CyberTed’s Legacy Lives On

Among the flood of news coverage that immediately followed the death of Sen. Edward Kennedy last Tuesday night was an article in the Washington Post which mentioned that The Senator’s web site included, with the news of his passing, his famous closing words from his 1980 Democratic Convention speech, “For all those whose cares have been our concern, the work goes on, the cause endures, the hope still lives and the dream shall never die”. Much repeated in the days of tribute that followed, they are a fitting label for his legacy. The Senator’s web site itself wasn’t the news; it was simply a conduit, a routine and expected place from which to learn information about Senator Kennedy and his work. Because of course, every Member of Congress has a web site.

That wasn’t the always the case.

Kennedy on North Shore Mac BBS - 1993In 1993, any Senate office that was attempting to explore and utilize this recently heard about ‘Internet’ thing generally had to find their own way, without any institutional help from the famously slow-to-change Senate. At the time, I was working as Senator Kennedy’s Systems Administrator, a poli-sci type with no real technical background, hired on to support Kennedy’s network of Macs. When our office began to post his press releases and to solicit public comment via a network of dial-up computer Bulletin Board Systems (BBS), we found the effort was regarded as both newsworthy, and praiseworthy. While not everyone who found Sen. Kennedy online necessarily agreed with him on every issue, his effort to use new technologies to share his positions was widely reported and universally applauded.

A happy coincidence helped to boost Kennedy’s online reach beyond the BBS’. After reaching out to the White House staff who were likewise breaking new ground for President Clinton, I was put in touch with two of the students at MIT who were helping that effort, John Mallery and Eric Loeb. They were enthusiastic and eager to extend the work of MIT’s ‘Intelligent Information Infrastructure Project’ to include our nation’s Legislative branch. In short order they had setup the means for Kennedy’s press releases to be posted to an FTP archive at MIT and into two Usenet newsgroups. And eight months later, in the spring of 1994, they worked with our office to launch Kennedy’s web site, the first for a member of Congress. The site was located at MIT’s Artificial Intelligence Lab, as provided only FTP and Gopher services by that time. And at the same time we announced Kennedy’s web site, we followed the example set by Senator Robb by establishing a public email address for The Senator and facing up to what remains today as a challenge to Congressional offices, managing and responding to torrents of inbound email.

Kennedy Campaign - 1994In 1994 Kennedy had more than his Senate work to occupy him. He faced a strong challenge for his Senate seat by Republican Mitt Romney. Polls showed Kennedy was in a very tight race, with some even predicting his defeat. In the fall, the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee (DSCC) had contracted with Issue Dynamics Inc. to help develop a basic web site for each of their Senate candidates. Aware of Kennedy’s efforts to bring his Senate office online, the DSCC gave his campaign staff direct access to manage their campaign site and to make it their own. Senate rules designed to prevent incumbent Senators from using franked mail in support of their campaign were now interpreted to require shutting down their official online presence for 60-days prior to any election in which they were a candidate. The campaign’s web site kept Kennedy online, while his Senate site was shuttered.

Launched only a few weeks prior to Election Day, the campaign site contained issue papers, press releases and endorsements (the notion of actually raising money online was still little more that a geeky politico’s daydream). For his part, Romney was missing online, and was chided in the media for it. Kennedy ended up beating Romney handily. A Newsweek article reporting on the growth of online politics dubbed him ‘CyberTed’ and reported of his online campaign, “It helped counter his image as an out-of-touch baron who reeked of Old Politics. And it impressed the world of computer jocks, thousands of whom work in the important Boston branch of the industry.” The Internet had played some small part in keeping Kennedy in office.

I left Kennedy’s office in the spring of 1995 to join a new ‘Technology and Communications Committee’ created by the new Senate Democratic Leader, Senator Tom Daschle, to help other Senate Democrats follow in the path Kennedy had blazed online. But continuing to lead and to innovate online remained a high priority in Kennedy’s office. My successors there saw to the continued development of his Senate web site, as well as bringing the Senator online by other means such as into Q&A sessions with constituents in online chat rooms. By June of ’96, Senator Kohl became the 50th Senator with a web site, and it took four more years until all 100 Senators had one, when Illinois freshman Peter Fitzgerald launched his site early in 2000.

His online experience did more than just generate good press for Senator Kennedy; it informed his positions on important votes for which many of his less net-savvy colleagues were ill equipped to fully understand. One early example came when the Senate voted in 1995 on Senator Exon’s ‘Communication’s Decency Act’, a far-overreaching effort to censor adult content on the Internet, the bill passed by a vote of 84-16. Kennedy was on the right, but losing side of this vote, and it was left to the Supreme Court to overturn the act as unconstitutional two years later by a unanimous vote.

Outside groups have also played an important role in pushing Congress to do more than just ‘be’ online. The Congressional Management Foundation’s periodic ‘Golden Mouse Awards’ recognize the best of Congressional web sites and provide all offices with needed assistance and best practices for use in developing their online presence. Newer organizations such as The Sunlight Foundation support efforts to make Congress ‘more meaningfully accessible to citizens’, with the Internet at the core of their efforts. And early online guides to Congress such as CapWeb, which helped net surfers find Congress online, have passed the torch to newer resources such as Tweet Congress, which helps all to find members who are on Twitter.

On Saturday I joined hundreds of other current and former Kennedy staff on the steps of the U.S. Senate, waiting on The Senator’s funeral motorcade to make a scheduled stop, en route from Andrews Air Force Base to Arlington Cemetery, for a brief and final farewell from the institution he served for forty-seven years. With the motorcade more than an hour behind schedule, I wasn’t alone in following the tweets from ‘kennedynews’, which kept us informed of their progress. Kennedy’s current team has done him proud this last week by their use of the Internet to share news and information about his funeral arrangements as well as the legacy of his life in public service.

It’s easy to take for granted that the Internet has become an expected means of communication for public officials and for the candidates who aspire to become one. And the time has long passed when anybody was impressed by a politician just for being aware that the Internet existed, and for attempting to use it. Senator Kennedy benefitted from such early praise, and might have left it at that. But he ‘got it’ and instead chose not to let up after those earliest steps. He chose to value innovation, and to make the use of new technology a high priority in conducting his very public life.

The Senator’s legacy will live on in the legislation he passed and the causes that he championed.

Teddy’s legacy will live with his family, friends and loved ones.

And CyberTed’s legacy will live on… online.

Teaching the American Way

Two different stories from the front page of today’s Washington Post caught my eye for their common theme, Americans teaching others how to do things our way, as commandos, or a cheerleaders. Personally, I can imagine a combo which takes these American exports to a new level. That’s right, I’m talking about commando cheerleaders!

Afghan Commandos Emerge

But the commandos still have much to learn — sometimes frustrating their U.S. advisers. “We yell at them for . . . drinking too much [water], constantly eating, using their under-gun lights to walk to the bathroom,” one U.S. adviser said, adding that the Afghans lacked effective methods for distributing and conserving resources. “They’ll have 20 bottles of water, five guys and four days to go — they’ll just drink it and look at you and say, ‘I need more water,’ ” the sergeant major said. The logistics problems, he said, are “across the board.”

Redskins Cheerleaders Shake Up Cricket In Modest India

The Redskins cheer choreographer, Donald Wells, said the Indian cheerleaders he’s working with are already adept at shaking their hips and staying on the beat. He noticed that Indian cheerleaders were very expressive with their hands — Indian classical dance has countless hand motions — and joked that they probably wouldn’t need pompoms.

No need for pompoms, but maybe a few more water bottles.

both from the front page, The Washington Post, 4/19/08

Fat & Crazy

I’m soooo doomed. Yesterday’s Washington Post reported that men in their 40s who carry their extra weight on their abdomen are more prone to suffer dementia in their later years. Apparently, fat is nastier when it surrounds your other organs than when it’s just hanging from your legs and arms. Now I don’t consider myself particularly ‘fat’, but I was told by my doctor last week at my regular physical that I had 20 pounds to lose, and one look at me would make it obvious to anyone where I can find them. Right there on my belly. I still have skinny arms and legs, but my belly sticks out like I’m a pregnant man.

So what might motivate me to action, besides the threat of dementia? A bet of course! My neighbor and good friend, TJ, is in the same boat as me. He’s younger, and so got fat faster than me (jk tj!), but is essentially the same weight as me with the same target of slimming down to 180. We agreed to have our own mini Biggest Loser challenge, and the winner will enjoy a 90-minute massage purchased courtesy of the loser. I don’t know how I will do, but I predict a second place finish.

Stay tuned for news of progress, or failure. Who knows, the dementia may set in early and I’ll just type some gibberish, but that’s already my norm. At least I’m in good company.

Study Links Middle-Age Belly Fat to Dementia
The Washington Post, 3/27/08

Monitoring the World, by Cartoons

From today’s Washington Post (Lawmakers Describe ‘Being Slimed in the Green Zone’), describing a meeting between three members of Congress (Ellen Tauscher: D-CA, Jim Moran: D-VA, and Jon Porter: R-NV) with Mowaffak al-Rubaie, Iraq’s National Security Advisor…

At one point, the three were trying to discuss the state of Iraqi security forces with Iraq’s national security adviser, Mowaffak al-Rubaie, but the large, flat-panel television set facing the official proved to be a distraction. Rubaie was watching children’s cartoons.When Moran asked him to turn it off, Rubaie protested with a laugh and said, “But this is my favorite television show,” Moran recalled.Porter confirmed the incident, although he tried to paint the scene in the best light, noting that at least they had electricity.”I don’t disagree it was an odd moment, but I did take a deep breath and say, ‘Wait a minute, at least they are using the latest technology, and they are monitoring the world,’ ” Porter said. “But, yes, it was pretty annoying.”

I wonder which cartoons Mr. al-Rubaie was watching that Rep. Porter equates to ‘monitoring the world’. Are they the same ones President Bush watches?

Dick Cheney is Evil

cheney_tomorrow.jpgScary Evil. He exemplifies reckless disregard for the Constitution, and of any person or law’s ability to exercise any amount of oversight of his activities. Remarkably, he recently claimed that the Vice President’s Office is not an “entity within the Executive Branch”, and so is not subject to Presidential Executive Orders. Wha?? Well, to follow Cheney’s own twisted logic, this week Congress will vote to defund the VP’s office as an executive branch agency, leaving him to fend for himself as the President of the Senate. Personally I think Rep. Kucinich has it right with his plan to impeach Cheney first, because impeaching President Bush only to have Cheney become President would be like trying to put out a fire with gasoline, you’ll only end up in much worse shape.

This week the Washington Post is running an in-depth profile about Cheney and his machinations. It’s scary to read about the lengths this Dick will go to in order to subvert the law and pursue his un-American agenda. It’s something everyone should read. You’ll feel dirty and ashamed afterward, but you need to read it anyway.

George Bush is most certainly the Worst President Ever, but with the Evil Dick as his VP they have combined to be a catastrophe from which America may never completely recover.

Hope for Justice in America

A piece of historical trivia, and two headlines from out of the courtrooms have caught my eye today and restored, by just a little bit, some hope that America remains a place where reason can prevail and the Constitution matters.

The trivia, from Today in History in the Washington Post Express; On this day in 1776, “Virginia’s colonial legislature becomes the first to adopt a Bill of Rights.” This somehow strikes a chord with me when reading about these other headlines.

The court cases:

In which President George Bush is told by a Federal Appeals Court in Richmond that the Constitution does not allow the President to simply declare a civilian an ‘enemy combatant’ and then detain them indefinitely without criminal process.

Thank you court, for reminding the President he’s not King George.

Judges Rule Against U.S. On Detained ‘Combatant’
The Washington Post, 6/12/07

In which a man, who as a teenager performed oral sex on a consenting partner and was convicted of a felony for which he has already served two years of a ten year sentence, had his conviction overturned by Superior Court judge who ruled the punishment as unconstitutionally cruel and unusual.

Thank you judge, for pointing out the absurdity of this sentence and knocking it down.

Last minute appeal in teen sex case sparks outrage
CNN, 6/12/07

You can count on the fact that in each case, the President, and Georgia’s sex police, will fight back against these rulings. Who knows, they may win. But for now at least, reason, and the Constitution, have prevailed.

The Cheney Surge

This morning’s news is that VP ‘Big’ Dick Cheney has made a surprise visit to Baghdad. You’ll know things are going better in Iraq when a visit by the President, VP or cabinet secretary there is no longer described as a ‘surprise’. I imagine the Iraqi Prime Minister, walking into a darkened conference room and the lights come on and he’s confronted by Dick shouting ‘Surprise! I’m here!’. It must be hard, as I’d guess they’re tired of guests from America. Or maybe Cheney is part of the surge. He can tell the Iraqis to “Go F Themselves“, which would be good, because I think we’ve F’d them enough.

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