Dispatches > The Buzz
Tom Hanson/The Canadian Press/AP

The Buzz

Need-to-know news

Issue: "Wealth and poverty," March 14, 2009

Climate changed

Economic pressure is changing the climate-change policy debate around the world-except maybe in the United States. President Barack Obama came out of his Feb. 19 meeting with Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper sounding remarkably similar to his predecessor. Obama resolved to pursue carbon-capture technology, a system that would allow industry to avoid cutbacks in energy use. He also stated that the participation of China and India are "absolutely critical" for the success of any worldwide energy pact, a position that echoes the Bush administration if not the existing Kyoto Protocol. Sagging markets are leaving large Kyoto-adhering European companies with loads of carbon credits to sell off without any need to alter their emitting practices. And the UN has warned that the global credit crunch threatens to dry up funds pledged from wealthy nations to help developing countries adapt to the impacts of climate change.

Tea time

Tea party revolts are popping up around the country after CNBC reporter and former trader Rick Santelli in a televised report from the Chicago Mercantile Exchange declared that the "government is promoting bad behavior" by buying up mortgages he says belong to "losers." "How about rewarding people who can carry the water instead drinking the water only?" said Santelli in a news clip that's accumulated over three-quarters of a million views on YouTube. When Santelli said he'd stage a Boston Tea Party-like revolt in July, citizen groups decided they couldn't wait: The first were set for Feb. 27.

'Dogging the stimulus

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The Obama Administration launched its own website to track the $787 billion flowing from the stimulus package (www.recovery.gov) "so that every American can find out how and where their money is being spent," the president said in a Feb. 24 State of the Union message. But some groups aren't leaving it to the government to root out waste, fraud, and abuse.

StimulusWatch.org and ShovelWatch.org are two of the websites recently launched to ensure that transparency occurs when the Treasury starts doling the dollars. The sites plan to act as virtual accountability groups, and both plead for the help of a nationwide network of readers. "We plan on being up until the last dime is spent," said Mike Webb with ProPublica, one of three groups behind Shovel Watch. StimulusWatch.org already has posted the U.S. Conference of Mayors project wish list released in anticipation of stimulus bucks. On the site viewers can vote on the merits of each project. Currently voted most critical: $4.3 million for a nursing home in Tennessee. Least critical: nearly $100,000 for doorbells in Laurel, Miss.

Optimists say reader-friendly sites that break down 1,000-page congressional legislation could lead to a new frontier of digital watchdogs and give the nation its best chance at transparency when it comes to getting inside the stereotypical dark closets of Washington spending. Pessimists say it's impossible to eliminate waste when this much money is being spent. But Steve Ellis with Taxpayers for Common Sense says keeping the seepage to a minimum is worthwhile: "If there is just a 1 percent waste, you are still talking about nearly $8 billion," he said.

Rebranded

Only weeks after the State Department revealed it will not renew its contract with Blackwater Worldwide, the security firm announced it is changing its name to Xe. The company's move to distance itself from its tarnished past comes as five former Blackwater guards face charges over a 2007 Baghdad shooting that left 17 Iraqi civilians dead. According to president Gary Jackson, the company will no longer actively pursue new security contracts but will focus on operating its worldwide training facilities.

Capital vote

Washington, D.C., license plates read, "Taxation without representation," but Congress likely will grant the District of Columbia its first voting member in the House of Representatives. Similar legislation failed two years ago by three votes in the Senate. Republicans argue it is unconstitutional because the District isn't a state. Democrats argue that a clause in the Constitution allows exceptional laws for the District. President Obama voted for D.C. voting rights when he was in the Senate, and he told D.C. Mayor Adrian Fenty he would continue to support the measure. The D.C. representative will no doubt be a Democrat, and the bill includes a new seat for Utah based on population growth, a likely Republican.

Going nuclear

Iran kicked its nuclear energy program to life Feb. 25, conducting the first test of its nuclear power plant at Bushehr as the head of Russia's state nuclear company and reporters looked on. With Secretary of State Hillary Clinton scheduled to meet with Russia's foreign minister March 6, the top agenda item is likely to be Russia's ongoing support of Iran's uranium enrichment program, which the United States and its allies believe is meant for military purposes. A likely bargaining chip will be the U.S. ballistic missile defense program carried forward from the Bush administration: The Russians oppose the program but U.S. officials insist it's needed as long as a hostile Iran pursues nukes.

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