I have a new article up on Ars Technica about how House rules prohibit members of Congress from using YouTube, Twitter, uStream, Qik, etc. to communicate with their constituents. These are simply outdated rules, but as Congress considers how to amend them, the blogosphere needs to make sure they get it right. Do me a solid and Digg the story.
Although the partisan tensions have now subsided a bit, the greater problem persists. Culberson’s use of video-sharing and microblogging technology continues to violate House rules. So do Speaker Pelosi’s YouTube channel, Digg profile, Flickr page, and Facebook profile. The new rules proposed by Capuano and supported by Pelosi would not authorize these uses. In contrast, alternative rules (PDF) proposed by the Republican minority would allow members to use any service so long as they comply with existing content rules that prohibit political or commercial endorsements in official communications.
The reason I think this is so important right now is that both the House and the Senate are currently looking to change their rules, and its vital that they get them right. I know the blogosphere knows what the right call is here, they just need to make sure that Congress gets the message. That said,
Since the initial [reaction on the blogs], however, the blogosphere has been relatively silent on the issue, which one imagines should be near and dear to its geek heart. The silence has been especially deafening from bloggers on the political left who are best positioned to influence the House Democratic leadership’s position. Pelosi spoke at this year’s Netroots Nation conference (formerly YearlyKos) and participated in an “Ask the Speaker” session. Not one question, however, related to congressional web use restrictions.
I hope you’ll spread the message about this by blogging about it, Digging the story, and generally spreading the word. This is not a partisan issue, it’s an issue on which all bloggers and technophiles can agree, and it’s definitely an issue that we can win.
Tom Hazlett’s latest column in the FT tries to make us all pay more attention to the Clearwire deal. Even those of us here at the TLF have been remiss in following the venture. As Tom points out, the fact that open-spectrum and net-neutrality stalwarts such as Google and Intel are in bed with Comcast and Sprint tells us a lot. He writes:
Municipal Wi-Fi Adieu. When local government networks were the rage, circa 2003, their loudest corporate backer was Google. Broadband for all via “free” unlicensed spectrum, smart radios and just a gentle nudge from City Hall. Politicians from Philadephia to Portland drank the Kool-Aid. But Google just paid $500m to jump to the Clearwire ship. The change in strategy speaks volumes: municipal wi-fi is considered small opportunity for Google and no threat to Clearwire.
Fleeing the “Spectrum Commons”. Five years ago, Intel was pressuring US regulators for more unlicensed bands. It won – the Federal Communications Commission dumped hundreds of MHz into the market. The bump was little noticed – short-range apps continued to work, but not much else developed. Meanwhile, wireless phone networks – providing wide area, mobile service – were booming. But regulators held off new allocations for a decade, starving the sector just when it was upgrading to high-speed data networks.
New Clearwire boasts WiMAX, “wi-fi on steroids”, as its technological innovation, but note: this WiMAX runs on licensed frequencies. That is an economic choice, not a technical one. Only with the control afforded by exclusivity will these companies invest in the networks that, they hope, will make consumers sing. The “spectrum commons”? Been there, done that. This wireless broadband innovation aims to do what no one has done in unlicensed – and betting $14bn on it.
Net Neutrality Not. Clearwire consortium members are not passive investors. Buying in, they become network friends with benefits. The cable ops will retail service. McCaw’s NextNet is the lead gear maker. Motorola supplies handsets. Intel’s chips are plugged in. And Google’s search engine gets its own button on the phones, a cute efficiency copied from the wildly popular DoCoMo network in Japan. If the NTT model, where the carrier extracts payment from mobile apps for a preferred spot on the wireless web, is “open” – then “open” all capitalists must be. Richly, NTT is a member in good standing in Google’s Open Handset Alliance.
Now, the question my friends on the other side will rightly ask is, where’s the beef? Here it is. Any ideas how fast it will grow?
Sen. Barack Obama’s planned speech in Berlin is expected to lead the political news on Thursday, but there are some indications Sen. John McCain’s campaign might be planning a surprise announcement.
First, he cancels his press availability on Wednesday.
Then, he cancels a previously unannounced trip to an off-shore oil rig in Louisiana.
And now he abruptly changes his schedule to appear in Columbus, Ohio on Thursday. The press wasn’t told until the campaign plane was on the tarmac.
Will McCain pick his running mate on Thursday?
Or it could just be that the McCain campaign is so massively disorganized it doesn’t know its elbow from its VP pick.
The new episode of the podcast is up. In this episode of In Conversation: are game consoles the new PCs, the Apollo moon-shot computers, Cord’s massive waste of bagels for his bourgeois amusement in NC, alligator kayaking, the temerity of disabled and obese people, Battalk, modern conceptions of beauty, and magazines and the Amazon Kindle.
Indeed, to Ms. McArdle, the possibility of a Republican defeat holds a certain romantic appeal. “Younger people are kind of excited about being in the wilderness,” she said, evoking the pre-Reagan years when Republican thinkers plotted their revolution at nonprofit organizations and in bars instead of in the Executive Office Building and congressional majority offices. The longer you’re in power, the more you want to preserve it. “That’s where the Republicans are right now, and it’s demoralizing for think tankers.” Desperation has a way of focusing the mind. As Ms. McArdle said, “When they’re out of power, they have to think in a clearer way.”
“No matter who you are, or where you live, or how much money you make … you will need, and you are entitled to have these tools (broadband Internet) available to you, I think, as a civil right.”—FCC Commisioner Michael “FDR” Copps
"A recent global survey by PricewaterhouseCoopers showed that readers, on average, were willing to pay only 47 percent of the cover price of a magazine for the equivalent publication in electronic form."
Over on the Open House Project blog, John Wonderlich ponders what would sensible web-use rules for members or Congress look like. As I’ve noted here recently, both the House and Senate are looking to update the types of restrictions they place on how their members may use internet technologies. John writes:
The question now before the Franking Commission is how to update what Pelosi and Capuano have both admitted are “antiquated” restrictions. They have to balance legitimate concerns —- decorum, commercialization, and improper taxpayer funded political content —- against what all involved parties have recognized as immense potential online. … What really constitutes commercial endorsement? When does conduct become unacceptable or undignified? What role should Congress play in enforcing those questions online? Where do the edges of “official duties” lie anyway? Are we treating the Internet differently than we do traditional media?
It seems to me that the first step is to separate message and medium. House and Senate rules should address what is proper and improper content—-that is, they should have rules restricting the use of official resources to produce political or commercial messages or content that is undignified (however they want to define that). In fact, they already have such rules. That sort of content regulation, however, should be completely separate from restrictions on the medium used to transmit the message. As long as a member stays within the content rules, the medium should not matter.
Such an approach would avoid the type of prescriptive rules that have already failed Congress. You could not have predicted Twitter or Qik three years ago, and we can’t predict the new services that will emerge in the future. The House and Senate should therefore steer clear of any rules that are medium-specific.
Unfortunately, the rules that are now being considered by the House Franking Commission would restrict the services members could use to communicate with the public. The recommendations made by Rep. Capuano state in part:
To the maximum extent possible, the official content should not be posted on a website or page where it may appear with commercial or political information or any other information not in compliance with the House’s content guidelines.
He also suggests that the House should “maintain a list of external sites that meet whatever requirements are established[.]” This is not a smart strategy for several reasons.
First, widgets and shareable video allow web users to embed content anywhere they please. This is a feature and not a bug. Unless Congress wants to restrict their members from using any service that allows the public to share and remix their content, I don’t see how they can control where that content ends up. Additionally, content sites like YouTube allow visitors to post comments (and even video responses), and there’s no good way to control what users say in these spaces. Again, this is not a ‘problem’ to be fixed; this is precisely what makes the new media so revolutionary and so attractive for members who want to communicate with their constituencies.
Second, rules must follow social norms if you expect them to be effective. If you have a law that is routinely violated by the public, and there is little stigma attach to the violation, then that’s a pretty good indication that the law is out of step with societal norms and generally held beliefs about what’s right and just. Representatives like John Culberson who live-stream video and twitter from the House floor are presently in violation of the rules. So is Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who addressed the web-use issue recently by writing,
Like many other Members, I have a blog, use YouTube, Flickr, Facebook, Digg, and other new media to communicate with constituents, and I believe they are vital tools toward increasing transparency and accountability.
Not only is there nothing wrong with a member using these services, it’s laudable. There has been no public outcry that Speaker Pelosi’s content on Facebook and Digg is surrounded by advertisements, even political ones. Social norms are such that people understand that having a profile on Facebook or a channel on YouTube does not mean that you endorse any of the ads or the user-created content around your content. So why develop rules that resist these social norms?
Finally, creating a list of approved sites—-even if members are not limited to only using those sites—-will be problematic. It will imply official endorsement of some commercial services over others, which is precisely what I think the rules are trying to avoid. It would also lead to a chilling effect where a member might want to try a new service but won’t because it’s not on the safe-harbor list. And what sorts of site would make it on such a list anyway? Looking at the proposed rules, it would have to be sanitized versions of social media sites that would not allow for embedding or commenting—-e.g. crippling precisely what makes social media social and revolutionary.
So what am I missing? Have standards for content, but allow members to use any communications service they’d like. Don’t want to chance having a Viagra ad next to the video of your speech, don’t post on YouTube. I’d love to hear any critiques of my proposal.
“The only thing I’m concerned about is that if you post some video, you don’t see some commercial right next to it. You do that with YouTube right now, and we don’t control what ads you see — it could be political content, it could be a Viagra commercial — and don’t get me wrong, maybe the Republican leadership needs a Viagra commercial on their webpage, but I don’t really need one.”—Rep. Michael Capuano (D-Mass.) explaining why members of Congress shouldn’t be allowed to post videos to new media sites unless they’re sanitized of ads.
Very cool iPhone app that makes it super easy to access over 1,500 cocktail recipes based on name, base liquor, flavor, and other criteria. You can also tweet what you’re drinking. Check out the demo video.
I love the Zellig-like Jacob Grier, but he’s totally wrong on Murkygate:
Anyway, there’s three things to take away from this. One, don’t be a dick on the internet. Two, trust your barista. Three, pay a visit to Murky.
I agree the guy was a bit of a dick, but I would have seen red, too. “Trust your barista?” I’ll trust ‘em to suggest a better drink and steer me in the right direction, but I will not abide eye-rolling or sanctimony. The whole concept of a policy about this is pretty incredible, and I don’t buy the whole slippery slope to flavored shots and Gomorrah.
Whatever. Next time I’m there I’ll have to try an iced Americano.
I recently read “How to Write a Lot: A Practical Guide to Productive Academic Writing,” by Paul J. Silvia and have now just finished a gentleman’s read of “Autobiography of Anthony Trollope.” The former is modern-day implementation of a system developed by the latter that has so far has worked wonders for me.
Trollope’s method consisted of writing on a schedule, rather than waiting to be inspired, and keeping track of his progress. He wrote 63 books, many two- or three- volume works, and most of them while he was employed full-time as a civil servant. The secret to such fecundity seems to be regularity: come hell or high water you make yourself write a certain amount each day. The amount has to be reasonable for the method to work, and you must keep track of your progress so that it becomes a habit.
This reminds me of the Martini Method, brought to my attention by the Academic Productivity blog,
[Anthony] Burgess was a very productive writer, which is attributed to a system where he would force himself to write a 1000 words a day, 365 days a year. When he had completed his word count, he would relax with a dry martini, and enjoy the rest of the day with an easy conscience, and normally in a bar.
Here is Trollope from his Autobiography:
I had previously to this arranged a system of task-work for myself, which I would strongly recommend to those who feel as I have felt, that labour, when not made absolutely obligatory by the circumstances of the hour, should never be allowed to become spasmodic. There was no day on which it was my positive duty to write for the publishers, as it was my duty to write reports for the Post Office. I was free to be idle if I pleased. But as I had made up my mind to undertake this second profession, I found it to be expedient to bind myself by certain self-imposed laws. When I have commenced a new book, I have always prepared a diary, divided into weeks, and carried it on for the period which I have allowed myself for the completion of the work. In this I have entered, day by day, the number of pages I have written, so that if at any time I have slipped into idleness for a day or two, the record of that idleness has been there, staring me in the face, and demanding of me increased labour, so that the deficiency might be supplied. According to the circumstances of the time,—whether my other business might be then heavy or light, or whether the book which I was writing was or was not wanted with speed,—I have allotted myself so many pages a week. The average number has been about 40. It has been placed as low as 20, and has risen to 112. And as a page is an ambiguous term, my page has been made to contain 250 words; and as words, if not watched, will have a tendency to straggle, I have had every word counted as I went. In the bargains I have made with publishers I have,—not, of course, with their knowledge, but in my own mind,—undertaken always to supply them with so many words, and I have never put a book out of hand short of the number by a single word. I may also say that the excess has been very small. I have prided myself on completing my work exactly within the proposed dimensions. But I have prided myself especially in completing it within the proposed time,—and I have always done so. There has ever been the record before me, and a week passed with an insufficient number of pages has been a blister to my eye, and a month so disgraced would have been a sorrow to my heart.
Sadly, after his secret was revealed in his posthumously published autobiography, his reputation suffered, as critics were shocked by such an inartistic scheme. Luckily for me, I’m not a Victorian, nor do I care much what people think of how I get my damned papers finished.
As Cord noted here a week ago, a letter from Rep. Michael Capuano (D-Mass.) suggesting changes to Congress’s rules governing how members may post videos to the Internet stirred a firestorm of commentary that culminated in a letter from Speaker Nancy Pelosi, a New York Times article, an NPR story, and a petition effort from the Sunlight Foundation that can be found at www.LetOurCongressTweet.com. The fact that this brouhaha sparked so much activity is a sign of how important this topic is, and now that the dust has settled a bit we can look at the issue more calmly.
Despite suggestions to the contrary during the initial frenzy, the fact is that the proposed amendments would affect only video and not Twitter or blogging. Also, the proposal, which limits pretty severely where House members may post video, is actually a loosening of current rules. It’s understandable why some folks who are sensitive about online transparency pounced on this like they did, but it’s important to get the facts straight.
That said, it’s an absolute embarrassment that current House rules restrict how representatives link to outside websites. For example, I’ve talked to staff who say that while they would like to link to their member’s constantly updated voting record on GovTrack.us or the Washington Post’s Congress Votes Database, they won’t for fear of violating House rules. (The Open House Project’s report on member web-use restrictions explains in detail how the rules that govern the web and email are based on regulations developed for snail mail.)
To me, what should be the issue is the rationale for the regulations. For example, the rules proposed by Rep. Capuano would allow members to post video to outside hosting services so long as “the official content [is] not be posted on a website or page where it may appear with commercial or political information[.]” The reason seems to be that commercial or political messages anywhere in the vicinity of the official video clip would taint the “dignity, propriety, and decorum of the House.” Capuano explains in a follow-up statement:
Apparently the Republicans spreading these lies would rather operate without rules and open the House to commercialism. Maybe they don’t care if an official video appears next to a political advertisement for Barack Obama or John McCain, creating the appearance of an endorsement. And I guess they don’t care if constituents clicking on their videos will be treated to commercials for anything you can imagine, from the latest Hollywood blockbuster to Viagra. Certainly, advertisements are a reality in today’s world and most people can distinguish. However, it is also a reality that Members of Congress who use taxpayer money to communicate with constituents should be held to the highest possible standard of independence — and the appearance of independence.
With Congress’s approval rating being what it is today, that concern is understandable. However, I think it gives little credit to the American people who, I believe, are capable of identifying advertising when they see it and are capable of withstanding it with their dignity intact. We can watch a congressman speak on Meet the Press and understand perfectly well that an ad for Barrack Obama or Burger King during the commercial break does not imply an endorsement. We can do the same thing on the web.
Additionally, what makes video-sharing sites like YouTube so killer isn’t really the video aspect, but rather the sharing part. The fact that I can take any video on YouTube, Vimeo, Qik, and the many other services out there and embed them on this site where I can start a conversation around them is a powerful thing. Allowed to be used freely these tools could really help members of Congress talk to and listen to their constituents.
A case in point is Rep. John Culberson (R-Tex.) who’s been a pioneer in using new media tools from inside Congress. He twitters quite regularly and he also uses Qik to live-stream video from his cell phone. Tonight at 7 p.m. he will host a live town hall meeting using Ustream. Basically he’ll be on live video taking questions from anyone who joins the chat room. Now that is leveraging the internet to communicate with the American people.
You can watch the video stream on his Ustream channel (a commercial site which last time I checked has an ad for the Fox Business Channel) or embedded on this website below (a non-commercial site which has ads to the right) or on Culberson’s own House website (a government site which doesn’t have ads). Anyway you watch it, I think you’ll be able to figure out that Culberson is only endorsing his own words. Wouldn’t it be great if more members of Congress communicated directly with the American people like this? At the very least I would hope their own rules would allow them to.
From the NYT Magazine on Sunday comes this article echoing an article I wrote three years ago arguing that Cubans are, and have always been, New Deal Democrats, vote Republican only because of Cuba policy and the embargo, and that as the older generation of exiles dies out, South Florida politics would shift to more liberal. Here’s former Hialeah Mayor Raul Martinez, who is challengin Rep. Lincoln Diaz-Balart, on why they should elect him:
Claude Pepper, who held this seat for decades, brought back federal money for affordable housing. Lincoln was in Congress when I was mayor of Hialeah. He never brought any bacon home. What I got, I got from other congressmen. What has Lincoln done? As we say in Cuba, he has one song, and he’s sticking to it. I want to do what Pepper did, what Dante Fascell did.
“I am learning to get online myself, and I will have that down fairly soon, getting on myself. I don’t expect to be a great communicator, I don’t expect to set up my own blog, but I am becoming computer literate to the point where I can get the information that I need… I don’t e-mail, I’ve never felt the particular need to e-mail.”—John McCain in an interview with the NYT.
Whatever Martin says, the FCC's 'Internet Policy Statement' is not enforceable
According to the Associated Press, FCC Chairman Kevin Matin will circulate an order recommending enforcement action against Comcast “for violating agency principles that guarantee customers open access to the Internet.” Reports the AP,
Mr. Martin’s order would require Comcast to stop its practice of blocking, provide details to the commission on the extent and manner in which the practice was used and give consumers detailed information on how it planned to manage its network in the future.
Plain and simply put, the FCC has no authority to enforce a non-binding policy statement. If you’d care for the details, I dissected the issue at length in this comment to the FCC in its still-unresolved net neutrality proceeding. The take-away is this: In order for a rule to have the force of law, it must have been enacted in accordance with the Administrative Procedure Act, which requires notice to the public and an opportunity for comment and publication of the rule in the Federal Register. The Commission’s August 5, 2005 Internet Policy Statement that Martin is now trying to enforce was neither the result of notice-and-comment rulemaking, nor was it published in the Federal Register.
It may or may not be wise to promulgate the contents of the Internet Policy Statement as a binding legislative rule, and we can debate that when it’s proposed. But there must be an opportunity for input and a binding vote needs to take place before anyone can be held accountable to a statement.
As the D.C. Circuit in Batterton v. Marshall put it, the purpose of requiring notice and comment is “to reintroduce public participation and fairness to affected parties after governmental authority has been delegated to unrepresentative agencies.” The court quoted the legislative history of the APA stating that because of the unrepresentative nature of a regulatory agency, “public participation … in the rulemaking process is essential in order to permit administrative agencies to inform themselves, and to afford safeguards to private interests.”
Community organizing is a process by which people are brought together to act in common self-interest. While organizing describes any activity involving people interacting with one another in a formal manner, much community organizing is in the pursuit of a common agenda. Many groups seek populist goals and the ideal of participatory democracy. Community organizers create social movements by building a base of concerned people, mobilizing these community members to act, and developing leadership from and relationships among the people involved.
Huh? Whatever. Notably, Barack Obama is not on the list of notable community organizers.
The Aspen Institute’s Ideas Festival is taking place right now and I’ve noticed folks posting their own “big ideas”. Here’s my big idea of late: make Congress vote on regulations that cost over a certain amount.
There are two ways government can spend money. First by raising revenues through taxation and other means and then spending them money, and second by making private parties take actions that requires them to spend money. By some estimates, regulations cost Americans over $1 trillion a year. The folks who draft and pass these regulations are not elected and therefore don’t face political consequences for their actions. This creates a problem of accountability.
My colleague Maurice McTigue, who was a cabinet minister in New Zealand, has told me often how in his country parliament must vote on regulations before they can take effect. That’s a reform I’d love to see in this country, but I’m not holding my breath. Rightly or wrongly, Congress has happily delegated a lot of minutiae that arguably requires professional expertise to regulatory agencies. Congress is not about to take take back the decision-making on the thousands of regulations that are promulgated each year.
However, there’s a much more manageable number of regulations we might reasonably expect Congress to find the time to ponder. These are proposed rules known as “major” or “economically significant” regulations. The Congressional Review Act defines these as those proposed rules that are “like to result in an annual effect on the economy of $100,000,000 or more” or otherwise have a “significant adverse effect” on the economy. In 2007, these totaled 85, and ranged from “Employer Payment for Personal Protective Equipment” to “Chemical Facility Anti-Terrorism Standards”. Getting Congress to take an up-or-down vote on these should go a long way to restore some accountability for regulations.
There’s a lot to work out about this proposal. Who determines whether a rule qualifies as economically significant? Won’t agencies just issue two small rules rather than one big one? Will Congress be able to amend the regulations? Etc. It’s a start though. I’d love to hear any comments you might have. I’d especially would love to know if this idea is original or if it’s ever been proposed before.
Reason #353278 John McCain Will Make a Terrible President: He’s a Gambling Addict. From TNR: “McCain is a high-stakes craps player who loves the pure, adrenalin-pumping, rush of the game. Obama is an exceedingly low-stakes poker player who sizes up his odds methodically and rarely loses money.”
Believe it or not, that’s very interesting stuff to me. I’d love to know what Tolles’s thoughts on social media for real people. Scoble doesn’t tell me, though. I’d have to watch a 25 minute video to get a couple nuggets. Ain’t happening.
Audio and video is great for entertainment, when you want to kill time. To convey information, you can’t beat text.
(NPR’s Talk of the Nation) Internet entrepreneur Jonah Peretti, hula-hooping viral video star Lauren Bernat and TV Week contributing writer Daisy Whitney talk about the highly controlled world of “viral video” and what’s real, what’s fake and how video became a big gun in the online marketing arsenal. (via moth.)