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Warnings Grow over Nuclear War as Tensions Escalate Between US, Russia and China
The U.N. warned this week that humanity is “one miscalculation away from nuclear annihilation” as tensions escalate globally. We speak with Ira Helfand, former president of the International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War, who says the U.N. Security Council permanent members, comprising Russia, China, the U.S., the U.K. and France, are pursuing nuclear policies that are “going to lead to the end of the world that we know.” We also speak with disarmament activist Zia Mian, co-director of Princeton’s Program on Science and Global Security, who says non-nuclear weapon states must pressure other countries to sign onto the 2017 Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons.TRANSCRIPT
This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.
AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman, with Nermeen Shaikh.
The United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres warned this week humanity is, quote, “one miscalculation away from nuclear annihilation.” He made the comments at the opening of a major U.N. gathering here in New York to review the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. The meeting comes at a time when tensions are escalating between the United States and two other nuclear powers, Russia and China. This is part of António Guterres’s remarks.
SECRETARY–GENERAL ANTÓNIO GUTERRES: The clouds that parted following the end of the Cold War are gathering once more. We have been extraordinarily lucky so far. But luck is not a strategy, nor is it a shield from geopolitical tensions boiling over into nuclear conflict. Today humanity is just one misunderstanding, one miscalculation away from nuclear annihilation. We need a treaty of nonproliferation of nuclear weapons as much as ever. And that is why this review conference is so important. It’s an opportunity to hammer out the measures that will help avoid certain disaster and to put humanity on a new path towards a world free of nuclear weapons.
AMY GOODMAN: During his speech, the U.N. secretary-general also announced plans to visit Hiroshima, Japan, this week. Seventy-seven years ago, on August 6, 1945, the United States dropped the world’s first atomic bomb on the Japanese city, killing an estimated 140,000 people. [Three] days later, the United States dropped another atomic bomb on Nagasaki — it was August 9th, 1945 — where at least 74,000 people died.
To talk more about the threat of nuclear war, we’re joined by two guests. Zia Mian is with us, physicist, nuclear expert and disarmament activist, co-director of the Program on Science and Global Security at Princeton University, co-author of Unmaking the Bomb: A Fissile Material Approach to Nuclear Disarmament and Nonproliferation. Dr. Ira Helfand is with us, as well, immediate past president of the International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War, recipient of the 1985 Nobel Peace Prize, also co-founder and past president of Physicians for Social Responsibility, serves on the international steering group of the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapon, which won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2017. His new piece in The Hill is headlined “Are Russia and NATO trying to wreck the NPT?”
Dr. Ira Helfand, explain.
DR. IRA HELFAND: Well, there have been multiple threats by Russia, and some threats by NATO, to use nuclear weapons in the context of the war in Ukraine. This is a totally unacceptable situation. And in response to that, my organization, the IPPNW, organized a statement with 17 other Nobel Peace laureates demanding that Russia and NATO make an explicit pledge that they would not use nuclear weapons under any circumstances in the context of this war. They’ve refused to do that.
Now they’re coming into the NPT meeting demanding, as they always do, that the countries which don’t have nuclear weapons continue to refrain from obtaining them, while they themselves will not even promise not to blow up the world this week. And it’s an extraordinarily hypocritical situation. And I think it is the kind of behavior which has put the NPT at risk.
The great powers try to blame the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons. They try to identify that as a source of risk to the Non-Proliferation Treaty, because 121 countries around the world have come together and said that they will not — they will honor their obligations under the NPT and not develop nuclear weapons. But the real threat to the NPT comes from the five permanent members of the Security Council — the NATO members, the United States, the U.K. and France; Russia and China — who are obliged under the NPT to enter into good-faith negotiations to eliminate their nuclear arsenals, and who have steadfastly refused for the last 50 years-plus to honor that obligation.
And that’s the problem that we’re facing. And the behavior of NATO and Russia in the Ukraine conflict has just underlined this total failure of the permanent members of the Security Council to uphold their part of the bargain inherent in the Non-Proliferation Treaty. And I think that’s what puts the treaty at risk.
NERMEEN SHAIKH: Dr. Zia Mian, could you comment on your concerns about what’s going on at the Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant, which is, of course, the largest in Europe and one of the largest in the world?
ZIA MIAN: The Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant — I mean, as Shaun Burnie mentioned in your earlier segment, and as Ira also observed, nuclear plants were never designed, intended or imagined to be in war zones. They are dangerous enough even in peace time, given the history of nuclear accidents, complex technologies, institutional and human failures that we’ve seen throughout the history of all complex technologies. But what we’ve seen for more than 40 years now are attacks on nuclear power plants.
It’s worth remembering, 40 years ago, Israel attacked a nuclear reactor in Iraq, and that was the first attack on a nuclear reactor by another state. And during the Iran-Iraq War, reactors were attacked. And the reactor in Dimona in Israel was also attacked. And now we see nuclear reactors being attacked by cyberattacks also.
So, I think what we have to ask is not so much the details of a specific reactor in Zaporizhzhia and the war in Ukraine, but the fact of: Can we feel safe in a world where these incredibly dangerous technologies coexist in a system where we can barely manage even ordinary technologies, never mind technologies with catastrophic failures, but ones in which states go to war and actually target not just cities and people, but also other kinds of industrial facilities, including nuclear reactors?
And so, one of the things to keep in mind is that India and Pakistan long have lived with the threat of attacks on each other’s nuclear facilities. And in 1988, they actually agreed a treaty between them to not attack each other’s nuclear facilities, because of fears of the consequences of such attacks. And this may be the kind of thing that other states should also pick up on and ask the question — until we can shut down all nuclear facilities safely and make sure that these problems can’t recur in the future, at least we should have agreement not to attack them.
NERMEEN SHAIKH: Zia, now, you worked with your colleagues at Princeton earlier this year on a simulation looking at what might happen in the event of an escalation, how a conventional war between the U.S. and Russia could turn into a nuclear one. Could you talk about that simulation and what you found?
ZIA MIAN: So, several years ago, the Princeton Program on Science and Global Security tried to think about how to understand what would be the consequences of current U.S., NATO and Russian nuclear war plans, as far as we could understand them. And so, after thinking through what those war plans involved, using publicly open sources and what we know about the number and locations of U.S. and Russian nuclear weapons, the postures, the targets, we actually tried to then go through step by step of what would happen in a conventional war which escalated first with the use of one nuclear weapon on the battlefield to then retaliation to then escalation to a second stage of a larger use of nuclear weapons by both sides, then to all-out nuclear war and the consequences that would follow.
And it found that, you know, within a matter of a few hours, there would be the better part of 100 million casualties. And the U.S. Strategic Command accepts publicly that all of their nuclear war exercises — they are on record — all of their nuclear war exercises end in all-out global thermonuclear war. So the war plans they have always end up with the end of the world. And so, that’s what we were trying to explore, and that’s what we were trying to explain.
AMY GOODMAN: And, Zia Mian, during the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty Review Conference, France, the U.K. and the U.S. issued a statement saying, “Nuclear weapons, for as long as they exist, should serve defensive purposes, deter aggression, and prevent war. We condemn those who would use or threaten to use nuclear weapons for military coercion, intimidation, and blackmail.” Your response?
ZIA MIAN: This is basically the U.S., France and the U.K. saying, “Our nuclear weapons are good. Your nuclear weapons are bad,” even though, as we all know, the U.S. and the U.K. and France make nuclear threats. It’s called nuclear deterrence. The very practice of nuclear deterrence is military coercion, intimidation and blackmail. It’s just that when we do it, we call it deterrence; when they do it, you call it for what it is, which is coercion, intimidation and blackmail. And Daniel Ellsberg — bless him — pointed this out back in 1950s in a famous lecture on coercion and blackmail in the nuclear age, saying that nuclear weapons, fundamentally, except during times of active war, when they are exploded, are instruments for the threat of nuclear war. They are intended to be instruments of coercion, intimidation and blackmail. So, all I think we need to do is to accept the fact that for the first time these three weapon states have recognized at least the fact that nuclear weapons are about coercion, intimidation and blackmail. It’s just the rest of us understand this applies to everybody’s nuclear weapons.
NERMEEN SHAIKH: And, Zia, finally, earlier this year, you attended the Vienna Conference of the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons. Talk about the significance of that treaty, why it was formed to begin with, and what the substance of the discussions were.
ZIA MIAN: So, the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons is the first international treaty that bans nuclear weapons absolutely and unconditionally. And it also is the first and only treaty that bans the use, and even the threat of use, of nuclear weapons. If we had actually had the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons in force with the U.S. and Russia and so on involved, there would have been no question of the threat of use of nuclear weapons by anybody. And the origins of this treaty go back to the beginning of the nuclear age. This was the first decision ever made by the United Nations in 1946. Before anything else, they said we need a plan for the elimination of nuclear weapons. What this treaty does, which entered into force in 2021, was to basically fulfill that first goal of the United Nations system. We now have an international legal instrument that bans nuclear weapons and bans the use and the threat of use of nuclear weapons.
And in Vienna, the countries that came together as members of this treaty actually made a statement specifically talking about the threat and use of nuclear weapons as we see it today. And they said that this threat and use of nuclear weapons, including by Russia and by anyone under any circumstances, is a violation of international law, is a violation of the U.N. Charter, and should be condemned explicitly and implicitly and irrespective of the circumstances. So, you couldn’t ask for a clearer statement against the threat of nuclear weapons — unlike the kind of statement that we saw that you asked about from France, the U.K. and the U.S., which says, “Our nuclear threats are OK. Everybody else’s threats are bad.”
AMY GOODMAN: And finally, Dr. Helfand, the U.N. secretary-general heads to Hiroshima for the 77th anniversary of the U.S. dropping the first atomic bomb in the world on Hiroshima on August 6, 1945, followed by the dropping of the second bomb on Nagasaki on August 9th, ’45. If you could comment on his comment saying we are closer to nuclear annihilation than ever? He’ll be meeting with hibakusha — that’s Hiroshima bomb survivors — and young activists. And also, whether you think what’s happening with the increased tensions with Ukraine, Russia and China are — and now bringing Finland and Sweden into NATO, are escalating tension?
DR. IRA HELFAND: Well, I think the tensions clearly are escalating, and we are closer to nuclear war than we’ve ever been. And we need to recognize that. You know, the song that you played earlier in the show, “You don’t believe we’re on the eve of destruction,” that’s the problem. We don’t believe it, because it is such a horrible reality that we’re confronting. But we better start believing it, because it’s true.
Fortunately, we have to also understand this is not the future that needs to be. There’s nothing that makes nuclear destruction inevitable. It’s not as though, you know, we’re dealing with some force of nature that we have no control over. We know how to take these weapons apart. And we need to do that.
And — excuse me — here in the United States, we’ve launched a national campaign called Back from the Brink to try to force the United States government to change its nuclear policy in a fundamental way, to recognize that nuclear weapons do not make the world secure, they are the greatest threat to security, and they need to be eliminated, and to get the United States to play the role which it should, initiating negotiations with the other nuclear-armed states for the specific verifiable, enforceable, time-bound agreement, so they will come to eliminate their weapons, so they will meet their obligations under Article 6 of the Non-Proliferation Treaty and meet their obligations under the new Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons.
And at the current session at the NPT in New York, I think it’s incredibly important that the non-nuclear weapon states hold the permanent members of the Security Council accountable, that they demand that NATO and Russia in fact issue a statement pledging they will not use nuclear weapons in the context of the war in Ukraine, and they go beyond that and demand that all five members of the Security Council’s P5, the permanent members, begin now, during this meeting in New York, the negotiations to eliminate their nuclear weapons, as they have promised to do for 50 years, and that they bring in the other four nuclear-armed states into that process. And that can happen. This is not some fantasy. This is, practically, what needs to happen if we are going to survive.
And the leaders of the great powers — Biden, Xi and Putin — need to sit down with themselves and recognize the fact that the policies they are pursuing are going to lead to the end of the world that we know. They’re playing this game of chicken, this game of king of the mountain, to see who’s going to come out on top of this struggle for power and wealth in the world. And they don’t seem to understand that while there may be a winner, the mountain that that person ends up sitting on is going to be an ash heap, what’s left of our civilization, because they’re going to be destroying it. And they need a totally different approach. They need to understand that to deal with the nuclear threat, to do with the climate crisis, to deal with the future pandemics that we will experience, they need to cooperate. They need to work together, or else none of us are going to survive.
AMY GOODMAN: Dr. Ira Helfand, we thank you for being with us, immediate past president of the International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War, Nobel Prize-winning organization. We’ll also link to your piece in The Hill, “Are Russia and NATO trying to wreck the NPT?” And thanks also to Zia Mian, the co-director of the Program on Science and Global Security at Princeton University.
Coming up, we look at why the American right is embracing Hungary’s authoritarian leader, Viktor Orbán, who is addressing CPAC today. That’s the Conservative Political Action Conference, which is taking place in Dallas, Texas. Stay with us.
Sanders Takes Aim at Big Oil, Big Pharma Concessions in Inflation Reduction Act
On Wednesday, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vermont) announced that he is planning to file amendments to the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) in order to remedy certain concessions in the bill that top Democrats tailored to please corporate-friendly Sen. Joe Manchin (D-West Virginia).
In a speech on the Senate floor, the Vermont progressive announced that he is planning to take aim at the IRA’s giveaways to the fossil fuel industry that would make it harder to fight the climate crisis. He’s also planning to file an amendment to expand Medicare and allow it to access the same prices for prescription drugs as the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), which would cut prices for hundreds of drugs roughly in half.
“In my view, we have to do everything possible to take on the greed of the fossil fuel industry, not give billions of dollars in corporate welfare to an industry that has been actively destroying our planet. I will be introducing an amendment to do just that,” Sanders said, quoting climate advocates who have called the bill a “climate suicide pact.” Instead of giving subsidies to the fossil fuel industry, he said, Congress should be focusing on ending such handouts altogether.
Allowing Medicare to access lower drug prices has the dual effect of saving the agency $900 billion over the next decade while funding his initiative to expand Medicare to coverage vision, dental and hearing and lowering the eligibility age to 60 or lower, he added.
Sanders has been one of the most outspoken Democrats in Congress in his criticisms of the bill. He has had limited praise for some of the bill’s proposals, like its plans to expand clean energy. But the bill is still far narrower than last year’s Build Back Better Act, he says, and contains no plans to take on corporate oligarchy, address child- and job-related economic crises that the public is facing, or reform the health care system at large.
“As currently written, this is an extremely modest piece of legislation that does virtually nothing to address the enormous crises that working families all across this country are facing today,” he said. “Given that this is the last reconciliation bill that we will be considering this year, it is the only opportunity that we have to do something significant for the American people that requires only 50 votes and that cannot be filibustered.”
What’s worse, as Sanders and climate advocates have pointed out, is that the bill currently has poison pills like fossil fuel and Big Pharma subsidies that would be locked in for years to come.
Senate leaders are rushing to bring the bill to a vote as soon as this week, leaving lawmakers very little time to review the 700-page bill that has been negotiated in secret with Manchin for months.
As Sanders acknowledged, this may be Democrats’ one and only chance to pass a climate bill before Republicans may take the House or the Senate this fall, and there are few other avenues for the Senate to address the ever-looming climate crisis. At the same time, the bill expands fossil fuels, which climate experts say need to be phased out entirely; top Democrats have even negotiated a fossil fuel-friendly side deal with Manchin that would also greenlight a pipeline project that climate advocates have said is unacceptable.
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A massive sinkhole just discovered in Chile has authorities puzzled
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The Netflix v. 'Unofficial Bridgerton Musical' lawsuit, explained
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Biden Signs Executive Order Directing Medicaid to Pay Abortion Travel Expenses
On Wednesday, President Joe Biden signed an executive order aimed at helping people with low incomes travel to other states to access abortion services.
Since the Supreme Court ruled in June to end the abortion rights protections established in the 1973 decision Roe v. Wade, several states have banned the procedure and others have indicated that they are planning to do so in the near future. In 10 states, abortion is illegal at all stages of pregnancy, save for very limiting circumstances, while another four states ban abortion after six weeks of pregnancy. It is expected that more restrictions will be enacted in other states over the next few weeks.
Meanwhile, states like California, New York and Minnesota have become “sanctuaries” for abortion, not only for their own residents but for those traveling from states where the procedure is illegal.
Biden’s executive order this week seeks to address economic barriers that prevent people from traveling to another state to get an abortion by having Medicaid cover travel expenses for those with qualifying low incomes.
The Secretary of HHS [the Department of Health and Human Services] shall consider actions to advance access to reproductive healthcare services, including, to the extent permitted by Federal law, through Medicaid for patients traveling across State lines for medical care.
White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre declined to elaborate on how or when the order would be enacted while talking to members of the press on Wednesday. She also didn’t explain how the order would circumvent violating the Hyde Amendment, a law that forbids the spending of federal dollars for abortions except in rare circumstances.
“I believe Roe got it right,” Biden said in his announcement of the order. “It’s been the law for close to 50 years. And I committed to the American people that we are doing everything in our power to safeguard access to health care, including the right to choose that women had under Roe v. Wade, which was ripped away by this extreme court.”
The order comes just one day after voters in Kansas rejected a constitutional amendment to their state constitution, which would have allowed the Republican-led legislature to pass new laws restricting or banning abortion. Biden praised the vote, describing it as a “decisive victory” for reproductive rights.
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Feel Like Everything Is Crumbling? This Oral History of the Future Offers Hope.
In 2018, Mariame Kaba and Kelly Hayes called for a “radical reimagining” in how we respond to harm, writing, “It’s time for a jailbreak of the imagination in order to make the impossible possible.” A new book of speculative fiction, Everything for Everyone: An Oral History of the New York Commune, 2052-2072, by M.E. O’Brien and Eman Abdelhadi, is one such jailbreak.
O’Brien and Abdelhadi imagine themselves as researchers in the future. Their future selves interview 12 fictitious people who played different revolutionary roles in recreating the world, including sex workers, scientists, student organizers and freedom fighters. In this future world, money, nation-states, prisons, militaries, police, borders and families as we know them are no more. Instead, people organize themselves through communes, councils and free assemblies. And it is beautiful.
It’s not that there are no problems in this future — characters talk about long-term effects of trauma, an incident of physical violence toward a child, tough ethical questions resolved in ways not everyone agrees with, and the ongoing disaster of climate change. But people are now free to respond to those challenges in ways that are creative, collaborative, interdependent and caring, rather than desperate, isolated, greedy or punitive. People flourish through building with each other in the absence of capitalism and colonialism.
But if you come to Everything for Everyone for the politics, stay for the writing. Barring Vladimir Nabokov in Pale Fire, I can’t think of another author who uses an academic form to achieve a literary result so successfully. Each of the interviewees and interviewers has an entirely unique and authentic voice. The book is utterly plausible as the archival project it claims to be, while also telling gripping stories and slipping in details to delight sci-fi fans (a space elevator in Quito! Sentient algae-based AI! Augmented reality implants for dance parties!).
I have worked with both O’Brien and Abdelhadi in the context of different political projects over the years, so I was delighted to get the chance to put together this exclusive Truthout interview with them about why they wrote the book, what influences helped to shape Everything for Everyone, and what they are working on next.
Gabriel Arkles: You offer this incredibly hopeful vision for our future in Everything for Everyone. I mean, things get even worse before they get better, and a lot of people get killed. But then this new world emerges as people all over the globe defeat police, military, fascists and the ultra-wealthy. They redistribute resources, and create ways of doing things that are infinitely more consensual, collaborative and compassionate, rather than hierarchical, alienated and exploitative. Why did you want to offer a utopian, not dystopian, vision?
Eman Abdelhadi: One of the great violences of the moment in history we are living is that it has extinguished hope. It truly feels like we are living at the end of the world, and that has left many of us unable to imagine a better world. Many are even debating whether reproducing a next generation of human beings is ethical. Our book reclaims hope as both a right and a political imperative. The fictional and speculative form allows that in unique ways. We let our imaginations do the work of conjuring a better world and therefore giving us, and hopefully our readers, hope. We imagine what it would be like to live and love without the rat race, without nuclear family forms, without the constraints of gender as we know them, without material scarcity. Without these constraints we thrive as both individuals and communities!
M.E. O’Brien: So many people are dealing with consuming despair and a sense of resignation and powerlessness. To forge the kinds of collective emancipatory movements we desperately need, at some point, everyone has to discover in ourselves the sense that the world really could be better. This sense of positive aspiration, of revolutionary possibility, is something we need to find both in ourselves and in the relationships between us. I’ve found that sense in moments of mass insurrection that I’ve been a part of in my own life. Everything for Everyone is intended to encourage people to explore revolutionary vision throughout our lives. I hope people read the book and are inspired to write their own!
I hadn’t read many radical works set in a hopeful future that comes after further breakdown in our current world order. But when I think of other examples, I’m mostly thinking of books by Indigenous authors from Turtle Island/North America, like Rebecca Roanhorse’s Trail of Lightning, or various authors in Joshua Whitehead’s Love After the End: An Anthology of Two-Spirit and Indigiqueer Speculative Fiction. I’m curious whether and how Indigenous work informed your thinking in Everything for Everyone? And to make that more general, what other authors or thinkers contributed to your creation of this book?
O’Brien: That sounds like great work, I would love to check it out. I read and appreciated Hope Nicholson’s anthology of LGBT Indigenous science fiction, entitled Love Beyond Body, Space, and Time. In terms of Indigenous theorists, I have gotten a great deal from the works of Kim TallBear, Daniel Heath Justice and from my co-editor at Pinko, Lou Cornum. Indigenous theorists have been very helpful in shaping my thinking about settler-colonialism and the white family form. That research was in the back of my mind as I was writing my sections of Everything for Everyone. Broadly, I think I would have a hard time detailing all my influences. There is a range of current work engaged with questions of trans liberation, social reproduction, communization and racial capitalism that help motivate my current thinking. A few contemporary theorists of family abolition, or critiques of the normative family form, particularly stand out: Hortense Spillers, Sophie Lewis, Tiffany Lethabo King, Alexis Pauline Gumbs and Jules Gill-Peterson.In this future world, money, nation-states, prisons, militaries, police, borders and families as we know them are no more.
Abdelhadi: The Indigenous struggle that most influenced my writing is the Palestinian one. Palestinians imagine liberation every day and locate ourselves in both the lineage and future of struggle. For those of us who are critical of capitalism and the nation state, a common saying is, “The Palestinian flag is the only one I would ever raise. And the day Palestine is free, I will stop raising it.” That is, we understand nationalism as a temporary necessity forced upon us by the system in which we currently live. At the end of the second chapter of Everything for Everyone, in which we liberate Palestine, you can drive or take the train from Beirut to Jerusalem for a day trip. That is, we are imagining Palestinian liberation as intrinsically tied to liberation from the nation state and from capitalism as well.
Are there any political projects happening now you want to talk about, especially if they somehow prefigure the future of Everything for Everyone?
O’Brien: In Everything for Everyone, we depict a new social institution as the basis of day-to-day life: the commune. People live in collective communes of several hundred people spread out across several buildings. They eat together as a commune, make decisions in big meetings, and get most of their day-to-day care through the commune. People can still form families — or “family together,” as one character puts it — but these families are not an economic unit and not the sole close social relationships. If a family chooses to separate, it doesn’t have as massive an impact as it might in our world.
Importantly, I do not think what we call communes today could prefigure this society. Communes today largely depend on property ownership and wealth for their stability, like normative families do. Without it, it can be difficult to maintain collective living. Treating each other well is extraordinarily difficult to maintain in a capitalist society. The basic features of racial capitalism — like racist state violence, or the pressures of reproducing ourselves through paid work — all create contradictions and conflicts within households, even within the most radical communities.
What I would instead point to are the examples of insurgent social reproduction: moments where people in the middle of mass rebellions collectively address issues of sleeping, food, safety, education, in radically new ways. I am thinking here of protest camps like Standing Rock against the Dakota Access Pipeline, rare brief moments in the urban camps of Occupy Wall Street, and mass urban uprisings like the Oaxaca Commune of 2006. These are necessarily temporary and precarious, because they are in direct confrontation with the state and capital. I imagine these being the beginnings of new practices of social reproduction.
The interview with Connor Stephens on the fall of Colorado Springs was in some ways my favorite, even though (or maybe because) it was uncomfortable to read. One thing I’ve come to understand in my work as a lawyer is that I have a professional and cultural expectation that people will relate their stories in a linear, chronological way. But that’s not really the way most people tell their stories. You showed Stephens resisting the chronological framework O’Brien wanted, and some tension between them. I’d love to hear some about why you chose to include those moments of tension, refusal or critique of the approach your future selves took to the interviewing process? And then conversely, why you chose to include moments of connection and alignment, like in the interview between Abdelhadi and Kawkab Hassan on liberating the Levant?
Abdelhadi: I am a Muslim American who mostly does oral histories with Muslim Americans for my academic research. This experience has stripped me of the fantasy of the neutral interviewer. In social sciences, we like to believe that everyone would be able to access the same data using the same methods. That’s simply not true for this method. People tell me things they would not be willing to tell someone who wasn’t also Muslim or Brown or a woman. Who I am matters to the people I interview. I tried to write these fictional oral histories with that in mind, thinking about the interaction between the interviewer and interviewee — about the moments when the interviewer would be drawn into the story and when they would be more of a receiver of it.
O’Brien: I tried to write Connor Stephens’s interview closely based on both my reading of Indigenous oral histories, and from research into how trauma shapes narrative. These each have slightly different influences on the text, but what came out reflects them both. Overall, I think oral history is an especially rich form in allowing for contradiction, misremembering and agency by the narrator. In my three years coordinating the NYC Trans Oral History Project, I found that the best oral histories were not packaged and clean, stripped of contradictions. The richest interviews were when people were discovering something new and unexpected in themselves as they talked, and that always meant a certain shaking up of our assumptions of what narrative and truth looks like.
I read After the Revolution by Robert Evans shortly before I read your book. I found it interesting that both included a white character assigned female at birth who at one point really believed in and advocated for a Christo-fascist state (Sasha in Evans’s novel and S. in yours). And in both, that person finally violently rose up against that society, partly because of the violence they witnessed toward other white people assigned female at birth and partly because outsiders helped them question their beliefs. I wonder if you can reflect on S.’s role in your book, and why other authors might also find these sorts of narratives interesting to explore in this moment? I should also acknowledge that these narratives probably interest me partly because I am a white person assigned female at birth who held some conservative beliefs when I was younger that I no longer support.
O’Brien: S. is a white nonbinary character. They grew up in a fascist Christian cult that took over Staten Island, and S. was eventually involved in a massacre of the cult’s patriarchs. For them, this rebellion was made possible by an ongoing online communication with a Black revolutionary who later becomes their spouse. In the interview, S. is still struggling with trauma shaping their sexuality and their relationship to love. We are currently living in a moment of rising fascist threat. Sexual violence, attacks on reproductive freedom, and the imposition of narrow family and gender norms [are some of the ways] fascist social relations organize power and authority. Throughout the book, we were trying to explore the diverse paths that may lead our narrators to become revolutionaries. In S.’s case, this was based on facing the violent gendered contradictions immediately around them.
I’m interested in how you made choices about what to make explicit and what to leave implicit at various points. For example, in the first interview with Miss Kelly on the insurrection at Hunts Point, you had pretty detailed discussion of how she and others transformed sex work and the distribution, production and consumption of food, as well as how she and others navigated some of the tensions with other organizations that initially had a problem with them as trans women. And while race seemed very present in that interview — Miss Kelly refers to uprisings against police murders, for example — you chose not to explicitly name and explain in that interview ways Miss Kelly dealt with anti-Black racism or how racial dynamics shifted with communization. And in other interviews, while there was careful attention to the impact of emotional trauma and the type of support people give and get around that, there wasn’t as much discussion about how people in the post-revolutionary world support each other around physical disabilities, including those acquired through traumatic injury. Could you say a little about how you decided what to make explicit, what to leave implicit, and what to cut?It truly feels like we are living at the end of the world, and that has left many of us unable to imagine a better world.
O’Brien: Eman and I are each the primary authors of those interviews where we present ourselves as the interviewer. What I hear you pointing to is the limitations of my own thinking and experience. This is an inherent part of oral history interviewing outside of these fictional interviews. My identities and experiences as an interviewer shape what people are comfortable sharing, and shape where the conversation goes. In my experience interviewing BIPOC people as a white interviewer, racial violence and racial capitalism was always in the background shaping their story, but rarely explored directly and explicitly. No doubt this was tied up with me being white, and in how I listened, asked questions and held space. Similarly, in my years working with people dealing with a variety of disabilities in the AIDS movement, a lot of my attention was more focused on mental health and trauma, and I likely wasn’t listening as deeply around other kinds of disabilities. These experiences of listening — as a therapist, and as an oral historian — then shaped my writing, in both good and problematic ways.
Abdelhadi: Gabriel, thank you for pointing this out! The question of physical disabilities is definitely a limitation of the book. One of the difficulties of writing a polyphonic novel is that we have to inhabit multiple characters’ psyches. There is always the question of how to do that given the limitations of our own positionalities. Of course, as M.E. points out, being oral historians helps. We have had to listen to and empathize with people of multiple identifications that do not overlap with our own, and I think we both draw on that. But these experiences, too, are inherently limited. I think it’s important to acknowledge limitations such as this one and own up to them. We hope this book inspires a lot more hopeful speculative fiction, and I hope others wiser than us and more well-versed will fill in the gaps!
I have to ask: The book refers several times to how there is a much larger oral history project that will be available in various ways, but not in print. Do you have additional interviews that will be available online? I can also imagine fans wanting to create and contribute their own interviews.
Abdelhadi: The allusion to more interviews was mostly a stylistic choice, to help convey the world of an actual oral history project. I would imagine that such a project would have many more interviews than could be printed. But I love the idea of fan fiction generating more interviews or even a second volume later down the line! We’ll see!
O’Brien: I hope this book inspires many, many more efforts at revolutionary speculative fiction. We never imagined this as a plan or a definitive guide; it is an effort at imagining and thinking that is meant to be collaborative, shared and transformed by others. I have many more interviews I could easily imagine writing in this same world, and hope to have the support and opportunity to do so someday.
I was thinking about sending this book to some collaborators in prison, and then realized that with all the discussion of liberating jails, this book will probably get seriously censored. Do you have any thoughts on how best to share some of the ideas in the book if we’re prevented from sharing the book itself with our comrades on the inside?
O’Brien: I would love to hear your thoughts on this! I imagine through your legal advocacy you know a great deal more than I do through my occasional correspondence with political prisoners.
It’s tough — that’s part of the whole point of prisons, right? To suppress dissent and keep communities separated? I would still try to send the book — it might get through in at least some systems. Another option I’ve seen used is reprinting excerpts in newsletters that go to people in prison, being a bit selective about what is excerpted to avoid censorship of the whole thing. And people can talk about other parts in video, in person or phone visits. But because all of those conversations are recorded, it’s important to make it obvious you’re talking about ideas in a work of fiction, you’re not actually planning a prison break or armed uprising (especially if you might like to).
You wrote your publisher and yourselves seamlessly into the story — you each play the role of interviewers documenting an oral history 50 years from now. I’m curious what it was like to write your future selves?
Abdelhadi: We have been close friends and comrades for 10 years now! We used to always joke that we were just waiting to be little old ladies. It was fun for me — and maybe even a little selfish — to write a future I could plausibly live to see. There was grief in the temporal placement as well — knowing I likely wouldn’t be the hero of these events. But in such desperate times, it was wonderful to imagine getting to the other side. As people have been reading the book, the reaction we are getting most frequently is that it filled folks with hope, and I think maybe placing ourselves so close to the events is part of that. That if we can be close, our readers can be, too.
O’Brien: Overall, writing with Eman was an immense pleasure. The book was a joy to write, in both its content and form. I am not really a beach person, but being queer in NYC I’ve ended up at Riis many times, a well-loved queer beach spot easily accessible from Brooklyn and Queens. Walking through the immense decayed parking lot at Riis, I’ve always had a grim image that it would be a perfect place for the military to detain people. So I wrote that into the book as my own unfortunate trauma. But even horrible details like that are held by the book overall as a testament of joy and possibility.
What are you working on next?
O’Brien: I just finished a draft of my next book. It is a nonfiction exploration of revolutionary efforts to rethink the family, entitled Family Abolition: Capitalism and the Communizing of Care. It will come out from Pluto in Spring of 2023. It is a close companion text to Everything for Everyone, trying to outline some of the underlying theoretical principles about what social reproduction may look like in a more free, post-capitalist society.
Abdelhadi: I have to try and get tenure at my day job! This book was primarily a pandemic weekend project for me. My academic research has been ongoing, and I am deep into writing a book manuscript for an academic press. The working title is Impossible Futures: Why Women Leave American Muslim Communities while Men Stay. Stay tuned!
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Sinema Wants to Prevent Closure of Tax Loophole for Rich in Reconciliation Bill
As Senate Democrats work to finalize their new reconciliation package, corporate-friendly Sen. Kyrsten Sinema is reportedly demanding the removal of language taking aim at a notorious tax loophole that primarily benefits rich private equity investors and billionaire hedge fund managers.
Politico reported Wednesday that the Arizona Democrat — a major recipient of private equity campaign cash — “wants to nix language narrowing the so-called carried interest loophole,” which allows some ultra-wealthy executives to pay a lower tax rate than ordinary employees.
Sinema also wants “roughly $5 billion in drought resiliency funding added to the legislation, a key ask for Arizona given the state’s problems with water supply,” Politico noted.
The carried interest provision of the reconciliation package would raise an estimated $14 billion in federal revenue over a decade by subjecting more of the income of wealthy investors to a tax rate higher than the 20% long-term capital gains rate.
But Sinema has repeatedly opposed reforms to the carried interest loophole, and last year she helped secure the removal of carried interest changes from the now-dead Build Back Better Act.
Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), who negotiated the new Inflation Reduction Act, has said he is “adamant” about keeping the carried interest change in the legislation, setting up a potential conflict between the party’s two right-wing obstructionists as Democrats attempt to pass the bill this week.
“The carried interest loophole only benefits the wealthiest hedge fund managers and private equity investors — like the one Sen. Sinema
interned for last summer,” the Progressive Change Campaign Committee (PCCC) tweeted Wednesday, referring to Sinema’s stint at a winery owned by private equity mogul Bill Price.
Last August, Sinema held a high-dollar fundraiser at the winery.
“Will she sink our last chance at investing in climate on behalf of her private equity buddies?” PCCC asked.
Robert Reich, the former secretary of the U.S. Department of Labor, noted Wednesday that “Wall Street has donated over $2 million to Sinema since she took office in 2017.”
“Looks like they are getting a huge return on their investment,” Reich added.
According to Bloomberg, Sinema is also pushing Democratic leaders to “narrow” the 15% corporate minimum tax proposed in the new legislation. The Tax Foundation estimates that the provision, which Manchin has endorsed and vocally defended, would raise $200 billion in federal revenue over a decade, helping to fund a significant chunk of the roughly $740 billion reconciliation package.
“Sinema has been faced with a barrage of lobbying from business interests and Senate Republicans,” Bloomberg reported Wednesday. “She has met in recent days with business groups representing her state as well as her GOP colleagues. Groups representing private equity and manufacturers have also been conducting advertising and advocacy campaigns to reach Sinema and Arizona voters since the proposal went public last week.”
Over the weekend, as Common Dreams reported Tuesday, a prominent member of the Koch network launched ads urging Sinema to tank her own party’s bill, which includes major renewable energy investments and limited drug price reforms.
Bloomberg pointed out that “the changes Sinema is seeking could end up shaving tens of billions — or more — of revenue from the bill.”
“That would likely mean that Democrats would have to cut into some of the roughly $300 billion worth of deficit reduction in the bill,” the outlet noted, “or trim some of the spending on climate and health initiatives.”
In an assessment released Wednesday, the Congressional Budget Office determined the bill would shave $102 billion off the federal deficit over ten years.
Sinema’s support, along with that of every other member of the Senate Democratic caucus, is needed to get the legislation over the finish line.
In a Tuesday letter endorsing the Inflation Reduction Act, nearly 130 leading economists including Joseph Stiglitz of Columbia University argued that the bill in its current form “would be more than fully paid for.”
“The revenue raised to finance them would come exclusively from wealthy individuals and corporations,” the economists wrote. “Further, the revenue stems from enhanced tax enforcement and closing some of the most distortionary loopholes in the tax code.”
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Anti-Abortionists Deny Importance of Kansas Vote, But It’s Massively Significant
Amid the array of primary election results on Tuesday night and Wednesday morning, one stood out in boldface type: Nearly 60% of voters in Kansas, typically a deep-red state that Donald Trump easily carried two years ago, rejected a ballot referendum that would have amended the state constitution to remove the right to abortion.
The amendment, artfully entitled “Value Them Both,” represented the first ballot initiative on abortion since Roe v. Wade was overturned in June. Abortion opponents described it as a corrective to a 2019 state Supreme Court ruling which found that the Kansas constitution protects abortion rights, while pro-choice groups warned it would swiftly allow Republican lawmakers to enact a total abortion ban.
Republicans never exactly admitted that, repeatedly casting pro-choice warnings about a potential ban as lies and disinformation, even after the Kansas Reflector obtained audio recordings in mid-July of a Value Them Both Coalition staffer telling Republican officials they had abortion-ban legislation waiting in the wings once the amendment passed.
The ballot initiative seemed designed to disadvantage abortion rights supporters from the get-go. It was scheduled for a vote not in the general election in November but in the August primary, which in Kansas traditionally draws few Democrats (since many Democratic candidates run unopposed) or unaffiliated voters, who cannot vote in either party’s primaries. Pro-choice advocates also charged that the ballot initiative’s language was intentionally misleading, designed to confuse voters about what a “yes” or “no” vote meant and including irrelevant provisions, such as public funding for abortion, that don’t actually exist in the state.
This is as dirty as you can get. The anti-abortion coalition is sending out a last minute mass text to Kansas pro-choice voters blatantly lying about the abortion amendment so they vote the wrong way.
Also, they don’t identify themselves which is a federal violation.#ksleg pic.twitter.com/S6bdrtqrc5
— Davis Hammet (@Davis_Hammet) August 1, 2022
On Monday, the eve of Election Day, Kansas voters received an anonymous mass text message that transparently seemed to double down on that tactic, falsely suggesting that a “yes” vote would protect “choice.” The message, which the Washington Post discovered was sent on behalf of a PAC led by former Rep. Tim Huelskamp, a Republican, read, “Women in KS are losing their choice on reproductive rights. Voting YES on the Amendment will give women a choice. Vote YES to protect women’s health.”
Anti-abortion advocates are sending text messages to Kansas voters that falsely claim a YES vote for the constitutional amendment would protect “choice.”
The state ethics committee says that’s perfectly legal, and the group(s) behind it don’t have to disclose their identities. https://t.co/RqNhpnGmyv pic.twitter.com/NSdgBvnhYO
— Mark Joseph Stern (@mjs_DC) August 2, 2022
In the face of all these obstacles, Tuesday’s vote amounted to a stunning defeat of the initiative, and an ominous sign for Republicans that their attacks on abortion access are deeply unpopular outside their base, even in one of the nation’s most conservative states. Early observations indicate that Kansas voter turnout greatly exceeded typical primary participation — it was more similar to the 2018 midterms or even the 2008 presidential election — and that a large wave of voters seem to have gone to the polls exclusively to vote against the referendum. What’s more, “blue” counties that went for Joe Biden in 2020 voted by even larger margins against the amendment, while “red” counties registered far fewer votes in support of the amendment than had gone to Donald Trump. As the New York Times observed, “From the bluest counties to the reddest ones, abortion rights performed better than Mr. Biden, and opposition to abortion performed worse than Mr. Trump.”
Faced with these facts, conservatives and anti-abortion advocates rationalized the outcome in various ways, from claiming that they were the real victims of disinformation campaigns to downplaying the significance of the results to suggesting that the initiative failed because it didn’t go far enough.
In the first category, the Value Them Both Coalition led the way, writing in a statement, “Over the last six months, Kansans endured an onslaught of misinformation from radical left organizations that spent millions of out-of-state dollars to spread lies about the Value Them Both Amendment. Sadly, the mainstream media propelled the left’s false narrative, contributing to the confusion that misled Kansans about the amendment.” The coalition went on to warn that Kansas was about to become an “abortion destination,” and, channeling the Terminator, vowed that despite this “temporary setback,” “We will be back.”
Susan B. Anthony Pro-Life America, which sent student canvassers to knock on some 250,000 doors in the Sunflower State, made similar charges: “The abortion lobby’s message to voters was rife with lies that ultimately drowned out the truth.” And Kristan Hawkins, president of Students for Life Action, lamented, “We are disappointed Kansans couldn’t see past the big money that flooded the state, confusing voters about an abortion-neutral amendment that would give them the freedom to vote on abortion policy.”
Lila Rose, founder of the anti-abortion group Live Action, similarly tweeted, “Pro-aborts poured millions into a massive disinformation campaign in Kansas. Pro-abort media pulled heavily for them,” while Live Action itself wrote, “Kansas is now an abortion destination like New York and California,” adding a broken heart emoji.
Pro-aborts poured millions into a massive disinformation campaign in Kansas. Pro-abort media pulled heavily for them. https://t.co/sat18Cmyf6
— Lila Rose (@LilaGraceRose) August 3, 2022
Although the New York Times reports that the more than $12 million spent on the initiative was “split about evenly” between its anti-abortion supporters and pro-choice opponents — including $1.4 million from SBA Pro-Life America and around $4 million from Catholic organizations — conservatives also claimed, without evidence, that abortion rights advocates had far outspent them.
Mollie Hemingway, editor-in-chief of The Federalist, emphasized that point on Fox News Tuesday night, saying, “I do think that pro-lifers should understand that so much money was spent by hardcore abortion supporters to make sure that amendment failed.” Hemingway went on to suggest that “there was a lot that was packaged” in the amendment and that it might have been more successful had the proposed constitutional change been more “incremental.”
here’s how Fox News is downplaying the anti-abortion constitutional amendment in Kansas going down in flames pic.twitter.com/7hrm9BJ17A
— Aaron Rupar (@atrupar) August 3, 2022
At the National Review, editor Ramesh Ponnuru concurred, suggesting that abortion opponents “come back in a few years with another ballot initiative, this one establishing a gestational limit on abortion: at fifteen weeks, for example.” Ed Whelan, a fellow at the right-wing think tank Ethics and Public Policy Center, similarly argued on Twitter that, “One possible lesson from the Kansas shellacking” was that “Voters facing what they see as a choice between two imperfect options — one too restrictive, one too permissive — will go with the one that is too permissive.” In order to “meet the voters where they are,” he continued, “Pro-lifers need to pursue principled incrementalism.”
By contrast, Matt Schlapp, chair of the Conservative Political Action Conference, or CPAC, which is meeting in Texas this week, sought to make the case — again completely unsupported by evidence — that the amendment failed not because of overreach, but because it was too weak for avid Kansas pro-lifers. In a series of posts on Twitter, Schlapp argued, “Kansas is a strongly pro life state that does not want to take timid steps as [the Value Them Both amendment] was” and that an actual abortion “ban would have won.” The biggest problem with the amendment, he wrote, “was it was too timid for many pro life voters. It was not a heartbeat bill it was a late term ban along w other basic regulations. With a pro life governor look for much stronger pro life victories soon. A blip.”
Mercy and I campaigned for VTB in Kansas. It’s biggest problem was it was too timid for many pro life voters. It was not a heartbeat bill it was a late term ban along w other basic regulations. With a pro life governor look for much stronger pro life victories soon. A blip. https://t.co/YR9Wt1jow6
— Matt Schlapp (@mschlapp) August 3, 2022
As conservatives grappled with the loss Tuesday night and Wednesday morning, there wasn’t one uniform narrative. Speaking on Newsmax Tuesday night, former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum argued that the anti-abortion movement had become overconfident. “I hear all the pro-lifers I know say that people aren’t volunteering as much now, they’re not giving as much money. They feel like they’ve won,” Santorum said. “And Kansas, from the early returns, is going to show that we haven’t won much. This is just the beginning of the battle.” Santorum went on to predict that referendum battles such as this one would become an annual occurrence in Kansas. “This is going to be a persistent thing that we’re going to have to continue to fight.”
Right-wing commentator Erick Erickson suggested that anti-abortion voters might have misunderstood the ballot initiative’s language: “How many Kansans who are generally pro-life but not plugged in went to the polls, read the ballot language, and thought, ‘Shit, I don’t want to let the legislature pass abortion laws. I’m pro-life.'”
So tired of Ivory Tower Liberal elites demeaning the intelligence of heartland conservatives. Also, the Kansas abortion law only failed because Kansans are dumb hicks who can’t read https://t.co/CuM4uMBVZG
— Jason O. Gilbert (@gilbertjasono) August 3, 2022
Other right-wing voices decried the result as morally equivalent to historical atrocities. Dan McLaughlin, a senior writer at the National Review, tweeted, “Best night for cruelty in Kansas since the Lecompton Constitution” — a reference to an alternative Kansas constitution proposed before the Civil War that would have excluded free Black citizens from the state’s bill of rights.
Faced with the unavoidable takeaway that the Kansas vote proves that the Supreme Court’s recent decision overturning Roe is massively unpopular, other conservatives claimed to see no connection — as in Notre Dame law professor Rick Garnett’s baffling claim that the vote “had nothing to do with Roe” — or seemed to ignore the news altogether, with numerous leading conservative media outlets failing to discuss the result Tuesday night.
Right-wing media presents itself as news but it’s not. It’s propaganda.
Here’s yet another example. The first effort to roll back abortion rights via ballot referendum failed in Kansas. But Republicans’ biggest media outlets aren’t disclosing it. Fox, Breitbart, Daily Wire, etc pic.twitter.com/FUmRuuABn4
— Matthew Sheffield (@mattsheffield) August 3, 2022
The vote also seemed to lead to a confusing welter of claims related to the longstanding conservative argument that abortion should be decided at the state level. In a separate tweet, Erickson struck a let’s-move-on tone, tweeting, “The whole point of ending Roe is so states like Kansas can decide abortion for themselves. The media excitement just kinda makes the Dobbs case’s argument for itself. Exactly the point — decide this democratically at the state level.”
By contrast, Blaze TV host Steve Deace compared the outcome to pre-Civil War debates over slavery, and proposals to allow U.S. territories such as Kansas to decide for themselves whether to permit the ownership of human chattel. “What Kansas will show,” Deace tweeted, “is that America wants abortion severely restricted, but not completely abolished. America is Stephen Douglas, not Abraham Lincoln. Douglas lost that argument.”
For some Democrats, that sort of argument presaged a new threat, now that the prospect of red-state voters eagerly embracing abortion bans has been cast in doubt. As Sen. Chris Murphy of Connecticut warned on Twitter, “Mark my words, the anti-choice movement is going to look at the Kansas result and decide that their best path to criminalize abortion is a federal ban. It’s coming, and that’s what’s on the ballot this November.”