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This the first piece I wrote at the 2010 Clinton Global Initiative in New York City. Having missed the opening day of what was a busy week full of high-level climate talks, I had to rely on the reporting of other journalists. However, even with that handicap, I picked up on one of the (problematic) themes for the coming week: The supposed power of business to fix the climate problem.

Yesterday marked the official beginning of UN Week in New York City. This flurry of high-level diplomatic meetings will culminate in the two-day UN General Assembly, which gets under way Thursday. International leaders are using the gathering to try and kick-start the stalled climate negotiations. At the same time, innovative businesses and nonprofits are meeting around town to consider other approaches to the climate challenge. On Monday, the moods of the the dueling gatherings could not have been more different.

The first day of the Major Economies Forum on Climate and Energy was a sobering attempt by governments to lower the expectations for coordinated climate action. The two-day meeting is bringing together climate negotiators from 17 nations that are responsible for 80 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions. “Clearly now the focus is on post-Cancun,” the Indian environmental minister Jairam Ramesh said, referring to the year-end climate summit in Mexico. “We recognize that there is no breakthrough possible in Cancun but let’s now try to cut our losses and see what we can do after Cancun,” Ramesh said.

Business leaders were much more upbeat about the role the private sector can play in reducing climate change.

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

Photo credit: fotdmike (via Flickr)

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For The American Prospect‘s excellent (and highly competitive) fellowship program I had to submit two article critiques and a critique of their group blog TAPPED, among much else. This article critique was assigned, the second critique is of an article I selected for myself. I’m still waiting–with fingers crossed–to hear back from the Prospect.

To improve the lot of the lowest, we must increase the taxes on those at the top.

Little more than a year after Wall Street’s bad bets brought the world economy crashing down, NYU Professor Dalton Conley told American Prospect readers, “don’t blame the billionaires.” This might have struck some as audacious after the implosion of the global economy, the cleaning up of which has disproportionately benefited the very same billionaire bankers who played such a central role in engineering the collapse.

Yet Conley was merely reiterating what was then and now conventional wisdom about the growing gap between the rich and everyone else. In a June 2006 issue featuring a special report on American income inequality, The Economist editorialized, “government should not be looking for ways to haul the rich down. Rather, it should help others, especially the extremely poor, to climb up.”  Two Brookings Institution scholars echoed this sentiment in a recent Huffington Post column, “America Needs More Economic Mobility.” This viewpoint overlooks one key question: Is it possible for the inequality of wealth and income to reach such a level that it inherently limits the economic opportunity open to those at the bottom?
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This was originally a thoroughly well-researched pitch for a sidebar in Mother Jones‘ forthcoming Wall Street/Washington issue, due out in January. I made the first lineup but this narrative piece was dropped in favor of more facts and figures. Disappointing, but I’m glad my work it found a home on MIL.

Rows of sleek, black Lincoln Town Cars idling along the Financial District’s dark and narrow roads were an unavoidable sight in the run up to the financial crisis. Such chariots were necessary to shepherd home Wall Street’s dealmakers after long evenings in the office. But with the deals dried up, out of work bankers have returned to New York’s Subway system, and thousands of drivers have turned in their car keys.

As director of transportation at Lehman Brothers, Donovan Wilson used to operate an in-house call centre to manage the dozen or so car-service vendors the bank employed. He now serves in a similar capacity for Barclays, a smaller bank (even with the additional units from Lehman’s bankruptcy sale), which itself kept only two black car companies from its six-company stable during the boom.

Companies that have managed to hold on to their corporate accounts have also struggled in the wake of the financial crisis. Berg Haroutunian is the owner of Vital Transportation Inc, one of the seven car vendors Merrill Lynch used before its ill-fated merger with Bank of America. Vital still works with the reconfigured bank, but he estimates that business has decreased by about 30%, and 120 of his 440 drivers (all independently contracted) have left “for one reason or another.” Some had their cars repossessed, others have lost their homes.

Even before the recession, the Town Cars’ days on Wall Street were numbered. In February 2008 Mayor Michael Bloomberg announced that, starting in October 2009, all of New York’s 10,000 black cars would have to get 25 miles per gallon and 30 the following year. Lincoln Town Cars, which average 17 miles per gallon, wouldn’t have made the cut. Lehman was one of the leading partners in the innovative Green Car Funding Corp set up to help fund the phase-out. While these bubble-era relics have been spared the scrap heap for now, a spokesperson from the city’s Taxi and Limousine Commission confirmed via e-mail that, although the regulation was deferred for a year “due to the economy’s impact on the industry,” it is still scheduled to go into effect in 2010.

Photo credit: holly_northrop (via Flickr)

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