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February 13, 2008

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The Morning After

It’s the morning after the election. The President-elect calls you up and says, “You know, after this grueling, absurd campaign, I now see that the state of our democracy is something we have to grapple with right away. What should I do?”
The Brennan Center for Justice posed this question to fifteen widely regarded personalities, including Hendrik Hertzberg, Anne-Marie Slaughter, Dahlia Lithwick, and David Rakoff. Check out their answers here. And add your answer here. (Via Hertzblog.)
Posted February 13, 2008 at 4:29 | Comments (3) | Permasnark
File under: Briefly Noted, Snarkpolitik


My answer, btw: We need a new Sunshine Act; possibly even an amendment. Public information should be on the record and easily available. There should be a federal effort to develop standards and software (open-source, natch) for the public to access information on every budgetary line item in any federal agency, except where there is a deeply compelling state interest in keeping information private. Pains should be taken to make the end-user interfaces intuitive and navigable.

As President, you should use your influence to extend the reach of this act down to the local level; states and municipalities should have similar requirements for reporting information. I want to see crime, I want salaries, I want city council meetings, I want campaign contributions. Frequent and random auditing should be built into the system, to ensure data integrity. Write some gorgeous APIs for it.

This would be eminently non-partisan and virtually un-attackable, as long as you design the program with the utmost respect for privacy of citizens who have interactions with the government. It might take a little marketing to make it sexy, but I'm sure you'll think of something.

Costs for designing the software and deciding on standards should be fairly minimal, by government standards. You might even get corporations to pledge funding or expertise for the effort, no strings attached; Google would sure dig it. The true costs will be in administrative overhead in the short term; I bet you most of your government's back-end systems are in scandalous condition, especially as you go farther down. But I think these costs will be more than recompensed over the long term, as we create a more efficient and accountable government.

Oh man, I don't have time to do this justice. But I do think the majority of the advice on the Brennan Center page is totally unimaginative! And totally small-bore. I like Matt's tip because it's big and systematic.

Mine would be along a similar vein -- maybe a complement to that program, actually. I want more open, participatory PROCESSES -- not just access to data -- using technology. Obama's proposals on this are the best of any of the candidates, by far, but they're still pretty vague.

And I'd rather see ONE process made really cool and open and participatory -- some element of budgeting, or maybe something with the EPA, I don't know -- than have a light varnish of quasi-participation applied evenly to everything.

I'd also like to see the new president engage with Congress and try to help resuscitate that body w/ reforms of its own. Less campaign finance than, again, process-oriented stuff. I have a whole grand scheme abt this that I will post sometime...

Brilliant Matt! I agree with both of you completely. I want a president who actively promotes and creates more townhalls, more public comment, more public examination. Instead of a fireside chat, how about a primetime screencast explaining an executive decision and taking IM'd questions?

Matt, check your mail!

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