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DOCUMENTS


The Tentacle


February 13, 2012

Fed Up? Become a Watchdog

Jill King

Is the media biased, or just getting lazy? With a new world of technology, it doesn’t take much to get the story; all you have to do is be there. Camera’s, recording devices, and flip cams are now all the rage, along with tweeting, social media, and the word press.

 

I recently attended a Citizen Watchdog class, hosted by Maryland Conservative Action Network (MDCAN). The Franklin Center for Government and Public Integrity created the program which examined this issue.

 

The public is actually breaking the news more often than the news media. Transparency in government has created a vast wealth for “Watchdog” to uncover flaws and problems overlooked by news reports. They now leave little to the imagination at state and local levels.

 

The badge of journalism no longer holds value, when so many people can correctly research, photo, or document the goings-on with accuracy. Having a strong will and desire to commit to factual reporting is not always easy work, but can be twice as sweet in setting the record straight.

 

One of The Franklin Centers main goals is to train citizens and journalists to detect and expose state and local government corruption and incompetence, according to their outline. Finding inconsistencies and half truths are at the researcher’s fingertips.

 

With a half smirk, yet believable face, Trent Siebert of texaswatchdog.org started his presentation with the comment “I love corrupt politicians.” He claims it is the easiest reporting he has ever done.

 

He also claims that there are a few ways to get Federal Bureau of Investigation files. The first is if it is about you. Another way is if the person about whom you are seeking information is deceased. There is one more way and this is just unbelievable. By reviewing www.fbi.gov/foia you can encounter many people FBI file is already published. Frequent requests are under public scrutiny, without filing.

 

Knowledge and determination are the key components to researching flaws in the government websites. Even though they are transparent, very few are easy to navigate. “Transparency” and “user friendly” are not synonymous.

 

A group of 25 people, who have a knack in accounting, could easily spend all their waking hours for a decade in the state site alone comparing numbers. “Even the real numbers are lies,” challenged Frank Keegan, a former editor of The Baltimore Examiner and now an editor for State Budget Solutions.

 

Mr. Keegan said that Maryland has between $43.5 and $48.2 billion, in unfunded pensions and Other Post Employment Benefits (OPEB). He asks: “How do you catch this up when you pay taxes with tax money?”

 

Of all things that caught my interest was the proper filing of a request, under the Maryland Public Information Act (PIA) or Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). Few use this source successfully, one of the audience members groaned. Agencies are specifically trained to look for flaws in the document, so they don’t have to fulfill the request, according to the commenter.

 

An accurate way of achieving an answer to a PIA is to cheat. Yeah cheat! I can’t express enough, what technology has brought us. The best way is to use http://www.rcfp.org/foia-federal-letter-generator. It is recommended that once it is mailed, you should follow up with an email. Even if it is not answered, they must respond in 30 days.

 

Depending on what is requested, it can be extremely costly, sometimes a few hundred dollars, depending on the amount of pages in the requested information. Computer disks are now the preferred method of responses.

 

With the upcoming elections, and future state and local elections, another great site to check out is http://www.mdelections.umd.edu. Here you will find the way your registration is listed, including where you will vote in the primary and general elections. This is beneficial for those who live near a newly gerrymandered boundary, aiding in which Congressional district you should pay attention.

 

Another perk on this link is the ability to research incumbent financing for prior elections. A search of local, state or national sites can result in revealing how they received their funds and what expenditures they incurred. You can also search by company/corporate name to see who they are funding.

 

Many of you may find that writing or research isn’t your thing. One thing I have found is that most are not shy when it comes to social media.

 

Many of us are just fed up with the progress of the news media.

 

More and more we find ourselves speaking out, placing ourselves at meetings of interest, or just trying to seek out others with a common cause or beliefs.

 

Finding your way and how to make that difference is now commonplace. Many have been successful in their missions, aiding in the reforms necessary to make this the land of the free; these people are our brave.

 

Integrity will always be the best policy whether you are writing or one of the overseers of public funds. We can now make that happen without relying on spoon-fed journalists.

 

We are now in the Communications and Technology Age, the Industrial Age has dimmed.

 

Retraining my brain for the future, conferring with my past.

 

retrainbrain@hotmail.com

 



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