My Remarks to Congressional Staffers Today

I’ve been invited to speak to two groups of Congressional staffers today. In about 30 mins, I’ll speak to Republican staffers at the Capitol Hill Club. Later today, at 1:30, I’ll be speaking to the Democrats in their Capitol Building office. The topic is Blogging, microblogging and social media and the event is hosted by NextGenWeb and the DCI Group.

These are my planned opening remarks:

First of all, I want to thank NextGenWeb and the DCI Group for inviting me to be with you today. I want to thank all of you for taking time out of your Friday morning to be here as well.
The U.S. Capitol at Night
We have a lot to talk about today because, frankly, the landscape of news, reporting, politics and effective organizing isn’t changing. It already has changed.

comScore, the metrics organization that measures website popularity and user engagement and leads the industry in much the same way that Nielsen has led the more traditional media rating media, reported that sites like Facebook and MySpace are owning over 100M unique visitors every month. Universal McCann, another measurement company, reports that 77% of active internet users read blogs.

Whether you agree or disagree with these numbers, and whether you like the trend or not, it is undeniable that the new media space has emerged. It is difficult to turn on your television without seeing personalities – and I do mean personalities – such as MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow or CNN’s Rick Sanchez engaging their audiences with Twitter.

Up until recently, your own rules here in Congress have prevented you from effectively engaging the citizens on your districts, states and this country. You were hampered by antiquated rules that required separation of content from endorsements in the form of ads. I led the way in helping America see this, through my blog, public radio and conversation on and off the Hill. Though I cannot take full credit for any changes that have occurs, changes have still have occurred. Your House and Senate rules now allow you to utilize Twitter, YouTube and other social media avenues.

The news cycle is there and it’s different than it was before. In another lifetime, you played the game by talking to the press and hoping that they found interest in your cause. Now, you can go directly to the American people.

However, with much power comes much responsibility. Blogs have given us as citizens an expectation for engagement. For conversation. For exchange of information, ideas and transparency. Major media for the most part has not figured this out yet, and that is why more Americans get their news on the internet. There are, of course, exceptions. If you are to use this effectively, you will need to treat the internet, not as a faceless drop box where constituent mail comes from. Not as an anonymous voicemail box. Not as a nameless email inbox that sends an automated reply to the sender.

You must engage. You must converse. More importantly, you must listen.

Today, we’re going to talk about blogs, Twitter and new media. I hope that we can all learn from one another and build a better interaction platform for constituents. Thank you, again.

New York Times Makes Massive Leap in Bringing Congressional Data to the Web

For all the talk in DC about transparency in government, that seemed (at least in my sense) to really come to the forefront of everyone’s attention with the House Rules on social media use issue last July, then escalated with the Senate, the bailouts and finally the election of one of the most social media savvy presidents ever, the status quo has been largely wishing for transparency and talking about it.

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The New York Times decided to take it a step farther today by actually providing data in the form of the Congress API. This data is pulled from the House and Senate websites but I have to guess also includes data that is mined from the Congressional Record, the daily public account of all official business that is still, ironically, published in print form en masse. Up until now, the Congressional Record has been available upon request and is hard to actually get real signal from amidst the noise of process and procedure.

With the NY Times Congress API, it is now possible for developers to build tools that mine the Record for roll call votes, members of each chamber, and information about members including chairmanships or committee memberships.

It will be interesting to see how this data is used and how it can be leveraged to keep the government honest. Developers can check out the technical details here.

East India Wall Street

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The company was booming. It was harvesting tea from Asia and selling throughout the empire. Times were good and tycoons were fat and wealthy. Times couldn’t be better as the government subsidized East India Company collected record profits from the subjects throughout the British Empire.

In Parliament, and with an economic need for further subsidization for a sprawling empire, Great Britain passed tax levies on East India Company tea that affected colonists throughout the empire. With little or no influence in Parliament – certainly no representation – John Hancock of Massachusetts Bay Colony began a black market operation to bypass British tea, instead choosing to import from the Dutch who levied no such taxes.

The year was 1773, and the actions initiated by Hancock and others in the Thirteen colonies culminated in a Continental Congress and a Declaration of Independence three years later.

Several hundred years later, a different economy exists. Again, business was booming as traders and bankers invested in assets with unlimited potential. In fact, the only limit of value on the assets was that which the imagination could merit.

Money flowed freely, encouraged implicitly by Congress and central banks across the globe. Indeed, the age of the American Empire extended and exported its wares in the form of the dollar far and wide across the globe, affecting Asia, Europe and points in between. Times were golden and assets gained steam.

When the market realized an over-inflation of prices and assets, it was too late. As Parliament realized that a dying industry required economic infusion, and passed an import tax that resulted in the revolt and the beginning of the end of economic dominance for the British Empire, America faces a similar scenario.

Does it infuse and, by proxy, prop up an economic policy that has reached its potential limit, and by doing so ignore the history that can teach them so much? Or does it allow an economic recession to happen, recognizing that one mans loss is another mans profit?

I’ve been given grief, even by my own people here at Technosailor, for covering content that is not directly social media related. That is not the point of this blog. We cover the technology, business and trends of the day to help readers understand the landscape.

These are difficult times, and people are losing money hand over fist. It’s going to happen. It has to happen. The American empire is not about territory. It is about the Dollar and the economy of America is the economy of the world. It needs correction and, like Parliaments actions of 1773 resulted in the ultimate death of the British Empire, the meddling of Congress in markets affected by failed policies of the same, will ultimately result in the death of the American Empire.

Of course, the death of the American Empire is not entirely bad either. The U.S. could use a little bit of humility, but to do so will hurt for many many people… not just Americans.

$56B is a Much More Reasonable Number

The way I figure it, a body with an 8% approval rating should get about 8% of what they are asking for.

That would be $56B.

These guys cannot be trusted to make a $700B decision with no hearings and no explorations when they created the problem through a complicit wink-wink-nudge-nudge economic policy over the last 70 years (Fannie Mae was created as a federal subsidized lender in 1938).

That is all.

Senate Opens the Door for Web 2.0 Usage

Back in July, we covered the story about Congressional use of Twitter and social tools ad nauseum. Frankly, it was an epic story around here – defining in many ways – and has opened the door for other opportunities to be involved in the political and policy discussion around Washington, D.C.

I plan to have Congressman John Culberson, who was at the center of the House controversy, on the Aaron Brazell Show in weeks to come to discuss the changes and progress being made in the House, it’s important to note that the Senate actually has taken the first step to modernize and unshackle legislators hands.

Andrew Noyes writes Wednesday in Congress Daily about the changes (subscription only):

As part of the change, Rules Chairwoman Dianne Feinstein and ranking member Robert Bennett included some exceptions. A member, committee or office may separately maintain Web sites or post material on third-party platforms as long as they abide by guidelines.

The Rules Committee plans to offer a “non exhaustive list” of approved third-party sites. Those sites must agree to disclose when content is maintained by a Senate office and is banned from adding commercial or political material or links to an office-maintained page.

The rules also go on to outline rules for the third party websites, prohibiting data collection of personally identifiable information about users.

All in all, common sense approaches to web/government crossover and it’s nice to see that the Senate rules never become a political football like the House rules did. The House is trying to mirror these rule changes on their side.

The Aaron Brazell Show: Episode 1 – Politics, Policy and Technology

Saturday night, I was joined by Leslie Bradshaw, Art Lindsey (who I started calling Al toward the end of the show, sorry Art!), Leslie Poston and Andrew Feinberg in an interesting discussion about policy and technology inside the beltway. Steve Hodson and S. Dawn Jones also joined in during the show.

It was a fascinating discussion, and borderline offensive at times, as discussions revolved around Congress and Social Media, which I covered here last week, racism on the internet and the iPhone 3G, which Hodson found offensive. :-)

To be clear, because I heard loudly and clearly from many listeners, politics is a sensitive area. Everyone thinks they are right and people typically prefer arguing than dialogue. I prefer dialogue and tried to Picture 5.pngmaintain some semblance of give and take. For my part, I remain independant with both conservative and progressive views on various issues. I don’t mind arguing and debating or even people telling others that they are completely wrong. The line that I draw is one of respect and when the respect line is crossed, that’s where I have issues. Despite the sensitive nature of some of our discussions, I don’t believe the respect line was crossed and I support the right of all the panelists to express their opinions, even if it offends some.

While this was the first episode of the Aaron Brazell Show (successor of the failed video show Technosailor TV), it won’t be the last. Next week, Glen Stansberry and Jared Goralnick join to discuss productivity and Freshbooks is giving away a one year subscription to it’s Shuttlebus package.

You can listen to Episode 1 or Subscribe in iTunes.

NPR Interview This Morning

NPR’s Laura Conway from the Bryant Park Project (syndicated on a dozen or so NPR affiliates between 7-9am ET) called me this morning for a brief chat about the Congress rules fiasco that I’ve been monitoring.

Not only was this interview important for me personally (it’s NPR during the morning drivetime commute) but it’s very important for the issue at hand (it’s NPR during the morning drivetime commute!). Going on NPR this morning broke the story outside of the blogosphere and catapulted it into the attention of millions of Americans, many of whom use social communications tools everyday.

Thanks Laura and the BPP crew for the call.

Note: this is a rough recording off my computer while the show streamed. Will update with the “clean” copy from NPR after the archive copy goes up.
Listen Now.

Update: The NPR archive is up. Go listen to a better quality here.

Statement on House Rules and Social Media Use

Today, I’ve spent a significant amount of time working the story that broke yesterday and that we’ve been following closely. There seems to be some real bogus propaganda flying around this issue and I want to clarify the position I’ve stated repeatedly around the various places I’ve been discussing the issue.

It’s reprehensible that in 2008, a government for the people and by the people should take this heavy handed approach to “rules” surrounding the use of social communications tools. Yesterday (July 8), Scott Rasmussen released a poll demonstrating that Congress has a 9% approval rating for the first time in history. When you avoid the people you are elected to serve and cutoff the communication channels those constituencies use, it’s not really a surprise. If the House rules are outdated, then the House, in their effort to be transparent, has the ability to quickly change the rules that apply, much as they have demonstrated the ability to do with many other “important” pieces of legislation.

Again, I clarify that this is a non-partisan position and affects both sides of the aisle. The position being bandied by some “gated community” types on Capitol Hill is irresponsible and tone-deaf and if the House wants to remain relevant in the eyes of voters, these “existing rules” must change. Sen. Diane Feinstein (D-CA) is allegedly proposing similar clamp downs in the Senate.