Friday, October 28, 2005

Fire and Brimstone

Today the interns got to meet the Senator. Today JoAnna got to skip Spanish class to meet the Senator. Can life be any better (?Puede ser viva mejor?)?

The problem with meeting an important person is that I have to physically prepare myself for the event. I have calmed way down since my Senate Feaux Pas on the tram, but I still get butterflies and red-faced when I am around important people. Additionally, I get crazy nightmares about the Senator asking me to make copies of an important speech. I go to press the copy button and the machine not only jams but explodes into a gigantic pile of confetti right on the reception room floor. Right then, a large group of tourists stroll by with another senate intern pointing out my embarrassment as yet another cool capital hill attraction.

What this means, Richard, is that I should never be an important person myself. I would be in a continual state of distress knowing that I would have to talk to other important people every day.

But the day ended up going really well (and I didn't have to make copies for anyone). We took group pictures on one of the Russell Building marble stairways, took a picture one on one with the Senator (who greeted us by name, proving that the briefing book works pretty well....or that the intern coordinator was standing behind us mouthing our names), and then got to crowd around the tiny conference room table to ask the senator any questions we wanted to.

You ever watch C-SPAN? I will admit that I am as addicted to it as my roommate is addicted to Gilmore Girls. But when you watch the senators on the floor, they seem bored, restless, and simply annoyed to have to take time out of their busy schedules to participate in a roll call vote. On occasion they will have a bizarrely heated discussion about sometime weird (like the argument that broke out last week over naming a federal building after Rosa Parks) but generally I am the only person in the world that gets a kick out of C-SPAN.

Talking to a senator (my senator at least) in person is an entirely different experience. It may be that we were a captive audience who would have been please with anything, or that there were no cameras in the room, but the Senator was so excited about all of our questions and answered with so much enthusiasm and passion. Every now and then I am reminded why I like DC and politics and all that: the senators, even the ones I disagree with, got to the senate because they are really smart people with an incredible passion for what they do. My senator is a little unique (aka: a stone cold genius), but speaking about the most mundane topics like poverty and civil rights, the senator's voice started soaring and the speech got more eloquent. By the end of a tirade about the Bush administration's actions concerning Katrina, the Senator was invoking the fire and brimstone that only one of our time's greatest political and oratorical minds can put forth. I truly believe that I am working for the right person and that I am working for the right ideals.

Tuesday, October 18, 2005


Today I was assigned to work on a couple of projects. This is the fun part of interning: you get to work with the staffers on specific issues. Today I was assigned to the legislative assistant in charge of environmental and energy issues. It was my job to compile a bunch of information into a spread sheet that would be used throughout the winter. The best part of this was the comments I received once I emailed it to him: "Thanks, JoAnna! This will provide the basis for several fantastic press releases over the winter." When the senator gives a speech about energy over the next few weeks and months, chances are that some of my work went in to making it possible. Cool, huh?

Project number two: putting together briefing books. Each night we put together a binder that includes a detailed schedule, the names of all the people (names, what they do, why they are visiting, all of the stuff the senator needs to know to sound smart...Sometimes we even include pictures of people) that the senator will have appointments with the following day, all of the speeches that will be given, and all the policy to be announced. If you see a senator in the hallway, chances are that they or their aid tagging along behind them has one of these books.

The interesting part about this book was that I both made it and was in it...The following day all of the interns were meeting for lunch with the senator. We took pictures of all the interns and added brief descriptions of how we all got to be here. The theory is that the Senator, after looking at our pictures and reading the bios, should be able to greet us by name in the hallway. I don't know how effective it is, but I like that my face made it into an important binder.

Friday, October 14, 2005

What Do you Know?

A recent survey conducted by the National Constitution Center sought to figure out how much Americans know about the US government. Before I give you the results, test yourself. How many of the following questions can you answer correctly (answers at the bottom of the page)?

1. When was the US Constitution written?
2. How many voting members are there in the House of Representatives?
3. How many years are there in a Senate term?
4. How many years are there in a Representative's term?
5. How many Senators are there in the US Congress?
6. What is the introduction to the Constitution called?
7. How many branches of the federal government are there?
8. Where was the US Constitution written?
9. What are the first ten amendments to the Constitution called?
10. Who nominates the justices of the Supreme Court?

I have to admit, I did not know how many voting members are in the House of Reps. The majority of Americans didn't know it either. According to the NCC website :
91% of Americans believe that the U.S. Constitution is important to them; and
84% believe that to work as intended, our system of government depends on active and informed citizens, BUT;
More than half of Americans don't know the number of Senators;
About 1 out of 3 don't know the number of branches of the Federal Government;
1 out of 6 believe that the Constitution establishes America as a Christian nation;
20% believe that only lawyers can understand the Constitution;
Almost one-quarter cannot name a single right guaranteed to us by the First Amendment; and
84% believe that the U.S. Constitution is the document that states that "all men are created equal", thus confusing it with the Declaration of Independence.

In fact, only 5% of Americans can answer all 10 questions. 45% of Americans answered between 0 and 4 questions correctly. My favorite responses are that some people believe that the constitution was written in France, and others that the first ten amendments to the constitution are called the Pledge of Allegiance.

Here are the real answers:
1. 1787
2. 435 voting members of the House(although I maintain that the DC rep can vote on some things...Just not war)
3. 6 years
4. 2 years
5. 100 senators
6. Preamble
7. 3 branches
8. Philadelphia
9. The Bill of Rights
10. The president

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

An Impostor!

I learned a couple of the coolest things today.

You will have to forgive me for the first one...I think it borders on bragging. I learned today that over 350 students applied for my office's intern positions. Of those 350, almost all of the applications from non-constituents were thrown out. Of the remaining, 20 interns were chosen. Let me remind you: the senator I work for is not my state's senator. Therefore, it was really hard not to jump up and down and squeal like a third grader at a slumber party when I found out this information.

Now that I have that out of my system....

I also learned about autopenning (when a machine writes the signature, not a human being). You might remember how much trouble Dick Cheney got in a couple years ago when people found out he was autopenning condolence letters to families of fallen soldiers. Not a very politically savvy move, eh?

The Ghostwriter:
You might find something like this in a government office

I, however, feel for him. I know how much mail goes through government offices on a daily basis: my office alone gets about 500 letters on a good day....A not so good day brings us about 1,000 (oh yes, I get to read and respond to a good portion of those). Imagine how much time a Senator would spend every day just signing things. By the end of the day, their fingers would fall off, they would miss three floor votes, and their signature would look like mush.

Senate offices have solved this problem in a few different ways. Some offices choose to just not answer mail unless it is sent by email. I personally find this method obnoxious and counter to democracy (for example, how would I voice my displeasure with welfare or support for the Hunger-Free Communities Act if I was an under-the-poverty-line mother of four who couldn't afford a computer, let alone internet access?).

Other offices, a vast majority of them, in fact, authorize a few trusted staffers to forge the Senator's signature. They are required to practice it over and over again until all the staffers can make pretty accurate, identical signatures. Then the fun begins! Really, you would have to trust your staff completely to believe that they would not abuse that privilege.

A small percentage of offices do in private what Dick Cheney got in public trouble for...They autopen almost everything. And what's fun is that you can tell which Senators use the machine, and those that don't. It helps if you can compare two of the Senator's signatures; identical signatures never happen in real life, especially if you are signing 500 letters a day (or if your staffers are signing them for you).

If that is not possible, look closely at the signature. If your senator is under the age of, say, sixty, and the lines are wiggly like the Senator has palsy, they are using an old, outdated autopen badly in need of repair.

No luck there? Take a fat marker and, pressing down really hard, make a line on a piece of paper. See how there is a dot at the top and the bottom of your line? Now smoothly write your name with the same marker. No dots right? Just a smooth line. The autopen makes marks more like your first line. It doesn't have the ability to make smooth lines. So if you see dots at the tops and bottoms of all the letters, chances are that the signature is autopenned.

Stuff you never knew, right? But which Senator's use the autopen? Who knows? Not something we talk about. And really, why spoil the illusion?

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

A Woman's Dream or Nightmare?

My dad called me the morning of Bush's announcement about the nomination of Harriet E. Miers to see what I thought about the Texas attorney turned nominee to the highest court in the land. The only judgment I could give him at the time was that she wears too much eye-liner. I have the feeling I was not the only one scratching my head wondering where in the world this nomination came from.
So, I did what every girl challenged by her (coughslightlymoreconservativecough) father would do... I did my research. Here is what I discovered:

1. She was the first woman to be hired by a big Texas law firm (of which she became the first female president).
2. She was the first woman to head both the Dallas and Texas State Bar Associations.
3. She is a pretty good corporate litigator with a darn good record in court.
4. She was a top white house official, specifically white house council.
5. She was head of the Texas Lottery commission (I find this achievement a little random).
6. She takes care of her ailing mother (still not sure why this is important, but the media seems to think that it is...Show off her feminine side I guess).

To my dismay, I also found out that she has no judicial experience, no real constitutional law background, and, most upsetting to me, no paper trail. Basically, putting Miers on the Supreme Court would be like making a person an elementary school teacher without first sending them to college and doing a background check. Who knows what their opinion on corporal punishment is, let alone whether they know how to write out a lesson plan?

American women wanted another woman to replace Sandra Day O'Connor because we thought that a woman could better uphold our rights. And powerful women will continue to be great role models to our little sisters. But with some of the most contentious debates our nation has ever seen on the Supreme Court Docket this season (as if I even have to mention abortion and the right to privacy) there is no guarantee that the rights I want her to uphold will even exist next year.

I just want to sum up by sharing something I found in last week's National Journal.

"She once told me that the president was the most brilliant man she had ever met." So reports conservative writer and former Bush speechwriter David Frum, in National Review Online. Unless White House Counsel Harriet Miers explains that she was joking or Frum was hallucinating, this alone may cast enough doubt on her judgment to warrant a "no" vote on her Supreme Court nomination.