Saturday, March 27, 2010

White House

Our Semester in Washington Program group had an early morning appointment to tour the White House. So I woke up extra early to curl my hair, put on a nice outfit, and get ready. Then I realized it was pouring rain outside and I couldn't find my umbrella. Great. So I grabbed a Washington Post on the way out the building and used it as a makeshift head covering. Who says newspapers are worthless? By the time I got to the metro as pictured below, my hair was dry but the rest of my body was soaking wet...I guess that's why people use umbrellas and not newspapers. 

So after waiting an hour or so outside in the pouring rain, we finally get inside the White House. I had already taken a tour on a previous trip to DC and we also were in the East Wing for class earlier this semester, so I was itching to see something more than the same tour route of the bottom floor everyone gets taken on. I really really wanted to see the kitchen actually. 

As you walk through the different rooms (state room, library room, yellow room, etc) there's a secret serviceman in each room standing there answering question about the room and about the White House. Granted they're not always doing this kind of museum curator-esque work but when they are, it's easy to forget they're secret service. They just kind of look like security guards, standing there making sure no one touches anything. Mental note: fight the urge to refer to them as security guards. They are VERY offended by this. One of them tried to start a conversation with me so I played along and eventually it led to me asking how cool it was to just hang out in the White House all the time. He responded non-challantly saying it was just another day at work and not that great. So I said, "Well I'm sure there are worse places to be a security guard." He looked disgusted and exited the room. Oops. I tried to dig myself out of that hole but failed miserably, and then got a lecture from another secret service man on all the training they go through that makes them cooler than security guards. Lesson Learned.

Next we had an appointment to meet with someone who works in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building. There are about 30 or so people that work in the East Wing, 40 or so that work in the West Wing (the President and his personal staff mostly), and then everyone else in the executive branch, ie: the other few hundred people who serve on all the Councils, the Press staff, the interns, etc. all work in the EEOB (pictured below). 

If you go around to the other side it's actually completely under construction on the exterior because apparently it caught fire in 2007. I guess three years later they're finally getting around to fixing it? Then I walked home...yes I live that close to the White House. Sometimes I forget that. 

FIVE WEEKS LEFT! Still waiting for this "beautiful spring weather" everyone keeps promising...I'm starting to regret taking home my winter coat and shoes over spring break. 

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

A Little Bit of Everything

Dear Readers,

It's been too long. I just returned from a relaxing spring break trip back to the West Coast and realized how long it's been since I've blogged. I don't have anything necessarily profound to say tonight, or rather I have too many profound things to say and not enough time and energy to address them appropriately. So in the interest of bringing everyone up to speed on my DC excursion and falling back into the swing of regular blogging, here is an assortment of random thoughts, pictures, and links...enjoy (or stop reading now and pretend like you have a life).

Before I left DC I visited Politico...

You only have to take the metro ONE stop to get there from my campus in DC to Virginia! On the West Coast it's definitely not that easy to travel state to state. Although I must say it's a slightly awkward place to have a state welcome sign on the wall of a dingy metro stop...

My fellow USC students and I also attended a reception on the hill the week before spring break that was held by the USC Office of Federal Relations to honor President Sample. For those of you non-Trojans, our esteemed President Dr. Sample is resigning this year so it was fun to meet him before he did so, especially in DC! And as always it's great to see the Trojan network in full many alumni and trustees out here in DC! 

When I got home to Las Vegas, I got the official picture in the mail of myself and Senator Reid that a photographer took at the constituent breakfast I attended at the Capitol a few weeks ago...

I heard over break that Spring had Sprung and was expecting full well to return to sunshine and cherry trees and happiness. I was disillusioned. Apparently sunshine and warm weather is not a prerequisite for cherry trees to bloom. It's been miserably cold and rainy, so really the only difference is now I have pretty trees to look at while I walk to work/class cursing the damn east coast weather, fighting with the umbrella in the wind to not take flight. I felt like Mary Poppins today walking back from work, I had the coat, the scarf, the big tote bag full of unnecessary and random items, and an umbrella that was seemingly lifting me off the ground.

In the past I've been kind of against twitter as I saw no point in it and then this semester I started using it out of necessity. It's kind of crucial to stay in the loop with politics 24/7. Iv'e found that removing myself from the news cycle for even one day makes you feel like you've been out of the loop for months when you return. So now I follow all the major news organizations, all the MSNBC reporters I work with (always good to know what your boss is tweeting), all the political prognosticators, niche political journalists, and political fact checkers. Today I even tweeted 4 times! 

This brings me to my next random topic: usage of the word "Wonky"
I can honestly say I'd never used the word in casual conversation before coming out to DC and now I find it to be a regular tool in my vocabulary. People out here involved in the political world in one way or other take great pride in calling themselves "wonky" when they want to self-identify with an elite uber political, intellectual crowd that the average person would find boring and have trouble understanding or keeping up with. In some ways I find it demeaning when someone is talking politics with you and stops to apoligize for being "too wonky", as if I'm not politically savvy enough to understand them. Of course I attribute this sentiment to my own wonkiness as I doubt most people would find that offensive let alone have any interest in participating in these kinds of conversations. As a side note, today I found an incredibly hilarious and satirical political blog called appropriately "The Wonkette" which I liken to the Onion but for the wonky crowd. 

This brings me to my last random thought of the day...Sarah Palin. How she manages to still be politically relevant I can't figure out. And as much as I loathe her as a woman, a wannabe political figure, and a human being, I must admit: she is a damn smart celebrity. Consult the Wonkette for a snarky look at Sarah Palin's latest ventures: Getting her own Television show on the Discovery Channel about Alaska, and campaigning for her old buddy Senator McCain. 

PS: Healthcare (there I said it) 

Friday, March 12, 2010

Glenn Beck Probably Would Hate Me If He Knew Me

A special thanks to my dear friend Rachel for sharing this hilarious video with me. Worth sending around to you friends...

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

The Real Deal (Almost)

One of the classes everyone takes in the Semester in Washington program is a Practicum in Legislative Advocacy or Electoral Politics. I along with six others chose to be in the legislative advocacy practicum that would spend the semester working on a piece of legislation called the Graduation for All Act. This is a bill that was passed through the House but not the Senate, so it is our job this semester to simulate that process of passing the Graduation for All Act through the Senate. 

The first step of passing a bill through the Senate is usually to get it through the appropriate committee or sub-committee. In the case of an education bill such as ours, it would be vetted through the Senate HELP Committee (Health Education Labor and Pensions Committee). My team, along with our professor, has been preparing for a mock hearing (our midterm) that took place this week. The hearing took place in a real Senate Committee room, although it was actually the Veterans Affairs Committee room, not the HELP Committee room. It became pretty real to us when our professor showed us which chair Obama used to always sit in when he was on the Veterans Affairs Committee in his days in the Senate.

My Testimony as the State Superintendent of the Nevada Department of Education

My team's other testimonies: Dr. Wolfe's and Mr. Soto's. 

It was as authentic an experience as one could get without actually providing testimony to the Senate itself. There were three panelists who all worked in real jobs on the Hill, posing as the Chairman of the HELP Committee, the Ranking Republican member, and another committee member. After myself and my two teammates presented our initial testimonies, the panelists asked us some pretty tough questions.

The Q&A Session (split up into two parts)

A special thanks to my amazing mother, the woman whom my character was based off of (plus or minus a few titles and accolades). Through this course and exercises like these I'm beginning to realize why education reform is so important to her. If nothing else, I'm definitely getting better prepared for when she decides to run for School Board and I get to manage her campaign as promised :)

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

So Much Spin My Head's Spinning

It's late here and I should be asleep but I had to get out of bed and blog because my mind was restless thinking about some of the things a guest lecturer said in my class this evening. In the shower tonight after class (I do all my best thinking in the shower, I wish I could blog in there...someone please invent a waterproof laptop) I couldn't stop thinking about one thing this speaker said:
Perception is Reality.

Certainly not a truly novel concept, but I had never really thought about to what degree there is no absolute reality in life. I apologize in advance for the admittedly heavy nature of this blog, I'll try not to get too philosophical here on you. But this is what I realized...

So most people know what advertising and marketing is, and most educated people understand the concept of propaganda. It's no secret that people are trying to sell us things every second of every day...just look to the right of this text and you'll see ads on my blog. Anyways, it's everywhere. Some subtle like product placement, some not so subtle like that Head On commercial.

But products aren't the only things being marketed, people market other people to us as well. From agents to publicists to PR reps to political campaign teams, if you want people to think or feel a certain way about you, there is someone you can hire to accomplish that.

We are even being sold intangible objects, such as ideas and issues. Smoking is bad. The only way to prevent pregnancy is abstinence. You need to be counted in the Census. Climate Change is a liberal myth. Exercise is good for you. Jesus will save your soul. We need comprehensive healthcare reform.

How do you sort out the truths from the untruths? What's right? Who's not actually who they say they are? Is that really good for me?

There is so much spin in our world it can make your head spin to think about it. Literally everything around you, what you eat, what you're wearing, what you're doing, where you are, who you're with, how you feel about the topics I blog on, are all decisions you made either consciously or unconsciously because of how you perceived something to be based on how someone else spun it. Perception is Reality.

Sure I have strong beliefs, but I understand that at the end of the day those things are just that...MY beliefs. They are not the truth. They are also not a lie. To me they are right, to others they are wrong. And this is where politics come into play. I swear there's a reason to all this rambling.

Everyone involved in politics from the politicians themselves to the campaign teams, the legislative staffers, lobbyists, trial lawyers, consultants, federal agencies and departments, advocacy groups, coalitions, non-profits, all the way down to the media and even the voters themselves, everyone is just trying to do the same thing: and that's spin their issue, their person, their idea. Make their perception your perception and hence your reality.

The more time I spend out here in DC, the more I start to feel like politics is a game for grown ups. There is no right and wrong like there was back in kindergarten. 2+2 doesn't have to equal 4 if you can convince enough people that it really equals 5. Democrats or Republicans, liberals or conservatives, tea partiers or blue dogs, pro-lifers or pro-choicers, FOX or MSNBC...neither one is ever right and the other wrong. BUT there is always a winner and always a loser. What perception is your reality? Think about it and prepare to get dizzy.