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Senate Approves Ethics Reforms

Friday, August 03, 2007

I certainly hope that there weren't any Senators that didn't vote for this ethics and lobbying reform. Although this bill does not go far enough to curtail the soft money in Washington, it is as least a step in the right direction. The sooner we can get corporate money out of our politics, the sooner we can have our democracy back. Am I going to be a cynical Cecil and say this isn't possible? No, I'm not. It is certainly going to be difficult, but it is not impossible. We have to elect candidates to the House and Senate who have taken a pledge not to accept any donations from corporate donors, or to not accept the gifts of lobbyists in Washington once elected. This will not only put the lobbyists out a job, but it will put the corporations back where they belong. The following article come from the New York Times.

The following is a list of Senators who voted no on the legislation.
Nay : 14 Members
Jon Kyl (R-AZ)
John McCain (R-AZ)
Larry Craig (R-ID)
Mike Crapo (R-ID)
Thad Cochran (R-MS)
Trent Lott (R-MS)
Richard Burr (R-NC)
John Ensign (R-NV)
Tom Coburn (R-OK)
James Inhofe (R-OK)
Jim DeMint (R-SC)
Lindsey Graham (R-SC)
John Cornyn (R-TX)
Robert Bennett (R-UT)

Not Voting : Members
Norm Coleman (R-MN)
Amy Klobuchar (D-MN)

August 3, 2007

Congress Backs Tighter Rules on Lobbying


WASHINGTON, Aug. 2 — The Senate gave final approval Thursday to a far-reaching package of new ethics and lobbying rules, with an overwhelming majority of Republicans and Democrat agreeing to improve policing of the relationship between lawmakers and lobbyists.

If President Bush signs the bill into law, members of Congress would face a battery of new restrictions. The legislation, approved by the Senate on a vote of 83 to 14, calls for bans on gifts, meals and travel paid for by lobbyists and makes it more difficult for lawmakers to capitalize quickly on their connections when joining the private sector.

The measure, which grew out of scandals that have tarnished the image of Congress, represents a cultural shift in the traditions of Capitol Hill. While proponents hailed the measure as the most significant reform since Watergate, open questions remained on how some provisions would be enforced and whether the measure would change lawmakers’ ability to secure pet projects known as earmarks.

Still, the legislation does require greater disclosure about how the projects are chosen, with an effort to shed light on backroom dealing at the root of scandals that landed four lawmakers in jail and contributed to Republicans losing control of Congress last year. The bill also requires lawmakers to disclose the names of lobbyists who raise $15,000 in contributions in a six-month period through the bundling of donations.

The measure also abolishes the practice of discounted rides on private planes, requiring senators as well as candidates for the Senate or the White House to pay full charter rates for trips. House members would be barred from accepting free trips on private planes.

“Regardless of how reforms might impact us, our priority must be to convince our constituents that we are here to advocate their best interests, not those of well-connected lobbyists,” said Senator Russ Feingold, Democrat of Wisconsin. “Ethical conduct in government should be more than an aspiration. It should be a requirement.”

The legislation brings a close — for the moment, anyway — to quarreling among Democrats and Republicans over charges of corruption. The debate came amid a widening corruption investigation involving Senator Ted Stevens of Alaska, the longest-serving Republican, and only weeks after Senator David Vitter, a Louisiana Republican, was linked to a prostitution scandal. Both senators voted for the bill.

Senator John McCain, an Arizona Republican and longtime advocate of ethics overhaul, opposed the legislation, saying it did far too little.

“This will continue the earmarking and pork-barrel projects,” Mr. McCain said. “We are passing up a great opportunity and again the American people will have been deceived.”

For a special project to be approved, lawmakers would be required to publicize their plans 48 hours before the Senate votes on them. The projects could not directly benefit the member of Congress or a family member. One loophole, though, allows lawmakers to say such disclosure is not “technically feasible” or the majority leader could waive the provision.

Senator Jim DeMint, Republican of South Carolina, said the earmarks had “turned Congress into a giant favor factory for special interests.”

“This bill is actually worse than doing nothing,” Mr. DeMint said of the legislation approved by the House on Tuesday and by the Senate on Thursday, “because it preserves business as usual and fools people into thinking that things are fixed.”

Since January, when separate ethics and lobbying bills passed the House and Senate, Mr. DeMint has blocked efforts to form a conference committee to reach a compromise. So Democratic leaders, eager to make good on a promise after taking control of Congress, worked behind closed doors to develop the bill that was passed in both chambers.

Emily Lawrimore, a White House spokeswoman, said Mr. Bush did not believe the earmarking provisions were as strict as they should be.

“We are continuing to review this legislation,” Ms. Lawrimore said in an interview Thursday evening. But a veto was seen as highly unlikely, officials said, as many of the changes would be enacted through Congressional rules over which the president has no control.

Senator Barack Obama, an Illinois Democrat who was tapped by leaders to oversee ethics overhaul, said the legislation would “ensure that committees aren’t slipping in earmarks in the
dead of night.”

After overcoming resistance inside his own party, Mr. Obama pushed for a provision requiring, for the first time, disclosure by lobbyists who bundle political contributions of more than $15,000 in six months.

“My argument was that it was worth it for us to try to be aggressive on this front, particularly since we were just coming into power,” Mr. Obama said, adding that he wished the rules could be enforced by an outside group. “I do think that the public would have more confidence in the process if we had an independent enforcement mechanism.”

The legislation is designed to limit the social interaction between lobbyists and lawmakers, making it more difficult for them to get together at sporting events, parties at national political conventions and other social activities.

The bill also deprives former members of Congress who now work as lobbyists of some of the privileges that critics say give them an advantage in pushing legislation. The measure revokes floor privileges to former lawmakers who are lobbying, and denies them access to the House and Senate gyms, other exercise facilities and members-only parking.

Also tucked into the 107-page measure are several Senate procedural changes intended to curb a practice that has become more common in recent years: adding surprise, last-minute provisions to bills.

Until now, lawmakers could only challenge what they call “dead-of-night” provisions by objecting to the entire bill, an uphill battle because most members of Congress are reluctant to block major legislation on the verge of enactment over a single element. Under the bill, senators will be able to try to kill select provisions without endangering the entire bill.

Senator Dianne Feinstein, Democrat of California and chairwoman of the Rules Committee, welcomed the change, saying the former practice “has been a bane of our existence for a long time.”

The lobbying restrictions also have implications for senior Congressional staff members. The one- and two-year bans on contacts with Congressional officials also apply to the staff members earning more than 75 percent of the salary earned by lawmakers, who make about $165,200. That description prevents top aides from watering down their titles .

Of the 516 members of Congress who voted on the legislation this week, only 22 lawmakers voted against it. Still, several argued that some provisions have unintended consequences. “Does that mean I have to refuse the key to a city since cities have their own lobbyists?" said Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the Republican leader, who voted for the bill. “How about a 22-year-old staff assistant who has to wait tables to make ends meet? What happens when they wait on a lobbyist, do they have to refuse their tips?”

Copyright 2007 The New York Times Company


Global Warming Basics

For those who have a little trouble with the whole global warming things, here's a little tutorial from Environmental Defense and Yahoo! for you.

The Basics of Global Warming

Tue, 31 Jul 2007, 08:06AM

The Greenhouse Effect
The atmosphere has a natural supply of "greenhouse gases." They capture heat and keep the surface of the Earth warm enough for us to live on. Without the greenhouse effect, the planet would be an uninhabitable, frozen wasteland.

Before the Industrial Revolution, the amount of carbon dioxide (CO2) and other greenhouse gases released into the atmosphere was in a rough balance with what could be stored on Earth.

Natural emissions of heat-trapping gases matched what could be absorbed in natural sinks. For example, plants take in CO2 when they grow in spring and summer, and release it back to the atmosphere when they decay and die in fall and winter.

Too Much Greenhouse Effect

Industry took off in the mid-1700s, and people started emitting large amounts of greenhouse gases. Fossil fuels were burned more and more to run our cars, trucks, factories, planes and power plants, adding to the natural supply of greenhouse gases.

The gases -- which can stay in the atmosphere for at least fifty years and up to centuries -- are building up beyond the Earth's capacity to remove them and, in effect, creating an extra-thick heat blanket around the Earth.

The result is that the globe has heated up by about one degree Fahrenheit over the past century -- and it has heated up more intensely over the past two decades.

If one degree doesn't sound like a lot, consider this: the difference in global average temperatures between modern times and the last ice age -- when much of Canada and the northern U.S. were covered with thick ice sheets -- was only about 9 degrees Fahrenheit.

So in fact one degree is very significant -- especially since the unnatural warming will continue as long as we keep putting extra greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.

How Much Is Too Much?

Already, people have increased the amount of CO2, the chief global warming pollutant, in the atmosphere to 31 percent above pre-industrial levels.

There is more CO2 in the atmosphere now than at any time in the last 650,000 years. Studies of the Earth’s climate history show that even small changes in CO2 levels generally have come with significant shifts in the global average temperature. Scientists expect that, in the absence of effective policies to reduce greenhouse gas pollution, the global average temperature will increase another 2.0 degrees Fahrenheit to 11.5 degrees Fahrenheit by 2100.

Even if the temperature change is at the small end of the predictions, the alterations to the climate are expected to be serious: more intense storms, more pronounced droughts, coastal areas more severely eroded by rising seas.

At the high end of the predictions, the world could face abrupt, catastrophic and irreversible consequences.

The Science Is Clear

Scientists are no longer debating the basic facts of climate change. In February 2007, the thousands of scientific experts collectively known as the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) concluded that there is greater than 90 percent likelihood that people are
causing global warming. (IPCC, 2007)

These latest findings amplify what other highly respected science organizations say:

In a joint statement with 10 other National Academies of Science, the U.S. National Academy of Sciences said:

"The scientific understanding of climate change is now sufficiently clear to justify nations taking prompt action.

It is vital that all nations identify cost-effective steps that they can take now, to contribute to substantial and long-term reduction in net global greenhouse gas emissions."

-- Joint Statement of Science Academies: Global Response to Climate Change, 2005

The American Geophysical Union, a respected organization comprising over 41,000 Earth and space scientists, wrote in its position on climate change that:

"natural influences cannot explain the rapid increase in global near-surface temperatures observed during the second half of the 20th century."

Sources for The Basics of Global Warming

"Human Impacts on Climate," American Geophysical Union, December 2003.

Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). "Climate Change 2001: Working Group I: The Scientific Basis."

Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). "Climate Change 2007: The Physical Scientific Basis": Summary for Policymakers. Naomi Oreskes. Beyond the Ivory Tower: The Scientific Consensus on Climate Change. Science. 3 December 2004. Vol. 306. no. 5702, p. 1686 DOt 10.1126/science.1103618.

"Joint Science Academies’ Statement: Global Response to Climate Change," , 7 Jun 2005, (The National Academies that signed the statement are the United States, England, Germany, Japan, Russia, France, Italy, Canada, Brazil, China and India).


BMW to Manufacture a Hydrogen 7 Series

2007 BMW Hydrogen 7

Hydrogen-powered 7-series will be leased to U.S. government agencies in 2007.
Automotive evolution can be a bittersweet process: while we break out the bubbly to celebrate the latest safety, emissions controls and creature comforts, such progress seldom comes without a price, usually in the form of sterilization of our favorite cars, sometimes our favorite brands.

Two fuel systems, one 12-cylinder engine

Powering the Hydrogen 7 is a 256-hp 6.0-liter V-12 (the same engine in the 760Li makes 438 hp) with a “dual-mode drive system” that allows it to tap either its 19.5-gallon gasoline tank or a 17.6-pound liquid hydrogen tank for its juice. The driver can switch between fuel sources
via a dashboard switch; if one tank runs empty, the system will automatically switch to the other. This complex switching involves not just separate tanks, but unique delivery channels and an additional network of valves in the cylinder head. The hydrogen tank carries enough liquid hydrogen for 125 miles of squeaky-clean motoring, with the gasoline tank good for another 300 miles.

That’s all nice, but at the end of the day, we want to know if it’s still a BMW. The 7-series isn’t light to begin with and saddled with an undisclosed amount of additional weight, the V-12 is said to deliver its driver to 62 mph in a leisurely 9.5 seconds, regardless of which fuel is being used. That’s some four seconds off the pace of a 360-hp 750Li. Top speed is electronically governed at 143 mph.

Scalable technology

The regular 7-series is certainly a natural fit to anyone wanting to showcase cutting edge automotive technologies (always has been). But in this case, it literally was a good fit for the numerous hydrogen-related components that had to be installed without cramping the occupants. From what we can tell, the installation was seamless. That said, we somehow think they gave it a four-passenger layout for a reason.

The BMW spokesperson we spoke with suggested that the technology is relatively scalable for application in vehicles of other size categories, although we expect that a hydrogen-drive system in something like a Z4 might have some sort of an impact on interior space.

But does it really help the environment?

Pure hydrogen contains no carbon, so combustion produces no unburned hydrocarbons or carbon monoxide, and BMW says the engine is calibrated to avoid the production of oxides of nitrogen as well. While liquid hydrogen is the densest form of the fuel, keeping it at the required 420 degrees below zero in the on-board storage tank is expensive and difficult. Plus, getting a pound of hydrogen into its liquid form takes roughly six kilowatt hours of electricity. If that electricity comes from a coal-fired plant, it creates as much carbon dioxide as burning half a gallon of gasoline (which contains the same amount of energy as that pound of liquid hydrogen).

So it certainly isn’t the silver bullet, and it may just be an extremely expensive technology that has no positive effect on emissions. Using hydrogen in a fuel cell to produce electricity extracts far more performance from the fuel than do internal-combustion engines.

Still, the Hydrogen 7 is a sign that a green future certainly won’t be a dull future.



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