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Weekly Pulse: Nun Excommunicated for Approving Lifesaving Abortion

9:00 am in Health care, Media by TheMediaConsortium

by Lindsay Beyerstein, Media Consortium blogger

A nun in Phoenix, Arizona was excommunicated for approving a lifesaving abortion. Sister Margaret McBride‘s role in the sacramental life of the Catholic Church came to an abrupt end after she approved an therapeutic abortion at St. Joseph’s Hospital Medical Center, Robin Marty of RH Reality Check reports. She was swiftly transferred to another job at the hospital.

The woman was 11 weeks’ pregnant when she developed a life threatening case of pulmonary hypertension according to Ms. Magazine. Sr. McBride approved the procedure after consulting with the patient, her family, and the hospital’s ethics committee, but the local bishop excommunicated her anyway.

Sr. McBride’s excommunication is the latest salvo in a national battle over access to reproductive health care in Catholic hospitals. Between a fifth and a third of all hospital beds in the United States are administered by the Catholic Church. Catholic hospitals provide health care services to the community at large and often receive public funding—but they are not required to offer treatments that conflict with their religious teachings.

Excommuniqué

Rev. Thomas J. Olmsted, Bishop of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Phoenix wrote in a statement, ""If a Catholic formally cooperates in the procurement of an abortion, they are automatically excommunicated by that action." Note that the Catholic Church doesn’t automatically excommunicate priests who sexually abuse children.

"We always must remember that when a difficult medical situation involves a pregnant woman, there are two patients in need of treatment and care; not merely one. The unborn child’s life is just as sacred as the mother’s life, and neither life can be preferred over the other," the bishop wrote.

This wasn’t even a choice between the life of the mother and the life of the fetus. An 11-week-old fetus is not viable. If the mother dies, the fetus dies with her. Evidently Bishop Olmestead would rather have seen the woman and the fetus die instead of saving the woman. How pro life.

Radical, even by Catholic standards

Amelia Thomson DeVeaux notes at Care2 that the bishop’s position is radical even by Catholic standards:

[N]ow, a dangerous precendent seems to have been established by Olmsted’s actions. Olmsted himself is extremely conservative, even by Vatican standards, and has been a strong critic of Obama. But [bioethicist Jacob Appel] claims that this is not really about Olmsted – instead, the decision is reflective of a general trend in Catholic heathcare. Competent adult women, Appel suggests, are no longer allowed to make their own decisions in Catholic hospitals, which comprise approximately 1/3 of medical services in the country.

Liliana Loofbourow passionately rebukes the bishop on the Ms. Magazine blog, "Catholics like Sister Margaret McBride are a ray of hope in the darkness. However, she is not a Catholic anymore. And as of this writing, neither am I."

During the health care reform debate, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops flexed its political muscle to ensure maximally restrictive rules on abortion coverage for everyone. Reproductive rights groups fear that access to basic reproductive health care, and even lifesaving medical treatment in Catholic hospitals will be an ongoing point of contention.

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: Why the Senate Climate Bill is Doomed

8:11 am in Media by TheMediaConsortium

Weekly Mulch: Why the Senate Climate Bill is Doomed

by Sarah Laskow, Media Consortium blogger

Sen. John Kerry (D-MA) and Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-CT), though down one man, finally released their stab at climate legislation this week. One of the most crucial sections in the bill covers off-shore oil drilling, an issue that was supposed to help solve the tricky math of reaching 60 votes. But since the Deepwater Horizon rig sank in the Gulf of Mexico, drilling has become a wedge issue.

Just a few weeks ago, off-shore drilling could have been a point of compromise around which Senators could rally votes to pass the climate bill; now the bill had to strike a new balance to mollify both potential allies who oppose drilling, like Sen. Robert Menendez (D-NJ), and those who support drilling, like Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-LA). The draft that Sen. Kerry and Sen. Lieberman released this week allows for expanded drilling but gives states veto power over new projects.

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC), who worked on the bill, said that he had not seen the changes his two colleagues had made since he dropped out of the drafting process—but he looked forward to reviewing their work. Although Sen. Kerry says he thinks the bill can pass, without support from Sen. Graham or another Republican, chances are slim.

Next steps

Now that the two Senators have released the bill, the only work that remains is to pass it.

“I think climate change legislation is dead,” writes Kevin Drum at Mother Jones. His explanation:

“There’s not enough time for a bill to go through the committee process, get passed by the Senate, sent to conference, amended, and then passed by the full Congress before the midterms, and after the midterms Democrats will probably be reduced to 53 or 54 members in the Senate.”

Not everyone agrees that the bill’s chance are so dire, though.

“I think the chances are roughly as good as they’ve ever been in the Senate: low but non-trivial,” says Grist’s David Roberts.

Kerry’s argument

But should green-minded politicos root for the bill’s passage at all? Sen. Kerry and Sen. Lieberman worked closely with energy companies while drafting the bill, and the resulting legislation balances the need to reduce carbon emissions with the interests of prime polluters. The bill includes incentives for old energy industries like coal and natural gas, for instance, and exempts farmers from carbon caps.

On Wednesday, Sen. Kerry made his case to left-leaning environmentalists. “A comprehensive climate bill written purely for you and me — true believers — can’t pass the Senate no matter how hard or passionate I fight on it,” he wrote for Grist. The bill they have, he wrote, can pass, and that victory outweighs the compromises in the legislation.

Responses from the left

On Democracy Now!, Phil Radford, the executive director of GreenPeace USA, said that most environmental groups have given the bill little more than a “tepid endorsement.” Radford squared off on the show with Joseph Romm of the Center for American Progress, who supports the bill.

“This will be the first bill ever passed by the Senate, if it were to pass, that would put us on a path to get off of fossil fuels,” Romm said.

The two men were also divided over issues like the impact the climate bill could have on international negotiations.

They agreed, though, there is room for improvement; the only question is whether the politics of climate change will allow for the passage of a stronger bill any times soon. As Kevin Drum wrote, “If you think this year’s bills are watered down, just wait until you see what a Congress with a hair-thin Democratic majority produces.”

Coal and natural gas

Tripping up environmentalists now, though, are the hand-outs to dirty energy industries. The coal and natural gas industry could both benefit from the provisions of the Senate bill, for instance.

On GritTV, Jeff Biggers, a writer and educator who covers the coal industry, explained his frustration:

“The climate bill is a nice first step and a very well meaning effort for someone like Sen. Kerry who’s been working on this issue for 20 years. But at the same time, because of the massive big coal lobby that has poured millions of dollars into lobbying congress on this climate legislation…there are all sorts of little panders and loopholes and exemptions.”

“What we see in this bill is that Sen. Kerry and Lieberman want to ensure coal’s future,” he said.

The booming natural gas industry also had a hand in shaping the bill and benefited from it. Environmental groups like the Sierra Club favor natural gas as an energy source over coal, and as Kari Lydersen reports in Working In These Times, the industry is driving job growth at a time when the economy needs a boost.

But as Alex Halperin reported last month for The American Prospect, in the places where drilling is occurring, like Ithaca, NY, activists are arguing that the environmental risks could outweigh those economic benefits.

Drill or be drilled

That devil’s bargain—risking natural resources for jobs in the energy industry—went the wrong way for the Gulf Coast, and states like Louisiana, Alabama, and Florida are paying the price even before the oil hits shore.

As I report in AlterNet, the Gulf’s economy could lose billions of dollars and is suffering already from the misconception that its beaches are tarred with oil. With this catastrophe still fresh in voters’ minds, the Senate climate bill proposes pushing new drilling initiatives 75 miles offshore and giving affected states veto power over these projects.

Depending on how long the memory of the Deepwater Horizon spill lasts, politicians could have a good reason to veto drilling. Public News Service reports that 55% of Floridians now oppose off-shore drilling, “almost a complete reversal from one year ago.”

Blame game

Certainly no one is stepping up to take responsibility for the explosion off the coast of Louisiana, as the Washington Independent reports. At a hearing this week, officials from British Petroleum, which was operating the well, Transocean, which owns it, and Halliburton, which was doing contract work that may have caused the problem, all denied wrongdoing and pressed the blame on each other.

It’s starting to look Halliburton played a key part. “The focus is increasingly shifting to the role of Halliburton, which poured the cement for the rig, as well as for another operation that spilled oil off the coast of Australia last August,” writes Kate Sheppard at Mother Jones. The company apparently did not place a cement plug that would have kept gas in the well before emptying it of the mud that was holding in the flammable gas.

Anyone living in a state that could have new drilling off their coast should keep this catastrophe in mind if their politicians are given the option of vetoing new projects.

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: More Hypocrisy in Arizona

9:31 am in Media by TheMediaConsortium

by Erin Rosa, Media Consortium blogger

After passing what is arguably the harshest immigration law in the country—SB 1070 forces local police to adhere to detain someone if there is “responsible suspicion” that they are undocumented—Arizona has now passed a law banning ethnic studies courses, as Feministing reports.

At The Nation, Jon Wiener writes that the new law "bans classes that ‘promote resentment toward a race or class of people,’ ‘are designed primarily for pupils of a particular ethnic group,’ or ‘advocate ethnic solidarity instead of treating pupils as individuals.’" Hypocrisy much?

Arizona is a bad influence. “At least 10 other states — many inspired by Arizona — are talking about enacting similarly draconian legislation,” Zachary Roth over at TPMMuckraker writes. “And most aren’t places that are traditionally thought of as hot-spots in the immigration battle.” States considering harsh laws include South Carolina, Texas and Georgia, according to Roth.

But along with a growing national boycott, Arizona is also facing major tourism backlash. AlterNet reports that “as tourists increasingly shun Arizona over the state’s new immigration law, their desertion is likely to spill some paint of their own: red ink stains all over state and local budgets.” At least nineteen conferences have been canceled so far in the state, according to the article. Currently, Arizona is also facing a major budget shortfall totaling $2 billion.

United we stand

As Daisy Hernandez reports for RaceWire, Service Employees International Union (SEIU), which represents more than 2 million members, has vowed to focus more on immigration. While unions offered less than stellar support during the 2007 immigration reform debate after disagreeing with provisions for a guest worker program, they are now expected to be a key ally in 2010.

SEIU is joining the boycott against Arizona for its anti-immigration law, and Hernandez also notes that “the news comes as the union swore in its new president Mary Kay Henry over the weekend.”

From dreams to reality

On GRITtv, Laura Flanders discusses the growing movement to support the Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors Act (DREAM Act), "a bipartisan bill offering a road to citizenship for undocumented minors who attend college or join the military,” as Flanders says.

Undocumented students backing the DREAM Act are an integral part of the immigration reform movement. They’ve successfully organizing to stop deportations of young immigrants and lobbied members of Congress to support their cause. Most recently, Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL) wrote a national op-ed this week boosting the act.

Currently, the DREAM Act is lingering in the Senate, and reform supporters are pushing for a immigration reform bill (which would likely include a DREAM Act provision) to be proposed and debated in the Senate this year, although it’s unknown when that will happen.

The value of immigrants

At New America Media, Jacob Simas reports on the state of immigrant workers who pick crops around Fresno, California. “Nobody knows how many farm workers here are homeless,” Simas writes, “And while longtime community members say they are likely a small percentage of the unemployed farm worker population, it is the first time they can recall seeing living conditions get this bad for the workers who help put food on our tables.”

Thanks to the recession, migrant workers are now struggling to find work. “Scattered groups of farm workers, unemployed and desperate, are emerging from a long cold winter spent living outdoors, in the same orchards that were once their livelihood,” according to Simas, who quotes one worker as saying, “We’ll go to town and ask people if we can work in their yard for ten, fifteen, maybe twenty dollars.”

Why the census matters

In Michigan, local governments are encouraging undocumented immigrants to participate in the census in order to gain more funding for federal services. Todd A. Heywood writes for the Michigan Messenger that in Macomb County, which borders Detroit, “a low count that ignores residents without proper documentation in 2010 could cost the county hundreds of thousands of federal dollars.”

The county loses more than $1,000 for each resident who doesn’t fill out the census, per year, according to Heywood. This year alone, the federal Census Bureau has launched the largest campaign in history to reach out to undocumented immigrants and other communities of color, amid a history of low turnout and a reluctance to give information to the government. Advocacy groups have been urging undocumented immigrants to be counted in the census this year, and note that immigration status is not asked on the form.

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: SCOTUS Nominee Kagan a Cipher on Choice

9:21 am in Government, Judiciary, Media by TheMediaConsortium

by Lindsay Beyerstein, Media Consortium blogger

On Monday, President Barack Obama nominated solicitor general Elena Kagan to replace retiring Justice John Paul Stevens on the Supreme Court. Kagan’s nomination has raised eyebrows among progressives. Despite a long career in legal academia, Kagan has published very little. She seems to have studiously avoided taking a stand on almost any controversial issue. Ruth Coniff of the Progressive calls the Kagan pick "a triumph of the bland."

"Partial Birth Abortion" ban

As a White House aide, Kagan wrote a memo urging President Bill Clinton to support a ban on so-called "partial birth abortion." At the time, the House had passed a sweeping late-term abortion ban with no exceptions for the life and health of the mother. Clinton asked Kagan whether he should throw his support behind a more moderate Senate version of the same bill. She recommended a "compromise"—a ban with a maternal health exemption. In the end, Congress passed the extreme version and Clinton vetoed it.

Suzy Khimm of Mother Jones characterizes the memo as "more indicative of a political strategy than a legal argument." In other words, Kagan was giving strategic advice to the president about what would be politically feasible, not legal advice about the government’s powers to regulate abortion. Kagan argued that the president should support the "compromise" position even though the Justice Department thought it was unconstitutional, according to Jodi Jacobson of RH Reality Check.

At TAPPED, Monica Potts argues that the memo gives us little indication of how Kagan would vote on abortion as a justice.

No Harriet Miers

There’s no question that Kagan is possessed of a formidable intellect. Stephanie Mencimer of Mother Jones quotes one of her former law school students, Elie Mystal, sharing his experience with Kagan on the blog Above the Law:

Like Frodo on Weathertop, there are some wounds that never fully heal. Professor Kagan massacred me intellectually, and brutalized my pride. I got some form of a B in her class (I honestly don’t remember if there was a modifier — I’ve tried to suppress those memories). Kagan was a frightening professor for those who wanted to match wits with the brightest legal minds in the world. For people like me, people who just wanted to get through law school with minimal mental damage, Kagan was nothing short of terrifying.

That’s the best news I’ve heard all day.

Kagan has never been a judge, but that’s not necessarily a deal-breaker in itself. As Steve Benen points out at the Washington Monthly, over a third of the 111 justices of the Supreme Court have had no previous judging experience.

A missed opportunity

Scott Lemieux argues in the American Prospect that Obama is wasting a rare political opportunity to confirm a more liberal justice. Right now, the Democrats still have a sizable, though not filibuster-proof, majority in the Senate. Lemieux argues that Obama is almost certain to get another Supreme Court pick before the end of his term. Then again, he points out, the Democrats are likely to lose Senate seats in the midterm elections.

If Obama were ever going to get a strong liberal on the bench, this would have been the time. No date has been set for a confirmation hearing. Kagan is in Washington today, courting lawmakers.

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.

by Lindsay Beyerstein, Media Consortium blogger

On Monday, President Barack Obama nominated solicitor general Elena Kagan to replace retiring Justice John Paul Stevens on the Supreme Court. Kagan’s nomination has raised eyebrows among progressives. Despite a long career in legal academia, Kagan has published very little. She seems to have studiously avoided taking a stand on almost any controversial issue. Ruth Conniff of the Progressive calls the Kagan pick "a triumph of the bland."

"Partial Birth Abortion" ban

As a White House aide, Kagan wrote a memo urging President Bill Clinton to support a ban on so-called "partial birth abortion." At the time, the House had passed a sweeping late-term abortion ban with no exceptions for the life and health of the mother. Clinton asked Kagan whether he should throw his support behind a more moderate Senate version of the same bill. She recommended a "compromise"—a ban with a maternal health exemption. In the end, Congress passed the extreme version and Clinton vetoed it.

Suzy Khimm of Mother Jones characterizes the memo as "more indicative of a political strategy than a legal argument." In other words, Kagan was giving strategic advice to the president about what would be politically feasible, not legal advice about the government’s powers to regulate abortion. Kagan argued that the president should support the "compromise" position even though the Justice Department thought it was unconstitutional, according to Jodi Jacobson of RH Reality Check.

At TAPPED, Monica Potts argues that the memo gives us little indication of how Kagan would vote on abortion as a justice.

No Harriet Miers

There’s no question that Kagan is possessed of a formidable intellect. Stephanie Mencimer of Mother Jones quotes one of her former law school students, Elie Mystal, sharing his experience with Kagan on the blog Above the Law:

Like Frodo on Weathertop, there are some wounds that never fully heal. Professor Kagan massacred me intellectually, and brutalized my pride. I got some form of a B in her class (I honestly don’t remember if there was a modifier — I’ve tried to suppress those memories). Kagan was a frightening professor for those who wanted to match wits with the brightest legal minds in the world. For people like me, people who just wanted to get through law school with minimal mental damage, Kagan was nothing short of terrifying.

That’s the best news I’ve heard all day.

Kagan has never been a judge, but that’s not necessarily a deal-breaker in itself. As Steve Benen points out at the Washington Monthly, over a third of the 111 justices of the Supreme Court have had no previous judging experience.

A missed opportunity

Scott Lemieux argues in the American Prospect that Obama is wasting a rare political opportunity to confirm a more liberal justice. Right now, the Democrats still have a sizable, though not filibuster-proof, majority in the Senate. Lemieux argues that Obama is almost certain to get another Supreme Court pick before the end of his term. Then again, he points out, the Democrats are likely to lose Senate seats in the midterm elections.

If Obama were ever going to get a strong liberal on the bench, this would have been the time. No date has been set for a confirmation hearing. Kagan is in Washington today, courting lawmakers.

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

Weekly Audit: Wall Street Goes to the Movies

10:10 am in Media by TheMediaConsortium

by Zach Carter, Media Consortium blogger

Last week, the U.S. Senate rejected a plan that would have broken up the nation’s six largest banks firms into firms that could fail without wreaking havoc on the economy. Even though the defeat reinforces Wall Street’s political dominance, there is still room for a handful of other useful reforms, like banning banks from gambling with taxpayer money and protecting consumers from banker abuses. After looting our houses, banks are now pushing for the ability to bet on movie box-office receipts, and will keep trying to financialize anything they can unless Congress acts.

Wall Street calls the shots

Writing for The Nation, John Nichols details last week’s Capitol Hill damage. Today’s financial oligarchy, in which a handful of bigwig bankers and their lobbyists are able to write regulations and evade rules they don’t like, will still be in place after the Wall Street reform bill is passed. The lesson is clear, as Nichols notes:

Whatever the final form of federal financial services reform legislation, one thing is now certain: The biggest of the big banks will still be calling the shots.

Still worth fighting for

As I emphasize for AlterNet, Congress has made a terrible mistake here, but there is still room for reform. It took President Franklin Delano Roosevelt seven years to enact his New Deal banking laws. It took even longer to reshape public opinion of monopolies when President Theodore Roosevelt took on Corporate America in the early 1900s.

What’s still worth fighting for? We have to curb the derivatives market—the multi-trillion-dollar casino that destroyed AIG. We have to impose a strong version of the Volcker Rule, which would ban banks from engaging in speculative trading for their own accounts. We have to change the way the Federal Reserve does business and force the government’s most secretive bailout engine to operate in the open. And we have to establish a strong, independent Consumer Financial Protection Agency to ensure that the horrific subprime mortgage abuses are not repeated.

As Nomi Prins details for The American Prospect, the current reform bill will not effectively deal with the dangers posed by hedge funds and private equity firms—companies that partnered with banks to blow up the economy through investments in subprime mortgages. That means that whatever happens with the current bill, Congress must again take action next year to rein in other financial sector excesses.

The derivatives casino at the movies

As Nick Baumann demonstrates for Mother Jones, banks are doing everything they can to gobble up other productive elements of the economy. The economy crashed in 2008 in large part because banks had used the derivatives market to place trillions of dollars in speculative bets on the housing market. This wasn’t lending, it was pure gambling: Instead of using poker chips, bankers placed their bets with derivatives. But, as Baumann emphasizes, banks are now looking to expand the sort of thing they can make derivatives gambles with. The latest proposal is to allow banks to bet on the box office success of movies. That’s right, banks would be gambling on movies.

Hollywood may be shallow, but it isn’t stupid. It doesn’t want to see the banking industry repeat its destructive looting of the housing industry on the movie business, and is pushing hard to ban banks from betting on movies. But we can’t count on every industry having a powerful lobby group to counter every assault from the banking system.

Taking stock in schools

Consider the unsettling report by Juan Gonzales of Democracy Now!. Gonzales details how big banks gamed the charter school system to score huge profits while simultaneously saddling taxpayers with massive debts that make teaching kids supremely difficult. By exploiting multiple federal tax credits, banks that invest in charter schools have been able to double their money in seven years—no small feat in the investing world—while schools have seen their rents skyrocket. One school in Albany, N.Y. saw its rent jump from $170,000 to $500,000 in a single year.

About that unemployment rate…

It’s not like public schools are flush with cash right now. The $330,000 increase in rent could pay the salaries of more than a few teachers. As the recession sparked by big bank excess grinds on, even the good news is pretty hard to swallow. As David Moberg emphasizes for Working In These Times, the economy added 290,000 jobs in April, but the unemployment rate actually climbed from 9.7 percent to 9.9 percent in March. That’s because the unemployment rate only counts workers who are actively seeking a job—if you want a job but haven’t found one for so long that you give up, you’re not technically "unemployed." All of those "new" workers are driving the official figures up.

In other words, it’s still rough out there. And likely to stay rough as state governments try to deal with the lost tax revenue from plunging home values and mass layoffs. Nearly half of all unemployed people in the U.S. have been out of a job for six months or more. And while we’d be much worse off without Obama’s economic stimulus package, that percentage is likely to grow this year, Moberg notes.

This is what unrestrained banking behemoths do. They book big profits and bonuses for themselves, regardless of the consequences for the rest of the economy. Congress absolutely must impose serious financial reform this year. After the November election, breaking up the banks must once again be on the agenda when Congress considers the future fate of hedge funds, private equity firms, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. If we don’t rein in Wall Street, banks will continue to wreak havoc on our homes, our jobs and even our schools. Congress must act.

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: Slick of Oil Industry Cash Gummed up Regulatory Works

10:01 am in BP oil disaster, Energy, Media by TheMediaConsortium

by Sarah Laskow, Media Consortium blogger

The Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico is worse than anyone thought, and the crisis will likely go on for months. British Petroleum (BP) is tripping over itself to say it’ll cover the costs of the clean-up, yet before the spill, the company spent its time and money pushing back against government regulation and safety measures.

Care2 reports, “A piece of machinery costing .004% of BP’s 2009 profits might have prevented the Gulf of Mexico oil spill that is currently threatening the U.S. gulf coast. An acoustic valve designed as a final failsafe to prevent oil spills costs $500,000; the Wall Street Journal writes that the valve, while not proven effective, is required on oil rigs in Norway and Brazil, but not in the U.S.”

Oil is drifting towards the southeastern coastline as clean-up crews and politicians scramble to respond. BP has not staunched the leaks that are pouring more than 200,000 gallons of oil into the Gulf of Mexico each day.

Beach communities in Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Florida are bracing for the oil’s arrival and waiting to see what the damage to their businesses and their natural resources will be. And in Washington, members of Congress, who just a couple of weeks ago were willing to compromise on off-shore drilling expansion are rallying against the practice.

As Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-CT) said this week, “accidents happen,” but in this case, it’s becoming clear that the oil industry and government regulators did not do all they could to minimize the risks of a spill.

The slick

Over the past week, reporters trying to describe the size of the spill have compared it to Jamaica or Puerto Rico. Public News Service talked to Steve Bousquet, Tallahassee bureau chief for the St. Petersburg Times, who saw the slick in flight.

"It’s really a horrifying thing to see because of the magnitude of it,” Bousquet said. “They use these chemicals to break up the oil and it takes on a kind of rust-colored look to it. And we saw these long streaks, miles and miles long of oil, and just oil as far as the eye can see."

The visual stretch of the spill hardly represents the scope of its impact, either. As Dr. Riki Ott, a Chelsea Green author, explained to CNN:

“This is Louisiana sweet crude, and it’s got a lot of what’s called “light ends,” which evaporate very quickly into the air and also dissolve very readily into the water column. So what you see on the surface is like the tip of the iceberg…Imagine a big cumulus cloud of dissolved and dispersed oil under the slick, wherever it is. And that cloud is extremely toxic to everything in the water column — shellfish, eggs and embryos — so shrimp eggs and young life forms that are in the water column, young fish.”

According to Dr. Ott, the extent of the damage won’t be clear for a few years. Oyster fisherman, for instance, would usually be seeding oysters now, as the crops take two years to mature. That work needs to be done within the next few months to avoid economic losses two years in the future, but the precautionary measures shutting off access to waters east of the Mississippi are keeping that from happening.

Oiling the machine

It’s no accident that oil interests work under looser rules. As Lindsay Beyerstein reported last week for Working In These Times, BP wrote to the U.S. Minerals Management Service (MMS) saying that tighter regulation of the oil industry was unnecessary. MMS doesn’t have a stellar history of oversight, and if you’re not familiar with its sordid past, TPM’s Justin Elliott put together a tour through the agency’s history with sex and drugs.

The industry hasn’t just been selling snake oil to MMS, though. Oil companies have been greasing the palms of politicians with campaign donations for years. Democracy Now! spoke to Antonia Juhasz, author of The Tyranny of Oil, about the oil industry’s influence.

“The entire oil industry, will continue to use its vast wealth – unequaled by any global industry – to escape regulation, restriction, oversight and enforcement,” Juhasz says. “BP, now the source of the last two great deadly US oil industry explosions, has shown us that this simply cannot be permitted.”

The new politics of climate

To see the oil industry’s influence in action, look no further than the ongoing work on the Senate’s climate legislation. Two weeks ago, before the spill, Sen. John Kerry (D-MA) announced that the oil industry would back the tri-partisan legislation that he was working on with Sen. Lieberman and Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC). Since then, Graham has stepped away from the bill, and off-shore drilling, a keystone of the negotiations over the legislation, has become much less politically palatable.

But this Wednesday, Kerry had nothing but nice things to say about the oil industry, as Kate Sheppard reports at Mother Jones.

“While he acknowledged that "we can’t drill and burn our way out of danger," Kerry also spoke highly of the oil companies backing the draft legislation, which was supposed to be released last week,” Sheppard writes. “BP, operator of the rig currently spewing hundreds of thousands of gallons of oil into the Gulf of Mexico, was expected to be among the supporters.”

"Ironically we’ve been working very closely with some of these oil companies in the last months," Kerry said. "I took them in good faith. They have worked hard with us to find a solution that meets all of our needs.”

Kerry still seems confident that the climate and energy bill will move forward, but, Steve Benen writes at the Washington Monthly, that’s things are far from certain.

“The legislation was predicated on something of a grand bargain — the left would get cap-and-trade and investment in renewables; the right would get nuclear plants and offshore drilling,” Benen explains. “But in the wake of the catastrophe in the Gulf, there is no deal. Key Dems now insist drilling be taken off the table, while Republicans and Democratic industry allies (Louisiana’s Mary Landrieu, for example) now insist they won’t even consider a bill unless it includes plenty of drilling.”

While the White House is saying that the oil spill may spur interest in and support for clean energy legislation from Congress, that hasn’t happened yet. Congressional leaders might have to wait for the noise from the Hill to die down before they can re-start serious discussions about how to pass a climate bill.

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: Zero Hour Approaching for Federal Immigration Reform

9:39 am in Media by TheMediaConsortium

by Erin Rosa, Media Consortium blogger

The countdown is on. Half a million supporters of comprehensive immigration reform rallied across the country on May 1 to protest SB 1070, Arizona’s prohibitive new anti-immigration law and ratchet up pressure for a federal reform bill this year. In Washington, DC, police arrested a dozen demonstrators, including Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-IL), after they engaged in non-violent civil disobedience, as Esther Gentile reports for New America Media.

So far, legislators in the Senate have not introduced a proposal, and the longer they wait, the less likely it is that a bill will be debated in 2010, especially with an election on the horizon. The stakes are incredibly high because a lack of federal action leaves a wide opening for states to draft their own, increasingly restrictive versions of immigration reform.

Rally round the country

Feministing also reports on the Washington May Day rally, which was led by “the Trail of Dreams trekkers, Felipe Matos, Gaby Pacheco, Carlos Roa, and Juan Rodriguez, who walked 1500 miles from Florida to DC in support of the DREAM Act, which would make a college education possible and create a path to citizenship for some undocumented immigrants.”

Los Angeles had the largest rally attendance of about 60,000 according to Hatty Lee at RaceWire, but there were also significant numbers in other states. “The nationwide May Day rallies drew tens of thousands of protesters—the largest turnouts since 2006,” Lee writes, remembering the millions who marched in cities for immigration reform just four years ago.

Workers Independent News sheds some light on to the labor history involved with May Day, writing that May 1, also known as International Workers’ Day, has created a strong alliance between union members and immigration reform boosters.

Arizona on my mind

SB 1070, Arizona’s new immigration law which forces local police to check the immigration status of a person if there is a “reasonable suspicion” that they are undocumented, has only energized the reform movement.

“It has mobilized the entire pro-immigration community and triggered a large, visible, highly vocal and well-publicized backlash that some polling suggests is beginning to turn fence-sitters into advocates,” William Fisher reports at the Inter Press Service.

Jesse Freeston with the Real News found that “While the demands of immigration reform, fair education, and an end to deportations have been around for years, the recent developments in Arizona were on everybody’s mind.”

In the wake of Arizona, Democratic lawmakers released a rough draft of an immigration proposal for the Senate last week. Jessica Pieklo at Care2 reports that “the proposals suggested by the Democrats include enhanced border security, the creation of a new fraud-resistant Social Security card, and for those already in the country illegally, a series of penalties, taxes, and fees, in addition to passing a criminal background check would have to be satisfied before they would qualify for legal residency, ”

Despite the draft—one of two, the other co-authored by Sens. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and Lindsey Graham (R-SC) and released weeks ago—a bill has yet to be officially introduced in the Senate, and it’s unknown when it will be given a chance.

SB 1070 disproportionately affects women and children

SB 1070 will likely affect undocumented women the most, according to Laura Tillman at the Women’s Media Center. Tillman notes that domestic abuse could become worse for immigrant women in the state, now that the police are full-time immigration agents.

Tillman writes that the “new immigration law is set to give [domestic abuse] victims a heightened fear of deportation if they come forward to report crimes, and criminals the confidence to perpetrate crimes without fear of retribution.”

AlterNet also reports on a new study from the advocacy group First Focus, which finds that “Children are the hidden casualties of America’s war on immigrants, and the passage of Arizona’s new racial profiling legislation could open up countless opportunities for local law enforcement to break up families by putting undocumented parents on the fast-track to deportation.”

Today, with strong grassroots organizing, and after the countless injustices endured by immigrants on both the state and national level, the immigration battle of 2010 is nearing its most critical hour. And now, all eyes are on Congress to produce a bill.

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: FACE the Facts

10:42 am in Media by TheMediaConsortium

by Lindsay Beyerstein, Media Consortium blogger

In 1993, anti-choice extremists murdered a doctor, burned 12 buildings, set off a bomb, and blockaded 66 abortion clinics. The following year, President Bill Clinton signed the Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances (FACE) Act. FACE made it a federal crime to obstruct a clinic or intimidate patients and providers.

Wendy Norris of RH Reality Check reports that, in the intervening 16 years, the Justice Department has only prosecuted 19 civil and 45 criminal cases under FACE. Abortion provider Dr. George Tiller was assassinated last year by a hardcore clinic protester, and many asked if the FACE Act was being enforced.

Norris’s story is part of a series on FACE published by RH Reality. The next installment will explore how one radical anti-choice protester has managed to terrorize the same clinic for 30 years with apparent impunity. Kudos to the Guggenheim foundation for funding this important and timely series, and to the John Jay College Center on Media, Crime and Justice for providing editorial input.

The Pill and I

May 9th is the 50th anniversary of the FDA’s approval of Enovid, the first birth control pill. Care2 contributor Ann Pietrangelo, who recently celebrated her own 50th birthday, reflects on how the Pill changed history:

I went through my entire reproductive life in a way that my female ancestors, indeed my own mother, could scarcely have imagined. The Pill and other contraceptive choices were always available to me. I have never had to face the dreaded abortion decision, but throughout my reproductive years, I had the peace of mind of knowing that such a decision, difficult though it would be, was mine to make. I, and millions of women of my age group and younger have been most fortunate. We’ve lived a different kind of life than would have been possible in another time and another place.

Anti-"personhood" coalition kicks off

A new group has united to fight Colorado’s proposed "egg as person" ballot initiative, Joseph Boven of the Colorado Independent reports. The organization calls itself Protect Families, Protect Choices (PFPC). If Amendment 62 passes, it would effectively outlaw abortion, stem cell research, and even some forms of contraception. Women who drink, use drugs, or attempt suicide could face criminal charges if the ballot initiative becomes law.

The Colorado measure is one of of many similar measures proffered by anti-abortion activists in state legislatures around the country. The last time Coloradans voted on whether to give fertilized ova the full complement of rights under state law, 73% voted against the measure. If the bill passes, will frozen embryos be able to own property? Could Coloradans evade their creditors by signing their houses over to zygotes?

Will health care reform save Democrats?

In The Nation, Katherine S. Newman and Steven Attewell tackle the question on everyone’s mind: Will health care reform change the political fortunes of President Barack Obama and the Democrats? They warn that Democrats shouldn’t expect short-term political gains, even if reform is ultimately regarded as a success story:

For some time to come we can expect the firestorm of opposition to health care reform that is unfolding today to persist, even from people who stand to benefit from the provisions of the new law. The rose-colored glasses through which we sometimes view the legacy of the New Deal and the Great Society often obscure how contentious the debates were or how long they continued after the passage of key legislation. We should not be deterred by the noise coming out of the Tea Party. The weight of history is against them.

Passive aggressive red states

Suzy Khimm of Mother Jones sees trouble ahead: So far, at least 15 states have refused to create high-risk health insurance pools. The refusniks are red states hostile to health care reform. High-risk pools are a stopgap to provide coverage for people with preexisting conditions. Insurers are free to discriminate against sick people until 2014, and high risk pools are supposed to cover those who can’t buy coverage in the meantime.

Khimm explains that the federal government will have to step in and create high-risk pools if states aren’t willing to do so. Health care reform left a great deal of power in the hands of states. The stage has been set for a grim power struggle, a bureaucratic battle of attrition.

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: Oil rig sinks, as does Senate climate bill

8:23 am in Media by TheMediaConsortium

by Sarah Laskow, Media Consortium blogger

Two disasters flared up this week, one environmental, the other political. Off the coast of Louisiana, oil from a sunken rig is leaking as much as five times faster than scientists originally judged, and the spill reportedly reached land last night. And in Washington, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) jumped from his partnership with Sens. John Kerry (D-MA) and Joe Lieberman (I-CT) just before the scheduled release of the draft of a new Senate climate bill.

The trio had worked for months on bipartisan legislation on climate change. After Graham’s defection, his partners promised to press on, but the bill’s chances of survival are dimmer.

The next Exxon Valdez?

As Grist puts it, the spill off the Louisiana coast is “worse than expected, and getting worser.” The oil rig sank on April 20, and since then, oil has been pouring out of the well and into the Gulf of Mexico.

British Petroleum (BP), which operates the rig, along with the Coast Guard and now the Department of Defense, has pushed to contain and clean up the spill. The problem is deep under water and difficult to measure, but by mid-week, experts estimated that it was gushing 5,000 barrels a day from three different leaks.

Interior department officials said the spill could continue for 90 days. Mother Jones’ Kevin Drum looks at a couple of estimates for how much oil could end up in the Gulf and concludes, “An Exxon Valdez size spill might only be a few days away.”

The federal government has rallied to respond. Administration officials have traveled to Louisiana, and both the executive branch and the legislative branch have announced investigations into the spill. But, as Care2 writes, the White House is saying that the explosion should not derail plans for future drilling.

"In all honesty I doubt this is the first accident that has happened and I doubt it will be the last," press secretary Robert Gibbs told reporters, according to Care2.

New drilling, no regulations

Just a few weeks ago, President Barack Obama announced that the government would open up areas off the East Coast for offshore oil and gas drilling. The proposal already had some opponents, and the spill makes the politics of new drilling that much trickier. Mother Jones’ Kate Sheppard reports that White House energy and climate adviser Carol Browner acknowledged the issue, along with energy experts around Washington.

"This reopens the issue: Is the risk worth the reward?” Lincoln Pratson, a professor of energy and environment at Duke’s Nicholas School of the Environment, told Sheppard.

And even though BP is relying on the Coast Guard and the Department of Defense for help managing this spill, the company is pushing back on efforts to minimize those risks, Lindsay Beyerstein reports for Working In These Times.

The company “continues to oppose a proposed rule by the Minerals Management Service (the agency that oversees oil leases on federal lands) that would require lessees and operators to develop and audit their own Safety and Emergency Management Plans (SEMP),” Beyerstein writes. “BP and other oil companies insist that voluntary compliance will suffice to keep workers and the environment safe.”

Climate bill catastrophe

The country might also have to rely on companies’ “voluntary compliance” with measures to combat global warming: Congress doesn’t seem likely to pass a bill regulating carbon any time soon. Sen. Kerry and friends were supposed to release their version of climate legislation Monday, but over the weekend, Sen. Graham backed out. His reason? Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid had floated the idea of prioritizing immigration reform, which Graham argued would undermine work on energy legislation.

“It seems like the senator…has a bit of an attitude problem,” wrote The American Prospect’s Gabriel Arana. “He storms out of climate talks because Democrats have dared consider working on two things at once? The degree to which movement in the Senate hinges on this single, mercurial senator, seemingly the only one whose agenda includes something more than stymieing Democrats, is remarkable.”

Call the clean up crew

After Graham’s announcement (Arana called it a “hissy fit”), congressional democrats scrambled to prove that the climate bill was not knocked entirely off course. On Monday, Sen. Kerry and Sen. Lieberman met with their wayward colleague; by Wednesday, Sen. Reid had promised that he would “move forward on energy first;” and by Thursday, Kerry and Lieberman had asked the EPA to start evaluating the bill’s environmental and economic impacts.

Although a draft of the bill was supposed to come out on Monday, no one has seen it. At Mother Jones, Kate Sheppard reports that even the EPA, which is supposed to analyze the bill, hasn’t received the full draft.

“According to the EPA, the senators submitted a "description of their draft bill" for economic modeling,” she writes. “The agency confirmed in a statement to Mother Jones the senators "have not sent EPA any actual legislative text." The agency is determining whether it has enough information about the bill to produce an analysis of its economic and environmental impacts.”

Despite assurances from the Senate leadership, it’s not clear if climate legislation will come to the floor this year or, if it does, that it will pass.

Not a disaster

There was one bright spot of news for environmentalists this week: the United States will build its first off-shore wind farm off the coast of Cape Cod. The project, called Cape Wind, has a host of opponents, but Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar decided to approve it. The scale will be smaller than originally planned—130 rather than 170 turbines, the Washington Independent reports—which could mollify critics who worried about its visual impact.

Cape Wind is a prime example of how clean energy projects can still cause harm or anger the people who live in their shadow. The Texas Observer recaps opposition to clean energy projects: A working-class neighborhood fought against efforts to build a biomass plant in their town, and won.

“Despite some activists touting these projects as solutions to global warming, and politicians promoting them as the key to economic prosperity, renewable energy projects tend to have their own sets of problems for local residents,” reports Rusty Middleton.

Biomass is one thing: burning materials like waste wood might produce fewer greenhouse gasses, but a biomass plant still dirties the air around it. But if the choice is between an off-shore wind farm that could mar a pleasant vista or an off-shore drilling operation that could spill gallons of oil onto your coast, it seems clear which is the better option.

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: Boycotting Arizona

2:32 pm in Media by TheMediaConsortium

by Erin Rosa, Media Consortium blogger

Anti-immigrant fervor could be more costly than Arizona lawmakers expected. Thanks to SB 1070, a new law that requires immigrants to carry papers at all times to prove their legal status, the state has become the focal point of the national immigration debate. The bill and the buzz surrounding it illustrates a desperate need for a federal fix to the broken immigration system.

President Barack Obama publicly condemned the measure shortly before Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer signed the bill on April 23, while human rights groups and immigration reform supporters are threatening national boycotts and lawsuits.

SB 1070 makes it possible for local police to racially profile Latinos by allowing them to check a person’s immigration status if there is “reasonable suspicion” that they might be undocumented. It elicits memories of South Africa under apartheid, when blacks were forced to carry passbooks or otherwise risk incarceration. For a good historical perspective of immigration in Arizona, check out Jessica Pieklo’s blog for Care2.

Hidden costs

Matthew Rothschild, editor of The Progressive magazine, joins many bloggers and immigrant rights supporters in calling for a boycott. “Arizona Representative Raul Grijalva is urging a boycott of his own state. San Francisco has already announced its intentions to boycott Arizona,” Rothschild writes. “The response from the Latino community has been instant and outraged. And the upcoming May Day rallies are sure to be huge.”

If threats to boycott simmer down, lawsuits could overturn the bill. At RaceWire, Julianne Hing writes that “Legal challenges to Arizona’s [new immigration law] are coming from all sides. Both the [American Civil Liberties Union] and [the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund] are planning legal action.”

Hing adds that “Phoenix mayor Phil Gordon announced on Friday that his city would bring a lawsuit against [the law]” and that he is joined by “Sara Presler, the mayor of Flagstaff, whose city is exploring its legal options as well.”

Arizona will need to amp up its law enforcement arm to put the bill in action. That won’t be cheap—the state budget is facing a $2 billion shortfall. As William Fisher reports at the Inter Press Service, “In one Arizona county alone, Yuma County, the sheriff estimates that law enforcement agencies would spend between $775,880 and $1,163,820 dollars in processing expenses. Jail costs would run between $21,195,600 and $96,086,720 dollars, and attorney and staff fees between $810,067 and $1,620,134 dollars.”

The ripple effect

Ironically, Arizona lawmakers’ attempts to crackdown on immigrants have galvanized Latinos and immigration reform supporters on a national level. As Suzy Khimm reports in Mother Jones, “In light of the passage of Arizona’s draconian immigration law, advocates have been ramping up the pressure on the Democratic leadership to demonstrate some concrete sign of progress by May 1, when nationwide immigration reform rallies are scheduled.”

At the Washington Monthly, Steve Benen notes how SB 1070 has also created a political quandary for Republican lawmakers in Congress. “So far, only two GOP members — Rep. Lincoln Diaz-Balart of Florida and Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina — have been willing to criticize the state law,” writes Benen. “If the issue is a test of Republicans’ political and moral seriousness, it appears most of the party caucus on the Hill is content with an ‘incomplete.’”

The anti-immigrant backlash

Immigration reform supporters also know that punitive laws won’t go away until Congress moves to pass reform. Already, as Jason Hancock at the Iowa Independent reports, “a Republican candidate for congress in Iowa’s 3rd District calling for microchips to be installed in immigrants.”

Pat Bertroche, the candidate, is quoted by Hancock comparing undocumented immigrants to “dogs,” saying “I think we should catch ’em, we should document ’em, make sure we know where they are and where they are going. I actually support microchipping them. I can microchip my dog so I can find it. Why can’t I microchip an illegal?"

Meanwhile, the National Radio Project reports on the lives of gay and lesbian immigrants who live in the United States without papers. Un Jung Lim, a U.S. citizen whose partner was deported after living in the United States for 18 years on a worker visa, tearfully said “We’ve been separated for five months and we hope to be reunited soon, but we don’t know when that’s going to be.”

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.