As journalists, we’re supposed to stay away from advocacy issues, but I can’t help but mention the status of a federal bill to protect journalists and their sources.
Turns out a procedural vote today in the U.S. Senate on the Free Flow of Information Act of 2007 failed to get the 60 votes it needed to move forward. That means it’s unlikely it will come up for a vote again before the Senate takes its August recess.
In the U.S. House, all five members of the Oklahoma delegation voted for the House version of the bill in October.
According to the Society of Professional Journalists, a federal shield law would:
… give journalists the right to refuse to reveal information and sources obtained during the newsgathering process with a few notable exceptions, including where national security is at issue. The qualified privilege would be similar to those afforded to lawyers and their clients, clergy and their penitents, and psychotherapists and their patients.
In a statement, SPJ President Clint Brewer said:
We are very disappointed that the bill stalled today. SPJ will continue to encourage its members and public citizens to contact members of Congress and express part of the Society’s mission: to encourage a climate where journalism can be practiced freely. A federal shield law would be a major step toward that goal.
Oklahoma is one of 49 states with a shield law already on the books, although it doesn’t cover actions in federal court. Attorney General Drew Edmondson was among 41 attorneys general who sent a letter to Congressional leaders last month urging passage of the federal shield law.
You can read more about Oklahoma’s shield law here.
The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press also has an interesting page about ongoing federal prosecutions involving journalists and their sources.
If you drive much in rural Oklahoma, you probably pass dangerous spots every day where you know accidents happen.
Now, thanks to the folks at the Center for Excellence in Rural Safety, you can check up on fatal traffic accidents in Oklahoma and across the nation. The center’s new Web site, www.saferoadmaps.org, lets you search the federal government’s Fatality Analysis Reporting System data and combines it with a map function to help you visualize where those wrecks happen.
To get started, go the tutorial page and watch the movies demonstrating the site. You can search by state, Congressional district, or type in an address and see how many fatal accidents happened near there. You can also filter the results to see the difference between urban and rural accident rates and whether or not alcohol was involved.
The site has data from 2006, the latest year available.
Most of us probably don’t think too much about the Census on a regular basis.
Sure, you know it comes every 10 years and is used to accurately count the population and re-allocate federal and state voting districts. Maybe you know its numbers are used for a whole host of government programs, from road and transportation funding to free and reduced school lunch programs to health care for the poor.
But did you know the folks at the U.S. Census and their state and local partners are already hard at work making sure everything is ready for April 1, 2010?
The Oklahoma State Data Center, part of the state Commerce Department, held a conference yesterday in Moore to update Census users and organizers on Census 2010 and other data released by the Census Bureau. Here’s a few of the highlights:
- In 2007, Oklahoma received about $5 billion in federal funds that are tied to Census figures. That’s $1,392 per person. Put another way, it’s enough to a buy a fancy Starbucks coffee or a gallon of gas for each Oklahoma resident every day of the year (roughly $3.81 per person/day).
- The 2010 Census forms will be offered in more than 50 languages.
- The Census Bureau is spending more than $200 million to get the word out to “hard-to-count” groups such as low-income residents, recent immigrants and young people.
- After a $595 million technology contract went wrong, the Census is back to using paper and pencil. More on that here and here.
- Between now and April 1, 2010, Census has to verify 130 million addresses, prepare for 40 million non-respondents and fill 750,000 temporary positions for everything from supervisors, field workers and enumerators.
- Oklahoma had a response rate of 64 percent in Census 2000, compared to 67 percent for the nation.
- Privacy concerns and distrust of government contribute to lower response rates. (For every 1 percentage point of the non-response rate, it costs the Census Bureau about $75 million to follow-up in some way.)
- Although Canada, Australia and other countries have experimented with doing at least part of their Census over the Internet, it’s unlikely to happen here in the U.S. for 2010. (Much to the chagrin of our own U.S. Sen. Tom Coburn.)
As my grandfather said, there’s more than one way to skin a cat.* And there’s more than one way to track properties in foreclosure.
Now before I get a bunch of hate mail from the local Realtors and other real estate types, let me say that the residential property market in most of the state is in pretty good shape. In Oklahoma, we haven’t seen the kind of runaway, double-digit increases in home values that some parts of the country have seen in the last five years.
As my colleague, Real Estate Editor Richard Mize, likes to say, “There is no national housing market.” We’re a patchwork of local markets, with some doing better or worse than others. Tracking foreclosures in most markets is no easy feat, especially when much of the data comes from courthouse data that isn’t readily available online in many markets.
As Bialik points out in his column, the main media sources for foreclosure stats are the Mortgage Bankers Association, RealtyTrac and First American CoreLogic. All three have varying methodologies to their data gathering, which gives a slightly different picture to the foreclosure rates in particular communities.
Compounding the difficulty is that foreclosure is at its heart a legal process. So your home can be placed into foreclosure, but you might work something out with your lender before it actually runs the full course of the foreclosure process. Some of the private companies tracking foreclosure activity actually report it at several different points in the process, making the numbers a little murkier.
One thing is clear, though. If your property has made it to this list, it’s probably too late.
*Sorry, PETA fans.
I’m a little off topic with this post, but I thought I’d share my experiences with Apple’s iPhone software update this morning.
But I was excited about the new software update for my phone. No, it still won’t make coffee or take my shirts to the dry cleaners, but it’s well worth the price. (Free for existing iPhone users.)
It took me about 30 minutes to download the new version of iTunes (7.7) last night, along with new versions of the Safari browser, QuickTime and an OS X security update.
This morning, it took about an hour to update my iPhone’s operating system to the new 2.0 version. Turns out the update wipes out your phone (although a backup is kept on your computer), so after downloading the 212 MB update file, it has to install it and then rewrite all your existing music, videos, photos and other settings to the iPhone.
I was a little nervous about the length of time the update took, but every thing’s working perfectly. Apple’s App Store, which allows you to download games and other applications to the iPhone, already has a ton of stuff on there. You can access it through iTunes 7.7 or directly from the iPhone, if you have a wireless connection.
So far, I’ve downloaded a Scrabble game and the new reader application for the New York Times, which is pretty nifty. It took a little while to update at first–more than 3 minutes–but it downloaded all of today’s content from the NYT Web site to my iPhone for offline reading.
No word yet whether NewsOK.com is building a standalone iPhone application, but we’ve had the iPhone version of the Web site up for a few months now.
Talk about a firestorm.
The Houston Chronicle has put a database on its site of more than 80,000 Harris County and City of Houston public-sector employees. But quite a few of those listed aren’t happy about it.
As of 5:30 p.m. today, more than 330 people commented on the posting of the database, with many objecting that the newspaper used their full names and salaries. The Drudge Report even picked up the Houston database and gave it a breathless description: “Newspaper posts database with salary of EVERY city of Houston employee — by name…”
The paper knew its data might be controversial, but noted that it is performing a valuable watchdog role and a public service by consolidating several existing data sources. Still, here’s a few of the comments from the newspaper’s Web site:
Thank you Houston Chronicle. Now, my full name and salary information is readily available to everyone in the entire world. Great work! I have already been the victim of identity theft. Now, you have made me a worldwide target.
Yes, as a lawyer, I believe in free speech. I love the Constitution; however, I am forced to question your motives in making personal information so readily available to the public. This is terribly offensive and irresponsible.
I am certain that murder defendant I am sitting across from in court is giddy to possess this information. Do you even care about public servants? What happens when, God forbid, you have trouble? When someone breaks into your car or home? When someone molests, assaults, or murders your loved one?
7/9/2008 5:19 PM CDT
This reader is a little more understanding:
For all those folks are this list complaining, GET A PRIVATE SECTOR JOB! We as tax paying citizens that pay your salaries and ridiculous OT, have the RIGHT to know to where, what and WHO this money is going to. You have a PUBLIC service job. You don’t want you information posted in PUBLIC, QUIT!!!!
To get started, go to the left side and click on “Search Financial Data by Agency or Function of Government.” Then choose an agency from the drop down menu, click “Go” and then click on the green “Payroll” tab.
For example, to find Gov. Brad Henry, you’d pick “Governor” from the first drop-down menu. Hit “Go” and then click on the “Payroll tab.” The database has only last names and initials, so the Guv is listed as “Henry, C.B.” Turns out he makes $11,666.67 a month.