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Updated: 19 hours 22 min ago

NYT’s Incredibly Low Bar for Labeling Someone ‘Pro-Putin’ 

September 20, 2023 - 3:39pm


When former French President Nicolas Sarkozy suggested that a total Ukrainian military victory was unlikely, the New York Times‘ Roger Cohen (8/27/23) charged that “the obstinacy of the French right’s emotional bond with Russia owes much to a recurrent Gallic great-power itch.”

It doesn’t take much in our media system to be labeled a “Putin apologist” or “pro-Russia.” In this New Cold War, even suggesting that the official enemy is not Hitlerian or completely irrational could earn ridicule and attack.

After the largely stalled Ukrainian counteroffensive against the Russian occupation, conditions on the front have hardened into what many observers describe as a “stalemate.” Like virtually all wars, the Russo-Ukrainian War will end with a negotiated settlement, and the quicker it happens, the quicker the bodies will stop piling up.

Despite this, anyone who advocates actually pursuing negotiations is immediately attacked. The New York Times (8/27/23) did this in an article about former French President Nicolas Sarkozy, in an article that argued he “gives a voice to obstinate Russian sympathies.” The Times wrote:

In interviews coinciding with the publication of a memoir, Mr. Sarkozy, who was president from 2007 to 2012, said that reversing Russia’s annexation of Crimea was “illusory,” ruled out Ukraine joining the European Union or NATO because it must remain “neutral,” and insisted that Russia and France “need each other.”

“People tell me Vladimir Putin isn’t the same man that I met. I don’t find that convincing. I’ve had tens of conversations with him. He is not irrational,” he told Le Figaro. “European interests aren’t aligned with American interests this time,” he added.

To Times writer Roger Cohen, Sarkozy’s remarks “underscored the strength of the lingering pockets of pro-Putin sympathy that persist in Europe,” which persist despite Europe’s “unified stand against Russia.” Cohen didn’t challenge or rebut anything the former president said—he merely quoted the words, labeled them “pro-Putin,” and moved on.

The New Cold War mentality has encouraged a new wave of McCarthyite attacks against anyone who dissents against the establishment status quo. Merely pointing out that Putin is “not irrational” flies in the face of the accepted conventional wisdom that Putin is a Hitler-like madman hell bent on conquering Eastern Europe. That conventional wisdom is what allows calls for negotiation to be dismissed without any serious discussion, and challenging that wisdom elicits harsh reactions from establishment voices.

ACTION ALERT: You can send a message to the New York Times at letters@nytimes.com (Twitter: @NYTimes). Please remember that respectful communication is the most effective. Feel free to leave a copy of your communication in the comments thread.

The post NYT’s Incredibly Low Bar for Labeling Someone ‘Pro-Putin’  appeared first on FAIR.

‘There’s This Notion That the “War on Terror” Was Just Something That Happened Abroad’ - CounterSpin interview with Maha Hilal on Innocent Until Proven Muslim

September 19, 2023 - 2:07pm

Janine Jackson interviewed the Muslim Counterpublics Lab‘s Maha Hilal about her book Innocent Until Proven Muslim for the September 15, 2023, episode of CounterSpin. This is a lightly edited transcript.

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Janine Jackson: Islamophobia existed before September 11, 2001, but the response to that day’s attacks leveraged the power of the state in service to that discrimination in ways that continue to shape foreign and domestic policy, and everyday life.

And all along the way, corporate news media have not just platformed, but megaphoned the idea that Muslims, because they are Muslim, are dangerous and suspicious; that their humanity is, at best, contingent.

That media’s looks back on the day overwhelmingly failed to even acknowledge the so-called “War on Terror’s” ongoing impacts on Muslims is just testament to the mainstreaming of this particular brand of scapegoating.

(Broadleaf Books, 2023)

Maha Hilal is the founding executive director of the Muslim Counterpublics Lab, and author of the book Innocent Until Proven Muslim: Islamophobia, the War on Terror and the Muslim Experience Since 9/11, from Broadleaf Books. She joins us now by phone from Arlington, Virginia. Welcome back to CounterSpin, Maha Hilal.

Maha Hilal: Thank you so much, Janine, for the invitation.

JJ: When we think about the wreckage from the attacks of September 11, 2001—not just the attacks themselves, but the actions in the wake of them—for a lot of people, our minds go to the wars on Afghanistan and on Iraq, with validity, right?

But it’s important for Americans not to see the “War on Terror” only as something that the US state is inflicting on others, elsewhere—particularly as the domestic facets, while maybe not front-page news, are still very much in effect, right? It’s not somewhere else, and it’s not in the past.

MH: Absolutely. So there’s been this notion, as you are describing, that the “War on Terror” was just something that happened abroad. And in fact, when we look at the trajectory of the “War on Terror,” immediately after the 9/11 attacks, Muslims and Arabs were targeted, were racially profiled, and were being scrutinized and surveilled domestically within the United States.

And it’s always been interesting to think about how the “War on Terror” has been constructed so narrowly, so that Americans think it’s abroad.

And there was a summer in which there was a lot of discourse around the 1033 Program, and the ways that the military was giving equipment to police offices around the country. And the narrative there was that now the “War on Terror” is “coming home”; whereas, as I write about in my book, the “War on Terror” started at home, and the “War on Terror” has been home.

And this speaks a lot to, who do we understand as being American? Who do we understand as being within the borders of this country? And who do we care about when it comes to state violence?

And we know that it’s obviously not just Muslims who are treated with little to no regard, but also other BIPOC communities. So it does raise this question of, who do we actually care about?

And so I think it’s important, as I outline in the book, to really look at the taxonomy of the “War on Terror.” What is the “War on Terror” in its totality? And it’s only by answering that question that I think we can ask the other question, which is, what do we need to do to abolish the “War on Terror”?

JJ: And you talk about the various aspects of it. It’s so in the ether that we almost don’t think about it, but things like registration, things like detaining people, there are multiple questions around immigration, so-called. There are multiple elements that reflect the domestic manifestation of the “War on Terror.”

Daily Beast (9/10/23)

MH: Absolutely. I just wrote an op-ed in the Daily Beast about the terrorism watch list, which turns 20 this week. And that has been a very systemic, systematic, pervasive policy that has impacted not just Muslims, but also Muslim Americans.

And this is a policy that has been in place to scrutinize and surveil Muslims, many of whom face extremely harsh interrogations at airports when they’re flying and when they’re traveling. And for a lot of others, it’s this process that needs to be done. Muslims are the enemy, so it’s OK. It’s normal to see them being singled out in places like airports, because that’s the sort of places of violence that we associate Muslims with.

But suffice it to say, there are so many ways that the “War on Terror”—I think on this point, it’s important to mention—has been so normalized. So not only is there a lack of knowledge and understanding that it has a very domestic front, but also we’re so accustomed, I think we’ve just sort of accepted everything that the “War on Terror” has entailed, to the point where there are so many tentacles of the “War on Terror” that we no longer see.

And that’s why, again, we think about the narrative around that 1033 Program, and the idea that the “War on Terror” was coming home, as opposed to the “War on Terror” has always been home.

That’s one of the problems that we come across when people aren’t informed about what’s happening domestically to people in their communities and their societies and their neighborhoods.

JJ: I think some people might actually be surprised to hear that what we used to call the “No-Fly List,” that that’s still a thing. That is an enduring impact. You may have read about it 20 years ago and thought that it disappeared, but, in fact, it’s still affecting people’s lives around this country and around the world.

MH: Absolutely. And I think with things like the No-Fly List, people can sort of brush it off as minor inconveniences, right, that it’s just additional scrutiny, and eventually the person is able to travel. As opposed to recognizing the complete humiliation that is repeated over and over again.

And the symbolic message that it sends to Americans and to people traveling that Muslims continue to be the enemy, and that when it comes to Muslims traveling and Muslims in general, there’s always this propensity of violence, because Muslims are inherently violent. And so these policies reiterate that over and over again.

JJ: You talk a bit about the power of language in the book, the work that language has done. I always thought that when news media took “War on Terror” out of quotation marks, that something really changed, once they started saying that this was an unironic term.

Because, of course, once we’re “at war,” well, media have a lot of imagery around that that takes over. But “War on Terror” itself is, at the same time, deeply evocative and also a total thought-stopper of a term. It just justifies endlessly, doesn’t it?

Maha Hilal: “When you use nebulous phrases like ‘War on Terror’…it opens the door for basically the US government to do whatever it wants.”

MH: Yeah, absolutely. And the first time that Bush used the phrase “War on Terror” was in his speech nine days after the 9/11 attack. And so the context in which he was using it was to actually say that, essentially, we’re going to wage an endless war. There’s no timelines. There’s no boundaries. We’re basically going to do whatever we want. And, in fact, he said that Americans should expect a “lengthy battle.”

And that’s what happens when you use nebulous phrases like “War on Terror,” is that it opens the door for basically the US government to do whatever it wants, because the phrase is unclear as it is. But also, you can always fit things into, what does terror look like? And this is our “War on Terror,” this is how we have to seek out revenge, this is how we have to intervene into the ways that we were victimized.

JJ: And media’s acceptance, journalists’ acceptance of that term, I really thought, all bets are off at this point. And a thing that I thought that media never acknowledged: I remember Ari Fleischer, the White House press secretary, telling Howard Kurtz, who was then at the Washington Post, talking about the “War on Terror”: “This is the most information-intensive war you can imagine…. We’re going to lie about things.”

And I always thought, a self-respecting press corps, that would’ve set them on just a categorically different course. And I wonder, can you talk about the role of media here, which of course is so important in propagating this idea and sustaining this idea of Muslims as the enemy?

MH: Yeah, absolutely. I think media in the “War on Terror” have often just basically operated as a mouthpiece for government. Not only have they reported very uncritically about what the government is doing, they’ve repeated a lot of the terminology and the phraseology and accepted, for example, what does “terrorism” mean, right, in the ways that the US government chooses to define it.

Or the idea, for example, that I write about in the book as well, that state violence is inherently more moral than non–state actor violence. And this is not to say that any violence should be condoned, but it is to say that there should be a critical lens in terms of what kind of violence is actually more destructive. But the government is able to continue to assert its violence as morally superior, in part because of the way that the media operates.

And another specific problem with the media, I think, is, in the last two decades-plus, whenever there is, for example, an attack or an act of violence by someone who’s not Muslim, the ways that it’s described is often in terms like “non-jihadist violence” or “non-Islamic extremism.” And that is to say that Muslim violence is essentially the gold standard, that we cannot conceive of violence as organic, included in this country, that it has to be in comparison to Muslim violence.

And that has been a particular construction that has been repeated over and over again. And obviously, the point of that is to entrench the idea that Muslims are inherently terroristic and violent.

JJ: Some of us may remember folks like Steve Emerson, who, right after the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing, said: “This was done with the attempt to inflict as many casualties as possible. That is a Middle Eastern trait.”

Now, of course, we know who was behind the Oklahoma City bombing. The point is Steve Emerson continued to appear as a terrorism expert on news media for years afterwards. So it’s just exactly what you were saying: You never lose in US news media and corporate news media by linking violence and Islam. Even if you’re wrong, even if you’re incredibly wrong, somehow it’s never points off.

MH: Yeah, and Steve Emerson belongs in the category of what we would refer to as a moral entrepreneur. And these are people that operate in the space between media and government. And their specific role is to present a particular problem, a social issue or political problem, and attach it to one particular group. That is to say, that that problem can be attributed to that group. And so they continue to forge those connections and repeat it over and over again.

And he’s one of many, right? There’s been Daniel Pipes, many others, and I don’t know if you’ve come across this term, but Daniel Pipes came up with this idea of “sudden Jihad syndrome,” which is basically about Muslims randomly erupting into violence. And that is obviously the trope that has been entrenched over and over again, that we’re inherently violent. So it’s not a matter of if they’re going to commit violence, it’s a matter of when, because they’re inherently predisposed to committing acts of violence.

JJ: And the point that you’re making, and that we’re underscoring, is that this isn’t just a cultural bias; this isn’t just Steve Emerson showing up on TV. US policy is shot through with this bias. US policy is reflecting this bias in terms of actions, in terms of policies and behaviors, and the way people are treated. It’s not just a wackadoo prejudice that’s sort of floating around. It’s actually institutionalized.

MH: Absolutely. And I think one of the ways that the US government tries to be evasive about this is, a lot of the laws and policies and bills that are passed, the language in them is neutral. It doesn’t specify you must target Muslims, or Muslims are the target of the specific policy. But when it comes to implementation, that’s when you can begin to understand exactly who the policy was intended to target.

And when you continue targeting a particular group, you’re also entrenching, again, a particular construction, and you’re positioning them as the problem.

And I think that in the “War on Terror,” what has been extremely frustrating, even in left and liberal spaces, is this idea that the targeting of Muslims was either unintentional or coincidental, as opposed to being extremely intentional, well-thought-out.

And you have to know that in order to inflict the amount of violence that the United States has inflicted on Muslim communities domestically and across the globe, there has to be such a deep level of dehumanization in place. And for that to happen, there has to be a robust narrative infrastructure. And that’s exactly what was developed in the aftermath of 9/11, as well as built on by successive administrations after Bush.

JJ: And let me just pick you up on that point, because if we think of this as a George W. Bush policy, we’re missing it, because it’s Obama and it’s Trump, and it’s Biden, too. You want to talk about that?

MH: Yeah, the “War on Terror” is bipartisan, and I think that tends to get ignored. I know under Obama, he sort of backed away from the use of the phrase “War on Terror,” but he didn’t change anything about what was happening, the violence that was being unleashed under the guise of the “War on Terror.” So it was basically just a semantic change.

And I just want to offer this, is that I use the term “War on Terror” specifically. Obviously, you can think about it in multiple ways, as to whether or not that’s helpful. But to me, when you take away that term “War on Terror,” especially two decades later, then it becomes harder to map out what this war has entailed, and the violence that has been waged under its scope. And if you do that, then what you see is disparate policies that are disconnected, when in reality they’re part of a robust infrastructure.

Now, when we think about Biden, Biden is also continuing the “War on Terror.” There is no president thus far who’s been willing to challenge the status quo on the “War on Terror,” and national security in particular.

And we know Democrats always fear being seen as too liberal on national security and counterterrorism. And so what often happens is that there’s overcompensation, as opposed to withdrawing from these problematic policies.

TomDispatch (9/5/23)

JJ: Your recent piece for TomDispatch focused on drone warfare in particular, and the particular role that that is playing in targeting Muslims. There’s little evidence, you say, that anybody is really thinking seriously about the failures of drone warfare at all. What is key for you in that issue, as a particular element of what we’re talking about?

MH: It’s the ease through which this form of violence is committed. And when I started writing this particular piece, I was focusing mostly on the Biden administration’s policies governing drone warfare, and then I started looking into the psychology of what it takes to enable people to kill so mercilessly.

So basically you have the policies, you have the rules governing drone warfare, and then you have the psychology of what makes it so easy. And when you put those two things together, it becomes exponentially more catastrophic.

And a lot of times the US government has said the “War on Terror” is over, and I always ask the question, “over for whom?” Because the “War on Terror” is not over for the countries that the US continues to drone strike. We know that, right?

And in the piece, I refer to a quote by a young Pakistani. It was said at a congressional hearing in 2013: “I no longer love blue skies. In fact, I now prefer gray skies. The drones do not fly when the skies are gray.”

And to me, that is a particular form of violence, when a young child looks up at the sky and associates its color with the probability of state violence. And until that is no longer the case, then the “War on Terror” is not over.

For Americans whose lives have pretty much resumed normalcy, right, since 9/11, they might think the “War on Terror” here is over, but it’s not. And I think when we talk about Muslims and people that are being targeted, right, by the “War on Terror,” and by US state violence in general, as “collateral damage” or other ways that dehumanize them, then they become inconsequential. It doesn’t even really matter.

Whenever there’s American deaths, there’s a specific number. It’s “13 service members died,” for example. When it’s Muslim deaths, it’s like, oh, well, there’s a lot of Muslim deaths. We don’t really know how many. We couldn’t even bother to count, because it doesn’t really matter anyway.

JJ: What, finally, has been the response to the book so far, and what would you like folks to use the book to do? What are you hoping for?

MH: The response to the book has been pretty positive, minus some Islamophobic backlash here and there, but I think it’s been pretty positive, especially because I tried to take such a broad approach, and also to really look at not just the way that external factors have impacted the Muslim community in the form of state violence, but also the Muslim community itself has played a part in its own demonization, because of internalized Islamophobia.

What I really want to impart in this book, and what I hope that readers really get out of it, is the understanding that in order to dismantle and abolish the “War on Terror,” we have to include a lens of Islamophobia. Islamophobia has to be mainstreamed into the analysis. Because unless we understand the targeting of Muslims as integral to the “War on Terror,” then it can’t truly be abolished.

And throughout the book, obviously, I repeat and illustrate, examine, criticize the ways in which the targeting of Muslims has been intentional, leaving the reader, hopefully, with no doubt that that has always been the case; it has always been the intention of the “War on Terror.” and that the US government continues to inflict violence, harm, destruction, humiliation on the Muslim community, with no end in sight.

JJ: We’ve been speaking with Maha Hilal. The book is Innocent Until Proven Muslim: Islamophobia, the War on Terror and the Muslim Experience Since 9/11, out from Broadleaf Books.

You can find her recent piece “Ordinary US Muslims Still Victimized by War on Terror” at the Daily Beast, and “22 Years of Drone Warfare and No End in Sight” at TomDispatch.com. Thank you so much, Maha Hilal, for joining us this week on CounterSpin.

MH: Thank you so much, Janine.



The post ‘There’s This Notion That the “War on Terror” Was Just Something That Happened Abroad’ appeared first on FAIR.

‘Propaganda Against North Korea and the Travel Ban Go Hand in Hand’ - CounterSpin interview with Amanda Yee and Hyun Lee on Korea

September 18, 2023 - 5:04pm


The September 8, 2023, episode of CounterSpin included a new interview with Liberation News‘ Amanda Yee on the Korean travel ban and an archival interview with Women Cross DMZ’s Hyun Lee on forgotten Korean history.  This is a lightly edited transcript.

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Janine Jackson: The White House has announced it’s extending the ban on people using US passports to go to North Korea. Corporate media seem to find it of little interest; who wants to go to North Korea? That fairly reflects media’s disinterest in the tens of thousands of Korean Americans who want to visit family in North Korea, along with media’s overarching, active disinterest in telling the story of the Korean Peninsula in anything other than static, cartoonish terms—North Korea is a murderous dictatorship; South Korea is a client state, lucky for our support—terms that conveniently sidestep the US’s historic and ongoing role in the crisis.

Amanda Yee is a writer and organizer, and an editor of Liberation News. We’ll talk with her about the role the travel ban plays in a bigger picture.

And we reference hidden history in that conversation. CounterSpin got some deeper understanding on that a couple years back from Hyun Lee, US national organizer for Women Cross DMZ, part of the coalition Korea Peace Now!. We’ll hear just a little bit from that conversation today as well.


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AP (8/22/23)

JJ: “The Biden administration is extending for another year a ban on the use of US passports for travel to North Korea.” AP reported the decision as coming “as tensions with North Korea are rising over its nuclear and ballistic missile programs,” and concern about what’s happened to US servicemember Travis King, who entered the country in July, though there’s no indication that King made use of a passport when he suddenly ran across the border while on a civilian tour of a village.

North Korea is, for US news media, so much more an object lesson than a real place with real people that reports like AP’s make no mention of the effects of the ban on Korean Americans with family there—families that, incidentally, candidate Joe Biden promised to reunite.

Our next guest wrote recently about what many press accounts are leaving out. Amanda Yee is a writer and organizer, and an editor of Liberation News. She joins us now by phone from Brooklyn. Welcome to CounterSpin, Amanda Yee.

Amanda Yee: Thanks, Janine, for having me. It’s a pleasure.

JJ: As a quick point of information, given its official enemy status, people may feel that travel has been frozen between North Korea and the US forever, but this ban started with Donald Trump, right?

AY: Yes. This is a relatively recent travel ban that was set in place by Trump in 2017, and has been renewed annually ever since. Before 2017, people could actually travel to North Korea, and, actually, a lot of Korean organizations in the States would organize delegations to go there.

But the travel ban was set in place by Trump, and has been renewed every year since then. And, as you said, despite his own campaign promise in 2020 to reunite Korean Americans in Korea who’ve been separated for decades, Biden has renewed the ban every year he’s in office.

So the travel ban is extremely strict. While there are travel restrictions in place for places like Cuba for US passport holders, you can still go to Cuba as long as you meet certain requirements under a certain set of conditions.

In contrast, no US passport holder can go to North Korea. You have to apply for a special validation passport, and those are handed out by the State Department in very rare, exceptional circumstances, and they usually only go to professional journalists or people who work for the Red Cross.

So this ban separates as many as 100,000 Koreans in the US from visiting their families in North Korea. In late July of this year, a number of Korean peace organizations held a rally in Washington, DC, on the 70th anniversary of the signing of the armistice agreement, demanding that the US sign a peace treaty to officially end the Korean War.

These organizations delivered a thousand postcards, as well as an open letter calling for the lifting of the travel ban, to the State Department. So despite widespread opposition from Americans year after year, the administration in place still renews this travel ban every August.

Liberation (9/3/23)

JJ: In your piece, you talk about one woman, but it’s representative or illustrative of what’s happening to a lot of families. And I wonder if you could just take a moment to talk about what this means.

This is about people not being able to see their grandmother; a one-year extension—well, people are aging, so that might mean losing that chance forever. There’s a human aspect that I feel like media are not talking about.

AY: Yeah, so the generation of Korean War survivors are aging well into their 80s now, and so lifting the travel ban is really a matter of urgency, so that they’re able to see their families in North Korea for what may be the last time.

I did a couple of interviews for the article; I talked to one activist with the women’s peace organization Korea Peace Now!. She was born in Korea, and she moved to the US at the age of 15. And before 2017, she was able to visit North Korea and visit her family members. After the travel ban went into place, she can no longer visit her cousins or close relatives there. She can no longer see family there.

And it’s not just her; as many as 100,000 Korean Americans in the US are barred from seeing their families.

And it’s not just Korean Americans who can’t travel there. Any US passport-holder is barred from visiting the country. So that effectively prohibits any kind of cultural exchange between Americans and North Koreans. And that kind of cultural exchange is really vital in challenging this huge disinformation propaganda campaign around North Korea, right?

FAIR.org (6/10/19)

A lot of the stories about North Korea in corporate media that we see rely on these total caricatures of Kim Jong-un, as well as the depiction of North Koreans as brainwashed. And you can literally say anything about North Korea, the most absurd thing you could imagine, and people would believe it.

And a lot of these stories come from unverified sources, or they come from Radio Free Asia, which is a US-funded propaganda arm of the US government.

And a lot of the stories also come from North Korean defectors, who are incentivized and pressured to grossly exaggerate and even lie, because there is an industry in the US that pays for stories about the human rights abuses in North Korea, because the US government can use these to justify its inhumane sanctions against the country. So you have this industry of defectors who are incentivized to make up the most absurd stories to get an interview.

And that’s how you get people like Yeonmi Park, the most famous defector, who goes on Joe Rogan claiming that North Koreans have no food to eat, so they’re forced to eat rats, or that the trains never work in North Korea, so people have to manually push them in order to get to their destinations, or that North Koreans don’t have a word for “love.”

But this propaganda campaign against North Korea and the travel ban go hand in hand. They complement one another. The US government uses the propaganda to justify the travel ban, but the travel ban not only prevents Koreans from visiting their families, it bans travel of any kind, of any American, to North Korea to see the country for themselves.

And every person I talked to who has visited North Korea before 2017, before the travel ban, they would say that what they saw was totally unlike what they read about in corporate media. So if Americans were allowed to visit, they would see that North Koreans are just like you and me, and the entire corporate media narrative would just fall apart.

JJ: I want to say, AP, for instance, did say that activists were protesting the ban, but they said that the protest was from humanitarian groups who say that the ban will make it hard to get aid to North Korea, which is “one of the world’s neediest countries.”

So even that is painting things a certain way: North Korea is a scary basket case, and how can we help them while most importantly containing them?

And you’ve given a great summation of the basic US media presentation of North Korea. But I would also say that readers of US media would have less than zero understanding, if I can say it like that, of the history of the Korean Peninsula and US actions there. The very fact that you use the term “Korea”… because if you’re just a media consumer, there is no Korea. There’s North Korea and South Korea.

The idea of the history and the US actions there, there’s a reason that the Korean War is called the forgotten war. And media are playing a big role, and it’s a big question, but the role of media in erasing Korean history and setting us up for the present conflict is huge.

Amanda Yee: “It’s called the forgotten war, but I think the US would rather us forget it, because its involvement in that war was just genocide.”

AY: Yeah, the Korean War is known as the forgotten war, but I think that’s a real outrage and a real tragedy. It’s not forgotten in Korea, and it’s not forgotten among the many Koreans in the US who have remained separated from their families in the North.

I think a lot of people are under the impression that the Korean War ended, but the signing of the armistice agreement in 1953, it brought an end to the fighting, but it did not end the war. An armistice is not a peace agreement, it’s only a ceasefire.

So the US, along with the South, they remain frozen in a state of war with the North. And to this day, the US still refuses to sign a peace treaty.

And it’s called the forgotten war, but I think the US would rather us forget it, because its involvement in that war was just genocide. There’s no way around it. The US dropped over 600,000 tons of bombs over the Korean Peninsula in just three years of that war. And so they completely leveled the North. They destroyed 90% of its cities and villages, and they killed 20% of its population. And the fact that North Korea was even able to rebuild after that is a miracle in and of itself.

And in three years of fighting, the US just committed atrocity after atrocity on the Korean Peninsula. They massacred civilians, they massacred refugees who were trying to flee. And even after the armistice was signed, the South remained, and it still remains, occupied by the US.

So every year, South Korea hosts joint military exercises with the US military where they simulate invasion of the North, and it’s basically practice for regime change in North Korea. And so it’s the US that constantly ratchets up tensions between North and South.

So this travel ban, it may seem like a small thing in the grand scheme of things, but it’s really another weapon of war. It’s part of this broader strategy that’s meant to further isolate the North and turn Koreans against each other, and inflame tensions on both sides of the Korean Peninsula.

Reuters (3/17/21)

JJ: When I spoke with Hyun Lee from Women Cross DMZ a couple of years ago, she said something that I found very compelling, which is that US policy, and consequently US media coverage, is shaped around this question of, how do we get North Korea to give up weapons, and specifically nuclear weapons.

The assumption is that North Korea’s weapons are the problem, and if “we” could get rid of them by squeezing the country, as Tony Blinken says, well then, problem solved. And what Hyun Lee said was, “How about if we ask the question, ‘How do we get to peace?’” And that sets up an entirely different conversation that involves acknowledging and addressing the US role in preventing peace, and that also brings different people to the table and into the conversation.

If we could think about a positive vision of what media coverage and a media conversation that was interested in peace in Korea would look like, what would that involve?

AY: A lot of the corporate media coverage in the US around North Korea, it’s framed a lot around its possession of nuclear weapons. And I would love a world without nuclear weapons, but in order for there to be a world without nuclear weapons, the US has to get rid of its nuclear weapons first, because it’s the US that presents the main challenge to world peace today.

And if you talk to North Koreans, they will tell you that they really believe if North Korea got rid of its nuclear weapons, they would’ve gone the way of Iraq. They would’ve been invaded by the US and totally destroyed.

JJ: The idea of the US setting aside its exceptionalism is not something that’s going to happen in news media, in terms of their overarching framing. But if we could hear from different people, then maybe folks could have a different understanding, or at least a recognition that there are human beings involved in what’s going on here. So media coverage could change in a way that would be helpful.

AY: Absolutely. As I said before, everyone I talked to who were lucky enough to travel to North Korea before 2017, they all said Koreans in the North are just like you and me. Just having the opportunity for Americans to see them as similar to themselves, that’s really the first step in countering this insane US propaganda that tries so hard to dehumanize these people in the service of its imperialist project.

Because the weapon of war against North Korea, or one of them, is sanctions. And these sanctions are really brutal, right? They cause malnutrition. They prevent medical supplies from coming in. And it’s a way of strangling the country and killing people without the spectacle of bombs.

Sanctions are a weapon of war, but that use of it is justified and held in place by the propaganda campaign, and also the travel ban. So the travel ban is just a really critical weapon of war in this Korean War that the US refuses to end.

JJ: I know I’ve kept you over time. I’m going to ask you one final question, which is just, speaking of hiding history and excavating history, your article can be found at LiberationNews.org, Globetrotter, PeoplesDispatch.org, CounterPunch.org, Eurasia Review, something called Scoop in New Zealand that I don’t know about, RadioFree.org. It just really speaks to the importance and the necessity of alternative information sources, particularly when US news media are so carrying the water for whatever US policy is. For folks to be able to get just alternative voices on that seems critical.

AY: I think we are heading straight into a major power conflict with China, and part of this broader strategy that includes the travel ban and ratcheting tensions between both halves of the Korean Peninsula, it’s part of this US strategy to corral South Korea into an alliance with the US against China.

And I think people in the US are just really, really tired of war, and they are really starting to question the US media narrative, which is constantly pushing for war, constantly supporting US imperialism, and they’re seeking out independent news outlets to maybe read a different opinion, something that challenges the predominant corporate media narrative.

So I think now, when we are really accelerating toward a war with China, it’s more urgent than ever to seek these alternative viewpoints.

JJ: We’ve been speaking with Amanda Yee. You can find her piece, “The Korean War Continues With Biden’s Renewal of Travel Ban to North Korea,” at Liberation News and elsewhere, as I’ve indicated. Thank you so much, Amanda Yee, for joining us this week on CounterSpin.

AY: Thank you, Janine.


Janine Jackson: When CounterSpin spoke with Hyun Lee in February 2021, US news media were offering headlines like “North Korea Using Cyber Attacks to Update Nukes,” while the coalition that she works with, Korea Peace Now!, was issuing a report called “Path to Peace.”

We asked Hyun Lee, US national organizer for Women Cross DMZ, what makes what many US citizens have been given to understand as a perhaps unpleasant stalemate between North and South Korea, an actual crisis.


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Hyun Lee: Your audience may know that when the Korean War ended in 1953, it ended with an armistice, which is a temporary ceasefire that recommended, within 90 days of signing the agreement, there should be a political conference held to discuss the permanent settlement of the Korean War.

Well, to this day, 70 years later, that has not happened. And so the war is unresolved, which means that tens of thousands of troops on both sides have been in a constant state of readiness for war. And that’s been going on every day for almost 70 years. The US still has 28,000 troops there.

This is not a normal situation, is what we’re trying to say through the report. All sides have been pouring billions of dollars into a perpetual arms race that is about the destruction of the other side, and people live in constant fear of war. Now it’s potentially nuclear war.

So what we’re saying through this report is, let’s end this abnormal, outdated armistice situation. Let’s end the unresolved Korean War, which is the longest US overseas conflict. And replacing the armistice with a peace agreement is the best way to do that.

Truthout (12/28/20)

JJ: In a piece that you wrote for Truthout in December, you say how US policymakers have spent decades asking—and, I would add, media have spent those decades echoing—”How do we get North Korea to give up nuclear weapons?” You know, that’s the question.

HL: Yeah.

JJ: And that what we’re hoping for, and we perhaps have an opening with a new administration, is to shift that to “How do we get to peace?”

HL: Yes.

JJ: How do we get to peace with North Korea? The current story is very much about fear and sanction and containment. And this report reflects a different vision of what’s possible. So tell us about the “peace first” approach that this report is talking about.

HL: Sure. So as you say, I do believe that for far too long, Washington has been asking the wrong question on how to resolve the conflict with North Korea. And that question has been, “How do we get rid of North Korea’s nuclear weapons?” Well, that assumes that the problem actually began with North Korea’s nuclear weapons, so the solution, naturally, is to get rid of them. This has been the approach for the last 25 years, and we have come up empty-handed.

Hyun Lee: “For far too long, Washington has been asking the wrong question on how to resolve the conflict with North Korea.”

What we’re saying with the report is, let’s step back and ask a different question: How do we actually get to peace, and prevent the risk of a nuclear war? And our solution is to get to the root of the problem, and that is the unresolved Korean War.

So I just want to stress the urgency of this issue. Secretary of State Tony Blinken has recently said that the US should “squeeze North Korea,” and cut off its access to resources, to get North Korea to the negotiating table. On the other hand, at North Korea’s Workers’ Party Congress last month, Kim Jong-un said they will continue to develop nuclear weapons unless there is a fundamental change in US policy.

So I believe that unless something shifts, the stage is actually set for another nuclear standoff. And I believe it’s not a question of if, it’s a question of when. But, as we know, we are currently grappling with multiple crises—the pandemic, climate change. We cannot afford another nuclear crisis, like what we saw in 2017.

So what we’re trying to say is, President Biden’s theme is to “build back better.” The best thing that he can do to reduce the threat of nuclear war with North Korea, and build back better on the Korean Peninsula: End the Korean War with a peace agreement.

JJ: I think for many people, the story is one about potential future conflict. And I think what this report, one of the things that it underscores, is that this is a crisis now, that the militarization, the literal separation of families, the absence of peace in the region, is a crisis now—although it could, of course, become a more encompassing, devastating beyond belief conflict. It already is a problem. I think that’s something missing from the US conversation about Korea.

HL: That’s right. And what our report also raises is a fundamental question about what makes us truly secure. We are spending close to a trillion dollars every year on military and defense. And we have to ask ourselves, has it made us safer? The multiple crises we face today cannot be resolved militarily.

So we’re also trying to say that we need to shift our priorities now, from war to human needs. And in the case of Korea, a peace agreement would actually allow all parties to do that, so that all sides can start to reduce their arms.

JJ: The coalition’s full name is Korea Peace Now! Women Mobilizing to End the War. It’s a global coalition of women’s peace organizations. And part of the message of the report is that women have to be part of the peace process. I take it, first of all, that that hasn’t been happening. Why is that so key?

HL: Yeah, because we believe that the human cost of the unresolved war has a gendered impact. And we talk about this in our report. There is a chapter dedicated to this issue– for example, the long history of state-sanctioned violence against women who work around US military bases in Korea. Also, the detrimental impact of sanctions on women in North Korea, that was the subject of another report we published two years ago.

And our feminist vision of peace raises a fundamental question about what actually makes women more secure. And war and militarization, we believe, are at the bottom of that list.


JJ: That was organizer Hyun Lee speaking with CounterSpin in 2021.

The post ‘Propaganda Against North Korea and the Travel Ban Go Hand in Hand’ appeared first on FAIR.

Hyping Ukraine Counteroffensive, US Press Chose Propaganda Over Journalism

September 15, 2023 - 3:45pm


A Ukrainian presidential advisor asserted to CNN (5/30/23): “If there are timely deliveries of large quantities of the necessary consumable components…then of course the war can mathematically be over this year…. It will end undoubtedly on the borders of Ukraine as they were in 1991.”

It has been clear for some time that US corporate news media have explicitly taken a side on the Ukraine War. This role includes suppressing relevant history of the lead-up to the war (FAIR.org, 3/4/22), attacking people who bring up that history as “conspiracy theorists” (FAIR.org, 5/18/22), accepting official government pronouncements at face value (FAIR.org, 12/2/22) and promoting an overly rosy picture of the conflict in order to boost morale.

For most of the war, most of the US coverage has been as pro-Ukrainian as Ukraine’s own media, now consolidated under the Zelenskyy government (FAIR.org, 5/9/23). Dire predictions sporadically appeared, but were drowned out by drumbeat coverage portraying a Ukrainian army on the cusp of victory, and the Russian army as incompetent and on the verge of collapse.

Triumphalist rhetoric soared in early 2023, as optimistic talk of a game-changing “spring offensive” dominated Ukraine coverage. Apparently delayed, the Ukrainian counteroffensive launched in June. While even US officials did not believe that it would amount to much, US media papered over these doubts in the runup to the campaign.

Over the last three months, it has become clear that the Ukrainian military operation will not be the game-changer it was sold as; namely, it will not significantly roll back the Russian occupation and obviate the need for a negotiated settlement. Only after this became undeniable did media report on the true costs of war to the Ukrainian people.

Overwhelming optimism

A former top US general assured NPR (5/12/23) that “Ukraine’s long-anticipated counteroffensive against Russia will ultimately succeed.”

In the runup to the counteroffensive, US media were full of excited conversation about how it would reshape the nature of the conflict. NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg told Radio Free Europe (4/21/23) he was “confident Ukraine will be successful.” Sen. Lindsey Graham assured Politico (5/30/23), “In the coming days, you’re going to see a pretty impressive display of power by the Ukrainians.” Asked for his predictions about Ukraine’s plans, retired Lt. Gen. Ben Hodges told NPR (5/12/23), “I actually expect…they will be quite successful.”

Former CIA Director David Patraeus, author of the overhyped “surge” strategy in Iraq, told CNN (5/23/23):

I personally think that this is going to be really quite successful…. And [the Russians] are going to have to withdraw under pressure of this Ukrainian offensive, the most difficult possible tactical maneuver, and I don’t think they’re going to do well at that.

The Washington Post’s David Ignatius (4/15/23) acknowledged that “hope is not a strategy,” but still insisted that “Ukraine’s will to win—its determination to expel Russian invaders from its territory at whatever cost—might be the X-factor in the decisive season of conflict ahead.”

The New York Times (6/2/23) ran a story praising recruits who signed up for the Ukrainian pushback, even though it “promises to be deadly.” Times columnist Paul Krugman (6/5/23) declared we were witnessing “the moral equivalent of D-Day.” CNN (5/30/23) reported that Ukrainians were “unfazed” as they “gear up for a counteroffensive.”

Cable news was replete with buzz about how the counteroffensive, couched with modifiers like “long-awaited” or “highly anticipated,” could turn the tide in the war. Nightly news shows (e.g., NBC, 6/15/23, 6/16/23) presented audiences with optimistic statements from Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy and other figures talking about the imminent success.

Downplaying reality

The Washington Post (4/10/23) noted that pessimistic leaked assessments were “a marked departure from the Biden administration’s public statements about the vitality of Ukraine’s military.”

Despite the soaring rhetoric presented to audiences, Western officials understood that the counteroffensive was all but doomed to fail. This had been known long before the above comments were reported, but media failed to include that fact as prominently as the predictions for success.

On April 10, as part of the Discord leaks story, the Washington Post (4/10/23) reported that top secret documents showed that Ukraine’s drive would fall “well short” of its objectives, due to equipment, ammunition and conscription problems. The document predicted “sustainment shortfalls” and only “modest territorial gains.”

The Post additionally cited anonymous officials who claimed that the documents’ conclusions were corroborated by a classified National Intelligence Council assessment, shown only to a select few in Congress. The Post spoke to a Ukrainian official who “did not dispute the revelations,” and acknowledged that it was “partially true.”

While the Post has yet to publish the documents in full, the leaks and the other sources clearly painted a picture of a potentially disastrous counteroffensive. Fear was so palpable that the Biden administration privately worried about how he could keep up support for the war when the widely hyped offensive sputtered. In the midst of this, Blinken continued to dismiss the idea of a ceasefire, opting instead to pursue further escalating the conflict.

Despite the importance of these facts, they were hardly reported on by the rest of corporate media, and dropped from subsequent war coverage. When the Post (6/14/23) published a long article citing Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin’s cautious optimism about the campaign, it neglected to mention its earlier reporting about the government’s privately gloomier assessments. The documents only started appearing again in the press after thousands were dead, and the campaign’s failure undeniable.

In an honest press, excited comments from politicians and commentators would be published alongside reports about how even our highest-level officials did not believe that the counteroffensive would amount to much. Instead, anticipation was allowed to build while doubts were set to the side.

Too ‘casualty-averse’?

After noting estimates that 70,000 Ukrainian soldiers had died and as many as 120,000 wounded, the New York Times (8/18/23) reported that “American officials say they fear that Ukraine has become casualty averse.”

y July, Ukrainian casualties were mounting, and it became clearer and clearer that the counteroffensive would fail to recapture significant amounts of Ukrainian territory. Reporting grew more realistic, and we were given insights into conditions on the ground in Ukraine, as well as what was in the minds of US officials.

According to the Washington Post (8/17/23), US and Ukrainian militaries had conducted war games and had anticipated that an advance would be accompanied by heavy losses. But when the real-world fatalities mounted, the Post reported, “Ukraine chose to stem the losses on the battlefield.”

This caused a rift between the Ukrainians and their Western backers, who were frustrated at Ukrainians’ desire to keep their people alive. A mid-July New York Times article (7/14/23) reported that US officials were privately frustrated that Ukraine had become too afraid of dying to fight effectively. The officials worried that Ukrainian commanders “fear[ed] casualties among their ranks,” and had “reverted to old habits” rather than “pressing harder.” A later Times article (8/18/23) repeated Washington’s worries that Ukrainians were too “casualty-averse.”

Acknowledging failure

Wall Street Journal (7/23/23): “US Defense Department analysts knew early this year that Ukraine’s front-line troops would struggle against Russian air attacks.”

After it became undeniable that Ukraine’s military action was going nowhere, a Wall Street Journal report (7/23/23) raised some of the doubts that had been invisible in the press on the offensive’s eve. The report’s opening lines say it all:

When Ukraine launched its big counteroffensive this spring, Western military officials knew Kyiv didn’t have all the training or weapons—from shells to warplanes—that it needed to dislodge Russian forces.

The Journal acknowledged that Western officials simply “hoped Ukrainian courage and resourcefulness would carry the day.”

One Post column (7/26/23) asked, “Was Gen. Mark Milley Right Last Year About the War in Ukraine?” Columnist Jason Willick acknowledged that “Milley’s skepticism about Ukraine’s ability to achieve total victory appears to have been widespread within the Biden administration before the counteroffensive began.”

And when one official told Politico (8/18/23), “Milley had a point,” acknowledging the former military head’s November suggestion for negotiations.  The quote was so telling that Politico made it the headline of the article.

Even Rep. Andy Harris (D-Md.), co-chair of the congressional Ukraine Caucus, publicly questioned whether or not the war was “winnable” (Politico, 8/17/23). Speaking on the counteroffensive’s status, he said, “I’ll be blunt, it’s failed.”

The Washington Post (8/17/23) blamed the failure of “a counteroffensive that saw tens of billions of dollars of Western weapons and military equipment” on Ukraine’s failure to accept “major casualties” as “the cost of piercing through Russia’s main defensive line.”

Newsweek (8/16/23) reported on a Ukrainian leadership divided over how to handle the “underwhelming” counteroffensive. The Washington Post (8/17/23) reported that the US intelligence community assessed that the offensive would fail to fulfill its key objective of severing the land bridge between Russian-occupied eastern Ukraine and Crimea.

As the triumphalism ebbed, outlets began reporting on scenes that were almost certainly common before the spring push but had gone unpublished. One piece from the Post (8/10/23) outlined a “darken[ed] mood in Ukraine,” in which the nation was “worn out.” The piece acknowledged that “Ukrainian officials and their Western partners hyped up a coming counteroffensive,” but there was “little visible progress.”

The Wall Street Journal (8/1/23) published a devastating piece about the massive number of amputees returning home from the mine-laden battlefield. They reported that between 20,000 and 50,000 Ukrainians had lost one or more limbs as a result of the war—numbers that are comparable to those seen during World War I.

Rather than dwelling on the stalled campaign, the New York Times and other outlets focused on the drone war against Russia, even while acknowledging that the remote strikes were largely an exercise in public relations. The Times (8/25/23) declared that the strikes had “little significant damage to Russia’s overall military might” and were primarily “a message for [Ukraine’s] own people,” citing US officials who noted that they “intended to demonstrate to the Ukrainian public that Kyiv can still strike back.” Looking at the quantity of Times coverage (8/30/23, 8/30/238/23/23, 8/22/23, 8/22/23, 8/21/23, 8/18/23), the drone strikes were apparently aimed at an increasingly war-weary US public as well.

War as desirable outcome

The Army War College’s John Deni (Wall Street Journal, 12/22/21) urged the US to take “a hard-line stance in diplomatic discussions,” because “if Mr. Putin’s forces invade, Russia is likely to suffer long-term, serious and even debilitating strategic costs.”

The fact that US officials pushed for a Ukrainian counteroffensive that all but expected would fail raises an important question: Why would they do this? Sending thousands of young people to be maimed and killed does nothing to advance Ukrainian territorial integrity, and actively hinders the war effort.

The answer has been clear since before the war. Despite the high-minded rhetoric about support for democracy, this has never been the goal of pushing for war in Ukraine. Though it often goes unacknowledged in the US press, policymakers saw a war in Ukraine as a desirable outcome. One 2019 study from the RAND Corporation—a think tank with close ties to the Pentagon—suggested that an effective way to overextend and unbalance Russia would be to increase military support for Ukraine, arguing that this could lead to a Russian invasion.

In December 2021, as Russian President Vladimir Putin began to mass troops at Ukraine’s border while demanding negotiations, John Deni of the Atlantic Council published an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal (12/22/21) headlined “The Strategic Case for Risking War in Ukraine,” which laid out the US logic explicitly: Provoking a war would allow the US to impose sanctions and fight a proxy war that would grind Russia down. Additionally, the anti-Russian sentiment that resulted from a war would strengthen NATO’s resolve.

All of this came to pass as Washington’s stance of non-negotiation successfully provoked a Russian invasion. Even as Ukraine and Russia sat at the negotiation table early in the war, the US made it clear that it wanted the war to continue and escalate. The US’s objective was, in the words of Raytheon boardmember–turned–Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, “to see Russia weakened.” Despite stated commitments to Ukrainian democracy, US policies have instead severely damaged it.

NATO’s ‘strategic windfall’ 

David Ignatius (Washington Post, 7/18/23) called the Ukraine War “a strategic windfall, at relatively low cost (other than for the Ukrainians)…. This has been a triumphal summer for the alliance.”

In the wake of the stalled counteroffensive, the US interest in sacrificing Ukraine to bleed Russia was put on display again. In July, the Post‘s Ignatius declared that the West shouldn’t be so “gloomy” about Ukraine, since the war had been a “strategic windfall” for NATO and its allies. Echoing two of Deni’s objectives, Ignatius asserted that “the West’s most reckless antagonist has been rocked,” and “NATO has grown much stronger with the additions of Sweden and Finland.”

In the starkest demonstration of the lack of concern for Ukraine or its people, he also wrote that these strategic successes came “at relatively low cost,” adding, in a parenthetical aside, “(other than for the Ukrainians).”

Ignatius is far from alone. Hawkish Sen. Mitt Romney (R–Utah) explained why US funding for the proxy war was “about the best national defense spending I think we’ve ever done”: “We’re losing no lives in Ukraine, and the Ukrainians, they’re fighting heroically against Russia.”

The consensus among policymakers in Washington is to push for endless conflict, no matter how many Ukrainians die in the process. As long as Russia loses men and material, the effect on Ukraine is irrelevant. Ukrainian victory was never the goal.

‘Fears of peace talks’

The Hill (9/5/23) publishes warnings that “creeping negativity among the US public” will “increase pressure for Ukrainians to negotiate with Russia.”

Polls show that support for increased US involvement in Ukraine is rapidly declining. The recent Republican presidential debate demonstrated clear fractures within the right wing of the US power structure. Politico (8/18/23) reported that some US officials are regretting potential lost opportunities for negotiations. Unfortunately, this minority dissent has yet to affect the dominant consensus.

The failure of the counteroffensive has not caused Washington to rethink its strategy of attempting to bleed Russia. The flow of US military hardware to Ukraine is likely to continue so long as this remains the goal. The Hill (9/5/23) gave the game away about NATO’s commitment to escalation with a piece titled “Fears of Peace Talks With Putin Rise Amid US Squabbling.”

But even within the Biden administration, the Pentagon appears to be at odds with the State Department and National Security Council over the Ukraine conflict.  Contrary to what may be expected, the civilian officials like Jake Sullivan, Victoria Nuland and Antony Blinken are taking a harder line on perpetuating this conflict than the professional soldiers in the Pentagon. The media’s sharp change of tone may both signify and fuel the doubts gaining traction within the US political class.

The post Hyping Ukraine Counteroffensive, US Press Chose Propaganda Over Journalism appeared first on FAIR.

Maha Hilal on Innocent Until Proven Muslim

September 15, 2023 - 10:34am


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(Broadleaf Books, 2023)

This week on CounterSpin: New Yorkers who were here 22 years ago remember the proliferation of signs and stickers reading “our grief is not a cry for war”—and then the way that voice was shouted over by corporate news media, calling for war crimes with US flags on their lapels. Hosting old general after old general, as peace and human rights activists and the overall public begged for an answer to violence that wasn’t just more violence, for a conversation that would allow us to see one another as human beings.

Pretend-neutral news media have done crucial work in selling Islamophobia, in weaponizing centuries of misinformation and demonization for wartime purposes, with the war being the undefined, unending “war on terror.” Media’s job has involved lying to us about many things—but, crucially, about what we believed, what we were capable of, and what we wanted to see as the way forward. Key to that campaign has been the idea that Muslims are the enemy—violent, dangerous, irrational—if not now, soon; if not your friend, his friend.

September 11, 2001, is the exemplar of a past that isn’t dead, or even past, and for no one more particularly than Muslims. We talk about that with Maha Hilal, author of the book Innocent Until Proven Muslim: Islamophobia, the War on Terror and the Muslim Experience Since 9/11.

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Plus Janine Jackson takes a quick look at recent press coverage of Ukraine, the UAW strike and Biden’s trip to Vietnam.

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Featured Image: Texas Muslim Capitol Day, Austin, Texas, January 28, 2015 (Creative Commons photo: Manuel Garza)

The post Maha Hilal on Innocent Until Proven Muslim appeared first on FAIR.

Bloomberg Hits BRICS as US Power Challenged

September 14, 2023 - 5:10pm



The current members of BRICS—Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa—along with the countries accepted for membership: Argentina, Egypt, Ethiopia, Saudi Arabia, UAE and Iran.

BRICS is an informal grouping of emerging economies: Brazil, Russia, India, China, South Africa. It provides a platform for its members to challenge the global financial system dominated by the United States and its allies in forums like the G7, the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank. Sarang Shidore (The Nation, 8/17/23), director of the Global South program at the Quincy Institute and adjunct faculty at George Washington University, notes that many countries of the Global South are frustrated with the US dollar being the de facto world currency, because it leaves their

economies at the mercy of US interest rates and sovereign measures such as quantitative easing, and enables harsh US-led sanctions regimes. For the Global South, alternative pathways of both development financing and currency settlements are attractive ways to achieve autonomy, enhance economic growth and at least partly protect themselves against the extraterritoriality of sanctions.

Relatedly, the BRICS states appear to be seeking diplomatic autonomy, taking a variety of positions on the war in Ukraine that are at odds with Washington’s preferred view (The Nation, 6/27/23) and not always in perfect sync with that of the “R” in BRICS.

In August, BRICS invited six new members to join: Argentina, Egypt, Ethiopia, Iran, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. More than 40 countries expressed interest in joining BRICS, while 23 formally applied to become part of the club (Al Jazeera, 8/24/23).

China too big?

Dozens of countries are trying to join BRICS, but clearly they don’t read Bloomberg (8/18/23).

The prospect of a group of nations almost entirely from the Global South working together to advance independent development sent the Bloomberg news service into attack mode. The outlet ran an op-ed by Howard Chua-Eoan (8/18/23) headlined “BRICS Is Broken and Should Be Scrapped.” His argument:

The big trouble with the BRICS is that China (with its still enormous economic clout) dominates the group—and Beijing wants to turn it into another global forum to echo its denunciations of the US and EU.

The assertion that China “dominates” BRICS is misleading. Three scholars (Conversation, 8/18/23) from Tufts University’s Rising Power Alliances project, which studies the evolution of BRICS and its relationship with the US, found that

the common portrayal of BRICS as a China-dominated group primarily pursuing anti-US agendas is misplaced. Rather, the BRICS countries connect around common development interests and a quest for a multipolar world order in which no single power dominates.

For instance, the authors note:

China has been unable to advance some key policy proposals. For example, since the 2011 BRICS summit, China has sought to establish a BRICS free trade agreement, but could not get support from other states.

Similarly, Shidore (The Nation, 8/17/23) points out:

In 2015, the five [BRICS] states founded the New Development Bank, with infrastructure financing and sustainable development as its focus. Although China’s GDP is more than twice that of the rest of the BRICS states combined, it agreed to an equal partnership on governing the bank and an equal share of subscribed capital of $10 billion each.

‘US economic leadership’

Bloomberg (8/29/23) blames the rise of BRICS on “the US turn away from economic leadership.”

In another article, Bloomberg’s editorial board (8/29/23) worried that BRICS’ expansion “could weaken existing channels of cooperation at a time when collective action on global threats has never been more urgent.” For the authors, the BRICS countries are “sidelining the existing institutions” of “global governance,” thereby making “genuinely multilateral cooperation harder.”

The editorial’s concern is not with developing international “cooperation” or “collective action on global threats” per se; its concern is with maintaining the current global system. The root of the threat to the status quo, the editorial maintained, was lack of US leadership:

It’s no coincidence that the BRICS-11 arrives following the US turn away from economic leadership—accelerated by Donald Trump’s administration and affirmed by Joe Biden’s. The IMF and World Bank are increasingly rudderless. The WTO is all but defunct, as good as shut down by US obstruction. The organizing principle of US policy is no longer global prosperity but “Made in America.” Emerging economies can be forgiven for seeking alternatives to a global order that seems to put them last.

The timing of this shift couldn’t be worse. Higher interest rates are adding to the financial stresses confronting many low- and middle-income countries. If a new global debt crisis lies ahead, the damage won’t be narrowly confined. The costs of climate change are mounting, and the efforts of the once-and-future BRICS in containing them will be pivotal. These challenges are unavoidably global and demand a cooperative global response.

All this makes the fracturing of the multilateral order truly dangerous. Prodded by the BRICS enlargement, the US and its partners should work urgently to repair it.

The editors are wildly misreading BRICS’ appeal. As Martin Wolf put it in the Financial Times (5/23/23), “What brings its members together is the desire not to be dependent on the whims of the US and its close allies, who have dominated the world for the past two centuries.” Likewise, Shidore (The Nation, 8/17/23) wrote:

The multiple failures of the US-led world order to substantially support two core requirements of Global South states—economic development and safeguarding sovereignty—are creating a demand for alternative structures for ordering the world.

Astrid Prange made a similar point in Deutsche Welle (4/10/23):

In 2014, with $50 billion (around €46 billion) in seed money, the BRICS nations launched the New Development Bank as an alternative to the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund. In addition, they created a liquidity mechanism called the Contingent Reserve Arrangement to support members struggling with payments.

These offers were not only attractive to the BRICS nations themselves, but also to many other developing and emerging economies that had had painful experiences with the IMF’s structural adjustment programs and austerity measures. This is why many countries said they might be interested in joining the BRICS group.

Contrary to the Bloomberg editorial’s claims, it’s not the US’s so-called “turn away from economic leadership,” or the stalling of the IMF, World Bank and WTO, that makes BRICS attractive. It’s precisely that the “multilateral order” Bloomberg refers to is US-led, and that the US has used its stranglehold on these institutions to exploit and control poorer nations.

The democracy problem(s)

Bloomberg (8/28/23) criticizes BRICS for lack of democracy; meanwhile, at the IMF, countries with 14% of the world’s population get 59% of the votes.

Bloomberg (8/28/23) also ran a piece by Giovanni Salzano, headlined “BRICS Enlargement Is Going to Worsen Its Democracy Problem.” The piece comments that, of the six states invited to join BRICS,

only Argentina can be considered a democracy—albeit a flawed one. That means the enlargement would leave the group dominated by non-democratic countries, with seven of them headed by hybrid or authoritarian regimes.

Leaving aside the “democracy problem” of states at the core of the US-led world system—such as Canada and the US itself—Salzano offers an overly narrow conception of democracy. He exclusively focuses on the internal political systems of the BRICS nations, ignoring whether BRICS might help address the dearth of democratic procedures in existing international organizations.

For example, as Al Jazeera (8/22/23) pointed out:

The five BRICS nations now have a combined gross domestic product (GDP) larger than that of the G7 in purchasing power parity terms. In nominal terms, the BRICS countries are responsible for 26% of the global GDP. Despite this, they get only 15% of the voting power at the International Monetary Fund (IMF).

BRICS countries account for roughly 40% of the world’s population (Reuters, 8/24/23) while the G7 is home to just 10% (FT, 5/23/23). Jason Hickel (Al Jazeera, 11/26/20) of the London School of Economics observed:

The leaders of the World Bank and the IMF are not elected, but are nominated by the US and Europe…. The US has de facto veto power over all significant decisions, and together with the rest of the G7 and the European Union controls well over half of the vote in both agencies. If we look at the voting allocations in per capita terms, the inequalities are revealed to be truly extreme. For every vote that the average person in the global North has, the average person in the global South has only one-eighth of a vote (and the average South Asian has only one-20th of a vote).

It’s too early to say whether BRICS will help countries in the Global South to develop on their own terms. But Bloomberg’s opposition to the group is probably a good sign.

The post Bloomberg Hits BRICS as US Power Challenged appeared first on FAIR.

Georgia’s RICO Law Is in the News—but Its Use to Silence Protesters Gets a Pass

September 12, 2023 - 4:53pm

Georgia’s RICO (Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations) law, modeled on the federal statute designed to attack mob bosses, has been in the news a lot, ever since  Fulton County, Georgia, District Attorney Fani Willis used Georgia’s law to charge former President Donald Trump and his associates with attempting to overturn the results of the 2020 election.

A CNN op-ed (8/26/23) criticized the RICO indictment of  Donald Trump because it could “open the door to unwarranted prosecutions of others.” But when Georgia initiated one of those “unwarranted prosecutions” just a few days later, CNN ran no critical op-ed.

And with the news has come the inevitable hand-wringing about whether the RICO charges against Trump were a good idea. CNN (8/26/23) published an op-ed questioning whether the indictments were too broad, saying, “Casting a wide net can also raise serious First Amendment issues.” One New York Times op-ed (8/29/23) worried that the case against Trump was overly complex, offering him the ability to mount a strong defense by delaying the proceedings.

Trump and his supporters are fond of framing the charges as a political hit against the ex-president and an attack on free speech, as if a mob boss can invoke the First Amendment when ordering the killing of a police informant. New York (8/17/23) did offer some valid criticism of the use of RICO laws, saying they have often been used for reactionary ends:

The immediate concern is its continued legitimization of RICO laws, which are overwhelmingly used to punish poor Black and brown people for their associations, not would-be despots like the former president.

But when a new example arose of RICO being used to punish the powerless rather than the powerful—coming from not only the same state but from the very same grand jury—such cautiousness was hard to find in corporate media.

Accused of militant anarchism

Interrupting Criminalization’s Mo Weeks (Twitter, 9/5/23) noted that the Cop City indictment included this passage: “Anarchists publish their own zines and publish their own statements because they do not trust the media to carry their message.” “Don’t trust the media and want to speak to people directly?” wrote Meeks. “RICO criminal enterprise apparently.”

Georgia’s RICO law was also invoked by Georgia Attorney General Chris Carr when he targeted 61 opponents of the construction of Cop City, a sprawling police training center on the south side of Atlanta. The case against the protests alleges that protesters, some of whom have destroyed construction equipment, are engaged in a conspiracy to stop the complex’s construction, likening even nonviolent political action, commonly used across the political spectrum, to the workings of the Mafia. Joe Patrice at Above the Law (9/6/23) masterfully outlined the difference between the Trump case and the Cop City case:

Both indictments include protected speech as “overt acts.” That’s fine. But one indictment identifies the underlying criminal enterprise as election fraud and the other as political protest itself. The latter is actually seeking to criminalize speech.

Patrice explained:

If Trump and team actually conspired to commit election fraud by, among other things, inducing legislators to illegally certify phony Electors in Georgia, then otherwise protected speech acts like complaining about fake voter fraud can be overt acts.

In the Cop City case, on the other hand, “handing out leaflets doesn’t tie all that well to property damage” against the construction of Cop City because if “a conspiracy is limited to sabotaging construction vehicles, it’s hard to rope in defendants who weren’t buying equipment to destroy vehicles.”

In addition to the RICO charges, prosecutors charged a bail fund with money laundering and others for domestic terrorism. The indictment calls the protestors “militant anarchists” and incorrectly states the Defend Atlanta Forest group began in summer 2020, even though the indictment also states that the Cop City project was not announced until April 2021.

‘Clearly a political prosecution’

Organizer Keyanna Jones (Democracy Now!, 9/6/23): “This is retaliation for anyone who seeks to oppose the government here in Georgia.”

While the Trump indictment predictably took center stage, the Cop City indictments received a fair amount of down-the-middle, straight reporting (AP, 9/5/23; New York Times, 9/5/23; CNN, 9/6/23; Washington Post, 9/6/23). However, compared to the Trump story, corporate media have shown far less concern about the broadness of Georgia’s RICO statute and how it has been invoked to essentially silence dissent against Cop City.

In left-of-center and libertarian media, the criticisms are there. MSNBC (9/7/23) called it an attack on dissent, and Devin Franklin of the Southern Center for Human Rights told Democracy Now! (9/6/23):

I think that when we look at the number of people that were accused and we look at the allegations that are included in the indictment, what we see are a wide variety of activities that are lawful that are being deemed to be criminal, and that includes things such as passing out flyers—right?—a really clear example of the exercise of First Amendment rights. We see that organizations that were bailing people out for protests or conducting business in otherwise lawful manners have been deemed to be part of some ominous infrastructure. And it’s just not accurate. This is really clearly a political prosecution.

The staff and readership of Reason (9/6/23) might not like a lot of the anti–Cop City’s economic and social justice message, but the libertarian magazine stood with the indicted activists on principle:

To say that the indictment paints with a broad brush is an understatement. Prosecutors speak about “militant anarchists” and their tactics, but also spend a considerable amount of time describing conduct that is clearly protected speech. “Defend the Atlanta Forest anarchists target and recruit individuals with a certain personal profile,” the filing alleges. “Once these individuals have been recruited, members of Defend the Atlanta Forest also promote anarchist ideas through written documents and word of mouth”; such documents “decry capitalism in any form, condemn government and cast all law enforcement as violent murderers.” (All protected speech.)

Unconcerned about protest attacks

Georgia has prosecuted activists even for participating in the criminal justice system (AP, 5/31/23).

However, corporate media appear unconcerned with the broad use of RICO to prosecute the anti–Cop City protesters. While many “RICO explainer” articles (NPR, 8/15/23; CBS, 8/15/23) discussing the Trump case mentioned that Georgia’s RICO statute is broader and easier to prosecute than the federal statute—it’s “a different animal. It’s easier to prove” than the federal statute, a defense attorney told CNN (9/6/23)—the notion that this might be in play in the Cop City case was overlooked in many of the articles discussing that indictment (e.g., AP, 9/5/23; CNN, 9/6/23; New York Times, 9/5/23).

The indictment of the forest defenders is an escalation of previous attacks on free speech, advocacy and free association. Earlier this year, Atlanta police and the Georgia Bureau of Investigation arrested three activists operating a bail fund for opponents of Cop City protesters (AP, 5/31/23; FAIR.org, 6/8/23). An “autopsy of an environmental activist who was shot and killed by the Georgia State Patrol” at an anti-Cop City protest “shows their hands were raised when they were killed,” NPR (3/11/23) reported.

So one might think that even more sweeping prosecutorial action would arouse more suspicion. An opinion piece in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution (9/11/23) admitted that the RICO charges against the protesters were overly broad and thinly supported, making for inefficient prosecution. But the piece seemed dismissive of First Amendment concerns: “Civil liberties groups are howling, saying the indictment is an affront to free speech,” Bill Thorby wrote, adding that “so are the supporters of Trump & Co.”

The Above the Law piece linked above explores and debunks this analogy, but the statement exhibits the lazy journalistic trick of lumping Trump and social justice activists as two sides of the same extremist coin, suggesting centrism is the only legitimate political position.

Anger against Cop City is growing, not just because of the political repression being used against activists, but because the project is the product of  police militarization, whopping spending on security at the expense of other needed services, and the destruction of forest land.

With Georgia’s RICO law in the news because of Trump, the media should be connecting this law to the broad suppression of legitimate dissent in Atlanta. While the prosecution is not going unreported, the urgency of the Orwellian use of state power is not felt in any kind of news analysis or in opinion pieces in the mainstream corporate press. At least not yet.

Research assistance: Pai Liu

Featured Image: Protest against Cop City, March 9, 2023. (Creative Commons photo: Felton Davis)

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In AI Regulation Coverage, Media Let Lawmakers off the Hook

September 8, 2023 - 2:10pm


Wired (5/26/23): “It’s a giant challenge to strike the right balance between industry innovation and protecting rights and citizens.”

“Everyone Wants to Regulate AI. No One Can Agree How,” Wired (5/26/23) proclaimed earlier this year. The headline resembled one from the New Yorker (5/20/23) published just days prior, reading “Congress Really Wants to Regulate AI, but No One Seems to Know How.” Each reflected an increasingly common thesis within the corporate press: Policymakers would like to place guardrails on so-called artificial intelligence systems, but, given the technology’s novel and evolving nature, they’ll need time before they can take action—if they ever can at all.

This narrative contains some kernels of truth; artificial intelligence can be complex and dynamic, and thus not always easily comprehensible to the layperson. But the suggestion of congressional helplessness minimizes the responsibility of lawmakers—ultimately excusing, rather than interrogating, regulatory inertia.

Struggling to ‘catch up’

Amid a piecemeal, noncommittal legislative climate, media insist that policymakers are unable to keep pace with AI development, inevitably resulting in regulatory delays. NPR (5/15/23) exemplified this with the claim that Congress had “a lot of catching up to do” on AI and the later question (5/17/23) “Can politicians catch up with AI?” Months earlier, the New York Times (3/3/23) reported that “lawmakers have long struggled to understand new innovations,” with Washington consequently taking “a hands-off stance.”

Congress has failed to regulate technology because “lawmakers have long struggled to understand new innovations,” the New York Times (3/3/23) reports—and not because tech firms give millions of dollars to politicians, especially Democrats.

The Times noted that the European Union had proposed a law that would curtail some potentially harmful AI applications, including those made by US companies, and that US lawmakers had expressed intentions to review the legislation. (The EU’s AI Act, as it’s known, may become law by the end of 2023.) Yet the paper didn’t feel compelled to ask why the EU—whose leadership isn’t exactly dominated by computer scientists—could forge ahead with restrictions on the US AI industry, but the US couldn’t.

These outlets frame AI rulemaking as a matter of technical knowledge, when it would be more accurate, and constructive, to frame it as one of moral consideration. One might argue that, in order to regulate a form of technology that affects the public—say, via “predictive policing” algorithms, or automated social-services software—it’s more important to grasp its societal impact than its operational minutia. (Congressional staffer Anna Lenhart told the Washington Post6/17/23—as much, but this notion seems to be far from mainstream.)

This certainly isn’t the prevailing view of the New York Times (8/24/23), which argued that legislators’ lag continues a pattern of slow congressional responses to new technologies, repeating the refrain that policymakers “have struggled” to enact major technology laws. The Times cited the 19th century advent of steam-powered trains as an example of a daunting legislative subject, emphasizing that Congress took more than 50 years to institute railroad price controls.

Yet the process of setting pricing rules has little, if anything, to do with the mechanical specifics of a train. Could it be that delays on price controls were caused more by pro-corporate policy choices than by a lack of technological expertise? For the Times, such a question, which might begin to expose some of the ugly underpinnings of US governance, didn’t merit attention.

The wrong incentives

The Washington Post (12/28/22) did a whole story about Rep. Don Beyer (D–Va.) going back to school to learn about AI—with no mention of his investments in AI stocks.

The New York Times need look no further than its own archives to find some more illuminating context for US lawmakers’ approach to AI regulation. Last year, the paper (9/13/22) reported that 97 members of Congress owned stock in companies that would be influenced by those members’ regulatory committees. Indeed, many of those weighing in on AI regulation have a powerful incentive not to rein the technology in.

One of those 97 was Rep. Donald S. Beyer, Jr. (D–Va.), who “bought and sold [shares in Google parent company] Alphabet and Microsoft while he was on the House Science, Space and Technology Subcommittee on Investigations and Oversight.” Beyer, who serves as vice chair of the House AI Caucus, has been featured in multiple articles (Washington Post, 12/28/22; ABC News, 3/17/23) as a model AI legislator. The New York Times (3/3/23) itself lauded Beyer’s enrollment in evening classes on AI, sharing his alert that regulation would “take time.”

Curiously, the coverage commending Beyer’s regulatory initiative has omitted his record of investing in the two companies—which happen to rank among the US’s most prominent purveyors of AI software—while he was authorized to police them.

Elsewhere in its congressional stock-trading report, the New York Times called Rep. Michael McCaul (R–Texas) “one of Congress’s most active filers,” noting his investments in a whopping 342 companies, including Microsoft, Alphabet and Meta, formerly known as Facebook, which also has a tremendous financial stake in AI. McCaul, like Beyer, boasts a top-brass post on the House AI Caucus.

McCaul’s trades were dwarfed by those of fellow AI Caucus member Rep. Ro Khanna (D–Calif.), who, according to the Times, has owned stock in nearly 900 companies. Among them: leading AI-chip manufacturer Nvidia (as of 2021), Alphabet and Microsoft. (Khanna has nominally endorsed proposals to curb congressional stock-trading, a stance contradicted by his vast portfolio.) Save for the Times exposé, none of the above pieces addressed Khanna’s, or McCaul’s, ethical breaches; in fact, Khanna is a recurring media source on AI legislation (Semafor, 4/26/23; San Francisco Chronicle, 7/20/23).

Congressmembers, dozens of whom have historically owned stock in AI companies, surely must be capable of learning about AI—and doing so swiftly—if they’ve been choosing to reap its monetary rewards for years. Why that knowledge can’t be applied to regulating the technology seems to be yet another question media are uninterested in asking.

Defense of toothless action

Yahoo (5/17/23) assures us that legislators “won’t make same mistake with AI” that they did with social media.

In omitting this critical information, news sources are effectively giving Congress an undeserved redemption arc. Following years of legislative apathy to the surveillance, monopolization, labor abuses and countless other iniquities of Big Tech, media declare that legislators are trying to right their wrongs by targeting an ascendant AI industry (Yahoo! Finance, 5/17/23; GovTech, 6/21/23).

Accordingly, media have embraced policymakers’ efforts, no matter how feeble they may be. Throughout the year, politicians have hosted chummy hearings and meetings, as well as private dinners, with the chiefs of major AI companies to discuss regulatory frameworks. Yet, rather than impugning the influence legislators have awarded these executives, outlets present these gatherings as testaments to lawmakers’ dedication.

CBS Austin (8/29/23) justified congressional reliance on executives, whom it called “industry experts,” trumpeting that corporations like Microsoft, OpenAI, Anthropic, Google and Meta were helping policymakers “chart a path forward.” The broadcaster went on to establish a pretext for business-friendly lawmaking:

Congress is trying to find a delicate balance of safeguarding the public while allowing the promising aspects of the technology to flourish and propel the economy and country into the future.

The New York Times (8/28/23), meanwhile, stated that Congress and the Biden administration have “leaned on” industry heads for “guidance on regulation,” a clever euphemism for lobbying. The Times reported that Congress would hold a forthcoming “closed-door listening session” with executives in order to “educate” its members, evincing no skepticism over what that education might involve. (At the session, Congress will also host civil rights and labor groups, who are theoretically much more qualified than C-suiters to determine the moral content of AI policymaking, but received much less fanfare from the Times.)

The guests of the “listening session,” per the Times, will include Twitter.com‘s Elon Musk, Google’s Sundar Pichai, OpenAI’s Sam Altman and Microsoft’s Satya Nadella. Might the fact that each of them has fought tech-industry constraints have some bearing on the future? Reading the Times story, which didn’t deem this worth a mention, one wouldn’t know.

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Amanda Yee on Korean Travel Ban, Hyun Lee on Korea History

September 8, 2023 - 11:01am
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Liberation (9/3/23)

This week on CounterSpin: The White House has announced it’s extending the ban on people using US passports to go to North Korea. Corporate media seem to find it of little interest; who wants to go to North Korea? Which fairly reflects media’s disinterest in the tens of thousands of Korean Americans who might want to visit family in North Korea, along with their overarching, active disinterest in telling the story of the Korean peninsula in anything other than static, cartoonish terms—North Korea is a murderous dictatorship; South Korea is a client state, lucky for our support—terms that conveniently sidestep the US’s historic and ongoing role in the crisis.

Amanda Yee is a writer and organizer, and an editor of Liberation News. We’ll talk with her about the role the travel ban plays in a bigger picture.

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We reference hidden history in that conversation. CounterSpin got some deeper understanding on that a couple years back from Hyun Lee, US national organizer for Women Cross DMZ, part of the coalition Korea Peace Now!. We’ll hear a little from that today as well.

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‘Schools Have Always Been the Site of Struggle’ - CounterSpin archival interviews with Alfie Kohn, Diane Ravitch and Kevin Kumashiro on Education

September 7, 2023 - 4:59pm


The September 1, 2023, episode of CounterSpin was an archival show, featuring interviews with Alfie Kohn, Diane Ravitch and Kevin Kumashiro on education and media. This is a lightly edited transcript.


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Janine Jackson: It’s back to school week here in the US. Schools—pre-K to college—have been on media’s front burner for at least a year now, but education has always been a contested field in this country: Who has access? What does it teach? What is its purpose? Do my kids have to go to school with those kids?

So while what’s happening right now is new, it has roots. And it does no disservice to the battles of the current day to connect them to previous battles and conversations, and that’s what we’re going to do today on the show.

We will hear from three of the many education experts it’s been our pleasure to speak with: Alfie Kohn, Diane Ravitch and Kevin Kumashiro.


Today’s media debates about education always include politicians politicking; often include right-wing parents, who watched a video and now say their kids are being indoctrinated because queer people…exist; and they sometimes include teachers who say they are underpaid and beleaguered.

You know what they rarely include? Kids: the ones going to school and dealing with the daily fallout of arguments had about them, but without them. What children are, mainly, is fodder, proof of this or that argument. They’re stupid, they’re entitled, they’re, frankly, whatever a pundit needs them to be.

No one wants reporters to shove a microphone in a 10-year-old’s face, but if you’re doing a story about children, shouldn’t you be at least a little bit interested in children?


CounterSpin has talked many times with one of the researchers genuinely interested in kids, and the way they are treated and portrayed, Alfie Kohn. He is author of many books, including The Myth of the Spoiled Child: Challenging the Conventional Wisdom About Children and Parenting.

CounterSpin’s Peter Hart spoke with Alfie Kohn in April of 2014. Let’s start with Peter’s introduction for some context.


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Alfie Kohn: “There must always be losers: That’s built into the American concept of excellence and success.”

Peter Hart: Kids these days. They think they’ve got it all figured out. Their self-esteem, for no good reason, is through the roof, and they get trophies just for showing up.

You hear this stuff almost everywhere, from casual conversations to the newspaper op-ed pages.

A new book argues that this conventional wisdom about kids and parenting isn’t just misguided or inaccurate; it forms a worldview that is not only deeply conservative in many ways, but it is one that reinforces and recommends a specific political ideology.

Alfie Kohn is the author of the new book The Myth of the Spoiled Child: Challenging the Conventional Wisdom About Children and Parenting. It’s out now. Alfie Kohn, welcome back to CounterSpin.

Alfie Kohn: Thank you.

PH: Now, I used to keep a file of these “Every kid gets a trophy these days” newspaper columns, and I was always surprised that there wasn’t much of a political pattern to it. The right wingers and the liberals both had the same complaints.

And it seems that this is part of what inspires the book, that a set of very conservative ideas about parenting and about children, these ideas have become a kind of conventional wisdom.

AK: Yes, that’s quite right. And interestingly, the charges hurled at kids and parents sometimes are hard to reconcile with each other.

On the one hand, we’re told that parents are too permissive, that they don’t set limits for kids, and in the next breath, we hear that parents are overprotective, that they’re being helicopter parents. They don’t let kids experience frustration and failure and so on.

And there are these charges that kids get things too easily: We praise them when they haven’t earned it. We give them stickers and A’s and trophies without their having shown adequate accomplishments, and kids are growing up narcissistic and entitled and so on.

And the truly extraordinary thing is how, as you say, regardless of where people are on the political spectrum on most issues, they tend uncritically to accept this deeply conservative set of beliefs about kids and parenting.

(Da Capo Books, 2014)

PH: Teaching kids to be tough, and to expect or maybe anticipate failure, and to really put their nose to the grindstone, all of this—this just seems like good advice. Part of the book is arguing that there isn’t a lot of research that suggests that kids are better off as a result of these lessons we’re teaching them.

AK: That’s right. But what’s fascinating is the kind of defenses that are argued of this notion that kids have to be rewarded when they accomplish something impressive, and conspicuously go unrewarded when they don’t.

And, in fact, it’s not enough to accomplish something impressive; they have to defeat other people. There’s this notion that scarcity defines the very idea of excellence. If everyone is celebrated, that means we’re endorsing mediocrity. There must always be losers: That’s built into the American concept of excellence and success.

And I think underlying a lot of this is the notion, something I call BGUTI, which stands for “Better Get Used To It,” which basically says it’s a tough world out there, it’s very unpleasant, kids are going to experience a lot of unpleasantness when they’re older, and the best way to prepare them is to make them miserable while they’re small.

And when you show the illogic of this, and the fact that evidence, psychologically, shows exactly the opposite, they quickly pivot and reveal the ideological underpinning of this argument: Well, they lost! They’re not supposed to get a trophy, for Pete’s sake! You know?

And it’s very clear that it’s really a moral conviction underlying this, that you can’t get anything, including love and appreciation, or feel good about yourself, until you’ve earned it.

And so in the book I say, this is where the law of the marketplace meets sermons about what you have to do to earn your way into heaven. It’s an awful hybrid of neoclassical economics and theology, and it’s been accepted, even by liberals.

PH: And so many of these stories have a distinct media component. You kind of pull them all together in the book. A school wants to get rid of dodgeball, and suddenly that’s a national news story, because it teaches us some fundamental lesson about how soft kids are these days, and how they’re not taught to take their abuse from, I guess, the stronger kids. The self-esteem movement in the mid- to late ’90s—suddenly we’re teaching kids self esteem, and it’s a big waste of time. Why do you think media latch onto these stories?

AK: I think there’s a softer, more ideological idea that’s just in the water in this culture, and that has achieved the status of received truth.

Just like you can smear a political candidate with untruths and political ads to the point that people start to see the candidate that way, regardless of whether it’s accurate, or you hear this claim that self-esteem isn’t earned, that kids feel too good about themselves. And very few reporters or social commentators take a step back and ask, “Well, wait a minute, what does the psychological research say?”

Actually, what it says is that unconditional self-esteem, where you have a core of faith in yourself, your own competence and value, is tantamount to psychological health. Where people get screwed up is precisely where they’re taught as children, “I’m only good to the extent that I….”

That conditionality is what’s psychologically disturbing, and that’s at the core of this conservative notion that hasn’t been identified as conservative.

The amusing thing is that when you read yet another article in the vi or the Atlantic, or hear yet another radio commentator on this, what’s amazing is that all these writers and commentators congratulate themselves on their courage for having the nerve to say exactly what everyone else is saying.


JJ: That was Alfie Kohn, interviewed by CounterSpin’s Peter Hart back in 2014.

Alfie Kohn mentioned charter schools and the attacks on teachers unions in that conversation. We talked about that with education historian and author Diane Ravitch in May of 2020, in the midst of the Covid lockdown, when politicians couldn’t fix their face to say whether people needed to be in the workplace, or needed to be remote, or which people or why.

And some of them somehow landed on the side of, “You know who we don’t need to show up? Teachers.”

I asked Diane Ravitch, co-founder and president of the Network for Public Education, why billionaires like Bill Gates, who dabble in life-or-death issues, call themselves, with media accolade, “reformers” when it comes to education.


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Diane Ravitch: “What they’re interested in is cutting the cost of education, and the most expensive aspect of public education is teachers.”

Diane Ravitch: In my book Slaying Goliath, I refer to Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg, and all these tech titans, and Wall Street and on and on, as “disruptors.” They have lots of ideas about how to reinvent and reimagine American education. It always involves privatization. It always attacks public control, and democratic control, of schools. And it very frequently involves technology, because what they’re interested in is cutting the cost of education, and the most expensive aspect of public education is teachers.

And also, from a different point of view, the most important part of education is teachers, because I think that we’ve learned during this pandemic that sitting in front of a screen is not the same as being in a classroom with a human being.

What frightens me is that if these people get their way—and we have a very conservative Supreme Court, that’s on the cusp of ruling that states are not allowed to deny funding to religious schools—we will see this country go backwards educationally, because having a strong public school system is a pillar of democracy.

A public school system that’s open to all kids, that doesn’t push out kids because they can’t speak English, that doesn’t exclude the kids because they have disabilities, and that has a full program, and doesn’t indoctrinate kids into a religious point of view: This is what made America great, and because of the people like DeVos and Trump, and the Bill Gateses and other billionaires in the world who are funding all this privatization stuff, we can see our country go backwards. And that’s what’s frightening.

JJ: Finally, it’s galling to see the Gates Foundation issuing a response to complaints about this New York initiative, saying, “We believe that teachers have an important perspective that needs to be heard,” as though that were a gracious concession. But then, media and others still hanging on to this notion that riches equal expertise, and pretending that we don’t know what actually works. If I see another report about, “Hey, there was a study that said kids do better in smaller-sized classes”—we know this. It’s just about who they listen to. What would you like to see more of, or less of, in terms of education reporting?

DR: The scary thing about the pandemic is that every school system in the country is going to be faced with dramatic budget cuts. And what I would like to see reporters focused on is the funding. And the funding should be, not following the child—I mean, this is what Betsy DeVos wants, and what all the right-wingers want, is to see the funding diverted to wherever the child goes. If they go to religious schools, the money goes there. If they homeschool, the money goes there. This is public money; this is our taxpayer dollars—and it should go to public institutions.

I would like to see reporters understand that children learn best when they have human teachers, and when they have interaction with their peers.

And I would like to see them follow the money. Who is funding the charter movement? I know who’s funding it, read my book: It’s mainly the Walton Foundation, which hates unions, and which is responsible for one out of every four charter schools in the country. I would like to see them follow the money to the extent of saying, “What really matters is that kids have small enough classes”—and the research on small class size is overwhelming. And I would like to see them expose this hoax that somehow promoting privatization benefits the neediest children, when, in fact, privatization hurts the neediest children.

And they need to look at the research, the research on increased segregation and the defunding of the schools where the poorest kids attend. This has now grown overwhelming.

And when Betsy DeVos publicly urges the states to split the money between low-income public schools and high-income private schools, this is sick, and it should be reported as a disgrace. And so many disgraceful things are happening in education, and the reporters need to be all over it.


JJ: That was Diane Ravitch on CounterSpin in 2020.

And, finally, we see that many of the most visible attacks right now are on teachers themselves, or on teachers unions. But it’s also become clear that the heart of many of these attacks is actually on education itself, on the very notion that anyone from any walk of life could be exposed to critical thinking, basically.

This is not new. The decisions about who gets to learn what have been part of this country since before it was a country. So if we’re going to have this conversation around education now, well, let’s have it.

That was the message from Kevin Kumashiro, former dean of the School of Education at the University of San Francisco, and author of, among other titles, Bad Teacher!: How Blaming Teachers Distorts the Bigger Picture, when we spoke with him in June of 2019. We started out on the issue of student debt.


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Kevin Kumashiro: “We need to be changing the system of education, not simply individual access.”

JJ: When you’re watching corporate media debate on an issue you care about, it’s hard to know whether to spend time combating the particular myths and misinformation in the conversation as it is, or to simply have a different conversation, with different premises and, frankly, participants.

If people are saying they oppose “government handouts,” for instance, you may feel a need to say, “Well, what about handouts to corporations?” But then you’re still stuck in this frame of seeing government as a separate force, apart from people, that’s giving things and taking them away, rather than a system that’s meant to be working to serve the common good.

Can we begin, though, with your overall take on the plans put forth by Sanders and Ilhan Omar, by Warren and Julián Castro, among others, as compared to the status quo? And then, what do you make of the arguments, those that we are hearing, against those plans?

Kevin Kumashiro: I think it’s really exciting that student debt relief is being elevated to the level that it is. It’s about time that we’re having this conversation. As you’ve mentioned, we know that there is over $1.6 trillion in student debt currently; that affects about 45 million people in this country. And this is a number, this is an amount, that has actually ballooned over the past couple of decades.

So one of the things that I think the proposals force us to think about is, what are our priorities right now, and how should that be reflected in our national budgets? Budgets reflect priorities, and if we were to fairly tax the rich and the corporations, and if we were to invest in education rather than in instruments of violence and repression, like prisons and war and so on, I think we would be able to create a budget that reflects that. This is absolutely affordable.

One of the things that I like to argue, however, is that as ambitious, as controversial as some people think that these proposals are, I actually would say that they don’t quite go far enough, in the way that we’re talking about it still.

And what I mean by that is, right now, the debate seems to be, how do we make education more affordable?—as if education is a commodity, where those who have the wealth can afford to buy the best.

And what I would say is, “Yeah, we could engage in that debate, but maybe the bigger debate is, should education be seen and treated as a commodity in the first place?” Right?

Education, I think many of us would argue, is so fundamentally important, not only to individual wellness and livelihood and success, but also to the health and well-being of the community and the society, right? It strengthens democracy, it strengthens participation, social relations, global health.

And so one of the things we should be thinking about is how education should be a fundamental human right for everyone. And what does it mean to invest in that? Where pre-K through college, you have the right to get the level of education that you need to be successful and happy in the world. And I think that’s where I would like to see the conversation going. And, hopefully, that’s a reframing that we are heading towards.

USA Today (6/26/19)

JJ: I have seen sympathetic portrayals of people trapped in student loan debt. USA Today, on June 26, had an article evoking how people can get caught up, and how they are left open to predations from scam debt-consolidation companies, for instance. And then, on another tack of the issue, the Washington Post had a data-driven piece about the negative impacts on the overall economy of student loan debt, which is something that I know that you’ve thought about, and that noted that the $1.6 trillion in debt that US families are carrying has doubled since the mid-2000s, which you also just said, and which a lot of newspaper articles leave out.

I would also say that media are doing a pretty good job of leaving most of the moralizing to the op-eds—you know, things like “I Worked as a Janitor to Keep My Student Loans Low. Wiping Debt Punishes Students Like Me,” which was in USA Today.

But what I’m not getting is what you’re talking about, which is the idea that, in reality, this is a bigger question about the role of education in society. I wonder how you see us moving the conversation from this specific conversation about Warren, about Sanders, and those plans: How do we push it to that bigger dialogue that you’re looking for?

KK: Yeah, it’s a great question, because overlapping with the ballooning of student debt over the last two decades is something that’s fueled that ballooning, which is the disinvestment by the public sector in public education.

Atlantic (5/3/18)

So higher education is a great example, where it’s hard to call public universities public universities, because such a small percentage of their budget actually comes from the public sector. So what we’ve seen in the past 20 years is a massive decline, in some cases half, maybe even more than half, lost—in terms of what the states used to be contributing to, for example, state-run universities.

And where does that shortfall now get taken up? Well, some of it gets taken up in fundraising. And some of it gets taken up in corporate sponsorships. But the vast majority of budget shortfalls gets taken up by tuition increases. So there’s a direct connection between disinvesting in public institutions—in other words, making them less public—and seeing the students take on the burden.

And when we talk about the difference between public and private education, I think it’s also important to think about who these universities serve. Right? Public universities serve a far more racially diverse population, they have more first-generation students, more working-class students, more immigrant students; it’s actually serving the students most in need.

And I think for many public universities, that was the vision, right, is that they would actually be the universities for the people; they were a counter to the elite private universities.

And so when we see public universities less able to serve their mission of reaching this much more diverse, underserved population, because we’re disinvesting in them, why are we now surprised, then, that the people with the least resources are now shouldering the greatest burden, in terms of trying to get education?

So, yeah, I think pushing the conversation, in terms of saying, well, what is the responsibility of society to educate its next generation? And how do we build up institutions where everyone can really benefit from that?

And let me just say one more thing, to even push the conversation a little further. One of the things that I like to argue is that we should not be debating, how do we give equal access to higher education as it currently exists? That actually isn’t what we should be debating.

Because the reality is that higher education is not equitable right now. The current state of higher education is that it’s sort of like public schools—you have a handful of very elite institutions that serve the more elite population. And then you have a vast number of underfunded, under-resourced institutions that are serving the masses.

We don’t want to give equal access to that. What we actually want to do is level the playing field, by saying that the institutions themselves need to be more equitable.

So when I talk about reforming education, and thinking about the funding of education, I don’t argue that we simply need to equalize how individuals finance their education. I actually argue that we need to be thinking more equitably about the funding of the system, and how that then changes the hierarchy that currently exists between educational institutions. We need to be changing the system of education, not simply individual access.

(New York Post, 4/23/19)

JJ: And some of the opponents, on this particular issue of debt forgiveness, I think have a more comprehensive vision, because some of them are the same people who are also fighting affirmative action—in higher education, in particular; some of them are the same who are against the very idea of public education that you’re talking about.

And I feel like latent in a lot of debate is the idea that education is supposed to be unobtainable for many, because otherwise, it’s not as valuable as a stratifier, as a screen. And among other things, to pick up on what you just said, that’s not the historical vision of education in this country, is it? I mean, if you look back at the history, education had a democratizing impulse behind it.

KK: So that’s such a great reminder, is that the history of education in this country is a very complicated and contested one. And when we look throughout the last century and a half, for example, what we can see is that different groups have argued for competing purposes of education. They’ve put forth different arguments of what education should be about.

So what I like to argue is that, let’s start with public schools, K–12, elementary, secondary schools. When we first created public schools in this country, we didn’t create them for everyone; we created them for only the most elite. And as we were forced to integrate more and more, we just came up with more and more ways to divide and sort them, such as through segregated schools, or tracked classrooms, or labeling, discipline and disenfranchisement.

And so, when we think about the achievement gap, or this gap in performance among students, many people say that that’s a sign that schools are failing. I like those who make the slightly more provocative argument, that actually the achievement gap is a sign, in some ways, that schools are succeeding, that they were doing exactly what they were set up to do.

So one of the things that we need to be arguing is not that we simply need to tinker with the system because it’s not really working well. What we actually need to recognize is that the system was built on really problematic assumptions, ideologies and exclusions from its very beginning. And our job is not to wish them away; our job is actually to dive into that contradiction and that messiness, and to say, “Well, how do we work in institutions that maybe were never intended for us, but still make them into the liberatory, revolutionary, democratizing institutions that they have the potential for?” Right?

Alongside the history of sorting and stratifying, you have an equally long history of people arguing that schools can play a democratizing force, and have been very forceful and persuasive at changing policies and institutions to move us in that direction. Schools have always been the site of struggle.

And this is another moment when we need to dive in and say, “Yes, we need to struggle, and we need to put forward a much bolder vision than we’re currently pursuing.”


JJ: That was author and advocate Kevin Kumashiro, talking with CounterSpin in 2019.




The post ‘Schools Have Always Been the Site of Struggle’ appeared first on FAIR.