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Re: [govtrack] Reading the bill

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  • 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 1 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 2 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 3 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 4 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 5 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 6 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 7 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 8 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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