Tighter regulations of tax-dodging multinational corporations by the US Treasury Department caused Pfizer to pull back from its plans to merge with an Irish pharmaceutical company in order to save $35 bln by laundering Pfizer’s profits through Ireland.

Pfizer had planned to acquire Botox maker Allergan Plc for $160 bln and “redomicile” to Ireland, where Allergan is registered, which would be the biggest tax “inversion” ever attempted.

The new rules did not name Pfizer and Allergan, but one of the provisions targeted a specific feature of their merger — Allergan’s history as a major acquirer of other companies. The subsequent demise of the deal allows Obama to claim a big win during his last year in office.

President Obama (4/6) called global tax avoidance a “huge problem” and urged Congress to take action to stop US companies from tax-avoiding corporate “inversions”, which lower companies tax bills by redomiciling overseas.

“While the Treasury Department’s actions will make it more difficult... to exploit this particular corporate inversions loophole, only Congress can close it for good,” Obama said.

“Tax law is not sexy, but Pfizer’s loss is a potent win for small-d democracy,” William Greider wrote for The Nation (4/8). “It can provide a starting point for reinvigorating reform politics. Among Washington’s myriad scandals, the drug industry is the Goliath of our corrupted politics. Pfizer and its brethren in Big Pharma spread millions around the halls of Congress, and they always seem to get their way.”

Greider noted that Americans for Tax Fairness rallied support and argued that Treasury could stop the looting … “and this time little David won.” He added, “The US Chamber of Commerce was not happy. ‘It’s punitive, it’s paranoia,’ the boss lobbyist complained. Whenever the Chamber whines, we know something good has happened for the people.”

He also noted that “Pfizer’s CEO, Ian Read, was stupid enough to announce that the company was abandoning US citizenship right in the middle of a tumultuous presidential campaign—one in which voters have expressed alarm and anger about their lost prosperity and continuing economic troubles.

The rebellion may have legs, regardless of who wins the White House this fall, because the corporate wise guys have unwittingly established a new context for how we look at tax debates and other economic issues: patriotism. Pfizer’s cynical ploy deeply insults the fervent national loyalty of most Americans. … Pfizer, like so many other corporations, ignored this public sentiment and took the occasion to jump ship for greener pastures in Ireland. Of course, the company was not actually planning to go anywhere. It was only going to move its address offshore to reduce its tax bill dramatically. Both Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders jumped on Pfizer. Even our even-tempered president was appalled. Treasury took the cue and shut down the odious loophole that had allowed what is called ‘corporate inversion’.”

While Pfizer was planning its change of nationality, Greider noted, it raised the prices on more than 100 of its medications, some by as much as 20%. Meanwhile, the Obama administration’s proposed new multilateral trade agreement, the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), aims to keep poorer countries from developing cheaper drugs by extending the patent rights of Big Pharma. “So much for ‘free trade,” he said.

He said Congress should require the government to negotiate drug prices for Medicare and Medicaid. He quoted Dr. Ramin Oskoui, a D.C. cardiologist whose patients complain that they can’t afford their medications. The doctor, who described himself as a libertarian, suggested that the government could achieve lower drug prices by enforcing existing antitrust laws.

NORTH CAROLINA ‘BATHROOM LAW’ HAS BROADER IMPLICATIONS. The law that made North Carolina notorious for setting bathroom rules for transgender people and banning cities from protecting gay, bisexual and transgender people also prohibits cities from increasing the minimum wage and restricts access to state courts for people with complaints of workplace discrimination.

The Raleigh News & Observer interviewed five House Democrats this week about HB2, including three who voted in support of the law and two who were against. All Republicans present for the vote supported HB2. Six of the 11 Democrats who supported HB2 are African American.

One black lawmaker said he didn’t know about HB2’s broader implications beyond bathrooms until after the vote. Two other representatives who voted for the bill – one white, one black – now say they wish minimum wage and workplace discrimination issues had not been added to the bathroom debate.

“I absolutely believe that the LGBT issue was a shiny object to be dangled in front of people to distract them from a broader discriminatory bill,” said Barrett Brown, president of the NAACP chapter in Alamance County.

Nationally, women, black people and other racial minorities disproportionately hold minimum-wage jobs, according to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics and studies by groups such as the American Civil Liberties Union, the News & Observer reported (4/1). North Carolina’s HB2 restricts elected city and county councils and boards from increasing local minimum wages any higher than the state’s minimum wage, now at $7.25 an hour.

For the past 30 years, a North Carolina law has allowed workers to sue their employers over “wrongful discharge in violation of public policy.” It appears HB2 eliminates that.

The rights of workers are still protected under federal law. But critics say the federal process takes longer and is more expensive and more restrictive on damages an employee may recover. The federal law also has a shorter filing window.

As if the people of North Carolina weren’t suffering enough from Bruce Springsteen calling off a show in Greensboro and PayPal scrapping plans to open a global operations center with 400 jobs in North Carolina, the popular porn website xHamster.com on 4/11 started refusing to serve anyone from North Carolina and is banning all computers from “The Tar Heel State” until North Carolina repeals House Bill 2.

‘DEMOCRACY SPRING’ RISES TO PROTEST PLUTOCRACY. More than 400 protesters staging a protest against the influence of money in politics and congressional inaction to reverse it were arrested on the steps of the US Capitol (4/12), CNN reported. Participants in the “Democracy Spring” campaign started in Philadelphia (4/2) and marched nearly 150 miles south to Washington, where rallies and events were scheduled through the week to “draw attention to our corrupt campaign finance system and rigged voting laws.”

Kai Newkirk, campaign director of Democracy Spring, told Amy Goodman on Democracy Now! (4/12) said the movement was promoting four initiatives to deal with big money in politics and protect and expand the right to vote and voter access. One bill would set up public financing of elections, so that anyone can run for office without raising money from billionaires. Another is a constitutional amendment to overturn Citizens United. Another bill would restore the damage that was done to the Voting Rights Act by the Supreme Court, the Voting Rights Advancement Act. And the fourth, the Voter Empowerment Act, would make it easier for people to get to the polls and to be able to vote. “And in the wake of Justice Scalia’s death, there’s a fifth step that we’re calling on Congress to take, which is to confirm a nominee to the Supreme Court who will vote to uphold the principle of political equality, to end this corruption of big money in politics and ensure that all have the right to vote,” Newkirk said.

Democracy Spring (DemocracySpring.org) said 3,500 people from 33 states had pledged to join protests in the following week.

The week will conclude with another mass mobilization in D.C. organized by Democracy Awakening (DemocracyAwakening.org) 4/16-18. More than 260 organizations have signed up to support or attend the mobilization in a broad coalition representing labor, peace, environmental, student, racial justice, civil rights and money in politics reform movements. Lead organizations include the American Postal Workers Union, Common Cause, Communications Workers of America, Democracy Initiative, Every Voice Center, Food & Water Watch, Franciscan Action Network, Greenpeace, NAACP, National Nurses United, People For the American Way, Public Citizen, Sierra Club, Student Debt Crisis and US PIRG.

Democracy Awakening will include an array of actions, including demonstrations, teach-ins, direct action trainings, music, a Rally for Democracy, and nonviolent direct action and advocacy pressing for a Congress of Conscience. Democracy Awakening events also were planned for 4/17 in Austin and Dallas, Texas, Bloomington, Ind., and Albuquerque, N.M.

SENATE RACES HEAT UP. The Democratic primary race for the Senate seat in Maryland is heating up as progressive Rep. Donna Edwards launched her first ad in early April, hitting centrist Rep. Chris Van Hollen for expressing a willingness to “consider” cuts to Social Security, Daily Kos Elections reported (4/12). Van Hollen fired back with his own spot, where a pair of narrators accuse Edwards of leveling “false” attacks on him, then say she was “ranked one of the least effective members of Congress—dead last among all Democrats.” The ad goes on to cite a study from the Lugar Center claiming Edwards was “the least willing to find common ground,” then references a Washington Post editorial that described Edwards as “allergic to compromise, just like tea party Republicans.”

The Kos correspondent noted, “Suggesting that your opponent is not bipartisan enough, though, hardly seems like a winning message in a Democratic primary. Maryland Democrats are really supposed to be upset that Edwards hasn’t shown an interest in working with people like Ted Cruz?” The seat is being given up by Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D).

In Pennsylvania, EMILY’s List launched a new ad attacking ex-Rep. Joe Sestak (D) in a reported $1 mln buy backing Katie McGinty in the Democratic primary to challenge Sen. Pat Toomey (R). The spot says that Sestak supports a plan that “makes cuts to Social Security benefits” and “raises the retirement age,” a reference to the failed Simpson-Bowles plan that would have reduced benefits and which Sestak said in January should serve as “the template upon which you can address both the needed raise in revenues and the proper reform of entitlements.”

In Wisconsin, former Sen. Russ Feingold (D) released his first TV ad of his comeback bid. In the minute-long spot, Feingold says he’s “visited all 72 counties” in Wisconsin but warns that he’s “still at it, so if you hear a knock on your door, it might just be me!” The rest of the ad features constituents talking to Feingold, mostly about their concerns over the economy. One woman wonders of her children and grandchildren: “How are they going to make it? How are they going to have the life that we’ve had?”

On the other side in Wisconsin, Let America Work, a super PAC backing GOP Sen. Ron Johnson, is running a new ad of its own, reportedly backed by a six-figure buy. It goes for straight-up fear-mongering, featuring video clips of violent scenes from abroad as a narrator says, “Obama’s foreign policy is weakness—but not to Russ Feingold.” The spot then features a clip of Feingold saying of Obama, “He is going to be a very important president in our history with regard to our foreign policy,” followed by a mention that Feingold was the only senator to vote against the Patriot Act.

In Florida, where Sen. Marco Rubio (R) is leaving this seat open, the Democratic primary, set for 8/30, pits brash progressive Rep. Alan Grayson against Republican-turned-Democrat Rep. Patrick Murphy. President Obama has endorsing Murphy. But many Florida progressives criticize Murphy’s flirtations with Social Security reform, his support for the Keystone pipeline and Wall Street campaign contributions, Bill Scher noted at OurFuture.org (4/11). The Republican field is crowded, and a recent poll had no candidate breaking 12%.

FORMER COAL BARON SENTENCED FOR ROLE IN WORKPLACE SAFETY VIOLATIONS. Six years after a methane-fueled explosion ripped through the Upper Big Branch Mine in the heart of West Virginia coal country, killing 29 people in the worst mining disaster in almost a half-century, Don Blankenship, who was CEO of mine operator Massey Energy at the time, was sentenced in federal court to one year in prison (4/6) for willfully conspiring to violate federal mine safety standards. He was also fined $250,000, and after his release from prison will be subject to a year of supervision, Ryan Koronowski reported at ThinkProgress.org (4/6).

While families of the victims complained about the relatively mild punishment, it is the maximum under the law and is believed to be the first time a high-ranking corporate executive will see prison time for workplace safety convictions following an industrial accident. In December, a jury found Blankenship guilty of the misdemeanor conspiracy charge, but acquitted him of three felonies: securities fraud and making false statements after the explosion. Those charges, sought by federal prosecutors, would have resulted in much longer prison sentences.

The conspiracy charges, while carrying less prison time than the felony charges, were serious. The indictment stated that Blankenship “conspired to commit and cause routine, willful violations of mandatory federal mine safety and health standards at Massey Energy’s Upper Big Branch mine” — meaning he would provide advance warning of federal mine safety inspection activities, so the mine’s underground operators could conceal and cover up safety violations that they routinely committed.

Four Massey Energy employees who reported to Blankenship have been sentenced on safety violation charges, or for conspiring to cover up violations. Blankenship was known for how hands-on his leadership style was at Massey, a quality the prosecution made use of during the trial. The defense pointed the blame at mine regulators. Blankenship blamed the media, corporate America, unions, liberals, and environmentalists for what he saw as the nation’s problems — common bogeymen for Blankenship.

“Some measure of justice has finally caught up with Don Blankenship, and his sentencing today will add to the growing chorus of coal communities demanding that industry executives must be held accountable when their decisions destroy people’s lives — whether it be from safety violations or continuing to destroy their land, air, water, and health,” said Mary Anne Hitt, director of the Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal Campaign.

Blankenship’s legal team vowed to appeal the sentence to the 4th Circuit US Court of Appeals. however Judge Irene Berger ordered that Blankenship not be free while awaiting appeal.

SANDERS DID BETTER IN COLORADO THAN REPORTED, BUT NO ONE TOLD HIM. Bernie Sanders supporters cheered when their candidate won the Colorado caucuses by a sizeable margin—59% to 40% for Clinton—on Super Tuesday (3/1), reportedly picking up 38 pledged delegates to rival Hillary Clinton’s 28.

Now, they have more to celebrate. An apparent “error” on the part of that state’s Democratic Party could widen that lead even further, the Denver Post reported. The Post reported (4/12) that the Colorado Democratic Party admitted to “misreporting” the 3/1 caucus results from 10 precinct locations.

Adding to the controversy, the newspaper notes that the mistake “was shared with rival Hillary Clinton’s campaign by party officials but kept from Sanders until the Post told his staff Monday night [4/11].”

The Post reported: “The new projection now shows the Vermont senator winning 39 delegates in Colorado, compared to 27 for Clinton.

Even if Clinton wins all 12 superdelegates in the state, Sanders can finish no worse than a split decision. It contrasts with prior projections from the Post, Bloomberg Politics and the Associated Press that indicated Clinton would probably win the majority of the 78 delegates in Colorado because of her support from party leaders with superdelegate status.

Sanders campaign manager Jeff Weaver expressed displeasure about how how the party reported the results. “It is certainly disturbing that the information gets sent to one campaign and not to another,” he said.

“It was basically a reporting error on caucus night,” Democratic Party Chairman Rick Palacio told the Post. Asked why he told one campaign and not the other, Palacio said, “it didn’t necessarily affect (them). It was our mistake that ended up affecting the estimation on Hillary’s campaign.”

SENATE LETS 1 FEDERAL JUDGE THROUGH LOGJAM. Fourteen months after he was nominated, the Senate voted 92-0 to confirm Nashville attorney Waverly Crenshaw to a US district court judgeship in Tennessee’s Middle District (4/11). The district had been declared a “judicial emergency” because of the number of cases that had piled up on too few judges. Both Tennessee senators supported Crenshaw’s nomination and the Senate Judiciary Committee voted unanimously in July to send it to the full Senate, but final action was delayed by a partisan dispute over how many more federal judges President Obama should be allowed to name before he leaves office in January 2017.

As of 4/13 there were 49 nominees pending Senate action, including one nominee pending for the Supreme Court; seven nominees pending of nine vacancies on courts of appeal; 33 nominees pending of 65 vacancies on district courts; four nominees pending for four vacancies on the US Court of International Trade; and five nominees pending for six vacancies on the US Court of Federal Claims, according to the Administrative Office of US Courts.

OBAMACARE REACHES NEW LOWS. The uninsured rate has plunged to the lowest rate ever recorded by Gallup, thanks to the Affordable Care Act’s effort to expand coverage to additional Americans, Cory Herro reported at ThinkProgress.org (4/7).

Gallup has been tracking the uninsured rate since 2008. Eight years later, the rate of Americans without insurance now stands at 11% — down 6.1 points since early 2014, when Obamacare’s individual mandate that required Americans to to enroll in health insurance first took effect.

Gallup researchers credit this first quarter drop to health insurance purchased through Obamacare’s government-run exchanges. These exchanges usually provide the cheapest plans, according to a 2015 federal report.

According to Gallup, people of color and young adults have experienced the largest declines in their uninsured rates — a that trend researchers credit to the individual mandate, the expansion of Medicaid, and the provision allowing young adults to stay on their parents’ plan until age 26. Young adults between the ages 18 of 34 tend to be the healthiest age group, so their inclusion in insurance pools also helps offset the risk added by policyholders with preexisting conditions.

Since President Obama signed his landmark health care reform law in 2010, researchers have observed a consistent decline in the rate of uninsured Americans, suggesting the law is succeeding in its main goal of expanding health care to people who didn’t previously have it. In March, Obama announced that some 20 mln Americans have gained coverage under the law and there’s also evidence that Obamacare is helping the most vulnerable Americans gain access to health care.

Now that the law provides more options for Americans to get insured, the number of poor people and sick people without insurance has plummeted.

MICH. GOV. TARGET OF RICO LAWSUIT IN FLINT WATER CRISIS. Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder, high-ranking former members of his staff and others are the target of a new federal racketeering lawsuit over the city’s water crisis. The lawsuit also targets the city of Flint, MLive.com reported (4/6). A group of 15 citizens filed the civil lawsuit seeking financial compensation for property damage, loss of business and financial losses attributed to the city’s water crisis; as well as compensatory damages for future medical care and punitive damages.

Attorneys declined to put a specific dollar figure on the potential damages, but under the federal racketeering law they could get treble damages.

The lawsuit, filed in Flint US District Court, alleges Snyder, his former Chief of Staff Dennis Muchmore and others attempted to balance the Flint city budget through a pattern of racketeering activity.

“He wants to run the state like a business,” attorney Marc J. Bern said of Snyder. “Well, the citizens of Flint, as shareholders in the corporation of the state of Michigan, I don’t think they were treated in an appropriate way.”

The lawsuit alleges that officials misrepresented the suitability of the Flint River water as the city’s drinking water source for roughly two years and billed Flint residents at rates that were the highest in the nation for water that was unusable, resulting in the city’s budget deficit being reversed.

The suit also claims officials committed mail fraud by continuing to mail water bills to Flint residents, which they allege fraudulently misrepresent that the city is providing safe, clean water to its residents. They further allege officials continued to make statements claiming the water was safe despite being aware of growing concerns over the quality of the water. The lawsuit also alleges the defendants committed wire fraud by allowing residents to pay their water bills online or with credit cards despite knowing the water was toxic.

Charles P. Pierce noted at Esquire.com (4/7), “Charging—and, occasionally, overcharging—people for water they knew was bad has always been the spoiled cherry on top of this arsenic sundae. I’m glad someone at least will have to go through discovery on it.”

DROP IN STAMP PRICES PUTS MORE STRESS ON POSTAL SERVICE. The good news is that it will cost two cents less to send a first-class letter. The bad news is that the drop in stamp prices, ordered by the Postal Regulatory Commission, will cost the financially stressed US Postal Service $2 bln and could force more service cuts.

While the two-cent cut won’t save individuals much money, Mark Dimondstein, president of the American Postal Workers Union, said “ultimately, it will undermine service and weaken a great national treasure.”

Two years ago, the PRC allowed the Postal Service the temporary price hike, which was greater than the general inflation rate.

News of a possible $2 bln loss was an unwelcome counterpoint to a USPS financial report in February that showed $307 mln in net income for the first quarter of fiscal 2016. Joe Davidson noted in the Washington Post (4/12). For the same period a year earlier, USPS had a $754 mln net loss. The $1.1 bln difference was a welcome turnaround, though it didn’t solve all postal financial problems. USPS had a net loss of $5.1 bln in fiscal year 2015. The $2 bln loss means that will grow by 40%.

Members of the National Newspaper Association don’t like higher postage rates, but they would rather pay more, to an extent, than suffer drops in service. “We were against it, before we were for it,” Tonda Rush, public policy director for the National Newspaper Association, told the Post with chuckle about the price hike.

“Our members experienced unprecedented service problems” when processing plants were consolidated, she explained. “People couldn’t get their newspapers on time.” The association represents small newspapers that rely on mail for delivery in small towns and rural areas.

About 140 plants were consolidated over a two-year period before additional consolidations were halted.

Another group of big mailers, the Alliance of Nonprofit Mailers, favors the price cut, saying it will help its members with fundraising. “We also believe that there are many opportunities to further reduce postal costs,” said Stephen Kearney, executive director of the alliance.

But with a $2 bln loss  — on top of the $5.1 bln — something has to give, Davidson noted.

NEW ORLEANS JUSTICE SYSTEM BREAKING DOWN. A New Orleans judge (4/8) ordered the release of seven inmates awaiting trial because Louisiana’s budget crisis has left the city with no money to defend them.

The seven inmates, who all faced serious felony charges including murder. armed robbery and aggravated rape, were all deemed indigent, the New Orleans Advocate reported (4/8). Most have spent more than a year behind bars awaiting trial and have gone months waiting for legal help, their attorneys said.

In his order, the Orleans Parish judge ruled that keeping the men in jail without funding their defense violates their Sixth Amendment rights. The order was stayed pending an appeal from the district attorney’s office.

New Orleans’ public defense budget has been slashed every year since 2010, but the latest round of cuts were the most drastic yet. In March, the city’s public defenders were bracing for a 63% cut to their funding, and Deputy Chief Defender Jee Park said it was unclear how much more Orleans Public Defenders (OPD) would receive in FY 2017.

“The number of cases we’ll be able to handle is going to decrease significantly,” Park told ThinkProgress in March. “It would mean that more individuals are placed on wait lists. We’ll be declining to represent people. We’ll be declining [court] appointments. We’re going to see…a lot of poor people not getting representation they deserve at first appearances, at arraignments.”

The OPD recently decided to refuse to take on any new felony cases, and private attorneys — who aren’t well versed in criminal law — have been forced to pick up the workload. So far, more than 110 cases have been refused or put on a waitlist, according to Fusion.net.

New Orleans has the highest incarceration rate in Louisiana, and the state has the highest incarceration rate in the country. Eight in ten defendants across Louisiana qualify for free legal representation.

Fusion reported that one New Orleans public defender is currently assigned to about 150 open felony cases at the same time. “In some cases, he can only spend a few minutes talking with clients before he has to start representing them,” Fusion’s Casey Tolan wrote (4/6). “Thanks to years of ever-deeper funding cuts and staff reductions, [Thomas] Frampton and other public defenders in the city typically handle 300 different felony cases every year, compared to the national standard of a maximum of 150 cases.”

There are only 42 attorneys working for the OPD, down from more than 70 five years ago. Most of OPD’s $5.7 mln budget comes from fines and court fees, with just $1.8 mln coming from the city in FY 2016. That small chunk of money has to cover salaries for attorneys, investigators and support staff, as well as office operating costs.

In his ruling, Judge Arthur Hunter said that its unlawful to hold the seven men in jail without certainty of when the OPD would have the resources to take on their cases.

“We are now faced with a fundamental question, not only in New Orleans but across Louisiana: What kind of criminal justice system do we want?” he wrote. “One based on fairness or injustice, equality or prejudice, efficiency or chaos, right or wrong?” (Kira Lerner, ThinkProgress, 4/8)

WISCONSIN VOTER ID LAW BACK IN COURT AFTER ELECTION DAY WOES. Wisconsin saw its highest voter turnout in decades (4/5), leading Gov. Scott Walker (R) to boast that it’s “easy to vote” in his state. But many voters were burdened or disenfranchised by the state’s newly-implemented and poorly publicized voter ID law, which disproportionately impacts the state’s low-income voters of color, Alice Ollstein noted at ThinkProgress (4/8).

The American Civil Liberties Union argued before the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals (4/8) that people who face significant hardships should be able to vote without an ID. As in New Hampshire, Idaho, Texas, and several other states, such voters would be able to sign a legally-binding affadavit to prove their identity.

This accommodation could help voters like Dennis Hatten, a formerly homeless Marine Corps veteran who spent six months fighting with the DMV to obtain a voter ID — all because of a mistake a midwife made on his birth certificate — and Nefertiti Helem, a low-income woman with a disability who couldn’t obtain an ID despite having a Social Security card, an Illinois state ID and proof of her Wisconsin residence.

Sean Young, the lead attorney on the case, previously argued that Wisconsin’s voter ID law should be struck down entirely. Some federal courts agreed, comparing the law to a poll tax, but the US Supreme Court allowed the law to stand. Now, the ACLU is arguing that individual categories of people should be allowed to challenge the law and demand accommodations that enable them to vote.

“Wisconsin’s law remains the harshest in the country and continues to be a threat to our democracy,” Young told ThinkProgress. “Voters, especially from impoverished backgrounds, must be able to exercise the franchise.” Many low-income, homeless, or recently-relocated citizens who don’t have access to their birth certificates have to go through an “absurd exercise” in order to vote, Young said.

Many students struggled on election day as well, discovering at the last minute that most student IDs are not accepted at the polls. Students also had to remember to bring a proof of enrollment in order to vote. Confusion around these requirements combined with high turnout led to some students waiting more than two hours to cast a ballot.

Non-partisan observers who monitored the college campus polling sites told ThinkProgress the wait times were driving some first-time voters away.

FAREWELL TO AL JAZEERA AMERICA. Al Jazeera America signed off (4/12) after 2-1/2 years of operating on a limited number of cable systems. (The international Al Jazeera English site is still active at aljazeera.com.) Leslie Savan noted (4/12) at The Nation that the news network, which is based in Qatar but had a virtually all-American-staff for the channel that launched in August 2013, racked up an impressive series of Emmy and Peabody awards, but very few viewers. “AJAM reported on, and often revisited, the sort of corporate-unfriendly stories the Big Three cable channels tend to ignore—on labor, refugees, poverty, social justice, climate change, inequality—a veritable feast for *Nation* readers,” Savan wrote. It reported on the lead crisis in Flint long before Rachel Maddow did. It regularly covered Native Americans, going far beyond “the stereotypical ‘sad life on the rez’” stories, wrote AJAM producer Tristan Ahtone, who contributed to the site’s dedicated vertical Indian Country. “There was nothing like it at any other mainstream news outlet in the United States,” he said.

On 1/13, AJAM announced to its stunned staff that it would shutter the TV channel, laying off about 700 people across 12 US bureaus. Then, on 3/28, the company announced that 500 employees of the network would be laid off, most of them in the Qatari capital, Doha. In a press release, Al Jazeera described the mass layoffs as a “workforce optimization initiative” in response to “the ongoing transformation of the media landscape.” According to CNN Money, the cutbacks were “a result of budget cuts ... tied to the falling price of oil,” as Qatar is “highly dependent on oil and gas revenues.”

“Like it or not, some of the best fact-based, socially liberal TV reporting in the United States in recent years has been paid for by a tiny emirate that juts into the Persian Gulf just south of Iran,” Savan wrote.

Al Jazeera bought Al Gore’s Current TV channel for $500 mln in 2013. That gave AJAM access to 50 mln homes. But many cable systems dropped the new channel, and its average daily viewership, estimated in the low tens of thousands, was dismal. (MSNBC, the lowest-rated of the Big Three cable news channels, averages 700,000 primetime viewers a day.)

From The Progressive Populist, May 1, 2016


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