Texas bill bans gay foster parents

As blogged elsewhere, the Texas House passed an amendment to SB6, the child protective services bill, to prevent gay and bisexual parents from being foster parents.
1200 kids will be pulled from caring homes and put into institutions because of socially acceptable prejudice against gay parents.
The child protective services agency is now responsible for investigating the sexual preference of people applying to be foster parents.
On the bright side, the Connecticut legislature just approved civil unions.
On the dark side, via AmericaBlog, Microsoft withdrew support at the last minute from a gay anti-discrimination bill in Washington State, after years of promoting its support for gay rights.
According to a story published in the Stranger, the change was prompted by a complaint by a single Christian-right organization that threatened a boycott. The Stranger quotes Microsoft’s government relations person as saying, in response to concern that Microsoft’s reversal will kill the bill, “no one will ever know.”
The list of Pacific Northwest companies supporting the bill includes: Boeing, Nike, Coors Brewing, Qwest Communications, Washington Mutual, Hewlett-Packard, Corbis, Battelle Memorial Institute, Microsoft cofounder Paul Allen’s Vulcan Inc, and more.
Washington House Bill 1515 would protect gays and lesbians from discrimination in employment, housing, banking, insurance, and other matters by adding sexual orientation to a state law which already bars discrimination on the basis of race, religion, national origin, gender, marital status, and mental or physical handicap.
The vote is scheduled on Friday, so if you’d like Microsoft to rethink, follow this link.

HB3314 may refocus on library filtering

At a hearing on HB3314 on Monday night, the sponsor said that she may focus the bill specifically on libraries.
According to the US Supreme Court in United States v. American Library Association, filtering software used in a library needs to enable adults to turn the filtering off. Representative Gattis, who is part-owner of a wireless broadband company, explained that it is not practical to deploy filtering to public access points.
In 2001, the Texas Library Association helped to defeat a library filtering amendment to the appropriations bill. Current Texas law requires library internet filtering only for recipients of TIF grant funding, a program whose revenues are no longer being used to fund library computers.
The hearing starts at about 2:20 at this video

Bill protects truckers from Playboy

HB 3314, up for hearing in the Texas House State Affairs committee, would require the state to filter internet access at highway rest stops.
Since last May, the Texas Department of Transportation has offered wifi access at state rest stops. There is also wifi access at some Texas state parks provided in partnership with Tengo Internet.
This bill mandates filtering at any state-provided network on public property.
This bill protects truckers at rest stops and campers in their RVs at campsites from adult content.
Sounds both wasteful and unconstitutional.

Texas Bill Would Close Meetings About Computer Security

HB 3245 would exempt meetings discussing “matters relating to computer security or the security of other information resources technologies” from the state’s Open Meetings Act.
Other laws already allow agencies to keep sensitive information secret. This bill forbits the discussion of computer security policy in public. For example, it would stymie efforts to improve the security of electronic voting systems, by keeping skilled academic and private-sector experts out of the public policy discussion.
Let the members of the House State Affairs Committee know that “security through obscurity” is bad policy.

US Gov’t bans reading on airplanes

An airport security guard doing the pull-aside on Socialtext CEO Ross Mayfield says that we’re now restricted to two books to carry on airplanes.
So now you can tell terrorists because they’re reading too many books? Or the government thinks that people who don’t read will be more susceptible to idiotic pseudo-security.
This needs a little bit of investigation and if true, a lot of mockery.
UPDATE: Apparently, a poorly trained security guard was confused between books of matches and books for reading.

When to worry

For a book club this weekend, I read The Plot Against America by Philip Roth. The book is set in an alternate version of 1940s America, where Charles Lindbergh defeats Roosevelt for the presidency on the platform of keeping the US out of WWII. The Lindbergh presidency sympathizes with Germany and Japan, and takes the US down a suspicious path of isolating Jews.
The book combines effective, memoir-style fiction about the role of fear in growing up, with a rather clunky and self-indulgent political thriller. The effective parts of the book to me were the anecdotes of about scary experiences made more terrifying by imagination. A kid is trapped by a stuck bathroom door; the basement haunted by feral cats and ghosts; a neighbor’s father is found dead from cancer or suicide.
The political plot takes instances of discrimination that really happened to other groups — being kept out of hotels (African-Americans); kids being taken far away for education and assimilation (Native Americans); families being relocated (Japanese) — and applies them to Jews. The plot plays effectively on the Jewish fear of persecution. It works — it’s scary. But it also feels manipulative, like a Holocaust theme park ride.
There was one aspect of the political plot that was thought-provoking and effective. In the novel, the programs taking urban Jewish kids to summer camps on farms and moving urban families out to rural communities are presented as sunny and patriotic. It’s hard to tell if the anti-semitic rhetoric, Nazi alliances, and building of a capo-style structure of Jewish adminstration of the transfer programs is truly as creepy as it looks, or whether Jews worried about the trends are having paranoid fantasies fueled by their ghetto life, as the adminstration insists.
In contemporary politics, one of the tough questions is figuring out when and how much to worry. The religious right’s rhetoric damning Democrats as being “against people of faith” is worrisome. The support for this message by the Republican leadership is more worrisome.

As the Senate heads toward a showdown over the rules governing judicial confirmations, Senator Bill Frist, the majority leader, has agreed to join a handful of prominent Christian conservatives in a telecast portraying Democrats as “against people of faith” for blocking President Bush’s nominees. Fliers for the telecast, organized by the Family Research Council and scheduled to originate at a Kentucky megachurch the evening of April 24, call the day “Justice Sunday” and depict a young man holding a Bible in one hand and a gavel in the other. The flier does not name participants, but under the heading “the filibuster against people of faith,” it reads: “The filibuster was once abused to protect racial bias, and it is now being used against people of faith.”

The issue itself — changing the Senate’s rules for confirming judges — is basic procedural politics. The political slant — casting one party for God, and one party against God — is really disturbing. It’s reassuring to watch conservatives who aren’t buying it

The persistence of the pyramid

The last post was about tools and techniques to give more power to “bottom-up” organizations, and enable top-down organizations to get more done by empowering members. I see the pyramid getting flatter (or more arrows feeding into the network nodes), but I don’t see hierarchy disappearing for two reasons: attention and television.
The first reason is attention. In a complex society with a thriving democracy, most people can only commit a fraction of their time to civic activity. Organizational structures need to reflect hierarchy of commitment in attention and time — from people who’s willing to learn a bit and vote, to people who are committed volunteers, to people who have full-time public sector jobs.
Representative democracy takes the attention limit into account — there’s a relatively small number of people who are delegated to do the public’s business full time. These representatives are chartered with soliciting public input and making decisions.
There are alternate models of representation that are more democratic, but the representative structure demains. In the model of deliberative democracy promoted by Tom Attlee and others, deliberation is conducted more along the lines of extended jury duty. A group of ordinary citizens is chosen. They focus a significant amount of time studying and deliberating an issue, and then make a decision. This model used in the British Columbia project to choose a voting method.
The process of educating government decision-makers — lobbying, that is — can certainly be more democratic than it is — well-trained volunteers can get a lot done, at least on the state and local level. But there’s a practical limit to the number of people who can pursue face-to-face lobbying as a vocation or avocation.
The other source of hierarchy is television. Television is in persistent decline, but remains the single most effective means of political persuasion. It is conventional wisdom that in an election, television generates 48% of the voting decisions, and field get-out-the-vote activities get the last 3%. TV ads are extremely expensive, and the arts of ad polling and message-testing are in the hands of a small handful of wizards.
Young people (ages 18-34) use local tv news and the internet more than national news and newspapers for information according to a Carnegie study. The study reports that “the Internet, is number one among men, high-income groups, and broadband users.” According to the survey, young people say that the Internet, by a 41-to-15 percent margin over second ranked local TV, is

Net Talk and Net Action

I’ve read and participated in various discussions contrasting the top-down, direct-mail, action-oriented approach to polical action, and the blog-and-forum , bottom-up, decentralized, discussion-oriented approach.
This classic by Alex Steffen at Worldchanging predicts a “move from centralized, mass-market NGOs to advocacy networks driven by members.”
This month’s Personal Democracy Forumessay praises efforts at TrueMajority and Common Cause to open the traditionally centralized advocacy culture to solicit member input.
I don’t think the approaches are as far apart as they seem, and we’re just wanting a few new tools and models to get “best of both worlds” power to swarm and act.
Today, self-organized groups can easily and cheaply publish and discuss with blogs and mailing lists.
Where the pros have the advantage in the member database behind the mailing list and action alerts. Yahoo groups and similar tool lets an administrator see who’s a member and set moderation policies. But they don’t have features to track how many people have responded to an action alert. Also, they don’t have a good way to manage overlapping memberships.
The world needs hosted and open source tools that give this power to bottom up groups. I think we’ll start seeing this in larger of blog activist communities, starting with groups like Kos and maybe TalkingPoints Memo (to pick a couple of left-of-center examples). In those communities, sub-groups will start creating and managing action alerts as segments of the core group.
Today, this approach seems unthinkable for today’s centralized groups, which manage their mailing list like Fort Knox. But when you look closer, the fortress has a few doors. Today, it’s possible for a grassroots group to traverse the social network to get an action posted in a major group. But it takes old-fashioned social networking.
The fortresses are not going to become public squares any time soon. But there will be acknowledged ways for building trust. Volunteers will be able to progress from clicking through on an action, to writing blog posts and co-ordinating other volunteers, to managing sub-campaigns.
It doesn’t seem that hard to me to bridge the “action gap” — the tools are well-known, and just need to get cheaper and more accessible. The value is really obvious — letters and dollars.
Alex Stephen also foretells the rise of bottom-up social networking.

advocacy networks encourage relationships. Advocacy networks want their members to connect to each other. Advocacy networks are a form of social software, like Friendster, Tribe.net or the Omidyar Network. That means, at the most basic level, that your working relationships are not subject to the control of any third-party organization.

This approach seems further away to me, because the basic tools don’t quite exist yet. The Friendster/Tribe/O.Net systems that exist today are too centralized and tightly coupled. We need the equivalent of a permalink, subscription format, and hosted service for linkable mini-nets.
LiveJournal but more extroverted.
The non-corporate solutions I’ve seen in the space have been targeted at different problems — easing the single sign-on inconvenience (IDCommons, SXIP), declaring one’s relationships (XFN) — rather than easily snapping one’s profile into a new group.
Probably the fastest way for this to happen is for one of the existing, popular services to create profile permalinks and a published data model.
In the areas of action, fundraising, and networking, the pyramid can get a lot flatter. New organizations will grow up pioneering these methods, and older organizations will adapt.

The Premiere Patrol

The spine-tingling new cop show — intrepid officers stake out movie theaters, watching for unauthorized taping of movie premieres.
Texas HB 1871 and SB 481 create new crimes for recording movies in a theater. Meanwhile, there are similar bills making their way through Congress right now (S167 / HR 357) and expected to pass easily.
Why is the MPAA trying to get this bill passed at the Federal and State levels? Rumor has it because they were concerned that Federal law enforcement wouldn’t make movie theater stakeouts as high a priority as say, finding terrorists.
Now, I don’t have any sympathy for commercial pirates — people who make money by distributing illegal copies of movies.
But what problem is the MPAA trying to solve here? People are so eager to see their movies that they are willing to record them at theaters.
With a little creativity, the MPAA could solve this problem in other ways. They could make premiers available to bloggers, and provide links to trailer clips. They could take advantage of the power of universe of fans to spread word of mouth about a movie.
The movie industry could do more of what Apple has done, in making an easy, cost-effective way to search, pay for, and download movies. They could digitize back catalogs of content, creating new revenue opportunities for assets that are moldering on shelves.
I really wish that the MPAA put as much money into creative new ways to distribute and promote their product as they do trying to change the legal system to support their existing business model.

Deregulation — the wrong question

I get a visceral reaction to throw the rulebook in the trash, when I have the opportunity to sit through a telecom hearing or read through an analysis of a telecom bill.
When I see nicely-dressed lobbyists arguing in favor of this legal nuance or that, I see “regulatory capture” in action. The regulatory regime has the consequence of giving the industry tremendous power over the regulations that govern it. I imagine a large octopus with its arms wrapped around the legislature.
At the same time, the comments like this by the new FCC Chairman in favor of “deregulation” make me really queasy too. In a market where the largest companies have tremendous power, “deregulation” can mean “I want the government to stop interfering with my monopoly.”
Upon reflection, I think that “deregulation” is the wrong question.
The government has a strong interest in enabling a competitive market and protecting consumers from fraud.
The government does not have an interest in favoring any network technology over another, or censoring cultural content.
The question isn’t whether government should play a dominant role or no role. The right question is what role should government play.