Weekly Mulch: Chevron Must Pay; GOP Tries to Gut the EPA

By Sarah Laskow, Media Consortium blogger

An Ecuadorian judge ordered Chevron this week to pay $8.6 billion in damages for polluting the Amazon rainforest from 1964 until 1990. The payout is the second largest ever in an environmental case, with only the damages BP agreed to pay in the wake of last summer’s Deepwater Horizon spill being higher.

Environmental lawyers and advocates hailed the case as a landmark victory, but as Rebecca Tarbotton reports at AlterNet, Chevron is still planning to fight the case.

“In fact, the oil giant has repeatedly refused to pay for a clean up even if ordered to by the court,” she writes. “In one chilling statement, Charles A. James, Chevron’s vice president and general counsel, told law students at UC Berkeley that Chevron would fight ‘until hell freezes over, and then skate on the ice.’”

The Cost of Doing Business

Chevron can continue to fight the case because it’s cheaper for them to fund their lawyers than to cough up billions. Like so many environmental issues, this one comes down to money, which environmentally destructive corporations always seem to have and activists, regulators, and victims simply don’t.

In Washington, the newly empowered Republican Party is doing its darndest to make sure that remains the case. It’s budget season, and the Environmental Protection Agency is one of the prime targets for cutting in Republicans’ budget proposals. Kate Sheppard reports at Mother Jones that House Republicans are not only trying to take away $3 billion from the agency, but also are pushing to bar the EPA from regulating carbon or other greenhouse gasses. Putting this in context, Sheppard writes:

The National Wildlife Federation says the cuts amount to a “sneak attack” on existing environmental laws like the Clean Air and Clean Water Acts, because they would make it basically impossible for the EPA to do its job. The huge cut—the biggest in 30 years—”would jeopardize the water we drink and air we breathe, endangering the health and well-being of all Americans,” Gene Karpinski, the president of the League of Conservation Voters, said Monday.

The need for green

But environmentalists have their backers, too. At Grist, Bill McKibben, the author and climate activist who co-founded the climate group 350.org, has an interesting look at how the Sierra Club’s National Coal Campaign, led by Bruce Nilles, banded together with other environmental activists to successfully shut down proposals for coal-fired power plants across the country. One of the keys, of course, was money:

A consortium of foundations led by the Rockefeller Family Fund helped provide not only resources for the fight but crucial coordination. By the summer of 2005, RFF’s Larry Shapiro, David Wooley from The Energy Foundation, Nilles, and others formed a loosely organized “coal cadre.”

The coordination was crucial not only for the advocacy groups involved, which each have different strengths and geographical bases, but for the money men as well:

“I first went to Florida in 2005 to meet with several groups fighting coal plants,” said Shapiro. “I thought I would figure out who we could give $50,000 to. After my trip, I realized it wasn’t a $50,000 project — it was a million-dollar project. Over time, the Energy Foundation and others got into the game, so we ended up with some real money.”

In the end, McKibben reports, RFF gathered together, from its own pockets and from other foundations, $2.8 million.

Windfall

On top of the type of advocacy work that McKibben details, there’s another reason why more communities and companies are moving away from coal-fired power plants: they have a choice. Plants fueled with natural gas are a popular alternative, but as Gina Marie Cheeseman writes at Care2, in some areas, onshore wind power can compete with coal on costs.

“In some areas of the U.S., Brazil, Mexico and Sweden, the cost of wind power ($68 per megawatt hour) generated electricity is competitive with coal-fired power ($67 a megawatt hour),” Cheeseman writes. Wind power is also, she notes, competitive with natural gas, according to the American Wind Energy Association.

Close to home

These sort of adjustments make it easier for consumers to make sustainable choices. And in the end, personal choices do impact the amount of carbon humanity is spewing into the atmosphere. As two recent European studies showed, men make choices that generally produce more carbon emissions than women, Julio Godoy reported for Inter Press Service.

One study focused on France, the other on Germany, Greece, Norway, and Sweden. The second study, conducted by researchers at the Swedish Defence Research Agency, found that men ate more meat, drank more processed beverages, and drove more frequently and for longer distances. Annika Carlsson-Kanyama, one of the study’s authors, has argued that their results apply more broadly, too.

“These differences are not specific to the four countries studied, but are generalised across the European Union and have little to do with the different professional activities of men and women,” she told Godoy.

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.

 

 

Showdown in Madison: A Primer for the Wisconsin Protests

by Raquel Brown, Media Consortium blogger

It’s been a tumultuous week in Madison, Wisconsin. Tens of thousands of state workers, teachers, and students have packed the state Capitol building to protest Republican Gov. Scott Walker’s plan to weaken public unions.

In a move ostensibly aimed to balance the state budget, Walker proposed a bill on Friday, February 11 that would dislodge collective bargaining rights for all public workers except for police, firefighters and the state patrol—some of the few public employee unions that supported Walker’s gubernatorial campaign. In addition, the bill will require most state workers to pay significantly more for pensions and health premiums.

Armed with scores of clever signs, demonstrators are rumbling through Madison, chanting “Kill the bill” and “This is what democracy looks like!” To delay the passage of Walker’s controversial bill and forge negotiations, 14 state Senate Democrats fled the state on Thursday, leaving the chamber with too few lawmakers to take a vote.

The Uptake is also LiveStreaming from Madison:


Roger Bybee of Working In These Times explains why the protests in Wisconsin are vital to America’s labor movement. “America’s labor movement is enjoying a great start in this epic battle to hold onto fundamental union rights in Wisconsin. It’s already had vast repercussions across the nation,” Bybee writes.

For the people?

Walker claims that the Democrats’ boycott is disrespectful to democracy. Further, he contends that his anti-union bill is representative of the people since he fairly won the election and Republicans gained control of both houses in the Wisconsin state legislature last November.

But John Nichols of The Nation argues that Walker’s elected position does not give him total free reign over the state: “Democracy does not end on Election Day. That’s when it begins. Citizens do not elect officials to rule them from one election to the next. Citizens elect officials to represent them, to respond to the will of the people as it evolves.”

This week, Wisconsin workers have embraced their First Amendment right to “peaceably assemble and petition the government” and are making sure their voices are heard.

Furthermore, according to Colorlines.com’s Kai Wright, the current assault on public workers is racialized. He writes:

But as governors and columnists have painted pictures of overpaid, underworked public employee in recent weeks, I have also seen the faint outline of familiar caricatures—welfare queens, Cadillacs in the projects, Mexican freeloaders. It’s hard to escape the fact that, in the states and localities with the biggest budget crunches (New Jersey, California, New York…) public employees are uniquely black.

Young people rallying

Emboldened by the bill’s potential to destroy the quality of their education, students have helped the protests gain momentum. While graduate students led a “teach-out,” undergraduate students organized a “walk-out” from university classes and a sleep in at the capital’s rotunda.

Micah Uetricht of Campus Progress writes, “If public sector union workers—indeed, all workers—are to gain dignified work and lives, it will take a mass cross-generational mobilization that engages students and workers of all ages and industries. In other words, it will take the kind of movement in full bloom in Madison right now.”

Here comes the Tea Party…

Tea party activists will meet head-to-head with union protesters on Saturday, as many are flocking to the state Capitol for a massive counter-demonstration in support of Walker’s bill. Led by the conservative group American Majority, and other conservative pundits like Andrew Breitbart, Jim Hoft and Joe “The Plumber” Wurtzelbacher, Stephanie Mencimer of Mother Jones reports that “the organizers of this anti-union protest do have the resources and know-how to stage a big rally. … But more important, the scheduled protest appears to be resonating with Tea Party activists across the country, who have been praising Walker for taking on unions.”

Historical perspective

Wisconsin was “the birthplace of public sector unions” 50 years ago, which makes Walker’s proposal a significant break from the state’s pro-labor past. Even worse, “other state legislatures could see Walker’s assault on public employees and their unions as a blueprint for how to fix their own budget catastrophes,” notes Mother Jones’ Siddhartha Mahanta. “Such plans are already under consideration in places like Ohio, Indiana, and Tennessee, where the GOP scored major electoral victories last November.” Thus, the bill is an attack not only on Wisconsin’s workers, but on the rights of public workers across the country.

From Egypt to the Midwest

So does this make Walker the Mubarak of the Midwest? In light of Egypt’s recent uprisings, The American Prospect’s Harold Meyerson examines the glaring double standard surrounding Wisconsin’s protests:

American conservatives often profess admiration for foreign workers’ bravery in protesting and undermining authoritarian regimes. Letting workers exercise their rights at home, however, threatens to undermine some of our own regimes (the Republican ones particularly) and shouldn’t be permitted. Now that Wisconsin’s governor has given the Guard its marching orders, we can discern a new pattern of global repressive solidarity emerging – from the chastened pharaoh of the Middle East to the cheese-head pharaoh of the Middle West.

But, wait: There’s more! Here are some other notable stories from Wisconsin:

The Progressive’s Josh Healey provides a list of ten things you should know about Wisconsin’s crusade for worker’s rights.
Adele M. Stan of AlterNet describes Walker’s cozy relationship with the Koch Brothers’ deep pockets.
On GRITtv, Milwaukee’s Ellen Bravo reveals state workers struggle for basic rights, while Ev Liebman shares her similar experience in New Jersey.
Free Speech Radio News interviews Wisconsin Senate Minority Leader Mark Miller  from an “undisclosed location.”
This post features links to the best independent, progressive reporting about the Wisconsin protests by members of The Media Consortium. It is free to reprint. For more news on Wisconsin, 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, The Pulse, and The Diaspora. This is a project of The Media Consortium, a network of leading independent media outlets.

 

 

Weekly Pulse: South Dakota’s Legislative Attack on Abortion Providers

By Lindsay Beyerstein, Media Consortium blogger

The South Dakota House of Representatives will soon vote on a bill that would expand the definition of justifiable homicide to include killing to protect the life of a fetus. The plain language of the bill would appear to legalize the murder of abortion providers for performing legal abortions on women who request them.

Kate Sheppard explains in Mother Jones:

The bill, sponsored by state Rep. Phil Jensen, a committed foe of abortion rights, alters the state’s legal definition of justifiable homicide by adding language stating that a homicide is permissible if committed by a person “while resisting an attempt to harm” that person’s unborn child or the unborn child of that person’s spouse, partner, parent, or child. If the bill passes, it could in theory allow a woman’s father, mother, son, daughter, or husband to kill anyone who tried to provide that woman an abortion—even if she wanted one.

“The bill in South Dakota is an invitation to murder abortion providers,” Vicki Saporta, the president of the National Abortion Foundation told Mother Jones.

The bill’s sponsor, Rep. Phil Jensen, vehemently denies that his bill would legalize the murder of abortion doctors, Sheppard reports in a follow-up post. Jensen did not return Mother Jones’s calls for comment before the original story ran, but he now claims that he simply wants to update the state’s fetal homicide legislation.

Jensen’s stated intent is irrelevant, however. The plain language of his bill expands the category of “justifiable homicide” to protect certain people who kill to save a fetus.

There is no question that many radical anti-choicers will interpret this legislation as a license to kill. If this bill becomes law, it is only a matter of time before one of these terrorists travels to South Dakota to test that interpretation.

As Jodi Jacobson of RH Reality Check notes, the bill codifies the same legal argument that anti-choice terrorist Scott Roeder deployed unsuccessfully at his trial for the assassination of the prominent late-term abortion provider and pro-choice activist Dr. George Tiller. Technically, the bill would only protect people who killed to “protect” a fetus being carried by their partner or family member, not strangers like Roeder who killed to “protect” fetuses in general, but the veiled threat to abortion providers is clear.

The bill cleared the legislature’s judiciary committee by a party-line vote of 9-3. The legislation is co-sponsored by 22 state legislators and 4 state senators. The full state house is scheduled to vote on the bill on Wednesday.

Steve Benen of the Washington Monthly sees the legislation as a sign of a “radical turn” in the culture war.

“Birth or Die Act” advances

Meanwhile, at the federal level, the anti-choice bill H.R. 358 passed the House Energy and Commerce Committee, Miriam Perez reports for Feministing. H.R. 358 is controversial on two fronts. First, it appears to create an opening for hospitals to refuse abortion care and abortion referrals, even when a woman’s life is at risk. Second, the bill would effectively end private insurance coverage for abortion as we know it.

Fruitwashing

You’ve heard of “greenwashing,” the marketing trend where companies repackage their old polluting inventory as planet-healthy products? The latest corporate marketing gambit is to convince consumers that sugar, starch, and red food dye are good for us, a process dubbed “fruitwashing,” by Brie Cadman of change.org.

Cadman takes food giant Kellogg’s to task for touting the “real fruit” in its frosted mini Pop Tarts, now available in 100-calorie packs. Of course, these rosy toaster pastries contain only a minuscule amount of fruit.

Kellogg’s is a repeat offender when it comes to fruitwashing. The box of the company’s Frosted Mini Wheats Blueberry Muffin cereal features photos of real blueberries, but the actual “blueberry crunchlets” in the box are made of sugar, soybean oil, red dye #40 and blue dye #2.

Play with your food

In an article called “Why Playing With Your Food is Serious Business,” Carol Deppe of Grist argues that processed fare is driving us to overeat by cheating us out of our instinctive drive to interact with our foods before we eat them:

I also tend to overeat the delicious bean soup on that day I effortlessly thawed a portion from the freezer, compared with the day that I made the soup from scratch myself. The act of preparing food seems to actually be one of my satiety mechanisms. That is, to avoid overeating, to feel satisfied with normal, healthful amounts of food, I have to play with my food.

A highly processed diet enables us to practically inhale our calories, leaving us unsatisfied.

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 Diaspora: Justice for Brisenia as Minutemen Leader Convicted of Murders

By Catherine A. Traywick, Media Consortium blogger

Days after Arizona Governor Jan Brewer and Attorney General Tom Horne filed suit against the federal government for allegedly failing to protect the state from a Mexican “invasion,” the high-profile murder conviction of a Minutemen border vigilante underscores the state’s misguided border priorities.

Earlier this week, a jury found Shawna Forde—leader of the Minutemen American Defense (MAD)—guilty of murdering 8-year-old Brisenia Flores and her father, Raul Flores, Jr. during a racially motivated home invasion in 2009. Forde faces the death penalty for orchestrating the robbery and murders.

ColorLines’ Julianne Hing reports that Forde had planned a number of elaborate home invasions to raise funds for her border patrol activities—targeting individuals whom she (erroneously) believed to be drug dealers. Though no drugs were found in the Flores home, Forde—who, incidentally, has close ties to both the Tea Party and the conservative think tank Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR)—nevertheless justified Brisenia’s murder on the grounds that “people shouldn’t deal drugs if they have kids.” After watching Forde’s accomplices shoot her mother and kill her father, Brisenia was shot twice in the face.

While Latino advocacy groups have characterized the Flores murders as hate crimes provoked—at least in part—by state leaders’ incendiary anti-immigrant rhetoric, many regard Forde’s conviction as one of many indicators that the tables are turning on anti-immigrant politicos like Brewer who have curried political support through fear-mongering and misinformation.

Less tolerance for border vigilantes

As Valeria Fernandez reports at New America Media, the verdict comes just weeks after another Arizona court upheld a decision against rancher Roger Barnett who, in an act of unwarranted border vigilantism, assaulted a group of migrants traveling across his property. Barnett was fined $80,000. While the Forde and Barnett cases are only two incidents of a nationwide rash of anti-Latino crime, their convictions are particularly significant in Arizona, where state leaders have long tolerated and even encouraged border vigilantism as a necessary response to purported border-related violence.

A year ago, state politicians—including Brewer—fomented a national anti-immigrant mania (which handily ushered in SB 1070) by promoting false reports of border violence. As Valeria Fernandez reported at Feet in 2 Worlds last March, lawmakers were quick to attribute the shooting of Arizona rancher Robert Krentz to an unidentified, undocumented Mexican immigrant—though the sheriff in charge of the case later told the press that the prime suspect was not actually Mexican.

Brewer, for her part, gained national notoriety after fabricating tales of beheadings in the Arizona desert—which, as I wrote for Campus Progress at the time—generated support for her anti-immigrant political agenda while diverting public attention away from the reality that  most of Arizona’s border violence is directed at immigrants, rather than perpetrated by them.

Arizona’s countersuit against the federal government

Brewer’s recent countersuit against the federal government—which alleges that Arizona is under invasion from the south and that the feds have failed to protect the state accordingly—similarly conjures nativist fantasies of immigrant-fueled border violence. But, as Scott Lemieux posits at TAPPED, the suit idly and transparently villainizes immigrants:

It is (to put it mildly) a stretch to argue that Arizona is undergoing an “invasion.” Illegal immigration does not constitute a military threat or an attempt to overthrow the state government; anti-immigration metaphors are not a sound basis for constitutional interpretation.

Like those propagated by state lawmakers during Arizona’s nativist heyday last spring, this new offensive belies the reality that, while anti-Latino hate crimes have risen by 52 percent nationally in recent years, border crime has been on the decline for quite some time—a fact noted by Alternet’s Julianne Escobedo Shepherd in her coverage of the countersuit.

Yet, in an effort to further their extreme, anti-immigrant agenda, Arizona’s nativist lawmakers determinedly maintain the myth that Latin American immigration somehow generates a groundswell of violent crime—even when doing so requires the hasty revision of a rancher’s death, and the callous disregard of an innocent child’s murder.

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 Mulch: Monsanto’s Mutant Alfalfa and the Feral Pig Invasion

by Sarah Laskow, Media Consortium blogger

Agribusiness giant Monsanto is strengthening its hold over the food system both in this country and abroad, with some help from the U.S. government.

Food safety advocates have been trying to derail the roll-out of the company’s newest product, Roundup Ready alfalfa, or at least limit its use, Mike Ludwig reports at Truthout. But Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack announced recently that use of the alfalfa seeds would be fully deregulated and available for use across the country.

“The decision squashed a proposed compromise between the biotech industry and its opponents that would have placed geographic restrictions on Roundup Ready alfalfa to prevent organic and traditional alfalfa from being contaminated by herbicide sprays and transgenes spread by cross-pollination and other factors,” Ludwig reports.

Home and away

President Barack Obama’s food safety and agriculture team includes quite a few Monsanto supporters. Michael Taylor, the deputy commissioner for foods at the Food and Drug Administration, worked on public policy for the company for three years, for instance. And the agriculture department’s chief scientist, Roger Beachy, came to administration from a research organization co-founded by Monsanto.

Obama administration officials are also working with Monsanto on a plan called “New Visions for Agriculture,” which promotes global food security, Kristen Ridley reports at Change.org.

“This particular plan uses taxpayer dollars through Obama’s Feed the Future initiative to ‘advance market-based solutions’ to increase yield in the developing world,” she writes. “In other words, these companies will be exporting the Big Ag system to developing nations in the name of ‘feeding the world,’ but the only thing they’ll really be feeding is their profits.”

International impacts

For the developing countries involved, the pitch for food security might sound good now. But the United States doesn’t have a great track record when it comes to international interventions on behalf of corporate interests. In Colombia, for instance, local activists are pushing back against a new Canadian goal mining project in part because their communities have already experienced environmental destruction at the hands of U.S.-based mining interests, Inter Press Service’s Helda Martinez reports.

While GreyStar, the Canadian company pushing the project, has promised it will not harm the environment, leaders like former environment minister Manuel Rodríguez are pointing to similar claims made by U.S. coal companies in the past.

“The U.S. firm ‘Drummond told me the same thing 20 years ago,’ Rodríguez said,” according to Martinez.

“The former minister was referring to the proven environmental damages caused in the northern province of Cesar by Drummond’s coal mining — a disaster compounded by serious allegations of violations of the human rights of local residents and mineworkers,” she writes.

Unwelcome visitors

As Eartha Jane Melzer reports for The Michigan Messenger, here in the United States, some lawmakers are pushing back against Canadian interests, as well. Bruce Power, a Canadian nuclear energy company, wants to to ship “16-school bus sized steam generators from the Bruce Nuclear Station on Lake Huron to Sweden for reprocessing and reintroduction to the commercial metals market,” Melzer writes.

The generators would pass through U.S.-controlled portions of the Great Lakes. A cadre of senators from states touching the Great Lakes (Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Michigan, Illinois, and New York) have asked the agency responsible for approving the trip, the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, to take a close look at Bruce Power’s application.

Pest control

Here’s a different strategy for dealing with unwelcome visitors: Kiera Butler is chronicling her encounters with invasive species at Mother Jones. When the problem is feral pigs, however, the strategy is not diplomacy: it’s hunting them. As Butler explains,

Jackson Landers, a.k.a the Locavore Hunter, aims to whet American appetites for invasive species like lionfish, geese, deer, boar, and even spiny iguanas by working with wholesalers, chefs, and restaurateurs to promote these aliens as menu items. As Landers recently told the New York Times‘ James Gorman, “When human beings decide that something tastes good, we can take them down pretty quickly.”

Check out Butler’s account of her hunt in Georgia. She also learns that the attitude towards the pigs—and invasive species in general—goes beyond a desire to simply be rid of them. “In Florida, the spiny iguanas are pests, but they’re also kind of pretty, so some people kind of like having a few of them around and object when people try to get rid of them,” she writes.

Home turf

Of course, not all negative environmental impacts happen abroad, or on account of invaders. Henry Taksier has a sad piece in Campus Progress showing the long-term problems that a wood-treatment factory has created in Gainesville, Florida:

For 93 years, Koppers, Inc. operated a wood-treatment facility at 200 NW 23rd Ave, releasing industrial toxins—including arsenic, hexavalent chromium, creosote, and dioxins—into Gainesville’s air, water, and soil. The area is now ranked as one of the nation’s top-100 polluted sites. It has been designated a Superfund site—a place so heavily polluted with toxic waste that it poses a threat to human health and the environment—for 27 years.

Even so, the area has yet to be fully cleaned up, and families live in close proximity to the site, worrying about their health and warning kids to stay away from the area.

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.

 

 

Weekly Pulse: New Anti-Choice Bill Suggests More #DearJohn Letters Needed

By Lindsay Beyerstein, Media Consortium blogger

Health advocate Eesha Pandit and blogger Sady Doyle join GRITtv host Laura Flanders for a discussion of the House GOP’s draconian abortion bill, H.R.3. The bill, which Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) has called a top priority, would permanently restrict federal funding for abortion, even beyond the already stringent guidelines set out in the Hyde Amendment.

Doyle launched the #dearjohn Twitter campaign to channel public outrage over H.R. 3, particularly its clause that changed the existing “rape and incest” exception for Medicaid funding for abortion to an exception for “forcible rape.”The GOP ultimately removed the word “forcible,” but the bill’s other far-reaching restrictions remain in place.

Getting the “forcible” proviso removed from the bill was a small victory, but Doyle notes the fight is far from over. H.R. 3 isn’t the only radical anti-choice bill on the GOP’s legislative agenda. Carol Joffe reports at RH Reality Check that H.R.358 (the so-called “Protect Life Act”) would give hospitals unlimited discretion to turn away women who needed abortions, even to save their lives.

Insure pregnant women

A California state senator is taking on insurance companies for denying pregnancy-related health care coverage, Brie Cadman reports at Change.org. State senator Noreen Evans has introduced a bill that would protect insurance coverage for pregnant women in the individual health insurance market. Unlike group insurers and HMOs, private plans in the state are currently not required to cover maternity care. In 2004, 82% of individual health insurance plans in California covered maternity care; by 2009, only 19% of individual plans did so.

Irony alert

The individual mandate component of health care reform, which will impose a tax on people who don’t buy health insurance, is the bete noire of conservative Republicans, and the target of multiple constitutional challenges working their way through the courts. Ironically, as Simeon Talley explains at Campus Progress, the mandate was originally proposed by a Republican as a bulwark againstsocialized medicine:

Indeed the individual mandate has its genesis on the right. Ezra Klein interviews ‘Father of the Mandate’ Republican Mark Pauly: “We did it because we were concerned about the specter of single-payer insurance, which isn’t market-oriented, and we didn’t think [that] was a good idea. One feature was the individual mandate.”

Medicine and the public good

At truthout, Dr. Andrew Saal remembers what he said when a medical colleague asked him to sign a petition to repeal health care reform:

I centered myself and spoke in calm, measured phrases, with a warm smile. “I believe that the status quo is unsustainable. I believe that caring for those unable to pay is a matter of civic duty and professional honor. And while a pinch of free enterprise may keep the system nimble and foster innovation, at the end of the day, medicine is a social commodity similar to police and fire services.”

Saal’s colleague argues that he should be entitled to charge as much as the market will bear for medical services. After all, he studied hard and went to medical school. Saal sees things differently. He argues that, while doctors are entitled to fair compensation for their skilled services, medical knowledge is social. The doctor who places a cardiac stent didn’t invent the procedure. Saal notes that federal tax dollars fund the basic research that makes medical breakthroughs possible. While the stent itself may have been developed by a private company, the company couldn’t have invented it if the government hadn’t invested untold millions of dollars on basic research.

What’s more, Saal notes, doctors don’t pay the full cost of their schooling. The federal government subsidizes medical education through low interest federal loans, the university system itself, and Medicare reimbursements for interns and residents (doctors in training).

Nail salon hazards

Nail salon workers are exposed to a miasma of formaldehyde, toluene, and other known and suspected chemical hazards. The National Radio Project takes a closer look at the potential health effects of working long hours in poorly ventilated salons.

In California, the issue is of special concern to the Vietnamese community. An astonishing two-thirds of nail salon workers in the state are Vietnamese immigrants, most of them women in their childbearing years. Epidemiologists have yet to definitively prove a link between nail salon exposure and chronic disease, but the suspect chemicals have been shown to cause cancer in laboratory animals.

The bottom line is that safer chemicals are available. Activists say that regulators should mandate healthier alternatives now.

This post features links to the best independent, progressive reporting about health care by membersof 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 AuditThe Mulch, and The Diaspora. This is a project of The Media Consortium, a network of leading independent media outlets.

 

 

Weekly Audit: The Real Legacy of Reaganomics

 

By Lindsay Beyerstein, Media Consortium blogger

Sunday marked the 100th anniversary of the birth of B-movie actor-turned-conservative president, Ronald Wilson Reagan. On the eve of the centennial, economist Yves Smith talked Reaganomics on the Real News Network. Smith argues that Reagan’s real legacy is the deregulation of the U.S. economy that set the stage for the economic meltdown of the late 2000s:

But [with] financial services, you have companies that have state guarantees. That’s the bottom line with the banking system. Ever since the 1930s, we in advanced economies have made the decision we’re not going to let the banking system fail. So if you don’t regulate banks, you have set up the situation that we have now, which is that you have socialized losses and privatized gains. And what have we seen come out of that? Financial crises. When we had a heavily regulated financial system, we had nearly 40 years of hardly any financial crises. When we started deregulating the banks, you saw increasing in frequency and increasing in significance financial crises directly resulting from that.

Spot of Tea?

Ordinary Britons are rallying to the defense of the welfare state. Faced with the deepest public spending cuts in living memory, citizens are taking to the streets to force deadbeat companies to pay their taxes, Johann Hari reports in The Nation. Their federal government has pledged to slash £7 billion in public spending. Cuts to subsidized housing alone will force 200,000 people out of their homes.

A group of friends in a local pub were galvanized by the news that Vodafone, one of the UK’s leading mobile phone companies, owed an astonishing £6 billion in back taxes. Calling themselves UK Uncut, the friends staged a protest outside Vodafone headquarters in London. The meme went viral. In the following days, several Vodafone stores were temporarily paralyzed by peaceful sit-ins.

Hari argues that the success of UK Uncut can teach American progressives a lot about how to build a grassroots counterpart to the Tea Party.

Persistent vegetative states

Big or small, liberal or conservative, state governments are screwed. That’s the upshot of Paul Starr’s latest essay in The American Prospect. Unemployment remains at recession levels and there is little political will to raise taxes. States can’t deficit spend like the feds do. So, the only option is public service cuts, which means firing teachers, doctors, firefighters, and other public workers.

Starr argues that the economic stimulus was a good start, but one that didn’t go far enough. As part of the stimulus, the federal government picked up a larger share of the states’ Medicaid costs. This was a good thing, in Starr’s view, because the extra federal dollars saved jobs while providing health care for the poor. Starr argues that state budget woes during recessions are so predictable, and the consequences so dire, that the Medicaid subsidy should kick in automatically whenever unemployment rises past a predetermined threshold.

Anti-union bill dead in CO

A bill to end collective bargaining for public employees in Colorado died in committee this week, according to Joseph Boven of the Colorado Independent. The bill would have abolished an executive order signed by former Gov. Bill Ritter, which gave state employees the right to organize. If the bill had been enacted, this kind of organizing would become illegal. This bill, sponsored by Sen. Shawn Mitchell (R-Broomfield), was just one of many attempts by Republicans to scapegoat public sector unions for what Mitchell calls the “financial Armageddon” facing state governments.

Smurfs rob Moms

“Smurfing” is money laundering slang for recruiting a lot of low-level accomplices to move money in untraceably small increments. But the word may soon have a new derogatory connotation.

Kevin Drum of Mother Jones reports that a kids’ video game, Smurfs’ Village, is depleting parents’ bank accounts, one wagon of Smurfberries at a time. Capcom’s game offers kids the chance to build the village from scratch. Along the way, they can pay real money for in-game resources. One mother was shocked to receive a $1,400 bill from Apple because her daughter bought innumerable imaginary props, such as $19 “buckets of snowflakes,” and a $100 “wagon of Smufberries.” The purchases require a password, but critics say it’s too easy for clever kids to circumvent the security. As Drum says, if adults want to waste their real dollars on virtual Farmville paraphernalia, that’s fine, but such a racket has no place in kids’ games.

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 Mulch: The Dirty Truth about Natural Gas and Energy Innovation

by Sarah Laskow, Media Consortium blogger

The argument against natural gas got a boost this week, when a congressional investigation turned up evidence that oil and gas companies were using diesel gas to extract gas from the ground.

Natural gas companies have insisted that their newly popular hydraulic fracturing (known as “fracking”) techniques are safe, but as Care2’s Kristina Chew reports, “environmentalists and regulators have become increasingly concerned that the fracking chemicals—including toluene, xylene and benzene, a carcinogen, which are all from diesel gas—are seeping out into underground sources of drinking water, in violation of the Safe Water Drinking Act.”

The mix-up

The Environmental Protection Agency is conducting an inquiry into the environmental impacts of fracking, and some states are considering more stringent regulations of the practice, including disclosure of the chemicals that go into fracking fluid. Gas companies have argued that the blend of chemicals is a trade secret and must be kept private, but the findings of the congressional investigation suggest otherwise. Eartha Jane Melzer reports at The Michigan Messenger, “In a letter to EPA administrator Lisa Jackson… Reps. Henry Waxman, Edward Markey and Diana DeGette reported that although the EPA requires permits for hydraulic fracturing that involves diesel none of the companies that admitted using diesel have sought or received permits.”

And, as Melzer reports, diesel is the only chemical used in fracking that’s currently regulated under the Safe Drinking Water Act. That companies have been sneaking it into the ground does not strengthen the industry’s case for independence.

Ensuring that natural gas companies do their work without threatening water supplies is becoming ever more crucial, as the fuel becomes one of the go-to replacements for coal. In Massachusetts, for instance, some legislators are pushing for a coal plant in Holyoke to start using natural gas or renewable energy, rather than being shut down, as Nikki Gloudeman reports at Change.org.

Supporting renewables

And although renewables are thrown in there as an option, right now the clearest way to replace the amount of energy generated by coal is natural gas. This year’s line on energy policy from Washington, however, is that the country should support innovations in clean energy.

Will Obama’s new direction on this issue go anywhere? Grist’s David Roberts has been arguing that any energy policy that leaves out climate change is missing the point.

However, Teryn Norris and Daniel Goldfarb (also at Grist), of Americans for Energy Leadership, a California-based non-profit, have a smart rebuttal. They argue that clean energy needs the boost in research and development that Obama is promising. Ultimately, they, write, “these investments will drive down the price of low-carbon energy and pave the way for stronger deployment efforts — perhaps even including a strong carbon price at some point — both here and in the developing world, where the vast majority of future emissions will originate.”

But, about climate change!

And to be fair, the federal government is trying to lead the way on investing in renewables. As Beth Buczynski reports at Care2, the Department of Energy is working on a $2.3 million solar energy project that would power its Germantown, Md., location.

Not every one is willing to wait for investments to take hold, however. On the National Radio Project’s show, “Making Contact”, Andrew Stelzer examines what climate activists are doing, post-Cancun, to push forward debates on climate change. Ananda Lee Tan, Global Alliance for Incinerator Alterantives argues, for instance, “Community-led climate justice in the U.S. has been winning. The largest amount of industrial carbon that has been prevented in this country has been prevented  by community-led groups, grassroots groups fighting coal, oil and incinerators.”

Cause and effect

Whether the solution comes from industry, government, or grassroots groups, the country’s energy policy will change over the next few decades. And what’s troubling is that it’s not clear what the impact will be. Take natural gas: Washington favors it right now because it’s thought to have lower carbon emission than coal. But any time humans introduce new factors into the environment, they can have unexpected consequences.

That’s not only true for the energy industry, too. In Texas, for instance, the government is trying to eradicate an invasive plant species, a type of giant cane called Arundo that is growing all over the Rio Grande Valley. As Saul Elbein reports for The Texas Observer, it’s been hard to eradicate:

There are three primary ways to control invasive plant species: Kill them with herbicides, clear them with bulldozers and machetes, or attempt to introduce a new predator. The least controversial approach, clearing the cane, is not going to work. There are thousands of square miles of the stuff, and Arundo cane is nearly impossible to cut out. Each stalk has a thick taproot that sends shoots in every direction. You can bulldoze or chop the cane down, and it will grow right back. Worse, any stress on the plant—say a machete blow—causes it to send out more root stalks. Every chopped-up joint of cane that floats downstream can sprout another stand.

But, Elbein reports, scientists have come up with a different solution: They’ve bred wasps that originate in the same region as the cane to come in and eat it. They’ve also taken precautions that the wasps won’t have their own adverse impact on the environment by ensuring that they can only survive on this particular type of plant. But even then, it’s a tricky business.

“The wasps have to survive,” John Adamczyk, an entomologist running the project, told Elbein.  “They have to not all get eaten. Then it becomes a question of whether they can keep the cane in check.”

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.

 

 

Weekly Diaspora: Why Sexual Violence Against Latina Farmworkers is a Hate Crime

by Catherine A. Traywick, Media Consortium blogger

This week, two high-profile trials involving the racially motivated murders of Latinos in Pennsylvania and Arizona are exposing the unsettling implications of growing anti-immigrant sentiment. But while antagonistic political discourse and incendiary policy are shown to provoke ethnic violence—correlating with a 52 percent increase in hate crimes—they also indirectly drive sexual violence against immigrant women. The combination of stricter enforcement and increased cultural animosity toward immigrants renders undocumented women workers more susceptible to workplace rape and sexual exploitation—violent crimes that don’t generally register as hate crimes but that nevertheless bespeak of racially charged motives.

Two murder cases highlight senseless violence against Latinos

The trial of Minuteman border vigilante Shawna Forde, and two other individuals charged with the 2009 murder of a nine-year-old Latina girl and her father, began this week in Arivaca, Arizona. Julianne Hing at ColorLines reports that Brisenia Flores was shot twice in the head by home invaders allegedly enlisted by Forde, who is accused of sanctioning racially motivated home invasions to finance (via robbery) her border patrol activities. Flores’ parents were also shot, but her mother, Gina Gonzales, survived.

As Hing notes, Forde had strong ties with both the Tea Party movement and prominent anti-immigrant groups, including the influential conservative think-tank Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR):

Forde had a habit of ending her emails with the sign off, “Lock and Load” and had close ties with tea party groups. She was involved with the Minutemen American Defense—her supporters claim she was once a Minuteman National Director—a loose affiliation of anti-immigration border activists who took to policing the border on their own with guns and surveillance equipment. Forde has also had ties with the anti-immigrant Federation for American Immigration Reform. These groups have all been labeled hate groups by the Southern Poverty Law Center.

Immigrant rights groups and Latino community advocates alike have characterized the grisly crime as part of a growing anti-immigrant hate crime epidemic plaguing many divided communities across the country.

One such community, Shenandoah, Pennsylvania, recently saw the close of another hate crime case, in which three police officers were accused of covering up the racially motivated murder of 25-year-old immigrant Luis Ramirez. As New America Media reports, a Shenandoah jury issued a split verdict against the officers who were charged with obstruction of justice, falsifying records and conspiracy for their alleged attempt to protect Ramirez’s teenage murderers. Former police Chief Matthew Nestor was found guilty on the first two counts, but found not guilty of conspiracy. Former police Lt. William Moyer was similarly found guilty of making false statements, but acquitted of all other charges, as was former police Officer Jason R. Hayes. Latino advocacy groups have characterized the officers’ actions as a stark example of politicized community leaders privileging white criminals over their Latino victims.

Death of 17-year-old farmworker brings to light workplace exploitation

As antagonistic immigration discourse and prejudicial policies foster violence, immigrant workers are increasingly susceptible to workplace exploitation. In the case of 17-year-old Maria Isabel Vasquez Jimenez, that exploitation proved deadly.

Change.org’s Antonio Ramirez reports that Jimenez, who was two months pregnant, died of exposure while pruning grapes on a field owned by California’s Merced Farm Labor. The company had been fined previously for violating heat regulations, but still failed to ensure that its workers received legally mandated access shade, water and breaks. Now, Merced’s owner, Maria De Los Angeles Colung, as well as its former safety coordinator, Elias Armenta, are charged with involuntary manslaughter in Jimenez’s death but, as Ramirez notes, they’ve accepted a plea bargain which would only mandate community service.

Jimenez’s preventable death highlights rampant exploitation of immigrant workers in the U.S. food industry—particularly of women. As Alternet’s Jill Richardson reports, immigrant workers are increasingly the victims of wage theft and are routinely exposed to toxic pesticides and other hazardous conditions while women workers regularly contend with a variety of workplace sexual abuse and harassment. Richardson summarizes the phenomenon thusly:

In addition to the fondling and groping the women endured on the job, women also engaged in consensual relationships with supervisors to gain “a secure place in American society, a green card, a husband — or at the very least a transfer to an easier job at the plant.” […]

And then there’s the nonconsensual stuff: A 2008 piece in High Country News revealed that farmworkers refer to one company’s field as the “field of panties” because so many women workers are raped by supervisors. And as far back as 1993, the Southern Poverty Law Center found in its own study that 90 percent of female farm workers cite sexual harassment as a serious problem.

While the sexual abuse of (largely undocumented) women farmworkers doesn’t register as a hate crime in the same way that the racially motivated murders of Luiz Ramirez and the Flores family do, the nature of their exploitation is clearly gendered and racialized. As immigration enforcement tightens, effectively pushing undocumented workers further underground while discouraging undocumented victims of violent crimes from coming forward, farmworkers will continue to be targeted for exploitation based on their gender, race and nationality—the same criteria upon which Ramirez and the Flores family were targeted for deadly violence.

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: 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.

 

 

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