‘Part of the Road to a Solution Is Really Understanding the Problem’

This annual round-up reflects the conversations we hope offered a voice or context or information that helped you interpret the news you read.

The post ‘Part of the Road to a Solution Is Really Understanding the Problem’ appeared first on FAIR.


The Best of CounterSpin 2021 aired December 31, 2021. This is a lightly edited transcript.


Janine Jackson

Janine Jackson

Janine Jackson: Welcome to the Best of CounterSpin for 2021. I’m Janine Jackson.

We call it the “best of,” but this annual round-up is just a reflection of the kinds of conversations we hope have offered a voice or context or information that might help you interpret the news you read. We are thankful to all of the activists, researchers, reporters and advocates who’ve appeared on the show. They help us see the world more clearly and see the role we can play in changing it.

You’re listening to the Best of CounterSpin for 2021, brought to you by the media watch group FAIR.


While it came in the midst of a calamitous time, the year’s beginning was marked historically by an event we’re still accounting for—the January 6 Capitol insurrection. We talked with activist, attorney and executive director of the Partnership for Civil Justice Fund Mara Verheyden-Hilliard on January 7.

Mara Verheyden-Hilliard

Mara Verheyden-Hilliard: “What we need to do and must do here is expose the nature of police repression.” (image: WTTG/WDCA)

Mara Verheyden-Hilliard: I think what we witnessed yesterday, in addition to being an extraordinary event in US history and our lifetimes, is fully defining of what has been told to us over and over again is the neutral application of law enforcement, and law and order. Any of us who have ever demonstrated in Washington, DC, know full well the capacity of the police agencies here to shut down and repress completely peaceful protest. Our clients and we have been subject to kettling, to mass arrest, to projectile weapons, to being soaked in chemical weapons, to tear gas, and there’s been no hesitation to use this. The police have all the materiel, the riot gear, the personnel, the weapons, the tactics at their disposal.

So that can lead us only to the most obvious conclusion, which is, what happened yesterday at the nation’s capital could not happen unless the police allowed it to happen.

So we are demanding an investigation, because there has to be exposure and accountability for every single officer, for every single command official, for everyone who was involved in allowing, facilitating, this white supremacist mob violence.

Our point here is not calling for police repression; our goal is not to increase police repression. What we need to do and must do here is expose the nature of police repression, and that is so evident here today.


JJ: Much rightful attention was directed at the Supreme Court’s thinking around Roe V. Wade, which affirmed abortion rights. But reproductive justice has always been about much more than Roe or abortion; that’s a “floor, not a ceiling,” as Kimberly Inez McGuire, executive director of the group URGE: Unite for Reproductive and Gender Equity, explained.

Kimberly Inez McGuire

Kimberly Inez McGuire: “Those who have had abortions deserve the dignity of recognition. We need to use the word ‘abortion.'”

Kimberly Inez McGuire: First and foremost, those who have had abortions deserve the dignity of recognition. We need to use the word “abortion.” We need to talk about abortion as necessary healthcare and as a social good. Anything less, honestly, disregards and disrespects the one-in-four women in this country who have sought out this healthcare. So that’s the first piece, is just saying the word “abortion.” It’s not a bad word. It’s a word that’s saved people’s lives and helped shape better futures.

The other piece around “the floor, not the ceiling” is: For people with economic resources, what is a legal right on paper has so much more meaning than for people who are blocked because of economic barriers, because of racial barriers. So we look at something like abortion access: Even before Roe v. Wade, when abortion was illegal across large swaths of the country, the reality is that women of means have always been able to get abortions; that has always been the reality for people with money.

The vision for reproductive justice is not just, you have a theoretical right to abortion, if you can fight your way through all of the muck and the restrictions. Reproductive justice means that if you’ve decided to end a pregnancy, you can do so safely, with dignity, without upending your family’s economic security, and without being subjected to, frankly, misogynist hate speech and stigma.


JJ: Igor Volsky, executive director of Guns Down America, talked about how, when it comes to gun violence, the US has tried nothing, and we’re all out of ideas.

Igor Volsky

Igor Volsky: “We have way too many guns, and they are way too easy to get.”

Igor Volsky: There’s really this sense, oftentimes, in the press that this problem is just too hard, that we already have 400 million guns in circulation, and there’s nothing we can do about it, that we somehow have to pay the price of 100 people dying every day from gun violence because we have a Second Amendment.

And the reality is that none of that is true, that we know exactly what needs to be done in order to save lives. And we know that because states across America have strengthened their gun laws, have invested in communities that are suffering from cyclical everyday gun violence, and have seen significant reductions in their gun suicide rates and in their gun homicide rates.

And, secondly, we just need to look overseas at some of our great allies, who have dramatically reduced gun violence by doing three basic things: by, No.1, ensuring that gun manufacturers and gun dealers are actually regulated, and can’t produce incredibly powerful weapons for the civilian market. Those countries raise the standard of gun ownership by requiring gun owners to register their firearm, to get a license to have a firearm in the first place. And they’ve also addressed the root causes of gun violence: things like employment opportunities, housing security, healthcare. So we have the blueprint; we just need to follow it.

JJ: You will hear that “Assault weapon bans don’t help, because most murders happen with handguns,” or “Background checks don’t help, because there’s a lot of resales,” and, “Well, it’s a lot of suicides.”

But if you spell it out to the goal being fewer guns, if you make that the goal, well, then that addresses all of those things.

IG: Yeah, the reason why the United States has a death rate that’s about 25% higher than our other peer nations is exactly what you just identified: We have way too many guns, and they are way too easy to get. And until our media and our leaders can have the courage, the political courage, to recognize that reality, and to begin communicating about it to the American people, it’s going to be a challenge to meet the goal of saving lives.


JJ: Oftentimes people think corporate media are liberal, or even left, because they acknowledge discrimination. The thing is, blanket acknowledgment is meaningless if you don’t break it down and explain how, for instance, racial bias plays out. That’s just what Dorothy A. Brown, professor at Emory University School of Law, and author of the book The Whiteness of Wealth, did for CounterSpin.

Doroahty A. Brown:

Dorothy A. Brown: “Until we come to terms with our racist wealth-building system, no solution is going to fix it.”

Dorothy A. Brown: So we have a lot of research on the wealth gap, and we have proposals for how to address it, but part of the problem is, you have the left and the right seeing different causes of it. And I have quarrels with both. The left sees this mainly as a function of historical discrimination that is brought into the 21st century; the right sees it as bad behavior on the part of Black Americans, right?

JJ: Mmm-mm.

DAB: So the left gets it wrong in this instance: Yes, it was historical discrimination, but the reason why wealth doesn’t work the same way for white Americans as Black Americans today is because of choices white people make.

So let’s take homeownership: Most white homeowners live in neighborhoods with very few Black Americans. That’s how they like it. That’s what the research shows. So progressive whites who live in neighborhoods with virtually no Black neighbors are part of why homeownership builds more wealth for white Americans than Black Americans, because Black Americans typically live in racially diverse or all-Black neighborhoods, and the homes are not valued as greatly as the exact same home in an all-white neighborhood.

JJ: Mmm-mm.

DAB: Why? Because white prospective homebuyers don’t want to live in those neighborhoods, so they’re not valued as high. So that’s not historical discrimination; that’s 21st century today discrimination by white homeowners.

JJ: Right.

DAB: On the other side, we have the right that says, “Well, Black people just need to act more like white people.” We need to get married; we need to buy homes. I’ve already told you why buying a home isn’t the ticket to wealth for Black Americans the way it is for white Americans.

But getting married: My research shows that when white people get married, they’re more likely to get a tax cut. How? Because the tax law favors married couples with one single wage-earner—one person who works in the paid labor market, the other person who works at home—that couple gets a tax cut. Couples like my parents (my mother was a nurse, my father was a plumber), they made roughly equal amounts: They don’t get a tax cut—and for decades, they paid higher taxes.

So you have conservatives saying, “Black people, you just need to get married.” And my research shows, well, when we do, we don’t get a tax cut.

So part of the road to a solution is really understanding the problem. And one of the key pieces that I make in my book is the system of America for building wealth is designed for white wealth. It’s designed for how white Americans engage in their activities, whether it’s marriage or buying a home, in a way that Black Americans simply cannot replicate. And until we come to terms with our racist wealth-building system, no solution is going to fix it.


JJ: The Covid pandemic highlighted many, many fault lines in US society, much of that aided and abetted by inadequate media coverage. Anti-Asian reporting had predictable results, but as media-maker and educator with the group 18 Million Rising Bianca Nozaki-Nasser told CounterSpin, the actions and the response fed into existing, noxious narratives.

Bianca Nozaki-Nasser

Bianca Nozaki-Nasser: “The anti-Asian violence that our communities face actually begins with state violence.”

Bianca Nozaki-Nasser: Earlier this year, we saw coverage that uplifted types of community vigilantism, made popular by celebrities like Daniel Dae Kim, Daniel Wu and Gemma Chan. We also saw calls from elected officials who turned to policing and hate crime laws as solutions to the attacks and discrimination.

However, we know that if funding the police made Asian Americans safe, we’d actually already be safe, because the US spends approximately $180 billion every year on policing and incarceration. And there’s so many layers to why people are vulnerable at this moment, are causing harm. But what we do know is that the anti-Asian violence that our communities face actually begins with state violence. For example, Biden can’t say, “Stop Asian hate,” and then deport a plane of Southeast Asian refugees.

So while Donald Trump’s rhetoric last year was inflammatory, it comes from a previous existing form of white supremacist, settler nationalism that the US pioneered to peddle racial fear, justify endless global wars, and exploitation and expulsion of people who are purposely depicted as “diseased” or “the enemy.”

So this is all to say that the root causes of anti-Asian violence are very complex, and we can’t expect that one single solution will repair all these harms. But to address anti-Asian violence at its roots, the US must reckon with the history of violence in our immigration policies, and the wars across Asia.


JJ: It might seem like 2021 was a head-spinner, but don’t get distracted. You don’t have to have heard of, for example, critical race theory, to see that the panic around it is brought to you by the same folks who want to keep people from voting or deciding whether to give birth or loving who they love. We asked for some context from Luke Harris, deputy director at the African American Policy Forum.

Luke Harris (photo: Vasser)

Luke Harris: “Critical race theory…asks why we have clearly visible and durable forms of racial inequality, centuries after emancipation and decades after the adoption of ideas about color blindness and formal equality.”

Luke Harris: The way I look at it, the far-right has moved to the center of the Republican Party, and this attack is a well-coordinated response to the most recent racial reckoning.

What’s going on? If I look at it historically, well, we’re a democratic republic born in the midst of the genocidal experience of Native Americans, of slavery, of apartheid, and exclusionary immigration laws that, for example, seriously restricted the entry of Asian Americans into this country until late in the 20th century.

But we’ve never really confronted the implications of that history. For the most part, we’ve not confronted that history at all. And, nonetheless, it is in this setting that the right has created a political and moral panic. They are pushing back against the possibilities of progressive social change across the board. The attack on CRT is just the tip of the iceberg.

What’s it about? I think, really, it’s about galvanizing support for the Republican Party in the 2022 and 2024 elections. Nowadays, the right is concerned that racial justice advocates have created a powerful multiracial movement in response to the 2020 killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery and other victims of anti-Black violence at the hands of the police. And they want to, as best they can, quell that moment.

To make a long story short, critical race theory—it’s a field of study that asks why we have clearly visible and durable forms of racial inequality, centuries after emancipation and decades after the adoption of ideas about color blindness and formal equality. So in this respect, CRT, to be sure, it has nothing to do with what the right-wing disinformation campaign says it’s all about. Really, it’s just a pathway to unearthing the ways in which our society has structured racial inequality into its everyday institutions, practices and policy priorities.

What do I mean by this? Take, for example, the public policies that emerged in the New Deal, in the Roosevelt administration; take the Federal Housing Administration and take the GI Bill.  The Federal Housing Administration, now, the thing about it: They contributed $120 billion in resources so that people could get mortgages who couldn’t get them before. And that wasn’t just a group of people that included people of color; the ordinary white person, until this period in time, couldn’t afford to buy a house, right?

But that $120 billion, only 2% of that went to all people of color. That money went to the creation of the white suburbs, at a time when people of color were moved into rental properties in what would become urban poor communities.

The most significant element of the wealth gap between Black people and white people is a function of those kinds of policies. So to understand the present, you have to understand the past. And that’s exactly what the conservatives and the right wing doesn’t want.


JJ: “No one wants to work!” Are we over that one yet? Things are shifting, but there’s still a media mountain to move about the very idea that workers choosing their conditions is something more than a “month” or a “moment”—and might just be a fundamental question of human rights. We spoke with senior economic analyst at the Economic Policy Institute, and deputy director of EARN, the Economic Analysis and Research Network, David Cooper.

David Cooper: “For most of the last 40 years, corporate interests and policymakers, either through acts of commission or acts of omission, have largely undercut workers’ bargaining power.”

David Cooper: There is this assumption that is baked into our theories of the economy, that workers and employers have equal bargaining power. That if an employee doesn’t like their job, they can just instantly go out and find another one, without suffering any consequences. That if they think their pay is too low, all they have to do is just go and look around a little bit, and they can immediately go and find another one, and employers can just immediately react and raise their pay.

And, obviously, the world is far more complicated than that. And there is always a fundamental imbalance in the bargaining power of employers and employees. And when you’re talking about particular portions of the labor market, like low-wage workers, the imbalance in power is even more pronounced.

And what we’re seeing right now, coming out of the pandemic, is a lot of people got to see that when government stepped in, when lawmakers chose to act and gave them more generous, more accessible unemployment insurance; gave them some breathing room to find suitable jobs, not just the first one available; when we give workers the ability to take time off to care for themselves, or a family member who got sick, when some states set tougher rules on workplace safety; when some employers at least for a little while adopted hazard pay, to acknowledge the additional workloads that these frontline jobs were taking on; workers got to see that there is an alternative, that when they have some of this backing of government and policy, they are given a little more leverage.

And that might allow them to exert a little more pressure, to actually expect more from their employer, or to go out and look for a job that’s more suitable for their circumstances, which I think, unfortunately, for most of the last 40 years, corporate interests and policymakers, either through acts of commission or acts of omission, have largely undercut workers’ bargaining power. They’ve just handed more leverage over to employers in pretty much every way possible.


JJ: Fear-mongering crime coverage is a hardy perennial for for-profit media. But they don’t just scare you, they offer a response—police. The New York Times covered a murder spike with reporting from Jeff Asher, without tipping readers to his work with the CIA and Palantir and a consulting business with the New Orleans police department. But if only that were the only problem, as Alec Karakatsanis, founder and executive director of Civil Rights Corps, explained.

Alec Karakatsanis

Alec Karakatsanis: “Because they’re just asserted commonly, every single day, in paper after paper and news outlet after news outlet, things can become normalized.”

Alec Karakatsanis: Asher repeats many of the problems that we see in Times coverage generally: wild speculation about the connection between police and things like murders. It reminds me a lot of climate denial, back in the ’90s and early 2000s. It reminds me a lot of the coverage leading up to the Iraq War. Things are just asserted, and because they’re just asserted commonly, every single day, in paper after paper and news outlet after news outlet, things can become normalized. And what would be a radical, anti-science, fringe view, that lets the police determine murder rates—

By the way, the scientific consensus is pretty overwhelming. Things like murder rates and harm in our society are much more correlated with poverty, inequality, mental illness, drug addiction, lack of access to decent healthcare and housing and jobs, lack of social cohesion—and, in particular, toxic masculinity is one that’s often left out of these explanations. But a lot of violence is intimate partner violence committed by men.

And none of these things are things that the police are connected with. And, in fact, almost all of them are things that, over the course of the last hundred years, police have systematically organized to prevent progressive social change in each one of these areas, just crushing and infiltrating and surveilling every major social movement for justice.

None of that background is given in any of these Times pieces. You’re told that the murder rate is skyrocketing. And Asher used a number of very misleading graphs to make people think that murder is extraordinarily high, when it’s at near 30-, 40-, 50-year lows, even though there was an increase in murder during the beginning of the global pandemic, which caused a lot of mental health issues in people, and there’s many other explanations.

But the bigger context is that it’s just seen as totally normal in the New York Times, and in the media generally, to talk about murder and then right away pivot to talking about explanations that deal with the police, when we all know that things that correlate with murder are things that are much more profound features of our society.


JJ: Climate change was clearly a top story for 2021. We’re past the point where reporters should be detailing what’s going wrong. We need to know who is standing in the way of response. And that’s where the “corporate” in corporate media kicks in. Look no further than coverage, or lack thereof, of Steven Donziger, the attorney who made the mistake of holding Chevron accountable for its anti-human, anti-climate crimes. Paul Paz y Miño, associate director at Amazon Watch, told us about that.

Paul Paz y Mino

Paul Paz y Miño: “When you actually hold their feet to the fire and make something happen, they pull everything they can out of the closet to silence and suppress you. “

Paul Paz y Miño: The actual underlying legal issues, the reason that Chevron is in this position, are pretty cut and dried. They actually don’t dispute them. Chevron, as you mentioned, deliberately dumped billions of gallons of toxic waste over the course of decades into the Ecuadorian Amazon, and they fully admit that they did that. They even admit that they did it as a cost-saving measure. What they deny is that they should be the ones to pay to clean it up.

And, as you also pointed out, what happens when someone takes them to court on it and wins is they don’t respect the law. They don’t acknowledge defeat. They don’t accept responsibility. They turn their sights on the individuals, and they try to silence them. If they can’t silence them, they sue them and they, at this point, literally criminalize them.

What’s shocking about this is not that an oil company like Chevron would do this, right? Because any company that would deliberately poison the drinking water of 30,000 people, and destroy the lives of Indigenous communities, of course they would stoop to these types of lengths.

What’s shocking is they’re aided and abetted by the US legal system, that their lawyers have successfully suppressed the story from being told in places like the New York Times and on CNN, and that they’ve thumbed their nose at the entire international community, and are literally days away from throwing this lawyer in jail, because he was the one who beat them in court.

And what does that say for the climate justice movement, and the ability for a civil society to challenge the actions of the fossil fuel industry, if when someone wins, they’re going to be attacked, they’re going to be destroyed?

You can protest. You can even get arrested. You can have a petition, etc. But when you actually hold their feet to the fire and make something happen, they pull everything they can out of the closet to silence and suppress you. And every turn in this case has been another brick wall, and behind it is Chevron or their lawyers.

I’ve got to tell you, you go to the shareholder meeting, which I go to every year at Chevron, and you talk to them about what’s really happened. And you say, look, we all know you did this. You know you did this. You have plenty of money, billions of dollars in profit. You can spare what’s needed to help the people that were poisoned, and clean this up.

And their response to everyone who says anything about this is, what a shame that these greedy New York lawyers have duped you into believing the myth that we should be the ones to pay to clean up. The only point that they can come back with is, this is all Donziger’s fault. He is the evil genius who has been able to organize the whole world, the human rights community, Nobel Peace Prize winners, members of Congress, senators—

JJ: The UN.

PPM: The UN. They’re all supposedly duped by this one nefarious lawyer, who managed to pull the wool over their eyes? Versus the oil company that admitted to creating the worst oil-related disaster in the history of the world, for a profit. And they’ve managed to get it to the point, like you’re saying, where people are like, well, he must have done something wrong.

And, like I said, it’s backfiring on them, because there’s never been more support for Donziger and for the Ecuadorians than there is today, because of what they’ve done to him.


JJ: Yes, but isn’t the US a world leader on climate? No. Michael K. Dorsey works on issues of global energy, environment, finance and sustainability. While calling for continued people power, which he named as the thing that’s going to carry the day, he suggested much, much, much more needs to be demanded of political leadership.

Michael K. Dorsey

Michael K. Dorsey: “The world’s governments…haven’t delivered leadership at the scale and state at which we need it.”

Michael K. Dorsey: Unfortunately, where we stand now in the context of the multilateral negotiations around climate, and attempts to get us out ahead of the unfolding climate catastrophe, is we’re basically several days late and many, many dollars short. We need roughly $100 trillion to really seriously begin to tackle this now catastrophe that’s playing out across and around the world. We need, really, more robust commitments than the current Biden administration’s desire to reduce emissions by 50% by the next decade, 2030. We need, really, something like 50% or even 100% more reductions of carbon pollution in the atmosphere to seriously check this unfolding catastrophe. And we need that money, that $100 trillion, much, much sooner than by mid-century, 2050.

So, really, the world’s governments have taken too long, they have not come to the table with sufficient seriousness, sufficient leadership. They haven’t delivered leadership at the scale and state at which we need it. They really aren’t fit for purpose, unfortunately.

The failure to deliver is basically going to put more and more lives at risk. It’s going to cause a loss of life, and it’s especially going to damn those on the margins of society. The poor Black and brown folks, certainly in the United States, that are on the front line and fence line of polluting industry, particularly fossil fuel pollution. But also those in the Global South, as it were, the developing world in Africa, in Asia, across Latin America. They’re going to pay with their lives, and they already are.

JJ: And that’s it for the Best of Counterspin for 2021. I hope you enjoyed this look back at just some of the year’s conversations. You can find all our shows and transcripts on the website FAIR.org. The show is engineered by Alex Noyes. I’m Janine Jackson. Thank you for listening to CounterSpin.


The post ‘Part of the Road to a Solution Is Really Understanding the Problem’ appeared first on FAIR.

This content originally appeared on FAIR and was authored by Janine Jackson.

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