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Free Government Information (FGI) is a place for initiating dialogue and building consensus among the various players (libraries, government agencies, non-profit organizations, researchers, journalists, etc.) who have a stake in the preservation of and perpetual free access to government information. FGI promotes free government information through collaboration, education, advocacy and research.

Secret reclassification of US documents

As part of a secret operation in place for over seven years, over 55,000 documents have been removed from the National Archives by various intelligence agencies. Historians are baffled as to why some of these documents would be reclassified. Others, for sure, are meant to expunge embarrassing moments. Here’s a sampling of removed documents from an article in the New York Times, “U.S. Reclassifies Many Documents in Secret Review” :

* a memorandum on a C.I.A. scheme to float balloons over countries behind the Iron Curtain and drop propaganda leaflets. It was reclassified in 2001 even though it had been published by the State Department in 1996.

* a 1962 telegram from George F. Kennan, then ambassador to Yugoslavia, containing an English translation of a Belgrade newspaper article on China’s nuclear weapons program.

* the C.I.A.’s assessment on Oct. 12, 1950, that Chinese intervention in the Korean War was “not probable in 1950.” Just two weeks later, on Oct. 27, some 300,000 Chinese troops crossed into Korea.

All of this raises the question, What’s a clandestinely inclined government to do when rogue reclassified documents reside in privately held collections? Let’s see – eighteen such documents, from the collection of intelligence historian Matthew Aid, are now up on the website of the National Security Archive, a research group at George Washington University.

Bush’s budget proposal would close most EPA libraries

The Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER), a national alliance of local, state, and federal resource professionals, released this story based on internal documents from the EPA Library Network Workgroup, which is made up of representatives from the various EPA regions. According to PEER:

Under Bush’s plan, $2 million of a total agency library budget of $2.5 million will be lost, including the entire $500,000 budget for the EPA Headquarters library and its electronic catalog that makes it possible to search for documents through the entire EPA library network. These reductions are just a small portion of the $300 million in cuts the administration has proposed for EPA operations.

EPA currently operates a network of 27 libraries operating out of its Washington, D.C. Headquarters and ten regional offices across the country. The size of the cuts will force the Headquarters library and most of the regional libraries to shut their doors and cease operations. Each year, the EPA libraries –

* Handle more than 134,000 research requests from its own scientific and enforcement staff;
* House and catalog an estimated 50,000 “unique” documents that are available nowhere else; and
* Operate public reading rooms and provide the public with access to EPA databases.

One of the documents linked to from the PEER site, outlines available options for regions that “choose” to close their physical libaries. They can purchase library services from any region libraries that remain open (on what would be left of the scavenged budget); or, they could pass on costs to their customers — themselves. Reminds me of a bumper sticker I saw the other day. “This isn’t a democracy, its an auction.”

Those Pesky Gov Docs

Unlike emails related to the Plame case, the Bush Administration did not “fail to preserve” incriminating email records that impugn claims that it did not learn of levee failures in New Orleans until the following day.

According to today’s headliner in the New York Times:

This chain of events, along with dozens of other critical flashpoints in the Hurricane Katrina saga, has for the first time been laid out in detail following five months of work by two Congressional committees that have assembled nearly 800,000 pages of documents, testimony and interviews from more than 250 witnesses. Investigators now have the documentation to pinpoint some of the fundamental errors and oversights that combined to produce what is universally agreed to be a flawed government response to the worst natural disaster in modern American history.

MIT & Alternet Challenge the Conventional Dumbdom

Through a series of reports by the best foreign policy thinkers at MIT’s Center for International Studies and in collaboration with the progressive news publisher Alternet as a distribution channel, entrenched tenets of US foreign policy are being systematically scrutinized. Consider the following from Ben Friedman, PhD student in MIT’s Political Science Department and a member of the Security Studies Program, from his report The Real Cost of Homeland Security:

Despite this threat inflation, spending on homeland security remains tiny compared with defense spending. The homeland security budget for fiscal year (FY) 2006 is $49.9 billion, including the Department of Homeland Security ($42 billion), up from $32 billion in FY 2001. States only spend about $1-2 billion a year on homeland security in addition to federal outlays. Private corporations spend, at most,another $10 billion. In total then, the U.S. spends about $60 [billion] annually on homeland security. The defense budget for FY 2006, without the costs of the wars, is $440 billion, an increase of $135 billion over FY 2001. The extra spending goes to weapons and personnel that have little to do with terrorism. Widespread fear of terrorism has primarily benefited the budgets of part of the national security landscape that has the least to do with it.

Check out other foreign policy papers from MIT that have appeared on Alternet. For a more extenisive listing, go to the source itself — the Center for International Studies at MIT.

Big Tele’s plans to subvert the Internet

The Nation’s Jeff Chester writes a dire piece about plans by cable and telephone companies where

all of us–from content providers to individual users–would pay more to surf online, stream videos or even send e-mail. Industry planners are mulling new subscription plans that would further limit the online experience, establishing “platinum,” “gold” and “silver” levels of Internet access that would set limits on the number of downloads, media streams or even e-mail messages that could be sent or received.

Consider the following scenarios:

Imagine how the next presidential election would unfold if major political advertisers could make strategic payments to Comcast so that ads from Democratic and Republican candidates were more visible and user-friendly than ads of third-party candidates with less funds.

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Consider what would happen if an online advertisement promoting nuclear power prominently popped up on a cable broadband page, while a competing message from an environmental group was relegated to the margins. It is possible that all forms of civic and noncommercial online programming would be pushed to the end of a commercial digital queue.

At the heart of this thing, is the further erosion of government regulation of phone and cable lines aka broadband. Big Tele is rabidly lobbying to “to operate their Internet services as fully “private” networks.”

I wonder if it can really get this bad? I don’t know. It’s a complex issue with many players and layers. I guess if there was ever a time when myriad disastrous elements would have to allign with precision to make it so, that would be now.

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