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Trump’s Shooting Should Not Silence Warnings About His Threat to Democracy

FAIR - July 16, 2024 - 4:14pm


Immediately after the attempted assassination of Donald Trump, when little was known about the white male shooter (except that he was a registered Republican), right-wing politicians directly blamed Democratic rhetoric for the shooting.

“Today is not just some isolated incident,” Sen. J.D. Vance wrote on X (7/13/24), just days before Trump named him as his running mate:

The central premise of the Biden campaign is that President Donald Trump is an authoritarian fascist who must be stopped at all costs. That rhetoric led directly to President Trump’s attempted assassination.

(That Trump might be considered a fascist did not always seem so far-fetched to Vance; in 2016, he privately worried that Trump might become “America’s Hitler”—Reuters, 7/15/24.)

“For years, Democrats and their allies in the media have recklessly stoked fears, calling President Trump and other conservatives threats to democracy,” Sen. Tim Scott posted on X (7/13/24). “Their inflammatory rhetoric puts lives at risk.”

Rather than denounce both the assassination attempt and these hypocritical and opportunistic attacks on critical speech, the country’s top editorial boards cravenly bothsidesed their condemnations of “political violence.”

‘Unthinkably uncivil’

The Washington Post (7/14/24) described Trump’s exhortation to “remain resilient in our Faith and Defiant in the face of Wickedness” as a call for “national unity.”

In an editorial headlined, “Turn Down the Heat, Let in the Light,” the Washington Post (7/14/24) praised Donald Trump for appearing to call for national unity. The Post wrote that the assassination attempt offered Trump the chance to “cool the nation’s political fevers and set a new direction.”

The editorial board quickly admonished both sides equally for “unthinkably uncivil” actions and “physical violence.” They pointed to protesters who “harass lawmakers, justices, journalists and business leaders with bullhorns at their homes,” universities that have “become battlegrounds,” and the “bipartisan hazard” of political violence, citing Nancy Pelosi’s husband and GOP Rep. Steve Scalise.

(The link the Post inserted leads to an earlier editorial in which they condemned peaceful protests outside Supreme Court justices’ houses as “totalitarian,” and recommended that the protesters be imprisoned—FAIR.org, 5/17/22).

New York Times editors, meanwhile, called the shooting “Antithetical to America” (7/13/24), a formulation clearly more aspirational than actual. “Violence is antithetical to democracy,” the editorial board wrote, acknowledging moments later that “violence is infecting and inflecting American political life.” They explained:

Acts of violence have long shadowed American democracy, but they have loomed larger and darker of late. Cultural and political polarization, the ubiquity of guns and the radicalizing power of the internet have all been contributing factors, as this board laid out in its editorial series “The Danger Within” in 2022. This high-stakes presidential election is further straining the nation’s commitment to the peaceful resolution of political differences.

It’s a remarkable obfuscation, in which responsibility is ascribed to no one and—as at the Post—everyone.

‘Leaders of both parties’

Is the shooting of a political candidate really “antithetical” (New York Times, 7/13/24) to a country with more guns than people, and 50,000+ gun deaths every year?

Curiously, the 2022 editorial series the Times cites (11/3–12/24/22) did make clear where most of the responsibility lay, explaining that “the threat to the current order comes disproportionately from the right.” It pointed out that of the hundreds of extremism-related murders of the past decade, more than three-quarters were committed by “right-wing extremists, white supremacists or anti-government extremists.” While there have been occasional attacks on conservatives (like the attack on a congressional baseball game that wounded Scalise), the Times noted,

the number and nature of the episodes aren’t comparable, and no leading figures in the Democratic Party condone, mock or encourage their supporters to violence in ways that are common from politicians on the right and their supporters in the conservative media.

But two years later, the Times, like the Post, carefully avoids bringing that much-needed clarity to the current situation and apportions responsibility for avoiding political violence equally to both sides:

It is now incumbent on political leaders of both parties, and on Americans individually and collectively, to resist a slide into further violence and the type of extremist language that fuels it. Saturday’s attack should not be taken as a provocation or a justification.

Of course, there’s a crucial difference between criticizing Trump and his allies for their anti-democratic positions and actions—which is what the Democrats and the left have done—and actually threatening and calling for violence, as the right has been doing.

The list of examples is nearly endless, but would prominently include Trump’s incitement of violence at the Capitol on January 6; his personal attacks on prosecutors, judges and politicians who have subsequently required increased security protections; and his refusal to rule out violence if he loses the 2024 election: “If we don’t win, you know, it depends.” His supporters have repeatedly called for armed uprisings after perceived attacks on Trump, including immediately after the assassination attempt.

That’s why it’s critical that leading newspapers push back against right-wing attempts to equate criticisms of Trump with calls for violence.

‘Grossly irresponsible talk’

The Wall Street Journal (7/14/24), unsurprisingly, took this bothsidesism the farthest.

Leaders on both sides need to stop describing the stakes of the election in apocalyptic terms. Democracy won’t end if one or the other candidate is elected. Fascism is not aborning if Mr. Trump wins, unless you have little faith in American institutions.

We agree with former Attorney General Bill Barr’s statement Saturday night: “The Democrats have to stop their grossly irresponsible talk about Trump being an existential threat to democracy—he is not.”

Readers of those top US papers would have to look across the pond to the British Guardian (7/14/24) for the kind of clear-eyed take newspaper editors with concern for democracy ought to have: “There must also be care that extreme acts by a minority are not used to silence legitimate criticism.”

Research Assistance: Alefiya Presswala

US Media Coverage of Anti-Vax Disinformation Quietly Stops at the Pentagon

FAIR - July 12, 2024 - 1:40pm



Reuters (6/14/24) reported that the US military was behind social media messages like ““COVID came from China and the VACCINE also came from China, don’t trust China!”

Canada-based news agency Reuters (6/14/24) revealed that the Pentagon, beginning in spring 2020, carried out a year-long anti-vax messaging campaign on social media. Reuters reported that the purpose of the clandestine psychological operation was to discredit China’s pandemic relief efforts across Southeast and Central Asia, as well as in parts of the Middle East.

“We weren’t looking at this from a public health perspective,” a “senior military officer involved in the program” told Reuters. “We were looking at how we could drag China through the mud.”

The Reuters report straightforwardly implicated the US military in a lethal propaganda operation targeting vulnerable populations, centrally including the Filipino public, to the end of scoring geostrategic points against China:

To Washington’s alarm, China’s offers of assistance were tilting the geopolitical playing field across the developing world, including in the Philippines, where the government faced upwards of 100,000 infections in the early months of the pandemic.

The findings were unequivocal. In conjunction with private contractors, the US military created and employed fake social media profiles across popular platforms in multiple countries in order to sow doubt, not only about China’s Sinovac immunization, but also about the country’s humanitarian motivations with respect to their dispersal of pandemic-related aid. The news agency quoted “a senior US military officer directly involved in the campaign in Southeast Asia”:  “We didn’t do a good job sharing vaccines with partners…. So what was left to us was to throw shade on China’s.”

Failure to pounce

This New York Times headline (7/3/24), pointedly critical of the Pentagon’s anti-vaccine disinformation, did not appear in the Times newspaper, but only in a subscriber-only newsletter.

One might be forgiven for assuming that US news media editors would pounce on the fact that the most powerful institution in the US, and quite possibly the world, promulgated anti-vax material on social media over the course of a year. However, nearly a month later, the Wall Street Journal, Washington Post, Politico, CNN and MSNBC have yet to cover the news.

The New York Times, which has consistently covered anti-vaccine disinformation (7/24/21, 8/1/21, 12/28/22, 3/16/24) and extremism (3/26/21, 4/5/21, 8/31/21, 6/14/24), has yet to cover the Pentagon’s unparalleled anti-vax indoctrination efforts in its news section; it ran one subscriber-only newsletter opinion piece (7/3/24) on the story nearly three weeks after Reuters‘ revelations.

Meanwhile, independent (Common Dreams, 6/14/24; WSWS, 6/16/24) and international sources (Al Jazeera, 6/14/24; South China Morning Post 6/16/24, 6/17/24, 6/18/24) immediately relayed the revelations.

‘Amplifying the contagion’

Given the Times’ track record in the fight against vaccine disinformation, one might expect to see that paper in particular give this blockbuster news front-page status. After all, the Pentagon was busy secretly inculcating anti-vax attitudes in its targets when Neil MacFarquhar of the Times (3/26/21) warned that “extremist organizations are now bashing the safety and efficacy of coronavirus vaccines in an effort to try to undermine the government.”

In a New York Times Magazine thinkpiece (5/25/22), Moises Velasquez-Manoff took stock of the “nightmarish and bizarre” conspiratorial “skullduggery swirling around vaccines”:

The process of swaying people with messaging that questions vaccines is how disinformation—deliberately fabricated falsehoods and half-truths—becomes misinformation, or incorrect information passed along unwittingly. Motivated by the best intentions, these people nonetheless end up amplifying the contagion, and the damaging impact, of half-truths and distortions.

Anxiety and doubt around immunizations, readers were told, “may be seeping into their relationship with medical science—or governmental mandates—in general.”

Surely this line of reasoning applies as much if not more so to the Pentagon’s anti-vaccine propaganda offensive in Asia and the Middle East: The US military’s own skullduggery has primed countless victims around the world to be more skeptical of medical technology in general.

Even if Americans weren’t targeted by the Pentagon’s scheme, their tax dollars were employed to materially endanger people throughout Asia and the Middle East, and to undermine public health mandates in general. And in the midst of a global pandemic, infections anywhere threaten peoples’ lives everywhere. But the threat of anti-vax disinformation is apparently not a high priority for the establishment press if the US military is implicated.

In keeping with a rich history of obsequious editorial decision-making when it comes to the Pentagon’s activities abroad, this remarkable lack of attention on the part of the Times and the rest of the corporate US press serves as yet another example of corporate media’s timorous attitude towards structural power in this country.

Shelby Green & Selah Goodson Bell on Utility Profiteering, Jane McAlevey on #MeToo & Labor

FAIR - July 12, 2024 - 11:08am




CNN (6/6/24)

This week on CounterSpin: At some point, we will get tired of hearing news reports on “record heat”—because the “records” will continue to be broken,  and “heat” will have stopped meaning what it once may have meant. Media play a role in moving us from questions about where to buy a good air conditioner to what stands in the way of addressing a public health catastrophe? One obstacle is utility companies. In February of last year, we spoke with Shelby Green at Energy and Policy Institute and Selah Goodson Bell at the Center for Biological Diversity, about their research on the topic.



In These Times (12/27/17)

Also on the show: Some listeners will know that veteran labor organizer and author Jane McAlevey died recently. The tributes are coming in, but I have little doubt in saying that McAlevey would care less for attention to her life in particular than to those of people she worked for, inside and outside of unions. CounterSpin spoke with her in 2018, when the #metoo campaign was coming to fore. We’ll hear some of that conversation this week on the show.



Italy’s Antisemitism Scandal Should Have Raised Alarms in US

FAIR - July 9, 2024 - 4:35pm


Reuters (6/27/24) noted that Meloni’s Brothers of Italy party “traces its roots to the Italian Social Movement (MSI), formed in 1946 as a direct heir of Benito Mussolini’s fascist movement that ruled Italy for more than 20 years.”

An antisemitism scandal has rocked one of Europe’s major far-right political leaders: Giorgia Meloni, prime minister of Italy. It’s been major news in the European press. But the story is being mishandled by major US corporate media, and that fact says a lot about how poorly antisemitism is covered in the United States.

Reuters (6/27/24) reported:

A reporter from online newspaper Fanpage [6/14/24] infiltrated Gioventu Nazionale, Meloni’s rightist Brothers of Italy youth movement, and recorded videos in which members declared themselves fascists and shouted the Nazi slogan “Sieg Heil.”… The investigation also showed a Gioventu Nazionale member mocking Brothers of Italy senator Ester Mieli for her Jewish origin, and revealed chats on messaging platforms where militants took aim at ethnic minorities.

Meloni’s political opponents used this footage against her (Guardian, 6/27/24). She eventually condemned the antisemites (Euronews, 6/29/24). Haaretz (6/30/24) said:

This 12-minute video showed National Youth activists, including two senior figures, singing a celebratory song in honor of the disgraced dictator Benito Mussolini, chanting “Sieg Heil!” and glorifying the Nuclei Armati Rivoluzionari (Armed Revolutionary Nuclei)—a neofascist terrorist group that was active in Italy in the late 1970s and early ’80s, committing over 100 murders.

Neofascist roots

Fanpage (6/14/24) led off its report on Italy’s National Youth by noting that Meloni refers to them as “marvelous young people,” and they are defined as “the soul and the driving force” of her party.

This shouldn’t be a big surprise to anyone who has been paying attention to Italian politics. The nation’s small but vibrant Jewish population has been skeptical of Meloni’s ascendence and that of her party, Brothers of Italy. The Jewish Telegraphic Agency (9/30/22) explained two years ago:

Meloni’s first stop in politics was in the youth movement of the Italian Social Movement, known as MSI, a neofascist party founded in 1946 by people who had worked with Hitler and Benito Mussolini, Italy’s fascist leader from 1922 to 1943. Brothers of Italy is closely tied to the group, even housing its office in the same building where MSI operated and using an identical logo, a tricolor flame.

With Meloni at the helm of one of Europe’s biggest economies, she is not a minor player; in fact, at the last G7 conference, she stood out as a confident leader (AP, 10/18/23; Wall Street Journal, 6/13/24) over a flock of feeble, vulnerable centrists and conservatives.

One of those was Rishi Sunak, who has since lost his job as British prime minister and Conservative Party leader (Guardian, 7/5/24). Another is President Joe Biden, who is being pressured to drop out of the US presidential race due to concerns regarding his cognitive health (New York Times, 6/28/24). And French President Emmanuel Macron has been weakened by the poor performance of his party in snap parliamentary elections (Reuters, 7/7/24).

The summit took place after Meloni’s party increased its share of the popular vote in  the European Union election, and she is now “poised to play a critical role shaping the future direction of EU policy in Brussels” (Politico, 6/13/24).

Late to the story—or absent

The New York Times (7/2/24) led with Meloni “urg[ing] leaders of her political party on Tuesday to reject antisemitism, racism and nostalgia for totalitarian regimes.”

The New York Times (6/11/24) has positively portrayed Meloni as a “critical player” as the host of the G7 conference, and has been upbeat about her rising stature generally. (Her anti-Russian politicking “sealed her credibility as someone who could play an influential role in the top tier of European leaders”—2/7/24.) The Times (7/2/24) came late to the Brother of Italy story , leading with the news of her public relations drive to denounce the racist content. The Washington Post, which also had previously normalized her as a European politician (6/6/24), covered the story in a similar fashion with AP copy (7/3/24).

NPR missed the story. So did CNN. The Wall Street Journal, whose editorial board had said she was “governing with some success” (6/13/24), and whose news coverage has portrayed her as a pragmatist (6/13/24), wasn’t interested in  the scandal either.

This lackluster coverage, which at best focused on Meloni’s self-interested damage control rather than the dark ideology at the center of her movement, is confounding. Western media have been rightfully fretting about the far right’s impressive showing in recent EU parliamentary elections (New York Times, 6/9/24). Meloni’s reputation as a strong leader among ailing centrist European leaders is bolstered by other far-right parties making impressive gains.

All of these parties, known for their anti-immigration and anti-multicultural positions, also have tinges of right-wing antisemitism, including Britain’s Reform Party (Haaretz, 6/23/24), Germany’s Alternative for Deutschland (Deutsche Welle, 8/5/23) and France’s National Rally (AP, 7/3/24). In the US, Donald Trump has been careful not to criticize the overt antisemites in the MAGA movement, including the “very fine people” who chanted “Jews will not replace us” at Charlottesville (Politico, 12/7/22). The Washington Post (10/17/22) noted that Trump has long employed antisemitic tropes in his rhetoric.

A danger signal ignored

The New York Times (12/16/23) is more concerned about the “antisemitism” of protesters who assert “that the war in Gaza was a genocide.”

And so the Fanpage revelations should have been a blaring danger signal, as they were for the European press. The New York Times has been raising alarms (10/31/23, 12/16/23) about a rise of antisemitism since the October 7 attacks in Israel, painting the problem as one that plagues the left and the right. But as FAIR (12/12/23, 12/15/23) has talked about, corporate media are quick to cast legitimate criticism of Israel as antisemitism to discredit pro-Palestine points of view, wrongfully equating opposition to genocide with the racist antisemitism of the right.

Regardless of the reason for US corporate media’s oversight, the impact is clear. The press can talk about antisemitism more openly when they can attach it to human rights protesters, but are less eager to describe antisemitism as it actually is: a bigotry that is interwoven with the anti-Islamic and xenophobic platforms of the powerful far right.

‘The Design of These Systems Keeps People in Opposition to Each Other’: CounterSpin interview with Hatim Rahman on algorithms and labor

FAIR - July 9, 2024 - 2:10pm


Janine Jackson interviewed Northwestern University’s Hatim Rahman about algorithms and labor for the July 5, 2024, episode of CounterSpin. This is a lightly edited transcript.


Janine Jackson: Many of us have been bewildered and bemused by the experience of walking out of a doctor’s appointment, or a restaurant, and within minutes getting a request to give our experience a five-star rating. What does that mean—for me, for the establishment, for individual workers? Data collection in general is a concept we can all grasp, but what is going on at the unseen backend of these algorithms that we should know about to make individual and societal decisions?

University of California Press (2024)

Hatim Rahman is assistant professor of management and organizations at the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University. He’s author of the book Inside the Invisible Cage: How Algorithms Control Workers, forthcoming in August from University of California Press. He joins us now by phone. Welcome to CounterSpin, Hatim Rahman.

Hatim Rahman: Thank you. I’m excited to be here.

JJ: The book has broad implications, but a specific focus. Can you just start us off explaining why you focused your inquiry around what you call “TalentFinder”? What is that, and what’s emblematic or instructive around that example?

HR: Sure, and I want to take you back about a decade ago, when I was a graduate student at Stanford University, in the engineering school, in a department called Management Science and Engineering. And at that time, when I was beginning my studies, there was a lot of talk about the future of work, and how technology, specifically algorithms and artificial intelligence, are going to lead us to the promised land. We are going to be able to choose when to work, how often we want to work, because, essentially, algorithms will allow us to pick the best opportunities and give us fair pay. And from an engineering perspective, there was this idea that it was technically feasible.

But as I began my studies, I realized that the technical features of algorithms or artificial intelligence don’t really tell us the whole story, or really the main story. Instead, these technologies really reflect the priorities of different institutions, organizations and individuals.

And so that’s kind of the through line of the book, but it was playing out in what a lot of people call the “gig economy.” Many of us are familiar with how Uber, Airbnb, even Amazon to a large extent, really accelerated this concept and the idea of the gig economy. And so you mentioned, I found this platform, which I use a pseudonym called TalentFinder, that was trying to use algorithms to create an Amazon for labor. What I mean by that is, just as you pick a product, or maybe a movie or TV show on Netflix, the thought was, if you’re looking to hire somebody to help you create a program, write a blog post, any task that you can think about that’s usually associated with knowledge work, that you could go onto this platform and find that person, again, as I alluded to earlier, just as you find a product.

And the way they were then able to do that, allow anybody to sign up to work or to find somebody, was with the use of these algorithms. And what I found, though, the reality of the situation was, that as the platform scaled, it started to prioritize its own goals, which were often in conflict, or were not shared, with workers on these platforms.

JJ: So let’s talk about that. What do you mean by that, in terms of the different goals of employers and potential workers?

HR: Sure. So it kind of went to the example you started with, that one of the thoughts was—actually, I’m going to take you back even further, to eBay. When eBay started, we take it for granted now, but the thought was, how can I trust that this person I don’t know, I don’t even know them. How can I trust that the images that they’re showing, the description that they put on, is true?

JJ: Right, right.

(via Reddit)

HR:  And so eBay pioneered, really, or at least they’re the most famous example of the early company that started, like, “Hey, one way we can do this is through a rating system.” So I may take a chance and buy a product with somebody I don’t know, and if they send me what they said, I’m going to give them a five-star rating, and if they don’t, I’ll give them a lower rating.

And so since then—that was in the mid-’90s—almost all online platforms and, as you mentioned, organizations and—sorry, it is a small tangent: I was recently traveling, and I saw an airport asking me for my ratings for my bathroom experience.

JJ: Of course, yes. Smiley face, not smiley face.

HR: Exactly, exactly. Everyone copy and pastes that model. And that is helpful in many situations, but it doesn’t capture, a lot of times, the reality of people’s experiences, especially when you think about the context that I talked about. If you hired me to create a software program, and we work together for six months, there are going to be ups and downs. There are going to be things that go well, things that don’t necessarily go well, and what does that mean if you gave me a 4.8 or 4.5, right?

And so this was something that workers picked up on really early on in the platform, that these ratings, they don’t really tell the whole experience, but the algorithms will use those ratings to suggest, and people will use the search results that the algorithms curate, to make decisions about who to hire, and so on and so forth.

The problem that I traced, over the evolution of the platform, is that once workers realized that it was really important, they found out ways to game the system, essentially, to get a five-star rating all the time. And from speaking to workers, they felt this was justified, because a lot of times in an organization that hires them, they mismanage the project….

And so, in response, what the platform did, and now again almost all platforms do this, they made their algorithm opaque to workers. So workers no longer understood, or had very little understanding, of what actions were being evaluated, how they were being evaluated, and then what was the algorithm doing with it.

So, for example, if I responded to somebody faster than the other person, would the algorithm interpret that as me being a good worker or not? All of that, without notice or recourse, became opaque to them.

I liken it to, if you received a grade in class, but you don’t know why you got that grade. And, actually, many of us may have experienced this going through school; you hear this “participation grade,” and it’s like, “Wait, I didn’t know that was a grade, or why the professor gave me this grade.”

So that does happen in human life as well. One of the points I make in the book is that as we turn towards algorithms and artificial intelligence, the speed and scale at which this can happen is somewhat unprecedented.

Jacobin (2/20/18)

JJ: Right, and I’m hearing Taylorism here, and just measuring people. And I know that the book is basically engaged with higher-wage workers, and it’s not so much about warehouse workers who are being timed, and they don’t get a bathroom break. But it’s still relevant to that. It’s still part of this same conversation that’s categorically different; algorithm-driven or determined work changes, doesn’t it, the basic relationship between employers and employees? There’s something important that is shifting here.

HR: That’s correct. And you are right that one of the points that I make in the book, and there’s been a lot of great research and exposés about the workers that you mentioned, in Amazon factories and other contexts as well, that we’ve seen a continuation of Taylorism. And for those who are less familiar, that essentially means that you can very closely monitor and measure workers.

And they know that, too. They know what you’re monitoring, and they know what you’re measuring. And so they will often, to the detriment of their physical health and well-being, try to conform to those standards.

And one of the points I make in the book is that when the standards are clear, or what you expect them to do is comparatively straightforward—you know, make sure you pack this many boxes—we will likely see this enhanced Taylorism. The issue that I’m getting at in my book is that, as you mentioned, we’re seeing similar types of dynamics being employed, even when the criteria by which to grade people or evaluate people is less clear.

So, again, for a lot of people who are engaged in knowledge work, you may know what you want, but how you get there….  If you were to write a paper or even compose a speech, you may know what you want, but how you’re going to get there—are you going to take a walk to think about what you’re going to say, are you going to read something unrelated? It’s less clear to an algorithm whether that should be rewarded or not. But there is this attempt to try to, especially in trying to differentiate workers in the context that I mentioned.

So the problem with everyone having a five-star rating on eBay or Amazon, or on TalentFinder that I studied, is that for people who are trying to then use those ratings, including algorithms, it doesn’t give any signal if everyone has the same five-star rating. In situations and contexts where you want differentiation, so you want to know who’s the best comparatively to other people on the platform, or what’s the best movie in this action category or in the comedy category compared to others, then you’re going to try to create some sort of ranking hierarchy. And that’s where I highlight that we’re more likely to see what I call this “invisible cage” metaphor, where the criteria and how you’re evaluated becomes opaque and changing.

JJ: I think it’s so important to highlight the differentiation between workers and consumers. There’s this notion, or this framework, that the folks who are working, who are on the clock and being measured in this way, somehow they’re posed or pitted against consumers. The idea is that you’re not serving consumers properly. And it’s so weird to me, because consumers are workers, workers are consumers. There’s something very artificial about the whole framework for me.

HR: This is returning to one of the earlier points that I mentioned, is that we have to examine what in my discipline we call the “employment relationship.” How are people tied together, or not tied together? So in the case that you mentioned, many times consumers are kept distant from workers; they aren’t necessarily even aware, or if they are aware, they aren’t given much opportunity.

So generally speaking, for a long time, like Uber and Lyft—especially in the earlier versions of the platform; they change very rapidly—they don’t necessarily want you to call the same driver every time, [even] if you have a good relationship with them. So that’s what you mentioned, that the design of these systems sometimes keeps people in opposition with each other, which is problematic, because that’s not the technology doing that, right? That’s the organization, and sometimes the laws that are involved, that don’t allow for consumers and workers, or people more broadly, to be able to talk to each other in meaningful ways.

And in my case, on TalentFinder as well, I spoke to clients, consumers or people who are hiring these workers, and a lot of them were just unaware. They’re like, “Oh my gosh.” I highlighted in the book that they designed the rating system to say, “Just give us your feedback. This is private. We just want it to improve how the platform operates.” What they don’t tell them is that if they were to give them something slightly less than ideal, it could really imperil the workers‘ opportunity to get a next job.

We sometimes refer to this as an information asymmetry, where the platform, or the organizations, they have more information, and are able to use it in ways that are advantageous to them, but are less advantageous to the workers and consumers that are using these services.

JJ: And part of what you talk about in the book is just that opacity, that organizations are collecting information, perhaps nominally in service of consumers and the “consumer experience,” but it’s opaque. It’s not information that folks could get access to, and that’s part of the problem.

Hatim Rahman: “If you are a worker, or if you are the one who is being evaluated, it’s not only you don’t know the criteria, but it could be changing.”

HR: That’s right. It goes to this point that these technologies, they can be transparent, they can be made accountable, if organizations, or in combination with lawmakers mandating, take those steps to do so. And we saw this early on on the platform that I study, and also on YouTube and many other platforms, where they were very transparent about, “Hey, the number of likes that you get or the number of five ratings you get, we’re going to use that to determine where you show up in the search results, whether we’re going to suggest you to a consumer or a client.”

However, we’ve increasingly seen, with the different interests that are involved, that platforms no longer reveal that information, so that if you are a worker, or if you are the one who is being evaluated, it’s not only you don’t know the criteria, but it could be changing. So today, it could be how fast you respond to somebody’s message. Tomorrow, it might be how many times did you log into the platform.

And that’s problematic, because if you think about learning, the ability to learn, it fundamentally relies on being able to establish a relationship between what you observe, or what you do, and the outcome that leads to. And when that becomes opaque, and it’s so easy to change dynamically—sometimes even, let’s put aside day-to-day, maybe hour-to-hour, minute-to-minute—those really kind of supercharge the capabilities to what I call enable this dynamic opacity.

JJ: And not for nothing, but it’s clear that in terms of worker solidarity, in terms of workers sharing communication with each other, put it simple, workers need to communicate with other workers about what they’re getting paid, about their experience on the job. This is anti all of that.

HR: In related research, for my own and others, we have tried to examine this as well, especially gig work; the setup of this work makes it very difficult for workers to organize together in ways that are sustainable. Not only that, many workers may be drifting in and out of these platforms, which again makes it harder, because they’re not employees, they’re not full-time employees. And I talk to people in the book, I mentioned people, they’re between jobs, so they just want to kind of work on it.

So in almost every way, from the design of the platform to employment relationship, the barriers to create meaningful, sustainable alternatives, or resistance or solidarity, becomes that much more difficult. That doesn’t mean workers aren’t trying; they are, and there are organizations out there, one called Fairwork and others, that are trying to create more sustainable partnerships, that will allow workers to collectively share their voices, so that hopefully there are mutually beneficial outcomes.

I talked about this earlier; I mean, just to connect again with history, I think we can all agree that it’s good that children are not allowed to work in factories. There was a time when that was allowed, right? But we saw the effects that could have on the injuries, and just overall in terms of people’s development. And so we need to have this push and pull to create more mutually beneficial outcomes, which currently isn’t occurring to the same extent on a lot of these gigs and digital platforms.

JJ: Finally, first of all, you’re highlighting this need for interclass solidarity, because this is lawyers, doctors—everybody’s in on this. Everybody has a problem with this, and that’s important. But also, so many tech changes, people feel like they’re just things that happen to them. In the same way that climate change, it’s just a thing that’s happening to me. And we are encouraged into this kind of passivity, unfortunately. But there are ways to move forward. There are ways to talk about this. And I just wonder, what do you think is the political piece of this, or where are meaningful points of intervention?

Consumer Reports (5/07)

HR: That’s a great question. I do like to think about this through the different lenses that you mentioned. What can I do as an individual? What can I do in my organization? And what can we do at the political level? And, briefly, on the individual consumer level, we do have power, and we do have a voice, going back to the past, right? Consumer Reports. Think about that. Who was that started by? And that had a very influential difference on the way different industries ran.

And we’ve seen that, also, for sustainability. There’s a lot of third-party rating systems started by consumers that have pushed organizations towards better practices.

So I know that may sound difficult as well, but as I mentioned, there’s this organization called Fairwork that is trying to do this in the digital labor context.

So I would say that you don’t have to do it on your own. There are existing platforms and movements, as individuals, that you can try to tap onto, and to share these what we call again third-party alternative rating systems, that we can collectively say, “Hey, let’s use our economic power, our political power, to transact on platforms that have more transparency or more accountability, that are more sustainable, that treat workers better.” So that’s one, on the political level.

Maybe my disposition is a little bit more optimistic, but I think that we’ve seen, in the last few years, with the outsized impact social media has suggested it’s had on our discourse and politics, that politicians are more willing than before, and I know sometimes the bar is really low, but still, again, on the optimistic side, that they’re at least willing to listen, and hopefully work with these platforms, or the workers on the platforms, because, again, I really fundamentally feel that ensuring that these technologies and these platforms reflect our mutual priorities is going to be better for these organizations and society and workers in the long term as well.

We don’t want to just kick the can down the road, because of what you talked about earlier, as it relates to climate change and CO2 emissions; we’ve been kicking it down the road, and we are collectively seeing the trauma as it relates to heat exhaustion, hurricanes….

And so, of course, that should be warning signs for us, that trying to work together now, at all of those different levels, is necessary. There’s not a silver bullet. We need all hands on deck from all areas and angles to be able to push forward.

JJ: I thank you very much for that. I co-sign that 100%.

We’ve been speaking with Hatim Rahman. He’s assistant professor at Northwestern University. The book we’re talking about is Inside the Invisible Cage: How Algorithms Control Workers. It’s out next month from University of California Press. Hatim Rahman, thank you so much for joining us this week on CounterSpin.

HR: Thank you for having me.


‘You Have People Who Only Look at Marijuana Legalization as Another Way to Make Money’: CounterSpin interview with Tauhid Chappell on cannabis equity

FAIR - July 5, 2024 - 6:12pm


Janine Jackson interviewed Thomas Jefferson University’s Tauhid Chappell about cannabis equity for the June 28, 2024 episode of CounterSpin. This is a lightly edited transcript.



Extra! (2/13)

Janine Jackson: Marijuana use in this country has always been racialized. The first commissioner of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics, Harry Anslinger, ran an anti-marijuana crusade in the 1930s, including the message that “reefer makes darkies think they’re as good as white men.” So concerns were justified about what the legalization and profitizing of marijuana would mean for the people and communities most harmed by its criminalization.

Tauhid Chappell has worked on these issues for years now. He teaches, at Thomas Jefferson University, the country’s first graduate-level course studying the impact and outcomes of equity movements in the cannabis industry. And he joins us now by phone from Maine. Welcome back to CounterSpin, Tauhid Chappell.

Tauhid Chappell: Always a pleasure.

JJ: When we spoke with you last year, you helped debunk a lot of Reefer Madness–style fear-mongering around supposed social harm stemming from the legalization of marijuana. There was old-school “gateway drug” language, marijuana was going to on-ramp folks to opioid use. It was going to lead to traffic accidents, and use among teenagers was supposedly going to skyrocket. We are further along now; what more have we learned about those kinds of concerns?

TC: I can happily report that as far as the ongoing reports that are coming out of what we call “mature markets”—states like Colorado, Washington, Oregon, even California—teen use has not been severely impacted. In fact, I believe that there’s a Colorado study that says that teen use has actually declined with legalization.

Opioid use has not suddenly gone up because of marijuana legalization. In fact, many states, in their medical marijuana programs, have used opioid reduction as a reason why patients should be using cannabis, to actually get them off of opioid addiction, until we are actually seeing a reverse, of people who get on cannabis actually now starting to lessen the amount of opioids they use in their regimen.

JJ: Well, the worry of many of us was that marijuana becoming legal would just blow past the fact that there are people in prison, mainly Black and brown people, for what now some other folks stand to profit from, that legalization would not include acknowledgement, much less reparation, for the decades in which whole communities were critically harmed. And then we just kind of say, “Hey, we’ve moved on, and now everybody loves weed.” What can you tell us about efforts to center those harmed by illegality in this new landscape of legal cannabis?


Tauhid Chappell: “How can we broaden our pardons and broaden our expungements, and expedite and automatically create these opportunities for people to move past these convictions?”

TC: There is still much work to be done in the social and racial justice that would bring a reparative nature to the people, to the individuals, and their families and their communities, that have been impacted by cannabis prohibition and the war on drugs. Some states are trying to really focus on justice-impacted people to participate in the cannabis industry. Others are focusing on just trying to expunge records, pardon people, and that’s that. And then other states are not even contemplating or really moving to center people who have been impacted by incarceration, or are still incarcerated for marijuana, and other related offenses, too.

So you have a patchwork of states that are doing well and can be doing better, and then other states who really need to prioritize and focus on individuals and families and communities who’ve been impacted by the war on drugs.

Most recently in the news, Maryland’s governor has just pardoned 175,000 people for simple possession of marijuana, a typical charge that has impacted so many people in the past. That is something that I encourage other states to look at as advocates for more healing and repairing to happen for those that have been previously and currently impacted from their incarceration due to cannabis prohibition.

And then the one thing that I’ll also mention, too, in terms of focus on those that have been impacted by the war on drugs, I encourage other states to look at Illinois’ R3 Program, which I believe is the Repair, Reinvest and Restore program, that specifically designates cannabis tax revenue to be utilized as grants, not loans, as grants that different organizations can apply for to help expand their programming that goes into communities that have been disproportionately impacted by the war on drugs.

You don’t have a whole lot of states that are utilizing cannabis tax revenue to go back into communities that have been disproportionately harmed. And you don’t have a lot of states that are trying to figure out: How can we broaden our pardons and broaden our expungements, and expedite and automatically create these opportunities for people to move past these convictions and get back into society as a normal, average citizen?

So there is more work to be done. I don’t think it’s ever going to be over, in terms of people asking, calling for repair from the harms of the war on drugs. But if we can continuously see more governors, more legislatures expand the definition and criteria of who can get a pardon, who can get an expungement for marijuana-related arrest, that’s going to help a lot more people out.

CounterSpin (12/18/18)

JJ: Let me ask you, finally, about journalism. When I was talking on this subject back in 2018, with Art Way from Drug Policy Alliance, we were talking about Attorney General Jeff Sessions, at that point, saying “good people don’t smoke marijuana.” That was the level of the conversation. I know it might sound clownish to some people, but you’d be wrong to imagine that those attitudes are not still in the mix somewhere. You have worked in news media, you know the pushes and pulls on reporters. What would you like to see in terms of media coverage of this issue?

TC: I would like to have a lot more reporters be serious about the ongoing, what I believe is nefarious behavior by a lot of these large, well-capitalized—I’m talking tens of millions of dollars, hundreds of millions of dollars—capitalized multi-state operators that are really scheming to try to have a monopoly in different states. You have different large companies that have started early in other states like California, Oregon and Washington, realize that there’s too much competition and now are actually shutting down their operations on the West Coast and focusing on strongholds that they may have in other states, that may not have as much of a mature or expansive market.

There are companies like GTI that are really trying to capture Massachusetts’ market, for example. We have other major companies, like Trulieve, that are trying to really own their monopoly in Florida, right? You have other companies that exist in states like Pennsylvania, where it’s only medical, where the only dispensaries and processors, the majority of cultivators, are all out-of-state operators, people who don’t even live in Pennsylvania. You have companies like Curaleaf—Curaleaf is one of the largest cannabis companies in the country—really trying to double down their efforts in Pennsylvania, in New Jersey and other states, and make sure that no one else can really participate in the market.

I would really love more investigative journalism done to see how are these businesses forming? How are they collaborating and working with each other, even as competitors, and what are they doing at the policy and law level to change regulations that make it more favorable to them, and cut out small-business operators, justice-involved operators, equity operators? What are these large companies doing to lobby? Because, as cannabis legalization continues to be expansive, and now we’re talking about potential rescheduling of marijuana, to Schedule 3, at the federal level, you’re going to see these bigger companies come in and try to capture the market share and push everybody out.

We understand that people who have been directly impacted by a marijuana arrest, if they want to get into the business of marijuana and get a cannabis license, it makes sense for them to be supported and to be educated and to be nurtured for success, because that’s what they deserve after everything that they’ve been through.

Not everyone believes or cares about or shares that same sentiment. You have people who only look at marijuana legalization as another way to make money, and that’s all they want.

And so many of these bigger companies are doing all this shadow work behind the scenes. I would really love more journalists to really look at that, really connect the dots. This isn’t just a state-by-state level. These are companies that are working collectively together in multiple states to make sure that they’re the only players in the market. I would love more investigations behind these bigger companies.

JJ: All right, then; we’ll end on that note for now.

We’ve been speaking with Tauhid Chappell of Thomas Jefferson University. Tauhid Chappell, thank you so much for joining us this week on CounterSpin.

TC: Thank you for having me.


Hatim Rahman on Algorithms’ ‘Invisible Cage’

FAIR - July 5, 2024 - 10:49am




University of California Press (2024)

This week on CounterSpin: The power of the algorithm is ever clearer in our lives, even if we don’t understand it. You might see it as deciding what you see on social media sites, where maybe they get it wrong: You don’t actually want to see a lot of horror movies, or buy an air fryer; you just clicked on that once.

But algorithms don’t only just guess at what you might like to buy; sometimes they’re determining whether you get a job, or keep it. Some 40 million people in the US use online platforms to find work, to find livelihood. The algorithms these platforms use create an environment where organizations enact rules for workers’ behavior, reward and sanction them based on that, but never allow workers to see these accountancies that make their lives unpredictable, much less work with them to develop measurements that would be meaningful.

Hatim Rahman has been working on this question; he’s assistant professor of management and organizations at the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University. And he’s author of a new book about it: Inside the Invisible Cage: How Algorithms Control Workers, forthcoming in August from University of California Press.



Plus Janine Jackson takes a quick look back at recent press coverage of climate disruption.



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