Raleigh | Durham | Chapel Hill December 2, 2020
Media Blackout: Top 10 stories of the year show patterns in corporate news BY PAUL ROSENBERG, P. 14
Raleigh W Durham W Chapel Hill VOL. 37 NO. 45
Mihque, p. 22 PHOTO BY DALVIN NICHOLS
CONTENTS NEWS 6 7
Since June, a group of retirees has held an ongoing Black Lives Matter protest. BY MICHAEL TAFFE Can an Apex small business get the help its needs? BY BRITTANY MCGEE
The year's biggest stories overlooked by the mainstream media. BY PAUL ROSENBERG
ARTS & CULTURE 22 A "Her Take" chat with Young Bull's Mique.
BY KYESHA JENNINGS
23 Nomadland is a road trip through the sunset of the American dream. BY GLENN MCDONALD
24 A Durham magician takes his act to the small screen. BY BYRON WOODS
THE REGULARS 3 15 Minutes 5 PHOTOVOICE
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WE M A DE THIS PUBLIS H ER Susan Harper
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EDITOR I AL
Theater+Dance Critic Byron Woods
Interim Editor in Chief Leigh Tauss Interim A+C Editor Sarah Edwards Interim News Editor Eric Ginsburg Staff Writer Thomasi McDonald
December 2, 2020
Contributors Will Atkinson, Paul Blest, Jameela F. Dallis, Michaela Dwyer, Grant Golden, Spencer Griffith, Lucas Hubbard, Brian Howe, Kyesha Jennings, Mary King, Drew Millard, Glenn McDonald, Neil Morris, Dan
Ruccia, David Ford Smith, Chris Vitiello, Ryan Vu, Nick Williams Interns Ann Gehan, Anna Mudd, Suzannah Claire Perry
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BAC K TA L K
Edwards wrote about the
abrupt end of WUNC’s The State of Things.
Reader SUSAN DAVIS, a former producer of the show, had some more details to share. “Thank you for your thoughtful article on the end of The State of Things in the most recent issue of INDY Week. You covered the complicated history of the show with warmth and insight. However, you overlooked the show’s brilliant legacy of producers. It’s common for listeners to assume the heart and mind of a radio show rests with the host or hosts, but producers are often more responsible for a show’s structure, tone, and content than the voices most are familiar with. I don’t know if you and I overlapped, but I was the senior producer of The State of Things from May of 2004 until November 2012. In my time on the show, several brilliant producers were hired and went on to do great things in public radio and broadcasting. WUNC’s current content director, Lindsay Foster Rhyne, began her career on tSOT, went on to make her mark at Marketplace, launch a show with Celeste Headlee at GPB, and was one of the original senior producers at 1A on NPR. Dave DeWitt began his career at WUNC on tSOT. David Gura was an intern on tSOT while in high school before working as a producer on the show, working at NPR in Washington D.C. after graduating from Cornell, then at Marketplace, Bloomberg TV, and now hosts his own show on MSNBC. Katie Bishop interned on tSOT while a Robertson scholar at UNC. We hired her as a producer before she went on to work for WNYC and become the founding producer of the popular podcast Death, Sex & Money. The State of Things was so admired for its content structure and production plan that the Public Radio Program Directors used it as a teaching tool in their Talkshow Handbook. It was Frank Stasio and his early team(s,) including me, Dave DeWitt, Lindsay Foster Rhyne, Katy Barron, Amber Nimocks, Olympia Stone, and Alex Granados who created and established tSOT’s beloved brand of being relevant, contextual, smart, and funny. Their commitment to never talking down to listeners, always furthering the story, and emphasizing radio’s inherent strengths—intimacy, immediacy, and the power of human stories told with the human voice—changed local programming for the better and for always.”
15 MINUTES Donna Washington, 53 Professional Storyteller BY SARA PEQUEÑO firstname.lastname@example.org
We don’t want to give everything away, but could you summarize the story you told on the WORLD Channel? The way people were talking about African Americans while Obama was running [for president]—at least the other side, the conservatives—was that somehow Black people were going to descend on white America and just burn it down. We became kind of invisible: We weren’t individual people; we were this huge group of terrifying, riot-y people. So I kept finding myself in positions where somebody would make a racist, bizarre comment—not even thinking about me being a Black person because “they were scary,” but I was just a lady standing in a group, or I was just a lady at a drive-thru. This particular section I tell for Stories from the Stage is called “Election Night,” and it is about what happened the two times I was away from home and Obama was running for president. In one place, the FBI had been called into town because someone was burning crosses on Black folks’ lawns. The second time, I was in a place where, after Clint Eastwood did his little speech at the RNC where he spoke to an empty chair, someone had thought it was reasonable political speech to lynch a chair from a tree.
How did you end up telling your story on the WORLD Channel? WANT TO SEE YOUR NAME IN BOLD?
indyweek.com email@example.com @IndependentWeekly @indyweek
I’ve been a professional storyteller for 33 years. This is the only job I’ve ever had as a grownup; I graduated from Northwestern University, and since then, I’ve been a professional storyteller. My husband is my
PHOTO COURTESY OF THE SUBJECT
business manager. He does the bookings and all of the business-y stuff, and I just tell stories and write books. The way I ended up on the Stories from the Stage program was that I was doing an online show with a group called Better Said Than Done. And one of the people who work on Stories from the Stage saw that performance and asked if I would be interested in working with them. One of the things that’s been extremely cool during the pandemic is that storytellers, normally, have to go and find an audience. For the very first time, the audience is looking for us online.
Were you scared when you were in these situations? Yes. Yes. In fact, in the story that I tell, I talk about having a panic attack. I had never had a panic attack ever in my life, and I’ve not had one since the night I had that panic attack. The only reason I knew what it was is because I had watched The Big Bang Theory, and in The Big Bang Theory, Sheldon has a panic attack. One of the characters is like, “I asked soccermom23 what to do, and she said you have to breathe and relax.” When I had my own panic attack, that’s exactly what came to my head: “You’re having a panic attack. Remember what soccermom23 said!”
What do you hope people take away from your story? Despite the fact that I describe this terrifying experience, what I hope people take away from this is that we all have to choose how we live together. We all have to do it and we have to work to see each other. It is not easy—if you have been conditioned to see a group of people a certain way—to see them differently. W This interview has been lightly edited for length and clarity. You can watch Durham resident Donna Washington’s segment on the World Channel’s website. INDYweek.com
December 2, 2020
December 2, 2020
No Place for Hate PHOTOGRAPHY + WORDS BY JADE WILSON
On Saturday November 28, anti-racist and anti-fascist activists staged a counterprotest against the “Pilgrims and Patriots Thanksgiving in Raleigh” event held by ReOpen NC and Latinos for Freedom. The Proud Boys, classified as a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center, served as private security for the far-right demonstrators. Standing on opposite sides of East Jones Street, close to Blount Street, the groups exchanged insults and chants; occasionally, a protestor would cross over to the other group’s side to antagonize. Raleigh Police stood in the street, separating the groups. W
December 2, 2020
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Old Guard Chapel Hill retirees stage ongoing Black Lives Matter demonstration BY MICHAEL TAFFE firstname.lastname@example.org
tan Kuhlman sits alone in a lawn chair at the busy intersection of Raleigh Road and Meadowmont Lane in east Chapel Hill. Every afternoon since June, he’s set up a large sign with “Black Lives Matter” painted on a white background. Then he sits behind it as traffic passes by on the sixlane highway. “We could not just sit around and not do anything,” Kuhlman says. He takes the afternoon shift, while fellow demonstrators David DeMarini and Jay Greenberg take the mornings. “We’re all enfeebled old white guys, and we’re retired,” Kuhlman says. “But I think we’re successful if people just feel good from this stoplight to the next one.” Kuhlman and Greenberg’s friend, Eric Teagarden, discussed the idea for the demonstration in June after the killing of George Floyd. They began the Monday after Father’s Day. DeMarini, an adjunct professor at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill’s Gillings School of Global Public Health, joined soon after. While the protest is centered on the Black Lives Matter movement, it is carried out by a group of white men in their sixties and seventies. Kuhlman says white men bear the responsibility of keeping racial justice in the conversation, because white men caused the injustice.
He says that while he recognizes that the conversation around the Black Lives Matter movement has decreased since the summer, it is important to not let the issue fall by the wayside. The men plan to put the demonstration on hold during the winter months and return when the cold breaks. “We’re going to stop at the end of December, and we’re going to figure out what to do in between, and when to restart after that in the spring,” he says. The morning after Election Day, DeMarini and Greenberg had their chairs set up on the same corner with the same painted sign. Greenberg, 73, says he’s been involved in protests and social movements since the 1960s, beginning with the movement against the war in Vietnam. For him, the small demonstration was appealing, because it would allow him to be involved without exposing himself to COVID-19. Greenberg says he was active during the Civil Rights Movement. He sympathizes with people frustrated with the often slow pace of social change, but says it’s more important than ever to raise awareness now. ”Have you ever been to the Grand Canyon?” he asks. “That stone wasn’t cut overnight. This isn’t going to happen overnight. So we’ve got to keep going. It’s a marathon.”
“Going dormant until the next flare-up is not an answer.”
December 2, 2020
David DeMarini, Stan Kuhlman, Eric Teagarden. Not pictured is Jay Greenberg. PHOTO BY JADE WILSON
DeMarini says his last major involvement in a protest movement was as a student at Illinois State University, marching in opposition to the Vietnam War. He says he witnessed the same sentiments from people during the ’60s antiwar movement as he did during the Trump presidency: folks wanting to move out of the country rather than live in an unfavorable political climate. But he emphasized the importance of making a personal effort. “Back in the ’60s and ’70s, it was, ‘America: Love it or leave it,’” he says. “That was the chant from people who thought everything was just hunky-dory. And so some people chose to leave, but most people chose to take a stand and try to change things. They ran for elected office and started various social movements.” That morning on the side of the highway, passersby on the sidewalk wave and voice their support. Bill Roper, former interim president of the UNC System, walks by with his dog. “Hang in there,” he says. Both DeMarini and Greenberg say the goal of their demonstration has been to keep the Black Lives Matter movement visible in Chapel Hill, even when election coverage and other news cycles have taken some eyes off of it. Based on the small but vocal group of objectors they’ve encountered, even in progressive
areas like Chapel Hill, there is plenty of work to be done, they say. “Going dormant until the next flare-up is not an answer,” Greenberg says. “It’s not as exciting, but it’s effective. Get involved. And don’t get discouraged.” During Kuhlman’s afternoon shift, passing cars honk in support every few minutes. He might get one out of 10 cars to honk, and a few will wave; but every so often, Kuhlman says, someone will give him a thumbs down, or the middle finger. While the vast majority of reactions have been positive, one detractor sticks out in his memory. “I think it was late August—we had a young guy come down on a bicycle,” Kuhlman says. “We thought he was going to come over and talk to us about it. He proceeded to just smash that sign apart. It was in pieces, and he didn’t say a word until he was all done, and he said, ‘There you go.’ And he got on his bicycle and took off.” But Kuhlman focuses on the positive interactions. “There was a young woman here and she said, ‘I’ve been seeing you for months, and it affects me deeply,’” he says. “And she started to cry. So I think that we’re getting these three-second connections with people. It’s kind of a micro-community, I guess.” W This story was published in partnership with UNC Media Hub.
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Christmas Miracle Can an Apex small business get the help it needs? BY BRITTANY MCGEE email@example.com
rom the sidewalk, Charlotte Unruh sees exactly what she wants. Past the picket fence and the colorful wooden rocking chairs, the vibrant knick-knacks and the chalkboard advertising custom farm tables, the two-year-old spies a small lighted tree with a cherry red sleigh through the front window. “Christmas! Christmas!” Charlotte shouts as she jumps up and down, begging to go inside. When Charlotte and her parents, Amy and Alan, enter the small country store in Apex, they are quickly taken in by the sweet scent from the candles and candy, the creaking hardwood floors, and the mish-mash of home decor items. The Rusty Bucket feels more like a home than a store. The owners, Pam and Mack Thorpe, greet the young family and begin doting on Charlotte, who shies away. Mack, having recently welcomed his 11th grandchild, knows what to do. Guiding the little girl up the wooden ramp that leads to the back half of the store, he lets her pick out something from the candy section. “What do you say?” Amy asks Charlotte. She thanks him in between licks of her lollipop. The Thorpes treat their customers like family, and when the pandemic forced them to close the store for 80 days, they missed them. They missed their business, too. The pandemic strained their finances. Right now, the Thorpes need a big holiday season for the shop to survive. They need to double their revenue to make it to next year. The shopkeepers opened the Rusty Bucket 17 years ago. Pam had always dreamed of owning a little country store, and after she and Mack left the corporate world behind, they decided this would be their retirement plan. When the pandemic began, Pam thought the store would be closed for a week, maybe two. There were things she could be doing, getting caught up on this or that. But it didn’t end. Rent was due. Insurance was due. On the days when she began to panic, Pam would remind herself that she couldn’t control the pandemic. “I had just decided that what happens, happens,” Pam says.
Pam and Mack, founders of the Rusty Bucket
PHOTO BY JOSH CONNOR
The Thorpes aren’t alone in facing financial straits, of course. According to data from the U.S. Department of Commerce, retail sales are expected to decline more than $500 billion from 2019 to 2020. Foot traffic was down by more than 62 percent, according to RetailNext. Reviving the foot traffic and bringing people out to fill the Historic District’s streets is something the town of Apex had been focused on. The Thorpes are members of the Apex Downtown Business Association, which gelled during the Great Recession. Now its members have come together again for the pandemic. What were once monthly meetings are now weekly. They’ve also been able to work with the town’s small business coordinator to communicate their ideas and concerns. For Pam and Mack, looking out for their two employees and ensuring they continued to be paid has been the hardest part of this year. Debbie Jackson has worked for the Rusty Bucket for 15 years. They’re not her bosses, they’re her friends, she says. Pam and Debbie have bonded over their taste in home decor. “My house looks just like this,” Jackson says, as she waves her hand at the rustic aesthetic in the store. “Mine and Pam’s.” COVID-19 is scary for Jackson, because she is both a senior citizen and a lung cancer survivor. She lives on Social Security and her part-time job, so the period that the store was closed was concerning. Pam and Mack still managed to pay their employees during that time, fulfilling a promise they’d made to themselves. However, this couldn’t completely alleviate Jackson’s financial concerns. Chemotherapy didn’t completely kill her cancer. She’s lucky there is medication she can take to control it, but it’s expensive. At one point, her medication was about $13,000 a month. She is grateful that Medicare and the state pay
the majority of the cost, but she is still responsible for the co-pay. During the 80-day period the store was closed, the Thorpes partially relied on revenue from the custom farm tables that Mack builds. After helping customers choose a style and guiding them on getting the measurements, he places them on the build list. It’s a six-month wait. When Mack recently delivered a formal dining room table, the customer’s husband called her downstairs to see the table in the room for the first time. She stood on the platform of the stairway and began crying. “The joy of seeing that lady’s tears is a reward that money can’t buy,” Mack says. Despite these small victories, the store owners agree: They desperately need money from the stimulus package that’s languished in Congress, or there is a real risk their businesses will not survive. The Rusty Bucket usually thrives this time of year. Mack is a professional Santa Claus, so the store tends to be a big hit. One recent Friday night, a couple with a four-year-old boy ventured inside the store. He wandered around, taking everything in before stopping at the bottom of the ramp connecting the front and back of the store. “Oh!” the boy exclaimed loudly. “This is the store where Santa was!” From behind the counter, Mack leaned forward and pulled his face mask down so his long, white beard was visible. “And how do you know he’s not here now?” Mack asked. The boy ran to his parents, terrified, before going to sit down to tell Santa what he wanted for Christmas. For Pam and Mack, these interactions could be their Christmas miracle. Everything else is out of their hands. W This article is published in partnership with the UNC Media Hub. INDYweek.com
December 2, 2020
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December 2, 2020
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December 2, 2020
Media Blackout: Top 10 stories of the year show patterns in corporate news BY PAUL ROSENBERG email@example.com
DESIGN BY ANSON STEVENS-BOLLEN
December 2, 2020
very year since 1976, Project Censored has performed an invaluable service: shedding light on the most significant news that’s somehow not fit to print. Censorship in an authoritarian society is obvious, from a distance at least: There is a central agent or agency responsible for it, and the lines are clearly drawn. That’s not the case in America, yet some stories rarely, if ever, see the light of day—such as stories about violence against Native American women and girls, even though four out of five of them experience violence at some point in their lives, overwhelmingly at the hands of non-Native perpetrators. “I wouldn’t say that we’re more vulnerable, I’d say that we’re targeted,” Annita Lucchesi, a Southern Cheyenne descendant and executive director of the Sovereign Bodies Institute, told The Guardian. “It’s not about us being vulnerable victims, it’s about the system being designed to target and marginalize our women.” And the media erasure of their stories is part of that same system of targeting and marginalization. While journalists work hard to expose injustices every day, they work within a system where some injustices are so deeply baked in that stories exposing them are rarely told—and even more rarely expanded upon to give them their proper due. That’s where Project Censored comes in. As its founder, Carl Jensen, wrote on the organization’s 20th anniversary, “The primary purpose of Project Censored is to explore and publicize the extent of news censorship in our society by locating stories about significant issues of which the public should be aware, but is not, for a variety of reasons.” Thus, the list of censored stories that’s the centerpiece of its annual book, State of the Free Press | 2021, doesn’t just help us to see individual stories we might otherwise have missed. It helps us see patterns—patterns of censorship, of stories suppressed, and patterns of how those stories fit together. This year, for example, among its Top 10 stories there are two stories about the violence and victimization of women of color—including the role of media neglect—three stories concerning the media itself, two climate change
stories about overlooked causes and risks, and two related to income inequality. There are also further climate change threads woven through these stories—a highlighted connection between the extractive fossil fuel industry and violence against Native women, as well as an unmentioned connection via agrochemical and agricultural biotechnology company Monsanto’s employment of business advisory firm FTI Consulting, which has been heavily involved in climate disinformation warfare. The stories listed below are only part of what Project Censored does, however. State of the Free Press | 2021 has chapters devoted to other forms of obfuscation that help keep censored stories obscured. There’s a chapter devoted to “Junk Food News,” meaning cheaply produced stories focused on celebrityhood, industry-generated buzz, and other trivia in place of substantive investigative journalism, and another devoted to “News Abuse,” meaning genuinely important topics presented through a distorted lens or two. There’s also a chapter devoted to “Déjà Vu News,” tracking previous Project Censored stories to update them and track whether they’ve gained some of the wider attention they deserve. And “Media Democracy in Action” highlights individuals and organizations engaged in building a more inclusive, equitable, and democratic society. So, if the Top 10 stories summarized below leave you hungry for more, Project Censored has all that and more waiting for you in State of the Free Press | 2021.
Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls
“In June 2019, the Canadian National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls released its final report, which received widespread news coverage in the United States,” Project Censored notes. Yet, “US corporate news outlets have provided nearly nothing in the way of reporting on missing and murdered Indigenous women in the United States.” That’s despite a problem of similar dimensions, and complexity, facing Indigenous communities here, along with the election of the first two Native American congresswomen, Deb Holland and Sharice Davids. The latter, Ms. magazine reported, “are supporting two bills that would address the federal government’s failure to track and respond to violence against Indigenous women,” and “are supported by a mass movement in the U.S. and Canada raising an alarm about miss-
If you can use and abuse the water and land, you can use and abuse people around you too.
ing and murdered Indigenous women and girls (MMIWG).” Four in five Native women experience violence at some time in their lives, according to a 2016 survey by the National Institute of Justice, cited in an August 2019 ThinkProgress report, and around "nine in 10 Native American rape or sexual-assault victims had assailants who were white or black," according to a 1999 Justice Department report. “Although the number of Native Americans murdered or missing in 2016 exceeded 3,000—roughly the number of people who died during the September 11, 2001 terror attack—the Justice Department’s missing persons database logged only 116 cases that year,” ThinkProgress noted. “The sheer scale of the violence against Native women, and the abysmal failure by the government to adequately address it, explains why the issue was given such prominence during this week’s presidential candidates’ forum in Sioux City—the first to focus entirely on Native American issues.” But even that didn’t grab media attention. There are multiple complicating factors— in reporting, tracking, investigating, and prosecuting—that were explored in coverage by The Guardian, and Yes! magazine, as well as Ms. and ThinkProgress. Project Censored sums up: “Campaigners, including the Sovereign Bodies Institute, the Brave Heart Society, and the Urban Indian Health Institute, identify aspects of systemic racism— including the indelible legacies of settler colonialism, issues with law enforcement, a lack of reliable and comprehensive data, and flawed policymaking—as deep-rooted sources of the crisis.” “As YES! magazine reported, tribal communities in the United States often lack jurisdiction to respond to crimes,” Project Censored notes. This was partially remedied in the 2013 reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), but “it left sex trafficking and other forms of sexual violence outside tribal jurisdiction, YES!
magazine reported.” The House voted to expand tribal jurisdiction in such cases in its 2019 VAWA reauthorization, but, as Ms. pointed out, “The bill is now languishing in the Senate, where Republicans have so far blocked a vote.” Another facet of the problem—explored by Yes!—is the connection between the extractive fossil fuel industry and violence against Native women. The Canadian report “showed a strong link between extraction zones on the missing and murdered women crisis in Canada,” Yes! noted. “It specifically cited rotational shift work, sexual harassment in the workplace, substance abuse, economic insecurity, and a largely transient workforce as contributing to increased violence against Native women in communities near fossil fuel infrastructure.” “It creates this culture of using and abuse,” said Sovereign Bodies Institute Executive Director Lucchesi. “If you can use and abuse the water and land, you can use and abuse the people around you too.” Project Censored concludes: “As a result of limited news coverage, the United States is far from a national reckoning on its crisis of missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls.”
Monsanto “Intelligence Center” Targeted Journalists and Activists
In its fight to avoid liability for causing cancer, the agricultural giant Monsanto (now owned by Bayer) created an “intelligence fusion center” to “monitor and discredit” journalists and activists, Sam Levin reported for The Guardian in August 2019. “More than 18,000 people have filed suit against Monsanto, alleging that exposure to Roundup [weedkiller] caused non-Hodgkin lymphoma, and that Monsanto covered up the risks by manipulating scientific data and silencing critics,” The Hill summarized. “The company has lost three high-profile cases in the past year, and Bayer is report-
edly offering $8 billion to settle all outstanding claims.” “Monsanto adopted a multi-pronged strategy to target Carey Gillam, a Reuters journalist who investigated the company’s weedkiller,” The Guardian reported, while also targeting rock musician Neil Young (who released a 2015 record, The Monsanto Years), and creating a massive, multi-million dollar spying and disinformation campaign targeting journalists, scientists, and advocates exposing the risks its product posed. Creating a covert army of seemingly neutral allies to attack its critics was central to Monsanto’s strategy, according to the paper. The Guardian’s report was based on internal documents, primarily from 2015 to 2017, released during trial. They showed that “Monsanto planned a series of ‘actions’ to attack a book authored by Gillam prior to its release, including writing ‘talking points’ for ‘third parties’ to criticize the book and directing ‘industry and farmer customers’ on how to post negative reviews.” In addition, Monsanto paid Google to skew search results promoting criticism of Gilliam’s work on Monsanto, and it discussed strategies for pressuring Reuters with the goal of getting her reassigned. The company “had a ‘Carey Gillam Book’ spreadsheet, with more than 20 actions dedicated to opposing her book before its publication.” It also “wrote a lengthy report about singer Neil Young’s anti-Monsanto advocacy, monitoring his impact on social media, and at one point considering ‘legal action.’” The entire pool of journalists covering the third trial was also targeted in a covert influence operation, Paul Thacker reported for HuffPost. A purported “freelancer for the BBC” schmoozed other reporters, trying to steer them toward writing stories critical of the plaintiffs suing Monsanto. Their curiosity aroused, they discovered that “her LinkedIn account said she worked for FTI Consulting, a global business advisory firm that Monsanto and Bayer, Monsanto’s parent company, had engaged for consulting,” and she subsequently pulled a digital disappearing act. “FTI staff have previously attempted to obtain information under the guise of journalism,” Thacker added. “In January, two FTI consultants working for Western Wire—a ‘news and analysis’ website backed by the oil and gas trade group Western Energy Alliance—attempted to question an attorney who represents communities suing Exxon over climate change.” Nor was FTI alone. “Monsanto has also previously employed shadowy networks of consultants, PR firms, and front groups to spy on and influence reporters,” Thacker wrote. “And all of it INDYweek.com
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appears to be part of a pattern at the company of using a variety of tactics to intimidate, mislead, and discredit journalists and critics.” As The Guardian noted: “Monsanto officials were repeatedly worried about the release of documents on their financial relationships with scientists that could support the allegations they were ‘covering up unflattering research,’” while at the same time, it tried to attack critics as “anti-science.” And it summed up, “The internal communications add fuel to the ongoing claims in court that Monsanto has ‘bullied’ critics and scientists and worked to conceal the dangers of glyphosate, the world’s most widely used herbicide." “Monsanto’s campaign to monitor and discredit journalists and other critics has received almost no corporate news coverage,” Project Censored notes. A rare exception was a June 2019 ABC News report that nonetheless “consistently emphasized the perspective of Monsanto and Bayer.”
U.S. Military—A Massive, Hidden Contributor to Climate Crisis
As the saying goes, an army travels on its stomach. But even the U.S. Army has admitted that “Fuel is the ‘blood of the military,’” as quoted in “Hidden carbon costs of the ‘everywhere war’” a study by Oliver Belcher, Patrick Bigger, Ben Neimark, and Cara Kennelly, who summarized their findings for The Conversation in June 2019. The U.S. military is “one of the largest polluters in history, consuming more liquid fuels and emitting more climate-changing gases than most medium-sized countries,” they wrote. If it were a country, it would rank as “the 47th largest emitter of greenhouse gases in the world.” Studies of greenhouse gas emissions usually focus on civilian use, but the U.S. military has a larger carbon footprint than any civilian corporation in the world. “The U.S. military’s climate policy remains fundamentally contradictory," the study notes. On the one hand, “The U.S. military sees climate change as a ‘threat multiplier,’ or a condition that will exacerbate other threats, and is fast becoming one of the leading federal agencies in the United States to invest in research and adoption of renewable energy.” On the other, “it remains the largest single institutional consumer of hydrocarbons in the world.” This “dependence on fossil fuels,” the paper says, “is unlikely to change as the U.S.A. continues to pursue open-ended operations around the globe.” While the military has invested in devel16
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The U.S. military's climate policy remains fundamentally contradictory.
oping biofuels, the authors say, “the entire point of these fuels is that they are ‘dropin’—they can be used in existing military kit—which means that, whenever convenient or cheaper, the infrastructure is already in place to undo whatever marginal gains have been made in decarbonisation.” Things will only get worse. “There is no shortage of evidence that the climate is on the brink of irreversible tipping points,” the study notes. “Once past those tipping points, the impacts of climate change will continue to be more intense, prolonged, and widespread, giving cover to even more extensive U.S. military interventions.” According to the authors, understanding the military’s climate impact requires a systems approach. “We argue that to account for the U.S. military as a major climate actor, one must understand the logistical supply chain that makes its acquisition and consumption of hydrocarbon-based fuels possible,” the study says. “We show several ‘path dependencies’— warfighting paradigms, weapons systems, bureaucratic requirements, and waste— that are put in place by military supply chains and undergird a heavy reliance on carbon-based fuels by the U.S. military for years to come.” As Project Censored explains, data for their study was difficult to obtain: “A loophole in the 1997 Kyoto Protocol exempted the United States from reporting military emissions. Although the Paris Accord closed this loophole, Neimark, Belcher, and Bigger noted that, ‘with the Trump administration due to withdraw from the accord in 2020, this gap ... will return.’” They only obtained fuel purchase data through multiple Freedom of Information Act requests. Finally, Project Censored says: Noting that “action on climate change demands shuttering vast sections of the military machine,” Neimark, Belcher, and Bigger recommended that “money spent procuring and distributing fuel across the U.S. empire” be reinvested as “a peace divi-
dend, helping to fund a Green New Deal in whatever form it might take.” Not surprisingly, the report had received “little to no corporate news coverage” as of May 2020, beyond scattered republication of the Conversation piece.
Congressional Investments and Conflicts of Interest
Exposition, political corruption, and conflicts of interest are age-old staples of journalism. So, it’s notable that corporate media has virtually ignored two of the most glaring congressional conflicts of interest in the Donald Trump era: Republican’s support for the 2017 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, and bipartisan failure to act on climate change. “The cuts likely saved members of Congress hundreds of thousands of dollars in taxes collectively, while the corporate tax cut hiked the value of their holdings,” Peter Cary of the Center for Public Integrity reported for Vox in January 2020. It was sold as a middle-class tax cut that would benefit everyone, but, according to Cary, “Promises that the tax act would boost investment have not panned out. Corporate investment is now at lower levels than before the act passed, according to the Commerce Department.” Once again, “trickle-down tax cuts” didn’t trickle down. “The tax law’s centerpiece is its record cut in the corporate tax rate, from 35 percent to 21 percent,” Cary wrote. “At the time of its passage, most of the bill’s Republican supporters said the cut would result in higher wages, factory expansions, and more jobs. Instead, it was mainly exploited by corporations, which bought back stock and raised dividends.” Buybacks exceeded $1 trillion for the first time ever the year after the cuts were passed, according to investment research firm TrimTabs, and dividends topped a record $1.3 trillion high. The benefits to Congressional Republicans were enormous. “The 10 richest
Republicans in Congress in 2017 who voted for the tax bill held more than $731 million in assets, almost two-thirds of which were in stocks, bonds, mutual funds, and other instruments,” Cary wrote, noting that “All but one of the 47 Republicans who sat on the three key committees overseeing the drafting of the tax bill own stocks and stock mutual funds.” And they stood to benefit handsomely from legislation that “doled out nearly $150 billion in corporate tax savings in 2018 alone.” Of course, “Democrats also stood to gain from the tax bill, though not one voted for it,” he wrote; “all but 12 Republicans voted for the tax bill.” Two special features deserve notice. First is a newly created 20 percent deduction for income from “pass-through” businesses, or smaller, single-owner corporations. “At least 22 of the 47 members of the House and Senate tax-writing committees have investments in pass-through businesses,” Project Censored notes. Second was a provision allowing real estate companies with relatively few employees—like the Trump Organization—to take a 20 percent deduction usually reserved for larger businesses with sizable payrolls. “Out of the 47 Republicans responsible for drafting the bill, at least 29 held real estate interests at the time of its passage,” Project Censored points out. As to the second major conflict, “Members of the US Senate are heavily invested in the fossil fuel companies that drive the current climate crisis, creating a conflict between those senators’ financial interests as investors and their responsibilities as elected representatives,” Project Censored writes. “Twenty-nine U.S. senators and their spouses own between $3.5 million and $13.9 million worth of stock in companies that extract, transport, or burn fossil fuels, or provide services to fossil fuel companies,” Donald Shaw reported for Sludge in September 2019. While unsurprising on the Republican side, this also includes two key Democrats. Senator Tom Carper (D-Delaware) is the top Democrat on the Committee on Environment and Public Works, and he has “up to $310,000 invested in more than a dozen oil, gas, and utility companies, as well as mutual funds with holdings in the fossil fuel industry,” Shaw reported. But his record is not nearly as questionable as Senator Joe Manchin (D-West Virginia), the ranking member of the Committee on Energy and Natural Resources, who “owns between $1 million and $5 million worth of non-public stock in a family coal business, Enersystems,” and reported earning “between $100,001 and $1 million” in dividends and interest in 2018, plus $470,000 in “ordinary busi-
ness income,” according to Shaw. His support for the industry was significant, as Shaw spelled out: “Manchin was the only Democrat to vote against an amendment to protect the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge from oil drilling in 2017, and he was one of just three Democrats to vote against an amendment to phase out taxpayer subsidies for coal, oil, and gas producers in 2016. Manchin has also voted to approve construction of the Keystone XL oil pipeline, expedite the approval process for natural gas pipelines, and override an Obama administration rule requiring coal companies to protect groundwater from toxic coal mining waste.” While there has been critical coverage of the 2017 tax cuts, this has not included coverage of lawmakers personally profiting, Project Censored notes. “In addition, despite the significant conflicts of interest exposed by Donald Shaw’s reporting for Sludge, the alarming facts about U.S. senators’ massive investments in the fossil fuel industry appear to have gone completely unreported in the corporate press.”
“Inequality Kills”: Gap between Richest and Poorest Americans Largest in 50 Years
“In public health, decades of research are coming to a consensus: Inequality kills,” DePaul University sociologist Fernando De Maio wrote for Truthout in December 2019. Even before COVID-19, De Maio's research added fine-grained evidence to broad trends highlighted in three governmental reports: The gap between rich and poor Americans had grown larger than ever in half a century, according to the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2019 annual survey. And there is dramatic evidence of that development’s lethal impact: People in the poorest quintile die at twice the rate as those in the richest quintile, according to a report by the U.S. Government Accountability Office. This is partly because job-related deaths are increasingly rooted in the physical and psychological toll of low-wage work, as opposed to on-the-job accidents, as documented by the United Nations’ International Labour Organization. All these conditions were made worse by COVID-19, but they could have been seen before the pandemic struck—if only the information hadn’t been censored by the corporate media, as Project Censored notes: “As of May 2020, Project Censored has not been able to identify any corporate news coverage on the GAO or Census Bureau reports on inequality and premature mortality, or on the ILO [International Labour Organization] report about work-re-
lated illnesses, accidents, and deaths that take place when workers are off-duty.” The August 2019 GAO report was based on health and retirement surveys conducted by the Social Security Administration in 1992 and 2014, looking at those between 51 and 61 years old in 1992, and dividing them into five wealth quintiles. Writing for the World Socialist Web Site, Patrick Martin explained that “the GAO found that nearly half of those (48 percent) in the poorest quintile died before 2014, when they would have been between 73 and 83 years old. Of the wealthiest quintile, only a quarter (26 percent) died.” Death rates increased for each quintile as the level of wealth declined. It’s at the level of cities and communities “that the most striking links between inequality and health can be detected,” De Maio wrote. “At the city level, life expectancy varies from a low of 71.4 years in Gary, Indiana, to a high of 84.7 in Newton, Massachusetts—a gap of more than 13 years.” And at the community level, “In Chicago, there is a nine-year gap between the life expectancy for Black and white people. This gap amounts to more than 3,000 ‘excess deaths’” among Black Chicagoans, due to “heart disease, cancer, stroke, diabetes and kidney disease. All of these are conditions that an equitable health care system would address,” he concluded. “The poorest Americans are also more likely than their rich counterparts to face illness or premature death due to the inherent dangers of low-wage work,” Project Censored notes. “In 2019, you no longer have to hang from scaffolding to risk your life on the job,” María José Carmona wrote for Inequality. org. “Precariousness, stress, and overwork can also make you sick, and even kill you, at a much higher rate than accidents.” Carmona reported on an ILO report that found that less than 14 percent of the 7,500 people who die “due to unsafe and unhealthy working conditions every day” die from workplace accidents. The greatest risk comes from “increasing pressure, precarious contracts, and working hours incompatible with life, which, bit by bit, continue to feed the invisible accident rate that does not appear in the news,” Carmona wrote. “The most vulnerable workers are those employed on a temporary or casual basis, those subcontracted through agencies and the false self-employed. ILO data shows the rate of accidents for these employees to be much higher than for any others.” As of May 2020, Project Censored has not been able to identify any corporate news coverage on the GAO or Census Bureau reports on inequality and preINDYweek.com
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mature mortality, or on the ILO report about work-related illnesses, accidents, and deaths that take place when workers are off-duty.
Shadow Network of Conservative Outlets Emerges to Exploit Faith in Local News
In late October 2019, Carol Thompson reported in the Lansing State Journal that “Dozens of websites branded as local news outlets launched throughout Michigan this fall … promising local news but also offering political messaging.” The websites’ “About us” sections “say they are published by Metric Media LLC, a company that aims to fill the ‘growing void in local and community news after years of steady disinvestment in local reporting by legacy media,’” Thompson wrote. But it soon emerged that they weren’t filling that void with locally generated news, and the 40 or so sites Thompson found in Michigan were just the tip of the iceberg. A follow-up investigation by The Michigan Daily reported that “Just this past week, additional statewide networks of these websites have sprung up in Montana and Iowa,” which was followed by a December 2019 report by the Columbia Journalism Review, revealing a network of 450 websites run by five corporate organizations in 12 states that “mimic the appearance and output of traditional news organizations” in order to “manipulate public opinion by exploiting faith in local media.” All were associated with conservative businessman Brian Timpone. “In 2012, Timpone’s company Journatic, an outlet known for its low-cost automated story generation (which became known as ‘pink slime journalism’), attracted national attention and outrage for faking bylines and quotes, and for plagiarism,” CJR’s Priyanjana Bengani reported. Journatic was later rebranded as Locality Labs, whose content ran on the Metric Media websites. “The different websites are nearly indistinguishable, sharing identical stories and using regional titles,” Michigan Daily reported. “The only articles with named authors contain politically skewed content. The rest of the articles on the sites are primarily composed of press releases from local organizations and articles written by the Local Labs News Service.” “Despite the different organization and network names, it is evident these sites are connected,” Bengani wrote. “Other than simply sharing network metadata as described above, they also share bylines (including ‘Metric Media News 18
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This gap in coverage of missing Black women and girls has gone widely underreported.
Service’ and ‘Local Labs News Service’ for templated stories), servers, layouts, and templates.” Using a suite of investigative tools, CJR was able to identify at least 189 sites in 10 states run by Metric Media—all created in 2019—along with 179 run by Franklin Archer (with Timpone’s brother Michael as CEO). “We tapped into the RSS feeds of these 189 Metric Media sites” over a period of two weeks, Bengani wrote, “and found over fifteen thousand unique stories had been published (over fifty thousand when aggregated across the sites), but only about a hundred titles had the bylines of human reporters.” That’s well below 1 percent with a byline—much less being local. “The rest cited automated services or press releases.” “Their architecture and strategy is useful to understand the way they co-opt the language, design and structure of news organizations,” Bengani explained. Automation can make them seem far more prolific than they really are and can help build credibility. “Potentially adding to the credibility of these sites is their Google search ranking: in the case of some of the websites set up in 2015-2016, we observed that once sites had gained ample authority, they appeared on the first page of Google Search results just below the official government and social media pages.” So, the sites aim to fool people locally about the source of their “news,” and Google helps fool the world. Although The New York Times did publish an article in October 2019 that credited the Lansing State Journal with breaking the story about pseudo-local news organizations, Project Censored notes that “Corporate coverage has been lacking ... The Columbia Journalism Review’s piece expands on the breadth and scope of previous coverage, but its findings do not appear to have been reported by any of the major establishment news outlets.”
Underreporting of Missing and Victimized Black Women and Girls
Black women and girls go missing in the U.S. at a higher rate than that of their white counterparts. And that very fact goes missing, too. “A 2010 study about the media coverage of missing children in the United States discovered that only 20 percent of reported stories focused on missing Black children despite it corresponding to 33 percent of the overall missing children cases,” Carma Henry reported for The Westside Gazette in February 2019. But it’s only getting worse. “A 2015 study discussed in the William & Mary Journal of Race, Gender, and Social Justice found that the disparity listed in the 2010 study between the reportage and the reality of missing Black children had increased substantially,” Project Censored notes: 35 percent of missing children cases vs. just 7 percent of media stories. That discussion appeared in a paper that made two other pertinent points. First, that Black criminal perpetrators are overrepresented in the media, while Black victims are underrepresented, and second, that “because racial minorities are identified as criminals more often than not, non-minorities develop limited empathy toward racial minorities who are often perceived as offenders.” Non-minorities in the media are obviously not exempt. “Media coverage is often vital in missing person cases because it raises community awareness and can drive funding and search efforts that support finding those missing persons,” Project Censored notes. And it goes on to cite an illustrative extreme case. In October 2019, “The Atlanta Black Star shed light on perhaps the most prolific offender against Black women and girls in recent history, Jason Roger Pope, who has been indicted on charges relating to human trafficking and child sex crimes,” Project Censored writes. “Pope, a white South Carolina promoter and popular disc jockey
better known as DJ Kid, has made claims suggesting he may have participated in the trafficking, assault, and/or rapes of nearly seven hundred African American girls—primarily under-aged—right up until his arrest in August 2019.” The arrest didn’t come out of the blue. “Pope has police records going as far back as 2011 relating to sexual misconduct with minors. Yet outside of a few local news outlets, the corporate media has been silent on Pope’s crimes.” Black people are also overrepresented as victims of sex trafficking, according to statistics from Human Trafficking Search: they account for more than 40 percent of confirmed victims compared to 13.1 percent of the population. While there is some coverage from small independent sources, “this gap in coverage of missing Black women and girls has gone widely underreported,” Project Censored notes. It cited two exceptions (one from ABC News, another from CNN), “But, broadly, U.S. corporate media are not willing to discuss their own shortcomings or to acknowledge the responsibilities they neglect by failing to provide coverage on the search for missing and victimized Black women and girls.”
The Public Banking Revolution
The year 2019 marked the 100th anniversary of the U.S.’ first publicly owned state bank, the Bank of North Dakota (BND). And in October, California Governor Gavin Newsom signed the Public Banking Act, authorizing up to 10 similar such banks to be created by California’s city and county governments. In response, the cities of San Francisco and Los Angeles both announced plans to do so. It was the culmination of a decade-long effort that began in the wake of the Great Recession that’s also been taken up in nearly two dozen other states. Beyond the benefits North Dakota has reaped in the past, such banks could have greatly assisted in responding to COVID-19’s economic devastation and could yet help fund a just transition to a decarbonized future, along the lines of a Green New Deal. Yet, despite California’s agenda-setting reputation, Project Censored notes that “No major corporate media outlets appear to have devoted recent coverage to this important and timely topic.” “The Bank of North Dakota was founded in 1919 in response to a farmers’ revolt against out-of-state banks that were foreclosing unfairly on their farms,” Ellen Brown, founder of the Public Banking Insti-
tute, wrote for Common Dreams. “Since then it has evolved into a $7.4 billion bank that is reported to be even more profitable than JPMorgan Chase and Goldman Sachs, although its mandate is not actually to make a profit but simply to serve the interests of local North Dakota communities.” “The state of North Dakota has six times as many financial institutions per capita as the rest of the country and it’s because they have the Bank of North Dakota,” Sushil Jacob, an attorney who works with the California Public Banking Alliance told The Guardian. “When the great recession hit, the Bank of North Dakota stepped in and provided loans and allowed local banks to thrive.” As a result, “North Dakota was the only state that escaped the credit crisis,” Brown told Ananya Garg, reporting for Yes! magazine. “It never went in the red, [had] the lowest unemployment rate in the country, the lowest foreclosure rate at that time.” “There are two ways in which a state bank can fund state investment for a greener future,” Eric Heath wrote in an op-ed for The Hill. “First, the bank can provide loans, bonds and other forms of financing for investments to the state government and private organizations on better terms than those available in regular markets.” Some such projects might not even be considered. This is not because green investments are unprofitable, “but because their profits slowly accumulate and are widely shared across a community,” Heath explained “Second, a public bank will improve a state’s fiscal health,” Heath wrote. “By holding state deposits as assets, the bank’s profits can be returned to state coffers to fund direct state investment. Additionally, the activity of the state bank—which will prioritize investing state assets and extending credit within the state for the benefit of the state—will improve the state economy,” just as has happened in North Dakota. A new surge of interest in public banking came out of the Standing Rock movement’s Dakota Access Pipeline protests. While individuals could easily withdraw from doing business with fossil fuel-financing banks—Wells Fargo, in this case—governments have no such similar options to meet all their banking needs. In short, “From efforts to divest public employee pension funds from the fossil fuel industry and private prisons, to funding the proposed Green New Deal, and counteracting the massive, rapid shutdown of the economy caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, public banking has never seemed more relevant,” Project Censored writes. It’s a
time-tested practical solution the corporate media refuses to discuss.
Rising Risks of Nuclear Power Due to Climate Change
As early as 2003, 30 nuclear units either were shut down or reduced power output during a deadly European summer heatwave in Europe. But almost two decades later, the corporate media has yet to grasp that “Nuclear power plants are unprepared for climate change,” as Project Censored notes. “Rising sea levels and warmer waters will impact power plants’ infrastructure, posing increased risks of nuclear disasters, according to reports from the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) and Truthout from September 2019,” they explain. Yet, “Tracking back to 2013, corporate news media have only sporadically addressed the potential for climate change to impact nuclear power plants.” “Nuclear power is uniquely vulnerable to increasing temperatures because of its reliance on cooling water to ensure operational safety within the core and spent fuel storage,” Christina Chen wrote for NRDC. In addition, Karen Charman, reporting for Truthout, noted that “nuclear reactors need an uninterrupted electricity supply to run the cooling systems that keep the reactors from melting down,” but this will be “increasingly difficult to guarantee in a world of climate-fueled mega-storms and other disasters.” Sea level rise—combined with storm surges—represents the most serious threat, and was the focus of a 2018 report by John Vidal from Ensia, a solutions-focused media outlet, which found that “at least 100 U.S., European and Asian nuclear power stations built just a few meters above sea level could be threatened by serious flooding caused by accelerating sea-level rise and more frequent storm surges.” There have been more than 20 incidents of flooding at U.S. nuclear plants, according to David Lochbaum, a former nuclear engineer and director of the nuclear safety project at the Union of Concerned Scientists. “The most likely [cause of flooding] is the increasing frequency of extreme events,” he told Vidal. Yet, in January 2019, the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) decided to weaken staff recommendations to reassess the adequacy of hazard preparations. In dissent, Commissioner Jeff Baran wrote that NRC would allow power plants “to be prepared only for the old, outdated hazards typically calculated decades ago when the INDYweek.com
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science of seismology and hydrology was far less advanced.” “As of September 2019, 444 nuclear reactors are operating in the world, with 54 under construction, 111 planned and 330 more proposed,” Charman reported. “Many of the world’s new nuclear plants are being built on the coasts of Asian countries, which face floods, sea-level rise and typhoons,” Vidal wrote. “At least 15 of China’s 39 reactors in operation, and many of the plants it has under construction, are on the coast.” “Nuclear stations are on the front line of climate change impacts both figuratively and quite literally,” leading climate scientist Michael Mann told Vidal. “We are likely profoundly underestimating climate change risk and damages in coastal areas.”
Revive Journalism with a Stimulus Package and Public Option
In late March, Congress passed and President Trump signed a $2.2 trillion coronavirus rescue package, including direct payments of $1,200 per adult, and more than $500 billion for large corporations. Before passage, Craig Aaron, the president of Free Press, argued that a stimulus package for journalism was also urgently needed. “In the face of this pandemic, the public needs good, economically secure journalists more than ever,” Aaron wrote in the Columbia Journalism Review. Aaron’s organization, Free Press, placed journalism’s needs at $5 billion in immediate emergency funds—“less than half of one percent of a trillion-dollar recovery package”—and asked that “Congress put a foundation in place to help sustain journalism over the long term.” Aaron presented a three-pronged plan: First, “Doubling federal funds for public media”—not for Downton Abbey reruns, but “earmarked specifically for emergency support, education, and especially local journalism.” For example, “The Los Angeles Unified School District teamed up with PBS SoCal/ KCET to offer instruction over the airwaves while kids are out of school, with separate channels focused on different ages.” Second, “Direct support for daily and weekly newsrooms,” which have lost tens of thousands of jobs over the past three decades. "Direct, emergency subsidies of say $25,000 per newsgathering position could make sure reporters everywhere stay on the local COVID beat,” he wrote. “Just $625 million would help retain 25,000 newsroom jobs." Third, “New investments in the news we need … for a major investment in services 20
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that provide community information,” and “to support new positions, outlets, and approaches to newsgathering," which could “prioritize places and populations that the mainstream outlets have never served well.” Arguing that a “resilient and community-centered media system” is necessary to get through the pandemic, Aaron concluded, “Now is the time to act. We need significant public investments in all corners of the economy, and journalism is no exception.” In an article in Jacobin, media scholar Victor Pickard advanced a more robust proposal, for $30 billion annually (less than 1.4percent of the coronavirus stimulus package, Project Censored notes). “On the question of cost, we must first remind ourselves that a viable press system isn’t a luxury—it’s a necessity. Similar to a classic ‘merit good,’ journalism isn’t a ‘want,’ but a ‘need,’” he wrote, adding, "Democratic nations around the globe heavily subsidize media while enjoying democratic benefits that put the U.S. to shame,” he wrote. Writing for The Guardian just after the McClatchy newspaper chain bankruptcy was announced, Pickard noted that, “For many areas across the U.S., there’s simply no commercial option. The market has failed us. ” And thus, “With market failure, journalism’s survival requires public options.” The need was fundamental, he wrote: “All foundational democratic theories—including the first amendment itself—assume a functional press system. The Fourth Estate’s current collapse is a profound social problem.” And he suggested a broad range of funding possibilities: “We could raise funds from taxing platforms like Facebook and Google, placing levees on communication devices, and repurposing international broadcasting subsidies. Other sources include spectrum sales and individual tax vouchers. We could leverage already-existing public infrastructures such as post offices, libraries, and public broadcasting stations to provide spaces for local news production.” “While corporate news outlets have reported the ongoing demise of newspapers and especially local news sources, they have rarely covered proposals such as Aaron’s and Pickard’s to revitalize journalism through public funding,” Project Censored writes. W
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M U SIC
Her Take: On Carolina Hip Hop
ILLUSTRATION BY JON FULLER
Showing His Range On his new solo project, Young Bull’s Mique makes swoony “New School Liquor House Music” BY KYESHA JENNINGS
email@example.com | @kyeshajennings
I’m more concerned about how I personally feel myself. But it’s tricky, because as an artist, we make music for people to consume, and for them to form an opinion. Making this project was also freeing though. With Young Bull, Gabe produces everything. He plays a number of instruments on all of our tracks. With this project, he didn’t produce any of the songs or help with writing. I sent him a few songs before they came out and asked for his opinion. With this project, though—for myself—I wanted to feel like I did something on my own.
INDY WEEK: How would you describe this EP? MIQUE: I’ve been calling it New School
A lot of the songs are centered around narratives about women. Some of it is more romantic, really similar to ’90s R&B, but some of it is more sex-centered. I would compare it to contemporary R&B that’s mixed with trap and hip-hop sensibilities— it’s just a little bit more straightforward.
Liquor House. [With Young Bull,] I’ve talked about my upbringing before. I grew up in the country—I’m from Durham, born and raised. I spent a lot of time at my grandmother’s house in Person County, which is only like 20 to 30 minutes up the road, but a whole different vibe. Out there, they listen to a lot of Liquor House music. You can expect to hear it at all the family cookouts and family reunions. For this project, I was influenced by a lot of that and mixed it with what I’ve been doing—you know, my own interest in R&B. What was your creative approach to this project? Was it different than any approach to making music with Young Bull?
It was different, but at the same time, it wasn’t. Before Young Bull, I wasn’t really making music. I sung in church and did some talent shows in school, but I really wasn’t making music, so I took a lot of what I learned from that experience and applied it to being able to make my own project. On How You Want It, did you approach songwriting solo or collectively?
or the past four years, Tahmique Cameron (Mique), Gabe Fox-Peck, and Christian Sinclair have wowed audiences from Durham to Los Angeles as Young Bull. Their distinctive, soulful fusion of jazz and hip-hop has garnered them 76,000 monthly listens on Spotify, a Rolling Stone mention, and video placements with the likes of MTV and BET Jams. In the Triangle, they’ve performed at every major regional festival, from Art of Cool to Hopscotch. Each member brings something unique to the table, and they also have been 22
Though the music is contemporary and adopts many hip-hop aesthetics, the old Southern influences of Mique’s upbringing, which partially took place in the country, seep in—a stylistic fusion he refers to as “New School Liquor House Music.” Mique’s deep-toned vocals, charismatic lyrics, and good vibes inducing hip-hop beats make the project uniquely successful. As part of the ongoing “Her Take” column, the INDY spoke with Mique about his musical influences, his approach to this solo release, and how quarantine has affected his creative process.
December 2, 2020
releasing individual projects that showcase their range. At the top of 2020, Fox-Peck earned a Grammy and Oscar nomination for his co-production on “Stand Up,” a song featured in the 2019 film Harriet. In late October, Cameron, whose stage is Mique, followed up this success with a release titled How You Want It. The five-track EP includes production from J. Manifest and Smwhereat4am and gives Mique an opportunity to establish himself as a modern-day R&B crooner. He doesn’t disappoint.
You know, I know I’m the frontman, or lead singer, but everything is collaborative with Young Bull. Me, Gabe, and Christian co-write pretty much everything. With this project, I wrote everything. How did that feel? Did it feel intimidating? Freeing?
A little bit of both, I’d say. I’m confident in myself and I like what I do. And I really don’t care too much about trying to fit into what other people are thinking and whatnot. I’m also not easily swayed by other opinions;
I always say I’m a situational writer. My songs are inspired by situations I’ve experienced or seen. I write all different kinds of ways; I don’t go in the studio necessarily with an idea all the time, but sometimes I do. It really just depends on the song. I definitely go for a certain sound and get inspired by many different things. For example, “On Fire,” when I was writing it, I was listening to The Dream heavy—his old music. And I was just like, Man, I want something that feels like an anthem. How has quarantine affected your creative process?
I have people, homies, and family members losing their jobs because of COVID, or their pay has been decreased or whatever because the job is now on a budget, or [their] hours getting cut. Witnessing [the chaos] reminds me I need something to call my own, where I can negotiate the terms. It definitely has put a battery in my back to go harder with music. Who is Mique as an artist? What do you want your fan base to know about who you are?
Just a smooth, suave, debonair, GQ, Casanova. New School Liquor House music-maker, you know. Somebody to vibe to and vibe with. Cool vibes all the time. W This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
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fascinating hybrid of fiction and documentary film, director Chloé Zhao’s Nomadland chronicles one woman’s latein-life road trip through the sunset of the American Dream. It’s a new kind of Western, hard and beautiful. Frances McDormand plays Fern, a 60-something substitute teacher and recent widow who finds herself—suddenly, shockingly—homeless. The Great Recession has gutted Fern’s small Nevada town, and she can’t afford her own life anymore. With no job, no pension, and no safety net, she’s out of options. So Fern throws a mattress into her van and joins the swelling ranks of America’s new itinerant workers, chasing seasonal employment in beet farms and Amazon fulfillment centers. Zhao’s masterful film is based on Jessica Bruder’s 2017 nonfiction book, Nomadland: Surviving America in the Twenty-First Century. Zhao maintains the documentary approach by putting people from the book—real American nomads—in several of the supporting roles. The film was shot verité-style at locations around the West, including one of those colossally depressing Amazon warehouses. There are a lot of sunset scenes, and that’s on purpose. Nomadland is an elegy of sorts, a withering indictment of ter-
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minal-stage capitalism, but nothing is overt or directly stated. The economic ruthlessness that has upended these lives is backgrounded, in soft focus. Fern and her adopted community simply try to survive, one day at a time, on the fringes of a society that has discarded them. It’s telling, I think, that it took a Beijing-born filmmaker to provide us with this perspective, this moment of painful clarity about our country. McDormand’s work is nothing less than sorcery. It’s a big ask to put a recognizable screen performer in a film full of actual people living their actual lives, but McDormand pulls it off. She communicates an entire biography in two hours of screen time. Her performance is the essential bridge that transports the audience into the world of the film. The best and weirdest twist: In certain golden moments, Nomadland makes the nomadic life seem undeniably appealing. We feel the comfort of real community and the intoxicating freedom of life on the road. Fern has stumbled into a genuine American counterculture, liberated from “the yoke of the tyranny of the dollar,” as one character says. The future in America is a very uncertain place. Who knows where we’ll all end up? W
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December 2, 2020
JOSHUA LOZOFF: VIRTUALLY IMPOSSIBLE
Friday, Dec. 4; Friday, Dec. 18, and Saturday, Dec. 19 (online), 7 p.m., $30 | virtuallyimpossiblemagic.com
A Zoom performance of Virtually Impossible PHOTO COURTESY OF JOSHUA LOZOFF
Distance Lends Enchantment to the View In new show Virtually Impossible, Durham magician Joshua Lozoff brings the magic of the stage to the small screen BY BYRON WOODS firstname.lastname@example.org
he Durham magician and mentalist Joshua Lozoff is telling me a story about a can of orange soda. The story is this: Researchers conducted a study on the power of influence by putting five different cans of soda pop on the table and asking people to use a pencil to place a checkmark by one can, as randomly as they could. When the pencil was orange, the orange sodas were far more likely to be chosen. None of the participants, though, said that the color of the pencil influenced their choice; they maintained that they had placed their checks at random. “You could do the same thing in a magic trick and say, ‘Hey, I’m psychic, and I knew you were gonna pick orange soda,’” says Lozoff, who traveled around the world for many years before settling in North Carolina. “But the real reason—the fact that we are all suggestible and being influenced all the time—just lends itself to saying this is actually about all of us, and that we can be aware of these things in ourselves, rather than just making it about me.” 24
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This year has forced some obvious changes in the work of the veteran illusionist, whose solo shows have touched down over the years at regional venues from the ArtsCenter and Sienna Hotel to the late, great Manbites Dog Theater. The title of his new show, Virtually Impossible. alludes to the fact that he’s only staging live performances of it online, on Zoom. It also starts with a riff on social distancing, in which viewers are assured that the performer will remain masked, silent and never less than six feet away from his camera. (Fair warning: none of that ultimately happens.) But despite the drastic change in venue, what strikes Lozoff most is how much has stayed the same. “In itself, performing virtually wasn’t that big a leap,” he says. “To me, the magic has always been in people’s experience in the audience. I never felt it was in my hands, or on the stage with me; it’s out there, with them.” Still, the new performance modalities imposed by social distancing challenge the sense of group experi-
ence at the center of Lozoff’s work. “For so long, my show has been about how we are all connected, how we’re all in this together,” he says. “I’m still trying to make that happen.” Throughout the show, screen shots feature the gallery view of all participants, as well as audience members interacting with Lozoff individually and in teams. “In developing the tricks and the visual experience,” Lozoff says, “I am trying to create something where we feel like an audience experiencing something together, and not just one-on-one. That’s really hard to do with Zoom.” His latest work continues to diverge from traditional stage magic. Conjuring for the public generally involves monumentalizing the tricks or the trickster, as in the grand illusions of David Copperfield, the mannered, glam suavity of card artist Shin Lim, or the faux psychosis of shock magician Dan Sperry. But even though it presently can’t bridge the physical divide, Lozoff’s work continues to overtly collapse the aesthetic distance between performer and audience. In his stories, the magician firmly situates himself in the context of his community and his family. The architecture in one mentalism exercise last Friday night made an audience participant appear to be performing the illusion instead of Lozoff. Instead of escalating the stakes after he correctly guessed the identity of two cards, Lozoff told him, “If it doesn’t work, it’s really no big deal, because this is already really cool.” The moment conveyed the feeling of shared discovery in his work: a sense of performer and audience uncovering mysteries together. “Some of it’s conscious, and some of it just kind of evolved,” Lozoff says. “Certainly, my personal values are all about community and connection, so it doesn’t surprise me that I’ve evolved my performance art to reflect that.” There’s always been an approachability and warmth to Lozoff’s act, a feeling that he’s taking care of those he interacts with. If anything, the close proximity of a camera adds a degree of intimacy to the mix. “When a magician feels unattainable or kind of above his audience, it can indicate a lack of respect,” Lozoff says. “I am dependent on the audience. It’s totally, genuinely important to the trick that the individuals and the group participate and give me the right energy in the right spirit to work.” “Magic naturally has this idea built in it: that amazing things can happen and are happening, that we can create and explore them together—and that it’s only possible because you’re participating with me.” W
December 2, 2020
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