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ACTION ALERT: Trump Rules Remain at FCC as Democrats Cave to Big Cable, Fox News

FAIR - March 17, 2023 - 3:31pm


Remember Ajit Pai, the former Verizon lawyer Trump put in charge of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC)? When he gutted net neutrality rules and kneecapped the agency’s ability to regulate telecom monopolies, voters from across the political spectrum were outraged. The internet erupted in protest.

Democrats like Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi responded to popular opinion by promising to restore net neutrality rules (The Hill, 3/20/19).

Millions of people from across the political spectrum called their elected officials and submitted comments to the FCC, and thousands took to the streets. It was a rare moment of genuinely popular public revolt that defied partisan DC logic. If there’s one thing everyone can agree on, it’s that we don’t want our cable or phone company screwing us over more than they already do, selling our browsing habits and real-time location to advertisers, or dictating what websites we can visit or which apps we use.

Indeed, the FCC’s net neutrality rules—banning Internet Service Providers from blocking apps, throttling, discriminating or charging scammy fees—were overwhelmingly popular with the general public, regardless of political views.

When Pai repealed those rules, Democrats capitalized on the moment, loudly proclaiming that they were the party that would stand up to Big Cable and their deep-pocketed lobbyists. In speeches and fundraising emails, they promised they would fix this mess if they regained the White House.

Trump lost the election. But astonishingly, two years into the Biden administration, Trump still more or less runs the FCC. Pai is no longer employed at the agency, but his disastrous policies remain firmly in place. And unless we rekindle some of that collective outrage we felt when net neutrality was repealed, it’s looking increasingly likely that those Trump-era handouts to abusive telecom giants will continue for the foreseeable future.

Dark money smears

Right-wing media responded to Gigi Sohn’s nomination with a homophobic smear campaign (NBC, 2/3/23).

Last week, Gigi Sohn, who had been Biden’s nominee to fill the FCC’s crucial fifth seat, withdrew her nomination. Sohn is an eminently qualified candidate and well-known public interest champion who has dedicated her career to closing the digital divide. She was also a historic pick: the first openly LGBTQ nominee to the position. With Democrats holding the Senate majority, she should have been swiftly confirmed.

Instead, her nomination languished, as she faced a months-long, industry-funded smear campaign. Front groups for cable and phone companies flooded swing states with false and misleading ads. Pundits painted Sohn as “anti-police” because she had liked a few tweets in support of Black Lives Matter.

The Fraternal Order of Police (FOP) piled on, painting Sohn as dangerous because she sits on the board of the highly respected Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), which rightly opposes government backdoors in encrypted messaging (an issue the FCC has zero jurisdiction over, by the way).

The FOP has a longstanding reputation for “pay-to-play” lobbying. The group’s executive director, Jim Pasco, maintains a lucrative side business lobbying for corporations, which has sparked controversy when the FOP mysteriously adopts positions favorable to his outside clients. Pasco’s wife, Cybele Daley, was a registered lobbyist for AT&T as recently as 2009. She is currently the vice president of the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA), copyright-maximalist lobbyists for Hollywood frequently criticized by Public Knowledge, the free expression nonprofit that Sohn co-founded.

The FOP has never been known to take a position on FCC nominations in the past. Its arrival to the fight seems suspicious at best.

Other groups opposing Sohn’s nomination are even more clearly paid shills for the telecom industry, like the Taxpayers Protection Alliance, which has been exposed in the past for “astroturfing” on behalf of telecom companies. Don’t forget these same companies were caught red-handed orchestrating a massive flood of fraudulent comments praising the net neutrality rules repeal that were submitted to the FCC in 2017, using real people’s stolen information.

Emboldened by industry-funded smears and Republican talking points, the right-wing media machine started cranking out even more slime, culminating in blatantly homophobic, QAnon conspiracy–style attacks attempting to paint Sohn as some kind of sexual deviant or predator. A particularly nasty and dishonest article in the Daily Mail (1/26/23) included a photo of Sohn and her wife.

Democrats could have stood up to these utterly disingenuous attacks. Party leaders could have forcefully condemned the smear campaign at any of the three Senate hearings that Sohn testified at, and made it clear that Senate Democrats wouldn’t allow homophobia and corruption to derail a qualified nominee’s confirmation process. Instead, they hung Sohn out to dry. Senate Democratic leadership, including Commerce Committee chair Maria Cantwell (D.–Wash.) and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D.–N.Y.), were shamefully silent about the homophobia and lies hurled at their party’s nominee.

The FOP’s leadership has a long history of racist and bigoted comments, and has routinely opposed police reforms. The organization endorsed Donald Trump for President. Twice. But in the end, a small handful of Senate Democrats chose to side with the FOP, Big Telecom and Fox News over labor unions, environmental groups, LGBTQ+ organizations, civil rights leaders, teachers, librarians, human rights advocates and small business associations—more than 400 in all—who supported Sohn’s confirmation.

And in the process, they handed Republicans a blueprint for how to sink any future nominee they don’t like, especially if they happen to be gay. It’s not just shameful, it’s an embarrassing strategic failure.

The battle for the net

So what happens next? Biden will have to nominate someone else to fill the FCC’s fifth seat. We can be sure that lobbyists for the likes of Comcast, Verizon and AT&T are already circulating their lists of “approved” candidates. And, given everything that has happened, we have every reason to be worried that Biden could take one of those names.

If the industry gets to install its preferred commissioner for the crucial fifth deciding vote, it will effectively own the agency that’s supposed to regulate it. Just like it did when Ajit Pai was in charge.

The stakes are too high to let the FCC coast on under policies set by Donald Trump (Vice, 11/17/21).

We can’t let that happen. The stakes are too high. The pandemic only exacerbated the digital divide, and ended any debate over whether access to affordable high-speed Internet is a “necessity” or not. Kids were sitting outside of Taco Bell using the wi-fi to go to school on Zoom. There is absolutely no reason we cannot ensure that every single child in this country has access to an internet connection they can use for school—except that for too long the agency tasked with protecting the public interest has been captured by the industry it’s supposed to oversee.

As Big Tech has gotten bigger, net neutrality has only become more important. While attention in DC has shifted from Comcast and Verizon to Amazon and Instagram, the problems with monopoly power and surveillance capitalism are widespread. Unless net neutrality rules are revived, it’s only a matter of time before Big Tech giants start cutting deals with Big Telecom gatekeepers, crushing competition from smaller players and startups and solidifying their dominance.

Beyond restoring Title II oversight and net neutrality protections, the FCC could use its rulemaking authority to crack down on cell phone carriers’ shady data collection practices. Stopping the collection and abuse of cell phone location data is one of the most concrete things the Federal government can do to protect the privacy and safety of people seeking, providing and facilitating abortions. One data broker was exposed selling the location data of people who had entered Planned Parenthood clinics. The FCC could also investigate and crack down on certain types of surveillance devices, like Amazon’s creepy flying Ring drones.

But they can’t do any of that until the Senate confirms a fifth commissioner. And they won’t do any of that if that fifth commissioner is a sleeper agent for the telecom industry. So it’s time to get organized.

This morning, more than 60 civil society organizations sent a letter to President Joe Biden, calling on him to “immediately put forth a new nominee” who:

  • “has a history of advocacy for the public interest;
  • “is free of industry conflicts of interest;
  • “demonstrates a clear commitment to championing the rights of low-income families and communities of color;
  • “and supports Title II oversight and laws that ensure the FCC the authority to prevent unjust discrimination and promote affordable access.”

When Biden nominated Gigi Sohn, it seemed like an opportunity to finally slam shut the revolving door between the telecom industry and the FCC. The industry saw this as a threat to their status as unregulated monopolies, so they threw money bombs and leveraged their immense influence in DC to kill her nomination.

Now all eyes are on Biden. Will he nominate another public interest champion who will implement his stated agenda at the FCC? Or will he start the revolving door spinning again? We’re about to find out.

ACTION ALERT: If you want to make your voice heard, you can use BattleForTheNet.com to call on President Biden to nominate another public interest champion for the FCC.

The post ACTION ALERT: Trump Rules Remain at FCC as Democrats Cave to Big Cable, Fox News appeared first on FAIR.

Kamau Franklin on Cop City Protests

FAIR - March 17, 2023 - 10:07am



(CC photo: Chad Davis)

This week on CounterSpin: If there are ideas, tools or tactics that are part of both this country’s horror-filled past, and some people’s vision for its dystopic future, they are at work in Cop City. Over-policing, racist policing, paramilitarization, the usurping of public resources, environmental racism, community voicelessness, and efforts to criminalize protest (that’s some kinds of protest)—it’s all here. Add to that a corporate press corps that, for one thing, disaggregates issues that are intertwined—Black people, for instance, are impacted not only by police brutality, but also by the environment, breathing air and drinking water as we do—and seems intent on forcing a vital, important situation into old, tired and harmful frames.

Kamau Franklin is founder of Community Movement Builders, the national grassroots organization, and co-host of the podcast Renegade Culture. We’ll hear from him about Cop City and the fight against it.

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Plus Janine Jackson takes a quick look at press coverage of DC’s crime bill.

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The post Kamau Franklin on Cop City Protests appeared first on FAIR.

‘The Whole System Is Stacked Against a Person With a Disability’ - CounterSpin interview with Kim Knackstedt on disability policy

FAIR - March 16, 2023 - 1:21pm


Janine Jackson interviewed the Disability Economic Justice Collaborative’s Kim Knackstedt about disability policy for the March 10, 2023, episode of CounterSpin. This is a lightly edited transcript.

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Janine Jackson: Human rights advocates everywhere marked the death, March 5, of groundbreaking disability justice activist, spokesperson and policymaker Judy Heumann.

Obituaries rightfully noted meaningful advances Heumann played a role in, like the Americans With Disabilities Act.

Washington Post (3/6/23)

It rang a bit odd though to read in the Washington Post that Heumann, born in 1947, “came of age at a time when disabled people had restricted access to libraries, schools and public transportation, with limited opportunities for education or employment.”

Perhaps the outpouring of attention for Heumann’s life and work could encourage journalists to explore present-day restrictions, limitations, crises, confronted by people with disabilities—one in four adults in the country—along with what responses, including policy responses, are called for.

Kim Knackstedt is senior fellow at the Century Foundation and director of the Disability Economic Justice Collaborative. She joins us now by phone from Washington, DC. Welcome to CounterSpin, Kim Knackstedt.

Kim Knackstedt: Hi. I’m glad to be with everyone today.

JJ: Well, I’m not making fun of that piece. But I was just struck by that “cast your mind back, if you can, to a time when disabled people didn’t enjoy all the freedoms…”

I guess my thought, just to start us off, is that. But also, Judy Heumann was emphatically not of the “wait patiently and progress will inevitably come” school of thinking, was she?

KK: Oh, no, no, not at all. Judy was definitely one to fight for what she wanted, and she was fiery. One of the words she loved to use was “feisty.” And she really went after what she knew was wrong.

And during her services yesterday—I was very lucky to attend and be in community with so many people from around the country, and by video, around the world—we got to hear so many stories about her, and every story had a note about her fighting for the rights of disabled people, and against the injustices that so many of us face.

Time (9/19/22)

JJ: And still face. And this is of course what I’m complaining about here, the treatment of disabled people as an afterthought in policy, in media, which I know is what you engage.

And it’s weird, given not only that so many people in the country are living with disabilities of varying kinds, but also because it’s a community that anyone can join at any moment. And, indeed, I’ve heard Covid described as a “mass disabling event.”

And I wanted to ask you, what is Covid showing us about policy responsiveness, about movement responsiveness? What are some of the impacts when the disabled community grows, as it were, suddenly in this way?

KK: I appreciate you pointing out that anyone can become disabled at any time, because that is part of what I think the US economy is actually facing right now, with the growth of the disability community in a very abrupt way because of Covid.

And we do have the largest influx of the community that we’ve seen in many, many years, and that has really caused the workforce to try to make an adjustment. And that adjustment’s been slow, it’s been difficult, because we have so many people that now cannot do the job that they used to do because of long Covid. And that is extremely difficult, not only for the entire, again, US economy, but for that person.

We’ve had some great pieces, actually, through one of the projects at the Century Foundation, called the Voices of Disability Economic Justice project, with people talking about this, and what it means to become disabled because of long Covid, and not be able to do the things you used to be able to do so easily every day.

Our policies have not changed fast enough to be able to support everyone. That includes our healthcare policies. That includes, now, our education policies. And it includes, again, those workforce policies and accommodations that people need.

Washington Post (7/23/22)

JJ: There was a thoughtful piece from last June in the Washington Post that talked about what supports and education veteran advocates can offer to “long haulers,” dealing with not just new problems, but with, as you’re saying, a new identity. And it also talked about tensions within the disability community, which as with many marginalized communities often finds itself struggling over limited resources. And now there are millions more people involved.

And it’s an interesting situation. But I just wanted to lift up—there was one quote in this piece from a guy who says long Covid gives a chance to make some updates to health policy, in part because the condition is affecting, he said, “a different mix of people than what we’ve seen in the traditional disability population.”

Now, I’m not trying to stir up trouble here, but it sounds a little like “we’re getting a better class of disabled now, not that ragtag group you’re used to,” and there’s an implication, in other words, that now maybe there will be the power to change things. And I guess that arouses mixed feelings in me, is what I want to say.

KK: It does. And I think there’s a couple ways to unpack that. One, there’s a narrative out there that the disability community are kind of fakers and takers. That’s a narrative that we have to undo, because it’s an incorrect narrative, and it’s a narrative that really doesn’t actually help, it only harms the disability community, because, again, anyone can become disabled at any point in their life.

That quote that you mentioned, it really ignores the fact that there’s a false narrative that’s already circulated about the disability community.

But I think, on the other side, what the quote does acknowledge is that having a whole new influx of people to the community gives a renewed energy, and a renewed movement, to the policies that are needed.

When all of the sudden you have a bunch of other people that have entered any community, any movement, there’s different energy behind it. You know, all of a sudden, we have senators saying, “I need this, I am part of this community. I guess now we need a bill on it.”

That’s very different, and we don’t always see that. And so we do get some of that renewed energy, and that’s really important. But at the same time, we have to balance that with the fact that we have a false narrative that exists. And that just breeds into the stigma against disability that we really need to try to overcome.

JJ: If the comment is partly acknowledging that some of the Covid long haulers have wealth, then one can, very sadly, ask, for how long?

The nexus between disability and poverty is central, and of course that’s key to the Collaborative’s work. I’m not sure that it’s really understood how policy choices—not disability, but policy choices—put disabled people in struggle, and keep them there. Can you talk a little bit about that?

Kim Knackstedt: “Undoing that entangled web of policies that really focus on keeping people with disabilities in poverty is extraordinarily difficult.”

KK: Yes, the problem is I could talk about that for hours! Disability and poverty are so connected, and some say the whole structure and the whole system is broken. Well, unfortunately, the whole system is actually working exactly how it was designed.

It is keeping disabled people in poverty because that’s how the system was structured. And so it’s not that the system was broken. The system has to be completely corrected. And what I mean by that is that so many of our policies have been designed to keep disabled people out of work, to keep disabled people from actually building wealth, and to keep disabled people from even getting the care that they need to live independently.

Some of our healthcare policies really actually preference institutional care, not living in a community.

So undoing that entangled web of policies that really focus on keeping people with disabilities in poverty is extraordinarily difficult, and that’s something that we have to do. Even outside of wealth, I would say, social and political capital that people hold? Leveraging that as we start to make some work on all of this is going to be really important.

JJ: CounterSpin listeners will have heard us referenced the “Medicaid divorce,” in which people have to get divorced in order to keep their health care because if they’re married, or they can’t get married, because together, they make too much money. It’s cruel, and it’s often hidden, I think, to other folks.

KK: Yeah, absolutely. And there’s so many choices that I think so many people do have to make, and it’s just how you start to allocate funds to try to just live day to day.

I mean, I acknowledge that I have privilege, because I work at a great place that has health insurance. But I also am a high health cost user; I have infusions that without insurance would be $30,000 a month. Thank goodness for insurance. I also have to spend a lot of money towards that, because I could never qualify for Medicaid to help pay for that.

So you think about, even though I acknowledge the privilege that I have to be able to afford what I do, the whole system is stacked against you when you are a person with a disability and trying to get the care you need, from the cost of prescriptions, the cost of specialists, the cost of getting home, community-based living, the cost of a direct care worker, trying to access the workplace you need. And the list goes on.

JJ: And the Disability Economic Justice Collaborative is saying there are things we can do, there are policy changes that we can make, that can, as you’re saying, not tweak and not fiddle with and “perfect” the system that we have, but really fundamentally overhaul it.

Century Foundation (1/12/23)

KK: Absolutely. So much of what we do does tinker on the edges, and we’re saying we need to stop just tinkering. And so much of disability policy is siloed, and again, we’ve been caught in this web that I mentioned before for so long.

Instead, what we’re saying is, let’s bring a lens of disability to all economic policymaking: food security, transportation, housing.

What we are trying to do at the Disability Economic Justice Collaborative is really bring a disability lens to all economic policymaking. And that’s really the goal, whether, again, you’re doing all of these different policies, it’s trying to embed disability into every single piece that you are working on.

So we are saying, let’s center the values that disabled people need, and bring that into all of our domestic policy work.

So I’m going to give an example. We believe every disabled person needs to have access to reliable, affordable and accessible transportation. That’s something that’s fundamental. And so we want to see that, no matter what the bill is, what the proposal is, what the law is, regulation—I could go on, right?—that’s the goal we want to see throughout. And the same thing for healthcare, access to healthcare they need, access to food.

And so we’ve developed a framework, we call it the Disability Economic Justice Policy framework; we want to see that embedded into domestic policymaking to really move the needle on how we think about policymaking with a disability lens.

JJ: Because every issue is a disability issue. And that goes for media as well as for policy. Every story that impacts disabled people should include awareness of the impact, is my feeling.

It’s not bad to have occasional reports that focus solely on disability or the disabled community. But if you’re reporting rent hikes or food prices or criminal justice, well, disabled people are in that reality, so they should be in the story.

Do you have any thoughts, finally, about media coverage?

KK: Yeah, I think it is really important for media coverage to think more about disability. I think one of the things we see is—you’re exactly right, there will be a story about something related to disability and then you won’t see something else until it’s very disability-centric, and everything in between ignores that disability exists.

And we know that that’s just not how disability is in our lives. Disability is part of the natural human experience.

And so, very much so, I think disability just needs to be embedded more into the stories that we hear about, and part of the narrative throughout everyone’s life.

I also would encourage, in the media, that it’s not about disability being an “inspiration.” I think that’s where the lean tends to go when there is a disability-centric story. And it’s just, disability is part of the life that we all live, and here’s the story that happens to be about a disabled person, or a narrative that we’re talking about.

And so those are some of the pieces that I think would be great to think about more.

JJ: We’ve been speaking with Kim Knackstedt of the Century Foundation and the Disability Economic Justice Collaborative. You can find their work online at TCF.org. Kim Knackstedt, thank you so much for joining us this week on CounterSpin.

KK: Thanks for having me.


The post ‘The Whole System Is Stacked Against a Person With a Disability’ appeared first on FAIR.

‘Let’s Target Job Creation to These Forgotten Places and People’ - CounterSpin interview with Algernon Austin on race and unemployment

FAIR - March 15, 2023 - 12:23pm


Janine Jackson interviewed CEPR’s Algernon Austin about race and unemployment for the March 10, 2023, episode of CounterSpin. This is a lightly edited transcript.

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Janine Jackson: The unspoken premise of most major news reporting is that people are all independent economic actors, making choices about what skills to acquire, what workplace to work at, what salary to negotiate. The economy, overall, reflects the range of those choices and their impacts. The idea that people find themselves in jobs or sectors with differing pay scales and workplace rights informs what news media see as acceptable states of affairs, and what they present as reasonable interventions.

Which is why it takes an active effort to see the role that policy has played, and does play, in shaping employment opportunities, and, what’s more, how using policy to help people would reflect not the insertion of the government hand into a hitherto untampered-with realm, but simply the use of policy to address a keystone problem.

Algernon Austin is the director for race and economic justice at the Center for Economic and Policy Research, and author of, most recently, America Is Not Post-Racial: Xenophobia, Islamophobia, Racism and the 44th President.

He joins us now by phone. Welcome to CounterSpin, Algernon Austin.

Algernon Austin: It’s a pleasure to be with you.

Ascent (2/19/23)

JJ: The headlines tell me that unemployment in the United States is at a record low, and you sort of seem uninformed or churlish to not acknowledge, if not celebrate, that.

But it’s important, isn’t it, to recognize the limits of that raw number? What and who is being obscured there?

AA: Absolutely. The unemployment rate, it’s a valid statistical measure. However, it’s important to recognize its limitations.

To be counted as unemployed, you have to be actively looking for work in the past four weeks. And if you have faced significant obstacles in finding work, or if you are unfortunate enough to live in some of our more economically depressed areas, then you’re not likely to be actively looking for work, because you’ve been rejected repeatedly from employers, or you look around your community and you know that there are no jobs available.

And for individuals in those circumstances, they stopped actively looking for work, although they would like to work. But even though they don’t have a job and would like to work, because they’re not actively looking for work, they are not counted as unemployed.

So in that way, the unemployment rate presents a significant undercount of the overall rate of joblessness. And the undercount is most severe in populations that, as I mentioned, face a lot of discrimination in the labor market, or live in more economically disadvantaged communities.

So that means that, although the Black unemployment rate has been consistently about twice the white unemployment rate for the last 60 years–so this two-to-one ratio has been a permanent, sort of structural feature of our economy–although that Black unemployment rate being twice the white rate is still a high rate, it still undercounts the Black joblessness by a significant degree.

So, if we had a count of Black joblessness, it would be a multiple, two, three, four times what the official Black unemployment rate is.

JJ: I wanted to ask you, because part of the celebration about the relatively low unemployment rate has said, “and this is also reflecting advances in terms of Black employment.” So what is the status, you’ve just indicated it, but comparative Black and white employment, or unemployment, is that changing, historically, that relationship?

CEPR (2/1/23)

AA: No, over the last 60 years—and I highlight 60 years because this is the 60th anniversary of the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. And the title, March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom—this is the march where Martin Luther King gave his famous “I Have a Dream” speech—people forget that there were significant economic demands, including demands for jobs, at that march.

And unfortunately, the Black unemployment rate was twice the white unemployment rate in 1963. It’s about twice the white unemployment rate today. And it’s been about twice the white unemployment rate for all 60 years. So this is a serious structural problem in American society, and it’s a problem because of racial discrimination in the labor market.

I talked about the economically depressed communities; Black communities have been hurt significantly by the decline in manufacturing, because of deindustrialization, etc.

And the broader problem, remember, I said that there’s lots of joblessness that’s not being counted. Mass incarceration that hit Black communities, and Black men particularly severely, contributes to that hidden joblessness in Black communities. Because if you’re a Black man and you have a criminal record, it becomes very difficult for you to find work, among the Black populations that are not likely to be counted in unemployment statistics.

JJ: I want to talk to you a little bit about history, which is so relevant here, but often kind of dropped out. The history is there to be found, but it seems like only some things survive as a dominant narrative.

And one thing that has dropped out is the role that the government played with regard to jobs during the Great Depression. And I wonder if you could just tell listeners a little something about that, and the import of that history today?

AA: Yes, it’s important to recognize, people don’t fully recognize—this gets me to a sort of tangential issue—our discourse about the working class in the United States tends to be coded white, but the majority of Black people are working-class people, the majority of Latino people are working-class people. And increasingly, as our country becomes more racially and ethnically diverse, the working class is every day becoming more and more racially and ethnically diverse.

So we really have to change our thinking: When we think about working class, remember that we’re also talking about the majority of Black people, and the majority of the Latino or Hispanic population.

So the WPA, the Works Progress Administration during the Great Depression, it’s really important for people to realize that in response to this massive economic downturn and massive high rates of unemployment, the government stepped in and directly created jobs for people.

And the positive thing about that is that it included Black people. And at the height of the WPA jobs program, over 400,000 Black workers were employed by the WPA.

So this is a really important example, because it shows that the federal government can create jobs, and can employ Black workers.

Algernon Austin: “Because a lot of Black joblessness is not counted in the unemployment rate, we still have a massive need for jobs in Black communities.”

Today, as I mentioned, even in a period of historically low unemployment rate for Black people, because the Black unemployment rate is still twice the white unemployment rate, and because a lot of Black joblessness is not counted in the unemployment rate, we still have a massive need for jobs in Black communities.

And the WPA shows us that the federal government can actually address this, through direct job creation, through subsidized employment programs, which is what the WPA was.

And I’m actually involved in a campaign that’s called Full Employment for All, that’s calling for the federal government to create a national subsidized employment program that’s targeted to communities that suffer from persistently high rates of joblessness, and people can find out about that, and sign on to it, at the website FullEmploymentForAll.org.

And although we’re talking about the importance and the crisis of joblessness for Black people, it’s important to recognize that there are other places across the country that also have significant levels of joblessness.

So, in Appalachia, you also have significant joblessness. In the Southwest, you can find several communities with high levels of joblessness. Among the Native American or American Indian population, you can find many of those communities suffering from high rates of joblessness.

President Biden, in his State of the Union address, talked about forgotten places and people. And so Full Employment for All is about, let’s target job creation to these forgotten places and people, and include them in the American economy.

JJ: Let me just ask you, finally, on the level of ideas and in terms of media, it’s seen as unserious or unsophisticated to say that you can’t understand why we have lots of people who want jobs and lots of jobs that want doing, and the idea that the government would play a role in connecting those things is somehow not serious.

And I just wonder how we fight that.

AA: Yeah, it’s like you said, I think, in your introduction, the government exists to serve the people, the government exists to make our lives better.

And, unfortunately, the American government does do that. But unfortunately, it does that primarily for the wealthy people who pay the lobbyists.

So the government is constantly enacting policies that help people–it’s often helping wealthy people via helping corporations.

But what we saw during the Great Depression, with the WPA, was the government working to help average working people. And we need more efforts to get our policymakers to enact policies that help average working people, or average people who would like to work, as I’m doing in the Full Employment for All campaign, making sure the government provides jobs for those people.

JJ: We’ve been speaking with Algernon Austin; he’s director for race and economic justice at the Center for Economic and Policy Research. They’re online at CEPR.net. And that website we’ve discussed is FullEmploymentForAll.org. Thank you so much, Algernon Austin, for joining us this week on CounterSpin.

AA: It’s been a great pleasure for me.


The post ‘Let’s Target Job Creation to These Forgotten Places and People’ appeared first on FAIR.

Wrath at Khan: Right Sets Sights at FTC for Regulating Tech

FAIR - March 14, 2023 - 5:08pm


Federal Trade Commission chair Lina Khan is bent on holding Twitter and its owner, Elon Musk, accountable—and the right-wing outrage machine isn’t having it.

The FTC has been investigating Twitter’s security policies, the Washington Post (3/9/23) reported, “following an explosive whistleblower complaint accusing the company of violating a 2011 settlement that required it implement privacy safeguards.” The probe has expanded, the Post explained, since Musk’s takeover last year,

as former employees warned that broad staff departures of key employees could leave the company unable to comply with the agreements it made with the FTC to protect data privacy.

The New York Post (3/8/23) charged that “Big Brother” was going after Elon Musk for “dar[ing to] expose the federal government’s lies on Covid and its collusion with tech giants on Russiagate and Hunter’s laptop.”

The Wall Street Journal editorial board (3/8/23) called Khan “unrestrained.”

The New York Post editorial board (3/8/23) invoked George Orwell as it explained that in addition to “digging into Twitter’s layoffs,” the FTC is “also demanding all internal communications by, from or about Musk.”

Republicans see Khan’s probe as politically motivated against Musk, an outspoken right-wing partisan on issues like trans rights (Newsweek, 12/12/22) and labor unions (NPR, 3/3/22). Musk threw his support behind the Republicans in the most recent midterm elections (Politico, 11/7/22).

Intensified obsession

This marks an intensification of the right’s obsession with Khan. Robert Bork, Jr. (son of the Supreme Court nominee) called for Congress to investigate her (Wall Street Journal, 3/2/23). As Bloomberg (3/2/23) reported, the US Chamber of Commerce, tech companies and Koch-backed groups have attacked her antitrust campaigns. It said:

Since 2021, Khan has been mentioned in 43 editorials, op-eds and letters to the editor in the Wall Street Journal. Jonathan Kanter, who heads the US Department of Justice’s antitrust efforts, appears in five. Khan’s critics have gotten personal at times, and some people say it’s impossible to ignore their sexist tone. “There is no doubt that Chair Khan is being subjected to what’s really a disproportionate level of critique that is not based in the substance. It’s really based in personal attacks on her gender, her race, age and then also the fact she is trying to use an agency’s authority to enforce the law, which has not been done for a generation,” says Morgan Harper, director of policy and advocacy at the American Economic Liberties Project, which supports strong antitrust action.

Christine Wilson wrote a Wall Street Journal op-ed (2/14/23) saying she was resigning from as an FTC commissioner because Lina Khan hadn’t recused herself from a decision involving Meta after criticizing Meta’s acquisitions as a private citizen. But Wilson didn’t have any problem voting in favor of a Bristol-Myers Squibb acquisition after she worked on antitrust issues for the drug company as a private lawyer (Legal Dive, 2/15/23).

In an op-ed at the Wall Street Journal (2/14/23) announcing her resignation, the FTC’s last Republican commissioner, Christine Wilson, painted Khan as a bull in a china shop, acting with “disregard for the rule of law and due process.” CNBC (2/14/23) reported:

Khan’s approach has come with risk, as most recently evidenced by the FTC’s failure in court to block Meta’s proposed acquisition of VR fitness app developer Within Unlimited. But those who support Khan tend to argue that if regulators win all their cases, they’re likely not bringing enough of them.

Wilson criticized the fact that Khan had not recused herself from an administrative proceeding on the Meta/Within deal based on her statements before joining the agency advocating for keeping the company from making future acquisitions. Wilson also admonished the two other commissioners, who supported her decision. The FTC ended up dropping the administrative proceeding anyway after failing to win a preliminary injunction in federal court.

The Wall Street Journal editorial board (2/6/23) also ridiculed Khan for losing the case.

Mark Zuckerberg, chair and co-founder of Meta (formerly Facebook), has been a Republican punching bag for some while (AP, 8/8/21; New York Post, 10/13/21; Independent, 8/26/22). But the right presented Khan’s legal action against his company’s growth as overreach. The conservative National Taxpayers Union (2/1/23) called the FTC’s loss in the Meta case “a victory for innovators and startups.”

A mess to clean up

The right enjoys using Elon Musk’s Twitter to censor its foes (Intercept, 12/16/22) the way it pretends the left was able to do under the old regime.

Khan’s probe into Twitter has brought the vitriol to a new level, as the right paints Musk as their man on the inside of Big Tech, fighting perceived internet censorship of conservatives (Fox News, 12/19/22). As a result, while conservatives have railed against social media companies at election time, actual government action against Twitter is no longer welcome.

Progressives like Democratic Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren (CNBC, 3/8/19) and independent Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders (Politico, 7/16/19) have long sought to break up Big Tech, so left and right agree, at least rhetorically, that Big Tech and social media companies have too much unchecked power. Khan, from her record, is acting on that sentiment.

There’s good reason for a serious regulator to see Twitter as needing supervision to ensure customers’ rights are being respected, and that one of the world’s richest humans has not amassed too much power. Here is just a taste of the mess Musk has caused:

  • The departure of top security staff and roll outs of new policies under Musk has meant that Twitter is “exposing itself to a deluge of new security risks that could soon ramify into the public sphere, according to top cyber experts and those who’ve overseen cybersecurity at other companies” (Politico, 11/11/22).
  • “The European Union told Elon Musk to hire more human moderators and factcheckers to review posts on Twitter” (Reuters, 3/7/23).
  • Musk’s Twitter has censored journalists and left-wing activists (Intercept, 12/16/22; Independent, 1/29/23).
  • Twitter “complied with an Indian government request to delete all links to a BBC documentary critical of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, according to journalists and free speech advocates in the country” (Hollywood Reporter, 1/24/23).
  • Musk was forced to publicly apologize after he publicly mocked a disabled worker (AP, 3/7/23).
  • Rep. Jared Moskowitz (D-Florida) asked Musk “how he plans to combat the rise of antisemitism on the social media platform” after Moskowitz said his “Twitter account received ‘hundreds of hateful, divisive comments’ after he posted a video clip of himself pointing out the spread of antisemitism on the platform” (The Hill, 2/10/23).
  • Twitter has allegedly failed to make rent payments (Wall Street Journal, 1/23/23).
  • Janitors at the company headquarters went on strike because “Twitter reportedly failed to negotiate new contracts with Flagship, the company responsible for hiring the janitors” (Gizmodo, 12/6/22), which, in addition to being an anti-labor practice, has meant unsanitary conditions (New York Post, 12/30/22).
Trying to ‘harass business’

The right pretends to be opposed to Big Tech—but leaps to the defense of Facebook and Google when anyone tries to regulate them (Fox News, 1/30/23).

Republicans and the Rupert Murdoch empire want to portray themselves as defending Musk and Twitter against some kind of partisan inquisition, but the fact is that the right has always opposed Khan for her aggressiveness against corporate giants—whether Big Tech, anti–Big Tech or just big.

For example, the Wall Street Journal editorial board (1/8/23) railed against her campaign to curb noncompete clauses, a position the paper saw as support for organized labor. The paper (7/5/21) also accused her of simply trying to “harass business.” Walmart, a notoriously anti-union company, accused Khan’s FTC of “agency overreach” (Fox News, 8/31/22).

While Fox News (1/30/23) complained generally about the Biden administration’s overzealous antitrust action against Google and Meta, it took special aim at Khan, saying she wrote “a law school paper complaining about Amazon’s prices being too low.”

What her Yale Law Journal article (1/17) actually said, according to the New York Times (9/7/18), was that Amazon “should not get a pass on anticompetitive behavior just because it makes customers happy.” And since “monopoly laws have been marginalized…Amazon is amassing structural power that lets it exert increasing control over many parts of the economy.”

Fox also complained that Khan “lauded a far-left organization that…calls for universal basic income.” This policy actually exists in Republican-voting Alaska, and is discussed approvingly in the University of Pennsylvania business journal Knowledge at Wharton (5/10/18).

Murdoch and GOP sympathy for Musk is about corporate ownership class solidarity against Khan, whose mission riles the One Percent. This only makes Khan’s work on Twitter and so many other corporate giants seem all the more necessary.

The post Wrath at Khan: Right Sets Sights at FTC for Regulating Tech appeared first on FAIR.

Anonymous Sources Are Newsworthy—When They Talk to NYT, Not Seymour Hersh

FAIR - March 10, 2023 - 5:16pm


When the New York Times (3/7/23) makes a claim based on anonymous US officials, other media take note—because everyone knows anonymous US officials wouldn’t lie to the New York Times.

The New York Times (3/7/23) on Tuesday ended its month-long boycott of veteran investigative reporter Seymour Hersh’s February 8 story claiming the US destroyed the Nord Stream gas pipeline.

The Times didn’t challenge Hersh’s story. It barely mentioned it. Instead, the Times reported “new intelligence” that “suggests” a pro-Ukrainian group was responsible.

No firm details are provided, simply speculation, and the only sources cited are anonymous US officials.

Hersh’s source also is unnamed, but is described as having “direct knowledge of the operational planning” of the operation. In contrast to the Times story’s lack of specifics, Hersh’s 5,000-word narrative provides extensive details of how US officials—at the direction of President Joe Biden—planned and executed the operation, using US Navy divers who used the cover of a NATO naval exercise in June to plant explosives, which were remotely detonated September 26.

Strikingly different treatment

The response of the nation’s major news organizations to the two stories also couldn’t have been more different.

While big news internationally, Hersh’s story was not reported by any of the major US corporate broadcast networks—NBC, ABC and CBS—or the public broadcasters, PBS and NPR. Nor did the nation’s major cable outlets, CNN, MSNBC and Fox News, cover the story (FAIR.org, 3/3/23).

The Washington Post (3/7/23) proves that it too is able to find government officials willing to promote the official line with no accountability.

The Washington Post ignored Hersh’s story for two weeks, and then mentioned it (2/22/23) only after Russia cited Hersh’s story in calling for a UN investigation of the bombing. But the Post didn’t hesitate to follow the Times later Tuesday with its own story (3/7/23), headlined “Intelligence Officials Suspect Ukraine Partisans Behind Nord Stream Bombings, Rattling Kyiv’s Allies.” Like the Times, the Post relied solely on anonymous sources to attribute responsibility for the sabotage, who provided little in the way of details about how the bombing was accomplished.

In a striking example of how differently the large corporate news outlets treat Hersh, the Post credited its rival newspaper for breaking the story, but did not mention Hersh at all.

The Post story did add one significant development—that shortly after the Times story was published, German news media had reported that investigators in Europe “had identified a small team of saboteurs using a yacht rented from a company in Poland that was ‘apparently owned by two Ukrainians.’”

‘First significant lead’

Fox News (3/7/23) also jumped on the Times story later Tuesday, but added nothing new. Hersh’s story was mentioned in two sentences at the end of the story and described as a “blog post” that “the White House last month dismissed….”

CNN (3/8/23) also reported the Times story within 24 hours, but with a new element: “The German prosecutors’ office told CNN Wednesday they searched a boat in January that was suspected of carrying explosives.” The CNN story did not mention Hersh.

If the New York Times says so, it’s news (MSNBC, 3/8/23).

That same day, MSNBC ran a segment featuring NBC News reporter Molly Hunter (3/8/23), who repeated the Times’ claim that its story was “the first significant lead” in the investigation of the bombing. It also failed to mention Hersh.

A statement from German officials confirming that investigators in January had searched a vessel suspected of carrying explosives used in the bombing was reported by NBC News (3/8/23) and the Associated Press. The AP dispatch was picked up by ABC News (3/8/23) and PBS (3/8/23). All credited the Times story; none mentioned Hersh.

NPR did its own report Wednesday (3/8/23), which referenced a high Ukrainian government official “questioning recent reports that a pro-Ukraine group was behind the undersea bombings.” The official was quoted saying the reports by the Times and Germany’s Die Zeit newspaper (3/7/23), which first reported the suspected involvement of a yacht, “had ‘lots of assumptions and anonymous conjecture but not real facts.’”

While giving voice to skepticism about the Times story, NPR did not discuss Hersh’s alternative take.

Summarizing the scorecard, all three major cable news outlets—CNN, MSNBC and Fox News—publicized the Times story within a day of publication. Of the five major corporate and public broadcasters, NBC, ABC, PBS and NPR carried the story; only CBS remained silent.

As for Hersh, the blackout remains, with the sole exception of the two sentences totaling 49 words shirt-tailed to the Fox News report.

AP embarrasses itself

What’s not known about Nord Stream explosions (AP, 3/8/23): how to spell Seymour Hersch [sic].

The Associated Press (3/8/23) finally mentioned Hersh’s reporting late Wednesday, in a round-up piece headlined “A Global Mystery: What’s Known About Nord Stream Explosions.” But the 176-year-old nonprofit cooperative news agency, which prides itself on unbiased reporting adhering to old-school journalistic standards of objectivity, managed to both disrespect Hersh, a Pulitzer Prize winner and one of the most famous investigative reporters in the nation, and embarrass itself by misspelling his name:

After months of few developments in the probes, American investigative journalist Seymour Hersch, known for past exposes of US government malfeasance, self-published a lengthy report in February alleging that President Joe Biden had ordered the sabotage, which Hersch said was carried out by the CIA with Norwegian assistance.

That report, based on a single, unidentified source, has been flatly denied by the White House, the CIA and the State Department, and no other news organization has been able to corroborate it. Russia, followed by China, however, leaped on Hersch’s reporting, saying it was grounds for a new and impartial investigation conducted by the United Nations.

The misspelling was not corrected until the next day.

Zero times any number is zero

Snopes (2/10/23) has not yet run a piece criticizing the New York Times article (3/7/23) for relying on anonymous sourcing.

AP wasn’t alone in casting doubt about Hersh’s story by stressing it is “based on a single, unidentified source,” while failing to note the Times piece also rested entirely on anonymous “US officials.”

A Business Insider piece (2/9/23) published the day after Hersh posted his story, derided his account of the bombing as an “evidence-free theory,” noting his claims “appear to rely on a single unnamed source.”

Republished by Yahoo! (2/9/23) and MSN (2/9/23), the Business Insider article was the primary source of an article by the factchecking site Snopes (2/10/23), with the headline “Claim That US Blew up Nord Stream Pipelines Relies on Anonymous Source.”

It can be argued that the New York Times was exempted from such criticism because it didn’t rely on just one source; the plural “US officials” appears 16 times in the story.

But if Hersh’s unnamed source has zero credibility, then so does each source included under the umbrella of “US officials” at the Times. The laws of mathematics should apply: Zero times any number is still zero.


The post Anonymous Sources <i>Are</i> Newsworthy—When They Talk to NYT, Not Seymour Hersh appeared first on FAIR.

A Taste of What’s in Store if Right-Wing Zealots Get Green Light to Sue Media

FAIR - March 10, 2023 - 3:32pm


Michael Knowles at CPAC (3/4/23): “Transgenderism must be eradicated from public life.”

Michael Knowles, host of the Daily Wire’s right-wing Michael Knowles Show, has accused several news outlets of libel for their coverage of his speech at CPAC (Twitter, 3/4/23). The affair illustrates the kind of ideological pretzel-twisting right-wing media go through to make themselves look like victims of free speech suppression, but it’s no laughing matter: This is the kind of censorship and bullying of journalists the right is hoping will be standard practice if the Supreme Court implements its anti-press agenda.

Knowles at CPAC (3/4/23) declared that “for the good of society…transgenderism must be eradicated from public life entirely.” Rolling Stone (3/4/23) initially reported this under the headline “CPAC Speaker Calls for Transgender People to Be ‘Eradicated,’”  which Knowles called libelous. (The magazine’s headline is now “CPAC Speaker Calls for Eradication of ‘Transgenderism’—and Somehow Claims He’s Not Calling for Elimination of Transgender People.”) Alyssa Cordova (Twitter, 3/4/23), a public relations executive for the Daily Wire, called for retractions from HuffPo and the Daily Beast for their headlines as well.

Knowles and Cordovas’ argument is that Knowles didn’t specifically say society needed to eradicate transgender people, but that it must eradicate “transgenderism”—whatever that means. Like Rolling Stone, Daily Beast (3/4/23) also changed its headline to address “transgenderism.” A headline in HuffPost (3/4/23) now doesn’t mention “trans” or “transgenderism” but said Knowles’ comments “sound downright genocidal.”

‘A preposterous ideology’

Rolling Stone‘s revised headline (3/4/23) attempted to deal with the libel threat while still conveying the point of Knowles’ speech.

At first glance, the changes to the Rolling Stone and the Daily Beast headlines after Knowles’ online tantrum could seem innocent enough, but it’s hard to imagine media outlets being so generous to an incendiary speaker if the tables were turned. If someone said, “Christianity should be eradicated,” and media heard that as a call against all Christians, the excuse “I didn’t say I wanted to eradicate Christian people—I just want to eradicate their ideas, liturgy, houses of worship, freedom to identify as Christians and their entire way of life” is probably not going to hold up well in the court of public opinion.

But “transgenderism” is a tricky word that was once a broadly used term referring to people with a gender identity different from the one they were assigned at birth. Now, however, it’s used almost exclusively by the right to paint trans identity as some sort of political agenda to undo God’s gender order (Focus on the Family, 9/13/15), a campaign to influence children into a new “gender ideology” (Focus on the Family, 9/13/15) and an abomination on par with gay rights and abortion rights (Fox News, 11/2/22). Knowles, in his speech, called “transgenderism” a “preposterous ideology” that he knows to be “false.”

Being transgender isn’t a political ideology, just as being gay or straight aren’t ideologies. But in the right’s ongoing moral panic about gender identity, trans people aren’t simply a population that exists, but the foot soldiers in the anti-Christ’s campaign to use “they” pronouns and gender-neutral bathrooms to upend established orders.

Sarah Kate Ellis, CEO of the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation, said in a statement to FAIR:

“Transgenderism” is a phony term made up by anti-transgender activists and used to dehumanize transgender people and target them, their lifesaving healthcare and access to society. Similar hate speech about “eradicating” human beings has been used by extremists throughout history… This rhetoric is horrifically irresponsible and endangers innocent people and children. Responsible media must accurately describe terms used to target transgender people as hate speech, and identify those who use this rhetoric on any platform as anti-trans activists.

Politics of transphobia 

There is an extremist ideology seeking to impose its views of gender on society—it’s called “Republicanism.” (Washington Post, 3/1/23).

The conservative use of the word “transgenderism” is a form of projection, a distorted mirror image of their own reactionary political agenda that seeks to eradicate access to healthcare, free speech, spaces to exist and protections for people who deviate too far from established norms about binary gender.

In Tennessee, the Republican governor signed bills “banning drag shows in public spaces, a measure that will likely force drag shows underground in Tennessee,” and a “ban on gender-affirming healthcare for youth” (NPR, 3/2/23). Another proposed measure (Washington Post, 3/1/23) “would effectively cut off access to gender-affirming care for low-income people, including adults,” by prohibiting “Tennessee’s Medicaid program from working with health insurance companies that cover gender-affirming care.” Meanwhile, “Republican lawmakers in at least five states have introduced legislation that would limit such care for adults.”

Last year, Michigan saw a bill that sought to “potentially sentence parents of transgender children to life in prison if they allow their child to obtain gender-affirming treatments” (MetroWeekly, 10/27/22). The Georgia state senate has “passed a bill that would prohibit medical professionals from giving transgender children certain hormones or surgical treatment that assists them” in transitioning (Atlanta Journal-Constitution, 3/6/23).

Florida has proposed bills limiting the use of preferred pronouns (Washington Post, 3/5/23) and another that would “allow disapproving parents to take ‘emergency jurisdiction’ over their children if the minor receives or is ‘at risk of’ receiving gender-affirming care—or if their custodial parent receives it themselves” (Insider, 3/4/23). The American Civil Liberties Union (1/19/23) has cited more than 120 bills introduced this year aimed at “restricting LGBTQ people, targeting their freedom of expression, the safety of transgender students, and access to healthcare for gender dysphoria.”

‘False account of human nature’

Knowles literally demonizing trans people (LA Blade, 2/7/23).

Knowles is very much a part of the media arm of this political crusade, and he often mixes the style of a late-night AM radio preacher with the banality of someone begging for a job with the Trump Organization. He said “depictions of demons” are “always trans. And the reason for that is that the Devil hates human beings, and sexual difference is, basically, at the very core of human nature” (LA Blade, 2/7/23). He has called on states to “ban transgenderism entirely” (Vice, 3/3/23).

(As an aside, I’ve seen a lot of horror flicks and been to a lot of museums, and Knowles’ assertion about the sexual identity of demons is certainly going to leave a lot of cinephiles and art historians scratching their heads.)

Knowles (Twitter, 2/1/23) said that former President Donald Trump “is calling to outlaw transgender ideology—not just for little kids, not just in classrooms or certain federal programs—at every level. This is an *excellent* development.” He declared (KSNT, 3/31/22): “Transgenderism is simply not true. It is a false account of human nature which holds that one’s true self has nothing to do with reality.”

It’s not hard to infer that if a “false account of human nature” is “eradicated,” no one would subscribe to this “false account”—i.e., there would be no more trans people. If Knowles ever does take his case against these media outlets—despite the changes in headlines—to court, he would have to argue that his words don’t mean what they seem to mean.

‘Created a monster’

Without Sullivan, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis could sue you for calling his “Don’t Say Gay” law a “Don’t Say Gay” law (Slate, 3/26/22).

Knowles was partly successful in forcing the media to bury this inference, and that’s part of the broader problem. For FAIR (3/1/23, 2/25/22, 3/26/21), I have repeatedly covered the right’s desire to overturn New York Times v. Sullivan, a Supreme Court decision that protects people against defamation lawsuits from powerful people, noting that “public figures”—of which Knowles is certainly one—must prove “actual malice,” which is to say a “reckless disregard for the truth,” for the case to go forward.

In this instance, Utah Republican Sen. Mike Lee (Twitter, 3/5/23) said that the headlines about Knowles are proof that Sullivan “has created a monster—giving the news media a license to lie about any public figure who can’t prove that the reporter acted with ‘actual malice,’ which is nearly impossible.”

Lee isn’t blowing hot air when it comes to exerting state power over the media. Republican Florida State Sen. Jason Brodeur has proposed a bill “requiring bloggers to register with the Office of Legislative Services or the Commission on Ethics…[and] requiring such bloggers to file monthly reports with the appropriate office by a certain date.” This comes after the state enacted legislation to police speech in schools around LGBTQ identity (Slate, 3/26/22). In Texas, a bill seeks to “force internet providers to block websites containing information about obtaining an abortion” (Vanity Fair, 3/1/23).

In short, the right wants the freedom to spout their hateful ideology, but to be protected from criticism in the press. The Daily Wire’s quick attack on media outlets that accurately put Knowles’ comments in their actual political context shows the lengths the right will go to in order to suppress their critics in the media. And if they take down the Sullivan standard, they will have far more power to do so.

The post A Taste of What’s in Store if Right-Wing Zealots Get Green Light to Sue Media appeared first on FAIR.

Kim Knackstedt on Disability Policy, Algernon Austin on Unemployment & Race

FAIR - March 10, 2023 - 10:41am
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Judy Heumann

This week on CounterSpin:  “I wanna see feisty disabled people change the world.” So declared disability rights activist Judy Heumann, who died last weekend at age 75. As a child with polio, Heumann was denied entry to kindergarten on grounds that her wheelchair was a fire hazard. Later, she was denied a teachers license for reasons no more elevated. She sued, won and became the first teacher in New York to use a wheelchair. Media love those kinds of breakthroughs, and they matter. Here’s hoping they’ll extend their interest into the barriers disabled people face in 2023, and how policy changes could address them. We’ll talk with Kim Knackstedt, senior fellow at the Century Foundation and director of the Disability Economic Justice Collaborative.

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March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, 1963

And speaking of problems that aren’t actually behind us: You will have heard that the US is experiencing “blowout job growth,” and unemployment is at a “historic low,” with gains extending even to historically marginalized Black people. Algernon Austin from the Center for Economic Policy and Research will help us understand how employment data can obscure even as it reveals, and how—if our problem is joblessness—there are, in fact, time-tested responses.

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The post Kim Knackstedt on Disability Policy, Algernon Austin on Unemployment & Race appeared first on FAIR.

WaPo’s All-White Edit Board Decides DC Can’t Be Trusted With Democracy After All 

FAIR - March 9, 2023 - 5:20pm


The Washington Post (3/3/23) blamed the DC Council for forcing Biden to choose “public safety over home rule for the capital city.”

President Joe Biden surprised fellow Democrats when he reversed course and announced he would support a Republican resolution to nullify an overhaul of crime laws passed by the Washington, DC, Council. While Congress has the authority to override DC legislation, it hasn’t done so in more than 30 years, making this move a dangerous new precedent at a time when Republicans are eager to use state power to swat down any progressive advances.

Some observers (Slate, 3/3/23; Popular Information, 3/7/23) called out Biden’s hypocrisy. The president’s move comes after he had both endorsed DC statehood and publicly opposed the resolution (2/6/23), arguing that it was a “clear [example] of how the District of Columbia continues to be denied true self-governance and why it deserves statehood.”

Hometown hypocrisy

Equally hypocritical is the big hometown paper, the Washington Post. The Post‘s editorial board has written forcefully for statehood on many occasions. “That the 650,000 people who live in the nation’s capital are denied their full rights as US citizens is a travesty that cannot be condoned and should not be continued,” it wrote in 2014 (9/12/14).

The Post (6/24/21) used to think it was outrageous that DC residents were “denied the basic democracy this country was founded on.”

In 2020, the board (6/26/20) called it “a civil rights issue,” and lamented that DC’s

conduct of municipal affairs—as has been made painfully clear in recent weeks when the Trump administration shortchanged DC’s effort to deal with Covid-19 and unleashed federal troops against peaceful protesters—is subject to the whims of those who sit in the White House and Congress.

More recently, the board (6/24/21) contended:

The ugly truth that statehood opponents look away from is that more than 700,000 residents of DC are denied the basic democracy this country was founded on. They are taxed—paying more federal income tax per capita than any state—without equal say in the federal laws that govern them, and the decisions of their local government are subject to the whims of Congress.

But apparently the Post‘s position depends less on the principle of self-government and civil rights, and more on whether the board agrees with those congressional whims. Because rather than decry Congress’s nullification as a travesty, the editorial board (3/3/23) endorsed Biden’s decision to let it proceed. Writing that “it’s a shame it came to this,” the Post nevertheless declared approvingly that Biden “picked public safety over home rule for the capital city,” insisting that “Washingtonians have a right to feel and be safe.”

‘The right to intercede’

The Post (1/15/23) adopted Fox News‘ wildly misleading critique of the DC crime bill as its own.

The board had already made clear its willingness to sacrifice the idea of DC self-government on this issue, writing a week earlier (2/24/23) that “public safety in the District is foundational” and that “Congress’s concern…is understandable.” “It has the right to intercede,” the board insisted.

The board (11/11/22) has been outspoken about its opposition to the crime bill. Among its objections, “Foremost is the reduction in maximum sentences for certain violent offenses and too-lenient treatment of gun crimes.” The Post rhetorically asked of the DC Council, “What message will it send if it goes ahead with plans to reduce penalties for firearm offenses?”

In case the answer wasn’t clear enough, it headlined its next editorial on the subject (1/15/23), “DC’s Crime Bill Could Make the City More Dangerous.” That commentary claimed that the bill “​​will further tie the hands of police and prosecutors while overwhelming courts.”

In part, this would be because the bill would give people facing possible prison time the right to a jury trial, and it would “leave dangerous people on the streets as they await trial.” In other words, the Post would appear to object to the right to a jury of one’s peers and the right to be presumed innocent until proven guilty.

‘Uncontroversial moves’

Slate (1/21/23) explained that the DC bill is “not a liberal wishlist of soft-on-crime policies” but rather “an exhaustive and entirely mainstream blueprint for a more coherent and consistent legal system.”

As Mark Joseph Stern, a DC-based courts and law reporter for Slate (1/21/23), painstakingly explained, the bill “is not a traditional reform bill, but the result of a 16-year process to overhaul a badly outdated, confusing and often arbitrary criminal code.” It was drafted by an advisory group that included representatives from the DC attorney general’s office and the US attorney’s office, the two offices that prosecute all crimes in DC, and its revisions are “in line with uncontroversial moves conducted in red and blue jurisdictions alike since the 1960s.” The advisory group unanimously voted to submit its recommendations to the DC Council, which in turn unanimously passed the bill.

Rampant media claims that the bill would be “soft on crime” and decrease penalties, Stern writes, either maliciously or ignorantly misrepresent the more complicated reality:

The notion that the RCCA “softens” penalties for violent crime—especially carjacking and gun offenses—is false in every way that matters. To the contrary, the law increases penalties for a variety of crimes in ways designed to make their prosecution easier. The max penalty for several sex offenses is significantly higher under the RCCA. So is the max penalty for possessing an assault rifle, ghost gun, large capacity magazine or bomb. And the max for attempted murder surges from five years to 22.5 years.

With lengthy explanations and hyperlinks, Stern concluded that the claim that the bill “could increase violent crime is not borne out by data.”

Dismissing racial equity

Axios (2/28/23) noted that Capehart’s resignation left the Post “with an all-white editorial board…in a city where nearly half the population is Black.”

Stern also expressed frustration at the media campaign against the bill—led by Fox and conservative commentators, but eagerly embraced by the Post—as the bill “is not, and has never been, designed to reduce incarceration in DC,” despite the fact that “the District has one of the highest incarceration rates in the country.”

Those incarcerated are also over 90% Black, while the DC population is only 45% Black (DC DoC, 1/23). Meanwhile, Congress is 11% Black—and the Post editorial board is 100% white. (The board’s one Black member, Jonathan Capehart, resigned in December 2022, reportedly because, after Democratic Sen. Raphael Warnock won reelection, Capehart’s white colleagues insisted on a line mocking those who had warned about voter suppression in Georgia—Axios, 2/28/23; Washington Examiner, 2/28/23.)

Its January editorial was the only one of the board’s recent editorials on the reform bill in which the Post addressed issues of racial disparities or equity—and quickly dismissed them as unconvincing:

Proponents of the bill say African Americans are disproportionately convicted of violent crimes and couch their arguments in terms of equity. African Americans are also disproportionately victims of these same crimes.

According to a poll taken last year (HIT Strategies, 3/2/23), 83% of DC registered voters approved of the crime reform bill, including 86% of Black voters. The Post self-righteously condemns those who would deny DC self-governance—until it disagrees with the people’s decisions about how to govern themselves.

ACTION ALERT: You can send a message to the Washington Post at letters@washpost.com, or via Twitter @washingtonpost.

Please remember that respectful communication is the most effective. Feel free to leave a copy of your message in the comments thread here.

The post WaPo’s All-White Edit Board Decides DC Can’t Be Trusted With Democracy After All  appeared first on FAIR.

Right-Wing Media’s ‘Grooming’ Rhetoric Has Nothing to Do With Concern for Children

FAIR - March 9, 2023 - 11:37am


Tucker Carlson (Fox News, 9/19/22) invents an imaginary phenomenon in which young children are being trained in sexual practices by elementary schools. So whose “sexual fantasies” is he really talking about here?

In front of a graphic of fluffy pink handcuffs and “Kink for Kids” spelled out in blocks and crayon font, a red-faced Tucker Carlson (Fox News, 9/19/22) ranted about the story of a transgender Canadian high school teacher whose photos went viral on social media for wearing comically large prosthetic breasts to work.

This is a specialty of Carlson’s: taking one weird example of an individual’s behavior and attributing it to an entire movement or community to stoke moral panic. Carlson declared:

It’s hard to believe this is happening, but we’re sad to tell you it’s not just happening in Canada. You see versions of it everywhere, including in this country. And to be clear what this is, children being used as props in the sexual fantasies of adults.

From this single Canadian teacher’s cartoonishly inappropriate outfit, Carlson leaps—to teachers on social media talking about how they validate children when they disclose their sexualities and gender identities to them.

Then he leaps back to talking about pedophilia. This conflation is where the danger lies, both for LGBTQ individuals, and children who are actual survivors of sexual abuse.

What ‘grooming’ is—and isn’t

The term “grooming” has become a favorite of anti-LGBTQ politicians and right-wing media. Carlson said in the segment:

Some people describe what was happening, it is grooming. We’re not exactly sure what that means. But if it’s sexually abusing children, yes, that is what’s happening.

In fact, we do know what grooming means. The Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN) describes grooming as “manipulative behaviors that the abuser uses to gain access to a potential victim, coerce them to agree to the abuse, and reduce the risk of being caught.” It involves isolating victims, gaining their trust, and desensitizing them to inappropriate touch, sex and other forms of abuse.

Teaching children that some kids have two moms, or that certain people identify with a gender that does not match the one assigned to them based on their body parts, is not grooming. Having a drag queen in theatrical makeup read books to them is not grooming.

Vince Everett Ellison, on Tucker Carlson Tonight (1/24/23) to talk about “endless lies,” claims Democrats “want you to castrate little boys and cut off the breasts of little girls.”

Age-appropriate discussions about bodies, boundaries and relationships have been a regular part of school curriculums. It’s the introduction of LGBTQ-related topics in these discussions that sparked hysterical headlines and TV rants. A Carlson guest, author and documentarian Vince Everett Ellison—whose latest film is about how voting Democrat will keep you from Heaven—said in a January screed (Fox News, 1/24/23):

This is a party that believes in this transgender grooming thing to a point where…they want you to castrate little boys and cut off the breasts of little girls, and they’re telling people they’re not going to be held responsible for this.

Not only is the depiction of young children being castrated and receiving mastectomies graphic, it’s also untrue. If “little” children—i.e., those entering puberty—express a desire to transition, doctors may put them on reversible puberty blockers (which have been shown to reduce suicidal ideation in trans youth). Surgeries for youth under the age of 18 are relatively rare, and generally only done with the consent of the patient, their guardian and a doctor. And of course the language aired on Fox isn’t only meant to suggest child abuse; it also deliberately denies the gender identity of the young person requesting the gender-affirming surgery.

‘Your kids are ours’

Fox‘s Jesse Watters (9/23/22) interviews Mario Presents about his “Groom Dogs, Not Kids” T-shirt.

Fox‘s Jesse Watters, towards the start of his September 23 show, discussed the story of a Florida teacher convicted of sexually assaulting her 14-year-old student (Media Matters, 9/23/22). He moved on to bemoaning Covid school closures interrupting children’s education, then rounded out his segment by arguing that educating children about LGBTQ issues, like Critical Race Theory, is a form of Democratic indoctrination:

Sex and CRT become the new math and science. Kids are learning racism instead of reading. Do you think parents are pissed off about this? Of course, why wouldn’t they be? But, when they speak up, Democrats tell them to sit down, shut up and stay out of education: “Your kids are ours.”

To help him make his argument, Watters brought on Mario Presents, a “concerned uncle” who condemned LGBTQ education at a California school board meeting. Watters asks Presents about his shirt—which read, “Groom Dogs, Not Kids.”

“We love a pretty pet, but we don’t love kids being sexual,” Presents replied. “We don’t love…confusing them. We want kids to just be themselves.”

Presents also praised the work of “Gays Against Grooming” a conspiracy theorist, far-right operative -run anti-trans group masquerading as a grassroots organization (Media Matters, 2/7/23).

Validating a child’s stated identity, preferred name and pronouns is not “grooming.” There is, of course, nothing more inherently sexual about being homosexual or transgender than there is about being heterosexual and cisgender.

Dehumanizing myths

Julia Serano (Medium, 11/29/22): “The ‘grooming’ charge—as well as the related accusation that we are ‘sexualizing children‘—insinuates that LGBTQ+ people (but not cis-hetero people) are inherently sexually ‘contaminating’ and ‘corrupting.'”

But these far-right tropes aren’t new. Baselessly accusing a group of people of one of the worst crimes imaginable is a pretty surefire way to dehumanize them. Stigmatizing queer people by claiming they are sexually deviant is an age-old tactic. As Julia Serano notes in her blog for Medium (11/29/22), the “groomer” accusation recalls late 19th-century pseudoscience that claimed stigmatized people—like queer people, sex workers, poor people and disabled people—were evolving backwards, and that the mere exposure to them could make you evolve backwards, too.

The idea that merely learning about LGBTQ people and identities “causes” children to become queer has also been debunked. As Serano points out, several peer-reviewed studies have debunked the concept of transgender “social contagion,” an idea coined by a trans-skeptical parent online in 2016 and elaborated in a 2018 paper, “Rapid Onset Gender Dysphoria (ROGD),” by Lisa Littman. Flaws in the paper were called out in three peer-reviewed studies (Restar, 2020; Ashley, 2020; Pitts-Taylor, 2020), and the journal that published it later issued an apology and correction (PLoS, 3/19/19).

Serano also draws on earlier research to point to the likelihood that children like those in Littman’s study were most likely already trans or gender-diverse in some way, and seeking out access to information and support from peers similar to them. At least one study debunked the idea that same-sex attraction “spreads” among peer groups (Brakefield et al., 2014).

Serano also discusses the phenomenon of reduction of restraint. When a behavior is stigmatized, people who are inclined to engage in it are more likely to refrain:

In a 2017 essay, I argued that the current increased prevalence of trans people is akin to the increase in left-handedness (from 2% to 13%) during the 20th century once the stigma and punishment associated with being left-handed abated.

Hypocrisy and hatred

 The incorrect use of the term “groomer” is rooted more in thinly veiling right-wing media’s anti-LGBTQ hatred than it is in an actual desire to protect children from sexual content—or other dangers. As Serano astutely summarized in her blog:

They also often use “grooming” in reference to completely non-sexual things, such as rainbow flags hanging in classrooms, efforts to accommodate trans students, or when schools have nondiscrimination policies protecting LGBTQ+ people. While anti-trans/LGBTQ+ campaigners may frame their interventions in terms of “safeguarding children,” they rarely if ever express similar concern over actual cases of grooming and [child sexual abuse], the overwhelming majority of which are perpetrated by cis-hetero men who are family members or close acquaintances of the child.

The issue clearly isn’t about discussions or experiences involving cis-heteronormative sexuality or gender. It’s queerness itself that’s believed to be perverted. The Murdoch empire demonstrates this.

A father bragging about taking his nine-year-old son to Hooters didn’t prompt concern from the New York Post (11/23/22) about sexualizing children, but rather an array of boob puns.

A New York Post article (11/23/22) profiled a British father who took his 9-year-old son to Hooters to celebrate his good grades. “Tit for tot?” the article begins, later describing the restaurant as a “ta-ta temple.” It highlighted both critical and supportive responses to the stunt.

Teaching kids about gender diversity causes hosts like Fox’s Laura Ingraham to beat their chests in preparation for a culture war (Fox News, 4/7/22), and parents taking their kids to a drag show “normalize[s] the sexualization of kids” (10/19/22), yet this story evokes nothing more than a few lighthearted boob puns from Murdoch’s New York Post.

Meanwhile, children’s actual physical safety takes a backseat to “Don’t Say Gay” hysteria on Fox. Media Matters (4/1/22) documented Fox hosts melting down over Disney’s public opposition to Florida’s “Don’t Say Gay” bill in at least 53 segments over a week in 2022, accusing the company of grooming, indoctrinating and sexualizing children.

To compare, in December, a bipartisan bill supporting the welfare of child sex abuse victims was introduced in the House. Twenty-eight Republicans—including Lauren Boebert and Marjorie Taylor Greene, who have both referred to pro-LGBTQ advocates as “groomers” (CPR News, 11/22/22; Sacramento Bee, 11/25/22)—voted against the now-passed Respect for Child Survivors Act, which seeks to improve how the FBI handles cases of child sexual abuse (Newsweek, 12/22/22). FAIR’s Nexis search of the legislation’s name turned up no results on Fox News in the weeks preceding and following the voting.

The New England Journal of Medicine (5/19/22) found that gun violence had become the No. 1 cause of death in children and adolescents in 2020. A Nexis search of Fox transcripts found no mentions of that report in the week following its release. Only after the Uvalde elementary school shooting, which occurred on May 24, was the report mentioned in passing (Fox News, 5/29/22, 5/30/22).

Centrist media complicity 

Centrist and neoliberal media have also been slow to call anti-LGBTQ advocates’ bluff. While the New York Times (4/7/22, 5/31/22) has published op-eds that confront the term “groomer” as harmful to both the LGBTQ community and victims of child abuse, its news section continues to both-sides the issue, quoting Republican use of the term with little critique.

In a piece that sterilely chronicled right-wing political attacks on LGBTQ rights, the Times (7/22/22) reported:

Officials and television commentators on the right have accused opponents of some of those new restrictions of seeking to “sexualize” or “groom” children. Grooming refers to the tactics used by sexual predators to manipulate their victims, but it has become deployed widely on the right to brand gay and transgender people as child molesters, evoking an earlier era of homophobia.

Washington Post (4/5/22): “In the charged debate over what and how children should learn about sexual orientation and gender identity, some mainstream Republicans are tagging those who defend such lessons as ‘groomers,’ claiming that proponents of such teaching want children primed for sexual abuse.”

The article later went on to briefly cite a survey by the Trevor Project that showed the staggering suicidality rates of gender non-conforming youth. However, the piece ultimately treated the issue as a political game, outlining Republican tactics and the risks they face of losing centrist votes due to homophobia. It ended with a quote by Michigan Republican gubernatorial candidate Tudor Dixon, who is calling for legislation that allows parents to sue school districts that host drag shows (despite no evidence of any district doing so). “We’re taking the first step today to protecting children,” Dixon said, getting the last word.

At the Washington Post (4/5/22), the article “Teachers Who Mention Sexuality Are ‘Grooming’ Kids, Conservatives Say” devoted its first 12 paragraphs to coverage of anti-trans bigots using “groomer” rhetoric. As FAIR (4/12/22) pointed out:

It barely matters that the Post brought in some “experts” later to offer the “other side”—that actually talking about these things in fact helps curtail sexual abuse (which in schools primarily happens at the hands of heterosexual male teachers, noted all the way down in the 37th paragraph of the Post article) and bullying against LGBTQ+ kids. In giving the GOP the headline and the (extraordinarily lengthy) lead, Natanson and Balingit gave a bigoted and dangerous campaign the right to frame the story as a debate with two somehow comparable sides.

Other outlets are sometimes even worse. NY1 (6/16/22) platformed a Queens council member who called drag queen story hours in schools “grooming.” The Salt Lake Tribune (10/21/22) dedicated a whole article to outlining Utah politicians’ moral panic about drag shows. It quoted write-in Washington County clerk/auditor candidate Patricia Kent in the unhinged headline: “They are grooming our children for immoral satanic worship.”

The real danger

NBC‘s Today (5/9/22) on “grooming”: “Misusing the term also puts people, particularly children and teenagers, at risk of being groomed and eventually victimized.”

LGBTQ people are nearly four times more likely to be victims of violent crime—including sexual assault—than their non-LGBTQ counterparts. They’re nine times more likely than non-LGBTQ people to be victims of violent hate crimes. The November 2022 mass shooting at Club Q in Colorado Springs is only one recent example of this danger.

Misusing the term “groomer” is also counterproductive to helping real victims of child sexual abuse. While it didn’t directly address LGBTQ education, a Psychology Today piece (4/10/22) asserted that referring to Disney movies, sex education and other sexual content as “grooming” is clinically inaccurate, and has the potential to make it “more difficult to detect and identify actual manipulative behaviors and prevent actual sexual offending.”

NBC’s Today (5/9/22) published a laudable piece on the topic based on an interview with Grace French, a former dancer and gymnast whom USA Gymnastics national team doctor Larry Nassar groomed and molested. She explained why careless use of the term is harmful to survivors like her:

It’s so incredibly important to use this term correctly, because if we don’t understand it—and we have these assumptions about what it can or can’t be—then it’s harder and harder for grooming to be identified, and perpetrators are going to be able to get more access to children and to victims.

The New York Times (5/31/22) echoed this sentiment with a guest essay from a survivor, who concluded:

If we can’t agree that the use of these words is sacred and worth protecting from daily politics, we are telling one another that our deepest, most intimate, heart-wrenching wounds are empty—and that we may as well be, too.

Conservative politicians’ and right-wing media’s reckless use of the term “grooming” is intentionally inaccurate and dehumanizing. It not only harms LGBTQ people, but also the children these figures claim to be fighting to protect.

The post Right-Wing Media’s ‘Grooming’ Rhetoric Has Nothing to Do With Concern for Children appeared first on FAIR.

‘The Water Crisis Is a Manifestation of Jim Crow Politics’ - CounterSpin interview with Makani Themba on Jackson's crisis

FAIR - March 8, 2023 - 2:37pm


Janine Jackson interviewed the Mississippi Rapid Response Coalition’s Makani Themba about Jackson, Mississippi’s crisis for the March 3, 2023, episode of CounterSpin. This is a lightly edited transcript.

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Janine Jackson: So this is CNN on February 17: “And ahead, the plan to create a court system for the wealthy and mostly white parts of Jackson, Mississippi, and separate from the system for the mostly Black community.”

It’s hard to know how to respond. For sure, it’s good that CNN is choosing to point its national audience’s attention to what’s happening in Jackson. But at the same time, if it’s not too much, why is a deeply anti-democratic, racist action just a sort of blip on the evening news, like a new drink at Starbucks?

Mississippi Bill 1020 gives the state of Mississippi the control to appoint systems, and Jackson Mayor Chokwe Lumumba says it would be less than honest to call the effort “anything other than racist.”

New York Times (2/20/23)

Which leads us to headlines like the New York Times on February 21: “In Mississippi, Racial Outrage at Court Plan.” Well, CounterSpin listeners will likely be attuned to the difference when journalists use “racial” when “racist” would be the more appropriate word, and framework, to use.

So what does all this mean in the story of Jackson? And what questions and conversations would help us understand what’s going on there, and point us in the direction of a useful response?

Makani Themba is a Jackson resident and a volunteer with the Mississippi Rapid Response Coalition. She’s also chief strategist at Higher Ground Change Strategies, which is based in Jackson. She joins us now by phone. Welcome back to CounterSpin, Makani Themba.

Makani Themba: Well, I’m so glad to be back. And I’m so grateful that CounterSpin is still going strong. Thank you.

JJ: Absolutely. You know, we keep on keeping on.

I just feel, in this case, that a lot of folks would appreciate some story, some understanding, about what’s actually happening, and how we got to this point.

If I read reporting today, it’s about water treatment, and then about governance. But how would you bring somebody up to speed, who was maybe just looking at the latest headlines?

IBW21 (3/2/23)

MT: I think one of the most important things to understand is that HB 1020, which I know has gotten most of the media attention, is one of about a dozen bills, a dozen bills, that the state legislature and the governor have really, it feels like a sort of gun. It’s like artillery pointed at our city, to be honest. It’s like legislative weaponry.

And these bills, which include 1020, do all kinds of damage. 1020, I think, got a lot of folks’ attention, because it basically creates a new governance structure in the middle of the city that’s a predominantly white area, northeast Jackson. It also includes our downtown, where the Capitol is, and all the way up to the border of Ridgeland, Mississippi, which is the neighboring city, and actually into a portion of Ridgeland—a new jurisdiction which is called the Capitol Complex Improvement District.

It originally came out as a way to make sure that the Capitol had resources to do, you know, gardening, and some improvements for beautification. And the state came back after the City of Jackson, the residents of Jackson, the mayor of Jackson, had fought really hard to get federal dollars to finally come directly to Jackson to address our water issues. Because money was coming into the state for water infrastructure, but that money was not getting to Jackson, even though it was a primary reason why the money was coming in.

So that was the context, right, that we were able to work with Congress to come around the state, because they were blocking the resources; they even created a special process, just for the City of Jackson, to have to have approval for the use of funds that were dedicated to the city.

And so we were able to get around that, and get a sizable appropriation, about $600 million, actually, to address what is about a $2 billion problem. But we were excited. We were planning, we were there.

And it seems like this is not only revenge for figuring out a way to be resilient, and just address the problem without having to deal with the state and all of their shenanigans, but the set of bills, taken together, not only create this governance structure, [they] take away revenues from the city.

There are other bills that restrict our use of our sales tax revenue to only water infrastructure. So we’re not able to fix roads, or do anything else with it. And there’s no other city with that kind of restriction, where they say this is what you spend with your revenue, right? That’s not something happening anywhere else in Mississippi.

It also creates a police force that has jurisdiction over the city of Jackson, and over the Jackson Police Department. And they say the reason why they’re doing all this is to try to address the crime in Jackson. But that doesn’t seem to be true, because crime, one, is actually going down, and when crime was at the record high that it was at a couple of years ago, the state was not engaged at all, except to use it as a way to talk bad about us.

The other thing I think people should understand is that Jackson, like many majority Black and majority brown cities, folks denigrate those cities and defame those cities as a way to devalue, not only the people, but the property, the business, the commerce that happens there, because they don’t want the competition. So I think that’s important for people to understand.

So this whole array of bills—they even have a bill that restricts how the mayor can veto things or not. It’s not just about the water, because then I think it would be a different kind of response.

And the other thing is another bill that actually seizes the money that Congress allocated to the city, and creates a Regional Water Authority that is not responsible for addressing the problems in Jackson, it’s only responsible for receiving the money.

And the governor will have three votes on this commission. The lieutenant governor, who they’re in lockstep, has two votes. And this is a nine member commission. The mayor has four appointments, but two of them are dedicated to two other cities, so really Jackson has two votes on a nine-member regional handoff for money that was allocated directly to the city.

So they’re seizing those funds, as they have done other federal monies. What I also want people to understand is, there’s no law against this. There’s no law against this.

JJ: Exactly. So if we had a conversation about community needs, what would that look like? Who would be in that conversation? The conversation is like, oh, the community failed. But that’s not the story. And if we were going to talk about ways forward, we would, I believe, include different voices. And I just want to ask you, what could that conversation look like?

MT: First of all, I would love to see more investigative reporting and less punditry about it.

JJ: Say it.

The Nation (2/16/23)

MT: That’s important. Because it’s easy to make this, and I know in my own writing I talk about this, as a David versus Goliath story. And it is, in a way.

Jackson doesn’t have the votes. This is a supermajority Republican state house that does all the kind of ill they want, even though, because of the pressure from outside the state and within the state, there’s been some negotiation, but we’re still facing the brunt of the awfulness that all of these bills combined contain.

But yes, so what happens with the money when the federal government gives money to Jackson? Who uses it? Why don’t we see it? And why is that OK? And also, we’re not the only state that experiences these kinds of shenanigans, this kind of misappropriation of funds. All over the place—Michigan’s an example, Texas is another example.

States make applications to the federal government, using the problems of their communities of color, that basically happened because of the lack of investment, which is the first step. And then the extraction—because it’s one thing to not invest, but in Mississippi, they literally extract what they want from the city.

So when this money comes in, they extract that money and say, OK, well, great, we’ve got this money, we talked about the problems. And now we’re going to take this money and make communities that already have smooth roads smoother, already have good water infrastructure even better. We’re going to keep up with that, and then blame the folks—for what they’ve stolen from us.

Where’s the investigative reporting that looks at the documents, that FOIAs the application, that tracks it? And I’m so grateful for the work that the Clarion Ledger has done around the welfare scandal, because that would have never been uncovered had it not been for investigative reporting.

Makani Themba: “If there was really investigative reporting around what happened in Mississippi, folks would see a pattern of theft and extraction from the low-income people, from Black people, from brown people.”

But I think if there was really investigative reporting around what happened in Mississippi, folks would see a pattern of theft and extraction from the low-income people, from Black people, from brown people. It isn’t even that the white communities in Mississippi are benefited, because many of them do not.

I think that they would discover that a few businesses, a few people, a few politicians are benefiting from this, and most people are not. And how do you have a state that’s against Medicaid? Right? I mean, healthcare for their folks.

I think that more investigative journalism would nail these kinds of stories, and that it’s been investigative journalism in the past that’s helped lift up what’s happening in places like this.

And you know, like you think about, we would not know who Fannie Lou Hamer was, if folks weren’t telling the story outside of Mississippi. Because if it was up to them—I mean, this was a state that was trying to keep Sesame Street from coming on the air because it was too forward, too progressive, who actually had to be sued by folks in Mississippi—including the late Everett C. Parker, who media activists actually get an award in his name—they sued television stations in Mississippi in the ’60s, because they would literally not show anything about the civil rights movement, or the marches, or what was going on on the news.

And they had to sue to force that, and they would actually block out national news coverage in Mississippi of these stories. So we’re dealing with a long legacy.

So journalism is critical, good journalism, investigative journalism, or some people would say actual journalism, is critical to exposing this kind of theft and dishonesty.

And also just the issues of democracy. What does it mean to be in a state where there’s a Republican supermajority that does not reflect the proportions of who lives here at all?

Time (9/13/22)

JJ: When I see a headline, like Time magazine’s, “The Mayor of Jackson,” I guess it said, “Had a Racial Vision for His City”—OK, all right, whatever—“but the Water Crisis May Have Put It Out of Reach.”

So when I see that headline, what I hear that telling readers is, we tried to do it, and we failed. And so stop thinking about that.

So you can only talk to people who are interested in change, and media are just maybe not the way to do that. And yet so many people that we talk to, their agenda, their understanding of what is politically possible, is set by media, and it’s media saying, oh, hey, the mayor of Jackson wanted to do something, but he can’t. And that’s their understanding of, well, I guess we shouldn’t even try.

MT: Fortunately, Time magazine is not going to dictate to us what we might do, thank God. And I think, in many ways, the world was captivated by Mayor Chokwe Antar Lumumba’s vision around Jackson being the most radical city in America. And that radical vision for the world was very compelling, and also the story of Mississippi, right? The story of Mississippi is everybody’s, deep down.

I think that him articulating that, when he was first elected, gave folks a different view for a moment, right, of this is a place where there’s been resistance. He’s not the first person to articulate that.

In fact, Mississippi’s radical legacy has roots in Reconstruction. The state had the most radical constitution in the country during Reconstruction, and a majority Black legislature, all those things. And then, when the Confederacy took back the state in 1890, that’s the kind of governance we’ve been dealing with ever since. But they don’t represent the majority of the state, and they never have.

And so I think that it’s not true that the water crisis threatens our—and I would say, collectively, Jackson’s—radical agenda, because another convention of corporate media, and oftentimes storytelling, is to reduce it down to one person, when he was always part of a movement and a legacy and a history that many, many, many, many people are involved in.

That what threatens the agenda, so to speak, has been Jim Crow politics, and that the water crisis is a manifestation of Jim Crow politics.

You have a water crisis because there’s no investment in infrastructure when there should be, and those decisions are racialized.

I think that’s the other piece of the story, is that folks are not dealing with how deeply racialized the work, the legislature’s agenda—and I shouldn’t say the whole legislature, let me be clear, the Republicans, because it’s interesting, in Jackson, almost all the Democrats in both houses are Black. Guess why.

So we have this essentially apartheid approach to governance that has been in effect since 1890, with some breakthroughs, with some fights, and the Voting Rights Act was really critical to helping things move forward.

And it’s really been the folks in Mississippi and Alabama, whose blood was on the line, who made that legislation happen, and I want to be clear about that. The whole nation owes Mississippi and Alabama a debt for the elevation of democracy. That’s critical to understand.

And so we look at that, and I want to see reporting about that racialization, right? I want to see reporting about how this paradigm of whiteness and anti-Blackness is driving the policy agenda.

You know, people want to call it “Trumpism.” But this was Trumpism before Trump. This is where he got it from.

JJ: This is not new.

MT: And Jeff Sessions in Alabama, and from this Jim Crow legacy.

And that’s the crisis that we’re in. There would be no water crisis if there was equity. There would be no water crisis if the state of Mississippi had any kind of ethics, and allocated the money which they received from the federal government to the places where there is a problem.

And you think about it, how crazy is it that you won’t invest money where the problem is, and fix the problem? But that is kind of politics as usual—not just in Mississippi, but all over. And that ought to be the crime.

Jackson Undivided Coalition

Look for the hashtag #jxnundivided. You’ll see that online. That will let you know where the petition is, and also IBW21.org.

I have an extensive piece that has how people can get involved, as well as a link to the petition site. So there’s an article there that has a link to the petition drive.

We’re asking everybody to please sign and share it. And it also goes through the list of bills, and there’s two petitions listed in this piece. One is a petition to the state around this attack on Jackson.

The other, and this is, I think, really important as well, is a petition by the family of Jaylen Lewis. Jaylen Lewis was a 25-year-old Black father of two who was killed by the Capitol Police, basically execution-style. And his family is still looking for answers.

It happened in September. There was a witness, who is why we know what we know. But the police themselves have not released any findings, and are supposed to be investigating it. And so there’s a petition there as well for Jaylen Lewis.

And that’s one of the reasons why we’re so concerned about the Capitol Police having jurisdiction. They have a police chief who’s not accountable to anyone in the city of Jackson. They’re appointed by the attorney general of the state.

And so there’s a whole range of issues that are just so problematic about this, so that not only will we have this unelected, again, governing body over a big part of what will then not be a part of Jackson, but still in Jackson, right, where we go to downtown, where we shop, all of these kinds of things.

But we’ll have this occupying force that’s not accountable to any of the residents at all, that’s already shot several folks, and killed one in just the last few months.

JJ: We’ve been speaking with Makani Themba. She’s a volunteer with the Mississippi Rapid Response Coalition, as well as chief strategist at Higher Ground Change Strategies. Thank you again, Makani Themba, for joining us this week on CounterSpin.

MT: Thank you.


The post ‘The Water Crisis Is a Manifestation of Jim Crow Politics’ appeared first on FAIR.

Scary Headlines Hype Dangers Rarely Faced by Tourists in Mexico

FAIR - March 7, 2023 - 4:30pm


“Reconsider travel” to Mexico, asks USA Today (10/2/22)? Cancun has a relatively high homicide rate, but it’s 24% lower than Baltimore’s, which we haven’t seen the paper warning tourists away from. Cozumel, meanwhile, has a homicide rate lower than 38 major US cities.

Planning a trip to Mexico? If you read the news these days, you would think that Americans ought to be terrified of the popular tourist destination.

Headlines abound like “Killing of Artist Brothers Shatters Mexico City’s Veneer of Safety” (Guardian, 12/23/22) and “Reconsider Travel? Safety Experts Talk Violence in Mexico Tourist Spots” (USA Today, 10/2/22).

Of course, a headline isn’t the text of an article, but it’s frequently all readers see, and their constant repetition about the alleged dangers posed by simply being in Mexico is disturbing.

Most recently, you might have seen a version of “US Issues Strongest Possible ‘Do Not Travel’ Warning for Mexico Ahead of Spring Break” (LA’s Fox 11, 2/9/23) in a local news report headline. But read down to just the first line, and you’ll see that the warning is for only six of Mexico’s 31 states, not for the entire country—nor does it apply to Mexico City, by far the country’s largest metropolis, which is in its own federal district.

Nonetheless, the article goes on to say, “Other countries that are under the same highest-level travel warning include Iran, Iraq, Somalia, Haiti, Ukraine, North Korea  and Syria.”

Take a breath, Fox 11.

One of the most-visited countries

AP (via ABC, 2/21/23) offers news you can use, if you’re a Playa del Carmen bar inspector.

Isolated incidents, like the murder of a US resident in Zacatecas (CBS News, 1/25/23) and the possible extortion and death under mysterious circumstances of a US lawyer near Tijuana, described in the Fox 11 article above, do happen, particularly in the parts of the country where cartel violence is out of control.

But this must be placed in context. Mexico is a country—yes, one with social violence—that is consistently among the most visited in the world, in large part due to US tourists. The country had 32 million visitors in 2021, which was down from a pre-pandemic high of 45 million.

While they’re often happy to produce click-bait headlines that spark fear in potential travelers, many corporate media outlets seem less interested in giving those readers any sense of what level of risk the average tourist visiting a popular Mexican tourist destination might actually face.

Consider the article, “Bar Employees Stabbed Inspectors at Mexico Resort” (AP, 2/21/23). The AP devotes four of seven paragraphs to providing context, which offer that Playa del Carmen “has long had a reputation for rough and dangerous bars,” “has long had a problem with illicit business,” and has been the site of two shooting attacks in the last five years, at least one of which killed tourists.

That emphasis certainly suggests that tourists to Playa del Carmen ought to be worried about being shot while there. The article does not offer the context that Playa del Carmen is in the state of Quintana Roo, which the State Department puts in the same travel advisory category as France. Or that according to the US State Department, four US tourists were murdered there in 2021 (the last full year for which there’s data)—out of some 4.8 million visitors from the States that year, making homicide on a trip there literally less than a one in a million chance.

Spring break crime crisis

Fox News (2/21/23) paired a report about increased police patrols in Playa del Carmen with video of a Polish tourist climbing an off-limits pyramid in Chichen Itza, in a different state.

Fox News (2/21/23), predictably, went even further, offering, “Mexican Beach Town Announces Major Crackdown Amid Country’s Crime Crisis Ahead of Spring Break.”

In case you miss the point about the ginned-up crisis, and whom it purportedly affects, the article was paired with a video of a white European tourist, climbing the steps of a Mayan pyramid in a totally different state, who was heckled and took a few cheap shots while being escorted out for breaking the rules.

Yet, as tourism advice website TravelLemming.com (1/19/23) notes in a much more balanced piece, “Playa del Carmen is, overall, a relatively safe place to visit.” The piece focuses as much on Covid, water contamination and crocodiles as it does on cartels.

Where it does talk about violence, it does so in measured and specific terms:

In general, unless you’re using drugs, purchasing drugs or are involved with people who are affiliated with cartels, chances are you won’t be the victim of a cartel-related incident.

As scary as France

Carlos Vilalte, a geographer of crime based in Mexico City, says that although there are no official statistics kept of crimes against tourists, he has “no knowledge of tourists being particularly targeted for crime, either in tourist locations, or anywhere else.” He notes, though, that they might be affected “collaterally.”

This is because there is violence in Mexico–a lot in some places, often fueled by drug consumption in the United States. Several cities, like Tijuana, are among the most dangerous in the world that are not in a literal war zone. “Organized crime is a serious issue in Mexico,” says Vilalte.

The Louisville Courier Journal (8/25/22) offers “Mexico’s Yucatan peninsula” as a “refreshing alternative” to Cancun—which is on Mexico’s Yucatan peninsula (though not in the state of Yucatan).

But roughly three-fifths of the country’s states are under the first (“Exercise normal precautions”) or second (“Exercise increased caution”) levels of the State Department’s system for alerting US travelers to possible danger. These areas, according to the government’s system, are as safe as or safer than France and Spain (both of which carry warnings about “terrorism and civil unrest”).

You wouldn’t know that from headlines about the Riviera Maya like “US Tourists Beware: Popular Mexico Getaway Plagued by Drug Cartel Intimidation and Violence” (Courier Journal, 8/25/22), or the Fox News article mentioned above, which says:

“Violent crime and gang activity are widespread,” the [State Department] warning said of one area. “Most homicides are targeted assassinations against members of criminal organizations.”

This would be terrifying if you were planning to travel to the resort town, if you didn’t know better—or read down to the end, where even Fox News is forced to admit, “The state of Quintana Roo where Playa del Carmen is located is not included on the State Department’s ‘do not travel’ list.”

It’s a xenophobic double standard: You’d be hard pressed to find a US media outlet suggesting foreign tourists should beware of visiting our own country because of social violence in New Orleans or St. Louis, or even Dallas or Portland, Oregon, all of which now have higher murder rates than Mexico City.


The post Scary Headlines Hype Dangers Rarely Faced by Tourists in Mexico appeared first on FAIR.

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