Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Well, the results of my cynical little experiment in representative gov't are in. I have to give Obama's office some kudos for this. They not only recognized I had sent them two emails, one about pork and one about pets, and answered them both in one reply, they even managed to put together an impressively coherent, detailed, and cogent response that I would have no way of knowing was composed from form letters unless I had seen those letters before. They even express some concern about "pork" (although more specific cuts would have shown a bit more sincerity). It almost gives me faith in gov't again.

Here's the letter:
Dear Dave:

Thank you for your two emails regarding responsible spending for Hurricane Katrina relief and your concerns about pet rescue operations in the Gulf Coast. I appreciate hearing from you on both of these issues, and I will address both of these issues in this reply.

I share your commitment to ensuring that this massive undertaking will be executed responsibly. As you know, Congress has already responded to the crisis in the Gulf region by passing the two largest disaster relief bills in American history, and more assistance will be needed. Additional legislation is currently developing. The costs of Katrina now total $62 billion and are expected to increase dramatically. I share your belief that these measures should be passed without "pork" attached for pet projects or other unnecessary expenditures. I also agree that Congress should search for methods of paying for relief and rebuilding projects that do not jeopardize other priorities such as health care and education. And ideas similar to yours should be on the table for consideration. This effort will undoubtedly compel us to review our spending habits and the budgetary decisions we have already made.

Because I know many Americans share my skepticism about FEMA’s ability to manage such an enormous effort, I have joined with my colleague, Senator Tom Coburn (R.,OK), in introducing legislation (S. 1700) that would establish a Chief Financial Officer (CFO) to oversee Katrina reconstruction expenditures. Under my bill the CFO must be confirmed by the Senate, and will report expenditures monthly. Those reports will then be reviewed by the Government Accounting Office (GAO) and made publicly available. This legislation has passed the Senate Committee on Homeland Security unanimously and will be sent to the Senate floor for debate and a vote on final passage.

I know this tragedy has weighed heavily on the hearts of all Americans. And while we face one of the greatest reconstruction challenges in American history, the compassion I have seen flow to the Gulf Coast from all over the nation gives me confidence that we will pass this great test and help rebuild the lives of those who have lost so much. I hope that members of both chambers of Congress, as they have thus far, would see the importance of passing these relief bills without hampering them with unnecessary projects.

I also received your email about missing pets in the Gulf Coast. Among the many difficult and heartwrenching aspects of this tragedy has been the lack of resources to rescue and care for those animals left behind by evacuees who were unable to take them on evacuation transports. Fortunately, as news spread about the plight of these animals, several groups volunteered to travel into that dangerous environment to help rescue them.

As soon as the resources were available, the United States Navy and National Guard began searching for and rescuing these pets in New Orleans and elsewhere in the Gulf Coast. The U.S.S. Tortuga moored near New Orleans, and the Tortuga's repair division began a search and rescue mission for abandoned pets. The crew members set up "Camp Milo and Otis," a makeshift kennel where medical care and shelter was provided for dogs, cats and other displaced animals from the city. The Department of Homeland Security also assisted by deploying Veterinary Medical Assistance Teams to provide medical care to pets and livestock, as well as provide any needed veterinary medical care for dogs involved in the rescue effort. And only days after the storm, SPCAs, Humane Societies and other pet welfare organizations from across the country joined the United States Navy and National Guard in attempting to rescue stray animals. Several thousand pets were rescued and sheltered around the state by late last week.

Individual citizens have helped with this effort as well. I was particularly heartened by stories like one in Grand Rapids, Michigan, where an anonymous donor helped relocate 175 displaced dogs and cats. While it is tragic that so many pets remain left behind, that is yet another example of how humanity can shine through any disaster.

Thank you again for writing.


Barack Obama
United States Senator
Now, the above borrows entire paragraphs from the other form letter. But, otoh, that's an efficient use of valuable prose-writing time and they took the time to plausibly fake writing a real letter. That's better than I expected.

I haven't received a reply from my Rep yet, but that's because I mis-typed the email address by accident, and I haven't gotten around to re-sending it yet, which I think probably tends to prove Dogbert's assertion that ignorance is the most powerful force in the world, followed by apathy.


Blogger BenJCarter said...

I wonder how many letters they've had to answer. It may be a cut and paste, but I'll bet it was a human doing it. Can't say I have a beef with his message either.

Thanks for posting this.

7:43 PM  
Blogger jj mollo said...

Greed comes close, but given what Katrina has taught us, I'm sure you're right about ignorance.

7:51 PM  
Blogger BurbankErnie said...

Dogbert needs his own Blog.

Jujst saying.

11:12 PM  
Blogger AST said...

I've gotten letters back from my Senators before that certainly demonstrated that someone had read my concerns and responded to them. That's what a good staff does.

What I'd like to know is whether you mentioned that you're a blogger and gave the name of the blog?

I wonder if politicians run a Technorati check on correspondents or treat bloggers differently from others.

Obama's response shows that he's got some sense and understands that constituent services are important. Whether he'll really work to remove pork will be very difficult to determine, even from his voting record. Congress is so skilled and hiding pork in unrelated bills, it provides them nearly complete cover for any particular item.

12:06 AM  
Blogger TallDave said...


Didn't mention anything not in the emails I sent.

5:04 AM  
Blogger Paul said...

Because of my libertarian leanings I am naturally cynical when it comes to politicians. But, incentives trump cynicism, and I have always believed that politicians - congressmen in particular - do take written letters and phone calls seriously. Because of their sense of civic pride and sincere wishes to dutifully serve the public?


It's all about incentives, and politicians (or at least their strategists/advisors) realize that every concerned citizen letter received is an accurate representation of some sect of their constituency. They probably discount to an extent some of the organized and obvious letter writing campaigns, but your letter was clearly personalized, so you really do represent X number of votes for Obama.

As an aside one of the funniest things I heard last election season was (I think it was Al Sharpton) referring to Barrack Obama as "Obama Barracka!"

11:01 AM  
Blogger Denise said...

In case you wish to return to a more cynical interpretation (although I also thought that it was a nice response to your concerns), since Sen. Obama is new to office, his legislative correspondents, who have the task of replying to the mountains of letters a senator gets, have not yet become jaundiced and are still sincerely trying to do a good job in their replies to constituents. Give 'em a couple of years...

7:52 AM  

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