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Updated: 21 hours 16 min ago

Press Relayed Israeli Claims of Secret Hospital Base With Insufficient Skepticism

December 1, 2023 - 3:42pm

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

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

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

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

The laws of war

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Shrugging off skepticism

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Catastrophe for hospitals

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Research assistance: Pai Liu, Keating Zelenke

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

Melissa Gira Grant on Abortion Rights & Politics

December 1, 2023 - 11:03am


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AP (11/19/23)

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

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

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

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

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

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

November 30, 2023 - 4:12pm


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

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

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

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

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

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

Ginning up a story

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

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

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

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

‘Culture of seeking sameness’

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

November 28, 2023 - 3:12pm

CounterSpin interview with Mark Weisbrot on Javier Milei

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

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Fox News (11/19/23)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

CEPR (11/17/23)

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

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

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

Reuters (11/24/23)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

New York Times (8/19/19)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

New York Times (4/1/16)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Washington Post (11/19/19)

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

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

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

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

JJ: Exactly….

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

Vox (11/20/23)

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

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

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

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

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

Al Jazeera (11/18/23)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

MW: Thank you.

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

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

November 27, 2023 - 11:16am


CounterSpin interview with Scott Burris on US v. Rahimi

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

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CBS News (11/7/23)

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

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

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

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

Scott Burris: Good day!

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

Politico (7/28/23)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Regulatory Review (8/2/23)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

New Republic (7/21/23)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

SB: Thank you very much.

The post ‘Worship of the Holy Framers Offers Us Nothing to Deal With the Problems We Have Today’ appeared first on FAIR.

Media Holocaust Revisionism After Canada’s Standing Ovation for an SS Vet

November 24, 2023 - 2:46pm


Canadian House Speaker Anthony Rota (Politico, 9/24/23) said of the SS veteran, “He’s a Ukrainian hero, a Canadian hero, and we thank him for all his service.”

Media coverage of the Canadian Parliament’s standing ovation in September for Yaroslav Hunka, a 98-year-old Ukrainian Canadian who fought for the Nazis in World War II, has included egregious Holocaust revisionism.

On September 22, following Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s address to the Canadian parliament, Canada’s then–Speaker of the House Anthony Rota introduced Hunka:

We have here in the chamber today a Ukrainian-Canadian veteran from the Second World War who fought for Ukrainian independence against the Russians and continues to support the troops today.

Rota went on to call Hunka “a Ukrainian hero, a Canadian hero, and we thank him for all his service” (Politico, 9/24/23). Parliamentarians of all political parties gave Hunka two standing ovations, and Zelenskyy raised his fist to salute the man (Sky News, 9/26/23).

Then the New York–based Forward (9/24/23) pointed out that Hunka had fought for the 14th Waffen Grenadier Division, also known as the Galicia Division, of the SS. (The SS, short for Schutzstaffel, “Protection Squadron,” was the military wing of Adolf Hitler’s Nazi Party.)

‘A complicated past’

“You have to tread softly on these issues,” said the main expert used by the CBC (9/28/23) to discuss the topic of Ukraine and Nazism.

Covering the subsequent controversy, the CBC (9/28/23) ran the headline, “Speaker’s Honoring of Former Nazi Soldier Reveals a Complicated Past, Say Historians.” In the context of the Holocaust, “complicated” functions as a hand-waving euphemism that gets in the way of holding perpetrators accountable: If a decision is “complicated,” it’s understandable, even if it’s wrong.

Digital reporter/editor Jonathan Migneault, who wrote the piece, soft-pedaled the Galicia Division in other ways too. He said that some of the Ukrainians who joined it did so “for ideological reasons, in opposition to the Soviet Union, in hopes of creating an independent Ukrainian state.”

That’s quite a whitewashing of the ideological package that goes with signing up for the SS, leaving out that this vision for an “independent Ukrainian state” included the extermination of Jewish, LGBTQ, Roma and Polish minorities. As far as the “hopes of creating an independent Ukrainian state” alibi, the Per Anders Rudling (Journal of Slavic Military Studies, 2012) documents that “there is no overt indication that the unit [of Ukrainian Waffen-SS recruits] in any way was dedicated to Ukrainian statehood, let alone independence.”

‘Caught between Hitler and Stalin’

Toronto Star columnist Heather Mallick (9/26/23) mocked Poland for wanting to extradite Hunka, whose unit massacred Poles during World War II, because “Poland has a notorious history of antisemitism.”

Toronto Star columnist Heather Mallick (9/26/23) also used the word “complicated” to diminish Nazi atrocities, and mock the Polish government’s interest in having Hunka extradited for war crimes:

Funny, they’ve had 73 years to ask Canada for him. It’s almost as if Poland has a notorious history of antisemitism but that’s crazy talk….

Rota should have understood how complicated history is, how, post-Holodomor, a Ukrainian caught between Hitler and Stalin made a fatal choice.

We can hate Hunka for that now. I do.

But would every Canadian MP have made immaculate choices inside Stalin’s “Bloodlands” in 1943? Of course you and I would have been heroic, joined the White Rose movement, been executed for our troubles. But everyone?

Mallick refers to Ukraine as “Stalin’s ‘Bloodlands,’” citing the Holodomor, the 1930s famine in the Soviet Union that killed an estimated 3.5 million Ukrainians, as well as millions in other parts of the USSR. Yet her link takes readers to a review of the book Bloodlands: Europe Between Hitler and Stalin, which—its own flaws notwithstanding (Jacobin, 9/9/14)—discusses the killings in Ukraine and elsewhere by Stalin and, on a significantly more egregious scale, Hitler. Acknowledging that the phrase she’s borrowing refers to both Soviet crimes and the Nazis’ genocides would have made the choice of joining the Nazis seem rather less sympathetic.

Meanwhile, Mallick’s baffling comments about Poland erase the Nazis’ systematic killing of Polish people. Polish history has indeed been marred by horrific antisemitism, with many Polish people complicit in the Holocaust, as she glibly references; this does not erase the fact that the Nazis also murdered 1.8 million non-Jewish Poles, or negate Poland’s desire to see their killers brought to justice. As Lev Golinkin (Forward, 9/24/23) pointed out, the Galicia Division that Hunka belonged to

was visited by SS head Heinrich Himmler, who spoke of the soldiers’ “willingness to slaughter Poles.” Three months earlier, SS Galichina subunits perpetrated what is known as the Huta Pieniacka massacre, burning 500 to 1,000 Polish villagers alive.

The non-Nazi SS

Keir Giles (Politico, 10/2/23) advances the argument that joining the SS and swearing “absolute obedience to the commander in chief of the German Armed Forces Adolf Hitler” doesn’t make you a Nazi.

An old cliché uses the analogy of gradually boiling a frog to explain how fascism takes hold in societies, but readers of Keir Giles’ intervention (Politico, 10/2/23) will feel like they are eyes-deep in a bubbling cauldron.

Giles, who said the relevant history is “complicated” four times and “complex” twice, wrote an article entitled “Fighting Against the USSR Didn’t Necessarily Make You a Nazi.” That’s a dubious claim in a piece focused on World War II, when the Soviet Union was the main force fighting Nazi Germany, and thus fighting the Soviets made you at least an ally of Nazis.

More to the point, the unit Hunka belonged to was a formal division of the SS, trained and armed by Nazi Germany (Forward, 9/27/23), which “fought exclusively to serve Nazi aims” (National Post, 9/25/23).

Giles, however, opened by writing:

Everybody knows that a lie can make it halfway around the world before the truth has even got its boots on.

And the ongoing turmoil over Canada’s parliament recognizing former SS trooper Yaroslav Hunka highlights one of the most important reasons why.

Something that’s untrue but simple is far more persuasive than a complicated, nuanced truth….

In the case of Hunka, the mass outrage stems from his enlistment with one of the foreign legions of the Waffen-SS, fighting Soviet forces on Germany’s eastern front.

Setting aside that Giles omits “and butchering innocent people” when he describes Waffen-SS activities as “fighting Soviet forces,” his suggestion that calling Hunka a Nazi is a “lie” does not withstand even minimal scrutiny. For instance, Rudling (Journal of Slavic Military Studies, 2012) documents that, from August 29, 1943, onward, Ukrainian Waffen-SS recruits were sworn in with the following oath:

I swear before God this holy oath, that in the battle against Bolshevism, I will give absolute obedience to the commander in chief of the German Armed Forces Adolf Hitler, and as a brave soldier I will always be prepared to lay down my life for this oath.

Vowing “absolute obedience” to Hitler, and swearing that you’re willing to die for him, makes you as root and branch a Nazi as Rudolf Hess or Hermann Göring.

‘Simple narratives’

SS commander Heinrich Himmler inspecting troops from the Galicia Division.

After drawing these bogus distinctions between the Nazis and their units, Giles moved on to genocide denial:

The idea that foreign volunteers and conscripts were being allocated to the Waffen-SS rather than the Wehrmacht on administrative rather than ideological grounds is a hard sell for audiences conditioned to believe the SS’s primary task was genocide….

Repeated exhaustive investigations—including by not only the Nuremberg trials but also the British, Canadian and even Soviet authorities—led to the conclusion that no war crimes or atrocities had been committed by this particular unit.

Giles doesn’t name any investigations by British or Soviet officials, so it’s unclear what he’s talking about on those points, but he’s lying about Nuremberg. The Nuremberg Tribunals did not specifically address the Galicia Division (Guardian, 9/25/23), but found that the combat branch of which they were a part, the Waffen-SS, “was a criminal organization”:

In dealing with the SS, the Tribunal includes all persons who had been officially accepted as members of the SS, including the members of the Allgemeine SS, members of the Waffen-SS, members of the SS Totenkopfverbaende, and the members of any of the different police forces who were members of the SS.

Giles asserted that “simple narratives like ‘everybody in the SS was guilty of war crimes’ are more pervasive because they’re much simpler to grasp”—but everybody in the SS was, quite literally, guilty of war crimes.

Heavily censored report

The Ottawa Citizen (9/27/23), citing B’nai Brith, reported that “the Canadian government’s approach to Nazi war criminals had been marked with ‘intentional harboring of known Nazi war criminals.'”

The Canadian investigation Giles refers to is a 1986 Canadian government report that claims that membership in the Galicia Division did not in and of itself constitute a war crime. This conclusion is highly suspect when read against the Nuremberg tribunal’s judgment, and the report also has to be understood in the broader context of Canadian state investigations into Nazis in the country. As the Ottawa Citizen’s David Pugliese (9/27/23) explained:

The federal government has withheld a second part of a 1986 government commission report about Nazis who settled in Canada. In addition, it has heavily censored another 1986 report examining how Nazis were able to get into Canada. More than 600 pages of that document, obtained by this newspaper and other organizations through the Access to Information law, have been censored.

Neither Giles nor any other member of the public knows what the Canadian government is hiding about its investigation, or why it’s concealing this information, so it’s disingenuous for him to present the fraction of the government’s conclusions to which he has access as if it is the final word on the Galicia Division or anything else.

As to Giles’ jaw-dropping complaint that people are “conditioned to believe the SS’s primary task was genocide,” the Nuremberg Trial concluded that the SS carried out

persecution and extermination of the Jews, brutalities and killings in concentration camps, excesses in the administration of occupied territories, the administration of the slave labor program, and the mistreatment and murder of prisoners.

Perhaps the public is “conditioned to believe the SS’s primary task was genocide” because the SS carried out genocide.

As disconcerting as it is that authors like Giles are writing fascist propaganda—and that Mallick veers perilously close to the same—it’s even more alarming that editors at outlets like the Star, CBC and Politico deem such intellectually and morally bankrupt material worthy of publication.

The post Media Holocaust Revisionism After Canada’s Standing Ovation for an SS Vet appeared first on FAIR.

Mark Weisbrot on Argentina’s Javier Milei

November 24, 2023 - 9:46am


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Washington Post (11/19/23)

This week on CounterSpin: The new president of Argentina opposes abortion rights, casts doubt on the death toll of the country’s military dictatorship, would like it to be easier to access handguns and calls climate change a “lie of socialism.” Many were worried about what Javier Milei would bring, but, the Washington Post explained: “Anger won over fear. For many Argentines, the bigger risk was more of the same.”

But if you want to dig down into the roots of that “same,” the economic and historic conditions that drove that deep dissatisfaction, US news media will be less helpful to you there. Milei is not a landslide popular president, and thoughtful, critical information and conversation could help clarify peoples’ problems and their sources, such that voters—in Argentina and elsewhere—might not be left to believe that the only way forward is a man wielding a literal chainsaw.

We’ll learn about Javier Milei and what led to his election from Mark Weisbrot, co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research and author of the book Failed: What the “Experts” Got Wrong About the Global Economy.

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Plus Janine Jackson takes a quick look at FAIR’s recent study on the Sunday shows’ Gaza guests.

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The post Mark Weisbrot on Argentina’s Javier Milei appeared first on FAIR.

Musk’s Lawsuit Is About Destroying Free Speech

November 22, 2023 - 2:52pm


Media Matters for America (11/16/23): “We recently found ads for Apple, Bravo, Oracle, Xfinity and IBM next to posts that tout Hitler and his Nazi Party on X.”

He wasn’t bluffing.

After threatening to sue liberal media watchdog Media Matters for America (CNBC, 11/18/23), Twitter’s principal owner Elon Musk did just that, arguing in papers filed in a Texas court that the group “manipulated” data in an effort to “destroy” the social media platform, causing major advertisers to pull back (BBC, 11/20/23).

The world’s richest human was responding to an MMFA report (11/16/23) about Twitter—which Musk has rebranded as X since purchasing the once publicly traded company—and its promotion of far-right, antisemitic content. It said that while “Musk continues his descent into white nationalist and antisemitic conspiracy theories,” the social media network has been “placing ads for major brands like Apple, Bravo (NBCUniversal), IBM, Oracle and Xfinity (Comcast) next to content that touts Adolf Hitler and his Nazi Party.”

Elon Musk (BBC, 11/20/23) promised a “thermonuclear” lawsuit against anyone “who colluded in this fraudulent attack on our company.”

The report came just as the world stood in shock of Musk’s latest outburst of antisemitism: Just before the lawsuit was filed, he “publicly endorsed an antisemitic conspiracy theory popular among white supremacists: that Jewish communities push ‘hatred against whites’” (CNN, 11/17/23). This received widespread condemnation, including from the White House (Reuters, 11/17/23).

A few weeks earlier, the South African–born billionaire had endorsed the “white genocide” conspiracy theory (Mediaite, 10/27/23), a central myth of white supremacy: “They absolutely want your extinction,” he replied to a Twitter user who claimed that the melting down of a statue of Robert E. Lee was proof that “many seek our extinction.” The reported exodus of advertisers from Twitter in such a brief time span has been enormous (AP, 11/18/23).

The AP (11/20/23) reported that Twitter’s lawsuit claims MMFA “manipulated algorithms on the platform to create images of advertisers’ paid posts next to racist, incendiary content,” and that the lawsuit states that the instances of hateful content near such advertisements were “manufactured, inorganic and extraordinarily rare.” (By “manufactured,” Musk means that MMFA got its results by following far-right accounts on Twitter as well as the accounts of Twitter‘s major advertisers.)

Antisemitic vitriol

New York Times (12/2/22): Researchers said “they had never seen such a sharp increase in hate speech, problematic content and formerly banned accounts in such a short period on a mainstream social media platform.”

It isn’t a secret that antisemitic vitriol has increased on the site under Musk’s management (New York Times, 12/2/22; Washington Post, 3/20/23; Vice, 5/18/23). What’s different now is that the MMFA report and the anger toward his last outburst happened as he is losing the business he desperately needs, as the brand has been rapidly tanking since he spent $44 billion to acquire it (Fortune, 5/30/23).

The case was filed in Texas, although Twitter is based in California and MMFA is in Washington, DC. Musk’s choice of venue has everything to do with his right-wing politics and nothing to do with compliance with the law. Fast Company (11/21/23) wrote:

The case has been assigned to District Judge Mark Pittman, a Donald Trump appointee whose previous rulings include blocking President Joe Biden’s student loan forgiveness plan and declaring a Texas law banning people ages 18 to 20 from carrying handguns in public was unconstitutional.

Also, by filing in the state, the case can be heard by the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals, which has backed several conservative figures who claim they’ve been censored in the past.

MMFA is nevertheless confident that it will win the case; in a statement published by CNBC (11/18/23) before Musk’s suit was filed, Media Matters president Angelo Carusone declared:

Far from the free speech advocate he claims to be, Musk is a bully who threatens meritless lawsuits in an attempt to silence reporting that he even confirmed is accurate. Musk admitted the ads at issue ran alongside the pro-Nazi content we identified. If he does sue us, we will win.

Defamation cases are difficult for the plaintiff to win, especially in the case of someone like Musk, a public figure, who must prove that even false statements against them were intentional lies or made with “reckless disregard for the truth.” Legal experts cited by CNN (11/21/23) characterized the lawsuit as “weak” and “bogus.”

That doesn’t mean that legal fees, hours of working on the case and sleepless nights won’t impact MMFA’s work. In a case like this, a Goliath like Musk doesn’t need to win in court to hamper a David like MMFA, which reports an annual revenue of about $19 million and total assets of $26 million. That’s pennies in comparison to Musk, whose net worth is valued at nearly $200 billion (CBS News, 10/31/23). Mounting legal bills for oligarchs like Musk are as significant as a McDonald’s hamburger.

Rallying call for right

In the topsy-turvy world of the New York Post (11/21/23), billionaires who sue critics of hate speech are champions of free speech.

The suit is also a rallying call for the right, as former Fox News host Megyn Kelly (New York Post, 11/20/23) and the Federalist (11/21/23) are cheerleading the legal action. Greg Gutfeld of Fox News (11/21/23) welcomed the lawsuit, calling MMFA a “hard-left smear machine.” The New York Post editorial board (11/21/23), using Freudian projection, said the suit was a reaction to the liberal determination to “bring down Elon Musk for championing free speech.” Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, a Republican who fought to overturn the 2020 presidential election (Austin American-Statesman, 5/25/22), said he was opening an investigation into MMFA (The Hill, 11/21/23).

Musk—who is hostile to organized labor (NPR, 3/3/22; Forbes, 12/5/22), who has promoted anti-trans hate on Twitter (San Francisco Chronicle, 12/13/22; Business Insider, 1/2/23; The Nation, 6/23/23) and who backed Republicans in last year’s midterm elections (Politico, 11/7/22)—has become a darling of the right. A billionaire boss with socially conservative views, he has amped up the mythology that social media networks are somehow rigged against the right (Vox, 12/9/22; New York, 12/10/22; Daily Beast, 4/6/23; CNN, 6/6/23), and that his takeover of Twitter will lead to more balance.

What has resulted since his takeover is an unrelenting campaign of censorship. El País (5/24/23) reported that since his takeover, the platform “has approved 83% of censorship requests by authoritarian governments,” and has shown a particular interest in censoring critics of India’s right-wing regime (Intercept, 3/28/23). It has silenced left-wing voices at the behest of “far-right internet trolls” (Intercept, 11/29/22). And in order to silence criticism of Israel–an impulse that is not incompatible with antisemitism–Musk has threatened to suspend users who use the word “decolonization” or the phrase “from the river to the sea,” a reference to the original borders of historic Palestine before the proposed partition and Israel’s eventual founding (Mother Jones, 11/18/23). Journalists on the social media beat have been banned (CNN, 12/17/22; Daily Beast, 4/19/23).

Sinister forces

Media Matters (11/15/23): Musk has reinstated known white nationalists and antisemites on the platform” and “amplified conspiracy theories that were used to push antisemitism.”

MMFA was founded in 2004—in the midst of the “War on Terror” fervor of the George W. Bush years—by former right-wing journalist turned liberal consultant David Brock, who launched it to keep an eye on the rising influence of conservative news and talk shows (New York Times, 5/3/04). Its ongoing criticism of both Musk and corporate media like Fox News (Rolling Stone, 7/28/19) makes it the perfect target for the right. In the paranoid fantasyland of US conservatism, MMFA sits alongside George Soros, Black Lives Matter and Antifa as sinister forces who are out to undermine traditional social hierarchies.

And one can understand why Musk has a personal interest in going after MMFA, as the group (10/5/23, 11/13/23, 11/15/23) has focused on his politics and his administration of the website since he took it over.

I have written for several years about the right’s attempt to use the courts and legislatures to destroy press freedom to suppress reporting and opinions the rich and powerful don’t like (FAIR.org, 3/26/21, 5/25/22, 11/2/22, 3/1/23). The lawsuit sends a warning to reporters and advocates that can be easily interpreted: Musk isn’t just interested in taking over one social media network, but also drowning out the voices of anyone who challenges him. The point of this lawsuit is to intimidate anyone who speaks out against antisemitism, white supremacy and other forms of bigotry.

For those of us who care deeply about free speech and a free press, let’s hope this lawsuit is swiftly tossed out.

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