In the summer of 2007 free-culture guru

Lawrence Lessig

announced he’d be undertaking a project focusing his academic work and activism on understanding and fighting corruption. He founded

to help create an online grassroots constituency for the kinds of pro-democracy reforms that would reduce the influence of big money on legislative outcomes (see “Mr. Lessig Goes to Washington,” June 16, 2008). But while Change Congress slowly built an e-mail list and raised money, its first year was relatively low-key, at least partly because of an amorphous mission and an overly broad set of objectives.

But in preparation for the 111th Congress, the group has doubled its staff from two to four, bringing in

Stephanie Taylor


Adam Green

, two veterans of

. It has also focused its operation on bipartisan clean elections bills that will be reintroduced in the House and Senate this term. The Senate version, co-sponsored by

Dick Durbin


Arlen Specter


would provide public funding for Congressional elections, paid for by a broadcasting fee.

And as this issue went to press, Lessig (who recently moved from Stanford to Harvard) was scheduled to appear on

The Colbert Report

to announce Change Congress’s most ambitious campaign yet: a donor strike. Lessig is urging supporters to pledge not to donate any money to politicians who have not signed on as co-sponsors of the pubic-financing bills. “You can help your democracy and do your civic duty by giving nothing,” says interim CEO Green, “which is a perfect message for this economy.”   CHRISTOPHER HAYES


On January 21

Howard Dean

will step down as chair of the

Democratic National Committee

and Virginia Governor

Tim Kaine

will step up. An early endorser of Barack Obama and a prominent campaign surrogate, Kaine was once on the shortlist for veep. He’s a safe pick to lead the DNC, though he’s not without controversy. Kaine angered progressives in Virginia by supporting coal-fired power plants, repealing the estate tax and opposing stem-cell research and a woman’s right to choose. He didn’t want the DNC job in the first place and won’t take over full time until he leaves the governor’s mansion in January 2010, raising questions about the passion and attentiveness he will bring to the position.

That said, Virginia Democrats thrived under Kaine, picking up two US Senate seats, flipping the State Senate, adding seats in the House of Delegates and turning the state blue for Obama. Kaine saw firsthand the value of Dean’s fifty-state strategy, which poured money into his gubernatorial election in 2005 and made Virginia a pilot state. He should therefore be predisposed to renew the fifty-state strategy; the DNC’s contracts with nearly 200 field organizers expired after the election.

While Kaine tends to his business as governor, the real work at the DNC will be undertaken by new executive director

Jennifer O’Malley Dillon

, a top field operative for Obama who previously ran Iowa for

John Edwards

. The Atlantic‘s

Marc Ambiner

predicts that under Dillon, the DNC “will significantly expand its campaign organizing capacity and probably its staff,” resulting in “Dean’s 50 state strategy on steroids.” Let’s hope so. For now, Kaine’s selection doesn’t tell us a whole lot about what Obama has planned for the party.   ARI BERMAN


Throughout Israel’s pummeling of Gaza, live coverage of the war hasn’t made it into most American living rooms. That’s because Israel hasn’t allowed journalists to enter Gaza. Hundreds of foreign reporters have been restricted to showing plumes of smoke rising in the distance inside the Palestinian territory. The media blockade is an attempt by Israeli officials to control the story, denying, for example, a humanitarian disaster without letting journalists see for themselves. The major exception has been

Al Jazeera,

already inside Gaza before the attack.

The Qatari network is unavailable in all but a few locations on American TV. But Al Jazeera–which runs one of the three largest English-language news channels in the world–has been taking some 140 million English- and Arabic-speaking viewers to the Al Shifa hospital, the largest in Gaza. There, electricity comes from generators, keeping the lights on while 75 percent of the Strip has no electricity. Inside, international doctors tell Al Jazeera correspondents

Ayman Mohyaldin


Sherine Tadros

that there aren’t enough medical supplies. Civilians lying on bloody hospital beds report that their lives are being crippled not only by bombs falling on their houses but by the lack of water and food for the people cowering inside them. Throughout the day on the network, we see one child’s pale face after another; children account for at least 25 percent of the dead inside the hospital. On January 6, Al Jazeera interviewed a father sitting next to his two children with bullet holes in their chests. Weeping over them, he said Israeli soldiers put them there.   SHANE BAUER


Forget the Kennedys, the Clintons and even SNL‘s

Al Franken

. All eyes are on formerly little-known Illinois politician

Roland Burris

, who was appointed by ethically challenged Governor

Rod Blagojevich

to fill Obama’s Senate seat. Burris’s Washington journey was unceremoniously halted by the Secretary of the Senate, who refused to seat Burris because his paperwork wasn’t in order. But the rejection wasn’t a matter of bureaucratic tidiness; it was a point of political pride for Senate leader

Harry Reid

, who had said there was no way the Senate would seat any Blagojevich appointee. As we go to press, it looks like Burris has beaten Reid. After Obama spoke kindly about Burris and Senator

Dianne Feinstein

reversed course, Reid met with Burris to work out an arrangement.

Whatever the outcome of this drama,

Open Left


Chris Bowers

put it best when he asked, “I mean, really, this is the issue where Senate Democrats decide to stand up for themselves?” As Bowers notes, Senate Dems have caved for years on issues like torture and spying–why the sudden constitutional spine now? In the months ahead, the Senate will be the key front for legislation on the stimulus package and

Employee Free Choice

, which could face filibustering from Republicans. Let’s hope Senate Dems remember their resolve when it counts.