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I n China, the government recently closed 3,300 Internet cafes under the rubric of “safety” issues. Apparently, a July fire in one of the underground cafes killed 25, injured 12, and resulted in officials launching inspections of nearly 45,000 Internet cafes. In addition to the closures, operations at nearly 12,000 other cyber cafes have “been suspended pending improvements,” Reuters reported.
Over the past few years, China has been struggling with the yin and yang of widespread Internet access. While officials encourage the use of the Internet for business and education, an Associated Press report pointed out that it has also driven many unlicensed cyber cafés underground and suppressed access to the web by creating “special filters [that] block web surfers from seeing sites abroad run by Chinese dissidents, human-rights groups and news organizations.”
I n the U.S., the Bush administration wouldn’t dare shut down websites. Instead, it prefers to cleanse them of information it finds displeasing. Post 9/11, an intense info-scrubbing was undertaken by a number of agencies responding to a March 2002 memo by President Bush’s Chief of Staff Andrew Card. The memo, titled “Guidance on Homeland Security Information Issued,” was sent to the heads of all federal departments and agencies. Card reminded them of their “obligation to safeguard Government records regarding weapons of mass destruction.” They were told to review “government information…regarding weapons of mass destruction, as well as other information that could be misused to harm the security of our nation and the safety of our people.” According to OMB Watch, a Washington, DC-based government watchdog group, an attached “guidance” suggested that agencies review “its classified, reclassified and declassified information,” and be aware of a new type of information called “sensitive but unclassified.” The guidance stated, “the need to protect such sensitive information from inappropriate disclosure should be carefully considered, on a case-by-case basis,” and that Freedom of Information Act requests should also be considered under these guidelines.
As a result, OMB Watch claims that a substantial amount of information has been removed from the websites of a number of agencies including: the Agency for Toxics and Disease Registry, Bureau of Transportation Statistics, Department of Energy, Department of Transportation, Environmental Protection Agency, Federal Aviation Administration, Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, Internal Revenue Service, National Archives and Records Administration, National Aeronautics and Space Administration, National Imagery and Mapping Agency, Nuclear Regulatory Commission and the U.S. Geological Survey. (For examples of what was cleansed, see the OMB’s “Access to Government Information Post September 11th,” www.ombwatch.org/article/article- view/ 213/1/104/#agency.)
I n early November, William Matthews reported in Federal Computer Week that the Department of Health and Human Services had removed “valuable scientific information” regarding condoms, HIV, and abortion “from some of their websites.” In a late December follow-up piece, the New York Times ’ Adam Clymer reported on two specific changes: The website at the National Cancer Institute, which “used to say…that the best studies showed ‘no association between abortion and breast cancer,’ now says the evidence is inconclusive.” At the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention a fact sheet on its website “used to say studies showed that education about condom use did not lead to earlier or increased sexual activity. That statement, which contradicts the view of ‘abstinence only’ advocates, is omitted from a revised version of the page.”
Rep. Henry Waxman (D-CA) and 13 other Democrats sent a letter to Health and Human Services secretary Tommy Thompson charging, these changes “appear to be part of an Orewellian trend at HHS. Simply put,” the letter went on, “information that used to be based on science is being systematically removed from the public when it conflicts with the administration’s political agenda.”
Then there’s the case of biography revisionism. According to Russ Kick, the creator of the Memory Hole site (www.thememory- hole.org/index.htm), in May 2001, when Thomas White was named Secretary of the Army, “his official biography contained two paragraphs…detailing his experience as a high-level executive at Enron. Sometime after the energy giant collapsed while upper-level management became even more filthy-rich,” Kirk writes, “White’s biography quietly changed. His 11 years as a big shot at Enron suddenly were worth only a sentence at the very end of his bio, as if an afterthought” (see wwwthemem- oryhole.org/white-bio.htm).
There are also incidents in which important data supplied by the government will no longer be made available. On December 24, buried in the middle of a Christmas Eve press release about November’s mass layoffs, the Bureau of Labor Statistics announced that it will no longer be issuing its Mass Layoff Statistics (MLS) press releases. MLS releases charting layoffs by companies with more than 50 employees have been regular staple from the Department of Labor since 1995. Due to what it called a financial crunch, the DoL announced it was ending the program at the end of 2002.
Education Website Overhaul
N one of these examples compare with an information- cleansing plan proposed for, but currently stalled, at the Department of Education. In mid-September 2002, an Education Week story by Michelle R. Davis titled “No URL Left Behind?-Web Scrub Raises Concerns,” outlined the department’s plan to “overhaul” its web- site in order “to make it easier to use and to remove outdated data —and ensure that material on the site meshes with the Bush administration’s political philosophy.”
According to Davis, the redesign would “strip…thousands of files, many of them old and inaccessible from the site’s home page.”
In late May 2001, senior staff members and the website office received a directive titled “Criteria and Process for Removing Old Content from www.ed.gov,” which laid out how the changes would occur. “Some of the problems with the site, according to the memo,” Davis wrote, “include difficulties with navigation, mediocre graphics, and information that is either outdated or ‘does not reflect the priorities, philosophies, or goals of the present administration’.” According to Davis, the Department, which established its website (www.ed.gov/index.jsp) in March 1994, has grown to include more than 50,000 files and receives an average 84,000 visits a day.” A special site devoted to President Bush’s “No Child Left Behind” initiative has also recently been established (www.nclb.gov/index.html).
“This is somewhat new and uncharted territory,” John P. Bailey, the director of education technology and a Bush appointee who is overseeing the project, told Davis. “Our goal is to make as much information as possible current and relevant, while keeping that historical data and perspective.”
The Department’s memo caused a coalition of 14 national organizations, including the American Library Association, the National Education Association, the National Knowledge Industry Association, the Social Work Association of America, the American Sociological Association and others, to send the department a letter in late October expressing concern that vital information would be stripped from the site.
The letter read in part: “One of our primary concerns centers on the fate of information scheduled to be removed from your publicly accessible web site…we would like to know what steps the Department is taking to preserve information and provide the easiest possible permanent public access to any materials that are removed?”
Two months later, Secretary of Education Rod Paige responded to the letter saying that he too was concerned that citizens have “easy access to the most relevant, current & useful information concerning current educational programs & initiatives while also being sensitive to maintaining easily accessible historical archives.”
Managing Information in the 21st Century
M anaging information on government websites is a relatively new and challenging enterprise. The Clinton administration was the first to extensively use the web and now the Bush administration is the first with the opportunity to revise and re-design government sites. According to Education Week’s Michelle Davis, “There are few laws governing government websites and what they must archive. The National Archives and Records Administration issued a [draft] guidance on managing web records in April , saying agency web pages ‘meet the definition of a federal record and therefore must be managed as such’.”
When a record is scheduled for removal from a website, the government should maintain “permanent public access” to them says Patrice McDermott, the Assistant Director of the Office of Government Relations at the American Library Association. “Information needs to be available and accessible to the public, and those records that are removed from websites need to be stored in a manner that they can be found and be used,” she said.
For now, McDermott says, the Education Department’s website scrubbing project appears to be on hold. In a December e-mail exchange with the Memory Hole’s Russ Kick, he wrote that he had not “heard any more about the scrubbing of the site” and while he hadn’t fully compared his “archived version of the site to the current one, at this point I can’t see anything obviously missing.”
Administrations prior to President Clinton’s were faced with the task of warehousing file-filled banker boxes. Rapidly-evolving information technologies have forced the Bush administration to deal with new realities and Team Bush’s penchant for secrecy makes it imperative that right-to-know advocates monitor the Administration’s Internet activities. As Sandi Wurtz, a Government Relations Associate at the American Educational Research Association, a member organization representing 20,000 educational researchers, pointed out, “This is an issue that we feel requires continual monitoring to assure that all documents are retained.”
Z Magazine Archive
HUMAN RIGHTS - The U.S. Human Rights Network will celebrate its 10th anniversary with the Advancing Human Rights 2013 Conference, December 6-8, in Atlanta, GA.
Contact: 250 Georgia Avenue SE, Suite 330, Atlanta, GA 30312; email@example.com; http:// www.ushrnetwork.org/.
AFRICAN/SOCIALIST - The Sixth Congress of the African People’s Socialist Party USA will be held December 7-11, in St. Petersburg, FL.
Contact: 1245 18th Avenue South, St. Petersburg, FL 33705; 727- 821-6620; info@aps puhuru.org; http://asiuhuru.org/.
SCHOOLS - The Dignity in Schools Campaign (DSC) will host a workshop on the DSC “Model Code on Education and Dignity: Presenting A Human Rights Framework for Schools” at the Mid-Hudson Region NY State Leadership Summit on School Justice Partnerships, December 11 in White Plains, NY.
Contact: http://www.dignityin schools.org/.
ANARCHIST/BOOKFAIR - The Humboldt Anarchist Book Fair will be held December 14, in Eureka, CA.
Contact: humboldtgrassroots @riseup.net; http://humbold tanarchist bookfair.wordpress. com/.
CLIMATE - The World Symposium on Sustainable Development at Universities is hosting a follow-up event to the 2012 Rio de Janeiro symposium. The gathering will be held in Qatar on January 28-30, 2014.
Contact: http://environment.tufts. edu/.
LABOR - The United Association for Labor Education (UALE) will host Organizing for Power: A New Labor Movement for the New Working Class in Los Angeles, March 26-29. Proposals are due December 15.
Contact: LAWCHA, 226 Carr Building (East Campus), Box 90719, Duke University, Durham, NC 27708-0719;lawcha @duke. edu; http://lawcha.org/.
MEDIA FELLOWSHIP - The Media Mobilizing Project is seeking applicants for the first annual Movement Media Fellowship Program. The Fellow will work with MMP to produce the spring season of Media Mobilizing Project TV. MMPTV is a news and talk show that tells the stories of local communities organizing to win human rights and build a movement to end poverty.
Contact: 4233 Chestnut St., Philadelphia, PA 19104; 215-821- 9632; milena@media mobilizing.org; http://www.media mobilizing.org/.
RACE - The 7th Facing Race: A National Conference will be held in Dallas, TX November 13-15, 2014. Organizers, educators, artists, funders and everyone interested in racial equity is invited to exchange best practices and learn about innovative models and successful organizing initiatives. Proposals must be submitted by January 24, 2014.
Contact: Race Forward, 32 Broadway, Suite 1801, New York, NY 10004; 212-513-7925; media @raceforward.org; http://race forward.org/.
VETERANS - They Were Soldiers: How the Wounded Return from America’s Wars - The Untold Story, by Ann Jones, is about the journey of veterans from the moment of being wounded in rural Afghanistan to their return home.
Contact: Haymarket Books, PO Box 180165, Chicago, IL 60618; 773-583-7884; http://www.haymarketbooks.org/.
LIBYA - Destroying Libya and World Order: The Three-Decade U.S. Campaign to Terminate the Qaddafi Revolution, by Francis A. Boyle, is a history and critique of American foreign policy from Reagan to Obama.
Contact: Clarity Press, Inc., Ste. 469, 3277 Roswell Rd. NE, Atlanta, GE 30305; 404-647-6501; firstname.lastname@example.org; http://www. claritypress.com/.
CHILDREN - Fannie and Freddie by Becky Z. Dernbach is about two bumbling villains who gamble away the savings of the people of Homeville.
Contact: fannieandfreddiebook @gmail.com; http://fannieand freddie.org/.
PROTEST/COMIC - Fight the Power!: A Visual History of Protest Among English Speaking Peoples, by Sean Michael Wilson and Benjamin Dickson is a graphic narrative that explains how people have fought against oppression.
Contact: Seven Stories Press, 140 Watts Street, New York, NY 10013; 212-226-8760; info@ sevenstories.com; http://www. sevenstories.com.
CHILDREN - Brave Girl by Michelle Markel and illustrated by Melissa Sweet is the true story of Clara Lemlich, a young Ukrainian immigrant who led the largest strike of women workers in U.S. history.
Contact: http://www.harpercollins childrens.com/Kids/.
FESTIVAL - The 2014 Queer Women of Color Film Festival will be held June 13-15 in San Francisco. The festival is currently accepting submissions until December 31.
Contact: QWOCMAP, 59 Cook Street, San Francisco, CA 94118-3310; 415-752-0868; email@example.com; http://www.qwocmap.org/.
IRAQ/REFUGEES - Ten years after the U.S.-led war in Iraq, thousands of displaced Iraqi refugees are still facing a crisis in the United States. The Lost Dream follows Nazar and Salam who had to flee Iraq in order to avoid threats by Al- Qaeda-affiliated groups and Iraqi insurgents that consider them “traitors” for supporting U.S. forces in Operation Iraqi Freedom.
Contact: Typecast Films, 888- 591-3456; info@type castfilms. com; http://type castfilms.com/.
HUMAN RIGHTS - Lyrical Revolt! III will be held December 4 in Syracuse, NY. The event will feature hip-hop musician Anhel whose album Young, Gifted, and Brown was just released. The event is sponsored by ANSWER Syracuse, Liberation News, and SyracuseHip Hop.com. Performers and artists are encouraged to send submissions.
Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org; http://www.answercoalition.org/syracuse/.
FOLK - Musician Painless Parker has released his album Music for miscreants, malcontents and misanthropes featuring “Fuck Yeah, the Working Class.”
Contact: email@example.com; http://painlessparkermusic.com/.
COMEDY - Political comedian Lee Camp’s new album Pepper Spray the Tears Away has been released.