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US Chamber of Commerce falls victim to ‘fraud’over climate hoax

Environmental activists held spoof press conference announcing U-turn in the organisation’s stance on climate legislation

http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/blog/2009/oct/19/chamber-commerce-climate-hoax

It looked – at first – eerily like a routine news event. A man in a nondescript dark suit standing at a podium in one of the smaller meeting rooms on the 13th floor of the National Press Club. But then suddenly it wasn’t.

“There is only one way to do business and that is to pass a climate bill quickly so this December President Obama can go to Copenhagen and negotiate with a strong position,” said the speaker – who said he represented the US Chamber of Commerce.

The statement represented a complete repudiation of the Chamber’s earlier opposition to climate change legislation. The hard line had triggered walk-outs from Apple and a handful of other high-profile companies in the past few weeks. The companies are trying to press the business organisation to support the bill by the senators John Kerry and Barbara Boxer that is to be debated by the Senate next week.

Or maybe not. Barely 20 minutes into the Q&A section of the press conference, an agitated spokesman for the Chamber burst into the room, screaming that the event was a hoax.

In today’s instant news era, that wasn’t quite soon enough. Several green organisations tweeted or blogged on the about-face. Reuters news agency put out a straight news story about the Chamber’s apparent U-turn, and the Washington Post and New York Times put the story on their news sites (both later removed the stories from their websites). CNBC actually sought – and got – comment from analysts. It also broke its programming to have a reporter read out the fake press release.

The spoof got under way with a press release inviting journalists to a morning news conference. Most reporters overlooked the misspelling of the Chamber president’s name.

The phony spokesman said the Chamber was not happy with the bill before the Senate and would push for a carbon tax – not the greenest of positions. But he added: “If cap and trade is all we can get we have to take it so at least we can have something to put in President Obama’s hands when he goes to Copenhagen.”

He went out even further on a limb when he called clean coal “a hoax”, saying the money would be better spent on solar energy research. “Clean technology has not only not been proven. It basically doesn’t exist,” he said.

It was about that time, the real Chamber spokesman burst into the room – and had a mild shoving match at the podium. “What happened today was a fraud and I believe illegal,” Eric Wohlschlegel said. The spokesman said he learned of the hoax when a reporter came to the Chamber office looking for the press conference. Wohlschlegel said he immediately leaped into a taxi.

The spoof appears to be the work of the Avaaz Action Factory, which put a post on its website promising to “make this the worst Monday ever for the anti-climate PR machine at the US chamber of commerce”.

And while a number of reporters still pressed Wohlschlegel for signs of a shift in the Chamber’s position, he soon set them straight. The Chamber was as opposed to climate change legislation as ever.


Obamas colour White House walls with modern art

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The Obamas are decorating their private spaces with more modern and abstract artwork than has ever hung on the White House walls.

Pieces by contemporary African-American and Native American artists are on display. Bold colours, odd shapes and squiggly lines have arrived. So, too, have some obscure artefacts, such as patent models for a gear cutter and a steamboat paddlewheel, which now sit in the Oval Office.

Works by big names from the modern art world – Jasper Johns and Mark Rothko – are rubbing shoulders with lesser-known artists such as Alma Thomas, an abstract painter from the 1960s and 1970s.

Thomas’s Watusi (Hard Edge) hangs in the east wing, where Michelle Obama has her offices. The acrylic on canvas, on loan from the Hirshhorn Museum, shows a jumble of geometric shapes in bright reds, blues and greens.

Glenn Ligon’s Black Like Me No 2, a Hirshhorn loan now hanging in the first family’s living quarters, is a “text painting” that reproduces words from the 1961 book Black Like Me, a non-fiction account by a white man who disguised himself as a black man and travelled through the south.

Ligon, a black artist from Brooklyn, said the painting’s theme fitted with the president’s efforts to create a dialogue between races. “It’s a really important part of what he’s about and symbolically what he’s done,” he said.

Jeri Redcorn, a 69-year-old Native American artist from Norman, Oklahoma ()

Confidence in Obama Lifts U.S. Image Around the World

The image of the United States has improved markedly in most parts of the world, reflecting global confidence in Barack Obama. In many countries opinions of the United States are now about as positive as they were at the beginning of the decade before George W. Bush took office. Improvements in the U.S. image have been most pronounced in Western Europe, where favorable ratings for both the nation and the American people have soared. But opinions of America have also become more positive in key countries in Latin America, Africa and Asia, as well.

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Barack Obama keeps his cool in hothead Washington
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Andrew Sullivan‘s Sunday column at the Telegraph:

The instinctive conservatism and constitutionalism of Barack Obama were core reasons for his election. He was a liberal in policy but a conservative in temperament: cautious, consensus-seeking, empirical. After the wild swings of the Bush administration, this seemed like balm with an Eisenhower vibe. Obama even started golfing during foreign policy crises.

Decisions were made after deliberation and study, not impetuously. Strategy was stuck to, even at the cost of a few tactical setbacks. There was no big emotional breast-beating on the international stage; all options were kept open — even as we watched the brutal repression in Iran.

The new president also understood the real role of his office — not the decider, but the presider; one branch of three co-equal branches of government, subject to the rule of law and the constitution.

So the president resisted the temptation to jump in and nationalise the banks; he picked Wall Street-friendly Tim Geithner for the Treasury; he postponed any big early withdrawal from Iraq; he added troops in Afghanistan; he gave up his tax hikes because the recession was so steep. While he banned torture, he moved towards careful compromise on rendition and preventive detention and state secrets.

As he had once written when describing his strategy as a black man in a white world: no sudden moves. And we have seen none. Obama likes the system; he just wants to make it work for more people.

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Photo soure: DavidAngelo

Obama, Philosopher in Chief

In the elegant Wiener Börsensäle, the historic former stock exchange in a city whose vulnerability to Islam symbolized tensions between Europe and Muslim culture for centuries, Buruma spoke on “The Virtues and Limits of Cosmopolitanism,” presenting sophisticated context for an idea at the core of Obama’s approach in Cairo.

Cosmopolitanism is a “tricky” notion, Buruma observed. In one regard, we think of it as “a positive term denoting a high degree of cultivation and even glamour.” We recognize, as per the Oxford English Dictionary, that it connotes “ease in many different countries and cultures.” In another regard, Buruma noted, the “same word, spoken with a sneer and contempt,” and often preceded by “bourgeois” or “rootless,” played an ugly role in Nazi and Soviet propaganda. In that slanderous argot, the “cosmopolitan,” being “of too many places,” simply “cannot be one of us” — whoever we may be.

Buruma’s etymology lesson, appropriately offered in a “Jan Patocka Memorial Lecture” honoring the Prague Spring philosopher who inspired Václav Havel’s own openmindedness, suggests the delicate intellectual maneuver Obama tried to pull off in Cairo. There he expressed what lies behind many of his surface “nonpartisan” positions: a cosmopolitan ideal of the American thinker. The thinker, that is, committed to cooperative conversation, a figure first powerfully delineated by Richard Rorty in his neopragmatist works, then echoed in Cosmopolitanism: Ethics in a World of Strangers (W.W. Norton, 2006) by Kwame Anthony Appiah, the Ghanaian-American philosopher whose leadership in many American high-cultural organizations parallels Obama’s own ascent.

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A “New Beginning”

Obama in Cairo:

Of course, recognizing our common humanity is only the beginning of our task. Words alone cannot meet the needs of our people. These needs will be met only if we act boldly in the years ahead; and if we understand that the challenges we face are shared, and our failure to meet them will hurt us all.

For we have learned from recent experience that when a financial system weakens in one country, prosperity is hurt everywhere. When a new flu infects one human being, all are at risk. When one nation pursues a nuclear weapon, the risk of nuclear attack rises for all nations. When violent extremists operate in one stretch of mountains, people are endangered across an ocean. And when innocents in Bosnia and Darfur are slaughtered, that is a stain on our collective conscience. That is what it means to share this world in the 21st century. That is the responsibility we have to one another as human beings.

This is a difficult responsibility to embrace. For human history has often been a record of nations and tribes subjugating one another to serve their own interests. Yet in this new age, such attitudes are self-defeating. Given our interdependence, any world order that elevates one nation or group of people over another will inevitably fail. So whatever we think of the past, we must not be prisoners of it. Our problems must be dealt with through partnership; progress must be shared.