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The Wavelength: WikiLeaks Isn’t Sexy Enough for U.S. Media

8:24 am in Uncategorized by TheMediaConsortium

image courtesy csalia/flickr creative commonsBy Eric K. Arnold, Media Consortium Blogger

While mainstream media news cycles have been dominated by political sex scandals, important global stories have gone under-reported. According to AlterNet’s Rania Khalek, many of these stories were broken by WikiLeaks. Khalek spotlights five key revelations of 2011, including:

  • How WikiLeaks spurred on the Tunisian uprising, which in turn led to similar uprisings in Egypt and Libya and has been dubbed “Arab Spring.”
  • The “Guantanamo Files,” 700 classified documents that “paint a stunning picture of an oppressive detention system riddled with incoherence and cruelty at every stage.”
  • The “Pakistan Papers,” which show that U.S. allies are “among the leading funders of international terrorism.”
  • A series of cables documenting “a race to carve up the Arctic for resource exploitation” — released just as Secretary Clinton met with the Arctic Council to discuss oil exploration.
  • Some 2,000 cables exposing “how the United States, with pressure from Exxon and Chevron, tried to interfere with an oil agreement between Haiti and Venezuela that would save Haiti, the poorest country in the Western hemisphere, $100 million per year or 10 percent of the country’s budget.”

This startling information, Khalek concludes, is “just the tip of the iceberg.” Yet, apart from The Nation, which is running a series on the Haitian cables – read it here and here – these stories “have received little attention in the US press.”

FCC Delays Ruling on Media Ownership

Over the past 15 years, numerous federal deregulatory actions have paved the way for unprecedented consolidation, which has severely impacted both competition and diversity. It all started with the Telecommunications Act of 1996, and the Federal Communication Commission (FCC) has been at the epicenter.

In the current climate, any further consolidation – such as the proposed AT&T/T-Mobile and Microsoft/Skype mergers – could affect consumers in drastic ways. Yet without legal intervention, we might be headed for a new era of massive media consolidation.

As Truthout’s Nadia Prupis writes, in 2007, the FCC “loosened the restrictions on a 35-year-old ban on newspaper-broadcast cross-ownership, giving new allowance for a single company to buy and operate both a major newspaper and a radio or TV station in the same market.” If the new cross-ownership rules are upheld, there would be nothing stopping a single media company from owning an unlimited number of radio, TV, and print media outlets in the same market—a move that could effectively gut the notion of a free, independent press, as well as any separation between giant media conglomerates.

Last February, a coalition of media advocacy groups (including Prometheus Radio Project, Media Alliance, Media Access Project, and Free Press) challenged the FCC in the Third Circuit Court of Appeals. Among their concerns, Prupis notes: “loopholes in the commission’s rules could allow newspapers to own TV stations of any size” and “media consolidation could prevent an increase in minority-owned stations and stifle the creation of local news programs.”

The FCC’s Media Ownership review was expected June 6, but it appears to have been delayed indefinitely. Commissioner Robert McDowell said it would be “awkward” for the FCC to rule prior to the outcome of the court’s decision. McDowell has been a proponent of further deregulation, which he believes could prop up the flagging newspaper industry.

The FCC Kills the Fairness Doctrine – Again.

“How many times does it take to kill a federal rule before it’s really dead?,” wonders Mother Jones’ Stephanie Mencimer. The rule in question is the “Fairness Doctrine,” a Truman-era policy enforced by the FCC “to ensure broadcasters presented balanced views in their coverage of controversial subjects.”

The policy was abolished in 1987, but conservatives have feared it would be resurrected by the Obama administration and liberal Democrats. No worries, according to FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski, who stated he fully supports “deleting the Fairness Doctrine and related provisions from the Code of Federal Regulations.”

AT&T/T-Mobile Merger Roundup

The AT&T/T-Mobile merger continues to be a much-discussed topic in both media and regulatory circles. As Truthout’s Prupis reports, Sprint and media advocacy group Free Press have separately filed “Petition to Deny” papers with the FCC, arguing that approval of the $39 billion deal would lead to higher prices and fewer choices and doesn’t serve the public’s interest. AT&T denied the allegations, calling the opponents “the usual suspects.”

In other AT&T/T-Mobile-related news, Media Alliance Executive Director Tracy Rosenberg wrote about a recent California Public Utilities Commission hearing on the merger for Oakland Local. Despite Rosenberg being outnumbered by shills from “Astroturf” organizations, the commission voted to investigate the deal, signaling that concerns over its impact are serious enough not to simply rubber-stamp it.

Finally, AlterNet’s David Rosen and Bruce Kushnick debunk myths AT&T has been perpetuating about broadband, including:

  • “In the 22 states that AT&T controls, consumers will never get true broadband service.” This is because AT&T’s U-Verse runs on copper wires, not optical-fiber cables, and thus isn’t capable of speeds faster than 25 Mbps.
  • “As it builds out its wireless network, AT&T is systematically undercutting its higher-performing wireline broadband network.”
  • “There will only be a marginal improvement in service, far less than what is taking place in other advanced countries and championed as “4G,” and customers will be paying more.”

WSJ Board Member’s Questionable–and Profitable–Alliances

The collusion between news organizations and partisan political groups has resulted in some eyebrow-raising partnerships, and raised questions about whether the mainstream media is truly fair, balanced – and unbiased.

The Nation Institute and AlterNet recently published an article about Wall Street Journal editorial board member Stephen Moore’s questionable affiliations with right-wing activists. Adele Stan reports, “The paper is matched only by Fox News in its unabashed alliance with political advocacy organizations associated with Charles and David Koch, the billionaire brothers and noted conservative funders who run Koch Industries, the second-largest privately held corporation in the United States.”

Moore has been profiting handsomely from speaking at events organized by Americans For Prosperity and other conservative groups, which raises ethical concerns, Stan writes: “Moore’s involvement with such a blatantly political organization — one whose agenda aligns so obviously with that of the GOP — is an anomaly for an editorial board member of a national newspaper.”

Moyers: Media Seduction Has Become Toxic

The WSJ and Fox aren’t the only MSM outlets with questionable ties to the private sector. Speaking on Democracy Now, legendary journalist Bill Moyers points to relationship between defense contractor General Electric and television network NBC — which broadcasts political commentary show “Meet the Press” — as an example of “the consensual seduction of the mainstream media.” He calls this “one of the most dangerous toxins at work in America today.”

Moyers goes on to say that “The intimate relationship intertwining “mainstream media with power, corporate power, government power… is something that, without the antidote of independent reporting and analysis… we would be in a dark, dark pit with no light shining on us.”

This post features links to the best independent, progressive reporting about media policy and media-related matters by members of The Media Consortium. It is free to reprint. To read more of the Wavelength, click here. You can also follow us on Twitter.

Weekly Diaspora: What Homeland Security Looks Like After Bin Laden’s Death

3:36 pm in Uncategorized by TheMediaConsortium

by Catherine A. Traywick, Media Consortium blogger

Nearly a decade ago, America’s War on Terror began as a manhunt for Al Qaeda leader Osama Bin Laden, the mastermind behind the 9/11 terrorist attacks. But over the next nine years, that anti-terrorism effort evolved into a multi-faceted crusade: birthing a new national security agency, blossoming into two bloody wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, institutionalizing the racial profiling and surveillance of Muslim Americans and even redefining unauthorized Latin American immigration as—of all things—a national security issue. Now, in the wake of Osama Bin Laden’s death, which elements of that crusade will persist or expand and which—if any—will dissolve?

Muslim Americans celebrate bin Laden’s death…

Following the announcement of bin Laden’s death last Sunday, Americans feverishly rejoiced at the news that a mission actually was accomplished in the War on Terror.  Profoundly, the celebrants included scores of individuals who had unwittingly become targets of that crusade—Pakistani immigrants and American Muslims.

Mohsin Zaheer of Feet in Two Worlds reports that Islamic groups in the United States wasted no time applauding President Barack Obama for Bin Laden’s death, taking the opportunity to distance themselves and Islam from the legacy of the slain terrorist. And while many Americans forget that the 9/11 terror attacks killed nationals from 70 different countries, Zaheer notes that the many immigrants who lost loved ones that day took some comfort in knowing that justice has been done.

But Muslims in the U.S. also had another cause for celebration. Bin Laden’s death coincided with the termination of a grossly discriminatory federal program that has targeted, tracked and deported thousands of immigrants from predominately Muslim countries since 2002. ColorLines.com’s Channing Kennedy describes the program (called NSEERS or the National Security Entry/Exit Registration System) as “one of the most explicitly racist, underreported initiatives in post-9/11 America” which “functioned like Arizona’s SB 1070, with working-class Muslims as the target.” The Department of Homeland Security has been vague about its reasons for ending the program, but the decision  amounts to a victory for immigrant rights groups that have been protesting the effort since its launch nine years ago.

…but still face an uncertain fate

That said, the fate of Muslims in America is far from rosy. As Seth Freed Wessler notes at ColorLines.com, the Department of Homeland Security continues to target, detain and deport Muslims “in equally insidious, but less formal ways” than the NSEERS program.

Pointing to investigations by “Democracy Now!” and the Washington Monthly, Wessler explains that the Department of Justice “has repeatedly used secret informant-instigators to manufacture terrorist plots” and advocated religious intolerance, racial profiling and harassment in its search for homegrown terrorists. Through these means, the quest for security has degenerated into the systemic persecution of American Muslims and countless other immigrants deemed threats to national security becaue their race, religion or nationality. And that didn’t die with bin Laden.

As recently as last March, in fact, Republican Rep. Peter T. King, chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, held a hearing on the radicalization of Muslim Americans—during which numerous witnesses repeatedly reiterated the dire threat posed by radical Muslims in the U.S. At the time, Behrouz Saba of New America Media noted that the hearing lacked any discussion of U.S. military presence in the Middle East and its impact on radicalization. Rather than critically examine the many ways in which U.S. foreign policy and military conflict breeds the monster it aims to destroy, the hearing instead served to demonize a growing, well-educated and largely law-abiding population of the United States.

The Latin American link

But the War on Terror has deeply impacted other marginalized communities as well. Even the circumstances of bin Laden’s death bears an alleged connection to the frought issue of Latin American immigration to the U.S.—an issue that has, itself, undergone massive scrutiny and regulation following 9/11.

ThinkProgress reports that one of the Navy Seals involved in Bin Laden’s extermination is, purportedly, the son of Mexican migrants. While the veracity of that claim has been contested by some, Colorlines.com’s Jamilah King argues that the rumor nevertheless “raises serious questions around the military’s recruitment of Latino youth, the staggering numbers of Latino war causalities, and the Obama administration’s often contradictory messages on immigration reform.” She continues:

Casualties among Latino soldiers in Iraq rank highest compared to other groups of soldiers of color. Yet while the military actively courts Latino youth and immigrants with one hand, it’s aggressively deporting them and their families with the other.

It’s worth noting that, within the government, the most vocal proponents of the DREAM Act supported the legislation because they expected it to dramatically increase Latino enrollment in the military. While the DREAM Act ultimately died in the Senate, proponents of its military provision are perpetuating a troubling and persistent dichotomy that is only reinforced in the wake of bin Laden’s demise: immigrants are welcome on our battlefields, but not in our neighborhoods.

It’s comforting, albeit naïve, to believe that Osama bin Laden’s death will cap a decade of military conflict and draw a torturously long anti-terrorism crusade to a close. More likely, our multiple wars will persist longer than they should, and our domestic security apparatus will continue targeting the most vulnerable members of our society under the misguided notion that such enforcement strengthens rather than divides us.

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 Diaspora: How Bad U.S.-Latin American Policy Fuels Unauthorized Immigration

10:32 am in Uncategorized by TheMediaConsortium

By Catherine A. Traywick, Media Consortium blogger

Too often, the immigration debate in this country ignores the role U.S. foreign policy plays in fueling unauthorized immigration. But as the Obama administration continues to stall on immigration reform in the United States—all the while moving forward with two contentious trade agreements with Colombia and Panama—the connections between the two are worth examining.

CAFTA impoverished Salvadoran farmers

During President Obama’s tour of Latin America last month, ongoing mass protests underscored the U.S. government’s own hand in stimulating unauthorized immigration to its borders. Reporting on the president’s visit to El Salvador, for example, Juan Gonzales of Democracy Now! notes that hundreds of Salvadorans gathered to demand the renegotiation of the Central American Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA), which devastated the country’s agricultural sector, impoverishing and displacing farmers. Considered alongside the country’s tragic history of U.S.-backed military repression (which Democracy Now! explores in greater detail), it should be no surprise that El Salvador is the second largest source of undocumented immigrants to the United States.

NAFTA displaces one million Mexican farmers

The first, of course, is Mexico—which has its own sordid history of U.S. involvement. As Michelle Chen at Colorlines.com explains, “the deregulation of agriculture under [the North American Free Trade Agreement in the 1990s] coincided with the devastation of Mexico’s farm sector, displacing some one million farmers and driving many northward across the border in search of work.”

While NAFTA created considerable economic opportunities for U.S. businesses eager to conduct business in low-wage Mexico, it also allowed American farmers to flood the Mexican market with government-subsidized corn—destroying the country’s own corn industry and bankrupting thousands of agricultural workers.

Obama’s 180 on Latin American policy

It’s worth noting that Obama, during his presidential campaign, promised to overhaul NAFTA on the grounds that “our trade agreements should not just be good for Wall Street, it [sic] should also be good for Main Street.” Yet, as Steve Ellner argues in the latest issue of In These Times, Obama gradually abandoned his initially critical stance on Latin American policy—choosing instead to “placate rightist critics.” Ellner adds that Obama’s shifting position on the pending (CAFTA-modeled) trade agreement with Colombia—moving “from opposition…to lukewarm endorsement…to vigorous support—is just one example of his turnabout on Latin American policy.”

While Obama has taken some steps to address potential labor abuses in the agreement (NAFTA and CAFTA’s absence of such measures is a key criticism of the deals), trade unionists in Colombia and the United States alike have voiced skepticism:

Communications Workers of America President Larry Cohen argued against the agreement by pointing out that 15 million Colombians representing 82 percent of the working population are not recognized as workers and thus under the law “have no rights.”

Big Business funds paramilitary killings in Colombia

The skepticism is well founded, as the United States has a long history of favoring business interests over the rights of workers—both at home and abroad. Earlier this month, for instance, evidence surfaced that the Cincinnati-based Chiquita Brands International may have hired Colombian paramilitary groups “responsible for countless killings” as security for its Colombian facilities. This is in spite of the fact that the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) concluded an investigation of Chiquita in 2007, ruling that any money paid out to the paramilitary groups—one of which was a designated terrorist watch group—was extorted, and that “Chiquita never received any actual services in exchange for them.”

Jim Lobe and Aprille Muscara of Inter Press Service report that the documents were released by the National Security Archive (NSA), an independent research group, on the same day that President Obama met with Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos to discuss labor rights in the pending trade agreement. According to Michael Evans, NSA’s chief researcher on Colombia, the evidence against Chiquita is clear.

“What we still don’t know is why U.S. prosecutors overlooked what appears to be clear evidence that Chiquita benefited from these transactions,” he told IPS.

U.S. banks launder billions for Mexican drug cartels

Even more recently, news broke that the federal government failed to prosecute a number of U.S. banks guilty of laundering billions of dollars for Mexican drug cartels. New America Media/Al Diá reports that Wachovia (now owned by Wells Fargo) alone moved $378.4 billion for cartels through money exchangers and $4.7 billion handled in bulk cash between 2004 and 2007. Yet this past March, the federal government formally dropped all charges against the bank, per a settle agreement reached the previous year, and despite Wachovia’s indirect role in financing a five-year drug war that has taken countless lives and continues to drive unauthorized immigration to the United States.

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: Government Shutdown Averted, But At What Cost?

9:22 am in Uncategorized by TheMediaConsortium

By
Lindsay Beyerstein, Media Consortium blogger

Congressional leaders
and President Barack Obama reached an eleventh hour budget deal on Friday
night, to fund the government for the rest of the 2011 fiscal year and
avert a government shutdown for the time being.

The deal would cut
about $38 billion, Amy Goodman reports
for Democracy Now!, including $13 billion in cuts to the
Department of Health, Labor, and Human Services.

John Nichols
describes the nuts and bolts of the stopgap
plan
in The Nation:

The arrangement
worked out Friday night
averted the threatened shutdown with a
two-step process. First, the House and Senate passed a one-week spending
bill that addressed the immediate threat. That should give Congress and
the White House time to finalize a fiscal 2011 spending deal—on which
they have agreed in principle—before an April 15
deadline.

The Republicans will not be allowed to zero
out Planned Parenthood. Instead they were allowed a separate, largely
symbolic vote, which passed the House, but which is expected to die in the
Senate.

Planned Parenthood and ACORN

Nick
Baumann of Mother Jones argues that the deal is a case study in the priorities
of the Democratic Party. At the last minute, congressional Democrats
rallied to save Planned Parenthood. The venerable family planning
organization was under fire because of an undercover video sting by Lila
Rose, a onetime protegee of conservative propagandist James O’Keefe, who
himself pulled a similar stunt against the anti-poverty, pro-voter
registration group ACORN in 2009.

O’Keefe’s videos created a media
firestorm and Congress rushed to de-fund ACORN with little protest from
Democrats. Subsequent independent investigations revealed that the tapes
had been deceptively edited. Vindication came too late for ACORN, which
was forced to close its doors.

Baumann argues that Democrats spared
Planned Parenthood and sacrificed ACORN because ACORN didn’t have friends
in the right places:

Abortion rights affect everyone.
But to put it bluntly, big Dem donors care a lot more about abortion
rights than they do about community organizers in inner
cities.

Specious “victory”

In
the days leading up to the deal, the media created the expectation that
the budget was a game that one party would “win.” Paul Waldman of The
American Prospect
argues that in his eagerness to declare “victory” in the budget showdown,
President Obama is undermining his own political agenda.

It would have been nice if when announcing the budget deal,
President Obama had set aside the politician’s natural inclination to
declare victory and his own preference for casting himself as the adult
who settles things between the squabbling children. He could have said
something like this: “The deal we just made is preferable to a
government shutdown, which would have been truly disastrous. But nobody
should mistake it for anything but the tragedy it is. As a result of the
cuts Republicans have forced, people who rely on government services
will suffer, and the economy will lose jobs. The Republicans held the
government hostage, and we had no choice but to pay the
ransom.”

By rushing to champion the spending cuts,
Obama may be saving face, but he’s also setting a precedent that will make
the next round of cuts even easier. The truth is that Democrats conceded
under duress, they didn’t volunteer to cut spending because they thought
it would help the country.

Indeed, Democrats agreed to far more
cuts than the Republicans initially asked for. Cenk Uygur of the Young
Turks argues that the Tea Party and the ostensibly more mainstream
Republicans set up a very effective good
cop/bad cop
negotiating strategy in which the Democrats would offer
cuts and the mainstream Republicans would say, “I’d like to help you,
really I would, but you know my partner isn’t going to like that.”

Corporate taxes

Joshua Holland of AlterNet
explains how corporate American has successfully lobbied to shift an
ever-increasing share of its tax burden onto the backs of individual citizens:

Well, consider this:
in the 1940s, corporations paid 43 percent of all the federal income
taxes collected in this country. In the 1950s, they picked up the tab for
39 percent. But by the time the 1990s rolled around, corporations were
paying just 18.9 percent of federal income taxes, and they
forked over the same figure in the first decade of this century. We –
working people – paid the difference.

Something to
think about as we prepare to file our income tax returns.

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: Saying No to the Nuclear Option

8:33 am in Uncategorized by TheMediaConsortium

by Sarah Laskow, Media Consortium blogger

Faced with the nuclear crisis in Japan, governments around the world are confronting the vulnerabilities of their nuclear energy programs. And while some European countries, such as Germany and France, are already considering more stringent safety measures–or backing off of nuclear development altogether–in the United States, the Obama administration is pushing forward with plans for increased nuclear energy production.

Ultimately, these questions are the same that the country faced after last summer’s Gulf Coast oil spill. As we search for more and more clever ways to fill our energy needs, can we write off the risk of disaster? Or are these large-scale catastrophes so inevitable that the only option is to stop pursuing the policies that lead to them?

The risks of nuclear

As Inter Press Service’s Andrea Lund reports, anti-nuclear groups are using the Japanese disaster as just one example of the disadvantages of nuclear power. Linda Gunter, of the group Beyond Nuclear, told Lund:

Even if you get away from the safety issue, which is obviously front and centre right now because of what’s happening in Japan, and you look at solutions to climate change, then nuclear energy takes way too long to build, reactors take years to come online, they’re wildly expensive. Most of the burden of the cost will fall on the U.S. taxpayer in this country, so why go there?…The possibility of it going radically wrong, the outcome is so awful that morally you can’t justify it. The reliability of nuclear power is practically zero in an emergency when you have this confluence of natural disasters.

And, as Maureen Nandini Mitra writes at Earth Island Journal, there are plenty of nuclear plants that are at risk. “More than 100 of the world’s reactors are already sited in areas of high seismic activity,” she reports. “And what’s happening in Japan makes one thing clear – we have absolutely no idea if any of these plants are actually capable of withstanding unprecedented natural disasters.”

Build up

The irony of nuclear energy is that the world started relying on it in part to mitigate the perceived threat of nuclear weapons. Jonathan Schell writes in The Nation about nuclear power’s transition from warheads to reactors:

A key turning point was President Dwight Eisenhower’s Atoms for Peace proposal in 1953, which required nuclear-armed nations to sell nuclear power technology to other nations in exchange for following certain nonproliferation rules. This bargain is now enshrined in the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, which promotes nuclear power even as it discourages nuclear weapons….

Eisenhower needed some proposal to temper his growing reputation as a reckless nuclear hawk. Atoms for Peace met this need. The solution to nuclear danger, he said, was “to take this weapon out of the hands of the soldiers” and put it “into the hands of those who will know how to strip its military casing and adapt it to the arts of peace”—chiefly, those who would use it to build nuclear power plants.

While the threat of nuclear war still looms, since World War II, the nuclear materials that have caused the most damage have been those in the energy industry. And, as Schell reminds us, soldiers still have nuclear weapons in hand, as well.

The nuclear era

The Obama administration has always been gung-ho about nuclear energy: The president is from Illinois, after all, where Exelon Corp., one of the countries’ biggest nuclear providers, is based. Even in the face of Japan’s disaster, the administration is not backing off of its push for nuclear, as Kate Sheppard reports at Mother Jones:

Nuclear power is part of the “clean energy standard” that Obama outlined in his State of the Union speech in January. And in the 2011 budget, the administration called for a three-fold increase in federal loan guarantees for new nuclear power plants, from the $18.5 billion that Congress has already approved to $54.5 billion. “We are aggressively pursuing nuclear energy,” said Energy Secretary Steven Chu in February 2010 as he unveiled the budget….In Monday’s White House press briefing, press secretary Jay Carney said that nuclear energy “remains a part of the president’s overall energy plan.”

The state of safety in the U.S. nuclear industry isn’t particularly reassuring, though. As Arnie Gunderson told Democracy Now!‘s Amy Goodman, almost a quarter of American nuclear plants rely on the same design as the one currently faltering in Japan. Even worse, experts have known for decades that the design of this reactor is not safe. Gunderson explained:

This reactor design, this containment design, has been questioned since 1972. The NRC in 1972 said we never should have licensed this containment. And in 1985, the NRC said they thought it was about a 90 percent chance that in a severe accident this containment would fail. So, that we’re seeing it at Fukushima is an indication that this is a weak link. It’s this Mark I, General Electric Mark I, containment. And we have—essentially one-quarter of all of the nuclear reactors in the United States, 23 out of 104, are of this identical design.

It’d be reassuring if the U.S. government could promise that our superior safety standards would overcome these dangers. But, as Mother Jones‘ Sheppard writes, the day before the earthquake in Japan, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission extended the life a Vermont plant using this very design, over the objections of the state’s legislature.

Stumbling with stellar fire

Whatever the attractions of nuclear energy, it’s a dangerous business. The Nation‘s Schell puts it best when he argues that the fallibility of humankind is the biggest risk factor. He writes:

The problem is not that another backup generator is needed, or that the safety rules aren’t tight enough, or that the pit for the nuclear waste is in the wrong geological location, or that controls on proliferation are lax. It is that a stumbling, imperfect, probably imperfectable creature like ourselves is unfit to wield the stellar fire released by the split or fused atom.

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 Pulse: Japan’s Nuclear Crisis Deepens

4:47 pm in Uncategorized by TheMediaConsortium

By Lindsay Beyerstein, Media Consortium blogger

A second reactor unit at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant in Japan may have ruptured, authorities announced on Wednesday. This is on top of their earlier revelation that the containment vessel of a separate reactor unit had cracked.

As of Tuesday, four nuclear reactors in Japan seem to be in partial meltdown in the wake of an earthquake and tsunami, according to Christian Parenti of the Nation:

One of them, reactor No. 2, seems to have ruptured. The situation is spinning out of control as radiation levels spike. The US Navy has pulled back its aircraft carrier, the USS Ronald Reagan, after seventeen of its crew were exposed to radiation while flying sixty miles off the Japanese coast.

But despite three major explosions—at reactor No. 1, then No. 3, then No. 2—the Fukushima containment vessels seem to be holding. (Chernobyl lacked that precaution, having only a flimsy cement containment shell that collapsed, allowing the massive release of radioactive material.)

So, the good news is that only one out of four of the reactors is teetering on the brink of a full meltdown, and engineers might still be able to stave off disaster. The bad news, Parenti explains, is that spent fuel rods on the reactor sites could pose grave health hazards even if the threat of meltdown is averted. Even so-called “spent” rods remain highly radioactive.

The big question is whether the facilities that house this waste survived the earthquake, the tsunami, and any subsequent massive explosions at the nearby reactor. Given the magnitude of the destruction, and the relatively flimsy facilities used to house the spent rods, it seems unlikely that all the containment pools emerged unscathed. Parenti explains:

Unlike the reactors, spent fuel pools are not—repeat not—housed in any sort of hardened or sealed containment structures. Rather, the fuel rods are packed tightly together in pools of water that are often several stories above ground.

A pond at the Fukushima Daiichi plant is overheating, but radiation levels were so high that the Japanese military has postponed a helicopter mission to douse the pond with water.

Journalist and environmental activist Harvey Wasserman tells the Real News Network that the housing the spent rods (a.k.a. nuclear waste) is a chronic problem for the global nuclear industry.

Wasserman told GRITtv that the west coast of the United States has reactors that could suffer a similar fate in the event of a sufficiently large earthquake.

“If I were in Japan, I would at least get the children away from the reactor, because their bodies are growing faster and their cells are more susceptible to radiation damage. I would go out to 50 kilometers and at least get the children away from those reactors,” nuclear engineer Arnie Gundersen told DemocracyNow! on Tuesday. At the time he said this, 70,000 residents had already been forced to evacuate their homes, and another 140,000 were ordered to stay indoors.

Mainstreaming anti-contraception

Kirsten Powers, Fox News’ resident self-proclaimed liberal, took to the pages of the Daily Beast recently to make the bizarre case that Planned Parenthood should be de-funded because the 100-year-old organization doesn’t really prevent the half-million abortions that it claims to prevent by supplying millions of clients with reliable birth control. (Powers was forced to concede that a gross statistical error rendered her entire piece invalid.) At RH Reality Check, Amanda Marcotte describes how Powers attempted to repackage fringe anti-contraception arguments for a mainstream audience. At TAPPED, I explain why Planned Parenthood’s abortion-prevention claim is rock solid.

Diet quackery

Unscrupulous doctors are cashing in on the latest diet fad: hormone injections derived from the urine of pregnant women, Kristina Chew notes for Care2.com. Patients pay $1,000 for consultations, a supply human chorionic gonadotropin (hCG), and a 500-calorie-a-day diet plan. There is no evidence that hCG increases weight loss more than a starvation diet alone. But paying $1,000 to inject yourself in the butt every day does evidently work up a hell of a placebo effect.

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: Conservatives and Liberals Remain In Denial About Climate Change

7:17 pm in Uncategorized by TheMediaConsortium

by Sarah Laskow, Media Consortium blogger

The negative impacts of climate change are coming on more quickly than anyone expected. According to a new NASA study, ocean waters are creeping steadily upwards, at rates faster than predicted, Maureen Nandini Mitra reports at Earth Island Journal:

“That ice sheets will dominate future sea level rise is not surprising – they hold a lot more ice mass than mountain glaciers,” Eirc Rignot, the report’s lead author said in a statement emailed by NASA yesterday. “What is surprising is this increased contribution by the ice sheets is already happening.”

This is just the latest warning sign that climate change is happening and that its negative effects will occur more quickly than anyone has prepared for. This will happen despite Republicans’ insistence that there is no hard scientific proof of climate change, and that “just because you might be in the minority doesn’t always mean you’re wrong,” as Rep. Morgan Griffith (R-VA) put it this week at a House subcommittee hearing on climate science.

Dealing with it

This problem is not going to go away. The economist and blogger Tyler Cowen wrote this week that left-wing economists have a “reluctance to admit how hard the climate change problem will be to solve, for fear of wrecking any emerging political consensus on taking action.” In response, Mother Jones’ Kevin Drum comments, “Actually, liberals spend a ton of time talking about how hard climate change is. Still, there’s something to this. As hard as we say it is, it’s probably even harder than that.”

How hard? On Democracy Now!, Naomi Klein argued this week that progressive environmental groups have been pussy-footing around the scope of the issue entirely. She said:

What I see is that the green groups, a lot of the big green groups, are also in a kind of denial, because they want to pretend that this isn’t about politics and economics, and say, “Well, you can just change your light bulb. And no, it won’t really disrupt. You can have green capitalism.” And they’re not really wrestling with the fact that this is about economic growth. This is about an economic model that needs constant and infinite growth on a finite planet. So we really are talking about some deep transformations of our economy if we’re going to deal with climate change. And we need to talk about it.

That’s a tall order for green groups, however, when they’re having a hard time convincing conservatives that climate change even exists. As Klein says, refusing to believe in climate change has become one way that conservatives define themselves, politically, and the pull of ideological identification outweighs any rational attitude toward the science in question.

The example of agriculture

In many cases, solutions to the problems of climate change are clear. Only habit and political intransigence keep them from being put into action.

Agriculture is a great example of this tangle. Industrial farming pollutes earth, water, and air, while sustainable methods of farming promote global health. What’s more, they create as much, if not more, product than industrial farming techniques. This week the United Nations confirmed these benefits in a report on “eco-farming,” what Americans generally call sustainable agriculture. Inter Press Service reports:

“An urgent transformation to ‘eco-farming’ is the only way to end hunger and face the challenges of climate change and rural poverty,” said Olivier De Schutter, U.N. Special Rapporteur on the right to food. … Yields went up 214 percent in 44 projects in 20 countries in sub-Saharan Africa using agro-ecological farming techniques over a period of 3 to 10 years… far more than any GM [genetically modified] crop has ever done.

Despite this sort of success, the argument that agribusiness is necessary to feed the world is still running rampant. At Grist, Tom Philpott has been picking apart a series of articles from The Economist that explains, as Philpott puts it “how industrial agriculture is the true and only way to feed the 9 billion people who will inhabit the world by 2050.”

But as Philpott notes, sustainable farming can feed the global population and is better for the planet as well. The United Nations, he writes, has:

found that ‘ecological agriculture’ could ‘assist farmers in adapting to climate change’ by making farm fields more resilient to stress. So why isn’t eco-agriculture catching on? The report cites a bevy of obstacles, none of them technological:

“[L]ack of policy support at local, national, regional and international levels, resource and capacity constraints, and a lack of awareness and inadequate information, training and research on ecological agriculture at all levels.”

Obvious solutions

Indeed, it can be incredible how simple solutions to seemingly intractable problems can be. For instance, IPS reports, yet another UN report has found one solution to mitigating global hunger: Push back against gender inequality. IPS’s Alan Bojanic and Gustavo Anriquez write:

The UN agency’s report estimates that if women had the same access to agricultural assets, inputs, and services as men they could increase yields on their farms, and this increase could raise total agricultural output in developing countries by roughly 2.5 to 4 percent.

Moreover, such a growth in agricultural production could in turn bring 100 to 150 million people out of hunger – that is about 12 to 17 percent of the 925 million undernourished people that exist in the world according to FAO’s latest estimates.

Dealing with the problems of climate change might be harder than liberals often admit. But some of the simplest solutions haven’t even been tried yet.

This post features links to the best independent, progressive reporting about the environment bymembers 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 AuditThe Pulse, and The Diaspora. This is a project of The Media Consortium, a network of leading independent media outlets.

Weekly Audit: Police Defy Order to Clear Protesters from Wisconsin Capital

9:18 am in Uncategorized by TheMediaConsortium

Creative Commons, Flickr, eaghra

By Lindsay Beyerstein, Media Consortium blogger

On Monday afternoon, the Capitol Police in Madison, Wisconsin refused to enforce an order to clear the Capitol building of hundreds of peaceful protesters who have been occupying the site to protest Governor Scott Walker’s plan to eliminate the collective bargaining rights of public employees.

Amy Goodman of Democracy Now! interviews State Rep. Kelda Helen Roys (D), who spent Sunday night in the Capitol building with other protesters. Roys describes what happened at four o’clock on Monday afternoon when the government gave the order to clear the protesters from the building:

And after several hours of the same sorts of scenes that we’ve been seeing all week—singing, chanting, drumming, speechifying—the Capitol police captain, Chief Tubbs, made an announcement, and he said that the protesters that had remained in the building, they were being orderly and responsible and peaceful and there was no reason to eject them from the Capitol.

Police attempted to clear the building of protesters on Sunday night, but they relented when the protesters refused to leave and allowed them to stay another night. On Monday, the police decided not to eject protesters already inside, but no additional activists would be allowed in. The governor plans to deliver his budget address on Tuesday afternoon. Walker is expected to call for spending cuts that could exceed $1 billion dollars.

Gov. Walker has threatened mass public sector layoffs if the Democratic senators do not return from Illinois by March 1. However, the Uptake.com reports that one of the absent legislators, State Sen. Jon Erpenbach, claims Walker is not telling the truth. Erpenbach says the unions have already agreed to come up with the money the governor needs to balance the budget, and therefore, he has no need to lay anyone off to bridge the gap.

Wisconsin 101

Matthew Rothschild of The Progressive describes the epic scale of the Wisconsin protests:

This is the largest sustained rally for the rights of public sector workers that this country has seen in decades — perhaps ever.

The crowds at the state Capitol have swelled from 10,000-65,000 during the first week all the way up to 100,000 on Feb. 26. Hundreds of people occupied the Capitol building with a sit-in and sleep-in for days on end, and total strangers from around the world ordered pizzas for them.

In case you’re still wondering what all of this means, Andy Kroll, Nick Baumann, and Siddhartha Mahanta of Mother Jones have joined forces to bring you this “Wisconsin 101″ primer.

The Republicans in the Wisconsin House passed a bill that would take away collective bargaining rights for public sector unions, restrict their ability to collect dues, and force them to undergo yearly recertification votes. But the bill cannot become law until the state Senate also passes it. Currently, 14 Democratic state senators are hiding out in Illinois to deprive the Republican majority of the quorum they need to vote on the bill. However, as Kroll notes, if only one Democrat breaks faith and returns to Madison, the Republicans will be able to pass the bill.

Nationwide solidarity

Jamilah King of Colorlines.com brings us a photo essay on the solidarity rallies held around the country over the weekend in support of the Wisconsin protesters. From San Francisco to Salt Lake City to Atlanta to New York, people took to the streets in support of the right of workers to organize. Also at Colorlines.com, historian Michael Honey draws parallels between the situation in Wisconsin and Dr. Martin Luther King’s last crusade. Shortly before his assassination, King stood with the sanitation workers of Memphis to demand collective bargaining rights and the power to collect union dues.

George Warner of Campus Progress profiles some young activists who took to the streets of Washington, D.C. to express their solidarity with the Wisconsin protesters. About 1,500 people came out to a rally in support of the protesters on Saturday.

Anonymous strikes again

In a bizarre twist, a loosely organized coalition of anarchic hackers known as “Anonymous” attacked websites linked to Koch Industries on Sunday, Jessica Pieklo reports for Care2.com. The Koch brothers are among Gov. Walker’s most generous benefactors. The hackers launched a distributed denial of service attack on the website of the Koch-funded conservative group Americans for Prosperity.

In addition to generous campaign contributions, the Koch brothers gave $1 million to the Republican Governors Association, which in turn paid for millions of dollars worth of ads against Walker’s opponent in 2010. Walker is evidently very grateful to Koch. Last week, a writer for a Buffalo-based website got Walker on the phone by pretending to be David Koch.

Don’t look now, but…

Meanwhile, in Indiana, the state assembly reconvened on Monday to find most of the 40 Democratic members had decamped for Illinois. The legislators are apparently taking a page from the Wisconsin playbook. Indiana’s Republican governor is trying to pass legislation that would make permanent a ban on collective bargaining by public sector workers and the Democratic legislators are seeking to deny him the 2/3rds quorum required to vote on the bill.

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: A Recall Fight Brewing in Wisconsin?

10:19 am in Uncategorized by TheMediaConsortium

Creative Commons, Flickr, mrbula

By Lindsay Beyerstein, Media Consortium blogger

Tens of thousands of people continue their peaceful occupation of the Wisconsin state capital to protest a bill that would abolish most collective bargaining rights for public employees. As the protests entered their eighth day, GRITtv with Laura Flanders was broadcasting from Madison, Wisconsin in collaboration with The Uptake.

Flanders interviewed Nation journalist and seventh-generation Wisconsinite John Nichols. Nichols and fellow guest Matthew Rothschild of The Progressive noted that the bill isn’t just an attack on collective bargaining rights. The bill would force public sector unions to hold recertification votes every year, which would put their very existence on the line annually. “The unions realize that this is a threat to their very existence,” Rothschild explained.

A game of chicken

The Wisconsin state Assembly begins debate on the bill on Tuesday, but 14 Democratic senators remain in hiding in Illinois, depriving the Senate of the quorum it needs to vote on the bill. According to an obscure procedural rule, the state Senate can still pass bills on non-fiscal matters.

The result is that a game of chicken is about to begin, in which the Republicans will attempt to pass as many non-fiscal bills hated by Democratic senators as possible, such as legislation mandating photo ID for voters, in an attempt to provoke their colleagues into coming back home to vote on the fate of public sector unions.

The Democrats don’t control the state Senate at the best of times, so it’s not clear why they would be more eager to come home to lose on voter ID and public sector unions. As of Tuesday, the legislators in exile showed no signs of wavering, telling CBS that they were waiting to hear from the governor.

“I think if this [bill] gets pushed through, we’re going to have a recall effort and take this governor out,” Rothschild predicted.

Solidarity

An estimated 80,000 protesters gathered in Madison, Wisconsin to protest a Republican-backed budget bill that would abolish collective bargaining rights for most public employees, Democracy Now! reports.

The bill would spare the bargaining rights of unionized police officers and firefighters. However, Mahlon Mitchell, president of the Wisconsin Professional Firefighters Association, tells host Amy Goodman that Wisconsin’s firefighters and police officers stand with other public sector workers. “An assault on one is an assault on all,” Mitchell said.

Union busting, not budget fixing

Matthew Rothschild in The Progressive argues Gov. Walker’s real agenda is union busting, not budget repair. Walker claims that he is forced to abolish collective bargaining rights because the state can no longer afford them. But this is a matter of priorities, not a true fiscal emergency. Walker is asking working people to pick up the tab for his economic agenda. During his brief tenure in office, Walker refused $800 million in federal funds for high speed rail, which would have created jobs and stimulated the economy. He has also pushed through $117 million in tax breaks.

The captain of the Superbowl-winning Green Bay Packers, the NFL’s only non-profit team, has come out in solidarity with the protesters in Wisconsin, Dave Zirin reports in The Nation. Captain Charles Woodson said in a statement:

Last week I was proud when many of my current and former teammates announced their support for the working families fighting for their rights in Wisconsin. Today I am honored to join with them. Thousands of dedicated Wisconsin public workers provide vital services for Wisconsin citizens. They are the teachers, nurses and child care workers who take care of us and our families. These hard working people are under an unprecedented attack to take away their basic rights to have a voice and collectively bargain at work.

“Budget crisis” theater

Forrest Wilder in the Texas Observer notes that the Lone Star State is facing a $27 million shortfall of its own. He argues that Republicans are construing this relative small shortfall as a “budget crisis” in order to imbue their crusade against public services with a false sense of urgency. The budget gap could be bridged with a small and relatively painless tax increase, Wilder notes, but Republicans only want to talk about cuts.

Raise our taxes

Fifteen thousand Illinoisans massed in the state capital with an unusual demand for their state legislators: Raise our taxes! The Save Our State rally was one of the largest citizen assemblies in the history of the state legislature, David Moberg reports for In These Times. The event was organized by the Responsible Budget Coalition (RBC), an alliance of more than 300 organizations including social service agencies, public employee unions, and religious and civic groups. The RBC is calling on legislators to fix flaws in the Illinois tax structure that threaten essential services and the long-term financial health of the state.

No help for 99ers

Rep. Barbara Lee’s (D-CA) bid to attach a 14-week unemployment insurance extension for Americans whose benefits have run out (known as 99ers because they have already been unemployed for at least 99 weeks) to the continuing resolution to fund the government proved unsuccessful last week. Ed Brayton of the Michigan Messenger reports that the provision foundered late last Wednesday due to a procedural objection.

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: Don’t Snort Bath Salts, Kids

9:24 am in Uncategorized by TheMediaConsortium

by Lindsay Beyerstein, Media Consortium blogger

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

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

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

Anti-choice black op linked to James O’Keefe

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

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

Jodi Jacobson reports at RH Reality Check:

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

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

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

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

Sex, lies, and the classroom

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

Hot coffee!

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

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

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

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

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

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