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

8:13 am in Uncategorized by TheMediaConsortium

by Sarah Laskow, Media Consortium blogger

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

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

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

The energy speech

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

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

Is clean energy green energy?

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

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

The alternatives

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

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

Does genetically modified alfafa do a body good?

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

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

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

Weekly Audit: Hostile Takeover Threat Spurs Concessions from Michigan Unions

9:17 am in Uncategorized by TheMediaConsortium

By Lindsay Beyerstein, Media Consortium blogger

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

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

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

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

Detroit grows green

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

Wal-Mart and wage
discrimination

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

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

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

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

War and the
deficit

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

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

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

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

Public pensions 101

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

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

Ethical outlaws

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

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

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

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

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

Weekly 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 Audit: One Nation with No Jobs

8:32 am in Uncategorized by TheMediaConsortium

by Lindsay Beyerstein, Media Consortium blogger

Tens of thousands of Americans rallied for jobs and justice at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C. on Saturday. Organizers say that 175,000 people turned out for the One Nation Working Together rally, which was organized by labor unions, the NAACP, and other progressive groups. In an interview with GritTV’s Laura Flanders, AFL-CIO president Richard Trumka, a leader of the One Nation coalition, summed up the agenda: "Jobs, jobs, and more jobs."

America isn’t working

In total, 8 million jobs have been lost in this recession and 2.5 million homes have been repossessed. According to the official figures, about 10% of Americans are unemployed. The true number may be much higher because the official stats don’t count those who have given up looking for work. In AlterNet, NAACP President Benjamin Todd Jealous, another featured speaker at One Nation, points out that the black unemployment rate is nearly twice that of whites. Another 11 million Americans are underemployed, according Trumka.

No end in sight

An already bleak job market is about to get even bleaker. Last week, Senate Republicans scuttled a popular emergency fund to create jobs and an extension of long-term unemployment insurance benefits, as Andy Kroll reports in Mother Jones.

Steve Benen of the Washington Monthly offers more details on the now-defunct job creation program known as the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) emergency fund. The fund provided cash to create jobs in the public and private sectors. Over 240,000 people in 32 states and the District of Columbia worked at jobs created with TANF subsidies. Last week, Senate Democrats lost their fight to extend the program for another 3 months. With the TANF money gone, layoffs will soon follow.

The Department of Labor will release the its monthly unemployment statistics on Friday. One group of independent analysts predicts that September’s unemployment rate will be higher than the previous month, according to Brian Beutler of Talking Points Memo. Unemployment rose from 9.6% in July to 9.7% in August and experts surveyed by Bloomberg News expect the trend to continue. It’s doubtful that the economy produced enough new jobs to make up for all the census workers whose temporary jobs ended.

Job skills for America

On the bright side, President Barack Obama is scheduled to unveil a new job training program this week, Annie Lowrey reports in The Michigan Messenger. The program is called Skills for America’s Future. The goal of the project is to encourage partnerships between community colleges and corporations. Colleges and companies will work together to identify areas of rapid job growth and train students to fill those jobs. So far, five companies have agreed to participate in the program, including the Gap., Accenture, United Technologies, PG&E and McDonald’s.

Lowrey argues that this kind of training program will do little to help unemployment in the short term. Right now, companies aren’t hiring because there’s an economy-wide lack of demand, not because they can’t fill positions for lack of trained workers. Demand is low because unemployment is high. Quite simply, people buy less when they don’t have jobs, or fear that they will lose their jobs. It’s a Catch-22. The jobs won’t come back because not enough people have jobs.

Food stamps are stimulus

At the most basic level, an economic stimulus package is designed to break the no jobs/no demand/no jobs impasse by injecting large amounts of cash into the economy. Extending unemployment benefits makes for very effective stimulus because the unemployed typically spend their money quickly. Food stamps are another very efficient stimulus because recipients redeem them right away. To give you some indication of how quickly, consider the Wal-Mart at Midnight effect, which Lowrey discusses in the Washington Independent.

Wal-Mart managers are noticing that increasing numbers of customers are buying staples like bread, milk, and baby formula at midnight on the first of the month. That’s because state governments directly deposit welfare and food stamp benefits into debit accounts at midnight. Wal-Mart says it brings in extra staff to keep up with the influx of customers during this period.

By contrast, tax cuts are an inefficient stimulus, especially if the cuts go to people who are already wealthy. In tough times, people who already have everything they need may prefer to save their extra money instead of blowing it on luxuries. Rich people will not throng Best Buy at midnight on tax refund day, no matter how big their checks are.

The high cost of economic inequality

It would be nice to think that unemployment is part of a cyclical downturn, but there is mounting evidence that short-term unemployment is a symptom of a deeper problem: pervasive and growing inequality. Sam Petulla of the American Prospect interviews economist Jacob Hacker and political scientist Paul Pierson about their new book, Winner Take All Politics: How Washington Made the Rich Richer and Turned its Back on the Middle Class.

The authors note that the U.S. has greater inequality than other industrialized countries. Since the 1970s, the richest Americans have gotten much richer while the rest of us lagged further behind. The authors found that almost 40% of household income gains from 1979-2007 went to the richest 1% of households. The trend is accelerating: the top 1% of households pocketed over half of the economic gains of the 2000s. Hacker and Pierson blame tax cuts for the wealth, lax financial regulations that allow the wealthy to rake in unprecedented profits, and stagnating middle class wages for the widening gap between the ultra-rich and the rest of society.

This brings us back to the old demand/jobs paradox. Contrary to the platitudes of trickledown economics, shoveling an ever greater share of society’s resources to the ultra-rich doesn’t make everyone else better off. Shocking, right?

Right wing economists say that letting the ultra-rich accumulate still more wealth is good for the economy as a whole because the rich have more money to invest in businesses, which are the main source of jobs. The ultra-rich aren’t stupid, however. They aren’t going to start businesses unless they foresee demand for goods and services; and everyone knows that demand is flat because there are no jobs. Trying to stimulate the economy by making the rich richer is like shoving money into a black hole. The tried and true way to end a recession is to create jobs and provide social services for people who need the money enough to spend it.

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: The High Cost of Cheap Labor

9:54 am in Uncategorized by TheMediaConsortium

by Catherine A. Traywick, Media Consortium blogger

A new study about the effects of immigration on U.S. employment supports the long-standing arguments of immigration advocates: Rather than displacing American workers, immigrant labor actually makes our economy stronger. Kevin Drum has the details at Mother Jones.

Now, with reports that undocumented laborers are a mainstay of disaster relief efforts all over the country, Americans are beginning to get a sense of the unsavory work relegated to many immigrants, and the high price immigrants pay for the simple privilege of employment.

Undocumented workers driving wages up

Going back to Mother Jones, new research examining the relationship between immigration and U.S. employment found that—contrary to conventional anti-immigrant wisdom—immigration does not negatively affect American employment. Instead, immigration drives wages up by pushing low-wage American workers into higher-paying jobs.

Here’s how it works: As less-educated immigrants gravitate towards work that requires fewer English language skills (like manual labor), their less-educated American counterparts move on to higher-paying, communications-intensive work that capitalizes on their comparatively better English language skills. This naturally drives wages up, and makes for a more productive economy overall.

The irony, as Drum notes, is that those who complain about immigrants stealing American jobs are the same people who want immigrants to learn English and assimilate as quickly as possible. “If they did,” Drum argues, “then they’d just start competing for the higher paying jobs that natives now monopolize.”

Stiffed in New Orleans

The reality of being an undocumented worker in the U.S. is starker than most Americans realize. Not only are immigrants doing work that most would rather not, they are also often cleaning up the messes that Americans leave behind.

Five years after Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans, undocumented laborers remain a key component of reconstruction efforts. Initially drawn to the city by the prospect of work and the Department of Homeland Security’s decision to suspend employment immigration enforcement, many undocumented laborers relocated to New Orleans to assist with rebuilding. But, as Elise Foley reports at the Washington Independent, their immigration status renders them especially vulnerable to rampant wage theft, threats of deportation and workplace violence.

The situation is so dire for many workers that numerous nonprofit groups have initiated projects in the city and are calling for legislation to combat the problem. However, a key concern is that rising anti-immigrant sentiment in other parts of the U.S. could exacerbate difficulties in New Orleans. If such sentiment results in even greater labor abuses or renewed immigration enforcement, whole communities of people who have been dedicated to rebuilding the city could find themselves without livelihood, or even be displaced.

Exploited undocumented workers clean up oil spills

Given the reality that undocumented workers are charged with some of the dirtiest and most unsafe work American employers have to offer, it shouldn’t be surprising that U.S. companies rely on immigrant labor to clean up their worst messes. Not only do undocumented workers have fewer employment options, their immigration status renders them far less likely to report unsafe working conditions, exposure to hazardous materials, and underpayment—making them especially attractive to employers looking to save money or hide bad behavior.

So, naturally, undocumented workers were called in to deal with the catastrophic BP oil disaster in the Gulf of Mexico (though their compliance only earned them the undue attention of Immigration and Customs Enforcement) and, more recently, an oil spill in Michigan.

As Todd A. Heywood at the Michigan Messenger reports, one company in particular has come under fire for hiring and then exploiting undocumented laborers. Hallmark Industrial, a Texas contractor hired to clean up the oil spill, allegedly paid its workers only $800 for up to 100 hours of work per week. Additionally, the company subjected them to unsafe and hazardous working conditions, and even failed to provide workers with on-site toilets—forcing workers to relieve themselves in the areas they were charged with cleaning.

Just 24 hours after the Michigan Messenger broke the story, Hallmark Industrial was fired from the oil spill clean up, its contract terminated by the company which hired it, Garner Environmental Services, Inc. Whether that’s a victory is questionable. Following the termination of the contract, 40 undocumented workers were arrested in Texas, on a bus chartered by Hallmark—presumably just returned from Michigan. While the termination of the contract ensures that its workers won’t be subjected to further workplace abuses, it also ensures that those same individuals must begin the difficult task of finding similar work elsewhere.

Unemployed in California labor camps

Clearly, despite an inexorable willingness to perform low-wage manual labor, undocumented workers are not impervious to the unemployment epidemic. In U.S. labor camps—where migrant agricultural workers can find seasonal or even long term lodging near ranches—farm work is increasingly harder to come by.

As David Bacon highlights at New America Media, both undocumented immigrants and legal “guest workers” are adversely affected by the recession. While the latter possess work visas and may therefore stay in the country legally, both groups live together in the same labor camps, where they remain, ironically, unemployed. Given the present economic climate, there isn’t enough work for even the lowest-wage workers. And in spite of their legal status, even guest workers are barred from applying for unemployment benefits.

The recession has cast both undocumented and legally sanctioned agricultural workers into circumstances even more dismal than those advertised by UFW when it launched its "Take Our Jobs" campaign earlier this summer. Outlining the long hours, low pay, and back-breaking labor associated with farm work, UFW satirically invited American citizens to replace the scores of overworked and undocumented laborers that keep our agricultural industry afloat.

Though meant to be a tongue-in-cheek response to the misconception that immigrants steal American jobs, the campaign exposes a real, if unfortunate, truth about undocumented workers: Even as their presence drives Americans into higher paying jobs, Americans employers are all too happy to subject the undocumented to the worst indignities.

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 Pulse: Rand Paul, DIY Ophthalmologist

8:52 am in Uncategorized by TheMediaConsortium

by Lindsay Beyerstein, Media Consortium blogger

Rand Paul, the Republican senate candidate in Kentucky, is a freewheeling libertarian. Instead of getting some fancy board-certification as an ophthalmologist, Paul decided to "go Galt" and make up his own credentials. Paul founded the National Board of Ophthalmology, ostensibly to certify doctors as qualified eye specialists.

The NBO is run out of Paul’s home in Bowling Green, Kentucky. Paul is the president, is wife is the vice president, and her father Hilton Ashby is the organization’s secretary. Normally medical boards sponsor rigorous exams to ensure the highest professional standards in their respective specialties. "I can’t tell you what the organization does," Ashby told TPM.

It takes a rugged individualist eye doctor to found an entire medical board just for himself and a few friends. When you think about it, it’s kind of hypocritical of Paul to hold a standard medical license. If he were a true libertarian he’d found his own medical board and let the free market decide who’s a "real doctor."

FDA cracks down on DNA tests

The mean old FDA has ordered that companies offering so-called over-the-counter DNA testing prove that their products actually work. Libertarian Alex Tabarrok is outraged. He argues that if the tests don’t actually harm anyone, the government shouldn’t restrict them.

At the American Prospect, Tim Fernholtz replies that the FDA’s decision is just common sense. If a company is claiming to provide medical information, the onus is on them to prove that they are informing the public accurately. Besides, even if the test itself is harmless the results of the test could have life-altering consequences.

Michael Mechanic reports in Mother Jones that one woman became convinced that she’d been the victim of a hospital baby mixup when a over-the-counter DNA test showed that her son wasn’t hers. Kevin Drum of Mother Jones applauds the FDA for getting involved but wonders aloud whether over the counter DNA testing is really that much different from astrology or other dubious prediction methods that are perfectly legal and protected by the First Amendment. Should Magic 8-Balls be allowed to market themselves as pregnancy tests? Signs point to no.

HIV in the Motor City

Former White House staffer Van Jones is raising the alarm about HIV in Detroit, as Todd Heywood reports in the Michigan Messenger. HIV rates in Brooklyn and Washington, D.C. have garnered national headlines, but the crisis in Detroit has gone largely unnoticed. Over half of the zip codes in Detroit report HIV prevalence rates of at least 3%. In the most severely affected zip codes, 6% of the population is HIV positive, an infection level on par with Uganda.

Modeling Christian behavior

A self-proclaimed Christian school in Florida fired a pregnant teacher because she admitted to conceiving her child three weeks before her wedding. Jaretta Hamilton was fired from Southland Christian School for telling the truth about premarital sex, Joseph DiNorcia reports in RH Reality Check. By all accounts Mrs. Hamilton’s job performance was fine. Instead of bearing false witness, she answered an intrusive question truthfully. Apparently the school felt it was more "Christian" for Hamilton’s baby to be born to an unemployed mother. Hamilton is suing for discrimination.

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: More Hypocrisy in Arizona

9:31 am in Media by TheMediaConsortium

by Erin Rosa, Media Consortium blogger

After passing what is arguably the harshest immigration law in the country—SB 1070 forces local police to adhere to detain someone if there is “responsible suspicion” that they are undocumented—Arizona has now passed a law banning ethnic studies courses, as Feministing reports.

At The Nation, Jon Wiener writes that the new law "bans classes that ‘promote resentment toward a race or class of people,’ ‘are designed primarily for pupils of a particular ethnic group,’ or ‘advocate ethnic solidarity instead of treating pupils as individuals.’" Hypocrisy much?

Arizona is a bad influence. “At least 10 other states — many inspired by Arizona — are talking about enacting similarly draconian legislation,” Zachary Roth over at TPMMuckraker writes. “And most aren’t places that are traditionally thought of as hot-spots in the immigration battle.” States considering harsh laws include South Carolina, Texas and Georgia, according to Roth.

But along with a growing national boycott, Arizona is also facing major tourism backlash. AlterNet reports that “as tourists increasingly shun Arizona over the state’s new immigration law, their desertion is likely to spill some paint of their own: red ink stains all over state and local budgets.” At least nineteen conferences have been canceled so far in the state, according to the article. Currently, Arizona is also facing a major budget shortfall totaling $2 billion.

United we stand

As Daisy Hernandez reports for RaceWire, Service Employees International Union (SEIU), which represents more than 2 million members, has vowed to focus more on immigration. While unions offered less than stellar support during the 2007 immigration reform debate after disagreeing with provisions for a guest worker program, they are now expected to be a key ally in 2010.

SEIU is joining the boycott against Arizona for its anti-immigration law, and Hernandez also notes that “the news comes as the union swore in its new president Mary Kay Henry over the weekend.”

From dreams to reality

On GRITtv, Laura Flanders discusses the growing movement to support the Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors Act (DREAM Act), "a bipartisan bill offering a road to citizenship for undocumented minors who attend college or join the military,” as Flanders says.

Undocumented students backing the DREAM Act are an integral part of the immigration reform movement. They’ve successfully organizing to stop deportations of young immigrants and lobbied members of Congress to support their cause. Most recently, Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL) wrote a national op-ed this week boosting the act.

Currently, the DREAM Act is lingering in the Senate, and reform supporters are pushing for a immigration reform bill (which would likely include a DREAM Act provision) to be proposed and debated in the Senate this year, although it’s unknown when that will happen.

The value of immigrants

At New America Media, Jacob Simas reports on the state of immigrant workers who pick crops around Fresno, California. “Nobody knows how many farm workers here are homeless,” Simas writes, “And while longtime community members say they are likely a small percentage of the unemployed farm worker population, it is the first time they can recall seeing living conditions get this bad for the workers who help put food on our tables.”

Thanks to the recession, migrant workers are now struggling to find work. “Scattered groups of farm workers, unemployed and desperate, are emerging from a long cold winter spent living outdoors, in the same orchards that were once their livelihood,” according to Simas, who quotes one worker as saying, “We’ll go to town and ask people if we can work in their yard for ten, fifteen, maybe twenty dollars.”

Why the census matters

In Michigan, local governments are encouraging undocumented immigrants to participate in the census in order to gain more funding for federal services. Todd A. Heywood writes for the Michigan Messenger that in Macomb County, which borders Detroit, “a low count that ignores residents without proper documentation in 2010 could cost the county hundreds of thousands of federal dollars.”

The county loses more than $1,000 for each resident who doesn’t fill out the census, per year, according to Heywood. This year alone, the federal Census Bureau has launched the largest campaign in history to reach out to undocumented immigrants and other communities of color, amid a history of low turnout and a reluctance to give information to the government. Advocacy groups have been urging undocumented immigrants to be counted in the census this year, and note that immigration status is not asked on the form.

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: Obama Stalls for Time with Health Care Summit

8:26 am in Uncategorized by TheMediaConsortium

By Lindsay Beyerstein, Media Consortium Blogger

President Barack Obama’s February 25 health care summit, where he will appear on TV with Republican leaders, has been hailed and assailed as yet another gesture towards bipartisanship. But the summit is really a delaying tactic. It’s a decoy, something shiny to keep the chattering classes entertained while Congressional Democrats wheel and deal furiously behind the scenes.

At this point, there are two ways forward, and neither of them require Republican support. The first option is for the House to pass the Senate health care bill as written—but with the understanding that the Senate will later fix certain contentious parts of the bill through reconciliation. The second option is for the Senate to pass the reconciliation fix first and the House to pass the bill later.

Someone has to go first

Art Levine of Working In These Times diagnoses a severe case of paralysis on the left: Nancy Pelosi is willing to entertain the first option, but labor leaders like Rich Trumka, President of the AFL-CIO, want the Senate to go first because they don’t trust the Senate to fix the bill later. Nobody wants to go first, but somebody has to. If neither the House nor the Senate takes the initiative, reform will fail by default and Americans will continue to suffer.

If the Democrats are going to attempt reconciliation, they need a plan to steer the legislation through the Senate. While everyone else is talking about the summit, procedural experts are probably huddling with leadership, nailing down the details.

Obama’s ‘Waterloo’

Everyone knows that Obama isn’t going to pick up any Republican votes, summit or no summit. The House bill got 1 Republican vote, the Senate bill got 0. Quite simply, Republicans want health care reform to fail. No Republican president since Richard Nixon has attempted comprehensive health care reform. In opposition, Republicans have been intractably opposed reform because they’re afraid the Democrats will take credit for it. Sen. Jim DeMint (R-SC) famously said he wanted "break" Obama by making health reform the president’s "Waterloo."

Health care reform in the media

Meanwhile, as Monica Potts notes in TAPPED, the media seems to be bending over backwards to treat the Republican’s pro forma suggestions as serious proposals for reform, even though the Congressional Budget Office has already analyzed the plan and determined that it will leave millions uninsured without lowering costs. The health care bills as written are already chock full of Republican proposals, like eliminating the public option, easing restrictions on buying insurance across state lines, allowing people to band together in insurance-purchasing coops.

Kevin Drum of Mother Jones worries that the upcoming summit will just give the Republicans more free airtime to spread falsehoods about "government controlled health care."

Voices of the uninsured

This week, The Nation is publishing the stories of some of the millions of uninsured and underinsured Americans: An uninsured woman who was diagnosed with throat cancer last month; a father with a severely disabled son who is about to hit is $5 million lifetime insurance benefit cap; a single mom on the verge of medical bankruptcy; and many others.

In other news

Dr. Gabor Maté, the official physician of Canada’s only supervised drug injection site, talks about the science of addiction and his new book with Amy Goodman of Democracy Now!.

Todd A. Heywood reports in the Michigan Messenger that American Family Association of Michigan is doubling down in the dying days of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell. Not only do they want to ban gays from the military, they want to re-criminalize homosexuality.

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: Fixing the Foreclosure Problem

9:14 am in Uncategorized by TheMediaConsortium

by Zach Carter, TMC MediaWire blogger

The U.S. job market may be showing signs of life, according to a report issued by the Labor Department on Friday. The unemployment rate dropped in July, something no economist expected. Under the most optimistic interpretation, the news indicates that the worst of the recession is finally behind us. But the scenario isn’t really so rosy, as our government has yet to relieve the foreclosure pandemic. Even if unemployment is leveling off, there will be no economic recovery if the the foreclosure problem isn’t fixed.

July’s unemployment rate only fell from 9.5% to 9.4%, and even the most bullish Wall Street economists think the rate will hit double digits by the end of the year. The fact that July’s tiny drop in unemployement counts for good economic news says a lot about how severely the economy has deteriorated over the past year and a half.

But when you dig a little deeper, the numbers get worse. As Tim Fernholz explains for The American Prospect, even though the unemployment rate dropped, the nation’s economy actually shed 247,000 jobs in July. The rate was pushed down because 400,000 people gave up looking for a job in July; as such, they are no longer included in the statistic. So, while we "only" lost 247,000 jobs, we also lost 400,000 workers.

The government also adjusts its job loss figures for seasonal developments. When the Labor Department says we lost 247,000 jobs in July, that isn’t the actual number—it’s the number relative to what the Department considers a normal July. This summer has been unique for the U.S. economy, and especially in the case of the automobile industry. Auto companies usually lay off workers in the summer: The factories close while companies prepare the next year’s models. So many factories were already closed Read the rest of this entry →