The IMF Board of Governors convened a special virtual session for final approval of US $650 billion in emergency reserve currency or Special Drawing Rights (SDRs). Countries will receive their share of Special Drawing Rights on August 23rd.
“More than $200 billion of these new reserve funds will go to developing countries to support pandemic relief and recovery efforts,” said Eric LeCompte, Executive Director of the religious development group Jubilee USA Network. “While these resources are needed, developing countries must receive more aid to get beyond the crisis.”
More than $400 billion of the emergency currency goes to wealthy countries. Wealthy countries can donate their SDRs to developing countries directly, or through initiatives from the IMF or development banks.
“Most wealthy countries don’t need their share of Special Drawing Rights and they need to donate them quickly to developing countries struggling with the health and economic crisis,” stated LeCompte.
Read Jubilee USA’s IMF COVID response letter calling for Special Drawing Rights aid with nearly 270 signatories here.
“He was talking about going pro and going to college. He had a future on him. He had a future. I just wish that he was still here with us,” said Ruskin High School football teammate, Kenderal Webber. “I lost a lot of friends, but I was real close with Terrell. I wouldn’t never thought this would happen.”
At the vigil, there were also calls for change and peace.
Local gospel artist Christian Fly delivering an emotional plea before the crowd.
“Enough is enough. Until we teach our kids that their neighbor is deserving of the same respect of those in their household. This going to continue to happen,” Fly said. “We got to teach them better problem-solving skills. Until pain hurts you enough to make you want to change, we are going to keep going through things like this.”
A juvenile has been arrested and charged in Bell’s death.
National Gun Violence Survivors Week is about elevating our voices and stories, because after living through terrible tragedy, we have found the strength to speak out to help prevent others from experiencing the same pain. It is an emotionally intense week, and after reading and sharing so many stories, I hope you will continue to practice self care and explore resources with the Everytown Survivor Network.
I also wanted to share some of the incredible things you accomplished in the third year of National Gun violence Survivors Week.
Field Events: Moms Demand Action and Students Demand Action volunteers organized close to 95 virtual events with more than 1700 in attendance, including the first ever NGVSW student summit. Thank you to all of you who organized and spoke at events to ensure survivor voices were heard across the country: from panel discussions to acts of service such as blood drives and book drives, it had a powerful impact.
A moving event lead by California Survivor Engagement Leads
Social Media: Thousands of survivor stories were shared on social media, including 55k mentions of the hashtag #GVSurvivorsWeek and related terms. I was honored to be a part of the Survivor Twitter team — a truly powerful force — who were sharing stories of survivors in the Network all throughout the week to reach more Americans with the urgent message that we must address our country’s gun crisis. If you haven’t already and would like to, you can join the Survivor twitter team here, which engages on campaigns throughout the year.
Federal, State, City Leaders: More than 370 survivors of gun violence released an open letter to the 117th Congress highlighting the shared life-changing trauma of gun violence, which we shared with elected officials and on social media and media during the week. Thank you to all of you who signed the letter.
Our partners in Washington responded by lifting up your voices through social media, virtual conversations, press releases, and floor speeches, including Ambassador Susan Rice, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA-12), Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY), Sen. Chris Murphy (D-CT) and Rep. Dwight Evans (D-PA-03). The week was even featured during floor speeches in both chambers of Congress by Sen. Chris Murphy (D-CT) and Rep. Dwight Evans (D-PA).
Beyond the federal government, dozens of mayors and state officials from across the country shared your stories on social media and issued mayoral proclamations. Everytown’s research team also put together a fact sheet for local government leaders on “Community-Led Services for Survivors.”
Partnerships: Over 65 partners, including nearly every gun violence prevention organization, national membership groups, non-profit organizations, and faith partners across various issue areas, joined the effort to lift stories and facts about the impact of gun violence.
America’s extra vaccine doses could be key to global supply
Data: Duke Global Health Innovation Center. Chart: Michelle McGhee/AxiosThe Biden administration’s purchase of 200 million additional Pfizer and Modern doses means the U.S. could fully vaccinate 300 million people with just those two vaccines — and 355 million more people if four additional vaccines gain FDA approval, Axios World editor Dave Lawler reports.Why it matters: The White House says the U.S. will eventually donate excess doses to other countries, but it hasn’t released a plan to do so.Between the lines: Sources in the administration emphasize that despite the bulk orders, only two vaccines have been approved and supplies remain scarce.Most of the 1.2 billion doses of six vaccines currently on the books were purchased as part of the Trump administration’s Operation Warp Speed.Keep reading.
Efforts to restrict facial recognition are gathering momentum around the country, including the investigation of the Capitol insurrection, Axios Future author Bryan Walsh writes.Why it matters: With dozens of companies selling the ability to identify people from pictures of their faces — and no clear federal regulation governing the process — facial recognition is seeping into the U.S.Driving the news: The Minneapolis City Council voted yesterday to bar its police department from using facial recognition technology, Axios Twin Cities’ Nick Halter reports.Minneapolis will join other cities that have restricted the technology, including Portland, San Francisco and Boston.Keep reading.
Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) greets Jason Miller, adviser to President Trump, at the Capitol yesterday. Photo: Bill Clark/CQ-Roll Call via Getty ImagesHistorians are already drawing lessons from Impeachment II, Axios managing editors David Nather and Margaret Talev report:The power of impeachment: That’s pretty much gone. Historian Douglas Brinkley says if former President Trump is acquitted, it’ll be clear impeachment is a political process, not a legal one.America’s changing demographics: Renee Romano, an Oberlin College professor who specializes in the field of historical memory, says that outcome would raise the question: “Can America ever truly be a multiracial democracy?'”Congress leaves the field: With a Trump acquittal, the Senate would have passed on two chances to hold a president accountable for undermining the authority of Congress, said Andrew Rudalevidge, expert on presidential power.Share this story.
En español | A nonprofit organization that specializes in teaching technology skills to older adults is uniting with AARP to offer its courses to even more older adults nationwide — for free.
Senior Planet and its parent organization, Older Adults Technology Services (OATS), have been working with AARP on projects for a decade or more, including a How to Use Zoom class early in the coronavirus pandemic that drew more than 10,000 participants, says Tom Kamber, executive director of OATS/Senior Planet. Now OATS has joined forces with AARP as an affiliated charity, like AARP Foundation, Legal Counsel for the Elderly and Wish of a Lifetime.
OATS will continue to offer its programs independently. AARP will support OATS in expanding its offerings and making them known to a wider audience through AARP’s new Virtual Community Center. The relationship with AARP allows both organizations to help more people learn the computer skills they need now more than ever because so many activities and events are available only online.
Before the pandemic, nearly three-quarters of adults in the United States had high-speed internet access at home, according to recent Pew Research Center data. But that number misses differences among age groups. About 4 of 5 adults ages 50 to 64 had high-speed internet then, higher than the U.S. average, but only 3 of 5 people 65 and older had the same access.
More than a quarter of people 65 and older told Pew researchers that they never went online. Past Pew studies have shown that online use drops even more among those 80 and older.
Tech anxiety transformed
In many cases, older adults lack confidence in their ability to use new devices and software designed to make their lives easier, the Pew researchers found. They watch from the sidelines as younger family members easily adopt new technology, potential employers use code words for age bias to target “digital native” job candidates, and the pandemic increases their isolationbecause of the COVID danger that meeting friends face to face may bring.
Jolynn Bailey, 67, a retired teacher who lives in Clifton, Texas, was a reluctant convert to technology. She had used a computer at work and for her grade books, but only because her school required it, she says. She used the computer her daughter bought her only to look at email and log on to Weight Watchers’ website.
AARP has two places where you can sign up for free online classes and workshops:
Then the pandemic left her alone in her studio apartment with poor TV reception and a few DVDs — unable to go to the nearby gym, head to Weight Watchers meetings in Waco or meet with friends. Her daughter, who works for a tech company in California, found out about Senior Planet in April and suggested she try it. She waited three months, becoming more and more desperate for things to do.
“The first time I went on Senior Planet I was hooked,” Bailey says. “It gave me my world back and more than that, a whole new world.” Now she joins stretch or chair yoga classes to keep fit; participates in the virtual book club; and takes tech classes, even learning how to use an HDMI cable so she can watch YouTube videos from her computer on the bigger TV screen. She’s in Senior Planet discussion groups where she’s met people from across the country and often takes part in several workshops each day.
The idea for OATS/Senior Planet began when Kamber was working on part of the project to revitalize Lower Manhattan after 9/11. An 87-year-old woman in the area called him after learning about his website launch related to the project. But she didn’t have a computer and didn’t know about the internet.
Kamber ended up tutoring her in his office.
OATS was founded in 2004 in New York City as an outgrowth of those lessons. It now has Senior Planet physical centers in five additional cities: Palo Alto, California; Denver; Rockville, Maryland; Plattsburgh, New York; and San Antonio. Classes are entirely online during the pandemic, which allows anyone from across the country to participate, but in-person instruction will resume when it’s safe to do so.
Engagement erases isolation
Senior Planet programs are designed to teach adults 60 and older basic computer skills — including how to start, stop, mute, skip ads and enlarge a YouTube video — and more advanced options. Its interactive online classes, offered in English, Spanish and Chinese, are free to anyone of any age. About 50 classes are on the schedule each week.
“A lot of Latino adults aren’t up to date with technology. Some don’t even have internet access,” says Braulio “Brad” José Veloz Carvajal, a 73-year-old retiree in San Antonio who found out about the Senior Planet classes through his membership in the Pride Center San Antonio. He knew how to use a computer but retired from his job at the Pentagon in 2003, so he wanted to learn all about Google, Facetime and Zoom.
“With what I learned, I was able to talk to my family in Corpus Christi and San Antonio. That made me so happy.”— Brad Veloz, 73, of San Antonio
“With what I learned, I was able to talk to my family in Corpus Christi and San Antonio. That made me so happy,” he said after the months of lockdown because of the pandemic. “I hope Senior Planet teaches technologies that can provide a way to talk to other seniors in the Latino LGBT community and start support groups.”
Class participants can decide to just listen, speak up with questions or type comments in the chat area. Most sessions aren’t archived for future playback, although some how-tos are posted to Senior Planet’s YouTube channel, but popular courses are offered frequently.
“In some of our classes, we find that they come early and stay late to talk to each other,” Kamber says. “Our trainers seek out opportunities to engage people. They draw people out.” Follow-up with students has shown that participants are using their newfound knowledge.
Technology topics include a range of how-tos such as shopping on Amazon, using Google Maps and hosting a Zoom meeting. Some workshops focus on helping participants struggling with tech issues or learning how to keep their personal information secure. Better balance, chair yoga and stretching sessions are among Senior Planet’s fitness offerings.
“If I can Zoom, you can Zoom,” says Bailey, who decided to become a member of Senior Planet to go along with her 17-year AARP membership. “It’s not that complicated. You just need somebody to guide you through it. And that’s what Senior Planet knows how to do.”
Monica Bentivegna contributed to this story. Linda Dono is an executive editor for AARP. Previously, she served as a reporter and editor for USA Today, Gannett News Service and newspapers in four states, including The Cincinnati Enquirer.
The Virtual Community Center uses Zoom and a few other online platforms to allow users with common interests to learn together. As with Senior Planet’s offerings, these events are live and allow for interactivity — speaking or typing — with others in attendance. It’s not on-demand video.
“The Virtual Community Center is designed in many ways to be like an in-person community center. You sign up for a class and go to it” online, says Heather Nawrocki, AARP’s vice president of fun and fulfillment.
Events on a wide variety of topics, including books, fitness, history, music and screenings of AARP Movies for Grownups, are available now for signup. All are free, have no age restrictions and don’t require AARP membership to participate. Although the programs initially are in English, AARP is looking at expanding the signup platform as well as course offerings for Spanish speakers.
“But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him.”
Recently, the United Kingdom appointed a Minister of Loneliness to attend to the growing public health crisis of loneliness reported by 9 million people in their country. Our culture has mastered the art of relational distance. Too many of us are content to view one another from a long way off. Our past hurts, pains, disappointments and biases keep us so isolated and alone. But like this father who saw his son and became proximal to him, we are being nudged to close the chasm of difference and remember our shared humanity.
Pastor Michael McBride (known as “Pastor Mike”) is a native of San Francisco and has been active in ministry for over 20 years. Pastor McBride’s commitment to holistic ministry can be seen through his leadership roles in both the church and community organizations. A graduate of Duke University’s Divinity School, with a Master of Divinity with an emphasis in Ethics and Public Policy, Pastor McBride founded The Way Christian Center in West Berkeley, where he presently serves as the Lead Pastor.
Bestselling author Stephen King on Monday weighed in on President Trump’s recent warnings to the migrant caravan moving through Mexico toward the United States. King’s criticism came in response to a tweet Trump shared on Sunday stating that “full efforts are being made to stop the onslaught of illegal aliens from crossing our Souther (sic) Border.” “Jesus, man,” King said in response to the tweet. “You act like the Red Chinese army was invading.” “They’re just a bunch of scared and hungry people,” the author said.
“It’s a long road from exciting things happening in the lab to getting through a clinical process to the patient’s bedside,” Kathy Talkington, director of Pew’s antibiotic resistance project, explains in a Chicago Tribune editorial.
Antibiotics are fundamental to modern medicine, essential for treating everything from routine skin infections to strep throat, and for protecting vulnerable patients receiving chemotherapy or being treated in intensive care units.
Pew’s antibiotic resistance project is working to ensure both the prudent use of existing drugs and a robust pipeline of new drugs in order to meet current and future patient needs.
For ten years, we’ve successfully fought back against the bad actors that poison our media with right-wing lies and smears. It’s been an amazing beginning, and we couldn’t have done it without your support.
You probably heard the great news – after two years of progressive activism, FOX finally cancelled Glenn Beck’s show.
Beck was targeted after he slandered President Obama by saying, “This president has exposed himself as a guy, over and over and over again, who has a deep-seated hatred for white people, or the white culture, I don’t know what it is… This guy, I believe, is a racist.”
Activists at ColorOfChange, Media Matters, StopBeck, FoxNewsBoycott, and of course Democrats.com responded with a boycott of advertisers on Glenn Beck’s show. Ultimately over 300 advertisers pulled their ads from Beck, costing FOX over $40 million.
Advertiser boycotts work! And it’s time to boycott all FOX News advertisers: http://www.democrats.com/boycott-proactiv
We’re starting our boycott of all FOX News with Proactiv, which sells acne medicine to teenagers and young adults. Why?
First, there are lots of other acne treatments. Second, young adults above all are hurt by FOX News, which promotes right-wing policies on race, education, healthcare, the environment, and war. Let’s get our future leaders to lead the fight against FOX News!
Sign the petition to Proactiv and enter the email address of every young adult over 18 you know: http://www.democrats.com/boycott-proactiv
Beyond President Obama, FOX regularly slanders nearly everyone: Democrats, unionized workers, the unemployed (including veterans and 99ers), environmentalists, feminists, blacks, Hiics, Jews, Muslims, progressives, scientists, and any other group it disagrees with.
FOX News broadcasts rightwing extremist slander, incitement to violence, political propaganda, and outright lies to promote its rightwing political agenda. This is not “news,” but rather a never-ending “war on news” – and it’s all documented in our petition.
Why would any decent company want to fund it? Tell Proactiv to stop advertising on FOX News: http://www.democrats.com/boycott-proactiv
Thanks for all you do!
GLEN BECK ADMITTED in 2007, “I Am RACIST and Barack Obama is very White” THIS MAKES Boycotting FOX NEWS needed NOW
By Kevin Stoda
Dear, American supporters of the Fascist Oddball Xenophobic (FOX) news networks.
AMERICANS are getting less tolerant of your racism and stronghold on our major media.
For example, we have noted that in his 2007 TV program from FOX (See on You-Tube), Glen Beck admitted he himself was racist. Further, Beck then, in contrast to 2009, called Barrack Obama much more white than black. (Apparently, Beck now he has other nonsense to mush men’s minds.)
Using a major news platform to promote racism and to tell people to disrespect a whole presidential administration through mixed truths, outright lies, and xenophobia, is not to be tolerated any more.
On Democracy Now today, Amy Goodman asked Benjamin Jealous of the NAACP what he thought of Wal-Mart’s pull-out from advertising on the Glen Beck program on FOX.
NOTE: Goodman had simply asked , “The whole attack by Glenn Beck that drove this (resignation)? In your response from the NAACP to Van Jones, it says, ´The only thing more outrageous than Mr. Beck’s attack on Van Jones is the fact that there are sponsors that continue to pay him to provide this type of offensive commentary.` Do you support the continued boycott of companies like Wal-Mart of Beck’s show on Fox?”
Mr. Jealous said, “We certainly support them (Walmart) choosing with their dollars who they’re going to support. I mean, it’s—Glenn Beck is somebody who’s told a seven-year-old girl, a seven-year-old black girl, that he would buy her a ticket back to Africa, that she needed to go back to Africa. And then he comes out, and he says that healthcare is the beginning of reparations. I mean, this guy plays the race card on a weekly basis. He does it very aggressive—you know, in a very hateful way.”
Recall, first, that Van Jones is one of the most important and thoughtful men in America—however, the FOX (Fascist Oddball Xenophobic) news network chose to support a man, like Glen Beck, rather than seeing that tens of millions of Americans need to get health care from promoters like Jones and that our America economy needs to move starting today to the kind of economy that its competitors worldwide are already doing.
Let’s quote the wisdom and influential words of Van Jones on the absolute necessity to green the American economy NOW!
“I think it’s really important to point out that we’re sort of at the end of an era of American capitalism, where we thought we could run the economy based on consumption rather than production, credit rather than creativity, borrowing rather than building, and also, most importantly, environmental destruction rather than environmental restoration.”
Jones continued, “We’re trying to make the case in this book that that era is over. We now have to move in a very different direction. And key to that will be basing the US economy not on credit cards, but based on clean energy and the clean energy revolution that would put literally millions of people to work, putting up solar panels all across the United States, weatherizing buildings so they don’t leak so much energy and put up so much carbon, building wind farms and wave farms, manufacturing wind turbines. We argue you could put Detroit back to work not making SUVs to destroy the world, but making wind turbines, 8,000 finely machine parts in each one, twenty tons of steel in each wind tower, making wind turbines to help save the world.”
Finally, Van Jones wisely noted, “So we think that you can fight pollution and poverty at the same time. We think that you can actually power our way through this recession by putting people to work, but we’re going to have to start building things here and re-powering, retrofitting, retooling America, and that that’s the way forward both for the economy, for the earth and for everyday people.”
Note: These statements came from a program on DN from October of last year:
Every day, thousands of federal employees staffed in various government agencies work on matters affecting virtually every facet of American life––whether it is approving new drugs, enforcing environmental laws, or administering federal benefit programs. Due to the often highly politicized nature of this work and the pervasive influence of special interests, these employees frequently uncover misconduct within their agencies, and unfortunately, they run the risk of facing retaliation for reporting it.
The Whistleblower Protection Act (WPA), originally enacted in 1978, is the primary law protecting federal employee whistleblowers and was intended to make it easier and safer for whistleblowers to disclose what they reasonably believe to be a violation of “any law, rule, or regulation” or “gross mismanagement, a gross waste of funds, an abuse of authority, or a substantial and specific danger to public health or safety.” 5 U.S.C. § 2302. Moreover, the WPA protects federal employees who report misconduct from various forms of retaliation, or adverse “personnel actions,” including those relating to appointments, promotions, performance evaluations, payments and benefits, or any other significant change in duties or working conditions.
How It Works
Unlike private sector whistleblowers, federal employees cannot have their claims tried before a jury in federal district court. Instead, the WPA requires these claims to be adjudicated by a quasi-judicial administrative agency, the Merit Systems Protection Board (MSPB). Under this system, federal employees alleging retaliation typically must first file a complaint with the Office of Special Counsel (OSC), which conducts an independent investigation to determine whether the agency committed a prohibited personnel practice against the whistleblower. If the OSC finds that a prohibited personnel practice occurred, it can file an administrative complaint with the MSPB on the whistleblower’s behalf.
Conversely, if the OSC decides to take no action on behalf of the employee, the whistleblower can request a hearing before an administrative judge appointed by the MSPB. Once a case is filed with an administrative judge, the parties can then conduct discovery, including questioning witnesses at depositions, subpoenaing records, submitting document requests, and compelling responses to written interrogatory questions. The administrative judge will then issue a final written decision, which either party can appeal to the three-member MSPB. The MSPB issues the final agency decision which can only be appealed to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit.
How Whistleblowers Win Their Cases
With respect to what the whistleblower must prove in order to prevail, the burden of proof under the WPA is more advantageous to whistleblowers compared to prior statutes. Under the previous Civil Service Reform Act, which was amended by the WPA, employees had to show that their whistleblowing was a significant factor in the agency’s action. However, the WPA lowered this burden by requiring employees to show only that the whistleblowing was a contributing factor in the agency’s decision. If this standard is met, the burden shifts to the agency which then must demonstrate, by “clear and convincing evidence,” that it would have taken the same action regardless of the whistleblowing. By lowering the evidentiary burden, Congress intended to make it easier for whistleblowers to win their cases.
If the employee prevails, the MSPB must then order corrective action which can include reinstatement, backpay, and attorney fees. Whistleblower Reforms are Needed Unfortunately, this complex process has significant flaws that can work to the disadvantage of federal employee whistleblowers. This is primarily because the system lacks the safeguards of traditional judicial review in federal district courts––safeguards meant to ensure adequate due process and the impartiality of the judges. For instance, the three members of the MSPB are appointed by the President, and, by law, two of the three members must be from the President’s political party. Political influence in the MSPB can make it hostile to whistleblower claims, which by nature can be highly politicized. Finally, the MSPB has lacked a quorum since 2017 resulting in an unprecedented backlog of more than 3,000 cases. Lastly the OSC, which is tasked with protecting federal employees, has insufficient resources to adequately represent all whistleblowers. As a result, the OSC often does not rule in the employee’s favor or even conduct a thorough investigation.
NWC has launched several grassroots campaigns intended to strengthen protections for federal employee whistleblowers––including allowing federal whistleblowers to have their cases heard in district courts and creating better incentives for whistleblowers to come forward. There is broad bipartisan support for these reforms. An effective civil service depends on rooting out misconduct in all forms. Whistleblowers are critical to this effort, and NWC is committed to ensuring that they are able to report wrongdoing safely and efficiently.
Our work would not be possible without your generous support. Please consider making a donation to NWC today, and please forward this email to ten friends in order to spread the word about whistleblower protections! Thank you for always supporting whistleblowers.
To the best of my memory, I first met Noam Chomsky in 1970. No, admittedly not in person, not then. But I “met” him through his remarkable essay “After Pinkville,” his look, in the midst of the Vietnam War, at a world of My Lai massacres. (The hamlets that included My Lai had been known to the U.S. military as “Pinkville.”) As he wrote at the time, grimly enough, “The world’s most advanced society has found the answer to people’s war: eliminate the people.” I was then a printer at the New England Free Press, a “movement” print shop, and though his essay appeared initially in the New York Review of Books, we printed up our own little edition for the bookshelf of movement literature we were then widely distributing. I was overwhelmed by the power of the piece and by the thinking of the man who wrote it.I would, in fact, eventually meet Noam in person and edit and publish two of his books (Hegemony or Survival, America’s Quest for Global Dominance and Failed States: The Abuse of Power and the Assault on Democracy) while launching the American Empire Project series with Steve Fraser at Metropolitan Books.
Then, unexpectedly finding myself producing what became TomDispatch, I would end up publishing 20 of Noam’s pieces at this website between 2003 and 2016. You won’t be surprised to learn that I felt honored. In these years, quite honestly, Noam Chomsky has been something like a force of nature, a single mind that has continually taken in the world in a way few others could. And so, I find myself proud indeed to be publishing an interview scientist Stan Cox has just done with him about the ultimate issue on this planet when it comes to our lives and those of our children and grandchildren: Can we make it?Cox himself is the author of a new book, The Path to a Liveable Future, as well as The Green New Deal and Beyond, that Chomsky wrote a forward to (a recommendation in itself). Check both of them out and, in the meantime, consider the thoughts of the man who has, for more than half a century, grasped and highlighted our problems in a unique fashion. You can count on one thing: whatever he does in the years to come, it won’t include, like 90-year-old William Shatner, heading into space with Jeff Bezos and crew. In a sense, Chomsky has been in space all along, looking down on this woebegone planet of ours and absorbing it in a way few others have done. It’s a record for the ages. Tom
The Path to a Livable Future–Or Will Rich Corporations Trash the Planet?
By Noam Chomsky and Stan CoxThis month will mark a critical juncture in the struggle to avoid climate catastrophe. At the COP26 global climate summit kicking off next week in Glasgow, Scotland, negotiators will be faced with the urgent need to get the world economy off the business-as-usual track that will take the Earth up to and beyond 3 degrees Celsius of excess heating before this century’s end, according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). Yet so far, the pledges of rich nations to cut greenhouse-gas emissions have been far too weak to rein in the temperature rise. Meanwhile, the Biden administration’s climate plans hang in the balance. If Congress fails to pass the reconciliation bill, the next opportunity for the United States to take effective climate action may not arise until it’s too late. For the past several decades, Noam Chomsky has been one of the most forceful and persuasive voices confronting injustice, inequity, and the threat posed by human-caused climate chaos to civilization and the Earth. I was eager to know Professor Chomsky’s views on the roots of our current dire predicament and on humanity’s prospects for emerging from this crisis into a livable future. He very graciously agreed to speak with me by way of a video chat. The text here is an abridged version of a conversation we had on October 1, 2021.Click here to read more of this dispatch.
My previous post was a bit intense, huh, and I’m sure I had offended a few readers. I couldn’t help it, though. I was on edge , and so was everybody else here in the US. Although I was careful with the words I used so as not to offend anyone, I might have inadvertently used some hurtful words. I did try my best to be politically correct, and , believe me, it was no mean feat. I was angry. It was easier to just lash out, and be like this —-> bleep, bleep, bleep, asdfghjk ! But then I’d regret it forever. Nothing comes out well with words said in the heat of the moment.
My family had a very interesting topic of conversation over dinner last night. My brother who lives in San Francisco told us that he saw a documentary film about the history of…
MANILA — In a white-walledroom, a small cyber-army of four is furiously typing. And posting. And clicking. And scrolling.
For the next eight hours, they will be glued to their screens. They are hired guns in one of Manila’s hundreds of troll farms churning out fake content, false narratives and anything else the client wants.
This trolling mission was for a candidate running for the Philippine Senate. One aim was to cook up fake social media accounts to make it appear as if the candidate had a vast and fervent base of supporters. Another goal was to smear any critics, especially those who call them out for precisely the jobs they do.
Across the Philippines, it’s a virtual free-for-all. Trolls for companies. Trolls for celebrities. Trolls for liberal opposition politicians and the government. Trolls trolling trolls.
“Now in Christ Jesus you [Gentiles], who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For he is our peace; in his flesh he has made both groups into one… that he might create in himself one new humanity in place of the two”
– Ephesians 2:13-15
It is so easy to look at others as the Gentiles, as those so different from us, those so far from Christ, that they do not belong among us. And yet, we hear in Paul’s letters to the Ephesians that the Christian Way is to bridge worlds. Christ submitted himself to death such that through his sacrifice we would become one humanity, Jews and Gentiles at least in peace. Christ tasks us to build and tend to that peace that comes when we unite as one humanity.
Davíd Eli (he/they) is a chaplain and seminarian hailing from Medellin, Colombia. He currently resides in New York, where he is developing a street chaplaincy ministry in Harlem. David is an active lay leader of the Latinx Episcopal community in New York and Long Island. Currently, David is actively developing various spirit-led outreach ministries at his home parish of St. Mary’s, Harlem – the Be Not Afraid Church. To see more of what David’s up to, follow his ministry’s Instagram @stmarysharlem.
In January 2019, an outfit called Santa Barbara for Safe and Local Transport (SBSLT) began running social media advertisements for select California residents. SBSLT’s name and logo — showcasing distant green mountains, a sliver of blue ocean and a highway slicing through them — could be mistaken for that of a typical grassroots group or a governmental highway agency. In reality, SBSLT is part of a campaign by the giant oil corporation Exxon Mobil to change public sentiment about its offshore drilling in California’s Central Coast.
Exxon closed down its local offshore oil platforms in 2015, after a broken pipeline led to the catastrophic Refugio oil spill. Without that pipeline, Exxon has no way to move the oil it pumps from its offshore platforms. As a temporary replacement, the company wants to run oil trucks overland to refineries in central California.
Public support is not on Exxon’s side — a fall 2019 poll found 51% of county residents oppose Exxon’s trucking plan (compared with 32% supporting), and surveys show a majority of Californians oppose more offshore drilling — which might explain why SBSLT has paid for dozens of social media ads over the past two years. The ads have appeared on the screens of California Facebook and Instagram users around 3 million times, and often feature racially diverse school children and coverall-clad oil workers. The ads, of course, offer support for Exxon’s overland trucking plan.
The Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors will decide Exxon’s local fate, likely next year, but the Santa Barbara ad blitz is just one front in Exxon’s digital politicking onslaught — with battles taking place nationwide. The strategy suggests Exxon is girding for a prolonged fight to secure its increasingly tenuous “social license” to operate, despite the dire predictions of how continued fossil fuel business-as-usual is transforming the planet.
A December 2019 Facebook ad suggests that restarting ExxonMobil’s Santa Ynez Unit off the California Central Coast would increase local school funding, due to Exxon’s property tax contributions. Santa Barbara for Safe and Local Transport spent between $5,000 and $6,000 to promote this ad. Local activists dispute whether offshore drilling is a safe or reliable source of property tax revenue. (Source: Facebook Ad Library)
An In These Times investigation, supported by a year-long fellowship from the Leonard C. Goodman Institute for Investigative Reporting, examined 11,622 Exxon social media ads containing around 350 distinct messages that ran in the two-year period from June 1, 2018, to May 31, 2020, and appeared on U.S. Facebook and Instagram users’ screens as many as 265 million times. Facebook (which owns Instagram) has allowed access to the ads it serves through its Ad Library since May 2018, created by Facebook after a number of transparency scandals. In These Times used Python scripts made publicly available by Facebook Research to search and download Ad Library data, then developed custom scripts to analyze and aggregate regional and demographic data. (The full methodology is publicly available here.)
Exxon has spent more than any other major corporation on “social issues, elections, or politics” Facebook ads (outside of Facebook itself), and is the country’s ninth-largest buyer of such ads overall: $15.6 million from May 7, 2018, to October 8, 2020. Almost every other top spender is an organization related to presidential campaigning. The top 100 pages are primarily politicians, nonprofits and other mission-driven organizations: The only major corporation outside of Exxon, Facebook and Instagram is Goldman Sachs, which spent less than a quarter of Exxon’s total. https://public.tableau.com/views/TopTenFacebookAdBuyers/Dashboard1?:embed=y&:showVizHome=no&:host_url=https%3A%2F%2Fpublic.tableau.com%2F&:embed_code_version=3&:tabs=no&:toolbar=yes&:animate_transition=yes&:display_static_image=no&:display_spinner=no&:display_overlay=yes&:display_count=yes&:language=en&publish=yes&:loadOrderID=0
In These Times examined about $10 million of that Exxon ad spend, a potent complement to the more than $23 million Exxon reportedly spent to directly lobby lawmakers in 2018 and 2019, and the $203 million it spent on traditional TV, radio, print and outdoor ads from June 2018 to June 2020, according to data compiled by Kantar Media’s AdSpender.
Digital advertising is “a very powerful tool to accelerate a range of strategies and tactics that [Exxon] already ha[s],” says Edward Collins, director of corporate lobbying at InfluenceMap, a London-based organization that analyzes and reports on how corporations influence climate policies. Through Facebook, Exxon can target its ads to users related to a particular region, demographic or other variable, communicating directly with any Facebook user who fits the company’s profile of who might be easily persuaded. Using techniques typically seen from activist groups and political campaigns, the ads then ask viewers to sign petitions, take surveys and contact lawmakers in support of Exxon, on issues from fracking to trade.
In many ways, this type of ad campaign on social media is more akin to lobbying or political organizing than advertising, and Exxon has worked with right-wing consulting firm Harris Media, a frequent collaborator with Republican electoral campaigns. Some states do require social media campaigns to be reported as lobbying efforts. Exxon tells In These Times it discloses all of its lobbying activities as required, but experts say inconsistent laws and enforcement means those requirements are generally scant.
“The oil and gas industry is THE engine that powers America’s economy. Take action against ineffective, unnecessary regulations!”
“The U.S. Department of the Interior is close to releasing the next iteration of its five-year offshore leasing plan. Opening these additional areas to drilling will enable the U.S. to access a greater portion of its significant energy resource potential.”
America’s resurgent energy industry has achieved something few thought possible a decade ago — we are the world’s #1 energy producer! SIGN YOUR NAME: Support America’s strong energy industry!
“SURVEY: The energy industry has been the backbone of America for decades. Do you think it’s important to keep our American energy industry strong? Sign your name today!”
“Pipelines support more than 500,000 jobs in the United States. Defend them!”
Many of the Facebook and Instagram ads examined for this story include calls to action, such as a survey or petition. One of Exxon’s biggest campaigns, for example, told Facebook users to contact their lawmakers to support the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement, the successor to the North American Free Trade Agreement (commonly known as NAFTA) that President Donald Trump ratified earlier this year. Through the new agreement, the oil industry successfully lobbied for special protection allowing it to circumvent Mexico’s court system and use international arbitration in the event of an investment dispute. The campaign even had its own form letter to email to lawmakers. Exxon spent as much as $1.3 million on the campaign ads, appearing on users’ screens as many as 21.4 million times.
Because Facebook only publicly reports ad impressions — the number of times an ad appears, including multiple views by the same person — it is unclear how many people actually acted on the campaign. Facebook also only offers a range of spending and impressions for each ad, rather than an exact amount. For example, on Dec. 20, 2019, Exxon published a series of ads with the text, “Pipelines support more than 500,000 jobs in the United States. Defend them!” For each individual post, Facebook provides a range for spending (for instance, $300 to $399) and impressions (for instance, 7,000 to 8,000). (The lower range is not reported on some ads, so this article presents the upper range unless otherwise noted.)
Even if people do not click an ad or sign a petition, Collins says, the ads “are probably still having an impact, especially if you are seeing it more than a few times — it’s like any other advertisement, after all.”
When users do click, they are often sent to one of Exxon’s digital organizing websites. Exxchange.com, for example, is Exxon’s “advocacy community portal” complete with its own app for smartphones. Before reaching a promised petition, however, users must offer up their personal contact information, building Exxon’s database of supporters.
Exxon declined to comment on how many people have signed up — Exxon says only that the Exxchange is “made up of energy supporters across the country” and “its broad membership is representative of the economic benefits of oil and natural gas in local communities across the nation.” But an ad that ran twice in March 2019 provides a clue. The ads are thank-yous for joining the Exxchange, suggesting they were served primarily to Exxchange members. According to Facebook data, the ads recorded 40,000 impressions, and more than 85% of those who saw the ad were older than 55.
Exxon posted two ads in March 2019 thanking users for joining the Exxchange. (Source: Facebook Ad Library)
NationBuilder is a nonpartisan digital campaign startup company whose platform is the go-to technology for conservative and Republican causes, including the 2016 Trump campaign — and Exxchange.
NationBuilder (and similar companies favored by liberal causes) makes it quick and inexpensive for political campaigns to map detailed intelligence about, and maintain close contact with, supporters. These digital tools have transformed fundraising and get-out-the-vote efforts by giving organizers targeted information about registered voters in every state. According to Exxon, the oil company “is just one of a number of corporations, associations and nonprofits that utilize digital grassroots advocacy as a necessary communications tool.”
The Exxchange website is built on NationBuilder and was developed by an employee of Harris Media. That company is run by Republican consultant Vincent Harris, once dubbed in Bloomberg as “the man who invented the Republican Internet.” Harris presides over Harris Media in Austin, which develops digital campaigns from video to ghost tweets and text messages for clients. Harris emerged as an online savant during Texas Sen. Ted Cruz’s 2012 primary race and has since continued his work with some of the most conservative Republicans in the country, including (briefly) the Trump 2016 campaign.
Harris’ clients have included Secure America Now, which calls itself a nonpartisan group dedicated to bringing “critical security issues to the forefront of the American debate” and has counted among its board of directors former Republican Gov. Mike Huckabee and national security firebrand John Bolton. The Secure America Now website features, among other things, anti-immigrant rhetoric and a conservative podcast series with such guests as former Republican Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich.
In another case, Exxon hired Harris Media for a campaign to help defeat an anti-fracking ballot measure in Colorado in 2018, known as Proposition 112. The Exxon Mobil Colorado Issue Committee paid Harris Media $40,000 for that campaign alone, according to records on file with the Colorado Secretary of State, and paid Facebook as much as $20,000 to run the created ads. Those ads created more than a million impressions on targeted Colorado residents.
In another industry crossover, Rachel Cross, Exxon’s digital and social media advisor since April 2020, is a former Harris employee. Before that, she worked for Americans for Prosperity, a political arm of the Koch brothers.
Abroad, the U.K.-based nonprofit group Privacy International has called out Harris Media for its “virulent” online ads with “law and order” themes during a 2017 presidential campaign in Kenya, where at least 33 people were killed in election violence. The organization also documented Harris Media’s work for extreme right-wing parties in Germany and France and with Israel’s Likud government.
Lucy Purdon, acting policy director at Privacy International, says Harris Media is part of “a whole ecosystem of companies that are all using this tactic of data collection, profiling and microtargeting in order to reach certain audiences.” She adds, “There is no transparency and no accountability.”
“Look, how do you build a database?” Harris told Politico in a 2015 profile, explaining his methods. “You build a database with enthusiasm. How do you build enthusiasm? With a message. How do you push a message? With social media.”
In a 2018 presentation at a meeting of the Independent Petroleum Association of America, Harris lamented how progressive politicians and advocacy groups like Earthjustice were shaping the narrative around the oil industry on social media. On the subsequent slides he laid out the way to neutralize critics and rally support:
“Before an issue arises Find OUR people, recruit OUR people, and educate them”
“Using a bot to get physical address”
“Activate your folks with tangible advocacy actions to sort and segment the database ahead of an issue”
Harris Media did not respond to multiple requests for comment.Exxon’s use of social media to lobby the public goes way beyond the rest of the industry.
As GOP digital strategist Mindy Finn explained to Politico: “[Digital organizing is] not just raw numbers. It’s analyzing and determining who those people [who are engaging] are and matching them back to voter profiles. … It’s not having the most Facebook likes and clicks, because the ‘who’ matters.”
While only age, sex and state information for each ad is provided by the Facebook Ad Library, Facebook allows ad buyers to target ads based on actual online behavior, in addition to self-reported characteristics like work and education. It can target using online shopping and browsing history, for example, and whether a person is likely to engage with conservative or liberal political content.
“With that kind of targeting,” Lucy Purdon says, “you don’t know what information has been gathered about you, from who, and how you’ve been targeted.”
“Facebook says it’s not a one-to-one match of an identifiable individual,” says digital technology critic Sara Watson, “but the more elements that you start to target against,” the closer you can get to identifying individual people.
Exxon’s social media approach is unusually brazen, according to Collins of InfluenceMap. He tells In These Times that Exxon’s use of social media to lobby the public goes way beyond the rest of the industry, a claim supported by the company’s abnormally high spending on Facebook political ads. Typically, such tactics would be used by political organizations or trade associations, not directly by corporations.
“It does feel novel that the ads would not be about the product but the interests of the company,” Watson says. She likens Exxon’s use of social media ads to the workings of “a Super PAC, but on a much more granular scale.”
In the 11,622 Exxon ads examined for this article, on average, 16% of those who saw each ad were men older than 65, 16% women older than 65, and another 16% men between 55 and 64. In contrast, only about 15% were users 18 – 34 (of any gender). Despite the fact that people older than 65 were a third of those who saw a typical Exxon ad, the group represents only 16% of the total U.S. population. Furthermore, younger people use social media more than older ones. Pew Research Center has used polling to track social media adoption for the past several years, reporting last year that 79% people 18- to 29-years-old are on Facebook and 67% use Instagram, compared to just 46% and 8%, respectively, of senior citizens. Although both Facebook and Exxon declined to comment on what filters Exxon uses to target its ads, this disproportionality suggests the ads are not being sent at random.https://public.tableau.com/views/WhoreceivesExxonsads-phonesized/Dashboard4?:embed=y&:showVizHome=no&:host_url=https%3A%2F%2Fpublic.tableau.com%2F&:embed_code_version=3&:tabs=no&:toolbar=yes&:animate_transition=yes&:display_static_image=no&:display_spinner=no&:display_overlay=yes&:display_count=yes&:language=en&:loadOrderID=1
Since Exxon’s primary business does not involve selling directly to individuals (the company decided to exit the gas station business in 2008), Watson says Exxon’s personal targeting could build a case for consumer protection, since “most consumers should not have a direct relationship with Exxon.” She adds, “So what right does Exxon have in collecting any consumer data at all, aside from aggregate information about consumer trends?”
Exxon declined to comment on how it uses individual data, but a few recent examples reveal how the oil industry as a whole is embracing the strategies Exxon has been relying upon.
Take the Texas controversy earlier this year over something called prorationing, the (now) rarely used government authority to regulate oil quotas to smooth out fluctuations in the U.S. oil market. The authority hasn’t been exercised in Texas since the 1970s, but this past spring, the Covid-19 shutdown led to an oil glut so large there was nowhere to store any more oil. The Trump administration ordered the U.S. Strategic Petroleum Reserve to fill “to the very top” in March, but his pro-oil policies weren’t enough to make up for the plummeting global demand.
The Texas Railroad Commission considered limiting the number of barrels that oil companies could pump, but free marketeers — linked to the oil industry—succeeded in beating back that proposal.
Multiple energy companies circulated the same anti-proration form letter, including Exxon. The American Petroleum Institute (API), which includes Exxon among its members, fielded an operation under the name Energy Citizens that used the same language.
API used a similar playbook in a 2017 Pennsylvania campaign, bankrolling an organization called Citizens Against Nuclear Bailouts. As revealed in a February Atlantic article, the group targeted residents with a barrage of Facebook ads, direct mail and phone calls. “Perhaps most surprising,” writer Robinson Meyer noted, “the industry has … actually borrowed tactics and ideas from climate activists.”
“It’s a really difficult question about what to do about” direct targeting of individuals with misleading information, says Kathie Treen, a Ph.D. candidate studying climate change misinformation at the University of Exeter, Devon, England. “It does raise all sorts of questions about freedom of speech and democratic rights. Is there a democratic right to be misinformed? Whose responsibility is it and who gets to say what counts, what is misleading and what isn’t, and whose responsibility it is to do something about it?”
12.1 MILLION! That’s how many barrels of oil per day the United States produced in March. Sign up for energy updates and support America’s energy industry!
13.1 MILLION! That’s the number of barrels of oil per day the United States is forecasted to produce in 2020. Sign up for energy updates and support America’s energy industry!
Exxon sent the two ads featured above to social media users nearly 4 million times in April 2019. A year later, headlines about the company’s fortunes had taken a decidedly different turn.
“Big Oil has fallen,” said May Boeve, 350.org executive director, in a triumphant statement emailed to the environmental group’s supporters August 25, the same day the Dow Jones Industrial Average kicked Exxon off its index. The Dow gave Exxon’s spot, which the company had held since 1928, to business software company Salesforce.
Bloomberg called it “a stunning fall from grace,” noting Exxon’s “particularly rapid shift in fortunes” during the lethargic Covid economy. Exxon’s removal came a few weeks after the company reported a second straight quarterly loss. In August, the company announced it would suspend payments to the pension funds of its unionized workforce, though it continued paying stockholder dividends.
Exxon was the most valuable company in the United States as recently as 2011, but its stock began losing value well before the pandemic. “I’m done with fossil fuels.,” declared Wall Street guru Jim Cramer on the show Squawk Box in January. “They’re done. They’re just done. We’re starting to see divestment all over the world.”
As easily accessible oil reserves decline, Exxon and the entire fossil fuel industry is shifting toward lower-profit “unconventional” activities, such as fracking — the process of fracturing shale rock and capturing the oil and gas that gets pushed out.
An August 2018 Exxon ad touts fracking.
Clark Williams-Derry, an energy finance analyst with the progressive Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis, says fracking has been “a complete and utter bust,” a “cash flow-negative” business with production costs so high they’ve driven many upstart independent drilling companies into bankruptcy.
“Are they moving into shale because shale is a great opportunity,” Williams-Derry says, “or is it that there is no better opportunity?” He adds it’s only a matter of time before Exxon succumbs to competition from renewable energy companies and stockholders flee en masse.
Meanwhile, the oil industry is attempting to market fracking as a climate-friendly “bridge fuel” to ease the transition from coal and oil to renewables. But new research suggests natural gas might actually be contributing more to carbon emissions than coal—because of gas flaring from wells and leaky pipelines. According to a 2020 study, 3.7% of the methane produced in Texas’ Permian Basin (where Exxon has invested in fracking) leaks away and never makes it to market, more than twice the official EPA estimate for the region. Climate scientists have already determined that if just 3.2% of gas leaks it becomes worse than coal for climate change.
“It breaks my heart,” says climate scientist Peter Kalmus, “that we are basically skewing the planet’s future for the next 10 million years in exchange for a few more years of fracking, of fossil fuel CEOs raking in record profits. … It’s just madness.”
Exxon’s local fights aren’t all winners, like the time it spent $16,000 on ads urging Louisiana residents to “take action” in its fight against the East Baton Rouge Parish School Board over extending expiring industrial tax breaks in January 2019. Those ads were shown more than half a million times, though the company lost the vote.
But the trend is clear: Exxon turns to social media to push its national agenda and try to reverse its general waning public support. Exxon spent up to $1.4 million on social media ads promoting pipeline jobs, for example, appearing 40 million times over the two-year period investigated for this article and particularly targeting residents in states such as Michigan, where pipeline construction is controversial. Other ads pushed for offshore drilling in federal waters and the new trade agreement with Canada and Mexico.https://public.tableau.com/views/ExxonsFacebookInstagramadsbyimpressionsphonesized/Dashboard2?:embed=y&:showVizHome=no&:host_url=https%3A%2F%2Fpublic.tableau.com%2F&:embed_code_version=3&:tabs=no&:toolbar=yes&:animate_transition=yes&:display_static_image=no&:display_spinner=no&:display_overlay=yes&:display_count=yes&:language=en&:loadOrderID=2
For ads that were posted with the same or similar text multiple times, this shows the mean number of impressions and mean spending for ads with that text.
America is the world’s top energy producer. Do you want to see that continue? SIGN the petition to add your name today!
ENERGY SURVEY: 94% of federal offshore acreage is off limits to development. Do you support expanding access to offshore energy production? Answer the survey today!
232,000 Colorado jobs are at risk. Tell Governor Polis to OPPOSE a moratorium on new oil and gas development.
In some states, political social media ads like Exxon’s may need to be disclosed as lobbying efforts. But many states — including Texas, where Exxon is based — have few rules or reporting requirements on social media spending. Even in states with regulations, enforcement is nearly non-existent.
Unlike direct lobbying efforts — in which Exxon would meet directly with lawmakers — “indirect” lobbying (also known as “grassroots”) generally refers to efforts that encourage other people to contact lawmakers, the types of campaigns that include petitions or that aim to influence public opinion about a ballot issue. In some states, according to consulting firm State and Federal Communications, that definition includes ads on social media.
“There really isn’t data [about how much indirect lobbying goes on in the U.S.] because every state is different,” Elizabeth Z. Bartz, State and Federal president and CEO, tells In These Times.
In New York, for instance, social media posts are considered lobbying (and subject to regulation and disclosure) when the post includes a “lobbying activity,” takes “a clear position on the issue in question” and attempts to “influence a public official,” according to a tip sheet from State and Federal. As Exxon tells In These Times, it “complies with all applicable laws and regulations and our lobbying reports are publicly available and filed with the appropriate regulatory agencies and authorities. Where required, our reports to regulators and authorities disclose reportable grassroots lobbying activities.”
But disclosure is often not required.“Facebook and other platforms aren’t going to care about it until the public cares.”
“Quite frankly, grassroots lobbying is probably the lion’s share of lobbying that goes on at the federal and state levels — and it goes entirely unreported,” says Craig Holman, government affairs lobbyist with the nonprofit group Public Citizen. “As long as [lobbyists] don’t actually knock on the door in D.C. of a member of Congress, it’s not actually reported.”
Reported or not, indirect lobbying is changing the corporate lobbying business, as illustrated by the 2019 annual report of the New York State Joint Commission. In New York state alone in 2019, 24% of registered lobbyists had expanded into indirect lobbying efforts, though only 1% engage exclusively in indirect lobbying. Out of a total of $16.8 million that lobbyists spent on advertising in 2019, digital advocacy and websites accounted for $3.6 million, surpassing the $2.9 million spent on print advertising.
Holman adds that the extent of Exxon’s social media operation “probably is evidence that [indirect lobbying] is far more prevalent today than it used to be. Social media now and the internet provide a perfect vehicle for deceptive advertising.”
“Companies will do it until they can’t,” says Sara Watson. “Facebook and other platforms aren’t going to care about it until the public cares.”
In the mid-2000s, there was an attempt in Congress to pass a federal indirect lobbying disclosure requirement, but it was beaten by what Holman describes as a massive astroturf campaign. Holman adds that similar proposals do exist, but whether they even have a chance depends on the outcome of the presidential election and “whether or not the Democrats are sincere” about reining in corporate abuses. “I’m 24 and I worry every single day about what will become of my future if the oil companies keep drilling.”
Even if legal disclosure requirements are passed, Watson says, “there are huge questions about the enforceability of these laws,” particularly when it comes to platforms like Facebook with a business model utterly reliant on targeted online advertising.
Since 2011, a coalition of more than 70 investor groups have pushed for more disclosure of all corporate lobbying efforts, submitting more than 400 lobbying proposals to dozens of companies in the past nine years. Only seven proposals have received majority votes, but the issue is gaining momentum. Multiple such proposals have been submitted to Exxon by the United Steelworkers, including one earlier this year. Exxon recommended shareholders vote against it. It failed to pass but will be resubmitted next year.
“ENERGY SURVEY: 94% of federal offshore acreage is off limits to development. Do you support expanding access to offshore energy production? Answer the survey today!”
In 2019, 58% of the oil refined in California was imported from other countries. Take action and support energy production and local jobs right here in California. Support American Energy in Santa Barbara County. Make your voice heard.
If you have not had a chance, don’t forget to submit your comment letter in support of ExxonMobil’s Interim Trucking Permit. They’re due by 12pm on August 31st!
The address Facebook provides for Santa Barbara for Safe and Local Transport is the same address listed for ExxonMobil by the Santa Barbara South Coast Chamber of Commerce.
Exxon’s efforts to use social media to shore up public support are being put to the test in Santa Barbara.
The issue concerns Exxon’s Santa Ynez Unit (SYU), consisting of three offshore oil platforms off the Santa Barbara coast and an onshore processing facility at Las Flores Canyon. In 2015, the pipeline Exxon used to send oil inland to refineries — operated by the Plains All American Pipeline company — spilled 140,000 gallons of crude onto the coastline and into the ocean near Refugio State Beach. It wasn’t the first spill along this breathtaking stretch of Pacific Coast. The Santa Barbara Spill in 1969 was the largest single event in state history. Historians say it helped launch the modern environmental movement and the first Earth Day held the following year.
Without that pipeline, Exxon’s three offshore SYU platforms were retired. Exxon applied, in 2017, for a temporary trucking permit that would enable the company to reopen these wells. If approved, the company would run up to 70 trucks each day (about one every 20 minutes) on Central Coast roads from SYU to California refineries.
On August 12, the Santa Barbara County Planning Commission issued its long-awaited recommendations based on the environmental impact analysis on Exxon’s plan. A public hearing was scheduled for early September, but before that could happen, Phillips 66 announced it was closing its Santa Barbara County refinery — which Exxon had intended as its primary destination for the trucked oil.
A possible alternate path would be a longer route to the Plains Pentland Terminal in neighboring Kern County. In its environmental analysis, however, the commission had suggested Exxon abandon Pentland altogether “to limit truck travel, reduce air emissions, and reduce the likelihood of accidents resulting in spills due to fewer miles traveled.”
The commission may still approve Exxon’s plan, however, and the next step would be a final decision from the Santa Barbara Board of Supervisors. Errin Briggs, supervising planner in the Planning Commission’s Energy Division, says the project is still feasible depending on what modifications Exxon makes to its proposal and that county officials will have to weigh the risks of the oil against area economic benefits.
Santa Barbara for Safe and Local Transport (SBSLT), meanwhile, launched in December 2018. SBSLT’s direct ties to Exxon are apparent. The Santa Maria Sun, a local newspaper, spoke to Exxon Mobil’s then-SYU asset manager for a profile on SBSLT, and reported that SBSLT is “a joint effort between ExxonMobil and interested Santa Barbara County community members”; the group’s website says it’s “Powered by Exxon SYU.”
Oil workers and protestors pack the Santa Barbara County Building May 6, 2019, at a hearing on Exxon’s application to truck crude oil through Santa Barbara County. (Gabriel Vargas / http://www.gabrielvargasdp.com)
The SBSLT website describes itself as “a coalition of residents and taxpayers, including local businesses, teachers, law and safety enforcement and ExxonMobil employees.” Exxon does claim support from several unions and business chambers, about 30 businesses and a half dozen local leaders, including some current and former elected officials. To date, SBSLT has spent more than $44,000 on social media advertising, and Exxon has spent more than $2 million in a variety of offshore drilling ads through its primary page.
“We need people to be realistic about the decisions that must be made to live here,” Bob Setbacken admonished other local residents in a comment thread last year on the SBSLT page. He is a retired Santa Barbara resident, according to his Facebook profile, but didn’t return a phone call requesting an interview.
As of October 19, SBSLT’s Facebook page had only 408 likes and 422 followers in a county of 450,000. The page has drawn the ire of local residents. “SYU is a wolf in sheep’s clothing,” Santa Barbara resident Maureen McFadden writes May 22. Amy Foss, another commenter on the page, calls SBSLT “an oil company propaganda page, not a ‘community.’ ”
In October 2019, Facebook said in an online post that it would be adding more information about who is behind Facebook pages, including adding confirmed page owner information and verified city, phone number or website. In October 2020, the SBSLT page continues to be listed as a “community organization,” and under the “Page Transparency” section, it reads: “Santa Barbara for Safe and Local Transport is responsible for this Page,” making no reference to Exxon. But the address provided for SBSLT in the Facebook Ad Library is an ExxonMobil address.
“If we find a Page is concealing its ownership in order to mislead people, we will require it to show more information about who is behind it,” said a spokesperson for Facebook in an emailed statement. “We’re investigating if these Pages follow our rules.”
Beyond Facebook, opposition to Exxon’s Santa Barbara plans is fierce. The opposition has its own grassroots coalition of environmental and community groups, local government supporters and more than 80 businesses. They fear how another oil spill could impact the region’s tourism and fishing industries. Other locals complain the roads just aren’t made to truck that much oil.
In Santa Barbara, as it does across the country, Exxon hopes to turn the tide on its pumping, trucking and fracking through its laxly regulated social media lobbying efforts; its political consultants and campaign software; and its well-funded and heavily motivated supporters. Exxon’s $16-million ad spending spree underscores that the fight against the fossil fuel industry is far from over.
Stephanie Prufer, an oceans campaigner at the Center for Biological Diversity, says she doesn’t think Exxon’s strategy will work for the company, especially among youth.
“I’m not surprised that Exxon is targeting the demographic that they are,” she says, referring to the fact that Exxon ads disproportionately appear on the screens of older social media users. “They know they are not going to be able to get the support of people who are afraid for their own futures. I’m 24 and I worry every single day about what will become of my future if the oil companies keep drilling.”
“The science is so clear,” she adds. “We need to keep oil in the ground. We need to end drilling on our coast, not revive it.”
This article was supported by a grant from the Leonard C. Goodman Institute for Investigative Reporting. David DeMaris served as a technology consultant on this story. Juan Caicedo contributed fact-checking.Support this work
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CHRISTINE MACDONALD is an investigative reporter and author, whose work focuses climate change, environmental sustainability and greenwashing. She was a 2019 – 2020 fellow with the Leonard C. Goodman Institute for Investigative Reporting.Have thoughts or reactions to this or any other piece that you’d like to share? Send us a note with the Letter to the Editor form.
How did World War One affect immigrants? What impact did World War I have on immigrants who had arrived in the United States during the previous decade? What problems did immigrants face when they came to the US? Feedback
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VIENNA, Ill. (AP) — Ask around this time-battered Midwestern town, with its empty storefronts, dusty antique shops and businesses that have migrated toward the interstate, and nearly everyone will tell you that Black and white residents get along really well.
“Race isn’t a big problem around here,” said Bill Stevens, a white retired prison guard with a gentle smile, drinking beer with friends on a summer afternoon. “Never has been, really.”
“We don’t have any trouble with racism,” said a twice-widowed woman, also white, with a meticulously-kept yard and a white picket fence.
But in Vienna, as in hundreds of mostly white towns with similar histories across America, much is left unspoken. Around here, almost no one talks openly about the violence that drove out Black residents nearly 70 years ago, or even whispers the name these places were given: “sundown towns.”
Unless they’re among the handful of Black residents.
“It’s real strange and weird out here sometimes,” said Nicholas Lewis, a stay-at-home father. “Every time I walk around, eyes are on me.”
It’s now illegal in California to harass people on their way into a vaccination clinic, under a law signed Friday by Gov. Gavin Newsom. But First Amendment experts continue to raise legal questions about the law’s constitutionality, including its definition of harassment. Even though the measure, SB 742, was amended to remove a phrase that free speech experts said made it unconstitutional, they maintain that the new version still violates the First Amendment. “It sweeps up broad activities that are protected by the First Amendment and defines them as harassing,” said David Snyder, executive director of the First Amendment Coalition, which advocates for free speech and government transparency. “That problem hasn’t changed at all.”U.S. Free Expression Stories Netflix employees stage walkout over Dave Chappelle special Hundreds of Netflix employees walked out of work in protest of the streaming platform’s controversial Dave Chappelle special. The workers, who are organized by “Team Trans,” believe the special is transphobic and are calling for Netflix to remove it and commit to releasing more “intersectional” content. The protest comes after extreme unrest at the streaming giant, with several employees and actors speaking out against Netflix and other employees claiming they were suspended for criticizing Chappelle’s special on social media. CBS NEWS
Student journalists say online harassment is a major issue During the pandemic, a cadre of college newspapers kept busy and broke news. Often working remotely with limited resources, student reporters kept their communities up to date on a broad range of subjects, including school reopening plans and the 2020 election. They also received a deluge of insulting comments, especially on social media. Sign PEN America’s petition calling on Facebook and Twitter to do more and do better on issues of online abuse. TEEN VOGUE
Oklahoma’s anti-critical race theory law violates free speech rights, ACLU suit says A coalition of civil rights groups sued the state of Oklahoma on Tuesday over a law limiting instruction about race and gender in public schools. It is the first federal lawsuit to challenge a state statute implemented to prevent the teaching of critical race theory. The suit, backed by the American Civil Liberties Union and the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, argues that HB 1775, which took effect in May, violates students’ and teachers’ free speech rights and denies people of color, LGBTQ students and girls the chance to learn their history. See PEN America’s joint statement on the increase in such legislative efforts. NBC NEWSThe Latest from PEN AmericaTell Facebook and Twitter: Take Action to #FightOnlineAbuseNow
Online abuse shouldn’t be a given. Yet every day, users of social media platforms like Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter face death and rape threats, racial slurs, sexual harassment, doxing, and countless other kinds of abuse intended to intimidate, discredit, and silence them. The social media giants keep making excuses rather than taking meaningful steps to shield users from rampant hate and harassment. We’re sick of this S#!T. Join PEN America and the Coalition Against Online Violence and sign our petition telling the platforms it’s time to step up and #FightOnlineAbuseNow.Fall Bootcamp: LGBTQ+ Digital Safety & Online Abuse Defense Wednesday 10/27 – Thursday 11/18
Join PEN America, GLAAD, The Association of LGBTQ Journalists, and the Trans Journalists Association for a free webinar series offering a crash course on digital safety and online abuse defense for LGBTQ+ creative and media professionals. From hateful slurs and sexual harassment to impersonation and doxing, abusive tactics are intended to intimidate, discredit, and silence. But there are steps we can take to protect ourselves and one another. Hear from folks on the front line, and exchange strategies for how to stay safer and fight back. Learn more and register here.The PEN Pod: On Protesting Book Bans with the Students of York, PA
The summoning of Iranian writer and translator Arash Ganji to serve his 11-year prison sentence—handed down in connection with his translation of a book about a Kurdish-led uprising in northern Syria, and upheld on appeal in February 2021—is the latest in the ongoing assault of free expression and human rights in Iran. “Arash Ganji’s summons is based on an unjust sentencing and is a clear violation of the right to freedom of expression and the exchange of ideas and information,” said Karin Deutsch Karlekar, director of Free Expression at Risk Programs at PEN America.Ganji is one of a number of IWA board members jailed for championing free expression, fostering solidarity among writers, and opposing censorship, including celebrated writers and 2021 PEN/Barbey Freedom to Write Award honorees Baktash Abtin, Keyvan Bajan, and Reza Khandan Mahabadi. See the full statement here, and sign the petition on behalf of our honorees.
Global Free Expression StoriesHas Interpol become the long arm of oppressive regimes? International legal experts say there has been an alarming phenomenon of countries using the global police agency Interpol for political gain or revenge—targeting nationals abroad such as political rivals, critics, activists and refugees. Seeking to manipulate Interpol is a feature of transnational repression, in which countries extend their reach overseas to silence or target adversaries. The methods may differ, but they are intended to send a similarly menacing message in an era of global movement: You may leave your country, but you can still be punished. See PEN America CEO Suzanne Nossel’s prior Foreign Policy piece on the sinister trend of governments going after dissidents far beyond their borders. THE GUARDIAN
Myanmar frees political prisoners after ASEAN pressure, then re-arrests some Myanmar’s military rulers have freed hundreds of political prisoners in recent days, including Aung San Suu Kyi’s party spokesman, although several were swiftly re-arrested, local media and a rights group said. The junta has released prisoners several times since the coup, which triggered a wave of protests that were quelled by the security forces. Burmese comedian Zarganar, a well-known critic of Myanmar’s past military governments, was also released late Monday, according to local media reports and a social media post by a close friend. Learn more about PEN America’s advocacy on behalf of Zarganar. REUTERS
Top European court says Turkey should change law on insulting president Europe’s top human rights court called on Turkey on Tuesday to change a law regarding insulting the president under which tens of thousands have been prosecuted, after ruling that a man’s detention under the law violated his freedom of expression.Thousands have been charged and sentenced over the crime of insulting Erdogan in the seven years since he moved from being prime minister to president. REUTERSSpotlight: Pham Doan TrangPham Doan Trang is a Vietnamese blogger, author, and democracy activist who published A Handbook for Freedom Fighters. Trang resigned from the Liberal Publishing House in July 2020, citing security threats as its founder. She was detained on October 6, 2020 and charged with making anti-state propaganda, and is set to be tried on November 4th.
In 2017, while under house arrest in Hanoi, she wrote Politics for the Common People, with the aim of spreading basic political knowledge to everyday people, especially young people involved in social and human rights activism. Below is a quote from Trang about her impetus for writing the book, as well as her experiences under house arrest. I wrote [Politics for the Common People] while under tight police supervision in Hanoi; I couldn’t do anything or go anywhere. I felt like I couldn’t breathe—literally…. Meanwhile, in some other location, their boss, sitting in an air-conditioned room, directed them to closely follow the ‘suspect’, research the suspect’s habits, her daily routine, her path to and from home, and how items are arranged in her house….
If I didn’t have my guitar by my side, I probably would’ve gone insane…. But, to me, all of that isn’t important; what’s important is that people read the book. The more people that read it, the better.