Weekly Mulch: Can Clean Energy Curb Climate Change? Probably Not.

by Sarah Laskow, Media Consortium blogger

During the State of the Union address earlier this week, President Barack Obama spoke at length about clean energy, with nary a mention of climate change. This is the new environment in which America’s energy policy is being made.

Just two years ago, Democrats were rallying to combat climate change, one of the most worrying challenges the country faces. But now, Obama has apparently given up his plan to openly fight climate change during his presidency. It’s hard to imagine how, even in a second term, he would choose to re-fight the lost battle to create a cap-and-trade system.

The Obama Administration has instead resorted to a sort of insurgent strategy. Instead of waging an all-out battle against energy interests, the U.S. government will try to chip away at the edges of the industry’s power and rally citizens’ allegiances to a new flag, that of “clean energy.”

Climate bill’s absence is smothering clean energy

Since Washington hasn’t succeeded at tackling climate change head on, Obama’s new strategy is to attack the problem obliquely by promoting innovation in clean energy and setting goals for the use of technologies like electric cars. But can clean energy efforts and innovations thrive in the absence of a wholesale climate policy? When a climate bill was still a possibility, clean energy entrepreneurs were promising substantial investments in the sector, if only Congress could give them a framework. And as Monica Potts explains at The American Prospect, in the absence of a climate bill, clean energy has flagged:

What’s been problematic about the president’s approach up to now is that, despite his efforts to pump funding into the clean-energy sector, as he did with about $90 billion of the stimulus, renewable energy hasn’t taken off. Obama had a line in his speech that summed up why this is so: “Now, clean-energy breakthroughs will only translate into clean-energy jobs if businesses know there will be a market for what they’re selling.”

Short on influence

It’s possible that clean energy investors will take the President’s new promise as incentive enough to push forward. But, they will also have to consider the influence of the newly empowered Republicans. Mother JonesKate Sheppard isn’t convinced that the president’s new tactic will stick:

“There are plenty of people—and most of them happen to be Republicans—who don’t think that policies to support clean energy are worthwhile and who will oppose any attempt to move away from them,” she wrote. “Meanwhile, this latest iteration of the Obama climate and energy plan includes few of the driving forces that would actually make renewables cost-competitive in the near future and allow renewables to compete (the big one being, of course, a price on carbon pollution).”

When “clean” energy includes coal

Another weak point in the President’s new strategy is his reliance on the vague idea of clean energy, which becomes dirtier the more it is used. As Sheppard writes, “Environmental groups weren’t all that excited about the inclusion of “clean coal” and nuclear in that mix, but that’s pretty broadly expected as the price one must pay to draw broader support for a clean energy standard.”

Another key source of clean energy is natural gas. In Washington, it’s become a given that natural gas, which releases less carbon when burned than coal or oil, will help the country transition away from its high-carbon diet and be phased out as energy sources like solar and wind become more viable. (The natural gas industry, of course, doesn’t see its role as transitional. It’s playing for keeps.)

And while some places are rightly celebrating the freedom that natural gas gives them from coal—as Care2’s Beth Buczynski reports, Penn State is investing $35 million to convert its coal-fired power plant to natural gas over the next three years—other places are bearing the environmental toll of this new, clean fuel. In North Carolina, for instance, hydrofracking, the controversial technique that natural gas companies have been using to extract the gas from shale, is not even legal, but already environmental groups are having to fight efforts from energy companies to buy up potentially gas-rich properties, Public News Service reports.

A poverty of political capital

The president’s new strategy on clean energy will surely succeed at turning current energy economy slowly towards a new path. In the absence of any overarching strategy to fix the country’s energy problems, it’s going to have to be good enough. But ultimately, this sort of tactic, born out of a poverty of political capital, cannot move fast enough to keep energy companies from scouring the earth for more profits doing what they’ve been doing.

That means that there will be more scenes like the one in Kern County, California, where companies are dredging up the last resources of oils from the tar sands. In Orion Magazine, Jeremy Miller writes:

The land also reveals the Frankensteinian scars and machinery necessary to keep up that level of production. Gas flares glow on hillsides. Nodding donkeys lever over thousands of wells, some of which are spaced fewer than a hundred feet apart. Between the wells and imposing cogeneration power plants—which supply energy and steam to the senescent fields—run wild tangles of pipe. These are the conduits of an elaborate industrial life-support system, breathing in steam and carrying away oil.

Will the president’s new strategy prevent the creation of more landscapes like this one? It seems overly optimistic to hope so.

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 Arizona’s Birthright Bill is Bad for the Economy

by Catherine A. Traywick, Media Consortium blogger

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

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

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

Devastating local economies

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fueling ethnic violence

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

Weekly Pulse: Don’t Snort Bath Salts, Kids

by Lindsay Beyerstein, Media Consortium blogger

According to Robin Marty of Care2.org, today’s young whippersnappers are snorting bath salts and plant food to get their kicks. I knew I was getting old when I had to check the media to find out about the latest youth drug menace.

But, before you go and blow your allowance at the Body Shop or the garden center, keep in mind that “bath salt” and “plant food” are just euphemisms that web-based head shops use to sell these amphetamine-like drugs , according to a 2010 report by the UK Council on the Misuse of Drugs. The active ingredients of this legal high are mephedrone and methylenedioxypyrovalerone (MDPV).

Despite what the media would have you believe, these designer drugs are not ingredients in common household products. You cannot get high on actual bath salts or plant food. Sorry. Gardeners, if you bought exotic imported “plant food” online, and it arrived in an impossibly tiny packet, don’t feed it to your plants.

Anti-choice black op linked to James O’Keefe

At least a dozen Planned Parenthood clinics across the country have recently been visited by a mysterious, self-proclaimed “sex trafficker” who was apparently part of a ruse to entrap clinic employees. Planned Parenthood reported these visits to the FBI.

In each case, the man reportedly asked to speak privately with a clinic worker, whereupon he asked for health advice regarding the underage, undocumented girls he was supposedly trying to traffic.

Jodi Jacobson reports at RH Reality Check:

[Prominent anti-choice blogger] Jill Stanek and other anti-choice operatives, including Lila Rose of Live Action Films are effectively claiming responsibility for sending  pseudo “sex traffickers” into [Planned Parenthood] clinics, and also warn of “explosive evidence,” of which they of course present…..none. They appear to have no credible response to exposure of their efforts to perpetrate a hoax on Planned Parenthood.

As Jacobson points out, sex trafficking is a very real problem. And a sex trafficking hoax diverts time and resources that the authorities who could be hunting down real traffickers. She adds:

Victims of sex trafficking, after all, also need sexual health services because they are effectively being raped regularly and are more likely to contract sexually transmitted infections and experience unintended pregnancies. Does this help them get treatment?

Lila Rose of Live Action Films is a former associate of right wing hoaxster James O’Keefe, who orchestrated a sting operation against the social justice group ACORN. O’Keefe was sentenced last year to three years’ probation for scamming his way into the offices of Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-LA) in January, 2010.

Sex, lies, and the classroom

To mark the anniversary of Roe v. Wade, the National Radio Project presents a discussion of sex ed in American schools, federal funding for sex ed, and advocacy by interest groups and parents. Guests include Phyllida Burlingame of the ACLU and Gabriela Valle of California Latinas for Reproductive Justice.

Hot coffee!

Remember the woman who sued McDonald’s after she spilled a hot cup of coffee in her lap? Corporate interests made Stella Liebeck into a national joke, even though she won her suit. Hot Coffee is a new documentary that tells the story behind the one-liners. Amy Goodman of Democracy Now! interviews Ms. Liebeck’s daughter and son-in-law.

McDonald’s corporate manuals dictated that coffee be served at 187 degrees, in flimsy styrofoam cups. A home coffee maker usually keeps the brew between 142 to 162 degrees, and most people pour their Joe into something sturdier than a styrofoam cup. If you spill that coffee on yourself, you have 25 seconds to get it off before you suffer a 3rd degree burn. Whereas if you spill 187-degree coffee on yourself, you’ve got between 2 and 7 seconds.

Companies are expected to produce products that are safe for their intended use. McDonald’s was serving coffee to go, through drive-through windows, with cream and sugar in the bag. By implication, it should be safe to add cream and sugar to hot coffee in a car. In the pre-cup-holder era, millions of Americans were probably steadying their coffees between their legs to add cream and sugar every day. A responsible restaurant would not dispense superheated liquids in flimsy to-go cups. Indeed, McDonalds’ own records showed that 700 people had been scalded this way.

In 1992, the plaintiff was a passenger in a parked car, attempting to add cream and sugar to her coffee while steadying the cup between her knees. When she opened the lid, the cup collapsed inward, dousing her with scalding coffee. The 79-year-old woman sustained 3rd degree burns over 16% of her body. She needed skin grafts to repair the damage. Initially she only sued to recoup part of the cost of the skin grafts. But the judge who heard the case was so outraged by McDonald’s disregard for customer safety that he urged the jury to award punitive damages.

Another theme of Hot Coffee is how medical malpractice caps are forcing taxpayers to cover the medical costs of people who are injured by negligent health care providers.

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: Wall Street Destroyed $8 for Every $1 Earned

 

by Lindsay Beyerstein, Media Consortium blogger

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

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

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

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

Wall Street destroyed $8 for every $1 it earned

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

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

Social Security switcheroo

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

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

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

Michelle Obama and Wal-Mart

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

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

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

Beck vs. Piven, Round 2

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

Weekly Mulch: Why is the U.S. Losing the Clean Energy Race to China? Blame the Climate Cranks

By Sarah Laskow, Media Consortium Blogger

President Obama and Chinese President Hu Jintao touched on energy issues in the bilateral summit between the two countries this week.

“I believe that as the two largest energy consumers and emitters of greenhouses gases, the United States and China have a responsibility to combat climate change by building on the progress at Copenhagen and Cancun, and showing the way to a clean energy future. And President Hu indicated that he agrees with me on this issue,” President Obama said during a Wednesday press conference.

But can the United States step up as a leader on clean energy? The proliferation of politicians whom The Nation’s Mark Hertsgaard calls “climate cranks” suggests otherwise.

The biggest consumers

In international climate negotiations, the United State and China are the two key players, and if the world as a whole is to move forward on combating climate change, agreement between Presidents Obama and Hu would be a huge breakthrough. Mother Jones‘ Kate Sheppard notes that Hu also said the United States and China would work together on climate changes, but, she writes, “I can imagine, though, that the conversation on this subject wasn’t entirely as chummy as the remarks would imply, however. The US last month lodged a complaint with the World Trade Organization about China’s subsidies for clean energy, arguing that the country is unfairly stacking the deck in favor of their products.”

At AlterNet, Tina Gerhardt and Lucia Green-Weiskel explain the background to those tensions and to the U.S.’s protectionist bent on clean energy projects. They write, “Energy Secretary Chu recently framed the new relationship between the U.S. and China as a ‘Sputnik Moment.’ Referencing the first satellite launched by the Soviet Union in 1957, which demonstrated its technological advantage and led to the Cold War-era space race, Chu warned that the U.S. risks falling behind China in the clean technology race.”

Stumbling blocks

China’s motivations for growing its clean energy sector may not be leafy green; new energy sources feed the country’s rapidly growing economy. But at least the country is committed to green energy sources, unlike our climate change-denying Congress. As Mark Hertsgaard argues at The Nation, this brand of American has become so pernicious, it’s time to stop adhering to the protocol that dubs them “climate deniers” and start calling them “climate cranks.” He explains:

True skepticism is invaluable to the scientific method, but an honest skeptic can be persuaded by facts, if they are sound. The cranks are impervious to facts, at least facts that contradict their wacky worldview. When virtually every national science academy in the developed world, including our own, and every major scientific organization (e.g., the American Geophysical Union, the American Physics Society) has affirmed that climate change is real and extremely dangerous, only a crank continues to insist that it’s all a left-wing plot.

Climate cranks attack

Unfortunately, climate cranks continue to interfere with both climate scientists and forward-thinking energy policy. At Change.org, Nikki Gloudeman writes about the ongoing saga of climate scientist Michael Mann, one of the climatologists embroiled in the Climategate brouhaha, who is still being attacked by climate-denying groups for his work. Gloudeman reports that although Mann has been investigated and found innocent of any misdeeds several times over, a group with a bias against climate change, the American Tradition Institute, is trying to obtain access to his work.

And in New Mexico, the state’s new conservative governor, Susana Martinez, “has attempted to subvert her own state constitution in order to stop [a] plan to begin reducing her state’s carbon emissions,” reports Dahr Jamail for Truthout. The plan, executed through state rules, would have reduced the state’s greenhouse gas emissions by 3%, from 2010 levels, each year. The rules should have been made public, but Gov. Martinez kept them from being published, according to Truthout’s report. A local group, New Energy Economy, is fighting to implement them.

Bright spots

In some states, however, the clean energy economy is moving forward. As Care2’s Beth Buczynski reports, Clean Edge, a clean-tech advisory group, has identified the top ten states for clean energy leadership. They include California, Massachusetts, New York, New Jersey, and Illinois.

“Rankings were derived from over 80 metrics including total electricity produced by clean-energy sources, hybrid vehicles on the road, and clean-energy venture and patent activity,” Buczynski reports.

And, as David Roberts writes at Grist, there is important work to be done at the local and regional level to both prepare for and prevent climate change. His preferred term for this challenge is “ruggedizing”—strengthening a community’s ability to respond to challenges brought on by climate change, such as flooding, droughts, or food shortages. The solutions to these problem, Roberts writes, often have the welcome side effect of decreasing carbon emissions, as well:

For instance, the residents of Brisbane are discovering that when disaster strikes, it’s not very handy to have everyone spread out all over the place and utterly dependent on cars to get anywhere. It’s more resilient to have people closer together, more able to walk or take shared transportation. It just so happens that also reduces vehicle emissions.

The advantage of this type of work—building the clean energy economy, ruggedizing communities—is that leaders don’t necessarily have to agree on the reality of climate change to move forward. But these are only partial solutions, and to address climate change on an international scale, the cranks will need to be quieted.

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: Anti-Immigrant Hate Crimes Rise with Hateful Political Speech

by Catherine A. Traywick, Media Consortium blogger

The federal trial of three Pennsylvania police officers accused of covering up the murder of an undocumented Mexican immigrant opened last week—reigniting critical discussion about the recent rise of anti-immigrant hate crimes. The officers—former Shenandoah Police Chief Matthew Nestor, Lt. William Moyer and Patrolman Jason Hayes—allegedly attempted to conceal the racially motivated nature of the 2008 murder of 25-year-old Luis Ramirez, who was brutally beaten to death in a park by a group of teenagers spouting racial slurs. At the time, Ramirez’s murder underscored a growing trend of anti-Hispanic violence in the U.S., which some attribute to increasingly anti-immigrant political rhetoric.

In recent years, hate crimes against Latinos have increased by 52 percent, a steep rise that Alternet’s Arun Gupta attributes to incessant “right-wing vituperation” and “caustic rhetoric.” In Arizona, where anti-immigrant sentiment has fomented into a bevy of retrogressive and prejudicial state policies, the number of reported hate crimes rose from 161 in 2007 to 219 in 2009. Tellingly, the recent rise in anti-Latino hate crimes runs counter to an overall decrease in reported hate crimes nationwide.

Prevalence of I-Word on television coincides with anti-immigrant hate crimes

At ColorLines, Mónica Novoa points out that a dramatic spike in the use of the word “illegals” in television programming last year coincided with both the passage of Arizona’s SB 1070 and a number of subsequent racially motivated murders:

  • In June, Juan Varela—U.S. citizen and a third-genderation Mexican American—was shot to death in Phoenix by a man shouting “You fucking Mexican, go back to Mexico!”
  • In July, Sergio Zapata-Zurita’s family was accosted at gunpoint in Washington by a man apparently obsessed with “illegal immigration.
  • In August, Martin Reyes—a Honduran immigrant and father of six—was stabbed to death in Baltimore by a crazed man who told police that he “hated Mexicans.”

The irony here is that, while heated discourse surrounding the measure may have contributed to a rash of anti-immigrant hate crimes last year, its implementation in Arizona has inhibited the local victims of those crimes contacting the police—for fear that, under the new law, they will be arrested for being undocumented.

Hate crimes report censored to conceal role of official’s hate speech

Some localities have taken important steps to counter the rise of anti-Latino hate crimes, but at least one of those well-meaning efforts has been undermined by the anti-immigrant Right. Change.org’s Alex DiBranco reports that, in Suffolk County, New York, one ranking official’s affinity for anti-immigrant rhetoric may have compelled him to censor a potentially damning hate crimes report. Suffolk County’s problem with anti-immigrant violence has been in the news since 2008, when the racially motivated murder of an Ecuadoran immigrant highlighted Long Island’s epidemic of racial violence. Following the incident, Suffolk County formed a Hate Crimes Task Force responsible for monitoring hate crimes in the area, and issuing reports of its findings.

But County Executive Steve Levy, who is locally notorious for his anti-immigrant rhetoric, has been accused of editing more than 50 pages from the task force’s most recent report—many of which contained substantial criticism of his administration’s handling of immigrant issues, according to Mike Clifford at the Public News Service. Noting that Levy’s critics have long attributed the rise in anti-immigrant hate crimes to his extreme position on immigration, DiBranco speculates that Levy’s drastic censorship of the report is an attempt to conceal his own role in fostering violence.

Bigotry accusations divide the Republican Party

Following the recent Tucson shooting, the tragic potential of hateful political rhetoric has come to the foreground. The issue has become so heated that it threatens to fracture the Republican Party itself. In the aftermath of the tragedy, and in light of the party’s increasingly extremist positions on immigration, certain  party leaders have defected from the GOP, accusing the party of fostering racism for political ends, John Tomasic at the American Independent reports. Most recently, former Colorado Republican Muhammad Ali Hasan and former Colorado Republican gubernatorial candidate Dan Maes have spoken out against party bigotry directed at Muslims and Latinos, prompting conservative Latino organization Somos Republicans to launch an anti-bigotry campaign against its own party.

It’s a step in the right direction. But even as a minority of Republicans takes it upon themselves to critically examine the role of the party’s extremist positions and rhetoric, the deadly impact of the party’s institutionalized bigotry nevertheless remains remarkably under-recognized—even as it continues to claim innocent lives.

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: White House Takes Offensive Against Health Care Repeal

By Lindsay Beyerstein, Media Consortium blogger

This week, House Republicans will hold a vote to repeal the Affordable Care Act. The bill is expected to pass the House, where the GOP holds a majority, but stall in the Democratic-controlled Senate. In the meantime, the symbolic vote is giving both Republicans and Democrats a pretext to publicly rehash their views on the legislation.

At AlterNet, Faiz Shakir and colleagues point out that repealing health care reform would cost the federal government an additional $320 billion over the next decade, according to the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office. The authors also note that despite Republican campaign promises to “repeal and replace” the law, their bill contains no replacement plan. Health care reform protects Americans with preexisting conditions from some forms discrimination by insurers. At least half of all Americans under the age of 65 could be construed as having a preexisting condition. No wonder only 1 in 4 Americans support repeal, according to an Associated Press-GfK poll released on Monday.

Perhaps that explains, as Paul Waldman reports at TAPPED, why the White House is vigorously defending health care reform. The Obama administration is making full use of the aforementioned statistics from The Department Health and Human Services on the percentage of Americans who have preexisting conditions:

As the House prepares to vote on the “Repeal the Puppy-Strangling Job-Vivisecting O-Commie-Care Act,” or whatever they’re now calling it, the White House and its allies actually seem to have their act together when it comes to fighting this war for public opinion. The latest is an analysis from the Department of Health and Human Services on just how many people have pre-existing conditions, and thus will be protected from denials of health insurance when the Affordable Care Act goes fully into effect in 2014

Republicans are fuming that Democrats are “politicizing” a policy debate by bringing up the uncomfortable fact that, if the GOP’s repeal plan became law, millions of people could lose their health insurance. As Waldman points out, the high incidence of preexisting conditions is an argument for a universal mandate. It’s impossible to insure people with known health problems at an affordable cost unless they share the risk with healthier policy-holders. Hence the need for a mandate.

Anti-choice at the end of life

In The Nation, Ann Neumann explains how anti-choice leaders fought to re-eliminate free end-of-life counseling for seniors under Medicare. The provision was taken out of the health care reform bill but briefly reinstated by Department of Health and Social Services before being rescinded again by HHS amid false allegations by anti-choice groups, including The Family Research Council, that the government was promulgating euthanasia for the elderly.

As seen on TV

The Kansas-based anti-choice group Operation Rescue is lashing out at the Iowa Board of Medicine for dismissing their complaint against Dr. Linda Haskell, Lynda Waddington reports in The Iowa Independent. Dr. Haskell attracted the ire of anti-choicers for using telemedicine to help doctors provide abortion care. The board investigated Operation Rescue’s allegations, which it cannot discuss or even acknowledge, but found no basis for sanctions against Haskell. Iowa medical authorities said they were still deliberating about the rules for telemedicine in general.

Salon retracts RFK vaccine story

Online news magazine Salon.com has retracted a 2005 article by Robert Kennedy, Jr. alleging a link between childhood vaccines and autism, Kristina Chew reports at Care2. The article leaned heavily on now discredited research by Dr. Andrew Wakefield. His research had been discredited for some time, but only recently did an investigative journalist reveal that Wakefield skewed his data as part of an elaborate scam to profit from a lawsuit against vaccine makers.

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: What Will The GOP Cut?

By Lindsay Beyerstein, Media Consortium blogger

The Republicans won control of the House and picked up seats in the Senate in the midterm election on nebulous promises to slash spending and reduce the size of the federal government.  House Speaker John Boehner has pledged to reduce spending to 2008 levels, as per the GOP’s campaign manifesto, known as the “Pledge to America.”

But as Andy Kroll reports in Mother Jones, while the Pledge calls for a 21.7% reduction in spending on non-security discretionary programs, it doesn’t commit to any specific cuts. Medicare and Social Security are safe from this round of cuts because they are not discretionary.

The Center for Budget and Policy Priorities tried to give a glimpse of what the federal government might look like if all eligible agencies took a 21.7% budget cut across the board. As Kroll notes, it’s more likely that some programs will be spared, some trimmed, and some eliminated entirely.

However, the CBPP’s analysis gives a stark picture of the magnitude of the proposed cuts, Kroll writes:

What it found was grim, with middle class Americans set to lose the most.

K-12 education funding, the CBPP found, would drop by $8.7 billion, and food stamps for at-risk pregnant women, infants, and young children would lose $1.6 billion in funding. State- and local-run housing programs would lose $6.9 billion, and children and family social services would lose nearly $2.2 billion.

Already pinched state budgets would take massive hits as well, losing out on $31.6 billion in federal funding.

Cuts to state budgets mean even deeper cuts to education and social services that benefit working families. Starving the states is also a strategy to force state governments to default on their pension obligations to unionized public sector workers.

But the magnitude of these cuts might be giving the GOP cold feet. In January, Speaker Boehner told Brian Williams at NBC that he couldn’t name a single program that he planned to cut.

Inequality is personal

Paul Buchheit points out on AlterNet that if middle- and upper middle-class families had the same share of the economic pie that they did in the 1980s, they would be making $12,500 more per year. In other words, the economy has become vastly more productive over the last 30 years, but the extra wealth has become overwhelmingly concentrated in the hands of the very richest Americans at the expense of working families.

U.S. GDP quintupled since the 1980s, but most of the extra wealth has gone to the top 1% of earners. Nobody begrudges entrepreneurs a healthy return on their capital, but what about the 99% of earners who provided the labor. Where’s the return on their investment?

With looming government spending cuts to domestic programs, the middle- and upper-middle classes will face an even bigger hit to their real standard of living. Local and state governments are cutting back on services while hiking taxes and fees.

The richest 1% won’t feel these cuts as acutely as middle class families. If you have your own private swimming pool, you may not notice that the public pool is closed because the city can’t afford lifeguards. If you send your kids to private universities, you won’t be biting your nails over potential tuition hikes at public universities.

MLK’s legacy

The nation honored the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. on Monday. Roger Bybee of Working In These Times points out that, while King is remembered as a civil rights leader, he was also deeply committed to economic justice for all Americans. The politicians who praised King’s legacy on Monday should remember that Dr. King’s last great crusade was on behalf of sanitation workers in Memphis, public employees struggling for a decent standard of living.

Beck sets sights on 78-year-old CUNY prof

Amy Goodman of Democracy Now! interviews Frances Fox Piven, a 78-year-old distinguished professor of political science at the City University of New York, who may be the first person to inadvertently spark prime time conspiracy theory in the pages of a Media Consortium outlet. Right wing talk host Glenn Beck has identified Piven as the co-author of a violent blueprint to crash capitalism itself.

As Piven explains to Goodman, the bile stems from the suggestion made by her and her co-author Richard Cloward in a 1966 article in The Nation that social activists should help poor people access the benefits they were already legally entitled to. At that time, Piven recalls, the welfare system denied benefits to more than half of its eligible recipients. She and Cloward believed that the poor would become a more politically powerful and visible part of society if society suddenly had to make good on its promises of aid.

In July, Richard Kim of The Nation explained how an obscure 40-year-old article was recast as the “Rosetta Stone” of lefty politics, the blueprint to usher in an economic crisis which the left could exploit to bring about socialism.

Since Beck seized on Piven’s work and labeled her a violent revolutionary, she has been the target of death threats by commenters on Beck’s website. Political operatives posing as students came to her home to interview her. The interview later showed up on Andrew Breitbart’s conservative website.

Piven seems both concerned and bemused that her brief for reforming the welfare system of the 1960s has been labeled as a blueprint for destroying the capitalist system.

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 Sticky Truth about Oil Spills and Tar Sands

by Sarah Laskow, Media Consortium Blogger

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

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

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

No transparency for you!

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

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

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

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

Tar sands’ black mark

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

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

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

Not renewable, just new

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

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

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

Energy and the economy

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

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

Light green

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

Weekly Diaspora: Tucson Shooting Reshapes Explosive Immigration Debate

by Catherine A. Traywick, Media Consortium blogger

The Tucson shooting that left Representative Gabrielle Giffords (D-AZ) critically wounded and 6 others dead last Saturday wasn’t explicitly motivated by Arizona’s polemical stance on immigration. Nevertheless, the tragedy bears a number of weighty implications for immigration issues both in Arizona and across the nation.

Contextualizing political violence

Pima county sheriff Clarence Dupnik was among the first to discuss the shooting within the context of Arizona’s heated immigration battles. In several television appearances, he characterized the tragedy as a product of hatred and intolerance, telling reporters during one press conference that Arizona has “become the Mecca for prejudice and bigotry.” Many on the right, including Senator Jon Kyl, were quick to admonish Dupkin for needlessly politicizing a national tragedy.

But, as Care2’s Jessica Pieklo argues, the sheriff’s contentiously moderate stance on immigration makes him uniquely positioned “to shine a critical light on the fevered political rhetoric that has enveloped his state and this country.” While Dupnik has spoken out against Arizona’s SB 1070, engendering the goodwill of immigrant rights advcoates, he has also argued that schools should check the immigration statuses of students, a position endorsed by the anti-immigrant right. Given his varied stance on the issues, it’s difficult to dismiss his characterization of the tragedy as some kind of party-line pandering. Rather, his statement seems an objective assessment of Arizona’s volatile political culture—made all the worse by increasingly fierce immigration debates.

And as Dupnik probably well knows, that volatile political culture has repeatedly coalesced into political violence over the past 20 years. Following the shooting, the immigrant rights group Alto Arizona produced an interactive timeline of Arizona’s long history of violence. As ColorLines’ Jamilah King notes, this troubling history has frequently centered on explosive immigration issues, from Sheriff Joe Arpaio’s lawlessness to murders committed by Arizona Minutemen.

Tragedy leaves gaps in immigration debate

The attack on Rep. Giffords, as well as her subsequent absence from Congress, raises a number of concerns about the direction of immigration policy in 2011. While some immigrant rights groups maligned her broad support of increased border enforcement, Giffords nevertheless stood out as one of few Arizona legislators who also broadly supported immigrant rights. John Rudolph at Feet in 2 Worlds points out that she represented an important border district, supported the DREAM Act, and opposed SB 1070. And as a result of the shooting, Rudolph argues, Giffords’ pivotal voice “has been sidelined at a time when moderate voices are desperately needed.”

Unfortunately, Giffords wasn’t the only shooting victim whose voice could have critically altered immigration politics in Arizona. Federal judge John Roll, who was killed during the shooting, had been overseeing the court case challenging Arizona’s recently enacted ethnic studies ban, HB 2281. The anti-immigrant measure, which specifically targets the Tucson Unified School District’s Mexican American Studies program, went into effect only days before Roll’s death—an unsettling coincidence, particularly as Roll’s judicial career has repeatedly landed him in the center of explosive immigration battles.

New America Media reports that Roll became a target of political violence as recently as 2009, when he allowed 16 undocumented Mexican immigrants to go forward with a $32 million lawsuit against a vigilante Arizona rancher with a reputation for rounding up immigrants. The case provoked such ire from conservatives (ranging from phone calls to death threats) that Roll and his wife required 24-hour protection from one month.

There’s no word yet on how the case against HB 2281 will proceed, or on the length of Rep. Giffords’ anticipated absence from Congress.

Shooting underscores Republican division

Meanwhile, mounting fear of Arizona’s violent political culture has crossed party lines—taking hold of state Republicans who fear that Tea Party extremists will target them for being too moderate. Four Republican politicians representing Arizona’s Legislative District 20 have resigned from office following the shooting on Saturday, Lauren Kelley reports at Alternet. The first to go, chairman Anthony Miller, said that he has faced “constant verbal attacks” from Tea Party members angry over Miller’s deciion to support Sen. John McCain’s (R-AZ) campaign over that of the avowedly anti-immigrant J.D. Hayworth. Soon after Miller announced his resignation, three other Republican officials followed suit: secretary Sophia Johnson, first vice chairman Roger Dickinson and district spokesman Jeff Kolb.

Their resignations highlight growing divisions within the Republican Party over the increasingly extremist positions of certain party leaders, especially in Arizona. Since state senator Russell Pearce and a cohort of other legislators introduced their birthright citizenship bill last week—which would deny citizenship to the U.S.-born children of unauthorized immigrants—various elements of the Party have spoken out against the radical nature of the measure. Change.org’s Alex DiBranco reports that Somos Republicans, an organization representing a minority of Hispanic Republicans, are decrying party leaders’ use of the slur “anchor baby” as well as their “unholy alliance” with the Federation of Americans for Immigration Reform (FAIR), an anti-immigrant group. New America Media’s Valeria Fernández and Elena Shore similarly report that a contingent of conservative religious leaders have also come out in strong opposition of the measure, arguing that the bill defies “the teachings of Jesus Christ” and the “values of America.”

Clearly, while the Tucson tragedy silenced measured voices critical to Arizona’s immigration debates, it has also compelled many members of the right to reconsider the radical positions of their fellows—especially on the volatile issue of immigration.

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.

 

 

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