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Updated: 1 hour 44 min ago

‘Israel-Hamas War’ Label Obscures Israel’s War on Palestinians

December 8, 2023 - 6:53pm


Since October 7, the day the escalation in Israel/Palestine began (FAIR.org, 10/13/23), American media outlets have persistently described the fighting as an “Israel-Hamas war.” From October 7 through midday on December 1, the New York Times, Wall Street Journal and Washington Post have combined to run 565 pieces that use the phrase “Israel-Hamas war.”

This paradigm has been a dominant way of covering the violence, even though Israel has been clear from the start that its assault has not been narrowly aimed at Hamas. At the outset of the Israeli onslaught, Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant (Times of Israel, 10/9/23) said: “I have ordered a complete siege on the Gaza Strip. There will be no electricity, no food, no fuel, everything is closed.” Oxfam later said that such restrictions on Palestinians’ ability to eat—which left 2.2 million people “in urgent need of food”—mean that Israel is deploying a policy wherein “starvation is being used as a weapon of war against Gaza civilians.”

A day later, Israeli military spokesperson Adm. Daniel Hagari (Guardian, 10/10/23) said that “hundreds of tons of bombs” had already been dropped on the Gaza Strip, and admitted that “the emphasis is on damage and not on accuracy.”

The New York Times‘ label (12/2/23) encourages readers to view Israel’s attacks on a population as really being aimed at a distinct group.

The indiscriminate nature of Israel’s assault is clear. The United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs reported on November 24 that “over 1.7 million people in Gaza, or nearly 80% of the population, are estimated to be internally displaced.” On November 25, the Swiss-based Euro-Mediterranean Human Rights Monitor reported that Israel had killed 20,031 Palestinians in Gaza, 18,460 of whom (or 92%) were civilians, since October 7.

Thus, while Israel has openly acknowledged that it is carrying out indiscriminate violence against Palestinians, US media outlets do Israel the favor of presenting its campaign as if it were only aimed at combatants. “Israel-Gaza war” comes closer to capturing the reality that Israel’s offensive is effectively against everyone living in Gaza. Yet “Israel-Gaza war” appears in 265 pieces in the three papers, exactly 300 fewer than the obfuscatory “Israel-Hamas war.”

Consider also the Euro-Mediterranean Human Rights Monitor finding that Israel has slaughtered 8,176 children. If 41% of all the Palestinians Israel has killed in the first seven weeks of its rampage have been children, and 8% have been combatants, then it is less an “Israel-Hamas war” than an Israeli war on Palestinian children.

Characterizing what has happened since October 7 as an “Israel-Hamas war” fails to adequately capture the scope and the character of Israel’s violence. Describing the bloodbath in Palestine this way obscures that grave violence is being visited upon virtually all Palestinians, whatever their political allegiances and whatever their relation to the fighting.

Cognitive dissonance


Contrary to the implication of NBC‘s headline (12/2/23), the divide in Hollywood is not between supporters of Israel and Hamas, but over the issue of Palestinian human rights.

Corporate media have often stuck to the “Israel-Hamas war” approach even when the information the outlets are reporting shows how inadequate it is to conceive of Israel’s attacks in that way. For instance, the New York Times (10/20/23) ran a story about Israel ordering 1.2 million Gaza residents to evacuate their homes, and still classified the evacuation as part of the “Israel-Hamas war.” The Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigades, Hamas’ armed wing, is estimated to have 30,000–40,000 fighters (Axios, 10/21/23).

The Wall Street Journal published a short piece (11/6/23) that noted:

The United Nations said that the Israel-Hamas war has killed the highest number of UN workers in any single conflict. The UN said that over 88 workers in its Relief and Works Agency [UNRWA], the largest humanitarian organization in the Gaza Strip, have been killed since October 7.

But UNRWA did not itself use the “Israel-Hamas war” narrative in the report to which the Journal referred, instead opting for “escalation in the Gaza Strip.” Indeed, Israel killing UN workers at a rate of almost three each day would seem to fall outside the bounds of an “Israel-Hamas war,” but that’s how the paper categorizes the violence. (“Israel’s war on the UN” falls well outside the bounds of the ideologically permissible in the corporate media.)

A Washington Post article (11/7/23) titled “Israel’s War in Gaza and the Specter of ‘Genocide'” quoted several experts and political leaders making a credible case that, in the words of Craig Mokhiber, former director of the United Nations’ New York office on human rights, “the term ‘genocide’ needs to be applied” to what Israel is doing in Gaza.

Nevertheless, the article’s author, Ishaan Tharoor, attributed such statements to “critics of Israel’s offensive against the Islamist group Hamas,” and described the violence as “Israel’s overwhelming campaign against Hamas.” Genocide as defined by the UN requires “the intent to destroy a national, ethnic, racial or religious group, in whole or in part.” So saying that Israel’s attacks are directed “against Hamas” twice in an article pointing to authorities on genocide invoking the term with reference to Israel’s actions in Gaza ought to generate cognitive dissonance.

Violence on the West Bank

In the first two weeks of fighting, the BBC (10/22/23) reported, Israel killed 89 Palestinians on the West Bank.

Another problem with classifying the bloodshed of the last seven weeks as an “Israel-Hamas war” is that Israel has also enacted brutal violence and repression on the West Bank, which is governed by  the Palestinian Authority, Hamas’ arch rivals; Hamas is mostly confined to Gaza (Electronic Intifada, 10/28/23).

Between October 7 and November 26, Israeli forces killed 222 Palestinians in the West Bank, and Israel’s government-backed settlers killed eight more. In that period, Israel has also repeatedly carried out airstrikes in the West Bank, hitting such targets as the Balata refugee camp (Reuters, 11/18/23) and a mosque in the Jenin refugee camp (BBC, 10/22/23).

Israel has also arrested hundreds of West Bank Palestinians since October 7 (AP, 11/26/23) and attacked a hospital in Jenin, shooting a paramedic while they were inside an ambulance and using military vehicles to block ambulances from entering hospitals.

It would therefore make more sense to speak of an “Israel-Palestine war” than an “Israel-Hamas war,” but the former has been used in just two articles in my dataset.

What the media presents as a war between Israel and an armed Palestinian resistance group is in reality an Israeli war on Palestinians’ physical survival, on their food and clean water supplies, on their homes, healthcare, schools, children and places of worship—a war, in other words, on the Palestinians as a people.

The post ‘Israel-Hamas War’ Label Obscures Israel’s War on Palestinians appeared first on FAIR.

‘The Reality of What It Is to Have an Abortion Has to Be Brought Into Every Story’

December 8, 2023 - 1:45pm

CounterSpin interview with Melissa Gira Grant on abortion access

Janine Jackson interviewed the New Republic‘s Melissa Gira Grant about abortion access and politics for the December 1, 2023, episode of CounterSpin. This is a lightly edited transcript.

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Janine Jackson: The Supreme Court’s overturning of Roe v. Wade has generated well-grounded fear and confusion: states ginning up their own specific laws and attempting to extend them to other states, politicians and pundits attempting to shift opinion through rhetoric—it’s not a “ban,” it’s a “standard.” And what about “abortion tourism”?

Abortion, Every Day (6/29/23)

Combined with horrific emerging stories of women being forced to labor through dangerous complications, it adds up to an unclear but clearly disturbing situation—and to a crying need for reporting with an overt fealty to human rights, rather than a lazy and cowardly both-sidesing of a shifting terrain.

Melissa Gira Grant is a staff writer at the New Republic and the author of Playing the Whore: The Work of Sex Work, from Verso, and of A Woman Is Against the Law: Sex, Race and the Limits of Justice in America, which is forthcoming from Little, Brown. She’s co-director of the film They Won’t Call It Murder, about police murders in Columbus, Ohio, from Field of Vision. And she joins us now by phone from Brooklyn. Welcome to CounterSpin, Melissa Gira Grant.

Melissa Gira Grant: Thank you so much for having me.

JJ: I would like to start by situating a story that some listeners will have heard, about a case in Idaho where the mother of a 15-year-old accused the girl’s boyfriend and his mother of taking the girl across state lines to obtain an abortion. Folks may have heard that prosecutors applied trafficking laws here, but that wasn’t quite right.

But it isn’t that some legislators aren’t trying to criminalize interstate travel for abortions, so we don’t want to miss the forest for the trees. Would you tease out, to the extent that you think it’s meaningful, the bit here about some initial misreporting from the reality of the problem that folks are worrying about?

Melissa Gira Grant: “The story of the post-Roe world is a very fractured story. There’s no single story.” (photo: Noah Kalina)

MGG: Sure. I think it starts with just a real sense of urgency, a legitimate sense of urgency. After years, particularly in feminist media, and for folks who’ve been covering abortion rights for a long time, journalists have been hearing from other journalists that, like, “Roe’s not going anywhere, don’t you worry,” this patronizing thing. And isn’t it sad that now we’re in this moment?

And people who have that expertise are having to deal with this whole national terrain of stories, different things happening in different states to different people. The story of the post-Roe world is a very fractured story. There’s no single story.

But the biggest fear, I think, is that after the Dobbs decision came down in 2022, there would be an increase in the criminal punishment of people seeking abortions, people having abortions, and people helping people have abortions.

And that’s what it looks like is going on in this story in Idaho. It looks like when a mother initiated this criminal investigation into her daughter’s boyfriend and the boyfriend’s mother, it seems like what was seen as a problem was not just that they had had a relationship when she was underage, or that she had run away, or something like that; there’s definitely some of that in the background. The problem that’s identified is they took her across state lines for an abortion.

What makes this unique is that the state in which this happened, Idaho, was the first state after Dobbs to pass a law, creating this crime that never existed before, of abortion trafficking. And it simply means going across state lines to have an abortion. Idaho is almost a zero-access state, but nearby, in Washington and Oregon, you do have the possibility of accessing surgical abortion.

So that sets the stage here, I think, for a lot of confusion, because this girl’s boyfriend and [his] mother, while it looks like they were criminalized for the act of taking her across state lines for an abortion—or simply being the people who, at her request, took her across state lines for an abortion; it’s not entirely clear—they didn’t use the abortion trafficking law against them. They used an existing statute on kidnapping, but mentioned abortion in the news stories that came out about the case.

And so it was very easy for people to say: This is the first use of this law, it’s happening. This thing we were really scared about is happening.

But the reality was a lot more complicated. And we still don’t know all of the facts, but I understand the need to urgently let people know, when the criminalization of abortion is ramping up at the speed that it is.

It’s not the speed of journalism. Journalism needs to be a lot more slow and deliberate than the speed of a criminal punishment system attacking people for having an abortion.

JJ: What we don’t want to be lost, it’s not that there’s no reason to fear prosecutors and politicians using laws and charges that maybe don’t specifically mention abortion, but that still are used to criminalize access to abortion. And you’ve written about that a lot. So it is a larger story, it’s not just an anecdote, it’s a real story about the use of laws, including the Mann Act, which a lot of people will think is a blast from the past, to criminalize abortion access?

New Republic (5/5/22)

MGG: Yeah, this has been going on, even when we had the protections of Roe, you would find examples—groups like Pregnancy Justice and If/When/How, reproductive justice lawyers have done extensive research, going back 20 years or so, looking at how people have been prosecuted for their own abortion, even though abortion was legal where they had that abortion.

And there’s lots of charges that can be weaponized in this way, charges related to disposal of fetal remains, for example, in several cases. One that I wrote about, in Georgia in 2015, involved a woman who had taken misoprostol, an abortion-inducing drug. When she went to the hospital seeking care, they reported her, and the police arrested her out of her bed, and charged her with malice murder of the fetus.

She was also charged with using drugs while pregnant. And that’s another common charge that we see, you know, people trying to find ways to punish people for having an abortion, even though, by the letter of the law, they’re not supposed to be able to do that.

And I think, because this is such a complicated question—there’s no one law that’s being used, right? You can’t just look for everybody who’s been charged with “this” crime. It involves getting into this much more political and nuanced story about what prosecutors do with the law, what they think they can get away with, and that’s different in different places.

In the Idaho example that we began with, that prosecutor now is out in the press saying, “Oh no, this has nothing to do with the abortion. The abortion has nothing to do with the case.” Who knows if that’s true or not, but it is good for people to know that this incident didn’t need the abortion trafficking law to result in criminal punishment for this abortion. And I think that’s a nuance that just isn’t coming across in most reporting.

Certainly people who cover the criminal legal system a lot see that all the time. But because that kind of reporting and reporting on abortion are often siloed from one another, we aren’t learning across issues of what it is to deal with a prosecutor in a politicized case, and what power they have with the law that exceeds what many of us might think the law could actually do to us.

JJ: Absolutely. And you noted it as one of many things calling for an “appreciation of the power of storytelling,” of the way that we present these issues to people. And you make a point that we’ve talked about on CounterSpin, which is, if you just read newspapers, you might think of abortion as, like, there’s two sides. It’s an “issue.” We’re going to see who “wins.” And the reality is so much more complicated.

And, in fact, reproductive rights advocates and providers have never believed that Roe was enough to truly protect all people’s ability to access abortion. I mean, the Hyde Amendment itself would tell you that. But they also didn’t think the overturning of Roe was going to shut down all of their work. But the main idea presented by a lot of politicians, and by corporate media, is that abortion comes down to electoral politics or Supreme Court rulings. And that’s just always been misleading, hasn’t it, about where this actual fight is?

MGG: It really says something about mainstream political media’s value of the lives of women, or anyone who has an abortion, how reproductive rights are seen within the broader context of politics in the United States, that this has truly been treated as a separate, special issue that doesn’t have very much to do with people who actually need abortions; it’s mostly about voters, right? Or it’s about the Supreme Court, and what voters think about what’s going to happen at the Supreme Court. It’s about something transactional that has nothing to do with the actual abortion itself.

Maybe that’s because there’s still places in media where there’s a reluctance to even say the word “abortion.” We have a president who’s reluctant to say the word “abortion.” So the reality of what it is to even have an abortion, what that entails, is something that has to be consciously brought into every story about this.

YouTube (7/19/22)

One of the people that I really admire, in how she does this, is Renee Bracey Sherman, who is the co-executive director of a group called We Testify that does abortion storytelling work. That’s how they do their advocacy. And when she testified in Congress earlier this year—or may have been the end of last year, I’m not 100% sure, but sometime since the Dobbs decision came down—in her testimony, she actually verbally gave the instructions for how to use medication for an abortion, how to use misoprostol and mifepristone. So that’s in the congressional record now; that’s on C-SPAN. That is information that could be considered against the law to share in some states. The degree to which information is powerful here, I think isn’t quite fully appreciated.

And what that also means is that every story kind of feels like people are reinventing the wheel, particularly in mainstream outlets. There has been incredible reporting from outlets like Rewire, formerly RH Reality Check; from outlets like Bitch, which is no longer; outlets like Jezebel, which we’ll see—I think they just got revived today, maybe.

There’s been incredible reporting under the umbrella of “women’s media” that has gotten to this nuance, and that was really marginalized right up until the moment Roe was a big story in 2022. Or whenever there’s an election, and abortion becomes a story for five minutes.

So the information is out there; it just needs to become part of the practice, particularly in legacy media, and to realize that this is a story that has implications for people in their day-to-day lives, not just every four years, or when a Supreme Court seat opens up.

Rome News-Tribune (11/16/23)

JJ: Exactly. And I’m just following on from that to say how galled I am by pieces like—OK, this one’s from Steven Roberts. But still, it’s reflective of, I think, a pervasive kind of Beltway media attitude, and it’s a syndicated column, the headline’s “Why the Abortion Issue Matters.”

All right, so already I read “issue,” so I know that my human rights are, first and foremost, a political football, like an “issue” to be considered. And then in the same breath, there’s the idea that somebody needs to have it explained why it matters. Somebody doesn’t understand why it’s important. But then he goes on to explain that why it matters has to do with what’s damaging to Joe Biden, and whether Trump might be able to finesse a new line on abortion.

But I guess what maybe bothered me most was that Steve Roberts says that polls show US public opinion is clear and it’s unchanged. Americans want legal abortion, they want access to abortion. And he then says that, since Roe, “abortion remained an abstraction to proabortion rights voters. Their rights were protected and their attitude was complacent.”

Now, I don’t doubt that Steven Roberts had a lot of cocktail parties with some complacent white women. But reporting is not supposed to be, as my mother-in-law used to say, something that happens to or near an editor. You’re supposed to seek out the views of the people who are affected by the things that you’re talking about. And reproductive justice, of course, extends beyond the right to abortion: the right to have a pregnancy, and a child, in a safe, healthy environment.

It just seems like reporting about abortion has so much to do with who they talk to or who they listen to, and that defines their understanding of what the meaning of access to this right means.

And I guess I just want to say, you’re a reporter. What would you like to see more or less of in this coverage?

MGG: One thing that’s maddening about that kind of coverage is it feels like, at its best, when somebody who has that kind of perspective does decide to actually reach outside their small network of friendly sources, and maybe try to contact somebody who works in a clinic, or is a provider, or is involved in some direct way with the provision of abortion, they tend to not treat those people with a lot of respect.

This comes down to who they listen to and who they believe. The best reporting on abortion comes from people who are not treating their sources like a pump that they can just hit at will and get what they need out of them.

The stories I was hearing from people who work in clinics, leading up to Dobbs and immediately after—hearing from reporters they had never heard from before, reporters who wanted to come by in two hours and talk to someone who just had an abortion. I mean, just outrageous stuff that I can absolutely hear an editor telling them, like, “Oh, that would be a great idea.” But it is your job to push back and say, “I don’t know. I think that maybe a better time to interview someone about their personal experience of abortion isn’t an hour after they’ve had one when it might be illegal.”

There hasn’t been a full appreciation of how people’s ability to speak out about this is going to be shaped by who is worried about the legal consequences of abortion. We are disproportionately probably going to see people in states that have legal abortion access, people who might not fully appreciate the criminal risks that they’re having abortions under, which does include a lot of those white cocktail party women, wherever they live.

It’s a lot, I understand, to ask of the way that news, particularly political news that treats abortion as just an issue that we return to when it’s time to talk about elections or what voters want, but that kind of reporting feels so unnecessary and so out of pace with where we’re at right now.

We need stories about this gap between the rhetoric of politicians, in places like Texas and Montana, about valuing mothers, showing that that’s not actually playing out in the lives of people in those states, who are having huge maternal mortality rates, who aren’t able to get access to childcare, all of these women that they say they’re going to support because they’re taking abortion away from them, but “don’t worry, we’ll support you when you’re pregnant and parenting.”

That support is not showing up. It was never that great before this moment, and it’s not great now.

And those are the people that need more scrutiny. Those are the people who should be held to account. There’s so many attorneys general, there are so many Republican lawmakers, there are so many judges, oh my God, there’s some incredible judges with really consequential abortion cases in front of them right now.

New Republic (9/27/23)

My favorite/least favorite is Judge Matthew Kacsmaryk. He’s in Amarillo, Texas. He gets a lot of cases from the right, because he takes 98 to 99 percent of cases that come to his court. So if you are a conservative who wants a favorable ruling, this is your guy.

And he has a case before him right now that could result in mifepristone being essentially delisted from the FDA’s approved drug listings, which would mean that it would be much more difficult to get, and there would be legal pathways to it that would be cut off.

Where is the scrutiny on him? I feel like the frame maybe has to be shifted around now: The story of abortion is about the story of people who are creating harm in the lives of people who now have to fight that much harder to access abortion.

I think that’s the other thing that’s been lost. Abortions haven’t changed. I mean, there are people who have not been able to have abortions as a result of this, but abortions haven’t stopped. They’ve just become less accessible. And I feel like that nuance is also often lost.

It’s, again, this binary of pro-choice or anti-abortion, or however it gets bracketed out. But the reality is, no matter what people’s politics of abortion might be, they’re going to need an abortion, or they know someone who needs an abortion, or has had an abortion. And access is really the much more critical question than politics.

JJ: And I also feel that in your reporting, you’ve worked out or explored the intersectional aspect and the historical aspect that is outside of the frame of the way that a lot of corporate news media are coming to this as, “It’s an electoral politics issue of 2024,” when in fact it’s a deep issue. You’ve connected attacks on women’s reproductive rights to attacks on trans people. There’s a bigger picture going on here, and, just finally, there’s a need for journalism right now.

MGG: Yeah, I think it’s—I’m trying to think of how I could possibly sum that up.

JJ: Please. I don’t know. That’s why I asked you.

New Republic (4/12/23)

MGG: In terms of the history, I love bringing that into my work. I know that that’s certainly not something that everybody can do in their own journalism, but set me up to write about the Comstock Act of 1873, and I will go to town, and I will find a way to bring that into reporting on what’s going on in the present.

JJ: Because it’s meaningful, right? If you’re trying to explain to people how we got to where we are, I don’t feel like history is outside of reporting. You’re trying to tell people how we got to where we are, and that’s crucial.

MGG: And it leaves avenues open to opponents of abortion when those aren’t under scrutiny. One of the reasons I’m writing about the Comstock Act right now is there’s this  legal theory emerging on the right, and among anti-abortion groups, that we already have a national abortion ban in the Comstock Act of 1873, which was never fully taken off the books, and did criminalize using the mail system to mail any instrument that could cause an abortion.

And so they’re testing this out now in places like district courts in Texas. They’re trying to build something that would create precedent, or get it in front of the Supreme Court again, that essentially says we already have this national prohibition on abortion.

That is not getting the coverage—outside of a couple of legal experts who focus on abortion reproductive rights—that it needs. Because it’s complicated; I get it. But I just can see a story like that, in a year, people describing it as like “the law that no one saw coming.” So we could see it coming if we wanted to.

JJ: I’m going to end right there. We’ve been speaking with Melissa Gira Grant. You can find her work, primarily at the New Republic, online at TNR.com. Melissa Gira Grant, thank you so much for joining us this week on CounterSpin.

MGG: Thanks for having me.



The post ‘The Reality of What It Is to Have an Abortion Has to Be Brought Into Every Story’ appeared first on FAIR.

Sonya Meyerson-Knox on Jewish Voice for Peace

December 8, 2023 - 10:36am
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(CC image: Jewish Voice for Peace)

This week on CounterSpin: As we record on December 7, the news from Gaza continues horrific: The Washington Post is reporting, citing Gaza Health Ministry reports, that Israel’s continued assault throughout the region has killed at least 350 people in the past 24 hours, which brings the death toll of the Israeli military campaign, launched after the October 7 attack by Hamas that killed a reported 1,200 people, to more than 17,000.

In this country, Columbia University has suspended two student groups protesting in support of Palestinian human rights and human beings, though the official message couldn’t specify which policies, exactly, had been violated.

There are many important and terrible things happening in the world right now—from fossil fuel companies working to undo any democratic restraints on their ability to profit from planetary destruction; to drugmakers who’ve devastated the lives of millions using the legal system to say money, actually, can substitute for accountability; to an upcoming election that is almost too much to think about, and the Beltway press corps acting like it’s just another day.

But the devastation of Gaza and the vehement efforts to silence anyone who wants to challenge it—and the failure of those efforts, as people nevertheless keep speaking up, keep protesting—is the story for today.

Sonya Meyerson-Knox is communications director of Jewish Voice for Peace. We talk with her this week on CounterSpin.

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Plus Janine Jackson takes a quick look at recent coverage of climate change.

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The post Sonya Meyerson-Knox on Jewish Voice for Peace appeared first on FAIR.

Corporate Media Reluctant to Report on UAW Victory From Workers’ Perspective

December 7, 2023 - 5:24pm


After a historic six weeks on strike, United Auto Workers members ratified new contracts with Ford, General Motors and Stellantis (which owns Dodge/Chrysler). Workers are set to receive 25% raises over the life of their contract, cost-of-living allowances tied to inflation, the right to strike over plant closures, and more benefits in their new contract.

But outlets like the Wall Street Journal (10/30/23), New York Times (11/9/23) and Bloomberg (11/9/23), still struggling to report on labor from a workers’ perspective (see FAIR.org, 9/26/23), instead focused on the economy at large or predictive reporting. Throughout the strike, media seemed interested in any story—how the union will wreck the economy, Musk’s potential countermoves, why the EV transition is doomed—that didn’t focus on bread-and-butter gains for union members.

Unions vs. the economy

CBS Detroit (10/23/23) didn’t put the big number in perspective—or acknowledge that its source worked for the companies the UAW was on strike against.

Bloomberg (11/7/23, 11/9/23) reported that the work stoppage cost the auto industry billions of dollars. Others mourned the revenue loss for car companies, running headlines about the millions or billions lost (Fortune, 11/30/23; CNN, 10/31/23; PBS, 10/24/23).

Meanwhile, on earnings calls in late October, GM reported that total company revenue was up 5%, to more than $44 billion, boosting profits to $3.6 billion. And Ford assured investors that “our revenue remains strong, up 11%.” As Axios (11/30/23) pointed out, while Stellantis said the labor action cost it $3.2 billion, “it also reported that net revenues so far this year were at $48 billion, up 7% compared to the same quarter in 2022.”

CBS News Detroit (10/23/23) said that economic losses to the nation as a whole had surpassed $9.3 billion, citing Anderson Economic Group, consultants whose clients include General Motors and Ford, who had previously said that even a 10-day UAW strike could cost the US economy $5.6 billion, a line that was parroted throughout the media (Bloomberg, 9/10/23; New York Times, 9/13/23; Forbes, 9/15/23; see FAIR.org, 9/26/23). Even if the strike had cost the economy $9 billion, for perspective, that’s 1/30th of 1% of the US GDP.

As more workers continued to join the strike across the country and tentative deals were made, outlets like the Wall Street Journal (10/30/23) bemoaned rising labor costs. It even went as far (10/31/23) as to warn that high wages were “a potential complication for the Federal Reserve’s fight to lower inflation.”

“Even before the raise they are striking for, Detroit’s unionized auto workers are probably the best paid in the world after factoring in benefits such as healthcare,” said the Journal (10/11/23). “Their employers can afford it for now, but high labor costs box them in strategically.”

However, at the same time, GM CEO Mary Barra bragged to investors about the company’s profitability in an October 24 earnings call (Motley Fool, 10/24/23). “It’s been clear coming out of Covid that the wages and benefits across the US economy would need to increase because of inflation and other factors,” she added.

Unions vs. green energy

“These [electric] vehicles have fewer parts, and making them will eventually require fewer workers,” NPR (10/1/22) reported. But it isn’t necessarily so.

In its write-up about Biden taking a “victory lap” in the wake of the agreement, Bloomberg (11/7/23) wrote that “the strike put Biden’s pro-union bonafides up against his clean-energy push” for electric vehicles, because “union leaders and workers worried that push would cost them jobs, reduce wages and favor non-unionized companies.”

A similar piece in the New York Times (11/9/23) said the president made the case for clean energy, even “as many workers fear the president’s climate change agenda could endanger their jobs.” However, later in the same article, reporters Lisa Friedman and Neal Boudette quoted Syracuse University’s David Popp, who studies the economics of technological change, saying that “there doesn’t seem to be a consensus yet on whether” electric vehicles will require fewer workers.

The reporters also floated as a fact that “it takes fewer than half the laborers to assemble an all-electric vehicle as it does to build a gasoline-powered car.” Similarly, there is no consensus or data to back up this claim.

So where did it come from? Ford estimated in 2017 that there could be a 30% reduction in labor hours per unit for electric vehicles. In 2019, Morgan Stanley’s analyst Adam Jonas (CNBC, 3/15/19) said tech start-ups like Tesla and Rivian could build electric vehicles at “a 50% reduction in direct labor…or more.”

Auto executives continue to repeat the line that as EVs have fewer moving parts, they will require less labor. In 2022, Ford president and CEO Jim Farley told reporters, “It takes 40% less labor to make an electric car.” The America First Policy Institute, led by former Trump administration officials and endorsed by Trump himself, put out a widely-cited research report (7/13/23) citing the estimates from Ford themselves in 2017 and Farley’s comments in 2022.

But according to CNN Business (10/6/23), “Several research reports…found little total difference in the labor hour requirements of EV manufacturing compared to gas-powered cars.” For instance, a recent Carnegie Mellon University study (7/13/22) estimated the EV supply chain could require more labor than gas-powered cars when taking other components, such as batteries, into account.

As CNN‘s report demonstrated, such information was readily available to journalists during the UAW strike—and dispelling a false talking point would have been a very useful role for journalism to play. But most were content to simply repeat Ford’s talking point, no questions asked.

Demonizing union leaders

A New York Times profile (10/5/23) described UAW president Shawn Fain as “a confrontational figure who vilifies the automakers while alarming Wall Street.”

Media have also struggled to understand this new wave of union activism, often lifting up stories of highly educated or “relatively privileged” “salts“—employees who join a workplace with the intent of forming a union. For example, Bloomberg (4/3/23) calls them “the mostly secret ingredient in a once-in-a-generation wave of union organizing.” Others have made efforts to put a spotlight on specific organizers, like Jaz Brizack or Chris Smalls. 

At the UAW, that spotlight was put on the reformist UAW president Shawn Fain and his team. “Led by Fain and a cohort of outside labor activists, [the UAW leadership] drove a campaign that company executives have called acrimonious and theatrical,” described the Wall Street Journal (11/14/23). The paper also found the time to run nearly 1,000 words (11/7/23) on Fain’s “Eat the Rich” shirt. That article followed a 2,500-word piece (10/30/23) about how “Three Young Activists Who Never Worked in an Auto Factory Helped Deliver Huge Win for the UAW.”

Fain was elected UAW president earlier this year by less than 500 votes (Labor Notes, 3/3/23), running against a scandal-ridden caucus that had been in power for decades. Fain won after a rule change let union members vote directly for leadership, instead of leaving the choice to chapter officials.

He brought on a communications expert who worked with Sen. Bernie Sanders and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, as well as a lawyer and a former labor journalist who have both worked with the NewsGuild, among other unions. Like the Wall Street Journal article (10/30/23) that painted the UAW’s leadership as outside agitators, others describe him and his team as “adversarial” or “socialist-aligned.”

However, Fain was elected in the most democratic election of the UAW’s recent history, in a union previously described as having a “legacy of corruption.” Some blame Fain for promising too much to members on the contract, or said his “demands have gone too far,” such as calling for a 32-hour work week at 40 hours of pay for autoworkers. “I want to be clear on this point—I didn’t raise members’ expectations,” Fain rebutted on one of his many Facebook Live posts (10/13/23). “Our broken economy is what’s raising our members’ expectations, and our members are right to be angry.”


The post Corporate Media Reluctant to Report on UAW Victory From Workers’ Perspective appeared first on FAIR.

Press Relayed Israeli Claims of Secret Hospital Base With Insufficient Skepticism

December 1, 2023 - 3:42pm

A cover image of the New York Post (11/16/23) depicted a supposedly shocking find. The headline “Guns Behind the MRI Machine” accompanied a photo of what Israeli troops had allegedly uncovered: Hamas guns at Al Shifa Hospital in Gaza.

On the Post cover were fewer than a dozen AK-47s and matching magazines, as well as a few tactical vests. In its subhead, the Post called this “proof Hamas used hospital as  military base in stunning war crime.”

Many other media outlets reported Israel’s claims—and accompanying photos and videos the IDF offered as evidence—with little pushback other than Hamas’s denials and an acknowledgment that the outlet could not independently verify the claims. “IDF ‘Found Clear Evidence’ of Hamas Operation out of Al-Shifa Hospital, Says Spokesperson,” was an NBC News headline (11/15/23); Fox News (11/15/23) had “Watch: Israel Finds Weapons, Military Equipment Used by Hamas in Key Gaza Hospital After Raid, IDF Says.”

Israel’s assault on Al Shifa hospital provoked widespread international outrage, so a great deal hinged on its claim that the hospital was being used as a military base. But there are many reasons to question this display of weaponry, questions that imply that not only did the Israeli military make a weak case, but that some media outlets and pundits were too quick to take this presentation at face value.

The laws of war

Israeli computer animation (YouTube, 10/27/23) depicting what was claimed to be “the main headquarters for Hamas’ terrorist activity” beneath Al Shifa Hospital.

While civilian infrastructure, and in particular medical infrastructure, are protected under the laws of war, the Israeli government claimed that the hospital’s protection was nullified because Hamas was using it as a military base, using the medical staff and patients as human shields.

The IDF released a 3D animation (YouTube, 10/27/23) depicting Al Shifa as “the main headquarters for Hamas’ terrorist activity,” with a warren of underground chambers hiding crates of weapons, missiles, barrels and meeting rooms bedecked with Islamic flags.

The US government supported this line of thinking (ABC News, 11/16/23). The Wall Street Journal editorial board (11/14/23) spelled out the argument:

The law of war in this case is clear: Under the Fourth Geneva Convention, Hamas’s use of Al Shifa for military purposes vitiates the protected status granted to hospitals. Israel is still required to give warning and use means proportionate to the anticipated military advantage, and it has.

But the law of war is not, in fact, clear in the way the Journal claims. “Even if there is a military facility operating under the hospital, this does not allow Israel to bomb the site,” the Israeli human rights group B’Tselem (11/7/23) said in a statement before the hospital raid.

Even if a hospital were used for “acts harmful to the enemy,” that does not give that enemy “the right to bombard it for two days and completely destroy it,” Mathilde Philip-Gay, an expert in international humanitarian law at France’s Lyon 3 University, told the Guardian (11/17/23).

“Even if the building loses its special protection, all the people inside retain theirs,” Rutgers Law School international law expert Adil Haque told the Washington Post (11/15/23). “Anything that the attacking force can do to allow the humanitarian functions of that hospital to continue, they’re obligated to do.” The director of the hospital, Mohammad Abu Salmiya, said that 179 patients died while the facility was surrounded by Israeli forces and had to be buried in a mass grave (Al Jazeera, 11/14/23). (Abu Salmiya was later arrested by Israeli forces along with other Palestinian medical personnel—Al Jazeera, 11/11/23.)

After the raid, viewing the evidence, Human Rights Watch was not at all persuaded. “Hospitals have special protections under international humanitarian law,” said Human Rights Watch UN director Louis Charbonneau (Reuters, 11/16/23):

Doctors, nurses, ambulances and other hospital staff must be permitted to do their work and patients must be protected. Hospitals only lose those protections if it can be shown that harmful acts have been carried out from the premises. The Israeli government hasn’t provided any evidence of that.

“The IDF says attacks are justified because Hamas fighters use the hospital as a military command center,” Amnesty International Australia (11/27/23) noted. “But so far, they’ve failed to produce any credible evidence to substantiate this claim.”

Shrugging off skepticism

The Washington Post‘s Jennifer Rubin (11/20/23) dismissed demands that Israel produce evidence of the “command-and-control center” it said justified its assault on the Al Shifa hospital.

Washington Post columnist Jennifer Rubin (11/20/23) shrugged off skepticism of the evidence presented about the hospital, scorning critics who demanded proof that the hospital was a “command center”—which she dismissed as “a generic term without definition and without legal significance.” Rubin insisted: “It was used as a military facility. Period.”

AP (11/23/23), however, pointed out that it was the Israeli military, not the military’s critics, who had promised evidence that the hospital served as “an elaborate Hamas command-and-control center under the territory’s largest healthcare facility.” After the hospital’s capture, former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert told Euronews (11/17/23) that Al Shifa was not Hamas’s headquarters after all: “Khan Younis, which is in the southern part of Gaza Strip, is the real headquarters of Hamas,” he said.

Another Post columnist, Kathleen Parker (11/17/23), admitted that details of the military’s find were scarce and that perhaps media shouldn’t jump to conclusions, but then immediately said the photographic release “seems” to vindicate Israel:

As media teams try to understand what’s happening there, details are few, leaving much room for speculation and/or affirmation of one’s preferred narrative.

Even so, the video, which has been replayed by dozens of news outlets, seems to confirm what Israel has long claimed that Hamas uses innocent Palestinians as barricades by installing their headquarters and arsenals beneath schools, hospitals and other public institutions in a vast complex of subterranean tunnels.

About that supposed headquarters beneath the hospital: While Israel showed off images of a “tunnel” under the hospital, Newsweek (11/15/23) pointed out that it’s long been known that the facility had an extensive sub-basement—because it was built by Israel in 1983.

Catastrophe for hospitals

Middle East Eye (11/15/23): “While Israel says its military has been conducting a ‘precise and targeted operation’ at Al Shifa, Palestinians at the hospital say civilians trying to flee have been fired upon.”

Israel’s assault on Gaza has generally been a catastrophe for Gaza hospitals (UN News, 11/13/23; BBC, 11/13/23), and there has been considerable damage to Gaza hospitals in previous Israeli assaults (Guardian, 3/24/09; Newsweek, 7/30/14; Guardian, 5/16/21).

And the Israeli operation at the hospital was certainly stunning. The Middle East Eye (11/15/23) reported:

Troops broke through the northern walls of the complex, instead of entering via the main gate to the east, at around 2 am local time on Wednesday, according to local sources and health officials.

They went building to building inside the large facility, removing doctors, patients and displaced people to the courtyards before interrogating them, Middle East Eye has learned.

Some people were stripped naked, blindfolded and detained, according to doctors who spoke to Al Jazeera Arabic, one of the few international channels with access to sources within the hospital.

This isn’t to say media outlets shouldn’t scrutinize what Hamas fighters do in civilian areas, but there is a lack of skepticism in media—especially for television news and tabloids that depend on gripping photography—when it comes to Israel’s presentation of its findings in Gaza that lead to more murkiness.

Research assistance: Pai Liu, Keating Zelenke

The post Press Relayed Israeli Claims of Secret Hospital Base With Insufficient Skepticism appeared first on FAIR.

Melissa Gira Grant on Abortion Rights & Politics

December 1, 2023 - 11:03am


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AP (11/19/23)

This week on CounterSpin: “Abortion Politics Reveal Concerns” was the headline one paper gave a recent Associated Press story, language so bland it almost discourages reading the piece, which reports how right-wing politicians and anti-abortion activists are seeking to undermine or undo democratic processes when those processes accurately reflect the public desire to protect reproductive rights. Methods include “challenging election results, refusing to bring state laws into line with voter-backed changes, moving to strip state courts of their power to consider abortion-related laws, and challenging the citizen-led ballot initiative process itself.”

So there is a way to cover abortion access as a political issue without reducing it to one. But too many outlets seem to have trouble shaking the framing of abortion as a “controversy,” or as posing problems for this or that politician, rather than presenting it as a matter of basic human rights that majorities in this country have long supported, and centering in their coverage the people who are being affected by its creeping criminalization.

Melissa Gira Grant is a staff writer at the New Republic, and the author of Playing the Whore: The Work of Sex Work and of the forthcoming A Woman Is Against the Law: Sex, Race and the Limits of Justice in America. She’s been reporting on abortion for years, and joins us this week to talk about it.

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Plus Janine Jackson takes a quick look at recent press coverage of marriage and ideology.

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The post Melissa Gira Grant on Abortion Rights & Politics appeared first on FAIR.

WaPo Tells Women: If You Want Marriage, Compromise With Misogyny 

November 30, 2023 - 4:12pm


The Washington Post (11/22/23) insists that young people’s political “mismatch means that someone will need to compromise”—and it’s not hard to figure out who that “someone” is supposed to be.

The Washington Post editorial board (11/22/23) has its knickers in a twist over marriage. “If Attitudes Don’t Shift, a Political Dating Mismatch Will Threaten Marriage,” it recently warned. The Post lamented the increase in political polarization because it portends “the collapse of American marriage.”

You see, the Post has identified a “growing ideological divide” between single young men and women, with far more women identifying as liberal—a gap that’s “particularly pronounced among Gen Z white people,” the Post board takes care to point out.

When you add this to a 2021 survey of college students that found “71% of Democrats would not date someone with opposing views,” the Post says, you find yourself with a “mismatch [that] means that someone will need to compromise.” And since it’s the Democrats who say they won’t date Republicans, that would mean the young liberal women are the ones who need to do the compromising.

Oh sure, they could just decide not to marry—but then they’ll be even unhappier than those in politically mixed couples, the Post warns, hyperlinking to the Institute for Family Studies as its source for that statement.

In fact, the right-wing Institute for Family Studies lurks throughout the editorial, along with its senior fellow Brad Wilcox, who was involved in discredited anti-same-sex marriage research that was influential in that political battle a decade ago. Together, the Post references or links to them three separate times in its editorial. (The IFS argument about marriage happiness is flawed too, by the way.)

Ginning up a story

When you look at the Post‘s chart (11/22/23), every time either of the darker lines crosses its lighter counterpart, that’s young men and women switching places as the gender with more conservatives or liberals in it—a frequent phenomenon that disproves the thesis of the editorial it accompanies.

Looking at the chart in the article, you see the political identification numbers the Post is so worried about bounce around a great deal. If you look at the data from the 2021 survey of political identification instead of 2022, you find that young men and women were much more closely aligned that year—with a 5-point gender gap in identifying as either liberal or conservative, as opposed to a 9-point gap the following year.

The editorial notes that “since Mr. Trump’s election in 2016,” the percentage of young women identifying as liberal “has shot up,” while “young men have not followed suit. If anything, they have grown more conservative.” But two years ago—after Trump had been out of office for a year—young men were much readier to identify as liberal than they were in either 2016 or 2022. The real lesson seems to be not that there are “Trump-era divisions between single men and women,” but that young people’s political beliefs—at least as expressed to pollsters—tend to fluctuate quite a bit.

In fact, the editorial’s assumption that liberal women are going to have trouble matching up with conservative men doesn’t hold up to a quick glance at the chart. In five of the last 11 times the survey has been taken—going back to 2002—the percentage of young liberal men either matched or exceeded the number of young liberal women, and young conservative women outnumbered or equaled their male counterparts the same number of times. So unless the Post has a crystal ball that tells them that 2022 marked the start of a new era, it’s ginning up a story out of nothing.

‘Culture of seeking sameness’

The Post (11/10/23) urged universities to keep silent about issues like “institutional and structural racism” and reproductive freedom—as if such things had no bearing on the ability of students to take part in education.

But the number-fudging has a purpose: to chastise people—primarily young, female liberals—for being so political and uncompromising. The Post writes:

Unfortunately, Americans have not equipped themselves to discuss, debate and reason across these divides. Americans have increasingly sorted themselves according to ideological orientation.

“Americans” are a diverse lot, though. The reason that “Americans” can’t “reason across these divides” is because one side of the divide has firmly committed itself to a different reality that permits no reasoning, even criminalizing the expression of ideas it disagrees with. The board makes clear, though, that those are not the Americans it’s most worried about:

They are working, living and socializing with people who think the same things they do. Particularly on college campuses, a culture of seeking sameness has set up young Americans for disappointment.

This is the academic version of corporate media’s perennial “move to the right” advice. (Tellingly, the hyperlink goes to another Post editorial—11/10/23—advising universities to shut up about issues like “institutional and structural racism” and reproductive freedom.) Yet it’s “particularly on college campuses”—and not, say, evangelical churches or the military—where young people have a “culture of seeking sameness,” and need to open themselves to other, more right-wing ideas:

They expect people to share their own convictions and commitments. But people’s insight and understanding about the world often come from considering alternative perspectives that may at first seem odd or offensive.

What’s “odd or offensive” to a young liberal woman surely includes things like the “outright misogyny” the Post acknowledges is popular among some “boys and young men.” Yet instead of centering its solutions on things like combating such misogyny in our culture, the Post would rather ask women to suck it up and kindly consider those perspectives.

ACTION ALERT: You can send a message to the Washington Post at letters@washpost.com.

Please remember that respectful communication is the most effective. Feel free to leave a copy of your message in the comments thread here.

The post WaPo Tells Women: If You Want Marriage, Compromise With Misogyny  appeared first on FAIR.

Milei Is ‘Really as Extreme as You Get in Right-Wing Libertarian Ideas’

November 28, 2023 - 3:12pm

CounterSpin interview with Mark Weisbrot on Javier Milei

Janine Jackson interviewed CEPR’s Mark Weisbrot about Argentine President-elect Javier Milei for the November 24, 2023, episode of CounterSpin. This is a lightly edited transcript.

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Fox News (11/19/23)

Janine Jackson: Many people are hearing the name Javier Milei for the first time about now. Milei has just been elected president of Argentina—56% to 44% are the numbers we’re hearing right now—over the country’s economic minister, Sergio Massa.

Fox News trumpeted, “Javier Milei crushes Argentine Left, Becomes World’s First Libertarian Head of State.” Donald Trump announced that Milei would “truly make Argentina great again,” and Elon Musk declared, “Prosperity is ahead for Argentina.” That reception gives you some indication of where this is going, and what it could mean.

Mark Weisbrot is co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research in Washington, DC. He’s author of the book Failed: What the “Experts” Got Wrong About the Global Economy, and co-author, with Dean Baker, of Social Security: The Phony Crisis. He joins us now by phone. Welcome back to CounterSpin, Mark Weisbrot.

Mark Weisbrot: Thanks, Janine. Great to be here.

JJ: Lest there be a lot of mystery: To start with, Javier Milei carried around a chainsaw as a prop on the campaign trail, and that was about “cutting public spending.” And he described the state as a “pedophile in a kindergarten.” And don’t think he’s done, because he went on to say “the state is a pedophile in a kindergarten with the children chained up and bathed in Vaseline.”

It reminds me of Duterte saying he’d be “happy to slaughter” 3 million drug addicts in the Philippines, and of course it reminds folks of Trump and his current pledge to “root out the Communists, Marxists, fascists and the radical-left thugs that live like vermin within the confines of this country” (and that’s just from this week).

It’s histrionic. We have politicians saying things you hear supervillains in the movies say. And I guess the concern is that they will be underestimated as merely colorful and over the top, and not considered in terms of the actual real-world things that they want to do and are capable of.

So there, that’s my setup. What are the material things that listeners need to know about Javier Milei and his election?

CEPR (11/17/23)

MW: Well, the material craziness of Milei is an important part of the story. And as you mentioned, or hinted at, by the examples you gave, the media have been comparing him to Trump, and he likes it. And so it is part of that phenomenon, which we could talk about for hours, of crazy people getting elected in situations and ways in which they wouldn’t in the past. And, of course, that’s the big anthropological sociological question, is how does this happen?

But I won’t get into that. What I’d rather talk about is what his craziness means. I think that’s more interesting to your audience as well.

And so his craziness is partly a coherent extreme-right libertarian view. He says, “Every time the state intervenes, it’s a violent action that harms the right to private property, and in the end limits our freedom.” And he applies this to fixing the problem of hunger, fixing the problem of poverty or employment. So he’s really as extreme as you get in that right-wing libertarian set of ideas.

Reuters (11/24/23)

So the question is, in terms of policy, what does that mean? First, he wants to abolish the central bank, which of course would be a disaster, and almost no economist would support even thinking like that. And he wants to also dollarize the economy, which would probably also be a disaster; most economists would say that. They don’t even have the reserves for that at this point, but it wouldn’t be a good idea.

So he has big things he would get rid of. He would get rid of some ministries. And certainly the chainsaw, a symbol. A guy walks around in a Batman costume with chainsaws, and he got elected president. He wants to cut public spending at least 15%, has no attachment whatsoever to anything like public education, healthcare and everything. So he would cut anything he can, and the economy would probably go into recession, almost certainly. And who knows where it would stop.

JJ: He seems to have a definition of “socialism,” and this is what I feel like US media are going to pick up on, because, as you and I both know, they will have a lot of quotes from him, and they will have quotes from some people who disagree with him, but I don’t think they’re going to dig deep into the rhetoric. And so he talks about everything that happened from previous administrations in Argentina as “socialism,” and, I mean, how do we unpack that?

MW: Yeah, that’s right. Argentina “has embraced socialist ideas for the last hundred years.” Of course, that’s crazy too.

I don’t know what he’ll actually be able to do. That’s the first thing. He has only 39 seats out of 257 in the Lower House, and 8 out of 72 in the Senate.

Now he does have a party aligned with him, that was the president from 2015 to ’19. And that was Macri. And that’s how he got elected, partly, because Macri and his party supported him; these are right-wing people, but they’re not as crazy as him.

So it’s not clear what he’ll get done. This is going to be what we’ll see.

You have to remember too that the government that he’s succeeding, the Peronists, they have a real movement, and they’ve gotten in the streets before when terrible things have happened; in 2001, four presidents resigned within less than two weeks, at the end of 2001. And that was because of protest.

New York Times (8/19/19)

I think this is maybe where to start the story, because you guys focus on what the media are missing or getting wrong. And I think we really should start, I think, with what you don’t see in the media.

You don’t see, for example, that in these last 20 years, the Peronists actually did very well. They first came to power with Néstor Kirchner in 2003. And you had, in the 12 years that followed, before Macri, you had a 71% decline in poverty, 81% decline in extreme poverty, and GDP, or income per person, grew by 42%, which, I compared it to Mexico, it’s three times as fast.

So this was a very successful set of policies, but I haven’t seen that in any of the coverage. I wrote it in a New York Times op-ed a couple of years ago, but you don’t really see that part of the story.

And that’s unfortunate, because people need to know that. And of course it’s partly because people don’t know that—the Argentine media is no better than here, the major media—that somebody like this could get elected.

And, of course, what happened in this story, the other part of the story, I think, that’s really—well, first let’s start with the depression from 1998 to 2002. That was caused, overwhelmingly, by the IMF. And you can go back to the New York Times and read that, actually; at the time, they actually reported the IMF role.

So that was a huge part of the story. Because as you know, as most of your listeners know, the IMF is primarily dominated by decision-making by the US Treasury Department.

And then, of course, you had the Kirchners and the Peronists, and you had this long period where they did very well. And Macri himself—that was the president from 2015 to ’19—he wouldn’t have gotten to power, actually, if it weren’t for more things that came from the United States. And I can tell you that as well, depending on how much time you have.

JJ: Please do; I think folks want to know where the US role is here.

New York Times (4/1/16)

MW: Yeah, I think it’s really important, actually, for people here to know, because this was such a big thing. I mean, Argentina is obviously one of the largest economies in South America. And during this period, in the first decade of the 21st century, it wasn’t just Argentina that had this great rebound. Latin America as a whole reduced poverty from 44% to 28%, after having two decades of increasing poverty before that; that was 2003 to ’13, is the decade I’m looking at. That was a decade in which the majority of the hemisphere was governed by left governments for the first time ever.

And then the United States, of course, played this role, which we’ll focus right now on Argentina, in trying to get rid of all of them, and making their lives difficult so that they would be ousted, a number of them by coup d’etat.

So what happened in Argentina? They had to default to the IMF, in 2003, and the IMF backed down, and they defaulted on their private debt, right before they actually defaulted to the IMF, but the IMF rolled over the debt. So they had a big fight with the IMF and the private creditors, just to stabilize the economy. But they did that successfully, and they grew.

And then in 2014, a New York judge decided that Argentina should not be able to pay its creditors, over 70% of its creditors, the ones who had accepted the restructured debt. And this was Thomas Griesa, a New York judge, and he did this on behalf of the vulture funds. These were funds that bought up the debt when it was very cheap in the early 2000s, and wanted to collect the full value of it.

Mark Weisbrot: “The whole mess that got this guy elected was really created by the Macri government and that IMF agreement.”

So he was trying to force the Argentine government to pay these US vulture funds. And he was doing it by cutting off the Argentines’ ability to pay all other creditors, until they would pay the vultures. And so that is part of what hurt the Argentina economy in 2014.

And just to show you how political this was, in 2016, the same judge, Griesa, actually wrote an opinion where he lifted the injunction on paying this debt, that is, he reversed the decision, and he said he did it because, and this is an exact quote from him, “Put simply. President Macri’s election changed everything.” OK?

So that’s partly how we got Macri, was him harming the Argentine economy right before that, and then, of course, reversing that tremendous harm as soon as Macri was elected. So there you go. There’s a big change. And it leads to another big change in Macri’s term because, OK, so Macri gets elected because of action that came from the US, and there are other actions as well, which I’ll describe.

But then Macri goes and gets—and this is because of Trump’s influence on the IMF that it happened—the largest loan that the IMF ever gave to anybody, any country in the world, $57 billion in 2018. And the conditions on that loan were terrible. And they forced the economy into recession. And then, of course, when things started to go sour—which they did right away, because the big loan that they got just financed capital flight out of the country, and, of course, that led to all kinds of problems—the IMF doubled down and had more austerity, both fiscal policy and monetary policy. And so things got worse.

And that actually leads you, really, to the situation you have today. That’s what created it: The economy, the 140% inflation that you have now, the whole mess that got this guy elected, was really created by the Macri government and that IMF agreement, and also other measures that the US took to deprive Argentina of dollars before Macri came to power as well.

Washington Post (11/19/19)

JJ: When you hear about having to make vulture funds whole, and the impact that has, I’m thinking Puerto Rico; I know that there’s lots of other places in the world that are coming to people’s mind. But then when you set that situation, so now I’m reading the Washington Post, which is trying to explain why did Milei get elected, and it’s saying:

Voters in this nation of 46 million demanded a drastic change from a government that has sent the peso tumbling, inflation skyrocketing and more than 40% of the population into poverty.

So they’re saying, well, Milei’s against this, the poverty and the problems that they’re having; he’s coming before the people and saying, “I’m going to shake that up.” And I don’t think, at least in this explanation, I’m not getting anything of the longer term history that you’re giving me. I’m getting, things were bad, Milei’s there to fix them, right?

MW: Yeah. Although, I mean, I don’t think the media here like Milei. It’s just like Trump. It’s this irony that you have in a lot of these situations, where the media don’t like these people because they’re too extreme. The US didn’t even want Bolsonaro, for example, in Brazil, who, by the way, was one of the first calls, a video call, that Milei made when he won this election. The mainstream consensus here is that these guys are too crazy, but they still do help them win.

JJ: Exactly….

MW: This is a paradox that probably you all can figure out better than me.

Vox (11/20/23)

JJ: I can’t. But you know what, you see the interviews, and we’re seeing them now, and folks who are listening will be seeing them, folks on the street in Argentina saying: “Well, there’s just too much inflation. There’s too much corruption.” Very sort of Trump-voter things of, “Well, I don’t like his social ideas, but his economic plans make sense.”

People want change. And I think that we can acknowledge that people want change. And then folks come along and say, you know what I am? I’m different. I represent change.

But where media don’t, to my mind, exercise their role is, well, why do people want change? And what does that have to do with the failure of existing systems, including economic systems? Instead, media just say, “I guess people just deep down want a kind of fascistic guy.” Even if they’re opposed, they still don’t dig deep enough, to my mind, into why folks were willing to do this Hail Mary play.

MW: Yeah, and I think part of the media story is that most people in Argentina, as well as your audience, don’t know this historical record. I mean, imagine if all the voters knew that in the past 20 years, you had the majority of that time when the Peronists were in power, the numbers that I just told you; people did quite well in terms of reducing poverty enormously. And the real wage growth was 34% under the Kirchners, for example, over that period. And all these things happened, and increased spending on cash transfer programs, everything. And they did extremely well.

Some people remember it, and that’s why they still got 44% of the vote, but not everybody is old enough, or even would necessarily understand the whole situation, not having seen it in print, or heard it on radio or television.

Al Jazeera (11/18/23)

And so, yeah, it’s easy for this guy to come in here, he’s almost literally a clown, and even though probably a lot of people, even, who voted for him think his ideas are crazy, or that he’s crazy, you see quotes like that in the press: “Yeah, he’s crazy, but I’m voting for him anyway.” But they don’t have a way of seeing that there actually have been successful alternatives.

And if we can go into the economics a little bit, I think part of the problem here is that the IMF loan is huge, and they have to pay that back. And of course they got some debt relief on the private debt, but the IMF doesn’t give any; they postponed the payment some, but it’s still going to come due. And, of course, you have capital flight because of that situation.

And you have a situation where you have what’s called an inflation depreciation spiral. So if confidence in the currency is undermined by a variety of things, including the inflation itself, and including the debt problems that the IMF left them with, and then pretty soon it’s going to be the anticipated and real policies of the IMF that are going to cause capital to flee the country, as they did in 2018.

So all of these things: What happens is capital flees the country, and that causes the currency to depreciate. And when the currency depreciates, then the price of all imports goes up, and then that causes more inflation, and then the increased inflation causes the currency to depreciate more.

And that’s why it was so hard for this latest government before Milei to resolve this problem, because it’s a self-perpetuating spiral, something you don’t want to get into. And, of course, there are ways, it is possible, but again, that’s a very hard problem. And that was a result of the policies that came in overwhelmingly with the Macri government, and the IMF agreement that he followed.

And you know, he even said it at one point, I don’t have the exact quote, but it was something like, “I did everything that I agreed to in this agreement, and the economy went down the toilet.” So even he realized that.

But again, you’re not seeing that in the public discussion. All you saw up to the election is, the party in power must be responsible for what’s happening and they have to go. And then you see this guy Milei come in with really crazed ideas, and nobody even cares so much how crazy they are, it’s just different. That’s kind of how Trump won as well.

JJ: We’ve been speaking with Mark Weisbrot; he’s co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research. You can find their research and analysis online at CEPR.net. Mark Weisbrot, thank you very much for joining us this week on CounterSpin.

MW: Thank you.

The post Milei Is ‘Really as Extreme as You Get in Right-Wing Libertarian Ideas’ appeared first on FAIR.

‘Worship of the Holy Framers Offers Us Nothing to Deal With the Problems We Have Today’

November 27, 2023 - 11:16am


CounterSpin interview with Scott Burris on US v. Rahimi

Janine Jackson interviewed Temple Law School’s Scott Burris about United States v. Rahimi for the October 17, 2023, episode of CounterSpin. This is a lightly edited transcript.

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CBS News (11/7/23)

Janine Jackson: This week, the Supreme Court heard the case United States v. Rahimi, which asked whether existing law that prohibits the possession of firearms by persons subject to certain domestic violence restraining orders violates the Second Amendment.

Media headlines were appropriately enough focused on domestic violence, and what it might mean if the Court decided that those who repeatedly assault and threaten to shoot women, as did Zackey Rahimi, or who fire shots in the air when their friend’s credit card is denied at Whataburger, as did Zackey Rahimi, should perhaps be denied further access to guns. An appeals court, the infamous Fifth Circuit, had struck down the law because they said they couldn’t find evidence of the Founding Fathers talking about that sort of thing.

Well, past the headlines, virtually all media accounts recognized that whatever is decided in Rahimi, that way of thinking about the law and its application is a problem.

We’re joined now by Scott Burris. He’s professor at Temple Law School and Temple School of Public Health, and he directs the Center for Public Health Law Research. He joins us now by phone from Philly. Welcome to CounterSpin, Scott Burris.

Scott Burris: Good day!

JJ: As reporting has acknowledged, you can’t make sense of Rahimi without talking about Bruen, or New York State Rifle & Pistol Association v. Bruen, decided in 2022. And I want to ask you to explain what happened there that is shaping events now, but I want to frame it a little bit. Because you address gun violence as a matter of public health—appropriately to my mind, but not necessarily the most common framework, and I think there’s even a bias against researching it that way. But what did Bruen do, and especially in terms of our ability to address gun violence as a public health concern?

Politico (7/28/23)

SB: You might say that Bruen represents the reason why Clarence Thomas has stayed on the Supreme Court for all these years, waiting for the majority to change, because in Bruen, he finally gets to do I think what he as a jurisprude has long wanted to do, and that is to put originalism, or a version of originalism, at the center of constitutional interpretation. He wants us to ask, well, what did the Framers think of this particular problem, and what would they have thought of this particular legal solution? And assuming he could figure the answer out to either of those questions, which he feels quite confident judges can, that’s the standard we use to see whether that regulation today should be allowed to stand.

JJ: So, I mean, is that as dumb as it sounds? The Constitution doesn’t say anything about domestic violence, so, oops!

SB: If you go back and ask the Framers, what do they think about a guy shooting off an automatic pistol at a Whataburger after he’s had trouble with his credit card and then gets into a car crash, they literally would not understand what you were talking about. None of those things existed.

And, of course, as a group of half slave-owning, pretty much all wealthy white men in 1789, domestic violence was not a concept that would have had any meaning to them, even if they could associate it with anything that was going on in their time.

So if we want to control the modern risks of guns, and the many ways those risks ripple out through society, through various forms of violence, and also of course suicide and so on, “we are limited to what the Framers would have decided was bad and what solutions they would have picked” is limiting us to a very few regulations.

And that is in part the goal. One of the things that originalism does, like the companion doctrine of the Clear Statement Rule in administrative law that the Court has adopted, is to make it very difficult to pass laws or issue regulations that deal with modern problems.

It’s meant to do that in the belief, I suppose, if I’m being charitable, that somehow the modern regulatory state that grew up with the modern world has somehow perverted or polluted the core idea of the United States as it was articulated by the Framers in the 18th century. That’s the nice way to think about why this is happening.

The other context you might put this in is the 50-year war of industry and the right to hobble government and to free business from regulation, no matter how necessary and no matter how sensible.

Regulatory Review (8/2/23)

JJ: And it seems opportunistic, in the sense that the Constitution or the Framers didn’t say that corporations’ political spending was the same thing as free speech, but somehow it’s OK to interpret that for a modern era. You said, it’s “historicism, not history.” There’s something meaningful there, right?

SB: I always try and be fair, like the way I’d want a Supreme Court justice to act. So we have to say that there is no perfect way of interpreting a legal text. If you interpret from history, whether you’re talking about legislative intent in a statute, or the Framers’ intent in the Constitution, you’re going to be making a kind of guess, and one hopes that you make that guess as thoughtfully and carefully and in as unbiased a way as possible.

If you are trying to make good public policy, if you’re balancing interests, as the style that dominated in the 20th century would do, you’re trying to say, well, what would the spirit of the Constitution dictate today, given these new kinds of problems? But there again, too, you are trying to decide what’s best, based on your best judgment.

I think that the big difference between the historical, if we can call it that, approach of Bruen, and the traditional, or modern tradition of balancing tests is that in the balancing tests we are talking about facts. How many people get killed by guns? How do those gun deaths happen? What are ways to reduce the risk of guns, or of preventing people who are dangerous from getting guns? What evidence do we have? You can be very transparent, and you can try and base your analysis on facts.

The problem with trying to imagine what was going through the Framers’ mind in the 1790s, and to reconstruct a sort of history of regulation, is, first of all, what went on in their mind is purely a guess, it can never really be a fact, to the extent that they never said anything about the problems that we’re talking about, and didn’t know they would exist.

And the second problem is sort of a scientific problem, which is that there’s just so much we don’t know about old law. And to understand those old laws, what they were meant to do, how they were made, in what context they were developed and how they were understood in their context, is a lot more complicated than the Court lets on.

The Court has a kind of law clerk version of history, which is, well, I’ll go back in the law library to the deepest basement, to the dustiest shelf and pick out the oldest tome, and I’ll read what’s there, and then I’ll know the history. But we really don’t know what those words meant at the time.

And of course then you have the problem that is playing out in Rahimi, which is, well, what’s alike and what’s not alike? If you have a law in Massachusetts that allows people to confiscate the swords of duelers in 1650 on the grounds that they’re dangerous, does that mean that you can uphold the law that takes the gun away from somebody in the 21st century? That makes courts do something they don’t know how to do, and that they’re clearly not doing well, and that I think a lot of them don’t like to do, which is pretend that they’re historians, find examples in the past, and then try and understand what those examples mean for the future.

JJ: I appreciate your wanting to be careful, but it’s in aid of something; it’s in aid of a particular interpretation of past laws. And I say, again, the Constitution didn’t say corporations’ money is speech. And yet in that case, the Court is able to say, well, but yeah, but they probably would have meant this. And then in this case they say, oh, well I don’t see the words written there, so we can’t possibly say it.

New Republic (7/21/23)

SB: The great example of that problem of willful or unconsciously biased interpretation is that the Court in Bruen wanted to say that the law has to be the law that would be acceptable in 1789, because great constitutional principles don’t change. But we have to understand, in applying those principles, that the technology of guns has changed a lot. So we can recognize that there are lots of differences in guns.

The Court says, yeah, we accept that guns are more dangerous; that’s just technology. But we don’t accept that somehow the Framers would change their minds about guns because of those technological changes. So it’s a very selective view of what changes they’re willing to acknowledge and which not.

And all judges are subject to the risk that they will put their preferences ahead of a strict interpretation of the law, that their preferences will shape their interpretation, and ideally judges create rules that limit that. They create rules that require explicit factual support, and they try and create concepts that will hold them back from just imposing their will.

But if a judge really just wants to impose their will, which I sort of think is the attitude of the conservative or the Republican side of the Supreme Court, they just use the rules as however is necessary to get the outcomes that they want.

And this particular rule, the historical test is just perfect for that, because it’s just simply not falsifiable. Your view of history, my view of history, unless you say something absurd, like “the Framers rode fighter planes, so we know they like heavy artillery,” you can’t be falsified. If you read that Bruen case, they point to all sorts of laws and they say, well, look at this law and look at that law, and that law said this and that law said that, so therefore today…. And they get their conclusion.

JJ: I’m in advance reading my email, “OK, these laws were made at a time when women weren’t really people, when people of color weren’t really people. And somehow we’re to say that, still, the laws that were made at that time about citizens are still the same things that we should look to the letter of them to abide by.”

SB: It’s a kind of religious approach to history and the Constitution. The underlying rationale for saying it should be as the Framers said is that they were somehow given special insights, special wisdom, and they were able to not only solve all the major problems of their own day, but somehow write a document that would always be the right answer for all the conditions of the future.

And that’s obviously absurd as a matter of fact. They were just a bunch of fellas, often quite imperfect, as we should be willing to admit, who made a document that was full of imperfections that we’re still paying for today. The acceptance of slavery, the idea that 500,000 people in a small state should have the same Senate weight as 20 million people from a big state.

I mean, these are bad ideas. They have become bad ideas as times have changed, and a sensible society will recognize that we have to adapt the core concepts of liberty and divided government and federalism for a very different era, and we have to be open. It’s not easy, but we have to be open to the discussion of how that document has to change and how the interpretation has to change, or application has to change, to face these modern dilemmas.

That is not ever going to be easy, and it’s always going to be controversial, but at least it’s making an effort to adapt to reality. The problem with the historical analysis and the sort of worship of the holy Framers is that it offers us nothing today to deal with the problems we have to deal with today. And it allows a sort of group of high priests to tell us, by reading the entrails or burning a sheep on the altar, what the law should be, because they have access to the mind of those saintly, dear departed Framers.

JJ: I want to ask you, do you still face resistance to the very idea of thinking about gun violence in terms of public health? I know that public health is your thing, and I know about the Dickey Amendment; we’re supposed to not research gun violence as a question of public health; it’s not supposed to be in that category. Talk a little bit about that question, of even talking about gun violence as a public health issue, and do you think that thinking has shifted on that?

Scott Burris: “Trying to call gun violence a public health matter is perceived on the other side as just another trick to get the guns out of our hands.”

SB: There is occasionally a political fight. In fact it’s an ongoing political fight over what we should call a public health issue, because of the belief that if you call it a public health issue, that makes us more likely to be willing to do something about it.

The fact is, you don’t have to call it a public health issue, you just have to say it’s a behavior or a set of behaviors and objects that are responsible for [48,000] deaths a year—half of them suicides—and that society needs, if it can, to reduce the number of deaths, the same way that we try to reduce the deaths from cars.

In fact, since the Heller case, since it became out of the question to talk about banning firearms entirely, I think it makes a lot of sense to treat guns like cars. People love their cars, and cars do a lot of good, but they also do a lot of damage. They damage the environment, they get involved in crashes, they run people over, they blow up, whatever cars do.

And we are all perfectly happy with the idea that the government should try and regulate cars and their use to reduce traffic deaths. And, in fact, until the last couple of years, when probably cell phones have tilted things up, we’ve had a steady, really a triumphant decline in car-related deaths over 25, 30 years, over 50 years, really, since Ralph Nader in the early ’70s.

Guns are the same. There’s no question now of taking them away, getting them out of society. People like their guns; they enjoy their guns. Some people get benefits from guns. That shouldn’t be something we’re so hysterical about anymore after Heller; we should be turning our attention to the question of how we make them safer, how we make sure that people who are dangerous to themselves or others can’t easily get at them.

I mean, we cut traffic deaths in half, more than half, through regulation. Wouldn’t it be great to have a world in which we had cut gun deaths by that amount, that we had 25,000 a year? It’d be nice not to think of that as a political question.

But the trouble with the situation now is that trying to call gun violence a public health matter is perceived on the other side as just another trick to get the guns out of our hands. The whole paranoia about the jack-booted thugs from government coming to take away your guns, or the woke liberals trying to take away your guns, the whole working people up to such an extent, into a fantasy world of polarized gun zero sum game really gets in the way.

I mean, nobody who’s working in public health has any illusions that guns are going away, and are not at all trying to take away people’s guns in some broad sense. What they’re trying to do is, as we did in auto safety, do everything we can at every stage—from the design of the weapon, through the storage of the weapon, through the use of the weapon, through the ability to get access to the weapon, to the ammunition in the weapon, to where the weapon can be carried—to reduce the death toll. And that ought to be a cooperative effort, informed by research, and without this incredible court interference, such that there’s no room left in the legislature to deal with guns.

JJ: All right then. We’ve been speaking with Scott Burris. He’s professor at Temple Law School and Temple School of Public Health. He’s also director of the Center for Public Health Law Research. You can find his piece for Regulatory Review, “One Year On, Bruen Really Is as Bad as It Reads,” online at TheRegReview.org. Scott Burris, thank you so much for joining us this week on CounterSpin.

SB: Thank you very much.

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