A bi-weekly publication in support of informed public discourse. Our inspiration is I.F. Stone’s weekly, a digest published from1953 to 1971 that made sense of the news coming out of Washington.
Like I F Stone’s weekly, our goal is to tell the story that lies behind the news. It is to put ourselves, ordinary people that we are, in a position to read/watch the news with an informed eye. To do this, we gather and digest information from many sources on topics selected for their importance.
Unlike I F Stone’s weekly, we publish every two weeks from Canada. Bulletins focus on issues that extend beyond the USA.
Muckrakers Bulletin is published by Plainspeak.ca, a non-profit, non-partisan group. Plainspeak is dedicated to turning complicated public issues into plain language and graphics so that they become intelligible to ever-wider audiences.
Although any reader can identify a point of view in each Bulletin, people with different views should find them useful.
Muckrakers Bulletin is available at no charge. Readers are welcome to copy, use or redistribute any Muckraker Bulletin, but only in its entirety and only in in support of informed public discourse.
As we see it:
- True, some people do not react to the daily rollback of just about every US policy or program that actually benefits people. They do not even react to the lack of business acumen, or the lies or the profit-taking that is going on at the highest levels of power.
- They seem not to fear nuclear missile brinks-ship, the games being played by those not to be trusted.
- So confident are they of the importance of someone thumbing his nose at “the powers-that-be” and the ‘things that have been done in the past” that it doesn’t matter if they themselves will suffer. Call it comfort zone thinking.
- It may also be true that the system is rigged, that there is good evidence to support a few of the many US government actions and that there is some public sentiment to support what is happening. It may also be true that some of the longstanding progressive movements are splintered and bickering and that some progressive movements are themselves caught up in contested notions of free speech and its impact.
- Eight months ago, we at Muckraker Bulletin would have said no more than: “despair, though justified, is counterproductive”.
- Now we see signs that despair is being replaced (or supplemented) with something else. We detect a subtle but unmistakable shift. In fact, many commentators are drawing attention to “push back”. “Push back” is coming from people that never before were engaged with politics.
- In our view, the bright stars in “push back” are not necessarily the traditional groups such as Amnesty, ACLU or even Planned Parenthood. Notwithstanding their many very significant efforts, these groups are under constant siege, so much so that they spend a good part of their time just defending their existence.
- The bright stars are groups we never heard of before, or very local groups responding to local conditions. Sometimes they are connected to electoral politics (often local) but often not. In some cases, they are associated with what is often called “the left”, but for many of them, a simple left/right distinction makes no sense. They often call themselves “progressives”. Also among the bright stars are also various investigative and news reporting sites.
- Here we will try to capture a few bits of the picture.
- Our focus in this Muckrakers Bulletin is the US.
- It was always strange to us that the “peace movement” seemed to have so little resonance at this moment, when the danger is as real and immediate as it has ever been. Even we tend to pay attention (wrongly as it turns out) only to what is happening in countries under the US nuclear umbrella (including Canada).
- In fact, not only did the UN Treaty to eliminate nuclear weapons get passed by 122 countries (out of 193), but those involved won the Nobel Peace prize for their efforts. Even the International Red Cross – pushed for it. So did the Netherlands which is under the nuclear umbrella (and sad to say, Canada did not even participate in the talks.
- The arguments against even participating in discussions (let alone signing the Treaty) was that countries that have already, or want to have nuclear weapons (such as North Korea) are not inclined to nuclear arms reduction, let alone their elimination, that the Treaty undermined other efforts and that adequate verification was still not in sight. It was also said that unless all interested and/or nuclear-implicated parties signed onto the Treaty, it wasn’t worth the time and effort.
- This is a serious (and obviously in most cases an intentional) misreading of the role played by many of the UN Treaties. True, sometimes UN Treaties directly result in actions (legal and other) by nation-states. Often instead they set standards against which the conduct of states can be measured; they give voice to aspirations of large majorities of peoples, and they mandate programs of action that promote at least incremental progress.
- ICAN, the group that pushed for the Treaty and won the Nobel prize, is a coalition of anti-nuclear groups (NGOs) throughout the world. It started in Australia, but now has an office and small staff located in Geneva. It has a small staff and is supported by donations. Groups with the aim of eliminating the threat of nuclear war apply to be partner organizations. If accepted, then have a vote in ICAN policy and working groups but they maintain their own activities.
Center for the Working Poor
- We forget sometimes that much of the 60s protest had its roots in the faith (and inter-faith) community. Such groups focused on working with and for the poor and disenfranchised. Most importantly, their members saw personal moral choices as being central to their political action. They sought exclusively non-violent means of achieving social justice. About social justice, they were untiring.
- Indivisible started as a web-published guide for local action, mainly in terms of pressuring members of the US Congress at the local level. As of last report, it has been downloaded about 2 million times. Its support is from crowd funding, that is, from people who decide to donate on the basis of what they have read either on the Indivisible website or on a website of one of the local groups.
- The guide, and all that follows from it, puts emphasis on local action, not national campaigns and it claims to have fostered about 6000 local groups. It publishes “posts” about activities by these groups.
- As a US-wide organization – that is, as an organization as opposed to its local groups – it was an initiative of former congressional and White House staff members. Although leadership seems to come from a small group, Indivisible seems to us to be more of a “how to do something in your own community” group than a national organization. However, Indivisible does partner with established progressive groups (e.g. ACLU) in particular campaigns, using its social media network to do so, and it suggests campaign strategies for its local groups.
- Indivisible has been attacked by Republicans and the media as being either a George Soros funded group, or as provoking confrontations and or as silencing speakers at town hall meetings. To the first complaint, Indivisible spokespeople respond that the organization is not funded by any Soros group, but that some of the staffers have worked with Soros funded groups. (Needless to say, one might question why Soros has become the “devil incarnate” in such questions)
- To the second complaint, provoking confrontations is precisely what is intended inasmuch as US representatives are asked in these town hall meetings to explain why they are either silent or supporting policies that undermine the interests and well-being of many of their constituents.
- As to the third, Indivisible leadership stresses civility and respect. Needless to say, no one fully controls who shows up at open meetings either as seeming supporters or as opponents, or how people handle themselves once there. Comparisons are often drawn to the Tea Party in its first incarnation, which also attracted militant protesters.
- Interestingly, Indivisible openly speaks about its attempts to model its strategies on the Tea Party approach.
- Avaaz has been active for about six years. Its approach is quite different from Indivisible. It amasses huge numbers of people (45 million at last count) that are willing to sign various petitions (petitions of their choosing, relevant to the country where they live) as part of campaigns run by Avaaz. The effectiveness of Avaaz comes from the fact that elected officials, governments and regulators can be presented with literally millions of signatures from the public on a particular issue. Much is done exclusively on-line – literally the opposite approach from Indivisible.
- Campaign topics are chosen also through on-line polling, such that those who “subscribe” determine where action might best be taken.
- Campaign topics have included, for example, protecting Internet privacy, pressuring for sanctions against sexist and racist members of the EU parliament, saving portions of the Amazon forest from being sold off, and pressuring to end the atrocities in Yemen. Avaaz lawyers will also join legal actions, and sometimes Avaaz takes part in on the ground events and provides aid to support groups in countries where, for example, ethnic cleansing is in process.
- Avaaz also makes provision for people starting their own petitions, assuming that posting on-line will generate support.
- Avaaz is member funded only. No corporate or government support is accepted.
- MoveOn is one of the cofounders of Avaaz. MoveOn has about 8 million members. It has a longer history, and has quite a different history and approach from Avaaz.
- MoveOn is both an advocacy group and, separately, a political support organization. It endorses and supports particular candidates, mainly Democrats, After a poll of its members, it supported Bernie Sanders.
- MoveOn is known for its on-line work but is working to establish a local presence. Its model has been adopted in other countries.
- One of its main activities is supporting “progressive partner” groups wishing to use petitioning: by carefully dealing with the privacy issues, such groups gain access to a huge mailing list and “just in time” response. In return Progressive Partners get permission to access email addresses of any new members that sign on because of the petition on MoveOn’s site. MoveOn maintains a blog, mainly consisting of posts of its activities.
- MoveOn has attracted the most negative attention of any of these groups, in part because it has received both a corporate donation and money from George Soros (see above), in part because it is involved directly in election campaigns and in part because some of its advertising has been controversial.
This is literally a calendar of upcoming events and campaigns, it was initiated by Michael Moore. All anyone needs to do is enter one’s zip or postal code, and then the calendar will show events in one’s own locality.
A post that gives the sites for all kinds of efforts at “push back”:
- Moyers has been an active journalist (including for CBS and NBC as well as public broadcasting) and documentarian for some decades. His current project is Moyers and Company, an on-line service featuring sections on activism, news and analysis.
- Of particular interest are columns by Todd Gitlin (who is a regular columist): A recent one provides the best analysis we have seen of Black Lives Matter as a social movement (“What Will It Take for Black Lives to Matter” Oct 9, 2017)
- With major foundations in support to begin the campaign, and a continuing drive for more funding, Newsmatch seeks to support independent and investigative journalism with more than a hundred participating (non-profit) newsrooms.
In these times:
- If one wants to follow various political issues and progressive campaigns, a good source is In These Times, a newspaper (now on-line). Founded in 1976, it operates by subscription. Recent stories include, for example, “White Lawmakers are Using Alabama’s Racist State Constitution to Keep Black Wages Down”, “Harvey Weinstein Revelations: Force the Question: Where was the Screen Actors Guild”.
- Interestingly, because our next Muckrakers Bulletin will be on NAFTA and other trade agreements, one In These Times article is “A Case Study in How NAFTA Undermines Strikes”.
The Intercept (published by First Look Media)
- Founded in 2014, funded by the ebay founder, it features such writers as Glenn Greenwald and Laura Poitras. It calls itself “adversarial journalism” and has a sort of progressive leaning Wikileaks feel about it.
- For example, it tracked and reported on the NSA’s audio recordings cell phones in the Bahamas, and metadata (aggregations of all data) from Mexico among other countries. It leaked documents about the terrorist watch list system; published the Drone Papers, wrote about Teflon Toxic, and documented Drone use under Obama’s administration.
- It has won numerous journalism awards and hosts a weekly podcast. It has come under attack.
- Politico is interesting inasmuch as it represents one of several serious attempts to create a model for journalism that has wide reach and business success in today’s world where virtually all serious print-based newspapers (and magazines) are suffering despite their on-line presence.
- Politico boasts about its “just in time” reporting, its network of on-line outlets, its clout in Washington and New York (where it is available in print versions) and its many millions of viewers on-line.
- It does not label itself “progressive” but its stories are not discernably different in orientation than those of the NYTimes and some are clearly in the “progressive camp”, for example: “ Exxon Mobil is Still Pumping Toxins into Black Community in Texas 17 years after Civil Rights Complaint.
- Politicio features multiple short news clips, but has an outlet for long-form stories. There has been much reporting about Politico’s organizational turmoil, but frankly, anything that serves to keep journalists working is worth paying attention to.
RevealNews (Center for Investigative Reporting)
- The Center has been operating since 1977. It operates in various on-line formats (its blog is called Dig), but also serves as a source for various radio and other media outlets. News covered is generally similar to other outlets, in part because such outlets u se stories generated by Reveal/the Center.
- The Center invites “tips” from its followers about stories to be followed up. It subsists on donations, but does not accept government funds or money from elected officials. Recent stories include: ”The Homewreckers: How Trump Cronies are sabotaging the American Dream” (about foreclosures), and “The Hate Report” (about Charlottesville)
- A recent addition to the news/new forms of journalism pantheon, it features stories much like those in Reveal.
- Perhaps the best of the independent, non-profit news on-line sources is ProPublica. It has about 8 million “hits” on its various sites (including Facebook and an email lit).
- Propublica is well funded through foundations (including the Ford Foundation), subscriptions, advertising and sponsorships as well as individual donations. It has a staff of about 50. It has a variety of news-gathering and news-disseminating partners ranging from NPR News and the BBC to Vanity Fair and Politico. It invites tips for followup by reporters from its subscribers.
- Recent series include “Too Broke for Bankruptcy”, “Lost Mothers: Maternal Care and Preventable Deaths” and “Wasted Medicine and “Docume”Hell and High Water” (on Houston’s preparedness for Hurricanes) and “Bankruptcy and Race”.