A Wonks Guide to the Web

Designed especially for policy wonks, activists, and civic-minded cyberspace cruisers, the following is a special CommonWealth Guide to the World Wide Web. Not all information is created equal; herewith are a few sites that hold promise of being useful, or even high-minded, mixed in with some that achieve real depth–or depths. Feel free to raise our awareness of others: We can be found at http://www.massinc.org.

Massachusetts sites

The acronym stands for Massachusetts Access to Government Network. Brainchild of the Executive Office of Administration and Finance, the two-year-old network links more than 600 state agencies, cities and towns, businesses, and others.

Here are some of MAGNet’s more interesting/useful links:

Beacon Hill

Check on the status of a piece of pending legislation, see if anyone has introduced a bill dealing with a particular topic, or peruse a legislative biography. The graphics are pretty much nonexistent, the presentation stale–sort of like an on-line version of the state political almanac. Can the State House do better? Perhaps in the next century.

Executive Office of Consumer Affairs and Business Regulation –

File a consumer complaint, ask state consumer advocates a question, or browse a number of booklets that explain everything from the obligations of landlords and tenants to the state’s New Car Lemon Law.

Massachusetts Department of Education
One of the most popular features of this site allows you to see a profile of your local school district. Parents can also research the dropout rates at local high schools.

Cherry Sheets: Cities and Towns, Department of Revenue

The Division of Local Services now posts the amount of state funds the legislature has appropriated to each town and city in the Commonwealth.


National Government Information

Federal Government
One of the most comprehensive sites on the various branches and functions of the federal government. You’ll find information on Congress, the Supreme Court, and the regulatory agencies.

Curious about milk price supports available from the Department of Agriculture? Wondering what Attorney General Janet Reno has to say about community policing? If Yahoo is your search engine, this address will plug you into a dozen different federal agencies and some of their databases. Yahoo’s Catalogue of federal government agencies.

THOMAS Legislative Information on the Internet

This Library of Congress site includes bill texts and floor statements from the U.S. Senate and U.S. House.

Federal Register
Track federal regulatory actions and hearings in 1995 and 1996 through a site maintained by the University of California.

The Zipper
Enter your zip code and–presto!–get a list of your representatives in Congress, complete with addresses, telephone and fax numbers. With links to The Jefferson Project http://www.voxpop.org:801jefferson, a fabulous source for information on politics, political personalities, and magazines.

U.S. Census
Ever wonder what the demographic makeup of your city or town is? Check it out here.

Social Security Administration
Not sure if you qualify for benefits? Look here for guidelines and information on how to apply.

Citizens Research Foundation
A little-known but excellent source of information on campaign finance issues from a foundation whose board of directors includes leaders from both parties. If you’re looking for a rundown of legal battles over campaign finance or just want a peek at your local Congressman’s financial disclosure form–you’ll find it here.


Politics, Media & Interest Groups

Democracy Place USA
The Internet site for civic journalism: where ordinary people set the agenda, not the politicians. You’ll find stories, interviews, and polls geared toward helping citizens make informed political choices.

Civic Practices Network
A clearinghouse for ideas on how to increase democratic participation.

Seeing is believing but hearing is even better. Catch your favorite member in ‘real audio’ action, thanks to the wonks who brought you live to the Senate floor.

The Netizen
Well-written dispatches from the place where politics and culture merge.

Brought to you in a joint venture between The Washington Post, National Journal, and ABC News, this site is splashy, bright, and interactive. If you’re interested in catching up on politics in a certain state, just point your cursor to a section on a map and click. If you want more information on a subject covered by PoliticsNow, the site allows you to dip into selected Post archives.

CNN/Time Magazine/Congressional Quarterly
They bring you breaking news, feature stories, and insightful analysis.

Town Hall
http:// www.townhall.com
The Heritage Foundation’s conservative gateway to sites like the National Review, Family Research Council, and The Progress and Freedom Foundation.



Woodshole Oceanographic Institution
A truly amazing assemblage on everything oceanographic. You’ll find summaries of the group’s undersea lab projects as well as volunteer listings. A great source for information on coastal outings–Elizabeth Islands anyone?–sponsored by the Massachusetts Coastal Zone Management department.

The Boston Harbor Page

You’ll find a primer on the history of the harbor cleanup, ferry schedules, harbor statistics, whale watch information and the “history of Massachusetts Sewage Drainage.”

MIT Media Lab

Plenty of mind-bending puzzles, games, and wacky research.

Meet the Author
The Chihuahua That Roared
http://www.stown.com/chihuahua/ index.html

The heartwarming tale of Boss Chihuahua’s rise to power, a.k.a. “The Unofficial Pseudo-Biography of Ross Perot.” Hilarious, with cool illustrations.

Play With Hillary’s Hair?

Yes, you can indulge your Vidal Sassoon fantasies. It’s like playing paper dolls–or Mr. Potatohead. Vote for your favorite First Lady ‘do.