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Dear Internet: It's no Longer OK Not to Know How Congress Works (informationdiet.com)
681 points by cjoh on Dec 19, 2011 | hide | past | web | favorite | 157 comments

American geeks: if you want to fix your congress using your preexisting l33t hacker skillz rather than getting directly involved in politics (and who could blame you,) then here is my best advice:

Force your legislature to start using version control.

* No more sneaking revisions through in the middle of the night without anyone noticing.

* Being able to do `git blame` style operations to resolve individual clauses down to individual lawmakers, then back to lobbyists.

* Simple diffing would prevent deliberate obfuscation tactics like burying provisions deep inside piles of irrelevant stuff.

* You could build a sweet github-style outward facing interface allowing the public to track the progress of bills in real time, increasing democratic awareness and participation.

* Legally mandated commit messages accompanying each change justifying and explaining it; force them to write these in simple english. This alone would spin 'em around so hard they wouldn't know what day it is.

* Use your imagination. I'm sure you can think of 100 reasons why this would be awesome.

Build it, open source it, then start your own lobbying/PR machine to demand that they use it. Constantly ask for justifications as to why they are not willing to use it, given the massive, obvious benefits it would bring. Ask what they have to fear from the extra scrutiny and accountability it would bring. Surely the "social media generation" can out-lobby the lobbyists? That sounds like it should be the kind of thing we're good at.

Or just forget about that entirely and try to think of some way to decimate the lobbying industry in the same way that hackers are destroying the content distribution industries and all that other stuff.

There are two huge problems with your proposal:

1) We've already gotten ourselves into a situation where people who don't want changes to the system have immense power. It would be very difficult to force this (or any) solution on them without our own equal or greater power which would require a much larger population than just us geeks and would cost a fuckton of money.

2) What makes you think having this stuff be transparent would actually change anything? The saddest part of US politics in 2011 is the politicians and lobbyists don't even try to hide the fact that they are bending you over the barrel anymore, they just do it mostly out in the open and blatantly. The majority of the population is too numb at this point for knowledge to really matter much. If we can't get them to vote rationally (and so far we can't), who cares if they know who is screwing them?

We know SOPA (and other bad legislation) was bought and paid for. We know who was bought, who bought them and we know how they are going to vote. None of this information is going to help kill it or stop the same from happening in the future.

When you come up with an idea of how to mobilize the non-geeks en masse and you figure out how to do so in a "bi-partisan" enough method to get critical mass, then get back to us.

But VCS for Congress isn't going to solve anything.

I started work on a "somewhat" similar project* around the beginning of the year. This was for the state level, not the federal level. There were quite a number of issues. The most annoying being that the state archives only went back so far. Checking it now, it goes back to the mid-70s (very encouraging, 9 months ago, it only went back to the mid-90s). If you need a reference on why this is important go back and read the Patriot Act (hint, without access to the legal code going back very far, it is futile).

As far as your bullet points, we already do much of that (ok, not in "real time", not with commit messages (you could have it, but everyone would quickly fill it in with "cause it's good for America"), but much of this is publicly available). Anyone who adds or votes for or against is very well documented. For my state it is a real PITA to parse out and apply but that information is provided and in a usable manner. The only thing missing is the speed and pretty ui.

Also, Sunlight has already done a great deal of work in this area (when I last checked they were still working on the API).

*Since, I've let the idea lay dormant for months now, I'll share it. The original idea was to setup a Facebook type "game" where bored housewives or whoever get a list of 5 random bills. They get the summary and it links to the bill's text and any current laws that will be affected by that bill. What they don't see is the bill's name and who the sponsor and co-sponsors are. After reading the summary they fill out a short survey of who and what party they think the bill came from, do they think the bill is a good or bad idea and any tags they think are appropriate for the law ("pork","insurance","nice", etc) and even add their own notes. After they do that they find out who the sponsor/co-sponsors are.

The idea was to give people an incentive to read pending legislation without an instinctive bias.

Though my code is ugly, I may GitHub what I have so far.

Do Github it.

At best, someone works with you to expand on it. At worst, nothing ever happens with it.

Ugly code or not, sharing is beautiful.

I find it incredibly rare for someone to go through Github and "steal" an idea of someone else's. People just don't have the time for that.

This already exists, it's called legislative history, it's in the Congressional Record. It's a document of all submitted bills and their admendments, floor discussion, hearings, etc.

If we presume that Congressmen are actually trying to get away with something, even parsing all that stuff won't help. B/C they'll take the real discussions some where else, they'll "amend" the first bill to completely replace it just before the vote, etc. And when we consider the enormous dollars at stake -- these guys are managing 25% of the US economy -- there will be so much going on that it's just not possible to follow what they're doing.

If you want transparency, you have to build for transparency. You may have to sacrifice some things to get it. If complexity is generating opacity, you need more simplicity. If _size_ generates complexity, and / or diversity of purposes, you have to scale and or scope down. If that means government "does less", that's a tradeoff for transparency.

Me, I think transparency is a pretty high priority in a democracy, I'm not sure how you have reasoned debate without transparency. That fits happily with my opinion that free people generally do a pretty good job of taking care of themselves, but there are other opinions of our current situation. But if we _must_ have a big government to do this that and the other, we are going to sacrifice some degree of accountability and reasoned discussion to have it, because we are clearly at the point where it's just about impossible to tell who's doing what in our government.

That is, unless you believe the rhetoric of whomever it is marketing some viewpoint seemingly closest to your own, and prefer to blame the other guys for the whole mess. There is, of course, no transparency problem with making such assessments.

Nice thoughts, but

resolve individual clauses down to individual lawmakers, then back to lobbyists.

In some cases you might be able to attribute a clause to a lobbyist, but this isn't the general case. And how could this be enforced?

outward facing interface allowing the public to track the progress of bills in real time, increasing democratic awareness and participation.

This exists, and doesn't seem to be helping. See thomas.loc.gov. For example, concerneing SOPA: http://thomas.loc.gov/cgi-bin/bdquery/D?d112:1:./temp/~bdNuy... (Suggestion for enhancement: easy permalinks)

Legally mandated commit messages accompanying each change justifying and explaining it ... force them to write these in simple english

There are already requirements that bills specify the authority on which they're grounded. Most of these just wind up saying "Interstate Commerce". In other words, you'll never be able to enforce this in any meaningful way.

>Most of these just wind up saying "Interstate Commerce". In other words, you'll never be able to enforce this in any meaningful way.

In my imagined utopia, all these justifying messages would be listed on a lawmaker's github profile-style page next to a big picture of their face, and any lawmaker with a long list of "interstate commerce" type messages would look like an unelectable crypto-fascist in the eyes of the public. I'd put the messages in speech bubbles emanating from the headshot photo, like you see in some commenting systems, just to drive the point home.

And how do you plan on getting Congress to agree to use a system in which vast swathes of them will "look like an unelectable crypto-fascist in the eyes of the public"?

Do you want to bring Democracy back to the system (or your choice of roughly equivalent question), or are you just trying to put your own political ideals on a privileged pedestal? I think one of the key reasons we have been unable to successfully reform things is that in general, people want the latter a lot more than they want the former. And DC knows what to do with those types... embrace, extend, embed.

>And how do you plan on getting Congress to agree to use a system in which vast swathes of them will "look like an unelectable crypto-fascist in the eyes of the public"?

Maybe they'd be forced to do so in order to compete with the new cohort of younger, technology-embracing politicians which will sweep to power on the crest of a wave of louis ck-style "OMG finally someone who understands" sentiment from the reddit generation, bumrushing congress in much the same way that the tea party has done.

I fully admit that these ideas are not workable in this form. I'm trying to "dream big." That's why I used the phrase in my imagined utopia.

That will never happen because too few of the Reddit generation are willing and/or capable of pulling out their checkbook (err, PayPal account) to cover the cost of that. In fact, too few of them are even willing to show up at the polls (40ish% compared to over 70% for age 55+[1]). Until those change, nobody is getting kicked out by the Reddit generation.

[1] http://www.census.gov/hhes/www/socdemo/voting/publications/p...

One problem is that the 55+ demographic is able to vote in the civic centers they grew up with. Let us vote from our civic centers (e.g. the net) and we'll do so in much higher numbers. Increasing the barrier to political participation has the effect of excluding all but the highly motivated, thus pushing politics toward extremes.

The important barrier to (effective) participation is not the drive to an inconvenient polling location. The barrier is learning about the candidates and the issues, and enough background to fit all the pieces together.

That is, making an optimal choice for your vote is an extremely expensive undertaking. Thus, relatively few people do it well.

Clearly people don't agree with my original comment. I'll see if I can figure out where I've strayed, and make my original idea clearer.

If I may, I'd like to squish the content of your comment into the single word "motivation." At present, it takes a high enough amount of motivation to either take time off work to vote early, vote by mail, or wait in excessively long lines after work, that far fewer than a majority of people participate. The arguments I've typically heard suggest that highly-motivated voters are more likely to make correct choices, and well-informed voters are more likely to be motivated.

My (untested) conjecture is that, rather than trying to increase motivation, we should decrease the level of motivation required by making it ridiculously easy to vote. Allowing larger numbers of less-motivated voters may lead to an improved "wisdom of the crowd" effect[0][1], counterbalancing the vocal minorities that we often see controlling local and national politics.

[0] http://arstechnica.com/science/news/2011/12/in-group-decisio...

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wisdom_of_the_crowd

I think buried in your statement is the idea that democracy is inherently better, an end in itself. I strongly dispute this: I think that it's more important to get to the best answer, than to follow the herd, whatever direction it might go in.

In your second link, it notes two problems. First, it says that Crowds tend to work best when there is a correct answer to the question being posed, such as a question about geography or mathematics. I submit that this is quite the opposite of political questions.

But more importantly, it also discusses one of the big problems of "Wisdom of the crowd", although it couches it as an advantage. The effect is enhanced through communication between individuals, as would (and should) be the case in any political question. To this I reply with two words: "witch hunt".

History is replete with examples wherein the common, accepted ideas of society have stood in the way of progress -- I don't think I even need to recite any. And the whole point of the United States is to protect the minority, or even the one, against the will of a strong majority. So I don't think it's wise to strengthen further the crowd-based aspect of our political system.

That Wikipedia article used to explain how democracy was not an example of "wisdom of the crowds"; I'm disappointed that I can't find an older revision with that segment intact.

But that said, it's important to distinguish "crowd" from "people". I've lately been trying to explain to people that the vote is the least important (while still being necessary) part of a democracy. The effort of explaining to the whole population why a certain law needs passage is the soul of democracy; votes are merely to maintain a formal record of dissent and to resolve deadlocks. They're decision making tools of last resort.

> One problem is that the 55+ demographic is able to vote in the civic centers they grew up with.

You didn't go to high school or the library growing up?

Sure, but they were far from being a place I'd like to revisit, especially not on election day. The Internet is the community commons of today just as much as a library or city building was 30-40 years ago.

Are you really saying that high school was so bad you'd rather not vote than go back there for an hour or 3?

Absolutely. Try growing up as a geek in a semi-suburbanized farming community (though things have changed since then).

If you want to play this game: try growing up as a liberal, atheist geek from out of town in a rural bible-belt town of ~7,000. Then, try becoming an adult and getting over it so that you can perform your civic duty.

High school, for me, is 3+ hours away. And yes, I'd rather never revisit that place again.

>bumrushing congress in much the same way that the tea party has done.

Let's hope not. The Teaparty congress started going to work on things that didn't serve the tea party, but rather, corporate benefactors.

Another example of the big problem being that money == speech.

Still, you would get all kinds of "Ensuring freedom and security for all citizens", "providing new opportunities" and similar crap.

I think you'll find that much of the power that Congress wields is due to the interstate commerce clause. It is one of a few bits of constitutional authority that Congress can use to justify laws.

It would be more apropos to talk about "commit messages" that were a long list of : "typos", "bugfix"... not that I have commit messages that look like this... nope, not me...

Sunlight Foundation is actively working on this sort of thing. Join their mailing list.

http://sunlightfoundation.com/ http://sunlightlabs.com/

The Sunlight Foundation's APIs look great and some of their projects are pretty cool (and well-designed).

Unfortunately none of them are a really coherent integrated system that people can use to track what's going on with government. They're more like cool research tools for political scientists and economists.

PlainSite (http://www.plainsite.org) is trying to build more of the version control system talked about above, but it would be significantly better if some of the Sunlight Foundation's APIs were integrated.


Holy cow! The clerk of the house will start hosting all bills in XML on Jan 1st 2012! http://sunlightlabs.com/blog/2011/house-approves-sweeping-op...

Legally enforce accountability?! GREAT IDEA! Let's get it passed as a... oh. Fuck.

Fundamentally, if you believe that the organization that determines the organization of Government is broken, there is no way to fix it with means that go through the regular system. An aberration in normal operational procedure is needed.

This is called revolution in the political space.

The concept you're looking for is Citability - http://citability.org/

The lead on the concept - Silona Bonewald, a good friend - pushes the concept that we should be able to cite bills down to any granularity we want under any version we want.

The quick and dirty solution right now is to mine Thomas and load it into Git.. but we still lose the "who did it" part. :(

Open Congress: http://www.opencongress.org/ seems like something pretty close to what you are describing. I think its just a layer on top of the thomas.loc.gov system someone else mentioned, but it also does tracking of who changes/supports what.

Judging from the number of comments, it isn't very heavily used.

I like Open Congress. In about 2 minutes, I was able to find out more about the SOPA bill ( http://www.opencongress.org/bill/112-h3261/show). Fun fact: you can send a letter to your congressperson straight from the page!

Isn't this just us trying to "fix" congress exactly how the media industry is trying to "fix" piracy? Just like the pirates will work around SOPA or any other law that gets passed, the lobbiests will work around anything that gets put in place and find ways to get their influence into the laws.

The solution to piracy is to make the legitimate route so enticing most people don't bother to pirate. Isn't that the same with congress too? If we simply create an environment where it's advantageous for congress to do the right thing, then they will. No patches, laws, systems or oversite will prevent corruption.

I'd be interested to hear your thoughts on PlainSite.


We don't have bills yet, but we allow diffs on the text of laws and proposals to improve them.

If you're interested in helping add features (we have a long list), e-mail info at plainsite dot org.

Where's SOAP? I can't search for open "problems".

Add an issue!

I think this misses the point for getting software into congress - it has to be something they want to use, not just something we want them to use. These are awesome ideas, but once we get into the "force your legislature to start using..." then it's pretty much dead in the water. We need to make software that makes parts of their jobs 10x better, and unfortunately that'll have to include a few ways for politicians to obfuscate and make decisions behind closed doors.

Nice fantasy, but you have a bootstrapping problem: how is this to be implemented? If you are living in a fantasy world where you can change any process why not merely put forward the idea of passing a law with this content: "congress should stop being dumb"?

Besides which, you are attacking a symptom. The root problems here lie in the amount of power that congress has, the nature of the news media, and the nature of the election process. Those are much, much harder to fix.

This would indeed be great, but as Clay pointed out software like this would need to be housed on hardware belonging to Congress. That being the case, it could be very difficult to get them to agree to something having the sole purpose of holding them to a greater accountability. I'm not saying it isn't an idea worth pursuing; just that it may not be a walk in the park to get them to use it.

Dunno, they picked up twitter pretty fast.

Twitter is designed to let you pop soundbites.

How could politicians not pick it up fast?

IBM's Many Bills (http://manybills.researchlabs.ibm.com/) did much of what you're suggesting. The problem is making people interested and engaged enough to use these tools and push their congresscritters to act in the interest of their constituents rather than their paymasters/lobbyists.

The measures you describe would help track huge volumes of data. That Congress produces huge volumes of data seems like the problem in the first place. The Constitution includes a clause stating that Congress must meet at least once a year, because the founders thought that otherwise Congress might have so little to do that they needn't bother meeting. Let's get back to that situation, please, and then it won't require excessive tools to track what Congress does. Let's get back to a world where Congress actually doing something makes the national news as a rare occurrence, and then we'll have transparency as a matter of course.

Have you ever read through the list of what Congress passes in a single day? For every SOPA that gets people's attention, Congress passes thousands of random subsidies, one-off import tariff exceptions or tax exceptions that just scream "paid special-interest".

> Let's get back to that situation, please

That situation was an America that was mostly an agrarian society, pre-industrial revolution, pre-globalization, pre-climate-change. Are you suggesting the huge problems of the day could be addressed by a congress that meets once a year?

Are you suggesting the huge problems of the day could be addressed by a congress that meets once a year?

I would argue that, yes. Then again, I believe that most of our problems don't need Congress to be involved in the first place, and/or that Congress is the cause of most of our problems, not the solution.

Better transparency and awareness is only one part of the solution. I strongly feel that people need to create a crowd-sourced lobbying group in order to get things heard and done. Money has always spoken louder than words in Congress.

Combined with open-data tracking it could also be possible to track the economic effects of individual policies faster and more efficiently.

I suspect that you'd see far fewer people getting into politics with a system like this.

I've been thinking about this too. It seems that some solutions do exist. Yet, the downside is that in reality there is too much data created and in the world of US politics facts matter much less than you'd hope (see the recent debates and Poltifact).

However, I do dearly want this system. I want it to be accurate and I want it to be useful.

One difference however is I was thinking of it as a Wiki. Discuss pages are transcripts of conversations in committe or on the floor. That way you could see line for line diffs, etc. Although a Git-style thing would be neat too.

It's funny cos before Obama was elected I told my friends that under this administration the internet would become regulated.

This is in stark contrast to the laissez-faire approach the Bush administration took towards the internet.

You can argue whatever else you want about him, but it is undeniable that more legislation regarding the internet has passed under the current administration than under Bush -- he even fought off the UN's (read: china/russia) attempt at taking over ICANN.

I have few kind words for Obama, but SOPA clearly transcends party lines. You're deluding yourself if you think things would have been any different under Bush.

The truth is, we don't know if Obama will sign SOPA. This bill is universally reviled among Obama's base (probably more than any other individual issue since the start of his presidency), and that same wave of enthusiasm that put him in office threatens to become a tempest of rage as anti-Obama as the tea party. We'll see.

I often reflect on how much the executive branch resembles a machine executing code. Government based on written laws has been around for such a long time that I am surprised (when I think about it) that more safeguards and tools such as version control that have evolved in the world of computer science have not naturally evolved in the world of government.

There is no reason bills could not be developed in the open over Github.

Aside from a fundamental misunderstanding of how politics actually works in modern governments, yeah, there's no reason.

Some of this reminds me of https://openparliament.ca/, an opensource project covering Canadian politics. Runs off Django and uses a few different data sources. Great site.

I read a story about an Australian government experiment to use a publicly-editable wiki for drafting (and commenting on) proposed legislation. Unfortunately, I can't find a link now.

Counterpoint: There are some strong arguments that a senate operating behind closed doors would be more effective at ignoring special interests and working together than otherwise. The writers of the constitution did just this (they swore secrecy of anything they talked about in the convention to avoid voter backlash) [1]

This is why they initially wanted health care debates behind closed doors - the lobbyists can make much more use of transparency than the uninterested voter can. Fareed Zakaria wrote a lot about this in The Future of Freedom: Illiberal Democracy at Home and Abroad.

{1} [A Brilliant Solution: Inventing the American Constitution by Carol Berkin]

The problem with that argument is that it requires voters to trust their representatives' competence and motivations to represent their best interests behind closed doors. That trust is in really short supply right now.

I could make an argument that it is transparency itself that is helping to erode that distrust, as each side seizes on (and/or misrepresents) details to portray the other side as corrupt. When in fact most legislative fights are simply translations of differences of opinion into the legislative realm.

Accusations of corruption are a common framing argument; if I can get you to believe that my opponent is corrupting the system, I can make you believe almost anything about the issue or their point of view. This is much harder to do if both sides negotiate privately and then jointly present a compromise.

Up voted for a strong argument even though I'm not sure I agree...

One thing to consider is that while secrecy might a way for congress to create consensus free of outside influences, modern technology has somewhat foreclosed the possibility - so we may as well have the best openness we can get instead.

Another point is the atmosphere of each congressman constantly campaigning has forced them effectively outside of Washington and so barely know each and thus have a hard time finding consensus.


While I understand the value of secrecy for a dozen or so people to work things out free from the outside influence of special interests, I think this argument severely discounts the benefits of having lots of interested people discuss the issue in a forum.

In Brazil, we've have a lot a of success drafting some documents in a public space. The beauty of doing things in the public is that ideas cannot be presented separately from the person responsible. Every idea is traceable to its author. TBH, I can't think of one idea that I would want to become law where the author shouldn't be held accountable.

Accountability breeds civility.

Let them work however they want.

I don't care how law comes to be. Be it invoking satanic rituals, getting it written by the lobbyists or just copied off 4chan.

Just use the goddamn source control. And write the freaking commit messages.

If even programmers write crappy commit messages, there's not much to be optimistic about legislators' commit messages.

This is very true... however, I think that the solutions addressed above would be most beneficial to the bill markup periods where amendments are made and things re-written.

There could very easily be a closed door aspect to the initial drafting of a bill. So that the entire committee would get the "blame" for the initial draft.

realy not surprised that some on brings up version control - oh dear yes parliamentary based organizations have version control predating any IT use.

Go read Citrine or for US types Roberts.

The trouble is executives have a lot of ways of playing the game - they controll the agenda.

However of they don't do it it all ready It would be a good idea to see who proposed and seconds any amendments (is this not in the public domain already)

As the UK parliament and Lords do (they have fined expelled and put in jail MP's and Lords who asked questions for money or proposing amendments)

I sat and stared at that screenshot of Internet Quorum for about five minutes with a mixture of shock and despair.

I'm a user experience designer. I started my career in the mid '90s, trying to turn green-screen DOS applications into GUIs without letting things like Internet Quorum be the result. I've been fighting the good fight for fifteen years.

With that one screenshot, I felt like the whole thing had been for naught. I literally got a chill up my spine as I sat there, thinking about the stifling, bureaucratic, inflexible DMV mindset that led to an abomination like that, and realizing that even at the highest levels of government, that's what it's like.

Our entire government, from municipal planning offices up to the top levels of the Pentagon, Congress, or even the White House, lives in this world of We've Always Done It This Way and You'll Need The Proper Authorization For That.

I mean, I knew this all along, but somehow seeing that screenshot - http://www.intranetquorum.com/sites/default/files/pdfs/featu... - it hit me in a visceral way I hadn't thought about in a long time.

All these years in corporate and startup America put me in a world where the need to move faster and compete has led me to believe that things had changed since the beginning of my career. In the world I live in, they have. But I had forgotten that in many places, things haven't changed much at all.

Of course I'm upset and fuming at the massive bloated waste that is our government, and I wish we could just put on our Guy Fawkes masks and wipe it clean in one easy swoop.

Clay Johnson is right, though. We need to learn how Congress works, make better tools, get our own lobbyists to educate the dinosaurs that are there now, and get new people into office who know more about the world we live in.

It's a daunting proposition.

Am I really alone in thinking that the Internet Quorum UI isn't really that bad?

Before my startup days I spent years working for the local government, and before that for a large (formerly public) gas pipelining company. I've seen so many horrendous Access/VBA-based frontends, or worse, Excel spreadsheets with macros that this system doesn't seem so bad.

In a way I'm actually surprised that Congress even has system to collate all the emails, letters, phone calls and visits into one single database. That sounds really useful, and I'd love to hear from someone that has actually used it.

"this world of We've Always Done It This Way and You'll Need The Proper Authorization For That."

I don't think this is the product of "We've Always Done It This Way", it's the result of "We Have A Strict Budget For This And User Interface Is Difficult To Quantify". As for "You'll Need The Proper Authorization For That.", well, that's the stuff of government. I agree that it's overly restrictive, but I wouldn't want to see the government tip too far in the opposite direction.

I'd be all for donning a Guy Fawkes mask and changing the world if there was even the slightest assurance that the system replacing it would be better. I don't think there is.

Am I really alone in thinking that the Internet Quorum UI isn't really that bad?

No, not at all.

My first thought when I saw it was that it's actually pretty clear and straightforward as far as interfaces go, the only real difference between that and the type of Web 2.0 interface that people use today is probably a 100 line style sheet to make it look less 1995 and a conversion to use AJAX requests instead of full page reloads.

Then again, "just" probably means quite a bit of work in the case of converting to AJAX requests, if the code that generates these pages looks anything like I imagine it does...

I'd be all for donning a Guy Fawkes mask and changing the world if there was even the slightest assurance that the system replacing it would be better. I don't think there is.

Bravo - this is going in my quotefile.

>I'd be all for donning a Guy Fawkes mask and changing the world if there was even the slightest assurance that the system replacing it would be better. I don't think there is.

The only argument against this is a statistical one, akin to how entropy works: One should engage in revolution only when the set of likely worse systems is larger than the set of likely better systems. (I could probably state this better if I knew more mathematical terminology; I suspect matrices are involved.)

Obviously in the US you haven't reached that point. Yet.

You don't really need matrix terminology - just a bit of economic theory and an understanding of basic statistics.

Essentially, you want to measure the 'quality' of each outcome (utility), and the likelihood of each outcome. Then, you calculate the expected utility (which is different from the utility of the expected value - you apply the function before taking the dot product, not afterwards).

I'm blanking on the TeX at the moment, but you basically take the sum of p(i)*U(I), where p(i) is the probability of the i-th outcome occuring, and U(I) is the utility ('benefit') associated with the i-th outcome. Utility is unique to a monotonically increasing function, so that means the individual values are arbitrary, as long as the relative order is preserved.

Then, see if that expected utility is better than the status quo. (Of course, this assumes that you already have a well-defined utility function, which is easy in theory but hard in practice).


Thank you for that. I cannot upvote enough. This subthread, with its heady blend of mathematics, philosophy and violent uprising is why I keep coming back to hacker news.

As someone who has interacted with the government quite a bit,I think your post comes across as ignorant. I don't mean that in an insulting way, but rather simply that it's obvious you have not interacted with the offices of your federal elected officials much.

There is a major difference between the bureaucracies of the executive agencies (think DoD $100 hammers), and the political and office staff of members of Congress. Political campaigns are basically startups, and most campaign and Congressional office staff are in their 20s or 30s. They are not scared of technology, and (especially in the House), they are intensely focused on competing every day.

On the other hand, realize that they are working within a system of government whose #1 goal is to make sure that every law gets fully considered. It's built slow on purpose. The value of this is evident every time an opposition is able to slow down or stop a bad law.

I think you might be overreacting a little bit in feeling sad about that screenshot. Sure it's ugly but it might be quite powerful. Large organisations need systems that control their business processes. They even need systems that control the changes to their business processes. There's no way to delegate responsibility without some form of beauracracy. P.S. Please show other better screenshots to inspire us.

Would you explain whats wrong with that UI?

Could you with your skills fit more information and ability to change it that fast in that amount of space? I doubt it.

With respect, "The Internet" also exists beyond the borders of the United States of America, so while we outside of the US can look on at this spectacle with a mixture of amusement and dread, it's just a little galling to be told to understand something we have little control over.

I'm not meaning to sound disrespectful, I'm just trying to explain this slow-moving car-crash of a situation has effects outside of your own continent..

Funnily enough, individual Americans also have little control over Congress. I think we're all in the same boat here (and I don't even think the article implied otherwise).

I think the GP refers mostly to the title.

No, the 'internet' doesn't need to learn about Congress, since the internet is a world-wide thing. I won't learn about politics in the USA anytime soon (no disrespect here, it's just of no interest to me and that's how I like it), but the article addresses me too.

I personally think that the "internet" does need to learn about Congress, or at least be aware of what is going on. ICANN controls the root DNS servers for TLDs, and before ICANN, the US government did.

(addressing both you and waqf, bringing up the same point: The US is in control of some nice part of the internet infrastructure):

You are right, of course. That means that I care about a world-wide disruption caused by (local) laws in the US. I read about those and follow the development of these laws to a point.

The article addresses the internet first (me included) and then talks about educating the US congress and throwing money at US lobbyists, while fixing the US system so that it doesn't _need_ this kind of involvement anymore.

I'm sorry, but that leaves me out.

- I cannot take part in the education of statesman overseas/abroad and doubt that they'd listen to me

- I certainly won't (especially on an individual level, but even corporate that would be waaaay weird and wrong) throw money at lobbyists in another country

- I'm not allowed to take part in the political system in the US, so I cannot realistically help with any systematic change

I think while you are, as I already admitted, entirely correct about the fact that Congress might affect the whole world, the article is still wrong in calling out to 'The Internet' to fix it. The issues have to be resolved locally. My way of influencing it _might_ be voting for a party that wants to wrangle for informational freedom in the EU and more independence from the US, but that's about it.

The article addresses you advisedly. Unfair as it may seem, Congress has the potential to screw up the internet for the entire world.

That problem, of educating elected officials about legislation that they could get informed about from well-funded lobbies instead, exists in pretty much every government. Educating the general population so that they care is also a good idea, everywhere. And since we know this sort of proposal has been, and will be, exported, we need the same sort of understanding of our institutions that is being promoted here.

I wrote a post about this last week saying why this sort of thought is wrong. In summary it is basically this:

As people of power in a position to make important decisions it is their PROFESSIONAL. ETHICAL. DUTY. to know all the facts that pertain to the situation. At no point is it our fault to not understand their system in its entirety but it IS their fault to be making conscious decisions that effect people and systems they do not entirely understand.

As an engineer it boggles my mind to see someone weighing in on an issue they haven't rightfully studied before attempting to tackle. If there is a project I'm asked to assist on and I'm not confident I can work with my current level of knowledge> I tell my employer and I either get reassigned or scheduled for training. There is no faking it in my industry, why should they be allowed to fuck everything up because they were willfully ignorant.

It goes past that though. They HAVE experts talking to them, or at least trying. The engineers, architects and experts that practically founded the internet have weighed in on how this is a bad idea and yet THEY'RE IGNORED! Don't pretend like this level of ignorance and pure negligence is acceptable for one minute because it just shows how complacent people have become with their representatives.


In principle, I agree with you. But that gets us nowhere. Would you prefer to be "right" and not get what you want, or concede that this is just how things work and get what you want?

I agree with the author of the article: we need to figure out a better way of educating Congress. I don't know how, but their ignorance makes this obvious. Blaming Congress for being ignorant does not get us what we want.

I'm going to assume that we (where I define "we" as those people who have technical backgrounds and could explain the problem to someone in Congress given the chance) have done a poor job of educating Congress on how the internet works. With that as a given, and further assuming that we know organizations likes the RIAA are actively lobbying Congress, the current situation is inevitable. People in Congress are like passive journalists: they need to have a basic understanding of a wide range of topics, but sources come to them, instead of them going to sources. If only one side of an issue talks to them, then they're only going to understand that side.

Excellent points. I never bothered to expand my thoughts beyond "why" it is broken mostly because I'm not American and don't necessarily have a say in the matter.

> to know all the facts that pertain to the situation

While I agree, I can relate as to why this will never be the case. Think back to when you first started programming, or were otherwise involved in technology. It was near impossible to know what you didn't know. And every now and then, that ignorance gave you the belief of being more of an expert than you actually were. This area is an uphill battle of constantly being reminded how little you actually know.

I think it'd be dangerous to have them learn just enough without being actively engaged. It would give them the false belief of being an expert since they'd stop once they feel they have a firm grasp on the subject.

> They HAVE experts talking to them, or at least trying.

This may be the case. However, they can't tell the difference. To them, any "nerd" using technical jargon may or may not be an expert, and there's no way to know which. Dealing with so many unfamiliar subject areas, I'm sure they're experienced enough to know people lie. So ignoring the advice may just be a defensive measure, realizing they have no idea what's being advised or even how true it really is.

It's a bad situation. I don't know how to solve it, but I believe trust is the key quality. More important than expertise.

One of the things geeks have a hard time dealing with is that laws are made for people, by people, and the principle of the legal system is that it must include the illogic of people to cope with the illogic of people.

Who wants to sign up as the first ever crowd funded, open source lobbyist? I'd do it myself, but I'm not American.

I will pay you £5 though. Get another 100,000 like me and you're making a cool £500,000 gross. Just be sure to properly document what you're doing and what you intend to do.

I'll also give you £5 worth of slush money to grease palms and what not.

And if you meet certain objectives and milestones, I may even give you a £5 bonus at the end of the year.

Hell, I'll even give you £1 to give to every member of congress you secure, and £2 for every president you get!! (serving presidents only).

All these numbers are in Pounds Sterling. Do the math.

You'd also land your lobbyist in jail pretty quick. I'm fairly certain it's more than a little illegal (on the order of treason) to accept foreign money to influence congress.

Yeah, this isn't true. It just means the lobbyist would have to register as a foreign agent lobbyist if it was lobbying on behalf of a foreign interest. It's totally legal to accept foreign money to influence congress. And as a result of citizens united, they can even run ads in support of candidates and campaigns. China too, is a person with a first amendment right!

Could you get around that though, what if foreigners could say buy an overpriced piece of software from the group?

You could, but don't be too successful or its off with your head when political winds shift. Isreal has subconscious influence over this country. You might have heard the words "holy" and Isreal in a song played in the US in December... 50 million times and delivered as sermons in churches on every street corner in the US.

This hasn't slowed down Israel much.

Also, you don't have to be any kind of saint. You need to be an a-typical lobbyist. Preferable with experience working for big oil, big pharma or big tobacco. A low down dirty underhanded lobbyist motivated purely by money, but paid for by people like me.

Huh. I'm the author of the post. I'll think about it.

Do it. I'm not joking. I'll even help find UK and European counterparts and chip in with the marketing effort.

"I don't complain about politicians because everyone does. This politician sucks, that politician is a fucking idiot. Yeah, we'll guess what asshole? YOU KEEP VOTING FOR THESE MORONS! You keep arguing about democrat vs. republican, you keep asking for things from the government, you keep on voting for the people you complain about. You legitimize the bullshit. This is what you get for wanting to be led like little children."

- George Carlin

I have this from an .mp3 I got from some weird torrent, but I haven't been able to find it on YouTube or on iTunes. I'll try to get it up on the web if I can...

Thanks, I'm trying to find the original clip on my computer. Lotta Carlin audio in my iTunes...

You'd think that tech companies involved would have a stronger lobbying arm. Every one of those extremely wealthy individuals that signed onto that "open letter" to congress should be funding lobbyists in combination with Google, ISPs, etc. and every provider out there who stands to lose from the passage of SOPA.

Seriously, look at it. The IP lobby is spending millions to buy out Congress and we've got the billionaires and corporations that are significantly larger, richer and more powerful than the IP lobby writing fucking letters?

I think it's naïveté in a certain way, and also a belief that the power of ideas should win out above everything else.

If money influencing Congress is a problem then why should they contribute to it?

Hear hear! Finally an article placing the blame where it belongs - on our shoulders. It is naive to expect Congress to figure out what laws are best for the nation. Instead we should be forcing the laws we want down their throats.

All that the MPAA/RIAA can offer to congress is money, but we have something they want much more: votes. When the NRA or the AARP cough, congressmen sit up and listen. The reason? They have millions of members.

Now what about the organization representing our interests? Pro startup, pro contractors, pro net neutrality, anti censorship, anti patent? Why isn't there such an organization with a million members?

We hackers are smart, we're prosperous, there's no excuse for being so damn unorganized.


I was about to pipe up and say the EFF until I saw the link at the end of your comment. Seriously though everyone who works with or cares about tech should donate (or better yet join) the EFF.

Been there, done that, and guess what: they really don't want to hear from their constituents. Period. (And this was on a local level in the Netherlands, which I'm pretty confident is considerable more accessible and less corrupt than US Congress.)

This is about power, holding on to it and increasing it. Nothing else. Absolutely nothing else matters these people, no matter how nice, intelligent and understanding they sometimes seem appear to be. Being a politician has become a career path with no goal that has anything to do with representing the will of the people. "Ill will or spite" doesn't come into it: it's just business.

And the people have nothing to offer them in that respect except votes and obedience. As long as they get both despite everything, no strategy will give us any more access because there is simply no need for them to give it to us.

The only way this will change is if it no longer pays to ignore the people.

This is an invitation to play the lobby game. To me it reads like "we should bribe Congress too".

But can we do that? Large corporations will have disproportionally much more economic power to bribe Congress. They can throw money at the problem repeatedly until they have exactly the law they want.

If Congress cannot work, then Congress should write the laws but not vote them. Citizens should vote the laws, like in California or Switzerland.

Have you looked at how that's worked out for California?

Thanks to ballot measures, the people of California voted to never raise their own property taxes, and then later voted to require massive spending initiatives in education and other places, which of course went unfunded, because they'd voted not to pay for anything.

Now California has regular budget crises that are essentially unsolvable, thanks to citizens voting on laws.

There are at least 22 states that allow for both voter initiatives and referendums[1], and not all of them suffer from the issues you are outlining. Also, it isn't setup so that every issue is addressed in this manner.


The only difference with other states of countries is that California got the budget crisis sooner, so it woke up first. It's better to have the crisis when you can still raise taxes (or cut spending).

Couldn't this be addressed by requiring all spending bills to have their funding built in? ie, the bill must include what they are proposing to spend, and where the funding will come from (tax hike). This would also help people understand the costs of what they are voting for.

I think it's a particularly interesting idea for citizen initiatives to have to be in the black, but a lot of times when it comes to policy/program issues, there's disagreement over whether or not budget figures are realistic.

Think about how hard it often is for developers to estimate the time and effort involved in a project. Programs that involve putting together networks of people, hard assets, and information systems are going to be just as hard to estimate properly if not harder.

Yeah, I see how that could be an issue. How is it handled now, though? If government approves a project to improve [community service here] for $X, and the project goes over, what happens? Does the contractor have to eat it? Does government have to approve an additional extension? The project can't just run on and on, right? Sorry, I just am not that familiar with how it all works, which is kind of sad, I suppose.

It's even worse than that. Ballot initiatives, like all electoral endeavors, are extremely expensive, so most of what actually makes it onto the ballot are bills written by the exact same monied interests that would otherwise be lobbying the state government if we didn't have the initiative system.

In a way, every "innovation" in democracy becomes a cheaper, simpler pathway for the same interests to run the game in their favor.

North Dakota has ballot initiatives and is running a surplus. It isn't the ballot initiative that is going to kill California, it is the unfunded pensions and public union pressure.

Congress has also created an essentially unsolvable budget crisis, so I don't see much difference there.

One thing still counts more than money, and that is votes. I know that sounds naive, but there is still truth in it. There are multiple problems with using the power of the ballot box, including safe districts for incumbents, apathy of the electorate, etc., but for issues on which the public can be successfully rallied, there is still real potential to leverage much smaller sums of in terms of dollars to have real influence. Also, individuals and small organizations can lobby directly, too - make an appointment with your congressional office, either locally or in DC, and sit down directly with a staff member to express your concerns. You need to be organized and prepared, but it is your right, and they do listen - it's just that the small voices often get drowned out. If you don't have money to give, use your time and knowledge.

A rule of thumb I've heard for the weighting of different constituent opinions is that 1 office visit = 100 letters, 1 letter = 100 phone calls, 1 phone call = 100 emails. (One email might be a million names on an online petition, I don't know.) Faxes count as letters, but both only count as above if they are (or look) personal, not a form letter. Opinions from people outside a Congressman's district don't count for much, unless they have a direct business or other interest in the district.

(-1 for citizens voting the laws. California is not a model of effective democracy. Fix the Republic!)

There are plenty of large corporations that oppose SOPA that haven't been throwing out as much money as the entertainment industry. I think that was his point.

No, we are all very aware of how Congress works. Whoever has the most money to pay them (why it's not called a bribe, I'll never know) is the person who gets their ideas put into law. Congress hasn't been about the needs of the people they represent for some time now.

That's the cynical take at least. It's a great way of telling yourself that trying is futile and therefore not worth the time.

It's one of the things I detest about politics in Italy: ordinary people are so convinced that nothing can ever change that they make zero effort to do anything, and, surprisingly, things do not change.

Dude, the amount of money that politicians get in campaign contributions is tiny compared to the amount of money that is spent on lobbyists. The problem is that we have this class of people who are personable, who are well informed, have spent years creating relationships with other people in Washington, and who are very experienced at providing simple, one-sided explanations of the issues to congress-critters.

If campaign contributions were entirely banned I doubt it would make much difference, because legislators are too busy to pull information on every topic that they feel they need to Do Something about, and its the people with lobbyists who succeed in pushing out the (fraction of the) information needed.

If that's the case, then how does that explain SOPA? Take the two primary backers, the MPAA and RIAA: 2010 revenue for the movie industry in the United States was about $10B, while the 2010 revenue for the music industry was approximately less than or equal to that figure (RIAA's FAQ suggests $7.7B in 2009). Compare that to tech companies: Apple alone had $28.57B in the Q3 of this year (to say nothing of yearly revenue). Certainly revenue does not equal profits or market share, but the point should still be made: one technology company is arguably larger than both the movie and music industries in the United States. If the matter were as simple as money equaling laws, then SOPA should never have seen the light of day.

It is only tangentially profit related. It is directly related to money spent on law making. RIAA understands this and spends quite a bit. Tech companies either don't or don't care enough to play the game, so they don't spend.

That is what I was insinuating.

Why bother insinuating? The data tells the story well enough:


More generally, this kind of legal corruption is an obvious and yet unacknowledged flaw in representative democracy.

By obvious, I mean in the game theory sense i.e a system of selfish rational humans acting under the rules of "democracy".

The U.S. system has some factors which make it worse e.g. "first past the post" voting leads to a two-party system from which the electorate cannot break out.

If you actually believe this then I would argue that you don't actually know how Congress works. There are numerous examples of citizen action overcoming superior funding on the other side; the entire environmental movement is one example.

Congress: "No, we are all very aware of how the Internet works. OMG P1R4CY!!!1"

And then the USG insists 'democracy' is the only right way for people to be governed. The reality is, it is money, not the 'right thing' that determines what laws are passed and how it is enfored. And who is elected to make thise laws.

It is sad. Really.

No no no, a thousand times no. It is the job of the Congress to understand the things it regulates! They employ thousands of "expert" staffers and are supposed to be drawn from among the best and brightest of the citizenry. It may be hard to believe, but details actually matter when you're screwing around with a $15T/yr socioeconomic machine.

Logical recourse requires constant vigilance and discipline. Logic requires an environment where being illogical is detrimental to one's goals.

Take the community of Hacker News for example. Any constructive and rational chain of thought is positively reinforced by the community and any name-calling or irrational rant fades away into oblivion. Such environment keeps every participant in the honest.

The environment in politics is toxic. Not just in US but in almost all democracies. A representative, once elected, gets immersed in the political environment. He quickly adapts to the environment because its so much easier. When the time comes to be re-elected, they dont have to prove that they are competent but that they're not as bad as their competitor (or that their party is not as bad as the one they're competing against).

To effect any change, the environment needs to change. And it will not change as long as seasoned and career politicians, cynical and jaded by the political climate, keep getting re-elected. Obama is a good example of this phenomenon. I'm not a from US but I closely followed the 2008 US elections. And I bought the idea of hope. But once Obama was elected, he was submersed in the political climate and he adapted.

So, while educating congress is a step in the right direction, as the blog suggests; infusing new blood in politics is also crucial. Creating a healthy environment in the Capital (not just of US, but every country) can go a long way to affect the changes that are long way due in the political process.


Mission: We believe the federal government has grown too centralized, too intrusive, and too expensive. We believe in constitutional limits, smaller government, civil liberties, federalism, and low taxes. We want to end laws and programs that don't work, cause harm, and violate the Constitution. We want to restore the full force of the 9th and 10th amendments, which reserve most social functions to the people and the states.


Our proprietary “Educate the Powerful System”SM (EPS) is not sending an email on your behalf. Usually, our system fills out the web forms located at the Congressperson's website. Our system gives your letter a more personalized feel — even increases the odds that it will be read.

(I copied the above from their website.)

So - you fill out a simple web form, personalize with your comments if you like, and DownsizeDC will deliver it to all your Senate and House representatives using their own Congressional web sites and web forms. All you have to provide is your address and DownsizeDC will figure out who your reps are.

It makes it much easier for public to communicate with their representatives, which allows for the communication to occur more frequently and in greater volume.

This is a cool hack and I use it several times a week every week to express my disapproval of the erosion of civil liberties in the USA attendant to the War on Terror.

I am reminded of the way the media handled the vaccination scare: they always had both sides represented, even though one side was rational science and the other was misguided if not openly fraudulant. I saw a lot of complaining on the Internet about journalists giving equal footing to "crazy" viewpoints. Of course we don't want that, either in journalists or legislators.

The question is how to determine what is the "rational" view and what is the "crazy" view. If we can address that in some way, we may be closer to a solution.

In government, it seems like following the money is a good start. The deeper the pockets of the original source of the money, the more crazy the source seems to be. If an idea is coming in being funded by a lot of individuals, it is probably more rational (where rationality is defined as the true will of the people).

I agree with TFA that you have to work inside the system to change it (short of open revolt). It reminds me of a friend who wanted to get rid of highway billboards. His idea was simple: Raise money to buy a handful. Sell ads and use the profits to buy other billboards. Once they control all the billboards, take them all down.

All the freaking out about SOPA reveals something very interesting about the technology crowd in general I think. Whatever happened to all those people who were always crowing about how legislation would never keep up to technology? Are there experts going in front of the committee explaining how technology will make circumventing these restrictions seamless for end users? Or are we admitting that this legislation has caught up and that technology and innovation has been defeated.

Is not the way to defeat SOPA and anything remotely resembling it just to let it become law and then kick its ass in the real world. Congress would never take it up again once it has failed and a system put in place to ensure it can not be regulated in the future.

Along these same lines, I remember the fight over the DMCA. It's kind of funny to see the tech industry defending it so strongly today. There was a while there when it was probably the most hated law on the web.

In regards to the infographic How Our Laws Are Made[1], where does SOPA and/or PIPA stand currently?

[1] http://www.mikewirthart.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/05/howla...

This illustrates the folly of big government. The politicians in congress are not lacking intelligence, but are simply trying to do too much. It would be impossible for these 535 men and women to each have a thorough understanding of all the industries they attempt to regulate. Although the tech community is up in arms over SOPA right now, how many equally bad laws have been passed that affect other industries? The government is the entity that enables corporations to violate the rights of the people.

This article made me think of the cool startup https://www.popvox.com/ They are working to provide a two way bridge between Congress and Constituents. They won the Social Media Tech award in the SXSW Accelerator this year and Tim O'Reilly is a founding advisor. I think they're the kind of company that would love help from open sourcing l33t haxxors such as yourselves.

Where is google/facebook in all of this? They are the dictators of the internet. Why aren't they educating the crap out of our representatives?

I think technology companies are sort of notorious for not being very good at the lobbying game. MS just started getting serious about it in the late '90s (and I think they have no dog in this particular fight) so we should expect Google to start figuring it out in a few years and Facebook later still.

(MS's PAC was funded to the tune of $16,000 in 1995, 100x that 5 years later.)

Hope five years from now is not too late.

Google opposes SOPA. Facebook opposed it, but then supported it when a clause was added that protects Facebook.

Truth be told, SOPA is actually beneficial for the big players, it actually gives the big players a competitive advantage. No court or congress is going to harm the Facebook.com DNS -- that's political suicide. But the public is not going to care/notice if Facebook-Competitor.com gets shut down.

These laws will be used to crush sapling startups, which actually just eliminates the competition for Facebook/YouTube.

It's Congress's way of saying: you can have YouTube, Facebook, and Twitter. This is all the social media anyone should ever need. Anyone who wants more social media options than the Big3 is obviously some kind of criminal.

SOPA essentially freezes the social media internet as it is and makes new social media companies impossible. It also makes borderline-popular social media companies like reddit unlikely to survive. Reddit is too free speech tolerating to survive this legislation. Facebook is borderline, but they're untouchable. YouTube is in violation. Twitter is shallow enough to be safe.

To the extent that power over the internet is in the hands of a controlling few, we engineers haven't done a good enough job of engineering.

Sure, educating congress is a good idea. But there is a lot of room for improvement on the engineering too. The more decentralized our creations, the less opportunity for congress to get their grubby hands on them.

Attempting to post this link to facebook breaks it.

deletes the trailing hyphen and becomes


Post it with a trailing slash:


"Let's lobby for a rules change that allows our members to use the software they want to use."

What could possibly go wrong? http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bush_White_House_email_controve...

The big problem with this, of course, is that word "educate" which the author encloses in quotes. The people who influence Congress "educate" representatives not with informative presentations but with money, and lots of it.

This is how congress works: http://www.thenation.com/article/how-get-our-democracy-back

TLDR: They do not want to be educated, their goal is to obtain money.

lobbyist spent a long time [...] educating members of Congress

This is exactly, EXACTLY why lobbyists must be banned.

It's not education, it's propaganda.

The country is run by people whose knowledge is solely based on propaganda?

It's not education, it's not propaganda, it's a legal form of bribery.

I was going to upvote this but it was at 666 points.

So I just took a screenshot and forwarded it to the more religious of our representatives as proof that SOPA is indeed evil.

giant technology union. that's the only way we're ever going to have the type of cash necessary to lobby congress to do anything.

rootstrikers.org is trying to get money out of politics. I think that would go a long way.

Congress doesn't work. That's what the Internet doesn't know.

tl;dr I stopped at "our democracy."

Dear Internet, Its called The New World Order. They're not uneducated, its a conspiracy.

Oh, look! our Congress is sooooo dumb, they decided to do away with the Bill of Rights on the 222nd anniversary of its signing, and declare that disagrees with them is a terrorist and that "terrorists" can be held indefinitely without recourse.

From childhood we are told that we are smart and politicians are stupid. But maybe, just maybe, the average netizen is so prideful he believes that he cannot be manipulated by a powerful combine of men, pretending to act stupidly, but in truth acting maliciously.

All you need to know, is that they take your money and force you to do things you do not want to.

That's not an accurate summary. A better summary comes in the last paragraph of the article:

  It's no longer acceptable for us to not take responsibility for our Congress
  anymore. If we want it to be better then throwing bums out, and replacing them
  with new bums doesn't seem to be doing the trick. Let's work instead to
 educate whomever is in Congress, and the professional class around them.

In particular, with law enforcement, it's not as much an issue of how much money is spent on law enforcement (though that also matters), but whether the right things are prohibited. There are some things that few people would argue for decriminalizing (say, driving a truck bomb into a building), but a lot more questions past that.

That is one side of it, yes. Congress takes your money to do a lot of horrible things, like the hundreds of thousands of documented civilians that were killed as a direct result of the invasion and occupation of Iraq.

But Congress takes your money to do a lot of things, and some of them are absolutely important, like taking care of the medical problems that older people have.

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