Weekly Mulch: Fighting the Joe Millers of the World


by Sarah Laskow, Media Consortium blogger

Joe Miller, Sarah Palin’s choice candidate for one of Alaska’s Senate seats, does not believe in climate change. That didn’t bother Alaska voters: this week, Miller bested Sen. Lisa Murkowski in the state’s Republican primary.

If that weren’t worrisome enough, it also emerged that the fossil fuel industry spent eight times more than environmental groups on lobbying in 2009, the year the House passed the climate change bill. It’s been a bad year already for environmental causes, and as the November election edges closer, progressives might want to start working overtime to regain momentum on climate and energy issues.

Murkowski was solidly against the idea of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) regulating carbon. But she was willing to talk about cap-and-trade programs, and at the very least, she was willing to admit climate change was happening. Depending on how November’s election shakes out, the shift towards climate-denial in Congress may only worsen. A slew of Republican candidates are convinced that, as one put it, “only God knows where our climate is going,” as Care2 reports.

A tougher tomorrow

Current political trends bode badly for the planet. If Congress couldn’t pass climate legislation while are in Democrats control of the House and Senate, there’s little hope that lawmakers will step up when facing opponents who don’t believe in climate change.

Carla Perez has a few ideas about how progressives and environmentalists can fight back — and they begin with accepting that, yes, giving up fossil fuels would mean sacrifice, but it wouldn’t be the end of the world. Perez, a program coordinator at social justice group Movement Generation, appeared recently on National Radio Project’s Making Contact and imagined how life would look without fossil fuels:

No iPods. No iPads. No plasma TVs. No motorized individual vehicles. No plastic bags. No pleather boots for $9.99 from Payless…. Then again, no island of plastic twice the size of Texas. No plumes of sulfuric acid over Richmond, California. No skyrocketing rates of cancer and diabetes concentrated in native and people of color communities all over the world. No spontaneous combustion of flames off of contaminated rivers.

“How bad would it be?” she asked.

Target practice

To move from iPods to environmental justice, though, people like Perez will have to keep politicians like Joe Miller out of Washington. In an interview with Yes! Magazine, Riki Ott, a marine biologist and Exxon Valdez survivor, makes a good point about the challenges that environmental advocates face.

“This BP disaster, like the Exxon-Valdez, is more than an environmental crisis—it’s a democracy crisis,” Ott says. “Right now we’re playing the game: Going through regulatory arenas, tightening some laws. But that’s not good enough. The real question is, how do we get control of these big corporations?”

Electing politicians that don’t take corporate money or listen to industry lobbyists will help. Another way to move away from the dominance of fossil fuel companies is offering real alternatives to using their products.

Brave new NOLA

In New Orleans, in the five years since Katrina hit, the people rebuilding the city have worked to create greener alternatives, as Campus Progress reports. Here’s just one example:

Go Green NOLA encourages homebuilders to think small, since smaller homes use less energy. The group also makes suggestions such as installing windows and insulation systems with special attention to local weather and climate — think: humidity, and lots of it—and using shade trees and other landscaping to help beat back the southern sun.

Change can happen without devastation preceding it. In Massachusetts, the Green Justice Coalition worked to ensure that environmental justice provisions made it into the state’s $1.4 billion energy efficiency plan, The Nation reports. What’s more, the coalition made certain that Massachusetts citizens would feel the impact of the new plan directly:

There will be a financing plan to make energy-saving home improvements more affordable. Many of the 23,300 jobs to be generated by the plan will go to contractors who pay decent wages and meet “high road” employment standards. Finally, four pilot programs across the state will test a radically new outreach model by going door to door and mobilizing low- and moderate-income families in building greener neighborhoods.

Women lead the way

Progress doesn’t happen on its own, of course. At RH Reality Check, Kathleen Rogers suggests that female leaders make all the difference. “Women get the connections between climate change, public health and economic growth, because climate change is disproportionately affecting women,” she writes. “A new generation of women entrepreneurs, leaders and civil society, have demonstrated the potential for being the solution to the climate crisis. But they must be mobilized and given an opportunity to influence government and business.”

Rogers is right. Leaders are out there. Just listen to the whole of Carla Perez’ comments on Making Contact. The Green Justice Coalition’s Phyllis Evans also gets it. And even Sen. Murkowski was willing to work on climate change compromises, on some level.

Of course, it’s not just women who can lead the country and the planet away from current environmental and democratic crises. Paths forward are emerging; anyone can follow them.

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.


Amid Oil Spill Crisis, U.S. Authorities Search for Undocumented Immigrant Clean Up Workers

From the Restore Fairness blog.

Talk about misplaced priorities. In the midst of a national crisis over the gargantuan BP oil spill that is destroying the water, marine eco-systems, and coastal livelihoods along the Gulf Coast, Federal immigration officials have decided to focus their resources on checking the immigration status of the people that BP has finally employed to begin cleaning up the massive destruction that the oil is causing along the coast.

Check out this amazing exclusive report co-produced by Feet in Two Worlds (English) and El Diario (Spanish)-

Federal immigration officials have been visiting command centers on the Gulf Coast to check the immigration status of response workers hired by BP and its contractors to clean up the immense oil spill.

Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) in Louisiana confirmed that its agents had visited two large command centers—which are staging areas for the response efforts and are sealed off to the public—to verify that the workers there were legal residents.

“We visited just to ensure that people who are legally here can compete for those jobs—those people who are having so many problems,” said Temple H. Black, a spokesman for ICE in Louisiana.

After Hurricane Katrina in 2005, thousands of Hispanic workers, many of them undocumented, flocked to the region to help in the reconstruction of Louisiana’s coastal towns.  Many stayed, building communities on the outskirts of New Orleans or finding employment outside the city in oil refineries and in the fishing industry.

These Hispanic workers have been accused of taking away jobs from longtime Louisiana residents, and the tension has grown as fishing and tourism jobs dry up, leaving idle workers to compete for jobs on the oil spill clean-up effort.

Black explained that ICE and Border Patrol began to monitor the response efforts shortly after job sites were formed following the Deepwater Horizon oil spill that began on April 20 and has yet to be contained.

ICE, a branch of the Department of Homeland Security, visited two command centers, one in Venice and the other in Hopedale, twice in May. ICE agents arrived at the staging areas without prior notice, rounded up workers, and asked for documentation of their legal status, according to Black.

The command centers, located in the marshes a few hours east of New Orleans, are among the largest, with hundreds of workers employed at each site.

“We don’t normally go and check people’s papers—we’re mostly focused on transnational gangs, predators, drugs. This was a special circumstance because of the oil spill,” said Black.

“We made an initial visit and a follow-up to make sure they were following the rules,” he said.

“These weren’t raids—they were investigations,” he added.

There were no arrests at either site, according to the ICE spokesman. But he said if undocumented workers had been discovered, they “would have been detained on the spot and taken to Orleans Parish Prison.”

BP and one of the companies that holds a large contract in Hopedale, Oil Mop, did not return calls requesting comment. A high-level employee for another contractor in Hopedale, United States Environmental Services, who did not give her name, said, “I just got a phone call. I heard they were visiting.”

St. Bernard Parish, where the Hopedale site is located, assured that the local government had nothing to do with the checks and had no knowledge of them.

The ICE agents who visited the sites reminded subcontractors of immigration laws and their obligation to use programs including E-verify, an electronic system run by the Department of Homeland Security which checks workers’ immigration status.

An Oil Mop subcontractor called Tamara’s Group has hired more than 100 Hispanic workers from the region to work at the Hopedale site. The owner of Tamara’s Group, Martha Mosquera, said that when ICE came in the first week of May, “they gathered them all in the tents and they asked for their papers.”

One of the workers in this group, a 61-year-old Mexican woman named Cruz Stanaland, rememberes ICE’s visit: “They were civilians, they weren’t wearing uniforms and they were driving in cars that didn’t have the Immigration logo…dark cars with tinted glass.”

Another worker from the same group, Etanlisa Hernández, who is 30 and from the Dominican Republic, said, “There were five or six men. They were very polite.”


Although Mosquera said her company had no problems because all of her employees were legally employed, some pro-immigrant leaders criticized the government’s quickness to enforce immigration requirements during a crisis.

“It’s like, ‘round everybody up and leave the oil on the beach,’” said Darlene Kattan, Director of the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce of Louisiana. “In a catastrophic situation like this, I think we should be more well-reasoned.”

“People are desperate for jobs,” she added, “And they think that if someone looks like an undocumented immigrant they’re taking the food from their mouth.”

Clarissa Martinez de Castro, Director of Immigration and National Campaigns at the National Council of La Raza, an advocacy group in Washington DC, said, “the clean-up effort is a gargantuan effort and we have to ensure that the crews are working in a way that protects their health and safety, and that should be the priority.” She added, “if ICE thinks that there are bad apple employers, they should go directly to them instead of harassing clean-up crews that we all know are doing a crucial job.”

Despite the visits by ICE, some undocumented workers have been hired by BP contractors. One fisherman from El Salvador, who didn’t want to reveal his name because he was afraid of being deported, has been laying down boom alongside the marshes for a week.

“You’re always afraid Immigration is coming,” he said.

He explained that although he didn’t feel safe doing the clean-up work, he took the risk because the job pays $360 a day. “I came because I have a wife, and kids, I came to give them a better life. My uncle’s family lent me money to come here. Maybe this will help me pay them back.”

Listen this week to NPR’s Latino USA for Annie Correal’s report on the latest from the Gulf Coast.

Photos courtesy of news.feetintwoworlds.org

Learn. Share. Act. Go to restorefairness.org




Jailhouse Snitches Sabotage Justice with Unreliable Evidence

Earlier this month, Orleans Parish District Judge Lynda Van Davis granted a new trial for Michael Anderson, who was convicted of murder and sentenced to death in a trial plagued with problematic evidence. Prosecutors have appealed the ruling and indicated that they will go forward with a retrial if necessary, so the question of Anderson’s guilt or innocence is far from settled. What is clear today, however, is that his first trial was marked by prosecutors’ troubling concealment of important information that undermined the credibility of key witnesses against him. Playing fast and loose with such evidence is unacceptable. In a death penalty case, it is unconscionable.

There's more...

Rep. Steve King: "Best Vote" Was Against Katrina Relief

Evil has a name. It is  Rep. Steve King (R-IA).

Here's why: Rep. King was recently interviewed by "The Hill."

THE HILL: What vote would you like to redo?

KING: I don't really go back and re-live that sort of thing. Some of the big votes that I've thought about, some of the jury's still out. And at this point, maybe I'd answer that question another way, probably the singular vote that stands out that went against the grain, and it turns out to be the best vote that I cast, was my "no" vote to the $51.5 billion to [Hurricane] Katrina. That probably was my best vote. But as far as doing something different again, I don't know.

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Remembering Katrina, Forgetting The Gulf

Most of this post is from a Blue Moose Democrat piece that highlights some good coverage of the fourth anniversary of Hurricane Katrina but laments that we only pay attention to the still struggling-Gulf Coast on the storm's anniversary and ignore that suffering the rest of the year. For the most part I stand by that point, but before getting to it, it is worth noting two encouraging things the President said in his weekly raido address yesterday. First, I was planning to ask readers to write the President and ask him to visit New Orleans several months after the anniversary in order to create attention for the issue rather than piggy backing off anniversary attention - but he beat me to it, promising to visit New Orleans before year's end. Second, he pointed out in his speech that already this year, eleven of his Cabinet officers to the region to, as the AP puts it, "inspect progress and to hear local ideas on how to speed up repairs." Bravo. Maybe we finally have a government that pays attention - indeed, the new head of FEMA, Craig Fugate, is earning bipartisan praise for cutting through the red tape that held up recovery under Bush and Blanco. If only journalists and the nation would follow that lead. Anyways, here's the post as it was written before the radio address, highlighting some great links about the recovery and struggle:

This weekend is the fourth anniversary of Hurricane Katrina reaching Category 5 strength. I got my start as a blogger because of Katrina, launching "Wayward Episcopalian" as a personal journal during the three months I worked for the Episcopal Diocese of Louisiana's Office of Disaster Response in 2006. My first foray into the liberal blogosphere started when I began cross-posting the blog's Katrina content to Daily Kos, MyDD, and Democratic Underground after returning to New Hampshire in January 2007.

Four years on, New Orleans and Mississippi are still struggling. The media will give this issue a fair amount of coverage over the next few days, but it's a shame they don't pay attention during the rest of the year. I'm a bit guilty of that myself, but it's because I covered it so much for so long that I burned out on the issue. And yet, my "Katrina fatigue" is nothing compared to the 12,000 people still homeless in New Orleans and living in abandoned buildings, twice the pre-storm homeless population. And my Katrina fatigue is nothing compared to the families who see devestation everywhere they look every day with no out and spend all day focused on battling their insurance companies.

I posted a brief recovery update at Wayward earlier this week which included a Morning Joe interview with Rep. Maxine Waters about her hearings in New Orleans and a Levees.org e-mail about Sen. Mary Landrieu asking the Pentagon to investigate the levee failures. In addition to that post, be sure to visit NPR.org to see maps, graphs, and four short but important videos showcasing abandoned neighborhoods and interviews with struggling locals - all forgotten by their nation. Yet while these videos show that neighborhoods, tourism, and employment are all suffering, they also showcase the fact that New Orleans is now one of the best cities in the county for college grads to find work in a struggling economy. (On a side note, this sort of extra content is EXACTLY the opportunity the Internet affords journalistic organizations like NPR and the New York Times, and I wish more people would take advantage of it - it's just as important as the stuff you hear on the radio or read in the actual paper.) When you're done at NPR.org, visit Climate Progress to read "The Storm of the Century (so far)," a quality history of the storm and a personal account of a relative in Pass Christian, Mississippi. And returning to NPR's bread and butter, the radio itself, here's a good story called "The Gulf Coast's Recovery: Uneven And Uneasy."

"I get up every morning and look this way," says Stephanie Bosarge, a longtime resident of Coden, Ala. "It's all gone. Everything's changed. That piece of slab there was our den, that's where we had all our Christmases."

Bosarge walks through the weeds on her family's property. She still lives just next to where her mother's house and the family's oyster business, Nelson and Sons Seafood, used to stand. The shop was over here, and as you see, what's left [is] the concrete slab," Bosarge says. "She had nine kids, and the majority of us all worked right back here at one time or other. It was the mainstay for the family."

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