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Re: [govtrack] Reading the bill

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  • 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 1 of 9 , Nov 3, 2006
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      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 2 of 9 , Nov 4, 2006
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        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 3 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 4 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 5 of 9 , Nov 29, 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 :)

              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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