JB: And this gathering of data, district by district, is displayed how?
PEN: Right under the compact input form is a running display, most recent notes recorded on the top, of the results of each call. And you can also check off whether the member of Congress has committed to support the will of the people, and that is displayed too, with color coded dots and also a running percentage tally.
JB: Okay, let's take this a bit farther, PEN. This sounds really good and I know you guys have been working overtime to make this available. But, if publicity is one of the few things that actually affects our elected officials, how do THEY know that their comments are being monitored and publicized? In other words, where's the other side of the equation? We may know that they're hiding from us or promoting bad policy, but how do they know that we know?
PEN: I'll get to the long term impact in just a second, but the primary deception in the offices of members of Congress is to PRETEND that their calls are not going they way they actually are. So we instantly cut through all that. And the big payoff comes election time when we absolutely plan to make available all their histories. So for example, people will be able to see that Congressperson X voted the wrong way despite getting Y number of documented calls going the other.
JB: That makes sense. And it seems like members of Congress would become familiar with and fear the power of this tool. That's good. Let them be very afraid. I understand that despite all the secrecy regarding the TPP fast-track, you've discovered some very important and disturbing news. Or should I say, one of your citizen journalists discovered this. Please tell us more.
PEN: It's so beautiful the way it is working already, just like we dreamed it would. One of our first callers to the Senate Finance Committee, our participant advocate, Maggie, really jammed their aides and got to the truth of the matter: that there are no real, open hearings planned even for consideration of the TPP fast track proposal. At most they are going to have a couple "executive sessions" with minimal notice to the public, inadequate disclosure of what is to be discussed, and testimony only from a couple self-serving industry stooges, if any. The whole process is just a complete, honking fraud. And kudos to our valiant Maggie for nailing them down on all this. And you can read for yourself the details she uncovered at http://www.peoplelobby.org
JB: Kudos to Maggie. What's a participant advocate? Is she just a regular person who used your tool to push for the truth? And if so, I don't get how she forced the aides to reveal facts that all the powers that be want left uncovered. It's a great thing but the how is still a bit sketchy.
PEN: It's real simple. You ask them questions, and they either lie or else they don't lie. And if they lie about things you can get answers to other ways, like whether there was a notice or not, or whether documents were available or not, you can call them out on it. If people will go to the People Lobby interface they can see from her notes (click on the Senate Finance tab when you get there) exactly how Maggie, a regular person, did it. And it's a model for what any dedicated person can do in the same way. But even to make a call and demand their vote straight up, that's the new ingredient in the equation, what special interest lobbyists do all the time in the back rooms, but now we the people will do it in a publicly accessible forum.