Newsbyte: U.S. Poverty to 16%, Coal Ash-Dumping Ferry As A Landmark, Viacom’s CEO Gets $50m Pay Raise

In today’s issue of Newsbyte:

Despite New Methods of Calculating, U.S. Poverty Rate Increases to 16%

The 2010 Poverty Rate: Old vs. New Calculation

The 2010 Poverty Rate: Old vs. New Calculation (Source: NPR)

The Census Buearu has rolled out a new experinmental method to calculate poverty. It takes into account more than just spending on food – including items like child care, out-of-pocket medical expenses, taxes, and rent. Using those new figures, the number of people below the poverty line in the United States has increased by over 5%, to a rate of 16% nationally. The poverty rate has been set at an annual income of $24,343 for a family of four. As a result of factoring in government assistance programs like food stamps and the earned-income tax credit, 3.2 million children fell off of poverty roles – as well as 800,000 African Americans. These figures accurately reflect what the goal of such antipoverty programs are: to get people above the poverty line. Perhaps as many as 11 million people in all were lifted above the poverty line because of these expanded government assistance programs, and being accurately counted as such.

With looming broad-based budget cuts around the corner as we head into 2012, the question is not if a number of those 11 million will fall back below the poverty line, but rather how many and how quickly.

Two of the biggest antipoverty measures, food stamps and the earned-income tax credit, were expanded substantially under President Obama’s stimulus package, helping lift about 11 million people above the poverty line in 2010, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. As that money winds down, there is a concern that help for the poor could shrink.

“Unemployment isn’t going away anytime soon, and Congress has been talking a lot about cutting deeply,” said Arloc Sherman, a senior researcher at the center.

Census officials cautioned that the bureau’s new measure, known as the supplemental poverty measure, would not replace the official one, which is used to calculate federal assistance to states and other types of spending.

Numbers for the rest of the population outside the poverty line didn’t fare that well in this past decade, either. A full third of the population now finds itself within 200% of the poverty line, and those 4x above the level fell from 36% of the population to 17%.


Coal Ash-dumping Ferry in Lake Michigan Seeks Landmark Status to Protect Pollution

The Badger Ferry, the last coal-burning ferry on Lake Michigan, sets sail from Michigan to Wisconsin. Every time it crosses the lake, four more tons of toxic coal ash are dumped into the water.

The Badger Ferry, the last coal-burning ferry on Lake Michigan, sets sail from Michigan to Wisconsin. Every time it crosses the lake, four more tons of toxic coal ash are dumped into the water.

One of the more interesting ways to get around EPA regulations demanding your highly polluting activities be shut down is being displayed by the owners of Lake Michigan’s Badger Ferry. The ferry shuttles vehicles across the middle of Lake Michigan from Ludington, MI, in the east to Manitowoc, WI, in the west using a coal-fired steamship. The ship dumps its toxic remains, coal ash, into the lake and has done so unimpeded since its opening in 1953. With a deadline on the horizon that bans the dumping of coal ash into the lake, the owners of the ferry have applied being a protected national historic landmark – right up there with Mount Vernon, the tomb of President Lincoln, and the birthplace of Martin Luther King, Jr.

With the help of Republican support in Congress, the mere act of applying for the list might serve as protection enough to continue its polluting ways:

Even if the Badger fails to make the list of the nation’s historic and cultural treasures, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency may be unable to force the aging coal burner to eliminate the nearly 4 tons of waste it dumps in the lake every time it sails. An amendment added to a budget bill by Republican congressmen from Michigan and Wisconsin would prevent the EPA from imposing more stringent pollution limits on any ship that is “on, or nominated for inclusion on” the list of landmarks.

In documents obtained by the Tribune, the car ferry’s owners plead for the National Park Service to grant the Badger special protection from the EPA, which in 2008 gave them four years to find a solution to the ship’s pollution problems.

The spin phrase to continue dumping coal ash into Lake Michigan is particularly impressive:

In their application for landmark status, the Badger’s owners say the ship’s “historic propulsion system” is “under threat” by the EPA.

“Historic propulsion system” being under threat by the EPA. This, clearly, is the same reason why coal-fired power plants from the 1800′s are among the top tourist destinations in the United States – for their historic power generating systems. That, or this is a last ditch effort to take the easy way out instead of innovating to be cleaner.


Viacom So Thoroughly Decimated By Piracy, CEO Given $50 million Raise

In the online world, the 2000′s were mired in a never-ending back and forth battle between people sharing content – music, movies, software, and more – illegally and the content providers, who argued that such activity would serve to end the entertainment world as we know it. If this is the end of the world, then I would imagine many more CEOs in many more companies would like to get involved. Riding the back of stock options, the CEOs of one of the biggest content produces out there – Viacom – saw his annual income rise by a staggering 148.6%, to a net $84.5 million. That works out to $325,000 for a full eight hour day’s work, or $40,625 per hour.

This comes from the same company that is currently suing Youtube for $1 billion – after already being defeated in the same efforts before. Viacom was seeking payback for losses it believed it incurred by illegal uploads of their content to Youtube. At the moment the only thing from Youtube being financially ruined and taken off line are the incredibly deep pockets of online giant Google. The back-and-forth can be encapsulated here:

Google purchased YouTube for $1.76 billion in 2006, comfortable that it was protected by the safe harbor provision of the 1998 Digital Millennium Copyright Act. That provision shields a company from liability if they don’t have actual knowledge of copyright infringement. Once notified, the company must eliminate the infringement quickly.

Google attorney Andrew Schapiro countered that YouTube follows the law and always has by taking down video when a copyright owner claims the video infringes its rights.

“There is no evidence, zero, of a single clip in this case that YouTube knew was infringing and failed to take down,” he said.

Schapiro said Viacom’s chief complaint seemed to be that Google was not screening for copyright violations in the manner Viacom preferred.

“We’ve done A, B, C and D and plaintiffs are saying, ‘You should have done E and F,’” he said. “IF we did E and F, they would say, ‘You should have done G and H.’”

Somehow, in spite of this terrible copyright infringement, Viacom’s CEO can still net a 148.6% raise.