The Intercept Mon, 13 Mar 2023 20:36:59 +0000 en-US hourly 1 <![CDATA[Is the Traditional ACLU View of Free Speech Still Viable? Ira Glasser Speaks Out.]]> Tue, 20 Oct 2020 17:15:52 +0000 One of the 20th century’s key civil libertarians insists — in a new film and interview — that free speech must endure.

The post Is the Traditional ACLU View of Free Speech Still Viable? Ira Glasser Speaks Out. appeared first on The Intercept.

Today’s episode of SYSTEM UPDATE on this topic — with guest Ira Glasser, the Executive Director of the ACLU from 1978-2001 and subject of the new documentary “Mighty Ira” — can be viewed on The Intercept’s You Tube channel or on the player below.

That a belief in free speech is rapidly eroding in the hardly debatable. Every relevant metric demonstrates that to be the case.

Opposition to the primacy of free speech has been commonplace on America’s most elite college campuses for years, but is now predictably seeping into virtually every sector of American political life — beyond academia into the corporate workplace, journalism, the legal community, culture, the arts, and entertainment. Both a cause of this contamination and a result is the growing popular belief that free speech can no longer be protected as a primary right but must be “balanced” — meaning constricted — in the name of other political and social values that are purportedly in conflict with free expression.

Pew found in 2015 that “American Millennials are far more likely than older generations to say the government should be able to prevent people from saying offensive statements about minority groups.” A 2017 University of Chicago survey similarly demonstrated that ”nearly half of the millennials say that colleges should limit freedom of speech ‘in extreme cases.’” A 2019 poll found that large percentages of Americans, in some cases majorities, believe the First Amendment goes too far in protecting free speech and its understanding should be “updated” to reflect contemporary cultural views.

Just this week, the New York Times Magazine published a cover story by the thoughtful liberal journalist Emily Bazelon which explicitly questioned — one might say rejected — the ongoing viability of the First Amendment and free speech values on the ground that the U.S., in Bazelon’s view, is “in the midst of an information crisis caused by the spread of viral disinformation, defined as falsehoods aimed at achieving a political goal.” As a result, Bazelon approvingly argues: “increasingly, scholars of constitutional law, as well as social scientists, are beginning to question the way we have come to think about the First Amendment’s guarantee of free speech.”

But perhaps the most potent and disturbing trend illustrating how rapidly this erosion is taking place is that it has even infected sectors of the organization that has, for decades, been the most stalwart, principled, and unflinching defender of free speech: the American Civil Liberties Union. Internal debates over whether the group should retreat from its long-standing free speech position have been festering for years.

There are vibrant, sometimes hostile disagreements among ACLU lawyers and activists about whether free speech should now be restricted in order to promote other political values increasingly taking center stage in liberal-left politics. One of the most intense crises in the organization’s history came in 2017 when ACLU lawyers defended a white supremacist group that was denied a permit by the city of Charlottesville, Virginia to protest in a prominent and symbolically important public square. The ACLU prevailed, and when one of the extremists in that group plowed his car into a group of counter-protesters, killing 32-year-old Heather Heyer, numerous ACLU activists and even some lawyers angrily insisted that the group should not represent the free speech rights of racist or neo-fascist groups.

The ACLU’s leadership then issued a series of confusing statements and memos that suggested at least somewhat of a retreat from their long-standing organizational posture, though Executive Director Anthony Romero insists that they were simply re-affirming what had always been the group’s policy regarding armed protesters. Meanwhile, as the ACLU (like the New York Times) has been deluged with a huge surge of Trump-era donations given by #Resistance liberals, it has also been criticized for abandoning its core identity of being a non-partisan civil liberties group that defends free speech and due process rights of everyone, and instead transforming into a standard liberal activist group (though the ACLU continues to defend groups such as the NRA against New York State’s efforts to disband it, continues to urge a pardon for Edward Snowden, and still often represents the rights of Christian students and other views associated with the right).

I have written many times about my views on all of these debates and will not repeat them here. My most comprehensive explanation for why I believe that no erosions of free speech can be tolerated — and why efforts to erode or “balance” rights of free expression are far more dangerous than whatever views are targeted for suppression — was this 2013 essay in the Guardian, where I denounced efforts by a French minister to force Twitter to censor what she regards as “hate speech.” I have reported often on why hate speech laws are so misguided (including because they often end up suppressing the views of the marginalized), and specifically defended the ACLU from its critics after Charlottesville. And last week I argued that censorship by Facebook and Twitter of a New York Post story was dangerous in the extreme.

But today’s SYSTEM UPDATE episode is devoted not to my views on these questions but those of Ira Glasser, who served as the Executive Director of the ACLU from 1978-2001, when he retired shortly before the 9/11 attack. Glasser is the star of an exceptional new documentary, which I cannot recommend highly enough, entitled “Mighty Ira,” which traces not only Glasser’s life and work at the ACLU but also the history of the last half of the 20th Century that shaped both his political outlook and the ACLU’s growth from a small and financially precarious group into a legal and political powerhouse under his leadership.


Glasser is an old-school civil libertarian in the best and most classic sense of that term. One of his first challenges upon assuming his leadership position was dealing with the fallout of the crisis the ACLU faced in that era: public and internal fury that its largely Jewish lawyers had represented a neo-Nazi group’s right in 1977 to march through the town of Skokie, Illinois, which had not only a large Jewish population but one with thousands of survivors of the Nazi death camps. Glasser steadfastly defended the nobility of that position even as donors and even some staff members left in droves, threatening the ongoing viability of the group, and he continues with great eloquence, and with great relevance to our current debates, to defend that decision today (on its site, the ACLU also continues to defend that Skokie case as one of its proudest and most important moments).

Glasser has not been shy about very vocally and vehemently criticizing what he regards as a retreat by the modern-day ACLU from the organization’s long-standing mission. He is particularly scathing about how the politicized money that has poured in has caused the group to pursue standard-issue liberal policy goals at the expense of the Constitutional rights it once uniquely and fearlessly defended. But he also recognizes that many of the ACLU lawyers, and its leadership, still have a commitment to those core values, and often are forced to battle their own staff in order to fulfill the group’s mission: a perverse conflict that is plaguing numerous political, journalistic and academic institutions.

The history covered by “Mighty Ira” is fascinating in its own right. But even more interesting is the way that Glasser’s life and work — including very improbable friendships he formed with Ben Stern, one of the Skokie community leaders opposing the ACLU, as well as William F. Buckley, with whom he often sparred on “Firing Line” and in countless other venues — shed so much light on the debates we are currently conducting today, particularly over free speech.

Skokie, Ill. resident and Holocaust survivor Ben Stern shows his concentration camp tattoo to Ira Glasser, in the film “Mighty Ira.”

Photo: Mighty IRA Documentary

What fascinated me most was Glasser’s recounting of the Skokie controversy was how African American civil rights leaders of the 1970s and 1980s were among his staunchest allies and supporters when it came to defending the free speech rights of white supremacists groups — because they knew they would be among the first to be targeted by successfully implemented precedents of state censorship. Equally fascinating is Glasser’s invocation of his experience, as a Jewish leftist, and how it led him to believe that defending the free speech rights of those whose views he found most repugnant was not just ethically right but a matter of self-interest.

Glasser is an important figure in the political and legal battles of the 20th Century. He remains an incredibly eloquent advocate and compelling thinker on all of these issues. Too many people are unaware of this history. As reflected by both “Mighty Ira”and my interview of him — which can be seen on The Intercept’s You Tube channel or the player below — this history is indispensable for understanding and navigating many of the most difficult and consequential political debates of today.

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]]> 0 bens Skokie, Ill. resident and Holocaust survivor Ben Stern shows his concentration camp tattoo to Ira Glasser, in the film "Mighty Ira."
<![CDATA[Bolivians Return Evo Morales's Party to Power One Year After a U.S.-Applauded Coup]]> Mon, 19 Oct 2020 16:37:49 +0000 Right-wing forces cheered by the U.S. tried to destroy one of Latin America’s most vibrant democracies. Voters just restored it.

The post Bolivians Return Evo Morales’s Party to Power One Year After a U.S.-Applauded Coup appeared first on The Intercept.

In November 2019, Bolivia’s three-term President Evo Morales was forced under threat of police and military violence to flee to Mexico, just weeks after he was declared the winner of the October presidential election that would have sent him to his fourth term. Installed in his place was an unelected right-wing coup regime, led by self-declared “interim President” Jeanine Áñez, who promptly presided over a military massacre that killed dozens of Morales’s Indigenous supporters and then granted immunity to all the soldiers involved. U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo at the time cheered the coup by citing subsequently debunked claims of election fraud by the Organization of American States, or OAS, and urging “a truly democratic process representative of the people’s will.”

But after the Áñez regime twice postponed scheduled elections this year, Bolivians went to the polls on Sunday. They delivered a resounding victory to presidential candidate Luis Arce, Morales’s former finance minister and the candidate from his Movement Toward Socialism, or MAS, Party. Although official results are still being counted, exit polls from reputable firms show Arce with a blowout victory — over 50 percent against a centrist former president and a far-right coup leader — and Áñez herself conceded that MAS has won: “We do not yet have an official count, but from the data we have, Mr. Arce and [MAS Vice Presidential candidate] Mr. Choquehuanca have won the election. I congratulate the winners and ask them to govern with Bolivia and democracy in mind.”

Luis Arce, center, Bolivian presidential candidate for the Movement Towards Socialism Party, MAS, and running mate David Choquehuanca, second right, celebrate during a press conference where they claim victory after general elections in La Paz, Bolivia, Monday, Oct. 19, 2020. (AP Photo/Juan Karita)

Luis Arce, center, Bolivian presidential candidate for the Movement Toward Socialism Party, or MAS, and running mate David Choquehuanca, second right, celebrate during a press conference where they claim victory after general elections in La Paz, Bolivia, on Oct. 19, 2020. (AP Photo/Juan Karita)


It is difficult to remember the last time a U.S.-approved military coup in Latin America failed so spectacularly. Even with the U.S.-dominated OAS’s instantly dubious claims of electoral fraud, nobody disputed that Morales received more votes in last October’s election than all other candidates (the only question raised by the OAS was whether his margin of victory was sufficient to win on the first round and avoid a run-off).

Despite Morales’s election win, the Bolivian police and then military made clear to Morales that neither he, his family, nor his closest allies would be safe unless he immediately left the country, as Morales detailed in an interview I conducted with him just weeks after he was driven into exile in Mexico City. In that interview, Morales blamed not only the U.S. for giving the green light to right-wing coup leaders but also attributed the coup to Western anger over his decision to sell some of the country’s valuable lithium supply to China rather than to the West.

After 12 years in office, Morales was not free of controversy or critics. As the first elected Indigenous leader of Bolivia, even some of his core supporters grew wary of what they regarded as his growing reliance on quasi-autocratic tactics in order to govern. Several of his most prominent supporters — both in Bolivia and in South America — were critical of his decision to secure judicial permission to seek a fourth term despite a constitutional term-limits provision of two terms. Even Morales’s long-time close Brazilian ally, former President Lula da Silva — who correctly predicted in a 2019 interview with me that “you can be certain that if Evo Morales runs for president, he’ll win in Bolivia” — nonetheless called Morales’s pursuit of a fourth term a “mistake.”

But none of those criticisms changed a central, unavoidable fact: More Bolivians voted for Morales to be their president in 2019 than any other candidate. And in a democracy, that is supposed to be decisive; for those purporting to believe in democracy, that should be the end of the matter. That is why Lula, in his Guardian interview shortly after the coup where he criticized Morales’s bid for a fourth term, nonetheless emphasized the far more important point: “what they did with him was a crime. It was a coup – this is terrible for Latin America.”

And whatever critiques one can legitimately voice about Morales — it is hard to imagine any leader ruling for more than a decade without alienating some supporters and making mistakes — there is no question that Morales’s presidency, by almost every metric, was a success. After decades of instability in the country, he ushered in a stable and thriving democracy, presided over economic growth that even western financial institutions praised, and worked to ensure a far more equitable distribution of those resources than ever before, particularly to the country’s long-oppressed Indigenous minority and its rural farmers. That success is what was destroyed, on purpose, when the Bolivian presidency was decided in 2019 not democratically but by force.

The West’s reaction to the 2019 Bolivian coup featured all of its classic propaganda tropes. Western officials, media outlets, and think tank writers invoked the standard Orwellian inversion of heralding a coup of any democratically elected leader they do not like as a “victory for democracy.” In this warped formula, it is not the U.S.-supported coup plotters but the overthrown democratically elected leader who is the “threat to democracy.”

Depicting U.S.-supported coups as democratic and democratically elected leaders disliked by the U.S. as “dictators” has been a staple of U.S. foreign policy propaganda for decades. That is the rubric under which the Obama administration and its Secretary of State John Kerry somehow celebrated one of the world’s worst despots, Egyptian Gen. Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi, as “restoring democracy” following the brutal military coup he carried out.

But thanks to Sunday’s stunning rebuke in Bolivia, the standard tactics failed. Ever since Morales’s election victory almost exactly one year ago today, Bolivians never stopped marching, protesting, risking their liberty and their lives — even in the middle of a pandemic — to demand their rights of democracy and self-governance. Leading up to the election, the coup regime and right-wing factions in the military were menacingly vowing — in response to polls universally showing MAS likely to win — that they would do anything to prevent the return to power of Morales’s party.

At least as of now, though, it looks as though the margin of victory delivered to MAS by the Bolivian people was so stunning, so decisive, that there are few options left for the retrograde forces — in Bolivia, Washington, and Brussels — which tried to destroy the country’s democracy. Anyone who believes in the fundamentals of democracy, regardless of ideology, should be cheering the Bolivians who sacrificed so much to restore their right of self-rule and hoping that the stability and prosperity they enjoyed under Morales expands even further under his first democratically elected successor.

The post Bolivians Return Evo Morales’s Party to Power One Year After a U.S.-Applauded Coup appeared first on The Intercept.

]]> 0 APTOPIX Bolivia Elections Luis Arce, center, Bolivian presidential candidate for the Movement Towards Socialism Party, MAS, and running mate David Choquehuanca, second right, celebrate during a press conference where they claim victory after general elections in La Paz, Bolivia, Monday, Oct. 19, 2020. (AP Photo/Juan Karita)
<![CDATA[Facebook and Twitter Cross a Line Far More Dangerous Than What They Censor]]> Thu, 15 Oct 2020 23:52:21 +0000 Just weeks before the election, the tech giants unite to block access to incriminating reporting about their preferred candidate.

The post Facebook and Twitter Cross a Line Far More Dangerous Than What They Censor appeared first on The Intercept.

The New York Post is one of the country’s oldest and largest newspapers. Founded in 1801 by Alexander Hamilton, only three U.S. newspapers are more widely circulated. Ever since it was purchased in 1976 by media mogul Rupert Murdoch, it has been known — like most Murdoch-owned papers — for right-wing tabloid sensationalism, albeit one that has some real reporters and editors and is capable of reliable journalism.

On Wednesday morning, the paper published on its cover what it heralded as a “blockbuster” scoop: “smoking gun” evidence, in its words, in the form of emails purportedly showing that Joe Biden’s son, Hunter, traded on his father’s position by securing favors from the then-vice president to benefit the Ukranian energy company Burisma, which paid the supremely unqualified Hunter $50,000 each month to sit on its Board. While the Biden campaign denies that any such meetings or favors ever occurred, neither the campaign nor Hunter, at least as of now, has denied the authenticity of the emails.

The Post’s hyping of the story as some cataclysmic bombshell was overblown. While these emails, if authenticated, provide some new details and corroboration, the broad outlines of this story have long been known: Hunter was paid a very large monthly sum by Burisma at the same time that his father was quite active in using the force of the U.S. Government to influence Ukraine’s internal affairs.  

Along with emails relating to Burisma, the New York Post also gratuitously published several photographs of Hunter, who has spoken openly and commendably of his past struggles with substance abuse, in what appeared to various states of drug use. There was no conceivable public interest in publishing those, and every reason not to.

The Post’s explanation of how these documents were obtained is bizarre at best: They claim that Hunter Biden indefinitely left his laptop containing the emails at a repair store, and the store’s owner, alarmed by the corruption they revealed, gave the materials from the hard drive to the FBI and then to Rudy Giuliani.

While there is no proof that Biden followed through on any of Hunter’s promises to Burisma, there is no reason, at least thus far, to doubt that the emails are genuine. And if they are genuine, they at least add to what is undeniably a relevant and newsworthy story involving influence-peddling relating to Hunter Biden’s work in Ukraine and his trading on the name and power of his father, now the front-runner in the 2020 presidential election.

But the Post, for all its longevity, power and influence, ran smack into two entities far more powerful than it: Facebook and Twitter. Almost immediately upon publication, pro-Biden journalists created a climate of extreme hostility and suppression toward the Post story, making clear that any journalist even mentioning it would be roundly attacked. For the crime of simply noting the story on Twitter (while pointing out its flaws), New York Times reporter Maggie Haberman was instantly vilified to the point where her name, along with the phrase “MAGA Haberman,” were trending on Twitter.

(That Haberman is a crypto-Trump supporter is preposterous for so many reasons, including the fact that she is responsible for countless front-page Times stories that reflect negatively on the president; moreover, the 2016 Clinton campaign considered Haberman one of their most favorable reporters).

The two Silicon Valley giants saw that hostile climate and reacted. Just two hours after the story was online, Facebook intervened. The company dispatched a life-long Democratic Party operative who now works for Facebook — Andy Stone, previously a communications operative for Democratic Sen. Barbara Boxer and the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, among other D.C. Democratic jobs — to announce that Facebook was “reducing [the article’s] distribution on our platform”: in other words, tinkering with its own algorithms to suppress the ability of users to discuss or share the news article. The long-time Democratic Party official did not try to hide his contempt for the article, beginning his censorship announcement by snidely noting: “I will intentionally not link to the New York Post.”

Twitter’s suppression efforts went far beyond Facebook’s. They banned entirely all users’ ability to share the Post article — not just on their public timeline but even using the platform’s private Direct Messaging feature.

Early in the day, users who attempted to link to the New York Post story either publicly or privately received a cryptic message rejecting the attempt as an “error.” Later in the afternoon, Twitter changed the message, advising users that they could not post that link because the company judged its contents to be “potentially harmful.”

Even more astonishing still, Twitter locked the account of the New York Post, banning the paper from posting any content all day and, evidently, into Thursday morning. The last tweet from the paper was posted at roughly 2:00 p.m. ET on Wednesday. 

And then, on Thursday morning, the Post published a follow-up article using the same archive of materials, this one purporting to detail efforts by the former vice president’s son to pursue lucrative deals with a Chinese energy company by using his father’s name. Twitter is now also banning the sharing or posting of links to that article as well.

In sum, the two Silicon Valley giants, with little explanation, united to prevent the sharing and dissemination of this article. As Los Angeles Times reporter Matt Pearce put it, “Facebook limiting distribution is a bit like if a company that owned newspaper delivery trucks decided not to drive because it didn’t like a story. Does a truck company edit the newspaper? It does now, apparently.”

That the First Amendment right of free speech is inapplicable to these questions goes without saying. That constitutional guarantee restricts the actions of governments, not private corporations such as Facebook and Twitter.

But glibly pointing this out does not come close to resolving this controversy. That actions by gigantic corporations are constitutional does not mean that they are benign.

State censorship is not the only kind of censorship. Private-sector repression of speech and thought, particularly in the internet era, can be as dangerous and consequential. Imagine, for instance, if these two Silicon Valley giants united with Google to declare: henceforth we will ban all content that is critical of President Trump and/or the Republican Party, but will actively promote criticisms of Joe Biden and the Democrats. 

Would anyone encounter difficultly understanding why such a decree would constitute dangerous corporate censorship? Would Democrats respond to such a policy by simply shrugging it off on the radical libertarian ground that private corporations have the right to do whatever they want? To ask that question is to answer it.

To begin with, Twitter and particularly Facebook are no ordinary companies. Facebook, as the owner not just of its massive social media platform but also other key communication services it has gobbled up such as Instagram and WhatsApp, is one of the most powerful companies ever to exist, if not the most powerful. In June, the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Antitrust, Commercial, and Administrative Law launched an investigation into the consolidated power of Facebook and three other companies — Google, Amazon and Apple — and just last week issued a sweeping report which, as Ars Technica explained, found:

Facebook outright “has monopoly power in the market for social networking,” and that power is “firmly entrenched and unlikely to be eroded by competitive pressure” from anyone at all due to “high entry barriers—including strong network effects, high switching costs, and Facebook’s significant data advantage—that discourage direct competition by other firms to offer new products and services.”

In his New York Times op-ed last October, the left-wing expert on monopoly power Matt Stoller described Facebook and Google as “global monopolies sitting astride public discourse,” and recounted how bipartisan policy and legal changes designed to whittle away antitrust protections have bestowed the two tech giants with “a radical centralization of power over the flow of information.” And he warns that this unprecedented consolidation of control over our discourse is close to triggering “the collapse of journalism and democracy.”

It has been astonishing to watch Democrats over the last twenty-four hours justify this censorship on the grounds that private corporations are entitled to do whatever they want. Not even radical free-market libertarians espouse such a pro-corporate view. Even the most ardent capitalist recognizes that companies that wield monopoly or quasi-monopoly power have an obligation to act in the public interest, and are answerable to the public regarding whether they are doing so.

That is why in both the EU and increasingly the U.S., there are calls from across the political spectrum to either break up Facebook on antitrust and monopoly grounds or regulate it as a public utility, the way electric and water companies and AT&T have been. Almost nobody in the democratic world believes that Facebook is just some ordinary company that should be permitted to exercise unfettered power and act without constraints of any kind. Indeed, Facebook’s monumental political and economic power — greater than most if not all the governments of nation-states — is the major impediment to such reforms.

Beyond that, both Facebook and Twitter receive substantial, unique legal benefits from federal law, further negating the claim that they are free to do whatever they want as private companies. Just as is true of Major League Baseball — which is subject to regulation by Congress as a result of the antitrust exemption they enjoy under the law — these social media companies receive a very valuable and particularized legal benefit in the form of Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, which shields them from any liability for content published on their platforms, including defamatory material or other legally proscribed communications.

No company can claim such massive, unique legal exemptions from the federal law and then simultaneously claim they owe no duties to the public interest and are not answerable to anyone. To advocate that is a form of authoritarian corporatism: simultaneously allowing tech giants to claim legally conferred privileges and exemptions while insisting that they can act without constraints of any kind.

Then there is the practical impact of Twitter and Facebook uniting to block content published by a major newspaper. It is true in theory that one can still read the suppressed article by visiting the New York Post website directly, but the stranglehold that these companies exert over our discourse is so dominant that their censorship amounts to effective suppression of the reporting.

In 2018, Pew Research found that “about two-thirds of U.S. adults (68%) get news on social media sites. One-in-five get news there often.“ The combination of Facebook, Google and Twitter controls the information received by huge numbers of Americans, Pew found. “Facebook is still far and away the site Americans most commonly use for news. About four-in-ten Americans (43%) get news on Facebook. The next most commonly used site for news is YouTube [owned by Google], with 21% getting news there, followed by Twitter at 12%.”

While Twitter still falls short of Facebook in terms of number of users, a 2019 report found that “Twitter remains the leading social network among journalists at 83%.” Censoring a story from Twitter thus has disproportionate impact by hiding it from the people who determine and shape the news.

The grave dangers posed by the censorship actions of yesterday should be self-evident. Just over two weeks before a presidential election, Silicon Valley giants — whose industry leaders and workforce overwhelmingly favor the Democratic candidate — took extraordinary steps to block millions, perhaps tens of millions, of American voters from being exposed to what purports to be a major exposé by one of the country’s oldest and largest newspapers.

As the New York Times put it in an article in March about the political preferences of tech leaders: “Silicon Valley has long leaned blue.” Large numbers of tech executives, including Facebook’s second-in-command Sheryl Sandberg, were also vocally supportive of Hillary Clinton in 2016. At the very least, the perception, if not the reality, has been created that these tech giants are using their unprecedented power over political and election-related information to prevent the dissemination of negative reporting about the presidential candidate they favor. Whatever that is, it is not democratic or something to cheer.

The rationale offered by both Twitter and Facebook to justify this censorship makes it more alarming, not less. Twitter claimed that the Post article violates its so-called “Hacked Materials Policy,” which it says permits “commentary on or discussion about hacked materials, such as articles that cover them but do not include or link to the materials themselves”; in other words, Twitter allows links to articles about hacked materials but bans “links to or images of hacked material themselves.”

The company added that their policy “prohibits the use of our service to distribute content obtained without authorization” because, they said, they “don’t want to incentivize hacking by allowing Twitter to be used as distribution for possibly illegally obtained materials.”

But that standard, if taken seriously and applied consistently, would result in the banning from the platform of huge amounts of the most important and consequential journalism. After all, a large bulk of journalism is enabled by sources providing “content obtained without authorization” to journalists, who then publish it.

Indeed, many of the most celebrated and significant stories of the last several decades — the Pentagon Papers, the WikiLeaks’ Collateral Murder video and war logs, the Snowden reporting, the Panama Papers, the exposés from the Brazil Archive we reported over the last year — relied upon publication of various forms of “hacked materials” provided by sources. The same is true of the DNC and Podesta emails that exposed corruption and forced the 2016 resignation of the top five officials of the Democratic National Committee.

Does anyone think it would be justifiable or politically healthy for tech giants to bar access to those documents of historic importance in journalism and politics? That is what the Twitter policy, taken on its face, would require.

For that matter, why is Twitter not blocking access to the ongoing New York Times articles that disclose the contents of President Trump’s tax returns, the unauthorized disclosure of which is a crime? Why did those platforms not block links to the now-notorious Rachel Maddow segment where she revealed details about one of Trump’s old tax returns on the ground that it was “content obtained without authorization”? Or what about the virtually daily articles in the New York Times, Washington Post, NBC News and others that explicitly state they are publishing information that the source is unauthorized to disclose: how does that not fall squarely within the banning policy as Twitter defined it yesterday?

Worse still, why does Twitter’s “hacking” policy apply to the New York Post story at all? While the Post’s claims about how these emails were obtained are dubious at best, there is no evidence — unlike the award-winning journalism scoops referenced above — that they were obtained by virtue of “hacking” by a source.

Facebook’s rationale for suppression — that it needs to have its “fact checking” partners verify the story before allowing it to be spread — poses different but equally alarming dangers. What makes Mark Zuckerberg’s social media company competent to “fact check” the work of other journalists? Why did Facebook block none of the endless orgy of Russiagate conspiracy theories from major media outlets that were completely unproven if not outright false?

Do we really want Facebook serving as some sort of uber-editor for U.S. media and journalism, deciding what information is suitable for the American public to read and which should be hidden from it after teams of journalists and editors at real media outlets have approved its publication? And can anyone claim that Facebook’s alleged “fact-checking” process is applied with any remote consistency given how often they failed to suppress sketchily sourced or facially unreliable stories — such as, say, the Steele Dossier and endless articles based on it? Can you even envision the day when an unproven conspiracy theory — leaked by the CIA or FBI to the Washington Post or NBC News — is suppressed pending “fact-checking” by Facebook?

Twitter is not opposed to hacked materials and Facebook is not opposed to dubiously sourced stories. They are opposed to such things only when such stories anger powerful factions. When those power centers are the ones disseminating such stories, they will continue to have free rein to do so.

The glaring fallacy that always lies at the heart of pro-censorship sentiments is the gullible, delusional belief that censorship powers will be deployed only to suppress views one dislikes, but never one’s own views. The most cursory review of history, and the most minimal understanding of how these tech giants function, instantly reveals the folly of that pipe dream.

Facebook is not some benevolent, kind, compassionate parent or a subversive, radical actor who is going to police our discourse in order to protect the weak and marginalized or serve as a noble check on mischief by the powerful. They are almost always going to do exactly the opposite: protect the powerful from those who seek to undermine elite institutions and reject their orthodoxies.

Tech giants, like all corporations, are required by law to have one overriding objective: maximizing shareholder value. They are always going to use their power to appease those they perceive wield the greatest political and economic power.

That is why Facebook accepts virtually every request from the Israeli Government to remove the pages of Palestinian journalists and activists on the grounds of “incitement,” but almost never accepts Palestinians’ requests to remove Israeli content. It is the same reason Facebook blocks and censors governments adverse to the U.S., but not the other way around. They are going to heed the interests of the powerful at the expense of those who lack it. It is utter madness to want to augment their censorship powers or to expect they will use it for any other ends.

Facebook and Twitter have in the past censored the content or removed the accounts of far-right voices. They have done the same to left-wing voices. That is always how it will work: it is exclusively the voices on the fringes and the margins, the dissidents, those who reside outside of the factions of power who will be subjected to this silencing. Mainstream political and media voices, and the U.S. Government and its allies, will be fully free to spread conspiracy theories and disinformation without ever being subjected to these illusory “rules.”

Censorship power, like the tech giants who now wield it, is an instrument of status quo preservation. The promise of the internet from the start was that it would be a tool of liberation, of egalitarianism, by permitting those without money and power to compete on fair terms in the information war with the most powerful governments and corporations.

But just as is true of allowing the internet to be converted into a tool of coercion and mass surveillance, nothing guts that promise, that potential, like empowering corporate overlords and unaccountable monopolists to regulate and suppress what can be heard.

To observe that those who are cheering for this today because they happen to like this particular outcome are being short-sighted and myopic is to woefully understate the case. The only people who should want to live in a world where Mark Zuckerberg and Sundar Pichai and Jeff Bezos have a stranglehold on what can be said and heard are those whose actions are devoted to the perpetuation of their power and who benefit from their hegemony.

Everyone else will eventually be faced with the choice of conformity or censorship, of refraining from expressing prohibited views as the cost for maintaining access to crucial social media platforms. The only thing more authoritarian than the acts of Facebook and Twitter yesterday is the mentality that causes ordinary people to cheer it, to be grateful for the power and control they have long wielded and yesterday finally unleashed.

Update: Oct. 16, 2020, 6:18 a.m. ET
Late Thursday evening, Twitter announced changes to its ”Hacked Materials Policy” designed to address concerns that its policy as stated — and as applied to the Post articles — would result in the banning of crucial reporting based on hacked materials or other “unauthorized” disclosures. Explained by Vijaya Gadde, a top Twitter executive, the new rules now provide that Twitter’s policy applies not to articles by news outlets reporting on hacked materials but only in those cases when the hacked material “is directly shared by hackers or those acting in concert with them.” Additionally, going forward, Twitter “will label Tweets to provide context instead of blocking links from being shared.” Gadde said specifically that the changes are intended “to address the concerns that there could be many unintended consequences to journalists, whistleblowers and others in ways that are contrary to Twitter’s purpose of serving the public conversation.”

There are still serious concerns about what Twitter did in this particular case and how these rules will be applied to future cases, but these changes are a commendably responsive effort to minimize the dangers of this policy and alleviate the concerns raised by journalists and transparency advocates.

The post Facebook and Twitter Cross a Line Far More Dangerous Than What They Censor appeared first on The Intercept.

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<![CDATA[The New York Times Guild Once Again Demands Censorship of Colleagues]]> Sun, 11 Oct 2020 22:05:06 +0000 The union demanded “sensitivity readers” for their colleagues. Now they’re angry that a columnist wrote about a major controversy.

The post The New York Times Guild Once Again Demands Censorship of Colleagues appeared first on The Intercept.

The New York Times Guild, the union of employees of the paper of record, tweeted a condemnation on Sunday of one of their own colleagues, op-ed columnist Bret Stephens. Their denunciation was marred by humiliating typos and even more so by creepy and authoritarian censorship demands and petulant appeals to management for enforcement of company “rules” against other journalists. To say that this is bizarre behavior from a union of journalists, of all people, is to woefully understate the case.

What angered the union today was an op-ed by Stephens on Friday which voiced numerous criticisms of the Pulitzer Prize-winning “1619 Project,” published last year by the New York Times Magazine and spearheaded by reporter Nikole Hannah-Jones. One of the Project’s principal arguments was expressed by a now-silently-deleted sentence that introduced it: “that the country’s true birth date” is not 1776, as has long been widely believed, but rather late 1619, when, the article claims, the first African slaves arrived on U.S. soil.

Despite its Pulitzer, the “1619 Project” has become a hotly contested political and academic controversy, with the Trump administration seeking to block attempts to integrate its assertions into school curriculums, while numerous scholars of history accuse it of radically distorting historical fact, with some, such as Brown University’s Glenn Loury, calling on the Pulitzer Board to revoke its award. Scholars have also vocally criticized the Times for stealth edits of the article’s key claims long after publication, without even noting to readers that it made these substantive changes let alone explaining why it made them.

In sum, the still-raging political, historical, and journalistic debate over the 1619 Project has become a major controversy. In his Friday column, Stephens addressed the controversy by first noting the Project’s positive contributions and accomplishments, then reviewed in detail the critiques of historians and other scholars of its central claims, and then sided with its critics by arguing that “for all of its virtues, buzz, spinoffs and a Pulitzer Prize — the 1619 Project has failed.”

Without weighing in on the merits of Stephens’s critiques, some of which I agree with and some of which I do not, it is hardly debatable that his discussing this vibrant multi-pronged debate is squarely within his function as a political op-ed writer at a national newspaper. Stephens himself explained that he took the unusual step of critiquing his own employer’s work because “the 1619 Project has become, partly by its design and partly because of avoidable mistakes, a focal point of the kind of intense national debate that columnists are supposed to cover,” contending that avoiding writing about it out of collegial deference “is to be derelict in our responsibility” to participate in society’s significant disputes.

But his colleagues in the New York Times Guild evidently do not believe that he had any right to express his views on these debates. Indeed, they are indignant that he did so. In a barely-literate tweet that not once but twice misspelled the word “its” as “it’s” — not a trivial level of ignorance for writers with the world’s most influential newspaper — the union denounced Stephens and the paper itself on these grounds:

It is a short tweet, as tweets go, but they impressively managed to pack it with multiple ironies, fallacies, and decrees typical of the petty tyrant. Above all else, this statement, and the mentality it reflects, is profoundly unjournalistic.

To start with, this is a case of journalists using their union not to demand greater editorial freedom or journalistic independence — something one would reasonably expect from a journalists’ union — but demanding its opposite: that writers at the New York Times be prohibited by management from expressing their views and perspectives about the controversies surrounding the 1619 Project. In other words: They are demanding that their own journalistic colleagues be silenced and censored. What kind of journalists plead with management for greater restrictions on journalistic expression rather than fewer?

Apparently, the answer is New York Times journalists. Indeed, this is not the first time they have publicly implored corporate management to restrict the freedom of expression and editorial freedom of their journalistic colleagues. At the end of July, the Guild issued a series of demands, one of which was that “sensitivity reads should happen at the beginning of the publication process, with compensation for those who do them.”

For those not familiar with “sensitivity reads”: consider yourself fortunate. As the New York Times itself reported in 2017, “sensitivity readers” have been used by book publishers to gut books that have been criticized, in order to “vet the narrative for harmful stereotypes and suggested changes.” The Guardian explained in 2018 that “sensitivity readers” are a rapidly growing industry in the book publishing world to weed out any implicit bias or potentially objectionable material — not just in storylines but even in characters. It quoted the author Lionel Shriver about the obvious dangers: there is, she said, “a thin line between combing through manuscripts for anything potentially objectionable to particular subgroups and overt political censorship.”

As creepy as “sensitivity readers” are for fiction writing and other publishing fields, it is indescribably toxic for journalism, which necessarily questions or pokes at rather than bows to the most cherished, sacred pieties. For it to be worthwhile, it must publish material — reporting and opinion pieces — that might be “potentially objectionable” to all sorts of powerful factions, including culturally hegemonic liberals.

But this is a function which the New York Times Union wants not merely to avoid fulfilling themselves but, far worse, to deny their fellow journalists. They crave a whole new layer of editorial hoop-jumping in order to get published, a cumbersome, repressive new protocol for drawing even more constraining lines around what can and cannot be said beyond the restrictions already imposed by the standard orthodoxies of the Times and their tone-flattening editorial restrictions.

When journalists exploit their unions not to demand better pay, improved benefits, enhanced job security or greater journalistic independence but instead as an instrument for censoring their own journalistic colleagues, then the concept of unions — and journalism — is wildly perverted.

Then there is the tattletale petulance embedded in the Union’s complaint. In demanding enforcement of workplace “rules” by management against a fellow journalist — they do not specify which sacred “rule” Stephens allegedly violated — these union members sound more like human resources assistant managers or workplace informants than they do intrepid journalists. Since when do unions of any kind, but especially unions of journalists, unite to complain that corporate managers and their editorial bosses have been too lax in the enforcement of rules governing what their underlings can and cannot say?

The hypocrisy of the Union’s grievance is almost too glaring to even bother highlighting, and is the least of its sins. The union members denounce Stephens and the paper for “going after one of it’s [sic] own” and then, in the next breath, publicly vilify their colleague’s column because, in their erudite view, it “reeks.” This is the same union whose members, just a few months ago, quite flamboyantly staged a multi-day social media protest — a quite public one — in a fit of rage because the paper’s Opinion Editor, James Bennet, published an op-ed by U.S. Senator Tom Cotton advocating the deployment of the U.S. military to repress protests and riots in U.S. cities; Bennet lost his job in the fallout. And many of these same union members — now posturing as solemn, righteous opponents of publicly “going after” one’s colleagues — notoriously mocked, scorned, ridiculed, and condemned, first privately and then publicly, another colleague, Bari Weiss, until she left the paper, citing these incessant attacks.

Clearly this is not a union that dislikes public condemnations of colleagues. Whatever “principle” is motivating them, that is plainly not it.

I’ve long been a harsh critic of Stephens’s (and Weiss’s) journalism and opinion writing. But it would never occur to me to take steps to try to silence them. If they were my colleagues and published an article I disliked or expressed views I found pernicious, I certainly would not whine to management that they broke the “rules” and insist that they should not have been allowed to have expressed what they believe.

That’s because I’m a journalist, and I know that journalism can have value only if it fosters divergent views and seeks to expand rather than reduce the freedom of discourse and expression permitted by society and by employers. And whatever one wants to say about Stephens’s career and record of writing — and I’ve had a lot of negative things to say about it — harshly critiquing your own employer’s Pulitzer-winning series, one beloved by powerful media, political and cultural figures, is the type of “challenge to power” that many journalists who do nothing but spout pleasing, popular pieties love to preen as embodying.

There has never been a media outlet where I have worked or where I have been published that did not frequently also publish opinions with which I disagree and articles I dislike, including the one in which I am currently writing. I would readily use my platforms to critique what was published, but it would never even occur to me take steps to try to prevent publication or, worse, issue pitiful public entreaties to management that Something Be Done™. If you are eager to constrict the boundaries of expression, why would you choose journalism of all lines of work? It’d be like someone who believes space travel to be an immoral waste of resources opting to become an astronaut for NASA.

Perhaps these tawdry episodes should be unsurprising. After all, one major reason that social media companies — which never wanted the obligation to censor but instead sought to be content-neutral platforms for the transmission of communications in the mold of AT&T — turned into active speech regulators was because the public, often led by journalists, began demanding that they censor more. Some journalists even devote significant chunks of their career to publicly complaining that Facebook and Twitter are failing to enforce their “rules” by not censoring robustly enough.

A belief in the virtues of free expression was once a cornerstone of the journalistic spirit. Guilds and unions fought against editorial control, not demanded greater amounts be imposed by management. They defended colleagues when they were accused by editorial or corporate bosses of “rules” violations, not publicly tattled and invited, even advocated for, workplace disciplinary measures.

But a belief in free expression is being rapidly eclipsed in many societal sectors by a belief in the virtues of top-down managerial censorship, silencing, and enhanced workplace punishment for thought and speech transgressions. As this imperious but whiny New York Times Guild condemnation reflects, this trend can be seen most vividly, and most destructively, in mainstream American journalism. Nothing guts the core function of journalism more than this mindset.

Update: Oct. 11, 2020, 8:40 p.m. ET
The New York Times Guild moments ago deleted its tweet denouncing Stephens and the paper, and then posted this:

Though the Guild did not specify what “error” caused them to issue this denunciation, the paper’s media reporter, Ben Smith, said: “Someone else active in the Times Union tells me that a leader of the chapter, who runs the account, tweeted about the Stephens column without any internal discussion, causing a furor in Slack and drawing heated objections from others in the Guild, leading to this” deletion and apology. 

The post The New York Times Guild Once Again Demands Censorship of Colleagues appeared first on The Intercept.

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<![CDATA[New Documents Reveal How the Animal Agriculture Industry Surveils and Punishes Critics]]> Sat, 10 Oct 2020 14:11:16 +0000 A respected Bay Area veterinarian endures widespread attacks following an industry "alert" about her criticisms of factory farms.

The post New Documents Reveal How the Animal Agriculture Industry Surveils and Punishes Critics appeared first on The Intercept.

This week’s SYSTEM UPDATE on this topic — with Dr. Crystal Heath, one of the veterinarians targeted by these industry campaigns for retaliation — can be viewed on The Intercept’s YouTube channel, or on the player below.

Animal agriculture industry groups defending factory farms engage in campaigns of surveillance, reputation destruction, and other forms of retaliation against industry critics and animal rights activists, documents obtained through a FOIA request from the U.S. Department of Agriculture reveal. That the USDA possesses these emails and other documents demonstrates the federal government’s knowledge of, if not participation in, these industry campaigns.

These documents detail ongoing monitoring of the social media of news outlets, including The Intercept, which report critically on factory farms. They reveal private surveillance activities aimed at animal rights groups and their members. They include discussions of how to create a climate of intimidation for activists who work against industry abuses, including by photographing the activists and publishing the photos online. And they describe a coordinated ostracization campaign that specifically targets veterinarians who criticize industry practices, out of concern that veterinarians are uniquely well-positioned to persuasively and powerfully denounce industry abuses.

One of the industry groups central to these activities is the Animal Agriculture Alliance, which represents factory farms and other animal agriculture companies — or, as they playfully put it, they work for corporations “involved in getting food from the farm to our forks!” The group boasts that one of its prime functions is “Monitoring Activism,” by which they mean: “We identify emerging threats and provide insightful resources on animal rights and other activist groups by attending their events, monitoring traditional and social media and engaging our national network.”

Animal Agriculture Alliance website

Indeed, the Alliance frequently monitors and infiltrates conferences of industry critics and activists, then provides reports to their corporate members on what was discussed. As The Intercept previously noted when reporting on felony charges brought against animal rights activists with Direct Action Everywhere, or DxE, for peaceful filming and symbolic animal rescues inside one Utah farm that supplies Whole Foods and another owned by Smithfield — an action that showed how wildly at odds with reality is the bucolic branding of those farms — the Animal Agriculture Alliance issued a statement denouncing the activists for (ironically) harming their animals and urging law enforcement and “policymakers” to intervene on behalf of the industry against the activists.

In the emails obtained by the FOIA request, the Alliance and its allies frequently encourage their members to alert the FBI and Department of Homeland Security regarding actions by activists. In response to a project by DxE to create a map tracking factory farms, Lyle Orwig — chair of the agricultural company Charleston/Orwig, Inc. and a member of the Alliance board — proposed the retaliatory step of “taking photos of every DXE [sic] member” and posting them to the internet while accusing them of being “opposed to feeding the hungry.”

One person singled out for retaliation in these discussions was a popular, respected Bay Area veterinarian, Dr. Crystal Heath. As a local CBS affiliate television profile of her explained, Dr. Heath is the kind of veterinarian who we all as children are taught to admire.

Rather than working for corporations or state agencies engaged in cruel animal experimentation, or for factory farms making a large salary to provide the veneer of medical justification for their barbaric, torturous practices, Dr. Heath has devoted herself to shelter medicine, working for years with the Berkeley Humane Society and other nonprofit animal rescue groups, where she “has spayed and neutered more than 20,000 animals.” The CBS broadcast report provides a full picture of the humanitarian and self-sacrificing nature of her work.

But to the Animal Agriculture Alliance and its industry allies, Dr. Heath somehow became a grave danger, an “extremist” whose name needed to be circulated within her profession as someone to be aggressively shunned. And that is exactly what they did. What prompted this targeted campaign against her was nothing more than her use of her veterinarian expertise to express criticisms of industry abuses and excesses.

In May, The Intercept reported on a gruesome mass-extermination technique being used by Iowa’s largest pork producer, Iowa Select Farms, to kill large numbers of pigs which were deemed unnecessary and in need of “depopulation” due to the pandemic. The technique, called “ventilation shutdown,” or VSD, involves cutting off the air supply in barns and turning up the heat to intense levels so that “most pigs — though not all — die after hours of suffering from a combination of being suffocated and roasted to death.” The pigs who survive this excruciating ordeal are then shot in the head in the morning by farm employees. A video report produced by The Intercept and the video documentarian Leighton Woodhouse — based on footage obtained inside an Iowa Select barn by DxE as the pigs were slowly dying — was viewed by more than 150,000 people.

Numerous veterinarians were shocked by the use of this unspeakably cruel and gratuitous mass-extermination tactic, which imposes extreme, protracted suffering on highly intelligent, socially complex, sentient animals. And it created serious problems for the industry, with McDonald’s demanding an explanation it could use publicly, and even discussions — from the National Pork Producers Council — to invent a new, more pleasant and euphemistic name for the extermination technique:

One of the veterinarians indignant about ventilation shutdown extermination programs was Dr. Heath. She was part of a group of hundreds of her veterinarian colleagues to launch a campaign urging the American Veterinarian Medical Association to withdraw its approval of the use of this technique in limited, proscribed circumstances. Though the AVMA says it was not involved in the specific use of the extermination technique by Iowa Select, its guidelines approving of VSD were, as The Intercept documented, cited as justification by the company and its allies.

Dr. Heath was quoted in one news report on the controversy as saying: “I believe the majority of AVMA members do not approve of VSD except as a ‘last resort’ depopulation method and AVMA intended VSD to be used only in extreme conditions of infectious or zoonotic disease outbreaks or natural disasters. AVMA approval has allowed pig and poultry producers to use VSD as a cost-savings procedure to cheaply destroy unprofitable or excess animals.”

Due to her criticisms of these factory farm practices and her work with DxE in advocating industry reform, industry groups focused on her. In one email from April, a vice president of the Animal Agriculture Alliance, Hannah Thompson-Weeman, revealed that an “alert” had been sent about Dr. Heath to California members, accusing her of engaging in “extreme activism” and encouraging groups to “spread the word to your veterinarian contacts in California” — where Dr. Heath practices — “using private, members only channels.”

Following that “alert,” Dr. Heath began experiencing targeted campaigns against her online and within her profession. Though it cannot be proven that this was the result of the Alliance’s “alert,” what began happening to her for the first time in the wake of that alert tracked the language used against her by these industry groups. (The Alliance and Thompson-Weeman did not respond to The Intercept’s request for comments. Thompson-Weeman locked her Twitter account yesterday after we previewed this article and the SYSTEM UPDATE episode. The AVMA has denied that it was involved in Iowa Select’s use of VSD.)

What perhaps alerted the Alliance was one veterinarian group that accused her of being “part of an active campaign to cause as much harm as possible to our clients and ourselves,” announcing that they had alerted the Alliance about her. Veterinarian groups on Facebook posted their own warnings about her, and she was banned from some groups. Comments began appearing on her own Facebook page, purportedly from other veterinarians, accusing her of “deranged activism,” being “a liar who makes up stories,” “bastardizing our profession through every available method,” and claiming that she is “literally, by name, a topic of conversation in board rooms from Ag business to organized veterinarian medicine across the nation. Your name is literally toxic.”

What alarmed Dr. Heath most was the emergence online of anonymous flyers which contained a “BEWARE” warning at the top, along with her photo and a string of accusations, some of which were false, that claimed she harbors “an agenda that doesn’t include anything positive for our profession” and “expresses fondness” for “domestic terrorist organizations.” It warned that even allowing her access to the social media pages of veterinarians could be dangerous, and thus urged that she be blocked from all online forums, personal profiles, and social media groups.

It goes without saying that this sort of a campaign could be devastating to the career opportunities or ability to earn a livelihood of any veterinarian. Fortunately for Dr. Heath, she believes her hard-earned reputation with area clinics developed over many years will enable her to continue to work, but she believes, for very good reason, that “alerts” and campaigns of this sort would make it extremely difficult if not impossible for her to find work anywhere else. For a younger or less-established veterinarian seeing what was done to her, they would obviously think twice about speaking out or working against the factory farm industry, the obvious goal of such campaigns.

That the U.S. Department of Agriculture was in possession of the emails and other documents circulated by industry groups, and thus produced them as part of the FOIA request, indicates that, at the very least, government officials are being included in these discussions (the flyer about Dr. Heath and other social media postings regarding her were obtained by The Intercept from Dr. Heath, not by the FOIA request). What is clear is that the animal agricultural industry essentially operates their own private surveillance and “warning” networks, and uses their extensive influence within the halls of government power to aid their efforts to punish and retaliate against its critics and activists.

Dr. Heath is my guest on this week’s SYSTEM UPDATE. The episode, which can be viewed on The Intercept’s YouTube channel or on the player below, first reviews these new documents in detail obtained by the FOIA request, and I then speak to Dr. Heath about what she has endured as a result of her speaking out against this very powerful industry.

The post New Documents Reveal How the Animal Agriculture Industry Surveils and Punishes Critics appeared first on The Intercept.

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<![CDATA[Why Are Democrats Praying for the Speedy Recovery of a "Fascist Dictator"?]]> Sun, 04 Oct 2020 17:49:18 +0000 People typically rejoice over, not lament, the death of someone they genuinely believe is a fascist dictator.

The post Why Are Democrats Praying for the Speedy Recovery of a “Fascist Dictator”? appeared first on The Intercept.


House Whip James Clyburn (D-SC), on CNN, August 2, 2020

The typical reaction to the death of a tyrant — whether by revolutionary violence or natural causes — is not one of grief and sadness but joyous celebration. It is not hard to understand why: when a nation and its oppressed citizenry are finally liberated from the suffocating, savage grip of fascist dictatorship, they feel joy for themselves, their families and the future of their nation. That is the same reason people have always hoped for, or work toward, the death of despots: they want to rid themselves of those who impose tyranny on them.

When Romanians learned in 1989 of the summary execution of their despised dictator Nicolae Ceausescu, “residents t[ook] to the streets to celebrate the downfall of the dictator.” In 2006, “many Chileans celebrated the death of dictator Augusto Pinochet,” as “a cacophony of horns sounded as hundreds of thousands took to streets and plazas across the country when it was announced the man who ruled ruthlessly for 17 years had died at age 91, a week after suffering a heart attack.” “Cuban dictator Fidel Castro is dead, so celebrate we will,” read a 2016 South Florida Sun-Sentinel op-ed by a Cuban-American who appeared to genuinely believe that Castro was a vicious dictator, and thus expressed the natural, normal reaction of someone who believes a country has been freed from the grip of a despot. So typical is this reaction to the death of a leader perceived as a dictator that history is replete with countless similar examples over many decades and across the world.

Yet in the U.S., a radically different dynamic is playing out. Over the past several years, but particularly in the months heading into the 2020 election, it has become extremely common for prominent Democrats and their media allies to refer to President Trump as a dictator, a fascist, a tyrant hellbent on destroying U.S. democracy, a genocidal racist, and even a Nazi. And yet, the overwhelming reaction in those mainstream precincts to the news that the fascist dictator has contracted a potentially lethal virus is to hope and pray that he makes a speedy recovery whereby he can resume his democracy-destroying, genocidal, tyrannical, fascist rule.

In March of last year, as CNN put it, “two powerful House Democrats invoked Adolf Hitler’s actions in Germany and the treatment of Jews during World War I and in the 1920s to warn against the direction the US is moving in, with both saying Donald Trump’s presidency presents an unprecedented threat to democracy.” One of the Democratic lawmakers who explicitly invoked Nazism and Hitler as the proper prism to understand Trump’s rule was House Whip James Clyburn of South Carolina. Just two months ago, Clyburn went back on CNN and warned that Trump was preparing to hold despotic power even if he loses, pronouncing: “I feel very strongly that he is Mussolini, Putin is Hitler.”

CNN, March 20, 2019

Yet when Clyburn learned this week that our modern-day Hitler who is on the precipice of ending democracy had contracted a fatal virus, he did not celebrate but instead, for some reason, lamented the news, wishing “the First Family a speedy and complete recovery.” Why would you possibly wish a speedy recovery — rather than a quick demise — to someone you believe is a Hitler-like perpetrator of genocide whose recovery would enable fascism to continue? That seems counter-intuitive and counter-productive.

MSNBC star Rachel Maddow began invoking Nazism and Hitler in connection with Trump as early as 2016, when Politico reported that, once Trump secured the GOP nomination, the on-air personality “has been reading up lately on Adolf Hitler’s rise to power in Germany, the MSNBC anchor told Rolling Stone, because that’s where she thinks the United States could be headed.” Maddow has notoriously spent the last four years manically obsessed with the claim that Trump has such a corrupt relationship with Russian President Vladimir Putin that it is the Kremlin, thanks to Trump, which secretly runs the U.S. and is using that power to plot harm to large numbers of Americans by, for instance, seizing the power to cut off their heat in the dead of winter. Maddow was explicitly linking Trump to classic fascism as early as 2015.

Yet upon learning that the fascist, Kremlin-controlled, Nazi-like dictator had become ill, Maddow launched a one-woman crusade demanding that her fellow liberals pray earnestly for his recovery. She first posted an extremely effusive tweet: “God bless the president and the first lady. If you pray, please pray for their speedy and complete recovery…” Presumably in response to widespread liberal confusion and criticisms — wait, you spent four years telling us he’s a fascist racist Nazi-like despot and now you insist that we pray for his health? — Maddow devoted a segment on her show in which, with great passion and emotion, she urged her viewers to react to Trump’s COVID diagnosis with the same compassion and through the same prism as if a friend who smokes cigarettes learned she had lung cancer:

These sentiments were not unique to Maddow. Indeed, that all decent people should hope and pray for Trump’s speedy recovery was the virtually unanimous consensus of leading Democratic Party figures, expressed by Barack Obama, Kamala Harris, Pete Buttigieg, Hillary Clinton, Bill Clinton, Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders. “Jane and I wish the President and First Lady a full and speedy recovery,” said the Vermont Senator.

How is this messaging — we hope the racist fascist genocidal Nazi-like dictator gets well soon and returns to work? — not creating extreme cognitive dissonance among those who believed that they actually were sincere in their maximalist denunciations and invocations of fascism and Nazism regarding Trump? Shouldn’t liberals not just be confused but overtly disgusted at their leaders who want Trump to survive and return in full health to imposing fascism and genocide on Americans?

Here, for instance, is the fairly representative reaction of a left-wing political operative — the Democratic Socialist of America’s Jack Califano, who served as the 2020 Sanders Campaign’s Deputy Distributed Organizing Director — to Maddow’s segment urging that all good liberals pray for Trump’s recovery and avoid wishing ill on their fellow human being:

That reaction makes logical sense on its own terms. If one really does believe that Trump is a “genocidal Nazi” — a Hitler-equivalent fascist dictator engaged in the deliberate mass slaughter of a particular ethnic or religious group (genocide) — then it would be not just irrational but madness and moral bankruptcy to hope that the Nazi genocidal fascist makes a speedy recovery and returns to work. But that’s exactly what virtually every prominent Democratic Party leader is doing. Is Califano regretful about having worked for the presidential campaign of someone who sends warm wishes to a genocidal Nazi?

There are a few potential explanations that may account for this extremely unusual and confounding behavior of praying for, rather than against, the well-being of a fascist dictator. Perhaps Democratic leaders are simply pretending to be hoping for Trump’s well-being for political purposes while secretly hoping that he suffers and dies. Or perhaps national Democratic politicians have ascended to a state of spiritual elevation rarely seen in modern political history, in which they are capable of praying for even those they most dislike, including ones they believe are imposing fascism on their nation? Or perhaps, maybe more likely, Democratic leaders do not really believe the things they have spent four years saying about Trump and, like George W. Bush and Dick Cheney before him, are applying such labels of historic evil to him for political advantage but still see him as one of them, whom they intend to rehabilitate and honor once he is out of power.

Whatever else is true, their behavior upon hearing that someone they claim to regard as a genocidal racist fascist tyrant has contracted a fatal virus is extremely unusual when compared to how people throughout history react when learning of similar news. It is worth interrogating what accounts for such a baffling dynamic.

The post Why Are Democrats Praying for the Speedy Recovery of a “Fascist Dictator”? appeared first on The Intercept.

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<![CDATA[As Joe Rogan's Platform Grows, So Does the Media and Liberal Backlash. Why?]]> Tue, 22 Sep 2020 14:10:16 +0000 The popular podcast host is a political liberal by all metrics. So what explains the contempt he provokes in liberal circles?

The post As Joe Rogan’s Platform Grows, So Does the Media and Liberal Backlash. Why? appeared first on The Intercept.

Today’s SYSTEM UPDATE examining this topic — with guest Shant Mesrobian, former Obama 2008 strategist and author of a recent viral thread on the liberal contempt for Rogan — can be viewed on The Intercept’s YouTube channel.

Joe Rogan has amassed one of the largest and most influential media platforms in U.S. politics, if not the single most influential. The value of his program was quantified in May when the streaming service Spotify paid a reported $100 million for the exclusive rights to broadcast his podcast.

As one illustrative example of his reach, NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden appeared on Rogan’s program six days ago, and the episode has already been viewed more than 5 million times on YouTube alone. The first time Snowden appeared on his program was last October, and that episode, just on YouTube, has more than 16 million views. To put that in perspective: The top-rated cable news programs are the Fox News shows hosted by Tucker Carlson and Sean Hannity, and they average between 4 to 5 million viewers, or one-fourth the number of views Rogan’s discussion with Snowden generated.

Rogan is rarely discussed in mainstream political and media circles, which raises its own questions. Why does someone who packs such a big punch in terms of audience size and influence receive so much less media attention than, say, cable news hosts with audience sizes far smaller than his? Presidential candidates certainly recognize Rogan’s importance: All of the major Democratic candidates, according to him, requested to appear on his show. (The only ones he invited on were Bernie Sanders, Tulsi Gabbard, and Andrew Yang.)


Joe Rogan interviews Sen. Bernie Sanders on Aug. 6, 2019.

Photo: YouTube

Rogan was in the news this week after President Donald Trump favorably responded to a guest’s suggestion that Rogan host a four-hour, sit-down presidential debate between the two candidates. The mere suggestion that someone like Rogan could host as prestigious and high-minded an event as a presidential debate prompted condescending scorn from establishment media precincts.

Prior to that, one of the few times Rogan was discussed in mainstream political circles was when outrage among establishment Democrats ensued after Sanders touted a quasi-endorsement from Rogan. The argument was that Rogan’s views are so repellent, bigoted, and anathema to liberalism that no Democratic candidate should be associated with him (this anger was shared by some of Sanders’ own supporters including, reportedly, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez).

What is it, by the standards of U.S. political and media orthodoxy, that makes Rogan so radioactive? In March, billionaire and former NYC mayor Michael Bloomberg — who spoke at the 2004 GOP Convention in the middle of the Iraq War and war on terror to urge the reelection of George W. Bush and Dick Cheney, and who presided over and repeatedly defended the racially disparate “stop and frisk” police practice — endorsed Joe Biden for president, and Biden not only accepted but celebrated the endorsement, praising Bloomberg in the process:

What are the standards that make Michael Bloomberg an acceptable endorsement to tout but not Joe Rogan, given that the billionaire three-term mayor and former Republican has taken far worse positions and done far more damage to far more people than the podcaster could ever dream of doing?

That question is even more compelling when it comes to the Biden/Harris campaign’s touting of the endorsement of former Republican Gov. Rick Snyder of Michigan, widely blamed for the criminally negligent lack of clean drinking water which plagued primarily African American residents of Flint, Michigan, for many years. Not only did the Biden campaign accept Snyder’s endorsement, but they issued a press release trumpeting it:

What makes all of this more confounding is that Rogan is a fairly basic political liberal on almost every issue: He believes in the need for greater social spending for the nation’s poor and working class, opposes war and militarism, favors drug legalization, is adamantly pro-choice and pro-LGBT rights, and generally adheres to liberal orthodoxies on standard political debates. That is why he was so fond of Bernie Sanders and Tulsi Gabbard, and why Andrew Yang — whose signature issue was the universal basic income — was one of the few candidates he deemed worth talking to.

The objections typically raised to Rogan concern his questioning of some of the very recent changes brought about by trans visibility and equality, particularly asking whether it is fair for trans women who have lived their entire lives and entered puberty as biological men to compete against cis women in professional sports (a question also asked — and even answered in the negative — by LGBT sports pioneer Martina Navratilova, among many others), and whether young children are emotionally and psychologically equipped to make permanent choices about gender reassignment therapies and gender dysphoria.

If embracing and never questioning the full panoply of trans advocacy is a prerequisite to being permitted in decent society, I seriously doubt many prominent Democratic politicians will pass that test (even Kamala Harris, from San Francisco and the very blue state of California, has a very mixed record on trans rights). Moreover, though polling data is sparse, the data that is available show that there is still much work to do in this area: Only a small minority of Americans believe it is fair to allow trans women to participate in female professional sports.

If the standard is that anyone who even entertains debates over the maximalist and most controversial questions in this very new and evolving social movement is to be cast out as radioactive, liberalism and the Democratic Party will be a very small group. It will also have to proceed without the vast majority of political leaders whom they currently follow. Even on this issue of trans rights, Rogan’s views are in accord with the standard Democratic Party view: He advocates full legal protection and dignity for the right of trans people to live with their gender respected.

The other critique centers on Rogan’s willingness to invite on his show various pundits with far-right views. That’s a bizarre criticism of someone who purposely hosts a program designed to foster dialogue with people across the political spectrum. After all, if one employs the blatantly irrational tactic of attributing to Rogan the views of all his guests, he would be simultaneously everything and nothing.

But again, this is a standard which few if any Democratic Party leaders could meet. Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, and Bernie Sanders all went on Bill O’Reilly’s Fox News show, while Rep. Adam Schiff has appeared on Tucker Carlson’s program. Speaking with people with differing views is called politics and journalism, and if one is decreed radioactive for interacting with people with bad views, few will survive that standard. (Liberals also point to the fact that Rogan said he could not vote for Biden over Trump, but that was not on ideological grounds but based on the same narrative that Democratic political and media elites spent all of last year disseminating: namely, that Biden’s cognitive decline makes him unfit for the job.)

While Rogan is politically liberal, he is — argues former Obama 2008 campaign strategist and Rogan listener Shant Mesrobian — culturally conservative, by which he does not mean that Rogan holds conservative views on social issues (again, he is pro-choice and pro-LGBT rights). He means that Rogan exudes culturally conservative signals: He likes MMA fighting, makes crude jokes, hunts, and just generally fails to speak in the lingo of the professional managerial class and coastal elites. And it is those cultural standards, rather than political ones, that make Rogan anathema to elite liberal culture because, Mesrobian argued in a viral Twitter thread, liberals care far more about proper culture signaling than they do about the much harder and more consequential work of actual politics.

As Rogan’s platform grows, it is worthwhile to understand his appeal, his audience, and what he is doing that is new and different to attract such a large following. But it is also very worth examining the reaction to him by the political and media class because in that reaction, one finds many revealing attributes about how they think, what they value, and the priorities that they actually venerate. Today’s SYSTEM UPDATE on The Intercept’s You Tube channel with Mesrobian as my guest is devoted to examining those questions, or it can be viewed on the player below:

The post As Joe Rogan’s Platform Grows, So Does the Media and Liberal Backlash. Why? appeared first on The Intercept.

]]> 0 rogan Joe Rogan interviews Sen. Bernie Sanders, August 6, 2019
<![CDATA[Journalism's New Propaganda Tool: Using "Confirmed" to Mean Its Opposite]]> Sat, 05 Sep 2020 12:21:55 +0000 Outlets claiming to have “confirmed” Jeffrey Goldberg’s story about Trump’s troops comments are again abusing that vital term.

The post Journalism’s New Propaganda Tool: Using “Confirmed” to Mean Its Opposite appeared first on The Intercept.

One of the most humiliating journalism debacles of the Trump era played out on December 8, 2017, first on CNN and then on MSNBC. The spectacle kicked off on that Friday morning at 11 a.m. when CNN, deploying its most melodramatic music and graphics designed to convey that a real bombshell was about to be dropped, announced that anonymous sources had provided the network with a smoking gun proving the Trump/Russia conspiracy once and for all: During the 2016 campaign, Donald Trump Jr. had received a September 4 email with a secret encryption key that gave him advanced access to WikiLeaks’ servers containing the DNC emails which the group would subsequently release to the public 10 days later. Cable news and online media spontaneously combusted, as is their wont, in shock, hysteria and awe over this proof that WikiLeaks and Trump were in cahoots.

CNN has ensured that no videos of the festivities are available on YouTube for anyone to watch. That’s because the claim was completely false in its most crucial respect. CNN misreported the date of the smoking gun email Trump Jr. received: Rather than being sent to him on September 4 — 10 days prior to WikiLeaks’ public release, thus enabling secret access — the email was merely sent by a random member of the public after the public release by WikiLeaks (September 14), encouraging Trump Jr. to look at those now-public emails.

Though the original false report cannot be viewed any longer (except in small snippets from other networks, principally Fox, discussing CNN’s debacle), one can view the cringe-inducing video of CNN’s senior congressional correspondent Manu Raju explaining, after the Washington Post debunked the story, that “we are actually correcting” the reporting, doing his best to downplay what a massive blunder this was (though the whole thing is fantastic, my favorite line is when Raju says, with no small amount of understatement, “This appears to change the understanding of this story,” followed by, “Perhaps the initial understanding of what this email was, perhaps is not as significant based on what we know now”):

The CNN page which originally published the blockbuster story contains this rather significant correction at the top:

Washington (CNN) Correction: This story has been corrected to say the date of the email was September 14, 2016, not September 4, 2016. The story also changed the headline and removed a tweet from Donald Trump Jr., who posted a message about WikiLeaks on September 4, 2016.

So mistakes happen in journalism, even huge and embarrassing ones. Other than some petty schadenfreude, why is this worth remembering? The reason is that that sorry episode reflects a now-common but highly corrosive tactic of journalistic deceit.

Very shortly after CNN unveiled its false story, MSNBC’s intelligence community spokesman Ken Dilanian went on air and breathlessly announced that he had obtained independent confirmation that the CNN story was true. In a video segment I cannot recommend highly enough, Dilanian was introduced by an incredibly excited Hallie Jackson — who urged Dilanian to “tell us what we’ve just now learned,” adding, “I know you and some of our colleagues have confirmed some of this information: What’s up?” Dilanian then proceeded to explain what he had learned:

That’s right, Hallie. Two sources with direct knowledge of this are telling us that congressional investigators have obtained an email from a man named “Mike Erickson” — obviously they don’t know if that’s his real name — offering Donald Trump and his son Donald Trump Jr. access to WikiLeaks documents. … It goes to the heart of the collusion question. … One of the big questions is: Did [Trump Jr.] call the FBI?

MSNBC, Dec. 8, 2017

How could that happen? How could MSNBC purport to confirm a false story from CNN? Shortly after, CBS News also purported to have “confirmed” the same false story: that Trump Jr. received advanced access to the WikiLeaks documents. It’s one thing for a news outlet to make a mistake in reporting by, for instance, misreporting the date of an email and thus getting the story completely wrong. But how is it possible that multiple other outlets could “confirm” the same false report?

It’s possible because news outlets have completely distorted the term “confirmation” beyond all recognition. Indeed, they now use it to mean the exact opposite of what it actually means, thereby draping themselves in journalistic glory they have not earned and, worse, deceiving the public into believing that an unproven assertion has, in fact, been proven. With this disinformation method, they are doing the exact opposite of what journalism, at its core, is supposed to do: separate fact from speculation.

With this disinformation method, they are doing the exact opposite of what journalism, at its core, is supposed to do: separate fact from speculation.

CNN ultimately blamed its anonymous sources for this error, but refused to out them by insisting that it was a somehow a good faith mistake rather than deliberate disinformation (how did multiple “good faith” sources all “accidentally misread” an email date in the same way? CNN, in the spirit of news outlets refusing to provide the accountability and transparency for themselves that they demand from others, refuses to this very day to address that question).

But what is clear is that the “confirmation” which both MSNBC and CBS claimed it had obtained for the story was anything but: All that happened was that the same sources which anonymously whispered these unverified, false claims to CNN then went and repeated the same unverified, false claims to other outlets, which then claimed that they “independently confirmed” the story even though they had done nothing of the sort.

It seems the same misleading tactic is now driving the supremely dumb but all-consuming news cycle centered on whether President Trump, as first reported by the Atlantic’s editor-in-chief Jeffrey Goldberg, made disparaging comments about The Troops. Goldberg claims that “four people with firsthand knowledge of the discussion that day” — whom the magazine refuses to name because they fear “angry tweets” — told him that Trump made these comments. Trump, as well as former aides who were present that day (including Sarah Huckabee Sanders and John Bolton), deny that the report is accurate.

So we have anonymous sources making claims on one side, and Trump and former aides (including Bolton, now a harsh Trump critic) insisting that the story is inaccurate. Beyond deciding whether or not to believe Goldberg’s story based on what best advances one’s political interests, how can one resolve the factual dispute? If other media outlets could confirm the original claims from Goldberg, that would obviously be a significant advancement of the story.

Other media outlets — including Associated Press and Fox News — now claim that they did exactly that: “confirmed” the Atlantic story. But if one looks at what they actually did, at what this “confirmation” consists of, it is the opposite of what that word would mean, or should mean, in any minimally responsible sense. AP, for instance, merely claims that “a senior Defense Department official with firsthand knowledge of events and a senior U.S. Marine Corps officer who was told about Trump’s comments confirmed some of the remarks to The Associated Press,” while Fox merely said “a former senior Trump administration official who was in France traveling with the president in November 2018 did confirm other details surrounding that trip.”

In other words, all that likely happened is that the same sources who claimed to Jeffrey Goldberg, with no evidence, that Trump said this went to other outlets and repeated the same claims — the same tactic that enabled MSNBC and CBS to claim they had “confirmed” the fundamentally false CNN story about Trump Jr. receiving advanced access to the WikiLeaks archive. Or perhaps it was different sources aligned with those original sources and sharing their agenda who repeated these claims. Given that none of the sources making these claims have the courage to identify themselves, due to their fear of mean tweets, it is impossible to know.

But whatever happened, neither AP nor Fox obtained anything resembling “confirmation.” They just heard the same assertions that Goldberg heard, likely from the same circles if not the same people, and are now abusing the term “confirmation” to mean “unproven assertions” or “unverifiable claims” (indeed, Fox now says that “two sources who were on the trip in question with Trump refuted the main thesis of The Atlantic’s reporting”).

It should go without saying that none of this means that Trump did not utter these remarks or ones similar to them. He has made public statements in the past that are at least in the same universe as the ones reported by the Atlantic, and it is quite believable that he would have said something like this (though the absolute last person who should be trusted with anything, particularly interpreting claims from anonymous sources, is Jeffrey Goldberg, who has risen to one of the most important perches in journalism despite — or, more accurately because of — one of the most disgraceful and damaging records of spreading disinformation in service of the Pentagon and intelligence community’s agenda).

But journalism is not supposed to be grounded in whether something is “believable” or “seems like it could be true.” Its core purpose, the only thing that really makes it matter or have worth, is reporting what is true, or at least what evidence reveals. And that function is completely subverted when news outlets claim that they “confirmed” a previous report when they did nothing more than just talked to the same people who anonymously whispered the same things to them as were whispered to the original outlet.

Quite aside from this specific story about whether Trump loves The Troops, conflating the crucial journalistic concept of “confirmation” with “hearing the same idle gossip” or “unproven assertions” is a huge disservice. It is an instrument of propaganda, not reporting. And its use has repeatedly deceived rather than informed the public. Anyone who doubts that should review how it is that MSNBC and CBS both claimed to have “confirmed” a CNN report which turned out to be ludicrously and laughably false. Clearly, the term “confirmation” has lost its meaning in journalism.

The post Journalism’s New Propaganda Tool: Using “Confirmed” to Mean Its Opposite appeared first on The Intercept.

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<![CDATA[The Social Fabric of the U.S. Is Fraying Severely, if Not Unravelling]]> Fri, 28 Aug 2020 15:23:21 +0000 Why, in the world's richest country, is every metric of mental health pathology rapidly worsening?

The post The Social Fabric of the U.S. Is Fraying Severely, if Not Unravelling appeared first on The Intercept.

Today’s episode of SYSTEM UPDATE that explores this topic — the data demonstrating this unravelling, the factors causing it, and the consequences from it — can be seen on The Intercept’s YouTube channel or on the player below.

The year 2020 has been one of the most tumultuous in modern American history. To find events remotely as destabilizing and transformative, one has to go back to the 2008 financial crisis and the 9/11 and anthrax attacks of 2001, though those systemic shocks, profound as they were, were isolated (one a national security crisis, the other a financial crisis) and thus more limited in scope than the multicrisis instability now shaping U.S. politics and culture.

Since the end of World War II, the only close competitor to the current moment is the multipronged unrest of the 1960s and early 1970s: serial assassinations of political leaders, mass civil rights and anti-war protests, sustained riots, fury over a heinous war in Indochina, and the resignation of a corruption-plagued president.

But those events unfolded and built upon one another over the course of a decade. By crucial contrast, the current confluence of crises, each of historic significance in their own right — a global pandemic, an economic and social shutdown, mass unemployment, an enduring protest movement provoking increasing levels of violence and volatility, and a presidential election centrally focused on one of the most divisive political figures the U.S. has known who happens to be the incumbent president — are happening simultaneously, having exploded one on top of the other in a matter of a few months.

Lurking beneath the headlines justifiably devoted to these major stories of 2020 are very troubling data that reflect intensifying pathologies in the U.S. population — not moral or allegorical sicknesses but mental, emotional, psychological and scientifically proven sickness. Many people fortunate enough to have survived this pandemic with their physical health intact know anecdotally — from observing others and themselves — that these political and social crises have spawned emotional difficulties and psychological challenges.

But the data are nonetheless stunning, in terms of both the depth of the social and mental health crises they demonstrate and the pervasiveness of them. Perhaps the most illustrative study was one released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention earlier this month, based on an extensive mental health survey of Americans in late June.

One question posed by researchers was whether someone has “seriously considered suicide in the past 30 days”— not fleetingly considered it as a momentary fantasy nor thought about it ever in their lifetime, but seriously considered suicide at least once in the past 30 days. The results are staggering.

For Americans between 18-24 years old, 25.5 percent — just over 1 out of every 4 young Americans — said they had. For the much larger group of Americans ages 25-44, the percentage was somewhat lower but still extremely alarming: 16 percent. A total of 18.6 percent of Hispanic Americans and 15 percent of African Americans said they had seriously considered suicide in the past month. The two groups with the largest percentage who said yes: Americans with less than a high school degree and unpaid caregivers, both of whom have 30 percent — or almost 1 out of every 3 — who answered in the affirmative. A full 10 percent of the U.S. population generally had seriously contemplated suicide in the month of June.

In a remotely healthy society, one that provides basic emotional needs to its population, suicide and serious suicidal ideation are rare events. It is anathema to the most basic human instinct: the will to live. A society in which such a vast swath of the population is seriously considering it as an option is one which is anything but healthy, one which is plainly failing to provide its citizens the basic necessities for a fulfilling life.

The alarming CDC data extends far beyond serious suicidal desires. It also found that “40.9% of respondents reported at least one adverse mental or behavioral health condition, including symptoms of anxiety disorder or depressive disorder (30.9%), symptoms of a trauma- and stressor-related disorder (TSRD) related to the pandemic (26.3%), and having started or increased substance use to cope with stress or emotions related to COVID-19 (13.3%).” For the youngest part of the adult population, ages 18-24, significantly more than half (62.9 percent) reported suffering from depressive or anxiety disorders.

That mental health would suffer materially in the middle of a pandemic — one that requires isolation from community and work, quarantines, economic shutdowns, and fear of illness and death — is not surprising. In April, as the realities of isolation and quarantine were becoming more apparent in the U.S., we devoted a SYSTEM UPDATE episode to a discussion with the mental health experts Andrew Solomon and Johann Hari, both of whom described how “the traumas of this pandemic — the unraveling of our way of life for however long that lasts, the compulsory viewing of all other humans as threats, and especially sustained isolation and social distancing” — will exacerbate virtually every social pathology, including ones of mental health.

But what makes these trends all the more disturbing is that they long predated the arrival of the coronavirus crisis, to say nothing of the economic catastrophe left in its wake and the social unrest from this year’s protest movement. Indeed, since at least the financial crisis of 2008, when first the Bush administration and then the Obama administration acted to protect the interests of the tycoons who caused it while allowing everyone else to wallow in debt and foreclosures, the indicia of collective mental health in the U.S. have been blinking red.

In 2018, NBC News, using health insurance studies, reported that “major depression is on the rise among Americans from all age groups, but is rising fastest among teens and young adults.” In 2019, the American Psychological Association published a study documenting a 30 percent increase “in the rate of death by suicide in the United States between 2000 and 2016, from 10.4 to 13.5 per 100,000 people” and a 50 percent increase “in suicides among girls and women between 2000 and 2016.” It noted: “Suicide was the 10th-leading cause of death in the United States in 2016. It was the second-leading cause of death among people ages 10 to 34 and the fourth-leading cause among people ages 35 to 54.”

In March 2020, the New Yorker’s Atul Gawande published a survey of data from two Princeton economists, Anne Case and Angus Deaton, under the headline: “Why Americans Are Dying from Despair: the unfairness of our economy, two economists argue, can be measured not only in dollars but in deaths.” The decadeslong economic stagnation for Americans, the reversal of the American Dream, and the shockingly high mass unemployment ushered in by the pandemic are obviously significant reasons why these pathologies are rapidly worsening now.

Observing these trends is necessary but not sufficient for understanding their breadth and their impact. Why is virtually every metric of mental and spiritual disease — suicide, depression, anxiety disorders, addiction, and alcoholism — increasing significantly, rapidly, in the richest country on earth, one filled with advanced technologies and at least the pretense of liberal democracy?

One answer was provided by Dr. Laurel Williams, chief of psychiatry at Texas Children’s Hospital, to NBC when discussing the rise of depression: “There’s a lack of community. There’s the amount of time that we spend in front of screens and not in front of other people. If you don’t have a community to reach out to, then your hopelessness doesn’t have any place to go.”

That answer is similar to the one offered by the brilliant book on depression and modern western societies by Johann Hari, “Lost Connections,” along with his viral TED Talk on the same topic: namely, it is precisely the attributes that define modern Western societies that are crafted perfectly to deprive humans of their most pressing emotional needs (a book by Hari on addiction, “Chasing the Scream,” and an even-more-viral TED Talk about it, sounds a similar theme about why Americans are turning in horrifyingly large numbers to serious problems of substance abuse).

Much attention is devoted to lamenting the toxicity of our discourse, the hate-driven polarization of our politics, and the fragmentation of our culture. But it is difficult to imagine any other outcome in a society that is breeding so much psychological and emotional pathology by denying to its members the things they most need to live fulfilling lives.

Today’s SYSTEM UPDATE on The Intercept’s YouTube channel is devoted to exploring this unravelling of the social fabric: not just the data demonstrating that it is happening, but also what the causes are, and what the consequences are likely to be for our politics, our culture, our society generally. And the answers to the question prompted by all of this — where is the exit ramp to prevent these trends from worsening even further? — are as elusive as they are vital. It can also be viewed on the player below:

The post The Social Fabric of the U.S. Is Fraying Severely, if Not Unravelling appeared first on The Intercept.

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<![CDATA[Aaron Coleman, the 19-Year-Old Progressive Who Won His Kansas Primary, Speaks About His Troubled Past and Promising Present]]> Fri, 21 Aug 2020 22:25:27 +0000 In an exclusive video interview, the controversial young candidate from an impoverished background responds to critics.

The post Aaron Coleman, the 19-Year-Old Progressive Who Won His Kansas Primary, Speaks About His Troubled Past and Promising Present appeared first on The Intercept.

The unexpected primary victory on Monday in Kansas by progressive Democratic challenger Aaron Coleman should have been a political fairy tale. Coleman is a first-time candidate at the age of 19, and was outspent by more than 10-1 by his entrenched, corporatist incumbent-opponent, seven-term state Rep. Stan Frownfelter. Yet he narrowly eked out victory to become the Democratic nominee in a heavily blue district with no Republican on the ballot.

Yet now Coleman is engulfed in controversy based on serious misconduct from middle school when he was 12 and 13 years old. In an exclusive 30-minute video interview with The Intercept, his first since allegations about his past emerged, Coleman addresses the controversies surrounding his victory, his life story that led to his past acts as a child and his current candidacy as an adult, and his unusual political outlook generally. The video interview, which is quite illuminating, can be viewed on the player below or on The Intercept’s YouTube channel.

Inspired by the populist-left movement and working-class coalition that emerged during the 2016 Bernie Sanders presidential campaign, Coleman’s worldview is composed of several core beliefs that are virtually nonexistent in Kansas electoral politics: universal health care coverage, raising the minimum wage, state-funded trade schools, a Green New Deal, full reproductive rights for women, and the legalization of cannabis, with new revenue from marijuana sales going to public schools and to create free trade schools. Frownfelter, meanwhile, supports none of that. He joined with the GOP majority to restrict abortion rights and generally supports a corporatist agenda favored by his large-money donors.

Even more extraordinary are the conditions of Coleman’s childhood and life story: ones extremely common in contemporary American life yet, revealingly, vanishingly rare to see among elected political officials. Raised by a father who could not work due to severe mental health disabilities and a mother who is an under-employed teacher, Coleman’s childhood was one of poverty, at times not knowing where his next meal would come from. After dropping out of high school, he enrolled at a local community college in Kansas City to obtain his GED, and now splits his time between community college classes and his job as a part-time, hourly-wage dishwasher.

But far from a fairy tale, a dark cloud has quickly descended over Coleman’s improbable victory. The Kansas State Democratic Party has vowed to heavily finance an organized write-in campaign on behalf of Frownfelter. In a very negative New York Times article on Coleman’s win, leading state Democratic officials are quoted as pronouncing him unfit for office, vowing to pour whatever resources are needed to reelect the incumbent with write-ins. “Aaron Coleman is not fit to serve in the Legislature,” a spokesperson for Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly told the Times, while the Democratic House minority leader said of Frownfelter’s write-in campaign: “I hope he can pull it out so I don’t have to deal with this kid.”

Democratic leaders deny that their contempt for Coleman is due to his unseating of their longtime friend or his progressive agenda. Instead, they insist, they find him appalling because of serious misconduct in which he engaged when he was 12 and 13 years old as a middle school student. Specifically, as a middle school student, Coleman bullied several of his female classmates, including one who says that when they were in sixth grade, she attempted suicide due to his incessant mocking of her physical appearance. The worst event was when Coleman obtained from the internet a nude photo of one of his middle school classmates, and demanded more photos from her upon threat of publishing the one he had, which he made good on when she refused.

That middle school behavior is horrific, and several of the the girls say, credibly, that they suffered greatly. During the campaign, Coleman, when confronted with the accusations, immediately acknowledged that they were true, said he was deeply ashamed of what he did when he was 12 and 13, characterized his actions as the behavior of a “sick boy,” and says that as an adult he has reformed and evolved past the pathologies he suffered and is no longer the child from a very troubled and deprived background who did that. He cites the fact that there have been no similar accusations lodged against him in the past five years since he left junior high.

Coleman says he has reached out to his victims from middle school to make amends, though they have not responded, and says he is eager to speak to them should they wish so he can do what he can to repair the damage he caused. He also insists that society bears the burden along with him of repairing similar damage — by better funding public schools so that impoverished kids like him do not end up lost and abused by a failing system, and by providing services to victims of school bullying and other forms of childhood abuse to obtain the help they need.

All of this raises profound and important questions about whether adults should be judged by the actions they undertook when they were a child, particularly when they have apologized and expressed remorse. It has long been a staple of liberal philosophy that humans can and should be rehabilitated, not eternally condemned for bad acts, particularly those committed when they were very young. There is a reason courts are divided into adult courts and juvenile courts, and that many states bar minors from being tried and judged as adults even when they commit savage murders.

Just this week, the Democratic National Convention hosted as a speaker a convicted murderer named Donna Hylton, who committed one of the most gruesome crimes imaginable not as a junior high student but as an adult: She participated in a group that over the course of 15 days kidnapped, tortured, starved, raped and then murdered a man for ransom. She spent her prison time becoming a criminal justice advocate, and the DNC gave her a platform at their convention based on the belief that we should affirm the right of human beings to be rehabilitated even when they commit the most barbaric murders and rapes as an adult, let alone as a young child.

In 2018, after University of Oklahoma quarterback Kyler Murray won the Heismann Trophy at the age of 21, a USA Today reporter unearthed tweets he had posted when he was 14 and 15 that hurled ugly and bigoted anti-gay slurs. Murray apologized, insisting he no longer thinks the way he did when he was 15. A consensus quickly emerged that the journalist had engaged in shameful conduct because what someone does when they are young teenagers should not be held against them as adults.

How these long-standing liberal principles governing rehabilitation and childhood misconduct should be applied to Coleman’s election victory as an adult present interesting and important questions. So, too, does his background: If we say we want more candidates from working-class and impoverished families running for political office — as we should — do we make allowances for the fact that deprived childhoods often produce aberrant behavior as a child that are not common among those from more privileged backgrounds? After all, the British Journal of Psychiatry documented in 2014: “Poverty or low socioeconomic status (SES) during childhood is a well-known distal risk factor for subsequent criminal and substance misuse behaviours.”

How do we weigh various character flaws? If misogyny is the issue, how does Frownfelter’s anti-choice voting record as a fully grown adult weigh against Coleman’s abusive behavior as a child? When does remorse matter? Frownfelter has never expressed any, while Coleman has and continues to. If an unremorseful George Bush is welcomed in decent company after committing war crimes, implementing a worldwide torture regime, and destroying Iraq; if an unremorseful Bill Clinton is welcomed to speak at the Democratic National Convention after his longtime close friendship with pedophile Jeffrey Epstein and multiple women who accused him of rape and assault and harassment; and if Joe Biden is fit to serve as U.S. president despite numerous women complaining of inappropriate touching as a fully grown adult, why does Coleman’s actions as a 12-year-old render him unfit for a much less influential office?

It is vital to have consistently applied principles to ensure that these serious issues are not exploited and weaponized for partisan gain or other petty forms of of self-interest. And it is very difficult to locate such principles in the reaction to Coleman’s candidacy, to put it mildly.

Whatever else is true, nobody should form judgments about a person’s character and fitness without at least having the decency to hear from them in their own words as they discuss their actions, their life that led to those actions, and their sentiments about their past. It is in that spirt that I sat down today with Coleman for a 30-minute interview that I found very worth listening to and very enlightening in numerous respects.

Last night, I hosted a live chat on The Intercept’s YouTube channel to take questions from readers and viewers about a wide array of topics, including the Democratic Party convention, the Alex Morse attacks, the possible pardon of Edward Snowden, the latest Russiagate collusion “bombshell,” this article about Aaron Coleman, and several other issues. We also showed exclusive, never-before-seen video of an extraordinary and morbidly hilarious protest this month by Direct Action Everywhere against Smithfield Foods, one of the world’s worst companies, at a Virginia planning commission located next to the company’s headquarters.

The post Aaron Coleman, the 19-Year-Old Progressive Who Won His Kansas Primary, Speaks About His Troubled Past and Promising Present appeared first on The Intercept.

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<![CDATA[The U.S.-Supported Coup in Bolivia Continues to Produce Repression and Tyranny, While Revealing How U.S. Media Propaganda Works]]> Thu, 23 Jul 2020 16:12:38 +0000 Bolivia is the latest in a long line of thriving democracies destroyed as U.S. institutions cheer and lend support.

The post The U.S.-Supported Coup in Bolivia Continues to Produce Repression and Tyranny, While Revealing How U.S. Media Propaganda Works appeared first on The Intercept.

Today’s SYSTEM UPDATE episode on this topic — with guests Kathryn Ledebur, director of the Andean Information Network, who has lived and worked with coca farmers in Bolivia for the last 30 years, and Mark Weisbrot, co-director of the Center for Economic & Policy Research — will debut at 2:00 p.m. on The Intercept’s YouTube channel.

Bolivian Interim President Jeanine Anez takes part in a ceremony with the police in front of the Presidential Palace, in La Paz, Bolivia November 13, 2019. REUTERS/Luisa Gonzalez - RC2GAD9GFWF0

Bolivian Interim President Jeanine Áñez takes part in a ceremony with the police in front of the Presidential Palace in La Paz, Bolivia, on Nov. 13, 2019.

Photo: Luisa Gonzalez/Reuters

The U.S.-supported military coup in Bolivia has largely disappeared from western news outlets ever since the November 2019 massacres of pro-democracy protesters by the right-wing faction that seized power. But for Bolivians, the repression and tyranny that replaced their stable and thriving democracy endures. And, predictably, the “interim president” installed after the coup, Jeanine Áñez, continues to rule the country 10 months later, despite no possibility of being democratically elected, while she and her party plot how to prevent an election which all polls show will result in victory for the socialist party of toppled President Evo Morales.

What makes the coup in Bolivia and its aftermath so worthwhile to explore is not just the inherent importance of Bolivia itself: a country of 11 million people with a rich and unique ethnic, cultural and religious diversity, as well as an ample supply of the now-vital resource of lithium. It is also instructive because of how U.S. discourse evolved in support of the coup, with supposed “foreign policy experts” across the political spectrum — The Atlantic’s Yascha Mounk, Mother Jones’ Editor-in-Chief Clara Jeffery, former Obama official and Stanford Professor Michael McFaul, along with the Economist, the New York Times, and the Washington Post — spouting outright falsehoods to depict the destruction of Bolivian democracy as the salvation of it.

Since the coup last October, many of the key claims used to justify the ousting of Morales — most particularly claims by the Organization of American States that the election resulting in Morales’s victory was fraudulent — have been proven to have been lies. Yet not a single one of the foreign policy “experts” or media outlets have acknowledged their errors or even addressed these subsequent revelations, because they know that there are never any consequences for journalists and analysts as long as they remain subservient to the U.S. government agenda (while the New York Times reported on the studies proving the OAS claims to be baseless, they never acknowledged that their own reporting and editorializing treated those claims as true).

Bolivia is but the latest of a long line of thriving, stable democracies destroyed with the support if not the outright participation of the U.S. government, while jingoistic media figures disseminated the propaganda used to justify it all. And the suffering, violence, repression and tyranny left in its wake are then simply ignored by those who helped bring it about.

Today’s SYSTEM UPDATE, which debuts at 2:00 pm ET on The Intercept’s YouTube channel, explores all of these issues, provides an update on post-coup Bolivia, and dissects the key role played by propaganda from U.S. political and media venues. I’m joined by two of the most knowledgeable specialists on Bolivia: Kathryn Ledebur, director of the Andean Information Network, who has lived and worked with coca farmers in Bolivia for the last 30 years, and Mark Weisbrot, co-director of the Center for Economic & Policy Research, the first group to debunk the OAS claims of election fraud. For so many reasons, Bolivia matters, not just to people in the region but also in the U.S. 

The post The U.S.-Supported Coup in Bolivia Continues to Produce Repression and Tyranny, While Revealing How U.S. Media Propaganda Works appeared first on The Intercept.

]]> 0 Bolivian Interim President Jeanine Anez takes part in a ceremony with the police in front of the Presidential Palace, in La Paz Bolivian Interim President Jeanine Áñez takes part in a ceremony with the police in front of the Presidential Palace in La Paz, Bolivia, on Nov. 13, 2019.
<![CDATA[How "Cancel Culture" Repeatedly Emerged in My Attempt to Make a Film About Tennis Legend Martina Navratilova]]> Tue, 14 Jul 2020 17:58:37 +0000 The experiences of three pioneering LGBT women as part of the same film reveal much about the current moment.

The post How “Cancel Culture” Repeatedly Emerged in My Attempt to Make a Film About Tennis Legend Martina Navratilova appeared first on The Intercept.

four women smiling together

Hall of Fame inductee Martina Navratilova, second from right, laughs with tennis legend Billie Jean King during a group photo with Navratilova’s former doubles partner, Pam Shriver, far left, and former coach, Dr. Renée Richards, after enshrinement ceremonies at the International Tennis Hall of Fame in Newport, R.I., on July 15, 2000.

Photo: Elise Amendola/AP

Growing up as a gay child in South Florida in the late 1970s and into the dark 1980s era of Reagan and AIDS, my childhood hero was the tennis star Martina Navratilova. In 1975, at the age of 18, Navratilova fled Communist Czechoslovakia, leaving her entire family behind in a daring escape, to emigrate to the U.S. In the 1980s, she became one of the only openly gay celebrities in the world, an LGBT and feminist pioneer, and an outspoken political dissident.

I had other childhood heroes: the Pentagon Papers whistleblower Daniel Ellsberg; the Jewish ACLU lawyers who endured endless attacks to defend the First Amendment free speech rights of neo-Nazis to march through Skokie, Illinois, a town with numerous Holocaust survivors; and Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein, whose iconography was seared into my brain by my fixation with “All the President’s Men,” the book and subsequent film that chronicled their journalistic investigation of Watergate.

But Navratilova occupied a singular pedestal for me. She became one of the world’s most extraordinary and famous sports stars: Sports Illustrated ranked her as 19 on its list of the 20th Century’s Greatest Athletes, the second-highest woman behind Babe Zaharias, one spot behind Bill Russell, and one ahead of Ty Cobb. She won the Wimbledon singles crown nine times (Serena Williams has won seven), with her last Grand Slam title earned one month shy of her 50th birthday, when she became the 2006 U.S. Open Mixed Doubles champion. That was her 59th Grand Slam title, the most ever in tennis history by any player.

Her rivalry with U.S. tennis star Chris Evert in the late 1970s and throughout the ’80s was one of the greatest sports rivalries of the last century, if not the single greatest. They played 80 times (with Navratilova winning 43), including 14 times in Grand Slam finals (where Navratilova won 10). Their matches — a dramatic clash in personalities, cultures, branding, and playing styles — were watched by millions of people around the world on NBC, CBS, the BBC, and other global corporate networks.

Though I obsessively watched Navratilova’s matches and lived and died with every point, her sports prowess was perhaps the least significant factor for her importance to my adolescence. Everything about Navratilova was defiant, individualistic, brave, trailblazing, and orthodoxy-busting: in retrospect, she was a classic existential hero, someone who refused to have her life constrained or identity suppressed by societal dictates.

Not only was she openly gay at a time when very few were, but she traveled the world with her then-wife Judy Nelson, sitting her prominently in her player’s box and forcing male sports network announcers to awkwardly struggle for a vocabulary to describe their relationship when the camera panned to her group of supporters (they usually settled on “Martina’s special friend” or “long-time companion”).

In 1981, Navratilova hired as her coach a transgender woman Dr. Renée Richards — a former Navy pilot, eye surgeon, and captain of the Yale tennis team — who had, in the 1970s, successfully sued the Woman’s Tennis Association for the right to complete in professional women’s tournaments. Decades before the world would celebrate or even know about Laverne Cox, Caitlyn Jenner, and Chaz Bono, there, alongside Navratilova’s wife at the planet’s most lucrative corporate televised sporting events was, thanks to Navratilova, one of the only visible trans women in the world. Richards coached Navratilova to two Wimbledon championships.

All of this cost Navratilova millions of dollars in commercial endorsements, as her rival, the heterosexual, all-American girl-next-door Chris Evert became America’s sweetheart and the lucrative face of corporate America. While already at the top of the game, Navratilova made herself even less corporate-friendly by transforming her body into a towering mass of muscles and agility using an intensive training regimen that caused male sportswriters and tennis fans to routinely claim that she was not a “real woman” and to insist that it was unfair that “Chrissie” should have to compete against someone so muscular and powerful. That embittered attitude hardened as Navratilova’s body transformation produced greater and greater dominance: from 1982 until 1984, she defeated the once-supreme Evert 12 consecutive times.

But Navratilova, for all the booing and jeers and journalistic insults she endured, never flinched from her pioneering role on behalf of female athletes, gay equality, and trans visibility. Along with Billie Jean King, she led the way in building a space for women to commercially succeed on equal terms with men in the world of professional sports. She transformed the conception of what female athletes are capable of achieving: Her training regimen and body transformation to this day inspire how female athletes train.


In this June 30, 1988, file photo, defending champion Martina Navratilova reaches to shake hands with the umpire as a dejected Chris Evert walks off court after their women’s singles semifinal match on the Centre Court at Wimbledon. Navratilova won the match 6-1, 4-6, 7-5.

Photo: Robert Dear/AP

And added onto all of that social and cultural dissidence was her political outspokenness. Despite being told that her status as an immigrant to the U.S. should make her less willing to criticize the U.S. government — after all, look at what this country gave you, so this rationale went and still goes — Navratilova viewed it the opposite way: She believed that she had come to the U.S. precisely to escape repression and obtain liberation, so she refused to be told that she had to suppress her opinions.

Reflecting how she lived her whole life, she was one of the first prominent people to denounce the Bush administration after the 9/11 attacks for exploiting the terror threats to erode civil liberties, causing intense controversy. As a result, she was told by CNN’s then-anchor Connie Chung on national television — in an interview I wrote about in 2012 — that she should either keep her mouth shut or go back to Czechoslovakia: “I can tell you that when I read this, I have to tell you that I thought it was un-American, unpatriotic. I wanted to say, go back to Czechoslovakia. You know, if you don’t like it here, this a country that gave you so much, gave you the freedom to do what you want,” Chung said.

As a preadolescent child and then a teenager who implicitly knew — without understanding why — that society had somehow formed a moral judgment that, by virtue of being gay, I was bad and broken, I instinctively identified with Navratilova. Memories are still vivid of my father, a Chris Evert fan like most of the men of his generation, routinely making derogatory comments about Navratilova and her player’s box, not out of malice, but just channeling the prevailing mores of that era. The scorn he expressed toward her drove me further to secretly adore a woman whose identity and choices were so anathema to what societal constraints demanded of her.

Once deep into adulthood, I did not think much about Navratilova. But after the Snowden reporting in 2013 elevated my platform as a journalist, she began talking to me on Twitter. (The first tweet she ever sent me was the only time I can ever remember being starstruck in my life, including when I developed a friendship with Ellsberg; after the first time it happened, I called my best friend from childhood with the kind of giddy glee typical of a young teenager who meets their favorite pop idol.) We then began following each other and occasionally speaking via direct message.

My reaction led me to revisit the question of why Navratilova was so influential, such a looming role model for me, through childhood and into my adolescence and even early adulthood. I realized that it went far beyond the mere fact that she was one of the few openly gay celebrities at the time. That my childhood hero was so unlikely — a lesbian athlete who grew up behind “the Iron Curtain” — led me to think about how we choose our role models, the ability of humans to influence one another across demographic and cultural boundaries, and the power of individuals to transcend societal constraints through some inscrutable force of will and inherent quest for personal freedom.

In 2017, I decided to make a feature-length documentary not only about Navratilova’s life, but also her role in my life, devoted to exploring all of these questions. We quickly found a partner in Reese Witherspoon, who had shortly before created a new production company called Hello Sunshine devoted to telling stories of “strong, complicated women,” and we then announced the project.


Credit: Logo

Two years later, despite the backing of a highly influential Hollywood figure and readily available financing, filming has not begun, and it may never begin. There are many reasons why: My life was unexpectedly consumed most of last year by extremely contentious reporting in Brazil on the massive secret archive provided by a source and the extensive fallout from it, including the Bolsonaro government’s ongoing attempts to imprison me for it; the Covid-19 pandemic then made travel impossible; and Navratilova’s political path diverged greatly from my own, as she became a hardcore follower of deranged Russiagate fanatics such as Seth Abramson and other unhinged #Resistance charlatans, as well as an embittered critic of Bernie Sanders and ultimately, once the film stalled, of me (which, to me, made the film more interesting but also more complicated to make).

But the major factor that delayed the film, perhaps permanently, was a series of episodes associated with what is often called “cancel culture.” That is a term I dislike due to its lack of definitional precision and inaccurate connotations that it is something novel — it is not — but it is also unavoidable when referencing ongoing debates about “free discourse.”

This is not — I repeat, not — an article about how I was victimized by “cancel culture” or how “cancel culture” stopped this film from being made. None of that is true: I have never been victimized or silenced by “cancellation” tactics nor is this phenomenon what stalled the film. I still hope to make some version of the documentary.

But others are victimized by it. And in the course of developing the film, several fascinating episodes emerged that are reflective, if not a pure manifestation, of what is being called “cancel culture,” involving two LGBT women who are both brilliant and pioneering filmmakers who used their cinematic talents to radically advance trans visibility and equality, as well as Navratilova herself. Given the latest outbreak of controversies surrounding this dynamic of “cancel culture,” it seems instructive to describe and assess these episodes.

The first step after signing our development deal with Witherspoon’s company was to find a director and, beyond that, someone who would collaborate in shaping all aspects of the film. I immediately knew who I wanted: Kimberly Peirce, who had directed the extraordinary and groundbreaking 1999 film “Boys Don’t Cry.”

That film was based on the true story of Brandon Teena, a trans boy who was raped and murdered in Nebraska in 1993 just weeks after turning 21. As an unknown filmmaker at the age of 25 or so, Peirce began working on the story in the mid-1990s at a time when there was little-to-no trans visibility, especially in Hollywood and particularly for trans men, a concept few back then even knew existed.

Peirce fought for more than three years just to get the film made. It ended up a smashing success: produced for less than $2 million, it earned more than $20 million in box office receipts internationally. More remarkably, it earned an Academy Award nomination for the then-unknown Chloë Sevigny as Best Supporting Actress, while the relatively obscure Hilary Swank was chosen by the Academy over Meryl Streep, Julianne Moore, and Annette Bening as Best Actress for her role as Teena. To play the role, Peirce required the 24-year-old Swank to live as a man for months prior to filming. The success of “Boys Don’t Cry” made Peirce one of the most sought-after young directors in Hollywood.

Peirce’s success with “Boys Don’t Cry” catapulted the issue of violence against trans people into mainstream discourse. Along with Swank, Peirce spoke about Brandon Teena, gender-based violence, and trans identity on “The Charlie Rose Show” in 1999:

By coincidence, I knew and was friends with Peirce in high school. We did not go to the same high school, but we were the top debaters for our respective high schools, with an intense rivalry of our own. We often met in the finals of statewide tournaments. Despite the rivalry, we developed a close friendship, and it was always clear to me that Peirce, whose brilliance and magnetism was quite obvious even back then, would make a huge mark on the world.

Though we did not continue our friendship after college, and thus had not spoken for more than two decades, there was an intimacy and warmth immediately evident the first time I called about the possibility of directing the film, as though our friendship had never been interrupted. On that initial call, we ended up talking about Navratilova, the film, and life for two hours. That Peirce knew me in my teenage years, which the film would examine, made it seem as though the universe had brought us together for this project.

As we explored how the film could be made, we also caught up on each other’s lives. Along with my husband, we eventually met and had dinner in San Francisco after I spoke at an animal rights conference. I learned that Peirce had come out as lesbian in her 20s, and as gender fluid after that. Peirce recounted personal explorations of gender, wearing tuxedos to Hollywood awards shows and becoming increasingly comfortable publicly expressing the masculine part of identity.

Kimberly Peirce arrives at the Film Independent Spirit Awards on Saturday, Feb. 25, 2017, in Santa Monica, Calif. (Photo by Richard Shotwell/Invision/AP)

Kimberly Peirce arrives at the Film Independent Spirit Awards on Feb. 25, 2017, in Santa Monica, Calif.

Photo: Richard Shotwell/Invision/AP

Another thing I learned is what happened to Peirce after being invited in 2016 to speak about “Boys Don’t Cry” at Reed College in Oregon. The speech was to take place after a showing of the film. But almost immediately after Peirce tried to begin to speak, student protesters rushed the stage and began screaming and hurling insults and epithets. Signs had been posted aimed at Peirce that read: “Fuck Your Transphobia,” “You Don’t Fucking Get It,” and “Fuck This Cis White Bitch.” For more than two hours, screaming students refused to let Peirce speak and vowed never to let the event happen at Reed. Peirce stood accused of transphobia.

How did the gender nonbinary director of one the most groundbreaking films for trans people ever produced by Hollywood become the violent enemy of these trans activists to the point of being deemed so irremediably evil that Reed students could not hear the event? They accused Peirce of being a profiteer off of trans lives and a privileged “cis woman” for having cast another cis woman, Swank, in the role of Teena, rather than a trans male actor.

Peirce tried explaining that, though she wanted to cast a trans male actor and interviewed many, at the time she could not find an openly trans male actor in Hollywood who could carry the film the way Swank was able to; that Peirce was not a cisgender woman but gender fluid; that the condition for Swank being cast was she had to live as a male for months before shooting; and that the Oscar that Swank won over Hollywood’s most acclaimed actresses was proof that she did justice to Teena.

Peirce also echoed what Swank herself said when accepting the Oscar shortly after being embraced by Peirce: that nobody made money off the film and instead did it as an arduous labor of love, knowing the career risks (Swank’s total fee for the film was $3,000):

But the opportunity to explain any of that was crushed. As Columbia professor Jack Halberstam — who is nonbinary and was assigned female at birth — detailed on his blog covering queer issues on campus, Reed students did everything possible to prevent the event from taking place. “Student protestors had removed posters from all around campus that advertised the screening and lecture and they formed a protest group and arrived early to the cinema on the night of the screening to hang up posters,” he wrote, adding:

These posters voiced a range of responses to the film including: “You don’t fucking get it!” and “Fuck Your Transphobia!” as well as “Trans Lives Do Not Equal $$” and to cap it all, the sign hung on the podium read: “Fuck this cis white bitch”!! The protestors waited until after the film had screened at Peirce’s request and then entered the auditorium while shouting “Fuck your respectability politics” and yelling over her commentary until Peirce left the room. After establishing some ground rules for a discussion, Peirce came back into the room but the conversation again got out of hand and finally a student yelled at Peirce: “Fuck you scared bitch.” At which point the protestors filed out and Peirce left campus.

(At the time we were working together, and again in an email this week, Peirce described a somewhat less abrupt ending to the evening than the ones news accounts depicted: She said she managed to stay in an effort to reason with the students wanting to hear the speech, and as some protesters repeatedly interrupted and screamed, was able to answer some questions before leaving).

An editorial in the entertainment industry publication IndieWire about the Reed students’ shutdown of Peirce’s speech mostly took the students’ side even while noting that “‘Boys Don’t Cry’ became the first film to represent transgender masculinity in a believable way”; that “‘Boys Don’t Cry’ is a vital film, simultaneously joyous and brutal; it was game-changing in its representation of trans existence at the time; and the Reed protests “may be a misguided attack on a respected queer filmmaker and vital piece of independent film history.” Nonetheless, it announced, “it would be irresponsible to dismiss the complaints outright” because “the movie portrays the plight of a transgender man, but it doesn’t feature a transgender performer.”

Are debates about whether directors should only cast LGBT actors to play LGBT roles reasonable? I suppose. Personally, I have always viewed acting as a craft where people embody others including those who are unlike them, rather than identical to them. And particularly for the era when “Boys Don’t Cry” was made, the demand that a trans male should have been cast in the starring role deviates from anything resembling reality.

Nonetheless, I can certainly see the validity of the argument now that trans actors in particular have a dearth of opportunities and thus should be given jobs in film when possible. But to scream at someone and berate them to the point where they are barred from speaking to those who want to hear them because of their inability to cast a trans man in a film two decades ago is thuggish and authoritarian, and to do so toward someone of Peirce’s profile — shaped by having taken immense career risks to make this film — is madness of the highest order.

By no means is the rageful reaction Peirce encountered at Reed College representative of sentiments generally toward the film. Just last year, it received one of the highest honors when the Library of Congress added it to its National Film Registry. And Peirce told me that, in showing the film around the country, this was the only time she had experienced anything like this. But the attack on Peirce on that campus — one geared not toward critiquing but silencing — was appalling. As Halberstam wrote, “We have to pick our enemies very carefully. Spending time and energy protesting the work of an extremely important queer filmmaker is not only wasteful, it is morally bankrupt and misses the true danger of our historical moment.

As Peirce and I worked over the next few months, it became apparent that we had different creative visions for the film: in large part because Navratilova occupied a large role in Peirce’s own development as a queer teenager and young adult lesbian. So we ended up deciding we would search for a new director.

But learning about what happened — how Peirce’s groundbreaking work in “Boys Don’t Cry” has been treated in some precincts as something so unspeakably evil that it should not even be heard — has stayed with me to this very day. And with my fellow producers, I did spend a nontrivial amount of time discussing how this controversy surrounding Peirce might affect the film we were making, particularly given that it was to include several of the same topics.

Our next director was as perfectly suited for this film as Peirce was, and we found her with the same type of speed and ease that suggested it was meant to be. A friend who works in the film world, knowing I was searching for a new director, recommended that I watch “Prodigal Sons,” the 2008 documentary by Kimberly Reed about her first time returning home to Montana, where she grew up and where her family still lived, after becoming a trans woman.

The film was exceptional, defying all my expectations of what it would be. Hearing the summary — sophisticated trans woman living with her wife in Manhattan goes back to Montana to shock the locals with her transition — I expected condescending and smug denunciations of how the primitive conservative rubes in Montana reacted with immaturity and bigotry upon learning that the blond high school jock — literally the star quarterback on the football team — was now a woman. “Prodigal Sons” was the opposite of that caricature; it was as remarkably moving, humanistic, raw, and honest film that treated its subjects, and its subject, with great respect and therefore constantly subverted expectations.

I knew as soon as I was done watching the film that I wanted Reed to direct my film about Navratilova. I flew to New York with my husband and met Reed and her wife and, over dinner, discussed our lives and the film. Everything clicked. Reed is very smart, perceptive, and empathetic. She’s obviously spent immense time thinking about how one transcends societal dictates, and her film was a courageous testament to self-exploration, an overarching theme of the film we had set out to make.

Even her biography was perfectly compatible with me and the film: Like Peirce, Reed was born the same year as I was. Not only did she also admire Navratilova in her youth but — along with being high school quarterback — she was also captain of her tennis team. And also like Peirce, Reed was a pioneer in using film to inject trans visibility and discussions of trans identity into mainstream precincts. In 2010, Oprah Winfrey watched “Prodigal Sons” and was so moved by it that she had Reed on her show, heaped praise on the film, and conducted what for its time was a searingly deep, sensitive, and sophisticated discussion of transgender identity:

A second film Reed made, the 2018 documentary “Dark Money,” was at least as impressive as “Prodigal Sons.” Examining how nontraceable corporate money corrupts the democratic process — with a focus on its contamination of Montana politics — it, too, avoided all banalities and subverted all expectations. Rather than casting Democrats and liberals as the helpless victims of GOP dark money — the standard way this topic is discussed — Reed focused on how anti-corporate Republicans in her home state are being targeted, slandered, and removed from office by murky corporate interests as punishment for any deviation from the corporatist agenda.

The more Reed and I talked, the more we worked together to shape what the film would be, the more convinced I became that I had found the perfect partner. My excitement about the project reached its peak as we began finalizing her contract and planning her first trip to Brazil to start filming.

But then, in December 2018, everything changed. Navratilova had seen photos posted on Twitter of a trans woman who, without undergoing sex reassignment surgery, was competing as a professional athlete in women’s sports, specifically cycling. This trans woman was not only competing but beginning to win, sometimes in a dominant fashion, even though, in her mid-30s, she was already past the normal prime for cycling competition. Navratilova observed that she was vanquishing professional female athletes who were cis women and had lived their entire lives, and gone through puberty, as women.

It was unclear exactly what photo Navratilova saw, but I believe it was the one most frequently used online to rile people up into objecting to the participation of trans women in professional sports, particularly preoperative trans women. It was the photo below of cyclist Veronica Ivy, formerly known as Rachel McKinnon. Ivy, in addition to becoming a champion women’s cyclist after her transition, has also become a vocal proponent of allowing trans women to participate in sports. At the age of 37, reported the cycle journal Bicycling in 2019, “Rachel McKinnon dominated the competition at the Masters Track Cycling World Championships in Manchester, England, this past weekend, celebrating her second consecutive world title and world record in the 200-meter match sprint.”

On Twitter — the worst possible place to discuss pretty much anything, but particularly intricate debates relating to trans equality — Navratilova, after seeing the photo, wondered aloud whether trans women who have not had sex-reassignment surgery and who have lived most of their lives as men should be able to compete in female sports. Do people who are assigned male at birth and go through puberty and develop muscle mass and other secondary characteristics have an unfair advantage no matter how many hormones they take, Navratilova seemed to ponder aloud? (It was asking this same question about the fairness of trans woman in professional sports that, to this day, causes people to label podcaster Joe Rogan an anti-trans bigot).

What ultimately caused the most controversy was Navratilova’s somewhat clumsy focus on the presence of male genitalia in asking this question. A penis and testicles, in and of themselves, do not confer competitive advantages in a cycling race, just as having them surgically removed does not constitute an impediment. But for people of Navratilova’s generation, being a trans woman by definition entailed undergoing sex-reassignment surgeries to remove male genitalia and replace it with a constructed vagina and breasts — like her coach and friend Renée Richards did before insisting on the right to compete on the women’s tennis tour.

For activists of that generation, having a penis and being a woman were mutually exclusive, particularly when it came to the right to compete against other women for cash, prizes, and glory. So, for Navratilova, there was nothing about Ivy’s participation in professional sports that, at least at first glance, appeared fair or sensible to Navratilova, notwithstanding the fact that Ivy and other trans woman were required to take anywhere between six to 24 months of hormonal treatment before being permitted to compete.

All of this led Navratilova, in a now-deleted tweet heard ’round the world, or at least in many volatile Twitter precincts, to wonder aloud: “Clearly that can’t be right. You can’t just declare yourself to be a female and be able to compete against women. There must be some standards, and having a penis and competing as a woman would not fit that standard…”

It takes little imagination to guess what the reaction was to this tweet. The denunciations of Navratilova as an anti-trans bigot were instantaneous, swift, and brutal, and they took zero account of her lifetime, pioneering devotion to LGBT equality, including the extensive and sustained sacrifices she made by having a trans woman as a coach decades ago when gay women, to say nothing of trans women, were all but invisible. All of that activism and courageous sacrifice for her beliefs was all wiped out with a single tweet.

The condemnations were led by Ivy herself, who proclaimed, “Welp, guess Navratilova is transphobic.” Ivy then issued her marching orders: “She could delete the tweets and replace them with an apology.” Much of Twitter was roiled with accusations that Navratilova — due to a single tweet — was a bigot and an enemy of the trans movement.

Navratilova herself tried, of course to no avail, to ask for some understanding and generosity for interpreting her earnestly asked question, requesting that her transgression be put into the context of her long life’s work. To Ivy, she wrote, “Because it seems to me my decades of speaking out against unfairness and inequality just don’t count with you at all… so I have had enough of this…”

A trans woman activist and former Navy SEAL weighed in to tell Ivy and her allies: “I’m close friends with @Martina & tell you 100% she is NOT transphobic…Might be misinformed on subject as MANY in public….Not everyone is ‘phobic’ & hateful if there is disagreement #teach.” This testimonial about Navratilova’s character from a trans activist and her pleas to “teach” rather than castigate was, of course, quickly swatted away as an I-have-a-trans-friend triviality. 

Not only had Navratilova been a proponent of trans rights decades ago when few were, particularly those with such a public platform, but she’s continued to be a stalwart opponent of anti-trans bigotry. In 2017, she denounced efforts to, in her words, “Purge Transgender People From American Life” — which Navratilova called “pathetic” and vowed: “This will not stand, wrong side of history.” The same year, Navratilova vehemently and quite publicly condemned fellow tennis legend Margaret Court for bigoted remarks about trans people:

If Martina Navratilova is the bigoted enemy of the cause of trans inclusion and equality, who are its enlightened allies?

But Ivy was in no mood for understanding or context; she was there to castigate, not converse, persuade, or nurture understanding. She contemptuously dismissed Navratilova’s plea to consider her life work as a distraction to the matter at hand, an obvious irrelevancy: “It doesn’t change the fact that you did something very wrong today, no. Past good deeds don’t give someone a pass today.”

Navratilova then went into full-blown repentance mode. She repeatedly apologized for her initial tweet. She vowed to delete any tweets that trans people found offensive, insisting that she spoke without having thought the issue through sufficiently and without having been informed. She took a vow of silence, promising to listen and not speak on the subject again until she could properly inform herself.

But none of that was good enough. Even after deleting the offending tweets and apologizing, Navratilova continued to be branded an anti-trans bigot. She was told that she had “harmed” trans people and that deleting her tweets and apologizing was not enough. She was not being attacked and denounced, she was told, but merely “held accountable” by those she had harmed.

Navratilova, as promised, did not speak again on these issues two months. When she finally did, it caused an explosion in this debate.

On February 17, 2019, in an op-ed in the London Times, she published a column recounting that she had promised to study the issue further and, in typical fashion, boldly and fearlessly announced: “Well, I’ve now done that and, if anything, my views have strengthened.”

Not only did she reaffirm her view that it was unfair for trans women to complete against cis women in professional sports, but now she went further, declaring it a form of “cheating,” particularly when sex-reassignment surgery was not required but instead merely a regimen of hormone treatments that could be reversed at any time. Navratilova wrote:

To put the argument at its most basic: a man can decide to be female, take hormones if required by whatever sporting organisation is concerned, win everything in sight and perhaps earn a small fortune, and then reverse his decision and go back to making babies if he so desires….It’s insane and it’s cheating. I am happy to address a transgender woman in whatever form she prefers, but I would not be happy to compete against her. It would not be fair.

What happened here seems clear. Navratilova began by asking an earnest question, one which is on the minds of many people as they watch these profound societal changes but are uninformed about the science and the specific claims invoked to justify these changes. Once she was excoriated without any mercy or understanding, it drove her further into a feeling of alienation from her accusers.

Watching these attacks on Navratilova, anti-trans activists in J.K. Rowling’s Britain — Ground Zero for anti-trans sentiments — quickly recognized the opportunity to recruit a valuable ally to their cause: a woman who has done as much as anyone in modern history to make it possible for women to compete on an equal commercial footing in professional sports. And thus did Navratilova’s manifesto appear in the U.K.’s largest establishment paper. This may not be a rational or noble thought process, but it is a human one: It is natural to be repelled by those who seem more interested in attacking and bashing you and who seem to want to bully you into submission, rather than attempting to persuade you and win you over to their cause with reason and dialogue.

It seems almost certain that Navratilova’s old coach and friend, Renée Richards, also played a decisive role in her didactic op-ed. After it was published, Richards told The Telegraph that she agreed with Navratilova: “The notion that one can take hormones and be considered a woman without sex reassignment surgery is nuts in my opinion.” According to The Telegraph, Richards “also revealed that she would never have competed as a woman if she had transitioned in her 20s rather than 40s because she ‘would have beaten the women to a pulp.'” Navratilova promptly tweeted the interview: “My friend Renee Richards:).”

Above all else, this was a shining monument to how social media coarsens sensitive debates to the point where dialogue and understanding become impossible. The ethos of conflict and destruction — “cancellation,” if you must — transforms people from their initial posture of seeking understanding and showing humility into warriors devoted to destroying their critics lest they be destroyed first. Everyone retreats to their militant corners and prepares for battle. Anger (and fear) over being mercilessly savaged results in digging more adamantly and uncompromisingly into the initial preliminarily held opinion, which then become immovable dogma.

As tribalistic beings, with a strong survival instinct, none of us are immune to these degrading effects of the discourse wars that play out in front of screaming virtual audiences and in short snippets of messaging that permit no nuance or compromise. At times, it seems we’ve been thrusted in a gladiator-like battle to the death over our reputations, while screaming fans wait for and then cheer any sign of blood. The last thing one is inclined to do in a gladiator ring is seek communion with one’s opponents or show any humility or vulnerability. And so goes our discourse over the most complex and novel social questions, increasingly confined to the uniquely ill-suited venue of social media.

Whatever the exact causes of Navratilova’s trajectory, any willingness on the part of mainstream LGBT groups to extend her understanding from her December tweets evaporated upon publication of this February op-ed, as she surely knew would happen. Navratilova — the LGBT icon and feminist pioneer in sports — was expelled from Athlete Ally, a group that advocates for LGBT athletes. In its statement, the group said Navratilova’s article was “transphobic, based on a false understanding of science and data, and perpetuate[s] dangerous myths that lead to the ongoing targeting of trans people through discriminatory laws, hateful stereotypes and disproportionate violence.”

Referencing her earlier tweets, the group added:

This is not the first time we have approached Martina on this topic. In late December, she made deeply troubling comments across her social media channels about the ability for trans athletes to compete in sport. We reached out directly offering to be a resource as she sought further education, and we never heard back.

Other LGBT groups were similarly scathing in their denunciations. “We’re pretty devastated to discover that Martina Navratilova is transphobic,” TransActualUK tweeted. CNN reported on the LGBT “backlash” against her. Headlines appeared around the world trumpeting that Navratilova was “expelled” from an LGBT advocacy group.

I can’t recall many political events that shocked me quite as much as watching Martina Navratilova, of all people, not merely being criticized for her comments — which would certainly be a reasonable thing to do: Several points from her op-ed also seemed unpersuasive to me — but scorned, ostracized, and declared to be an unreconstructed bigot, someone unworthy of interaction. Martina Navratilova: the outcast, the anti-trans hater, the bigot. It still amazes me to see those labels applied to her.

Equally disturbed by this incident was Kimberly Reed, on the verge of signing on to direct my film when all of this happened. After Navratilova’s first round of tweets in December, we had discussed this episode and Reed, while agreeing with me that they were misguided and uninformed, seemed to believe that they came from a place of confusion, not malice.

Even after publication of the op-ed, that generous view of Navratilova’s motives still seemed to be Reed’s core view of what had happened, but now her concerns were significantly elevated. In particular, Reed worried that any attempt to use the film to explore this rich and complex controversy Navratilova and her critics had just created — something it was clear we would have to do — would be rendered impossible by how toxic, closed-off, self-protective, militant, defensive, and entrenched each side had become.

Within days of Navratilova’s op-ed, Reed called me to say that as a result of these concerns, she was strongly considering dropping out as director of the film. At first this made no sense to me: Even if, I thought and said, you find Navratilova’s comments repellent, doesn’t that just make the film more interesting, provide an added layer to explore? After all, we’re not making a hagiography but an honest exploration of both Navratilova and her effect on my life, in all of its good parts and bad.

But it became clear to me that Reed’s concerns were different than what I originally assumed: She was questioning whether, in light of how ugly the controversy had become, we would be able to have the kind of dialogue and illuminating questioning of Navratilova about her new controversy that the integrity of the film demanded we prominently include. My persistent attempts to persuade Reed that she did not need to drop out of the project — driven my belief that she was still the absolute perfect collaborator — caused her to wait a couple of weeks before deciding, to explore whether Navratilova would be open to thoughtful dialogue about her recently expressed views and the controversy that erupted around her.

That delay in Reed’s decision enabled us to arrange a meeting between her and Navratilova at the Indian Wells tennis tournament in California held annually in March, where Navratilova was working as a TV commentator. Reed had dinner with Navratilova and her agent, along with the film’s producers, but nothing allayed Reed’s concerns.

If anything, Reed seemed to have come away from that dinner more convinced than ever that she could not direct the film. Navratilova, she felt, had become closed off to the prospect of exploring what could have been the fascinating questions prompted by this debate: how civil rights movements evolve; how young radical icons can come to be viewed as conservative or even reactionary as mores shift and as those movement heroes age; and what the relationship is between the cause of gay rights, feminism, and the new dominant strain of trans ideology. After flying home to New York, she called to deliver the bad news: She did not see a way to make the film in the way she felt it needed to be made.

For a few days, I still had trouble understanding her rationale: Why was it necessary to agree with all of Navratilova’s views, or even like her, in order to make this film? It seems to me, somewhat ironically, that all the traits that caused Navratilova to be so admirable and inspiring to me in my adolescence — her fearless refusal to capitulate to societal demands or to prioritize social pieties over her own self-actualization — are what drove her into her latest controversy, where I personally found her position to be questionable at best (I don’t purport to know enough about the science to opine definitively on what protocols are needed for trans women to participate fairly in women’s sports). And I still believe that Navratilova was motivated by everything except malice and bigotry — that she was driven primarily by her belief, even if misguided, that her speaking out this way was necessary to protect the integrity of something she spent years of her life helping to build and elevate: women’s professional sports.

But the more I talked to the always-thoughtful and introspective Reed, the more I came to understand her thinking. That this discussion had played out on social media — on Twitter of all places — had so contaminated and poisoned all sides of the controversy, and that Navratilova herself had appeared to be so injured by, so resentful over, the attacks to the point of being uninterested in further discourse about it, made a constructive discussion with Navratilova as part of the filming extremely unlikely.

The more I tried to persuade her to stay on as director, the clearer it became that my efforts were futile. She was convinced that there was no way to reconcile what would be her artistic mandate as the film’s director with the political currents sweeping over this new Navratilova controversy. My respect for Reed had never waned, and that respect caused me to stop trying to persuade her and accept her decision to withdraw from the film.

Ultimately, the controversy also shaped my own thinking about the film. In light of the burning anger among the trans community toward Navratilova, it seemed to me that we were left, broadly speaking, with two creative choices, both of which were unpalatable: (1) reshape the film to include a far greater focus on Navratilova’s contemporary controversial comments about trans athletes — something the original vision never included at all, let alone so prominently — and to confront her aggressively and critically about her views at the expense of focusing on the inspiring totality of her life, all to appease her critics, or (2) make a largely positive film about why Navratilova was so inspirational to me and millions others of that era who had very few similar role models at the time, and forever be castigated for having glorified someone now widely regarded in the trans community and beyond as an anti-trans bigot, a transphobe, someone actively trying to impede the cause of trans equality, someone who “harms” and “endangers” trans people. It seemed this controversy and the ugly form it took was destined to drown out what the film was intended to be.

I regard the loss of Reed as director as deeply unfortunate for the film and, more so, an alarming reflection about our culture and our discourse. And my own thinking about the film in light of this controversy surrounding Navratilova seemed to establish that there was no room for Kimberly Reed, as a pioneering trans woman, to produce a nuanced, complex cinematic portrayal of another nuanced, complex LGBT woman pioneer: one that included Navratilova’s heresy on this issue but did not fixate on it or allow it to suffocate everything else that defined her life and who she is. At least, it seemed clear, there was no way in the current climate to produce a nuanced film without spending the rest of our lives being treated the way Reed College students treated Kimberly Peirce when she tried to show and talk about her own groundbreaking film.

The post How “Cancel Culture” Repeatedly Emerged in My Attempt to Make a Film About Tennis Legend Martina Navratilova appeared first on The Intercept.

]]> 0 NAVRATILOVA KING SHRIVER RICHARDS Hall of Fame inductee Martina Navratilova, second from right, laughs with tennis legend Billie Jean King during a group photo with Navratilova's former doubles partner, Pam Shriver, far left, and former coach, Dr. Renée Richards, after enshrinement ceremonies at the International Tennis Hall of Fame in Newport, R.I., on July 15, 2000. combine_images-18 In this June 30, 1988, file photo, defending champion Martina Navratilova reaches to shake hands with the umpire as a dejected Chris Evert walks off court after their women's singles semifinal match on the Centre Court at Wimbledon. Navratilova won the match 6-1, 4-6, 7-5. combine_images-19 Kimberly Peirce Kimberly Peirce arrives at the Film Independent Spirit Awards on Saturday, Feb. 25, 2017, in Santa Monica, Calif.
<![CDATA[How the House Armed Services Committee, in the Middle of a Pandemic, Approved a Huge Military Budget and More War in Afghanistan]]> Thu, 09 Jul 2020 16:28:06 +0000 The least-discussed congressional proceedings are often the most consequential — and almost always bipartisan.

The post How the House Armed Services Committee, in the Middle of a Pandemic, Approved a Huge Military Budget and More War in Afghanistan appeared first on The Intercept.

Today’s SYSTEM UPDATE episode about this topic can be viewed on The Intercept’s YouTube channel or on the player below.

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy of Calif., left, House Republican Conference chair Rep. Liz Cheney, R-Wyo., and House Minority Whip Steve Scalise of La., smile as they arrive for a news conference on Capitol Hill, Tuesday, Jan. 15, 2019 in Washington. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

Rep. Liz Cheney, R-Wyo. smiles as she arrives for a news conference on Jan. 15, 2019, in Washington, D.C. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)


While the country is subsumed by both public health and an unemployment crisis, and is separately focused on a sustained protest movement against police abuses, a massive $740.5 billion military spending package was approved last week by the Democratic-controlled House Armed Services Committee. The GOP-controlled Senate Armed Services Committee will almost certainly send the package with little to no changes to the White House for signing.

As we reported last week, pro-war and militaristic Democrats on the Committee joined with GOP Rep. Liz Cheney and the pro-war faction she leads to form majorities which approved one hawkish amendment after the next. Among those amendments was one co-sponsored by Cheney with Democratic Rep. Jason Crow of Colorado that impeded attempts by the Trump administration to withdraw troops from Afghanistan, and another amendment led by Rep. Ruben Gallego, D-Ariz., and Cheney which blocked the White House’s plan to remove 10,000 troop stationed in Germany.

While those two amendments were designed to block the Trump administration’s efforts to bring troops home, this same bipartisan pro-war faction defeated two other amendments that would have imposed limits on the Trump administration’s aggression and militarism: one sponsored by Democratic Rep. Tulsi Gabbard to require the Trump administration to provide a national security rationale before withdrawing from the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, or INF, signed with the Soviet Union in 1987, and another to impose limits on the ability of the U.S. to arm and otherwise assist Saudi Arabia to bomb Yemen.

NPR website

Perhaps most remarkable is the amount of the military budget itself. It is three times more than the planet’s second-highest military spender, China; it is ten times more than the third-highest spender, Saudi Arabia; it is 15 times more than the military budget of the country most frequently invoked by Committee members as a threat to justify militarism: Russia; and it is more than the next 15 countries combined spend on their military. They authorized this kind of a budget in the midst of a global pandemic as tens of millions of newly unemployed Americans struggle even to pay their rent.

How does this happen? How do Democrats succeed in presenting an image of themselves based on devotion to progressive causes and the welfare of the ordinary citizen while working with Liz Cheney to ensure that vast resources are funneled to the weapons manufacturers, defense sector and lobbyists who fund their campaigns? Why would a country with no military threats from any sovereign nation to its borders spend almost a trillion dollars a year for buying weapons while its citizens linger without health care, access to quality schools, or jobs? Who are the people in Congress doing this, and why?

These are questions that are rarely examined in media venues. News sites, op-ed pages and especially 24-hour cable news are obsessed with trivialities: Trump’s latest tweet or offhand remark in a rally; symbolic culture war distractions in which Congress plays little role; the offensive remarks of people who wield little power. As a result, what the U.S. government really does — in the bowels of the Congress and in the underbelly of sub-committee proceedings — receives little substantive attention.

This media dynamic is exacerbated by the journalistic practice of obsessing on the areas where the two parties squabble, while steadfastly ignoring the very consequential and numerous areas where they find full agreement — such as approving close to a trillion dollars in military spending and ensuring the oldest war in U.S. history continues without end. When the two parties are in agreement, as they so often are, this is boring from a media perspective, so it is typically ignored. This has the dual-propagandistic effect of creating the appearance that the two parties never agree when they in fact agree constantly, while also suppressing those vital policies which receive overwhelming bipartisan consensus.

In reporting on the approval of this military budget last week, I watched all 14 hours of the committee proceedings. It was remarkably revealing about how the U.S. government really functions, who the culprits are, what their motives are in pursuing policies that so blatantly have no benefit for the people they pretend to represent, and the vast gap between the image they create for themselves and the reality of what they really do in Washington.

It is, of course, impossible to understand how the Congress works without understanding those who wield power in it. The chair of the House Armed Services Committee selected by Nancy Pelosi and her caucus is the obscure but powerful Rep. Adam Smith of Washington. He has a long record of supporting pro-war policies, from the invasion of Iraq to numerous Bush/Cheney war on terror transgressions to blocking reform of the NSA after the Snowden reporting to denouncing the Obama administration’s efforts to reduce the troop presence in Afghanistan.

When Smith had a progressive challenger in 2018, who criticized him for this militarism, the defense industry, as my colleague Lee Fang reported, poured money into his coffers to ensure their loyal pro-war servant kept his perch as chair of this crucial committee.

Armed Services Committee ranking member Rep. Adam Smith, D-Wash., speaks during a hearing on the FY2019 budget with Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, left, Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Joseph Dunford, and Under Secretary of Defense (Comptroller) and Chief Financial Officer David L. Norquist, on Capitol Hill, Thursday, April 12, 2018 in Washington. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

Adam Smith speaks during a hearing on the FY2019 budget on April 12, 2018, in Washington, D.C.

Photo: Alex Brandon/AP

A similar episode occurred the same year when a progressive challenger emerged to run against the former Marine and Iraq War veteran Jason Crow. House Majority Leader Steney Hoyer, as Fang also revealed by publishing a secret recording, tried to bully his opponent out of the race. Crow now joins with Liz Cheney to continue the war in Afghanistan. Pro-war Democrats wield all the power for military and foreign policy because that is who House Democratic leadership selects.

When these committee members return to their blue districts, they talk endlessly about topics such as the NRA, LGBTs, and reproductive rights — issues on which many do little work and over which they wield little influence — in order to manufacture brands for themselves as good, caring progressives, which is how they are reelected over and over from very blue districts. But as these little-discussed proceedings demonstrate, when they return to Washington, what they really do is spend their time collaborating with lobbyists for weapons manufacturers to ensure that as much taxpayer money as possible is diverted away from social programs and into the coffers of the “defense” industry.

There is a pocket of anti-war and anti-imperialism resistance on the committee and in the broader Congress, particularly on the left and to some extent on the isolationist right. But, as the House Armed Services Committee hearing of last week proves, they are outnumbered by the Adam Smiths, Jason Crows, and Liz Cheneys who work in bipartisan tandem to ensure their defeat and maintain a path of endless war for the United States.

And it is impossible to overstate the central role which the concocted, wildly exaggerated “Russia threat” plays in all of this. Over and over, the pro-war committee members from both parties invoked the scary threat of Moscow and the Kremlin to justify this bloated budget of imperialism and aggression.

Having spent large amounts of time watching many hours of these committee proceedings and speaking to several people with in-depth knowledge of the committee, I decided it would be very worthwhile to devote this week’s SYSTEM UPDATE episode to showing how this committee works and what it did last week so that some much-needed light is brought to these usually hidden proceedings. We’re very proud of the show we produced this week because it fulfills the goal of providing in-depth examinations of complex but extremely consequential matters that receive far less media attention than they deserve.

The program can be viewed on the Intercept’s YouTube channel or on the player below:

The post How the House Armed Services Committee, in the Middle of a Pandemic, Approved a Huge Military Budget and More War in Afghanistan appeared first on The Intercept.

]]> 0 Kevin McCarthy, Steve Scalise, Liz Cheney House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy of Calif., left, House Republican Conference chair Rep. Liz Cheney, R-Wyo., and House Minority Whip Steve Scalise of La., smile as they arrive for a news conference on Capitol Hill, Tuesday, Jan. 15, 2019 in Washington. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon) NPR website Adam Smith Adam Smith speaks during a hearing on the FY2019 budget on April 12, 2018, in Washington, D.C.
<![CDATA[House Democrats, Working With Liz Cheney, Restrict Trump's Planned Withdrawal of Troops From Afghanistan and Germany]]> Thu, 02 Jul 2020 16:38:00 +0000 The bipartisan commitment to using Russia for endless war and imperialism remains vibrant.

The post House Democrats, Working With Liz Cheney, Restrict Trump’s Planned Withdrawal of Troops From Afghanistan and Germany appeared first on The Intercept.

Former Vice President Dick Cheney, right, gestures as he speaks with his daughter Liz Cheney during the West Virginia Chamber of Commerce annual meeting held at The Greenbrier Resort in White Sulphur Springs. W.Va., Thursday Sept. 3, 2015. (Rick Barbero/The Register-Herald via AP) MANDATORY CREDIT

Former Vice President Dick Cheney, right, gestures as he speaks with his daughter Liz Cheney during the West Virginia Chamber of Commerce annual meeting (Rick Barbero/The Register-Herald via AP) MANDATORY CREDIT


The U.S. military has been fighting in Afghanistan for almost nineteen years. House Democrats, working in tandem with key pro-war GOP lawmakers such as Rep. Liz Cheney, are ensuring that continues.

Last night, the House Armed Services Committee voted overwhelmingly in favor of an amendment — jointly sponsored by Democratic Congressman Jason Crow of Colorado and Congresswoman Cheney of Wyoming — prohibiting the expenditure of monies to reduce the number of U.S. troops deployed in Afghanistan below 8,000 without a series of conditions first being met.

The imposed conditions are by no means trivial: for these troop reductions from Afghanistan to be allowed, the Defense Department must be able to certify, among other things, that leaving Afghanistan “will not increase the risk for the expansion of existing or formation of new terrorist safe havens inside Afghanistan” and “will not compromise or otherwise negatively affect the ongoing United States counter terrorism mission against the Islamic State, al Qaeda, and associated forces.”

The Crow/Cheney amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) last night passed by a vote of 45-11. The NDAA was then unanimously approved by the Committee by a vote of 56-0. It authorizes $740.5 billion in military spending — roughly three times more than the world’s second-highest spender, China.

President Trump throughout the year has insisted that the Pentagon present plans for withdrawing all troops from Afghanistan prior to the end of 2020. Last week, reports indicated that “the Trump administration is close to finalizing a decision to withdraw more than 4,000 troops from Afghanistan by the fall.” Trump’s plan “would reduce the number of troops from 8,600 to 4,500 and would be the lowest number since the very earliest days of the war in Afghanistan, which began in 2001.” In February, Trump announced an agreement with the Taliban to end the war completely.

Shortly after those White House withdrawal plans were reported, anonymous intelligence officials leaked a series of claims to the New York Times regarding “bounties” allegedly being paid by Russia to Taliban fighters to kill U.S. troops. Those leaks emboldened opposition to troop withdrawal from Afghanistan on the ground that it would be capitulating to Russian treachery. It was that New York Times leak that Liz Cheney, along with GOP Congressman Mac Thornberry, cited in a joint statement on Monday to suggest troop withdrawal would be precipitous:

“After today’s briefing with senior White House officials, we remain concerned about Russian activity in Afghanistan, including reports that they have targeted U.S. forces. It has been clear for some time that Russia does not wish us well in Afghanistan. We believe it is important to vigorously pursue any information related to Russia or any other country targeting our forces. Congress has no more important obligation than providing for the security of our nation and ensuring our forces have the resources they need. We anticipate further briefings on this issue in the coming days.”

The Crow/Cheney amendment impeding Trump’s withdrawal plan asserted that “a rapid military drawdown and a lack of United States commitment to the security and stability of Afghanistan would undermine diplomatic efforts for peace” (only the U.S. could malign a troop withdrawal plan after a 19 year-old war as “rapid”). Their amendment also claims that “the current agreement between the United States and the Taliban does not provide for the appropriate protections for vulnerable populations, does not create conditions for the rejection of violence and prevention of terrorist safe havens, and does not represent a realistic diplomatic solution, based on verifiable facts and conditions on the ground, that provides for long-term stability”

The NDAA that was approved last night by the Committee also imposed restrictions on Trump’s plan to withdraw troops from Germany. Trump’s plan called for the removal of roughly 9,500 troops from German soil, reducing the number of U.S. troops in this extremely prosperous and rich European nation from 34,500 to 25,000. But by an overwhelming vote of 49-7, the Armed Service Committee approved an amendment to the NDAA that “bans the administration from lowering troop levels below current levels until 180 days after Pentagon leaders present a plan to Congress and certify it will not harm U.S. or allied interests.”

Just as she did with Afghanistan, Congresswoman Cheney, to oppose this troop removal from Germany, cited — along with her Democratic Committee colleagues —  the threat of Russia, now the all-purpose rationale for continuing endless U.S. imperialism and war, just as it was during the first Cold War:

Meanwhile, the leading Democrat who joined Cheney to oppose troop withdrawal from Germany, Congressman Ruben Gallego of Arizona, also cited “increasing Russian aggression” to argue that “it is more important than ever that our NATO allies and partners remain confident about the United States’ commitment.” For decades, the perceived threat from Moscow was the leading instrument used to justify endless U.S. imperialism, and even now that Russia is little more than what journalist Vincent Bevins today called “a minor power in Eastern Europe,” it still somehow occupies this same crucial role in the U.S. imagination and militaristic discourse.

Opposition to troop withdrawal in both Afghanistan and Germany was not unanimous. There were elements of the progressive left and the pro-Trump right who supported these withdrawals. Yesterday on Twitter, Democratic Rep. Ro Khanna, the former co-chair of the Sanders campaign, and GOP Rep. Matt Gaetz, traded mutual support and vows to work together to defeat the Crow/Cheney amendment:

But this left-right anti-war coalition is no match for the war machine composed of the establishment wings of both parties and the military and intelligence community that continue to use selective, illegal leaks to sabotage any plans to reduce the U.S. military presence around the world. That the Democrats have spent a full decade desperately recruiting former military and intelligence officials to serve as their Congressional candidates (both Congressman Crow, Liz Cheney’s co-sponsor on the Afghanistan amendment, and the anti-German-troop-withdrawal Congressman Gallego, are both Iraq War veterans) has only made the party even more militaristic.

Combined with the fact that Democrats are increasingly merging with and being led by the Bush-era neocons and other Bush/Cheney operatives in creating such jingoistic and militaristic messaging campaigns as the beloved-by-liberals Lincoln Project, and that Biden is clearly trying to run to Trump’s right on foreign policy with ads accusing him of being too soft on China and linking him to Castro and Chavez, the picture is clear. It should come as absolutely no surprise that House Democrats are finding common cause with Liz Cheney and other GOP warmongers to block any efforts to reduce even moderately the footprint of the U.S. military in the world or its decades-long posture of endless war.

Updated: Friday, July 2, 4:02 p.m. PDT
The roll call vote on the Crow/Cheney amendment to prevent Trump’s withdrawal plan from Afghanistan is now available. Of the 11 members voting “no,” eight were Republicans (Mo Brooks, Bradley Burne, Austin Scott, Scott DesJarlais, Ralph Abraham, Trent Kelly, Matt Gaetz, Jim Banks) and three were Democrats (Tulsi Gabbard, Anthony Brown, Ro Khanna). That means that the “yes” votes — to impede troop withdrawal from Afghanistan — came from a signifiant majority of Democratic votes. The roll call vote can be seen on the videos below:

The post House Democrats, Working With Liz Cheney, Restrict Trump’s Planned Withdrawal of Troops From Afghanistan and Germany appeared first on The Intercept.

]]> 0 Dick Cheney, Liz Cheney Former Vice President Dick Cheney, right, gestures as he speaks with his daughter Liz Cheney during the West Virginia Chamber of Commerce annual meeting (Rick Barbero/The Register-Herald via AP) MANDATORY CREDIT
<![CDATA[Should the Populist Left Work With the Populist Right Where They Have Common Ground, or Shun Them?]]> Thu, 25 Jun 2020 16:09:43 +0000 A vital debate erupted last week from a vitriolic exchange between Nathan Robinson and Krystal Ball.

The post Should the Populist Left Work With the Populist Right Where They Have Common Ground, or Shun Them? appeared first on The Intercept.

Today’s SYSTEM UPDATE episode about this topic — with guests Krystal Ball and Nathan Robinson — can be viewed on The Intercept’s YouTube channel or on the player below.

A significant ideological split within GOP politics is as clear and vitriolic as the one within the Democratic Party. And that growing division means that, along with vehement differences, there is ample agreement on specific, consequential issues between the factions that identify as the “populist left” and “populist right.” Often there is more agreement between them than either group finds with the establishment wing of the political party with which they most identify.

In 2016, Donald Trump campaigned on (though he most certainly did not ultimately govern) in opposition to numerous long-standing Republican orthodoxies: he railed against job-killing free trade agreements, vowed to raise taxes on the rich and eliminate corporate lobbyist control over the legislative process, venerated the need to protect and even increase social programs, and most viciously scorned the Bush family’s imperialism and regime change wars. That he won the GOP nomination against highly funded, establishment-backed candidates such as Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio demonstrates that there is at least now tolerance, if not outright support, for those positions that had been taboo in mainstream Republican politics.

Polling shows that classic left-wing economic positions such as universal health care coverage and raising the minimum wage command majority support, proving those views extend beyond left-wing precincts. One of the political officials most devoted to and passionate about breaking up monopolistic power — long a central left-wing goal — is the right-wing Senator Josh Hawley, who also opposes international free trade organizations such as the WTO (the defining goal of the left-wing 1999 Seattle protests).

When Bernie Sanders wanted to impose limits on Trump’s ability to bomb Yemen, he found key support with the right-wing tea party Sen. Mike Lee; the same was true of Dennis Kucinich’s partnership with Ron Paul to audit the Fed and Cory Booker’s work with Rand Paul to usher in radical criminal justice reform. The host of the most-watched Fox News program, Tucker Carlson, has railed against the evils of predatory capitalism, supported AOC’s efforts to impede tax breaks to Amazon, given a sympathetic hearing to a pro-Maduro journalist opposed to regime change in Venezuela, and played a significant role in stopping air strikes against both Syria and Iran.

The reason these two factions have different names — left-wing populism and right-wing populism — is that, in addition to these convergences, they have serious and meaningful divergences. Trump as president adhered to almost none of his orthodoxy-busting campaign rhetoric. Hawley’s economic populist branding can ring hollow when set next to his support for corporate tax cuts that benefit the rich and his opposition to liveable wage legislation. And Carlson’s repellent-to-liberalism views — led by his support for authoritarian responses to protesters and his racially divisive rhetoric — are legion.

But none of those serious divergences negates the fact that the left — which does not come close to claiming a majority of the population — finds common ground with the populist faction of the right on some of its most important political positions. And there are millions of people across the country who identity as conservative or on the right — due to their views on social issues and immigration — but hold economically left-wing populist views.

The question then becomes: What should the left do in those cases? Should it work in conjunction with those on the right to build a majority and implement those policies, and engage in dialogue with opinion leaders and media figures on the right to reach more people who can be persuaded to think in trans-partisan, working-class terms? Or should it declare anyone associated with the populist right off-limits even for issue-by-issue collaboration on the ground that other views they hold are pernicious? And if holding pernicious views renders those on the populist right radioactive and off-limits, why is the same not true of establishment Democrats who have led the way to construct and champion the racist prison state, the drug war, jobs-destroying free trade agreements, regime change wars from Iraq to Libya, blind support for Israeli aggression, and a whole slew of other crucial policies utterly anathema to the left (all of which applies to Joe Biden, among others)?

This debate has been lurking for years as anti-establishment fervor and political realignment emerge — not just in the U.S. but across the democratic world — in the wake of the destruction wrought by the dominant neoliberal ideology. But in the U.S., it erupted over the last couple of weeks as the result of a vitriolic exchange between two smart, prominent left-wing commentators. In two separate articles, Current Affairs editor Nathan Robinson compared right-wing populist media figures such as Carlson and Rising co-host Saager Enjeti to Bolsonaro, Mussolini and even Hitler to insist that “right-wing ‘populism’ is simply a lie and nobody who is on the Left should have anything to do with it.” That provoked a stinging response from one of the principal targets of Robinson’s critique, Enjeti’s Rising co-host Krystal Ball, who says “the left should take yes for an answer” as she argued that it is morally irresponsible not to find allies where one can and not to communicate with as many people as possible in order to implement a left-wing populist agenda.

Today’s episode of SYSTEM UPDATE on The Intercept’s YouTube channel is devoted to exploring this vital question, and I speak to both Robinson and Ball about their very different views on this question.

The post Should the Populist Left Work With the Populist Right Where They Have Common Ground, or Shun Them? appeared first on The Intercept.

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<![CDATA[Bolsonaro Fraudulently Circumvented Trump's Covid-19 Immigration Ban to Smuggle His Scandal-Plagued Ex-Education Minister Into the U.S.]]> Sat, 20 Jun 2020 16:31:06 +0000 The Brazilian president risked Americans’ health and flouted its laws to enable his ally to hide from investigators.

The post Bolsonaro Fraudulently Circumvented Trump’s Covid-19 Immigration Ban to Smuggle His Scandal-Plagued Ex-Education Minister Into the U.S. appeared first on The Intercept.

FILE - In this March 7, 2020, file photo President Donald Trump is seated before a dinner with Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro, left, at Mar-a-Lago in Palm Beach, Fla. Bolsonaro’s communications director, Fábio Wajngarten, tested positive just days after traveling with Bolsonaro to a meeting with Trump and senior aides in Florida. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon, File)

FILE – President Donald Trump is seated before a dinner with Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro, left, at Mar-a-Lago in Palm Beach, Fla on March 7, 2020. Bolsonaro’s communications director, Fábio Wajngarten, tested positive just days after traveling with Bolsonaro to a meeting with Trump and senior aides in Florida. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon, File)


Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro is subsumed by numerous scandals implicating his family and closest allies. Just in the the last week, multiple law enforcement developments have targeted Bolsonaro’s allies, his family, and even himself.

The last week in Brazil has seen large-scale search and seizure operations ordered by the Supreme Court at the homes of the President’s most vocal blogger and YouTuber supporters on suspicions of anti-democratic activity and Fake News rings. One of his most fanatical supporters was imprisoned. Subpoenas were issued for the bank records of a dozen pro-Bolsonaro members of Congress. And, most threateningly of all, his long-time fugitive-friend Fabricio Queiroz, who worked for a decade as the key aide and driver for Bolsonaro’s Senator-son Flavio and who is charged with coordinating a kickback scheme for Flavio’s enrichment and having close links to the country’s most dangerous para-military gangs, was finally found (at the home of the Bolsonaro family’s lawyer) and arrested (the home featured three Scarface dolls on the fireplace along with a poster for AI-5, the most terrifying decree issued by the military junta that ruled Brazil until 1985 and which Bolsonaro continues to praise).

In the midst of all that, Bolsonaro’s far-right Education Minister, Abraham Weintraub, was fired (or “quit”) on Thursday after he got caught on tape at a cabinet meeting screaming that Supreme Court Justices should be arrested, followed by Weintraub’s mask-free attendance over the weekend at an explicitly anti-democracy protest aimed at the Supreme Court. Even in a government that has suffered dizzying turnover due to corruption and other humiliations by ministers — Bolsonaro is on his third Health Minister in four months in the middle of a pandemic, and his fifth Culture Minister (one was fired after extensively quoting approvingly from Josef Goebbels) — Weintraub stood out as a failure and embarrassment, but he became a hero to the pro-military-dictatorship factions of Bolsonaro’s movement due to his screaming demand that the Supreme Court judges be imprisoned.

Speculation has been rampant in Brazil that Weintraub is the next target of law enforcement operations. Those suspicions were greatly fuelled when he abruptly announced on Twitter on Friday night: “I’m leaving Brazil as soon as possible (a few days). I DO NOT WANT TO FIGHT! I want to be quiet, leave me alone, but don’t provoke me!”

At his firing/resignation ceremony hosted by Bolsonaro on Thursday, the Brazilian President suggested that he would appoint Weintraub to a senior position with the World Bank, one of the few important posts that do not require Senate approval. But vehement opposition quickly coalesced inside the Bank, with an extraordinary, lengthy letter from various Brazilian experts sent to the Ambassadors of seven countries listing all of Weintraub’s scandals and embarrassments, “strongly advising” that he not be appointed, and warning of “irreparable harm that he would cause to your country’s standing within the World Bank.”

While Weintraub last night bizarrely announced that he was “leaving Brazil as soon as possible” — by which he said he meant “in a few days” — news broke this morning that he actually rushed to the airport last night after he tweeted that and flew to the U.S., apparently on an overnight flight. At 9:07 a.m this morning, his brother Arthur announced on Twitter: “Thank you all for your prayers and support. My brother is in the USA.” It was reported later this morning by the Brazilian media that the former Education Minister arrived in Miami.

But there’s a looming question about all of this. How could Weintraub have traveled to and entered the United States given the Executive Order issued by President Trump on May 24 which barred all Brazilian nationals and other non-citizens who have been in Brazil for the prior 14 days from entering the U.S.? Trump’s May 24 “Proclamation on Suspension of Entry as Immigrants and Nonimmigrants of Certain Additional Persons Who Pose a Risk of Transmitting Novel Coronavirus” states:

The entry into the United States, as immigrants or nonimmigrants, of all aliens who were physically present within the Federative Republic of Brazil during the 14-day period preceding their entry or attempted entry into the United States is hereby suspended….

How did Weintraub enter the U.S. in light of this sweeping ban?

Brazil's Minister of Education, Abraham Weintraub, leaves the Federal Police headquarters building after testifying in an investigation which he answers for alleged crime of racism, in Brasilia, on June 04, 2020. On his way out, the minister was carried in his arms by supporters waiting for him in front of the venue and gave a brief speech on freedom of expression. The inquiry was opened in last April, after the minister posted a message on Twitter in which he makes fun on the accent of some Chinese when they speaking Portuguese. Photo: DIDA SAMPAIO/ESTADAO CONTEUDO (Agencia Estado via AP Images)

Brazil’s Minister of Education, Abraham Weintraub, leaves the Federal Police headquarters building on June 4, 2020, after testifying in an investigation. Photo: DIDA SAMPAIO/ESTADAO CONTEUDO (Agencia Estado via AP Images)


The answer seems to be that Bolsonaro conspired with Weintraub to enable him to circumvent the ban by traveling on a diplomatic passport even though his “resignation” from the Brazilian government was announced on Thursday. Given that Weintraub occupies no official government position, and since his appointment to the World Bank is just rumored and not yet codified, he has no basis for entering into the U.S. under one of the exceptions to Trump’s order, which exempts from the ban “a foreign government official or immediate family member of an official.”

Even though Weintraub’s resignation was announced Thursday, Bolsonaro waited until this morning — once it was announced that Weintraub was safely on U.S. soil — to publish his official notice of resignation. Artificially and deceitfully delaying the official codification of Weintraub’s departure allowed Weintraub to enter the U.S. despite the coronavirus ban on all non-officials who have been in Brazil in the last 14 days, 

So now Bolsonaro’s close ally is safely ensconced in the U.S., presumably out of the reach of the Brazilian law enforcement investigators scrutinizing suspected criminality. And Bolsonaro, to smuggle his ally into the U.S. where he can be immune from Brazilian legal process, manipulated the public health order of President Trump that is designed to protect Americans from the spiraling, unprecedented coronavirus crisis in Brazil.

The post Bolsonaro Fraudulently Circumvented Trump’s Covid-19 Immigration Ban to Smuggle His Scandal-Plagued Ex-Education Minister Into the U.S. appeared first on The Intercept.

]]> 0 Donald Trump, Jair Bolsonaro, Trump FILE - President Donald Trump is seated before a dinner with Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro, left, at Mar-a-Lago in Palm Beach, Fla on March 7, 2020. Bolsonaro’s communications director, Fábio Wajngarten, tested positive just days after traveling with Bolsonaro to a meeting with Trump and senior aides in Florida. (AP Foto/Alex Brandon, File) BRAZIL – EDUCATION MINISTER – RACISM Brazil's Minister of Education, Abraham Weintraub, leaves the Federal Police headquarters building after testifying in an investigation. Photo: DIDA SAMPAIO/ESTADAO CONTEUDO (Agencia Estado via AP Images)
<![CDATA[With the World Focused on the Pandemic, Israel Prepares to Annex Large Swaths of the West Bank]]> Thu, 18 Jun 2020 17:35:01 +0000 This Israeli expansionism deserves far more attention in those countries, such as the U.S., which fund and enable it.

The post With the World Focused on the Pandemic, Israel Prepares to Annex Large Swaths of the West Bank appeared first on The Intercept.

Today’s SYSTEM UPDATE episode about this topic can be viewed on The Intercept’s YouTube channel or the player below.

President Donald Trump, second from left, smiles at Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, right, after signing a proclamation in the Diplomatic Reception Room at the White House in Washington, Monday, March 25, 2019. Trump signed an official proclamation formally recognizing Israel’s sovereignty over the Golan Heights. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

President Donald Trump beamed at Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in March, after signing a proclamation recognizing Israel’s annexation of the Syrian Golan Heights.

Photo: Susan Walsh/AP

Israel is planning a move on July 1 that the international community has long regarded as one of the gravest assaults on the international order and international law: annexation of land that does not belong to it. The annexation plan developed by the Netanyahu government in consultation with the Trump administration would declare not only the decades-old settlements in the West Bank which the U.N. Security Council in 2016 declared illegal to be permanent Israeli land, but also other swaths of Palestinian territory, including the Jordan Valley, that is central to Palestinian agriculture.

There are multiple reasons why Israel is not just willing but seemingly eager to incur condemnations from the international community by proceeding with this plan. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is beset by political problems as he struggles to form a governing coalition for a new term and, even more importantly, by legal problems as he stands trial on felony charges of bribery and fraud. Emboldening the Israeli population and causing them to unite behind him in the face of international denunciations could distract attention away from those crises and solidify his hold on power.

Most importantly, Israel has become increasingly xenophobic, expansionist, militaristic, hostile to Arabs, and fascistic over the last decade. Aside from the Trump administration, its primary allies are no longer liberal democracies but Arab despots and far-right political movements in Central and Eastern Europe and in Latin America.

Illustrating the cultural and political shift among younger Israelis in particular, Netanyahu’s son, Yair, this week advocated that all minorities be removed — cleansed — from Tel Aviv. The Israeli left and even center are virtually nonexistent. That is the climate that now shapes Israel’s identity. Annexation of large chunks of the West Bank is, if anything, too moderate for a growing far-right Israeli movement that believes, on religious and militaristic grounds, that they are the owners of all of Palestine.

Regardless of motives, it is virtually certain that annexation of any part of the West Bank would trigger intense pressure in the west to impose serious sanctions on Israel. The last significant annexation took place in 2014, when Russia declared Crimea a formal part of its country, and that event triggered multi-level sanctions from the west despite the fact that a large majority of people in Crimea wanted to be part of Russia rather than Ukraine. Palestinians, needless to say, are virtually unanimous in their opposition to further control over their land and their lives by a foreign occupying government that grants them no political rights of any kind. Any attempt by the west to avoid sanctioning a post-annexation Israel would destroy whatever residual credibility is vested in their claims of a consistent system of international law.

This week’s SYSTEM UPDATE episode explores the implications of Israel’s annexation plan: what the fall-out would be both in Palestine and in the international community. This issue deserves far more attention that it has received, particularly in the U.S. where, pursuant to a 2016 agreement between the Obama and Netanyahu governments, billions of dollars in taxpayer money are transferred every year to the Israelis that enable this aggression.

Joining me to explore these questions is the long-time Palestinian human rights activist Omar Barghouti, one of the co-founders of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement that is almost certain to see increased support if annexation occurs.

The episode debuts today at 2:00 p.m. on The Intercept’s YouTube channel. A transcript will be posted below after the show’s airing, and audio-only version will be available on Saturday

The post With the World Focused on the Pandemic, Israel Prepares to Annex Large Swaths of the West Bank appeared first on The Intercept.

]]> 0 Donald Trump, Benjamin Netanyahu President Donald Trump beamed at Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in March, after signing a proclamation recognizing Israel’s annexation of the Syrian Golan Heights.
<![CDATA[Mídia americana finalmente admite que era falho relatório da OEA que ajudou a espalhar e levou a golpe na Bolívia]]> Tue, 09 Jun 2020 17:39:36 +0000 Veículos aceitaram sem questionamentos relatório da OEA que apontava fraude na eleição de Evo Morales – agora, reconhecem que há erros no documento.

The post Mídia americana finalmente admite que era falho relatório da OEA que ajudou a espalhar e levou a golpe na Bolívia appeared first on The Intercept.


In this Nov. 27, 2019 photo, Bolivia's former President Evo Morales pumps his fist after a press conference at the journalists club in Mexico City. Morales went into exile in Mexico after he was prodded by police and the military, forcing him to resigned on Nov. 10, after he claimed victory in an election that international observers invited in by the government said was marred by numerous irregularities. (AP Photo/Marco Ugarte)

Nesta foto, de novembro de 2017, o ex-presidente da Bolívia ergue o punho depois de uma coletiva de imprensa no Clube dos Jornalistas na Cidade do México.

Foto: Marco Ugarte/AP Photo

Em novembro de 2019 o então presidente da Bolívia pela terceira vez consecutiva, Evo Morales, foi obrigado por militares e forças policiais a fugir para o México depois de, no mês anterior, ser declarado vencedor, pela quarta vez, das eleições presidenciais. A vitória não era uma surpresa. Conforme reportado pela Associated Press em 2014, seu governo era um sucesso nos quesitos mais importantes, e ele era “amplamente popular por uma administração econômica pragmática, que distribui as riquezas do gás natural e dos minérios entre as massas bolivianas”.

Embora a popularidade de Morales tivesse diminuído timidamente desde sua expressiva vitória em 2014, ele ainda era o político mais popular do país. Na noite da eleição, em 20 de outubro de 2019, a autoridade eleitoral da Bolívia atestou que a vantagem de Morales sobre o segundo colocado excedia os 10% requeridos pela lei boliviana para evitar um segundo turno, dando a ele um quarto mandato. Mas as acusações de fraude surgiram rapidamente entre seus oponentes de direita, levando à sua expulsão do país em 11 de novembro.

Depois de sua fuga, o primeiro presidente da Bolívia oriundo das populações indígenas do país foi substituído por Janine Áñez, uma senadora branca, de direita, cristã e pouco conhecida, vinda da região do país onde se concentra a elite minoritária de ascendência europeia. Seu novo governo não-eleito rapidamente massacrou dezenas de manifestantes indígenas e garantiu imunidade aos militares responsáveis. Sete meses depois, Áñez previsivelmente continua a governar a Bolívia como “presidente interina” apesar de nunca ter concorrido à Presidência, e muito menos ter sido eleita para tal.

Bolivia's interim President Jeanine Anez addresses the nation at the presidential palace in La Paz, Bolivia, Wednesday, Jan. 22, 2020. The message marked the anniversary of the naming of Bolivia as the "Plurinational State of Bolivia," by former President Evo Morales. (AP Photo/Juan Karita)

Presidente “interina” da Bolívia Janine Añes se dirige ao país do palácio presidencial em La Paz, Bolivia – quarta-feira, 22 de janeiro de 2020. (AP Photo/Juan Karita)


O instrumento central utilizado tanto pela direita boliviana quanto por seus aliados do governo dos Estados Unidos para justificar a invalidação da vitória de Morales por mais de dez pontos percentuais foram duas auditorias realizadas pelo organismo regional Organização dos Estados Americanos – um relatório preliminar publicado no dia 10 de novembro, um dia antes de Morales ser obrigado a deixar o país; e o relatório final, publicado no mês seguinte – que atestavam fraude eleitoral deliberada e generalizada.

“Dadas as irregularidades observadas, é impossível garantir a integridade dos dados e atestar a precisão dos resultados”, anunciou a OEA em 10 de novembro, enquanto o país mergulhava em instabilidade por conta da eleição. No dia seguinte, sob ameaças das Forças Armadas contra ele e sua família, Morales embarcou em um avião para o México, onde recebeu asilo. O relatório final da OEA, publicado em dezembro, afirmou que “a equipe de auditores detectou manipulação intencional” dos resultados com base em “evidências incontestáveis de um processo eleitoral marcado por graves irregularidades”.

Mas no último domingo o New York Times publicou um artigo em que sugere de maneira contundente que foi na verdade a auditoria da OEA, e não a eleição boliviana, que estava “marcada por irregularidades”, sendo “impossível garantir a integridade dos dados e certificar a precisão” das afirmações contidas no relatório publicado pela OEA. O jornal resumiu a situação: “Um exame atento dos dados eleitorais sugere que a análise inicial da OEA que levantou dúvidas sobre fraude eleitoral – e contribuiu para a deposição de um presidente – foi falha”.

New York Times, 7 de junho de 2020: “Uma eleição disputada. Acusações de fraude. E agora, dúvidas. – Um exame mais cuidadoso dos dados das eleições bolivianas  sugere que a análise inicial da OEA, que suscitou perguntas acerca de fraude eleitoral – e ajudou a derrubar o presidente – foi falha.”

Para questionar a integridade dos relatórios da OEA, o New York Times se baseia em um novo estudo independente, realizado por três pesquisadores de universidades norte-americanas que – segundo o jornal – examinaram “dados obtidos pelo The New York Times junto às autoridades eleitorais bolivianas”. O estudo, completa o jornal, “descobriu que a própria análise estatística da Organização dos Estados Americanos era falha”.

O estudo demonstra que a principal “irregularidade” citada pela OEA “era na realidade o produto de umq erro dos analistas”. Explica ainda que, com relação aos “padrões que os observadores consideraram ‘inexplicáveis’”, a análise dos novos dados demonstra “ser possível explicá-los sem atestar fraude”.

Embora o novo estudo se concentre apenas nos dados da OEA e não tenha a pretensão de declarar a eleição boliviana isenta de fraude – praticamente nenhuma eleição, incluindo as norte-americanas, é inteiramente livre de irregularidades – o New York Times explica que “os autores do novo estudo afirmaram ser incapazes de replicar as conclusões da OEA usando suas prováveis técnicas” e que “a diferença é significativa” na avaliação da validade geral dos argumentos da OEA.

“Em suma”, conclui o novo relatório, “oferecemos uma interpretação diferente da evidência quantitativa que levou a OEA e outros pesquisadores a questionar a integridade da eleição boliviana”. Especificamente, “descobrindo ser possível explicar os padrões quantitativos utilizados para ajudar a indiciar Evo Morales sem concluir ter havido fraude”. A principal conclusão dos pesquisadores: “não podemos reproduzir os resultados da OEA”.

É virtualmente impossível exagerar a importância das acusações da OEA no processo de expulsão de Morales de seu próprio país e na transferência sem mandato democrático de do poder na Bolívia, um país rico em lítio, para a direita branca, cristã e subserviente aos Estados Unidos. Embora críticos também tenham acusado Morales de postular inadequadamente um quarto mandato a despeito dos limites constitucionais, a Supremo Tribunal Eleitoral da Bolivia, devidamente constituída, invalidou estes limites (de maneira parecida com a que o então prefeito de Nova York, Michael Bloomberg, induziu a prefeitura a anular o limite de mandatos para que ele pudesse concorrer a um terceiro mandato), levando os agitadores externos anti-Morales, como a OEA e autoridades dos EUA, a apelar para acusações de fraude eleitoral.

No dia em que o relatório preliminar da OEA foi publicado, o Secretário de Estado Mike Pompeo o citou tanto no Twitter quando no site oficial do Departamento de Estado, demandando novas eleições:

Total apoio às conclusões da OEA recomendando novas eleições na Bolívia para garantir um processo verdadeiramente democrático e representativo da vontade popular. A credibilidade do sistema eleitoral precisa ser restaurada.

Em janeiro deste ano Pompeo visitou o escritório da OEA em Washington e elogiou a organização pelo papel desempenhado pela sua auditoria na expulsão de Morales do país – um acontecimento que Pompeo exaltou ao invocar a longa tradição orwelliana dos EUA de retratar golpes militares pró-Estados Unidos como “pró-democracia”:

Mais recentemente, a OEA cumpriu a solicitação do antigo governo boliviano para conduzir uma auditoria dos controversos resultados da eleição. A investigação realizada encontrou provas de fraude massiva e sistêmica. Ela ajudou a encerrar a violência que eclodiu com a disputa eleitoral. Ajudou o congresso Boliviano a estabelecer unanimemente uma data e condições para uma nova eleição. E ela honrou – o que é mais importante – honrou a corajosa demanda do povo boliviano por uma eleição livre e justa, e por democracia.

Os órgãos de mídia dos Estados Unidos e comentaristas políticos estrangeiros reproduziram diligentemente a narrativa do Departamento de Estado, como de costume, ao descrever o violento golpe militar como um avanço da liberdade e da democracia para o povo boliviano (o mesmo povo boliviano que acabava de votar em Morales para que fosse seu presidente). Como afirmado em um editorial do Washington Post esrito por dois pesquisadores do MIT, em fevereiro: “A mídia tratou, em larga medida, as alegações de fraude [pela OEA] como fato”.

Dois dias antes de Morales ser forçado a sair da Bolívia, o professor Yascha Mounk, da Universidade Johns Hopkins, que também cobre política externa para a revista The Atlantic, elogiou os líderes do golpe por “defender corajosamente a democracia contra um aspirante a ditador,” e depois, no dia seguinte, citou o relatório preliminar da OEA como prova de que a eleição havia sido fraudulenta:

O povo boliviano está se levantando bravamente contra um aspirante a ditador, e o mundo quase não está prestando atenção.

Excelente notícia: Monitores eleitorais da OEA encontraram clara manipulação dos resultados eleitorais, demandando novas eleições.

Parece que Evo Morales aceitou a contragosto.

‘El pueblo unido’…

Não, a renúncia de Evo Morales não é um golpe. É uma das poucas vitórias da democracia nos últimos anos.

Ditadores de esquerda, como o Venezuelano Maduro, e populistas de extrema-direita, como Viktor Orbán na Hungria, devem estar com medo.

No dia 11 de novembro, dia seguinte à fuga forçada de Morales, Mounk escreveu no Atlantic que Morales recebeu o que merecia, alegando, entre outras coisas, que ele fraudou a eleição: “A forte evidência circunstancial de adulteração de votos logrou inspirar aquilo que anos de ataques mais sutis às instituições democráticas falharam em realizar: milhões de bolivianos saíram às ruas para demandar eleições justas”. Sobre uma coisa Mounk estava certo: o relatório da OEA foi decisivo. “Quando uma missão independente de observação da Organização dos Estados Americanos publicou sua auditoria da eleição ontem, o jogo finalmente terminou”, escreveu ele.

(Mounk, sabendo que nunca haveria consequências por agir como marionete da política externa dos EUA, não disse nenhuma palavra sobre o novo estudo rechaçando as conclusões da OEA).

Michael McFaul, ex-embaixador no governo Obama e atual professor da Universidade de Stanford, também citou o relatório da OEA em sua celebração da fuga de Morales como algo “excelente” para a liberdade e a democracia, para em seguida deletar seu tuíte quando recebeu críticas, reconhecendo que carecia da informação necessária para formar uma opinião:

A editora-chefe do jornal ostensivamente progressista Mother Jones, Clara Jeffery, nunca havia demonstrado qualquer interesse ou conhecimento sobre a Bolívia, mas de alguma maneira decidiu que era capaz de, com credibilidade, se alinhar ao Departamento de Estado, afirmando que foi o presidente Morales – e não os artífices do golpe – que havia“repetidamente atacado o processo democrático”:

Não é preciso dizer que a infalivelmente favorável a golpes pró-ocidente revista The Economist também estava entre os que lideravam o ecoar do Departamento de Estado dos EUA e celebravam o golpe como uma vitória da democracia. “As forças armadas soltaram sua voz pela democracia e pela constituição contra uma tentativa de ditadura”, a revista anunciou durante a semana em que Morales foi forçado ao exílio. The Economista também postou mais de uma dúzia de tuítes durante a semana alegando que Morales era quem representava uma ameaça à democracia boliviana em virtude da constatação de fraude pela OEA:

Mas, como de costume, os dois órgãos mais influentes na disseminação e ratificação de falsos argumentos anti-democráticos do governo norte-americano foram o Washington Post e – embora tenha esquecido de mencioná-lo em seu artigo publicado ontem sobre as controvérsias nas conclusões da OEA – o próprio New York Times. O Post, no artigo publicado no dia seguinte à fuga forçada de Morales, ratificou a acusação de fraude eleitoral em sua manchete: “Morales renuncia em meio a crescentes protestos e contundente relatório eleitoral”. O artigo anunciava as conclusões do que chamavam de “organização multilateral”, notando que a OEA havia descoberto que a vitória de Morales “estava marcada por profundas irregularidades”.

Um editorial do Post do mesmo dia proclamava em sua manchete: “Bolivia está em risco de cair em anarquia. A culpa é de Evo Morales”.

The Washington Post, 11 de novembro de 2020: “Bolivia está em risco de cair em anarquia. A culpa é de Evo Morales.”

O editorial decretou: “há poucas dúvidas de quem é em, última análise, o responsável pelo caos: o presidente Evo Morales, que renunciou recentemente”. Como pode a vítima de um golpe – que havia acabado de ser eleito presidente – ter a culpa pelo caos resultante? Porque, explicaram os editores do Post, “uma auditoria divulgada pela Organização dos Estados Americanos relatou irregularidades massivas na contagem de votos e exigiu novas eleições”.

O New York Times, de maneira similar, apresentou repetidamente o relatório da OEA como prova de que a vitória de Morales era ilegítima e que o golpe era, portanto, democrático. “Uma auditoria internacional independente das eleições bolivianas concluiu que autoridades do ex-presidente Evo Morales recorreram a mentiras, manipulação e falsificação para garantir sua vitória”, afirmava o artigo, sem uma sílaba de qualquer ceticismo ou contestação crítica até o penúltimo parágrafo, em que dizia que “alguns economistas e estatísticos nos Estados Unidos” apontaram falhas na análise de dados da OEA.

Mas o editorial do jornal não fez qualquer ressalva, declarando que a vitória de Morales era resultado de uma “eleição manchada”, observando que “as suspeitas preliminares de fraude pela Organização dos Estados Americanos ajudaram a estimular os protestos e forneceram cobertura para que os militares ‘sugerissem’ que o Sr. Morales deixe o cargo”. O editorial do Times citava então o relatório da OEA – que o jornal ontem questionava – afirmando que ele “reforçava  as suspeitas” ao provar que “uma série de operações maliciosas tinham o objetivo de alterar a vontade expressa nas urnas em 20 de outubro”.

Em suma, quando se tratava do golpe na Bolivia em 2019, a mídia dos EUA desempenhou o antigo papel que realiza sempre que os EUA querem retratar um golpe militar contra um governo que não lhe agrada: adotou cega e obedientemente o ponto de vista do Departamento de Estado e passou a agitar acriticamente sua bandeira.

Como documentado em seu grande livro sobre as táticas de Guerra Fria utilizadas pela CIA, a Agência Central de Inteligência dos EUA, “The Jakarta Method”, o jornalista Vicent Bevins – que recentemente entrevistei em meu programa SYSTEM UPDATE – relata como, durante a Guerra Fria, a mídia dos EUA serviu como um braço chave de propaganda do governo dos EUA ao retratar a derrubada de regimes opositores como importantes avanços para a democracia. Como exemplo, Bevins descreve como a CIA atuou no New York Times para suprimir as reportagens sobre a selvageria dos golpistas apoiados pela agência na Guatemala e, ao invés disso, glorificá-los como “rebeldes” que estavam lutando nobremente pela democracia.

Trecho do livro de Vincent Bevins, “The Jakarta Method,” [“O Método Jakarta”, em tradução livre], detalhando a relação de subserviência do New York Times aos interesses de política externa dos EUA.

Exatamente a mesma fórmula foi usada pelo New York Times e por grande parte da mídia dos EUA quando uma tentativa de golpe apoiada pelos Estados Unidos na Venezuela falhou, em 2002, ao tentar depor o presidente democraticamente eleito Hugo Chávez. Em um parágrafo extraordinário, o Times celebrou os líderes golpistas em Caracas, apoiados pelos EUA, como guardiões e salvadores da democracia, enquanto o presidente eleito era, de alguma maneira, o ditador.

“Com a renúncia do presidente Hugo Chávez, ontem, a democracia venezuelana não está mais sob a ameaça de um possível ditador. Chávez, um terrível demagogo, deixou o poder depois que os militares intervieram e entregaram o poder ao respeitado empresário Pedro Carmona”.

O Times também lamentou os perigos para a democracia boliviana em 2014 por conta da vitória esmagadora de Morales nas urnas. Para o Times e a maioria da mídia norte-americana, a democracia está sob risco quando um candidato reprovado pelos Estados Unidos vence; por outro lado, a democracia só pode ser salva quando tais líderes eleitos são derrubados e substituídos à força por fantoches apoiados pelos EUA.

Os editores do New York Times, embora admitissem em 2014 que “é fácil ver por que tantos bolivianos gostariam que Morales, o primeiro presidente do país de origem indígena, permaneça no comando”, – justamente porque, “durante seu mandato, a economia do país, um dos menos desenvolvidos do hemisfério, cresceu a um ritmo saudável, o nível de desigualdade diminuiu e o número de pessoas vivendo na pobreza caiu significativamente” – insistiam que Morales deveria ser considerado um inimigo da democracia porque “o padrão de prolongados mandatos no poder é prejudicial para a região”. Claramente o New York Times jamais sugeriria que o “prolongado mandato no poder” de Angela Merkel como chanceler da Alemanha (15 anos e contando) ou que os 4 mandatos – e contando – de Benjamin Netanyahu no poder como primeiro ministro de Israel representem ameaças semelhantes à democracia. Essa é uma “preocupação” reservada pela mídia dos EUA exclusivamente aos líderes latino-americanos reprovados pelo Departamento de Estado dos EUA.

No final do editorial de 2014 sobre a Bolívia e a América Latina, o Times revelou, sem querer, o real motivo pelo qual reprovava estes líderes eleitos. A preocupação pela democracia é o pretexto. O motivo real para quererem esses líderes fora do poder foi revelado neste trecho: “Essa dinâmica regional foi terrível para a influência de Washington na região”.

Como demonstrado pela cobertura do golpe na Bolívia no ano passado, pouca coisa mudou desde a Guerra Fria quando se trata da lealdade da mídia ao Departamento de Estado e à CIA. Como o governo dos EUA prefere os golpistas de direita ao esquerdista Morales, a mídia norte-americana deliberadamente inverteu toda a narrativa para descrever o líder eleito (Morales) como o tirano, e os violentos líderes do golpe militar como os guardiões da democracia. E venderam essa falsa narrativa apoiados exclusiva e profundamente no relatório da OEA que, como agora o próprio New York Times é obrigado a reconhecer, era, no melhor dos casos, profundamente falho.

O caráter dúbio do relatório da OEA não é, ao contrário do que as entrelinhas do novo artigo do New York Times sugerem, uma novidade recente. Isso estava claro, com fartas evidências, desde o início – evidências que a mídia chauvinista dos EUA achou oportuno não mencionar.

Logo depois de o relatório preliminar da OEA ser divulgado, o Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR), em 8 de novembro, lançou seu próprio relatório destacando inúmeras falhas no que chamou de “dúvidas sem fundamento expressas na contagem de votos pela missão da OEA”. Explicando que os argumentos da OEA sobre irregularidades eleitorais foram feitas “sem evidências”, o relatório detalhou que “nem a missão da OEA nem qualquer outra parte demonstrou que houve irregularidades generalizadas ou sistemáticas nas eleições de 20 outubro de 2019.”

Em março, o CEPR publicou uma análise ainda mais abrangente, um relatório de 82 páginas que concluía: “as atividades de observação da OEA nas eleições gerais da Bolívia em 2019 são o um perfeito exemplo de uma missão profundamente problemática, cuja conduta desonesta, tendenciosa e não-profissional causou sérios danos à democracia do país”. Adicionava ainda que “enquanto a narrativa de fraude que a OEA ajudou a promover contribuiu para a fuga de Evo Morales, o presidente democraticamente eleito do país”, o relatório da OEA “não fornece nenhuma evidência de que essas irregularidades tenham alterado o resultado da eleição, ou tenham sido parte de uma tentativa de fazê-lo”.

Em fevereiro – com Morales exilado na Argentina – o Washington Post publicou um editorial escrito por dois acadêmicos do MIT, o Massachussets Institute of Technology, prestigiada universidade nos EUA. Eles resumiram seu argumento da seguinte maneira:

A mídia tratou amplamente as alegações de fraude [da OEA] como fato. E muitos comentaristas justificaram o golpe como uma resposta à fraude eleitoral perpetrada pelo MAS-IPSP [, Movimento ao Socialismo – Instrumento Político para a Soberania dos Povos, partido de Evo Morales]. No entanto, como especialistas em integridade eleitoral, descobrimos que as evidências estatísticas não sustentam a alegação de fraude nas eleições de outubro na Bolívia.

Em suma, concluem os autores, depois de apresentarem detalhadamente suas descobertas: “não há qualquer evidência estatística de fraude que possamos encontrar – as tendências na contagem preliminar, a falta de qualquer grande salto em vantagem de Morales após a interrupção, e o tamanho da margem de Morales, tudo parece legítimo. Em resumo, a análise estatística da OEA e suas conclusões parecem profundamente falhas”.

O fato de a OEA ser uma ferramenta subserviente do Departamento de Estado é algo amplamente conhecido na América Latina. No entanto essa afirmação raramente aparece em declarações das mídias norte-americanas, que – como fizeram aqui – tratam a organização como um tipo de árbitro neutro e com autoridade para resolver disputas políticas.

Logo depois que Morales deixou a Bolívia e recebeu asilo no México, eu fui à Cidade do México para entrevistá-lo. Eu perguntei a ele sobre a OEA e essa foi sua resposta:

Desde o início havia motivos para duvidar seriamente, senão rejeitar completamente, as acusações da OEA de irregularidades e fraude nas eleições. Como Jake Johnston, do CEPR, disse hoje em resposta ao artigo do New York Times:

Para aqueles que estiveram atentos às eleições de 2019, nunca houve qualquer dúvida de que as afirmações de fraude pela OEA eram falsas. Poucos dias após as eleições, um alto funcionário da OEA me confessou, privadamente, que não havia ocorrido uma mudança “inexplicável” na tendência, mas a organização continuou a repetir suas falsas afirmações por muitos meses, com muito pouca ou nenhuma autocrítica ou responsabilização.

No entanto, as razões para duvidar das acusações da OEA foram raramente ventiladas pela mídia dos EUA e seus comentaristas de política externa, muito menos investidas de alguma credibilidade. Ao contrário, como escreveram os acadêmicos do MIT no Washignton Post, “a mídia relatou amplamente as alegações de fraude como fatos”. Isso ocorre porque, quando se trata de mudar um governo estrangeiro que é reprovado pelos Estados Unidos, a mídia norte-americana se apoia no Departamento de Estado, deixa de denunciar e, ao invés disso, passa a fazer propaganda pró-governo.

Nesse caso, a Bolívia perdeu seu presidente mais bem-sucedido de sua história moderna e, consequentemente, está agora nas mãos de uma junta militar não eleita, aplaudida pelos EUA e sua mídia, se apoiando em um relatório da OEA que, mesmo o New York Times é agora forçado a reconhecer, é, no melhor dos casos, profundamente problemático. Assim, o governo dos EUA e sua mídia, uma vez mais, ajudaram a destruir uma próspera democracia latino-americana.


Correção 9 de junho, 18:00
Ao contrário do que afirmamos originalmente, foi o Supremo Tribunal Eleitoral da Bolívia, e não a Corte Superior Boliviana, que invalidou os limites constitucionais que permitiram que Morales demandasse um quarto mandato presidencial.

The post Mídia americana finalmente admite que era falho relatório da OEA que ajudou a espalhar e levou a golpe na Bolívia appeared first on The Intercept.

]]> 3 The Week That Was in Latin America Photo Gallery In this Nov. 27, 2019 photo, Bolivia's former President Evo Morales pumps his fist after a press conference at the journalists club in Mexico City. (AP Photo/Marco Ugarte) Jeanine Anez Bolivia's interim President Jeanine Anez addresses the nation at the presidential palace in La Paz, Bolivia, Wednesday, Jan. 22, 2020. (AP Photo/Juan Karita) New York Times, June 7, 2020 Vincent Bevins, "The Jakarta Method," p. 45
<![CDATA[The New York Times Admits Key Falsehoods That Drove Last Year's Coup in Bolivia: Falsehoods Peddled by the U.S., Its Media, and the Times]]> Mon, 08 Jun 2020 19:26:30 +0000 The U.S. government and its media once again help destroy a thriving Latin American democracy.

The post The New York Times Admits Key Falsehoods That Drove Last Year’s Coup in Bolivia: Falsehoods Peddled by the U.S., Its Media, and the Times appeared first on The Intercept.


In this Nov. 27, 2019 photo, Bolivia's former President Evo Morales pumps his fist after a press conference at the journalists club in Mexico City. Morales went into exile in Mexico after he was prodded by police and the military, forcing him to resigned on Nov. 10, after he claimed victory in an election that international observers invited in by the government said was marred by numerous irregularities. (AP Photo/Marco Ugarte)

In this Nov. 27, 2019, photo, Bolivia’s former President Evo Morales pumps his fist after a press conference at the journalists club in Mexico City. (AP Photo/Marco Ugarte)


In November 2019, Bolivia’s three-term left-wing president, Evo Morales, was forced by the country’s military and police forces to flee to Mexico after Morales, the prior month, had been officially certified as the winner of his fourth consecutive presidential election. It was unsurprising that Morales won. As the Associated Press noted in 2014, his governance was successful by almost every key metric, and he was thus “widely popular at home for a pragmatic economic stewardship that spread Bolivia’s natural gas and mineral wealth among the masses.”

While Morales’s popularity had marginally waned since his 2014 landslide victory, he was still the most popular politician in the country. On the night of the October 21, 2019, vote, Bolivia’s election board certified that Morales’s margin of victory against the second-place candidate exceeded the ten percent threshold required under Bolivian law to avoid a runoff, thus earning him a fourth term. But allegations of election fraud were quickly voiced by Morales’s right-wing opponents, leading to his expulsion from the country on November 11.

Once he fled, Bolivia’s first-ever president from the country’s Indigenous population was replaced by a little-known, white, far-right senator, Jeanine Áñez, from the country’s minority European-descendent, Christian, wealthy region. Her new, unelected government promptly massacred dozens of Indigenous protesters and then vested the responsible soldiers with immunity. Seven months later, Áñez predictably continues to rule Bolivia as “interim president” despite never having run for president, let alone having been democratically elected.

Bolivia's interim President Jeanine Anez addresses the nation at the presidential palace in La Paz, Bolivia, Wednesday, Jan. 22, 2020. The message marked the anniversary of the naming of Bolivia as the "Plurinational State of Bolivia," by former President Evo Morales. (AP Photo/Juan Karita)

Bolivia’s “interim” President Jeanine Áñez addresses the nation at the presidential palace in La Paz, Bolivia, on Jan. 22, 2020. (AP Photo/Juan Karita)


The central tool used by both the Bolivian right and their U.S. government allies to justify the invalidation of Morales’s 10-point election victory were two election audits by the regional group Organization of American States — one a preliminary report issued on November 10, the day before Morales was forced from the country, and then its final report issued the next month — which asserted widespread, deliberate election fraud.

“Given all the irregularities observed, it is impossible to guarantee the integrity of the data and certify the accuracy of the results,” the OAS announced on November 10 as the country was in turmoil over the election. The next day, Morales, under the threat of force to him and his family, boarded a plane to Mexico, where he was granted asylum. The final OAS report in December claimed that “the audit team has detected willful manipulation” of the results based on “incontrovertible evidence of an electoral process marred by grave irregularities.”

But on Sunday, the New York Times published an article strongly suggesting that it was the OAS audit, not the Bolivian election, that was “marred by grave irregularities,” making it “impossible to guarantee the integrity of the data and certify the accuracy of the” OAS claims. The paper of record summarized its reporting this way: “A close look at Bolivian election data suggests an initial analysis by the OAS that raised questions of vote-rigging — and helped force out a president — was flawed.”

New York Times, June 7, 2020

To cast serious doubt on the integrity of these critical OAS reports, the Times relies upon a new independent study from three scholars at U.S. universities which — in the words of the NYT — examined “data obtained by the New York Times from the Bolivian electoral authorities.” That study, said the NYT, “has found that the Organization of American States’ statistical analysis was itself flawed.”

That study documented that the key “irregularity” cited by OAS “was actually an artifact of the analysts’ error.” It further explained that with regard to “the patterns that the observers deemed ‘inexplicable,’” the new data analysis shows that “we can explain them without invoking fraud.”

While this new study focuses solely on the OAS’s data claims and does not purport to decree the Bolivian election entirely free of fraud — virtually no election, including in the U.S., is entirely free of irregularities — the NYT explains that “the authors of the new study said they were unable to replicate the OAS’s findings using its likely techniques” and that “the difference is significant” in assessing the overall validity of the OAS’s claims.

”In sum,” the new report concludes, “we offer a different interpretation of the quantitative evidence that led the OAS and other researchers to question the integrity of the Bolivian election.“ Specifically, “we find that we do not require fraud in order to explain the quantitative patterns used to help indict Evo Morales.” The scholars’ bottom line: “we cannot replicate the OAS results.”

It is virtually impossible to overstate the importance of the OAS accusations in driving Morales from his own country and, with no democratic mandate, shifting power in lithium-rich Bolivia to the white, Christian, U.S.-subservient right. While critics had also accused Morales of improperly seeking a fourth term despite constitutional term limits, Bolivia’s duly constituted court had invalidated those term limits (much the way that New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg induced the City Council to overturn a term limit referendum so he could seek a third term), leaving anti-Morales outside agitators, such as the OAS and U.S. officials, to rely instead on claims of election fraud.

On the day the preliminary OAS report was released, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo cited it both on Twitter and on the official State Department website to demand new elections:

Pompeo, in January of this year, visited OAS’s Washington office and heaped praise on the organization for the role its audit played in forcing Morales from the country — a move which Pompeo heralded by invoking the long Orwellian U.S. tradition of depicting pro-U.S. military coups as “pro-democracy”:

More recently, the OAS honored the former Bolivian government’s request to conduct an audit of the disputed election results. The probe conducted uncovered proof of massive and systemic fraud. It helped end the violence that had broken out over the election dispute. It helped the Bolivian Congress unanimously establish a date and conditions for a new election. And it honored – importantly, it honored the Bolivian people’s courageous demand for a free and fair election, and for democracy.

U.S. media outlets and foreign policy commentators dutifully echoed the U.S. State Department’s line, as they typically do, by depicting the violent military coup as an advancement of freedom and democracy for the Bolivian people (the same Bolivian people who had just voted for Morales to be their president). As a Washington Post op-ed in February by two MIT scholars noted: “The media has largely reported the allegations of fraud [from the OAS] as fact.”

Two days before Morales was forced to flee Bolivia, Johns Hopkins professor Yascha Mounk, who also covers foreign policy for The Atlantic, praised the coup leaders as “bravely standing up for democracy against a wannabe dictator,” and then, the following day, cited the preliminary OAS study as proof that the election was fraudulent:

On November 11, the day after Morales was forced to flee, Mounk wrote in The Atlantic that Morales got what he deserved, claiming, among other things, that he rigged the election: “The strong circumstantial evidence of vote tampering succeeded in inspiring what years of more subtle attacks on democratic institutions had failed to do: Millions of Bolivians went out into the streets to demand a fair election.” One point Mounk got right: The OAS report was decisive. “When an independent observer mission from the Organization of American States published its audit of the election yesterday, the game was finally up,” he wrote.

(Mounk, knowing that there are never consequences for serving as a puppet for U.S foreign policy, has said not a word about the new study debunking the OAS claims).

Former Obama foreign policy official and current Stanford professor Michael McFaul also cited the OAS report to cheer Morales’s fleeing as some sort of “excellent” blow for freedom and democracy, only subsequently to delete his tweet when it prompted criticism, acknowledging that he lacked the necessary information to form judgments:

The editor-in-chief of the ostensibly progressive journal Mother Jones, Clara Jeffery, had never previously evinced the slightest interest in or knowledge about Bolivia, yet somehow decided she was able to credibly snap into line behind the State Department by claiming that it was Morales — rather than the coup-plotters — who had “taken several end runs around a democratic process”:

It likely goes without saying that the reliably pro-western-coup magazine, The Economist, was also among those leading the way in echoing the U.S. State Department and cheering the coup as a victory for democracy. “The armed forces spoke up for democracy and the constitution against an attempt at dictatorship,” announced the magazine during the week Morales was forced into exile. The Economist also posted more than a dozen tweets during that week claiming it was Morales who posed the threat to Bolivian democracy by virtue of the OAS findings of fraud:

But as usual, the two news outlets most influential in disseminating and ratifying false anti-democratic claims from the U.S. government were the Washington Post and — though they neglected to mention it in their article yesterday on the debunked OAS findings — the New York Times itself. The Post, in its article the day after Morales was forced to leave, ratified the election fraud accusation in its headline: “Bolivia’s Morales resigns amid scathing election report, rising protests.” The article heralded the findings of what it called “the multilateral organization,” noting that the OAS found Morales’s victory “was marred by profound irregularities.”

A Post editorial from the same day proclaimed in its headline: “Bolivia is in danger of slipping into anarchy. It’s Evo Morales’s fault.”

The Post editorial decreed: “there could be little doubt who was ultimately responsible for the chaos: newly resigned president Evo Morales.” How could the victim of a coup — who had just been elected President — be at fault for the resulting chaos? Because, explained the Post’s editors, “an audit released by the Organization of American States reported massive irregularities in the vote count and called for a fresh election.”

The New York Times similarly and repeatedly hyped the OAS report as proof that Morales’s victory was illegitimate and the coup therefore democratic. “An independent international audit of Bolivia’s disputed election concluded that former President Evo Morales’s officials resorted to lies, manipulation and forgery to ensure his victory,” its news article claimed, without a syllable of critical pushback until the penultimate paragraph, where it noted that “some economists and statisticians in the United States” had pointed to flaws in the OAS’s data analysis.

But the paper’s editorial contained no such reservations, pronouncing Morales’s victory the byproduct of “a flawed election,” noting that “early suspicions of fraud by the Organization of American States helped fuel the protests and provided cover for the military to ‘suggest’ that Mr. Morales leave office.” The Times’s editorial then cited the final OAS report — which the paper yesterday called into question — as “substantiating those suspicions” by proving “‘a series of malicious operations aimed at altering the will expressed at the polls’ on Oct. 20.”

In sum, when it came to the 2019 Bolivian coup, the U.S. media played its decades-old, standard role whenever the U.S. wants to depict a military coup against a government it dislikes as a victory for democracy: Namely, it blindly and dutifully adopted the State Department’s view and uncritically waved the flag.

As documented in his great, new book on the CIA’s Cold War tactics, “The Jakarta Method,” journalist Vincent Bevins — whom I recently interviewed for SYSTEM UPDATE — recounts how, throughout the Cold War, the U.S. media served as a key propaganda arm of the U.S. government by reliably depicting overthrows of adverse regimes as a joyous advancement for democracy. As but one example, Bevins described how the CIA prevailed on the New York Times to suppress reporting about the savagery of the agency-supported coup-plotters in Guatemala and instead glorify them as “rebels” who were nobly fighting for democracy:

Vincent Bevins, “The Jakarta Method,” p. 45

Exactly the same formula was used by the New York Times and the bulk of the U.S. media when a U.S.-supported coup attempt in Venezuela failed in 2002 to depose the democratically elected President Hugo Chávez. In an extraordinary paragraph, the Times heralded the U.S.-favored coup-leaders in Caracas as the guardians and saviors of democracy, while the democratically elected president was somehow the “dictator”:

With yesterday’s resignation of President Hugo Chávez, Venezuelan democracy is no longer threatened by a would-be dictator. Mr. Chávez, a ruinous demagogue, stepped down after the military intervened and handed power to a respected business leader, Pedro Carmona.

The Times similarly lamented the dangers posed to Bolivian democracy back in 2014 as the result of Morales’s landslide victory at the polls. To the Times and the U.S. media at large, democracy is imperiled when a candidate disliked by the U.S. wins at the polls; conversely, democracy can be saved only when such elected leaders are overthrown and replaced by force with a U.S.-backed puppet.

The NYT editors, while conceding in 2014 that “it is easy to see why many Bolivians would want to see Mr. Morales, the country’s first president with Indigenous roots, remain at the helm” — namely, “during his tenure, the economy of the country, one of the least developed in the hemisphere, grew at a healthy rate, the level of inequality shrank and the number of people living in poverty dropped significantly” — nonetheless insisted that Morales should be regarded as an enemy of democracy because “the pattern of prolonged terms in power is unhealthy for the region” [notably, the NYT would never suggest that Angela Merkel’s “prolonged term in power” as German chancellor (15 years and counting) or Benjamin Netanyahu’s 4-terms-and-counting-in-power as Israeli prime minister pose a similar threat to democracy. This is a “concern” reserved by the U.S. media only for Latin American leaders disliked by the U.S. State Department].

At the end of its 2014 editorial on Bolivia and Latin America, the Times inadvertently revealed the real reason it disliked these elected leaders. Concern for democracy is the pretext. The real reason it wants those elected leaders gone was revealed by this candid sentence: “This regional dynamic has been dismal for Washington’s influence in the region.”

As U.S. media coverage of last year’s coup in Bolivia demonstrates, little has changed since the Cold War when it comes to media fealty to the State Department and the CIA. Because the U.S. government preferred the right-wing coup-plotters to the left-wing Morales, the U.S. media deliberately inverted the entire narrative to describe the elected leader (Morales) as the tyrant and the violent military coup leaders as the saviors of democracy. And they peddled this false narrative only by relying heavily on an OAS report that even the NYT is now forced to admit was, at best, deeply flawed.

That the OAS report was dubious is not, contrary to the subtext of the NYT’s new article, something that was only recently discovered. That has been clear from ample evidence from the start — evidence that the jingoistic U.S. media rarely saw fit to mention.

Shortly after the preliminary OAS report was issued, the Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR), on November 8, issued its own report highlighting numerous flaws in what it called “unsubstantiated doubts cast upon the vote count by the OAS mission.” Explaining that OAS claims of election irregularities were made “without evidence,” the report detailed that “neither the OAS mission nor any other party has demonstrated that there were widespread or systematic irregularities in the elections of October 20, 2019.”

In March, the CEPR issued an even more comprehensive analysis, an 82-page report that concluded: “the OAS’s observation activities in Bolivia’s 2019 general elections are the latest example of a deeply problematic observation mission whose dishonest, biased, and unprofessional conduct has caused serious damage to the country’s democracy.” It added that “while the fraud narrative that the OAS helped promote contributed to Evo Morales, the country’s democratically elected president, fleeing the country,” the OAS Report “does not provide any evidence that those irregularities altered the outcome of the election, or were part of an actual attempt to do so.”

In February — with Morales now in exile in Argentina — the Washington Post published an op-ed by two scholars from MIT. They summarized their argument this way:

The media has largely reported the [OAS’s] allegations of fraud as fact. And many commentators have justified the coup as a response to electoral fraud by MAS-IPSP. However, as specialists in election integrity, we find that the statistical evidence does not support the claim of fraud in Bolivia’s October election.

In sum, the authors concluded, after setting forth their statistical findings in detail: “there is not any statistical evidence of fraud that we can find — the trends in the preliminary count, the lack of any big jump in support for Morales after the halt, and the size of Morales’s margin all appear legitimate. All in all, the OAS’s statistical analysis and conclusions would appear deeply flawed.”

That the OAS is a subservient tool of the U.S. State Department is something that is widely known in Latin America. Yet it is a claim that virtually never appears in mainstream accounts from U.S. news outlets, which — as they did here — treat the group as some sort of neutral, authoritative arbiter of political disputes.

Shortly after Morales was exiled from Bolivia and received asylum in Mexico, I traveled to Mexico City to interview him. I asked Morales about the OAS, and this is what he said:

All along, there was ample reason to seriously doubt, if not outright reject, the OAS accusations of election irregularities and voter fraud. As CEPR’s Jake Johnston said today in response to the New York Times article:

For those paying close attention to the 2019 election, there was never any doubt that the OAS’ claims of fraud were bogus. Just days after the election, a high-level official inside the OAS privately acknowledged to me that there had been no “inexplicable” change in the trend, yet the organization continued to repeat its false assertions for many months with little to no pushback or accountability.

Yet those reasons for doubting the OAS accusations were barely ever even mentioned, let alone vested with credibility, by the U.S. media or its leading foreign policy commentators. Instead, as the MIT scholars wrote in the Washington Post, “the media largely reported the allegations of fraud as fact.” That’s because whenever it comes to changing a foreign country’s government that is disliked by the U.S., the U.S. media reflexively sides with the U.S. State Department and ceases to report and instead engages in pro-government propaganda.

In this case, Bolivia lost its most successful president in its modern history, and is consequently now ruled by an unelected military junta, all cheered on by the U.S. and its media, relying on an OAS report which even the New York Times is now forced to acknowledge is, at best, deeply flawed. Thus did the U.S. government and its media, yet again, help destroy a thriving Latin American democracy.

The post The New York Times Admits Key Falsehoods That Drove Last Year’s Coup in Bolivia: Falsehoods Peddled by the U.S., Its Media, and the Times appeared first on The Intercept.

]]> 0 The Week That Was in Latin America Photo Gallery In this Nov. 27, 2019 photo, Bolivia's former President Evo Morales pumps his fist after a press conference at the journalists club in Mexico City. (AP Photo/Marco Ugarte) Jeanine Anez Bolivia's interim President Jeanine Anez addresses the nation at the presidential palace in La Paz, Bolivia, Wednesday, Jan. 22, 2020. (AP Photo/Juan Karita) New York Times, June 7, 2020 Vincent Bevins, "The Jakarta Method," p. 45
<![CDATA[What is the Goal of the Protests, and Which Tactics are Morally Justified and Strategically Wise?]]> Thu, 04 Jun 2020 16:46:48 +0000 Two guests who have been providing illuminating commentary on the protests, Chloé Valdary and Ben Dixon, explore these questions.

The post What is the Goal of the Protests, and Which Tactics are Morally Justified and Strategically Wise? appeared first on The Intercept.

As the nationwide protests over police brutality enter their second week following the horrific killing of George Floyd by the Minneapolis Police, the debate over the moral justifiability and strategic wisdom of various tactics intensifies. This week’s SYSTEM UPDATE, which can be viewed on the player below or on The Intercept’s YouTube channel, is devoted to an exploration of those questions.

Numerous black political leaders — from Barack Obama to Congresswoman Ilhan Omar — have vehemently denounced the use of any type of violence or even property damage, as data shows that looting in particular has most hurt minority neighborhoods and minority-owned businesses. Meanwhile, self-identified white anarchists and other radical protest advocates insist that denunciations of such tactics are, at best, a distraction and, more accurately, an attempt to neuter or hijack the movement into something harmless, unthreatening and ultimately inconsequential: little more than the latest “Go Vote” messaging campaign for the Democratic Party.

Before a meaningful and cogent discussion of tactics is possible, one must first attempt to define what analytic metric is primary: are certain tactics designed to express righteous rage, such as property damage or burning, justifiable even if they are not most pragmatically constructive, on the ground that people have rightly concluded that they will be ignored unless their protests create some form of menacing disorder?

And, at least as important, is the question of the underlying cause: is the driving objective of these protests the narrow, concrete goal of reforming policing in the U.S., or does it driven by broader anger over social and political inequities, of which police violence is both a symbol and the principal weapon used to shield those inequities from meaningful challenge? Did the George Floyd murder unleash anger primarily over racist police brutality, or was it the tipping point to give expression to broader rage over quarantining, tens of millions of lost jobs, and a political system that — as the COVID-19 bailout package against highlighted — reflexively acts in defense of the interests of a tiny, powerful minority at the expense of everyone else?

To explore those questions — ones impossible to define let alone meaningfully engage in the destructively polarizing and reductionist cauldron of social media — are two very thoughtful guests with quite different perspectives: Chloé Valdary, a New-York-based writer and the founder of a start-up group devoted to teaching social and emotional learning to students 14 years and older, and Benjamin Dixon, the writer, activist and host of the Benjamin Dixon Show.

Both writers have offered independent-minded and thoughtful commentary about the protests all week long, contributing invaluable insight to the discourse and fostering meaningful discussion at a time when many people in online media — due to the unprecedentedly powerful currents of groupthink and crushing intolerance for any dissent or questioning — are doing the opposite. I think this show enables a deeper and more substantive exploration of these questions than online discourse permits. It helped me grapple with these questions and I hope it will do the same for others. You can watch the program below.

(Starting with this episode, all SYSTEM UPDATE episodes will be posted in audio-only on Soundcloud each Saturday, along with the transcripts posted here; next week we will post the audio version of all back episodes).

Updated: Sunday, June 7, 11:41 a.m. PDT
The audio-only version of the latest SYSTEM UPDATE show can now be heard here, and a transcript is posted below. 

Glenn Greenwald: Welcome to a new edition of System Update. I’m Glenn Greenwald.

This episode focuses on the evolving debate that is taking place around the protests that have erupted for over a week now, ever since the murder by the Minneapolis Police Department of George Floyd. And what has shaped this debate is, interestingly enough, a broad consensus across the political spectrum among all decent people, by definition, I would say, about two propositions: number one, that the murder of Floyd in Minneapolis was horrific and had no remote justification. And then number two, it is reflective of a broader pathology of police brutality and abuse of police power against American citizens across the United States, but disproportionately and specifically aimed at African-Americans.

But beyond that broad consensus, there is a lot of divergence. So a lot of debate, a lot of disagreement, even among people who share those beliefs about the tactics and principles that ought to drive this movement about what its goals are and how best to achieve those goals and to explore those extremely important but difficult questions, I’m joined by two people who have provided some of the most thoughtful and independent minded commentary and analysis over the last week of the protests and the debates related to them.

The first is the writer, Chloe Valdary, who is also the founder of a startup designed to teach students 14 years and older about social and behavioral learning. And the second is the writer and activist and journalist and host of The Benjamin Dixon Show, Benjamin Dixon.

And the reason I say that there is a lot of divergence around these issues, even among people who share those two premises, is because there is a lot of difficulty in determining even how we think about and evaluate the tactics being employed by the protesters.

And so to begin with, I think the crucial question, the overarching question is what metric do we even use to determine what are the optimal methods of these protests and whether the methods chosen are the right ones? Is it strictly a pragmatic or utilitarian calculation to ask which methods are most likely to foster concrete, positive legislative outcomes in the realm of police brutality and abuse of police power? Or is the relevant overarching primary question a more philosophical one of regardless of the pragmatism involved or the utilitarianism involved in these tactics, which tactics are morally justifiable and which ones aren’t?

And the reason those two questions, and others as well, are crucial to think about in a coherent way is because they may lead you to very different answers. For example, even if one believes, as my guests argue, that propety destruction or civil disobedience or the use of violence is strategically unwise in the sense that it’s not likely to foster positive legislative outcomes or positive changes in public opinion, it may still be the case that there is a moral imperative to that violence, to expressing that rage, to engaging in property damage. It’s often the case that people reach a point where they believe they conclude rationally that their voices simply will not be heard, will be ignored, will be marginalized, unless they force people to see things burning, unless they exhibit the level of rage that they’re experiencing to put fear in the hearts of elites and the ruling class who without it, will simply continue to ignore them.

I think there’s a good case to make that, for example, the working class in the United Kingdom who voted for Brexit did so believing or being convinced that there was a good chance that removing the UK from the EU would make things incrementally worse over the short term, but were so angry about the perception that they had been forgotten and ignored and marginalized by the EU and by euro banking and neoliberalism, that they preferred to burn things to the ground, then to have things continue with the status quo tinkered with or slightly modified. The same dynamic certainly got a lot of people either to switch voting for Barack Obama twice and vote for Donald Trump in 2016 not because of who he was and what he believed, but despite it or who chose not to vote at all, expressing anger and rage toward a political order that has ignored them and marginalized them and refuses to pay them any heed. And it’s probably a very significant factor in the election in 2018 in the country that I’m in Brazil of President Jair Bolsonaro, we personally know many people who found his ideology repellent and yet voted for him as an agent of destruction.

And so, it may be the case that property value being destroyed and civil disobedience and confronting the police is not a very strategically wise choice from the perspective of how do you foster the most amount of legislative reform in the narrow area of police brutality or even having short term benefits in public opinion. But it nonetheless may be the case that it’s morally justified to do it anyway on the grounds that the society simply won’t listen unless it feels in some way threatened by the disorder that will be created if the status quo continues. And I’m not saying there’s an easy answer to that question. I’m saying that that debate is actually quite difficult, but is one that has to be grappled with in order to think meaningfully and coherently about this question.

I think the crucial point to make here is that even the people who most vociferously defend the tactics being employed by the protesters – and when we talk about violence, it’s important to note that the overwhelming majority of these protests have been peaceful. And when there has been violence and the overwhelming number of cases, it’s been instigated not by the protesters, but by the police. But even those who defend the use of property damage instigated by the protesters, such as my guest, Ben Dixon, who you’ll hear from in a minute, distinguish between violence or property damage aimed at small businesses in minority communities, which virtually nobody thinks is justified or morally desirable or prudent, as contrasted with, say, the use of looting and violence and burning things in downtown areas against big multinational chains like Nike or against luxury car dealerships. Those sorts of acts of rage and the expression of anger that arguably are necessary to get the attention of the media and the ruling class, not just for a couple days, but in a way that’s enduring. That is a debate that my guests have very different opinions on among themselves, and I hope this program will help explore those.

Then there’s a second question about what is the actual cause or goal or issue propelling this movement? Is it simply the matter of the narrow issue with which it started, namely anger at police brutality aimed disproportionately at African-Americans? Or is it something broader than that? Is the anger deeper and more generalized about the political and social order? I think we have to ask the question, given how many George Floyds we’ve seen in recent years, how many incidents of sociopathic police murder of our fellow citizens, particularly people of color, that have sparked some level of protest, but nowhere near the velocity and the intensity and the duration of this one?

Why? What is different about this? Why has this sparked the level of protest that it has? Is it simply that we’ve reached a tipping point that we’ve been building up to this point? And just arbitrarily the murder of George Floyd is what finally caused the whole edifice to come crashing down in this wave of uncontrollable anger? Or is it about other levels of discontent, the fact that people have been locked up inside their homes for months, that millions and millions of people have lost their jobs as a result of this pandemic and the corona virus caused slowdown of the economy? Is it that people are simply at a tipping point, not only about police brutality, but also about the unjustness of resource allocation, watching the government continue to act for a small number of people, the interests of the most powerful and the wealthiest, while everybody else suffers, as illustrated by the “bailout package” that gave trillions of dollars to the largest corporations while giving the equivalent of crumbs to ordinary citizens. Is it the anger over the police not only as an agent of brutality against African-Americans, but as the agent of a state and a social order that is becoming increasingly unjust?

Clearly, anger about police brutality and watching yet another video of yet another African-American unarmed man not resisting having the life squeezed out of him by armed agents of the state is the initial impetus of the protest. And it’s a big part of what the cause of this protest is. But I think it has to be asked whether a big part of the cause that’s leading people to go and confront the police in cities all over America in a way that we haven’t seen for decades at this level of intensity, has other motivating factors as well that are related to police brutality and the use of the militarized police in cities across the United States, but is about deeper social and political pathologies as well.

And one final question that I think we need to ask is how can a protest movement of this sort produce positive outcomes? There is obviously a debate about whether or not any kind of violence or any kind of property destruction is justifiable. And the argument that it isn’t, that it should be condemned is coming not just from predictable liberal establishment leaders like Barack Obama or mayors of large cities, but even more radical leftist politicians like Congresswoman Ilhan Omar of Minnesota, who this week vehemently and very passionately denounced the use of property damage and looting against minority owned businesses in her neighborhood, in her community, in communities like on the grounds that it’s hurting the very people. This movement says that it wants to help.

Ilhan Omar: You see the kind of destruction that is taking place in our streets. We know those are not our organizers. We know those are not our protesters. We know those are not the people who are grieving the lives that have been taken from our community, because we all know that we have collectively fought for business development to take place on Lake Street. Every single meeting that Ray and Jeff and I have been in has been to invest in minority owned businesses in our communities, to develop this corridor and make our community a more equitable one. So when you see destruction to one of the most valued business corridors for minority communities in Minneapolis being destroyed, you know, those are not minorities that are doing that destruction. And so I wanted to make it clear, when we say outsiders, I don’t care whether that people understand it to me that it is people from outside of Minneapolis or not. What we mean is those are not our people. Those are not the people who are grieving in the ways that we are grieving. Those are not the people who are interested in helping get justice for George Floyd. Those are not the people who are interested in making sure that our communities continue to thrive. Those are not the people who are feeling the pains of African-American mothers in our community. These are not the people who are living with the fears that I live with on what to happen with my son. If you care, again, about black lives, you cannot set a fire in Minneapolis risking black lives.

Glenn Greenwald: And then on the other end of the spectrum, we have people like former President Obama in the medium post that he wrote this week, essentially saying, look, if you want to achieve meaningful, positive change, the solution isn’t to go burn things down or to engage in violence or civil disobedience. The solution is to do what we always tell you to do, which is vote, namely, vote for us, vote for the Democratic Party. And I think that what we’re seeing with that argument is the attempt to exploit the anger and passions that police brutality have generated into essentially servitude to the Democratic Party: “look, if you’re angry about these sorts of things, the solution isn’t just a lot more Democrats”, as Obama said, not just at the federal level, but the state and local level as well.

And I think the reason why that’s falling on so many deaf ears is because people know that the places where police violence is most egregious is most rampant for so long already have Democratic mayors and Democratic governors and Democratic city councils and Democratic county commissioners and Democratic distric attorneys and Democratic state legislatures. And not only aren’t things changing, they’re getting worse. In Minneapolis, where it all started, they have a Democratic mayor and a Democratic governor and a Democratic attorney general, Keith Ellison, who’s on the left wing of the Democratic Party. And yet that’s where the violence and the police brutality begin. It’s hardly the first time that happened in Minneapolis. So I think it’s very difficult to tell people in a way that’s going to do anything other than make them turn off with cynicism, that their solution is simply to go to the polls and keep voting Democrat.

But, there’s a lot of space between engaging in violence on the one hand and voting Democrat on the other. There’s a lot of different options for fostering social change that exist and that resides in that realm. And if you’re going to take the position that violence of all kind, property damage of all kinds, not just aimed at small businesses in minority communities, but any kind of property damage is either morally unjustified or strategically unwise, if that’s going to be your position, then it’s incumbent upon you to say what tactics are gonna lead to positive social change, not at a glacial pace, but with the urgency that the crisis demands, watching our fellow citizens be killed over and over and over again by armed agents in the state with virtually no consequence.

It’s not enough to say in 40 or 50 years or 60 years, maybe we’ll have some legislative reform, given the magnitude of this problem now. And yes, there are harms that come when protesters use violence or civil disobedience or property damage and those have to be counted. That damage has to be counted on one side of the ledger. But on the other are the harms that come from the policies that are sparking those protests in the first place. And if you want to denounce the costs of one side of the ledger, it’s incumbent upon you to propound solutions that will eliminate the cost on the other.

And I think one of the things that has happened is the debate obviously has been very polarizing over these protests. Any debates over protest and riots that go on for more than a couple of days will be polarizing. And the fact that they’re largely taking place on social media after three or four months of being cooped up in quarantine has made it all the more polarizing. Still, it’s very easy to righteously denounce violence and be applauded by people. It’s very easy, at the same, time to watch videos from a distance of violence being done and cheer and feel radical about it. But I think that in order to have a coherent, cogent, meaningful debate, these more difficult questions need to be grappled with outside of the confines of social media.

And so we constructed this show with these two guests in mind that have helped me so much over the last week grapple with these questions. And I hope this discussion will help you think more deeply and more substantively and more clearly about the debates that have arisen around these protests, not just what is driving them and what tactics ought to be used, but what tactics and what goals ought to drive them for the future. Enjoy.

[GUEST ONE – Chloe Valdary]

Glenn Greenwald: Joining me now to help explore the debate surrounding the unfolding protest is somebody who has been providing some of the most thought provoking an independent minded analysis and commentary of these events over the last week. She’s Chloe Valdary, a writer and the founder of the start-up Theories of Enchantment, which is designed to teach students 14 years and older about social and emotional learning and character building.

Chloe, thank you so much for taking the time to talk to me.

Chloe Valdary: No problem. Thank you for having me.

Glenn Greenwald: Yeah, sure. So one of the things that I find interesting, I guess maybe disturbing, is that obviously if you have a week’s worth of protest/riots and very draconian and violent responses on the part of the state, it’s going to be a very polarizing debate. Because so much of it’s taking place – this debate is – on social media, it’s become even more polarizing.

So everyone’s either in one of two camps, which is kind of the yeah, burn it down, everything should burn camp or the camp that says, you know, protest are fine, but property damage and violence isn’t. I think, you know, we can see that kind of all decent people by definition have this consensus that obviously the murder of George Floyd was horrific, it’s part of this broader systemic pathology of police brutality aimed disproportionately against African-Americans.

But setting aside that kind of consensus, what is your overall view of the protest, the tactics that are being used as part of them, and the aims and likely outcomes of what we’ve seen over the last week?

Chloe Valdary: Well, as we sort of discussed before the segment started, 95 percent of the protests are peaceful, right? And unfortunately, because of the amplification effect of social media, and because I think that there is an incentive to cover violent protesters and the looting and the rioting much more than there’s an incentive to cover a peaceful protest, we’re seeing sort of an exaggerated image where there’s a greater emphasis being placed upon the violent rioters.

And that’s unfortunate because I can create a self-fulfilling prophecy. People can, It can be the possibility that people can see that violence is pervasive when in fact it isn’t, and then think to themselves that they now have a license to just go do violence.

It’s also unfortunate because if one’s goal is to honor the memory of George Floyd, then one should try to the best of their ability to embody the principles and the values that George Floyd had that George Floyd lived his life according to. And so it’s important that I ask people who are commenting on Twitter, as influencers ourselves and the media, that we tried to amplify those more peaceful voices, those more nonviolent voices, because, again, that is actually the more pervasive voice that’s present right now in the protests.

Glenn Greenwald: Yeah, I don’t think there’s any question, as you say, that the overwhelming majority of protests, and protesters, have been protesting peacefully. And to the extent that there is a lot of violence, or at least relatively speaking, violence, it seems like it’s a lot because as you say it gets amplified in social media, a lot of that is instigated not by the protesters, but by the police. Oftentimes whenyou see violence there’s an assumption of “those protests must be violent” when in fact, we’ve seen so many instances of the police using undue force or even violence against peaceful protesters.

But clearly, there is some element of the protest and the protesters that are using property damage, that are using civil disobedience and that are using violence and whatever percentage we assign to that. I think it’s very difficult to ascribe some kind of exact quantity, but whatever percentage that is, whatever component of the movement that is. Is that something that you regard as potentially justifiable or strategically constructive?

Chloe Valdary: So, my answer would be no to both of those questions.

From a strategic perspective, we know that because we’ve seen studies. There was a study actually that came out of Cambridge University, actually, I think last week, that studied the effects of nonviolent protest during the civil rights movement versus violent protest during civil rights movement in terms of its effect on public opinion and actually moving the needle.

So from a strategic perspective, this study found that nonviolent protesters actually moved the needle from a media perspective, because when you have the dichotomy of a violent state repression with a peaceful, nonviolent protest, the scales tilt in the favor of the nonviolent, peaceful protest. So even as you’re describing, you know, a lot of the violence that we’ve seen in the past few days have been sparked by the state, even if you want to take that into consideration, we have a historical precedent that shows us that in terms of moving the needle forward and moving the public opinion toward tilting toward justice, it’s actually that dichotomy of nonviolence versus a violent state actually moving forward because of that stark image.

And this is what many people in the civil rights movement understood. This is why they tactically decided, for example, not to fight back when they were desegregating diners, knowing that they would be attacked violently by folks, you know, pulling their hair and beating them up.

People actually practiced being beat up, being beaten up and not fighting back. So as to impart create that image, because they knew that that image would move the needle forward.

So from a strategic perspective, I don’t think it’s wise, but from a moral perspective, I just think that if a movement is internally and philosophically inconsistent, it will not be successful. So, again, this goes back to what is it that we’re fighting for? What is it that we’re trying to sustain? If you’re trying to fight for the protection of the livelihood of all human beings, then I don’t think it makes sense to say that in the name of protecting life, I’m going to go destroy the livelihood of others. And also, quite frankly, you know, there’s an argument that could be made while this is, you know, these these buildings that are being attacked are in large part corporations, they can rebuild, they can, you know, easily replenish these these these stores.

But the fact of the matter is that it’s often Middle-Class Black people that are working in these stores. And if these are essential businesses that were open during Colvard 19, like Walgreens, for example, that was destroyed, I believe, in the Indianapolis riots. The fact of the matter is that where that is that they were poor to middle class blacks working there who now no longer have a job, who now no longer can get prescriptions from this Walgreens. And so now you’re talking about increasing poverty within the black community. You’re talking about decreasing the livelihood of workers who worked in these places.

So from a moral perspective, I think it’s inconsistent. You do not you do not protest injustice by doing things that whether you know it or not, will actually lead to more injustice on the part of the community that you actually claim to be protesting on half of. And quite frankly, there are people who are taking advantage of this, who don’t care about George Floyd, who just want to go steal Nike shoes and steal surfboards. And it’s it it’s has nothing to do with George Floyd. So from a moral perspective, from a strategic perspective, I just I don’t think it it it it’s consistent in any way, shape or form.

Glenn Greenwald: So let me let me just latch onto that last dichotomy that you drew, because I think it’s a really important one, between people who are focused on the what we can call the narrower issue of stopping police brutality or responding to the George Floyd murder and murders like it on the part of armed agents of the state, versus people who are just kind of acting out of nihilism, just kind of, you know, almost enjoyment in doing damage and destruction for the sake of doing it almost like some kind of adolescent joy.

I wonder, though, if there’s not a middle ground of people who are acting out of some broader cause than just protesting police brutality, who are simply angry at the political order. Angry at the political system. Feel very unheard and marginalized and invisible. People who feel like, look, we voted for Democratic mayors in Minneapolis and Democratic governor in Minnesota and Democratic mayor in New York. And we’re still seeing immense police brutality and nothing really changes who are simpl, maybe it’s not even necessarily a thought out rational response, but maybe nonetheless still a morally justifiable one of like, look, we feel like unless we burn things, we don’t get heard.

And so, yes, you’re right. There’s some collateral damage, if you want to use that phrase, if you look at it through the prism of a battle. But we don’t feel like we’re going to get anywhere unless we do this, like we’ve been forced into this by a system that doesn’t care about us and that doesn’t respond to things like voting and and peaceful protest. What do you have to say to people who are who are reacting with those sentiments?

Chloe Valdary: So I would say I understand. And especially this has been exacerbated by the effects of covid 19 with with so many people in poverty and so many people unemployed. And so I definitely I think I understand the where it’s coming from, that middle ground, where that sentiment is coming from. But I still think you have to be strategic as an activist and as a protester, and you have to think about the potential consequences of your actions. And the fact of the matter is, when there is rioting and when there is looting, there is a backlash. And that backlash often takes the form of, you know, what we’re seeing with this president, a law and order, you know, total approach to things which leads to even more state repression and more state violence.

So the question is, is what you’re doing actually going to result in what you are aiming for? And I don’t see that happening. I don’t. And again, that’s not to be dismissive of that feeling of deep despair. But I do think that, quite frankly, we have seen, via the ballot box, movement in terms of criminal justice reform over the past few years, in terms of even on a local level, police precincts changing. We saw Killer Mike talking about this with regards to Atlanta, right? So I think that there there have been incremental changes that we have seen implemented via the ballot box. And obviously, we have we have far more to go. But again, you have to be strategic as an activist and you have to be strategic as a protest.

And you have to say, first of all, how is the media going to portray this? Is there an incentive for the media to to very negatively portray certain things that you take upon yourself? And how do you want to comport yourself as a protester so that the values that you believe in will actually be taken up by the society at large and will be sustained?

And so if the argument is I’m going to let my despair take over and I’m just going to say, you know, who cares, I’m just gonna go crazy, I’m mad as hell and I can’t take it anymore, right? What damage do you do in the long run by just giving in to that despair? Becausewhat is the ultimate message of that? If you give in to the despair, why would anyone try anything ever again if you if your message ultimately is to give in to the despair and then that becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. It’s simply not sustainable.

I think that we are capable of being stronger than this, emotionally. Again, to echo back to the civil rights movement. These are individuals who literally practice being beaten, because they knew they were going to be beaten up physically. They literally practiced being beaten up, in advance, so as to practice nonviolence. That’s a spiritual depth and that’s an emotional depth that is, quite frankly, somewhat unfathomable, but possible, right?

And so I’m just looking back at these, you know, the great forefathers of American liberty, when I think about people during the civil rights movement, and I’m telling myself we are capable of so much more as activists and as protesters and so on. I think it’s incumbent upon us to study the men and women who came before us and to continue in their footsteps.

Glenn Greenwald: So just to push a little bit on that argument about this strategic wisdom of various tactics. You know, it is interesting and it is true that the spate of murders against African-Americans and the resulting anger over it has resulted in tangible progress. As you mentioned, one of the probably most important things is movement to elect as district attorney people who are opposed to the criminal justice system and the philosophy that has undergirded it for decades, Probably going back to the riots of 1968, when Richard Nixon was able to ride into the White House on this law and order platform against people who were, in his view and in the view of his followers, creating an unacceptable form of civil disorder, things that are with us through today.

The other side of that argument, though, is that we have had this whole series of, you know, obviously Ferguson being kind of a classic case, the Freddie Gray protest, the riots in Baltimore, so many incidents over and over and over again. And in 2015, The Washington Post, spearheaded by their reporter Wesley Lowery, won a Pulitzer Prize for creating a database to document all instances of police violence against citizens. And they just updated that data in the wake of these latest protests. And this is what they concluded: “Despite the unpredictable events that lead to fatal shootings, police nationwide have shot and killed almost the same number of people annually, nearly 1000, since the Post began its project [back in 2015]. Although half of the people shot and killed by police are white, black Americans are shot at a disproportionate rate. They account for less than 13 percent of the U.S. population, but are killed by police at more than twice the rate of white Americans. Hispanic Americans are also killed by police at a disproportionate rate”.

I think there’s a lot of people who would look at that data and it’s consistent with what they see anecdotally and say “if there’s progress that comes from being Incrementalists and from being nonviolent and from using the ballot box, it’s just coming too slowly”. Given, yes, there’s cost on this side of the ledger from, you know, lost businesses and the like. But the cost of having people continue to be murdered who are innocent and unarmed is too grave to go this slowly. Is that a valid strategic point?

Chloe Valdary: I think I think it’s an interesting one. I just don’t see any proof that from a strategic perspective, rioting and looting, because, again, we talk about the precedent with Richard Nixon, makes things go faster, number one. And number two, I saw this morning that when it comes to across the political consensus in terms of trying to trying to promote legislation that would change some of the things that we’re talking about and increase a greater accountability for police officers, there’s there’s a specific – the title of it is is escaping me – but there’s a specific piece of legislation that was passed by the Supreme Court in 1967 that sort of gives cops carte-blanche, the ability to simply engage in acts of brutality with the citizens, having no recourse, because basically the Supreme Court ruled that you have to have a precedent…

Glenn Greenwald: You mean like a qualified immunity, basically.

Chloe Valdary: Yes, qualified immunity. And I’m now in the wake of – and again, this goes back to the fact that 95 percent of the protest, I think this goes back to the fact that 95 percent of the protests are peaceful – there is a near unanimous consensus across the political spectrum that what happened to George Floyd was unjust.

And now you have in both the pages of The New Republic and the pages of The Wall Street Journal, conservatives and liberals calling for an end to this piece of legislation on the part of the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court is now hearing cases and and considering recalling that sort of act.

And so I think that this speaks to the fact that peaceful protests do seem to lead to or do seem to advance justice. And you can argue, that it is incremental. And I think that that would be a valid argument. But I just don’t see how the violence and the looting, number one makes things go faster. And number two, brings about the values that one wants to see sustained in the society.

And I think that’s the larger issue for me, because, again, if you tried to promote justice by ruining the lives of other human beings, then there’s a question to be asked there. Like, is your philosophy consistent? Because if your philosophy isn’t morally consistent, then someone can easily just call you a hypocrite, essentially, and ask you on what basis do you argue for justice on this hand when you are not willing to pursue justice across the board and pursue justice in a consistent way. And I’m very much worried about that retort. And I’m concerned that that’s that’s a valid argument. And then the the the system becomes unsustainable again, because you’re you’re on the one hand claiming that you believe in justice for a particular person, but you’re not willing to be consistent in the application of that.

Glenn Greenwald: Yeah. And its interesting, I think that that argument applies at least as much, if not even more so to those who say these protests are about and should be about more than just the narrow issue of police brutality, because police brutality is just kind of a reflection of the way in which our social order is constructed to impose injustice, to preserve unjust allocation of power. So if you see this broader aim of the movement of, you know, being more than just about police brutality that argument that you just made probably applies with even greater force.

Just as the last question, and I have a bunch of things I’d love to ask you, but just to keep this to a manageable time. So I want to ask you about the composition of the protest movement. It’s actually something that’s been very interesting to me. One of the things you see is these protests aren’t confined to particular neighborhoods. They’re not, you know, just in downtown neighborhoods with white lefties. They’re not just in African-American communities, with African-Americans. It seems to me a very kind of racially diverse, socioeconomically broad protest movement.

And one of the things that has done, I think, is inspire a lot of people. The idea that, look, there’s solidarity among all kinds of people in support of a similar cause, which doesn’t happen very often in the United States and on this scale.

But then you also have this kind of tactic where it seems like people are trying to pit protesters against one another with this kind of rhetoric of, hey, look, you have these do you like leftist interlopers coming in and exploiting the disorder for their own ends. And there may be truth to all of this, but I’m just wondering, how do you, what is your kind of broad takeaway about the nature of the protesters, the way in which this coalition has been assembled and come together very organically? Is it something you regard as inspiring or is it something that is disturbing you in terms of the different factions kind of exploiting one another’s agendas.

Chloe Valdary: Look, I think I think that, first of all, I think it’s very early on in this protest movement right now. This is a very new, and as you said, organic protest movement. And I believe in the process of, you know, thesis antithesis synthesis.

So I think inevitably in the early stages of a protest, you’re going to have internal factions somewhat competing against each other. I think that’s a normal course protest go through. And so I don’t really I’m not that pessimistic because of that fact. I think I’m I’m overall very much pleasantly surprised, quite frankly, to see across the board a near unanimous, again, you know, regardless of of one’s political orientation, regardless of one’s socio economic status. I’m seeing white conservatives on my Twitter for the first time speak about prejudice in a way that I have never seen them speak about it before. I mean, Rush Limbaugh was on the Breakfast Club the other day. This is like this is like something something strange and curious is happening. There’s an inflection point in America. And I I, quite frankly, believe in the potential of this country and its citizens to rise to our higher self. So I’m very much encouraged and overall really inspired by what I’m seeing in terms of the near unanimous consensus with regard to the protesters.

Glenn Greenwald: Well, like I said, you’ve definitely helped me in in terms of grappling with a lot of these issues. We’re going to post your Twitter feed, which I really encourage everybody to follow. It took me a week of trying to figure out where Chloe kind of resides on the spectrum of this debate. And I still haven’t been able to do so, which I’m really happy about. I doubt I ever will.

Chloe Valdary: Success!.

Glenn Greenwald: Exactly. I regard that as a success as well. And I’m sure you can see why. So thank you so much, Chloe, for four weeks worth of analysis. And that has really helped me and and for taking the time to talk to me. I appreciate it a lot.

Chloe Valdary: Pleasure. Thank you for having me, Glenn.

Glenn Greenwald: Stay well. 

[GUEST TWO – Benjamin Dixon]

Glenn Greenwald: Joining me to explore the debate over the unfolding protest is the great journalist and commentator and activist, the host of The Benjamin Dixon Show, Ben Dixon. Ben, thank you so much for taking the time to join me.

Ben Dixon: Glenn, thank you so much for having me, it’s always a pleasure.

Glenn Greenwald: Yeah. So before we get to what we’re here to discuss, let me. On the most important point, compliment you and congratulate you for this incredible distinction of being the first two time guest on SYSTEM UPDATE in its short history. It’s a great honor. I don’t think there’s a plaque or something that goes with it, but we’ll find out.

Ben Dixon: I am indeed honored. I will look for the plaque in the mail.

Glenn Greenwald: All right, great. So about the debate that’s taking place surrounding the protests, there is obviously a pretty spirited discussion among even the participants of the protests among African-American politicians and journalists and commentators and the like, which seems to be falling along the lines of everybody agreeing that the underlying causes, just namely protesting police brutality against African-Americans in particular, and then having a debate about what the proper tactics are.

And what I wanted to ask you is, as you think about that debate and the way that it ought to be conducted, what is the most important metric for you? Is it the question of whether things like property damage and civil disobedience and violence, whether that’s morally justified or not? Or is it whether those tactics are strategically constructive or counterproductive? Or is there some other metric that you think ought to be kind of the primary one in guiding how we think about these discussions?

Ben Dixon: So thanks for that question. I think that cuts to the core of the issue for me. I think the number one tactic that is being used by the ruling elite in this country to neutralize this movement is to invalidate it in the minds of the participants, right? If they can invalidate the protest in the minds of the participants, then they can neutralize a protest and kill it dead on arrival. And they’re doing that by doing everything they can to it, calling it a Russian hoax, right? Or it’s something that’s backed by Putin. Saying that these are outside agitators, which is direct language that we heard in the 60s with regard to Dr. Martin Luther King. And so what’s going on is a lot of people are trying to even yesterday, they tried to make it seem as though someone had been murdered, when, in fact, they weren’t. And that person was was assaulted, but it was in self-defense.

There’s several layers of propaganda that are going around. And I think at the core of it, it’s all to invalidate the anger of the people who are protesting both online as well as in the streets. And so I think that’s the number one thing that we have to look out for.

In terms of like property damage, I think if we take the sum total of everything that was lost this weekend, we still won’t be able to compare it to the damage that the police state has done across this country, particularly to the black community.

We definitely can’t compare to the damage that’s been done by Wall Street and we most certainly can’t compare to the damage done by this country domestically as well as internationally.

Glenn Greenwald: Yeah, I mean, I don’t I don’t think anyone can reasonably dispute that. I’m wondering, though, because, you know, when you say it that way, implicit in that claim is almost an argument that, well, maybe it would be better to be without the property damage, but it’s really not a big deal. Is there a valid argument that actually protests without property damage, withouth violence, without seeing things burning, without putting fears in the heart of people who otherwise would feel immune to them, is actually an important and even necessary ingredient for the protest to succeed.

Ben Dixon: I think we’re seeing that now. And I think it’s unfortunate. I want to preface this by saying this is unfortunate. It’s unfortunate that we have to demonstrate in this manner before someone actually pays attention. Here’s a best case example for that: when Colin Kaepernick took the knee, everyone lost their mind. The president of the United States called him a son of a bitch. I mean, it was just egregious. Police officers across the country saw it as a complete affront to their dignity as police officers. And now there was protesting in the streets and stuff is being burned. Now police officers are putting out picture pictures of them kneeling, right?

So, why didn’t you listen when we were kneeling, right? The reason they didn’t listen when we were kneeling is because it’s nice and comfortable within acceptable parameters of protest in this country. But they tried to invalidate that protest.

So no matter what protest we give them, whether it’s silent, whether it’s peaceful, whether it’s unpeaceful, they will always try to invalidate it. And so it is an unfortunate reality that in the United States of America – and maybe it’s true, maybe it’s a universal truth. I don’t know. I’m not I don’t know if I’m ready to say that it is a universal truth that destruction has to be a part of your protest to be effective – but in the United States, they are signaling to us that they don’t really care unless a building is on fire.

Glenn Greenwald: Yeah. You know, it’s interesting. I drew this analogy earlier, and the more I listen to the discourse, the more I think it. It reminds me of it. And I’m sure there are a lot of other examples, but this is one that resonates for me, which is the struggle for Palestinian independence to be free of Israeli repression and occupation, where no matter what the Palestinians do, if they march, you know, too aggressively, they’re called instigators. If they boycott, they are called anti-Semite. If they engage in any kind of violence, even against occupying armies, which everybody would think would be perfectly justified if an occupying army came, they’re called terrorists. It’s as though no form of protest, as you were just saying, other than meek acceptance, you know, kind of like impotent acquiescence, is considered valid.

But one of the things I wanted to ask you was, you know, several times in both of your answers, you made reference to “they”. You said “they” are trying to invalidate the protests. “They” are trying to discourage the protesters from believing that what they’re doing can succeed.

And I want to zero in a little bit on who exactly “they” are, because some of the people who have been most critical of the protest are leading African-American politicians in the United States. You have the mayor of Atlanta, Mayor Bottoms. You have Ilhan Omar, who was very angry about some of the damage being done in her community to businesses, minority owned businesses, that she said she worked hard to build up. And then earlier today, on Monday, Barack Obama wrote a medium post, and I’m curious as to what you think about his argument, where he wrote “The small minority of folks who have resorted to violence in various forms, either out of genuine anger or mere opportunism, are putting innocent people at risk, compounding the destruction of neighborhoods that are often already short on services and investment and detracting from the larger cause”. He then went on to say, the real solution essentially is to vote, “But the elected officials who matter most in reforming police departments in the criminal justice system work at the state and local level”. And his argument essentially was, if you want to change things, you need to go and put Democrats in those positions and then you’ll get actual results, not through violence and property destruction.

What’s your view just generally over the fact that the people who seem most vociferously to be condemning some of these tactics are African-American leaders, and the specific argument that the real way to change is working through the democratic system?

Ben Dixon: It was a Democratic mayor, Minneapolis, Democratic governor of Minnesota. Trayvon Martin was killed underneath Barack Obama by Mike Brown, was killed underneath Barack Obama. Democratic leadership, across this country, Keisha Lance Bottoms, here in Atlanta. You know, we’ve seen some of the most egregious videos come out from this protest where people were peaceful and attacked by the police officers came from the city of Atlanta, a black mayor, a Democratic mayor, and the officers who were fired in the incident were black.

This is a saying we say in the black community, “everyone’s skin to us isn’t kin to us”. Just because they have our skin color doesn’t mean they had the same allegiances and the same motivations as we do. The ruling elite, when I say they, I say the ruling elite and that’s inclusive of Barack Obama all the way to Michael Bloomberg, people who have a vested interest in protecting the system exactly the way it is.

The Democratic Party has as much vested.. I mean, you really think about it, what Democrat has come out in complete support of the protests or least the cause of the protest, right? How many people are really putting it on the line? Not really hardly anyone from the Democratic Party. You’re getting a lot of platitudes.

That’s because this protest undermines their authority as much as it does Donald Trump’s. And this is why I said on Twitter, and I firmly believe before this is over, you’re going to see an alliance between Donald Trump and the people who say they hate him more than they hate the devil himself: The Democratic Party. They are going to align to crush these protests because it is a threat to both of their party power structures.

Glenn Greenwald: Yeah. I mean, we saw, you know, the Occupy Wall Street protests in 2011, which were much less menacing to stability and to the political order, but nonetheless became, at least in several different cities in New York and Oakland and Los Angeles and other places, somewhat threatening. And they were destroyed principally by Democratic mayors. Michael Bloomberg destroyed it in New York. And this is a much more serious uprising. And so I don’t think there’s any question that you’re going to see this kind of unity, even if they’re not rhetorically admitting that.

But let me ask you about one of the tactics that I find really pernicious and actually potentially most effective in terms of delegitimizing the protest, turning the protests, you know, into this feeling of impotence, which is trying to divide the protesters one against the other.

So you see a lot of these videos were African-American participants in the protests are telling often white protesters who are also participating that their tactics aren’t appreciated, that if they come into those neighborhoods and use violence or property damage, that it’s going to fall on the black on the back of African-Americans, doing this divide and conquer where, you know, there should be no white supporters of this cause because presumably, if you’re white or not black, any kind of ethnicity, you don’t really have an interest in standing up to the police state. You know, you’re just supposed to stay at home. And if you go and join you are kind of an opportunist or or worse. What’s your view of that tactic?

Ben Dixon: Yeah, so there’s multiple layers of disingenuousness in those arguments, and there’s only one layer that I think there has some validity to it. And the layer that I think has some validity to it. I’ll start there: is the protest, if you want to burn something down, why burn down marginalized communities, you know? I’ve seen it here in Atlanta where they try to make it sound like they were burning down marginalized communities, but they were in Buckhead. Buckhead is a pretty exclusive neighborhood, right? We saw a video last night of protesters burning down luxury cars, OK? So it doesn’t make any sense to your cause if you’re burning down poor neighborhoods, OK?

Now, in terms of all the disingenuousness, this there is a divide and conquer tactic, right? Is trying to weaponize identity politics, to divide us black from white. The truth of the matter is they’re black anarchists, there are black members of the black bloc. There are black members of, well ANTIFA is not a real organization, but is as a mindset, there are black people who identify with ANTIFA. And so there are plenty of people.

And this is what I’m asking everyone to consider. Do we have a reason to burn something down? And whether or not you know, whether or not I’m condemning it or condone it is immaterial right now at this present moment. Do we have a reason? And if you saw that video, I mean, how else, what else are we supposed to do? Just last week, Brianna Taylor, we saw, we got word of Brianna Taylor being killed, gunned down, shot eight times, in her home. This happens across the country, most of the times with impunity. They are never charged. And if they are charged, they often get off. Very rarely do you see a cop get convicted.

And so what I’m saying is, is we have a valid reason to be in the streets. When tens of thousand people take to the streets, something is going to happen. And we’ve seen this is the next level of disingenuousness. That chaos that ensues is has been started by the police on so many occasions. Now, I’ve been in several protests where the black block and ANTIFA were staring the police officers face to face. And I could see black bloc, ANTIFA, but they were ready to set it all. And I was a little irritated back then. But what kept it from setting off was the fact that the police officers never responded. As soon as the police officers instigate something that gives the people who are there to really burn some stuff down, that gives them legitimacy. They’re like, OK, it’s on. Let’s go.

And I have video at the video, social media, where it is the police officers time and again, startin the chaos that ensues. So in terms of the political strategy, it is a very effective strategy. But I think that we as a collective consciousness have kind of moved past that or we are in the process of moving past that, where we have the arguments to really kind of neutralize that.

Well, you have a lot of people who are now saying, you know, trying to walk hand-in-hand with police officers. There’s enough people who understand that that is a propaganda tool now for us to kind of strike at the core of that. You can’t put somebody on television holding a police officer’s hand, kumbayah, and make all of us feel calm and satiated. No, we understand the game now. And so it’s a collective process that we’re moving. I think that we’re almost there where we can finally see all of the different machinations of the ruling elite that they use to invalidate the protests in our mind. And we’ll just see. We’ll see how this the rest of this goes.

Glenn Greenwald: Let me ask you about that, because earlier you referenced Martin Luther King and he and his philosophy of nonviolence is one that’s typically invoked both by white liberals and African-American politicians to kind of evangelize the idea that any form of violence, any form of property destruction is something that he would have disapproved of.

What do you say about that? Is it that that philosophy of nonviolence didn’t take the cause of racial equality far enough? Is it that it’s kind of obsolete? Is it that his assassination demonstrated that maybe it was insufficient? What is your response when people invoke that, those teachings?

Ben Dixon: I think it’s primarily a misinterpretation, an intentional misinterpretation, of Dr. King. His nonviolence was strategic. It wasn’t that violence wasn’t necessary. It was that we couldn’t win with violence. We couldn’t get our agenda accomplished with violence. America is showing us something totally different right now. It is saying we will not pay you any attention until you burn something down. And that’s not our fault. It was up to me… Glenn, if it was up to me, I would be somewhere writing a book right now, sipping a mimosa, doing all the cosmopolitan things that we have all been accustomed to and programed to desire and want.

But America is signaling to us that we will not give you any attention. We will not pay any attention to your grievances unless you are burning something down. So the strategy inherently has to change.

And then even still, I want to correct myself a little more. It wasn’t until they saw the violence of Bloody Sunday that well-meaning liberals were actually kicked into gear to say, OK, we have to do something. So it really is a condemnation of the United States of America that in order for us to have any type of meaningful change, violence has to be attached to it. And maybe that’s the curse of America being such a violent nation.

Glenn Greenwald: So it’s just the last question. You know, one of the things that is raised as an argument against the use of disorder in civil disobedience and violence and like, is the specter that it was the 1968 riots in the sense of general instability that elected Richard Nixon four years after the Democrats crushed the Republicans in the greatest or one of the greatest landslides in presidential history. And the concern that if there is this ongoing sense of lawlessness and violence, that that could open the way for Donald Trump’s calls for a law and order and militarism and the like to resonate politically and elevate the chances that he could win over Joe Biden. Is that a concern for you? And more broadly, what is it that you hope to see or think is possible to see in the way of positive outcomes from what’s happening?

Ben Dixon: So, no, it’s not a concern because I have to use a comparison: when people make the argument against raising the minimum wage and they say that it’s going to cause the price of a hamburger to go up, the price of hamburgers is going up anyway. The price of hamburgers goes up every year without fail and they’re still paying people 7,25 dollars an hour, right?

Same thing is happening here whether or not this is taking place in the streets, Donald Trump is an authoritarian. Donald Trump is forever trying to increase the quote unquote, law and order. The United States in general, I can’t just lay this at Donald Trump, the Republican Party in general, and you see the Democratic Party, their power is secured based on law and order, the draconian police state that we have.

Those things are happening. The budgets of these police agencies are growing exponentially. They’re getting bigger weapons, bigger tanks, bigger shields. They’re getting more tear gas. They have more gear than our doctors have to fight covid-19. So all of our fears about an increase in ever increasing police state, yeah, it’s warranted, but it’s happening regardless.

I mean, you know if it was Hillary Clinton in office, chances are George Floyd would have died anyway.

Glenn Greenwald: As you said, Ferguson happened under President Obama. The police force looked extremely militarize to me during those eight years.

Ben Dixon: I mean, Ferguson. I will never forget the image of the young black man with dreads, he had on a teal shirt, he was holding his hands up and you had like five fully armed military looking police officers coming at him with their guns raised. So, I mean, we have been militarized for a very long time. And I think that’s a byproduct of our our imperialism abroad. In terms of what I would like to see, I think we have to continue applying pressure.

I want to state: the only thing I really, really care about, Glenn. Just me personally, my personal sense of humanity. Is I don’t want see anybody get killed. I do want to see you know, I was very glad to see the sword guy – If you looked up on Twitter hashtag sword guy – I mean, he really got his butt thoroughly beat down and it looked like he was dead. He wasn’t. And I’m glad he wasn’t killed.

Glenn Greenwald: Yeah. He was tweeting that night. He tweeted that night.

Ben Dixon: He was tweeitng that night. He got a serious ass whipping, but he was not killed. And I’m very grateful that he wasn’t killed.

I don’t care about buildings. The buildings are insured. Buildings are a symbol of this empire. This capitalistic system. If those get burned down. If that’s the only thing America is going to pay attention to, then what other choice do these protesters have? In terms of results? We have to strike at the core, the police state. These budgets. 2017 was the most recent data that I have. I know there’s some new data, but 4.89 billion dollars were spent in New York City alone for policing, 4.8 billion in one city.

These police agencies across the country are hyper militarized. They are overfunded and we have a police state. Some of these officers need to be digging ditches. Some of them need to be doing something else. Maybe don’t don’t send them to the school to teach – I was gonna say school teachers – don’t send them to schools that teach. But they need to be doing something else other than erecting and protecting a police state. And we have to strike at the core of it, right there. That’s what I would like to see happen.

Glenn Greenwald: Ben, thank you so much for your great work over the last week in talking about this. I think it’s illuminated the issues for a lot of people, including me. And I appreciate your taking the time to talk to me again on the show. Thanks very much.

Ben Dixon: Thanks so much for having me, Glenn.

Glenn Greenwald: All right. Stay well.

Ben Dixon: Take Care. 

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