Weekly Diaspora: After DREAM Act Defeat, Advocates Fight for Educational Equality

by Catherine A. Traywick, Media Consortium blogger

The Senate failed to pass the DREAM Act Saturday, as Democrats fell five votes short of the 60 needed to advance the bill. The final vote was 55-41. While a Republican filibuster diminished the bill’s chances of success, five Democrats sealed the measure’s fate. Max Baucus (D-MT), Kay Hagan (D-NC), Ben Nelson (D-NE), Mark Pryor (D-AR) and Jon Tester (D-MT) crossed party lines to vote against the bill that would have created a conditional path to legalization for immigrant youth who attend college or serve in the military.

President Obama, who came out in full support of the DREAM Act in the 11th hour, wasted no time speaking out against the bill’s defeat. As ColorLines’ Julianne Hing reports, the president called the Senate’s failure to pass the measure “incredibly disappointing,” adding that “There was simply no reason not to pass this important legislation.” Obama further promised that his administration would continue supporting the measure. Hing aptly notes, however, that the president’s support belies the Department of Homeland Security’s resolve to continue deporting DREAM Act-eligible youth in the event of the measure’s failure.

DREAM Act defeat sets stage for anti-immigrant agenda

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) and other congressional Democrats had hoped to pass the DREAM Act before Republicans assume control of the House in January and curtail future attempts at progressive immigration reform.

Mother Jones’ Suzy Khimm argues that the DREAM Act’s defeat sets the stage for incoming GOP leaders who have promised to crack down on immigration. Rep. Steve King (R-IA), who will likely chair the House Judiciary Committee in 2011, has already spoken out about his plans to move forward with a number of anti-immigrant measures. Among them: A birthright citizenship bill and an employee sanctions bill that would requires the Internal Revenue Service to share information with the Department of Homeland Security (a la Secure Communities).

Whether House Republicans will be able to get such controversial legislation through the Democratic-controlled Senate, however, remains to be seen. In the meantime, many reform advocates are turning their attention to legislation at the state-level, where a number of incoming nativist governors are vowing to push a plethora of severely anti-immigrant measures.

What’s next?

The Media Consortium recently sat down with Yana Kuchinoff of Truthout to discuss the DREAM Act’s failure in the Senate, and what will be next for the legislation in the next Congress. Kuchinoff says that although congressional action is important, the growing strength of grassroots and activist organizations are likely to play a major role in the bill’s future.

Public education still a minefield for undocumented students

The DREAM Act’s bitter defeat is all the more unfortunate as an increasing number of state-level laws seek to deny undocumented youth access to education. As I wrote in a special report for Campus Progress, Arizona is leading that charge with the cavalier passage of several anti-immigrant and arguably anti-education measures. In addition to being the first state to deny undocumented youth in-state tuition and public funding (Colorado and Georgia have since followed suit), recent bans on equal opportunity and ethnic studies have made education a minefield for undocumented and minority students. Now, with state senator Russell Pearce (R) assuming the role of senate president, the crack down on Latino youth threatens to intensify—and spread across state lines.

In this feverish climate, many immigrant rights advocates are re-focusing their resources on fighting for educational equality at the state level. Chris Thomas at the Public News Services reports that a chief concern is passing tuition equality legislation for undocumented students. While 10 states have passed laws ensuring that undocumented residents receive in-state tuition at colleges and universities, Arizona, Colorado and Georgia have passed restrictive measures denying them that privilege.

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: Egg Salad Surprise! Congress Votes to Clean Up Food Supply

by Lindsay Beyerstein, Media Consortium blogger

It’s a Christmas-week miracle! The Senate, in a vote that astonished everyone, brought the Food Safety and Modernization Act back from the dead on Monday, as Siddhartha Mahanta reports in Mother Jones. The bill, which will enact tougher consumer protections against E. coli and other deadly contaminants in staples like eggs and peanut butter, died in the Senate last week when the omnibus spending bill it had been folded into kicked the bucket.

At Grist, Tom Philpott explains the initial demise, and the basis for the ultimate resurrection of the bill. The House passed the bill on Tuesday, having already passed it twice before.

President Obama is expected to sign the bill into law, which will usher in the first major overhaul of the country’s food safety system in more than 70 years. Food poisoning strikes 48 million Americans (1 in 6), lands 128,000 in the hospital, and kills 3,000 ever year, according to CDC figures released last week. Now that’s something to talk about with your relatives around the holiday dinner table.

Wisconsin clinic backs off 2nd trimester abortion care

A clinic in Wisconsin has reneged on its commitment to provide second trimester abortion care, as Judy Shackelford reports in The Progressive. Shackelford is outraged that the Madison Surgery Center walked back on its promise to patients. She knows first hand how important later term abortion access can be.

Shackelford found herself in need of a second trimester abortion when she developed a blood clot in her arm during her second, much-wanted pregnancy. She decided to terminate rather than risk leaving her 7-year-old son motherless. It was hard enough to find an abortion provider when she needed one, but if she needed the procedure today, she would have nowhere to turn.

Teen birth rate at record low

The birth rate for women ages 15-19 fell to 39.1 per 1000 between 2008 and 2009, the National Center for Health Statistics announced Tuesday. Many commentators, including Goddessjaz of feministing attribute the drop to the recession. The economy seems to be an important factor because birth rates dropped in all age groups, not just among teens.

Predictably, proponents of abstinence-only-until-hetero-marriage are trying to take credit for the falling birth rate. It’s not clear why they think ab-only is finally starting to work after years of unrelenting failure. Perhaps it was Bristol Palin’s electrifying performance on “Dancing With the Stars”?

Get the government out of my Medicare

We’ve become accustomed to the ironic spectacle of senior citizens on Medicare-funded scooters decrying the “government takeover of health care.” Medicare is wildly popular, even among those who decry “socialized medicine.” When the Affordable Care Act is finally implemented, it won’t feel like a government program, either. Paul Waldman of The American Prospect wonders if this “private sector” feel will undermine support for the program:

The Republican officials challenging the ACA in court have characterized its individual insurance mandate as an act of tyranny ranking somewhere between the Stalinist purges and Mao’s Cultural Revolution. But in the “government takeover” of health care (recently declared the 2010 “Lie of the Year” by the fact-checking site PolitiFact), Americans will continue to visit their private doctors to receive care paid for by their private insurance companies. The irony is that if the ACA actually were a “government takeover,” people would end up feeling much better about government’s involvement in health care. But since it maintains the private system, conservatives can continue to decry government health care safe in the knowledge that most people under 65 won’t know what they’re missing, or in another sense, what they’re getting.

If people don’t realize that they’re benefiting from government programs, they are less likely to support those programs. In an attempt to deflect Republican criticism, the Democrats assiduously scrubbed as much of the aura of government off of health reform as they could. This could prove to be a disastrously short-sighted strategy. If health reform works, the government won’t get the credit, but rest assured that if it fails, it will take the full measure of blame.

Funding for community health centers at risk

One of the lesser-known provisions of the Affordable Care Act was to expand the capacity of community health centers (CHCs) from 20 million to 40 million patients by 2015. This extra capacity will be key for absorbing the millions of previously uninsured Americans who are slated to get health insurance under the ACA.

CHCs have been praised by Democrats and Republicans as an affordable way to provide quality health care. However, state budget crises are threatening to derail the plan, as Dan Peterson reports for Change.org. States must contribute to the program in order to qualify for federal funding. However, state funding for CHCs has plummeted by 42% since 2007. So far this year, 23 states have cut funding for CHCs and eight have slashed their budgets by 20% or more.

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 Mulch: Was Cancun Climate Conference a Success?

by Sarah Laskow, Media Consortium Blogger

The United Nations-led Climate Conference at Cancun was not a diplomatic disaster, but for climate activists and grassroots groups, it wasn’t a success either. Representatives sent from around the globe to hammer out an agreement on climate change were unresponsive to grassroots concerns about how to lower carbon emissions quickly, and how to ensure fairness in the process.

“Some grassroots groups are losing their faith in the U.N.’s capacity to produce meaningful results,” Madeline Ostrader reported for Yes! Magazine. “After the United Nations expelled Native American leader Tom Goldtooth from the meeting last week, the Indigenous Environmental Network called the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change ‘the WTO of the sky.’”

While gloomy reports before the conference worried that international negotiations could veer entirely off course, the representatives at the conference did come up with an agreement that fleshed out last year’s Copenhagen Accord. It became clearer, though, that the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change process will not ultimately guard the interests of less powerful players.

Climbing over a low bar

Although diplomats congratulated themselves for their accomplishments, not everyone was so pleased,  Stephen Leahy reported at Inter Press Service.

“It’s pathetic the world community struggles so much just to climb over such a low bar,” commented [Kumi] Naidoo, [executive director of Greenpeace.] “Our only real hope is to mobilise a broad-based climate movement involving all sectors of the public and civil society before Durban.”

Indeed, this year’s conference saw a greater mobilization of outside forces than Copenhagen did. But by the end of the conference, activists were frustrated with the UN-led process, Democracy Now! reported, and began protesting in the area near the conference, under the close watch of UN guards:

When the demonstrators continued their vigil past the time allotted to them, U.N. guards moved in and dragged them towards a waiting bus. The protesters linked arms, and the scene quickly became chaotic. As they wrestled activists onto buses, U.N. guards also seized press credentials from the necks of journalists, and detained a photographer while seizing his camera.

Running REDD

There was one issue in particular, Reduced Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation or REDD, a financial tool that allows countries to offset their emissions, that caused concern among climate activists. As Michelle Chen explained at ColorLines, “From a climate justice standpoint, the deal lost credibility once it was tainted with REDD, a supposed anti-deforestation initiative that indigenous communities have long decried as an assault on native people’s sovereignty and way of life.”

The program would seek to set aside forests, through financial incentives that would make it more profitable to preserve forests than to harvest them. The problem, in essence, is that the program would take away resources in developing countries, particularly in indigenous communities, in order to mitigate negative actions in developed countries.

At IPS, Stephen Leahy reported, “REDD remains very controversial. It is widely touted as a way to mobilise $10 to $30 billion annually to protect forests by selling carbon credits to industries in lieu of reductions in emissions. … Many indigenous and civil society groups reject REDD outright if it allows developed countries to avoid real emission reductions by offsetting their emissions. “

Developed vs. Developing

Balancing the interests of developing and developed countries has always been the thorny tangle at the center of climate negotiations, and the Cancun Agreement, critics say, favors developed countries.

As Tom Athanasiou writes at Earth Island Journal, “There’s an even deeper concern, that, in the words of the South Centre’s Martin Khor, ‘Cancun may be remembered in future as the place where the UNFCCC’s climate regime was changed significantly, with developed countries being treated more and more leniently, reaching a level like that of developing countries, while the developing countries are asked to increase their obligations to be more and more like developed countries.’”

REDD is an example of that sort of bargain: Developing countries have to sacrifice, too. But developed countries have, in this conference and at its predecessors, refused to make any real sacrifices. This round, it became clear that, in addition to the United States, other key countries, like Japan, would not be willing to commit to binding legal targets for carbon emissions.

Who benefits?

What’s worse, developed countries benefit, indirectly, from the financial mechanism proposed to regulate carbon, Madeline Ostrader writes.

“Many of the proposals for financing and regulating climate are designed to earn profits for the same banks that brought the global economy to its knees,” she explains. “Goldman Sachs and JPMorgan Chase have been vying for a stake in the global carbon offset trade—a proposed economic model for cutting emissions around the world.”

The movement of non-governmental groups and activists fighting to hold rich countries accountable has gained momentum in the past year. If international leaders are ever to move away from these imbalanced agreements, that movement will have to grow and convince a vocal majority of people around the world to support its calls to action. Only then will leaders feel pressure to write stronger, fairer agreements.

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 We Need a Deportation Moratorium Now

 

by Catherine A. Traywick, Media Consortium blogger

As a floundering Congress repeatedly impedes the passage of widely supported immigration measures like the DREAM Act, reform advocates are refocusing their efforts and calling on President Barack Obama to declare a moratorium on deportations.

Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-IL), whose impassioned support of immigrant rights landed him in jail earlier this year, is at the forefront of that charge, reports Braden Goyette at Campus Progress. Joining a chorus of immigration reform groups, Gutierrez is asking for moratorium: “The President will tell us we need Republican votes in order to pass legislation, and he’s correct,” Gutierrez told a raucous crowd of New York immigrants last month. “But let me tell you something. With the executive stroke of that pen, he can stop the deportation and the destruction of our families.”

The deportation dragnet

The administration’s amped up efforts to detain and deport greater numbers of undocumented immigrants is understandably contentious among immigrant rights advocates. As Goyette notes, at least 6.6 million mixed-status families stand to be directly affected by increased immigration enforcement, and nearly 100,000 citizen children have already seen their parents—lawful permanent residents—deported by the government.

To make matters worse, individuals are being deported without demonstrable regard for clean records, mitigating circumstances or even legal residency, in spite of the administration’s assurances to the contrary. Alina Das, a fellow at NYU’s immigration law clinic who was interviewed by Goyette, sums it up this way:

“Once you’re in the system it often does not matter if you’ve lived here since childhood, if you worked and paid taxes your entire life, if you gave back to the community and served in the military. The laws are so draconian that immigration judges are not able to consider these factors in many cases.”

ICE under fire for netting innocents

The legal system’s rigidity is further exacerbated by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE)’s questionable practices, which have resulted in the unlawful detention and deportations of scores of immigrants. The consequences of ICE’s overreliance on local law enforcement and its apparently indiscriminate tagging of undocumented immigrants are making headlines and raising prominent eyebrows.

The Filipino Express, via New America Media, reports that immigration courts are rejecting 31 percent of deportation cases filed by ICE—a six-point increase since 2009. In larger cities, the rejection rate is as high as 70 percent, suggesting that ICE is increasingly detaining and processing people who have just cause to remain in the country.

ICE’s credibility on the matter has deteriorated so much that last week a federal judge ordered the agency to release previously withheld documents related to a controversial enforcement program called Secure Communities, which has netted a number of non-criminal immigrants, including domestic violence victims. Several localities have tried to opt out of participating in the contentious program—including Santa Clara and San Francisco Counties in California, Arlington, Va., and Washington D.C.—but ICE has waffled on allowing them to do so. The documents ordered for release should shed light on the issue.

ColorLines’ Seth Freed Wessler reports that last week’s ruling was the second of its kind made against ICE:

In July, a federal court ordered the release of all government documents related to Secure Communities, following a public information request by Uncover the Truth, a coalition of civil rights and immigrant rights groups. The government released only some documents, which revealed that the program had resulted in the deportation of tens of thousands of non-citizens with no criminal convictions at all, or with convictions for low-level things like traffic violations.

The dark side of detention

The indiscriminate roundup of undocumented immigrants can have grave consequences—particularly when the immigration enforcement system is overly outsourced and over capacity.

While we’ve highlighted several cases of detention centers run amok in the past, Forrest Wilder at the Texas Observer has been following the case of a particularly horrifying incident at the Reeves County Detention Center near Pecos, Texas.

Two years ago, when the facility’s remarkably poor conditions provoked immigrant detainees to demand a meeting with the Mexican consulate, 1,200 detainees rioted and commandeered the facility, costing more than $1 million in damages. The impetus: The arguably preventable death of Jesus Manuel Galindo, a 32-year-old epileptic Mexican citizen who had lived in the United States since he was 13 and was locked up for “illegal re-entry” into the country:

Galindo’s death set off a huge riot at the Reeves County Detention Center, the world’s largest privately-run prison. It was the first of two riots in protest of poor conditions, especially medical care that the prisoners claimed was literally killing people. At the time of his death from an epileptic seizure, Galindo had been locked up in the prison’s administrative segregation unit for a month, possibly as punishment for his persistent medical complaints.

Wilder further reports that, last week, the ACLU and two El Paso attorneys filed suit against officials and administrators of the ill-reputed facility, stating that “the utter disregard shown by RCDC prison and medical staff to Galindo’s repeated, beseeching, well-founded expressions of fear for his own personal safety bordered on sadistic.”

Galindo’s case is not unique among immigrant detainees in the United States. Immigrant detainees suffer myriad abuses and injustices while their cases are processed and the administration’s increasing emphasis on enforcement only exacerbates the problem.

With the DREAM Act stuck in sentatorial limbo, the dire circumstances of hundreds of thousands of immigrants should compel President Obama to take action where Congress will not.

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: Judge Rules Against Health Reform, Takes Cash from Opponents

by Lindsay Beyerstein, Media Consortium blogger

The Virginia federal judge who ruled against a key component of health care reform on Monday has ties to a Republican consulting firm. Judge Henry Hudson is a co-owner of Campaign Solutions, as Amy Goodman of Democracy Now! reports.

Hudson, a President George W. Bush appointee, has earned as much as $108,000 in royalties from Campaign Solutions since 2003. A cached version of the firm’s client roster lists such vocal opponents of health reform as Sens. Mitch McConnell (R-KY), Jim DeMint (R-SC), and Olympia Snowe (R-ME), Rep. Todd Tiahrt (R-KS), the Republican National Committee and the American Medical Association.

In November, Collins and Snowe joined McConnell in signing an amicus brief to challenge the constitutionality of health care reform in a separate suit in Florida. Campaign finance records show that Campaign Solutions has also worked for Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli, who is spearheading the lawsuit. Tiahrt added an amicus brief to Cuccinelli’s lawsuit.

Today, the mandate. Tomorrow, the regulatory state?

Hudson ruled that the individual mandate of health care reform is unconstitutional. The mandate stipulates that, after 2014, everyone who doesn’t already have health insurance will have to buy some or pay a small fine. The judge argues that this requirement exceeds the federal government’s power to regulate interstate commerce.

The Commerce Clause gives the federal government the power to regulate commerce between the states and international trade. Suzy Khimm of Mother Jones explains that this clause underpins the power of the federal government to regulate the economy in any way:

But the issues at stake in Cuccinelli v. Sebelius (Ken Cuccinelli is the conservative attorney general of Virginia; Katherine Sebelius is President Barack Obama’s Secretary of Health and Human Services, or HHS) are actually far broader. Hudson’s ruling doesn’t just show how the Supreme Court could gut the health law—it shows how the court could neuter the entire federal government.

Is it constitutional?

Chris Hayes of The Nation interviews Prof. Gillian Metzger, a constitutional law scholar at Columbia University, about the merits of challenges to the constitutionality of health care reform. According to Metzger, “the argument that [the mandate] is outside the commerce power is also pretty specious given the existing precedent.”

Steve Benen of the Washington Monthly accuses Judge Hudson of committing an “inexplicable error” in legal reasoning. There is a longstanding precedent that the federal government can regulate economic activity under the Commerce Clause. Hudson acknowledges this, but he maintains that this power doesn’t cover regulations of “economic inactivity” (i.e. not buying health insurance). As Benen notes, people who don’t buy insurance aren’t opting out of the market, they’re opting to let society absorb their future medical costs. Everyone who does buy insurance pays more because freeloaders coast without insurance and hope for the best.

Luckily for the Obama administration, the judge did not bar the implementation of health reform while the case works its way through the courts. The Supreme Court will ultimately hear this case. In the meantime, the federal government can continue building the infrastructure that will eventually support health care reform.

This is the third time a federal judge has ruled on the constitutionality of health care reforms and the first victory for the anti-reform contingent.

Mandatory mandate

Paul Waldman reminds TAPPED readers why the mandate is critical to any health care reform based on private insurance. With a single-payer system, you don’t need a mandate because everyone is automatically covered. A mandate only comes into play when you have to force people to buy insurance.

Without a mandate, healthy risk-takers who don’t buy insurance will starve the system of premiums while they are well and bleed the system for benefits when they get sick. Meanwhile, people who already know they’re sick will sign up in droves, and the Affordable Care Act will force insurers to accept them.  Without a mandate, the private health insurance industry would collapse and take health care reform down with it.

Is expanding Medicare the answer?

Matthew Rothschild of the Progressive argues that the legal headaches over the individual mandate illustrate why it would have been legally and procedurally easier to achieve universal health care by simply expanding Medicare to cover everyone.

At Truthout, Thom Hartmann argues universal health insurance in the form of “Medicare Part E” would spur economic growth and innovation because entrepreneurs could start businesses without worrying about how to provide health insurance for their employees.

Meanwhile, Brie Cadman reports at Change.Org, Sen. Tom Coburn (R-OK) is trying to defund health care reform by cutting funds for preventive health care. Coburn is urging his fellow Republicans to vote against a House-passed measure that would allocate $750 million for the 2011 Prevention and Public Health Fund. Cadman notes the irony of a medical doctor like Coburn, who also claims to be a fiscal conservative,  trying to scuttle funds to control preventable diseases which would otherwise cost society billions of dollars a year.

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 Mulch: At Cancun, Incentives Point Toward Incremental Progress on Climate Change

by Sarah Laskow, Media Consortium Blogger

This year’s round of the United Nations-led climate change negotiations, ongoing in Cancun, Mexico, for the past two weeks, end today. No matter what the official outcome, the progress made on dealing with global climate change and carbon emissions will be incremental.

The problem, at base, lies with the incentives, or lack thereof, for the most powerful negotiators at the table. Morally, there are plenty of reasons for every country in the world to commit to drawing down carbon pollution. But economically? Politically? It’s easier to take small steps, make half-hearted commitments.

Going all-in

What would a brave policy stance look like? Something like the position the Maldives—an island archipelago—has taken: “We do not have to wait for everyone else to do this,” as the country’s environment minister, Mohamed Aslam said at the conference this week. As Mother Jones’ Kate Sheppard reports:

Right now the country relies heavily on diesel fuel for much of its energy needs. The government has already conducted an audit of their emissions, much of which comes from the shipping sector, a fact of life in island nations. But Aslam envisions solar, wind, tidal power, and renewable transportation fuels driving the nation in the near future—even if islanders don’t have all the solutions now.

Aslam notes, Sheppard writes, that it’s in the country’s economic favor to take up these policies. So for the Maldives, at least, it’s not a tough sell.

Bribery?

The real dilemma for island countries like the Maldives, though, is how much wiggle room they should give larger countries, who are bigger emitters, in international agreements. Larger countries have more to lose, economically, so they’re less willing to commit to, say, legally binding goals for reduced carbon emissions.

But these larger countries also tend to have more money. And that’s where the problem for countries like the Maldives comes in: they’re going to need financial support to deal with creeping sea level rise and other consequences of climate change. Some of the WikiLeaks diplomatic cables, as The Guardian reported, revealed how countries like the United States use those needs to their diplomatic advantage. Democracy Now!’s Amy Goodman asked U.S. Climate Envoy Todd Stern to respond to these revelations, but didn’t get much of a response.

I’ve got the power

Ultimately, though, a country like the Maldives is always going to have a weaker negotiating position than bigger countries. Take, for instance, this account from Inter Press Service’s Darryl D’Monte on how to identify an important player at Cancun:

A rough yardstick for identifying which Asian countries make the biggest ripples in Cancun is the number of journalists who crowd around the spokesperson immediately after a press conference. … Indian Environment Minister Jairam Ramesh has certainly come into his own on this score. As the spokesperson for the BASIC group of countries, which includes Brazil, South Africa and China, he is articulate, well-informed and witty. Journalists swarm around him after a press conference, eager to get him make a scathing remark about another country or group of countries.

This profile of Ramesh is a fascinating window into how one negotiator manages to navigate these complicated talks. But, as D’Monte points out, even for India, financing is a key question: one of the “non-negotiables” for India, Brazil, South Africa and China is speedier delivery of promised mitigation monies.

Moral Highground

There’s one group at Cancun whose incentives line up impeccably with a faultless moral position: young people. They’re the ones most likely to suffer the consequences of a warming world, and they’re advocating for a draw-down of carbon-heavy industries. At Change.org, Jess Leber reports that about 1,000 young people are participating in some way in the conference this year. (Official attendance tallies, for participants inside and outside the building, estimate 22,000 people in total.)

Leber reports that young people did make some progress this year: “The negotiators agreed to ramp up support for climate education and training programs worldwide, but especially in developing countries, and agreed to give the youth delegation are larger official voice in the negotiating process,” she writes.

That’s good news for adults, as well. As the UN’s chief negotiator, Christiana Figueres, demonstrates in this video at Care2, it’s tough to face down the people who are actually going to suffer from your generation’s waffling. “Figueres tears up when speaking of why the talks are important; she also describes the inspiration that keeps her working toward a global agreement,” writes Nancy Roberts.

Figueres’ inspiration? “It’s you,” she tells young activists. “It’s not our planet. It’s yours…You will all take it over very soon…Nothing is going to be perfect…Everything here is going to be one step. But it is the best that this group of people under these circumstances…can do for the time being.”

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: DREAM Act Passes the House, Heads to the Senate

by Catherine A. Traywick, Media Consortium blogger

A bill that would create a path to legalization for undocumented youth passed the House of Representatives Wednesday, and is now headed to the Senate. The DREAM Act, which has struggled for survival even amid steady and strong bipartisan support, could render more than 2 million undocumented immigrants eligible for conditional permanent residency if they attend college or serve in the military.

Making good on at least one pre-election promise, congressional Democrats succeeded in bringing the bill to a vote before Republicans assume control of the House in January—but not without plenty of contention. For two hours, House representatives rehashed the spectrum of party-line immigration talking points before finally clearing the DREAM Act, 216-198, reports ColorLines’ Julianne Hing.

Forging on a compromise

It’s a refreshing victory for DREAM advocates who saw major losses last October when the bill was momentarily defeated in the Senate, and last November, when the midterm election ushered in a spate of staunchly anti-immigrant representatives and governors who decry the bill as “amnesty.” But the stroke of success is bittersweet for many of the bill’s proponents, who take issue with some of the political concessions made by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) in an effort to bring the bill to the floor.

As Marcelo Ballvé reports at New America Media, the latest iteration of the act is more exclusionary than previous versions—to the point of possibly eliminating eligibility for as many as 140,000 individuals. In addition to reducing the maximum eligibility age from 34 to 29, the new version of the bill bars beneficiaries from accessing Medicare (or participating in health insurance exchanges under the health reform package) and draws out the citizenship process by several years.

But despite the rigidity of the newly revised provisions, Ballvé notes that the single greatest barrier to DREAM Act eligibility is not its design, but high levels of poverty within immigrant communities. While more than 2 million youths would theoretically be eligible for conditional legal residency under the DREAM Act, the educational barriers associated with poverty would reduce that number to 825,000, according to a report by the Migration Policy Institute.

Debate suggests an uncertain future

Still, the DREAM Act makes both economic and political sense, as Katie Andriulli points out at Campus Progress. Even with the number of potential beneficiaries lowered, the Congressional Budget Office calculates that the DREAM Act could reduce the deficit by $1.4 billion over the next 10 years, simply by legitimizing scores of potential professionals. And—contrary to opponents’ claims that the act will encourage illegal immigration or reward illegal behavior—the measure only provides “a discrete one-time universe of individuals” the chance for legalization, while actualizing a return on the financial investments already made in the millions of undocumented youth who have completed public school in the United States.

Despite the DREAM Act’s victory in the House, however, its chances of clearing the Senate on Thursday remain somewhat slim. After successfully blocking the bill last October, Senate Republicans have been laying roadblocks ahead of Thursday’s vote—first vowing to stall any and all proposed measures until the controversial Bush tax cuts were extended and then spouting considerable misinformation about the DREAM Act (which Marshall Fitz soundly counters at Campus Progress). Moreover, a number of senators who once supported the measure now appear to be undecided in the face of competing political pressures.

The movement’s next steps?

But whether the bill clears the Senate on Thursday, progressive immigration reform advocates will find themselves in a politically hostile—and possibly unnavigable—environment come January, when a new line-up of right-wing lawmakers takes over the House.

Daniel Altschuler at The Nation argues that the movement must assess and address its greatest weaknesses if it hopes—at the very least—to weather the storm. While the reform movement has demonstrated its ability to “convert grassroots power into legislative pressure,” Altschuler argues, it has failed at “developing a unified legislative strategy and shaping the national debate.”

In terms of crafting a focused legislative strategy, activists will have to contend with a number of competing issues as opposed to focusing on a single target—such as passing the DREAM Act. The Obama administration’s continued enforcement push, anti-immigrant proposals by Republican House leaders, and state-level immigration measures all threaten to divide the movement’s focus, as they have in years past. In the meantime, Altschuler concludes, “the movement’s goals will be to fend off punitive enforcement legislation and lay the groundwork for” comprehensive immigration reform, through substantial—and perhaps disappointing—compromise.

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: DADT, Vampire Bees, and Other Hazards to Your Health

By Lindsay Beyerstein, Media Consortium blogger

Dr. Kenneth Katz recently published an article in the New England Journal of Medicine titled “Health Hazards of ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” This week, he penned an op/ed for RH Reality Check about his experiences treating U.S. military at an STD clinic in San Diego. Dr. Katz sees the Pentagon’s “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” rule for LGB members of the military as a huge roadblock to good medical care. He’s pretty confident that his military patients feel safe divulging their sexual histories to a civilian doctor like himself. But when those troops go overseas, they are cared for by military doctors. Technically, doctor-patient communication is exempt from DADT, but many patients don’t realize that they can tell their military doctors about gay sex without fear of reprisals (at least in theory). Dr. Katz’s patients have told him that they won’t go for recommended follow-up STD screening after they ship out because they’re afraid to be honest with their doctors. He worries about how many troops are suffering from treatable infections in war zones because they aren’t allowed to serve openly.

Food stamp use skyrockets, swordfish sales unaccountably flat

Monica Potts of TAPPED points to the alarming statistic that in the last month alone an additional 500,000 Americans went on food stamps. She notes that the right wing website Daily Caller is alarmed not by the fact that fellow citizens can’t afford food, but rather that there’s no gruel-only foodstamp program available:

Meanwhile, the conservative news site The Daily Caller is shocked, shocked, to learn that you can use food stamps to buy all manner of food. The government, apparently, doesn’t restrict you from purchasing an $18-per-pound swordfish steak from Whole Foods. But that kind of discovery, like almost everything else in the “debate” over food stamp use, is the sort of ridiculous one that comes from a person who’s never been hungry.

The Hyde Amendment

In Campus Progress, Jessica Arons and Madina Agénor call for the repeal of the Hyde Amendment for being an assault on the reproductive rights of poor women and women of color. The Supreme Court declared abortion to be a constitutional right in 1973, yet nearly 40 years later, the Hyde Amendment still prohibits nearly all federal funding for abortions. In practice, the women most affected by the Hyde Amendment are those who depend on government health care programs like Medicaid and the Indian Health Service:

Former U.S. Rep. Henry Hyde (R-IL), the law’s sponsor, admitted during debate of his proposal that he was targeting poor women because they were the only ones vulnerable enough for him to reach. “I certainly would like to prevent, if I could legally, anybody having an abortion, a rich woman, a middle-class woman, or a poor woman,” he said. “Unfortunately, the only vehicle available is the … Medicaid bill.”

Meanwhile, ultra-conservative Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-MN) is calling on Congress to de-fund the reproductive health provider Planned Parenthood, Andy Birkey reports in the Minnesota Independent. In an interview with a conservative news site, Bachmann doubled down on that idea, suggesting that all of health care reform be de-funded because it funds abortions. This is not true. The aforementioned Hyde Amendment guarantees as much. Furthermore, even though health reform never would have funded abortions, President Obama signed an eleventh-hour executive order guaranteeing that health care reform would not fund abortions.

Brooklyn bees gorge on maraschino cherry run-off

Home beekeeping is the hottest new trend for health-conscious locavores. New York City recently changed the law to accommodate beekeepers in the five boroughs. Just because you live in an industrial neighborhood in Brooklyn is no reason to miss out on this sweet action, right? Well, actually, there is a catch. That nice honey at the farmers’ market tastes like lavender because that’s what those rural bees ate. What do bees in Red Hook, Brooklyn eat? Run-off from a maraschino cherry factory. The overindulgent bees “look like vampires” according to one local keeper and their honey runs bright red. Maraschino honey sounds like a delicious mash-up of high and low culture. Unfortunately, Sarah Goodyear reports in Grist that the end product doesn’t taste nearly as good as it looks. Arthur Mondella, the owner of Dell’s Maraschino Cherries, wants to do right by the beekeepers. He initially suggested putting out vats of different colored syrup to “help” the bees make rainbow honey. His proposal was not well-received by the crunchy set. Instead, he has agreed to work with the beekeepers to keep the bees out of the vats next year.

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: Tax Cuts for the Rich Extended

By Lindsay Beyerstein,  Media Consortium Blogger

Congressional Republicans and the White House  struck an agreement in principle on Monday night to extend all the Bush tax cuts for 2 more years in exchange for extending unemployment benefits. The GOP agreed to the so-called “Lincoln-Kyl compromise” a partial 2-year extension of the Bush estate tax cuts on estates worth over $5 million. If the deal had not been struck, estate taxes on estates over $5 million would have gone back up from 0% to the pre-cut rate of 55%. Instead, the rate will be 35% for the next 2 years.

The GOP also agreed to a short-term “stimulative” 2 percentage-point cut off the 6.2% payroll tax we all pay on income up to $106,800. The good news is that a payroll tax holiday will provide the most noticeable tax relief to low- and middle-income Americans. The bad news is that payroll taxes fund Social Security, so cutting the tax means starving a program that most directly benefits average people. Social Security is not in crisis yet, but steps like these could push the program into worse financial straights where significant benefit cuts become inevitable. It’s almost as if the GOP, having failed to spark panic about an as-yet non-existent Social Security crisis, is determined to engineer one.

All these gimmes for the rich were the price of a partial extension of unemployment benefits. The stakes couldn’t have been higher. If Congress had failed to act, 2 million people stood to lose their benefits this month and another 7 million would have run out before the end of next year, reports Andy Kroll of Mother Jones.

Meanwhile, unemployment continues to rise. The economy only added 39,000 jobs in November when analysts were expecting about 150,000. “At the beginning, some people just thought it was a printing error,” said reporter Motoko Rich on the New York Times‘ weekly business podcast. The overall unemployment rate climbed to 9.8%.

At ColorLines, Kai Wright argues that the time has come for President Obama to seize the opportunity to debunk conservatives’ bad faith arguments for tax cuts above all else:

At the same time, the anti-government crowd’s political hand—if forced—has never been weaker. A depressingly large number of middle-class and working-class Americans now know all too well what economists have long understood: You get a great deal more economic bang out of keeping lots of people from becoming destitute than you do by helping a few people horde wealth. People remain enraged about the no-strings-attached bank bailout, for instance, because they intuitively understand its ramifications. Wall Street is now enjoying a narrow, taxpayer-financed recovery while unemployment, hunger and poverty all continue climbing through the former middle class.

Extending UI makes sense

Tim Fernholtz of TAPPED tackles some of the bad arguments against extending unemployment insurance. Economist Greg Mankiw claims that extending unemployment insurance is just a surreptitious ploy to redistribute income to the poor from the wealthy. Actually, as Fernholtz points out, the point of a UI safety net is to prevent people, 3 million of them in 2009, from becoming poor in the first place. Poverty is very expensive for society at large. If we can keep the unemployed in their homes, spending their benefits in their communities, we can keep the socially corrosive effects of poverty at bay until the economy improves. The social costs of child poverty alone have been estimated at $500 billion a year, Fernholtz notes. The deeper we allow people to sink into poverty, the more difficult it will be for the economy to rebound. On this view, UI is a shared investment in a well-ordered society, not just a lifeline for jobless families.

Why corporate tax cuts won’t create jobs

Jack Rasmus of Working In These Times explains why tax cuts will not create jobs. Simply put, banks and big companies are sitting on over a trillion dollars. Among the nation’s biggest banks, lending to small and medium size businesses, the engines of job creation, has dwindled over 2009 and 2010. America’s biggest companies are sitting on a hoard of $1.84 trillion dollars, which they are not investing in job-creating projects. The Deficit Commission recommended slashing corporate taxes, ostensibly to spur investment and job creation, which would ultimately generate taxable income to help balance the budget. As Rasmus points out, this wishful thinking is predicated upon the assumption that if only corporations had more money, they would invest it to create jobs. The fact that companies are already sitting on huge piles of cash suggests that shoveling more moolah on the pile won’t change the basic dynamic. Perhaps companies are waiting to invest because they know that consumers aren’t keen to buy goods and services when they are unemployed or fearing job loss.

Economic disobedience

At In These Times, Andrew Oxford interviews sociologist Lisa Dodson about her new book on getting by in the low-wage economy. Her research shows that as economic instability mounts, many Americans are quietly taking matters into their own hands:

To understand how fair-minded people survive in an unfair economy, Dodson interviewed hundreds of low-wage workers and their employers across the country, examining what she terms the “economic disobedience” now pervasive in the low-wage sector. From a supervisor padding paychecks to a grocer sending food home with his employees, these acts of disobedience form the subject of her latest book, The Moral Underground: How Ordinary Americans Subvert an Unfair Economy.

Winner-take all economy

In an interview with Democracy Now!, Yale political science profesor and  Jacob Hacker explains why the Deficit Commission has it all wrong when it comes to tax cuts vs. unemployment benefits.

Hacker studies inequality. He has written a book on how the richest Americans cornered an unprecedented share of the country’s wealth for themselves over the past three decades. The richest Americans have never been in a better position to help the country grapple with the deficit. Yet, as Hacker points out, the Deficit Commission wants to balance the budget on the backs of middle- and lower-income Americans by cutting spending on programs that disproportionately benefit working people and readjusting the tax code to make it even more favorable to the rich.

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: If Cancun Climate Talks Falter, Blame the U.S.

by Sarah Laskow, Media Consortium blogger

The most recent round of United Nations-led climate change negotiations began this week in Cancun, and although international expectations are muted this year, the stakes are still high. As Mother JonesKate Sheppard explains,”The 2010 meeting could make or break the future of global negotiations.”

This is the sixteenth Conference of the Parties, convened by the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). After the tepid results of last year’s conference in Copenhagen, when a last-minute, backroom deal produced a non-binding accord, participants and observers of the negotiations are beginning to question whether it is the best forum for these sorts of conversations. Central to the progress, or lack thereof, on international climate change policy is the United States’ intransigence. As one of the world most proliferate carbon spewers, it’s essential for the United States to commit to dramatic reductions in its carbon emissions.

But if American negotiators have always been reluctant to make those promises, even if they did this year, their promises would ring empty. The results of the 2010 midterms mean there’s little chance Congress would ratify a treaty. Republicans just eliminated a special House committee on global warming. They certainly aren’t interested in making the sorts of concessions that international negotiators want and need to convince their own governments to move forward.

Signing off

It’s unclear, at this point, if the UNFCCC framework will ever produce a worthwhile results. Inter Press Service’s Kanya D’Almeida reports that “the meeting in Cancún is foreshadowed by a deep pessimism.” D’Almedia offers, for instance, this take from Nigel Purvis, a senior fellow at the German Marshall Fund of the United States:

“Global climate talks have begun to resemble a bad soap opera,” Purvis wrote in an essay entitled ‘Cancún and the End of Climate Diplomacy. “They seem to never end, yet seldom change and at times bear little resemblance to reality. This is why climate diplomacy as we know it has lost its relevance.”

The last landmark climate treaty—the Kyoto Protocol, which the United States never signed onto—will expire in 2012. The Copenhagen Accord, the agreement that came out of last year’s negotiations, does not bind countries to their commitments, as Kyoto did.

The next major step in tackling climate change could be for countries across the world to re-up their commitments to reducing carbon emissions through a Kyoto-like (i.e. legally enforceable) pact. The alternative is to base global action on an agreement along the lines of the one produced at Copenhagen, with less stringent standards for accountability.

Kyoto v. Copenhagen

Tina Gephardt writes at The Nation that “Serious tensions threaten to derail the UNFCCC process entirely. At the heart of these skirmishes are two camps: those nations who want to extend the Kyoto Protocol and those nations, including the United States, who want to ram through the Copenhagen Accord.”

The Accord’s mechanism for oversight and enforcement relies on countries monitoring each others’ progress on carbon reductions, but as Mother Jones’ Sheppard reports, an early point of disagreement in this year’s session centers on how important it is to agree how that monitoring will happen.

Stubborn Americans

What does seem certain is that if, at the end of this session, international climate negotiations have become so messy and tangled the world abandons them, and starts over, much of the blame will lie with the United States. Tom Athanasiou lays out the case in Earth Island Journal:

It’s the US, after all, that reduced the Kyoto Protocol to a non-starter, and the US that led the Copenhagen charge to abandon top-down emissions targets in favor of bottom-up “pledge and review.” It’s the US that, in the words of chief negotiator Todd Stern, is looking for a “new paradigm for climate diplomacy” that asserts a world in which the developed countries are no longer presumed to bear the overarching, if inconvenient, obligations of the rich and the responsible.

It’s not that American leaders aren’t aware of the problems the world could face (although some on the right continue to deny they exist). As Nancy Roberts points out at Care2, “Up to one billion people could be displaced by rising sea levels this century.” To a certain extent, the United States is insulated from the impact of climate change. As this map, which ColorLines highlighted a few weeks ago, illustrates, America is not particularly vulnerable to the effects of climate change. But it’d be foolish for American leaders to ignore the security and economic implications wrought by the migration of one-sixth of the world’s population.

Reaction

But Washington has shown time after time that it is willing to look past problems until they become unavoidable. The consequences of that attitude have been devastating in recent years. The BP oil spill is only the most recent example. This week the Obama administration announced it would not open up new coastline areas in the southeastern U.S. for offshore oil drilling—a decision that came only after it became clear just how much havoc a drilling disaster could cause (and would likely cause again).

With climate change, however, the tons of carbon already in the atmosphere can’t be mopped up or “dispersed,” or forgotten, within months. The consequences will linger on, and by the time they become clear, it will be too late to act, and international negotiators won’t be talking about emission levels, but food, water, and refugee crises.

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.

 

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