Environment & Health Right-Wing Disinformation Campaigns Are Targeting State Climate Initiatives Environment & Health COVID Isn’t Over — the US Must Do More to Combat It Worldwide War & Peace Barbara Lee Introduces Bill to Help Vietnamese Victims of Agent Orange Economy & Labor Report Shows Stimulus Checks Significantly Reduced Hardship for Families Politics & Elections The Fight Against Fascism Isn’t Over Politics & Elections 100+ Democracy Scholars Issue Dire Warning About Threats to Voting Rights in US I was asked to take my mask off for the first time yesterday. Well, that’s not quite accurate. Better to say I was invited to remove my mask when I popped into my local bodega (yes, we have bodegas in New Hampshire). The counterman was all smiles when he said it, maskless himself. The store was empty and I didn’t want to seem rude, so off it came… and it felt for all the world like I was standing there without pants. I’ve been fully vaxxed for a while now, but I still wear a mask when I’m going to be around people. Part of it is habit at this point, part of it is an act of solidarity with those who have to wear them, and part of it is the fact that I haven’t had so much as a case of the sniffles since I started wearing one. Come winter and no matter the current COVID circumstances, a mask will continue to be part of my accessorizing for that reason alone, and I’ll bet you a buck I won’t be the only one. The tissue companies are going to take a hit. God, the masks. Our symbol for the age. If I live another 50 years, I will still never escape a feeling of melancholic anger whenever I see one. Every one of them should have “It Did Not Have To Be This Way” stamped on the front. They represent death, injury, failure and fear to me, and one thing more: They are a reminder that a stunningly large portion of this country won’t do a damn thing to help anyone else if it involves being mildly inconvenienced, even if it makes the difference between life and death. That’s the glass-half-empty-and-cracked perspective, which probably isn’t entirely fair. Millions and millions of people took mask-wearing to heart, to help themselves and their neighbors, and our stratospheric infection numbers have sharply declined. More than half the country over the age of 12 has gotten at least one shot, which is also serving to put a lid on new cases. Those cases are still emerging every day by the thousands, but the difference between now and last winter is both staggering and heartening. After an unendurably protracted run of months stuffed to bursting with death and sorrow, we are finally heading in the right direction. The people, by and large, deserve credit for this, including the many who poured themselves into mutual aid efforts when the situation was most dire. The scientists who conjured these vaccines like pulling a dove from a top hat deserve a parade, as do the medical professionals who turned themselves into hamburger fighting this virus. President Biden also deserves a slice of the credit for this turnaround. The man may be about as inspirational as a bag of oyster crackers, and there have been stumbles regarding communication, but the change since January is nothing short of an astonishment. Given the sack of mayhem Biden was handed when he got the keys to the joint, his administration’s ability to pull us out of the tailspin we were in will stand as one of the more impressive acts of leadership we’ve seen around here in a long time. It is time to stop talking about leadership. It is time to lead. That being rightly said, I still believe the drive to fully reopen — and to forget — is happening too soon. The green grass and warm springtime breezes can’t alter the fact that, while things are improving here, the COVID situation around the world is worse than ever. If something is not done about it expediently, we are likely to face… what? Would it be a fifth wave, or are we still riding the first one? In any event, it behooves us to remember that the murderous Spanish Flu pandemic of 1918 did a good deal of its killing in a third wave that came in 1919. The rest of the world is sick as hell right now, and in this regard, borders are meaningless. On Wednesday, a report emerged claiming that a vicious new virus variant had emerged in Vietnam. This one was actually a hybrid of the U.K. and India variants. I was an English Lit major, and the idea that two variants could meet up and make a super-variant had never crossed my screen. Yet another terrifying COVID fact none of us can un-know. Fortunately, the World Health Organization announced today that the virus rampaging through Vietnam “does not meet the global health body’s definition of a new variant, though it is still very transmissible and dangerous,” according to The Washington Post. While this is welcome news, it is also a stark reminder that the longer COVID is allowed to burn, new and deadly variants will continue to appear, and one of them might figure out how to pick the lock on our precious vaccines. Vietnam, Thailand, Malaysia, India, South America and now parts of Africa are setting the bar very high for the number of new infections per day, and their health care infrastructure is beginning to wobble badly. Malaysia is heading into a mass lockdown that will last two weeks, and Peru currently has the highest COVID mortality rate per capita in the world. “In Africa, concerns are growing over the possible arrival of a new wave powered by a more transmissible variant of the virus, with the health systems in many countries at risk of being quickly subsumed by a surge of infections,” reports the Post. “A recent study found that the continent has the world’s highest death rate of patients critically ill with covid-19, thanks to limited intensive care facilities and reserves of vital medical supplies like oxygen.” The Biden administration is moving to help these international hotspots, but there is concern these actions are not nearly enough. Over the next two weeks, the administration will announce its plans to distribute 80 million vaccine doses around the world. That sounds like a nice beefy number, until you remember the global number of infections to date is more than twice that amount, and two weeks is a damn long time when your house is on fire. The president has also signaled that he is in favor of waiving international patent protections for the vaccines, so countries can manufacture the shots themselves. This proposal, naturally, is facing strong pushback from the pharmaceutical industry and its battalion of lobbyists. “The battle mirrors the one during the HIV/AIDS epidemic in the 1990s,” reports NPR, “when drug companies warred with global health officials who sought to produce generic treatments. Drugmakers eventually retreated after former South African President Nelson Mandela accused the companies of using patents to profit from his country’s health crisis.” In this window of time when we seem to have a handle on the pandemic here at home, nothing less than a massive, global Berlin Airlift-style rescue mission is warranted. If Biden dickers around the edges of this and COVID makes another run on our shores, all the goodwill the president has accumulated will fall to dust, and my guy at the bodega won’t be inviting me to remove my mask anymore. It’s pretty nice out now, but as any Stark will tell you, winter is coming. It is time to stop talking about leadership. It is time to lead. The world needs our help, and we have the capacity to give it. Let’s roll. Copyright © Truthout. May not be reprinted without permission.
The real rumblings began last week. “The New York attorney general’s office said Tuesday that it is conducting a criminal investigation into former President Donald Trump’s business empire, expanding what had previously been a civil probe,” the Associated Press reported. The pivot from civil to criminal meant the investigations would now include the work of New York District Attorney Cyrus Vance. Attorney General Letitia James’s office also let it be known that they were squeezing the Trump Organization’s longtime finance chief and Man Who Knows Everything, Allen Weisselberg, for as much as he will give.
Human Rights My Grandparents Lived Through the Nakba. Now It’s Happening Again. Economy & Labor COVID Has Catalyzed a Wave of Tenant Organizing That Was Long Overdue Human Rights Israeli Bombs Destroy Gaza Media Center, Take Out AP, Al Jazeera and Others Immigration Trump Officials Used Secret Terrorism Unit to Question Lawyers at Border Politics & Elections Pharma-Backed Dark Money Group Attacks House Democrats’ Lower Drug Pricing Plan Politics & Elections The Death of Democracy Looks Nearer Than Ever Liz Cheney is not on my short list of politicians I admire or wish to see in Congress. But she has done the right thing in calling out the “big lie” and promising to do all she can to keep Donald Trump away from the White House, literally or in terms of his influence over a terribly broken party. She is a canary in the coal mine. Would that others had the courage to follow suit. Most sentient beings on the planet breathed a huge sigh of relief last November when Joe Biden won the presidential election. We were even happier when he and his administration immediately began acting robustly on myriad issues. First came the well-chosen appointments, the flurry of executive orders reversing Trump’s perversities, then the big bills aimed at health care, infrastructure, economic recovery, climate change, income inequality, childcare and more — all of which made Republicans in Congress and their QAnon conspiracists cringe — and jump into action. A majority of states immediately flew into action to bring back Jim Crow with hideous voting rights restrictions. Protesters began to be arrested. Gun violence and hate crimes grew by startling percentages while cops kept killing Black people. Arizona Republicans decided to hold yet another recount of the election results there, barring journalists from the hangar where counters reportedly tried to spot bamboo in the ballots. (Proof, if we needed it, that the party has gone crazy.) Republicans in Congress began their urgent campaign, articulated by Mitch McConnell, to stop any legislation proposed by the White House or Democrats in the House of Representatives. Ted Cruz, Lindsey Graham, Josh Hawley and other deranged GOP members went on various rants grounded in lies and nonsense. Rand Paul accosted public health expert Dr. Anthony Fauci, accusing him of funding dangerous research in China (more proof of crazy). Vaccine conspiracies and anti-masking activists got really crazy. All of this occurred after Jan. 6, when the unimaginable happened and an insurrection at the U.S. Capitol sent America a clear message: This country is not out of danger. The fact is, the real and growing possibility of living through the destruction of American democracy is not going away. It is growing. Donald Trump is now viewed as the head of the Republican Party as he holds the feet of elected officials to the fire with his fierce, alarming grip on their futures. A significant number of regular Republicans continue to embrace the lies, mantras and inconceivable theories spewed out daily by Fox News. Insurrectionists crawl out from under their rocks in droves. The Supreme Court is now a quasi-political body with a 6-3 conservative majority. All this is terrifying in its implications. Like many others, I grow more and more anxious by the day — so much so that I actually inquired about getting a British passport, which my husband and children hold. I know that what happened in countries like Turkey, Egypt, Poland, Hungary and others can happen here. We are not immune from autocrats and dictatorship and we are not protected by our Constitution if it no longer holds meaning for those in power. Our future is riding on the midterm elections next year, and the 2024 presidential election. If you think I am needlessly hyperventilating, consider this: In 1923 Hitler mounted a failed coup. When he failed, his effort was treated leniently. A decade later he was Germany’s dictator. In 2021 Donald Trump inspired a failed coup. It too has been treated leniently by those who say we “need to move on.” Will he, or his appointed alter ego, be our dictator in less than a decade? Ece Temelkuran, a noted Turkish journalist, wrote a book in 2019 in which she explains how President Recep Tayyip Erdogan came to rule that country. The book is called How to Lose a Country: The Seven Steps from Democracy to Dictatorship. In the first chapter she writes, “Watching a disaster occur has a sedating effect. As our sense of helplessness grows along with the calamity, [we begin to feel that] there is no longer anything you can do.… global news channels jump in [for] the denouement. It has been a long and exhausting [time], unbearably painful. It began with a populist coming to town.… A bleak dawn breaks.” She goes on to draw chilling comparisons between the fate of Turkey and what’s happening in the U.S. and elsewhere: “It doesn’t matter if Trump or Erdogan or [the U.K.’s] Nigel Farage is brought down. Millions of people are fired up by their message and will be ready to act upon the orders of a similar figure.… These minions will find you, even in your own personal space, armed with their own set of values and ready to hunt down anyone who doesn’t resemble themselves.” Temelkuran points out that this is not something imposed top down or imported from the Kremlin. It also arises from the grassroots. She says wisely, “It is time to recognize that what is occurring affects us all.” It is time, indeed, for America to realize what is occurring — and that it will affect us all. This piece was reprinted by Truthout with permission or license. It may not be reproduced in any form without permission or license from the source.
Remember the song about the cat? Well, the cat came back the very next day / Oh, the cat came back, they thought he was a goner but the cat came back / He just couldn’t stay away… Well, it won’t be official for a few weeks, but the word landed yesterday: Rahm Emanuel, among the most despised individuals within and without Democratic Party politics, will be named U.S. ambassador to Japan. The cat came back, and has apparently landed a key assignment in the foreign service.
Like many Muslims, I remember feeling excited as a child each year when Ramadan came around. Though I didn’t entirely understand the purpose of fasting, I was proud of being Muslim and was eager to emulate my parents. Since I began fasting in second grade, Ramadan has been a core part of my practice of Islam.
Prisons & Policing Jailers Tortured and Murdered Marvin Scott III, Family Says After Viewing Video Politics & Elections A New Wave of Jim Crow Laws Is Here. Here’s What You Need to Know. Politics & Elections Facebook Board Announces Trump Remains Banned. Trump Starts His Own “Platform.” Immigration Biden’s U-Turn on Refugees Aligns With Voter Support for Pro-Immigrant Policies Economy & Labor Amazon Is Dictating Personal Hygiene, Nail Length of Contract Drivers Politics & Elections Judge Says DOJ Memo on Barr’s Decision Not to Charge Trump Must Be Released “So shines a good deed in a weary world,” said Willy Wonka when confronted with an unexpected kindness. The candy master may have had similar words about today’s decision by Facebook’s new 20-person “Oversight Board.” For the time being at least, the silence will continue to reign, and a weary world sighs in palpable relief. “The Board has upheld Facebook’s decision on January 7, 2021, to restrict then-President Donald Trump’s access to posting content on his Facebook page and Instagram account,” the board said in a much-anticipated statement this morning. The decision surprised many, given Facebook’s rightward turn under the influence of Joel Kaplan, a former George W. Bush White House official who currently runs the social media giant’s powerful Washington, D.C. office. Time and again during the Trump administration, Facebook scrambled like a frog on a hot plate to rewire its rules in a way that made Trump’s gruesomely unacceptable proclamations palatable to the algorithms that run the site. Color me among the surprised; I would have lost a bet on this one. “Facebook has constrained its efforts against false and misleading news, adopted a policy explicitly allowing politicians to lie, and even altered its news feed algorithm to neutralize claims that it was biased against conservative publishers,” reports The Washington Post. “And as Trump grew in power, the fear of his wrath pushed Facebook into more deferential behavior toward its growing number of right-leaning users, tilting the balance of news people see on the network, according to the current and former employees.” Ultimately, Trump ran out of running room on January 6 of this year, when he went wild on Facebook as his supporters smashed their way into the Capitol building in Washington, D.C. The ban was handed down the next day. The board’s decision seemed to include a not-so-subtle scold aimed directly at Facebook owner Mark Zuckerberg: However, it was not appropriate for Facebook to impose the indeterminate and standardless penalty of indefinite suspension. Facebook’s normal penalties include removing the violating content, imposing a time-bound period of suspension, or permanently disabling the page and account. The Board insists that Facebook review this matter to determine and justify a proportionate response that is consistent with the rules that are applied to other users of its platform. Facebook must complete its review of this matter within six months of the date of this decision. The Board also made policy recommendations for Facebook to implement in developing clear, necessary, and proportionate policies that promote public safety and respect freedom of expression. For the Trump camp, at least in the six-month short term, the board’s decision is a bigly expensive deal. Beyond the immediate contact with the public provided by social media platforms, Facebook has been a dual engine for Trump: The spreading of the kind of incendiary propaganda and misinformation that is devoured by his base, combined with a massive fundraising pool. “And while GOP operatives are gaming out just what it would mean to give back the former president a powerful media bullhorn, the real impact, they say, will be seen in dollar signs,” Politico reported a day before the decision was handed down. “A return to Facebook would open major fundraising spigots that further cement Trump’s hold on the Republican Party, protecting his massive grassroots donor network from potential rivals.” As corporate titans, politicians, the media and the rest of us wrestle with the concept of free speech in the immediacy of a wired world, Donald Trump will remain mostly muzzled down in Florida for the time being. Perhaps in anticipation of the board’s decision — or maybe just to stick a nyah-nyah-I-don’t-need-you thumb in Facebook’s eye — Trump has launched what he calls a “communications platform” that will be “a place to speak freely and safely.” In fact, it’s just a basic training-wheels blog, and a pretty shabby one at that. Trump is allowed to natter on at any length he wishes; the only way for readers to speak “freely and safely” is by clicking any of the ubiquitous donation buttons. If the thing had come with the ancient AOL login sound, I would not be surprised. Reaction from the Trump camp was swift. “If you’re surprised by Facebook banning President Trump, you haven’t been paying attention,” whined former White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows. “It’s just the latest page in the book of big tech coming after conservatives. And they won’t stop. Which means it’s past time to hold them accountable. Break them up.” The Facebook Board’s decision/non-decision adds another layer of complexity to the debate over free speech in the age of social media and the massive corporations that control them. Trump deserved to be banned for his January 6 comments, which cheered on the violent sacking of the Capitol building that resulted in multiple deaths and injuries. The issues of where to draw that line and who gets to draw it remain unresolved. The board has punted to Zuckerberg, and the possible future of online free speech now sits in his hands. This is an uncomfortable thought, to put it lightly. The limits of free speech remain among the most complicated issues in American jurisprudence, especially in the technological wonderland of the 21st century. The search for some form of standardized rules and strictures has been ongoing since the founding of the nation. In 1919, Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes coined the famous free speech metric, “falsely shouting fire in a crowded theater.” For decades, that has served as a simple yardstick for the limits of speech. As with all issues of speech, however, the matter is not as straightforward as it seems. The case that inspired Holmes’s iconic line, Schneck vs. United States, actually stands as one of the most viciously anti-speech decisions the court has ever handed down. Charles Schneck, a socialist, was charged with violating the 1917 Espionage Act for handing out pamphlets condemning the draft during World War I. Holmes’s “fire,” in short, was an activist protesting a war. This garbage anti-speech standard stood until it was partially overturned by the landmark Brandenberg v. Ohio decision in 1969, some 50 years later and in the middle of yet another war. Remember this the next time you see that “fire in a crowded theater” line. It sounds entirely straightforward, pithy even, yet its history is one of suppression and militaristic fearmongering. It will serve no use for the social media giants trying to figure out where to draw the line. Fire in a theater, indeed. Moreover, what we have here in the Facebook Board’s decision is a matter of ethics, and not an actual legal statement. Bluntly, nobody has a “right” to a Facebook account, and free speech laws apply as protections from state and federal actions, not corporate decisions. The board has no inherent legal power, and these questions of legality will remain in place until a court has a flesh-and-blood case it can rule on, which would set the legal precedent going forward. As corporate titans, politicians, the media and the rest of us wrestle with the concept of free speech in the immediacy of a wired world, Donald Trump will remain mostly muzzled down in Florida for the time being. This is nothing but a stupendous public good, as he has not backed off one inch from his championing of the Capitol attackers and his ruinous lies about a stolen election. Trump still largely controls the Republican Party, and has a massive civilian following at his back. Were he at the bottom of a well, he would still retain the power to blow up the news cycle if he so chose, and could raise a million dollars an hour while he was at it. The board’s decision changes none of this, and answers no larger questions. It will remain quieter around here, though, and for now that will have to do. Copyright © Truthout. May not be reprinted without permission.
Politics & Elections Facebook Will Announce Tomorrow Whether Trump and His Fascist Posts Can Return Economy & Labor Mutual Aid Efforts Are Working to Fill the Gaps of Biden’s COVID Response Economy & Labor Amazon’s Anti-Union Bullying Shows Why We Need the PRO Act Economy & Labor Tax Dodgers Owe US Over $7 Trillion, Says Janet Yellen Politics & Elections Biden Picks Warren Ally to Oversee Student Aid, Signaling Shift on Student Debt Human Rights Over 10 Million People Could Become Homeless When Eviction Moratorium Ends Have you enjoyed the quiet? I hope so, because it might be over. According to a report in Tuesday’s Washington Post, a cobbled clutch of “experts” from Facebook that calls itself the “Oversight Board” will soon decide whether or not to let Donald Trump back on the platform. This Board, which the Post says is “a less than one-year-old body that describes itself as an ‘experiment’ in the regulation of online speech,” will render its decision on Wednesday. Once settled, this decision will likely set the bar for what constitutes the acceptable-to-corporate-ownership boundaries of permissible free speech on social media, and will likewise be the precedent for how world leaders are treated by Facebook and other platforms going forward. There is every possibility that tomorrow will return us to the Age of Bad Noise. If the Board sides with power over common sense, Trump (along a whole lot of other tinpot autocrats) can continue polluting our minds with paranoid ranting on free social media, and the hapless press will, of course, amplify their every bent thought and twisted accusation. Why? Because, as ever, it’s good television. It is difficult to quantify the damage done by Trump’s flagrant misuse of social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter (and God help us if Twitter ever lets him back in). Here was a leader bereft of morals and out for blood, able at any moment in the day to slather the political discussion with lies, threats, complaints and vapid declarations of victory. Even now, I remember how hard it was to navigate the signal-to-noise ratio on a busy Trump Twitter day. It was like trying to collect a thought in the middle of a rock storm. The din may have felt new to us when the Trump era hit, but in one pointed way, the former president’s use of social media to confound and unhinge the national discourse is one of the oldest tricks in the book. Specifically, it is a tactic long used by fascists seeking to gain and hold power. The idea is not to debate, but to damage debate beyond repair so that even the simplest facts are open to question. In such a muddled, confused environment, fascism can flourish. What is fascism, besides being a serious word not to be bandied about lightly? Nazi fascism was its own specific ethos, outlined in excruciating detail by Adolf Hitler in Mein Kampf. In Italy, Benito Mussolini’s concept of fascism was captured in the Treccani Encyclopedia. In Spain, fascist leader Francisco Franco had his own ideas on fascist Catholicism, and fascists in the U.S. have spent decades attempting to unite their ideology with splinter Evangelical Christianity. Is there a collective definition for fascism amid all these varieties, and if so, do Donald Trump and “Trumpism” fall into that spectrum? Celebrated author Umberto Eco, himself a survivor of European fascism, endeavored to create precisely that sort of collective definition, which he called “ur-Fascism” in a 1995 essay for The New York Review of Books. Is there a collective definition for fascism, and if so, does Donald Trump and “Trumpism” fall into that spectrum? “Fascism was philosophically out of joint, but emotionally it was firmly fastened to some archetypal foundations,” he wrote. “But in spite of this fuzziness, I think it is possible to outline a list of features that are typical of what I would like to call Ur-Fascism, or Eternal Fascism. These features cannot be organized into a system; many of them contradict each other, and are also typical of other kinds of despotism or fanaticism. But it is enough that one of them be present to allow fascism to coagulate around it.” Eco fashioned 14 “features” of ur-Fascism to explain the overall phenomenon. The first of these is a fanatical adherence to tradition, something Trump used to create his entire political persona: I will bring us back to better days, when people respected and honored all the things you believe in. The second feature is a rejection of modernism, which again has become a staple of current Republican groupthink. This new world is happening too fast, too many people are getting rights they shouldn’t have. Modernism is the death of tradition, a fact Trump has used to great effect. The third feature, irrationalism, preaches action for action’s sake, thoughtless, heedless, bereft of self-awareness. “Action being beautiful in itself, it must be taken before, or without, any previous reflection,” writes Eco. “Thinking is a form of emasculation.” Heedless action on social media: Who does that sound like? The fourth feature is the complete dismissal of analytical criticism. One does not question the leader, the party, or the actions that have been taken. “For ur-Fascism,” writes Eco, “disagreement is treason.” That line may as well have been at the top of the 2020 Republican platform, had they bothered to make one. The fifth feature is a radical hatred of diversity. Fascism requires rigid adherence to a basic way of being, a code, a slate of honored traditions. Outsiders are to be feared and shunned in the quest to create a perfectly homogenized society. “Thus,” writes Eco, “Fascism is racist by definition.” See: Trump’s border and immigration policies. The sixth feature states that ur-Fascism derives its power from individual or social frustration. This, perhaps more than the others, is the hallmark of Trumpism, the iron spine of its power and influence. Millions of people who feel left behind in this rapidly changing world grapple with fear and fury, and Trump taps that aquifer with a deftly swung sledgehammer. Six features in, and we have checked every box with a heavy marker. The other features — loud nationalism, jealousy of the enemy, a permanent state of conflict, disdain for elites and elitism, the championing of the masculine, a populism that preaches rights only for the righteous few, and the creation of a new vocabulary that stifles complex and critical reasoning — are all straight out of the Trumpian playbook. Umberto Eco seems to have seen Donald Trump coming for 20 years. If Trump is allowed back on Facebook, he will again pursue an aggressive campaign of chaos aimed at disrupting the essential workings of democracy to his own ends, and he already has a devoted mass following. The Facebook “Board” should let the silence rule a while longer. Trump and his followers aren’t here to talk, or to share, or even to lead. They are here to break things, as evidenced on January 6. Don’t let them. Copyright © Truthout. May not be reprinted without permission.
Politics & Elections Facebook Will Announce Tomorrow Whether Trump and His Fascist Posts Can Return Economy & Labor Mutual Aid Efforts Are Working to Fill the Gaps of Biden’s COVID Response Economy & Labor Amazon’s Anti-Union Bullying Shows Why We Need the PRO Act Economy & Labor Tax Dodgers Owe US Over $7 Trillion, Says Janet Yellen Politics & Elections Biden Picks Warren Ally to Oversee Student Aid, Signaling Shift on Student Debt Human Rights Over 10 Million People Could Become Homeless When Eviction Moratorium Ends Imagine this scenario: A month before the vote on the federal budget, progressives in Congress declare, “We’ve studied President Biden’s proposed $753 billion military budget, an increase of $13 billion from Trump’s already inflated budget, and we can’t, in good conscience, support this.” Now that would be a show-stopper, particularly if they added, “So we have decided to stand united, arm in arm, as a block of ‘no’ votes on any federal budget resolution that fails to reduce military spending by 10 to 30 percent. We stand united against a federal budget resolution that includes upwards of $30 billion for new nuclear weapons — slated to ultimately cost nearly $2 trillion. We stand united in demanding the $50 billion earmarked to maintain all 800 overseas bases, including the new one under construction on Okinawa, be reduced by at least one-third, because it’s time we scaled back on plans for global domination.” “Ditto,” they say, “for the billions the president wants for the arms-escalating Space Force, one of Trump’s worst ideas, right up there with hydroxychloroquine to cure COVID-19. And, no, we don’t want to escalate our troop deployments for a military confrontation with China in the South China Sea. It’s time to ‘right-size’ the military budget and demilitarize our foreign policy.” Progressives uniting as a block to resist out-of-control military spending would be a no-nonsense exercise of raw power, reminiscent of the way the right-wing Freedom Caucus challenged the traditional Republicans in the House in 2015. Without progressives on board, President Biden might not be able to secure enough votes to pass a federal budget that would then greenlight the reconciliation process needed for his broad domestic agenda. For years, progressives in Congress have complained about the bloated military budget. In 2020, 93 members in the House and 23 in the Senate voted to cut the Pentagon budget by 10% and invest those funds instead in critical human needs. A House Spending Reduction Caucus, co-chaired by Reps. Barbara Lee of California and Mark Pocan of Wisconsin, emerged with 22 members on board, including all four members of the “Squad” but also quite a few more moderate or mainstream Democrats. We also have the Congressional Progressive Caucus, the largest in Congress, now with almost 100 members in the House and Senate. Caucus chair Rep. Pramila Jayapal, D-Wash., is all for cutting military spending. “We’re in the midst of a crisis that has left millions of families unable to afford food, rent and bills,” she told The Nation. “But at the same time, we’re dumping billions of dollars into a bloated Pentagon budget. Don’t increase defense spending. Cut it — and invest that money into our communities.” Now is the time for these congresspeople to turn their talk into action. Consider the context. Biden urgently wants to move forward on his American Families Plan rolled out in his recent address to Congress. The plan would tax the rich to invest $1.8 trillion over the next 10 years in universal preschool, two years of tuition-free community college, expanded health care coverage and paid family medical leave. In the spirit of FDR, Biden also wants to put America back to work with a $2 trillion infrastructure program that will begin to fix our decades-old broken bridges, crumbling sewer systems and rusting water pipes. This could be his legacy, a Green New Deal-lite to transition workers out of the dying fossil fuel industry. But Biden won’t get his infrastructure program and American Families Plan with higher taxes on the rich, almost 40% on income for corporations and those earning $400,000 or more a year, unless Congress first passes a budget resolution that includes a top line for military and non-military spending. Both the budget resolution and the reconciliation bill that would follow are filibuster-proof and only require a simple majority in the House and Senate to pass. Easy. Maybe not. To flex their muscles, Republicans may refuse to vote for a budget resolution crafted by the Democratic Party that would open the door to big spending on public goods, such as pre-kindergarten and expanded health care coverage. That means Biden would need every Democrat in the House and Senate on board to approve his budget resolution for military and non-military spending. So how’s it looking? In the Senate, Democrat Joe Manchin of West Virginia, a state that went for Trump over Biden more than two to one, wants to scale back Biden’s infrastructure proposal, but hasn’t sworn to vote down a budget resolution. As for Sen. Bernie Sanders, the much-loved progressive, ordinarily he might balk at a record high military budget. But if the budget resolution ushers in a reconciliation bill that lowers the age of Medicare eligibility to 60 or 55, the chair of the Senate Budget Committee might feel compelled to hold his fire. That leaves antiwar activists wondering if Sen. Elizabeth Warren, a critic of the Pentagon budget and “nuclear modernization,” would consider stepping up as the lone holdout in the Senate, refusing to vote for a budget that includes billions for new nuclear weapons. Perhaps with a push from outraged constituents in Massachusetts, Warren could be convinced to take this bold stand. Another potential holdout could be California Sen. Dianne Feinstein, who co-chairs the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Energy and Water Development, the committee that oversees budgeting for nuclear weapons. In 2014, Feinstein described the U.S. nuclear arsenal program as “unnecessarily and unsustainably large.” Over in the House, Biden needs at least 218 of the 222 Democrats to vote for the budget resolution expected to hit the floor in June or July. But what if he can’t get to 218? What if at least five members of the House voted no — or even just threatened to — because the top line for military spending was too high and the budget included new “money pit” land-based nuclear missiles to replace 450 Minuteman III ICBMs, deployed since the 1970s. Polls show that most Democrats oppose “nuclear modernization” — a euphemism for a plan that is anything but modern, given that 50 countries have signed onto the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, which would make nuclear weapons illegal, and the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) requires the U.S. to pursue nuclear disarmament to avoid a catastrophic accident or intentional nuclear holocaust. Now is the time for progressive congressional luminaries such as the Squad’s Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Ilhan Omar, Rashida Tlaib and Ayanna Presley to unite with Congressional Progressive Caucus chair Jayapal, as well as Lee, Pocan and others in the House Spending Reduction Caucus to stand as a block against a bloated military budget. Will they have the courage to unite behind such a cause? Would they be willing to play hardball and gum up the works on the way to Biden’s progressive domestic agenda? Odds will improve if constituents barrage them with phone calls, emails and visible protests. In a time of pandemic, it makes no sense to approve a military budget that is 90 times the budget of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The billions saved from “right-sizing” the Pentagon could provide critical funds for addressing the climate crisis. Just as we support putting an end to our endless wars, we also support putting an end to our endless cycle of exponential military spending. This is the moment to demand a substantial cut in the Pentagon budget — and to defund new nuclear weapons. This piece was reprinted by Truthout with permission or license. It may not be reproduced in any form without permission or license from the source.
Politics & Elections India and Brazil’s COVID Crises Show We Must End the Fiction of Borders Human Rights 125 Democrats Say Military Aid to Israel Shouldn’t Depend on Human Rights Record Prisons & Policing University of California Pushes to Militarize and Expand Its Police Force Politics & Elections Sanders Accuses McConnell of Hypocrisy and Corruption in Scathing KY Speech Immigration DHS Touts Reuniting Just 4 of More Than 1,000 Separated Migrant Families Human Rights Over 10 Million People Could Become Homeless When Eviction Moratorium Ends A new poll says that most of us are optimistic about the country’s future (with a margin of error of plus or minus eleventy billion, of course). According to ABC News/Ipsos, a full 64 percent of the country believes we are on the right track. It makes sense: The president of the United States is no longer screaming 20 hours a day about whatever happens to pass his screen. New COVID-19 infections are down by almost a quarter, and the number of COVID deaths has also dropped. Close to half the country has been at least partially vaccinated. The weather is turning, and opportunities for outdoor activities are expanding. Yet the home front news is far from all good, polls notwithstanding. Scientists and public health experts are rapidly concluding that achieving herd immunity in the U.S. is probably out of reach now, due in no small degree to vaccine hesitancy on the part of millions of Republicans and evangelical Christians, who somehow believe they are assisting Donald Trump’s 2024 presidential campaign by shunning the needle. Many of the people gumming up herd immunity are doing so out of ideological purity. The irony here is that Trump and members of his administration spent last winter arguing that we should let the virus run wild. Sure, it might kill millions, they said, but we’ll nail herd immunity at the end of that road of bones. Once those wreckers were dispossessed of power, it was hoped the new administration might be able to convince a preponderance of the people that the vaccines are safe, effective and devoid of politics. To date, that has not happened to a sufficient degree. “Instead,” reports The New York Times, “[medical experts] are coming to the conclusion that rather than making a long-promised exit, the virus will most likely become a manageable threat that will continue to circulate in the United States for years to come, still causing hospitalizations and deaths but in much smaller numbers.” Not great, entirely galling, but better than where we were… yet there is an illusory element to all this new data and the happy feelings they bring. This hard-won moment is unbelievably fragile, and for one simple reason: Borders are a legal fiction that COVID-19 and its variants could not give less of a damn about, and COVID is still very much on the move. India: “After a devastating week of soaring infections, India reported more than 400,000 new cases Saturday, a global record. Experts believe that number will climb even higher in the coming days, an unimaginable burden for a health system already under siege with hospitals issuing pleas for oxygen,” reports The Washington Post. “The powerful resurgence of infections in India — a country where cases had ebbed just months earlier — is also a reminder that the coronavirus is far from controlled around the world, even with vaccination rates climbing in many countries.” South America: “At least 100,000 Brazilians have died in the last 36 days and 100,000 more are expected to lose their lives before July,” reports the Guardian. “Last week South America, home to 5.5% of the world’s population, suffered nearly 32 percent of all reported Covid deaths. ‘What’s happening is a catastrophe,’ Argentina’s health minister, Carla Vizzotti, admitted as her country’s Covid restrictions were extended until late May.” The fictions of borders and “rugged individualism” must be dismissed out of hand, for we are all in this together. The U.S. is rushing aid to India, and the Biden administration claims that it is doing everything it can to help that nation weather the storm, though clearly more could be done. Brazil’s pleas for help, by contrast, are being generally ignored by the world at present. Jair Bolsonaro is not the one being punished here; the people of Brazil are suffering. Moreover, if COVID’s history is any guide, what is happening in those countries will not stay in those countries. When it arrives here — when, not if — this new wave of COVID and its variants will find a half-vaccinated nation in a pretty good mood, and that good mood will sour like milk left out in the sun. A country still fighting over masks, a country that prioritizes capitalism’s profits over its own people, is not ready to confront any number of the worst-case scenarios that lurk at the business end of this threat. That must change, immediately. “There is no such thing as the State,” notes poet W.H. Auden in September 1, 1939, “and no one exists alone.” The fiction of borders, of “rugged individualism,” must be dismissed out of hand, for we are all in this together. If the COVID crisis is not immediately treated by the U.S. and the world as a global crisis, if a global solution is not collectively achieved, we will eventually arrive at a global calamity so bleak, even the poets will be wordstruck. Copyright © Truthout. May not be reprinted without permission.
Politics & Elections India and Brazil’s COVID Crises Show We Must End the Fiction of Borders Human Rights 125 Democrats Say Military Aid to Israel Shouldn’t Depend on Human Rights Record Prisons & Policing University of California Pushes to Militarize and Expand Its Police Force Politics & Elections Sanders Accuses McConnell of Hypocrisy and Corruption in Scathing KY Speech Immigration DHS Touts Reuniting Just 4 of More Than 1,000 Separated Migrant Families Human Rights Over 10 Million People Could Become Homeless When Eviction Moratorium Ends As campus-based and grassroots movements against anti-Black and racist state violence continue to proliferate around the globe, university police and “campus safety” infrastructures and policies are rapidly losing their institutional legitimacy. Multiple national organizations, including Scholars for Social Justice and the American Studies Association, have endorsed the call for college and university campuses to join the national “Cops Off Campus” May 3, 2021, “Day of Refusal” and to organize with each other to contribute to solidarity activities throughout “Abolition May.” In addition to more than 30 University of California and California State University campuses, colleges and universities across the continent are participating in this month-long mobilization, including the University of Illinois, the University of Chicago, the City College of San Francisco, the University of Texas, Yale University, San Bernardino Valley College, the University of Virginia, the City University of New York, Johns Hopkins University and the University of Pennsylvania. The May 3 Day of Refusal is a one-day commitment to withdraw all labor and participation from college and university activities, including (virtual) classes, events/webinars, email correspondence and administrative meetings. This is the inaugural mobilization of Abolition May, which Cops Off Campus conceives as an open invitation to organize and participate in a wide variety of community-building actions, including abolitionist teach-ins, mutual aid drives for vulnerable people on and near campuses, autonomously organized town halls, banner postings, street theater, walking tours focusing on sites of past police and university violence, and the creation of memorials commemorating people killed by police. As this movement unfolds, the University of California (UC) administration is actively engaged in a repressive and reactionary response to the crises shaping the current historical moment. A series of proposed revisions to the systemwide UC police policy will expand the capacity for statewide police militarization (via “Systemwide Response Teams”), enhance UC Police Department (UCPD) surveillance technologies (by distributing body-worn cameras), and further weaponize the UCPD’s “Use of Force” policies. The implications of this administrative proposal are deeply concerning, not only because UC is among the largest public university systems in the world, but also because it has historically served as an experimental ground for the development of modern police technologies and protocols. Students, faculty, staff and surrounding communities are identifying and confronting the UC administration’s approach to police reform through vigorous abolitionist organizing. Central to this work is the embrace of rigorous shared analysis, education and planning that fundamentally challenge the institutional assumptions underlying police-dependent notions of campus safety. Alongside UC Student Association leader (and UC Riverside student) Naomi Waters, San Francisco State University student leader Ja’Corey Bowens and Laney College professor Kimberly King, I participated in the presentation of a clear abolitionist response to the ongoing problem of university and college police presence during the April 21 CalMatters/KQED (Los Angeles) event, “The Future of Campus Policing.” During this discussion, the four of us collectively reframed notions of “safety” and “security” by centering dynamic, decriminalizing, community-accountable infrastructures that deprovincialize college and university campuses, emphasizing how institutions like UC have historically had gentrifying, disastrously criminalizing effects on surrounding people and geographies. The resulting debate with the UC Regents Chair John Perez and UC Davis Police Chief Joseph Farrow exemplified the recent and remarkable shift in the content and parameters of critical public discussions of police power. Such debates are increasingly engaging with abolitionist frameworks and thus no longer accept the severe limitations of reformist scripts. While the impact of such invigorated debates on the UC administration’s policing policy is still to be determined, it seems clear that the campus police presence is steadily losing credibility. The administrative leadership can no longer presume consent to its definition of “campus safety.” Abolitionist security and safety measures directly confront and address the insecurities — housing, food, health, economic, and otherwise — that are not only created and reproduced by colleges and universities, but are also reinforced by their policed relation to surrounding (working-class and poor, unhoused, Black, Indigenous, Brown, undocumented, criminalized) communities. Abolitionist security and safety measures directly confront and address the insecurities — housing, food, health, economic, and otherwise. In contrast to this dynamic abolitionist approach, the UC administration proposes to reform, expand and further militarize its police force in the name of safety, peace and security. Three aspects of its plan are worth special attention, especially as they are likely to influence other institutions’ approaches to police reform: the creation of Systemwide Response Teams, deployment of body-worn cameras, and preemptive sanction of police violence and intimidation through enhanced use-of-force policies. On “Systemwide Response Teams (SRTs)” The “MISSION STATEMENT” of SRTs states, 1602. The mission of the University of California SRT is to maintain a trained team of sworn personnel with the skills and equipment readily available to assist local campuses to: (a) Facilitate and protect the Constitutional Rights of all persons; (b) Keep the peace and protect life and property; (c) Protect lawful activity while identifying and isolating unlawful behavior; (d) Provide dignitary protection; and (e) Provide training and other assistance when requested and appropriate. It is a shock to the conscience and ethical sensibility of many UC students, educators and workers that, after a year of worldwide uprisings against police violence, the UC administration is proposing the creation of a new, specialized police force that significantly expands the power, militarization and personnel of the existing UCPD. The SRT apparatus facilitates multicampus police mobilizations for the purpose of controlling and suppressing mass demonstrations on and near UC campuses. By way of example, the provisions cited above would allow (if not obligate) the UCPD to convene SRTs for the purposes of deterring, repressing, and/or neutralizing public protests of UC Regents’ meetings, while utilizing SRTs as a privileged form of paramilitary protection for visiting “dignitaries” (e.g. ambassadors and prominent state officials) representing governments that may be widely criticized for historical and ongoing atrocities, including apartheid, colonial occupation and genocidal violence. (This provision seems especially well-suited for targeting mobilizations of solidarity with Palestinian liberation that challenge the policies and asymmetrical violence of the Israeli state.) The paramilitary nature of the SRTs is crystallized in the proposed policy’s provision for the assignment of special personnel “to meet operational needs,” including “grenadiers.” According to the U.S. Army’s “Infantry Rifle Platoon and Squad” Field Manual, a grenadier is a soldier equipped with a grenade launcher for the purpose of “providing limited high-angle fire over ‘dead space.’” According to the University of Wisconsin police, the grenadier is an officer who has been trained in the use of “Chemical Agents/Munitions and their delivery systems.” Notably, the UC policy does not provide a clear definition of this personnel category, and the grenadier’s capacity to engage in tactics of campus-based counterinsurgency is left to speculation. On “Body Worn Audio/Video Systems (BWVs)” The proposed revision to UC police policy allows UCPD officers extraordinarily wide latitude to exercise “discretionary activation” when it comes to use of their body-worn video cameras (BWVs). They are given enough room for subjective interpretation of situations that they can essentially activate or deactivate their cameras anytime they wish, with rather loose requirements for post facto justification. Further, there is no clear consequence for failing to activate (or unjustifiably deactivating) BWVs, and there are also no apparent consequences for losing or “accidentally” erasing the BWV footage itself. By way of example, “1520. Modification, Alteration, or Deletion” states, “no employee shall modify, alter, or delete video or audio once recorded by the [body-worn] camera, except as authorized by Department policy,” yet there is no accompanying clarification of penalties if the policy is violated. Such toothless and deceiving policies effectively create superficial, bureaucratic approaches to “police accountability” that serve to expand the technology and judicial impunity of policing. Use of force protocols neither prevent nor curb anti-Black, racist, gendered and ableist police violence. It is well established that even when used according to prescribed guidelines, police-worn body cameras have never definitively reduced the frequency or intensity of police violence. Recorded footage is generally not accessible to the public, and police administrators (including officers themselves) are afforded significant privileges in handling the preservation and distribution of such recordings. (Keep in mind that the world learned of George Floyd’s murder at the hands of Minneapolis police through the video recording of a courageous 17-year-old minor, while former Officer Derek Chauvin’s body cam footage was not released until well into his criminal trial 10 months later.) Further, increased distribution of body-worn cameras contributes to the enhancement of criminalizing surveillance technologies, exacerbates privacy concerns, and often significantly increases police personnel and budgets under the guise of reform. On the “Use of Force Policy” The proposed revision to the UCPD’s Use of Force policy weaponizes fantastically broad definitions of “active resistance” and “assaultive resistance” to police authority. As defined in the proposed policy, these terms allow for extraordinarily generous interpretations of “resistance” that retroactively justify police force, potentially including deadly or maiming police violence; for example, the category of “active resistance” includes any observation of a policed subject’s “bracing, tensed muscles,” while the definition of “extreme agitation” — “agitation so severe that the person can be dangerous to themselves or others” — is precisely the rationale used to justify numerous anti-Black police killings, including Ma’Khia Bryant, Laquan McDonald, and many others. Similarly, the definition of “non-compliance” allows police the widest possible latitude to make subjective judgments of “physical gestures, stances, and observable mannerisms.” Such inferences are entirely saturated by the ideological, symbolic and historical forces of anti-Blackness, racism, sexism, gender normativity, ableism and ageism. The Use of Force policy is thus a potentially devastating weapon of repression, intimidation and criminalization because the scope of its implementation remains almost entirely determined by the perceptions of police officers themselves. Section 803 states: “reasonableness of force will be judged from the perspective of an objectively reasonable officer in the same situation, based on the circumstances perceived by the officer at the time.” (Emphasis added.) It is necessary to raise fundamental questions over the institutional assumptions that enable and allegedly necessitate such policies, which are usually framed by administrators as existing for the protection of those who are being policed. Use of force protocols neither prevent nor curb anti-Black, racist, gendered and ableist police violence. To the contrary, these policies establish the bureaucratic and legal premises for ensuring that police threat, harm and fatality remain central to “campus safety” infrastructures. Abolishing Normalized Institutional Violence While there are other aspects of the University of California’s proposed policy that call for critical examination, these few examples reflect the need to collectively challenge the normalized conditions of institutional violence that crystallize in the enduring presence of the UC police force. The UCPD’s enormous infrastructure of privilege and power (budgetary, juridical, and otherwise) has toxified one of the world’s largest public universities for well over half a century. At a moment in which people worldwide are questioning the institution of policing, it is both possible and necessary to challenge the very existence of police on college and university campuses. Copyright © Truthout. May not be reprinted without permission.
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