A closer look at Obama’s “green team,” journalists behind bars and John Nichols on potential labor secretary Hilda Solis.



Barack Obama is bringing science back to Washington. After eight years in which science was ignored or censored by the Bush administration and right-wingers in Congress, Obama’s choices of environmental and energy aides promise a very different approach.

Steven Chu

(tapped as energy secretary),

John Holdren

(White House science adviser) and

Jane Lubchenco

(head of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) are first-rate intellects who have long records of speaking out on behalf of the public good.

Chu, who won the

Nobel Prize for Physics

in 1997, has called energy “the single most important problem that science has to solve” and grasps basic points that have been absent from the Washington debate in recent years, such as the fact that energy efficiency is the fastest, cheapest way to fight climate change and that burning more coal would be a disaster unless the carbon dioxide can be reliably captured and stored–a very big if.

Holdren, a professor of environmental policy at Harvard, has been advising Obama for months, which may account for the president-elect’s understanding–rare among US politicians–that climate change “is happening faster than even the most pessimistic scientists were anticipating a couple of years ago.” Lubchenco, a professor at Oregon State University who ranks among the most distinguished oceanographers in the world, has led efforts to restore ecological balance in the seas–a “Mutiny for the Bounty,” she calls it–which requires reversing climate change.

Getting the science right is no guarantee that good policies will follow, but it is a prerequisite. Obama recognizes that investing in the new green economy is a solution to many problems, and he couldn’t have chosen more capable and committed scientists to assist in that essential work.   MARK HERTSGAARD


According to a

Committee to Protect Journalists

(CPJ) report released December 4, of the 125 media workers in prison–a list that includes

Ibrahim Jassam

, a photographer held in US custody in Iraq–more of them published online than in any other medium.

The majority of online journalists behind bars come from China, the most high-profile of the many countries where






have been accused of complicity with human rights violations. CPJ cites the

Global Network Initiative

as one effort to address this. Developed by these companies in cooperation with investors, academics and human rights organizations, the initiative details a set of principles aimed at protecting users’ freedom of expression and privacy. It’s difficult to tell whether the voluntary program will rein in the actions of the corporations.

“They’ve been named and shamed before, and their behavior has not really changed,” said

Antony Loewenstein

, author of The Blogging Revolution. Participants are asked to assess their impact in new markets and to maintain transparency, but they are not required to break local laws or pull out of offending countries.

Meanwhile, Loewenstein stressed his faith in the motives of, if not Yahoo, Google and Microsoft, then the human rights groups involved. “I’m skeptical only because I’ve seen these companies operating in China, and it’s really ugly,” he said. “I’m happy to be proven wrong.”   SARAH ARNOLD


The old union song asked, “Which side are you on?” And California Congresswoman

Hilda Solis


Barack Obama

‘s nominee to serve as labor secretary, has always answered, Yes! The daughter of immigrant workers from Nicaragua and Mexico who met in a Los Angeles citizenship class, Solis was raised in and around the labor movement. She chose

United Farm Workers


Dolores Huerta

as a role model, marched on picket lines and championed


organizing drives as a California legislator in the 1990s.

When the Clinton administration prevailed upon Democratic Congressman

Matthew Martinez

to support permanent normalization of trade relations with China, the LA County Federation of Labor drafted Solis to mount a primary challenge to the nine-term incumbent. She whipped him and came to Washington as, in the words of the late federation leader

Miguel Contreras

, “a warrior for working families.” She’s been that: siding with labor 97 percent of the time, taking a lead in promoting legislation to make it easier to organize unions and defending immigrants from attacks by Republicans and Democrats. She’s also been an outspoken critic of the Bush administration’s free-trade agenda–unlike former Dallas Mayor

Ron Kirk

, Obama’s disappointing choice to serve as US trade representative.

The labor secretary definitely sits at the far end of the cabinet table, playing a less pivotal role than the treasury secretary and White House advisers when it comes to economic policy. But having Solis at the table makes this a decidedly more worker-friendly administration. Her energy, knowledge of the issues and record of advocating for economic and social justice suggest that in an administration where there is much talk about forging a new New Deal, Solis could be the most significant labor secretary since

Frances Perkins

served with

Franklin Roosevelt



The Nation‘s third annual Student Writing Contest, sponsored by the

BIL Charitable Trust

to recognize the best in student writing and thinking, received hundreds of entries from around the country. From a pool of ten finalists, we picked a high school and a college winner. The college winner,

Victor Lopez

, is a student at

Guilford Tech Community College

in North Carolina. His essay, “Transcending Trauma,” begins with a powerful recollection of his childhood in the foster care system and then asks President-elect Obama to “commission a federal oversight panel to overhaul the treatment of those in foster care and others who cannot care for themselves.” The high school winner,

Laine Alison Zalac


Columbus Alternative High School

in Ohio, notes that her school “doesn’t have clocks that work, but less than three miles away is a suburban school with an indoor swimming pool.” Zalac asks the next president to “address educational inequities and do it swiftly and with commitment.” To read Lopez’s and Zalac’s essays in full, as well as those of the other finalists, visit

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Katrina vanden Heuvel
Editorial Director and Publisher, The Nation

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