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By Sharan Street
Published May 09, 2022

Image credit: Tero Vesalainen

5-9-22: Free Speech for All (Who Can Afford to Buy It)

On April 26, the world’s richest person made his bid to buy a major social media platform. And unless the Securities and Exchange Commission overrules it or one of the parties walks away, on Oct. 24 Tesla titan Elon Musk will own Twitter.

There has been much handwringing over this development, particularly on whether Musk will let a certain twice-impeached president back on the platform. But though this is a big deal (literally, given the $44 billion price tag), it’s just one case out of many that demonstrate how both social media and “legacy media” are under the control of billionaires. There are only 11 “centibillionaires” in the world, and seven of them either own or have owned media outlets, or are involved in media through philanthropic donations.

In his article detailing this trend, California Local reporter Jonathan Vankin quotes Nolan Higdon, a lecturer at UCSC’s Merrill College. Higdon, whose recent books include The Anatomy of Fake News: A Critical News Literacy Education (2020) and The Podcaster’s Dilemma: Decolonizing Podcasters in the Era of Surveillance Capitalism (2021), believes the growing proliferation of billionaires owning media outlets is a sign that America is becoming an oligarchy—a country where true political power resides in the hands of a few.

Speaking of billionaires … thanks to the phenomenon of growing income inequality, their numbers are expanding—and so is their wealth. Back in 1996—when media magnate Rupert Murdoch launched Fox News—there were 428 billionaires. Now, according to Forbes, there are 2,668 billionaires worldwide. And according to OxFam International, during the pandemic the world’s ten richest men more than doubled their fortunes while incomes dropped for 99 percent of humanity.

That consolidation of wealth, argues Higdon, has some suggesting that the U.S. is in the midst of a second Gilded Age. And like the first, this “new crop of oligarchs” can use their wealth to buy media and political influence. How extensive can that political influence be? Just take a look at what Donald Trump was able to accomplish in four years: Despite losing the popular vote, he was able to appoint three justices to lifelong terms on the Supreme Court. And as of May 2022, a new conservative majority appears poised to undo 50 years of progress toward reproductive rights for women.

Consolidating the Wealth

In this week’s newsletter, find out about other billionaires who control media empires around the world. Read about what the state of California can do to ensure that its citizens can continue to exercise control over their bodies and their futures. And, on a more enjoyable note, take a quick break from the news cycle and peruse an itinerary of some of the best collections of work by California artists. At the top of the list? The Crocker Art Museum. This Sacramento treasure—the oldest art museum west of the Mississippi—showcases many contemporary artists but also offers up in its older wing what writer Richard von Busack describes as “a lovingly assembled collection of what culture would have looked like in a rough-and-tumble city like Gilded Age Sacramento.” And that’s fitting given that it’s named after one of the “Big Four”—the railroad tycoons who once ruled the Golden State. At least some of the treasure plundered during that first Gilded Age can be enjoyed by the public in museums across the state.

Billionaires Buy the Media: Elon Musk is Only the Latest

Elon Musk says he wants to buy Twitter to protect ‘free speech.’
Elon Musk may be the latest, but billionaires have been buying media outlets for decades. What does that mean for the control of news and information at a time when a free press is more important than ever?

Abortion Rights in California After SCOTUS Opinion

A California constitutional amendment protecting abortion rights is in the works.
Abortion rights will remain protected, even expanded in California after the Supreme Court overturns Roe v. Wade, Gov. Gavin Newsom vows after a leaked SCOTUS opinion reveals the court plans to abolish the right to choose.

Golden State Treasures

From Past to Present: The range of California art in the museums listed below is represented by the Crocker Art Museum’s exterior: one half completed in 1872, the other added in 2010.
Gold Rush-era landscapes, funk art sculptures, pop art statements, Chicano art movement masterworks—here are 10 places to explore the work of California artists.

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From Our Media Allies

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CalMatters logo Are California Companies About to Get More Transparent?

California legislators are advancing two bills that would require companies to report more data about pay and internal practices.

CalMatters logo California in the News

Dan Walters: There's a wealth of high-quality journalism about California if you shun propagandistic outlets in favor of professional reporting and analysis.

San Lorenzo Valley Post logo Barry Tanner Memorial Festival at Junction Park

A celebration of life and two-day music festival is taking place at Junction Park in Boulder Creek on May 21-22 to honor local musician Barry Tanner, who passed away in January of 2021.

The Pajaronian logo Early Voting for June 7 Election Begins May 9

Voters have begun receiving the ballots they will use to select a governor, as well as representatives in Congress and the California Legislature. The ballots are marked with a large blue “XO” on the flap.

The Pajaronian logo Adult Ed Classes Offer Birding Tours, Education

Though the Monterey Bay Birding Festival lost its wings last year and disbanded, birding enthusiasts can still get expert advice thanks to classes from Watsonville/Aptos/Santa Cruz Adult Education.

Press Banner logo Ground Broken on SLVHS’ Technical Ed Buildings

The SLV Unified School District is beginning construction on a pair of buildings to teach advanced robotics and agricultural skills in an effort to give students a leg up in fast-growing fields.

Press Banner logo North County Community Responds to Roe v. Wade Draft Opinion

Anna Paganelli was house-sitting in Boulder Creek as she struggled with one of the most traumatic situations of her life. The umbilical cord of one of the twin girls growing inside her had become compromised.

The Pajaronian logo Cabrillo Watsonville Center Publishes Second Literary Arts Journal

The second edition of a literature and arts journal created by Cabrillo College English students will soon be published, and the public is invited to celebrate with students and contributors this Friday.

The Pajaronian logo Volunteer Center’s Annual Awards Ceremony Returns

Volunteer Center of Santa Cruz County will celebrate the 2022 Be the Difference Awards on May 18, honoring 38 individuals, groups and businesses.

Good Times logo Monterey Bay F.C. Recruits Santa Cruz County Players

The Central Coast’s new pro soccer team’s home opener is Saturday, May 7.

Good Times logo Capitola Increases Outdoor Dining Permit Cost

Restaurant owners say they are still recovering from the pandemic.

San Lorenzo Valley Post logo Mountain Community Theater Presents ‘Calendar Girls’

The heart-warming comedy “Calendar Girls,” by Tim Firth, will be the next production in Mountain Community Theater’s reopening season at historic Park Hall, opening May 20.

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Recent News

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Santa Cruz’s Downtown Mixed-Use Library Building Faces New Pushback

The downtown mixed-use library project has been in the works since 2016, with construction planned as early as next summer. But the group Our Downtown, Our Future aims to put a ballot measure before city voters this fall to block it.

(May 9, 2022) → Read the full Lookout Local report

John Hall: ‘We Are Not About Blocking Things’

As the Our Downtown, Our Future group waits for approval for a voter measure for November to challenge the current new downtown library proposal, one of its leaders explains its opposition.

(May 9, 2022) → Read the full Lookout Local report

UCSC Launches Global Health Degree Program

Starting in the fall, UC Santa Cruz students can major in a new global and community health program. Politics professor Matt Sparke, the program’s executive director, spoke to Lookout about the unprecedented challenges in the field.

(May 6, 2022) → Read the full Lookout Local report

Santa Cruz’s Past Mayors Weigh In on Four-Year Mayor Term

The June 7 primary ballot will give voters the choice of whether to create an at-large elected Santa Cruz mayor position who serves a four-year term, or to keep the role as is. Five of Santa Cruz’s previous mayors share their thoughts with Lookout Santa Cruz.

(May 4, 2022) → Read the full Lookout Local report

Our Downtown, Our Future Turns in Petition, Signatures

A local advocacy group is one step closer to getting voters involved in the construction of a new city library with an attached parking garage and affordable housing project. Our Downtown, Our Future’s petition supports putting a ballot measure to voters Nov. 8.

(May 3, 2022) → Read the full Santa Cruz County Sentinel report

RTC Seeks Community Involvement in Santa Cruz County

The Santa Cruz County Regional Transportation Commission wants public input on two agenda items: the 2022 Unmet Transit and Paratransit Needs List and the allocation of funds raised from the 2016 voter-approved Measure D.

(May 3, 2022) → Read the full Santa Cruz County Sentinel report
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Recent Milestones

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Congratulations Milestone icon Congratulations

Iconic big wave surfer Peter “The Condor” Mel has landed himself in the Surfers’ Hall of Fame. The 52-year-old Santa Cruzan is one of three 2022 inductees.

→ For more information     Posted May 5, 2022

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Upcoming Government Meetings

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Event sponsor logo County of Santa Cruz / County Board of Supervisors Meeting
Tuesday May 24 2022   9:00 AM
Event sponsor logo City of Santa Cruz / City Council
Tuesday May 24 2022   3:30 PM
Event sponsor logo City of Watsonville / City Council Meeting
Tuesday May 24 2022   4:00 PM
Event sponsor logo City of Santa Cruz / Special Meeting: City Council
Wednesday May 25 2022   3:30 PM
Event sponsor logo City of Capitola / Development and Design Review
Wednesday May 25 2022   3:30 PM
Event sponsor logo City of Capitola / Capitola City Council Regular Meeting
Thursday May 26 2022   7:00 PM