Finally. For the first time in years, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has rolled back the mad consolidation of our public airwaves by huge corporate interests.
Today's party-line vote by commissioners is just one small step for the FCC, but it may suggest that, under its new Chair Tom Wheeler, the federal agency may once again be showing some interest in fulfilling its mission of assuring that the public airwaves actually serve the public interest...
The Federal Communications Commission today took a critical first step toward tightening its rules and putting more of the public airwaves into the hands of local owners.
In a tense vote, the agency closed a loophole that has allowed companies like Raycom, Sinclair and Tribune to evade federal ownership limits. The industry calls these loopholes "joint service agreements," but we call them "covert consolidation" because they allow companies to control as many as four TV stations in the same market. Companies that have exploited the JSA loophole have gutted newsrooms and often broadcast the exact same newscast on multiple stations in the same community - if they run any news at all.
In the wake of this decision, some companies will be forced to sell off stations that violate the new rule.
In addition, the JSA loophole was one of many. The Department of Justice has pushed the FCC to close all loopholes and a recent statement from the FCC's media bureau suggests it's primed to scrutinize future deals.
The LA Times reports the new rules "will greatly reduce and potentially bring to an end the popular practice of business partnerships between competing local television stations."
Mind you, many of the corporations who have been abusing the rules by partnering to avoid competing with other local stations are the very same corporations who pretend to be in favor of so-called "free market competition."
The Times goes on to note that "FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler said such partnerships have been abused by many broadcasters who have used so-called joint sales agreements to get around the regulatory agency's rules limiting the number of television stations a broadcaster can own."
"Broadcasters will have two years to unwind their joint sales agreement arrangements or can file a request for a waiver and try to make the case that the partnership serves the public interest," the paper reports. Public advocates like Free Press President and CEO Craig Aaron, who otherwise lauded today's vote, still has "concerns about how the FCC will apply waiver standards."
Still, Aaron said in a statement issued today, the new rules amount to very encouraging news from the FCC for a change...
Well, this is fun. Today, a report out from the LA Times details a wide range of sources finding that "at least 9.5 million previously uninsured people have gotten health insurance since Obamacare started."
That's 9.5 million Americans who previously had no reliable access to health care now having such access thanks to the various provisions of the Affordable Care Act (ACA or "Obamacare").
And, before we hear complaints from progressives, for those don't recall, while we've been very critical of the ACA over the years (we prefer a single-payer, "Medicare for All" time plan, versus the obsenity of private insurers profiteering off of sick people), as we noted late last year (when the ACA allowed me sign up for a new plan with my same insurer and save $300/month or $3,600/year in the bargain), more people now having access to health care --- the overall goal of the Republican-conceived "Obamacare" law --- is certainly a good thing, no matter how one slices it. That's true even if it's bad law (and it is.)
But, as noted, don't tell Fox. For that matter, don't tell the Democrats who, for some unknown reason (perhaps because they are delicate, quivering, easily-intimidated flowers?) still haven't figured out how to run for office on their positive accomplishments, such as the ACA.
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UPDATE 8:59pm PT: Moments before midnight on the east coast, just before the March 31, 2014 deadline for signing up for health care insurance without a penalty under the ACA, AP is reporting that the "Obamacare" health care exchange is "on track to sign up more than 7 million Americans for health insurance." That number was the original target set by the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) when the bill was first passed into law and has been seen as the administration's initial goal for signups. That target was scaled back to 6 million after the disastrous opening of the website late last year (despite the misleading Fox "News" graphic indicating otherwise above). But if the AP is right, ACA has now exceeded its initial target...
A U.S. District judge has ruled that Republican legislators in North Carolina must provide documents revealing their work in passing and implementing a radical election reform bill which, when it was passed last year, was described by opponents as the "worse-than-anyone-would-have-ever-imagined voter suppression bill."
Late last week, U.S. District Court Magistrate Judge Joi Elizabeth Peake issued an Order [PDF] in which she rejected a blanket refusal by NC Republican state legislators to provide any documents that relate to the question of whether the sweeping legislation known as the Voter Information Reform Act ("VIVA" aka HB 589) amounted to nothing less than a racially-motivated attempt to deprive African-Americans of their constitutional right to vote.
As we observed when the law was hastily enacted last year, among the law's myriad ways of making registration and voting much more difficult, VIVA includes "draconian polling place Photo ID restrictions (despite the absence of any evidence of polling place impersonation in the state), shortens the early voting period and eliminates NC's very successful same-day voter registration program."
VIVA was quickly passed last year on the heels of the U.S. Supreme Court's controversial, 5-4 decision in Shelby County v. Holder. The decision resulted in the gutting of a central provision of the federal Voting Rights Act. Before that, most of the measures in VIVA could not have taken effect unless they received advance approval from either the U.S. Department of Justice (DoJ) or a federal court. Such approval could have been obtained only if NC established that VIVA was neither intended to nor would have the effect of denying or abridging the right to vote on account of race, color or being the member of a language minority.
The new ruling may help plaintiffs establish violations of both the still-standing elements of the Voting Rights Act and the U.S. Constitution. Moreover, the order to compel documentation concerning the law's genesis in NC, if upheld, could also have a broader national significance...
Newt Gingrich says all the attention to be paid in Las Vegas by GOP officials and wannabe presidents this weekend to billionaire campaign donor Sheldon Adelson-a patron of Gingrich's 2012 White House bid-is something that won't go away until genuine campaign finance reform occurs.
"Whether it's the Koch brothers or [George] Soros on the left or Sheldon," said the former House speaker in an interview with National Journal on Friday, ticking off other campaign mega-donors, "if you're going to have an election process that radically favors billionaires and is discriminating against the middle class-which we now have-then billionaires are going to get a lot of attention."
Gingrich was asked about the gathering of some top Republicans in Las Vegas for what officially is the spring meeting of the Republican Jewish Coalition.
Some have even taken to dubbing the event the "Sheldon Primary," for the casino mogul who almost single-handedly bankrolled Gingrich's presidential candidacy in 2012 and is said to be looking for another horse to back for the White House in 2016.
On Thursday I was invited to discuss the issue with Ian Levitt of the Daily Report, the afternoon drive time show on KTNF, Minnesota's great Progressive AM950. Minnesota now joins the growing list of places where legislatures are considering a ban on vaping in public spaces because...well, I guess because they want more people to keep smoking rather than quitting via the non-smoking alternative of vaping. (I'm sure there must be some other reason --- and we discussed that a bit during the show --- but whatever that reason is, as is the case here in Los Angeles, it sure isn't based on science or public health benefits, as my interview with L.A. City Councilman Paul Koretz, who sponsored and voted for the ban here, made very clear a few weeks ago!)
It's time that Progressives (not to mention Democrats, but I don't necessarily hold out much hope for them) get on the right side of this issue. Here's my conversation about e-cigs and ill-considered bans against them, with Levitt yesterday...
To his great credit, according to the Star Tribune, MN's Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton has signalled the state's proposed ban goes "too far". So the bill has been sent back to committee in the state Senate.
"Dayton said he would sign a bill to restrict children's ability to buy e-cigarettes and to keep the product out of schools, but he would likely oppose making them subject to the indoor air law," the paper reports. "Dayton told the Star Tribune that he's not convinced there is definitive evidence that secondhand vapor poses a danger similar to secondhand smoke."
Here in Los Angeles, while the City Council voted to ban e-cig use like cigarettes, in public spaces such as parks, beaches, restaurants, bars, clubs, work spaces etc., Mayor Eric Garcetti has yet to approve the new ordinance. He can be contacted here, if you'd like to ring in with your thoughts on the new ban which is sure to make it harder for smokers to vape and, therefore, to quit smoking entirely.
If you have any questions about the effectiveness of e-cigs, feel free to ignore my own testimonial (vaping has allowed me to stop smoking immediately after decades of being a smoker) and take a look at some of the almost identical testimonials from former smokers in that Star Tribune article I linked to previously on the Minnesota ban now being considered.
Q. What made you guys want to tackle climate change?
A. I did a story last year - and I'm going to do this every season, every time we get a chance because I think it's the biggest problem facing humanity as a whole today. I don't know how you get bigger.
... Q. And yet mainstream media often shies away from covering it, at least in proportion to the seriousness of the problem.
A. I find it incredibly strange that that's the case. When you talk to people in the scientific community and ask how much of this is our fault, they say, "Oh, 100 percent of it." And most people don't think it's true. But I guess there's people who deny gravity and evolution. ... It's not even that the gun is to our heads; the hammer has been cocked back. We have to do it now or we're screwed.
... Q. What made the biggest impression on you while out there on the ice?
A. The scale of what's happening is amazing. I live in Tribeca, and during Sandy my whole street was underwater. It's personal: My house is going to sink. You realize the scope of the problem. Greenland is several miles thick, and it's sinking as fast as it can. We flew over this deglaciated land which has been covered for 50,000 years, and 10-15 miles of it is deglaciated. You realize what used to be miles wide and miles thick is just gone. If you understand the science, you understand it will happen at an exponential rate. And then it becomes wholly terrifying. You can see how a place that's three times the size of Texas is melting all at once. It's mind-bogglingly huge.
I don't think the scientific community understands the war they're in. [They say], "It's difficult to say anything is 100 percent this or that." They don't understand that if they leave any loophole, the far right, the Koch brothers, the well-funded lobbies will exploit it. Ninety percent of the comments on anything we do [on VICE] are positive, but when we cover climate change they're negative, and it's because they're funded.
That's what I really think is the most insidious. Look, we all know [climate change] is real - the science at this point is indisputable. But people who know the science is real are paying hundreds of thousands of dollars for people to say it's not real. That's the definition of shitting where you eat: damning future generations so you can make short-term profit on fossil fuels.
Unfortunately, the episode doesn't appear to be available online for free, other than for HBO subscribers at HBO Go. If you have access to either, you should try and watch VICE's disturbing "Greenland is Melting" segment. Here's Shane Smith's "Debrief" on the episode...
IN TODAY'S RADIO REPORT: Was logging a factor in deadly Washington landslide?; New BP oil spill in Lake Michigan; Rooftop solar endangers the electric grid? 'Bullsh*t', says former Energy Secretary; Next UN climate report warns climate change will affect 'every aspect of human life' and 'cost trillions'; PLUS: Irreversible climate change could be locked in as early 2036... All that and more in today's Green News Report!
IN 'GREEN NEWS EXTRA' (see links below): House of Representatives votes for No More National Parks; U.S. Oil Boom Shifts Alliance as Obama Visits Saudi King; Ridiculously Resilient Ridge Hangs Tough; Fracking’s Earthquake Risks Push States to Collaborate; Fracking the USA: New Map Shows 1 Million Oil, Gas Wells; EPA moves to protect streams, wetlands; Drug companies agree to curb livestock antibiotic use ... PLUS: Millions of salmon begin migration --- by truck ... and much, MUCH more! ...
I haven't gotten to go to the phones for weeks on the KPFK/Pacifica RadioBradCast, so that's what we did on this week's show. No guests. Just me, a few rants, lots of callers (and, of course, Desi Doyen and the latest Green News Report).
The rants included more on the mad media misinformation/neo-con war-baiting over Ukraine (which, thankfully, it appears Obama no longer seems to be falling for or taking the bait on); the Democrats woeful 2014 campaign plans and --- the one that got ALL the phone lines ringing off the hook --- the rapidly increasing media disinformation about e-cigs.
Lots of good calls, but my favorite on that last was from "David in Los Angeles". I think his opinion may be a nearly perfect distillation of the entire, insane backlash against the public health miracle that is vaping. David describes his concern: "We don't want to encourage the behavior of smoking, even if its not harmful." My question to him is, "Why?" He explains: "because it's the perceived behavior that is negative." You'll have to tune in to see how that call, and all the others, worked out.
It was a very lively show this week. Hope you'll enjoy it...
IN TODAY'S RADIO REPORT: Deadly --- and predicted --- landslide disaster in Washington State; Meet the nation's newest oil spill, now in Galveston Bay; Air pollution from fossil fuels kills 7 million people a year; PLUS: The never-ending legacy of the Exxon Valdez oil spill, 25 years later... All that and more in today's Green News Report!
IN 'GREEN NEWS EXTRA' (see links below): Plane search hampered by ocean garbage problem; BP oil causing fish deformities; Wind and Solar Harvest Enough Energy Now to Pay Back Manufacture Plus Add Storage; Global warming has not stopped, will go on for centuries; Kids living near big roads have higher cancer rates; Does US oil boom mean more oil spills?; WI towns fight to control local frac sand mining; Los Alamos nuclear storage accident diverts waste to Texas; Global energy demand vs. agriculture for water supplies ... PLUS: Warming Is Big Risk For People: 'the polar bear is us' ... and much, MUCH more! ...
For all of the long-time smokers who are quitting or have now quit the deadly habit (myself included) thanks only to the miracle of e-cigs (which offer none of the thousands of known, harmful byproducts of smoking tobacco), it's remarkable to see anti-smoking zealots actually fighting against their use in myriad ways.
Several weeks ago on my KPFK/Pacifica Radio show, I interviewed Paul Koretz, one of the L.A. City Councilmembers who, beyond all reason --- and without a single shred of scientific data to back up his reasoning --- recently voted to ban vaping in all the same places where smoking is banned (on beaches, public parks, inside work places, restaurants, bars, etc.) Those who vape, if L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti decides to approve the City Council's ridiculous and dangerous ordinance (as other mayors have done in other cities) would be consigned to having to go outside to a smoking area to use their safe, odor-free vaporizer.
As one caller to the radio show pointed out, that ill-considered policy is akin to forcing recovering alcoholics to go sit in a bar. It's almost assured to keep more people smoking rather than quitting. That, even though, as Koretz admitted to me on air, there's a "99% possibility" that vaping is "much safer than smoking" and the former. (And he was low-balling that number, no doubt.) The former President of the American Lung Association describes the L.A. ban on vaping as "misguided" and "a public health disservice".
Which brings us to Monday's New York Times, where the Idiotic War on Quitting Smoking continues with a misguided hit piece on e-liquid --- the "juices" used in e-cig vaporizers --- headlined "Selling a Poison by the Barrel: Liquid Nicotine for E-Cigarettes"...
Well, it just makes sense. Republicans aren't actually running on anything in 2014 other than "Democrats are no good! Also, Obamacare!"
As Jesse LaGreca points out, however, "50+ repeal votes, a SCOTUS decision and a Presidential election, still no GOP alternative to Obamacare, just trolling & BS."
So, it's not much to run on. But that's okay. The Rs have an advantage this year thanks to the D's huge wins in 2008, leaving Dems with much more territory to defend this year in the U.S. Senate. More importantly, while Republicans have little or no policy initiatives to actually run on --- or, at least, few they'd like to mention out loud --- they don't really need to. The Koch Brothers are so desperate to see Republicans back in power, and all the swell goodies that come with it, they are unleashing everything they can to simply buy their way back into greater control of our nation's once-of-the-people, by-the-people, for-the-people government.
At the same time, unfortunately, Democrats aren't running on much more themselves. "We're not crazy Republicans!" may be true, but it doesn't give American voters much to vote for, especially while the Kochs are outspending outside Democratic-leaning groups 10 to 1 so far this year. So it all makes sense that with the Kochs' money running this year in lieu of actual Republicans with policies, Democrats seem to be set on simply run against the Kochs. That appears to be the plan. Or, at least the one that's working for them so far, according to Dave Weigel at Slate today:
I've seen some numbers from fundraising emails from one [Democratic] campaign that were sent from roughly mid-January to mid-March, pretty bad news cycles for the party. Nineteen emails didn't mention the Kochs. They raised, in total, $48,146.30, for an average of $2,534.02 per message.
But five emails mentioned, in at least some way, the Koch brothers. Those asks raised $32,668.72, an average of $6,533.74 per email. The Democratic base, which has been hearing about and fearing the Kochs for nearly four years, responds to this stuff.
So, running against The Koch Brothers brings in three times as much money as running on...whatever else the Dems have been trying to run on so far this year.
It'd be nice if the Democrats gave voters something concrete to vote for. It might even solve their oft-cited problem of D voters not turning out for mid-terms. Why should they, after all? That's not a criticism, that's an actual question. Why should voters turn out? What are they supposed to be voting for?Democrats might want to start thinking about offering a concrete reason or three. But, in lieu of that, running against the two privileged sons of an oil baron who are willing to spend as much of their father's hard-earned money as they need to in hopes of buying the United States whole hog will have to suffice, apparently. In 2014, with few, if any, policy promises (so far) presented to voters, Koch is it.
Unfortunately, for every dollar raised by the Dems, the Kochs can just cut a check for three or ten more. So, if you'd like to start questioning the Democrats' 2014 election strategy, now would be a good time.
You also might want to ask them why they aren't doing much more to fight against the madness unleashed by the infamous Citizens United in 2010 and the way that Republicans (particularly the Kochs and Karl Rove) have gamed every last inch of whatever scraps are left of campaign finance law in this country. Come to think of it, a hard promise to pass laws to effectively overturn Citizens United and restore campaign finance enforcement at the FEC would be just one concrete policy that Americans might actually turn out to vote affirmatively for. And, Democrats could beat up on the Kochs all they like in the bargain. Win-win! So, of course, Democrats probably won't do it.
Republicans enjoy pretending to be "tough on terrorism". But, as with most things they pretend to be, they are not. If they actually were, they'd have sprung into action long ago to deal with the massive infrastructure vulnerability of our antiquated nationwide power grid.
As the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) warned some time ago, as per a secret memo recently revealed by Wall Street Journal's Rebecca Smith [subscription req'd], the entire nationwide grid could be brought down by an attack on as few as 9 of the nation's 55,000 electrical substations during a heat wave. Knock out a transformer manufacturer at the same time and the power --- nationwide --- would stay collapsed "for at least 18 months, probably longer".
Of course, after Smith's report, the U.S. government is not angry at the lack of action to protect against the vulnerability. They are mad at Smith for reporting it, even though she withheld key details.
Last week we told you how Wisconsin's Republican Gov. Scott Walker considers implementing a polling place Photo ID restriction in his state to be so "pressing" that he would call a special session of the state legislature to do it. He says it's the only such matter "pressing" enough to merit such extraordinary action this year, in advance of the November 2014 election --- when Walker himself, just coincidentally, faces a very tight re-election race.
That, despite the fact that two state courts have already found the Republicans' existing polling place Photo ID voter restriction law to be a violation of the state constitution and that expert testimony during one of the two trials detailed how there is only one single known case of voter impersonation fraud in WI over the past 10 years that might have possibly been deterred by such a law. At the same time, tens of thousands of perfectly legal voters will likely be barred from voting under such a law.The state Supreme Court is currently deciding on the state's appeal to the lower courts' rulings.
Republicans pretend that implementing such a law is not about voter suppression, but now at least one of them, to his great credit, strongly and loudly disagrees.
Schultz also decried the current WI GOP effort to suppress the vote --- one which would likely effect many elderly as well as minority and student voters --- as an insult to veterans, calling it "a slap in the face at the very least to some of the people who gave some of the most vital years of their life in the service of their country"...