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Reading the bill

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  • Joshua Tauberer / GovTrack.us
    Something in the Times that I thought was (pathetically) amusing, and that I figured I d pass on to fill the void on this list: “It’s truly a mystery to
    Message 1 of 9 , Nov 3, 2006
    • 0 Attachment
      Something in the Times that I thought was (pathetically) amusing, and
      that I figured I'd pass on to fill the void on this list:

      “It’s truly a mystery to me,” Ms. Collins said. “I looked at what I
      thought was the final version of the conference report and that
      provision was not in at that time.”

      When people say politicians aren't reading the bills being passed, I had
      been thinking that these were just exaggerations, but apparently it's so.

      The whole story here:
      http://www.nytimes.com/2006/11/03/world/middleeast/03reconstruct.html

      --
      - Joshua Tauberer

      http://razor.occams.info

      "Strike up the klezmer and start acting like a man. You're
      about to have a truth-mitzvah." -- The Colbert Report
    • Chris Kinnan
      As a former Hill staffer, I can assure you not a single elected official ever reads legislation. Ever. Legislative and committee counsel handle all of the
      Message 2 of 9 , Nov 3, 2006
      • 0 Attachment
        As a former Hill staffer, I can assure you not a single elected official ever reads legislation.  Ever.  Legislative and committee counsel handle all of the writing of bills and translating into english summaries that everyone else reads, and leadership staff can tweak things at the last minute (as appears to be the case here).  A form of tyranny today is the fact that our laws are becoming completely disconnected from the average person's ability to read or understand them...

        -- Chris Kinnan

        On 11/3/06, Joshua Tauberer / GovTrack.us <tauberer@...> wrote:

        Something in the Times that I thought was (pathetically) amusing, and
        that I figured I'd pass on to fill the void on this list:

        "It's truly a mystery to me," Ms. Collins said. "I looked at what I
        thought was the final version of the conference report and that
        provision was not in at that time."

        When people say politicians aren't reading the bills being passed, I had
        been thinking that these were just exaggerations, but apparently it's so.

        The whole story here:
        http://www.nytimes.com/2006/11/03/world/middleeast/03reconstruct.html

        --
        - Joshua Tauberer

        http://razor.occams.info

        "Strike up the klezmer and start acting like a man. You're
        about to have a truth-mitzvah." -- The Colbert Report


      • Michael Dale
        A interview with Matt Taibbi aired Democracy Now on the 27th which outlines some of the faults with the current congregational system that has come about in
        Message 3 of 9 , Nov 3, 2006
        • 0 Attachment
          A interview with Matt Taibbi aired Democracy Now on the 27th which
          outlines some of the faults with the current congregational system that
          has come about in the last few years.

          http://www.democracynow.org/article.pl?sid=06/10/27/1340203

          and attached below: an article which got fwd to me a while back
          detailing why we really need to have c-span/*metavid* cameras in the
          lobbyists restaurants if we wanted to see the full story of law making.

          Also in metavid news we should soon be doing live archived broadcasts of
          the house and floor. along with a more compatible java ogg theora player
          :) Other updates mentioned in the blog: http://metavid.ucsc.edu/blog/

          Joshua, I am still keen to move forward on integrations with govTrak ...
          is there a list somewhere on the site listing senator names & their IDs?

          --Michael



          -----------------------

          Descending into the ninth circle of Washington Hell.
          The Shadow Capitol
          by Thomas Frank

          You know you're getting close to the spectacular white office building
          at 101 Constitution Avenue when you start seeing lobbyists buzzing
          around like bees near a hive. With a little practice, the lobbyists are
          easy to distinguish from lesser drones: They are the ones who look like
          caricatures of prosperous men, dressed in a way that is no doubt meant
          to suggest "affluent businessman" but in which no proper businessman in
          Chicago or Kansas City would ever, in fact, dress himself. In most of
          the United States, male office-wear tends toward the drab; the lobbyist,
          by contrast, fancies himself Beau Brummell. He appears to choose each
          element of his ensemble for its conspicuous priciness, but to give no
          thought to the whole. You can spot him in the field by his perfectly
          fitted thousand-dollar suits, usually in blue; his strangely dainty
          shoes; his shirts, which are often the kind that come in pink or blue
          with white collars and cuffs, the latter of which display cufflinks of
          the large and shiny variety; his vivid, shimmering ties, these days
          preferably in orange or lavender; his perfect haircut; the tiny flag
          attesting to his perfect patriotism on his perfect lapel; his perfect tan.

          One of the most arresting sights in Washington, D.C., is when you notice
          one of these fussily dressed and pleasant-smelling creatures out of
          their element--say, dragging their Tumi luggage down a broken sidewalk
          near the bus station in the 100-degree heat. But, here at 101 Con, they
          are right at home. They come striding into the Charlie Palmer Steak
          restaurant and the air-conditioning is blasting and their teeth are
          exactly right and their ties jut gamely from their collars. The gang's
          all here, a bunch of real straight shooters, and they extend their hands
          to the committee chairman, and all the handsome fellows share a laugh
          together as they take their seats among scurrying waiters and huge vases
          of cut flowers.

          You can offshore nearly any kind of job these days--ship your factory to
          Mexico and send your back office to India--but your lobbyists have to
          stay in Washington. The rest of the hard, old, face-to-face world may
          dissolve, but lobbying remains stubbornly rooted in the necessities of
          physical proximity to power and, of course, to tasty eats. At 101
          Constitution, both of these can be found in fantastic abundance, and
          this has made the building a landmark for our political times, as the
          Watergate was for the 1970s and the "little green house" (where
          officials sold government favors in the Harding days) was for the 1920s.
          101 Con is K Street in a box, a private-sector Pentagon where ten
          stories of lobbyists plot their next thrust on behalf of the
          life-insurance industry, the mining industry, or the retail hardware
          industry.

          Form follows function, as they say, and 101 Con is admirably suited to
          the task of paid persuasion. From its very design, it's apparent that
          this building was intended to reel in earmarks the way a steel mill
          makes steel or a grain elevator stores wheat. To begin with, 101 Con is
          the closest commercial property to the Capitol building, literally just
          across a traffic island from the Capitol grounds. This means "members,"
          as the men and women of Congress are called, can scoot over and back in
          a matter of minutes. The building's upper stories have an astonishing
          view of the Capitol dome, a quality exploited by the prominent turret
          that juts toward Constitution Avenue. This protuberance is topped by a
          rooftop terrace, where fund-raising events can be held against the
          striking panorama (rent starts at $10,000 a night, I was told); smaller
          balconies on the lower floors permit regular tenants to hold their own
          parties with the same backdrop. The tangible value of this view--namely,
          that it impresses clients--is often mentioned in news stories. The
          intangible value, I imagine, is that it also allows the lobbyists, like
          captains of industry in old advertisements, to look out grandly over the
          assembly line where their product is manufactured.

          The building's ground floor houses the very large and very luxurious
          Charlie Palmer Steak restaurant, world-famous dealers in "artisan meats"
          and fine wines.

          ...

          The architects have done their job well. 101 Con is a "trophy-class"
          building with rents to prove it. The building hosts fund-raisers or
          receptions of one kind or another virtually all the time when Congress
          is in session; according to Roll Call, PAC fund-raisers make up fully 25
          percent of Charlie Palmer Steak's business. I was told by one restaurant
          employee that business had suffered since the Jack Abramoff affair, with
          its lurid tales of sushi-crazed legislators selling themselves for
          finger-sized bites of raw fish. But, according to the most recent study
          conducted by Bloomberg, the restaurant ranked second in popularity among
          members to the Caucus Room--a nearby establishment where they've cut out
          the middleman: The restaurant itself is owned by lobbyists.

          Visitors to Washington who want to see democracy in action traditionally
          waste their time at the viewing galleries of the Capitol building,
          where--if they are lucky--they might see one or two legislators mumbling
          mechanically for the c-span cameras. It is, as everyone knows, a big
          letdown--a disillusionment that is cited whenever smart young people
          relate how they got to be so wise to the world.

          My advice to those visitors: Walk across the street to Charlie Palmer
          Steak. This is the place for political spectatorship in the age of
          Abramoff, where you can see the questions before the nation actually
          being resolved--and can do it over a meal, too, saving yourself a trip
          to Applebee's later. Start with the miniature lobster corndogs, $9, a
          nod to the deep-fried treats of your red-state youth (but made with
          lobster, get it?), and then slyly bribe yourself with a plateful of the
          domestic Kobe sirloin, $68. Wash the whole thing down with a half-dozen
          Manhattans--you will need them. Look around you while you eat: This is
          not the dim, windowless steakhouse of your weekend debauches in Wichita.
          It is light; it is open; its polished limestone walls are accented with
          Wedgwood blue; a curtain of glass showcases the prominent, prosperous
          diners to the sweating world outside. See that pond burbling in the
          middle of the restaurant? And the heavy steel ingot they use to prop up
          your menu? It's because of classy touches like these that your
          congressman is never moving back to your home state, regardless of what
          he says about "sharing your values."

          Speaking of that congressman of yours: If you're lucky, you will see him
          here. Indeed, for the price of that steak you can watch him and his
          fellow members make decisions that will affect you for the rest of your
          life. And, when they do, you will see that they're making these
          decisions in close consultation with non-members--people just like you,
          in fact, only with better hair, better clothes, better manners, and a
          better job working for far richer and more important companies than yours.

          I showed up at Charlie Palmer one evening in July, only minutes, I was
          assured, after Tom DeLay had departed. I took up a post with an
          advantageous view, fortified myself with a few drinks, and watched the
          proceedings unfold. A parade of well-dressed VIPs poured by--top SEC
          personnel, important aides, U.S. senators, numerous representatives,
          former White House officials, and lobbyists of every stripe--all of them
          dressed perfectly and wearing expressions of unflappable satisfaction,
          if not outright hilarity. A contented-looking fellow in a vivid yellow
          tie was whispered to be the aide who made some congressman a populist. A
          man squeezed through the jolly crowd wearing a weathered face and a
          shirt embroidered with the words missouri corn growers association. A
          party rumored to be a Big Pharma affair roared on in a private dining
          room just behind the bar.

          Who are these special beings who pay for--and, in some cases, write--the
          laws that govern our lives?

          To meet them, you must persuade the lobby guards at 101 Con to let you
          into the building proper. (No easy feat: There are no public viewing
          galleries for the work that's done in these offices.) Take an elevator
          to one of the building's upper stories. As you stroll around, you will
          notice that the offices are often decorated with those handshake
          pictures that are so popular in Washingon--photographic proof of a given
          lobbyist's intimacy with politicians and a much more useful tool in
          establishing one's professional bona fides than any college degree. You
          will also see model airplanes, model motorcycles, and other carefully
          arranged bric-a-brac that are normally reminders of leisure-time fun in
          the outside world. Here, they are strictly business: reminders of the
          industry for which legislative favors are sought. And, always, looming
          magnificently in the background, is That View: the bleached dome of the
          U.S. Capitol.
          ...

          Now it's on to floor six, where you can visit the offices of Van Scoyoc
          Associates. The first time I heard about Van Scoyoc was when a lobbyist
          friend insisted to me, in hushed tones, that the people at this
          prestigious and respected D.C. firm were specialists in earmarks--those
          little pet pork projects that individual legislators like to insert into
          bills quietly and at the last minute. I didn't believe him at first.
          After all, these days earmarks are the very symbol of misgovernment and
          corruption. They are the $200 million "Bridge to Nowhere" in Alaska; the
          bribery price list that Duke Cunningham drew up for the convenience of
          his regular customers; the numerous favors Montana Senator Conrad Burns
          allegedly did for Abramoff. I know in the abstract that lobbyists are
          involved in the process, of course. Earmarks are the juiciest quid that
          House members have to sell; the lobbyists are there to furnish the quo,
          in the form of wine, steak, cigars, golf weekends, campaign
          contributions, and airline tickets to romantic places. But, I wondered,
          could it really be so open, so unconcealed? A firm that specializes in
          earmarks? That's like putting a sign on your door that says Dealers in
          Graft and Boodle.

          So naïve am I. According to a recent story in The New York Times, the
          buying and selling of earmarks is now so routine that even
          municipalities are getting into the act, hiring lobbyists to induce
          their own elected officials in Washington to do their jobs. According to
          a recent article in CQ Weekly, lobbying accounts in the field of "Budget
          and appropriations" ( i.e., earmarks) have tripled since 1998; it is,
          today, the single largest category for lobbying activity. The number-one
          firm in the field: Van Scoyoc Associates, of 101 Constitution Avenue.

          The firm employs a staff of 90 and claims to boast a client list of over
          300, including (according to the firm's publicity materials) 50
          universities and 20 of the nation's largest corporations. Van Scoyoc
          seems particularly proud of its success in the rapidly growing field of
          academic earmarks, whereby some research project or institute is funded
          directly by Congress instead of through the usual process--you know,
          where scholars or bureaucrats look the proposal over and decide whether
          it's a good idea or not. One example of how this works, according to
          data provided by Public Citizen: From 1998 to 2006, the University of
          Alabama paid Van Scoyoc $1.5 million; over that same period, the various
          officers of the firm contributed at least $123,500 to Alabama Senator
          Richard Shelby (two of the firm's vice presidents are, in fact, former
          staffers of Shelby's); and, during those years, Shelby earmarked some
          $150 million for the University of Alabama.

          Every element of this chain is, of course, formally unconnected to every
          other--innocent and wholesome as a newborn babe. But imagine, for a
          moment, that this is exactly the racket it appears to be. That is to
          say, what if the company's officers were really able to charge clients
          $1.5 million for making contributions of $123,500 (a twelvefold
          increase) and if the University of Alabama turned $1.5 million in
          lobbying fees into $150 million in earmarks (a hundredfold increase) and
          if Shelby himself pocketed $123,500 in campaign donations just for
          greasing the skids when the call came from 101 Con.

          ...

          Whenever I have wandered its halls, I have noticed a pattern of
          segregation by class. The lobbyists eat at Charlie Palmer, with its
          ranks of servile waiters; for everyone else, there is the "Capitol Cafe"
          on the exact opposite side of the building, a nearly windowless deli
          where the minimalism (its walls are painted cinderblock) comes from
          cheapness, not a taste for subtlety. The building is also, bizarrely,
          home to a Washington Gas payment center in addition to the lobbyists'
          offices, which ensures that poor and sometimes desperate District
          residents can be found straying into the wrong part of the building's
          lobby. In the elevator, I once commented to a woman that the building
          must be a nice place to work. "It's nice if you've got one of those
          offices facing the Capitol," she shot back. "Not so nice for the rest of
          us."



          Joshua Tauberer / GovTrack.us wrote:
          >
          > Something in the Times that I thought was (pathetically) amusing, and
          > that I figured I'd pass on to fill the void on this list:
          >
          > “It’s truly a mystery to me,” Ms. Collins said. “I looked at what I
          > thought was the final version of the conference report and that
          > provision was not in at that time.”
          >
          > When people say politicians aren't reading the bills being passed, I had
          > been thinking that these were just exaggerations, but apparently it's so.
          >
          > The whole story here:
          > http://www.nytimes.com/2006/11/03/world/middleeast/03reconstruct.html
          > <http://www.nytimes.com/2006/11/03/world/middleeast/03reconstruct.html>
          >
          > --
          > - Joshua Tauberer
          >
          > http://razor.occams.info <http://razor.occams.info>
          >
          > "Strike up the klezmer and start acting like a man. You're
          > about to have a truth-mitzvah." -- The Colbert Report
          >
          >
        • Joe Germuska
          ... So, there s H. Res. 709: Amending the Rules of the House of Representatives to ensure that Members have a reasonable amount of time to read legislation
          Message 4 of 9 , Nov 3, 2006
          • 0 Attachment
            At 2:33 PM -0500 11/3/06, Chris Kinnan wrote:
            >As a former Hill staffer, I can assure you not a
            >single elected official ever reads legislation.
            >Ever. Legislative and committee counsel handle
            >all of the writing of bills and translating into
            >english summaries that everyone else reads, and
            >leadership staff can tweak things at the last
            >minute (as appears to be the case here). A form
            >of tyranny today is the fact that our laws are
            >becoming completely disconnected from the
            >average person's ability to read or understand
            >them...

            So, there's "H. Res. 709: Amending the Rules of
            the House of Representatives to ensure that
            Members have a reasonable amount of time to read
            legislation that will... "
            <http://www.govtrack.us/congress/bill.xpd?bill=hr109-709>

            (stuck in committee, probably forever...)

            but given what Chris wrote, would even more time
            work? It seems like there's so much volume of
            information that stuff is likely to always be
            sneakable.

            How are subsequent versions of bills processed?
            How do staffers find the differences between
            editions? (Putting aside cultural/procedural
            questions,) Is there any idealized way that bills
            might be structured so that people could "key in"
            on changes from version to version? Or is there
            so much overall information flowing through
            legislative offices that even a concise, accurate
            change summary might not be enough to help people
            catch things at the right time? (That assumes
            that Ms. Collins and/or her staff would have even
            considered the change worth objecting to before
            being called out by the media.)

            More generally, are there things we should
            encourage our legislators to restructure
            government to make GovTrack (and things like it)
            even more able to do what they set out to do? I
            think that it's already brilliant, but wouldn't
            it be great if we demanded that our government
            function even better, instead of taking its
            dysfunctionality for granted?

            Joe

            PS Just want to be sure to say "Thanks for making GovTrack!"
            --
            Joe Germuska
            Joe@... * http://blog.germuska.com

            "The truth is that we learned from João forever to be out of tune."
            -- Caetano Veloso
          • mike
            A interview with Matt Taibbi aired Democracy Now on the 27th which outlines some of the faults with the current congregational system that has come about in
            Message 5 of 9 , Nov 3, 2006
            • 0 Attachment
              A interview with Matt Taibbi aired Democracy Now on the 27th which
              outlines some of the faults with the current congregational system
              that has come about in the last few years.

              http://www.democracynow.org/article.pl?sid=06/10/27/1340203

              and attached below: an article which got fwd to me a while back
              detailing why we really need to have c-span/*metavid* cameras in the
              lobbyists restaurants if we wanted to see the full story of law making.

              Also in metavid news we should soon be doing live archived broadcasts
              of the house and floor. along with a more compatible java ogg theora
              player :) Other updates mentioned in the blog:
              http://metavid.ucsc.edu/blog/

              Joshua, I am still keen to move forward on integrations with govTrak
              ...is there a list somewhere on the site with senator names & their IDs?

              --Michael



              -----------------------

              Descending into the ninth circle of Washington Hell.
              The Shadow Capitol
              by Thomas Frank

              You know you're getting close to the spectacular white office building
              at 101 Constitution Avenue when you start seeing lobbyists buzzing
              around like bees near a hive. With a little practice, the lobbyists are
              easy to distinguish from lesser drones: They are the ones who look like
              caricatures of prosperous men, dressed in a way that is no doubt meant
              to suggest "affluent businessman" but in which no proper businessman in
              Chicago or Kansas City would ever, in fact, dress himself. In most of
              the United States, male office-wear tends toward the drab; the lobbyist,
              by contrast, fancies himself Beau Brummell. He appears to choose each
              element of his ensemble for its conspicuous priciness, but to give no
              thought to the whole. You can spot him in the field by his perfectly
              fitted thousand-dollar suits, usually in blue; his strangely dainty
              shoes; his shirts, which are often the kind that come in pink or blue
              with white collars and cuffs, the latter of which display cufflinks of
              the large and shiny variety; his vivid, shimmering ties, these days
              preferably in orange or lavender; his perfect haircut; the tiny flag
              attesting to his perfect patriotism on his perfect lapel; his perfect tan.

              One of the most arresting sights in Washington, D.C., is when you notice
              one of these fussily dressed and pleasant-smelling creatures out of
              their element--say, dragging their Tumi luggage down a broken sidewalk
              near the bus station in the 100-degree heat. But, here at 101 Con, they
              are right at home. They come striding into the Charlie Palmer Steak
              restaurant and the air-conditioning is blasting and their teeth are
              exactly right and their ties jut gamely from their collars. The gang's
              all here, a bunch of real straight shooters, and they extend their hands
              to the committee chairman, and all the handsome fellows share a laugh
              together as they take their seats among scurrying waiters and huge vases
              of cut flowers.

              You can offshore nearly any kind of job these days--ship your factory to
              Mexico and send your back office to India--but your lobbyists have to
              stay in Washington. The rest of the hard, old, face-to-face world may
              dissolve, but lobbying remains stubbornly rooted in the necessities of
              physical proximity to power and, of course, to tasty eats. At 101
              Constitution, both of these can be found in fantastic abundance, and
              this has made the building a landmark for our political times, as the
              Watergate was for the 1970s and the "little green house" (where
              officials sold government favors in the Harding days) was for the 1920s.
              101 Con is K Street in a box, a private-sector Pentagon where ten
              stories of lobbyists plot their next thrust on behalf of the
              life-insurance industry, the mining industry, or the retail hardware
              industry.

              Form follows function, as they say, and 101 Con is admirably suited to
              the task of paid persuasion. From its very design, it's apparent that
              this building was intended to reel in earmarks the way a steel mill
              makes steel or a grain elevator stores wheat. To begin with, 101 Con is
              the closest commercial property to the Capitol building, literally just
              across a traffic island from the Capitol grounds. This means "members,"
              as the men and women of Congress are called, can scoot over and back in
              a matter of minutes. The building's upper stories have an astonishing
              view of the Capitol dome, a quality exploited by the prominent turret
              that juts toward Constitution Avenue. This protuberance is topped by a
              rooftop terrace, where fund-raising events can be held against the
              striking panorama (rent starts at $10,000 a night, I was told); smaller
              balconies on the lower floors permit regular tenants to hold their own
              parties with the same backdrop. The tangible value of this view--namely,
              that it impresses clients--is often mentioned in news stories. The
              intangible value, I imagine, is that it also allows the lobbyists, like
              captains of industry in old advertisements, to look out grandly over the
              assembly line where their product is manufactured.

              The building's ground floor houses the very large and very luxurious
              Charlie Palmer Steak restaurant, world-famous dealers in "artisan meats"
              and fine wines.

              ...

              The architects have done their job well. 101 Con is a "trophy-class"
              building with rents to prove it. The building hosts fund-raisers or
              receptions of one kind or another virtually all the time when Congress
              is in session; according to Roll Call, PAC fund-raisers make up fully 25
              percent of Charlie Palmer Steak's business. I was told by one restaurant
              employee that business had suffered since the Jack Abramoff affair, with
              its lurid tales of sushi-crazed legislators selling themselves for
              finger-sized bites of raw fish. But, according to the most recent study
              conducted by Bloomberg, the restaurant ranked second in popularity among
              members to the Caucus Room--a nearby establishment where they've cut out
              the middleman: The restaurant itself is owned by lobbyists.

              Visitors to Washington who want to see democracy in action traditionally
              waste their time at the viewing galleries of the Capitol building,
              where--if they are lucky--they might see one or two legislators mumbling
              mechanically for the c-span cameras. It is, as everyone knows, a big
              letdown--a disillusionment that is cited whenever smart young people
              relate how they got to be so wise to the world.

              My advice to those visitors: Walk across the street to Charlie Palmer
              Steak. This is the place for political spectatorship in the age of
              Abramoff, where you can see the questions before the nation actually
              being resolved--and can do it over a meal, too, saving yourself a trip
              to Applebee's later. Start with the miniature lobster corndogs, $9, a
              nod to the deep-fried treats of your red-state youth (but made with
              lobster, get it?), and then slyly bribe yourself with a plateful of the
              domestic Kobe sirloin, $68. Wash the whole thing down with a half-dozen
              Manhattans--you will need them. Look around you while you eat: This is
              not the dim, windowless steakhouse of your weekend debauches in Wichita.
              It is light; it is open; its polished limestone walls are accented with
              Wedgwood blue; a curtain of glass showcases the prominent, prosperous
              diners to the sweating world outside. See that pond burbling in the
              middle of the restaurant? And the heavy steel ingot they use to prop up
              your menu? It's because of classy touches like these that your
              congressman is never moving back to your home state, regardless of what
              he says about "sharing your values."

              Speaking of that congressman of yours: If you're lucky, you will see him
              here. Indeed, for the price of that steak you can watch him and his
              fellow members make decisions that will affect you for the rest of your
              life. And, when they do, you will see that they're making these
              decisions in close consultation with non-members--people just like you,
              in fact, only with better hair, better clothes, better manners, and a
              better job working for far richer and more important companies than yours.

              I showed up at Charlie Palmer one evening in July, only minutes, I was
              assured, after Tom DeLay had departed. I took up a post with an
              advantageous view, fortified myself with a few drinks, and watched the
              proceedings unfold. A parade of well-dressed VIPs poured by--top SEC
              personnel, important aides, U.S. senators, numerous representatives,
              former White House officials, and lobbyists of every stripe--all of them
              dressed perfectly and wearing expressions of unflappable satisfaction,
              if not outright hilarity. A contented-looking fellow in a vivid yellow
              tie was whispered to be the aide who made some congressman a populist. A
              man squeezed through the jolly crowd wearing a weathered face and a
              shirt embroidered with the words missouri corn growers association. A
              party rumored to be a Big Pharma affair roared on in a private dining
              room just behind the bar.

              Who are these special beings who pay for--and, in some cases, write--the
              laws that govern our lives?

              To meet them, you must persuade the lobby guards at 101 Con to let you
              into the building proper. (No easy feat: There are no public viewing
              galleries for the work that's done in these offices.) Take an elevator
              to one of the building's upper stories. As you stroll around, you will
              notice that the offices are often decorated with those handshake
              pictures that are so popular in Washingon--photographic proof of a given
              lobbyist's intimacy with politicians and a much more useful tool in
              establishing one's professional bona fides than any college degree. You
              will also see model airplanes, model motorcycles, and other carefully
              arranged bric-a-brac that are normally reminders of leisure-time fun in
              the outside world. Here, they are strictly business: reminders of the
              industry for which legislative favors are sought. And, always, looming
              magnificently in the background, is That View: the bleached dome of the
              U.S. Capitol.
              ...

              Now it's on to floor six, where you can visit the offices of Van Scoyoc
              Associates. The first time I heard about Van Scoyoc was when a lobbyist
              friend insisted to me, in hushed tones, that the people at this
              prestigious and respected D.C. firm were specialists in earmarks--those
              little pet pork projects that individual legislators like to insert into
              bills quietly and at the last minute. I didn't believe him at first.
              After all, these days earmarks are the very symbol of misgovernment and
              corruption. They are the $200 million "Bridge to Nowhere" in Alaska; the
              bribery price list that Duke Cunningham drew up for the convenience of
              his regular customers; the numerous favors Montana Senator Conrad Burns
              allegedly did for Abramoff. I know in the abstract that lobbyists are
              involved in the process, of course. Earmarks are the juiciest quid that
              House members have to sell; the lobbyists are there to furnish the quo,
              in the form of wine, steak, cigars, golf weekends, campaign
              contributions, and airline tickets to romantic places. But, I wondered,
              could it really be so open, so unconcealed? A firm that specializes in
              earmarks? That's like putting a sign on your door that says Dealers in
              Graft and Boodle.

              So naïve am I. According to a recent story in The New York Times, the
              buying and selling of earmarks is now so routine that even
              municipalities are getting into the act, hiring lobbyists to induce
              their own elected officials in Washington to do their jobs. According to
              a recent article in CQ Weekly, lobbying accounts in the field of "Budget
              and appropriations" ( i.e., earmarks) have tripled since 1998; it is,
              today, the single largest category for lobbying activity. The number-one
              firm in the field: Van Scoyoc Associates, of 101 Constitution Avenue.

              The firm employs a staff of 90 and claims to boast a client list of over
              300, including (according to the firm's publicity materials) 50
              universities and 20 of the nation's largest corporations. Van Scoyoc
              seems particularly proud of its success in the rapidly growing field of
              academic earmarks, whereby some research project or institute is funded
              directly by Congress instead of through the usual process--you know,
              where scholars or bureaucrats look the proposal over and decide whether
              it's a good idea or not. One example of how this works, according to
              data provided by Public Citizen: From 1998 to 2006, the University of
              Alabama paid Van Scoyoc $1.5 million; over that same period, the various
              officers of the firm contributed at least $123,500 to Alabama Senator
              Richard Shelby (two of the firm's vice presidents are, in fact, former
              staffers of Shelby's); and, during those years, Shelby earmarked some
              $150 million for the University of Alabama.

              Every element of this chain is, of course, formally unconnected to every
              other--innocent and wholesome as a newborn babe. But imagine, for a
              moment, that this is exactly the racket it appears to be. That is to
              say, what if the company's officers were really able to charge clients
              $1.5 million for making contributions of $123,500 (a twelvefold
              increase) and if the University of Alabama turned $1.5 million in
              lobbying fees into $150 million in earmarks (a hundredfold increase) and
              if Shelby himself pocketed $123,500 in campaign donations just for
              greasing the skids when the call came from 101 Con.

              ...

              Whenever I have wandered its halls, I have noticed a pattern of
              segregation by class. The lobbyists eat at Charlie Palmer, with its
              ranks of servile waiters; for everyone else, there is the "Capitol Cafe"
              on the exact opposite side of the building, a nearly windowless deli
              where the minimalism (its walls are painted cinderblock) comes from
              cheapness, not a taste for subtlety. The building is also, bizarrely,
              home to a Washington Gas payment center in addition to the lobbyists'
              offices, which ensures that poor and sometimes desperate District
              residents can be found straying into the wrong part of the building's
              lobby. In the elevator, I once commented to a woman that the building
              must be a nice place to work. "It's nice if you've got one of those
              offices facing the Capitol," she shot back. "Not so nice for the rest of
              us."
            • Joshua Tauberer / GovTrack.us
              ... live archived ? ... Nice. It doesn t really work with Firefox in Linux right now, so that ll be great. ... Yep, see the file people.xml linked from:
              Message 6 of 9 , Nov 4, 2006
              • 0 Attachment
                Michael Dale wrote:
                > Also in metavid news we should soon be doing live archived broadcasts of
                > the house and floor.

                "live archived"?

                > along with a more compatible java ogg theora player :)

                Nice. It doesn't really work with Firefox in Linux right now, so
                that'll be great.

                > Joshua, I am still keen to move forward on integrations with govTrak ...
                > is there a list somewhere on the site listing senator names & their IDs?

                Yep, see the file people.xml linked from:
                http://www.govtrack.us/source.xpd

                But don't open it in your browser -- it's big.

                I'm still looking forward to the day I can link from GovTrack to the
                videos on Metavid.

                --
                - Joshua Tauberer

                http://razor.occams.info

                "Strike up the klezmer and start acting like a man. You're
                about to have a truth-mitzvah." -- The Colbert Report
              • Joshua Tauberer / GovTrack.us
                ... There s also the similar H Res 688, pushed by readthebill.org: http://www.govtrack.us/congress/bill.xpd?bill=hr109-688 When I have some free time (not
                Message 7 of 9 , Nov 4, 2006
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                  Antonios Hadjigeorgalis wrote:
                  > Make Congress read the laws it passes!
                  > <http://www.downsizedc.org/read_the_laws.shtml>
                  > The 'No Legislation Without Representation' Conference
                  > <http://www.downsizedc.org/conference.shtml>

                  and Joe Germuska wrote:
                  > So, there's "H. Res. 709: Amending the Rules of
                  > the House of Representatives to ensure that
                  > Members have a reasonable amount of time to read
                  > legislation that will... "
                  > <http://www.govtrack.us/congress/bill.xpd?bill=hr109-709

                  There's also the similar H Res 688, pushed by readthebill.org:
                  http://www.govtrack.us/congress/bill.xpd?bill=hr109-688

                  When I have some free time (not likely to be any time soon), I think I
                  may set up a section on GovTrack highlighting these and the other bills
                  aiming to improve transparency, with some commentary. I'm hesitant to
                  create a "GovTrack action center" type thing, since it would be the only
                  part of the site taking an actual political position, but it seems
                  reasonable, right?

                  OTOH, it would be nice to have that be a part of a larger component of
                  GovTrack that organizes the positions of advocacy groups, which I've
                  wanted to do for a long time but haven't gotten to. (More on that next
                  email.)

                  Joe goes on:
                  > How are subsequent versions of bills processed?
                  > How do staffers find the differences between
                  > editions?
                  (...snip...)
                  > More generally, are there things we should
                  > encourage our legislators to restructure
                  > government to make GovTrack (and things like it)
                  > even more able to do what they set out to do?

                  I'd like to hear more on what people think about that too.

                  --
                  - Joshua Tauberer

                  http://razor.occams.info

                  "Strike up the klezmer and start acting like a man. You're
                  about to have a truth-mitzvah." -- The Colbert Report
                • dale
                  so I found some time to check out the people.xml file ;) ...much nicer than screen scraping the government website ;) I will be using that xml file for future
                  Message 8 of 9 , Nov 28, 2006
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                    so I found some time to check out the people.xml file ;) ...much nicer
                    than screen scraping the government website ;) I will be using that xml
                    file for future people updates :)

                    so now I have imported gov_track_ids for every person so its easy to
                    make quick pointers. gov_track ids have been linked like so:
                    http://metavid.ucsc.edu/gov_track/300037 -> points to Byron Dorgan
                    I could make a direct pointer to the first page of html search results &
                    or rss "view" if desired... what I should really do is a have a
                    function that groups together sequential appearances of a given person
                    so that speeches show up as a single item...(another thing for the
                    todolist :)

                    looking to the future... you might want to check out
                    http://metavid.ucsc.edu/wiki/index.php/External_embed
                    relevant video clips could then be embeded in the page alongside the
                    textual record (so that people would not have to leave your site to view
                    the clips)...that level of integration would probably require some work
                    on my end as well ;)

                    I am running fedora core 6 and the java applet works but I had to
                    install the sun java jre and point firefox to the correct location
                    something like:

                    ln -s /opt/jre1.5.0_08/plugin/i386/ns7/libjavaplugin_oji.so /usr/lib/mozilla/plugins/libjavaplugin_oji.so


                    by "live archived" I mean we will be updating the site database in real
                    time as things happen on the house and senate floor and linking to that
                    video... so that a search for person x or text phrase y would include
                    up-to-the minute appearances/transcripts, as well as letting people tune
                    into a live high quality ogg theora reusable broadcast... currently we
                    do everything in post processing after the day is over... the major
                    hurdle for this technology to be put in place is the on screen analysis
                    that has to be done to determine if its public domain footage or C-SPAN
                    proprietary stuff... we are (slowly) getting closer to having this
                    functional ....

                    Things would faster if I had more time...I am currently working full
                    time for a different academic project which deals with online political
                    conversation analysis... I will announce it here when it comes online as
                    I think it may be of interest to some of the people on this list ;)

                    --michael

                    Joshua Tauberer / GovTrack.us wrote:
                    >
                    > Michael Dale wrote:
                    > > Also in metavid news we should soon be doing live archived broadcasts of
                    > > the house and floor.
                    >
                    > "live archived"?
                    >
                    > > along with a more compatible java ogg theora player :)
                    >
                    > Nice. It doesn't really work with Firefox in Linux right now, so
                    > that'll be great.
                    >
                    > > Joshua, I am still keen to move forward on integrations with govTrak ...
                    > > is there a list somewhere on the site listing senator names & their IDs?
                    >
                    > Yep, see the file people.xml linked from:
                    > http://www.govtrack.us/source.xpd <http://www.govtrack.us/source.xpd>
                    >
                    > But don't open it in your browser -- it's big.
                    >
                    > I'm still looking forward to the day I can link from GovTrack to the
                    > videos on Metavid.
                    >
                    > --
                    > - Joshua Tauberer
                    >
                    > http://razor.occams.info <http://razor.occams.info>
                    >
                    > "Strike up the klezmer and start acting like a man. You're
                    > about to have a truth-mitzvah." -- The Colbert Report
                    >
                    >
                  • Joshua Tauberer / GovTrack.us
                    ... Great. ... Very nice. Let me know when I should add a link from GovTrack. ... Really great. I can t wait to do that. ... I think I ve done that (other
                    Message 9 of 9 , Nov 29, 2006
                    • 0 Attachment
                      > so I found some time to check out the people.xml file ;) ...much nicer
                      > than screen scraping the government website ;) I will be using that xml
                      > file for future people updates :)

                      Great.

                      > so now I have imported gov_track_ids for every person so its easy to
                      > make quick pointers. gov_track ids have been linked like so:
                      > http://metavid.ucsc.edu/gov_track/300037

                      Very nice. Let me know when I should add a link from GovTrack.

                      > looking to the future... you might want to check out
                      > http://metavid.ucsc.edu/wiki/index.php/External_embed
                      > <http://metavid.ucsc.edu/wiki/index.php/External_embed>
                      > relevant video clips could then be embeded in the page alongside the
                      > textual record (so that people would not have to leave your site to view
                      > the clips)...that level of integration would probably require some work
                      > on my end as well ;)

                      Really great. I can't wait to do that.

                      > I am running fedora core 6 and the java applet works but I had to
                      > install the sun java jre and point firefox to the correct location
                      > something like:
                      >
                      > ln -s /opt/jre1.5.0_08/plugin/i386/ns7/libjavaplugin_oji.so
                      > /usr/lib/mozilla/plugins/libjavaplugin_oji.so

                      I think I've done that (other java things work OK) but I end up with my
                      CPU going to 100% and nothing happening.

                      > I am currently working full
                      > time for a different academic project which deals with online political
                      > conversation analysis... I will announce it here when it comes online as
                      > I think it may be of interest to some of the people on this list ;)

                      It's at least of interest to me! (owing to my linguistics life)

                      --
                      - Josh Tauberer

                      http://razor.occams.info

                      "Yields falsehood when preceded by its quotation! Yields
                      falsehood when preceded by its quotation!" Achilles to
                      Tortoise (in "Gödel, Escher, Bach" by Douglas Hofstadter)
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