March 23, 2023 - PBS NewsHour full episode
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March 23, 2023 - PBS NewsHour full episode
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03/23/2023 | 57m 46s | Video has closed captioning.
March 23, 2023 - PBS NewsHour full episode
Problems Playing Video? | Closed Captioning
GEOFF BENNETT: Good evening.
I'm Geoff Bennett.
AMNA NAWAZ: And I'm Amna Nawaz.
On the "NewsHour" tonight: SHOU ZI CHEW, CEO, TikTok: TikTok will remain a place for free expression and will not be manipulated by any government.
AMNA NAWAZ: In the hot seat.
The head of the video app TikTok tries to address lawmakers' concerns that China could access millions of Americans' data.
GEOFF BENNETT: A new CDC report shows more children are being diagnosed with autism.
What that means for kids and their families.
AMNA NAWAZ: And Black farmers struggle to maintain their land in the face of structural racism and economic headwinds.
DONNIE NERO, Rancher: We see so many of the young people today, their parents or grandparents have had land for so many years.
But that almighty dollar speaks.
And, when it does, they're going to move, and the farms are going to be lost.
(BREAK) AMNA NAWAZ: Good evening, and welcome to the "NewsHour."
The CEO of the fastest-growing app on the planet went head to head with members of Congress today.
GEOFF BENNETT: TikTok has more than 150 million monthly users in the U.S. alone, but faces growing calls for it to be banned over fears about China's access to user data.
Laura Barron-Lopez looks into the potential personal, political and international fallout should the U.S. government ban the platform.
LAURA BARRON-LOPEZ: What started with one viral video is now a full-time career for 27-year-old Alex D'Alessio.
ALEX D'ALESSIO, TikTok Creator: I will just put it in my little ring mount and hit record.
LAURA BARRON-LOPEZ: Two years ago, he was an engineer working a 9:00-to-5:00 and new homeowner of a Baltimore townhouse.
ALEX D'ALESSIO: I just use double sided sticky tape to tile my entire bar, and here's how it turned out.
LAURA BARRON-LOPEZ: He began posting his do-it-yourself renovation projects to the social media app, TikTok.
ALEX D'ALESSIO: It wasn't that big of a deal.
I just had to kind of do it.
LAURA BARRON-LOPEZ: Building a home and also an audience.
ALEX D'ALESSIO: I mean, come on.
The grout just perfectly matches the countertops, and I'm just loving the entire vibe.
One, like, Tuesday morning before work, I was like, let me just upload this video.
And then I came home from work, and I was like, whoa, there's like 200,000 views.
Like, I had all these comments.
And from there, it just kind of started.
LAURA BARRON-LOPEZ: Now with more than 300,000 TikTok followers, D'Alessio runs Real Life Renovations, a brand and a business where he documents his projects' successes and mistakes, partnering with companies like Home Depot and Benjamin Moore.
ALEX D'ALESSIO: The brands started reaching out.
And that's when the light bulb really clicked.
And I was like, maybe this could be something bigger than it is and eventually be full-time.
LAURA BARRON-LOPEZ: So this isn't just a hobby for you; this is your business?
ALEX D'ALESSIO: A hundred percent.
LAURA BARRON-LOPEZ: But he's worried that the new job he's created, which has also allowed him to hire his mother-in-law part-time, could go away.
ALEX D'ALESSIO: It just seems like you have no control, and the government is deciding for you, which is really scary.
I'm trying to, like, put on a good face.
But, like, that's my business.
And it's detrimental.
REP. CATHY MCMORRIS RODGERS (R-WA): Your platform should be banned.
LAURA BARRON-LOPEZ: And it's all at risk in Washington.
BUDDY CARTER (R-GA): Mr.
Crew, welcome to the most bipartisan committee in Congress.
We may not always agree on how to get there, but we care about our national security.
REP. TONY CARDENAS (D-CA): Are you a Chinese company?
LAURA BARRON-LOPEZ: Where Democrats and Republicans share a common enemy in TikTok and its CEO, Shou Chew, appearing before Congress today for the first time.
SHOU ZI CHEW, CEO, TikTok: ByteDance is not own are controlled by the Chinese government.
LAURA BARRON-LOPEZ: Defensive amid a fierce and bipartisan interrogation of the company's safety, privacy and security practices, Chew was adamant that the Chinese Communist Party cannot access U.S. data through TikTok, as members repeatedly alleged.
REP. BILL JOHNSON (R-OH): Mr. Chew, this is yet another instance of TikTok attempting to mislead Americans about what their technology is capable of and who has access to their information.
LAURA BARRON-LOPEZ: Chew pushed back, emphasizing TikTok's Project Texas plan, which puts the American company Oracle in control of U.S. data and content.
SHOU ZI CHEW: American data stored on American soil by an American company overseen by American personnel.
LAURA BARRON-LOPEZ: There's no public evidence that China has used the platform to spy on Americans.
But lawmakers weren't convinced.
SHOU ZI CHEW: Congresswoman, I have seen no evidence that the Chinese government has access to that data.
They have never asked us.
We have not provided it.
I have asked that question.
REP. ANNA ESHOO (D-CA): Well, you know what?
I find that actually preposterous.
DONALD TRUMP, Former President of the United States: Very American company.
LAURA BARRON-LOPEZ: It's been a long-brewing fight across two administrations.
In recent weeks, the White House repeatedly upped pressure on TikTok's parent company, ByteDance, to sell the app to an American-owned company.
And President Biden expressed support for a bipartisan bill that would strengthen his authority to ban the app.
As lawmakers grilled TikTok's CEO, dozens of creators who have more than 60 million followers combined descended on Capitol Hill this week to defend the platform.
JASON LINTON, TikTok Creator: So I'm asking politicians, don't take away the community that we have all built.
LAURA BARRON-LOPEZ: One by one, they argued the platform is more than an app for silly viral videos, that it's empowered small businesses, promoted creativity, lifted up marginalized voices, and become a mainstay of American life.
The average user spends 56 minutes a day on TikTok, more than YouTube, Snapchat, Instagram or Facebook, according to the data researcher Insider Intelligence.
ALEX D'ALESSIO: It almost feels like, if you can't beat them, cancel them.
I just wish they would try to exhaust all other options prior to potentially canceling it.
Here's just how easy it is to change the outdated light fixture in your home.
LAURA BARRON-LOPEZ: For creators across the country like Alex D'Alessio, recreating what they have built on TikTok on another platform isn't easy, and comes with no guarantees that the new business will survive.
ALEX D'ALESSIO: What a lot of people don't realize on the creator side is, Instagram allows you to post a minute-and-a-half reels.
That's the max.
TikTok allows you to post 10-minute videos.
It's much harder to connect with audience on a shorter video than it is to kind of build your rapport and build your community over a four-minute video.
So I will just kind of back that up.
LAURA BARRON-LOPEZ: At least half of Alex's income comes from his work on the app.
And he and his wife, a second-grade teacher, rely on that money.
From one day to the next, if it's gone, you said your income would be cut in half.
Then how quickly do you think you could even make up that money switching over to another app?
ALEX D'ALESSIO: Not quickly.
It's not something that I can easily change.
I can't just grow an Instagram following bigger, a YouTube following bigger.
LAURA BARRON-LOPEZ: D'Alessio doesn't usually follow politics, but said he'd watched the hearing today, hopeful lawmakers would listen to his generation.
In the meantime, he will continue renovating project by project.
But his new career may be built on a foundation that's about to give away.
For the "PBS NewsHour," I'm Laura Barron-Lopez.
GEOFF BENNETT: For more on the legal and national security concerns regarding TikTok, we're joined by Ryan Calo.
He's a professor of law and information science at the University of Washington.
And he's closely following all of this.
Thanks for being with us.
RYAN CALO, University of Washington: Thanks for having me.
GEOFF BENNETT: TikTok has never been more popular or problematic.
And as was evident in today's hearing, the U.S. believes that TikTok might be pressured by the Chinese government into sharing user data.
You, as I understand it, believe this prolonged debate, this three-year-long debate in Washington, about TikTok has more to do with politics and less to do with privacy.
Tell me more about that.
RYAN CALO: Well, TikTok, like other tech companies, collects a lot of data about users, maybe more than most users understand.
And, in that way, it does present a danger to privacy.
But there isn't any good evidence that that danger is unique to TikTok, as opposed to other companies like YouTube, Google or Meta.
What's distinctive, of course, is that TikTok has a Chinese parent company.
And it seems like a lot of politicians are seizing upon that fact to speculate about TikTok presenting a national security threat.
GEOFF BENNETT: TikTok's CEO told lawmakers today of this company's plan to store American user data on U.S. soil.
In your view, was that assurance satisfactory?
Because there's lots of skepticism that TikTok can ever be beyond the reach of the Chinese government, so long as it is owned by ByteDance, which is a Chinese company, which is subject to Chinese national law.
RYAN CALO: Well, it seems like the options on the table are rather severe.
One involves forcing a company to sell.
And the other is a complete ban on a service that millions of Americans use.
And so the third option that TikTok is presenting, which they have nicknamed Project Texas, would keep American data on American soil.
And information would only flow to the parent company under very specific conditions, and actually have to be vetted by people within the U.S. government.
The whole arrangement is enforced technically by an American company called Oracle.
So it does seem like a pretty robust measure in place.
Now, I understand it's no complete guarantee that China will never be able to access Americans' data, but it does seem to be a compromise position, as opposed to a ban or forced sale.
GEOFF BENNETT: Yes.
Well, as you mentioned, the Biden administration says it wants TikTok sold or banned.
There are political ramifications having to do with that.
But, legally, how would the U.S. government go about banning a communication platform without running afoul of the First Amendment?
RYAN CALO: That's a great questions.
Here, it looks as though Biden might have Congress behind him.
Congress could pass a law, like the one that they're thinking about, the RESTRICT Act, which would confer upon, if not the president, then the secretary of commerce the ability to vet applications and services for national security concerns, and then cause a forced sale or a ban.
Now, if that were to happen, I think the courts would react skeptically, first of all, because it's such a serious incursion on the private world for the government to force one company to sell to another or to ban it entirely, and, second, because it does raise free speech concerns that you just mentioned.
GEOFF BENNETT: TikTok is the second most popular app among U.S. teens, second only to YouTube.
As we mentioned, it boasts some 150 million users in the U.S. And that speaks to, I think, another source of tension and unease, that, at some point in the future, the Internet might not be controlled by the U.S. and might not be subject to U.S. values and norms about freedom and security, that China could take the lead.
RYAN CALO: I have to say that I am more concerned about TikTok's recommendation algorithms than I am about its collection and use of data, especially as compared to other companies.
And that's precisely for the reason you just said right.
I mean, the concern I would have is that the algorithms that TikTok uses would surface content that was in favor of the Chinese world view, and dampen criticism.
And that's very concerning.
So whatever protections are put into place, I would hope that they would have a separate algorithm that is used in the United States that is not beholden to a Chinese agenda.
GEOFF BENNETT: In your view, do average Americans, just regular TikTok users, do they have reason to be concerned that the Chinese government might leverage their mobile data or their personal information?
RYAN CALO: I don't think so.
And let me -- let me say a little bit about why.
So, first of all, the Chinese intelligence sector has perhaps the most advanced or the second most advanced spying capabilities in the world.
And so, if the Chinese government wanted to get a hold of an individual's data, they wouldn't have to rely upon TikTok.
The way that TikTok could be useful would be to get an aggregate sense of American mood or understanding what Americans' patterns are trying to understand us as a people, or the young users.
But the Chinese government could just as easily - - there are data brokers who are happy to share information about Americans with whoever pays them, including China.
So, I just don't know that TikTok is the most efficient, plausible way for the Chinese government to spy on Americans.
That said, as I mentioned at the outset, young users or whomever who is using TikTok should be aware that their privacy is not adequately protected.
And what we really need is comprehensive privacy laws in the United States to protect all Americans from all the tech companies that would want to leverage their data.
GEOFF BENNETT: Ryan Calo is a professor of law and information science at the University of Washington.
Thanks so much for your perspectives and insight.
RYAN CALO: Thanks again for having me.
AMNA NAWAZ: In the day's other headlines: The U.S. military's top leaders warned it will take sharply higher defense spending to head off a conflict with China.
The Pentagon budget request totals more than $840 billion.
That includes $9 billion for the Pacific, up 40 percent from last year.
At a House hearing, General Mark Milley said the budget prepares the nation to meet China's challenge and to deter it.
GEN. MARK MILLEY, Chairman, Joint Chiefs of Staff: The People's Republic of China's actions are moving it down the path towards confrontation and potential conflict with its neighbors and possibly the United States.
But, again, I say, China -- war with China is neither inevitable nor imminent.
AMNA NAWAZ: Milley also said the U.S. military is recovering from years of war in Iraq and Afghanistan and that overall readiness is the best in many years.
In Israel, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is vowing to pursue what he calls -- quote - - "responsible judicial reforms" and to heal deep divisions, but he gave no details in an evening address.
Earlier, opponents have a plan to give the government more control over the courts blocked main highways in Tel Aviv again.
Police fired water cannons to try to clear the roads.
The Israeli defense minister reportedly urged Netanyahu to halt the court plan.
The largest demonstrations yet rocked France today after the government raised the retirement age without a vote in Parliament.
Tens of thousands filled streets in Paris, mostly peacefully, but police fired tear gas at protesters who attacked stores and lit fires.
Across the country, strikers blocked train stations, ports and refineries.
European Union leaders today endorsed sending one million artillery rounds to Ukraine within a year.
But in a video address, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy urged them to do more, and to do it faster.
VOLODYMYR ZELENSKYY, Ukrainian President (through translator): Let every meeting, every discussion, every day of our joint work bring the return of peace closer.
If Europe hesitates, the evil may have time to regroup and prepare for years of war.
It is in your power to prevent this.
It is in our common power to free Ukraine from Russian aggression this year.
AMNA NAWAZ: Zelenskyy also made a new front-line visit, this time to the city of Kherson in the south.
He pledged full-scale rebuilding efforts.
In Southern Africa, the World Health Organization says the death toll from Tropical Cyclone Freddy has now topped 600.
The powerful storm devastated parts of Madagascar, Mozambique and Malawi over the past two months in two separate strikes.
The resulting floods ruined homes, roads and hospitals.
The WHO warned today that huge numbers of people face malnutrition and cholera.
The World Athletic Council today banned transgender athletes from international track and field competition.
It applies to athletes who transition from male to female and have gone through male puberty.
International swimming has a similar ban.
Also today, Georgia became the fourth state to ban most gender-affirming surgeries and hormone therapies for transgender youth under the age of 18.
A prosecutor in New York has rebuffed congressional Republicans seeking information a hush money probe of former President Trump.
In a letter, the Manhattan district attorney's office said -- quote -- "Donald Trump created a false expectation that he would be arrested and his lawyers reportedly urged you to intervene."
The letter charged, the Republican request violates state sovereignty.
Two big companies have announced new job cuts.
services giant Accenture is slashing 19,000 jobs worldwide over 18 months.
That's 2.5 percent of its work force.
And Walmart, the largest private employer in the U.S., says it expects to layoff hundreds of workers at five major distribution centers.
And, on Wall Street, stocks swung higher and lower before finishing with modest gains.
The Dow Jones industrial average was up 75 points to close at 32105.
The Nasdaq rose 117 points, or 1 percent.
The S&P 500 added 11 points.
Still to come on the "NewsHour": a new report shows a dramatic rise in antisemitism in the U.S.; another COVID subvariant causes a rise in cases; Belarus' exiled opposition leader speaks out against the country's latest crackdown on dissent; plus much more.
CDC data released today finds an uptick in the prevalence of Autism Spectrum Disorder in the U.S.
The most recent data from 2012 many reveals one out of every 36 children in America was diagnosed with autism.
In 2018, that figure was one in 44.
In 2010, it was one in 68.
The findings also show how pandemic disruptions kept many younger children from earlier autism diagnoses.
For more on this, I'm joined by Dena Gassner, adjunct professor at Towson University.
She's also a member of the Interagency Autism Coordinating Committee, which advises the government on funding for autism research.
She herself was diagnosed with autism at the age of 40 Dena Gassner, welcome, and thanks for joining us.
A lot of folks will look at that increase and be very concerned.
You have said that you see those numbers as good news.
Why is that?
DENA GASSNER, Towson University: Well, my colleague John Robison and I wrote a commentary that specifies that the crisis we're experiencing is not an increase in autism, because this is really reflective of enhanced diagnosis and, as you have seen, specifically identifying Black and brown children, Asian children, as well as being able to identify a few more people assigned female at birth.
Unfortunately, the girls are not keeping pace, in terms of being diagnosed in a timely manner, as much as their male cohort.
AMNA NAWAZ: So, that rate rose faster, as you mentioned, for children of color than for white kids.
The estimates now suggest about 3 percent of Black, Hispanic, Asian or Pacific Islander children have an autism diagnosis, compared to about 2 percent of white children.
But when you say there's been an increase, does that mean an increase in screening and advocacy?
Tell me about that.
DENA GASSNER: Well, historically, a lot of children of color have been assigned inappropriate diagnoses, or their autism expression has been misperceived as behavioral, and they have been really shot into not special ed, but into more rigid behavioral programs, often with really tragic consequences.
This is a relief.
It represents the idea that some of these children who were lost in these systems may actually be finding their way home.
AMNA NAWAZ: This also tells us that many more children will need support services of some kind.
Tell me a little bit about the access to services, because we have all heard stories about parents waiting weeks or months just to get an appointment for an assessment.
Is that unusual?
DENA GASSNER: No, it's the rule, rather than the exception.
And, to be quite frank about it, it's the rule for people of a certain privilege.
If you have the privilege of a solid education, you have the privilege of being able to use English as a first language, you have the privilege of financial capacities to hire people to do things, to expedite the process, your child is probably going to be loud enough, because of your advocacy, in terms of their needs, that they get what they need.
The people that we try to address in our commentary are the people who don't come with those relative privileges, who may be a Black grandmother in Atlanta raising her second child with autism, right?
For people like that, for people who are single-parenting and trying to juggle employment and housing, as well as parenting, and navigating these systems, the outcomes are much more challenging and much more difficult to get through.
AMNA NAWAZ: What role does insurance play in all of this?
How many or how often are these kinds of support services that are needed covered by any kind of insurance?
DENA GASSNER: Well, we do have many things that can be covered, providing you have insurance.
But, again, that requires someone in the household to be employed.
For many people on Medicare or Medicaid, finding providers that will take that income from the assessment process is very, very challenging.
Finding people who have expertise in different cultural and ethnic groups, finding people who have that expertise to diagnose for women and girls is really difficult.
And then we still have an entire generation of people that were never diagnosed, because such diagnoses were not listed in the DSM.
There wasn't any category that persons like myself fit into.
And so we have to look at this that, although the numbers look better for children, the numbers for adults are still very, very dark and very, very delayed, far beyond a year or two years.
And it's often wrapped in a lot of diagnostic trauma, because people can't find effective and qualified providers.
AMNA NAWAZ: CDC officials today also pointed out the impact of the pandemic, pointing out that, up until March of 2020, there was very good progress in early identification, early detection of autism in younger children.
And, of course, after March of 2020, they saw a dramatic drop-off.
And they're worried now about long-lasting effects.
Tell us about that.
What are those effects they're worried about?
Why is early detection so important?
DENA GASSNER: Well, I believe that early detection can be helpful, because we're getting ahead of the game.
But I would also say that this population is a very resilient population.
And I would be worried about kids who are put through the gauntlet faster to try to catch them up.
I think, if we follow their developmental lead, and progress them through growth and personal achievement at their own pace, that will get better outcomes.
We have really got to shift our focus away from finding some underlying cure to focusing on why these systems are not getting us better outcomes.
AMNA NAWAZ: Dena, the fuller picture being painted here is, there's more children, in particular, who will need more help, and there's not enough help there to offer them right now.
For families who receive a diagnosis, knowing what you know about the emotional and the financial toll this can take, what's your best guidance to them right now?
DENA GASSNER: Persist.
Be the noisy person that just doesn't stop until you get what you need.
And I realize, when I say that, that's a privileged position to be able to take.
I would also say that we really need to examine administrative burden that make accessing these services so difficult.
And, again, I'm going to discuss adults or parents who may have co-occurring disabilities of their own.
We come to the systems, like Social Security or to a social service agency, often in our darkest moments.
We don't go when everything's successful.
We go because we have bankrupted everything we had.
The systems really are not able to be utilized efficiently, effectively and in a timely manner.
AMNA NAWAZ: That is Dena Gassner, adjunct professor at Towson University, and also a member of the Interagency Autism Coordinating Committee.
Dana, thank you for your time.
DENA GASSNER: Thanks for having me.
GEOFF BENNETT: A new report by the Anti-Defamation League reveals antisemitic incidents increased 36 percent in 2022, reaching the highest level recorded in history since 1979.
The report comes as the FBI and human rights groups warn about the growing number of hate crimes in the U.S. Jonathan Greenblatt is the CEO and national director of the Anti-Defamation League, and joins us now.
Thank you for being with us.
And, Jonathan, the ADL found in this report an increase in three categories.
Assaults went up by 26 percent.
Incidents of harassment increased 29 percent.
Acts of vandalism rose by 52 percent.
What accounts for it?
And who is responsible for it?
JONATHAN GREENBLATT, CEO and National Director, Anti-Defamation League: Well, first of all, I would just say, I'm glad we're covering this issue, but I wish we didn't have to.
But the reality is, antisemitism is a clear and present danger right here, right now in America.
And, as you pointed out, not only was '22 the highest year that we have ever seen -- and we have done this for almost 45 years -- this was the third time in the past four years that we broke a new record, that, literally, the number of incidents has climbed almost 500 percent over the past decade.
So, what's behind this?
I think, number one, antisemitism has been normalized and almost weaponized in the political conversation and in sort of public debates.
It's now just common course to use antisemitic tropes about Great Replacement Theory, about who controls Congress, or who controls Wall Street, who is responsible for COVID, and on and on.
In a world in which conspiracy theories are sort of the coin of the realm, antisemitism, the oldest conspiracy theory, has new life.
So I think that's number one.
I think, number two, we have to acknowledge that extremists feel emboldened.
When the former president of the United States feels free to use the kind of language we wouldn't want our children to use or, to be honest, when we see hardened anti-Zionist activists on college campuses openly, aggressively and almost gleefully intimidating Jewish students, something is broken in our society.
And, truthfully, if you look at the numbers and drill down a bit, the numbers increased dramatically, a 40-plus percent increase on college campuses, almost a 50 percent increase in antisemitic incidents at K-12 schools.
Again, I think it's an indication that there's something really sick with our society.
GEOFF BENNETT: Let's talk more about, that because I too was struck in reading this report about the 41 percent increase of antisemitic activity reported on college and university campuses.
And doing more reading about it, what I learned was that Jewish students often say that harassment is often compounded when criticism of Israel arises.
Tell me more about that.
JONATHAN GREENBLATT: Well, look, there's certainly nothing wrong with criticizing policies of the state of Israel.
That's common course.
That's what it means to live in a democracy.
The ADL does that too.
But the relentless obsession with the Jewish state, the claims that it's somehow committing genocide against Palestinians or responsible for white supremacy, if you think that a country, the only Jewish state in the world, is somehow white supremacist or somehow committing genocide, of course, you -- we shouldn't be surprised then when swastikas show up on the Jewish fraternity, or when people feel it's OK to target and victimize openly Jewish students.
So I think we have got to be able to distinguish between legitimate criticism and delegitimizing a country.
That constant hackling and hassling and harassment, it's not unlike what we saw happen to Chinese American and Asian American students just a few years ago, when President Trump hammered and hammered and hammered on the Chinese virus or the Asian flu, and then Asian American people were targeted.
The same thing happens here.
It's wrong no matter who's perpetrating it.
GEOFF BENNETT: The ADL is recommending that elected officials aggressively denounce antisemitism, also that the federal and state governments do more to prevent the spread of antisemitism online.
In what ways?
What does that work look like?
JONATHAN GREENBLATT: Well, first of all, you're making the right point here, which is we need a whole-of-society strategy to deal with this.
It's not just something we can wait for government to solve or hope that a teacher or principal will do it.
Everyone needs to be involved, because antisemitism isn't just a Jewish problem, just like racism isn't just a problem of Black people, or homophobia talking about LGBTQ people.
Antisemitism is everyone's problem.
It's a universal concern.
So, first and foremost, to tackle this, we do need people in public life, elected officials, policymakers, celebrities, to call out hate when it happens.
But, secondly, something else you referenced, social media.
I would tell you that Facebook is a super-spreader of stereotypes, and it amplifies the antisemitism and other forms of hate.
So we really think it's long overdue for some kind of government regulation, because, from Facebook, to Twitter, to TikTok, to Instagram, the companies have proven again and again that they're incapable, incapable of regulating themselves, which means we need our elected officials to regulate them, and force them to abide by a modicum of decency, just like we'd expect from any other media company.
GEOFF BENNETT: Jonathan Greenblatt is the CEO and national director of the Anti-Defamation League.
Thanks for your time.
JONATHAN GREENBLATT: Thank you so much.
AMNA NAWAZ: The number of self-identified Black farmers in the United States has dwindled over the last century, in part because of discrimination by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
The agency is the economic backbone for most American farmers through its financing, insurance and research and education programs.
Special correspondent Fred de Sam Lazaro reports from Oklahoma, where, despite roadblocks to federal aid, there's a concerted push to help Black and other underserved farmers survive.
LEROY BRINKLEY, Rancher: I knew I was going to do this since I was 7 years old.
First time I pretty much got on a tractor with my uncle, and I knew I love agriculture.
Wouldn't give it for nothing in the world.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Did you know how tough it was going to be?
LEROY BRINKLEY: No.
I do now.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: For 50 year old Leroy Brinkley, self-described hermit, this 80-acre farm with nearly three dozen beef cows is his comfort zone, a labor-intensive full-time job, but it is one he has to finance by working at least as long off the farm as a heavy equipment mechanic and truck driver.
Why isn't farming by itself a full-time occupation?
Because the work certainly is full-time, right?
LEROY BRINKLEY: Yes, the work is there, but the money is not.
Economically, I don't see this working just by itself.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: When he began farming three decades ago, Leroy Brinkley tried to get a loan from the USDA.
But at the local office, he says he was turned down and turned off by the experience.
LEROY BRINKLEY: I brought the papers, and it was just no support.
I could tell from the get-go I wasn't going to get help.
I tried it anyway, trying to be nice, polite.
I still didn't get the support that I needed from it.
So, I couldn't bother with it anymore.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: An experience all too familiar to Black and minority farmers.
JOHN BOYD JR., President, National Black Farmers Association: We have clearly been dumped on worse than any other race in this country by our own federal government.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: John Boyd Jr. is president of the National Black Farmers Association and a fourth-generation Virginia farmer.
He says African Americans have been systematically excluded from programs that enable farmers to acquire land and build wealth, and unfairly targeted for foreclosure.
JOHN BOYD JR.: The government has to start living up to its commitment, and they have to start treating Black farmers with dignity and respect.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: The government has settled two class action lawsuits in the past 25 years.
TOM VILSACK, U.S. Agriculture Secretary: Socially disadvantaged producers were discriminated against by the United States Department of Agriculture.
We know this.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: And, in 2021, the Biden administration included billions in debt relief for minority farmers in its American Rescue Plan.
But lawsuits from white farmers, claiming reverse discrimination, held up the program.
In response, Congress repealed it last August, instead setting aside money in the administration's Inflation Reduction Act now for so-called distressed borrowers.
WILLARD TILLMAN, Executive Director, Oklahoma Black Historical Research Project: There a lot of opportunities there under this administration that a lot of people are not taking advantage of.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Willard Tillman;s organization is a resource that connects minority farmers to complex government farm programs.
He says there's a rare opportunity to bring these farmers into the system from which they felt alienated.
WILLARD TILLMAN: If they don't understand it, they're ain't going to mess with it.
So that is where we come in.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: They don't trust the government.
WILLARD TILLMAN: They trust me.
I don't take dirty water to them.
If it is good for them, I tell them yes.
If it's not good for them, I tell them no.
LEROY BRINKLEY: Survive with these cows.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: With the help of Tillman's group, Leroy Brinkley enrolled in a program last year called CARE, Conservation and Agriculture Reach Everyone.
LEROY BRINKLEY: Those blackbirds, you see how they started?
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: It paid him $70 an acre for 40 acres, which he used to partner with a local elementary student to bring goats to graze on the invasive species.
LEROY BRINKLEY: Want to try to get this covered with a cover crop.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: This year he has participating again, getting support to plant more grass for his herd to graze on.
LEROY BRINKLEY: Fifteen hundred dollars in seed ought to get it.
SARAH BLANEY, Oklahoma Association of Conservation Districts: Yes, well, time, yes, for your time.
LEROY BRINKLEY: Yes.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Sarah Blaney runs the Oklahoma Association of Conservation Districts, which administers the admittedly modest CARE program.
SARAH BLANEY: Our specific program is smaller, but our hope is that this is maybe the first introduction to that process and makes them a little bit more comfortable with the idea of working with government, so that, when they're ready to go apply for those bigger contracts, they know the right questions to ask.
They know what their rights are.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: A more immediate challenge for Brinkley is the months-long drought across Oklahoma, which has almost tripled hay prices this year.
So it costs you about 700 bucks per week to feed this group?
LEROY BRINKLEY: Yes.
This is very expensive this year.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Some of his expenses have been offset by a $50,000 loan he received through the Native Creek Nation, where he is an enrolled member, money that was guaranteed by the USDA.
LEROY BRINKLEY: It did not grow me any.
It just kind of took the curves off some things.
Maybe the next time, the next go-around, when this operation is up fully and running, it may make a difference.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: The Black Farmers Association's Boyd applauds efforts like those in Oklahoma, but he says the money now available is a fraction of what would have come to minority farmers under the debt relief program that was repealed.
JOHN BOYD JR.: We were promised 120 percent debt relief, and we didn't get it.
It looks like to me, every time Black farmers are promised something in this country, we don't get it.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: The USDA declined an interview request, but, in a statement to "PBS NewsHour," said, given court injunctions that tied its hands, the goal was to get relief to farmers quickly, adding that: "The Inflation Reduction Act provided $3.1 billion that will allow USDA to work with distressed borrowers, and for those farmers that have suffered discrimination by the USDA farm loan programs, Congress allocated to $2.2 billion."
But Boyd says the government broke a promise and a contract with minority farmers, and he is suing the USDA.
JOHN BOYD JR.: When they changed the language to distressed, it opened it up, and white farmers were able to get their loans and stuff current.
There are far more white farmers than there are Black farmers in this country.
We are less than 1 percent.
We are facing extinction.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Back in the early 1900s, Black Americans owned some 16 million acres of farmland, a number that was down by 90 percent by the turn of the 21st century.
Here in Oklahoma, there once were more than 50 all-Black towns built around agriculture.
Clearview is one of just 13 that survive today.
SHIRLEY NERO, Resident of Clearview, Oklahoma: My family moved here in 1902, when the town was established.
My dad had a 40-acre farm.
This is where I will stay until I pass away.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Shirley Nero and her husband, Donnie, both had careers as educators, Donnie eventually becoming president of Connors State College.
But they were both pulled to return to this tiny town 80 miles east of Oklahoma City, population about 50.
SHIRLEY NERO: Most of those people that settled here were freed men.
When Oklahoma became a state in 1907, the first bill they passed was the Jim Crow law.
And this was a place of freedom.
They could express themselves.
They could actually support themselves.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: As the years went on, the population and Black-owned land eventually began to dwindle.
SHIRLEY NERO: Our school got down to 32 in the high school, and then that is when they closed it, in '64.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: The Neros built their house and now breed cattle here, a rare reverse migration, they admit.
DONNIE NERO, Rancher: We see so many of the young people today, their parents or grandparents have had land for so many years, but that almighty dollar speaks.
And, when it does, they are going to move, and the farms are going to be lost.
And when you lose the land that you have, and you now find yourself in a condominium somewhere, the value does not -- doesn't equate.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: For his part, Leroy Brinkley is open to participating in more farm programs, but, based on experience, says he is not counting on anyone but himself.
LEROY BRINKLEY: I have got a little piece of a home.
Had to move some hurdles out of the way, but I am making a go of it.
For the "PBS NewsHour," I'm Fred de Sam Lazaro in Haskell, Oklahoma.
AMNA NAWAZ: And Fred's reporting is a partnership with the Under-Told Stories Project at the University of St. Thomas in Minnesota.
And there is more online, including a look at the lives of Black farmers through a photographer's lens.
You can see those images at PBS.org/NewsHour.
GEOFF BENNETT: Three years into the pandemic, cases, hospitalizations and deaths are all declining, but questions remain about new variants and whether some people may need a spring booster shot.
William Brangham is here with an update on the state of COVID in the U.S. WILLIAM BRANGHAM: Geoff, it's worth noting good news when it occurs.
And, on COVID, there is some.
The U.S. avoided the worst of a winter surge, and weekly recorded deaths from this virus are the lowest they have been since the early weeks of the pandemic.
But it is not all good news.
More than 1,700 Americans still died last week because of COVID.
And, for the elderly, immunocompromised and those still struggling with the little-understood long COVID, this pandemic is hardly in the rearview mirror.
For another check-in on COVID, we're joined again by epidemiologist Katelyn Jetelina.
She's at the University of Texas.
And she writes the very informative Substack called Your Local Epidemiologist.
Katelyn, great to have you back on the "NewsHour."
What is your take on where we are in the trajectory of this pandemic?
Deaths are down, as I mentioned, but there is this XBB variant that is -- subvariant, that is now dominant in this country.
Where are we?
KATELYN JETELINA, University of Texas Health Science Center: You know, it's a really good question.
I think we're somewhere in between a full-blown emergency, like we saw in the beginning of 2020, and somewhere before an endemic.
We're just not at a state where we know what this virus is going to do.
And this virus is not being very predictable.
Like you said, all metrics are nosediving right now.
And that's good news.
We expect that to happen with spring because of warmer weather, less holiday gatherings.
But COVID continues to do its COVID thing and continues to mutate.
It's what viruses do to survive.
And we're paying specific attention to XBB offshoots, one in India and one in the U.K. That is causing a little disruption and some smaller waves.
And so this does have the potential to disrupt a quiet spring in the U.S., but it's still too early to know for sure, given our complex immunity landscape.
WILLIAM BRANGHAM: Speaking of that immunity landscape, it's been about six to seven months since the bivalent boosters became available, which is plenty of time for a lot of people to have lost some of their protection.
You wrote about this today.
Is there good evidence for a spring booster?
KATELYN JETELINA: I think it depends on what you define as good evidence.
It's really difficult for us to know how much each booster helps or does not help and incrementally, and get a grip on it prospectively.
And so what we know for sure is that protection is robust for younger and healthier people, keeping them out of the hospital, which is great news.
The concern is for immunocompromised and older adults with comorbidities.
And this is because their immune systems are just not as strong.
And it's being -- they're being pulled in multiple directions.
And so this is a group where we really want to avoid infection in order to prevent hospitalization and death.
And we know these antibodies, like you say, that prevent infection wane pretty quickly and only last about six months.
WILLIAM BRANGHAM: And elderly Americans, 65 and older, those are increasingly the people who are still dying of COVID.
Isn't that right?
KATELYN JETELINA: That is correct.
I think the last statistics was about 90 percent of deaths are among those over 65 years old; 96 percent of hospitalizations are among old adults, older adults, with at least one comorbidity, and because, again, their immune systems are just taxed.
I think the good news is that very few people are in the hospital today who are up to date on vaccines.
So, the vaccines are working.
The essential question is, is this going to change in time?
And what do we do proactively?
WILLIAM BRANGHAM: I want to touch on long COVID, this still mysterious ailment that so many people are suffering from.
What are we learning about who is getting it and why?
KATELYN JETELINA: You're right.
There's millions of Americans right now debilitated, out of work, suffering, with very few treatment options.
We are starting to get a better grip on what causes COVID.
It seems to be several factors, like, for example, a lingering virus or people harbor the virus in their tissue, which can create damage.
I know that other people get long COVID driven by the immune system.
Autoantibodies just start attacking the body itself.
And then there's also just immune dysregulation, that, even if someone clears the virus, the immune system is off-balance, and so other dormant viruses reactivate and drive chronic symptoms.
So, long COVID, we're learning, is really an umbrella term for several causes.
And this is important to know because it'll allow us to understand how we can target treatments.
WILLIAM BRANGHAM: And, lastly, in the few seconds we have left, on those treatments, there are some that show some promise on long COVID?
KATELYN JETELINA: There are.
There's about 300 clinical trials right now, and the results are starting to trickle in.
For example, we see metformin, which is a very cheap drug.
It reduces long COVID about 40 percent.
Paxlovid reduces it a bit as well, maybe about 25 percent.
So there is good news on the horizon.
But we need more answers.
WILLIAM BRANGHAM: Katelyn Jetelina, thank you so much for being here.
KATELYN JETELINA: Thanks for having me.
AMNA NAWAZ: Today, the U.S. and its allies initiated an international investigation into human rights abuses in Belarus.
For years, Belarus' government has been imprisoning anyone seen as a threat.
It's also become increasingly reliant on Russia and supports Russia's war in Ukraine.
Nick Schifrin speaks to the head of Belarus' opposition, as the government cracks down on its critics.
NICK SCHIFRIN: This is the rough reality for Belarusian journalists and government critics.
Last week, a former photojournalist walked out of his apartment.
Government agents who had been tracking him followed him and wrestled him to the ground, his supposed crime, investigative journalism.
In another incident earlier this month, police detained a disabled man, who had to be hospitalized.
Human rights groups say the government now holds more than 1,000 political prisoners.
Nobel laureate Ales Bialiatski got 10 years for -- quote -- "actions grossly violating the public order."
SVITLANA TSIKHANOUSKAYA, Belarusian Opposition Leader: Repressions in our country are intensified.
On average, about 17 people are being detained every day, lawyers, journalists, activists.
People are given years and years in prisons for challenging the regime and they are opposing the war in Ukraine.
NICK SCHIFRIN: No one symbolizes Belarus' hope for democracy better than Svitlana Tsikhanouskaya.
She's a former English teacher and full-time mom who ran for president after her husband, Sergei Tikhanovsky, was arrested as he began his campaign for president in 2020.
Tsikhanouskaya was allowed to run herself, and the opposition says she defeated strongman Alexander Lukashenko.
He has led the country for 30 years and claimed he won 80 percent of the 2020 election that the international community called stolen.
After, the country erupted in unprecedented protests.
But Lukashenko and his Russian allies responded with force, widespread torture and arrests.
Today, leading opposition figures remain detained, and others, including Tsikhanouskaya, live in exile.
This month, she was sentenced in absentia to 15 years in prison.
SVITLANA TSIKHANOUSKAYA: We ask to initiate the international proceedings against Lukashenko as a criminal.
We ask to recognize his regime as terrorist for his crimes against humanity and crimes of aggression against Ukraine.
Those people who committed crimes against Belarusians, prosecutors, judges, members of Parliament of Lukashenko, propagandists, should be set on sanctions for them to understand that there will be no impunity for them.
And, of course, no lifting sanctions should take place, even to exchange them for political prisoners, because our people don't want to be bargaining chips.
NICK SCHIFRIN: Some 10 percent-plus of the country came out and protested in 2020.
If that did not achieve a new government in Belarus, what can?
SVITLANA TSIKHANOUSKAYA: Urgent measures have to be taken now to inspire people.
When people in Belarus see that they are not abandoned, that they are not overlooked and forgotten, it gives them energy to continue the fight.
So, more decisive actions, more decisive declarations will help our people to continue the resistance and win finally.
NICK SCHIFRIN: And does winning mean a color revolution?
Does it mean regime change?
SVITLANA TSIKHANOUSKAYA: Of course.
Our main task is new free and fair elections in our country and give people the opportunity to vote freely and securely.
NICK SCHIFRIN: Last year, Russian troops used Belarus to invade Northern Ukraine.
Pro-Ukrainians in Belarus known as partisans have resisted the governments support for the war, and even used a drone to attack this Russian surveillance plane outside of the capital, Minsk.
SVITLANA TSIKHANOUSKAYA: In the beginning of the war, they disrupted railways to slow down delivering of Russian equipment to Russian army to attack Ukraine.
And this blowup of plane is also part of peaceful resistance, because our partisans are damaging aircraft that could potentially kill a lot of Ukrainians.
NICK SCHIFRIN: But Lukashenko is increasingly dependent on Russian President Vladimir Putin, despite some awkward exchanges.
VLADIMIR PUTIN, Russian President (through translator): Dear Alexander Grigoryevich, thank you for agreeing to come.
ALEXANDER LUKASHENKO, President of Belarus (through translator): As if I could not have come.
VLADIMIR PUTIN (through translator): Well, we are all busy people.
SVITLANA TSIKHANOUSKAYA: Look, Lukashenko is a full accomplice to Putin.
And Lukashenko fulfills all the orders of Putin.
And there is no task to split Putin and Lukashenko.
The independence of our country is at the stake.
And this is Lukashenko who is selling this independency to Putin.
So, I ask our partners not to make any deals with Lukashenko, not to try, like, save him.
We are asking to save Belarus from Lukashenko.
NICK SCHIFRIN: There are many Belarusians in exile.
There are also many Russians in exile.
Is there a way for Belarusian and Russians in exile to work together to create a more democratic region?
SVITLANA TSIKHANOUSKAYA: We can communicate with the Russian opposition.
We can share maybe some initiatives.
But, at the moment, we have different paths.
As I said, we have different contexts and maybe different methods of fighting this.
NICK SCHIFRIN: Tsikhanouskaya herself vows to keep fighting, but also maintains an earlier promise, to step aside if the country ever becomes a democracy.
SVITLANA TSIKHANOUSKAYA: People in Belarus are united, not around one person, not about - - not around me, but about our aim.
And my task to be with Belarusian people as they -- as long as people need me.
Now our people are united as never before, and the regime is trying a lot to split our unity, but they will fail.
NICK SCHIFRIN: Svitlana Tsikhanouskaya, thank you very much.
SVITLANA TSIKHANOUSKAYA: Thank you.
GEOFF BENNETT: And that is the "NewsHour" for tonight.
Join us again here tomorrow night for analysis of President Biden's trip to Canada, where he and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau are set to discuss a host of issues facing the two nations.
I'm Geoff Bennett.
AMNA NAWAZ: And I'm Amna Nawaz.
On behalf of the entire "NewsHour" team, thank you for joining us.