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Congress Still Figuring Out E-Mail 136

Jett writes " has an interesting article in their Webmag Fifth Estate about how congressmen have responded to the popularity of e-mail in their daily operations. Quote: 'Of the 440 voting and non-voting House of Representatives members, 22 have no e-mail at all. Even House Speaker Dennis Hastert is wired only halfway -- his office receives e-mail, but does not respond to it. And while all U.S. senators have e-mail, they, like their House counterparts, routinely shun non-constituent mail -- even though they chair committees whose decisions affect the entire country.'"
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Congress Still Figuring Out E-Mail

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  • I heard on NPR yesterday that Clinton was calling for a big push to increase privacy in the coming years, because there is so much data tracked on people. Just go use a credit card, ya kno? And your info is in some database somewhere...

    Anyone have the skinny on this? I didn't catch the whole thing.

  • by Anonymous Coward
    Before you mark this down as offtopic as whatever, stop and think HONESTLY for a moment. If you can HONESTLY say that YOU DON'T THINK that THIS COUNTRY would be BETTER OFF if all of the members of Congress were transformed into nude marble statues, then go ahead, moderate this down! But if you're HONEST, and will admit that a petrified Congress would be better for the country than what we have no, do the right thing. Don't moderate this down. Write to your Congressional representatives and make sure he/she knows that you want him/her turned to stone. Set up non-profit organizations dedicated to getting your members of Congress turned to stone. And most important of all, JOIN THE LIBERTARIAN PARTY []! Peace, Liberty, and Justice for all, amen.
  • Problem: constituents feel that the politicians don't care about their problems, are not accountable to them, are influenced by lobbies too much.

    Solution: make reighning politicians and running candidates public companies. Their shareholders will be their constituents with a clearly defined voice (number of shares). SEC will oversee large stock transactions and insiders, selling shares will be the only way to finance election campaigns. Instead of meaningless "town hall meetings" politicians will have to answer to "shareholder meetings". Small shareholders will be able to pool their power via shareholder proxies.

    Downside: Those who can't afford politico-shares will not be cared for at all. But this is exactly what's going on now. So, no real downside!
  • As much as I hate the US Gov't, you have to know that this is an Urban Legend. Absoloutely false. Its been circulating in various forms for years.

    On the contrary, it understates the case. For instance, if you recall the House Bank scandal about ten years back you'll realize that the number of bad-check writers is in the triple rather than double digits.

  • by Anonymous Coward
    For a second there I was about to flame you and say "Didn't you learn anything in American Government class during high school?" until I looked again at your address. ;-) I guess Australians probably don't have to take American Government do they?

    Anyway, US protectorates usually have non-voting reps... like someone said, Guam, Puerto Rico, DC, etc. Not states but they do have an interest in shaping the way legislation is developed because it still affects their country/district.

  • by Anonymous Coward
    Food for thought:

    Can you imagine working at the following Company? It has a little over 500 employees with the following statistics:

    29 have been accused of spousal abuse
    7 have been arrested for fraud
    19 have been accused of writing bad checks
    117 have bankrupted at least two businesses
    3 have been arrested for assault
    71 cannot get a credit card due to bad credit
    14 have been arrested on drug-related charges
    8 have been arrested for shoplifting
    21 are current defendants in lawsuits
    In 1998 alone, 84 were stopped for drunk driving

    Can you guess which organization this is? Give up?

    It's the 535 members of your United States Congress. The same group that perpetually cranks out hundreds upon hundreds of new laws designed to keep the rest of us in line.

  • Seems to me that if companies can patent something as simple as an algorithm (Amazon) somebody must find the electronic realm important. One could logically deduce that email is likewise important...
    unless that is you have been chosen to either create the laws or ejudicate the laws of this country, in which case you must be inherantly ignorant in matters of electronic knowhow.

    Perhaps if somebody tried to patent email...
    Naah...never happen.


  • The five non-voting representatives are:

    Robert Underwood (D - Guam)

    Carlos A. Romero-Barcelo (D - Puerto Rico)

    Eleanor Holmes Norton (D - District of Columbia)

    Eni F. H. Faleomavaega (D - American Samoa)

    Donna M. C. Christensen (D - US Virgin Islands)


  • The U.S. territories that have represenation in Congress are:
    District of Columbia
    Puerto Rico
    U.S. Virgin Islands
    American Samoa

    And has been noted, they do not have voting privliges, only voice.

  • by ronfar ( 52216 ) on Saturday January 29, 2000 @06:15AM (#1324591) Journal
    The main thing about Congressman and Senators is that they will take positions on presumably safe issues that that they presume will win them votes but they don't really care about. Most of them are pretty ignorant about technology, and, for example, if you tell them, "The most popular video game currently available is called Blood & Gore and the plot of the game is to gun down innocent schoolchildren and nuns," they'll probably believe you (or figure that you are "close enough for government work.")

    I have always assumed congressional Email works like this. The congressman or Senator has a bunch of interns who don't necessarily have a lot to do all the time, they set one of the interns to read the incoming Email. If it is something important to the politician ("Bill gates wants to donate to your campaign") or something the intern cares about, they'll tell the politician. If not, they'll just delete it and move on. It's sort of like that episode of the Simpsons where Burns builds the sun-blocker. To paraphrase Mayor Quimby, "I have composed a polite but strongly worded letter which I will pass to Mr. Burn's underlings. Hopefully, with some cajoling, they will pass it along to him, or at least give him the gist of it."

    A big pile of paper mail, however, will have the politician come into his office and say, "Wow, look at all that mail!" The politician is bound to take notice if it is mostly against something he or she is doing, though it might not change his or her mind. (Stuff they don't really care about, which I believe includes a lot of tech related issues, is not something they are going to risk votes over.)

    Politicians, of course, care most about constituents. However, there are other groups they care about:

    1. Big contributors.

    2. Members of their parties. The more powerful, the better. If you are the head of your local Republican or Democratic organization, you have more power than a rank and file member. So, being involved in local politics gives you more of a voice on the national level.

    A recent article in Salon, pointed out that there is one congressman who gets more campaign contributions from the Florida Cuban community than he does from people in his own state. This guy is also what the Romans considered an honest politician, he stays bought and can be counted on to support the legislation of these campaign contributions. (And the current battle over Elian Gonzales.)

    Of course, people (myself included) hate the fact that support for an issue really comes down to money as well as votes, but that's the way the government works. So, I suggest to any millionaires in the OpenSource, Internet or Game industries that they put some money into campaigns. Money makes politicians care about the issue, if it all comes from the pro-filter/pro-censorship/anti-OpenSource side, well, you can guess what kind of laws will be passed.

    Personally I'd love to see major reform of the political system and that really means politicians from outside the two party system getting elected. (Such as Libertarians, for example.)

  • This here is proof that Congress should not be in control of regulation of technology and should not be making laws if they cannot understand it. Simply having speakers come in and try to explain what's going on isn't going to help either, because many of them won't undertand it, and there's this stupid thing called LOBBYISM.

    The same goes for economics. There are a bunch of idiots in Congress who don't understand simple laws of supply and demand, and love to throw things out of equilibrium. If they maybe understood a bit, we'd be in better shape.

    All in all,there need to be better technology and economics sectors because they just don't get what's going on, and they're really hurting it for those who DO.
    - Mike Roberto
    --- AOL IM: MicroBerto
  • The biggest problem I've had with my local reps is that they ignore email anyway. It's not as easy to dismiss a handwritter letter, which I've had success with every single time. It's just too easy to delete 100+ emails a day, and pretend you never got them. I think that's what they do.

    Hey Rob, Thanks for that tarball!
  • I'm not surprised. Since most of these people are probably in their 50's or above, they're not eager to adapt new things. Perhaps mail with a user interface that everyone and his dog can understand would do, though I don't think it's a really good idea to teach these people to use hotmail for their work e-mail ;=-)

    So perhaps someone should write a safe
    corporate email system for these guys that won't require any computer knowledge at all.
  • You can't teach and old dog new tricks.

    Congressmen are on average a whole lot older than your typical email slinging geak. The apparent backwardness of congress is in reality only a reflection of the age of it's members. How many 50+ year olds do you know who want to use this new technology ?

    In contrast every University tries it's damnedest to by wired. After all it's made up mostly of late teen and early twenties students. This is the generation that remembers growing up as abandoning Atari for Nintendo then drooping Mario for DOOM.

    Around these parts ( Jamaica ) when the Minister of Technology and Commerce (If ever there was an EComerce ministry this is it :) went into parliament to make a speech his use of a laptop actually caused an objection from the floor. ( Denied by the Speaker of the House ).

    BTW : Since the majority of these elderly congressmen ( most would have been forced into retirement in other professions ) are using the tech you americans should count yourselves lucky. Around here the leader of the opposition doesn't admit in public that he repairs the PCs in his office himself. It would make him look weird to the rest of Parliament :)
  • The article meantions non-voting members of the house of reps. What are these? Are there two types of reps or are these non-voting members 'special provisions'?
  • by MattXVI ( 82494 ) on Saturday January 29, 2000 @04:01AM (#1324598) Homepage
    When I worked as a Congressional staffer a couple of years ago, the staffs were stretched pretty thin, even in majority offices. The assumption was that email came third after phone calls and non-photocopied snail mail. Most offices believed that email was too convenient, and the folks who really cared would phone or write a letter. Some offices had been experimenting with context-sensitive auto-responders, but those still have to be double-checked.

    Of course, some members of Congress just don't give a flip. Several hundred members are in safe seats, where they really have to screw up to risk losing. It's the others who have the best constituent services, not surprisingly.

    Also, keep in mind that Congress attracts lawyers, activists, and a few businessmen. Most are not really tech-savvy (though most are curious). I'd like to make an Al Gore joke here, but you can do that for yourself. For those of you sick of the Al Gore/Internet gaffe, he recently claimed to have discovered and publicized the Love Canal problem in the 80's (he didn't, and it was in the news for a year before he saw it) and he claimed to have written the original Earned Income Tax Credit legislation, which was actually written before he entered Congress. Clinton also credited the growth of the WWW from "50-60 pages to millions of pages", to Al Gore this week.

    Reliance on email and internet communication will eventually happen all over Capitol Hill. Just allow for a ten-year lag or so between them and the non-governmental world. They just got used to fax machines in the early 90's.

  • by MattXVI ( 82494 ) on Saturday January 29, 2000 @04:04AM (#1324600) Homepage
    There's representatives from Guam, Puerto Rico, and the District of Columbia. A couple more, too, but it's hard to remember them. They don't vote on legislation, but they get to talk.
  • by Eric Albert ( 109639 ) on Saturday January 29, 2000 @04:08AM (#1324601) Homepage
    It's worth keeping in mind that members of Congress have limited budgets for staff, and that they usually run pretty close to their limits. When I worked in a Representative's office, we had one and a half staffers answering snail mail full-time, out of a staff of about eight. Each letter took at least 3-5 minutes to respond to, and more thought-provoking ones took a lot longer.

    Now consider how easy it is to email your Representative. It'd probably take you about thirty seconds to send off a paragraph to all 538 of them. Multiply that by a zillion people emailing, and you'll see why it's simply impossible for them to respond. Ideally they'd at least have autoreplies, but that's up to the individual office, and that means that it really depends on how technically savvy each office is. Simply the cost of the staff to do anything beyond that would run to at least $50,000 per year per office, is the value of being able to email your Representative worth another $25 million or so per year in funding? It depends, but I think that'd have a tough time getting approved.

  • by KahunaBurger ( 123991 ) on Saturday January 29, 2000 @06:24AM (#1324602)
    I would much rather my representitives had no email access and I knew that, than have them use a sorting and auto-response program. There is a group marketing email sorting software for legislaters now which will supposedly identify the topic and a yes/no from each letter and then just tell her that her constituent mail for the day had 8 in favor of the death penalty and 10 against. As a political activist, I have to say that this SUCKS.

    When I was helping fight a mini DOMA here in MA, my group set up a page on our web site to enable people to email or fax their state reps (along with the governer and the heads of both houses) on the issue. There was a very short subject statement (mostly to make sure that our opposition didn't use the setup to write things in favor of the bill) and then people wrote personal additions. These personal statements were great. People talked about their lives, about how this legislation would effect them, how their crrent legal status effected them, real information, not just a "please vote no". As a result of the volume of email, but also in response to the content of it, we had legislaters who normally would have ignored the issue testifying with us at the committee hearing, and one committee member who we had previously had no contact with cutting through the vauge "family values" talk and asking witnesses in favor of the bill hard questions about the real people involved.

    Now this story shows that email advocacy can work, if its implemented well. But it also shows how "improvements" to that technology can make the political process worse. We won new people over to us because we gave them information they didn't have before, and showed them a personal, real life side of the issue that they may not have considered. An auto-response system or content sorter telling them "53 constituent emails opposing H472" would be unlikely to have the same effect.

  • The key phrase here is "non-constituent". Does anyone really believe that these weasels would EVER care about the views of someone who cannot vote for them? So vote! Maybe we can legalize knowledge.

    Umm, how can they tell? I mean, there's no guarantee that, for example, a *.ca address even belongs to a US citizen, let alone a Californian resident.

  • Remember, though, the politician isn't might not actually be interested in what you have to say, he he might just want you to go away, or if he considers you no threat, to ignore you. So, its easy for politicians who don't want to be bothered with Emails to say, "It's too easy. Besides, there is to much fraud." Instead of what he really think, which is "I'm not going to lose the election because of them." That's the only thing that politicians care about, really, the horror of going back to the private sector (or to it for the first time.) So, if Emails ever become a reliable method of polling the electorate, you can bet politicians will sit up and take notice of Emails. Right now, though, Emails still haven't proven themselves as useful political indicators, the pols don't "get" Email anyway, so they figure it can't safely be ignored. (Telephone, calls, however, have occaisionally been accurate predictors of public opinion.)

    Best way to change this? Make sure that if you Email a rep. or Senator and he ignores it that he gets punished for it at the polls.

    Oh, and one last point:

    then a phone call will get across only what the person listening chooses to write down and understands
    Well, that's true, but I wouldn't be surprised if exactly the same thing happens with Email. I'd love to be proven wrong on this, I wouldn't have to waste so much money on stamps!

    Articles like this one, prevent me from being encouraged about politicians and Email:

    The Bus Stops Everywhere []

  • by Wellspring ( 111524 ) on Saturday January 29, 2000 @06:39AM (#1324605)

    A couple of points:

    As has already been said, most offices have about 40 people working for them. Many of them are answering phones, doing clerical work, etc (just like any office). With that said, the offices I have had contact with do handle email they receive. They print it out and handle it like normal mail, for reasons given below.

    Virtually all the offices respond via snail mail. There are couple of reasons for this. First, there is security-- it is easier to detect forgery on paper mail. Second, it is easier for the Congressman/Senator to look over and approve a paper letter than an email before it is sent. Finally, the software/hardware is very old, and tough to adapt anyway, for reasons below.

    Congressional offices operate under ridiculous rules and regulations. You'd think, hey, these guys write the laws, why not just change them? But the reality is that offices lack the resources to do software support on their own, and the rules were originally designed to be tough to change to prevent abuse.

    Finally, on the subject of responding to people outside your district, you have to think about it this way. You only represent your district (the better interest of the nation as a whole counts as part of this, but since every issue is painted as a critical 'take one for the team' issue, it wears thin quickly). They are the only people who vote for you. It is therefore a disservice to them to spend resources on others which would have helped them. If they are so concerned about something, they can tell their congressman. Put another way, as Robert A. Heinlein said before basically giving the same advice I just did, "the votes are in the precincts".

    Hey, Congress staffers read Slashdot, don't they? Tell us what software you use! Maybe we can improve it. It would be a public service, so RMS would like it. ;)

  • While developing a website for an activist organization, we were told by a consulting firm that congress would not take any emails stating support or opposition of issues seriously.

    We ended up devising an elaborate system where a user could fill out a web form and submit the contenst to a server that would convert the text into a fax and send that to the appropriate offices.

    I thought the whole thing smacked of foolishness.
  • Why does Congress need to tell people their e-mail addresses? No one requires it. Here's what they should do:
    1. If you send e-mail to your Congressman, you receive an autoresponse explaining that the Congressman does not receive direct e-mail. You are encouraged to submit your feedback through a comment form on the Congressman's web site.
    2. Your e-mail is archived for legal reasons, perhaps with one staffer reading through it to check for death or bomb threats -- but no replies are sent.
    3. A comment form on the Congressman's web site requires you to supply your contact info, mailing address, etc. Asking for your identity will stop a lot of the less serious users -- even though it's simple to lie, a lot of people leave at this point.
    4. On the form, explain that every comment is read, but most are not replied to, most replies are sent via snail mail (further encouraging the user to submit truthful contact info), and thank the user.
    No one can expect all e-mails to receive personal replies. It's not practical. And it's not practical for the government to blindly receive and respond to communications which are so easily forged. They need a middle ground.
  • Most of them are pretty ignorant about technology, and, for example, if you tell them, "The most popular video game currently available is called Blood & Gore and the plot of the game is to gun down innocent schoolchildren and nuns," they'll probably believe you (or figure that you are "close enough for government work.")

    Politicians are often ignorant about technology because most technology people have exactly that attitude. "They're all corrupt anyway, and they are dumb, so why bother." It is rare to see such a community so stridently uninvolved. Many Congressmen have tried and failed to find technology people to advise them on issues because of just this attitude, which reminds me of the "Open Source is communism" stuff we used to hear.

    I have always assumed congressional Email works like this. The congressman or Senator has a bunch of interns who don't necessarily have a lot to do all the time, they set one of the interns to read the incoming Email.

    The ones I have met have full time people whose only job is answering mail. They get thousands per day!

    If it is something important to the politician ("Bill gates wants to donate to your campaign") or something the intern cares about, they'll tell the politician.

    Definitely not true. The official office that does the mail isn't even allowed to look at contributions. The congressguy has a person outside his official office who handles all that. By law, the office can't even touch it, except to forward it to that guy if it is accidentally sent to them. On the email/snailmail that takes most of their time, which deals with bills and issues, most do go through as much as they can, and demand careful reports on the rest. When you get thousands of snailmail/email a day, that's as much as you can do.

    A big pile of paper mail, however, will have the politician come into his office and say, "Wow, look at all that mail!" The politician is bound to take notice if it is mostly against something he or she is doing, though it might not change his or her mind. (Stuff they don't really care about, which I believe includes a lot of tech related issues, is not something they are going to risk votes over.)

    So which are you saying? That Representatives ignore their constituents because of their other beliefs? Or that they listen too much and blow with the wind and don't just do what is right? Answer: you are saying both-- when your views are the majority's you say the guy who disagrees is blind to democracy and majority rule. When most people disagree with you, you say the politician is blowing with the polls. This is cynicism masquerading as sophistication.

    From the above, it doesn't sound like you have any direct knowledge of what a congressman/senator/president/cabinet member does from day to day, other than from what you see on TV. You should give some thought to how coders look, as seen on TV news. It isn't a pretty picture.

    Of course, deCSS is copy protection broken by evil thieves, the Clipper chip stops child pornography (which is nearly everything on the internet), Al Gore invented the internet, and security through obscurity is best, so I guess TV does know best.

    So, being involved in local politics gives you more of a voice on the national level.

    This I totally agree with. I have been active in local politics in my area, and there is that same "show me the code" mentality there. If you put your time (forget money, it is people putting in real live hours of real live work that is really valued), the people you favor will more likely win. It isn't finding Big Players and trying to change their minds, it is finding a state legislator who might be a programmer and agree with you already, and helping them become a state senator, or a Congressman. If you are a libertarian, you pretty much tank your chances of winning (since third parties by definition are made of people who won't compromise enough to win a majority and actually do something). But that just makes your help more important, so get to work!

    Robert Heinlein was a political leader in LA after he left the Navy, and wrote a book called Take Back Your Government. Read it. I read it in high school, and in college followed his algorithm. As I said, I am active in local politics, and can say that Heinlein was 100% right and following his advice, I have been ridiculously successful.

  • Reminds me a lot of computer geeks who insist on using impenetrable command line programs years after better/ more powerful/ more friendly programs come out because they can't be bothered to change their way of working.

    *sigh* i dont mean to start a gui-vs-nongui flame war, but perhaps the reason some of the command line geeks you mention choose to be that way are because for them (ie for the tasks they do most often) that way is easier/more efficient/more powerful and they dont want to change.


    Keyboard not found.
  • *.ca=California? Wow, those wacky Canadians are voting in California elections now? This is worse than I thought!

    But you are right, they have no real way of knowing where the person is when receiving email.
  • by Anonymous Coward
    I currently work in a congressional office that receives over 4,000 emails per day--10,000 during the Lewinsky fiasco. We have a dedicated staffer for email in DC (I work at the local office), but I'm not sure exactly what the procedure is. We do READ all of the emails and respond to them in one form or another. As for software, the office uses Lotus cc:Mail and Wordperfect... I'm not sure if that is common across congressional offices. It really is important to note that email is the easiest method of voicing opinion... often anonymously. We receive a lot of shit and prefer to focus our energies on constituent who require our services. The office does a LOT of advocacy for people who have trouble with federal agencies... social security, immigration, veterans affairs, etc. Frankly, the comments of you Libertarian geeks just aren't that important ;) j/k of course, but you have to understand that a bunch of emails demanding that all congressional offices switch from NT to Linux servers isn't QUITE as urgent as an in-person visit from a Liberian refugee who is trying to get his sons out of Africa before they are all slaughtered. So don't feel too bad if you don't receive a timely or personal reponse from your representative or senator.
  • Having worked at NASA, I took exception to Sensenbrenner's comments toward NASA when John Glenn was announced for the Shuttle mission. Rep. Sensenbrenner basically said NASA had assigned 2 cardiovascular specialists to babysit Glenn.

    My e-mail shot got a stock e-mail response, followed with a stock postal response saying they didn't bother with anyone outside Sensenbrenner's district. When I fired a truly irate response back, suggesting a call to the media, I got a letter from the Representative, or someone who at least took the time to apologize in his name and admit the remarks were out of line, in 2 days. By snail mail.

    The consideration that e-mail is too convenient, is specious. It's the way I do business now. It *is* convenient. It is easier for me to e-mail my congressman than to remember how to get the Laserjet to address an envelope.

    Let's get Congress to start considering our input. It's useful to listen to the tech-savvy folks sometimes...
  • IRC is even worse when it comes to people who say things they would never say to your face. I've had people say things to me they would never say to me in person (well... not more than once that is *grin*). Check out what happens when a newbie question in some of the IRC tech "help" channels gets asked. Or better yet, get into a politics debate on IRC and you'll see a text version of the Jerry Springer show come to life. The only differnce is that kick/banning isn't quite as amusing as seeing irate people restrained by large bald guys.

    /me throws a chair, snaps his fingers and yells "You aint ALL that!"
  • You;re right. They're going to have to find a way to separate the sensible letters like yours from all the crap their boxes will attract. It'd be great if we could fix bad legislation the same way we patch bugs in the kernel...
  • by MattXVI ( 82494 ) on Saturday January 29, 2000 @08:21AM (#1324617) Homepage
    Dick Armey is the House Majority leader. He's a congressman from Texas. Dick Morris, the ex-Clinton advisor, runs I'm tempted to ask "Can't you keep your dicks straight?" but I won't! Save your best laughter, though, for (former) Rep. from New Hampshire, Dick Swett.

    Your comment about is right on the money, by the way. :)

  • by r2ravens ( 22773 ) on Saturday January 29, 2000 @08:22AM (#1324618)
    You know, I was going to write a post here something like this:

    Any congressperson could take the slash tools, most specifically the poll engine, and set it up on their site to get an idea of the pulse on an issue. Granted this method is not perfect, and it would be biased on the side of more technically oriented people, but it does limit to one poll vote per IP so that would keep down the ballot box stuffing, and they wouldn't have to respond to individual email.

    But right at that moment, my previous disgust with the American political system (which had already turned to amusement), shifted further into apathy.

    I think I'm trailing the pack on this one. Our national voter participation has dropped significantly over time and only the most vocal and obnoxious people are seen pushing issues.

    We, The People, have seen over time that the process of our governance has turned from Statesmanship to a pure money-making venture. Even if there are those who might choose to go into politics to try to effect actual change, the 'barrier to entry' is exclusively money and set so high that one has to already *be* independently wealthy or be beholden to those who have contributed the money to make one's election possible.

    And now, with this article and affiliated posts and links, we have even further confirmation that our voices do not count a single whit. My voice does not count unless I speak while handing over a large check. I begin to wonder what happens to my actual vote on election day as the information travels from my local polling place to a counting center through the rest of the reporting process. After all, I have a tendency to vote against the moneyed interests.

    And I *do* vote. In every election, for every issue, I educate myself about the issues, the candidates and the events surrounding both. And the really depressing part is that I am forced to cast those very important votes for the lesser of the evils I am presented with.

    Despite my best efforts at fulfilling my civic duties, my elected officials here in Arizona are proposing some of the most backward, unenforceable and probably unconstitutional laws I continue to see.

    1. As reported on /. a few days ago: Rep. Jean McGrath wants to require filtering software on all school computers up to and including University level, restricting the rights of adults. She also wants to prevent persons of the opposite sex from visiting each others dorm rooms. I hope this will fail after I ask my representatives if they are supporting Rep. McGrath's Homosexual Rights and Privacy Bill.

    2. An anti-choice anti-abortion bill to require parental consent for minors, a waiting period for all and force doctors to go into a long-winded spiel about the dangers and show pictures of fetal development. (Ed:"Don't like abortion? Don't have one.")

    3. And the capper... A bill to *require* that, in addition to information about evolution, the schools *must* teach the 'scientific facts refuting evolution'!?!? Tough duty for the teacher, there *are no* scientific facts refuting evolution.

    So, I do my part, but without money, and my concerns get ignored, my State slips backward toward the Middle Ages, and we all get fsck'd.

    And now I have information that anything I try to do to convey my desire to *my employee* regarding my governance is being ignored.

    Apathy? Yup.

    I guess I'll just do my part next time around and vote against the bastards... if I can get up the energy to go to the polls... after all, what's the point?

    Disclaimer: The above is a statement of *my* feeling in this matter, is not intended to speak for others, and is *not* flamebait.

    *Constructive* ideas and/or criticism is/are welcomed.

  • I would be surprised if members of US Congress even got all the mail that was sent to them. We can get pretty accurate numbers from the US Postal Service, but unfortunately no such requirement is made of electronic mail. Yes, I know I'm playing down some technology issues but 'necessity is blah blah invention'.

    Necessitate [ooh I invented a verb!] a better standard of email delivery, and Microsoft will have to fix it.

    If you want to find out what your congress people are saying - I believe phone bills and actual email contents are public record. Use this to remind them that WE value our privacy too. Nothing motivates people like personal experience.

    Anyways, I have an extremely low opinion of Exchange. Due to the fact that it mangles email headers, causing attachments and bodies to be lost, the resulting at my work has been to mandate Outlook as the Company Email Client. That's great, because good employees check their email at home,and now I have to boot Windows to use outlook, and PRAY I don't get nailed with a "You've got an Outlook Virus" email? :-/

    Did I manage to turn this into a Microsoft sucks post?

    This message posted with Mozilla M13. Woo hoo!

  • The consideration that e-mail is too convenient, is specious.

    I must agree. By that theory, the most sincere messages would be hand chiseled into a slab of rock, perhaps I should try that...OOps, that'd make me a nut case wouldn't it?

  • by sjames ( 1099 ) on Saturday January 29, 2000 @08:54AM (#1324621) Homepage Journal

    Ideally they'd at least have autoreplies, but that's up to the individual office, and that means that it really depends on how technically savvy each office is.

    Agreed, we can't expect an individual response to each e-mail, they'd have no time to legislate (though that might be a good thing!).

    As for auto-responders, they claim to be savvy enough to legislate what's good for the internet and the computer industry, they'd BETTER be savvy enough to hire someone to set up an auto-responder!

    Personally, I'd like to see a tech entry exam where they are provided with a complete PC dis-assembled with instructions. If they can't get it put together and use it to get on the net, they don't know enough to make decisions about tech issues.

  • by sjames ( 1099 ) on Saturday January 29, 2000 @09:01AM (#1324622) Homepage Journal

    went into parliament to make a speech his use of a laptop actually caused an objection from the floor. ( Denied by the Speaker of the House ).

    That's a step above the U.S. House where laptops are banned from the floor! (At least one congressman is trying to change that).

  • Further, e-mail is still easily forged and many are concerned about the political implications of a forged e-mail circulated to large numbers of their constituents. They feel the best way to repudiate these forgeries before they happen is to have the policy they only respond by postal mail.

    The volume problems and the non-constituant problems are perfectly understandable, There's no great solution to the former, and as for the latter, they're required to pay more consideration to the people they actually represent (unless they serve on a committee, in which case, they are in theory expanding their representation to the nation as a whole).

    the other issues would probably be solved if they were required (by the voters) to handle e-mail. Digital signatures should have been implemented at a national level by now (but many in the Fed. Gov. seem more interested in holding my secret key than my public key). As for fears of massive spam, join the club!

  • They don't vote on legislation, but they get to talk.

    Yesterday (Friday), I listened to part of a radio program called Public Interest []. The guest was the District of Columbia's House Delegate Elanor Holmes Norton. She talked about a lot of DC stuff, but also about what she can and cannot do in Congress.

    You can listen to the program (it's an hour long) [] if you have RealAudio [].

    There's a lot of things she can do, but voting is not one of them. She actually sued to be able to vote, and won. Twice. But she still wasn't allowed to vote. (What did you expect from the US Government?)

  • Your Congressmen have it right. If you really cared, you wouldn't write them an email, you'd walk right down to their offices and tell them yourself.
    I don't know where you live, but it'd take quite a while to walk to my congressman's office.

    In any event, I think that Galager said it best:
    "If con is the opposite of pro, then congress is the opposite of progress"
    Now all I need to do is spell his name right, and mention that that is in the show he did "Galager the Book Keeper."

    You may think that our system sucks, but at least you can become pro-active, and fix what you think is wrong. I'll quit now, before I become flame bait...

  • There's representatives from Guam, Puerto Rico, and the District of Columbia. A couple more, too, but it's hard to remember them. They don't vote on legislation, but they get to talk.

    Forgot to mention this: The citizens of the Washington DC don't get any representation in congress, but the federal government taxes them and makes a lot of decisions for the city (budget, etc.).

    This upsets a lot of District residents.

    There is a pretty big DC statehood movement, but there's also a lot of opposition. (It would mean two more Democratic senators and one (I assume) more Democratic representitive. Therefore, at least some of the opposition is coming from Republicans who don't want the balance of power to shift a little.)

    The citizens of Puerto Rico, Guam, etc., periodically vote on becoming a state, staying the way they are, or becoming independent countries. They always vote to stay the same. (Becoming a state would mean higher taxes I think.)

  • Fair call Siva:
    I admit I was prodding the slashdot readership a wee bit by choosing this example. I also have no desire to start a flamewar but chose our community to make people do some thinking, everybody gets set in their ways at some level... as you say and as I was also commenting, when people get a system running which works for them, it takes a lot to get them to change. Programmers and government officials alike.

    So I think the intertia is more down to people's reluctance to change a functioning method of working when they are already under a lot of pressure, rather than a direct reference to their chronological age (met a lot of middle aged 20 year olds in my time). Bit like my dad, now he's retired he can take his time to think of new ways of doing things, he's losing nothing by taking the time out.

  • The brilliant STAND [] campaign against draconian encryption laws came across the same problem. MPs' email addresses aren't public domain; most of them bounce, and their offices won't give out contact details to non-constituents.

    There's a real schism in the Government's attitude to technology here. Tony Blair [] makes well-publicised speeches about Britain leading the m-commerce revolution (m for mobile), and his ministers have pagers, mobile phones and laptops linked to a central database of stats and policy details, but most MPs have understaffed offices, no desk space, and no direct access via email, in spite of the fact that most of them spend their weeks miles away from their constituencies.

    It's about time that politicians woke up to the opportunities of the Net. Of all the parties, only the minority Liberal Democrats [] have attempted to harness the technology, which is in keeping with their radical approach.

  • I know that there is a hotmail type program thats written in PHP that you can load unto a server .. and then users can check their email web-based. It's default apperearence seems easy enought to use, and because it is PHP you can custime it to hell. Now only if I can remeber the name...
  • As a former House Intern, I can tell you why Senators and Representatives don't reply to non-constituant mail, its out of courtisy to other members. Even though they may chair committees that deal with national issues, members don't want to tread on other member's districts.
  • Back in 1995 I sent email to every senator and congressperson I could to let them know how I stood on the CDA proposal. I put a return receipt on it and was quite amazed how fast a lot of them got to it. Some it was a matter of minutes. Others it was the next day. Most had read it within 48 hours, and a few responded back via email.

    The most impressive of the bunch were Senators Ashcroft and Kennedy who both emailed back as well as followed up with a postal letter.

    However, there was one congressman who did not read my email for over eight (8) months - a full 7 months after the CDA passed - well past the time my letter to him could have had an influence on how he voted. I was not impressed with this yahoo.
  • How on earth does the United States [government] intend to make informed and smart decisions over the next 30 years when the bloody representatives can't even read their email?

    You guys have people making policy who are neither qualified, nor informed about the issues on which they're voting. ICK!

  • It is easy for you and I to see it that way. But people who learned to give dictation and who are more verbal, may really operate better that way. Interaction with the machine would just get in the way. It seems antiquated and inefficient to those of us who are accustomed to the modern tools, but that doesn't make these people clueless.

    Even among people who can type and use email, there are still many who are more efficient using a telephone. That's just the way their brains are wired. (Not that I forgive them for wasting my time by leaving a voice mail instead of an email. :-) It wouldn't surprise me to find that politicians tend to be verbal types who operate better if they do not have to touch a keyboard or think about the mechanics of communicating their message.

    Never underestimate the power of wishful thinking to filter what the eyes see and what the ears hear

  • This is perhaps the prime example of why you should not "JOIN THE LIBERTARIAN PARTY" - way to much of the (take your pick) black helicopter/militia/hippie retread/anti-capitalist/just plain looney crowd. Before calling this a flame please consider - the above comment was moderated up as interesting. The "facts" have been in the body of an e-mail that has been circuting the net for over 7 years (funny how the stats never change). The fact that these just blatantly inacurrate (well except the 19 for bad checks if you count the House Bank) "factiods" continue to circulate, generally under the banner of Libertarian/Patriot Party/Anarchist posters makes it that much easier to dismiss such movements as a group of cranks.

    Food for Thought??? more like Hostess Snowballs(tm)

    BTW - If you have proof of the 8 arrested for shoplifting, the 14 on drug charges, and the 29 accused of spousal abuse, please post it, I could really use the information ;?
  • So should we offer them a moderation system so that their constituents can indicate which letters should be answered ?:-)

    Never underestimate the power of wishful thinking to filter what the eyes see and what the ears hear

  • by clyons ( 126664 ) on Saturday January 29, 2000 @03:02PM (#1324637)
    How difficult does it need to be to express your wishes to Congress before they are considered? Did Congress refuse to accept Telegrams (transmitted via telegraph) when Western Union came into being, because it was too easy? Did they refuse telephone calls when reliable long distance became a reality? How about teletype?

    Before the telegraph, was writing a letter considered too easy? Would Congress only consider the wishes of their constituants if they came to them in person to express their wishes?

    All of these innovations that revolutionized communications also revolutionized politics. News was faster. People could let Congress know how they wanted their representatives to act. People knew faster then ever before the actions of their Congress. But as far as I know (and I may be wrong here), but none of these advancements in communication were ever considered to be "Too Easy", and as such ignored.

    It is another change, and as we have all seen, Congress never adopts and adapts to change unless they think it benefits them.

    It should be easy to make our views known to Congress. We should not have to spend 33 cents for a stamp plus paper and envelope, when we can send an e-mail for no additional cost then the internet access we already have. We also should not be required to call the Congressional Switchboard long distance.

    But it comes to no suprise that Congress wishes to dismiss the on-line community. After all, the Internet allows for the free flow of information, and Congress has been trying to limit that for a number of years. Remember the Telecommunications Decency Act? Attempts to tax the internet? (Yea, some were fakes, Urban Legends and people who didn't know when to stop forwarding e-mail, but a few were real.) How about the Post Office wanting to enact a fee for sending an e-mail? There's also the attempts to limit encryption for privacy purposes, attempts to enact encryption standards that they had backdoor keys for, and of course all the bad press the on-line community gets when someone commits a horrible crime and it's discovered that the perpetrator had a homepage or used the net.

    &Deity forbid that congress respond to the people and actually do what we want them to. That would totally subvert our system of government!

  • That's refreshing. Generaly we are way behind on everything. I.e. Our telecom monopoly is just getting ready to go to court.
  • Does anyone else have a problem with the fact that people who can't grasp the concept of email are the same ones that are now trying to legislate the 'net? In the past I have doubted Congress's ability to effectively understand and govern the internet, now I believe beyond a shadow of a doubt, that as a body Congress is completely and wholly unqualified for the task. No wonder the CDA's and DMCA's keep getting passed(of course the CDA is as much a Constitutional issue as it is a technology one, I had also once entertained hopes that perhaps congress had managed to figure out what the 1st amendment meant in the last 200 years.) This bunch of neo-luddites probably curl up in the fetal position and wet themselves anytime someone mentions "the internet" "childern" and "piracy" in the same sentence.
    As someone mentioned in an earlier post "congress typically lags about 10 years behind" when it comes to communications technology. Anyone else agree that the gap there is a little to fscking big?! This is just yet another case of our elected representives being completely out of touch with the people they are governing, and society in general, and not really caring what the people want. I'd wager by the sheer volume of email mentioned in the article that the people more communication with their representitives.

  • erhm, all IP is monolopy power. Patents, copyright, everything. Microsoft has a monopoly on Windows. You can't make your own Windows and sell it.

    It seems like people are very willing to forget that the only reason that you can't make 100,000 copies of Windows NT (though I don't know why you'd want to) is that the government has granted Microsoft a monopoly on it.

    Sure, you can go make some other program. And then you have a monopoly on it. But Microsoft maintains their original monopoly on windows.
  • for Congressman John Mica last summer (gave me credit for scholarships and the like). Whenever somebody phoned in to us or sent us a letter, we would summarize the letter, with the constituent's name and address, in an e-mail to the Congressman's Washington office. I also believe that direct e-mails could be sent up to the Washington office.
  • Politics isn't the only place with this sort of problem. I can't think of the number of businesses I've seen who've gone 'hey, we need to look up to date - lets get that email thing, and print the addresses on all our advertising & business cards' but then don't actually check it..

    I worked briefly at a video production house (you'd think they'd be sort of tech savvy) which had the email thing, but no-one checked it. One day when I was bored I logged in & amongst the hundreds of other unanswered queries etc was one particularly poigniant string. It was from a (now) former major client. First a request for a quote. Then a 'c'mon, we have to have this quote by friday', then a 'where the fuck are you guys', then a 'don't worry, we went elsewhere'. All this had happened about two weeks earlier..

    kinda offtopic I know, but fuck it.
  • by Gaccm ( 80209 ) on Saturday January 29, 2000 @11:25AM (#1324645)
    yes, yes i know this is unrelated to the story, but i got this in my email and felt like sharing it:

    Can you imagine working at the following Company? It has a little over
    500 employees with the following statistics:

    *29 have been accused of spousal abuse
    *7 have been arrested for fraud
    *19 have been accused of writing bad checks
    *117 have bankrupted at least two businesses
    *3 have been arrested for assault
    *71 cannot get a credit card due to bad credit
    *14 have been arrested on drug-related charges
    *8 have been arrested for shoplifting
    *21 are current defendants in lawsuits
    *In 1998 alone, 84 were stopped for drunk driving

    Can you guess which organization this is? Give up?

    It's the 535 members of your United States Congress. The same group
    that perpetually cranks out hundreds upon hundreds of new laws designed
    to keep the rest of us in line.

  • If a congressman is on a committee, he certainly does represent the country as a whole, if only on a narrowly defined topic. The alternative is to believe that only the districts lucky enough to get their congressman on a committee get to implement national policy. Um... that's how it works, since only the Congressional district in question has any real say on his seat in Congress. If you are unhappy with the decisions of the person holding a commitee seat who is not your Representative the proper technique is to lobby your Rep. to try and get that person out of the Committee. Also, the world outside the Constitution includes political parties who have the power to affect things like this on a National level. Those of us who don't belong to either branch of the One Party are SOL however.
  • you'd give them instructions?
  • One response to this is to consider issues in which you have a limited interest, but I have a great one. I would say that your representitive works for you first but by no means exclusively. A conservation bill, for example, which effects people outside his state more than those in it would be one situation where I think a rep should pay at least as much attention to "outside" voices as constituents.

    Another issue is informational rather than opinonated contact. If there is a debate on bilingual education, and I just happened to be a teacher in a heavily bilingual school district (I'm not) I might be concerned that actual teaching and learning expereince was being largely ignored in the debate, in favor of ideological rants. If I want to try to insert my long expereince with what I've seen work or not work into the debate, I would not simply write my reps and hope on of them became a champion for my point of veiw. I would write all of the congressional reps I could and try to insert some added information into the overall consideration. You may have more right to express an opinon to your rep, but we have equal rights to attempt to influence her with information. IMHO of course. ;/

    Kahuna Burger

  • Politicians are useless and lecherous SCUM. They are the lowest of the low. Ever since politics went from public service to a career choice, I have NO RESPECT for them.

    In spite of the way I feel, I DO write my Congressmen regularly (they aren't getting off THAT easy)- and I always get a paper response as long as I leave my address- but its always a canned form letter on the topic. I know better than to think they actually READ constituent mail- Hell, I don't vote for Democrats anyway.

    I never get anything from other Congressjerks since they don't respond to non Constituents, even though their committee decisions affect us all.

    Remember, absolute power corrupts, ABSOLUTELY. America is not a democracy for individuals. ...only for rich people and corporations. "Let them eat cake..."

    Windows NT has crashed,
    I am the Blue Screen of Death,

  • these numbers are accurate. i've seen them published in mainstream popular magazines.

    it is incredible what you can learn from the mainstream media. why just the other day, i saw on tv where some guy recovered the mars polar lander after downloading software from zdnet. slashdot has totally ignored the story. go figger.

    "Rex unto my cleeb, and thou shalt have everlasting blort." - Zorp 3:16

  • A very well put and incisive posting will be nearly indistinguishable from flamebait, as it will greatly arouse the feelings of people who insist that people see it their way.

    Anyhow, enough commentary on the moderation system, here's my point!

    If everyone sent their opinions to congress, it would be a dull roar, with very little way to efficently sift through the noice. Hence 1GB inboxes generally get deleted. Congressmen don't want to know individual opinions of their constituents, its not their jobs. They want to know the aggregate opinion and desire, and e-mail is not a very effective way to express that. IMHO, far less effective than your average Slashdot Opinion Poll.

    The whole point of political parties is to AGGREGATE and ARTICULATE the opinions of the electorate. There is nothing about e-mail that makes it easy or convenient to aggregate. Its time for your slashdot hackers to figure out a new internet protocol that works better with democoracy.

    Knock yourselves out boys.
  • The biggest problem is that personally they don't have enough time to go through every single email themselves. Heck you even bring it up yourself, you used to get 20+ "cute" messages which you drop to another folder because you don't have time to read them.... Now multiply that 20 by about a thousand and see how much time you would have to do actual work; if you were to have to personally go through each and every one.

    Your idea is completly preposterous, I bet that the government would really get something done then... Sorry, Congress can only meet for 30 minutes a year, we have to get back to our email and personally respond to each one. Government would come to a complete and total stand still.


    Grammar and spell check off because I don't care
  • Personally, I'd like to see a tech entry exam where they are provided with a complete PC dis-assembled with instructions. If they can't get it put together and use it to get on the net, they don't know enough to make decisions about tech issues.

    There's a difference between knowing how to assemble or use a piece of technology and knowing how such technology can affect the society it is used in. The difference is as large as the difference between an engineering major and a history major.

    Take, for example, the Industrial Revolution.

    The series of innovations and societal changes we call the Industrial Revolution changed how people lived their lives and how they viewed the world. Suddenly, they had to live on a schedule and interact with their fellow man (and his machines) in a way that had never been done before. In the end, those changes created great hardship and required several legal acts to alleivate some of those problems. 40 hour workweeks, the right to unions, paid vacations, etc, are all the result of those acts. I don't think James Watt (inventor of the first effective steam engine) would be capable of recognizing those problems and fixing them. I wouldn't expect him to. I would expect a legislator to be able to handle those decsions, however. That legislator's ability to assemble, analzye, or design a steam engine isn't the question. It's irrelivant.

    What does that have to do with the late 20th century? Everything.

    The internet and IT and all that goes with it are similar to the steam engine (and railroads and other 18th & 19th century creations) in that they are revolutionizing the way we live and relate to our fellow man. I don't expect the legislators to be able to assemble a PC or even really understand how they work (I sure don't). I expect them to be able to recognize the changes and problems those technologies are creating and to act to avoid them.

    This is not to say that Congress is doing a spectacuarly good job at it. Something needs to change, but insisting on them learning exactly how a computer works is not it.


  • erhm, all IP is monolopy power. Patents, copyright, everything. Microsoft has a monopoly on Windows. You can't make your own Windows and sell it.

    Bad analogy. That's like saying that you can't make your own Blazer, because Chevrolet has a monopoly on it. That in no way precludes you from making another two-ton GVWR SUV and marketing it successfully. If it did, there would be no Explorers, Land Cruisers, Discoveries, Pathfinders, et cetera.

    The fact that the Fender Stratocaster is made by Fender does not preclude you from making your own guitar with three pickups, 24 frets, tremolo, and double cutaways. If it did, then Hamer would not have made my Chapparal.

    Chevy did the gut work on designing the Blazer. Microsoft did the gut work on Windows. Do your own gut work.

  • I don't think that a congressman has any obligation to respond to e-mails from people outside his district. He or she does not represent those people.

  • The key phrase here is "non-constituent". Does anyone really believe that these weasels would EVER care about the views of someone who cannot vote for them? So vote! Maybe we can legalize knowledge.
  • by iceT ( 68610 ) on Saturday January 29, 2000 @04:27AM (#1324665)
    One thing I've noticed about the Internet in general is that people REALLY like their anonimity. I've seen things typed in e-Mail and newsgroup messages that people would a) never say to someones face, and b) probably not even write in a email with their REAL name behind it.

    Even here at /. there are a LARGE number of people that post anonomiously, or have a tendancy to really 'hack' away at someones response, rather than just offering a "counter view-point..."

    If I was them, I wouldn't be too quick to responde to an email from '', at lease not when I have a phone calls from "Agnes Miller, (734-555-1515)" and snail-mail letters from "Richard Bronner, 123 Main St, somecity, mystate..."

    It's really a shame too, because I'm a HUGE email fan...!

  • I think you may be mistaken. This is the whole point: If they can consider E-mail to not really be mail, then it makes it easy to ignore it. :-)

    Hey Rob, Thanks for that tarball!
  • Um, after having read most of these responses...has anyone ever considered contacting their Congressional Reps and setting up a Slashdot style board for them? Or maybe how's about a PGP/GPG key server? I know there would be a lot of details to work out, but if tech savvy people can make an inroad where their .01% of the population's voices could be heard, why not?

  • > "And while all U.S. senators have e-mail,
    > they, like their House counterparts,
    > routinely shun non-constituent mail
    > -- even though they chair committees
    > whose decisions affect the entire country.'"

    Oh, please. This is a *republic*. None of our officials are required to listen to a word we say, constituent or not.

    Any debate over official decisions is handled in the Congress, House, White House and occasianally the Supreme Court.

    Voting is our only true voice. We do not have (and SHOULD NOT HAVE) direct democracy. For the most part, the masses are asses. It would be like asking a child to make a life or death decision -- it just won't work.

    Hence we have the balance of "a duly elected representative body".
  • I don't mean to troll here, but screw the Libertarian party. It'd be nice if Congress disappeared, and we got to start all over with making our government system, but it'd be even nicer if the member of Congress were replaced by competent people loyal to the American public. As far as I can tell, libertarians fall into two bunches: the anarchists, who believe that everything would be peachy if we just obliterated anything vaguely resembling a power structure, and the private-sector lovers, who think that government power structures are bad, and private power structures are good. Myself, of course, I diagree with both. If all of our organisations were torn down, we would simply rebuild it again. Throughout history, humans have preferred building hierarchies to tearing them down. Perhaps because, if we were able to return to what people commonly refer to as a "state of nature," all of our social advances would deteriorate, eventually leaving us in a place where life was nasty, butish, and short. As for the matter of private institutions vs. public institutions, private institutions have no responsibility to look out for the welfare of the majority. If our government looks bad, it's only because over the years it's turned into a private institution, and shrugged off its mantle of representing the will of the people. So yes, I know the comment was supposed to be funny, and yes, I found it amusing. For some reason I just have a knee-jerk to over plugs for the LP...
  • OMG! Again with the *you can't teach old dogs new tricks* idiocy!

    How old are YOU? On what facts do you base your 'over 50' *not eager to adapt* theory?

    Look around you! Do you actually think that all the technological sales being racked up are by youthful dollars only. Why do you think Cadilac
    added their GPS systems to cars not classically purchased by the under '50' crowd? Why do you suppose they have recently announced their intent to add AOL (arrgh!) to same? Who are all those grey haired guys I see in Airports with laptops plugged into public dataports? And don't we already have an ez (altho, safe is questionable) user interface that everyone and their dog can understand? AOL? DUH!

    Open your eyes...a whole lot of the most respected Guru's you express admiration for are OVER '50'.

    Stupid/narrowminded people resist adaptation. Mature/openminded people frequently live to be *50*+
  • I think one solution that has been overlooked in this discussion is that there are ways of (at least somewhat) validating people's identities for the purpose of corresponding on email with a congressional staff.

    If it is the goal of the office to cut down on the spam they recieve, why not set up a system where you can fill out a form, and the rep will send a snailmail letter to the address (obviously in the rep's district) with a user/pass for a web-based email system or something similar. I suggest this not because I think it is the most efficient or even what I would prefer, but congresscritters seem to have a desire to attach identity to a meatspace address.

    Similar, systems could be created using PGP and the associated 'web of trust' that can be assigned to key signatures. (This is extremely unlikely to happen until I'm old and gray(er) as it is a bit too technical for the average critter's staff to deal with.)

    To illustrate this, the last time my congressional rep (Sam Johnson) came to town for a 'town hall' meeting, I queried his aide that was supposed to be 'point' on tech issues and he had no idea what PGP is. Considering the legislation that has been submitted ojn the topic, one would think he would at least know about the most popular encryption program outside of DES

    Some congrescritters have something similar to this set up off of their house/senate webpages. I actually got what appeared to not be a form letter from a query I made to one of these systems. Admittedly, such a system is a hell of a lot more trouble to use than regular email, but I suspect this is considered by the office as it weeds out those not willing to take the time to set up an account with them. I have a couple of these set up, but it's been so long since I used them I forgot how I signed in :( This is where a program I recently started using would have come in handy. Hope I won't get slammed for this, but I'd like to recommend 'gpasman' as a linux program that will help you to keep track of user/pass combos for websites or other systems. You can find it at []. It is similar to a (win) tool offered by Counterpane Systems called Password Safe [] (binaries and source). I use them both. Too damn many accounts and passwords to keep up with these days!


  • It's not an analogy at all. The fact of the matter is that, while no one has a (government-protected) monopoly on Operating Systems, Microsoft still has a monoploy on Windows.

    This is especially true given the context of this thread; the DMCA may increase the monopoly power that already exists, but it does not really create any new monopolies.

    And you are free to make your own media standard for mass distribution of video, but that's no guarantee that the movie studios will sell videos in that format. :)
  • Heartfelt letters to your representatives are certainly ideal, if they ever get read. No representative has the budget to be able to read and respond to every email. However, a auto response and tabulation system is very effective, because it is capable of informing the representative of popular opinion (which is what matters to them anyway). Sure, they may miss out on the personal statements if no one is there to read them, but are personal statements from constituents going to sway their heart anyway? Most likely not. View auto-responders rather as a way of "voting" on individual issues.

  • by DHartung ( 13689 ) on Saturday January 29, 2000 @12:52PM (#1324676) Homepage
    He's not my favored Democratic candidate, so I don't know why I'm doing this; maybe just to combat the analysis of the teeny-brained.

    * Internet quote: "In an interview shown on CNN on Tuesday, Gore was asked about his vision and his experience and he mentioned that while he served in Congress, 'I took the initiative in creating the Internet.'" [AP story] Obviously the word used is not "invented" though it is commonly reported that way; and "created" is probably too strong, especially since as we all know the history of the internet goes back to the 1960s ARPANET. But he did have a hand in legislation during that period when nobody else was paying attention.

    * Love Canal: "'I called for a congressional investigation and a hearing. I looked around the country for other sites like that. I found a little place in upstate New York called Love Canal. Had the first hearing on that issue,' Gore said. That was the one that started it all. ... We made a huge difference and it was all because one high school student got involved.'"

    Now, one can quibble over the phrase "started it all" -- did he mean that was the start of cleaning up Love Canal, or the start of Congressional attention to the toxic waste problem? The latter is NOT in question:

    "In August of 1978, Gore did chair hearings on the matter by the House Commerce Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations - two months after the Love Canal homes were evacuated and President Carter declared the neighborhood a disaster area."
    [CapitalWatch, last December]

    This local Love Canal chronology [] makes clear that while the emergency was dealt with thanks to the local representative and the EPA, Gore was indeed the first subcommittee chairman (3/21/79) to begin looking into the matter.

    * Now, finally, the Earned Income Credit issue: I can't find the original quote, but the discussion/question was about EXPANDING the Earned Income Tax Credit, a bill which he most certainly did sponsor while in Congress.

    So, are these gaffes, or are they just journalists and opponents looking for any opportunity to try to turn a remark of his into a gaffe? There certainly was truth in everything he said. Go ahead, sputter, say "it was an exaggeration", but what he said was factual. Self-serving; but factual.

    And show me one other politician who has said nothing that is self-serving.
  • note the word _Oposition_.

    The government side will always apoint it's own members to every ministry regardless of competence.

    Besides the Oposition leader in question dosn't take kindly to playing second fidle. He was prime minister in the 80s and did better than curent one by a wide margin.

    Do you want to work for a boss you thing is a whole lot dumber than you ?
  • Oh sorry, I was assuming the expression meant what it says, not the screwed-up Slashdot "Intellectual Property is theft!" definition.
  • Only being able to speak for Indiana, our senators and congressmen are wonderful at replying.

    Of probably 15 snail-mails I've sent, I've always received atleast a form letter back.

    Of 30+ emails I've sent (member of ACLU, and send a letter for a lot of campaigns), I've always received a reply from my two senators. I receive a reply from my congressman about half the time.

    One of my senators was new this year, and starting with my first email in january, I got a reply.

    My advice is to use email with them as much as possible, and when they don't reply, follow up with snail mail asking why they are ignoring a valuable form of communication.

  • It's interesting that they should publish this article, since their entire business model depends on e-mailing at least four people (Representative, both Senators, President) every time somebody votes in one of their (non-scientific) online polls. "about us" page []

    Sure, it makes it easy for the "average citizen" to "speak out", but how much attention are they going to really pay to form e-mails -- in effect, political spam -- from an online poll site? (We all should know to be skeptical of any online poll; I've seen many of them spammed by somebody going to a particular political forum and posting a link.) The respondents to these polls are self-selected; the polls are not scientific in any way. They don't even have any way to verify whether the respondent is represented by the people they say that they claim. They don't even have a way of verifying that people are citizens, let alone US residents or voters!

    I've heard the following rule of thumb for getting a Congressman to listen to you:
    * a personal visit is worth ten phone calls
    * a phone call is worth ten letters
    * a letter is worth ten faxes
    * a fax is worth ten e-mails

    Keeping in mind that no matter what, very few of these communications besides the top one actually involve directly reaching the office-holder. For the most part, the staff merely files the communication and marks the opinion on a chart somewhere; if you get a reply (and most personal letters are eventually replied to), it will be a polite form reply, barely indicating that the original letter was actually read (especially if the opinion isn't shared by the representative); something like "Your views are very important to us; the N budget is very important to every American; etc.".

    None of this is anything like the idea some may have of e-mailing "Sen. Joe Smith" and getting back a nice note, "liked what you said about the budget, thanks, Joe". Why the e-mail model should be more directly responsive than the snail mail model is an assertion that eludes me. Today, each person in Congress represents about 570,000 people, of whom perhaps 225,000 are voters.

    I'm not sure what an electronic Congress would really look like, but I'm quite sure that it isn't the model that the business of has. It might be an interactive web page; it might involve secure clients or digital signatures. It certainly shouldn't be based on spam.
  • by Trejus ( 87937 ) on Saturday January 29, 2000 @09:52PM (#1324682) Homepage

    I don't think that computer law schools are especially nessecary. The current college students desire for a double major will take care of that problem. In fact I know many who are trying right now to combine computers with law. In a few years, this should start to take care of itself. Like always, the law will always drag behind developements in tech, hence all the lawsuits and attempted bandwith restrictions.

    However, for this reason, there need to be schools that have equally good tech and law departments. Normally you get the good tech education at places that down play the humanities and vice versa. There aren't many schools that are able to successfully mix the two fields because they are so different. For instance, I don't know many tech people who care for any sort of humanities education. Most, think of it as a hinderance towards their personal goals of being a better hacker. So it's not just a problem of there not being appropriate schools, but their being a problem of tech people not wanting to take part in this legal stuff.

  • Simply the cost of the staff to do anything beyond that would run to at least $50,000 per year per office, is the value of being able to email your Representative worth another $25 million or so per year in funding? It depends, but I think that'd have a tough time getting approved.

    $25 million is chump change compared to some of the total crap that Congress approves in the budget each year.

    Besides, if the votes of Congress members were mitigated by the combination of personal visits, telephone calls, letters, faxes, and e-mail, they might cut a lot of the spending that people DON'T want. Spending that is more in line with what the American people want could easilly save a lot more the estimated $25 million it would take to hire staff to process all those e-mails.

    Along with saving money in the budget, more sensible policies could easily offset the cost of Congressional e-mail processing with additional tax revenues generated by.... ECONOMIC GROWTH! Since computer related business is one of the fastest growing industries in the US, one could easily argue that some issues as encryption policies could easily effect economic growth. More earnings would mean more incoming tax revenues, without raising taxes.

  • ...get Congress to do only what they are allowed by law to do. Anybody here read the Bill of Rights [] or the Constitution [] lately? Pay particular attention to Amendment X.

    The safest time for all Americans (and their wallets) is when Congress is in recess.

    Government would not come to a complete and total stand still. In fact, things would be better for all Americans. Congressmen might again become Representatives. As it is now, they think they are legislators and think they are required to legislate.


  • Voting is reserved to the Representatives of the several states.

    Ms. Norton is not a representative of a state, and never should be if one cares to read the Constitution [].

    - quoting from Article 1, Section 8 - To exercise exclusive legislation in all cases whatsoever, over such District (not exceeding ten miles square) as may, by cession of particular states, and the acceptance of Congress, become the seat of the government of the United States, and to exercise like authority over all places purchased by the consent of the legislature of the state in which the same shall be, for the erection of forts, magazines, arsenals, dockyards, and other needful buildings;--

    The District should never have had people living in it. It's a Federal District, and everyone that moved there, knowing they would not have Congressmen and Senators gets exactly what they deserve.


  • Most of this was assumption of course, however I don't believe the media is as nasty to politicians as it is to hackers. In order to be a politician you have to be able to manipulate the media.

    Look, a lot of my beliefs about politics, my belief that the majority of politicians were decent people were killed off when Henry Hyde tried to pass an unconstitutional pro-censorship law. These were the same group that got into power by promising to "get government off of people's backs", but then started proposing big government solutions to problems when they didn't care about the people they were effecting.

    You seem to think that saying "Politicians blow with the polls/Politicians stand up for what they care about" is a paradox. No, politicians blow with the polls on issues they don't care about, and stand up against them on issues they do. For examply, I believe Bill Clinton position on abortion and the Republican parties poition on gun control are sincere. This is why they'll allow no compromise on these issues unless they are dragged kicking and screaming. I think that the majority of people in congress don't really care about free speech in electronic media, and that they go with the polls on it.

    Oh! One last thing, it is true that I seem to be painting all politicians with a broad brush. Someone once said, "Your local politician is a good guy, but all the rest are bums." Politicians are just people though, and I think that when people are forced to take positions on things they don't care deeply about, they take the easiest position. It's not cynicism, it's just life. It's like the difference between a logger's view of the Spotted Owl and an animal rights activists view. The logger might think the owl is cute, but if the owl means uneployment, he might decide he hates them. In the long run, what he cares about is how the owl is going to affect his life.

    Sometimes I go to the horse's mouth for information:

    Indeed, parents aren't even aware of how vicious some of these video games are. As Scott McInnis pointed out on the House floor recently, there is a game called "You're Gonna Die." The more people you kill, the higher your score. It even entices you with the pitch "Target specific body parts and actually see the damage done, including exit wounds."-- Dick Armey's Memo on values []
    With the number of shareware and underground games that exist, it is remotely possible that the game mentioned by Rep. Armey is real. However, a hotbot search turns up nothing, I haven't seen it in Babbages and its certainly not mainstream or popular in the way Half-Life, Quake, Final Fantasy VIII, or even System Shock II is. This is the leader of the supposed "get the government off of our back" party in the House of Representatives making outlandish statements and never getting called on them. (Read the whole thing for more information, alues/reflect1.asp [])

    So, yes, I am a little cynical. Armey is solidly against gun control which I suppose is admirable, but his views on video games sicken me. The view on guns was taken because I believe he believes in it, the view on games, since he hasn't bothered to research it at all, to appeal to his constituents who don't like video games.

  • When a committee votes to send a bill to the floor of the House, all 435 congresspeople get to vote on it.

    So it is not so that voters whose congressional representatives are not on a committee are denied input into the bills which the Committee considers. The input comes when the entire house votes on the measure.

    It is common for committees to approve bills that the entire House later rejects. For instance, of the four articles of impeachment which Henry Hyde's Judiciary Committee approved two of the four failed to pass the House as a whole. (Would that all four had failed!)

  • by resonance ( 106398 ) on Saturday January 29, 2000 @05:12AM (#1324688) Homepage

    I see this as further evidence that our lawmakers are incompetent when it comes to creating legislation that affects the computer and Internet world. How can we expect them to make sensible laws when they don't even have the most BASIC understanding of what they are regulating?

    I'll say again what I've said in a previous posting on /., that we need to have schools that specificially train people in computer law, and that these people need to advise and lobby our lawmakers, they need to educate them in the technology and the subtleties of it so they can be effective at their jobs.

    I've always been scared when I hear of ANY new computer-related law coming out, because I know that 80% of them don't make any sense from the technology perspective that the geeks have. There needs to be a balance between the geek view and the corporate view and the political view. Right now it is too heavily weighted towards the political and corporate views, because they don't know any better.

    If the laws keep getting worse, I'm gonna move to the Falkland Islands to raise sheep, and give up computers entirely! =)

    We need properly trained lawmakers! Help us!

  • If a congressman is on a committee, he certainly does represent the country as a whole, if only on a narrowly defined topic. The alternative is to believe that only the districts lucky enough to get their congressman on a committee get to implement national policy.
  • Congress has always been behind the times. They never protect consumers' technology rights (think DMCA) and they think that giving monopoly rights to big business will keep our economy growing. I personally think that the politicians are pretty much a lost cause. One more reason why there should be no government influence online. The government can regulate the internet as efficiently and wisely as a pack of wild baboons can run a city government.
  • I don't think the age of the American government officials is the main issue. A contributory factor for sure but true of many busy people set in their ways. Reminds me a lot of computer geeks who insist on using impenetrable command line programs years after better/ more powerful/ more friendly programs come out because they can't be bothered to change their way of working.

    My dad retired last year and bought a PC, I'm having a great time buying him computer books for his birthdays these days. He's just signed up for a web design course for senior citizens and he's one of the youngest on the course.

  • It has nothing to do with age or a slowness to accept technology.

    Members of Congress simply do not have the staff to answer non-constituent e-mail. As they are in many cases unable to discern what comes from constituents and what doesn't, they will only reply to e-mail if the sender provides a postal address inside their constituency.

    You try responding to thousands of e-mails a week about an equally diverse number of topics. A U.S. Senator has a staff of about 40, a U.S. Representative has a much much smaller staff on average. This staff not only has to answer all the mail but track all the legislation, keep the member's schedule, etc.

    Even though these e-mails are not responded to they are read.

    Further, e-mail is still easily forged and many are concerned about the political implications of a forged e-mail circulated to large numbers of their constituents. They feel the best way to repudiate these forgeries before they happen is to have the policy they only respond by postal mail.

    There has been talking of implementing digital signatures, but most officies are not ready to do this yet.

  • by Paolo ( 87425 ) on Saturday January 29, 2000 @05:29AM (#1324695) Homepage
    I wish there was a statistic on how many read and receive email that is printed out for them. I seem to know some very computer illiterate people in high places who have their secrataries print out all the email, who in turn receive dictation to respond to them. This has got to be a very inefficient, time consuming process, which could be emiliurated (sp) by having politicians taking a few days to learn how to double click to receive and send email. Yet another waste of taxpayer dollars.
  • My limited experience: They don't have it printed out unless it's important. Busy staffers respond to the email, the phone, and the snail-mail. A Congressman is overwhelmed with committee meetings, votes, constituent meetings, speeches, and travel back to his district. Of course, most Reps look over the few important messages, and certainly get reports as to what constituents are saying. If Congress is out of session, and they are in town, they sometimes participate more in this process.
  • There's a difference between knowing how to assemble or use a piece of technology and knowing how such technology can affect the society it is used in.

    The tech entry exam was meant as a sort of half jest (but only half).

    I don't expect them to know all about how technology works either, that's why they get instructions. If they cannot adequatly read and interpret the assembly instructions, it is unlikely that they will be able (or willing) to consult with knowledgable people to gain enough basic understanding to legislate effectivly. Mostly it would keep them from passing unimplementable legislation and hopefully they would know enough to detect when industry insiders are snowing them.

    For example, if clueless legislators (at all levels of government) actually surfed the web more, they would understand that ISPs cannot be responsable for it's content. They might also understand that net filters CANNOT adequatly seperate adult oriented content from the rest. If they had ever tried to make fair use of copy protected content, the DMCA might be a bit more reasonable.

    Finally, with step by step instructions, it is quite possable to assemble and configure a computer without knowing how it all works. Many (certainly not all) 'technicions' and 'help desk specialists' do exactly that every day.

  • Several have noted that email is a distant third, to phone calls and postal mail. I disagree.

    Mail, calls, and email ALL run a distant second to personal visits by those who contribute cash to a senator's/representative's campaign. This worrying about email would maybe have a point if it weren't for the fact that the typical constituent doesn't really have the ear of their elected representatives. Unless, of course, they are carrying a check for K$.
  • Agreed. Read David Foster Wallace's short story "Lyndon" for a not-so-highly fictionalized description of how LBJ's office worked when he was in the Senate.
  • by MysticOne ( 142751 ) on Saturday January 29, 2000 @05:44AM (#1324709) Homepage
    in my opinion is that Congressmen disregard their supporters more and more. Part of their job, and they know this when they run for election, is to represent the people and try to do what's best for the country by way of what the people say. Obviously it's difficult to answer 100+ emails a day, but it would probably be easier if they spent less time campaigning for their re-election. Representatives, for example, are elected every 2 years. What good can they accomplish in 2 years, when at least half the time they're running for re-election? Senators aren't as bad, but it's the same thing. Our Congressmen are more worried about re-election than actually doing their jobs. Perhaps if everyone got term limits, we'd see e-mail usage pick up a bit more.
  • If you have it right, why would they put phone calls above email rather than below it?

    If there is a vote coming up soon, and I want to communicate with my congressman on it, it makes sense to use a instantaneous message rather than getting it in the mail the next day (because all my local pickups are at 1pm), having it take 1 to 2 days to get to the statehouse, another day to be sorted, etc. If I have points to make, rather than a "please vote yes, please vote no" mentality (which, if I was in congress, I would give less weight to) then a phone call will get across only what the person listening chooses to write down and understands. Email is the best way to respond, and not always the easiest, in those circumstances.

    PS, who you calling lazy? If I write (for example) a letter to the editor by email, I type and edit it extensively in a word proccessing program. Its just that then instead of hitting print, I cut and paste into an email program. Do you really think that 33 cents and dropping it in a box on the way to work makes me a better person? Get real.

    -Kahuna Burger

Keep up the good work! But please don't ask me to help.