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Reagan and the Hostages

Mother Jones Magazine -

Here’s something I missed when it first came out a few weeks ago. It turns out that Chase Manhattan Bank was instrumental in getting the Shah of Iran admitted to the United States for medical treatment in 1979, which led directly to the Iran hostage crisis that eventually doomed Jimmy Carter’s presidency. The whole thing was called Project Eagle and was coordinated by Joseph Reed, the chief of staff to the bank’s chairman, David Rockefeller.

But that’s not all. After touching off the hostage crisis, Project Eagle was then redirected to ensuring that they didn’t get released too soon:

After the hostages were taken, the Carter administration worked desperately to try to free the captives….[But] the team around Mr. Rockefeller, a lifelong Republican with a dim view of Mr. Carter’s dovish foreign policy, collaborated closely with the Reagan campaign in its efforts to pre-empt and discourage what it derisively labeled an “October surprise” — a pre-election release of the American hostages, the papers show.

The Chase team helped the Reagan campaign gather and spread rumors about possible payoffs to win the release, a propaganda effort that Carter administration officials have said impeded talks to free the captives.

“I had given my all” to thwarting any effort by the Carter officials “to pull off the long-suspected ‘October surprise,’” Mr. Reed wrote in a letter to his family after the election, apparently referring to the Chase effort to track and discourage a hostage release deal. He was later named Mr. Reagan’s ambassador to Morocco.

This is a conspiracy theory of longstanding—namely that the Reagan campaign tried to prevent the release of the Iranian hostages before Election Day 1980. But according to notes he wrote at the time, it sure sounds like Reed worked closely with Reagan’s people on exactly that. Such patriots.

Trump’s Katyusha Conundrum

AntiWar.com News -

Katyushas are short-range, unguided artillery rockets typically fired in salvos from truck-mounted launch-tubes. Iraq’s insurgents deploy three types. The smallest is 107 millimeters in diameter and 1 meter long. Its 19 kilogram weight includes an 8 kg high-explosive, shrapnel-bearing warhead. The 107mm is often fired from a 12-tube launcher, however, infantry-portable single-tube tripods are common. … Continue reading "Trump’s Katyusha Conundrum"

The post Trump’s Katyusha Conundrum appeared first on Antiwar.com Original.

Making Sense of Russia’s New Cabinet

AntiWar.com News -

Tuesday evening, 21 January, the composition of Russia’s new cabinet was announced to the nation and the world. Russian state television was caught as unawares as any of us in the broad public when the names of the departing ministers, the names and biographical details of arriving ministers and the few changes in reporting lines … Continue reading "Making Sense of Russia’s New Cabinet"

The post Making Sense of Russia’s New Cabinet appeared first on Antiwar.com Original.

A Brave Journalist (And Friend of Mine) Just Got Arrested…For Going to a Public Meeting

Mother Jones Magazine -

Yesterday I woke up to horrible news, a Facebook message alerting me that a good friend had been arrested and detained while working in Indonesia.

Philip Jacobson, 30, is an editor for Mongabay, a US-based nonprofit that covers environmental news in the Southeast Asian archipelago and around the world. He was on the island of Borneo working with a local reporter on a story that will examine the forest fires generating thick clouds of smoke across the region. This is a sensitive issue for Indonesian authorities, since the fires last year interfered with air travel, led to school closures, and sickened thousands of people. On Tuesday, Phil was locked up by immigration officials at a detention center in the city of Palangkaraya, who accused him of engaging in activities that weren’t “in accordance with the intent and purpose” of his business visa. This administrative offense would typically be handled with deportation. Instead, Phil is facing criminal charges that could land him in prison for up to five years. His supporters see the potential punishment as an attempt by the Indonesian government to stifle press freedom.

Phil helps me with my bags on my last day in Indonesia in 2012.

Jassmyn Goh/Facebook

Phil and I became friends in 2011. We had both moved from the Chicago suburbs, where we’d studied journalism at Northwestern University, to the Indonesian capital of Jakarta. Over the next year, we worked together at an English-language newspaper, The Jakarta Globe. He has continued writing about Indonesia since then, and at Mongabay he’s helped uncover environmental degradation and shady dealings of big corporations, like a paper company that set up a shell company to secretly clear forest land. Mongabay is headquartered in California but has 1.5 million readers in Indonesia and is widely read by high-level officials and civil society groups there, according to the publication’s founder and chief executive, Rhett A. Butler.

In mid-December, Phil had traveled to Palangkaraya, the capital city of Central Kalimantan province, to meet with a Mongabay reporter and collaborate on coverage he planned to edit of the area’s wildfires. Last year, the toxic haze spread as far as Singapore and Malaysia. Environmental groups like Greenpeace and World Wildlife Fund spoke out in September and November about the blazes and their impact on climate change. To better understand the issue, Phil and the reporter were invited to attend a public meeting between local lawmakers and Indonesia’s largest indigenous rights group, known as AMAN. The day after the meeting, before Phil was supposed to catch a flight, immigration officials arrived at his guesthouse, confiscated his passport, and ordered him to come in for questioning. They told him to stay in the city while they continued their investigation. After roughly a month of waiting, immigration officials returned to his guest house on Tuesday, ordered him to pack his belongings, and sent him to the detention center.  

Phil’s attorney, Aryo Nugroho, the head of Indonesian Legal Aid, told the New York Times that the case seemed to focus on Phil’s use of a business visa instead of a journalism visa, and did not appear to be driven by any particular article published by Mongabay. “We are supporting Philip in this ongoing case and making every effort to comply with Indonesia’s immigration authorities,” Butler, the Mongabay founder, said in a statement. “I am surprised that immigration officials have taken such punitive action against Philip for what is an administrative matter.” Butler told me that Phil wasn’t conducting interviews in Kalimantan. “They’ve not provided any evidence of him actually engaging in journalistic activities. The extent of what he was doing there was just attending meetings,” he said.

“This is a worldwide issue, and it should be of concern to anyone who cares about a free press and getting the facts out there.”

Local journalists and press-freedom advocates have expressed quick concern over the arrest. “Indonesian authorities should immediately release journalist Philip Jacobson and drop any criminal charges against him,” the Committee to Protect Journalists wrote in a statement. “While we of course urge all foreign journalists visiting Indonesia to ensure they follow immigration rules, if a journalist is simply attending meetings or happens to be present during a news event this should not be cause for punitive action or detention,” the Jakarta Foreign Correspondents Club said. On Friday, an official from the US Embassy in Jakarta is expected to visit with Phil, according to Butler.

Indonesia is not the easiest place to work as a journalist, and reporters have been prevented in the past from going to high-conflict areas like West Papua. The country ranks 124th out of 180 globally on an index of press freedom, according to Reporters Without Borders, an international nonprofit. “This isn’t just limited to Indonesia,” says Butler, of the scare tactics that keep journalists from pursuing tough stories. “Here in the US we have our own attacks on the press going on—it’s not what you see in Indonesia, but certainly the rhetoric is there. This is a worldwide issue, and it should be of concern to anyone who cares about a free press and getting the facts out there.”

Phil is one of the most curious, determined journalists I know, and he’s dedicated his career to telling truth to power. His arrest and detention are a threat to that tradition and should worry us all.

A Post-Roe Future Will Rely on Women Taking Control of Their Own Care. The Right Won’t Fail to Notice.

Mother Jones Magazine -

While miracles are not the stuff we should have to rely upon for our legal rights to remain in place, by some tiny, blessed miracle, Roe is still the law of the land. Even so, a post-Roe future feels alarmingly close. In fact, as we at Mother Jones have written before, in many ways that future is already here. And despite the power of the imagery, the end of legal abortion would not mean a return to back alleys and coat hangers, but pills and women taking their reproductive lives into their own hands.

“As long as there has been pregnancy, there has been self-managed abortion,” says Jill Adams, executive director of If/When/How, a legal reproductive justice nonprofit. “The trend that we’re seeing now, with more and more people in the US ending their own pregnancies, is really just sort of a returning of agency and power from the medical industry back to the people. ”

“With more and more people in the US ending their own pregnancies, is really just sort of a returning of agency and power from the medical industry back to the people. “

This predominately happens through medication abortion. Misoprostol is a drug commonly used for ulcers and to treat some pets and livestock; it’s fairly cheap and accessible and can be used alone to induce abortion. Adams notes how it’s been commonly used “in many areas of the global South for decades”: “In fact, women in Brazil, where abortion was completely criminalized, read the contraindications on an ulcer drug, misoprostol, which said do not consume if pregnant, could cause miscarriage and they went, Aha!”

The drug that it is usually paired with for in-clinic abortions, mifepristone, is regulated by the Food and Drug Administration as a high-risk drug (despite its extraordinarily high safety profile). Still, the drug combination has become more accessible online, via a flourishing black market. 

While Adams notes that studies show ordering medication for abortion online has largely proven safe, she emphasizes it’s not without legal risk. In fact, from the state level on up, prosecutors are getting increasingly creative in how to criminalize the practice. “That’s the real tragedy of self-managed abortion in the US in 2020 is that people could be unjustly arrested, interrogated, prosecuted, even imprisoned for ending their own pregnancy or for helping a loved one do so,” she says. 

“We know of at least 21 people throughout the US who have been arrested, some even put in jail, for ending their own pregnancy or helping someone else end a pregnancy since 2005,” she notes—though this number is just the “very very tip of a huge iceberg” as it does not account for dropped charges or plea bargains. What’s more, the typical prosecutor or district attorney isn’t tracking arrests in connection with trends in either self-managing abortion or assisting someone with ending a pregnancy.

There are only five states in which self-managed abortion is actually illegal, but “overzealous prosecutors are just treating the Criminal Code like a grab bag—even the Civil Code like a grab bag!—and pulling out whatever they can that might possibly stick,” Adams says. Ten states have fetal harm laws that lack an exemption for the person carrying the fetus, and she notes sometimes these laws can be used to charge people who have self-managed their abortion. “Sometimes those laws have been manipulated by law enforcement to apply to the pregnant person themselves, switching from the pregnant person being the victim to being the perpetrator.” 

But the charges run across a full spectrum possibilities: practicing pharmacy without a license, drug-related charges, child abuse-related charges, concealment of a birth, failure to report a death, or even abuse of a corpse. She advises women to reach out to the If/When/How repro helpline for legal help or questions regarding laws in their state.

“That’s the real tragedy of self-managed abortion in the US in 2020 is that people could be unjustly arrested, interrogated, prosecuted, even imprisoned for ending their own pregnancy or for helping a loved one do so.”

Referring to the recent spate of abortion bans that made headlines last spring, Adams cautions that though these bans are not in effect, they do cause confusion about where abortion is and is not legal, and such legislation even “foments this antipathy toward people who perform abortions, and also toward people who have abortions.”

“That stigma provides this sort of fuel that increases the likelihood that someone will be criminalized for having an abortion,” Adams adds.

So if the future of abortion care is self-managed in the form of medication abortion, our worry should be that this will almost certainly become a burgeoning area of anti-abortion law. Until then, let’s count our miracles.

Britain’s Brexit Bill Passes Final Hurdle in Parliament

TruthDig.com News -

LONDON — Britain’s Brexit bill passed its final hurdle in Parliament on Wednesday after the House of Lords abandoned attempts to amend it, leaving the U.K. on course to leave the European Union next week.

The bill was approved by Parliament’s upper chamber after the House of Commons overturned changes to the government’s flagship Brexit bill made a day earlier by the unelected House of Lords.

The bill will become law when it receives royal assent from Queen Elizabeth II, a formality that could come as soon as Thursday.

Britain is scheduled to leave the European Union on Jan. 31, more than three and a half years after voters opted for Brexit in a June 2016 referendum, and after many rounds of political wrangling.

“Ät times it felt like we would never cross the Brexit finish line, but we’ve done it,” Prime Minister Boris Johnson said.

The Lords voted Tuesday to demand that post-Brexit Britain continues to let unaccompanied migrant children in EU countries join relatives living in the U.K. The promise was made in 2018 by former British Prime Minister Theresa May, but it was removed from the Brexit legislation after Johnson’s Conservatives won a big parliamentary majority in an election last month.

Johnson’s government says it intends to continue resettling child migrants in Britain after the country leaves the EU but argues that the issue does not belong in the EU withdrawal bill, which sets out the terms of Britain’s departure from the 28-nation bloc.

Brexit Secretary Stephen Barclay said an agreement on taking in the children “is ultimately a matter which must be negotiated with the EU, and the government is committed to seeking the best possible outcome in those negotiations.”

But Labour lawmaker Yvette Cooper accused Johnson’s Conservative government of planning to “betray the commitments that have been made to the most vulnerable children of all.”

The House of Commons also stripped out changes made by the Lords to bolster the rights of EU citizens in Britain, protect the powers of U.K. courts and ensure a say for Scotland and Wales in post-Brexit legal changes.

The wrangling didn’t stop the Brexit bill from becoming law, because the House of Commons can override the unelected Lords.

Members of the Lords acknowledged Wednesday that they would have to give way.

“We are at the end of a very long road,” said Martin Callanan, a Conservative Brexit minister in the Lords.

The EU parliament also must approve the Brexit divorce deal before Jan. 31. A vote by the European Parliament is expected next week.

Despite Johnson’s repeated promise to “get Brexit done” on Jan. 31, the departure will only mark the start of the first stage of the country’s EU exit. Britain and the EU will then launch into negotiations on their future ties, racing to strike new relationships for trade, security and a host of other areas by the end of 2020.


Follow AP’s full coverage of Brexit and British politics at https://www.apnews.com/Brexit

The post Britain’s Brexit Bill Passes Final Hurdle in Parliament appeared first on Truthdig: Expert Reporting, Current News, Provocative Columnists.

The ‘Immense Disaster’ Facing Climate Refugees

TruthDig.com News -

If you are a climate migrant, how urgent is urgent? Slowing, or even stopping, the damage humans are doing to the physical world through profligate use of fossil fuels and casual extermination of other species is urgent. But what we are allowing fellow humans to tolerate is just as urgent, though often less remarked.

Many millions more will be forced to flee their homes in a world experiencing intensifying climate breakdown. Some will move within national borders, and many others will cross them. The UN body that monitors migration is the International Organisation for Migration, whose data portal provides recent estimates of the numbers of migrants globally.

Related Articles by by by FAIR

It says 17.2 million people were forced to flee by disasters, many climate-related, in 2018 alone. The World Bank estimates that by 2050 143 million people across three global regions could be displaced within their countries by climate breakdown.

Their plight is urgent. But there are strenuous efforts to tackle the problem; movements to welcome migrants − and refugees − and offer them hospitality are growing, from the initiative for sanctuary cities in the US to villages in southern Europe.

The initiative is needed more than ever, as President Trump issued an executive order in 2017 seeking to criminalise sanctuary jurisdictions and cut off their funds. Several cities have simply ignored his action.

“The Syrian crisis is simply a dress rehearsal for an immense climate-fuelled disaster”

The Rapid Transition Alliance (RTA), a global initiative which aims to learn from rapid change to address urgent environmental problems, thinks there is mounting urgency, which will result in rapid change for the better for many of the world’s migrants.

It acknowledges that “the real challenge is how to look after the huge numbers of lone young people struggling as migrants without family or community support. Between 2014 and 2018, around 60,000 minors arrived alone in Italy by sea, 90% of whom were between the ages of 15 and 17,” according to a recent report.

But it also instances the proposal to introduce a cross-border tax on financial speculation (the so-called Tobin Tax) as a way of helping to support migrants and refugees and to help to meet the costs associated with relocation.

The Alliance is upbeat. It says: “Despite high levels of hostility in the global North, exaggeration of the problem, and the irony that many wealthy countries are disproportionately responsible for many of the push factors driving human displacement, movement mostly happens within and between poorer countries.

Political blindness

“Where flows do occur from the global South to the North, it is often to where it is needed, and people are generally good at integrating and adapting.”

Others have been more sceptical about the world’s chances of preventing a climate-driven migrant catastrophe. As recently as 2015 the late British peer Lord Ashdown told the BBC: “The numbers we now have of refugees fleeing battle zones are going to be diminished into almost nothing when we see the mass movement of populations caused by global warming.”

Lord Ashdown, a former marine and diplomat, known popularly as Paddy, told the Climate News Network: “I raised the issue of climate refugees then because I’ve been trying for a very long time to get the international community to take some notice of them . . . I raised it to make the problem more obvious – though I do not know why politicians continue to be so blind to it.”

Paddy Ashdown died in December 2018, enough time to see himself proved right. Three years earlier he had said: “The Syrian crisis is simply a dress rehearsal for an immense climate-fuelled disaster, which I think will begin to be felt within the next decade, perhaps within five or six years from now.”

The post The ‘Immense Disaster’ Facing Climate Refugees appeared first on Truthdig: Expert Reporting, Current News, Provocative Columnists.

Donald Trump Did a Zillion Tweets Today and Each One Is Terrible

Mother Jones Magazine -

As day two of his impeachment trial began in the Senate, President Donald Trump departed Switzerland, en route to Washington, DC.  

Heading back to Washington from @Davos , Switzerland. Very successful (for USA) trip!

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) January 22, 2020

The trip to Davos, a high-powered conference for the jet set and global elite, was “very successful,” the third president ever to be impeached said. “For USA.” 

Had the conference not gone well for other countries? Unclear. What was it George Washington said during his Second Inaugural? “Screw ’em” or some such? 

The flight went…well, it went. The flight flew and didn’t crash. So in that sense it was a good flight. But how did the flight go in relative terms to most flights? Maybe not so great.

The president broke a personal record for most tweets and retweets. 

Trump breaks his own Twitter record with 132 tweets or retweets as of 4:45 p.m., the most of any single day of his presidency, as he defended himself and lashed out at the House managers.

— Peter Baker (@peterbakernyt) January 22, 2020

He did some retweets of people saying nice things about him.

He retweeted some videos of himself complaining about democrats.

He retweeted some compliments from his sons, Don Jr. and Mike.

He retweeted some weird tweets by the guy who runs social media for his campaign.


— Dan Scavino (@DanScavino) January 22, 2020


— Dan Scavino (@DanScavino) January 18, 2020

He tweeted “no pressure” before immediately retweeting a set of tweets from a congressman credibly accused of failing to report sexual abuse

He then sent about a million retweets of crazy people I am not going to bother putting here.

Finally, he topped it off with a Trump golden classic, threatening immigrants:

Sorry, if you come you will be immediately sent back! https://t.co/Ba9kmD6HD0

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) January 22, 2020

“We wish he could have stayed in Davos longer,” many Americans and no Swiss thought.

tldr: Donald Trump spent this Wednesday the same way he spends most Wednesdays, the only differences being this Wednesday he was live-tweeting Fox News on a plane and also facing removal from office in the Senate.


A Utah Woman Was Charged for Going Topless in Her Own Home. Her Legal Case Is Not Going Great.

Mother Jones Magazine -

A Utah judge just denied a local woman’s motion to declare the state’s lewdness law unconstitutional after she was slammed with criminal charges for going topless in her own home.

Last year Tilli Buchanan was charged with lewdness after she and her husband took their shirts off while installing insulation in their garage. Her husband, who was in a similar state of undress, was not charged. Buchanan’s stepchildren were also there. Their mother was the one who reported Buchanan to the authorities. As I wrote back in September:

Even though Buchanan was topless in the privacy of her own home, she is now facing potentially very serious consequences: three counts of lewdness involving a child, a class A misdemeanor which could land her in jail and place her on the sex offender registry for 10 years. Utah’s ordinance about lewdness involving a child prohibits the exposure of “the female breast below the top of the areola,” either in public or “in a private place under circumstances the person should know will likely cause affront or alarm or with the intent to arouse or gratify the sexual desire of the actor or the child.” 

Buchanan’s attorneys filed a motion to declare Utah’s lewdness statute unconstitutional because it discriminates against women, the Salt Lake Tribune reports. They based their motion on a 10th Circuit Court ruling that found a Fort Collins, Colorado, ban on female toplessness unconstitutional because it did not apply similarly to men. The judge in Buchanan’s case claimed that that ruling did not apply here as the Utah law is “significantly different.”

“It is the prerogative of the Legislature to establish laws incorporating contemporary community standards regarding lewdness,” the judge wrote, according to the Tribune. “It is not for the court to decide whether the Legislature’s enumeration of lewd conduct is wise or sound policy.”

So the law stands, and if Buchanan does not appeal the judge’s decision, the case against her will move to trial.

Who Is the Least Worst Democratic Candidate?

Mother Jones Magazine -

Two questions for Democratic primary voters:

  • Who is the Democrat least likely to be so unacceptable to center-right voters that they end up voting for Donald Trump even though they don’t like him much?
  • Does this change after considering the most likely Republican campaign attacks?

The impeachment proceedings are making it more clear every day that nothing is going to change the minds of Trump voters. They just don’t believe anything that either liberals or the press say about him. So like it or not, everything hinges on the folks in the middle.

23 Headlines Obscure Biden’s Lies About Cutting Social Security

Fairness & Accuracy In Reporting -


Here’s something many Americans would be very interested to know: Is a leading candidate in the Democratic primary a liar? And since a strong majority of Americans have consistently opposed cuts to Social Security, the country’s most successful anti-poverty program, Democratic voters in particular might be interested to know if a President Joe Biden would try to cut Social Security.

Former Vice President Biden has supported cuts to Social Security for 40 years, and is on the record for saying things like:

When I argued that we should freeze federal spending, I meant Social Security as well. I meant Medicare and Medicaid. I meant veterans’ benefits. I meant every single solitary thing in the government. And I not only tried it once, I tried it twice, I tried it a third time, and I tried it a fourth time.

When Biden was running for president in 2007, he declared his willingness to oppose the US public when he boasted that he would ignore his advisers’ advice not to “touch that third rail,” and even released a plan to cut Social Security under the guise of raising the retirement age.

Joe Biden (Brookings Institution, 4/18): “Now, we need to do something about Social Security and Medicare. That’s the only way you can find room to pay for it…. So we need a pro-growth, progressive tax code that…raises enough revenue to make sure that the Social Security and Medicare can stay, it still needs adjustments, but can stay.”

So when Bernie Sanders’ campaign released a video of Joe Biden’s statements reiterating his desire to cut Social Security, a program that benefited 64 million Americans in 2019, and is the major source of income for most elderly Americans, shouldn’t media headlines reflect this? And if many of these outlets openly acknowledge that Biden’s claim that the video was “doctored” isn’t true, don’t they have a journalistic obligation not to launder the Biden campaign’s false talking points?

Headlines typically draw in readers or viewers by including the most relevant and interesting information. When only 40% of the US public read past the headlines, that means a good majority of readers have their worldviews shaped by the short bits of stories editors choose to highlight.

Yet the headlines from 23 different media outlets covering Sanders’ critique of Biden’s Social Security record obscured crucial facts by making no mention of surely pertinent information. These headlines primarily misled readers in three ways.

The first type features the unhelpful horserace journalism FAIR has consistently criticized, where the most pertinent information is not that a leading presidential candidate supports cutting a popular and successful social program, but about which campaign strategies candidates are employing in the presidential primaries:

  • Washington Post (1/19/20): “Bernie Sanders Hits Joe Biden on Social Security as the Presidential Contest Grows More Heated”
  • CNN (1/19/20): “Sanders Attacks Biden’s Record on Social Security as Primary Race Heats Up Ahead of Iowa”
  • Reuters (1/19/20): “Presidential Hopeful Sanders Renews Attack on Rival Biden’s Social Security Record”
  • HuffPost (1/18/20): “The Bernie Sanders Attack Joe Biden Can’t Ignore”
  • Miami Herald (1/19/20): “Biden Rips Sanders Campaign for Social Security Attacks”

Headlines like the Washington Post’s “Bernie Sanders Hits Joe Biden on Social Security as the Presidential Contest Grows More Heated” and CNN’s “Sanders Attacks Biden’s Record on Social Security as Primary Race Heats Up Ahead of Iowa” do not explain what Biden’s record on Social Security is, nor what Sanders’ critique of that record is.

The second variety of headlines displays corporate media’s tendency towards false balance, treating political opponents as necessarily having equal legitimacy in a political conflict.

  • New York Times (1/18/20): “Biden and Sanders Clash Over Social Security”
  • Wall Street Journal (1/18/20): “Biden and Sanders Fight Over Social Security”
  • Fox News (1/18/20): “Biden, Sanders Trade Fire Over Social Security”
  • Washington Examiner (1/18/20): “’A Flat Lie’: Biden and Bernie Sanders Fight Over Social Security”

Headlines like the New York Times’ “Biden and Sanders Clash Over Social Security” and the Wall Street Journal’s “Biden and Sanders Fight Over Social Security” not only fail to explain why Sanders and Biden are in a dispute over Social Security, but also give no clue to their audiences about who has the facts on their side.

If the Times’ lead paragraph mentions that Biden “accused Senator Bernie Sanders’ presidential campaign of distorting his record on Social Security, claiming without evidence that Mr. Sanders’s team was promoting a ‘doctored’ video, a loaded word in an era of disinformation,” why not mention the fact that Biden offered no evidence in the headline? The Journal’s treatment of Biden’s claim was even worse than the Times’, treating statements from the Biden and Sanders campaign as a “he said she said” story by presenting the Biden campaign’s accusatory statements and the Sanders campaign’s rebuttals with no indication of whether one side had greater evidence.

The third and most common variety of headline is the worst because it reverses reality:

  • USA Today (1/18/20): “Joe Biden Accuses Bernie Sanders’ Campaign of Misrepresenting His Social Security Record by Sharing ‘Doctored Video’”
  • NBC News (1/18/20): “Biden Demands Apology From Sanders Over ‘Doctored’ Video on Social Security”
  • The Hill (1/18/20): “Biden Alleges Sanders Campaign ‘Doctored Video’ to Attack Him on Social Security Record”
  • Des Moines Register (1/18/20): “Joe Biden Says Bernie Sanders’ Campaign ‘Doctored Video’ to Misrepresent Social Security Record; Sanders Campaign Flatly Denies”
  • MSNBC (1/19/20): “Biden Demanding Apology from Sanders Campaign for What He’s Calling ‘Doctored’ Video”
  • Business Insider (1/18/20): “Joe Biden Accused Bernie Sanders of Releasing a ‘Doctored Video’ to Attack Him on Social Security Cuts”
  • Inquisitr (1/18/20): “Joe Biden Accuses Bernie Sanders Campaign of Spreading ‘Doctored’ Video of Him Proposing Social Security Cuts”
  • Politico (1/18/20): “Biden Charges Sanders Camp ‘Doctored Video’ to Attack Him”
  • The Week (1/19/20): “Biden Demands Apology From Sanders Over ‘Doctored’ Video
  • CBS News (1/18/20): “Biden Accuses Sanders Campaign of Sharing ‘Doctored’ Video of Him Attacking Social Security”
  • Bloomberg News (1/18/20): “Biden Says Video Released by Sanders Campaign Is ‘a Lie’”
  • Daily Beast (1/18/20): “Biden and Sanders Spar Over Claim of ‘Doctored’ Video”
  • Guardian (1/19/20): Biden Calls for Sanders to Disown ‘Doctored’ Video on Social Security”
  • Daily Mail (1/18/20): “Dems at War: Joe Biden Accuses Bernie Sanders’ Campaign of Releasing a ‘DOCTORED’ Video of Him Discussing Cuts to Social Security”

Headlines like Politico’s “Biden Charges Sanders Camp ‘Doctored Video’ to Attack Him” and CBS’s “Biden Accuses Sanders Campaign of Sharing ‘Doctored’ Video of Him Attacking Social Security” make it seem as if Sanders is the one lying by creating a fabricated video. This is especially journalistic malpractice when these very outlets mention that the “video in question” of Biden’s 2018 remarks to the Brookings Institution think tank “was not doctored by Sanders,” and state that “despite Biden’s repeated use of the words ‘doctored’ and ‘fake,’ the video is neither of those things.”

Many of these articles uncritically cite Politifact’s obtuse attempt (1/9/20) to critique the Sanders campaign’s video, which declared that Sanders’ statement in a campaign newsletter that “in 2018, Biden lauded Paul Ryan for proposing cuts to Social Security and Medicare” was false because Biden’s statements were taken out of context. Politifact highlighted Biden’s statements that “Social Security and Medicare can stay,” but failed to highlight his very next words, saying of Social Security/Medicare, “It still needs adjustments.”

What are those “adjustments”? FAIR (2/4/15, 6/25/19) has noted that euphemisms like “solution” and “adjustments” are frequently used to describe what are more accurately called cuts to Social Security. As Ryan Grim noted on Twitter (1/9/20),”‘Adjustment,’ in Washington, is a euphemism for ‘cuts.’ That’s just a basic fact of congressional lingo that can’t be disputed.” Particularly when Biden says of the retirement programs, “It still needs adjustment, but can stay,” it’s hard to see how you can read it other than as a call to “save” the programs by cutting them.

Ryan Grim (Intercept, 1/13/20): “When the program is popular, ‘adjustment’ is a Washington euphemism for cuts.”

Grim’s factcheck in the Intercept (1/13/20) of Politifact’s factcheck is far more competent, because it doesn’t confine itself solely to Biden’s remarks in a single speech, but rather situates those remarks within Biden’s 40-year history of advocating cuts to Social Security, and also decodes common centrist euphemisms for cutting Social Security. If Biden is now claiming that he opposes cuts to Social Security, it is certainly important to note that this would be a reversal of his long-held position (and how it undermines Biden’s credibility).

It’s important for media outlets to question the credibility of presidential candidates, especially with contenders like Biden, who has a history of serial lying on the campaign trail about his ideology, downplaying his support for the Iraq War or making ridiculous statements like “I have the most progressive record” of anyone running for the presidency, or misrepresenting his opponents’ Medicare for All proposals by claiming that Medicare for All proponents are trying to “scrap Obamacare” and create a “hiatus” in coverage for up to three years.

Of course, corporate media have long supported cuts to Social Security (FAIR.org, 7/21/10, 4/16/13, 6/18/18; Extra!, 5/99, 1/05), and have promoted Biden’s neoliberal ideology by disingenuously lauding centrist candidates like him as “pragmatic” (FAIR.org, 4/17/19, 4/28/19, 7/17/19, 9/9/19, 10/19/19, 10/25/19). So perhaps one shouldn’t expect these outlets to run headlines like “Joe Biden Falsely Claims that Bernie Sanders Is Spreading a ‘Doctored Video’” or “Joe Biden Is Doctoring His Record of Supporting Cuts to Social Security.”

Lunchtime Photo

Mother Jones Magazine -

This is Palm Springs at midnight, taken from Keys View in Joshua Tree National Park. I ended up on this road sort of accidentally and just kept driving until it dead-ended at this overlook, with a lovely view of the city below. Yes, it was a dex night.

January 17, 2020 — Joshua Tree National Park, Riverside County, California

This Is Hands Down TV’s Most Compassionate Abortion Sequence

Mother Jones Magazine -

After months and months of hearing friends rave about Sex Education on Netflix, I finally sat down and watched the first season over the winter holidays. Folks, I was hooked. But it wasn’t witty teens navigating the awkwardness of starter sex that drew me in. It was an abortion storyline early in the show’s first season that did it.

Warning: Spoilers ahead.

Maeve, one of the show’s main characters, discovers that she’s pregnant and schedules an abortion at a local health clinic. (The show is set somewhere beautiful-looking in the UK, where it seems much easier to schedule an abortion than in most rural or even suburban areas in the US.) Once there, she meets an older woman who’s scheduled to have her own procedure—the latest of several, we discover later. The show steers clear of any moralizing about the women’s motives, focusing instead on the inevitable fact that untenable pregnancies happen. The storyline stays focused on them—the people having the abortions. Which, in its own way, is pretty revolutionary.

So often, popular depictions of abortion focus on everything except the person actually having it, particularly while they’re having it. It’s about familial disapproval. Angry partners. Marriage. (And, as Hillary Kelly wrote for Mother Jones last year, American TV often completely whiffs on the many insane obstacles that stand in a woman’s way in our country.)

This episode instead stays squarely inside the abortion clinic, humanizing people whose stories are often erased entirely. 

What’s more, Maeve’s will they-won’t they love interest—who, again spoiler, is not who got her pregnant—bumbles about, wanting to make Maeve feel supported, and decides to bring her flowers after her procedure. He supports her without question or judgment. 

The second season of Sex Education just dropped on Netflix, just in time for the 47th anniversary of Roe v Wade. It reminds us that sex—and abortion—are ultimately just about people.

On the Roe Anniversary, Let’s Consider One Seemingly Obvious Way to Expand Abortion Access

Mother Jones Magazine -

When the Supreme Court ruled that women have a constitutional right to abortion 47 years ago today, individual states began to legalize and regulate the procedure, and most did so with what probably felt like a crucial, beneficial, and even obvious caveat: Legal abortion must be provided by a physician.

But today, this restriction, which was largely meant to protect women from the sort of horrific malpractice that took place before abortion was legalized, is a significant impediment to widespread and safe abortion care. This is a key argument in the forthcoming book, Obstacle Course: The Everyday Struggle to Get an Abortion in Americain which authors David Cohen and Carole Joffe make a compelling case that broadening abortion access relies on expanding who can provide this kind of medical care. 

“I think people misunderstand how [abortion] could be regular medical care, in the sense that nurses, midwives, and doctors can all perform this procedure,” Cohen tells Mother Jones.

Last year, Rebecca Grant wrote in Mother Jones about how it makes sense, now more than ever, to expand the range of abortion practitioners:

After the Supreme Court’s 1973 Roe v. Wade decision, every state, with the exception of Vermont, banned anyone except physicians from performing abortions. The restrictions were seen as necessary to edge out “back-alley” providers. But two medical advances over the 46 years since the ruling have made abortion both safer to get and easier to provide. The first was aspiration abortion, a procedure popularized in the ’70s that uses suction—as opposed to scraping, or “curettage”—to pull the pregnancy out of the uterus. The second was the development of the medication abortion method, a two-pill protocol that terminates early pregnancies and simply flushes the menses out of the body.

Together, medication and aspiration abortions, which are only performed in the first 10 or 16 weeks of pregnancy, respectively, make up the vast majority of terminations every year and have a serious complication rate of less than half of one percent. They’re also not exceptionally complicated to perform. 

Part of the issue here is that there are, of course, a limited number of physicians in the United States to begin with, and some of them refuse to provide abortion care due to religious beliefs. This can be particularly harmful for rural women who typically live hours away from the nearest clinic.

As Cohen and Joffe point out in Obstacle Course, there are some states that already allow non-physicians to perform abortions. Last year, as Grant also covered, Maine passed a law that permits nurse practitioners, physician assistants, and other qualified medical professionals to administer medication abortions or in-clinic procedures. Sixteen other states and the District of Columbia also allow physician assistants to perform medication abortions, and five states allow them to perform the other dominant form of first-trimester abortion, aspiration abortion. 

On the other end of the spectrum sits Mississippi, which has a state law that not only stipulates a licensed physician must administer abortion care, but that the physician must be an OB-GYN as well. Thirty-two other states also have physician-only laws in place. 

“We’re not arguing for the lack of regulations here or lack of government oversight; we’re just saying is that this should be treated like normal medical care with the same kind of oversight that the medical profession has for any other medical procedures that apply to abortion,” Cohen says. “And when it is that way, the difference is just huge for the people who are able to access care in a more dignified way, without interference from the government.”

Beyond the physician restriction, Joffe emphasizes that another significant obstacle to abortion care is simply the costs. 75 percent of abortion patients are either below the poverty line or just barely above it, she says, and even an early medication abortion can cost around $500 (though some places charge more than that) and the most common second-trimester procedure can cost up to $3,000. What’s more, additional indirect expenses required to navigate restrictions, like waiting periods, add up quickly. “Wrapped up in costs is not just the cost of the procedure, but also the cost of getting to a clinic, the cost of child care for the 60 percent of patients who are already parents, the cost involved in taking time off from work to get a procedure,” Cohen adds. While providers often work to keep costs as low as possible, and abortion funds across the United States help their clients fill in the gaps, poverty is the sort of complicated challenge that cannot be fixed with a few funds and creative budgeting. Mississippi is a more severe case on this front, as I’ve written about before

In the meantime, consider that part of the reason Maine was able to pass physician assistant legislation in the first place was that the legislature flipped for a Democratic majority in the midterms. November is just nine months away.

Cases of New Viral Respiratory Illness Rise Sharply in China

TruthDig.com News -

BEIJING — Chinese health authorities urged people in the city of Wuhan to avoid crowds and public gatherings, after warning that a new viral illness that has infected more than 400 people and killed at least 17 could spread further.

The appeal came as the World Health Organization convened a group of independent experts to advise whether the outbreak should be declared a global emergency.

The number of new cases has risen sharply in China, the center of the outbreak. Seventeen people have died, all in Hubei province, since the outbreak emerged in its provincial capital of Wuhan late last month, officials announced Wednesday night. They said the province has confirmed 444 cases there.

“There has already been human-to-human transmission and infection of medical workers,” Li Bin, deputy director of the National Health Commission, said at a news conference with health experts. “Evidence has shown that the disease has been transmitted through the respiratory tract and there is the possibility of viral mutation.”

The illness comes from a newly identified type of coronavirus, a family of viruses that can cause the common cold as well as more serious illnesses such as the SARS outbreak that spread from China to more than a dozen countries in 2002-2003 and killed about 800 people. Some experts have drawn parallels between the new coronavirus and Middle Eastern respiratory syndrome, another coronavirus that does not spread very easily among humans and is thought to be carried by camels.

But WHO’s Asia office tweeted this week that “there may now be sustained human-to-human transmission,” which raises the possibility that the epidemic is spreading more easily and may no longer require an animal source to spark infections, as officials initially reported.

Authorities in Thailand on Wednesday confirmed four cases, a Thai national and three Chinese visitors. Japan, South Korea, the United States and Taiwan have all reported one case each. All of the illnesses were of people from Wuhan or who recently traveled there.

“The situation is under control here,” Thai Public Health Minister Anutin Charnvirakul told reporters, saying there are no reports of the infection spreading to others. “We checked all of them: taxi drivers, people who wheeled the wheelchairs for the patients, doctors and nurses who worked around them.”

Macao, a former Portuguese colony that is a semi-autonomous Chinese city, reported one case Wednesday.

Some experts said they believe the threshold for the outbreak to be declared an international emergency had been reached.

Dr. Peter Horby, a professor of emerging infectious diseases at Oxford University, said there were three criteria for such a determination: the outbreak must be an extraordinary event, there must be a risk of international spread and a globally coordinated response is required.

“In my opinion, those three criteria have been met,” he said.

In response to the U.S. case, President Donald Trump said: “We do have a plan, and we think it’s going to be handled very well. We’ve already handled it very well. … we’re in very good shape, and I think China’s in very good shape also.”

In Wuhan, pharmacies limited sales of face masks to one package per customer as people lined up to buy them. Residents said they were not overly concerned as long as they took preventive measures.

“As an adult, I am not too worried about the disease,” Yang Bin, the father of a 7-year-old, said after buying a mask. “I think we are more worried about our kids. … It would be unacceptable to the parents if they got sick.”

Medical workers in protective suits could be seen carrying supplies and stretchers into Wuhan Medical Treatment Center, where some of the patients are being treated.

Travel agencies that organize trips to North Korea said the country has banned foreign tourists because of the outbreak. Most tourists to North Korea are either Chinese or travel to the country through neighboring China. North Korea also closed its borders in 2003 during the SARS scare.

Other countries have stepped up screening measures for travelers from China, especially those arriving from Wuhan. Worries have been heightened by the Lunar New Year holiday rush, when millions of Chinese travel at home and abroad.

Officials said it was too early to compare the new virus with SARS or MERS, or Middle East respiratory syndrome, in terms of how lethal it might be. They attributed the spike in new cases to improvements in detection and monitoring.

“We are still in the process of learning more about this disease,” Gao Fu, an academician of the Chinese Academy of Sciences and head of the Chinese Center for Disease Control, said at the news conference.

Gao said officials are working on the assumption that the outbreak resulted from human exposure to wild animals being sold illegally at a food market in Wuhan and that the virus is mutating. Mutations can make it spread faster or make people sicker.

Jiao Yahui, a health commission official, said the disease “will continue to develop. It has developed different features compared with the early stage, and the prevention and precautionary measures need to change accordingly.”

One veteran of the SARS outbreak said that while there are some similarities in the new virus — namely its origins in China and the link to animals — the current outbreak appears much milder.

Dr. David Heymann, who headed WHO’s global response to SARS in 2003, said the new virus appears dangerous for older people with other health conditions, but doesn’t seem nearly as infectious as SARS.

“It looks like it doesn’t transmit through the air very easily and probably transmits through close contact,” he said. “That was not the case with SARS.”

Health officials confirmed earlier this week that the disease can be spread between humans after finding two infected people in Guangdong province in southern China who had not been to Wuhan.

Fifteen medical workers also tested positive for the virus, the Wuhan Municipal Health Commission has said. Fourteen of them — one doctor and 13 nurses — were infected by a patient who had been hospitalized for neurosurgery but also had the coronavirus.

“This is a very profound lesson, which is that there must not be any cracks in our prevention and control,” Wuhan Mayor Zhou Xianwang said about the infections of the medical workers in an interview with state broadcaster CCTV.

Experts worry in particular when health workers are sickened in outbreaks by new viruses, because it can suggest the disease is becoming more transmissible and because spread in hospitals can often amplify the epidemic.

The Lunar New Year is a time when many Chinese return to their hometowns to visit family. Li, the health commission official, said measures were being taken to monitor and detect infected people from Wuhan, and that people should avoid going to the city, and people from the city should stay put for now.


Associated Press journalists Dake Kang and Emily Wang in Wuhan, China; Tassanee Vejpongsa in Bangkok, Thailand; Hyung-jin Kim in Seoul, South Korea; Maria Cheng in London; Yanan Wang in Beijing and Alice Fung in Hong Kong contributed to this report.

The post Cases of New Viral Respiratory Illness Rise Sharply in China appeared first on Truthdig: Expert Reporting, Current News, Provocative Columnists.

How Western Left Media Helped Legitimate US Regime Change in Venezuela

Fairness & Accuracy In Reporting -

by Lucas Koerner

In Jacobin (2/5/19)…

It’s been a year since Juan Guaidó began his US-anointed mandate as “interim president” of Venezuela.

Following the opposition leader’s failure to secure reelection as National Assembly president this month, Washington and its corporate media stenographers have hysterically decried a “coup” (FAIR.org, 1/10/20) against the coup leader, moving absurdly to recognize a new parallel parliament that he can still be in charge of.

However, the January 23 anniversary of Guaidó’s farcical self-proclamation has a darker legacy largely ignored by the corporate media: the almost unprecedented US decision to recognize a leader with no effective state control has unleashed a level of economic warfare unseen outside of Cuba, Iran or North Korea.

The recognition was a not-so-subtle signal to transnational economic actors to terminate their business with Caracas, and was followed by a crippling oil embargo, later upgraded to a blanket ban on all dealings with Venezuela’s state. Last year alone, illegal US sanctions are estimated to have destroyed one quarter of Venezuela’s economy, which had already shrunk by half since 2013, in part due to longstanding US economic siege.

Why is it that Trump is able to get away with what is effectively a policy of mass murder in Venezuela, similar to simultaneous US economic warfare against Iran?

The Western media has certainly played a crucial role in delegitimizing the democratically elected Maduro government (e.g. FAIR.org, 5/20/19, 5/23/18, 5/16/18), while systematically concealing the deadly impact of sanctions (FAIR.org, 6/26/19, 6/14/19).

However, despite nominally opposing Washington’s Venezuela policy and its corporate media gendarmerie, global North progressive media have, like during the recent coup in Bolivia (FAIR.org, 12/10/19), tended to repeat imperial ideological tropes, casting the Maduro government as authoritarian, corrupt and/or guilty of much worse human rights violations than the US and its allies.

While invariably couched in the language of “left” analysis, this coverage weakens domestic opposition to the US and other Western states’ murderous onslaught on the Venezuelan people.

The 2019 Coup

Western progressive outlets have a peculiar habit of rolling out their “critiques” of leftist or otherwise independent governments in the global South right at the moment when these states are under imperial assault, echoing the corporate media’s unanimous regime-change chorus (FAIR.org, 4/30/19).

In the days and weeks following the January 23, 2019, start of the US-backed opposition’s sixth coup effort of the past 20 years, Northern leftist publications posted a number of articles featuring scathing attacks on the Maduro administration.

…and in NACLA (2/5/19), the “left” position is that “Maduro was not democratically elected”—mainly because people who had tried to overthrow the government were not allowed to run for president.

NACLA (2/5/19) and Jacobin (2/5/19) led the charge, simultaneously publishing a piece by sociologist Gabriel Hetland denying that Maduro was democratically elected and accusing him of “increasing authoritarianism.” On top of numerous factually problematic attacks on the Venezuelan government, Hetland went as far as to outline hypothetical conditions that “potentially warranted” foreign intervention—namely a “humanitarian catastrophe”—but declining to say that they apply to Venezuela, despite the existence of what he termed a “humanitarian crisis.” The Trump administration repeatedly cites “humanitarian catastrophe” as a justification for its coup and illegal sanctions, a charge that has been echoed by corporate media and the Western human rights industrial complex.

Also in NACLA (2/13/19), Rebeca Hanson and Francisco Sanchez professed their agnosticism regarding whether Guaidó’s US-backed self-proclamation constituted a coup, stating that “depending on how the constitution is interpreted, one of the two men has a rightful claim to assume executive power.”

They went on to anecdotally note a “general sentiment in many popular sectors…that neither [the government nor opposition] ‘side’ can be trusted,” conveniently ignoring the fact that around 31% of the Venezuelan electorate voted to reelect Maduro in May 2018 and a similar percent of the population told Pew they trusted the government a few months later. A smaller percentage of the electorate routinely wins elections in the US.  That is, around 6 million people—overwhelmingly from Venezuela’s working-class and poor sectors—still support Maduro.

Despite the authors’ pretension of ethnographic “nuance,” the mask drops when they editorially decry Maduro’s “cronyism, corruption and exploitation”—claims they make no effort to factually justify. They also falsely accuse state security forces of having “killed 21,752 people” in 2016, when the very report they link to places the figure at 4,667, which is still quite high but must be properly contextualized (Venezuelanalysis.com, 7/12/19).

Vanessa Baird hit on similar themes a few days prior in the New Internationalist (1/24/19), lampooning Maduro as “hardly a model leader or democrat.” Indeed, the author appeared to be unaware that Maduro was ever elected at all, stating that his “lamentable rule…started when Hugo Chavez died in 2013.”

A month later, as the US prepared to force “humanitarian aid” into Venezuela and fears of war loomed large, Baird (New Internationalist, 2/12/19) mused about “the desirability of Maduro stepping down.” She then produced a laundry list of misrepresentations about Maduro, which appeared to have been partly lifted, albeit with even less nuance, from Hetland’s article for NACLA (2/5/19) and Jacobin (2/5/19). “Technically, Maduro was the winner of the May 2018 elections—but only after banning leading opposition parties and candidates from running,” she claims:

This—along with cancelling a recall referendum in 2016, dissolving the opposition-led National Assembly in 2017, and “stealing” the October 2017 governor elections—has seriously dented his democratic credentials.

In this last assertion, she goes well beyond what even anti-Maduro analysts like Francisco Rodriguez and Dorothy Kronick have claimed.

The Nation (3/13/19) for a “negotiated resolution” in Venezuela—i.e., regime change.

Following the devastating March blackouts, The Nation (3/13/19) likewise posted a piece by Hetland, lambasting Maduro as “corrupt and increasingly repressive” and claiming that his “authoritarian” government “bears primary responsibility for the country’s dire situation,” though conceding that “US sanctions and violence by the US-supported opposition have contributed to Venezuelans’ suffering.”

The article contained wild factual inaccuracies, including the claim that Caracas residents were collecting water from the extremely polluted Guaire River, as well as misleading death statistics from the blackouts. Hetland also cites pro-opposition pollster Datanalisis to assert that an “estimated 15% of the population” supports Chavismo, a dramatic underestimation refuted by the fact that Maduro won 6.2 million votes in 2018—or 31% of the total electorate—which is firmly in line with Chavista turnout levels since 2013.  Datanalisis also badly overestimated what opposition turnout would be in both the 2017 regional elections and the 2018 presidential elections, undermining its credibility.

Around the same time, NACLA (3/26/19) published an article with the claim that

Maduro’s record includes suffocating democratic institutions and procedures, colossal economic mismanagement, vast corruption, repression, human rights violations and a humanitarian crisis.

The author, Dimitris Pantoulas, offers no evidence to support his accusations and, more incredibly, makes no mention of illegal US sanctions, which have severely exacerbated Venezuela’s crisis, blocking political and economic solutions. Pantoulas goes on to blame the US-led coup on democratically re-elected Maduro, whose “resistance to democratic solutions made his opponents…concentrate their efforts on ousting him by any means necessary.”

Just one day after the failed US-backed April 30 military putsch, Dissent (5/1/19) published an article with the sensational claim that “Venezuela today is simply not a democracy.” The author, Jared Abbott, fired off a series of deceptive claims, including repeating US propaganda that illegal sanctions “were supposed to target” only government officials, rather than intentionally destroy what was left of Venezuela’s economy. Not content to delegitimize the 2018 elections with the canard that an opposition victory “was close to impossible,” Abbott recited US State Department talking points impugning “past elections under Chavismo” as “hardly models of fairness” on the grounds of unequal access to state resources, ignoring the US government’s massive support for the opposition over the course of its six coup attempts since 2002. The author also rehashes Hetland’s dubious Dananalisis-sourced claims about Maduro’s support, lamenting the “insidious pathologies” and “authoritarianism” of a global South political movement under murderous imperial siege.

A few weeks later, Jacobin (5/23/19) published another article by Hetland. The university professor backpedaled on some of his previous claims, but nevertheless made a point of excoriating “government repression of peaceful protest and dissent amid a broader turn away from political democracy and towards authoritarian rule.” Hetland appeared to be entirely unaware that the opposition attempted a coup d’etat scarcely three weeks before, and that top opposition figures were permitted to lead sizeable anti-government street rallies literally the day after.

Likewise writing in Jacobin (9/30/19), just weeks after the Trump administration escalated its sanctions regime to a sweeping embargo, Michael Brooks and Ben Burgis rightly blamed imperial violence for blocking the sovereign development of global South countries like Venezuela. But the authors also felt compelled to echo Washington in “acknowledg[ing] the reality of the Venezuelan government’s authoritarianism.” They went on to state that

the premise that [presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders’] brand of democratic socialism would involve anything like the kind of repressive crackdowns that have happened recently in Venezuela is absurd.

It’s hard to know whether to judge such an incredible statement as condescendingly Eurocentric or just plain naive, given that a Sanders administration would likely face some kind of establishment coup effort if it tried to implement its radical agenda, and its legitimate attempts to defend itself would inevitably be deemed “repressive” by elites.

The 2017 Insurrection 

This pattern of progressive “critiques” of Chavismo and the Maduro government just at the moment when the country is under heightened imperial onslaught is not new.

From April through late July 2017, Venezuela’s right-wing opposition launched a violent street insurrection aimed at ousting the president, similar to the leadup to Bolivia’s November 2019 coup d’etat. Over 125 people were killed, including protesters, bystanders and government supporters.

NACLA (4/28/17) faults both its own government for trying to overthrow Venezuela’s, but also blames Venezuela’s government for the way it responds to attempts to overthrow it.

NACLA (4/28/17) and Jacobin (republished 5/14/17) fired the opening shots on that occasion as well, posting yet another article by Hetland declaring that “opposition violence and the government’s increasing authoritarianism are both to blame” for the bloodshed. As in his more recent NACLA (2/5/19)/Jacobin (2/5/19) piece, the academic cited a laundry list of “authoritarian” abuses riddled with factual errors and outright misrepresentations. Hetland urged leftists to “reject any and all calls for imperialist interventions,” yet declined to acknowledge his own government’s illegal sanctions targeting Venezuela, which, according to economist Mark Weisbrot (The New York Times, 6/30/16), “helped convince major financial institutions not to make otherwise low-risk loans, collateralized by gold, to the Venezuelan government.”

As the deadly anti-government protests continued to escalate, Jacobin (5/19/17) went after Caracas-based Latin American television network teleSUR. The author, Patrick Iber, quoted several academics describing the state channel as “a totally useless source of information” and a “lapdog” for the government. Readers may find it painfully obvious that teleSUR, like every other state outlet on the planet, has an editorial line largely shaped by its state’s geopolitical interests. Nevertheless, Iber and his editors decided to prejudicially exceptionalize teleSUR in this regard, while amazingly ignoring the fact that Venezuela was under assault by their own imperial state at that very moment.

With the danger of civil war looming larger and larger, Jacobin (7/8/17) went on to publish a particularly unhinged “think” piece by Mike Gonzalez, which went as far as to suggest that a helicopter terrorist attack against government installations perpetrated by a rogue police officer was a false flag operation. The article was so scandalous that the editors allowed the publication of a contrasting perspective by George Ciccariello-Maher (Jacobin, 7/29/19) debunking Gonzalez’s falsehoods.

The deck was, however, already stacked in favor of those voices assailing the Venezuelan government as “authoritarian” or “anti-democratic,” which one might resonably conclude to be the editorial line of the magazine. It would appear that dissent from this orthodoxy is the exception, not the rule, for Jacobin’s editors, who have all but refused to publish contrarian opinions, including this author’s critiques of Gabriel Hetland (Venezuelanalysis.com, 5/19/17; Mint Press News, 2/25/19) submitted to the leftist journal.

This editorial line also appears to be well-entrenched at Dissent and the New Internationalist, which have both declined to provide their readers with dissenting viewpoints.

It’s worth noting that NACLA has displayed more balance in its Venezuela coverage, publishing a broader spectrum of perspectives on both the Maduro government and the position of the international left (e.g., 5/11/17, 7/21/17, 7/26/17, 10/4/17, 5/18/18, 5/25/18). In 2019, the journal likewise published alternative viewpoints critiquing US regime change and the right-wing Venezuelan opposition (2/8/19, 5/23/19; 5/31/19, 8/14/19), though none addressed the controversial issue of international left solidarity with the Maduro government. Nevertheless, the number of articles repeating US imperial discourse portraying the Venezuelan government as “authoritarian,” “corrupt,” “repressive” or otherwise illegitimate (e.g., 2/5/19, 2/13/19, 3/26/19) notably increased relative to 2017.  For its part, The Nation has been more consistent in publishing a more expansive range of perspectives on Venezuela (e.g., 5/1/17, 5/26/17, 1/25/19, 5/2/19).

Uncritical criticism 

As I explained in my previous article on Bolivia (FAIR.org, 12/10/19), the purpose is not to censor leftist debate on Venezuela and the Bolivarian process. The problem is that the progressive media overage we have reviewed above largely amounts to what Lenin termed “uncritical criticism.”

Despite rightly repudiating US sanctions and threats of military intervention, Western leftist critics accept the very imperial ideological premises justifying the murderous onslaught.

By employing the thoroughly Orientalist discourse of “authoritarianism” and “human rights,” these critics wittingly or unwittingly delegitimize a government which is arguably more legitimate than any number of regional governments that face no credible external threat at all.

Angel Prado: “We take a firm position supporting our government as long as it maintains an unwavering stance against imperialism.” (photo: Saber y Poder)

In critiquing the Maduro administration, Northern leftists would be wise to heed the words of real revolutionaries on the ground in Venezuela, such as El Maizal Socialist Commune spokesperson Angel Prado, who told this author:

We have indeed been very critical of some policies of our government. Honestly we don’t support some of the pacts made with reformist sectors, with certain economic sectors. But we take a firm position supporting our government as long as it maintains an unwavering stance against imperialism….

We are working very hard in our popular movement—the political base for this process—and one day we are going to have enough strength not only to combat US imperialism, but also those [internal] sectors that have been unfortunately harming our process, enriching themselves in a context of war….

But above all, we as a people have preserved our unity, despite the difficult situation of the last six years, and we have refused to allow US imperialism to put its boots here. I think it’s a very important victory on the part of the Venezuelan people, and the world should know it.

With total clarity, Prado identifies the national confrontation with US imperialism as primary, while recognizing that final victory depends on defeating bureaucratic elites intent on using the crisis to entrench their class power.

If revolutionaries like the El Maizal communards are unequivocal in backing their government against imperialism—despite being on the receiving end of state repression—then Western progressives ought to show similar integrity in uncompromisingly opposing their own states’ rapacious violence abroad.


Nine States Passed Abortion Bans Last Year. The Courts Have Not Allowed Any to Take Effect.

Mother Jones Magazine -

In an unprecedented wave of anti-abortion legislation, 17 states enacted restrictions in 2019, according to the Guttmacher Institute. Of those 17 states, nine enacted particularly severe laws that narrowly limit the window of time in which a woman can get an abortion, in some cases effectively banning the procedure altogether. These particular laws have sparked widespread outrage and panic among abortion advocates because they fly in the face of Roe, in many cases prohibiting abortion when a fetal “heartbeat”—electrical signals from a group of cells that form a heart later in gestation—can be detected. That’s often before many women even know they are pregnant.

But, on the anniversary of Roe, let’s say Praise Be: Thanks to a spate of lawsuits challenging these laws’ constitutionality—including many from the American Civil Liberties Union, Planned Parenthood, and the Center for Reproductive Rights—not a single gestational age ban has gone into effect. In Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Kentucky, Mississippi, Missouri, Ohio, and Utah, judges have blocked the legislation from taking effect until court cases challenging the laws are decided. (There is no pending litigation challenging Louisiana’s heartbeat law, but the ban is on hold waiting for the outcome of Mississippi’s abortion ban in the courts.)

But the most immediate legal reckoning over Roe will not come on the question of bans, but rather in response to a 2014 Louisiana law that restricts abortion by requiring doctors who perform the procedure to have admitting privileges at a hospital within 30 miles of their facility. The Supreme Court has decided to hear the case, June Medical Services v. Gee, and it will do so in March. As my colleague Jessica Washington writes, “Although the justices are not expected to overturn Roe outright in this case, legal experts argue that if the court were to rule in favor of the law, access to abortion in states like Louisiana could exist in name only.”

To be clear, there are still myriad hurdles to access in many of these states that have bans on the books—like too few clinics, mandatory waiting periods, and invasive ultrasounds—but it is still technically legal to obtain an abortion in these states.


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