Fairness & Accuracy In Reporting

Gushing Coverage of the Billionaire’s Space Race


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.

35 Years Later, Looking Back at the Founding of FAIR 


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.


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


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


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




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.

Bianca Nozaki-Nasser on Anti-Asian Bias



New York Times (6/22/21)

This week on CounterSpin: A June New York Times article about female Asian-American and Pacific Islander golfers reacting to the recent spike in anti-Asian bias began inauspiciously: “Players of Asian descent have won eight of the past 10 Women’s PGA championships, but there is nothing cookie cutter about the winners.” It reads like a TikTok challenge: “Tell me you assume your readership is white without telling me you assume your readership is white.” In other words, it’s unclear who, exactly, the New York Times believes would, without their guidance, confuse a Chinese-American player with a South Korean player with a player from Taiwan.

The piece goes on to talk about the concerns and fears of Asian-American golfers “at a time when Asians have been scapegoated in American communities for the spread of the coronavirus.” Locating the source of racist bias and violence in “American communities,” with no mention of powerful politicians or powerful media, is a neat way to sidestep the role of systemic, structural racism, and imply that bias or “hate” is an individual, emotional issue, rather than one we can and should address together, across community, as a society.

Add in media’s frequent prescription of law enforcement as the primary response, and you have what a large number of Asian Americans are calling a problem presenting itself as a solution, and not a way forward that actually makes them safer.

We’ll talk about anti-Asian bias and underexplored responses to it with Bianca Nozaki-Nasser, from the group 18 Million Rising.

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Plus Janine Jackson takes a quick look at coverage of theft—retail and wholesale.

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As US Broils and Europe Floods, Media Dismiss EU Climate Plan as ‘Ambitious’


When detailing catastrophic weather events, prominent corporate news outlets show less reluctance than in the past (FAIR.org, 9/22/20, 4/22/21) to prominently pointing out that these events are caused by human-driven climate change. But when humans seek to take aggressive action against this aggressive reality, reporters frame those goals as lofty and unlikely to succeed.

Admitting the human cause

A New York Times article (7/9/21) on a mass die-off of sea life ends with a scientist’s exhortation that “we need to keep trying.”  But keep trying to do what?

A recent New York Times article (7/9/21) describes a sickening scene in the wake of the Pacific Northwest’s heat wave:

Dead mussels and clams coated rocks in the Pacific Northwest, their shells gaping open as if they’d been boiled. Sea stars were baked to death. Sockeye salmon swam sluggishly in an overheated Washington river, prompting wildlife officials to truck them to cooler areas.

Scenes like this, the article points out, will become more frequent and intense as climate change progresses and creates domino effects up the food chain:

Such extreme weather conditions will become more frequent and intense, scientists say, as climate change, driven by humans burning fossil fuels, wreaks havoc on animals and humans alike.

Hellish landscapes

The Times also dedicated an entire section online to the North American heatwave, with stories depicting hellish landscapes of forest fires, droughts and heat-related deaths. It stressed that scientists have attributed these disasters to climate change:

Heat, drought and fire are connected, and because human-caused emissions of heat-trapping gases have raised baseline temperatures nearly two degrees Fahrenheit on average since 1900, heat waves, including those in the West, are becoming hotter and more frequent.

Across the Atlantic in Western Europe, otherworldly images showed freakish floods destroying towns and causing death tolls well into the hundreds. “Flood Deaths Are Rising in Germany and Officials Blame Climate Change,” NPR.org (7/16/21) reported. The New York Times’ headline (7/16/21) read, “Europe Flooding Deaths Pass 125, and Scientists See Fingerprints of Climate Change.” “European Officials Say ‘Climate Change Has Arrived’ as Deadly Floods Engulf Entire Towns,” CNN.com (7/16/21) announced. 

Who exactly are we talking about?

The Nation (4/22/19) reported that companies who purchase deceptive “native” advertising “end up exercising influence over news organizations’ internal decisions and public product.”

But as FAIR (7/2/21) has pointed out, exactly which humans are most responsible for climate change—like fossil fuel executives—matters. All of the above pieces—except the TimesJuly 9 article on marine life—fail to specifically mention human’s burning of fossil fuels as the root cause of global warming.

Many corporate outlets have an interest in not rocking the fossil fuel boat too much. Billionaire Robert Denham serves on boards of both Chevron and the New York Times board, and attorney Ted Boutrous Jr. is a lawyer for both companies (FAIR.org, 7/2/21). The Times, Washington Post and Politico have also run hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of greenwashing propaganda from Exxon, Shell and Chevron—ads designed to look like news articles (The Nation, 4/22/19).

Though reports increasingly acknowledge climate change’s effect on extreme weather, that still doesn’t always happen. In a New York Times story (6/29/21) on the Pacific Northwest’s “Heat Dome,” the paper described an apocalyptic scene, but insisted that “tying a single heat wave to climate change requires extensive attribution analysis”—as if some weather happens independently of the climate (FAIR.org, 7/2/12).

Softening the blow of devastating weather events means not only deflecting blame, but also using euphemisms. Bloomberg’s coverage (7/16/21) of Europe’s floods also correctly attributes them to climate change, but the story is listed under its section “Climate Adaptation,” as if to suggest humans should “adapt” to these catastrophes (perhaps by growing gills?), and accept them as the status quo, instead of trying to take action to prevent them.

‘Ambitious blueprint’

And when it comes to talking about what can actually be done about climate disruption, corporate media are remarkably cagey—seemingly more comfortable mourning the planet and maintaining the fatalistic status quo than with promoting solutions  (FAIR.org, 3/1/20, 1/31/20).

Take the European Union revealing its “Fit for 55” plan (also known as the European Green New Deal) to cut its carbon emissions by 55% of their 1990 levels by 2030, which came just days before three of its countries were submerged meters-deep in floodwater.

In the New York Times (7/14/21), “Fit for 55” was an “ambitious blueprint,” even as swelling rivers took hundreds of lives in Western Europe (7/16/21). The article focused mainly on the political and trade implications of Europe’s Green New Deal, and does not look at its actual environmental impacts. The piece mentions only in passing that “some environmentalists criticized” the plan, linking a tweet from youth activist Greta Thunberg:

So it’s official. Unless the EU tear up their new #Fitfor55 package, the world will not stand a chance of staying below 1,5°C of global heating. That’s not an opinion, once you include the full picture it’s a scientific fact.#MindTheGap between words and action.

— Greta Thunberg (@GretaThunberg) July 14, 2021

CNN (7/14/21) called the EU proposal “bold,” even while reporting that “climate activists have criticized the 55% target for not being strong enough…to stave off more severe impacts of climate change.”

CNN (7/14/21) and NPR (7/14/21) also used “ambitious” to describe the plan, contradicting themselves when they also briefly mentioned that some scientists are criticizing it for not being ambitious enough.

Is a plan really “ambitious” if achieving it is an existential necessity, and still may not be enough to combat climate change’s already-devastating effects? Sure, Europe’s climate plan is “ambitious” by the rest of the world’s standards, but that’s a high jump over a low hurdle. The EU is the third-largest greenhouse-emitter in the world, behind China and the United States. Calling the EU’s plan “ambitious” serves to maintain the status quo of “climate adaptation” amid destruction, instead of taking action to prevent that destruction from becoming any worse.

Necessary doesn’t mean easy

“Becoming any worse” is the operative phrase here. The International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)’s models indicate that even if we achieve the goal of reaching zero carbon emissions by 2050, we’d still need to draw carbon out of the atmosphere in order to prevent warming past the Paris Agreement’s 1.5° Celsius cap (EcoWatch, 11/13/20). The journal Nature (7/14/21; NPR, 7/15/21) recently published a study that revealed parts of the Amazon Rainforest now emit more carbon than they absorb.

Saying that the EU’s plan is necessary doesn’t mean it won’t be difficult to achieve. Its proposals to tax certain imports from countries with weaker environmental rules, raise the price of fossil fuels and eliminate the sale of gas- and diesel-powered cars by 2035 will surely cause trade disputes.

But saying it is “ambitious” implies it is an impressive, but unnecessary, over-achievement.

Launching a commercial space-flight industry? That’s “ambitious.” Steeply reducing carbon emissions to avoid further human-caused catastrophe, while streets flood, fires burn, people die of heat stroke and rotting animals wash up on shores isn’t a nice-to-have. It’s the only way forward, unless, of course, we settle for Bloomberg’s “climate adaptation.”

Featured image: Detail from NPR image (7/16/21) of climate change–linked flooding in Germany.

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‘The FDA’s Decision Showed a Stunning Disregard for Science’


Janine Jackson interviewed Public Citizen’s Michael Carome about the FDA’s Alzheimer drug scandal for the July 16, 2021, episode of CounterSpin. This is a lightly edited transcript.

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Aduhelm, Biogen’s brand name for aducanumab

Janine Jackson: The House Committee on Oversight and Reform announced an investigation in late June. And earlier this month, the acting head of the FDA called for a probe from the inspector general of the Department of Health and Human Services. The subject? The FDA’s accelerated approval of the drug aducanumab, whose maker, a company called Biogen, claims it is an effective treatment for Alzheimer’s disease.

Some 6 million Americans are diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, and aducanumab was the first treatment approved in nearly two decades. The problems, though, run from the drug’s price tag—an outrageous $56,000 a year—to the process by which it received FDA approval, even after being rejected by the agency’s own advisors.

Our next guest has been calling for investigation for months now. Michael Carome is an M.D., as well as director of the Health Research Group at Public Citizen. He joins us now by phone from Virginia. Welcome to CounterSpin, Michael Carome.

Michael Carome: Thank you for having me.

JJ: I keep seeing the word “controversial,” but really there seem to be very few people who think this story is anything but highly problematic. What are just the key elements of what went on here that merit our concern?

MC: Sure. But you know, there are so many things wrong with the FDA’s reckless decision to approve aducanumab for treatment of Alzheimer’s disease, it’s sometimes hard to decide where to begin. But two things: First of all, the FDA’s decision really showed a stunning disregard for science, and eviscerated the agency’s standards for approving new drugs. And because of this reckless action, the agency’s credibility has been irreparably damaged.

There is not evidence that this drug provides any clinically meaningful benefit. And that was clear from a review of data from the major clinical trials that was presented at a meeting of outside experts that the FDA convened, and it’s called an advisory committee. And that group of experts essentially unanimously agreed that there was not evidence that this drug provides benefit to patients with Alzheimer’s disease.

More troubling, it became apparent last year to us, and I think to the public, that the FDA inappropriately collaborated with the maker of the drug, Biogen, in analyzing data from the clinical trials of the drug. And those trials actually were stopped early,  after an initial review of the data showed that it was unlikely that if we continued the trials to completion, we’re going to find that the drug works.

And yet, FDA subsequently worked hand in hand with Biogen—in a very inappropriately close collaboration—to re-analyze data from those trials in a way that was biased and slanted in favor of Biogen’s position. And so that inappropriately close collaboration really seemed to be, to us, unprecedented. And it’s fundamentally undermined the integrity and independence of the FDA’s review. Nevertheless, the FDA proceeded to approve the drug, despite that unanimous opinion from its outside experts, and the lack of data that this drug works.

Stat (12/9/20)

JJ: Now, when you talk about “inappropriately close,” I understand—and some of this comes from the health news site Stat, some of this information—there was at least one meeting that was off the record, between an FDA official and someone from Biogen. So in other words, just the type of thing people worry about when they think about regulatory capture: meeting behind closed doors. The FDA is meant to have a clear eye on this sort of thing, right? But at least one meeting happened that folks thought was beyond the pale, even.

MC: Absolutely. There were public disclosures by Biogen, in press releases and presentations, and in the briefing document from this advisory committee meeting,  that clearly signaled to us an inappropriately close collaboration.

But there were new, stunning details disclosed, just a couple of weeks ago, in the Stat piece you referenced. Early on, back in March 2019, that’s when the trials were stopped and Biogen decided, “We’re not going to pursue developing this drug.” And then just a few weeks later, the chief scientist for Biogen has an off-the-record meeting with Dr. Billy Dunn, the director of the Office of Neuroscience at the FDA that reviews Alzheimer’s disease drugs.

They had an off-the-record meeting in which they came up with a plan to push forward with trying to resurrect the drug, despite the failed clinical trials. That subsequently led to a meeting between Biogen staff and FDA staff in June of 2019, which was followed, according to the Stat piece, by three months of nearly daily communications and meetings between FDA staff and Biogen staff, in which they conducted, jointly, analyses and reviews of the clinical trial data. And that’s the data that was used to support approval of the drug.

And those same people at the FDA who were involved in this three-month collaboration? Those are the same people who had to turn around and then review the application with that data, and make a decision about whether the drug should be approved. And they were no longer independent. They were no longer objective reviewers; they were no longer objective regulators. And that completely undermined the review process. And that’s why we called, multiple times now, for an independent investigation by the Office of the Inspector General of HHS.

JJ: That’s what I wanted to draw you out on.  What, more broadly, could be the impact of rushing this drug—without clear proof of benefit, but we do know of side effects, for example—to market? And what could be the impact, maybe on other Alzheimer’s treatments, for instance, or on, as you’re saying, on the FDA and its reputation itself? It seems like investigation or no, the repercussions from this are quite serious and lasting.

Michael Carome: “The FDA has lowered standards for approving drugs like this. And other companies are going to take advantage of that.” (image: Public Citizen)

MC: They are. So, first, the FDA has lowered standards for approving drugs like this. And other companies are going to take advantage of that, and be able to rush other drugs to market where the evidence is lacking that they truly provide meaningful clinical benefits.

Secondly, there are millions of patients in this country potentially eligible for this drug. And we have millions of patients and families who now maybe have hope that this is sort of a cure, significant treatment for them. And it’s not. So it has raised false hope for millions of patients and their families, who desperately want a treatment that works. But we don’t have evidence that this is the answer to that.

And finally, Biogen has priced the drug at $56,000 per year, per course of treatment, and this treatment could go on for years. And that is going to cause significant threat to the financial stability and sustainability of the Medicare program…

JJ: Right.

MC: …which will pay—most of these people who are eligible are Medicare beneficiaries. And because of the significant copays of such an expensive drug, this is going to bankrupt patients and their families who think this is a drug they really want.

JJ: Let me just ask you, finally: I’ve read that it’s quite rare for HHS’s IG to investigate the FDA, much less a particular decision. Are there ways forward from what are clearly systemic or structural problems here? I’m reading about HR3, for example, that would give the HHS Secretary the ability to negotiate prices; that seems like almost the smallest thing that could happen. But are there bigger things that you would like to see change as a result of this problem?

Public Citizen (7/13/21)

MC: Sure. So what’s fundamentally needed is a change in the leadership of FDA. Under Janet Woodcock, who is now the acting commissioner of the agency—and she took that position at the beginning of the Biden administration, and previous to that, she was, over a period of three decades, the director of the center of the FDA that reviews and approves new drugs—she has fostered, over her three decades, an ever-cozier relationship between her agency and pharmaceutical companies.

And that has resulted in regulatory capture of the agency by the pharmaceutical industry. She often refers to the agency as being a partner with industry. A partner. That they work collaboratively. And she actually defended the collaborations that occur between her agencies and companies like Biogen.

So she needs to be removed. We called for her resignation in a letter to the secretary of Health and Human Services last month. And we need to put in her place a leader who is more aligned and committed to protecting public health, and not the interests of the pharmaceutical industry.

JJ: All right then, we’ll end on that note. We’ve been speaking with Michael Carome, director of the Health Research Group at Public Citizen. You can find their work online at Citizen.org. Thank you so much, Michael Carome, for joining us this week on CounterSpin.

MC: You’re welcome. Thank you for having me.

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Saab Case Shows Western Media’s Casual Acceptance of US Atrocities


A Colombian businessperson named Alex Saab was traveling to Iran on behalf of the Venezuelan government in June 2020. His official mission was to negotiate shipments of medicine and other essential products to Venezuela.  He was arrested in Cape Verde at the behest of the US government, where he remains to this day; President Joe Biden has continued Donald Trump’s effort to extradite him to the US.

Western corporate media have been frank about the fact that Saab was targeted for helping Venezuela get around US sanctions. Though you’d struggle to learn it from those media, these sanctions have been directly linked to tens of thousands of Venezuelan deaths since 2017 (FAIR.org, 6/14/19). Articles about Saab’s case have also ignored all the powerful arguments that the sanctions are illegal under both US and international law.

Imagine being imprisoned for nonviolently attempting to prevent a heinous crime. That sums up the absurdity of Saab’s predicament–and Western media’s coverage of it.

The Wall Street Journal (1/5/21) reported that Alex Saab was accused of “laundering money…for projects ranging from housing construction to food distribution.”

In January, a Wall Street Journal article (1/5/21) about Saab’s case quoted Martin Rodil, who it described as “a Venezuelan in Washington who works with federal agencies to recruit witnesses to build cases against corrupt Venezuelan officials.” Rodil told the Journal that US prosecutors want  to “go after the banks that have been helping Venezuela to sidestep sanctions.” Rodil explained that “Alex Saab was the guy who would go to China, he’d go to Turkey, he’d go to Dubai, Iran and to Eastern Europe, Serbia, that’s what’s valuable about him.”

Reuters (3/15/21, 3/18/21) has casually reported that Saab “faces extradition to the United States, which accuses him of violating US sanctions,” and that he has been “repeatedly named by the US State Department as an operator who helps Maduro arrange trade deals that Washington is seeking to block through sanctions.” A Reuters article (8/28/20) about Saab’s case in 2020 mentioned in passing that “the United States this month seized four cargoes of Iranian fuel bound for Venezuela, where fuel shortages are once again worsening.”

Possible crimes against humanity

Apparently Reuters could not find an independent source to dispute the legality or condemn the extreme cruelty of seizing desperately needed fuel shipments to Venezuela (FAIR.org, 6/4/21). Was the news agency unaware that Alfred De Zayas (a former UN investigator assigned to Venezuela) has spent years arguing that the US violates the legally binding UN Charter by attempting to overthrow Venezuela’s government (Democracy Now!, 1/24/19)?

Amy Goodman interviews Alfred De Zayas on Democracy Now! (1/24/19).

In fact, De Zayas said in 2019 that US sanctions on Venezuela should be investigated by the International Criminal Court as possible crimes against humanity (Independent, 1/26/19).

Article 2 of the UN Charter says: “All Members shall refrain in their international relations from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any state.” Note that even threats are illegal under international law, never mind an actual use of force. Presumably, the Western media would consider it an illegal “use of force” if Venezuela were suicidal enough to seize urgently needed shipments to the US.

De Zayas, an expert on international law, has explained that

nothing in the UN Charter can be read as authorizing in any way unilateral coercive measures [sanctions], which are incompatible with general principles of international law, violate the prohibition of interference in the internal affairs of other states and violate their sovereignty.

He added that the repeated, near-unanimous UN General Assembly resolutions condemning the US embargo on Cuba “can be seen as a restatement of the law on unilateral sanctions.” De Zayas noted that even when sanctions are approved by the UN Security Council–as the Venezuelan sanctions are not–the Security Council itself

is not above international law, as its mandate is circumscribed by Article 24 of the Charter.  Thus the imposition of sanctions regimes that are tantamount to “collective punishment” and cause widespread death and suffering of innocent people are contrary to Article 24 of the Charter and therefore ultra vires [beyond its authority].

‘Coercive measures of an economic character’

Idriss Jazairy (Ethics & International Affairs, 9/6/19): “Unilateral measures not only adversely affect the rights to international trade and to navigation, but also the basic human rights of innocent civilians.”

In 2019, Idriss Jazairy (Ethics & International Affairs, 9/6/19), another former UN special rapporteur, took the same position as De Zayas: that unilateral sanctions violate international law. So did a resolution passed last year by the UN Human Rights Council (Canadian Dimension, 4/10/21).

Moreover, the OAS Charter, which the US has signed, also has very strong anti-sanctions language:

Article 19

No state or group of states has the right to intervene, directly or indirectly, for any reason whatever, in the internal or external affairs of any other state. The foregoing principle prohibits not only armed force but also any other form of interference or attempted threat against the personality of the state or against its political, economic and cultural elements.

Article 20

No state may use or encourage the use of coercive measures of an economic or political character in order to force the sovereign will of another state and obtain from it advantages of any kind.

Again, if the US were the country being victimized, the media would not need legal experts to say that seizing fuel shipments, threatening military attack, deliberately inflicting economic hardships on the public and encouraging generals to overthrow the government were all gross violations of international law. The same applies to openly targeting a businessperson for trying to carry out business in the face of illegal sanctions.

‘Extraordinary’ lie

The New York Times (12/22/20) described the US seizing Iranian oil bound for Venezuela as “a high-seas handover that blocked two diplomatic adversaries from evading American economic sanctions.” Bloomberg (8/16/20), meanwhile, called it “state-sponsored piracy.”

How could Reuters and other big Western outlets also have missed the detailed report written in 2021 by UN special investigator Alena Douhan, which called on the US to end its fraudulent “national emergency” regarding Venezuela? Independent journalist Slava Zieber interviewed Douhan about her report, but prominent Western media ignored it (FAIR.org, 6/4/21).

In US law, the outrageous lie that Venezuela poses an “extraordinary threat” to the US is the legal basis for a “national emergency” that justifies imposing sanctions. US aggression against Venezuela therefore shows as much contempt for US law as it does towards the UN Charter.

A New York Times article (12/22/20) last year about Saab’s case was nonchalant in mentioning US crimes :

The showdown over Mr. Saab is the latest twist in the tense relationship between the United States and Venezuela. In 2017, Mr. Trump said he would not rule out a “military option” to quell the chaos in Venezuela. In 2018, the Trump administration held secret meetings with rebellious military officers from Venezuela to discuss their plans to overthrow Mr. Maduro.

And in August, the United States seized more than 1.1 million barrels of Iranian fuel that was headed to Venezuela in a high-seas handover that blocked two diplomatic adversaries from evading American economic sanctions.

Describing a “tense relationship” between the US and Venezuela is like saying an armed robber has a tense relationship with their victim.

It’s the empire, stupid

The US has been trying to overthrow Venezuela’s government since 2002 when the New York Times (4/13/02) and other US newspapers applauded a US-backed coup that temporarily ousted President Hugo Chávez, who died in 2013 (Extra! Update, 6/02).

One tactic the US has deployed against Venezuela, many years before it dramatically intensified its tactics to truly barbaric levels under Trump (and now Biden), is to claim jurisdiction over any use of the US financial system, however incidental.

The US indictment against Saab alleges that as far back as 2011, he was involved in paying bribes to Venezuelan officials in Venezuela. How on earth can the US claim legal jurisdiction over corruption that foreign officials and businesspeople (as opposed to US-based corporations) allegedly perpetrated in Venezuela?

When you have the world’s dominant financial system, you can (when it suits you) act as if you had jurisdiction over the whole world. That financial power is key to making US sanctions so devastating. For example, out of fear of violating US sanctions, Swiss Bank USB blocked payments that Venezuela made to the United Nations COVAX program to purchase Covid-19 vaccines.

Greg Wilpert and Joe Sammut explained in the book  Viviremos: Venezuela vs. Hybrid War (International Publishers, 2021), that “with more than 60% of central bank reserves, and most of commerce, in dollars,” the US government is well positioned to “weaponize” any use of its financial system to behave like a global dictator. US economist Michael Hudson argues that the US could use the SWIFT bank clearing system to make Europe “permanently dependent” and “under US control” (Grayzone5/12/21).

Stansfield Smith (Grayzone, 4/27/21) “The US government has taken its unilateral coercive measures to an even more ominous level by charging and attempting to extradite foreign businesspeople who have been abiding by international law, rather than the economic dictates of Washington.”

Writing for Grayzone (4/27/21), US activist Stanfield Smith reviewed Saab’s case, along with the similar prosecutions of North Korea’s Mun Chol Myong and Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou of China. Smith noted that the US has even used its financial might to threaten the International Criminal Court for moving to investigate US war crimes in Afghanistan:

National Security Advisor John Bolton bullied them, stating: “We will ban its judges and prosecutors from entering the United States. We will sanction their funds in the US financial system, and we will prosecute them in the US criminal system…. We will do the same for any company or state that assists an ICC investigation of Americans.”

This turned out to be no idle threat: The Trump administration ultimately slapped sanctions on the ICC and its staff.

Focus on fake critics

Informed critics of US aggression can easily be found to comment on Saab’s case, if you read alternative media, but major corporate outlets in the West aren’t interested; they prefer to cite anonymous US officials claiming that fake critics exist online. A Financial Times article (3/17/21) about Saab’s case stated:

According to one intelligence analysis recently seen by the Financial Times, Caracas has used scores of false Twitter accounts in a bid to sway public opinion and pressure the Cape Verdean authorities into sending Saab to Venezuela.

A few years ago, the US media, aping Washington, expressed alarm that China might use its growing economic strength to assert “veto authority” over governments in Latin America (FAIR.org, 6/6/18). But Wilpert and Sammut (actual experts, not the “false Twitter accounts” that anonymous US official described to the Financial Times) expressed a much more urgent and reality-based concern–one that’s highlighted by Saab’s case:

Venezuela and other countries suffering from US aggression cannot wait for these world-historical shifts toward a more multi-polar world. The United States will also have to change from within.

US financial hegemony cannot end too soon, nor can the Western media’s casual acceptance of US brutality and criminality.

Featured image: Alex Saab


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Blaming BLM for Homicide Rise—and Excusing Massive Spike in Gun Sales


Washington Post (6/27/21): “One centrist…said fellow Democrats must not shy away from talking about rising crime and the challenges facing police.”

Media musings on a spike in homicides and shootings over the past year focus on how “defund the police” and other civil rights movement calls to action are affecting public safety—while largely ignoring any policy proposals that could keep guns off the street.

The headlines blare from every corner of the news media: “Defund the Police Encounters Resistance as Violent Crime Spikes” (CNN, 5/25/21). “Cities Reverse Defunding the Police Amid Rising Crime” (Wall Street Journal, 5/26/21).”Democrats Pushed Hard Last Year to Rein in Police. A Rise in Homicides Is Prompting a Shift” (Washington Post, 6/27/21).

Crime is up, especially homicides and shootings, and the most-cited culprits are civil rights demonstrators calling for defunding the police. Far less often mentioned in these articles and reports is the role of the massive increase in gun sales in 2020–21.

Gun sales exploded

Reasons for the increase in gun sales are manifold: political instability during a close and contested election, fears of societal collapse during a global pandemic, and the rise of political extremism, to name just a few.

CNN (3/14/21): “In January, as rioters stormed the US Capitol and a new administration took office, the FBI was swamped with 4.3 million requests for background checks.”

As CNN (3/14/21) reported, citing an arms industry consulting firm, gun sales in 2020 exploded: 23 million weapons were sold, outpacing 2019’s nearly 14 million by around 65%. USA Today (2/10/21), using records of FBI background checks, had a different, higher number: “Gun sales in the United States rose 40% last year to 39,695,315.”

2021 is poised to smash these records. As MSN (7/5/21) reported this month, gun sales for the first half of this year totaled more than 22 million, an increase of 15% from last year’s already unprecedented total. As the New York Times (5/29/21) reported in May:

“There was a surge in purchasing unlike anything we’ve ever seen,” said Dr. Garen J. Wintemute, a gun researcher at the University of California, Davis. “Usually it slows down. But this just kept going.”

In this context, the relentless, narrow focus on “defund the police” and the protests that followed the killing of George Floyd by Minneapolis police officers in May 2020 is misplaced. There are, of course, any number of reasons that may lead to increased crime, and it’s impossible to identify precisely what is driving the rise in violent crime. But a relative lack of interest in guns as a driver of shootings and homicides in the reports is noticeable.

The flow of guns used in crime across state borders (Vox, 10/26/16) makes state-level gun sales an unhelpful predictor of state gun violence.

Axios (7/12/21) and the Guardian (7/9/21) have touted results from a new study (Injury Epidemiology, 7/5/21) by researchers at the Violence Prevention Research Program at the University of California, Davis that purports to show the rise in gun sales did not have a major effect on gun violence in 2020. The researchers lined up gun sales and gun violence on a state by state basis, and found “no relationship between state-level excess purchasing and non-domestic firearm violence.”

But the state-level approach taken by the study elides a rather important point: Many guns used in violent crimes cross state lines—60% in Illinois, 74% in New York, 83% in New Jersey—rendering the expectation that there should be a 1:1 relationship between state-level gun sales and state gun violence rather fanciful. And the data itself may be incomplete, as Axios noted:

National data on homicides is spotty and laggy—authorities won’t know the full number of murders last year for months—and there is no conclusive database on gun purchases or who owns firearms in the US, all of which complicates connecting the dots.

Murders and shootings up

According to FBI crime data, murders rose by 25% around the country in 2020. Of that 4,100 increase in murders, 75% are likely to be gun murders, as crime data analyst Jeff Asher told the Guardian (3/24/21) in March.

And the numbers this year might even be higher:

The FBI’s preliminary 2020 data does not yet include some of the cities that saw the worst increases in murder last year, including Chicago, New Orleans and New York, Asher said, which might mean that total murders could rise more than 25%.

“If there’s a 30% increase, which I think is very plausible, that would be 5,000 additional people murdered,” he said.

That’s not the whole story—the FBI’s Uniform Crime Report system shows that while violent crime has spiked slightly, the general shift is downward. And property crime has continued to go down every year over the past decade.

“2020 marked the best year for gun sales—ever,” NPR (3/3/21) reported, and “there’s an increase in the ratio of violent crimes that involved guns to those that didn’t”—but it’s “a leap” to see a connection between the two phenomena.

Yet when corporate news media address the connection in the rise in violent crime and gun sales, it’s often with a hesitant, careful approach. NPR (3/3/21) in March devoted an entire report to downplaying any such connection—”Experts Who Study This Say Not So Fast”—and then in June (6/19/21) turned to Miami Police Chief Art Acevedo for a segment headlined “Understanding 2021’s Rise in Gun Violence.” Acevedo used the opportunity as a platform to use the rise in crime in his city as a reason to continue to invest resources in policing, egged on by host Scott Simon.

“Doesn’t sound like you think this is a good time to reduce police resources,” Simon said. “I won’t use that red flag of a word, ‘defund.'”

CBS News (5/24/21) framed the parallel rise in gun sales and crime as a problem of insufficient infrastructure for background checks—”Some of those sales are stretching our background check system thin,” its source says—a law enforcement–friendly view of the problem. Last year, the network (7/8/20) implied a correlation between a $1 billion cut to the NYPD’s budget—dropping it from $89.1 billion to $88 billion—and the 130% increase in shootings in New York City through the first six months of 2020:

The increase in violence comes amid widespread calls to defund and reform police departments across the country in the aftermath of George Floyd’s death. New York’s decision to defund a small percentage of the NYPD was the first budget cut the department has been given since de Blasio took office.

“People will die if you defund police,” Tucker Carlson (Fox News, 4/1/21) claimed—though as AP (6/10/21) pointed out, “the same big increases in homicides are being seen nationwide—even in cities that increased police spending.”

NBC News (3/14/21) covered the rise in violent crime as evidence that cutting police department budgets was a mistake. Guns were mentioned, but only in the context of police enforcement:

[Lansing, Michigan Police Chief Daryl] Green vowed to lean on the violent crime task force, formed a decade ago in response to an uptick in fatal shootings—including that of Edmond’s daughter—to take illegal guns off the streets and interrupt retaliatory gun attacks.

Fox News (4/1/21), unsurprisingly, took aim at defund measures as the primary driver of a rise in violent crime, arguing that

as police departments were left to make do with shrunken budgets and less support, some big cities have seen sometimes drastic upticks in murders and other violent crimes.

It’s enough to make you wonder if the US media have any interest in uncovering the root causes for societal ills like violent crime—or if pushing civil rights movement demands as divisive culture war issues is the point.

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Shoplifting Is Big News; Stealing Millions From Workers Is Not


Urban crime is the golden child of local media, as recent FAIR coverage (6/21/21) has shown. But as FAIR’s Julie Hollar recently noted, the amount of attention given to a topic does not always reflect the seriousness of the situation.

The original KGO report (6/15/21) that sparked hundreds of followup stories.

An alleged “crime surge” at Walgreens drugstores in San Francisco was a hot topic for Bay Area news outlets in the early months of 2021. When Lyanne Melendez, a reporter for the ABC-owned KGO-TV in San Francisco, tweeted out a cellphone video of a brazen shoplifter, it elevated this narrative into a nationwide story. The video purports to show a man apparently filling a garbage bag with items before riding a bicycle out of the store, as two people, one of whom seems to be a store security guard, record him.

FAIR identified 309 published pieces on the 21-second video, using a combination of Nexis and Google advanced search to find every article published by a news outlet, from the video’s publication on June 14 to July 12—a 28-day timeframe.

Compare this to another Walgreens-related theft story: the November settlement of a wage theft and labor law violation class-action lawsuit against Walgreens, filed by employees in California for $4.5 million.

A multimillion-dollar settlement coming after a two-year legal struggle, this should have been a national news story, not to mention a major topic in local California outlets. But FAIR was unable to find a single general news outlet that covered the settlement, looking from November 2020 to July 2021, using the same search parameters as the aforementioned shoplifting video.

As court documents explained, Walgreens agreed to create a common fund after allegedly violating California’s Labor Code:

Plaintiff alleged that defendants rounded down employees’ hours on their time cards, required employees to pass through security checks before and after their shift without compensating them for time worked, and failed to pay premium wages to employees who were denied legally required meal breaks.

While San Francisco admittedly has a higher crime rate compared to many major cities in the United States, this rate has been decreasing, even amidst a global pandemic (San Francisco Chronicle, 4/2/21):

While San Francisco’s crime rates did deviate from previous trends in 2020, most types of violent crime actually plummeted — and all violent crime rates remain near their lowest levels since 1975.

Kyle Barry in the Appeal (6/22/21) noted that the San Francisco Chronicle (5/20/21) failed to point out that “Walgreens announced in 2019 that it was closing hundreds of stores nationwide as a cost-saving measure.”

But not only is this context consistently brushed over in news reports, much of the coverage connected to this video could lead one to believe the complete opposite, as in the San Francisco Chronicle (5/20/21):

For years, John Susoeff walked from his home two blocks to the Walgreens at Bush and Larkin streets — to pick up prescriptions for himself and for less mobile neighbors, to get a new phone card, and to snag senior discounts the first Tuesday of the month.

That changed in March when the Walgreens, ravaged by shoplifting, closed. Susoeff, 77, who sometimes uses a cane, now goes six blocks for medication and other necessities.

Much of the narrative around the story of San Francisco’s crimes relates back to 2014, when California voters approved Proposition 47. Prop 47 reclassified several nonviolent offenses as misdemeanors rather than felonies. This included any instances of shoplifting at or below $950.

DataSF’s crime database includes the June 14 incident, listing it as “Theft, Shoplifting, $200–$950”—meaning that the maximum possible cost of the merchandise allegedly stolen was $950.

While basic arithmetic would indicate that $4.5 million is greater than $950, media have demonstrated that the question isn’t how much is being stolen, but who it is being stolen from.

Obviously, the shoplifting video is supposed to represent multiple examples of retail theft, to boost awareness about shoplifting as a larger issue. But the wage theft settlement is also one example of a widespread issue: Employers stealing from their workers is a $15 billion a year problem that gets little attention.

San Francisco is a city that falls far short in caring for the homeless population, with pervasive poverty, particularly among people of color. In that context, to treat an individual stealing a few hundred dollars from a corporation worth $150 billion as infinitely more newsworthy than that same company stealing millions from its employees is to enlist the media on the well-funded side of the class war.

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WSJ Likes ‘More Money in Taxpayers’ Hands’—Only When They’re Wealthy Hands


The Wall Street Journal (7/5/21) was thrilled by an Ohio tax cut that mainly benefited the wealthy…

When Ohio’s Gov. Mike DeWine signed a tax cut into law on July 1, the Wall Street Journal editorial board (7/5/21) was thrilled. It  praised  the Republican governor, saying he “lower[ed] income-tax rates for all Ohio taxpayers.”

While this is technically true, it’s also misleading. Average Ohioans get virtually nothing from the tax cut. The Dayton Daily News (7/4/21) thus advised its readers not to get too excited:

Hold off on popping open some fancy champagne—the money you save might not be enough to buy the bottle. The savings for a taxpayer with a taxable income of $50,000 a year is estimated at $34.

Compare that to the windfall to be enjoyed by Ohio’s wealthiest. The average member of Ohio’s 1% makes $1.45 million annually, and will receive a tax cut of $5,400. The top 5% get 58% of the benefits, and the bottom 80% receive an average cut of just $43. Unsurprisingly, the Wall Street Journal editorial board omits these crucial facts from their analysis, defending the tax cuts on the grounds that they will “leav[e] more money in taxpayers’ hands.”

…but New Jersey tax rebates targeted to the poor and middle class are “sending checks to buy votes” (Wall Street Journal, 6/30/21).

If that’s the case, then the editorial board should also love what Democratic Gov. Phil Murphy is doing in New Jersey: His most recent budget includes $500 tax rebates for parents making under $150,000. You might call that “leaving more money in taxpayers’ hands,” and assume the editorial board would be in favor. But you would be wrong.

Instead, the board (6/30/21) smeared the rebates and other social-welfare spending as an attempt to “buy votes.” But New Jersey is a deeply blue state where Murphy won his last election by more than 14 percentage points. The next general election is this November—a race rated “Solid D” by the Cook Political Report. Polls show Murphy heavily leading his Republican opponent, Jack Ciatterelli, in a state Joe Biden carried by 16 points. In short, Democrats don’t need to “buy” votes in New Jersey. They already have plenty.

More important, though, is the framing. When government helps the working and middle class, it’s tantamount to corruption. Buying votes, after all, would be blatant electoral fraud. But when bought-and-paid-for politicians enact big giveaways to the ultrawealthy, the Wall Street Journal applauds them and considers their actions exemplary. It’s clear where their sympathies lie: not with all taxpayers, or even the majority of them—just a select few.

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.


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Press Sees NYC Primary Win as Yet Another Reason for Dems to Move Right 


The press has found a national narrative for the victory of Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams in the New York City Democratic mayoral primary: It’s yet another indication that the Democratic Party must stick to moderate ideas–especially around crime and policing–and away from the left-wing politics of the so-called “Squad.”

Adams, a Black former NYPD officer who had the backing of the city’s powerful real estate industry, ran on a multifaceted agenda. But a major thread was his contention that although the police department needed reforms, calls to “defund the police” were reckless, and the city needed a tough-on-crime approach. This won him praise from the likes of Rudy Giuliani (New York Times, 6/20/21) and Fox News host Tucker Carlson (Real Clear Politics, 5/7/21).

‘A way forward for Democrats’

The Financial Times (7/12/21) said that Adams’ win “points a way forward for the Democrats as they prepare for the 2022 midterms,” because while the right will paint the entire party as the “radical left,” the Adams model “found ways to neutralize those attacks by staking out resolutely moderate positions that emphasized practical solutions over ideology.” The paper pointed to his background as a former cop who vowed to reform the police force, and offered a “ pro-business” platform in a “field full of leftists.”

The lesson, according the New York Times‘ David Leonhardt (6/29/21), is that “working-class voters—across races—have grown uncomfortable with some of the progressivism of the Democratic Party.”

The New York Times (6/29/21) echoed the need to get moderate in light of the Adams win: “The bad news for the Democratic Party is that this national majority is not as liberal as many high-profile Democratic activists and politicians.” AP (7/7/21) trumpeted Adams’ win, saying it could “accelerate a recent trend of some of the party’s most fervent voters breaking away from its most progressive candidates.”

The Wall Street Journal (7/8/21) claimed that his victory “rescued the party from the gentry left,” as the runner-up Kathryn Garcia, a former Sanitation commissioner and New York Times backed candidate (5/10/21), who did particularly well in Manhattan (New York Times, 6/23/21).  Adams’ tough-on-crime agenda could spark a rolling-back of progressive measures enacted in the state in the last several years, the paper hopefully suggested–for example,  repealing the “state’s bail reform law.”

The only New York City newspaper to endorse Adams was the right-wing tabloid New York Post—like the Journal, a Murdoch-owned property. After its initial endorsement (5/10/21) that painted Adams as a tough-on-crime candidate, with a reminder endorsement 10 days later (5/20/21), the editorial board (6/10/21) doubled down, emphasizing that “nearly 46% of likely voters want crime and public safety to be the top priority of the next mayor.”

“Adams has been the candidate most forthright and credible in vowing to bring [crime] down,” the Post wrote, “and insisting that #Defund nonsense is not the way to do it.”

Invoking a favorite Trump administration phrase to dismiss its own scandals, the Post dismissed questions of whether Adams actually has a permanent residence in the city as “nothing-burgers served up by rival campaigns.”

New York-centric punditry

Non–New Yorkers are used to the annoying trope of the New York City mayor’s race being automatically treated as some kind of national phenomenon. But while the city’s self-image as a global capital can be tiresome, there’s some plausibility to the idea that what happens to Democrats in the country’s biggest city might have some kind of message for the rest of the country.

Most corporate media did not see any lessons for national Democrats in the New York City Council moving to the left (Gothamist, 7/7/21).

Still, it’s important to apply some context here. This mayor’s race was nothing like the two previous Democratic presidential primaries, because there was no real leftist in the mix. There were lesser-known progressives like Dianne Morales, whose star started to fall once the press started applying scrutiny to her record (Nation, 6/25/21). Maya Wiley, a lawyer for term-limited incumbent Mayor Bill de Blasio, did finish better than expected, but only started rising late in the race (Wall Street Journal, 6/19/21). NYC Comptroller Scott Stringer’s attempt to make himself the progressive alternative to both Adams and Andrew Yang fell flat, thanks in part to allegations of sexual misconduct, losing the support of progressive backers like the Working Families Party (WNBC, 4/30/21). There was simply no insurgent with a movement behind them in this race.

Nonetheless, two citywide races in the city were won by candidates well to the left of Adams: City Council member Brad Lander, who was endorsed by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, won the primary for city comptroller, and incumbent Public Advocate Jumaane Williams won his primary. Two City Council candidates backed by Democratic Socialists of America won their primaries, and Gothamist (7/7/21) noted that the “next New York City Council is on track to be the most diverse and the most left-leaning in the city’s history.”

When reading post-election think pieces, readers might ask if the opposite lessons would be drawn if Wiley, for instance, had managed to coalesce the progressive vote through the new ranked-choice voting system to win a victory. (Adams was able to navigate the process to eke out a narrow 50.4% victory.) Would these same outlets have declared that the the success of a de Blasio administration alum who tacked to the left meant that national Dems should stress a progressive message? A good guess would be: No.

Better lessons from Buffalo?

India Wallace is poised to be “America’s first socialist mayor of a major city since Milwaukee’s Frank Zeidler left office in 1961″ (Vox, 6/30/21).

But regardless of who won, we’d be right to question New York City’s political centrality. The Democrats don’t have a problem winning in large, metropolitan areas. They have a problem winning working-class towns and regions that they used to rely upon (Salon, 11/17/16).

Might more useful lessons be drawn by the mayoral primary win of DSA-backed candidate India Walton (Vox, 6/30/21) in Buffalo, New York’s second biggest city, where deindustrialization has taken a huge toll? A plan on how to win in the Rust Belt might better start there, rather than in New York City, where financial, media and real estate money have long driven up the cost of living. But that’s not a narrative most corporate media are eager to explore.

There is still a lot of time between now and the 2022 midterm elections, and things like the handling of the new Covid-19 Delta variant and the extent of economic recovery will be on voters’ minds. Focusing on the victory of Adams, a well-connected machine politician with enough quirky qualities to draw media attention his way, seems very much like an ideologically driven desire to put the cart before the horse.


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Media Play Up Protests, Play Down Effect of US Sanctions in Cuba


New York Times (7/11/21): “In a country known for repressive crackdowns on dissent, the rallies were widely viewed as astonishing.”

A wave of protests in Cuba became the somewhat unlikely focus of global attention earlier this week, the events becoming the worldwide No. 1 trend on Twitter for over 24 hours, as celebrities, politicians and even the president of the United States weighed in on the action. A statement from Joe Biden’s office read:

We stand with the Cuban people and their clarion call for freedom and relief from the tragic grip of the pandemic and from the decades of repression and economic suffering to which they have been subjected by Cuba’s authoritarian regime.

Media, too, were quick to focus on the story, giving the protests front and center coverage, something extremely unusual for demonstrations in Latin America. Far larger and more deadly movements in Chile and Ecuador were mostly ignored by the corporate press (FAIR.org, 12/6/19). Meanwhile, the political situation in Haiti, which has seen three continuous years of nationwide protest, was overwhelmingly ignored (FAIR.org, 10/26/19) until the assassination of US-backed President Jovenel Moïse last week.

Downplaying the blockade

However, while giving the protests a great deal of coverage, the corporate press across the political spectrum consistently downplayed one of the primary causes of unrest: the increasingly punitive US blockade.

“In a country known for repressive crackdowns on dissent, the rallies were widely viewed as astonishing,” wrote the New York Times (7/11/21), presenting the movement as a laudable action against an authoritarian government that had brought little but “misery” to its people. Only 11 paragraphs into the story did it mention the sanctions, and even then, it put the information in the form of an accusation from the Cuban government, a source the Times had already cued the reader to be skeptical of.

One of the few shots NBC (7/12/21) chose where you can get a sense of the actual size of the crowd.

But this was actually among the most balanced coverage from corporate media. NBC News (7/12/21) waited until the last of 24 paragraphs to note that “the Cuban government attributes the economic crisis to US embargo against Cuba and sanctions, which former President Donald Trump intensified.” The story had previously claimed that Cuba was effectively choking itself by refusing to allow humanitarian aid into the country.

The Wall Street Journal (7/12/21) did the same thing, only mentioning the sanctions in the final paragraph, and only in the mouth of President Miguel Díaz-Canel, the head of an “authoritarian regime,” a media codeword reserved for governments the US does not like (FAIR.org, 8/20/18). None of these articles went into any detail about the sanctions or their demonstrable effects.

Devoting such little time to sanctions, relegating them to the final paragraph and framing them as accusations rather than facts, has the result of conveying that they are of little importance. If this was not clear enough, the Washington Post’s editorial board (7/12/21) made it explicit, claiming that Díaz-Canel was reacting with “predictable thuggishness,” conveniently “blaming everything on the United States and the US trade embargo,” when, in fact, it was largely the fault of the “aging dictatorship” itself.

Socialism doesn’t work. Maybe bombing will

Socialism has “never worked and [is] never going to work,” Miami Mayor Francis Suarez told Fox News (7/13/21). What might work in Cuba? “Military intervention.”

Perhaps unsurprisingly, Fox News (7/13/21) did not mention the sanctions at all, putting the blame for Cuba’s economic malaise on the Communist Party entirely. It even gave time to Miami Mayor Frances Suarez to call for the US to bomb Cuba. We must put together a “coalition of potential military action in Cuba,” Suarez told Fox, receiving little pushback.

What is particularly galling about the refusal to take seriously the idea that an economic attack from the world’s sole superpower is at least a major factor in Cuba’s troubles is that this is the US’ explicitly stated goal. Official documents going back to 1960 note that, by “denying money and supplies to Cuba,” the US hopes to “decrease monetary and real wages, to bring about hunger, desperation and [the] overthrow of [the] government.”

Last month, the United Nations declared for the 29th year in a row to condemn the sanctions against Cuba. The vote in the General Assembly was 184 to 2, the sole votes against being the United States and Israel. The sanctions mean that Cuba is unable to trade freely with other nations, causing acute shortages of goods—including medicines—that cannot be made on the island. In 2014, the UN estimated that the sanctions had caused $1.1 trillion worth of damage to the island’s economy.

Photo switcheroos

Despite being limited in size and immediately met by substantial counter-demonstrations, corporate media were keen to present the weekend’s actions as widespread and momentous. As one Miami resident insisted to NBC News (7/12/21), “The whole country is in the streets.” Video evidence seems to suggest otherwise, and that the counter-demonstrations were at least as well-attended.

Nevertheless, many outlets explicitly stated the opposite. Reuters (7/11/21), for example, reported, “Thousands took to the streets in various parts of Havana on Sunday, including the historic center, drowning out groups of government supporters waving the Cuban flag and chanting Fidel.” Meanwhile, Voice of America (7/12/21) claimed that despite Díaz-Canel’s demands, he could only muster “smaller pro-government demonstrations.”

The Boston Globe (7/11/21), like numerous other  outlets, published a photo of a pro-government rally to illustrate the size of anti-government protests.

If this was the case, it is ironic indeed that a host of outlets resorted to using images of pro-government demonstrations to illustrate how large and impressive the anti-government movement was. The Guardian (7/12/21), Fox News (7/11/21), Boston Globe (7/11/21), Financial Times (7/12/21), Yahoo! News (7/11/21) and NBC’s Today program (7/13/21) were among that used an image of masses of government supporters gathering in central Havana to show the extent of the anti-Communist demonstrations. To anyone with knowledge of Cuba, the giant red and black flags emboldened with the words “26 Julio” (Fidel Castro’s political party) should have been a dead giveaway. (The Guardian and FT updated their stories after my tweet pointing out the false attribution went viral.)

Meanwhile, CNN (Instagram, 7/11/21) used a photo of an impressively attended rally in Miami to promote an article headlined “Cubans Take to Streets in Rare Anti-Government Protest Over Lack of Freedoms, Worsening Economy.” (The post has since been deleted.) National Geographic (7/13/21) pulled a similar trick, although they at least included a caption informing eagle-eyed readers that the image was taken in Florida. Pictures of anti-government demos in Cuba showing similar numbers of people appear not to exist.

There is every reason for Cubans to be discontent. In recent times, prices for increasingly scarce foodstuffs have risen, and there are shortages of some basic goods and medicines, leading to increased deprivation, long lines and waiting times. Yet by refusing to frame these as intentional consequences of US foreign policy, corporate media consumers are less prone to critique their own government’s actions and more likely to support the very measures that are partially responsible for keeping Cuba in the state that it is in. A skeptical reader might wonder if that is exactly the point.

Featured image: CNN photo labeled “Cubans take to streets in rare anti-government protest”—but actually taken in Miami. (Note sign for Eighth Street in the background.)


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Chris Bernadel on Haitian Assassination, Michael Carome on FDA Alzheimer’s Investigation


Joint Chiefs of Staff chair Adm. Mike Mullen (center) with US troops in Haiti, 2010 (photo: Chad J. McNeeley/DoD)

This week on CounterSpin: There are enough storylines in the July 7 assassination of Haitian president Jovenel Moïse to make you lose sight of the big picture. The thing is: US media consumers don’t have to puzzle out if the assassins were Colombian, or if a Florida doctor bankrolled the plan, or if Moïse’s own bodyguards had it in for him and his wife. The long history of the US using state force to kill Haitians and their aspirations is sufficient and appropriate context for current events. From George Washington to Woodrow Wilson to the Clintons, there’s enough for US citizens to know about not doing harm before we chinstroke over whether “the world’s policeman” should wade in again. We talk about Haiti with Chris Bernadel from the Black Alliance for Peace.

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Also on the show: Cronyism between pharmaceutical companies and their ostensible government regulators is an infuriating fact of US life, along with the unsurprisingly obscene cost of drugs. Yet somehow the story of aducanumab takes it to a new level. We talk about what pharma and the FDA call a breakthrough Alzheimer’s drug, and what public advocates call an example of all that’s wrong with the FDA, with Michael Carome, M.D., director of the Health Research Group at Public Citizen.

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‘The Techniques Rumsfeld Was Using Were Designed to Get False Information’


The July 9, 2021, episode of CounterSpin included an archival interview with the Center for Constitutional Rights’ Michael Ratner about Donald Rumsfeld. Steve Rendall originally interviewed Ratner for the December 19, 2008 show.  This is a lightly edited transcript.

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New York Times (12/11/08)

Janine Jackson: The Senate Armed Services Committee issued a report in late 2008, finding former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and other high officials responsible for abusive treatment of detainees in Guantánamo, Iraq and Afghanistan. But corporate media didn’t exactly leap on the story, or its implications. The New York Times, for example, buried it on A14.

CounterSpin spoke at the time with esteemed rights attorney Michael Ratner of the Center for Constitutional Rights. Ratner had just published a book titled The Trial of Donald Rumsfeld: A Prosecution by Book. He spoke with CounterSpin’s Steve Rendall.


Steve Rendall: As someone who is very familiar with this story, what do you think of the Senate Armed Services Committee report? Are you happy with its findings?

Michael Ratner: You know, when I get calls from press about it—and I got a few—they said, “Well, really what’s new in it?”

And I said, “What’s new in it? It’s actually extraordinary.” Because what happened here is 25 senators, Democrats and Republicans, Levin and McCain, said the torture program—they call it the “abuse program,” but we all know it’s the torture program—is at the feet of Donald Rumsfeld and other high-level officials. And not just Guantánamo, but Iraq, Afghanistan and other places. That’s incredibly significant. It’s bipartisan, it’s putting it at high-level officials, it’s rejecting the bad apples defense.

And it goes even farther. What’s interesting, it also says the techniques that Rumsfeld was using in these places, and that other high-level officials authorized, were guaranteed, were actually designed, to get false information and false confessions. They weren’t even designed to get real information. So that actually is new. That is really new. And that just puts to rest any idea that this was something that worked.

House Armed Services Committee (6/17/08)

So I consider the report to be a major step forward for holding high officials accountable, and for prosecuting them.

SR: What about the fact that it wasn’t big on naming names, except in the Rumsfeld case? And do you think it misses the mark by having the buck stop more or less with Rumsfeld, and not more emphasis on higher-up officials?

MR: First of all, we haven’t seen the full report yet. That’s classified, and it’s coming out. So hopefully, some of that will be remedied by those issues. But of course, I agree with you that it looked at a particular program. And it says, in the report itself, that it was stonewalled—it doesn’t use that term—by the CIA, that they didn’t cooperate. And one of the worst torture programs here was the CIA secret site program, headed by George Tenet, who then received the Medal of Freedom from the president after he was no longer CIA head. And they could not get the information—at least, they claimed they couldn’t get it—from the CIA. And of course, that was the nastiest and dirtiest program of them all. So that was a big exception.

And of course, the other names. I mean, we know the names, and they even came out the next day, when [Vice President Dick] Cheney actually gave an interview that said he was responsible for helping design, approve—he didn’t call it the “torture program,” but the waterboard program—the program for Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, which was actually the waterboard torture program. So the report didn’t say that. It actually took Cheney himself to later admit to what was essentially a felony. That was a weakness; it was really confined more or less to looking at DoD and Rumsfeld’s role.

Salon (12/15/08)

SR: On December 15, the Salon’s Glenn Greenwald pointed out that rather than paying much attention to this important story, many journalists were instead filled with righteous and endless anger over embroiled Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich. Likewise, blogger and humorist Bob Harris of BobHarris.com listed several trivial stories that major media featured above news of the Senate report. What about the media’s role here?

MR: Media’s role here was a disaster, actually. This report—even though, as you pointed out, Steve, it had its limitations—this was the most significant report to come out of Congress on this issue of Rumsfeld and torture in the seven years that we’ve been torturing people. And the media, as you said, other than the Washington Post, they essentially buried it; it wasn’t carried by columns; or you had to look hard for this interesting quote by Senator [Carl] Levin, who said, “I want the Department of Defense and the new administration to hold accountable the individuals who are involved in this program.” That essentially means prosecuted. And that’s an extraordinary statement by a senator, and it’s just as if it fell on deaf ears.

So it’s quite a moment where the media, of course, accepted all of this for years, didn’t really write about it as torture, didn’t ever get to the bottom. Now we have a new administration, so you’re getting probably a little more strength within Congress, and maybe a little more in the media, but still not close to what really should be happening when this country has been running a torture program—and still is, in certain places—over the last seven years.

SR: Going back a few weeks ago, the New York Times had a story on the state of the Guantánamo debate, in which it said that government officials have been “outmatched by human rights groups and defense lawyers, with their inflammatory accusations about torture and secret evidence.”

MR: The Times has, it’s been a little rougher and better, arguably, on the editorials. I mean, we can talk about this recent one. But on the other issues, it’s been a disaster; there was the quote you just read, there was an op-ed the other day trying to defend renditions, and there was an earlier article by [Jonathan] Mahler about asking for preventive detentions and national security courts, with nobody quoted from the other side opposing that.

They have allowed the so-called other dialog, or other debate, to really flourish. And then they reject op-eds that are quite good, well-written by people saying, “We need a prosecutor for torture, we need this, we need that,” and that doesn’t get in there. But the right-wing views, or the views that say, “Well, we may not want to close Guantánamo right away. We may need to set up national security courts,” those are getting plenty of play in the New York Times, and that’s pretty sad.

Michael Ratner: “A prosecutor has to be appointed because it’s open and notorious criminality at the highest levels of government.” (cc photo: Jonathan McIntosh/Wikimedia)

SR: What about that recent editorial in the Times? Did that sort of make up for their lack of emphasis, when the story of the report initially broke?

MR: I read it last night, as it came out, knowing that it couldn’t really be doing what I really think is necessary, which is ask for a prosecution here. But in fact, you read along, and it’s quite hard-hitting; talks about Rumsfeld, Cheney, the CIA, the whole business, and it actually says, “We think a prosecutor has to be appointed,” when it’s rather obvious: A prosecutor has to be appointed because it’s open and notorious criminality at the highest levels of government. And if you allow that to continue, what are you talking about in the future? If you don’t punish it, how do you deter it in the future?

SR: Mmm-mm.

MR:  And it transgresses other constitutional limitations on government if you allow it to go on. That’s three-quarters of the editorial. Then the last quarter says, well, it’s not politically realistic—that’s essentially what it says—to demand a special prosecutor. And therefore, let’s look at some of these other ideas, like truth commissions and maybe having the Obama administration quietly, essentially, look at whether crimes were committed in abuse.

And that’s a real lack of backbone, because it’s assuming that the current situation is politically static. And even though the Times realizes that you should have a special prosecutor or a prosecutor of some sort, and that you need that, they’re saying, “Let’s tailor what we ask for, to what we think the Obama administration is willing to do.” So the Times starts out with this major piece. And then really it’s like blowing up a balloon and then pinching it or, you know, putting a pin in and taking the air out of what was probably one of its stronger editorials.

New Press, 2008

SR: Your book The Trial of Donald Rumsfeld is subtitled A Prosecution by Book. Do you think the release of this report makes it any more likely that Rumsfeld and others might be prosecuted in an actual courtroom?

MR: You know, we wrote this book with the idea that we didn’t know what would ever happen in this country, that we’d ever come close to prosecutions. Things have moved very quickly in the last 10 days. We had the Senate report, we had Cheney’s statement, you have the Times editorial—things are moving very rapidly. And it’s no longer considered crazy and absurd to ask for Rumsfeld’s prosecution in a US court. But what I would like to see happen is a lot of the groups—human rights groups and others—who’ve been demanding a truth commission, commission of inquiry, to just come on board and say, “We think there ought to be prosecutions.” That’s the way we can get them; if you ask for something lesser, you won’t get it.

SR: We’ve been speaking with Michael Ratner of the Center for Constitutional Rights and the author of The Trial of Donald Rumsfeld: A Prosecution by Book, published this past September. Michael Ratner, thanks again for joining us today on CounterSpin.

MR: Thank you, CounterSpin, for having me.


Janine Jackson: That was attorney and author Michael Ratner, may he rest in peace, speaking with CounterSpin’s Steve Rendall in 2008.

The post ‘The Techniques Rumsfeld Was Using Were <i>Designed</i> to Get False Information’ appeared first on FAIR.

‘US Companies Can Be Sued for Involvement in Child Slavery’


Janine Jackson interviewed UC Davis’ William Dodge on Nestlé and slave labor for the July 9, 2021, episode of CounterSpin. This is a lightly edited transcript.

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Janine Jackson: At what point do corporations have to be legally accountable for the realities that drive their profits? If you are, for example, Nestlé, and you make your money from cocoa that comes, as most of the world’s cocoa does, from the Ivory Coast, where, according to the US Department of Labor, 37% of children are engaged in “hazardous work”—well, what’s that to do with you?

In the case Nestlé USA v. Doe, recently heard by the Supreme Court, the plaintiffs were six people from Mali who attested to being trafficked as children to the Ivory Coast, and forced to work on cocoa farms that supplied Nestlé—and Cargill, the other defendant—where they were not paid, given scraps of food, beaten with whips and tree branches, locked in dirt-floor shacks and tortured if they tried to escape. They were “Doe” in the case because they still feared, years later, reprisals from former traffickers, owners of and buyers from the farms where they were, let’s just say it, enslaved.

As often happens, this story of humanity and morality was boiled down to legality…and the outcome was confusing, in terms of its implications. Here to help us sort through it is someone who has been engaged in this case and its underlying questions for some time.

William Dodge is Martin Luther King Jr. Professor of Law and John D. Ayer Chair in Business Law at the University of California/Davis School of Law. He joins us now by phone from California. Welcome to CounterSpin, Bill Dodge.

William Dodge: Thank you, Janine.

Slate (6/17/21)

JJ: This is a law story; it’s about what law can be applied where. But we don’t want to lose sight of the reality in back of it, which is child slavery, and that many people want corporations to be accountable for all of the things that put money in their pocket, for them not to be able to say, “What? A farm in the Ivory Coast? I didn’t run that farm,” you know, “I’m sorry if bad stuff happened there, but it’s nothing to do with me.”

So let’s get into this particular case of Nestlé USA, Inc. v. Doe that the Court just heard. The New York Times had a headline, “Justices Limit Rights Suit Against US Corporations.” But then Slate had a headline, “Progressives Earned a Qualified Supreme Court Win From Clarence Thomas.” So it seems like there might be some murkiness around the ruling, or what it means, or where it might lead. Can you talk us through what this 8–1 court ruling said, or maybe didn’t say, or couldn’t say, and what you think it adds up to?

WD: Sure. It can be difficult to make sense of the ruling, and there are different ways of viewing it; you can view the glass as half empty or as half full. As you suggest, the fundamental issue is, what is the responsibility of US companies that are engaged with companies abroad, that—according to the allegations in the complaint—use child slaves?

This particular case was brought under a very old statute, known as the Alien Tort Statute, which allows aliens to bring claims in US court for violations of international law. There is no doubt that slavery is a violation of international law. So then the question becomes, what amount of involvement of the US company in the slavery is sufficient to bring the claim?

Now, for a number of years, the court has been wrestling with the question of whether corporations can be sued under this statute at all, or whether it only applies to individual defendants. And the court has ducked that issue on a number of occasions. In fact, the majority opinion ducks it in this case, too, but if you count the votes in the various concurring and dissenting opinions, you find that there are actually five justices now who think that corporations can be sued under the Alien Tort Statute. So that’s a win for the plaintiffs.

But on the negative side, the court said that the allegations in this complaint were “impermissibly extraterritorial”—which really means, “too much stuff happened outside the United States and not enough stuff happened in the United States.” And the court said there had to be more than just decision-making in the United States, in order for this statute to apply.

So going forward, I think it’s going to be tough for plaintiffs to allege enough to have their cases heard; they’re going to have to allege some conduct in the United States in connection with the slavery abroad that goes beyond just making decisions. And I’m not sure exactly what those cases are going to look like, but I don’t think there are going to be a lot that satisfy that standard. And in that sense, I think this is a defeat for the plaintiffs.

JJ: Let’s talk a little bit about the Alien Tort Statute that was brought to bear here. We’re talking about a metric that was introduced in 1789, right? So I know a lot of listeners are thinking, “Corporations as…wait…as individuals? As people?” And they’re thinking about Citizens United. Has the law grappled with this idea of corporations as people and who’s accountable.… Is the bigger picture that the law has not caught up with how to hold corporations accountable? Or what do you think is going on there?

WD: So you’re right: It’s a very old statute. It was part of the First Judiciary Act that set up the federal courts in 1789. It’s important to realize that international law looked a lot different in 1789 than it does today. There was no international human rights law in 1789; it’s mostly a post–World War II, post-Holocaust development.

But the statute is written in broad terms: It doesn’t limit cases to the kinds of claims that the framers would have understood. It refers to any violation of what they called the “law of nations,” and what we call “international law” today. So we’ve got the development of international human rights law, but we’ve also got the question of to what extent that applies to corporations.

JJ: Right.

Just Security (6/18/21)

WD: And it’s quite clear that corporations were held accountable by the Nuremberg tribunals, and have been considered responsible for human rights violations in various contexts. So I don’t think there’s a lot of dispute about the idea that international human rights law can apply to corporations. So the question is whether this particular statute applies to corporations. And there’s no limitation in the statute itself; there’s nothing in the text of the statute that suggests that it should be limited in that way.

And while some justices would like to draw that distinction, or have wanted to draw that distinction in past cases, five justices in this case found no basis for doing that—and that includes the three liberal justices plus Justice Gorsuch and Justice Alito, who are not, one would think, particularly sympathetic to human rights plaintiffs—but they just didn’t see a basis for distinguishing between individuals and corporations as defendants.

JJ: I want to be clear: old law is not automatically bad law; just being old doesn’t mean it’s bad. But it does sometimes seem like the tools are not upgraded to the problem, and I think that’s what folks may be thinking. But as part of your piece that you wrote recently, you did say, if we’re talking about stopping forced child labor, this ruling is meaningful, and it’s one thing, but there are other legal tools that folks could use.

So if I could just ask you: Coming out of this, if folks think, “Well, then there’s no way to hold a transnational company accountable in any way for things involved in their supply chain,” there are other legal tools available, yeah?

William Dodge: “You can certainly argue that by being able to buy cocoa at a lower cost, because the farms lowered their cost by using slaves, that’s ‘benefiting from.'”

WD: Yes, absolutely. And in fact, going forward, US companies can be sued for involvement in child slavery, or any kind of slavery, or any kind of forced labor, under a different statute. Congress has passed something called the Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act, the TVPRA. And this statute creates a cause of action against defendants who have benefited from slavery or forced labor. And it’s been used to sue corporate defendants in a variety of different contexts.

Now, unfortunately for the plaintiffs in Doe, it’s a pretty new statute, and it’s not retroactive, which means it doesn’t apply to child slavery that occurred before the statute was passed, which is the case with the Doe plaintiffs.

But it’s a very powerful tool to attack forced labor and child slavery. And the standard that the defendant just has to benefit from that action is a very low standard. Because you can certainly argue that by being able to buy cocoa at a lower cost, because the farms lowered their cost by using slaves, that’s “benefiting from.”

JJ: And I think where the consumer comes in is at that point, because we’re not going to necessarily know what happens behind the scenes, in other countries, in the supply chain. And so folks are looking for the law, frankly, to protect them from being complicit in something like child slavery. It sounds like you’re saying the Supreme Court was not trying to avoid the question, but simply saying that, with the laws at hand, and with this particular case, they weren’t able to do what some folks might have wanted them to do.

WD: I think that there were some problems with the allegations in this case. The justices seem to feel that not enough facts had been alleged about involvement of Nestlé and Cargill. But there is a legal step, then, going forward, because of this other statute, and so one hopes that they will exert more pressure on their suppliers to shape up with respect to their labor practices.

I should stress also that litigation is not the only tool, and it’s probably not the most effective tool, for dealing with these kinds of problems. Many companies have adopted codes of conduct that apply not just to them, but also require certain conduct and certain standards of their suppliers in the supply chain.

It can sometimes be difficult for buyers to monitor their supply chains. I don’t think that’s true in this case. But establishing codes of conduct to prevent the violations from happening in the first place is a far better thing to do than letting the violations happen, and then seeking damages after the fact. We want child slavery to be a thing of the past. We don’t just want the plaintiffs in a case like this to be able to get damages.

JJ: Absolutely. Well, we’re going to end on that note. We’ve been speaking with William Dodge, professor at University of California/Davis School of Law. Thank you so much, Bill Dodge, for joining us this week on CounterSpin.

WD: Thank you very much.


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How Not to Cover Critical Race Theory


In USA Today‘s print edition (7/6/21), this op-ed was headlined, “Teaching Critical Race Theory Is Patriotic, Not Anti-American.”

After working the right up into a lather over Black Lives Matter (FAIR.org, 5/27/21), Fox News and its conservative media allies have turned white rage onto a more actionable target: critical race theory. Though the theory is a longstanding and specific academic lens for understanding systemic racism, the right has transformed it into a catchall for anything that encourages talking about and addressing racism.

It’s textbook backlash politics: Racist police violence sparked a movement demanding a re-examination of racism in America and systemic reform that might challenge white privilege, so the right launched its own movement to shut down conversations about race and white privilege in any and all institutional arenas, most prominently schools, government offices (including the military) and corporations, that could possibly make that happen.

It’s unsurprising that the right would turn the focus to white victimhood rather than anti-Black violence and discrimination. But mainstream corporate media have also given far too much space and legitimacy to the tactic. In June, 424 articles could be found in major US newspapers that mentioned “critical race theory,” according to a Nexis search–compared to four articles in August 2020, the month before the right-wing attack on critical race theory was rolled out on Tucker Carlson’s Fox News show (9/2/20).

A July 6 USA Today editorial page dedicated to the CRT “debate” exemplified the wrong way to cover the issue. The editorial board’s own opinion was accompanied by not one but two opposing views: For the left, it tapped Kevin Cokley (7/5/21), a professor of African studies at the University of Texas, whose subhead argued, “I Always Challenge My Students and Never Place Racial Guilt on Them.

USA Today (7/5/21) provided space to the critic who said he wanted to “recodify” critical race theory to “annex the entire range of cultural constructions that are unpopular with Americans.”

For the right, the paper invited Christopher Rufo (7/5/21), the right-wing provocateur (and Fox News regular) from the Manhattan Institute who invented the CRT-as-anything-conservatives-hate rallying cry. Rufo has explicitly stated that his

goal is to have the public read something crazy in the newspaper and immediately think “critical race theory.” We have decodified the term and will recodify it to annex the entire range of cultural constructions that are unpopular with Americans.

Rufo’s op-ed, “What I Discovered About Critical Race Theory in Public Schools and Why It Shouldn’t Be Taught,” carried the subhead: “State Legislatures Are Wise to Ban Schools From Promoting Race Essentialism, Collective Guilt and Racial Superiority Theory.”

Note the emphasis on white guilt in both subheads. The debate centers on whether CRT should be taught, but the question is hinged on whether white students might be made to feel any responsibility for historical and contemporary racism and white privilege—the implicit assumption being that they should not. It’s quite a victory for the right, which just a year earlier was uncomfortably forced to debate whether police are killing too many Black people.

The paper’s editorial board (7/5/21), for its part, staked out a “middle” ground: “Critical Race Theory Fear a Mix of the Predictable, the Outlandish and the Justified.” While some criticism is explicitly “justified,” at times critics have gone too far, it suggested: “Responding to all these concerns by policing classroom discussions about race with a state law is like using a shotgun to drive mosquitoes out of a bedroom.”

The mosquito simile suggests that existing culturally responsive curricula in schools aren’t exactly dangerous, but certainly annoying, and worth getting rid of—presumably with a flyswatter rather than a shotgun. The board prefers that “school board members, principals and teachers themselves” make curriculum decisions.

Of course, the right is working that angle, too, trying to take over school boards with activists, which would render USA Today‘s position even more untenable. This isn’t an issue that can be both-sidesed or depoliticized. Media need to treat it as it is: an attempt to shut down speech across institutions when power is being challenged.

Kimberlé Crenshaw (MSNBC, 7/6/21): “When we start dictating what can be taught, what can be said, and what is unsayable, we are well, well down the road towards an authoritarian regime.”

As Kimberlé Crenshaw, one of critical race theory’s earliest exponents, told MSNBC (7/6/21):

Understand what risk we all face if they are allowed to dictate what can be said, what can be taught, what can be learned, who can vote, and who can protest. This is a recurrence of redemption. All of these things are exactly what happened at the end of Reconstruction….

When we start dictating what can be taught, what can be said, and what is unsayable, we are well, well down the road towards an authoritarian regime. People keep asking, “Can it happen here?” If you look at Black history, it has happened here.

Racism will be the vehicle through which authoritarianism rises in this country. That’s what we’re seeing happening right now. And the only question is whether people who believe in this country, if they recognize that they have a dog in this fight. Only if people wake up and see that this implicates all of us can we have hope that this is not going to be a replay of redemption in the 19th century.

Crenshaw may have been talking about the public generally, but major media, with their key role in framing narratives and legitimizing political positions, are certainly implicated as well. Too many in the media came to realize too late the danger of covering Trump as just another politician (FAIR.org, 12/1/16); it is urgent they don’t make the same mistake again.

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‘That’s Lethal, Communities Completely Exposed to This Kind of Heat’


Janine Jackson interviewed Vivek Shandas about climate impacts for the July 2, 2021, episode of CounterSpin. This is a lightly edited transcript.

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New York Times (6/29/21)

Janine Jackson: If the event is a condominium collapse in Florida…a wildfire in California…a record-breaking heatwave in the Pacific Northwest, the story is climate change, and how poorly prepared we are societally to address it. Which makes it borderline surreal to read reports, like that in the June 29 New York Times, that describes oppressive heat in the Pacific Northwest as “buckling streets” and “driving up emergency room visits,” but takes care to tell readers early on that “tying a single heat wave to climate change requires extensive attribution analysis.” The group Media Matters notes that over the past weekend, broadcast and cable TV networks ran 35 segments on heat in the Pacific Northwest, only eight of which mentioned “climate.”

It isn’t that individual reports lie; it’s the failure of corporate media as a whole to take climate disruption as a given—a devastating given—and then to devote commensurate energy to actual plans to address it now. Which means decentering the voices of politicians and interested power players in favor of those doing the work—to mitigate the harms climate change is already inflicting, and to lead us, forcefully, away from the cliff. Every event is an opportunity for changing that conversation in a useful way.

We’re joined now by Vivek Shandas. He focuses on the implications of climate change on cities as a professor at Portland State University. He joins us now by phone from Portland. Welcome to CounterSpin, Vivek Shandas.

Vivek Shandas: Thank you, wonderful to be here.

JJ: Coverage and conversation about climate change often talks about “the planet,” or what’s going to happen to “all of us.” But we know that the impacts of climate disruption are not distributed equally, or equitably. I know that you do work about who suffers most when we have extreme weather events, like the current heatwave in the Pacific Northwest. Could you talk a little bit about that?

VS: Yeah, absolutely. Often what we’re hearing about climate change is this global phenomenon. And so I want to just start with that idea, in that we have now, going back to the 1950s—in fact, there were oil company scientists who were convinced in the 1950s that the emission of these massive amounts of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases would lead to a potential forcing of, and destabilizing of, the climate system as a whole. And that’s now over half a century, established science that’s been growing over time, and we had some real interest in this global phenomenon.

Where the conversation is increasingly going, and where we’re trying to move it, is to get it down into much more of an everyday experience, of something that communities need to be far more prepared for and far more safeguarded from—and that takes place at our local neighborhoods, at our streets, in our cities as a whole. And so, the conversation’s starting to move in that direction.

And while we’re talking about the increasing precision of the science that’s emerging, we’re also starting to see, at this very localized level, the pernicious effects of what happens when a climate and a planetary system does become dysfunctional, from what we’ve known from millennia in the past.

Part of what we’re seeing now is this ability to describe, in incredible detail, how an individual street, how a city block, how a neighborhood really feels some of these most acute effects of, for example, a heatwave that’s just come through my city of Portland, Oregon, and who are the people who are most affected by these heatwaves. And we’ve been able to chalk this up to a variety of different factors, namely factors that related to race-based planning and segregation efforts that took place almost a century ago, that are coming home to roost today. And that’s what we’re starting to see these disproportionate impacts around.

JJ: Let’s talk a little bit in detail about that, because I understand that you’ve been able to find actual temperature variations between neighborhoods, yeah?

VS: Right. So, generally, when we talk about the weather we see on the news or in newspapers or radio, we hear about the high that’s going to befall a city or a region, and sometimes we get a little bit of variation across cities within a metro region. So what that essentially does is it creates this kind of one temperature for an entire city. And what that also suggests is that Mother Nature is throwing this thing at us, and we really have no agency; we have nothing we can do about it.

Though, when we get into the specific measurements and descriptions of differences by neighborhood, we’re then able to see that the actions where we’ve taken in past planning and design can be directly attributable to the experiences that communities and infrastructure and ecosystems have at the local level. And so when we start seeing those differences, what that suddenly suggests is that we have some agency, we have some control over what our everyday experience is like when it comes to these heatwaves, flooding events, various forms of climate-induced impacts, as they fall upon our cities as a whole.

So what we’ve been able to find is that cities vary by upwards of 15, sometimes 20 degrees Fahrenheit. In fact, the heatwave that came through the Pacific Northwest, during the heatwave, I was really lucky and fortunate to have some very sensitive temperature and humidity measurements that I was able to go out and collect around the region, and found that while the news media were saying, you know, “It was 115 degrees on Sunday,” I was able to go out and actually clock neighborhoods at about 124 Fahrenheit with these sensitive thermometers.

I even went by a few houseless encampments that were along a busy street, and I was able to use a little infrared camera to take photos of various tents that were set up. And I could see silhouettes inside the tents, so I knew there were people inside. And I noticed that these tents were coming in at about 135 Fahrenheit.

JJ: Wow.

VS: And that’s lethal, when you’re talking about communities that are completely exposed to this kind of heat coming through, and very limited preparation or outreach that I noticed was happening in and around the region.

JJ: Right. And so you’re talking about things like, “Hey, if you’re in an affluent neighborhood, you probably have more trees.” And that is a material difference in terms of how you’re going to experience a heatwave.

Vivek Shandas: “Wealthier communities have been designed to have more trees, because of a variety of racial covenants and redlining policies.”

VS: Yes, trees are often the first go-to, because they are incredibly efficient in their ability to draw water up from the deep soil and transpire it out their leaves, change the humidity around the local environment, provide that shade—all of these things help cool that local environment. And, yes, wealthier communities have been designed to have more trees, because of a variety of racial covenants and redlining policies that were promulgated 80 to 100 years ago that still maintain their fingerprint, or their kind of echo, today.

And so what we’re seeing is that these trees directly do help, though what we’re also seeing is that the amount of space for being able to get trees into the ground is much larger in wealthier, often whiter neighborhoods—meaning racially whiter neighborhoods—of cities. Whereas lower-income communities of color, often Black, Latino, Indigenous communities living in cities, due to historic segregation policies, are living in places that have far less space for trees, let alone all the other potential factors that lead to the amplification of heatwaves.

JJ: We know that public policy relies on public opinion, and opinion relies on experience. So there’s a real relationship between thinking, “Well, that heatwave was bad, but it wasn’t so bad for me,” or “Well, I don’t live on a coastline,” or whatever.

And, also, people have things on their mind; they may have lost their job, their kid might be sick. How do we work on engaging people in an incredible problem that might still be abstract for them, based on this just differential impact?

VS: It’s interesting, specifically in the Pacific Northwest, where a lot of the houses—even middle-income, higher-income homes—don’t have a history of having air conditioning. And so, what’s particularly noticeable for me in this particular event of a 115+ degree heatwave coming through, is that there were a number of people who often don’t step up and show up for those conversations about inequity, actually coming up and saying, “Hey, this is really hot; we are not well-prepared.” And I was hearing a lot of that over the last few days in the Pacific Northwest.

Though, to get to your point more directly: I think the idea of public opinion of folks who may not be necessarily directly engaged with the conversation, one of the most important parts of this is, for us, showing evidence about what is it that’s happening in and around a region. We have been very ambitious in going out and engaging communities that are often at the frontline of the heatwaves—those who are working outside—working through community-based organizations, to go out and collect evidence around “What are we seeing?” Often, this is the invisible side of things; we don’t see the differential effects because we are not directly experiencing, though I am able to show you that your block, which is just a couple of blocks away from another neighborhood, is actually 15 degrees cooler, in terms of temperature, than just a walk’s distance away.

And so, when we can start describing these differences in what the experience is, we can start to really have conversations about why those patterns exist, what may have led to them. And, ultimately, engaging in those conversations could lead to actions that would allow communities to then change public opinion about where we prioritize resources, how we center historically marginalized communities in reducing the impacts of heatwaves, which, as we know, kill more people than all other natural disasters. And so that’s something that we really ground ourselves in, is this evidence and descriptions of what is happening just outside of our houses, within our neighborhoods, and across our whole city.

JJ: We’ve been speaking with Vivek Shandas, professor at Portland State University. Vivek Shandas, thank you so much for joining us this week on CounterSpin.

VS: Sure, my pleasure. Thanks for your interest in this topic.

The post ‘That’s Lethal, Communities Completely Exposed to This Kind of Heat’ appeared first on FAIR.

‘We Have Seen the Deepening of the Anti-Democratic, Anti-Protest Legislative Trend’


Janine Jackson interviewed Vera Eidelman about Fourth of July freedoms for the July 2, 2021, episode of CounterSpin. This is a lightly edited transcript.

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USA Today (7/1/20)

Janine Jackson: As US citizens celebrate the Fourth of July, many will be thinking about the best way to grill a vegan hot dog. But many will also be thinking about what the “freedoms” we tell ourselves define this country and its project actually mean in 2021.

If you think the answers are to be found in history, you might be missing the point. The US is engaged in radical (“to the root”) debate right now about what democracy means, what civil liberties mean, and what kind of society we want to live in. We’re in history right now; this is what it looks like.

So what are the front-burner issues in terms of free speech, rights of assembly, the right to protest—to disrupt business as usual, which we know is central to making actual change?

Our next guest thinks about these questions every day. Vera Eidelman is staff attorney with the ACLU’s Speech, Privacy and Technology Project. She joins us now by phone. Welcome to CounterSpin, Vera Eidelman.

Vera Eidelman: Thank you so much for having me.

Supreme Court Building (photo: Daderot/Wikimedia)

JJ: I wanted to talk, first, about B.L. v. Mahanoy Area School District. I know that many listeners haven’t heard anything about this case, but it really gets at: When do you lose your right to free speech or free expression? Can you talk a little bit about what was at stake in that case, and your response to the Court’s ruling?

VE: Absolutely. So Mahanoy Area School District v. B.L. was the most important case about young people’s free speech rights in the last 50 or so years. The issue at stake in that case was a school’s authority to discipline a student for what they said or expressed outside of school hours, off of school property, that was not harassing or threatening in any way.

Our client in that case, “B.L.,” was, when the case began, a 14-year-old who had tried out for the varsity cheerleading team at her public school. She unfortunately didn’t make it onto varsity, and was very upset. And she took to Snapchat, on a weekend, at a local convenience store, with her friends, not wearing anything that reflected the school, not mentioning the school or anyone at the school by name; instead typing, “f school, f softball, f cheer, f everything” on top of a photograph of her and her friend raising their middle fingers. (They did not say “f”; they used the actual word, just for clarity.)

JJ: Right.

VE: And the school suspended her from the cheerleading squad for the entire year.

And the ACLU of Pennsylvania took up her case, arguing that the school could not discipline her under the diminished rules that attach to student speech rights inside of the school environment, given that she was out of school, speaking her mind on the weekend, online.

And the Supreme Court ultimately agreed with us, holding that the school cannot apply the same diminished rule that attaches inside of school outside of school. Because otherwise, students would be carrying the schoolhouse on their back 24 hours a day, seven days a week, unable to ever fully explore their views, unable to fully express themselves, for fear of always worrying that they might be deemed “disruptive,” which is the standard that typically applies in schools.

And the court also recognized that the school itself actually has an interest in enabling students to engage in dissenting and unpopular speech—recognizing, of course, that what that means in any particular school district will vary by the reality of that school district—because the school really is, in the words of Justice Breyer, a “nursery for democracy,” and one of the goals of the school should be to teach kids what it means to have free speech rights.

JJ: And as a parent with an activist child, I hear that word “disruptive,” and it just sets something off, because obviously that is a contextual term, as you’ve just described. But that sounds a little worrisome, just on its face, at the level of language, to make that the standard.

VE: Absolutely. That was the main thing that we were very worried about in this case, that the school might win in arguing that it can apply that very subjective viewpoint-based standard outside of the school.

JJ: So, OK: Schools are nurseries to help kids develop their voice, and to learn that they are allowed to use their voice, and in terms of using it meaningfully, in terms of changing things. So then those young people become adults, and they want to go out in the street to use their voice. So now we’re at my second question, which is: This spate, not new but increasing, of anti-protest legislation. Can you just talk about the range of laws that we’re seeing spring up, and what they are doing or trying to do?

Vera Eidelman: “Some of these laws seek to really punish, not unlawful conduct, but association: the fact that people are in the same place at the same time.”

VE: Yes, unfortunately, we have, as you mentioned, seen the continuation and deepening of the anti-democratic, anti-protest legislative trend around the country. For at least the last five years now, we have seen legislators respond to vocal, powerful, full-throated advocacy, not by listening to what their constituents are saying, but instead by seeking to create new laws that would silence them.

Examples of the types of laws range from increasing penalties on laws that already make something criminal —so, for example, laws that already criminalize trespass, or refusal to disperse, or failure to obey an officer; all of those things are already illegal, and these laws would seek to increase the penalties that attach. In some cases, the bills seek to increase the penalties, not just in terms of criminal time, which of course is incredibly impactful, but also in terms of restricting people’s access to public employment, to public office and even to public benefits; things like access to scholarships for school, food stamps and the like.

In addition, some of these laws seek to really punish, not unlawful conduct, but association: the fact that people are in the same place at the same time. A number of the bills that have been proposed—including some even that have passed, for example, in Florida—are incredibly ambiguous as to whether they punish an individual who has themselves engaged in violence or property destruction, for example, or every other person around when that occurs, regardless of whether they were involved, regardless of what they themselves think of that conduct. So we’re really seeing a lot of bills, and even a few bills that have become law, that seek to criminalize association, criminalize the act of gathering together to make our voices heard.

JJ: I think if I could pick out one thing, the idea of laws that say it’s OK to hit protesters with your car. I just think that even for folks who, you know, may have complicated feelings, that’s just mind-blowing. What’s going on with that?

VE: I completely agree. And I think it’s particularly mind-blowing, given that these aren’t just hypotheticals. We know that Heather Heyer died in Charlottesville as a result of someone hitting her with his car; we’ve also seen many other protesters injured at protests by cars. And so I think it is a particularly perverse legislative trend that we are seeing. And a clear message that it sends to people who are thinking of joining with others and going out onto the streets is, “You better think twice, because you might get hit by a car—and if you are, you might have no recourse.”

JJ: Exactly, exactly.

NPR (4/30/21)

Let me ask you, finally, about media, because I often have noticed that, broadly speaking, corporate media love people speaking up, until they’re an organized group and they’re speaking up in the street, and then somehow they move from being individuals with a voice, to “interested” activists, and it’s somehow different. It’s like, “Protest is great, but keep it quiet.”

And I see NPR, which has done all kinds of favorable coverage, but then I see this headline, “Wave of ‘Anti-Protest’ Bills…”—and “anti-protest” is in quotes, like maybe it’s not true—”Wave of ‘Anti-Protest’ Bills Could Threaten First Amendment.” Well, could and threaten; now we’re at two degrees of separation. And I just wonder if media are bringing home the threat that’s happening here.

So that’s just me, but I would like to ask you: What would you like to see more of, maybe, from reporters, or maybe less of, in terms of coverage of this legislation, coverage of the protests, and coverage of the real fight that we’re in right now?

VE: That’s an interesting question. I do think that one thing to keep in mind is that this really is an anti-democratic trend.

JJ: Right.

VE: I think there are ways in which it will not be surprising to see who these laws get applied against. But at the same time, at their core, they are taking aim at, where you started, one of our fundamental American rights: the right to protest. And that applies regardless of the message that is being expressed.

And I think it’s important to keep in mind that this is legislation that will impact people, regardless of what they’re expressing, simply because they are seeking to do what is so deeply American: to join together, and speak out together, and be in the same place with other people who they want to associate with. And I think that that is the thing that legislators should really be ashamed for doing: the idea that they are trying to stop people from exercising one of their fundamental rights.

JJ: We’ve been speaking with Vera Eidelman, she’s staff attorney with the ACLU’s Speech, Privacy and Technology Project. They are online at ACLU.org. Vera Eidelman, thank you so much for joining us this week on CounterSpin.

VE: Thank you very much for having me.

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William Dodge on Nestle Slave Labor, Michael Ratner on Donald Rumsfeld

Child chocolate worker in the Ivory Coast (Fortune, 3/1/16) (photo: Benjamin Lowy)

This week on CounterSpin: Nestle CEO Mark Schneider told investors in February that “2020 was a year of hardship for so many,” yet he was “inspired by the way it has brought all of us closer together.” And also by an “improvement” in Nestle’s “profitability and return on invested capital.” “The global pandemic,” Schneider said, “did not slow us down.”

You know what else didn’t slow them down? Ample evidence that their profitability relies on a supply chain that includes literal slave labor in the Ivory Coast.  The US Supreme Court recently heard Nestle USA v. Doe, a long-running case that seemed to get at how much responsibility corporations have for international human rights violations, but in the end may have taught us more about what legal tools are useful in getting to that accountability. We got some clarity on the case from William Dodge, professor at University of California/Davis School of Law.

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AP (6/30/21)

Also on the show: Donald Rumsfeld launched wars of aggression in Afghanistan and Iraq that killed hundreds of thousands of people, and approved torture at Guantánamo Bay and Abu Ghraib. But to hear elite media tell it, the former Defense secretary should be remembered as “complex and paradoxical.” The New York Times described his arrival in Washington as “like an All-American who had stepped off the Wheaties box,” and AP suggested that all those dead Iraqis were mainly a thorn in Rumsfeld’s side, with the headline, “Donald Rumsfeld, a Cunning Leader Undermined by the Iraq War.” Obituaries noted that Rumsfeld expressed no regrets about his decisions; media appear to have none of their own.

CounterSpin talked about Rumsfeld’s media treatment back in 2008 with the Center for Constitutional Rights’ Michael Ratner, whose book The Trial of Donald Rumsfeld had just come out from the New Press. We’ll hear that conversation on today’s show.

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Plus Janine Jackson takes a quick look at recent press coverage of the New Cold War.

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