New York Congressman Anthony Weiner Answers Your Questions
Last week we solicited your questions for New York Congressman Anthony Weiner. Here are his answers to a selection of them. Thanks to all.
Mr. Weiner, I attended the cybersecurity hearing you chaired earlier this month and appreciated both the quality of the witnesses and your perceptive questions. Legislation is pending in several states that would expand the electronic transmission of voter ballots or internet voting. Given the overwhelming security challenges presented by the Internet and the uniquely anonymous nature of the voting transaction, should proposals for the electronic submission of voter ballots in federal elections be subject to review by cybersecurity experts? Should “election cybersecurity” be placed under the umbrella of cybersecurity for sensitive government systems — air traffic control, the energy grid, advanced weapons, etc. — in general? — Warren Stewart
The security of the data used in electronic voting and the transparency of the voting process is itself indeed a job for federal cybersecurity authorities. It also represents one of the thornier challenges for policy makers in Washington. It involves the confluence of several competing imperatives. For example, we have already seen how reluctant private voting technology firms are to having government and the public poking around under the hood of their hardware and software.
Why did you oppose congestion pricing? — Vin
I don’t oppose congestion pricing. I opposed Mayor Bloomberg‘s version, which would charge suburban drivers using toll bridges nothing extra while hitting residents of New York City to cross from one neighborhood to another. My alternative would increase tolls on trucks that cross into the city during the daytime hours. Trucks, not cars, are responsible for the bulk of the new traffic in the city.
Do you think we are falling behind Japan/Europe in broadband access/infrastructure? If so, what can Congress do to close the gap? Any way to piggy back on the stimulus program? And are private companies attempting to block any public wireless infrastructure? — frankenduf
We are far behind — and slipping even further. According to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), the United States ranked 15th out of 30 countries for broadband penetration at the end of 2007, dropping from 4th place in 2001. The recently-passed stimulus package helps to close that gap, providing $7.2 billion to wire underserved and unserved areas. However, Congress must do more. We should begin to invest in pilot programs to bring the next generation of WiMax to Americans across the country. This state-of-the-art technology, which will especially improve internet access in metropolitan areas, will allow more users to access more information at a great distance. For instance, WiMax could provide broadband wireless access up to 30 miles, in contrast to WiFi, which is limited in most cases to only 200 feet.
Just last week the forecasted date of the exhaustion/bankruptcy of the Social Security trust fund was updated by four years. (The new estimate is the year 2037 vs. the previous estimate of 2041.) Most current politicians won’t be in office in 2041, so there seems to be an incentive for politicians to focus on shorter-term issues and put off difficult decisions for the next generation of politicians. My question: how can the average citizen get politicians to begin to tackle ugly problems now, instead of ignoring the problem? — JSC
This is actually shaping up to be a pretty good year for long-term thought in Congress. We are currently reviewing a once-in-a-generation piece of legislation to overhaul our energy policy and will soon begin to consider legislation to create quality, affordable health care for all Americans and rewrite our financial regulations. We still need to address the long-term financial stability of our Social Security system, but I believe that the shortcomings in Social Security are overstated. The actuaries report relies on extremely pessimistic assumptions about the economic growth and demographics of the United States. I tend to be more optimistic about the future of our country.
I get frustrated when a politician says “I’m voting this way because this is what my constituents have told me that they want to vote,” because I think that this confuses a democracy (one person, one vote) with a system where we elect an official to make difficult decisions. Fine line here. In the future, what’s the mental framework that you’re going to use if you want to vote one way on a piece of legislation but a majority of your constituents want you to vote the other way? — Pitt
Pitt touches on a debate that predates our democracy. I’ve been elected to represent my constituents and that means I want to advocate their interests in Congress. For that reason, I am always looking for ways to reach my constituents to offer them an opportunity to learn about and offer input on the issues of the day. In fact, this week I am posting my 10 principles to reforming our health care system on mixedink.com, an online experiment in wiki-government that allows users to submit their ideas, add to my version, or borrow language to form new versions. As users rate the ideas on a scale of 1 to 10, the most popular viewpoints rise to the top. What my constituents say about their needs or the problems they confront is the most important of all the many influences that come to bear on a decision I am called to make.
There are, however, issues where I seek to lead my neighbors rather than follow. There is simply no playbook for this. But if I feel — on a substance, gut, or ethical level — that there are some issues on which I have more information at hand than my constituents. On these issues I’ll incorporate what they’ve said to the best of my ability with my own instincts, vote accordingly, and then work as hard as I can to explain my decision to them.
You have a long relationship with Jon Stewart (of The Daily Show on Comedy Central). Would you like Americans to watch more or less of his show? Why? — Hannah
I love Jon and I TiVo his show every day. A show dedicated to the foibles of elected officials — and there are many of them — is great TV, particularly in the hands of someone as smart and knowledgeable as Jon. But I certainly hope that it is no one’s sole source of information about what is going on in Washington.
When I read the backgrounds of every candidate in every race for political office, it often seems that all of the candidates are financially well-off. So it appears that either talented, but not wealthy, people do not want to run for public office, or they don’t run for public office for some other reason. I don’t believe that it’s the former, and it appears to me that it’s not reasonable to run for office until you have accumulated some wealth already. Do you feel that this is accurate? If so, is this a problem, and how do we address this? — Xavier
I am a member of a vanishing breed — the middle class Congressman. Smart positions are nice, but unfortunately a fat checkbook is sometimes more valuable than ever before in public life. This is a sad fact of American politics. We need public financing of campaigns and we need for the Supreme Court to revisit and overturn its ruling on Buckley vs. Valeo that decided a citizen can spend an unlimited amount of her own money on a campaign. Until we close that loophole, no law can create a level playing field.
How do you envision the U.S. addressing/attacking cyber-terrorism in the future? — Michelle
There is gathering pressure for the president to put our disparate cybersecurity efforts under the umbrella of our national intelligence offices. This would be a mistake. While I don’t dispute the serious national security issues involved in cybersecurity or expertise that folks at the National Security Agency have developed, the criteria of the Internet and solutions to its problems have been best centered on a vibrant public/private relationship, which has grown our economy and protected consumers. We need to bolster and strengthen that system.
China clearly puts a bottleneck on the information that is available to Chinese citizens through the Internet. Is this a problem? Could we put pressure on China to increase the flow of information? Perhaps the more interesting question is: should we? — Dan L.
You cannot have reforms in China and protect human rights if citizens don’t have access to information. It is important that our bilateral dealings with China include strong advocacy of unfettered access of all citizens in China to the Internet.
There is little, if any, well-known precedent for prosecuting someone who commits a massive cyberattack on another country. Let’s say a citizen/group in Country A is found guilty of successfully attacking the computer system of Country B. Tricky situation. How do you think that something like this will be played out on the world’s stage? — Kevin T
You’re right — this is a tricky situation. One thing is clear: we need an American response that works, and this is also a global problem that needs to be addressed globally. That means that security, intelligence, and technology experts here in the United States need to be working closely with their counterparts in Russia, Eastern Europe, and China, where the majority of these attacks originate. Ideally, we stop threats before they reap damage around the world — and allow each individual country to use their own system of laws to crack down on these criminals.
What do you feel are the three biggest technology/Internet/innovation trends that will impact the U.S. over the next decade? — Billy M
Let me give you one that will lead to dozens more. Last year, the Federal Communications Commission conducted an auction for 700 MHz commercial blocks for wireless bandwidth. The auction permits the rollout of what tech guys call “LTE”, or Long Term Evolution, a new, more expansive broadband technology that will support the next generation of consumer devices. It’s the technology which will enable state-of-the-art devices to carry even more content, especially devices tailored to video streaming, music and file sharing, and mobile TV. Communications companies, such as AT&T and Verizon Wireless, have announced plans to use the spectrum for LTE as early as 2010.