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Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission to Investigate Lung Cancer Rates Among Uranium Workers

Mother Jones Magazine -

This story was originally published by Canada’s National Observer and is reproduced here as part of the Climate Desk collaboration. 

The Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission (CNSC) is leading a national study examining incidences of lung cancer in uranium workers from across the country.

The Canadian Uranium Workers Study (CANUWS) will examine health data from 80,000 past and present employees at Canada’s uranium mines, mills and processing and fabrication facilities. The study, which is now underway and set to end in 2023, is the largest examination of lung cancer in Canadian uranium workers to date.

Rachel Lane, one of the lead researchers on the new study, told Canada’s National Observer she believes it will reassure workers they face less risk than before from lung cancer arising from exposure to radon, an odorless, colorless, radioactive gas. Lane is a radiation and health scientist specialist at the CNSC in Ottawa and holds a PhD in epidemiology.

“The more we know about the health effects of uranium workers, especially now at the low levels of exposure they are having, the better we are able to ensure they’re healthy and (able) to protect them.”

Rachel Lane is a radiation and health scientist specialist at the CNSC in Ottawa co-leading a study into lung cancer rates in uranium miners.

Rachel Lane

The $800-million mining and milling uranium industry employs over 2,000 people—of whom more than half are residents of northern Saskatchewan—at mine sites. The researchers plan to examine causes of death in uranium workers from 1950 on and chart their cancer data from 1970 onwards, using research from previous studies.

The new study will build on the results of two historical studies: the Eldorado study and the Ontario Uranium Mine Workers Study, both of which found elevated risks of lung cancer in uranium workers. During numerous follow-ups ending in 2015, both studies found lung cancer among miners was still more prevalent than in the general population.

Those findings were a wake-up call that prompted uranium mine safety improvements, including mechanical ventilation in mines, greater monitoring of workers, and automation of some of the workers’ tasks. Researchers believe this next health study will show the risks have been addressed.

Higher Rates of Lung Cancer in Uranium Workers

Historically, uranium mining has proven a risky occupation. Past studies have found that overall, uranium workers are generally as healthy as other Canadians. However, deaths from lung cancer associated with radiation were historically higher for uranium workers than the general male population.

The most recent follow-up to the Eldorado study assessed radon exposure and incidences of death or cancer in 17,660 uranium workers employed at Eldorado mines from 1932 to 1980. The follow-up was done in 2010. It found a “statistically significant” increased risk of lung cancer with radon exposure but “no evidence of an increase in any other cancers or other causes of death.”

The authors noted evidence from the Eldorado study on the effects of low radon exposures and exposure rates helped them understand the long-term health effects experienced by current workers. As well, the study will advance researchers’ knowledge of, and help them address the health risks to people who have naturally occurring radon within their homes.

Lane was one of the lead researchers on the study, which was carried out by the CNSC.

In 2015, a follow-up to the 2007 Ontario Uranium Miner Cohort study was done. It examined approximately 28,546 male and 413 female uranium miners who had worked at least one week in the Elliot Lake and Bancroft regions or at the Agnew Lake Mine between 1954 and 1996.

The conclusion: “Significant elevations in lung cancer mortality and incidence, as well as silicosis and injury mortality were observed in comparison with the general Canadian population.”

“Significant elevations in lung cancer mortality and incidence, as well as silicosis and injury mortality were observed in comparison with the general Canadian population.”

While the CNSC funded the study, researchers from the Occupational Cancer Research Centre in Toronto carried out the investigation.

The study now underway involves a team of health researchers led by Lane and Kristi Randhawa, a radiation and health sciences officer with the CNSC.

Anne Leis, the department head of Community Health and Epidemiology at the University of Saskatchewan, will administer the project and analyze the data. Her colleague, Punam Pahwa, a professor of biostatistics, will lead the statistical analysis of the health data.

Uranium mining companies Cameco, Orano, and BWXT are co-funding the study, contributing $60,000. The CNSC is providing $125,000, while the Saskatchewan government is kicking in $60,000, and the University of Saskatchewan is contributing $90,000 of in-kind funding.

Cameco’s McArthur River uranium mine in northern Saskatchewan.

Photo by Turgan at English Wikipedia (CC BY-SA 3.0)

The CNSC says a working group of radiation specialists, workers, unions, Indigenous community representatives, and others will look for ways to “keep the process and results relevant and meaningful.” As well, the final report will be peer-reviewed.

Lane notes past studies of uranium miners have contributed to the scientific understanding of the effects of radon, and radiation protection measures that “significantly reduce” workplace exposures to workers.

The CNSC says radon gas produced during mining and milling is constantly monitored, controlled, and safely ventilated away from the workers. “Presently, worker exposures to radon in the uranium mining and processing industry are as low as, or only slightly greater than, public exposure from natural radon,” the agency maintains.

Continuing to study the workers’ health allows researchers to examine particular issues in more detail, find answers to questions left from previous studies, and conduct further follow-up with miners throughout their lifespan.

The new study will address, among other things, the risk of low radon exposure among workers since radiation protection measures were put in place. Lane says researchers hope to see fewer incidences of lung cancer.

Uranium processing and fabrication workers will also be included in a study for the first time. “Their exposures are considerably lower, but they’re still an important group to study,” Lane said.

Concerns Over Possible Bias

While former employees and industry watchers applaud efforts to study the health of uranium workers, some are skeptical about the ability of CNSC to produce an unbiased report.

Jamie Kneen, communications and outreach coordinator at Mining Watch Canada, says it’s important to understand the longer-term impacts of radon on the miners. But he cautions that the peer review and oversight of the study must be carefully examined because it is being led by CNSC.

Kneen contends that for years, the CNSC has served both as a regulator and promoter of the nuclear industry. “Their tendency has been to extend license periods and to give operators, whether it’s in the uranium industry or the nuclear power industry, more space, more time in terms of licensing and more leeway rather than the kind of tight supervision and oversight that the public probably would expect.”

Therefore, it’s a question of scrutinizing who’s doing the work and reviewing the study to ensure that it really is independent, according to Kneen. He notes that’s a difficult task given that the methodology around radiation is intricate and that not many people can decipher the technical details.

“It is concerning that health standards are set by physicists and industries, based on financial and technological convenience, rather than by those educated in and committed to public health and safety.”

“So there’s a lot of potential for not necessarily deliberate manipulation, but for error to creep in and biases to creep in.”

Rod Gardiner, a former general foreman at the now-defunct Cluff Lake Mine in Saskatchewan, expresses his own concerns about the industry. Gardiner was at the mine for 33 years, working his way up to general foreman and acting mine manager.

He alleges management at Cluff Lake, which was owned by the multinational mining corporation Orano Group, consistently boasted that working in the mine was as safe as working in a supermarket and putting prices on soup cans. “That’s what they used to say, the company.”

He hopes a new study might answer questions about workers’ health.

But others aren’t sure whether results will be trustworthy, primarily because the CNSC is partially funding and leading the study.

The CNSC’s work has been subject to just those kinds of complaints in the past.

Writing in the journal Canadian Family Physician in 2013, Dale Dewar and two other authors expressed concern over the CNSC’s ability to act independently of government and industry. The authors noted the former Conservative federal government fired the commission’s CEO when she applied safety guidelines to shut down the Chalk River reactor in Ontario.

The authors observed: “It is concerning that health standards are set by physicists and industries, based on financial and technological convenience, rather than by those educated in and committed to public health and safety.”

Dewar, a longtime general physician in northern Saskatchewan, recently told Canada’s National Observer: “They want to show that it doesn’t cause cancer. I think they want to find that result.”

Dewar expressed surprise that the CNSC has opted for a focused study when northerners have been asking for decades for a baseline health study to determine such things as whether or not there have been increases in autoimmune diseases or cancers that couldn’t be explained by diet, for example.

“I think not only is it virtually a sin that they’ve never done this, but I think it’s a really huge missed opportunity because if they had a study done like this, they would have researchers around the world trying to get information out of it.”

Lane dismisses the notion the CNSC study is too narrowly focused, arguing that all causes of death are examined. Firstly, she says researchers compare workers to the general population of Canada to see if they have any increased rate of diseases. Previously, the only radiation-related disease that showed an increase was lung cancer, Lane says.

“All other cancers and all other causes of death were not in excess compared to the general population.”

Lane notes in the last 20 years, researchers have looked for correlations between radon and leukemia, heart disease, and other illnesses, but haven’t seen any strong relationships. “We really only have seen strong evidence of a relationship between radon and lung cancer at high doses.”

Compensation for Uranium Workers

Another, less discussed issue is compensation for uranium miners. In the United States, the Radiation Exposure Compensation Act (RECA) administered by the Department of Justice has awarded over US$2.4 billion in benefits to more than 37,000 claimants since its introduction in 1990.

Among those qualifying for the benefits are uranium miners, millers and ore transporters who worked between 1942 and 1971, and who developed one of the types of diseases specified in the statute. Those include lung cancer and a number of respiratory diseases. The qualifying miners receive $100,000 each.

In Canada, no such compensation program exists.

Asked whether the current CNSC study might help open the way to compensation for uranium miners, Lane said that wasn’t anything she could address. “Right now our workers are healthy and the current knowledge of the health effects of radiation and the radiation protection measures are in place to adequately protect the workers.”

Candyce Paul, who lives on the English River First Nation in Saskatchewan, is a spokesperson for the Committee for Future Generations, a group that believes uranium workers should receive compensation.

Candyce Paul

Candyce Paul, a spokesperson for the Committee for Future Generations, an anti-nuclear group in northern Saskatchewan, believes uranium workers who got cancer should receive compensation.

Paul lives on the English River First Nation in northern Saskatchewan and protested the proposal for a nuclear waste repository in the region. “Most of them (uranium miners) get exposed to this or that.

“And there’s never been any compensation for anybody.”

Buy Them Up!: Why We Must Nationalize the Banks

Counterpunch Articles -

Image by Jack Cohen.

As we struggle to emerge from the COVID pandemic, it’s hard to imagine fending off our economic malaise without addressing the elephant in the room: Wall Street. The 2008 financial crisis destroyed 40% of the world’s wealth in less than a year. Almost no one has gone to prison for the white-collar crime Citigroup, JPMorgan Chase, Bank of America, Wells Fargo, and Goldman Sachs perpetrated. Wall Street apologists have spent thousands of hours on talk shows and millions of dollars in courts downplaying their behavior – but the banks crashed our economy, and they will do so again as long as they remain underregulated. Though it’s been over a decade, American political and economic life won’t be put on a solid footing until we achieve closure by redressing Wall Street’s 2008 offenses. The safest thing for our economic future is nationalizing the banking industry.

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Sex Workers and COVID-19: Resisting the Pandemic and Criminalization

Counterpunch Articles -

“What the state does not regulate,” Orellano says, “the market regulates.” The market, for sex workers, is framed by the fact of the criminalization of sex workers. Because sex workers “lack recognition and rights, markets emerge that thrive through our precariousness,” states Orellano. More

The post Sex Workers and COVID-19: Resisting the Pandemic and Criminalization appeared first on CounterPunch.org.

Sorry Twitter. It Wasn’t Personal. It’s Political.

Counterpunch Articles -

Image by Alexander Shatov.

It seems that finally we are having a wider public discussion on the inherent dangers of the social media platform Twitter. A debate that has been certainly galvanised by a recent article from a self-confessed “Twitter Addict” Caitlin Flanagan in The Atlantic, titled “You Really Need to Quit Twitter”. Explaining how she found herself constantly seduced by the platform, Flanagan writes, ‘I know I’m an addict because Twitter hacked itself so deep into my circuitry that it interrupted the very formation of my thoughts. Twenty years of journalism taught me to hit a word count almost without checking the numbers at the bottom of the screen. But now a corporation that operates against my best interests has me thinking in 280 characters. Every thought, every experience, seems to be reducible to this haiku, and my mind is instantly engaged by the challenge of concision’. Realising that the likes of George Orwell would probably have never been found dead on this platform, while also noting the anxiety the platform induces in both its users and those who have the temerity to leave, Flanagan finally realised that ‘Twitter is a parasite that burrows deep into your brain, training you to respond to the constant social feedback of likes and retweets. That takes only a week or two. Human psychology is pathetically simple to manipulate. Once you’re hooked, the parasite becomes your master, and it changes the way you think’. Twitter then not as a mere arbitrary communications outlet; rather as a viral disease for reconfiguring human connections by literally cutting into language and altering the very structure of consciousness itself.

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The post Sorry Twitter. It Wasn’t Personal. It’s Political. appeared first on CounterPunch.org.

Nicaragua’s Sandinistas battle ‘diabolical’ US empire and poverty on 42 anniversary of revolution

The GrayZone -

The Grayzone reports from Nicaragua on the 42nd anniversary of the Sandinista revolution. Nicaraguans discuss their improved quality of life, President Ortega condemns the dictatorial US “empire that wants to dominate all countries,” and Vice President Murillo declares poverty an imperialist “crime against humanity.” MANAGUA, NICARAGUA – 42 years after the victory of the Sandinista revolution, Nicaraguans are still celebrating the gains of the leftist movement, and hoping to take the transformative process to another stage. This July 19, tens […]

The post Nicaragua’s Sandinistas battle ‘diabolical’ US empire and poverty on 42 anniversary of revolution appeared first on The Grayzone.

The Justice Department Won’t Investigate COVID Deaths in New York Nursing Homes

Mother Jones Magazine -

Over the last six months, government officials and journalists have surfaced damning information that suggests New York Governor Andrew Cuomo’s administration attempted to diminish the true pandemic death toll in the state’s nursing homes. State attorney general data revealed that New York’s public tally of nursing home deaths may have undercounted the fatalities by up to 50 percent, and the New York Times uncovered efforts by Cuomo’s aides to stop health officials from sharing that data with state lawmakers and the public. These moves coincided with a time when Cuomo was trying to ink a multi-million-dollar deal for a book about his handling of the COVID crisis, capitalizing on the image he’d cultivated as a hard-charging hero of pandemic leadership when New York City was the COVID epicenter in the spring of 2020.

On Friday, the Justice Department disclosed that it has declined to further investigate what happened in New York.

In letters sent to several lawmakers, DOJ said that it would not open a civil investigation into New York’s handling of the pandemic in nursing homes. In a letter to Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-N.Y.), who plans to challenge the three-term embattled incumbent in New York’s gubernatorial race in 2022, the department said that it had requested information from the state of New York last summer. “We have reviewed the information provided,” wrote deputy assistant attorney general Joe Gaeta. “Based on that review we have decided not to open a [Civil Rights of Institutionalized Persons Act] investigation of any public nursing facility at this time.”

Meanwhile, New York’s handling of death toll data at nursing homes is the subject of an ongoing investigation by the US attorney’s office in Brooklyn and by the FBI. Cuomo also faces an unrelated state inquiry over allegations of sexual harassment, after nearly a dozen women came forward with accusations against him this spring.

The DOJ also declined to open investigations into the pandemic response in nursing homes in Pennsylvania and Michigan.

Each of these three states had issued policies at the height of the first COVID wave in the spring of 2020 that required nursing homes to admit COVID-19 patients, despite the lack of adequate testing and the high risk for severe COVID complications or death among nursing homes’ elderly populations. These “must-admit” orders appeared as nursing homes became some of the hardest-hit locations. As my colleague Molly Schwartz explained in February:

When the coronavirus first appeared in the US, nursing homes were an epicenter of infection and have continued to have the highest mortality and infection rates of any population. Infections rates in nursing homes surged to a high in late November following Thanksgiving travel, and the death counts continue to rise, peaking at 7,004 weekly deaths in nursing homes alone the week of January 14. As of February 2, 153,159 of the 443,751 Americans who have died from COVID-19—a whopping 35 percent—are residents of long-term care facilities; they account for less than 1 percent of the US population. 

Last summer, the Justice Department—then under Trump administration leadership—requested more information from these three states, as well as New Jersey, to assess whether their “must-admit” policies may have caused pandemic deaths in nursing homes. On the basis of this information, the DOJ had opened an investigation in New Jersey. But Friday’s announcement from the department effectively ended the chances of a federal probe in the other three states.

The announcement provoked fierce criticism from several Republican lawmakers for the department’s decision not to investigate the “must-admit” orders that may have spurred COVID outbreaks in care facilities. “Where is the justice for nursing home victims and their grieving families?” said Rep. Steve Scalise (R-La), ranking member of the House Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis, in a statement. “These deadly orders contradicted the CDC’s guidance, and needlessly endangered the most vulnerable among us to the deadly COVID-19 virus.”

A Conservative Radio Host Mocked the Vaccine. Now He’s Hospitalized With COVID.

Mother Jones Magazine -

The family of a conservative radio host Phil Valentine, who is now hospitalized in a Tennessee critical care unit with COVID-19, issued a statement on his behalf Friday, expressing his regret over the vaccine skepticism that he has shared with his listeners over many months.

They ended their statement with an all-caps plea to Valentine’s listeners: “PLEASE GO GET VACCINATED!”

Valentine is the most recent in a string of conservative media personalities to embrace the COVID vaccine after months of public skepticism. Last week, Fox News host Sean Hannity urged his viewers to take COVID seriously and said that it “absolutely makes sense for many Americans to get vaccinated. I believe in science. I believe in the science of vaccination.” Several other Fox hosts made similar statements over the course of the week. 

Valentine, who is 61-years-old, has hosted his popular conservative talk radio show on a Nashville radio station for the last 25 years. About 39 percent of Tennesseans have received a COVID vaccine, yet Valentine has in recent months repeatedly promoted vaccine hesitancy both on his show and on his blog. On the air, Valentine performed “Vaxman”—a parody of the Beatles song “Taxman” that was reconfigured to mock the Covid vaccines: “Yeah, I’m the Vaxman,” the chorus goes. “If you don’t like me coming round, be thankful I don’t hold you down.”

Here’s “Vaxman”, the song parody of the Beatles “Taxman” conservative radio host Phil Valentine made mocking the vaccine just a few days ago.

He is now reportedly hospitalized with COVID-19. pic.twitter.com/3b5rzVdzqb

— The Tennessee Holler (@TheTNHoller) July 21, 2021

In a December 2020 blog post, Valentine wrote that he was not an anti-vaxxer but was instead “using common sense” in opting not to get vaccinated. He added:

What are my odds of getting COVID? They’re pretty low. What are my odds of dying from COVID if I do get it? Probably way less than one percent. I’m doing what everyone should do and that’s my own personal health risk assessment. If you have underlying health issues you probably need to get the vaccine. If you’re not at high risk of dying from COVID then you’re probably safer not getting it. That evokes shrieks of horror from many, but it’s true. 

CNN reported that this spring that Valentine compared hospital workers asked to indicate their COVID vaccine status on their ID badges to Jews who were forced to identify themselves by wearing yellow stars in Nazi Germany. 

In their Friday statement, Valentine’s family said that he “regrets not being more vehemently ‘Pro-Vaccine’, and looks forward to being able to more vigorously advocate that position as soon as he is back on the air, which we all hope will be soon.”

They added that Valentine has COVIDpneumonia, is breathing with assistance, but is not on a ventilator. 

Tennessee is among a number of Southern states where vaccine misinformation has led to low rates of vaccination and the rapid recent spread of the highly infectious Delta variant. Health officials in Tennessee have said that the vast majority of COVID deaths in the state are among the unvaccinated.

Earlier this month, the Tennessee government fired the state’s top vaccination official Dr. Michelle Fiscus. Though the reasons for her termination were not made clear, Fiscus said it was likely because of her efforts to vaccinate young people ages 12 to 15 after the CDC declared the COVID vaccine safe for this age group. Republican lawmakers in the state had publicly criticized Fiscus’ actions during legislative hearings last month. 

Another Dangerous “Heat Dome” Is About to Descend on the US

Mother Jones Magazine -

This story was originally published by The Guardian and is reproduced here as part of the Climate Desk.

The most extensive heatwave of a scorching summer is set to descend upon much of America in the coming week, further roasting areas already gripped by severe drought, plunging reservoirs, and wildfires.

A massive “heat dome” of excessive heat will settle across the heart of the contiguous US from Monday, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration forecast, bringing elevated temperatures to the Great Plains, the Great Lakes, the northern reaches of the Rocky Mountains, the Pacific north-west and California.

Places used to more mild summers are set for punishing heat, with temperatures expected to breach 100F (37C) in the Dakotas and Montana, a state in which the city of Billings has already experienced 12 days above 95F (35C) this month. Areas of states including Missouri, Arkansas, and Oklahoma may get “sweltering” temperatures reaching 110F (43C), NOAA said, while cities such as Des Moines, Minneapolis and Chicago will get significantly above-average heat.

The latest, but most expansive, in a parade of heatwaves to sweep the US is likely to bring thunderstorms and lightning to some areas, as well as worsen drought conditions ranked as “severe” or “exceptional” that now cover two-thirds of the US west.

Climate scientists have said the barrage of heatwaves over the past month, which have parched farms, caused roads to buckle and resulted in the obliteration of long-standing temperature records, are being fueled by predicted human-caused climate change—but admit to being surprised at the ferocity of the onslaught.

Heat dome over North America, showing high temperatures predicted across the continent. Photograph: NOAA

“It’s been a severe and dangerous summer, some of the heatwaves have been devastatingly hot,” said Michael Wehner, a senior scientist at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. “We certainly expected these types of temperatures as global warming continues but I don’t think anyone anticipated they would be so hot right now. I don’t think we could’ve expected so many heatwaves in the same general region in one summer.”

The most extraordinary of the recent heatwaves occurred in the Pacific north-west in June where the normally mild region was bathed in heat that broke temperature records by more than 10F (5.5C). The heat, which caused hundreds of people to die in cities including Seattle and Portland, where it reached 116F (46C), has caused several scientists to question their previous estimates of how the climate crisis will reshape heatwave severity.

“You expect hotter heatwaves with climate change but the estimates may have been overly conservative,” Wehner said. “With the Pacific north-west heatwave you’d conclude the event would be almost impossible without climate change but in a straightforward statistical analysis from before this summer— you’d also conclude it would be impossible with climate change, too. That is problematic because the event happened.”

Wehner said the ongoing heatwaves should prompt governments and businesses to better prepare for the health impacts of high temperatures, which range from heatstroke to breathing difficulties caused by smoke emitted from increasingly large wildfires.

“The good news is that heatwaves are now on people’s radars a bit more,” he said. “But these sort of events are completely unprecedented, you expect records to be beaten by tenths of a degree, not 5F or more.

“It’s a teachable moment in many ways for the public that climate change is here and now and dangerous. It isn’t our grandchildren’s problem, it’s our problem. But it’s been a teachable moment for climate scientists too.”

“Not Necessary”: The Biden Administration Just Canceled More Border Wall Contracts

Mother Jones Magazine -

On Friday, the Biden administration canceled two border wall contracts along 31 miles of the Rio Grande in South Texas—continuing the process it began this spring of dismantling one of the Trump administration’s signature initiatives.

The two contracts had previously been funded in 2020, but Biden’s Department of Homeland Security announced on Friday that they are “not necessary to address any life, safety, environmental, or other remediation requirements.” 

The Trump administration had planned to spend about $15 billion to construct a border wall along the Southwest border of the US in an effort to crack down on crossings by undocumented immigrants, whom they deemed a threat to American security. Immigration and environmental activists alike blasted the wall plan—the former for imperiling immigrants fleeing dangerous or difficult circumstances, and the latter because wall construction threatened to disrupt natural habitats and endanger more than 100 threatened animal species who roam at the border. Nor do some portions of the wall constructed under Trump appear to do much to prevent border crossings, as they are easily scaled with a ladder.   

The contracts canceled on Friday were the first to be terminated under a plan announced by the Department of Homeland Security in June to divert the billions of dollars allocated for the border wall to other priorities. The Department is legally required to use the funds—which were already appropriated by Congress—for projects on the border. So DHS announced last month that the money would be used to address environmental damage at the border, including soil erosion in Southern California and structural concerns on levees meant to prevent flooding near the Rio Grande.

On his first day in office in January, Biden paused construction of the wall and announced a review of all the funds that had been appropriated for construction, calling the project “a waste of money that diverts attention from genuine threats to our homeland security.”

About $10 billion of the funds for Trump’s border wall had been set to come from the Department of Defense, diverted from military projects. The Biden administration terminated the remainder of these contracts in April. DHS said in its Friday announcement that it would continue to review the paused border projects that had been set to come from Homeland Security funds. It also urged the administration “to call on Congress to cancel remaining border wall funding and instead fund smarter border security measures.”

Gushing Coverage of the Billionaire’s Space Race

Fairness & Accuracy In Reporting -


Behind recent praise of undertaxed billionaire Jeff Bezos’ brief trip to near-space lie the neglected realities of institutional and environmental degradation, both of which have been eclipsed by vanity space projects and the ostensible prospect of space tourism.

National corporate media echoed the billionaire’s branding of the Blue Origin flight as a “voyage of discovery undertaken in the common good,” and ultimately gave Bezos “the full infomercial treatment” (Jacobin, 7/22/21).

Bezos’ nod to Amazon workers—who helped pay for the 11-minute suborbital flight (one minute longer than the amount of break time those employees are supposed to be allowed for every four hours worked)—was resoundingly “tone-deaf” (NBC News, 7/21/21). Media consumers may remember when strikers turned out in droves last year to protest the treacherous working conditions of Amazon warehouses, especially at JFK8 in Staten Island, New York (Guardian, 2/5/20). In the UK, Amazon workers reportedly opted to pee in bottles “because fulfillment demands [were] too high” (Verge, 8/16/18). Warehouse employees have “described a ‘brutal’ reality of long hours, physical labor, fears about taking time off, workplace injuries” (Insider, 2/10/19)—not to mention Amazon’s resistance to unionization.

In their coverage, media companies deemed the future of space tourism more newsworthy than the exploitation that has, at least partially, funded its infancy.

NPR for space tourism

NPR  (7/20/21) breathlessly chronicled “the second billionaire this month to reach the edge of space.”

Swathes of reporting from NPR.org focused on anecdotes—like the first words spoken upon hitting zero gravity (“Who wants a Skittle?”—7/20/21), and how far Blue Origin traveled in comparison to Virgin Galactic, a competing spaceflight company founded by rival oligarch Richard Branson (NPR.org, 7/20/21). In the latter piece, Scott Neuman wrote about Bezos’ bragging rights and compared the two spaceflight companies—favorably depicting the Blue Origin landing. (For the record, Virgin Galactic launched its SpaceShipTwo craft one week before Bezos’ flight.)

Laurel Wamsley, also of NPR, wrote an article (7/20/21) headlined: “Liftoff! Jeff Bezos and Three Crewmates Travel to Space and Back in Under 15 Minutes.” Wamsley alluded to the beginning of the “space tourism era,” and went on to quote Bezos bashing “bureaucracy” as he announced two philanthropic awards.

‘Best day ever!’

The Washington Post (7/20/21) reported that its owner engaged in “lots of cheering, whooping and exclamations of ‘Wow!’” 

The Bezos-owned Washington Post unsurprisingly gushed over its billionaire boss’s trip to space, as in Christian Davenport and Dalvin Brown’s fannish lead news report,  headlined “Jeff Bezos Blasts Into Space on Own Rocket: ‘Best Day Ever!’” (7/20/21):

Jeff Bezos rocketed past the edge of space Tuesday, launching from the improbable spaceport he has built in the West Texas desert here and fulfilling the lifelong dream of a die-hard Trekkie who was transfixed by the Apollo 11 Moon landing and has pledged to use his fortune to open space for the masses.

The Post published multiple articles this month about the so-called “billionaires’ space race” that framed private suborbital flights—particularly its owner’s—in a distinctly positive light.

“The Billionaires’ Space Efforts May Seem Tone-Deaf, but They’re Important Milestones” (Washington Post, 7/19/21), an op-ed by Miles O’Brien, a science correspondent for PBS NewsHour and an aerospace analyst for CNN, began by calling attention to “wealth disparities and environmental catastrophes,” which he labeled “existential problems.” O’Brien suggested that humankind could mitigate these issues by working to have more “civilians in space”: “Who knows what inspiration and innovation these missions will spark to solve some pressing earthly problems?”

Now that billionaires can go on joy rides into space, we’re apparently one step closer to solving the climate crisis, wealth disparities, worker exploitation, human slavery, mass starvation, access to clean water, state violence and all of the other structural inequities that plague society.

Megan McArdle (Washington Post, 7/13/21) compared critics of her boss’s space stunt to early humans who asked, “Why mess around with flint, or try to take on a gazelle, when you could be digging for grubs or perhaps picking lice out of someone’s hair?”

In “The Billionaires’ Space Race Benefits the Rest of Us. Really,” Post opinion columnist Megan McArdle (7/13/21) defended Bezos and Branson from critics, arguing “they probably understand what their critics clearly don’t: how even a fleeting roller-coaster ride into the Earth’s thermosphere can be an enduring contribution to humanity.” In her piece, she failed to distinguish the legitimate practice of space exploration from space tourism, enumerating the supposed limitations of government space programs, and even emphasized the need for public funds to support billionaires’ space efforts.

Of course, the Post columnist did not explain that the US public already greatly subsidizes Bezos’ hobby, through tax rules that make it possible for him to reap billions of dollars while paying little or no federal taxes (Democracy Now!, 7/22/21). McArdle nevertheless invoked free-market language to tout the value of the space tourism industry, arguing that “private entities tend to do better than government—in no small part because private entities face more continuous competitive measures to go a little farther.”

Contrary to the false narrative provided by billionaires and their corporate media mouthpieces, the industry in question has been funded by and for the wealthy—not the masses—because, as Gizmodo (7/19/21) noted:

Space exploration is not the same as space tourism. While the former is conducted for the worthy goal of understanding what’s beyond our atmosphere, the latter only serves the interest of the super-rich who want a thrill and the billionaires who own the companies that can provide it. It’s one of the most glaring illustrations of rising inequality. What’s more, it could widen the gap further by worsening the climate crisis and forcing the most vulnerable to suffer the impacts while the rich snap space selfies.

The world surely isn’t on fire… right? 

A billionaire’s brief attempt to escape the planet was deemed far more newsworthy than humanity’s ongoing efforts to destroy it (Media Matters via Twitter, 7/20/21).

Gizmodo pointed out that media companies largely neglected the environmental impact that would result from a lucrative space tourism industry:

The initial climate impact of an individual space tourist flight may be comparatively small, but they will add up. And each flight signals something more ominous to come.

Something more ominous is already underway—the climate crisis. Although national corporate media have been reluctant to cover this dilemma in the past, they have begun to cover environmental catastrophes more frequently. However, as Olivia Riggio of FAIR.org (7/22/21) reported, there is a stark disconnect between reporting on the climate crisis and progressive environmental solutions.

According to Media Matters for America (Twitter, 7/20/21; Gizmodo, 7/21/21), morning shows “spent nearly as much time on Jeff Bezos’ space launch in one day than on the climate crisis in 2020.” They dedicated 267 minutes of coverage to the climate crisis during all of last year; on the single day of July 20, 2021, Bezos’ Blue Origin flight received 212 minutes of coverage.

The billionaires’ space race is a spectacle, one that will ultimately exacerbate inequality and climate change. It is depressing but not at all surprising that media companies have deemed billionaire space cowboys and zero-gravity Skittles more newsworthy than institutional failures and the impending climate catastrophe.

The post Gushing Coverage of the Billionaire’s Space Race appeared first on FAIR.

On the Heels of Europe’s Devastating Floods, Scientists Warn More Is Yet to Come

Mother Jones Magazine -

This story was originally published by Grist and is reproduced here as part of Climate Desk.

Scientists warn the catastrophic floods that devastated western Europe last week are a glimpse into the future for the region, as climate change fuels more intense, slower-moving storm systems that can hold vast amounts of precipitation.

According to a new study published in the journal Geophysical Research Letters, similar slow-moving, low-pressure storms could become 14 times more frequent in Europe over the next century. To date, such weather patterns have been relatively uncommon in the region, but researchers, using detailed climate model simulations, found that storms in the coming decades will have higher peak intensities, longer durations, and will occur more frequently. Slower-moving storms formed in warmer atmospheric temperatures also means more water accumulation—for every 1.8 degrees Fahrenheit of warming, the atmosphere can hold 7 percent more moisture—increasing the risk of flash flooding.

“This study suggests that changes to extreme storms will be significant and cause an increase in the frequency of devastating flooding across Europe,” Hayley Fowler, co-author of the study and a hydroclimatologist at Newcastle University in the United Kingdom, said in a press release.

It’s a wake-up call, Fowler said, to improve emergency warning and management and to make infrastructure more resilient to the effects of climate change.

Two months worth of rain fell in just 24 hours in parts of Germany late last week, causing damages to bridges and roads, rivers to overflow, hillsides to collapse, and homes and cars to be swept away. More than 1,000 rescue operations have been carried out, nearly 200 people have died, 700 have been injured, and many others remain missing as of Monday morning. Parts of the Netherlands, Luxembourg, and the UK were also affected by the flash flooding.

The new research by Fowler and her colleagues echoes a separate study published in January in the Journal of Climate that found annual and extreme precipitation will increase in most regions of Europe over the next century. 

“Governments across the world have been too slow in reducing greenhouse gas emissions and global warming continues apace,” Fowler said.

As climate impacts worsen around the world—from the floods in Europe to record-breaking wildfires in the American West to severe drought in Madagascar—several countries are acting ahead of the United Nations Climate Change Conference this November. The European Union and China, two of the world’s biggest economies, recently announced sweeping plans to cut greenhouse gas emissions. The commitment includes for the EU a globally first-of-its-kind tax on imports from high emitting countries. Environmentalists, however, say it’s still not enough to avoid the worst impacts of climate change.

The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change released a report in March showing that countries have to redouble efforts and submit more ambitious climate action plans in 2021 if the world is going to meet the Paris Agreement target of limiting increases in global temperatures to 1.5 degrees Celsius by the end of the century.

As of March, the world’s collective commitment to reduce greenhouse gas emissions put us on the path to reducing emissions by less than 1 percent by 2030, compared to 2010 levels. But according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, to limit warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius, emissions reductions ranges should really be around 45 percent.

35 Years Later, Looking Back at the Founding of FAIR 

Fairness & Accuracy In Reporting -


It was 35 years ago this month that I left my beloved Venice, California, to move to New York City to launch FAIR. Not many progressive nonprofits endure 35 years, but FAIR has survived and thrived.

I wanted to launch FAIR from Venice, but friends and advisers insisted, correctly, that a national media group would lack credibility if not based in New York or DC. Given the Reaganite stench permeating our nation’s capital, NYC was the obvious choice.

Welcome to NYC

The answer to Time‘s question (7/7/86): He wasn’t (Extra!, 3–4/89).

It’s easy to forget that corporate liberal media back then were as soft on the declining Reagan—and his smilingly vicious brand of politics and terror wars in Central America—as they are today on Joe Biden. That media deference to Reaganism was a major reason I launched FAIR; my arrival in New York was greeted by Time magazine’s unironic North Korea–like cover of Reagan, haloed by colorful fireworks.

At the beginning we couldn’t afford to rent an office, so we launched FAIR out of the cramped Upper West Side apartment of FAIR co-founder/author Martin Lee and lawyer Pia Gallegos. Since any half-awake journalist would know that our West End Avenue address was no office building, we thought putting “Suite 7C” with that address on FAIR’s stationery was an open joke, rather than a lie. “Accuracy,” after all, was literally our middle name.

Later we moved into our first office at 666 Broadway—a building we were proud to share with such organizations as the Center for Constitutional Rights, Harper’s magazine and Lambda Legal. It’s there we launched our newsletter, Extra!, in June 1987, with Martin Lee as editor. Luckily for FAIR, Martin had just finished Acid Dreams, his opus on LSD, the CIA and the 1960s.

Amerika the beautiful

ABC‘s 1987 miniseries Amerika envisioned a Soviet takeover of the United States by 1997.

Without luck, a genuinely progressive and anti-corporate group won’t survive far beyond birth. We got key grants at key times (thanks to the late David Hunter), key volunteers (like comedy writer Dennis Perrin; Steve Rendall, who later became FAIR’s research director; and the “two Lindas”: Linda Valentino and Linda Mitchell) and key stupidity from the ABC TV network.

Despite Reagan’s blather about an “evil empire,” the Soviet Union was on its last legs in 1986-87. But in Hollywood’s feverish Cold War imaginings, the Russians were still coming—hell-bent on conquering and ruling us. ABC took the honors in the paranoia pageant with Amerika, a 14-hour dramatic miniseries proposed to ABC by a right-wing columnist (New York, 1/26/87). It depicted the USA under the thumb of a vicious Soviet occupation, in league with a bunch of conspirators: the United Nations, internal traitors, Cubans, etc.

FAIR learned early on that we needed mainstream media allies to survive. During the filming of Amerika, a whistleblower inside ABC leaked us the entire shooting script. We shared it with the UN. Every mainstream journalist who covered the erupting Amerika controversy needed us to get a look at the script. The miniseries put FAIR on the map as critics of conservative or Cold War media propaganda. I was quoted in the press referring to Amerika as a “14-hour commercial for Reagan’s Star Wars scheme.”

During this period of Red Dawn/Rambo/Amerika, I debated ultra-right “Accuracy In Media” journalism-basher Reed Irvine. Irvine joined the Reaganites in attacking anyone who compared US-supported right-wing “authoritarianism” (aka fascism) to Communism. That was the dreaded “moral equivalence.” Unlike right-wing dictators who could be overthrown, Irvine insisted, Communist states were eternal. Within a few years, the Soviet Union and a half-dozen other Communist regimes were gone.

From margin to mainstream

Jeff Cohen debating Pat Buchanan on CNN.

One of FAIR’s main goals was to take what had been a marginalized progressive media critique (found in the then-undercirculated books of Noam Chomsky and Ed Herman, or in Alex Cockburn’s columns) and push that critique into the faces of mainstream journalists. Amerika helped us get known. I soon appeared in national TV debates.

When we launched Extra!, our friends who worked inside national news outlets put dozens of copies inside bathrooms. We mailed copies free to hundreds of mainstream journalists—whether they subscribed or not (which might be called spam today).

For PR heft, we quickly assembled an “Advisory Board” that included prominent journalists, media critics and activists such as Chomsky, Ben Bagdikian, Jessica Mitford, Studs Terkel, Adam Hochschild, Allen Ginsberg, Dolores Huerta, Frances Moore Lappé and Rev. Joseph Lowery.

In the 1990s, FAIR would gain acclaim for taking on Rush Limbaugh and Fox News, but right-wing media were far less powerful in the mid-1980s. Our focus in the early years was on “prestige” news outlets—those seen as sanctuaries of objective, fact-based journalism.

Shaming elite media

FAIR’s study of ABC‘s Nightline (Extra!, 1–2/89) found that Ted Koppel’s four most frequent guests were Henry Kissinger, Alexander Haig, Elliott Abrams and Jerry Falwell.

In October 1987, we devoted a 16-page special issue to elite media’s Reagan-friendly distortions about the Sandinista revolution, followed a few months later with a devastating 18-point “Questionnaire for the New York Times on its Central America Coverage” (Extra!, 1–2/88). The chapter-and-verse document, which was special-delivered to Times editors, exposed systemic bias—asking why, for example, assassinations of progressive leaders in El Salvador or Honduras received far less prominent coverage than the brief detention of right-wing oppositionists in Nicaragua.

In a written response and in a public debate at Columbia University, Times editors referred to our questionnaire as an “indictment.” That was one Times assessment whose accuracy we couldn’t challenge.

In our efforts to budge mainstream news outlets, it soon became clear to us that shaming them (especially in other mainstream forums) was often a more effective tactic than persuasion. When FAIR launched, the most prestigious US TV news show was Ted Koppel’s Nightline on ABC. In the first of many systematic and impactful studies, FAIR published an analysis of 40 months of Nightline’s guestlist (Extra!, 1–2/89), which exposed blatant pro-conservative and pro-militarist biases, and the exclusion of female guests and people of color.

Our study received strong coverage in hundreds of dailies. A mainstream African-American columnist took to referring to Nightline as “Whiteline.” A Pennsylvania daily published a photo of Koppel interviewing Kermit the Frog, with the sarcastic caption: “Ted Koppel makes a rare appearance with a member of a minority group on Nightline.”

Still critiquing after all these years

It’s been more than two decades since I left FAIR’s staff. Every day, I beam like a proud papa at the brilliant work FAIR churns out—online, in Extra!, on CounterSpin. When I’m on the road lecturing, I still run into activists who boast of having “every issue of Extra! from the beginning.”

To this day, people still mistakenly thank me for the latest first-rate critique from FAIR. Sometimes I correct their misimpression that I have a hand in FAIR’s great work 35 years later. Sometimes I don’t. But all the time, I tell FAIR’s many fans to do three things: Spread the word, join the battle, and donate.


The post 35 Years Later, Looking Back at the Founding of FAIR  appeared first on FAIR.

The Two Big Lies of WSJ’s Attack on Critical Race Theory

Fairness & Accuracy In Reporting -


The Wall Street Journal (7/7/21) takes aim at critical race theory, which it describes as “a neo-Marxist ideology that…teaches that a person is defined above all else by race, gender and sexual orientation.”

The Wall Street Journal editorial board (7/7/21) recently condemned teachers’ support for anti-racist curricula and professional development. In a piece headlined “The Teachers Unions Go Woke”—because the right loves to use that term as a pejorative—the board wrote:

Believe it or not, union leaders claim that parents who oppose any of this are motivated by hate and are assaulting free speech….

But no one is opposed to teaching about America’s difficult racial history, including the evils of slavery and Jim Crow. What parents are awakening to is that their children are being told the lie that America has made little or no racial progress and therefore its legal, economic and political systems must be turned upside down.

While this may not be surprising coming from the notoriously right-wing Journal board, it’s worth unpacking as a window into the heart of the right’s anti–”critical race theory” campaign—what it’s trying to do, and how.

Opponents of teaching history

First, and crucially, the paper’s claim that “no one is opposed to teaching about America’s difficult racial history” is a flat-out lie, the one that is necessary to sustain the argument.

As much as the right whines about CRT supposedly calling people racists, the point of CRT is explicitly the opposite. CRT turns attention away from individual racist actions, instead highlighting the ways in which the history of racism in this country is embedded in present-day institutions. Right-wing movement leaders know this truth, and they are terrified of it. The evidence is clear as day in their messaging.

Take Texas. The state senate just passed a bill (SB3) that prohibits teaching that

with respect to their relationship to American values, slavery and racism are anything other than deviations from, betrayals of, or failures to live up to the authentic founding principles of the United States, which include liberty and equality.

Also on the Texas list of banned ideas: that “the advent of slavery in the territory that is now the United States constituted the true founding of the United States.”

Curriculum elimination

This is the 21st century, so instead of banning a book, Texas is banning a multimedia web project (New York Times Magazine, 8/19/19).

Texas had passed a bill just a month earlier (HB 3979) prohibiting the teaching of critical race theory and the New York Times Magazine‘s 1619 Project, which has an accompanying curriculum and “aims to reframe the country’s history by placing the consequences of slavery and the contributions of Black Americans at the very center of our national narrative.”

Texas Democrats managed to amend that bill to require that a number of historical texts and “historical documents related to the civic accomplishments of marginalized populations” be taught in the state’s social studies curriculum. SB3 would strip the vast majority of these, including:

  • “The history of Native Americans”
  • The Indian Removal Act
  • MLK’s “Letter from a Birmingham Jail”
  • Brown v. Board of Education
  • The Emancipation Proclamation
  • The 15th Amendment
  • “The history of white supremacy, including but not limited to the institution of slavery, the eugenics movement, and the Ku Klux Klan, and the ways in which it is morally wrong.”

To top it off, Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, who is also a member of the board that oversees the state’s history museum, successfully pressed the museum to cancel a book event slated to talk about the role of racism and slavery in the Battle of the Alamo (Texas Tribune, 7/2/21).

‘Divisive concepts’

Under Florida’s new rules, teachers “may not define American history as something other than the creation of a new nation based largely on universal principles stated in the Declaration of Independence” (USA Today, 6/11/21).

Texas, of course, is not alone. In Florida, which has also banned the teaching of the 1619 Project, teachers “may not define American history as something other than the creation of a new nation based largely on universal principles stated in the Declaration of Independence” (USA Today, 6/11/21).

Twenty-seven states at this point have introduced restrictions on what can be taught in schools regarding race. Most use identical language (lifted wholesale from Trump’s executive order to prohibit federal agencies, contractors and grant recipients from conducting diversity trainings) that prohibits schools from teaching a list of “divisive concepts”:

  • “the United States is fundamentally racist or sexist”
  • “any individual should feel discomfort, guilt, anguish or any other form of psychological distress on account of his or her race or sex”
  • “any other form of race or sex stereotyping or any other form of race or sex scapegoating.”

These further clarify that “race or sex stereotyping” means ascribing, among other things, “privileges, status or beliefs to a race or sex.” (Do you think white people or men have privileges in our society? Sorry, that idea is “divisive” and therefore banned.)

A threat to critical understanding

Kimberlé Crenshaw (Washington Post, 7/2/21): “Racism ended in the past, according to the developing backlash, and we would all be better off if we didn’t try to connect it to the present.”

As leading critical race theory proponent Kimberlé Crenshaw (Washington Post, 7/2/21) points out, while such language doesn’t technically ban teaching about historical racism, it

is even more insidious: It explicitly sets out to sanction certain feelings as part of a disingenuous crackdown on racial division. In closing off room to explore the impact of America’s racist history by citing “division”—a subjective condition that turns on any student’s (or parent’s) claim to feel resentment or guilt—the laws directly threaten any teacher who pursues a sustained, critical understanding of the deeper causes, legacies or contemporary implications of racism in fomenting uncivil discord.

Contrary to the Wall Street Journal‘s disingenuous protestations, the entire point of the current backlash campaign is precisely to arrest the recent movement toward teaching about the United States’ “difficult” racial history, because understanding the structural racism of the past reveals and gives context to its persistence.

A whitewashed history that erases the roots of structural racism is the linchpin to the right’s argument that America cannot be a racist or sexist country today. It follows that any inequalities that exist must be based on individual behavior, and racial (and gender) justice movements—against, say, police violence or attacks on voting rights—are misguided.

If they cannot teach about structural racism, then both the past and present of racial and gender inequality can only be attributed to a few bad apples.

The myth of ‘racial progress’

Which brings us to the second step in the argument, as presented by the Journal:

What parents are awakening to is that their children are being told the lie that America has made little or no racial progress and therefore its legal, economic and political systems must be turned upside down.

There’s no attempt at obfuscation here: They absolutely don’t want anyone talking about the fact that systemic racism continues to this day, and therefore needs to be addressed institutionally—which is exactly what the BLM protests of last summer made the country talk about.

The Black/White Economic Divide Is as Wide as It Was in 1968, the Washington Post (6/4/20) reported.

They don’t want anyone talking about the fact that Black men are two and a half more times as likely as white men to be killed by police (PNAS, 8/20/19), but that those Black men killed are twice as likely to be unarmed (Nature, 5/26/21).

They don’t want anyone talking about the fact that the current life expectancy for a Black American is 73 years, versus 78 for white Americans—with Covid only expanding the discrepancy (PNAS, 2/21/21). This gap has not not narrowed appreciably since the Jim Crow era.

They don’t want anyone talking about the fact that Black people are uninsured at almost twice the rate of whites (Center for American Progress, 5/7/20), and that Black and Indigenous patients continue to receive poorer health care than white patients (New England Journal of Medicine, 2/25/21).

They don’t want anyone talking about the fact that race and ethnicity are better predictors of exposure to pollution than poverty is (Atlantic, 2/28/18).

They don’t want anyone talking about the fact that the median Black family has less than one-eighth the net wealth of the median white family, and that this number essentially hasn’t changed in 30 years.

After beginning by warning against “progressive political indoctrination,” the Journal concluded, “Parents have every right, even a duty, to fight back against this invasion of progressive politics in their schools.”

By “fight[ing] back” against an “invasion of progressive politics,” the Journal means cleansing the classroom of any serious discussion of racism—whether in the past or present.

ACTION ALERT: You can send a message to the Wall Street Journal at wsjcontact@wsj.com (or via Twitter: @WSJopinion) Please remember that respectful communication is the most effective. Feel free to leave a copy of your communication in the comments thread.

Research assistance: Elias Khoury


The post The Two Big Lies of WSJ’s Attack on Critical Race Theory appeared first on FAIR.

Tony Winner Ali Stroker Reframes Disability Representation and Identity

ACLU News -

Over the past several years, we have witnessed a heightened demand for marginalized communities to be better represented in the media, in boardrooms, and every sector of society. While some progress has been made, representation of people with disabilities often takes a backseat in the conversation.

In fact, it was only in 2015 that actress and singer Ali Stroker made history when she became the first person using a wheelchair to perform on a Broadway stage — immediately breaking barriers for people with disabilities. Four years later, she did it again, becoming the first person using a wheelchair to win a Tony award.

“This award is for every kid watching tonight who has a disability, who has a limitation or challenge, who has been waiting to see themselves represented in this arena,” she said while accepting the award.

Stroker’s representation is undoubtedly historic, but there is still so much more work to be done. Although there are around 133 million Americans who live with visible or invisible disabilities, their representation in media and entertainment remains bleak and in many cases, nonexistent. Across the top 100 movies of 2019 only 2.3 percent of all speaking characters had a disability. Even more alarming, when a character with a disability is portrayed, they often aren’t even played by someone with a disability. In fact, one study found that in the top 10 TV shows during 2018, only 12 percent of disabled characters were depicted by actors with the same diagnoses in real life. That’s why disability representation is more important than ever, as we strive to create a more equitable and inclusive world.

Since her historic broadway debut, Stroker has blazed the trail for more disabled representation, on and off the stage. This week, she sat down for a conversation with us on our podcast to discuss the importance of not just representation, but the celebration of disabilities in the entertainment industry and beyond.

Listen to Episode 166 of ACLU's "At Liberty" Podcast Below:


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Cleveland’s Baseball Team Changes Name to Guardians

Mother Jones Magazine -

Meet the new guardians of the Great Lakes.

The Cleveland Indians announced on Friday they would become the Cleveland Guardians following the 2021 baseball season, after Native American groups decried their name and logo as racist.  

The news was announced in a video narrated by none other than (California native) Tom Hanks.

Together, we are all… pic.twitter.com/R5FnT4kv1I

— Cleveland Indians (@Indians) July 23, 2021

The new name refers to the famous Hope Memorial Bridge over the Cuyahoga River just outside the ballpark, which features eight giant figures representing the Guardians of Traffic.

A fresh look from the 216. pic.twitter.com/0W8VTtZ7b0

— Cleveland Indians (@Indians) July 23, 2021

The Indians announced they were considering a name-change last summer during the public reckoning over racism following the murder of George Floyd.

“Hearing firsthand the stories and experiences of Native American people, we gained a deep understanding of how tribal communities feel about the team name and the detrimental effects it has on them,” team owner Paul Dolan said in a statement in December. “We also spoke to local civic leaders who represent diverse populations in our city and who highlighted the negative impact our team name has on our broader population and on under-represented groups across our community.”

Cleveland was famous as the first team in the American League to integrate. In 1947, owner Bill Veeck hired Larry Doby, a Black player, only a few months after Jackie Robinson broke through with the Brooklyn Dodgers. The next year, Cleveland won the league with Doby and the legendary Black pitcher Satchel Paige—who made his Major League debut at age 42 with Cleveland in 1948 after spending his career in the Negro Leagues. Cleveland still has not won a World Series since then.

Some Republicans immediately tried to turn this name change into their latest front in the culture wars, with Sen. Ted Cruz tweeting “Why does MLB hate Indians,” seemingly missing the entire point of the name change, and then ludicrously suggesting that Boston would be forced to abandon being called the Celtics.

The Washington Football Team has yet to choose a new name.

‘The Haitian People Aren’t Looking for Foreign Powers to Impose a New System’

Fairness & Accuracy In Reporting -




Janine Jackson interviewed Black Alliance for Peace’s Chris Bernadel about the Haitian presidential assassination for the July 16, 2021, episode of CounterSpin. This is a lightly edited transcript.

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New York Times (7/8/21)

Janine Jackson: As we record July 14, there is still uncertainty about what exactly happened in the early hours of last Wednesday, July 7, when Haitian President Jovenel Moïse was killed and his wife wounded. Reports have it that the assassins included 26 Colombians—some likely trained, as many Colombian military, are, by the US, and deployed as mercenaries around the world—and two Haitian Americans, possibly with ties to Haitian oligarchies, possibly misled about the nature of their mission.

It’s also said that Moïse’s own guards had to have been involved. That the assailants yelled “DEA!” as they attacked. And that a Miami-based doctor might be at the core of it all. Much will be made in US news media about these particulars, and the murkiness around them.

What we know more clearly is the century-old history of US intervention in Haiti, the reasons routinely offered for such intervention, and the results.

That narrative is reflected in the New York Times July 8 report, with a thumbnail telling readers that Haiti’s “morass has for decades put it near the top of a list of nations, such as Afghanistan and Somalia, that have captured the world’s imagination for their levels of despair.” That’s coupled with a dramatic image: a shadowy silhouette of a woman “receiving a box of food aid,” as the caption tells us, “after the 2010 earthquake.” In case you missed it: The world gives; Haiti takes.

And yet, despite being “propped up,” as the piece had it, by “vast amounts of humanitarian assistance,” Haiti continues to be a chaotic mess, explaining why, as the Miami Herald editorial board put it,  the US “has no choice but to take the lead to stabilize Haiti.” The Washington Post called for a “swift and muscular” intervention.

So far not in evidence in US media coverage: regular Haitian people, who might have something more complicated to say, outside of the acceptance of the brutish midnight murder of officials and acceptance of the brutish intervention of outside governments.

Chris Bernadel works with the Black Alliance for Peace Haiti and the Americas Committee. He joins us now by phone from Los Angeles. Welcome to CounterSpin, Chris Bernadel.

Chris Bernadel: Hi, thanks for having me today.

Guardian (7/10/21)

JJ: A Guardian piece describes fears that Haiti is now “lurching into a new phase of political and social upheaval.” Not that there can’t be ever-new flavors of upheaval, heaven knows, but it’s not a matter of things in Haiti suddenly taking a turn for the bad. I wonder if you could talk about what was going on in Haiti on July 6, before these events, that listeners might understand as context for what came after?

CB: Yes, the Black Alliance for Peace released a press release on July 6 regarding the United States, the OAS and the UN support for unconstitutional actions that were being taken by the de facto government of Jovenel Moïse, the illegitimate government in Haiti at the time. We released that press release to shine a light on the US’s support for Jovenel Moïse, even though he had been ruling the country by decree since January 2020, and had been trying to push through with the referendum that had been rejected by every sector of Haitian civil society, and by the masses of people.

The people in Haiti had been protesting consistently, starting in 2018 with protests against Jovenel Moïse because of the PetroCaribe scandal, which we can talk about, where billions of dollars were embezzled, dollars that were meant to go to the development of Haitian infrastructure—Haitian public health and public safety infrastructure.

So the situation in Haiti on July 6, when we released that press release, was one where the United States had been supporting their ally, the de facto ruler Jovenel Moïse—who had been ruling by decree in a country where the parliament had been dismissed, where the supreme court or high court judges had been arrested, and where there had been numerous massacres and killings of human rights lawyers, activists.

And over the days between June 25 to June 30, Haiti was subjected to increased state-sponsored violence, increased gang violence; there were killings in the capital city of Port-au-Prince of up to 60 people. A notable and prominent human rights activist and feminist, Antoinette Duclair, was murdered, as well as Diego Charles, who was a journalist.

So the situation in Haiti, up until that point, was a volatile situation, and the people in Haiti were, up until that point, rising up and struggling against a de facto regime that had been acting unconstitutionally, and that had been sponsoring massacres throughout working-class and poor neighborhoods in the capital city.

JJ: Before we talk about the US role there, maybe take a minute to explain the PetroCaribe scandal and the role that that plays, and continues to play, in terms of the Haitian people’s understanding and relationship with officialdom there. What was that PetroCaribe story?

CB: The PetroCaribe fund was the result of a deal between Venezuela and Haiti in 2008, between Hugo Chávez and René Préval. Basically, the PetroCaribe fund was funded by Venezuelan oil sales to Haiti that were given at a very good rate, and also allowed Haiti to use much of that money to develop the country, and only have to pay it back at a very low interest rate, over a long period of time.

So this fund was meant to help the Haitian people develop the country, and could have been used to really support the country and help the country recover from the 2010 earthquake that rocked the capital.

But after that earthquake, after the destruction that it caused in the country, the political situation in the country was also in a difficult situation. And most notably, for this story, we have to look at the way that the United States State Department intervened and exercised control over the Haitian political situation, where Secretary of State (at the time) Hillary Clinton was directly involved in selecting Michel Martelly to be the runner-up, or to be the second-place candidate, in elections.

And Michel Martelly and the PHTK party came to power. Jovenel Moïse was handpicked by Michel Martelly. So if we look from that time, in that situation, up until now, we can see directly how the US was involved, and played a major role in setting up the political situation that we have now in Haiti.

Politico (5/4/15)

JJ: It’s really hard to overstate. Politico once had a headline calling Bill and Hillary Clinton the “King and Queen of Haiti.” She was Secretary of State, as you note, in 2009, and in charge of—among many other things, under the auspices of development and help—suppressing a rise in the minimum wage, to encourage, specifically, garment manufacturers to invest, but basically trying to call for foreign investment as the way forward in Haiti. But we have receipts from that; we understand how that intervention paid off.

And Bill Clinton, of course, was in charge of the so-called humanitarian response to that 2010 earthquake. We saw what happened. Whether we call that intervention “humanistic,” “humanitarian” or “military,” it didn’t do what it claimed it was going to do, by any stretch of the imagination, in terms of actually helping, or developing, or supporting Haitian civil society.

So it is what it is, but to hear, now, the idea of US intervention being the automatic response to problems in Haiti…. I don’t know to ask for your reaction, but the very idea that military intervention, or intervention at all, from the United States would be the first recourse in this situation, in the wake of the assassination, what do you even make of that?

New York Times (7/9/21)

CB: When we see in the media that “Haiti is calling for US intervention,” or “Haiti is calling for US troops.”… First, you have to recognize that the government that’s in place in Haiti right now is not a legitimate representative of the Haitian people. Like I mentioned before, Jovenel Moïse had overstayed his constitutional mandate, and had been ruling the country by decree for some time; the Haitian people were rising up against that.

And after his assassination, the United Nations special envoy for Haiti, Helen La Lime, on July 8, released a statement saying that Haiti’s prime minister—who was due to be replaced that week before Jovenel Moïse had been assassinated; he was due to be replaced by Ariel Henry–she put out a statement that Haitian Prime Minister Claude Joseph would be the new president, just one day after the assassination of Jovenel Moïse.

And now, normally, constitutionally, the head of the Haitian supreme court, the high court in Haiti, is supposed to replace the president in situations like this. But that gentleman died, supposedly of Covid-19, just recently, so this was an extra-constitutional situation. But there was no constitutional precedent for the US to come in and say that Claude Joseph would be the president until elections. So the US was involved directly with supporting Claude Joseph taking that position.

But then also, when Claude Joseph comes out and calls for US support, US troops, we also have to remember what’s been recently reported on as well: Claude Joseph has ties to the United States, going back to 2003, 2004, in the time of the coup against President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, where Claude Joseph was a member of a student group that was created with the support of the NED, the National Endowment for Democracy. So this is someone who the US seems to be comfortable with and supports, and they stepped in and supported that he would be the president upon the assassination of  Jovenel Moïse.

And that decision came after a closed-door UN Security Council meeting that had been called on Haiti. And at the Black Alliance for Peace, we put out a statement questioning, “Who gave the United Nations special envoy the kind of power to make that kind of determination for the people of Haiti?”

JJ: Right.

Brett Wilkins, Common Dreams (7/8/21)

CB: So this is more of what we’ve seen throughout the history of Haiti, going back to 1915, where, under a similar pretext, the United States invaded Haiti and occupied the country for 19 years.

JJ: These closed-door meetings in which leaders are tapped, this is presented as “developing democracy.” It’s bizarre. It’s a bizarre understanding of the word, and what it means.

OK, so Brett Wilkins at Common Dreams brought together some of the history that a lot of US listeners might not know about: how Haiti was the site of the world’s only successful nationwide revolt of enslaved people, the first Black republic, an inspiration around the world. And an alarm to, among others, George Washington, who wrote to the French minister in 1791, promising to aid the French “to quell the alarming insurrection of the negros.”  The US didn’t recognize Haiti until 1892. And then, of course, as you’ve just mentioned, Woodrow Wilson ordering an invasion, in the name of “stability”–familiar terms–in 1915, an occupation that went on til 1934.

And I just say all of this to say that when you only learn about Haiti from US news media, it’s a country of weak and despondent, chaotic people. And yet there’s such a history of Haitian civil society, and resistance, and support for one another, and mutual aid. And I just wonder if you could answer: What would support from the diaspora and from US citizens—real support for Haitian civil society—what would that look like, now and in the coming days?

Folks are going to be barraged with a lot of information and names that they’ve never heard. And I just wonder, what questions would you have folks keep in mind, as they absorb this coverage now, of Haiti as a country that’s perpetually in chaos, where no one knows what they want, no one knows how to do anything? What would the Haitian people, civil society, like, just for example, US citizens to hear, or to know, or to think about?

Chris Bernadel: “So we have to stand up against these calls for occupation, these calls for intervention. And we have to support the Haitian people’s right to self-determination.” (image: The Narrative, 7/7/21)

CB: First off would be exactly like what you said: just to be vigilant, and to fight against, stand up against, and call out these calls for US occupation and further US intervention in the country, because, like we talked about before, the US has been directly involved and occupying Haiti sporadically since 1915. And we can look at 2004, the MINUSTAH mission of the UN, and today, the BINUH mission of the UN, where they have direct involvement in the Haitian political system and over Haitian society.

So people here, if they’re allies of the Haitian people, have to support them in their calls to be allowed to come up with their own solutions, independently of US intervention, of UN intervention, of OAS intervention.

The Haitian people are organizing, they have been organizing, for the past couple of years intensely. And there have been demonstrations and protests in the country that have been organized by grassroots organizations that have ties to the working-class people of Port-au-Prince, have ties to the agrarian workers in the provinces, and are developing a movement that has threatened United States interests, imperialist interests, in the country.

So we have to stand up against these calls for occupation, these calls for intervention. And we have to support the Haitian people’s right to self-determination, and for them to be allowed to develop their own process, democratically from the grassroots, to come up with solutions and a just transition.

This current government is illegitimate. And the Haitian people are not looking for foreign countries, for foreign powers, to impose a new system, or impose elections, or impose a new constitution on them. The Haitian people are trying to organize solutions on their own. And us here in the belly of the beast, here in the United States, we have to stand up and fight, so that the Haitian people can have the space to do that.

JJ: We’ve been speaking with Chris Bernadel of the Black Alliance for Peace. They’re online at BlackAllianceForPeace.com/Haiti. Chris Bernadel, thank you so much for joining us this week on CounterSpin.

CB: Thank you for having me.

The post ‘The Haitian People Aren’t Looking for Foreign Powers to Impose a New System’ appeared first on FAIR.

A Running List of the Petty Fascism at the Olympics

Mother Jones Magazine -

As the pandemic continues to wreak havoc around the globe, and the cost of the Tokyo Olympics skyrockets, the International Olympic Committee and its satellite arms busied themselves by cracking down on dress codes, recreational drug use, and peaceful protests—you know, the important stuff.

We’re keeping track of its inane policing:

  • Namibia’s National Olympic Committee disqualifies 18-year-old athletes Christine Mboma and Beatrice Masilingi from running the women’s 400-meter race due to testosterone levels that the committee said were too high to let them compete. (In sex-testing athletes, “people are overdetermining testosterone’s effects in ways that don’t fit with what we know scientifically,” Stanford bioethicist Katrina Karkazis told us in 2016.)
  • Sha’Carri Richardson, a US favorite for the women’s 100-meter sprint, is caught with pot in her system and suspended for 30 days—meaning she won’t be able to compete in the event in Tokyo. Writes Mother Jones‘ Nathalie Baptiste: “Did smoking a little weed give her any kind of unfair advantage? No. Did she break the law? No. Richardson smoked in Oregon, where adults are legally allowed to partake. Simply put, it’s an archaic rule and, of course, it impacts vulnerable women.”
  • Soul Cap, a company that makes headwear specifically for more voluminous hair types, is rejected by the International Swimming Federation (FINA), meaning Black swimmers can’t use its caps at the Olympics. (FINA later said it is “reviewing” its decision.)
  • The beach handball players on Norway’s women’s team are all fined 150 euros for wearing tiny shorts instead of the required bikini bottoms “with a close fit and cut on an upward angle toward the top of the leg.” Why doesn’t the men’s team have to wear skimpy bottoms? A spokeswoman for the International Handball Federation said that she did not know the reason but was “looking into it.”

This is sexist AF. Stop controlling women's clothing & bodies.

Norway’s women’s beach handball team was fined by the European Handball Federation on Monday, after players wore shorts (pictured left), instead of the required bikini bottoms, during a game.https://t.co/lT5Ngso6Mm pic.twitter.com/WV8bCqP8Lm

— Minh Ngo (@minhtngo) July 21, 2021

  • Spanish synchronized swimmer Ona Carbonell’s son Kai, who is still breastfeeding, is forbidden from staying in Tokyo’s Olympic Village with his mother (and source of critical sustenance) during the Games.

Spanish swimmer Ona Carbonell chose to not bring her breastfeeding son and husband to the #Tokyo2020 Olympics as she felt the conditions set by the Japanese government were too restrictive https://t.co/3kE0lYHUyg pic.twitter.com/XYvWjBuNUq

— Reuters (@Reuters) July 22, 2021

  • The International Olympic Committee and Tokyo organizers ban their social media teams from posting photos of any athletes taking a knee in protest before an event, even though the IOC recently relaxed its rules to allow acts of protest inside  Olympic venues—except if it is targeted, disruptive, or happens on the podium.

Top image credit: Mother Jones illustration; Joel Marklund/Bildbyran via ZUMA Press; Patrick Smith/Getty Images; Clive Rose/Getty Images

Mississippi Urges Supreme Court to Overturn Roe v. Wade

Mother Jones Magazine -

On Thursday, the state of Mississippi filed a brief urging the Supreme Court to strike down Roe v. Wade—the landmark decision establishing a constitutional right to an abortion—and uphold the state’s ban on abortion after 15 weeks of pregnancy. The Court will hear the case in the fall. And it escalates a string of legal challenges reaching the Court as states move to restrict abortion access.

“This Court should overrule Roe and Casey,” said the brief, referring to the 1973 ruling and another case Planned Parenthood v. Casey, from 1992 which upheld but “reined in” Roe. “Roe and Casey are egregiously wrong. They have proven hopelessly unworkable. They have inflicted profound damage. Decades of progress have overtaken them. Reliance interests do not support retaining them. And nothing but a full break from those cases can stem the harms they have caused.”

When Mississippi Attorney General Lynn Fitch urged the Court to hear the case last June, after the state’s strict abortion ban was blocked by the lower courts, she said “the questions presented in this petition do not require the Court to overturn Roe or Casey.” (Mississippi’s law was challenged by the sole remaining abortion provider in the state.)

But Mississippi has now taken a more radical position after Amy Coney Barrett, whose record on abortion rights swings hard right, replaced Ruth Bader Ginsburg, a staunch pro-choice advocate, on the court, shifting a 5 to 4 conservative court to a 6 to 3 one.

While the Court has achieved many long-standing goals of the conservative movement—gutting voting rights protections, overturning restrictions on money in politics, weakening the power of unions—overturning Roe has always been at the top of the right’s wish list.

This was exactly the situation Democrats feared when Barrett was confirmed to the court. 

As a University of Notre Dame Law School professor, Barrett signed an ad that stated, “It’s time to put an end to the barbaric legacy of Roe v. Wade.” During her confirmation hearing, Barrett said she did not believe Roe was a “super-precedent” that the court could not overturn, unlike decisions such as Brown v. Board of Education. “That doesn’t mean that Roe should be overruled, but descriptively it does mean that it’s not a case that everyone has accepted,” Barrett said. Leading pro-choice activists, including RBG before she was nominated to the bench, have long warned that Roe is potentially a weak legal precedent and didn’t go far enough to protect abortion rights.

Barrett was confirmed just eight days before the 2020 election, when 65 million people had already voted, even though Mitch McConnell blocked the nomination of Merrick Garland eight months before the 2016 election, who is now Attorney General under Biden.

Meanwhile, the circumstances surrounding the confirmation of another justice nominated by President Trump, Brett Kavanaugh, continue to attract scrutiny. The New York Times reported on Thursday that the FBI received 4,500 tips about sexual assault allegations against Kavanaugh during a background check but forwarded the most “relevant” ones to the Trump White House, which suggests that serious accusations against Kavanaugh were never properly investigated before he was narrowly confirmed to the court.


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