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[Discuss] keeping an eye on congress

Bill Horne wrote:
> Email is analyized and weighted for keywords, after being run through
> /very/ expertly devised filters which identify "mail bomb" auto-writing
> campaigns and chain letters. Printed mail is often simply weighed, after
> being sorted by zip code. Only hand-written letters get seen by a real
> person.

This is all true (from what I've heard), but it shouldn't be.

(Actually, in most cases I could care less whether my representatives
read my specific words, as long as my "vote" on the issue gets equal
weight to all the others.)

There really should be a more efficient mechanism for constituents to
express an opinion on pending legislation. We certainly have the
technology available to do this. It should not only be convenient for
us, but also for the representative. Why force them to run keyword
searches on correspondence to categorize it, if it will just end up
being aggregated as a "for" or "against" vote? Provide an actual voting
mechanism, and offer separate channels for actual hand written

But what bugs me more about the inefficient use of technology by our
representatives is that it is easier to keep tabs on any random
celebrity than it is to follow what our government is up to.

There ought to be a service (and perhaps there is, but I haven't ran
across it) that publishes a summarized, easily digestible report of what
legislation is coming up in the House of Representatives and the Senate.
Probably a version that is packaged up weekly, and another version that
sends out a daily report. Something you can get via email, RSS, or
Twitter. Something that includes links to a feedback channel that allows
you to supply your "for" or "against" vote, and optional comments, to
your reps.

We may have CSPAN, but it is largely an after-the-fact tool. By the time
legislation is covered there, the deals have already been made. The
lobbyists are certainly on top of pending legislation and have gotten
their opinion injected before the vote, so why shouldn't we?

The reports should also cover how your specific reps voted on recent
legislation. So much bad legislation gets through Congress because the
vast majority of constituents are completely unaware it existed, and
have no idea how their reps voted on it. Even for major legislation that
you've heard of, do you know how your rep. voted? (Unless the vote ends
up being something the rep's challenger can use in a campaign ad or that
they can brag about, you rarely learn how your reps voted.)

Sure, this blurs the line between representative and direct government,
but with reps. spending most of their time in Washington instead of in
their districts, this just leverages technology to improve communication.

Undoubtedly such a system would be used by only a small minority of
constituents, and would have inherent demographic biases, but it still
may shine enough sunlight on the inner workings of congress to make them
think twice that they can get away anything thanks to the obscurity of


Tom Metro
Venture Logic, Newton, MA, USA
"Enterprise solutions through open source."
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