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Posts Tagged ‘Barack Obama’

This was the first live chat I’ve helped plan and participated in. Although I got bumped from my afternoon slot to the end of the night by Craigslist founder Craig Newmark, I did succeed in getting him to comment on my review of the Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear. Here was the chat line up:

10 am to 10:30 am: Kamau Bell, comedian
10:30 am to 11 am: Nick Baumann, Mother Jones
11 am to 11:30 am: Dave Levinthal, Center for Responsive Politics
11:30 am to 12 noon: Craig Newmark, Craigslist
12 noon to 12:30 pm: Staci Kramer, PaidContent
12:30 pm to 1 pm: Paul Blumenthal, Sunlight Foundation

BREAK

5 pm to 5:30 pm: Anthony Calabrese, MediaShift data viz
5:30 pm to 6 pm: JD Lasica, SocialMedia.biz
6 pm to 6:30 pm: Steven Davy, MediaShift
6:30 pm to 7 pm: Corbin Hiar, MediaShift
7 pm to 7:30 pm: Heather Gold, Subvert.com

Click here to see what we had to say.

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This post was linked to in a Washington Post column on the Cancun climate summit.

With only days remaining until diplomats are due to arrive in Tianjin for the final round of climate negotiations before the Cancun summit, scientists have provided a grim reminder of how little progress governments have made in addressing the threat of climate change and the consequences of continued inaction. Yet the statements being made by some world leaders suggest that governments are still unwilling to acknowledge the scope of the problem.

Stern Warning

Research now suggests that the fifteenth Conference of the Parties (COP 15) in Copenhagen was an even bigger failure than originally thought. A study published yesterday in the journal Environmental Research Letters found that the national emissions reduction commitments countries made under the non-binding Copenhagen Accord will still result in a dangerous increase in the global average temperature. The cuts would only limit warming over the next century to 4.2º C (7.6º F), according to the analysis of scientists from seven European research centers. The increase baked into the Copenhagen Accord is only slightly off the “catastrophic” 5 – 7º C rise the UK’s Met Office warned would result if the world continued to burn fossil fuels at the present rate.

Global warming in excess of 2º C could produce disastrous changes to the earth’s ecosystems. The study’s authors warn that the present cuts will not be enough to save heat-sensitive coral reefs, the “rainforests of the sea.” Already, scientist are predicting a widespread coral die off in the Caribbean, which will decimate the wide range of marine life that thrives in this fragile habitat. As ScienceDaily notes, “coral reefs provide services estimated to be worth as much as $375 billion globally each year,” the loss of which would benefit no one at the negotiating table.

At this point, it is not even clear that the best efforts of negotiators could prevent dangerous warming from occurring. According to the Environmental Research Letters study, with an emissions reduction of 50% by 2050, there is still a less than 50% chance of keeping the global temperature rise under 2º C. “It is clear from this analysis that higher ambitions for 2020 are necessary” to limit increases to below 2º C “without relying on potentially infeasible reduction rates after 2020,” the scientists concluded.

Ignoring the Problem

Meanwhile, world leaders are heading to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change talks in Tianjin with ambitions too small to address the looming crisis.

Click here to read the rest of this UN Dispatch piece or to make a comment on the Huffington Post.

Photo credit: London Permaculture (via Flickr)

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As I was writing up my TAP test post “Job Openings for Inspectors General,” I was shocked to discover that Interior, the agency responsible for offshore  drilling, was among the departments that lacked a presidential-appointed watchdog. I looked into it further for this, my second piece for The New Republic and first bit of reporting on the Deepwater Horizon disaster.

Yesterday, Paul Krugman wrote that “President Obama isn’t completely innocent of blame in the current [Gulf oil] spill.” He pointed out that the president took too long to appoint a new director of the Minerals Management Service, which oversees offshore drilling and had a dismal record under President Bush. Krugman also cited the decision by MMS to exempt the Deepwater Horizon drilling operation from a comprehensive environmental review just eleven days before the rig exploded.

But Krugman missed a few things in his column. Perhaps more glaringly, Obama has also failed to nominate an inspector general for the Interior Department, where MMS is located. In the past, the Office of the Inspector General (OIG) has been a crucial supervisory body exposing fraud and mismanagement at the agency. During the Bush years, OIG head Earl Devaney uncovered the criminally cozy relationship MMS had with the oil companies it was supposed to be regulating. And Devaney was the guy who investigated the ties between Jack Abramoff and Deputy Secretary of the Interior Steven Griles.

In February 2009, however, Obama put Devaney in charge of tracking stimulus payouts, and since then, the inspector general position has gone unfilled. Why? It may be that the White House (which did not respond to my requests for comment) feels comfortable with the job that Devaney’s deputy, Mary Kendall, is doing as acting inspector general. But if that’s the case, why not nominate her for Senate approval and remove the “acting” stigma from her title.  That would make a big difference: As the Center for Public Integrity reported last week, officials say that acting inspectors general lack “the authority, public standing, and ability to set the agenda that a Senate-approved, presidential appointee brings to the job.”

Could an inspector general have made a difference? It seems likely…

Click here to read the rest of The Vine post and to make a comment.

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The Prospect liked my previous pieces enough that they gave me the opportunity to take a follow-up writing test. This time around, they requested that I pitch a story for the mid-term elections and write three posts that could have been featured on the magazine’s group blog TAPPED. For the blog pieces, which I am posting on Hiar Learning, I tried to emphasize my analytical strengths in selecting the topics I chose to blog about. This first post has a slight environmental bent.

The Center for Public Integrity has published the results of a thought-provoking survey of vacant government oversight positions by John Solomon. The Center’s journalist-in-residence compiled a list of 73 inspectors general, chief auditors, or whistleblower protection positions across government and found that at least 15 are currently unfilled or being covered by acting officials.

Solomon makes a compelling argument that if the Obama administration intends to live up to its professed commitment to transparency, it must work to fill these important positions as soon as possible. “Over the years, government watchdogs have produced some memorable investigations, uncovering federal workers who watched pornography from government computers, revealing that federal housing vouchers were still being paid to dead Americans, and disclosing the FBI’s illegal gathering of phone records,” he notes.

There is nothing stopping the administration from immediately hiring inspectors general at the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, the Communications Commission, the Labor Relations Authority, and the National Endowment for the Arts. Senate confirmation is not required to fill IG posts at these four agencies and, possibly the Federal Housing Finance Agency, too. (In the text of the report, it says the agency’s IG nominee is awaiting confirmation, but on CPI’s spreadsheet, it says the FHFAIG doesn’t require confirmation.) Since December, the House of Representatives has also had its own IG position to fill.

Why are the administration and Congress dragging their feet about these oversight openings? (more…)

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I’ve been doing a lot of thinking, talking, and reading about Obama’s embrace of drilling off America’s coasts. And one connection I found most people seem to have missed is its utility in his push for Iranian nuclear sanctions. I ran the numbers, called up some experts, and put it all together for The New Republic–a magazine I’ve long respected and to which I’ve wanted to contribute.

UPDATE: My post was noted on the University of Illinois’ Carbon Capture Report and picked up by The Australian, the country’s biggest-selling national newspaper.

Many observers were puzzled last week when President Obama announced his support for expanded offshore oil drilling. Was he trying to win over Republican swing votes for a climate bill? Head off the inevitable anger over summer gas prices? Perhaps. But here’s another possibility: The move could have been intended to bolster international support for sanctions on Iran. At least that’s what events from the nuclear summit earlier this week suggest.

On Monday, Obama apparently convinced Chinese President Hu Jintao to pursue sanctions as a means of dissuading Iran from developing its nuclear program. As Time noted, “Obama reportedly indicated that the U.S. would help China make up any shortfall in oil imports resulting from Iranian retaliation for any Chinese support for sanctions.” China is concerned about its growing reliance on crude imports and possible disruptions in the global oil markets. So Obama’s offshore-drilling embrace may have been intended to signal that he’s doing everything possible to avoid that fate.

Click here to read the rest of The Vine blog post and leave a comment.

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I started working on this article during my last month at Mother Jones. Although it took longer than I had hoped to get it published–and required a revised lede–I’m happy this bit of reporting finally made it into the top story box. (Unlike, say, my body armor piece.) Clocking in at some 1300 words, this article is the longest piece I’ve had published anywhere. It also opened my eyes to the shadowy world of offshore tax evasion–an interesting beat that I hope to return to in another professional capacity.

UPDATE: My reporting was featured on BuzzFlash and in ProPublica’s daily round up of the top investigations elsewhere; re-posted on Corporate Crackdown, a blog by Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington; and linked to an article from FINS, a new financial careers site from Dow Jones. Rational Review, which is apparently “the premier libertarian web journal,” also disapprovingly cited my piece.

When President Barack Obama’s jobs bill passed the House in early March, it contained a little-noticed provision to recover part of its $35 billion price tag by cracking down on offshore tax evasion, which costs the US some $100 billion a year in lost revenue. The provision, which requires foreign financial institutions to report more data to the Internal Revenue Service, was likely prompted by a 2008 Senate investigation that revealed the systematic efforts made by Swiss bank UBS to help moneyed Americans hide massive sums from the IRS.

The insider information that formed the backbone of the investigation—insight that eventually helped the feds recover billions in unpaid taxes—was provided by a former midlevel executive at UBS, American-born Bradley Birkenfeld. Birkenfeld is the only international banker who has ever blown the whistle to the US government on Switzerland’s legendarily secretive banking practices. He is also the only person connected to UBS’ massive tax evasion scheme to have been sent to prison: Birkenfeld is currently serving a four-year sentence for fraud. Whistleblower advocacy groups warn that this punishment could have a “chilling effect,” discouraging other financial whistleblowers from coming forward. Did Obama’s Department of Justice (DOJ) exact retribution that could cost US taxpayers billions?

Click here to read or comment on the rest of this MotherJones.com top story.

Photo credit: monkeyleader (via Flickr)

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Yup, that's me

Just add snow—the more, the messier. A few wet, white flakes in the Washington metro area are all it takes to wash away the veneer of efficiency local politicians try to maintain. When faced with nearly 30 inches of snow, as it was last weekend, America’s seat of government freezes up.

As the virulent debate over health care has made clear, America’s legislative process already moves at a glacial pace. The near record-setting snowstorm has not only suspended the city’s semi-reliable buses and commuter trains, but has halted all congressional momentum (such as it was) for two days straight. Only the centre lanes of most important thoroughfares have been ploughed, leaving Congressmen, lobbyists and well-paid bureaucrats stranded in the suburbs. Cars that ventured out on unploughed roads packed the snow between the wheel ruts into block-long medians. Wet snow snapped branches off magnolia trees and stately pines; broken boughs still clutter the sidewalks in many neighbourhoods.

In defence of Adrian Fenty, the city’s mayor, administrators everywhere struggle to cope with extreme weather. In Britain any break from the despairing rain causes officials to panic. Closer to the DC, the governments of Maryland and Virginia exhausted their snow-removal budgets even before this latest storm had hit. They could take a page from the government of New York City, which stretches its municipal dollars by hooking ploughs to the front of its biodiesel garbage trucks.

The threat of the coming snowstorm caused a run on area supermarkets. In its aftermath, some fashionable shops dug themselves out and lured discharged workers with snow-day sales. Most bus stops still sit behind a fortress of thigh-high snow, but entrances to smart shops soon sparkled in the afternoon sun with puddles and salt crystals. I noticed the Banana Republic near my office was mobbed with shoppers yesterday when I attempted to buy lunch at the closed food court across the street.

Washingtonians seem to be making the best of the snow, despite the municipal ineptitude. Massive organised snowball fights have been staged across multiple neighbourhoods. Even the president, who spent many winters in America’s snowy Midwest before moving into the White House, took a moment to poke fun at his adopted city’s inability to process precipitation. At an event over the weekend, he thanked his party faithful for being “willing to brave a blizzard—Snowmaggedon right here in DC”.

But the collective amusement may wear off soon: an additional six to 16 inches are expected in the area later today.

Click here to see the original MIL blog post or to make a comment.

Photo credit: The Pumpernickel (via Tumblr)

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I volunteered to fill in for one of the San Francisco editors on weekend website duty and got stuck writing this post on a Saturday. I will not make that mistake again.

One highlight: Bill Moyers asked a question regarding the Wall Street-bashing article from Rep Paul Ryan (R-Wisc.), about which I had previously blogged.

Recently DC Bureau Chief David Corn and blogger Kevin Drum have had to wear a lot of makeup—that’s what happens when you’re on three different shows in the course of two days. If you haven’t had a chance to see all the clips yet, the links are below in bold.

On Friday, the two sat down with PBS’ Bill Moyers for an insightful hour-long conversation about the unrepentant and unreformed financial industry. Moyers began his show by detailing how completely Wall Street has recovered since bankers like Goldman Sach’s CEO Lloyd Blankfein, the Financial Times‘ Person of the Year, nearly destroyed the global economy. “How do the bankers pick our pockets so thoroughly with barely a pang of guilt or punishment?” he asked. “You will find some answers in this current edition of Mother Jones magazine, one of the best sources of investigative journalism around today.”

Moyers went on to point out that MoJo and, surprisingly enough, the Wall Street Journal are both skeptical of the administration’s efforts to reform derivatives trading. They discussed the House Committee on Financial Services, which David pointed out “is called a money committee…because if you serve on that committee, you have access to a lot of money. Campaign cash.” The first half hour concluded with talk about the lack of outrage over the infamous carried interest rule that allows hedgefund millionaires to pay income tax rates lower than those of their secretaries. “We should lay some of the blame,” Kevin suggested, on “the media…People don’t see it enough to get angry about it.”

In the second half of Bill Moyers Journal, Kevin said that part of the reason real financial reform hasn’t occurred is because “the bailout last year succeeded in a way, too well” and now people think “we can go back to business as usual.” After a lost decade in which new jobs were not created and median wages did not increase, Moyers asked what the two made of the much discussed new article in Forbes by Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wisc.) bashing Wall Street. “Well, the Democrats have to worry,” David replied. “There is an opening here for the Republicans.” Kevin concluded by offering Obama a suggestion from FDR’s playbook: “If there’s any one issue where…a real show that he was going to take these guys on could bring the country together, it very well might be taking on Wall Street.” Better late, than never!

Click here for the Rachel Maddow Show and Countdown with Keith Olbermann links or to comment on the MoJo blog post.

Photo of Mother Jones and her TV: georgia.g (via Flickr)

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When Mother Jones posts stories from the magazine to the Top Stories box, they like to have a post on the blogs drawing attention to the piece. This was my write-up of a long-but-interesting story I fact-checked for the November/December issue. Although the process was excruciating, the people it features and the author who wrote it were all pleasures to work with. Someday I’d like to venture up to Eagle–especially since I’ve already met most of the town members by phone! (I’m only slightly exaggerating.)

After the major emitting countries agreed to the hastily made Copenhagen Accord late Friday night, President Barack Obama rushed onto Air Force One and jetted back across the Atlantic. He was presumably eager to get to Washington, DC before the big winter storm that was due to arrive on Saturday. The president made it back just in time. But perhaps the US would have been better served had he hung around Copenhagen a bit longer.

As the UN climate conference wound down overseas, two corners of this country were buried by unusually heavy snowfalls. In addition to the foot and a half of snow that closed public schools, federal buildings, and many offices in the Capital (the DC bureau of Mother Jones excluded), Valdez, Alaska, experienced record snowstorms that dumped over 76.5 inches. The town located six hours from Anchorage along the state’s rugged southern coast managed the blizzard better than DC—amazingly, its 33-year streak without snow-day school cancellations lives on. But as the latest story from Mother Jones contributor Ted Genoways makes clear, the danger in Valdez isn’t passed until after the snow has melted.

Last May, a record-breaking heatwave caused the meltwater-swollen Yukon River to spill its banks. The resulting flood nearly wiped Eagle, Alaska, the oldest town in the interior of the state, off the map. Over the years, Eagle has captured the imaginations of explorers, writers, and romantics—among them, Jack London, John McPhee, and Genoways. In the “Last Breakup,” Genoways travels back to the historic town to tell the story of one heroic couple’s struggle for survival and to render a dramatic illustration of the danger climate change poses to even the most hearty and isolated Americans.

Skeptics are always keen to note that no single weather event can ever be directly linked to climate change. But the compelling body of anecdotal evidence from places like Eagle and Valdez only serves to bolster the rock-solid scientific and economic cases for taking immediate action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. If the Copenhagen Accord proves a misstep on the path to preventing catastrophic climate change, citizens of Alaska and elsewhere should brace themselves for more extreme weather.

Click here to see the original MoJo post or to make a comment.

Photo credit: l~~~{G}~~~l (via Flickr)

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UPDATE: My review of the speech was picked up by the AtlanticWire and prominently featured on today’s Need to Read list.

President Barack Obama has spent much of his term, from the stimulus bill pushed through shortly after he took office, up to this morning’s speech on jobs at the Brookings Institution, trying to show the public that he is serious about reducing the unemployment rate. Today, with 15.4 million Americans looking for work and tens of millions more joining the ranks of the long-term unemployed, the president announced a series of small business tax cuts, infrastructure investments, and aid measures to build on the Recovery Act, which the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office estimates has already saved or created some 1.6 million jobs. The speech, which a senior administrative official said was primarily intended to “get ideas out there,” was encouraging but left many questions unanswered.

The components of Obama’s new jobs plan that were apparently intended to appeal to his Democratic base were the green building and aid measures. In a statement issued shortly after the speech, Lawrence Mishel, the president of the progressive Economic Policy Institute, noted that he was “particularly enthusiastic about the president’s proposals for infrastructure investments and assistance to state and local governments.” The speech also included support for a much-discussed “cash for caulkers” program modeled on the popular cash for clunkers scheme. There are questions about how Congress would motivate homeowners to take part. After all, consumers are more accustomed to purchasing cars than insulation. But Dean Baker, the director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research, said he was still “fairly certain” cash for caulkers would stimulate job growth. The public’s response will largely “depend on how generous we’re prepared to make [the subsidies],” Baker added.

The lack of specifics in Obama’s speech was troubling…

Click here to read the rest of the MoJo blog post.


Photo credit: jurvetson (via Flickr)

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