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Mainstream Media Where Are You?
A group of teachers in Chicago recently started an initiative to inform college and high school students about critical global issues. The initiative deals with young people who have a wide range of academic skills, who are generally hard-working and eager to find a suitable career, and whose savvy about modern culture makes up for their lack of life experience. But they know almost nothing about their country's relationship with the world. They know there's a war going on, they've heard about genocide in Africa, they suspect that Iran is a threat to the United States. But ask them to provide some details and they return a blank stare.
It is understandable that today's youth, with so many entertainment options and electronic distractions, and with the pursuit of good times high on their list of priorities, can't be sufficiently aware of world issues. But they do read newspaper headlines and occasionally watch the news. They simply don't get enough information from these sources. If they hear at all about controversial issues, the information is oversimplified, incomplete, and often one-sided.
They need to know that the U.S. is responsible for almost half of the world's total military expenditures, that nearly half of the arms sales to developing countries (in 2005) came from the United States, and that 20 of the top 25 recipients of U.S. arms sales in the developing world were declared undemocratic or human rights abusers by the U.S. State Department's own Human Rights Report.
They need to know that the U.S. attempted to overthrow more than 40 foreign governments from the end of WW2 to the turn of the century, many of them populist and democratic movements that were battling oppressive regimes.
They need to know that the U.S. went to war with Iraq in 2003 because of erroneous claims that Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction and had ties to Al Qaeda.
They need to know that studies by 16 U.S. intelligence agencies, including the CIA, the FBI, the State Dept., and all four branches of the armed forces, revealed that the occupation of Iraq has contributed to an increase in the overall terrorist threat. And that studies by the University of Chicago, the Hoover Digest, the Cato Institute, Iraq Body Count, and the 2005 Human Security Report support these findings.
They need to know that the U.S. opposed United Nations votes on the right to food, the rights of women, the rights of children, and the right to freedom of people forcibly deprived of that right. That the U.S. opposed the banning of landmines. That the UN has accused the U.S. of repeatedly violating the World Convention against Torture, and that the UN voted the U.S. off the U.N. Human Rights Commission in 2001. And that at the end of 2006, 80% of the UN's unpaid dues were owed by the United States.
They need to know that only eight corporations -- Time Warner, Disney, Murdoch's News Corporation, Viacom (formerly CBS), General Electric, Yahoo, Google, and MSN -- now control most of the U.S. media, and that some of them have close connections to companies making weaponry for the U.S. military.
They need to know that while 3,000 Americans died in the horrible terrorist attack on September 11, 2001, every DAY of the year 30,000 children die of hunger and preventable diseases around the world. That the United Nations Human Development Report 2005 concluded that "The gap between the average citizen in the richest and in the poorest countries is wide and getting wider." That the World Bank's World Development Report 2006 stated that inequality in the U.S. is the worst in the developed world. That corporate income has risen much faster than workers' wages, while the corporate tax rate has dropped dramatically over the past 50 years.
They need to know that U.S. foreign aid, based on percentage of income, is one of the lowest in the developed world. That most of our aid goes to relatively wealthy Israel and another ally, Egypt. That 70% of U.S. aid is 'tied,' which means that the recipient must use it to purchase U.S. goods and services. That even our impressive level of private aid is mostly confined to donations within the U.S., and in the form of remittances (money sent back to the home countries of people working in the United States).
They need to know that "free trade" is often skewed in favor of wealthy countries. That we give more economic aid to our own multinational companies than foreign aid to poor countries. That U.S. tariffs on countries like Viet Nam and Bangladesh are 10 times higher than on European Union countries. That according to Christian Aid, trade liberalization in the past 20 years has cost sub-Saharan Africa more than $272 billion, a staggering sum that could have erased all its debts while paying for vaccination and school for every child. That the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank, the New Economics Foundation, and the United Nations Report on the World Social Situation 2005 all reported that free trade has not helped the world's poor.
Is it unpatriotic to criticize the behavior of one's own country? It depends on the meaning of patriotism. Socrates angered people by challenging them in public and exposing their ignorance. But he felt he was acting as a patriot by encouraging thoughtfulness over blind acceptance and celebration of government policies. In words attributed to him, "The unexamined life is not worth living." Like Socrates, Henry David Thoreau believed that citizens should tolerate nothing less from their government than the highest standards of behavior. He said, "Those who, while they disapprove of the character and measures of a government, yield to it their allegiance and support are undoubtedly its most conscientious supporters, and so frequently the most serious obstacles to reform." Martin Luther King talked about moving "beyond the prophesying of smooth patriotism to the high grounds of a firm dissent based upon the mandates of conscience."
But how do we know what's true and what isn't? Opinions derived from any one source may be inaccurate, or biased, or simply wrong. Our students in the Global Initiative are taught to research the issues, to seek multiple sources if there is any question about the truth. It can be hard work. Their job would be a lot easier if the newspapers and TV news shows would take on the big issues and make a realistic effort to provide balanced coverage.
* * * * *
1 Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) Yearbook 2006 ( http://yearbook2006.sipri.org/chap8)
2 "World Wide Military Expenditures" (http://www.globalsecurity.org/military/world/spending.htm )
3 "U.S. Military Spending vs. the World," Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation, February 5, 2007
4 Conventional Arms Transfers to Developing Nations, 1998-2005," CRS Report for Congress, October 23, 2006
5 Frida Berrigan and William D. Hartung, with Leslie Heffel, "U.S. Weapons at War 2005: Promoting Freedom or Fueling Conflict?" June 2005
6 "The G8: Global Arms Exporters: Failing to prevent irresponsible arms transfers" Amnesty International, IANSA, Oxfam International, June 2005
7 William Blum, "Rogue State: A Guide to the World's Only Superpower" (Common Courage Press, 2000)
8 "Fiasco: The American Military Adventure in Iraq," by Thomas Ricks (Penguin Books, 2006)
9 Robert A. Pape, "Suicide Terrorism and Democracy: What We've Learned Since 9/11," Cato Institute, September 8, 2006
10 "Why Gun-Barrel Democracy Doesn't Work," by Bruce Bueno de Mesquita and George W. Downs, The Hoover Digest, January 23, 2006 (http://www.hooverdigest.org/042/bdm.html)
11 "Does U.S. Intervention Overseas Breed Terrorism? The Historical Record," by Ivan Eland, Cato Institute, December 17, 1998 (http://www.informationclearinghouse.info/article1568.htm)
12 "The Iraq Effect: War Has Increased Terrorism Sevenfold Worldwide," By Peter Bergen and Paul Cruickshank, Mother Jones, March 1, 2007 (http://www.motherjones.com/news/featurex/2007/03/iraq_effect_1.html )
13 "Year Four: Simply the worst," Press release 15: Iraq Body Count March 18th 2007 (http://www.iraqbodycount.org/press/pr15.php)
14 "The Terrorism Index," by Foreign Policy & The Center For American Progress, July/August 2006
15 "Human Security Report 2005" (http://www.humansecurityreport.info/content/view/28/63)
16 "US Position on International Treaties," Updated July, 2003 (http://www.globalpolicy.org/empire/tables/treaties.htm)
17 "Why do people hate America?" by Ziauddin Sardar and Merryl Wyn Davies (Disinformation Co., 2002)
18 "Convention on the Rights of the Child," UNICEF (http://www.unicef.org/crc/index_30229.html)
19 "U.S. Opposes Right to Food at World Summit," Peter Rosset, Food First, June 30, 2002
20 Human Rights Watch World Report 2006 (www.hrw.org)
21 United Nations Population Fund, January 2006 ( http://www.unfpa.org/support/friends/34million.htm)
22 "US acknowledges torture at Guantanamo; in Iraq, Afghanistan - UN 06.24.2005 ( http://www.forbes.com/work/feeds/afx/2005/06/24/afx2110388.html)
24 "UN approves Human Rights Council over US opposition," University of Pittsburgh School of Law, March 15, 2006
25 "U.S. Will Not Join Landmine Treaty" (http://www.armscontrol.org/act/2004_03/Rademaker.asp)
26 "Global Governance Initiative: Annual Report 2006" ( http://www.weforum.org/pdf/Initiatives/GGI_Report06.pdf)
27 "What Every American Should Know About Who's Really Running the World," by Melissa Rossi (Plume Books, 2005)
28 "Human Security Report," Human Security Centre, 2005 (www.humansecurityreport.info)
29 "UN Finance," Global Policy Forum, accessed February 2007 (http://www.globalpolicy.org/finance )
30 Ben Bagdikian, "The New Media Monopoly" (Beacon Press, 2004)
31 "Big Six U.S. TV Companies," TVNewsday, April 21, 2006
32 "And then there were eight: 25 years of media mergers, from GE-NBC to Google-YouTube," Mother Jones, March 2007
33 Jeffrey D. Sachs, "The End of Poverty" (Penguin Press, 2005)
34 United Nations: Human Development Report 2005 ( http://hdr.undp.org/reports/global/2005/pdf/HDR05_chapter_2.pdf)
35 "Historical Income Tables - Income Equality," U.S. Census Bureau, May 2004
36 United Nations Human Development Report 2005
37 World Bank, "World Development Report 2006"
38 "The Income Gap," US News & World Report, January 22, 2007
39 "Income Gap Is Widening, Data Shows," New York Times, March 29, 2007
40 "Two Americas: One Rich, One Poor? Understanding Income Inequality in the United States" by Robert Rector and Rea Hederman, Jr., August 24, 2004 ( http://www.heritage.org/Research/Taxes/bg1791.cfm)
41 "The Bush Tax Cuts Enacted Through 2006: The Latest CTJ Data, June 22, 2006 (http://ctj.org/pdf/gwbdata.pdf )
42 "New IRS Data Show Income Inequality Is Again on the Rise," By Isaac Shapiro, October 17, 2005 (http://www.cbpp.org/10-17-05inc.htm)
43 "The Decline of Corporate Income Tax Revenues," by Joel Friedman, October 24, 2003 (http://www.cbpp.org/10-16-03tax.htm)
44 World Institute for Development Economics Research of the United Nations University (UNU-WIDER), "The World Distribution of Household Wealth," December 5, 2006
45 "Corporate Tax Dodgers: The Decline in U.S. Corporate Taxes and the Rise in Offshore Tax Haven Abuses," Center for Corporate Policy
46 "Americans on Foreign Aid and World Hunger: A Study of U.S. Public Attitudes, Program on International Policy Attitudes," 2001 and 2006
47 "Official Development Assistance increases further - but 2006 targets still a challenge," Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, 11/04/2005
48 "Development aid from OECD countries fell 5.1% in 2006," Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, March 4, 2007
49 "Human Development Report 2005," United Nations (hdr.undp.org/reports/global/2005/pdf/HDR05_chapter_3.pdf)
50 "Stingy Samaritans: Why Recent Increases in Development Aid Fail to Help the Poor," By Pekka Hirvonen, Global Policy Forum, August 2005
51 "Foreign Aid: An Introductory Overview of U.S. Programs and Policy," Congressional Research Service, The Library of Congress, January 19, 2005
52 "Foreign Aid: An Introductory Overview of U.S. Programs and Policy," Congressional Research Service, The Library of Congress, April 15, 2004 ( http://usinfo.state.gov/usa/infousa/trade/files/98- 916.pdf
53 "Paying the Price: Why rich countries must invest now in a war on poverty," Oxfam International 2005, Figure 10 ( http://www.oxfam.org/en/files/pp041206_MDG.pdf)
54 "Tied Aid Strangling Nations, Says U.N." by Thalif Deen, July 6, 2004
55 "The Index of Global Philanthropy 2006," Carol Adelman, Center for Global Prosperity (cgp.hudson.org)
56 "Think Again: U.S. Foreign Aid," By Steven Radelet, Center for Global Development, February 2005 ( http://www.cgdev.org/docs/FP_Radelet_2_05.pdf)
57 Commitment to Development Index for 2005, Center for Global Development (http://www.cgdev.org/section/initiatives/_active/cdi )
58 "Remittances aren't charity, and one country does not make an index," by Steve Radelet, cgdev.org, April 13, 2006
59 "International comparisons of charitable giving," Charities Aid Foundation, November 2006
60 "Savage Subsidies," By Michael Hogan, 03-28-06 (http://www.politicalaffairs.net/article/view/3066/1/159 )
61 "Human Development Report 2005" (http://hdr.undp.org/reports/global/2005)
62 "It Takes More than Free Trade to End Poverty," By Joseph Stiglitz, Former World Bank Chief Economist, February 3, 2006 (http://www.globalpolicy.org/socecon/bwi-wto/wto/2006/0203stiglitz.htm)
63 "A Compendium of Inequality: The Human Development Report 2005," by Jens Martens
64 "The economics of failure: The real cost of 'free' trade for poor countries," A Christian Aid briefing paper, June 2005
65 The Damage Done: Aid, Death and Dogma, Christian Aid 2005
66 "For Richer or Poorer: transforming economic partnership between Europe and Africa, Christian Aid 2005
67 "Taking Liberties: Poor people, free trade and trade justice," Christian Aid 2004
68 "Effects of Financial Globalization on Developing Countries," IMF Occasional Paper 220, 2003.
69 "The Persistently Poor: An Internal Report Criticizes World Bank's Efforts on Poverty," By Peter S. Goodman, Washington Post, December 8, 2006
70 "World Economy Giving Less to Poorest in Spite of Global Poverty," New Economics Foundation, January 23, 2006
71 "Globalization Will Increase Inequality in Developing Countries," South Centre, February 28, 2006
72 Amy Chua, "World On Fire: How Exporting Free Market Democracy Breeds Ethnic Hatred and Global Instability" (New York: Anchor Books, 2004)
73 "Critical Patriotism," By J. Peter Euben (http://www.aaup.org/publications/Academe/2002/02so/02sojeu.htm)
74 Henry David Thoreau, "Civil Disobedience" ( http://sunsite.berkeley.edu/Literature/Thoreau/CivilDisobedience.html)
75 "A Time to Break Silence," By Martin Luther King Jr., April 4th, 1967