James West

James West

Senior Producer, Mother Jones/Climate Desk

James West is senior producer for Mother Jones and its reporting project Climate Desk. He wrote Beijing Blur (Penguin 2008), a far-reaching account of modernizing China’s underground youth scene. James has a masters of journalism under his belt from NYU, and has produced a variety of award-winning shows in his native Australia, including the national affairs program Hack. He's been to Kyrgyzstan, and also invited himself to Thanksgiving dinner after wrongly receiving invites for years from the mysterious Tran family.

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Samantha Power's Climate Silence

| Fri Jun. 7, 2013 5:56 AM EDT
Samantha Power (left), a former national security staffer and the next UN ambassador, leaves the Rose Garden. Fang Zhe/Xinhua/ZUMAPRESS.com

Samantha Power, Obama's UN ambassador-in-waiting, frowned modestly as the president heaped lofty praise on her this week when he announced a major national security reshuffle.

"One of our foremost thinkers on foreign policy, she showed us that the international community has a moral responsibility and a profound interest in resolving conflicts and defending human dignity," he said. "I think she won the Pulitzer Prize at the age of 15 or 16," he joked. (Power won in 2003, in her early 30s, for A Problem from Hell: America and the Age of Genocide, a rationale for American intervention in international atrocities.)

In accepting the president's nomination—the Senate still needs to approve—Power argued for a strong American role in the UN: "As the most powerful and inspiring country on this Earth, we have a critical role to play in insisting that the institution meet the necessities of our time. It can do so only with American leadership."

But will Samantha Power's brand of leadership extend to advocating climate action from her powerful position at the UN? After all, climate change is a top priority in the UN: While development has been grinding, members at the Doha climate conference last December reaffirmed a previous decision to reach a global pact to replace Kyoto by 2015; secretary general Ban Ki-moon himself has listed climate change at the very top of his 2013 "to do" list (up there with stopping the bloodshed in Syria). By contrast, there's very little evidence that climate change has motivated Samantha Power's career or featured in her public comments, leaving foreign policy experts confused as to how she might rise to the challenge. The people in the know…don't know.

"I don't think she has ever illustrated particular views one way or another on the environment," said a former colleague of Power's.

"I don't think she has ever illustrated particular views one way or another on the environment," said former colleague Robert Stavins, an expert on environmental economics at Harvard's Kennedy School of Government.

"I don't think we have any information," said Joshua W. Busby, at the Robert S. Strauss Center for International Security and Law. On climate change, "I didn't find anything she's ever said."

What clues we do have lie in her critique of the United Nations. She told a 2004 audience at Harvard—where she was also a professor—that the UN was as marred by international distrust and suspicion as the US was, making international relief and intervention in humanitarian disasters tricky. "The guardian of international law legitimacy is itself seen to be something of a relic," she said. What is needed, she argued, was a reinvestment in the UN. This would make the UN, once again, a body through which the US expressed foreign policy, in order to start "restoring the legitimacy of US power."

In a 2008 interview with Harry Kreisler of the University of California-Berkeley's Institute of International Studies, Power appeared to group climate change with other insanely difficult global problems like nuclear proliferation and terrorism. All, she said, require negotiations between many nations, rich and poor, that all want totally different things. The US can't simply snap its fingers and get what it wants, she argued. Collaboration is key: "What's important is to embrace the recognition that you need others by your side in order to get anything done."

"Mark Is Not Going To Die In Vain": New Yorkers Rally After Murder of Gay Man

| Tue May 21, 2013 5:00 AM EDT
The site where Mark Carson was shot on West 8th Street, New York. Police say the killing was a hate crime. James West

Blinding afternoon sun lit the biggest gay rights demonstration in years in New York's West Village Monday. The LGBT community and its supporters, including a couple of mayoral candidates, marched in the wake of a murder that has capped a month-long spate of homophobic violence.

Demonstrators—police say 1,500, organizers say many hundreds more—marched through the leafy streets that gave birth to the gay rights movement to the  corner where Mark Carson, 32, was shot in the face and killed Friday night as he walked with a friend. Police have charged Elliot Morales, 33, with second-degree murder and a hate crime, accusing him of hurling homophobic slurs at Carson.

Flourine Bompars, Carson's aunt, addressed the crowd, calling Carson "a loving and caring person" who will not be forgotten.

The audience applauded and cheered loudly after Bishop Zachary Jones of Unity Fellowship Church of Christ, East New York, shouted, "There is room for everyone at the table of love... and we will march and we will come closer together to make sure everyone has the right to be who they are."

Protestors march through New York's west village. Police and community groups say there has been an upwing in "bias" crimes. James West

The randomness of Carson's death has sent a  jolt through the gay community. "It's clear that the victim here was killed only because and just because he was thought to be gay," the police commissioner, Ray Kelly, said on Sunday.

Community leaders say Carson's death is part of a worrying citywide trend: an uptick in violence against gay people, with five incidents this month alone. Police say "bias crimes" have risen this year compared to the same period last year, from 13 to 22, and advocates say that was on top of rising reports of violence from the previous year.

"The most pain is emotional," said Nick Porto, a 27-year-old fashion designer from Brooklyn, who was assaulted this month with his boyfriend Kevin Atkins, 22, as they walked near Madison Square after a Knicks game. (Police have released a video of the suspects).

"Mark is not going to die in vain. We are not going to get beat up in vain," Porto said after the rally. "Gay rights, we're still fighting for them, and the fight is not over. We need to protect each other."

Nick Porto (L) and Kevin Atkins, a couple, were assaulted after a Knicks game on May 5th. James West

But the source of the increase in violence is hard to pin down, say community leaders. Some who spoke at the rally blamed the increased visibility of gay rights: With a greater presence comes greater pushback, the reasoning goes. Sharon Stapel, executive director of the New York Anti-Violence Project, says victims are also feeling more comfortable reporting such crimes.

"But I also think we're still living in a country where it's lawful to discriminate against LGBT people, and that sends a message that it's OK to be hateful towards LGBT people," she said.

The protest also formed the backdrop to the race for New York City mayor. City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, herself a lesbian, marched alongside relatives of Mark Carson at the head of the rally, but did not speak to the crowd. John Liu, the hyperactive city comptroller who is also a candidate, was at the rally shaking hands and introducing himself.

Nick Porto, the assault victim, admitted he was moved when he looked out across the crowd that filled 8th Street, "My knees got weak, I almost fell, I was just a mess," he said. "It's proof, it's absolute hope in our community, that we will survive this."

"Gay rights isn't just about gay marriage," he told the cheering crowd. "We need to live long enough to share in that opportunity."

John Liu (L), and Christine Quinn with members of the Carson family. Both are running for New York City mayor. James West


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