Thursday, August 31, 2006

Contemplate The Complement

It's hard to make something a secret without pointing to the secret.

Senator Ted Stevens of Alaska recently placed a hold on a bill that would have forced the government to list publicly all of its contracts and contractors. This was a secret hold, or was supposed to be secret. No one would know who had put the hold on the bill.

However, there are a limited number of United States Senators. A game started on the internet to see who could first identify which senator this was who didn't want the world to know about government handouts. By checking with the other senators and identifying those who denied blocking the bill, the list got short and gamers quickly found the placer of the block. The set of senators who denied blocking was the complement of the lone senator who placed the block.

It turns out that this is the same senator who is attempting to build a 200 million dollar bridge to a very small island. Senator Stevens explained that he put a hold on the bill because it looked like it would cost 15 million dollars to implement over four years, and he wanted to be sure it was worth the money.

Every action has an equal and opposite reaction, its complement. One result of Senator Stevens' secretive placement of the block in this glass house of an information world is that few senators will dare ever again to block a bill secretly. They know they can be outed.

A second result of Senator Stevens' attempt at prior restraint is that for all the other senators this is now a high-profile bill. They know their constituents are interested, they know the world is watching. Under such scrutiny, they may be more inclined to vote it into law.

The opposite of what he had hoped.

Worse, in the same link above, Senator Stevens' own spokesman Aaron Saunders effectively called him a liar by lying in his name:
"Despite the fact that Stevens' office has refused until today to admit that he placed the hold, Saunders said, "This senator does not place secret holds.”"
Perhaps Mr. Saunders is describing the future?

Senator Stevens could better serve the world by showcasing the wonderful yearly dividend, $5000 or more each, that each citizen of his state receives from oil industry usage fees.

Something like that could make a difference in Iraq.

Addendum: and now that Stevens has admitted to placing the hold, another hold has appeared. The guilty senator on the second hold appears to be a Democrat, Robert Byrd of Virginia, and he isn't talking.

98 Senators have denied placing a hold. The 99th has admitted it. The one remaining senator is keeping it a secret.

(3 hours later) ... and now he's released it.

Farewell, oh land of secret blocks. We've made one more step toward transparency in government.


Blogger Dan McIntyre said...

- - January 24th, 2007 - -

A new ethics bill limits secret holds to three days:


By MATTHEW DALY, Associated Press Writer Fri Jan 19, 5:04 PM ET

WASHINGTON - The Senate may finally be getting a grip on "secret holds," a legislative maneuver that allows a single senator to anonymously delay action on a bill indefinitely.

Those putting "holds" on legislation would have to identify themselves within three days under an ethics bill approved by the Senate this week. The measure now goes to a House-Senate conference committee.

"Americans want their public officials to do their business in public," Sen. Ron Wyden (news, bio, voting record), D-Ore., said Friday."


10:02 AM, January 24, 2007  

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