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Weekly Diaspora: 100 Years After Triangle Fire, Immigrant Workers Still Fighting for Labor Rights

7:27 am in Uncategorized by TheMediaConsortium

by Catherine A. Traywick, Media Consortium blogger

Last week marked the centennial of the infamous Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire, in which 146 mostly immigrant workers died. The tragedy prompted widespread labor reforms in the United States, but its commemoration underscores the plight of immigrant workers similarly exploited today.

As Richard Greenwald notes at Working in These Times, the disaster marked “the moment that a strong collective working class demanded its citizenship rights,” while today, “we are living in a time where organized labor is weak, fractured and leaderless.” He concludes that a rebirth of labor must come, as it did in 1911, from today’s new immigrant communities, which continue to bear the brunt of exploitative labor practices.

Immigrant workers rally for labor rights

Immigrant workers and union organizers articulated the same sentiment when they commemorated the fire last week. According to Catalina Jaramillo at Feet in Two Worlds, labor groups rallied Friday to call for safer working conditions and unionization—especially for the thousands of immigrants who face abuse and exploitation because of their immigration status. One union member articulated the similarities between today’s migrant workers and those who perished in the Triangle Fire:

“I see that a hundred years since this terrible accident that killed so many people, things have really not changed at all,” said Walfre Merida, a member of Local 79, from the stage.

Merida, 25, said before joining the union he worked at a construction company where he was not paid overtime, had no benefits and was paid in cash.

“Safety conditions, none. Grab your tool and go to work, no more. And do not stop,” he told El Diario/La Prensa. ”When we worked in high places, on roofs, we never used harnesses, one became accustomed to the dangers and thanked God we weren’t afraid of heights. One would risk his life out of necessity.”

Kari Lydersen at Working In These Times adds that, while workplaces in general have gotten safer, immigrant workers tend to be employed in the most dangerous professions and are disproportionately affected by workplace health and safety problems. In particular, foreign-born Latinos tend to suffer injury and illness at a much higher rate than U.S.-born Latinos. Lydersen writes:

Work-related injury and illness can be especially devastating for undocumented workers since they are often fired because of their injury and they often don’t collect workers compensation or other benefits due them. […] A 2009 Government Accountability Office report says non-fatal workplace injuries could be under-reported by 80 percent.

Crackdown on immigrant workers bad for the economy

Other labor rights advocates are drawing attention to the federal government’s ongoing crackdown on immigrant workers. Worksite audits which require employers to check the immigration status of their workers have resulted in thousands of layoffs in recent months. This sweeping trend hurts families as well as local economies, according to a new report from the Center for American Progress and the Immigration Policy Center.

The report specifically looks at the economic impact of immigrant workers in Arizona, but its findings present much wider implications. Marcos Restrepo at The Colorado Independent sums up the key points:

The analysis estimates that immigrants on the whole paid $6 billion in taxes in 2008, while undocumented immigrants paid approximately $2.8 billion.
Increase tax revenues by $1.68 billion.

The report adds that the effects of deportation in Arizona would:

Decrease total employment by 17.2 percent.
Eliminate 581,000 jobs for immigrant and native-born workers alike.
Shrink the state economy by $48.8 billion.
Reduce state tax revenues by 10.1 percent.

Meanwhile, the effects of legalization in Arizona would:

Add 261,000 jobs for immigrant and native-born workers alike.
Increase labor income by $5.6 billion.

Restrepo adds that, in part because of such mounting evidence, immigrants rights advocates are exhorting authorities to recognize immigrants as workers, first and foremost.

Immigrant farm owners contend with exploitation

Of course, even when immigrants are owners, rather than employees, they still disproportionately contend with exploitative industry practices. At The American Prospect, Monica Potts reports on the unique experiences of Hmong immigrants operating chicken farms in the Ozarks. Specifically, Potts examines how behemoth agri-businesses like Tyson exploit the inexperience or limited English abilities of immigrants to sell chicken farms and secure contracts that often put the farmers deep into debt:

Many Hmong were signing contracts they couldn’t read and getting into deals they didn’t fully understand. At least 12 Hmong declared bankruptcy in 2006. […] The concerns are similar for other immigrant farmers, especially Hispanics, who moved into the area to work at chicken-processing plants but were also recruited to buy operations. Hispanic farmers sometimes pooled their money and bought farms without a contract, only to realize later they wouldn’t be able to sell their chickens on the open market. … Many just walked away rather than trying to save their farms.

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: The Real Legacy of Reaganomics

9:09 am in Uncategorized by TheMediaConsortium

Creative Commons, Flickr, Randy Son of Robert

By Lindsay Beyerstein, Media Consortium blogger

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

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

Spot of Tea?

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

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

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

Persistent vegetative states

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

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

Anti-union bill dead in CO

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

Smurfs rob Moms

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

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

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

Weekly Audit: GOP Plays Chicken with the Debt Ceiling

10:09 am in Uncategorized by TheMediaConsortium

By Lindsay Beyerstein, Media Consortium blogger

Sen. Jim DeMint (R-SC) is calling for a “big showdown” over the upcoming vote to raise the nation’s debt ceiling to $14.3 trillion from $13.9 trillion. The debt ceiling is simply the maximum amount the government can borrow.

Congress routinely raises the debt ceiling every year. It’s common sense: Since the government has already pledged to increase spending, Congress must authorize additional borrowing. (Remember that the government is now forced to borrow billions of extra dollars to pay for tax cuts for the wealthy, which Republicans insisted on.) If the ceiling isn’t raised, the United States will be forced to default on its debts, with catastrophic consequences.

Why would default be catastrophic? The principle is the same for countries and consumers alike: If you have a good track record of paying your bills, lenders will lend you money at lower interest rates. If you don’t pay your bills on time, or default on your obligations altogether, lenders will demand higher interest rates.

Congressional Republicans say they oppose raising the debt ceiling because they favor fiscal responsibility. This kind of rhetoric is the height of recklessness. The interest on our debts is a big part of government spending. Even idle talk about defaults could spook some creditors into raising interest rates on U.S. debt and cost taxpayers dearly.

Steve Benen of the Washington Monthly quotes Austan Goolsbee, chair of the White House’s Council of Economic Advisers, who says that congressional GOP members are flirting with the “the first default in history caused purely by insanity.”

Making work pay (for real)

An astonishing 80% of full-time minimum wage workers can’t afford the necessities of life, according to new research by labor economist Jeannette Wicks-Lim of the Political Economy Research Institute, featured on the Real News Network.

Wicks-Lim argues for a two-part solution to the crisis of working poverty in America: i) raising the federal minimum wage to $12.30/hr from $7.50/hr; ii) Increasing the earned income tax credit to 40% of income. She estimates that these two policy changes would raise the income of a minimum wage worker from $15,000 to about $36,000 at a manageable cost to employers and taxpayers.

Her proposal is a revamp of President Bill Clinton’s attempt to “reform” welfare by cutting social service benefits and shifting government spending to tax credits. Currently, the Earned Income Tax Credit is a subsidy for the working poor that is designed to “make work pay”–i.e., if workers aren’t making enough in wages to secure a decent standard of living, the government provides an income subsidy to reward them for working.

However, if a decent standard of living remains out of reach for 80% of full-time minimum wage workers, Wicks-Lim argues that the minimum wage is too low and the subsidies are too modest to achieve the stated goal of making work pay.

Colorado minimum wage inches up

Speaking of minimum wage issues, Scot Kersgaard of the Colorado Independent reports that the minimum wage in the state ticked up from $7.25 an hour to $7.36 on January 1. The modest increase represents the annual adjustment for inflation. Every bit counts, but Colorado families are falling further behind. According to a new report by the Denver-based Bell Policy Center, 8.3% of working families in Colorado live below the federal poverty line, which is $22,050 for a family of four. Fully one-fourth of Colorado families do not earn enough to meet their basic needs, which requires an income approximately twice the FPL, according to the report.

Colorado is one of only 10 states that automatically adjust their minimum wages for inflation.

Wage theft epidemic

Unscrupulous employers are stealing untold millions of dollars from hardworking Americans, Dick Meister reports in AlterNet:

The cheating bosses don’t take the money directly from their employees. No, nothing as obvious as that. The employers practice their thievery by underpaying workers, sometimes by paying them less than the legal minimum wage. Or they fail to pay employees extra for overtime work, or even force them to work for nothing before or after their regular work shifts or at other times. Some employers make illegal deductions from employee wages. And some withhold the final paycheck due employees who quit.

In New York City alone, an estimated $18 million worth of wages is stolen every week. Workers in the restaurant, construction, and retail sectors are at increased risk of wage theft. Wage thieves disproportionately target undocumented workers because they assume that these employees will be less likely to report the crime.

Debt collection from beyond the grave

The dead don’t tell tales, but they have been known to sign debt collection papers, Andy Kroll reports in Mother Jones. Martha Kunkle died in 1995, but her printed name and signature appear on paperwork filed by the debt collection agency Portfolio Recovery Associates as late as 2006 and 2007. The ruse was discovered and PRA, facing a fraud lawsuit, agreed in 2008 that the “Kunkle’s” documents couldn’t be used in court. That didn’t stop the agency from trying to use them again in 2009.

The attorney general of Missouri has announced that he will investigate whether any of Kunkle’s handiwork was used to support debt collection in his state. The attorney general of Minnesota is already investigating whether debt collectors have used fraudulent paperwork in court.

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 Pulse: End-of-Life Counseling Returns, But Death Panels Still Nonsense

9:36 am in Uncategorized by TheMediaConsortium

by Lindsay Beyerstein, Media Consortium blogger

A proposed program to cover counseling sessions for seniors on end-of-life care has risen from the ashes of health care reform and found a new life in Medicare regulations, Jason Hancock of the American Independent reports.

In August, former Alaska governor Sarah Palin started a rumor via her Facebook page that the the Obama administration was backing “death panels” that would vote on whether the elderly and infirm had a right to live. In reality, the goal was to have Medicare reimburse doctors for teaching patients how to set up their own advance directives that reflect their wishes on end-of-life care.

Patients can use their advance directives to stipulate their wishes for treatment in the event that they are too sick to make decisions for themselves. They can also use those directives to demand the most aggressive lifesaving interventions.

Waste not, want not

Though end-of-life counseling was ultimately gutted from the Affordable Care Act (ACA), the legislation will eventually ensure health coverage for 32 million more Americans. However, Joanne Kenen in The American Prospect argues it will do comparatively less to curb the high costs of health care. The architects of the ACA had an opportunity to include serious cost-containment measures like a robust public health insurance option to compete with private insurers, but they declined to do so.

Kenen argues that the government should more aggressively target waste within the health care delivery system, especially Medicare and Medicaid. Unchecked and rising health care costs through Medicare and Medicaid are a significantly greater driver of the deficit than Social Security or discretionary spending:

“The waste is enormous,” says Harvard health care economist David Cutler. “You can easily convince yourself that there is 40 to 50 percent to be saved.” Squeezing out every single bit of that inefficient or unnecessary care may not be realistic. But it also isn’t necessary; eliminating even a small fraction of the current waste each year over the next decade would make a huge difference, he added. Health care would finally start acting like “a normal industry.” Productivity would grow, in the one area of the economy where it has not, and with productivity gains, prices could be expected to fall.

The new end-of-life counseling program will help reduce waste in the system, not by pressuring people to forgo treatments they want, but by giving them the tools to refuse treatments they don’t want.

Teen births down, but why?

The teen birth rate has dropped again, according to the latest CDC statistics. Births to women under the age of 20 declined by 6% in 2009 compared to 2008. One hypothesis is that the reduction is an unexpected consequence of the recession, an argument we pointed to in last week’s edition of the Pulse. John Tomasic of the Colorado Independent is skeptical of the recession hypothesis. He writes:

Emily Bridges, director of public information services at Advocates for Youth, agrees with other observers in pointing out that teens aren’t likely to include national economics as a significant factor in pondering whether or not to have unprotected sex. Peer pressure, badly mixed booze, general awkwardness, for example, are much more likely than the jobless recovery to play on the minds of horny high schoolers.

Some states with weak economies actually saw a rise in teen birth rates, Tomasic notes. However, this year’s sharp downturn in teen births parallels a drop in fertility for U.S. women of all ages, which seems best explained by economic uncertainty.

It’s true that prospective teen moms are less likely to have jobs in the first place, and so a bad job market might be less likely to sway their decisions. However, young women who aren’t working are unlikely to have significant resources of their own to draw on, which means that they are heavily dependent upon others for support. If their families and partners are already struggling to make ends meet, then the prospect of another mouth to feed may seem even less appealing than usual.

Abortion is the elephant in the room in this discussion. The CDC numbers only count live births. Logically, fewer live births must be the result of fewer conceptions and/or more terminations. Some skeptics doubt that economic factors have much to do with teens’ decisions about contraception. However, it seems plausible that decisions about abortion would be heavily influenced by the economic health of the whole extended family.

Last year’s decrease was notably sharp, but teen birth rates have been declining steadily for the last 20 years. The Guttmacher Institute, a New York-based non-profit that specializes in research on reproductive choice and health, suggests that successive generations of teens are simply getting savvier about contraception. Births to mothers between the ages of 15 and 17 are down 48% from 1991 levels, and births to mothers ages 18 to 19 are down 30%.

Stupid drug dealer tricks

Martha Rosenberg of AlterNet describes 15 classic dirty tricks deployed by Big Pharma to push drugs. These include phony grassroots patient groups organized by the drug companies to lobby for approval of dubious remedies. Another favorite money-making strategy is to overcharge Medicare and Medicaid. Pharmaceutical companies have paid nearly $15 billion in wrongdoing settlements related to Medicare and Medicaid chicanery over the last five years.

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 Final Fight for the DREAM Act

9:25 am in Uncategorized by TheMediaConsortium

by Catherine A. Traywick, Media Consortium blogger

It’s a now-or-never moment for the DREAM Act, a bill that would provide a conditional path to citizenship for certain immigrant youth. The bill’s prospects won’t improve with next Congress’ influx of Republican legislators, and thousands of undocumented students and their bipartisan supporters are urging the Senate to pass the DREAM Act. But as the Senate appears ready to finally vote on the landmark bill, state lawmakers are moving in the exact opposite direction.

In California, Colorado and Minnesota, state legislators have recently filed enforcement bills modeled after Arizona’s draconian SB 1070, and a cadre of conservative citizens are already mobilizing in support of the measures. But whether those measures will hold up in light of mounting evidence that such bills are fiscally irresponsible remains to be seen.

Some lawmakers never learn…

New America Media reports that a Tea Party-backed immigration enforcement bill was filed in California last week, bolstered by a signature drive to raise support for the measure‘s inclusion on the 2012 ballot. Reading like a roll call of Arizona’s most controversial immigration measures to date, the bill would require law enforcement to perform immigration status checks, require businesses to use the notoriously ineffective E-Verify program, ban undocumented persons from driving or soliciting work on the street and prohibit sanctuary cities.

Meanwhile in Colorado, State Senator-elect Kent Lambert (R) announced his plans to introduce “a carbon copy of SB 1070” early in the next session, according to Scot Kersgaard at the Colorado Independent. Eschewing concerns about the bill’s constitutionality, Lambert added that if the bill is not passed and signed by Governor-elect John Hickenlooper, a Democrat, he would move to put the measure on the ballot.

And in Minnesota, Andy Birkey of the Minnesota Independent reports that a group called Minnesotans Seeking Immigration Reform (MINNSIR) is launching a petition to build support for an SB 1070 copy-cat bill expected to reach the House floor in the upcoming session. The group, derived from the Minnesota Minutemen (whom the Southern Poverty Law Center classifies as “Nativist Extremist”), is known for spreading misinformation about immigrants, including the erroneous claim that Mexican immigrants spread leprosy.

SB 1070 vs. the Dream Act: A Cost Benefit Analysis

But while obstinate lawmakers doggedly push for SB 1070-styled legislation, evidence is mounting that such draconian measures are fiscally irresponsible.

As Marcos Restrepo reports at the American Independent, a new study commissioned  by the Center for American Progress reveals that Arizona has lost $400 million in economic output and $130 million in earnings as a result of SB 1070-provoked conference cancellations alone. Defending the measure, moreover, has already cost the state more than $1 million—a bill other states can anticipate footing should they move forward with similar legislation.

Restrepo notes that the high costs of imposing and defending such measures is economically impractical—especially when compared to the potential economic benefits of passing the DREAM Act. That bill could increase the nation’s pool of higher-income workers by up to 2 million college graduates, according to the Migration Policy Institute, which could ultimately generate $3.6 trillion for the economy over the next 40 years.

The DREAM Act builds momentum

The DREAM Act has the potential to be so beneficial that, as the clock ticks towards the 11th hour vote, the bill is garnering significant new bipartisan support. Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano has voiced her support for the measure, according to William Fisher at of the Inter Press Service News Agency, as have the editorial staffs of both the Wall Street Journal and the Economist. Moreover, former Secretary of State Colin Powell is a long-time vocal advocate of the act on the grounds that “immigrants strengthen America.” (Campus Progress has more on that).

And the Obama administration has come fully on board, finally assuming a “high profile, public role” in passing the DREAM Act, according to Julianne Hing at ColorLines. Hing notes that the move is a stark, if welcome, departure from the administration’s usual approach to immigration reform, which has favored punitive, enforcement heavy bills over comprehensive reform.

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: A Progressive Deficit Fix?

8:36 am in Uncategorized by TheMediaConsortium

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 Audit: Curbing the Deficit, Cat Food, and You

9:21 am in Uncategorized by TheMediaConsortium

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 Pulse: What Do GOP Gains Mean for Health Care? Abortion Rights?

9:36 am in Uncategorized by TheMediaConsortium

by Lindsay Beyerstein, Media Consortium blogger

The Republicans gained ground in last night’s midterm elections, recapturing the House and gaining seats in the Senate. The future House Majority Leader John Boehner (R-OH) wasted no time in affirming that the GOP will try to repeal health care reform.

A full-scale repeal is unlikely in the next two years because the Democrats have retained control of the White House and the Senate. However, Republicans are already making noises about shutting down the government to force the issue. The House controls the nation’s purse strings, which confers significant leverage if the majority is willing to bring the government to a screeching halt to make a point.

Don’t assume they’ll blink. The GOP shut down government in 1995, albeit to its own political detriment. Rep. Steve King (R-IA) and his allies have sworn a “blood oath” to shut down the government, regardless of the consequences. The Republicans may actually succeed in modifying minor aspects of the Affordable Care Act, such as the controversial 1099 reporting requirement for small business.

The most significant threat to the implementation of health care reform may be at the state level.  Republicans picked up several governorships, and the Affordable Care Act requires the cooperation of states to set up their own insurance exchanges. Hostile governors could seriously impede things.

Mixed results for radical, anti-choice senate candidates

As a group, the eight ultra-radical, anti-choice Republican Senate candidates had mixed results last night. Three wins, two sure losses, and three likely losses that haven’t been definitively called. Voters didn’t seem thrilled about electing senators who oppose a woman’s right to abortion, even in cases of rape and incest.

Two cruised to victory: Rand Paul easily defeated Democrat Jack Conway in Kentucky.  Paul is one of the most extreme the of a radical cohort. As Amie Newman reported in RH Reality Check, Paul doesn’t even believe in a woman’s right to abort to save her own life. In Florida, anti-choice standard bearer Marco Rubio defeated Independent Charlie Christ.

Another radical anti-choicer, Pat Toomey, who favors jailing abortion providers, narrowly edged out Joe Sestak in Pennsylvania.

Two were soundly defeated. Evangelical code-talker Sharron Angle lost to Sen. Harry Reid (D-NV), and anti-masturbation crusader Christine O’Donnell lost to Chris Coons in Delaware.

The last three radical anti-choice senate candidates were down, but not, out as of this morning. Democrat Sen. Michael Bennett leads Republican Ken Buck by just 15,000 votes out of over 1.5 million ballots cast, according to TPMDC. Planned Parenthood launched an 11th hour offensive against Buckbecause of his retrograde stances on abortion, sexual assault, and other women’s issues, as Joseph Boven reports for the Colorado Independent.

This morning, Tea Party Republican Joe Miller was trailing behind incumbent Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), who challenged him as an Independent, but no winner had been declared. In Washington State, Democrat Sen. Patti Murray maintains a 1% lead over radical anti-choicer Republican Dino Rossi.

Are fertilized eggs people in Colorado?

Coloradans won a decisive victory for reproductive rights last night. Fertilized eggs are still not peoplein Colorado, as Jodi Jacobson reports for RH Reality Check.

Amendment 62, which would have conferred full person status from the moment of conception, thereby outlawing abortion and in vitro fertilization. It also called into question the legality of many forms of birth control, including an array of medical procedures for pregnant women that might harm their fetuses. The proposed amendment was resoundingly defeated: 72% against to 28% in favor. This is the second time Colorado voters have rejected an egg-as-person amendment.

Blue Dogs and anti-choice Dems feel the pain

Last night was brutal for corporatist Democrats who fought the more progressive options for health care reform and Democrats who put their anti-choice ideology ahead passing health care. In AlterNet, Sarah Seltzer reports only 12 of the 34 Democrats who voted against health care reform hung on to their seats. The Blue Dog caucus was halved overnight from 56 to 24. Nick Baumann of Mother Jonesspeculated that the midterms would mark the end of the Stupak bloc, the coalition of anti-choice Democrats whose last-minute brinksmanship could have derailed health care reform.

Did foot-dragging on health care hurt Democrats?

Jamelle Bouie suggests at TAPPED that Democrats shot themselves in the foot by passing a health care reform bill that won’t provide tangible benefits to most people for years. The exchanges that are supposed to provide affordable insurance for millions of Americans won’t be up and running until 2014.

In Summer 2009, Former DNC chair Howard Dean predicted that the Democrats would be penalized at the polls if they failed to deliver tangible benefits from health care reform before the midterm elections. That’s why Dean suggested expanding the public health insurance programs we already have, rather than creating insurance exchanges from scratch.

Sink, sunk by Scott

Andy Kroll of Mother Jones profiles Rick Scott, the billionaire health clinic mogul, corporate fraudster, and enemy of health care reform who spent over $50 million of his own money to eke out a very narrow victory over Democrat Alex Sink in the Florida governor’s race.

Apparently, many Floridians were willing to overlook the fact that Scott had to pay a $1.7 billion fine for defrauding Medicare, the largest fine of its kind in history. Scott also spent $5 million of his own money to found Conservatives for Patients’ Rights, one of the leading independent groups opposing health care reform.

Pot isn’t legalized in California

California defeated Proposition 19, which would have legalized marijuana for personal use. David Borden of DRCnet, a pro-legalization group, writes in AlterNet that the fight over Prop 19 brought legalization into the political mainstream, even if the measure didn’t prevail at the polls. The initiative won the backing of the California NAACP, SEIU California, the National Black Police Association, and the National Latino Officers Association and other established groups.

So, what’s next for health care reform? The question everyone is asking is whether John Boehner will cave to the extremists in his own party and attempt a full-scale government shutdown, or whether the Republicans will content themselves with extracting piecemeal modifications of the health care law.

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

Weekly 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 Diaspora: What the #$@!, Arizona?

11:00 am in Media by TheMediaConsortium

by Erin Rosa, Media Consortium blogger

While federal lawmakers cautiously mull over the possibility of dropping a comprehensive immigration reform bill this year, legislators in Arizona have passed yet another law that criminalizes undocumented immigrants. What’s more, the Arizona House is advancing a bill that would require the Arizona Secretary of State to review President Barack Obama’s birth certificate before his name is allowed on any ballots.

The Arizona crackdown

Arizona lawmakers just passed the Support Our Law Enforcement and Safe Neighbourhood Act, which is arguably the toughest immigration law in the country. It forces local police to check the immigration status of people if there is “reasonable suspicion” that they might be undocumented. The bill is an invitation to racially profile residents.

The bill, which now goes the states’ Republican Governor Jan Brewer for final approval, has sparked an organized campaign to defeat the measure over concerns that the bill is inhumane would discriminate against Latinos.

Valeria Fernández with the Inter Press Service reports on the bill, which “includes a number of provisions that go beyond authorizing the arrest of undocumented immigrants on ‘reasonable suspicion.’ It targets day laborers by making it a crime to look for work on the street, and would fine anyone who harbors or transports an undocumented immigrant, including family members.”

Outbreaks of civil disobedience have accompanied the bill. “On Tuesday, nine students were arrested on charges of disorderly conduct after they chained themselves to the entrance doors of the capitol building in an act of civil disobedience against the proposed law.” Fernández reports. “Authorities arrested them as soon as they said they wouldn’t leave until the governor took action on the law.”

John Tomasic with the Colorado Independent also notes that “On Capitol Hill, Prominent Latino Reps. Luis Gutierrez [(D-IL)] and Raul Grijalva [(D-AZ)]denounced Arizona’s controversial immigration bill and urged [Brewer] to veto the legislation. “

Eyes on Washington

While anti-immigrant legislation passes in Arizona, optimism for federal immigration reform this year is growing dimmer. While a proposal has already been introduced in the House of Representatives, the issue of citizenship for an estimated 12 million undocumented immigrants could be shelved indefinitely if a bill isn’t introduced in the Senate soon.

The Senate will need time to debate the issue, and if it isn’t introduced in the next few weeks, potential fallout from the upcoming Congressional elections may make passing reform even more difficult.

ALIPAC attacks

As Kai Wright notes over at RaceWire, the congressional debate is not off to a civil start. Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC), the only Republican Senator openly working on a bipartisan immigration reform bill, was verbally attacked by anti-immigrant groups this week.

“The rabidly anti-immigrant group Americans for Legal Immigration PAC (ALIPAC) has launched a campaign professing to out Graham as gay,” reports Wright. “In a speech to a Tea Party rally — which is making the web rounds via YouTube — the group’s leader, William Gheen, speculated that Graham’s being blackmailed into participating in immigration reform because of his ‘secret.’ ‘I need to figure out why you’re trying to sell out your own countrymen and I need to make sure you being gay isn’t it,’ Gheen said.

McCain veers right

Mother Jones reports that ALIPAC is also targeting Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), a lawmaker who co-sponsored a immigration reform bill in 2007 with the late Ted Kennedy. The 2007 bill didn’t pass, and since then McCain has backed away from vocally supporting reform now that he’s facing a primary challenge to his Senate seat.

“The motivation for McCain’s rightward shift is obvious,” Suzy Khimm writes. “The Arizona senator authored the Senate’s last comprehensive reform bill, which included a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants. His Tea Party-backed primary opponent, J.D. Hayworth, has attacked him relentlessly for doing so. Hayworth has been endorsed by [ALIPAC], a right wing anti-immigrant group that’s trying to stir up Tea Partiers to revive the conservative crusade against ‘amnesty.’"

Just this week, McCain introduced a bill in the Senate that would 3,000 National Guard troops to patrol the border, “an intervention that critics say would be both costly and ineffective,” according to Khimm. McCain also come out in support of Arizona’s news anti-immigration law.

But despite vicious attacks from the right, there is still hope. Immigration reform supporters are planning rallies in dozens of states on May 1 to keep pressure on the Senate to propose a bill. To organizers working on the ground to pass reform, Arizona exemplifies why the broken immigration system needs to be fixed on a national level, and now.

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.