Tag Archives: government

OpenCourt Wins Legal Battle Over Streaming Proceedings

The Massachusetts Supreme Court has ruled in favor of allowing OpenCourt to expand their streaming video feeds of court proceedings beyond Quincy District Court. The WBUR project has been running since last year, allowing anybody to watch what’s going on in the courtroom. It’s been a success by any measure, but when they tried to expand to broadcasting jury trials, the county DA sued to stop them. The court ruled that there’s simply no legal basis to stop them—they have the same right as any other media outlet to film in the courtroom. This is a great project, doing the important work of opening up courtrooms. This is the second such legal challenge that they’ve faced, the second time it’s gone to the state’s highest court, and the second time that they’ve won. 

Why the USPS is running out of money.

I thought that the USPS was in financial trouble because they’d over-promised pensions. Nope. It turns out that a law passed by Congress in 2006 requires the USPS to save up enough money to pay 100% of their pension obligations for the next 75 years by 2016. That’s unheard of. So why require that? To break the back of the USPS union. The same law prohibits the USPS from engaging in any business activity other than strictly postal services, so they can’t even innovate their way out of this. 

An archive of reports issued to the General Assembly.

The state legislature routinely puts together commissions that conclude by issuing a report about its assigned topic. Dozens of reports have been published this year, on topics as varied as “Management of State-owned Bottomlands on the Seaside of the Eastern Shore” and “Misclassification of Employees as Independent Contractors in Virginia.” Although most of the older reports have only the title—not the report itself—some old ones and all of the recent ones can be read on the General Assembly’s website, clear back to 1897. 

Links for November 11th

  • Double-Tongued Dictionary: hoghouse
    "Connotating legislation that has been stripped of its original provisions and amended to accomplish a different purpose." This is a useful word.
  • Office of Government Ethics: Executive Agency Ethics Pledge Waivers
    These are the presidential appointees who were given waivers to exempt them from one or more ethics regulations, along with copies of the relevant documents that explain the circumstances warranting their exemption from ethics standards.
  • Bulk Homeopathy
    Save money by buying in bulk. They ought to dehydrate it, to save on shipping. Just add water!

Links for October 31st

Links for October 19th

  • Frontline: The U.S. Immigration Detention Boom
    This map of the growth of immigrant detention facilities is a great—and alarming—illustration of the rise of these ever-larger, often private facilities.
  • Wikipedia: Northwest Angle
    Insufficient understanding of North American geography in the late 1700s resulted in the Treaty of Paris accidentally assigning a notch of land in Canada to the United States. These 600 square miles comprise the "Northwest Angle" in Minnesota, the northernmost point in the continental U.S. To get there, one must fly, drive through Canada, or take a boat across the Lake of the Woods. 152 people live there.
  • Search State and Federal Campaign Contribution Data
    All of your bulk downloads for government data in one place, courtesy of the Sunlight Foundation. There's even a 2.2GB download of all state and federal campaign contributions (ever?).

Links for October 6th

Links for October 3rd

  • Bloomberg: Koch Brothers Flout Law With Secret Iran Sales
    The Koch Brothers have secretly, criminally sold millions of dollars of petrochemical equipment to Iran, an enemy of the United States with whom it is unquestionably illegal to do business. This is no aberration for these bastards—they're out for a buck, and they don't care how they get it.
  • Commonwealth Data Point: Expenditures by Agency
    Wondering what the state spends its money on? Here's the state's checkbook, by agency, so read to your heart's content. A warning: good luck with the weird menu system. Somebody apparently thought that rather than menu items, it would be fun to just give people a single letter to try to decipher. O? F? S? P? I don't get it.
  • MSNBC: Bachmann condemns Arab Spring, blames it on Obama
    If stupid were bricks, she'd have a lot of bricks.

Links for September 15th

  • Federal Register
    If you haven't seen the website for the Federal Register in the past year, it's really a thing of beauty. Andrew Carpenter, Bob Burbach, and Dave Augustine put it together as an independent site, GovPulse,us, which the feds liked so much they asked the guys to take on the job of replacing federalregister.gov with what they'd put together for govpulse.us. It doesn't matter if you don't care about the Federal Register—the site makes it interesting to anybody.
  • Science Now: ‘Dinofuzz’ Found in Canadian Amber
    Feathers from Late Cretaceous dinosaurs, preserved in amber, are providing the first detailed look at how hair evolved into feathers. The 78-million-year-old feathers are really "dinofuzz"— not quite hair and not quite feathers. Eleven samples were found in all, and provide what seems like a great cross-sample of the varieties of dinofuzz in existence then.
  • Media Matters: News Corp. Outlets Attack Obama Over Paper Clip
    Fox & Friends and the New York Post are very upset that President Obama used a paper clip to hold together a document. Seriously. This is not The Onion.

Links for September 12th

  • Wikipedia: Avondale Mine Disaster
    One hundred and ten workers died in this Pennsylvania mine fire in 1869. The mine owner wouldn't allow but one tunnel to be constructed, so when the fire started, anybody below that point in the mine was trapped and suffocated. The result was that the Pennsylvania General Assembly created the nation's first safety standards for coal mining.
  • Benjamin J. Balter: Analysis of Federal Executive .Govs
    This grad student had the clever idea to take the OMB's list of all federal domain names and inventory them automatically. He cataloged whether the domain works, if it's running a web server, if they use a CDN, what CMS they use, and a few other bits of information. Interestingly, 29% of domains don't respond, only nine support IPv6, 13 are cloud-based, and Drupal is the most common CMS. Great stuff.
  • Wikipedia: Tsar Bomba
    The most powerful explosion ever created by man was "Tsar Bomba," the hydrogen bomb tested in the Novaya Zemlya archipelago, in the Arctic Sea, north of Russia. The Soviet Union created this 100 megaton bomb, but realized that it would be so powerful as to be completely impractical, and cut it down to 50 megatons. The 1961 explosion was ten times more powerful than all explosives used in the whole of WWII. The heat would have caused third-degree burns in somebody 60 miles away from ground zero, and caused damage 600 miles away.

Links for August 17th

  • Physorg: Human precursors went to sea, team says
    130,000 year-old stone tools have been found on Crete. What with being an island, that means that hominids that predate homo sapiens managed to cross open water. That was an ability that researchers had long chalked up to being one of those things that makes us special, but it looks like that's not so. If this turns out to be true, it'll really shake up our collective understanding of early hominid history.
  • New York Times: Crashing the Tea Party
    A Notre Dame political scientist and a Harvard professor of public policy (Robert Putnam, no less) have interviewed thousands of people to understand who comprises the Tea Party and what Americans think of them. The short version is that your average Tea Party member is a white, Republican, Christian, social conservative who doesn't like blacks or immigrants, and places a higher value on establishing an American theocracy than on reducing the size of government. Their values are almost entirely out of step with most Americans’. It is perhaps suitable, then, that public opinion of the Tea Party is awful. They're less popular than Republicans, Democrats, atheists, and—ironically—Muslims. On a related note, remember when the Tea Party pretended to be "nonpartisan"?
  • Library of Congress: Lincoln and Johnson Poster
    What strikes me about this 1864 Lincoln/Johnson campaign poster is that as much ink is used naming the electors as the candidates. Then, as now, we don't actually vote for president but, instead, we vote for a slate of electors who will represent our state in the Electoral College; it is those 538 people who actually vote for the president. These days, that's information that would surprise many people to learn, whereas in 1864, apparently it was just an accepted part of the electoral process.

Links for August 6th

  • The Washington Post: Fewer dinners mean meaner politics
    Since Gingrich's cohort of Republicans came into office in 1994, there has been a steady decline in bipartisan socialization and, indeed, socialization at all. He exhorted freshmen to return to their districts whenever possible, to be in D.C. only when absolutely necessary. The result is a dangerous loss in bipartisanship. It's easy to see opposing opinions as evil if you don't actually know anybody who holds those opinions.
  • AP: Surry County to Open Poll for One Voter
    There's just one guy in the 3rd Senate district in Surry County. State law requires that a polling place be open all day, staffed by three people. It'll cost $2,000. Bang-up job on redistricting, legislature. It's these little things that really show the attention to detail.
  • New York Times: Public Views Congress as Top Culprit in Debt Debate, Poll Finds
    Congress is at its highest-ever disapproval rating. If you were one of the people insisting last year that the majority had lost the right to lead Congress because of their low approval ratings, this might be an occasion for a little hypocrisy gut check.

Creating an API for the commonwealth.

In perhaps a misguided effort, I started work a few months ago to create a site to round up all of the APIs for government data in Virginia. That inglorious website is Open Virginia. It’s easy to catalog all of them, because right now, I know of exactly two: Richmond Sunlight’s legislative API and my new API for state court decisions. If the state maintains a single API, I don’t know about it.

(Don’t understand this “API” business? Application programming interfaces (APIs) are how software talks to software, and they’re the underpinning of the modern web. For instance, post a comment here, WordPress submits your comment to Akismet, Akismet evaluates the comment to determine if it looks like spam, and returns a score that WordPress uses to decide whether your comment is published or held for me to review. And Richmond Sunlight’s API allows other websites to automatically retrieve information about legislators, the status of legislation, Photosynthesis portfolios, etc.)

So, about that API for state court decisions. Right now it does just one thing: when given a section of the state code, it returns a listing of all published Court of Appeals decisions since May 2, 1995. (Note that it’s liable to be particularly useful when combined with with the Richmond Sunlight API call to retrieve a list of bills that affect a given section of the state code.) Soon enough that’ll include Supreme Court of Virginia rulings. There are all sorts of obvious additional functions that I intend to add soon enough, such as returning information on given decisions, returning a list of cases that match a given keyword, returning a list of cases for a given period of time, etc.

What good does this do you right now? In all likelihood, none at all, unless you know what to do with and have some use for, say, JSON data for cases concerning § 20-107.3. It’s not until this API is pressed into service on other websites that it’ll be of value to virtually anybody. Maybe there’s no audience for this—maybe there are no programmers just waiting for some shiny new APIs, chock full of state government data. But we won’t know unless we create some APIs, will we?

Follow Open Virginia on Twitter to keep up with the opening up of Virginia through the magic of APIs.

Links for May 10th

  • IBM Many Bills: A Visual Bill Explorer
    IBM is doing some really interesting work with legislation here. In my own work on Richmond Sunlight, I've long treated the text of the bill as a black box, doing very little with the text of bills. IBM demonstrates here that there's actually some valuable data to be gleaned from the actual words within the bill. Their interface is lousy—the site is hard to use—by I really admire their original thinking.
  • Think Progress: In Washington, You Don’t Need To Know Anything About Policy To Be a Senator Or Chair Important Commissions
    Former Senator Alan Simpson knows disturbingly little about Social Security and, indeed, history and math, especially for the guy who is the co-chair of the President Obama's budget commission.
  • Wikispecies: Free Species Directory
    From the Wikimedia foundation, Wikispecies is like Wikipedia, but for species. One entry for every species. They're up to 265,369 articles.
  • Wall Street Journal: Grandparents and Grandkids Connect Via Facebook, Twitter and Texting
    My grandfather kept up with his grandchildren—and we kept up with him—via Facebook until shortly before his death last year. My grandmother had photos and status updates cherry-picked from Facebook and e-mailed to her—delivered via her HP Presto e-mail printer—until her death last month. Of course, the ability to assign grandparents (and grandchildren) to a specific group to limit access is helpful, too—kids need not share everything with their elders.

Links for May 5th

  • Snopes: Obama Lends $2 Billion to Brazilian Oil Company
    Heard the one about how the President Obama is spending billions on offshore drilling…in Brazil? Snopes rates it “mostly false.” This is another case of conservatives getting riled up about something that's not true and dates from President Bush's time in the White House.
  • ThinkProgress: Exxon Makes $30.5 Billion, So GOP Votes Unanimously To Give Them Tax Breaks
    All the Republicans and 7 Democrats in the House voted to block a bill that would cut $1.8B in annual subsidies to the oil industry. Republicans voted unanimously to keep them in March, too. Remember, kids: welfare is bad, unless it's going to the world's most profitable industry.
  • NASA: Results of Epic Space-Time Experiment
    I love theoretical physics. Albert Einstein came up with all of these ideas about how space and time should work, based solely on doing math on paper, and as science catches up with him, we keep finding that he's right. In this case, Einstein forecast that mass should curve spacetime. For instance, the mass of Earth should cause the very fabric of the universe to twist and warp around it. By launching some gyroscopes into space seven years ago—containing the most perfect spheres ever made—and observing how their spin drifts, it was observed that Einstein's calculations were spot-on. NASA's work on the project began 47 years ago, culminating in this magnificent confirmation of how the universe works.

Links for April 28th