A few times this year bloggers got
the wild hair to start talking about the potential we have to
bring more people to our government by making Congress more 2.0
It started way back in March, when Matt Stoller at Open Left
went off about
Franking Rules. Franking Rules are Congressional regulations
that limit what members of Congress can do in outreach to their
constituents. Sometimes too much outreach from a Congressional
office can be seen as “campaigning” and the Franking Rules protect
taxpayers from essentially paying for campaigns and creating an
unfair advantage for incumbents. Since I heard about them, I’ve not
stopped thinking about their implications. Well, in reality I had
been thinking about it before that back when Obama’s campaign
announced that it would make the Chief Technology Officer a
The problem in Congress is that our Franking Rules were last
updated back in 1998 before google, before mapquest and google
earth, before DailyKos, before an age when people actually had
access to information and their Representatives literally at their
fingertips. Thus they are out of step with where we are today, not
to mention the potential for the future, and it continues to grow
by leaps and bounds too quickly.
While I’ll agree that Congress’s use of technology is better
than they it used to be, there is still a huge lack of availability
for our members to use technology to create cheaper, more
connected, and more transparent relationships with their
Franking Rules state that unless you’re in the leadership you
can’t use anything outside the House/Senate firewall. So, YouTube
is technically not ok (even though most members are pushing the
envelope), no Facebook, or Myspace… nothing… (cont.)
What will it take to empower the public to understand how
government data is being used, see where tax dollars are spent, and
jump-start public participation and informed debate about public
According to David Stephenson, a leading homeland security,
e-government, and crisis management strategist, the answer lies in
transparent government, a concept often synonymous with ideas like “public data”, “Google
government”, and “using Web 2.0 apps … to allow informed debate on
policy alternatives … to find convergences, possible synergies—and
wasteful overlaps; and to allow people with particular interests
and/or expertise to contribute to issues.”
“When dealing with the general public, there do need to be
restraints in some areas, such as national defense and security,”
points out Stephenson, “Otherwise, I’d argue transparency and
really encouraging the public to become involved should become the
default, and agencies should have to prove that information
shouldn’t be released, rather than the other way around.”
While the fate of a US energy tax bill that includes renewable energy credits remained up in the air on Monday morning, the market implications of federal energy production subsidies are now more clear.
Earlier this month the US Energy Information Agency released a report looking at shifts between 1999 through 2007 for federal energy subsidies. The mechanism with the most direct market influence relates to production tax credits (PTCs). Today, the solar industry is hoping that it will benefit the same way that wind and ethanol have in the past.
Global implications of national subsidies
In all major world economies, public sector subsidies play a key role in the evolution of energy production of traditional and alternative energy sources.
And despite the rhetoric of energy independence surrounding renewable sources of energy, the reality is that energy production based on wind, solar and biofuels is globally integrated across the value chain.
The biofuels industry is a global industry built upon a complex web of financiers, seed companies, producers, refiners, distributors, and equipment manufacturers. Biofuels are also heavily subsidized in the US and Europe.
Solar and wind are no exception. The wind turbine that produces ‘domestic energy’ might have been designed or manufactured abroad. And the future growth of a California solar company is likely dependent on buying ‘foreign’ raw materials or selling units outside the United States. So a dramatic shift in subsidies inside the US, Europe and China will have ripple affect across the world.
Subsidy lessons from wind and ethanol
Subsidies use public resource to assist producers, sellers or buyers in energy specific areas. According to the EIA, the Federal Government spent an estimated $16.6 billion in energy-specific subsidies in 2007- more than than double than 1999 levels.
Spurred in large part by Barack Obama's unprecedented and extraordinarily successful new media campaign, other national politicians are quickly following suit by embracing YouTube's new dedicated channels for U.S. Senators and House Representatives.
Here's the official word from the YouTube blog:
As the 111th Congress kicks into gear, many of your elected leaders are starting their own YouTube channels. They're posting videos direct from their Washington offices, as well as clips of floor speeches and committee hearings alongside additional behind-the-scenes footage from Capitol Hill. And in conjunction with both the House and Senate, we're launching two new platforms that will help you access your Senator and Representatives' YouTube channels: The Senate Hub (youtube.com/senatehub) and The House Hub (youtube.com/househub).
Though this may not seem like something altogether world-changing considering the explosive use of YouTube, even among politicians, this transition to web content is a rather big deal for several reasons:
1. Selection of the Savvy: Just as the transition to television helped bring telegenic communicators like Kennedy to power, the transition to web video and social media will negatively impact those politicians that are slow to understand, adopt and maximize the use of new technologies. Suvival of the fittest politician will now require new media aptitude and staff atmposphere.
2. More Powerful Communities: National politicians have already figured out how to take advantage of fleets of interns (last time I visited The Hill on a video shoot Blackburn seemed to have 20+ interns at his disposal) that will work for reputation. Now imagine how that will scale online. Candidates who figure out how to build large communities of powerful supporters, idea generators and viral content drivers will have a big edge in campaigns and also in the governing process. Those that can grow the largest, most effective team (we're talking thousands of hard core supporters and interns) will first win the media wars and then the overall effectiveness wars.
Imagine a Friday drive down to a golf course in a neighboring
state, followed by a relaxing Saturday of hiking and fishing, then
spending Sunday at home relaxing with the family. While an extra
day off may not seem like much, who wouldn’t enjoy perpetual 3-day
Thanks to rising fuel prices, that’s exactly what a new State
bill in Utah proposes for thousands of government employees. In
an effort to curb air pollution and reduce state and commuter
energy costs, legislators are seriously pushing for a 4-day,
10-hour work, Monday-to-Thursday work week in place of the
traditional 5-day week.
If the bill is passed, public schools in Utah will transition to
149-day school years instead of 172, with class time extended by 65
minutes each day. But don’t worry about vital public services
because the State police, prison guards, courts, public
universities, and even state-run liquor stores will still hold
regular hours on Fridays. Likewise, hazardous spill disposal and
medicaid phone line services will not be affected by the
The idea of a four day work week isn’t new. Ever since the gas
crisis of the 1970’s the idea has been floating around to conserve
fuel costs, but only recently have people begun to get excited
about the possible switch-up now that gasoline prices are seriously
pinching travel and commuter budgets.
For example, Suffolk County and New York are already
considering the plan, so it looks as though this could be the
start of a much broader trend. (cont.)
What Happened? Responding to the US government's request that they provide plans for what they would do with government loans, the Big Three automanufacturers presented their plans. Here's an overview of what they're asking.
The Big Three automakers all describe a 'perfect storm':
- sales down 30% or so from last year due to downturn in economy - credit markets frozen so they can't offer credit to car buyers, accelerating the decrease in sales. - All in various stages of transition to new technology (smaller vehicles, electric vehicles, more fuel efficient gas engines & drive trains, etc.)
'Help us through this rough patch,' they all seem to be saying, 'and we'll help you by not tanking the economy even further.' GM is the most direct in articulating the threat. "A failure by GM will likely trigger catastrophic damage to the U.S. economy..." while Chrysler goes into detail why a bailout is preferable to bankruptcy. Ford's the most upbeat. "We note that Ford is in a different situation from our competitors, in that we believe our Company has the necessary liquidity to weather this current economic downturn – assuming that it is of limited duration."
The Energy Scanner Daily Top 5 highlights some of the best energy category scans submitted to the Future Scanner community.
Portugal’s Agucadoura commercial wave project Scan by fantasywriter
-The long-term view on wave power potential is positive. But engineers are still trying to figure out the best way forward given the diversity of ocean/tidal currents across regions in the world. Scaling standards for kinetic wave energy could be a challenge.
GridPoint grabs more attention, money
Scan by Mielle Sullivan
-The big near future disruption to electricity grids is the potent combination of ‘storage’ and ‘software’. GridPoint is a highly regarded ‘smart grid’ company worth watching. The other thing worth watching will be the calculated reaction of utility companies to the changing landscape of power generation! Big battles ahead as business models will be challenged around distributed power management. Storage and software are big disruptors!
Congress moves forward on Investment Tax Credit (ITC) for alternative energy-
Scan by Mielle Sullivan
-Emerging industries always need public sector help during early stages of development. Clean coal is getting help, deep water drilling is getting help. Alternative energy is no exception. We’re watching as the Investment Tax Credit (ITC) legislation works its way through Congress. And the world solar industry is watching to see what happens to the US tax credit extension.
On the eve of the election, the FCC approved the use of the wireless spectrum left void by the national switch to digital television (commonly referred to as “white space”) for tech company use.
“The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) today adopted a Second Report and Order (Second R&O) that establishes rules to allow new, sophisticated wireless devices to operate in broadcast television spectrum on a secondary basis at locations where that spectrum is open. (This unused TV spectrum is now commonly referred to as television “white spaces”). The rules adopted today will allow for the use of these new and innovative types of unlicensed devices in the unused spectrum to provide broadband data and other services for consumers and businesses.” – FCC Website
Google, a long proponent of developing the strong white space spectrum for wireless internet, is ecstatic. Having lead the fight to free up the white space spectrum with other partners such as Dell, Microsoft and HP, Google must be feeling like they’re on top of the world.