NDN Blog

Mobile Phones fuel protests on the environment in China

China’s poor stewardship of the environment in pursuit of economic gain has gotten to the point that the World Bank estimates that damage to the environment costs China 5.8% of its GDP annually. However, the costs of poor environmental stewardship are also political. China's leaders are starting to feel the wrath of NIMBY (Not In My Back Yard) syndrome, as Chinese people rise up to protest polluted water and dangerous factories. Recent noted protests have been covered closely by the western media, the first in a New York Times article by Edward Wong over a multibillion dollar PetroChina plant in Chengdu and the second in the Economist over heavily polluted Tai Lake, the third largest lake in China.

These protests are significant, not only because the Chinese people are rejecting their government’s poor environmental record, but because of how they are organizing protests. These, like other political protests in Egypt and Tibet, are being put together by blogs and mobile phones. Mobile phones, especially, allow organizers to put together spur of the moment action in political issues in a way that the Chinese government cannot monitor in the same way it monitors the internet.

From the New York Times:

The recent protest, which was peaceful, was organized through Web sites, blogs and cellphone text messages, illustrating how some Chinese are using digital technology to start civic movements, which are usually banned by the police. Organizers also used text messages to publicize their cause nationally.

From the Economist:

The same internet and mobile-telephone technology that is helping China's angry young nationalists organise protests and boycotts is also helping other aggrieved citizens to unite. The past year has seen the first large-scale, middle-class protests in China over environmental issues: in the southern coastal city of Xiamen in June over the construction of a chemical factory, and in January this year in Shanghai over plans to extend a magnetic levitation train line.

These Chinese political organizers are developing a movement of their own, one that will ultimately make their government answer hard questions about democracy, human rights, and the environment. In large part, new technology, especially mobile, will be responsible. Simon Rosenberg recently wrote about the power of mobile to reduce global poverty, one of the many exciting broader applications for mobile technology that will be able to bring an improved standard of living to people in developing nations in every corner of the globe.

John McCain names his VP choice on the Daily Show

John McCain appeared on last night’s Daily Show with Jon Stewart. As far as politicians go, McCain has been a Daily Show favorite, and this interview is well worth watching. Stewart takes him to task on a couple lines he has delivered in the past - like his claim that Hamas endorsed Barack Obama.

Part 1:

Part 2 – Stewart takes McCain into the octagon:

John McCain’s fake walk off when Stewart says Bush instead of Hagee is pretty funny, but he was probably relieved that he didn't have to get into the Hagee issue. He will certainly have to account for the endorsement that he actively pursued from Reverend Hagee in the fall, but McCain’s cozying up to President Bush will obviously be a huge problem as well. How far we’ve come from 2004, when John McCain was considered a potential VP choice for John Kerry.

Gas tax policy as character -- updated

Clinton and Obama have released a new round of gas tax ads in advance of Indiana and North Carolina. Clinton's argues that she will fight the oil companies and make them pay the gas tax, while Obama's argues that her propsal is "bogus" and "a gimmick."

Clinton's ad:

Obama's response:

Both ads again use this policy issue to ascribe character traits to the candidates: Clinton argues that she is a fighter, while Obama argues that Clinton is a Washington politician interested soley in political expediency. A recent CBS/NYT poll shows that Obama may be landing blows with this argument.
On the gasoline tax, the survey underlined the risk Mrs. Clinton is taking in embracing a position that most Americans — including a majority of her own supporters — appear to view as political pandering. More than 60 percent of voters in the poll said that Mrs. Clinton said what people wanted to hear, rather than what she believed. Forty-three percent said that about Mr. Obama, and 41 percent about Mr. McCain.
The same poll showed that the fighter argument may be working for Clinton:

Fifty-eight percent of respondents said Mr. Obama was "tough enough to
make the hard decisions a president has to make." Seventy percent said
the same of Mrs. Clinton, and 71 percent of Mr. McCain.

As NDN President Simon Rosenberg has written about John McCain, his positive numbers on these character issues will quickly change once the media scrutiny begins. He has run away from his days driving the Straight Talk Express on issues from immigration to campaign finance, and now, with his stance on the gas tax, on climate change and energy issues.

Clinton has a new gas tax ad out, using some of the same footage from the one found above, that goes after Obama more directly. Take a look:

Update 2: Obama's latest ad going into tomorrow's primaries says Clinton is taking "the low road."

NDN gas tax coverage round up:

  • Obama goes after Clinton on gas tax
  • More on the gas tax - including a quote from Globalization Initiative Chair Dr. Robert Shapiro
  • Ads focus on gas tax
  • Energy Insanity - coverage of Thomas Friedman's column by Green Project Director Michael Moynihan
  • Candidates talk energy policy

Obama goes after Clinton on gas tax

Who would have thought that the gas tax would be a top political issue going into the Indiana primary? Both Democratic campaigns have used the issue to push their narratives: Clinton's that she is a fighter for the working class and Obama's that he represents a new kind of politics. Both have been running ads in Indiana on this policy difference, and Obama has released a new one taking on Clinton directly on her support for John McCain's gas tax holiday proposal.

Watch "Pennies"

Also, today's New York Times has an interesting article entitled "Unlikely Allies Campaign for a Gas-Tax Holiday."

Senators John McCain and Hillary Rodham Clinton found themselves taking a lonely stand on the campaign trail Thursday, defending the proposed gasoline-tax holiday while critics from both parties lined up against it.

Three times, twice unprompted, Mr. McCain, of Arizona, brought up the idea, which Senator Barack Obama's campaign began calling "the McCain-Clinton gas-tax holiday."

Their proposal would suspend the federal excise tax on gasoline, 18.4 cents a gallon, for the summer travel season.

Mrs. Clinton, campaigning in central and southern Indiana, championed her plan as a boon to commuters, truckers and summer vacationers.

At an event in Jeffersonville, Ind., on Thursday evening, Mrs. Clinton amplified her frequent pledge to introduce legislation to suspend the gas tax, saying she wanted to put members of Congress on the spot on the issue.

"Do they stand with hard-pressed Americans who are trying to pay their gas bills at the gas station or do they once again stand with the big oil companies?" Mrs. Clinton, of New York, said. "That's a vote I'm going to try to get, because I want to know where they stand, and I want them to tell us - are they with us or against us?" (Some Clinton supporters and superdelegates in Congress are among those who oppose a gas tax holiday.)

In Iowa, sounding more exasperated as the day went on, Mr. McCain grimaced slightly when a questioner at a town-hall-style meeting asked him about the plan.

"You'd think that I was attacking Western civilization as we know it," Mr. McCain replied. "The special interests, ‘Oh, my God. This will destroy our transportation system in America. This will have disastrous consequences.' Look, all I think is we ought to give low-income Americans, in particular, a little relief."

Mr. McCain did not say which special interests he meant. But by Thursday afternoon, opposition to the plan was robust and bipartisan, including Senator John Thune, Republican of South Dakota; Senator Tom Harkin, Democrat of Iowa; and Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Democrat of California.

Even lawmakers in Mrs. Clinton's backyard, including Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg of New York City (a former Republican, now an independent) and Gov. David A. Paterson, a Democrat, expressed doubts.

"It's about the dumbest thing I've heard in an awful long time from an economic point of view," Mr. Bloomberg told reporters, adding that he did not see "any merit to it whatsoever."

The Wall Street Journal also has an article on the issue today, entitled "Will Voters Accept Obama's Gas Plea?" which points out that Obama's arguments on the issue are not always getting through to voters.

NDN gas tax coverage round up:

  • More on the gas tax - including a quote from Globalization Initiative Chair Dr. Robert Shapiro
  • Ads focus on gas tax
  • Energy Insanity - coverage of Thomas Friedman's column by Green Project Director Michael Moynihan
  • Candidates talk energy policy

UPDATE: Senator Clinton is reportedly introducing legislation today to suspend the gas tax for the summer. With broadbased opposition to the measure, including Speaker Pelosi, this legislation probably is not going anywhere, but Clinton has said that she wants to "get every member of Congress on the record," on this issue. The Obama campaign is arguing that Clinton is overplaying her hand and risks alienating the members of Congress (read: super delegates) she needs to win the nomination.

More on the gas tax

Dr. Robert Shaprio, Chair of NDN's Globalization Initiative, was quoted by Sam Stein in the Huffington Post on the gas tax holiday proposal. The article, entitled "Expert Support for Gas Tax Holiday Appears Nonexistant," comes on the heels of a Thomas Friedman column and New York Times editorial that both deride the proposal.

From the Huffington Post:

"Stated as clearly as I can," [Shapiro] wrote, "it's utterly misguided both environmentally and economically. Environmentally, it does actual harm, since it reduces the price of producing greenhouse gases. And economically it's trivial or worse -- by reducing the price of driving it encourages more of it, thereby increasing demand for gasoline, which inevitably pushes the price back up - the consumer gains nothing, and the oil companies and OPEC collect the extra bucks instead of the government."

On another note, the conferees on the upcoming farm bill agreed to reduce the subsidy for ethanol. Corn based ethanol has been blamed, among many factors, for the rise in food prices.

Ads focus on gas tax

The past two days have seen a back and forth from Senators Clinton and Obama on the proposal to suspend the gas tax for the summer. Green Project Director Michael Moynihan blogged on a Thomas Friedman column on the subject today, and the New York Times covered the debate yesterday. Now, both candidates have ads airing in Indiana on the subject.

Senator Clinton hits Obama:

Senator Obama's response:

Obama has said he was going to avoid going negative in the coming weeks, while Clinton has not shied away from her strategy. Both ads clearly reflect that, and stay on message: Clinton's of being a fighter and Obama's change in Washington argument. We will see if this issue can score points for either one.

Candidates talk energy policy

Americans have dealt with significant increases in their costs of living during the Bush administration. One of the most significant is rising energy costs, most visibly seen in high prices at the pump. This issue has suddenly found itself at the center of the Presidential campaign in the form of a proposal to suspend the gas tax for the summer, saving the average American, according to estimates, at most about $30 over that time.

From the New York Times:

As angry truckers encircled the Capitol in a horn-blaring caravan and consumers across the country agonized over $60 fill-ups, the issue of high fuel prices flared on the campaign trail on Monday, sharply dividing the two Democratic candidates.

Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton lined up with Senator John McCain, the presumptive Republican nominee for president, in endorsing a plan to suspend the federal excise tax on gasoline, 18.4 cents a gallon, for the summer travel season. But Senator Barack Obama, Mrs. Clinton’s Democratic rival, spoke out firmly against the proposal, saying it would save consumers little and do nothing to curtail oil consumption and imports.

While Mr. Obama’s view is shared by environmentalists and many independent energy analysts, his position allowed Mrs. Clinton to draw a contrast with her opponent in appealing to the hard-hit middle-class families and older Americans who have proven to be the bedrock of her support. She has accused Mr. Obama of being out of touch with ordinary Americans who are struggling to meet their mortgages and gas up their cars and trucks.

Mrs. Clinton said at a rally on Monday morning in Graham, N.C., that she would introduce legislation to impose a windfall-profits tax on oil companies and use the revenue to suspend the gasoline tax temporarily.

"At the heart of my approach is a simple belief," Mrs. Clinton said. "Middle-class families are paying too much and oil companies aren't paying their fair share to help us solve the problems at the pump."

Mrs. Clinton said the tax on the oil companies, which have been reporting record profits as oil prices soar, would cover all of the lost revenue from the federal tax on gasoline and diesel fuel. She also said no highway projects would suffer.

Mr. Obama derided the McCain-Clinton idea of a federal tax holiday as a "short-term, quick-fix" proposal that would do more harm than good, and said the money, which is earmarked for the federal highway trust fund, is badly needed to maintain the nation’s roads and bridges.

Here at NDN, we are pleased to see the candidates addressing energy reform and discussing America’s weakening infrastructure. NDN Green Project Director Michael Moynihan recently wrote a paper about the need to invest in America’s infrastructure, and the Green Project has been promoting a long term solution to America’s energy needs. Going forward, we encourage the candidates to incorporate long term solutions these issues into their policy prescriptions.

Obama's Focus Turns to "Everyday People"

Following a double digit loss in the Ohio primary and a high single digit loss in Pennsylvania, Barack Obama’s campaign is undergoing what First Read has termed a “re-launch,” and focused on the economic woes of everyday people. Articles appeared today in the New York Times, Washington Post, and Wall Street Journal about this style and policy shift designed to pursue the blue-collar votes that have recently proven elusive for him.

From the Washington Post:

Sen. Barack Obama came this past weekend to this factory town, where the loss of hundreds of jobs at the Delphi auto parts plant was only the latest blow, and told 2,000 voters that the way to fix things was not just to vote for him -- but to join a bottom-up mass movement to change the way government works.

He didn't put it that way exactly. But in a noteworthy shift, the Illinois senator is trying to reach working-class and middle-class voters by arguing more explicitly that the reform ideas driving his campaign can address the economic troubles that threaten their way of life. Supplanting lobbyist influence with citizen activism, uniting the country beyond petty partisan gamesmanship and bringing more candor to government, he argues, are not just abstract goals, but concrete steps that can level the playing field and lead to a more equitable distribution of the nation's wealth.

"When we push back the special interests, when we unify the country, when we speak honestly with the American people about our challenges, there's nothing we can't accomplish, nothing we can't do," he said here. "When we unify the country, we will change our economy."

Much also has been made about the cosmetic changes the campaign is undergoing. Obama recently showed off his basketball skills in Indiana (where the sport is sacrosant), and has reverted to a common practice from earlier in the campaign: going without coat and tie and rolling up his sleeves.

From the Wall Street Journal:

During his weekend tour of Indiana, Sen. Obama shed his suit jacket and rolled up his shirt sleeves. Rather than pace up and down the stage like a law professor addressing a lecture hall, the Illinois senator has taken to speaking more often from behind a podium.

"If you had watched the last few weeks of this campaign, you would think that all that politics is about is taking hits and bickering," he said. "There's no serious discussion about how we're actually going to bring back jobs to Anderson."

The candidates are turning their attention to the economy at an important time. Global food shortages are starting to have effects at home, and the San Francisco Chronicle today documented the ongoing economic shift that will force many Americans to accept a new standard of living due to the weak dollar.

At NDN, we agree that far more attention needs to be paid to the economic woes of everyday people. NDN President Simon Rosenberg recently blogged on the need to keep political attention on laying out an agenda that restores broad-based prosperity, which the Globalization Initiative has been advocating for the last three years.

With the economy on the wrong track, the candidates need to pick up their rhetoric and provide a cogent narrative on America’s place in the new globalized economy. While it may be easy to pander on these issues for short term political advantage, greater benefit, to both candidate and nation, will come from providing a convincing argument that deals with the realities of globalization. Hopefully, a renewed focus on everyday people will do just that.

Food shortages come home

American awareness of famines is generally limited to pictures on television or the internet of people starving in faraway places. Surely global food shortages and rising prices cannot affect Americans at home – or so went the thinking. No more.

Costco and Wal-Mart’s Sam’s Club have placed limits on the amount of rice customers can buy. These limits are too high to affect the average consumer, but some businesses may be affected. The reasons for this limit, though, are worth noting. From the Washington Times:

Costco and other grocery stores in California reported a run on rice, which has forced them to set limits on how many sacks of rice each customer can buy. Filipinos in Canada are scooping up all the rice they can find and shipping it to relatives in the Philippines, which is suffering a severe shortage that is leaving many people hungry.

While it is difficult to nail down the specific causes in terms of what bears the greatest amount of responsibility for these high prices, it is worth noting that many experts point to the global hoarding and speculative buying of these goods as well as policies promoting the use of corn for ethanol production. It is also worth noting that this issue is starting to create domestic fears.

NDN Globalization Initiative Policy Director Maggie Barker recently blogged on the causes of these high prices, and I wrote about the political turmoil they are creating globally.

Green Jobs and a new environmentalism

With Democrats voting today in Pennsylvania, we are coming to the close of a six week period in which Senators Obama and Clinton have been talking non-stop about the loss of manufacturing jobs. During that time, they have, to one degree or another, been touting one of the most highly anticipated benefits of dealing with climate change – aside from saving the planet, of course – the entire sector of new “green collar” jobs that will come with it.

Skilled labor will be required to create the solar panels, wind turbines, hybrid engines, energy efficient buildings, and other, as of yet undreamt of clean technologies. Presumably, the argument goes, Pennsylvania’s un- or under- employed workers will benefit from these new jobs. The buy-in to this concept from organized labor has been strong. (The Blue Green Alliance, a partnership of the United Steelworkers and the Sierra Club, has been pushing this side of the argument. They hosted the “Good Jobs, Green Jobs National Conference” in Pittsburgh last month.)

The consensus on green collar jobs – at least on the Democratic side – is broad. New ads from the Alliance for Climate Protection showcase the bipartisan support for creating a solution to climate change. Politicians, of course, love green collar jobs. What better way to go into an economically depressed community than with the promise of a new generation of good-paying jobs?

The green collar jobs argument illustrates just how far the environmental movement has come since its first round of huge legislative successes and awareness campaigns of over a generation ago. The new attentiveness to climate has allowed the environmental community to partner with government, labor, multinational corporations, and religious and community groups to launch a powerful arsenal of multi-disciplinary arguments that environmentalists have been formulating for decades about why and how to stop climate change. These arguments go far beyond what many, until recently, saw as the traditional purview of environmentalism.

This new, broadened approach to environment is working in the fight to advance a solution to climate change – in part because the challenge is so large that it will have far reaching affects on everything from the economy to national security, and in part because the environmental movement now has the ability to make arguments that reach into the polling places of Pennsylvania. This Earth Day, it seems that the climate debate, which has been called “Environment 2.0,” goes hand in hand with environmentalism 2.0, a movement so powerful it can produce a blockbuster documentary, win a Nobel Peace Prize, and – hopefully – create a broad political consensus to save the planet while creating good, new jobs.

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