Fairness & Accuracy In Reporting

‘What We’re Seeing Now Is Jim Crow 2.0’ - CounterSpin interview with Carol Anderson on voter suppression

 

 

The July 31, 2020, episode of CounterSpin reaired a segment featuring Carol Anderson on voter suppression, which originally ran February 28, 2020. This is a lightly edited excerpt.

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Janine Jackson:  Florida passed an amendment last year to return the right to vote to people who had served time for felony convictions, part of a history in this country of expanding the franchise to ensure that those who are affected by government have a say in shaping it. Republicans pushed back, unsurprisingly, demanding that before any ex-felons could exercise their right to vote, they had to pay off any and all court fines, fees and restitution. That too, partook of a tradition, of switching up brutal for bureaucratic means to bar the inclusion of marginalized populations in the polity. The matter in Florida is still being disputed.

Republican voter suppression, only ever thinly veiled, is fully out of the bag now. And while elite media notice it and occasionally wring their hands, their coverage is too often focused on party lines, and does not do justice to the scope, the depth or the impact of this fundamentally anti-democracy campaign.

In February 2020, we spoke with Carol Anderson, professor of African-American studies at Emory University, and author of, among other titles, White Rage: The Unspoken Truth of Our Racial Divide and One Person, No Vote: How Voter Suppression Is Destroying Our Democracy. I asked her, first, to talk about what she sees in the current landscape that represents what she has called “bureaucratic violence” on people’s right to vote.

 ***

Carol Anderson: “Bureaucratic violence, that’s the array of policies that have been pooled together to figure out, ‘How do we get around the 15th Amendment, while targeting those that the 15th Amendment was designed to protect?’”

Carol Anderson: “Bureaucratic violence”: I use that term because often, when we think about disfranchisement, we think about it in terms of the violence on the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma in 1965. But bureaucratic violence, that’s the array of policies that have been pooled together to figure out, “How do we get around the 15th Amendment, while targeting those that the 15th Amendment was designed to protect?”

The 15th Amendment of the Constitution says that the right to vote shall not be abridged “on account of race, color or previous condition of servitude.” And what we saw originally was the Mississippi Plan of 1890, that figured out how to get around it with poll taxes and literacy tests. What we’re seeing now is what I’m calling “Jim Crow 2.0,” for want of a better term, are these states doing things like voter ID laws, and poll closures and voter roll purges. And all of these things have the aura of trying to protect democracy, trying to protect the integrity of the ballot box, but it’s based on the lie of massive rampant voter fraud.

And when I say “lie,” I mean that Justin Levitt, a law professor out of California, found that between 2000 and 2014, there were a billion votes cast in elections, and there were only 31 cases of voter impersonation fraud.

JJ: Right.

CA: Out of 1 billion votes. So that’s the lie of massive rampant voter fraud, about two cases per year. But from that, we get the kind of voter ID laws that say, “Oh, everybody’s got an ID.” But what these state legislatures have done is to identify the types of IDs that whites have, that African-Americans don’t have, that Latinos don’t have, that Native Americans don’t have—and then to privilege the ones that whites have, while making it seem fair and across the board.

In fact, it is anything but; it is what led the Fourth Circuit in North Carolina to say that the North Carolina state legislature had targeted African Americans “with almost surgical precision” with its array of laws, including those voter ID laws.

And what we’re seeing as well are voter roll purges. We saw, in Ohio, another massive purge of several hundred thousand. And because that list was made public, it had a 20% error rate, at least, including the head of the League of Women Voters. These targeted hits, the voter roll purges, what they’re designed to do, again, it’s supposed to sound reasonable: “You gotta keep the voter rolls cleaned up.” So if people die, they shouldn’t be on the list; if people move out of state, they shouldn’t be on the list. We get that.

But what these states have done is to target people that they say haven’t voted regularly, although the National Voter Registration Act, the “Motor Voter Law” of 1993, specifically says you cannot remove people simply because they haven’t voted. You don’t lose your right to vote simply because you haven’t voted, but that’s what these states have done. And the US Supreme Court, last year in June, approved that, because this is the same Supreme Court that gave us the Shelby County v. Holder decision that gutted the Voting Rights Act.

So there are an array of policies, including poll closures—because we know the further you remove a polling place, for instance, from the Black community, voter turnout goes down, because it has to deal with distance and access to transportation. So if you make the polling place inaccessible—here in Georgia, for instance, they tried to move the polling place for the Black community in Sparta 17 miles away. That’s inaccessible. On a work day!

JJ: And all these things are, you say, “wrapped in the veneer of law.” So if you’re not paying attention, you can almost think it makes sense: “Oh, we’re not saying they can’t vote because they’re Black; we’re saying they don’t have the right form,” you know, “It’s not because they’re young, it’s because they can’t show residency,” you know, “It’s not that they have a disability, it’s that we can’t get a polling place in that particular….” It’s always just that one level of indirect, that they think they’re fooling you that it’s not targeted in some way.

CA: Exactly. And because it’s what I call this “bureaucratic violence,” we don’t see it, and so it doesn’t create the sense of urgency. But from 2014 to 2016, the Brennan Center identified that 16 million Americans were purged from the voter rolls. Sixteen million. That is silent civic death.

Guardian (11/13/19)

JJ: In your piece from last November in the Guardian, “The Five Ways Republicans Will Crack Down on Voting Rights in 2020,” you also list judges and the role of the courts, because they’ve got a role to play here, too, right?

CA: Oh, absolutely. One of the things that we’ve seen, for instance, is that the US Senate has been confirming these right-wing judges who cannot even get their mouths fixed to say that the Brown decision was appropriately decided. These are judges who do not believe in civil rights. These are judges who do not believe in voting rights. These are the judges who do not believe in environmental rights. These are the judges who do not believe in women’s rights.

And the Republicans in the Senate have been pushing these judges through, with no real vetting whatsoever. So several have gone through, more than ever before, that the American Bar Association has ruled as being unqualified.

And so we have unqualified federal judges with lifetime appointments on the bench. And so what happens then is, as these cases—civil society, the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, the ACLU, the NAACP, the League of Women Voters, they have been suing the states for these voter suppression laws and how discriminatory they are. But as these cases go up, they’re hitting these judges, these judges who do not believe in voting rights.

And that is why this election of 2020 is so crucial. Because if we have a federal judiciary just loaded down with those who do not believe in basic civil rights, do not believe in the rights guaranteed in the Constitution. Whew….

JJ: Yeah.

CA: Then we are going to be back to where we were after Reconstruction, when that Supreme Court basically gutted the 14th and 15th Amendments, and skewered the 13th Amendment, that has badges of servitude. And it took about 100 years and a civil rights movement to undo the damage coming out of Reconstruction with that Supreme Court. And that’s where we are headed again, unless we stop it.

JJ: Let’s talk a bit about resistance. As you note in the book, there is—well, first of all, there’s awareness. Not everyone is falling for this “protecting the integrity of the process” line. But also there’s resistance, and some states even pushing back and making it easier to vote, right; that’s happening, too?

CA: Oh, absolutely, absolutely. So the resistance, I mean, you’re getting incredible organizing in local communities. You’re seeing organizations, like I’ve mentioned before, as well as Fair Fight, in there mobilizing, organizing, suing.

And you do have states that have the leadership that actually believes in democracy. So they are doing same-day voter registration, they are doing automatic voter registration.  One of the things that they did in California, following Oregon’s lead, what California did was to say, “Yes, we’re going to do automatic voter registration, but we’re going to also pre-register 16- and 17-year-olds, so that when they turn 18, they are automatically registered to vote.” This broadening of the electorate, this sense that American citizens are engaged, invested in this nation, that is not a bad thing.

You have a number of states moving in one direction, and a number of states moving in the other. One of the things that we saw in 2018, for instance, were a series of ballot initiatives, citizen-led ballot initiatives. The one in Florida, for instance: Florida had permanent felony disfranchisement, for all intents and purposes.

So you had 1.7 million people in Florida who could not vote because they had a felony conviction. And this is after they have served their time, they have paid their debt to society, and they were suffering what is called civic death. And the citizens got together, and I think something like 65% voted for Amendment 4, that provided a pathway for the right to vote for 1.4 million of those returning citizens. That is amazing and incredible. And of course, the Republican legislature and Republican governor have worked really hard to undermine that citizens’ initiative.

In Michigan, you had a ballot initiative to have a nonpartisan redistricting commission to get rid of the extreme partisan gerrymandered districts, and to realize that extreme partisan gerrymandering—where you end up with these really weirdly drawn congressional districts that are designed to create additional power in one set of communities and diminish the power in another—and said, “No, this is about one person, one vote; this is about equal representation.”

And this is the thing that I think consistently gets missed: Americans will fight back.

JJ: That was Carol Anderson, speaking with CounterSpin in February of 2020. Her latest book is  One Person, No Vote: How Voter Suppression Is Destroying Our Democracy; it’s out now from Bloomsbury.

Washington Post (8/29/14)

 

Neil deMause on Reopening Coverage, Nicole Porter on Covid and Prisons

 

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North Paulding High School, Georgia

This week on CounterSpin: Two Georgia teens were reportedly suspended for posting a photo of their recently reopened high school—students pressed together in a hallway, few wearing masks—and apparently the principal gave kids a threatening talking-to about saying anything “negative” about the school…like that maybe it was endangering their lives and those of their families. Expect more of these kinds of conflicts, and silencing attempts, as places make choices about what to reopen, when. Our guest says more thoughtful attention to the “how” of re-opening is necessary, but for that, you’d need to listen to people who actually know—and care—rather than constantly handing the mic to Mr. “It Is What It Is.” We’ll get an update on coronavirus coverage from freelance journalist and author Neil deMause.

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Also on the show: There are people who think that once you’re in prison, you can be forgotten; you’ve been deemed a bad person, and whatever happens to you, you somehow deserve. For those people, the unsurprising sweep of Covid-19 through the incarcerated population is at most a footnote to the bigger story. But growing numbers of Americans are questioning the whole criminal justice system — who goes to prison and why, and what are the supposed reasons it’s better for society to have them there than back in the community. For those people, the pandemic is a chance to shine a light on decarceration—not just in a time of disease, but all the time. We’ll talk about that with Nicole Porter, director of advocacy at the Sentencing Project.

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Plus Janine Jackson takes a quick look at recent coverage of Trump’s TikTok threats.

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As Biden Mulls VP Pick, Pundits Vie for Most Substance-Free Forecast

 

As presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden’s search for a running mate drags on, press coverage hasn’t failed to disappoint.

Useful coverage would lay out each potential pick’s background and qualifications. While you certainly can find that if you look hard enough, many journalists seem quite content to avoid content. The Washington Post‘s Aaron Blake (7/24/20) offered a nice helping of unedifying rankings in his “12 Most Logical Picks for Joe Biden’s Vice President, Ranked.” At number one, Blake put Kamala Harris:

Kamala Harris is the “most logical pick,” writes the Washington Post‘s Aaron Blake (7/24/20). His logic? “Nobody makes more sense than the senator from California right now.”

Another list, another list with Harris at No. 1. While others have been jockeying to climb up, nobody makes more sense than the senator from California right now, which has been the case for a while. About the best argument against her is that her 2020 presidential campaign wasn’t exactly a resounding success. But for a campaign showing a wide lead, she’s clearly the safest pick. And safe might be what the doctor orders.

Why does “nobody make more sense” than Harris? Why is she the “safest pick”? Perhaps Blake assumes you remember his three-line explanation from June, when he similarly offered rankings—or perhaps he doesn’t care. (For the record, she’s been the “favorite from the start” because of her “high-ranking résumé,” her “experience on the national stage” and the fact that “she has shown she is a capable messenger.”)

Over at CNN (7/30/20), Chris Cillizza has really been milking the drawn-out process, putting out new rankings so often (he’s currently at 16) you’d think he was running a gambling ring.

Much of the problem is that since the top contenders have already been fairly well-established for the last few weeks, most outlets don’t have much new ground to break. So what’s left? Mainly, politicians and operatives on all sides trying to create positive coverage of their team and negative coverage of their opponents—and journalists that seem happy to go along.

California representative and new short-list candidate Karen Bass took multiple trips to Cuba 40 years ago, and in 2016 called Fidel Castro’s death “a great loss to the people of Cuba.” Her opponents gleefully pushed out this “Cuba baggage” (AP, 8/6/20) to drum up a story about how this makes her dead in the water (because Florida!), and journalists happily complied. No matter that Cuban Americans make up only 6.5% of the population of Florida, and Cuba is for vanishingly few of them their primary motivating issue when voting.

As the response to Bernie Sanders’ positive comments about Cuba’s literacy program demonstrated (FAIR.org, 3/6/20), US political orthodoxy does not permit even hints at acknowledgment that longtime Official Enemies like Cuba might not be evil.  Bass’s supposed Communist sympathies were the subject of widespread coverage—and not only in outlets like Fox News—under headlines like “I’m Not a Communist” (NBCNews.com, 8/3/20) and “Karen Bass Eulogized Communist Party USA Leader” (Politico, 8/4/20); the Atlantic (7/31/20) saw fit to devote nearly 3,000 words to an investigation of Bass’s relationship with Cuba.

Sometimes it happens even as journalists appear to be at least somewhat aware of what’s going on. In a Washington Post piece headlined, “Biden’s Delay in Choosing a Running Mate Intensifies Jockeying Between Potential Picks,” Annie Linskey (8/2/20) describes how “Biden allies” worry that the process is “pitting women, especially Black women, against one another.”

The piece refers to “nastiness,” “backbiting” and “currents…many of them sexist, that have been swirling for weeks,” seeming to attribute these largely to “allies of the women”—but it’s not always entirely clear who is being blamed. It’s certainly not the media, though, which appears merely as the vehicle for the nastiness. (Such as: “One donor implied to CNBC that Harris has too much ‘ambition.’ And former Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell, a longtime Biden friend, told CNN that Harris can ‘rub people the wrong way.’”)

At the same time, Linskey offered her own piece as a vehicle for some sexism. Quoting Rendell on the “buzz” around Susan Rice, Linskey ate up without comment a tired trope used repeatedly in the past on women:

Her demeanor on television fueled the speculation, he said. “She was smiling on TV, something that she doesn’t do all that readily,” Rendell said. “She was actually somewhat charming on TV, something that she has not seemed to care about in the past.”

The “Year of the Woman” has come and gone, and come and gone again (Extra!, 9/92, 4/13), and yet we keep talking—in 2020—about how female politicians need to smile more (FAIR.org, 6/14/99; Intercept, 9/26/16). Biden may be breaking the mold by only considering female running mates, but the media sure aren’t straying from tradition.

 

As Bolivian Regime Delays Elections a Third Time, Media Continue to Ignore Coup

 

Reports like the Washington Post‘s (11/10/19) failed to convey the reality that Bolivian President Evo Morales was forced out by the military.

In the Bolivian elections last October 20, incumbent President Evo Morales of the Movement Toward Socialism party (MAS in Spanish) won a 10-point victory over his nearest challenger, as pre-election polls predicted. The next day,  the Organization of American States issued a statement challenging the legitimacy of the elections, asserting a “hard-to-explain change in the trend of the preliminary results.” Immediately, right wingers violently took to the streets to protest the president. The OAS issued a followup statement confirming their analysis on November 10. The same day, the military forced Morales to step down.

Senator Jeanine Añez declared herself president with the support of high-ranking members of the Bolivian military, as well as the US State Department—despite the fact that her conservative party earned a mere 4% of the vote during the elections.

This military coup was immediately decried by observers who have seen this familiar pattern of toppling governments. Mark Weisbrot, director of the Center for Economic & Policy Research, debunked the OAS statement, noting that it provided “absolutely no evidence — no statistics, numbers, or facts of any kind,” to support its conclusions. The CEPR objections were largely ignored by corporate media (FAIR.org, 11/18/19).

Immediately after Añez took power, security forces unleashed deadly violence against those who resisted. Añez began to sell off public resources and take loans from international creditors.

When a country’s military forces the ouster of a sitting president, that is a military coup. Referring to it simply as a “resignation”—as in the Washington Post’s “Bolivia’s Morales Resigns Amid Scathing Election Report, Rising Protests” (11/10/19)—fails to capture the nature of the overthrow. Describing Morales’ ouster as merely happening “amid widespread unrest” is a way of telling readers: “This sort of thing happens all the time in this part of the world. No need to look into it.”

US media ignored dissenters from the OAS throughout this period, and endorsed the coup, as FAIR (3/5/20) has previously reported. Even when dissenting views were brought up, there was little discussion of the implication: that the US had supported yet another unlawful coup.

Both the New York Times (6/7/20) and Washington Post (2/27/20) have now run articles casting doubt on the OAS’s accusations of vote fraud.

Four months after the coup was a done deal, with Morales and others forced from the country, the Washington Post published a research piece (2/27/20) that found that “the OAS’s statistical analysis and conclusions would appear deeply flawed.” The piece opened by explicitly describing the November 10 ouster of Morales as a “military-backed coup.” There was still no mention of the US role.

Añez came into power as an “interim” president, with a mandate to hold elections as soon as possible. The government instead delayed elections in March, then again in May, both times citing concerns about coronavirus. Notably, polls show that the MAS candidate, Luis Arce, has been leading in the polls for some time and would win fair elections.

Even the New York Times (3/30/20)  acknowledged that this delay was a way of consolidating power, publishing a piece headlined, “For Autocrats, and Others, Coronavirus Is a Chance to Grab Even More Power” that included the (first) delay of Bolivia’s “much anticipated” elections. It’s unclear whether Añez is meant to be considered an “autocrat” or one of the “others”; the piece only mentions that “a disputed election last year set off violent protests and forced President Evo Morales to resign.”

The New York Times (6/7/20) has since reported its own analysis of the Bolivian election results, concluding that “the Organization of American States’ statistical analysis was itself flawed.” The irregularities the OAS found were “an artifact of the analysts’ error,” the academic paper cited by the Times found.

FAIR (7/8/20) has previously reported on the Times’ belated admission. Glenn Greenwald,  writing for the Intercept (7/8/20), put a fine point on the subject in a piece headlined “The New York Times Admits Key Falsehoods That Drove Last Year’s Coup in Bolivia: Falsehoods Peddled by the US, Its Media and the Times.”

Yet after both of the nation’s leading papers admitted that the reason for declaring the October election a fraud was itself a fraud, few have asked the critical questions about why the OAS and the United States were so quick to have Morales removed from office. In fact, few media outlets altered their coverage of Bolivia at all.

Reuters (7/9/20) described how “a disputed election led to widespread protests that eventually toppled…Evo Morales,” with a later piece (7/15/20) reporting that Añez “took power in a political vacuum.” A CNN segment (7/17/20) on the COVID crisis in Bolivia described how “widespread unrest last year led to the resignation of longtime leader Evo Morales.” None of these gave any hint that the complaints about the election had been debunked, and that the shift in power amounted to a coup.

Last week, the Bolivian government announced that elections would be delayed for a third time. Critics again claim that the crisis is being used to further consolidate power. Former President Morales, who is currently living in exile in Argentina, said that “the de facto government wants to gain more time to continue the persecution of social leaders and against MAS candidates. It’s yet another form of persecution.” One of the coup leaders, far-right leader Fernando Comacho, is calling for elections to be canceled altogether.

AP‘s headline (7/23/20) takes the coup government’s rationale for delaying elections at face value.

In Western reporting on the latest election delay, outlets consistently failed to place it in the context of the coup. It is as if the Times and Post’s admissions never happened.

A Reuters piece  (7/23/20)  headlined “Bolivia Election Delayed to October as Pandemic Bites, Opposition Cries Foul,” described how the current government came to power: “A fraught election last year sparked widespread protests and led to the resignation of the country’s long-term leftist leader.” They kept to the official narrative of a “fraught election,” rather than the reality of a right-wing usurpation, given cover by false OAS proclamations. There was no indication that the delay could be a form of power consolidation.

The Associated Press (republished by Washington Post, 7/23/20) not only ignored the context of the coup, it also whitewashed the opposition’s criticism of the delay. Morales was cited as objecting to the delay on procedural grounds, and worrying about the “country’s crisis of legitimacy.” No direct quotes from the former president were used.

US media have a well-documented history of supporting right-wing coups and regimes around the world, and not much seems to be changing. It is abundantly clear that Morales was unlawfully overthrown by his country’s military on false pretexts. The United States supported and continues to support this coup. That media narratives remain unchanged even after the release and acknowledgment of new evidence indicates that it is official dogma, and not reality, that sets the tone of journalistic coverage.

Trump’s Tantrum Against TikTok Is No Laughing Matter

 

The BBC (8/4/20) reported that Trump’s suggestion was “almost Mafia-like behavior.”

President Donald Trump has made it clear he would like to ban the video-making app TikTok. Despite being mostly used by younger users to make music or comedic videos, the White House says it is worried about the platform, as the New York Times (8/1/20) explained, “because of the app’s Chinese ownership”: TikTok is owned by the Beijing-based firm ByteDance. The administration has often vilified China as a rival that intends to undermine the United States through underhanded means.

In true Trump fashion, he changed course, declaring he would be satisfied if the company were acquired by Microsoft  (New York Times, 8/3/20)—though he added that he expected the US Treasury to get a cut of the profits, since it was his threat that made the sale possible (BBC, 8/4/20).

The focus on TikTok has caught many by surprise: Why would the US government care so much about such a seemingly innocuous app? The reasons for Trump’s rage are at once comical and frightening. On the one hand, Trump has found what might appear to be a random media issue to deflect from his various problems (plummeting poll numbers, rising Covid cases, slumping economy), a phenomenon that lends itself to ribbing from satirists and talkshow hosts. But the deeper problem is that he is leveraging his executive position to fight and try to take control of a media group with the excuse of its being foreign, which is both a threat to free speech and free press, and adds to his administration’s pugnacious Sinophobia.

And the reason he has fixated on TikTok, it seems clear, is because of its reported use by young online activists to organize spurious reservations to his Tulsa rally—contributing to his humiliation when the sparse attendance failed to match his boastful expectations. Trump’s use of the power of the federal government to punish media outlets he perceives as having crossed him is part of a disturbing pattern of contempt for the First Amendment’s protection of the press (FAIR.org, 8/1/20).

Bloomberg (7/14/20) notes that “security researchers say TikTok’s information-collection practices are consistent with Facebook Inc., Google and other US tech companies looking to tailor ads and services to their users.”

Corporate media have helped bang the drum against TikTok, too. The Independent (12/3/19) reported on claims that the app was loaded with Chinese spyware. Bored Panda (6/25/20) reported on claims that TikTok, while not technically malware, was certainly a “nefarious” app that was “outright evil.” Showing bipartisan anger towards the app’s Chinese origins, the Hill (8/2/20) posted on Twitter a video of Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer opposing TikTok’s presence in the United States. Bloomberg (7/14/20) sounded the alarm that the app’s data harvesting was a concern of “national security.”

To accuse a free app of engaging in data mining, however, is a bit like running a headline that water is wet. Facebook, Twitter and other networks are free to use, but their owners have grown enormously rich, not through user fees, but through the cultivation of data that users make public, which is incredibly valuable for modern-day internet marketing.

In fact, the book Digital Labor makes the case that social media users engage in a form of “playbor” (play and labor), whereby the recreational activity of using these apps creates material (data and information) that are used for profit, making the user a kind of unpaid laborer creating value. As the Washington Post (7/14/20) explained, TikTok isn’t that different from Facebook in this regard.

What catches the eye of the administration—and some in the media—is the fact that TikTok is Chinese. And this makes it inherently suspicious, as the US government news service Radio Free Asia indicated when it tweeted a cartoon suggesting that the Chinese government was using the video chat service Zoom to spy on people (FAIR.org, 4/17/20). So the narrative becomes clear: When US-based corporations use apps to gather data on people, it’s just regular business, but—as indicated by Trump’s suggestion that Microsoft buying the app would solve the problem—when a Chinese-owned company does it, it’s economic and political warfare.

New York Times (6/21/20): “TikTok users and fans of Korean pop music groups claimed to have registered potentially hundreds of thousands of tickets for Mr. Trump’s campaign rally as a prank.”

So when the New York Times (6/21/20) reported that TikTok users organized through the app to reserve tickets for Trump’s much-hyped Tulsa rally, thus helping to thin out the crowd, it gave Trump license to claim he was fighting against foreign intrusion, when he was actually just upset about his embarrassing campaign rally.

Trump’s rage toward TikTok is symptomatic of a president losing his grip on power. Deploying federal troops to suppress Black Lives Matter protests, floating the idea of delaying the election and attacking the US Postal Service (which would be vital in an election during a pandemic) are all textbook cases of a wannabe authoritarian who feels the walls closing in. He especially aims his anger at media, which both deflects from his problems and allows him to paint media coverage of those problems as simply an extension of his political opposition.

The move against TikTok, which is mostly used for entertainment purposes, could be replicated against more fact-based media the administration can’t abide. For example, the South China Morning Post is owned by the Hangzhou-based Alibaba Group ; could a few anti-Trump editorials make the venerated paper a “national security threat”? This isn’t so unthinkable, as the New York Times (2/18/20) reported that the US State Department announced that China’s “five foremost news agencies — Xinhua, CGTN, China Radio, China Daily and the People’s Daily — will officially be treated as foreign government functionaries.” The move came, the paper reported,

at a time when the administration has moved aggressively on multiple fronts to fight what officials describe as extensive Chinese influence and intelligence operations in the United States.

Whatever one thinks of these news organizations, progressives and conservatives alike should agree that the US government, in the interest of free speech and free press, shouldn’t restrict the ability of foreign news organizations to report the news or restrict what information Americans can consume.

A TikTok ban would be another instalment of the kind of anti-Chinese scapegoating Trump has made a part of his rhetoric—China is to blame for our economic woes, and it’s the cause of the pandemic, he has declared to his base, without evidence. He has even attacked Chinese-American CBS journalist Weijia Jiang, insinuating that her loyalties rest with Beijing (CNN, 5/12/20). This debasement of reality has fueled anti-Asian racism. As CBS (7/2/20) reported, there have been more than 2,000 reported incidents of hate crimes against Asian Americans during the pandemic.

There’s another thread here. As FAIR contributor Alan MacLeod noted on Twitter (8/3/20), Microsoft’s share prices soared after Trump changed direction, indicating that Trump’s threats were part of a government-sponsored hostile takeover of a foreign business. Leaving aside any economic debate about such protectionism, the idea that he could use this model against other forms of media is no joking matter.

That Trump is lashing out at some youngsters making music videos is indeed the kind of absurdity his administration has employed that makes satire almost impossible, but the free speech and anti-Asian repercussions of this move are real and dangerous. That some in the media and the Democratic Party have helped Trump in this regard only solidifies this fear.

Featured image: Screengrab from Bloomberg video segment (7/14/20) on “Why TikTok Is Target of So Much US Scrutiny.”

 

‘Media Took These Statements From the OAS and Ran With Them’ - CounterSpin interview with Alex Main on Bolivian coup

The July 31, 2020, episode of CounterSpin reaired a segment featuring CEPR’s Alex Main on the Bolivian coup, which originally ran November 15, 2019. This is a lightly edited excerpt.

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Twitter (7/25/20)

Janine Jackson: Listeners may have heard that rich person Elon Musk, challenged online the role his corporate need for lithium may have played in the US-backed coup in lithium-rich Bolivia, responded, “We will coup whoever we want. Deal with it.”

Funny thing, though: When President Evo Morales was forced out under military pressure last fall, US news media were insistent that it was not a coup at all, just the abrupt departure of a leader they never liked. Morales’s unconstitutional push out led to protests, violently repressed, from his indigienous and social movement bases.

But US media were busy welcoming and legitimating self-declared president Jeanine Áñez, who has tweeted that she “dreams of a Bolivia free of satanic indiginous rights.”

CounterSpin spoke last November with Alex Main, director of international policy at the Center for Economic and Policy Research. I began by asking him to address US media’s depiction of Evo Morales as deeply unpopular in Bolivia.

***

Americas Society/Council on the Americas (10/18/19)

Alex Main: The polls in the country gave a pretty good idea of his popularity. And, in fact, what’s interesting in terms of the media coverage is that you saw a real shift, where some of the initial coverage—you can look at the Washington Post, for instance, just before the elections took place—were pretty much announcing that this is a done deal, that Evo Morales is most likely going to win these elections, quite possibly in the first round of the elections that took place on October 20.

And, of course, there’s a good explanation for that: The economy of Bolivia is doing really well, particularly compared to other economies of Latin America. And Evo Morales’ policies over the 13 years that he’s been president have been very successful in reducing poverty, in reducing inequality, in improving infrastructure throughout the country.

Now, of course, there is a strong opposition. But that opposition, in the last few elections, has failed to overturn him, get him out of the presidency, or really manage to have a significant opposition even within the congress of the country. So the polls that came out give us a good sense of where Evo Morales stands in terms of public opinion. But then the media narrative shifted quite dramatically in the following days.

JJ: Yeah, and now the line, strange as it is, seems to be that, “Well, it wasn’t a coup, but even if it was, that’s OK, because there were serious irregularities in the election,” as if that would somehow justify a coup.

But I wonder if you can talk us through what people are reading were the groundings for this widespread protest and for the military intervention, which is that somehow Morales or his people fiddled with this most recent election. What can you tell us, including from CEPR’s work, we should know about that?

Alex Main: “The Organization of American States and much of the major media misled public opinion as to what was happening with these elections.”

AM: I think what you need to know is that there are two groups that didn’t do their job around this, in terms of really informing public opinion.

The first group was the Organization of American States, that was down in Bolivia observing these elections, and that produced a communiqué, the day after the elections, in which they said that there had been a “drastic change in the trend” in the electronic vote count, the quick count that was taking place, and that it was unexplainable that there had been such a drastic shift in the trend.

This particular statement was very easy to debunk. You didn’t really need a think tank like ours to do that; I think anyone who really looked at the election results carefully could do it. You could see that there wasn’t a drastic shift in the results, and that also the shifts that you saw towards the end of the election, which the OAS was referring to—and there was a progressive shift in favor of Evo Morales that widened his margin—he had originally had, I think, 83% of the quick vote count, about 7 points ahead of the closest contender, Carlos Mesa, and gradually, with the remaining votes that came in, the margin increased to over 10 points, which was what was needed for Evo Morales to win in the first round.

And that was entirely explainable. In fact, it’s what we saw in previous elections; it’s pure geography: The areas of the country that reported the results last were the areas of the country that happened to be poorer, more remote, and much, much more favorable, traditionally, to Evo Morales. So it was quite normal that the margin shifted in his favor. So this was a really misleading statement, that had absolutely no basis, that came from the OAS.

Alex Main: “”Media…took these statements from the OAS at face value, and ran with them, didn’t even try to form any kind of assessment of their own.”

And then that had a huge influence on the second group that I would say misled public opinion, and that’s, of course, the media, the mainstream media, that took these statements from the OAS at face value, and ran with them, didn’t even try to form any kind of assessment of their own as to the value of these statements, and did two things: one, gave these statements complete credit. We and other folks, independent statisticians, were pointing out that these statements made no sense; they didn’t take that into consideration at all. The OAS is the voice of authority and they left it at that.

Secondly, the media decided that references to what was the electronic vote count, quick vote count—which was not the official vote count of the election—was the same thing as the official vote count. So there was this sort of confusion (I think some of the media was genuinely confused); they focused on the fact that there had been an “interruption” in the reporting of the quick vote count, which, by the way, was something that had been anticipated to begin with. They pointed to that and said, “OK, well, then that means that the integrity of the vote count is in question,” when, of course, the official vote count that had been occurring—and that’s a much more lengthy and meticulous count, and took place over four days—was never interrupted. And there was never anything from the Organization of American States or anybody else that suggested that there was really a problem with that vote count process.

So again, the Organization of American States and much of the major media misled public opinion as to what was happening with these elections, and created this belief that there had been severe irregularities in the vote count. And that, gradually, in terms of the media coverage, became something portrayed as fraud and stolen elections, even though there’s no evidence pointing to that at all.

JJ: Well, but if you tell people who are unhappy with an election outcome, “Well, that was due to fraud,” you’re bound to get a response, particularly if you are a powerful entity like the United States, like the OAS, saying, “Yeah, you shouldn’t accept that result.”

So now we get protests in Bolivia. And how would you describe those initial protests, and take us through the timeline in between the start of those protests and Morales’ “resignation”?

AM: What happened with these protests is that they were by and large in urban areas, they were largely middle-class protests. They definitely grew after October 21, and, I would say, after the misleading statements from the Organization of American States came out. This legitimized discourse from the opposition, which was that these elections were fraudulent, and that really galvanized the protest movement, and it turned violent. Some of that violence was oriented towards the voting centers, and the voting authority, and there were voting centers that ended up damaged, ransacked. Voting material, including ballots, were destroyed, which, of course, made it more difficult to audit the elections afterwards.

And there was also violence directed at supporters and leaders of the Movement Toward Socialism or MAS, Evo Morales’ political party, and towards Indigenous people writ large. So there was also a racist element to these protests.

They grew more and more out of hand, and then you had police mutinies that were staged, I would say, Thursday, Friday, Saturday of last week, in which the police forces in some of the biggest cities in Bolivia, including Cochabamba and La Paz, declared themselves in mutiny, and refused to intervene against any of the violent protests that were taking place. Of course, this opened the door to more chaos. And then what really sealed the deal was the fact that the military then came out, the high command of the military, said that they would not intervene against the police. So at that point, you had a complete breakdown, I would say, in law enforcement in the country, and particularly in terms of dealing with the more violent elements of these protests.

New York Times (10/11/19)

And, finally, you had the high command of the military that called on Evo Morales to resign. Of course, that’s when we really could see that a coup was taking place. And shortly afterwards, Evo Morales and the vice president of the country, Álvaro García Linera, announced that they were resigning. In their announcement, they also made very clear that a coup was occurring. Afterwards, they went into hiding, and the next day managed to get on a plane, with some difficulty, but managed to get on a plane to Mexico, where they were offered asylum, and where they are now located, whereas some of the other leadership from the MAS party was holed up in the Mexican embassy and also offered asylum.

So very much a military coup, reminiscent in some ways of the coup in Honduras in June of 2009, a military coup where the president was taken out of the country, the democratically elected President Manuel Zelaya. And, similar to back then, even though everyone, I think, at this point is clear that there was a coup in Honduras in June of 2009, back then you also had this sort of debate in the media as to whether or not it was a coup.

And I think in part it had to do with the ambivalent position of, at that time, the Obama administration. And now we’re seeing, of course, from the Trump administration, a position that’s not even ambivalent, that’s fully supportive of the coup that’s occurred. Of course, they’re not calling it a coup. And I think that sets the frame for a lot of the media coverage, which is also failing to call it a coup, and in some cases, such as the New York Times, in an editorial that was published just three days ago, celebrating what has happened in Bolivia as a step forward for democracy.

***

JJ: That was Alex Main from the Center for Economic and Policy Research, speaking with CounterSpin in November 2019.

 

Melbourne’s ‘State of Disaster’ Is Covid as Usual in the US

 

“The draconian new rules were spurred by more bleak Covid-19 figures,” CNN (8/3/20) reported—numbers that would be the envy of many US states.

The Australian state of Victoria declared a “state of disaster” over Covid-19 on Sunday, August 2, sending the nation’s second-most-populous region, which includes the city of Melbourne, back into a strict lockdown. Nonessential businesses will be closed for the next six weeks, the government has imposed a nightly 8 pm curfew, and during daylight hours, trips outside the house are strictly limited: In metropolitan Melbourne, only one person per household will be allowed to leave their homes at any time to pick up essential goods, and no one can travel more than five kilometers from their home. “Where you slept last night is where you’ll need to stay for the next six weeks,” declared Victoria premier Daniel Andrews (CNN, 8/2/20).

These extreme measures — reminiscent of lockdowns put in place in the spring in Italy and Spain as those nations battled virus surges — were necessary to stem a massive outbreak in and around Australia’s second-largest city, reported US and international news outlets. “Australia’s Melbourne Clamps Down in Frantic Race to Curb Virus,” declared the New York Times headline on a Reuters wire story (8/3/20) discussing how “the surge in community transmissions in Victoria raised fears that the infection rate could blow out of control”; the renewed lockdown after a two-month-plus stretch of low infection rates in Australia “underscores how quickly early success in containing the virus can unravel,” noted CNN (8/3/20). The Wall Street Journal (8/3/20) reported that infections had soared since mid-June following

failures to adhere to infection-control procedures at hotels in Melbourne housing travelers returning from overseas spawned infection clusters in schools, public-housing towers and aged-care homes, and spread to other Australian states.

All of this is true, but it also elides one important piece of information: If Victoria were a US state, its infection rate would be one of the lowest in the nation.

The Wall Street Journal (8/3/20) reports that “the Melbourne outbreak has shown how difficult it can be to keep the virus at bay”—though it could also be said to illustrate what a serious attempt to keep the virus at bay looks like.

The “bleak Covid-19 figures” in Victoria, as CNN (8/2/20) reported, peaked this past weekend at 671 new infections in one day. That’s indeed a huge rise in infections, up from 77 a day a month earlier (New York Times, 7/2/20), a figure that itself was seen as an alarming uptick at the time. In a state of 6.6 million people, the latest peak represents an infection rate of 102 people per day per million residents, according to Johns Hopkins tracking data, more than five times Australia’s overall national rate.

Victoria’s disaster, though, pales in comparison to typical infection rates across the United States. As of Monday, 34 out of 50 states — Florida, Mississippi, Louisiana, Alabama, Nevada, Georgia, Tennessee, Arizona, Idaho, South Carolina, Texas, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Missouri, California, North Carolina, Maryland, Nebraska, Iowa, North Dakota, Wisconsin, Alaska, Utah, New Mexico, Kentucky, Kansas, Minnesota, Virginia, Illinois, Indiana, Montana, Ohio, Rhode Island and Washington — had higher daily per capita infection rates (calculated as one-week rolling averages) than the Australian hot spot.

At the top of the table, Florida’s infection rate stood at 421 new cases per day per million residents, even as observers expressed concerns that case rates could be undercounted, thanks to new self-testing centers that could result in numerous false negatives. And far from imposing lockdowns, most of these states have kept reopening plans in place; in all of Florida except for Miami-Dade County, restaurants even remain open for indoor dining, though taking off masks to eat and talk in a confined indoor space is a perfect breeding ground for Covid infection (Wall Street Journal, 7/3/20).

The highlighted US states have higher daily rates of Covid-19 transmission than the numbers that sent Australia’s Victoria into near-total lockdown. (chart: 91-DIVOC)

While this might be the most important lesson for US readers — a major Australian city is under near-total lockdown for infection rates that in the US can’t even get elected officials to require mask-wearing—virtually none of the media coverage made this comparison. Among the few exceptions: Forbes contributor Bruce Y. Lee (8/2/20) noted that even as cases have surged across multiple US states, Victoria’s lockdown “seems much more aggressive than the measures currently being implemented in most of the US,” while Mother Jones (8/2/20) reported on Donald Trump’s tweet that “virus breakouts” were happening even in “nations which were thought to have done a great job” by noting that “in Australia, just 1 in 1,445 people have contracted the coronavirus, according to the New York Times. In the US, it’s 1 in 71.”

One of the disappointing hallmarks of US media coverage of the pandemic has been the way it’s treated the course of the virus overseas as dispatches from another planet, with little relevance for how our own national and state leaders should be fighting to prevent outbreaks (FAIR.org, 4/8/20). American exceptionalism is a common media tic (FAIR.org, 5/16/16, 2/9/17, 6/13/18), of course,  but it’s especially short-sighted at a time when we need to learn what works and what doesn’t by looking everywhere — even at nations that normally get relegated to wire-service reports unless they’re literally on fire.

Media’s ‘Cancel Culture’ Debate Obscures Direct Threats to First Amendment

 

The Harper’s letter (7/7/20) decried “a new set of moral attitudes and political commitments that tend to weaken our norms of open debate and toleration of differences in favor of ideological conformity.”

A short and rather vaguely worded open letter published in Harper’s Magazine (7/7/20) earlier this month caused an unlikely media storm that continues to rumble on. Glossing over right-wing threats to the First Amendment, the letter, signed by 150 writers, journalists and other public figures, decried a new intolerance to dissent and a threat to freedom of speech coming from the left.

The vagueness of the letter was both its genius and its shortcoming, allowing people of all political persuasions to put their names to it, but also for others to read into it virtually anything they wanted. As the Los Angeles Times (7/9/20) described it, the letter became a “Rorschach test of subtext.”

Far Greater Threats

The letter generated an explosion of takes and counter-takes, hailed as everything from a “welcome and long overdue” triumph (Washington Times, 7/13/20) to a “collective wallowing in self-pity” (In These Times, 7/7/20), leading to a debate about open debate and a great deal of speech complaining about speech.

However, much of the public discussion of the Harper’s letter misses the fact that it is the powerful, not the masses, who inordinately have the ability to “cancel” individuals for their actions, and that it is the left and those challenging power who consistently suffer the brunt of the consequences.

Chief among the threats to the First Amendment is the president himself. The Trump administration is currently suing a small news station in northern Wisconsin for running a political ad it (and countless others) aired but did not produce. They are not suing the well-funded Democratic Super PAC who paid for it, but instead are going after the messenger. While legal experts suggest that they have no case, Wisconsin has no laws against frivolous lawsuits, meaning the station will likely be bankrupted defending itself, something that appears to be exactly the point of the exercise: intimidating other media outlets into silence.

The makers of a documentary on ICE say they were “warned that the federal government would use its ‘full weight’ to veto scenes it found objectionable” (New York Times, 7/23/20).

The federal government is using the same tactic, using its full weight trying to suppress a Netflix documentary about ICE. The New York Times (7/23/20) reports that the government demanded the removal of scenes that showed the department terrorizing communities and breaking the law during arrests. Notably, the government is deliberately targeting the film’s small production company, not the giant streaming service, which has the resources to fight back. (“Several times, the filmmakers said, the official pointed out that it was their ‘little production company,’ not the film’s $125 billion distributor, that would face consequences,” the Times reported.)

Yet these direct attacks on the First Amendment received scant coverage in comparison to the Harper’s letter, or Times columnist Bari Weiss’ resignation from her newspaper, citing a stifling liberal atmosphere. Weiss’ leavetaking has been the subject of four CNN articles and over a dozen on Fox News, whereas the attempt to suppress the ICE documentary has not been covered by Fox, and has  been the subject of only one CNN piece (7/29/20)—a TV review that mentions the attempted suppression.

The Trump administration has also contravened the First Amendment in attempting to ban the release of material critical of the president. The Department of Justice is currently suing Trump’s  former National Security Advisor John Bolton for the publication of his memoir, The Room Where It Happened, claiming that Bolton’s embarrassing anecdotes represent a national security violation. “He must pay a very big price for this, as others have before him. This should never happen again!!!” Trump tweeted (6/20/20). Bolton faces possible criminal charges, as well as having any profits seized.

Similarly, the Trump family, represented by Donald’s brother Robert, used the courts to try to block the publication of Mary Trump’s book, Too Much and Never Enough, wherein the president’s psychologist niece diagnoses him as a narcissist with possible antisocial personality disorder.

The ‘Enemy of the People’

Perhaps most worryingly, a significant portion of the public is strongly supportive of Trump’s destruction of the First Amendment. A plurality of Republicans (43%) believe he should close news outlets engaged in “bad behavior,” and 13% of Americans (including a quarter of Republicans) think he should immediately close the Washington Post, New York Times and CNN.

The media, who President Trump infamously labeled the “enemy of the people,” have been subject to a generalized nationwide government assault in recent weeks.  According to the US Press Freedom Tracker, there have been at least 585 incidents, including at least 84 journalists arrested, 137 shot by police or National Guard, 80 tear-gassed and 36 pepper-sprayed while covering the George Floyd protests. Some, like photojournalist Linda Tirado, have been left permanently disfigured from police attacks. The onslaught against the press is so bad that the United Nations has gotten involved, its human rights office condemning the arbitrary arrests, and the disproportionate and discriminatory use of force.

If you get fired for saying something like this (Twitter, 7/23/20), opponents of “cancel culture” won’t come to your defense.

But when 9News Denver meteorologist Marty Coniglio also condemned the state’s repression, he faced immediate consequences. After tweeting, “Federal police in cities…now where have I seen that before?” accompanying it with a picture of Nazi troops, he was promptly fired. James Bennet’s resignation from the New York Times for soliciting and printing an op-ed (that he admits he hadn’t read before publishing) calling on the military to crush the protest movement drew worldwide condemnation (even being obliquely mentioned by the Harper’s signatories as their primary piece of proof of an intolerant left). But Coniglio’s case, where he challenged power, not indulged it, has barely been reported outside of Colorado.

Coniglio’s case is indicative of the fact that the primary victims of “cancellation” tend to be the left and those challenging power. Earlier this year, David Wright, a longtime political journalist for ABC News, was suspended and permanently pulled from political reporting after he was secretly filmed, in private, criticizing his network and admitting that he is a socialist who likes Bernie Sanders (a popular position among Americans, but not among journalists at corporate outlets—FAIR.org, 3/8/16, 2/8/19, 7/26/19).

Those displaying insufficient enthusiasm for state violence from the US or its allies can also suffer immediate consequences. In February, journalist Abby Martin was barred from speaking at Georgia Southern University after refusing to swear an oath of allegiance to the state of Israel (something 28 states already make anyone receiving public money do). CNN fired its contributor Marc Lamont Hill in 2018 for criticizing Israel, and for calling for a free Palestine “from the river to the sea.” Going further back, Chris Hedges was forced out of the New York Times for his opposition to the Iraq invasion, a fate that also befell MSNBC’s Phil Donahue and Jesse Ventura.

Thomas Chatterton Williams, the organizer of the Harper’s letter, specifically warned that “Donald Trump is the Canceler in Chief,” and that his letter only addresses a small part of the threat to a pluralistic public discourse. Unfortunately, most of the debate in elite circles has ignored these far greater dangers in favor of focusing on overzealous Twitter users—perhaps because privileged journalists in corporate media have come to accept objections to their reporting from the powerful as inevitable, if not legitimate, whereas popular challenges to their reporting make them bristle with indignation. While the dangers of leftist “cancel culture” can be debated, there’s no denying the dangers of the government’s assault on the core American value of free speech.

Featured image: A scene from the Netflix documentary Immigration Nation.

 

Alex Main on Bolivia Coup, Carol Anderson on Voter Suppression

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Jeanine Anez receiving Bolivian presidential sash from the military (photo: EFE).

This week on CounterSpin:  US corporate media were in vocal support of last year’s coup against Bolivia’s Evo Morales. But they’re rather quiet now that Jeanine Añez—who, in a legislative session without a quorum, due to the fact that many lawmakers were in hiding, jumped the line of succession and declared herself president—is putting off holding elections, again; and has said she is running, despite previous promises to the contrary.  US media were frictionless transmitters for assertions of fraud in Morales’ re-election coming from the Organization of American States, assertions that, some now quietly acknowledge, were groundless. But as Camila Escalante wrote recently for FAIR.org (7/8/20), the fact that the supposed basis for the bloody authoritarian coup against Bolivia’s first indigenous leader was itself meritless hasn’t led US media to reexamine their own role in promoting the charges or the coup itself. To the extent the story’s being told, it’s being told too late. But CounterSpin listeners learned in real time; in November 2019, we heard from Alex Main of the Center for Economic and Policy Research. We’ll hear some of that conversation this week.

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(cc photo: James Willamor)

Also: The 2020 election had enough problems before the coronavirus and the White House disinformation campaign around voting by mail, and Trump’s latest brazen attempt at derailment and distraction—as we record, that would be his suggestion to postpone the election, but by the time you hear the show, who knows?  We talked about those pre-existing challenges and their historic roots back in February with Carol Anderson, professor of African-American Studies at Emory University, and author of, among other books, One Person, No Vote: How Voter Suppression Is Destroying Our Democracy.  We’ll hear part of that conversation as well.

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‘Trump’s Troops Are Breaking the Law and Creating Chaos’ - CounterSpin interview with Marjorie Cohn on Portland secret police

 

Janine Jackson interviewed legal scholar Marjorie Cohn about secret police in Portland for the July 24, 2020, episode of CounterSpin. This is a lightly edited transcript.

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(Image: Matcha Chai via Sparrow Project, 7/15/20)

Janine Jackson: As we record this show on July 23, demonstrations in Portland, Oregon show no signs of slowing. Protesters demanding an end to racist policing, in the wake of—and even before—George Floyd’s murder had been met with what local activists describe as typical aggression from Portland’s police department: The indiscriminate firing of tear gas and other munitions into peaceful crowds. Flash-bang grenades. Beatings with batons.

But then came the footage: A man, dressed in black, stands apparently alone on a darkened sidewalk, when two heavily armed men in camouflage walk up on him, hustle him off into an unmarked van and drive off, refusing to identify themselves to observers.

We’ve since learned this is part of an orchestrated effort by the Trump administration to deploy federal law enforcement agents to deal, SWAT-style, with what they call “violent anarchists.” What’s more, they plan to replay those nightmarish scenes from Portland wherever they see fit. As Acting Homeland Security Chief Chad Wolf says, “I don’t need invitations.” Wolf also subsequently described federal agents as arresting demonstrators “proactively.”

Alarm seems appropriate. Here to help us think about what we’re seeing is author and legal scholar Marjorie Cohn. She’s professor emerita at Thomas Jefferson School of Law and a former president of the National Lawyers Guild. She joins us now by phone from San Diego. Welcome back to CounterSpin, Marjorie Cohn.

Marjorie Cohn: Thanks for having me, Janine.

JJ: These street pick-ups, when you first see it, you think it’s a movie. As I understand it, the line is that these federal agents see someone—not necessarily anyone they’ve seen commit a crime—they say they want to talk to that person, have a consensual conversation with them. And then they, the agents, fear for their own safety, so they decide they want to have that conversation elsewhere, like the courthouse, and then, “Oh, you’re free to go. This wasn’t even an arrest at all.” Is that legal, or constitutional?

Minority Report, 2002

MC: No, it’s not. In order to have a legal arrest, you need probable cause to believe that the person committed a crime. And these snatches, by unidentified federal officials in unmarked vehicles, snatching peaceful protesters off the streets, transporting them to unknown locations without informing them of why they’re being arrested, and later releasing them with no record of their arrest, violates the law.

And this “proactive” arrest that the Department of Homeland Security is intending to carry out, violates the Fourth Amendment, which requires that, as I said, an arrest be supported by probable cause. This reminds me of the movie Minority Report, where they’re trying to predict who’s going to commit a crime. There is nothing in the law that allows “proactive arrest.”

There have been lawsuits filed, and they basically allege violations of the First Amendment, freedom of speech and press; the Fourth Amendment, prohibition on unreasonable searches and seizures; the Fifth Amendment, right to due process; and the Tenth Amendment, which says that powers not delegated to the feds are reserved to the states. And this is what is being litigated now.

JJ: One attorney, Juan Chavez with the Oregon Justice Resource Center, said, “It’s like ‘stop and frisk’ meets Guantánamo Bay.”

Well, federal law enforcement are permitted to go into states to protect federal property like courthouses and to prosecute federal crimes. But policing protests, just at the letter of the law, goes beyond that function.

MC: Yes, it certainly does. And, in fact, a lawsuit that was filed two days ago, on behalf of the First Unitarian Church of Portland, a public benefit corporation and two Oregon state representatives, alleges violation of the Tenth Amendment, and says that these abductions occurred outside the jurisdiction of federal law enforcement; those abducted were not attacking federal property or personnel, and they weren’t on federal property at the time that they were abducted. The ostensible, or the stated, reason for these federal goons to go into Portland, and other cities as well, which is happening as we speak, is to protect federal monuments and statues. Trump issued an executive order on June the 26th, saying that his federal forces were going to protect these monuments.

And there’s no monuments around where they were. Mark Pettibone—who’s one of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit filed by the Oregon Department of Justice against Homeland Security and the US Marshals—he was accosted, he was one of these people who was snatched off the street and then released without any citation. He was taken in this unmarked van to a federal courthouse, the Mark O. Hatfield US Courthouse.

And actually, neither the mayor of Portland nor the governor of Oregon invited or welcomed these federal troops, and last night, it’s my understanding, that the Portland mayor was tear-gassed when he was standing near this courthouse, doing nothing; he was standing there, and it was his first time he’d ever been tear-gassed.

So they’re just going way beyond any legal authority that they might have. And mayors in other cities as well—who are on Trump’s hit list, I guess you would say—are also saying, “We don’t want federal troops in our cities.” Now, these mayors often welcome federal assistance when they’re working cooperatively in drug enforcement or other kinds of criminal enforcement, but this goes way beyond that.

And it’s calculated by Trump to boost his sagging poll numbers. He’s taking a page out of Richard Nixon’s “law and order” playbook, because he’s so botched the response to the coronavirus, in fact responsible for thousands of deaths, when he’s been in denial about it, and actually stood in the way of really responding in an effective way. So now he is trying to shift the conversation, shift the discourse to anarchists, violent anarchists, left-wingers, Joe Biden would be behind this. And he’s going to come in on his white horse with his federal troops and take care of it and restore “law and order,” but, in effect, he’s breaking the law.  His troops are breaking the law and creating chaos.

It’s interesting, Janine, because why didn’t he send in the military? I think there’s a reason why he sent in the Department of Homeland Security, Customs and Border Protection troops: They’re loyal. They’re also not trained for this kind of thing, either, even if they were legally allowed to be in these cities.

But the Uniform Code of Military Justice provides that service members must obey lawful orders, but they have a duty to disobey unlawful orders. And these people, these troops, the secret military force that Trump has been sending into these cities, or sent into Portland–and Chicago’s next on the list, and Albuquerque–these could be reasonably construed as unlawful orders, orders to carry out unlawful actions. And I think it’s not altogether unlikely that he’s worried that military people would resist those orders and refuse to carry them out.

And maybe that’s why he has cobbled together this secret paramilitary militia: It has been the Customs and Border Protection, US Marshals, Federal Protective Service, and now they’re going to add the FBI, the ATF—Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms–the Drug Enforcement Agency, to this list of federal agencies.

Buzzfeed (6/11/20)

JJ: I can see the worry about maybe not using the military because, as you have written about, there was military official pushback after his photo op thing, where he used military officials to clear out the space in front of the church, and there was some indication that, “You know, we’re not going to necessarily have your back.”

Now I did though want to say: So we’re bringing in this cobbled together force that includes Customs and Border Patrol, maybe some of them now deputized into this kind of vague Federal Protective Service. And these people, as you mentioned, aren’t trained to do crowd control, much less trained to do the kind of de-escalation that would be necessary to protect a protest that is against police.

But what those folks do have a history of, what they do have training in, is rolling up on people and taking them away in vans, when those people’s crime is being undocumented. And that’s something that people are reminding, that not only should we be careful about saying these tactics aren’t “American,” since the US has done and is doing them in other places. But we also shouldn’t say that this has never happened here before, because that’s not really true either.

MC: Well, it hasn’t happened in this kind of a setting, in this way.

JJ: Right.

MC: But you’re right, the Customs and Border Protection agencies are notoriously— I’m not saying every single one of them—but notoriously racist, anti-immigrant, nativist and very brutal and violent. When they are supposedly enforcing the immigration laws, they kill people and deny them of their rights.

And you’re right. They are absolutely not trained in crowd control, which is not in their purview anyway. They have no right to be in the middle of Portland, doing crowd control, where their stated authority is to protect federal monuments. They’ve gone way beyond the purview. And they are actually saying that they’re enforcing the law, where it’s really the purview of the state authorities to be enforcing state law, and, unfortunately, I think we’re going to see this expand and escalate throughout the country, as Trump gets more and more desperate to elevate his falling poll numbers.

Truthout (7/3/20)

JJ: Right. And speaking of context, there is something, I agree, especially eerie and frightening about this bundling people into vans footage, and it’s true that we had seen it in the past sometimes with undocumented immigrants, including people forming bands around them to protect them from being hustled off. But the thing is, we don’t want that to be… while it’s especially horrible, we don’t want that to be because we’ve become numb to images of demonstrators being shot with munitions, being beaten with batons, being tear-gassed. And you wrote earlier this month—I saw it on Truthout—about [how] we’re not just seeing videos of extremely rare, nearly unique instances; there really is a widespread problem of police abuse of protesters going on.

MC: Yes, there is. And I think it’s going to get worse. You know, when you think of the image of people being snatched off the streets, peaceful protesters doing nothing illegal being snatched off the streets by people that aren’t wearing uniforms, and placed into vans: This reminds me of the dictatorships in Latin America, that were supported by the United States, who disappeared people, it was called disappearing people. And they would do it in broad daylight: snatch them, just like this, and put them in a van, and many of them were never heard of since; many of them were killed. This is kidnapping. And they did it in broad daylight, to send a message to other people that, “If you don’t do what we want you to do, this will happen to you as well.”

In the Oregon Department of Justice’s lawsuit against Homeland Security and the US Marshals, they wrote:

Ordinarily, a person exercising his right to walk through the streets of Portland who is confronted by anonymous men in military-type fatigues and ordered into an unmarked van can reasonably assume that he is being kidnapped and is a victim of a crime.

And kidnapping by militia and other malfeasants dressed in paramilitary gear would trigger the lawful right of self-defense.

So what they’re doing is setting up a situation where people think they’re going to be kidnapped and would fight back. And if they’re armed, they could use weapons, and this could lead to killing, it could lead to a horrible situation. This is kidnapping, pure and simple; no probable cause for these arrests.

JJ: It seems like almost a side note, but let’s talk for a minute about the concealed identities. You know, it’s not like these folks were undercover; they didn’t blend. So why conceal your identity, except to evade accountability?

Time (7/19/20)

MC: Absolutely. And, you know, this opens the door to right-wing vigilantes putting on military fatigues, camouflage outfits, and doing the same thing that these federal agents are doing. And I don’t know what Trump would say about that; he has a double standard, of course, when right-wingers do it, then, you know, that’s fine, but he’s painting Black people as terrorists, he’s painting white people as antifa, the white allies in the Movement for Black Lives, painting them with a broad brush, pulling out accusations that these are left-wing Democratic anarchists, violent anarchists, and if Joe Biden is elected, this is what we’re going to get.

There is a certain critical mass—and I don’t know if it’s 30% or 40% or what—of people who support Trump no matter what, and it’s music to their ears, and that’s who he’s playing to, that’s his base, that’s who he is relying on to put him in the White House again.

And quite frankly, Janine, what I’m concerned about is that this is all a dry run for an election that goes against Trump. He declares martial law, and he uses his federal goons to maintain power. Now, if he tries to use the military, I really suspect that a large number of service members would disobey those orders.

But when he was asked on Fox News by Chris Wallace, whether he would accept the results of the election, he said, “I have to see.” I have to see? Can you imagine? It depends; if I don’t like the result, I may not accept the results of the election. And that, combined with a massive program of voter suppression, is very, very frightening.

JJ: Just finally, Philadelphia’s District Attorney Larry Krasner says: Try it. Anybody, federal agent or not, committing crimes in my district will be arrested. Rashida Tlaib says, “They’ll have to arrest me first” if they try to bring this to Minneapolis. So we have some legislation; there’s legislation about agents have to identify themselves and their agency. We’ve got lawsuits from the ACLU and other folks.

But it seems really clear that people are the power that is driving things right now. So I just want to ask you to talk about what we need to do to actually vouchsafe the right to protest in this country, and where does that power lie? Clearly, we can’t only rely on the legal system to protect these rights.

Marjorie Cohn: “There are lawsuits being filed in support of the real power, and that is the power of the people.”

MC: It’s the power of the people, and people are in the streets—hundreds of thousands of people in the streets in US cities, and in cities around the world—in support of the Movement for Black Lives, and against police brutality.

And, yes, we can’t rely on the legal system, but it’s a tool that we have to use. And I’m very proud to say that my organization, the National Lawyers Guild, is front and center in the middle of legal defense for the protesters, the legal observers who wear those green caps, marked “National Lawyers Guild.” They’re not protesters; they’re there to witness what the police are doing. And they have been the target of police brutality and violence.

And, in fact, there is an ACLU lawsuit to enjoin, it’s asking for an injunction against these federal agents targeting legal observers, and targeting journalists as well, because the last thing in the world that the Trump administration and his goons want are witnesses, are media that are witnessing what’s happening, and so they’re going after journalists; they’re going after legal observers.

But there are lawsuits being filed in support of the real power, and that is the power of the people. And we’ve seen that in the streets for the last 50-some days, since the public lynching of George Floyd, and I think that what Trump is doing is going to exacerbate, or elevate, those protests. We’re going to see much more protesting, now that he is committing these illegal atrocities with his private paramilitary force.

JJ: We’ve been speaking with Marjorie Cohn, you can find her recent work on Truthout.org along with other outlets, as well as her own site, Marjorie Cohn com. Thank you very much, Marjorie Cohn, for joining us this week on CounterSpin.

MC: Thanks so much, Janine.

Media Cover for US Clients’ Covid Catastrophes in Peru, Ecuador and Chile

 

Back in March, when coronavirus cases were beginning to surge in the US and in South American allies such as Brazil and Ecuador, Washington was busy raising the alarm about the “expansion of Covid-19 pandemic in the region, if not globally, if Venezuela… fails to address it.” Venezuela was reporting under 150 cases at the time.

This scaremongering propaganda has been repeated ad nauseam by the Western media ever since.

Despite Venezuela’s comparatively low figures for deaths and infections, corporate journalists regularly smear the Maduro government’s “authoritarian” handling of the pandemic, and actively hide the impact of the criminal US sanctions against the Caribbean country.

CNN (6/19/20) accuses Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro of having “made the most of the coronavirus lockdown to stamp his authority over the country’s key political institutions.”

Maduro is said to be “tighten[ing his] grip on power, helped by coronavirus lockdown” (CNN, 6/19/20), “using Covid-19 to silence his opponents even further” (Americas Quarterly, 7/21/20) and causing “hunger, infection, repression” (New Yorker, 5/29/20). The country’s healthcare system is “crippled by a broken economy overseen by an increasingly authoritarian government” (New York Times, 4/10/20; FAIR.org, 4/16/20), rendering the Covid-19 outbreak in Venezuela a “frightening prospect” (Washington Post, 3/20/20) that “poses global threat,” as Human Rights Watch’s Tamara Taraciuk Broner and John Hopkins University’s Kathleen Page (Foreign Policy, 3/12/20) put it.

Most recently, Broner and Page (Washington Post, 7/2/20) blamed the collapse of Venezuela’s healthcare sector squarely on the “irresponsible and repressive measures by the government of Nicolás Maduro,” though they speculated that “US financial and oil sanctions could indeed be exacerbating the crisis.” They declined, however, to call for lifting the illegal US embargo, which leading Venezuelan economist Francisco Rodriguez estimates is costing the country almost $17 billion a year in lost oil revenues, insisting that “pressure needs to continue.” For reference, Venezuela imported just $2.6 billion in food and medicine in 2018.

Just as the media’s recitation of evidence-free US attacks against China’s Covid-19 response has helped distract from the Trump administration’s criminal incompetence (FAIR.org, 6/21/20, 4/9/20, 3/24/20), the vilification of Venezuela dovetails with the whitewashing of right-wing US client states in the region.

Alongside Brazil, Peru, Ecuador and Chile currently lead South America in total Covid deaths per capita. However, unlike Brazil—whose far-right President Jair Bolsonaro has been exceptionalized as the posterboy of Covid-19 denialism by the same Western media that helped put him in power (FAIR.org, 4/12/20)—neighboring pro-US regimes have largely been given a pass.

While Peru, Ecuador, and Chile are, like Brazil, members of the anti-Venezuela regime-change coalition known as the Lima Group, their right-wing neoliberal leaders are celebrated in the Western press as reliable, “pro-business” technocrats, in contrast to Trump and Bolsonaro–style “authoritarian populists” and what are viewed as their left-wing Chavista counterparts (FAIR.org, 5/7/20).

Chart: 91-VIDOC

Peru

The New York Times (6/12/20) reported that Peruvian President Martín “Vizcarra’s centrist government appeared well-prepared to face the pandemic,” but the “crisis has marred Peru’s veneer of economic progress.”

Despite presiding over the second-highest excess death toll per capita in the world, Peru’s right-wing Vizcarra government has received broadly sympathetic coverage from the international media. The New York Times (6/12/20) hailed President Martín Vizcarra as a model “centrist” technocrat who “followed the best advice when the coronavirus arrived in Peru”:

He ordered one of Latin America’s first and strictest lockdowns, and rolled out one of the region’s biggest economic aid packages to help citizens stay home.

The Times attributed Peru’s failed pandemic response to “deep-rooted inequality and graft,” but largely avoided faulting Vizcarra’s neoliberal administration.

Peruvian sociologist Anahi Durand told FAIR that the government rejected calls from the left to implement a universal basic income “that would have allowed the population to stay at home.” It opted instead for a policy of targeted aid to the poor, which has “not reached many people who need” it, the Times reported, refraining, however, from criticizing Vizcarra for the debacle.

At the same time, a small group of major firms—ranging from logging companies accused of tax evasion and fined for environmental infractions, like Maderera Bozovich, to transnational consulting giants such as Deloitte and Ernst & Young—received $2.5 billion in loans out of the government’s $7.5 billion credit package, which was funneled almost exclusively through top private banks. Neither the New York Times, nor other Western outlets like the BBC (7/9/20), Wall Street Journal (6/14/20) and Time (5/29/20), mentioned this rather crucial fact in their account of Peru’s disaster.

“The policy of the government has been to put the economy ahead of public health,” Durand concluded.

While corporate journalists are right to point the finger at Peru’s precarious informal economy and severely underfunded health system, they refuse to place any significant blame at the door of Vizcarra and the country’s “string of pro-business presidents,” whom they praise for reducing poverty (New York Times, 6/12/20).

The fact that the Andean country of nearly 33 million spends just $700 on healthcare per person, and has only two ICU beds for every 1,000 people is widely reported (Washington Post, 6/18/20; Time, 5/29/20). But this isn’t presented as evidence of neoliberal Peruvian elites’ “reckless disregard…for the life and health of…[their own] people,” which the Washington Post (7/2/20) and other newspapers regularly cite as the cause of blockaded Venezuela’s healthcare crisis. Other standards seem to apply to loyal US client states.

Ecuador

The Wall Street Journal (6/30/20) reported that after making “gruesome headlines around the world,” Ecuador’s “Guayaquil is now a success story.”

Ecuador has received relatively scant coverage in past months, despite the South American country leading the world in excess deaths per capita. In one of the few recent pieces of in-depth reporting, the Wall Street Journal (6/30/20) narrated the “success story” of how Ecuador’s devastated city of Guayaquil “largely vanquished the new coronavirus,” in which the former and current right-wing mayors collectively in power since 2000, Jaime Nebot and Cynthia Viteri, bizarrely figure among the heroes.

While acknowledging that the country’s business capital suffered 16,700 excess deaths—0.7% of the population, or almost three times the Covid death rate endured by New York City—the Journal carefully avoided any critical evaluation of the neoliberal Lenín Moreno administration’s role in the catastrophe, which it chalks up to a “deadly quirk in the calendar,” “slow reaction” and “political fights.”

The New York Times (4/23/20), for its part, appeared to renounce any pretense of journalistic inquiry, dismissing the disproportionate death toll as a “mystery” that is “impossible to explain”: “There is no obvious reason for Ecuador to be devastated far more than other countries.” What about the Moreno government’s obsession with pleasing bankers and persecuting political opponents?

Last October’s nationwide uprising (FAIR.org, 10/23/19; CounterSpin, 10/29/19) has all but vanished from Western media coverage, invoked only to smear the popular rebellion as “violent protests” where “eight people died and thousands were injured in two weeks of chaos that left Quito’s historic center looking like a war zone” (Financial Times, 6/15/20). Readers will find scarce mention in the press of Moreno’s brutal, militarized crackdown, nor of the continued imprisonment and persecution of supporters of ex-President Rafael Correa. Most recently, as Covid-19 cases spike in Quito, Moreno and his corrupt auditor general have been busy banning Correa’s political party ahead of next year’s presidential elections.

Also absent from the media narrative is any mention of the fact that the Moreno government, together with the International Monetary Fund (IMF), has pushed through savage cuts to public spending, including slashing investment in public health by 64% over the last two years. In 2019, 3,680 public health workers were laid off, equivalent to 4.5% of total Health Ministry staff. A further 2,279 of the ministry’s administrative staff, or 2.8% of total personnel, were laid off in May, following the signing of a new IMF loan, which mandated that the state reduce public spending by 6.2% of GDP through 2025.

It was this neoliberal austerity program—not vague accusations of federal government “indifference,” as reported by the Journal (6/30/20)—that back in March prompted the resignation of the Health minister, who stated that “no budget allocation has been received from the competent authority to emergency management.”

Economist Andrés Arauz, who previously served as Ecuador’s minister of Knowledge and director general of the Central Bank, commented to FAIR:

The minister complained that the Finance Ministry did not transfer a single cent for the emergency, while billions of dollars were being paid out in margin calls and speculative operations on the stock market.

Between February and April, Ecuador shelled out nearly $2.5 billion in debt payments, including hundreds of millions in margin calls on risky Wall Street loans.

Corporate outlets have all but ignored the payouts, but more egregiously, they gloss over the fact that it was Moreno’s voluntary decision to surrender national sovereignty to the IMF and Western banks, presenting him as the hapless victim of “dire economic straits” (Financial Times, 6/15/20).

Moreno had numerous available avenues for raising state revenue that he proceeded to close off. His government eliminated a pair of laws requiring windfall oil and mining revenues to be shared 50/50 between the Ecuadorian state and transnational companies, declined to renew import tariffs, and even passed a law removing a tax on the exit of dollars, as well as blocking the state from financing itself internally by borrowing within the country (Counterpunch, 11/13/18). All of these measures were aimed at enriching Moreno’s major local and foreign capitalist backers, who continue to engage in massive capital flight, to the tune of $900 million in April alone.

But this media narrative of Moreno shackled by a huge foreign debt, for which he supposedly has zero responsibility (FAIR.org, 10/23/19), is useful in justifying the kind of class warfare that the editors of the Financial Times (6/15/20) salivate for:

The president said the budget deficit would be at least $12 billion this year, about 11% of gross domestic product. To help fill the gap, his government has announced $4 billion of spending cuts, including scrapping state-owned companies, liquidating the national airline, and asking government employees and teachers to reduce their hours and pay.

Eight public firms are on the chopping block, with 3,604 workers set to lose their jobs, joining the 180,000 workers who have been laid off during the pandemic, according to official figures.

Meanwhile, facing zero international media scrutiny, Moreno has taken advantage of the current state of exception to ram through even more sweeping neoliberal measures, which had been halted by massive street protests last fall, including a labor reform undermining workers’ rights, the elimination of fuel subsidies, and modifications to the tax code previously rejected by the legislature.

Indeed, despite his bleeding of the country to the benefit of capital, Moreno’s corporate media admirers (FAIR.org, 2/4/18) will never refer to the right-wing US-friendly leader as an “authoritarian” whose “irresponsible and repressive measures” have cost thousands of lives, as Venezuela is described.

Chile

After average daily Covid cases in Chile jumped from 629 per day to 6,277 per day, the Washington Post (6/23/20) reported that Chilean officials “appear to have been overconfident.”

Since its emergence as a global leader in per capita Covid-19 deaths last month, Chile has received mildly critical coverage from across the media spectrum. Western outlets reproached the right-wing Piñera government for being “overconfident” (Washington Post, 6/23/20) and “out of touch” (Bloomberg, 6/16/20), based on its controversial policy of rolling quarantines and rapid reopening. Chile “failed to recognize that the affluent have maids, gardeners and cooks who might also get infected,” NPR (7/2/20) reported.

Media particularly faulted President Sebastián Piñera for not repairing the “disconnect between government and nation” exposed by last year’s nationwide anti-neoliberal uprising, which Bloomberg (6/16/20) vilified as “massive riots…[that] turned the city center into a war zone of smashed lights, debris, burnt-out buildings and graffiti.” At the time, corporate journalists by and large looked the other way while the Chilean state arrested 11,412 people, imprisoned 2,500, tortured 1,516 and injured 3,756, including 460 shot in the eye by police, according to Chile’s National Human Rights Institute (FAIR.org, 10/23/19, 10/26/19, 11/5/19, 12/6/19).

Frontline health workers reject the media’s gentle criticism of Chile’s Covid-19 response as understatements, accusing the government of Trump-style criminal negligence.

According to Dr. Roberto Bermudez, who attends Covid patients at two public hospitals in Santiago, the Piñera government has “followed the lead of the Trump administration” in manipulating statistics, refusing to implement a national quarantine and privileging corporate profits over public health.

“The strategy is very macabre. Chile allowed many people to die while trying to pursue herd immunity,” he told FAIR, referring to disgraced former Health Minister Jaime Mañalich’s comment in April that “the only way to protect ourselves is that the majority of people are infected.”

For months, Mañalich—a close friend and confidant of Piñera—doctored the country’s death figures, making public only the test-confirmed deaths, and not the considerable number of Covid-19 deaths diagnosed by doctors but with no test administered. United Nations Development Program Regional Director Luis Felipe López-Calva estimates that Chile could be under-reporting coronavirus fatalities by as much as 61%, based on excess death data compiled by the Economist.

Corporate journalists euphemistically described the government’s brazen lying to the public as “discrepancies” (NPR, 7/2/20) that caused “divisions [with] sectors of the medical community” (Guardian, 6/14/20).

They also ignored the fact that mayors and health experts across the country have been urging Piñera to declare a nationwide quarantine since the pandemic arrived in March, which was reported at the time (Reuters, 3/20/20; Newsweek, 3/23/20) but has since been erased from the media narrative. In response to the government’s stonewalling, multiple criminal lawsuits have been filed accusing Piñera and Mañalich of homicide, which has similarly gone unreported.

As in Peru and Ecuador, the press has turned a blind eye to the Piñera government’s systematic prioritization of private capital over human life. In April, the Chilean president promulgated a law authorizing employers to temporarily suspend workers’ contracts under the pretext of avoiding mass layoffs resulting from insolvency.

Over 677,000 workers have been left to scrape by on fractions of their already-meager earnings drawn from unemployment funds, while transnational conglomerates—now freed from wage obligations—pay multimillion dollar dividends to their shareholders. For instance, Latin American retail giant CENCOSUD paid investors more than $234 million between two of its subsidiaries after suspending the contracts of 7,731 workers. LATAM Airlines paid out $57 million while slashing wages in half through June, firing 4,400 workers and filing for bankruptcy in the US. Meanwhile, soup kitchens now blanket the landscape of metropolitan Santiago, configuring a new geography of hunger.

Reuters (6/12/20) romanticizes the “carefully gloved fist” of an armed force that in the past year has tortured and blinded hundreds of Chileans.

Also missing from the headlines is any criticism of Piñera’s crusade to normalize militarized state repression, including the deployment of active-duty troops to enforce sanitary restrictions and nightly curfews decreed under a “state of catastrophe” order issued in March.

Reuters (6/12/20) could scarcely hide its infatuation with the armed forces “safeguarding the coronavirus lockdowns and curfews Chilean-style, with soldiers and police working in tandem, wielding weaponry but with a carefully gloved fist.” The wire service did not mention that these are the same soldiers and police who, however “mindful of the growing poverty and hunger…caused by the pandemic,” have maimed, murdered and tortured, not only under the state of emergency, but during last year’s uprising as well.

Notwithstanding Piñera’s illegal militarization of Indigenous Mapuche territory and effort to ram through parliament a new intelligence bill targeting popular movements as “internal enemies,” the pro-US leader is not accused in the Western media of “tighten[ing his] grip on power, helped by coronavirus lockdown,” or “using Covid-19 to silence his opponents even further.”

It is clear that such indictments are reserved for Official Enemies like Venezuela, China (FAIR.org, 3/6/20) and Cuba (FAIR.org, 5/31/20, 4/14/20), but never loyal US vassals.

Worries About Foreign ‘Hacking’ of Vaccine Research Place Corporate Profits Ahead of Public Health 

 

A recent spate of reports in US media features US officials accusing Official Enemies Russia and China of “stealing” the US’s coronavirus vaccine research data. To accuse another party of “stealing” something, of course, is to imply unjust deprivation. If my wallet is stolen, it means I no longer possess it or its contents, while someone else does. Does it make sense to describe the alleged actions of Russian and Chinese hackers as a form of “theft”? If so, what kind of “theft” is it?

The New York Times (7/16/20) reported that “Russia has aimed much of its recent cyberespionage, like election interference, at weakening geopolitical rivals and strengthening its hand.”

The New York Times’ report, “Russia Is Trying to Steal Virus Vaccine Data, Western Nations Say” (7/16/20), levied the accusations of US, British and Canadian governments that “the Kremlin” is “opening a new front in its spy battles with the West amid the worldwide competition to contain the pandemic.”

The Times story, by national security reporter Julian Barnes, takes it for granted that individual countries around the world are engaged in a ruthless struggle to gain geopolitical advantage by being the first to develop an effective vaccine. That ignores projects like the Inclusive Vaccine Alliance, formed by the German, French, Dutch and Italian governments to speed up development of a vaccine through joint research and investments. The Chinese government, for its part, has declared that its vaccine will be a “global public good,” and has repeatedly insisted on the necessity of “solidarity and cooperation,” in addition to actively cooperating with the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (People’s Daily, 7/10/20).

The day after the Times published these accusations, the Russian government revealed that it had already sealed a deal with AstraZeneca and Oxford University for Russian manufacturing of the potential British vaccine (one of the leading contenders), and claimed that it didn’t need to “steal” state secrets because it would be given to them (Reuters, 7/17/20).

The Times report undermined its own headline when it admitted:

American intelligence officials said the Russians were aiming to steal research to develop their own vaccine more quickly, not to sabotage other countries’ efforts. There was likely little immediate damage to global public health, cybersecurity experts said.

In other words, even if these allegations were true, Western governments have not been deprived of their research. The Times fully admits that this alleged hacking would not harm US public health, but only the profits of US pharmaceutical companies:

Private firms are more at risk than the public, said Mike Chapple, a former National Security Agency computer scientist who teaches cybersecurity at the University of Notre Dame.

“The potential harm here is limited to commercial harm, to companies that are devoting a lot of their own resources into developing a vaccine in hopes it will be financially rewarding down the road,” he said.

The Times also acknowledged that:

The accusations against Russia were also the latest example of an increasing willingness in recent months by the United States and its closest intelligence allies to publicly accuse foreign adversaries of breaches and cyberattacks…. Attributing such attacks, however, is imprecise, an ambiguity that Moscow takes advantage of in denying responsibility, as it did Thursday.

Despite these acknowledgments, the Times nevertheless echoed the certitude of “American experts,” and anonymous government and intelligence officials, about Russian culpability and motives. The Times simply asserted that “the Russian espionage” signals “a new kind of competition between Moscow and Washington akin to Cold War spies stealing technological secrets during the space race generations ago.” Without providing any evidence, anonymous sources assert that Cozy Bear, an alleged Russian cyberespionage group “controlled by Russia’s elite SVR intelligence agency” is trying to “exploit the chaos created by the coronavirus pandemic.”

Despite the Times admitting that US government officials “would not identify victims of the hackings,” the paper speculated that the “primary target of the attacks appeared to be Oxford University in Britain and the British-Swedish pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca.” Note that these are the same groups with whom the Russian government has already announced a deal to manufacture their potential vaccine.

The New York Times (7/21/20) writes that “Trump administration officials…have stepped up warnings in recent weeks about Chinese intelligence services and their campaign to steal information and influence American politics.”

Days later, the New York Times (7/21/20) produced another dubious report, “US Accuses Hackers of Trying to Steal Coronavirus Vaccine Data for China,” which focused on a Justice Department indictment against suspects Li Xiaoyu and Dong Jiazhi, for “targeting vaccine development” on behalf of Chinese intelligence. The Times story, also by Barnes, described the pair as a “blended threat who sometimes worked on behalf of China’s spy services and sometimes to enrich themselves.” Neither the Times, nor the US government officials it cites as sources, establish a direct link between the suspects and Chinese intelligence agencies. Instead, the only indirect evidence provided is the kind of hacking the duo allegedly performed:

“You can see by the variety of the hacks that they did how they were being directed by the government,” Mr. Demers said at a news conference at the Justice Department. “Extorting someone for cryptocurrency is not something that the government is usually interested in, nor are criminal hackers usually interested in human rights activists and clergymen.”

According to the Times, Americans should care about this story because China’s alleged “covert activity could potentially set back vaccine research efforts.” The Times openly admitted that the pair are “unlikely to be brought to trial,” where evidence is supposed to be presented in order to convict them of the accusations levied against them by the Justice Department, and that no evidence has been presented on whether these hackers actually “stole” any information, or whether they actually did set back US vaccine research efforts with their alleged activity:

The indictment, which was filed in the Eastern District of Washington, did not say that the hackers successfully stole information or research on the vaccine…. Mr. Demers said an attempted breach could slow down research because it must be secured, but researchers also must make sure their data has not been corrupted or altered by the intruders. The government officials did not say they had evidence that such manipulation had occurred, however.

Despite the lack of evidence establishing the Chinese government’s guilt or impact, the Times treats speculation by US government officials as “evidence” of the Chinese government’s wrongdoing, when the report concludes with:

“This indictment reveals yet again that Chairman Xi leads an army of hackers that steal and attempt to steal—every single day, in almost every country and industry,” Mr. Sasse said, referring to President Xi Jinping of China.

But focusing too much on whether or not Russian and Chinese hackers actually did try to hack US coronavirus vaccine research would be missing the point. Corporate media reports accuse China of stealing “American” intellectual property, even though the vast majority of Americans don’t own any, and would likely benefit from China not respecting the intellectual property of corporations like Microsoft and Pfizer (FAIR.org, 5/23/18, 8/27/19). Why anyone should care more about the potential inability of US corporations to profit off a coronavirus vaccine—as opposed to getting an effective vaccine as soon as possible, no matter where the source is—is never explained in these reports.

As epidemiologists, US academics and FAIR (4/2/20; CounterSpin, 5/9/20) have pointed out before, the optimal way to develop a coronavirus vaccine on the pace and scale required to combat the pandemic is through international cooperation and open research, which would both minimize risk and maximize efficiency. Current Affairs’s Nathan J. Robinson (7/17/20) noted that corporate media hysteria over alleged enemy hacking is one of “the most egregious examples” of “nationalistic bias leading to moral imbecility”:

What’s incredible is that nowhere in the stories is anybody quoted questioning the logic of viewing vaccine development as a “competition.” Nobody explains why researchers are keeping their research secret rather than sharing it as widely as possible. There is no discussion of how this constitutes a totally bizarre way to combat a global pandemic, which should not be a “race to see which country can find a vaccine first so that it can force everyone else to pay up if they want to save their people’s lives.”… Let’s have some moral honesty: The competitive approach is evil. It is criminal that any country is keeping vaccine information secret from other countries in the first place. That is mass murder.

One should expect corporate media outlets like the Times to equate corporate interests with the US national interest. By spinning the intellectual property of large US corporations as something that must be safeguarded rather than something that should be shared, US media are failing to inform their audiences about how corporations are delaying the development of a vaccine—and causing unnecessary deaths.

ACTION ALERT: You can send a message to the New York Times at letters@nytimes.com (Twitter:@NYTimes). Please remember that respectful communication is the most effective. Feel free to leave a copy of your communication in the comments thread.

When Good People Do Bad Things, Should You Care? Depends on Whether You Have the Right Ideology

 

Garry Kasparov (Persuasion, 7/23/20) warns that “the drawing of false moral equivalencies has started to dominate the mainstream”—hampering the hunt for the sins of the wicked by obsessing on the sins of the ideologically righteous.

Persuasion describes itself as an outlet for “advocates of free speech and free institutions,” and is described by Slate (7/10/20) as “a newly launched ‘intellectual community,’ whose announced list of members overlaps heavily” with the signers of the Harper’s open letter “on Justice and Open Debate”—”particularly, the core group that the New York Times credited with having written the Harper’s letter.”

As an example of the sort of debate Persuasion promotes, it recently published a defense of the United States by one of its advisory board members, chess grandmaster Garry Kasparov (another Harper’s letter signer), under the headline “America’s Mission” (7/23/20). The piece began with a list of “maxims” by which “ideologues whose agenda is power, not justice,” have “hijacked” the “fight against oppression”—ideas, then, that Kasparov thinks you should reject.

After opening with “Compromise is weakness,” Kasparov offered a series of these maxims that pretty much say the same thing:

  • Flawed good is the same as evil.
  • The exceptions are more important than the rule.
  • Telling the whole story is so important that it is worth falsifying the plot.

If these maxims are wrong, then the correct approach must be: Don’t waste time criticizing bad things done by good people; focus on bad things done by bad people instead.

What’s striking to me is that this is precisely the point of Kasparov’s fifth and final maxim—which, again, is what he says people “whose agenda is power, not justice,” believe:

  • The sins of the ideologically righteous matter not so long as we hunt for the sins of the wicked.

Not only is that opposite to the message of the three previous maxims, it’s an accurate if somewhat snarky summary of Kasparov’s whole piece: that while the United States has made “serious mistakes…along the road to deeper and broader liberalism,” that should not be allowed to distract us from the fight against “the evil forces that have always opposed those gains, and now seek to roll them back.” I can only figure that this kind of attitude only marks you as someone “whose agenda is power, not justice,” if you have the wrong sort of ideology—not one that is truly righteous, like Garry Kasparov’s.

Featured image: Garry Kasparov at the 2017 Goldwater Dinner (cc photo: Gage Skidmore).

 

‘A Combination of Forces Puts Our Postal Service at Grave Risk’ - CounterSpin interview with Lisa Graves on the USPS under attack

 

Janine Jackson interviewed True North Research’s Lisa Graves about attacks on the US Postal Service for the July 17, 2020, episode of CounterSpin. This is a lightly edited transcript.

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MP3 Link

Washington Post (7/14/20)

Janine Jackson: One congressmember said it would be “a stunning act of sabotage” if the new head of the US Postal Service is allowed to push through major changes. Big Trump donor—surprise—Louis DeJoy issued a series of memos, disclosed to the Washington Post, calling for significant operational changes, including restrictions on overtime that many, including the Postal Workers Union, contend would slow down mail delivery, at the same time as Donald Trump holds up crucial pandemic support for USPS, contingent on it making steep price increases. “Sabotage” starts to sound like quite an apt description.

But what we should know is that this direct attack on the Postal Service, while it may be felt especially acutely during a pandemic and an election in which the most reasonable response is voting by mail, is absolutely nothing new, only the latest iteration of a decades-long assault on the US Postal Service, featuring some characters and some ideas with which you might be, unfortunately, familiar.

Lisa Graves is executive director and editor-in-chief at True North Research, and author of the new brief, The Billionaire Behind Efforts to Kill the US Postal Service. She joins us now by phone. Welcome to CounterSpin, Lisa Graves.

Lisa Graves: Thank you so much for having me on.

JJ: It’s like the slowest daylight robbery in history, this effort to privatize the US Postal Service. Something about a federal agency that serves everyone, and doesn’t make rich people a lot richer, just galls the heck out of some people. We can’t cover every minute, of course, but take us through some of the history and the key players in this effort.

Lisa Graves: “”Charles Koch, who’s one of the richest billionaires in the world…has been staking efforts by people who have been working to privatize the Postal Service for more than five decades.”

LG: Sure. What we discovered in our research was that Charles Koch, who’s one of the richest billionaires in the world, and who leads one of the biggest privately held corporations in the world, Koch Industries, has been staking efforts by people who have been working to privatize the Postal Service for more than five decades, basically. So we traced the early funding of Charles Koch of the Reason Magazine and Reason Foundation, as it was working to popularize the term “privatization,” and specifically target the Postal Service for privatization. Also, after Charles Koch became the biggest funder of the Libertarian Party, its platform included direct abolition of the Postal Service.

Then in the ’80s, his right-hand man went on a commission, set up by Reagan, that also called for the privatization of the Postal Service. His group then brought on board the Reagan administration official who was behind that, a guy named James Miller, who continued to push for postal privatization through the ’90s.

He was rewarded with a position on the Postal Board of Governors during the George W. Bush administration, pushed through in part by Susan Collins of Maine, and then he used his post as the chairman of that board to push through this effort in 2006 to saddle our Postal Service with extraordinary, unprecedented debt, to pay future retiree health benefits 50 years into the future. And that debt has really been a huge obstacle for the Postal Service over these past several years, and including its current book.

And so you have a multi-decade campaign, fueled by Koch men, to privatize the most popular government agency, the one that serves more people than any other agency in our entire government. And now, with the help of Trump and his political appointee, Lou DeJoy, trying to make the Postal Service less effective, we have a combination of forces that puts our Postal Service at grave risk.

JJ: I wanted to draw you out on one part, the Postal Accountability and Enhancement Act, because we often hear in the press that the problem is the Postal Service just can’t compete with UPS and with FedEx; but that is part of the reason that folks call this a manufactured crisis. But it often appears, if it appears, as an allegation of some critics, or somehow it’s just a minor part of the story. Can you just talk a little bit more about that pre-funding requirement?

LG: Sure. This pre-funding requirement was imposed after other George W. Bush insiders looked at privatizing the Postal Service, and felt that having potential future liabilities would be an obstacle to privatization. So the next thing that happened was that James Miller pushed through the Congress this effort to move that debt, or that potential future debt, into a fund. And what it did was take enormous sums that the Postal Service had in savings, put that into that account, and impose a nearly $5 billion payment each year for those future liabilities. It was really designed to make the Postal Service more attractive to privatization.

And Susan Collins helped instrumentally with that, along with Mitch McConnell, who strongly supported James Miller’s appointment to the Postal Board of Governors.

And so you have the person who’s now at the helm of the Senate, who’s in the position to do the right thing by the American people, and by people in cities and small towns everywhere, to save the Postal Service. Instead, you have someone who has worked behind the scenes to aid this effort, to weaken our Postal Service.

No private company and no government agency has any such requirement of that sort of future funding, or to carry that liability on their books. And taking away those assets of the Postal Service deprives it of additional liquidity, to help it to modernize its fleet, for example, its postal trucks, to have them be more fuel efficient, to be modernized.

And so you have a situation here where this Postal Service is the backbone in many ways of key parts of our economy, of the chains of distribution in our country, the processing of hundreds of millions of pieces of mail, things that cannot be substituted by email, people’s prescriptions and checks and goods. In this pandemic, these postal workers have been on the front lines as essential workers, getting deliveries to neighbors everywhere in the country, and yet they’re being attacked by the head of their own agency, trying to deprive them of the ability to deliver the mail on time, as people expect.

JJ: Corporate media often convey, tacitly or explicitly, the idea that whatever it is, the private sector does it better, and whatever it is, government should be assumed to be messing it up. That’s the kind of assumption atmosphere, before you even get to the news. So, perversely, those who want a public service to stay public are seen as inserting ideology.

But who imagines that Charles Koch is putting all that energy into something that isn’t supportive of the ideologies we see reflected in his investments elsewhere? And part of that is not being a big fan of democracy. But it’s also—and it’s not often talked about—it’s also not caring about the particular human beings who would be hurt by eliminating the US Postal Service. And it’s not just the folks who rely on it, but it’s also the workers, right?

In the Public Interest (7/20)

LG: That’s right; the Postal Service employs more than 500,000 Americans. It’s the second-largest civilian employer in the United States. And unlike Walmart, which is the biggest employer, the Postal Service workers aren’t subsidized with public assistance because of super ultra-low wages, like Walmart has paid its employees.

Instead, you have a workforce that is very diverse. In some cities, a significant portion of the workers are African Americans, like in Chicago. As a workforce that has 100,000 former military veterans that make it up, it has a tremendous track record. It is the most popular brand in America, and the most trusted government agency. And yet largely because one billionaire has put singular focus on the extreme privatization agenda, he’s been able to move that fringe idea from those fringes into almost domination within the Republican Party, unfortunately. And that’s at odds with a longstanding history of bipartisan, trans-partisan support for this vital public service that, in fact, the private sector can’t do better, would gouge us for, which charges so much more, as we already see in the prices charged, in my opinion, by FedEx and UPS for other deliveries.

JJ: And who aren’t incentivized to go all the way out on those rural roads, where the post office goes, just because that’s part of their job.

LG: Exactly, exactly. And so, many times Congress has spoken about the importance of the Postal Service as tying the nation together, making sure that every American, no matter how remotely they live, no matter how big the city is they live in, even through hurricanes like Katrina, through pandemics like this crisis, you have postal workers who have worked to deliver the mail, come rain or come shine, and make sure people’s mail both gets to them, and their ballots, for example, get to clerks of court. So they’re a vital function in our society, they should not be privatized. And this effort by Trump, by McConnell and others, to really move the Postal Service toward privatization is a fundamental rejection of this core institution that was actually named and created in our United States Constitution.

JJ: The American Postal Workers Union is fighting back; there’s a worker-led coalition, US Mail Not for Sale. What can folks do to be part of the pushback on this assault on the US Postal Service?

LG: I would really urge everybody to call every member of Congress, no matter their party, demand that they protect the Postal Service, demand the Postal Service receives some funds as part of these Covid relief measures. That it receive some ability to have some loans, and that it be released from this debt obligation that is unprecedented. I also think, quite frankly, that they should be asking for the resignation of the Board of Governors that approved Lou DeJoy for this position, because we need someone in charge of the Postal Service that is devoted to preserving it and expanding it as a vital public service. And also, when they’re calling and asking for support for the Postal Service, I’d ask them to repeal that 2006 Act, which also barred the Postal Service from offering banking services, or cafes or other services that would help make it stronger and more flourishing, and also is an undue cap on Postal Service activity that people may need and want.

JJ: We’ve been speaking with Lisa Graves of True North; they’re online at TrueNorthResearch.org, and you can find the brief, The Billionaire Behind Efforts to Kill the US Postal Service, on InThePublicInterest.org. Lisa Graves, thank you so much for joining us this week on CounterSpin.

LG: Thank you so much. It was an honor to be on.

Chinese ‘Imperialism’ in Hong Kong Concerns US Media; Puerto Rican, Palestinian Colonies, Not So Much

 

A Washington Post op-ed (7/3/20) warns China: “With sustained pressure from within and without, even the most repressive colonial systems can eventually fall victim to their own lawlessness.”

When China passed a national security law for Hong Kong on June 30, criminalizing terrorism, secession and subversion of the Chinese government, as well as collusion with foreign governments, massive condemnations resounded all over Western media.

Vox (5/21/20) described it as an “official death sentence” for the “one country, two systems” model of governance in Hong Kong. Business Insider’s headline (7/1/20) described China’s national security law as having “killed Hong Kong’s pro-democracy movement in less than a year.” The Washington Post (7/3/20) ran an op-ed mocking China’s actions as “nothing less than imperialism with Chinese characteristics.” The Atlantic (7/1/20) described Hong Kong as a “colony once more,” equating the Chinese government with previous British and Japanese “overlords in a distant capital” making “decisions on Hong Kong’s behalf.”

Of course, while Western media describe the national security law as something China “imposed” on Hong Kong, these same outlets rarely if ever present the “one country, two systems” model of governance in Hong Kong as something that was imposed on China by British imperialism, when London refused to unconditionally return the former colony to China. Hong Kong was violently seized from China with the Treaty of Nanking in 1842, after the British waged a war to impose the opium trade on China, causing about 90 million Chinese people to develop an addiction by the end of the 19th century.

FAIR studies (10/26/20, 12/6/20) have found that Hong Kong protests received dramatically more media attention than contemporaneous protests in US client states like Chile, Haiti and Ecuador. FAIR found that the disparity in coverage couldn’t be explained by the protests’ size, significance, number of casualties or response from the authorities, as police crackdowns in US dependencies have been far more brutal and lethal than the crackdown in Hong Kong. The disparity is better explained by corporate journalists considering Hong Kong protesters “worthy victims,” more deserving of coverage because they are protesting against an Official EnemyTM of the US, rather than a government friendly to Washington.

While one cannot describe China’s national security law as an act of “colonialism” or “imperialism,” since Hong Kong is part of China, FAIR conducted a study comparing media coverage of Hong Kong’s national security law and actual colonialism by the US in Puerto Rico, and by its ally Israel in Palestine. From June 16 to July 14, FAIR searched for all relevant results for “Hong Kong+security law,” “Israel+annex” and a general search for “Puerto Rico” on the New York Times and Wall Street Journal’s websites, as well as a Nexis search for CNN’s coverage. FAIR included all relevant results, except reposted content from newswires like Reuters and the Associated Press. Full documentation, including links to all the articles in the sample, can be found here.

In total, there have been 113 articles on China’s new national security law in Hong Kong, 12 on Israel’s plans to unilaterally annex parts of the West Bank on July 1 (which have currently been stalled), and six altogether on Puerto Rico.

In nearly a month of coverage, there were only six stories on Puerto Rico in three leading outlets, despite the island’s ongoing crisis. One was a New York Times story (7/10/20) that reported that Trump had asked then-Homeland Security Secretary Elaine Duke, “Can we sell the island? You know, or divest of that asset?”

Puerto Rico is currently the world’s oldest colony, incorporated into the US empire as spoils of war following the Spanish/American War of 1898, and it currently enjoys less political participation than it did during the Spanish monarchy (Washington Post, 12/13/17). The US has consistently exploited Puerto Rico’s economy for over a century, and has denied the colony representation in Congress or the right to vote in presidential elections (CounterSpin, 8/2/19, 3/18/20). Washington has imposed neoliberal shock doctrine on the island, withholding aid following the devastation left by Hurricane Maria, earthquakes and coronavirus (FAIR.org, 2/9/18; Common Dreams, 1/9/20).

Puerto Rico’s local sovereignty is also compromised by the fact that the Jones Act and the PROMESA Act render it totally dependent on the US federal government for its economic viability, along with having an unelected, Washington-appointed body overseeing the colony’s finances. In 2019, the human rights group Kilómetro Cero documented the police killing of at least four civilians on the island. Puerto Rico’s police have a long history of racist violence and suppression of free speech, suspending the First Amendment after 11 PM to terminate protests in part of 2019.

In FAIR’s sample, two of the six articles on Puerto Rico (New York Times, 7/10/20; CNN, 7/12/20) also discussed the revelation that Trump considered selling Puerto Rico following Hurricane Maria, referring to it as an “asset,” demonstrating the US’s mercantile attitude towards its colony–though neither of these articles used words like “colony” or “imperialism.”

While Israel’s settler colonialism has been going on for decades, FAIR’s search focused on Israel’s plans to annex the West Bank on July 1, because it was a contemporaneous measure taken by a US ally that would permanently end prospects for Palestinian independence under a two-state solution (FAIR.org, 1/31/20, 2/7/20). While some of the disparity in coverage could be explained by the postponement of the planned annexation on July 1 due to coronavirus and international condemnation, even if we confine coverage from the Times, Journal and CNN from June 16 to July 1, there are still 44 articles on China’s national security law for Hong Kong, compared to 12 on Israel’s planned annexation of Palestinian territory.

If, as Israel’s annexation asserts, the West Bank is not an independent nation deserving of self-determination, than Israel/Palestine is an apartheid state where millions of Palestinians are denied democratic rights due to their ethnicity. The denial of these rights has a heavy human cost: According to the Israeli human rights group B’Tselem (1/1/20), Israeli security forces killed 133 Palestinians in 2019, including 28 children. Fifty-six of the people killed took no part in hostilities against Israel, making them victims of Israeli state terrorism.

Corporate media’s particular interest in Hong Kong protests cannot be explained by the Hong Kong police force’s crackdown being exceptionally brutal. After Chinese revolutionaries waged what Chinese people call the War of Liberation against Western and Japanese colonizers, Communists in Hong Kong led uprisings against British colonial rule in 1967, during which colonial police shot to death or otherwise killed at least 17 people. In contrast, while instances of police brutality have been documented during the current Hong Kong protests, none of the four deaths of protesters reported so far in the current unrest have been directly and credibly attributed to police violence. Hong Kong protesters, meanwhile, have set a man on fire, bombed subways, beaten elderly people and young women, and murdered a 70-year-old man by hurling a brick at his head (South China Morning Post, 11/12/19, 6/3/20).

Nor does international condemnation explain the greater attention US media pay to China’s assertion of control over its own territory compared to actual colonialism in Puerto Rico and Palestine: More countries support China’s actions defending its sovereignty than oppose them, and the UN has passed numerous resolutions calling for Puerto Rican and Palestinian self-determination.

While a Wall Street Journal editorial on Hong Kong (7/1/20) mourned that “China snuffs out a beacon of freedom,” a Journal op-ed (7/1/20) advised the Israeli Prime Minister on how to “slice the annexation salami.”

Not only was far more media attention given to the national security law in Hong Kong, there was also a huge difference in tone in the coverage. The Journal ran numerous editorials (7/1/20, 7/8/20, 7/14/20) and op-eds (7/2/20, 7/13/20) worrying about Hong Kong’s “endangered elections,” and mulling over how to best “punish China” for its “illegal takeover,” as well as ways to “curb Chinese intimidation” of Western corporations, pointing to laws forbidding companies to boycott Israel as a model. However, the Journal only ran one op-ed (7/1/20) on the West Bank, which advised Netanyahu to “slice some pieces off the annexation salami,” because Israel’s illegal takeover works better as a “bargaining chip” than “as a fait accompli,” and only one column on Puerto Rico (6/22/20), a celebration of the privatization of Puerto Rico’s bankrupt public utility.

The Times’ editorial board (7/1/20) urged Trump to “pressure” China, because “history will not be kind to those who did nothing to try to stop Beijing’s human rights abuses”; the paper did not speculate on history’s attitude toward the US’s own human rights abuses in Puerto Rico, or its support for those of its ally Israel in Palestine.

The paper ran numerous articles (7/7/20, 7/8/20, 7/14/20) on the national security law’s suppression of political expression in Hong Kong, noting that the Times will be moving part of its Hong Kong bureau to Seoul. The paper unironically noted that it must partially relocate to South Korea for that country’s “independent press,” and because some journalists fear Beijing will “crack down on activism and speech.” South Korea’s defamation laws can imprison people for three years for publishing true statements its government deems not in the public interest, and its authoritarian National Security Act censors and punishes people for reading and voicing opinions favorable to North Korea.

Judging by the volume and tone of media coverage about China’s national security law, one might get the impression that the law is an unprecedented and obvious threat to civil liberties. While there are legitimate concerns about how widely it can be applied (the vaguely worded law appears to assert “long-arm jurisdiction” for violations committed outside the territory, although the Chinese government denies this), China passed a similar law in 2009 for its other autonomous region, Macau—which was returned to China by Portugal in 1999—and Macau still remains autonomous. Plenty of other countries, including the US, already have anti-sedition laws on the books.

CNN (6/29/20) notes that anti-separatism is the “norm worldwide,” and a UN resolution states:

Any attempt aimed at the partial or total disruption of the national unity and the territorial integrity of a country is incompatible with the purposes and principles of the Charter of the United Nations.

While Hong Kong protesters wave US and British colonial flags for varying reasons, some have called on US President Donald Trump and UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson to “liberate” the territory and “fight for us.” The US government funded last year’s protests through the US Agency for Global Media (FAIR.org, 7/15/20). The National Endowment for Democracy (NED)—which performs the foreign government–subverting work the CIA used to do more covertly—has also given millions of dollars in support. Some of its leaders have openly colluded with US officials, and yearn for a return to British colonialism, which had little semblance of democracy throughout most of its occupation. Given that the United States criminalizes foreign interference in its elections, it should hardly be surprising or shocking that China would pass similar laws.

Marjorie Cohn on Portland Secret Police

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(image: Sparrow Project, 7/15/20)

This week on CounterSpin: Some corporate media appear agog that militarized federal agents—deployed with a mission reflected in Defense Secretary Mark Esper’s comment that city streets are a “battlespace,” filled with what acting Homeland Security chief Chad Wolf called “violent mobs”—would go ahead and tear gas protesters in Portland, Oregon, even though Portland’s Democratic mayor, Tom Wheeler, was among them.  Outrageous, sure, but we’re a bit beyond outrage now, aren’t we? While we wait to see if corporate media can decide which optic is an optic too far, we talk about the legal, constitutional elements of the fight for our right to protest, including against the very forces that are sent to police the protesting. Our guest is Marjorie Cohn, past president of the National Lawyers Guild, professor emerita at Thomas Jefferson School of Law, and contributor/editor on a number of books, including The United States and Torture: Interrogation, Incarceration and Abuse, and Drones and Targeted Killing: Legal, Moral and Geopolitical Issues.

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Plus Janine Jackson takes a quick look at recent press coverage of Trump’s executive orders.

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‘Without Immediate Action, Millions of People Will Be Evicted in the Coming Months’ - CounterSpin interview with Diane Yentel on the eviction crisis

 

Janine Jackson interviewed the National Low Income Housing Coalition’s Diane Yentel about the eviction crisis for the July 17, 2020, episode of CounterSpin. This is a lightly edited transcript.

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Janine Jackson: Imagine losing your job in a pandemic, and then losing your home because you can’t pay the rent. That’s the situation facing millions of Americans right now. As many as 28 million people, say some analysts, may be evicted from their homes in coming months, as what eviction moratoriums some places had enacted are slated to expire, even though there’s no reason to believe people will suddenly be able to pay then.

So is the plan to just allow millions of people to be made homeless during a public health crisis? Avoiding that specter involves taking up the underlying crisis: this country’s lack of affordable housing.

Diane Yentel is president and CEO of the National Low Income Housing Coalition. She joins us now by phone from Virginia. Welcome to CounterSpin, Diane Yentel.

Diane Yentel: Hi, thanks for having me.

JJ: Inasmuch as there’s been acknowledgement of what one would think is an obvious reality—that most people who’ve lost jobs at a certain point will no longer be able to make the rent—it’s been these here-and-there moratoriums on eviction. And then we see some emergency rental assistance programs, like New York Governor Cuomo just announced.

Not to say that that’s nothing. And I imagine there are better and worse programs. But was that ever going to be enough to turn back this crisis?

DY: No, it was never enough. And we’ve known that from the beginning. It has been a helpful start. So from the beginning, we have seen that if the federal government didn’t intervene in a really significant and sustained way, that we would see a wave of evictions and a spike in homelessness. And so these limited federal eviction moratoriums, and these state and local moratoriums that have been put in place, have provided some protections for low-income renters, and have helped prevent that wave from happening.

But those moratoriums are rapidly expiring. As of today, there are 29 governors that have allowed their state eviction moratoriums to expire, and the limited federal eviction moratoriums expire next week.

We have been tracking emergency rental assistance programs that have been created in response to Covid-19. As of now, there are about 151 emergency rental assistance programs around the country. Their main challenge is lack of resources: The demand for those emergency rental assistance programs far outstripped the resources that are available.

JJ: It seems to me that a moratorium without cash—I’m not sure I understand the thinking behind that. People aren’t going to suddenly have four months of back rent ready when the moratorium ends. But also, cash assistance keeps the landlord paid. So giving people money just seems like the most direct and straightforward way to do this.

DY: Right. Well, we need both: The eviction moratoriums assure people that they’re not going to lose their home in the middle of a pandemic, and that’s the very least the federal government ought to do. So there shouldn’t be a patchwork of state, local and federal eviction moratoriums that protect only some renters. We need a uniform national eviction moratorium for nonpayment of rent for the duration of the pandemic.

But, exactly: Eviction moratoriums on their own aren’t enough, because they create a financial cliff for renters to fall off of when the moratoriums eventually are lifted and back rent is owed, and the renters are no more able to pay the rent then than they were at the beginning of the pandemic.

And that’s why emergency rental assistance is so essential. It’s essential to keeping low-income earners stably housed, during and after the pandemic. And, as you say, small landlords can’t continue to maintain and operate their properties without rental income coming in.

And so the last thing we want to do is end this crisis having saddled low-income people with more debt that they can’t dig out from, or having lost some of our country’s essential housing stock. And providing emergency rental assistance helps us avoid both of those harmful outcomes.

National Low Income Housing Coalition

JJ: People about to be put out on the street—and I understand the moratoria are sometimes just on the execution of the order; landlords were allowed to do all the paperwork, so the minute the moratorium ends, those people can be put out.

But that’s just the sharpest edge, maybe you could say, of what is really a huge problem in the United States. So let’s talk about the Coalition’s annual Out of Reach report. What does that report diagnose? And what are the major findings from this latest one?

DY: The findings from this report, and from many reports that we put out that quantify the shortage of homes affordable for the lowest-income people, are that rents are far out of reach for low-income people. They are tremendously out of reach for minimum wage workers, but also for the average renter, who earns much less than what the average rent costs. And we also know that we have a severe shortage of homes, affordable and available to the lowest-income people in our country. So for every 10 of the lowest-income renters, there are fewer than four apartments that are affordable and available to them.

So because rents are so far out of reach for low-income people, and because we have such a shortage of homes affordable to them, we have nearly 8 million of the lowest-income renter households, so about 25 million people in these households, who are paying at least half of their income towards their rent every month, and many are paying much more. They’re paying 60, 70, 80% of their income, just to keep a roof over their heads. And so, when you have such limited income to begin with, and you’re paying so much of it for your home, you’re always one financial emergency away from missing rent and facing, potentially, eviction, and, in worst cases, homelessness.

So for many of these same renters, the coronavirus is that financial emergency. They’re losing jobs, they’re losing hours at work, they’re losing wages, and it’s harder than ever for them to cobble together what’s needed to pay rent.

JJ: It’s almost, “Oh yeah, of course, Black and Latinx people are the most affected.” But that shouldn’t mean that we don’t think about the particular reasons why that is.

DY: No, that’s exactly right. People of color are most at risk. And to be clear, without immediate federal action, those millions of people who will be evicted from their homes in the coming months will be predominantly Black and Latino people.

And the current crises have heightened the threat of eviction for Black and brown renters, but the threat is not new. Decades of racist housing policies, from redlining and blockbusting, restrictive covenants, restrictive zoning, put homeownership out of reach, purposefully out of reach, for people of color, and created this yawning wealth gap where today, the average white household has 12 times the wealth of the average Black household.

And so this structural racism leaves people of color disproportionately low-income, disproportionately rent-burdened, and disproportionately likely to be homeless. So these inequities now compound the harm done by Covid-19; Black and Native American people bear the brunt of infections and fatalities. Latino and Black people bear the brunt of historic job losses. And now their homes, and with it, their families’ ability to stay safe and healthy, are at risk.

JJ: The Out of Reach report has a section on the systemic shortage of affordable housing, and I’m struck by the word systemic there. What does that mean, in this context? It’s really a market failure.

DY: It is a market failure. That’s exactly right. There’s no way to build and maintain apartments that are affordable to extremely low-income people without government intervention. And that’s because the rent that extremely low-income people can pay doesn’t cover the costs of maintaining and operating apartments. So that’s a market failure. And that is where there is an essential federal government role to step in and correct that failure, and ensure that homes are affordable to the lowest-income people.

But, unfortunately, for decades the federal government has continuously underfunded solutions to keep the lowest-income people affordably housed. And so we have a system in our country today where only one in every four households who needs housing assistance, and is eligible for it, receives any. So 75% of low-income families who are eligible for and need housing assistance don’t get any. They are, instead, having to wait in long lines, adding their names to long waiting lists, hoping to win what’s essentially a housing lottery in our system, where only the lucky 25% get the help that they need to be affordably housed.

JJ: It’s immoral to allow millions to lose their homes because they’ve lost their job, maybe all the more so in a pandemic, but as with many things, if it’s wrong now, isn’t it always wrong? It also seems societally stupid, you know, it just doesn’t make sense. And there are other visions, and this is a time for big ideas. So let me just ask you, what can we do? What can we be doing to make the changes we want to see?

Diane Yentel: “Allowing homelessness and housing poverty to exist in our country has always been a public policy choice, and we can instead choose to end it.”

DY: You know, the solutions to the crisis are pretty simple, even if they’re not easy. Like, during a pandemic, let’s make sure that we keep people who are experiencing homelessness safe and alive, and we get them as quickly as possible into housing. And we ensure that nobody else becomes homeless during a pandemic.

And to do that, we need a national, uniform moratorium on evictions for the duration of a pandemic; we need at least $100 billion in emergency rental assistance, and we need additional funds for homeless shelter and service providers, to keep people experiencing homelessness safe and to get them quickly housed. And I should mention that each of those three solutions have been passed by the US House of Representatives, not once but twice. And there are multiple bills in the Senate to do the same. Now we need the Senate Republican majority to act on those solutions.

But we can’t stop there. This immediate housing crisis sits on top of a long-term systemic housing shortage, and those solutions, too, are pretty simple, if not easy. We need to build more apartments that are affordable to the lowest-income people, through programs like the National Housing Trust Fund. We need to bridge the gap between what people earn and what rent costs through rental assistance. We need to provide emergency cash assistance to stabilize families through a financial emergency. And, of course, we have to preserve the affordable housing that exists in our country today.

And allowing homelessness and housing poverty to exist in our country has always been a public policy choice, and we can instead choose to end it. The only thing that we lack, and that we’ve always lacked, is the political will to actually fund the solutions at the scale necessary, and maybe, maybe, a moment like this helps us build that political will to actually make change.

JJ: We’ve been speaking with Diane Yentel of the National Low Income Housing Coalition; you can find their work, including the new report, Out of Reach 2020: The High Cost of Housing, on the site NLIHC.org. Diane Yentel, thank you so much for joining us this week on CounterSpin.

DY: Thank you. It’s been a pleasure.

 

Stories Dooming Vaccine Hopes Overlook Immunity’s Complexity in Search of Easy Clicks

 

The San Francisco Chronicle (7/17/20) reports that “infectious disease specialists around the world were surprised and discouraged”—though only one such expert is quoted expressing surprise and discouragement.

“With Coronavirus Antibodies Fading Fast, Vaccine Hopes Fade, Too,” read a recent headline in the San Francisco Chronicle (7/17/20). As of July 20, it was the most popular article on the paper’s website—which isn’t surprising, given that it stokes one of many people’s greatest fears right now, which is that there will be no clear end in sight to their completely upended lives. But is it true? Or just clickbait?

The Chronicle wasn’t alone in its doomsday reporting. At Fortune  (7/13/20), under the headline “Vanishing Antibodies Could Doom the Race to Develop a One-and-Done Coronavirus Vaccine, Study Shows,” Katherine Dunn’s lead warned of “a potentially huge blow to the global pursuit of developing an effective COVID-19 cure.” Forbes (7/15/20) ran the headline: “Study: Immunity to Coronavirus May Fade Away Within Weeks.”

Leaning on recent studies, these articles seemed to offer hard scientific evidence to support their suggestions. The Chronicle article began with a dire pronouncement:

Disturbing new revelations that permanent immunity to the coronavirus may not be possible have jeopardized vaccine development and reinforced a decision by scientists at UCSF and affiliated laboratories to focus exclusively on treatments.

The paper’s Peter Fimrite laid out the evidence, with the “latest bad news” coming in a study that found that only 17% of Covid patients in a small study still had “potent” antibodies a few months after the onset of symptoms.

In case you weren’t convinced, Fimrite wrote: “The report is the latest in a growing chain of evidence that immunity to Covid-19 is short-lived,” pointing to a study published in Nature (6/18/20) that came to similar conclusions. Fimrite summarized:

There is still hope that the remaining antibodies will bestow some immunity, but infectious disease specialists around the world were surprised and discouraged by the rapid reduction observed in the studies.

If you read to the end, though, you find that only one source is quoted who seems to take this stance—a molecular biologist whose work on treatments is referenced in the lead. The other expert who opined on the subject returned in paragraph 33 to note that the situation is “not hopeless,” since the human immune system uses both B cells and T cells, and these studies only look at the B cell response: “It may be that a T cell response does not require as many antibodies to be effective, she said.”

It’s a very important point, but Fimrite buried it and explored it no further, leaving one little “not hopeless” to counter the foregrounded “disturbing,” “bad news,” “jeopardized” and “discouraged.”

And Fimrite’s main source certainly seems to be either an outlier or seriously misconstrued. On Twitter, respected public health experts called the Chronicle article “dangerously misleading,” “garbage” and “alarmist kaka.”

Granted, it’s not easy being a journalist covering the pandemic. Scientific knowledge on the virus moves quickly, and experts don’t always agree. But that makes it all the more important to tread carefully and not spread alarmist kaka.

And some journalists are certainly succeeding at that. In the New York Times, for instance, Apoorva Mandavilli (6/18/20) reported the Nature study’s findings, but relayed experts’ cautions that rapidly falling antibody levels “does not necessarily mean that these people can be infected a second time.”

In fact, one of the experts she consulted argued that such studies “highlight the need to develop strong vaccines, because immunity that develops naturally during infection is suboptimal and short-lived in most people.” In other words, it means a vaccination program is even more important.

In the Atlantic (7/20/20), Derek Thompson called for “a bit of skepticism about the most apocalyptic headlines.”

In the Atlantic (7/20/20), Derek Thompson directly worked to allay fears based on the recent reporting, interviewing several scientists to offer a more nuanced take on the research. The upshot—as also described by Mandavilli and other journalists, and hinted at by Fimrite at the end of his piece—is that the immune system is much more than its antibodies, so conclusions shouldn’t be drawn based on those levels alone. As Thompson writes:

Evaluating an immune response without accounting for T cells is like inventorying a national air force but leaving out the bomber jets. And, in the case of COVID-19, those bomber jets could make the biggest difference.

There’s evidence that people can have potent T-cell responses without detectable levels of antibodies.

There are also memory B cells that can be triggered by a second infection and begin producing antibodies, Mandavilli and Thompson both reported. Finally, finding fading antibodies is not even unusual; for some vaccines, antibodies drop dramatically some months after peak levels, but still protect people for decades.

In other words, while there is much that’s uncertain about the search for a vaccine, these antibody studies are not cause for despair. But the problem of the clickbait headline and accompanying reporting goes beyond its impact on readers’ mental health; this kind of story surely promotes a nihilistic outlook and undermines the efforts needed to convince a wary public to participate in a vaccination program—which really is something to panic about.

How NOT to Resist Trump: Kayleigh McEnany’s Anti-Science Comments - Yes, the White House is against science. No, McEnany didn’t say it like that.

 

Washington Post (7/16/20)

Media, particularly those who have made a habit of rhetorically opposing Donald Trump for the past four years, were awash last week with White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany’s controversial statements on reopening public schools in the middle of a pandemic. For example:

  • “McEnany on School Reopenings: ‘The Science Should Not Stand in the Way of This’” (Washington Post, 7/16/20)
  • “‘The Science Should Not Stand in the Way,’ McEnany Says of Reopening Schools” (New York Times, 7/16/20)
  • “White House: ‘The Science Should Not Stand in the Way’ of Reopening Schools – as It Happened” (Guardian, 7/16/20)
  • “’Science Should Not Stand in the Way’ of Schools Reopening, White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany Says” (USA Today, 7/16/20)
  • “White House Press Secretary: ‘The Science Should Not Stand in the Way of’ Schools Fully Reopening” (NBC News, 7/16/20)
  • “White House: ‘Science Should Not Stand in the Way’ of School Openings. Another Day, Another Astonishing Utterance From the Trump Administration on the Coronavirus” (Rolling Stone, 7/16/20)

The myriad of viral headlines suggested that this was another Orwellian outburst from the administration, along the lines of when George H. W. Bush said: “I’ll never apologize for the United States of America. Ever! I don’t care what the facts are.” But reading her full answer, or watching the video embedded in many of the reports, it becomes clear that the headlines are misrepresenting McEnany’s words. What she actually said was:

The president has said unmistakably that he wants schools to open. And I was just in the Oval [Office] talking to him about that. And when he says open, he means open in full — kids being able to attend each and every day at their school. The science should not stand in the way of this.

And as Dr. Scott Atlas said — I thought this was a good quote — Of course, we can [do it].  Everyone else in the…Western world, our peer nations are doing it. We are the outlier here.

The science is very clear on this, that — you know, for instance, you look at the JAMA Pediatrics study of 46 pediatric hospitals in North America that said the risk of critical illness from COVID is far less for children than that of seasonal flu. The science is on our side here, and we encourage for localities and states to just simply follow the science, open our schools.

It’s very damaging to our children: There is a lack of reporting of abuse, there’s mental depressions that are not addressed, suicidal ideations that are not addressed when students are not in school. Our schools are extremely important, they’re essential, and they must reopen.

In other words, the White House is arguing that the science shouldn’t be a problem because it doesn’t stand in their way. But this is certainly not how it was presented to the public by many journalistic outlets.

Some outlets did give a fuller explanation of McEnany’s comments. MSNBC (7/17/20), for example, noted that, “To many, that made it sound as if the White House press secretary was arguing that science was an impediment to Donald Trump’s preference,” before explaining that the true context “casts McEnany’s controversial quote in a less embarrassing light.” Yet the headline for the article explaining the confusion was “White House: ‘Science Should Not Stand in the Way’ of School Openings,’” which only served to double the muddle.

Around 59% of people do not read past the headline before sharing an article, making it especially important that they convey accurate information. A majority of people seeing these headlines will have been given a misleading picture of events.

The Daily Wire (7/17/20) used the McEnany quote as an opportunity to go after “left-wing journalists.”

The media mishandling of McEnany’s remarks led to a field day for the right-wing press, portraying the Trump administration as unfairly under attack from the leftist establishment (e.g., Daily Caller, 7/17/20; Daily Wire, 7/17/20; National Review, 7/17/20). “The shameless charlatans in the liberal media were at it again on Thursday, engaging in fake news,” wrote Newsbusters (7/16/20). “The entire corporate media complex have conspired to deliberately lie and mislead the public,” Breitbart (7/17/20) told its readers.

McEnany herself (Twitter, 7/16/20) described it as a “case study in media bias”:

I said: “The science is very clear on this…the science is on our side here. We encourage our localities & states to just simply follow the science. Open our schools.” But leave it to the media to deceptively suggest I was making the opposite point!

The problem with this narrative, of course, is that her comments were anti-science. A huge new study from the Center for Disease Control (CDC) itself, released the same day as McEnany’s comments, found that children aged 10–19 (i.e., kids in elementary, middle and high school) spread the disease at least as well as adults do, meaning any reopening will certainly worsen the situation, leading to deaths, not necessarily of students, but of teachers, grandparents, other public transport users, or anyone else coming into contact with them.

Pretending that opening schools has no consequences for adults is itself deeply misleading. While some other Western nations have reopened schools, they have done so in a context of drastically reduced new cases; in many instances, virtually zero. On July 16, the day of McEnany’s comments, the United States set a worldwide all-time high for new daily cases, 73,388. Comparing the US to the likes of Germany or New Zealand (July 16 cases: 560 and one, respectively) is scientific malpractice.

Not only did other Western countries wait until their infection rates were much lower before reopening schools, they also took great care to reduce the chances that schoolchildren would transmit the virus to themselves or others. Time (7/20/20) described how Denmark reopened schools on April 15, when the country was averaging 30 new cases per million people per day (compared to the US’s current 202 cases per million per day):

When children ages 2–12 returned to school, they were sectioned off into “micro groups” of 12. These groups—also known as “protective bubbles”—arrive to school at staggered times, eat lunch separately and have their own zones in the playground. All students are required to wash their hands every two hours but do not have to wear face masks. Desks are divided two meters apart, all education material must be cleaned twice a day and when possible, classes are held outside. Parents are not allowed on school property.

Transmission in reopened schools is blamed for a dramatic resurgence of Covid-19 in Israel (chart: 91-DIVOC).

Some countries that reopened schools with less stringent protocols have come to regret it. “Israelis Fear Schools Reopened Too Soon as Covid-19 Cases Climb” was a July 14 headline in the Wall Street Journal, with the subhead, “Outbreaks in Schools Had Infected at Least 1,335 Students and 691 Staff by Monday Since the Reopening in Early May.”

Just as the pandemic began, the Trump administration attempted to slash the CDC’s budget, the president in February brushing off the idea that Covid-19 would be worse than the flu as a liberal “hoax” intended to unseat him. After accepting its validity, he touted ineffective drugs as miracle cures and even suggested that injecting bleach into the body could cure the sick. This is in keeping with the administration’s general contempt for sciences, such as its grossly downplaying the threat of climate change, with Trump himself labeling it a Chinese invention, while claiming the noise from wind farms causes cancer.

Unfortunately, this latest scandal perfectly encapsulates much of corporate media’s apparent resistance to Trump, in that it avoids a substantive critique in favor of catching the administration out on technical grounds. Resisting the reopening of schools on the basis that the White House press secretary misspoke represents a lost opportunity to actually oppose the administration’s scandalously poor handling of the coronavirus, and the dangerous, genuinely anti-science decision to force through reopening in the height of a pandemic.

Most US adults, including more than nine in ten Republicans, say they have lost trust in the media in recent years. This sort of sloppy faux-adversarial journalism in the pursuit of clicks will do nothing to reverse this trend. Is further eroding your industry’s credibility worth a few more eyeballs? Apparently, the answer is yes.

 

National Media Promote ‘Progressive’ Baltimore Prosecutor, Ignoring Local and Alternative Exposés

 

“Gray was killed as the result of a ‘rough ride,’” prosecutor Marilyn Mosby wrote in the Washington Post (5/30/20), because “the officers did not strap him in.”

As global protests against police violence followed the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis, Baltimore City State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby was featured prominently in national corporate media discussing prosecutors’ role in police accountability. Since Floyd’s death, she has appeared on CNN (6/4/20, 6/9/20) MSNBC (6/4/20, 6/17/20), NPR (5/31/20), ABC’s Nightline (6/4/20) and NBC’s Today show (6/2/20), among other broadcasts. And she wrote op-eds for the New York Times (6/4/20), Washington Post (5/30/20) and Baltimore Sun (6/22/20).

While national corporate media outlets have offered Mosby a wide platform to brand herself as a progressive prosecutor, local and independent media have been publishing reports that challenge her office’s record in practice. The gulf between these two concurrent portraits of Mosby exemplifies how popular formats like talk shows and op-eds give local leaders a chance to raise their national profiles without facing scrutiny.

Many of Mosby’s recent appearances and articles have centered around her 2015 prosecution of six officers in the death of Freddie Gray. She discussed that case in a Washington Post op-ed (5/30/20), headlined “I Was the Prosecutor in the Freddie Gray Case. Here’s What Minneapolis Should Know.”

“Gray was killed as the result of a ‘rough ride,’” she wrote. “The officers did not strap him in, and his spine was partially severed in the back of that wagon.” In 2015, Mosby charged the officers with failing to seat belt Gray or call for timely medical attention, not for using excessive force.

Yet an article I wrote this spring in the Appeal (4/26/20) revealed new evidence that calls into question the basis of Mosby’s 2015 prosecution. Numerous civilian witnesses said they saw police using excessive force against Gray, as they told the police department and Mosby’s own investigators soon after Gray’s arrest. Nine witnesses reported seeing officers throw Gray headfirst into the van, an action that was consistent with his type of fatal injury. Mosby’s office failed to share these accounts with the medical examiner or the public.

Mosby has characterized her 2015 prosecution as hindered by uncooperative police. “The Baltimore police department worked against us,” she said during a June 2 appearance on NBC’s Today (6/2/20). Yet the new evidence reveals that her case was built around how the officers, her defendants, described the events of Gray’s arrest.

In the New York Times (6/4/20), Mosby charged for the first time that police had “throw[n] Mr. Gray into the back of a police wagon—headfirst, handcuffed and shackled.”

For the most part, Mosby has been speaking about the Gray case as if the new evidence never came to light, with one exception. In a June 4 op-ed in the New York Times, headlined “Prosecutors, Please Stand Up to Police,” she asked:

Why were the officers sitting on his back? Why did they throw Mr. Gray into the back of a police wagon—headfirst, handcuffed and shackled—where his spine was subsequently severed?

Neither Mosby nor anyone from her office has ever made the claim before that the officers threw Gray into the back of the wagon headfirst. In fact, her prosecutors argued the opposite in court—that the officers did not use excessive force, and that Gray was in good health when he was taken away in the van.

Mosby’s Times op-ed was published the day after the newspaper drew heat for publishing US Sen. Tom Cotton’s op-ed calling for a military response to protests. The newspaper, criticized for not factchecking some of the senator’s inflammatory statements, promised to do better in its op-eds. Like Cotton, Mosby was given unchecked space in the Times to offer a revisionist narrative. In this case, she gave the impression that her office held the officers accountable for excessive force.

The Gray case gave Mosby a national reputation as a progressive prosecutor, which was enhanced by subsequent profiles in Vogue (6/23/15), New York Times Magazine (9/28/16), Essence (9/18/18) and other outlets. Yet national media have not scrutinized whether her office has been operating in a progressive manner since she was first elected in 2015.

Most conspicuously, national corporate media have ignored the story of Mosby’s repeated prosecution of Keith Davis Jr., the first person shot by Baltimore police after Freddie Gray’s arrest. Police chased and shot at Davis more than 40 times when responding to a robbery call; no evidence was found suggesting Davis fired a gun at them. Instead of investigating and charging the officers, Mosby prosecuted Davis for the robbery and, when that case failed in court, an unrelated murder that police said he committed that morning. Davis is now likely facing his fifth trial for the same murder, after two hung juries and an overturned conviction resulting from a discredited jailhouse informant. Mosby’s refusal to drop the case has mobilized local activists against her.

The Davis story has been covered by independent outlets like the Intercept and the Appeal for years. Mosby’s repeated prosecution of a police brutality victim provides a startling contrast to her actions in the Gray case. And yet, in five years, she has not been asked about the Davis case once by any national corporate journalist.

Marilyn Mosby’s office wrote that punching a woman in the face hard enough to knock her to the pavement “does not rise to the level of illegality” (Baltimore Sun, 6/2/20).

Keith Davis Jr. is not a lone example of Mosby’s office siding with police and against victims in cases of force. Even in the last two months, Baltimore news outlets have shared one story after another in which her office did just that.

On June 2, the Baltimore Sun reported that Mosby’s office declined to prosecute an officer caught on civilian video punching a woman with a closed fist into apparent unconsciousness. The woman, who appeared to be having a mental health episode, swiped at the officer first. Prosecutors charged her with second-degree assault.

On June 10, the Sun reported that Mosby declined to prosecute any of the 13 officers who fired 147 rounds in a 2019 incident, killing the man they were chasing, who, prosecutors acknowledged, did not fire first. The officers’ bullets also struck a 51-year old woman who was in the area, as well as another officer.

Mosby’s decision not to prosecute the officers in these two cases made local headlines during the very same week that she asked prosecutors to “please stand up to police” in the New York Times and on numerous national TV broadcasts. Since then, her office released official “declination” (decline to charge) letters in three more death-in-custody cases from 2018.

Mosby’s office also took the side of an abusive police officer in a January 2020 incident. A video circulating showed a civilian kicking an officer who was restraining another civilian. The two civilians were charged with assaulting an officer. But on July 3, defense attorneys released additional civilian and body camera footage from the event, evidence that had been known to police and prosecutors. The additional video showed the officer was actually choking one of the defendants, while the other was trying to save his life. After the additional video was made public, six months later, Mosby’s office did charge the officer with making false statements in his police report.

When national corporate outlets do cover Mosby’s work as a prosecutor, they usually report on announcements made by her own office that promise bold and progressive reform. She got national attention in December for announcing that her office had compiled a list of 305 officers with “integrity issues.” But a June 24 op-ed in the Sun, written by two defense attorneys, maintained that her office refuses to turn over that list to attorneys and generally resists transparency around police corruption.

More recently, Mosby spoke out about the need to reduce the number of inmates during Covid and followed this up by announcing that her office would drop more than 500 warrants for arrests for low-level drug and other offenses. These stories were covered by the New York Times (3/30/20), Washington Post (3/25/20), Associated Press (6/26/20), USA Today (7/7/20) and others.

Yet a local Twitter account called Baltimore Courtwatch has been reporting on court bail hearings, revealing in detail how her office fights to hold people without bail during the same pandemic in the vast majority of cases. A recent article in The Appeal (7/14/20) exposed that the same percentage of defendants has been held without bail in Baltimore City district court before and since Covid-19.

Among multiple other upsetting events in today’s Baltimore City bail review hearings, Marilyn Mosby’s office argued to continue holding a teenage defendant because “just because someone is paralyzed doesn’t mean they can’t get around and aren’t a threat to public safety.”

— Baltimore Courtwatch (@bmorecourtwatch) April 28, 2020

While Mosby cultivates a national presence, she has not given an interview to a local journalist since her re-election campaign in 2018. She was called out on Twitter (6/4/20) about it by Lisa Snowden-McCray, editor-in-chief of the Baltimore Beat and executive producer of the Real News. Mosby’s response was to jab at Snowden-McCray’s credibility:

So says the unbiased journalist! @LisaMcCray

— Marilyn J. Mosby (@MarilynMosbyEsq) June 4, 2020

Mosby has benefited from a media appetite for stories in which local prosecutors can be seen as a part of the solution to the criminal justice issues brought to the forefront by the Black Lives Matter movement. National corporate outlets have minimized or ignored the reality of day-to-day prosecuting in cities like Baltimore in place of that overarching narrative. Some prominent media figures have not held back in their admiration of Mosby, including MSNBC’s Joy Reid (Twitter, 2/18/20):

Even more proud of you, Marilyn! Keep leading and being such a great example for all of our daughters

— Joy Reid (@JoyAnnReid) February 18, 2020

CNN analyst April Ryan (6/10/20) referred to Mosby and her husband, State Senator Nick Mosby, as “amazing people” and a “super couple” in a recent Instagram interview.

And so the national corporate media largely only reports on Mosby-related stories that are generated by her own office. She is then invited on national talk shows, where she is only asked about those same headlines. The investigative work into her actual record being conducted by local and independent reporters never enters the national conversation.

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