Bishop to Boycott Obama Commencement Speech

    South Bend is heating up over the controversy surrounding Obama and the local bishop...Read the post

    2009 College Grads: We're the Lucky Ones

    Why there is hope for the graduating Class of 2009, and how they can find work in a recession...Read the post

    Beer in Vending Machines -- What Drinking Age?

    U.S. policies on drinking age seem restrictive when examining the rest of the world...Read the post

    How The Press Can Remain Relevant

    Is it any surprise that Obama has employed a strategy to cordon journalists that is similar to previous administrations?...Read the post

    Be Afraid, Cheney Warns. Be Very Afraid.

    Just when you thought the Bush-era warnings of Armageddon around the corner were over, Cheney strikes again...Read the post

    Obama: You Wouldn't Like Me When I'm Angry...

    Obama threw down his stick, spat on the floor and growled in the face of cameras -- metaphorically... Read the post

    Obama to GOP: 'I Won, I'm The President'

    "You can't just listen to Rush Limbaugh and get things done," Obama told GOP leaders...Read the post

    Palin Seeks $11M Book Deal, but Can She Read?

    One can only imagine what Republican rising star Sarah Palin could possibly write about in her memoirs...Read the post

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Why I Can't Reduce My Carbon Footprint

Tony Romm

Posted: Apr 25th 2009 5:40PM

Filed Under: Environment, American University

Tony Romm is now a contributor for The Cram, a student news arm of the newly launched To follow his future work, click here.

It would not be Earth Day weekend without the requisite guilt: Pesky environmentalists proselytizing their cause ad nauseum, hoping to influence at least one group of complacent bystanders to evaluate their carbon footprint. Though annoying, their cause has ample merit: A recent study by the National Climate Data Center reveals that the period between January and March 2009 was the eighth hottest on record. The next three months, for that reason, are certain to pan out no differently.

So on the heels of an excessively warm Earth Day, from the couch in my excessively warm apartment in Washington D.C., I decide to question my own impact on the environment. To do so, I locate an informal quiz at, one of the "holiday's" leading advocacy groups. The verdict: I am a greedy, hoarding, inefficient waste of Earth space, living a lifestyle that, if emulated by billions, would destroy the Earth more than four times over:

I'm shocked; until now, I have no idea I'm truly wrecking the Earth, and I thus feel guilty. I subsequently consult the Web site's quiz-specific conservation guide, hoping to gain some insight into which specific behaviors contribute to my planet's downfall. What I find, however, verges on asinine.

The top tip offers me is predictable: I should replace my most common household appliances with machines or devices that are more energy efficient. Although I have not the resources to make any such purchases right now, I estimate their cost using anyway. My findings are hardly surprising. To replace the old refrigerator, washer, dryer, air conditioner and television in my apartment with the cheapest (and smallest) ENERGY STAR-compliant appliances on the market, it would cost me approximately $1,900, sans delivery and tax. This hefty sum excludes a host of other inefficient appliances that I normally use -- including my laptop and stove, for instance -- which would presumably cost me even more to replace.

(Click to read more about the quiz and what it means.)

Full Article »

So What If Texas DID Secede From The Union?

Tony Romm

Posted: Apr 23rd 2009 7:26PM

Tony Romm is now a contributor for The Cram, a student news arm of the newly launched To follow his future work, click here.

The blogosphere is still rumbling this week after a suggestion by Texas Governor Rick Perry that the (now literally) Lone Star state secede from the embattled union. It does not help, of course, that a poll released on Thursday by Research2000 merely confirms the unfortunate truth that Perry's comments may have resonated among some Texans: In the survey, nearly 35 percent of respondents, mostly Republicans, indicated they felt Texas would be better off as an "independent nation."

It would be naive to take these findings seriously; gauging public opinion on any topic is difficult and daunting, especially when the questions themselves are indulgent and practically invite silliness. It is likely that many of the survey's respondents answered only out of jest, submitting to Perry's gaffe without the slightest contemplation of what secession would actually mean for their state, personal or geographic.

But that hasn't stopped a plethora of pundits from jokingly hypothesizing on their behalf. Earlier this week, Daily Kos noted a few drawbacks to Texan secession: the loss of its coveted military bases, exorbitant NASA funding and most of its dirty industry. Preceding that prediction was Nate Silver, who reminded politicos at FiveThirtyEight that an America without Texas would have catapulted the Democrats to a filibuster-proof supermajority in Congress -- even without Al Franken's help -- and ensured that not another Bush family member could have won the White House in 2004.

Indeed, we can attribute to Texas' departure a number of interesting benefits (that only those wary voters who stuck out the economy's apoplexy could reap). For example...


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Mapping the Gay Marriage Debate

Tony Romm

Posted: Apr 7th 2009 9:20PM

Filed Under: Politics, News, American University

First Iowa, then Vermont -- two states, in less than two weeks, have conferred marriage rights to same-sex couples. In the nation's capitol, meanwhile, the D.C. Council has approved a measure that would recognize gay marriages performed out of state -- a decision that, while unanimous, is still subject to a final vote and Congressional approval.

In 29 other states, however, constitutional bans still prohibit in-state gay marriage, fail to recognize out-of-state gay marriage contracts, or bestow no domestic partnership benefits upon same-sex couples.

The following map outlines those states in which gay marriage-related laws have been passed:

View Larger Map (Please note that due to the size of the window, Alaska and Hawaii were omitted. Both states have banned gay marriage)

How to use: Click on each state to read any applicable information, or click on the map to open a larger window.

Green - State performs gay marriages
Yellow - State performs civil unions
Blue - State endows same-sex couples with domestic partnership rights
Red - State bans gay marriage
Pink - State recognizes out-of-state gay marriages and/or civil unions


Full Article »


"House" Star Leaves Show for White House

Tony Romm

Posted: Apr 7th 2009 11:48AM

Filed Under: Politics, Odd News, American University

From Entertainment Weekly's Michael Ausiello comes news that last night's plot twist on House -- Kutner's (Kal Penn) seemingly unprovoked suicide -- was hardly the result of cast infighting or creative conflicts.

Rather, as the EW blogger unveiled during an interview published this morning, Kutner's death was purely... political?

"Yes. I was incredibly honored a couple of months ago to get the opportunity to go work in the White House," said Penn, still famous for his role in the "Harold and Kumar" films. "I got to know the President and some of the staff during the campaign and had expressed interest in working there, so I'm going to be the associate director in the White House office of public liaison." [sic]

Specifically, Penn will reprise his role as an Obama spokesperson and coordinate the administration's outreach efforts with the "Asian-American and arts communities," the Chicago Sun-Times reported on Tuesday. He'll serve directly under Valerie Jarrett, chief of the Office of Public Liaison.

Penn, however, gave no indication of when he will officially assume his new position -- and, most important to the Hollywood types, whether it signifies an end to his acting career.

Full Article »



Alaskan Republicans Ask for Begich's Resignation

Tony Romm

Posted: Apr 3rd 2009 11:49AM

Filed Under: US Elections, Politics, American University

Now that federal prosecutors have abandoned their ethics case against embattled Sen. Ted Stevens, R-Alaska, the state's leading Republicans have asked Stevens' successor, Democratic Sen. Mark Begich, to defend his seat in a special election.

The latest round of Alaskan political boondoggling began earlier this week when the state's GOP chair, Randy Ruedrich, publicly attributed Begich's close, 3,700-vote victory over Stevens last November to "a few thousand Alaskans [who] thought that Senator Stevens was guilty of seven felonies." Gov. Sarah Palin then echoed that assertion in a separate interview on Thursday, telling the Anchorage Daily News, "Alaskans deserve to have a fair election not tainted by some announcement that one of the candidates was convicted fairly of seven felonies, when in fact it wasn't a fair conviction."

To Ruedrich and Palin, the ideal redress would be a prompt do-over, triggered by Begich's resignation. The vacancy would then permit Stevens, who was indicted in July for failing to disclose gifts he received while in office, to attempt a new campaign without the looming threat of legal action.

Full Article »

The 3 Most Awkward Recession Stories

Tony Romm

Posted: Mar 31st 2009 8:32PM

Filed Under: Media, The Economy, American University

It is hardly a secret that journalists relish crises of all flavors. Distress, economic or otherwise, satiates our inner-most desires to break important news. Occasionally this excitement verges on nauseating.

If that general prognosis immediately conjures images of economic recession stories gone sour, you're probably not alone. In the months that have followed the controversial Troubled Asset Relief Program, journalists have penned countless stories -- some veritably profound and insightful, many alarmingly pathetic and unsound. Here's a sampling of the best of the worst:

1. Recession Sex!

The St. Louis Post-Dispatch posed a question for the ages last Friday -- does the chilly economy heat up the boring bedroom? Presumably, the author augurs, "People are spending less, especially on entertainment and restaurants. They're staying in and looking for cheaper ways to have fun." And because the sex industry has also suffered -- brothels in Nevada are now attributing their staggering losses to the recession, while the pornography industry has all but lost its clientele -- married men and women are hedging their wedding stock options (err, vows) and finally enjoying themselves. The result, experts allege, has been a manifest (yet unmeasurable) increase in relationship success rates. However, if recession sex is anything like its cacophonous predecessor terror sex, the fun won't last long. Case in point...

2. Recession vasectomies!

"In troubled times, vasectomies snip and prosper" -- or so says CNN, which published the story on Tuesday. According to writer Madison Park, a number of males recently left unemployed by the recession (and thus, without health benefits) have sought the "symbolic snip" as the ultimate contraceptive. Some clinics, including one profiled in the CNN article, have even tried to capitalize on this trend with creative gimmicks like "Vas-Madness" -- an awe-inspiring combination of the male community's fear of pregnancy with the popular NCAA Men's Basketball tournament. "[Patients] would love to have a procedure, go home and sit there when you've got all-day programming, watch basketball," the mastermind doctor told CNN. True, you may not be able to afford a television on which to watch those games, but...

Full Article »


Did The NYT Kill A Story Linking Obama to ACORN?

Tony Romm

Posted: Mar 30th 2009 8:53PM

Filed Under: Politics, Featured Stories, American University

WASHINGTON -- Did The New York Times wrongly spike a story that would have implicated then-candidate Barack Obama in the ACORN controversy? So testified Heather S. Heidelbaugh, a lawyer representing Republicans in an ACORN lawsuit, during an overlooked House Judiciary subcommittee hearing last week.

According to Heidelbaugh's prepared remarks, NYT beat reporter Stephanie Strom submitted to her editors in late October a story that alleged Obama offered the Association of Community Organizers for Reform Now, better known as ACORN, a list of its "maxed-out donors" for their get-out-the-vote fundraising operations. The primary source in the piece was Anita Moncrief, a fired ACORN employee and frequent informant to Strom. However, per Heidelbaugh's testimony, the Times refused to publish the controversial article because, as Strom allegedly told her source, "it was a game changer." Strom subsequently penned not a single additional ACORN story between the described incident and the November election, Heidelbaugh added.

Although Strom could not be reached for comment, the Times' Senior Vice President for Corporate Communications, Catherine Mathis, told The Bulletin of Philadelphia that the NYT "do[es] not discuss [its] news gathering and won't comment except to say that political considerations played no role in our decisions about how to cover this story or any other story about President Obama."

Even so, it remains unclear whether any wrongdoing actually occurred. If the allegations are true, Obama's collusion with ACORN could constitute "gross violations of the Federal Election Campaign Act of 1971," Heidelbaugh said. However, the hearing's participants did not further inquire as to how or why this was the case.

Furthermore, there is insufficient evidence to indict the Times for journalistic malpractice.

Full Article »

Non-Profit: Not Going To Save Newspapers

Tony Romm

Posted: Mar 25th 2009 2:17AM

Filed Under: Advise & Dissent, American University

Animated disagreement between coworkers is a venerable tradition often denied to Bright Hall's far-flung, break room-less staff. Advise & Dissent is an attempt to fix that. Click here for past debates, and click here to read Matt Negrin's first post on non-profit newspapers.

Perhaps some journalists will head to work tomorrow (assuming they still have a job) rather relieved: A new bill, introduced on Tuesday by Sen. Benjamin Cardin, D-Md, would allow struggling broadsides to declare themselves as "non-profit," pursuant to the U.S. Tax Code's guidelines for 501(c)(3) organizations.

In English: Newspapers could take the form of universities, as proposed on The New York Times' op-ed page in January, and similarly sustain their enterprises through endowments.

The analyses that have accompanied the news of Cardin's proposal have accurately attributed to the new business model one important downside: Newspapers who self-declare as "non-profit" cannot endorse political candidates for office, among other political activities. Unfortunately, that is hardly the only side effect of such a switch. Non-profit status, which has served some media outlets rather well, could actually prove quite harmful to newspapers in the long term. Here are two reasons why:

1. Investment incentives? -
- If Zachary Seward's estimates are correct, it will require at least $114 billion to guarantee the short-term survival of every struggling American newspaper -- approximately one-seventh of what the United States conferred to homeowners in its recent stimulus package. Of course, the non-profit model proposes that private investors, not the federal government, would provide the funding to endow journalistic enterprise writ large.

But therein lies the problem.

Even if it's true that a cadre of news enthusiasts anticipate the opportunity to sustain the sagging "fourth estate," their philanthropy will hardly be even handed. The Times' tested college endowment analogy explains why: Despite a manifest concern for the future of higher education, philanthropists most commonly offer their coveted cash to colleges likely to produce notable successes and breakthroughs. In those academic settings, innovation underpins investment; investors have the greatest incentives to donate only to the best.

Applied to the news industry, however, it is hardly "the best" who require dire financial assistance. Both the Rocky Mountain News and the Seattle Post-Intelligencer's collapse this year elucidate that it is the lack of innovation, not the incidence of it, contributing to the medium's decline. Therefore, if money flows in the direction of those most capable of evolving, small, local papers will still stand to suffer (a truth to which the American university system can also well attest). And that's the exact scenario Cardin designed his bill to reverse.

Full Article »


What Obama's NCAA Picks Say About His Politics

Tony Romm

Posted: Mar 19th 2009 2:25AM

Filed Under: Politics, American University

WASHINGTON -- Bracketology, meet Barack-tology.

The two rhetorical constructions collided on Wednesday when the commander in chief, fulfilling a famous campaign promise, stopped by ESPN studios to offer his predictions for the NCAA Men's Basketball tournament.

Assuredly, journalists in the forthcoming days are likely to exhume from the First Fan's bracket a host of totally uncorroborated conclusions. College students across the country, meanwhile, are certain to frown on the president's encroachment into their traditionally apolitical (and perennially controversial) territory. Yet, none of this is to suggest that the president's picks aren't worthy of at least some analysis -- and, surprisingly, there's quite a bit to be said. Here's the pre-tournament highlight reel:

Full Article »


Obama Travels Bridge to Nowhere With Proposed Earmark Reforms

Tony Romm

Posted: Mar 17th 2009 6:34PM

Filed Under: Politics, American University

Call it a stroke of irony (or an ill-timed political mistake), but it is highly unlikely that President Barack Obama's proposed earmark reforms would have prevented the legendary "Bridge to Nowhere" fiasco -- the $233-million, pork-tastic overpass for which Alaskan politicians, including Republican Governor Sarah Palin, are most infamous.

As The Hill revealed today, the Obama administration's reform plan is designed to make the earmark process more transparent and competitive. Under the new regulations, lawmakers would be required to hold public hearings on pork projects and disclose the full details of those proposals on their Web sites. Additionally, Congress members would be barred from directing earmark funds to for-profit companies without first soliciting contractor bids.

As a result of that final condition -- which only nominally applies to states' public works projects -- the Bridge to Nowhere could have emerged from Congress unscathed, The Hill hypothesized. According to Politifact, which dissected comments made by Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y. on the matter, "a congressional committee directed the $225 million earmarked for the Gravina Island bridge to the Alaska Department of Transportation." In other words, because ADoT is a state agency, the bridge (had Gov. Palin not later nixed it) could have been completed without significant opposition.

Stranded Alaskans, however, would hardly be the only beneficiaries of Obama's ambiguous reforms. Under the new rules, so too could the likes of another Rep. Randall "Duke" Cunningham, who resigned in 2005 amid defense earmark bribery allegations, reap the personal and political benefits of scrupulous pork. Per Obama's proposal, defense earmarks regarded as secret intelligence programs would "continue to remain secret and immune to... requirements for more public scrutiny and transparency," The Hill reported. Thus, to analysts and spendthrift members alike, Obama's earmark reforms are hardly solvent, considering defense pork in the 2007 appropriations bill totaled nearly $6.6 billion.

But a more important omission from Obama's reform proposal is theoretical in nature. At the heart of the president's criticism is the presumption that voters, long frustrated by reckless federal spending, frown at the inclusion of local pet projects. The introduction of public hearings and comment periods on proposed pork, therefore, constitutes a calculated attempt by the Obama administration to use voters as a democratic check on earmarks. Yet it is politically naive to believe that constituents -- who deride the federal government for such "unfunded mandates" as education and health care -- won't frequently rubber stamp their politicians' pork-barrel initiatives. And it is equally ignorant to assert that Congress members, who stand to benefit electorally from constituent-supported earmarks, would willingly limit their collective politicking abilities. To that degree, Obama's earmark criticisms merely constitute a metaphoric "reform to nowhere." Ambiguous and unrealistic, they insufficiently address the root causes of allegedly wasteful spending.

Full Article »


Senate Dems to Pay For Paycheck Amendment's Defeat

Tony Romm

Posted: Mar 11th 2009 12:01AM

Filed Under: Politics, American University

WASHINGTON -- Although Senate Democrats on Tuesday fended off a Republican amendment that would have otherwise returned the omnibus spending bill to the House, they may have done so at a hefty political price.

The proposed provision, introduced by Sen. David Vitter, R-La., would have tacked on to the $410-billion appropriations conglomerate a timely repeal of automatic Congressional "cost of living" pay raises. While Majority Leader Harry Reid stressed to Vitter that Democrats would soon support his measure -- even immediately proposing to re-purpose the amendment as a bill -- Reid helped orchestrate its tabling, by a vote of 52-45, under the justification that the House would not approve of the Senate's late politicking.

Although not a single Republican up for re-election in 2010 voted to table the amendment, nine of the 15 vulnerable Democrats did. Their "aye" votes, while integral in moving the omnibus bill to the president's desk sans conference committee, could have immense personal political repercussions: Congressional pay raises, especially during a recession, make great ammunition for challengers hoping to unseat "out-of-touch" incumbents. (Click "Full Article" to view amendment voting chart)

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Guns to Kill D.C. Voting Rights Bill?

Tony Romm

Posted: Mar 5th 2009 12:41AM

Filed Under: Politics, American University

WASHINGTON -- House Democrats postponed on Wednesday a bill that would seat the District's first voting representative in Congress because of threats by chamber Republicans to attach to it a gun rights amendment.

According to The Hill, "Republicans want to add a provision to the voting rights bill that would wipe out most of the gun laws that remain in the District after the Supreme Court tossed out its handgun ban last year." House Democrats, by contrast, largely oppose the amendment, which the Senate permitted and passed earlier last week.

Although the majority party currently possesses the votes required to override the provision and approve the original bill, Democratic leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md., hinted on Wednesday morning that such an outcome would not come without its consequences. Recent threats by the National Rifle Association to "score" -- or rank and note publicly -- the procedural votes of House lawmakers have forced some moderate- and conservative-leaning Democrats to support the amendment, contrary to the rest of the party's wishes. For that reason, House Democratic leaders have opted to postpone debate while they devise a way to satisfy the party's two equally important fractions.

Full Article »


Romney Wins 2009 CPAC Straw Poll... Preemptively Loses 2012?

Tony Romm

Posted: Mar 1st 2009 8:52AM

Filed Under: US Elections, Politics, American University

WASHINGTON D.C. -- After conceding at the annual gathering only a year earlier, former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney serendipitously eked out a symbolic victory in the Conservative Political Action Convention's (CPAC) presidential straw poll, held here on Saturday.

According to Politico, Romney, who received only 20 percent of the CPAC vote, was closely trailed by Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal (14 percent), Texas Rep. Ron Paul (13 percent), Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin (13 percent), former House Speaker Newt Gingrich (10 percent) and former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee (7 percent). Also on the ballot were South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford, Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty and Florida Gov. Charlie Crist. Despite the wide array of choices, however, nine percent of CPAC attendants said they were undecided.

Yet, this is hardly Romney's first CPAC straw poll win -- in fact, in 2007 and 2008, the former Massachusetts governor trounced his competition, including Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., who the party inevitably nominated.

Luckily for Romney, he is not the only GOP candidate to have lost a general election despite an impressive CPAC poll victory. Rather, he conforms to a historic norm, one whereby the winner of the conference's symbolic poll rarely reaches the general election:

Poll year CPAC poll winner
Winner's political future
2008 | 2007
Mitt Romney Ironically conceded at CPAC in 2008
2006 | 2005 Sen. George Allen, R-Va. Defeated by Dem. challenger Jim Webb in 2006 Virginia Senate race
2004-2001 GOP held White House
2000 George W. Bush Won presidency
1999 Former Undersecretary of Education Gary Bauer Dropped out after New Hampshire primary
1998 Steve Forbes Won only two delegates in 1996, dropped out after taking 3rd in Delaware in 2000
1995 Sen. Phil Gramm, R-Tx Received less than 1 percent of the 1996 presidential primary vote; joined 2008 McCain campaign

Full Article »


How The Press Can Remain Relevant Under Obama

Tony Romm

Posted: Feb 24th 2009 12:27PM

Filed Under: Politics, Featured Stories, Advise & Dissent, American University

Animated disagreement between coworkers is a venerable tradition often denied to Bright Hall's far-flung, break room-less staff. Advise & Dissent is an attempt to fix that. Click here for past debates, and click here to read Matt Negrin's first post on Obama's media management style.

In March 2003, then-President George W. Bush did the unthinkable: He snubbed Helen Thomas.

Indeed, contrary to established White House ritual, whereby Thomas concluded presidential press conferences with her signature "Thank you, Mr. President," Slate editor-at-large Jack Shafer noted at this particular Spring presser that "Bush denied her that supporting role, ending the conference with his own sign off, 'Thank you for your questions,' and flushing a decades-old White House custom."

To a press corps that is as much a part of Washington culture as the presidents they cover, Bush's misstep was pure anathema; journalists could not conceive of a previous abomination of equal impudence.

Their manifest perplexity, however, was not a function of Bush's audacity; rather, it was a byproduct of their short collective memory. Before Bush brazenly brushed-off Thomas, Ronald Reagan renounced press conferences and jipped journalists of due access to the United States' intervention in Grenada. After the impeached Richard Nixon realized he could profit from perceivably facile foreign interviews, the lore of which now lives in Oscar infamy, Bill Clinton sat cozy with critical columnists on his airplanes.

Of course, these abuses of the "fourth estate" varied in effect, duration and warrant. But they nonetheless represented repeated attempts by presidents to manhandle press-government relations and control the scope and tone of national political reportage.

Is it any surprise, then, that the Obama administration has employed a similar strategy to cordon journalists in 2009? The new president's pre-determined question lists exhibit a striking resemblance to his immediate predecessor's surprise seating rearrangements or follow-up question bans, among other silencing tactics. Add to the brewing controversy Obama's over-reported tendency to ignore conservative-leaning reporters and outlets, and it is easy to understand why journalists at large are growing increasingly upset with the new administration.

Full Article »

Analyzing the Facebook Terms Skirmish

Tony Romm

Posted: Feb 18th 2009 1:53PM

Filed Under: Breaking News, News, Media, American University

After Facebook quietly introduced a new Terms of Service (TOS) agreement that would have allowed the 175 million-strong social network to retain licenses on user content even after those profiles have been deleted, CEO Mark Zuckerberg has decided to recant those changes, citing considerable user dissatisfaction (see Kaitlynn Riely's prior Bright Hall coverage here and here).

According to Mashable, a Web 2.0 media blog, the social network's primary error introducing the revisions was its tactics, not its specific terms edits. Recalling the site's controversial redesign last year, against which the Facebook community struggled fruitlessly, the site posited that, "Facebook has done a poor job of communicating the changes, leaving Zuckerberg on the defense instead of proactively keeping users informed on potentially controversial moves the company is making." Mashable did add, however, that it was highly unlikely Facebook would have used its questionable "permalicense" condition maliciously.

While Facebook contemplates a more appealing TOS reconfiguration, Zuckerberg has created a Facebook group to cull user feedback -- the Facebook Bill of Rights and Responsbilities (login required). According to the group page, "This group is for people to give input on Facebook's terms of use. These terms are meant to serve as the governing document for how the service is used by people around the world."

Full Article »

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