Weekly Audit: The Shocking Truth About Taxes

 

By Lindsay Beyerstein, Media Consortium blogger

The super rich are different from you and me. For one thing, their tax rates are lower.

According to IRS statistics, the nation’s top 400 taxpayers increased their average income by 392% and slashed their average tax rate by 37% between 1992 and 2007, Dave Gilson reports inMother Jones. Furthermore, when you factor in payroll taxes, the tax rate for Americans earning $370,000 is nearly equal to the rate for those making between $43,000 and $69,000 a year.

Meanwhile, at TAPPED, Jamelle Bouie notes that, in 2007, more than 10,000 Americans reported incomes of $200,000 or higher and paid no income tax at all. These lucky ducks are known to the IRS as HINTs, which stands for High Income, No Taxes.

Pseudo-farms of the rich and tax-dodging

The ultra-rich are using deluxe hobby farms to dodge millions of dollars in taxes, Yasha Levine reports for The Nation:

Take Michael Dell, founder of Dell Computers and the second-richest Texan, who qualified for an agricultural property tax break on his sprawling 1,757-acre residential ranch in suburban Austin and saved over $1 million simply because his family and friends sometimes use the land as a private hunting preserve to shoot deer. Or take billionaire publisher Steve Forbes, who got more than a 90 percent property tax reduction on hundreds of acres of his multimillion-dollar estate in upscale Bedminister, New Jersey, just by putting a couple of cows out to pasture.

Agricultural tax breaks were originally designed to help farmers stay on their land as suburban sprawl grew up around them. As neighborhoods shifted from rural to residential in the 1950s and ’60s, farmers struggled to keep up with rising local taxes.

So, who’s a farmer for tax purposes? Levine reports that the standards are ridiculously low in many states, like New Jersey, where a yard full of weeds can qualify as a farm.

Worst of all, tax breaks for faux farms are depriving public schools of billions of dollars of desperately needed revenue. In Texas–which loses over a billion dollars a year in property taxes from pseudo-ranches of the rich and famous–hundreds of public school students are taking to the streets to protest massive proposed layoffs of teachers and support staffers, Abby Rapoport reports in the Texas Observer.

Tax me, I’m rich

A group of self-proclaimed “trust fund babies” is demanding higher taxes, Pete Redington reports for Working In These Times:

Resource Generation recently teamed up with another nonprofit that organizes affluent activists, Wealth for the Common Good, to form a Progressive Tax Campaign. They will be organizing and advocating a change in the policy, laws and perceptions of our tax system. Specifically, the campaign aims to draw attention to the social services that taxing the wealthy could fund, and advocates higher tax bracket rates for top income earners, as well as higher taxes on investment income.

Major debt

Student loan debt is likely to reach $1 trillion this year, outpacing credit card debt for the second year in a row, Julie Margetta Morgan reports for Campus Progress. Student loans can be a smart investment if they lead to a lifetime of higher earnings. However, Margetta Morgan notes, the average bachelor’s degree holder will shell out $250 a month for a decade to pay back the loan.

Many Americans won’t pay off their debt until their own children are in college. President Obama was still making payments into his late 40s.

As college tuition continues to rise, we can expect students to borrow even more for their education in years to come. Much of this debt is guaranteed by the taxpayer. Margetta Morgan argues that colleges should be doing more to educate students about smart borrowing.

The economics of happiness

Kristy Leissle reviews the new documentary, The Economics of Happiness, for YES! Magazine. The film argues that community is the foundation of happiness and that globalization is the enemy of community. The movie also examines what ordinary citizens can do to nurture their own communities.

This post features links to the best independent, progressive reporting about the economy bymembers 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 MulchThe Pulse and The Diaspora. This is a project of The Media Consortium, a network of leading independent media outlets.

 

The Wavelength: The Battle Over Net Neutrality Rages On

 

By Eric K. Arnold, Media Consortium blogger

Four months after the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) supposedly settled the issue, the battle over Net Neutrality is still raging. If anything, it’s just beginning to heat up.  On April 8, the Republican-controlled Congress resolved to repeal the FCC’s recent legislation surrounding Internet protections, and conservative activists are fighting tooth and nail to push back any apparent gains before they are realized. At the same time, media reform advocates say that the FCC’s December ruling on broadband policy did not go far enough in establishing consumer-friendly regulatory guidelines across both Internet and mobile platforms.

Meanwhile, the impact of the announced merger between AT&T and T-Mobile is still up for debate, and federal officials are raising anti-trust concerns against Google.

Genachowski comes to Oakland

Last week, FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski met with mayors from the Bay Area in Oakland to tout a mobile apps contest (a partnership with the Knight Foundation) as a way to reduce the digital divide, which has left one-third of Americans without broadband access. Genachowski remarked that those facing digital exclusion were primarily immigrants, minorities, disabled people, and other underserved communities. However, as I reported for Oakland Local, the visit was perhaps more notable for what Genachowski didn’t say.

At the press conference I attended, Genachowski didn’t take any questions, so asking him about the omission of Net Neutrality provisions for wireless carriers wasn’t possible. Nor could I ask him about the upcoming threat posed to low-power TV stations by mobile TV, which could hit 20 U.S. markets this year. Mobile TV could deprive low-power stations of critical bandwidth. Many of these stations reach diverse demographics that are underserved by network and mainstream cable television.

FCC Commissioner at NCMR: System ‘Out of Control’

The lack of a two-way discussion between the nation’s most powerful telecommunications official was disappointing, especially since numerous concerns remain over how the FCC will enforce media policy moving forward. As FCC Commissioner Michael Copps recently said at the National Conference for Media Reform, held April 8-10 in Boston: “just give us some sign that the FCC is putting the brakes on a system that is spinning dangerously out of control.”

Copps’ fiery speech was only one of many highlights at the NCMR, which was attended by thousands of people that are passionately interested in changing media. Some of the most inspiring moments included panels on music journalism and localism; comics as journalism’s future; race as a media issue; and how old-school journos are adapting to today’s new media world; and performance artist Sarah Jones inhabiting a range of different characters at the opening plenary.

Truthout’s Susie Cagle has an illustrated recap of NCMR here, and an archive of GRITtv’s segments from the conference is available here.

House Disapproves of Net Neutrality

In a follow-up to an earlier story, Truthout’s Nadia Prupis writes about an April 8 resolution by Congress to repeal the FCC’s Net Neutrality regulations. The vote, which passed 240-179, was largely partisan, with only six Democrats crossing party lines to support it. Republicans characterized the FCC’s regulation of the Internet as a “power grab,” questioning the agency’s authority to establish guidelines for cyberspace.

But Democrats countered that the resolution “disables a free and open Internet” and is an attempt to stifle innovation in the tech sector, a charge which is disputed by right-wing nonprofits like FreedomWorks. As Prupis reports, however, that group has received funding from both Verizon and AT&T, and the telecommunications companies “stand to benefit if the law is overturned.”

Despite the partisan rhetoric, the vote was largely symbolic, as the Democratic-controlled Senate is not expected to endorse the resolution.

Tea Party: Net Neutrality = ‘Media Marxism’

As Mother Jones’ Stephanie Mencimer reports, Net Neutrality has also come under fire from the Tea Party. Mencimer points out the irony of such a stance, noting that while an open Internet allows “even the smallest, poorest tea party group… the potential to reach a large audience,” the right-wing activists “inexplicably equate net neutrality with Marxism.”

Tea Party spokesman and Virginia Senate candidate James Radtke is quoted as saying “Net neutrality is an innocuous sounding term for what is really media Marxism.” He goes on to call it “an ideological attempt by those on the left to control the greatest means for the distribution of information ever devised.”

Yet Mencimer points out that much of the netroots activism practiced by the Tea Party has relied on an open Internet, unrestricted by ideological content, which Net Neutrality is intended to protect.

“The tea party’s position on net neutrality,” she writes, “has seemed counterintuitive, given just how badly conservative activists could be screwed by the big cable and phone companies should net neutrality rules be repealed. The whole movement has been organized online, making the Internet’s level playing field a crucial element to its success.”

Wireless Mega-Mergers and Ethnic Communities

New York Community Media Alliance’s Jehangir Khattak details how the AT&T/T-Mobile mega-merger could impact ethnic communities. The skinny: Ethnic populations “could be confronted by reduced service access and higher costs,” Khattak writes.

Khattak outlines the basic provisions of the merger and AT&T’s spin; according to the company, the deal could bring 4G LTE technology to 95 percent of the U.S. population. He also speaks with several members of the ethnic press, who voice concerns that the deal might allow the telecommunications giant to “control the quality of services, such as by dictating the available applications, software or the amount of data they’d allow to be transferred.”

Another concern: the “arcane”, “jargon-ridden” tech-speak of media policy is difficult for immigrant populations to decipher.

Khattak also notes that Genachowski’s compromise on Net Neutrality suggests the FCC Chairman is “unlikely to take the hard line, pro-regulatory stance…  expected of him” by ethnic media advocates.

Google Under Federal Scrutiny—Again

Also in Truthout, Nadia Prupis reports that Google has come under scrutiny by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and the Department of Justice, which are considering launching an antitrust probe against the popular search engine.

As Prupis writes, “The DOJ recently approved Google’s $700 million deal with travel company ITA Software, but antitrust regulators are concerned that the acquisition may threaten competition in the travel information industry; specifically, the FTC is worried that Google could use the software to direct users to its own sites, depriving similar web sites such as Orbitz, Kayak and TripAdvisor of fair competition.”

The FTC’s interest in the case comes on the heels of DOJ’s antitrust division filing a civil lawsuit to block Google’s acquisition of ITA, citing concerns that airfare websites should have access to ITA’s software to keep competition “robust.” Though Google reportedly agreed to license that software to competitors, the FTC’s concern indicates that serious questions remain about Google’s potential to unfairly dominate the market, should the deal go through.

This is a project of The Media Consortium, a network of leading independent media outlets. This post features links to the best independent, progressive reporting about media policy and media-related matters by members of The Media Consortium. It is free to reprint. To read more of the Wavelength, click here. And for the best progressive reporting on critical economy, environment, health care and immigration issues, check out The AuditThe Mulch, and The DiasporaThis is a project of The Media Consortium, a network of leading independent media outlets, and is produced with the support of the Media Democracy Fund.

 

Weekly Mulch: Cost-Cutting at the Environment's Peril

 

by Sarah Laskow, Media Consortium blogger

In Washington, the environment is under attack. The cost-cutting deal that the House passed yesterday stripped the Environmental Protection Agency of $1.6 billion, which made up 16% of the agency’s budget. Funds for clean energy were cut. Republicans put in a provision that would keep the Department of the Interior from putting aside public lands for conservation and one thatkilled the nascent climate center at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

These choices represent a deeper antipathy toward nature and environmental health than the run-of-the-mill climate denialism that’s become au courant among congressional Republicans. They show that plenty of leaders in Congress do not care about basic protections that ensure clean air and clean water or that keep even small stretches of the planet safe from mining, drilling and other human interventions.

Greenlining

One idea driving these decisions is that, economically, the country can’t afford to protect the environment right now. But as Monica Potts argues at The American Prospect, in a review of two new books that cover the economy and the environment, green policies are good for business. In reviewing Climate Capitalism by L. Hunter Lovins and Boyd Cohen, Potts notes that “$2.8 billion a year is wasted because employees don’t turn off their computers when they leave work; comprehensive clean-energy and climate legislation could create 1.9 million jobs; improving indoor air quality could save businesses $200 billion annually in energy costs.”

Almost 2 million jobs! The country could use that boost right now. But those jobs depend, of course, on government action. As Potts points out, businesses won’t necessarily adopt these solutions on their own. The other book she reviews, Seth Fletcher’s Bottled Lightning, explains why electric cars weren’t developed sooner.

In short, “oil has stayed so remarkably cheap,” Potts writes. And, as she says, “The market doesn’t capture all of the costs that fossil fuels and other industrial-era processes impose on society.” Environmentally friendly policies might be good for business, but sometimes business doesn’t know it. The private sector won’t learn that lesson, either, if Washington is willing to sacrifice its administrative infrastructure for handling environmental issues.

New energy, new decisions

The country’s going to want its government to have some environmental experts left around for another reason, too. As oil and gas get more expensive, alternative energy sources are going to look more appealing. But while they might have lower carbon emissions, they raise new issues about clean air and water and about their impact on ecosystems. The EPA, for example, is currently studying the water and air impacts of natural gas, which has been widely touted as a fuel source that emits less carbon than coal.

But that may not be accurate, either. In a study obtained this week by The Hill, Robert Howarth, a Cornell University scientist, found that the total amount of greenhouse gas emissions related to natural gas production may actually far outstrip the amount coal produces. Mother Jones’ Kate Sheppard explains:

While burning natural gas may emit less carbon dioxide, its extraction releases quite a bit of methane, a more potent greenhouse gas. Gas from shale—a fine-grained layer of rock below the earth’s surface—is also responsible for 30 percent more greenhouse gas emissions than conventional natural gas. The study found that up to 7.9 percent of the methane escapes directly from the wells, leaks from pipelines, or is released in venting and flaring. While the leaks may be relatively small, methane is such a potent greenhouse gas that those leaks have a major impact, Howarth tells Mother Jones.

Fighting back against fracking

If Howarth’s study is correct, that means even worse news for communities in the gas fields that have been fighting against new natural gas drilling, only to be told that it’s for the greater good. For instance, in New York this week, Public News Service’s Mike Clifford reports that “Dozens of environmental and health groups are asking [Gov. Andrew Cuomo and state lawmakers] to put the longer-term issues of air and water quality ahead of any short-term gas profits.”

The Sierra Club’s Roger Downs tells Clifford, “We’ve seen in places like Wyoming, where the oil and gas industry has been booming, children on certain days cannot go out and play; they get nosebleeds from the air quality. It’s serious stuff, and we don’t want that in New York.”

Just over in Pennsylvania, natural gas drilling has been going ahead, and Nina Berman reports for AlterNet on its impact on families:

The Spencers’ house, once valued at $150,000, is now worth $29,000. They have a methane monitor in their basement, a methane water filtration system in a backyard shed. They leave the door open when they take showers because with no bathroom windows they are afraid the house could blow up. Their neighbors were forced to evacuate once already because of high methane levels. In the middle of their yard, a shaft resembling a shrunken flagpole vents gas from their wellhead.

Right now, the EPA is studying the effects that natural gas drilling have on public health. Their findings could, at the very least, strengthen the case for putting restrictions on drilling companies to prevent pollution. But if anti-environmentalists in Washington keep cutting into the bottom line of environmental programs, families like the Spencers will have an even harder time fighting against the conditions they’re facing now.

This post features links to the best independent, progressive reporting about the environment bymembers 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 AuditThe Pulse, and The Diaspora. This is a project of The Media Consortium, a network of leading independent media outlets.

 

Weekly Pulse: Paul Ryan’s Medicare Swindle

 


By Lindsay Beyerstein, Media Consortium blogger

Robert Parry in In These Times examines how Paul Ryan’s budget test would turn healthcare for the elderly into one big free-market death panel.

Ryan’s plan privatizes Medicare, replacing it with premium support for insurance companies. That means the government would kick in a fixed amount of money towards insurance premiums for Americans over age 65. Ryan also wants to repeal the Affordable Care Act, which requires insurers to cover people with preexisting conditions. Ryan’s plan doesn’t guarantee that Americans over 65 could get insurance in the first place. Even if they could find an insurer willing to take them, there is no reason to believe that premium support would cover more than part of the cost.

Maybe the plan is to save money by pricing most seniors out of health insurance entirely. If you can’t get insurance in the first place, you don’t qualify for premium support.

Mitt Romney and health care

Former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney kicked off the exploratory phase of his campaign this week, Lynda Waddington reports in the Iowa Independent. Ironically, this prospective frontrunner is best known for bringing Obama-style health care reform to Massachusetts.

Aswini Anburajan of TAPPED wonders whether Romney’s record on health care will hurt him in the primary. Repealing health care reform is one of the major themes for the Republican Party, and Romney is the architect of a similar system. However, Anburajan notes, campaigning to all but abolish Medicare hasn’t hurt GOP Budget Committee Chair Paul Ryan’s political status, even though seniors are a big part of the GOP base..

Part of the reason why Ryan hasn’t felt a backlash from seniors is that his plan preserves Medicare for people who are currently over 55 and will only decimate the program for younger people.

Demonizing pregnant users

At RH Reality Check, Lynn Paltrow takes the New York Times to task for a sensationalized story about children born to women who are dependent upon prescription painkillers. Paltrow notes that the same alarmist language was used to hype a non-existent epidemic of crack babies in the 1980s. The evidence suggests that the impact of drug use during pregnancy on the developing fetus is relatively minor compared to the effects of other factors that are correlated with drug use, such as poverty, poor nutrition, and lack of prenatal care.

If we assume there’s a clear causal relationships between using drugs and hurting babies, it’s easier to lay all the blame on the mother. The truth, Paltrow argues, is much more complicated. Drug use is just part of a constellation of unhealthy factors that conspire to give the children of poor and marginalized women a worse start in life.

Positing a distinct syndrome caused by drug abuse is often a first step towards stigmatizing, and even criminalizing, poor women who give birth to sick children.

Hungry women and children

Speaking of threats to the health of poor women and their children, the new budget deal slashes $500 million from nutrition programs, with the Women Infants and Children (WIC) food support program at the USDA taking the hardest hit, Tom Laskawy reports for Grist.

If you get your meals through an umbilical cord, the Republicans want to protect you; but if you have to eat groceries, you’re on your own.

Big Pharma hikes HIV drug prices

Elizabeth Lombino at Change.org reports that more than 8,000 people nationwide are on the waiting list for the AIDS Drug Assistance Program (ADAP), a government program that helps poor people living with HIV/AIDS pay for medications. Lombino notes that even as the ranks of patients who can’t cover their drugs continues to swell, pharmaceutical companies continue to raise their prices. The AIDS Healthcare Foundation is calling upon pharmaceutical companies to lower prices to help grapple with what has come to be known as the ADAP crisis. So far, it’s been to little effect.

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

 

Weekly Audit: Government Shutdown Averted, But At What Cost?

By Lindsay Beyerstein, Media Consortium blogger

Congressional leaders and President Barack Obama reached an eleventh hour budget deal on Friday night, to fund the government for the rest of the 2011 fiscal year and avert a government shutdown for the time being.

The deal would cut about $38 billion, Amy Goodman reports for Democracy Now!, including $13 billion in cuts to the Department of Health, Labor, and Human Services.

John Nichols describes the nuts and bolts of the stopgap plan in The Nation:

The arrangement worked out Friday night averted the threatened shutdown with a two-step process. First, the House and Senate passed a one-week spending bill that addressed the immediate threat. That should give Congress and the White House time to finalize a fiscal 2011 spending deal—on which they have agreed in principle—before an April 15 deadline.

The Republicans will not be allowed to zero out Planned Parenthood. Instead they were allowed a separate, largely symbolic vote, which passed the House, but which is expected to die in the Senate.

Planned Parenthood and ACORN

Nick Baumann of Mother Jones argues that the deal is a case study in the priorities of the Democratic Party. At the last minute, congressional Democrats rallied to save Planned Parenthood. The venerable family planning organization was under fire because of an undercover video sting by Lila Rose, a onetime protegee of conservative propagandist James O’Keefe, who himself pulled a similar stunt against the anti-poverty, pro-voter registration group ACORN in 2009.

O’Keefe’s videos created a media firestorm and Congress rushed to de-fund ACORN with little protest from Democrats. Subsequent independent investigations revealed that the tapes had been deceptively edited. Vindication came too late for ACORN, which was forced to close its doors.

Baumann argues that Democrats spared Planned Parenthood and sacrificed ACORN because ACORN didn’t have friends in the right places:

Abortion rights affect everyone. But to put it bluntly, big Dem donors care a lot more about abortion rights than they do about community organizers in inner cities.

Specious “victory”

In the days leading up to the deal, the media created the expectation that the budget was a game that one party would “win.” Paul Waldman of The American Prospect argues that in his eagerness to declare “victory” in the budget showdown, President Obama is undermining his own political agenda.

It would have been nice if when announcing the budget deal, President Obama had set aside the politician’s natural inclination to declare victory and his own preference for casting himself as the adult who settles things between the squabbling children. He could have said something like this: “The deal we just made is preferable to a government shutdown, which would have been truly disastrous. But nobody should mistake it for anything but the tragedy it is. As a result of the cuts Republicans have forced, people who rely on government services will suffer, and the economy will lose jobs. The Republicans held the government hostage, and we had no choice but to pay the ransom.”

By rushing to champion the spending cuts, Obama may be saving face, but he’s also setting a precedent that will make the next round of cuts even easier. The truth is that Democrats conceded under duress, they didn’t volunteer to cut spending because they thought it would help the country.

Indeed, Democrats agreed to far more cuts than the Republicans initially asked for. Cenk Uygur of the Young Turks argues that the Tea Party and the ostensibly more mainstream Republicans set up a very effective good cop/bad cop negotiating strategy in which the Democrats would offer cuts and the mainstream Republicans would say, “I’d like to help you, really I would, but you know my partner isn’t going to like that.”

Corporate taxes

Joshua Holland of AlterNet explains how corporate American has successfully lobbied to shift an ever-increasing share of its tax burden onto the backs of individual citizens:

Well, consider this: in the 1940s, corporations paid 43 percent of all the federal income taxes collected in this country. In the 1950s, they picked up the tab for 39 percent. But by the time the 1990s rolled around, corporations were paying just 18.9 percent of federal income taxes, and they forked over the same figure in the first decade of this century. We – working people – paid the difference.

Something to think about as we prepare to file our income tax returns.

This post features links to the best independent, progressive reporting about the economy bymembers 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 MulchThe Pulse and The Diaspora. This is a project of The Media Consortium, a network of leading independent media outlets.

 

 

Weekly Mulch: The EPA Can Regulate Carbon, For Now

by Sarah Laskow, Media Consortium blogger

This week, the House voted to shut downthe carbon regulation program at the Environmental Protection Agency, but the Senate rejected four different measuresthat would have stopped or delayed EPA action. The EPA, as mandated by the Supreme Court, has been moving forward with regulations that would require carbon polluters to apply for EPA permits and to use the best available method to start limiting carbon emissions.

The Office of Management and Budget has promised that if Congress does vote to end the regulation program, “senior advisors would recommend that [the president] veto the bill,” as I report at The American Prospect. But as David Roberts points out at Grist, that does not mean President Obama would follow that course. Roberts writes:

I don’t see a promise there. I see wiggle room where his advisers can “recommend” a veto and he can ignore their recommendations. And of course this leaves aside whether Obama would veto a spending or appropriations bill with an EPA-blocking rider.

Making a better choice

The legislators who are supporting the anti-EPA bill often argue that the power to deal with this issue should rest with them, not the executive branch. But they also argue against the EPA’s regulations on the grounds that they’ll cost American companies money, leading to higher costs for consumers and fewer jobs.

It’s true: Dealing with carbon is expensive. Right now, Americans simply aren’t paying for the damage being done to the atmosphere, and many of us don’t seem to care.

In Orion Magazine, Kathryn Miles writes about this problem in a review of Moral Ground: Ethical Action for a Planet in Peril, a new collection of essays on the problem of climate change:

As editors Kathleen Dean Moore and Michael P. Nelson argue in their introduction, neither scientific data nor externally imposed regulation will change hearts and minds — let alone our behavior. “What is missing,” they contend, “is the moral imperative, the conviction that assuring our own comfort at terrible cost to the future is not worthy of us as moral beings.” And so, rather than focus on atmospheric theory and tipping-point statistics, Moral Ground seeks to inspire action through a recognition of our species’ commitment to ethical behavior.

Choices

In some cases, making ethical environmental choices does mean paying more, at least temporarily, for clean energy, for products that create carbon pollution, for gas and oil. But there are also ways to fight climate change while saving money.

Composting, for example, costs nothing and produces something of value. In New York, the Lower East Side Ecology Center collects food scraps, composts them, and sells the finished product at the Union Square Farmer’s Market. As Kara Cusolito writes at Campus Progress, “Composted food scraps—whether from food prep or leftovers — turn back into the rich, fluffy soil that farmers and gardeners need to grow more food.” Farmers, for instance, can stop buying fertilizer if they start composting. Cusolito quotes one farmer who puts the choice in perspective: “Saying plants can’t grow well if they’re not conventionally fertilized is like saying people can’t be as happy if they’re not on drugs.”

The price of solar energy

Clean energy isn’t free of negative consequences, though, and clean energy advocates increasingly are butting heads with environmentalists who want to minimize the impact of new energy sources.

As dependence on natural gas, which counts as clean when compared with coal, grows in this country, worries about the threat of gas drilling to water sources is rising. At Earth Island Journal, Richard Ward of the UN Foundation, which supports natural gas as a clean energy source, and Jennifer Krill, executive director of Earthworks, lay out the cases for and against natural gas. Krill argues:

If the natural gas industry wants to be “clean,” it should embrace policies that mean no pollution of groundwater, drinking water, or surface waters; stringent controls on air pollution, including greenhouse gas emissions; protection for no-go zones, like drinking watersheds and sacred and wild lands; and respect for landowner rights, including the right to say no to drilling on their property.

But Krill notes the gas industry hasn’t show much interest in pursuing those compromises. And out west, some conservationists are objecting to the influx of solar panels on fragile desert lands. One group, Solar Done Right, for instance, “doesn’t disagree that much more solar energy is needed in order to decrease fossil fuel consumption and reduce heat-trapping greenhouse gas emissions, but they do disagree with developing solar facilities the way utilities build massive coal- or gas-fired power plants,” reports David O. Williams for The Colorado Independent. Instead, the group argues that solar energy can thrive in the “built environment,” on rooftops and on sites that are not environmentally vulnerable.

No matter what we do, there will be some costs to getting off of carbon, both for the economy and for the environment. But if the world does not decrease its carbon emissions, the costs will be much higher.

This post features links to the best independent, progressive reporting about the environment bymembers 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 AuditThe Pulse, and The Diaspora. This is a project of The Media Consortium, a network of leading independent media outlets.

 

 

Weekly Diaspora: Texas Excludes Low-Income Latinos from Census, Expedites Visas for Wealthy Mexican Immigrants

By Catherine A. Traywick, Media Consortium blogger

Newly released census figures show that the Latino population in the United States surged by 43 percent in the last 10 years, comprising 50 million people. According to New America Media’s Nina Martin, this marks the first decade since the 1960s when the number of Latino births exceeded the number of immigrants. But, the this increase notwithstanding, it seems that a sizable portion of the Latino population may not have been counted at all.

As Claudio Rowe reports at Equal Voice Newspaper / New America Media, officials in Hidalgo County, Texas, are planning to sue the federal government for failing to count as many as 300,000 Texas residents living along the U.S.-Mexico border. The residents, most of whom live in unincorporated subdivisions called colonias, are predominately U.S.-born Latinos (65 percent). Though community organizers spent months preparing families to participate in the census, the federal government failed to mail census forms to 95 percent of colonia residents—allegedly deeming them “hard to count.” The omission could lose the state tens of millions of dollars in social services funding over the next decade.

But that’s not all, as Rowe explains:

Aside from money, census undercounts can drastically affect political representation by triggering the redrawing of electoral districts. So across the nation, inaccurate population figures could affect elections for thousands of government offices over the next 10 years – everything from school board members to state representatives.

Texas redistricting discounts Latino population

In large part because of high Latino population growth, in fact, Texas is set to gain four new congressional districts—and the battle over their geographic make-up has already begun, despite the likely exclusion of several hundred thousand Texans.

Patrick Brendel of The American Independent notes that, while U.S. Reps. Lamar Smith (R) and Joe Barton (R) feud over whether the new districts should favor a particular political party, the Mexican American Legislative Caucus (MALC) has filed a redistricting lawsuit against state leaders, alleging “that the population numbers being used for the State’s 2011 redistricting process “severely undercounts Latinos.” MALC’s petition adds:

“The creation of redistricting plans for Texas election districts using the defective 2010 census data discriminates against Latino voters and is not legally enforceable.”

Opponents argue that non-citizens shouldn’t be included in the census at all, because redrawing political districts to accommodate undocumented populations dilutes the voting power of actual citizens. How the U.S.-born colonia residents who were excluded from this census fit into that schema, however, remains unclear.

The whole debacle does elucidate one important point, though: Low-income Latinos and undocumented migrants are similarly marginalized by both state and local governments—regardless of their citizenship status.

Texas welcomes wealthy Mexican immigrants, rejects working class undocumented

At the Texas Observer, Melissa Del Bosque reinforces that point when she notes that, while U.S. immigration policy has grown increasingly hostile towards Mexican immigrants in general, the government has been remarkably accommodating toward wealthy Mexican immigrants. She reports that Texas border cities are doing everything they can to encourage Mexican investment in the state, even brokering deals with the federal government to expedite visas for wealthy investors eager to flee Mexico’s security crisis:

“If you are in Mexico City you would call Progreso Bridge and say, this is our credit card number, this is our plane, this is who is on it,” Hernan Gonzalez, the Weslaco EDC executive director, told the McAllen Monitor. “They would already be in a registry … and then the officers would come and clear you based upon when you are going to land.”

By contrast, only 2 percent of the 11,000 Mexicans who have sought asylum from cartel violence gained entry into the United States, according to the Texas Observer’s Susana Hayward. Del Bosque adds that “Mexicans who invest $500,000 or more in a company that creates at least 10 jobs can obtain U.S. residency in a matter of months,” thereby avoiding the growing immigration case backlog in the United States. (As of February 2011, the average waiting period for immigration cases was 467 days—a 44 percent increase since 2008.)

It’s a stark reminder that the escalating furor over immigration reform is as much about class as it is about race, nationality or culture.

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 Pulse: GOP Would Privatize Medicare, Gut Medicaid


By Lindsay Beyerstein, Media Consortium blogger

On Tuesday, Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) unveiled a draft budget resolution for 2012. Ryan’s program would privatize Medicare and gut Medicaid.

“Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wisconsin, is waging radical class warfare and ideological privatization schemes and selling it as a debt reduction plan,” writes Karen Dolan in AlterNet. Indeed, Ryan’s plan is larded with tax cuts  for wealthy citizens and profitable corporations, which according to the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office (CBO), would actually increase the national debt over the next decade. The CBO projects that the debt would reach 70% of GDP by 2022 under Ryan’s plan compared to 67% under the status quo.

At TAPPED, Jamelle Bouie predicts that Ryan’s budget plan will become the de facto platform for the GOP in the 2012 elections. Presidential hopeful Tim Pawlenty is already gushing about the plan. He notes the irony in Republicans seizing upon a plan to eliminate Medicare when they campaigned so hard to “protect” the program during the fight over the Affordable Care Act.

Attacking Medicare is politically risky. The conventional wisdom is the program is all but invulnerable because it is so popular with the general public, and especially with senior citizens–who reliably turn out to vote in large numbers.

Suzy Khimm of Mother Jones argues that, in order to win this political fight, the Democrats need to emphasize what they’re doing to grapple with the rising costs of Medicare–such as creating an independent board to regulate the reimbursement rates for all procedures covered under Medicare. Republicans have harshly criticized such a board as an example of health care rationing. Their proposed plan, however, would ration care far more severely, based on ability to pay. Ryan’s plan would give seniors a voucher to defray part of the cost of buying private health insurance. The voucher wouldn’t cover care equivalent to that which is offered under Medicare. So, under Ryan’s plan, care would be rationed based on each person’s ability to pay for extra coverage.

In a separate piece, Khimm notes that the GOP is taking a further political gamble by proposing massive cuts to Medicaid. She cites a recent study by the Kaiser Family Foundation which found that only 13% of respondents favored major cuts to Medicaid. Republicans may be betting that they can cut Medicaid because they associate it with health care for the very poor, a constituency with little political capital and low voter turnout. But while Medicaid does serve the poor, a large percentage of its budget covers nursing home care for middle class retirees and services for adults with major disabilities–care that their families would otherwise have to pay for.

How to save $15 billion in health care costs

New research suggests that the federal government could save $15 billion by reducing unnecessary emergency room visits through investment in community health centers, Dan Peterson of Change.org reports:

This week, new research, from the Geiger Gibson/RCHN Community Health Foundation Research Collaborative, pinpoints just how much we stand to lose in health care efficiency savings if the funding is cut as proposed; $15 billion. Put another way, for every $1 invested in CHC expansion, there is a potential savings in health care costs of $11.50.

Peterson reports that money to expand the CHC program may be cut from the budget. The report explains that if the funding is lost, then CHCs will not be able to serve the 10-12 million additional patients who were supposed to get care through expanded CHCs under the Affordable Care Act. If Congress refuses to allot $1.3 billion for cost-effective primary care, $15 billion in projected savings will evaporate.

If Republicans are serious about balancing the budget, they should happily expand the Community Health Center network.

Danish Antibiotic Resistance Education

D.A.R.E. to keep pigs off drugs. The U.S. hog industry is heavily dependent on low-dose antibiotics to keep its swine infection-free. This practice comes at the cost of increased antibiotic resistance. Sixteen years ago, the government of Denmark, the world’s largest exporter of pork, took the bold step of asking its pork industry to reduce the amount of antibiotics given to pigs. Ralph Loglisci of Grist notes that the experiment has been a huge success: The industry has slashed antibiotic use by 37%, antibiotic resistance is down nationwide, and production has held steady or increased.

Gay-bashed, uninsured

Twenty-nine-year-old Barie Shortell’s face was shattered in an apparent anti-gay attack in Williamsburg, Brooklyn in February. Joseph Huff-Hannon reports on AlterNet on an obstacle in Shortell’s already-long road to recovery:

After blacking out, and spending 10 hours in surgery and five days in the hospital, Shortell is now taking another whipping from one of the insidious antagonists of 21st-century American life—the private health-care system. Shortell, like many of his fellow American twentysomethings, is uninsured.

Up to 30% of people in their twenties are uninsured. The Affordable Care Act should reduce the number of uninsured twenty-somethings, but as Huff Hannon notes, the number of uninsured young adults is expected to continue to rise for some time. The ACA allows young people to stay on their parents’ health insurance until age 26, but this reform is of little help to the millions of families who lost job-linked health coverage during the recession.

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

 

 

Weekly Audit: Republicans' Budget Declares War on Medicare

By Lindsay Beyerstein, Media Consortium blogger

The Republicans are poised to unveil a model budget on Tuesday that would effectively end Medicare by privatizing it, Steve Benen reports in the Washington Monthly. House Budget Committee Chair Paul Ryan (R-WI) is touting the budget as a strategy to reduce the national debt.

Ryan’s plan would turn Medicare from a single-payer system to a “premium support” system. “Premium support” is a euphemism for the government giving up to $15,000 per person, per year, to insurance companies to defray the cost of a health insurance policy.

As Benen points out, privatizing Medicare does nothing to contain health care costs. On the contrary, as insurance customers weary of double-digit premium increases can attest, private insurers have a miserable track record of containing costs. They excel at denying care and coverage, but that’s not the same thing.

The only way the government would save money under Ryan’s proposal is by paying a flat rate in vouchers. Medicare covers the full cost of medical treatments, but private insurers are typically much less generous. So, after paying into Medicare all their working lives, Americans currently 55 and younger would get vouchers for part of their health insurance and still have to pay out-of-pocket to approach the level of benefits that Medicare currently provides.

Taking aim at Medicaid

The poor are easy targets for Republican budget-slashing, Jamelle Bouie writes on TAPPED. Ryan’s proposal would also cut $1 trillion over the next 10 years from Medicaid, the joint federal-state health insurance program for the poor, by eliminating federal matching and providing all state funding through block grants. Most of this money would come from repealing the Affordable Care Act’s Medicaid expansion, which is slated to add 15 million people to Medicaid.

Block grants are cuts in disguise. Currently, Medicaid is an entitlement program, which means that states have to enroll everyone who is eligible, regardless of the state’s ability to pay. In return, the states get federal matching funds for each person in the program. Ryan and the Republicans want to change Medicaid into a block grant program where the federal government simply gives each state a lump sum to spend on Medicaid. The states want to use this new found “flexibility” to cut benefits, narrow eligibility criteria, and generally gut the program.

This is incredibly short-sighted. The current structure of Medicaid ensures extra federal funding for every new patient. So when unemployment rises and large numbers of new patients become eligible for Medicaid, the states get extra federal money for each of them. But with a block grant, the states would just have to stretch the existing block grants or find money from somewhere else in their budgets. Medicaid rolls surge during bad economic times, so a block grant system could make state budget crises even worse.

Ryan’s proposal has no chance of becoming law as long as Democrats control the Senate. The main purpose of the document is to lay out a platform for the 2012 elections.

Fake debt crisis

In The Nation, sociologist and activist Frances Fox Piven argues that the Republicans are hyping the debt threat to justify cuts to social programs:

Corporate America’s unprovoked assault on working people has been carried out by manufacturing a need for fiscal austerity. We are told that there is no more money for essential human services, for the care of children, or better public schools, or to help lower the cost of a college education. The fact is that big banks and large corporations are hoarding trillions in cash and using tax loopholes to bankrupt our communities.

She notes that Republican-backed tax cuts for the wealthy are a major contributor to the debt.

Jesus was a non-union carpenter?

Josh Harkinson of Mother Jones reports on the religious right’s crusade against unions. He notes that James Dobson of the socially conservative Family Research Council tweeted: “Pro-family voters should celebrate WI victory b/c public & private sector union bosses have marched lock-step w/liberal social agenda.”

Harkinson reports that the Family Research Council is backing the Republican incumbent, David Prosser, in today’s Wisconsin Supreme Court election–a battle that has become a proxy fight over Gov. Scott Walker’s anti-collective bargaining bill:

The FRC’s new political action committee, the Faith, Family, Freedom Fund, is airing ads on 34 Wisconsin radio stations in an effort to influence the April 5 judicial election that could ultimately decide the fate of the law. The ads target Wisconsin Assistant Attorney General JoAnne Kloppenburg, who’s running against a conservative incumbent, David Prosser, for a seat on the state Supreme Court. If elected, Kloppenburg wouldalter the balance on the court in favor of Democrats, giving them the ability to invalidate the recently enacted ban on public-employee collective bargaining. “Liberals see her as their best hope to advance their political agenda and strike down laws passed by a legislature and governor elected by the people,” say the ads. “A vote for Prosser is a vote to keep politics out of the Supreme Court.”

Roger Bybee of Working In These Times argues that recalling Republican state senators in Wisconsin is not enough to defend workers’ rights from Gov. Scott Walker’s anti-union onslaught.

This post features links to the best independent, progressive reporting about the economy bymembers 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 MulchThe Pulse and The Diaspora. This is a project of The Media Consortium, a network of leading independent media outlets.

 

 

The Wavelength: Original Reporting—What’s it Worth? Plus: Tracking the AT&T/T-Mobile Merger

 

By Eric Arnold, Media Consortium blogger

Last week, the New York Times debuted a long-awaited paywall, and stats blogger Nate Silver used the launch as an opportunity to explore the value of a news organization based on the amount of original reporting it produces. While Silver’s rankings could be a valuable tool for news organizations, Mother Jones‘ Nick Baumannfinds Silver’s methodology wanting.

“The results, as you might expect, made theTimes [paywall] look like a pretty good value,” Baumann writes. But the real problems are in how Silver ranks “original reporting”– namely that online citations don’t always identify the outlet, and that larger, established news organizations sometimes get credit for breaking stories when smaller orgs actually had the scoop first. That’s not to say that rankings like this don’t have incredible value for media, but that they need to be explored in a deeper manner. Baumann writes:

It’d be nice to see a foundation interested in journalism—the Knight Foundation, say, or Google.org—invest some time and money to expand and rework the rankings. It would be great to see media outlets competing to produce more and better original reporting.

Ultimately, Baumann believes rankings like this, if done right, could be a valuable barometer for measuring quality in journalism. Let’s hope someone takes up his call to arms.

AT&T/T-Mobile Merger still a very bad idea

Free Press’s Tim Karr weighs in on the mega-merger with five reasons why it’s not so great for consumers. According to Karr, “consolidation of the scale being proposed by AT&T resembles the old railroad and oil trusts of the 19th century.”

Karr also notes that the merger would erode competition, result in higher prices and fewer choices for consumers, eliminate perhaps tens of thousands of jobs, stifle innovation in the tech sector, and threaten free speech.

How will the merger affect POC users?

The disappearance of T-Mobile, whose low-cost plans offering unlimited data appealed to low-income wireless users, could have a huge impact on communities of color who rely on unrestricted text and web plans, especially those who don’t own computers.

At Colorlines.com, Jamilah King notes that “Mobile broadband is fast becoming the future of the Internet, and it’s already an important way in which communities of color are helping to close the digital divide. ” Blacks and Latinos, she says, are among the biggest users of mobile technology, “and in many cases, it’s the primary way that they surf the Web.”

If unlimited data plans end, and prices for wireless service rise for current T-Mobile users if and when a merger is completed, the digital divide separating under served communities from customers who can afford higher fees will almost certainly widen. This could have a devastating ripple effect on everything from people who use phones for business to people who use phones for social networking — and may affect African Americans, Latinos, and immigrant populations disproportionately.

Impact of merger on Net Neutrality

How will the potential mega merger affect Net Neutrality? Truthout’s Nadia Prupis recently interviewed Free Press political adviser Joel Kelsey, who says the FCC’s December decision not to regulate wireless carriers now seems shortsighted. “[The FCC’s] justification was that you’re less likely to see some of the same types of anti-competitive actions for fear that a carrier would lose a large number of customers … looking at it through the lens of this merger, I think that justification has kind of gone out the window.”

Did ISPs buy anti-Net Neutrality votes?

Speaking of Net Neutrality, Crunchgear had an eye-opening article outlining the amount of money donated by ISPs over the last four election cycles to the 15 members of the House Subcommittee on Communications and Technology who opposed Net Neutrality. The article’s findings perhaps aren’t that surprising, but are revelatory: “Looking at the 15 congressmen who voted against Net Neutrality, the top three ISPs gave their campaigns some $868,024 over the past four election cycles. You can interpret that as, well, they were able to knock down Net Neutrality for less than $1 million, which is pretty much a drop in the bucket for these companies.”

Oh, Canada – Why Can’t America Be More Like You?

The AT&T merger is dominating the media policy news cycle, but we shouldn’t let it distract us from an interesting ruling for media made by our neighbors to the north. As Yes! Magazine’s Dave Saldanareports, a Canadian law which prohibits broadcast news from knowingly spreading disinformation—an anti-lying law—was recently upheld by the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC).

Saldana writes: “With little fanfare, the CRTC last month scrapped a proposal to revoke or relax a rule on ‘prohibited programming content’ that includes ‘broadcasting false or misleading news.’ The CRTC withdrew the plan when a legislative committee determined that the rule does not run afoul of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which like the U.S. Constitution, guarantees press freedoms.”

He goes on to raise the obvious question: If Canada can do this, why can’t the United States? After all, there have been cases where journalists have been pressured into knowingly inserting false statements into stories under orders from executives, in order to protect big business interests engaged in harmful practices.

Unfortunately, the media’s legal right to lie is protected by the First Amendment. But if Canada can ban false reporting without violating freedom of the press, why can’t we choose truth over truthiness?

New Study Details Women in Media Globally

Inter Press Service’s Andrea Lunt reports on a recently completed a study of women in news media covering more than 170,000 people in 500 companies across 60 countries. The study was produced by the International Women’s Media Foundation (IWMF).

Lunt says the study shows that gender inequality in the media sphere has been institutionalized. The good news is that the gap appears to be closing, especially at the executive level, where women have more than doubled their presence in the past fifteen years. A 1995 study showed women 12% of the top management positions in 239 nations, yet the IWMF report shows women now hold 26% of the governing and 27% of the top management jobs.

Progress? Certainly. But there’s still a long way to go.

This post features links to the best independent, progressive reporting about media policy and media-related matters by members of The Media Consortium. It is free to reprint. To read more of the Wavelength, click here. And for the best progressive reporting on critical economy, environment, health care and immigration issues, check out The AuditThe Mulch, and The Diaspora. This is a project of The Media Consortium, a network of leading independent media outlets.

 

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