Saturday, July 15, 2017

"The kids know how to look out for it"

Appalling must-read from a columnist touring Louisiana's poorest industrialized communities.

Can't shake these paragraphs:
But the most tragic story involves the schools. Not only are Reserve children being poisoned with a known carcinogen but, “they’re not teaching our black boys anything except sports,” says Taylor. “They’ve taken out shop, they’ve taken out home economics, they’ve taken out music!” Remember, Wilma Subra had said, “the industries in these community become partners in education and have total control over the topics that are taught. If you have a student who wants to do a project about plant emissions, they get told, ‘No.’ And the school board members need money to run for election, and where do you think their money comes from…?” 
Louisiana is intentionally raising a generation devoid of the knowledge necessary to comprehend their own toxic situation. Not only is the state poisoning its people, but it is taking away their means of being able to understand that they are being poisoned. And it doesn’t stop there. Louisiana State University and many reputable institutions across America receive large sums of money from the petrochemical industry, so who, Subra asks, is going to do the research that actually critiques these corporations?
A lot of legitimate panic now over the Trump administration's deregulation without thought, but this political cancer is rooted in decades (centuries?) of federal, state, county and city policies in the name of industry, infrastructure, blind capitalism and the cruel convenience of ignoring those most effected by the consequences.

Wednesday, November 23, 2016


The Donald's education secretary pick is... what you'd expect. Teachers, keep your eyes open.
Rob Boston of Americans United for Separation of Church and State described Betsy DeVos as the “four-star general” of the school privatization movement shortly after DeVos announced the formation of the “new” American Federation for Children (AFC) in March 2010. As Boston noted, the American Federation for Children was not new, but a rebranding of an organization called Advocates for School Choice.The American Federation for Children is now the umbrella organization for two nonprofits that have been at the center of the pro-privatization movement for over a decade. In addition to the renamed Advocates for School Choice, it includes the Alliance for School Choice, formerly known as the Education Reform Council.

Monday, November 21, 2016


Recent NYTimes editorial on potential Trump pick for DHS:
Mr. Kobach is pushing the myth that voter cheating is rampant. But he has utterly failed to document that, despite his Javert-like zealotry as secretary of state. In fact, the federal ruling against him said there was evidence of only three instances across 18 years in which noncitizens voted in Kansas.Mr. Kobach has not stopped at his state’s borders. He has been a principal contributor to the Republican Party platform. He wrote two pages of hard-edged immigration policy centered on Mr. Trump’s hateful fantasy of a wall that the plank trumpets “must cover the entirety of the southern border.” He helped write a plank condemning the Supreme Court’s 2015 ruling that legalized same-sex marriage nationwide. He also helped write another setting the Republican Party squarely against any ban on assault rifles and large-capacity ammunition magazines.
@KansasDems have been documenting this guy for a while. Follow.

Thursday, November 10, 2016

"Monstrous Scapegoats"

Pro-Brexit voices have succeeded in creating two monstrous scapegoats in the public mind that supposedly congregate around London: the rootless, wealthy cosmopolite and the shifty, job-stealing foreigner. If that funhouse mirror rhetoric doesn’t ring a bell to American readers, I suggest you try cleaning your ears.


Thursday, June 18, 2015

10 years?

Halfway through 2015 before it dawns on me this blog is 10 years old this year.

It's been pretty quiet here lately, but that doesn't mean I haven't been mouthing off elsewhere. You can hear me warping hearts and minds two hours daily on KVNU's For the People, and I write sometimes at Utah Politico Hub (where long time readers will find a lot of familiar names writing). And less frequently than I like, I contribute to JM Bell's media empire at Defenestrate Media and The Left Show.

Realizing the ten year mark had come, I also realized how many of us making noise then are still making noise now. Holly still fires up regularly, and is now a member of the State Records Committee. JM Bell, mentioned above, has a whole team of podcasters doing his evil wishes. John Dougall has gone legit as a lawmaker and State Auditor but still builds as much space to debate on Facebook as his blog did then. Ric "It's just a webcam, Mr. President" Cantrell's baby The Senate Site is still full steam ahead and much more than just a blog now. Connor's Connundrums has morphed into a group effort at Libertas Utah. Jesse Harris is active at Utah Politico Hub, Coolest Family Ever and FreeUtopia. Curtis Haring, of Blue in Red Zion fame, is now writing (for money!) at Utah Political Capital. Bob Aagard still peddles his wit and insight at The World According to me. I even see Frank Staheli, The Third Avenue, and Jeremy Manning pop up in comments here and there still. [Update: I forgot the most important one! After a few year hiatus working for The Man -- or in this case, The Woman -- Joe Pyrah's The Sausage Grinder is returned, in UPH's Midday Commentary, with all the links and wit you've missed.)

Utah Amicus is silent. Ethan Millard has forsaken SLCSpin (and Twitter! Why, cruel world, why? That guy cracked me up in 140 character zingers.) but you can still hear him nightly on Nightside. Weber County Forum is still buzzing. Dave Fletcher's Gov and Tech is still a fun read. Paul Mero never had a blog that I remember, but he was at every Blogger Brunch, and once debated with Vince of Wasatch Watcher (now gone, with Vince living in Colorado) through an entire meal at Roosters. 

For some reason Utah Rattler still exists, and still goes on about all those illegal immi-gants and their identity thievery, or something. is still up, and even has a "Memories" section (Davis Didjeridu!), but One Utah is gone, and I'm not sure anyone misses it.

I'm sure I'm forgetting many more either still around or lost to careers or political frustrations. There are also a lot of new faces, like Chris Herrod's new outfit "Unconconunicorns" or some such, if you've run out of glass to chew.

I've met most of these folks mentioned IRL over the years, and even count several of them close friends. Everyone of us has a long history of debate, activism, failures, successes, and a hell of a lot of fun. It's interesting to see how everyone's involvement has evolved, but even more interesting to realize how many of these folks are still around since I first started reading and writing here back in 2005.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Other America. Still.

Been following the Ferguson, MO shooting and aftermath (on Twitter, since it seems below the radar of cable news).  The whole situation is unimaginable for those of us in the quiet, homogenous naivety of Utah and the west.  The clip that has stuck with me from weekend coverage most is the police officer on camera, heard clearly, speaking to protestors, growling "Bring it on, you fucking animals."

A lot hasn't changed.  MLKjr, 1967, The Other America:

Let me say as I've always said, and I will always continue to say, that riots are socially destructive and self-defeating. I'm still convinced that nonviolence is the most potent weapon available to oppressed people in their struggle for freedom and justice. I feel that violence will only create more social problems than they will solve. That in a real sense it is impracticable for the Negro to even think of mounting a violent revolution in the United States. So I will continue to condemn riots, and continue to say to my brothers and sisters that this is not the way. And continue to affirm that there is another way.

But at the same time, it is as necessary for me to be as vigorous in condemning the conditions which cause persons to feel that they must engage in riotous activities as it is for me to condemn riots. I think America must see that riots do not develop out of thin air. Certain conditions continue to exist in our society which must be condemned as vigorously as we condemn riots. But in the final analysis, a riot is the language of the unheard. And what is it that America has failed to hear?

Vox has a collection of Twitter coverage if you're just catching up.

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

WWII policy remade the economy

The hidden history of prosperity:

The war was, first, a massive macroeconomic stimulus. Unemployment was still more than 14 percent in 1940. Thanks to more than $100 billion of war-production orders in the first six months of 1942—more than the entire gross domestic product of 1939—joblessness vanished. The war also recapitalized industry that had languished during the Great Depression, and it gave government a central place in developing science and technology. The war was not just a huge jobs program but an unprecedented job-training program. President Franklin Roosevelt also chose to use war production to increase the power of unions as full social partners. A company that wanted defense contracts had to recognize its unions. So the war transformed labor markets.

Second, the war altered incomes. Steeply progressive income taxes with marginal rates as high as 94 percent, limits on executive compensation, and strict controls on the bond market led to a compression of the income distribution that lasted more than a quarter-century. The need to finance the war led to emergency measures pegging the rate on government bonds at a maximum of 2.5 percent. The Federal Reserve simply bought whatever quantity of bonds the war effort required. This meant that a major category of financial industry profit—buying, selling, and speculating in Treasury bonds—was eliminated, at the expense of the rentier class. Economists even have a name for this process: repression of finance. We could use some of that today.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Utah TAB Report: Portals, Priorities and Open Data Standards

UPDATE: Slightly tweaked final version, as submitted to legislative management, here.

Final (draft) report of the 2013 Utah Transparency Advisory Board to legislative management.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

What is an Open Data Standard?

As I mentioned in my previous post, there is far less disagreement -- in my experience -- in Utah legislative circles over "transparency" and "openness" than sometimes seems the case.  Often what sounds like disagreement results from talking 'around' each other (in this case data geeks, activists, and lawmakers) when discussing these ideas.

One of the first things I learned in the process that led to SB283 and the Transparency Advisory Board's new tasks was that when I said "Open Data Standards" I got blank stares, but when I said "format standards and consistent practices," I got nods.  So what is open data?

As The Open Data Handbook defines it:
Open data is data that can be freely used, reused and redistributed by anyone - subject only, at most, to the requirement to attribute and sharealike.
Added to that definition are the concepts and attributes of data that can be intermixed with other data and other systems to maximize the usefulness of data in discovering better understanding, services, and even products.

There are easy go to examples of the benefit of open data or "format" standards.  One of my favorites to tell is a city, right in your back yard, where PDFs were being printed for long term storage.  When a request for any of these PDFs was made, the files were scanned and emailed or delivered on a disc.  Great example of where a "format" standard would save some time and money, right?  And probably just the tip of the iceberg statewide.  But this type of story alone (and there are many) doesn't fully grasp the importance of Open Data Standard policy.

During the legislative session, Sen. Henderson spoke about "one stop shopping" for public access to public data in her Senate floor speech before the first vote.  The concept being better format standards from all levels of government (eventually... our conversations stayed limited to state agencies, to keep the scope in check) producing better and more easily "intermixed" data, and the ability to make that data accessible for reuse and redistribution via a single online portal.  Additionally, data retrieved from this portal could then be "intermixed" and reused in countless ways by the end user. 

So far then, we've covered formatting standards (efficiency, consistency, longevity, and "intermix" effect), and building a portal (ease of access, "one stop shopping").  And the best part?  I learned during the GRAMA Work Group study that due to some foresight, planning, and even luck, Utah is in a perfect position with already existing technology at most state government levels to put this concept into action now.

But there's still one final piece to include for fully understanding Open Data Standards and their role in managing and accessing public data in Utah.  Okay, honestly, there are dozens more pieces to the puzzle.  Just a few from the Sunlight Foundation's Open Data Guidelines publication (just updated, but we drew heavily on version 1.0 in writing SB283): Safeguarding private data, provisions for contractors and quasi-government agencies, publishing in bulk when possible, just to name a few.  But one specific step Utah could take upon recommendation from the TAB and legislative approval: publishing code.  From those same Open Data Guidelines:
Not only the data, but the code used to create government websites, portals, tools, and other online resources can provide further benefits, as valuable open data itself. Governments should employ open source solutions whenever possible to enable sharing and make the most out of these benefits. The Consumer Finance Protection Bureau (CFPB) began publishing open code on the social code site GitHub in 2012, citing that doing so helped them fulfill the mission of their agency and facilitated their technical work. (More information is available in the announcement blogpost on the CFPB’s website.)
Removing the "gatekeepers" from code from tools and online resources opens the doors is where easily accessible, consistently formatted public data can really take off.  It's a very limited example, but recently someone at a Utah company, in their spare time, used Sunlight Foundation API code shared on their webpage to pull data from and build a highly customizable legislation tracker that could even be manipulated to send you reminders on your smartphone.  Now imagine if someone with very limited coding skills, working in real estate, manufacturing, the NSA building in Bluffdale... okay bad example, let's just say any industry or organization in Utah could access public data and public data manipulation and presentation code, and turn it into whatever they want or need?  The possibilities are endless, and little explored to date.

The New York Times called this discovery of uses for public data in both government and private markets the "Moneyball" revolution: 
The story is similar in fields as varied as science and sports, advertising and public health — a drift toward data-driven discovery and decision-making.
Formatting consistency (efficiency, intermix), one stop shopping (single portal), and access to data and code for tools (innovation, multi-use), while not a full picture, are a great starting point for understanding what an Open Data Standard is, and why it's important.

Next up, what the TAB shouldn't do.

Recommend reads:
- The full Open Data Handbook.
- Sunlight's How to Implement Open Data Policy (with references to SB283 and Utah's TAB!)

Tuesday, September 10, 2013


Dusting this thing off.

I meant to start writing again this time last year as work began on what would become SB283.  Then I meant to write about the process as SB283 was drafted and passed.  Then I meant to write about the Transparency Advisory Boards new tasks under SB283 and what Open Data (and open data) mean.  Then I meant to write about SB283, Sunlight Foundation's Transparency Camp '13 in DC, Neal Stephenson's "information as power" novels, and what Open Data (and open data) mean.

And somehow it is now September.  You know how it goes.  We can't all be Holly Richardson, who's raised 2,314 children, cans everything that grows, serves on the State Records Cmmte, runs campaigns, and still finds time to write on her blog.  I'd hate her if she wasn't a good person on top of it all.

I've written about it before here but the reverse process from my recent appointment to the TAB, back to passage of SB283, before that the 2011 GRAMA Work Group, and before that the nefarious HB477 is an amazing trip that -- forgive my sappiness -- really reminds you that good things can come from bad, and that overall, Utah lawmakers, legislative staff, and activists alike have common goals.  Differences and disagreements more often come from talking around each other than they do from actually disagreeing when it comes to transparent government.

That's not to say there aren't some who don't care, or even prefer closed doors.  It's not to say there isn't a time to shout "What do you have to hide?!"  Shouting can be useful and fun.  I'm a fan.  But from the stories we heard during the Governor's GRAMA work group to the warm response I've more often than not received from lawmakers to my questions, confusion, and even naivete, it seems like better conversations can and do lead to better things happening.  And as I've also written here before, more members of our legislature are open to that better conversation than not.  None of this would be going forward if Sen. Niederhauser hadn't entertained my half crocked ideas, or if Sen. Henderson hadn't bravely put her name (and patience with me) on this. 

Sometimes, believe it or not, our electeds, cities, and agencies don't want to bury information or access.  They just don't understand what you mean with your fancy JSON files this and your high-falutin' open source that.

I think that's where SB283 and the coming work of the TAB on tackling Open Data Standards comes in.  Utah is already ahead of the curve on technology use and records law.  The board has a lot of ground to cover in an already short period of time.  It probably won't go all of the places I want it to go.  And as Jesse Harris, Phil Windley, Sen. Henderson, Holly Richardson, Patricia "Walking Institution of Knowledge" at the state archivists' office (who's testimony at the GRAMA work group hearings really opened my eyes) and everyone else involved with getting this process off the ground will probably tell you, I struggle with that whole pragmatic thing.  But this board will go some amazing places, and if you take a close look at the final 1/3 of SB283 (the "shall" part), this is just the start of a really important discussion.

I have a lot of things I plan to write about.  Open Data vs. open data.  What the board shouldn't try to do.  What the board is doing (of course).  How this one time I called Sen. Bramble mid-session with a question about my notes from the GRAMA work group and -- get this -- he still hasn't called me back.  Like he was busy at the time or something.  I know, right?!

And one last very important thing for me to get down personally, ahead of what will be my first TAB meeting as an official board member: The Sunlight Foundation.  L(e), Zubedah (The Secretary), "StereoGab," Rebecca with the Cool Last Name, and anyone else near Dupont Circle maybe using a stack of boxes as a desk (by choice) as I type this, this has been a crash course education for me, and you all are great teachers.  The Sunlight Foundation is an understated and irreplaceable resource for cities, states, and even countries working toward healthy government and informed citizenry.  Fun fact: an unexpected meet up and conversation with L(e) thousands of miles from Utah on the Rhode Island waterfront was the first time I'd heard the words "open data standard" and realized how well the very concept answered the questions left in my head after the GRAMA work group wrapped.  How random is that?

I encourage everyone to follow and support their work.  Start with their blog and extensive tools pages.

I never meant to be a "transparency activist."  I was intent and happy with being a loudmouth.  I'm most qualified for the latter, and I honestly have no idea what I'm doing.  But I am really looking forward to writing about and participating in the TAB and the (hopefully) ongoing Open Data Standards discussion.