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Lobbyist Morgan Reed Answers Your Questions

timothy posted more than 11 years ago | from the worth-the-wait dept.

United States 304

A long, long time ago, you asked lobbyist Morgan Reed questions about lobbying, undue industry influence on United States laws as they apply to the tech sector, the future of internet taxation, and more. Reed, in the meantime, has switched jobs: he's now working for the Association for Competitive Technology (as he candidly and lightheartedly acknowledges, "the enemy" to many Slashdot readers, since they lobby for large software corporations, notably Microsoft), and is finally free to answer your questions. Read on for about as inside a viewpoint as you can find on how you can affect your elected representatives, from someone whose job is to do just that. Update: 08/01 19:24 GMT by M : That's Morgan Reed, not Reed Morgan. We suck.

Advice
by Maskirovka

If you could give one piece of advice to this group, what would it be?

Morgan Reed: An opening note about /. And Washington:

Many of the posts here throw out statements like "Washington is bought"; and it reminds me how little slashdot readers understand about the U.S. government.

People tend to avoid and denigrate subjects they don't fully understand or feel comfortable with. I am certain every reader can think back to an example of having a non-tech person make a disparaging, off-the-cuff comment about something of which they clearly don't grasp. Quotes like "empty suits" and "crooks" signify a response steeped in discomfort due to lack of knowledge.

Most Slashdot readers prize themselves on being knowledgeable, especially about tech issues. Many readers depend on knowledge for their income. Yet on issues involving the government, these same "knowledge workers" treat politics like the technophobes treat computers.

Fortunately or unfortunately, (and I believe fortunately) the US allows all people (over the age of 18), even those who aren't paying attention, to vote.

I would suggest that before any reader makes a blanket statement about either party or any bill or any political issue, that you take the time to think "how much do I really know about this bill?" Am I reading the full text, or am I being spun?

Be aware that much of what you read on the editorial page of the newspaper, or what you hear on talk radio, is spin. Read the byline of the author carefully (also understand in many cases he/she is not really the author, just a respected person whose name is being used to promote a position).

Finally, imagine that the people making the decisions are overworked folks getting massive quantities of information and trying to adequately represent the voters who put them in office.

I can tell you from here on the inside, I have rarely met any Member of Congress, of EITHER party, that was really a bad person. Members are all just trying to represent the voters and win re-election.

Your JOB as a US citizen is to select a representative who will adequately represent your views. It is essential that you not turn off from politics. Instead, take the time to embrace it for a few weeks, learn what you can, then check your gut. Don't be the kind of person you hate to meet who attacks your work, or calls it trivial, because they don't understand it, and are slightly fearful that they will look ignorant. Is it really too much to ask?

Corruption of democracy
by imipak

As is widely known (and apparently accepted), corporations buy off legislators in the USA through 'campaign contributions' or 'soft money' or various other apparently legal means.

There are also many commercial firms of "lobbyists", who are openly making money from influencing law making. (I must admit that I am unsure of the detail of how this works, whether cash is involved, or of it's legality.)

It seems to me that this is simply organized corruption. We see the results every day in the DMCA and similar broken laws. In your opinion, is this really democracy? At what point should a nominally democratic system be seen as a facade?

(DISCLAIMER: I am a defendant in the California deCSS case.)

Bribes?
by jeffy124

What's your opinion of organizations providing funds to political campaigns in exchange for laws/policies/etc that benefit the organization?

Could this be considered bribing on behalf of the funding organization and accepting a bribe by 'returning the favor?' If not bribes, would you consider this practice ethical?

I ask this question in how it pertains to the situation of organizations with deep pockets such as the RIAA funding lawmakers to create laws like the DMCA and other laws that are currently coming down the pike.

Also, what advice would you give to shallow-pocket organizations such as the EFF or EPIC in fighting to keep the rights of honest, well meaning Internet users?

MR: I am lumping the two previous questions together because they ask essentially the same thing: "Do organizations have an undue influence on Washington"?

The best answer I know is: "Organizations have an expected level of influence on Washington."

Members of Congress are primarily interested in serving the needs of the people that they represent. They do this both for electoral reasons as well as the fact that they personally share the median interests of their constituency.

Every organization wants to convince the government that its position reflects the position that will either benefit the most people, a group of particularly needy people, or reflects the most consistent view with existing laws and practices. That sounds reasonable, doesn't it?

When a Congressman is lobbied either by corporation or his local Lion's Club, he is thinking in terms of how it benefits his constituents and his/her personal beliefs. Corporations know that, and tailor their legislative message to illustrate the benefits or perils to a Member's local or national constituency.

You must demonstrate to members of Congress and other government officials how your position will benefit their constituents and demonstrate that many of their constituents feel the same way. This is the key to effectively lobbying government even without deep pockets.

Theoretically being politically active or donating to campaigns helps elect Members of Congress who support your beliefs or position on a issue. That said, I've had clients who maxed out to Members of Congress who were actively opposed to the client's legislation because they agreed with his/her social agenda.

You don't walk in, hand over a check and change a vote. Doesn't happen.

Any time you think it all works from money, take a look at the list of Congressmen who did NOT support Trade Promotion Authority (TPA) but received money from tech companies!

Bottom line, the role of money in politics is murky.

So here is an example of murky money: You want to help the EFF? Write a big check. It will allow them to do better research, hire more people to lobby, fly to more conferences, print more flyers, etc. Hmmmm, sounds a lot like "providing funds to political campaigns in exchange for laws/policies/etc that benefit the organization", doesn't it?

Internet taxes
by JJ

What is the political future of the internet sales tax exemption?

MR: Excellent question, but one that needs to be broken into two parts. Internet Sales Tax is a term that is used but actually represents two different tax questions. First, the Internet Tax Moratorium is not a moratorium on sales or use tax, but a moratorium on access tax. An access tax is a tax on your internet service itself. When you look at your phone bill, you will notice access taxes at the bottom. The Internet Tax Moratorium prevents states and localities from levying taxes on your access. This moratorium is probably going to become permanent this year, and will represent a success in efforts to tear down barriers to eCommerce and remote working.

Next, there's the difficulty that states have in collecting sales tax on consumers' purchases from out-of-state retailers. There's nothing new about that, since it's been difficult for decades#8212ever since catalogs and phone orders became prevalent. It's not really an "Internet Tax" but a remote seller tax. Technically, consumers have to voluntarily pay a "use tax" on their out-of-state purchases, but compliance is predictably low.

States have tried to force remote catalog vendors to collect sales tax, but the U.S. Supreme Court said that states only have taxing power over businesses that have some physical presence in their states. Which is why walmart.com has to collect sales tax for any state where there's a Wal-Mart store (are there any states that don't have a Wal-Mart?).

In its ruling in the Quill decision, the Supreme Court gave the states an opening: they held that Congress could extend the states' taxing power, but only if the states standardized and simplified their tax rules. Today, there are over 7,500 separate sales tax jurisdictions in the U.S., each with its own rates and rules about what's taxable and what's not. Bricks-and-mortar retailers have to collect and file for just one jurisdiction, while remote sellers would have to collect and remit for every place their customers live.

With that kind of opening from the Supreme Court, several states started a campaign to unify and simplify their sales tax rules. This program is usually referred to as the Streamlined Sales Tax Project (SSTP). Earlier this month, they reached their goal of covering 20% of the U.S. population with states who have promised to simplify their sales tax regimes. (No promises about how simple it will be to file the forms and modify sellers' software and systems#8212just the vague promise that computers will make it simple enough.) The next step in the states' campaign is to ask Congress to give them the powers they seek, and they're already lining-up supporters for the legislation.

So there's nothing new about the states' difficulty in getting remote sellers to collect everyone's sales taxes. And nothing here is unique to the internet, since catalogs generate about four times as much as online sales. Truth is, internet e-commerce is costing states just one or two billion dollars year in lost sales taxes ationwide.

It's just that states are hungry for new revenue, and they've convinced themselves that there are billions to be gained by forcing out-of-state sellers to collect and remit their sales taxes. What remains to be seen is whether the incremental taxes are worth the costs and burden--especially on small businesses that look to the internet to expand their markets.

Top five issues?
by JPMH

What would you say are the top five issues that *need* an effective lobbying effort at the moment?

MR:

  • Intellectual Property (IP is the major umbrella issue for tech in the foreseeable future. If you want to give your IP away under the GPL, it should be yours to give; and should you GPL it, you should be able to protect that right. If you want to monetize your IP, should be able to protect it and share it with a license. Fee diversion at the PTO is a bad thing, not enough is being done to find 'prior art.' )

  • Internet Access Taxation and SSTP (Bad for eCommerce)

  • Spam (Confusion reigns at this point, is it porn or UCE? Legislation must work hand in hand with technology and international pressure. Beware of unintended consequences)

  • CDBTPA (We must continue fighting against DRM tech mandates. Technology should solve the problems, government should probably stay out)

  • Privacy (make sure that a good balance is struck between corporate sharing and personal privacy. Make sure that if there is a failure, technology is not blamed)

Who knows best?
by PinkStainlessTail

I was wondering if there are any senators/reps who stand out in your mind as particularly tech savvy? For instance, here in Michigan we're relatively proud of Lynn Rivers [slashdot.org]. By the same token, who sticks out as particularly clueless (perhaps that part wouldn't be the most politic to answer...)

Rick Boucher
by GigsVT (SeeMyProfile@slashdot.org)

Have you spoken with Rick Boucher? Is he really as tech savvy as he comes across as, or is he playing us? Does he really care about protecting rights online?

MR: First things first, I will not speak to the relative knowledge of any particular Member of Congress (what, do you think I want to become unemployed)??

That said, I will now violate the previous statement to say that yes, Congressman Boucher is quite tech savvy. I do this not to ingratiate myself with his office (which it won't) but to point out that Congressman Boucher is a Member of the House Energy and Commerce Committee.

Members of committees with jurisdiction over issues like the Internet tend to be more knowledgeable about those issues. In addition, those members also have some extremely knowledgeable staff to help them on each of their key issues. You would be blown away to see how much energy is spent on something like the spam bill.

Some members of Congress even have scientific and technical backgrounds. For instance, Rush Holt was an actual rocket scientist at Princeton before be elected to Congress.

The problem they all face is time and resources. They have 600,000 people in their district, or a whole state for a Senator. There just aren't that many people "back on the ranch" screaming for technology legislation. And when they do, they may not be asking for the same thing you are.

Career Path
by BlueFrog (craser at indiana dot edu)

I've heard it said several times that our (US) legislators are sincerely trying to do good on behalf of their constituency, but that most tech lobbyists work on behalf of groups with specific agendas. What hope is there for 'White Hat' tech lobbyists to make their mark in Washington's political scene, and what would you suggest to anyone with thoughts of becoming a lobbyist?

MR: In three parts:

1. Yes, the vast majority of Congresspersons are sincerely trying to do "good" on behalf of their constituency. I put good in quotes in this case because "good" may not be the correct word. Members of Congress are primarily concerned with the (relatively) parochial interests of the 600,000 people in their district in the case of Representatives, or the people in their state in the case of Senators. If you define good as "benefiting the people of the district/state" then yes, Members of Congress are _all_ trying very hard to do what they believe is good on behalf of their constituency.

That said, Members do consider the greater good for the US, and the outside world, but their first focus (and one could argue it should be) is on their immediate electorate.

2. Everyone thinks they are a "white hat" lobbyist, but their own perception of the hat is colored by the client. Look at Sun, are they a "white hat" because they went after MS? Are they still a "white hat" now that they are going after Linux? IBM used to be the "Great Satan" before MS. Now that they are supporting Open Source (after a fashion) are they now "white hat"? "White Hat" vs. "Black Hat" in technology is a myth.

Corporate tech lobbyists are not working against tech. No one is lobbying for a return to the era of 8 pound cell phones and thermal paper fax machines. In most cases tech lobbyists are working to protect the income of the company or companies they represent, while trying to keep the government out of technology in general.

3. Becoming a Lobbyist

So you want to become a lobbyist? a lobbyist is an advocate for a position, nothing more, nothing less. You already lobby in daily life when you urge your friends to see the movie you want, or eat at your favorite restaurant. When your write a letter to your congressman, school-board or city council you are lobbying as well.

If you mean you want to put food on the table as a professional advocate in the field of politics, then there are two routes that come to mind: Most obvious, go to law school. Second possibility, work your way up in politics. Third, and preferred, do both.

If law school interests you, remember a lobbyist is an advocate just as a lawyer is an advocate. The vast majority of lobbyists have JDs or LLMs. This is by no means a requirement, and you don't necessarily need to get your law degree as a first order of business, but it is a common path.

Essentially your life plan would look like this: go to law school, work for a company in their legal department, get assigned to the govn't relations division, be willing to take a job in DC, get transferred to DC, do a good job advocating your company's position while building relationships with Members of Congress and staff, find a firm (most likely one your company has hired as an outside consultant) that believes you can bring business into the firm, get hired by that firm, find new business, advocate your new client's position, find new business, advocate your new client's position... you get the picture.

If politics interest you (see my definition of politics), then become politically active now, don't hesitate for a second. Political activism does not necessarily mean waving signs at crowded intersections; it can mean raising money, working in a campaign office, interning or working at a party headquarters. If you do not come from a political family, or you haven't really been involved in politics on any level and the next campaign is too far away to wait for, I would suggest looking for an internship either in Washington DC or your State Capitol.

Interning allows you to get a peek under the covers of how Congress and the Administration work. You will get to see the vast piles of mail that come in daily from every concerned citizen and crackpot alike, and you get the pleasure of assisting someone in drafting a honest, well thought out response. You will answer endless phonecalls from people saying "don't take away my social security/guns/right to chose/ right to life/ right to a job/right to a better life. You will run errands for people from the home town, from getting passes to the House gallery to tours of the Capitol underground. You will make sure that if someone from the district has a problem back home, you get a caseworker to help. You will make sure that orders for flags that have been flown above the Capitol have been filled, and all the flag certificates are in place. You will get to savour the Friday nights when members are out of town and you get to leave before 8:00pm. You will feel blessed if the Senator or Representative remembers your name. And you will do it all for no pay.

You would think that a thankless job with no pay would be easy to get, but you would be wrong. I have seen Harvard law school graduates answering phones and holding softball fields for 3 hours in 90 degree weather just to be part of the action. To get an internship, start looking at your home state Senators and Representatives. Write cover letters and send resumes' to everyone that might bring you in (any connection you have with the home state and/ or district is important). If you can travel to DC, try to arrange "informational" interviews with the Administrative Assistant for your hometown Rep. Discuss your interest in interning with them or with any other Member of Congress that may have internships available. Do not make statements like "I want to do substantive work"; to them, you know essentially nothing of substance, why would someone want your hands on the reins of government?

If you are fortunate enough to land an internship and do well during it, you can try to get a job on the hill. This will not bring relief, only more work for essentially no pay (as an aside, my wife worked on Capitol Hill for almost four years and never made as much as her tuition was at Smith College. She is now in Vet school).

Lawmakers' awareness of the CDBTPA
by CaptainSuperBoy

I am concerned that legislators are not aware of how dangerous the SSSCA (now CDBTPA) is, especially in light of our recent disaster and our coming war. Now more than ever, we need to be concerned about the possibility of losing our individual freedoms.

Are our lawmakers aware of the CDBTPA and its dangers? Do you think it will be debated in detail, or will it pass "under the radar?"

MR: As to the loss of personal liberty, let me set up my soapbox and put my job in jeopardy:

[begin rant]

If you think the DMCA or the CDBTPA was a threat to your personal liberty, you would be outraged and disgusted by the recently passed anti-terrorism legislation, the PATRIOT Act.

A quick overview of the rights and privileges that are destroyed by this legislation are stunning and saddening. Tax information sharing, secret searches, grand jury testimony sharing, warrentless email searches (granted this already existed in a form), possibly warrantless searches of medical or education information, poorly worded money laundering provisions, Single-Jurisdiction search warrants and so on.

Proponents will argue that most of these items only really come in to play under FISA, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. But the problem lies in the fact that law enforcement will seek to use new laws to show a nexus (a word we will revisit on Internet taxes) between domestic illegal acts, like selling drugs, and the funding of terrorists. I don't want to insinuate that I support drug dealers, but I personally feel that some in law enforcement will, in the zealous pursuit of criminals, accidentally destroy the lives of innocent Americans.

Much of the language feels like a change in the tenor of how we view people. The presumption of innocence has been given away, to be replaced by the presumption that anyone who meets a certain profile is guilty by association. Herein lies a nexus (that word again) of computers and information gathering. Prior to the ability of computers to handle and process large amounts of data, I never really worried about the FBI or the NSA collecting data on everyone. I knew that it would be impossible for them to effectively deal with the sheer volume of information we all produce. However, many of you here on this site create and work with relational databases of real size and with computing iron that can spit out useful information from that data.

To me, the ability of computers to deal with data produces a situation where law enforcement can use newfound tools to say "give me the addresses of all people with a Arabic surname, who studied math, chemistry or physics at a U.S. university, and were members of the on-campus muslim organization". Suddenly you have created a presumption of guilt of a whole raft of people who did nothing wrong. Hopefully the police will be discreet as they investigate each and every name, but sometimes it may cost some poor sucker his job. Imagine your prospects for maintaining job security in a down-market when the FBI interviews your boss about your activities.

Worst of all, the Senate and the President have fought any sunset provisions. This part baffles me. I know law enforcement does not want ongoing investigations to be hampered by loss of their new found power in a few years, but if the law turns out to be a valuable part of the war on terrorism, then pass the damn thing again! Normally, the Legislative branch is loath to cede power to any other branch, and I am amazed at the upper chamber's decision to roll over.

That said, I am at least marginally mollified to see that _some_ sunset provisions will survive from the house bill, even if all the other good things added by Congressman Barr and Senator Feingold have been refused or removed.

I know we all have to give up a little in this time of crisis, I just want to know that I will get it back before I am old and grey...

[end of job threatening rant]

On the CDBTPA specifically, the CDBTPA has not been introduced this year, and that is in part to lobbying from industry and consumer groups. The good thing is most of the tech industry does not seem to be supportive of expanding the DRM though CDBTPA. If it should be re-introduced, make sure you make your Representatives aware of your opposition, and use some of the techniques on the list below.

Which communication methods work best, in order?
by WillSeattle

A lot of /.ers like email and tech forms of communication. Can you give us any insight into which methods work best?

I've provided what I think might be a ranking order, from best to worst, in terms of methods of communicating with a legislator on a bill, based on my experience, but could you give us any ratios?

An example might be:

1 personal appearance at his office = 2 conversations at a house party = 100 handwritten letters = 200 handwritten postcards = 1000 typed letters = 50,000 emails.

Here's my list of methods I can think of:

  1. talking with legislator when he's gardening or fixing the car on a bill;
  2. lunch or coffee (one on one);
  3. personal appearance at his office (phoned in ahead, as a constituent);
  4. personal conversation at a house party or fundraiser (more than 1 minute);
  5. question at a constituency open house (as advertised in local papers) (usually have 20-40 people);
  6. handwritten postcard with cool pics on other side;
  7. handwritten postcard found free in coffee shop or movie house;
  8. handwritten letter, hand addressed;
  9. typed letter, hand signed, with hand P.S.;
  10. typed postcard, hand signed, with hand P.S.;
  11. fax, hand signed;
  12. actiongram faxed letter like on EDF or EFF;
  13. actiongram email, modified from boilerplate in own words;
  14. actiongram email, boilerplate;
  15. weird knick-knack gift, like a techie toy we have tons of, wrapped up in a box and sent;
  16. weird knick-knack gift, connected to issue;
  17. boring gift, like stapler remover from local Kiwanas

Anything I missed?

MR: You did a great job of hitting the major things. You want a job, J?

The order is pretty good too, though I would say A. might be over the top. When a Member is at home washing the car, they may want to just wash the car. If you had a long day at the help desk, how do you feel about your neighbor coming over to ask why his #8216cup holder' doesn't seem to work any more?

Also, move I above F, and kill off all the postcards. Finally, move faxes and email way up. One of the only good things to come out of 9/11 is that Members of Congress have been forced to use email as a preferred method of communication. Paper mail and knickknacks have become harder to get into the Capitol.

There is one other way that you can help. A good, one page bullet point memo outlining a problem and a solution is a great thing, and is damn hard to write. But given the constraint on time that every staffer faces, a good bullet point one pager can be a godsend when you have to brief your boss.

Can a non-US person do anything?
by schon

Like many (most?) /. readers, I live outside the US, and am not a US citizen; in theory, US laws should not concern me as long as I remain outside US jurisdiction. Reality proves otherwise, however (witness Jon Johansen and Dmitry Sklyarov, for example.)

My question is this: can non-US citizens help to influence US decision-makers for the greater good, and if so, how?

MR: No.

Well, not completely, I just came from a meeting with some MEPs from the European Internet Foundation, and Members of Parliament do have relationships with U.S. Representatives.

But for the most part, you are going to have to lobby your Representative to lobby our Representatives.

Double-edged Sword
by greysky

Many slashdotters expect the government to regulate spam and Microsoft, but remain hands-off with things such as encryption, free speech and copyright. Do you think that it is reasonable to draw a line like this and expect Congress not to cross it, or should we take a more consistent stance and push for the government to stay further away from the Internet and technology all together?

MR: Ironically, it was Milton Friedman who said that Silicon Valley was committing suicide by trying to leverage the government in their competition with Microsoft. Today, many of those same companies now find themselves under scrutiny. While there is certainly a role for government to play in areas of antitrust enforcement, it can be a bit of a broad sword in the tech industry where things change so quickly. Just look at the growth of Linux; its growth has little or nothing to do with the Antitrust Suit. Browsers, on the other hand, the core of the suit, have largely become irrelevant.

In the long run, too much regulation favors large companies, not smaller ones. Once you bring Washington into technology, it's hard to get Washington to leave. It is probably better for the technology community to let the marketplace sort things out, and only look to government for very small, surgical tasks. We all know we don't want "Technology at the speed of government".

My biggest concern these days
by MaxGrant

Everyone here is aware that more and more broadly-worded laws are getting passed, making all sorts of formerly innocuous computer activities "criminal." I've just emailed my representatives regarding the "hacking is terrorism" nonsense that's being looked at, and I've informed them that laws like this cause me to re-evaluate, on a yearly basis, whether or not I should continue working in IT, or find some job in a safer field which is not under seemingly continuous legislative attack. My question, after all that, is do you think the representative will look at that and care? My state is trying very hard to draw technology workers here, which I'm sure is the case in every state in the union except California and Oregon. Would an appeal to the simple "I'm afraid to do this anymore because it's becoming legally dangerous to work in computers" be of any use, or did I waste my breath?

MR: This is not really a new question. Since the time I remember watching my father walk down the halls at the University with a stack of punchcards, computer types have been revered and feared. If you have a job in IT, you are not likely to run afoul of the law. Heck, there is a strong chance that you could be working in a company developing software that does work for the Office of Homeland Security (the only branch of government with a truly expanding budget for tech).

We create this fear in the non tech savvy population ourselves, and I personally think we enjoy it. As a general rule, the most paranoid folks I know are techies. They see the government, or a malicious hacker, around every packet. At the O'Reilly Conference, I was speaking to someone about 802.11 security and he said to me "yeah, I have a card in my laptop, but I leave it off because I am not comfortable with the security yet."

I can't imagine my mother saying that.

For her, it either works or doesn't. She only gets scared when I explain to her exactly how vulnerable she could be.

Every time a tech person gets on the TV and tells the world that your credit card info isn't safe on a computer, constituents write Congress looking for a fix.

Industry understands the balance between privacy and data sharing (not necessarily in a way you would like). As I type this, the House Financial Services Committee is marking up the "Fair Credit Reporting Act" (FCRA). This Act represents the tug-of-war Congress faces between sharing info and protecting the consumer.


Reed is Vice President for Public Affairs at the Association for Competitive Technology.

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whats that you say?? (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#6590139)

ohhhhhh what a GLORIOUS daaaay... for I am the first to post on the article Horaaaaaaaaaaayyyy la la la\n\rUP yr nose with a rubber hose, D!

Help! (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#6590143)

I trolled Slashdot too much and my karma is terrible. I tried posting "insightful" comments and such but they usually don't get moderated at all because they start at -1. If you're reading this please help fix my karma... I'd really appreciate it. Thanks!

Do us both a favor... (-1, Flamebait)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#6590157)

shut the fuck up.

Love Always,
News For Turds

Boring, here's something to lighten the mood! (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#6590169)

Top Ten President Bush Excuses For Not Finding Weapons of Mass Destruction

10. "We've only looked through 99% of the country"

9. "We spent entire budget making those playing cards"

8. "Containers are labeled in some crazy language"

7. "They must have been stolen by some of them evil X-Men mutants"

6. "Did I say Iraq has weapons of mass destruction? I meant they have goats"

5. "How are we supposed to find weapons of mass destruction when we can't even find Cheney?"

4. "Still screwed up because of Daylight Savings Time"

3. "When you're trying to find something, it's always in the last place you look, am I right, people?"

2. "Let's face it -- I ain't exactly a genius"

1. "Geraldo took them"

Getting kind-of slow... in case of /.ing (-1, Redundant)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#6590172)

A long, long time ago, you asked lobbyist Reed Morgan questions about lobbying, undue industry influence on United States laws as they apply to the tech sector, the future of internet taxation, and more. Reed, in the meantime, has switched jobs: he's now working for the Association for Competitive Technology (as he candidly and lightheartedly acknowledges, "the enemy" to many Slashdot readers, since they lobby for large software corporations, notably Microsoft), and is finally free to answer your questions. Read on for about as inside a viewpoint as you can find on how you can affect your elected representatives, from someone whose job is to do just that.

Advice
by Maskirovka

If you could give one piece of advice to this group, what would it be?

Morgan Reed: An opening note about /. And Washington:

Many of the posts here throw out statements like "Washington is bought"; and it reminds me how little slashdot readers understand about the U.S. government.

People tend to avoid and denigrate subjects they don't fully understand or feel comfortable with. I am certain every reader can think back to an example of having a non-tech person make a disparaging, off-the-cuff comment about something of which they clearly don't grasp. Quotes like "empty suits" and "crooks" signify a response steeped in discomfort due to lack of knowledge.

Most Slashdot readers prize themselves on being knowledgeable, especially about tech issues. Many readers depend on knowledge for their income. Yet on issues involving the government, these same "knowledge workers" treat politics like the technophobes treat computers.

Fortunately or unfortunately, (and I believe fortunately) the US allows all people (over the age of 18), even those who aren't paying attention, to vote.

I would suggest that before any reader makes a blanket statement about either party or any bill or any political issue, that you take the time to think "how much do I really know about this bill?" Am I reading the full text, or am I being spun?

Be aware that much of what you read on the editorial page of the newspaper, or what you hear on talk radio, is spin. Read the byline of the author carefully (also understand in many cases he/she is not really the author, just a respected person whose name is being used to promote a position).

Finally, imagine that the people making the decisions are overworked folks getting massive quantities of information and trying to adequately represent the voters who put them in office.

I can tell you from here on the inside, I have rarely met any Member of Congress, of EITHER party, that was really a bad person. Members are all just trying to represent the voters and win re-election.

Your JOB as a US citizen is to select a representative who will adequately represent your views. It is essential that you not turn off from politics. Instead, take the time to embrace it for a few weeks, learn what you can, then check your gut. Don't be the kind of person you hate to meet who attacks your work, or calls it trivial, because they don't understand it, and are slightly fearful that they will look ignorant. Is it really too much to ask?

Corruption of democracy
by imipak

As is widely known (and apparently accepted), corporations buy off legislators in the USA through 'campaign contributions' or 'soft money' or various other apparently legal means.

There are also many commercial firms of "lobbyists", who are openly making money from influencing law making. (I must admit that I am unsure of the detail of how this works, whether cash is involved, or of it's legality.)

It seems to me that this is simply organized corruption. We see the results every day in the DMCA and similar broken laws. In your opinion, is this really democracy? At what point should a nominally democratic system be seen as a facade?

(DISCLAIMER: I am a defendant in the California deCSS case.)

Bribes?
by jeffy124

What's your opinion of organizations providing funds to political campaigns in exchange for laws/policies/etc that benefit the organization?

Could this be considered bribing on behalf of the funding organization and accepting a bribe by 'returning the favor?' If not bribes, would you consider this practice ethical?

I ask this question in how it pertains to the situation of organizations with deep pockets such as the RIAA funding lawmakers to create laws like the DMCA and other laws that are currently coming down the pike.

Also, what advice would you give to shallow-pocket organizations such as the EFF or EPIC in fighting to keep the rights of honest, well meaning Internet users?

MR: I am lumping the two previous questions together because they ask essentially the same thing: "Do organizations have an undue influence on Washington"?

The best answer I know is: "Organizations have an expected level of influence on Washington."

Members of Congress are primarily interested in serving the needs of the people that they represent. They do this both for electoral reasons as well as the fact that they personally share the median interests of their constituency.

Every organization wants to convince the government that its position reflects the position that will either benefit the most people, a group of particularly needy people, or reflects the most consistent view with existing laws and practices. That sounds reasonable, doesn't it?

When a Congressman is lobbied either by corporation or his local Lion's Club, he is thinking in terms of how it benefits his constituents and his/her personal beliefs. Corporations know that, and tailor their legislative message to illustrate the benefits or perils to a Member's local or national constituency.

You must demonstrate to members of Congress and other government officials how your position will benefit their constituents and demonstrate that many of their constituents feel the same way. This is the key to effectively lobbying government even without deep pockets.

Theoretically being politically active or donating to campaigns helps elect Members of Congress who support your beliefs or position on a issue. That said, I've had clients who maxed out to Members of Congress who were actively opposed to the client's legislation because they agreed with his/her social agenda.

You don't walk in, hand over a check and change a vote. Doesn't happen.

Any time you think it all works from money, take a look at the list of Congressmen who did NOT support Trade Promotion Authority (TPA) but received money from tech companies!

Bottom line, the role of money in politics is murky.

So here is an example of murky money: You want to help the EFF? Write a big check. It will allow them to do better research, hire more people to lobby, fly to more conferences, print more flyers, etc. Hmmmm, sounds a lot like "providing funds to political campaigns in exchange for laws/policies/etc that benefit the organization", doesn't it?

Internet taxes
by JJ

What is the political future of the internet sales tax exemption?

MR: Excellent question, but one that needs to be broken into two parts. Internet Sales Tax is a term that is used but actually represents two different tax questions. First, the Internet Tax Moratorium is not a moratorium on sales or use tax, but a moratorium on access tax. An access tax is a tax on your internet service itself. When you look at your phone bill, you will notice access taxes at the bottom. The Internet Tax Moratorium prevents states and localities from levying taxes on your access. This moratorium is probably going to become permanent this year, and will represent a success in efforts to tear down barriers to eCommerce and remote working.

Next, there's the difficulty that states have in collecting sales tax on consumers' purchases from out-of-state retailers. There's nothing new about that, since it's been difficult for decades#8212ever since catalogs and phone orders became prevalent. It's not really an "Internet Tax" but a remote seller tax. Technically, consumers have to voluntarily pay a "use tax" on their out-of-state purchases, but compliance is predictably low.

States have tried to force remote catalog vendors to collect sales tax, but the U.S. Supreme Court said that states only have taxing power over businesses that have some physical presence in their states. Which is why walmart.com has to collect sales tax for any state where there's a Wal-Mart store (are there any states that don't have a Wal-Mart?).

In its ruling in the Quill decision, the Supreme Court gave the states an opening: they held that Congress could extend the states' taxing power, but only if the states standardized and simplified their tax rules. Today, there are over 7,500 separate sales tax jurisdictions in the U.S., each with its own rates and rules about what's taxable and what's not. Bricks-and-mortar retailers have to collect and file for just one jurisdiction, while remote sellers would have to collect and remit for every place their customers live.

With that kind of opening from the Supreme Court, several states started a campaign to unify and simplify their sales tax rules. This program is usually referred to as the Streamlined Sales Tax Project (SSTP). Earlier this month, they reached their goal of covering 20% of the U.S. population with states who have promised to simplify their sales tax regimes. (No promises about how simple it will be to file the forms and modify sellers' software and systems#8212just the vague promise that computers will make it simple enough.) The next step in the states' campaign is to ask Congress to give them the powers they seek, and they're already lining-up supporters for the legislation.

So there's nothing new about the states' difficulty in getting remote sellers to collect everyone's sales taxes. And nothing here is unique to the internet, since catalogs generate about four times as much as online sales. Truth is, internet e-commerce is costing states just one or two billion dollars year in lost sales taxes ationwide.

It's just that states are hungry for new revenue, and they've convinced themselves that there are billions to be gained by forcing out-of-state sellers to collect and remit their sales taxes. What remains to be seen is whether the incremental taxes are worth the costs and burden--especially on small businesses that look to the internet to expand their markets.

Top five issues?
by JPMH

What would you say are the top five issues that *need* an effective lobbying effort at the moment?

MR:

Intellectual Property (IP is the major umbrella issue for tech in the foreseeable future. If you want to give your IP away under the GPL, it should be yours to give; and should you GPL it, you should be able to protect that right. If you want to monetize your IP, should be able to protect it and share it with a license. Fee diversion at the PTO is a bad thing, not enough is being done to find 'prior art.' )

Internet Access Taxation and SSTP (Bad for eCommerce)

Spam (Confusion reigns at this point, is it porn or UCE? Legislation must work hand in hand with technology and international pressure. Beware of unintended consequences)

CDBTPA (We must continue fighting against DRM tech mandates. Technology should solve the problems, government should probably stay out)

Privacy (make sure that a good balance is struck between corporate sharing and personal privacy. Make sure that if there is a failure, technology is not blamed)
Who knows best?
by PinkStainlessTail

I was wondering if there are any senators/reps who stand out in your mind as particularly tech savvy? For instance, here in Michigan we're relatively proud of Lynn Rivers [slashdot.org]. By the same token, who sticks out as particularly clueless (perhaps that part wouldn't be the most politic to answer...)

Rick Boucher
by GigsVT (SeeMyProfile@slashdot.org)

Have you spoken with Rick Boucher? Is he really as tech savvy as he comes across as, or is he playing us? Does he really care about protecting rights online?

MR: First things first, I will not speak to the relative knowledge of any particular Member of Congress (what, do you think I want to become unemployed)??

That said, I will now violate the previous statement to say that yes, Congressman Boucher is quite tech savvy. I do this not to ingratiate myself with his office (which it won't) but to point out that Congressman Boucher is a Member of the House Energy and Commerce Committee.

Members of committees with jurisdiction over issues like the Internet tend to be more knowledgeable about those issues. In addition, those members also have some extremely knowledgeable staff to help them on each of their key issues. You would be blown away to see how much energy is spent on something like the spam bill.

Some members of Congress even have scientific and technical backgrounds. For instance, Rush Holt was an actual rocket scientist at Princeton before be elected to Congress.

The problem they all face is time and resources. They have 600,000 people in their district, or a whole state for a Senator. There just aren't that many people "back on the ranch" screaming for technology legislation. And when they do, they may not be asking for the same thing you are.

Career Path
by BlueFrog (craser at indiana dot edu)

I've heard it said several times that our (US) legislators are sincerely trying to do good on behalf of their constituency, but that most tech lobbyists work on behalf of groups with specific agendas. What hope is there for 'White Hat' tech lobbyists to make their mark in Washington's political scene, and what would you suggest to anyone with thoughts of becoming a lobbyist?

MR: In three parts:

1. Yes, the vast majority of Congresspersons are sincerely trying to do "good" on behalf of their constituency. I put good in quotes in this case because "good" may not be the correct word. Members of Congress are primarily concerned with the (relatively) parochial interests of the 600,000 people in their district in the case of Representatives, or the people in their state in the case of Senators. If you define good as "benefiting the people of the district/state" then yes, Members of Congress are _all_ trying very hard to do what they believe is good on behalf of their constituency.

That said, Members do consider the greater good for the US, and the outside world, but their first focus (and one could argue it should be) is on their immediate electorate.

2. Everyone thinks they are a "white hat" lobbyist, but their own perception of the hat is colored by the client. Look at Sun, are they a "white hat" because they went after MS? Are they still a "white hat" now that they are going after Linux? IBM used to be the "Great Satan" before MS. Now that they are supporting Open Source (after a fashion) are they now "white hat"? "White Hat" vs. "Black Hat" in technology is a myth.

Corporate tech lobbyists are not working against tech. No one is lobbying for a return to the era of 8 pound cell phones and thermal paper fax machines. In most cases tech lobbyists are working to protect the income of the company or companies they represent, while trying to keep the government out of technology in general.

3. Becoming a Lobbyist

So you want to become a lobbyist? a lobbyist is an advocate for a position, nothing more, nothing less. You already lobby in daily life when you urge your friends to see the movie you want, or eat at your favorite restaurant. When your write a letter to your congressman, school-board or city council you are lobbying as well.

If you mean you want to put food on the table as a professional advocate in the field of politics, then there are two routes that come to mind: Most obvious, go to law school. Second possibility, work your way up in politics. Third, and preferred, do both.

If law school interests you, remember a lobbyist is an advocate just as a lawyer is an advocate. The vast majority of lobbyists have JDs or LLMs. This is by no means a requirement, and you don't necessarily need to get your law degree as a first order of business, but it is a common path.

Essentially your life plan would look like this: go to law school, work for a company in their legal department, get assigned to the govn't relations division, be willing to take a job in DC, get transferred to DC, do a good job advocating your company's position while building relationships with Members of Congress and staff, find a firm (most likely one your company has hired as an outside consultant) that believes you can bring business into the firm, get hired by that firm, find new business, advocate your new client's position, find new business, advocate your new client's position... you get the picture.

If politics interest you (see my definition of politics), then become politically active now, don't hesitate for a second. Political activism does not necessarily mean waving signs at crowded intersections; it can mean raising money, working in a campaign office, interning or working at a party headquarters. If you do not come from a political family, or you haven't really been involved in politics on any level and the next campaign is too far away to wait for, I would suggest looking for an internship either in Washington DC or your State Capitol.

Interning allows you to get a peek under the covers of how Congress and the Administration work. You will get to see the vast piles of mail that come in daily from every concerned citizen and crackpot alike, and you get the pleasure of assisting someone in drafting a honest, well thought out response. You will answer endless phonecalls from people saying "don't take away my social security/guns/right to chose/ right to life/ right to a job/right to a better life. You will run errands for people from the home town, from getting passes to the House gallery to tours of the Capitol underground. You will make sure that if someone from the district has a problem back home, you get a caseworker to help. You will make sure that orders for flags that have been flown above the Capitol have been filled, and all the flag certificates are in place. You will get to savour the Friday nights when members are out of town and you get to leave before 8:00pm. You will feel blessed if the Senator or Representative remembers your name. And you will do it all for no pay.

You would think that a thankless job with no pay would be easy to get, but you would be wrong. I have seen Harvard law school graduates answering phones and holding softball fields for 3 hours in 90 degree weather just to be part of the action. To get an internship, start looking at your home state Senators and Representatives. Write cover letters and send resumes' to everyone that might bring you in (any connection you have with the home state and/ or district is important). If you can travel to DC, try to arrange "informational" interviews with the Administrative Assistant for your hometown Rep. Discuss your interest in interning with them or with any other Member of Congress that may have internships available. Do not make statements like "I want to do substantive work"; to them, you know essentially nothing of substance, why would someone want your hands on the reins of government?

If you are fortunate enough to land an internship and do well during it, you can try to get a job on the hill. This will not bring relief, only more work for essentially no pay (as an aside, my wife worked on Capitol Hill for almost four years and never made as much as her tuition was at Smith College. She is now in Vet school).

Lawmakers' awareness of the CDBTPA
by CaptainSuperBoy

I am concerned that legislators are not aware of how dangerous the SSSCA (now CDBTPA) is, especially in light of our recent disaster and our coming war. Now more than ever, we need to be concerned about the possibility of losing our individual freedoms.

Are our lawmakers aware of the CDBTPA and its dangers? Do you think it will be debated in detail, or will it pass "under the radar?"

MR: As to the loss of personal liberty, let me set up my soapbox and put my job in jeopardy:

[begin rant]

If you think the DMCA or the CDBTPA was a threat to your personal liberty, you would be outraged and disgusted by the recently passed anti-terrorism legislation, the PATRIOT Act.

A quick overview of the rights and privileges that are destroyed by this legislation are stunning and saddening. Tax information sharing, secret searches, grand jury testimony sharing, warrentless email searches (granted this already existed in a form), possibly warrantless searches of medical or education information, poorly worded money laundering provisions, Single-Jurisdiction search warrants and so on.

Proponents will argue that most of these items only really come in to play under FISA, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. But the problem lies in the fact that law enforcement will seek to use new laws to show a nexus (a word we will revisit on Internet taxes) between domestic illegal acts, like selling drugs, and the funding of terrorists. I don't want to insinuate that I support drug dealers, but I personally feel that some in law enforcement will, in the zealous pursuit of criminals, accidentally destroy the lives of innocent Americans.

Much of the language feels like a change in the tenor of how we view people. The presumption of innocence has been given away, to be replaced by the presumption that anyone who meets a certain profile is guilty by association. Herein lies a nexus (that word again) of computers and information gathering. Prior to the ability of computers to handle and process large amounts of data, I never really worried about the FBI or the NSA collecting data on everyone. I knew that it would be impossible for them to effectively deal with the sheer volume of information we all produce. However, many of you here on this site create and work with relational databases of real size and with computing iron that can spit out useful information from that data.

To me, the ability of computers to deal with data produces a situation where law enforcement can use newfound tools to say "give me the addresses of all people with a Arabic surname, who studied math, chemistry or physics at a U.S. university, and were members of the on-campus muslim organization". Suddenly you have created a presumption of guilt of a whole raft of people who did nothing wrong. Hopefully the police will be discreet as they investigate each and every name, but sometimes it may cost some poor sucker his job. Imagine your prospects for maintaining job security in a down-market when the FBI interviews your boss about your activities.

Worst of all, the Senate and the President have fought any sunset provisions. This part baffles me. I know law enforcement does not want ongoing investigations to be hampered by loss of their new found power in a few years, but if the law turns out to be a valuable part of the war on terrorism, then pass the damn thing again! Normally, the Legislative branch is loath to cede power to any other branch, and I am amazed at the upper chamber's decision to roll over.

That said, I am at least marginally mollified to see that _some_ sunset provisions will survive from the house bill, even if all the other good things added by Congressman Barr and Senator Feingold have been refused or removed.

I know we all have to give up a little in this time of crisis, I just want to know that I will get it back before I am old and grey...

[end of job threatening rant]

On the CDBTPA specifically, the CDBTPA has not been introduced this year, and that is in part to lobbying from industry and consumer groups. The good thing is most of the tech industry does not seem to be supportive of expanding the DRM though CDBTPA. If it should be re-introduced, make sure you make your Representatives aware of your opposition, and use some of the techniques on the list below.

Which communication methods work best, in order?
by WillSeattle

A lot of /.ers like email and tech forms of communication. Can you give us any insight into which methods work best?

I've provided what I think might be a ranking order, from best to worst, in terms of methods of communicating with a legislator on a bill, based on my experience, but could you give us any ratios?

An example might be:

1 personal appearance at his office = 2 conversations at a house party = 100 handwritten letters = 200 handwritten postcards = 1000 typed letters = 50,000 emails.

Here's my list of methods I can think of:

talking with legislator when he's gardening or fixing the car on a bill;
lunch or coffee (one on one);
personal appearance at his office (phoned in ahead, as a constituent);
personal conversation at a house party or fundraiser (more than 1 minute);
question at a constituency open house (as advertised in local papers) (usually have 20-40 people);
handwritten postcard with cool pics on other side;
handwritten postcard found free in coffee shop or movie house;
handwritten letter, hand addressed;
typed letter, hand signed, with hand P.S.;
typed postcard, hand signed, with hand P.S.;
fax, hand signed;
actiongram faxed letter like on EDF or EFF;
actiongram email, modified from boilerplate in own words;
actiongram email, boilerplate;
weird knick-knack gift, like a techie toy we have tons of, wrapped up in a box and sent;
weird knick-knack gift, connected to issue;
boring gift, like stapler remover from local Kiwanas
Anything I missed?

MR: You did a great job of hitting the major things. You want a job, J?

The order is pretty good too, though I would say A. might be over the top. When a Member is at home washing the car, they may want to just wash the car. If you had a long day at the help desk, how do you feel about your neighbor coming over to ask why his #8216cup holder' doesn't seem to work any more?

Also, move I above F, and kill off all the postcards. Finally, move faxes and email way up. One of the only good things to come out of 9/11 is that Members of Congress have been forced to use email as a preferred method of communication. Paper mail and knickknacks have become harder to get into the Capitol.

There is one other way that you can help. A good, one page bullet point memo outlining a problem and a solution is a great thing, and is damn hard to write. But given the constraint on time that every staffer faces, a good bullet point one pager can be a godsend when you have to brief your boss.

Can a non-US person do anything?
by schon

Like many (most?) /. readers, I live outside the US, and am not a US citizen; in theory, US laws should not concern me as long as I remain outside US jurisdiction. Reality proves otherwise, however (witness Jon Johansen and Dmitry Sklyarov, for example.)

My question is this: can non-US citizens help to influence US decision-makers for the greater good, and if so, how?

MR: No.

Well, not completely, I just came from a meeting with some MEPs from the European Internet Foundation, and Members of Parliament do have relationships with U.S. Representatives.

But for the most part, you are going to have to lobby your Representative to lobby our Representatives.

Double-edged Sword
by greysky

Many slashdotters expect the government to regulate spam and Microsoft, but remain hands-off with things such as encryption, free speech and copyright. Do you think that it is reasonable to draw a line like this and expect Congress not to cross it, or should we take a more consistent stance and push for the government to stay further away from the Internet and technology all together?

MR: Ironically, it was Milton Friedman who said that Silicon Valley was committing suicide by trying to leverage the government in their competition with Microsoft. Today, many of those same companies now find themselves under scrutiny. While there is certainly a role for government to play in areas of antitrust enforcement, it can be a bit of a broad sword in the tech industry where things change so quickly. Just look at the growth of Linux; its growth has little or nothing to do with the Antitrust Suit. Browsers, on the other hand, the core of the suit, have largely become irrelevant.

In the long run, too much regulation favors large companies, not smaller ones. Once you bring Washington into technology, it's hard to get Washington to leave. It is probably better for the technology community to let the marketplace sort things out, and only look to government for very small, surgical tasks. We all know we don't want "Technology at the speed of government".

My biggest concern these days
by MaxGrant

Everyone here is aware that more and more broadly-worded laws are getting passed, making all sorts of formerly innocuous computer activities "criminal." I've just emailed my representatives regarding the "hacking is terrorism" nonsense that's being looked at, and I've informed them that laws like this cause me to re-evaluate, on a yearly basis, whether or not I should continue working in IT, or find some job in a safer field which is not under seemingly continuous legislative attack. My question, after all that, is do you think the representative will look at that and care? My state is trying very hard to draw technology workers here, which I'm sure is the case in every state in the union except California and Oregon. Would an appeal to the simple "I'm afraid to do this anymore because it's becoming legally dangerous to work in computers" be of any use, or did I waste my breath?

MR: This is not really a new question. Since the time I remember watching my father walk down the halls at the University with a stack of punchcards, computer types have been revered and feared. If you have a job in IT, you are not likely to run afoul of the law. Heck, there is a strong chance that you could be working in a company developing software that does work for the Office of Homeland Security (the only branch of government with a truly expanding budget for tech).

We create this fear in the non tech savvy population ourselves, and I personally think we enjoy it. As a general rule, the most paranoid folks I know are techies. They see the government, or a malicious hacker, around every packet. At the O'Reilly Conference, I was speaking to someone about 802.11 security and he said to me "yeah, I have a card in my laptop, but I leave it off because I am not comfortable with the security yet."

I can't imagine my mother saying that.

For her, it either works or doesn't. She only gets scared when I explain to her exactly how vulnerable she could be.

Every time a tech person gets on the TV and tells the world that your credit card info isn't safe on a computer, constituents write Congress looking for a fix.

Industry understands the balance between privacy and data sharing (not necessarily in a way you would like). As I type this, the House Financial Services Committee is marking up the "Fair Credit Reporting Act" (FCRA). This Act represents the tug-of-war Congress faces between sharing info and protecting the consumer.

Incase this pr0st gets /.ed (-1, Redundant)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#6590190)

Posted by timothy on Friday August 01, @01:15PM
from the worth-the-wait dept.
A long, long time ago, you asked lobbyist Reed Morgan questions about lobbying, undue industry influence on United States laws as they apply to the tech sector, the future of internet taxation, and more. Reed, in the meantime, has switched jobs: he's now working for the Association for Competitive Technology (as he candidly and lightheartedly acknowledges, "the enemy" to many Slashdot readers, since they lobby for large software corporations, notably Microsoft), and is finally free to answer your questions. Read on for about as inside a viewpoint as you can find on how you can affect your elected representatives, from someone whose job is to do just that.

Advice
by Maskirovka

If you could give one piece of advice to this group, what would it be?

Morgan Reed: An opening note about /. And Washington:

Many of the posts here throw out statements like "Washington is bought"; and it reminds me how little slashdot readers understand about the U.S. government.

People tend to avoid and denigrate subjects they don't fully understand or feel comfortable with. I am certain every reader can think back to an example of having a non-tech person make a disparaging, off-the-cuff comment about something of which they clearly don't grasp. Quotes like "empty suits" and "crooks" signify a response steeped in discomfort due to lack of knowledge.

Most Slashdot readers prize themselves on being knowledgeable, especially about tech issues. Many readers depend on knowledge for their income. Yet on issues involving the government, these same "knowledge workers" treat politics like the technophobes treat computers.

Fortunately or unfortunately, (and I believe fortunately) the US allows all people (over the age of 18), even those who aren't paying attention, to vote.

I would suggest that before any reader makes a blanket statement about either party or any bill or any political issue, that you take the time to think "how much do I really know about this bill?" Am I reading the full text, or am I being spun?

Be aware that much of what you read on the editorial page of the newspaper, or what you hear on talk radio, is spin. Read the byline of the author carefully (also understand in many cases he/she is not really the author, just a respected person whose name is being used to promote a position).

Finally, imagine that the people making the decisions are overworked folks getting massive quantities of information and trying to adequately represent the voters who put them in office.

I can tell you from here on the inside, I have rarely met any Member of Congress, of EITHER party, that was really a bad person. Members are all just trying to represent the voters and win re-election.

Your JOB as a US citizen is to select a representative who will adequately represent your views. It is essential that you not turn off from politics. Instead, take the time to embrace it for a few weeks, learn what you can, then check your gut. Don't be the kind of person you hate to meet who attacks your work, or calls it trivial, because they don't understand it, and are slightly fearful that they will look ignorant. Is it really too much to ask?

Corruption of democracy
by imipak

As is widely known (and apparently accepted), corporations buy off legislators in the USA through 'campaign contributions' or 'soft money' or various other apparently legal means.

There are also many commercial firms of "lobbyists", who are openly making money from influencing law making. (I must admit that I am unsure of the detail of how this works, whether cash is involved, or of it's legality.)

It seems to me that this is simply organized corruption. We see the results every day in the DMCA and similar broken laws. In your opinion, is this really democracy? At what point should a nominally democratic system be seen as a facade?

(DISCLAIMER: I am a defendant in the California deCSS case.)

Bribes?
by jeffy124

What's your opinion of organizations providing funds to political campaigns in exchange for laws/policies/etc that benefit the organization?

Could this be considered bribing on behalf of the funding organization and accepting a bribe by 'returning the favor?' If not bribes, would you consider this practice ethical?

I ask this question in how it pertains to the situation of organizations with deep pockets such as the RIAA funding lawmakers to create laws like the DMCA and other laws that are currently coming down the pike.

Also, what advice would you give to shallow-pocket organizations such as the EFF or EPIC in fighting to keep the rights of honest, well meaning Internet users?

MR: I am lumping the two previous questions together because they ask essentially the same thing: "Do organizations have an undue influence on Washington"?

The best answer I know is: "Organizations have an expected level of influence on Washington."

Members of Congress are primarily interested in serving the needs of the people that they represent. They do this both for electoral reasons as well as the fact that they personally share the median interests of their constituency.

Every organization wants to convince the government that its position reflects the position that will either benefit the most people, a group of particularly needy people, or reflects the most consistent view with existing laws and practices. That sounds reasonable, doesn't it?

When a Congressman is lobbied either by corporation or his local Lion's Club, he is thinking in terms of how it benefits his constituents and his/her personal beliefs. Corporations know that, and tailor their legislative message to illustrate the benefits or perils to a Member's local or national constituency.

You must demonstrate to members of Congress and other government officials how your position will benefit their constituents and demonstrate that many of their constituents feel the same way. This is the key to effectively lobbying government even without deep pockets.

Theoretically being politically active or donating to campaigns helps elect Members of Congress who support your beliefs or position on a issue. That said, I've had clients who maxed out to Members of Congress who were actively opposed to the client's legislation because they agreed with his/her social agenda.

You don't walk in, hand over a check and change a vote. Doesn't happen.

Any time you think it all works from money, take a look at the list of Congressmen who did NOT support Trade Promotion Authority (TPA) but received money from tech companies!

Bottom line, the role of money in politics is murky.

So here is an example of murky money: You want to help the EFF? Write a big check. It will allow them to do better research, hire more people to lobby, fly to more conferences, print more flyers, etc. Hmmmm, sounds a lot like "providing funds to political campaigns in exchange for laws/policies/etc that benefit the organization", doesn't it?

Internet taxes
by JJ

What is the political future of the internet sales tax exemption?

MR: Excellent question, but one that needs to be broken into two parts. Internet Sales Tax is a term that is used but actually represents two different tax questions. First, the Internet Tax Moratorium is not a moratorium on sales or use tax, but a moratorium on access tax. An access tax is a tax on your internet service itself. When you look at your phone bill, you will notice access taxes at the bottom. The Internet Tax Moratorium prevents states and localities from levying taxes on your access. This moratorium is probably going to become permanent this year, and will represent a success in efforts to tear down barriers to eCommerce and remote working.

Next, there's the difficulty that states have in collecting sales tax on consumers' purchases from out-of-state retailers. There's nothing new about that, since it's been difficult for decades#8212ever since catalogs and phone orders became prevalent. It's not really an "Internet Tax" but a remote seller tax. Technically, consumers have to voluntarily pay a "use tax" on their out-of-state purchases, but compliance is predictably low.

States have tried to force remote catalog vendors to collect sales tax, but the U.S. Supreme Court said that states only have taxing power over businesses that have some physical presence in their states. Which is why walmart.com has to collect sales tax for any state where there's a Wal-Mart store (are there any states that don't have a Wal-Mart?).

In its ruling in the Quill decision, the Supreme Court gave the states an opening: they held that Congress could extend the states' taxing power, but only if the states standardized and simplified their tax rules. Today, there are over 7,500 separate sales tax jurisdictions in the U.S., each with its own rates and rules about what's taxable and what's not. Bricks-and-mortar retailers have to collect and file for just one jurisdiction, while remote sellers would have to collect and remit for every place their customers live.

With that kind of opening from the Supreme Court, several states started a campaign to unify and simplify their sales tax rules. This program is usually referred to as the Streamlined Sales Tax Project (SSTP). Earlier this month, they reached their goal of covering 20% of the U.S. population with states who have promised to simplify their sales tax regimes. (No promises about how simple it will be to file the forms and modify sellers' software and systems#8212just the vague promise that computers will make it simple enough.) The next step in the states' campaign is to ask Congress to give them the powers they seek, and they're already lining-up supporters for the legislation.

So there's nothing new about the states' difficulty in getting remote sellers to collect everyone's sales taxes. And nothing here is unique to the internet, since catalogs generate about four times as much as online sales. Truth is, internet e-commerce is costing states just one or two billion dollars year in lost sales taxes ationwide.

It's just that states are hungry for new revenue, and they've convinced themselves that there are billions to be gained by forcing out-of-state sellers to collect and remit their sales taxes. What remains to be seen is whether the incremental taxes are worth the costs and burden--especially on small businesses that look to the internet to expand their markets.

Top five issues?
by JPMH

What would you say are the top five issues that *need* an effective lobbying effort at the moment?

MR:

Intellectual Property (IP is the major umbrella issue for tech in the foreseeable future. If you want to give your IP away under the GPL, it should be yours to give; and should you GPL it, you should be able to protect that right. If you want to monetize your IP, should be able to protect it and share it with a license. Fee diversion at the PTO is a bad thing, not enough is being done to find 'prior art.' )

Internet Access Taxation and SSTP (Bad for eCommerce)

Spam (Confusion reigns at this point, is it porn or UCE? Legislation must work hand in hand with technology and international pressure. Beware of unintended consequences)

CDBTPA (We must continue fighting against DRM tech mandates. Technology should solve the problems, government should probably stay out)

Privacy (make sure that a good balance is struck between corporate sharing and personal privacy. Make sure that if there is a failure, technology is not blamed)
Who knows best?
by PinkStainlessTail

I was wondering if there are any senators/reps who stand out in your mind as particularly tech savvy? For instance, here in Michigan we're relatively proud of Lynn Rivers [slashdot.org]. By the same token, who sticks out as particularly clueless (perhaps that part wouldn't be the most politic to answer...)

Rick Boucher
by GigsVT (SeeMyProfile@slashdot.org)

Have you spoken with Rick Boucher? Is he really as tech savvy as he comes across as, or is he playing us? Does he really care about protecting rights online?

MR: First things first, I will not speak to the relative knowledge of any particular Member of Congress (what, do you think I want to become unemployed)??

That said, I will now violate the previous statement to say that yes, Congressman Boucher is quite tech savvy. I do this not to ingratiate myself with his office (which it won't) but to point out that Congressman Boucher is a Member of the House Energy and Commerce Committee.

Members of committees with jurisdiction over issues like the Internet tend to be more knowledgeable about those issues. In addition, those members also have some extremely knowledgeable staff to help them on each of their key issues. You would be blown away to see how much energy is spent on something like the spam bill.

Some members of Congress even have scientific and technical backgrounds. For instance, Rush Holt was an actual rocket scientist at Princeton before be elected to Congress.

The problem they all face is time and resources. They have 600,000 people in their district, or a whole state for a Senator. There just aren't that many people "back on the ranch" screaming for technology legislation. And when they do, they may not be asking for the same thing you are.

Career Path
by BlueFrog (craser at indiana dot edu)

I've heard it said several times that our (US) legislators are sincerely trying to do good on behalf of their constituency, but that most tech lobbyists work on behalf of groups with specific agendas. What hope is there for 'White Hat' tech lobbyists to make their mark in Washington's political scene, and what would you suggest to anyone with thoughts of becoming a lobbyist?

MR: In three parts:

1. Yes, the vast majority of Congresspersons are sincerely trying to do "good" on behalf of their constituency. I put good in quotes in this case because "good" may not be the correct word. Members of Congress are primarily concerned with the (relatively) parochial interests of the 600,000 people in their district in the case of Representatives, or the people in their state in the case of Senators. If you define good as "benefiting the people of the district/state" then yes, Members of Congress are _all_ trying very hard to do what they believe is good on behalf of their constituency.

That said, Members do consider the greater good for the US, and the outside world, but their first focus (and one could argue it should be) is on their immediate electorate.

2. Everyone thinks they are a "white hat" lobbyist, but their own perception of the hat is colored by the client. Look at Sun, are they a "white hat" because they went after MS? Are they still a "white hat" now that they are going after Linux? IBM used to be the "Great Satan" before MS. Now that they are supporting Open Source (after a fashion) are they now "white hat"? "White Hat" vs. "Black Hat" in technology is a myth.

Corporate tech lobbyists are not working against tech. No one is lobbying for a return to the era of 8 pound cell phones and thermal paper fax machines. In most cases tech lobbyists are working to protect the income of the company or companies they represent, while trying to keep the government out of technology in general.

3. Becoming a Lobbyist

So you want to become a lobbyist? a lobbyist is an advocate for a position, nothing more, nothing less. You already lobby in daily life when you urge your friends to see the movie you want, or eat at your favorite restaurant. When your write a letter to your congressman, school-board or city council you are lobbying as well.

If you mean you want to put food on the table as a professional advocate in the field of politics, then there are two routes that come to mind: Most obvious, go to law school. Second possibility, work your way up in politics. Third, and preferred, do both.

If law school interests you, remember a lobbyist is an advocate just as a lawyer is an advocate. The vast majority of lobbyists have JDs or LLMs. This is by no means a requirement, and you don't necessarily need to get your law degree as a first order of business, but it is a common path.

Essentially your life plan would look like this: go to law school, work for a company in their legal department, get assigned to the govn't relations division, be willing to take a job in DC, get transferred to DC, do a good job advocating your company's position while building relationships with Members of Congress and staff, find a firm (most likely one your company has hired as an outside consultant) that believes you can bring business into the firm, get hired by that firm, find new business, advocate your new client's position, find new business, advocate your new client's position... you get the picture.

If politics interest you (see my definition of politics), then become politically active now, don't hesitate for a second. Political activism does not necessarily mean waving signs at crowded intersections; it can mean raising money, working in a campaign office, interning or working at a party headquarters. If you do not come from a political family, or you haven't really been involved in politics on any level and the next campaign is too far away to wait for, I would suggest looking for an internship either in Washington DC or your State Capitol.

Interning allows you to get a peek under the covers of how Congress and the Administration work. You will get to see the vast piles of mail that come in daily from every concerned citizen and crackpot alike, and you get the pleasure of assisting someone in drafting a honest, well thought out response. You will answer endless phonecalls from people saying "don't take away my social security/guns/right to chose/ right to life/ right to a job/right to a better life. You will run errands for people from the home town, from getting passes to the House gallery to tours of the Capitol underground. You will make sure that if someone from the district has a problem back home, you get a caseworker to help. You will make sure that orders for flags that have been flown above the Capitol have been filled, and all the flag certificates are in place. You will get to savour the Friday nights when members are out of town and you get to leave before 8:00pm. You will feel blessed if the Senator or Representative remembers your name. And you will do it all for no pay.

You would think that a thankless job with no pay would be easy to get, but you would be wrong. I have seen Harvard law school graduates answering phones and holding softball fields for 3 hours in 90 degree weather just to be part of the action. To get an internship, start looking at your home state Senators and Representatives. Write cover letters and send resumes' to everyone that might bring you in (any connection you have with the home state and/ or district is important). If you can travel to DC, try to arrange "informational" interviews with the Administrative Assistant for your hometown Rep. Discuss your interest in interning with them or with any other Member of Congress that may have internships available. Do not make statements like "I want to do substantive work"; to them, you know essentially nothing of substance, why would someone want your hands on the reins of government?

If you are fortunate enough to land an internship and do well during it, you can try to get a job on the hill. This will not bring relief, only more work for essentially no pay (as an aside, my wife worked on Capitol Hill for almost four years and never made as much as her tuition was at Smith College. She is now in Vet school).

Lawmakers' awareness of the CDBTPA
by CaptainSuperBoy

I am concerned that legislators are not aware of how dangerous the SSSCA (now CDBTPA) is, especially in light of our recent disaster and our coming war. Now more than ever, we need to be concerned about the possibility of losing our individual freedoms.

Are our lawmakers aware of the CDBTPA and its dangers? Do you think it will be debated in detail, or will it pass "under the radar?"

MR: As to the loss of personal liberty, let me set up my soapbox and put my job in jeopardy:

[begin rant]

If you think the DMCA or the CDBTPA was a threat to your personal liberty, you would be outraged and disgusted by the recently passed anti-terrorism legislation, the PATRIOT Act.

A quick overview of the rights and privileges that are destroyed by this legislation are stunning and saddening. Tax information sharing, secret searches, grand jury testimony sharing, warrentless email searches (granted this already existed in a form), possibly warrantless searches of medical or education information, poorly worded money laundering provisions, Single-Jurisdiction search warrants and so on.

Proponents will argue that most of these items only really come in to play under FISA, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. But the problem lies in the fact that law enforcement will seek to use new laws to show a nexus (a word we will revisit on Internet taxes) between domestic illegal acts, like selling drugs, and the funding of terrorists. I don't want to insinuate that I support drug dealers, but I personally feel that some in law enforcement will, in the zealous pursuit of criminals, accidentally destroy the lives of innocent Americans.

Much of the language feels like a change in the tenor of how we view people. The presumption of innocence has been given away, to be replaced by the presumption that anyone who meets a certain profile is guilty by association. Herein lies a nexus (that word again) of computers and information gathering. Prior to the ability of computers to handle and process large amounts of data, I never really worried about the FBI or the NSA collecting data on everyone. I knew that it would be impossible for them to effectively deal with the sheer volume of information we all produce. However, many of you here on this site create and work with relational databases of real size and with computing iron that can spit out useful information from that data.

To me, the ability of computers to deal with data produces a situation where law enforcement can use newfound tools to say "give me the addresses of all people with a Arabic surname, who studied math, chemistry or physics at a U.S. university, and were members of the on-campus muslim organization". Suddenly you have created a presumption of guilt of a whole raft of people who did nothing wrong. Hopefully the police will be discreet as they investigate each and every name, but sometimes it may cost some poor sucker his job. Imagine your prospects for maintaining job security in a down-market when the FBI interviews your boss about your activities.

Worst of all, the Senate and the President have fought any sunset provisions. This part baffles me. I know law enforcement does not want ongoing investigations to be hampered by loss of their new found power in a few years, but if the law turns out to be a valuable part of the war on terrorism, then pass the damn thing again! Normally, the Legislative branch is loath to cede power to any other branch, and I am amazed at the upper chamber's decision to roll over.

That said, I am at least marginally mollified to see that _some_ sunset provisions will survive from the house bill, even if all the other good things added by Congressman Barr and Senator Feingold have been refused or removed.

I know we all have to give up a little in this time of crisis, I just want to know that I will get it back before I am old and grey...

[end of job threatening rant]

On the CDBTPA specifically, the CDBTPA has not been introduced this year, and that is in part to lobbying from industry and consumer groups. The good thing is most of the tech industry does not seem to be supportive of expanding the DRM though CDBTPA. If it should be re-introduced, make sure you make your Representatives aware of your opposition, and use some of the techniques on the list below.

Which communication methods work best, in order?
by WillSeattle

A lot of /.ers like email and tech forms of communication. Can you give us any insight into which methods work best?

I've provided what I think might be a ranking order, from best to worst, in terms of methods of communicating with a legislator on a bill, based on my experience, but could you give us any ratios?

An example might be:

1 personal appearance at his office = 2 conversations at a house party = 100 handwritten letters = 200 handwritten postcards = 1000 typed letters = 50,000 emails.

Here's my list of methods I can think of:

talking with legislator when he's gardening or fixing the car on a bill;
lunch or coffee (one on one);
personal appearance at his office (phoned in ahead, as a constituent);
personal conversation at a house party or fundraiser (more than 1 minute);
question at a constituency open house (as advertised in local papers) (usually have 20-40 people);
handwritten postcard with cool pics on other side;
handwritten postcard found free in coffee shop or movie house;
handwritten letter, hand addressed;
typed letter, hand signed, with hand P.S.;
typed postcard, hand signed, with hand P.S.;
fax, hand signed;
actiongram faxed letter like on EDF or EFF;
actiongram email, modified from boilerplate in own words;
actiongram email, boilerplate;
weird knick-knack gift, like a techie toy we have tons of, wrapped up in a box and sent;
weird knick-knack gift, connected to issue;
boring gift, like stapler remover from local Kiwanas
Anything I missed?

MR: You did a great job of hitting the major things. You want a job, J?

The order is pretty good too, though I would say A. might be over the top. When a Member is at home washing the car, they may want to just wash the car. If you had a long day at the help desk, how do you feel about your neighbor coming over to ask why his #8216cup holder' doesn't seem to work any more?

Also, move I above F, and kill off all the postcards. Finally, move faxes and email way up. One of the only good things to come out of 9/11 is that Members of Congress have been forced to use email as a preferred method of communication. Paper mail and knickknacks have become harder to get into the Capitol.

There is one other way that you can help. A good, one page bullet point memo outlining a problem and a solution is a great thing, and is damn hard to write. But given the constraint on time that every staffer faces, a good bullet point one pager can be a godsend when you have to brief your boss.

Can a non-US person do anything?
by schon

Like many (most?) /. readers, I live outside the US, and am not a US citizen; in theory, US laws should not concern me as long as I remain outside US jurisdiction. Reality proves otherwise, however (witness Jon Johansen and Dmitry Sklyarov, for example.)

My question is this: can non-US citizens help to influence US decision-makers for the greater good, and if so, how?

MR: No.

Well, not completely, I just came from a meeting with some MEPs from the European Internet Foundation, and Members of Parliament do have relationships with U.S. Representatives.

But for the most part, you are going to have to lobby your Representative to lobby our Representatives.

Double-edged Sword
by greysky

Many slashdotters expect the government to regulate spam and Microsoft, but remain hands-off with things such as encryption, free speech and copyright. Do you think that it is reasonable to draw a line like this and expect Congress not to cross it, or should we take a more consistent stance and push for the government to stay further away from the Internet and technology all together?

MR: Ironically, it was Milton Friedman who said that Silicon Valley was committing suicide by trying to leverage the government in their competition with Microsoft. Today, many of those same companies now find themselves under scrutiny. While there is certainly a role for government to play in areas of antitrust enforcement, it can be a bit of a broad sword in the tech industry where things change so quickly. Just look at the growth of Linux; its growth has little or nothing to do with the Antitrust Suit. Browsers, on the other hand, the core of the suit, have largely become irrelevant.

In the long run, too much regulation favors large companies, not smaller ones. Once you bring Washington into technology, it's hard to get Washington to leave. It is probably better for the technology community to let the marketplace sort things out, and only look to government for very small, surgical tasks. We all know we don't want "Technology at the speed of government".

My biggest concern these days
by MaxGrant

Everyone here is aware that more and more broadly-worded laws are getting passed, making all sorts of formerly innocuous computer activities "criminal." I've just emailed my representatives regarding the "hacking is terrorism" nonsense that's being looked at, and I've informed them that laws like this cause me to re-evaluate, on a yearly basis, whether or not I should continue working in IT, or find some job in a safer field which is not under seemingly continuous legislative attack. My question, after all that, is do you think the representative will look at that and care? My state is trying very hard to draw technology workers here, which I'm sure is the case in every state in the union except California and Oregon. Would an appeal to the simple "I'm afraid to do this anymore because it's becoming legally dangerous to work in computers" be of any use, or did I waste my breath?

MR: This is not really a new question. Since the time I remember watching my father walk down the halls at the University with a stack of punchcards, computer types have been revered and feared. If you have a job in IT, you are not likely to run afoul of the law. Heck, there is a strong chance that you could be working in a company developing software that does work for the Office of Homeland Security (the only branch of government with a truly expanding budget for tech).

We create this fear in the non tech savvy population ourselves, and I personally think we enjoy it. As a general rule, the most paranoid folks I know are techies. They see the government, or a malicious hacker, around every packet. At the O'Reilly Conference, I was speaking to someone about 802.11 security and he said to me "yeah, I have a card in my laptop, but I leave it off because I am not comfortable with the security yet."

I can't imagine my mother saying that.

For her, it either works or doesn't. She only gets scared when I explain to her exactly how vulnerable she could be.

Every time a tech person gets on the TV and tells the world that your credit card info isn't safe on a computer, constituents write Congress looking for a fix.

Industry understands the balance between privacy and data sharing (not necessarily in a way you would like). As I type this, the House Financial Services Committee is marking up the "Fair Credit Reporting Act" (FCRA). This Act represents the tug-of-war Congress faces between sharing info and protecting the consumer.
a

Mirror (-1, Redundant)

keesh (202812) | more than 11 years ago | (#6590371)

Just in case...

Posted by timothy on Friday August 01, @01:15PM
from the worth-the-wait dept.
A long, long time ago, you asked lobbyist Reed Morgan questions about lobbying, undue industry influence on United States laws as they apply to the tech sector, the future of internet taxation, and more. Reed, in the meantime, has switched jobs: he's now working for the Association for Competitive Technology (as he candidly and lightheartedly acknowledges, "the enemy" to many Slashdot readers, since they lobby for large software corporations, notably Microsoft), and is finally free to answer your questions. Read on for about as inside a viewpoint as you can find on how you can affect your elected representatives, from someone whose job is to do just that.

Advice
by Maskirovka

If you could give one piece of advice to this group, what would it be?

Morgan Reed: An opening note about /. And Washington:

Many of the posts here throw out statements like "Washington is bought"; and it reminds me how little slashdot readers understand about the U.S. government.

People tend to avoid and denigrate subjects they don't fully understand or feel comfortable with. I am certain every reader can think back to an example of having a non-tech person make a disparaging, off-the-cuff comment about something of which they clearly don't grasp. Quotes like "empty suits" and "crooks" signify a response steeped in discomfort due to lack of knowledge.

Most Slashdot readers prize themselves on being knowledgeable, especially about tech issues. Many readers depend on knowledge for their income. Yet on issues involving the government, these same "knowledge workers" treat politics like the technophobes treat computers.

Fortunately or unfortunately, (and I believe fortunately) the US allows all people (over the age of 18), even those who aren't paying attention, to vote.

I would suggest that before any reader makes a blanket statement about either party or any bill or any political issue, that you take the time to think "how much do I really know about this bill?" Am I reading the full text, or am I being spun?

Be aware that much of what you read on the editorial page of the newspaper, or what you hear on talk radio, is spin. Read the byline of the author carefully (also understand in many cases he/she is not really the author, just a respected person whose name is being used to promote a position).

Finally, imagine that the people making the decisions are overworked folks getting massive quantities of information and trying to adequately represent the voters who put them in office.

I can tell you from here on the inside, I have rarely met any Member of Congress, of EITHER party, that was really a bad person. Members are all just trying to represent the voters and win re-election.

Your JOB as a US citizen is to select a representative who will adequately represent your views. It is essential that you not turn off from politics. Instead, take the time to embrace it for a few weeks, learn what you can, then check your gut. Don't be the kind of person you hate to meet who attacks your work, or calls it trivial, because they don't understand it, and are slightly fearful that they will look ignorant. Is it really too much to ask?

Corruption of democracy
by imipak

As is widely known (and apparently accepted), corporations buy off legislators in the USA through 'campaign contributions' or 'soft money' or various other apparently legal means.

There are also many commercial firms of "lobbyists", who are openly making money from influencing law making. (I must admit that I am unsure of the detail of how this works, whether cash is involved, or of it's legality.)

It seems to me that this is simply organized corruption. We see the results every day in the DMCA and similar broken laws. In your opinion, is this really democracy? At what point should a nominally democratic system be seen as a facade?

(DISCLAIMER: I am a defendant in the California deCSS case.)

Bribes?
by jeffy124

What's your opinion of organizations providing funds to political campaigns in exchange for laws/policies/etc that benefit the organization?

Could this be considered bribing on behalf of the funding organization and accepting a bribe by 'returning the favor?' If not bribes, would you consider this practice ethical?

I ask this question in how it pertains to the situation of organizations with deep pockets such as the RIAA funding lawmakers to create laws like the DMCA and other laws that are currently coming down the pike.

Also, what advice would you give to shallow-pocket organizations such as the EFF or EPIC in fighting to keep the rights of honest, well meaning Internet users?

MR: I am lumping the two previous questions together because they ask essentially the same thing: "Do organizations have an undue influence on Washington"?

The best answer I know is: "Organizations have an expected level of influence on Washington."

Members of Congress are primarily interested in serving the needs of the people that they represent. They do this both for electoral reasons as well as the fact that they personally share the median interests of their constituency.

Every organization wants to convince the government that its position reflects the position that will either benefit the most people, a group of particularly needy people, or reflects the most consistent view with existing laws and practices. That sounds reasonable, doesn't it?

When a Congressman is lobbied either by corporation or his local Lion's Club, he is thinking in terms of how it benefits his constituents and his/her personal beliefs. Corporations know that, and tailor their legislative message to illustrate the benefits or perils to a Member's local or national constituency.

You must demonstrate to members of Congress and other government officials how your position will benefit their constituents and demonstrate that many of their constituents feel the same way. This is the key to effectively lobbying government even without deep pockets.

Theoretically being politically active or donating to campaigns helps elect Members of Congress who support your beliefs or position on a issue. That said, I've had clients who maxed out to Members of Congress who were actively opposed to the client's legislation because they agreed with his/her social agenda.

You don't walk in, hand over a check and change a vote. Doesn't happen.

Any time you think it all works from money, take a look at the list of Congressmen who did NOT support Trade Promotion Authority (TPA) but received money from tech companies!

Bottom line, the role of money in politics is murky.

So here is an example of murky money: You want to help the EFF? Write a big check. It will allow them to do better research, hire more people to lobby, fly to more conferences, print more flyers, etc. Hmmmm, sounds a lot like "providing funds to political campaigns in exchange for laws/policies/etc that benefit the organization", doesn't it?

Internet taxes
by JJ

What is the political future of the internet sales tax exemption?

MR: Excellent question, but one that needs to be broken into two parts. Internet Sales Tax is a term that is used but actually represents two different tax questions. First, the Internet Tax Moratorium is not a moratorium on sales or use tax, but a moratorium on access tax. An access tax is a tax on your internet service itself. When you look at your phone bill, you will notice access taxes at the bottom. The Internet Tax Moratorium prevents states and localities from levying taxes on your access. This moratorium is probably going to become permanent this year, and will represent a success in efforts to tear down barriers to eCommerce and remote working.

Next, there's the difficulty that states have in collecting sales tax on consumers' purchases from out-of-state retailers. There's nothing new about that, since it's been difficult for decades#8212ever since catalogs and phone orders became prevalent. It's not really an "Internet Tax" but a remote seller tax. Technically, consumers have to voluntarily pay a "use tax" on their out-of-state purchases, but compliance is predictably low.

States have tried to force remote catalog vendors to collect sales tax, but the U.S. Supreme Court said that states only have taxing power over businesses that have some physical presence in their states. Which is why walmart.com has to collect sales tax for any state where there's a Wal-Mart store (are there any states that don't have a Wal-Mart?).

In its ruling in the Quill decision, the Supreme Court gave the states an opening: they held that Congress could extend the states' taxing power, but only if the states standardized and simplified their tax rules. Today, there are over 7,500 separate sales tax jurisdictions in the U.S., each with its own rates and rules about what's taxable and what's not. Bricks-and-mortar retailers have to collect and file for just one jurisdiction, while remote sellers would have to collect and remit for every place their customers live.

With that kind of opening from the Supreme Court, several states started a campaign to unify and simplify their sales tax rules. This program is usually referred to as the Streamlined Sales Tax Project (SSTP). Earlier this month, they reached their goal of covering 20% of the U.S. population with states who have promised to simplify their sales tax regimes. (No promises about how simple it will be to file the forms and modify sellers' software and systems#8212just the vague promise that computers will make it simple enough.) The next step in the states' campaign is to ask Congress to give them the powers they seek, and they're already lining-up supporters for the legislation.

So there's nothing new about the states' difficulty in getting remote sellers to collect everyone's sales taxes. And nothing here is unique to the internet, since catalogs generate about four times as much as online sales. Truth is, internet e-commerce is costing states just one or two billion dollars year in lost sales taxes ationwide.

It's just that states are hungry for new revenue, and they've convinced themselves that there are billions to be gained by forcing out-of-state sellers to collect and remit their sales taxes. What remains to be seen is whether the incremental taxes are worth the costs and burden--especially on small businesses that look to the internet to expand their markets.

Top five issues?
by JPMH

What would you say are the top five issues that *need* an effective lobbying effort at the moment?

MR:

Intellectual Property (IP is the major umbrella issue for tech in the foreseeable future. If you want to give your IP away under the GPL, it should be yours to give; and should you GPL it, you should be able to protect that right. If you want to monetize your IP, should be able to protect it and share it with a license. Fee diversion at the PTO is a bad thing, not enough is being done to find 'prior art.' )

Internet Access Taxation and SSTP (Bad for eCommerce)

Spam (Confusion reigns at this point, is it porn or UCE? Legislation must work hand in hand with technology and international pressure. Beware of unintended consequences)

CDBTPA (We must continue fighting against DRM tech mandates. Technology should solve the problems, government should probably stay out)

Privacy (make sure that a good balance is struck between corporate sharing and personal privacy. Make sure that if there is a failure, technology is not blamed)
Who knows best?
by PinkStainlessTail

I was wondering if there are any senators/reps who stand out in your mind as particularly tech savvy? For instance, here in Michigan we're relatively proud of Lynn Rivers [slashdot.org]. By the same token, who sticks out as particularly clueless (perhaps that part wouldn't be the most politic to answer...)

Rick Boucher
by GigsVT (SeeMyProfile@slashdot.org)

Have you spoken with Rick Boucher? Is he really as tech savvy as he comes across as, or is he playing us? Does he really care about protecting rights online?

MR: First things first, I will not speak to the relative knowledge of any particular Member of Congress (what, do you think I want to become unemployed)??

That said, I will now violate the previous statement to say that yes, Congressman Boucher is quite tech savvy. I do this not to ingratiate myself with his office (which it won't) but to point out that Congressman Boucher is a Member of the House Energy and Commerce Committee.

Members of committees with jurisdiction over issues like the Internet tend to be more knowledgeable about those issues. In addition, those members also have some extremely knowledgeable staff to help them on each of their key issues. You would be blown away to see how much energy is spent on something like the spam bill.

Some members of Congress even have scientific and technical backgrounds. For instance, Rush Holt was an actual rocket scientist at Princeton before be elected to Congress.

The problem they all face is time and resources. They have 600,000 people in their district, or a whole state for a Senator. There just aren't that many people "back on the ranch" screaming for technology legislation. And when they do, they may not be asking for the same thing you are.

Career Path
by BlueFrog (craser at indiana dot edu)

I've heard it said several times that our (US) legislators are sincerely trying to do good on behalf of their constituency, but that most tech lobbyists work on behalf of groups with specific agendas. What hope is there for 'White Hat' tech lobbyists to make their mark in Washington's political scene, and what would you suggest to anyone with thoughts of becoming a lobbyist?

MR: In three parts:

1. Yes, the vast majority of Congresspersons are sincerely trying to do "good" on behalf of their constituency. I put good in quotes in this case because "good" may not be the correct word. Members of Congress are primarily concerned with the (relatively) parochial interests of the 600,000 people in their district in the case of Representatives, or the people in their state in the case of Senators. If you define good as "benefiting the people of the district/state" then yes, Members of Congress are _all_ trying very hard to do what they believe is good on behalf of their constituency.

That said, Members do consider the greater good for the US, and the outside world, but their first focus (and one could argue it should be) is on their immediate electorate.

2. Everyone thinks they are a "white hat" lobbyist, but their own perception of the hat is colored by the client. Look at Sun, are they a "white hat" because they went after MS? Are they still a "white hat" now that they are going after Linux? IBM used to be the "Great Satan" before MS. Now that they are supporting Open Source (after a fashion) are they now "white hat"? "White Hat" vs. "Black Hat" in technology is a myth.

Corporate tech lobbyists are not working against tech. No one is lobbying for a return to the era of 8 pound cell phones and thermal paper fax machines. In most cases tech lobbyists are working to protect the income of the company or companies they represent, while trying to keep the government out of technology in general.

3. Becoming a Lobbyist

So you want to become a lobbyist? a lobbyist is an advocate for a position, nothing more, nothing less. You already lobby in daily life when you urge your friends to see the movie you want, or eat at your favorite restaurant. When your write a letter to your congressman, school-board or city council you are lobbying as well.

If you mean you want to put food on the table as a professional advocate in the field of politics, then there are two routes that come to mind: Most obvious, go to law school. Second possibility, work your way up in politics. Third, and preferred, do both.

If law school interests you, remember a lobbyist is an advocate just as a lawyer is an advocate. The vast majority of lobbyists have JDs or LLMs. This is by no means a requirement, and you don't necessarily need to get your law degree as a first order of business, but it is a common path.

Essentially your life plan would look like this: go to law school, work for a company in their legal department, get assigned to the govn't relations division, be willing to take a job in DC, get transferred to DC, do a good job advocating your company's position while building relationships with Members of Congress and staff, find a firm (most likely one your company has hired as an outside consultant) that believes you can bring business into the firm, get hired by that firm, find new business, advocate your new client's position, find new business, advocate your new client's position... you get the picture.

If politics interest you (see my definition of politics), then become politically active now, don't hesitate for a second. Political activism does not necessarily mean waving signs at crowded intersections; it can mean raising money, working in a campaign office, interning or working at a party headquarters. If you do not come from a political family, or you haven't really been involved in politics on any level and the next campaign is too far away to wait for, I would suggest looking for an internship either in Washington DC or your State Capitol.

Interning allows you to get a peek under the covers of how Congress and the Administration work. You will get to see the vast piles of mail that come in daily from every concerned citizen and crackpot alike, and you get the pleasure of assisting someone in drafting a honest, well thought out response. You will answer endless phonecalls from people saying "don't take away my social security/guns/right to chose/ right to life/ right to a job/right to a better life. You will run errands for people from the home town, from getting passes to the House gallery to tours of the Capitol underground. You will make sure that if someone from the district has a problem back home, you get a caseworker to help. You will make sure that orders for flags that have been flown above the Capitol have been filled, and all the flag certificates are in place. You will get to savour the Friday nights when members are out of town and you get to leave before 8:00pm. You will feel blessed if the Senator or Representative remembers your name. And you will do it all for no pay.

You would think that a thankless job with no pay would be easy to get, but you would be wrong. I have seen Harvard law school graduates answering phones and holding softball fields for 3 hours in 90 degree weather just to be part of the action. To get an internship, start looking at your home state Senators and Representatives. Write cover letters and send resumes' to everyone that might bring you in (any connection you have with the home state and/ or district is important). If you can travel to DC, try to arrange "informational" interviews with the Administrative Assistant for your hometown Rep. Discuss your interest in interning with them or with any other Member of Congress that may have internships available. Do not make statements like "I want to do substantive work"; to them, you know essentially nothing of substance, why would someone want your hands on the reins of government?

If you are fortunate enough to land an internship and do well during it, you can try to get a job on the hill. This will not bring relief, only more work for essentially no pay (as an aside, my wife worked on Capitol Hill for almost four years and never made as much as her tuition was at Smith College. She is now in Vet school).

Lawmakers' awareness of the CDBTPA
by CaptainSuperBoy

I am concerned that legislators are not aware of how dangerous the SSSCA (now CDBTPA) is, especially in light of our recent disaster and our coming war. Now more than ever, we need to be concerned about the possibility of losing our individual freedoms.

Are our lawmakers aware of the CDBTPA and its dangers? Do you think it will be debated in detail, or will it pass "under the radar?"

MR: As to the loss of personal liberty, let me set up my soapbox and put my job in jeopardy:

[begin rant]

If you think the DMCA or the CDBTPA was a threat to your personal liberty, you would be outraged and disgusted by the recently passed anti-terrorism legislation, the PATRIOT Act.

A quick overview of the rights and privileges that are destroyed by this legislation are stunning and saddening. Tax information sharing, secret searches, grand jury testimony sharing, warrentless email searches (granted this already existed in a form), possibly warrantless searches of medical or education information, poorly worded money laundering provisions, Single-Jurisdiction search warrants and so on.

Proponents will argue that most of these items only really come in to play under FISA, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. But the problem lies in the fact that law enforcement will seek to use new laws to show a nexus (a word we will revisit on Internet taxes) between domestic illegal acts, like selling drugs, and the funding of terrorists. I don't want to insinuate that I support drug dealers, but I personally feel that some in law enforcement will, in the zealous pursuit of criminals, accidentally destroy the lives of innocent Americans.

Much of the language feels like a change in the tenor of how we view people. The presumption of innocence has been given away, to be replaced by the presumption that anyone who meets a certain profile is guilty by association. Herein lies a nexus (that word again) of computers and information gathering. Prior to the ability of computers to handle and process large amounts of data, I never really worried about the FBI or the NSA collecting data on everyone. I knew that it would be impossible for them to effectively deal with the sheer volume of information we all produce. However, many of you here on this site create and work with relational databases of real size and with computing iron that can spit out useful information from that data.

To me, the ability of computers to deal with data produces a situation where law enforcement can use newfound tools to say "give me the addresses of all people with a Arabic surname, who studied math, chemistry or physics at a U.S. university, and were members of the on-campus muslim organization". Suddenly you have created a presumption of guilt of a whole raft of people who did nothing wrong. Hopefully the police will be discreet as they investigate each and every name, but sometimes it may cost some poor sucker his job. Imagine your prospects for maintaining job security in a down-market when the FBI interviews your boss about your activities.

Worst of all, the Senate and the President have fought any sunset provisions. This part baffles me. I know law enforcement does not want ongoing investigations to be hampered by loss of their new found power in a few years, but if the law turns out to be a valuable part of the war on terrorism, then pass the damn thing again! Normally, the Legislative branch is loath to cede power to any other branch, and I am amazed at the upper chamber's decision to roll over.

That said, I am at least marginally mollified to see that _some_ sunset provisions will survive from the house bill, even if all the other good things added by Congressman Barr and Senator Feingold have been refused or removed.

I know we all have to give up a little in this time of crisis, I just want to know that I will get it back before I am old and grey...

[end of job threatening rant]

On the CDBTPA specifically, the CDBTPA has not been introduced this year, and that is in part to lobbying from industry and consumer groups. The good thing is most of the tech industry does not seem to be supportive of expanding the DRM though CDBTPA. If it should be re-introduced, make sure you make your Representatives aware of your opposition, and use some of the techniques on the list below.

Which communication methods work best, in order?
by WillSeattle

A lot of /.ers like email and tech forms of communication. Can you give us any insight into which methods work best?

I've provided what I think might be a ranking order, from best to worst, in terms of methods of communicating with a legislator on a bill, based on my experience, but could you give us any ratios?

An example might be:

1 personal appearance at his office = 2 conversations at a house party = 100 handwritten letters = 200 handwritten postcards = 1000 typed letters = 50,000 emails.

Here's my list of methods I can think of:

talking with legislator when he's gardening or fixing the car on a bill;
lunch or coffee (one on one);
personal appearance at his office (phoned in ahead, as a constituent);
personal conversation at a house party or fundraiser (more than 1 minute);
question at a constituency open house (as advertised in local papers) (usually have 20-40 people);
handwritten postcard with cool pics on other side;
handwritten postcard found free in coffee shop or movie house;
handwritten letter, hand addressed;
typed letter, hand signed, with hand P.S.;
typed postcard, hand signed, with hand P.S.;
fax, hand signed;
actiongram faxed letter like on EDF or EFF;
actiongram email, modified from boilerplate in own words;
actiongram email, boilerplate;
weird knick-knack gift, like a techie toy we have tons of, wrapped up in a box and sent;
weird knick-knack gift, connected to issue;
boring gift, like stapler remover from local Kiwanas
Anything I missed?

MR: You did a great job of hitting the major things. You want a job, J?

The order is pretty good too, though I would say A. might be over the top. When a Member is at home washing the car, they may want to just wash the car. If you had a long day at the help desk, how do you feel about your neighbor coming over to ask why his #8216cup holder' doesn't seem to work any more?

Also, move I above F, and kill off all the postcards. Finally, move faxes and email way up. One of the only good things to come out of 9/11 is that Members of Congress have been forced to use email as a preferred method of communication. Paper mail and knickknacks have become harder to get into the Capitol.

There is one other way that you can help. A good, one page bullet point memo outlining a problem and a solution is a great thing, and is damn hard to write. But given the constraint on time that every staffer faces, a good bullet point one pager can be a godsend when you have to brief your boss.

Can a non-US person do anything?
by schon

Like many (most?) /. readers, I live outside the US, and am not a US citizen; in theory, US laws should not concern me as long as I remain outside US jurisdiction. Reality proves otherwise, however (witness Jon Johansen and Dmitry Sklyarov, for example.)

My question is this: can non-US citizens help to influence US decision-makers for the greater good, and if so, how?

MR: No.

Well, not completely, I just came from a meeting with some MEPs from the European Internet Foundation, and Members of Parliament do have relationships with U.S. Representatives.

But for the most part, you are going to have to lobby your Representative to lobby our Representatives.

Double-edged Sword
by greysky

Many slashdotters expect the government to regulate spam and Microsoft, but remain hands-off with things such as encryption, free speech and copyright. Do you think that it is reasonable to draw a line like this and expect Congress not to cross it, or should we take a more consistent stance and push for the government to stay further away from the Internet and technology all together?

MR: Ironically, it was Milton Friedman who said that Silicon Valley was committing suicide by trying to leverage the government in their competition with Microsoft. Today, many of those same companies now find themselves under scrutiny. While there is certainly a role for government to play in areas of antitrust enforcement, it can be a bit of a broad sword in the tech industry where things change so quickly. Just look at the growth of Linux; its growth has little or nothing to do with the Antitrust Suit. Browsers, on the other hand, the core of the suit, have largely become irrelevant.

In the long run, too much regulation favors large companies, not smaller ones. Once you bring Washington into technology, it's hard to get Washington to leave. It is probably better for the technology community to let the marketplace sort things out, and only look to government for very small, surgical tasks. We all know we don't want "Technology at the speed of government".

My biggest concern these days
by MaxGrant

Everyone here is aware that more and more broadly-worded laws are getting passed, making all sorts of formerly innocuous computer activities "criminal." I've just emailed my representatives regarding the "hacking is terrorism" nonsense that's being looked at, and I've informed them that laws like this cause me to re-evaluate, on a yearly basis, whether or not I should continue working in IT, or find some job in a safer field which is not under seemingly continuous legislative attack. My question, after all that, is do you think the representative will look at that and care? My state is trying very hard to draw technology workers here, which I'm sure is the case in every state in the union except California and Oregon. Would an appeal to the simple "I'm afraid to do this anymore because it's becoming legally dangerous to work in computers" be of any use, or did I waste my breath?

MR: This is not really a new question. Since the time I remember watching my father walk down the halls at the University with a stack of punchcards, computer types have been revered and feared. If you have a job in IT, you are not likely to run afoul of the law. Heck, there is a strong chance that you could be working in a company developing software that does work for the Office of Homeland Security (the only branch of government with a truly expanding budget for tech).

We create this fear in the non tech savvy population ourselves, and I personally think we enjoy it. As a general rule, the most paranoid folks I know are techies. They see the government, or a malicious hacker, around every packet. At the O'Reilly Conference, I was speaking to someone about 802.11 security and he said to me "yeah, I have a card in my laptop, but I leave it off because I am not comfortable with the security yet."

I can't imagine my mother saying that.

For her, it either works or doesn't. She only gets scared when I explain to her exactly how vulnerable she could be.

Every time a tech person gets on the TV and tells the world that your credit card info isn't safe on a computer, constituents write Congress looking for a fix.

Industry understands the balance between privacy and data sharing (not necessarily in a way you would like). As I type this, the House Financial Services Committee is marking up the "Fair Credit Reporting Act" (FCRA). This Act represents the tug-of-war Congress faces between sharing info and protecting the consumer.

Good Perspective (4, Interesting)

hard2spell (692598) | more than 11 years ago | (#6590514)

This guy is very persuasive -- as well he should be. He's right in that you have to really learn about how things work before pronouncing judgement.

But I think the most important thing to understand is your own personal role and the extent of your influence in the larger picture. Tech is only important because it can help people do things they couldn't do before. Just like cars and railroads and butter churns. If it weren't a direct money-maker, very few people would care. Yes tech does affect the lives and fortunes of real people. It also upsets the 18th century principles much of the western world is founded on. But I think its recent celebrity has given us an inflated sense of our own importance.

We complain that legislation and companies are taking away our ability to do certain types of research, to use things in a way we want, sometimes even our livelihoods. Aren't those exactly the complaints of the people whose jobs computers replaced in the 20th century? We don't own the world, and as much as we think we run it, we don't do that either.

Re:Getting kind-of slow... in case of /.ing (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#6590217)

Man, you got a +1 informative for reposting the Slashdot article. Man doesn't that Moderator feel stupid now. Maybe he should post underneath here to make his idiot mistake null and void, like that gaping space between his ears.

I didn't bother to read, is there a reference to Cmdr Taco's impotence hidden in there?

Re:Getting kind-of slow... in case of /.ing (-1)

(TK4)Dessimat0r (669989) | more than 11 years ago | (#6590232)

-PENIS--PENIS--PENIS--PENIS-
P_______________________8..P
E__Bow down to the_____#~..E
N__Lord's penis_______8.',-N
I_____________________#',-.I
S__Jesus wants your__8',-..S
-__anus, and he_____#~',-..-
P__wants it NOW! ___8_',-..P
E__________________##',-',-E
N__An original_____8',-',";N
I__TrollKore______##',-',";I
S__work of art.___8',-',";.S
-__By Dessimat0r ##',-',";.-
P________________8',-',";,.P
E_______________#'',-',";,.E
N______________8(',-',";,..N
I_____________#(',-',";,.,.I
S__________#8#8_',-',";,.,.S
-_________#',-.8',-',";,.,.-
P________8~',-..#',-',";,..P
E_______#'',-',";8_',-',";.E
N_____8=',-',";.+#+',-',";.N
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I__________________________I
S____.oO TrollKore Oo._____S
-_At the head of the game._-
P__________________________P
E___irc.freedomirc.net_____E
N_______#trollkore_________N
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All you cock-loving fuckers out there, here is a special treat for you bastards, take a look at this knob. NOW SUCK IT, MOTHERFUCKERS!

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What's a "bullet point memo"? (1, Interesting)

Sloppy (14984) | more than 11 years ago | (#6590183)

A good, one page bullet point memo outlining a problem and a solution is a great thing, and is damn hard to write.
Any idea or examples of what this guy is talking about?

Re:What's a "bullet point memo"? (4, Funny)

cK-Gunslinger (443452) | more than 11 years ago | (#6590300)

I assume he means a document that has plenty of white-space, is light on text, and has a few, concise statements highlighted with bullets.

You know, like:

------
I am writing to address the problem of:

* BLAH BLAH BLAH

This problems has 3 main properties:

1) BLAH
2) BLAH
3) BLAH

Some possible suggestions to remedy this are:

* BLAH
* BLAH
* BLAH
------

Now, whether you actually need to substitue words for the BLAHs, I don't know. ;)

Re:What's a "bullet point memo"? (4, Informative)

ryants (310088) | more than 11 years ago | (#6590310)

Dear Congressman:

The people of this great state are facing several problems:

  • People don't understand what "one page bullet point memos" are; and
  • One page bullet point memos, once understood, are difficult to write.
I urge you to solve these problems by passing legislation that:
  • would require that all publicly funded schools immediately implement one page bullet point memo writing classes;
  • would allocated funds for running television ads to raise awareness about one page bullet point memos among the general population.
Sincerely,

John Q. Voter.

Re:What's a "bullet point memo"? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#6590350)

D'oh! That was much better than my crap example. :)

Re:What's a "bullet point memo"? (1)

Gorm the DBA (581373) | more than 11 years ago | (#6590378)

Basically, a bullet point memo is a one-page document with a handful (5 or so) major points, clearly separated out (if it was HTML, probably the UL or OL tags would be used), with a brief paragraph explaining each one.

Something like this:

Flotzenjammer reform is desparately needed

  • Currently, Flotzenjammers consume more Fleems per paradigm than any other sploo
  • According to a study by the Bureau of Uninformed statistics, 78% of Fleems per paradigm are consumed by Flotzenjammers. This leaves only 22% of Fleems per paradigm for use by other Blatzes

  • Flotzenjammers have never been subject to regulation, although they are responsible for high numbers of deaths
  • Flotzenjammers have been shown to be the cause of death in nearly 96% of Plagel-related fatalities, yet the industry has resisted all attempts to regulate them...

etc, etc, etc.

Pretty straightforward, really, and easy to read and understand.

Re:What's a "bullet point memo"? (1)

pyros (61399) | more than 11 years ago | (#6590593)

Currently, Flotzenjammers consume more Fleems per paradigm than any other sploo.

For God's sake, won't somebody please think of the Fleems?

Re:What's a "bullet point memo"? (2, Funny)

TopShelf (92521) | more than 11 years ago | (#6590404)

This is a short, concise memo that summarizes problems and solutions like so:

Dear Congressman Jerry Mander,

I'd really like you to do something about /., it has many problems such as:

Crappy editing

Tub Girl

Goatse.cx

The problems outlined here affect a large portion of our district, and I'd like to suggest that your office propose legislation enacting the following:

Certification of /. Editors

Filters built into the comment system for known offensive content

A chicken in every pot

Sincerely,
Conn Stituent

Re:What's a "bullet point memo"? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#6590466)

Write up all Slashdot's gripes.

Submit to legislator.

???

Profit!!!

Re:What's a "bullet point memo"? (2, Informative)

dpreformer (32338) | more than 11 years ago | (#6590526)

To; Sloppy
From: dpreformer
Subj: Bullet point memos

- Sloppy posted a comment stating bullet point memos were something unknown to him.

- Bullet points can be used to illustrate how to write a bullet point memo.

- See how easy this problem was to solve with an illustrative example?

- Alternative methods can involve subheadings
1 eg numerical bullet points
2 footnotes/references*

* No references for this memo, just illustrative.

I'll do it again for something important to me:

To: Congressman Baron Hill
From: (name withheld from Slashdot), constituent
Subject: Hinkley/Rohrbacker Amendment

1) The DEA is interfering with state rights by conducting raids on medical marijuana patients in states that have passed laws allowing medical marijuana.

2) Two congressman have offered an amendment to the Justice Department's appropriation bill forbidding use of funds to conduct these raids (Subect amendment).

3) Supporting this amendment shows compassion for sick and dying people.

4) Our former governor and former secretary of HHS procured medical marijuana for his wife as she was dying of cancer - should the DEA have raided the Indiana governors mansion for this?

5) Thse funds could be better put to fighting terrorism and/or decreasing the budget deficit. ...

wow.... (3, Interesting)

jeffy124 (453342) | more than 11 years ago | (#6590189)

i'd completely forgotten I had asked the question that i did, and that it got sent to the interviewee. thinking back, it's amazing how some of my own views have changed since my posting that question.

favorite quote (5, Insightful)

ih8apple (607271) | more than 11 years ago | (#6590206)

"You don't walk in, hand over a check and change a vote. Doesn't happen."

<sarcasm>Yeah, there's no corruption in Washington. Politicians won't just do anything for "campaign contributions". They are the civil servants for their consitituents.</sarcasm>

Re:favorite quote (2, Insightful)

Magic Thread (692357) | more than 11 years ago | (#6590267)

Did you read the full answer to the first question? The whole point is that politics really isn't as corrupt as you think it is.

Re:favorite quote (1, Insightful)

ih8apple (607271) | more than 11 years ago | (#6590423)

"The whole point is that politics really isn't as corrupt as you think it is."

You're taking the word of a lobbyist, who is part of the system? Boy, I just don't know how to respond to this naivete...

Re:favorite quote (1)

FatRatBastard (7583) | more than 11 years ago | (#6590472)

Which is just too damn funny. To build on his own original example your responses read like some PHB we like to gripe about here...

"Linux? Its a toy OS made by a bunch of hippies... not going to use it here."

And then when you try to defend Linux as a possible platform choice...

"Well, of course you'd support it since you are one of the aformentioned commie hippies..."

Nice blanket statement. It highlights your ignorance very well.

Re:favorite quote (5, Insightful)

haystor (102186) | more than 11 years ago | (#6590516)

The interviewee avoided the issue of why lobbyists spend billions of dollars not buying votes. If they were merely educating the politicians, it could be done for a lot less.

Unless the politicians intentionally ignore this education until the dollar amount passes a certain threshhold at which time they learn the issue, change their vote...oh wait.

Re:favorite quote (3, Insightful)

mansemat (65131) | more than 11 years ago | (#6590513)

Either that, or he is just spinning us. ;)

It's all spin baby. The man is a lobbyist. He is the king of spin. He is selling to us right now.

Re:favorite quote (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#6590302)

It's also really hard reading that quote when you consider he used to be in charge of handing over those checks.

Re:favorite quote (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#6590316)

Yes, the corrupt will always admit their involvement in corruption when asked nicely!

Bah! Crap from a whore. That's what this interview is.

Re:favorite quote (5, Insightful)

defwu (688771) | more than 11 years ago | (#6590395)

Do you have any evidence that this happens? Specifically, have *you* written a check and gotten a law passed? Face it : money in our society == access. The more money you have, the easier it is to get get to know certain people, which makes it easier for you to get in front of your congressman to discuss an issue. The money buying policitians has some truth to it, but only in a derivative sense, not a primary sense. To espouse otherwise, except for specific, not endemic, cases of corruption reveals a lack of critical examination of the system.

Re:favorite quote (1)

Otter (3800) | more than 11 years ago | (#6590450)

And furthermore, most corporate donations (and private donations, for that matter) go to politicians who have already staked out favorable positions in order to help keep them in power. Obviously politicians are aware that certain positions will be more lucrative than others but the spectre of Big Industry (or Big Liberal Billionaires, which somehow isn't such a big concern) walking in with a check and demanding a reversal of policy isn't a significant issue.

Re:favorite quote (4, Insightful)

Usquebaugh (230216) | more than 11 years ago | (#6590469)

So buying time of a politician is not a form of corruption?

A politician is supposed to represent his voters not a SIG or a Corporation. IF a politician is seeing campaign contributors instead of those who voted for him is this not corruption?

Face it, politics is a nasty dirty business that no honest man will have anything to do with. To state otherwise reveals either a lack of critical examination or deluded ideals.

Re:favorite quote (1)

FatRatBastard (7583) | more than 11 years ago | (#6590539)

So buying time of a politician is not a form of corruption?

Is a saleman taking a client out to eat / a ballgame a form of corruption (since it is, by definition, buying someone's time)?

And if the RIAA is corrupt by buying access/time to a congressman, then so is the EFF.

Face it, politics is a nasty dirty business that no honest man will have anything to do with. To state otherwise reveals either a lack of critical examination or deluded ideals.

On this I will somewhat agree. The simple solution then is to limit what gov't can do; it cuts the legs from right out under them. Easy to say, but hard to do since most everyone, no matter what their political stripe, certainly wants the gov't to redress some disadvantage they have (be it real or imagined)

So why aren't you lobbying? (4, Insightful)

twoallbeefpatties (615632) | more than 11 years ago | (#6590430)

Think of it like this: Several corporations make donations to a candidate, explaining their issues and believing that said candidate is the one who will push their issues in Congress. Said candidate gets elected and pushes the bill. Where's the opposition lobby?

I think part of this guy's point is that when a corporation speaks up on an issue, they may be the only ones speaking up on the issue. If there isn't a well-organized effort to oppose the issue, and few civilians attempt to contact their legislators with their view of the issue, then the corporations' view may be the only view of the "public" that the legislators have to go on, and will vote for what they see as the majority opinion of the public.

Obviously, this guy is a little idealistic. Saying there's no corruption when money is involved is like saying my cornflakes won't get soggy when I pour milk over them. But the bottom line is: if you want something to happen, then you have to do it yourself and make sure your legislators know what the public opinion really is. You're the public after all; why don't YOU try lobbying?

Re:favorite quote (2, Interesting)

praedor (218403) | more than 11 years ago | (#6590474)

Well, to a certain extent he was correct in this. If the industry rep that preceded you gave the Rep a check for $20,000 to say "nay" on a piece of legislation, then you come in and give the Rep a "measely" $2000 to say "yeah", there will be no bit flip on that Rep's vote from nay to yeah. The $20,000 vote bid trumps the $2000 bid. The nays have it.


Since it is a secret bidding process, sort of like when putting offers on a house, you can't one-up the previous briber by giving $21,000. You THOUGHT $2000 was generous and workable, you just didn't know about that $20,000 trump card.

Re:favorite quote (3, Informative)

crucini (98210) | more than 11 years ago | (#6590484)

This guy actually took time to give us a glimpse into the world of the lobbyist, and you learned nothing. Since you've got Washington all figured out, here's a question for you. If you can just write checks to politicians to buy votes, why does anyone need lobbyists? Why did Hilary Rosen make a million dollars a year? Couldn't the record companies just mail in their checks to Congress?

Re:favorite quote (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#6590579)

If you can just write checks to politicians to buy votes, why does anyone need lobbyists?

Easy. To mask what they do as 'campaign contributions' and put a mule inbetween those who want something changed and those who can change things.

If the lobbyists aren't spreading cash and are merely 'lobbying' then why not outlaw campaign contributions from lobbyist organizations completely?

What's sad is, the facts are as obvious as the nose on your face yet you choose to ignore them (as do a majority of the 'sheeple' out there).

Don't believe me? Talk to a lobbyist sometime about campaign reform and the outlawing of 'contributions' from lobbyists to politicians.

Re:favorite quote (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#6590510)

Right. A $1000 check ( max. allowed by law ) isn't enough to do it. but how about a high paid job or consultancy once you leave office for you and/or friends and relatives?

Re:favorite quote (2, Insightful)

Eccles (932) | more than 11 years ago | (#6590540)

But largely, he's right. You don't buy votes, you buy the voter. Do you think Bush pushes for tax cuts because he got campaign contributions from people who want taxes cut? No, he got the contributions because he campaigned on cutting taxes. Donors buy the candidate who wants what they want, they don't change the candidate's beliefs. Further contributions are to keep him in.

Re:favorite quote (1)

Migrant Programmer (19727) | more than 11 years ago | (#6590638)

I like the part just above that:

That said, I've had clients who maxed out to Members of Congress who were actively opposed to the client's legislation because they agreed with his/her social agenda.

The legislation belonging to the client. So much for laws not being bought.. is that a slip of the keyboard or what?

Re:favorite quote (3, Insightful)

malibucreek (253318) | more than 11 years ago | (#6590681)

"You don't walk in, hand over a check and change a vote. Doesn't happen."

Of course. Because the process works the other way around. The politicians ask the corporations and their managers for the money. So it is *the politicians* who must position themselves as friendly to what the business folk want in order to get business' contributions.

wow... (-1)

(TK4)Dessimat0r (669989) | more than 11 years ago | (#6590208)

I'd completely forgotten I had asked the question that i did, and that it got sent to the interviewee. Thinking back, it's amazing how some of my own views have changed since my posting that question.

I own the GNAA (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#6590233)

I got a post in before those fags could. Long live Trollkore.

You don't even own your prosthetic penis. (-1, Flamebait)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#6590309)

Another score by the world's best reply-trolls, the AAHAA [borahbands.com] . Support the GNAA!

Curious (0)

spumoni_fettuccini (668603) | more than 11 years ago | (#6590235)

and it reminds me how little slashdot readers understand about the U.S. government.

You mean we aren't all lawyers and politicians here?

A bit idealistic? (-1, Redundant)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#6590237)

He failed to address the power grab by lobbyists. According to this article, most US reps are less powerful/influential than heavy hitting washington lobbyists. As a matter of fact, many US reps are leaving their terms early to become lobbyists. They make more money, and they apparently influence law more, so why do we need representatives anymore?

Nice! (4, Interesting)

cK-Gunslinger (443452) | more than 11 years ago | (#6590242)

If you think the DMCA or the CDBTPA was a threat to your personal liberty, you would be outraged and disgusted by the recently passed anti-terrorism legislation, the PATRIOT Act.
So, it's not just us!

Re:Nice! (1)

PhxBlue (562201) | more than 11 years ago | (#6590517)

I don't get the "recently" bit, though. That was almost two years ago. . ?

Translations... (0, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#6590244)

Many of the posts here throw out statements like "Washington is bought"; and it reminds me how little slashdot readers understand about the U.S. government.

Translation: I live in the pocket of some bought & paid for senator.

Most Slashdot readers prize themselves on being knowledgeable, especially about tech issues. Many readers depend on knowledge for their income. Yet on issues involving the government, these same "knowledge workers" treat politics like the technophobes treat computers.

Translation: STFU. You're making us look bad. You've figured out our little game. Stop ruining it for us.

I can tell you from here on the inside, I have rarely met any Member of Congress, of EITHER party, that was really a bad person. Members are all just trying to represent the voters and win re-election.

Translation: I have rarely met any member of congress that really did anything except sleep in the chamber. Most are all trying to get some cash from my and my hombres.

Your JOB as a US citizen is to select a representative who will adequately represent your views

Translation: ...and then watch as they get turned in to greedy suits, paid by lobbiests like myself.

Re:Translations... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#6590374)

"Many of the posts here throw out statements like "Washington is bought"; and it reminds me how little slashdot readers understand about the U.S. government.

Translation: I live in the pocket of some bought & paid for senator."

And exactly what did you expect him to say? In that particular isse, which I think he was brave to take head-on, it's damned if you do, damned if you don't.

Either way he answered that, his answer wouldn't satisfy many here.

LOL now here is the truth... (1)

Archfeld (6757) | more than 11 years ago | (#6590479)

Just like patent court, theses bozo's have made things operly comlpicated to ensure their usefulness and survival. No matter how good of a guy this person is, don't expect him to slit his own throat. I love when someone uses the you just don't know enough excuse, which really implies DON'T LOOK AT THE MAN BEHIND THE CURTAIN....

BTW thanks for taking the time to at least spread some FUD, it is better than the general ignore we usually get.

What about weapons? (-1, Flamebait)

Thinkit3 (671998) | more than 11 years ago | (#6590253)

When you hear bad laws coming out, why not learn about guns? Buy a few more guns and ammunition (assuming that bad law didn't just ban them). Guns are real, laws are a human construct.

Top Ten Signs Ari Fleischer Doesn't Care Anymore (0, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#6590269)

Top Ten Signs Ari Fleischer Doesn't Care Anymore

10. Will only take questions from "Kung Fu" magazine

9. Qualifies each statement with, "...but that might be the gin talking"

8. Gives monosyllabic answers to press questions, then goes back to his Gameboy

7. Doesn't try to hide the fact that he's accepted a position with Al-Qaeda

6. Last few briefings have been from the V.I.P. room of D.C. area gentlemen's club

5. Spends entire press conference arguing why "Ruben should beat Clay"

4. Discloses Cheney's location -- a K.F.C. in Baltimore

3. Challenges Rumsfeld to a Texas steel cage rasslin' match

2. Keeps hitting on Helen Thomas

1. Refers to Bush as "President Bonehead"

Re:Top Ten Signs Ari Fleischer Doesn't Care Anymor (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#6590365)

3. Challenges Rumsfeld to a Texas steel cage rasslin' match



Long live Terry Funk!

there is something I don't like (3, Funny)

AresTheImpaler (570208) | more than 11 years ago | (#6590270)

he is to moderate. it's too difficult to know if I like him or hate him. he should be more radical

Re:there is something I don't like (1)

missing000 (602285) | more than 11 years ago | (#6590544)

That's easy. "Moderates" are all politicians or have something to hide. Everyone has opinions that deviate significantly from the norm on some issues.

Hate him.

Interesting.... (5, Interesting)

AriesGeek (593959) | more than 11 years ago | (#6590280)

He failed to address the power grab by lobbyists. According to this article, most US reps are less powerful/influential than heavy hitting washington lobbyists. As a matter of fact, many US reps are leaving their terms early to become lobbyists. They make more money, and they apparently influence law more, so why do we need representatives anymore?

That's not interesting, but this is... (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#6590352)

Top Ten Rejected Puff Daddy Names

10. Puff Boy-Ar-Dee

9. Pippy Puffstocking

8. Piddy Piddy Bang Bang

7. Howdy Diddy

6. P. Cougar Mellendiddy

5. P. Wah Diddy Diddy-Dum Diddy Doo

4. Milk Duddy

3. The Artist Formerly Known As Guilty

2. P. Blicity Stunt

1. J-Lonely

Re:Interesting.... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#6590391)

WTF?
Same post as one just above, that's not only wrong but goes against what's in the article and it gets modded up +1 Interesting?
Bah.

"Washington is bought..." (5, Funny)

WildFire42 (262051) | more than 11 years ago | (#6590320)

Wait for it...

Lobbyist: All your government are belong to me.

Not this again? (5, Informative)

Otter (3800) | more than 11 years ago | (#6590324)

in theory, US laws should not concern me as long as I remain outside US jurisdiction. Reality proves otherwise, however (witness Jon Johansen and Dmitry Sklyarov, for example.)

Jon Johansen was tried under Norwegian law. Remember when he was sent to a second trial and everyone was shrieking that it was violation of his double jeopardy rights? Well, that's because he was being tried under Norwegian law, no matter how many jackasses here insist that US law somehow applies in Norway.

And wasn't Sklyarov arrested when he came to the US?

Re:Not this again? (3, Informative)

rknop (240417) | more than 11 years ago | (#6590366)

And wasn't Sklyarov arrested when he came to the US?

...for things he did while in Russia, which are legal in Russia. (And which were only illegal in the USA under the technicalities of the DMCA.)

-Rob

Re:Not this again? (2, Informative)

YomikoReadman (678084) | more than 11 years ago | (#6590504)

While it is true that the crimes committed in Russia by Sklyarov are legal in Russia, due to the nature of the Internet and that the software he wrote was distributed here in the US by him, he violated US law as well. So, according to the Laws he violated in the US, he was arrested here in the US.

Re:Not this again? (2, Insightful)

Lieutenant_Dan (583843) | more than 11 years ago | (#6590619)

While it is true that the crimes committed in Russia by Sklyarov are legal in Russia, due to the nature of the Internet and that the software he wrote was distributed here in the US by him, he violated US law as well. So, according to the Laws he violated in the US, he was arrested here in the US.

This US, is it the same country that violated [msnbc.com] Russian law in gathering evidence by accessing a system without prior authorization or permission of the local (Russian) authorities?

Sklyarov did nothing wrong in Russia. If he did something wrong in Russia that was against the law or principles in our country, then the US should file a complaint with the Russian government. They should have left the man alone, or at least threaten his employers (sanctions, lawsuit, etc).
But we shouldn't forget that this was Adobe's fault, who started the mess.

Otherwise, every woman who visited Saudi Arabia might get stoned to death for wearing a bikini in Florida. Stupid analogy, I know, but it's the best I have right now.

Re:Not this again? (3, Interesting)

hesiod (111176) | more than 11 years ago | (#6590604)

> ...for things he did while in Russia, which are legal in Russia.

But what "he" (his company, really) did was to export that locally legal software to the U.S., where the software was illegal. If Elcom had made a concerted effort to make sure the software never entered the U.S., he could not have been charged, IMIO (I=Ignorant).

Get Re-elected (5, Insightful)

NickDngr (561211) | more than 11 years ago | (#6590326)

I can tell you from here on the inside, I have rarely met any Member of Congress, of EITHER party, that was really a bad person. Members are all just trying to represent the voters and win re-election.

Not necessarily in that order. Therein lies the problem.

EITHER party? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#6590506)

I like how he says EITHER party. You mean there's only two parties? Dang, all this years have I been wasting my votes?

Re:EITHER party? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#6590635)

He did say Members of Congress, and unfortunately there are few members of Congress that aren't Democrats or Republicans. A couple or three Independants is all, IIRC.

Re:Get Re-elected (4, Insightful)

enjo13 (444114) | more than 11 years ago | (#6590651)

Nope.. not a problem.

The job of our representatives IS to win re-election. That should be their goal. The problem occurs when the represented (that would be you and I) don't properly hold them accountable for their actions while representing us. If a rep. is not 'representing the voters', then it should be impossible to win re-election.

In this day of party-line votes, heavily partisan bickering pretty much everywhere, and TV commericals.. it's become possible to represent just a few of the voters (generally extremist in your party) and still satisfy the electorate.

DRM statement (1, Insightful)

nolife (233813) | more than 11 years ago | (#6590334)

CDBTPA (We must continue fighting against DRM tech mandates. Technology should solve the problems, government should probably stay out)

This statement seems a little shallow here. I agree that the tech sector should work to get something going here. The down side is a lot of the consumer computing and tech sector industy where DRM will play a major initial role is directly or indirectly controlled by one company, Microsoft. You can not have a DRM solution that involves the users when only one company, looking for thier best interest, has such a major influence on the direction DRM takes.

Reps need to use Slashcode (4, Interesting)

RobertB-DC (622190) | more than 11 years ago | (#6590336)

Mr. Morgan made an interesting point about online communication with representatives, now that "wierd knick-knack gifts" could be misconstrued as bioweapons (especially the staple remover that's been in the drawer next to last month's tuna fish sandwich).

But I've always assumed that any value of online communication would be offset by the volume of 1337 mail -- mostly unintentional. "yOUr rite their otta bee a lAw! [school-house-rock.com] "

I'd like to see a tech-savvy representative adopt some form of Slashcode [slashcode.com] -based constituent feedback system. Articles could be the issues currently on the rep's plate, plus a "catchall" for general feedback. Let the (unpaid) interns do the moderation, and then the rep can read at +2 to +5 depending on workload.

I may make a run for office [txgreens.org] in the next few years, and I'd be glad to use a Slash-like system for public discussion of my positions. But I agree with Morgan -- a well-written one-page letter with a finite number of defensible points will be much more effective than a Unabomer-style manifesto.

Re:Reps need to use Slashcode (1)

rot26 (240034) | more than 11 years ago | (#6590440)

I'd like to see a tech-savvy representative adopt some form of Slashcode-based constituent feedback system.

It would have to be moderated. No politician could/would be able to tolerate the trolls.

Re:Reps need to use Slashcode (1)

rot26 (240034) | more than 11 years ago | (#6590460)

Woops, I don't mean slashcode type moderation, I mean listserve type moderation.

Re:Reps need to use Slashcode (1)

WTFmonkey (652603) | more than 11 years ago | (#6590581)

Or a Unabomber-style Unabomb

Lobbyist? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#6590348)

so this Morgan reed guy bums out in hotel lobbies? maybe gets his jollies with the occasional shooting spree?

Money != Influence? (3, Interesting)

verloren (523497) | more than 11 years ago | (#6590349)

It's an idea I've mentioned before, but...

If donations *don't* buy influence, and I'm a shareholder in a company that makes political contributions, can I sue the directors of the company for misappropriation of company funds?

Cheers, Paul

Re:Money != Influence? (4, Insightful)

nomadic (141991) | more than 11 years ago | (#6590421)

If donations *don't* buy influence, and I'm a shareholder in a company that makes political contributions, can I sue the directors of the company for misappropriation of company funds?

He didn't say that, he just said it's not as cut-and-dried as a lot of people here seem to want to believe.

Good answers (4, Insightful)

onyxruby (118189) | more than 11 years ago | (#6590357)

Some good answers, and some information on effective lobbying of our congress critters. I've actually written a few letters to my congress critters on various tech issues, and have even received replies that actually appeared to answer what I wrote about. I just wish more people voice concers to their congressman than /. He's right on the money on one thing though, more donations to the EFF are going to be required if we want our voice to compete with the likes of MS, RIAA etc.

Re:Good answers (0, Troll)

aussersterne (212916) | more than 11 years ago | (#6590410)

You probably could have if this interviewee hadn't lied through his teeth about money not buying influence.

Woah! Slashcode bug? (1)

aussersterne (212916) | more than 11 years ago | (#6590519)

My reply seems to have been attached to a message other than the one under which I clicked "reply"... (hope this one makes it to the right spot!)

Spoken like a true insider... (4, Interesting)

sleepingsquirrel (587025) | more than 11 years ago | (#6590379)

Your JOB as a US citizen is to select a representative who will adequately represent your views. It is essential that you not turn off from politics.
Spoken like a true insider. Whatever happened to limited government? It seems to me that the most moral form of government is one in which you didn't have to spend copious amounts of time checking up on it, just to see if some group is buying influence in order to screw you over.

Re:Spoken like a true insider... (4, Insightful)

Shenkerian (577120) | more than 11 years ago | (#6590482)

How is it an unreasonable burden that you take one or two days every four years to read about what the candidates have done in the prior term?

You then can return to your business and ignore politics for the next four years, since a voter can exercise no power between elections anyway.

yro.slashdot.org (1)

sleepingsquirrel (587025) | more than 11 years ago | (#6590650)

Once every four years? When was the last time a day went by that there wasn't a story in yro [slashdot.org] that you shouldn't have written to your congressman about.

Re:Spoken like a true insider... (1)

The Only Druid (587299) | more than 11 years ago | (#6590726)

You want a demonstration of voters' power between elections? Take a look at California; they're removing their elected leader, outside of the election system, through democratic processes. Now, it'd be difficult to get rid of a president in a similar manner (in fact, impossible, as far as I know), but most states have similar rules which allow an elected official to be removed prior to term completion.

Re:Spoken like a true insider... (3, Insightful)

PhxBlue (562201) | more than 11 years ago | (#6590558)

Government is just like any other service: you get what you pay for. Or, in Geek terms - garbage in, garbage out.

Re:Spoken like a true insider... (3, Insightful)

analog_line (465182) | more than 11 years ago | (#6590624)

There's no such thing. If you want to be sure your government is keeping your interests in mind, you need to check up on it. Even if it's a machine making all hte decisions, you've got to make sure it's running properly, or you deserve all the idiocy you get.

You should be plenty happy if you're so lazy that you can't be bothered to make sure your government is working for you. Just keep your eyes down and keep ignoring everything like a good sheep. Disgusting.

This guy *is* a slickster. (-1, Flamebait)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#6590387)

No, Mr. Empty Suit Fat Cat Lobbyist, we
are not disillusioned because we are ignorant.
We are disillusioned because we have been
ripped off. How self serving of you to start
off by saying the opposite. How can you work
for the Richest Man in the world and hem and
haw. You've been bought ... for a price, granted;
but you represent special interests and are
paid to lie/lobby whatever for a very corrupt,
wealthy Microsoft.

Re:This guy *is* a slickster. (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#6590666)

Top Ten Signs Your Neighbor Is A Cannibal
(s/cannibal/lobbyist)
10. You see repairmen go in, but you never really see them come out

9. Your name: Lou Levy; recipe on his refrigerator: "Lou Levy Almandine"

8. Lives alone, yet at his garage sale, had men's and women's shoes in most sizes

7. Asks if sailors count as seafood

6. Sues Denny's for false advertising over its so-called "Lumberjack Breakfast"

5. Calls his hot tub "the slow cooker"

4. At Halloween, he always has extremely realistic skeletons on the porch

3. You ask for a beer, he replies, "They're in the fridge next to Steve"

2. Says, "I'm in the mood for a Mexican...I mean Mexican"

1. The "pork shoulder" he serves you is wearing a wristwatch

A very interesting read (5, Insightful)

Liselle (684663) | more than 11 years ago | (#6590397)

People tend to avoid and denigrate subjects they don't fully understand or feel comfortable with. I am certain every reader can think back to an example of having a non-tech person make a disparaging, off-the-cuff comment about something of which they clearly don't grasp. Quotes like "empty suits" and "crooks" signify a response steeped in discomfort due to lack of knowledge.

This is an excellent point. The example is very relevant for the folks who read here. It's important to know the limitations of your own knowledge and experience. This is the sort of thing that is not self-evident to the big ego, and I'm thankful to the folks who are good enough to remind us every now and then.

Other good questions (2, Interesting)

pmz (462998) | more than 11 years ago | (#6590458)

When a congressperson is faced with the task of representing 600,000 people on issues ranging from cheese handouts to the international space station, is it even possible for this person do their job competently?

Is the federal government simply too big for its britches?

Re:Other good questions (3, Insightful)

Black Copter Control (464012) | more than 11 years ago | (#6590687)

When a congressperson is faced with the task of representing 600,000 people on issues ranging from cheese handouts to the international space station, is it even possible for this person do their job competently?

Having given some thought to this question (as a result of running for the Green Party), my conclusion was that an elected rep really needs to deal with things at the systemic level, as opposed to the personal level.

While it is often tempting (and even satisfying) to solve a problem for a single person (usually someone in the news), there's really no time to resolve the issues around johnny's bleeding nose -- unless you chunk up to dealing with the leakage from the chemical plant that's causing nosebleeds for Johnny and the 800 kids in his neighbourhood.

To the extent to which you can come up with a systemic solution and show that there is widespread system wide support for your solution, you're more likely to get the attention of an elected rep (or at least a 'good' one).

Hey! (1)

inerte (452992) | more than 11 years ago | (#6590480)

At the risk of burning my karma or being ignored, I just want to say that I liked this guy. Seems a good fellow, in-line with a lot of my thinkings.

Just like everyone in politics, but, anyway... :)

CDBTPA (1)

pheared (446683) | more than 11 years ago | (#6590486)

It's CBDTPA.

(Consumer Broadband and Digital Television Promotion Act)

White Hat v Black Hat (0)

kb3hag (584560) | more than 11 years ago | (#6590500)

2. Everyone thinks they are a "white hat" lobbyist, but their own perception of the hat is colored by the client. Look at Sun, are they a "white hat" because they went after MS? Are they still a "white hat" now that they are going after Linux? IBM used to be the "Great Satan" before MS. Now that they are supporting Open Source (after a fashion) are they now "white hat"? "White Hat" vs. "Black Hat" in technology is a myth. On that note of corporation white hat v. black hat I must agree, but what on the note of hackers? would you still say that there is a white hat/black hat form of hacking? one must ponder, this is a good point, but the original meaning of this is lost in this usage.

More proof.. (0)

magsymp (562489) | more than 11 years ago | (#6590560)

Finally, imagine that the people making the decisions are overworked folks getting massive quantities of information and trying to adequately represent the voters who put them in office.

There is no conspiracy. Everything is just out of control, we've built something so huge that it's no longer under our command. There might still be bribes, and corruption, but that's just the tip of the iceberg, the real problem is the powerful beast itself. You can't stop something you don't understand and we have such a faint knowledge of what we are up against that all hope is already lost.

The Illumanity doesn't exist and if it does it's not a thinking entity it's just a snowball rolling down a slope getting bigger and bigger... /rant

I think I should take my medication now.

Regulation (1, Insightful)

k98sven (324383) | more than 11 years ago | (#6590608)

In the long run, too much regulation favors large companies, not smaller ones.

Well, that's quite a disputable statement.

I for one, have always held that regulation is neccessary to keep big companies from getting too big and turning the market into a monopoly/oligopoly, hampering small businesses.

Government involvement didn't seem to benifit Standard Oil very much. And the deregulation of energy markets didn't seem to stop Enron. (RIP!)

True, the focus here is on the Tech sector, but pointing out how the browser wars became "irrelevant" is hardly a good argument against anti-trust, it's just a sign that the judicial process has become way too slow.

Early prominence (5, Insightful)

akiaki007 (148804) | more than 11 years ago | (#6590614)

well, after reading for quite a while, I decided to comment on the early tone I noticed. Cliche of DC, and my comment is cliche with his comments about /.'ers...
Many of the posts here throw out statements like "Washington is bought"; and it reminds me how little slashdot readers understand about the U.S. government.

OK, well, you said this, then explained it in a question or two later. Yes, you speak the truth, but I'll fill your generalization of /.'ers as saying that you speak like someone from DC. And you do. Though you took the time to answer these great questions, but often you didn't quite answer the question (IMO).

Anyway, with this statement I would say, who funds the 2 major parties? Rather, what percentage of the funds of either party come from individuals and corporations? I have a rough estimate, and I know you do as well. Now that we have that out of the way, of the individuals, how much of those donations are made from individuals who's income is greater than 100,000 USD? OK, that should be a good large number. Now we are left with a small percentage, which is what represents the general population. No, Washington DC is not bought, but it is nudged...a lot.

On to other points:
When a Congressman is lobbied either by corporation or his local Lion's Club, he is thinking in terms of how it benefits his constituents and his/her personal beliefs.

Well yes. But when most of the money for your campaign comes from corporations that are interested in logging and drilling for oil in Alaska, they become yoru largest number of constituents. They gave you that money because they think that you can help them out. You are a representative of Alaska and these are your constituents. Would you please tell me how cutting down several thousand acres of forest and drilling for oil will help the general population? Ah yes, it will greatly increase the income of the area and provide jobs. And 50 years down the line everyone will hate those companies because they destroyed the natural resources, and now the children have to suffer all the pollution and crud that has been left in it's place.

Though your intentions are good and you've answered some questions, I still don't have a better opinion of my representative (I'm in NY) nor do I think that most of the polititions can put 100% of their thoughts into the people they represent. This is simply because they got elected because of the funds they received from the corporations that are trying to become human-like. Until they do away with this money rubbish, the opinion of DC will not change by many.

Interesting. (4, Interesting)

YllabianBitPipe (647462) | more than 11 years ago | (#6590618)

Well, in general this guy sounds intelligent and obviously knows a lot about politics, but I noticed some amusing things in his post ... for starters, it really begins with an antagonistic tone, that the average person is an idiot and quick to conclude bad things about politics, that politicians are all being bought and sold. Yet in the very next couple of paragraphs he blatantly admits that groups and corporations donate money to try to get their perspectives heard. Maybe the clue this guy needs is: most people are not a member of a group or a corpoation. They feel they AREN'T being represtented, and a politician saying they're just looking out for their constituents... well, ask most constituents and they'll say the politicians are listening to money. So, there's an obvious disconnect here and frankly, his tone is proof of it.

Second I'd say, it's really sad to hear his tale about interns getting paid next to nothing, and working on the hill, still getting paid next to nothing. Where is all this money, that's being donated by the corporations and groups, going? Right into the pockets of Mr. Representative? I just find it ridiculous that a lobbyist who in the first paragraphs, DEFENDS the politicians, and then later on, admits that starting out working on the hill, you get paid jack and his wife had to go back to school!

All in all, an interesting post and I don't think I'm alone in saying there's a real disconnect between public and government, perhaps explaining many of the problems on both sides of the fence.

to quote the author (0, Flamebait)

Sebastopol (189276) | more than 11 years ago | (#6590664)

"Be aware that much of what you read on the editorial page of the newspaper, or what you hear on talk radio, is spin. Read the byline of the author carefully (also understand in many cases he/she is not really the author, just a respected person whose name is being used to promote a position)."

I read his replies with this in mind. My reply: go take a long walk on a short pier buddy. All the crap about 'expected influence' is big fat line, and there's a wall of evidence to support this.

Yeah, but... (1)

eclectic4 (665330) | more than 11 years ago | (#6590679)

You don't walk in, hand over a check and change a vote. Doesn't happen.

What if I believe in basic human nature and choose not to believe the above? I have seen votes by conresspersons that seem to benefit the "purchaser" more than the constituents many times. I guess I'm wrong and all congresspeople act out of the pure goodness of their hearts...

And what about the absolute fact that corporate lobbyists attempt to effect policy only if can benefit their bottom line? If it wouldn't, they would not be lobbying for it. Now, does this mean that they can forego constituent concern? Absolutely not. I don't believe an elected official would last long doing so. But, to assume that a corporation is spending millions on trying to prove that a certain policy is going to benefit mankind, and that it is giving all pertinent information therof would be naive, IMO. I have read cases where the public was simply unaware of certain "fallout" due to policy that was lobbied by large corporations, and that the corporations simply didn't "divulge" this information for it knew it would hurt the possibility of passage. In the end, the lobbyist got a raise, the corporation made more money, and the congressperson thought they were doing their constituents a service. You see, corporations survive by doing this. Their only goal is to make more money, gain more power, and to think that they are fighting for the best interest of humanity would be naive. Whereby public lobbyist goal is just the opposite. Their entire existance is based on attempting to fight these entities, and to truly make the world a better place for all humankind, in their opinion. So, wouldn't you always want to take anything coming from an entity who's entire existance is based on gaining more power, not the betterment of humankind, with a grain of salt? How is this good for us?

I say ban soft money, delete the lobby system, and let's get back to catering to the people, not the totalitarian run corporations who's only goal, once again, is to make more money.

haha! (-1, Flamebait)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#6590712)

People tend to avoid and denigrate subjects they don't fully understand or feel comfortable with. I am certain every reader can think back to an example of having a non-tech person make a disparaging, off-the-cuff comment about something of which they clearly don't grasp. Quotes like "empty suits" and "crooks" signify a response steeped in discomfort due to lack of knowledge.

Most Slashdot readers prize themselves on being knowledgeable, especially about tech issues. Many readers depend on knowledge for their income. Yet on issues involving the government, these same "knowledge workers" treat politics like the technophobes treat computers.


Sounds like Michael Sims to me!
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