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Weekly Diaspora: Obama to Congress: It’s Time to Support Immigration Reform

10:24 am in Uncategorized by TheMediaConsortium

by Erin Rosa, Media Consortium blogger

This morning, President Barack Obama condemned the "failure by those of us in Washington to fix a broken immigration system" and called on Congress to support reform this year.

"This administration will not just kick the can down the road," Obama said. He also described comprehensive immigration reform as "held hostage to political posturing." The UpTake, Mother Jones and The Colorado Independent provided live coverage of Obama’s statements.

The White House is no doubt concerned about the electoral consequences. Latino voters are waiting to see if Democrats address the issue. Obama also met with policy groups and members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus at the White House on Monday and Tuesday to discuss moving forward on immigration reform.

Catch-22

The possibility for comprehensive immigration reform this year is still unlikely, thanks to inaction by federal lawmakers. Not only have elected officials been preoccupied with other pressing issues, such as health care reform and Supreme Court hearings, they also fear political backlash from voters if they support immigration reform during a recession.

On the bumpy road to immigration reform, Congress has clearly fallen asleep at the wheel. Lawmakers may still support reform focused on young immigrants and farm workers this year, even if it doesn’t involve creating a pathway to citizenship for the estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants in this country.

As Daisy Hernandez reports at ColorLines, “Obama acknowledged the political realities in Congress and talked with the group about smaller bits of immigration legislation, including a bill to permit undocumented young people to attend college,” according to attendees of the brainstorming sessions.

Hernandez explains that “Republicans are painfully aware, of course, that immigration might be this year’s election football.” During the lead up to the election this November, the Senate failed to come to a compromise or even sponsor an actual bill. The House of Representatives has sponsored a reform proposal, but won’t vote on it until the Senate takes action. It’s a sticky Catch-22.

No more Arizonas

Despite Congressional fumbling, the need for immigration reform certainly won’t go away any time soon. Latino voters are growing in influence every day in the Untied States. As Gabriel Arana reports for The American Prospect, “the anti-immigrant push has served to unify and mobilize Hispanic voters, leading them to rethink their ties to Republicans and demanding action from Democrats on immigration.”

Just last March, an estimated half a million reform supporters marched on the National Mall in Washington DC. Shortly after that, on May 1, tens of thousands marched in cities all over the country, with reform proponents participating in civil disobedience in the nation’s capital and Arizona.

Arana also notes that Latinos have had “historically had lower levels of political participation than other minority groups” in the political process, and now they are taking the reform cause to “the streets, to their representatives, and in the pages of Latino papers—on an issue that affects them directly.”

That means that Republicans in Florida—a state which has a Latino population of approximately 20 percent, according to the US Census—will likely face big hurdles in their attempt pass an Arizona-like law targeting undocumented immigrants and racially profiling Latinos. New America Media has been reporting on the Florida proposal, which, like Arizona, could lead to a major international backlash.

According to their coverage, the plan would "make remaining illegally in Florida a criminal offense," would "include severe penalties for employers who hire undocumented workers," and it would "allow police to ask suspects for proof of legal residency."

‘Take Our Jobs’

On a lighter note, migrant workers have started a campaign to educate the public about the arduous work immigrants do on farms and in the fields—work that would be too tough for most Americans.

As Bonnie Azab Powell at Grist reports, the United Farm Workers, “tired of being vilified as stealing jobs from unemployed American citizens" have come up with a new campaign to put everyone to work.

"The union has created a website where you can sign yourself up for fieldwork," Powell writes. "Experienced field hands will train legal residents and hook them up with the many seasonal harvest openings in California, Florida, and elsewhere."

But the work won’t be easy, or just. As the article notes, “federal overtime provisions don’t apply to farmworkers, nor do minimum-wage laws.”

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: Obama Deploys Troops to Border Amid Rising Civil Disobedience

9:17 am in Uncategorized by TheMediaConsortium

by Erin Rosa, Media Consortium blogger

President Barack Obama announced on Tuesday that he would be deploying 1,200 National Guard troops to the Mexican border to beef up security along the Río Bravo. This surprise move has garnered criticism from immigrant rights supporters, who argue that it will dehumanize and endanger immigrant and Latino communities.

Julianne Hing at RaceWire offers more details on the plan, reporting that an extra $500 million has also been allocated to law enforcement along the border.

“Obama is reportedly asking for these troop increases in anticipation of Republicans’ demands on a war spending bill this week,” Hing writes. “But Obama’s already outpaced his predecessors in spending on border security and military presence at the border.”

With the militarization of the border there is a heightened sense of danger not only for immigrants, but also for residents. It’s happened before. Esequiel Hernández, a US citizen and high school student, was wrongfully killed by Marines 13 years ago, near the border in Texas after increased militarization.

The deportation race

Even more disheartening, John Morton, Assistant Secretary for the federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency, boasted that deportations of undocumented immigrants had already increased by 40 percent this year alone, and were sure to surpass last year’s total of 400,000, according to Suzy Khimm at Mother Jones.

“At the same time, a breakdown of the deportation numbers makes it clear that it’s not just criminal immigrants that federal immigration officials are targeting,” Khimm writes. “There’s been a small decrease in the number of non-criminal immigrants who’ve been deported, but they still make up a large majority of deportations.”

A storm of civil disobedience

In response to inaction on immigration reform and the increased enforcement, a civil disobedience campaign to pressure ICE and the White House to stop deportations continues. At the Real News Network, Jesse Freeston documents the growing civil disobedience relating to immigration reform, which at the beginning of the month included a 35 protesters sitting down “ in front of the White House fence, where they were eventually arrested. This included [Democratic] Congressman Luis Gutiérrez of Chicago, who has been heavily critical of the president’s inaction on these issues.”

Immigrant rights advocates in New York City demonstrated outside of Federal Plaza this week, with more than 35 people peacefully arrested. These demonstrations follow arrests in Washington DC, Seattle and Arizona for similar actions.

AlterNet notes that those arrested in New York included state assembly member Adriano Espaillat, City Councilmember Melissa Mark-Viverito, and dozens of other reform allies with unions, churches and community groups.

Consequences looming large

Make no mistake—there are political consequences for states like Arizona, where ultra right-wing politicians have passed a new laws targeting undocumented immigrants. As Steve Benen writes in the Washington Monthly, Latinos voters in Colorado and Arizona are quickly moving to support Democratic candidates.

Benen reports that a new “NBC/MSNBC/Telemundo poll shows a similar trend at the national level, where ‘Latinos, once a semi-swing group of voters, now have swung overwhelmingly for President Obama and the Democratic Party, and younger Hispanics are moving to the Democrats in even greater numbers.’”

‘Skin heads and Nazis’

On a different front, former Colorado Congressman and anti-immigrant polemic Tom Tancredo is apparently too radical for many anti-immigrant groups. Americans for Legal Immigration PAC (ALIPAC), a national right-wing group that has linked Latinos and immigrants to rapists and murders on its website, parted ways with the ex-lawmaker.

ALIPAC has pulled out of June 5 anti-immigration rally in Phoenix, citing Tancredo’s supposed connections to white power groups, according to John Tomasic at The Colorado Independent.

Tomasic writes that “[ALIPAC director] William Gheen, who has battled accusations of racist associations in the past, explained that he had raised concerns with Tancredo about event organizer Dan Smeriglio, an activist with long unabashed ties to ‘skin heads and Nazis,’ as Gheen put it.”

Great power, many responsibilities

In light of increased enforcement, The Uptake has video of Obama explaining his position on immigration reform. “Government has a responsibility to secure the border and enforce laws,” Obama said. “Washington has an obligation to set clear, common-sense rules, including rules that no longer punish and divide families that are doing the right thing and following the law.”

But Yes! Magazine columnist Kety Esquivel cites different responsibilities. “If history has taught us anything, it is that once human rights are eroded—once we allow ourselves to overlook the humanity of certain groups of people—we have stepped onto a slippery slope,” she writes. “If no one stands up to the injustice, the erosion of human rights continues.”

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.

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Weekly Diaspora: Immigration Opponents Take a Turn for the Worse

10:24 am in Uncategorized by TheMediaConsortium

By Erin Rosa, Media Consortium blogger

As grassroots support for the pro-immigration reform March for America grows, anti-immigration groups and their allies are trying to use racial tension to stop the momentum. Opposition groups like NumbersUSA and the Americans for Legal Immigration PAC announced plans this week to partner with Tea Party activists in response to the event, which is expected to draw as many as 100,000 people to the National Mall on March 21.

Their hope? To scare the public into opposing a pathway to citizenship for the estimated 12 million undocumented immigrants living in the United States.

NumbersUSA, a mainstream group that was instrumental in defeating reform in 2007, has discussed the idea of calling immigrant women from Mexico “the new welfare queens,” while others are spreading paranoia that immigrants are trying to “steal the next election.” The White House is holding a bipartisan meeting on immigration legislation this week and the possibility of reform is worrying opponents. They are now desperately attempting to block reform by appealing to frustration and fear.

Amplifying hate

Along with actions to flood Congress with phone calls and faxes, anti-immigration forces are also spreading misinformation and proposing ways to dehumanize immigrant communities. As Stephanie Mencimer notes in Mother Jones, operatives on the far right are pushing a conspiracy theory that the Obama administration is using immigration to steal the 2012 election.

The magazine reports that the WorldNet Daily, a publication which bills itself as “conservative news website,” has come up with an elaborate scheme in which a secret “illegal immigrant registration” will “open the floodgates to fraud.” That’s despite the fact that undocumented immigrants are legally barred from voting in the first place.

On top of that, in a conference call organized by anti-immigration group NumbersUSA, an organization that is routinely quoted by the mainstream media to oppose reform, participants suggested calling immigrant mothers with Mexican heritage “the new welfare queens.” As I report for Campus Progress, NumbersUSA, which worked to kill immigration reform in 2007, held the call this week to coordinate actions against the immigration march.

“I feel the new welfare queen in America today is women coming from Mexico with a bunch of babies,” said one caller.In response, NumbersUSA conference moderator Chad MacDonald said “Thank you very much. I appreciate that.”

Right after that, another caller suggested that anti-immigration activists not use the word “babies,” because it was “emotional.” Said the conference participant, “They aren’t babies. They’re dependents. … They have dependents. We have babies.” While NumbersUSA claims to be against “immigrant bashing,” they made no efforts to stop the hateful statements that their supporters spewed over the phone.

Smart politics

While incendiary rhetoric from immigration opponents is alarming, Kai Wright writes in The Nation that such radicalism could be a good impetus for Democrats to embrace immigration reform. “The great thing about racists is they’ll always take the bait,” claims Wright. “You won’t get far into an immigration-reform debate, for instance, before the GOP’s more zealous legislators start doing things like criminalizing priests and calling Miami a ‘third world country.’”

Politically, most Americans will probably be turned off by hateful and racist language used during the immigration debate, much like they were during the lead up to the confirmation of Associate Justice Sonia Sotomayor. In the end, the disgust factor could end up helping Democrats—if they let it.

“Immigration reform is an issue where Democrats are served better politically by picking a fight with the GOP than running from one,” Wright explains. “The long-term politics are plain: Latino communities nationwide are young, growing and increasingly ready to show up at the polls. And the certain-to-be xenophobic reaction of the GOP’s loudest voices today will not only motive Latinos this November, it will alienate independent voters as well.”

Out of patience

This week, pro-reform grassroots groups held a press conference on Monday to denounce what they said was increased enforcement under the Obama administration, as the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency reported at least a 5% increase in deportations for 2009. New America Media reports that advocates at the press meeting pointed out that “livelihoods were lost, local economies affected, and families split apart.”

“These are the same enforcement practices that we marched against during the Bush administration,” said Angelica Salas, director of the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles, who was quoted by New America Media. The outlet also notes that advocacy groups “contended that the immigration audits or ‘paper raids’ that have replaced workplace raids under Obama are just as damaging to immigrant communities and the businesses that depend on them.”

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: Rallying the Grassroots

8:49 am in Uncategorized by TheMediaConsortium

By Erin Rosa, Media Consortium blogger

Ed. Note: After a brief hiatus, the Diaspora is back! We’re very excited to have Erin Rosa on board for this project. Please stay tuned for a the latest developments on the immigration reform front every Thursday morning.

Fed up with Congress and frustrated with President Barack Obama’s brief mention of immigration reform in the State of the Union address, immigrant rights supporters are now organizing around the clock to push legislators to move on reform in 2010. It will not be an easy feat.

Congress is already bogged down with health care reform and a lingering economic crisis. While Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-IL) has proposed a bill in the House of Representatives to provide a pathway to citizenship for the estimated 12 million undocumented immigrants living in the United States, immigration reform could be doomed for 2010 if it’s not introduced in the Senate by this Spring. Otherwise, it’s very unlikely that Congress will get around to debating the issue by the end of the year.

Aware of these bitter facts—and even more cognizant of the human rights abuses that will continue so long as the status quo is maintained—reform proponents are gearing up for a number of key battles to improve the immigration system.

La marcha

Born from dissatisfaction with Congress and Obama’s inability to deliver reform, organizers from around the country are preparing to march on the National Mall in Washington, D.C. On March 21, the first day of Spring. The objective is to draw tens of thousands of immigrant rights supporters to Capitol Hill. As New America Media reports, March for America “will be a test of immigrant advocates’ organizing capacity and their increasing use of technology to stoke a popular groundswell on immigration.”

The march, which is organized by the Reform Immigration For America coalition, will also “bring together advocates focused on different parts of the immigration policy agenda,” including supporters of agricultural labor, better immigrant detention standards, and the DREAM Act, federal legislation that provide a pathway to citizenship for certain immigrants who entered the United States before the age of 16.

While mainstream media coverage of the march has been relatively quiet, with many English-language outlets ignoring it completely, the organizing behind the scenes has been even more hush hush. This is a massive grassroots effort to raise public awareness around the country. Members from hundreds of state immigration groups are attending churches, making phone calls, knocking on doors, and organizing caravans to get people to Washington in March. Even mainstream Spanish-language outlets have gotten involved and encouraged their audiences to contact the Reform Immigration For America campaign for all the latest information.

Perhaps most refreshing is that unlike the immigration reform fight in 2007, which was plagued by a number of organizational hurdles, national immigration organizations in Washington have reached out to grassroots groups across the nation for the march. As Bill Chandler, an executive director for the Mississippi Immigrant’s Rights Alliance, told the National Radio Project recently, “The grassroots groups were left out of the discussion [in 2007] and what we’re trying to do is make sure that doesn’t happen again.”

Speed bumps on the Trail of Dreams

While organizers are preparing for his month’s march, four young students are continuing a 1,500 mile trek on foot, dubbed the “Trail of Dreams,” in support of the DREAM Act. The students, three of whom are undocumented immigrants, started their journey on Jan 1. in Miami and are currently hiking through Georgia on their way to Washington, where they are expected to arrive in May. Along the way, they are educating people about how the DREAM Act would help kids like them.

Under current law, some of the walkers still face deportation, even though they were only children when their parents brought them into the United States. While the four students have encountered a lot of support from the communities that they’ve visited, they’ve also come across some ugly opposition. As AlterNet notes, a recent Ku Klux Klan rally in Georgia “was timed to occur when the Trail of Dreams walkers were passing through the area,” and there was a “a stark difference between the messages of the two groups: one for tolerance and human rights, the other for hatred and racism.

Immigration Detention Abuses Continue

The Varick Federal Detention Facility, a privately-run immigration prison in New York city that was overseen by the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency, is closing and relocating approximately 250 of its inmates to a New Jersey lockup. As RaceWire reports, the move is “partially because of public pressure” since “Varick has a well-documented track record of detainee abuse and fatal medical negligence,” but “shutting down one facility doesn’t address the broader system.”

When immigration officials granted a media tour to The Nation shortly before the prison closed, reporter Jackie Stevens described the scene inside: “The dorms are packed with rows of narrow beds, fifty in all; the law library has dated resources; there is no privacy; and there is no natural light, ever.”

On top of that, even “the agents hosting the tour seemed embarrassed and emphasized the upcoming transfer as we looked through a long hall window at men slouching, feet on the floor, using their beds as backless chairs.” Varick is just one of many immigration detention facilities with documented abuses, and while the Department of Homeland Security, the agency that ultimately controls ICE, has promised to reform the system, they have still refused to introduce any legally-binding regulations for detainee treatment.

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 Mulch: Climate Change On Obama’s Back Burner

8:37 am in Uncategorized by TheMediaConsortium

By Sarah Laskow, Media Consortium Blogger

In his first State of the Union address, President Barack Obama touched on climate issues only briefly. He called on the Senate to pass a climate bill, but did not give Congress a deadline or promise to veto weak legislation. Nor did he mention the Copenhagen climate conference, where international negotiators struggled to produce an agreement on limiting global carbon emissions.

The Obama administration’s attitude towards climate change still represents a remarkable shift from the Bush years, when global warming was treated as little more than a fairy tale. But in the past year, Congressional squabbling has stalled climate legislation, and international negotiators nearly gridlocked in talks over carbon admissions at the multinational Copenhagen conference. Without strong leadership from the president, work to prevent this looming environmental crisis will stall.

Obama did address global warming skeptics, saying that they should support investment in clean energy, “because the nation that leads the clean energy economy will be the nation that leads the global economy.”

“And America must be that nation,” Obama said.

No push for climate bill

Despite his combative language, the president did not challenge Congress to push for real solutions to ballooning carbon emissions and energy consumption. As Forrest Wilder of The Texas Observer notes, Obama “uttered the phrase ‘climate change’ precisely once.”

The Senate has already wait-listed the climate bill: Health care came first. With health care reform now in line behind work on jobs and bank regulation, climate legislation has little chance of passing the Senate in the coming months, let alone making it to the president’s desk.

If Congress lets this work wait until after the midterm elections, the United States will show up at international negotiations in December 2010 as a leader in carbon emissions yet again, but with little in hand to show a way forward.

Clean energy, not renewable energy

When the president did bring up climate issues, he focused on their connection between climate reform and potential job creation. Obama highlighted areas for growth, not in renewable energy fields like wind or solar power, but in nuclear power, natural gas, and clean coal.

Yes, these fuel sources could decrease the country’s carbon emissions. But they are not solutions that will revolutionize energy production. Grist’s David Roberts was floored that the speech omitted renewable energy entirely and kowtowed to a more conservative litany of energy projects. "I suppose it was done to flatter conservative Senators that will have to vote for the bill Kerry, Lieberman, and Graham are working on," he writes. (The three Senators are working on a version of the climate bill designed to appeal to Republicans.)

"But the SOTU is not a policy negotiation," Roberts says. "It’s a bully pulpit, a chance to shape rather than respond to existing narratives."

Roberts argues that progressive supporters would benefit from a stronger message. If activists knew that the White House stands behind a real shift in America’s energy policy, they could use that prompt to drive action on climate change.

What was missing

While touting the virtues of off-shore drilling, Obama overlooked other policies that could broker real change. Although he admonished Congress to pass a climate bill, he did not pressure the legislature on what he’d like that bill to include. He did not mention cap-and-trade, the mechanism the House bill relies on to tamp down emissions and dirty energy use.

President Obama did touch on transportation reforms that could decrease the country’s use of fossil fuels.

“There’s no reason Europe or China should have the fastest trains,” Obama said. He cited a high-speed rail project that broke ground on Tuesday in Tampa, FL, as evidence that America could best the rest of the world in creating new energy-efficient technology.

But one or two high-profile projects won’t be enough to challenge Europe’s network of high-speed trains or China’s investments in solar power. The White House could put the country at the forefront of sustainable technologies, but it’ll take more money than the president has committed. In AlterNet’s ideal state of the union, projects like the railway would merit sustained attention and funding. Funding for the high-speed train came from this year’s stimulus bill, and there’s no guarantee that similar projects will find federal funding in the future.

“Continued support is still needed" for green jobs and clean energy, Alternet’s editorial staff argues. “It’s unclear yet how Obama’s new proposal for a three-year spending freeze will apply to this sector, but a boost is what is needed, not cuts.”

Green jobs

Michelle Chen argues for In These Times that the president is right to subordinate climate issues to economic policy. “The jobs angle is more than sugar-coating,” she says. A recent Pew Research Center poll put climate change at the end of Americans’ long list of cares, and a Brookings Institution study found that they’re no longer willing to pay as much for greener products.

Jobless workers need green in their pockets most of all, and so far politicians’ promises haven’t made up for the slack economy.

“No matter how slick the marketing, confidence in green jobs may wilt even further absent real investments in the beleaguered blue-collar workforce,” Chen writes.

Copenhagen accord losing momentum

The small role that climate change played in the state of the union address only emphasized the downward momentum of the issue since the United Nations conference on global warming in Copenhagen. Grist’s Jonathan Hiskes talked to six leaders in climate change activism, and none of them offered a different strategy than they had last year.

That same stasis is showing up in Europe, as well. Spain, which currently leads the European Union, proposed that the European Union’s negotiating position should remain the same as its position before the Copenhagen conference, according to Inter Press Service.

Sen. John Kerry (D-MA), who’s working on climate change legislation in the Senate, offered advice to climate activists at a clean energy forum in Washington, DC on Wednesday. Mother JonesKate Sheppard reports that Sen. Kerry encouraged his audience to get angrier, louder, and more active, in the mode of the conservative Tea Partiers, who have earned plenty of attention. After his speech, he also recalled the tactics that pushed landmark legislation like the Clean Air Act through Congress.

If climate change is going to play a larger role in the next state of the union, the citizens and groups concerned about this issue need to do something to put it on the agenda. Otherwise, next year, the president may find it just as easy to skim over it again.

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: Just Who is Obama fighting for?

8:46 am in Uncategorized by TheMediaConsortium

By Zach Carter, Media Consortium Blogger

Progressives have waited a year for President Barack Obama to roll up his sleeves and fight for serious financial reform. Last week, he finally jumped in the ring, telling weak-kneed Senators to stand up to Wall Street and endorsing a critical ban on risky securities trading.

But while it was good to see Obama start throwing financial punches against the banks, this week he also started throwing them at workers. His recent rhetoric on implementing a spending freeze to reduce the deficit is an economic catastrophe in the making. It indicates that Obama is willing to sacrifice jobs to try and win over Republicans.

A spending freeze would kill jobs

A three-year spending freeze is crazy talk. It’s a right-wing ideologue’s dream that accomplishes nothing and drives millions of people out of work. John McCain campaigned on it during his 2008 presidential run. Our long-term deficit problems are tied to the rising cost of health care. If you want to fix the deficit, fix health care. In the short-term, there is no deficit problem. In fact, the U.S. fiscal position looks very good compared to many European nations.

As Matthew Rothschild notes for The Progressive, a spending freeze would kill any legislation to create jobs. With unemployment at 10%, the economy desperately needs another round of government spending to put people back to work. While the abrupt policy reversal is clearly a political ploy, voters care much more about results than they care about ideology. If Obama actively sabotages the job market to win over conservative deficit-hawks, he’ll be putting his political future in serious jeopardy.

And yet, as Steve Benen notes for The Washington Monthly, Obama’s recent, ramped-up rhetoric against banks still marks a significant change in tone. For most of the year, Obama hasn’t been involved in the financial reform debate at all, letting Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner capitulate to Wall Street and the politicians it owns. Benen highlights the end of Obama’s speech announcing his new banking rules on Jan. 21. Obama says:

So if these folks want a fight, it’s a fight I’m ready to have. And my resolve is only strengthened when I see a return to old practices at some of the very firms fighting reform; and when I see soaring profits and obscene bonuses at some of the very firms claiming that they can’t lend more to small business, they can’t keep credit card rates low, they can’t pay a fee to refund taxpayers for the bailout without passing on the cost to shareholders or customers — that’s the claims they’re making. It’s exactly this kind of irresponsibility that makes clear reform is necessary.

Saving the CFPA

Katrina vanden Huevel lays out Obama’s new financial reform agenda in a column for The Nation, praising a new $117 billion tax on the nation’s largest banks, a plan to cap overall bank size, and a proposal to ban high-risk trading by economically essential commercial banks (more on thatlater).

But vanden Huevel also rightfully denounces recent indications that Senate Banking Committee Chairman Chris Dodd (D-CT) may cave to lobbyist pressure and drop the measure to create a new Consumer Financial Protection Agency (CFPA) from the Senate’s financial reform bill.

The death of the CFPA would be a devastating blow to reform. Existing bank regulatory agencies see their primary job as protecting bank profits, meaning that any time the interests of the U.S. consumer conflict with those of bank balance sheets, the regulators have shafted consumers. Current federal banking regulators not only failed to enforce consumer protection laws, they went so far as to join the bank lobby in suing state regulators who were trying to protect households from predatory lending.

Fortunately, Obama isn’t taking Dodd’s bank lobby-induced cowardice sitting down. At Talking Points Memo, Rachel Slajda highlights a New York Times report that claims Obama met with Dodd and told him that the CFPA is a "non-negotiable."

Commercial banks are important

There’s a lot to like in Obama’s plan to bar commercial banks from participating in risky securities trading. As I emphasize in a piece for AlterNet, commercial banks form the backbone of the U.S. economy. They’re the institutions that accept your paychecks as deposits and keep businesses moving with loans. They also form the core of the economy’s payments system. Without commercial banks, nobody can pay anybody else for goods and services—the economy literally shuts down.

Nevertheless, in the late 1990s, regulators and lawmakers tore down the walls between commercial banking and riskier, complex securities trading, allowing these critical economic utilities to gamble in the capital markets like high-flying hedge funds. That kind of behavior puts the entire economy in jeopardy, and Obama’s proposal to end such behavior is very urgently needed.

But, as vanden Huevel and I both note, Obama’s cap on bank size is a little too timid. Obama indicated that he wants to prevent big banks from getting bigger going forward. That misses the point.

Bustin’ up "too big to fail"

Financial giants like Citigroup and Bank of America are already much too big and pose an economic threat. That’s why we refer to them as "too big to fail," and why the government had to devote over $17 trillion to saving them. Obama must cap bank size and break up our behemoth banks into companies that are small enough to fail without wreaking havoc on the economy. A good rule of thumb: 1% of gross domestic product.

Shouting down the bank lobbyists

In Mother Jones, David Corn emphasizes that Obama’s credentials as a serious reformer depend more on his policy maneuvering than on his rhetoric. While it has been extremely promising see Obama finally demanding something serious from the financial giants that taxpayers saved, he’ll have to shout down the bank lobbyists to secure meaningful economic—or political—gains. Corn writes:

If Obama aims to be widely regarded as a warrior for the middle class, he will have to take some mighty swings that cut through the clutter. Proclaiming ‘I am a fighter’ will not be enough. He will have to name his foes (financial institutions, insurance companies, Republicans, and perhaps recalcitrant Democrats) and truly exchange blows.

Obama’s stance on the CFPA alone should be enough to get the lobbyists into a lather, but he’ll have to keep up the fight on multiple fronts if he wants to protect our economy from the Wall Street recklessness that spurred millions of foreclosures and sent the unemployment rate soaring into double digits.

Last week, Obama finally told us he was willing to fight for economic change. Now it looks like he’s going to attack anyone who is looking for a job. Let’s hope he turns it around before it’s too late.

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: What Does Coakley’s Defeat Mean for Health Care Reform?

9:32 am in Uncategorized by TheMediaConsortium

By Lindsay Beyerstein, Media Consortium Blogger

What Will Coakley’s Defeat Mean for Health Care Reform?

By Lindsay Beyerstein, Media Consortium Blogger

Last night, Republican Scott Brown defeated Democrat Martha Coakley in the special election to fill Teddy Kennedy’s senate seat in Massachusetts. Coakley’s loss puts health care reform in jeopardy.

With Coakley’s defeat, the Democrats lose their filibuster-proof 60-seat majority in the Senate. However, as Paul Waldman explains in The American Prospect, Coakley’s loss is not the end for health care reform.

Remember, the Senate already passed its health care reform bill in December. Now, the House has to pass its version of the bill. The original plan was for House and Senate leaders to blend the two bills together in conference to create a final piece of legislation (AKA a conference report) that both houses would vote on. Once the Democrats are down to 59 votes, the Republicans can filibuster the conference report and kill health care reform.

But if the House passes the same bill the Senate just passed, there’s no need to reconcile the two bills. This so-called "ping pong" approach may be the best way to salvage health care reform. Some of the flaws in the Senate bill could still be fixed later through budget reconciliation. It would be an uphill battle, but nothing compared to starting health care reform from scratch.

The second option would be to get the bill done before Scott Brown is sworn in. According to Waldman, there could be a vote within 10 days. The House and Senate have already drafted some compromise legislation, which Waldman thinks is superior to the straight Senate bill. If that language were sent to the Congressional Budget Office immediately, the Senate could vote before Brown is sworn in.

Sen. Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) said in a statement last night that Brown won’t be sworn in until the election results are certified, a process that could take two weeks. Historically, the winners of special Senate elections have taken over from their interim predecessors within a couple of days. If the Republicans were in this position, they’d use every procedural means at their disposal to drag out the process. The question is whether the Democrats have the fortitude to make the system work for them.

Remember how the Republicans did everything in their power to hold up the Senate health care vote, including forcing the clerk to read the 767-page bill aloud? They were trying to delay the vote until after the Massachusetts special election. If it’s okay for the GOP to stall, the Democrats should be allowed to drag their feet on swearing in Brown.

Also, remember how the Republicans fought to keep Al Franken from being seated after he defeated Norm Coleman? For his part, Franken says he’s determined to pass health care reform one way or another, according to Rachel Slajda of Talking Points Memo.

Incongruously, some Democrats are arguing that rushing to a vote would be a violation of some vague democratic principle. Sen. Jim Webb (D-VA) wasted no time in proclaiming that there should be no vote before Brown was sworn in. Rep. Barney Frank (D-MA), of all people, averred last night that the Democrats should respect the democratic process and start acting like they have 59 votes while they still have 60.

All this talk of "respecting the process" is hand waving disguised as civics. According to the process, Scott Brown isn’t the senator from Massachusetts yet. According to the process, you have the votes until you don’t.

Talk about moving the goalposts. It’s bad enough that we need 60 votes to pass a bill on any given day. Now, they’d have us believe that we also need 60 votes next week. Webb and Frank are arguing that Brown’s victory obliges Democrats to behave as if Brown were already the Senator from Massachusetts. Of course, if Webb won’t play ball, it’s a moot point. The whole fast-track strategy is predicated on 60 votes. Steve Benen of the Washington Monthly thinks that Webb effectively took the fast-track option off the table with his strongly worded statement.

Katrina vanden Huevel of The Nation argues that this historic upset should be a wake up call to President Barack Obama to embrace populism with renewed fervor. I would add that Obama was elected on a platform of hope and change. There is no better way to fulfill a promise of change than to reshape the nation’s health care system and provide insurance for millions of Americans.

Ping pong, anyone?

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.

The Mulch: Tepid Accord Reached in Copenhagen

10:22 am in Uncategorized by TheMediaConsortium

By Sarah Laskow, Media Consortium Blogger

After two weeks of negotiations for the United Nations Climate Change Conference (Cop15), global leaders produced a limited, non-binding agreement that was noted, but not adopted. President Barack Obama presented the Copenhagen Accord to the summit on Friday night, calling it an "important milestone." The accord promises global cooperation to combat climate change, recognizes the need to keep global temperatures from rising more than 2 degrees Celsius, and commits funding for developing nations to battle the impacts of global warming.

But on Saturday, after President Obama had returned to Washington, leaders from Europe and the least developed nations announced that the accord was not definitive and represented the views of only a few countries. In particular, Lumumba Stanislas Dia-ping, chair of the Group of 77, which represents the poorest nations in the world, pushed back, claiming that their interests had been abandoned.

As David Roberts reports in Grist: "Since the … process requires unanimity to move forward, Danish Prime Minister Lokke Rasmussen could only look on, bewildered, as country after country restated its position in increasingly emotional terms."

Rajendra Pachauri, chair of the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, told reporters that the more powerful countries overlooked the interests of their less fortunate neighbors, according to Amy Goodman of Democracy Now!

"I think the countries that can really make a difference have not really got sensitive enough to the plight of the poorest of the poor. I think that’s a harsh reality which we have no choice but to accept," Pachauri said.

The accord left out crucial elements that tripped negotiators up throughout the week. David Corn and Kate Sheppard of Mother Jones report that the accord "…contains few specific numbers—beyond "recognizing the scientific view" that a global temperature rise should be ‘below 2 degrees.’ It dropped language from an earlier draft calling for cutting global emissions in half by 2050. The agreement urges developed nations to implement reductions they have already pledged—without spelling out those numbers or [establishing] baseline years. Developing nations would establish their own emissions curbs."

During the summit, China objected to requirements that would allow outside monitoring of its emissions. That issue remained one of the thorniest points during Friday’s negotiations. Corn and Sheppard report that President Obama proposed that instead of "examination and assessments," countries would commit to "international consultations and analysis."

“A ‘consultation’ is obviously less intrusive than an ‘examination,’ Corn and Sheppard write. "But what does "international consultations and analysis"—soon to be referred to as ICA—mean? Asked this, [Brazil's climate ambassador Sergio] Serra shrugged and said, "Ehhhh." He added, "The definition will be negotiated by a panel of people. They will decide what it means, like everything else."

The deal that Obama and major developing nations drafted on Friday represented the best result of a tumultuous conference. Going back to Grist, David Roberts writes that even at the beginning of the summit, leaked draft agreements were more promising than the actual outcome. The final accord, according to Roberts, "achieved only the barest of Obama’s aims: One, to draw the major emitters among the developing nations—China, India, and Brazil—into a process that would yield concrete commitments on their part, and two, to get funding flowing from developed countries to developing countries to aid their efforts to deal with climate change."

Throughout the two week summit, activists from around the world gathered to pressure leaders into significant action. But, thanks to Cop15′s tepid outcome, some climate change advocates already are looking towards the next major global meeting, which will be held in Mexico, in 2010.

Beverly Keene, the international coordinator of Jubilee South, told Inter Press Service that “the primary challenge is to broaden and strengthen the links between the different civil society movements and networks in the region.”

And outside the conference in Copenhagen, activists gathered to broadcast their opinions of the summit’s achievements and their continuing commitment to change. As Jamie Henn writes in Yes! Magazine,

"In less than an hour, hundreds of us will gather in a snowy courtyard outside the Osknehallen to stand with candles and torches and form the words "Climate Sham" and then transform into the words "Climate Shame" for an aerial photograph. The image will express the frustration and anger that we want to convey to the world leaders who are blocking progress here at the talks yet still trying to spin Copenhagen as some sort of success.

"Yet, we’ll also be forming another message: "Climate Hope," Henn says. "It’s a reminder that this fight isn’t over."

Although the accord is a small step forward, politicians around the world have their work cut out for them. A few reminders of the consequences, should they fail to stop the effects of climate change on the planet:

  • AlterNet’s Tara Lohan lists eight great things we could lose, including French wines and coral reefs.
  • At TAPPED, Alexandra Gutierrez posts about the island nation Tuvalu, which is “highly vulnerable to rises in sea level.”
  • For Mother Jones, Jen Phillips writes that “If we don’t get emissions on track, fast, it’ll be today’s babies and kids who’ll have to do it twice as quickly in 2050.”

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.

The Mulch: Frustrated, Obama calls for action

9:25 am in Uncategorized by TheMediaConsortium

The Mulch: Frustrated, Obama Calls for Action
By Alison Hamm, Media Consortium Blogger

President Barack Obama’s much-anticipated arrival in Copenhagen today has turned from a hopeful sign of success into a grim reality check. Immediately after arriving this morning, Obama joined an unscheduled meeting with 18 other world leaders before the most high-profile session of the United Nations Climate Change Conference (Cop15) began. The deal depends on the United States and China, the world’s leading emitters of greenhouse gas emissions to reach an agreement on a course of action.

At this morning’s session, Chinese Prime Minister Wen Jibao hailed his country’s efforts to curb greenhouse emissions. Wen implied that China would keep its emissions voluntary and unilateral, which was out of step with suggestions that China place its reduction goals within a binding treaty. Then, Brazilian President Luiz Lula da Silva complained about the Cop15 negotiations’ lack of progress.

A visibly frustrated Obama took the stage immediately after (video below), saying he was in Copenhagen "not to talk, but to act." The question is no longer the nature of the challenge, Obama said, but leaders’ capacity to meet it: "For while the reality of climate change is not in doubt, I have to be honest as the world watches us today. I think our ability to take collective action is in doubt right now and it hangs in the balance. I believe we can act boldly and decisively in the face of a common threat."

David Corn of Mother Jones wrote that Obama’s speech "signaled a global train wreck… Obama was clearly venting. … If an accord is not reached at this summit, Obama remarked, ‘we will be back having the same stale arguments month after month, year after year, perhaps decade after decade all while the danger of climate change grows until it is irreversible.’"

Although Obama didn’t mention China directly, he "took a dig at the way the country has resisted transparency measures for monitoring emissions cuts," as Jonathan Hiskes writes for Grist. "Is this a sign that the Copenhagen talks may fail to produce even a weak, tentative accord—a so-called ‘fig leaf’ deal that would provide world leaders the barest of cover? That’s one line of speculation. Of course, that could be out of date within a few hours."

Obama reminded the delegates of the United State’s commitment to action on climate change, reiterating Hillary Clinton’s statement Thursday that the country plans to mobilize $100 billion in financing for developing nations by 2020, but "if, and only if, it is part of a broader accord."

But is a broader accord still possible in Copenhagen? Grist reports that in a one-on-one meeting after Obama’s speech, Obama and Prime Minister Wen discussed "three of the most contentious areas blocking the path to a climate deal on the last day of the summit: Verification guarantees, financing to help developing nations deal with climate change, and permitted emission levels." Afterward, they asked their negotiators to meet to search for an agreement.

Although China and the U.S. are the biggest players in these talks, it would be remiss to ignore the work of the G77 block of poor nations who are "still playing hardball," as Jacob Wheeler writes for In These Times. "They’re on the front lines, their people are already dying in the hundreds of thousands due to climate change, and they don’t have the infrastructure to greenify their infrastructure."

It looks like the world will continue to wait for our leaders to determine the course of action in Copenhagen. Check out LinkTV’s live stream for Cop15 news as it unfolds.

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.