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The Wavelength: The Battle Over Net Neutrality Rages On

12:59 pm in Uncategorized by TheMediaConsortium

By Eric K. Arnold, Media Consortium blogger

Four months after the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) supposedly settled the issue, the battle over Net Neutrality is still raging. If anything, it’s just beginning to heat up. On April 8, the Republican-controlled Congress resolved to repeal the FCC’s recent legislation surrounding Internet protections, and conservative activists are fighting tooth and nail to push back any apparent gains before they are realized. At the same time, media reform advocates say that the FCC’s December ruling on broadband policy did not go far enough in establishing consumer-friendly regulatory guidelines across both Internet and mobile platforms.

Meanwhile, the impact of the announced merger between AT&T and T-Mobile is still up for debate, and federal officials are raising anti-trust concerns against Google.

Genachowski comes to Oakland

Last week, FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski met with mayors from the Bay Area in Oakland to tout a mobile apps contest (a partnership with the Knight Foundation) as a way to reduce the digital divide, which has left one-third of Americans without broadband access. Genachowski remarked that those facing digital exclusion were primarily immigrants, minorities, disabled people, and other underserved communities. However, as I reported for Oakland Local, the visit was perhaps more notable for what Genachowski didn’t say.

At the press conference I attended, Genachowski didn’t take any questions, so asking him about the omission of Net Neutrality provisions for wireless carriers wasn’t possible. Nor could I ask him about the upcoming threat posed to low-power TV stations by mobile TV, which could hit 20 U.S. markets this year. Mobile TV could deprive low-power stations of critical bandwidth. Many of these stations reach diverse demographics that are underserved by network and mainstream cable television.

FCC Commissioner at NCMR: System ‘Out of Control’

The lack of a two-way discussion between the nation’s most powerful telecommunications official was disappointing, especially since numerous concerns remain over how the FCC will enforce media policy moving forward. As FCC Commissioner Michael Copps recently said at the National Conference for Media Reform, held April 8-10 in Boston: “just give us some sign that the FCC is putting the brakes on a system that is spinning dangerously out of control.”

Copps’ fiery speech was only one of many highlights at the NCMR, which was attended by thousands of people that are passionately interested in changing media. Some of the most inspiring moments included panels on music journalism and localism; comics as journalism’s future; race as a media issue; and how old-school journos are adapting to today’s new media world; and performance artist Sarah Jones inhabiting a range of different characters at the opening plenary.

Truthout’s Susie Cagle has an illustrated recap of NCMR here, and an archive of GRITtv’s segments from the conference is available here.

House Disapproves of Net Neutrality

In a follow-up to an earlier story, Truthout’s Nadia Prupis writes about an April 8 resolution by Congress to repeal the FCC’s Net Neutrality regulations. The vote, which passed 240-179, was largely partisan, with only six Democrats crossing party lines to support it. Republicans characterized the FCC’s regulation of the Internet as a “power grab,” questioning the agency’s authority to establish guidelines for cyberspace.

But Democrats countered that the resolution “disables a free and open Internet” and is an attempt to stifle innovation in the tech sector, a charge which is disputed by right-wing nonprofits like FreedomWorks. As Prupis reports, however, that group has received funding from both Verizon and AT&T, and the telecommunications companies “stand to benefit if the law is overturned.”

Despite the partisan rhetoric, the vote was largely symbolic, as the Democratic-controlled Senate is not expected to endorse the resolution.

Tea Party: Net Neutrality = ‘Media Marxism’

As Mother Jones’ Stephanie Mencimer reports, Net Neutrality has also come under fire from the Tea Party. Mencimer points out the irony of such a stance, noting that while an open Internet allows “even the smallest, poorest tea party group… the potential to reach a large audience,” the right-wing activists “inexplicably equate net neutrality with Marxism.”

Tea Party spokesman and Virginia Senate candidate James Radtke is quoted as saying “Net neutrality is an innocuous sounding term for what is really media Marxism.” He goes on to call it “an ideological attempt by those on the left to control the greatest means for the distribution of information ever devised.”

Yet Mencimer points out that much of the netroots activism practiced by the Tea Party has relied on an open Internet, unrestricted by ideological content, which Net Neutrality is intended to protect.

“The tea party’s position on net neutrality,” she writes, “has seemed counterintuitive, given just how badly conservative activists could be screwed by the big cable and phone companies should net neutrality rules be repealed. The whole movement has been organized online, making the Internet’s level playing field a crucial element to its success.”

Wireless Mega-Mergers and Ethnic Communities

New York Community Media Alliance’s Jehangir Khattak details how the AT&T/T-Mobile mega-merger could impact ethnic communities. The skinny: Ethnic populations “could be confronted by reduced service access and higher costs,” Khattak writes.

Khattak outlines the basic provisions of the merger and AT&T’s spin; according to the company, the deal could bring 4G LTE technology to 95 percent of the U.S. population. He also speaks with several members of the ethnic press, who voice concerns that the deal might allow the telecommunications giant to “control the quality of services, such as by dictating the available applications, software or the amount of data they’d allow to be transferred.”

Another concern: the “arcane”, “jargon-ridden” tech-speak of media policy is difficult for immigrant populations to decipher.

Khattak also notes that Genachowski’s compromise on Net Neutrality suggests the FCC Chairman is “unlikely to take the hard line, pro-regulatory stance… expected of him” by ethnic media advocates.

Google Under Federal Scrutiny—Again

Also in Truthout, Nadia Prupis reports that Google has come under scrutiny by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and the Department of Justice, which are considering launching an antitrust probe against the popular search engine.

As Prupis writes, “The DOJ recently approved Google’s $700 million deal with travel company ITA Software, but antitrust regulators are concerned that the acquisition may threaten competition in the travel information industry; specifically, the FTC is worried that Google could use the software to direct users to its own sites, depriving similar web sites such as Orbitz, Kayak and TripAdvisor of fair competition.”

The FTC’s interest in the case comes on the heels of DOJ’s antitrust division filing a civil lawsuit to block Google’s acquisition of ITA, citing concerns that airfare websites should have access to ITA’s software to keep competition “robust.” Though Google reportedly agreed to license that software to competitors, the FTC’s concern indicates that serious questions remain about Google’s potential to unfairly dominate the market, should the deal go through.

This is a project of The Media Consortium, a network of leading independent media outlets. 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. 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, and is produced with the support of the Media Democracy Fund.

Weekly Mulch: Obama Lacks Vision on Energy, Stomach to Defend EPA

8:13 am in Uncategorized by TheMediaConsortium

by Sarah Laskow, Media Consortium blogger

President Obama made an energy speech this week that had little new to offer, while on Capitol Hill, Republicans were pushing to relieve the government of its last options to limit carbon emissions. In the House Republicans have passed a bill that would keep the EPA from regulating carbon, and in the Senate, Majority Leader Harry Reid repeatedly pushed back a vote on the same issue.

But as Eartha Jane Melzer reports at The Michigan Messenger, Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) has become the latest senator to propose taking away the EPA’s authority over greenhouse gasses this week. If the Senate decides it wants to pursue this policy, it will have plenty of options to choose from.

Conflicting news leaked out about how strongly the Obama administration was willing to stand up for the EPA’s right (granted by the Supreme Court) to treat carbon as a pollutant under the Clear Air Act. Grist’s Glenn Hurowitz noted an Associated Press story with a comment indicating that the White House was telling Congress they’d have to compromise on this issue. But on Thursday the White House reassured progressive bloggers that it was opposed to any amendments to funding bills that furthered “unrelated policy agendas.”

The energy speech

The energy speech that President Obama delivered at Georgetown this week, however, did not do much to reassure climate activists that the administration will put forward a strong vision on these issues. The president talked about decreasing our dependence on foreign oil and set a goal of having 80% of the country’s electricity come from clean energy sources by 2035.

But as David Roberts at Grist writes, Obama skirted some of the trickiest issues. “The core truth is that for the U.S., oil problems mostly have to do with supply and oil solutions mostly have to do with demand,” he says. “America becomes safer from oil by using less. From the Democratic establishment, only retiring Sen. Jeff Bingaman (D-N.M.) is telling the public that truth.”

Is clean energy green energy?

President Obama is right that the country has room to pursue more clean energy opportunities. As Public News Service’s Mary Kuhlman reports, America is behind in the clean energy race. The Pew Environment Group just released a report that, according to Kuhlman, “finds the United States as a whole is falling behind in the global clean-energy race….The U.S. maintained the top spot until 2008, according to research from the Pew Charitable Trusts, but fell in 2010 to third behind China and Germany.”

But as I point out at TAPPED, when politicians use the words “clean energy,” they’re generally talking about mid-point solutions like natural gas and nuclear energy. President Obama’s proposed standard does not necessarily support renewable energy — wind and solar projects that are truly sustainable.

The alternatives

And as Gavin Aronsen writes at Mother Jones, renewable energy projects need more support. “The near-term future of solar power in the US will also depend on whether President Obama’s stimulus money keeps flowing,” he explains. “For now, energy companies have until the end of the year to qualify for funding. Meanwhile, some solar advocates are suggesting alternatives like installing panels on urban rooftops.”

If these projects flag, the alternative to renewable, or even clean, energy is not appealing. The world is beginning to depend on energy sources that require greater effort and create more environmental damage. Oil from tar sands is one such source, although as, Beth Buczynski reports at Care2, “a research group at Penn State spent the past 18 months developing a technique that uses ionic liquids (salt in a liquid state) to facilitate separation of oil from the sands in a cleaner, more energy efficient manner. The separation takes place at room temperature without the generation of waste water.” Sounds like an improvement!

Does genetically modified alfafa do a body good?

The Obama administration is not only disappointing on energy issues. At GritTV, Laura Flanders talks to New York Times food writer Mark Bittman about the future of organic food, and the two agree that the only person whose agriculture and food policy they can wholeheartedly endorse is Michelle Obama’s. Too bad she’s not part of the administration.

One recent gripe is the Department of Agriculture’s decision to approve genetically modified alfafa. “Essentially it’s the beginning of the end of organic,” Bittman said. “Once you introduce alfafa, which pollinates by the wind, you can’t guarantee that any alfafa doesn’t have genetically modified seed in it. And alfafa is used as hay, hay is used to feed cows, there goes organic milk. There goes a lot of organic meat.”

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 Audit: Hostile Takeover Threat Spurs Concessions from Michigan Unions

9:17 am in Uncategorized by TheMediaConsortium

By Lindsay Beyerstein, Media Consortium blogger

Michigan’s new Emergency Manager Law is already forcing major
concessions from unions. The law gives the governor the power to declare a
city insolvent and appoint an emergency manager with virtually unlimited
power to reorganize every aspect of city business, including dissolving
the city entirely. The emergency manager even has the power to terminate
collective bargaining agreements.

As a result of these expanded new
powers, public employees unions in some Michigan municipalities are
already making large preemptive concessions to keep their cities from
tripping any of the “triggers” in the new law that might give the governor
an opening to send in a union-busting
emergency manager, Eartha Jane Melzer reports in the Michigan
Messenger.

In Flint, the firefighters’ union agreed to increase
contributions to health insurance and give up holiday pay and night shift
differentials. Flint Firefighters Union President Raul Garcia told the Wall
Street Journal
that these concessions were driven by fear of a state
takeover of Flint. “I would rather give concessions that I would like than
have an [emergency financial manager] or something of that magnitude come
in and say this is what you are going to do,” Garcia said.

The new
law also gives the Emergency Manager the power to privatize prisons, Melzer notes.

Detroit grows green

The citizens of Detroit
aren’t waiting around for an emergency manager to take over. The city’s
industrial economy is dying, but its grassroots economy is stirring to
life, Jenny Lee and Paul Abowd report in In These Times. Detroit
residents have been growing their own
food
in town for decades, but recently activists and the city have
joined forces to link many small producers into a network that will
provide food security for the city.

Wal-Mart and wage
discrimination

Next week, the Supreme Court will take up
the case of 100 women who are suing Wal-Mart for wage discrimination. As
Scott Lemieux explains in The American Prospect, the Court will
decide whether these women can band
together
to sue the nation’s largest retailer, or whether each must
sue the firm individually.

Lemieux argues that, for the sake of
women’s rights at work, it is very important that these Wal-Mart employees
be allowed to sue together instead of one at a time:

Given the compelling stories these individual women can
tell, does it matter whether they can file suit collectively? Absolutely,
for at least two reasons. First of all, only a class-action suit can
properly create a record of the systematic gender discrimination
at Wal-Mart. Any individual case can be dismissed as an anomaly or a
misunderstanding, but the volume of complaints makes clear that gender
discrimination was embedded deeply within the culture of the corporation,
a very relevant fact for a discrimination suit.

Litigation is expensive and time-consuming, for the individuals and for
the court system. Forcing victims of discrimination to sue one by one
makes it less likely that they will seek justice, especially if they’re
suing because they were underpaid in the first place. Wal-Mart claims that
the class is too large to be allowed to proceed, and that the women
couldn’t possibly have similar enough claims. But as Lemieux points out,
the class is huge because Wal-Mart is huge.

War and the
deficit

Jamelle Bouie writes at TAPPED, in response to the United States’
new military commitments in Libya:

I just wish we could
at least acknowledge the obvious truth: conservatives don’t care about
deficits but will use them to cut spending on poor people. When it comes
to things they like — wars, for instance — they’re willing to pay any
price.

The U.S. fired 110 Tomahawk Missiles at Libya
on Saturday, at an estimated total cost of $81 million, or 33 times the
annual federal funding for National Public Radio.

Sally Kohn of
TAPPED notes that the United States scraped together $2.3 million worth of “blood money” to
pay off the families of the victims of Raymond Davis, a rogue CIA
operative who shot and killed two men who tried to rob him in Pakistan.
Laura Flanders of GRITtv calculates
that $2.3 million ransom for a single killer would have paid the salaries
of 45 Wisconsin public school teachers
for a year.

Public pensions 101

We often
hear that public pensions are unfunded.
On the Breakdown, Chris Hayes of The Nation asks economist Dean
Baker what this actually means. Baker explains that s0-called “defined
benefit” pensions have become rare in the private sector, but remain
relatively common in the public sector. A defined benefit pension
guarantees the pensioner a certain income. Most private sector pensions
are so-called “defined contribution” plans, which means that employer puts
aside a certain amount of money each month for the employee, but there’s
no guarantee how much return the pensioner will eventually get on that
investment.

A state pension fund is considered unfunded if the
assets the fund has today aren’t sufficient to cover the defined benefits
that are due to workers over the next 30 years. Baker notes that many
funds are a lot healthier than they look because their values were
calculated at the nadir of the stock market in 2009. The market has since
made up a large percentage of that ground. A handful of states were
mismanaging their pension funds, but most states have been
responsible.

Ethical outlaws

Bea is a
manager of a big-box chain store in Maine. The company pays her staff
between $6 and $8 an hour and many are struggling. Even as she tries to
keep a professional atmosphere in the store, Bea has been known to bend the rules to help an employee in
need, as Lisa Dodson describes in YES! Magazine:

When one of her employees couldn’t afford to buy her
daughter a prom dress, Bea couldn’t shake the feeling that she was
implicated by the injustice. “Let’s just say … we made some mistakes
with our prom dress orders last year,” she told me. “Too many were
ordered, some went back. It got pretty confusing.” And Edy? “She knocked
them dead” at the prom.

Andrew, a manager in the
Midwest is quietly padding his employees’ paychecks because he knows their
wages aren’t enough to live on. Andrew knows he might be accused of
stealing, but he does it anyway because the alternative is
unthinkable.

Dodson interviewed hundreds of low- and middle-income
people about the economy between 2001 and 2008. Along the way, she
stumbled on what she calls “the moral underground,” a world where managers
bend the rules at corporate expense to enable their low-wage staff to get
by. It is legal to pay people less than a living wage, but increasing
numbers of people like Bea and Arthur have decided that the situation is
morally unacceptable, and quietly acted accordingly.

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: 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.

Showdown in Madison: A Primer for the Wisconsin Protests

2:34 pm in Uncategorized by TheMediaConsortium

by Raquel Brown, Media Consortium blogger

It’s been a tumultuous week in Madison, Wisconsin. Tens of thousands of state workers, teachers, and students have packed the state Capitol building to protest Republican Gov. Scott Walker’s plan to weaken public unions.

In a move ostensibly aimed to balance the state budget, Walker proposed a bill on Friday, February 11 that would dislodge collective bargaining rights for all public workers except for police, firefighters and the state patrol—some of the few public employee unions that supported Walker’s gubernatorial campaign. In addition, the bill will require most state workers to pay significantly more for pensions and health premiums.

Armed with scores of clever signs, demonstrators are rumbling through Madison, chanting “Kill the bill” and “This is what democracy looks like!” To delay the passage of Walker’s controversial bill and forge negotiations, 14 state Senate Democrats fled the state on Thursday, leaving the chamber with too few lawmakers to take a vote.

The Uptake is also LiveStreaming from Madison:

Roger Bybee of Working In These Times explains why the protests in Wisconsin are vital to America’s labor movement. “America’s labor movement is enjoying a great start in this epic battle to hold onto fundamental union rights in Wisconsin. It’s already had vast repercussions across the nation,” Bybee writes.

For the people?

Walker claims that the Democrats’ boycott is disrespectful to democracy. Further, he contends that his anti-union bill is representative of the people since he fairly won the election and Republicans gained control of both houses in the Wisconsin state legislature last November.

But John Nichols of The Nation argues that Walker’s elected position does not give him total free reign over the state: “Democracy does not end on Election Day. That’s when it begins. Citizens do not elect officials to rule them from one election to the next. Citizens elect officials to represent them, to respond to the will of the people as it evolves.”

This week, Wisconsin workers have embraced their First Amendment right to “peaceably assemble and petition the government” and are making sure their voices are heard.

Furthermore, according to Colorlines.com’s Kai Wright, the current assault on public workers is racialized. He writes:

But as governors and columnists have painted pictures of overpaid, underworked public employee in recent weeks, I have also seen the faint outline of familiar caricatures—welfare queens, Cadillacs in the projects, Mexican freeloaders. It’s hard to escape the fact that, in the states and localities with the biggest budget crunches (New Jersey, California, New York…) public employees are uniquely black.

Young people rallying

Emboldened by the bill’s potential to destroy the quality of their education, students have helped the protests gain momentum. While graduate students led a “teach-out,” undergraduate students organized a “walk-out” from university classes and a sleep in at the capital’s rotunda.

Micah Uetricht of Campus Progress writes, “If public sector union workers—indeed, all workers—are to gain dignified work and lives, it will take a mass cross-generational mobilization that engages students and workers of all ages and industries. In other words, it will take the kind of movement in full bloom in Madison right now.”

Here comes the Tea Party…

Tea party activists will meet head-to-head with union protesters on Saturday, as many are flocking to the state Capitol for a massive counter-demonstration in support of Walker’s bill. Led by the conservative group American Majority, and other conservative pundits like Andrew Breitbart, Jim Hoft and Joe “The Plumber” Wurtzelbacher, Stephanie Mencimer of Mother Jones reports that “the organizers of this anti-union protest do have the resources and know-how to stage a big rally. … But more important, the scheduled protest appears to be resonating with Tea Party activists across the country, who have been praising Walker for taking on unions.”

Historical perspective

Wisconsin was “the birthplace of public sector unions” 50 years ago, which makes Walker’s proposal a significant break from the state’s pro-labor past. Even worse, “other state legislatures could see Walker’s assault on public employees and their unions as a blueprint for how to fix their own budget catastrophes,” notes Mother Jones’ Siddhartha Mahanta. “Such plans are already under consideration in places like Ohio, Indiana, and Tennessee, where the GOP scored major electoral victories last November.” Thus, the bill is an attack not only on Wisconsin’s workers, but on the rights of public workers across the country.

From Egypt to the Midwest

So does this make Walker the Mubarak of the Midwest? In light of Egypt’s recent uprisings, The American Prospect’s Harold Meyerson examines the glaring double standard surrounding Wisconsin’s protests:

American conservatives often profess admiration for foreign workers’ bravery in protesting and undermining authoritarian regimes. Letting workers exercise their rights at home, however, threatens to undermine some of our own regimes (the Republican ones particularly) and shouldn’t be permitted. Now that Wisconsin’s governor has given the Guard its marching orders, we can discern a new pattern of global repressive solidarity emerging – from the chastened pharaoh of the Middle East to the cheese-head pharaoh of the Middle West.

But, wait: There’s more! Here are some other notable stories from Wisconsin:

The Progressive’s Josh Healey provides a list of ten things you should know about Wisconsin’s crusade for worker’s rights.
Adele M. Stan of AlterNet describes Walker’s cozy relationship with the Koch Brothers’ deep pockets.
On GRITtv, Milwaukee’s Ellen Bravo reveals state workers struggle for basic rights, while Ev Liebman shares her similar experience in New Jersey.
Free Speech Radio News interviews Wisconsin Senate Minority Leader Mark Miller  from an “undisclosed location.”
This post features links to the best independent, progressive reporting about the Wisconsin protests by members of The Media Consortium. It is free to reprint. For more news on Wisconsin, 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, The Pulse, and The Diaspora. This is a project of The Media Consortium, a network of leading independent media outlets.

Weekly Pulse: New Anti-Choice Bill Suggests More #DearJohn Letters Needed

3:23 pm in Uncategorized by TheMediaConsortium

By Lindsay Beyerstein, Media Consortium blogger

Health advocate Eesha Pandit and blogger Sady Doyle join GRITtv host Laura Flanders for a discussion of the House GOP’s draconian abortion bill, H.R.3. The bill, which Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) has called a top priority, would permanently restrict federal funding for abortion, even beyond the already stringent guidelines set out in the Hyde Amendment.

Doyle launched the #dearjohn Twitter campaign to channel public outrage over H.R. 3, particularly its clause that changed the existing “rape and incest” exception for Medicaid funding for abortion to an exception for “forcible rape.”The GOP ultimately removed the word “forcible,” but the bill’s other far-reaching restrictions remain in place.

Getting the “forcible” proviso removed from the bill was a small victory, but Doyle notes the fight is far from over. H.R. 3 isn’t the only radical anti-choice bill on the GOP’s legislative agenda. Carol Joffe reports at RH Reality Check that H.R.358 (the so-called “Protect Life Act”) would give hospitals unlimited discretion to turn away women who needed abortions, even to save their lives.

Insure pregnant women

A California state senator is taking on insurance companies for denying pregnancy-related health care coverage, Brie Cadman reports at Change.org. State senator Noreen Evans has introduced a bill that would protect insurance coverage for pregnant women in the individual health insurance market. Unlike group insurers and HMOs, private plans in the state are currently not required to cover maternity care. In 2004, 82% of individual health insurance plans in California covered maternity care; by 2009, only 19% of individual plans did so.

Irony alert

The individual mandate component of health care reform, which will impose a tax on people who don’t buy health insurance, is the bete noire of conservative Republicans, and the target of multiple constitutional challenges working their way through the courts. Ironically, as Simeon Talley explains at Campus Progress, the mandate was originally proposed by a Republican as a bulwark againstsocialized medicine:

Indeed the individual mandate has its genesis on the right. Ezra Klein interviews ‘Father of the Mandate’ Republican Mark Pauly: “We did it because we were concerned about the specter of single-payer insurance, which isn’t market-oriented, and we didn’t think [that] was a good idea. One feature was the individual mandate.”

Medicine and the public good

At truthout, Dr. Andrew Saal remembers what he said when a medical colleague asked him to sign a petition to repeal health care reform:

I centered myself and spoke in calm, measured phrases, with a warm smile. “I believe that the status quo is unsustainable. I believe that caring for those unable to pay is a matter of civic duty and professional honor. And while a pinch of free enterprise may keep the system nimble and foster innovation, at the end of the day, medicine is a social commodity similar to police and fire services.”

Saal’s colleague argues that he should be entitled to charge as much as the market will bear for medical services. After all, he studied hard and went to medical school. Saal sees things differently. He argues that, while doctors are entitled to fair compensation for their skilled services, medical knowledge is social. The doctor who places a cardiac stent didn’t invent the procedure. Saal notes that federal tax dollars fund the basic research that makes medical breakthroughs possible. While the stent itself may have been developed by a private company, the company couldn’t have invented it if the government hadn’t invested untold millions of dollars on basic research.

What’s more, Saal notes, doctors don’t pay the full cost of their schooling. The federal government subsidizes medical education through low interest federal loans, the university system itself, and Medicare reimbursements for interns and residents (doctors in training).

Nail salon hazards

Nail salon workers are exposed to a miasma of formaldehyde, toluene, and other known and suspected chemical hazards. The National Radio Project takes a closer look at the potential health effects of working long hours in poorly ventilated salons.

In California, the issue is of special concern to the Vietnamese community. An astonishing two-thirds of nail salon workers in the state are Vietnamese immigrants, most of them women in their childbearing years. Epidemiologists have yet to definitively prove a link between nail salon exposure and chronic disease, but the suspect chemicals have been shown to cause cancer in laboratory animals.

The bottom line is that safer chemicals are available. Activists say that regulators should mandate healthier alternatives now.

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 Audit: We Welcome Our New Plutocratic Overlords

8:10 am in Uncategorized by TheMediaConsortium

By Lindsay Beyerstein, Media Consortium blogger

Meet the new global elite. They’re pretty much the same as the old global elite, only richer and more smug.

Laura Flanders of GritTV interviews business reporter Chrystia Freeland about her cover story in the latest issue of the Atlantic Monthly on the new ruling class. She says that today’s ultra-rich are more likely to have earned their fortunes in Silicon Valley or on Wall Street than previous generations of plutocrats, who were more likely to have inherited money or established companies.

As a result, she argues, today’s global aristocracy believes itself to be the product of a meritocracy. The old sense of noblesse oblige among the ultra-rich is giving way to the attitude that if the ultra-rich could do it, everyone else should pull themselves up by their bootstraps.

Ironically, Freeland points out that many of the new elite got rich from government bailouts of their failed banks. It’s unclear why this counts as earning one’s fortune, or what kind of meritocracy reserves its most lavish rewards for its most spectacular failures.

Class warfare on public sector pensions

In The Nation, Eric Alterman assails the Republican-controlled Congress’s decision to scrap the popular and effective Build America Bonds program as an act of little-noticed class warfare:

These bonds, which make up roughly 20 percent of all new debt sold by states and local governments because of a federal subsidy equivalent to some 35 percent of interest costs, ended on December 31, as Republicans proved unwilling even to consider renewing them. The death of the program could prove devastating to states’ future borrowing.

Alterman notes that the states could face up to $130 billion shortfall next year. States can’t deficit spend like the federal government, which made the Build America Bonds program a lifeline to the states.

According to Alterman, Republicans want the states to run out of money so that they will be unable to pay the pensions of public sector workers. He notes that Reps. Devin Nunes (R-CA), Darrell Issa (R-CA) and Paul Ryan (R-WI) are also co-sponsoring a bill to force state and local governments to “recalculate” their pension obligations to public sector workers.

Divide and conquer

Kari Lydersen of Working In These Times explains how conservatives use misleading statistics to pit private sector workers against their brothers and sisters in the public sector. If the public believes that teachers, firefighters, meter readers and snowplow drivers are parasites, they’ll feel more comfortable yanking their pensions out from under them.

Hence the misleading statistic that public sector workers earn $11.90 more per hour than “comparable” private sector workers. However, when you take education and work experience into account, employees of state and local governments typically earn 11% to 12% less than private sector workers with comparable qualifications.

Public sector workers have better benefits plans, but only for as long as governments can afford to keep their contractual obligations.

Who’s screwing whom?

Former Secretary of Labor Robert Reich is calling for a sense of perspective on public sector wages and benefits. In AlterNet he argues that the people who are really making a killing in this economy are the ultra-rich, not school teachers and garbage collectors:

Public servants are convenient scapegoats. Republicans would rather deflect attention from corporate executive pay that continues to rise as corporate profits soar, even as corporations refuse to hire more workers. They don’t want stories about Wall Street bonuses, now higher than before taxpayers bailed out the Street. And they’d like to avoid a spotlight on the billions raked in by hedge-fund and private-equity managers whose income is treated as capital gains and subject to only a 15 percent tax, due to a loophole in the tax laws designed specifically for them.

Signs of hope?

The economic future looks pretty bleak these days. Yes, the unemployment rate dropped to 9.4% from 9.8% in December, but the economy added only 103,000, a far cry from the 300,000 jobs economists say the economy really needs to add to pull the country out its economic doldrums.

Andy Kroll points out in Mother Jones that it will take 20 years to replace the jobs lost in this recession, if current trends continue.

Worse yet, what looks like job growth could actually be chronic unemployment in disguise. The unemployment rate is calculated based on the number of people who are actively looking for work. Kroll worries that the apparent drop in the unemployment rate could simply reflect more people giving up their job searches.

For an counterweight to the doom and gloom, check out Tim Fernholtz’s new piece in The American Prospect. He argues that the new unemployment numbers are among several hopeful signs for economic recovery in 2011. However, he stresses that his self-proclaimed rosy forecast is contingent upon avoiding several huge pitfalls, including drastic cuts in public spending.

With the GOP in Congress seemingly determined to starve the states for cash, the future might not be so rosy after all.

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: Sanders Filibusters Tax Cuts, Electrifies the Left

9:01 am in Uncategorized by TheMediaConsortium

By Lindsay Beyerstein, Media Consortium blogger

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT), a self-described socialist who caucuses with the Democrats, became a folk hero to progressives when he took to the floor of the Senate for nearly nine hours on Friday to speak against the plan to extend tax cuts for the wealthy in exchange for extending unemployment benefits for millions of workers and extending tax breaks for the middle class.

On the Senate floor, Sanders accused his Republican colleagues of wanting to roll back the New Deal:

And that is, they want to move this country back into the 1920s, when essentially we had an economic and political system which was controlled by Big Money interests, where working people in the middle class had no programs to sustain them when things got bad, when they got old, when they got sick, when labor unions were very hard to come by because of anti-worker legislation.

Senate video servers were overwhelmed as over 12,000 people tried to watch online, John Nichols of The Nation reports.

“Instead of us having to compromise all the time, maybe it’s time of for some of the Republicans to start compromising,” Sanders told host Laura Flanders in an interview with GritTV. (Watch the video.)

Sanders said that over the past few days his office had received 2,000 calls congratulating him for his stance.

Despite Sanders’ eloquent appeal to level the economic playing field,  the Senate seems poised to move on the Obama tax deal, notes Steve Benen at Washington Monthly the plan will fare in the House. The House Democratic caucus rejected the plan on Thursday in an unofficial vote.

Some Democratic House members have voiced their frustrations with the president. Still, Benen thinks it’s unlikely that House Democrats have any intention of scuttling the bill. Nancy Pelosi and the Democrats realize they will probably get an even less favorable bill if they wait until the Republicans take over control of the House.

Ed Brayton of the Michigan Messenger notes that while the two houses of Congress were negotiating, more than one million Americans had already lost their unemployment benefits at the end of November and hundreds of thousands more stand to lose their benefits in the coming weeks.

Roger Bybee of Working In These Times points out that the so-called “99-ers”, people who have been out of work for over 99 weeks, will not be helped by the proposed compromise on unemployment benefits extensions. Approximately 2 million people have already hit the 99-week wall on UI benefits. The so-called Grand Compromise won’t stop their benefits from running out.

The proposed deal, dubbed “benefits-for-billionaires” by GritTV host Laura Flanders, would also effectively end the Build America Bonds program, a program that allows cash-strapped states to borrow to maintain public services. As labor activist and commentator Bill Fletcher pointed out in an interview with Flanders, ending the bonds program is an attack on public sector retirement benefits. If credit dries up, the states will be unable to meet their obligations, such as retirement benefits promised to public sector workers. This is backdoor union-busting. If the state has no money, its contracts aren’t worth the paper they’re printed on.

Taibbi vs. the Vampire Squid

Chris Lehmann of The Nation has a positive review of journalist Matt Taibbi’s new book, Griftopia: Bubble Machines, Vampire Squids, and the Long Con That Is Breaking America. The book is Taibbi’s wide-ranging take on the meltdown of the American economy from the housing bubble to the credit crisis and beyond. The Vampire Squid is Goldman Sachs, to whom Taibbi allots an outsize share of the blame for derailing the U.S. economy.

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: Millions of Americans Could Lose Unemployment Benefits

8:20 am in Uncategorized by TheMediaConsortium

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

by Lindsay Beyerstein, Media Consortium blogger

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

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

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

But wait! There’s more:

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

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

Weekly Mulch: What’s in Your Water? Nuclear Waste, Coal Slurries and Industrial Estrogen

9:14 am in Uncategorized by TheMediaConsortium

By Sarah Laskow, Media Consortium blogger

It won’t be long before the world has to confront its diminishing supply of clean water.

“We’ve had the same amount of water on our planet since the beginning of time, ” Susan Leal, co-author of Running Out of Watertold GritTV’s Laura Flanders. “We are on a collision course of a very finite supply and 7.6 billion people.”

What’s worse, private industries—and energy companies in particular—are using waterways as dumping grounds for hazardous substances. With the coal industry, it’s an old story; with the natural gas industry, it’s a practice that can be nipped in the bud.

In many cases, dumping pollutants into water is a government-sanctioned activity, although there are limits to how much contamination can be approved. But companies often overshoot their pollution allowances, and for some businesses, like a nuclear energy plant, even a little bit of contamination can be a problem.

Business as usual

Here’s one troubling scenario. At Grist, Sue Sturgis reports that “a river downstream of a privately-owned nuclear fuel processing plant in East Tennessee is contaminated with enriched uranium.” The concentrations are low, and the water affected is still potable. The issue, however, is that the plant was not supposed to be discharging any of this sort of uranium at all. One researcher explained that the study had “only scratched the surface of what’s out there and found widely dispersed enriched uranium in the environment.” In other words, the contamination could be more widespread than is now known.

Nuclear energy facilities must take particular care to keep the waste products of their work separate from the environment around them. But in some industries, like coal, polluting water supplies is routine practice.

The dirtiest energy

In West Virginia, more than 700 people are suing infamous coal company Massey Energy for defiling their tap water, Charles Corra reports at Change.org. In Mingo County, tap water comes out as “a smooth flow of black and orange liquid.” Country residents are arguing that the contamination is a result of water from coal slurries, a byproduct of mining that contains arsenic and other contaminants, leaking into the water table. Residents believe the slurries also cause health problems like learning disabilities and hormone imbalances, as Corra reports.

Newfangled notions

Even so-called “clean coal,” which would inject less carbon into the atmosphere, is worrisome when it comes to water. The carbon siphoned from clean coal doesn’t disappear; it’s sequestered under ground. For a new clean coal project in Linden, NJ, Change.org’s Austin Billings reports, that chamber would be 70 miles out to sea. As Billings writes:

The plant would be the first of its kind in the world, so it should come as no surprise that the proposal is a major cause for concern among New Jersey environmentalists, fishermen, and lawmakers. According to Dr. Heather Saffert of Clean Ocean America, “We don’t really have a good understanding of how the CO2 is going to react with other minerals… The PurGen project is based on one company’s models. What if they’re wrong?”

In this case, it wouldn’t only be human communities at risk (“Polluted Jersey Shore,” anyone?), but the ocean’s ecosystem.

Frack no!

Coal communities in West Virginia have been dealing with water pollution for decades. But a another source of energy extraction—hydrofracking for natural gas—has only just begun to threaten water supplies. Care2’s Jennifer Mueller points to a recent “60 Minutes” segment that explores the attendant issues: it’s a must-watch for anyone unfamiliar with what’s at stake.

Fortunately, some of the communities at risk have been working to head off the damage before it hits. In Pittsburgh this week, leaders banned hydrofracking within the city, according to Mari Margil and Ben Price in Yes! Magazine. They write:

As Councilman [Doug] Shields stated after the vote, “This ordinance recognizes and secures expanded civil rights for the people of Pittsburgh, and it prohibits activities which would violate those rights. It protects the authority of the people of Pittsburgh to pass this ordinance by undoing corporate privileges that place the rights of the people of Pittsburgh at the mercy of gas corporations.”

Environmentalists in other municipalities, in state government, and in Congress would do well to follow Pittsburgh’s lead.

Mutant fish

Of course, you can’t believe every tale of water contamination you hear. At RhRealityCheck, Kimberly Inez McGuire takes on the persistent myth that estrogen from birth control is making its way in large concentrations into the water supply and leading to mutations in fish.

This simply isn’t true. As McGuire explains, “The estrogen found in birth control pills, patches, and rings (known as EE2) is only one of thousands of synthetic estrogens that may be found in our water, and the contribution of EE2 to the total presence of estrogen in water is relatively small.” Where does the rest of the estrogen come from? Factory farms, industrial chemicals like BPA, and synthetic estrogen used in crop fertilizer. So, yes, the water is contaminated, but, no, your birth control is not to blame.

Greening the US

Stories like these, of environmental pollution by corporations, seem to come up again and again. They’re barely news anymore and so easy to ignore. But it’s more important than ever for environmentalists to fight back against these challenges and push for a green economy that minimizes pollution. The American Prospect’s Monica Potts recently sat down with The Media Consortium to explain the roadblocks to a green economy. If green-minded people want to stop hearing tales like the ones above, these are the obstacles they’ll need to overcome: watch the video.

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.