The Indian government’s failed vaccine drive has caused thousands of Indians to needlessly die

india vaccine line
People wait in line to receive COVID-19 vaccines in Mumbai, India on April 24, 2021.

  • Modi announced last Monday that vaccines were now free for all adults in India.
  • But private hospitals will still charge for vaccines, and it is unclear whether the government has enough stock of free vaccines.
  • 200,000 Indians have died since the start of the vaccination drive thanks to the government’s mismanagement.
  • Peony Hirwani is a culture and political journalist.
  • This is an opinion column. The thoughts expressed are those of the author.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

In the past five months, Indians have seen thousands of people die due to lack of oxygen, medication, ventilators, and hospital beds. The COVID-19 pandemic has swept the nation with trepidation and has cost Indians more than it should.

Last Monday, Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced that vaccines were free for all adult citizens. As delightful as the news sounds, later clarification showed this wasn’t actually the case. Private hospitals will continue charging for the vaccine, and the supply at government hospitals – where the vaccine is free – has been tragically low so far. From the start, India’s vaccine drive has been terribly mismanaged, costing thousands of Indians their lives.

Not enough people vaccinated

As of June 10, 359,000 Indians have lost their lives to the disease. Some of them could have been saved if the vaccine drive was better managed.

India began its inoculation drive on January 16 when it managed to administer a little less than 200,000 doses to frontline workers. On April 2, the number of administered vaccines rose to 4.3 million doses, and starting May 1, when the government announced vaccinations were available for everyone 18 years and older, the number of administered vaccines, on average, was around one million doses per day – far less than it should be for a country with 1.38 billion people.

As the 18 and older population attempted to sign up for a vaccine appointment on May 1, the registration websites crashed, and when people finally managed to get themselves registered, there were no slots available in most states. (Based on personal experience, the situation is still the same). Modi basically announced the second phase of the biggest vaccine drive in the world while knowing there wasn’t sufficient stock available.

So far, only 5% of eligible adults have been completely vaccinated in India – when we look at the entire population, the percentage drops to 3%.

High cost barrier

One of the primary reasons why more people haven’t gotten their jabs is due to the cost barrier and unavailability of doses.

India’s two leading vaccines, Covaxin and Covishield (AstraZeneca), have been administered to eligible citizens in government hospitals for free, but private institutions have been charging a whopping rate of 800-1400 rupees ($10.92-$19.11) for the jab. It’s next to impossible to register for an appointment at a government facility due to low stock, so most of the population, including me, had to choose the private option. I personally paid 850 rupees for my shot, a price which is completely unaffordable for a lower-wage worker who is looking to get their entire family vaccinated.

“I am so scared of the disease,” Dinesh Ramkumar, a watchman in the state of Rajasthan, told me. “One of our family members got infected a month ago and we spent almost all our savings for his treatment. Now, we were dependent on the government to provide us with free vaccines, but every time I go to the government center, they say that they don’t have any stock left … there’s no way I can pay 1,000 rupees for one vaccine as my family has 10 people, and it would cost me 10,000 rupees.”

Vaccine mismanagement

On Tuesday, after Modi’s announcement the day before that vaccines would be free, the government announced several changes to its vaccine policy, including a new cap on prices that private hospitals can charge. However, in many cases, these caps are higher than what the prices were before. The government has also capped the service charge for getting the shot at 150 rupees – a price which makes the whole thing unviable for the people who need the vaccine most.

Just last week, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) dismissed Bharat Biotech’s proposal for emergency use authorization for their Covaxin vaccine in the US. This news has certainly added to the already existing vaccine hesitancy concerns in India. It will also put a strain on India to develop enough doses of Covishield for the country’s population.

The Indian authorities have released a statement saying that Covaxin not getting emergency approval in the US won’t affect India’s vaccine drive, but that likely won’t change how residents see the news.

It’s baffling how mismanaged the entire immunization drive has been from the beginning. How did the world’s biggest antibody producer, dubbed the “pharmacy of the world,” end up with so few vaccines for itself?

More than 200,000 people have died in India since inoculation began. That’s how many lives would have been saved if the authorities had prepared for the second wave by arranging resources, ordering more vaccines, and making them available for free.

We all know that the only way to beat this deadly virus is through vaccines. So, why weren’t we ready? After the declarations this week, it still doesn’t feel like the vaccine has really been made free.

Based on how things have gone, I worry that people still won’t be able to register for the free shots as promised. Is there any meaning attached to Modi’s words? Only time will tell.

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Rep. Paul Gosar learned the hard way: supporting the insurrection has consequences in Congress

paul gosar trumpism 2x1
Rep. Paul Gosar (R-AZ) speaks at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) on February 27, 2021.

  • Representative Paul Gosar has supported the January 6 insurrection from the beginning.
  • He has since found that it’s tougher for him to get things done in Congress.
  • Let this be a lesson to Republicans: undermining our democracy has consequences.
  • Raul Grijalva is the US representative for Arizona’s third district.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

When armed insurrectionists broke into the US Capitol on January 6, I had just finished speaking on the floor of the House of Representatives. My colleagues were debating a motion to reject the results of Arizona’s election for president, which had been resolved in favor of President Biden.

I spoke against the motion – the challenge was not based on any evidence – and took my seat. I was followed briefly by Republican Rep. Paul Gosar, who has played a leading role in the insurrectionist cause from the beginning. He was, somewhat ironically, the last person to speak before security officials ordered an evacuation.

Just a few hours earlier, Rep. Gosar had challenged the certification of Arizona’s electoral votes during a joint session of Congress, receiving a standing ovation of nearly 30 seconds from his House and Senate Republican colleagues for his efforts. That morning, he led a crowd of Trump supporters in chants of “Stop the steal” at the now-infamous rally near the Capitol, and tweeted a demand that Biden concede the race, concluding ominously, “Don’t make me come over there.”

Rep. Gosar has only doubled down since then. At a May 12 hearing of the Committee on Oversight and Reform, he called the insurrectionists “peaceful patriots” who have been maligned only because of their support for Donald Trump.

It’s not unsurprising that his tune hasn’t changed. Whatever you may think of his political sentiments, they are clearly genuinely held. But like all extremists, he should be prepared to accept the consequences of his actions, and now that his colleagues are starting to impose those consequences, he is deflecting and making excuses rather than confronting them honestly.

This came to a head on May 24, when a panel of the Natural Resources Committee, which I chair, held a hearing on a politically uncontroversial bill called the Public Lands Renewable Energy Development Act. As the name suggests, the bill – sponsored by Democratic Rep. Mike Levin – creates incentives and eliminates barriers to develop clean energy projects on certain federally managed lands. It has been a popular and bipartisan piece of legislation for years.

Rep. Gosar knows the bill would benefit his own constituents tremendously, and he had been its leading Republican cosponsor in previous sessions of Congress. Unfortunately, his name carries negative weight among his Democratic colleagues, and having him play a leadership role in this Congress would hurt the bill’s chances of passage. As a result, Rep. Levin informed Rep. Gosar in mid-May that he could not serve as lead cosponsor of the bill this year and made it clear that this was a consequence of his role in the insurrection.

Rather than accepting this as a relatively small price to pay for his convictions, Rep. Gosar immediately introduced his own bill – with language identical to Rep. Levin’s – and told a reporter this was happening because of his “vocal criticisms of the Biden administration and its focus on climate change as it relates to the use of federal lands.” His own press release went so far as to suggest, disingenuously, that his bill would be the one discussed on May 24. It was not.

This is worse than crocodile tears. This is rewriting history. Rep. Gosar pretending on the one hand that a violent attack on the US Capitol is all much ado about nothing and, on the other, that he isn’t facing pushback for his leading role that day, suggests that he isn’t as ready to sacrifice for his cause as he wants his supporters to believe. If he is proud of his record, he should forthrightly say as much. Instead, we are seeing a deliberate effort to muddy the waters by a member of Congress who seems incapable of dealing with the real consequences of his actions before, during, and after January 6.

Those who try to sanitize what happened during the attack on the Capitol are free to do so, but outside their bubble, they have destroyed their credibility. Federal law enforcement agencies continue to make arrests in connection with a multitude of crimes committed that day. The big lie – that Donald Trump really won in the 2020 election – continues to wreak very public havoc, both in Arizona and elsewhere, and will unfortunately take a long time to die.

As a lifelong Democrat, I’m not in the habit of quoting Richard Nixon, but as he once observed, “The best and only answer to a smear or to an honest misunderstanding of the facts is to tell the truth.” I have no doubt that Rep. Gosar continues to believe himself the victim of smears and misunderstandings. But he needs to remember that his colleagues were there that day on the floor of the House, heading for the exits at the very moment his supporters broke into the building because of the false and dangerous story he was telling.

It’s time for him – and his like-minded colleagues who are similarly avoiding responsibility – to start telling the truth, not least of all to themselves. Their actions are unpopular, and with Democrats in the majority in Congress, there will continue to be consequences.

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I am immunocompromised, and the vaccine may not keep me safe. As the country reopens and mask mandates lift, millions of people like me feel scared and abandoned.

A crowd of people wearing masks are in various lines at a bus station.
Commuters line up at a transport hub wearing masks. In the US, mask mandates are lifting as more people get vaccinated, leaving those with weakened immune systems behind.

  • Research indicates the COVID-19 vaccines do not work well for many immunocompromised people.
  • As mask mandates lift, people who are immunocompromised are feeling scared and left behind.
  • There are steps that businesses, health officials, and the CDC need to take to keep us safe.
  • Kathryn Mayer is a Denver-based writer and editor.
  • This is an opinion column. The thoughts expressed are those of the author.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

The vaccines are here, businesses are reopening, and now the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says vaccinated people don’t have to wear masks in public places. All of this messaging shouts: The pandemic is over! It’s safe for vaccinated people! Let’s move on with our lives without precaution!

But all this premature optimism and jubilation is leaving out one important group: immunocompromised individuals who suffer weakened immune systems and are among the most vulnerable to serious illness and death from COVID-19.

Worse yet, emerging research indicates that COVID-19 vaccines may not be as effective for immunosuppressed patients – for many people in this group, the vaccines do not produce much, if any, immune response against the virus – leaving many of them just as vulnerable as if they hadn’t been vaccinated.

This is an important finding in part because the group is not insignificant in numbers: About 10 million people in the US are immunocompromised, typically because of organ transplants or illnesses like cancer and autoimmune diseases, as well as the immune-suppressing medications many use to help treat these conditions.

I’m one of them – I have two autoimmune diseases in which my body attacks healthy tissue and cartilage, and more broadly wreaks havoc on my system. To help treat these illnesses, I take immune-suppressing drugs that in turn make me even more vulnerable and prone to long-lasting viruses, infections, and other illnesses.

Like many others in my shoes, I’ve already felt left behind in many respects over the past year. Since last March, I’ve done my due diligence and followed all the recommendations, rules, and guidelines, including forgoing travel, visiting restaurants, and visits from family and friends – even as those around me gave up one precaution after another, lured by vacations, indoor holiday gatherings, and crowded bars and restaurants.

But the latest guidance from the CDC allowing vaccinated people to shed their masks in indoor, public places – and worse yet, essentially allowing unvaccinated people to remove masks in public as well since businesses typically do not require proof of inoculation – has made individuals like me feel even more left behind, anxious, and forgotten. I’m vaccinated, but it’s not clear what kind of protection that provides for me. (Immunocompromised individuals were excluded from the vaccine trials, but a new study is now underway from the National Institutes of Health).

The things I’ve been looking forward to doing once I was vaccinated now seem far out of reach, knowing the extra precaution of masks is no longer required. Yes, I can and will wear one, but being around scores of maskless people is a risk too many immunocompromised people can’t take. After a year of “we’re all in this together” and “let’s keep each other safe,” people are now rushing to take off their masks without thinking of those who still need to be protected. It’s not as simple as vaccinated or unvaccinated – there’s a murky middle camp of chronically ill patients who are inoculated, but who simply don’t have the normal defenses that allow the vaccines to work.

President Biden said recently that the new mask guidance means the unvaccinated “will end up paying the price,” but he’s wrong – he’s leaving out the vulnerable immunocompromised community. It’s a real punch in the gut for these people after an especially challenging and frightening year.

How to keep immunocompromised people safe

Despite these failings, there are steps that health officials, government, and businesses can take to make me and the 10 million others like me feel more safe and seen in this phase of the pandemic.

First of all, both public health officials and businesses should not rush to take away every precaution. Although this seems simple enough, it’s worth saying. Don’t take away every precaution and health and safety protocol that makes us feel ever-so-slightly more safe. If people can go maskless, don’t take away precautions like capacity limits and alternate options like virtual events and curbside pickup until vaccination rates are significantly higher and research has been conducted on vaccine efficacy for immunocompromised individuals.

For companies that want to return workers to the office – and plan to forgo mask mandates – allow your immunocompromised workers to continue to work from home.

Another suggestion is for the government to consider a widespread vaccination passport policy. I know, I know: No one can agree on this. But relying on the honor system to keep public spaces safe is not going to cut it. Chronically ill people, who for years have gotten extremely ill from being around sick people, no longer trust others to keep us healthy – especially during a pandemic.

Remember at the beginning of the pandemic when there were special hours at stores for elderly and immunocompromised people (because at one point, we mattered)? I’d love to see this return for grocery stores and other businesses. For places that are following the updated CDC guidance and allowing people to go maskless, offering a mask-mandated hour for chronically ill and immunocompromised individuals – or just anyone who feels safer wearing a mask – will help keep us safe.

Certain types of businesses that make appointments in advance – hair salons or financial institutions, for instance – should make it a policy to ask customers their mask preference during the booking process.

The CDC should update health guidance to inform the public about immunocompromised risks and how people can help. When the CDC released its new mask guidance, it included a line addressed to immunocompromised people, telling them they are still vulnerable and to “be aware of the potential for reduced immune responses to the vaccine, as well as the need to continue following current guidance to protect themselves against COVID-19” – um, thanks?. But besides the “you’re on your own!” message, it did not inform the public about what risks they pose to this vulnerable group of people or what they can do to help. This needs to be rectified.

Most importantly, I urge the CDC and health officials to share information about the continued risks for vaccinated immunocompromised people to the general public, so people are aware of this underreported issue and understand that they can help keep this group safe by continuing to wear masks (even though they are not required to). I would also urge the CDC to update their mask guidance to tell the public that those who continue to wear masks, especially in public places or in circumstances where they might be in contact with an immunocompromised person, will help protect this vulnerable population.

It may be too late to reverse the mask guidance, but it’s not too late to do the right thing to help keep millions of people like me safe. Our lives might actually depend on it.

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I’m a millionaire. Biden’s plan to raise my taxes is a great idea.

President Biden looks on while delivering a speech.

  • An opinion in the Wall Street Journal states that Biden’s plan to raise taxes on the rich will adversely affect investing.
  • But wealthy people are going to invest no matter how high their taxes are.
  • It’s time to finally raise taxes on the rich, and use the money to make the country stronger.
  • Morris Pearl is the Chair of the Patriotic Millionaires.
  • This is an opinion column. The thoughts expressed are those of the author.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

The campaign against President Biden’s proposed tax hikes on the wealthy is in full swing, and much like the campaign in favor of President Trump’s tax cuts for the wealthy in 2017, so far it’s based more on misinformation than fact.

A recent editorial from the Wall Street Journal Editorial Board bashing a capital gains tax hike as “The Dumbest Tax Increase” is a prime example. The editorial lays out a series of arguments against raising taxes on millionaire investors that, as a millionaire investor myself, come across as glaringly misleading and factually incorrect.

The centerpiece of the argument against increasing capital gains tax rates is that doing so will change how wealthy people invest. But as venture capitalist Alan Patricof recently stated, wealthy people are going to continue to invest no matter what the capital gains tax rate is. The only other alternative is to either spend their money or keep it in a shoe box under their bed.

I’m rich. Tax me.

In an economy with a glut of investment capital and a shortage of consumer demand, it wouldn’t be such a bad thing to have rich people spending more. If the explosion of stock prices, real estate prices, SPACS, cryptocurrency, NFTs, and other speculative investments indicates anything, it’s that rich people may just have too much money and not enough ways to invest it productively.

Research shows the majority of stocks in the US are held in accounts that are exempt from the capital gains tax. Over the last 50 years, the percentage of publicly traded US stocks held in taxable accounts has gone from over 80% to under 25%. So even if we accept the erroneous argument that capital gains taxes will alter investor behavior, 25% still likely wouldn’t be enough for those changes to have a significant impact on the economy. The fact that the WSJ Editorial Board chose to include a John F. Kennedy quote from 1963 about the effects of capital gains while ignoring key changes that have taken place in our economy since then, like the number of stocks in taxable accounts, is emblematic of the ways opponents of Biden’s tax plan cherry pick and de-contextualize facts.

It’s true that inflation and the inability to fully deduct losses on investments will leave some wealthy investors paying more than they might otherwise, and that taxing capital gains in addition to levying corporate taxes could be interpreted as “double taxation,” which further limits the earnings of rich stock owners. But that’s kind of the point.

The Biden tax proposal is designed to make wealthy investors pay higher taxes – it’s not a sign that the proposal is bad if it’s making investors who earn over a million dollars a year pay higher taxes because that’s what it is intended to do. This is a feature of the Biden tax plan, not a bug, no matter how much those millionaire and billionaire investors may complain about it. Everyone who is making that much money can afford to pay higher taxes, and our country needs them to.

It is absurd that wealthy investors like myself pay lower tax rates than Americans who actually work for a living. Any change that will bring more fairness to the tax code and shrink the out-of-control inequality threatening our society is worth doing on that basis alone, regardless of all the good for which the potential new revenue can be used.

American billionaires saw their wealth grow by $1.3 trillion during the global pandemic, while working class families, women, and communities of color all disproportionately felt the enormous financial fallout. This gross wealth inequality, including the transfer of wealth from the middle class to the ultra wealthy, has existed in our country for decades, but it’s reached unsustainable levels in recent years. A tax plan that starts to reverse this trend isn’t “dumb,” it’s sorely needed.

The current state of our tax code is failing everyone – including the salaried employees of the Wall Street Journal and the staff members of Republican members of Congress opposing Biden’s tax plan – except those at the top. The status quo is broken, and Biden’s plan to raise taxes on capital gains is exactly the change this country needs. It’s time we embrace something new and tax the rich.

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Businesses are struggling to find workers and experts are raising the alarm over a ‘labor shortage.’ But there are clear reasons to think the job crunch is only a short-term problem.

mcdonald's advertising help wanted labor shortage $15 an hour
The sign at the McDonald’s restaurant on Penn Ave in Sinking Spring, PA April 8, 2021 with a message on a board below it that reads “Work Here $15 And Free Meals”.

  • The US economy appears to have a labor shortage on its hands as businesses are having trouble attracting workers.
  • But there are reasons – improving vaccination rates, childcare reopenings, the end of boosted unemployment – to believe the job market imbalance won’t last long.
  • Given the temporary nature of the issue, the Federal Reserve shouldn’t overreact.
  • This is an opinion column. The thoughts expressed are those of the author.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

Until recently, enthusiasm was building in the economic recovery. But a series of dark clouds have come together all at once to darken the outlook for the US economy and they all point to one thing: inflation.

The most hotly debated topic is the question of the labor market. The weak April jobs report and reports from firms citing difficulties finding workers and mounting wage pressure have people worried about labor supply shortages. In turn, some economists are swinging from the optimism of accelerating demand to the pessimism of binding supply. As I will argue, first, the fretting over the job market and labor shortage will prove to be short-lived and second, the Federal Reserve should not change course to address the concerns – interest rates are too blunt a tool.

Yes, there is a labor shortage but it will pass

I believe there is enough evidence to conclude that there is indeed a shortage of workers for companies to hire. Since last summer, the percentage of prime-age workers – people aged 25 to 54 – in the labor force (employed or actively looking for employment) has not budged and is still stuck 1.7 percentage points below its pre-pandemic peak. At the same time, total job openings have surged by just over two million, indicating strong demand from businesses for labor. There is plenty of anecdotal evidence of firms boosting pay: McDonald’s, Chipotle and Amazon among them.

These are 2019 like headlines in 2021. The only difference is that the unemployment rate was below 4% then and it is above 6% now. This would indicate a temporary increase in NAIRU, which is not surprising in the early stages of recovery. There was a similar phenomenon following the financial crisis. The initial recovery always involves a “clearing out of the brush” so to speak – the reallocation of resources often results in short-run labor market frictions.

But these frictions will be just that, short. In the coming quarters, there are good reasons to expect labor supply constraints to ease:

  1. There is less fear of COVID in the general population. Believe it or not, we saw more people with a job, but not at work due to illness in April than we did on average last summer. As cases continue to decline, the spread of COVID is less likely to be a reason keeping people from attaching to jobs in the future. As Fed Governor Lael Brainard recently noted, the vaccinated share of the population increased notably from the survey week of the April payroll figures.
  2. Schools are likely to return to full in-person instruction in the fall. Now, just half of school districts are fully in-person. This might be impacting the attachment of parents to the workforce, especially mothers. The participation rates for women aged 25 to 44 has dropped a bit more than men. There’s some debate about how much of an impact school closures are having but I’d be surprised if the return of a normal routine did not bring with it some recovery in labor supply.
  3. The jobless benefits are coming to an end. This is the most contentious point, but there is some reason to believe these payments, critical safety nets during the worst of the pandemic, have now kept workers from attaching to jobs. After all, one reason for these programs was to bridge people over the pandemic by staying away from working. At any rate, there area slew of states endingthe boosted unemployment benefits early (covering about one-third of the labor force) and the program itself is over the summer. So, to the extent this is a big constraint, it will be fading in the months ahead.

What to do about it? Stand pat.

I think this easing of labor supply constraints has a few important implications, particularly for the Fed.

Many investors and economists are anxiously awaiting speeches from Fed officials, especially Chairman Jerome Powell, about whether these constraints and wage increases could lead to a hike in interest rates. These breathless observers should exhale. While there is some evidence that a tapering of asset purchases is coming into focus (“thinking about thinking”), rate hikes remain in the distance.

More importantly, what exactly is the Fed supposed to do about labor constraints? Lift rates and cool demand for labor? In the same way that much of the rise in consumer prices has been concentrated in items related to supply chain disruptions or the economic reopening, the Fed will likely view the recent supply side pressures in the labor market as temporary. Thus, the Fed’s best strategy is to do nothing.

In short, I think the months ahead will alleviate some of the supply pressures in the labor market. While the increased unemployment benefits are the most contentious, the fact that COVID is going away should bring many people back into the workforce. This positive labor market supply shock will give the Fed some breathing room to bide their time.

Of course, no outlook is without risks. In this case, there is some chance that the pandemic has accelerated the retirements for many. The participation rate for those aged 55 and over has declined 2 percentage points against pre-pandemic levels, a bit more than prime-age workers. If we assume that the participation rate for those aged 55 and over stays flat, the participation rate for those aged 16 to 24 would need to rise by roughly 7 points from its current level to push the total participation rate back to its pre-pandemic level – in other words, by quite a lot.

But, for now, I see more evidence that the labor supply problem is temporary than permanent. The next couple of quarters should be better.

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Fox News isn’t even pretending to be a news network anymore – it’s time for consumers to force cable providers and advertisers to drop the network

fox news ratings
Fox News headquarters on Sixth Avenue in Midtown Manhattan.

  • Fox News has given up all pretense of acting as a news network.
  • It’s time advertisers and cable companies stop funding the deception Fox beams into American homes.
  • The more people let cable providers know that they are done funding Fox News, the less leverage the network has going into renegotiations.
  • Nikki Ramirez is a researcher at Media Matters For America, a nonprofit media watchdog.
  • This is an opinion column. The thoughts expressed are those of the author.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

After a year spent undermining public health and safety, eroding confidence in our democracy, and mainstreaming white nationalism, it’s become even clearer that Fox News is a threat to the American public. Now, the network wants more money.

Per multiple industry publications, Fox News made a preemptive pitch to advertisers on May 11 in advance of the advertising industry “upfront” presentations scheduled to begin the following week. Major television networks, including Fox News, have traditionally used those presentations to sell the majority of their advertising space “upfront” for the year ahead.

Reports suggest that in that pitch, Fox News touted its daytime programming and streaming service and did not mention its prime-time lineup, presenting it’s day-side and online programming as a subdued and safe investment for buyers.

The move is understandable. Tucker Carlson and his fellow prime-time hosts, including Laura Ingraham and Sean Hannity, have made the channel a toxic swamp for advertisers, who’ve fled in droves.

Those of us who watch Fox News daily know that there is very little news reporting left on the network’s “news side.” Watch a single night of the network’s “reporting” and it becomes abundantly clear that Fox has dropped all pretenses of operating as a journalistic operation. The network has used the cover of its “opinion” side to truncate coverage of the mundane trappings of real world news events in favor of culture war narratives like “the war on beef,” the apocalyptic threat of “cancel culture,” obsessive, fear mongering about transgender individuals, or a network-wide fixation on critical race theory.

And while conjuring controversy out of thin air is a staple at the network, executives have steadily transitioned resources away from “news side” operations in favor of buttressing the antics of their opinion hosts – antics that have landed the network in multiple multibillion-dollar defamation lawsuits and forced Fox to argue in court that its most popular anchor, Tucker Carlson, shouldn’t actually be taken seriously by viewers.

Fox is expecting an uphill battle in convincing potential advertisers and cable companies that they won’t face public backlash for being the financial backer the next time a Fox host endorses a white nationalist conspiracy theory, casts doubts on the results of a fair and free election, or contributes to the consistent stream of virulent rhetoric that plagues the network.

In fact, a broad and diverse coalition of more than 40 organizations sent an open letter to media buyers during the television industry’s upfront period, urging them not to buy advertisements on Fox News, warning that any ad spend on the network will fund the promotion of COVID conspiracy theories, bigotry, and lies.

In response to that letter, Fox News told The Wrap that it is “about to close out its fourth consecutive year delivering new records in advertising revenue, so clearly Media Matters’ predictable ongoing partisan attacks have zero impact outside of their irrelevant echo chamber on social media.”

The network was one of the biggest backers of former President Donald Trump’s attempts to subvert the results of the 2020 election. Following the January 6 storming of the US Capitol building, Fox became headquarters for the public relations defense of the rioters who attempted to stop the vote to certify Joe Biden’s election.

Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, which has killed almost 600,000 Americans, Fox News chose to provide its audience not with informative coverage, but with a flood of misinformation and conspiracy theories. The network denounced protective measures like masks and social distancing, broadcast conspiracy theories about vaccines, and consistently undermined trust in public health officials and the scientific community.

During the upfronts, Fox News scrambled to draw a veil over their record and paint a sunny picture for investors and media buyers. But the network that has built itself as a place for laundering and repackaging extremism, and has handsomely rewarded those who do it well. Now it faces a reckoning with advertisers and cable companies, whose cash and contracts Fox needs.

Head of Fox Corp Lachlan Murdoch has made clear that there is no line he won’t let his hosts cross. Tucker Carlson has long been a major hub of white nationalist talking points, but on April 8, Carlson made one of his most explicit endorsements of the worldview to date: an outright embrace of the “great replacement” conspiracy theory. It is abundantly clear that Fox News will not only tolerate Carlson’s full-throated amplification of white nationalist ideology, but will actively enable and support it. Simply put: Public condemnation alone will achieve nothing. The way to force accountability at Fox is to put its finances on the line.

Consumer pressure

While the prospect may seem daunting, the 2021 advertising bookings represent a unique opportunity for an exercise in consumer power. Fox is banking on its viewers’ ignorance of advertising sales practices and cable subscriber fees to keep its head above water. But the reality is that Fox collects a lot of its advertising money upfront and every American household with a basic cable package gives the network roughly $20 a year regardless of whether they actually watch the channel.

Fox has for a long time leveraged the promise of a loyal viewership in order to increase the fee it charges cable companies to carry their channel, negotiating a much higher price than the other major news networks charge. While more than 90 million households pay for Fox News, only about 3 million are regular viewers.

Fox News understands what should be clear to everyone: that advertising dollars and cable subscriber fees are what fund the disordered stew the network attempts to pass off as news. Fox recognized that upfronts are critical and that they are no longer a guaranteed bet for investors – that’s why the network is attempting to hide its most controversial talent in the back room until the contracts are signed. It’s why Fox has made a conspicuous pivot to streaming, where it’s given its most caustic anchor two new shows that are insulated from the scrutiny of accessible public viewing.

Despite these tactics, advertisers and cable companies can no longer feign ignorance regarding the destructive nature of Fox News’ programming. It is no longer simply a matter of financial interest but a clear-cut ethical boundary.

The more pressure placed on the networks’ backers to stop funding Fox News, by contacting them directly or joining initiatives like #UnFoxMyCableBox, the less leverage the network has going into renegotiations. A mutiny by cable consumers, coupled with a drought of advertiser interest, could push Fox toward a financial position vulnerable enough to force a change.

As Fox competes for advertising dollars, it is also in the process of renegotiating between 40% to 50% of its cable contracts. Media Matters President Angelo Carusone explained to On The Media’s Bob Garfield that Fox News “could have zero commercials, and still have a 90% profit margin, because they are the second-most expensive channel on everybody’s cable box.”

Carusone went on to explain that if Fox is “able to successfully complete these renegotiations over the next year, and get more money out of it, there’s nothing they can do or say that will get them any meaningful consequences and force them to change.” If Fox can make it through this year’s upfronts and renegotiations unscathed, it could mean years of financial impunity.

It’s time to defund Fox News. The network has forfeit any right to claim to special treatment by advertisers and cable providers. By continuing to support the network’s outsized cash grab under consumers’ noses, advertising agencies and cable companies are safeguarding the slush fund that enables Fox to dodge any form of accountability, no matter the detrimental effect it has on the American public.

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News outlets have failed to tell Americans about our history of racial injustice, leaving us to learn about events like the Tulsa Massacre from fiction

tulsa race massacre camps
Entrance to refugee camp on fairgrounds after Tulsa race massacre, Tulsa, Oklahoma, June 1921.

  • Americans need to understand the history of marginalized groups to create equity and understand current events.
  • News organizations have a responsibility to report on these historical stories even when they don’t fit neatly into the “breaking news” cycle.
  • Lynn Brown is a writer, professor, digital storyteller and traveler whose work centers on issues of race, place, culture and history.
  • This is an opinion column. The thoughts expressed are those of the author.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

In the wake of the widespread protests against racial injustice in the US last summer, many media organizations began the – in some cases long overdue – process of looking inward for ways to create racial equity in their organizations. Public diversity statements became the norm, and many organizations started or buffed up their DEI efforts and made high-profile hires of people of color into key leadership positions.

All of this is wonderful. In fact, this internal work is necessary for all organizations committed to creating equity; however, media companies have an extra responsibility that is often overlooked. News organizations have the responsibility to understand and inform the public of the context in which a lot of this change is taking place. Because of how traditional journalism privileges things that are happening right now or in the future, the public misses a major part of the story about racial injustice, which has become a major stumbling block to moving forward.

With racial justice issues, it is often in the past where the real heart of the story lies. Without a solid understanding of what has gone on before with regards to systemic racism and injustice, it can be hard to really get a grasp on the true gravity of the situation, the deep feelings behind this most recent push for racial justice, or the intricacies of the systems that need to be dismantled in order to truly make change.

The trouble with traditional models

The Black Lives Matter (BLM) protests last summer are a great example. Understanding the fervor with which BLM protestors pushed back against police violence requires that the reader, and thus the reporter, understand just how long-standing the tension between police and the Black community is. Not just in terms of the last few years, but also in terms of the last few decades and even centuries. Rather than starting, as many such articles do, with Rodney King – one of the first videotaped instances of police violence against a Black man – it’s more accurate to do an in-depth report on the countless unnamed people who were victims of similar violence in the decades before video evidence was available. Protests like those we saw last summer are the culmination of all of the stories that went untold in the past, not just those that are breaking in the present. However, if those stories of the past remain untold, there will always be a gap in understanding.

Traditionally, any historical context a reporter feels the reader might need in order to understand a story is added in as succinctly as possible. Usually a line or two, maybe a paragraph, describing the background is included at the end of a story. This is part of the “inverted pyramid” style of writing we often learn in journalism school. However, this practice assumes that the story’s background is common knowledge and all a reader really needs is just enough information to jog their memory or inspire them to look into the subject further on their own.

In the context of racial justice, however, this just isn’t the case. There is often no memory there to jog because so many of these historical instances of injustice went unreported in mainstream media outlets when they happened, and were then relegated to the halls of academia, where only those studying subjects like history, ethnic studies, or critical race theory had easy access to them.

Part of the problem is that up until very recently news outlets were highly segregated. Breaking news about violence and injustice enacted on communities of color were relegated to news outlets run by often wildly underfunded news organizations within the communities themselves, and were rarely reported on in the mainstream news outlets. Thus, the work that these local organizations did, as well as the work they didn’t get to report on, never became common knowledge. Instead, these stories were relegated to history with little to no reliable way of making it to mainstream consciousness.

Filling the gaps

Currently the most reliable way that these overlooked stories are being told seems to be via fictional media. For example, media interest in the 1921 Tulsa Massacre only resurfaced after its depiction in the HBO show “Watchmen”. The problem here is that TV and movies can only do so much. It’s not really the job of TV writers to inform the public, and fictionalizing these important stories shouldn’t be the only way to bring them to the public consciousness. In fact, having fictionalized versions be the first, and sometimes only, way these stories reach the mainstream media can be detrimental. Fictionalized versions of historical events can create an inaccurate understanding of the issue at hand, and cause the facts of a story to seem open to interpretation.

It is not the job of the fiction writer to educate the public and tell the facts of important stories, it’s the job of the journalist. If journalists didn’t do it adequately enough the first time, isn’t it our responsibility to go back and remedy that now?

Tell the history

Some reporters, most often reporters of color, have managed to bridge this gap in historical context with their work. Most notably journalists like Nikole Hannah-Jones, who spearheaded the award-winning 1619 Project for The New York Times, or Ta-Nehisi Coates whose 2014 Atlantic piece “A Case for Reparations” sparked a national conversation that went all the way to the floor of Congress. But there are so many more important historical stories to be told, many of which don’t fit neatly into the breaking news cycle, making it difficult for journalists eager to tell these stories to find homes for them.

If news organizations are truly committed to the cause of truth telling and racial justice, it is necessary to break with tradition and find ways to tell more of the stories from the past that are so vital to creating the future we want to see.

Lynn Brown is a writer, professor, digital storyteller and traveler whose work centers on issues of race, place, culture and history. She’s an adjunct associate professor at the Craig Newmark Graduate School of Journalism and the New School and her work can be found in GQ, Sierra Magazine, Ebony, Vice, and others. Find her on Twitter at @lrdbrown79.

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The dream of the truly driverless car is officially dead

Google driverless car
This May 13, 2014 file photo shows a row of Google self-driving Lexus cars at a Google event outside the Computer History Museum in Mountain View, Calif.

  • Driverless technology has been heralded as a way to save costs and save lives.
  • But driverless does not mean humanless. Technology still requires human oversight.
  • This often means increased, not reduced, costs for business and consumers alike.
  • Ashley Nunes is Director for Competition Policy at the R Street Institute.
  • This is an opinion column. The thoughts expressed are those of the author.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

Lyft’s quest for driverless cars is over. The company recently announced the sale of its self-driving unit to auto giant Toyota. The move isn’t surprising. Despite hefty investment, Lyft’s driverless utopia, like many others, remains more fiction than fact.

It wasn’t supposed to be like this. In 2016, Lyft President John Zimmer predicted that driverless cars would, “account for the majority of Lyft rides within five years.” By 2025, Zimmer reasoned, private car ownership will all but end in major US cities.”

Such reasoning was largely rooted in “techno optimism:” a deeply held belief that machines are superior to humans in terms of servitude. Sensors and software, after all, don’t complain, don’t tire, and don’t demand pay hikes – or salaries at all for that matter. This trifecta is purportedly a surefire way to lift profits. Hence, the tech-centric spending spree on all things autonomous. Ride-hailing companies have burnt millions over the years on perfecting the technology.

Yet, autonomous does not mean humanless. In Our Robots, Ourselves: Robotics and the Myths of Autonomy,” Historian David Mindell explains why. “There are no fully autonomous systems,” Mindell reasons. “The machine that operates entirely independently of human direction is a useless machine. Only a rock is truly autonomous.” Put another way, the type of automation ride-hailing companies are betting on to boost earnings doesn’t exist. It never has.

And if it did, humans would still play a role. The reason? Machines – much like humans – can’t be trusted to get it right all the time, every time. Take what is arguably the longest serving piece of automation today: the airplane autopilot. First introduced in 1912, the system is designed to balance an airplane so human pilots don’t have to. The result is a smoother, safer ride for passengers. But as we know, there have been hiccups. In 1985, a jetliner nearly crashed after the autopilot failed to inform the crew about an imminent ‘loss of control’ – a dangerous condition that can cause a crash. Because of such oversights, autopilot use today is contingent on human supervision.

This also explains why driverless cars remain, after years of development, not so driverless after all. Look beyond the headlines and you’ll find human overlords watch from afar over purportedly automated systems. Customer support staff are also on hand to answer rider queries – such as “What if I want to change my destination during the trip?” And then there’s an armada of pricey engineers standing ready to solve vexing road problems, like what to do when a lane is blocked by double-parked cars, orange traffic cones, or the occasional taco truck.

All this human capital means more, not less, expense; bloated, not pared down, balance sheets. And that’s problematic for an industry that has struggled to turn a profit. In 2019 alone, ride-hailing companies lost over $10 billion, their financial statements being described as, “a hemorrhaging fountain of red ink with no path to profitability.” Company execs had hoped self-driving investments would provide relief. The available evidence suggests otherwise.

It’s time we see the driverless dream for what it is: a Disneyland-style spectacle that can’t “live up to its sci-fi imaginings, a series of very expensive and glitzy pilot projects that can’t cut it in the real world.” Driverless technology may,, on its best days, be astounding, but those days have been few and far between. Self-driving algorithms may – given the frequency of human folly – make intuitive sense but intuition isn’t always right.

Earlier this year, the UK government suggested that driverless cars could soon hit the A10, an major road in England that connects London to various cities to its north. “We’re on the cusp of a driving revolution,” noted Transport Minister Rachel Maclean. But turning that revolution into reality demands a guarantee of technological perfection – a guarantee that few, if any, driverless tech developers can give. Until that happens, expect human drivers to stick around.

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The world really, really needs the Olympics this year

tokyo olympics
People in Japan wear masks due to the COVID-19 pandemic in front of Olympics rings.

  • The Summer Olympics in Japan were rescheduled from 2020 to August 2021.
  • Despite concerns over the COVID pandemic and the big logistical work needed to put on the Games, they should go on.
  • The Olympics can be a symbol of hope, and hope is what we need right now.
  • This is an opinion column. The thoughts expressed are those of the author.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

We really, really need the Olympics this year.

After an unprecedented period apart, holding the Olympics would be a powerful symbol that the world can start to come back together again. They can be a beacon of hope and proof of progress against the pandemic.

The Games must go on.

There are still a lot of challenges. The virus continues to claim thousands of lives around the world each day and has overwhelmed the healthcare system in places like India and Brazil. The distribution of vaccines is moving out far too slowly in most countries, including in Japan. And the organizing effort to bring in thousands of athletes from hundreds of countries to safely compete in a multi-week event will be enormous.

The Games were already pushed back from their original 2020 date, and for these reasons, there are many calling for the Olympics to be delayed again..

But while these challenges are real and the undertaking enormous, it’s important to remember what the games represent. They are a singularly powerful symbol of our common humanity. While the realities of politics are sometimes injected into the event – whether through boycotts, cheating scandals, or the occasional friction on the field – the Olympics show us that at our best it is possible for the whole world to play by the same rules.

The Games are also one of the most iconic illustrations of what humans can achieve by setting seemingly impossible goals and expending tireless effort. That is a desperately needed spirit at this moment. After the harrowing days of COVID-19, we could all use a confidence boost. The exhilarating experience of the Games can reassure us that new possibilities lay beyond the horizon.

The head of communications at the International Olympic Committee, Christian Klaue recently told me that organizers plan to build the event around a “light at the end of the tunnel” theme. This does not mean we have emerged from the darkness. The Games should not serve as a celebration or a victory lap around the track. After more than a year and a half, weariness has started to take hold. The Games can help to reinvigorate spirits for what will hopefully be the final stretch.

Under normal conditions, international coordination on the scale of the Games is an extraordinarily challenging endeavor. Klaue says the Olympics very likely, “has the most stakeholders of any event in the world.” Yet, now, even the most basic health and logistical questions result in major divisions, taking much longer to resolve. From travel to housing, meals to medical facilities, the complexity has been compounded.

Yet, we have learned and advanced enough at this point to stage a global event safely. Smaller sporting events have been able to bring in international participants and sports leagues like the NBA have implemented sophisticated contract tracing programs. Organizers have the ability to vaccinate athletes, staff, and media. Using high-quality, rapid tests, it is possible to verify on site that no one entering the facilities is infected.

In many ways COVID-19 has torn the world apart. Countries have shut their borders, hoarded vaccines, and failed to coordinate an effective global response. There is a real risk that the pandemic will only further serve to exacerbate existing inequity and divisions for years to come. Stitching that frayed fabric back together needs to start now. I can think of no better opportunity to rebuild ties than through the Olympics.

There is also a need to start imagining what comes next. The Olympics provide us with the chance to step back from the stress and struggles we presently face. What can we do better or just differently? Looking out across so much loss and devastation, one can’t help but begin to reimagine how we live.

Not since the end of World War II have we been given an opening to rethink international institutions and ideals. Steps were taken back then with the United Nations and other multilateral organizations to better manage conflicts and global crises. Clearly, there is a lot more work needed and there is no more opportune time than during a crisis.

So, let’s meet this momentous moment. Not only hold the Games, but use them to start a new dialogue with the world. What does our collective future look like and how do we get there? If we can agree to play sports, there has to be more we can do together. Let’s hold the games not because we need a break or a bright spot during a bleak period in history. Let’s hold them because they offer a unique chance for global compromise and to begin imagining how we change the way the world works.

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I’m an incarcerated person. I know for a fact that Derek Chauvin’s guilty verdict isn’t ‘accountability,’ it’s just punishment

derek chauvin verdict reactions
Two women embrace in Minneapolis, Minnesota after a jury announced their verdict in the Derek Chauvin trial.

  • When Derek Chauvin was found guilty of murdering George Floyd, many people heralded the concept of “accountability.”
  • As an incarcerated person who has strived to better myself, we need to learn the difference between accountability and simple punishment.
  • Christopher Blackwell is a writer who is incarcerated at the Washington State Reformatory in Monroe, Washington.
  • This is an opinion column. The thoughts expressed are those of the author.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

“Accountability” is a word that’s often thrown around with little to no understanding of its true meaning and purpose. This has never been more true than with the recent conviction of Derek Chauvin and the dialogue around it.

When NBA superstar LeBron James responded to the conviction with one word, “ACCOUNTABILITY,” it got over 228,000 likes and over 30,000 retweets, it showed that people have lost touch with what accountability actually means.

Yes, Derek Chauvin was convicted of murdering George Floyd, as he should have been, but this is not accountability, this is just punishment. The criminal justice system conflates these two concepts, but we cannot follow suit.

Worth a thousands words

The false equivalency between punishment and accountability has been dished-out to society through our dysfunctional justice system. We’ve been led to believe that punishment will solve all our problems, but it won’t. What makes an arbitrary number of years spent in prison equivalent to accountability? How does that right the harm that was caused?

We need to understand what accountability actually is. When used properly, true accountability can bring growth and healing, and this is what we should all strive for when harm occurs. True accountability allows us to learn from the pain we caused and break the cycle of our harmful ways. I know, because when I was 22 years old, I took a human life during a drug robbery. This led me to receive a 38 year-long prison sentence. When I first received my sentence I thought, “I deserve this. I took a life, and now I have to pay the price.” This was what I had been taught growing up in a dysfunctional system that never had my or my community’s best interest at heart.

Years went by before I realized that being accountable for my actions had nothing to do with the prison sentence I received. Being accountable was about me doing deep personal work that would help me see I needed to own the harm I had caused, and most importantly, I had to stop making excuses for my actions and acknowledge that only I was responsible for the damage.. Of course, there are mitigating factors and circumstances that lead us to live certain lifestyles – especially criminal lifestyles – nevertheless, our actions are our own and must be acknowledged as such.

When I took an individual’s life, it didn’t matter what my intentions were – whether it was an accident or self defense or a rash moment of confusion – I had chosen to do a robbery and during that robbery I had taken a human life. I needed to be accountable for that harm. I could serve a hundred life sentences, but that wouldn’t make me accountable, nor would it do anything for those I’ve harmed.

When doing the work to hold myself accountable, I found that the extremely broken criminal justice system doesn’t offer accountability, or even a path towards it. It merely offers a conviction through the law and then warehouses those convicted. That’s it. I came to the conclusion that only I, and I alone, would be able to begin the process of holding myself accountable.

I do want to acknowledge that it’s easy, after being stepped on for a lifetime, to lose sight of the end goal and mistake a conviction through the courts as accountability. Even after all my years of training as a restorative justice facilitator in accountability, I fell victim to wanting to see Derek Chauvin suffer. When they said he would be held in solitary confinement, an evil laugh escaped my lips because I have spent countless days in there and I wanted him, a cop, to feel that isolation and pain I and others have been forced to feel. However, I quickly realized that as a prison abolitionist, this isn’t what I actually want. I don’t want to accept this broken system of justice as my own.

Over the last decade, I have committed myself to understanding accountability and how to best hold myself accountable for the harm I’ve caused. I’ve learned how to do this while also taking into account those I’ve harmed: my community, my loved ones and myself. Building these skills while facing the harm I had caused didn’t happen overnight, and I’m still working on it. I will be for the rest of my life. This was the only way to begin to atone for the life-ending harm I caused in my youth.

In Derek Chauvin’s case, accountability will only come if he does the work to hold himself accountable. As a society, we can punish him, but that’s all we can do. Accountability is his responsibility. Being held responsible by someone else is much different then being held accountable by ourselves.

As a society, we need to decide: are we looking for the kind of justice and accountability that will stop police from killing people of color in our communities, or are we just willing to buy into the broken system of so-called justice that has destroyed our communities and countless lives within them?

We cannot continue to allow these racist, over-zealous cops to continue to murder people in the streets. But we also don’t want to fall victim to believing that their version of justice is the same as ours, because in the end their policing system will always target those it was designed to oppress: impoverished communities of color like the one I grew up in. We owe them and ourselves so much more.

Christopher Blackwell, 40, is incarcerated at the Washington State Reformatory in Monroe, Washington, and is working toward publishing a book on solitary confinement. His writing has been published by The Washington Post, HuffPost, BuzzFeed, Jewish Currents, and many other publications. He is serving a 45-year sentence. Follow Christopher on Twitter.

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