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Weekly Pulse: Florida Governor Wants to Drug Test All State Employees

7:20 am in Uncategorized by TheMediaConsortium

By Lindsay Beyerstein, Media Consortium blogger

Florida Republican Governor Rick Scott plans to force public workers and welfare recipients to undergo random drug testing every three weeks. Why? Because he doesn’t like either group, Cenk Uygur argues on the Young Turks. “It’s an attempt to stigmatize, demonize, and punish those people,” Uygur says:

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9fhSYsb2Gtg[/youtube]

Suzy Khimm of Mother Jones explains why Scott’s plan is almost certainly unconstitutional. The Supreme Court has ruled that public employees cannot be forced to take drug tests unless public safety is at stake. The government can impose random drug testing for bus drivers, but not clerks at the DMV. Scott wants to spend millions of dollars testing all state employees. The only beneficiary of Scott’s plan will be the drug-testing industry.

From vitamins to purity balls

Martha Kempner of RH Reality Check profiles Leslee Unruh, the eccentric vitamin saleswoman-turned-crisis pregnancy center maven and abstinence crusader who is spearheading the drive for increasingly draconian abortion restrictions in South Dakota.

Unruh founded a crisis pregnancy center in 1997. Gradually, she became convinced that cajoling unhappily pregnant women to give birth was backwards. What she needed to do was save women from sex in the first place:

As Amanda Robb explains in her 2008 expose on Unruh published in MORE Magazine: “after working with hundreds of women who got pregnant unintentionally, she says she began to realize that this kind of counseling put the cart before the horse in women’s lives. To truly empower women, she became convinced, you have to ‘save them from sexual activity.’”

Unruh’s Abstinence Clearinghouse is famous for sponsoring “purity balls” at which fathers promise to guard their daughters’ sexual purity until marriage.

My uterus is a closed shop

Last weekend the Wisconsin AFL-CIO held a rally with Planned Parenthood in Madison, Wisconsin, Mike Elk reports for Working In These Times. Elk writes:

The labor movement, at its core, is about class struggle – the working class overcoming the power of the owning class in order to take control over their own lives. For women, class struggle historically has centered on overcoming the oppression of men who want to have control over their lives.

It makes sense that organized labor and the reproductive rights movement are being drawn closer together. Wisconsin Republican Governor Scott Walker has declared war on unions and reproductive health care. Walker’s notorious anti-collective bargaining bill also declared war on the state’s highly successful, money-saving family planning program.

The Walker administration declared the union-busting bill to be law last Friday, in defiance of a court ruling, Matthew Rothschild reports in The Progressive. A court had ruled that the legality of the bill was in question because it seems to have been passed in defiance of the state’s strong open meetings laws.

De-funding family planning

Some Minnesota Republicans are taking a page from Scott Walker’s playbook, Andy Birkey reports in the Minnesota Independent. A group of Republican state senators are working to de-fund the state’s family planning programs by cutting off state funding and refusing federal dollars to fund these initiatives. An estimated 40,000 people receive reproductive health care each year through programs that the GOP is trying to eliminate. Their position is surely not motivated by concerns about the deficit. Joint state-federal family planning programs have been shown to save money for the state and the federal government.

HIV/AIDS at 30

This year marks the 30th anniversary of the beginning of the HIV/AIDS epidemic. At Colorlines.com, LaShieka Purvis Hunter profiles a distinguished community leader in the struggle against HIV, Rev. Edwin Sanders of the Metropolitan Interdenominational Church in Nashville, Tennessee. Sanders and his congregation have been engaged in the struggle for 26 years, ever since one of the founding members of this predominantly black church died of the virus.

Saunders says that, as far as he knows, his is the only African American congregation operating an HIV/AIDS primary care clinic:

“There are other congregations with primary care clinics that do other things, but ours is exclusively focused on HIV/AIDS,” he explains. “We were really fortunate to get a planning grant from the URSA Institute about 10 years ago, and have a fully operating clinic four years after that. Now we are able to serve a population in our community that represents those who are truly disenfranchised.”

The URSA Institute is a non-profit social interest consulting firm which supports HIV/AIDS-related research and prevention programs.

Dig for victory

Spring is here. Ellen LaConte of AlterNet explains why gardening is good for your health and your pocketbook. Produce prices are rising, thanks to increasing oil prices, dwindling soil reserves, monoculture, and other factors. LaConte predicts that gardening and small-scale collective farming will become an increasingly important source of fresh fruits and vegetables for average Americans in the years to come.

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: 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 Audit: A Recall Fight Brewing in Wisconsin?

10:19 am in Uncategorized by TheMediaConsortium

Creative Commons, Flickr, mrbula

By Lindsay Beyerstein, Media Consortium blogger

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

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

A game of chicken

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

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

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

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

Solidarity

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

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

Union busting, not budget fixing

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

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

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

“Budget crisis” theater

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

Raise our taxes

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

No help for 99ers

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

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

Weekly Pulse: #DearJohn, Does Banning Abortion Trump Job Growth?

2:25 pm in Uncategorized by TheMediaConsortium

by Lindsay Beyerstein, Media Consortium blogger

With millions of Americans out of work, House Republicans are focusing in on real priorities: decimating private abortion coverage and crippling public funding for abortion, as Jessica Arons reports in RH Reality Check.

In AlterNet, Amanda Marcotte notes that the No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act, or H.R. 3, also redefines rape as “forcible rape” in order to determine whether a patient is eligible for a Medicaid-funded abortion. Under the Hyde Amendment, government-funded insurance programs can only cover abortions in cases of rape and incest, or to save the life of the mother. Note that the term “forcible rape” is  legally meaningless. Supporters of the bill just want to go on the record as saying that a poor 13-year-old girl pregnant by a 30-year-old should be forced to give birth.

Feminist blogger Sady Doyle has launched a twitter campaign against the bill under the hashtag #dearjohn, a reference to Speaker John Boehner (R-OH). Tweet to let him know how you feel about a bill that discriminates against 70% of rape victims because their rapes weren’t violent enough for @johnboehner, append the hashtag #dearjohn.

Everybody chill out

A federal judge in Florida ruled the entire Affordable Care Act unconstitutional on Monday. However, as political scientist and court watcher Scott Lemieux explains at TAPPED, the ruling is not necessarily a death blow to health care reform:

[T]his ruling is less important than the controversy it will generate might suggest. Many cornerstone programs of the New Deal were held unconstitutional by lower courts before being upheld by the Supreme Court. This ruling tells us nothing we didn’t already know: There is a faction of conservative judges who believe the individual mandate is unconstitutional. Unless this view has the support of five members of the Supreme Court — which I still consider very unlikely — it won’t matter; Vinson’s reasoning would have a much greater impact if adopted by the Court, but for this reason it is even less likely to be adopted by higher courts.

In a follow-up post, Lemieux explains the shaky legal reasoning behind Judge Robert Vinson’s decision. The judge asserts bizarrely that being uninsured has no effect on interstate commerce. That premise is objectively false. Health insurers operate across state lines and the size and composition of their risk pools directly affects their business.

Given the glaring factual inaccuracies, Judge Vinson’s decision may be overturned by a higher court before it gets to the Supreme Court.

Scamming Medicare

Terry J. Allen of In These Times win’s the headline of the week award for an article entitled “Urology’s Golden Revenue Stream.” She reports that increasing numbers of urologists are investing millions on machines to irradiate prostate cancer in the office. The doctors can bill Medicare up to $40,000 per treatment, but they have to use the machines a lot to recoup the initial investment. So what does this mean for patients? Allen explains:

Rather than accessing centralized equipment and sharing costs, physicians are concentrating their own profits by buying expensive in-practice technologies that pay off only if regularly used. One result is overtreatment, which is driving up health care costs, exposing patients to unnecessary radiation and surgeries, and is frequently no better than cheaper approaches.

One third of Medicare patients with prostate cancer undergo the expensive IMRT therapy, as the procedure is known. In 2008, Medicare shelled out over a billion dollars on a treatment that has not shown to be any better for patients than less expensive therapies.

Obstetric fistula in the developing world

Reproductive Health Reality Check is running a special series on the human rights implications of obstetric fistula. Fistula is a devastating complication of unrelieved obstructed labor in which the baby’s head gets stuck in the birth canal and presses against the soft tissues of the pelvis. If labor goes on long enough, the pressure will starve the pelvic tissues of blood, and they will die, creating a hole between the vagina and the bladder, and/or between the vagina and the rectum. Fistula patients face lifelong incontinence, chronic pain, and social ostracism.

The condition is virtually unknown in the developed world, where women with obstructed labor have access to cesarean delivery. However, an estimated 2 million women, primarily in sub-Saharan Africa and Asia, have untreated fistulas with an estimated 50,000 to 100,000 new cases occurring each year. Without reconstructive surgery, these women will be incontinent for life.

Sarah Omega, a fistula survivor from Kenya, tells her story. Omega sustained a fistula when she delivered her first child at the age of 19. She suffered for 12 years before she finally obtained the surgery she needed. As Agnes Odhiambo explains in another installment in the series, fistula is a symptom of a dysfunctional health care system. Women suffer needlessly because they can’t get access to quality health care.

The most likely victims of fistula are the most vulnerable members of their respective communities. Early childbearing increases a woman’s risk of fistula. Pregnant rape victims may face even greater barriers to a safe delivery, thanks to the social stigma that accrues to victims of sexual violence in many societies. (Not to mention any names, House Republicans…)

Preventing and repairing obstetric fistula is a major human rights issue. The U.S. should make this effort a high priority for foreign aid.

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

Weekly Diaspora: Zero Hour Approaching for Federal Immigration Reform

9:39 am in Media by TheMediaConsortium

by Erin Rosa, Media Consortium blogger

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

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

Rally round the country

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

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

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

Arizona on my mind

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

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

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

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

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

SB 1070 disproportionately affects women and children

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

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

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

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

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

Weekly Diaspora: 200,000 March on DC, Call for Immigration Reform Now

9:46 am in Media by TheMediaConsortium

By Erin Rosa, Media Consortium blogger

As the health care debate comes to a close, there’s no better time to introduce comprehensiveimmigration reform. Hundreds of thousands of immigrant rights supporters from all over the countrycongregated on the National Mall in Washington, D.C. on Sunday to demandimmigration reform in 2010. It was the largest political rally to be held since President Barack Obama moved into the White House.

Dressed in white and carrying American flags, the crowd numbered between 200,000 to 500,000 people. The marchers spanned approximately 7 blocks, all the way from the Washington Monument to the steps of Congress. Although many media outlets and lawmakers were were occupied by the historic health care vote taking place in the House of Representatives on the same day, Obama took time from his busy schedule to record a video message to the marchers, in which he discussed the need for immigration reform “this year.”

Obama the guest speaker

“I pledge to do everything in my power to forge a bipartisan consensus, this year on this issue,” Obama said in the video, which was broadcast to the cheering crowd via giant TV screens on the Mall’s perimeter.

As RaceWirenotes, Obama explained to reform supporters that “you know as well as I do that this won’t be easy, and it won’t happen overnight, but if we work together across ethnic, state and party lines, we can build a future worthy of our history as a nation of immigrants and a nation of laws.”

The message came hot on the heels of a proposed Senate outline of an immigration reform bill, written a few days beforehand by Sens. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and Lindsey Graham (R-SC). “For undocumented immigrants already here, the pathway to [a documented] status is basically this: pay a fine, pay back taxes, admit you broke the law, do some community service and then pass a back ground test,” RaceWire’s Seth Freed Wessler notes.

A similar immigration reform bill is in the House, sponsored by Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-IL), but it is unknown when Schumer and Graham will introduce their proposal to the Senate floor. Immigrant advocates want lawmakers to introduce a reform bill in the Senate this Spring so that there will be time to debate the issue in 2010. The Senate outline is just a rough draft and the proposal could change significantly after it goes through Congress.

Labor and immigration reform

An enormous coalition of religious organizations, businesses and human rights groups are behind the push for immigration reform and the march on Washington. The coalition also includes dozens of unions. Labor was noticeably split over the issue when it was debated in 2007, but now appears to be consolidating its support. Workers Independent News reports that the AFL-CIO, a union federation that represents around 12 million workers, is supporting reform so long as it “enforces workers’ rights.”

Union federation president Rich Trumka also supports legislation that “would give undocumented immigrants who arrived in the U.S. as minors and who graduate form U.S. high schools a chance to earn conditional permanent residency,” reports Workers Independent News correspondent Jesse Russell.

Change to Win, which represents 5 million workers, and the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), the fasted growing union in America, were also present at the march. While certain issues, like a possible guest worker program, are likely to be sticking points for labor when reform is debated, union members that have years of organizing experience are supporting efforts to create a pathway to citizenship.

Broken system hits home

It’s important to remember that the fightto pass reform is fueled by the havoc that the broken immigration system wreaks on families and workers. Compound a broken national system with arcane laws on the state level and lives are ruined on a daily basis.

Inter Press Service reports on a Arizona bill that could lob “fines and criminal charges against family members and employers that harbor or transport undocumented immigrants.” This means that even a U.S. citizen that is married to an undocumented immigrant would likely be charged if stopped by police while driving his or her spouse around.

The Texas Observer also reports on the booming immigration detention industry, noting that “as the number of immigrant detainees continues to grow, the waits for hearings continue to lengthen, and immigration reform languishes in congress, the atmosphere in [Immigration and Customs Enforcement] detention facilities has grown predictably volatile.”

According to the publication, there were riots at a private prison holding immigrants in Pecos, TX “After a man in solitary confinement died from epileptic seizures.” At another facility in Port Isabel, TX, hunger strikes protesting poor detainee treatment continue.

These stories are just a few examples of the countless daily abuses that happen due to a lack of immigration reform on the federal level. But now, for the first time in years, there’s a real opportunity to pass reform and provide citizenship to the millions of hard-working Americans who are already living in the country. There is an legislative opening to end the madness.

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

Weekly Pulse: Problems for the Public Option

9:14 am in Uncategorized by TheMediaConsortium

By Lindsay Beyerstein, Media Consortium Blogger

The House released a final version of the health reform bill. It has a public option all right, but not the robust version progressives were hoping for. The public plan would only cover 2% of Americans and premiums will cost more than anticipated.

Meanwhile, Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-CT) continued to threaten to join a Republican filibuster of a health care bill with a public option. A lot of people still think he’s bluffing. Realistically, the public option probably faces more serious threats from inside the Democratic caucus. It’s been whittled down at an alarming rate.

Nick Baumann of Mother Jones asks "What now for the public option?"

The Congressional Budget Office has estimated that public option premiums will actually be higher than the premiums for private plans on the health insurance exchanges. That doesn’t mean it’s going to cost the government more money—the public option is paid for by premiums, not taxes; it actually cuts the deficit. But it will be more expensive than some private plans. Wasn’t part of the point of the public option to prove that a government-run program could compete successfully with privately-run plans? Well, yes, but here’s the problem: that was all based on the idea that the public option would pay health care providers at Medicare rates.

Baumann predicts that insurers will do everything they can to drive the sick people off private insurance onto the public plan, a phenomenon known as "adverse selection." Hopefully some of the proposed insurance reforms will curb their worst excesses, like kicking people off the rolls for misspelling their preexisting conditions on their application forms.

Mike Lillis of the Washington Independent reports that the House health care bill would eliminate the popular and cost-effective Child Health Insurance Program (CHIP) and shift its low-income beneficiaries onto private health insurance exchanges.

This looks like a stealthy preemptive strike on the prospect of single-payer health care. CHIP is a single-payer program that progressive health policy types envisioned as a prototype for a future single-payer system for all kids, or even eventually for everyone.

As Lillis points out, abolishing CHIP is also a gimme to insurance companies. Generally speaking, kids are cheap to insure because they’re healthy. Private insurers would love to stock their risk pools with kids on federal subsidies. It’s like getting paid to stock your pond with delicious trout. We worry about adverse selection making the public plan more expensive. Well, CHIP is the reverse of that because this public program is keeping the good risks for itself.

Suzy Khimm argues at TAPPED that killing CHIP could be a good thing, provided the kids continue to enjoy the same legal protections that they get under the public plan. Khimm suggests that moving low-risk kids into insurance exchanges could help keep costs down for everyone by making the risk pool healthier on average:

That being said, if CHIP’s dismantling ended up moving more folks into the health-insurance exchange, it wouldn’t simply be a boon for "the insurance lobby and moderate Democrats." It could strengthen one of the most fundamental parts of the Democratic reform package — a robust insurance exchange with a pool of participants that’s large enough to drive down costs precisely because insurance companies have an incentive to jump in and compete for customers. Moreover, folding CHIP into the exchange would add a younger, healthier pool of participants to the exchange, offsetting its potential of becoming a dumping ground for the sick and elderly. Finally, CHIP has always suffered from under enrollment — about 6 million children aren’t insured in the program who should be — and by bringing whole families in under the same plan, more children will be covered.

That’s a nice idea, but it seems foolish to scrap one a popular and successful social program in favor of an untested insurance exchange system.

The frustrating thing about so-called health care reform is that legislators don’t really want to change the system. They want to make the system work better while catering to all the established interests that made it suck in the first place.

Politicians aren’t the only ones to balk at fundamental change. The Real News Network interviews Sam Gindin (video below), a former assistant to the Canadian Auto Workers Union, now a professor at York University. Gindin says that, over the years, labor conceded too much on health care and thereby failed to reestablish itself as a leading force for progressive change in the United States. Helping elect Barack Obama was a step in the right direction for labor, he maintains, but it’s not nearly enough.

As John Nichols of the Nation put it, when the House finally wrote the bill, the compromise was even more compromised than expected.

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

Weekly Audit: Cheating Workers and Pampering CEOs

9:43 am in Uncategorized by TheMediaConsortium

By Zach Carter, TMC MediaWire Blogger

Low-wage workers are struggling to navigate the current recession. A new study conducted by a team of academics reveals that the majority of workers at the bottom of the economic ladder have been shorted on their paychecks as recently as last week. But the compensation crisis looks very different on Wall Street, where excessive pay tied to risky activities helped set the economy on its crash course. Despite the resulting deep recession, pay for high-level U.S. financiers remains over-the-top, even as low wage workers struggle to navigate the downturn.

The U.S. has made a few gestures toward scaling back executive compensation for banks that it bailed out under the Troubled Asset Relief Program, but the rules have amounted to little more than window-dressing, according to a paper published last week by the Institute for Policy Studies. The paper’s authors, Sarah Anderson and Sam Pizzigati, found that ten of the 20 largest bailout banks have reported stock option compensation for 2009, and the top five executives at those companies have scored a full $90 million so far this year. That’s just through stock options. The number gets even more obscene if you include bonuses, salary and other payouts.

As Anderson and Pizzigati explain in a companion piece published in AlterNet, bank executives collected huge bonuses based on the profits from subprime loans during the housing bubble. Since subprime mortgages were more expensive than traditional loans, profits were high—until borrowers stopped being able to pay back their predatory, unaffordable debt. Suddenly the banks were all busted, but the executives had already made a killing.

Katrina vanden Huevel emphasizes in The Nation that the U.S. government doesn’t even try to tax this kind of income, much less regulate its connection to risk-taking. Billions of dollars in tax revenue are lost each year as financiers hide payouts in offshore tax havens, while on-the-books income from financial activities are taxed at arbitrarily low rates. Capital gains like stock price increases, for instance, are taxed at just 15%, while income from an ordinary paycheck is taxed at 35% for the wealthiest individuals.

While the U.S. dallies on executive pay, key leaders in Europe are moving to rein in risky compensation practices in the financial sector, as detailed in this video report over at The Real News. President Barack Obama will meet with U.K. Prime Minister Gordon Brown, French President Nicholas Sarkozy, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and other leaders of the G-20 in Pittsburgh later this month, and financial regulatory reform will be at the top of the agenda.

For ordinary workers, there are few positive signs in the current economy. The Washington Monthly‘s Steve Benen dissects the latest batch of unemployment numbers from the Labor Department. The good news is that the overall pace of layoffs seems to be abating. The bad news? The U.S. still lost a whopping 216,000 jobs in August. And broader measures of workplace woe are even worse. The unemployment rate does not include discouraged workers who have stopped looking for a job, and it doesn’t include those who want to work full-time but have to settle for part-time employment. That statistic actually declined slightly in July, giving some economists cause for optimism. But the metric soared again in August, reaching the highest level on record.

And unemployment is not the only problem workers face. Both Tim Fernholz of The American Prospect and Elizabeth Palmberg of Sojourners highlight a New York Times story by labor reporter Steven Greenhouse, which details how low-wage workers are routinely cheated by their employers. According to a recent study, a full 68% of these workers report having experienced an illegal workplace abuse in the past week, such as being denied overtime pay or being required to work for less than minimum wage. On average, workers lost 15% of their weekly income as a result of this exploitation.

We have good laws to protect workers, but they just aren’t being enforced. Companies have successfully intimidated their employees into not reporting blatantly illegal pay practices. The best way to resolve this situation is to expand unionization and give workers a stronger voice in the workplace, making it safe to speak out against abuses. And the best way to expand unionization is to enact the Employee Free Choice Act, which lowers barriers to creating a union. But the legislative process has been delayed by a smear campaign organized by executives and managers claiming that unions, and not corporate elites, are the actual source of workplace coercion.

"It ought to make your blood boil—especially as people decry union thugs ‘intimidating’ people into joining unions when that doesn’t happen and most workers want to join a union," Fernholz writes.

The U.S. needs to get its economic priorities in order. We should be protecting low-wage workers from executive excess, not the other way around. President Obama will have an opportunity to coordinate that effort globally at the G-20 summit later this month. Let’s hope he doesn’t squander it.

This post features links to the best independent, progressive reporting about the economy and is free to reprint. Visit StimulusPlan.NewsLadder.net and Economy.NewsLadder.net for complete lists of articles on the economy, or follow us on Twitter. And for the best progressive reporting on critical health and immigration issues, check out Healthcare.NewsLadder.net and Immigration.NewsLadder.net. This is a project of The Media Consortium, a network of 50 leading independent media outlets, and was created by NewsLadder.