I'm pleased to announce the launch today of two new HuffPost features designed to keep the spotlight on two vital stories: the overwhelming role that lobbying is playing right now in undermining reform (of Wall Street, energy, and now health care), and on the full extent of the economic hardship caused by the ongoing downturn.
Let's start with lobbying. Along with many others, I've written extensively about how lobbying consistently waters down, guts, or out-and-out kills attempts to serve the public interest. We've connected the dots between the special money that pours into Washington and the reform-lite legislation that sputters out. We've pointed fingers, named names, and fanned the flames of outrage.
And yet the lobbyists remain as pervasive -- and even more powerful -- than ever. Just take a look at what's happening with health care. The Washington Post and TPM [via Open Secrets] this week offered up some details of the unprecedented lobbying effort aimed at undermining health care reform: $1 million a day spent on lobbying; 350 former Members of Congress and Congressional staffers hired to influence the debate, including half a dozen former staffers of Sen. Max Baucus, who remains a human roadblock to real health care reform; the hiring of bipartisan big gun arm-twisters like Bob Dole, Tom Daschle, Dick Armey, and Dick Gephardt to try to sway their former colleagues.
Stories like that tend to pop up, make our blood pressure rise, then quickly drop off the media radar until the next outrage grabs our attention. But the sporadic -- and often scattered -- nature of the media's coverage of the DC quid pro dough game is one of the reasons the special interests have been able to maintain their power. When another example of the lobbyists' power to undermine real reform hits the headlines, they just lay low until the public's focus moves on to the next hot story, and then get back to business as usual.
Which is why we have decided to launch LobbyBlog, an ongoing, consistently refreshed collection of the latest information on lobbying, lobbyists, the politicians whose arms they are twisting, and the tragic impact they are having on the kind of legislation that is passed -- or not passed -- and therefore has on the lives of millions of Americans.
LobbyBlog will be edited and served up with a heaping helping of attitude by HuffPost's Eat the Press Editor Jason Linkins. But all HuffPost editors and reporters will be contributing.
And we want you to be a big part of LobbyBlog. Send us tips (big or small), news stories you think Jason should be highlighting, outrages you want to share with the world, and leads you want our reporters to follow. We hope you will be a big part of the process and the discussion. You can connect with Jason at firstname.lastname@example.org. Here is the first installment, offering the latest on lobbying efforts on the environment, on heath care reform, and banking reform.
The other new feature is a work in progress. It's called The Real Misery Index -- and it aims to provide a more accurate gauge of what is happening in the lives of millions of Americans as a result of the ongoing economic hard times.
The original Misery Index is a formula created by economist Arthur Okun that adds the current unemployment rate to the yearly increase in the consumer price index (a measure of inflation). It's an easily digestible number that the media loves to use to give a snapshot of how well or badly the economy is doing.
Unfortunately, it's not a very useful statistic. For starters, the unemployment stat traditionally used only represents a portion of the jobless since it doesn't include part-time workers and those who have given up looking for work. Plus, the consumer price index has been criticized for under-emphasizing essential goods such as food and gas. And the original Misery Index doesn't include a whole host of economic indicators that have a huge impact on the actual misery of millions of Americans -- things like the latest numbers on people losing their homes, people losing their health care, and people going bankrupt or defaulting on their credit cards.
The rise in the cost of gas is important -- but what does it matter if you don't have a home to heat or a car to drive?
In short, we feel there is a need to create a new and improved Misery Index. The Real Misery Index.
To this end, HuffPost News Editor Marcus Baram has been consulting with economists and coming up with a better formulation that includes more accurate employment numbers and a wider range of consumer price statistics. But even this number -- though a great improvement -- does not fully capture economic reality, as it would not include foreclosures, credit card defaults, and bankruptcies.
So, starting Monday, we are going to start featuring a Real Misery Index chart that also lists the latest statistics on those other misery-causing factors. And we'd love some input from any economists, accountants, or savvy readers out there with ideas on how to make our Real Misery Index as useful as possible. Send your suggestions to email@example.com.
And beyond highlighting the numbers in the Real Misery Index, we are committed to telling the story of those being affected by the economic hard times -- to putting flesh and blood on the gloomy statistics. That's why we have one of our reporters, Arthur Delaney, dedicated to covering the Economic Impact beat.
So check out HuffPost's LobbyBlog, and send us your suggestions about our Real Misery Index. And let's keep the spotlight on both.