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The Media Can’t Face Its Own Corporate Corruption

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As Sen. Bernie Sanders (CJR8/26/19) has recently noted, corporate ownership of media interferes with the core societal function of the press: reporting and investigating key issues at the intersection of public need and governance. And nowhere is that more critical than when it comes to climate. Due to their corporate conflicts of interest, trusted news authorities have diverted us from our primary responsibility—assuring a viable habitat for our children and grandchildren.

As a journalist who has worked both inside and outside of establishment media, I see influence as embedded in a corporate media culture rather than in isolated cases of CEO dictates. It happens in little ways, such as how an interviewer frames a question, and in big ways, like the decision to exclude a topic, a person or a group of people from the airwaves.

Like most US companies, news organizations are hierarchies, which people who have worked in corporate offices can readily understand. Given that “90% of the United States’ media is controlled by five media conglomerates,” the top executive at many news outfits is likely the CEO of a multinational corporation. The word comes down from the business execs to the company’s division chiefs, as seen in countless movies (like the 1976 classic Network). This was how it was when I worked on primetime national news at CBS in the 1990s.

On the inside, it wasn’t easy to see organizational bias, when job security and team work required overlooking it. The response to the heavily promoted primetime news pairing of two well-known anchors exemplified how news personnel learn to toe the line. The two anchors had zero chemistry, but no one mentioned it, as if an unwritten code had been instantly internalized. This dragged on for two years, pulling down the network’s ratings.

Higher-ups would never offer editorial staff direct input on content. That’s what the executive and middle management were for. Would these managers confide to their staff that the big guns gave them a certain direction? No. Whatever it was, they would present it as their own, and it would be adopted.

Within this culture, controlling the content goes on in whispers, frowns, headshakes and decisions made behind closed doors. If anyone strays into a verboten zone, as I did when I proposed a feature about Native Americans, those in the know privately communicate the ethos that is expected and allowed. “We never put American Indians on air because they talk too slow,” a producer explained.

Despite such experiences, when I left CBS, I respected the many producers with whom I’d worked, many of whom are still employed at the various networks. That work experience honed editorial judgment in ways impossible to measure, for which I am infinitely grateful. It also showed me that organizational agendas and values can trump claims to objectivity.

Reporting from Independent Media

Yet over a decade later, working in progressive online media, I was still astonished that several major stories I covered, were anywhere from underplayed to entirely absent from establishment news.

When I began to cover fracking in New York state in 2009, at first both 60 Minutes (11/14/10) and the New York Times (11/27/0910/29/11) covered it as a Hatfield/McCoy feud between upstate rural neighbors, rather than as an invasive industrial activity with a host of health and environmental repercussions.

During the critical years of the major fracking buildout from 2005 to 2016, the  New York Times gave a prominent environmental platform to self-declared “climate champion” Andrew Revkin, whose reporting FAIR (Extra!2/10) called “a source of some comfort—and crowing—for the climate change denial crowd.” His pro-industry stance on fracking and naysaying on methane impacts condoned an industrial expansion that has produced far-reaching environmental damage.

The Times’ Ian Urbina (6/25/11)  did invaluable reporting on fracking’s faulty economic model. But in 2013, the paper of record closed its environmental desk, even as   Inside Climate News (1/11/13) was reporting that “worldwide coverage of climate change continued a three-year slide.”

MSNBC show hosts like Rachel Maddow and Chris Hayes rarely covered fracking, instead letting gas and oil industry ads reassert claims of safety. Nonprofit environmental groups, leading activists, along with a growing body of independent journalists filled the media void, including my own reporting at Huffington PostAlterNet and EcoWatch.


In 2014, I began to report on the Transpacific Partnership (TTP) and other concurrent global trade agreements, which are often characterized as core to President Barack Obama’s “legacy” (e.g., New York Times6/14/15Washington Post6/24/15). The agreement’s full provisions were never revealed to the public prior to the June 2015 vote granting absolute trade authority to Obama—authority that would have passed to Trump if the agreement had been ratified in late 2016, as Obama hoped.

In conducting multiple interviews with trade analysts, as well as following the protests in Europe and the resulting leaks of the contents, I learned from  trade analyst William Waren (Connect the Dots,  1/28/15) that even prior to the TPP’s  passage and ratification, plans were underway for the buildout of  fracking, gas and oil, and coal trade and global export freed by its anticipated passage.

Nothing within the unenforceable Paris Agreement would have prevented it. In fact, the Paris Agreement provisions were nonbinding, while the trade agreements that were being secretly negotiated concurrently, including the Trade in Services Agreement (TiSA), were designed to be binding, to “effectively trump whatever commitment is made in Paris,” Waren revealed on Connect the Dots (12/9/15).

Further, the TPP’s planned instatement of an international corporate tribunal with international legal authority over all nations would have mortally injured global democracies. In 2016, Mark Ruffalo summed up what was at stake in the fight: Expanding the Investor-State Dispute Settlement (ISDS) provisions in NAFTA via TPP

would block worldwide environmental and social progress while empowering corporations to undermine existing climate and environmental policies.

As we witness the Trump administration’s deconstruction of US environmental regulatory infrastructure—appointment by appointment, policy by policy—let’s appreciate that in defeating TPP and associated trade deals (thanks to the work of grassroots organizers and independent media), Americans dodged a bullet.

If the US had passed the TPP as planned during the 2016 lame duck session of Congress, both the US and all co-signers (a total of 12 countries) would have been contractually bound to a wholesale takedown of environmental regulations and economic barriers to fossil fuel development—as well as the loss of any right to challenge corporate rule or prevent health and environmental impacts. The climate impacts of the intended gas and oil buildout would likely have been devastating and decisive.

Nevertheless, the forward drive to pass the TPP occurred in a near void of corporate coverage. What had been negotiated behind closed doors with multinational corporations remained their business secrets. Prior to its authorization in June 2015, no mainstream outlet thoroughly investigated and disclosed the TPP’s provisions. Obama’s most memorable pro-TPP television appearance was singing about it with Jimmy Fallon.  FAIR (6/11/16) called the enthused Vox coverage (6/10/16) of Obama’s performance

a borderline parody of everything wrong with corporate-owned “new media”: What we have here is a Comcast-funded website plugging a Comcast-owned TV show to promote a trade deal aggressively lobbied for by Comcast.

Both the New York Times and its liberal economist columnist, Paul Krugman, covered the TPP infrequently. Krugman (10/6/15) professed he was a “lukewarm opponent” of it, and minimized its importance. “We’re not talking about a world-shaking deal here,” he wrote (3/11/15) three months before the Senate granted Obama the authority to sign the final agreement without further consultation or deliberation.

Prior to the vote, a college friend of the MSNBC host Chris Hayes assured me that Hayes, a former environmental reporter for The Nationwould be deeply concerned about these trade deals. I was dubious, but she was insistent. With the contact she provided, I sent all of my TPP research and sources on to Hayes. I received no response.

Rather than cover the TPP, MSNBC went on to fire Ed Schultz, the sole show host who covered trade agreements. (Sadly, the 64-year-old Schultz died in 2018.) In surveying TPP coverage, Media Matters (2/4/15) found that Schultz was the exception in a near-total blackout by all three major networks. Week after week, Hayes and other MSNBC hosts devoted airtime to meticulously dissecting far more minor concerns.

As in any large organization, the firing and hiring of staff speaks volumes to surviving staff members about the owners’ priorities. The unseen casualties among reporters of integrity, and the disservice to journalism, cannot be overestimated. Those working in corporate media get the message without anyone having to tell them, and highly paid show hosts have the most to lose.

The press’ mission is to inform the citizenry and flag abuses to power, not promote special interests. When citizens blind themselves to a news organization’s corporate entanglements, and trust the outlet to be truthful anyway, it is, to put it mildly, extraordinarily naïve.

It’s not about whether or not the public has access to a private conversation or confidential memo sent to editorial with a corporate dictate. The evidence is what’s given airtime and what isn’t over many years.

Was it just happenstance that MSNBC, for example, failed to cover the TPP after firing Ed Schultz? Comcast, the owner of MSNBC, sat at the table behind closed doors during the five-year long negotiations of the TPP’s specific trade provisions.

Have MSNBC or any of its competitors uncovered Comcast’s agenda for the trade agreements? What if concerns over intellectual property rights, for example, made it a corporate mission to pass a deal that also happened to radically hasten the climate tipping point? Should any company have that much power?

No business, no matter how sizeable, should have the right to subvert the actions and political choices necessary to address climate, as well as the activated movement capable of assuring that at long last we do what needs to be done. The only sane response is to support the movement, and the independent media outlets that provide a platform for ideas, facts, studies, polls, policy initiatives and disclosures outside the corporate media frame—and to overhaul the media to address this unfair use of public airwaves for gain and compromise as the world burns.

The post The Media Can’t Face Its Own Corporate Corruption appeared first on Truthdig: Expert Reporting, Current News, Provocative Columnists.

Sean Spicer’s Dancing Debut Was a Disaster. He Made It Even Worse Once the Cameras Were Off.

Mother Jones Magazine -

Clad in a frilly shirt and form-fitting white pants, Sean Spicer made his debut on Dancing with the Stars Monday night, where the former White House press secretary took the very last strands of his reputation and set them ablaze in a blinding, neon-green fire.   “What the hell is he wearing?” the internet collectively gasped, as Spicer shimmied and clapped for himself on stage, his clenched and overeager smile making the routine both more unwatchable and impossible to look away from.    “It’s like you were being attacked by a swarm of wasps,” one judge told him.

Here’s @seanspicer on Dancing With the Stars: pic.twitter.com/bjLBppHDbz

— Eddie Zipperer (@EddieZipperer) September 17, 2019

This is what life is now. #DWTS @seanspicer pic.twitter.com/heFCEwfjfT

— Matt Wilstein (@mattwilstein) September 17, 2019

At one point, the former Trump mouthpiece attempted to address the controversy over his casting. “There’s no question my time in the White House was very tumultuous,” he said in a video introduction, conveniently failing to mention his current employment as a spokesman for a pro-Trump super-PAC. “I think it gave people a very one-dimensional look at who I am as a person.” 

In the end, Spicer and teammate Lindsay Arnold could only eke out a disappointing 12 out of 30 score. But that was just the start. Hours after his most recent attempt to distance himself from his identity as the man who repeatedly and outlandishly lied on behalf of the president, Spicer appeared to make the case that his dancing ambitions were part of a wider culture war.   “Clearly the judges aren’t going to be with me,” Spicer wrote in a since-deleted tweet early Tuesday morning. “Let’s send the message to #Hollywood that those of us who stand for #Christ won’t be discounted. May God bless you.”

After drawing a fresh round of humiliation with the post, Spicer later replaced it with a more simple message:

Thank you @GovMikeHuckabee Really appreciate your support and prayers https://t.co/Qqa9xi3pIM

— Sean Spicer (@seanspicer) September 17, 2019

Only a Coalition of the Foolish Wants a War With Iran

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There’s no point in dredging up that old slogan, No Blood for Oil. It had no impact the last time. Don’t bomb Iraq, we said in 2002 and 2003, to no avail. George W. Bush and his friends had it in mind to destroy that country, which they did.

Donald Trump fired John Bolton. It seemed as if it would be acceptable to breathe a sigh of relief. But that was premature. Bolton was not the only one itching for a war against Iran. So was Mike Pompeo of the State Department, and so are a legion of arms dealers, lobbyists, establishment hawks, and people who believe that the United States should bomb Iran on behalf of Israel and Saudi Arabia.

Yemen’s Houthis took credit for the attack on Saudi Arabia’s eastern oilfields. But that was not enough. It was not enough that the Iraqis said that Iran did not use Iraqi territory to launch the drones. The U.S. asserted that the attack was done by Iran. No more needed to be said. There was no need to drag someone like Colin Powell before the UN Security Council. In fact, there is no one like Colin Powell in the Trump administration. None of his Cabinet members has the kind of gravitas that can be squandered with a lie.

This is madness of the highest kind—asking a man who is in the midst of an intractable war whether one should go to war.

The reaction from Iran has been calm. The government in Tehran has decided not to cower beneath the storm clouds from Washington. It threatens Canada with its own sanctions if the Canadians do not release seized Iranian assets. An oil tanker that was carrying diesel to the United Arab Emirates has been seized by the Iranians on the grounds of smuggling. Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani told the Syria Summit in Ankara, Turkey, that there can be no stability in Syria as long as U.S. troops remain there. Iran refuses to blink. It has taken the position that it must stand strong and call the U.S. bluff.

This is a dangerous bluff.

But it is also a calculated one.

Trade, Not Bombs

The Iranians know that there is no appetite in Europe for a U.S. war or even a U.S. military strike. This week, Michael Bock, the chair of the Instrument for Supporting Trade Exchanges (INSTEX), is in Tehran. INSTEX is the mechanism created by the European Union to sidestep the U.S. unilateral sanctions. Bock has met with the governor of the Central Bank of Iran and the head of SATMA—the Iranian institution created to facilitate INSTEX. The Europeans are eager to restart trade with Iran. They are not interested in Trump’s froth.

Nor are the Turks, whose senior banking officials have met with the Iranians to discuss how to reestablish trade outside the U.S. orbit. Turkey is interested in its own version of INSTEX and is calibrating what it would mean for Turkey and Iran to trade using their own currencies (in the rial or the lira). Both countries have said that they would like to increase trade to $30 billion—three times the highest trade volume.

Even the British, embroiled in their Brexit mess, are not eager for war. UK Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said that “the picture is not entirely clear” as to who bombed the Saudi oil fields. He sounded like the Russians (no “hasty conclusions,” said Dmitry Peskov) and the Chinese (not easy to “apportion blame,” said Hua Chunying).

Russia and China

From the perspective of Russia and China, a U.S. bombardment of Iran would undermine their economic projects in Eurasia. There is fear in Moscow and Beijing that such an American adventure would rip apart whatever small measure of stability has been achieved from the Mediterranean Sea to the Hindu Kush mountains. The failed U.S. peace talks in Afghanistan leave that country now open to the initiatives from regional powers, including China and Russia.

One little-known aspect of the U.S.-Taliban talks over Afghanistan has been the role of China. In June and July, both Abdul Ghani Baradar—the Taliban’s chief negotiator—and Zalmay Khalilzad—the U.S. negotiator—came to Beijing at different times. China played a key role in urging Pakistan to pressure the Taliban in these talks. Even as the U.S. has stepped away, China will continue to build relations with various factions in Afghanistan. This is essential for the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor and the Trans-Himalayan Economic Corridor, which draw the Belt and Road Initiative southward into Pakistan and Nepal.

A U.S. war against Iran would upend the already terrible security situation in Afghanistan, and it would tear apart Syria and Iraq, as well as Lebanon. This is something that neither China nor Russia would like. That is why the U.S. will never get a favorable UN Security Council resolution to hit Iran. It would have to do it unilaterally. There are no allies for Trump apart from Israel, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates: This is a Coalition of the Foolish.


Recklessness is not the mood in Tehran—nor in Moscow or Beijing. That should by now be clear.

If you want to identify the most reckless powers in our world today, look no further than Israel, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and the United States of America.

Israel’s Benjamin Netanyahu has said that he wants to annex the illegal settlements in the West Bank into Israel and leave a small, encircled rump territory occupied; this rump would include Ramallah. East Jerusalem would also likely be snatched fully in this move. This is recklessness. The reaction in Palestine would be another intifada, and—very likely—it would occasion rocket strikes not only from Gaza but also from Lebanon. Such an annexation would be an invitation to war.

Saudi Arabia and the UAE have been at war against Yemen since 2015. It is a ghastly war, a reckless war, one for which there is no end in sight. Trump wants advice on how to deal with Iran from the architect of that war—Mohammed bin Salman. This is madness of the highest kind—asking a man who is in the midst of an intractable war whether one should go to war.

Which brings us to the U.S. Trump has threatened war against Venezuela and Iran. He has used the entire apparatus of the U.S. war and money machine to conduct a hybrid war against these states. He has thus far not sanctioned a bombing run on them. But you never know. As I type these lines, Trump might be signing a document to authorize war.

No one on the planet wants Trump’s wars. We can march on the streets as we did in 2003, and the U.S. would not pay attention to us. Certainly, Bush did not, and certainly Trump will not. The U.S. is a reckless power. It needs to be checked.

This article was produced by Globetrotter, a project of the Independent Media Institute.

Vijay Prashad is an Indian historian, editor and journalist. He is a writing fellow and chief correspondent at Globetrotter, a project of the Independent Media Institute. He is the chief editor of LeftWord Books and the director of Tricontinental: Institute for Social Research. He has written more than twenty books, including The Darker Nations: A People’s History of the Third World (The New Press, 2007), The Poorer Nations: A Possible History of the Global South (Verso, 2013), The Death of the Nation and the Future of the Arab Revolution (University of California Press, 2016) and Red Star Over the Third World (LeftWord, 2017). He writes regularly for Frontline, the Hindu, Newsclick, AlterNet and BirGün.

The post Only a Coalition of the Foolish Wants a War With Iran appeared first on Truthdig: Expert Reporting, Current News, Provocative Columnists.

The New York Times Faces Questions Over Kavanaugh Story

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NEW YORK — Between an offensive tweet and a significant revision, The New York Times’ handling of a new sexual misconduct allegation against Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh attracted almost as much attention as the accusation itself.

The story also gave President Donald Trump and his allies fresh ammunition in his campaign against the media, where the Times was already a favorite target.

The revelation that led several Democratic presidential contenders to call for Kavanaugh’s impeachment came in the 11th paragraph of a story labeled “news analysis” that ran in the Sunday opinion section. The story is based on an upcoming book by Times reporters Robin Pogrebin and Kate Kelly, “The Education of Brett Kavanaugh: An Investigation,” about the junior justice’s brutal confirmation battle last year.

Headlined “Brett Kavanaugh Fit In With the Privileged Kids. She Did Not,” the story was primarily about Deborah Ramirez, a Connecticut woman who alleged that Kavanaugh, as a freshman at Yale in 1983, had pulled down his pants and thrust his penis at her. Kavanaugh has denied those claims.

Yet the authors said they’d uncovered a similar story involving Kavanaugh at another freshman-year party, where he allegedly exposed himself and friends pushed his penis into the hands of a female student. The story said former classmate Max Stier reported the incident to the FBI and senators as Kavanaugh’s nomination was being discussed, but the story said Stier would not discuss it with the authors. Kavanaugh would not comment on the story, a court spokeswoman said Monday.

After the story was posted online but before it was in the print edition, the Times revised the story to add that the book reported that the woman supposedly involved in the incident declined to be interviewed, and that her friends say she doesn’t recall the incident. While an editor’s note pointed out the revision, it did not say why those facts had been left out in the first place. A Times spokeswoman said no one was available for an interview on Monday.

The Times’ deputy editorial page editor, James Dao, posted answers to readers’ question on the newspaper’s website Monday evening but did not address this issue.

The failure to initially report that the woman did not remember the alleged incident “is one of the worst cases of journalistic malpractice in recent memory,” John McCormack wrote in the conservative magazine National Review.

The Washington Post, detailing its own decision on the story, called into question the Times’ decision to run with the accusation in the first place.

The Post said that last year it had independently confirmed that lawmakers and authorities knew of the second accusation against Kavanaugh, but did not write about it because the woman involved would not comment and the alleged witnesses were not identified.

The book’s authors wrote that they had corroborated the second misconduct allegation with two officials who said they had communicated with Stier. The newspaper did not identify them.

“Based on the corroboration, we felt mentioning the claim as one part of a broader essay was warranted,” Dao wrote.

Placement of the accusation in the midst of an opinion-section piece struck many in the journalism community as odd.

“How is this not a front-page story?” wrote Tom Jones of the journalism think tank the Poynter Institute.

In a statement, the Times said the opinion section frequently runs excerpts of books produced by the newspaper’s reporters. The new accusations were uncovered during the authors’ reporting process for the book, which is why they had not appeared in the newspaper before.

Still, this doesn’t explain why the new accusations weren’t pointed out to editors and given more prominence in news pages. Todd Gitlin, a Columbia University journalism professor, suggested bureaucratic inertia might partly explain it – since it had been determined that the piece would run in the opinion section, no one stepped forward to question that.

“There have been a number of decisions on this that strike me as dubious,” Gitlin said in an interview.

Dao said opinion section pieces have made news in the past, citing a Maureen Dowd interview with actress Uma Thurman with accusations against Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein. He noted that the Times’ news section did write about it — after reactions came in from presidential candidates.

Trump, not unexpectedly, was harsh in his assessment. He said his Supreme Court appointee was “the one who is actually being assaulted … by lies and fake news.” The White House also distributed a copy of a New York Post editorial headlined “The latest Times hit on Brett Kavanaugh is a clear miss.”

“How many stories are wrong? Almost all of the stories the New York Times has done are inaccurate and wrong,” Trump wrote in a tweet Monday.

Trump said Kavanaugh should start suing people for libel or the Justice Department should come to his rescue. Yet Roy Gutterman, a journalism professor at Syracuse University and director of the Tully Center for Free Speech, said the Justice Department has nothing to do with the case, and a libel case would be tough.

“Given the developing nature of the allegations and the sourcing of the story, coupled with the correction, it still does not appear to rise to anything that would be actionable under libel law,” Gutterman said.

The Times also apologized for an offensive tweet sent out by the opinion section advertising its initial story. The tweet said: “Having a penis thrust in your face at a drunken dorm party may seem like harmless fun. But when Brett Kavanaugh did it to her, Deborah Ramirez says, it confirmed that she didn’t belong at Yale University in the first place.”

The Times deleted the tweet and said it was “clearly inappropriate and offensive” and was looking into how it was sent.

The post The New York Times Faces Questions Over Kavanaugh Story appeared first on Truthdig: Expert Reporting, Current News, Provocative Columnists.

Ecofascism: Naomi Klein Warns the Far Right's Embrace of White Supremacy Is Tied to Climate Crisis

Democracy Now! -

Renowned climate activist and author Naomi Klein addresses the rise of ecofascism, the marrying of environmentalism and white power, which she says manifested in the Christchurch, New Zealand, white sumpremacist terrorist attack, where the shooter idenftied himself as an ecofascist. In her latest book, “On Fire: The (Burning) Case for a Green New Deal,” Klein writes, “My fear is that, unless something significant changes in how our societies rise to the ecological crisis, we are going to see this kind of white power eco-fascism emerge with much greater frequency, as a ferocious rationalization for refusing to live up to our collective climate responsibilities.”

Naomi Klein: Greta Thunberg Is a "Prophetic Voice" in Fight for Climate Justice

Democracy Now! -

Renowned activist, author and professor Naomi Klein discusses the importance of youth voices, including 16-year-old Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg, in communicating the urgency of the climate justice movement. Klein’s new book, “On Fire: The (Burning) Case for a Green New Deal,” addresses the necessity of structural change to combat rising global temperatures and climate injustices. Klein praises Greta for her “moral clarity” as one of many youth voices that “burst through the bureaucratic language with which we shield ourselves from the reality of the stakes, the extraordinary stakes, of our moment in history.”

"On Fire": In New Book, Naomi Klein Makes the Case for a Green New Deal to Save the Planet

Democracy Now! -

Amid mounting climate disasters across the planet, from the fires ravaging the Amazon to Hurricane Dorian’s destructive path through the Bahamas, we speak with renowned journalist, author and activist Naomi Klein. In her new book, “On Fire: The (Burning) Case for a Green New Deal,” Klein looks unsparingly at the rise of ecofascism, as Western countries fortify their borders and white supremacy surges around the world in response to the climate crisis. But she also lays out another path forward in which mankind meets the challenge of global warming with radical and systemic transformation. “We do know that if we are going to lower our emissions in time, it is going to take transformations of how we live in cities, how we move ourselves around, how we grow our food, where we get our energy from,” Klein says. “Essentially, what the Green New Deal is saying: If we’re going to do all that, why wouldn’t we tackle all of these systemic economic and social crises at the same time? Because we live in a time of multiple, overlapping crises.”

Naomi Klein: The Climate Crisis Demands Radical Change. Paper Straws Are a Distraction, Not Solution

Democracy Now! -

Renowned climate activist and author Naomi Klein says responses to the climate crisis have for too long focused on individual consumer choices rather than the collective action needed to save the planet. In a new video for The Intercept, Klein argues, “So many environmental responses have just been minor tweaks to an economy based on endless consumption — take your electric car to the drive-through for an Impossible Burger and a Coke with a paper straw. Of course it’s better than the alternative. But it’s nowhere close to the depth of change required if we hope to actually pull our planet back from the brink.” Klein joins us for the hour to discuss her new book, “On Fire: The (Burning) Case for a Green New Deal.”


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