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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 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 Mulch: Chevron Must Pay; GOP Tries to Gut the EPA

2:52 pm in Uncategorized by TheMediaConsortium

By Sarah Laskow, Media Consortium blogger

An Ecuadorian judge ordered Chevron this week to pay $8.6 billion in damages for polluting the Amazon rainforest from 1964 until 1990. The payout is the second largest ever in an environmental case, with only the damages BP agreed to pay in the wake of last summer’s Deepwater Horizon spill being higher.

Environmental lawyers and advocates hailed the case as a landmark victory, but as Rebecca Tarbotton reports at AlterNet, Chevron is still planning to fight the case.

“In fact, the oil giant has repeatedly refused to pay for a clean up even if ordered to by the court,” she writes. “In one chilling statement, Charles A. James, Chevron’s vice president and general counsel, told law students at UC Berkeley that Chevron would fight ‘until hell freezes over, and then skate on the ice.’”

The Cost of Doing Business

Chevron can continue to fight the case because it’s cheaper for them to fund their lawyers than to cough up billions. Like so many environmental issues, this one comes down to money, which environmentally destructive corporations always seem to have and activists, regulators, and victims simply don’t.

In Washington, the newly empowered Republican Party is doing its darndest to make sure that remains the case. It’s budget season, and the Environmental Protection Agency is one of the prime targets for cutting in Republicans’ budget proposals. Kate Sheppard reports at Mother Jones that House Republicans are not only trying to take away $3 billion from the agency, but also are pushing to bar the EPA from regulating carbon or other greenhouse gasses. Putting this in context, Sheppard writes:

The National Wildlife Federation says the cuts amount to a “sneak attack” on existing environmental laws like the Clean Air and Clean Water Acts, because they would make it basically impossible for the EPA to do its job. The huge cut—the biggest in 30 years—”would jeopardize the water we drink and air we breathe, endangering the health and well-being of all Americans,” Gene Karpinski, the president of the League of Conservation Voters, said Monday.

The need for green

But environmentalists have their backers, too. At Grist, Bill McKibben, the author and climate activist who co-founded the climate group 350.org, has an interesting look at how the Sierra Club’s National Coal Campaign, led by Bruce Nilles, banded together with other environmental activists to successfully shut down proposals for coal-fired power plants across the country. One of the keys, of course, was money:

A consortium of foundations led by the Rockefeller Family Fund helped provide not only resources for the fight but crucial coordination. By the summer of 2005, RFF’s Larry Shapiro, David Wooley from The Energy Foundation, Nilles, and others formed a loosely organized “coal cadre.”

The coordination was crucial not only for the advocacy groups involved, which each have different strengths and geographical bases, but for the money men as well:

“I first went to Florida in 2005 to meet with several groups fighting coal plants,” said Shapiro. “I thought I would figure out who we could give $50,000 to. After my trip, I realized it wasn’t a $50,000 project — it was a million-dollar project. Over time, the Energy Foundation and others got into the game, so we ended up with some real money.”

In the end, McKibben reports, RFF gathered together, from its own pockets and from other foundations, $2.8 million.

Windfall

On top of the type of advocacy work that McKibben details, there’s another reason why more communities and companies are moving away from coal-fired power plants: they have a choice. Plants fueled with natural gas are a popular alternative, but as Gina Marie Cheeseman writes at Care2, in some areas, onshore wind power can compete with coal on costs.

“In some areas of the U.S., Brazil, Mexico and Sweden, the cost of wind power ($68 per megawatt hour) generated electricity is competitive with coal-fired power ($67 a megawatt hour),” Cheeseman writes. Wind power is also, she notes, competitive with natural gas, according to the American Wind Energy Association.

Close to home

These sort of adjustments make it easier for consumers to make sustainable choices. And in the end, personal choices do impact the amount of carbon humanity is spewing into the atmosphere. As two recent European studies showed, men make choices that generally produce more carbon emissions than women, Julio Godoy reported for Inter Press Service.

One study focused on France, the other on Germany, Greece, Norway, and Sweden. The second study, conducted by researchers at the Swedish Defence Research Agency, found that men ate more meat, drank more processed beverages, and drove more frequently and for longer distances. Annika Carlsson-Kanyama, one of the study’s authors, has argued that their results apply more broadly, too.

“These differences are not specific to the four countries studied, but are generalised across the European Union and have little to do with the different professional activities of men and women,” she told Godoy.

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 Mulch: Monsanto’s Mutant Alfalfa and the Feral Pig Invasion

6:06 pm in Uncategorized by TheMediaConsortium

by Sarah Laskow, Media Consortium blogger


Agribusiness giant Monsanto is strengthening its hold over the food system both in this country and abroad, with some help from the U.S. government.

Food safety advocates have been trying to derail the roll-out of the company’s newest product, Roundup Ready alfalfa, or at least limit its use, Mike Ludwig reports at Truthout. But Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack announced recently that use of the alfalfa seeds would be fully deregulated and available for use across the country.

“The decision squashed a proposed compromise between the biotech industry and its opponents that would have placed geographic restrictions on Roundup Ready alfalfa to prevent organic and traditional alfalfa from being contaminated by herbicide sprays and transgenes spread by cross-pollination and other factors,” Ludwig reports.

Home and away

President Barack Obama’s food safety and agriculture team includes quite a few Monsanto supporters. Michael Taylor, the deputy commissioner for foods at the Food and Drug Administration, worked on public policy for the company for three years, for instance. And the agriculture department’s chief scientist, Roger Beachy, came to administration from a research organization co-founded by Monsanto.

Obama administration officials are also working with Monsanto on a plan called “New Visions for Agriculture,” which promotes global food security, Kristen Ridley reports at Change.org.

“This particular plan uses taxpayer dollars through Obama’s Feed the Future initiative to ‘advance market-based solutions’ to increase yield in the developing world,” she writes. “In other words, these companies will be exporting the Big Ag system to developing nations in the name of ‘feeding the world,’ but the only thing they’ll really be feeding is their profits.”

International impacts

For the developing countries involved, the pitch for food security might sound good now. But the United States doesn’t have a great track record when it comes to international interventions on behalf of corporate interests. In Colombia, for instance, local activists are pushing back against a new Canadian goal mining project in part because their communities have already experienced environmental destruction at the hands of U.S.-based mining interests, Inter Press Service’s Helda Martinez reports.

While GreyStar, the Canadian company pushing the project, has promised it will not harm the environment, leaders like former environment minister Manuel Rodríguez are pointing to similar claims made by U.S. coal companies in the past.

“The U.S. firm ‘Drummond told me the same thing 20 years ago,’ Rodríguez said,” according to Martinez.

“The former minister was referring to the proven environmental damages caused in the northern province of Cesar by Drummond’s coal mining — a disaster compounded by serious allegations of violations of the human rights of local residents and mineworkers,” she writes.

Unwelcome visitors

As Eartha Jane Melzer reports for The Michigan Messenger, here in the United States, some lawmakers are pushing back against Canadian interests, as well. Bruce Power, a Canadian nuclear energy company, wants to to ship “16-school bus sized steam generators from the Bruce Nuclear Station on Lake Huron to Sweden for reprocessing and reintroduction to the commercial metals market,” Melzer writes.

The generators would pass through U.S.-controlled portions of the Great Lakes. A cadre of senators from states touching the Great Lakes (Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Michigan, Illinois, and New York) have asked the agency responsible for approving the trip, the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, to take a close look at Bruce Power’s application.

Pest control

Here’s a different strategy for dealing with unwelcome visitors: Kiera Butler is chronicling her encounters with invasive species at Mother Jones. When the problem is feral pigs, however, the strategy is not diplomacy: it’s hunting them. As Butler explains,

Jackson Landers, a.k.a the Locavore Hunter, aims to whet American appetites for invasive species like lionfish, geese, deer, boar, and even spiny iguanas by working with wholesalers, chefs, and restaurateurs to promote these aliens as menu items. As Landers recently told the New York Times‘ James Gorman, “When human beings decide that something tastes good, we can take them down pretty quickly.”

Check out Butler’s account of her hunt in Georgia. She also learns that the attitude towards the pigs—and invasive species in general—goes beyond a desire to simply be rid of them. “In Florida, the spiny iguanas are pests, but they’re also kind of pretty, so some people kind of like having a few of them around and object when people try to get rid of them,” she writes.

Home turf

Of course, not all negative environmental impacts happen abroad, or on account of invaders. Henry Taksier has a sad piece in Campus Progress showing the long-term problems that a wood-treatment factory has created in Gainesville, Florida:

For 93 years, Koppers, Inc. operated a wood-treatment facility at 200 NW 23rd Ave, releasing industrial toxins—including arsenic, hexavalent chromium, creosote, and dioxins—into Gainesville’s air, water, and soil. The area is now ranked as one of the nation’s top-100 polluted sites. It has been designated a Superfund site—a place so heavily polluted with toxic waste that it poses a threat to human health and the environment—for 27 years.

Even so, the area has yet to be fully cleaned up, and families live in close proximity to the site, worrying about their health and warning kids to stay away from the area.

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 Mulch: Was Cancun Climate Conference a Success?

8:58 am in Uncategorized by TheMediaConsortium

by Sarah Laskow, Media Consortium Blogger

The United Nations-led Climate Conference at Cancun was not a diplomatic disaster, but for climate activists and grassroots groups, it wasn’t a success either. Representatives sent from around the globe to hammer out an agreement on climate change were unresponsive to grassroots concerns about how to lower carbon emissions quickly, and how to ensure fairness in the process.

“Some grassroots groups are losing their faith in the U.N.’s capacity to produce meaningful results,” Madeline Ostrader reported for Yes! Magazine. “After the United Nations expelled Native American leader Tom Goldtooth from the meeting last week, the Indigenous Environmental Network called the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change ‘the WTO of the sky.’”

While gloomy reports before the conference worried that international negotiations could veer entirely off course, the representatives at the conference did come up with an agreement that fleshed out last year’s Copenhagen Accord. It became clearer, though, that the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change process will not ultimately guard the interests of less powerful players.

Climbing over a low bar

Although diplomats congratulated themselves for their accomplishments, not everyone was so pleased,  Stephen Leahy reported at Inter Press Service.

“It’s pathetic the world community struggles so much just to climb over such a low bar,” commented [Kumi] Naidoo, [executive director of Greenpeace.] “Our only real hope is to mobilise a broad-based climate movement involving all sectors of the public and civil society before Durban.”

Indeed, this year’s conference saw a greater mobilization of outside forces than Copenhagen did. But by the end of the conference, activists were frustrated with the UN-led process, Democracy Now! reported, and began protesting in the area near the conference, under the close watch of UN guards:

When the demonstrators continued their vigil past the time allotted to them, U.N. guards moved in and dragged them towards a waiting bus. The protesters linked arms, and the scene quickly became chaotic. As they wrestled activists onto buses, U.N. guards also seized press credentials from the necks of journalists, and detained a photographer while seizing his camera.

Running REDD

There was one issue in particular, Reduced Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation or REDD, a financial tool that allows countries to offset their emissions, that caused concern among climate activists. As Michelle Chen explained at ColorLines, “From a climate justice standpoint, the deal lost credibility once it was tainted with REDD, a supposed anti-deforestation initiative that indigenous communities have long decried as an assault on native people’s sovereignty and way of life.”

The program would seek to set aside forests, through financial incentives that would make it more profitable to preserve forests than to harvest them. The problem, in essence, is that the program would take away resources in developing countries, particularly in indigenous communities, in order to mitigate negative actions in developed countries.

At IPS, Stephen Leahy reported, “REDD remains very controversial. It is widely touted as a way to mobilise $10 to $30 billion annually to protect forests by selling carbon credits to industries in lieu of reductions in emissions. … Many indigenous and civil society groups reject REDD outright if it allows developed countries to avoid real emission reductions by offsetting their emissions. “

Developed vs. Developing

Balancing the interests of developing and developed countries has always been the thorny tangle at the center of climate negotiations, and the Cancun Agreement, critics say, favors developed countries.

As Tom Athanasiou writes at Earth Island Journal, “There’s an even deeper concern, that, in the words of the South Centre’s Martin Khor, ‘Cancun may be remembered in future as the place where the UNFCCC’s climate regime was changed significantly, with developed countries being treated more and more leniently, reaching a level like that of developing countries, while the developing countries are asked to increase their obligations to be more and more like developed countries.’”

REDD is an example of that sort of bargain: Developing countries have to sacrifice, too. But developed countries have, in this conference and at its predecessors, refused to make any real sacrifices. This round, it became clear that, in addition to the United States, other key countries, like Japan, would not be willing to commit to binding legal targets for carbon emissions.

Who benefits?

What’s worse, developed countries benefit, indirectly, from the financial mechanism proposed to regulate carbon, Madeline Ostrader writes.

“Many of the proposals for financing and regulating climate are designed to earn profits for the same banks that brought the global economy to its knees,” she explains. “Goldman Sachs and JPMorgan Chase have been vying for a stake in the global carbon offset trade—a proposed economic model for cutting emissions around the world.”

The movement of non-governmental groups and activists fighting to hold rich countries accountable has gained momentum in the past year. If international leaders are ever to move away from these imbalanced agreements, that movement will have to grow and convince a vocal majority of people around the world to support its calls to action. Only then will leaders feel pressure to write stronger, fairer agreements.

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 Mulch: At Cancun, Incentives Point Toward Incremental Progress on Climate Change

3:50 pm in Uncategorized by TheMediaConsortium

by Sarah Laskow, Media Consortium Blogger

This year’s round of the United Nations-led climate change negotiations, ongoing in Cancun, Mexico, for the past two weeks, end today. No matter what the official outcome, the progress made on dealing with global climate change and carbon emissions will be incremental.

The problem, at base, lies with the incentives, or lack thereof, for the most powerful negotiators at the table. Morally, there are plenty of reasons for every country in the world to commit to drawing down carbon pollution. But economically? Politically? It’s easier to take small steps, make half-hearted commitments.

Going all-in

What would a brave policy stance look like? Something like the position the Maldives—an island archipelago—has taken: “We do not have to wait for everyone else to do this,” as the country’s environment minister, Mohamed Aslam said at the conference this week. As Mother Jones’ Kate Sheppard reports:

Right now the country relies heavily on diesel fuel for much of its energy needs. The government has already conducted an audit of their emissions, much of which comes from the shipping sector, a fact of life in island nations. But Aslam envisions solar, wind, tidal power, and renewable transportation fuels driving the nation in the near future—even if islanders don’t have all the solutions now.

Aslam notes, Sheppard writes, that it’s in the country’s economic favor to take up these policies. So for the Maldives, at least, it’s not a tough sell.

Bribery?

The real dilemma for island countries like the Maldives, though, is how much wiggle room they should give larger countries, who are bigger emitters, in international agreements. Larger countries have more to lose, economically, so they’re less willing to commit to, say, legally binding goals for reduced carbon emissions.

But these larger countries also tend to have more money. And that’s where the problem for countries like the Maldives comes in: they’re going to need financial support to deal with creeping sea level rise and other consequences of climate change. Some of the WikiLeaks diplomatic cables, as The Guardian reported, revealed how countries like the United States use those needs to their diplomatic advantage. Democracy Now!’s Amy Goodman asked U.S. Climate Envoy Todd Stern to respond to these revelations, but didn’t get much of a response.

I’ve got the power

Ultimately, though, a country like the Maldives is always going to have a weaker negotiating position than bigger countries. Take, for instance, this account from Inter Press Service’s Darryl D’Monte on how to identify an important player at Cancun:

A rough yardstick for identifying which Asian countries make the biggest ripples in Cancun is the number of journalists who crowd around the spokesperson immediately after a press conference. … Indian Environment Minister Jairam Ramesh has certainly come into his own on this score. As the spokesperson for the BASIC group of countries, which includes Brazil, South Africa and China, he is articulate, well-informed and witty. Journalists swarm around him after a press conference, eager to get him make a scathing remark about another country or group of countries.

This profile of Ramesh is a fascinating window into how one negotiator manages to navigate these complicated talks. But, as D’Monte points out, even for India, financing is a key question: one of the “non-negotiables” for India, Brazil, South Africa and China is speedier delivery of promised mitigation monies.

Moral Highground

There’s one group at Cancun whose incentives line up impeccably with a faultless moral position: young people. They’re the ones most likely to suffer the consequences of a warming world, and they’re advocating for a draw-down of carbon-heavy industries. At Change.org, Jess Leber reports that about 1,000 young people are participating in some way in the conference this year. (Official attendance tallies, for participants inside and outside the building, estimate 22,000 people in total.)

Leber reports that young people did make some progress this year: “The negotiators agreed to ramp up support for climate education and training programs worldwide, but especially in developing countries, and agreed to give the youth delegation are larger official voice in the negotiating process,” she writes.

That’s good news for adults, as well. As the UN’s chief negotiator, Christiana Figueres, demonstrates in this video at Care2, it’s tough to face down the people who are actually going to suffer from your generation’s waffling. “Figueres tears up when speaking of why the talks are important; she also describes the inspiration that keeps her working toward a global agreement,” writes Nancy Roberts.

Figueres’ inspiration? “It’s you,” she tells young activists. “It’s not our planet. It’s yours…You will all take it over very soon…Nothing is going to be perfect…Everything here is going to be one step. But it is the best that this group of people under these circumstances…can do for the time being.”

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 Mulch: If Cancun Climate Talks Falter, Blame the U.S.

8:45 am in Uncategorized by TheMediaConsortium

by Sarah Laskow, Media Consortium blogger

The most recent round of United Nations-led climate change negotiations began this week in Cancun, and although international expectations are muted this year, the stakes are still high. As Mother JonesKate Sheppard explains,”The 2010 meeting could make or break the future of global negotiations.”

This is the sixteenth Conference of the Parties, convened by the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). After the tepid results of last year’s conference in Copenhagen, when a last-minute, backroom deal produced a non-binding accord, participants and observers of the negotiations are beginning to question whether it is the best forum for these sorts of conversations. Central to the progress, or lack thereof, on international climate change policy is the United States’ intransigence. As one of the world most proliferate carbon spewers, it’s essential for the United States to commit to dramatic reductions in its carbon emissions.

But if American negotiators have always been reluctant to make those promises, even if they did this year, their promises would ring empty. The results of the 2010 midterms mean there’s little chance Congress would ratify a treaty. Republicans just eliminated a special House committee on global warming. They certainly aren’t interested in making the sorts of concessions that international negotiators want and need to convince their own governments to move forward.

Signing off

It’s unclear, at this point, if the UNFCCC framework will ever produce a worthwhile results. Inter Press Service’s Kanya D’Almeida reports that “the meeting in Cancún is foreshadowed by a deep pessimism.” D’Almedia offers, for instance, this take from Nigel Purvis, a senior fellow at the German Marshall Fund of the United States:

“Global climate talks have begun to resemble a bad soap opera,” Purvis wrote in an essay entitled ‘Cancún and the End of Climate Diplomacy. “They seem to never end, yet seldom change and at times bear little resemblance to reality. This is why climate diplomacy as we know it has lost its relevance.”

The last landmark climate treaty—the Kyoto Protocol, which the United States never signed onto—will expire in 2012. The Copenhagen Accord, the agreement that came out of last year’s negotiations, does not bind countries to their commitments, as Kyoto did.

The next major step in tackling climate change could be for countries across the world to re-up their commitments to reducing carbon emissions through a Kyoto-like (i.e. legally enforceable) pact. The alternative is to base global action on an agreement along the lines of the one produced at Copenhagen, with less stringent standards for accountability.

Kyoto v. Copenhagen

Tina Gephardt writes at The Nation that “Serious tensions threaten to derail the UNFCCC process entirely. At the heart of these skirmishes are two camps: those nations who want to extend the Kyoto Protocol and those nations, including the United States, who want to ram through the Copenhagen Accord.”

The Accord’s mechanism for oversight and enforcement relies on countries monitoring each others’ progress on carbon reductions, but as Mother Jones’ Sheppard reports, an early point of disagreement in this year’s session centers on how important it is to agree how that monitoring will happen.

Stubborn Americans

What does seem certain is that if, at the end of this session, international climate negotiations have become so messy and tangled the world abandons them, and starts over, much of the blame will lie with the United States. Tom Athanasiou lays out the case in Earth Island Journal:

It’s the US, after all, that reduced the Kyoto Protocol to a non-starter, and the US that led the Copenhagen charge to abandon top-down emissions targets in favor of bottom-up “pledge and review.” It’s the US that, in the words of chief negotiator Todd Stern, is looking for a “new paradigm for climate diplomacy” that asserts a world in which the developed countries are no longer presumed to bear the overarching, if inconvenient, obligations of the rich and the responsible.

It’s not that American leaders aren’t aware of the problems the world could face (although some on the right continue to deny they exist). As Nancy Roberts points out at Care2, “Up to one billion people could be displaced by rising sea levels this century.” To a certain extent, the United States is insulated from the impact of climate change. As this map, which ColorLines highlighted a few weeks ago, illustrates, America is not particularly vulnerable to the effects of climate change. But it’d be foolish for American leaders to ignore the security and economic implications wrought by the migration of one-sixth of the world’s population.

Reaction

But Washington has shown time after time that it is willing to look past problems until they become unavoidable. The consequences of that attitude have been devastating in recent years. The BP oil spill is only the most recent example. This week the Obama administration announced it would not open up new coastline areas in the southeastern U.S. for offshore oil drilling—a decision that came only after it became clear just how much havoc a drilling disaster could cause (and would likely cause again).

With climate change, however, the tons of carbon already in the atmosphere can’t be mopped up or “dispersed,” or forgotten, within months. The consequences will linger on, and by the time they become clear, it will be too late to act, and international negotiators won’t be talking about emission levels, but food, water, and refugee crises.

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

Weekly Diaspora: The Final Fight for the DREAM Act

9:25 am in Uncategorized by TheMediaConsortium

by Catherine A. Traywick, Media Consortium blogger

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

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

Some lawmakers never learn…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The DREAM Act builds momentum

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

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

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

Weekly Audit: Senate Republicans Nix Jobs Bill

9:19 am in Uncategorized by TheMediaConsortium

by Annie Shields, Media Consortium blogger

It looks as if election-year strategies are trumping any actual problem-solving by Republican lawmakers. In the midst of one of the worst unemployment crises in U.S. history, Senate Republicans killed a jobs bill last Thursday by a 56-40 vote.

As congress carries on with the seemingly impossible task of helping the unemployed while keeping Republicans happy, over 15,000 progressives and 1,300 organizations will convene in Detroit this week for the U. S. Social Forum (USSF) to explore alternative solutions to the jobs crisis. Editor’s note: Stay tuned for USSF coverage from Media Consortium members throughout the week in The Audit, The Pulse, The Diaspora and The Mulch.

Killed bill

Democrats trimmed over $20 billion in unemployment benefit extensions from the bill to appeal to Senate Republicans and Blue Dog Democrats. The efforts were to no avail, according to The Michigan Messenger. In addition to extending emergency unemployment benefits for the long-term unemployed, the Senate bill would have increased Medicaid funding and prevented a 21% pay cut for Medicare doctors.

The defeat came less than a week after President Barack Obama issued a plea to Congress to pass a jobs bill, citing the nearly double-digit national unemployment rate and the slow rate of recovery.

GOP immobile

Despite the urgent need for federal assistance to mitigate our sky-high unemployment rate, Republicans have maintained their opposition to any new spending. As The Iowa Independent reports, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) has dismissed the need for emergency aid, instead bashing the Democrats for what he called “fiscal recklessness, plain and simple.”

McConnell went on to say that “even in the face of public outrage, Democrats are showing either that they just don’t get it on this issue of the debt, or that they just don’t care.”

McConnell’s incoherency

Steve Benen of the Washington Monthly reveals several inconsistencies in the Senate Minority Leader’s rhetoric. For example, McConnell opposed the President’s proposed jobs bill, because it would have increased the federal deficit. And yet, McConnell had this to say about the problems plaguing the nation:

"Right now, among other challenges, we have a debt crisis, a jobs crisis, a housing crisis, a financial crisis, and an oil spill that the American people clearly don’t believe government is effectively responding to.”

First, McConnell promises to obstruct the passage of a jobs bill because dealing with the jobs crisis will increase the deficit; then he bemoans the government’s failure to deal with the unemployment crisis, among other things. It seems that McConnell abandons conservative talking points when they’re not politically expedient, but maintains conservative inaction and obstruction when it means standing firm against new spending.

The cost of inaction

Populist rhetoric from Conservatives who blocked the bill is cold comfort to the 15 million Americans who are currently unemployed. The news of the Senate’s vote to kill the jobs bill is perhaps most discouraging to the thousands of “99ers”, those who have been without work long enough for their unemployment benefits to expire. Long-term unemployment is hitting older workers especially hard.

As The Minnesota Independent reports, the unemployment rate for people aged 55 and older is higher than it’s been since 1948. And there’s evidence that age discrimination is exacerbating the jobs crisis for these older workers.

Another world is possible in the Motor City

Any economic stimulus would likely be welcome in Michigan, where over ten thousand activists are convening this week for the second USSF in Detroit. Michigan has the second highest unemployment rate in the nation—a staggering 13.6%, and unemployment and the economy will be high on the agenda at the 2010 USSF.

Detroit has been one of the hardest hit cities in the nation during the economic downturn, with U.S. carmakers and members of the United Auto Workers (UAW) union bearing the brunt. Richard Feldman, a UAW member, is among those participating in the social forum. He talked to Inter Press Service about the challenges that face union automakers:

"I don’t think it is about losing to Asia but recognising we need to create new concepts of transportation that respect the limits of planetary resources and where workers and communities are respected and given a voice at the table."

According to Truthout’s Paul Abowd, while USSF attendees plan to address nearly every progressive cause under the sun, “Forum-goers are also focused on the host city at a time when the event’s tagline – ‘Another Detroit is Happening’ – is both promising and foreboding.”

Detroit’s new mayor, Democrat David Bing and his "crisis turnaround team” have wasted no time getting started on their plans to revitalize the city. As Abowd reports:

“The new mayor is promising to shrink Detroit and its infrastructure, and has gathered the business community and suburban philanthropies to put down-payments on a Detroit dreamscape: a downtown light rail line, a new hockey stadium, shiny charter schools to complement a slimmed down "traditional" district, an industrial farm on the East side, and new housing enclaves.”

Many of those involved in the USSF have high hopes for the the Forum’s potential to help jump start the city’s revival. As Lottie Spady, a food justice organizer working on the Forum puts it:

"I think we need to use the Social Forum as an opportunity to say to city officials, look – you’re dealing with a population that can mobilize 20,000 people to come to Detroit…Outside of a sporting event, when does that happen?"

Yes! Magazine’s Sarah van Gelder also elaborates on how the USSF could becoming a source of hope for Detroit.

An outgrowth of the World Social Forum, the USSF will feature workshops covering a wide variety of social justice and environmental issues. Over 15,000 progressives and 1,300 organizations are expected to participate.

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

Weekly Diaspora: Zero Hour Approaching for Federal Immigration Reform

9:39 am in Media by TheMediaConsortium

by Erin Rosa, Media Consortium blogger

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

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

Rally round the country

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

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

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

Arizona on my mind

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

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

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

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

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

SB 1070 disproportionately affects women and children

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

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

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

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

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