Monday, October 20, 2008

What price information?

I picked up a copy of J.H. Hatfield's anti-George W. Bush screed Fortunate Son many years ago. It was sometime after its second publication but before Hatfield's death. I picked it up mainly because it was cheap - $2.99 in the bargain rack in front of Waldenbooks, if I recall correctly.

I wasn't too excited by most of what I read on a quick pass-through. Most of the allegations had already passed from the realm of "scurrilous rumors" to "generally accepted, if unproven." So Bush was a child of privilege who had had all of his crimes and sins and misdeeds covered-up by his powerful family and their connections? Tell us something we don't know.

One of the things that was news to me had to do with attempts to acquire copies of public documents regarding the book's subject. While the documents that the author was attempting to obtain copies of were all public records, there were no clearly defined rules for what hoops a member of the public has to jump through to acquire the documents. In this case there was a high per-page "copying fee," since originals would not be handed out. Coupled with a format that spread even a short document across many pages, it was clearly an attempt to discourage public access to the public documents by forcing anyone seeking such documents to pony up a huge sum just to find out if there was anything worthwhile in the documents.

It was wrong. It was obstructionistic. It was a deliberate and bald-faced attempt to subvert the spirit of the law by perverting its letter. It...

Palin's e-mails? That'll be $15 million
Even at that price, many records won't be available until after the election
By Bill Dedman
Investigative reporter
updated 1:00 a.m. ET, Fri., Oct. 17, 2008

Sarah Palin's office has discovered a renewable resource to bring millions of dollars into Alaska's economy: the governor's e-mails.

The office of the Republican vice-presidential nominee has quoted prices as high as $15 million for copies of state e-mails requested by news organizations and citizens. No matter what the price, most of the e-mails of Palin, her senior staff and other state employees won't be made public until at least several weeks after the Nov. 4 presidential election, her office told on Thursday.

How did the cost reach $15 million? Let's look at a typical request. When the Associated Press asked for all state e-mails sent to the governor's husband, Todd Palin, her office said it would take up to six hours of a programmer's time to assemble the e-mail of just a single state employee, then another two hours for "security" checks, and finally five hours to search the e-mail for whatever word or topic the requestor is seeking. At $73.87 an hour, that's $960.31 for a single e-mail account. And there are 16,000 full-time state employees. The cost quoted to the AP: $15,364,960.

And that's not including the copying costs. Although the e-mails are stored electronically in Microsoft Outlook and on backup servers, and although a blank CD-ROM costs only
41 cents at Capital Office Supply in Juneau, the governor's office says it can provide copies only on paper.

Why? Because lawyers need printouts so they can black out, or "redact," private or exempted information. That task is more difficult because Palin and her senior staff have used government e-mail accounts for some personal correspondence, and personal e-mail accounts for much of their government correspondence. The photocopies of those printouts will be a relative bargain, only 10 cents a page. A state administrator said he understood that such redaction could be done electronically, but that state offices weren't set up to do that.

That process of deleting information is likely to be so lengthy that most requestors won't be able to see the records until well after the next president and vice president are chosen, Palin's office said.

E-mail sent between the governor's staff and their private Yahoo e-mail accounts won't be collected until Oct. 31. Searches will take an additional two weeks, until Nov. 14. And then the legal review of each e-mail will begin. There's no telling how long that will take, because no one knows how many e-mails there are, wrote Linda J. Perez, administrative director for the governor, in
a letter she sent to the state attorney general seeking approval for a delay. now, apparently, standard operating procedure for the Repugs.

Well, OK, maybe not. Maybe this is just the way official government records are dealt with in Alaska? After all, in most of the other 49 states of the Union (also known as "the Southern Elite"), I expect there's a pretty clear prohibition against using your personal Yahoo account to send and receive official government correspondence, as Governor Palin did. And I'd be willing to bet that even in the state government of Alaska, like in most businesses with more than, say, one employee, there is probably an official rule about using your work account to send and receive personal correspondence.

But, hey, rules get broken. Things get messed up. Mistakes were made. I'm sure Alaska intends to do better in the future, so that record retrieval will be lest costly. But for now, as they say, "it is what it is."

Or maybe it's a load of crap and just another attempt by a shady Repug to keep the truth out of the public's hands. If Palin were to become Vice President, could we expect any better of her?

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