Weekly Pulse: Bloomberg Shaking up Soda Pop with Politics

by Lindsay Beyerstein, Media Consortium blogger

New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg is asking the USDA to approve a pilot program that would prevent his city’s residents from buying sugar-sweetened soda with food stamps. Some have called the proposal paternalistic. However, at In These Times, Terry J. Allen argues that Bloomberg’s proposal makes sense.

Allen notes that New Yorkers may spend up to $135 million in food stamp benefits on sodas. Nationwide, the food stamp program funnels about $4 billion into the pockets of soda manufacturers. Sugary carbonated drinks are artificially profitable for Big Pop because they are sweetened with high-fructose corn syrup, a heavily subsidized by-product of our broken agricultural system.

There are already restrictions on what you can buy with food stamps. Nobody thinks it’s patronizing that alcohol is off-limits, even though alcoholic beverage are a potential source of calories. A little discussed benefit of ending the soda subsidy within the food stamp program would be the incentive it gives to small storekeepers in poor neighborhoods to devote less floor and refrigerator space to carbonated drinks and more room to real food. Many low income New Yorkers struggle to buy healthy food in their neighborhoods. Soda subsidies only make the “food desert” problem worse.

Impatient to die

Prisoners on Death Row in Texas spend 23 hours a day in solitary confinement. The death house in Texas is one of the most restrictive in the nation. Conditions are so bad that many inmates are actively looking forward to their execution day to put an end to the crushing isolation, Dave Mann reports in the Texas Observer. There is a growing consensus among psychiatrists that solitary confinement is a form of torture. Some experts, and many inmates, believe that solitary confinement is literally driving Texas death row inmates insane.

Daniel Lopez is in a hurry to die: “I don’t see no point in waiting 20 years for them to finally decide to execute me.” That’s the first thing he tells me when I sit down to interview him. We are seated in the Polunsky Unit’s visiting room. Lopez is encased in a small booth. We are separated by thick, soundproof glass and talk through phones. [...] [Lopez] says he has no desire to remain on death row. He says he’s looking forward to execution day. He doesn’t want to live much longer in his small cell. “I don’t think that’s a life for somebody,” he says.

Health reform and the courts

Suzy Khimm of Mother Jones takes a closer look a the legal challenges to health care reform. Republicans in Virginia have been given the green light to challenge the constitutionality of the individual mandate in court. In October, a U.S. District judge in Detroit refused to issue a preliminary injunction to stop the implementation of health care reform in Michigan. On Monday, a U.S. District judge in Lynchburg, VA, dismissed Liberty University’s anti-health reform lawsuit. Another Virginia judge says he will rule on a similar suit by the State Attorney General by the end of the year.

The current crop of politically motivated lawsuits challenging the individual mandate are legally tenuous at best. Aziz Huq wrote in The Nation: “Among constitutional scholars, the puzzle is not how the federal government can defend the new law, but why anyone thinks a constitutional challenge is even worth making.”

As Columbia law professor Gillian Metzger explained to Chris Hayes of The Nation earlier this year, the constitutionality of the individual mandate is basically a “no-brainer.” The way the Affordable Care Act is written, everyone who doesn’t have health insurance from some provider has two options: Buy subsidized health insurance or pay a tax. The federal government obviously has the right to collect taxes. The case is expected to go all the way to the Supreme Court, but it seems unlikely to prevail. The real fear is that a lower court will paralyze the implementation of health care reform while the decision is pending.

Crisis pregnancy center bill

Shakthi Jothianandan of Ms. Magazine has the latest on proposed legislation that would force so-called crisis pregnancy centers (CPCs) in New York City to disclose that they are not real reproductive health clinics. The New York City Council held a hearing on the proposed legislation in mid-November, which brought together officials from the Department of Mental Health and Hygiene, Planned Parenthood, Concerned Clergy for Choice and staff from CPCs around the city. The representatives for the CPCs claimed that the bill violates their free speech rights, but the head of the New York Civil Liberties Union testified that requiring organizations to disclose that they are not real health care facilities and don’t provide a full range of services does not infringe on any First Amendment right.

CeCe Heil, senior counsel with the Christian anti-abortion group American Center for Law and Justice, claimed the legislation was unnecessary because women are already smart enough to know that “abortion alternatives” means “alternatives to abortion.” Many of the CPCs have “life” in their name, which should signal to potential clients that they do not provide abortion or abortion referrals. But if it’s really so obvious that CPCs are just anti-choice ministries posing as reproductive health clinics, why oppose a law that simply requires all facilities to disclose the obvious?

Boehner meets with anti-choice extremist

Future Speaker of the House Rep. John Boehner (R-OH) met with anti-abortion extremist Randall Terry, as Miriam Perez of Feministing reports. Terry is the founder of the radical anti-choice group Operation Rescue, which has a long record of advocating violence against abortion providers. After Dr. George Tiller, one of the country’s last high-profile late-term abortion providers, was assassinated, Terry called Tiller a “mass murderer” who “horrifically, reaped what he sowed.”

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: A Progressive Deficit Fix?

by Lindsay Beyerstein, Media Consortium blogger

The co-chairs of the 18-member deficit commission issued a preliminary presentation two weeks ago that favored tax breaks for the wealthy and left open the possibility of deep cuts to Social Security, Medicare and other social programs. But there’s still time for the commission to radically reshape its message before it issues its final report.

Jan’s plan

That’s exactly what progressive Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-IL) is trying to bring about. Schakowsky is a member of the commission and she has an alternative, progressive plan to rein in the deficit, as David Moberg reports for Working in These Times:

It would not go into effect until 2015 or after unemployment subsides, and it provides for $200 billion of job-creating investments during the next two years, in addition to reducing the deficit by $441 billion in 2015, nearly double Obama’s target. Slightly more than a third of Schakowsky’s proposed deficit reduction would come from new revenue (mostly tax changes hitting the wealthy and corporations but also from cap-and-trade carbon emission controls), 30 percent from ending or reforming tax expenditures (again, mainly benefiting rich taxpayers), a quarter from defense cuts, and 9 percent from mandatory programs (like offering a public option for health insurance and requiring Medicare to bargain over drug prices). Though Social Security does not contribute to the deficit, Schakowsky plans to secure future payouts without benefit cuts by increasing how much the wealthy pay into the retirement program.

A public option for health insurance would keep rising health care costs in check because insurers would have to compete with non-profit, government-administered insurance. Instead of cutting Social Security benefits for the needy, Schakowsky would simply eliminate the arbitrary payroll tax ceiling on high earners. Sounds like common sense, doesn’t it?

A coalition of progressive groups calling itself Our Fiscal Security unveiled its own alternative proposal for cutting the deficit on Monday, Luke Johnson reports for the Colorado Independent. Key planks of the platform include repealing the Bush tax cuts, reinstating the estate tax for married couples with assets greater than $4 million, and capping itemized deductions at 15%. Coalition members include Demos, the Century Foundation, and the Economic Policy Foundation.

Generation Recession

Young adults have the highest unemployment rate of any demographic. At the National Radio Project, Rina Palta examines the impact of joblessness on the nation’s 80 million “Millennials.” (Audio) Palta talks to young people who are weathering their first layoffs mere weeks or months after landing their first professional jobs.

Mark Kirk: Tax Cuts for the Rich “No Matter What”

The day before 2.5 million Americans stand to lose their unemployment benefits, Sen. Mark Kirk (R-IL) went on TV to insist that unemployment insurance is misguided and that the government must cut taxes for the rich “no matter what,” Julianne Escobedo Shepherd reports in AlterNet.

Oddly enough, Kirk fancies himself a moderate by Republican standards, according to Steve Benen of the Washington Monthly. Kirk believes that extending unemployment insurance would “just add to the deficit.” In fact, as Benen notes, extending unemployment benefits would be a very efficient way to infuse billions of dollars into the economy. Unemployed people will spend their extended benefits on food, gas, rent, and other necessities. That money doesn’t just disappear into the ether, it feeds local businesses, who in turn keep other Americans working.

The Republican Party line is that the rich need tax cuts because they create jobs. If tax cuts for the rich created jobs, we should already have a full employment economy. As the Bush tax cuts are set to expire, taxes for the rich are at all time lows and unemployment is at historic highs. It is crazy to assume that allowing these tax cuts to continue will magically produce jobs that have yet to materialize, or even bring back the jobs that have disappeared since the Bush tax cuts went into effect.

Ireland’s Billion Dollar Bailout

Over the weekend, the world’s financial institutions agreed to spend $90 billion to bail out Ireland. Tim Fernholz of TAPPED worries that this sum is too small to bring Ireland back from the brink of its sovereign debt crisis. He argues that the world financial community is making the same mistake it made in the 1990s when it forced debtor nations into fiscal austerity without forcing creditor nations to restructure their loans on more sustainable terms.

Once again, bondholders are being spared while Irish taxpayers are being expected to shoulder the heaviest burdens. The economic argument for saving the bondholders is that a bond is an ironclad promise, and that if you start expecting bondholders to accept less than 100% of what was promised to them (no matter how ill-advised they were to take that promise), the entire system will fall apart. It’s ironic that the promises that governments make to their citizens are endlessly renegotiable while bond deals are ironclad. Worldwide, citizens outnumber bondholders. Having citizens lose faith in their government seems far more dangerous than expecting bondholders to take a haircut.

 

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: How to Avoid Gobbling Your Way Through the Holidays

Editor’s Note: Happy Thanksgiving from the Media Consortium! This week, we aren’t stopping The Audit, The Pulse, The Diaspora, or The Mulch, but we are taking a bit of a break. Expect shorter blog posts, and The Diaspora and The Mulch will be posted on Wednesday afternoon, instead of their usual Thursday and Friday postings. We’ll return to our normal schedule next week.

by Sarah Laskow, Media Consortium Blogger

Tomorrow marks the day that, as a nation, we put aside our usual habits and begin a weeks-long push to eat, buy, and generally consume as much as possible in the spirit of the holiday season. Thanksgiving and Black Friday are only the first sprint, the gateway to latkes, holiday party hors d’oeuvres, Secret Santa shopping, and party-dress buying that will culminate in a hangover after a booze-soaked New Year’s Eve.

There’s really no escape, and to some extent, who would want to miss out? (Cranberry sauce! Christmas cookies!) But it’s not exactly a sustainable lifestyle, even for six weeks. Here are some guideposts to help light the way through.

Turkey trouble

A sad fact about commercially raised turkeys: Even the ones pardoned by the President are destined to live short lives. As Jill Richardson writes at AlterNet, “The Broad-Breasted Whites who receive presidential pardons have gone to Disneyland to peacefully live out the remainder of their lives since 2005, but as of last Thanksgiving, half of the pardoned turkeys did not survive long enough to celebrate a second Thanksgiving.”

It’s not news that commercial methods of raising poultry give rise to creatures that are more fit to die than to live. So think about buying a heritage bird this year.

Or, go veggie! Carol Deppe’s ode to potatoes, also at AlterNet, is enough to convince the most hardened meat-eater that tubers are one of the best ways to thrive. For a little more diversity of Thanksgiving-specific options, peruse this New York Times gallery which has veggie options good enough to make meat-eaters jealous.

But wait, there’s more!

  • In the past few weeks, reusable grocery bags have been tarred as germ-incubators. But before leaving canvas bags behind for epic Thanksgiving grocery runs, consider where those reports originated. As Jessica Belsky writes at Change.org:

Earlier this year, the ACC [American Chemistry Council]—which represents such upstanding citizens as Exxon and Chevron—paid for a study that concluded that unwashed reusable bags can be contaminated with bacteria. Let’s remember that these are the same folks who recently lobbied to keep the hormone-disrupting chemical bisphenol-A (BPA) in baby bottles. Big Plastic is using fear-mongering tactics to get health-conscious environmentalists to switch back to disposable, single-use plastic grocery bags.

Plus, there’s a simple solution to germy bags: wash them.

Want to enjoy a real savings stampede? Consider celebrating Buy Nothing Day. Enjoy a day without buying. Give your cash and credit cards a day off with you. Store them in the refrigerator next to your Thanksgiving leftovers. Trade, barter, and share. Enjoy the luxury of living the money-free life for a day.

Of course, Christmas and Hanukkah presents have to bought at some point. Here are two green-friendly gift ideas: via Earth Focus, Fate of the World, a video game that challenges players to save the world from climate change; or via Care2, for those of us who must drive a car and have cash to burn, a Porsche. Apparently every single model will soon be available as a hybrid.

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.

 

 

The Weekly Pulse: Michael Pollan’s Rules for Thanksgiving, Plus Whole Foods’ Healthcare Lies

Editor’s Note: Happy Thanksgiving from the Media Consortium! This week, we aren’t stopping The Audit, The Pulse, The Diaspora, or The Mulch, but we are taking a bit of a break. Expect shorter blog posts, and The Diaspora and The Mulch will be posted on Wednesday afternoon, instead of their usual Thursday and Friday postings. We’ll return to our normal schedule next week.

by Lindsay Beyerstein, Media Consortium blogger

Wednesday is the heaviest travel day of the year in the United States, as millions of Americans head home to celebrate Thanksgiving. Some of you are probably reading this dispatch on PDAs as you wait in an interminable line at airport security. Here’s some food for thought.

At Grist, food writer Michael Pollan officially declares himself a Rules Guy. Don’t worry, that doesn’t mean he won’t accept a Friday dinner invitation offered after noon on Wednesday. Pollan thinks that our healthy eating skills are passed down to us as part of food culture. In this era of drive-through windows and meal replacement bars, a lot of the old wisdom is falling by the wayside and Americans are finding themselves adrift in a sea of calories. On the eve of Thanksgiving, Pollan provides some helpful guidelines for avoiding the food coma:

[M]any ethnic traditions have their own memorable expressions for what amounts to the same recommendation. Many cultures, for examples, have grappled with the problem of food abundance and come up with different ways of proposing we stop eating before we’re completely full: the Japanese say “hara hachi bu” (“Eat until you are 4/5 full”); Germans advise eaters to “tie off the sack before it’s full.” And the prophet Mohammed recommended that a full belly should contain one-third food, one-third drink, and one-third air. My own Russian-Jewish grandfather used to say at the end of every meal, “I always like to leave the table a little bit hungry.”

But wait, there’s more!

  • Unions representing airline pilots and flight attendants are advising their members to avoid the the TSA’s new backscatter x-ray scans because of concerns about the long-term health effects of x-ray radiation. Crew members who refused scans have been subjected to new “enhanced” pat-down searches. This week, the TSA granted an exception to pilots, but not to flight attendants. As I reported for Working In These Times, all crew members go through the same FBI background check and fingerprinting process. “Don’t touch my junk!” has become a rallying cry for passengers, particularly white men, who are not accustomed to being asked to give up any part of their body’s autonomy for the greater good. Is it a coincidence that 95% of pilots are men and three-quarters of flight attendants are women? [Update: The TSA has relented. The agency announced Tuesday that flight attendants will now get the same exemption as pilots.]
  • Adam Serwer argues in The American Prospect that it’s easy to demand tough security measures when the presumed targets are faceless Muslims in a distant country. When air travelers are asked to compromise their own privacy in the name of security, the tradeoff suddenly seems very different.
  • Employee health insurance deductibles are skyrocketing at Whole Foods and CEO John Mackey is trying to blame the increase on health care reform. “This is very important for everyone to understand: 100% of the increases in deductibles and out-of-pocket maximums in 2011 compared to 2010 are due to new federal mandates and regulations,” Mackey wrote in a corporate memo. In fact, as Josh Harkinson reports in Mother Jones, Mackey’s memo is pure, organic BS. The provisions in the Affordable Care Act that might increase costs won’t go into effect until 2014, so it’s hard to figure out how federal policies could be responsible. Health insurance costs were rising by about 5% per year, year after year, before the Affordable Care Act passed. The truth is that health insurance is getting more expensive because health care is getting more expensive. As Harkinson points out, one of the reasons that health care is getting more expensive is because corporations like Whole Foods are pushing more of their employees into part-time work to avoid covering them. Of course, when those workers get sick, someone has to pick up the cost of their care. So those who have insurance, including some of Whole Foods’ own employees, have to pay more to make up the difference.

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

 

 

Weekly Diaspora: The DREAM Act is Back—and So Are the Death Eaters

Editor’s Note: Happy Thanksgiving from the Media Consortium! This week, we aren’t stopping The Audit, The Pulse, The Diaspora, or The Mulch, but we are taking a bit of a break. Expect shorter blog posts, and The Diaspora and The Mulch will be posted on Wednesday afternoon, instead of their usual Thursday and Friday postings. We’ll return to our normal schedule next week.

by Catherine A. Traywick, Media Consortium blogger

With the DREAM Act back on the table—and a vote likely early next week—advocates of the bill have precious little time to sway undecided senators. Accordingly, a determined movement of DREAMers will be mobilizing through the Thanksgiving recess, urging the passage of a bill that would provide a path to citizenship for scores of undocumented college students and military recruits.  

Catalina Jaramillo at Feet in Two Worlds notes that the bill is in remarkably good shape leading up to the congressional session that will decide its fate. In addition to boasting strong bipartisan support, it’s benefiting from the renewed attentions of both Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (R-NV). It appears the road-weary bill is nearing its pivotal moment.

In celebration of that, here are a few ways to make the DREAM Act part of your holiday festivities:

  • For those of you who want to spend the Thanksgiving break supporting the cause, Braden Goyette at Campus Progress has a list of senators on the fence, as well as some pretty good reasons that you should count the DREAM Act’s imminent passage among your blessings this year. Noting that the bill is already supported by 70 percent of Americans, she adds that “passing the DREAM Act will generate $3.6 trillion for the U.S. economy over the next forty years” by bringing millions of upstanding, talented youth into the nation’s workforce.
  • Enlightened moviegoers planning to watch Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part I after holiday dinner this week may notice some eerie similarities between the Ministry of Magic’s vitriolic anti-muggle rhetoric and real life anti-immigrant discourse. Well, New America Media’s Sandip Roy takes that “coincidence” to the next logical level—suggesting that Harry Potter and his heroic underage cohort are doing what DREAM Act kids have been doing for years: taking a dark battle for human rights into their own young hands.
  • Finally, if you’re interested in learning more about the socio-historical aspects of the anti-immigrant political climate, Roberto Cintli Rodriguez, writing for Truthout, has a few suggestions for your holiday wishlist. “A Decade of Betrayal” by Francisco Balderrama and Raymond Rodriguez is a particularly useful reminder that, just as immigrant community leaders were unjustly persecuted  during times of economic crisis a century ago, so are the families of outspoken DREAM activists increasingly the target of federal immigration investigations.

Though not writing about Thanksgiving in particular, Rodriguez’s conclusion is nevertheless appropriate for a holiday with such a dark past. Referring to the raging immigration crisis, he writes: “Politically, this is all about the clash of civilizations; one civilization indigenous to this continent, the other seemingly hell-bent on continuing the policies of manifest destiny.”

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

Weekly Audit: Millions of Americans Could Lose Unemployment Benefits

Editor’s Note: Happy Thanksgiving from the Media Consortium! This week, we aren’t stopping The Audit, The Pulse, The Diaspora, or The Mulch, but we are taking a bit of a break. Expect shorter blog posts, and The Diaspora and The Mulch will be posted on Wednesday afternoon, instead of their usual Thursday and Friday postings. We’ll return to our normal schedule next week.

by Lindsay Beyerstein, Media Consortium blogger

According to official statistics, nearly 15 million Americans are unemployed. Between 2 and 4 million of them are expected to exhaust their state unemployment insurance benefits between now and May. Historically, during times of high unemployment, Congress provides extra cash to extend the benefits. Congress has never failed to do so when unemployment is above 7.2%. Today’s unemployment rate is above 9% and the lame duck session of Congress has so far failed to extend the benefits.

Congress has until November 30 to renew two federal programs to extend unemployment benefits, as David Moberg reports for Working In These Times. Last week, a bill to extend benefits for an additional three months failed to garner the two-thirds majority it needed to pass in the House. The House will probably take up the issue again this session, possibly for a one-year extension, but as Moberg notes, it’s unclear how the bill will fare in the Senate. The implications are dire, as Moberg notes:

The result? Not just huge personal and familial hardships that scars the lives of young and old both economically and psychologically for years to come.  But failure to renew extended benefits would also slow the recovery, raise unemployment, and deepen the fiscal crises of state and federal governments.

But wait! There’s more:

  • The Paycheck Fairness Act died in the Senate last week, as Denise DiStephan reports in The Nation. The bill would have updated the 1963 Equal Pay Act to close loopholes and protect employees against employer retaliation for discussing wages. All Republican senators and Nebraska Democrat Ben Nelson voted not to bring the bill to the floor, killing the legislation for this session of Congress. The House already passed its version of the bill in 2009 and President Barack Obama had pledged to sign it.
  • Economist Dean Baker talks with Laura Flanders of GritTV about quantitative easing (a.k.a. the Fed printing more money) and the draft proposal from the co-chairs of the deficit commission. Baker argues that we’re facing an unemployment crisis, not a deficit crisis.
  • Charles Ferguson’s documentary “Inside Job” is a must-see, according to Matthew Rothschild of The Progressive. An examination of how Wall Street devastated the U.S. economy, the film details the reckless speculation in housing derivatives, enabled by crooked credit rating schemes, that brought the entire financial system to the brink of collapse. The film is narrated by Brad Pitt and features appearances by former Governor and anti-Wall Street corruption crusader Eliot Spitzer, financier George Soros, and Prof. Nouriel Roubini, the New York University economist who predicted the collapse of the housing bubble.

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 Diaspora: Arizona’s SB 1070 Takes Nativist Fever Nationwide

by Catherine A. Traywick, Media Consortium blogger

While Arizona’s draconian anti-immigrant law, SB 1070, was far from the first controversial immigration measure of its kind, it stands out as a hallmark of increasingly visible nativist sentiment. Numerous legal challenges and a federal injunction notwithstanding, the measure continues to inspire copycat legislation and attract millions in donations. Even as Arizona’s legislature attempts to outdo itself by pushing increasingly outrageous bills, as Care2 reports, SB 1070 remains center stage.

Perhaps one reason that the measure has gained such traction across the country is that its crafters have been unequivocal about both their intent and the law’s objective: Attrition through enforcement.

“That’s a fancy way of saying it’s public policy aimed at making the lives of immigrants so miserable that they leave on their own accord,” explained community organizer Marisa Franco on Making Contact, a National Radio Project program. Andrea Christina Mercado, organizing director of Mujeres Unidas Activas and another guest on this week’s show, added that the “attrition through enforcement” strategy exemplified by SB 1070 centers on three pernicious tactics:

“…One is to close off all possibility for economic survival, the second part is to deny access to justice for migrants, making it harder and harder to place a wage claim or a police report, and the third is to normalize mistreatment through rituals of humiliation and hateful language.”

SB 1070: coming to a state near you!

While reprehensible to immigrant rights advocates, the “attrition through enforcement” approach to the immigration “problem” is refreshing to immigration hawks. The strategy’s unabashed method of self-evicting undocumented migrants through calculated marginalization is the kind of tough, no-nonsense policy that hardliners appreciate. Consequently, similar measures have spread like wildfire across states and municipalities. That such laws directly defy federal immigration policy goals seems only to increase their popularity among immigration hardliners.

Case in point: The incoming wave of newly elected, anti-immigrant governors pushing for SB 1070 copycat laws. As Braden Goyette reports at Campus Progress, governors-elect in Georgia, Florida, Nebraska, Mississippi, South Carolina, Wisconsin and Oklahoma hope to follow in Arizona’s footsteps. Nebraska’s Dave Heineman (R) explicitly campaigned on that hope, and Georgia’s Nathan Deal (R) plans to push for a copycat law as soon as January 2011.

State legislators are moving quickly on similar laws as well. Most recently, Texas State Rep. Debbie Riddle (R) filed a spate of anti-immigration legislation in advance of the 2011 legislative session. According to Change.org’s Prerna Lal, Riddle’s bills would collectively limit immigrants’ access to public education, intensify the penalties for being undocumented in the state, and even prevent undocumented persons from driving there. In total, the proposed measures embody the attrition-through-enforcement philosophy by attempting to make it impossible for undocumented immigrants to live in the state with any measure of quality of life.

Setting the stage for anti-immigrant laws

The attrition-through-enforcement strategy is contagious. But, as ColorLines’ Seth Freed Wessler points out, infection follows a predictable pattern. Citing a recent Migration Policy Institute study, Wessler explains that anti-immigrant laws tend to pop up in largely homogeneous white communities that experience an increase in the population of immigrants. The actual size of the immigrant population doesn’t seem to matter, and the study found that crime rates are equally irrelevant (and have no correlation to rates of immigration). The only thing that does matter is growth, however small.

It’s important to note that in largely homogeneous communities, which generally tend to be segregated along ethnic lines anyway, small fluctuations in minority populations aren’t glaringly evident to most residents. Growth among immigrant populations doesn’t immediately or spontaneously spark nativist sentiment. In most cases, that growth is noted by incendiary elites, who then repackage and sell it back to the larger community as an “immigration problem.” In Wessler’s words:

Crime is not actually higher because of immigration but individual incidents of crime, or the presence of day laborers on street corners, are used as animating tools by restrictionist groups. Support for the resolutions are drummed up by local politicians and demagogues, as well as national groups that often play a role in drafting the bills, who concoct a narrative about dangerous criminal immigrants.

As I’ve written before, anti-immigrant sentiment is driven by the fear that, as immigrant communities grow larger and more economically competitive, their increasing political power will threaten the status quo. And so politicos feed the immigrant-as-criminal narrative to their communities, bit by bit, eventually passing pernicious laws intended to self-evict the threat.

Thus far, 107 communities have passed anti-immigrant laws in the last 10 years, the bulk of them since 2006, when heightened discourse on immigration reform motivated anti-immigrant groups to redouble their efforts. A few years later, Arizona state senator Russell Pearce (R) teamed up with Kris Kobach—a lawyer for FAIR, the most powerful anti-immigrant group in the nation—to draft SB 1070 which has now unleashed a new wave of oppressive immigration laws.

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: The New Hunger Epidemic, Making CPCs Come Clean, and Smoking Hipsters

by Lindsay Beyerstein, Media Consortium blogger

As some Americans obsess over whether to brine or deep-fry their Thanksgiving turkeys, others are going hungry. Seth Freed Wessler reports for ColorLines that 50 million Americans went hungry in 2009, according to the latest figures from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Astonishingly, more than 36% of female-headed households suffered from food insecurity last year, in spite of a massive expansion of federal food stamp benefits as part of the economic stimulus. Forty-two million families received food stamps last year, 10 million more than the year before. Congress gutted the food stamp program this summer. If something isn’t done, families of four will lose $59 a month in food stamp benefits at the end of 2014. At the time of the cuts, House Democrats promised to restore food stamp benefits during the lame duck session of Congress, but Freed notes there’s been little sign recently that they plan to follow through on the promise.

Making Crisis Pregnancy Centers come clean

The New York City Council is preparing to vote on the legislation to force so-called “crisis pregnancy centers” (CPCs) to disclose that they are not health care facilities and that they do not provide birth control or abortions. CPCs are anti-choice ministries that deliberately mimic abortion clinics in order to trick women who might be seeking abortions. It’s all a ruse to bombard these women with false information about abortion under the guise of health care. As we discussed last week in the Pulse, CPCs also serve as incubators for more extreme forms of anti-choice activism, from clinic obstruction to violence.

In RH Reality Check, Dr. Lynette Leighton explains why she supports New York City’s proposed bill to require so-called “crisis pregnancy centers” to disclose that they aren’t real clinics staffed by health care providers:

As a family physician, I provide comprehensive health care for all of my patients, including safe abortions for women who decide to end a pregnancy. I’ve cared for many women who came to me in crisis when they learned they were pregnant. The last thing my patients need is to be misled by anti-abortion organizations masquerading as health clinics. I’m strongly in favor of the New York City bill requiring crisis pregnancy centers to disclose that they do not provide abortions or contraception, or offer referrals for these services.

New York CPCs are claiming that the requirement to disclose violates their freedom of speech, Robin Marty notes in RH Reality Check. In other words, they are claiming a First Amendment right to bait and switch. The executive director of the New York Civil Liberties Union (NYCLU) is scheduled to testify before the City Council that the free speech claim is baseless.

See you in court!

In other reproductive rights news, the Center for Reproductive Rights took the FDA to court on Tuesday over access to the morning after pill. The FDA has been ignoring a court order to make emergency contraception available over the counter to women of all ages, and the Center is going to court to spur the agency to comply, Vanessa Valenti reports for Feministing.

Look at this smokin’ hipster

Tobacco giant R.J. Reynolds is courting hipsters with a new “Williamsburg” cigarette, Brie Cadman reports for Change.org. “[Smoking Camels is] about last call, a sloppy kiss goodbye and a solo saunter to a rock show in an abandoned building… It’s where a tree grows,” according to the online ad copy. Mmm, kissing smokers.

It’s all part of an online marketing campaign in which users are invited to guess where brand mascot Joe Camel will show up next week. Interestingly, the contest’s name is “Break Free Adventure,” a twist on the Camel brand’s “Break Free” tagline. Odd that they’d pick a slogan usually associated with quitting smoking, rather than feeding the addiction. Those hipsters sure love irony.

Blowing the whistle on health insurers

On Democracy Now!, health insurance executive turned whistleblower Wendell Potter predicts that the Republicans will back off their grandiose campaign promises to repeal health care reform and instead try to dismantle the bill’s provisions that protect consumers. Potter notes that health insurers are major Republican donors, and that parts of the law are very good for insurers, notably the mandate forcing everyone to buy health insurance.

Apparently, some true believers haven’t gotten the memo. Steve Benen of the Washington Monthly notes that some Republican members of Congress are still gunning to shut down the government over health care reform and other spending.

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: Curbing the Deficit, Cat Food, and You

by Lindsay Beyerstein, Media Consortium blogger

The deficit commission released its much anticipated list of helpful money-saving tips for the federal government last week. These tips include tax cuts for the rich, reducing unnecessary printing costs, and cutting the jobs of federal contractors.

The recommendations are more like a menu than a program. As Mark Schmitt of The American Prospect notes, there’s no coherent vision, just a list of possible tax increases and program cuts with projected savings attached.

The commission was dubbed the Cat Food Commission by critics who see the project as an attempt by the Obama administration to provide political cover to gut Social Security, thereby forcing the elderly to subsist on cat food.

Officially, the commission is charged with making suggestions to balance the budget by 2015. Kevin Drum of Mother Jones is surprised at the hype the presentation has attracted, considering that it’s not a piece of legislation, or even proposed legislation, or even the actual report by the deficit commission, but rather a draft presentation by “two guys in a room” (co-chairs former Sen. Alan Simpson (R-WY) and Erskine Bowles).

Hope is not a plan

Drum has trouble taking the draft seriously because its main focus is cutting discretionary spending, which according to the Congressional Budget Office, only accounts for about 10% of our projected deficit. The secondary focus of the report is Social Security, which only accounts for a small share of the projected deficit, and moreover, is easily fixable with very small tax increases and tiny decreases in benefits phased in over a long period of time.

Rising health care costs account for the lion’s share of our projected deficit, but as Drum notes, the draft doesn’t get into detail about how to contain those costs, the authors simply stress that someone had better get on that. No kidding. The authors assert that that the government should never take in more than 21% of GDP in total taxes. Drum dismisses this suggestion as completely unrealistic seeing as the authors have no plan to slow the growth of health care costs.

Note to workers: “Drop dead”

Roger Bybee of Working In These Times takes aim at the presentation’s suggestion to cut taxes on the rich. The deficit chairmen urge legislators to cut the top tax rate from 35% to 23%, which as Bybee notes, would actually add to the deficit. The presentation also favors cutting corporate taxes and taxes on American expatriates. Hardly deficit-friendly stuff. Bybee argues that the real goal of this commission is to deflate public expectations about the role of government:

This draft report was thus not about slicing the deficit, but shrinking those portions of the government on which the poor and working class depend and shoveling new benefits to corporations and wealthy, at a time when the richest 1% already rakes in 23.5% of all U.S. income.

According to AFL-CIO head Richard Trumka, whom Bybee quotes, the message to the American worker is: “Drop dead.”

Gawker vs. the Cat Food Commission

Astute commenters at the media gossip blog Gawker discovered, via a New York Times interactive feature, that the entire problem could be solved by rolling back the Bush tax cuts and ending foreign wars. John Tomasic of the Colorado Independent explains how they did it:

The Gawkers simply let the non-job-making Bush tax cuts expire (because they were never meant to be permanent and because most Americans don’t want them extended) and they ended Bush’s (now Obama’s) overseas military adventures, which cost more money every week ($2 billion!) than the Rolling Stones have made in the last forty years, our contemporary version of the Cold War space race taking place not in space but in Afghanistan and Iraq, where the United States is racing only against itself to borrow and spend as much money as possible every single day– almost none of that money spent on the troops who come home wounded and sad and totally screwed up.

Nine out of ten grandmas prefer the fiscal policies of the Clinton administration to Meow Mix.

Extending unemployment = Jobs

Ed Brayton of the Michigan Messenger argues that extending long term unemployment insurance benefits would benefit the economy to the tune of half a million jobs. The unemployed still have to eat. Their children still need shoes. If unemployment benefits are extended, the unemployed will spend their benefits quickly in order to live, which is exactly what an economic stimulus is designed to do. Grocery stores and shoe stores employ people. Checkers and shoe salesmen also spend their wages in their communities, thereby sustaining the jobs of still more people.

Pension plan bets green on green

Investing in green jobs is sound economic policy, but governments can’t do it alone. The private sector has to help finance the greening of our economy, too. One California pension plan is stepping up and betting big, investing $500 million on green projects, according to Mikhail Zinshteyn of Campus Progress. The California Public Employees’ Retirement System (CalPERS) has a green portfolio worth $2.5 billion, which it has amassed since 2006. CalPERS is betting that low carbon energy programs and other clean energy initiatives will be a lucrative place to park their members’ money.

Hopefully, these investments will also benefit the economy in the short term by creating jobs, including jobs for some California public employees. However, some analysts are skeptical that these investments will yield the handsome dividends that CalPERS analysts are projecting.

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: For Cancun Climate Summit, Activists Consider the Long View

by Sarah Laskow, Media Consortium Blogger

A year ago, it seemed possible—likely, even—that President Barack Obama would sweep into the international negotiations on climate change at Copenhagen and make serious progress on the tangle of issues at stake. The reality was quite different. This year, the expectations for the United Nations Climate Conference in Cancun are less exuberant.

The conference will be held from Nov 29 to Dec 10 and the same issues from 2009 are up for debate. Countries like the United States, Britain, and Germany are still contributing an outsize share of carbon to the atmosphere. Countries like India and China are still rapidly increasing their own carbon output. And countries like Bangladesh, Tuvalu, and Bolivia are still bearing an unfair share of the environmental impacts brought on by climate change.

A very different set of expectations are building in the climate movement this year. If last year was about moving forward as fast as possible, this year, climate activists seem resigned to the idea that politicians just aren’t getting it. Change, when it comes, will have to be be built on a popular movement, not a political negotiation.

Climate change from the bottom up

Last year, climate activists put their faith in international leaders to make progress. This year, they believe that it’s up to them, as outside actors, to marshal a grassroots movement and pressure their leaders towards decreased carbon emissions.

“There’s a recognition that the insider strategy to push from inside the Beltway to impact what will happen in DC, or what will happen in Cancun has really not succeeded,” Rose Braz, climate campaign director at the Center for Biological Diversity, told Making Contact’s Andrew Stelzer. “What we’re doing in conjunction with a number of groups across the country and across the world is really build the type of movement that will change what happens in Cancun, what changes what happens in DC from the bottom up.” (This entire episode of Making Contact is dedicated to new approaches to climate change, at Cancun and beyond, and is worth a listen.)

Fighting the indolence of capitalists

Here’s one example of this new strategy: as Zachary Shahan writes at Change.org, La Via Campesina, an international peasant movement, is coordinating a march that will begin in San Luis Potosi, Guadalajara, Acapulco, Oaxaca, and Chiapas, then converge on Cancun. The march will include “thousands of farmers, indigenous people, rural villagers, urbanites, and more,” Shahan reports.

After they arrive in Cancun, the organizers are planning an “Alternative Global Forum for Life and Environmental and Social Justice” for the final days of the negotiations, which they say will be a mass mobilisation of peasants, indigenous and social movements. The action extends far beyond Cancun, though. Actually, they are organizing thousands of Cancuns around the world on this day to denounce what they see as false climate solutions.

These actions echo the strategy that environmentalist and author Bill McKibben and other climate leaders are promoting to push for climate change policies in the U.S. All this talk about building momentum from the bottom up, from populations, means that anyone looking for change is now looking years into the future.

The U.S. is not leading the way

Of course, ultimately, politicians will need to agree on a couple of standards. In particular, how much carbon each country should be emitting and how fast each country should power down its current emission levels. The U.S. is one of the biggest stumbling blocks to agreement on these questions, especially due to the recent mid-term elections. As Claudia Salerno, Venezuela’s lead climate change negotiator wrote at AlterNet:

Unlike what many suggest, China is not the problem. China, along with India and others, have made considerable commitments to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and are already working to realize them. Other developing countries have done the same, although we only generate a virtual drop in the bucket of global carbon emissions. The key player missing here is the U.S.

China, the U.S. and Clean Coal

The most interesting collaborations on clean energy, however, aren’t happening around the negotiating table. This week, The Atlantic’s James Fallows wrote a long piece about the work that the U.S. and China are doing together on clean coal technology, the magic cure-all to the world’s energy ills.

In the piece, Fallows recognizes what environmentalists have long argued: coal is bad for the environment and for coal-mining communities. But, unlike clean energy advocates who want to phase coal out of the energy equation, Fallows argues that coal must play a part in the world’s energy future. Therefore, we must find a way to burn it without releasing clouds of carbon into the atmosphere. That’s where clean coal technology comes in. So far, however, researchers have had little luck minimizing coal’s carbon output.

A few progressive writers weighed in on Fallows’ piece: Grist’s David Roberts thought Fallows was too hard on the anti-coal camp, while Campus Progress’ Sara Rubin argued that the piece did a good job of grappling with the reality of clean energy economics. And Mother Jones‘ Kevin Drum had one very clear criticism—that the piece skated over the question of progress on carbon capture, the one real way to dramatically reduce carbon pollution from coal. He wrote:

All the collaboration sounds wonderful, and even a 20% or 30% improvement in coal technology would be welcome. But that said, sequestration is the holy grail and I still don’t know if the Chinese are doing anything more on that front than the rest of us.

On every front, then, the view on climate change is now a long one.

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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