Originally Published: 1/31/2015
Truth in News: Once again Politifact has put out its Truth-O-Meter scorecards for news reporting. They looked at all the claims made by pundits , hosts, and paid contributors. They did not include statements made by elected leaders, declared candidates, or party officials. So, where do you get the best news? CNN won, with “the best record among the cable networks, as 80% of the claims” are “Half True” or better. MSNBC and NBC didn’t come out so good. 44% of the claims were “Mostly False” or worse. And the big lier? Fox and Fox News. “10% of the claims we’ve rated have been True, 11% Mostly True, 18% Half True, 21% Mostly False, 31% False, and 9% Pants on Fire. This means about 60% of the claims we’ve checked have been rated Mostly False or worse.”
More Surveillance: I told you before about the Department of Homeland Security’s plan to track us everywhere we go. (TWW, License Plate Tracking, 2/22/14) There was apparently so much bad press over it that they cancelled the contract proposal. (TWW, License Plate Tracking, 3/8/14) But, as I reported, the tracking system is being done by a private company, Vigilant Solutions, and Immigration & Customs Enforcement (ICE) and other law enforcement agencies have been using it for years. Now we know that the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) has been using the technology. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) obtained DEA documents under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) and found that the surveillance of cars is “massive.” According to Jay Stanley, a senior policy analyst with ACLU, “This story highlights yet another way government security agencies are seeking to quietly amplify their powers using new technologies.” (Guardian)
Greece: The Syriza party was elected last weekend in a landslide and their leader, Alexis Tsipras, will take over as prime minister. The Syriza party ran on an anti-austerity platform. (Guardian) To understand what the banks and austerity did to Greece, Gaius Publius, writing at America Blog, gives a good run-down. Tsipras started putting his “anti-bailout government” together. He appointed Yanis Varoufakis Greece’s finance minister. Varoufakis will be the “chief negotiator with the country’s international creditors.” The Guardian describes him as “a radical economist who has described austerity programs as ‘fiscal waterboarding.’” They plan to “reverse draconian belt-tightening and renegotiate the country’s massive debts.” The new government is “the first in Europe to openly oppose the draconian bailout conditions demanded by the European Union and International Monetary Fund.” On Wednesday the “planned sale” of 30% of the Public Power Corporation of Greece, the country’s biggest utility, was halted. And the new ministers “pledged to raise pensions for those on low incomes and reinstate some fired public sector workers.” The announcements “signaled the newly installed government would not back down from its anti-austerity pledges, setting it on course for a clash with European partners, led by Germany, which has said it will not renegotiate the aid package needed to help Greece pay its debts.” (Reuters)
Alabama: U.S. District Judge Callie Granade stayed her order (TWW, Alabama-Same-Sex Marriage, 1/24/15) giving the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals until February 9th to “decide whether gay marriages should continue to be delayed in the state.” (Reuters)
Indiana: Indiana’s NPR-hating Tea Party governor is setting up a taxpayer-funded media outlet that will compete with other media outlets. The Indianapolis Star reported that Governor Mike Pence (R) plans a late-February launch for “Just IN,” a website and news outlet that will publish feature and news stories written by his press secretaries.
Oklahoma: The U.S. Supreme Court temporarily blocked the execution of 3 prisoners “who are challenging the state’s lethal injection procedure.” Execution is postponed “until after the Supreme Court decides whether the procedure violates the U.S. Constitution’s ban on cruel and unusual punishment.” (Guardian) Anyone want to take bets?
Deepwater Horizon: The Supremes declined to hear an appeal by former BP executive David Rainey “who contested whether he can be charged with obstruction of Congress for downplaying the severity of the 2010 Gulf of Mexico oil spill. Prosecutors say [he] misled members of Congress over the amount of oil spilled” in the disaster. (Reuters)
Collective Bargaining: The Supreme Court “sided with a company that amended a collective bargaining agreement to force retirees to pay toward healthcare costs, throwing out a lower-court ruling that favored the former employees who objected to the change.” In another rare 9 to 0 decision, the court gave M&G Polymers USA, a subsidiary of Italy-based chemical company Mossi & Ghisolfi International, the right to change the agreement under which they worked and retired. (Reuters)
Patent Cases: The Supremes sent 3 patent cases back to a lower court for further proceedings. All cases were appealed for lower court decisions that other companies had infringed on their patents. (Reuters)
National Debt: The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) reported that the annual deficit will drop to $468 billion this year, but they warned that over the next decade interest on the debt will increase, meaning our payments could as much as triple - leading to new spending constraints.
Unequal States: A new report from the Economic Policy Institute (EPI) lays out the benefits from the economic recovery that are enjoyed by the top 1%. Nationwide the overall income grew by almost 37% since 1979 but growth for the 1% was 181%. If you factor out the 1%, that means the 99% of Americans saw their income grow by only 2.6%. This report has all kinds of interesting stuff. EPI also lays out the statistics by states. Check out your state. And Cliff Weathers, writing at AlterNet, compiled the amount of money you have to make in each state to become part of the 1%.
Children & Food Stamps: Last year 16 million children were relying on the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (SNAP), commonly called food stamps, for food, “signaling a lopsided economic recovery in which lower income families are still lagging behind.” That’s roughly 1 in 5 children relying on food stamps. Pre-recession levels were 9 million children on food stamps, about 1 in 8. (Al Jazeera) If you remember, the budget recently passed cut $5 billion from the program.
CIA Secret Intelligence: The head of the “secret intelligence operations” is retiring “just as the spy agency weighs an unprecedented shake-up of the organization.” His name wasn’t released “but his identity already was revealed in a tweet in 2013. Frank Archibald reportedly worked in Pakistan and Africa and was once head of the CIA’s Latin American division.” What does that tell ya? (AFP)
School Choice: It’s National School Choice Week, the week where those committed to destroying public education play loose with the facts. So, I thought I’d remind you, just in case you forgot, of some of those facts. First, there’s no proof that charter schools perform better than public schools. According to the Center for Public Education, on math assessments 17% of kids in charter schools performed significantly better than their peers in public schools. However, 37% performed significantly worse and the rest, 46%, were comparable. In addition, a national study by the Center for Research on Education Outcomes, “less than one hundredth of 1% (<0.01%) of the variation in test performance in reading is explainable by charter school enrollment.” (Washington Post) Charter schools can pick and choose their students. Special needs children aren’t chosen. Children with behavior problems are expelled.
Broadband: The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) set a new definition for broadband “that establishes 25 megabits per second as the baseline for high-speed downloads, up from 4 Mbps previously. With this standard, the [FCC] will be able to argue for much stronger action on Internet providers - a point that’s rankling Republicans on the commission as the agency moves to promote the adoption of fast, cheap, and reliable Internet in America.” (Washington Post) 25 Mbps is still a lot slower than Hong Kong, which averages 72.49 Mbps, and Singapore which averages 58.84 Mbps. But it’s getting closer to the rest of the world which averages 20.77 Mbps. Right now the U.S. is behind Estonia, Hungary, Slovakia, and Uruguay. (TWW, Internet Access, 1/24/15)
Obamacare: Yet another resolution has been introduced to repeal the Affordable Care Act (ACA). It’s House Resolution (H.R.) 596. It was sponsored by Rep. Bradley Byrne (R, AL) and is currently in the House Rules Committee.
Prescription Drugs: Last year 2 patient advocacy groups filed a discrimination complaint with the Department of Health and Human Services’ (HHS) civil rights division. They are alleging that 4 Florida insurers that are selling plans on the Affordable Care Act (ACA) exchanges “were requiring HIV patients to pay up to 50% of the cost of HIV medications, even for generic versions, which should in theory be cheaper. They also asked federal regulators to investigate whether this practice was happening more broadly across the country.” (Washington Post) I can tell you that it is. I went to get a prescription last summer that cost $95. The pharmacist said that 2 weeks before it had been $20. I asked for the generic version and he said that was the generic version. He said they were raising prices like that on all kinds of drugs and that, as far as he could see, there was no reason. Well, there is a reason. They can no longer reject people who are sick so they’re making it more expensive to get needed medications.
Global Climate Change: According to a new poll conducted by the NY Times, Stanford University, and Resources for the Future, an overwhelming majority of Americans, including half of Republicans, support government action to curb global warming. Also, two-thirds of Americans said they were more likely to vote for political candidates who campaign on fighting climate change and were less likely to vote for candidates who questioned or denied the science that humans are causing global warming. Even 48% of Republicans said that, even though 47% of Republicans believe that curbing global warming will hurt the economy.
Keystone XL Pipeline: The Senate approved legislation mandating the construction of the pipeline. The vote was 62 to 36 with 9 Democrats voting for it. The bill differs from the House bill, so the thing will go to a conference committee. (Washington Post) The 9 Democrats are: Michael Bennet (CO), Thomas Carper (DE), Robert Casey (PA), John Donnelly (IN), Heidi Heitkamp (ND), Joe Manchin (WV), Claire McCaskill (MO), Jon Tester (MT), and Mark Warner (VA). (National Journal) But the fight is still going on in the states. Mike Papantonio calls it the “big land theft.” Let him explain it to you. (You Tube)
Drilling: The Department of the Interior wants to “open up a vast stretch” of the Atlantic seaboard to oil and gas drilling, “an area the oil industry has long hungered to exploit.” And it’s proposing opening new portions of the Gulf of Mexico. But it is also proposing banning drilling in portions of the Beaufort and Chukchi Seas. (NY Times)
Totten Glacier: The Totten Glacier, the largest glacier in East Antarctica, “containing ice equivalent to a 6-metre (20-foot) rise in global sea levels, is melting due to warm ocean water,” according to Australian scientists. The waters around the glacier are warmer than scientists expected and are “likely melting the ice from below.” (AFP)
Interest Rates: The Federal Reserve has decided to leave interest rates unchanged. (Washington Post)
Sub-Prime Loans: Securitization of sub-prime, non-government-backed home loans is back. You know, the stuff that blew up the economy in 2008? They’re doing it again, giving loans to people with low credit scores, foreclosures, and hard-to-document incomes. But they’re not calling them “sup-prime” anymore. They’re calling them “non-prime.” Same thing. (Bloomberg)