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First POST: Lewp-de-Loop

BY Miranda Neubauer | Thursday, January 10 2013

The metric is the message

  • As American politics becomes increasingly quantified, how we measure candidates will influence how they behave. In the search for the most meaningful data in our data-rich world, Micah L. Sifry has a proposition: Since every House district is supposed to have about the same number of people in it (around 700,000), why not evaluate members by the distance between that number and the amount of votes they received in their last election? Evaluating representatives by this "representative quotient," it turns out that some members of Congress are far more representative than others.

Step forward for House data

  • First POST readers see it first: The Government Printing Office will providing bulk access to bills from the 113th Congress as a single, compressed XML file. For the nontechnical, this is a step that will make it incrementally easier for technologists to explain to the rest of us what Congress is doing. But it is a highly incremental step.

    "What we're seeing with the bills bulk data project is how the wave of culture change is moving through government," Joshua Tauberer of Govtrack told First POST in an email. Tauberer, an independent developer who also helped launch the startup PopVox, currently maintains the single most widely used source of data about bills moving through Congress. "This isn't a technical feat by any means, but it is a cultural feat," he continued. "The House and GPO worked together to institutionalize a new way for the House to publish bulk data."

    Tauberer's key criticism: "[T]here is no feedback loop with the users of this data. The incremental approach can't work unless the users of the data have a way to tell GPO what is and is not working. There is no public point of contact for these files, and I don't even know a private point of contact at GPO."

    So, a step for open government — if a small one. A spokesman for House Speaker John Boehner, Don Seymour, tells First POST in an email that more open-government announcements are coming from the House.

No longer invisible

  • India's informal settlements often lack access to basic services like electricity or sanitation, in part for the same reason they exist in the first place: Some cities are reticent to expand their official borders. So it is that often impoverished, unplanned neighborhoods around the city of Chennai have to fight just to get the government to acknowledge they exist. Lisa Goldman describes a project that uses digital maps and crowdsourced data to help make the case for access to basic sanitation.

OfA Watch

  • CNN predicts when Obama for America will re-emerge from its post-campaign coccoon: "It is expected that the new organization will be formally announced at a meeting of Obama staff, supporters and volunteers that is scheduled to take place next weekend before Obama takes the oath of office." Full story here.


  • Buzzfeed remarked that "The White House Is actually responding to all these crazy petitions," and White House spokesperson Matt Lehrich told Buzzfeed, "While some petitions may seem less serious, many have substantively affected policy debates in Washington. Ultimately We the People has given millions of Americans an opportunity for the Administration to address issues they care about, which is an important part of the democracy Americans deserve."

    This is the line we've been hearing from administration officials for months, and they are certainly living the line. Yesterday on We the People, a White House official reiterated, in no uncertain terms, that the Obama administration was ready to talk about legalizing marijuana.

    Also remember that the petition goalposts have always had wheels. If it becomes too easy to get baloney petitions in the door, the White House can just raise the number of signatures required to oblige a response. It has done so already to arrive at the current 25,000-signature benchmark. And if individual members of the White House Press Corps get to ask Jay Carney silly questions more or less daily, why not allow a silly question from 25,000 Americans?

Around the web

  • Several White House observers considered yesterday's photo upload from the Obama administration, a photo of the president meeting with a gender-balanced group of advisors, to be a response to a New York Times article that used an earlier official photo to make exactly the opposite point. The Times article used another Pete Souza photo of Obama meeting with several male advisors as part of a package that suggested there were fewer women in top posts in Obama's second term.

  • White House Press Secretary Jay Carney responded to an online petition to deport Piers Morgan with the comment, "Let’s not let arguments over the Constitution’s Second Amendment violate the spirit of its First. President Obama believes that the Second Amendment guarantees an individual right to bear arms.

  • The news of the selection of Jacob Lew as Treasury Secretary prompted the Internet to obsess about his unusual or unreadable signature that could be on future bills. The current White House chief of staff's cryptic calligraphy first entered the public imagination in 2011, according to the New York Times. Amid reports that Timothy Geithner changed his signature to be more legible, a We the People petition called "Save the Lewpty-Lew!" of course sprung up requesting that Lew keep his signature, though so far it only has 29 signatures.

  • Bill Clinton spoke about the importance of technology at CES.

    "I've been backstage looking at all the new devices, and I was reminded that when I was president, the average cellphone weighed 5 pounds," he said, according to Mashable. "The day I took the Oath of Office, a grand total of 50 sites were on the Internet. More have been added since I started talking." He also emphasized that the U.S. had fallen behind other countries such as in the area of download speeds.

  • Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) announced several Internet and technology related areas he plans to focus on, from net neutrality and data caps to copyright reform.

  • Politico examined who has the worst web presences in politics.

  • Ars Technica reported from a panel at the CES where Ambassador David Gross, FCC Commissioner Robert McDowell and Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-VA) discussed their concerns about how the ITU conference played out and what it means for the future.

  • Freedomworks is asking its supporters to identify what state issues are important to them as part of its State Battles 2013 campaign.

  • Glenn Beck announced plans to expand the news operation of The Blaze as a libertarian news network with three foreign bureaus.

  • Derek Khanna, author of the controversial Republican Study Committee report on copyright, expands on his ideas in a blog post for the Cato Institute.

  • Internet activist Art Brodsky reviews Susan Crawford's new book Captive Audience: The Telecom Industry and Monopoly in the New Gilded Age.

  • Verizon says that landlords in Lower Manhattan are blocking it from rewiring areas affected by Hurricane Sandy with fiber-optic cable, in some cases demanding excessive access fees, the New York Times reported.

  • For the ACLU, Chris Soghoian writes about how U.S. surveillance law poorly protects new kinds of text messaging services.

  • Philadelphia's 311 app project manager Tim Wisniewski has been named its first Director of Civic Technology.

  • Researchers anonymously tracked 350,000 Bay Area drivers using their cellphone and GPS signals to determine the causes of traffic congestion.

  • Google's Flu Trends suggests the country could be experiencing one of the worst flu seasons on record.

  • Google is investing in a wind farm in Texas.

  • Tor Projects won two Access Innovation prizes.

  • Wikipedia editors recently uncovered a hoax article that for several years detailed in 4,500 words the nonexistent Bicholim Conflict between Portugal and the Indian Maratha Empire from 1640 to 1641.

  • U.S. officials believe Iranians were behind a computer attack that targeted American banks. The number of attempts to gain access to critical infrastructure was up by 52 percent in 2012, according to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security cybersecurity response team, CNN reported, and several attempts were successful.

  • Quartz highlighted the only American Twitter account followed by the North Korean Twitter account, Jimmy Dushku, a wealthy, 25-year-old investor who is an obsessive Coldplay fan.

  • EU lawmakers are considering limiting the ability of sites like Facebook and Google to use and sell personal data.

  • The Economist highlighted redditometro, a new platform being implemented in Italy to help the government evaluate the honesty of tax returns.

  • Several bloggers have been sentenced to jail terms in Vietnam.