FCC withdraws proposal to loosen media consolidation rules, meaning the FCC's attempt to let big telecoms own both a newspaper and a radio station in the same market has, for the moment, failed. The withdrawal may be mere paperwork -- Congress mandates that the FCC reviews media consolidation rules every four years, and the last time the FCC did that was 2010, meaning they're going to start over again early next year. Still, I never complain about a little breathing room.
The Ugandan Parliament has passed a bill that would punish folks with life in prison just for being gay. If this all sounds familiar, recall that last year's bill punished folks with the death penalty for being gay, and at one point in the current legislative process Parliament was apparently ready to levy a death sentence if HIV was involved -- such compromisers, these lawmakers! But let's not get too caught up in the difference between a pile of dung the flies have found and a pile of dung the flies haven't found yet, and let's also not forget that the bill also puts people in prison for not "reporting" their gay friends and neighbors. Because that's why freedom is so important -- so we can snitch on people we don't like! Lucky for us, President Yoweri Museveni said he'd veto the bill if Parliament passed it -- but he could get cold feet, you know, especially if he's waiting for another wave of international displeasure to help him out. Still, duty is duty, so CREDO helps you tell President Museveni to veto the gay-hate bill.
Meanwhile, you may know that the Washington Post's new owner, Jeff Bezos, also owns Amazon. But you may not know that Amazon has received a $600 million cloud-computing contract from the CIA. And of course, since the Washington Post, you know, does reporting on the CIA, you, as a reader, would have every reason to wonder whether the Post's reporting will, forthwith, be a bit more sympathetic to the CIA than the facts would warrant. No doubt the Washington Post would tell you that their reporting on NSA data snooping and warrantless wiretapping has been better than that of any other major news outlet, and though they'd be right about that, winning that prize is a little like being the best player on the 1974-75 Washington Capitals, and it's also not exactly relevant to the CIA. Has the Post's reporting on, say, killer drones and "signature" strikes stood out? Not particularly. So Roots Action helps you tell the Post to disclose its conflict of interest in its CIA reporting.
Finally, if you've missed previous opportunities to tell Congress to renew the Production Tax Credit for wind energy, Friends of the Earth provides one more. And when they tell you the wind power tax credit does nothing for the wind power industry, you can tell him the cost of wind power has come down 90% over the last two decades, which period just about coincides with the Production Tax Credit's first appearance in the Energy Policy Act of 1992. You might also remark that wind power tax credits are certainly better than, say, oil tax credits, which only serve to inflate the profits of an already-stable industry. Others might argue that wind's production costs may soon reach parity with coal's, suggesting the subsidy's obsolescence at that point. I would not be uncivil to wonder if folks who'd make that argument have been spending the last decade or so making other anti-wind arguments just to see what sticks. But in any case, as long as big coal corporations have billions of dollars on hand to lobby Congressfolk to kill wind power subsidies -- and worse! -- I think we need to keep subsidizing wind power.
More good news: Pennsylvania Supreme Court has dealt major blows to the state's notorious gas-drilling welfare bill, Act 13. Specifically, the Court struck down the provision allowing gas drilling corporations to override local zoning regulations -- a provision that should have offended conservatives as much as it offended liberals -- and sent back several items for Commonwealth Court review, including the part which forbids doctors from telling their patients about the health impacts of gas drilling. That part, too, never raised conservative getting-between-you-and-your-doctor ire like it should have. Anyway, big win for Team Good!
"Wind Power Rivals Coal With $1 Billion Order from Buffett," announces the headline on this Blooomberg.com article, but when we dig deeper we learn what that really means: not that more people are using wind than coal now, but that the price of producing wind power is only a little more expensive than the price of producing coal -- and, ah, that Mr. Buffett's hefty investment in his Iowa utility isn't a cause of the downward depression on wind power prices but an effect. In any case, you don't need to be an economics professor to predict that as more businesses develop wind power, production prices will come down.
ProPublica describes, at some length, "how fraud flourishes in Medicare's drug plan." Before your right-wing uncle rushes in with GUMMINT DOESN'T WORK!!!!!, remind him that private insurance corporations run Medicare's Part D drug plan and that they're supposed to be the ones looking for fraud. Seems like you do a lot better if you don't outsource vital government functions to private corporations -- your government belongs to you, at least, and its workers are, one way or another, answerable to you.
Uh oh: a study the CDC conducted in ten states suggests restaurants don't practice basic sanitation like they should. Among its findings: over three of five restaurant workers don't wash their hands after handling raw meat, two of five restaurants don't provide separate cutting boards for raw chicken, more than half of managers don't know to cook chicken to at least 165 degrees Fahrenheit, and way, way too many restaurant workers work sick -- which could be alleviated somewhat by the paid sick-leave bills our state politicians keep killing. At least restaurant workers deal with unrefrigerated greens a little better than they deal with meat.
Posting will be light around here for a few days, as I recover from an unexpected illness. In the meantime, check out the terrific blogs on my blogroll, now on the left-hand side of this page. And, as always, thanks for stopping by and doing something to make your country all it can be.
Shareholders have begun to demand that AT&T and Verizon disclose how much of our private data they're handing over to our government (and foreign governments). I'd guess the answer to "how much" would be "a lot" -- AT&T, you may recall, gave Tha Bush Mobb our information even more freely than the other big telecoms did. But now some investors, in league with non-profits like the ACLU, have filed shareholder proposals that would force AT&T and Verizon to tell their shareholders what they're doing with customers' private data. That is the kind of information that would convince a customer not to do business with them, and therefore is also the kind of information that would convince a shareholder not to invest in them. Maybe that's why they're being silent about it! But in a truly free market, we would not regard a corporation's ability to keep such information from customers and shareholders as a sacrosanct right. When will the "free" market brigade start fighting for the rights of customers to be free, instead of corporations? Hence Sum of Us helps you tell these corporations to come clean about how much spying they're doing on their customers.
Meanwhile, if you've missed previous opportunities to tell Congress to raise the minimum wage already, Moms Rising provides one more. We learn from Moms Rising that well over half of minimum wage workers are women, and that well over a quarter of minimum wage workers have children, and while I'm not sure exactly what the overlap of those two figures might be, it certainly stands to reason that hiking the minimum wage so that it more closely resembles a living wage would help a lot of women give more opportunities to their children, not just themselves. We also learn, incidentally, that almost nine out of ten minimum wage workers are over 20, which means you can pimp-slap anyone who tells you we can't raise the minimum wage because so many minimum wage workers are just teenagers anyway. Sadly, I fear the average age of minimum wage workers -- which now stands at 35! -- will only increase if we continue to allow corporations to have all the say in our economic policy. Of course, we'll still fight that -- with campaign finance reform, with tax reform, among other things -- but let's give our workers some breathing space in the meantime.
Teen who kills four innocent people while driving drunk gets probation because he's rich. No, I'm not exaggerating: the teen's defense lawyer literally argued that his client couldn't function in civilized society because years of suffering zero consequences of his actions due to his parents' wealth had made him "emotionally flat," and the judge agreed that, yes, expensive counseling would be better than jail. Thus does our three-decades-plus worship of "free market" ideology make us a less moral society.
Taylor Radig went undercover at a cattle company, where she filmed workers throwing and kicking calves around, and dragging them by their legs, their tails, even their ears. Police arrested three Quanah Cattle Company workers as a result -- and then arrested her, because she didn't notify police immediately. (It's not like she was undercover or anything. It's not like you need more than one incident to establish a pattern or anything.) Lest you think Ms. Radig violated some ag-gag law that requires folks who film animal abuse to turn their film over immediately or face draconian consequences, know that Colorado ain't one of those states. Actually, legislators have tried to pass ag-gag laws in six states this year, and went 0-for-6 -- and Tennessee's Republican Governor vetoed an ag-gag bill after massive public pressure. So why is Colorado prosecuting Ms. Radig? Maybe because of pressure from big agricultural corporations? Abby Spiwak provides a petition via change.org, which helps you tell Weld County D.A. Ken Buck to drop charges against Ms. Radig.
Meanwhile, if you've missed previous opportunities to tell FCC Chair Tom Wheeler to stop rampant media consolidation, Free Press still helps you do that. Mr. Wheeler is a former telecom lobbyist, so I have little confidence in his commitment to keeping local media in local hands, but duty remains duty -- the FCC would otherwise be split on the matter. The last few FCCs have tried to loosen media consolidation rules, but the courts have stopped their efforts; still, one sympathetic judge is all you need to set a bad precedent. And the big telecoms have gotten a little cleverer, I suppose -- they're not buying all those TV stations (over 200 changed hands last year, the most in a decade) themselves, but setting up shell corporations to buy them. I must admit I find it hard to believe that the FCC just didn't notice that. I find it much easier to believe they know the loopholes are there and don't care, since more than a few of them will follow the last FCC Chair, Julius Genachowski, into the big telecoms themselves. Still, the whole thing is embarrassing, and I wouldn't underestimate any politician's malleability while he's being embarrassed.
Finally, our government still hasn't decided whether to approve the notorious Keystone XL pipeline, so CREDO helps you tell President Obama and Secretary of State Kerry, one more once, to reject the pipeline. Why? Because the corporation building the pipeline, TransCanada, has a terrible pipe safety record -- pipe safety being fairly important when you're talking about a pipeline running over heartland water tables. Because the State Department corrupted its own environmental impact evaluation process by outsourcing the report to a corporation that had done business with TransCanada in the past -- a report which concluded that since large-scale tar sands extraction is inevitable, building the pipeline wouldn't make any impact on the environment! See, most of us had assumed that the pipeline would make such extraction inevitable. Did I miss anything? Oh, right -- because scientists tell us that dredging up tar sands will pound us with greenhouse gases, making climate change a lot worse. But, sure, go ahead and believe the big corporations when they tell you rejecting it would kill jobs -- like there's just no other way on Earth to create jobs.
You remember when George Zimmerman shot Trayvon Martin dead, and the "Stand Your Ground" laws promulgated by the American Legislative Exchange Council (or ALEC) were front-page news as a result? Or when ALEC's "Voter ID" laws in state legislatures received similar scrutiny? In the wake of all that, and with the help of committed citizen activism, over three dozen corporations left ALEC, and that has (according to The Guardian) dried up ALEC's funding a bit. But riding to ALEC's rescue, it seems, are big internet corporations like Google, Facebook, and Yelp. Why? I mean, they're all mammon-worshipers, but why now? Possibly because ALEC has lately declared that it's getting out of social policy and sticking with economic policy from now on? Like we should all bow down on our knees and give thanks! We ran down their economic policy goals yesterday -- more privatization, more pollution, more "freedom" for big corporations and less freedom for people. So Roots Action helps you tell Google, Facebook, and Yelp to abandon ALEC, while People for the American Way helps you tell everyone else.
Meanwhile, the USDA has rendered its verdict on neonicotinoids, deciding there's "not enough evidence" to ban them (adding that several factors cause bee colony collapse, which doesn't mean we shouldn't ban neonicotinoids) and calling for "more research" before it can take any action. One hopes the bees don't all die before then. And both the USDA and the EPA have also claimed that the cost of a neonicotinoid ban "could" outweigh the benefits. "Could," huh? Must we never do anything right if it "could" upset some CEO's effort to gild the plumbing in his ninth vacation home? And to think people will call this approach "conservative"! It's not conservative -- contrary to what you've heard, hating the environment isn't "conservative," and the USDA's judgment certainly doesn't protect the interests of small farmers against larger actors abusing their power. And it sure ain't liberal, either, because liberals don't approve of just any old innovation. Still, if our government won't listen, perhaps some of our big corporations will, so MoveOn helps you tell Lowe's and Home Depot to stop selling neonic-soaked garden plants.
Pope Francis has asked the world to create a "wave of prayer" to end world hunger today, and NETWORK, the national Catholic social justice lobby, helps you call your Congressfolk and demand an end to these cruel food stamp cuts. Don't get bogged down in the right-wing talking point declaring that charity is the business of the church, not government -- charity is the business of the people, and what is government but a tool the people wield on their own behalf? Meanwhile, the SEC still hasn't finalized a Volcker rule that would prevent banks from indulging in the kind of speculation that crashed our economy back in 2008; CREDO helps you tell the SEC to pass a strong Volcker rule. Why do I mention these two items in the same paragraph? Well, for one, the SEC plans to vote on the Volcker rule today. For another, the first item's about charity, and the second one's about greed. They're intricately related in our work, and not just because less of the second would require less of the first.
Meanwhile, the FDA plans to approve AquaBounty's AquaAdvantage salmon, a genetically-modified fish, for sale in our supermarkets -- unlabeled, of course, because freedom. You know, by now, why we shouldn't approve it -- because AquaBounty hasn't proven it's safe (merely saying they know it's safe not being the same as proof), because it produces growth hormone year-round, and because the salmon could well wipe out wild salmon populations. You may not know that GMO fish tend to get fed GMO soy and GMO canola at fish farms, as well as, well, chicken parts from poultry processors, and not the parts you and I eat. And you may also not know that AquaBounty faces accusations of violating Panama's environmental laws. So both the Organic Consumers Association and the League of Conservation Voters help you tell the FDA to reject the Frankensalmon.
Behold! ALEC's legislative agenda for the coming year, courtesy the Center for Media and Democracy. What will they be up to? Keeping Frankenfood from being labeled, keeping good citizens from suing corporations when corporations hurt them, privatizing our schools, promoting fossil-fuel pollution, ripping apart Medicaid -- and, ah, ending licensing and certification of doctors and other medical professionals. Yes, you read that right, and they call that model bill the "Patient Access to Expansion Act." Well, it sure will expand their access to bad doctors! We'll have our work cut out for us next year.
The Pew Charitable Trusts helps you tell Congress to extend the Production Tax Credit (or PTC) for wind energy. Unlike the tax credits for oil, natural gas, and nuclear power -- which are permanent, for no good reason other than that those industries bought them from our Congressfolk -- the wind power tax credit actually does create jobs, actually does create more power, and actually does create energy independence in America. And, maybe because it actually does good, we need to renew it every year -- after all, why would we want wind power operations to be able to plan their future expenditures? But I have hope. Do you remember when that dirty energy spokeshack talked of making it "toxic" for the House Speaker to renew the wind power tax credit? How did that work out? Here's how: the PTC not only got renewed with the fiscal cliff deal in early January, but companies got to take a tax credit for construction, not just producing energy. In other words, it worked about as well as it should have for someone trying to make wind power a "toxic" issue.
Meanwhile, Sum of Us helps you tell the FCC to prevent big telecoms from gouging prisoners for phone calls. Now if you're one of those folks who responds to such an idea with who cares? They're prisoners!, then I want you to navigate away from this page. Seriously, if that's what you think, I can't help you. Prisoners already have their freedom taken away for the crimes they've committed, and I'm not a fan of politicians heaping extra punishments upon them (like taking away their right to vote when they get out, for example) just so said politicians can appear to have the biggest testicles in the room. And when we let the big telecoms charge up to a dollar a minute for a prisoner to talk to their loved ones, we're heaping extra punishments upon them. The FCC did cap interstate phone rates for prisoners last year, but they didn't cap in-state phone rates. With enough public pressure, they can do that. Their alternatives are few: they can they pretend to be tough-on-crime in front of a populace that's had enough of that -- or they can look like they're cowtowing to big corporate greed.
Finally, today is the final day to tell the USDA to reject the genetically-modified Arctic Apple -- genetically modified, as you may know, not to pump out more seeds so it can make more apples, not to withstand colder or warmer temperatures, not to keep up with the changing apple market, not, even, to withstand some evil corporate pesticide, but merely not to turn brown when exposed to the air. Some indeterminate part of the population allegedly finds that ugly, hence this apple, which will not be able to alert you when it's beginning to spoil and which will very likely contaminate non-GMO and organic apples all over America. Did we not speak, earlier this morning, about the "fostering of endless desires"? The "desire" to see an apple retain its color when air hits it is one of those -- must we risk contaminating all organic apples so that some folks won't have their beautiful minds violated by the sight of a browning apple? The Organic Consumers Association helps you tell the USDA to reject apples that don't turn brown.
The Center for Media and Democracy asks "Why is Google Funding Grover Norquist, Heritage Action, and ALEC?" Maybe it has something to do with hiring former Rep. Susan Molinari as a Vice President back in early 2012, but certainly it has something to do with Google stashing $33 billion offshore (per USPIRG). Google likes to play the we give to both sides card, though we don't really know that's true -- and we do know that there's really no "other side" to stashing your money overseas in order to avoid taxation, thus depriving us of schools, roads, and bridges, as well as teachers, police officers, and firefighters.
Our government does not need a warrant to access our email -- and that's not the result of some secret court decision or some secret Justice Department memo; that's actually the law. The Electronic Communications Privacy Act of 1986 treats email left on a server as "abandoned" by the user, meaning that our government doesn't need to ask the user's permission to look at it. How much email were you using in 1986? Both parties have been pressing for ECPA reform in recent months, but the Securities and Exchange Commission, of all governmental bodies, is pressing to get Executive branch agencies exempted. Why, that would be like doing nothing at all! It's almost like that's the idea. So Demand Progress helps you tell our government that it should have to get a warrant before it can look at our email. Getting a warrant might seem quaint now, but warrants force two branches of government (the Executive and the Judicial) to work together in order to move against you, which is a whole lot better than one branch of government deciding it can move against you.
Meanwhile, in a perhaps related development, Ethiopian journalist Eskinder Nega remains in prison, having been convicted of "terrorism" in 2012, a charge that appears to be related entirely to his reporting on the Ethiopian government having put other journalists in prison on trumped-up terrorism charges. Ethiopian law criminalizes reporting the state declares "encourages" or "provides moral support" to groups the state has called "terrorists," which all sure does seem open to interpretation. But don't think this crap can't happen here -- our government declares certain groups "terrorists," and our government doesn't even bother changing the laws anymore to spy on people, so, frankly, we're not as far from here as we might like to think, and it would behoove us, then, to battle for the release of folks like Mr. Nega, wherever we may find them, lest a President Walker or a President Clinton decide one day to demand "more tools" to fight "terrorists" who happen to closely resemble their critics. So Amnesty International helps you tell the Ethiopian government to release Mr. Nega.
In other news, Free Press informs us that more than 200 TV stations have been sold this year, the most in over ten years, and they're getting sold mostly to big corporations like the notorious Sinclair Broadcast Group and the only slightly-less notorious Tribune Company and Gannett Company -- or to the shell they own. You know what more media consolidation means, right? It means fewer reporters doing local news and more newscasts with cookie-cutter content, in a land where, no matter what the internet would have you believe, the local TV news is still the first source of news for most people. You'd think we'd have more conservatives on board with local ownership of local news, and before Mr. Obama's election, we did -- yet the fight against media consolidation remains a conservative cause, as well as a liberal one. Hence Free Press helps you tell FCC Chair Tom Wheeler to stem the ongoing tide toward media consolidation. I've no particular hope that the ex-telecom lobbyist Mr. Wheeler will be substantially better on this (or any other) score than Mr. Genachowski. But I'd be happy to be wrong about that, and anyway, duty is duty.
Finally, hot on the heels of another day of fast-food worker strikes over pitiful wages, Keystone Progress joins with MoveOn to help you tell fast-food corporations to pay a $15/hour wage to their workers. We know they have the money to do it, we know it won't drive the cost of a Big Mac through the roof, we know it will put more money in the hands of the folks most likely to spend it and stimulate the economy with it -- and we also know that it will reduce fast-food workers' dependence on taxpayer money, since over half of fast-food workers get some form of public assistance every year. Just as we learned yesterday that we subsidize the banksters to the tune of over $900 million in food stamps and Medicaid assistance and the like every year, we also know that we subsidize fast-food workers to the tune of over $7 billion each year in similar public assistance. Well, gosh, wouldn't it be easier for the CEOs of McDonald's and Burger King and the like to just pay their workers enough to live on? Or would it be too tough to buy more corporate jets and gild more plumbing in some CEO's seventh vacation home?
The Center for Effective Government instructs us that corporate tax cuts don't create jobs. In stark terms: corporations that pay higher taxes are actually more likely to create jobs, while corporations that pay much lower taxes are far more likely to shed jobs. And collecting taxes at the nominal 35% corporate tax rate (versus 12.6%, the effective average corporate tax liability) would have cut our deficit by almost $400 billion. Am I beating a dead horse? In these times, beating a dead horse is an act of courage.
H.R. 3639, the confidently-titled Provide for the Common Defense Act, would restore sequestration defense cuts by cutting Social Security and Medicare. Because what could be more popular than taking from popular programs and giving to unpopular, waste- and corruption-filled programs? Specifically, the bill would increase deductibles for new Medicare enrollees after 2017 -- I hope young folks do remember that they will, one day, all be new Medicare enrollees -- and would attach cost-of-living increases to the dread "chained CPI," an index which, as we know, does not reflect the sheer number of fixed costs seniors face. To be fair, the bill also caps crop insurance payments, though it leaves other agricultural subsidies untouched. But on balance, this is a terrible way to "provide for the common defense." Remember when the 91% tax bracket helped provide for the common defense? I guess Congress doesn't. USAction helps you tell your Congressfolk to reject H.R. 3639.
Meanwhile, H.R. 3309, the Innovation Act, could get a House vote as early as today, and this particular Innovation Act (authored by Bob Goodlatte, Republican of Virginia, and co-sponsored by nine House Republicans and seven House Democrats) actually would help unleash innovation -- not to mention actually stop frivolous lawsuits -- by making it harder for patent trolls to buy up patents and then sue people willy-nilly for "violating" them. If H.R. 3309 becomes law, would-be patent trolls would have to specify exactly what part or parts of the patent they think the target of their lawsuit is violating, plus they would have to pay the defendant's court costs if they lose -- and that's a substantial deterrent to filing frivolous lawsuits, since most patent trolls bet on their ability to collect quick settlements rather than have their opponents go broke defending themselves. The Electronic Frontier Foundation helps you email or call your House Reps and urge them to support the Innovation Act.
In other news, the Pennsylvania state Senate, though nominally dominated by law-and-order Republicans, plans to push through a bill (SB 411) that would virtually immunize gas drilling corporations from polluting nearby water tables. Because you learned from your parents that when you make a mess, you should lobby your state legislators to pass a law mandating that someone else clean up your mess, right? SB 411 allegedly builds on Pennsylvania's "Good Samaritan Law," which immunizes mining corporations that voluntarily treat acid mine pollution, but handing out a get-out-of-jail-free card to gas drilling corporations who know they're polluting the water we drink and bathe in and wash clothes and dishes with would be more accurately described as a loophole. And all the gas drillers would have to do to drive through this loophole would be to take the water from abandoned mine sites and use it to frack -- not, you know, treat it so that people might use it. Both PennEnvironment and the Sierra Club help you tell your PA state legislators to oppose SB 411.
Finally, in a slap in the face to all good Americans fighting the corruption of our democracy by mammon, the SEC has apparently decided not to issue a rule requiring that corporations disclose their election spending to their shareholders. The SEC has dragged its feet on this rule for years now, finally putting the issuing of said rule on its official agenda for 2013, then not issuing the rule and "disappearing" the rule from its 2014 agenda. Jesus Mary and Joseph did they think no one would notice? Do they think shareholders in America care about nothing besides money? Do they think shareholders don't care if their corporate boards waste their money trying to elect utter wastes of flesh like Ohio Treasurer Josh Mandel, who came within five percentage points of unseating Ohio Sen. Sherrod Brown in 2012 with the help of $40 million in big corporate bucks? Public Citizen helps you tell the SEC to do its damn job already.
Fast-food workers will walk off the job in 100 cities today, protesting the not-terribly-coincidental nexus of high corporate profits and sub-living standard wages for workers. The worst I can say about these one-day strikes is that they're not finishing the job right now -- as evidenced by pro-corporate flacks whining about "labor groups." We'll know these strikes are doing really well when these same flacks start squealing COMMUNISM SOCIALISM NAZISM KENYAN ANTI-COLONIALISM!!!!!
R.J. Eskow writes that the Republicans are stepping right into a trap by slamming the Affordable Care Act -- because they're inadvertently slamming what's essentially a free-market-based health care reform. It's a pretty thorough argument, full of nuggets you can use on your Tea Party uncle at the Christmas dinner table if you're so inclined, but I'd feel more confident about its explanatory power if the "liberal" media had been vigorously reporting the problems the Administration's had outsourcing the website's building to private contractors, or the "Medicare exchange" Paul Ryan wants to set up, or even that the Affordable Care Act was born in a right-wing think tank over twenty years ago.
Citizens for Tax Justice advocates either reforming research tax credits or letting them expire. Major problems with the tax credit, per CTJ: laws and regulations define "research" too broadly, and allow corporations to deduct too much research they would have done without the tax credit anyway. This, in a land where we still don't have a cure for cancer, where most of our research seems to go into making our cell phones cooler or spying on citizens more efficiently -- but a lemon-lime shaving cream "earns" a tax deduction.
Finally, The New Republic assesses Scott Walker's chances of winning the 2016 Republican Presidential nomination, and, sadly, they're right -- he can unite the teabaggers and the religious right and the corporations über alles wings of the party like no one else can, plus his political skills are not "an open question" as TNR says, because he's already proven himself a terrific BS artist who can punch and counterpunch on an even keel. So where is hope? That he somehow loses his gubernatorial re-election in 2014, that the various investigations into his ethical dealings finally bear fruit, that the teabaggers stage a tantrum of unprecedented size during the primaries, that the elites try to unite under the banner of someone even more under the radar like Nevada Governor Brian Sandoval, or that Democrats actually nominate someone who can win for a better reason than "I'm not an ogre." I wouldn't lay money on any of these.
Sad news: America's prisoners currently outnumber America's high school teachers. America's prisoners also outnumber America's engineers, physicians, surgeons, lawyers, and social workers. That's what three decades-plus of screw-everyone-but-me economic theory and draconian criminal sentencing laws can do to a land. The good news? States seem to be waking up to the "draconian criminal sentencing" part, and our prison population has actually declined since 2009. Our work fighting screw-everyone-but-me economic theory is ongoing.
Here's an interesting thesis from Michael Lind: the right has a unified economic vision, but the left's vision is fragmented among three impulses -- protecting small producers, protecting unions, and promoting change through direct legislation -- and would be better served by concentrating on the last item, instead of protecting ever-diminishing numbers of small producers and union workers. I'd call protecting small producers a conservative economic vision myself, but the thing is, I don't think these three impulses comprise a fragmented vision -- in fact, I think one word describes them all: "freedom."
Finally, activists in 17 states across India are creating an organic seed bank called Navdanya. They hope it will help them fight the big corporate GMO takeover of Indian small farms and stem the rash of Indian small farmers committing suicide. You'll read about other "seed libraries," too. I hope I never see the day when our government kills organic seed preservers as "terrorists," but I can imagine it happening all too easily.
The People's Email Network helps you tell your Congressfolk to pass H.R. 1010/S. 460, the Fair Minimum Wage Act. The Fair Minimum Wage Act would increase the federal minimum wage from $7.25/hour to $10.10/hour -- or a mere 67 cents an hour less than the inflation-adjusted 1968 minimum wage would be. Yes, that means our minimum wage workers have (like most workers!) lost ground since 1968, and we don't measure the success of a society by how many vacation homes our top earners can buy -- we measure the success of a society by how many opportunities we can create for everyone in society to be the best they can be, and giving folks a minimum wage they can live on, raise a family on, and provide opportunities for their family on, is a good start. And the Fair Minimum Wage Act would stimulate the economy without increasing government debt -- give folks just scraping by more money, and they'll put most of it right back into the economy, whether they buy better food, get more schooling for themselves or their children, or even just buy more flat-screen TVs. After all, CEOs don't create jobs; people who buy stuff create jobs.
Meanwhile, the National Women's Law Center helps you support H.R. 3471/S. 1676, the Women's Health Protection Act, which would restrict states' ability to hold abortion clinics to higher standards than those states require of other health care providers. State laws that hold abortion clinics to stricter standards than hospitals and doctor's offices must meet do nothing more and nothing less than cheat -- you might turn away a lot of women seeking abortions in the short term, as state legislators in Texas and Mississippi and Virginia have done, but how many women will you have honestly convinced of the righteousness of your cause? And make no mistake: supporting the Women's Health Protection Act will not magically make you into someone who "doesn't care about the children" or "doesn't care about women's health." No one thinks abortion providers should be held to a lower standard than other health care providers, but I bet even pro-lifers will ultimately find it hypocritical to hold them to a higher one. We're not a society that'll do just anything to achieve a goal, are we? It's about time we fought to reduce abortions without all the grandstanding.
Finally, USPIRG provides its 28th annual "Trouble in Toyland" report, describing the kinds of toys you should avoid buying for children this holiday season. (You can also open their tips page on your cell phone; it might be best to open it from here.) Long story short: though the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act of 2008 made our consumer product safety laws better, kids still get too many toys with lead in them, too many toys with toxic chemicals in them, too many toys that are really too loud for them, and too many toys that remain choking hazards. And by the way, in each of the above-named instances as well as many others, too many is still "one." No this isn't a whole lot of bellyaching about how everything's a mortal danger and we have to protect our kids from stubbed toes or whatever. Keeping your kids off a busy street during rush hour, for example, you can do, because you've identified at least two dangerous things about that scenario just by reading it. But keeping your kids away from the long-term developmental impairments some toys present is a bit harder, since things like lead and cadmium don't exactly wear a bell.
Alec Mento's *Penny Rants* books help you relive the horrors of the last 14 years of American politics, but with an improbable optimism and (per Kirkus Reviews) an "acerbic flair" and "a talent for distilling complex ideas into quickly digestible parts." And you can only get these books at Blunt Instruments; click the photo above (or type blunteye.com into your browser) to get them!