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Key Fact Obscured in Immigration Coverage: MS-13 Was Made in USA

July 22, 2018 - 3:23pm

David Frum (Atlantic, 6/20/18) rejects the “extremism” of holding the US responsible for creating the conditions that force mass migration.

In a piece for the Atlantic (6/20/18), former George W. Bush speechwriter David Frum countered statements by MSNBC’s Chris Hayes, in which Hayes described a harrowing first-person account of a mother forcibly separated from her child at the US/Mexico border as reading like “the literature of a totalitarian government”:

As Hayes elaborates his horror at the separation of mother from child, he seems to arrive at a conclusion that there is something inherently oppressive about any kind of immigration rule at all….The border crosser goes to them. She is not just “living her life … and then all of a sudden, the state can come in and wrench your life apart.” She, of her own volition, traveled hundreds of miles to challenge the authority of a foreign state to police its frontiers. When her challenge failed—when she was apprehended and detained—what happened next must have felt harsh and frightening. But dictatorial? Totalitarian? In democracies, too, the wrong side of the law is an inescapably uncomfortable place to find yourself.

Frum’s argument presents the US as unimplicated in the surge in Central American migration except as its victim, a “sovereign state” that must “police its frontiers.” His concluding worry about “the surges that will soon follow from the rest of the planet if the present surge is not checked” suggests he’s given little thought to the particular forces driving people from that region, much less how those relate to US foreign and economic policy.

Why those countries?

The immigrants that Frum is speaking of come largely from the Central American countries of El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala, an area known as the Northern Triangle. According to the Pew Research Center, there are 3 million total immigrants from these countries in the US, and about half of those immigrants are undocumented. While Mexican immigration has been falling in recent years, Central American immigration has increased: from 2007 through 2015, the total number of Northern Triangle immigrants rose by 25 percent.

Yet much media coverage of immigration misses out on why large numbers of people from the Northern Triangle are migrating to the US in the first place.

Over the past three generations, the Northern Triangle countries, long marked by profound levels of inequality, have each experienced horribly destructive civil wars and military coups. Unsurprisingly, the United States has been intimately involved in each of these, supporting anti-Communist regimes during the Cold War and protecting US business interests with truly disastrous results.

In 1954, the CIA orchestrated a coup to remove President Jacobo Arbenz, the democratically elected leader of Guatemala, at the behest of United Fruit Company (now Chiquita), the country’s largest landowner. During the subsequent civil war that lasted until 1996, the US gave military and financial support to a succession of right-wing governments that committed large-scale human rights abuses that killed hundreds of thousands.

In Honduras in the 1980s, the CIA trained right-wing death squads like Battalion 316 that tortured and assassinated the government’s left-wing political opponents. In 2009, the US State Department under Hillary Clinton supported the overthrow of Honduran President Manuel Zelaya by graduates of the School of the Americas, a notorious US military training academy. The coup created waves of protests and escalated murders of hundreds of activists, including indigenous leader Berta Cáceres.

The Reagan administration gave billions in military aid to right-wing dictatorships in Central American countries like El Salvador.

In El Salvador, when a military coup in 1979 sparked the formation of a leftist guerilla movement known as the Farabundo Martí National Liberation Front (FMLN), first the Carter and then the Reagan administration backed the anti-Communist junta in the ensuing civil war by supplying training, military equipment, arms and financial support totalling $6 billion. Much of the aid and arms ended up supporting the junta’s paramilitary death squads. In 1980, these death squads assassinated Catholic Archbishop Oscar Romero during a sermon, and later that year raped and murdered four American nuns. In 1981, junta forces massacred over a thousand people, mostly women, children and the elderly, in the village of El Mozote. The perpetrators, the Atlacatl Battalion, had recently completed training with the U.S. military at Fort Bragg prior to the massacre. The CIA also funded presidential candidate and junta leader Napoleon Duarte prior to his election in 1984 in order to throw a wrench in peace talks, a move that dragged the war on for another eight years.

The Salvadoran civil war, which ultimately ended along with the Cold War in 1992, is estimated to have claimed the lives of up to 75,000 Salvadorans, including over 50,000 civilians, with 85 percent of deaths at the hands of the Salvadoran government and its paramilitary allies. Top US officials like Secretary of State Alexander Haig, Assistant Secretary of State Elliott Abrams and UN Ambassador Jeane Kirkpatrick each denied or obscured the human rights abuses and massacres in El Salvador order to maintain congressional funding for the Salvadoran military junta and other anti-Communist authoritarian regimes throughout Central America. Abrams later called the Reagan administration’s record in El Salvador “one of fabulous achievement.”

MS-13 a Policy Backfire

El Salvador provides perhaps the most striking case of how US responsibility is obscured in the current immigration debate, based on the notoriety of Mara Salvatrucha, a predominantly Salvadoran street gang better known as MS-13.

MS-13 has become a major scapegoat for Donald Trump and right-wing media in rationalizing harsh immigration policies. The Trump administration has referred to MS-13 gang members as “animals” who “infest” the United States—rhetoric that, as the Washington Post’s Greg Sargent (5/25/18) noted, “slaps the dehumanizing slur on the least sympathetic subgroup and then conflates that subgroup with the larger group that is the real target.”

This scapegoating seems to have worked: According to a recent HuffPost/YouGov survey, over 85 percent of Trump voters believe that MS-13 is a major threat to the United States as a whole. This level of anxiety seems misplaced, considering that even the Justice Department claims MS-13 has only about 10,000 members in the US.

Corporate media sources have engaged in a flurry of MS-13 coverage over the past two years.

For Salvadorans, though, the fear is very real: In 2017, El Salvador had the most murders per capita on the entire planet (109 per 100,000), followed by Honduras (64 per 100,000), with Guatemala coming in at number nine (31 per 100,000). And with stories like “In El Salvador, the Murder Capital of the World, Gang Violence Becomes a Way of Life” (ABC News, 5/17/16) and  “Organised Violence Is Ravaging Central America and Displacing Thousands” (Guardian, 6/29/17), media have used that violence to fan fears of MS-13 making inroads into US cities and suburbs.

But what Trump’s racist rhetoric and fearmongering media alike ignore is that MS-13 is partially a product of US policy. The gang was actually founded in the Pico Union neighborhood of Los Angeles in the early 1980s, by Salvadoran immigrants and refugees from its civil war. Its subsequent growth from a small street gang in the US to a transnational criminal organization based out of the Northern Triangle  provides an illuminating case study of how US foreign policy choices can backfire spectacularly.

Deportation’s Boomerang Effect

The violence of the Salvadoran civil war sparked a mass exodus of Salvadorans to the United States. In 1970, there were only 15,717 Salvadoran born immigrants living in the US. By 1980, there were 94,447 Salvadoran-born immigrants in the US, shooting up to 465,433 by 1990. Undocumented Salvadorans were granted Temporary Protected Status from 1990 through 1994; TPS was extended following a catastrophic earthquake in 2001, and has been periodically renewed since. However, the Trump administration recently revoked TPS for El Salvador, effective September 2019.

During and after the civil war, a majority of Salvadoran-born immigrants ended up in Southern California, particularly in ethnically segregated neighborhoods in Los Angeles, which was at the time in the midst of violence gang turf wars stemming from the crack cocaine epidemic—itself partially the product of plummeting cocaine prices as the result of drug-smuggling by the CIA-backed Nicaraguan Contra rebels. In this atmosphere, young, impoverished Salvadoran immigrants formed small street gangs like MS-13 and the Eighteenth Street Gang (also known as Barrio 18) for protection from local African-American and Mexican gangs.

Obama Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson in El Salvador overseeing repatriation of undocumented immigrants from the US in 2016.

Following the end of the civil war in the ’90s and continued gang violence in Southern California and the Washington, DC, metro area—the other major destination for Salvadoran immigrants—the Clinton administration engaged in a policy of mass deportation of immigrants with criminal records, beginning with the 1996 Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act. This was a continuation of policies of the Reagan administration, who deported thousands of Salvadorans seeking asylum from the civil war. An estimate by the UN Office on Drugs and Crime counted almost 46,000 deportations of immigrants with criminal records (undocumented or not) to El Salvador from the US between 1998 and 2005.

El Salvador, just off its decade-plus-long civil war, was hardly equipped with the institutions necessary to deal with a massive influx of gang members from the United States. Gangs like MS-13 quickly integrated with already established street gangs within the country, bringing back elements of US gang culture such as symbols, identities and norms like tattoos or graffiti that helped bring local gang sets under the MS-13 umbrella.

The response of the Salvadoran government (and other Northern Triangle countries) was to crack down and lock up large numbers of suspected gang members in the early 2000s, a policy known as mano dura, or “firm hand.” Over 30,000 arrests were made under the policy in El Salvador, although many cases were thrown out due to illegal arrests and lack of evidence. Despite this, the arrests concentrated large numbers of gang members in one place: Jails and prisons served as effective locations for centralizing the organization of gangs that were previously only loosely affiliated.

While these newly integrated gangs in El Salvador are still less centralized than Mexican drug cartels, the mano dura policies nonetheless allowed gangs to better coordinate across varied gang sets, and expand extortion rackets to tax neighbors and businesses on their turf, using threats of violence. These extortion rackets, along with continued violence between gangs over turf, have created an atmosphere of fear that Salvadoran families quite reasonably want to get away from.

Pouring Fuel on the Fire

Increased deportations of Salvadoran gang members during the Trump administration will likely have the effect of further swelling gang membership numbers in El Salvador, which will in turn lead to more migration as Salvadorans flee gang extortion rackets and violence. Even police have reservations about the harsh immigration policies, and MS-13 gang members have acknowledged that deportation policies help expand their numbers.

Continued gang crackdowns by the Salvadoran government over the past few years are also an issue that the US has a hand in: Salvadoran security forces accused by the UN of extrajudicial killings of gang members have received millions in US aid and training from the FBI and DEA. Ongoing violent confrontations between Salvadoran law enforcement and gangs also contribute to a climate of fear and resentment among Salvadorans as well. Just as tough-on-crime policies have generally failed to reduce crime in the US, in El Salvador and the other Northern Triangle countries they have just as bad a track record, as shown by the failure of the mano dura policies.

The end of Temporary Protected Status for over 200,000 Salvadorans, and their likely subsequent deportation, will also have a major effect on the Salvadoran economy by decreasing remittances from the United States, which account for over about a sixth of the country’s GDP. The end of TPS, combined with high levels of unemployment and underemployment that are partially attributable to US neoliberal economic policies like the 2006 Central American Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA), will likely increase the poverty that feeds youth gang membership and immigration. As Mark Tseng-Putterman noted in Medium (6/20/18),  “There are few connections being drawn between the weakening of Central American rural agricultural economies at the hands of CAFTA and the rise in migration from the region in the years since.” Indeed, the destructive impact of US trade policy in Latin America over the years has been actively obscured by the devotion of corporate media to “free trade” nostrums. As New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman explained when he endorsed CAFTA in a 2006 CNBC interview: “I didn’t even know what was in it. I just knew two words: free trade.”

While the United States does not necessarily deserve 100 percent of the blame for the conflicts and economic policies that have led to increases in Northern Triangle violence or immigration, it is certainly a major culprit, and has poured fuel on the fire every time it has had the opportunity to do otherwise.

Ignoring the Context

One of the few Washington Post articles (6/14/18) to mention the Salvadoran civil war in regards to the issue of immigration.

Yet media ignore this crucial context when discussing current American immigration policies. The Washington Post’s pieces on immigration or MS-13 have seldom mentioned the Salvadoran civil war when discussing immigration, let alone the outsized US involvement in the conflict. Out of hundreds of Post articles on Latin American immigration in the past six months, only a few even mention the Salvadoran civil war (1/11/18, 1/31/18, 2/12/18, 3/12/18, 5/30/18, 6/29/18, 7/2/18). One article in the DC Metro Weekend section (6/14/18) did mention immigration in relation to the civil war, but only in the context of where to get some tasty Salvadoran food in Maryland, while another article (3/2/18) on Venezuelan immigration mentioned the Salvadoran civil war in passing. Only Jose Miguel Cruz’s January 31 article and Micaela Sviatschi’s February 12 article mentioned any US involvement in the Salvadoran civil war. While the Post has explored the connection in greater detail in the past, one would think that the current child migrant separation policy and continuing high levels of Northern Triangle immigration would warrant nuanced and detailed coverage now.

The New York Times fared little better, only mentioning the Salvadoran civil war in the context of immigration or MS-13 a handful times in the past six months (1/13/18, 1/18/18, 1/31/18, 2/8/18, 2/17/18, 3/1/18, 4/30/18, 5/23/18, 5/26/18, 6/12/18), including a book review roundup (1/27/18) and a factchecking article on Trump’s claims about MS-13 (7/1/18). Yet of these articles, only three contained any mention of US involvement in the civil war: the January 13 op-ed by Lauren Markham, the January 18 op-ed by Linda Greenhouse and the May 26 article by Elizabeth Malkin. (Malkin’s piece was less focused on current immigration issues, centering on the El Mozote Massacre.) The rest of the articles only briefly mentioned the Salvadoran civil war.

The corporate press has done a generally good job of covering the staggering number of human rights abuses of ICE, including the presence of immigrant detainment camps and the separation of over 2,000 child migrants and asylum seekers from their parents at the US/Mexico border. Other outlets have been better on connecting the imperialist history of US foreign policy with the current immigration issues, like Current Affairs (8/1/16), Vox (5/21/18), The Conversation (5/8/17), Vice (6/28/18) and the Philadelphia Inquirer (6/21/18). Even the Atlantic has published pieces (1/20/18, 3/4/18) that explore the web of US policies that have contributed to the current immigration crisis in Central America.

The fact that neoconservatives like David Frum continually obscure the blowback of imperialist US foreign policy is unsurprising. Perhaps more outrageous is the failure of the establishment press, especially the Washington Post and the New York Times, to grapple with how current immigration issues are connected to US intervention in Central America, and the subsequent gang violence it helped trigger. As Mark Tseng-Putterman (Medium, 6/20/18) aptly put it, the US empire thrives on amnesia. It is the job of the media to inform the public with the nuance and context necessary to understand America’s role in the current Central American immigration crisis.

Chuck Schumer’s Actions on the National Stage Get Little Scrutiny From His Local Press

July 20, 2018 - 4:34pm

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer seldom faces scrutiny from New York City’s reputedly tough press.

In the recent flare-up over “civility,” the leading Democrat in the Senate attacked Rep. Maxine Waters’ call for public confrontation with Trump administration officials as “not American.” Many activists in Brooklyn, Chuck Schumer’s home, were upset by the McCarthyite smear. Yet while the right-wing New York Post praised his stance towards Waters (6/26/18), New York’s senior senator faced little criticism in the local press for it.

For such a powerful figure, Schumer gets relatively scant scrutiny from New York City’s press corps, long considered the toughest in the United States. Instead, the tabloids dutifully cover the Senate minority leader’s Sunday news conference warnings about the latest consumer “outrage,” whether it be hurricane-damaged used cars flooding the market or sunscreen pills that surprisingly don’t work.

In the heyday of the tabloid wars of the late 20th century, many NYC politicians feared the wrath of influential columnists like Jimmy Breslin, Jack Newfield and Pete Hamill. But today’s leading columnists seem willing to give Schumer a free pass.

Errol Louis makes infrequent mention of Schumer in his Daily News column, and on his nightly show about city and state politics (NY1’s Inside City Hall), Louis hosted a roundtable discussion (2/16/17) with Schumer’s former press aides, in which they touted the virtues of Sunday news conferences. In his Sunday column in the Daily News, Harry Siegel regularly pillories Mayor Bill de Blasio, but rarely if ever places Schumer’s actions under the microscope.

Meanwhile, at the time of the 2016 election, New York Times columnist Jim Dwyer (11/8/16) went so far as to compare Schumer—then the prospective heir to Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid—to LBJ, the legendary “Master of the Senate.” Since taking office, Schumer has been more akin to the ineffectual Reid—unable to keep his ranks in unison over the Pompeo or Haskel nominations, or the rollback of Dodd/Frank. But Dwyer has not followed up on his over-optimistic prediction.

Michelle Goldberg (New York Times, 1/22/18) was one of the few New York columnists to criticize Schumer–as well as one of the only pundits to reject the Democrats’ cave-in on the Dreamers (FAIR.org, 2/2/18).

Occasional criticism of New York’s most powerful politician can be found in the Times’ op-ed pages. “It’s hard to overstate how disgusted many progressive leaders are,” observed Michelle Goldberg (1/22/18) regarding Schumer’s willingness to drop DACA protections in the fight over a government shutdown this past winter. Four years ago, Paul Krugman (12/5/14) was angry that Schumer viewed Obamacare as a mistaken priority for the Dems. More recently, Nicholas Kristof (6/16/18) chided the senior New York senator for his hostility to Trump’s negotiations with North Korea. But in general, the columnists in the leading media ally of the Democratic Party seem to overlook the actions of the hometown pol.

The city’s editorial boards have only intermittently picked up the slack. When the Obama administration pushed the Iran deal in the summer of 2015, Times editorial board member Carol Giacomo (Taking Note, 7/20/15) kept a close eye on Schumer’s position. When Schumer announced his opposition, Giacomo (Taking Note, 8/7/15) called it “wrong-headed and irresponsible,” arguing that it placed the aspiring Senate leader in accord with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu but not Obama. When Trump shredded the deal this past May, Schumer claimed he was for it—but the Times said nothing about the latter’s dubious stance, which the president happily ridiculed.

The Daily News editorial board is unequivocally pro-Israel, as evidenced by its enthusiasm for Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as its capital. Last October, two months before the administration announced its position, Schumer urged Trump to overcome his “indecisiveness” regarding what the senator viewed as the appropriate relocation of the US embassy to Jerusalem. But in its two editorials (12/6/17, 5/14/18) championing the administration’s embrace of that move, the Daily News made no mention of Schumer’s pivotal role. Nor has any editorial board criticized his position in the wake of the 60 Palestinians killed (and over 2,750 wounded) by Israel as the embassy’s change of address was celebrated.

There’s little evidence that the Dems have mounted effective opposition to the Trump administration, yet the Times nonetheless managed to place Schumer at the forefront of the “Resistance.” In late March, the editorial board (3/27/18) found “the Democratic leadership in full resistance mode” as Schumer was able to kill some egregious riders to an omnibus spending bill that prevented a government shutdown. As part of the same negotiations, Schumer was able to maintain funding for the Gateway Tunnel project that will make necessary improvements in transportation between New Jersey and New York. But that deal came at the expense of protection for Dreamers. Once again, Schumer’s maneuverings didn’t get full scrutiny in the NYC press.

One of Chuck’s signature moves is to make a “reasonable”-sounding plea that is destined to be unheard. Amid the uproar over the Trump administration’s family separation policy, the senator called for the president to appoint an “immigration czar” to coordinate the various federal government agencies involved in the issue. In the wake of the most recent Mueller indictments, Schumer first called for Trump to cancel his Helsinki meeting with Putin; when it became clear that the meeting would proceed, Schumer then advised the president, “Ask [Putin] to hand over the indicted Russians.” Such empty posturing by the nation’s top Democrat seems to escape the critical eye of his hometown media.

Given that Schumer will be at the forefront of the Democrats’ effort to stop Brett Kavanaugh from becoming the next Supreme Court justice, his ineffectual role in pushing the Obama administration’s doomed selection of Merrick Garland also deserves attention. Schumer was confident that his Republican colleagues would support the moderate judge, because Garland was not an “ideologue” and would just “follow the law.” To drive home the point, Schumer recently recommended that Trump nominate Garland.

Schumer’s advocacy for Garland famously went nowhere. Whether he can successfully mobilize the Resistance against Kavanaugh remains to be seen. Why he gets treated with kid gloves by the NYC press continues to be a mystery.


Theodore Hamm is chair of journalism and new media studies at St. Joseph’s College in Brooklyn. He is the editor of Frederick Douglass in Brooklyn.


Calls to Abolish ICE Get Cold Shoulder on Newspaper Opinion Pages

July 20, 2018 - 2:46pm

The Washington Post (7/5/18) tells activists they’re doing outrage wrong.

“Abolish ICE,” once a rallying cry for a small number of leftists and activists, has become a national slogan of dissent against the Trump administration and policies that target Latino communities. Tens of thousands of people have taken to the streets in cities across the US to call for an end to family separation, detention and deportation.

Despite this, corporate media decided to push the status quo—or at least a version of it without Trump as commander-in-chief. Of the 90 opinion pieces on the subject of ICE that were published in papers across the US from June 28 to July 18, 85 were explicitly against abolishing ICE, while only five were supportive.

Five of the ten top newspapers by circulation, including the Washington Post (7/5/18), USA Today (7/3/18), Newsday (7/10/18), New York Post  (7/4/18) and New York Daily News (7/6/18), published editorials that rushed to defend ICE and condemn a progressive stance. No Democrats have called for open borders, which would allow citizens and noncitizens alike to cross into or out of the US with few restrictions; at their most radical, they have called for rebuilding the US immigration system to be more humane. Even so, editorial boards urged Democrats to stick to a moderate work-within-the-system approach. ICE, which was created in 2003 in response to the September 11 attacks, was repeatedly hailed as a necessary agency that is unfortunately being manipulated by Trump for his own agenda. The Washington Post’s editorial board relayed this message:

The problem with ICE isn’t its existence or its mission. It’s that the Trump administration, in its xenophobic zeal, has weaponized it to go beyond protecting the United States and into the darker realms of oppression.

Michelle Malkin thinks abolishing ICE is a bad idea (Fort Wayne News-Sentinel, 7/20/18)–but then, she thinks putting Japanese-Americans in concentration camps was a good idea.

Fifty-nine of the 90 published opinion pieces were signed columns rather than unsigned editorials. Forty-four percent of these columns were written by Republicans or self-described conservatives, and 11 percent by Democrats or self-described liberals. Rich Lowry, editor of the conservative magazine National Review, and right-wing author Michelle Malkin were the most published columnists on the subject of abolishing ICE, with both of their columns appearing six times in various publications.

Though the number of Democrats who wish to see dramatic changes to immigration policy is small, the response from editorial boards and columnists was resounding. Even op-eds that weren’t from self-identified conservatives argued that progressive stances would result in Democratic losses in the upcoming midterm elections. USA Today (7/3/18) contended that problems with the US immigration system stem from Trump, not ICE or any systemic problems. The editorial board called for Democrats to turn their grievances toward the president:

Ultimately, however, the push for inhumane immigration positions isn’t coming from ICE. It is coming from the White House. If Democrats want a less cruel immigration policy that will resonate with moderate voters, they should focus their energy on abolishing the Trump administration.

The urgency of the push to keep Democrats on a mend-it-don’t-end-it agenda is puzzling, considering again that those who support abolishing ICE are in the minority. Still, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s stunning victory over Rep. Joe Crowley in a New York City congressional primary has shown some Democrats that there is the possibility for a more progressive immigration agenda. Two of the five supportive op-eds were written by Democratic officials, and one was written by a gubernatorial candidate.

One of a handful of opinion pieces that supported rather than opposing the abolition of ICE (Daily News, 7/12/18).

One op-ed published by New York Daily News (7/12/18), written by New York City Council Speaker Corey Johnson and councilmember Carlos Menchaca, argued that ICE is not supporting public safety, and should be dissolved with its functions taken up by other agencies:

ICE is an indiscriminate deportation and detention machine, leaving families and communities broken, not safer. Its tactics, which spread fear throughout immigrant communities, fly in the face of one of our nation’s most hallowed and time-honored traditions as a beacon to those fleeing persecution and looking to build a better life.

Of the op-eds by those with identifiable ethnicities, this was also the only one written by a Latino; Menchaca is the chair of the New York City Council’s Immigration Committee.

Many have expressed dissent at the way the US handles immigration–from government officials to activists, civil rights advocates and immigrants themselves. Grassroots organizations have spoken against ICE tactics long before Trump became president. Yet corporate media chose to publish only a handful of these voices. The debate among editorial boards and columnists was focused on fear of Democratic Party extremism, rather than the widespread impacts of ICE and immigration policy.


Sam Husseini Locked Up for Committing Journalism in Public

July 20, 2018 - 12:26pm

The questions Sam Husseini tried to ask (The Nation, 7/17/18).

Journalist and FAIR associate Sam Husseini went to the Trump/Putin press conference in Helsinki with press credentials from The Nation and a couple of questions. Specifically, he wanted to ask both leaders why they aren’t living up to their commitments under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, and why they’re blocking the Treaty for the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons. Further, based on the idea that there may be no greater threat than a weapon that is unacknowledged, Husseini hoped to ask Trump if he would acknowledge the existence of Israel’s nuclear weapons.

It wasn’t so quixotic: Reuters (7/12/18) had just reported Trump saying his “ultimate” hope for the summit’s outcome was “no more nuclear weapons anywhere in the world.” But, as listeners may have heard, Husseini, also an analyst at the Institute for Public Accuracy, didn’t get to ask those questions. Before the conference started, Finnish security took him out of the room, saying someone had told them he had a sign. He did have a small piece of paper, reading “Nuclear Weapon Ban Treaty,” that he hoped might draw Trump’s or Putin’s attention, but he was prepared to be told this was against the rules and to hand it over. As he took it out, though, security officers leapt on him, knocked his glasses off, and dragged him out of the room, and ultimately to a detention facility, where they held him incommunicado until the middle of the night.

Coverage of Sam Husseini’s removal in the Sun (7/16/18), a British “newspaper.”

Finnish police couldn’t come up with anything to charge Husseini with. But some media could, implying with quotes around the word “journalist” that Husseini might not be one, or highlighting that he wasn’t hanging out with the rest of the pool. It’s true, Husseini is not one to pal around with corporate reporters and he’s often an unwelcome sight to the political figures he confronts—at the National Press Club and elsewhere—with questions they’d rather avoid.

Confusion about whether it still counts as journalism when it’s challenging to power is as distressing an assessment of today’s elite media as you need, but consider also that, after Husseini’s removal, the press conference went on to leave intact the two leaders’ preferred emphasis on nonproliferation over actual disarmament. It was just that emphasis—more, Husseini argues (The Nation, 7/17/18), about “preserv[ing] the nuclear powers’ monopoly on violence, rather than actually ensuring security”—that he had hoped to interrupt.

Andrew Pulrang on Disability and the Election

July 20, 2018 - 9:53am
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(cc photo: Javier Robles)

This week on CounterSpin: More than a quarter of the electorate—some 63 million eligible voters—either have a disability or have a household member with one, according to researchers at Rutgers University. Add to that the fact that the poverty rate for working-age people with disabilities is nearly two and a half times higher than that for people without disabilities, and then set that—as did Robyn Powell at Rewire—alongside the  exorbitant costs of campaigning for public office: The average winning  House candidate spent $1.3 million in 2016; for the Senate, that number’s $10.4 million. Now you’re getting close to an understanding of why people with disabilities are so “severely underrepresented in elected office,” which itself goes a way toward explaining why—in 2018—disabled people’s full inclusion in all aspects of social life is still largely framed as a matter of “accommodation” rather than rights.

CounterSpin talked about disability in the election and in the press with Andrew Pulrang, co-founder, along with Gregg Beratan and Alice Wong, of the #cripthevote campaign, and blogger at DisabilityThinking.com.

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Plus Janine Jackson takes a quick look at recent press, including immigration sources and a journalist’s detention in Helsinki.

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Email Hacking Was ‘Pearl Harbor,’ Helsinki Presidency’s ‘New Low’: Welcome to the United States of Amnesia

July 19, 2018 - 5:01pm

In 1996, interfering in other countries’ elections was considered something to brag about (Time, 7/15/96).

The media maelstrom around the Helsinki meeting between Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin obscures at least one point of view: that it’s possible to believe that Russia intervened in the 2016 election on behalf of Trump without thinking that this is remotely comparable to Pearl Harbor, as Politico (7/16/18) declared, or “the worst attack on America since 9/11,” as a Washington Post headline (2/18/18) claimed earlier this year.

Not saying it doesn’t make it less true that both Russia and the United States frequently interfere in other countries’ elections—the US somewhat more frequently, according to a database of electoral interventions maintained by a political scientist at Carnegie Mellon. That’s a lot of Pearl Harbors.

In 1996, Time magazine published a cover story (7/15/96) headlined “Yanks to the Rescue: The Secret Story of How American Advisers Helped Yeltsin Win.” Russian President Boris Yeltsin, you may recall, embraced the idea pushed by Western advisors that what the Russian economy needed was “shock therapy,” a policy that resulted in the country losing about a third of its GDP. Yeltsin also created the model for the authoritarian post-Soviet Russia we have today, notably when he called out the military to shell the Russian parliament—just one of many examples that make clear that the difference between US and Russian electoral interference is not that “we” intervene on the side of democracy.

Contrary to this Washington Post op-ed (7/17/18), Trump’s Helsinki performance wasn’t even the presidency’s lowest point in the last six weeks.

Should we talk about electoral interference? Sure. But we don’t have to be led by media who are outraged at Moscow doing things that never bothered them when they were done by Washington—“It’s different cuz it’s us” is not really a moral principle—or whose concern about “foreign” interference in US elections is orders of magnitude greater than that around the interference represented by anti-black and anti-poor voter suppression, inaccessible polling places or partisan gerrymandering.

What justified concern there could be is undermined rather than served by airily ahistorical claims like that of a Washington Post op-ed by Garry Kasparov (7/17/18): “The Helsinki Summit Marks a New Low in the History of the US Presidency.” Suffice to say there are millions who disagree that Trump failing to acknowledge that he had Russian help in getting elected is worse than Bush Jr. invading Iraq, Reagan arming death squads in Central America, worse than Nixon bombing Cambodia, or Truman dropping atomic bombs on civilians, or FDR rounding up Japanese-Americans or, well,  worse than the deliberate separation of children from their families at the southern border. A conversation without that perspective is hardly worth having.

Action Alert: Tell NYT Not to Present Center-Right as ‘Left’

July 19, 2018 - 4:01pm

The New York Times (7/17/18) brings you the views of the whole political spectrum–as defined by the New York Times.

The New York Times, despite its above-the-fray self-image, is one of most overtly ideological institutions on earth. Its primary editorial purpose—as laid out by its own opinion page editor earlier this year (James Bennett: “We are in favor of capitalism”—FAIR.org, 3/1/18)—is to defend the unimpeachable virtues of capitalism. As such, whoever the Times holds up as “the left”—in its sourcing and in its hiring practices (FAIR.org, 4/20/17)—has to first and foremost accept the primacy of the market and the broader virtue of a US-run global order that promotes this particular ideology.

Even so, when Times reporter Jennifer Jett (7/17/18) wanted to recap reactions—“from the right and left”—to Donald Trump’s recent summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin, the choice of pundits she turned to to represent “the left” was exceedingly bizarre. Somehow Alina Polyakova, a conventional wisdom-echoing research director at the NATO-aligned and -funded think tank Atlantic Council,  and Fred Kaplan, a champion of the Iraq War at Slate, were offered by Jett as “the left.”

The third member of this three-person list was Atlantic staff writer James Fallows, the one person included whom you could argue was some species of leftist (though the Radical Middle Newsletter cites him as an example of a “great radical-centrist journalist”). While The Atlantic is generally a center-right publication, Fallows is at least a skeptic of US military power, but by no means a consistent anti-imperialist.

Polyakova has made a name for herself in the emerging cottage industry of Russia experts who are willing to toe the US NatSec consensus line that Russia is the alpha and omega of all bad things in the US, Europe and the Levant. Kaplan, for his part, is simply a dull, reliable partisan. Polyakova and Kaplan pushing the Sinister Russia Puppeteer narrative is anything but unexpected, but one has to wonder: In what universe are they “the left”? They have no history in left-wing activism, politics, academia or media. They are, for better or worse, boilerplate centrist hawks, toeing the exact line 99 percent of our media do.

By contrast, the “right” was represented in the Times feature by pundits from bona fide outlets of the conservative movement: the National Review, American Conservative, Weekly Standard, The Federalist.

The New York Times‘ strange vision of who “the left” is.

Fallows, whom one could argue represents a meaningful segment of “the left,” echoes the MSNBC line that Trump, when he refuses to reject Putin’s denials of US intelligence charges that Russia intervened on Trump’s behalf in the 2016 election, is “shockingly advanc[ing] the interests of another country over those of his own government and people. It would be disingenuous to suggest there wasn’t a sizable segment of the American left who believe this to be true—and believe it to be a genuine threat to working-class interests—but this belief is by no means uniform.

Lots of professional opinion-havers on the left, from Noam Chomsky to Matt Taibbi to Katrina vanden Heuvel, are skeptical of the whole premise, and feel trafficking in the prevailing Manchurian Candidate fear-mongering fuels Cold War forces, avoids broader issues of inequality and establishment failures, and could lead to escalation in Syria, Ukraine and possibly even a nuclear war. None of these voices, of course, are permitted to be heard from in the New York Times, whose opinion pages were united in breathless indignation that the US intelligence community was having its good name dragged through the mud.

The only non–“sky is falling” take permitted, per usual, is from the revanchist right wing—in this instance, the American Conservative’s Pat Buchanan. As we’ve noted in the past, anti-interventionist positions are almost always represented by libertarian or nativist voices; this way publications can tell themselves they didn’t uniformly follow the official pro-military line, without allowing actual anti-imperialist or leftist voices that may muddy the waters by making fundamental critiques of our system, rather than the white supremacy–flattering, pseudo-opposition offered up by antisemites like Buchanan.

Given that milquetoast centrists were standing in for the left, one might wonder whom the Times held up to represent the “center”: none other than hotel room doormat USA Today and arch-neoconservative Iraq War–promoter and child-rape apologist Anne Applebaum. The voices of the American center, indeed.

It’s a small but telling example. The Times’ primary charge is to firmly establish the parameters of debate. To do this it must offer up the most banal, NATO-echoing conventional wisdom as representing the acceptable left wing of this debate, and, as it does with its opinion page (FAIR.org, 6/20/17), only permit “fringe” positions so long as they come from the far right and never really offend traditional centers of power.


Please tell the New York Times to use actual voices from the left to represent “left” opinion—on the Helsinki summit or anything else.

email: ourpicks@nytimes.com

Twitter: @NYTimes

Feel free to leave copies of your communication in comments below. Please remember that respectful communication is the most effective.

h/t Tim Shorrock

‘We Point to the Need to Decriminalize Migration’

July 19, 2018 - 3:21pm

Janine Jackson interviewed Jacinta Gonzalez about immigration rights for the July 13, 2018, episode of CounterSpin. This is a lightly edited transcript.

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Janine Jackson: Images of weeping toddlers torn from their stunned mothers’ arms, of children in cages—or what some insist you call “chain link-fenced holding areas”—and of three-year-olds representing themselves in deportation or asylum proceedings: These have outraged and galvanized many Americans in protest of the Trump administration’s racist, cruel, anti-immigration and anti-immigrant policies.

Outrage is justified, but if we intend to translate it to substantive change, we’re going to need to build out from this immediate, visible crisis, to connect it to all of the other factors and actors that make today’s headlines possible. So what now for those who recognize family separation of immigrants to the US as no outlier, but part of a broader social agenda that goes well beyond the US/Mexico border?

Our next guest has been organizing against immigration enforcement and the criminalization of Latinx and immigrant communities for years. Jacinta Gonzalez is senior campaign organizer at Mijente, the national political hub for Latinx organizing. She joins us now by phone from Phoenix. Welcome to CounterSpin, Jacinta Gonzalez.

Jacinta Gonzalez: Thank you so much for having me.

JJ: Families Belong Together” has broad appeal as an idea, broad surface appeal, if I may say. Even media who are trying hard have had trouble finding people giving full-throated endorsement of the idea of pulling children from their parents who are trying to enter the country —that is, beyond, “Well, they brought this on themselves.” But the power of positive messaging aside, is it your sense that “families belong together” is just not a sufficient organizing principle for bringing about the real change that we want to see? How do we need to grow that idea?

JG: I think what we saw clearly with this newly created crisis by this administration is that when we simply demand things like “family unity,” what we get is family unity behind bars. And so for us, it was really necessary to be able to raise awareness of not only what was happening with the devastation of young children being separated from their parents, but also with the criminalization of migration and mass prosecutions of folks who are entering this country. Because with this analysis, we’re able to actually make demands that would get to the root of the problem, instead of just treating the most horrific manifestation of the actual policy.

TruthOut (6/17/18)

JJ: Right. In your very straightforward piece, “How to Stop Child Separation? Stop Sending Their Parents to Prison,” that you wrote last month for Truthout, you talked about, if we really want to go forward from this, and if we want to use our very warranted feelings of upset and anger at what we’re seeing to really end the crisis, there are a number of elements of that work that we could be looking at. What are some of things that you’re pointing to that folks might direct energy to?

JG: We put out a policy platform that describes that there’s both movement demands that we’re making, but there’s also really concrete things that both Congress can do, different government agencies can do, to try to get us a little bit closer to the real solutions to some of these problems. For us, a primary demand or a central tenet is the abolishment of ICE as an agency. We know that family separation has been happening, not only at the border, but also when deportations are taking place and parents are being separated from their families. But also community members, more broadly, are being separated from their loved ones, and from people that they share their lives with.

And so we think that ICE as an agency should be completely abolished, which means that there should be a moratorium on deportations, there should be a defunding of the agency, we should end all forms of detention, and those are very concrete demands that can be accomplished now.

But we also point to the need to decriminalize migration. You know, the laws that are on the books that are allowing Jeff Sessions to throw the book at people are laws that were written in the 1930s by a legislator that was openly advocating for lynching, that was against interracial marriage and that promoted the criminalization of migration. And so it’s time for us to take a strong stand and decriminalize that as well, by taking away Section 1325 and 1326 that allow for these prosecutions to happen.

JJ: I think we did start to see, maybe, an advance over the conversation that we had around DACA and the Dreamers, which was very much about, “Let’s not punish these innocent children for the crimes of their parents,” and it was this very invidious and kind of confused understanding of what “crime” is, and of what it means to try to isolate—to me it reminded me, frankly, of the welfare reform conversation around 1996, where we had media talking about, “Yes, let’s punish these lazy mothers, but how do we protect their children?” It’s a very artificial conversation.

But I feel as though things have maybe moved on a little from that to where we can see a distinction between “crime” and criminalization, you know, making things a crime. I don’t know, am I too optimistic there, or do you think people are starting to understand what it really means to criminalize immigration itself?

JG: I think we see tendencies going both ways. So I actually think there’s a lot of things that are really exciting about seeing people broaden their analysis of criminalization and their understanding of policing, understanding that Immigration and Customs Enforcement and Border Patrol are policing agencies, and so that a lot of the same critiques can be applied to ICE also apply to the police. And so it broadens the conversation and the possibilities of what we can do and what kinds of alliances we can build, particularly between black and Latinx communities.

But you also have, I think, a tendency in the center to try to say that this is not the time for radical demands that actually give different possibilities. That we should say things like, “Well, we’ll give you the wall, but legalize this many people.” And I think we’ve seen a couple of rounds of that. You know, we had legislators saying that they would negotiate with Trump on some of these policies, knowing full well the far, far right-wing agenda that he’s pushing.

So I think we also have to see the opportunity of being able to have more people understand the criminalization, and I think we also have to be wary of not taking advantage of this moment, because it’s unveiling what the system truly is meant to do. And so these are the moments where we can actually provide other options and alternatives to folks beyond what many mainstream Democrats have been presenting as solutions.

International Red Cross/Red Crescent (5/7/18)

JJ: Absolutely. Well, I want to talk about that vision. The International Red Cross just released a report talking about the “New Walled Order,” as they put it, saying that criminalizing aid and public services for immigrants and migrants is setting back advances by a century. And what they’re calling for is just a simple separation from immigration policy, and from those policies with regarding access to food and healthcare and legal advice. So they’re also applying it to the French mayor who said that distributing food at a migrant camp was illegal. And the Italian government that’s saying NGOs can’t go out into Libyan waters with search and rescue missions, and all of that.

I feel that that international vision is necessary to broaden the context of what’s happening at just the US/Mexico border, which you’ve just indicated is not only about the US/Mexico border. But I think an international vision, and a bigger picture of migration worldwide, would help here.

JG: Yeah, definitely. We have to have a broader vision of migration, because migration has been happening for centuries, and given the increases in wealth disparities and the added crisis of climate change, we’re going to be seeing more and more of it. And, unfortunately, for a lot of countries, the response has been a militarized criminalization of migration that is creating a worse human rights crisis, but also creating economic incentives for people to try to continue to promote an agenda dealing with it that increases countries’ abilities to incarcate, to surveil, to police.

Jacinta Gonzalez: “If we continue to have a system that responds to everything with punishment and criminalization, we’re going to continue to confront this failure over and over, and not just in migration.” (image: Democracy Now!)

And so I do think we have to understand this within a broader context, and also understand it, again, within this framework of, if we continue to have a system that responds to everything with punishment and criminalization, we’re going to continue to confront this failure over and over, and not just in migration. We’re seeing it with reproductive issues, we’re seeing it with climate justice, we’re seeing it with the legal justice system that this country also uses, and so I think we have to have a broader analysis that connects all of those dots.

JJ: Let me just bring you back, finally, if I could, to the idea of abolishing ICE, which I think is fascinating. I’ve heard it said, it’s one of those things that’s presented as, “Well, you can’t get rid of a government agency,” even if it’s an agency that only recently came into existence. And part of what I hate, frankly, about corporate media is the way that they try to limit our political possibilities. So abolishing ICE is the kind of idea that the corporate media will tell us is laughable and impossible—until we do it, and then they’ll act like they invented it. And I just wonder, how do you encourage people to think around the ideas and the limitations that they’re getting from news media, for example, and do the work outside of that? I feel like work that occurs outside the media lens in some ways is free from some of the limitations that media try to present to people about what is possible and what can happen.

JG: Yeah, I mean, you know your idea is being taken seriously when a former Department of Homeland Security chief is saying that it shouldn’t be promoted as a policy demand.

JJ: Right.

JG: There is this process of where, well, we’re in an actual conversation about it, which means that it is possible and could be done. And so I think it’s important to use that energy in the moment that is there.

(cc photo: Sasha Patkin)

ICE as an agency was only created with the purpose of detaining and deporting people; it was, in fact, designed as an agency to terrorize immigrant communities. And so I think it is very possible and realistic to get rid of it. There are a million other agencies that help in different parts of immigration laws in this country, and you don’t need ICE to be able to do the other functions. So I think it’s very possible to completely get rid of it, to have a moratorium on deportations, defund ICE as an agency, restructure resources. And there doesn’t have to be a replacement. I think we have to be very concerned with people who are advocating that it be readjusted and housed within the Department of Justice. I think we’re seeing the worries of what can happen with a Department of Justice that is only aimed at incarcerating people. Housing our immigration policies there would only make that worse.

So I actually think we have to be able to reimagine different structures, and I think what we’re seeing is that, also, the American public has an appetite for it. We saw it with the most recent victory of different congressional representatives that are running in New York, but I think we’ve seeing it with over 100 candidates coming out publicly to support the demands, so I think we’re also seeing that we’re able to do it as a policy, and it’s a platform that people will vote for.

JJ: Let me just ask you, finally, if you have any thoughts in terms of media coverage that you’d like to disappear right now, but also some that you would like to encourage reporters to do more of on this issue as we go forward?

JG: I do think that it’s important to continue to do reporting on what is happening with the Department of Justice and migration. We saw the first impacts of criminalizing people who are crossing the border, but we’re going to see a higher and higher uptick in people being prosecuted for other types of things, like working without documents or coming back to be with your children here. We’re seeing that more and more, the Department of Justice and Jeff Sessions are promoting an agenda to lock as many people up as possible. Migration is one component of that. The war on drugs is another component of that. The war on dissent is another component of that. These are all agendas that folks are moving from Washington, DC, that have long roots in white supremacy, and they need to be fought back against and they need to be documented, because we can’t realize what’s happening until it’s too late, and communities are serving year-long sentences as a result.

JJ: We’ve been speaking with Jacinta Gonzalez of Mijente. They’re online at mijente.net. Her article, “How to Stop Child Separation? Stop Sending Their Parents to Prison,” can still be found at TruthOut.org. Jacinta Gonzalez, thank you so much for joining us this week on CounterSpin.

JG: Thank you so much for having me.


Haitian ‘Mobs’ and ‘Mayhem’—or an Uprising?

July 19, 2018 - 12:46pm

The San Diego Union-Tribune (7/10/18) reported the Haitian uprising as an incident in a young white American golfer’s life.

Haiti: “riots” and “vandalized shops” (NPR, 7/15/18), “mayhem” in the streets (Portland Press Herald, 7/9/18), “mobs” (San Diego Union-Tribune, 7/10/18).

Those were the catchphrases in much of the US media coverage of the sometimes violent response to the government’s plans to remove subsidies for gas, kerosene and diesel in order to qualify for a $300 million loan from the International Monetary Fund earlier this month. (Seven people were allegedly killed, dozens of businesses were ransacked in the capital and other cities and the prime minister was forced to resign.)

If those descriptions hearken back to the “rioting and looting” in Ferguson (BBC, 11/25/14), and the “thugs” in a “frenzied rampage” (Independent, 4/28/18) in a Baltimore “engulfed in flames” (CNN, 4/28/18), audiences should not be surprised. When people of color take to the streets, corporate media often veer toward certain framing and vocabulary, as Brave New Films pointed out in an excellent compilation video a few years back.

In his 1992 book Haiti’s Bad Press, anthropologist Robert Lawless documented similar trends in a century’s worth of racist and reductionist writings about the country, covered by the foreign media, he noted, “only in cases of coups, calamities, communism and cannibalism.”

The demonstrations and rage in Ferguson and Baltimore have been more correctly categorized as “uprisings” in, for example, a review of “Whose Streets?,” a film about the birth of Black Lives Matter, and by Baltimore organizer Laurence Grandpre.

The same word should be used in Haiti. And it is, by some.

Haiti Liberté (7/11/18) accurately identified the Haitian crisis as a popular uprising.

Writing in Haiti Liberté (7/11/18), longtime Haiti journalist Kim Ives explained the “uprising” as “an explosion of anger and violence [that] was building up over the past 17 months of President Jovenel Moïse’s rule, which has been characterized by corruption, waste, double-talk, repression and subservience to neoliberal dictates.” Another author in the weekly (7/11/18) called the recent wave of protests a “popular insurrection.” So did writer and university professor Gary Victor, whose words were relayed in daily Le Nacional (7/11/18).

Why are they right?

First of all, the protestors’ ire had a real class warfare aspect. Demonstrators —who were, in some cases, also looters—only went after specific businesses, not hospitals or schools nor humble mom-and-pop markets. The supermarkets, banks, hotels, a SUV dealership and gas stations targeted were establishments completely out of reach to most Haitians, over half of whom live in abject conditions below the poverty line of $2.41 per day, according to the World Bank.

The Best Western, which offers a “whisky and cigars night” each Thursday, the aptly named Oasis hotel and the Delimart supermarket chain cater to the local elite, to foreign business people, and to the staff and contractors making their living (in US dollars) in the country’s humanitarian “industry.”

Second, the rage was about much more than gas price hikes. Prices for local and foreign goods have risen by an average of almost 13 percent per year lately, according to the Haitian Institute of Statistics. As the local currency has lost value against the dollar—it’s dropped by 50 percent, just since the 2010 earthquake—the cost of everything has risen for those not earning dollars.

Over half of Haiti’s food is imported, according to the World Food Program, meaning that staples like rice, beans, corn, chicken and vegetable oil have doubled in price since the earthquake. (A 2018 study from USAID noted that “Haitians experience food prices that are approximately 30–77 percent higher than in other countries” in the Latin American/Caribbean region.

As prices have gone up, unions and workers organizations have been striking and protesting to demand that wages in the textile and other assembly factories rise from 350 gourdes per day, or about $5, to 1,000 gourdes (about $15). But the government has refused to budge. It had been able to counteract some of the inflation by subsidizing fuel prices. All food—whether produced in Haiti or abroad—needs to travel to reach the market or supermarket, as do workers and students. But the IMF wanted the subsidies gone, as part of a “staff-monitored program” that would also allegedly include more government spending on infrastructure, healthcare and other social services.

Third, most media coverage failed to note that the IMF and World Bank have been involved in “monitoring,” and in fact at least partly directing, Haitian government economic policy since the mid-1980s, when Washington-based advisors demanded that then-dictator Jean-Claude Duvalier lower tariffs protecting Haitian rice. Haitian farmers blocked highways to keep out foreign rice, but to no avail.

The next round of tariff-cuts came in 1995, as part of a series of radical neoliberal “structural adjustment” policy changes. Those “adjustments” are one of the main reasons Haiti is no longer self-sufficient in rice and other foodstuffs. Among them: privatization of state-owned enterprises, slashing of tariffs on locally produced food, and making it easier for foreigners to invest, all part of an agreement the Haitian government-in-exile accepted in late 1994, according to the Multinational Monitor (8/94).

Haitians did not take the neoliberal policy changes lightly. The mid-’90s saw repeated protests across the country by unions, peasant movements and the “Collective Against the IMF,” a multi-sectoral organization that staged marches and teach-ins. But policies remained in place.

Today, Haiti still has the lowest tariffs in the Caribbean, resulting in cheaper US and Dominican imports undercutting local food production, driving more and more people off their farms and into the swelling city slums. Media outlets parrot the World Bank’s pronouncement that Haiti is “the poorest country in the hemisphere,” but rarely ask why.

Last, the current government is the least legitimate in post-dictatorship Haiti. Ever since the two US-linked overthrows of President Jean-Bertrand Aristide (in 1991 and 2004), people’s belief in democracy has eroded. Only about 20 percent of voters even went to the polls in 2016, and since then, the president and members of parliament have been seen as tolerating and even protecting massive corruption scandals, including one involving possibly millions of dollars siphoned from Venezuela’s Petrocaribe program. A recent Jamaica Observer article (1/12/18) noted that findings related to the scandal

have been swiftly swept under the carpet. A report on the management of the funds in mid-2016 accused numerous politicians, but no legal action was taken against them.

The New York Post (7/10/18) viewed the Haitian uprising primarily as a threat to US missionaries.

Haitians are also resentful of the millions of dollars in foreign aid and loans that came after the 2010 earthquake and other disasters, which seem to have had little impact on their daily lives. One more reason to take to the streets.

But most news audiences did not learn about the 30 years of forced neoliberal economic “adjustment,” decades of meddling in Haitian democracy (Russia’s not the only one!), the rampant inflation, the corruption or the damage caused by being an “NGO Republic.”

There were some semi-exceptions. The Miami Herald (7/16/18), Agence France Presse (7/12/18), the Jamaica Observer (7/15/18) and a few others at least referenced the IMF diktats, or the corruption.

But many more worried about the plight of the trapped junior golf champion (San Diego Union-Tribune, 7/10/18) and the stranded missionaries who feared “for their lives amid riots.” (New York Post, 7/10/18).

Jane Regan has lived and worked in Haiti for about 14 years over the past three decades, working mostly with and for Haitian community and popular movement media, including Haiti Info.


Child Separation Coverage Focused on Beltway Debate, Not Immigrant Voices

July 17, 2018 - 10:17am

CBS Evening News (6/19/18) interviewed Republican Senator Orrin Hatch as one of its many government sources.

The Trump administration in April began enforcing a “zero-tolerance” immigration policy that has resulted in thousands of immigrant children being separated from their families. On June 18, ProPublica released an audio recording from inside a Border Patrol detention facility; children separated from parents and family members could be heard crying in the background, while a six-year-old girl from El Salvador begged for someone to let her call her aunt. The recording reminded the public of the undeniable reality that immigration policy has deep and lasting effects on actual people.

However, as corporate media dove into this story, the voices of those impacted most by immigration policy were drowned out by soundbites from congressmembers and Trump administration officials. Concentrated coverage of the policy from six major broadcast and cable news networks began on June 14; the story reached a climax of sorts on June 20, when Trump signed an executive order ending the policy. FAIR looked at the sources used on these networks during this seven-day period, examining the immigration-related segments on a representative evening news show from each network,* to see who got to speak about this contentious issue.

In a brief but engaging interview, NBC Nightly News (6/19/18) spoke with a mother and her three-year-old son who fled from Honduras to the US border to escape gang violence.

In the stories on these 42 episodes, these networks aired the words of 248 sources. Immigrant voices were strikingly lacking from the coverage; only 15 sources, 6 percent of the total, were current immigrants, whether children or adults; another 2 percent could be identified as past immigrants. Those who work with and for immigrants were also missing from many programs; 13 immigration rights advocates were cited, amounting to 5 percent of total sources.

Meanwhile, 62 percent of all sources were from the federal government; 47 percent of all sources were Republican officials, mainly representatives of the Trump administration or congressional Republicans. Twenty-one percent of total sources were Democratic officials, mostly members of Congress. While quoting executive and legislative representatives is a crucial part of holding officials accountable, the overwhelming emphasis on these sources tended to crowd out the voices of the people most directly affected by the policy, who could convey to viewers what child separation actually did to the families involved.

The vast majority—80 percent—of sources were from the United States. Among the 206 sources with identifiable ethnicities, nearly two-thirds were European-American, and 13 percent were Latino. Five percent were African-American, and 4 percent were Asian-American. One source was Middle Eastern.

ABC World News Tonight (6/20/18) briefly touched on the circumstances in countries such as Guatemala that are forcing people to flee to the United States.

Overwhelmingly, the sources on these programs were used to offer an opinion on the policy of family separation, rather than to provide information or context. ABC (6/19/18) quoted Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell: “I support, and all of the members of the Republican conference support, a plan that keeps families together while their immigration status is determined.”

Both Democrats and Republicans called for family separations to end, but did not comment on what the future will look like for detained immigrants. Few sources spoke to how the policy was affecting immigrant families or how difficult the process of reuniting families would be.

Within the major broadcast network programs—ABC World News Tonight, CBS Evening News and NBC Nightly News—immigrant voices made up 12 percent of sources. Throughout the week, these three programs mostly aired the back-and-forth between Congress and the Trump administration. On these broadcast programs, Trump administration officials made up 39 percent of sources, while members of Congress made up 26 percent of the sources. Of the total sources on these programs, 16 percent were Democratic officials and 50 percent were Republican officials. As Trump administration officials gave conflicting defenses or reasonings behind the policy, Republican sources distanced themselves  and congressional Democrats criticized both Trump and GOP colleagues.

ABC used parts of the recording obtained by ProPublica three separate times, and spoke with a deported father whose son remains in the United States. CBS aired three immigrant voices, two adults and one child, all of whom were fleeing violence or instability in their home countries. NBC quoted a US senator who was a past immigrant (Hawaii’s Mazie Hirono) and four immigrant mothers—three of whom were separated from their children at the US border—as well as airing the ProPublica recording.

Fox News (6/18/18) focused mainly on government reactions while leaving out immigrant views completely.

The comparable cable news programs—Fox NewsSpecial Report, CNN’s Situation Room and MSNBC’s Beat and Sunday-only PoliticsNation—showed even less diversity in their sources over the same seven-day period. Special Report aired no immigrant voices, instead focusing on government and “expert” sources, including other journalists. CNN used immigrant sources three times, and MSNBC quoted one current immigrant and three past immigrants. Meanwhile, the Trump administration and members of Congress constituted 73 percent of sources on the CNN show, 67 percent on Fox and 56 percent on MSNBC. Twenty-four percent of the sources on these programs were Democratic officials and 43 percent were Republican officials.

The few immigrants and civil rights advocates who were cited often expressed the crucial point that those coming into the United States are generally trying to escape imminent violence or political instability. In one of the few interviews with an immigrant, NBC’s Gabe Gutierrez translated a Honduran mother’s words:

She says gangs threatened her life and that’s why she had to leave Honduras with her three-year-old child. The thought of being separated from her three-year-old son brings her to tears.

Neither the Trump administration or members of Congress touched on this fact when discussing immigration policy. The immigrants who identified their home countries were from El Salvador, Guatemala or Honduras, all of which are still reeling from violence and political instability that the United States helped create—from the “gunboat diplomacy” of the early 20th century, through support for death squad governments in the 1980s to support for a coup regime in Honduras as recently as 2009. Glossing over this historical context gave an incomplete picture of the current situation, and allowed Washington officials to evade responsibility for the influx of immigrants from Central America.

Corporate TV news programs amplified the voices of the federal government while neglecting to show the lives and tell the stories of those affected by federal policy. The programs framed the story as whether or not families who try to cross the US/Mexico border should be separated, rather than exploring the causes and consequences of the current situation. In their coverage, the lived experiences of these immigrants are reduced to leverage for US politicians.

* Unlike the other programs examined, MSNBC’s The Beat only runs six days a week, so FAIR also looked at sources on PoliticsNation, which appears on Sunday in the same time slot.

Can Truth Survive Trump? WaPo Fails to Ask How Well Truth Was Doing to Begin With

July 16, 2018 - 11:31am

The Washington Post (7/13/18) fails to examine corporate media’s contribution to declining standards of truth.

Carlos Lozada, the nonfiction book critic for the Washington Post, promised “an honest investigation” of whether truth can survive the Trump administration in the lead article in the paper’s Sunday Outlook section. He delivered considerably less.

Most importantly and incredibly, Lozada never considers the possibility that respect for traditional purveyors of “truth” has been badly weakened by the fact that they have failed to do so in many important ways in recent years. Furthermore, they have used their elite status (prized university positions and access to major media outlets) to deride those who challenged them as being unthinking illiterates.

This dynamic is most clear in the trade policy pursued by the United States over the last four decades. This policy had the predicted and actual effect of eliminating the jobs of millions of manufacturing workers and reducing the pay of tens of millions of workers with less than a college education. The people who suffered the negative effects of these policies were treated as stupid know-nothings, and wrongly told that their suffering was due to automation or was an inevitable product of globalization. (Yes, I am once again plugging my [free] book, Rigged: How Globalization and the Rules of the Modern Economy Were Structured to Make the Rich Richer.)

These claims are what those of us still living in the world of truth know as “lies,” but you will never see anyone allowed to make these points in the Washington Post. After all, its readers can’t be allowed to see such thoughts.

This was far from the only major failure of the purveyors of truth. The economic crisis caused by the collapse of the housing bubble cost millions of workers their jobs and/or houses. While this collapse was 100 percent predictable for anyone with a basic knowledge of economics, with almost no exceptions, our elite economists failed to see it coming, and ridiculed those who warned of the catastrophe.

Incredibly, there were no career consequences for this momentous failure. No one lost their job and probably few even missed a scheduled promotion. Everyone was given a collective “who could have known?” amnesty. This leaves us with the absurd situation where a dishwasher who breaks the dishes get fired, a custodian that doesn’t clean the toilet gets fired, but an elite economist who completely misses the worst economic disaster in 70 years gets promoted to yet another six-figure salary position.

And, departing briefly from my area of expertise, none of the geniuses who thought invading Iraq was a good idea back in 2003 seems to be on the unemployment lines today. Again, there was another collective “who could have known?” amnesty, with those responsible for what was quite possibly the greatest foreign policy disaster in US history still considered experts in the area and drawing high salaries.

When we have a world in which the so-called experts are not held accountable for their failures, even when they are massive, and they consistently look down on the people who question their expertise, it undermines belief in truth. It would have been nice if Lozada had explored this aspect of the issue, but, hey, it’s the Washington Post.

A version of this post originally appeared on CEPR’s blog Beat the Press (7/15/18). 

Messages can be sent to the Washington Post at letters@washpost.com, or via Twitter @washingtonpost. Please remember that respectful communication is the most effective.

‘It Is Really Crucial That People Stand Up for What They Believe In’

July 13, 2018 - 4:36pm

On its July 6, 2018, episode, CounterSpin reaired Janine Jackson’s interview with Mara Verheyden-Hilliard about the right to protest, originally heard on the July 14, 2017, broadcast. This is a lightly edited transcript.

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Janine Jackson: A Washington Post poll from July 2017 found that one out of every three Washington, DC, residents said they’d taken part in a protest against Donald Trump since his inauguration. That number included half of the district’s white residents, half of people making more than $100,000 a year, and a fifth of the respondents over the age of 65.

As more and more people go out in the street, states are rushing to criminalize that resistance. This time last year, we talked about the right to protest and the role of law in a time of widespread dissent with activist attorney Mara Verheyden-Hilliard, executive of director of the Partnership for Civil Justice Fund. I started by asking about the J20, the group of people—including journalists—arrested for protesting at Trump’s January 20 inauguration. CounterSpin listeners got an update on the state of that case just a few weeks back on the show. Mara Verheyden-Hilliard explained the nature of the J20 case.

(cc photo: Johnny Silvercloud)

Mara Verheyden-Hilliard: This case is really of extraordinary proportions, when you look at what the government is doing to people who are engaged in protests on the first day that Trump took office. And it’s really in its own context significant, too, because of the major shift in policing in Washington, DC, which we believe is intended to send a signal.

What’s happened now is more than 200 people were swept up in a dragnet arrest by the police, and this occurred after the police had followed the demonstration for, by their own account, approximately half an hour, while there were some people who broke windows, only a handful of people. And rather than going in and arresting the people for whom they had probable cause to arrest, the police waited that arbitrary time, tracked and detained 200 people. And so they swept up demonstrators, passers-by, journalists, anyone who’s in proximity, anyone who is chanting and protesting.

And then they undertook this mass prosecution with the United States Attorney’s Office here in the District of Columbia, in which people are being threatened with, as you’ve mentioned, jail time that is decades and decades long, really a lifetime of jail time, with these felony charges. They are charging people en masse with crimes that may have happened, in terms of property damage, but charging everyone with crimes without particularized probable cause, without being able to point to a person and say, you committed this act and so we’re charging you for this act. They’re charging everyone in the vicinity for being in proximity.

This is extremely dangerous; it sets the stage that for any demonstration, if anyone commits a criminal act, an act of property damage, whether that be a protester or, frankly, a police agent provocateur, the police can now use this as license, or they wish to, to sweep up everyone else around them.

JJ: This is what we talked about before. It’s not a crime, now, is it, to be in proximity to other people who break the law in conjunction with First Amendment activities?

(cc photo: Mobilus in Mobili)

MVH: Of course it’s not, and it cannot be. And the First Amendment has always stood for that, in fact, you cannot criminalize a person for the acts of another. And particularly in the context of the First Amendment, when it’s an issue where the connection is that there may be a sympathy of political views, one cannot do that. There are cases dating back, NAACP v. Claiborne Hardware and others, the courts said you have to act with precision. You cannot say that just because people have a similar point of view, or may have similar political goals, that those who carry out illegal acts or acts of violence in pursuit of those goals, that those acts can be attributed to the others who do not.

JJ: Right. These charges, at the level they’re at, it feels new, but we know that the effort to repress First Amendment expression is not new. The Supreme Court last month rejected a First Amendment case that dates from years back, Garcia v. Bloomberg. Can you tell us about that and how it relates?

MVH: The Garcia v. Bloomberg case comes from the Occupy demonstration of 2011, when 700 people were peacefully marching, compliant with police orders, there was no violence, and as people marched, the police escorted the march. The police themselves closed the Brooklyn Bridge roadway to vehicular traffic. The police and police commanders themselves opened up the roadway to pedestrian traffic. It is the police and police commanders who led the demonstrators onto the roadway of the Brooklyn Bridge, and once those demonstrators had flowed and followed behind the lead of the police, the police stopped the march, trapped them from behind, mass-arrested 700 people.

When we litigated this case, we won at the District Court level, we won at the Second Circuit, in fact. And then Mayor de Blasio, who had taken office, frankly, running on an Occupy ticket, had the court reevaluate the ruling, and the court, in an extraordinary measure, reversed itself. And we took this case up to the Supreme Court, and the Supreme Court just last month determined that they would not hear it.

JJ: Obviously, lots of folks are taking their lead from this, and kind of joining on this bandwagon. We have a spate of anti-protest legislation around the country, even UN experts are issuing alarmed statements now. Some 20 states have passed or tried to pass laws allowing protesters to be charged with conspiracy, increasing penalties for blocking streets, even protecting drivers who run protesters over, banning masks and hoodies…. I mean, is anyone really confused that the intent of these rules is to quash dissent, and doesn’t that thinly veiled intent matter?

Mara Verheyden-Hilliard: “There is an effort around the country…to curtail people’s fundamental First Amendment rights to gather together in the streets.” (image: WTTG)

MVH: It’s clear that there is an effort around the country to try, through legal means—although we would consider illegal means—to curtail people’s fundamental First Amendment rights to gather together in the streets, to be able to speak out in unified action.

I do think, as much as we’re seeing these kinds of restrictions imposed and these rulings, that at the same time it can obviously have a chilling effect on people, the reality is that people do always come out and people will continue to come out. And while this may be intended to have a chilling effect, it is really crucial that people stand up and speak out for what they believe in. And I do think the reason that we’re seeing these is because there is a growing recognition that there really is this fire of people, these embers burning, where we keep seeing people come up and demonstrating for what they believe in. We’re seeing so many more people entering political life, even since the election of Donald Trump. People are taking to the streets, protesting, who never protested before.

So while we’re faced with what is I think overt repression, both in terms of these felony prosecutions, these state laws, these court rulings, we also are faced with the fact that there are millions of people who are engaging in political protest and political organizing who have never done so before, and that’s a force that really can’t be stopped.

JJ: We’ve been speaking with Mara Verheyden-Hilliard of the Partnership for Civil Justice Fund. Find them online at JusticeOnline.org. Mara Verheyden-Hilliard, thank you very much for joining us today on CounterSpin.

MVH: Thank you for having me.

Jacinta Gonzalez on Immigration Rights, Jocelyn McCalla on Haiti Uprising

July 13, 2018 - 10:14am
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(cc photo: Sasha Patkin)

This week on CounterSpin: Americans, many of them anyway, have been filled with outrage—and anger, and sadness—at the fact that immigrants escaping violence and deprivation (some of it visited on them by US policy and practice) are being treated as criminals at the US border. Children being literally pulled from their parents’ arms and locked up in pens—and it’s all in aid of, what, exactly? The truth is US “policy” on immigration has long veiled, thinly, an abject cruelty and racism. And so while outrage at family separation at the Mexican border is a fine starting point for a movement for change, it cannot be its end. We’ll talk about bigger, positive visions on immigration with Jacinta Gonzalez, senior campaign organizer at Mijente, the national political hub for Latinx organizing.

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(cc photo: Fibonacci Blue)

Also on the show: Corporate US media coverage of Haiti, as with many places, is inconsistent, and shallow. But the shallow coverage of Haiti is especially ahistorical and disempowering. Haiti is the “poorest country in Western Hemisphere”—you hear that a lot; ABC‘s George Stephanopoulos described the country’s problems as “biblical.” But they are in fact political, social, economic problems that have identifiable roots, and the international community has a big role in them. So now, when you hear that protests over a hike in fuel prices in Haiti are causing chaos, you should know there’s much more to it. We’ll talk about that with Jocelyn McCalla, longtime director of the National Coalition for Haitian Rights, now advocacy coordinator for Haitian-Americans United for Progress.

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Immigration Story Missing Context of Hunger and Freedom

July 12, 2018 - 2:12pm

I teach journalism. So, of course, I follow journalism closely.

On the immigration issue, many news outlets have been doing a great job covering the rallies and marches, the “baby jails” and rulings and (few) family reunifications.

But they lack context.

In the classroom, I emphasize that every news story—even a little one about a city sidewalk repair—must provide context. Why that sidewalk, why now? Who lives there and walks there? What sidewalks are not getting repaired? When was the sidewalk first built? What’s the budget? And so on.

Recent news stories certainly provide some context and numbers. And many tell harrowing and important specific stories…but they mostly don’t get into the structural causes, the deep history. I worry that readers and viewers are not getting the whole story.

What about specific references to international law, like to the UN Declaration of Human Rights (UNDHR) and its promise (in Article 14) that all people have “the right to seek and to enjoy in other countries asylum from persecution”? It was ratified by the US, and is thus “the supreme law of the land,” according to Article VI of the US Constitution.

I’d argue that every single news story should remind that it is not illegal to cross a border and seek asylum.

In order to obtain political asylum here, a person must have a “well-founded fear of persecution or harm on account of his or her race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion,” according to the US Citizenship and Immigration Services website.

Historically, every year US courts have determined that tens of thousands of people turning up at the US border have that kind of well-founded fear—over 23,000 in 2014 and over 26,000 in 2015, according to the Migration Policy Institute. That might sound like a lot of people, but those numbers are tiny, given the UN High Commission on Refugees says the planet is witnessing “the highest levels of deplacement on record,” with 24.5 million refugees and 3.1 million asylum-seekers. Compared to countries like Turkey and Uganda, who are hosting 3.5 and 1.4 million refugees respectively, the US is doing little.

(cc photo: Rashaad Jorden)

But what about another promise of the UNDHR, Article 3, that all people in member nations have “the right to life, liberty and security of person”? What if someone has a “well-founded fear” of “harm” due to lack of security?

The UN Development Program defines human security as “freedom from fear and freedom from want.” What if your spouse beats you? What if gangs and thugs harass your little shop and demand tribute payments? What if there are no jobs that will support you and your family? Healthcare is pricey everywhere. Education is often not free. Shelter and food are expensive.

In 2015, the Food and Agriculture Organization was pleased to announce that only 5.5 percent of the population in Latin American and the Caribbean was “undernourished.” Sounds like a low number, right? Wrong. At the time, 5.5 percent equaled 34 million men, women and children definitely not “free from want.”

Shouldn’t readers and viewers be reminded of that hunger, and—more importantly—of the historical and political contexts at least partly responsible for it?

For example, wouldn’t it be useful to point out that the countries of this hemisphere have borders mostly established by invading armies and settlers from Europe? There were no walls to keep the Spanish, Portuguese, French and English out. The indigenous people living in the Americas of the 15th and 16th centuries had no say on their “immigration crisis.” The entire hemisphere was converted into colonies where local populations and imported African slaves were tortured, killed and/or exploited for centuries.

In the 19th century, as the European powers’ hold on the hemisphere weakened, and even before some countries achieved independence, another kind of invasion took place, this one from the north.

US businesses found ample opportunities to scoop up land, launch industries and run banks. They were encouraged by the Monroe Doctrine of 1823, the Spanish/American War of 1898 and the 1903 Platt Amendment, which noted without any irony that the US could invade Cuba for, among other purposes, “the preservation of Cuban independence.” The 1904 Roosevelt Corollary expanded that attitude to the hemisphere.

Writing some 50 years ago in The Open Veins of Latin America, Eduardo Galeano noted that even though the colonial era had officially ended,

our region still works as a menial… at the service of others’ needs, as a source and reserve of oil and iron, of copper and meat, of fruit and coffee, the raw materials and foods destined for rich countries.

Later in the book, he wrote:

Hasn’t our experience throughout history been one of mutilation and disintegration disguised as development? Centuries ago the conquest cleared out lands to plant crops for export and annihilated the indigenous populations in the mines to satisfy the demand abroad for silver and gold. The diet of the pre-Columbian population that could survive the extermination deteriorated as the foreigners progressed. In our day, the people of Peru produce fishmeal, very rich in protein, for the cattle of the United States and Europe, but proteins are conspicuously absent from the diets of most Peruvians.

That has not changed much since the book appeared.

In 2016, the World Bank reported that four of the top five exports from the region were raw materials, and the fifth was automobiles—US, European or Asian vehicles assembled south of the border. Top trading partners? The US, followed by China. No wonder Galeano subtitled his classic, “Five Centuries of the Pillage of a Continent.”

What happened when US companies’ “pillage” was threatened? The Marines would show up.

Starting with a 1905 invasion of the Dominican Republic and scores of times since then, soldiers, spies and mercenaries have repeatedly intervened in nearly every country south of the Rio Grande. Sometimes they stayed, setting up puppet governments overseen by multi-year occupation armies. On other occasions, Washington backed mercenaries and paramilitary forces who overthrew democratically elected leaders.

What are the long-term effects of policies and acts that are nothing short of imperialism? Many would argue that they are at least partly responsible for massive poverty: About one-quarter of the region’s population lives below the poverty line, set at US$5.50 per day, according to the World Bank, and it has the most unequal income distribution in the world (although that has improved a bit over the past decade).

What kind of “security of the person” is possible with these kinds of numbers? And why doesn’t it matter if one has a “credible fear” of the “harm” resulting from malnutrition? From lack of jobs and opportunities? From criminal gangs?

(cc photo: Rashaad Jorden)

With all the talk of Supreme Court candidate Brett Kavanaugh’s “originalism,” I was reminded of one last bit of context: the “original” writings and philosophy that predate the Constitution and helped inspire the US’s founding ideas and ideals.

Thank you, Enlightenment philosophers and your clarion calls for freedom… of speech, of religion, of thought.

One freedom many of them discussed was freedom of movement, an idea that dates back to ancient Greek and Roman scholars, according to University of New Wales Professor Jane McAdams (Melbourne Journal of International Law, 2011). She notes that philosophers like pre-Enlightenment thinker Hugo Grotius (1583–1645), whose work contributed to international jurisprudence, carried the idea forward when he wrote in 1625 of

the right of a person to temporarily sojourn in a foreign country “for the sake of health, or for any other good reason; for this also finds place among the advantages which involve no detriment.”

John Locke (1632–1704), Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1712–1778) and others also thought freedom of movement was one of the “natural rights,” according to McAdam.

Closer to home, writing in 1774, Thomas Jefferson agreed, noting that everyone had

a right, which nature has given to all men, of departing from the country in which chance, not choice, has placed them, of going in quest of new habitations, and of there establishing new societies, under such laws and regulations as, to them, shall seem most likely to promote public happiness.

In today’s world, with its borders and customs agents and walls and razor wire, freedom of movement has become detached from the rest of the liberal philosophy that underpinned our revolutionary generation. Why not give those in the Americas who were born—as Jefferson put it—into a country which “chance, not choice, has placed them” the opportunity to go “in quest of new habitations”? Perhaps resurrecting freedom of movement as a “natural right” would at least partly make up for the centuries of pillage and invasion.

Shouldn’t journalists covering the ongoing crisis at the southern border remind readers, viewers and listeners of this historical context?


In Wake of AMLO Victory, US Media Fear Chavismo and Hope for ‘Business-Friendly’ Change

July 11, 2018 - 4:25pm

For the New York Times (7/1/18), the election of Lopez Obrador brings “a sense of economic nationalism that some fear could reverse important gains of the last 25 years.”

Neoliberal capitalist dogma pervades mainstream media. A case in point is coverage of Andrés Manuel López Obrador’s resounding victory in Mexico’s presidential election.

Referring to the president-elect by his commonly used acronym, the New York Times’ Azam Ahmed and Paulina Villegas (7/1/18) claimed that

one of AMLO’s biggest challenges will be to convince foreign investors that Mexico will remain open for business. If he fails to convince the markets that he is committed to continuity, or makes abrupt changes to the current economic policy, the country could find itself struggling to achieve even the modest growth of prior administrations.

According to the authors, keeping Mexico “open for business” for “foreign investors” should be a priority, a call for maintaining the economic status quo in a country where nearly half the population lives below the poverty line. Ahmed and Villegas suggest that “continuity” is necessary, even as they themselves say earlier in the article “that the nation’s desire for change outweighed any of the misgivings the candidate inspired”; evidently pleasing “the markets” matters more than carrying out the will of the populace.

The authors note López Obrador’s “sense of economic nationalism,” which “some fear could reverse important gains of the last 25 years.” Which gains these are and who made them is unspecified; economist Mark Weisbrot of the Center for Economic and Policy Research (7/1/18) pointed out:

Poverty is worse than a quarter century ago, real wages are lower than in 1980, inequality is worsening, and Mexico ranks 18th of 20 Latin American countries in terms of income growth per person in the 21st century.

Another New York Times article (7/2/18), this one by Ahmed and Kirk Semple, said that López Obrador “must still convince investors that his policies will be business friendly.” Ensuring that “investors” are happy is apparently a nonnegotiable imperative.

Revealingly, the authors failed to consider how this supposed essential can co-exist with another necessity they describe, which is that “Mr. López Obrador will also have to deliver on his promises to address widespread poverty and yawning inequality.” Ahmed and Semple decline to point out the contradiction here: “Investors” rarely deem policies that “address widespread poverty and yawning inequality”—say, a higher minimum wage and the redistribution of wealth through social programs—to be “business friendly.” By glossing over such inconsistencies, and proffering magical thinking according to which capital can be appeased while poverty and inequality are successfully fought, the authors performed a service for advocates of neoliberal capitalist scripture.

The Washington Post (7/2/18) fears Lopez Obrador “reversing the hard-won progress of his predecessors in shifting the statist, autocratic Mexico of the 20th century toward a modernizing liberal democracy.”

The Washington Post (7/2/18) editorialized on AMLO’s win:

It may be that Mr. López Obrador’s promise of radical reform will amount to reversing the hard-won progress of his predecessors in shifting the statist, autocratic Mexico of the 20th century toward a modernizing liberal democracy. The new president…is likely to slow a partial privatization of the oil industry.

According to this perspective, privatization is synonymous with “progress.” A society advances, it would seem, when profits from and control of its resources are taken from the public and turned over to a small number of wealthy, unaccountable people.

A reference Ahmed and Semple (New York Times, 7/2/18) made to US/Mexico relations illustrates the same servile attitude to ruling-class interests:

Mr. Trump has badgered Mexico since he announced his candidacy, criticizing its migrants, threatening to abandon the North American Free Trade Agreement and promising to build a wall between the two countries.

The ideology of pro-corporate trade deals runs so deep that the possibility of ending NAFTA is presented as being as dangerous and as contemptible as racist slurs against migrants and plans to further militarize the US/Mexico border.

Bad comparisons

Neoliberal capitalist orthodoxy bifurcates the world between believers and unbelievers, often without parsing the differences among the heretics. Thus, as I wrote for FAIR (6/26/18) shortly before Mexico’s election, Trump and López Obrador are lumped together, even though the former is a racist warmonger who has given the rich $5 trillion and has boasted of sexually assaulting women, while the latter has a record of solidarity with campesinos and indigenous people, subsidizing transit, and providing stipends to seniors and single mothers.

The Post wrote that AMLO

is a product of the political left, but his victory is part of the global story of rising populist leaders. Like many of them, including President Trump, Mr. López Obrador promises to overturn the reigning political establishment, says he alone is capable of delivering on his far-fetched promises, and assails the media, courts, civil society groups and all others who might check his personal power. Like other populists, the incoming Mexican leader also has been vague and occasionally contradictory about the specific policies he may pursue, even while insisting he will bring about a “transformation” comparable to Mexico’s achievement of independence. In that, he is sure to fail; the question is how much damage he may do to the democratic system that enabled him to gain power.

Saying that AMLO is like Trump because both are “populists” in a vague, vacuous sense, is akin to putting pet food and rat poison in the same category because both are intended to be eaten by animals. While Trump calls for strict voter ID laws that will undermine democracy by disenfranchising the poor and minorities, there is a dearth of compelling evidence that López Obrador’s will do “damage…to the democratic system.”

Ahmed and Villegas claimed that

the allure of López Obrador message is steeped in the language of nostalgia for a better time….In this way, and others, the parallels between Mr. López Obrador and President Trump are hard to ignore. Both men are tempestuous leaders, who are loath to concede a political fight. Both men lash out at enemies, and view the media with suspicion.

These comparisons between the two politicians are ankle-deep, overlooking as they do that Trump has sought a massive increase to the hundreds of billions of dollars that the US spends killing people around the world, while López Obrador has promised to launch a public-works program to employ 2.3 million young people and to raise pensions for the elderly.

The New York Times (7/2/18) hopes Lopez Obrador won’t be “a radical leftist in the mold of Venezuela’s Hugo Chávez who will send swarms of migrants across the border.”

The neoliberal capitalist catechism also manifests itself by maligning those who have challenged its doctrines with any degree of success. This is evident in coverage of AMLO’s win that considers the commonplace comparison between him and the late Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez. When corporate media outlets examine this analogy, they do so on the assumption that it will be bad for Mexico if López Obrador adopts policies similar to Chávez’s.

A New York Times editorial (7/2/18) asked whether López Obrador was like Chávez or Trump or both, and concludes that “unlike Mr. Chávez and Mr. Trump, the president-elect is a lifelong politician with firm faith in democracy.” The accusation that Chávez was undemocratic is false. Every election he won was certified free and fair. When Chávez was president, the Venezuelan government launched a program called Barrio Adentro (“Inside the Neighborhood”), designed to foster mass political participation and improve public health, that proved to be “especially popular with the poorer sections of the society” (Globalizations, 1/3/13).

Ahmed and Semple write that “for as long as Mr. López Obrador has been running for president, accusations that he will sink the economy have chased him. He was likened in the news media to Hugo Chávez, the former socialist leader of Venezuela,” a comparison that the authors describe as “overblown.”

Ahmed and Semple take for granted that Chavez “[sunk] the economy,” but when Chávez was leader, Venezuela’s rates of poverty, inequality, illiteracy, child mortality and malnutrition sharply declined. If that’s what it means to “sink the economy,” one could be forgiven for hoping AMLO’s nautical skills are in line with Chávez’s.




Mental Illness Serves as Easy Scapegoat in Mass Murder Accounts

July 11, 2018 - 3:10pm

A local Texas CBS station published an article (5/18/18) warning of “signs of mental illness” in the wake of the Santa Fe shooting, but stated that that shooter’s mental state was “unknown.”

After the May 18 mass murder at a high school in Santa Fe, Texas, a local CBS station (5/18/18) published an article headlined, “Looking for Signs of Mental Illness in Wake of Recent Shootings.” It described the Santa Fe shooter, Dimitrios Pagourtzis, as a “person who kept to himself,” citing this trait as a possible warning sign of mental disorder.

A day later, NPR (5/19/18) attempted to piece together bits of information about Pagourtzis, calling into question his mental state, quoting one student:

I don’t think he was normal…. I think he was really strange and quiet. I wasn’t surprised when I heard it was him…. He always wears this weird trenchcoat and kind of looks like a psychopath.

Descriptions of the Santa Fe shooter as a deranged social outcast in a trenchcoat flooded headlines. A New York Times article (5/18/18) led with, “Dimitrios Pagourtzis was seen entering the low-slung building at Santa Fe High School on Friday morning, armed and wearing a trenchcoat.”  CNN (5/21/18) began an article, “The teenager accused of carrying out the mass shooting at Santa Fe High School on Friday was known as a quiet student who often wore a trenchcoat to school,” while the Washington Post (5/18/18) published a piece headlined, “Alleged School Killer Dimitrios Pagourtzis had a Fondness for Trenchcoats and a Growing Darkness.”

The Washington Post (5/18/18) headlined  the Santa Fe shooter’s wardrobe choices and  “growing darkness.”

Though painted as an outcast, a brooding, troubled teenager and even a “psychopath,” Pagourtzis has no history of mental illness. In fact, most perpetrators of mass shootings don’t.

Inaccurate—and damaging

A study that analyzed 235 mass killings in the US between 1913 and 2015 found 22 percent of perpetrators demonstrated signs of  mental illness. An American Psychiatric Association study from 2013 notes only 1 percent of yearly gun-related homicides are carried out by people with mental illness (New York Times, 2/16/18).

Stephen Paddock, who killed 59 people at a Las Vegas concert, had no history of mental illness. Even an autopsy of Paddock’s brain revealed nothing of note. But the Washington Post (10/2/17) quoted the Las Vegas Metropolitan sheriff saying, “I can’t get into the mind of a psychopath.”

After the Pulse Nightclub massacre, the New York Times (6/18/16) focused on “hints of a disturbed mind” while publishing smiling portraits of the killer.

The word “psychopath” is also thrown around in the case of the Orlando Pulse nightclub shooter Omar Mateen. CBS (6/11/17) published an account that described Mateen as a “psychopath with a rifle.” The New York Times (6/18/16) ran an article full of smiling photos, childhood portraits and selfies, that described Mateen as “always agitated, always mad,” “a difficult student” and having “hints of a disturbed mind.” Mateen was never diagnosed with mental illness.

When mental illness is a possible part of the equation, media often stress that aspect over other compelling narratives. Dylann Roof, the white supremacist who murdered nine African-American churchgoers in Charleston is likely mentally ill, according to psychiatric evaluations, despite refusing to reveal psychiatric information in court. With this potential illness available as a ready explanation, much of the media failed to examine the impact of his racist worldview, and the far-right websites that inculcated it, on his violence (Slate, 6/20/15). The New York Times (7/16/15) outlined his troubles at home and school, and Fox News (6/22/15) questioned, “Why Didn’t Anyone Help Dylann Roof?” The fact is that Roof did have help in developing an ideology in which murdering African-Americans to spark a race war made sense, but with a pat psychological interpretation (possibly) available, there was no need to explore the social context of his crime.

The damage of stigma

The implication that mass shooters are generally mentally ill—and the desire to portray them as such, even when they are not—is not only inaccurate, but also damaging to the vast majority of people with mental illness who are nonviolent.

The American Journal of Psychiatry (5/1/13) examined the effects of news media messages about mass shootings on mental illness stigma. It found that compared to a control group, those who viewed a story about a mass shooting reported heightened negative attitudes toward persons with serious mental illness, perceiving them as more dangerous.

A 2013 poll by the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation found that 41 percent of Americans would be uncomfortable working with someone with mental illness. The National Alliance on Mental Illness notes that when stigma like this leads to lack of treatment, it can lead to other medical conditions, a higher chance of dropping out of school and an increased risk of suicide.

A desire for notoriety

Fox News (6/22/15) said paranoia, depression and self-loathing can lead people to adopt “bizarre beliefs” like white supremacy. Another thing that can lead to such beliefs: watching Fox News (FAIR.org, 12/22/15).

The media’s fixations with Pagourtzis’ trenchcoat and withdrawn personality come from common fallacies about the Columbine High School massacre of 1999. The perpetrators of that crime were falsely reported to be part of the “Trenchcoat Mafia,” a clique of gamers and outcasts at the school who were not affiliated with the shooters. Social awkwardness and duster coats have been associated with mass shootings ever since.

What the Columbine shooters, Pagourtzis and other mass killers most importantly have in common, though, is a desire for notoriety. According to an affidavit (AP, 5/19/18), Pagourtzis told investigators he spared the lives of students he liked so they could “tell his story.”

A New York Times article (5/30/18) outlined the contagious effect the notoriety of Columbine has on school shooters today:

The role of the media in turning school gunmen into household names and perpetuating “the infamous legacy they desire” can be shown to have inspired additional attacks, researchers at Western New Mexico University reported recently. There have been growing calls for withholding the names and biographies of school gunmen from newspaper and television coverage.

The article went on to acknowledge that the Times regularly profiles mass murderers. Articles displaying shooters’ mugshots, speculating about their mental health and providing biographical details are not only plentiful at the Times, but throughout media. After the Parkland shooting, the news dove into the topic of Nikolas Cruz’s “troubled past” and history with mental illness.

NBC (2/18/18) revealed Parkland shooter’s history of mental health issues—and outlined his racist tendencies—within the same sentence.

An NBC article (2/18/18) featuring a photo of Cruz outlined how the shooter was nearly hospitalized for mental health issues in 2016 after cutting himself and displaying hate symbols on his bookbag (as if racism is a side-effect of mental illness, and self-harm is a sign of homicidal desires). A Newsweek piece (3/18/18) did the same.

The New York Times (5/30/18) described Cruz as “a 19-year-old with a history of mental health and behavior problems,” before summarizing his video manifesto, in which he declared—referring to the rifle that he would use in his murders—“With the power of the AR, you’ll all know who I am.”

With media digging through his past and medical history, Cruz got his wish.

Evading media’s own role

Could it be media would prefer to scour for evidence of a shooter’s mental illness or report on his dysfunctional past, rather than address what their own role could have been in encouraging killers, through being the very channel by which their “story” is told? If journalists blame some vaguely defined, catch-all category of mental illness for these crimes, or at least imply it is partially responsible, they don’t have to address how their widespread coverage could be a contributing factor (FAIR.org, 10/2/15).

According to an estimate by Duke University professor who studies the relationship between violence and mental illness, if we were to cure everyone with schizophrenia, bipolar disorder and depression overnight, the amount of mass shootings in America would only decrease by 4 percent.

If we were to stop giving shooters the spotlight, though, the number of mass shootings is likely to decrease greatly, according to a study in American Behavioral Scientist (9/5/17). It cited another study in the same journal (11/2/17) that found at least 32 attackers identified the Columbine shooters as role models, with eight identifying the Virginia Tech shooter as a role model.

Though mental illness plays a role in some mass shootings, media coverage plays some role in all of them.


‘They’ve Been Doing This Massive, Anti-Democratic Model of Education Reform’

July 10, 2018 - 10:50am

Janine Jackson interviewed Wayne Au about the failure of Bill Gates’ educational initiatives for the July 6, 2018, episode of CounterSpin. This is a lightly edited transcript.

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Washington Post (6/29/18)

Janine Jackson: A new report from the RAND Corporation concludes that the multi-million-dollar teacher evaluation project, championed and partially bankrolled by Bill Gates, did not increase teachers’ effectiveness or improve students’ academic performance, including the low-income minority students that were presented as the initiative’s major beneficiaries.

The Washington Post’s Valerie Strauss, a generally critical assessor of what’s called “education philanthropy,” covered this new report. But most corporate media appear uninterested in this challenge to a set of ideas about “failing public schools” and how to fix them, that they themselves play a notable role in promoting.

Our next guest has critically engaged the Gates Foundation’s educational forays for years now. Wayne Au is professor at the University of Washington/Bothell Campus, and interim dean for diversity and equity on campus. He’s also editor at Rethinking Schools. He joins us now by phone from Seattle. Welcome back to CounterSpin, Wayne Au.

Wayne Au: Thanks for having me.

JJ: It’s important to note that while the Gates Foundation underwrote a reported $215 million of this project, that was less than half; school districts supplied the rest. So we’re not talking about an episode of perhaps naïve corporate noblesse oblige, troubling as that would be. But a lot of public resources were put into this “use test scores to evaluate teachers” project, that many, many educators knew from the get-go was misdirected.

WA: That’s really unfortunate, but I think it makes sense if you look at things in the current context. The same thing happened with Common Core and Race to the Top as well. And we have a situation where public school districts are totally strapped for cash, we have class sizes that are just exploding, teachers paying out of pocket for classroom resources, and so school districts are really just hurting for money.

And what often happens is philanthropists like the Gates Foundation say, “Hey, we have this project. Would you partner with us on this? And we’re investing this much money in doing this thing, but you need to come and give X amount of dollars to this project as well, and devote your resources.” It’s within this context of what I would actually characterize as austerity funding for public education that many districts agree to partner with these foundations, because it looks like they’re bringing money in.

Unfortunately, what happens is that many of the districts end up finding that—this was the case with Common Core as well—that the money coming in for these new programs actually pales in comparison to what it took to implement the programs, or to cooperate with the research, and with these different kinds of programs.

And so in the end, it’s one of those things where we end up having our public dollars, public tax dollars, just being essentially sucked away into this whole other enterprise, and which often—and this is the sad part of it—even though there is this philanthropic money coming from, like, the Gates Foundation, and this public money coming from the school districts, often either nonprofits or for-profit corporations that are, like, creating the data tools for these things, they’re the ones who are actually getting this money, and essentially making money off of this kind of research project.

JJ: Right, it seems as though it’s ultimately—and if you scratch, you can see it, and they sometimes even admit to it—I mean, it’s ultimately about privatization, isn’t it, this gospel of the private sector and market forces being the right response to everything?

Wayne Au: “Gates is very clear. He’s trying to create, and he’s said this before, market conditions and market forces where everybody’s working to make money, but this will be in the best interest of kids and education.”

WA: Oh, absolutely, and you get that from the Gates Foundation all the time. Gates is very clear. He’s trying to create, and he’s said this before, market conditions and market forces where everybody’s working to make money, but this will be in the best interest of kids and education; and that’s how he frames this whole entire agenda. For me, that’s the greatest fallacy of this whole idea of researching teachers in the way that the Gates Foundation did, and unfortunately in concert with the school districts, is that we’ve known for decades, from the research base, that teachers are critically important in terms of how students learn things, how students experience classrooms. However, we also know that test scores are very limited measures of student performance, what students know, what students learn. Therefore, they are very minimal in terms of measuring what teachers teach.

But here we have the Gates Foundation essentially pushing high-stakes standardized testing, which teachers have actually very little effect on; the research has shown this for a very long time, that if you take any standardized test score, a teacher actually influences somewhere between 18 to 25 percent, depending on the study you’re looking at, and everything else is actually external factors. There’s all this stuff outside of schools that account for 75 percent of a test score. This is if you want to believe the test scores, right? So we’re talking things like food security, housing security, access to adequate healthcare, dental care, livable wages for their parents; these are the things that actually impact test scores, but this is only if you’re going after test scores as your main measure.

Again, they’re super limited, and honestly they don’t really measure what the students learn, and therefore also don’t really measure what teachers are teaching. And so here we have this massive investment of hundreds of millions of dollars, underwritten by the Gates Foundation, these districts and politicians and policymakers investing in it on the public education side, really trying to go after something that we’ve known has been fake, and it’s been a rabbit hole that we knew wouldn’t increase student performance. We’ve known that for a long time.

JJ: Yeah, and all of those other factors—like food security, like housing—that of course, if you think about it, have an impact on test scores. That, to me, makes the making of props of black and brown kids and underserved kids especially cynical, and suggesting that this kind of scheme is going to uplift them and help them in particular.

WA: Oh, for sure. In a way, I really see this as a colonizing agenda, in a sense, because essentially what we have are predominantly white, super-wealthy elite philanthropies, like the Gates Foundation, putting these programs into mostly black and brown, working-class communities, right? And it creates this dynamic where you essentially have these rich missionaries saying, “We know what’s best for you and your kids, we’re going to do these things.” Meanwhile, it sort of treats these children, these black and brown children, as experiments, right? And so the power dynamics are really, really skewed.

All at the same time that folks like Gates, here in Washington state, he’s very opposed to a more progressive tax structure. He’s actively fought against efforts here in our state to improve our tax structure so that we could give more basic services to more people in the state. We have one of the most regressive tax structures. And so to me there’s a great irony in—maybe irony is the wrong word—but you can just see the problems with these super-elite, white corporate folks just saying, “Hey, we know what’s best for these communities.”

And that’s also illustrated by the fact that all these reforms…. You know Gates wasn’t using these measures to study the teachers of his kids at the elite rich private schools in the Seattle area. None of these reforms are for his kids. These are reforms for everyone else’s kids.

Living in Dialogue (9/7/14)

JJ: Right. Well, the Gates Foundation, like others, has a strategy. They make their own echo effect, and part of that, as you know, is funding education journalism. That’s something else that you have, as one headline had it, “tangled with” — Gates-funded education blogs, so there’s an impact in the way these things are covered.

WA: There’s no mistake that mainstream media has basically not followed up on the failure of the Gates study and interventions into teacher evaluation, because, again, here in Seattle, the Seattle Times’ education reporting is partially funded by the Gates Foundation, like this ”focus on solutions,” and there was a whole granting programming around that, but when you talk to those reporters about what they’re allowed to report on, they say, “Well, Gates doesn’t control us.” But then I’ll ask a follow-up and say, “Well, how come you’re not reporting on this, like we know ethnic studies helps kids do better in school, particularly low-income black and brown kids.” And they’ll say, “Well, it’s complicated.”

And so it’s clear that there’s this agenda that happens, that the Gates Foundation is going to fund, we used to see it with Education Nation and stuff every fall, on NBC or whatever, and they would promote this particular agenda, and at the same time, unwilling to promote things that don’t align with that agenda.

And we see the same thing in educational research as well. So it’s not just these major philanthropies impacting reporting; they’re also impacting what kind of research gets done, because they have their own whole funding machine that funds particular kinds of research. And so they are funding research on teacher evaluation and then, in turn, everyone who is chasing after grants starts trying to build their agendas around that so they can get the Gates money, but Gates only funds stuff that falls in line with standardized testing, and everything else that’s part of their neoliberal choice/market agenda.

JJ: And another frustration from the media perspective is that all of those sources who pointed out the flaws in this teacher-evaluation agenda from the beginning, and who were able to say quite clearly what the problems were, those sources—and now RAND is coming along, essentially certifying that point of view—those sources are still not going to be the ones who get to weigh in when the next big-money idea for education comes along, even though their concerns have borne out in this case.

WA: Oh yes, no one ever talks to teachers. No one ever talks to parents. None of these big philanthropies go to communities to engage them, really. They like to pretend they are, and they say, “Well, look, we’re working with this nonprofit or this nonprofit,” right? But all of that is also a little bit fuzzy and a little shady, because maybe the nonprofits that they use are also themselves funded by the Gates Foundation, and are about promoting a particular agenda.

Versus there’s social justice–minded community activists committed to public education, parent activists; these folks need to be brought into the conversation, along with teachers, along with unions, frankly, as well. They should be involved in the decision-making, in the agenda-setting. Because we know what’s wrong on the ground level, we know what’s going on.

And we know that all these major reforms—from small schools, to even Common Core, to the teacher- evaluation stuff that Gates has been doing, those three major projects that they funded—they’ve been failing everywhere. And in part because they’ve been doing this massive, anti-democratic, top-down model of education reform, and they only pretend to talk to the folks down on the ground, and instead really focus on—they believe they know what’s right, and they’re just going to work their power and their money to get that implemented, until it doesn’t work

JJ: We’ve been speaking with Wayne Au, professor at the University of Washington/Bothell, where he is also interim dean for diversity and equity, and he’s an editor at Rethinking Schools. Wayne Au, thank you so much for joining this week on CounterSpin.

WA: Right on. Thanks for having me.


NYT Sees ‘Dystopia’ in Chinese Surveillance—Which Looks a Lot Like US Surveillance

July 10, 2018 - 9:45am

In China, the New York Times (7/8/18) sees facial recognition as a sign of dystopia; in the West, the Times (7/9/18) reports on Amazon‘s promotion of the same technology as a “reputational risk.”

There’s a category of story we call “Them Not Us”—US media reporting on problems abroad, and seemingly not noticing that they have the same problems at home. There’s a great example of that in the New York Times (7/8/18), headlined “Inside China’s Dystopian Dreams: AI, Shame and Lots of Cameras.”

Reporter Paul Mozur writes:

Beijing is embracing technologies like facial recognition and artificial intelligence to identify and track 1.4 billion people. It wants to assemble a vast and unprecedented national surveillance system, with crucial help from its thriving technology industry.

Is it really so unprecedented, though? The US National Security Agency in 2011 described its “New Collection Posture” toward global electronic communication as “Know It All…Collect It All…Process It All…Exploit It All.” Hard to get much vaster than that, isn’t it?

As for embracing technologies like facial recognition with crucial help from a thriving technology industry, here’s a headline from the Guardian (7/6/18) that came out two days before the Times piece:

Thanks to Amazon, the Government Will Soon Be Able to Track Your Face

Mozur went on to write, “Other systems…track internet use and communications, hotel stays, train and plane trips and even car travel in some places.” “Even car travel in some places”? It sounds like China is playing catch-up to the US when it comes to surveilling its motorists, as media activist Tracy Rosenberg recently described to CounterSpin (6/29/18):

On license plate readers, these are sort of ubiquitous. In the past decade, they really have been set up in probably the majority of cities and counties in the US. And they take a photograph of the front of a car—they’re usually pole-mounted on traffic lights—as it goes by. And, essentially, if you are one of those people who happens to drive back and forth, every single day, past one of these, it can geolocate you in time and space, based on your license plate, on a fairly regular basis.

The New York Times depicts Chinese police with “AI-powered smart glasses.” Meanwhile, in the US, “Police Departments Have Their Eye on Google Glass” (USA Today, 2/12/14) is a four-year-old story.

The Times article on China reports,  “Invasive mass-surveillance software has been set up in the west to track members of the Uighur Muslim minority and map their relations with friends and family, according to software viewed by the New York Times.” Has the Times viewed the software contract that Reuters Thompson—parent company of the Reuters news agency—signed with ICE? This software will

securely process and return aliens’ information and addresses using the following types of specified data: FBI numbers; State Identification Numbers; real time jail booking data; credit history; insurance claims; phone number account information; wireless phone accounts; wire transfer data; driver’s license information; vehicle registration information; property information; pay day loan information;  public court records; incarceration data; employment address data; Individual Taxpayer Identification Number (ITIN) data; and employer records.

Or Mozur could just read back issues of his own paper, like a nearly five-year-old piece by James Risen and Laura Poitras (9/28/13) that started off:

Since 2010, the National Security Agency has been exploiting its huge collections of data to create sophisticated graphs of some Americans’ social connections that can identify their associates, their locations at certain times, their traveling companions and other personal information, according to newly disclosed documents and interviews with officials.

The China piece does have a couple of acknowledgements that these issues are not totally foreign to the United States. At one point it notes: “Already, China has an estimated 200 million surveillance cameras — four times as many as the United States.” Not noted: China has a bit more than four times the population of the United States. At another point, it mentions that the US director of national intelligence held an “open contest for facial recognition algorithms” in 2017—which a Chinese company won. But you won’t likely see New York Times headlines about the “dystopian dreams” of the US surveillance state.

In an indication that surveillance isn’t the only area where the Times has the ability to report on woes in other countries without recognizing that its own country has troubles that are similar or worse, the article describes the impetus behind China’s population-monitoring drive: “China’s economy isn’t growing at the same pace. It suffers from a severe wealth gap.”

As it happens, by the standard measure of inequality, the GINI coefficient, the US and China are almost exactly as unequal—41 vs. 42.2, according to the World Bank—and China’s GDP is growing almost twice as fast. Would the New York Times ever cite the US’s wealth gap and slowing growth as an explanation for the expansion of the NSA’s powers?


Please encourage the New York Times to use the same standards when reporting on problems in its own country as abroad. You can send a message to the Times at letters@nytimes.com (or via Twitter:@NYTimes). Please remember that respectful communication is the most effective.