« It Really Can Get Much, Much Worse | Main | Any Bets on Judy's Source? »

November 26, 2006

Comments

Sara,

I feel like such a twerp. Every time you post, I end up running out to the middle of the gym floor with my pom-poms to yell "Rah, Rah!"

Anyway, you are spot on, again.

The committee stuff is a tough nut to crack because it is difficult to get timely information. Partly it is the difficulty of getting information; partly it is the ambush tactics and the sudden presentation of votes on previously undisclosed amendments. Can you believe that these amendments are distributed ONLY in paper form? And often at the last minute.

My advice is that bloggers try to hook up with liberal sdvocacy groups interested in the issues. The liberal lobbyists are more likely to know what is coming at the committees -- or be able to find out.

Usually, bloggers like to link to newspapere articles. If you wait that long, too late.

There are some liberal advocacy groups that are very good on specific issues and have more sense than, say, the reproductive rights groups that deserve a look. The ACLU in particular comes to mind. They have very knowledgeable professional staff in DC and New York, and in each of their local affiliates. Their lobbyists provide reliable information on issues of interest. For an advocacy group (as opposed to a group lobbying for its members' economic interests) accurate information and straight shooting are the coin of the realm. ACLU also has hundreds of thousands of members, some of which can be mobilized on particular issues.

The Netroots does need to develop expertise on specific issues, and/or form alliances with people who are reliable experts, such as ACLU and the Economic Policy Institute, and then mobilize our people on specific issues.

The other thing that the netroots can do really well is publicize anti-progressive votes. True, posting the proponents of the bankruptcy bill didn't change any votes, but they might have thought twice on some other measure. This is especially critical for candidates that received netroots support.

In terms of the issues where we can have the most impact without getting too caught in the details IMHO are promoting (1) better policy on education and research; (2) action on global warming; (3) fairer tax policies.

On NCLB, the problems are with over testing and punishing schools that don't measure up to arbitrary standards. I don't think schools try to fail; I think that there are no magic solutions, and most things that work are very labor intensive, like lots of one-on-one and small-group instruction for kids who are falling behind. One huge problem with NCLB (and probably every other government program) is that it becomes a honeypot for people who market wehatever the law requires--tests, cookie-cutter instruction materials etc. Under Bush way too much of this stuff was parcelled out to cronies and it didn't work. Simp-ly putting the common good ahead of individual financial gain in every single program would go miles toward making even bad programs work.

Sara....

Your post assumes that Democratic congresscritters don't actually know what they are voting for -- and that all we have to do is explain it to them, and they will vote the right way.

Sorry, but that is balderdash.

We are engaged in a struggle for the heart and soul of the party -- will "the Democratic Wing of the Democratic Party" (aka Howard Dean and the DNC's 50 State Strategy) prevail in DC, or will the K-Street Democrats run things?

Personally, I think that progressives have to start looking for safe Democratic districts that are represented by "K-Street" Democrats -- and find candidates to challenge them. Even if we lose (which is likely in most cases) we win, because K-Street Democrats derive their power from the fact that they don't have to worry about re-election -- they are free to go out and raise tons of "campaign" cash from K-Street, which they then distribute to other Democrats. If, suddenly, these corporate whores had to raise $500K just to survive their own primary, they wouldn't have a lot left over to buy the loyalty of other Democrats....

P.Lukasiak -- Yes, many members of Congress vote on very complex bills that they have never read. They have staff who read the sections a member may have an interest in, but otherwise they frequently depend on summary materials prepared by minority and majority staff to committees. The same holds true on committee votes, again with the proviso that members read what particularly interests them.

I actually have a rather healthy respect for many lobbyists, both public interest and paid private sector, because done well, they frequently provide detailed information not readily available in the public domain. The process breaks down, however, when such information is too closely held. See my example above regarding the causes of learning difficulties in elementary school -- the strongest causal relationship regarding success with the school program is Family Security and Family economic security. It is rarely discussed, but virtually all of the literature points in this direction. The question for any progressive lobbyist in this instance would be how do you present these research findings so they are salient to key members of congress and their staff on one hand, and to a larger public which has an interest in addressing the key causes of educational failure. Can legislation attempt to compensate for insecurity? Are there any experimental efforts that have shown some success? Is additional research indicated? As things stand with NCLB now, failure is blamed on teachers, administration, curriculium, tests and frequency of testing, -- many things that are actually unrelated to whether a child is relatively secure, and senses they are secure.

I think the net is very well positioned to push issues such as this that are factually and reality based both into Congress as salient matters -- and into the larger public discourse. It is really about reframing discussion of major issues, pointing to previously ignored variables, adding new interests into the mix. In this case there exists a whole body of research that causally connects such things as major employer leaving a community and not being replaced, a significant increase in crime in a community, community dislocation due to significant military deployments, Obviously things like Katrina, and many others one can arrange along a secure - insecure scale, and yes indeed, they strongly predict increased educational failure. So do family matters, divorce and/or seperation produce insecurity that is reflected in student achievement. All these things point to social policies other than what is done in the school building as matters of concern.

After twelve years of political discussion not based in verifiable reality, we have a whole host of challenges in front of us if we want Democrats to succeed in bringing the discussion back to pragmatic matters.

By the way, (OT) I want to strongly recommend Richard Danner's article in the current "New York Review of Books" -- very long piece -- on Iraq. The only place I somewhat disagree with him is with respect to George Kennan. I would add George Marshall to his telling of earlier American Policy, because Kennan did not do Military in his policy analysis that deeply, but George Marshall who was Kennan's contemporary did both. Otherwise the article is masterful.

Sara,

I will repeat more or less what I just said in the last thread to katie.
"I have to love yours and sara's spirit, but you both continually underestimate the lust and greed for power that is in mankind."

Sure you can explain these things, but then you need to hold the Democrats feet to the fire, to put them under the microscope, to demand openeness and dialogue, and when they don't provide it, don't fund them, vote against them whether they wear Democratic clothes or not, EVEN raise hell about them.

I truly don't think that those here on the forum will do that. I mean I don't think they will pick the candidate and not the label. Or when someone disappoints you rid yourself of him even if he wears the Party clothes you like yourself.
Too many times I hear [[from both sides, Democratic and Republican]] just elect the party because we "know how to govern." Personally I think that is garbage.

It is when these charalatans feel confident in their so called "base" that they really think they can get away with excesses, and digging into the trough.

I see that all the big companies are now hiring Democratic lobbyists, past staff, past Reps, etc.

[[[IT IS BUSINESS AS USUAL IN CORPORATE AMERICA!!]]

Sara, if I'd known you would write this I wouldn't have done "is this the next hurrah" -- quite the same motivation here but much better put. The challenge is to move blogs from responding to Republican misdeeds to shaping a positive Democratic agenda. After reading your take on it, I would separate this activity into two spheres:
1. directly informing congress (and the public) on issues -- an educational role
2. making transparent to the public the information that congress is using -- a documentarian role

blogs are excellent in both spheres, but have a more unique niche in the second. for education we are collaborating (or competing) with tv, newspapers, and all other media. but in providing large searchable databses on-line we really stand alone.

one approach, then, is to work on publicizing what materials the committees are drawing from, and who provided those materials. If they are writing an energy bill and have spent 80 hours meeting with lobbyists and 2 hours meeting with climate change scientists, bringing that to light may be enough to create change. if they are keeping their sources secret, bringing that secrecy to light may help as well. I don't know how "document-able" this kind of information is -- is it reasonable to think we can get lists from each committee of what reports they have been supplied, and is it reasonable to think that those lists actually represent what their staffs have read?

OT, Jodi, for bold you can type <b>this will be bold</b> and get this will be bold

[b]Oh, wow![\b]

Thanks emptypockets.

Is there a handy dandy list somewhere?

:(

I guess I don't have permission.

Again.

My dylexia popped in, I hope.

:)

Jodi -- I have been a Democrat, or a member of the Democratic Farmer-Labor Party (DFL) all of my life, and I have served over 20 years in Party Positions to which I was elected, I've managed campaigns, and I have been a Lobbyist (for main stream Protestant, Catholic and Jewish organizations with regard to Civil Rights) and I have team taught Public Interest Lobbying at the University. I am not about to change my party. Period.

There are plenty of ways internally within a party where one can call out those with problems, I've done it, I have watched it being done, and I've participated in a major way in party reform. I was part of the Gene McCarthy group that took on and defeated Hubert Humphrey's pro vietnam war supporters beginning in 1967. We ended the careers of half a dozen state legislators, virtually all of the party officers, and eventually two members of congress. It was not done by supporting Republicans. I participated in a small way in the Frazer Commission which re-wrote the rules of the whole Democratic Party vis a vis how we do nominations in the period 70- 72.

The only Republican I ever supported in my life in a public way was Gladys Wright Brooks when she ran for Mayor. I did so because I had worked with her in the 60's when she was VP of the National Council of Churches, heading the Civil Rights Division. She also was a founder of Clergy and Laity Concerned about the War in Vietnam. I could never figure out why she insisted on being a Republican -- and indeed it eventually got too much for her when her party excluded her from state convention delegate status because 1) she supported Row v Wade, and 2) she donated to Planned Parenthood. Those are not my kind of people.

How about we put the two aims together, and re-write NCLB so that county that allows its school districts to teach ID or creationism in any form loses all federal funds. Not just education, all federal funds.

And increases the fed income tax for that county to 90%.

Emptypockets.

One interesting matter relevant to your points is the accessability of reports online from CRS, the Congressional Research Service. This is a division within the Library of Congress which does issue research on demand for Members and at times for committees. It is non-partisian, and does highly respected work. It is clearly directed toward members who ask questions (many of which are quite specific) and it is more or less up to individual Congresspersons whether they release a CRS report they have requested.

Back in 94 putting CRS product on line was under debate when the Dems lost control of congress, and over time CRS has lost some of its funding, and in various ways the Republicans constrained the Democrats ability to use the service, such as requiring a sub-committee chair to sign off on a request.

So one thing to discuss now is whether we should press for what was under consideration in 1994, or whether there is a better proposition, -- but this is one clear way members get factual input from a non-lobby/non-partisian source.

By the way the Congressional Research Service is duplicated in many states by state Legislative Research Services. Some of the states working through the State Legislative Organization (forget what it is called) share this product on line. For instance, if you want to know the results of noise tests on snowmobiles, no need for every state with snow and winter recreation to re-do all the same tests. I believe much of this is on-line, but password protected. It might be interesting to see if CRS and the State products could at least be indexed on line, and open to anyone -- and then figure out some reasonable system for access by the general public. It is, afterall, information in the public domain and which we paid to collect.

Anyhow, that is a project that has been sitting on the shelf since 1994, and a good "Republican Recovery" project for some. And it is part of your question -- what information can a congressperson access?

There is some talk that congressmembers be required to post in a short timeperiod, contacts from registered lobbyists as a sort of audit process. I am not sure how this would be written -- and until one sees it, I think I would prefer not to commit on it. It could produce lots of useless information and exempt the important contacts. An Example:

Let's say a rep from a Trade Association and a company officer from a firm in the Congressman's district arrange to meet with a congressperson regarding a business/trade issue. The Trade Association guy is a Registered lobbyist, the company officer probably is not. The Trade Ass presents the overall issue -- problem, and the Company officer illustrates with inside financial information from the firm, which he then translates into jobs, wage levels and all the rest as it will impact a state, members district. The Trade Ass is the Lobbyist -- the Company officer is the exhibit, the illustration.

Now can internal business data be required to be made available to the public? Business plans, business strategies? I strongly doubt this could be required. But it is the data and its interpretation that will persuade or not persuade the Member or staffer. I think you see the problem.

This is a huge ethical issue that rarely gets full discussion, but it is at the heart of the problem.

Sara, that's all very helpful. I wasn't aware of the CRS or the state-level equivalents. Putting CRS reports themselves online would be a tremendous step toward transparency. But, short of that, putting a record of what reports were requested (and, say, the section titles of the resulting report) and by whom and when would be a great way for bloggers to ensure their congresspeople are doing due diligence in researching a topic before voting on it. Reports that weren't requested may be as effective in raising a stink against bad legislation as those that were, to demonstrate the Representative hasn't done the homework. Basically, I'd like to be able to see what's been checked out and when on the congresspeople's library cards (hey, they can see mine now, right?).

Likewise for the lobbying example you give, while I'd love to know exactly what was presented at these meetings (and I think a case could be made that whatever business plans are told to the Representative should be in the public domain -- to deter companies from blowing smoke to get policies passed and then never being held to account) -- but even short of that, I'd like an online database with just the names and affiliations of who was at the meeting, where the meeting was held, how long it lasted, and ideally some sort of outline of the agenda. Again, I don't need to know exactly what the Congressperson knows but I'd like to know where and how their information is being obtained.

Jodi,
<i>italics</i>
<s>strikethrough</s>
<a href=http://thenexthurrah.com>link</a>


<blockquote>

This passage is quoted from another source and is referred to as a blockquote.
</blockquote>

Emptypockets, CRS documents are custom products. A member wants to know the history of regulation of particular agricultural pesticides, and the governmental and industry testing required before they are released for general use -- Member asks, and CRS, which has the whole library of congress and agency records to use -- produces a report that answers the specific question.

The Republicans actually abused the service. They called over and over again for evidence about Noah's flood, and archeological digs attempting to find the Ark. Not sure what they were legislating -- perhaps they wanted to prohibit same sex animals getting on an Ark. The research is supposed to be related to legislative work.

But you know, any of the Global Warming matters would be very appropriate for a CRS report -- History of the depth of the Greenland Icesheet, for instance -- evidence of lowered saline level in North Atlantic, potential implications for ocean currents.

Very good, Sarah. You're right, we are the new kinds on the block, and among us kids are people who were involved at the highest levels of government, and know how things work, and those who know the ins and outs of a particular issue under legislation. Hard to say how this will play out, but if we do our job as citizens, and listen to those who know what they are talking about, we can make a difference.

Emptypockets and Sara,

The CRS stuff would be interesting. I see no downside. But not terribly significant.

In my view, you should step back from the specific for a moment, and think big picture.

The first hurdle to understanding what the Committee will do is to understand what topics will be brought up. Outside of appropriations, there is tremendous latitude there. Repubs buried a lot of stuff simply by never having hearings and not marking up bills. On the other hand, they sent us on some wild goose chases, like lots of hearings on eco-terrorism.

The key here is to ask the question. What will you address? What hearings? What mark-ups? And we need a place where it is known that you can go look for the list.

And an effort should be made to harrass Congress when important things are left off the list.

Second, you need to keep track of the players -- and what position (generally) they take on the matters to be brought up. The earlier in the game that you do the nose-counting, the better the chance you will have time to mobilize and change people's mind.

Again, you need an organized place to store the info. Someplace people can go to look.

To hell with educating the members. Just convince them that you are watching. Someone cares. If you have their balls, their hearts and minds will follow. LBJ philosophy.

Third, you need to see all the bills and all the amendments in advance of the mark-ups. At the moment, for no good reason, this is not possible. We should complain.

There will still be greed and venality under the Dems (see the very dispiriting NYT article on the unlikelihood of doing away with earmarks) but at least the dems are more reality based, as opposed to the creationists, gloobal warming deniers and other fantasists that inhabit the right wing of the GOP. The Dems really ARE better at governing, Jodi, though they are not perfect. Read Ron Suskind's first book on Bush, "The Price of Loyalty" or Chris Mooney's "The Republican War on Science." You can't begin to solve problems unless you (a) have some understanding of them and (b) want to solve them.

jwp, with all due respect, failing to educate will likely lead to 'bullying'. No one likes to be forced, and I personally don't see the new Dems as people who -- having beaten the odds to get to Congress -- are very likely to allow themselves to be bullied and harranged.

I understand your frustration -- trust me!

But unless legislators understand relationships, underlying causes, and linkages, all we'll get is is more crap, expensive legislation. And too much of it.

Case in point: with reading comprehension, if a child has hearing problems during preschool years, their auditory perception is impeded. If this happens, their ability to correctly distinguish between 'th' and 'd' is impeded. So they won't really understand the differences between 'breath' and 'bread'.

This s further complicated when they encounter homonyms: 'pear,' 'pare,' and 'pair' SOUND the same, but have different meanings. For a child who can't even auditorily distinguish between 'bread' and 'breath', encountering homonyms becomes incredibly frustrating. Trust me, I've seen this occur 8(

So in order to address reading skills, there are related issues: do the kiddos have pre-school medical care for things like ear infections? Has their eyesight been tested? Are they living in an extremely noisy environment (near industry, or a freeway) that negatively impacts their hearing? Have they ever been in a library? Do they ever see ANY reading materials in their 'home' environment? Have they heard lots of nursery rhymes (which is some of the best 'auditory discrimination' you can provide for any preschooler)?

These are all related to Sara's points, and they're part of why NCLB is a fiasco. NCLB, like other crap legislation, tends to focus on single institutions (i.e., 'schools') and basically bludgeon those schools that are charged with teaching kids who come from very unstable backgrounds.

NCLB can't work, in large part b/c it fails to address key factors in 'reading readiness': medical care, a sense of personal safety, a full tummy, and good hearing. And those are the starters. (I could go on, but I think that I've made my point.)

Any kickass legislation on 'child reading' actually requires working with cops, teachers, pediatricians, urban planners in order to get a solid sense of the context in which kids are most likely to acquire reading skills. To my knowledge, this sort of 'collaborative' approach to legislation has not been done.

That's where I think that the Internet might hold some promise. It's not simply a question of following legislation -- it's also an issue of collaborative problem statements, followed up by creating a narrative that can help legislators understand why legislating enough cops and parks actually enhances reading ability. Sounds weird, but I'm simply restating Sara's point in more descriptive words.

My observation is that it not only requires following proposed legislation in Committee A (Education), but related legislation in Committee B (Public Safety) in order to have any real chance at optimal outcomes. Very complicated. But possible.

For good cross-domain, easily-readable research displays, see: http://www.gapminder.org/

So, you have to be a dem to work for the federal government?

Ho yers and his constituents cross domained Pelosi and it's just normal for all these retiring feds to move into Congress and House jobs as part of their overall life 'little journey..........'

They steal too much of my tax money after twenty years and should give some others a chance to serve with term limits and limits on their federal service.

Dem tax leaches who just never leave the fed payroll or Congressional payroll.

Tealeaves,

I was unclear in my previous comment.

I do not feel frustrated. I am trying to describe the practical side of things.

As I understood Sara, she was pointing out how choices are shaped in Committee.

For example, a member may be confronted with a vote on the floor that is unattractive both ways. Not satisfied with the bill. But not wanting to do nothing to address the problem. Up or down. Maybe NCLB. Maybe some other bill.

Happens all the time.

The choice that the members will face is shaped in Committee, among other places.

So what it the task?

Educate people on the Committee, and their staff? In part.

But there are other dynamics at work, as well.

My point, generally, is that too much of the decisionmaking is done in secret. And this favors insiders and special interest lobbyists. So one important task is to bring sunshine to the process.

If members know that they may be held accountable for actions in committee (not often the case because their role is so obscure to the public), then the members will be more reluctant to cave to various sorts of special interests (including some liberal ones). This is a variation on the LBJ rule.

One way to inject sunshine is to monitor all committee activity. This is the goal of the KOS committee project, and it is a worthy goal. But I doubt that the resources or discipline are available to do so reliably.

I think institutional support is needed. Possibly a consortium of universities to put together a team of students (rotating through on one-year programs) to monitor Congress and run websites.

A more practical approach at the moment is probably to hook up with various liberal lobbyists and get significant inside info there, and post it.

One final thought on motivations. On the Hill, people want to be players and to deal with players. Rubes are scorned. It is about ego. Partly about career and money down the road as a lobbyist, but mostly about status. The excitement.

When deals are struck at the committee level, in the dark, staff and members want to know what the players think. The other players (like them).

A few misc. Kos types are not considered players.

Organized in some way, they might become players.

Sweet reason helps. Indeed, it is a good thing. The only reason to venture into this swamp. But sweet reason alone is a thin reed to pin your hopes on.

Minikatz,

in one way I disagree with you. The Republicans do understand pretty well. They have just sold their souls.

I only hope that the Democrats haven't sold as much of theirs.

I keep reading that now the Democrats are lining up to replace the Republican's places at the troughs of the lobbyists and special interest groups.

Tell them than you, you expect,

The comments to this entry are closed.

Where We Met

Blog powered by Typepad