Monday, January 14, 2013

New Year News Roundup!

By Heather Turner

It's been a bit quiet here at NTQ! But we are back with a bang after surviving the Mayan Apocalypse and the now delayed "fiscal cliff" apocalypse. 2012 was pretty exciting for news-watchers. Yet, methinks this year will be every bit as interesting. Lacking the headache of an impending major political election, 2013 has all of the potential to be the year the major news outlets start reporting on the issues that really matter to the public at large. Why such optimism?

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Well, as Alternet points out in its "Top 25 Progressive Victories" list of 2012, despite the electoral sideshow and Congressional dysfunction, quite a lot was accomplished last year by progressive activists and politicians alike. However, as  George Monblot, writing for the Guardian, notes, one of the most neglected issues of 2012 was the environment:
It was the year of living dangerously. In 2012 governments turned their backs on the living planet, demonstrating that no chronic problem, however grave, will take priority over an immediate concern, however trivial. I believe there has been no worse year for the natural world in the past half-century.
Three weeks before the minimum occurred, the melting of the Arctic's sea ice broke the previous record. Remnants of the global megafauna – such as rhinos and bluefin tuna – were shoved violently towards extinction. Novel tree diseases raged across continents. Bird and insect numbers continued to plummet, coral reefs retreated, marine life dwindled. And those charged with protecting us and the world in which we live pretended that none of it was happening.
Their indifference was distilled into a great collective shrug at the Earth Summit in June. The first summit, 20 years before, was supposed to have heralded a new age of environmental responsibility. During that time, thanks largely to the empowerment of corporations and the ultra-rich, the square root of nothing has been achieved. Far from mobilising to address this, in 2012 the leaders of some of the world's most powerful governments – the US, the UK, Germany and Russia – didn't even bother to turn up.
Our leaders now treat climate change as a guilty secret. Even after the devastation of Hurricane Sandy and the record droughts and wildfires that savaged the US, the two main presidential contenders refused to mention the subject, except for one throwaway sentence each. Has an issue this big ever received as little attention in a presidential race?
The same failures surround the other forces of destruction. In 2012 European governments flunked their proposed reform of the Common Agricultural Policy, which is perfectly designed to maximise environmental damage. The farm subsidies it provides are conditional on farmers destroying the vegetation (which also means the other wildlife) on their land. We pay €55bn a year to trash the natural world.
This contributes to what I have come to see as a great global polishing: a rubbing away of ecosystems and natural structures by the intensification of farming, fishing, mining and other industries. Looking back on this year a few decades hence, this destruction will seem vastly more significant than any of the stories with which the media is obsessed. Like governments, media companies have abandoned the living world.
With the hectic election season and other sensationalist news occupying a great deal of the corporate newshole, the environment took a back seat, and global warming denialism in the media became a routine part of creating a balanced debate. And on top of that, Shell started poking holes in the ground. Deeeep underwater. In the Arctic. Which was all but virtually forgotten until The Yes Men helped to put the media's attention back on Shell's half hazard efforts to drill for oil in Arctic waters. So could 2013 be the year of paying at least marginally more attention to environmental issues (and possibly doing something about it)? If starting off the year with a Yes Men press debacle and massive Australian wildfires are any indication, then it is reasonable to expect that global environmental catastrophes of historic proportions will continue to be staple news items of the coming year.

Another rather cheery topic back in the news is the US's role in torturing detainees as part of the Bush administration's strategy in fighting the "War on Terror." Dark Zero Thirty's box office success pushed the debate over "enhanced interrogation" techniques back into mainstream punditry circles. Some critics have argued that the potential Oscar winning film glorifies torture, especially when compared to 2012's espionage themed hit, Argo. The subject of torture and America's role in using it on countless detainees at home and abroad is not likely to fade out of newsworthiness, as the trial of Pfc. Bradley Manning is also scheduled to begin this year after being delayed until the summer.

LGBT rights are also likely to stick around in this year's news cycle. The Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) and California's controversial Proposition 8 could potentially be challenged in the Supreme Court this summer. However, challenges to the legislation may be halted if the Justices decide that the cases do not meet the requirements or "standing" to be heard before the Supreme Court.  Ari Ezra Waldman notes what could happen if Prop 8 Hollingsworth v. Perry is found to have no standing:
The stakes: What could happen if the Supreme Court finds no standing?
If the Court finds no standing to appeal, then there never was standing to appeal; ProtectMarriage could never have taken the case to the Ninth Circuit. So, the Ninth Circuit's decision would be wiped out, as if it never existed. On the one hand, that would deprive us of some important analysis, some favorable conclusions of law, and some helpful persuasive precedent at the appellate level. On the other hand, it would reinstate the broader district court decision that declared unconstitutional all bans on the freedom to marry. Notably, there has been some question as to whether even that case applies to more than just the few plaintiffs in the case; but, that's more of a hiccup than a barrier and not worth a discussion at this time. Suffice to say, if the original Perry only applied to two couples in two California counties, the plaintiffs could seek to extend the ruling to the entire state via the state courts
And if DOMA Windsor v. United States is found to have no standing:
The stakes: What could happen if the Supreme Court finds no standing?
Winners can't appeal, so if the House Republicans are not properly in the shoes of the Obama Administration, there is no defender of the law, the case is over and the Second Circuit decision stands. That would most likely solve Ms. Windsor's $350,000 discriminatory tax problem, but it would mean that DOMA is the law in some parts of the country but not others. 
The big news this week of course, is President Obama's nomination of Jack Lew as Treasury Secretary. There will no doubt, be a great deal of newshole devoted to parsing the nomination over the next several weeks, making for another great opportunity to bring more voices into the debate over America's economic policies. Per usual, Democracy Now! has provided an excellent forum for alternative debate, as the White House works to spin Lew's record - glossing over his role in the deregulation of Wall Street during the 90s. William Black associate professor of economics and law at the University of Missouri-Kansas and Rolling Stone's Matt Taibbi, discuss Lew's career in the Office of Management and Budget under President Clinton and as an executive of Citigroup during the height of the financial crisis.


And finally, as 2012 was the year of Apocalypse Now, there will no doubt be many disappointed End-of-the-world fetishists who are searching for the next calender date to make a big deal out of nothing over. Well, rest assured that at least the year 2036 is out of the running. NASA confirmed this week that the Apophis asteroid will definitely NOT be colliding with Earth in 23 years time. Another apocalypse averted. For now.

 Happy News Year!

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