Tag Archives: Congress

SOPA opera digest

I’d like it to be noted that I endured 24 hours without Wikipedia. But I didn’t. I got in.

Meanwhile, Internet stakeholders-turned-doomsayers appear to have scuttled the online piracy debate captained by the film and television industries. And judging by the millions of followers they engaged by blacking out popular websites, it appears the U.S.S. SOPA could sink, at least as of this moment.

In my aim to be an informed citizen, I spent way too much of yesterday trying to educate myself on this smoking hot issue, another in a long series that has Americans fiercely divided. As if we needed another.

I actually read the entire House bill, the Stop Online Piracy Act, as well as everything, pro and con, that was posted on my favorite websites by my favorite people, and I talked live with several stakeholders. I’ve cracked open the Senate version, the Preventing Real Online Threats to Economic Creativity and Theft of Intellectual Property Act, or PIPA.

As usual, I came away with mixed feelings.

As someone who has lived and worked in the hotbed of hullaballoo that is our nation’s capital, I continue to witness firsthand how advocacy groups can twist any public policy issue in their favor, and scare people—often with little effort–into supporting their causes. And people are willing to rally on a moment’s notice when they’re told the end is near.

Who remembers the rumor about 10 years ago that the federal government was going to impose a 25-cent fee on every e-mail message sent and received? I received about 50 bucks’ worth of messages from naïve friends urging me to help beat it back. They cited a bogus bill number that anyone with a clue would have known was neither a House nor Senate measure. It was a hoax.

I’m not saying the SOPA/PIPA proposals or the death knell the tech firms are singing are hoaxes. This is a real issue with high stakes on both sides. What I’m bemoaning here is how quickly some people who have never read a piece of legislation in their lives take up arms based on panic induced rhetoric.  You can’t tell me that every website user who is protesting actually understands what’s in both bills. I know I don’t.

Here’s how I see it.

People and companies who create artistic works are entitled to the income they earn for those works. And these aren’t just the big movie, TV and recording stars. They are members of camera crews, editing staff, key grips (whatever they do), hair and make-up artists, extras, even the little old ladies like my Aunt Patsy who play the small parts they work so hard to get. Their income is being taken from them when foreign websites pirate and traffic their work products.

I use Google and Wikipedia an average of 20 times a day. As an unpaid amateur blogger, I consider Wikipedia my official go-to source for unofficial useless information and Google my treasure trove of silly images, legally available and otherwise. Facebook and Twitter? Big fan. I’d like them to be there for me. I don’t believe Google or Wikipedia should solely bear the burden of policing the content that flows through them, nor do I think they should be censored. But I do believe they have a responsibility to refrain from facilitating criminal activity that harms U.S. workers and businesses and to cooperate when law enforcement has to intervene. So sue me.

Here’s what I’d like to see.

First of all, I’d like to see both sides avoid playing the jobs card. There are jobs at stake on both sides. And these days in the United States, everything has a jobs angle.

Next, I’d like to see the bill’s drafters do some redrafting to address any provisions that produce unintended consequences. This is a challenge given the Internet as we know it isn’t even 20 years old, and criminals are typically a step ahead of the law.

Further, I’d like to see all of us, as regular citizens playing happily on the Internet, simmer down, become better educated before we panic, and think for ourselves. Regardless of where we stand, on this or any other issue.

Need a chuckle break from the madness? Enjoy  yesterday’s amusing take on what would happen in a Wikiless world, by The Washington Post’s Monica Hesse.


Filed under Movies, Television and Radio, News, Politics, Technology and Social Media

Civics meets syntax

Even before the 2012 election process begins in earnest in a few days, I already have indigestion.

It used to be that this Beltway baby salivated at the onset of an election year, and all the intellectual and ideological meat it served up. I don’t know anyone who’s hungry any more, except maybe television stations with ad time to sell.

I count myself among those who have lost their appetite from the shallow rhetoric and competitive sparring—and I suspect that’s just about everyone.

However, my particular beef has to do with (surprise!) language. Perhaps my ear is too acutely attuned to misuses, but I’m aurally assaulted day after day, not just by the candidates but those who cover them. Considering the fact that we’re in this for the long haul, I’d like to see us clear a few things up:

“Congress and the Senate” is incorrect. “Congress” and “the House” are not one and the same. Congress is composed of both parts of our bicameral system–the Senate and the House of Representatives.

Congress did not “adjourn” in December. A Congress adjourns just once, at the end of a two-year Congress. Members “recessed” until 2012, when the second year of the 112th Congress begins.

“Re-doubling” is re-dundant. According to some news outlets, the primary season has this or that candidate “re-doubling his efforts” in this or that state. Unless the pol is quadrupling his efforts, this is incorrect.

“We” is not the candidate. Candidates of both parties are equally guilty of the relatively recent practice of pluralizing themselves in speech. If the United States were governed by a monarchy, this might be a “royal we,” but we are not.

Have you noticed this? The candidate refers to himself, or occasionally, herself, as “we.” I can assume “we” refers to his campaign team, his administration, his volunteers. He’s being nice. He’s being inclusive. “We” is fine when he refers specifically to the campaign team.

But to say “We are the candidate who will [reduce the deficit, reform Social Security, insert the promise of your choice]” is not just incorrect, but absurd. It makes me wonder if pluralizing the pronoun is a scheme intended to spread the blame when the electoral matter later hits the fan.

Come to think if it, I might just vote for whoever refers to himself as “I.” (Just as long as he doesn’t use it as an objective pronoun.)


Filed under All Things Wordish, News, Politics

Poker face up

Last night, I noshed from the free dinner buffet at the Residence Inn, my home away from home. While most hotel guests watched baseball in one corner of the lobby, I had the whole dining area to myself; so I spread out in front of the large flat screen TV. They must have known I was coming because it was set on my favorite reality channel, C-SPAN.

The federal debt proceedings were winding down, just as a Senate Banking subcommittee hearing on mortgage foreclosures was airing from earlier in the day. Ah, my old milieu.

I was a financial services lobbyist for many years, spending countless hours in the House and Senate Banking Committee rooms, attending hearings and staffing witnesses.

On C-SPAN you can always tell who’s staffing the witness. It’s typically the person in the camera shot trying not to flinch as his or her boss delivers testimony to committee members from the witness table.

I find it enormously entertaining to watch these staff people, who aren’t always used to being on camera. Because I’ve been there.

Facial movements can be a powerful study in nonverbal communication, often to the point of distraction. Unlike Congressional staff—those people who work for members of Congress—who are accustomed to being on camera, witness staff often must sit excruciatingly still for the slow-going three-to-five minutes their witness is testifying, then again during the Q&A. Even moving one’s eyeballs in a tight shot can appear exaggerated to millions of viewers.

If you have trouble maintaining a poker face as I do–as I used to–controlling a cringe is one of the hardest things you can do, especially once the prepared statement has been read and questions must be answered. Eye-rolling was not tolerated in our house when I was growing up; this is the rule has served me best in my professional life.

If you ever find yourself in the position as the person-behind-the-person, take some tips from me:

  1. Pretend you’re one of those human statues seen on the streets of European cities. Keep your eyes glued to your witness, not the camera lens or extreme corners of the room.
  2. If you don’t think you can do this for three to five minutes, pretend to take notes, though be aware, if you happen to be follically sparse, looking down too far could bounce a bright beam back at the camera.
  3. When your witness strays shockingly from the talking points or pre-rehearsed answer, fight the wince and keep your eyes open. Lock your jaw, lest it drop abruptly and harm your cause.
  4. Finally, if you have friends in the room, don’t make eye contact. Trust me.

The next time you catch a hearing on C-SPAN, see how many Dos and Don’ts you can add. Or maybe you’ve been there and have your own list?


Filed under Marketing/Advertising/PR, Movies, Television and Radio, Politics

100 proof pure poison

It doesn’t matter how often or how extensively we clean our house. We still uncover the oddest things and collections of things under the layers of dust that have been accumulating for 20 years.

Oh, the things we find in bags, bowls, bins, buckets and baskets.

Yesterday, I dared to peek into an old brass bin on a shelf above the basement stairs. Most of the contents were minute—paper clips, safety pins, tiny pieces of broken toys, a few rusty screws and a small paperback book entitled Jesse Helms “quoted”: 100 Proof Pure Old Jess.

I’m glad I have the opportunity to clean out my things before strangers come in to organize a sale of my so-called estate. This find would be hard to explain.

The source of this relic is a little fuzzy to me; It must have been a gag gift from someone who knew that neither my husband nor I was ever a big supporter of the late North Carolina senator. Quite possibly, it was a re-gift. No matter.

I looked the book up online to see if I could get a little background. I found only a used book site, where several owners were selling their copies. The site did tell me that, if I liked this book, I might also like 2000 Foreign Policy Overview and the President’s Fiscal Year 2001 Foreign Affairs Budget Request: Congress hearing. I think I’ll pass. Maybe I’ll wait for the movie.

For some reason, I expected to find humor in the 67 pages of the book that contain direct quotes from Sen. Helms, who lived from 1921 to 2008. If anyone who lived only during the last two decades of Helms’ life gazed upon these quotes, they’d be shocked—barely more than I was, though—to realize that such flagrant bigotry was expressed so freely and publicly in the late 20th century and into the 21st.

The last section of the book is devoted to political cartoons about the man, but these provided little relief for my sour stomach.

There was only one quote I found worthy to excerpt in this blog; it’s the first one printed in the book:

“Well there are a lot of number one problems in America. But let me boil it down to two…”

Don’t make me share the rest.


Filed under Hearth and Home, Politics, Reading

Date night

If you haven’t been following the lead up to tonight’s State of the Union address, or “SOTU” as inside-the-Beltway rags call it, something remarkable and history-making is about to happen.

Rather than being separated into sections, Republicans and Democrats have been encouraged to spread out and sit with each other. This could have all kinds of ramifications.

From the perspective of the television audience, it’ll be a bit harder to discern audience reactions than in previous years, with one side of the room in standing ovation and the other a sea of arms folded across chests at key points in the speech. In an effort to engender bonding and stimulate civil communication between red and blue, members of Congress have spent time this week choosing whom from the opposite side they’ll sit with during the address.

When I heard this, I became concerned for members whom no one asks to the dance. Just like senior prom, there are always a few who are passed over by classmates looking to score the most popular dates.

Yesterday, Vanity Fair came out with an initial report of who’s going with whom, along with suggestions of topics these duos should avoid, lest all Hades break loose in the chamber, as it did last year, if I recall correctly. This morning, The Washington Post‘s Style section suggests how bipartisan cliques might form around common interests and habits.

I haven’t heard how this intermingling is supposed to take place in practicality. Does one member go and save a seat for his or her buddy? Or will duos make it a true date—maybe a double date—and get a bite to eat together before the speech? A nightcap afterward, perhaps? Will they share a box of Jujubes? Or will they end up elbowing or kicking each other beneath the seats like young siblings, when the uncomfortable subject of spending priorities comes around?

What about those who refuse to cross the aisle and remain amongst their like-minded colleagues? Perhaps they are already practicing the Wave or synchronized heckles.

I rested up during the AFC and NFC playoffs so I can be nice and alert for SOTU. Call me a wonk if you will; perhaps this comes from many years in a job in which I had to take detailed notes and write a report the next morning. Tonight I’ll just pop some corn and watch the show. Okay, so I may take a few notes. Old habits die hard.


Filed under News, Politics