Monthly Archives: September 2012

Berkeley Journalist Michael Lewis Profiles Barack Obama

Vanity Fair reporter Michael Lewis played basketball with the president during his six months of reporting. (Pete Souza: The White House)

Vanity Fair reporter Michael Lewis played basketball with the president during his six months of reporting. (Pete Souza: The White House)

It was a “flakey” idea, one almost certain to go nowhere.

“Someone should write a piece just trying to put the reader in the president’s shoes,” Berkeley journalist Michael Lewis told Terry Gross on Fresh Air this week. He was describing an email he had sent to White House Press Secretary Jay Carney. He was requesting near-unprecedented access to President Obama. Lewis got a call the next day.

And much to his surprise, his pitch was accepted. Lewis, author of Moneyball and Liar’s Poker, observed the president over a period of six months last year — in meetings, on Air Force One, even on the basketball court — largely to learn about what it’s like to be president: what your day is like, what it’s like to make decisions a president must make — and how he makes them. Lewis’ article, Obama’s Way, appears in the October issue of Vanity Fair.

Lewis told Gross of many scenes from countless meetings, crises and travels. But his trip to Obama’s “favorite place” in the White House particularly resonates. As Lewis described it, you could almost imagine what it would be like to walk along with the President into his home: Continue reading

A Powerful Way to Get Out the Vote: Share with Your Facebook Friends

(Joel Saget: AFP/GettyImages)

(Joel Saget: AFP/GettyImages)

From AP: Here’s something most politicians can “like”: Facebook friends played a big role in getting hundreds of thousands of people to vote in 2010, a new scientific study claims.

Facebook researchers and scientists at the University of California, San Diego conducted a massive online experiment in the mid-term congressional election to test and measure the political power of online peer pressure.

They found that people who got Facebook messages that their friends had voted were a bit more likely to go to the polls than those who didn’t get the same reminder. And from there the effect multiplied in the social network, they reported in Thursday’s journal Nature.

The friend-prodding likely increased voter turnout by as much as 340,000 in the non-presidential election that voted in a new Republican congress, the scientists calculated. They said that it could potentially change the outcome of close elections.

“Our study is the first large-scale scientific test of the idea that online social networks affect real world political behavior,” said study lead author James Fowler, a professor of medical genetics and political science at the University of California, San Diego. Continue reading

Occupy One Year Later: Going Local

By Katrina Schwartz

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Community College of San Francisco student Janice Suess has taken the organizing skills she learned during Occupy and put them to work advocating for student rights. (Katrina Schwartz/KQED)

Community College of San Francisco student Janice Suess has taken the organizing skills she learned during Occupy and put them to work advocating for student rights. (Katrina Schwartz/KQED)

A year ago the Occupy movement grabbed a national spotlight, shifting the political debate to focus on economic inequality. Those expecting the movement to translate into national electoral politics — as the Tea Party movement has done — have been disappointed. Many Bay Area Occupiers say their political awakening has driven them to fight for change in their own communities, instead.

Janice Suess, 19, moved to San Francisco a little over a year ago. Shortly after moving into her apartment, she heard the Blue Angels would be flying, and decided to head out to take some pictures. On her way back, she saw a crowd gathering in front of the San Francisco Federal Reserve. She was curious.

“I thought it was kind of peculiar so I went up and just asked someone what was going on. And they said it was the Occupy Movement and I was like, ‘Whoa, what is this?,'” explained Suess. Continue reading

Proposition 34: Should California Overturn the Death Penalty?

San Quentin's death penalty chamber. (Photo: Scott Shafer, KQED)

San Quentin's lethal injection room. (Photo: Scott Shafer, KQED)

The death penalty is on the ballot in California in November, in the form of Proposition 34.  While death penalty discussions usually involve the topic of morality, there is little of that in the proposition’s language. Instead, Prop. 34 focuses on money. Specifically, what would be saved by abolishing the death penalty — billions of dollars, according to Jeanne Woodford, executive director of Death Penalty Focus. She explained the number on KQED’s Forum this morning.

The figure [PDF] actually came from Justice Alarcon, who is the 9th circuit court judge,” she said, further explaining that Alarcon supports the death penalty and his then-law clerk Paula Mitchell, who co-wrote the analysis, does not. They studied the issues for five years, Woodford said. “They concluded that we have spent $4 billion on the death penalty since 1978, and if we continue with the death penalty we will spend up to another $7 billion on the death penalty by 2050.”

In addition, Woodford pointed to the non-partisan Legislative Analyst’s Office report which estimates savings of $130 million annually within a few years of passage of Proposition 34 — with the caveat that its estimate could vary by tens of millions of dollars. Continue reading

Gov. Brown Makes a Case for Prop. 30

Gov. Jerry Brown addresses questions from the San Jose Mercury News editorial board. (Image: UStream)

Gov. Jerry Brown addresses questions from the San Jose Mercury News editorial board. (Image: UStream)

Gov. Jerry Brown sat down with the San Jose Mercury News editorial board today to discuss his ballot proposition to raise taxes for education. If the measure fails, automatic trigger cuts will mean billions cut from K-12, community colleges and public universities in California.

Brown started off with some political history — a little bit of ‘how did we get into this mess — for the assembled Mercury News reporters and editors.

“If you go back to Pete Wilson,” Brown began, “we had a big recession, he had to cut massively and raise taxes massively. And then Davis rode up the high tech bubble and rode it down. That created its own problems and then Arnold came in and he rode the mortgage bubble up and also rode it down. And so that we are caught in waves of prosperity and misfortune. And in that process, the problem has been compounded because the Democrats and Republicans as they try to negotiate a balance, the Democrats want to get some more benefits and the Republicans counter with tax breaks. That then compounds the problem, because you have more spending and less revenue.” Continue reading

What’s Government For? Share Your Story

Pak Gwei/Flickr

What role should government play in the lives of Americans? Is it doing something now that it shouldn’t? Have you had an experience with good government or bad government that you’re willing to share?

We want to hear from you for Perspectives, KQED’s listener essay series. In the coming days we’ll be posting these fill-in-the-blank questions on social media:

  • Government should stop _____________.
  • We need government to _____________.
  • I know government is too big because _____________.
  • Government really helped me to _____________.

You can answer by sharing your thoughts on, Tweeting @KQEDnews or posting a comment below. We will be reviewing the answers and reaching out to some of the respondents to ask if they’re interested in being part of a series of election-themed Perspectives later this year.

So post a comment and let us know what you think!

California’s Prop. 37: Are GMO Labels A Scarlet Letter?

By Amy Standen

Genetically-engineered lettuce can sprout in a hot, dry climate.

Genetically-engineered lettuce can sprout in a hot, dry climate.

Proposition 37 could make California the first state in the country to require labels on foods made with genetically-modified ingredients. It’s shaping up to be one of the most contentious — and certainly the most expensive — battles on the state’s November ballot.

On one side are organic food groups that have spent about $3 million in support of the labeling law. On the other are biotech firms like Monsanto and food giants including Pepsi, Sara Lee, and General Mills, which have contributed upwards of $28 million to try and keep GMO labels off food packages.

If Proposition 37 passes, you’ll see a change in nearly every part of the grocery store.

To the “No On 37″ camp, there is nothing benign about a label

Take the cereal aisle, where Stacy Malkan with the “Yes on 37” campaign recently picked up a box of granola and pointed to the ingredients panel.

“Many of these products have corn syrup, cornstarch, sugar beets, and soy products that are genetically engineered,” she said.

In the United States, up to 90 percent of those foods are grown from seeds that have been genetically modified. Scientists made changes in the plants’ DNA to make the crop resist pests or stay fresh longer, to name two examples.

Malkan thinks that’s something consumers should know about. Continue reading

Political Fact-Checking: Do Voters Care?

(Ho John Lee: Flickr)

(Ho John Lee: Flickr)

After two weeks of political conventions, fact-checkers are likely taking a moment to catch their breath before diving back into the drive toward the November 6 finish. But how much of an impact do fact-checkers make on the electorate? Several guests joined KQED Forum host Michael Krasny this morning to look at Fact vs. Fiction on the Campaign Trail.

First up, the broad swath of undecided voters this election year, care deeply about issues, more so than in past years, says Barbara O’Connor, Director of the Institute for the Study of Politics and Media at CSU-Sacramento. She’s just back from a week in swing-state Virginia where the talked to hundreds of voters.

“They’re very tired of the PAC ads and the untruth,” O’Connor said. “When you talk to them and I was at a Nascar race … They do care and they care very much about these wonky issues. I haven’t asked them but I’ll start doing that out of curiosity whether they’re paying attention to the fact checkers, but they certainly care about the issues, more than I’ve ever seen on both sides. … Moreover, I think we will have more people watching the debates than we’ve ever seen.” Continue reading

Young Voters Sound Off in Silicon Valley

(Photo: Stephen Pottage)

Participants in the focus group were vocal about their support for education. (Photo: Stephen Pottage)

With the national conventions behind them now, Republicans and Democrats say they’re all fired up and ready to go — sprinting toward the November election.

Four years ago Barack Obama marched into the White House beside an army of young volunteers. How are voters under 30 feeling about politics now?

As President Obama was giving his acceptance speech Thursday night, a group of younger citizens in Silicon Valley discussed their feelings about the election. Those focus groups are part of KQED’s campaign season series “What’s Government For?” — a joint project with the non-partisan Public Policy Institute of California.

“But just about everybody wanted government to do more to improve schools and to make college more affordable.”

While the PPIC does public opinion polling, they also are conducting these smaller conversations to take the pulse of Californians this election year. KQED has already participated in Contra Costa, Fresno and Los Angeles. On Thursday night, 20 young adults — ages 18 to 29 — gathered to talk about their views on government and politics. The group was a mix of Republicans, Continue reading