Secrecy in Congress
Congressional Quarterly has an important cover story about secrecy in Congress. Obama promised to make his administration more transparent, especially when it comes to earmarks. I'm not sure exactly what power the president has to tell congress how to run the earmarks process, but I applaud the sentiment. Obviously, the executive branch has a lot of work to do on transparency, too.
The CQ story explains that, too often, access to nominally public events is limited to an elite cadre of insiders:
For a very funny primer on how Congress works, check out Matt Taibbi's latest book, The Great Derangement. The book is better known for the stories about infiltrating a mega-church and enduring the wrath of the 9/11 truth movement. But Taibbi's account of covering Congress for Rolling Stone one of the best parts of the book.
Most of what Congress does in the open is trivial, like naming post offices and congratulating local sports teams. Taibbi has a hilarious anecdote about three congressmen waxing eloquent in a bipartisan effort to explain why the United States of America should name a post office after some sex symbol of their youth--Ava Gardner, I think. Taibbi wonders what average American tourists would think of their democracy if they witnessed this shameless fan service on the floor of Congress.
Taibbi also tells the story of the "emergency" session held to gut the Clean Air Act after Hurricane Katrina in the name of reducing gas prices to help people suffering on the Gulf Coast. Everyone in the room knew that the measures up for discussion would benefit refineries that couldn't start producing more fuel for years and wouldn't want to do so anyway because scarcity was profitable.