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Bloggers 1, Smoke-Filled Room 0 447

Posted by kdawson
from the mister-can-i-have-some-pork dept.
MarkusQ writes "A few days ago a bi-partisan bill (PDF) to create a searchable on-line database of government contracts, grants, insurance, loans, financial assistance, earmarks and other such pork was put on 'secret hold' using a procedure that does not appear to be mentioned in the Constitution or in the Senate bylaws. This raised the ire of bloggers left and right and started an all out bi-partisan effort to expose the culprit by process of elimination. As it turns out it was our old friend the right honorable Senator from Alaska, Mr. 'Series of Tubes', Ted 'Bridge to Nowhere' Stevens."
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  • Ackthpt's Theorem (Score:5, Insightful)

    by ackthpt (218170) * on Wednesday August 30, 2006 @05:03PM (#16010714) Homepage Journal

    It is said: Power corrupts, while absolute power corrupts absolutely.

    My theorem: The longer any party or group remains in power the closer they come to corrupt.

    While some may draw a bead on Mr. Stevens and his 37 years in office. Remember pork is often a reward for having been loyal at some point. It's not simply Sen. Ted Stevens rolling up his sleeves for a reach into the Pork Barrel, but his reward for long, loyal service to his contemporaries. There's doubtless a bit of influence due to his seniority, but he's been a good soldier when his party has needed some. We can expect a lot of red faces when same bi-partisan muck-rakers get their hands on the online database and equally glib Senators and Representatives have to answer for decades of funny business which has passed beneath the radar in a long game of "I'll scratch your back, if you scratch mine."

    • Re:Ackthpt's Theorem (Score:5, Interesting)

      by cmburns69 (169686) on Wednesday August 30, 2006 @05:07PM (#16010755) Homepage Journal

      It is said: Power corrupts, while absolute power corrupts absolutely.

      My theorem: The longer any party or group remains in power the closer they come to corrupt.


      I agree wholeheartedly. My new policy on voting is to always vote out an incumbent, unless I've been especially happy with his performance. If the whole country did that (especially on the national level, but also on the local level), I believe we'd have a lot fewer issues with corrupt politicians.

      But then again, what to I know... I'm just a lowly working class citizen.

      • by DaveJay (133437) on Wednesday August 30, 2006 @05:16PM (#16010846)
        Quick note: in theory that might be true, but then in theory if this happened on a regular basis, everyone would concentrate EVEN MORE on getting elected, and do EVEN LESS for the people once they got in, because they'd know that re-election was unlikely if not impossible -- even if they did a good job.

        The ability to be re-elected is supposed to be a check on such behavior; it is supposed to incentivize good performance by offering an extension. Unfortunately, when the majority doesn't care enough about what's being done in office to know a person's track record, that incentive isn't worth much.
        • by MindStalker (22827) <mindstalker.gmail@com> on Wednesday August 30, 2006 @05:22PM (#16010884) Journal
          As he said, "unless I've been especially happy with his performance"
          Of course personally I'm most happy when they pass as few laws as possible, unless they are to reduce the governments power or unact some stupid law.
          • by Minwee (522556) <dcr@neverwhen.org> on Wednesday August 30, 2006 @06:28PM (#16011433) Homepage
            On the other hand, history has shown that the majority of voters are most happy when handed small bags of (their own) money shortly before election time.
            • Best said... (Score:5, Insightful)

              by Z34107 (925136) on Thursday August 31, 2006 @12:57AM (#16013423)

              Alexis de Tocqueville said it best, at the time of Our Great Country's inception:

              The American Republic will endure, until politicians realize they can bribe the people with their own money.

            • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

              by nickos (91443)
              In the UK, the Tory party used to not only reduce taxes, but also reduce interest rates before an election to reduce the mortgage repayments of middle class voters. Unfortunately (and unsurprisingly to anyone with half a clue) the British economic cycle did not match the election cycle, and over time the results were disastrous.

              Despite the fact that I despise Blair now, when he and his party came into power in 1997 they did a smart thing by passing control of interest rates to the Bank of England.
          • by Myself (57572) on Wednesday August 30, 2006 @08:29PM (#16012160) Journal
            I've been tossing around the idea that, one month every year, legislators should work on repealing stupid old laws. It'd make great press, and it might encourage public debate about progressive versus traditional values.
            • by Nefarious Wheel (628136) on Wednesday August 30, 2006 @09:38PM (#16012493) Journal
              I've been tossing around the idea that, one month every year, legislators should work on repealing stupid old laws

              Another R.A.Heinlein idea independently arrived, heh .. his idea was to form a third house of Congress whose job was simply to repeal laws.

            • by Agripa (139780) on Thursday August 31, 2006 @04:29AM (#16014062)
              Since there is no upper bound on the complexity of existing law, create one by adding an ammendment specifying that all federal laws expire after a certain amount of time. Nothing would preclude congress from passing them again but this would create pressure to work on what they believe is truely important.
            • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

              by $1uck (710826)
              I think all laws should come into effect with an expiration date that is proportional to the vote. (maybe elections should be run the same way). Someone squeaks by an election they get the shortest term possible. They have an overwhelming majority let their term lasts longer.
        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          Quick note: in theory that might be true, but then in theory if this happened on a regular basis, everyone would concentrate EVEN MORE on getting elected, and do EVEN LESS for the people once they got in, because they'd know that re-election was unlikely if not impossible -- even if they did a good job.

          Only if you exchange one ridiculous extreme for the other. There is a 98% reelection rate for incumbents, but there's no reason it has to be 2% either.
      • by ColdWetDog (752185) on Wednesday August 30, 2006 @05:19PM (#16010865) Homepage
        Ted Stevens and his counterpart in the House of Representatives, Don Young, are very popular in Alaska for the very reason everyone on Slasdot is up in arms - Pork.

        The Knick Arm bridge is seen as a shot in the arm for local developers and construction critters. Remember, pretty much the only economic engines in Alaska are Oil and Government. Nothing else but a bunch of trees, rocks and the occasional brown bear.

        So they bring in the Pork. Christ, half of Anchorage is named Ted Stevens this or Ted Stevens that. It's a GOOD thing. Really. It's representative government at its finest....

        The other way to look Mssrs. Stevens and Young is that they are pretty cheap dates. For one genuine vote in the House or Senate, you need only to bribe a couple hundred thousand people. You got the money, honey, they've got the time.

        • by SoCalChris (573049) on Wednesday August 30, 2006 @05:35PM (#16010991) Journal
          I don't know, Conrad Burns [wikipedia.org] has brought a lot of pork into Montana, and almost everyone I know here hates him, and can't wait to vote him out of office.
        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by kalirion (728907)
          Remember, pretty much the only economic engines in Alaska are Oil and Government.

          Oil seems to be rather profitable lately. Why do they need federal funds for anything?
        • by Qwavel (733416) on Wednesday August 30, 2006 @05:41PM (#16011046)
          t's a GOOD thing. Really. It's representative government at its finest....
          Ouch!

          It is sometimes said that the American political system, while good in structure, has become so beholden to money and self-interest that it is now one of the worst of the Western democracies.

          For example, you have Jesse Helmes who was prepared to inflict terrible things on people in other countries to save a few jobs or a bit of pork in his own district (eg. tobacco). The companies involved rewarded him with the money to advertise, and the voters were prepared to sacrafice many people they couldn't see in the name of their (or their neighbors) self interest.

          Now, the fact that you think this is a GOOD thing REALLY scares me.
        • by cayenne8 (626475) on Wednesday August 30, 2006 @05:42PM (#16011054) Homepage Journal
          "Ted Stevens and his counterpart in the House of Representatives, Don Young, are very popular in Alaska for the very reason everyone on Slasdot is up in arms - Pork."

          And the only way to get rid of this, is to dry up the 'well'.

          First, Let's not give the feds taxes directly!! They should have to depend fully on the states for their finances. This would not only help dry up 'pork' funds, but, might would also cut out what I find to be one of the nastiest things, having the Feds take tax dollars, then use them as blackmail over the states in order to get them to legislate laws the Feds really should have no power over. Witholding hwy funds really chaps my ass, and it is their fav. thing to do.

          Lastly, the more I hear about it, maybe we need to go back to having the Senators appointed by the state's legislature rather than general elections, that would keep them more loyal to their state's interest, rather than the national political parties' interests.

          • Lastly, the more I hear about it, maybe we need to go back to having the Senators appointed by the state's legislature rather than general elections, that would keep them more loyal to their state's interest, rather than the national political parties' interests.

            Okay now I am confused. I thought we are all agreeing that representatives from Alaska are evil PRECISELY because they are SO LOYAL to their state's interest (i.e. Bridge to Nowhere) and have no regard for nation's overall good (i.e. deficit).

            T

          • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

            by guaigean (867316)
            Lastly, the more I hear about it, maybe we need to go back to having the Senators appointed by the state's legislature rather than general elections, that would keep them more loyal to their state's interest, rather than the national political parties' interests.

            You don't get it, do you? Alaskans WANT these guys in power, so having the state legislature vote vs. the general populace won't change anything. As a small population state with vast amount of resources, the only way to have a large say is to
          • by pikakilla (775788) on Wednesday August 30, 2006 @06:23PM (#16011400)
            First, Let's not give the feds taxes directly!! They should have to depend fully on the states for their finances. This would not only help dry up 'pork' funds, but, might would also cut out what I find to be one of the nastiest things, having the Feds take tax dollars, then use them as blackmail over the states in order to get them to legislate laws the Feds really should have no power over. Witholding hwy funds really chaps my ass, and it is their fav. thing to do.

            Been tried before. It was called the Articles of Confederation. It turned out that (suprise suprise) no one would give any money to the federal government and that provided for an crippled central government. No money means no central military, which means no defense (state militias cannot compare to a central military, there just is not enough cohesion), which means, eventually, no country....

            The whole issue of states rights has been debated throughout American history as well. In fact, we had a little tussle over it in the middle of the 19th century.
            • by JimBobJoe (2758) <swiftheart@g[ ]l.com ['mai' in gap]> on Wednesday August 30, 2006 @10:31PM (#16012717)
              No money means no central military, which means no defense (state militias cannot compare to a central military, there just is not enough cohesion), which means, eventually, no country

              The US Constitution has a prohibition on funding an army for more than two years. ("Congress may tax...To raise and support armies, but no appropriation of money to that use shall be for a longer term than two years;" Article 1, Section 8.)

              The Founders had no intention of there being a permanent central military, and indeed, there really wasn't one until the latter part of the 19th century (how they get around what is clearly a pretty clear prohibition is a bit mysterious to me.) Our system of national defense was always supposed to be through the independent state militians (however, that same section does allow for Congress to set up the rules for "organizing, arming, and disciplining, the militia, and for governing such part of them as may be employed in the service of the United States" which implies a way of standardizing them for the time when they need to be combined into a federal army.)

              A navy, on the other hand, was permitted to be permanent.
              • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

                by Guppy06 (410832)
                "The US Constitution has a prohibition on funding an army for more than two years."

                Solution: budget the Army (and everything else) annually.
      • An unfortunate side effect of turning the rascals out as often as possible is that someone will take up the void. What void? you ask ... the power void. It turns out that rookie politicians need guidance, amd even if they don't actively seek it out, they are at least unusually susceptible to its influence, and when there are few experienced politicians to supply that guidance, the lobbyists step in where they see the chance.

        I still vote against incumbents and resign myself to the lobbyists having more inf
    • Re:Ackthpt's Theorem (Score:5, Interesting)

      by Lijemo (740145) on Wednesday August 30, 2006 @05:14PM (#16010828)

      It is said: Power corrupts, while absolute power corrupts absolutely.

      I would argue that a more accurate saying would be: "power attracts the corrupt. Absolute power attracts the corrupt irresistably".

      The longer any party or group remains in power the closer they come to corrupt.

      ...because that means the corrupt have had that much longer to maneuver their way into power within the party or group. Changing ruling parties/groups frequently means a lot of corrupt power-brokering ends up being wasted maneuvering to power within a group that no longer has any externally.

      Or as my great grandfather liked to say, "political parties are like old socks: if you don't change them often enough, they get so they smell"

      Having just two isn't that much better. Because "the corrupt" can do well for themselves by maneuvering to power within either one of them.

      • Re:Ackthpt's Theorem (Score:5, Informative)

        by brian.glanz (849625) on Wednesday August 30, 2006 @07:01PM (#16011649) Homepage Journal

        While this concept is, as moderated "interesting" in some respect, it has been controlled for in famous and fundamental experiments which to the contrary, strongly support that it is in fact power which corrupts. The Stanford Prison Experiment is certainly the most famous and instructive. For recent interpretations of this and related work, try consulting Zimbardo [prisonexp.org].

        I've spent a lot of time around politicans, their staff, and their active supporters, at the national level in the U.S. Most people get into politics at this level with altruistic intentions. I am political and partisan personally, but however entirely I disagree with the other side's interpretation of the world, I respect that people on the other side are involved because they truly believe they are in the right. No, I'm serious. New Members of Congress especially come in with full heads of do-gooder steam.

        It doesn't take long for most of them to compromise so much that, from the outside looking in, it would appear they have been corrupted. Some never slide all the way into vote trading, nepotistic business-as-usual, but they are in the minority and either end up as failures or highly respected successes. IOW the mainstream, beaten path in a position of power is a corrupt one.

        Most people entering any path will walk right up the middle of it, even if they are natural leaders. Newton's first law: it's not only mechanics ... and power: it corrupts; when absolute, absolutely. BG

    • by Dan Slotman (974474) on Wednesday August 30, 2006 @05:15PM (#16010831)
      We can expect a lot of red faces when same bi-partisan muck-rakers get their hands on the online database
      After the 2004 election, I have great faith in the voters' ability to ignore incompetence and corruption.
    • by Drishmung (458368) on Wednesday August 30, 2006 @05:24PM (#16010909)
      Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Lord Acton, Letter to Bishop Mandell Creighton, 1887
      cite [quotationspage.com]
    • The problem with Pork is for any given piece of pork, there's a politician whose district wants that pork. We may all think that $223 million on a bridge to nowhere is a waste of money, but Alaska voters, the guys who keep putting Stevens back in office, think it's not an altogether horrible way to work down Alaska's federal tax deficit (more money paid in federal taxes than received in federal benefits).

      In a sense, getting pork for his constituents is your representative's JOB. Would be nice if they got
      • by rgmoore (133276) <glandauer@charter.net> on Wednesday August 30, 2006 @06:00PM (#16011202) Homepage
        We may all think that $223 million on a bridge to nowhere is a waste of money, but Alaska voters, the guys who keep putting Stevens back in office, think it's not an altogether horrible way to work down Alaska's federal tax deficit (more money paid in federal taxes than received in federal benefits).

        That might be true if Alaska had a federal tax deficit, but they don't. According to The Tax Foundation [taxfoundation.org], Alaska paid a total of about $4.1 billion in federal taxes in 2004 but received about $8.4 billion in federal spending. The only state to get a higher return on its tax dollars was New Mexico ($9.2 billion out and $19.9 back). A lot of that, of course, is precisely because Alaska's Congresscritters are so good at bringing home the pork.

    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by ehrichweiss (706417)
      Power corrupts...

      Absolute power is kinda neat.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Fordiman (689627)
      That may be true, but Stevens, historically, is the undisputed King of Pork. He and his cronies (those who've helped him out in his porking) have their asses to cover.

      Why Stevens would let himself get caught like this... I'm thinking the Smoking Room just decided, in the wake of Stevens' recent political tribulations (ie, tubes, bridge, and getting second place in the 'Coot-off'), that he's lost his usefulness. They then paid an intern to talk, and the rest is news.

      When I say Smoking Room, of course, I ju
  • by Alaren (682568) on Wednesday August 30, 2006 @05:04PM (#16010728)

    Smoke-Filled Room 0

    Look, this is great, go bloggers, hurray for our side. But I've gotta say, "Smoke-Filled Room 0" is a tad optimistic. I mean, if only, right?

  • by cmburns69 (169686) on Wednesday August 30, 2006 @05:04PM (#16010731) Homepage Journal
    Mr. Stevens put the bill on hold while waiting for the Internet sent by his staff member.

    I believe he'll still be waiting when hell freezes over.

  • No Shit, Sherlock? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Kadin2048 (468275) <.slashdot.kadin. .at. .xoxy.net.> on Wednesday August 30, 2006 @05:06PM (#16010740) Homepage Journal
    How the heck did it take them that long? Were they working through the Senate in geographic order, from south to north?

    When I first heard about this thing, my immediate thought was "it's gotta be that fuckhead from Alaska. Wait -- he couldn't possibly be that stupid, could he? ... Yeah, he could." How was he not the first person they looked into?

    It's a little alarming that there might have been that many better suspects than him to investigate first. But I guess that's become the point of the Senate these days: a high-pressure hose of pork-barrel cash back to your home state. Keep the money rolling in and your head down, and you can stay there apparently forever.
    • Exactly, It's like watching the original Star Wars trilogy then being surprised when Palpatine turns out to be the sith lord in Episode III.
    • by cowscows (103644)
      Yeah, it's easy to suspect somebody, but a little harder to find the proof. At first, nobody knew who was responsible for it, and so people started questioning their congress people to find out where they stood. Sen. Stevens did not answer until pretty much everyone else had denied being responsible. Then, when it was about to get pinned on him anyways, he admitted it.

      I don't think too many people were surprised by who it ended up being, but it's still better to have it as fact than to have it as a probably
    • by MBCook (132727) <foobarsoft@foobarsoft.com> on Wednesday August 30, 2006 @05:20PM (#16010870) Homepage

      I think it's terrible too. But reading the article something else struck me.

      Doesn't it give someone entirely too much power to let a single Senator be able to block and entire bill indefinatly and anonymously? Isn't the whole point of a body like the Senate to make multiple people have to agree on something so one lone quack can't screw things up like this?

      Alaskins... PLEASE tell me you are doing something about this guy.

      • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday August 30, 2006 @05:38PM (#16011020)
        Doesn't it give someone entirely too much power to let a single Senator be able to block and entire bill indefinatly and anonymously? Isn't the whole point of a body like the Senate to make multiple people have to agree on something so one lone quack can't screw things up like this?

        The reason for these holds is that Senate rules require unanimous consent to put something to a vote. It's basically a way of saying "Some of us haven't made up our minds yet." Without such a rule, you'd could easily have Senators forcing votes on issues that the potential opposition hasn't had time to consider. Expect to hear something like this from Sen. Stevens.

        Clearly, it is being abused in this case, but I just wanted to make it clear that these rules exist for basically good reasons.
      • by Ksisanth (915235) on Wednesday August 30, 2006 @07:45PM (#16011929)
        It's a touch ironic that the secret hold [fas.org] issue was taken up back in March with the Wyden-Grassley amendment to prohibit secret holds (SA 2944 [fas.org]), which passed with a Yea-Nay vote of 84-13. It was an amendment to S.2349 [govtrack.us], Legislative Transparency and Accountability Act of 2006.
  • by American AC in Paris (230456) * on Wednesday August 30, 2006 @05:09PM (#16010771) Homepage
    Now, you may ask, why would Sen. Stevens, father of the $250,000,000 "Bridge To Nowhere" , the King of Pork himself--why would this man ever want to put a hold on a bill such as this?

    Turns out he's just concerned that this bill would cost too much of the good American taxpayers' money. [tpmmuckraker.com]

    Seriously--the man deserves his seat in Congress, if only for being able to sling such profoundly obvious bullshit with a perfectly straight face.

    • The internet is not something you just dump a bunch of goverment records on for everyone to search through. It's not a truck. Its a series of tubes.

      - Senator Stevens

  • by Dan Slotman (974474) on Wednesday August 30, 2006 @05:10PM (#16010781)
    I certainly hope it is only a matter of time before some clean politicians get voted in. Since Democrats and Republicans share blame for pork-pushing, I don't know of a solution beyond knowing about the candidates for whom you vote. Unfortunately I can't see systemic changes without an end to gerrymandering [wikipedia.org]. Incumbents are the only ones benefited, hence there is no motivation to eliminate it. It seems to me that politics in the United States is becoming more of a farce each election.
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by rgmoore (133276)

      The problem isn't one of Gerrymandering; after all, Stevens is a Senator and Senate seats can't be Gerrymandered because they cover the entire state. Besides, Gerrymandered districts should be less pork prone, since the representative in a safe district has less need to bribe voters with lavish projects than one in a competitive district.

      The real problem is that voters can easily see the benefits of porkbarrel projects ("See! We got the highway/bridge/museum/defense contract/etc. that our district wants

  • Bravo!! (Score:4, Funny)

    by $RANDOMLUSER (804576) on Wednesday August 30, 2006 @05:10PM (#16010791)
    I say we put Senator Stevens on double-secret probation.
  • My Apologies (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Ambiguous Coward (205751) on Wednesday August 30, 2006 @05:12PM (#16010806) Homepage
    As someone who was born in Alaska, raised in Alaska, got a degree in Alaska, and is now a professional in Alaska, I want to apologize on behalf of the state. Also, I'm sorry we vote Republican. There just aren't enough dense population centers to cause people to pull their heads out of their cousins' asses. :)
    • by ArsonSmith (13997)
      Yea, I guess it takes people living on top of each other to get them to stop living on top of eachother.
  • Well, (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Upaut (670171) on Wednesday August 30, 2006 @05:15PM (#16010833) Homepage Journal
    The only thing I can think of doing to remedy this situation is to move to Alaska to skew the vote, and get this guy out of office.

    The way I see it, the FreeState program has it right, but instead of choosing a decent state to begin with, they should of chosen a state with a lot of potential, but without the minds to guide it, would of been better.

    That and Alaska is just a wonder of nature...


    Maybe I should start my own project, the Technocratic Liberation Project. Where well-educated, liberal minded, science minded people can go to live in peace from terrorists that firebomb labs, states that cut funding for schools, anti-abortionists that pipebomb buildings, Federal wiretapping, and the broadband monopoly. And whats perfect is, if America gets really bad, then we can leave and become our own nation, and to retort America would half to drive into Canada... Something thy would not do....
    • Re:Well, (Score:4, Informative)

      by chill (34294) on Wednesday August 30, 2006 @05:28PM (#16010941) Journal
      The only thing I can think of doing to remedy this situation is to move to Alaska to skew the vote, and get this guy out of office.

      This will be unnecessary as Sen. Stevens is not expected to run for re-election in 2008. He is expected to retire at age 85.
  • Wha??? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by truthsearch (249536) on Wednesday August 30, 2006 @05:16PM (#16010844) Homepage Journal
    Under Senate rules, unless the senator who placed the hold decides to lift it, the bill will not be brought up for a vote.

    Any senator can anonymously hold any bill? So every Republican Senator can anonymously block any Democratic sponsored bill and vice versa? Somehow this doesn't sound right. Why, then, isn't every bill deadlocked?
    • Re:Wha??? (Score:4, Informative)

      by stinerman (812158) <nathan...stine@@@gmail...com> on Wednesday August 30, 2006 @05:24PM (#16010912) Homepage
      http://www.senate.gov/reference/glossary_term/hold .htm [senate.gov]

      Its a quid pro quo type of "good old boy" agreement among those in the majority party.
      • Looks like the floor leader doesn't have to abide by it. So maybe people should try pressuring him/her into allowing the bill to proceed? This way Stevens has to filibuster the bill if he wants to slow it down.
      • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

        "Its a quid pro quo type of "good old boy" agreement among those in the majority parties."

        There, I fixed your spelling mistake.
    • by Quantam (870027)
      Because some people act ethically? No, wait, this is congress. My bad.
    • Re:Wha??? (Score:5, Informative)

      by underwhelm (53409) <underwhelm AT gmail DOT com> on Wednesday August 30, 2006 @05:27PM (#16010937) Homepage Journal
      A hold is an implied promise to filibuster. So when a senator places a hold on the bill, the senate generally agrees to move on rather than force the issue of an ugly, inconvenient showdown. They're then traded, logrolled, and used as bargaining chips in the legislative process.

      To answer your question, it doesn't happen constantly because if it did the hold system wouldn't be an effective means of negotiations. The senate would constantly be in filibuster (if the people issuing holds follow through on their threats) and voting for cloture (to end the debate). It works because in general the senate at least wants to appear to get things done--and perhaps actually wants to get things done--and not waste a bunch of time on filibusters and attempted filibusters.
    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward
      That's not actually how it works. Individual senators are given an immense amount of power in the Constitution. Frequently, in order to get something done, all the Senators agree to wave their rights in order to accomplish a specific set of things. These are laid out in Unanimous Consent Agreements (UCs in Hill Speak). UCs are used for everything from ending debate for the day, to limiting the number of amendments allowed to a bill, to allowing a Senator's staffer to sit on the Senate Floor, to passing a bi
    • by snowwrestler (896305) on Wednesday August 30, 2006 @06:19PM (#16011354)
      First of all, any Senator can block almost any bill already, using a filibuster. So it's not like this is a new concept.

      Furthermore a "hold" is not secret to everyone; otherwise it would be pointless. The Senate leader is informed by the cloakroom that Senator so-and-so has placed a hold on Bill X. And it's rarely a "secret" within the halls of the Senate who placed the hold and why...it typically flows from dissention that is already there. Most Senators and staff can guess or find out who placed the hold. That does not mean they will share it with the public.

      The hold process is just one of many ways the Senate operates to get things done. There are finely graded degrees of escalation in a debate--necessary in a legislative body that can be stopped cold by any one person. Think of the filibuster as a nuke and you'll start to get it...there needs to be many levels of diplomatic tools below that, or shit will blow up too easily.

      The "hold" is just one of those tools--a way for a Senator to demonstrate that they are more than a little unhappy, and to slow down the process until they are satisfied. It's effective precisely because it usually is back-channel...so it avoids pointless public posturing, and allows the people to compromise out of the public eye. This is not always a bad thing...think of the difference between how people act in normal life and how they act on a reality TV show. Putting people under the microscope 100% of the time distorts their decision-making process. The Constitution doesn't require all deliberation to be open. Our system of government calls for the election of leaders, and allows us to petition them. But it is designed, on purpose, to provide some insulation for the elected leaders.
  • And apparently, the series never ends. Its like Shogun, or the Fugitive of 80es television.

    The morons who voted for that idiot should be relieved of the right to vote.
    • by mugnyte (203225)

        Sadly, Alaska is not alone in delivering boobs to elected office. However, the constitution still stands: no tests for the right to vote. Perhaps educating the populace a bit more would help.

  • by TheRaven64 (641858) on Wednesday August 30, 2006 @05:20PM (#16010872) Journal
    In his speech on the senate floor, Stevens threatened to quit Congress if the funds were removed from his state.
    It sounds like they missed an opportunity there...
  • by MarkusQ (450076) on Wednesday August 30, 2006 @05:24PM (#16010913) Journal

    The thing I like best about this story is that its part of a larger reframing of the conflict, from a red-team vs. blue-team battle where you're stuck choosing the lesser of two evils to a more clear-cut battle between We The People and those who would like to take advantage of us.

    As a life long Republican that can't stand Bush, I probably have deep ideological difference with half (or more) of the people who worked on this, but I respect not only their right to hold opinions that differ from mine, but to know where their tax dollars are going, and who doesn't want them to know.

    --MarkusQ

  • "Sen. Stevens does have a hold on the bill," said the spokesman, who would only speak on the condition he not be named.

    While I wouldn't be terribly surprised it was him, an "unnamed spokesman" shouldn't be taken at full face value.

    If it is him, then the weight of the interturbes on his shoulders will hopefully make him recant. But don't be surprised if it's not.

    TPM has/had a campaign to contact all the Senators to get responses [tpmmuckraker.com]. I don't seem him on the list of updates, but who's to say that someone that is

  • by WillAffleckUW (858324) on Wednesday August 30, 2006 @05:37PM (#16011007) Homepage Journal
    The Senator from Alaska is the primary funding assistance for the GOP candidate for the US Senate in WA State, too.

    They're trying to sneak under the radar and pretend they're moderate, but they're not.
  • by NiteShaed (315799) on Wednesday August 30, 2006 @05:37PM (#16011010)
    put on 'secret hold' using a procedure that does not appear to be mentioned in the Constitution

    Actually, it is, but it's a secret. It's printed on the back, in invisible ink, next to the map....
  • Yea for Blongers??? (Score:5, Informative)

    by DAldredge (2353) <SlashdotEmail@GMail.Com> on Wednesday August 30, 2006 @05:38PM (#16011019) Journal
    Twelve days ago, at a town meeting in Sallisaw, Oklahoma, Sen. Tom Coburn (R-OK) accused Sen. Ted Stevens (R-AK) of obstructing his porkbuster-database bill with an anonymous hold.

    That's according to an Aug. 18 article in the Fort Smith (Ark.) Times Record:

    One of the senators most criticized for his personal projects, Sen. Ted Stevens, R-Alaska, has a hold of his own on Coburn's bill to make public the spending patterns of the government. Called the Federal Funding Accountability and Transparency Act, the legislation calls for the creation of a database open to the public where citizens can track government spending.

    "He's the only senator blocking it," Coburn said of Stevens.

    Coburn's office was not available for comment this evening.

    The article has gone largely unnoticed in recent days, as hundreds of bloggers and blog-readers (at TPMm and elsewhere) have called Senate offices in an effort to determine who placed the "secret" hold on Coburn's bill. The piece does not turn up in a Nexis search, although it is in Google.

    Stevens has been the odds-on favorite since the hunt for the Holder Who Dare Not Speak His Name began.

    But did he really do it? Well, he had a motive: As the paper and others have noted, Stevens and Coburn have clashed before -- in particular over Stevens' now-legendary "bridge to nowhere." Coburn attempted (and failed) to block the $233 million boondoggle. And revenge certainly fits the senior Alaskan's m.o. "Stevens can play rough," the Seattle Times noted in June. "Despite denials from his staff, he retaliates - and doesn't mind waiting years to do so."

    Stevens' office has so far refused to comment on the hold. Ninety-five other senators have confirmed they were not responsible.
  • Ok, but.... (Score:4, Insightful)

    by crhylove (205956) <rhy@leperkhanz.com> on Wednesday August 30, 2006 @05:50PM (#16011126) Homepage Journal
    Is anybody going to actually press charges and put this guy in jail? Can we PLEASE start jailing all the politicians that are breaking the constitution left and right, STARTING with every one who voted for the patriot act?

    These people need to go to jail. How do we get them there?!?!

    rhY
  • by claydoh (90068) on Wednesday August 30, 2006 @05:59PM (#16011195)
    I just called and asked politely that Senator Stevens remove his hold on Federal Funding Accountability and Transparency Act. I encourage everyone to do the same.

    The Honorable Ted Stevens
    United States Senate
    522 Hart Senate Office Building
    Washington, D.C. 20510
    (202) 224-3004
    (202) 224-2354 FAX

  • by ntk (974) on Wednesday August 30, 2006 @06:05PM (#16011246) Homepage
    The latest version of Steven's telecom reform bill has the broadcast flag, the RIAA's audio flag, and compulsory web labelling for US adult sites. The bill is currently unpopular among some senators because there's no network neutrality provisions -- but there's a lot more in there that stinks.

    More information at the EFF [eff.org]. Please write to your senator [eff.org], and tell them to stand against Steven's bill.
  • by Greyfox (87712) on Wednesday August 30, 2006 @06:12PM (#16011297) Homepage Journal
    Linky [google.com]
  • by geekoid (135745) <dadinportland&yahoo,com> on Wednesday August 30, 2006 @06:22PM (#16011390) Homepage Journal
    double secret hold.
  • 0 to 1???? (Score:4, Funny)

    by dangitman (862676) on Wednesday August 30, 2006 @06:59PM (#16011634)
    I think that the author of this story's title may be somewhat ignorant of the real world. The "smoke filled room" contains people in power, who most of the time get anything they want, and can get away with crimes, murder, extortion - at the same time as having women throw themselves at their feet, and countless people to do their bidding, while swimming in pools of champagne.

    On the other hand, you have bloggers. The name alone says enough about their power, prestige and effectiveness.

    I'd say the scores are more like: Bloggers 1, Smoke-filled room 9,000,000,000.

  • by mabu (178417) on Wednesday August 30, 2006 @07:31PM (#16011837)
    In addition to the other dubious honors, it hasn't been mentioned that Ted Stephens was a principal architect of the Telecommunications Act of 1996 [wikipedia.org] which paved the way for the insane consolidation of news, network, print and radio communication companies [bsalert.com]. The eradication of the Fairness Doctrine and the 1996 Telco Act are to blame for the sorry state of affairs with mainstream media right now, and why things will not get any better until those two laws are corrected.
  • by Bushido Hacks (788211) on Wednesday August 30, 2006 @08:57PM (#16012294) Homepage Journal
    The NCTA sent out a message this evening stating that Net Neutraility is "bad for consumers". They expect us to believe that Google and Yahoo are the bad guys. That Silicon Valley is home to "multimillion dollar internet companies" [ncta.com]. How about a REALITY CHECK. Here's all the information from the NCTA [ncta.com] that is demonizing Google.
    What does "network neutrality" mean?
    That answer is difficult because each stakeholder assigns it a different meaning. Cable's viewpoint is that network neutrality means that consumers should be allowed to access any lawful content, application or services available over the public Internet as well as attach devices that do not cause harm to the network.
    This coming from an industry that calls computer hacking a crime, but does not mind if the people at Comcast or Adelphia abandon their customers or when Time Warner Cable blocks out TV networks distributed by Disney. If it were up to me, I would let the people in Silicon Valley be in charge of the Internet, because they actually know how the internet works.

    The NCTA does not want Net Neutrality, not because they want to abondon their customers, it is because they don't want to maintain or upgrade their equipment. They are in the business of cutting costs at the consumer level while the men in the smoke filled rooms make a profit. The Cable Industry had me on their side when they were opposed to the phone companies monopolizing competition. Now they have become the phone companies. They are now sending messages to their customers telling them that customers will lose service if they do not oppose net neutrality. What are they going to do next? Tell us to vote Republican or we loose HBO?

    AT&T is already cutting back services on DSL customers while their security is compromized. Yet, immediately following the news story about how 19,000 IDs were compromized on the AM radio, there is a commerical for AT&T promoting an offer!

    The NCTA, the major Telecoms, and Mr. Stevens do not know the the consequences of their actions. They don't listen to Boole, Babbage, or Tesla, they listen to Washing, Lincoln, Hamlton, Jackson, Grant, and Franklin.

    It is this ideology that only capitalism should be the deciding factor of any technological or scientific decision that will create significant anarchy if Net Neutrality is disregaurded.

    After all these year, the facade that "Cable Cares" or "Cable is a community leader that does good things" has just eroded!

    Contact the National Cable & Telecommunications Association at (202) 775-3550 and tell them that threatening us with bad service is no way to run an industry.

    Then give Senator Ted Stevens a call (202) 224-3004

"In matters of principle, stand like a rock; in matters of taste, swim with the current." -- Thomas Jefferson

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