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Today, the Federal Trade Commission announced a settlement with Dr. Robert Titzer, creator of the controversial Your Baby Can Read!, a $200 video series that encouraged parents to put infants as young as three months in front of screens. The settlement is the final chapter in Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood's long effort to hold the makers of Your Baby Can Read! accountable for its false and deceptive advertising.
In 2011, CCFC and its attorneys at Georgetown University's Institute for Public Representation filed a FTC complaint documenting how the marketing of Your Baby Can Read! was rife with false and unsubstantiated claims about infant learning. In 2012, the FTC filed false advertising charges against Your Baby Can LLC and Dr. Titzer. Your Baby Can and former CEO Hugh Penton agreed to settle the FTC's charges, but Dr. Titzer formed a new company, The Infant Learning Company, and continued to claim Your Baby Can Read! could teach babies as young as nine months to read. As part of the new settlement, Dr. Titzer and The Infant Learning Company are now barred from using the phrase "Your Baby Can Read." Both defendants are prohibited from making any unsubstantiated claims about the performance of any product that teaches reading and Dr. Titzer is barred from endorsing any product unless he has a reasonable basis for its marketing claims.
"Today's landmark settlement with the creator of Your Baby Can Read! is a huge victory for families and a great ending to our three-year campaign," said CCFC's Executive Director Dr. Susan Linn. "We commend the FTC for their unwavering determination to hold the makers Your Baby Can Read! accountable for deceiving parents. We are particularly pleased that the insidious brand name 'Your Baby Can Read!' has been retired for good. The Commission's actions should serve as a needed wake-up call to media marketers who falsely hype the educational benefits of their products and exploit parents' natural tendency to want the best for their babies."
Fairplay, formerly known as Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood, educates the public about commercialism's impact on kids' wellbeing and advocates for the end of child-targeted marketing. Fairplay organizes parents to hold corporations accountable for their marketing practices, advocates for policies to protect kids, and works with parents and professionals to reduce children's screen time.
"Two Democrats voted with Republicans to say that not only should student debt relief be repealed, not only should the pause on payments end, but that you should make retroactive payments from previous months."
Two House Democrats—Reps. Jared Golden of Maine and Marie Gluesenkamp Perez of Washington—faced backlash on Wednesday after voting for a GOP resolution that would repeal President Joe Biden's student debt relief program, which is currently on hold as the U.S. Supreme Court weighs a pair of deeply flawed legal challenges.
The resolution, led by Rep. Bob Good (R-Va.), aims to make use of a law called the Congressional Review Act (CRA), which allows members of Congress to overturn rules issued by federal agencies. The GOP's student debt measure passed the House by a vote of 218 to 203.
Debt relief campaigners warned that the resolution's impact would be disastrous.
In addition to blocking the potential cancellation of up to $20,000 in student debt per eligible borrower, the measure would roll back "at least four months of paused payments and $5 billion per month in waived interest charges, requiring the U.S. Department of Education to send surprise loan bills to tens of millions of borrowers, even potentially impacting the 8th (and current) payment pause," the Student Borrower Protection Center warned.
A report published earlier this week by the American Federation of Teachers and the Student Borrower Protection Center says the Republican measure would "reinstate the debt of more than 260,000 public service workers who have achieved [Public Service Loan Forgiveness] since September 2022, restoring a debt burden that amounts to more than $19 billion overall and more than $72,000 per person."
The Debt Collective, the United States' first debtors' union, decried the Republican resolution and its two Democratic supporters, both of whom represent tens of thousands of people who would benefit from student debt cancellation.
"Jared Golden represents Maine-02. We know there are at least 100,975 student debtors in his district that he voted against today," the Debt Collective tweeted following Wednesday's vote. "Marie Gluesenkamp Perez represents Washington-03. There are at least 93,749 student debtors in her district that she voted against today. Shame."
"Today," the group wrote, "two Democrats voted with Republicans to say that not only should student debt relief be repealed, not only should the pause on payments end, but that you should make retroactive payments from previous months."
As of this writing, Golden and Perez—co-chairs of the right-wing Blue Dog Coalition—have not issued statements explaining their votes.
Golden publicly criticized the Biden administration's student debt relief plan last year, calling it "out of touch" even though polling has shown the program is popular.
\u201cToday, two Democrats voted with Republicans to say that not only should student debt relief be repealed, not only should the pause on payments end, but that you should make *retroactive* payments from previous months.\n\nIntroducing Jared Golden and Marie Gluesenkamp P\u00e9rez:\u201d— The Debt Collective \ud83d\udfe5 (@The Debt Collective \ud83d\udfe5) 1684984087
Republican backers of the resolution dismissed advocates' claims that repealing the Education Department's student debt relief program would hit borrowers with surprise bills, brushing aside such concerns as "not based in reality."
But critics of the resolution stress that it would both block Biden's student debt relief plan and nullify the most recent federal student loan payment pause.
According to the Congressional Research Service, any rule revoked by a CRA resolution of disapproval "would be deemed not to have had any effect at any time, and even provisions that had become effective would be retroactively negated."
Thus the warnings of retroactive interest payments and other consequences for those who have benefited from programs that are "intertwined with the payment pause," such as Public Service Loan Forgiveness.
"Right-wing proponents have gone to great lengths to mislead their own colleagues and deny the truth—this effort would push hundreds of thousands of public service workers back into debt and require the government to charge tens of millions borrowers for interest that has already been canceled," Mike Pierce, executive director of the Student Borrower Protection Center, said in a statement Wednesday.
"Should this become law, it will cause irreparable damage to the student loan system and undermine Americans' trust in their government," said Pierce. "This is exactly what extreme conservative lawmakers want, they are just afraid to say it."
The resolution now heads to the U.S. Senate, where—under the CRA—Republicans can force a vote despite being in the minority.
The measure would require just a simple majority to pass the narrowly Democratic upper chamber, though President Joe Biden has threatened to veto the resolution if it reaches his desk.
Sen. Bill Cassidy (R-La.) is leading the Senate resolution, which currently has 47 Republican co-sponsors.
The Washington Postreported Wednesday that "although Sens. Joe Manchin III (D-W.Va.) and Jon Tester (D-Mont.) have criticized the debt relief plan, it's unclear whether they will join the Republican effort to dismantle the program."
"Tester's office said he is taking a look at the resolution, while Manchin's office declined to comment," the Post added.
In a floor speech ahead of Wednesday's vote, Rep. Ayanna Pressley (D-Mass.) said it is "unconscionable but unsurprising" that Republicans are attempting to overturn the Biden administration's student debt relief program.
"Rather than work to alleviate the burden of the student debt crisis," Pressley said, "Republicans are advancing a cruel proposal that would harm 43 million people, hit tens of millions of borrowers with surprise loan bills, and reinstate the debt of over 260,000 public service workers—including our nurses, educators, firefighters, and servicemembers."
"The Senate must vote down this measure," Pressley continued. "The president has made clear he would veto this harmful resolution and stands by his decisive action on student debt relief. Millions of people, from all walks of life, stand to benefit from the president's plan, and we won't stop fighting to deliver the relief the people demand and deserve."
"From his hostility toward racial equity and LGBTQ+ rights, to book bans, to one of the most draconian abortion bans on record, he poses an immense threat to our freedoms and our country's most vulnerable communities," said one critic.
"Of all the extremists gunning for the GOP nomination, Ron DeSantis might be the worst."
That's what NARAL Pro-Choice America president Mini Timmaraju said in a statement Wednesday as Florida's Republican governor formally launched his long-anticipated campaign for the party's 2024 presidential nomination.
"From his hostility toward racial equity and LGBTQ+ rights, to book bans, to one of the most draconian abortion bans on record, he poses an immense threat to our freedoms and our country's most vulnerable communities," Timmaraju warned. "NARAL and our 4 million members will keep fighting side-by-side with those that DeSantis has targeted, and we are ready to mobilize to ensure that his extremism gets nowhere near the White House."
In a series of tweets Wednesday, Women's March also slammed "fascist, anti-choice" DeSantis, and listed some of the policies he has fought for as governor, including a six-week abortion ban and the "Don't Say Gay" law. The Florida Republican has also recently engaged in attacks on academic freedom, the rights of immigrants and transgender people, and democracy.
\u201cRon DeSantis is going to position himself as some anti-business populist but he's actually just an off-putting errand boy for the world's wealthiest people. \n\nThis should be the story about his campaign. He's like a homophobic Cousin Greg without the charm.\u201d— Jordan Zakarin (@Jordan Zakarin) 1684971187
Jenny Lawson, executive director of Planned Parenthood Votes, similarly stressed Wednesday that "Ron DeSantis' governorship has been an unmitigated disaster for Floridians, and his candidacy is a grave threat to every American's reproductive freedom."
"He's shown time and time again that he will put himself and his political ambitions over anything and everyone—including the health and lives of Floridians," Lawson continued. "While Floridians demand affordable healthcare and safer communities, DeSantis has pushed policies that endanger Florida's future."
"Voters in Florida don't support his anti-abortion, anti-LGBTQ+ agenda, and DeSantis will soon learn that the rest of the country doesn't, either," she added. "Everyone will see him for the dangerous, out-of-touch, overzealous politician he is. Planned Parenthood Votes will make sure of it."
\u201cA world of censorship, restricted access to life-saving care and suppression of our community is not a world we want to live in.\n\nWe cannot allow Ron DeSantis to become president and undo the progress we\u2019ve made.\u201d— Human Rights Campaign (@Human Rights Campaign) 1684954507
DeSantis on Wednesday filed paperwork with the Federal Election Commission and then officially announced his candidacy during a Twitter "Spaces" event—hosted by the social media giant's billionaire owner, Elon Musk—that, as Politicoput it, was "marred by horrendous tech failures."
Nora Benavidez, Free Press Action's senior counsel and director of digital justice and civil rights, said that "it's no surprise that the Spaces suffered a tech meltdown during tonight's big announcement. Musk has cut back on the personnel needed to keep Twitter glitch-free. It's fitting that his reckless management style would bite him just as so many are tuning in."
"Giving airtime to Ron DeSantis is not about free speech on Twitter or making the platform a public square. Elon Musk is instead prioritizing voices like his that promote bigotry and hate," Benavidez added. "This latest Musk stunt merely showcases a man who has misused his power in Florida to attack every basic right Floridians have. From DeSantis' attacks on voting rights, protest rights, and academic freedoms to denying basic protections for the LGBTQIA+ community, his presidential announcement this evening shows us all what Twitter has become: a megaphone for right-wing reactionary views."
As Politico reported:
President Joe Biden was quick to chime in, tweeting: "This link works," followed by a link to the president's campaign donation site.Polling results released Wednesday by Quinnipiac University show that despite his various legal issues, Trump is the top choice for 56% of Republican and Republican-leaning voters, followed by DeSantis with 25%. Former United Nations Ambassador and South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley got just 3% while ex-New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, former Vice President Mike Pence, and U.S. Sen. Tim Scott (S.C.) all tied at 2%; the other eight declared or potential candidates each received less than that.
A spokesperson for former President Donald Trump responded: "Glitchy. Tech issues. Uncomfortable silences. A complete failure to launch. And that's just the candidate!"
As Common Dreamsreported earlier Wednesday, DeSantis entered the 2024 race as he faced scrutiny from campaign finance watchdogs.
This article has been updated with comment from Free Press Action.
"Should this become law, it will cause irreparable damage to the student loan system and undermine Americans’ trust in their government," warned the head of the Student Borrower Protection Center.
Advocates of student debt relief on Wednesday blasted Republicans in the U.S. House of Representatives for passing a resolution that critics said showcases "their contempt for workers and families" who are burdened by loans taken out to access higher education.
H.J. Res. 45 is a Congressional Review Act (CRA) resolution, which U.S. lawmakers can use to overturn federal regulations. The measure passed the House in a 218-203 vote mostly along party lines; Democratic Reps. Jared Golden (Maine) and Marie Gluesenkamp Perez (Wash.) were the only members of their party to join Republicans in supporting it.
The resolution is unlikely to go anywhere in the Democrat-controlled Senate, and even if it did, the White House has already made clear that President Joe Biden would veto it. The GOP measure—a clear message to voters ahead of the 2024 elections—would block Biden's pending student debt cancellation plan and reverse already-delivered relief.
\u201cThis harmful and regressive action, which passed on a slim margin, not only undermines the significant progress made in addressing the #studentdebtcrisis but also disregards the ongoing struggles of families enduring the economic aftermath caused by the #COVID19 pandemic.\u201d— Student Debt Crisis Center (SDCC) (@Student Debt Crisis Center (SDCC)) 1684966787
As Common Dreamsreported Tuesday, the American Federation of Teachers and the Student Borrower Protection Center (SBPC) released a report detailing the "ruinous impact" the resolution would have on millions of borrowers.
"The record is clear: The damage caused by this cruel and reckless legislation will hurt working people, including millions of its right-wing supporters' own constituents," SBPC executive director Mike Pierce declared after the vote.
Pierce noted that "right-wing proponents have gone to great lengths to mislead their own colleagues and deny the truth—this effort would push hundreds of thousands of public service workers back into debt and require the government to charge tens of millions [of] borrowers for interest that has already been canceled."
"Should this become law, it will cause irreparable damage to the student loan system and undermine Americans' trust in their government," he warned. "This is exactly what extreme conservative lawmakers want, they are just afraid to say it."
SBPC and 260 other groups also criticized the resolution's supporters in a letter to congressional leaders earlier this month, charging that "policymakers now seeking to reverse such critical relief through the CRA are ignoring the economic needs of their own constituents and threatening our nation's financial security."
"Congress should be acting to improve the circumstances of the American people," the coalition argued, "not attempting to thwart the president's efforts to ease the financial pressure that so many are feeling."
\u201cHouse Republicans just voted to throw 260K public servants back into debt & force 36 million Americans to immediately pay back months of paused student loans. They would rather give tax breaks to giant corporations than help families crushed by debt. I\u2019ll continue to fight this.\u201d— Elizabeth Warren (@Elizabeth Warren) 1684964518
Another letter signatory, the Center for Responsible Lending (CRL), called out the GOP-led effort just ahead of the vote Wednesday.
"This is yet another political stunt from some members of Congress to prevent tens of millions of borrowers, including low-wealth individuals, service members, public service workers, women, and people of color from receiving relief ahead of the Supreme Court's decision regarding the fate of student debt cancellation, said Jaylon Herbin, CRL's director of federal campaigns.
Herbin warned that "resuming the payment pause without student loan forgiveness, let alone requiring students to retroactively pay months' worth of student loan payments, will add thousands of dollars into the average borrower's loan balance, lead millions into forbearance and default, and contribute to a widening racial wealth gap.”
"These actions are not only irresponsible but demonstrate a genuine lack of concern for the nation's overall economic health and the financial well-being of millions of U.S. individuals and families," he added.
The House vote came not only as the U.S. Supreme Court considers a pair of right-wing challenges to Biden's debt relief plan, but also as congressional Republicans threaten to blow up the economy by refusing to raise the debt limit unless Democratic lawmakers and the president agree to spending cuts that would harm working people.