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Finally, the Senate Takes On Climate Change

May 29, 2008 - by Donny Shaw

In case you hadn't heard, when the Senate reconvenes next week, they'll be taking up a bill that, for the first time ever, would mandate economy-wide reductions in greenhouse gas emissions. Though historic, the bill, known as the Lieberman-Warner Climate Security Act, is basically dead on arrival. It may no have enough of support to pass the Senate, and even if it does, President Bush has threatened to veto it. Nonetheless, it will establish a precedent for next year's Congress to start their own climate change negotiations from.

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Hayes on Lessig

May 29, 2008 - by Donny Shaw

In that latest issue of The Nation, Christopher Hayes has a great profile of Lawrence Lessig and the core ideas driving his Change Congress movement. The article outlines Lessig's unique path as he transitions from his work to reform intellectual property laws within the systems of Washington, to his work reforming Washington itself before corruption steers the system into making some very dangerous decisions. "What gives Lessig a unique credibility as he embarks on his new career as process reformer is his former life pursuing substantive reform," Hayes writes.

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20 New Web Projects to Change the World

May 28, 2008 - by Donny Shaw

David and I are in San Jose at the NetSquared conference, where we're sharing OpenCongress and some ideas for its future with a great group of people interested in using the Web for social change. In the past couple of days we've seen a lot of amazing new projects that are harnessing the Web and its democratizing potential to create positive changes and have a beneficial impact on peoples lives around the world. It's been inspiring, and we're pumped to be part of it. I wanted to share some of the links to the other projects here so you can check them out too.

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Every so often, we hear about corrupt and criminal companies that, nevertheless, continue to be awarded contracts from the government. Some members of Congress, along with non-government groups like POGO, have been working to create a public database that would list all federal contractors that have broken the law or violated federal regulations. The idea is that having this information publicly available would put some pressure on the government to better, make responsible decisions about who they award new contracts to. The House passed a bill requiring the public database last month, but now some members of the Senate are working to restrict access to the database to government officials only.

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OpenCongress is Heading to NetSquared

May 22, 2008 - by Donny Shaw

A few weeks ago, we announced that OpenCongress has been chosen as a Featured Project in this year's NetSquared conference. Next week we'll be going to San Jose, California to share some of our ideas for the future of the site, and if we are selected from among the finalists, we could receive some prize money & other support to help us put our ideas into action. We are hoping to integrate a couple of exciting new data sources into OpenCongress that we think would make finding the best information about Congress easier than ever, and we want your feedback.

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Senate to Vote on War Funding Today

May 22, 2008 - by Donny Shaw

An agreement was reached between Majority Leader Reid (D-NV) and Minority Leader McConnell (R-KY) that would provide for up to four votes related to the war supplemental. Keep in mind that each item will require 60 affirmative votes to pass. Here’s a brief and hopefully simple breakdown of the process which assumes that the votes go the way they are predicted to go.

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The New York Times today ran a profile of fashion design house Foley & Corinna that neatly illustrates the paradox plaguing a bill in Congress to extend copyright protection to fashion designs. If passed, the Design Piracy Prohibition Act would end an approximately sixty year period in which the fashion industry has existed without IP protection. But as today's article illustrates, there may be a valid and defensible reason why the industry has existed so long without protection.

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Banning Flavored Tobacco - Why Not Menthol?

May 20, 2008 - by Donny Shaw

"Some public health experts are questioning why menthol, the most widely used cigarette flavoring and the most popular cigarette choice of African-American smokers, is receiving special protection as Congress tries to regulate tobacco for the first time. The legislation, which would give the Food and Drug Administration the power to oversee tobacco products, would try to reduce smoking’s allure to young people by banning most flavored cigarettes, including clove and cinnamon."

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An Important Vote You May Have Missed

May 16, 2008 - by Donny Shaw

The House held a vote this week that crystalizes an often-discussed belief held by many Democrats: that wealthy Americans should do more to help those who are struggling. The proposal was to institute a surtax on the wealthy - 0.47 percent on any income above $500,000 earned by an individual and on income above $1 million for couples - in exchange for an expansion of education benefits for soldiers returning from Iraq and Afghanistan. Also included in the proposal was a 13-week extension of ...

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Conyers on Rove

May 16, 2008 - by Donny Shaw

I wouldn't want anyone to miss this juicy post over at the Crypt: >Just off the House floor today, the Crypt overheard House Judiciary Committee Chairman John Conyers tell two other people: “We’re closing in on Rove. Someone’s got to kick his ass.” > >Asked a few minutes later for a more official explanation, Conyers told us that Rove has a week to appear before his committee. If he doesn’t, said Conyers, “We’ll do what any self-respecting committee would do. We’d hold him in contempt. Eithe...

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Senate Votes Against Media Consolidation

May 16, 2008 - by Donny Shaw

"The Senate vote is good news for everyone who is fed up with a media system, that, in the words of Jon Stewart, is 'hurting America' with propaganda pundits, embedded journalists, horse-race election coverage, and celebrity gossip posing as news. It reflects growing awareness — in Congress and with average Americans — of the perils of concentrated media ownership. Namely, insatiable profit pressures that gut newsrooms, replace labor-intensive investigative news with salacious, cheap-to-cover stories, and encourage the dumbing-down of the most pressing issues into 30-second sound bites and partisan shout-fests."

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Farm Bill Bashing

May 15, 2008 - by Donny Shaw

Apparently the Farm Bill, which is opposed by just about anyone who has been paying attention, is actually quite popular among members of Congress. Although the bill does almost nothing to address growing concerns over the U.S. agricultural subsidies system that rewards wealthy farmers and tilts the food market in favor of cheap, unhealthy junk food, it managed to pass both the House and Senate with overwhelming, veto-proof majorities.

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Appeasing the Blue Dogs

May 13, 2008 - by Donny Shaw

As I reported last week, the Blue Dogs' hangup over the veterans' education benefits to be included in the upcoming war supplemental isn't because they don't care about veterans, but because they oppose any new programmatic spending that is not fully offset with corresponding revenue. Today, the Democratic leadership floated a proposal to pay for the veterans' benefits provision that presents Blue Dogs with a new decision to make: neglect the returning soldiers, or increase taxes on the rich? ...

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For eleven years, lawmakers' personal financial data has been public information. Now, for the first time ever, that information has been compiled and visualized on a website where you can find out just how much your member of Congress is worth. Fortune 535 has been created by the Sunlight Foundation so that people can start asking questions about how their status in Washington has affected their personal wealth over the years.

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One of the most controversial bills to have seen action so far in this sessions on Congress is getting a renewed push towards becoming law from its main proponents in the Senate. The Violent Radicalization and Homegrown Terrorism Prevention Act, which passed the House in October, was thought to be dead in the Senate after a public outpouring of opposition. Suddenly Senators Susan Collins (the bill's sponsor in the Senate) and Joe Lieberman have ramped up their case for the bill to be passed into law.

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