DownsizeDC.org
July 23, 2010
Progress Report: The Results of Our Experiment
By Jim Babka

MEDIA ALERT: Downsize DC President Jim Babka will have hour-long interviews on syndicated radio programs at 9 AM and 3 PM today, details of which have been posted at our blog since yesterday.

In this report:

* Why complexity equals boredom, and boredom equals danger
* Our Tom Sawyer experiment
* How a new tool might work better
* Good news on the One Sack project

Tom Sawyer famously got his fence painted by convincing his buddies to enjoy doing it for him. We were aiming at something similar with the experiment we conducted on Monday. But before we talk about the results, let's try to simplify some complexity . . .

* DHS will be our abbreviation for the Department of Homeland Security
* NSTIC -- pronounce it nis-tik -- will be our abbreviation for the DHS's "National Strategy for Trusted Identities in Cyberspace"
* Think of NSTIC as The Password Scheme -- DHS wants all Americans to interact with the Internet using a government provided password and log-in identity.
* Think of this Password Scheme as the Internet version of the REAL ID Act, or REAL ID for the Internet.

We think one of the main reasons The State constantly grows is because the things it does can be so mind-numbingly boring. Compose a sentence with the words "Department of Homeland Security," and "National Strategy for Trusted Identities in Cyberspace," and half your audience is already asleep. But . . .

Sleeping people are vulnerable people.


That's why, here at Downsize DC, we always groan whenever we have to deal with any issue involving the federal bureaucracy. Such issues are almost always complicated to explain, and usually involve subtle nuances and boring jargon. Even so, these issues are often the most dangerous, so the complexity must be tamed, and the populace roused to action.

Here's how the situation looked to us on Monday . . .

* We think REAL ID for the Internet is a dangerous idea.
* But it can't be defeated if the public doesn't know about it, or have time to object.
* So, our first step was to get DHS to expand the time for public comments on NSTIC from 19 days to 90 days

Here's where the Tom Sawyer fence painting idea came in . . .

We could do what we normally do, pounding on DHS directly, and on Congress indirectly using our Educate the Powerful System -- thereby painting the fence ourselves -- or, we could try to get a few members of Congress to paint our fence for us. It's a sad but true fact . . .

* Just one call to DHS by one member of Congress could be worth thousands of comments by citizens. And . . .
* Just a few phone calls by a few DC Downsizers to a few members of Congress could be enough to generate those Congressional calls to DHS -- talk about leverage!
* Plus, members of Congress should enjoy saying Yes! to this request, because it's so non-controversial -- all we want (for now) is to expand a comment period from 19 days to 90 days

So how did our Tom Sawyer experiment work? Well, we don't yet know if any member of Congress has called DHS, but we are hearing that DHS is considering the 90 day extension of the comment period. It appears we may get what we want. Even so, if that happens . . .

We think it will be because of all the comments Downsizers left on DHS website, and NOT because of DC Downsizer calls to Congress that resulted in Congressional calls to the DHS. In fact . . .

Our experiment failed to generate very many calls to Congress, though it may have succeeded in showing us how to use this tactic better in the future.

Seven DC Downsizers left comments on our blog describing the experience they had calling their members of Congress. Here are the basic issues . . .

Complexity

It was hard to explain this issue over the phone. It was equally hard for us to explain both the issue and the experiment in the Dispatch. Like I just wrote, issues involving the bureaucracy tend to be complex and rich in sleep inducing terminology. And this difficulty also magnifies another problem that call-in campaigns always have . . .

Intimidation

Many people are intimidated to make phone calls in general, and to call their Congressional representatives in particular. So, if you compound this natural intimidation with the problem of having to explain a complex issue and make a complex request, the inevitable result is that very few calls get made.

We need to change this if we want to regain control of our government!

Here's how we think that could be done . . .

* We don't need 29,000 DC Downsizers to call 435 House and 100 Senate offices and explain the issue 29,000 times
* What we need is ONE excellent explanation given to each of the 535 Congressional offices, followed by a few thousand Downsizers calling with a simpler message, like "Please call DHS and ask them to extend the NSTIC comment period to 90 days."

In other words, we need something like the following . . .

* One DC Downsizer per issue, per Congressional office to call and give that office the complex explanation of the issue, and the action we want the Rep. or Senator to take (we might call these folks "Path Lighters")
* An online software tool where the "Path Lighters" could notify all the other people in that district that their elected representative has received the explanation
* This would make the remaining task for all the other Downsizers much less intimidating -- they could just call and say something simple, like "Please contact DHS and ask them to extend the NSTIC comment period to 90 days."
* Our online software tool might also have a mechanism for recording the number of calls made, so we could begin to measure the results of our efforts

You see, this is the kind of thing we're talking about when we say we want to create new tools to make you more powerful. And doing that depends on . . .

Operation One Sack

As we mentioned a couple weeks ago, we're dramatically over-spending our usual budget, largely in a determined attempt to finish uniting all of our databases into one. When we have all our data in One Sack we'll be able to start creating new tools to make you more powerful. And I'm pleased to announce some good news . . .

Our programmer has completed the first-draft user interface that will allow us to start testing this new One Sack database. This is a major milestone! With continued progress like this we stand a good chance of completing One Sack within the next few weeks. And after that comes NEW STUFF!

But this also means that the burn rate on our money is continuing at a rapid pace. Many thanks to those who have contributed to help us through this very costly month. The response has been excellent, but we still have a way to go.

In fact, I had planned to share with you our progress, but our team was so busy with One Sack work yesterday, we weren't able to gather the updated numbers in time for this message. But we still need lots of one-time contributions, including at least one $500 investment. And monthly pledgers can help us to keep making progress in the months to come.

Jim Babka
President
DownsizeDC.org, Inc.

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