too out of touch with reality to represent the average American who is making 15 thousand a year. It should work like the Peace Corps...while you're in office, all you get is what the average American makes per year. Then at the end of your (limited) term, you get a lump sum to make up the difference between what the average Joe gets and what a congresscritter is paid.
    • Sorry. According to the 2000 Census, in 1999 the median salary for Americans was 41,944 Dollars per year. Not 15,000. This [census.gov] link has a lot of Economic info collected during the census. Also, did you know that 96% of taxes are paid by the top 50 % of Americans? Also, if you make over 50,000 a year you are in the top 25 % of wage earners in America. Here [irs.gov] are several pages of statistical info on taxes. The point as it pertains to your arguement, the average american has not earned 15,000 a year for a long time. You can make that with no college education what so ever. If you get paid 8 an hour, you make 16,000 a year (roughly). If you get paid just 2 more an hour, around 20 a year. (all before taxes). Add 2 more to that an dyou make 24,000 a year. Point is, even fast food jobs can net you 15,000 a year and that's if you work fast food. You can get a job stocking groceries that pays more then that. You could also get a job as a package handler at UPS and that pays more. It's increasingly easier to make money in this country believe it or not. Those dot commers who are waiting for something can get a job at those type of places with their eyes closed. Don't laugh. It's money. While I agree that congressmen (let's not bash them shall we?...it would only bring us to their level) make too much cash and it's a crock that they vote for their own salaries (do I want more money? sure I will vote for that spending bill), I don't agree that alot of congressmen are not putting the best interests of the taxpayers first. Sometimes the voting public doesn't know what is best for themselves (not often but sometimes they don't have a clue). If you think your congressmen is not doing the job, you can vote him out. You do vote don't you? If more people voted, then the politicos would have to think of better ways to get into office and they might actually have to do what their voters say they should do.
      • Small correction (Score:4, Informative)

        by hey! ( 33014 ) on Saturday October 26, 2002 @08:49AM (#4536445) Homepage Journal
        41,944 is the median household income, according to the page you linked. Most households have more than person with income.

        It's not what a median job pays, for example.

        The question of how the typical American is doing financially can't be answered in a simple way. Any single number you look at can and should be subject to interpretation. The median income for full time males is 37K. What about men who can't get full time work? Or men who have to work more than one full time job?

      • Two things to keep in mind

        • Basic math; average != median. You two are actually referring to different things. He's saying average American which would refer to average salary, not median as you refer to.
        • salary is a subset of income, not equal to it; for many people it is pretty equal to income, but not for the rich. You say median salary, but the chart refer to median income, different things

        - Michael

      • After your first phrase, I covered my eyes and signed "La la la la, I cant read you!"

        All that number spouting means nothing coming from someone that does not know the definition of median [ptti.com]. (For those too lazy to click on the link, "the middle value between two values") Median is a number that though easy to define, has little value when trying to understand at a bell curve.

        So, the highest income in the US is $83,888 per year? No? Well that's what "median" implies. (The lowest number being $0 per year, ignoring the possability of losing money.)

        Now, if we assume your phrase meant to say AVERAGE was $41k, then if you review (briefly) the small number of people making astronomically huge salaries (say, above $20mil, or pick your number), you must weigh the lower end of the curve below 41k to have LOTS and LOTS of people in it. And the majority of them significantly lower than 41K, more like 20k-25k.

        The fact that you think that any person can waltz right in and get a UPS package handler job, and that you think that two people working at McD's (who's looking after the kids?) can pull down a decent living, smacks of arrogance as coming from someone who hasnt had to find a job recently.

        Your point, that it is increasingly easy to make money in America is only correct if you dont look at inflation, cost of health care, cost of day care, and urban sprawl that basically requires one car for every job holder. The numbers might be bigger, but the value the number brings is not as high as it appears.

        Do this, on Monday, quit. Then, try to find a job, only dont use geek skills to get a new one, use your physical skills, rudamentary math, and maybe ability to speak, and ride public transportation to and from work every day. Then come back and see how easy you think the masses have it. Sheesh.
        • Um. No. Median is good enough for me and close enough to the average that I can call it average. Keep in mind there are more in the 20K-30K range and lower then there are in the 90-100K range. Also, why get technical about it? At least I attempted to provide figures instead of saying things like "Well the congresscritters should try living on the 15 K a average citizen makes". The original poster didn't even do that!

          While I agree healthcare costs have gotten out of hand, they only get that way because sniviling losers with the sniffles go to the doctor and say help me, when they can go to the pharmacy themselves and get some cold medicine and be ok. Only if I can't shake it or don't start feeling better after about a week do I ever consider going to the Doctor. Same thing goes for vomiting. I may have thrown up, but there are literally hundreds of viruses out there and there's not much to most of them and not much a doctor can do for you (believe me I have had to teach my wife this with my son who had the sniffles and a cough when he was 6 months old...wife had me drag him to the hospital at 2 am and the doctor told her there was nothing he could do unless it got worse and I had a 50 dollar bill to pay for the ER).

          Also, if you stay long enough, you can make money. My brother and sister in-law both were supporting themselves and their kids working at McDonalds (well, my Sis-in-law worked at Wendy's). My brother is now a store manager and pulls almost as much as I do at my tech job counting bonuses and the like. You obviously haven't checked McDonalds lately. They HAVE to increase the amount they offer because if they don't, they won't get anyone. Why would you want to work there when you can go work for UPS and get paid more? And yes you can literally walk into some of these places and they will almost hire you on the spot. I see signs all over my town in every fast food retaurant, every restaurant, every retail store and grocery store and they are literally screaming for help. Grocery stores pay better then fast food in a lot of cases because they are unionized in my area. When I worked at a grocery store full time I had benefits at least as good as my state job now. Point is, fast food does not and has not for a while paid minimum wage. You hardly ever here anyone talk about them raising it because noone pays that little any more. According to the Department of Labor, the current minimum wage as of 1997 is 5.15 an hour. I know of at least 3 places where I live where you can get a job that pays as much as twice that and you can literally walk in, interview and walk out with the job. This isn't BS. Sure, your big salary players may not be hiring (read Tech Jobs) but the service industry always needs folks who want to work. Most folks who are in the Tech Industry don't really work much but thier brain. Only time I break a sweat is when I have an AC Unit out in the server room. You can get a job today even. It's not impossible and it IS possible to work at one of these places and survive. No, you don't NEED a Computer, DVD Player, Big Screen TV, VCR, CD Player, Tons of DVD's and CD's, a car in some cases (if you live on a Bus or Subway Line), Cellphone or whatever new tech toy comes out. You don't need these to survive! You also don't need Day Care even if you both work. You can both work different shifts(if your marriage is strong to begin with, you can survive the separation). You can live with in range of other family members willing to do it for free. You can try to get by with only one working (it is possible....my brother is the only one who works at his house and they are making it oh and he works fast food too).

          Oh and in my tech job I CHOOSE to ride the bus instead of drive because I can't afford the car payment and refuse to get another one until I have to or I can afford it (my car is paid off).

          You DON'T need a SUV just because you have kids. You DON'T need a 500 W Car Stereo. Most don't NEED a cell phone. Americans in general have it easy by far when compared to the rest of the world where it will take some folks almost a year to make what you make in a week. Yet those other people live year after year after year. It is a fallacy that you need lots and lots of junk to make life worth living. I challenge you to not logon the net for a while day. I bet you can't do it. I have been instituting family hours after I get home. I check my mail, synch my PDA and then we wil do a family thing (I even shut off the PC so as not to tempt myself). Last night we watched It's the Great Pumpkin Charlie Brown and Winney the Pooh and Boo to You Too with my son. We had a great time. Some nights, as soon as I figure out something to do, we might even shut that boob tube off and do something else. It's nice to unplug. If you never live without it, what will you be like psychologically when you have to live without it?

          We Americans are blessed. An economic downturn in America is so easy to live out compared to one in any other country. You CAN get a job and keep it while you keep looking. If you fall back to unemployment, well, that's just plain being lazy.

          Everyone bitches about paying taxes, but yet they want the government to give them everything for free. You know the money for those food stamps and other aid programs come from TAXES my boy! Ever paid any? There's a school levy to vote on in my area come November and it will only raise the taxes on a 100,000 dollar house by 75 dollars A YEAR! And some folks don't want to do that! That's 6 bucks A MONTH increase! Whoopity do! They don't want to pay it, yet they want the schools to get better. I am not saying money is the solution. Lord knows it isn't in alot of cases and lord knows there is waste in government programs. But you mean to tell me that you aren't willing to part with one latte a month for your kids??

          On the other hand, I do see a ton of wasteful programs that should be cut. Also, if you want the government out of your life, you should get the government out of your life. Never pay more then you should ever on your taxes at any point. What I mean there is if you get a big refund, adjust your withholding so it evens out. That way you always have what is yours. Only saying that you need to pay taxes cuz you will go to jail if you don't. Next step, if you collect from any government program, stop. Give up that aid. Figure out how to do it on your own. Don't collect unemployment. Send your kids to private schools. Don't ask the government for things that are supposedly rightfully yours. If more people would do this instead of asking for more, then they would have to reduce the tax and you'd get more automatically anyway. Government will only increase if there's a need and if you remove the need, in fact if you do away with it altogether, then the government will shrink (well you'd hope it would anyway). Isn't that something we all want?

          I do agree Senetors are over paid. They are one of the few that their pay increase doesn't usually match their "performance".
          • Um. No. Median is good enough for me and close enough to the average that I can call it average.

            Median and average can differ significantly, depending on distribution within a population. As it turns out, in the data I have [slashdot.org], the median figure appears to be $25,000-$27,500 per year. The average of the means in each income category comes out to be around $64,000 per year.

            Keep in mind there are more in the 20K-30K range and lower then there are in the 90-100K range.

            Sigh. I wish you'd said that the first time. I could have avoided my whole post. : )

            Also, why get technical about it?

            Because it's easy to make mistakes if you don't. Actually, it's easy to make mistakes if you do, but "getting technical" allows for insights that may not be available on a gut level. The devil is often in the details.

            t least I attempted to provide figures instead of saying things like "Well the congresscritters should try living on the 15 K a average citizen makes". The original poster didn't even do that!

            True. It was appreciated. : )

          • healthcare costs have gotten out of hand, they only get that way because sniviling losers with the sniffles go to the doctor and say help me, when they can go to the pharmacy themselves

            No. The patient count certainly has not increased tenfold in less than a generation. The real reason for increasing costs is that modern technology offers improved treatments, but at a much higher price.

            For example, TPA [google.com] is a more effective treatment for heart attacks than heparin, but it costs something insane (over $1000 per dose I think). If you are having a heart attack, do you want the good stuff or the cheap stuff?

      • Others have already pointed out that average != median, so we'll skip that part.

        As for "You do vote don't you?", I'm proud to say that in the 23 years I have been eligible to vote, I have not missed one single primary or election. I may not always pick the right person, but at least I take my turn at bat...
        • Good for you! You have a right to bitch now! :) I always find it funny that sometimes the ones who scream the loudest never show up at the polling places on election day. That's pitiful. Not voting as a protest is not a solution either. You can at least go and vote Mickey Mouse for governor if you hate both of the guys running. I don't normally vote for libertarians but I will this year cuz I can't stand either the Republican or Democrat candidate for Governor here in OH.
          • Amen, Brother! The quickest way to make me turn my back and quit listening to someone talk about government is for them to tell me they don't/didn't vote. As you say, not voting is not a valid protest. Not voting only shows you're too damned lazy to show up at the polls, and too damned ignorant to care about your country.

            I don't like anyone at my locale this year either with the exception of the dude running for re-election as County Sheriff. Other than him, the Democrat and Republican candidates are a bunch of twits, and I will vote for a third party candidate in every race that I can.
      • Rather than advocating some sort of new system wherein lazy-assed Americans can vote using their televisions, rather than blaming the current problems with representative democracy on the all around pathetic failure of Americans to even give a crap about any of the issues or the candidates, you're giving us some bizarre statement about "voting".

        You actually expect me to spend a few hours educating myself on the issues and the candidates? You actually expect me to take five minutes to register to vote, and another half an hour to vote on election day?

        Pah! You jackass! How dare you? I'd much rather whine and complain from the critics gallery without even bothering to participate. After all, it's a lot easier to blame everything on "stupid voters" when you're not one of them. ;-)

      • I recently did some number crunching on <a href="http://ferret.bls.census.gov/macro/032002/pe rinc/new11_001.htm">a more recent set of census data</a>. I chose individual males rather than households... it gives a better idea of individual earnings (if somewhat optimistic, since it's well known that female incomes tend to be lower). Some findings:

        <UL>
        <LI> Of the total sample population (106,910), 55,606 make under $27,500 annually. Roughly 50% of Americans don't exceed this number.
        <LI> Similarly, 25% don't break $12,500. 10% don't break $2,500.
        <LI> The 80%/20% line occurs at about $52,500 per year. Now, the total income earned by the bottom 80% of earners (everyone who earns less than $52,500 per year), is about $1.8 billion. The total income earned by the top 20% (those earning over $52,500 per year) is about $2.3 billion.
        <LI> On the 50%/50% line ... the top 50% of earners earn about $3.3 billion. Bottom 50%: $0.7 billion. The top 50% of earners earn 84% of the income.
        </UL>

        From that data, the idea that the top 50% of americans are paying 96% of the taxes doesn't seem like such a problem. They're making 84% of the money. Slightly progressive taxation scheme, but then again, 20% of the population isn't making enough to actually afford taxes, and 10% just barely makes anything at all.

        <p>It's sometimes comfortable to look at nice middle-classish-looking median figure (or even an average) and assume it means "most americans are doing just fine." That might even be a true conclusion IF we were dealing with a normal distribution of income. But the reality seems to be that income distribution is a pretty skewed thing -- lots of individuals in the lower brackets, progressively fewer and fewer individuals as you get into the higher brackets.

    • Michael Graaf and Karen Read from eThekwini EcoPeace [ecopeace.org.za] gets the same salary as the minimum payed to Durban municipal workers. They donate the rest to the party, which uses it for local projects like permaculture, manfacturing, recycling, and theatre. They also oppose the idea of career politicians, which is why they rotate councillors according to their proportional representation party list - losing 21 days of pay when they do so.

      Disclaimer: I'm a member of the Cape Town Greens, a constitutional association of the Green Party of South Africa.

      *cough* Plotkin mug shot at the bottom of the article. *cough* :)

    • Then at the end of your (limited) term, you get a lump sum to make up the difference between what the average Joe gets and what a congresscritter is paid.

      Screw THAT. I think they ought to get paid what the average American gets paid, maybe even less. Over the years, I've also considered that perhaps you shouldn't get paid anything to be a member of congress. It is an honor, you know. And the original intent was that people would keep their jobs while they're in congress. Think of it like the military reservists. Our economy can afford to pay tens of thousands of reservists who do their regular drill, so why not send two Senators and a handful of Representatives to Washington to speak on our behalf, and let them keep their jobs while they do it.

      And let's not fool ourselves into thinking that any members of congress are hurting financially anyway. Even if they DO need the money, why can't the campaigns pay their salaries. It takes millions of dollars to get elected, so why not toss the candidate a salary once he's in office?

      End of brain dump.

      • why not send two Senators and a handful of Representatives to Washington to speak on our behalf, and let them keep their jobs while they do it.

        Because their employer would have undue influence over them? And because such a system would favor people who were either wealthy enough not to need an income, or who had an employer who was willing to pay their full salary for a reduced level of work, just for the sake of owning an insider?

        The system is already dominated by the wealthy and the corporate shills. Don't make it worse.

    • public financing is nice and all, but how do you propose stopping organizations or corporations from spending billions on "issue ads" without impinging on the first amendment.

      The answer: You can't.

      Unfortunately, either freedom of speech has to go, or the filthy influence of money has to stay in the election system.
  • What's his point? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by T. Will S. Idea ( 463154 ) on Saturday October 26, 2002 @04:31AM (#4536061) Homepage
    Frankly I just don't see what he is whining about. An example: in his article he gives a link to a unsurprisingly glowing biography of the Mayor of San Francisco. [sf.ca.us] He complains about a lack of information about the office itself, but if you actually go to the Mayor's home page [sf.ca.us] there is a ton of information! You get the Mayor's budget proposal, his schedule, his address, phone number, e-mail, links to offices under the Mayor, transcripts of speeches, etc. What exactly was he expecting, pictures of the Mayor in compromising situations?

    His main point seems to be that government web sites should be dedicated to organizing grass roots groups. First of all, the idea of the government organizing grass roots groups is oxymoronic. It is also a pretty dumb idea. I can just imagine the paranoia if the government tried to monopolize all of the grass roots organizations by hosting them on government web sites. "I spent the last 5 hours typing up my opposition to the mayor's speech when my computer crashed and the whole thing was lost. Then I got to thinking, who controls the web site? (The mayor.) Was it really a mistake that my post was lost?"

    This guy, Plotkin, should go back and dig up some real abuses to complain about. Lacking that, this article just sounds like a big long whine.


  • "...they are often designed more to promote current office-holders than to conduct governmental affairs."

    And a lack of transpanrency? Nonsense, one guy is so open and honest I even managed to find his price list [egray.org] on the net!

    Ali

  • One of the more eye-catching examples of this sorry trend occurred earlier this year, when a member of California Gov. Gray Davis' administration issued rules that required state employees to place Davis' picture on every single one of the approximately 100 home pages run by the state, ranging from the home page for the Department of Motor Vehicles to that of the State Energy Commission. (bold by me)

    Is it just me, or do any of my fellow Calfornians find all too much irony in Gray Davis trying to promote himself on a website of what is commonly referred to as the bane of his governorship?
  • by Anonymous Coward
    they are often designed more to promote current office-holders than to conduct governmental affairs.

    If you visit your congressmens' offices in Washington, you find it is exactly the same. The physical office space belongs to the officeholder, and is used by his or her staff to promote a particular agenda.

    Of course rival candidates aren't given equivalent resources by the government, but this is a feature, not a bug. The incumbent is the one who currently has the office, after all.

    Yes, it is an uneven playing field because the government gives congressmen a web presence. But congressmen can also promote their campaigns and agenda on the House and Senate floors.

    It may be unfair to rival candidates, but it would be worse to deny government resources that are needed to carry out representation. And it's really not as bad as it may seem. Voters are not that stupid. They can figure out that incumbents have an inherent advantage and so the voters can each account for this as they wish.
  • Incumbents usually have more money, a government web site and all of these advantages. I would like to say that the government site should have a picture of the incumbent, but they should write the rest of the site so that the rest of it concentrates arounf what the governer, senate member or president do in a general sense. Make them learning ans service access websites and not political ads.
  • by dpt ( 165990 )
    I go to the freedom.gov site, and get:

    "The site freedom.gov wishes to set a cookie. Do you want to allow it?"

    It's important that the government tracks everyone interested in freedom very carefully, after all.

    Why do some sites try to set cookies when there isn't any sensible reason for them doing so, from my POV? I can understand when I actually have some server state to be linked with, but can setting cookies on the main page right away have any credible purpose, apart from tracking?
    • ..have you tried asking them why they set it? It might just be an oversight from whatever software is being used.

      • by dpt ( 165990 )
        have you tried asking them why they set it?

        No way!! That'll get me tagged as being a terrorist for sure! :)
    • I'm curious as to why the Office of the House Majority leader is freedom.gov? Dick Armey? Scary thought.
    • freedom.gov is running IIS [netcraft.com] (our government money at work!). I think by default, IIS hands out cookies to each visitor to keep track of sessions (though I don't remember if it does anything with this information by default -- I think it's mostly for server side ASP stuff). You can always not accept the cookie.

      Of course, it's been a couple years since I've had to work with IIS, so I may be remembering incorrectly...
    • as others have stated, it's just a session ID. check the cookie yourself.

      nothing to see here, move along.
      • as others have stated, it's just a session ID. check the cookie yourself

        I was just pointing out the irony of it all - freedom.gov setting cookies for no reason, which is an action associated with tracking and profiling.

        But now I'd like to know why you think a "session ID" is just fine. I don't think it's in any way necessary for this site.

        And yes, I agree it's just some lame deployment, not a conspiracy :)

        nothing to see here, move along

        Your conspiracy theory auto-detector-and-refuter threshold is set too low.
  • The real problem... (Score:1, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward

    ...is politics in general. As many people,so tritely, observe... people who want power are usually very self-centered and have no concern for the betterment of their fellow man. This is, sadly, completely out of alignment with what politics were originally intended to be. Let's take a look at the official definition of politics and break it down:

    The science of government; that part of ethics which has to do with the regulation and government of a nation or state, the preservation of its safety, peace, and prosperity, the defense of its existence and rights against foreign control or conquest, the augmentation of its strength and resources, and the protection of its citizens in their rights, with the preservation and improvement of their morals.

    First, let's start with the fact the politics is considered a science, where "science" is taken to mean:

    Any branch or department of systematized knowledge considered as a distinct field of investigation or object of study.

    By this definition, a politician should have a great body of knowledge regarding ethics, citizens and their rights and proper morals. If you apply that branch of logic to the politicians of the last few decades, we find that there is something that has slowly gone seriously wrong. Our politicians tend to be anything but knowledgable, ethical, moral or have any concern for citizen's rights!

    We will start with our current administration. While the polls say that G.W. Bush has had anywhere from a 49% approval rating [go.com] at lowest and as high as his post Sept. 11th rating of 93%. While this speaks well of him, it completely obscures many well known facts regarding his knowledge (quite lacking), ethics, morality and feelings on citizen's rights. If we delve deeper, we find that he, in fact, has very little knowledge about the system. Further evidenced by the fact that he is a poor speaker and his father's former cabinet appears to be running the entire show. He is just a mouthpiece.

    Regarding ethics, I would question any politician's ethics who would have other men in thir cabinet involved in scandal [time.com]. Especially in a position so close to the power seat as vice-president Cheney. Mr. Cheney's desire to conceal the connections between Enron and the current administration are very disheartening. Even the staunchest conservative must admit that this was not one of the finer moments in conservative history. (The liberal-controlled media argument doesn't wash here either as the news sources that reported negatively on this story tend to be just as far right as you can get.)

    While Mr. Bush professes to being a good christian. He hasn't always been that way. His morals [realchange.org] are not exactly what one would call "good". It's very well known the George W. Bush, was quite the party down, rich kid. As he grew away from his "youthful errors", he became quite the shady businessman. I would have to say that his morals are questionable at best.

    Civil rights and the current administration are at odds with each other. This has been an ever increasing problem since Sept. 11th. As most Americans blindly wave their flags, their ability to do much of anything else to affect their own well being is being erroded by things like "The Patriot Act" [thebyteshow.com]. In the name of security, the man in the white house and his staff are trying to convince us that it's good to lose your freedoms sometimes. This is quite damning evidence that he does not understand or care about the citizen's of this country's rights.

    Seeing that all of this is true, it appears that George W. Bush fails to live up to the definition of what a politician should be, as do many of his cabinet.

    The last administration has it's blemishes on many counts as well. Analyzing Mr. Clinton in the same way, we find that his knowledge of the governmental system was stronger than Mr. Bush's. (If anyone can provide links to examples please do so, I couldn't find any.)

    Where ethics are concerned, Bill Clinton had his share of gaffes [mit.edu]. Not to mention the more serious allegations [robinsweb.com] regarding his time as Governor of Arkansas. No... Sadly, we can't say that Mr. Clinton has shiny repution either.

    Everyone knows about his moral problems [realchange.org] since they've been beaten to death. Like him or not, Bill Clinton was not a man of morals by strict definition.

    As geeks, we all know that it was his administration that passed the DMCA which has potential to seriously impinge on citizen's rights. Not just your ability to "swap songs", but you ability to write code freely!

    So, by the same analysis, Bill Clinton fails the test of what a good politician is. As do most other politicians. Why is this? Because we are humans. We have imperfections that prevent us from being able to truly hold to the ideals of what how politics should work. Some do better than others, but in general the lot of them are corrupt.

    Most politicians are only interested in politics due to their hunger for power. Just that alone is damning as it points to a deep seated greed and selfishness that is almost required to be a politician. So how is it that our system even works? In reality, it doesn't.

    Most of what the operations of the government and the way they affect us are almost 100% happily incidental. Ocassionally one person somewhere deep in the system does one thing right. Another one somewhere else in the system does something else right. And so on... There are the few people here or there who intentionally or unintentionally (They're human, remember?) do something wrong. But the aggregate result is something that more or les resembles a system that works. This illusion trickles upward toward the leaders (Senators, congressmen, governors, and ultimately the president) and makes them look good. (It works this way in any large organization) So... for now we are stuck with a system that appears to work, but is solely based on chance. Or looking at it another way, real politics (as opposed to the ideal defined above) is just another form of gambling.

    In closing, I'll offer you this joke about politics:

    Son: Dad, I have a special report for school. Can I ask you a question?

    Dad: Sure son, what's the question?

    Son: What is politics?

    Dad: Well son, let's take our home for example. I am the wage earner, so let's call me the management. Your mother is the administrator of the money, so let's call her the government. We take care of you and your needs, so let's call you the people. We'll call the maid the working class and your baby brother the future. Understand?

    Son: I'm not really sure dad, I'll have to think about it.

    That night, the boy is awakened by his baby brother's crying, so he went to see what was wrong. Discovering that the baby had a heavily soiled nappy, the boy went to his parent's room and found his mother fast asleep. He than went to the maid's room, where, peeking through the keyhole, he saw his father in bed with the maid. The boy's knocking went totally unheard. The boy went back to his room and went to sleep.

    The next morning...

    Son: Dad, I think I understand politics.

    Dad: That's great son, explain it to me in your own words.

    Son: While the management is screwing the working class, the government is fast asleep, the people are being completely ignored and the future is full of shit.

    ---Whew! All that work just to post this---


    -I am a Windows user
    -I am also a f4g0rt
    -All Windows users are f4g0rtz
    -Bill Gates loves men
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    -Stephen King loved goatse.cx before he died
    -75% of people in the US make up 3/4 of the US population
    -Adolph Hitroll is my bitch
    -RecipeTroll loves the cock too
    -Natalie Portman is naked and petrified
    -I poured hot gritz down my pants and all I got was this lousy T-shirt
    -R.M.S. is a commie
    -Linus Torvalds is keeping his brotha down. Free him!
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    -Imagine a Beowulf cluster of trolls
    -The CowboyNeal jokes are old
    -X is unstable, let's get rid of it
    -KDE is the sux0rz, GNOME rules
    -Real men use TWM
    -vi is better then emacs (no it's not, emacs is better than vi)=Tastes great/Less Filling
    -Ford sucks
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    -Linux on the desktop is dead
    -IE won the browser war, give it up Mozilla. (No. The war's not over yet M$)
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    -w00t!
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    -1. Steal concept from open sores 2. ??? 3. Profit!!!
    -RMS is a dirty hippie
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    -GayPee is not a hacker, he's a dork
    -General strike!! Now!!!!!!
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    -Grok THIS you GIMP!
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    -Canadians are gay
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    -For hot gulrz see: http://www.bakla.net

    -~the fux0rz has spoken~-

  • Organizing (Score:3, Interesting)

    by seven89 ( 303868 ) <rc@ m 3 p e e p s .org> on Saturday October 26, 2002 @05:44AM (#4536168) Homepage
    City halls and other government agencies could use the Internet to help organize and facilitate a wide variety of bottom-up groups to tackle whatever problems are at hand.

    Is anyone else here uncomfortable with "government agencies" trying to "facilitate a wide variety of bottum-up groups to tackle ... problems"? It is hard enough to gather a group of people with enough energy and committment to address a problem. When such efforts are "facilitated" by the government itself, all that energy is likely to get co-opted.

    ... too many elected officials are using the Internet primarily as a public-relations vehicle.

    That's the "bloody shirt" to be waved about while organizing. E.g., chatting with your barber, you might say, "I checked out the (local governemt) web site just to see who I could call to ask a question about my water bill, and guess what? Twenty high resolution photos of Supervisor Snort, and not a single damn phone number!! To heck with that! So I just set up my own website with some of that information..."

    That's one reason it's not surprising that political candidates usually come from within the small group of connected individuals who already know the rules.

    Well, duh.... If you are not part of a "small group of connected individuals" and if you don't "know the rules," then you won't get anywhere, period. The solution is to form your own small group and learn the rules. If you're an opportunist, you then go about getting yourself and your buddies into office. If you're an altruistic reformer, you use your newly gained "power" (such as it is) to address whatever issues concern you. If you are a radical, then you offer seminars -- teach those rules to everyone! Supply hints on group formation! And at the same time, recruit for your own outfit. Now things are moving...

    First, incumbent officeholders should be prohibited from using government Web sites to promote themselves.

    No!! That would take the fun out of everything! We want to use the deficiencies of their websites to promote our own organizations!

    Likewise, all government Web sites should also be required to list detailed information that tells the public how and when individuals can mount electoral challenges for those posts.

    I basically agree with the sentiment here. What forms you need to file and where you get them and where you file them is pretty basic information. And as long as governmental units are deficient, activist sites have something to complain about and also a void that they can fill.

    By the way, I live in Southwestern Oakland County, Michigan, and, the last I looked, the Huron Valley School system website had many problems -- PDF files where simple HTML would do, etc., etc. Any readers in this area who are interested in a bit of mild-mannered cybernetical activism can send me an e-mail, maybe we can work together and Try to Fix Things (TM).

  • by Anonymous Coward
    Most of the campaign finance reform bills, including the one backed by McCain and passed by Congress and signed by Bush recently, basically limit the ability of challengers to campaign, while leaving untouched the ability of incumbents to campaign.

    This is just one example of it: the incumbents get government-subsidized campaign web sites, while the challengers do not.

    Don't say that having the government pay for all campaigns is the answer, as that gets rid of democracy by having the government choose who will be in government (bye bye grass roots).
  • pfft (Score:2, Interesting)

    Wow, this is really big news considering in many states the demopublicans and replubicrats have setup ballot access laws designed to prevent third parties from making ever even making it onto the ballet.

    Then there's old Federal Matching funds. I love that one. We need to PAY to help re-elect these shitheads.

    The worst part is, nobody cares. Who's playing on Monday night football??
  • Is www.number10.gov.uk [number10.gov.uk] I will say no more. The most blatant bit of political cheerleading I've ever seen.
  • http://www.bangornews.com/editorialnews/article.cf m?ID=81458&CFID=5557730&CFTOKEN=2161477 [bangornews.com]

    "Under Senate rules ... senators running for re-election can't update their Web sites for the last 60 days before Election Day."
  • Not Necessarily... (Score:5, Interesting)

    by guttentag ( 313541 ) on Saturday October 26, 2002 @07:38AM (#4536326) Journal
    they are often designed more to promote current office-holders than to conduct governmental affairs.
    Sometimes government Web sites promote retired members over incumbents. I recently had this exchange with the Senate's Webmaster:
    From: <Me>
    From: webmaster@sec.senate.gov
    Date: 10/11/2002

    I was writing a script that helps people identify their senators and representatives when I noticed an error on: http://www.senate.gov/ senators/senator_by_state.cfm

    If you look at the source code of the page, there is a link to former Senator Moynihan's site (http://moynihan.senate.gov) listed immediately before the link to Hillary Clinton's site. It doesn't show up on the page because there is no text inside the erroneous anchor tag, but it should still be corrected because I don't think Moynihan's coming back. Plus, it's confusing my script. :o)

    -<Me>

    --

    From: webmaster@sec.senate.gov
    From: <Me>
    Date: 10/22/2002

    Thanks. Moynihan is now gone :-)

    <name expunged>
    Senate Webmaster

    Actually, many members use their Web sites to keep their constituents informed of the decisions made on their behalf and, sometimes, the reasons for those decisions. Congressman Mike Honda [house.gov] is a good example of a Rep. who posts a well-thought-out explanation of his decision whenever he casts a controversial vote. I'd like to see more members follow his lead in this respect. Beyond that, I'd like to see them publish such information in RDF format (http://<member's Web site>/news.rdf), but it's probably too much to ask that they implement this before Nov. 5, and many will balk at the idea of making themselves more visible to voters.
    • I've worked on similar scripts and the amusing par is that it should be possible to pull the data straight from the government database. I even went as far as to identify a database product that the federal government and a lot of states use on their websites.
      • I have a theory that house.gov is actually set up to make it difficult to find your representative (the fewer people who know their Rep's name, record and contact information, the fewer differing opinions the Rep has to deal with). First, house.gov makes you go to usps.com to find your zip plus four, then you have to copy it or write it down, return to house.gov and fill out a form (it asks for both your zip plus four and your state, as though the zip plus four alone isn't specific enough). Filling out that form takes you to either a standard house.gov page that tells you your rep's name and district or a custom page somewhere on the Rep's site. Then, depending on the page the form returned, you have to find the list of Reps by district, and locate your district to find his home page.

        The fact that it could have been very straightforward and standardized suggests that the process is difficult because it is in the Rep's interest to make it difficult.

        The Senate is much simpler in this regard, but that's due in part to the fact that you only need to know your state to find your senators.

        • "The fact that it could have been very straightforward and standardized suggests that the process is difficult because it is in the Rep's interest to make it difficult. "

          Yes, but then that would have required purchasing software supporting Zip+4 address lookup, which means they'd need funding. And it's not a one time purchase either, Zip+4 databases are quarterly subscriptions.

          If you've never worked in Government before, getting funding to do something automated that can be done manually is extremely difficult. They'd be more likely to hire someone to sit on the other end of the web page and look it up in a book then to purchase a database.
  • Incumbents? (Score:2, Insightful)

    by LuYu ( 519260 )

    GDict says:

    Incumbent In*cum"bent, n.
    A person who is in present possession of a benefice or of any office.

    Shouldn't the headline read:

    Government Websites
    Are for Incumbents.
    as the incumbents are the people already in power?
  • by John Hasler ( 414242 ) on Saturday October 26, 2002 @08:12AM (#4536358) Homepage
    3 or 4 years? ROTFLMAO!

    To give one relatively recent example, in the late sixties all construction projects receiving Federal money sprouted signs announcing that fact. The largest letters on those signs spelled out "PRESIDENT LYNDON B. JOHNSON".
  • by stomv ( 80392 ) on Saturday October 26, 2002 @08:19AM (#4536372) Homepage
    From the article:

    "If an elected official tried, for example, to drape a banner with his or her picture on it over the state Capitol building, the police would yank it down and cite the offender."

    Not in Boston. When my friends come to town, we go to the middle of the city and I give them five minutes to figure out the name of the mayor without speaking. They all do.

    How? His name (Thomas Menino) is on every park bench. Every construction sign. The entrance plaque of every building public funds played a role in erecting. Associated with anything where the people and the tangible actions of the city government meet.

    It's blatent, and it is an extra use of public funds, occuring in meatspace. This is a blatent contradiction of the ideas in the quote above.

    But then, Boston and Chi-Town pols have been aquiring votes by unethical means for hundreds of years now...
  • by hey! ( 33014 ) on Saturday October 26, 2002 @08:57AM (#4536464) Homepage Journal
    Ozymandias

    I MET a traveller from an antique land
    Who said: Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
    Stand in the desert . . . Near them, on the sand,
    Half sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose frown,
    And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,
    Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
    Which still survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
    The hand that mocked them, and the heart that fed;
    And on the pedestal these words appear:
    "My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:
    Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!"
    Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
    Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare
    The lone and level sands stretch far away.

    -Percy Bysse Shelley


    Political leaders putting their names on public works is no new thing. If anything is novel about the web aspect of this, it's that the edifice they're affixing their name to is so much more transitory than masonry.

  • There is a fairly simple solution to this - don't let incumbants run for re-election.

    More specifically, do not allow a person who holds a government office (either elected, appointed or simply cashing a goverment paycheck) to run for office for any government position until they have been out of government office for at least one full term of the position they are running for.

    Let me give an example to make that clear: Maynard is currently a Senator. He wishes to run for Senate again. Under my rules, if he serves out his current term (let's say he was elected in 2000), then he's out in 2006, and one full term of the Senate would be six more years, so he cannot run until 2012. If he decides to settle for Representative, then that would be 2008. If he resigns TODAY, he can run for Representative in 2004, president in 2008.

    Mary is currently Attorney General, an appointed position. Mary wants to run for President. Mary cannot run 2004. The best she can do is hold office until 2004, resign, then run in 2008.

    Now, this is different than term limits - you can be Senator however many times you can get elected, just not consecutive terms. AND since you cannot hold ANY goverment position, you cannot be Senator for 6 years, hold appointed office for 6 years, be Senator for 6 years, etc. - you HAVE to get out into the private sector (at least as far as being a lobbyist) (but note well the extant restrictions on lobbying after holding office!).

    As a result, an incumbant cannot use their position for their own relection. They won't spend the last two years of office campaining. You won't have the dynastic legacies of a Ted Kennedy or Bob Dole.
  • I consulted on a "transition team" for the state of NJ's current governor (J. McGreevey) - after I had help build the previous governor's (C. Whitman) version of the state web site.

    The web site has over 1,000,000 documents. Each head honcho wants the site branded to them specifically.

    This is an actual line of process:

    Find:
    img src="/assets/images/logo_top_gov_whitman.jpg"

    Replace with:

    img src="/assets/images/logo_top_gov_mcgreevey.jpg"

    Do that about 1,000 times for each variation. Then use the site's spider engine to index all of the pages where the old name appears and go through manually.

    That was soo much fun! Almost as fun as doing my COBOL Y2K contract!
  • by Reziac ( 43301 ) on Saturday October 26, 2002 @10:32AM (#4536745) Homepage Journal
    ..is that it doesn't clearly identify who it belongs go ("Office of the House Majority Leader" is really vague to some occasional voter from Podunk, Iowa) so the average visitor is misled into thinking this is some official gov't site with offical gov't statements (being a .gov and all). Especially since the presentation is very much "news site", not "personal site".

    Then it has statements like "Free the Daschle Fifty" -- which the average voter is going to interpret quite out of context.

    IMO this site borders on actively deceptive.

  • If only... (Score:3, Interesting)

    by cr0sh ( 43134 ) on Saturday October 26, 2002 @01:57PM (#4537647) Homepage
    If only politics, government and the internet were compatible - if only...

    As I see it, the problem is that the internet and the web represent a problem to politics and government - it isn't something they can control, though they try harder every year to do so. Here is a system that they cannot master, cannot bend to serve them how they need to be served, namely to be able to control the populace and tell them how to think. The internet isn't TV, no matter how hard they try. I fear if they are successful, somehow, and manage to put the net under thier thumb, they will likely see a backlash so huge that it will make the day the internet went black look like a party.

    What would be my vision for a good political/governmental web site? It would mainly allow the participation of the people - I can easilty envision a slash/scoop web site where users could log in, and DISCUSS issues related to government - a central area where one could see all the legislation passed, all that is on the table or "coming up", all the text of everything, so that it can be seen by the people and discussed - and they (the govt/politicians/congressmen/etc) would take the peoples reaction into account and allow the process to refine the bill properly. I know you can't please all of the people - it would have to be compromise. But by doing so, it is better than the secrecy and hidden gotchas/riders we have now. Furthermore, it would keep people informed as to what is going on in their government, and would possible help keep corruption down by being an open forum. Constituents could communicate better with their representatives, and know that what they are saying is being heard.

    One thing I wish was out there was a list of "who voted for what" - ie, wouldn't it be great to know what congresspersons/senators vote for what bills, on a per state basis - so you can see at a glance, based on a search, what your reps for your state voted for what legislation, so you can more easily make a decision to support them or not come next election? Especially things that limit our freedom, etc (think PATRIOT act, DMCA, UCITA, CCDBTA) - then be able to discuss this with other people in your area, in a moderated, threaded discussion forum? It would be true government by the people - true representation.

    Instead, we have at best a "mismash" of segregated and separated forums and sites - there are some govt sites that allow you to find out the information (on some things, but not all), then discussion sites like /. and k5 that allow for the political discussion - but nothing that relates to each community/state - so no way to organise with fellow constituents.

    You will never see this though, they will likely openly oppose such ability, if anyone tried to set such a thing up. If anyone know of such a thing (I can't be the only one who has thought about this), please let me know. I would love to know who to vote out (as it is, I am thinking about simply voting a straight ticket for one of the alternate parties - but I don't like the idea of doing that as it isn't a good informed decision).

  • MI - state representative Paul DeWeese (running for state senate) spammed a list of state email addresses, with a message about how he stands with state employees, shares their outrage at the overuse of contractors, etc. and how he'll continue to work to have more of them, and less of contractors. A blatent political ad.

    What he didn't realize it that many contractors have state email addresses. At my workplace, many, many contractors got this email. I don't think it had the effect he was hoping for! ;)

"No, no, I don't mind being called the smartest man in the world. I just wish it wasn't this one." -- Adrian Veidt/Ozymandias, WATCHMEN

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