The Wavelength: Attack of the Media Mega-Mergers! Skyprosoft, AT&T-Mobile and more

by Eric Arnold, Media Consortium blogger

Another day, another media mega-merger. The latest? Microsoft is buying Skype, the Internet communications company, for $8.5 billion.

So exactly what does the Skyprosoft deal mean for consumers? That’s the eight-point-five billion-dollar question. Public News Service’s Mark Scheerer says the deal could be beneficial if – and this is a big ‘if’ – “Microsoft will more strongly embrace network neutrality and other policies aimed at keeping the Web free.”

Net neutrality is a key component to the merger because, according to the Media Access Project’s Mark Wood, “without an open internet, large and anti-competitive carriers like AT&T and Verizon will have the power to cripple potentially competitive services such as Skype’s that will depend on access to existing networks.”

Should Telecoms Break Up?

AlterNet’s David Rosen and Bruce Kushnick make a case for the break-ups of the telecommunications trust, which provides “overpriced and inferior service, and [is] systematically overcharging the hapless American consumer.”

Citing crusading muckraker Ida Tarbell, who went after the Standard Oil monopoly a century ago, as an inspiration for the project, Rosen and Kushnick argue that the recent spate of mergers and acquisitions has put the telecom industry on a similar course of anti-competitive behavior. The answer, they say, is divestiture, which “will lead to increased competition, lower costs and better service.”

FCC’s Revolving Door Keeps on Spinning

Federal Communications Commissioner Meredith Attwell Baker is the latest FCC official to land a cushy job at—you guessed it—a telecommunications company. In June, Baker will be moving to work as Comcast’s senior vice-president for government affairs. As Truthout’s Nadia Prupis notes, Baker advocated strongly in favor of Comcast during the commission’s review of the $30 billion merger with NBC Universal earlier this year.

Specifically, Baker objected to proposed FCC requirements for Comcast-NBC “to maintain fair and competitive operations over the airwaves and online, show a minimum amount of local and children’s programming and make high-speed Internet access available to 2.5 million low-income households.”

Senate Probe Focuses on Mobile Security

Truthout’s Prupis also reports that Sen. Al Franken (D-MN) is leading a Senate probe into privacy issues raised by smart phones and other mobile broadband-enabled devices.

Recent concerns over privacy issues have put companies like Google and Apple—whose officials testified Tuesday in Washington—on the hot seat. As Prupis notes, “Legislators on the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Privacy, Technology and the Law said that without sufficient privacy measures, mobile devices carry the genuine potential for security breaches.” However, the Senate panel’s intent isn’t to limit innovation, but “create strong consumer protections as mobile technology continues to evolve.”

Post-merger, Comcast Lags on Localism

According to a recent study by Free Press (PDF available here), Comcast-owned Telemundo stations haven’t kept promises made to feature more local news – a key condition of the Comcast-NBC merger. While the study suggests that a poor commitment to localism for Telemundo stations was a pre-existing condition, dating back to NBC Universal’s 2002 purchase of the Spanish-language network, it also found that “Comcast has committed to increasing local news production in only six of the 15 communities served by its Telemundo owned-and-operated stations (O&Os).”

The report also found numerous discrepancies in Comcast’s FCC localism filings, including falsely claiming that advertising constituted local news and failing to include descriptions of programs it claimed were local, making it “difficult for the public and the FCC to determine with any accuracy whether the programming listed actually meets the merger commitment.”

Revisiting Protest Music

What does protest music have to do with media policy? Well, when’s the last time you heard Public Enemy’s “Fight the Power” on the radio?

Protest music has all but disappeared from the commercial music landscape, unless you count Lady Gaga’s “Born This Way.” Yet, in an age of media consolidation and corporate-controlled media, it’s good to remember the music scene wasn’t always so timid. Recently, The Nation asked readers to list their Top Ten Protest Songs. They received an overwhelming response, with more than 3,000 entries, and even more streaming in daily.

As the editors note, “five seminal songs [vied] for consideration for the top slot: Woody Guthrie’s “This Land is Your Land,” Florence Reese’s “Which Side Are You On,” Bob Dylan’s “Masters of War” and “Blowin’ in the Wind,” and Pete Seeger’s “Where Have All the Flowers Gone.””

The first list posted online—more are planned—includes music by Public Enemy, Marvin Gaye, Paul Robeson, John Prine, Anti-Flag, The Jam, Malvina Reynolds, Iris DeMent, Creedence Clearwater Revival, and Claude Joseph Rouget de Lisle.

World Press Freedom Day

“Press freedom is at its lowest level in 12 years,” according to Monika Bauerlein and Clara Jeffery ofMother Jones. In honor of World Press Freedom Day, Bauerlein and Jeffery called attention to the 16 journalists currently held in Libya, as well as the two American journalists still detained in Iran (one of whom is a MoJo reporter).

Inter Press Service created a Facebook page to celebrate WPFD and compile reports on the state of freedom of the press from around the globe. It’s a fascinating list that outlines the dangers reporters face—which sometimes results in self-censorship—as well as the prevalence of censorship of political topics in other countries, especially those engaged in bloody civil conflicts. Here are a few choice stories:

  • As Amantha Perera reports from Sri Lanka, one casualty of that country’s decades-long civil war (which ended in 2009) was journalistic independence. “The media became a part of the military operation… No one was able to report objectively, there was pressure on them from all parties.”
  • In Egypt, Cam McGrath writes, the rebellion which toppled the Mubarak government has brought significant changes for reporters. “Before Feb. 11, we had strict orders not to discuss certain topics, such as the Muslim Brotherhood or (Mubarak’s political opponent) Mohamed El Baradei,” says Ashraf El-Leithy, deputy editor of Middle East News Agency (MENA), Egypt’s official news wire. “Now we have complete freedom to write about anything – without any restriction.”
  • In Mexico City, says Daniela Pastrana, the influence of drug cartels has presented distinct challenges to reporting in a state where corruption and violence are widespread, and journalists, police, and government officials are routinely murdered – resulting in collective efforts, meticulous fact-checking, and an emphasis on obtaining public records.

Ethnic Press Grapples With Media Policy Issues

New York Community Media Alliance’s Jehangir Khattak reports for New America Media that a recent information exchange between journalists and advocates held in Boston at the National Conference for Media Reform in April helped the ethnic press address ways to better cover media policy issues for their audiences.

As Khattak notes, the exchange “addressed steps ethnic and community media can take to increase coverage of media policy issues and how to improve the quality of current reporting. [It] also examined the role of media policy advocates in crafting the best course for effective messaging on these issues and what steps they should take.”

Understanding media policy issues can help close the digital divide, which affects underserved, ethnic and minority communities the most.

The Wavelength is a project of The Media Consortium, a network of leading independent media outlets. This post features the best independent, progressive reporting about media policy bymembers of The Media Consortium. It is free to reprint. To read more of the Wavelength, click here.You can also follow us on Twitter.

 

 

Weekly Diaspora: What Homeland Security Looks Like After Bin Laden’s Death

 

by Catherine A. Traywick, Media Consortium blogger

Nearly a decade ago, America’s War on Terror began as a manhunt for Al Qaeda leader Osama Bin Laden, the mastermind behind the 9/11 terrorist attacks. But over the next nine years, that anti-terrorism effort evolved into a multi-faceted crusade: birthing a new national security agency, blossoming into two bloody wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, institutionalizing the racial profiling and surveillance of Muslim Americans and even redefining unauthorized Latin American immigration as—of all things—a national security issue. Now, in the wake of Osama Bin Laden’s death, which elements of that crusade will persist or expand and which—if any—will dissolve?

Muslim Americans celebrate bin Laden’s death…

Following the announcement of bin Laden’s death last Sunday, Americans feverishly rejoiced at the news that a mission actually was accomplished in the War on Terror.  Profoundly, the celebrants included scores of individuals who had unwittingly become targets of that crusade—Pakistani immigrants and American Muslims.

Mohsin Zaheer of Feet in Two Worlds reports that Islamic groups in the United States wasted no time applauding President Barack Obama for Bin Laden’s death, taking the opportunity to distance themselves and Islam from the legacy of the slain terrorist. And while many Americans forget that the 9/11 terror attacks killed nationals from 70 different countries, Zaheer notes that the many immigrants who lost loved ones that day took some comfort in knowing that justice has been done.

But Muslims in the U.S. also had another cause for celebration. Bin Laden’s death coincided with the termination of a grossly discriminatory federal program that has targeted, tracked and deported thousands of immigrants from predominately Muslim countries since 2002. ColorLines.com’s Channing Kennedy describes the program (called NSEERS or the National Security Entry/Exit Registration System) as “one of the most explicitly racist, underreported initiatives in post-9/11 America” which “functioned like Arizona’s SB 1070, with working-class Muslims as the target.” The Department of Homeland Security has been vague about its reasons for ending the program, but the decision  amounts to a victory for immigrant rights groups that have been protesting the effort since its launch nine years ago.

…but still face an uncertain fate

That said, the fate of Muslims in America is far from rosy. As Seth Freed Wessler notes at ColorLines.com, the Department of Homeland Security continues to target, detain and deport Muslims “in equally insidious, but less formal ways” than the NSEERS program.

Pointing to investigations by “Democracy Now!” and the Washington Monthly, Wessler explains that the Department of Justice “has repeatedly used secret informant-instigators to manufacture terrorist plots” and advocated religious intolerance, racial profiling and harassment in its search for homegrown terrorists. Through these means, the quest for security has degenerated into the systemic persecution of American Muslims and countless other immigrants deemed threats to national security becaue their race, religion or nationality. And that didn’t die with bin Laden.

As recently as last March, in fact, Republican Rep. Peter T. King, chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, held a hearing on the radicalization of Muslim Americans—during which numerous witnesses repeatedly reiterated the dire threat posed by radical Muslims in the U.S. At the time, Behrouz Saba of New America Media noted that the hearing lacked any discussion of U.S. military presence in the Middle East and its impact on radicalization. Rather than critically examine the many ways in which U.S. foreign policy and military conflict breeds the monster it aims to destroy, the hearing instead served to demonize a growing, well-educated and largely law-abiding population of the United States.

The Latin American link

But the War on Terror has deeply impacted other marginalized communities as well. Even the circumstances of bin Laden’s death bears an alleged connection to the frought issue of Latin American immigration to the U.S.—an issue that has, itself, undergone massive scrutiny and regulation following 9/11.

ThinkProgress reports that one of the Navy Seals involved in Bin Laden’s extermination is, purportedly, the son of Mexican migrants. While the veracity of that claim has been contested by some, Colorlines.com’s Jamilah King argues that the rumor nevertheless “raises serious questions around the military’s recruitment of Latino youth, the staggering numbers of Latino war causalities, and the Obama administration’s often contradictory messages on immigration reform.” She continues:

Casualties among Latino soldiers in Iraq rank highest compared to other groups of soldiers of color. Yet while the military actively courts Latino youth and immigrants with one hand, it’s aggressively deporting them and their families with the other.

It’s worth noting that, within the government, the most vocal proponents of the DREAM Act supported the legislation because they expected it to dramatically increase Latino enrollment in the military. While the DREAM Act ultimately died in the Senate, proponents of its military provision are perpetuating a troubling and persistent dichotomy that is only reinforced in the wake of bin Laden’s demise: immigrants are welcome on our battlefields, but not in our neighborhoods.

It’s comforting, albeit naïve, to believe that Osama bin Laden’s death will cap a decade of military conflict and draw a torturously long anti-terrorism crusade to a close. More likely, our multiple wars will persist longer than they should, and our domestic security apparatus will continue targeting the most vulnerable members of our society under the misguided notion that such enforcement strengthens rather than divides us.

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.

 

The Wavelength: “Underdog” AT&T Tells FCC That Eliminating Competitors Will Increase Competition

 


by Eric K. Arnold, Media Consortium blogger

The proposed AT&T/T-Mobile merger continues to dominate media policy headlines, but the wireless merger isn’t the only game in town. AOL’s recent buyout of the Huffington Post has raised intellectual property issues, rural communities still lack speedy broadband access, and a proposed Verizon antenna in Oakland has come under fire by neighborhood activists.

AT&T an Underdog?

Telecommunications giant AT&T is many things, and an underdog in need of federal assistance isn’t one of them. Yet Colorlines.com’s Jamilah King says that’s exactly how the company is portraying itself in its proposed $39 billion dollar takeover of T-Mobile.

In its official filing with the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), King reports, “AT&T spends nearly 90 pages describing T-Mobile’s weaknesses, while detailing the roadblocks it says it’ll face if federal regulators don’t green light the deal.” If federal regulators block the deal, AT&T argues, its customers “would face a greater number of blocked and dropped calls as well as less reliable and slower data connections. And in some markets, AT&T’s customers would be left without access to more advanced technologies.”

It’s hard to feel sorry for AT&T, though, since the deal has raised concerns that consumers ultimately will pay more for cell phone service, which could adversely impact low-income, minority, and immigrant users who rely on the low-cost plans currently offered by T-Mobile. If the merger passes federal muster, King writes, “it’ll likely mean the unheralded return to prominence of the former Ma Bell monopoly that ruled American telecommunications for most of the twentieth century.”

Competition without Competitors

As Nancy Scola writes in The American Prospect, AT&T’s 381-page FCC filing essentially comes down to this: “you can have the benefits of competition without actual competitors.”

Scola traces the history of the telecommunications industry, touching on the 1982 antitrust case which resulted in the break-up of Ma Bell (aka AT&T) into seven Baby Bells, as well as analyzing current media policy in Washington:

As a powerful company that just announced $31 billion in revenues last quarter AT&T retains great sway. The FCC often defers to the company’s role as the founders of American telecommunications. And Congress, a recipient of large sums of AT&T cash, often seems dazzled by the company’s bright lobbyists who talk in confusing but exciting ways about ‘spectrum synergies’ and ‘LTE deployment.’

The takeaway? Congress and federal regulators need to put consumers’ needs ahead of the telecoms:

In 21st-century America, mobile phones are simply far too important a technology for Washington to give them the usual treatment. With a breathtaking nine out of 10 Americans now owning a cell phone, the wireless market is one that has to work for consumers.

HuffPo Lawsuit, Boycott Highlight IP Issues in New Media Era

The AT&T/T-Mobile merger has garnered a lot of media attention, but it’s not the only merger worth scrutinizing. Truthout’s Nadia Prupis takes a closer look at reactions to the class-action lawsuit recently filed on behalf of Huffington Post’s unpaid bloggers. HuffPo was recently sold to AOL for $315 million. As Prupis reports, “the class-action suit, filed by freelance journalist Jonathan Tasini, alleges that the posts created by unpaid writers were worth an estimated $105 million, and that the profit should have been used as compensation.”

HuffPo founder Arianna Huffington is quoted as saying, “The vast majority of our bloggers are thrilled to contribute – and we’re thrilled to have them.”

Yet the merger—and the lawsuit—highlight one of the biggest issues facing contemporary journalism: The devaluation of intellectual property. For that reason, a number of former bloggers have instituted a boycott of HuffPo. As Prupis notes, “The Newspaper Guild of America, the National Writers Union and the AFL-CIO have all endorsed the boycott, with many of their members refusing to contribute to the web site until Huffington agrees to talk with the unions about how best to approach the changing landscape of online journalism.”

Rural Broadband Access Still Slow

Mark Scheerer of Public News Service tackles the issue of broadband access in rural communities – an important topic in a down economy, since faster connectivity could result in economic stimulus for small businesses, such as livestock farmers.

A new report (PDF at link) issued by the Center for Rural Strategies concludes that “communities without broadband service could be hobbled economically, losing the race to those with faster connections.”

Farmers in places like Stamping Ground, Kentucky, Scheerer says, are paying for high-speed broadband, yet receiving dial-up download speeds, which hinders efforts to “streamline and economize their livestock sales.”

The report essentially mirrors the FCC’s 2010 findings: “broadband providers are not expanding their services in a timely and satisfactory fashion.”

Activists Push Back Against Verizon Antenna

As Oakland Local’s Dennis Rowcliffe reports, a proposal by Verizon to install a powerful cellular antenna close to two schools and several residential units has been met with opposition by community groups.

“The residents, school parents and teachers express concerns about the potential health effects of sustained nearby exposure to increased levels of the electromagnetic frequency, or EMF, radiation emitted by the antennas,” Rowcliffe writes, adding that a group called East Bay Residents for Responsible Antenna Placement (EBR-RAP) has suggested several alternate sites, all of which were rejected by Verizon.

Verizon executive John Johnson is quoted as saying, “Please note that we intend to retain our rights to the city-approved location and to use it as the project site if we are unable to identify a viable alternative after further review.”

However, EBR-RAP members say they intend to keep up the pressure on Verizon until an alternate site is found.

This is a project of The Media Consortium, a network of leading independent media outlets. This post features links to the best independent, progressive reporting about media policy and media-related matters by members of The Media Consortium. It is free to reprint. To read more of the Wavelength, click here. And for the best progressive reporting on critical economy, environment, health care and immigration issues, check out The Audit, The Mulch, and The Diaspora. This is a project of The Media Consortium, a network of leading independent media outlets, and is produced with the support of the Media Democracy Fund.

 

Weekly Pulse: Arrests over the Ryan Plan, and the GOP’s Kinder, Gentler Medicaid Cuts

 


By Lindsay Beyerstein, Media Consortium blogger

This week marks the final edition of the Weekly Pulse. I have been writing the newsletter since 2008 and it has certainly been an exciting time to be covering health care in the United States. Thanks to all the Media Consortium journalists whose work I’ve featured over the years, and thanks to our loyal readers, tipsters, Tweeters, and Facebook fans.

As the Pulse winds down, we look ahead to some of the most pressing health care issues facing the nation: The Republican war on Medicare and Medicaid and the anti-choice onslaught.

89 arrested over Ryan plan

Eighty-nine disability activists were arrested following their occupation of the Cannon House Office Building rotunda, Alison Kilkenny reports in The Nation:

The disability rights group ADAPT staged the event to protest Representative Paul Ryan’s Medicaid cuts, which would force people with disabilities to live in nursing homes rather than in their own houses.

Additionally, the House-passed budget resolution would turn Medicaid into block grants and reduce the program’s spending by more than $700 billion over ten years.

Suzy Khimm of Mother Jones reports that the Republicans in Congress are putting forward some “kinder, gentler” proposed Medicaid cuts in the hopes that these less extreme proposals will have a better chance of passing that the more extreme cuts Ryan has been touting.

Kinder and gentler by Republican standards is still pretty radical. Republicans in both houses of Congress introduced bills that would make it easier for states to kick people off of Medicaid or erect new barriers to entry. Rep. Phil Gingrey (R-Ga.) claims that “only” 300,000 patients would be kicked off Medicaid rolls under his proposal, many fewer than those would be under the Ryan plan. Gingrey, however, admitted that he didn’t have an independent Congressional Budget Office (CBO) score to back up his claim.

The war on choice

Sadie Doyle of In These Times takes a closer look at proposed legislation in Ohio that bans abortion as soon as a fetal heartbeat is detectable:

Ohio’s “Heartbeat Bill” is part of a barrage of anti-choice legislation designed to circumvent the fact that abortion is legal by making it nearly impossible to obtain one. But, whereas other bills focus on cutting funding or creating obstacles to abortion, H.B. 125 takes a relatively new tactic: It aims to ban abortions outright if the fetus has a detectable heartbeat—which happens at around six weeks, before many women even realize they’re pregnant.

This bill is one of hundreds of pieces of anti-choice legislation percolating at the state level. Many of these bills seem deliberately engineered to provoke a challenge to Roe v. Wade. Anti-choicers seem eager to get their challenge to the Supreme Court as soon as possible, before Obama can appoint any more justices.

Meet the H.R. 3 ten

At RH Reality Check, Sarah Jaffe introduces us to another one of the 10 Democrats who co-sponsored the so-called “No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act,” Rep. Nick Rahall (D-WV). The bill, H.R. 3 would effectively end private abortion insurance coverage in the United States by imposing such onerous bureaucratic regulations on insurers that they would more likely to drop abortion coverage altogether rather than comply.

Michigan vs. teen moms

Pregnant teenagers are bearing the brunt of Michigan’s draconian new “fiscal martial law” bill that authorizes cities to appoint emergency managers with sweeping powers to take over cash-strapped cities, towns, and school boards. Students at the Catherine Ferguson Academy, a high school for expectant mothers, were arrested and manhandled by police as they protested the impending closure of their school.

Amanda Marcotte writes in AlterNet that the move to close the academy epitomizes the contemptuous attitude that so many conservative anti-choicers have toward teen girls who choose to give birth:

The imminent shut down of Catherine Ferguson demonstrates the emptiness of Republican claims that they oppose reproductive rights because they value life.  Instead, Republican policies are rooted in a sadistic desire to punish and control, and to deprive women—especially young women, poor women, and women of color—of any opportunities whatsoever.

Archives from The Weekly Pulse can be found here and will remain posted at this site. If you’d like see more top news and headlines from independent media outlets, please follow us on Twitter, or fan The Media Consortium on Facebook.

 

Weekly Diaspora: One Year After SB 1070, What’s Changed?

by Catherine A. Traywick, Medica Consortium blogger

A year ago this month, Arizona Governor Jan Brewer signed SB 1070 into law, effectively pushing an already vibrant anti-immigrant movement to a new extreme. Over the following months, immigrant rights advocates prepared for the worst, and grappled with multiple setbacks as other states threatened to follow Arizona’s example.

Looking back, though, it’s clear that the draconian immigration law hasn’t quite measured up to its bad reputation—in part because a federal injunction blocked several of its more pernicious provisions.Kent Peterson at New America Media/Frontera NorteSur suggests that anti-immigrant policymakers “overreached” with SB 1070, pushing the restrictionist movement to its own peak with the controversial law.

Arizona’s political influence has waned

Certainly in the long term, the law seems to have done more harm than good to the movement. While it initially added plenty of fuel to the restrictionists’ fire, it has ultimately failed to spread through other states the way many expected it to. While a few states (seeColorlines.com’s infographic or Alternet’s rundown) are still considering SB1070-type laws, most others have backed off the idea.

As Seth Hoy explains at Alternet/Immigration Impact, “states learned from Arizona — the numerous protests, Supreme Court challenge, costly litigation, economic boycotts that are still costing state businesses millions — and rejected similar laws.” Peterson similarly notes that a number of states have moved away from Arizona’s example because of SB 1070’s unexpected economic consequences—chiefly, an estimated $769 million in economic and tax revenues lost as a result of boycotts.

Immigrants still marginalized

That’s not say that the law has had no effect on immigrants. While a federal judge stayed several of its provisions last summer, SB 1070 proved to be a precursor to other insidious state laws targeting immigrants. Empowered by their success with SB 1070 and the ensuing media frenzy, state legislators quickly moved forward with several other harsh laws. As Feet in Two Worlds’ Valeria Fernandez explains, many immigrants in Arizona continue to live in fear even though SB 1070 is only partially enacted. She writes:

When you talk to immigrants in the street, they’ll tell you that not much has changed. Some continue to live in fear that they could be stopped by the police and deported. Others are having a difficult time getting work due to another Arizona law that harshly sanctions employers who hire undocumented immigrants.

At Colorlines.com, Seth Freed Wessler elaborates on the real impact of bills like SB 1070. He writes:

[The bills] send waves of fear and confusion into immigrant communities. … In the period since SB 1070 passed, uncounted numbers of immigrants have fled their homes in Arizona. … And the provisions in the law that were not blocked by the court, including one that makes it a crime to harbor or transport undocumented immigrants, put everyone at risk.

The role of the federal government

Nevertheless, Wessler points out that the federal government—not SB 1070 and not Arizona—is to blame for the brunt of the damage inflicted upon undocumented immigrants in the last year. Besides deporting record numbers of immigrant detainees and significantly expanding border enforcement, the Department of Homeland Security laid the groundwork for SB 1070 with its 287(g) program—which enabled local law enforcement to act as ICE agents. Adding insult to injury, President Barack Obama never came to close to fulfilling his campaign promise of passing comprehensive immigration reform.

Whether he will do so this year is up for debate, but many reform advocates remain skeptical after last year’s ups and downs. As Marcos Restrepo of the American Independent reports, several immigrant rights activists voiced disappointment after Obama convened a White House meeting on immigration last Tuesday. Chief among the critics was Pablo Alvorado, director of the National Day Laborer Organizing Network, who said in a statement:

While we appreciate the President’s effort to keep immigration reform on the national agenda, his actions belie his intent…If the President genuinely wanted to fix the broken immigration system, he would respond to the growing chorus of voices calling for the suspension of the secure communities program and move to legalize instead of further criminalize our immigrant communities.

The American Prospect’s Gabriel Arana is similarly skeptical of both the president’s approach to the problem, and his ability to enact meaningful reform:

On one hand, it is laudable that the president has revived the immigration debate, but there is a reason it died last year, even with Democrats in firm control of Congress and the executive branch. Instead of trying to tack immigration reform to an enforcement bill, the president should change the frame and stop talking about immigration as a national-security issue rather than an issue in its own right.

This post features links to the best independent, progressive reporting about immigration bymembers 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 AuditThe Mulch, and The Pulse. This is a project of The Media Consortium, a network of leading independent media outlets.

 

 

Weekly Pulse: Single-Payer Bills Pass Vermont Senate, House


By Lindsay Beyerstein, Media Consortium blogger

The Vermont state Senate passed legislation to create a single-payer health insurance system, Paul Waldman reports for TAPPED. Since the state House has already passed a similar bill, all that’s left to do is reconcile the two pieces of legislation before the governor signs it into law.

Waldman stresses that there are still many details to work out, including how the system will be funded. Vermont might end up with a system like France’s where everyone has basic public insurance, which most people supplement with additional private coverage. The most important thing, Waldman argues, is that Vermont is moving to sever the link between employment and health insurance.

Roe showdown

Anti-choicers are gunning for a Roe v. Wade showdown in the Supreme Court before Obama can appoint any more justices. At the behest of an unnamed conservative group, Republican state Rep. John LaBruzzo of Louisiana has introduced a bill that would ban all abortions, even to save the woman’s life. The original bill upped the anti-choice ante by criminalizing not only doctors who perform abortions, but also women who procure them. LaBruzzo has since promised to scale the bill back to just criminalizing doctors. This is all blatantly unconstitutional, of course,. but as Kate Sheppard explains in Mother Jones, that’s precisely the point:

The Constitution, of course, is exactly what LaBruzzo is targeting. He admits his proposal is intended as a direct challenge to Roe v. Wade, the landmark 1973 case in which the Supreme Court ruled that the constitutional right to privacy included the right to abortions in some circumstances. LaBruzzo says he’d like his bill to become law and “immediately go to court,” and he told a local paper that an unnamed conservative religious group asked him to propose the law for exactly that purpose.

Drug pushers in your living room

Martha Rosenberg poses a provocative question at AlterNet: Does anyone remember a time before “Ask Your Doctor” ads overran the airwaves, Internet, buses, billboards, and seemingly every other medium? Direct-to-consumer (DTC) drug advertising has become so ubiquitous that it’s easy to forget that it was illegal until the late ’90s. In the days before DTC, drug advertising was limited to medical journals, prescription pads, golf towels, and pill-shaped stress balls distributed in doctors’ offices–which makes sense. The whole point of making a drug prescription-only is to put the decision-making power in the hands of doctors. Now, drug companies advertise to consumers for the same reason that food companies advertise to children. It’s called “pester power.”

DTC drug ads encourage consumers to self-diagnose based on vague and sometimes nearly universal symptoms like poor sleep, daytime drowsiness, anxiety, and depression. Once consumers are convinced they’re suffering from industry-hyped constructs like “erectile dysfunction” and “premenstrual dysphoric disorder,” they’re going to badger their doctors for prescriptions.

That’s not to say that these terms don’t encompass legitimate health problems, but rather that DTC markets products in such vague terms that a lot of healthy people are sure to be clamoring for drugs they don’t need. Typically, neither the patient nor the doctor is paying the full cost of the drug, so patients are more likely to ask and doctors have little incentive to say no.

Greenwashing air fresheners

A reader seeks the counsel of Grist’s earthy advice columnist Umbra on the issue of air fresheners. Some of these odor-concealing aerosols are touting themselves as green for adopting all-natural propellants. Does that make them healthier, or greener? Only marginally, says Umbra. Air fresheners still contain formaldehyde, petroleum distillates, and other questionable chemicals.

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: Hostage-Taking Over the Debt Ceiling

 

By Lindsay Beyerstein, Media Consortium blogger

The latest contrived showdown between Congressional Republicans and the White House is over what concessions the GOP will demand in order to increase the federal debt ceiling.

George Zornick of The Nation explains how the shakedown works:

Congress now needs to approve any borrowing past the $14.3 trillion debt ceiling, which the United States will reach “no later” than May 16, according to Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner. If Congress doesn’t raise the debt ceiling, the government would have to stop spending—including stopping interest payments on those Treasury bonds, meaning that the United States would effectively default on its debt.

The debt ceiling has to be raised and everyone knows it. Surely the Republicans knew it when they voted for tax cuts for the rich with borrowed money. If the debt ceiling is not raised, the United States will default on some of its obligations. Just like what happens after you miss a credit card payment, the country’s creditors will demand higher interest in order to lend to us in the future.

Playing chicken with the debt ceiling is a recipe for increasing the national debt. Paul Waldman argues in The American Prospect that the Republicans hate government so much that they are willing to declare war on the economy in a quixotic bid to smash the state:

The reason we’re now seeing an unprecedented amount of attention paid to a vote that ordinarily passes with little notice is that the Republican Party’s agenda is being set by a group of ideological radicals who seem quite willing to cripple the American economy if that’s what it takes to strike a blow against the government they hate so much.

Peak Crazy

At AlterNet, Joshua Holland explains why failure to raise the debt ceiling would be an economic catastrophe that could jeopardize the economic recovery. “Peak Crazy,” he calls it.

However, Holland notes that a showdown over the debt ceiling does not risk an immediate government shutdown, like the one we faced over the budget battle. Borrowing isn’t the only way that government agencies are funded. The government could still spend the $150 billion or so it takes in every month in tax revenue, for example.

Yet, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky) has announced that 47 GOP senators oppose raising the debt ceiling unless “credible attempts” are made to cut federal spending. Meanwhile the Tea Party is launching an all-out lobbying effort to urge House Republicans not to raise the debt ceiling without major spending cuts.

The Tea Party’s wish list includes some total pipe dreams like a balanced budget amendment to the constitution, and a law to require a two-thirds majority for all future tax increases. Former senator and current U.S. presidential hopeful Rick Santorum cheerfully announced that he would let the United States default on its debt if health care reform is not repealed. Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn) helpfully suggests paying the interest on Treasury Bills using money that would otherwise go to Social Security.

Shoot the hostage

Cenk Uygur of the Young Turks argues that Democrats are panicking needlessly and, once again, offering needless preemptive concessions to the Republican fringe in the form of a proposed “hard cap” on government spending, which would cap new government spending, and subtract any overruns from social welfare programs like Medicare and Social Security.

The truth, Uygur notes, is that Wall Street has already told the Republicans in no uncertain terms that the debt ceiling will be raised. The economic consequences of doing anything else would be unthinkable. The Tea Party can yell and scream, but the adults have already made the decision. Knowing this, Democrats should not be trying to placate the Republicans so as to induce them to do something they will ultimately end up doing.

Digby on Social Security

Democrats are wavering in their decades-long commitment to defend Social Security, Heather Digby Parton (a.k.a., “Digby”) writes in In These Times:

In a quixotic attempt to fix the problems in the current economy without confronting the plutocrats, the Democrats are using the illogical argument that since Social Security is projected to have a shortfall in 35 years, we must cut benefits now. And they seek to prove to “the market” that the government is fiscally responsible by showing it’s willing to inflict pain on its citizens—in the future.

Even if we do nothing, Social Security can pay out full benefits for the next 35 years. There is no crisis. A small increase on the payroll cap on Social Security could shore up the program for generations to come. Republicans oppose Social Security because they are ideologically opposed to social welfare programs, not because Social Security is broken.

This post features links to the best independent, progressive reporting about the economy bymembers 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 MulchThe Pulse and The Diaspora. This is a project of The Media Consortium, a network of leading independent media outlets.

 

Weekly Mulch: One Year After the BP Oil Spill, None the Wiser

 

By Megan Hagist, Media Consortium blogger

One year after the worst oil spill in U.S. history began, key questions about its environmental impact remain unanswered. The 4.9 million barrels of BP oil that spilled into the Gulf of Mexico continue to threaten marine wildlife and other vile surprises have surfaced along the way.

Mother Jones’ Kate Sheppard lists 10 reasonswhy we should not let the BP spill fade into the background. Perhaps the most important is the spill’s effect on locals’ health, about which Sheppard reports:

Of the 954 residents in seven coastal communities, almost half said they had experienced health problems like coughing, skin and eye irritation, or headaches that are consistent with common symptoms of chemical exposure. While the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) is conducting health monitoring for spill cleanup workers, residents in the areas closest to the spill are concerned that their own health problems have gone unattended.

Unfortunately, protests from these communities are unheard. Low-income and minority communities are typically targeted for oil production due to inadequate political power, but indigenous women in the United States and Canada are ready to change that.

Acting Against Big Oil

Organizations like Resisting Environmental Destruction On Indigenous Lands (REDOIL),  Indigenous Environmental Network, and Women’s Earth Alliance are working together to apply continuous pressure on oil companies in order to stop some of their more environmentally disastrous projects. Ms. Magazine’s Catherine Traywick shares insight from activist Faith Gemmill:

“We are trying to build the capacity of community leaders who are on the frontlines of these issues so that they can address these issues themselves,” Gemmill says. Her organization trains community members who are confronted with massive industrial projects and provides them with legal assistance and political support. Women’s Earth Alliance similarly links indigenous women leaders with legal and policy advocates who can, pro-bono, help them fight extractive industry, waste dumping and fossil-fuel production on sacred sites.

Meanwhile, Congress continues to neglect the National Oil Spill Commission’s advice to endorse safety regulations, while demands for domestic offshore drilling become more vocal under presumptions of lower gas prices and increased employment. But are these reasons worth the economic and environmental risks associated with drilling offshore?

According to Care2’s Jill Conners and Matthew McDermott, the answer is no. They break down the facts, noting:

Political posturing notwithstanding, offshore drilling will not eliminate US demand for foreign oil or really even make significant strides into reducing that dependency. At current consumption, the US uses about 8 billion barrels of oil per year; conventionally recoverable oil from offshore drilling is thought to be 18 billion barrels total, not per year.  What’s more, offshore oil drilling will not guarantee lower fuel prices — oil is a global  commodity, and US production is not big enough to influence global prices.

What about Wind Power?

On Wednesday, the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement approved the Cape Wind Project, a plan to build an offshore wind farm five miles off the southern coast of Cape Cod. First proposed 10 years ago, the farm will consist of 130 wind turbines, each 440 feet tall and capable of producing 3.6-megawatts of energy.

The controversial project has been opposed by some environmentalists, who expressed fears that the installation of the turbines could have destructive impacts related to aviation traffic, fishing use, migratory birds, and oil within the turbine generators, among other issues.

Moral issues are raised too, as local tribes have fought against the Cape Wind project. Earth Island Institute’s Sacred Film Land Project has reported on the Wampanoag Indian tribes’ petitions, which ask for protection of sacred rituals and a tribal burial grounds located directly in Cape Wind’s path of installation.

Green-Ed

A somewhat worrisome study published Monday by the Yale Project on Climate Change Communicationsheds light on Americans’ climate change knowledge. Results show teenagers understand climate change better than adults, regardless of having less education overall, with a larger percentage believing climate change is caused by humans.

Some of the study’s questions were summarized by Grist’s Christopher Mims, who recounts that only “54 percent of teens and 63 percent of adults say that global warming is happening,” while only “46 percent of teens and 49 percent of adults understand that emissions from cars and trucks substantially contribute to global warming.”

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

 

Weekly Diaspora: How Bad U.S.-Latin American Policy Fuels Unauthorized Immigration

By Catherine A. Traywick, Media Consortium blogger

Too often, the immigration debate in this country ignores the role U.S. foreign policy plays in fueling unauthorized immigration. But as the Obama administration continues to stall on immigration reform in the United States—all the while moving forward with two contentious trade agreements with Colombia and Panama—the connections between the two are worth examining.

CAFTA impoverished Salvadoran farmers

During President Obama’s tour of Latin America last month, ongoing mass protests underscored the U.S. government’s own hand in stimulating unauthorized immigration to its borders. Reporting on the president’s visit to El Salvador, for example, Juan Gonzales of Democracy Now! notes that hundreds of Salvadorans gathered to demand the renegotiation of the Central American Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA), which devastated the country’s agricultural sector, impoverishing and displacing farmers. Considered alongside the country’s tragic history of U.S.-backed military repression (which Democracy Now! explores in greater detail), it should be no surprise that El Salvador is the second largest source of undocumented immigrants to the United States.

NAFTA displaces one million Mexican farmers

The first, of course, is Mexico—which has its own sordid history of U.S. involvement. As Michelle Chen at Colorlines.com explains, “the deregulation of agriculture under [the North American Free Trade Agreement in the 1990s] coincided with the devastation of Mexico’s farm sector, displacing some one million farmers and driving many northward across the border in search of work.”

While NAFTA created considerable economic opportunities for U.S. businesses eager to conduct business in low-wage Mexico, it also allowed American farmers to flood the Mexican market with government-subsidized corn—destroying the country’s own corn industry and bankrupting thousands of agricultural workers.

Obama’s 180 on Latin American policy

It’s worth noting that Obama, during his presidential campaign, promised to overhaul NAFTA on the grounds that “our trade agreements should not just be good for Wall Street, it [sic] should also be good for Main Street.” Yet, as Steve Ellner argues in the latest issue of In These Times, Obama gradually abandoned his initially critical stance on Latin American policy—choosing instead to “placate rightist critics.” Ellner adds that Obama’s shifting position on the pending (CAFTA-modeled) trade agreement with Colombia—moving “from opposition…to lukewarm endorsement…to vigorous support—is just one example of his turnabout on Latin American policy.”

While Obama has taken some steps to address potential labor abuses in the agreement (NAFTA and CAFTA’s absence of such measures is a key criticism of the deals), trade unionists in Colombia and the United States alike have voiced skepticism:

Communications Workers of America President Larry Cohen argued against the agreement by pointing out that 15 million Colombians representing 82 percent of the working population are not recognized as workers and thus under the law “have no rights.”

Big Business funds paramilitary killings in Colombia

The skepticism is well founded, as the United States has a long history of favoring business interests over the rights of workers—both at home and abroad. Earlier this month, for instance, evidence surfaced that the Cincinnati-based Chiquita Brands International may have hired Colombian paramilitary groups “responsible for countless killings” as security for its Colombian facilities. This is in spite of the fact that the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) concluded an investigation of Chiquita in 2007, ruling that any money paid out to the paramilitary groups—one of which was a designated terrorist watch group—was extorted, and that “Chiquita never received any actual services in exchange for them.”

Jim Lobe and Aprille Muscara of Inter Press Service report that the documents were released by the National Security Archive (NSA), an independent research group, on the same day that President Obama met with Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos to discuss labor rights in the pending trade agreement. According to Michael Evans, NSA’s chief researcher on Colombia, the evidence against Chiquita is clear.

“What we still don’t know is why U.S. prosecutors overlooked what appears to be clear evidence that Chiquita benefited from these transactions,” he told IPS.

U.S. banks launder billions for Mexican drug cartels

Even more recently, news broke that the federal government failed to prosecute a number of U.S. banks guilty of laundering billions of dollars for Mexican drug cartels. New America Media/Al Diá reports that Wachovia (now owned by Wells Fargo) alone moved $378.4 billion for cartels through money exchangers and $4.7 billion handled in bulk cash between 2004 and 2007. Yet this past March, the federal government formally dropped all charges against the bank, per a settle agreement reached the previous year, and despite Wachovia’s indirect role in financing a five-year drug war that has taken countless lives and continues to drive unauthorized immigration to the United States.

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

 

 

Weekly Pulse: DCCC Ad Shows Grandpa Stripping for Extra Cash to Pay for Medicare

By Lindsay Beyerstein, Media Consortium blogger

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5z7FiBsR8OQ[/youtube]

How will the next generation of seniors pay for health care if Republicans privatize Medicare? The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) suggests some options in a darkly funny ad featuring a grandfatherly gentleman mowing lawns and stripping for extra cash. The ad will run in 24 GOP-controlled swing districts, Suzy Khimm reports for Mother Jones.

The ad is a riposte to Paul Ryan's budget, which would eliminate Medicare and replace it with a system of "premium support"--annual lump sum cash payments to insurers. These payments would be pegged to the growth of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) +1%, even though health care costs are growing much faster than the economy at large. That means that real benefits will shrink over time. Seniors will be forced to come up with extra money to buy insurance, assuming they can find an insurer who's willing to sell it to them.

Josh Holland of AlterNet predicts that the GOP is committing political suicide with the its anti-Medicare budget. The more ordinary voters learn about Ryan's budget, the less they like it:

A poll conducted last week found that, “when voters learn almost anything about [the Ryan plan], they turn sharply and intensely against it.” And why wouldn't they? According to an analysis by the non-partisan Center for Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP), the Republicans' “roadmap” would “end most of government other than Social Security, health care, and defense by 2050,” while providing the “largest tax cuts in history” for the wealthy.

Holland interviews an economist who estimates that the Medicaid cuts in the Ryan budget alone would cost 2.1 million jobs.

Under the bus

The Democratic spin about the deal to avert a budget shutdown was that Democratic leaders held fast against Republican demands to defund Planned Parenthood. However, as Katha Pollitt explains in The Nation, the Democrats capitulated on other reproductive rights issues in order to save Planned Parenthood.

For example, under the budget deal, Washington, D.C. will no longer be allowed to use local taxes to pay for abortions. Democrats also agreed to $17 million in cuts to the Title X Family Planning Program, Planned Parenthood's largest source of federal funding.

American women aren't alone under the bus. Jane Roberts notes at RH Reality Check that the budget deal slashed $15 million from the U.N. Population Fund, and millions more from USAID's budget for reproductive health and family planning. At least Democrats successfully rebuffed GOP demands to eliminate funding for the United Nations Population Agency.

Roberts observes:

And this is at a time when the whole world is coalescing behind the education, health and human rights of the world’s women and girls. What irony!

Blood for oil

Nearing the one-year anniversary of the explosion aboard the Deepwater Horizon oil rig that killed 11 workers, Daniel J. Weiss writes for Grist:

The toll of fossil fuels on human health and the environment is well documented. But our dependence on fossil fuels exacts a very high price on the people who extract or process these fuels. Every year, some men and women who toil in our nation's coal mines, natural gas fields, and oil rigs and refineries lose their lives or suffer from major injuries to provide the fossil fuels that drive our economy.

Oil rigs are just one of many dangerous places to work in the fossil fuel industry, Weiss notes. Last year, an explosion at the Upper Big Branch mine in West Virginia killed 29 workers. Nearly 4,000 U.S. miners have been killed on the job since 1968.

Natural gas has a cleaner image than coal, but natural gas pipelines are also plagued by high rates of death and injury--892 natural gas workers have been killed on the job and 6,258 have been injured since 1970.

Cheers!

Ashley Hunter of Campus Progress brings you an exciting roundup of the news you need about college and alcohol, just in time for Spring Break. In an attempt to discourage rowdy off-campus partying, the College of the Holy Cross is encouraging its students to drink on campus by keeping the campus pub open later and allowing students under 21 inside as long as they wear different colored wrist bands to show they are too young to be served alcohol.

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.

 

 

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