"What little firsthand experience I've had with politics I've found revolting, but writing about it is great," says Eric Pfeiffer, who served as sixth grade representative for his middle school class. In "The Budget-Cutters Who Couldn't Stop Spending" (page 38), Pfeiffer, now a national reporter for The Washington Times, profiles the Republican Study Committee, a group that theoretically exists to promote fiscally conservative ideas within the House Republican caucus. As Pfeiffer soon learned, most of its members have failed to live up to the group's stated principles. Pfeiffer started writing about politicians "just to have a job in journalism," but was soon "deeply disturbed to learn I'm actually really into following politics."

Shira Toeplitz is a staff writer for The Hotline, a daily news service published by the National Journal. A Pittsburgh native, she was already familiar with the Pennsylvania political landscape when she set out to chronicle the rise of ("Throwing the Bums Out," page 30). When the state legislature voted to raise its own pay in literally the middle of the night, the site, launched for just $182.47, reacted with a grassroots campaign that has helped turn 47 lawmakers out of the statehouse. Toeplitz spent more than $187.47 on her new iPod, but she says PA CleanSweep was clearly the better buy: Her iPod probably won't last the year, but "incumbents serve at least two years before they're up for re-election."

Neille Ilel stopped in New Orleans during a cross-country drive a few months after Hurricane Katrina. "It was hard to leave, which is weird," she says, "because it's such a disaster area. But there was just so much going on." Ilel has a soft spot for anarchists, including those she describes in "A Healthy Dose of Anarchy" (page 48), her dispatch from their non-traditional relief efforts after the storm. "I have this image of an anarchist in my mind: They're angry, and throwing rocks, and goth," she says. "But these kids were really good-hearted and they really wanted to help people."