Where have all the lobbyists gone? A recent study of disclosure forms by OMB Watch and the Center for Responsive Politics finds that a larger-than-average number "deregistered" this year, removing themselves from the official ranks of influence peddlers. But they haven't  gone very far. The groups say that these former lobbyists are now simply seeking to shape government policy in less transparent ways.

The study found that 1,418 federally registered lobbyists deregistered in the second quarter of 2009, between April and June (an average quarter would see a few hundred lobbyists terminate their active status.) The drop occurred shortly after Barack Obama issued Executive Order 13490, which put new restrictions on former lobbyists appointed to the executive branch.

The study observes that the "data does not provide enough context to provide a direct correlation to the executive order." But it also argues the the mass deregistration is likely not coincidental—and it's evidence of some of the larger flaws in lobbying disclosure rules. 

The report suggests that many of the lobbyists who lobbyists deregistered—possibly in the hope of getting a job in the executive branch some day—now have some other title that allows them to continue doing very similar work:

Another troubling issue highlighted by the organizations is that the thousands of lobbyists who appear to have left their line of work may not have actually done so. At the federal level, many people working in the lobbying industry are not registered lobbyists, instead adopting titles such as "senior advisor" or other executive monikers, thereby avoiding federal disclosure requirements under the Lobbying Disclosure Act.

In short, the deregistration doesn't mean there are actually fewer people seeking to influence policy. They're just doing so with less transparency, as they're no longer legally obligated to disclose their activities. So when the White House announced in September that "it is our aspiration that federally-registered lobbyists not be appointed to agency advisory boards and commissions," it might have had the opposite effect from what the new administration intended.

Editor's Note: A weekly roundup from our friends over at TreeHugger. Enjoy!

7 Highlights (and a Few Lowlights) in Food Since President Obama Was Elected

Just about one year ago, Barack Obama was elected to be the 44th President of the United States. Proclaiming change across the board, Obama swept in to office on a wave of hope and optimism for millions of people, and his mandate for change created some pretty high expectations for fast, meaningful change. Those passionate about food, food safety, and the politics of safe and sustainable food production were certainly among those counting on the President to put his presidency where his promise had been. A year later, this is where we're at.

Will the Climate Bill Grant Obama the Powers of Dictator?

No, no, it won't. I wish this could be a one-word post, but unfortunately, I think I'll have to do some explaining. You see, in one of the odder charges against the now-bipartisan climate bill, Senator David Vitter (R-LA) has taken to saying that it will arm Obama with the powers of a dictator. This, of course, is not the case, but that never stopped these bizarre mutterings from developing into full-fledged talking points.

IEA Whistleblowers Say World Oils Stats Deliberately Inflated to Avoid Financial Panic, Appease the US

World oil reserves are far lower than officially reported, the situation far more serious than publicly admitted, and we're already past peak oil. That's the word from two anonymous IEA whistleblowers. To add insult to industry, the figures were deliberately massaged, at least in part, to appease the United States. Somehow this all seems painfully expected.

Will "Green Religion" Save Us or Sink Us?

To me environmentalism is anything but a matter of faith, but rather a question of sound scientific understanding that material resources. And since the Earth's ability to support life is limited it's in our own self interest to live within our planetary means. But it proves how much attention I've been paying to headlines as a UK court has determined that belief in global warming is indeed akin to a religious or philosophical conviction. Depending on who you talk to, this could either be good for environmentalism, or very, very bad indeed.

Pesticide-Soaked 'Wallpaper' Cuts Malaria Exposure, Safer Than Spraying

To lower mosquito exposure in malaria-prone places there are two basic pesticide use strategies. The half-century old approach is to spray entire towns, as well as the surrounding countryside, with a pesticide such as DDT or pyrethrin. Now comes news of promising results from field trials of carbamate-impregnated polypropylene, non-woven fabric or "sheeting" as it is being called. We're not talking Ralph Lauren wallpaper over drywall...

Climate Justice Fast Begins - Hunger Strike Continues Through End of COP15 Conference

Calling it a "moral response to an immoral situation" and drawing inspiration from social justice luminaries like Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr., the organizers of Climate Justice Fast, and a growing list of 150+ supporters from around the world, have begun a hunger strike to last through the end of the COP15 climate change conference on December 18th. Fasters will subsist on water alone for more than 40 days.

In May, President Obama nominated a renowned scientist known as the "father of green chemistry" to head the EPA's Office of Research and Development. For an administration that supports ambitious climate change legislation and stresses the importance of sustainability, the nomination of Paul Anastas, director of Yale's Center for Green Chemistry and Green Engineering and a former White House environment director, was very much in keeping with its broader agenda. Anastas' nomination was unanimously approved in committee in July, and his confirmation seemed all but assured. Yet six months later Anastas still isn't confirmed. Standing in his way is Sen. David Vitter (R-La.), whose block on Anastas' nomination raises questions about Vitter's close ties to the formaldehyde industry.

Today, the future of the formaldehyde industry is very much in jeopardy. A few years back, the International Agency for Research on Cancer definitively announced that the chemical, used in building materials and household products, causes cancer in humans. The EPA, which has studied formaldehyde's risks for more than a decade, doesn't go quite so far, saying it's a "probable human carcinogen." But that could soon change. The EPA has recently signaled that it plans to definitively assess formaldehyde's health effects. "This is not the time for more delay," an EPA spokeswoman told the New Orleans Times-Picayune in September. As the agency's research director, Anastas would surely have a role in this assessment. Given that one of Anastas' specialties is researching "the design of safer chemicals and chemical processes to replace hazardous substances," the formaldehyde industry is predictably concerned about his nomination.

Army Spc. Alex Baker, horticultural specialist, from Stephenville, Texas, assigned to the Texas Agribusiness Development Team at Forward Operating Base Ghazni, listens as his interpreter explains how a lime is used in local cuisine during a market assessment at the produce market in Ghazni, Afghanistan, Oct. 27. The ADT performs market assessments in the produce market every 4-6 weeks to measure trends, prices, and seasonal changes on local and imported fruits and vegetables. (US Army photo via army.mil.)

Need To Read: November 12, 2009

Today's must reads:

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Karl Eikenberry, our man in Afghanistan, has apparently decided to drop a last-minute bombshell on the White House:

The U.S. ambassador in Kabul sent two classified cables to Washington in the past week expressing deep concerns about sending more U.S. troops to Afghanistan until President Hamid Karzai's government demonstrates that it is willing to tackle the corruption and mismanagement that has fueled the Taliban's rise, senior U.S. officials said.

....Eikenberry's last-minute interventions have highlighted the nagging undercurrent of the policy discussion: the U.S. dependence on a partnership with a Karzai government whose incompetence and corruption is a universal concern within the administration. After months of political upheaval, in the wake of widespread fraud during the August presidential election, Karzai was installed last week for a second five-year term.

In addition to placing the Karzai problem prominently on the table, the cables from Eikenberry, a retired four-star general who in 2006-2007 commanded U.S. troops in Afghanistan, have rankled his former colleagues in the Pentagon — as well as Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, defense officials said. McChrystal, the top U.S. and NATO commander in Afghanistan, has stated that without the deployment of an additional tens of thousands of troops within the next year, the mission there "will likely result in failure."

According to an unnamed official, after reading Eikenberry's cable Obama "wants to know where the off-ramps are." So would a lot of the rest of us.

Common Sense

Here is National Review's Rich Lowry on the constant chatter in the media about post-traumatic stress disorder in the aftermath of the Ft. Hood massacre:

The obsession with PTSD serves two purposes. First, it fits the media’s favorite narrative of soldiers as victims. Here was poor Hasan, brought low like so many others by the unbearable burden of Iraq and Afghanistan. Never mind that PTSD usually results in sleeplessness, flashbacks, and — in the extreme — suicide. Hasan is the first victim of PTSD known to jump on a table and allegedly yell “Allahu Akbar” while slaughtering his fellow troops.

Actually, I sort of share Lowry's annoyance on the PTSD front.  It's belaboring the obvious to say that of course PTSD is a serious problem, one that the military should (and, I think, does) take seriously.  But intentionally or not, hauling it out after every meltdown by a service member serves largely to tar them all in the public mind as unstable misfits who could blow up at any second.  That's both unfair and lazy.

But Lowry then goes on to insist that we should obsess over the fact that Nidal Malik Hasan was a Muslim who was apparently motivated by religious fervor.  His colleague Andy McCarthy puts it even more bluntly, claiming that the same beliefs that animated Hasan are widely accepted by Muslims in the United States:

The rote government response is to point out, mulishly, that there are many Muslims honorably serving in the U.S. armed forces. This is absolutely true but utterly beside the point....The honorable service of many Muslims does not alter the reality that there is enormous pressure on Muslim soldiers, from their religious authorities, to sabotage American military operations. Hasan's massacre of his fellow soldiers is the worst incident we've seen, but it's hardly an isolated incident.

I wonder if they even see the contradiction here?  When it comes to PTSD, every soldier is an individual and it's insulting to see it lying in wait everywhere.  But when it comes to extremist beliefs, well, Muslims are all under extreme pressure and we'd be fools not to see it lying in wait everywhere.

I prefer door #1: soldiers aren't all time bombs waiting to go off, and Muslims aren't all Manchurian candidates waiting to turn on their fellow Americans.  Just because they're different problems doesn't mean we can't address them both with equal doses of common sense.

Freako-frakkin-nomics notwithstanding, climate change is a thing of violent swiftness. New research indicates it took only months for Europe to freeze solid 12,800 years ago.

The most precise analysis yet of the onset of the "Big Freeze" reveals that Europe froze not in a decade—as previously thought from analysis of Greenland ice cores—but in less than 12 months.

The Big Freeze was triggered by the slowdown of the Gulf Stream. It terminated the Clovis culture, the dominant culture in North America at the time. Once triggered, the cold persisted for 1,300 years.

New Scientist reports on the research of William Patterson of the U of Saskatchewan whose group studied a mud core from ancient Lough Monreagh in Ireland, slicing layers 0.5 to 1 millimeter thick to study three-month intervals. No prior measurements from this period have approached such fine detail.

Turns out, at the start of the Big Freeze temperatures plummeted and lake productivity ceased within months or a year at most. Patterson presented the findings at the BOREAS conference in Finland. According to him (via New Scientist):

"It would be like taking Ireland today and moving it up to Svalbard."

We know the Big Freeze was triggered when a glacial lake covering most of northwest Canada burst its banks and poured into the North Atlantic and Arctic Oceans, diluting oceanic salinity (I wrote of fears of this in MoJo's The Fate of the Ocean) and rerouting the oceanic currents that deliver climate to the Northern Hemisphere:

Two studies published in 2006 show that the same thing happened again 8,200 years ago, when the Northern hemisphere went through another cold spell. Some climate scientists have suggested that the Greenland ice sheet could have the same effect if it suddenly melts through climate change, but the 2007 report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change concluded this was unlikely to happen this century.

Well, that's out of date. We already know Greenland is turning to slush frighteningly fast.

Patterson's team have now set their sights on even more precise records of historical climate. They have built a robot able to shave 0.05 micrometer slivers along the growth lines of fossilized clam shells, giving a resolution of less than a day. "We can get you mid-July temperatures from 400 million years ago," he says.

Hey, Barack Obama, you know, The Day After Tomorrow could happen after all. On your watch. One season all balmy in the Northern Hemisphere. The next a frozen hell. Sure you don't want to go to Copenhagen before the glaciers block your route?
 

Today's big media news:

Lou Dobbs, the longtime CNN anchor whose anti-immigration views have made him a TV lightning rod, said Wednesday that he is leaving the cable news channel effective immediately.

“Some leaders in the media, politics and business have been urging me to go beyond my role here at CNN and engage in constructive problem-solving,” Mr. Dobbs said just after 7 p.m., suggesting that he would remain involved in the civic discourse, but perhaps not on television.

Hey, maybe he's going to run for office!  Wouldn't that be fun?  Maybe mayor of some border city to start.  I'm thinking El Paso.  Then, after Sarah Palin wins the presidency in 2012, she could appoint him to head up Homeland Security. From there, the sky's the limit.

For more on Dobbs, here is Sridhar Pappu's profile from our January 2007 issue.  Enjoy!

Quote of the Day

From Charles Johnson, founder of Little Green Footballs and onetime leader of the post-9/11 warbloggers, on why he's given up on his fellow travelers:

The main reason I can’t march along with the right wing blogosphere any more, not to put too fine a point on it, is that most of them have succumbed to Obama Derangement Syndrome. One “nontroversy” after another, followed by the outrage of the day, followed by conspiracy theory after conspiracy theory, all delivered in breathless, angry prose that’s just wearying and depressing to read.

It’s not just the economic issues either. I’ve never been on board with the anti-science, anti-Enlightenment radical religious right. Once I began making my opinions known on issues like creationism and abortion, I realized that there just wasn’t very much in common with many of the bloggers on the right. And then, when most of them decided to fall in and support a blogger like Robert Stacy McCain, who has neo-Nazi friends, has written articles for the openly white supremacist website American Renaissance, and has made numerous openly racist statements on the record ... well, I was extremely disappointed to see it, but unfortunately not surprised.

There's was never any reason for surprise, of course.  2009 = 1993 all over again.