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Is Record-Smashing Heat a Big Story? Depends Where It Happens

August 12, 2022 - 4:59pm


“Climate Change Affects Everyone” (Reuters, 7/17/22)—but some effects are more newsworthy than others to US TV.

As news of record-breaking heat around the world makes its way onto our screens, it’s clear some heat waves are made to matter more than others. The general dearth of TV news reporting on climate disruption in the Global South is particularly stark when it comes to heat waves, a conversation that is centered around Britain and Europe, as opposed to India and other non-Western countries.

Britain experienced record-breaking heat on July 19 when the temperature hit 102.4° F in the English village of Coningsby (BBC, 7/19/22). Thirty-three other British locations also set record highs. The heat wave, a predictable manifestation of climate change, caused a surge of fires and left hundreds if not thousands dead (Bloomberg, 7/16/22).

Other European countries also experienced a heat wave, with Germany and Spain suffering particularly high spikes in excess deaths  (Politico, 8/3/22), and large wildfires breaking out across southern Europe (Reuters, 7/17/22). But while these stories are groundbreaking and worthy of coverage, they are not unique.

‘Dying on the baking pavements’

Bloomberg (5/3/22): “It was the hottest March in 122 years.”

While India may be dismissed as a country that’s always been hot, several of its cities experienced record-smashing heat this spring (CNBC, 5/16/22). Prominently, the capital city New Delhi reached a high of 120.5° F (India.com, 5/16/22). Besides the unprecedented temperature, what was different about this heat wave was its longevity–starting in March and spanning until at least mid-May.

The consequences of the heat wave were dire, especially in terms of agriculture. India, one of the world’s largest wheat producers, had to ban wheat exports to combat shortages caused by the extreme heat (UNEP, 6/9/22). While the reported death toll is 90, a number that is regarded as “low” (New York Times, 7/14/22), the actual death toll is believed to be much higher. As Bloomberg (5/3/22) noted, the majority of those who die from the heat in India are “dying on the baking pavements they sleep on, or in the unbearably hot slums on the city’s fringes,” leaving them uncounted in official records. According to the Washington Post (7/7/22), an estimated 89,000 currently die per year because of heat in India, a number projected to rise to 1.5 million a year with climate change.

US television did not reflect the brutality of this heat wave. A Nexis search of ABC, CBS and NBC news programs found not a single mention, even in passing, of the Indian crisis. In an attempt to capture even a belated mention of the crisis, FAIR began its search in March and extended it to the end of July, months after the heat wave had ended.

Only twice was India even mentioned in connection with heat waves—both in July, as Europe was experiencing extreme heat. On July 18, NBC News correspondent Kelly Cobiella described the intensity of the British heat wave by saying it is “hotter than the Sahara desert and Delhi” (NBC Today Show, 7/18/22). While it is true that on that particular day, Britain was hotter than India, the show failed to mention the even more extreme heat faced in Delhi just a few months prior. This type of rhetoric reaffirms intense heat in India as the norm, making its crises less newsworthy in the long run.

Not victims but villains

Chuck Todd (Meet the Press, 7/24/22) asks Al Gore a rhetorical question: “If the United States can’t be a global leader here, who will?” 

A couple of days later, also in the context of European heat NBC Meet the Press, host Chuck Todd (7/24/22) brought on environmentalist and former Vice President Al Gore to “unpack” the “global” heat waves. “Global” seemed to NBC to mean “Western,” as the episode opened with Spain and Portugal’s death toll, and continued on to position the US as the only possible “leader” in the climate issue. As Todd asked: “If the United States can’t be a global leader here, who will?”

India was not mentioned as a country that also experienced extreme heat; rather, it was blamed for it, framed along with China as “emerging powers that are relying on fossil fuels.” While it’s true that India is currently the third-largest emitter of carbon—producing a little more than half the output of No. 2 United States, and about a fifth of first-place China—India is in sixth place when it comes to cumulative carbon emissions, which is more to the point when it comes to gauging responsibility for the current heat waves. Besides the US (far in the lead) and China, India is also behind Russia, Germany, Britain and Japan in terms of total historical emissions.

And India is far down the list of carbon emitters per capita. According to data from 2020, India releases 1.7 tons of carbon per capita, making it 110th nation on the list; by contrast, the US is 13th on the list, with an emission of 13.7 tons per-capita. Even China, which was also singled out in this interview, falls behind the US on this list, ranking in 28th place with 8.2 tons per-capita. Most European countries have per capita emission rates that are two to five times higher than India’s.

Pointing towards China and India only as “fossil-fuel countries,” without even mentioning their own experiences with devastating heat, implies that India and China are somewhat to blame. If not to blame, then not worthy of the human angle—a story about dire agriculture, about death, about exhaustion….

After Todd’s mention of India and China, Al Gore added that “the United States must step up and provide leadership.” While Gore did go on to talk about several issues in the country regarding the climate politics, this angle suggested that countries like India are incapable of taking charge; it’s up to the American people to save the world.

Made to matter more 

NBC Nightly News (7/16/22)

According to a Nexis search beginning in March until the end of July, Britain and Europe’s extreme heat were covered 51 times. The fires sweeping Europe in July were covered dramatically (NBC Nightly News, 7/16/22; ABC World News Tonight, 7/16/22; CBS Evening News, 7/18/22); the channels even covered the anticipation of Britain’s record-smashing heat (ABC World News Saturday, 7/16/22). ABC also mentioned that Britain is a country “where the majority of residents have no air conditioning”—an important point, but one that could have been made even more strongly about India,  where only 12% of residents have air conditioning (Bloomberg, 3/22/22).

Even when US network TV covered domestic heat waves, it frequently mentioned the UK or Europe—expressing concern about their “friends across the pond in Europe,” as an NBC weather anchor (NBC Today, 7/18/22) put it. Some segments even started with Europe and the UK, and then segued into national extreme heat news (CBS Mornings, 7/19/22). The fact that the two Western regions are reported on in pairs, referred to as “friends,” highlights the importance given to Britain and Europe in US news; the same status is implicitly not extended to non-Western countries, whose heat crises received little or no coverage.

Only a handful of times was the US heat wave presented in tandem with non-European heat waves, and then only with vague one-liners like: “Millions living under record heat from California to Western Europe, as well as parts of Asia and Africa” (NBC Nightly News, 7/19/22). Even as Europe cooled off, it still continued to be mentioned alongside reports of US heat—“as the heat wave in the US expands, Europe is cooling off,” reported NBC (Today, 7/22/22). On the other hand, countries like India seem to never make it onto the radar at all, even at heat wave heights.

The post Is Record-Smashing Heat a Big Story? Depends Where It Happens appeared first on FAIR.

Angelo Carusone on Alex Jones Trial, Karl Grossman on Nuclear War

August 12, 2022 - 11:03am

CT Insider (7/14/22)

This week on CounterSpin: A Texas court has told Alex Jones to pay some $49 million dollars in damages for his perverse, accusatory talk about the Sandy Hook elementary school massacre being a “big hoax”—the jury evidently not believing Jones’ tale that he was suffering a weird and weirdly profitable “psychosis” when he told his followers that no one died at Sandy Hook because none of the victims ever existed, nor were they evidently moved by his subsequent claim that he did it all “from a pure place.”

Jones, as the Hearst Connecticut Media editorial board noted in a strong statement, is trying to keep any mention of his “white supremacy and right-wing extremism” out of the Sandy Hook case he’s facing in New Hampshire—because, his lawyer says, that discussion would be “unfairly prejudicial and inflammatory,” an “attack on [Jones’] character” that would “play to the emotions of the jury and distract from the main issues.”

What should be the “main issues” when our vaunted elite press corps engage a figure like Alex Jones? We talk with Angelo Carusone, president of Media Matters.

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Also on the show: In 1991, on the fifth anniversary of the Chernobyl nuclear plant accident, an editorial in the Minneapolis Star Tribune concluded: “Despite Chernobyl, nuclear energy is the green alternative.” The Houston Post enjoined readers: “Let’s not learn the wrong lesson from Chernobyl and rule nukes out of our future.” Corporate media have been rehabilitating nuclear power for as long as the public has been terrified by its dangers—sometimes as heavy-handedly as NBC in 1987 running a documentary, Nuclear Power: In France It Works, that failed to mention that NBC’s then-owner, General Electric, was the country’s second-largest nuclear power entity—and third-largest producer of nuclear weapons.

Now in Russia’s war on Ukraine, we’re seeing news media toss the possibility of nuclear war into the news you’re meant to read over your breakfast. Has something changed to make the unleashing of nuclear weaponry war less horrific? And if not, what can we be doing to push it back off the table and out of media’s parlor game chat? We hear from author and journalism professor Karl Grossman.

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The post Angelo Carusone on Alex Jones Trial, Karl Grossman on Nuclear War appeared first on FAIR.

WSJ Hates Tax Breaks: California Edition

August 11, 2022 - 5:08pm


The Wall Street Journal editorial board has a long history of liking tax relief only when it benefits the wealthy. Last year, the Journal board slammed rebates for middle- and working-class New Jerseyans, while praising tax cuts for rich Ohioans (FAIR.org, 7/16/21). This year, it’s singing the same tune over different states’ approaches to tax relief.

The paper’s editorial page (6/27/22) lambasted progressive tax rebates in California as a “bribe…to vote Democratic” in the upcoming midterm elections. Under the rebates, Californians making up to $75,000 annually will receive $350, plus that same amount per dependent. Those making between $75,000 and $125,000 will get $250 and those making between $125,000 and $250,000 will get $200 (at which point the rebates stop).

For the Wall Street Journal (6/27/22), when Democrats give them, tax rebates are a “bribe.”

The Journal called this relief “street money,” “a tradition in big-city politics” wherein “politicians dole out” cash “for political support.” Almost exactly one year earlier, the board (6/30/21) made a similar claim about New Jersey rebates for parents making under $150,000, labeling them an attempt to “buy votes.”

The idea that the Democrats who championed the rebates needed to “buy votes” in deeply blue New Jersey was dubious. But California is even more friendly territory for Democrats. President Joe Biden soundly defeated Donald Trump in California by more than 29 points in 2020. Gov. Gavin Newsom won his recall election last year by a similar margin. At the time of writing, Democrats constitute 78% of the California State Senate and 75% of the Assembly. For better or worse, the blue team is sitting pretty in the Golden State. So why use “street money” to buy votes when they already have so many?

The Journal claimed it’s because California Democrats fear falling short of a supermajority that would allow them to “raise taxes without Republican support.” (The Democrats need two-thirds of each California house to increase taxes—a margin they currently exceed by a comfortable margin.) Naturally, the editorial board also thought Democratic lawmakers should forgo this course of action, and instead try to “cut taxes” and the budget.

From the poor to the rich

But “cutting taxes” means something very particular to the Journal. In April, Kentucky Republicans passed a tax cut that the Journal (4/15/22) praised as a “success” and marker of “progress.” To the board’s delight, the GOP reduced the state’s flat income tax from 5% to 4.5%, ostensibly “reducing the income tax for all Kentuckians.”

How the Wall Street Journal prefers its tax breaks (Chart: Kentucky Center for Economic Policy, 4/1/22).

This is technically incorrect, however. The poorest 800,000 or so people in Kentucky pay no state income tax, and thus receive nothing. And many working-class citizens won’t have it much better: The Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy found that while the poorest 20% of Kentucky residents are projected to get an average cut of just $20, the quintile directly above them will get not much more, only $115. That means the bottom 40% of Kentuckians will, on average, not even get enough to purchase the new Madden video game dropping next week.

Now compare that to the expected windfall for wealthier Kentuckians. Cumulatively, the top 20% receive a whopping 65% of the overall benefits—and 37% go to just the richest 5%. The top 1% will enjoy an average cut of $11,056 (Kentucky Center for Economic Policy, 4/1/22).

But note (as the Journal did not) that all Kentuckians pay taxes–a regressive 6% sales tax, which Republicans did not cut. In fact, to help cover the budget hole left by the giveaway to the state’s wealthy, the bill contains provisions expanding the sales tax to 35 new services (PwC, 4/13/22). That means the poorer you are in Kentucky, the more likely you are to see a net decrease in the amount of money in your pockets due to the new legislation.

And your quality of life will decline further still, as the tax cut “undermines investments in public education, human services and other public needs” (Kentucky Center for Economic Policy, 4/1/22). This taking from the poor to give to the rich is what, in the eyes of the Journal board, constitutes a “responsible use of a two-year budget windfall.”

It’s another case of deja vu: Last year the Journal (7/5/21) commended a tax cut in Ohio as “leaving more money in taxpayers hands”—a plan that, like Kentucky’s, gave virtually nothing to middle- and working-class people while rewarding the state’s top 1% with thousands of dollars.

It is clear where the Wall Street Journal editorial board stands. They like giveaways to the rich, even if they come at the expense of the most vulnerable. As for broad assistance that ensures those in need aren’t left behind? Sounds like corruption! In a dynamic world, the Wall Street Journal’s classism is a constant.

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.

The post WSJ Hates Tax Breaks: California Edition appeared first on FAIR.

NPR Distorts History of US Invasion of Afghanistan

August 9, 2022 - 4:56pm


NPR (8/5/22) revises Afghan history.

In the first part of a series of reports on Afghanistan, NPR host Steve Inskeep (Morning Edition, 8/5/22) interviewed current Afghan Defense Minister Mohammad Yaqoob Mujahid. In introducing Yaqoob on air, Inskeep referenced Yaqoob’s father, the former head of the Taliban, Mullah Muhammad Omar: “He was the leader who refused to turn over Osama bin Laden in 2001, a refusal that led to the US attack.”

In the online version of the article, NPR wrote: “Omar also sheltered Osama bin Laden, and refused to turn over the Al Qaeda leader when the United States demanded him after 9/11.”

This line that the Taliban “refused to turn over Osama bin Laden,” and that this “led to the US attack,” though part of the commonly accepted chronology of the war, is a gross distortion of history. The truth is almost the exact opposite: The Taliban repeatedly offered to give up Bin Laden, only rejecting George W. Bush’s demands for immediate and unconditional acquiescence without discussion.

‘There are no negotiations’

The series of events leading up to the US Afghanistan invasion were laid out recently in a Current Affairs essay by Nathan Robinson and Noam Chomsky (8/3/22), titled “What Do We Owe Afghanistan?”

Even before 9/11, the Taliban—who already had a “deeply contentious” relationship with Al Qaeda—repeatedly signaled their willingness to work with the US in bringing Bin Laden to justice. Former Taliban Foreign Minister Wakil Ahmad Muttawakil told Al Jazeera (9/11/11) that for years, they had used unofficial channels to present ways to  “resolve the Osama issue.” “One such proposal,” Muttawakil said, “was to set up a three-nation court, or something under the supervision of the Organization of the Islamic Conference [OIC].”

Robert Grenier, former CIA station chief in Pakistan, confirmed US receipt of these proposals to Al Jazeera, but dismissed them as a “ploy” to be ignored. According to Grenier, the US “did not trust the Taliban and their ability to conduct a proper trial.”

In the wake of the 9/11 attacks, the US demanded that the Taliban immediately hand over Bin Laden. The Taliban responded by offering to put Bin Laden on trial if they were shown evidence of his involvement in the attacks. The US refused to share proof, rejecting any diplomatic option.

Bush announced, “There are no negotiations,” then proceeded to bomb Afghanistan, despite numerous warnings from both humanitarian organizations and anti-Taliban forces in the country that their actions would only hurt the Afghanistani people. Even after the bombs began to fall, the Taliban repeated their offers to give up Bin Laden—even dropping the requirement for actual evidence. The US continued its onslaught, initiating the 20-year odyssey of occupation that unraveled last year.

‘Preponderance on the Eurasian continent’

Zbigniew Brzezinski’s vision of the “Grand Chessboard” included a prospective pipeline across Afghanistan.

It’s abundantly clear that US aims in the country transcended capturing Bin Laden and obtaining justice for 9/11 victims. Some, like Chomsky and Robinson, attributed the hasty invasion to Bush’s personal bloodlust.

Others trace US policy in Afghanistan to longstanding geopolitical imperatives for military influence and control of the world’s natural resources. Former National Security Advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski, architect of the “Afghan Trap,” wrote in his 1997 book The Grand Chessboard that “America’s global primacy is directly dependent on how long and how effectively its preponderance on the Eurasian continent is sustained.” The book even contained a map of a proposed pipeline through Afghanistan.

The Bush administration’s ranks were pulled in large part from the neoconservative think tank, the Project for a New American Century. In PNAC’s now infamous 2000 document, Rebuilding America’s Defenses, the overtly imperial organization called for the establishment of “forward-facing bases” in Central Asia, calling these “an essential element in US security strategy given the longstanding American interests in the region.”

Of PNAC’s 25 founding members, ten went on to staff the Bush administration, including Vice President Dick Cheney, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz. The day before 9/11, the Bush administration had already made a decision to eventually attack Afghanistan, using Bin Laden as a pretext.  On September 12, Rumsfeld and Wolfowitz were trying to initiate a wider war by attacking Iraq, despite nothing linking Iraq to the attacks.

‘An illegal war’

Nathan Robinson and Noam Chomsky (Current Affairs, 8/3/22) : “Long before 9/11, the Taliban had reached out to the United States and offered to put Bin Laden on trial under the supervision of a ‘neutral international organization.'”

Whatever the Bush administration’s motivations, it’s clear that the reality is a far cry from NPR’s propagandistically simple formulation that the Taliban simply refused to hand over Bin Laden, and this is what led to the US attack on Afghanistan.

However, it should be noted that even in Inskeep’s version of events, the US invasion would still be an unlawful and unnecessary act of aggression. As Chomsky and Robinson wrote in Current Affairs (8/3/22):

The 9/11 attacks could have been dealt with as a crime. This would have been sane and consistent with precedent. When lawbreaking occurs, we seek the perpetrators, rather than starting wars with unrelated parties.…

If the Bush administration had wanted to “defend Americans from another terrorist attack,” it would have pursued the criminal network responsible for the original attack. Instead, it wanted vengeance, and launched an illegal war that killed thousands of innocent people.

NPR’s historical framing is an attempt to paint the Taliban as prepared to defend Bin Laden to the death, and thus complicit or supportive of the 9/11 attacks. This inaccurate portrayal serves to retroactively justify the US assault on one of the poorest countries in the world.

Despite Biden withdrawing from Afghanistan after a brutal 20-year occupation, the US continues to attack the population today. Earlier this year, the Biden administration directly invoked the horrors of 9/11 to justify robbing the Afghans of $7 billion in central bank reserves.  In some twisted form of justice, the Biden administration decided to keep the stolen funds and distribute half of it to families of 9/11 victims.

The other half was to be redistributed to Afghanistan in the form of humanitarian aid, though experts warn that this is far from a substitute for restarting the economy.  This despite outrage from several 9/11 families over the violence committed in their name. As the Afghan economy collapses, nearly the entire country is being plunged into misery on a mass scale, and the US is intent on making it worse (FAIR.org, 2/15/22).

In future reporting,  NPR should present a clearer picture of historical events to provide proper context for their listeners, and to avoid legitimizing the ongoing, massively destructive policies of the United States by promoting official state mythology.

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

Featured image: NPR depiction (8/5/22) of a Taliban compound in Afghanistan (photo: Claire Harbage/NPR).

The post NPR Distorts History of US Invasion of Afghanistan appeared first on FAIR.

Why Is There More Media Talk About Using Nuclear Weapons Than About Banning Them?

August 5, 2022 - 12:00pm

It’s of critical importance—indeed, existential importance—to the world: the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons. And a coalition of peace organizations in the United States is charging that media are acting like the treaty “does not exist.”

The Nuclear Ban Treaty Collaborative is waging a campaign to encourage press coverage of the treaty, which, it argues, “provides the only pathway to a safe, secure future free of the nuclear threat” (Oak Ridge Environmental Peace Alliance Newsletter, 6/22).

While the UN works to abolish nuclear weapons, spending on them is increasing in some countries (totals in billions). The International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICANW) has calculated that last year, the United States spent over $84,000 per minute on nuclear weapons (ICANW, June 2022).

In the words of the UN, the treaty is “a legally binding instrument to prohibit nuclear weapons, leading towards their total elimination.” It was adopted by the UN General Assembly—with 122 nations in favor—and opened for signature in 2017. It was entered into force in January 2021. 

But its provisions only apply to nations which are party to it. Countries with nuclear weapons—including the United States, Russia and China—have not. Instead, “so far, they have refused, boycotted meetings, and even pressured countries not to sign on,” the Federation of American Scientists has noted (FAS, 1/22/09). 

Media attention vital 

Media attention is vital if the TPNW is to become a reality. But as the Oak Ridge Environmental Peace Alliance (OREPA), a member of the Collaborative, explained in its June newsletter

The last time the New York Times mentioned the TPNW was October of 2020, when Honduras became the 50th nation to ratify the Treaty, triggering its Entry in Force. In all the coverage of nuclear weapons since then, including a surge since Vladimir Putin invaded Ukraine, the TPNW has not been mentioned once.

National Public Radio has had four significant reports about nuclear weapons in the last three months, including a seven minute report on Sunday, March 27. None of the reports mentioned the TPNW—the last time NPR mentioned it was in January 2021 when it reported on the Treaty’s entry into force, noting it was a significant treaty becoming international law. Since then, crickets.

CNN is marginally better. A search of the website for “nuclear weapons” turns up almost daily reports; but the Treaty on the Prohibition on Nuclear Weapons gets only one mention—an op-ed on May 3 from Ira Helfand, co-president of International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War.

The Collaborative is calling for media to cover the treaty whenever reporting on the threat of nuclear weapons.

Plenty of nuclear talk

Ralph Hutchison, coordinator of OREPA, said in an interview: 

What became alarming was that there was a revival of coverage of nuclear weapons after Vladimir Putin made his threat. In all those articles we seemed to be locked into Cold War thinking which ignores the reality that an alternative to “mutually assured destruction” exists: the Treaty for the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons. And yet there was nothing.

One of the few newspaper articles in recent months about the treaty came when the Batavia, NY-based Daily News‘ Margret Lee (6/11/22) covered a local peace protest.

Indeed, according to a search of the Nexis news database, US newspapers have mentioned “nuclear weapons” 5,243 times between February 24, when Putin began talking about their potential use in Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, and August 4. Only 43 of those times included a mention of the treaty; the great majority of these were letters to the editor or opinion columns.

This comes against the backdrop of the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists in 2020 moving its “Doomsday Clock” forward to 100 seconds to midnight, where it has remained through today. It defines midnight as “nuclear annihilation.” This was the closest to midnight the clock has been set at since it was created in 1947 (1/20/22). 

“Let’s eliminate these weapons before they eliminate us,” said UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres at the conclusion in June of a “Political Declaration and Action Plan” for implementation of the TPNW—“important steps,” he said, “toward our shared goal of a world free of nuclear weapons” (UN Press, 6/21/22). 

Guterres went on: 

Today, the terrifying lessons of Hiroshima and Nagasaki are fading from memory.  The once‑unthinkable prospect of nuclear conflict is now back within the realm of possibility…. In a world rife with geopolitical tensions and mistrust, this is a recipe for annihilation. 

We cannot allow the nuclear weapons wielded by a handful of states to jeopardize all life on our planet.  We must stop knocking at doomsday’s door. The Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons is an important step towards the common aspiration of a world without nuclear weapons.

Can the atomic genie be put back in the bottle? Anything people have done, other people can undo. And the prospect of massive loss of life from nuclear destruction is the best of reasons.

There’s a precedent: the outlawing of chemical warfare after World War I, when its terrible impacts were horrifically demonstrated, killing 90,000. The Geneva Protocol of 1925 and the Chemicals Weapons Convention of 1933 outlawed chemical warfare, and to a large degree the prohibition has held.

As Pope Francis said on a visit to Nagasaki in 2019, in which he condemned the “unspeakable horror” of nuclear weapons: “A world without nuclear weapons is possible and necessary.” 

To learn more about or join the Collaborative’s ongoing media activism campaign, please visit https://www.nuclearbantreaty.org/

The post Why Is There More Media Talk About Using Nuclear Weapons Than About Banning Them? appeared first on FAIR.

Luke Harris and Joe Torres on America’s Racist Legacy

August 5, 2022 - 10:22am

This week on CounterSpin: The crises we face right now in the US—a nominally democratic political process that’s strangled by white supremacist values, a corporate profiteering system that mindlessly overrides human needs to treat the environment as just another “input”—are terrible, but not, precisely, new. People have fought against these ideas in various forms before; and some strategies have been useful, others less so. The front line for us now is the fact that we have powerful actors who don’t just want to argue for particular ideas to guide us forward, but want to shut down the spaces in which we can have the arguments. And where a vigorous free press should be, we have corporate, commercial media that don’t have defending those spaces as their foremost concern.

One crucial thing we now know we need to pro-actively fight for: our right to learn and teach real US history.

Luke Harris

Listeners will have heard of the campaign against ‘critical race theory,’—a set of ideas of which rightwing opponents gleefully acknowledge they know and care nothing, but are using as cover to attack any race-conscious, that’s to say accurate and appropriate, teaching.  

CounterSpin put that cynical but impactful campaign in context last July with Luke Harris, co-founder and

deputy director of the African American Policy Forum.

Late last June we talked about just the kind of story we all would know if our learning was inclusive and

Joe Torres

unafraid, the kind of story that would play a role in our understanding of the country’s growth—the 1921 massacre in Tulsa, Oklahoma, in which 300 overwhelmingly Black people were killed, and some 800 shot or wounded. It’s a part of a sort of ‘hidden history’ that the press corps have a role in hiding, as we discussed with Joe Torres, senior director of strategy and engagement at the group Free Press, and co-author with Juan González of News for All the People: The Epic Story of Race and the American Media.

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CounterSpin spoke with Luke Harris in July of 2021.

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We spoke with Joe Torres in June 2021.

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Chile’s Draft Constitution: Undemocratic—or Too Much Democracy?

August 1, 2022 - 11:11am


The Wall Street Journal (7/27/22) warns that Chile’s proposed constitution will lead to “authoritarianism, chaos and possibly civil war.”

Chileans will vote in September on whether to approve a new constitution that promises to address inequality and lack of democracy (Reuters, 7/4/22). It would replace the present constitution imposed by the dictatorship of Gen. Augusto Pinochet, who came into power through a US-backed coup in 1973. The nation’s newly elected left-wing leadership is calling for a “yes” vote, although in the much-divided country, the constitution faces steep opposition from the right.

US and Western editorialists are also pushing for a no vote. Opposition to the constitution’s economic changes should be expected; of course conservative and corporate centrist outlets will be against a proposed constitution that would make way for economic regulation and nationalization. But the idea being pushed that a democratic process to upgrade the national framework from one designed under despotism is against “democracy” is both Orwellian and an effective propaganda tool against popular progress.

A Wall Street Journal op-ed (7/27/22), penned by Axel Kaiser of the right-wing Atlas Center, complained that the proposed constitution “could destroy Chile’s economy, democracy and integrity as a nation.” Exhibit A was “a new entity, the Council of Justice, to evaluate judges’ performance and decide whether they can remain on the bench”—thereby paving the way for a “dictatorial regime.” Given that unaccountable judges in the United States are stripping citizens of basic human rights, some US readers might be more sympathetic to the introduction of a check on judicial power.

The op-ed also warned that “Chile’s proposed constitution would eliminate the Senate—a more than 200-year-old institution that has historically played a crucial role in balancing political power.” In “the new system, a single chamber would reign,” Kaiser wrote, suggesting that this “does not comply with the minimum standards required by Chile’s democracy.” But as unicameral legislatures are common in many democracies–including 16 members of NATO–this fear seems overblown.

Washington Post (7/5/22): The draft is “a woke constitution propelled by left-leaning millennials.”

In an otherwise fair piece, the Washington Post (7/5/22) described the draft constitution as “woke” in the headline, and remarked, “It’s a woke constitution propelled by left-leaning millennials and built for a modern nation led by one.” This is the continuation of a trend FAIR (11/17/21) has documented of corporate media using the word “woke,” an expression from African-American vernacular that signifies awareness of systemic oppression and inequality, as a buzzword to deride a wide range of left-leaning political positions, dismissing them as millennial over-sensitivity.

The Economist (7/6/22), in calling for the constitution’s rejection, focused much of its ire on constitutional protections for the non-rich, like the establishment of a national health system and declarations of rights to food, housing and trade unions–derided as “a fiscally irresponsible left-wing wish list.” The magazine did laud the draft’s devolution of powers to regions and to indigenous people—good on the Oxbridge fellows there—but complained that “the draft upends the budget process by giving Congress new powers to propose spending bills, although the president can veto them.” This is basically how the US budget process works; in theory the process starts with the president submitting a proposal to Congress, but as the Washington Post (2/13/22) noted, “It’s an American political tradition for Congress to consider every president’s budget as ‘dead on arrival’” (a tradition that has not changed under Biden).

In another article, the Economist (7/7/22) took to task not just what it saw as an undemocratic document, but an undemocratic process. It said:

Although it was demographically representative, its ideological slant was not. Only 43% of voters bothered to choose the convention’s members in May 2021. Around 55 delegates were hard leftists, many of whom ran on single-issue tickets. Scandals did not help. A deputy resigned for lying about having cancer. They bickered among themselves. Indigenous constituents complained about racism. Right-wing representatives accused other assembly members of wanting to create an “indigenous monarchy.”

This does sound messy and headache inducing. But to a Northeast US beat reporter, none of the shenanigans alleged here would seem out of place in, say, New Jersey state politics. This is what democracy looks like.

The National Review (7/24/22) warned “the referendum on September 4 is the last chance for citizens to stop Chile from becoming a socialist country as Venezuela did.” Again, it’s not out of character for conservative editorialists to be against a leftward drift in Latin America. What they seem to gloss over is that this is all the result of a democratic process. The people of Chile or Venezuela have the right to decide their fate.

‘Important limits and controls’

Chilean constitutional lawyer Christian Suárez Crothers (El Mostrador, 7/28/22) offers “Some Reflections on the Core of the Constitutional Proposal.”

It is true that while Chile’s current president won with a decisive victory, the constitution is a hard sell to a sharply divided Chilean electorate. But, again, that is democracy, and governments and constitutional assemblies are obliged to make the best case they can for the document they’re asking people to approve. Chile’s El Siglo (7/25/22) reported that in one weekend, “thousands of citizens were deployed in almost all regions of the country in plazas, house to house, parks, avenues, public places, delivering information on the text of the new Constitution, and calling” for a yes vote.

Christian Suárez Crothers wrote in El Mostrador (7/28/22) in response to the draft constitution’s dissenters:

The text is open to its reform and even its total replacement in a more flexible way than the current Constitution. Important limits and controls are established to the State, through the broad protection of rights and control of the administration through the creation of administrative courts; all this for the benefit of the citizens who will not be at the mercy of the arbitrariness of the administration. A regime much superior to the existing one. The right to property is guaranteed to standards superior to those of Italy or Germany, and the constituents did not expressly incorporate nationalization, while, for example, France is advancing towards the nationalization of the entire electricity sector.

Suárez added that in terms of economics, the political elite feared “the establishment of a regime that promotes transparency and fiscal responsibility at all levels, and the end of lobbying in the highest appointments.” He scoffed:

How difficult it will be to obtain aid outside the system of competitions for positions in the administration of justice, for example, with the existence of a transparent Superior Council of Justice and subject to rules of public competition and probity!

The media drumbeat about the crumbling of democracy in the world isn’t unfounded. From Hungary (Atlantic, 4/2/20) to Brazil (Foreign Affairs, 11/1/21) to the United States (NPR, 1/3/22), democratic institutions are crumbling, under attack from the right and the corporate class while feebly defended by the center-liberal parties.

Whether this constitution gets approved or not, Chile is going in the opposite direction. The press should highlight that instead.


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