Without transparency, citizens cannot know or understand what is happening in their government. Yet, it is not always easy to find out how tax dollars are being spent.
Now, Searchlight New Mexico is making finding such information easier by gathering five years of data on employee salaries for state, county and city workers all across New Mexico. The information gathered also includes pension contributions for government and school agencies back to 2013, as well as financial disclosures from 2013 through 2017 that are required by state statute.
Phase 1 of Your Data, however, marks just the beginning of how the nonprofit news organization Searchlight is working to make public information better available to the public — for free. Your Data is a web portal designed to make it easier for all people — not just journalists, but academics, public interest groups and others — to find essential government data.
The first phase was the posting of employee salaries, with a second phase coming over the next few months that will contain government contracts, the budgets of New Mexico’s state agencies, as well as the largest county and municipal governments. The information is available online at data.searchlightnm.com. Just put in a name or an agency and the search begins. (Should you be so inclined, you also can donate to help Searchlight continue its work. A screen will pop up to make donating easier.)
Not so easy — gathering the data. As Searchlight officials wrote, “We already are running into heavy resistance. One county insists it does not have payroll records in digital format. That begs the question: How are its employees paid? Given this resistance, it may take several months to fully build out the portal, but we won’t stop until it is completed.”
With media resources dwindling across the country, the Searchlight New Mexico mission is to bring high-impact, investigative journalism to bear on issues that matter. Today, many news organizations lack the resources to sue over access to public records; with the work of Searchlight, those records will be gathered and made available through a permanent digital record. This is important. No matter who is governor or mayor, these archives will be available to the people who want or need the information.
The project began under Searchlight co-founder and board Chairman Ray Rivera, former editor of The New Mexican, who is now at the Seattle Times. The work — investigative journalism and making public data available — is continuing. That’s good news for the citizens of this state whose tax dollars pay the bills.
Hate marches in Poland
The New York Times
It seemed like an echo of a more sinister time, when 60,000 far-right nationalists from Poland and all over Europe marched through Warsaw with red flares and racist signs like “White Europe of brotherly nations” and “Clean Blood.”
Poland’s Foreign Ministry condemned racist, xenophobic and anti-Semitic remarks at the event earlier this month, but the more salient point was the ministry’s defense of the demonstration as an outpouring of patriotism. The only people arrested were some pro-democracy counterprotesters.
Even more troubling for Americans, and perhaps for the world, was that the words from an old Polish nationalist song that were the march’s slogan — “We want God” — were cited by President Donald Trump to huge applause on his visit to Warsaw in July.
Neo-fascist and white-supremacist groups have become more visible and assertive in Europe and the United States as a sense of alienation in a globalized world has taken hold, and as Middle Eastern and North African refugees have flooded Europe. But these extremists appear to feel energized and legitimized by nationalist and populist political leaders.
The right-wing ruling party in Poland, Law and Justice, has wantonly assailed the courts and the news media while railing against immigrants, Islam, the European Union and liberals.
These far-right passions have little basis in reality. Poland’s economy has made great strides since communism’s fall, and unemployment is at a record low, 5.3 percent. As for purported threats to Polish identity, the country of 38 million has taken in a total of 1,474 asylum-seekers this year — 18 of them from Syria, the rest mostly from Russia or Ukraine.
The disgusting slogans on display in Warsaw and the fictions and paranoia behind them must be relentlessly exposed for what they are and condemned, and the right-wing, populist governments that condone them must be censured, not embraced.