Fairness & Accuracy In Reporting

Media Defend Biden by Attacking Dems for ‘Attacking’ Obama

by Julie Hollar

Coming out of the second round of Democratic debates, a curious storyline crystallized in the media: The candidates are attacking Obama, and that’s a sure-fire way to hand the election to Trump. It’s the latest flavor of “the Democrats are moving too far left” (FAIR.org, 7/2/19)—this time echoing both Trump himself and the right-wing Democratic candidates, including former Obama Vice President Joe Biden.

During the first debate, Rep. John Delaney pitched the story, claiming, “Most of the folks running for president want to build economic walls to free trade and beat up on President Obama.” Biden’s team was also quick to hype the story after his own appearance in the second debate. The Washington Post‘s Steven Stromberg (7/31/19) quoted one of his advisers immediately after the debate: “Many people on this stage spent more time attacking Obama than they did Trump. I think Democratic primary voters will make a judgment about this.”

The next day, Trump (Politico, 8/1/19) picked up the Biden spin, declaring:

The Democrats spent more time attacking Barack Obama than they did attacking me, practically. This morning, that’s all the fake news was talking about.

Indeed, it was hard to read coverage of the debates without tripping over pieces like, “Do Democrats Think They Can Win by Attacking Barack Obama?” (Washington Post, 7/31/19), “Worst Democratic Strategy Yet: Attack Obama’s Legacy” (New York Times, 8/2/19) or “‘Stay Away From Barack’: Dems Seethe Over Criticism of Obama” (Politico, 8/1/19). (Note that the “Dems” who are seething in these stories are almost exclusively Biden strategists, former Obama administration officials or strategists, and other party centrists.)

MSNBC hosts helped promote the storyline that criticisms of Biden were really attacks on Obama (Mediaite, 8/1/19).

It’s a curious storyline, if you actually watched the debates. For the record, Trump was mentioned 199 times across the two nights; Obama (or “Obamacare”) was mentioned 32 times (including eight name-drops by Biden). And the non-Biden Obama mentions were largely framed as praise—as when Julián Castro argued (7/31/19) that most of the job growth Trump takes credit for was “due to President Obama. Thank you, Barack Obama. Thank you, Barack Obama”—or as a prop for the candidates’ plans, as when Kamala Harris said that the “architect of the Obama Affordable Care Act” supported Harris’s healthcare plan.

On healthcare, while there were plenty of attacks on left-wing positions from CNN moderators, who peppered candidates with industry-friendly questions about “raising taxes on the middle class” to pay for Medicare for All, and “forcing” people to give up their private insurance, on neither night did candidates attack the ACA or Obama on healthcare. In fact, only a few candidates (besides Biden) mentioned the ACA; none of the mentions could be construed as direct attacks on it, with the possible exception of Beto O’Rourke’s claim (7/30/19) that his “Medicare for America” plan is a “better path” than either Medicare for All or “improv[ing] the Affordable Care Act at the margins.”

Immigration was probably the most-cited “Obama attack” issue—but it was CNN‘s Don Lemon who teed up the attack, asking Biden:

In the first two years of the Obama administration, nearly 800,000 immigrants were deported, far more than during President Trump’s first two years. Would the higher deportation rates resume if you were president?

Many candidates talked about wanting decriminalization, and reducing deportations, but, again, none aimed their attacks at Obama—unless you take criticism of the healthcare system as criticism of Obama, as the Post seemed to when it cited Warren’s criticism that “we have tried the solution of Medicare, Medicaid and private insurance. And what have the private insurance companies done? They’ve sucked billions of dollars out of our health care system.”

Some did aim directly at Biden, including Castro and New York Mayor Bill de Blasio. The Post pointed to Castro, who was Obama’s Housing secretary, quipping about the deportation policy of the administration in which he and Biden both served: “It looks like one of us has learned the lessons of the past, and one of us hasn’t.” The Times piece, by Timothy Egan, didn’t even bother citing evidence, instead just asserting that Obama was “now a target for cannibalistic candidates from the left.”

And both the Post and Politico cited Cory Booker criticizing Biden, after Biden attempted to distance himself from Obama’s deportation policy (answering Lemon’s question about whether he would resume Obama’s policy with an unequivocal “absolutely not”): “You invoke President Obama more than anybody in this campaign,” said Booker. “You can’t do it when it’s convenient and dodge it when it’s not.”

Tellingly, no one cited Biden’s distancing from Obama policy—in this case, or when he said he would not re-enter the TPP under the same terms Obama did—as criticism of Obama.

Obama was and continues to be highly popular with the public (and especially Democrats), so it’s no surprise that Biden is largely pinning his campaign on his connection to the former president, and trying to discredit opponents whose plans might differ from any of Obama’s policies. By going along with Biden’s efforts to construe any attacks on himself, his record or proposals as attacks on Obama, media are helping to construct a trope that seeks to trap anyone to the left of Obama—and to the left of the media’s comfort zone—by effectively putting most criticism of Biden off limits.

 

The NYT’s Pro-War Arguments Against War With Iran

by Gregory Shupak 

Once you’re debating who ought to start a war, you’ve abandoned the anti-war argument (New York Times, 6/20/19).

The New York Times has published five editorials since the beginning of May that are ostensibly critical of a possible military war between the United States and Iran. As anti-war arguments, however, they are woefully lacking—vilifying Iran without subjecting the US to comparable scrutiny, and hiding US aggression towards Iran.

The editorials regurgitate the same anti-Iran demonology pro-war voices offer to try to justify an attack on the country. In one case (5/4/19), readers are told that

there is no doubt that the Revolutionary Guards is a malign actor. Founded in 1979, it was the revolution’s protector. In time, the corps became a tool of violence and military adventurism as Iran expanded its regional influence in Iraq, Lebanon, Yemen and Syria.

The same editorial implies that Iran has a nuclear weapons program about which Americans should be concerned, writing:

The administration has fiercely debated imposing sanctions on European, Chinese and Russian entities working with Iran to convert facilities capable of pursuing nuclear-weapons related activities to more peaceful, energy-oriented projects. On Friday, the State Department announced that while work at three key facilities will be allowed to continue for 90 days, the administration will reconsider the decision at the end of that period. Some other nuclear-related activities will be prohibited.

Saying that Iran has “facilities capable of pursuing nuclear-weapons related activities,” which should be “convert[ed]” so that they can work on “more peaceful, energy-oriented projects,” strongly implies that Iran has a nuclear weapons program or is close to having one, as does an editorial (7/19/19) that claims Iran has “nuclear ambitions.” There is no basis for this insinuation: Iran has no nuclear weapons program, hasn’t been close to having one since at least 2003, and perhaps never has. (See FAIR.org, 10/17/17.)

The New York Times (5/4/19) depicts Iran’s Revolutionary Guards as “a tool of violence and military adventurism…in Iraq, Lebanon, Yemen and Syria”—notably, all countries that the US has either directly attacked or funded military operations in.

The series of editorials in this series, furthermore, describe Iran as doing (presumably nefarious) “work on missile systems” (7/19/19), and as “a despotic Middle East regime” (6/20/19) that provides “support for regional terrorist organizations” (7/19/19).

No US institution or practice is sweepingly condemned in a comparable fashion. Carrying out an invasion of Iraq, as the US military did, and causing as many as a million deaths is not considered the conduct of a “malign actor” or “a tool of violence and military adventurism”; nor is keeping children in cages or having the world’s largest prison population evidence of a “despotic…regime.” Whatever the Times’ definition of “support for regional terrorist organizations” is, it evidently does not include backing racist groups in Libya, laying waste to Syrian cities or flooding the country with weapons that helped ISIS, or carrying out massacres in Afghanistan, or underwriting brutality in Yemen and Palestine.

In this respect, the Times’ apparent anti-war editorials bolster the case for war against Iran: If Iran is a “despotic . . . regime” that provides “support for regional terrorist organizations” and has a military outfit that is “no doubt . . . a malign actor” and a “tool of violence and military adventurism,” readers can be forgiven for failing to rush out and organize a peace movement. And if the United States is or has none of these things—or, in the case of a nuclear weapons program and “work on missile systems,” is presumably allowed to have them—they may be confused about why the US shouldn’t bomb or invade Iran, or overthrow its government, or some combination of these.

The editorials also muddy responsibility for the crisis, presenting what is happening as roughly equally the fault of the United States and Iran. The first editorial (5/4/19) argued that the “Trump administration is playing a dangerous game in Iran, risking a serious miscalculation by either side.” The problem isn’t so much the risk of “a serious miscalculation by either side” as it is deliberate US calculations to inflict misery on Iranians in an effort to force Iran to submit to US orders. US sanctions are severely harming Iranians, causing food shortages, undermining the healthcare system, preventing flood relief from getting to Iranians, setting off a collapse in economic growth and driving the country into a deep recession while helping to push up inflation; all of this information was publicly available before any of these editorials were published. Iran, of course, has done nothing comparable to US society.

A New York Times headline (6/14/19) presents the US and Iran as equally responsible for a “collision course.”

The title of the next in the series was “Iran and the US Are on a Collision Course” (6/14/19), and it said that “hard-liners on both sides have little interest in any diplomatic off-ramp.” In the weeks leading up to this article’s publication, the US sent B-52 bombers, drones, Patriot anti-missile batteries, reconnaissance aircraft, and air and missile “defense” systems to Iran’s doorstep—alongside 1,500 troops, on top of the 60–80,000 fighters the US admits to having in the area, to say nothing of the thousands more US forces in the region’s seas. If the two countries are on a “collision course,” it’s because the US is driving its vehicle directly into Iran’s.

Similar, the subsequent editorial (6/20/19) contended that,

with opposing military forces in such proximity, with accusations and munitions flying and with the White House facing a trust deficit, the danger of open conflict increases by the day.

What this elides is where these forces are in proximity and why: They are close to each other in Iran’s immediate vicinity, where Iranian military equipment and personnel are naturally located, and where US weapons, spy equipment, soldiers, sailors and pilots have provocatively been sent. This is the reason that “conflict increases by the day”; at last check, Iran does not have any weapons, or land, sea or air forces off the US coast.

In the Times’ fourth editorial on the subject (6/21/19), the authors wrote that the

risks of conflict are now growing sharply. Even if the two governments are not ready for diplomacy, at the very least such a connection could help ensure that the many military assets arrayed around one of the world’s most vital shipping lanes don’t ignite a war.

Wars don’t spontaneously combust, nor do the “risks of conflict . . . [grow] sharply” on their own. These dangers have come about because “the many military assets arrayed around one of the world’s most vital shipping lanes” include those of Iran, which are in the vicinity because that’s where Iranians have the audacity to live, and those of the US, which include more than 50 military bases surrounding Iran, more than 7,000 miles from American shores. Iran has a grand total of zero bases encircling the United States.

These editorials make it sound as if the US and Iran have been brought to the edge of war by immutable physical laws, rather than by conscious decisions the US ruling class has made. Framing the issue this way hides US government responsibility for the increased possibility of war. Occluding which party is at fault for a war or the possibility thereof makes it harder for the public to identity who needs to be mobilized against. This problem is particularly acute when it is the US paper of record obscuring the ways Washington is increasing tensions with Iran, and bringing the countries closer to a devastating war.

You can send a message to the New York Times at letters@nytimes.com (Twitter:@NYTOpinion). Please remember that respectful communication is the most effective.

Ruha Benjamin on Race After Technology

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This week on CounterSpin: Listeners may have heard about the electronic soap dispensers whose light sensors can’t detect black skin, Google and Flickr‘s automatic image-labeling that—oops— tagged photos of black people with “ape” and “gorilla.” An Asian-American blogger wrote about her Nikon digital camera that kept asking, “Did someone blink?” And you can, I’m afraid, imagine what turns up in search engine results for “3 black teenagers” vs. “3 white teenagers.”  Some examples of discriminatory design are obvious—which doesn’t mean the reasons behind them are easy to fix. And then there are other questions around technology and bias—in policing, in housing, in banking—that require deeper questioning. That questioning is the heart of a new book, called Race After Technology: Abolitionist Tools for the New Jim Code. CounterSpin spoke with author Ruha Benjamin; she’s associate professor of African-American studies at Princeton University and author, also, of People’s Science: Bodies and Rights on the Stem Cell Frontier.

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Plus Janine Jackson takes a quick look at recent coverage of racist heart trackers.

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‘Museums Like the Whitney Are Accountable to the Communities They Claim to Serve’ - CounterSpin interview with Amin Husain on Whitney Museum protest

Janine Jackson’s interview with Amin Husain about the Whitney Museum protest, originally part of the May 10, 2019, episode of CounterSpin, was reaired on the August 2, 2019, show. This is a lightly edited transcript.

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New York Times (7/25/19)

Janine Jackson: Warren Kanders resigned from his position as vice chair of the board of the Whitney Museum July 25, saying he didn’t want to “play a role, however inadvertent, in [the museum’s] demise.”

The advertent role that Kanders played was to fund his philanthropy with profits from Safariland, a company that makes tear gas canisters used against protesters around the world, and Sierra Bullets, that sells ammunition used against Palestinian civilians in Gaza; activists, artists and other humans objected.

Kanders’ resignation doesn’t mean the end of the work of groups like Decolonize This Place, who organized around Kanders, as well as a planned event at New York’s Museum of Natural History involving fascist Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro.

As long as cultural institutions are important sites of public conversation, but the public doesn’t have much to say on who gets to lead that conversation or the stories they tell, activists will be asking us to talk about what that means, and what it would mean to change it. That’s what we talked about a few months ago with Decolonize This Place core organizer Amin Husain.

***

Janine Jackson: Welcome to CounterSpin, Amin Husain.

Amin Husain: Thanks for having me.

JJ: Let me ask you, first, a sort of big question. The theater, museums, art galleries—they’re seen in the United States as noblesse oblige, rich people giving back for the public betterment. Is part of the difficulty of demanding some kind of accountability, or even transparency, the way that these institutions are structured from the get-go, and who they see themselves as accountable to?

AH: Yeah, we’ve been looking at these cultural institutions for a while. And they’re not supported publicly in any material way. So then they rely on “One Percenters” (if we can just use that language loosely). And I think within that, they end up not hospitable to communities that they claim to serve. But yet they peddle the idea of, “Oh, this is a community space, everyone’s welcome. You are part of the public, the public is who we cater to.”

But, in fact, there’s a whole other economy going on, in which the people with a lot of money, giving money to these cultural institutions, are really determining what aesthetics is, what culture is, what’s worth showing, who does it cater to. And it ends up excluding most of the people, if we’re going to talk about New York, in the city.

Focusing on the American Museum of Natural History (because each museum has a specificity), we call it a “Hall of White Supremacy.” If you’ve visited the American Museum of Natural History, that gets a lot of public funding, you realize that, oh, there’s a Hall for African People and there’s a Hall for African Mammals, and there’s a Hall for Asian People and there’s a Hall for Asian Mammals. But there’s no Hall for European People. There’s no Hall for White People. And these are the kind of things that, you know, you see these cultural institutions talking about education, but then what they are doing is perpetuating white supremacy in the children that go to visit.

These are some of the things that we’re calling attention to, but we’re not naive to what’s going on. In a way, museums have always been conceived of as colonial structures. They’re a reflection of the society we live in. And, at the same time, we know that they can be something different. And if they’re not going to be something different, then they’re no longer going to get a pass on pretending to be something good, but in actually advancing bad.

JJ: Yeah. We find that’s the same with news media, who are, as we remind regularly, profit-driven businesses that are public in their impact, but not in their decision-making. Museums, as you’re saying, are a site for a bigger project that involves telling ourselves about ourselves, and who gets to tell that story.

Well, we’ll come back, certainly, to that broader idea. But I do want to ask about Decolonize This Place’s increasingly visible work around Warren Kanders and the Whitney Museum of American Art. Who is Kanders, and what’s at stake there?

Husain Amin: “What we’ve tried to say, both as artists and as people living in the city, to the Whitney, is that, ‘No, Kanders can’t be on a board of the Whitney Museum that claims to be a progressive institution, that claims to serve a public interest.’”

AH: So yeah, thanks for the question. Warren Kanders is a person who is the owner of Safariland Group. The Safariland Group owns many subsidiaries that create, as they call them, “less lethal” solutions. Really, what they produce, and the way this came to our attention is, they produced the tear gas that was used in Egypt, that was used in Bahrain, that was used in Turkey, that’s been used in Ferguson against protesters, that was used in Baltimore. They also supply vests and holsters to the NYPD. They provide, through subsidiaries, ballistic bullets that are lethal, that are used in Palestine.

And so when that came to our attention, it was surprising. What was surprising is the degree by which a person like Warren Kanders could be a vice president of the Whitney Museum Board of Trustees. That was a little bit shocking, considering that the Whitney puts on shows around protests, around defining what American contemporary art looks like. And to the broader public, I think, the world looks at what the Whitney Museum puts up.

And so for us, what we’ve tried to say, both as artists and as people living in the city, to the Whitney, is that, “No, Kanders can’t be on a board of the Whitney Museum that claims to be a progressive institution, that claims to serve a public interest.”

We understand that there are many Warren Kanders. You know, the DeVos family is on the board of trustees, you have the Crown family on the board of trustees. But what we’re saying is that Kanders is a prime example of what’s wrong with our cultural institutions, and that the Whitney is being held accountable.

And what happens when you hold an institution like the Whitney accountable is that it sends a signal out in the world to other cultural institutions, but also to the people, to the communities that are being harmed by it, that we stand in solidarity with them, that we understand that we do have power, that we’re not powerless, and that museums and institutions like the Whitney, they either are accountable to the communities they claim to serve, or they’re going to be protested in a way that impacts their branding.

JJ: Right. We have such a confused view of wealth and of rich people, I think, in this country, that you can see someone who makes their money off misery—there’s no other way to put it—and yet, we will say, well, but if they use that money and create a space where inner-city kids get to look at a Van Gogh, does maybe that all sort of balance out?

And in addition to the idea about the ideas—the cultural reproduction of colonialism, and of ideas of white supremacy—it’s really that these institutions, in some sense, act as money-launderers.

AH: Thank you for saying that. They do act as money-laundering businesses.

But I think people are naive about the art world in general. I think that we as artists and as broader communities care about art, and understand that it has a deep value. But I think that the people with wealth, this wealth is finding a home in something called “the art system.” Look at a Jeff Koons’ piece: The Rabbit costs approximately $70 million; this artist has a rabbit that costs $70 million. Why does anything cost $70 million?

It’s a question that we have to really contend with. And I think the answer isn’t simply because it’s art, and a brilliant person made it. It’s actually deeper than that. It houses this wealth that’s stolen, and then it gets traded between people who own wealth, and then you get tax breaks, or a tax write-off, off of your tax ledger.

JJ: Right.

AH: And I think that this is what’s happening with these institutions. These institutions make rich people look better in the way that they’re doing kind of philanthropy, but it’s not really philanthropy. And then at the same time, they’re getting all these write-offs, and hiding their money. And then their money comes out in art objects. And these art objects are somehow worth $70 million or $20 million or $10 million.

JJ: Right. Well, I want to just go back and say, we heard that the American Museum of Natural History staff, many of them, were gobsmacked, and I know that Whitney staffers, too, many of them are with you in this fight. I mean, the staff inside these institutions are part of the fight, too, right?

AH: Absolutely. I think this is what’s been really important about both the American Museum of Natural History and the Whitney Museum. And shout out to all the staff that have organized.

And I think people forget that the organizing around the Whitney Museum happened with the staff, front-end and back-end, of the museum. Over 100 staff members signed a letter asking for the removal of Kanders, for some principles of transparency around where the funding…and some ethical guidelines. Some money you should say “no” to. That’s a minimum basis for a different kind of conversation.

I think what we’ve done with our actions, going to the Whitney every week, and the eighth week is coming up, is to speak to the staff, to go in advance, to talk to them, to share food with them. We’ve explained we understand the inconvenience that protest creates. We know that they are employed. We know we live in a society in which people have to pay bills, and working at the museum is one of the things by which you pay bills. We understand that institutions are complex. What we’re targeting is the leadership of the Whitney Museum, and we’re making sure, to the degree possible, to not make the lives of the employees difficult.

JJ: I wanted to ask one question about media. A Decolonize This Place press release last year quoted Whitney director Adam Weinberg, in his praise of the museum as “a safe space for unsafe ideas.” And it reminded me of one news article I saw that lumped the Whitney campaign for the removal of Kanders, lumped it in with other scandals at museums, including, you know, sexually explicit art, and Britain cleaning the Elgin Marbles—not taking them, but cleaning them.

And it sort of felt like, oh, museums are “lightning rods,” they get it from “all sides,” and aren’t they very brave to allow people to disagree, you know?

I’ve seen some heartening media coverage, but I’ve also seen some containing media coverage. And I wonder what you would hope that journalists looking at your work would take away from it, and what you would hope they would not?

AH: Yeah, thank you for that question. I think, as I mentioned, the stakes are high at the Whitney. This isn’t about museums being a lightning rod. This is about the injustices and domination and oppression that exist in our society, that materially impact our lives in this city, right, being materialized in a place like the Whitney.

What that allows for us, then, is not to speak of isms like capitalism, or state violence, in a very abstract sense, but to understand how it works—how are we complicit, how are museums not-neutral in that fight?

People forget that when Trump was elected, the Whitney Museum patted itself on the back when it called for J20, right? J20 was all of the so-called political artists gathering together and speaking out against fascism. Where are they today?

So you can put up a show that brings a lot of people in a comfortable space to speak out against fascism, but when you have Warren Kanders a vice president of the Board of Trustees at the Whitney, everyone falls silent.

These are the kind of conversations that we want to have. We don’t presume to know, I don’t presume to know, the answers. I just know that that’s wrong. And it’s also why we held the town hall.

What we imagine is that outlets other than art outlets will cover this. We’ve seen some headway around this in terms of Gothamist, we’re on the radio show with you—this is great—I think Democracy Now! did a little segment.

But the sad thing about media is that they only cover the drama.So when we’re protesting and also gathering and being in spaces doing things, that may not be newsworthy. But when we lit sage in the museum in December, the New York Post covered it, the Daily News covered it.

And I think there’s something about this kind of coverage that is somewhat superficial, that follows a particular formula, when in fact the people that are doing this work are from movements, are organizers and artists and educators and young people, student organizers, and elders, and people from communities as far out as East New York…. I mean, this Friday, we’re taking over subway cars from East New York all the way to the Whitney. Because what’s happening at the Whitney isn’t just about a museum, it’s about sites of specificity, of how oppression and domination gets exercised against us. And it’s a way for us to reclaim, hold accountable and change the nature of the conversation.

And we hope that more media outlets will begin to see that there’s a deeper story here than simply a protest. In a way, a protest doesn’t do service to the kind of thinking that’s going on right now. What does it mean to reclaim the city, if not to reclaim our institutions?

JJ: That was Amin Husain, core organizer with Decolonize This Place, speaking with CounterSpin this past May. You can find the group’s statement on Warren Kanders’ resignation on their site, DecolonizeThisPlace.org.

 

Can’t Afford a Vacation? Get Another Credit Card!  - News about Americans’ dire financial straits turns into a credit card commercial

by Alan MacLeod

Summertime is well and truly here, and for many of us, that means sunny vacations. Disneyland? Florida? A European adventure?

But for tens of millions of Americans, there will be none, because they cannot afford one. A new and widely reported poll from financial services company BankRate.com found that over one in four people are forgoing a vacation, primarily because they cannot pay for it.

The average expected cost of a vacation, for those planning one, was $1,979. But, as a well-publicized survey found, the large majority of millennials (and a majority of Americans overall) are living paycheck-to-paycheck and could not even afford a $1,000 emergency, let alone a $2,000 luxury.

CNBC‘s report (4/25/19) on many Americans being unable to afford a vacation appears under the heading “Spend.”

Commenting on BankRate’s poll, CNBC (4/25/19) provided its audience with “expert” financial advice on how to better afford a vacation, ranging from the bland “watch what you spend” or “have a staycation” to the insultingly obvious “make more money”: Simply “add income streams,” CNBC suggests. That way, writer Megan Leonhardt notes, we could earn between $1,000 and $10,000 extra per month that we could use to invest. How easy—if only the majority of Americans had thought of that!

The recommendations go full galaxy-brained in a section entitled “how the right credit card could help,” where Ted Rossman—an employee of BankRate, whose business model relies on signups to credit cards—explains, “There’s still time to turn a sign-up bonus and ongoing spending rewards into a free or discounted trip.”

This is dubious advice; Americans already owe more than $1 trillion in credit card debt, and the average new credit card interest rate is over 19%. To be fair, CNBC’s article does come with a disclaimer that you should not spend beyond your means: “Don’t use a credit card to pay for a trip and plan to pay it off later,” it warns, sensibly enough, even though it’s just told you that “picking the right card is key” to affording a trip.

Fox News’ story (4/29/19) on the same subject was even more enthusiastic about using credit cards to pay for your vacation, naming specific cards Rossman recommends, which he says offer “lucrative ongoing rewards.” Thus a story that began by detailing the financial woes of the poor seemed to turn into an extended credit card commercial.

Covering the same survey, Forbes (4/25/19) even provided hyperlinks to the credit card webpages where you can sign up for them, without any disclaimer at all about overspending. This feature also appeared, largely word-for-word, in many local news outlets (e.g. WTOP Washington DC, 4/25/19; Billings Gazette, 4/27/19; Great Falls Tribune, 6/19/19).

This is a common phenomenon in modern media. Competition from online advertising has led to a financial crisis for the press. Total US newspaper advertising revenue dropped from $49.3 billion in 2006 to an estimated $14.3 billion in 2018, with little to no growth in circulation revenue. As a consequence, newsroom employees have halved over the same time period, but journalists are expected to produce more content than ever, and with fewer resources. Into the vacuum has stepped the public relations industry, to the point where there are now six PR agents for every journalist.

Under greater time pressure than ever, media resort to rewriting or copying and pasting press releases, then branding them as news. At the same time, advertorials—paid advertisements presented as news—are becoming an increasingly common way for media to increase their income.

Advertorials work. The general public has great difficulty distinguishing between paid for content and traditional news. A Reader’s Digest study found news consumers were 500 times more likely to read an advertorial than a traditional advertisement, and that advertorials generated 81 per cent more sales than standard commercials. Were the BankRate stories advertorials, or simply media lazily repeating PR? CNBC responded with a comment that suggested it was an organic story, while Fox did not reply.

Either way, Americans are in perilous financial straits, and millions are trapped in debt. Media should not be handing out highly questionable recommendations for the sake of extra content. There could be expensive consequences for those who take advice from cheap news.

Wired’s Gee-Whiz High-Tech Militarism

by Julianne Tveten

A deluge of major Western publications stated last month that the US destroyed an Iranian drone in the Strait of Hormuz between the Persian Gulf and the Gulf of Oman (e.g., New York Times, 7/18/19; NPR, 7/19/19; NBC News, 7/18/19). Citing unproven reports from Donald Trump and the US Department of Defense, the outlets stated that the drone came within 1,000 yards of a US Navy warship, after ignoring “multiple calls to stand down.”

Iran denied the accusations, providing a time-stamped video meant to demonstrate that the drone remained airborne “before and even after the time Americans claim” (BBC, 7/19/19). The US, meanwhile, provided a dubious series of photos, with no indication of when they were taken or their relationship to each other.

A Wired article (7/22/19) celebrates “the first-ever ‘kill’ by a US directed-energy weapon.”

Most of the aforementioned media noted Iran’s denial. Wired’s take, however—entitled “The Marines’ New Drone-Killer Aces Its First Real World Test” (7/22/19)—ignored Iran’s response entirely. Instead, Wired accepted the US’s warmongering narrative fully, even cheerleading the military for its engineering prowess.

The article’s cause for celebration: The US Marines took down a drone for the first time by blasting radio signals to interrupt communications between the drone and its base, rather than using more conventional weapons such as guns or lasers. The article wasn’t concerned with the geopolitical or moral context of a potential act of US aggression against Iran. Rather, as Wired made explicit, its focus was the technological tour de force of downing the drone:

But the significance lies less in heightened tensions in the region than it does in the weapon of choice. The strike marks the first reported successful use of the Light Marine Air Defense Integrated System, an energy weapon that blasts not artillery or lasers but radio signals.

After listing the technical merits—and, to a far lesser extent, shortcomings—of the energy weapon, the article proceeded to call the use of this weapon “fun.” 

Wired has a history of portraying US military operations as dazzling, do-good technological marvels. Days before championing the Marines’ energy weapon, the outlet published a ringing endorsement of the Air Force’s new rescue helicopter (7/19/19), which doubled as an advertorial for both the Air Force and aircraft manufacturer Lockheed Martin. Not unlike a car commercial, the article detailed the vehicle’s bells and whistles: Twice the fuel capacity! Extra range! New surveillance cameras! Weapon mounts! The idea that some of the countries targeted might seek to develop defenses to these devastating attacks was described as the “challenge” of “rapid evolution of opposition to the American military.”

A new fighter-jet ejection system garnered equally glowing coverage (8/31/18), promising to make “rocketing out of a B-2 bomber surprisingly safe.” A five-pound Lockheed Martin “hit-to-kill” missile, which Wired (5/5/18) playfully termed a “pocket rocket,” received the same PR sheen for its size. Lockheed (11/28/17) was similarly lavished with praise for supplying the US Army and Air Force with “sci-fi” laser weapons, described as a “toy” that “lets you waltz into enemy territory, do your job while zapping missiles out of the sky, and cruise home.” Noting that that “job” involves dropping high explosives on human beings is left unmentioned, lest all the fun be taken out of it.

Wired (7/2/19) compares a military development lab to the “storied garages where Apple and Hewlett-Packard began.”

Last summer, Wired (7/2/18) told the story of how the Army was “building a dream team of tech-savvy soldiers,” replete with a cast of noble, innovative characters. Matt, an anonymized computer scientist and Army captain, developed “hacks” to save money and time on drone-disabling technology, evoking what the story termed the “romance” of early Silicon Valley garage startups. Meanwhile, a group of plucky Army tech officials sought to render the Army more “nurturing” for talent like Matt. The result: Matt assembled the ballyhooed dream team, “like a scene out of Ocean’s Eleven,” where they’d work alongside former Facebook and Dropbox staffers now under the employ of the armed forces.  

An earlier piece examining the “future of war” (6/13/17) fawned over the prospect of videogame-inspired combat. Its premise: Wouldn’t it be cool if the Pentagon supplied soldiers of the future with algorithm-generated maps, notifications and color-coding systems? Its source—Will Roper, a Defense Department employee whose job was to “study where war is headed, and to develop the technological tools that help the United States win there”—threw the magazine’s political allegiances into sharp relief.

While the story acknowledged matters of morality, it offered little more than throwaway comments secondary to the wonder of fusing combat training with videogames. The Army could send machines into combat, Wired noted, but, it asked, “does any country want to delegate the decision to kill someone to a machine?” The article further conceded that “Call of Duty for real” may, to some, be “horrifying” (though “patriotic” to others). These could have been opportunities to include a dissenting voice that might elaborate on the inhumanity of a combat game come to life, or acknowledge the cruelty of using people to kill people. Neither concern was anywhere to be found.

It’s one thing to detail the technical properties of machinery, and quite another to try to leverage those properties into public support for US belligerence. In Wired’s propagandistic imagination, military weapons resemble otherworldly creations, high-tech spectacles, the stuff of science fiction. Within that framing, there’s no need to consider the people around the world for whom those weapons are all too real.

You can send a message to Wired at mail@wired.com, or via Twitter: @Wired. Please remember that respectful communication is the most effective. Feel free to leave a copy of your message in the comments thread of this post.

NPR Shreds Ethics Handbook to Normalize Regime Change in Venezuela

by Lucas Koerner

The Reagan administration in 1982 coerced National Public Radio (NPR) to cover more favorably the US terrorist war then being waged against Nicaragua.

As Greg Grandin writes, Otto Reich, head of the administration’s Orwellian propaganda outfit known as the Office of Public Diplomacy, informed the public network that his office had contracted “a special consultant service [to listen] to all NPR programs” on Central America. Dependent on state funding, NPR promptly buckled under pressure, reassigning reporters viewed as “too easy on the Sandinistas,” and hiring conservative pundit Linda Chavez to provide “balance.”

NPR (5/30/19) says Juan Guaidó is “recognized by dozens of countries as Venezuela’s rightful head of state”—without mentioning that he was unknown to most Venezuelans when he proclaimed himself president.

Today, NPR needs no state coercion to toe Washington’s regime change line on Venezuela.

NPR published an exclusive interview on May 30 with Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaidó, in which the self-proclaimed “interim president” was described as “a fugitive in his own country” confronting “authoritarian President Nicolás Maduro.”

The article went on to state that Venezuela “is suffering from hyperinflation, power outages, and chronic shortages of food, medicine and fuel.” Strangely absent is any reference to illegal US sanctions, which have played an indisputable role in severely exacerbating the country’s crisis to the detriment of ordinary Venezuelans.

Additionally, the exclusion of Chavista voices is likewise endemic to NPR’s coverage of Venezuela, in gross violation of the outlet’s own ethics handbook.

An abused adjective

When it comes to covering Venezuela’s elected Maduro government, it appears that NPR’s favorite adjective is “authoritarian.”

The public news network has referred to President Nicolás Maduro and his administration as “authoritarian” and/or a “regime” no less than 26 times since December, with no explanation why the Venezuelan government merits an editorialized moniker that ideologically justifies US intervention.

Moreover, when the fact that Maduro was reelected last year is mentioned, it is generally accompanied by a vague reference to “fraud.”

Usually no effort is made to elaborate on the fraud allegations—which the opposition never presented substantive public evidence to support—and when additional context is provided, it generally amounts to a reference to NPR’s mendacious 2018 election reporting.

At the time, NPR’s Phillip Reeves (5/20/18) denied the legitimacy of the vote by claiming, “Nicolás Maduro controls most of the media, the electoral authorities.” He ignored the fact that most Venezuelan media is private and pro-opposition, while the National Electoral Council is headed by the same officials who oversaw the opposition’s 2015 landslide parliamentary victory.

NPR‘s headlined claim of “fraud” (5/21/18) rests heavily on the unsubstantiated assertions of “many independent observers.” The 6 million votes received by President Nicolás Maduro are in line with the support found for the government in independent polling.

Similarly, NPR’s Scott Neuman (5/21/18) wrote, “The opposition’s most popular leaders…were barred from running,” in reference to Leopoldo López and Henrique Capriles. The claim that these were the most popular potential opposition candidates is false: Datanalisis, the international corporate media’s most widely cited pollster, at the time had opposition presidential candidate Henri Falcon polling significantly above Capriles and López, at around 38%, in May 2018. By comparison, a Pew Research study conducted later in the year amid accelerating hyperinflation found that 33% of Venezuelans “trust their government,” roughly equivalent to the 31% of the electorate that voted for Maduro on May 20, 2018.

NPR suggests that López and Capriles were barred for extralegal political reasons, neglecting to mention that López was convicted of inciting violence during the 2014 protests aimed at ousting the government, while Capriles was previously indicted for allowing opposition supporters to lay siege to the Cuban Embassy in 2002, and was later barred from office by the comptroller general over alleged corruption, for which he is also being investigated by the opposition.

Moreover, NPR and other mainstream outlets do not regularly refer to Brazil’s 2018 presidential election as “fraud-marred,” despite the country’s most popular politician, Lula da Silva, having been jailed and banned from running in a baseless, politically motivated court case, as Glenn Greenwald has exposed. Lula did not participate in violent foreign-backed coup attempts, unlike López and Capriles, both of whom were active in the 2002 coup against Chavez.

This myth of electoral fraud embraced by NPR was “made in USA,” when the Trump administration threw its weight behind an opposition boycott, preemptively refusing to recognize the vote and threatening to sanction the independent opposition candidate. But no amount of US interference invalidates an election in the view of Western journalists, as the classic example of Nicaragua’s 1990 election of Violeta Chamorro illustrates. In 2018—as in Venezuela’s 2013 presidential election, which was recognized by every government in the world except the Obama administration—it would seem that a vote is only “free and fair” when Washington’s candidate is elected.

This systematic bias ridicules NPR’s professed commitment to “stick to facts and to language that is clear, compelling and neutral,” while the omissions and blatant factual distortions compromise its accuracy and completeness.

Lying by omission: US sanctions

NPR’s ethics handbook states:

Errors of omission and partial truths can inflict great damage on our credibility, and stories delivered without the context to fully understand them are incomplete.

While NPR has made scattered but repeated reference to US economic sanctions—predominately in the wake of the Trump administration’s January 28 oil embargo—nowhere does NPR bring up the fact that the unilateral measures are illegal under both US and international law, while only in a few cases does the public encounter a passing acknowledgement of the negative humanitarian toll. In the vast majority of stories, NPR rarely dedicates more than one line to US economic sanctions, which are routinely presented as “aimed squarely at [the] Venezuelan government” (8/25/17), ignoring the repercussions for ordinary Venezuelans. In no case does NPR present the public with perspectives opposing US sanctions as a matter of principle.

An NPR report (3/8/19) concludes with Sen. Marco Rubio mocking the idea that the US could be behind electrical grid failures in Venezuela—though the US openly boasts of conducting cyber warfare against electrical systems in official enemy nations (New York Times, 6/15/19).

In a report on the nationwide March blackouts, NPR’s Sasha Ingber (3/8/19) manages to avoid naming sanctions as one of the key factors behind the outages, relegating them to an insignificant tertiary element “likely to increase the country’s economic plight,” but in no way responsible for Venezuela’s dramatically worsening crisis since Trump imposed direct economic sanctions in August 2017. In fact, according to economist Francisco Rodríguez of Torino Capital, sanctions not only prevented Venezuela from paying foreign companies for vital maintenance work on its electrical grid, but also barred it from importing sufficient diesel fuel needed to power thermoelectric generators.

The pattern is repeated in NPR’s coverage of Venezuela’s economic crisis through the lens of out-migration (6/21/19, 6/7/19), school truancy (6/29/19) or alleged “intimidation” of private charities (6/11/19). Here sanctions—which are set to cause Venezuela’s economy to contract by 37% this year—are either completely ignored, or their devastating social impact is  presented as a dubious “claim” by Caracas officials.

Like virtually every other mainstream international outlet (FAIR.org, 6/26/19), NPR has yet to cite—let alone actually report on—a recent study by acclaimed economists Mark Weisbrot and Jeffrey Sachs, which found US sanctions on Venezuela to constitute a form of “collective punishment” responsible for as many as 40,000 deaths through 2018. This omission is not surprising, given that NPR had previously joined major corporate outlets in systematically censoring the impact of Trump’s August 2017 financial sanctions, which cost the country at least $6 billion in lost oil revenue over the subsequent twelve months.

Exhibit A of this erasure is an article headlined “Venezuela’s Health System Ready to Collapse Amid Economic Crisis” (NPR, 2/1/19), in which Samantha Raphelson treats sanctions as a conspiracy theory on which “Maduro blames the country’s growing crisis,” despite the fact that US financial blacklisting, as well as plummeting revenue due to sanctions, hampered Caracas’ ability to import vital medicine and medical  equipment. At this point, NPR can easily cite the US government itself as a source for the claim that Washington is exacerbating the Venezuelan crisis, with the State Department publishing (and subsequently hiding) a fact sheet that boasted that “key outcomes” of US efforts included the freezing of “roughly $3.2 billion of Venezuela’s overseas” assets, and a 36% reduction in Venezuelan oil production in February/March 2019 (Venezuelanalysis, 5/6/19).

Silencing Chavista and critical voices

In answer to the question, “How can reporting of current news also take account of decades of historical context surrounding US intervention in Latin America? NPR public editor Juliette Rocheleau (4/9/19) concludes: “It depends.”

In an assessment of NPR’s Venezuela coverage (4/9/19), the network’s public editor, Juliette Rocheleau, recognizes an “imbalance” in which “opposition voices have outnumbered those of Maduro supporters in NPR‘s reporting.” The slant is fairly overwhelming, since Rocheleau can only name four occasions that NPR interviewed government supporters.

The public editor justifies NPR’s pro-opposition “imbalance’” on the grounds of journalists’ safety, quoting senior international editor Will Dobson:

“We want to plunge the depths of the pro-Maduro supporters.” But Dobson said NPR‘s responsibility to keep its journalists and sources safe is the top priority, and reporting safely from Venezuela is extremely difficult: Venezuela ranks 143 out of 180 countries in press freedom, with journalists risking violence at the hands of the state and some of its supporters.

This is a self-serving canard. Various independent outlets such as Venezuelanalysis (where I’m an editor), the Real News and Grayzone—all with far fewer resources than NPR—have frequently interviewed Chavistas from various political walks of life. The notion that Chavista “violence” keeps Western reporters at bay is rather fantastical, given that it’s opposition demonstrations, not pro-government ones, that have been the site of mob lynchings and attacks on journalists, including those from pro-opposition private outlets. Even if we take at face value NPR’s safety concerns, this should not stop the network from interviewing experts opposed to US regime change in Venezuela, such as Noam Chomsky, Mark Weisbrot, Jeffrey Sachs, Alfred De Zayas and Miguel Tinker Salas, whose voices are conspicuously absent, despite making regular appearances in independent progressive media.

Perhaps a more realistic explanation for NPR’s admitted “imbalance” is professional class bias. It seems that Western journalists bear an instinctual aversion to poor black and brown people organizing to defy the US Empire. Their natural sympathies appear to lie with lighter-skinned (preferably English-speaking) professionals or members of the elite who make them feel more comfortable. Despite their “progressive” reputation, NPR journalists are little different than their mainstream corporate counterparts when it comes to repeating Washington and the opposition’s anti-Chavista propaganda, in flagrant breach of their own ethics.

You can send a message to NPR‘s public editor here (or via Twitter: @NPRpubliceditor). Please remember that respectful communication is the most effective. Feel free to leave a copy of your message in the comments thread of this post.

Featured image: Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro on NPR.org (8/25/17).

‘Democracy Has Become a Joke on the Island’ - CounterSpin interview with Ed Morales on Puerto Rican protest

Janine Jackson interviewed Ed Morales about the Puerto Rican protest movement for the July 26, 2019, episode of CounterSpin. This is a lightly edited transcript.

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Janine Jackson: Puerto Rico is a territory of the United States; that’s critical to understanding the island’s historical, political and economic situation. And we rightfully make fun of—especially—politicians who seem not to understand that. On another level, there are reasons to think about Puerto Rico as a different place—Puerto Ricans’ decisive, collective uprising in response to clear revelations of anti-humane governance not the least of them.

It’s hard not to find inspiration in the vibrant multi-sector protests in Puerto Rico and on the mainland, even recognizing the deep hardships and systemic failures that fuel them. We’re recording on July 25; Governor Ricardo Rosselló announced his resignation late last night. Joining us now to talk about the protests that made that happen, and what in turn spurred them, is writer Ed Morales. He teaches at Columbia University’s Center for the Study of Ethnicity and Race, and his new book, Fantasy Island: Colonialism, Exploitation and the Betrayal of Puerto Rico, is forthcoming from Bold Type Press. He joins us now by phone from here in town. Welcome back to CounterSpin, Ed Morales.

Ed Morales: Hi! How are you doing, Janine?

JJ: I’m good, I’m good! Well, to begin and end with these private text conversations, recently exposed among Rosselló and these 11 advisors, would be to miss the point. But those chats were a flashpoint for a reason, because of what they revealed and also what they illustrated: the attitude of these men (they were all men) toward women, gay people, opponents, supporters…. It’s a cornucopia of toxicity. Can you place, though, the latest revelations in the context of what we, and what Puerto Ricans, already knew?

EM: Sure. The chats really have gotten a lot of attention because of the offensive content, and that’s really important to underline, and it is a really big part of the response against him.

It’s really important to also understand that in the chats were potential outlinings of a case against the governor and the other people in the chat, most of whom he dismissed or accepted their resignations, that had to do with the improper sharing of information with, particularly, one man named Elías Sánchez, who is this sort of superlobbyist and consultant in Puerto Rico, who was in on all these conversations about official government business, and a lot of the vulgar attacks that they directed at people had to do with these seedy contract deals that people like Elías Sánchez and Edwin Miranda, who was one of the major public relations people in Puerto Rico, profited from.

So the main reason that I really think a lot of people got upset was the Christian Sobrino comment—Christian Sobrino was the governor’s non-voting representative on the Fiscal Oversight and Management Board, and also in charge of this financial institution that had replaced the Government Development Bank, which was dissolved during the debt crisis—so that’s the one that Christian Sobrino joked about the fact that bodies that were from Hurricane Maria, whether there were any crows or vultures available to eat them, to relieve the stress of the piling up of bodies. People who were really suffering emotionally from the aftereffects of Hurricane Maria, and probably even economically, were most upset about that. Then there are all the people who are upset about the anti-women and homophobic content.

But I think that people in Puerto Rico were really well aware of the corruption rumors. You know, two weeks before, the secretary of education was arrested, along with the secretary of health insurance, for improper granting of contracts without proper bidding procedures.

And also, Puerto Rico has suffered through several corruption scandals, from both of its major political parties, for 20 years at least.

JJ: So it’s not just being nasty, although there’s a long list of that, if folks want to look for that.

EM: It’s everything all together.

JJ: Yeah, exactly. And you know, Rosselló said he was letting off steam, but then, this real favor-trading…. Well, in your piece for The Nation, you note that the blame for the pervasive nature of corruption in the government can clearly be laid on these politicians themselves, their privileged boys’ club and their private-school elitism. But you say Puerto Rico’s colonial relationship with the United States must also be blamed. What are you getting at there?

EM: Yeah, I think there’s two things that we can talk about there.

One is, as I state in the piece, because Puerto Rico does not have a voting representative in Congress—that’s part of the deal of being an unincorporated territory, and then having citizenship—they have this thing called the “resident  commissioner.” It’s an office. And the resident commissioner really lives the life, basically, of a US representative, except they don’t have a vote.

So their main way to influence what goes on in Washington is to lobby, informally, their fellow legislators. And they’re really involved in the Puerto Rico government lobbying process, which is carried out by this agency called PRFAA, which has offices in Washington and New York.

So that sort of culture of “the only political power that you have is lobbying,” I think in a way sort of seeps back to the island, and particularly when you see that many of the recent governors were resident commissioners before they became governor, because it’s sort of a platform, it’s sort of like being a governor or senator is a platform for being elected president, being the resident commissioner is so. So it’s sort of a culture of lobbying and cultivating influence and influence-peddling that happens.

And because of the imposition of the Fiscal Oversight and Management Board, it’s taken away so much of the agency of the government itself on the island, because all of its moves have to be approved by the Fiscal Oversight and Management Board, in terms of apportionment—and that’s what most of the legislation has to do with. Democracy has become kind of a joke on the island, because there’s a delegitimization that happens with the Oversight Board.

JJ: Yeah, and the institutional roots and the connection to the mainland, structural roots of the problems–that is why I so much dislike a media line, or a kind of sub-narrative I’m seeing. The New York Times podcast returned to it repeatedly: “So weeks after President Trump calls the government of Puerto Rico corrupt, there are all these indictments that basically say he’s right,” you know. There’s this line that Trump was correct, as if his Gatling gun of insults actually hitting something were super meaningful, or, you know, the guy who threw paper towels at people, “Let’s give him another listen about what’s best for those people.” I find that very frustrating in terms of media coverage, this lack of awareness of what you’re just talking about, the fact that the political class in a colonized place is going to be part of the problem, and that’s not an argument for more colonization.

EM: Well, I haven’t gotten to the bottom of it, but all of the corruption and investigations that led up to this, save for the last move by Puerto Rico’s Department of Justice, has been handled by the US Department of Justice. It’s not fair to say that the US Department of Justice is carrying out, completely, Trump’s agenda, but you do have an increasingly assertive Bob Barr; there was a problem with the previous police monitor that Puerto Rico’s police are still under consent decree, and the previous monitor was harassed out of office; that’s part of the chats as well.

That may have been something that came from Barr’s leadership as the attorney general, even going back to Sessions, when Sessions was attorney general. He wanted to relax some of these cities that were under consent decree, saying that it was  inhibiting law enforcement by having these police departments under consent decree, which means they’re monitored by what’s called a police monitor.

So there are two other investigations, one in California, and one, I’m told, from the Southern District of New York, which, as you know, has been active in monitoring Trump, that have to do with deals with the electrical authority, and the health and insurance area, respectively, that I’m not sure if that is something that’s coming from Bob Barr or from the Trump agenda. But, definitely, the involvement of the FBI and the Department of Justice in this is really something I think that raises eyebrows.

And I will tell you one more story about that: The initial revelations about corruption in the Rosselló government started to happen around the Secretary of Finance Raúl Maldonado, who resigned and then gave an interview to the major newspaper in Puerto Rico, saying that there was institutional corruption in the government.

JJ: He called it a Mafia, right?

EM: “Institutional Mafia,” right. Then his son gave an interview to the same newspaper, and said he had some information about the Rosselló government that they would see, that this would come out. So two weeks later, this chat comes out. Now, of course, the Center for Investigative Journalism cannot reveal the source of the chat. I’m just speculating. We have no idea what the source of the chat leak is. But you have to be interested in the fact that Raúl Maldonado and his son both have access to the chat. And it suddenly appeared two weeks later, after his son said that something big was going to come. And so that was after they were cooperating with the FBI.

JJ: And didn’t something happened to his son after that? Did his son then come under investigation himself? I feel like something further happened with the son. Maybe I’m confused on that.

EM: Well, I don’t actually remember what happened to the son, but I know that Raúl Maldonado Sr. is still refusing to turn over his phone, after several government officials were ordered to do so by the Puerto Rico Department of Justice last week.

JJ: Let’s talk about the protests. The protests have been historic. More than half a million people in the street in San Juan for a national strike on July 22. More than half a million people on an island whose population is just over 3 million. A protest here in New York, in Union Square, was one of the most energetic seen in a long time. Even in US media, most accounts are acknowledging that these protests were always about more than the chats, and even more than getting rid of Rosselló, isn’t that so?

Ed Morales: “The mainstream media still seems to be focused on the idea that this is all caused by a corrupt government in Puerto Rico, with no visible narrative of the colonial control behind it.”

EM: Yes, certainly there are a lot of pieces that are pointing to this sort of cultural nationalist revival in Puerto Rico. I do think that there’s a new kind of nationalism that has taken off, which I think successfully combines identity politics, as in “the personal is political,” with awareness of class conflict. I think most people are really clear that the Rosselló entitled governorship represents an elite class that has made ties with the business elite, and that they are on the other side of that struggle. I don’t know how much the mainstream media is seeing it that way. But they are noting, particularly the cultural expressions; there’s been a lot of attention being paid to the musicians that showed up. There’s even some mentions about the perreo combativo, which is this dance that is done to reggaeton music that is kind of overtly sexual, that people were performing last night as a political act.

So there’s a lot of that, but I’m still disappointed that the mainstream media still seems to be focused on the idea that this is all caused by a corrupt government in Puerto Rico, with no visible narrative of the colonial control behind it. The Wall Street Journal had, really, and the Washington Post, had these editorials that called for a strengthening of power for the Fiscal Oversight and Management Board.

JJ:  As the response.

EM: Yeah, right. The problem is Puerto Rico’s endemic corruption, and so even more US control and austerity is the remedy.

JJ: Yeah, I saw a line. And you know, it’s in what they say and how they say it, the kind of passive voice, just lazy coverage, like the Guardian that talked about, “The island continued to reel from the effects of the devastating hurricane amid a faltering recovery effort led by the Trump administration,” and you think, “well, wait, what?”

EM: Right.

JJ: You know, who are the political actors here? And then the New York Times says, in this passive way, Puerto Ricans have “suffered through unemployment, hurricanes, economic restructuring and government-imposed austerity measures.” “Government-imposed,” I guess, is the closest we get to having an actual actor, but it’s not even clear what government they’re talking about that’s imposing the austerity. So you’re right, there’s no story being told. It’s as if it’s just kind of an endemic problem among Puerto Ricans.

EM: Right. So yeah, and the Washington Post had this comparison to the Washington Fiscal Oversight Board, which people still have a lot of problems with, but was more attentive to the concerns of DC residents than this board, which is completely composed of the business community, and in fact has three members that have questionable conflicts of interest, with their ties to banks that helped to create the debt crisis in the first place.

JJ: On the one hand, I’m seeing media sometimes just quoting people saying that Puerto Rico is in uncharted territory, on the level of the upheaval and the change that’s being sought. But then, at the same time, I see elite media trying, or at least looking ready, to circumscribe it. The New York Times said that many Puerto Ricans want out of the deal in which

a fiscal control board designated by Congress has been calling many of the shots in recent years, forcing the island through strict austerity measures to manage a crippling debt crisis that caused it to declare a form of bankruptcy two years ago.

But, the Times then goes on to say, “The people and their placards are unlikely to change that.” They just state that, saying they could change the political leadership in Puerto Rico, but they’re not going to change this relationship with the fiscal control board. I don’t know how the New York Times knows that, when I doubt they knew two weeks ago that Rosselló was going to come down.

EM: Yeah, I think there was very little awareness of the burgeoning corruption scandal in the mainstream media until the chats came out.

Look, it’s a formidable task that activism has to confront the Fiscal Oversight and Management Board, because it is controlled by Congress, and it has all that power, but certain things have happened. There are three things that I can point to that show that the Fiscal Oversight and Management Board is not an insurmountable foe. One is that there’s two Supreme Court cases are going to be heard in the fall, I think in October, that challenge the validity of the current members, because they may have violated the appointments clause of the Constitution.

The judge, Taylor Swain, of the Title III Bankruptcy Court that is part of PROMESA has suspended all restructuring for three months until the government thing gets straightened out. It may be something that might not have a strong effect unless there is even more of a Democratic majority or a Democratic president in 2020. But Raúl Grijalva, chairman of the National Resource Committee that’s really in charge of what’s going on in Puerto Rico, had been trying to put some reins on the Fiscal Oversight Management Board, sort of redefine what its role was. He’s been vocal about that. And he was the first to call for Rosselló’s resignation.

So there is a move among Democrats in Congress to try to limit some of the powers of the Fiscal Oversight and Management Board. This really puts a dent in it, though; that is really one of the bad things about this. And, again, that seems to really serve the interests of the Oversight Board, and probably the Trump Republicans, who are all involved in the disaster capitalism.

JJ: Puerto Rico’s Center for Investigative Journalism, which we keep referring to, they were the catalyst for this in releasing the chats. And we know that that was very meaningful, the tone of them was evidence in itself of a problem. And it was sufficient evidence to tip something into something bigger. So I guess, finally, I would just say, it is on one level a big win for journalism in the public interest, among the other things that it is, right?

EM: Yes, definitely. There’s a lot of awareness about Center for Investigative Journalism; the people involved are really accessible members of the community. They’re not on this elite level, like, say, the mainstream media is in the US; they almost have an activist‘s spirit about them. And I think most people realize, and thank them for divulging all of this, and not only doing that, but just doing their commentary on it, because it’s really a long read.

And the most important thing they did was vet a lot of it, make sure that it was not a false leak. And they really put a lot of things into context with some of the pieces they wrote; they actually wrote a follow-up piece, which in detail describes a lot of these potential violations. The committee that was set up to investigate the possible violations, which put out its report yesterday, concurs with a lot of the findings that are in the Center for Investigative Journalism report, in terms of the potential violations, three of the criminal code and two of the ethics code, that the Rosselló administration did. So they did a really strong follow-up, and did not just leave it at the vulgar language.

JJ: All right, then. We’ve been speaking with Ed Morales; the new book, Fantasy Island: Colonialism, Exploitation and the Betrayal of Puerto Rico, is out soon from Bold Type Press. You can still find his article, “Why Half a Million Puerto Ricans Are Protesting in the Streets,” online at TheNation.com. Ed Morales, thank you very much for joining us this week on CounterSpin.

EM: Thank you. Thanks, as always.

 

CNN’s Industry Spin Shows Need for Independent Debates

by Julie Hollar

CNN painfully demonstrated this week why we need independently run presidential debates. With its ESPN-like introductions to the candidates, and its insistence on questions that pit candidates against each other, CNN took an approach to the debates more befitting a football game than an exercise in democracy.

The CNN hosts moderated as if they weren’t even listening to what candidates were saying, inflexibly cutting them off after the inevitably too-short 30-to-60-second time limit—in order to offer another, often seemingly randomly selected, candidate the generic prompt, “Your response?” At times, these followed on each other so many times it was unclear what the candidate was even supposed to respond to, or why.

CNN started its first debate (7/30/19) by challenging Bernie Sanders to respond to an attack on Medicare for All from Rep. John Delaney.

But worse than the entirely unhelpful format was the heavy reliance on right-wing assumptions and talking points to frame the questions. Over the two nights, healthcare dominated the debates; the first night (7/30/19), CNN‘s Jake Tapper kicked off the questions with one to Sen. Bernie Sanders:

You support Medicare for All, which would eventually take private health insurance away from more than 150 million Americans, in exchange for government-sponsored healthcare for everyone. Congressman Delaney just referred to it as bad policy. And previously, he has called the idea “political suicide that will just get President Trump re-elected.” What do you say to Congressman Delaney?

Debate moderators will typically start with top-polling contenders and challenge them to defend their positions. Doing so with attacks from a contender polling below 1%, however, would seem unusual—except that in this case, the candidate unpopular with the public voiced an opinion very popular in corporate media.

The second night of  the Detroit debates (7/31/19) also started out with CNN attacking Medicare for All—this time forcing Kamala Harris to respond to criticism from Joe Biden.

It was a particularly noteworthy tactic, given that the next night (7/31/19), which also started off with healthcare, CNN lobbed the first challenge to Kamala Harris (polling around fourth place) in the form of an attack on her version of Medicare for All from the top-polling Biden campaign—letting the front-runner start off on the offensive.

Tapper queried multiple candidates the first night about raising taxes on “middle-class Americans” to pay for Medicare for All, and when the floor came back to Sanders, he rebuked Tapper: “By the way, the healthcare industry will be advertising tonight, on this program, with that talking point.”

Tapper quickly cut him off, but CNN‘s commercial breaks that night, as observers pointed out, indeed featured healthcare industry ads. In one, the Partnership for America’s Healthcare Future—an industry group—ran an ad talking about how Medicare for All or the public option means “higher taxes or higher premiums; lower-quality care.”

In other words, CNN debate viewers got industry talking points on healthcare from CNN moderators, bottom-tier industry-friendly candidates given outsized speaking time, and industry advertisements.

Meanwhile, on the first night, CNN asked more non-policy questions (17)—primarily about whether some Democratic candidates were “moving too far to the left to win the White House”—than questions about the climate crisis (15). Across both nights, the 31 non-policy questions overwhelmed questions on important issues like gun control (11) and women’s rights (7).

The second round of debates may not have enlightened the public much about the candidates, but they made one thing clear: We desperately need serious, independently run debates, not over-the-top industry-friendly spectacles of the sort put on by CNN—and endorsed and gate-kept by the major parties.

Messages to CNN can be sent to here (or via Twitter @CNN). Please remember that respectful communication is the most effective. Feel free to leave a copy of your message in the comments thread of this post.

Sriram Madhusoodanan on Fossil Fuel Investigations, Amin Husain on Decolonizing Museums

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(cc photo: Frank Schwichtenberg)

This week on CounterSpin: The harms of climate disruption are already terrible and will only get worse, and despite what appears to be some people’s magical thinking, no one will be unaffected. What’s more, the drivers of climate disruption are known, and it isn’t people who leave the lights on. What’s missing is a public and media dialog that features fossil fuel industries and their leaders accurately, as roadblocks to the climate justice solutions we desperately need. While federal inaction and even regression is distressing, some state attorneys general are pushing forward for accountability. We’ll talk about that movement with Sriram Madhusoodanan, deputy campaigns director with the group Corporate Accountability.

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(cc photo: Perimeander)

Also on the show: Warren Kanders has resigned from the board of New York’s Whitney Museum—a “casualty to the social justice mob,” as one account had it; or, for others, a victory for those who prefer their art without a side order of complicity with the manufacture of tear gas and high velocity ammunition. A few months ago, CounterSpin spoke with Amin Husain, core organizer with the group Decolonize This Place, on the forefront of activism around cultural institutions. We’ll revisit that conversation today.

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Ronald Reagan’s Racism Should Come as No Surprise

The Washington Post (7/31/19) suggests that a new tape of Ronald Reagan calling Africans “monkeys” might make us rethink whether his attacks on “welfare queens” were actually racist.

 

In the wake of Ronald Reagan being discovered on the Nixon tapes calling African diplomats “monkeys” who are “still uncomfortable wearing shoes,” the Washington Post (7/31/19) quotes Reagan’s biographer saying there was “no hint that the president would hold the kinds of views he conveyed to Nixon.”

“In all of my very careful research into his private papers, I never found an instance where I felt that Reagan was racist,” claims Robert Spitz, author of Reagan: An American Journey. “Generally when someone says, ‘I don’t have a racist bone in my body,’ I’m instantly skeptical, but in this case, after all my work, I found myself kind of nodding my head.”

Says the Post: “Some of Reagan’s most divisive policies—like embracing the apartheid government of South Africa and inventing the trope of the ‘welfare queen’—may take on a different light now.”

Paul Krugman wrote a good response to this nonsense—12 years ago, in 2007 (Conscience of a Liberal, 11/10/07):

When he went to Philadelphia, Mississippi, in 1980, the town where the civil rights workers had been murdered, and declared that “I believe in states’ rights,” he didn’t mean to signal support for white racists….

When he went on about the welfare queen driving her Cadillac, and kept repeating the story years after it had been debunked…it was all just an innocent mistake.

When, in 1976, he talked about working people angry about the “strapping young buck” using food stamps to buy T-bone steaks at the grocery store…the appearance that Reagan was playing to Southern prejudice was just an innocent mistake….

When Reagan declared in 1980 that the Voting Rights Act had been “humiliating to the South”…when Reagan intervened on the side of Bob Jones University, which was on the verge of losing its tax-exempt status because of its ban on interracial dating…when Reagan fired three members of the Civil Rights Commission…it was all an innocent mistake.

This is far from an exhaustive catalog of Reagan’s race-baiting. When he ran for governor of California in 1966, he declared, “If an individual wants to discriminate against Negroes or others in selling or renting his house, it is his right to do so.” Spitz must have missed that one in all his fruitless search for Reagan’s racist bone.

The historical amnesia that allows people to be surprised that Ronald Reagan was a racist does more than sanitize the image of a historical figure. If you imagine that Donald Trump invented the political technique of appealing to white supremacy, you’re going to have a hard time figuring out an effective way to overcome it.

Messages can be sent to the Washington Post at letters@washpost.com, or via Twitter @washingtonpost. Please remember that respectful communication is the most effective. Feel free to leave a copy of your message in the comments thread of this post.

Media Downplay Climate Disruption’s Ever-Growing Role in Driving Migration

by Joshua Cho

Washington Post (4/16/19)

Journalists routinely dehumanize human beings crossing the southern border by comparing them to natural disasters like a “flood” or “deluge.” But while migration has always been a natural phenomenon, the increasingly forced migration of people escaping deteriorating conditions is an unnatural disaster driven, in part, by climate disruption.

The New Yorker (4/3/19) reported on how droughts, floods and changes to weather patterns have contributed to crop susceptibility to diseases and pests, degraded soil quality and shortened growing seasons. Reuters (5/2/19) covered UN estimates that 2.2 million people Central Americans have been affected by poor harvests as a result of climate change, with up to four in every five families having to sell animals and farm equipment to buy food in the past year.

It would be easy for even a diligent news consumer to not know that climate change is one of the central factors driving refugees to cross the border, since it’s usually not mentioned at all in most alarmist reports about the so-calledborder crisis” (New York Times, 4/10/19; Wall Street Journal, 5/8/19). In fact, although a few good articles have been dedicated to making the connection (e.g., New York Times, 4/13/19; Washington Post, 4/16/19), it’s usually absent even among reports purporting to explain why people are making the dangerous journey.

Politico (3/28/19)

Politico’s “Here’s What’s Driving the ‘Crisis’ at the Border” (3/28/19) and Vox’s “The Border Is in Crisis. Here’s How It Got This Bad” (4/11/19) both correctly note that the Trump administration’s claims about “unprecedented numbers of undocumented immigrants” crossing the border from Central American countries like Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador are “untrue,” because, as Vox put it, the

total number of people coming into the US without papers is still lower than it was for most of the 20th century, and substantially lower its turn-of-the-century peak.

However, the strained resources from more families and children crossing the border, as well as the complications of the asylum process, figure heavily into their explanation for how the crisis “got so bad”—rather than the five-year drought ruining the crops of maize, coffee, bananas and beans depended on by mostly subsistence farmers, also known as campesinos, in Central America. The drought is also disrupting the traditional seasonal migration to harvest coffee in Honduras that Central American families have used to ease poverty, forcing them to flee to the US instead (Al-Jazeera, 5/13/19).

Politico’s report explained the border crisis with statements from Republican and Border Patrol officials noting how the “rise in families” and the “greater volume of children among the new Central American migrants” are creating a “capacity crisis,” unlike the less-needy single adult males from Mexico who “constituted most border migrants” a decade earlier, with increased asylum applications creating a longer immigration process.

Vox’s report observed that “we don’t have apples-to-apples data,” because there’s “substantial evidence that the raw number of children and families entering the US is higher than it’s ever been,” while also noting that “crushing poverty” and “gang violence” are factors, in addition to many migrants themselves not knowing “what asylum is,” or why they “might not qualify for it.”

Atlantic (6/26/18)

The Atlantic’s account, “Today’s Migrant Flow Is Different” (6/26/18), likewise explained that “the crux of the recent crisis at the border” is that there are

fewer male migrants in their 20s or 30s making the crossing, and many more families, newborns, children and pregnant women escaping life-or-death situations as much as poverty.

That’s how the outlet differentiated today’s “migrant flow” from previous decades, where Central Americans were fleeing “economic misery in their war-torn states.” The Atlantic actually mentioned that “previous US policies contributed to the extreme insecurity in their home countries,” but only discussed the US policy of deporting “tens of thousands of convicted criminals to Central America in the early 2000s,” and nothing else regarding why “thousands of Central American families” are “stuck between a rock and a hard place.”

Time’s “‘There Is No Way We Can Turn Back’: Why Thousands of Refugees Will Keep Coming to America Despite Trump’s Crackdown” (6/21/18) and NBC’s “Why Are So Many Migrants Crossing the US border? It Often Starts With an Escape From Violence in Central America” (6/20/18) described, not inaccurately but incompletely, migrants escaping “high levels of violence” from organized crime groups like “street gangs” and “drug cartels,” in addition to citing “corruption, weak and unstable government institutions,” and the “unrelenting turmoil of the region.”

NBC’s report mentions that “the conditions” in Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras came to “Americans’ attention in full force” in 2014, when “tens of thousands of children arrived on their own” at the US border, without discussing that year’s climate change–related drought. A year later, NBC (7/9/19) would note 2014 as the year the drought began, as it cited immigration analysts and UN reports finding that “roughly half” of all adults apprehended at the border worked “in agriculture,” with a “lack of food” being the primary reason people leave.

Bloomberg (7/5/19)

Bloomberg (7/5/19) offered the victim-blaming headline “Why Roots of US Border Crisis Lie South of Mexico,” and noted that Honduras and El Salvador have among the “highest murder rates in the world.” It depicted Central American migrants as seeking economic opportunity, noting that 60 percent of the population in Honduras and Guatemala lives below the national poverty line, and characterizing those countries as “a hotbed of poverty, corruption, gang violence and extortion.”

In all these reports, the US’s contributions to the violence and corruption in Central America during the Cold War, and more recent US support for a 2009 military coup in Honduras deposing the democratically elected left-wing President Manuel Zelaya, and its funding for death squads in the country, are completely obscured. This despite the evidence (Migration Policy Institute, 4/1/06) that US-backed violence in Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador during the Cold War “institutionalized” a migration pattern to North America that had been “very minor” beforehand.

But if these reports shrouded the connection between US foreign policy and the “violence” and “unrelenting turmoil” in the region, they more deeply buried the connection between increasing violence and climate change.

In fact, the Pentagon has long viewed climate change as a “threat multiplier,” and an indirect factor that could prompt outbreaks of violence in countries already staggering under the weight of other problems (Guardian, 3/31/14). Military planners point to the Syrian civil war—which has killed hundreds of thousands—as an example of how climate change contributes to violent conflict, with the worst drought there in 500 years creating massive internal displacement that led to government repression and sectarian violence (Inside Climate News, 6/13/19).

Guardian (10/30/18)

And while poverty is often featured along with “violence” among the list of things Central American refugees are fleeing, corporate media rarely discuss why so many people there are impoverished, and the connection to the ongoing climate catastrophe. In contrast, the Guardian (10/30/18) informed readers:

“The focus on violence is eclipsing the big picture—which is that people are saying they are moving because of some version of food insecurity,” said Robert Albro, a researcher at the Center for Latin American and Latino Studies at American University.

“The main reason people are moving is because they don’t have anything to eat. This has a strong link to climate change—we are seeing tremendous climate instability that is radically changing food security in the region.”

Migrants don’t often specifically mention “climate change” as a motivating factor for leaving, because the concept is so abstract and long-term, Albro said. But people in the region who depend on small farms are painfully aware of changes to weather patterns that can ruin crops and decimate incomes.

Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador are part of the Dry Corridor, a region where droughts, tropical storms and flash floods are common, but climate change is influencing the severity and frequency of these disasters, and consecutive droughts can devastate the livelihoods of campesinos completely dependent on what they grow for survival. Unlike in the US and Europe, there are no crop insurance or aid programs, and often no irrigation systems either, to assist people in difficult times (Public Radio International, 2/6/19).

Climate scientist Noah Diffenbaugh (Grist, 4/23/19)—lead author of a Stanford University study finding that the economic gap between the richest and poorest countries is about 25 percent greater than it would’ve been without anthropogenic climate change—stated that “most of the poorest countries on Earth are considerably poorer than they would’ve been without global warming.”

Climate change is also a major—yet often omitted—reason for the record number of African migrants crossing the US/Mexican border fleeing violence and poverty. The EU has exacerbated this, mirroring the Trump administration’s policy of making it as painful as possible for refugees to apply for asylum by making civil war–torn Libya the main processing center for applications (Foreign Policy, 6/26/19).

The UN’s 2019 Sustainable Development Goals Report found that “extreme poverty today is concentrated and overwhelmingly affects rural populations,” and that it’s increasingly being “exacerbated by violent conflicts and climate change.” It also found that 413 million out of the estimated 736 million people still living in extreme poverty are in Sub-Saharan Africa, where most of the new migrants are coming from, and the region with “the highest prevalence of hunger,” as the number of undernourished people increased from 195 million in 2014 to 237 million in 2017.

CNN (4/1/19)

The UN’s Food and Agricultural Organization found that the 2015–16 El Niño phenomenon afflicting Central America—a warming of the Pacific Ocean surface that causes hotter and drier conditions there—was the strongest it’s been in 50 years, and was also affecting Sub-Saharan Africa’s food security, with 32 million people in the region unable to acquire food in 2016 due to dry weather conditions. The FAO (CNN, 4/1/19) noted that “evolving climatic patterns characterized by cyclic droughts, floods and cyclones have become more frequent in Southern Africa.”

Corporate media downplaying the ongoing climate catastrophe’s creation of large numbers of climate refugees encourages fatal inaction. The UN is warning of more than 120 million people pushed into poverty by 2030, and a “climate apartheid” scenario where the wealthy countries most responsible for carbon emissions are leaving the rest of the world with a stark “choice” between starvation and migration.

This is not one story, fit for the occasional Sunday piece, but many everyday stories, of which human movement across national borders is only one. Media have a responsibility to not only tell these stories, but to link them to climate disruption, if they intend to be part not of the problem but of the solution.

Do Debate Questions Reflect Concerns of Democratic Voters?

 

With Round 2 of the Democratic primary debates beginning today, it’s worth looking back at what was asked in the first round to see whether the issues of most concern to Democratic voters are being addressed.

The initial debates, hosted by NBC, focused heavily on the economy (19% of questions), healthcare (18%) and immigration (18%) — central issues to many voters, to be sure. But other issues that Democrats want to hear about got short shrift. Climate change, which multiple polls put second only to healthcare as a top issue for Democratic voters, got only 10 questions (8%), while core issues around race and women’s rights got eight (6%) and five (4%), respectively. Two questions were asked about LGBTQ concerns.

Savannah Guthrie: “What do you say to those who worry this kind of significant change could be risky to the economy?”

The first question on the first night (6/26/19) gave a pretty good sense of the network’s approach to the debates. Turning to Elizabeth Warren, NBC‘s Savannah Guthrie asked:

You have many plans — free college, free childcare, government healthcare, cancellation of student debt, new taxes, new regulations, the breakup of major corporations. But this comes at a time when 71 percent of Americans say the economy is doing well, including 60 percent of Democrats. What do you say to those who worry this kind of significant change could be risky to the economy?

Who, exactly, is worrying about these plans being risky? Guthrie’s sleight-of-hand suggests it’s Democratic voters, when in fact they overwhelmingly support pretty much all of the plans she listed. (Warren’s “new taxes” are highly popular wealth and corporate taxes.) And, in fact, even the general population tends to support such policies. But the fiscally conservative, risk-averse, largely-happy-with-the-status-quo voter—which, by the way, probably fits the profile of most of the corporate media questioners—would haunt much of the debate.

A single question was asked about education, but “free college” was mentioned among other social welfare policies in four other questions, all of which were framed around cost, or supposed pragmatism, rather than benefits—e.g., asking whether such policies give “a false sense of what’s actually achievable,” or whether “Democrats have a responsibility to explain how they will pay for every proposal they make along those lines” (6/27/19).

Chuck Todd: “What’s your message to a voter who…suddenly feels as if government’s telling them how to live?”

Climate, too, got the “how will you pay for this” treatment in two of its 10 questions, in addition to a question asking Beto O’Rourke to respond to a hypothetical voter who—in response to “big changes,” like “switching to renewable energy [and] pushing to replace gas-powered cars in favor of electric ones”—”feels as if government’s telling them how to live and ordering them how to live.” Meanwhile, none of the environment-related questions raised the issue of how much not addressing the climate crisis will cost, or foregrounded the fears of voters concerned about insufficient government action on climate. The Green New Deal was not mentioned at all.

Questions about organized labor were also notably absent, as were the issues of campaign finance and Citizens United—a noteworthy omission, when several of the candidates have made a point of swearing off money from various corporate interests or Super PAC money.

The foreign policy questions, 11% of the total, were notably bellicose, with Lester Holt asking three different candidates, “How would you stand up to China?” and Chuck Todd asking everyone in the first debate to give a one-word answer for “greatest political threat.”

The threat the US poses to the world might have been a relevant issue, given that the US is involved in ongoing drone wars in at least six countries, and at least 5,000 civilians in Iraq and Syria have been killed in drone attacks and other US and US-allied airstrikes since the beginning of Trump’s presidency. But the only drone question asked in the first debates was about worries that drones will take over domestic jobs.

Compared to the questioning in the early Democratic presidential primaries for the 2016 election, there was a dramatically greater focus on healthcare (from 2% to 18%) and immigration (from 6% to 18%). Questions about foreign policy dropped significantly, from 25% to 11%. Non-policy questions, which often eat up an outsize portion of debate time with a focus on non-substantive issues like electability, personal questions or general questions about other candidates, also dropped significantly, from 21% to 2%. New this year were a series of questions about governance: ten questions about bipartisanship, gridlock, court-nominee obstruction and damage to our political institutions.

 TOPIC  NUMBER  PERCENT  Economic    24   19  Healthcare    22   18  Immigration    22   18  International    14   11  Guns     11    9  Environment    10    8  Governance    10    8  Race      8    6  Women      5    4  Non-Policy      3    2  LGBTQ      2    2  Education      1    1  Total Questions  124

 

Methodology: FAIR counted all questions except for requests for opening or closing statements, interjections, clarifications and follow-ups to the same candidate on the same subject. Some questions were classified as belonging to more than one category, so total percentages exceed 100%.

Research assistance: Harrison Malkin

The Dangerous Austerity Politics of the Washington Post

Washington Post (7/17/19)

The Washington Post (7/17/19) ran a column this month by Maya MacGuineas, the president of the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget, one of the many pro-austerity organizations that received generous funding from the late Peter Peterson. The immediate target of the column was the standoff over the debt ceiling, but the usual complaints about debt and deficits were right up front in the first two paragraphs:

At the same time, the federal debt as a share of the economy is the highest it has ever been other than just after World War II….

So our plan is to borrow a jaw-dropping roughly $900 billion in each of those years—much of it from foreign countries—without a strategy or even an acknowledgment of the choices being made because no one wants to be held accountable.

This passes for wisdom at the Washington Post, but it is actually dangerously wrong-headed thinking that rich people (like the owner of the Washington Post) use their power to endlessly barrage the public with.

The basic story of the 12 years since the collapse of the housing bubble is that the US economy has suffered from a lack of demand. We need actors in the economy to spend more money. The lack of spending over this period has cost us trillions of dollars in lost output.

This should not be just an abstraction. Millions of people who wanted jobs in the decade from 2008 to 2018 did not have them because the Washington Post and its clique of “responsible” budget types joined in calls for austerity. This meant millions of families took a whack to their income, throwing some into poverty, leading many to lose houses, and some to become homeless.

At this point, the evidence from the harm from austerity in the United States (it’s worse in Europe) is overwhelming, but just like Pravda in the days of the Soviet Union, we never see the Washington Post, or most other major news outlets, acknowledge the horrible cost of unnecessary austerity. We just get more of the same, as though the paper is hoping its readers will simply ignore the damage done by austerity.

Washington Post (7/19/19)

And it is not just an occasion column from a Peter Peterson–funded group; the Post’s regular economic columnist, Robert Samuelson, routinely complains about budget deficits, as do the Post editorial writers. We get the same story in the news section as well; for example, a piece this month (7/19/19) told us about the need to “fix” the budget. The Post is effectively implying that a lower budget deficit, which results in lower output and higher unemployment, is “fixed.”

If the Post cared about the logic of its argument, instead of just repeating platitudes about the evils of budget deficits, it should quickly recognize that its push for austerity makes no economic sense. The argument for the evils of a budget deficit is that it is supposed to lead to high interest rates and crowd out investment. That leaves the economy poorer in the future, since less investment leads to less productivity growth, so the economy will be able to produce fewer goods and services in future years. (The implicit assumption is that the economy is near its full-employment level of output, so that efforts by the Fed to keep interest rates down by printing money would lead to inflation.)

The nice part of this story is that there is a clear prediction which we can examine: High budget deficits lead to high interest rates. Or, if the Fed is asleep on the job, high budget deficits will lead to high inflation.

The interest rate on 10-year Treasury bonds at the end of last week was just over 2.0 percent. That is incredibly low by historic standards, and far lower than the rates of over 5.0 percent that we saw when the government was running a surplus in the late 1990s. The inflation rate is hovering near 2.0 percent, and has actually been trending slightly downward in recent months. So where is the bad story of the budget deficit?

In the classic deficit-crowding-out-investment story, if we cut the budget deficit, investment rises to replace any lost demand associated with lower government spending or higher taxes. We can also see some increased consumption, mostly due to mortgage refinancing, and some increase in net exports due to a lower-valued dollar.

But what area of spending does the Washington Post and its gang of deficit hawks think will fill the gap if it could find politicians willing to carry through the austerity it continually demands? It shouldn’t be too much to ask a newspaper that endlessly harps on the need for lower deficits to have a remotely coherent story on how lower deficits could help the economy.

There is also the burden-on-our-children story that the Peter Peterson gang and the Post likes to harangue readers with: Our children will inherit this horrible $20 trillion debt that they will have to pay off over their lifetimes.

Net interest rebated to the Treasury by the Fed (CEPR, 1/18/17)

This story makes even less sense than the crowding-out story. The burden of the debt is measured by the interest paid to bondholders, which is actually at a historically low level relative to GDP. It’s around 1.5 percent, after we subtract the interest rebated by the Fed to the Treasury. It had been over 3.0 percent of GDP in the early and mid-1990s.

And even this is not a generational burden. It is a payment within generations from taxpayers as a whole to the people who own bonds, who are disproportionately wealthy. Much of this money is recaptured with progressive income taxes. More could be captured with more progressive taxes.

But this is actually the less important issue with this sort of accounting. Direct government spending is only one way the government pays for things. It also provides patent and copyright monopolies to provide incentives for innovation and creative work. These are alternatives to direct government payments.

To be specific, if the government wants Pfizer to do research developing new drugs, it can pay the company $5–10 billion a year to do research developing new drugs. Alternatively, it can tell Pfizer that it will give it a patent monopoly on the drugs its develops, and arrest anyone who tries to compete with it.

Generally, the government takes the latter route with innovation. This can lead to a situation where Pfizer is charging prices that are tens of billions of dollars above the free market price. This monopoly price is equivalent to a privately imposed tax that the government has authorized the company to collect.

Anyone seriously interested in calculating the future burdens created by the government would have to include the rents from patent and copyright monopolies, which run into the hundreds of billions of dollars annually, and possibly more than $1 trillion. (They are close to $400 billion with prescription drugs alone.) The fact that the deficit hawks never mention the cost of patent and copyright monopolies shows their lack of seriousness. They are pushing propaganda, not serious analysis.

I got a taste of this propaganda effort firsthand earlier this year, when I was asked by an editor at the Washington Post to write a piece on Modern Monetary Theory (MMT). While I’m largely sympathetic to MMT (it’s essentially Keynesianism—that’s not an insult; the name is taken from a phrase in the Treatise on Money), I have some differences. In particular, I am not willing to give up having the Fed as a check on inflation.

I also think the proposal for a job guarantee is a very big lift. It is a good idea in principle, but one that must be moved towards gradually with smaller programs, like the one recently proposed by Sen. Chris Van Hollen. Jumping to a program that could add 20 to 30 million people to the government payroll strikes me as a recipe for disaster.

There are also Twitter MMTers who view it as meaning the government can spend whatever it wants on things like Green New Deal or Medicare for All. This is not a view that the leading promulgaters of MMT hold, but for some, this is what the theory means.

Anyhow, I was happy to make these points in a column in the Post, as I have done elsewhere. I went through a couple of rounds of edits, with the editor both times making the piece more critical. I decided to throw in the towel after round two. The editor wanted me to include a needlessly snide remark from a MMT critic, and had me referring to the theory as “dangerous.”

That comment left little doubt that they wanted a different column than the one I had written. MMT is dangerous? How much output has the austerity pushed by the Post’s regular contingent of commentators and reporters cost the country? More importantly, how many lives have been ruined by needless unemployment, and the resulting loss of income and poverty?

Seeing the needless hardship the country has endured because of austerity since the Great Recession, it really takes some nerve to refer to MMT as “dangerous.”

Anyhow, I suspect the Post’s editors are immune to criticism. Just like the millions who mindlessly pledge allegiance to Donald Trump, they will push the austerity line they have always pushed, regardless of the evidence.

But it is important to call out the Post’s austerity nonsense for what it is. This is not serious economics; it is a doctrine that imposes pain, with the only gain going to those who will get cheap help as a result of higher unemployment.

A version of this post originally appeared on CEPR’s blog Beat the Press (7/25/19). 

Messages can be sent to the Washington Post at letters@washpost.com, or via Twitter @washingtonpost. Please remember that respectful communication is the most effective. Feel free to leave a copy of your message in the comments thread of this post.

 

MSNBC’s Anti-Sanders Bias Makes It Forget How to Do Math

 

When MSNBC legal analyst Mimi Rocah (7/21/19) said that Bernie Sanders “made [her] skin crawl,” though she “can’t even identify for you what exactly it is,” she was just expressing more overtly the anti-Sanders bias that pervades the network.

MSNBC‘s Mimi Rocah (7/21/19) explaining how Bernie Sanders makes her “skin crawl.”

The hostility is so entrenched, in fact, it seems to have corrupted MSNBC’s mathematical reasoning and created a new system of arithmetic. The cable news network has repeatedly made on-air and online mistakes about Sanders’ polling and other numbers—always to his detriment, and never with any official correction.

Here are some new rules MSNBC seems to follow when it comes to math and Bernie Sanders.

1. 49 < 48      

Result: Sanders goes from second to “fourth” place.

MSNBC made a handy graphic for a poll on July 7 that showed 2020 match-ups against Trump among Democratic voters. The list was in descending order of candidates’ polling numbers—except for Bernie Sanders, whose name is placed under Warren’s and Harris’s, though he polls higher than both of them. (If the list is ordered by the margin between the candidate and Trump, Sanders would be in third place, behind Harris.)

MSNBC (7/7/19)

2. 5 >7

Result: Sanders goes from second to “third” place.  

Lest you think this was an isolated incident, MSNBC’s Steve Kornaki placed Sanders’ name below Warren’s on July 15, when he was “reporting” on a poll put out by the Washington Post and NBC (MSNBC’s parent company.) Once again, the order of the names is descending by poll numbers—except for Bernie Sanders’, which is, once again, placed below where it should be. This time, Sanders is placed below Warren, though he polls higher than she does (both in the percentage who say they would vote for each candidate and the spread over Trump). This same order is used in the online story’s headline (7/14/19), which says, “Trump Trails Biden, Warren and Sanders in New NBC News/Wall Stree Journal Poll.”

MSNBC (7/15/19)

But it gets worse. It was misleading to have Sanders’ name after Warren’s in the graphic, but an absolute error or lie to say Warren was second, which Kornacki, who was talking about a poll conducted by his own company, did. I had to re-watch the video to make sure I wasn’t missing something, but Kornacki does indeed say (at 1:09): “Elizabeth Warren, she’s been running second place, she is running second place on the Democratic side. She leads Trump by 5 points.” Then Kornacki shows the person who is actually in second place and says, “Bernie Sanders, he leads by 7 points.”

3. +5 = -5. 

Result: Sanders “loses” ten points. 

Meet the Press’s Chuck Todd (5/24/19) showed a graphic claiming that Sanders had gone down 5 points in a Quinnipiac poll. Todd got the absolute value right, he just got the value sign wrong: Sanders didn’t go down by 5 in the poll, he went up by 5 — a 10-point difference.

 

MSNBC (5/24/19)

Quinnipiac (4/30/19)

Quinnipiac (5/21/19)

4. 25 = 28 

Result: Sanders goes from first to “second” place. 

After an April Monmouth poll showed Sanders polling at 27 percent among non-white voters and Biden polling at 25 percent, Velshe and Ruhle (4/29/19) showed a graphic which somehow added three points to Biden’s numbers, putting him in “first” place.

MSNBC (4/29/19)

Monmouth (4/23/19)

 

5. Less than $200 = 0

Result: Sanders goes from a candidate with one of the best records with female donors to one of the “worst.” 

Rachel Maddow on April 29 did a segment (and tweeted) about a study on the gender of campaign donors. Unfortunately, she forgot to say the study she cited only looked at donors who gave $200 or more. After praising Gillibrand for “doing the best in terms of targeting female donors,” Maddow urged her viewers to

look at the other end of the spectrum! Just strikes me as unsustainable. Bernie Sanders and Pete Buttigieg…. Look at them! Both of them are raising twice as much money from male donors as they are from female donors. 66 and 67 percent of your donations are from dudes? Dude!

MSNBC (4/29/19)

The same Open Secrets report Maddow was citing explained that its results were skewed: Since

Sanders has the  highest amount of money coming from small donors…at 74 percent…[and] generally only donations above $200 are itemized…the gender landscape of small donations are absent.

In fact, according to Sanders’ communications director, 46 percent of the 525,000 people who contributed to Sanders’ campaign during the first quarter were women. “It is virtually certain,” she tweeted, “that more women have donated to our campaign than any other.”

Rachel Maddow: You’re a Rhodes scholar, have a nightly news show, earn $7 million a year, and missed or failed to disclose that the study only looked at wealthier dudes and dudettes? Dude!

6. 23 minutes = 5 minutes

Result: Sanders goes from highlighting his opposition to racism and sexism  to “not mentioning” them. 

In March, MSNBC’s Alex Whit hosted a panel to discuss Bernie Sanders’ May 2 campaign kickoff speech.  Panelist and MSNBC political analyst Zerlina Maxwell said: “I clocked it. He [Bernie Sanders] did not mention race or gender until 23 minutes into the speech.”

As Sanders surrogates, journalists, organizers, activists and people on Twitter pointed out, Sanders most definitely mentioned race and gender  five minutes into his speech, when he said “the underlying principles of our government” will “not be racism, sexism, xenophobia, homophobia and religious bigotry.” Sanders starts his speech 31 seconds after he gets on stage so, to be charitable to his critics, he doesn’t mention gender or race until 5:31.

Maxwell, a former Hillary Clinton staffer, though MSNBC didn’t mention that when they introduced her, did delete a tweet which had said, “OK 23 minutes in Bernie finally mentions race and gender.” But she was far from contrite:

I’ve rewatched since yesterday and while I can acknowledge that I missed the passing line at 6 minutes I stand by my point since talking about criminal justice is not the same thing as talking about race and gender and if you don’t get why Bernie won’t win….again.

Sanders spoke about race and gender outside of the context of criminal justice, which anyone who watched or rewatched the speech would know. But accuracy seems not seem not to be the point so much as it is putting down a candidate who makes your “skin crawl,” for reasons that you can’t quite explain. Citizens, including the ones MSNBC claims to speak for, deserve better.

You can contact MSNBC by calling 212-664-4444, or via Twitter: @MSNBC. Please remember that respectful communication is the most effective. Feel free to leave a copy of your message in the comments thread of this post.

You can listen to Halper talk to pollster and Sanders advisor Jim Zogby about the misuse of polls on her podcast here:

The ‘Total Anarchy’ of Wet Cops

by Josmar Trujillo

“Total Anarchy”: The headline has changed, but the tweet remains (Twitter, 7/22/19).

The family of Eric Garner, the Staten Island father infamously choked to death by a New York City cop in 2014 (Extra!, 1–2/15), was told last week by the Justice Department that charges would not be brought against that officer. Family members and activists responded with fury, mostly aimed at Mayor Bill de Blasio, whose refusal to fire the officer, Daniel Pantaleo, allows his abusive run at the NYPD to continue.

This week, however, an event deemed more outrageous and reprehensible by the press took the spotlight away from the Garner saga: Police officers were doused with water during a record heatwave.

No one was hurt in the two separate water-throwing incidents, which involved squirt guns as well as buckets of water, but unlike copaganda coverage of NYPD officers engaging in a snowball fight with kids—framed as “heartwarming” by local media—this time a moral panic ensued, as media and police brass proclaimed that “disrespect” cannot be tolerated. In the barrage of hand-wringing and finger-wagging stories that ensued, we are given insight into the deep, ideological concern for cops that some media outlets harbor as they amplify voices that distort reality and shift victimhood onto the police force.

Our journey begins in the pages of the New York Post  (7/22/19), which broke the story of the watery carnage on Monday. The original headline, since changed, alluded to a total breakdown of civilized society: “‘Total Anarchy’: NYPD Cops Get Drenched by Buckets of Water.” The “total anarchy” remark was attributed to anonymous police sources, which are often the most-cited voices in the pages of the local tabloids; they added that “there’s lawlessness around here now.”

No, the “lawlessness” the anonymous police source was referring to was not the unpunished killing of black people like Garner by police. Police uniforms were wet, a clear sign of the unraveling of the fabric of society. The head of the Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association, Pat Lynch (who has long maintained that Garner, in fact, killed himself), went further and made the case in the pages of the Post that “dangerous levels of chaos in our neighborhoods” meant that police should “take action”—whatever that means:

We are approaching the point of no return. Disorder controls the streets, and our elected leaders refuse to allow us to take them back.

The Daily News (7/22/19) joins the panic over NYPD officers being dampened, sometimes by small children.

Police claims of “lawlessness” and “chaos”—uncritically platformed in the Post and the New York Daily News (7/22/19)—are a hard sell today with the city’s crime rate continuing at record-low levels. However, Lynch’s comments about “disorder” and taking back the streets are revealing. Is he suggesting taking back the streets, politically and literally, from anti-police brutality demonstrators, like those who support justice for Eric Garner? Is he clamoring for more aggressive policing in already hyper-policed communities of color?

Claims of “disorder” are not without their political meaning in New York City, where “order” has been a bedrock value for supporters of heavy-handed policing, perhaps most famously articulated through the “Broken Windows” theory. Broken Windows advocates for enforcement of low-level offenses in the name of order, supposedly thereby preventing more serious crimes.

The theory came under criticism by myself and others after Garner’s death as the racist policing ideology at the heart of the interaction that led to his killing. Researchers report finding little empirical evidence for the notion that disorder sparks serious crime—but there’s considerable reporting that overpolicing of minor offenses helps create create hostility between law enforcement and the community.

So why do the Post and the News fill their pages with the musings of anonymous cops and the police brutality–denying Lynch? Perhaps because they share their worldview. Both local tabloids have editorialized in support of a host of discriminatory police tactics, from Stop and Frisk and Broken Windows policing (FAIR.org, 7/3/16, 3/8/16) to the NYPD’s controversial gang database (FAIR.org, 6/28/18).

Local crime reporting by the Daily News may also be skewed by sympathetic reporters. Sharing a byline for a follow-up story (7/24/19) on the wet-cop scandal, which covered the arrest of one man allegedly responsible for the “mayhem,” was Larry McShane. McShane, one of the News‘ longest-serving criminal justice reporters, is also the author of the 1999 book Cops Under Fire: The Reign of Terror Against Hero Cops, which reads like a Pat Lynch press release:

Every day, thousands of police officers willingly put their lives in danger to uphold their pledge to protect and serve the public. Once respected for their dedication and professionalism, police officers are now used as scapegoats—the victims of second-guessing and racial issues. Allegations of excessive force and police brutality are rampant. Cases involving cops are more political, more scrutinized and more explosive than ever before.

In McShane’s account, it’s (presumably white) cops who are “victims” of “racial issues”—and it’s “allegations,” not abuses, that are rampant.

This video (Twitter, 7/9/19) of a Bronx man being beaten and arrested for talking back to the NYPD did not spark media outrage the way cops being squirted with water did.

The adoration of police—and the accompanying anxiety that follows when they are “disrespected”—is a testament to a fascination and solidarity with power and the powerful. When a cop is embarrassed, it can seem like society’s manhood has been denigrated. For some, seeing a cop humiliated suggests a breakdown of society in a way that seeing a cop engaging in the humiliation and abuse of a black person does not.

Take, for example, a viral video posted two weeks ago, showing police officers punching and arresting a black man in the Bronx, apparently for talking back to a group of cops. This is just the latest in a long list of police barbarity. There’s been no media coverage about the video, and hence no growing sense of scandal, because civility, for some, is not threatened when a black person is assaulted and falsely arrested. And in explosive cases like Eric Garner’s death, tens of thousands have to take to the streets so that the injustice can’t be ignored or forgotten.

As this week’s water-bucket panic went national, the Washington Post (7/23/19) published Lynch’s “anti-police rhetoric” claims, without any context as to whether he was referring to public sentiment against police officers killing civilians with impunity, or to Mayor de Blasio—or both. Lynch’s longtime characterization of the mayor as “anti-police” is another gross distortion that the media are unable or unwilling to refute.

Is the mayor actually anti-police? While the Post can’t be bothered to look into his record on policing, we know that de Blasio has refused to fire Pantaleo for over five years, shielded officer misconduct from the public, allowed the department to obtain drone technology and added 1,300 cops to the city. If that doesn’t sound like any “anti-police” official you know, don’t worry, Lynch’s point isn’t to say anything that’s true, it’s to drive the political goalposts to the right by accusing a pro-police mayor of the exact opposite—and the media allow it.

The seething outrage of police spokespeople should be analyzed critically by media, because baseless, unchecked police fear-mongering has real world consequences. In 1992, police unions launched a massive protest against then-Mayor David Dinkins, who was trying to create a police misconduct oversight agency. Ten thousand off-duty cops descended on City Hall, broke through police barriers, jumped on cars, assaulted reporters and even called Dinkins, who is black, the n-word.

Those types of actions, however, must not be “total anarchy,” because they’re done by police officers—who are always to be respected, no matter how abusive or unaccountable they may be.

Ed Morales on Puerto Rico Protests

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MP3 Link

 

(cc image: Oscar Rohena)

This week on CounterSpin: Someone was asleep in the Tone Deafness Department at the New York Times, and allowed the paper to describe Puerto Rico as a place where “people enjoy the benefits of American citizenship but cling to their own Spanish-speaking culture.” Besides whatever the paper means by “clinging” to a culture, it’s weird to say Puerto Ricans do so despite the benefits of US citizenship they rather famously do not enjoy—like real representation in Congress. That tossed-off sentence is one hint that elite outlets are not the first place to look for a serious understanding of fast-moving but deeply rooted events in Puerto Rico, where massive popular protests have just led to the resignation of Gov. Ricardo Rossello.

We’ll talk about Puerto Rico with Ed Morales, he teaches at Columbia University’s Center for the Study of Ethnicity and Race; he co-directed the documentary, Whose Barrio?, and he’s author of the forthcoming, Fantasy Island: Colonialism, Exploitation and the Betrayal of Puerto Rico.

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Plus Janine Jackson takes a quick look at “Trump Supporters Support Trump” stories.

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The NYT’s Six Percent Solution for Student Debt

by Jim Naureckas

Why are Democratic candidates going on about student loan debt? Why, the problem is practically solved already!

That’s the message of a piece in The Upshot (7/24/19)—the New York Times‘ project aimed at “examining politics, policy and everyday life in new ways”—written by Kevin Carey, who directs education policy at the New America foundation. (New America’s higher education program is largely funded by Bill and Melinda Gates.)

According to the New York TimesUpshot (7/24/19), Democratic candidates are proposing solutions to a student debt problem that has largely already been solved.

“It’s Easy to Forget, but a Program to Forgive Student Loans Already Exists,” is the headline. The subhead clarifies: “Democrats are campaigning to fix an issue that is already starting to resolve itself for many teachers and other public servants.”

After outlining proposals by Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren for large-scale forgiveness of student loans, Carey writes:

What’s strange about the new crop of proposals is that the Department of Education already has a public service loan forgiveness program, called PSLF, which President George W. Bush signed into law in 2007.

Sure, Carey admits, almost no one who applies for this program has their debts forgiven:

In the 18 months after borrowers with a decade of service in government or nonprofit jobs first became eligible in 2017, 73,554 people applied to have their student loans wiped out. And 73,036 were turned down—a rejection rate of 99.3 percent.

But that’s a problem that’s going to work itself out over time, Carey explains at great length—applicants will figure out over time how to make themselves eligible for this extremely convoluted program. The bottom line, writes Carey:

Nearly half of the $870 billion in outstanding Direct Loans — the kind that are eligible for loan forgiveness — is being repaid through income-driven plans, the kind that are eligible for loan forgiveness. And one in four American workers is in a job eligible for the forgiveness program.

So nearly half of $870 billion in debt is eligible for loan forgiveness, and one in four workers have jobs that qualify them for that program. If you do the math, that’s very roughly $100 billion that could theoretically be forgiven—or about 6 percent of the $1.6 trillion in outstanding student debt.

The upshot, according to Carey: What are these candidates belly-aching about?

Democrats competing to help teachers and other public servants with loans may be about to spend hundreds of billions of dollars to fix a problem that is already on the way to being solved.

Or 6 percent of it, anyway.

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

Featured image: New York Times depiction (7/24/19) of Bernie Sanders at a student debt rally with indebted former student Pamela Hunt. (Photo: J. Scott Applewhite/AP)

What Do Black Voters Want? NYT’s Edsall Says It’s What ‘Conservative’ Democrats Want

by Jim Naureckas

“The Democratic Party,” a new column by Thomas Edsall (7/24/19) declares, “Is Actually Three Parties.”

Fascinating! Tell us more, New York Times columnist on “politics, demographics and inequality.”

Well, based on data from a CBS poll of “battleground states,” there are “three roughly equal groups”: Democrats who call themselves “very liberal,” Democrats who call themselves “somewhat liberal,” and Democrats who call themselves “moderate” or “conservative.”

That’s it—those are the “three parties” that the Democratic Party actually is. Such are the striking insights that come with your New York Times subscription. (I would link to the polling data that Edsall is citing, but 12 hours after it was posted, the piece was still pointing to a broken url.)

Now, self-identification as “liberal” or “conservative” doesn’t mean a whole lot. When the Pew Research Center (7/28/15) compared the labels that people picked for themselves with the answers to policy questions with clear right/left options, it found that 56 percent of self-identified “moderates” picked mostly liberal policies, as did 30 percent of “conservatives” and 21 percent of those who said they were “very conservative.”

Notably, Pew found that self-identification is particularly unhelpful in gauging the policy preferences of African Americans; for example, 32 percent of black “liberals” say that “government is almost always wasteful and inefficient,” as do 40 percent of black “moderates” and 37 percent of black “conservatives.” (The corresponding numbers for whites are 37, 57 and 79 percent.) Thirty-two percent of African Americans say that they are “conservative” or “very conservative”; by policy preferences, 3 percent of them are.

The views of self-identified white “conservatives” have little in common with the views of black “conservatives,” which more closely resemble the views of black and white “liberals” (Pew, 7/28/15).

Given that white and black voters seem to have quite different ideas of what “liberal” and “conservative” mean, it is utterly unhelpful to sort voters by self-identification, look at which of these groups has proportionately more people of color, and then generalize from that about what black voters want. But that’s precisely what Edsall does in his analysis of the “three parties”:

The first two groups are made up of those who say they are “very liberal” and those who say they are “somewhat liberal.” Both groups are two-thirds white and have substantial—but for the Democratic Party below average—minority representation. They are roughly a quarter African-American and Hispanic.

Those in the third group are Democratic primary voters who describe themselves as moderate to conservative. This group has the largest number of minorities; it is 26 percent black, 19 percent Hispanic, 7 percent other nonwhites, and it has the smallest percentage of whites, at 48 percent….

The three ideological groups favor different sets of policies. On the left, the very liberal voters stress “the environment, protecting immigrants, abortion and race/gender,”…while the moderate to conservative Democrats are “more concerned with job creation and lowering taxes.”…

What the data demonstrates is that the group containing the largest proportion of minority voters is the most skeptical of some of the most progressive policies embraced by Democratic candidates like Elizabeth Warren, Bernie Sanders and Kamala Harris.

What Thomas Edsall (New York Times, 7/24/19) finds “particularly significant” is data that “weakens the case that mobilization of minorities requires advocacy of very liberal policies across the board.”

The upshot, which Edsall spells out in the first paragraph of his piece, is that it’s “disproportionately white” voters who are “supportive of contentious policies on immigration, healthcare and other issues,” whereas the Democrats’

more moderate wing, which is pressing bread-and-butter concerns like jobs, taxes and a less totalizing vision of health care reform, is majority nonwhite, with almost half of its support coming from African-American and Hispanic voters.

Edsall is playing a shell game here—lumping self-identified black and white “moderates” and “conservatives” together, even though they have very different policy preferences, and then using the amalgamated opinion to generalize about what African Americans really want. You can see this clearly in Edsall’s observation: “Sixty-six percent of the very liberal groups want candidates to address ‘race and gender issues,’ compared with 42 percent of the moderates.” The authentically black thing to do, if you’re following Edsall’s line of reasoning, is apparently not to talk about race so much.

Of course, if you want to find out what African-American Democrats think, you need not—and should not—infer this by extrapolating from what self-identified “moderate” and “conservative” Democrats think. Instead, you can—and should—look directly at what African-American Democrats say they think. Edsall quotes from data given to him directly by CBS; he could certainly have gotten the network to break out the numbers based on ethnicity rather than self-identified ideology. That he didn’t do that tells me that those numbers wouldn’t have done what he wanted them to do.

Indeed, there are other people who have asked African Americans what they want. For example, the Black Census Project conducted by the Black Futures Lab surveyed 30,000 African Americans in 2019, and found 90 percent support for the proposition that “government should provide affordable and quality healthcare for all Americans.” It also found 76 percent support for the idea of raising taxes on people making $250,000 or more, 71 percent in favor of raising the minimum wage to $15/hour, and 76 percent endorsing “making college education affordable for any person who wants to attend.”

Funny, when you actually ask African-American voters, they support “some of the most progressive policies embraced by Democratic candidates like Elizabeth Warren, Bernie Sanders and Kamala Harris.” Maybe that’s why Edsall didn’t ask them.

You can send a message to the New York Times at letters@nytimes.com (Twitter:@NYTOpinion). Please remember that respectful communication is the most effective.

Featured image: NBC News depiction (5/28/16) of a Bernie Sanders rally in Atlantic City, New Jersey.

 

Media Can’t Quit ‘Trump Supporters Support Trump’ Stories

by Julie Hollar

As we hurtle into coverage of a presidential election that is still over a year away, media have returned to their timeworn tradition of going to rural, white communities to take the pulse of the nation (FAIR.org, 5/20/19).

Under the web headline “These Michigan Voters Show How Trump’s ‘Go Back’ Attack May Help Him,” the New York Times (7/22/19) ventured  to a Trump stronghold in Michigan to bring readers the front-page news that people who supported Trump in 2016 despite his racist attacks still support him despite his racist attacks.

Trump is much less popular in Michigan as a whole than in the Republican bastion the New York Times (7/22/19) visited—but the Times didn’t tell you that.

The Times‘ Stephanie Saul and Jeremy Peters described their look into St. Clair County:

In this overwhelmingly white district an hour north of Detroit, where his popularity remains high, his comments left people in the familiar position of having to choose a side in the aftermath of another Trump-instigated outrage. And they chose his.

The article went on to talk a great deal about the importance of Michigan to the presidential election as a swing state, about counties that had swung from Obama to Trump, and about how close polls are in those counties right now. This would seem to imply that St. Clair County is one of those, where people were more ambivalent about Trump, and therefore informative about which way Michigan might go this time around. But no, St. Clair County  went for Romney by 7 points in 2012—and for Trump by 31 points.

Since this fact is disguised, and the “people” in this story seem to be exclusively of a Trumpian persuasion, it’s hard to escape the conclusion that the point of these person-in-the-street interviews was to give Trump supporters a platform, rather than to take a real look at what “Michigan voters” think. (Indeed, in Michigan as a whole, Trump’s approval rating stands at a net -15, according to Morning Consult polling—down 23 points since January 2017.)

It’s a common theme of Trump coverage that now is extending to election coverage: When people protest something Trump does or says, corporate media feel the need to also cover the people who aren’t reacting as a sort of faux-balance, giving us tautological Trump-supporters-support-Trump stories.

Reuters (7/19/19) gives us another example this news cycle: “In Battleground Florida, Republicans Shrug Off Trump’s Tweet ‘Kerfuffle.'” Reporting from Pinellas County, Florida, a Reuters correspondent joined the monthly meeting of a local Republican club—because, as the article explains:

Pinellas is one of four battleground counties that Reuters will report from through the November 2020 election to better understand the states set to play an outsized role in picking the next president.

So why, then, seek out only Republican activists to react to the Trump attacks?

As Reed Richardson pointed out two years ago here at FAIR (2/15/17), this kind of coverage tends to just reinforce right-wing talking points. Case in point from the Times‘ Michigan story: The paper interviews a local Republican strategist, who comments that the Democratic congresswomen under attack “very much represent the loony left.” This quote was then selected by a Times editor to feature in the print edition’s subhead—”Michigan Voters Who Worry More About the ‘Loony Left'”—twisting a Republican catch phrase into “voter” worries.

Unsurprisingly, members of Trumpettes for America unanimously denied that Trump’s racist tweets were racist (CNN, 7/16/19).

At times, the effort required to orchestrate these false-balance stories becomes embarrassingly apparent, as when CNN on July 16 and 17 aired a widely criticized segment that presented a panel of, in the words of CNN reporter Randi Kaye, “eight Republican women from Dallas [who] don’t see anything wrong with President Trump telling four Democratic congresswomen to go back where they came from.” Sharp-eyed viewers quickly pointed out that these apparently randomly selected Republican women were actually dedicated Trump activists—members of a group called Trumpettes for America who had appeared multiple times on CNN in the past, likewise identified only as Republican women.

CNN‘s response? It ran the segment again—for the fifth time—this time with a brief nod to the women’s group affiliations. Meanwhile, the underlying premise of the segment—that viewers need to hear (five times, no less) that Republicans who have supported Trump through his racist, xenophobic campaign and his racist, xenophobic administration continue to support him after his latest tirade—remains unquestioned by most media.

Featured image: Reuters photo (7/19/19) of a Trump supporter supporting Trump.

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