Weekly Audit: Crashing the Koch’s Billionaire Caucus

 

By Lindsay Beyerstein, Media Consortium blogger

Oil barons Charles and David Koch held their annual billionaires’ summit in Palm Springs on Sunday, Nancy Goldstein reports in The Nation. Every year, the Kochs gather with fellow plutocrats, prominent pundits, and Republican legislators to plan their assault on government regulation and the welfare state. This is the first year that the low-profile gathering has attracted protesters.

The Kochs are best known for pumping millions into the ostensibly grassroots Tea Party movement. At TAPPED, Monica Potts points to Jane Mayer’s famous 2010 profile of the Koch brothers that made their name synonymous with vast right wing conspiracy. Her colleague Jamelle Bouie questions whether the Koch brothers really deserve their bogeyman status–no single cabal of funders can single-handedly sway public opinion, he argues.

That’s true, but $30 million can go a long way. That’s the amount the event’s organizers expect to raise for the GOP, according to Steve Benen of the Washington Monthly, who also notes the event was off-limits to the mainstream media.

David Dayen reports at AlterNet that about 800 to 1,000 protesters rallied outside Sunday’s summit at the Rancho Las Palmas resort. Twenty-five protesters were arrested for trespassing. Police in full riot gear carted the protesters away. To add a surreal note to the proceedings, conservative provocateur Andrew Brietbart emerged from the summit on roller skates to argue with the protesters.

Several progressive organizations collaborated to draw the crowd including Common Cause, the California Courage Campaign, CREDO, MoveOn.org, 350.org, the California Nurses Association, and the United Domestic Workers of America. The Media Consortium’s own Jim Hightower was a featured speaker at the rally.

Plastic vs. the poor

YES! Magazine highlights a video lecture by racial and environmental justice advocate Van Jones on the hidden economic toll that plastic takes on the world’s poor. When we discard our plastic bottles in the recycle bin, we assume they are destined to be reused or recycled. In fact, Jones says, they are often shipped to developing countries and simply burned. Needless to say, these toxic plastic bonfires aren’t held in the tonier parts of town. It’s the poorest people who bear the brunt of living next door to heaps of flaming pop bottles. Jones’ central point is that treating objects as disposable inevitably leads to treating people the same way, because the most vulnerable are forced to live with the worst consequences of pollution.

Wall Street windfall doesn’t help Main Street

The Dow Jones Industrial Average briefly hovered above 12,000 last Wednesday, prompting the New York Times to proclaim the booming stock market as a sign of an economic recovery. But as George Warner notes in Campus Progress, surging stocks aren’t bringing jobs back:

The seasonally adjusted unemployment rate, 9.4 percent, underestimates the true extent of our employment problems by leaving out the many workers said to have “dropped out of the workforce.” By the Economic Policy Institute’s estimates, we are 11.5 million jobs short. 27 million Americans are unemployed or underemployed. (To see how little our labor market has bounced back, check out this Youtube visualization of the last 3 years…the only thing you can’t see is recovery.)

Warner adds that an analysis released last week by the Congressional Budget Office predicts that unemployment will remain high until 2016. What few jobs have been created are overwhelmingly low-wage positions without benefits. This is hardly a foundation on which to build lasting prosperity. A surging stock market without job creation means that the investor class is getting richer while ordinary people continue to struggle.

Hawkeyes Eying Wage Hike?

Iowa state Rep. Bruce Hunter (D-Des Moines) has introduced a bill that would raise the Iowa state minimum wage, Tyler Kingkade reports for the Iowa Independent. The bill would increase the minimum hourly wage to $7.50 on January, 1, 2012 and to $8.00 on July 1, 2012. The last time Iowa raised the minimum wage was in 2007 when the rate jumped from $5.15 per hour to the current $7.25.

This post features links to the best independent, progressive reporting about the economy by members of The Media Consortium. It is free to reprint. Visit the Audit for a complete list of articles on economic issues, or follow us on Twitter. And for the best progressive reporting on critical economy, environment, health care and immigration issues, check out The Mulch, The Pulse and The Diaspora. This is a project of The Media Consortium, a network of leading independent media outlets.

 

 

Weekly Diaspora: Why Arizona’s Birthright Bill is Bad for the Economy

by Catherine A. Traywick, Media Consortium blogger

Arizona lawmakers are expected to introduce an “anchor baby” bill today that would deny birthright citizenship to the U.S.-born children of undocumented immigrants. Modeled after birthright citizenship legislation unveiled by the nativist coalition State Legislators for Legal Immigration (SLLI) earlier this month, the measure is, unabashedly, part of a larger effort on the part of SLLI to challenge existing citizenship law in the United States.

Lawmakers from Georgia, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania and South Carolina have likewise committed to introducing citizenship bills at the state level, while legislators from Nebraska, Indiana, Colorado, Texas and others are determined to implement similarly controversial Arizona-style enforcement measures in their states.

In recent years, communities that implemented harsh anti-immigrant laws have experienced a number of economic and social repercussions which lawmakers continue to overlook in their determination to tighten enforcement. But as nativist policies bleed public coffers and anti-immigrant political speech incites new strains of ethnic violence, the stark consequences of such extremism are becoming harder and harder to ignore.

Devastating local economies

The legal costs of defending constitutionally questionable laws like SB 1070 ought to be obvious. Arizona, which has the rare luxury of drawing from a $3.6 million donor-endowed legal defense fund, spent upwards of $500,000 defending 1070 from legal challenges last year, and could, in the long-term, spend as much $10 million, according to New America Media’s Valeria Fernández.

Yet the think-tank Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR)—a major supporter of anti-immigrant laws like SB 1070 and birthright citizenship bills—obstinately underplays the financial fall-out of such measures. Ira Mehlman, a national spokesperson for FAIR, reportedly told New America Media that “the costs of litigations pale in comparison to the cost of communities providing healthcare, education and welfare for undocumented immigrants and their citizen children.”

Considerable evidence suggests otherwise. The Brookings Institution, the Udall Center for Public Policy and former President George W. Bush’s Council of Economic Advisors have all concluded that immigrants contribute much more to their local economies (through taxes and spending) than they take out through social services (about $800,000 more).

Now, a new report by Southern Poverty Law Center (which, incidentally, has listed FAIR as a hate group since 2007) argues that anti-immigrant laws—not immigrants—have a greater track record of depressing local economies. Gebe Martinez at Campus Progress sums up what happened to five communities “that threw anti-immigration statutes onto their books without fully considering their impact.” He writes:

  • Hazleton, Pennsylvania, the leader of the court fights for local immigration enforcement, is in the tank for at least $2.8 million with some estimates totaling $5 million as it defends its ordinance all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court.
  • Riverside, New Jersey suffered a local economic downturn before the city rescinded its anti-immigrant ordinance and welcomed the return of immigrants.
  • Farmers Branch, Texas, has spent nearly $4 million in legal fees and is expected to spend at least $5 million to defend its anti-immigration statute with no end in sight.
  • Prince William County, Virginia dramatically scaled back a tough immigration statute after realizing the original version would cost millions to enforce and defend in court.
  • Fremont, Nebraska, increased the city’s property tax to help pay the legal fees for its anti-immigration ordinance which it intends to defend.A

A spate of state-level birthright citizenship bills stands to be similarly costly, as the admitted goal of their sponsors is to force numerous court cases that challenge the conventional applications of the 14th amendment—legislation through litigation. But there are other expenses as well. If such legislation were to pass, government agencies would bear the incredibly costly burden of making citizenship determinations for every child born in the United States—a logistical nightmare that neither federal nor state governments are prepared to undertake.

Fueling ethnic violence

As economically devastating as these divisive measures can be, their social impact on communities is often even greater. Politicians bent on enacting anti-immigrant legislation frequently rely on hateful speech and pejorative language to foment public discontent and, in so doing, build citizen support for their measures—with tragic consequences.

Colorlines.com has repeatedly reported on the correlation between bigoted political speech, anti-immigrant legislation, and ethnic violence. Now, Mónica Novoa reports that a new study from the University of Maryland corroborates the connection. Charting the use of anti-immigrant slurs in newspapers and wire services over the last three decades, the study revealed that “a spike in usage of the dehumanizing slurs usually coincided with contentious immigration policy proposals.”

The correlation persists despite the fact that more than 15 years ago, four professional journalism associations—National Association of Hispanic Journalists, Asian American Journalists Association, Native American Journalists Association and National Association of Black Journalists—advised their members to stop using the phrase “illegal alien” on the grounds that is is “pejorative,” “grammatically incorrect and crosses the line by criminalizing the person, not the action they are purported to have committed.”

While incendiary rhetoric may be an effective way of garnering political support for controversial measures, it all too often fuels violence. Going back to New America Media, Fernández notes that this destructive cycle frequently makes for tragic consequences, as in the case of a 9-year-old girl who was allegedly murdered by members the Minuteman Project, an armed, volunteer border patrol organization. The Latino advocacy organization Cuentame, in partnership with Brave New Films, similarly emphasizes the link between hate speech and increasing incidents of hate crimes against Latinos:

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=K2cFuYJwW1s[/youtube]

Anti-birthright citizenship bills would effectively create an underclass of mostly Hispanic non-citizens. It’s an almost certain catalyst for rampant and systemic anti-immigrant discrimination and ethnic violence. As the  anti-immigrant lawmakers from Arizona and elsewhere make good on their promises to push a new, more fervent, onslaught of anti-immigrant legislation in 2011, expect the financial and social costs of such extremism to rise further still.

This post features links to the best independent, progressive reporting about immigration by members of The Media Consortium. It is free to reprint. Visit the Diaspora for a complete list of articles on immigration issues, or follow us on Twitter. And for the best progressive reporting on critical economy, environment, and health care issues, check out The Audit, The Mulch, and The Pulse<. This is a project of The Media Consortium, a network of leading independent media outlets.

 

 

Weekly Audit: Wall Street Destroyed $8 for Every $1 Earned

 

by Lindsay Beyerstein, Media Consortium blogger

Tonight, President Barack Obama will deliver his State of the Union address. A major theme of the speech will be jobs and the economy. Let’s hope the president spares a few minutes for Wall Street reforms that might prevent a repeat of the economic collapse that we’re slowly starting to recover from.

As Kai Wright points out in ColorLines, the State of the Union is the unofficial kickoff of the 2012 election season:

The still churning foreclosures and mounding debt in black and brown neighborhoods don’t suggest a stabilized economy anywhere except Wall Street, but let’s set that familiar fight to the side for now. The point is that whether we’re talking about creating jobs or seating district court judges, the time for making policy is gone. Starting tomorrow night, it’s all talk until we vote next.

Amy Dean of Working In These Times shares Wright’s skepticism. With the Republicans in control of the House and the Democrats hanging on to the Senate, we’re looking at a legislative stalemate until the next election. Dean argues that activists should use this lull in the action to refocus their organizing at the grassroots level.

Wall Street destroyed $8 for every $1 it earned

In AlterNet, Les Leopold asks why bankers are earning such huge bonuses while the financial system is in disarray. According to standard economic theory, your compensation reflects the value of your work. Yet, according to Leopold’s back-of-the-envelope calculations, the financial sector has destroyed $8 worth of wealth for every dollar it earned over the last 5 years. His estimate includes the wealth-destroying impact of the subprime mortgage crisis and other epic Wall Street blunders.

The free market might not be as generous with bankers as the current system of government bailouts. If financial firms were allowed to fail, Leopold notes, bankers who drove their own firms out of business wouldn’t get paid. However, under the current “too big to fail” rules bad decisions lead to taxpayer rescues, not unemployment. So, the bonus checks keep rolling in.

Social Security switcheroo

James Ridgeway of Mother Jones predicts that Obama is gearing up to cut Social Security:

Having “retooled’’ his Presidency for a more open accommodation of the center right, Obama will soon be overseeing the battle to launch a dismantling of the Social Security system. [...] Without entirely destroying the popular program, he will support cuts that go beyond anything that should rightly happen during a Democratic administration.

Ironically, Ridgeway notes, our current Democratic president is to the right of many of yesterdays conservative Republicans. The legendary arch conservative Sen. Robert A. Taft (R-OH) was a staunch defender of Social Security. Republican President Dwight Eisenhower spearheaded the largest expansion of Social Security in the largest expansion of benefits in the history of the program.

Michelle Obama and Wal-Mart

Michelle Obama has enlisted the world’s largest corporation (and largest grocer) in her Let’s Move! campaign against childhood obesity. George Warner of Campus Progress takes a closer look at the skewed economics behind the “Nutrition Charter” signed by Wal-Mart last week. Amongst other things, Wal-Mart pledged to cut added sugar in its products by 10% by 2015; make healthy food more affordable; and develop a “nutrition seal” to alert shoppers to ostensibly healthier foods.

Yet, Warner notes that Wal-Mart is contributing to ill-health by employing a massive workforce at less than a living wage. Even if Wal-Mart follows through on its relatively modest pledges to promote healthy eating, it continues to put its own workforce at risk of ill health simply by paying them poverty-level wages. Studies show that for every job a new Wal-Mart store creates, it destroys three existing jobs, which paid an average of 18% more.

Poverty is one of the strongest predictors of obesity and poor diet.

Beck vs. Piven, Round 2

Last week, the Audit covered a bizarre right wing trend of demonizing 78-year-old CUNY political science prof Frances Fox Piven for an article she wrote in 1966. Glenn Beck and other leading lights of the right claim that Piven’s 45-year-old article is being used right now by liberal elites in their sinister plot to violently overthrow capitalism.

Piven is receiving death threats by email; and death threats are popping up on Glenn Beck’s website, including: “Snap her little chicken neck. This pinko filth needs a long dirt nap.”; “Somebody tell Frances I have 5,000 rounds ready.”, and “We should blow up Piven’s office and home.”

In actuality, Piven’s article argued that everyone who was eligible for welfare should sign up for benefits in order to expose the structural flaws in the system. Say what you will about the plan, it was non-violent. It involved a lot of paperwork. Far from overthrowing the federal government, Piven sought to usher in a federal guaranteed federal income as an alternative to the patchwork of state and local welfare agencies doling out benefits.

Matthew Rothschild reports in the Progressive that the Center for Constitutional Rights has sent a letter to Roger Ailes of Fox News asking him to reign in the anti-Piven demagoguery.

This post features links to the best independent, progressive reporting about the economy by members of The Media Consortium. It is free to reprint. Visit the Audit for a complete list of articles on economic issues, or follow us on Twitter. And for the best progressive reporting on critical economy, environment, health care and immigration issues, check out The Mulch, The Pulse and The Diaspora. This is a project of The Media Consortium, a network of leading independent media outlets.

 

 

The Biggest Threat to President Barack Obama’s Re-election Chances

Almost everybody agrees that President Barack Obama’s re-election chances depend almost exclusively on one thing: the state of the American economy. If, for instance, unemployment is below 7% by November 2012, Mr. Obama could very well win a Reagan-style blow-out. If, on the other hand, unemployment is still in double-digits by November 2012, Mr. Obama may as well kiss his re-election chances goodbye.

The second scenario would probably occur in the event of another recession. The greatest danger, therefore, to the president’s re-election chances would be something that would hurt the economy badly enough to knock it back into recession.

What could cause such an event?

There are a number of possibilities, ranging from the very unlikely to the frighteningly possible. The latter – “the frighteningly possible” – actually has occupied the front pages of newspapers for almost a year. This is the continuing European debt crisis, which started with Greece, moved to Ireland, and is currently searching for its next victim.

The worst case scenario would involve a country such as Italy – the world’s seventh largest economy – going bankrupt, or a collapse of the euro (and with it, the European Union). Such scenarios are far-fetched, but quite within the realm of possible. They are what many analysts spend hours worrying about every day.

A bankruptcy of a major European country, such as Spain or Italy, would do major damage to the United States. As Paul Krugman writes:

 

Nor can the rest of the world look on smugly at Europe’s woes. Taken as a whole, the European Union, not the United States, is the world’s largest economy; the European Union is fully coequal with America in the running of the global trading system; Europe is the world’s most important source of foreign aid; and Europe is, whatever some Americans may think, a crucial partner in the fight against terrorism. A troubled Europe is bad for everyone else.

Indeed, the United States has already experienced the consequences of Europe’s debt troubles, minor as they may seem compared to the worst-case scenario. It is no coincidence that job growth, after increasing steadily in the spring of 2010, stalled right as Greece’s budget woes hit the front pages that summer.

The most troubling thing about all this, for Mr. Obama, is how little control he has over this event. It is Germany, not America, which holds the fate of the European Union in its hands; German decisions – or, more specifically, the decisions of German Chancellor Angela Merkel – will either save or destroy the European Union. Mr. Obama can successfully influence Germany; indeed, his behind-the-scenes lobbying was one factor behind the trillion-dollar European bail-out fund. But ultimately the fate of Europe, and with it the American economy, may lie in Germany’s hands.

And whither goes the American economy, so goes Mr. Obama’s re-election chances. In the end the president may lose re-election because of events thousands of miles away, over which he has precious little control, which seemingly have nothing to do with American politics.

--Inoljt, http://mypolitikal.com/

 

 

Weekly Mulch: The Sticky Truth about Oil Spills and Tar Sands

by Sarah Laskow, Media Consortium Blogger

The National Oil Spill Commission released its report on last year’s BP oil spill this week. The report laid out the blame for the spill, tagging each of the three companies working on the Deepwater Horizon at the time, Halliburton, Transocean and BP, and also offered prescriptions for avoiding similar disasters in the future.

As Mother Jones‘ Kate Sheppard notes, it’s unlikely the recommendations will impact policy going forward.

“I think the recommendations are pretty tepid given the severity of the crisis,” Jackie Savitz, director of pollution campaigns at the advocacy group Oceana, told Sheppard. “Even the small things they’re suggesting, I think it’s going to be hard to convince Congress to make those changes.”

No transparency for you!

Last summer, after the spill, the Obama administration tried hard to look like it was pushing back against the oil industry, even though just weeks before the spill, the president had promised to open new areas of the East Coast to offshore drilling.

This week brought new evidence that, despite some posturing to the contrary, the administration is not exactly unfriendly to the energy industry. One of the key decisions the administration faces about the country’s energy future is whether to support the Keystone XL, a pipeline that would pump oil from tar sands in Canada down to Texas refineries.  And one of the key lobbyists for TransCanada, the company intending to build the pipeline, is a former staffer for Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

Friends of the Earth, an environmental group, filed a Freedom of Information requesting correspondence between the lobbyist, Paul Elliott, and his former boss, but the State Department denied the request.

“We do not believe that the State Department has legitimate legal grounds to deny our FOIA request, and assert that the agency is ignoring its own written guidance regarding FOIA requests and the release of public information,” said Marcie Keever, the group’s legal director, The Michigan Messenger’s Ed Brayton reports. “This is the type of delay tactic we would have expected from the Bush administration, not the Obama administration, which has touted its efforts to usher in a new era of transparency in government, including elevated standards in dealing with lobbyists.”

Tar sands’ black mark

What are the consequences if the government approves the pipeline? As Care2’s Beth Buczynski writes, “Communities along the Keystone XL pipeline’s proposed path would face increased risk of spills, and, at the pipeline’s end, the health of those living near Texas refineries would suffer, as tar sands oil spews higher levels of dangerous pollutants into the air when processed.”

What’s more, the tar sands extraction process has already brought environmental devastation to the areas like Alberta, Canada, where tar sands mining occurs. Earth Island Journal’s Jason Mark recently visited the Oil Sands Discovery Centre in Ft. McMurray, Alberta, which he calls “impressively forthright” in its discussion of the environmental issues brought on by oil sands. (The museum is run by Alberta’s provincial government.) Mark reports:

The section on habitat fragmentation was especially good. As one panel put it, “Increasingly, Alberta’s remaining forested areas resemble islands of trees in a larger network of cut lines, well sites, mine, pipeline corridors, plant sites, and human settlements. … Forest disturbances can also encourage increased predation and put some plants and animals at risk.”

Not renewable, just new

The museum that Mark visited also made clear that extracting and refining oil from tar sands is a labor-intensive practice. He writes:

Mining, we learn, is just the start. Then the tar has to be “upgraded” into synthetic petroleum via a process that involves “conditioning,” “separation” into a bitumen froth, then “deaeration” to take out gases, and finally injection into a dual-system centrifuge that removes the last of the solids. Next comes distillation, thermal conversion, catalytic conversion, and hydrotreating. At that point the recombined petroleum is ready to be refined into gasoline, diesel, and jet fuel. It all felt like a flashback to high school chemistry.

Why bother with this at all? In short, because with easily accessible sources of oil largely tapped out, techniques like tar sands mining and deepwater drilling are the only fonts of oil available. This problem is going to get worse, as The Nation is explaining over the next few weeks in its video series on peak oil.

Energy and the economy

Traditional ideas about energy dictate that even as the world uses up limited resources like oil, technology will create access to new sources, find ways to use limited resources more efficiently, or find ways to consume new sources of energy. These advances will head off any problems with consumption rates. The peak oil theory, on the contrary, argues that it is possible to use up a resource like oil, that there’s a peak in supply.

Once the peak has been passed, the consequences, particularly the economic consequences, become dire, as Richard Heinberg, senior fellow with the Post Carbon Institute explains. “If the amount of energy we can use is declining, we may be seeing the end of economic growth as we define it right now,” he told The Nation. Watch more below:

Light green

Part of the problem is that the energy resources that could replace fossil fuels like oil—wind and solar energy, for instance—likely won’t be in place before the oil wells run dry. And as Monica Potts reports at The American Prospect, our new green economy is getting off to a slow start.

Although the administration has talked incessantly about supporting green jobs, Potts writes that the federal government hasn’t even finalized what count as a “green job” yet. The working definition, which is currently under review, asserts that green jobs are in industries that “benefit the environment or conserve national resources” or entails work to green a company’s “production process.” But what does that actually mean?

“That definition was rightly criticized as overly broad,” Potts writes. She continues:

While nearly everyone would include installing solar panels as a green job, what about an architect who designs a green house? (Under the proposed definition, both would count.) … Another problem comes in weighing green purposes against green execution: We could count, for example, public-transit train operators as green workers. But how do we break down transportation as an industry more broadly? Most would probably agree that truckers who drive tractor-trailers running on diesel fuel wouldn’t count as green workers even if they’re transporting wind-turbine parts. And many of the jobs we would count as green already exist.

It doesn’t exactly inspire confidence that the country is moving swiftly toward a bright green future.

This post features links to the best independent, progressive reporting about the environment by members of The Media Consortium. It is free to reprint. Visit the Mulch for a complete list of articles on environmental issues, or follow us on Twitter. And for the best progressive reporting on critical economy, health care and immigration issues, check out The Audit, The Pulse, and The Diaspora. This is a project of The Media Consortium, a network of leading independent media outlets.

 

 

Diaries

Advertise Blogads