Reports in Review

Report of the Month: Mapping Inequality

Communities of Opportunity: A Framework for a More Equitable and Sustainable Future for All

Kirwan Institute for the Study of Race and Ethnicity, Ohio State University, Columbus, Ohio, January 2007.

It is difficult to describe the structural, built-in ways that inequality is reproduced. The sociologist john a. powell, Director of the Kirwan Institute at Ohio State, is promoting a useful phrase "community of opportunity" to encapsulate the idea that "most affordable housing in metropolitan areas is disconnected from opportunity." Despite desegregation orders and NAACP lawsuits, some federally assisted housing continues to be built away from jobs, quality education, and health care resources and instead is found in central city or depleted inner suburban areas. Those key resources must be brought into these neighborhoods to fight the impoverishment of cities and their people - and people must be given the transportation and housing opportunities to access those resources in wealthier areas, this report argues. Because "inequality has a geographic footprint," "opportunity maps" can identify where jobs, good housing and doctors are clustered, and identify where to locate new or rehabbed government-supported housing to best contribute to the inhabitants' lives. "Where you live is more important than what you live in," according to the report, referring to longstanding research that poor students do better when attending schools in wealthier areas.

Many states already place affordable housing near day care, health services, and transportation to jobs. Wisconsin and Minnesota consider where jobs are being created, among other factors when locating housing. The Kirwan Institute pulls together these lessons, and has created comprehensive opportunity maps to help guide siting decisions in Baltimore, Detroit, Cleveland, Chicago, Battle Creek, and other areas. Implicit in the enterprise is the idea that structural racism can be challenged with carefully designed responses.

Other Reports in Review

Secrecy, an Ally of an Imperial Presidency

Government Secrecy: Decisions without Democracy

People for the American Way Foundation and, Washington, D.C., July 2007.

The government has upped the ante on keeping secrets from the rest of us. This updated version of a report first issued in 1987 in response to the Reagan administration's increase in secrecy is a reminder that while things have gotten worse, the impulse to horde government secrets is not new.The Bush administration shares a penchant with Reagan for hiding information from the American public, and techniques for doing so have proliferated since 2001.

Without the public knowing what the government is doing, trust in government dissolves, corruption spreads, and accountability to ensure the government is acting on behalf of the people weakens. Without the free flow of information, scientific and intellectual innovation is stifled. Yet the federal government's rapid growth and increased use of electronic data storage diminish both trust and public access. Despite hard fought advances that can stifle the urge to secrecy, reading this well-documented and reasoned report is unnerving.

Some tidbits from the report: "For every tax dollar spent declassifying old secrets, the government spends $134 creating and securing secrets, up to 40,000 documents a day." "It is estimated that there are now more than 100 different designations for categories of sensitive information," despite the fact that "the sources of [state secrets] privilege are nebulous." "Sensitive is a code word for embarrassing to senior officials."

"Gagging the insiders," or placing restrictions on government whistleblowers, might have prevented the release of the Pentagon papers in the 1970s, but since the Whistleblower Protection Act of 1994, whistleblowers are supposedly protected. Yet the Bush Administration has met revelations about the National Security Agency's warrantless wiretapping, CIA rendition and torture chambers, and no-bid defense contracts to Halliburton and others with bids for new laws allowing it to punish the whistleblowers.

The claim of executive privilege has so far protected the President's office from the Government Accountability Office requests, and similar attempts to create closed door sessions in the judicial branch, such as immigration hearings or other claims that the proceedings would weaken national security are emerging. This report encourages us to pay close attention to the watchdogs so we may defend them.

Are All the Right's Silver Bullets Losing Speed?

Ballot Bulletin: The LGBT Turnaround June 27, 2007; Ballot Bulletin: Initiative Myths and Facts, February 1, 2007; Ballot Bulletin: A Short History of Ballot Measures Related to Reproductive Choice, March 15, 2007; Ballot Bulletin: Ward of the States, July 19, 2007

Ballot Initiative Strategy Center, Washington, D.C.

According to recent emailed bulletins from our friends at the Ballot Initiative Strategy Center, same sex marriage bans lost their political clout in 2006, even in states where they passed. This may be a signal that voter opinion is changing even where the "gimmicky measures" reach the ballot. This year, good news comes from Massachusetts, Wisconsin, and Florida where anti-gay advocates failed in their attempts to place initiatives on the 2008 ballot.

It's tricky trying to read the meaning of ballot measures, since they are as complex as any political campaign. For instance, coalitions of progressives and conservatives successfully challenged cities by voting in ballot measures limiting the government's power to take private land for private economic development, challenging the Supreme Court decision Kelo v. New London. Three quarters of the measures supporting a government's "regulatory taking" of land a real estate magnate covets failed. We are fortunate to have groups like BISC and their colleague researchers who can provide such useful information to activists.

The news about anti-affirmative action ballot measures isn't as promising. Ward Connerly, the African American supported by Rupert Murdoch and Coors to promote the rollback of affirmative action, shepherded a ban on the policy in Michigan in 2006 (in alliance with the Ku Klux Klan) under the deceptive name Michigan Civil Rights Initiative. The measure forced the University of Michigan law school to drastically reduce the number of African Americans it admitted from 157 last year to 26 this year. Connerly is now pursuing similar ballot measures in Arizona, Colorado, Missouri, and Oklahoma.

Who's Talking Now?

Left Behind: The Skewed Representation of Religion in Major News Media

Media Matters for America, Washington, DC, May 29, 2007,

This study had the blogosphere in a tizzy but didn't get much attention from the mainstream press. Perhaps that is because it exposed the overwhelming bias of both print and television journalists toward interviewing conservative religious figures over progressive ones. Broadcast and print alike paint the divide as secular liberals versus "cultural conservatives who ground their political values in religious beliefs." Yet only 10 percent of Americans describe themselves as secular in a recent Pew study and almost 70 percent are religious in a way that cannot be described as culturally conservative. Still the media overlooks religious figures coming from this diverse group.

Television newscasters interviewed or quoted conservative religious leaders 3.8 times more than progressive ones, according to this study. Major newspapers quoted them 2.7 times more often.

"If one were trying to assess the state of religion in America today by examining the major news media, one would be forgiven for believing that religious Americans are primarily concerned with a small subset of issues, chief among them ending legal abortion and opposing gay marriage. One might also believe that a handful of vocal religious figures advocating extremely conservative political views, many with close ties to the Republican Party, represent the face of religion in America today."

Beyond Choice

Reproductive Justice in the United States: A Funders' Briefing, Summary Report

SisterSong, Atlanta, May 2007,

The word "prochoice" doesn't really communicate the range of women's reproductive rights beyond abortion, especially for those who do not have many choices. But women's rights advocates were stumped about an alternative until a caucus of African American women, some only recently returned from the 1994 UN Conference on Population and Development in Cairo, created the phrase "reproductive justice" to connect reproductive issues to the decisions women make elsewhere in their lives. Now the framework of reproductive justice has a life of its own, proliferating in meanings while also influencing both the 2004 National March for Women's Lives and the groundbreaking 2005 conference, Reproductive Justice for All.

In October 2005 seven funders and twenty women of color organizations gathered with the aim of crafting a commonly understood meaning of this important concept and to end the isolation of abortion and contraception from other social justice issues in their organizing. This report is the result.

Unlike the legal argument that women's choice rests on an individual's right to privacy or healthcare, the idea of reproductive justice reflects a broader human rights approach connecting reproductive freedom with other social justice movements. It welcomes in the full range of women based on their own life experiences. It offers a counter frame to the misnomer "prolife," and it has the potential for reinvigorating a movement that continues to be besieged by the Right.

This Just In From our Corporate Sponsors!

Fear & Favor 2006 - The Seventh Annual Report, Encroachment Without Apology

By Janine Jackson, EXTRA!. New York, March/April 2007.

While the majority of the stories in this year-end review of media bias concern major newspapers or TV stations trading coverage for cash or other financial benefits with advertisers - such as TV station KTLA accepting free deluxe guest rooms for its anchors at a Ritz Carlton in Pasadena in exchange for filming a morning news show from the hotel. But others deal with reporters who have been pressured to change their news content to appease corporate sponsors. Notable examples include a reporter fired from the Evening Sun of Hanover, Pennsylvania for criticizing Wal-Mart and a Chicago Tribune writer whose piece on CEO pay was pulled 36 hours before publication, leading him to resign in protest.

Only one story concerns pressure from a political source: footage of a reporter for Atlanta TV station WGCL confronting Governor Sonny Perdue over changes to the state Medicaid program was pulled after the governor's office hinted that it might withhold $500,000 in campaign advertising if it went on air. The inclusion of this story hints at a slow erosion of the distinctions between government bodies and corporate agencies, and highlights their mutual dependence: political campaigns need TV ads, but TV stations need ad revenue just as badly.

Tucked in the sidebar is perhaps the most foreboding story of all: Google's "sensitivity filters," which pull Google ads from websites with controversial content at the behest of sponsors. This is especially damaging, says Jackson, for online journalists, many of whom depend on Google's AdSense service as a significant source of revenue. The fact that one blogger reportedly found all of his AdSense ads removed when he made a post titled, "Have You Boycotted Sony Products Yet?" speaks volumes about this report's conclusion.

Fall 2007
Vol. 22, No. 3 :

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