By Ralph Nader
Reporters at major newspapers and magazines are hard to reach by telephone. Today it is increasingly difficult to converse with them about timely scoops, leads, gaps in coverage, and corrections to published articles.
We started an online webpage: Reporter’s Alert. From time to time, we use Reporter’s Alert to present suggestions for important reporting on topics that are either not covered or not covered thoroughly. Reporting that just nibbles on the periphery won’t attract much public attention or be noticed by decision makers. Here is the sixth installment of suggestions:
1. China is where the Covid-19 pandemic originated and where the first casualties occurred. After a few weeks of blunders, lockdowns, and rigid quarantines, the Chinese economy and society seemed to recover. China has three times the U.S. population, but claims its fatality toll is about one percent of the U.S. fatality toll. Assume this is heavily undercounted. Even so, observers in China report the economy is bustling. Workers are back on the job, stores are filled with shoppers, and in-person schooling and meetings have resumed. Yet, the western press has not really reported in granular detail the difference in Covid numbers between the two countries. Just saying China is a command society is too facile. We have much to learn from the Chinese and by doing so we can establish the basis for closer cooperation between our two countries to prevent the next pandemic, whether from animals or a laboratory leak.
2. Have any reporters explained to us why over 300,000 Afghan soldiers and thousands of police, with modern U.S. equipment and training, plus U.S. naval and air cover, are losing ground almost everywhere to 35,000 Taliban with light weaponry and no air, naval, or radar defense systems? Americans have paid a heavy price for this forever war. They and the Afghan people, who have endured intense suffering, deserve detailed explanations of why the Taliban is such a challenge for foreign armies and the government of Afghanistan. Reporters need to go beyond the throwaway phrase “it’s the corruption.” Air cargo loads of $100 bills flown to Kabul from Washington often facilitate corruption, but there is far more to this story.
3. Media, explain this paradox: The Israeli government knows every street, alley, and building in tiny Gaza. It has this enclave under the most intense technological surveillance of any human population in history. It tracks who lives, works, moves, and the goods they buy. It collects DNA samples by family name and has loads of spies and informants. The U.S.-made Israeli aircraft pinpoint, with precision missiles, militants sleeping on known floors of apartment buildings. Yet, the Israeli military cannot locate in a timely manner the places where the garage-built, crude, inaccurate rockets are made and fired. Experts have said Israeli missile defense technology can respond to rocket launch sites in three to five seconds. What explains this contradiction?
4. The miasma of U.S. foreign aid programs merits media sunlight, especially given the lack of congressional oversight. This is an area of endless discovery. Enormous discretionary power regarding foreign policy has been given to the White House by Congress over the decades. What loans are quietly converted to grants at the insistence of lobbyists for foreign interests? How much of the foreign aid is used for purchases from U.S. companies and how much transfer of sensitive or top-secret technology slips through export restrictions under this rubric of foreign aid? The last and only GAO study on U.S. foreign aid to Israel was in 1978 and it revealed the astonishing latitude of pro-Israeli government administrations to give Israel special treatment.
A recent article by the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace notes that “U.S. law is clear: all countries receiving U.S. aid must meet human rights standards, and countries violating these standards are liable to be sanctioned and ineligible for U.S. funding…” But “when it comes to Israel, additional conditions do not apply and general human rights laws are almost never adhered to.” (See: Bringing Assistance to Israel in Line With Rights and U.S. Laws, May 12, 2021).
How many taxpayer dollars are going to fund unlawful activities in recipient countries? Whatever happened to Prime Minister Netanyahu’s 1996 declaration before a joint session of Congress signaling the end of prosperous Israel’s need for U.S. aid programs to the standing ovation of the solons? How have foreign aid priorities helped despots and ignored areas abroad that have incubated local epidemics of new viruses and bacteria which could spread around the world?
5. The vast proportion of NASA’s $24.7 billion budget is outsourced to corporate contractors. Each year, NASA is shrinking from the agency it once was – now corporatizing entire space programs and their crews to outfits run by Elon Musk, Jeff Bezos, and others. Soon it will so diminish its in-house technical capacity that it will largely become a dispensing and consulting agency with Congress listening to the “private” space industry’s commands and preferences. This is certainly worth a look-see.
6. Our country is increasingly being overrun by invasive species. Numerous reports have been written about what is happening in the Everglades and foreign beetles and other insects destroying billions of trees and Asian Carp in the Mississippi River. Southern ant colonies, killer bees, etc. send investigative alarms. How weak and underfunded are the sentinel agencies such as U.S. Customs and other agencies looking out for such invasions that already cost our economy tens of billions of dollars a year?
7. Getting through by telephone to your members of Congress, government agencies – local, state, and federal, and large corporations that boast about their customer service is beyond frustrating. It is a calculated blockade. Call a Congressional office and you get voicemail with options that go nowhere. This was the case even before Covid-19 gave them an excuse. As far as responding to substantive letters, forget it.
Voicemail, instead of a receptionist operator, used to be a no-no a few years ago. At the budget-depleted IRS and most government agencies, it is so difficult to find a human being that many people tell me they don’t even try anymore.
Once upon a time you could, at least, get a secretary to the CEO or President of large corporations. Try it now.
As reporters, you don’t experience the frustration because as media you get through, though you may not like the reply. Getting through to public officials is exercising our constitutional right to petition our government. This problem is worse than before the internet age. An email is no substitute for person-to-person exchanges on the spot. I’ve suggested this story, with examples to numerous editors and reporters who invariably say it’s a great idea and then drift away. In fact, I’m making this encore proposal because the first time in this series it was suggested it produced no takers. Shutting out the people has another name in many foreign countries, doesn’t it?
8. Why are the majority of U.S. $100 bills circulating in foreign countries and not in America? How successful are North Korean and other counterfeiters in manufacturing them? Just how much is the export of $100 bills fulfilling official government policies or facilitating corporate crime. There used to be a $10,000 and $1000 bill which were discontinued in 1969 to fight undetected criminal transactions. Is cryptocurrency becoming the means of replacing expanding counterfeiting? What are the operating government counterstrategies?