CVIndependent

Tue07142020

Last updateMon, 20 Apr 2020 1pm

I’ll never forget the moment I turned off the Coachella Valley Independent’s online events calendar.

It was on March 17. A Tuesday. I’d taken a break from editing copy to apply for a grant application, and I went to our website to get a link I needed for the application. My eye went immediately to the calendar module.

All of the events listed there had had been cancelled.

Palm Springs had just followed San Francisco’s lead in issuing a shelter-in-place order; it was expected the state would soon follow suit. That’s when it truly sunk in for me that no in-person events—plays, concerts, library story times, etc.—would be happening in my beloved Coachella Valley anytime soon.

I’ve been in the newspaper biz for about 2 1/2 decades. I had my first byline in an alternative newspaper, my hometown Reno News & Review, in 1996. For much of my time in newspapers, our backbone has been the events calendar—something to which we’d dedicate many hours of time, and many pages of print, because people depended on our listings to plan their social lives.

Of course, Google, social media and other online options changed that. The calendar, as part of a newspaper, became less and less important—so much so that when we launched the Independent in late 2012, we didn’t even have a calendar at first, mostly because we didn’t have the resources we needed to do one properly.

However, I am an old-school newspaper soul, and I must admit the Independent never felt complete to me without an events calendar. That’s why several years in, I decided to sign up with the CitySpark events-calendar platform—giving the Independent a good online events calendar.

Then came that Tuesday, and the realization of the magnitude of what we were all facing. I’ll never forget the sickening weirdness I felt when I turned off the calendar—and even removed the calendar from the main menu.

Well, yesterday, I turned the Coachella Valley Independent’s events calendar back on, after a 22-day hiatus. This was not as momentous of an occasion as it was to turn it off; after all, we’re still weeks and probably months way from the return of in-person events. However, it did feel good, because the fact that I was able to turn it back on shows we’re adjusting to this new, temporary reality.

CitySpark changed the calendar software so it defaults to what are now called “virtual events,” aka online events—plays, concerts, library story times, etc. Right now, the only things listed are events originating from elsewhere—in part, because anyone can attend online events from anywhere, and in part, because our part of the calendar was shut off for three weeks.

So, Coachella Valley: If you have a “virtual event” taking place, please add it to the calendar. It can be a music show or a class or a support group or an ongoing art show or anything. It’s free and easy; just go to our calendar, and click on “Add Event.” I hope that, with your help, we can turn the calendar into an excellent resource for the local virtual events we’re doing via Facebook, Zoom, Twitter, etc.

Thank you for your help. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: We’re all in this together.

Today’s links:

• The latest installment in the Independent’s Pandemic Stories series doesn’t have directly to do with the virus; instead, it’s a fantastic, if bittersweet, story brought to us by Valerie-Jean Hume, about her husband, Ted—the only person she can do an in-person interview with right now. Here’s the tale of how the clarinet saved Ted Pethes’ life.

• I was again a guest on the I Love Gay Palm Springs podcast/zoom-videocast with John Taylor, Shann Carr and Brad Fuhr. Per usual, we checked in with the incredible Dr. Laura Rush about the status of COVID-19 in the Coachella Valley, before talking to Davey Wavey and David Powell.

• Yet another bit of frustrating evidence about the haphazard, sloppy federal effort to fight the spread of COVID-19: The federal government’s support for many coronavirus testing sites will end tomorrow. While the idea was that the states would take over these sites, that is not necessarily happening.

• Yet more evidence that many government systems, in general, are terrible: Are you an old-school computer programmer who knows COBOL? If so, states including New Jersey and Kansas need your help, because their mainframes still run on this language that was widely used in the ’60s through the’80s, and they are being overwhelmed by things like a whole lot of unemployment claims.

• The Los Angeles Times offers this good-news, bad-news update on California unemployment benefits. Bad news: It’s still hard to get through and apply due to the depressingly large number of people applying. Good news: Extra money is coming.

• Here’s an update from The New York Times on the efforts Zoom is making to fix security and privacy issues on its now-ubiquitous teleconferencing software.

• Speaking of Zoom: Even though Zoom meeting backgrounds are generally terrible things that don’t work very well, the Palm Springs tourism folks have created some locally themed Zoom backgrounds for your consideration.

• A sliver of hope: Dr. Fauci says summer vacations remain a possibility for Americans. Maybe.

• Like so many other awful things, COVID-19 is disproportionately harming Black and poor communities. The Conversation looks at the systemic problems that are making this happen.

• If you missed the city of Palm Springs’ COVID-19 webinar that took place earlier today, never fear; here’s the video of it on YouTube. (Pro tip: It doesn’t start, for some reason, until around the 9-minute mark.)

• The Greater Palm Springs Tourism Foundation has launched a fund to help families of people who work in tourism or hospitality. To contribute or to ask for help, head here.

• It’s good this is happening, but depressing that it needs to happen: A coalition of Asian-American and Pacific Islander groups have created an online portal where people can report COVID-19-related racist incidents.

Will Congress come to the aid of struggling newspapers and other local media? Some Democratic senators hope so.

• Eater offers an update on the big-name push to get the federal government to force (or help) insurance companies pay restaurants who have business-interruption insurance.

Saturday Night Live will be back on, duh, Saturday, with all the cast members working remotely. How in the heck will that work? We’ll just have to watch and see.

• Are you familiar with comedian Laura Clery’s “Help Helen Smash” videos? If not, you should know they’re crass and juvenile and definitely not safe for work, as her character, a square-faced Helen, tries to pick up a dude named Steven (Clery’s real-life husband). Well, Helen’s back with a coronavirus-themed series of pickup lines—and I will admit to laughing loudly.

• Healthcare workers: Please enjoy this … um … unique and certainly special tribute, presented in GIF form.

That’s plenty for today. Hey, the deadline for our special coloring book project is tomorrow; artists, get us your submissions! We’ve gotten some fantastic ones so far, but we need more! If you’re fortunate enough to have a few bucks to spare, and you value independent, quality local journalism, please consider becoming a Supporter of the Independent. Wash your hands. Wear a mask when you go out. #flattenthecurve. Back tomorrow!

Published in Daily Digest

I think I speak for all of us when I ask the question: How long is all of this going to going on?!

The only correct answer, of course, is that nobody knows. Nobody. We’ve never dealt with a worldwide crisis like this during the information age. We’ve never had so many smart, qualified people working on fixing a problem at the same time. And we’ve never before seen such rapid devastation—both in terms of health and the economy—strike the entire world, all at once.

Every day, there’s good news that offers hope—including hints that treating COVID-19 patients with plasma from people who have recovered may just help treat those who are still sick.

And every day, there’s news that’s alarming—such as today’s revelation that, good lord, tigers are getting it from humans now?!

Sigh.

Anyway … some news yesterday that has local implications regarding this question of “How damned long?” went a little under the radar. It all started with a call that President Trump had with representatives of most of the major sports leagues and operations in the country. Sources say Trump said he thought the NFL season should be able to start, with fans in stadiums, on time this year. What does on time mean? Pre-season games start in August, with the regular season starting Sept. 10.

Trump elaborated later yesterday during his daily briefing, according to ESPN: “I want fans back in the arenas. I think it’s ... whenever we’re ready. As soon as we can, obviously. And the fans want to be back, too. They want to see basketball and baseball and football and hockey. They want to see their sports. They want to go out onto the golf courses and breathe nice, clean, beautiful fresh air.”

Putting aside Trump’s, um, credibility problem (to put it mildly), I think we can all agree that we really, really want all of that, too, if it’s safe. But … will it be?

Later yesterday, Gov. Gavin Newsom was asked about Trump’s hopes that society could handle 80,000 people packed into a stadium in August or September. The first words out of his mouth were rather direct: “I'm not anticipating that happening in this state.”

Newsom then sort-of backtracked, but not really, by clarifying that decisions “will be determined by the facts, will be determined by the health experts,” and that he was focusing immediate concerns. Newsom also said he wanted California to avoid the fate of some Asian countries, which seemed to “return to normal” a bit too soon.

As for that local angle … well, our friends at Gay Desert Guide have done a fantastic job of listing the dates that the valley’s biggest events (not just the gay-themed ones) are now scheduled/rescheduled for, and … well, here’s the thing: If we are in a place by the start of September where we can have larger crowds at things, this valley could have one hell of a fall, in terms of an economic boost. Starting with the ANA Inspiration golf tourney (Sept. 10-13), and moving through Dinah Shore Weekend, Coachella’s two weekends, the Modernism Week Fall Preview, Stagecoach, the White Party and Palm Springs Pride (Nov. 6-8), we could see two fall months the likes of which the Coachella Valley has never seen.

But if Gov. Newsom’s right about September, and likely October and November … you get the point.

Even if Newsom is right, that doesn’t mean we won’t be a lot closer to “normal” by then. After all, one of the last things we’ll be able to do is let 80,000 people into a stadium together. Of course, the same goes for letting 125,000 people into the Empire Polo Club together.

To repeat one more time: We really don’t have any idea how long this is going to go on. And that may be one of the most frustrating aspects of the pandemic.

Today’s news:

• Hey, artists: Take part in our coloring book project—and earn a few bucks while doing so. The deadline is this coming Friday afternoon; get the full details here.

• The big news: Riverside County now says you can’t have any gatherings at all. And you have to wear a face mask when you go out.

• Gov. Newsom says California is making progress on its COVID-19 backlog—and he took responsibility, unlike some other leaders, for missteps.

• Hooray: Palm Springs has enacted an evictions moratorium.

• Making lemonade out of really awful lemons: All of this working from home has given the creators of The Office an idea for a new show.

• When students from different backgrounds get to a college campus, socioeconomic differences can seemingly melt away, when everyone’s living in the same dorms and eating the same food. But inequity can get magnified when all of the classes go online.

• CBS News got some advice from Mel Brooks, Carl Reiner and George Takei on how to handle all of this pandemic stuff.

• A TV news station in Cleveland has introduced a helpful new feature for those of us who may be losing track of the days of the week.

• The Los Angeles Times brings us this sad but important story about the increase in calls to suicide hotlines. Sigh.

• You know times are tough when a rare address from the Queen of England is making me weepy.

That’s enough for now. If you have the means, and appreciate the free-to-all journalism the Independent does, both in print and pixels, please consider helping us to continue to do it. Thanks for reading. Oh, and wash your hands, and make the best of this coming week.

Published in Daily Digest

Julie Su wants the world’s fifth-largest economy to remain a global juggernaut. To do so, California’s labor secretary acknowledges, the state will need to position its workforce for the jobs of the future—a catchall term that encompasses not only the promise of innovation, but also the dystopian threat of increased income disparity.

Economists project massive upheaval from disparate forces such as automation and an aging population. California’s challenge, as Su sees it, is to roll with those disruptions while making sure jobs here continue to pay a living wage, offer worker protections and accommodate working families.

In short, she wants the future of work to bridge today’s wealth gap. A labor and civil rights attorney—and past recipient of a MacArthur Foundation “genius” grant—Su has been leading the Future of Work Commission alongside Chief Economic Adviser Lenny Mendonca and Senior Adviser on Higher Education Lande Ajose. They have been hosting meetings across the state with the goal of coming up with a new social compact for workers.

Meanwhile, Su—whose full job title is secretary of the California Labor and Workforce Development Agency—has committed to a new future-of-work department to execute the commission’s findings and recommendations. In an interview, edited here for length, she spoke about the commission’s goals and how she plans to enforce California’s own recent workplace disruption—the new worker classification law known as AB 5.

What are we looking at in terms of future of work? And why should Californians care about this topic?

We hear so much about how A.I. (artificial intelligence) is going to destroy jobs, such as how a robot will take the place of humans. But the commission was formed under the principle that there’s nothing inevitable about the shape of our future economy. We can, through policies and interventions … come together to reverse the 40-year trend of growing income inequality and poverty.

What’s your understanding of the distribution of wages right now, whether it’s gender, race or geography?

Over one-third of working people in California make less than $15 an hour. And a full 20 percent of those earning less than $15 have a college degree or some college education, which forces us to think about the connection between education and job opportunity, right?

It’s not enough to address the cost of things; we also have to address how much people actually make, so we have to focus on the quality of jobs.

Over the last 40 years, productivity has increased by 259 percent, but wages only by 11.6 percent, which means that we have a massive distribution problem. The productivity gains are going somewhere, but they’re not going to working people. And that’s creating not just income disparity, but also wealth disparity.

And the racial wealth gap is astounding. The median wealth of black families who have a college education is below the median wealth of white families who do not have a college education. Those are the problems we need to solve.

So what are examples of solutions?

I don’t want to pre-suppose what the commission’s going to come up with. I think that there are some policies, strategies and ideas that have been tried and we just need to expand them. We’re looking here and elsewhere in the world. What lessons do they have for California? And then, I think that there are ideas and solutions that sitting here today we have not yet imagined.

Can you at least tease me with an idea?

For example, at the first meeting, the commission had a panel of four workers, and one had a union job where she worked as a janitor. The union job actually helps to preserve her security, but that job was also subcontracted out, and when it was, she’s lost certain things like a retirement benefit.

So clearly, one part of the answer is: What is the role of union? And how do we ensure that unions are strong and can organize and, given changes in the economy, are supported in new ways of organizing? There’s data that shows that having a union does more to ensure higher wages than even having a college degree.

The second was a warehouse worker who talked about how he basically felt like a number. Automation was used … to set a high level of surveillance, and he felt expendable. So what ways can technology innovate, not just for the benefit of the shareholders and consumers, but for the benefit of working people?

Then the other two workers who spoke were in workplaces, both of whom have received money from the Quality Jobs Fund, a collaboration between the Federal Home Loan (Bank of) San Francisco and the New World Foundation. And the fund was used for capital investments in companies that meet certain job-quality criteria. These two workers both talked about how their jobs allow for a living wage, have flexibility—one of them had a special-needs child and needed to go to appointments—(and) that include benefits, access to training and professional development, and then upward mobility and a chance to build wealth.

All those suggest higher labor costs for employers, though. Is there a point where government then starts to subsidize private industry in order to provide a private-sector worker with better wages? Is that a direction we should contemplate?

I think everything is on the table. What the governor has charged the commission with is to think really boldly, not assume that anything that’s already in place has to be here or that anything we haven’t yet seen is impossible to create.

In parallel to the commission, we’re also creating a future-of-work department under the labor agency. We’re going to create a department that will be poised when the commissions has its recommendations to actually execute many of them. That’s how concrete we want to be.

Part of the initial phase of the department is really just to realign existing service inside of government. One of the things that I think is very frustrating to people who try to interact with the government and try to access services, is when we say to you, “not this agency, the next agency.” What I want to do is eliminate the next window problem: “You’re in the wrong line, go to this next line.”

You want to create one line in which people can get what they need when they seek help from the government. It’s not just about creating new legislation and new powers; it’s about taking powers you already have and creating one streamlined, efficient and accessible department.

The governor signed AB 5, the worker-misclassification bills, and it will now take effect in January. I’m wondering what will you and your agency’s role be in enforcing that?

I often say that the instability that working people face—partly because of misclassification—has resulted in the day-labor-ization of our economy. Instead of steady, consistent, reliable work, people end up basically in odd jobs, and you’re hustling all the time, right? So AB 5 is meant to address that kind of misclassification so that we can bring more people who should be under the protection of our labor laws back on that floor.

We’re going to be enforcing both through our wage-claim process, where individuals who feel like they have been misclassified can come and file wage claims. An example of that is we’ve had almost 1,000 cases in the port-trucking industry filed before the labor commissioner that we’ve adjudicated and found millions of dollars owing to truck drivers who have been misclassified.

The other is just doing investigations and audits. That will be on both wages and tax, because AB 5 expands the ABC test that way. So we will be doing investigations and audits so that those who want to comply with the need to reclassify can do so, and those who don’t will understand that’s not the kind of economy we want in California. So we can issue citations and demand both wages and taxes and other kinds of penalties.

Do you expect to investigate Uber and Lyft?

We do not talk about who we will investigate or the fact we are investigating. I do want to say that misclassification did not arise when the gig economy came into being. And it will not be ended by that. We also are hopeful that there are businesses who will join us in this administration who are committed to combating misclassification and also find new ways for workers to organize.

There are some workers who have been excluded from federal protections, and California has a really unique opportunity to bring them into the fold and think about ensuring that they have true union protection working side by side with labor and businesses who are interested in doing that.

Did you have conversations with Uber, Lyft, DoorDash, Postmates or any other entities?

We did. I think we always want to work with—whether it’s business or labor—on trying to solve some of these complex and intractable problems. As the governor said when he signed AB 5, we want to continue to be open to those conversations and whatever possibilities they might bring about for trying to improve working conditions and the lives of the drivers in California.

Why wasn’t a third way accomplished in the last legislative cycle? Why couldn’t a compromise be done?

That’s a good question. We wanted to make sure we were working with folks who wanted to talk about this, but I don’t think there was a deadline in our minds for that. These ongoing issues; they’re very complex. And when we talk about creating a voice for workers, that it’s really a voice premised on unions—like a genuine right to a union on the job. If we can accomplish something, it will set a model for the country. 

What’s realistic for the state or local government to stem this growth in wealth inequality? You’re setting up high expectations here. We have a capitalistic society, so what’s doable here?

We would rather set really high standards for ourselves. And if we cannot reach them all, we at least challenge ourselves to give it everything we’ve got. We are looking at this from all angles. There may be some simple things that we can do. Some of them are building off the great innovation and talents of people in California already. Are there models we can replicate and support and share so that people who want to do this right don’t have to invent it from scratch? At the first meeting, we talked about tax law, about social structures.

We don’t have an end date for the commission’s work. We have monthly meetings from now until April. We will also be issuing a report in May that’s a part of the governor’s executive order. We’d like to make sure we engage with a broader segment of Californians around what whatever the recommendations are, and that could be academic institutions, philanthropy, worker centers, the tech industry and business. 

CalMatters.org is a nonprofit, nonpartisan media venture explaining California policies and politics.

Published in Local Issues

“Fake news” is not a new thing. In Censored 2019: Fighting the Fake News Invasion, Project Censored’s vivid cover art recalls H.G. Wells’ War of the Worlds.

The situation today may feel as desolate as the cover art suggests.

Censored 2019 is a book about fighting fake news,” editors Andy Lee Roth and Mickey Huff observed in the book’s introduction. In the end, they argued that “critical media education—rather than censorship, blacklists, privatized fact-checkers, or legislative bans—is the best weapon for fighting the ongoing fake news invasion.”

Project Censored’s annual list of 25 censored stories, which makes up the book’s lengthy first chapter, is one of the best resources one can have for such education.

Project Censored has long been engaged in much more than just uncovering and publicizing stories kept down and out of the corporate media. Over the years, it added new analytical categories, including sensationalist and titillating Junk Food News stories. But through it all, the list of censored stories remains central to Project Censored’s mission, which, the editors point out, can be read in two different ways: “As a critique of the shortcomings of U.S. corporate news media for their failure to adequately cover these stories, or as a celebration of independent news media, without which we would remain either uninformed or misinformed about these crucial stories and issues.”


1. Global Decline in the Rule of Law as Basic Human Rights Diminish

According to the World Justice Project Rule of Law Index 2017–2018, released in January 2018, a striking worldwide decline in basic human rights has driven an overall decline in the rule of law since October 2016—the month before Trump’s election.

Fundamental rights—one of eight categories measured—declined in 71 out of 113 nations surveyed. Overall, 34 percent of countries’ scores declined, while just 29 percent improved. The United States ranked 19th, down one from 2016, with declines in checks on government powers and deepening discrimination.

Fundamental rights include the absence of discrimination, the right to life and security, due process, the freedom of expression and religion, the right to privacy, the freedom of association and labor rights.

“All signs point to a crisis not just for human rights, but for the human rights movement,” Yale professor of history and law Samuel Moyn told The Guardian the day the index was released. “Within many nations, these fundamental rights are falling prey to the backlash against a globalising economy in which the rich are winning. But human rights movements have not historically set out to name or shame inequality.”

This reflects the thesis of Moyn’s most recent book, Not Enough: Human Rights in an Unequal World.

Constraints on government powers, which measures the extent to which those who govern are bound by law, saw the second-greatest declines (64 countries out of 113 dropped). This is where the United States saw the greatest deterioration, the World Justice Project stated in a press release. “While all sub-factors in this dimension declined at least slightly from 2016, the score for lawful transition of power—based on responses to survey questions on confidence in national and local election processes and procedures—declined most markedly,” the press release stated.  

The United States also scored notably poorly on several measurements of discrimination.

The four Nordic countries—Denmark, Norway, Finland and Sweden—remained in the top four positions. New Zealand, Canada and Australia were the only top 10 countries outside of Europe.

“The WJP’s 2017–2018 Rule of Law Index received scant attention from U.S. corporate media,” Project Censored noted. The only coverage they found was a Newsweek article drawing on The Guardian’s coverage.


2. “Open-Source” Intelligence Secrets Sold to Highest Bidders

In March 2017, WikiLeaks released Vault 7, a trove of 8,761 leaked confidential CIA files about its global hacking programs, which WikiLeaks described as the “largest ever publication of confidential documents on the agency.” It drew significant media attention.

But almost no one noticed what George Eliason of OpEdNews pointed out.

“Sure, the CIA has all these tools available,” Eliason pointed out. “Yes, they are used on the public. The important part is (that) it’s not the CIA that’s using them. That’s the part that needs to frighten you.”

As Eliason went on to explain, the CIA’s mission prevents it from using the tools, especially on Americans.

“All the tools are unclassified, open-source, and can be used by anyone,” Eliason explained. “It makes them not exactly usable for secret-agent work. That’s what makes it impossible for them to use Vault 7 tools directly.”

Drawing heavily on more than a decade of reporting by Tim Shorrock for Mother Jones and The Nation, Eliason’s OpEdNews series reported on the explosive growth of private contractors in the intelligence community, which allows the CIA and other agencies to gain access to intelligence gathered by methods they’re prohibited from using.

In a 2016, report for The Nation, Shorrock estimated that 80 percent of an estimated 58,000 private intelligence contractors worked for the five largest companies. He concluded that “not only has intelligence been privatized to an unimaginable degree, but an unprecedented consolidation of corporate power inside U.S. intelligence has left the country dangerously dependent on a handful of companies for its spying and surveillance needs.”

Eliason reported how private contractors pioneered open-source intelligence by circulating or selling the information they gathered before the agency employing them had reviewed and classified it; therefore, “no one broke any laws.” As a result, according to Eliason’s second article, “People with no security clearances and radical political agendas have state-sized cyber tools at their disposal, (which they can use) for their own political agendas, private business, and personal vendettas.”

Corporate media reporting on Vault 7 sometimes noted but failed to focus on dangerous role of private contractors, Project Censored pointed out—with the notable exception of am op-ed in The Washington Post in which Shorrock reviewed his previous reporting and concluded that over-reliance on private intelligence contractors was “a liability built into our system that intelligence officials have long known about and done nothing to correct.”


3. World’s Richest One Percent Continue to Become Wealthier

In November 2017, Credit Suisse released its 8th Annual Global Wealth Report which The Guardian reported on under the headline, Richest 1% Own Half the World’s Wealth, Study Finds.

The wealth share of the world’s richest people increased “from 42.5 percent at the height of the 2008 financial crisis to 50.1 percent in 2017,” The Guardian reported, adding that “the biggest losers … are young people who should not expect to become as rich as their parents.”

“(Despite being more educated than their parents), millennials are doing less well than their parents at the same age, especially in relation to income, home ownership and other dimensions of well-being assessed in this report,” Rohner Credit Suisse Chairman Urs Rohner said. “We expect only a minority of high achievers and those in high-demand sectors such as technology or finance to effectively overcome the ‘millennial disadvantage.’”

“No other part of the wealth pyramid has been transformed as much since 2000 as the millionaire and ultra-high net worth individual (known as UHNWI) segments,” the report said. “The number of millionaires has increased by 170 percent, while the number of UHNWIs (individuals with net worth of $50 million or more) has risen five-fold, making them by far the fastest-growing group of wealth holders.”

There were of 2.3 million new dollar millionaires this year, taking the total to 36 million.

“At the other end of the spectrum, the world’s 3.5 billion poorest adults each have assets of less than $10,000,” The Guardian reported. “Collectively these people, who account for 70 percent of the world’s working age population, account for just 2.7 percent of global wealth.”

“Tremendous concentration of wealth and the extreme poverty that results from it are problems that affect everyone in the world, but wealth inequalities do not receive nearly as much attention as they should in the establishment press,” Project Censored noted. “The few corporate news reports that have addressed this issue—including an August 2017 Bloomberg article and a July 2016 report for CBS’s MoneyWatch—focused exclusively on wealth inequality within the United States. As Project Censored has previously reported, corporate news consistently covers the world’s billionaires while ignoring millions of humans who live in poverty.”


4. How Big Wireless Convinced Us Cell Phones and Wi-Fi Are Safe

Are cell phones and other wireless devices really as safe we’ve been led to believe? Don’t bet on it, according to decades of buried research reviewed in a March 2018 investigation for The Nation by Mark Hertsgaard and Mark Dowie.

“The wireless industry not only made the same moral choices that the tobacco and fossil-fuel industries did; it also borrowed from the same public-relations playbook those industries pioneered,” Hertsgaard and Dowie reported. “Like their tobacco and fossil-fuel brethren, wireless executives have chosen not to publicize what their own scientists have said about the risks of their products. … On the contrary, the industry—in America, Europe and Asia—has spent untold millions of dollars in the past 25 years proclaiming that science is on its side, that the critics are quacks, and that consumers have nothing to fear.”

Their report comes at the same time as several new developments are bringing the issue to the fore, including a Kaiser Permanente study (published December 2017 in Scientific Reports) finding much higher risks of miscarriage; a study in the October 2017 American Journal of Epidemiology, finding increased risk for glioma (a type of brain tumor); and a disclosure by the National Frequency Agency of France that nine out of 10 cell phones exceed government radiation safety limits when tested in the way they are actually used—next to the human body.

“The wireless industry has ‘war-gamed’ science by playing offense as well as defense, actively sponsoring studies that result in published findings supportive of the industry, while aiming to discredit competing research that raises questions about the safety of cellular devices and other wireless technologies,” Project Censored summarized. “When studies have linked wireless radiation to cancer or genetic damage, industry spokespeople have pointed out that the findings are disputed by other researchers.”

While some local media have covered the findings of a few selected studies, Project Censored notes, “the norm for corporate media is to report the telecom industry line—that is, that evidence linking Wi-Fi and cell phone radiation to health issues, including cancer and other medical problems, is either inconclusive or disputed. … As Hertsgaard and Dowie’s Nation report suggested, corporate coverage of this sort is partly how the telecom industry remains successful in avoiding the consequences of actions.”


5. The Washington Post Bans Employees from Using Social Media to Criticize Sponsors

On May 1, 2017, the Washington Post introduced a policy prohibiting its employees from criticizing its advertisers and business partners—and encouraging them to snitch on one another.

“A new social-media policy at The Washington Post prohibits conduct on social media that ‘adversely affects The Post’s customers, advertisers, subscribers, vendors, suppliers or partners,” Andrew Beaujon reported in The Washingtonian the next month. “In such cases, Post management reserves the right to take disciplinary action ‘up to and including termination of employment.’”

Beaujon also cited “a clause that encourages employees to snitch on one another: ‘If you have any reason to believe that an employee may be in violation of The Post’s Social Media Policy … you should contact The Post’s Human Resources Department.’”

At the time, the Washington-Baltimore News Guild, which represents the Post’s employees, was protesting the policy and seeking removal of the controversial parts in a new labor agreement. A follow-up report by Whitney Webb for MintPress News highlighted the broader possible censorship effects, since prohibiting social-media criticism could spill over into reporting as well.

“Among The Washington Post’s advertisers are corporate giants like GlaxoSmithKline, Bank of America and Koch Industries,” Webb wrote. “With the new policy, social-media posts criticizing GlaxoSmithKline’s habit of making false and misleading claims about its products, inflating prices and withholding crucial drug safety information from the government will no longer be made by Post employees.”

Beyond that, Webb suggested it could protect the CIA, which has a $600 million contract with Amazon Web Services. Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos purchased the Post four months after that contract was signed.

“While criticism of the CIA is not technically prohibited by the new policy, former Post reporters have suggested that making such criticisms could endanger one’s career,” Webb noted.

“Corporate news coverage of The Washington Post’s social media policy has been extremely limited,” Project Censored noted.

It’s part of a much broader problem, identified in Jeremy Iggers’ 1998 book, Good News, Bad News: Journalism Ethics and The Public Interest. Iggers argued that journalism ethics focused on individual reporters completely missed the larger issue of corporate conflicts whose systemic effects fundamentally undermine journalism’s role in a democracy.


6. Russiagate: A Two-Headed Monster of Propaganda and Censorship

Is Russiagate a censored story? In my view, not exactly. This entry seems to reflect a well-intentioned effort to critically examine fake-news-related issues within a “censored story” framework. It’s important that these issues be raised—which is one reason why I suggested above that Project Censored add “fake news” as a new analytical category to examine annually along with its censored stories list, “junk food news” and “news abuse.”

What Project Censored calls attention to is important: “Corporate media coverage of Russiagate has created a two-headed monster of propaganda and censorship. By saturating news coverage with a sensationalized narrative, Russiagate has superseded other important, newsworthy stories.”

As a frustrated journalist with omnivorous interests, I heartily concur—but what’s involved is too complex to simply be labelled “propaganda.” On the other hand, the censorship of alternative journalistic voices is a classic, well-defined Project Censored story, which suffers from the attempt to fit both together.

In April 2017, Aaron Maté reported for The Intercept on a quantitative study of MSNBC’s The Rachel Maddow Show from Feb. 20 to March 31, 2017 which found that “Russia-focused segments accounted for 53 percent of these broadcasts.” Maté wrote: “Maddow’s Russia coverage has dwarfed the time devoted to other top issues, including Trump’s escalating crackdown on undocumented immigrants (1.3 percent of coverage); Obamacare repeal (3.8 percent); the legal battle over Trump’s Muslim ban (5.6 percent), a surge of anti-GOP activism and town halls since Trump took office (5.8 percent), and Trump administration scandals and stumbles (11 percent).”

Well and good. But is this propaganda?

At Truthdig, Norman Solomon wrote: “As the cable news network most trusted by Democrats as a liberal beacon, MSNBC plays a special role in fueling rage among progressive-minded viewers toward Russia’s ‘attack on our democracy’ that is somehow deemed more sinister and newsworthy than corporate dominance of American politics (including Democrats), racist voter suppression, gerrymandering and many other U.S. electoral defects all put together.”

Also true. But it is not so much propaganda as Project Censored’s broader category of “news abuse,” which includes propaganda and spin among other forms of “distraction to direct our attention away from what we really need to know.” To fully grasp what’s involved requires a more complex analysis. On the other hand, the censorship of alternative journalistic voices is far more clear-cut and straightforward.

In a report for Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting, Robin Andersen examined Russiagate-inspired censorship moves by Twitter, Google and others. A key initial target of this censorship was RT.

"RT’s reporting bears striking similarities to alternative and independent media content, and that is why letting the charges against RT stand unexamined is so dangerous," Andersen noted.

In fact, the government’s intelligence report on RT included its reporting on the dangers of fracking as part of its suspect activity. Beyond that, the spill-over suppression was dramatic: “Yet in the battle against fake news, much of the best, most accurate independent reporting is disappearing from Google searches,” Anderson said. “The World Socialist Web Site (8/2/17) reported that Google’s new search protocol is restricting access to leading independent, left-wing, progressive, anti-war and democratic rights websites. The estimated declines in traffic generated by Google searches for news sites are striking.”

There were declines for AlterNet.org (63 percent), DemocracyNow.org (36 percent), CounterPunch.org (21 percent), ConsortiumNews.com (47 percent), MediaMatters.org (42 percent), and TheIntercept.com (19 percent), among others.

“Many people suffer when lies are reported as facts, but it seems that corporate media are the only ones that profit when they reinforce blind hostility—against not only Russia, but also legitimate domestic dissent,” Project Censored noted.


7. Regenerative Agriculture as “Next Stage” of Civilization

The world’s agricultural and degraded soils have the capacity to recover 50 to 66 percent of the historic carbon release into the atmosphere, according to a 2004 paper in Science—actually reversing the processes driving global warming.

A set of practices known as “regenerative agriculture” could play a major role in accomplishing that, while substantially increasing crop yields as well, according to information compiled and published by Ronnie Cummins, director of the Organic Consumers Association, in May 2017.

“For thousands of years, we grew food by depleting soil carbon, and in the last hundred or so, the carbon in fossil fuel as well,” food and farming writer Michael Pollan wrote. “But now we know how to grow even more food while at the same time returning carbon and fertility and water to the soil

Cummins, who’s also a founding member of Regeneration International, wrote that regenerative agriculture offers a “world-changing paradigm” that can help solve many of today’s environmental and public-health problems. As The Guardian explained: “Regenerative agriculture comprises an array of techniques that rebuild soil and, in the process, sequester carbon. Typically, it uses cover crops and perennials so that bare soil is never exposed, and grazes animals in ways that mimic animals in nature. It also offers ecological benefits far beyond carbon storage: it stops soil erosion, re-mineralizes soil, protects the purity of groundwater and reduces damaging pesticide and fertilizer runoff.”

“We can’t really solve the climate crisis (and the related soil, environmental, and public health crisis) without simultaneously solving the food and farming crisis,” Cummings wrote. “We need to stop putting greenhouse gas pollution into the atmosphere (by moving to 100 percent renewable energy), but we also need to move away from chemical-intensive, energy-intensive food, factory farming and land use, as soon as possible.”

In addition to global warming, there are profound economic and social justice concerns involved.

“Out-of-touch and out-of-control governments of the world now take our tax money and spend $500 billion ... a year mainly subsidizing 50 million industrial farmers to do the wrong thing,” Cummins wrote. “Meanwhile, 700 million small family farms and herders, comprising the 3 billion people who produce 70 percent of the world’s food on just 25 percent of the world’s acreage, struggle to make ends meet…. The basic menu for a Regeneration Revolution is to unite the world’s 3 billion rural farmers, ranchers and herders with several billion health, environmental and justice-minded consumers to overturn ‘business as usual’ and embark on a global campaign of cooperation, solidarity and regeneration.”

If you’ve never heard of it before, don’t be surprised. “Regenerative agriculture has received limited attention in the establishment press, highlighted by only two recent, substantive reports in the New York Times Magazine and Salon,” Project Censored wrote.


8. Congress Passes Intrusive Data-Sharing Law Under Cover of Spending Bill

On March 21, House Republicans released a 2,232-page omnibus spending bill. It passed both houses and was signed into law in two days. Attached to the spending provisions that made it urgent “must-pass” legislation was the completely unrelated Clarifying Lawful Overseas Use of Data Act of 2018, also known as the CLOUD Act.

“The CLOUD Act enables the U.S. government to acquire data across international borders regardless of other nations’ data-privacy laws and without the need for warrants,” Project Censored summarized.

It also significantly weakens protections against foreign-government actions.

“It was never reviewed or marked up by any committee in either the House or the Senate,” the Electronic Frontier Foundation’s David Ruiz wrote. “It never received a hearing. … It was robbed of a stand-alone floor vote because Congressional leadership decided, behind closed doors, to attach this unvetted, unrelated data bill to the $1.3 trillion government spending bill.” Congressional leadership failed to listen to citizen concerns, Ruiz wrote, with devastating consequences:

“Because of this failure, U.S. and foreign police will have new mechanisms to seize data across the globe. Because of this failure, your private emails, your online chats, your Facebook, Google, Flickr photos, your Snapchat videos, your private lives online, your moments shared digitally between only those you trust, will be open to foreign law enforcement without a warrant and with few restrictions on using and sharing your information, privacy and human rights,” concluded Robyn Greene, who reported for Just Security.

“The little corporate news coverage that the CLOUD Act received tended to put a positive spin on it,” Project Censored noted. “(A glowing Washington Post op-ed) made no mention of potential risks to the privacy of citizens’ personal data, (and a CNET report that) highlighted the liberties that the CLOUD Act would provide corporations by simplifying legal issues concerning overseas servers.”

Because of this failure, U.S. laws will be bypassed on U.S. soil. Greene noted that the CLOUD Act negates protections of two interrelated existing laws. It creates an exception to the Stored Communications Act that allows certified foreign governments to request personal data directly from U.S. companies.

“This exception enables those countries to bypass the Mutual Legal Assistance Treaty process, which protects human rights by requiring foreign governments to work with the Department of Justice to obtain warrants from U.S. judges before they can access that data for their criminal investigations,” Greene explained. “The version of the bill that was included in the omnibus does include some improvements over the earlier version to help to mitigate the risks of bypassing the MLAT process … two changes (that) are important improvements. … Several other concerns have been left entirely unaddressed.”

“While the bill sponsors did try to address some of the concerns that have been raised, the improvements are not enough to shift the balance so that the CLOUD Act will be a boon, rather than a threat, to privacy and human rights,” Greene concluded.


9. Indigenous Communities Around World Helping to Win Legal Rights of Nature

In March 2017, the government of New Zealand ended a 140-year dispute with an indigenous Maori tribe by enacting a law that officially recognized the Whanganui River, which the tribe considers their ancestor, as a living entity with rights.

The Guardian reported it as “a world-first,” although the surrounding Te Urewera National Park had been similarly recognized in a 2014 law, and the U.S. Supreme Court came within one vote of potentially recognizing such a right in the 1972 case Sierra Club v. Morton, expressed in a dissent by Justice William O. Douglas. In addition, the broader idea of “rights of nature” has been adopted in Ecuador, Bolivia and by some American communities, noted Mihnea Tanasescu, writing for The Conversation.

The tribe’s perspective was explained to The Guardian by its lead negotiator, Gerrard Albert.

“We consider the river an ancestor and always have,” Albert said. “We have fought to find an approximation in law so that all others can understand that from our perspective treating the river as a living entity is the correct way to approach it, as in indivisible whole, instead of the traditional model for the last 100 years of treating it from a perspective of ownership and management.”

But that could be just the beginning. “It is a critical precedent for acknowledging the Rights of Nature in legal systems around the world,” Kayla DeVault reported for YES! Magazine. Others are advancing this perspective, DeVault wrote: “In response to the Standing Rock Sioux battle against the Dakota Access pipeline, the Ho-Chunk Nation of Wisconsin amended its constitution to include the Rights of Nature. This is the first time a North American tribe has used a Western legal framework to adopt such laws. Some American municipalities have protected their watersheds against fracking by invoking Rights of Nature.”

“A few corporate media outlets have covered the New Zealand case and subsequent decisions in India,” Project Censored noted. “However, these reports have not provided the depth of coverage found in the independent press or addressed how legal decisions in other countries might provide models for the United States.”


10. FBI Racially Profiling “Black Identity Extremists”

While white supremacists were preparing for the “Unite the Right” demonstration in Charlottesville, which resulted in the murder of Heather Heyer in August 2017, the FBI’s counterterrorism division produced an intelligence assessment warning of a very different—though actually non-existent threat: “Black Identity Extremists.” The report appeared to be the first time the term had been used to identify a movement, according to Foreign Policy magazine, which broke the story.

“But former government officials and legal experts said no such movement exists, and some expressed concern that the term is part of a politically motivated effort to find an equivalent threat to white supremacists,” Foreign Policy reported.

“The use of terms like ‘black identity extremists’ is part of a long-standing FBI attempt to define a movement where none exists,” said former FBI agent Mike German, who now works for the Brennan Center for Justice. “Basically, it’s black people who scare them.”

“It’s classic Hoover-style labeling with little bit of maliciousness and euphemism wrapped up together,” said William Maxwell, a Washington University professor working on a book about FBI monitoring of black writers. “The language … strikes me as weird and really a continuation of the worst of Hoover’s past.”

“There is a long tradition of the FBI targeting black activists and this is not surprising,” Black Lives Matter activist DeRay McKesson told Foreign Policy.

A former homeland security official told them that carelessly connecting unrelated groups will make it harder for law enforcement to identify real threats. It’s so convoluted that it’s compromising officer safety, the former official said.

“The corporate media (has) covered the FBI report on ‘black identity extremists’ in narrow or misleading ways,” Project Censored noted, citing examples from The New York Times, Fox News and NBC News. “Coverage like this both draws focus away from the active white supremacist movement and feeds the hate and fear on which such a movement thrive.”

Published in National/International

On this week's patriotic Independent comics page: The K Chronicles examines income inequality; This Modern World ponders real epidemics; Jen Sorenson wonders when to trust the media; and it's raining men over at Red Meat.

Published in Comics

On this week's economic Independent comics page: The K Chronicles drinks in college; Jen Sorenson ponders the plight of the super-rich; Red Meat suffers an existential crisis during a romantic comedy; and The City inherits a fortune.

Published in Comics

After hearing the lamentable Rush Limbaugh refer to the “chickification of America,” because NFL football players wore pink to support breast cancer research (men have breasts too, you know, and also get cancer), I was fuming and determined to write about my anger and frustration.

In spite of that initial impulse, here’s what I’m NOT writing about today:

October was Domestic Violence Awareness Month. As someone who was once in an abusive relationship (and if it could happen to me, it can happen to anyone, men included), I’m NOT writing about how important it is that society recognize the reality of how difficult it is to leave and to stay alive. I’m NOT writing about how 44 percent of all women murdered with guns in the U.S. are killed by a current or former intimate partner

More than 135,000 women became extremely poor in 2012—not just poor, but “extremely” poor—and people 65 and older are now more vulnerable to poverty, up significantly from 2011. Although my big fear is to end up eating cat food, I’m NOT writing about why women haven’t demanded compensatory Social Security for those whose “job” is to be a homemaker and mother, so they can survive old age.  Nor am I writing about the growing economic disparity between those at the very top and everyone else, and its disproportionate impact on women.

• The United States is among only eight nations in the world who don’t give women paid maternity leave—it’s often unpaid if you get it at all without jeopardizing your job—and our need for universally available and affordable day care is an embarrassment among nations. But I’m NOT writing about how this affects women’s ability to hold gainful employment or complete their education and thus be economically independent. 

• Women are not present at all on the boards of major corporations. Twitter has a seven-man board with no women; 36 percent of the 2,770 largest public companies have no women on their boards; and companies with women on their boards have better overall economic results. Yet I’m NOT writing about why women aren’t controlling and influencing all investment decisions based on this regrettable fact—although if we could get rid of apartheid, we should be able to get qualified women on corporate boards.

• While “half of all American children will at some point during their childhood reside in a household that uses food stamps for a period of time,” I am NOT writing about the callousness of those who refuse to make work pay a living wage, or who demand deficit reduction by penalizing the vulnerable with food stamp cuts, or who characterize those who need assistance as lazy and unmotivated “takers,” yet won’t support the education or child care that would allow self-sufficiency. 

• Even as abortion and access to “women’s health services” are increasingly subject to ridiculous and onerous restrictions, I’m NOT writing about the difference it makes who appoints judges to federal courts—although it does.

As a political commentator, it’s enticing to address any of these issues and take both policy and political stands. But I decided to write about something bigger than issues or politics: the need to set an entirely new policy agenda. I believe that women, and men who respect women, are uniquely poised to make that happen.

My experience as a mediator has shown that when two polarized sides of a debate are dug in, there is room to head right down the middle and define a new way of moving forward.

Politicians are staking out ever-more-radical positions for niche constituencies, so I am sending out a clarion call to women of every political stripe: WE can demand a new agenda. 

There are more of us. We live longer. We’re getting more educated. We already do whatever we have to do to take care of ourselves and our children. We make choices—not always good ones—and we live with the consequences. We have a collective voice, and it’s time to be heard.

Get involved. Demand, as a group along with your neighbors, to meet with elected officials at every level, and tell them you expect them to pay attention, or you will organize voters against them. If big business and the wealthy can influence public policy, organized and informed voters as a bloc can have an even greater impact.

We can’t leave it to anyone else. Change takes time. Results won’t come quickly. But we have to be present and involved, invested for the long haul.

Get informed. Educate others. Consider running for office. Vote in EVERY election, no matter how small or local. Contrary to conspiracy theories, votes do count! 

Don’t get suckered in by slick slogans designed to “sell” a candidate with sound bites that don’t really inform.

Visit nonpartisan websites like the League of Women Voters or No Labels. Spend as much time on this as you do playing computer games.

Bottom line: I think it’s time for a women’s strike. 

What if, for just two days, women (and the men who support them) across the country stayed home from work, didn’t cook or clean, didn’t deliver a tray of drinks, didn’t operate the cash register, didn’t re-hang clothes on the racks, didn’t make appointments, didn’t help people fill out forms, didn’t sell anyone’s home or didn’t process a bank deposit. 

What if a few agenda items—paid maternity leave, universal child care, comparable equal pay, a raised minimum wage, and greater representation where decisions are made—were highlighted as SO important they must no longer be ignored?

If all else fails, there’s always the Lysistrata strategy

This is adapted from a speech given to the Sun City, Palm Desert Democratic Club on Oct. 28, 2013.

Published in Know Your Neighbors