Open Government is a Value that Liberals and Conservatives Share

Some excerpts from today’s Hartford Courant starting with their editorial:

The panel is stacked with officials indifferent if not hostile to the freedom of information ethic. Any compromise they might negotiate with the minority FOI advocates on the task force could not help but give too much away to those most comfortable with letting government operate behind closed doors.

Colin McEnroe:

Wednesday brought a meeting of the Freedom of Information task force, whose very existence and composition is an attack on open government and whose current dialogue amounts to: “Which of your existing rights would you prefer to surrender?” The answer “none” appears to be off the table.

And finally Kevin Rennie:

The Danbury prosecutor’s taste for secrecy contains other dangers. It emboldens the nasty loons who arise after every public tragedy to give voice to denials that the event ever happened. Governments that disdain public access laws feed rampant suspicion and countenance lawlessness.

Privacy and open government are two areas where liberals and conservatives can come together because they are values that both share. The questions are not always easy, but this is not a case of the government peering into your bedroom or sharing private facts about individuals with the public. There is strong precedent for releasing the kind of information the Courant is seeking, and I have seen little evidence to suggest it has caused trouble in the past. When tragedies happen the only thing we can do is grieve and learn from them. It would be a shame if we were denied the ability to do even that.

Kickstarter for The Magazine

One of the publications I enjoy is The Magazine which has been described as The New Yorker for nerds. Started by Instapaper and Tumblr Founder Marco Arment, The Magazine publishes several medium to long articles every other week. If you have not had a chance to read The Magazine I recommend checking out their Kickstarter project where they are raising money to publish many of the articles in a physical book.

Should Stores Open on Thanksgiving?

My friend Matt Lesser recently proposed a bill to discourage retailers from opening on Thanksgiving. Although some people suggested Connecticut ban stores from opening the way Massachusetts does, Lesser proposed forcing employers to pay their employees triple overtime if they work on Thanksgiving. This would discourage the practice without banning it. It has been interesting to read the backlash including the Courant editorial page but I still agree with Lesser on this.

It was only a little while ago that independent liquor stores were lobbying to keep in a place a law that barred alcohol sales on Sundays. Their argument was that it gave them a day off and they did not experience greater profits by opening on Sunday since most people would just buy their liquor on Saturday. I see no reason why this principle would not translate to Black Friday shopping. I have yet to see the data but I doubt retailers make more money by opening early if all of them do so.

Some have argued that it is fine because people in the armed services or in essential professions work on Thanksgiving. I think that having those people work on the holiday is less objectionable because they are essential and they get into the profession understanding they will be needed. For many, retail is a job of last resort. Retail employees taking Thanksgiving off will not endanger the public.

Finally regardless of whether it is good for the workers, as a shopper I dislike the creeping of the store openings into the holiday. I would prefer to shop on Friday and I would prefer the deals be available then. So I am declining to shop tonight. I will probably do most of my shopping online and may hit up some stores tomorrow.

Matt's Holiday Gadget Guide

As a gadget geek people tend to ask me what they should get or consider getting others for Christmas. People have different price ranges and preferences but I think that it is worth highlighting some of the underrated products:

Wacom Intuos Pen Small Tablet (CTL480)

  • I have used the older Bamboo model for a year or two now. It costs under $100 and works well with Pixelmator or your preferred photo and image editing applications.

Automatic Link Smart Driving Assistant - I have been using this gadget since it was released over the summer. Besides giving you access to data about and being able to reset the check engine lights, it also helps you improve your fuel economy. Beeps scold you for going above 70MPH or braking too hard. I found my driving performance became smoother after installing this gizmo.

Google Chromecast HDMI Streaming Media Player - I have been using the Chromecast to watch YouTube videos on an old HDTV. It involves little hassle and works great after setup. For $35 it can even be a cool stocking stuffer.

Logitech Ultrathin Keyboard Cover Black for iPad 2 and iPad (3rd/4th generation) (920-004013) - If you know someone with an iPad, a keyboard cover like this one makes it much more useful. The new model is $100 but they all connect via bluetooth so you can still use the cheaper cover with the new iPad Air, it will just not connect to the new iPad like a cover the way it will with the older models. There is also an iPad mini version as well. When I go on vacation I now only bring my iPad with the keyboard cover.

Serving on a Local Commission

Many people believe that politics and government are far removed from their daily lives. Some people’s only exposure to civic involvement might be when a candidate knocks on their door. However there is another easy way to get involved locally. Towns and cities have commissions and committees that work on projects and are responsible for administering regulations in a wide variety of areas. This means that you can often find one that fits your skills and interests. In my home town of Wethersfield the members of these committees are people found and recruited by the political committees and then their appointments are usually confirmed by the town council. It is not often easy to find people to serve, so once a seat opens it is not hard for most citizens to get some kind of appointment.

Since I have had an interest in energy and environment law I have served on my town’s Inland Wetlands and Watercourses Commission for the past five years. The nice thing about the commission is that although the appointments are made by the parties the conduct is not at all partisan. The commission is made up of lawyers, engineers, and others that have some kind of background in environment law. It is our responsbility to review and approve plans for development in and around the wetlands in town, and the 100-year floodplain. When I started the town provided me with a manual and paid to send me to a training to interpret the maps they send us in our weekly packets. When I started I was intimidated since I did not have a civil engineering background but slowly gained comfort as I realized people had different areas of expertise and I learned what to look for. As I gained comfort I have been able to better formulate questions for the applicants and catch red flags.

So if you have not been involved in your town or city before I recommend contacting your town or city clerk and asking how you can get appointed to a commission you are interested in. You will meet people from both sides of the political aisle that care about their community and also get to participate in your local government. Think of it as an advanced civics class.

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