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UTLA File Unfair Practice Charge Against LAUSD

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LOS ANGELES — United Teachers Los Angeles or UTLA, which represents over 34,000 employees, Aug. 8, formally filed an unfair practice charge alleging the Los Angeles Unified School District violated the Educational Employment Relations Act or EERA. On April 22, 2022, LAUSD publicly announced “four additional days for accelerated academic opportunities,” without providing notice and an opportunity for the union to bargain as required by the EERA. Four days later, the district board unanimously approved the extended calendar without negotiating with the union, and has failed to meaningfully engage the union in negotiations on this subject since then. These four optional “Accelerated Days” are optional for all students and for all C-Basis employees — about 80% of UTLA members. The district chose to add these “accelerated days” without first consulting with parents, teachers or other school workers. 

The district has overstepped legal boundaries by failing to include the tens of thousands of teachers, nurses, counselors and support staff in determining the best way for the LAUSD community to manage post-COVID recovery. These optional days will cost the district an estimated $122 million. 

The district also failed to respond appropriately to UTLA leadership who raised multiple practical concerns about the district’s proposal, which included staffing the proposed optional days, consequences for students who don’t attend, and the impact on teachers’ performance evaluation for those who opt not to participate. 

UTLA is calling on the California Public Employment Relations Board or PERB to promptly investigate these charges and have LAUSD immediately withdraw its four accelerated days and return to the status quo. 

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How to Stop the GOP From Killing Medicare, Social Security, and Us

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POLITICAL WATCH – It’s The Ronald Reagan Memorial Competition: which Republican can make the rich richer and the poor poorer the fastest?

This week, Republican Sen. Ron Johnson of Wisconsin wants to one-up Republican Sen. Rick Scott of Florida in this perpetual GOP contest over who can most effectively screw working people.

Johnson wants Congress to vote every year whether or not to continue funding both Social Security and Medicare, while Scott says it should only be every five years.

On top of that, in a true tribute to Saint Ronny, they’re competing for how to most aggressively raise income taxes on working-class people, and how quickly.

You may remember Rick Scott as the guy who ran the company convicted of the largest Medicare fraud in the history of America, who then took his money and ran for governor of Florida, where he prevented the state from expanding Medicaid for low-income Floridians.

Scott is the second-richest guy in the Senate and, true to form, he’s now echoing the sentiments of the richest guy in the Senate, Mitt Romney.

“There are 47% who are with him,” Romney said of Barack Obama voters back in 2012, “who are dependent upon government, who believe that they are victims, who believe the government has a responsibility to care for them, who believe that they are entitled to health care, to food, to housing, to you name it. These are people who pay no income tax.”

Most low-income working people in America actually pay a higher percentage of their income as taxes than do many billionaires and multi-multi-millionaires. 

Working people pay Social Security taxes, Medicare taxes, property taxes, sales taxes, and other taxes in the form of fees for everything, from a driver’s license, to road tolls, to annual car inspections.

Billionaires, on the other hand, have bought politicians to write so many loopholes into the tax code that most — like Donald Trump — will go decades without paying a single penny in income taxes.

But that level of inequality isn’t enough for Senator Scott, who’s committed to out-neoliberaling Ronnie himself. He wants everybody in Romney’s “47%,” even people making $7.25 an hour or less, to subsidize billionaires by paying income taxes on their meager wages.

His logic is nuts. The simple reality is, if you want more Americans to pay income taxes, all you have to do is raise working people’s pay. This isn’t rocket science.

We saw it work out in a big way between 1933 and 1980, before Reagan’s war on labor, when unions helped wages — and income tax payments — steadily rise for working people. Those rising wages literally built the middle class, which peaked in 1980 and then began its long slide under Reaganomics.

In the early years of the Reagan administration, before his neoliberal “trickle down” and “supply side” policies started to really bite Americans, only 18% of Americans were so poor that their income didn’t qualify to be taxed. 

As “Right to Work for Less” laws spread across America and Republicans on the Supreme Court made it harder for unions to function, however, more and more working people fell below the tax threshold. When Romney ran for president in 2012, it was 47% of working people who had fallen out of the middle class and were then so poor that they lived below the income tax threshold.

Today, just a decade later (and after the $2 trillion Trump tax cut), it takes two working adults to maintain the same lifestyle that one worker could provide in 1980. That’s why an estimated 61% of working Americans this year will make so little money that they’ll struggle to pay the rent and buy food, and their income won’t be subject to taxation.

But Rick Scott’s solution to this situation isn’t to raise the income of working-class people so they make enough to pay for food, rent, and qualify to pay income taxes. 

Quite to the contrary, he’s suggesting that low-income people should be hit with their very own special income tax — in addition to the dozens of other taxes they’re already paying — so multimillionaires and billionaires like him and his friends can see their own taxes go down a tiny bit.

“All Americans should pay some income tax to have skin in the game,” Scott says in his 11-point plan, “even if a small amount. Currently over half of Americans pay no income tax.”

But for Ron Johnson, even that’s not quite enough of a club to beat working-class Americans over the head, particularly those who are retired and no longer working. He’s targeting the older folks, in fact, for his punishment this week.

He wants to open the Social Security and Medicare trust funds to an annual vote by Congress by moving those programs from the “mandatory spending” category to the easily changed or deleted “discretionary spending.”  

“Defense spending has always been discretionary,” Johnson said on a recent radio show. “VA spending is discretionary. What’s mandatory are things like Social Security and Medicare. If you qualify for the entitlement you just get it no matter what the cost.”

While Scott’s plan would have Congress both impose an income tax on the lowest-wage workers in America and require Congress to vote every five years on whether Social Security and Medicare should even continue to exist, Johnson is in more of a hurry and wants to move that vote up to every single year.

“What we ought to be doing is we ought to turn everything into discretionary spending so that it’s all evaluated so that we can fix problems or fix programs that are broken that are going to be going bankrupt,” Johnson said, echoing a Republican refrain dating back to the 1930s that “any day now” Social Security is going down the drain so we should just hand it over to Wall Street now.

Democrats should flip the script — essentially, pull a Reagan on the GOP — with a plan of their own, only this one with some real middle-class tax cuts.

For example, Democrats could propose ending the income taxes on Social Security, unemployment benefits, and income from tips.

Before Reagan, the first two were totally tax-free and the IRS had never pursued tips until he directed the agency to do so in 1988.

After all, the money you receive when you retire or become disabled and begin to draw Social Security is money that you already paid in, in large part, throughout your working life.

Therefore, when Franklin Roosevelt signed the Social Security Act in 1935, the money people got from Social Security was not taxable and not even tracked by the Internal Revenue Service.

When Congress passed legislation in the 1930s enacting unemployment insurance, they established a trust funded by employees, using money their employers could have paid them in other benefits.

Most workers never use this fund, but those who do are simply receiving what they already, indirectly, have paid into a system to create a safety net that will catch people so they don’t fall too hard or too far when they lose their jobs.

Because this money was usually deducted from people’s income before wages were calculated, unemployment benefits were also not taxable and not even reported to the IRS from 1935 until Reagan began taxing them.

Finally, people who work in jobs where they receive tips rarely have their own accounting system to daily keep track of those tips and report them to the IRS, and, besides that, tips are actually gratuities rather than income and are wildly variable.

They shouldn’t be subject to income tax. And weren’t from the beginning of the income tax in 1918 until just after the election of 1980.

Back in 1981, however, Reagan passed the biggest tax cut for billionaires and giant corporations in the then-history of the world, lowering the top rate from around 74% to around 28% and shoveling, in today’s money, over fifty trillion dollars from working class people up to the top 1% in the years since. 

The result was an explosion in the budget deficit the following year, so Reagan used that excuse to enact the largest tax increase since World War II. Being a Republican, he put it almost entirely on the shoulders of working people, unemployed people, and those receiving Social Security.

Reagan and his Republicans made Social Security income taxable for the first time in American history. It still is taxed, crippling people trying to live on that meager fare.  

Tips, Reagan and his GOP buddies figured, were actually part of wages so they changed IRS rules to force employers to count and report tips. As The New York Times reported in 1988:

“According to the Reagan Administration, which proposed the change, the expanded [tips] tax would raise $200 million this year and $1.6 billion over five years.”

And people on unemployment, Reagan decided, should also pay income tax on the money they received out of the unemployment trust funds that they, themselves, had paid into throughout their working lives via their employers.

He also raised taxes substantially on working-class people who still had regular jobs, and ended the ability of working-class people to deduct credit card, car loan, school loan, and most other interest payments from their taxes.

When Reagan arrived at the White House there was a 0% tax bracket for Americans making under the equivalent, in today’s dollars, of around $8,500 a year. Those folks paid absolutely nothing in income taxes.

Reagan did away with that altogether, so pretty much everybody making more than $0 and less than $29,750 in today’s money would pay up to a 15% tax rate, and anybody making over $29,750 would be taxed at 28%.

Finally, instead of indexing Social Security payments to one of the cost of living indexes like CPI-E that reflects the actual costs of older or disabled people, Reagan stuck seniors with a COLA irrelevant to retired people.

As an added slap in the face, he increased the Social Security tax paid by working people making under $147,000. (The morbidly rich, to this day, don’t pay a penny after the FICA tax on their first $147k in income.)

To add insult to injury, Reagan also raised the retirement age from 65 to 67, although to avoid political blow-back back in the 1980s he made sure it only applied to people born after 1960. Ironically, it phases into full effect this decade.

Reagan is gone, but his attacks on working class people roll on. Now they’re being carried on by Rick Scott, Ron Johnson, and all the rest of the multimillionaire Republican senators.

Let’s take the first step toward rolling back Reagan’s neoliberal legacy by making “income” from Social Security, unemployment benefits, and tips — money that exclusively benefits low-income and working-class people — free of taxation once again!

(Thom Hartmann is a talk-show host and the author of The Hidden History of Monopolies: How Big Business Destroyed the American Dream (2020); The Hidden History of the Supreme Court and the Betrayal of America (2019); and more than 25 other books in print. This article was published in Common Dreams.)

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Long Beach BRIEFS: City Council To Consider Ballot Measures and POLA’s Has Its Busiest July

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LB City Council to Consider Four Ballot Measures for November 

LONG BEACH — The Long Beach City Council Aug. 9, will consider placing four potential city charter amendments on the Nov. 8, 2022 ballot for consideration by Long Beach voters. 

The four proposed charter amendments relate to the consolidation of the city’s existing water, sewer and gas utilities into a single publicly-owned utility; establishment of a Police Oversight Commission; realignment of city election dates with the state; and realignment of Long Beach Board of Education election dates with the state. After the city charter amendments are selected for ballot placement Aug. 9, the city will call for argument writers interested in writing arguments both for or against the approved measures. 

Proposed language for the charter amendments may be found on the July 19, 2022, agenda for the joint meeting between the charter amendment committee and the city council. The official list of charter amendments and ballot measures to be placed on the Nov. 8 ballot. Additional information will follow.

 

The Port of Long Beach Had Its Busiest July On Record

LONG BEACH — Dockworkers and terminal operators moved 785,843 twenty-foot equivalent units in July, a slim 0.13% increase from the previous record set in July 2021. Imports declined 1.8% to 376,175 TEUs, while exports were down 0.5% to 109,411 TEUs. Empty containers moved through the port were up 2.8% to 300,257 TEUs.

The economy is not necessarily in a recession, but weaker domestic demand confirms it is rapidly downshifting amid high inflation and tightening by the Federal Reserve. Consumer spending rose a modest 1% nationally, attributed to an increase in spending on services that offset a decline in purchasing goods.

With the July result, the Port of Long Beach has broken monthly records in six out of the last seven months. The port has moved 5,793,621 TEUs during the first seven months of 2022, up 4.6% from the same period last year.

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Gascon Recall Fails

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District Attorney Geroge Gascón, who was the center of a recall effort led by two billionaires. File photo.

Los Angeles County Registrar-Recorder/County Clerk (RR/CC) Dean C. Logan announced Aug. 15, the RR/CC has completed the examination and verification of all 715,833 petition signatures submitted for the recall of Los Angeles County District Attorney George Gascon. 

Based on the examination and verification, 520,050 signatures were found to be valid and 195,783 were found to be invalid. To qualify the recall for the ballot, the petition required 566,857 valid signatures; therefore, the petition has failed to meet the sufficiency requirements and no further action shall be taken on the petition. 

A summary breakdown of the invalid signatures is as follows:

• Not Registered: 88,464 

• Max Number of Times Signed (Duplicate): 43,593 

• Different Address: 32,187 

• Mismatch Signature: 9,490 

• Canceled: 7,344 

• Out of County Address: 5,374 

• Other: 9,331 

The RR/CC has notified the proponents of these findings. Proponents of the recall petition may examine the petition signatures if desired, no later than 21 days after the certification of insufficiency of the petition.

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Woman Killed, Two Others Injured in Wilmington Shooting

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A woman was killed and two others were injured after shots were fired at a gathering in Wilmington, on Tuesday, August 16.

Officers first responded to reports of a shooting on the 800 block of Lagoon Ave at around 2:07 p.m., LAPD Officer Lee said. Two suspects, both male Hispanics, exited their car and fired multiple shots at a group of people standing outside of a house. They then got in their car and fled the location, Lee said.

Officers arrived to find a total of three people with gunshot wounds. Firefighters and paramedics transported the three victims, a male and female in their 20s, and a female in her 50s, to the hospital. The younger female later died at the hospital, Lee said.

Multiple casings were seen on the sidewalk one house away from where the victims were struck. The two suspects have not been located, and no arrests were made. Officials are considering the shooting to be gang related.

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California Launches College Savings Program for Millions of Students and All Newborns

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SACRAMENTO – On Aug. 16, all families of low-income public school students – 3.4 million across the state – can now access college savings accounts created in their children’s names, with seed investments of between $500 and $1,500. The CalKIDS program, launched Aug. 16, invests $1.9 billion into accounts for low-income school-age children in grades 1-12 and for newborn children born on or after July 1, 2022. 

Find out if you’re receiving money HERE.

Up to $1,500 for 3.4 Million School-Age Children:

  • $500 Automatic Deposit: Eligible low-income public school students in grades 1-12.
  • $500 Additional Deposit: Eligible low-income public school students in grades 1-12 identified as foster youth.
  • $500 Additional Deposit: Eligible low-income public school students in grades 1-12 identified as homeless.

Up to $100 for Newborn Children:

  • $25 Automatic Deposit: Every eligible child born on or after July 1, 2022.
  • $25 Additional Deposit: Those who register on the program’s online portal.
  • $50 Additional Deposit: Those who link a new or existing ScholarShare 529 account to the CalKIDS account.

Californians can begin accessing their accounts via the online portal now. In the coming months, CalKIDS will send notification letters to qualifying children and families with more information. 

Details: To learn more, visit the CalKIDS website and FAQ.

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Weissman Lays Out Goals for Port of Long Beach

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Sharon L. Weissman ushered in the start of her term as Harbor Commission president Aug. 11 by accepting the gavel and announcing an agenda of environmental, community and workforce goals for the year ahead at the Port of Long Beach. 

As head of the Board that sets policy for the port, Weissman said she wants to sharpen the port’s environmental focus by ensuring it works toward meeting a goal of deploying all zero-emissions cargo-handling equipment by 2030 and zero-emissions drayage trucks by 2035. She succeeds Harbor Commissioner Steven Neal, who served as the board’s president for the past 12 months.

Weissman also said she wants to increase the board’s support of the port’s community grants and sponsorship programs, in addition to education outreach programs such as the Academy of Global Logistics at Cabrillo High School in West Long Beach and the ACE Academy at Jordan High School in North Long Beach.

In her opening remarks, Weissman said she also planned to focus on:

  • Exploring whether to build an outdoor amphitheater in partnership with the Long Beach Symphony on vacant land adjacent to the Queen Mary and the Carnival Cruise Terminal on Pier H, pending a decision by the Long Beach City Council on whether to seek transfer of oversight of the property to the port;
  • Improving working conditions for the 20,000 truck drivers who serve the San Pedro Bay ports complex by increasing efficiency and working to secure state and federal financial assistance to purchase zero-emissions trucks;
  • Working with Metro and the Gateway Cities Council of Governments to make the 710 Freeway safer, less congested and cleaner, while also reducing impacts on neighbors and improving cargo flow; and 
  • Resuming in-person board meetings, public events, employee gatherings and other port programs when safe.
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Special Hearing: Deputy Gangs in the L.A. County Sheriff’s Department

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The Civilian Oversight Commission is hosting a special hearing on deputy gangs in the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department. The public is encouraged to attend. As the commission works to boost transparency and accountability, community input is vital to the ongoing analysis of the department’s policies, practices and procedures.

When available, the agenda will be posted online at coc.lacounty.gov.

On August 19, there are three ways to tune in:

  1. In Person: RSVP and join at Loyola Marymount University, Albert H. Girardi Advocacy Center, 919 Albany Street, Los Angeles, CA 90015
  2. Watch: Register for Webex (event password: COC123) or follow the Facebook Livestream.
  3. Listen: Call 213-306-3065 and enter access code: 2591 826 6853 and numeric meeting password: 262123

Submit written comments for the official meeting record by completing this form. Submissions will be accepted until 5 p.m. Aug. 19.

Questions? Email cocnotify@coc.lacounty.gov or call 213-253-5678.

Time: 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Aug. 19

Details: Register  https://tinyurl.com/deputy-gangs or RSVP https://tinyurl.com/rsvp-deputy-gangs 

Venue: Loyola Marymount University, Downtown Law Campus, Albert H. Girardi Advocacy Center, Robinson Courtroom, 919 Albany Street, Los Angeles

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Can American Democracy Survive the “Fake News” Crisis

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So, how should America deal with media that purports to be “news” but, in fact, is offering a healthy serving of spin, misdirection, and outright lies? if you have any additional ideas, what are they?

Can a nation survive as a democratic republic without an honest and trusted news ecosystem? Is it an actual fact that truthful and reliable news — combined with the kind of cultural trust people have in both government and each other as the result of a shared reality — are both historic and necessary preconditions for a democracy to work at all?

Thomas Jefferson once famously said that if he was given the ultimatum of choosing to live in a functioning nation without newspapers or a place with newspapers but no national government, he’d surely choose the latter.

It was a statement of his generation’s love of newspapers, literature, and free speech far more than the anti-government spin that rightwingers try for when quoting the author of the Declaration of Independence. No republic in the history of the world had ever survived without an informed, participating electorate, and this nation’s Founders knew it.

This truth was echoed two generations later when the young French aristocrat, Alexis de Tocqueville, spent half a year traveling America and wrote one of the entire century’s best-selling books, Democracy in America, published in 1833.

Astonished, he repeatedly mentions in the book how blown away he is that the dirt-poorest farmer or remote-hollow hillbilly is as literate and enthusiastic about discussing current world events and politics as an upper-class resident of Paris.

Alexis de Tocqueville concluded that our vibrant, free, trusted press was the one thing that set America apart so democracy could work here; it was so critical, he believed, that he was openly skeptical there were enough literate people or a free enough press in France to be able to safely give up the monarchy and imitate America.

Now, it seems, consolidation and the pouring of billions of dollars by conservative billionaires into our media infrastructure has produced a crisis in America’s democracy.

It’s frightening people, and they’re looking for solutions.

The Pew Research Center published a surprising new study this week showing that fully 48% of Americans “say the government should take steps to restrict false information, even if it means losing some freedom to access and publish content…” This is up almost 10% from just four years ago.

Similarly, the percentage of Americans, Pew notes, “who say freedom of information should be protected — even if it means some misinformation is published online — has decreased from 58% to 50%.”

Depending on the outlet, news is often skewed (either by omission of stories or simply presenting partial information) even on so-called “mainstream media;” naked lies told by politicians are only rarely called out; and political advertising today is more often deceptive than straightforward.

And Americans know it, and are sick of it.

A Pew study from last November found that roughly two-thirds of Americans believe they’ve seen news media slant stories to favor or disadvantage one political party or point of view. Three-out-of-five people said this was causing a “great deal” of confusion about issues related, for example, to the last presidential election.

The problem is particularly bad on the conservative side of media, in part because there’s only a very limited progressive media ecosystem, and in part because (in my opinion) conservative positions are often so unpopular that lies are necessary to bring voters along.

Who in their right mind, after all, is enthusiastic about voting for politicians whose platform includes defunding the FBI, denying toxin-exposed veterans healthcare, forcing 10-year-olds to carry a rapists’ baby to term, keeping insulin prices almost 10 times higher than in most other nations, and ending Social Security and Medicare?

No wonder so many rightwing radio, podcast, and cable-TV personalities focus instead on trans girls in sports, refugees from Guatemala, and crimes committed by Black and Brown people.

I have colleagues and acquaintances in conservative media who, in moments of braggadocio or drunken candor, have told me straight-up that they know some of the stories they cover are either lies or spun in ways that distort their actual meaning. Their justification is Socrates’ “noble lie” doctrine: that a small lie serving a greater good is not really a sin.

One was both shocked and skeptical when I told him that, to the best of my knowledge, I’d never promulgated a lie on the air and, when I do occasionally get things wrong, I always try to correct them on-air as soon as possible.

The nonprofit group Media Matters for America has built a solid following and reputation by almost daily identifying naked lies and half-truths being promulgated on Fox “News” and other rightwing media. Fox hosts’ and guests’ most recent spin, for example, is that the FBI spent Tuesday of this week “planting evidence” at Trump’s Mar-a-Lago home.

Brian Maloney used to run a site called the “Radio Equalizer” designed to hold lefties to account when they lie on the air and used to occasionally skewer me. He hasn’t posted on his blog since 2012, however, and his YouTube channel seems moribund. His latest project, Media Equalizer, seems not so much to hold liberal media to account as to complain about liberal politicians and progressive policies.

Either leftie shows like mine and those on MSNBC are generally truthful, or we’re so small compared to the multi-billion-dollar conservative empires that populate the American media landscape that we’re not worth covering.

So, how should America deal with media that purports to be “news” but, in fact, is offering a grotesque serving of spin, misdirection, and outright lies in addition to the factual news that gains them credibility and underpins their coverage?

This is a really, genuinely tough one. Truth in media laws are a legal and political minefield, particularly when it comes to public policy.

For example, is Medicare Advantage a sneaky way to privatize and thus destroy real Medicare, or an innovation allowing competition in the senior healthcare market?

My opinion is solidly in the former camp, but there are some seniors who simply can’t afford the premiums for Medicare and a Medigap plan so, for them, the “free” Advantage programs are barely but definitely better than nothing at all. My opinion, in other words, isn’t necessarily a fact and there are arguable shades of gray around conclusions that can be drawn from the facts themselves.

That said, there are objectively definable lies that are regularly told by so-called conservative media and propaganda outlets run by foreign governments. Not to mention the striking reality that 45% of Americans get much or most of their news from Facebook.

And this is serious stuff. Propaganda and “fake news” represent an existential threat to liberal democracies. When there’s no consensus about shared reality, governance — even highly compromised governance — becomes nearly impossible.

Today in America (and, increasingly, around the world) advocates of dictatorship and oligarchy are using this device to divide and tear apart liberal democracies, from the Americas to Europe to Australia.

Billionaire oligarch Rupert Murdoch began his rightwing propaganda operation in Australia, throwing that nation’s political system so deeply into crisis that former Prime Minister Keven Rudd was moved to write an op-ed for the nation’s largest independent newspaper, The Sydney Morning Herald, in which he chronicles how “Australian politics has become vicious, toxic and unstable.”

Rudd then asks, “The core question is why?” and answers his own question unambiguously:

“But on top of all the above, while manipulating each of them, has been Rupert Murdoch — the greatest cancer on the Australian democracy.

“Murdoch is not just a news organisation. Murdoch operates as a political party, acting in pursuit of clearly defined commercial interests, in addition to his far-right ideological world view.”

From Australia, Murdoch moved to the UK where he took over numerous newspapers and media outlets, cheerleading for grifter and Trump wannabee Boris Johnson and his Brexit. He then became an American citizen, which let his company legally own US television networks and stations and now lords over Fox “News,” arguably the second most toxic source of anti-American and white-supremacist propaganda.  

In the social media arena, Facebook’s owner and CEO, Mark Zuckerberg, oversees what is the largest purveyor of news in the world today, including here in the US.

Zuckerberg, the country’s richest millennial, had a secret dinner with Donald Trump during the Trump presidency, and held multiple meetings with rightwing politicians, reporters, op-ed writers and influencers, according to Politico. I can find no record of him having similar private dinners with either Obama or Biden, nor with any groups of progressive journalists, writers, or influencers.

Numerous sources identify Facebook as one of the major hubs of organizing for rightwing events including January 6th, the rise of Qanon, and the contemporary militia and white supremacist Nazi movements.

His company continues to keep a tightly held secret the algorithm which decides which pages and posts get pushed to readers and which don’t, thus secretly deciding what types of news and opinion are most heavily spread across America.

Arguably, their dominance of news dissemination makes Rupert Murdoch and Mark Zuckerberg two of the most powerful men in America. Another morbidly rich billionaire, Jeff Bezos, owns The Washington Post, although apparently hasn’t personally influenced or interfered with that publication’s reporting. But the potential is certainly there: he who has the gold makes the rules, as the old saying goes.

To compound the confusion about who to trust in the news business, about two decades ago two reporters for a Fox station in Florida were explicitly told by station management to alter a story about Monsanto’s recombinant bovine growth hormone to make it friendlier to Monsanto. They complied multiple times until the alterations reached the point where they believed the story was filled with blatant lies and refused to air it.

The Fox station fired them and they sued for wrongful termination. Fox fought the case, arguing that, as their employer, it could tell them what to say and they had to do it to keep their jobs.

A jury awarded them about a half million dollars, but when Fox appealed the case it was reversed (and Fox then went after the reporters for attorneys’ fees, threatening to bankrupt them). The court explicitly ruled that news organizations can direct their on-air personalities to lie to viewers.

So, what do we do about this? 

Al Franken had a novel idea a few years back, suggesting a way to deal with lying politicians like Trump:

“Anyone can call the FCC and lodge a complaint. The FCC then presents the complaint to an adjudicative body comprised of three judges appointed by Republicans and three judges appointed by Democrats. If a majority determines that the statement is untrue, the FCC can warn the president. And if he tweets or tells the same lie again on TV or radio or to a newspaper, he can be fined up to $10,000, or 15 percent of his net worth.”

The problem, of course, is the old James Madison quote about our not needing laws if men were angels, and its corollary, that those who administer and adjudicate our laws are as potentially corruptible as anybody else.

For example, what if President DeSantis were to hand-pick the six members? As we learned with the board that overseas the Postal Service, there are more than a few people with a D after their names who are just as corrupt as many Rs: would you trust the outcome?

The FCC already has a policy opposing fake or misleading news. As they note on their website:

“The FCC is prohibited by law from engaging in censorship or infringing on First Amendment rights of the press. It is, however, illegal for broadcasters to intentionally distort the news, and the FCC may act on complaints if there is documented evidence of such behavior from persons with direct personal knowledge.”

That said, the FCC doesn’t regulate the content of cable or internet-based programs; content-wise, their authority is pretty much limited to over-the-air broadcast media like radio and TV.

Libel lawsuits are another remedy for the victims of fake news, but they’re extraordinarily difficult to win in the US given our First Amendment protections and the doctrine that public figures generally can’t sue for libel at all.

Canada explicitly outlaws fake news, although that hasn’t stopped Fox “News” from popping up on outlets across that country. Their Broadcasting Act explicitly says:

“Prohibited Programming Content:

  • 8 (1) No licensee shall distribute a programming service that the licensee originates and that contains
    • (a) anything that contravenes any law;
    • (b) any abusive comment or abusive pictorial representation that, when taken in context, tends to or is likely to expose an individual or group or class of individuals to hatred or contempt on the basis of race, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, sex, sexual orientation, age or mental or physical disability;
    • (c) any obscene or profane language or pictorial representation; or
    • (d) any false or misleading news.”

It’s nonetheless difficult to enforce on cable or Internet outlets in Canada, and a similar approach here would run afoul of the First Amendment’s prohibitions on regulation of “freedom of speech, or of the press.”  

Finland has taken an unique approach to the problem of fake news, particularly on social media, by incorporating news and media training into required elementary and secondary school classes. America could consider the same, although, like the snit we just saw about teaching American history or sex education, it would almost certainly provoke squeals of outrage from rightwingers.

But screw them. America is in a crisis right now caused, in large part, by dishonest actors across the rightwing spectrum of our media and social media.

Forty % of Americans don’t believe the results of the 2020 election, and nearly half of Republicans think Democrats engage in ritual drinking of children’s blood and worse. There is no corollary or even similar misunderstanding of reality or bizarre set of beliefs among the left or those in the center.

For the moment, media literacy training in schools across America and requiring transparency from social media — both things Congress would have to undertake to succeed — seem like the best approaches we can take to both protect free speech and diminish the impact of lies and propaganda on American political and social life.

If the Biden administration were to enforce the nation’s antitrust laws and break up the media conglomerates, or Congress were to bring back the media ownership limits as they were before being gutted in the Telecommunications Act of 1996, either or both would go a long way toward increasing the social and political diversity of voices across our media public squares.

These will all be hard, but they’re important if we value our democratic republic and want it to survive. And they’re just the start: if you have any additional ideas, I’d love to hear them.

 

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Gov. Newsom Names New Secretary for Environmental Protection

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Secretary Yana Garcia

SACRAMENTO – Gov. Gavin Newsom Aug. 12, named Amelia Yana Garcia Gonzalez to serve as California’s next secretary for environmental protection after secretary Jared Blumenfeld steps down in September. Garcia Gonzalez previously served in various leadership roles at CalEPA focused on environmental justice and tribal affairs.

“Yana’s deep connection to communities, her strong track record as an environmental attorney in holding polluters accountable, and her commitment to bringing diverse interests together make her uniquely matched to the challenges facing California,” said Gov. Newsom. “She is a strategic and compassionate leader who played a central role in helping communities gain access to safe and affordable drinking water. Yana is known nationally as a groundbreaking environmentalist who has lifted up the voices of tribal nations, U.S.-Mexico border communities, and those struggling on the frontlines of the battle for environmental justice. I look forward to working with Yana to implement our ambitious environmental agenda with the knowledge that she is resolute in her commitment to ensuring a California for all.”

Secretary Blumenfeld, who has led the California Environmental Protection Agency or CalEPA since 2019, will go on to serve as the inaugural president of the Waverley Street Foundation, a new global climate change nonprofit focused on community-driven climate solutions.

Amelia Yana Garcia Gonzalez, 38, of Oakland, has served as special assistant attorney general in the California Attorney General’s Office since 2021. She was deputy secretary for environmental justice, tribal affairs and border relations at the California Environmental Protection Agency from 2019 to 2021, where she was assistant secretary for Environmental Justice and Tribal Affairs from 2017 to 2019. Garcia Gonzalez was an attorney at Earthjustice from 2015 to 2017, and at Communities for a Better Environment from 2013 to 2015. She was a legal research attorney at the San Francisco County Superior Court from 2012 to 2013, and a postgraduate law clerk at Kazan, McClain, Lyons, Greenwood and Harley, A Professional Law Corporation from 2011 to 2012. Garcia Gonzalez earned a Juris Doctor degree from the Northeastern University School of Law. This position requires Senate confirmation and the compensation is $232,858. Garcia Gonzalez is a Democrat.

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