Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wisconsin) has said that Republicans may consider a nationwide ban on abortion if the party wins control of Congress in the upcoming midterm elections.
Johnson told reporters in an interview with The Washington County Daily News that he “completely agree[s]” with the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade and upend abortion protections across the country.
“I’ve written up pretty much all I need to say on that decision,” he said, adding that he believes the matter should be decided on by states.
But Johnson also raised the possibility of a Republican-controlled Congress enacting a nationwide abortion ban in the future.
“Maybe Congress can take a look at what the states have done and say ‘we probably ought to place this limit here,’ based on new information or whatever,” he said.
Johnson, who is up for reelection this fall, is currently trailing his Democratic challenger Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes by seven points, according to a recent Marquette University Law School poll.
Abortion will likely play a pivotal role in Wisconsin’s senatorial election this fall, as Johnson’s views on abortion contradict the views of most of his constituents. According to the same poll, 66 percent of Wisconsinites believe abortion should be legal in all or most cases, while just 30 percent believe it should be illegal.
Johnson’s voting record in favor of abortion restrictions and his past statements on the issue — including bragging about helping to appoint the justices that undid Roe — could prove to be a liability in the upcoming election.
Due to the Supreme Court’s ruling earlier this year, Wisconsin has reverted back to an 1849 statute on abortion that bans the procedure at all stages of pregnancy. Under the statue, residents can only get an abortion if their health is at risk, with no exceptions for rape or incest.
Several Republican lawmakers have spoken about the possibility of imposing national bans on abortion should the party win control of Congress in the midterms. House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-California) has expressed interest in imposing a nationwide 15-week ban on abortion, for example, while other GOP lawmakers are crafting proposals that would ban the procedure after the first sign of cardiac activity. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky) has also expressed support for a nationwide ban.
Anti-abortion views could hurt Republicans at ballot boxes across the country this fall. According to a Kaiser Family Foundation (KFF) Health Tracking Poll from July, 55 percent of Americans say that abortion access is a “very important” issue for them in deciding which candidate to vote for, while 19 percent say it is a “somewhat important” issue. Only 25 percent say it is “not too important.”
Democrats have been using the possibility of a nationwide abortion ban in their campaign messaging, including Johnson’s opponent, Barnes.
“Ron Johnson just came out in favor of a federal abortion ban,” Barnes’s campaign said on Twitter last week. Johnson is “doing everything he can to drag us back in time” to strip people “of their rights and freedoms, he added.
On a scorching Saturday morning in downtown Ithaca, New York, the Starbucks on the Commons, a large pedestrian shopping area, should have been open for business, serving up ice-cold frothy drinks. Yet the storefront was dark: A note posted in the window stated only, “Our Store is Temporarily Closed,” with no further explanation. But to a handful of members of the Ithaca chapter of Democratic Socialists of America, who had come to the Starbucks with flyers and picket signs in tow, the reason was obvious: Ithaca Solidarity Day. (Disclosure: The author is a member of the New York City chapter of Democratic Socialists of America.)
August 6 was supposed to be a day of protest for supporters of Starbucks Workers United (SWU), the group that has helped organize unions at more than 200 Starbucks stores nationwide. Earlier this year, Ithaca, a small city with large contingents of college students and free-spirited hippies, distinguished itself as the first U.S. city where all Starbucks stores had gone union.
It appears that’s why, on Solidarity Day, Starbucks decided not to open its main downtown location. The low-key demonstration migrated to the only other remaining Starbucks in Ithaca, tucked into the corner of a strip mall several blocks away. But Starbucks had apparently prepared for protests there as well, shutting down counter service and allowing only drive-thru orders. Union supporters were effectively preempted from undertaking the planned solidarity action — pointedly ordering cups of water, on which workers would scrawl pro-labor phrases like “union strong.”
But the handful of workers and local activists outside were undeterred. Outside the store’s entrance, they passed out flyers to passersby, telling them that Starbucks were “union busters” and were cracking down on pro-union employees.
Asked what it was about Ithaca that had enabled SWU to sweep all the local Starbucks locations, Virgil Taylor, a young union member with hot-pink hair who had worked at the Commons location, said, “Ithaca’s resilient; we come together — no matter what, people will come together in Ithaca.”
With the unionization wave spreading rapidly through hundreds of Starbucks stores nationwide, workers have cited safety issues, low pay, erratic scheduling and understaffing as reasons for joining a union. At the height of the pandemic, workers became especially concerned about inadequate health protections and pay as frontline workers were called back to work in person. As Starbucks has waged its own campaign of anti-union messaging — with meetings and text messages touting Starbucks’s pay and benefits and suggesting that unions could actually worsen their labor conditions — workers have added anti-union intimidation and propaganda to their grievances.
Some workers who have helped organize their stores say they have been unfairly disciplined, had their hours cut or been dismissed in retaliation. Others have quit in frustration.Earlier this year, Ithaca distinguished itself as the first U.S. city where all Starbucks stores had gone union.
Taylor said he was planning on quitting soon, but remained committed to the union and his coworkers, who had seen their hours dramatically cut back in recent months: “I stuck around because I wanted to make sure that we weren’t going to get even more fucked on hours, because we’re closing because of lack of staffing. All the people kept quitting left and right.”
Ben South, a former shift supervisor at a recently closed Starbucks on College Avenue in Ithaca, was fired in early August. (The union charges that his firing was retaliatory, though the formal reason cited by the company was his tweeting about transphobia, according to the union.) Seeing his coworkers get mistreated by management has affirmed his determination to keep organizing.
“We [the workers] saw a lot of turnover as they ramped up their union-busting tactics. And that’s what made me stay there,” South said. “We saw very supportive union partners, [and] people who didn’t even really care about the union, get pushed out. They just don’t care. … They just want to make it as hard of a place to work [as possible] … until nobody supports the union anymore.”
“There is this narrative that we’re treated really well and that we have it really good, but it’s just not true,” said Stephanie Heslop, a barista at the strip mall Starbucks who showed up for the day of action on her day off, wearing a Starbucks Workers United shirt (emblazoned with a clenched fist holding a shaker cup). She believes Starbucks is denying her a promotion to shift supervisor because she has been a vocal advocate for the union. “A part-time job that pays $16 an hour and gives you free Spotify is not enough to live on,” she said. “And the fact that … they are consciously trying to make our lives harder when we are the ones who make the billions in profit for this company … is appalling.”
South noted that Starbucks “shoot[s] themselves in the foot” by encouraging its local outlets to operate as “family stores,” regularly circulating workers across locations. When workers began reaching out to SWU in hopes of unionizing, they could draw on the personal connections they had made at the other locations. Though each Ithaca store held its own union election, about 79 workers at all three stores voted together on April 8.
That’s why SWU members bristle at one of the typical anti-union talking points that is used by management: that a union would be a “third party” that would interfere with the company’s relationship with its workforce.
“Literally, I’ve worked at some form of Starbucks for seven years,” South said. “So I didn’t come in here to corrupt anybody. I came in here to make this place safe for my coworkers. And that’s what’s going to happen.”
He pointed out that not all of his coworkers voted for the union, but now that SWU represents all the Starbucks workers in Ithaca, they might come around when they realize the union is defending their rights, too. “When we need to be there for them, we’ll be there for them. And sometimes that’s what it takes to make people realize who’s actually on their side. Unions are about workers, not about politics,” he said. “So working-class issues are not conservative, they’re not liberal, they’re not leftist. And when you show someone how bad the death grip of capitalism is, when they feel that, the rhetoric that they’ve been fed for years goes away pretty quickly.”
Meanwhile, Starbucks, which did not respond to Truthout’s request for comment, seems to be trying to undermine the inter-store unity. In early June, Starbucks abruptly closed its College Avenue store, leading to the displacement of about 30 workers, as well as subsequent protests and calls for a boycott. The closure followed a one-day strike over what the workers called a major safety hazard involving an overflowing grease trap. The union alleges that the move was aimed at stamping out the union, though it says the company claimed the grease trap was the pretext for the closure. In mid-August, Starbucks came to an agreement with the union to transfer the store’s workers to Ithaca’s two other Starbucks locations. But SWU, which is part of Workers United, an affiliate of Service Employees International Union, is still pursuing an unfair labor practice charge with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), alleging that the store was shuttered without consulting the union, in order to deter organizing.“When you show someone how bad the death grip of capitalism is, when they feel that, the rhetoric that they’ve been fed for years goes away pretty quickly.”
The union has filed more than 250 unfair labor practice charges alleging that Starbucks has used threats of discipline, discriminatory enforcement of workplace policies, withholding raises and benefits, and other coercive measures to discourage union activity, all while refusing to bargain in good faith with the union. The union claims that Starbucks fired more than 75 workers this year in retaliation for organizing. (However, a district judge in Memphis, Tennessee, recently ordered several workers to be reinstated.) NLRB regional offices have issued 20 official complaints against the company nationwide so far, according to SWU, which is assisting with the litigation.
But NLRB cases can take months to litigate, so in the meantime, SWU is driving a pressure grassroots campaign to leverage Starbucks’s own marketing image as a hip, progressive lifestyle brand in order to shame the company and garner sympathy from the coffee-drinking public. The union has reported more than 55 Starbucks strikes in 17 states.
South said that worker-organizers seek to leverage Starbucks’s reputation as a progressive company — with its promises of college scholarships for baristas and charity grants for Global South coffee farmers — by exposing the contradictions in its labor practices. Many of the college students and faculty who constitute a large portion of Ithaca’s population are especially sensitive to the corporate hypocrisy. The same tension between socially conscious consumers and exploitative companies that market themselves as liberal-minded has helped garner public support for other union drives at retail giants like Apple and Trader Joe’s.
“People see through it,” South said. “The most important part is that customers are seeing through it. And Starbucks doesn’t listen to anything but money. So now that all these workforces are mobilizing in industries that depend on the money and support of people that come in, I think it’s going to be a really different landscape for workers in about a year or two.”
As their work environments grow more hostile, local Starbucks workers believe that many of the original union supporters may ultimately be pushed out of the job. But those who remain involved still want to build the union into a permanent Ithaca institution. “I think it’s the best thing I’ve ever done,” Heslop said, “and maybe the best thing I’ll ever do in my life. But it’s also very, very hard.”
Heslop sees the union as the local vanguard of a bigger struggle for social justice. “There is massive inequality and catastrophic climate change, all kinds of bad things happening,” she said. “And we need to change things, and we need people to fight back. …I’m a very small part of it, but I’m a part of it. And that is very meaningful to me.”
There are dozens of outstanding questions about Donald Trump’s bizarre decision to abscond with boxes of unauthorized and classified documents when he left the White House and we don’t have any idea why he refused to return many of them when the National Archives and the FBI asked for them back. All we do know is that the FBI was forced to issue a subpoena, which Trump defied, and finally had to get a search warrant to retrieve the documents.
The speculation about his motives run from the former president just wanting to take classified material as a souvenir to show off to his friends or sell as memorabilia to possible blackmail of foreign leaders. (Apparently, presidents get highly classified intelligence on allies and adversaries alike.) The most alarming reporting suggested that the documents contained nuclear secrets. This seemed unlikely until this piece by Josh Kovensky at Talking Points Memo reminded me that Trump has a “special interest” in nuclear weapons, believing himself to be an expert because his uncle taught at MIT. Now it doesn’t seem so outlandish. Trump was bragging in his final year that the U.S. had developed some secret new nuclear program at his direction which he couldn’t reveal. So, who knows? He may have actually stolen something truly dangerous.
It remains to be seen if the law will catch up to Trump this time. It’s coming down on him from several directions but according to news reports Trump is thrilled about the whole thing because it’s raising lots of money and it has his supporters up in arms and fired up to fight for him. It also has him at the forefront of the political news which always makes Trump happy. According to NBC News, it’s all made him rethink his need to announce his presidential campaign before the midterm elections. As of now, he remains inclined to wait.
The biggest reason for celebration in Trumpworld no doubt is the fact that the search has necessitated that his would-be rivals all back off their plans to challenge him, at least for the moment. Once Trump activated the MAGA cult they had little choice, proving once again that Trump still has a stranglehold on the GOP. Everyone from former vice president Mike Pence to North Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem and Virginia Gov. Glenn Younkin issued shrill denunciations of the FBI after the documents were siezed.
Trump’s top rival, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis who, in another political world would have jumped on the news to condemn Trump as damaged goods, immediately went to bat for him calling the FBI search “another escalation in the weaponization of federal agencies against the regime’s political opponents.” (If anyone knows about weaponizing agencies against enemies, it’s Ron DeSantis.) Polls showed that Trump got a 10 point bounce over DeSantis with GOP primary voters after the FBI search.
The pressure to back up the Dear Leader is so intense that notorious podcaster Alex Jones, clearly out of the loop, rapidly backed down from his ill-timed endorsement of DeSantis over Trump:
Getting some blow-back after he announced Thurs that he was backing Desantis over Trump now, Alex Jones issues an “emergency message” to Trump, saying he was simply trying to persuade him to change his position on the vaccines with some tough love. pic.twitter.com/eDjiUgNc1I
— Ron Filipkowski (@RonFilipkowski) August 21, 2022
It’s easy to see why Trump is feeling relieved. Over the summer it appeared that his followers were getting restive and his potential opponents were starting to make their moves. The Mar-a-Lago “raid” changed that dynamic.
Others, however, aren’t so sure this is the big winner Trump thinks it is. One worried friend of Trump told NBC:
“He may get closer to the prize but in reality, he’s slipping…It seems like the net is surrounding him more and more, and his ability to dance around these things is going to get more challenging,” this ally said. “It’s a double-edged sword.”
That net is not just the legal problems. Trump believes that it’s always better when he’s in the news, no matter what the reason, but he never seems to understand that while he may thrill his following, he also motivates the opposition. A new poll released this past weekend shows that the GOP is facing some unexpected headwinds going into the fall election — largely because of the January 6 hearings:
— digby (@digby56) August 22, 2022
It’s certainly possible that the numbers include some Republicans who see the Big Lie about the 2020 election as a “threat to democracy” but the changes in enthusiasm argue that this is primarily attributable to Democrats:
According to the survey, 68% of Republicans express a high level of interest in the upcoming election — registering either a “9” or “10” on a 10-point scale — versus 66% for Democrats.
That 2-point GOP advantage is down from 17 points in March and 8 points in May.
The pollsters consider that to be the result of the Supreme Court’s decision to overrule the landmark Roe v. Wade decision in June. But since abortion shows up as the top issue for only 8% of respondents, it’s clear that it’s not the only reason for the surge in interest. “Threats to democracy” coming in as the most important issue is the big change. Democracy is on the ballot and that’s not good news for Donald Trump.
Just as important, with all the “fundamentals” about the economy, President Biden’s approval rating etc., Trump’s constant attention-grabbing, his legal troubles, his rallies, his endorsements, the drumbeat of Trump, Trump, Trump, has turned the midterm election from a standard referendum on the president to a choice between the undisputed leader of the Republican Party and the leader of the Democratic Party. And while it’s true that Biden’s popularity numbers are low, Trump’s are even worse:
New @nbcnews poll finds little positive movement in voters’ opinions on economy, Biden job approve, RD/WT plus generic ballot is R+2. Best thing going for Dems right now, Trump more unpopular than Biden (-19 vs. -8).
— Amy Walter (@amyewalter) August 21, 2022
As I’ve said before, Trump is the gift that keeps on giving — for Democrats. If he’d kept a low profile, cooperated with the FBI and shut his mouth, this election might have been the cakewalk they all expected it to be. But with the hearings and Dobbs and Trump endorsing a crop of fascist weirdos, it looks like it’s going to be a real race. If Democrats actually save their majority this fall they should send Trump a case of Diet Coke and a very nice thank-you card.
Biden administration officials have reportedly been attempting to assure their Israeli counterparts that a U.S. return to the Iran nuclear accord is not “imminent,” despite apparent signs of progress toward a final agreement in recent days.
Axios’s Barak Ravid reported over the weekend the Biden administration has told Israel that it “hasn’t agreed to new concessions with Iran” and that the U.S., European nations, and Iran are not on the verge of a deal, even after Tehran engaged with and offered its response to what E.U. leaders characterized as a “final” offer.
The U.S. has yet to formally respond to the E.U. text or Iran’s written reply.
The nuclear talks, which have proceeded haltingly for months, are aimed at bringing the U.S. back into compliance with an accord that former President Donald Trump violated in 2018, escalating tensions with Iran and risking all-out war.
“A deal might be closer than it was two weeks ago but the outcome remains uncertain as some gaps remain. In any case, it doesn’t seem to be imminent,” an unnamed U.S. official told Axios, offering a description of the message that Biden administration officials have conveyed to Israel.
While some Israeli officials have expressed support for a revived deal during internal discussions, the Israeli government has publicly opposed any return to the Iran nuclear accord and threatened to attack Iran in a purported attempt to stop the country from obtaining a nuclear weapon. Iran insists it is not trying to build a nuke.
A final accord would involve the U.S. lifting at least some of the sanctions that have hindered Iran’s coronavirus response and badly damaged its economy. In exchange, major constraints would be placed on Iran’s nuclear activity.
On Monday, Iran accused the U.S. of stalling progress toward an agreement, with a spokesperson for Iran’s Foreign Ministry saying that “the Americans are procrastinating and there is inaction from the European sides.”
#Iran’s FM spox: we’re witnessing procrastination from the American side as they have yet to officially hand in their response to the EU.. we acted in time and showed we’re acting responsibly.. there’s been relatively good progress but everything must be agreed. #JCPOA pic.twitter.com/tMjFWc0uil
— Maziar Motamedi (@MotamediMaziar) August 22, 2022
Biden spoke to French President Emmanuel Macron, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, and British Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Sunday, a conversation that touched on “joint efforts to deter and constrain Iran’s destabilizing regional activities,” according to a White House readout of the call.
Middle East analyst Sina Toossi wrote on Twitter Sunday that he hopes the European leaders “pressed Biden to revive the Iran deal.”
“The E3 leaders talking directly to Biden on Iran — which is a rare act — seems to indicate that Washington’s initial response to the Iranian proposal last week is not positive,” Toossi added. “Europe stands to play a decisive role in convincing Biden to not lose this opportunity for a deal.”
As the country grapples with states’ newfound power to regulate abortion in the aftermath of this summer’s U.S. Supreme Court decision, state attorney general candidates are staking claims on what they’ll do to fight or defend access to abortion — and that’s attracting cash and votes.
“By pretty much every indicator there is in a campaign, the Dobbs decision has energized and supercharged our race,” said Kris Mayes, a Democrat running for attorney general in Arizona. “People are outraged about this, and you can feel it in the air.”
But they aren’t the only ones who may be testing the laws. The winners of local prosecutorial races will also shape the legal landscape, and, in many states, an attorney general’s ability to bring criminal abortion cases to court ends at a local prosecutor’s doorstep. Called district attorneys, prosecutors, and various other names across the country, these lawyers — not the attorneys general — would make the final decisions on whether criminal charges can be brought against people seeking abortion or the medical professionals that provide them.
The exceptions include states such as Delaware and Rhode Island, which have distinct attorney general and local prosecutorial structures, said David LaBahn, president and CEO of the Association of Prosecuting Attorneys.
In Georgia, several Democratic district attorneys have said they won’t prosecute people for violating a state law that bans most abortions starting at about six weeks. Although abortion is already figuring into the attorney general race, that office has limited power to step in and stop such local decisions.
Michigan’s attorney general, Democrat Dana Nessel, who is running for reelection, has said she would not enforce a contested 1931 state abortion ban that does not provide for any exceptions in situations like incest or for the health of the mother. And on Friday, a state judge blocked an effort by local Republican prosecuting attorneys to charge people under that statute.
Democrat Kimberly Graham, an Iowa county attorney candidate, has declared that she would not prosecute doctors or people for abortion care. She noted that the Supreme Court’s June decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization has highlighted how little people realize the “scary amount of discretion and power” prosecutors have.
“The only real accountability to that is called the ballot box,” she said. “Hopefully, among other things, people will start paying more attention to the county attorney and DA races and realizing how incredibly important these positions have always been.”
It’s not clear how many county attorneys and district attorneys will decide to enforce or fight their state abortion policies. But that leads to an uncertain legal landscape, said former Maine Attorney General James Tierney, a Democrat who is now a Harvard Law School lecturer. “We’re talking real chaos here,” he said.
Some officials have worked to give more jurisdictional powers to attorneys general and governors to bring criminal cases against people who provide abortions and organizations that help people access abortions.
A Texas law set to take effect in late August will give Attorney General Ken Paxton the power to override local district attorneys and go after providers and abortion funds that give money to those seeking abortion care. Previously, Paxton, who is running for reelection and is under indictment on securities fraud charges, has offered his office’s resources to local district attorneys who wish to prosecute abortion providers.
On Aug. 4, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, a Republican, suspended State Attorney Andrew Warren for what he said was a refusal to enforce state laws on a range of issues that included abortion.
Paul Nolette, chair of the political science department at Marquette University, said he expects other states to give attorneys general more power — and take away local control from prosecutors.
Even as the power struggles ramp up, candidates for attorney general say that voters don’t really understand the limits on the office’s authority and that voter engagement in their races remains high. Thirty states have attorneys general slots up for election this year, with close races in Arizona, Georgia, Iowa, Michigan, Nevada, and Wisconsin.
Jen Jordan, a Democratic state senator who’s running to unseat incumbent Georgia Republican Attorney General Chris Carr, said voters “see what the holder of the office says or does and then begin to believe that is the actual role of the attorney general.” But she acknowledged the limits of the office: “I can’t make a promise that a woman would not be prosecuted by a local district attorney, because they have separate constitutional powers.”
The abortion fight comes as attorneys general have become more activist and gained power in the political system, Nolette said. In recent years, as money poured into races after the Supreme Court’s 2010 decision in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission — which allowed corporations and donor groups to spend an unlimited amount of money on elections — attorneys general have emphasized their partisan fights over more traditional aspects of the job, such as consumer protections, Nolette said.
“It’s part of the AGs becoming the legal culture warriors on both sides,” he said.
The Dobbs decision increased interest in donating to Democratic attorney general candidates, said Emily Trifone, a spokesperson for the Democratic Attorneys General Association. Trifone said that the day the decision was released, the group raised 15 times what they did the day before. It also outraised the usually dominant Republican Attorneys General Association in that quarterly filing period.
Michigan’s Nessel said she felt as though no one was paying attention to her reelection race until Dobbs. Her Republican challenger, Matt DePerno, has said he would uphold the state’s contested 1931 law, which allows felony manslaughter charges against providers. In response, her team put out an ad highlighting his remarks opposing abortion ban exceptions in cases of rape or incest or to save the life of the patient. Since the Dobbs decision, Nessel went from being neck and neck in polls to having a slight lead.
In the wake of the Dobbs ruling, the term-limited Arizona attorney general, Republican Mark Brnovich, has tried to revive a century-old state abortion ban that was put on hold in 1973 after Roe v. Wade was decided. The Democratic candidate, Mayes, argued the law violates the privacy guarantees in the Arizona state constitution and said she would “fight like hell” to keep it from taking effect. Her Republican opponent, former Maricopa County prosecutor Abraham Hamadeh, has said he would enforce it, which Mayes said the attorney general can do in Arizona.
Thus far this year, most broadcast TV ads in attorney general races haven’t mentioned abortion, according to an analysis run through Aug. 14 by media monitoring firm Kantar/CMAG requested by KHN. Yet it’s still early in election season. The Democratic Attorneys General Association recently launched a five-figure digital ad buy about abortion for the races in Texas, Michigan, and Nevada.
But 10 times as much money has been spent on attorney general campaign ads with pro-abortion rights sentiments compared with ads that have anti-abortion sentiments, the Kantar/CMAG analysis found.
The divergence on abortion mentions in the ads tracks with what Brian Robinson, a longtime Republican operative in Georgia, has seen. Democratic candidates want to keep talking about Dobbs because they feel as though it benefits their campaigns, Robinson said, while Republicans think they’ve already addressed the issue. “We’re not playing that game,” Robinson said. “We’re going to talk about crime and the economy.”
RAGA Executive Director Peter Bisbee said in a statement that elected state legislators decide abortion policy and that Democratic attorneys general should enforce the laws of their states.
Nessel pointed out that local prosecutors have always had the discretion to charge or not charge what they choose. That even includes adultery laws on the books, she said.
Still, it could take some time to see how those local district attorneys proceed as they face a backlog of cases made worse by the covid-19 pandemic, said Pete Skandalakis, a former Republican district attorney and head of the Prosecuting Attorneys’ Council of Georgia.
“We are stretched beyond our resources at this point,” he said. “We’re not even trying to keep up — we’re trying not to sink.”
KHN (Kaiser Health News) is a national newsroom that produces in-depth journalism about health issues. Together with Policy Analysis and Polling, KHN is one of the three major operating programs at KFF (Kaiser Family Foundation). KFF is an endowed nonprofit organization providing information on health issues to the nation.
Transgender Utah girls wishing to compete in high school sports this fall may now do so after a judge on Friday temporarily blocked a state law prohibiting trans student-athletes from joining teams that match their gender identity.
Plaintiffs in the case — which involves three trans girls who want to play on girls’ scholastic sports teams — and LGBTQ+ advocates welcomed the preliminary injunction issued by 3rd District Judge Keith Kelly, who wrote that the defendants “do not offer persuasive reasons to categorically ban all transgender girls from competing on girls’ teams.”
“This is a win not only for my child but for all girls in this state,” said Jean Noe, a pseudonymous plaintiff in the case. “This law is based on stereotypes and misconceptions that are harmful to all girls.”
“I am grateful the court has put this dangerous law on pause and that, at least for the moment, all Utah children can know that they are valued and supported,” she added.
The defendants — the Utah High School Activities Association, Granite and Jordan school districts, and their superintendents — had argued that the ban does not discriminate against girls because it targets “biological boys.”
However, Kelly, an appointee of former Republican Gov. Gary Herbert, wrote that “the ban singles out transgender girls and categorically bars them from competing on girls’ sports teams.”
“At the same time, other girls are free to compete,” he added. “This is plainly unfavorable treatment.”
MORE state constitutional law. A Utah state court blocks the state’s ban on transgender girls from participating in school athletics, finding it likely violates the equal protection guarantees under the Utah Constitution. pic.twitter.com/q36GZ1rhCR
— Anthony Michael Kreis (@AnthonyMKreis) August 19, 2022
The court’s injunction blocks enforcement of the ban while remaining litigation in the case proceeds through state courts.
Another parent plaintiff in the case, Debbie Roe, said: “My husband and I are very relieved by this decision. We are grateful the court understood how much harm this law has caused, which has been a huge source of stress and trauma for our child.”
“Our daughter just wants the same chance as other kids to make friends and play on the team she loves,” she added. “Today’s ruling gives her the opportunity to do that.”
In a written statement to the court, plaintiff Jenny Roe, a 16-year-old who will be a senior in the Granite School District this academic year, said she played volleyball as a junior and would like to do so again, as well as try out for the basketball team.
A federal judge has blocked Utah’s transgender athlete ban. As one parent of a trans girl said, it’s “a win not only for my child but for all girls in this state. This law is based on stereotypes and misconceptions that are harmful to all girls.” https://t.co/F3ZWekGKk0
— Gillian Branstetter (@GBBranstetter) August 19, 2022
Roe explained in her statement that she felt isolated at school and did not have much of a social life until she started playing volleyball.
“Once I joined the team, I had a great group of friends who supported me and who I loved being around,” she wrote. “This law scares me. I cannot imagine missing my last volleyball season with my team and I have been really upset just thinking about this.”
“If I cannot play with my team,” added Roe, “I am worried that I will not even want to go to classes or to school.”
The Salt Lake Tribune reports:
Now that the ban is on hold… the state’s back-up process for vetting transgender girl athletes will move forward. Under that, a commission will make decisions on which transgender athletes can compete.
The members are set to evaluate a player’s wingspan, weight, and height—and whether a player is taking hormone blockers—to determine if a transgender girl, in particular, might have an unfair advantage in a sport by being born male. Some don’t see that setup as a better option, suggesting that measuring teenagers’ bodies crosses boundaries.
According to the Movement Advancement Project, 18 states including Utah currently ban transgender students from participating in sports consistent with their gender identity.
While Republican-controlled states move to roll back transgender student rights, the Biden administration in June proposed new rules prohibiting educational institutions from discriminating against trans pupils while restoring Title IX protections gutted during the tenure of former President Donald Trump.
The Utah injunction comes two days after local media reported that the parents of cisgender girls who placed second and third to another cis female athlete filed a complaint with the Utah High School Activities Association expressing suspicions that the winner is transgender, a concern the body subsequently—and secretly—investigated by digging through her records going back to kindergarten.
“School investigates whether athlete is transgender after state win.”
Some that said, “That female athlete doesn’t look feminine enough.”
To them it’s worth terrorizing cis girls, too – just to make sure not a single trans athlete plays.https://t.co/sM0RS74gwk
— Frances_Larina (@Frances_Larina) August 18, 2022
Republican Utah Gov. Spencer Cox — whose veto of the state Legislature’s trans athlete ban was overridden in March — on Thursday responded to the parents’ complaint by saying that “making up allegations like that are pretty disturbing to me.”
“My goodness,” he added, “we’re living in this world where we’ve become sore losers, and we’re looking for any reason why our kid lost.”
Human rights advocates around the world this week called on Saudi Arabia to free Salma al-Shehab after she was sentenced to 34 years in prison and a 34-year travel ban for tweets criticizing the kingdom’s repression of women.
Liz Throssell, a spokesperson for the United Nations’ Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, said Friday that “we are appalled by the sentencing” of al-Shehab, a 34-year-old mother and graduate student in the United Kingdom.
“We urge the Saudi authorities to quash her conviction and release her immediately and unconditionally,” Throssell continued. “She should never have been arrested and charged in the first place for such conduct.”
We are appalled by the harsh sentencing of #SalmaAlShehab in connection with tweets and retweets on political and human rights issues in #SaudiArabia. We urge the Saudi authorities to quash her conviction and release her immediately & unconditionally https://t.co/4ARoJNbIHn pic.twitter.com/BD14jlFv02
— UN Human Rights (@UNHumanRights) August 19, 2022
Throssell also put the sentencing into a broader context:
The extraordinarily lengthy sentence adds to the chilling effect among government critics and civil society at large and is yet another example of Saudi authorities weaponizing the country’s counterterrorism and anti-cybercrime laws to target, intimidate, and retaliate against human rights defenders and those who voice dissent.
Saudi Arabia must not only release al-Shehab so that she can re-join her family, but also review all convictions stemming from free expression against human rights defenders, including women who were jailed after they legitimately demanded reforms of discriminatory policies, as well as religious leaders and journalists. The Saudi government should also establish a robust legislative framework in line with international human rights law to uphold the rights to freedom of expression and association, and the right of peaceful assembly for all.
Diana Semaan, Amnesty International’s acting deputy director for the Middle East and North Africa, similarly called out the kingdom’s authorities Thursday, declaring that “it is outrageous that Salma al-Shehab, a Ph.D. student and mother of two from Saudi Arabia’s Shia minority, has been handed down such a cruel and unlawful punishment simply for using Twitter and retweeting activists who support women’s rights.”
Al-Shehab was arrested in January 2021 while on holiday in Saudi Arabia and initially sentenced to six years behind bars, but the country’s Specialized Criminal Court of Appeal increased her sentence last week.
According to Semaan, “Al-Shehab should never have been convicted in the first place, but to have her sentence increased from six to 34 years following an unfair trial shows that the authorities intend to use her to set an example amid their unrelenting crackdown on free speech.”
The Saudi Arabian authorities must immediately and unconditionally release Salma al-Shehab. pic.twitter.com/SUOA53gCoG
— Amnesty International (@amnesty) August 18, 2022
“She must be immediately and unconditionally released,” the campaigner asserted. “The Saudi authorities must allow her to reunite to her family and to continue her studies in the U.K.”
Like the U.N. spokesperson, Semaan also called for more sweeping action, arguing that “Saudi Arabi must end its relentless crackdown on women’s rights activists and any others who dare to speak their mind freely.”
“Women like Salma must be recognized and protected, not targeted for expressing their opinions,” she said. “The authorities must also stop equating free speech with ‘terrorism.’ They should repeal or substantially amend Saudi’s counterterrorism and anti-cybercrime laws, which criminalize dissent, and enact new laws that are fully compatible with international human rights law and standards.”
Some critics of al-Shehab’s imprisonment and the monarchy have accused Western leaders — including President Joe Biden, who visited Saudi Arabia earlier this summer — of emboldening the kingdom’s leaders, especially Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.
Lina al-Hathloul of the Saudi- and London-based human rights group ALQST — whose sister Loujain al-Hathloul was recently released from prison — said Monday that “Saudi activists warned Western leaders that giving legitimacy to the crown prince would pave the way for more abuses, which is unfortunately what we are witnessing now.”
On August 3, the United Mine Workers of America (UMWA) and the Associated Press reported that the subunit of the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) for Region 10 (much of the South) has ordered the union to pay $13.3 million to Warrior Met Coal.
About 1,000 workers from two mines and two aboveground facilities southwest of Birmingham, Alabama, have been on strike against Warrior Met since April 2021, resisting brutal working conditions. Now the Biden NLRB is demanding the UMWA pay what amounts to $13,000 per striker into the company’s pocket. The government says this is reimbursement for security guards, security cameras, repairs, and production lost because of the strike, plus buses for carrying scabs across picket lines.
This workforce routinely does six-day weeks and 12-hour days. The company operates on Sundays and almost all holidays. A hated company policy fires workers automatically if they miss four days of work in a year, even because of health problems or family emergencies.
Early in the strike, the company offered a raise of $1.50 an hour for 2021 to 2026. Workers retorted that back in 2016 they accepted a $6-an-hour reduction when the company declared bankruptcy and threatened mass layoffs if the workers didn’t “help” shore up its profitability. More than 95 percent of the strikers voted no when the UMWA leadership put up this company offer as a tentative agreement.
The $13.3 million NLRB judgment is more than half of the strike pay distributed to 1,000 strikers in 16 months. The UMWA provides only $350 a week, or $18,000 a year, for miners’ families to live on. The money grab goes to a company that made $146 million in profit for January to March this year and last year paid its CEO $5.7 million.
UMWA president Cecil Roberts denounced the NLRB judgment. “What is the purpose of a strike if not to impact the operations of the employer, including production? … This is outrageous and effectively negates workers’ right to strike.” He accused the NLRB of “tak[ing] up the company’s cause.”
But the UMWA leadership also announced that it agreed to a settlement deal after Warrior Met made its arguments before NLRB district administrators. Union leaders agreed to pay some monetary damages to the company, which accused picketing strikers of rowdy, illegal actions against scabs and which asked the NLRB to punish the union. The union statement says it was necessary to pay the company damages “in order to save striking members … from days of hostile questioning by company lawyers,” but that the NLRB then shocked union leaders by massively increasing the payment. It is self-evident that the union bureaucracy opened the door to this disastrous situation and that it did so largely relying on the NLRB’s goodwill. The line about sparing coal miners from hostile questions is a phony excuse.
Questioning whether the NLRB is at its core pro-worker, neutral, or pro-employer — and why — cannot be sidestepped. Many unionists believe that the NLRB is taking or will take progressive, pro-labor actions. In fact, the NLRB intervened as a referee to require a revote on unionization at Bessemer, Alabama Amazon (which failed again). It has started pressing cases against Starbucks for some union busting firings.
Paul Prescod has written in Jacobin, “Labor law, especially in the United States, is extremely limited in its scope and power of enforcement,” but still, “the new NLRB under Biden is a welcome change in the balance of power between workers and employers.” Union lawyer Gay Semel wrote in Jacobin, “The current union organizing wave is being held back by an underfunded NLRB.” Both authors are excited about Biden’s removal of some overtly anti-labor right-wingers from NLRB leadership positions and about the appointment of Jennifer Abruzzo, briefly a union lawyer, as head NLRB attorney.
The NLRB’s Warrior Met monetary order suggests a problem with these hypotheses. The NLRB does not exist to help workers win against our bosses. It is set up to be a referee. But it is not a neutral referee between two equal teams as in some symmetrical soccer game.
In particular, the NLRB mediates strikes and economic conflicts. It is a part of the U.S. government, which accepts that workers, if we follow its rules and get approval, have the right to organize and withhold labor in limited economic bargaining units. But it opposes muscular picketing and solidarity strikes. The NLRB does not hold that a striking workforce has the right to prevent production in their workplace. The NLRB upholds the opposite: that a company has the right at all times to access and use its property and that bringing scabs across picket lines is an essential legal principle.
This is not a hair-splitting argument. This is why Biden’s NLRB is imposing a $13.3 million fine on a union in favor of a coal company, basically kicking a group of workers while they are down, after fighting to win a strike for 16 months. The basic issue of “which side are you on” is why the Biden NLRB has no moral qualms about supporting the company with the six-day workweek and the CEO who gets paid almost $6 million annually. Further, it has no qualms about attacking Alabama coal miners who decided to fight back against mistreatment and overwork on the job they do 2,000 feet underground.
How do universities relate to the cities in which they are located? How does the expanding corporatization of higher education fit into the conversation about how universities occupy — and reshape — local spaces and local economies?
Davarian L. Baldwin, the Paul E. Raether Distinguished Professor of American Studies at Trinity College, is the author of In the Shadow of the Ivory Tower: How Universities are Plundering Our Cities (Bold Type Books). This very well-written and provocative book discusses what Baldwin refers to as the rise of UniverCities, a phrase which signals the complicated relationship between higher education and urban life and reflects how universities are shaping today’s cities in grossly inequitable ways, with class, racial and deep financial implications. Baldwin’s timely book adds to the growing body of scholarship examining the corporate refashioning of colleges and universities. In this interview, Reshmi Dutt-Ballerstadt and Bertin M. Louis Jr., co-editors of Truthout’s Challenging the Corporate University series, speak to Baldwin about his work, diving into the concept of UniverCities and exploring what an equitable relationship might look like between a university and the town it occupies.
Reshmi Dutt-Ballerstadt and Bertin M. Louis Jr.: Are UniverCities essentially modeled after the logic of for-profit corporations?
Davarian L. Baldwin: My notion of UniverCities includes a discussion of what we call the “corporatization” of higher education but also exceeds the normal framing of that discussion. On one side, yes, the ramped-up retreat from the public funding of both public and private higher education forced schools to look for new revenue streams. Many became, in their own words, more “entrepreneurial,” marked by soaring tuition costs, corporate-funded research, the early push for cost-effective online learning, and the growth of a contingent faculty labor force. But on the other side, this narrative suggests that a sort of pristine higher education was corrupted by economic concerns instead of the new face of late capitalism. We must understand the degree to which colleges, universities and affiliated hospitals drive today’s dominant knowledge economy by bringing their research to the private market and, by extension, as the largest employers in cities and regions across the country.
Greater focus on the knowledge economy frame helps us understand my notion of UniverCities, which marks higher education’s growing control over urban development and political governance in, specifically, urban America. In this context, the campus as an urban form becomes the central vehicle for wealth capture, not just for schools but for financial institutions and the state. The campus exempts real estate expansion and private corporate partnerships from taxation. The campus converts the profitable labor of students into work study or apprenticeship status which, until recently, made this work exempt from collective bargaining. The notion of campus safety further protects the above wealth extraction by deputizing private police forces with public authority and uneven public accountability.
In short, my UniverCities concept is best framed by the knowledge economy instead of corporatization. Because here, the campus has not been corrupted, but in fact, the campus form is the clearest vehicle for value capture as city blocks are converted into what one developer calls “knowledge communities.”
In your introduction you state, “There is no question that higher education institutions can deliver positive community outcomes for their cities. But the central question remains: What are the costs when colleges and universities exercise significant power over a city’s financial resources, policing priorities, labor relations and land values?”
It is obvious from your analysis that the “growth” that universities claim comes at the cost of adversely and disproportionately impacting communities of color (particularly Black and Latinx communities). How should our neoliberal universities address this imbalance, both for low-income minoritized citizens living in these cities and for students who face financial hardships? Furthermore, what are the racial implications of UniverCities?
So first, we must dismantle the presumption that there is a stable divide between the so-called town and gown. As I try to lay out in my book, the very prosperity that we see on campuses ensconced in ivy, glass and steel is directly extracted from the public wealth, knowledge and labor power of the many times impoverished host communities. At a basic level, these imbalances are rooted in wealth extraction, so they can be remedied through reparations. Reparations include scholarships for the descendants of the enslaved and Indigenous whose labor and land made these institutions possible. Reparations means addressing the collusion between universities and both private real estate developers and state agents in the 20th century segregation, demolition, and displacement of communities through a redistribution of university land and its resources. Reparations can also mean pro-rating endowment and property tax exemption based on university commitments to community-driven engagement and investment. These are just a few examples, but the bottom line here is whether its wealth, land, curricula or historical markers, we are talking about a new vision of “shared governance” where aggrieved communities (which goes beyond simply blood-verifiable descendants) must have a binding say in the university prosperity they help generate. The racial implications for this are direct and profound because while non-white people have been central to campus wealth, they remain largely marginalized from campus possibility whether that be educational access, neighborhood governance or resource sharing.
In your book, you write: “Despite the clear racial disparities of a two-tiered system, schools all across the country looked to [University of Chicago] as a model for policing urban campuses.”The campus as an urban form becomes the central vehicle for wealth capture, not just for schools but for financial institutions and the state.
Post-George Floyd’s murder in 2020 and calls for creating anti-racist universities and large student protests about the outcomes of campus policing, what has changed? How have private universities responded to these protests while also garnering support from politicians and political forces for increasing police presence (sometimes an armed police force, as endorsed by Michael Bloomberg)? Are there ways in which minoritized students, faculty and staff have been retaliated against due to protesting racist police and policing policies on university campuses?
One of the most powerful results of the Black Spring protests of 2020 was that the broader movement for police abolition turned its attention to higher education, which brought greater light to existing campaigns like Cops Off Campus. Many universities continue to increase their police forces in the name of servicing surrounding Black and Brown communities or deputize health workers and instructors in the name of abolition. But it’s organizations like the Cops Off Campus Coalition, and others, that call out these tactics and demand a real framework of divestment from militarized policing and investment in trauma care, living-wage jobs, and housing and food security as real public safety, to start.
Private schools like Amherst College and Tufts, or public schools like San Francisco State have been pushed to form task forces or even mandates towards some form of abolition. But we will see. After massive movement work, Johns Hopkins was forced to put a hold on their massive private police department. But during the current backlash to Summer 2020, they are seizing on resentments to restart the policing process and they are not alone. Black and Brown residents pay the biggest price. Community members of color are racially profiled and stopped by campus police at rates that far exceed their population. At the same time, all across the country, students and staff of color have told me stories of being overpoliced because they look like “locals.” They are also attacked and profiled for protesting general campus policing practices or the very notion that the presence of local (non-white) residents on campus should justify heightened policing. Meanwhile, women of all backgrounds pay the price from over-policing the perimeter and under-policing the campus because addressing largely white-on-white crimes like sexual violence and assault would tarnish the brand of the institution. The only solution is divest/invest.
A significant focus of your book is on urban universities and the ways in which urban universities exploit their cities while claiming urban revitalization and growth. What about universities and college campuses located in rural spaces? Are they plundering the rural communities in a similar manner?
As an urbanist, my primary focus remains cities and their neighborhoods. But there is no question that the issues I explore apply to both college towns and rural communities. This plundering includes the expansion of campus police jurisdiction over entire counties or states. We see the encroachment on rural lands, which includes Indigenous reservation areas. There is also the appropriation of local farming techniques and seed cultivation into intellectual property by agricultural schools for the bioscience market. But the rural story is one that is ripe for further study and political coalition building.
Have universities fundamentally shifted their mission from serving the common good to serving the neoliberal and corporate interests creating “unjust” universities?These imbalances are rooted in wealth extraction, so they can be remedied through reparations.
I think universities have ramped up a focus on their profiteering interests, whether that be to counter the state divestment in education, to gain great power and profits with private partners, or both. But, as historian Craig Wilder has pointed out, this contestation between the profit university and the people’s university goes back to the U.S. colonial period and its slave economy. At the same time, the pushback against this unjust university is also hardly new. In periods like the revolutionary 1960s, there were visions of a broader campus community that included police abolition, affordable community housing on campus, free education, and other elements that go beyond some of today’s seemingly radical platforms. But one thing that is vital about previous blueprints is that most never advocated tearing everything down but instead advocated for a reconstruction and redistribution of knowledge and resources driven by a common vision of higher education, an abolition of current conditions.
Many universities and colleges opened during the COVID pandemic, forcing faculty, staff and students to return to campus to serve corporate interests (housing, food services, etc.). How have these UniverCities capitalized on the COVID pandemic?”
Yes, I lived this! But my privileged capacity to self-protect in this pandemic has far exceeded the capacity of the so-called “essential campus workers,” a status which perfectly aligned with the conditions of low-wage and contingent campus workers who are most vulnerable and easy to exploit. COVID-19 simply amplified an already existing exploitative relationship that has now been brought into the stark relief of life and death. Campuses placed service workers on furlough, many times with limited benefits. They are pushing fiscal austerity measures while simultaneously stuffing CARES Act money into record high endowments. Schools capitalized on social distancing to shift curricula towards more labor-suppressive (and hence cost-reductive) online learning. In expensive cities, where graduate students depend on university-owned housing, administrators refused to freeze or reduce rates. Elder and immunocompromised faculty have been refused online teaching options and forced into retirement while replaced with more precarious labor.
But the travails of COVID-19 extend beyond campus work. Residents in West Philadelphia made clear to me the health risks that come with introducing thousands of students, with various health care practices, into an already vulnerable Black community so schools can capitalize on tuition, residential life and retail revenues.
How have Trinity College, where you work, and other institutions reacted to your work? What reactions were you expecting?Campuses … are pushing fiscal austerity measures while simultaneously stuffing CARES Act money into record high endowments.
I think surprising to me, Trinity has actually been quite supportive, providing the seed money for my now very busy Smart Cities Research lab. The broader university reaction to the work reveals the stratified nature of campus communities that defies the caricature of “radical snowflakes.” Administrators have largely tried to ignore the work or counter with their “good” projects because they can’t contest the research. Many tenured faculty resent that I am broadening the battle beyond faculty concerns with academic freedom, shared governance or simply faculty housing. Junior and contingent faculty and graduate student workers are energized and mobilized as the book came during a vibrant strike wave across campuses. Except for places with unions, campus service workers remain silent in fear of reprisal or find ways to give me the head nod of approval. And most powerfully, community groups have pushed me to convert this research into advocacy because while they live the stories that I tell they say the book confirms their experiences and makes them feel seen and part of a story that is bigger than anecdotes and single campaigns.
So now, through my lab, I am all over the country organizing with groups drafting state policy for property taxation, fighting for affordable housing and just campus labor conditions, working with medical professionals to ensure that university hospitals honor their indigent care mandates, advocating equitable occupancy and use of campus buildings, writing campus histories to push for reparations, drafting new “urban citizenship” curricula, designing social footprint mapping techniques to assess university wealth and reach. This blending of academic and activist labors has been just as transformative for me as for anyone else and now I see this as the core of my vocation, in the highest sense.
If universities were to take your argument about inequality and exploitations seriously, what are steps that UniverCities can take to address the issues of inequity raised in your book?
Hmmm, I think I have covered much of this in previous questions. But I will give an example that I discuss in the work as an additional example. I was blessed to spend time at the University of Winnipeg in Canada. And there, administrators created a vision of sustainability that included not just the environment but also social, economic and cultural matters for a campus situated in an Indigenous and multi-racial, immigrant community. So, this meant building housing that was not only LEED-certified but also available to both students and community residents with price points ranging from premium rate to rent-geared-to-income without a reduction in quality. Sustainability meant placing the new recreational center under a community charter that guarantees community use of the facilities during peak hours. Sustainability also meant getting rid of one of the food service multinationals, like Aramark or Sodexo, and creating the independent Diversity Foods where 65 percent of workers come from “marginalized” communities with the push for profit-sharing and 70 percent of supplies come from small family operations within a 100-kilometer radius. Now to be clear, even this model has its limitations as many residents from surrounding neighborhoods still find it hard to gain full access to these resources. In fact, University of Winnipeg professor Jim Silver realized that most Indigenous residents would never come to the main campus. He raised independent money to convert a dangerous boarding house into a learning annex with affordable housing right at the heart of the Indigenous North End community. The point here is that there are no guarantees in any of these projects, but the capacity to organize around a different set of values and the resolve to have those values reflected through the infrastructure of another university… it is possible.
This interview has been lightly edited for clarity.
On June 24, the architecture and design firm HDR Inc. held what it thought would be a standard event as part of the 2022 American Institute of Architects (AIA) conference at its office in Chicago, Illinois. But the firm, which has designed more than 275 jails and prisons while billing itself as progressive and morally responsible, was met with a powerful presence of abolitionists at its doorstep during the conference.
A coalition of formerly incarcerated people and advocates held a banner and passed out flyers to conference attendees while demanding that HDR withdraw its plans to design new carceral facilities and build life-affirming community infrastructure instead. The rally emphasized HDR’s projects that would confine women and gender-expansive people, the fastest-growing segment of the carceral apparatus in the U.S.
“The atmosphere was really charged because that morning, the overturning of Roe v. Wade was announced,” said Navjot Heer, a planner and designer with Design as Protest (DAP), a BIPOC-led collective mobilizing to dismantle power structures that use architecture and design as tools of oppression.
“We ended up being able to talk about how jails and prisons are also a site of reproductive harm and injustice,” she told Truthout, “and about how reproductive justice goes hand-in-hand with abolishing carceral spaces for folks who do have uteruses and experience intense forms of sexual abuse and harm through forced pregnancies, being shackled during those deliveries and being separated from their children through these jails and prisons.”
That morning, the coalition had emailed HDR in an attempt to dialogue with the firm, but HDR’s leadership failed to respond — and it wasn’t the first snub. Building Up People Not Prisons, a coalition fighting to free women from prison and prevent construction of carceral spaces, protested at HDR’s offices in downtown Boston every week for two months in 2021.
“We never heard anything then, and we still haven’t heard anything now,” Sashi James, a member of Families for Justice as Healing (FJAH), a local activist group that leads the coalition, said in a podcast interview with Failed Architecture. “And this is multiple times that we’ve actually met them where they’re at. So, it’s disappointing as a community organizer.”
HDR did not respond to Truthout’s request for comment.
Companies and government agencies are justifying building new prisons and jails by claiming their designs are restorative, outcomes-focused, gender-responsive and trauma-informed. (Trauma-informed jails and prisons are said to incorporate programming that helps women understand their trauma and practices that minimize the likelihood of triggers.) Buildings with natural light, programming spaces, welcoming visitation spaces and staff amenities will improve the quality of life for incarcerated people and staff, according to HDR.
But abolitionist activists and designers say there is no such thing as gender-responsive or trauma-informed jails or prisons, and that carceral facilities will always disproportionately harm poor communities and communities of color.
“I don’t care if you give me Louis Vuitton sheets and house slippers, you know? I’m still in a prison,” Maggie Luna, a lead organizer for formerly incarcerated people with the Statewide Leadership Council in Texas, told Failed Architecture. “I’m still separated from my family, I’m still not being prepared with resources to reenter society successfully, and then I’m still going to have that stigma when I walk out that I have a felony or whatever that I have to take care of.”
Kami Beckford, another designer-organizer with DAP, also said that a “trauma-informed” jail is oxymoronic. “No matter what, a jail will only be a space of harm,” Beckford told Truthout. “You will never find healing when you are isolated from the people that help you feel and be cared for.”
Further, expanding or building new jails and prisons leads to increased incarceration rates, a historical pattern captured in the mantra “If you build it, they will fill it.” HDR could build structures that allow communities to thrive instead of prisons and jails, abolitionists argue.
“We need to build treatment centers in our community, we need to build mental health centers, community centers, parks, schools — everything that other communities have, we need to build the same thing and communities that are under-resourced and over-incarcerated,” said James. “And so it takes a village and we’re building that village, and we need architects to help us build the village. So join the team!”
So far, activists have successfully stalled several of HDR’s carceral projects. In Austin, grassroots efforts pushed commissioners to vote unanimously to reevaluate a strategic plan to build the “Travis County Trauma Informed Women’s Facility,” an $80 million project HDR was designing. Agencies in Massachusetts have been forced to stall their plans on two occasions, thanks to pressure and legal challenges mounted by the Building Up People Not Prisons coalition. Yet in June 2021, Massachusetts hired HDR to create a preliminary design plan for a new women’s prison.“No matter what, a jail will only be a space of harm…. You will never find healing when you are isolated from the people that help you feel and be cared for.”
Carceral feminists, politicians and design firms have been weaponizing social justice rhetoric to justify building new jails and prisons for decades. They often attribute tortuous conditions to overcrowded or dilapidated buildings, while abolitionists argue that it’s the inherently oppressive culture of carceral institutions that traumatizes people.
“The culture inside of these institutions is such that every single day, women are either witness to, or the subject of sexual, verbal, and/or physical abuse — and that is driven by the culture,” said Avalon Betts-Gatson, a project manager for the Illinois Alliance for Reentry and Justice. “There is no amount of paint, there is no amount of posh, and there is no amount of anything else that you can use to design away the culture.”
The evidence supports Betts-Gatson and other abolitionists’ views. Jarrod Shanahan’s new book Captives documents how progressive reformers often championed building “safer” jails for women and queer people in New York City and how, again and again, traumatic and violent conditions were reproduced within each new structure. Planners of the Correctional Institution for Women (CIFW) on Rikers Island, for example, promised its new architectural style and colorful walls would improve conditions for women when it opened in 1971. Within months, the jail was investigated for overcrowding and failing to provide basic medical care for confined people. In 1988, the city built a new women’s jail on Rikers Island, named after Rose M. Singer, a feminist who said the jail would be “a place of hope and renewal for all the women who come here.” By 2020, Singer’s granddaughter described the jail as a torture chamber. Now, carceral feminists including Gloria Steinem are pushing for the construction of a new jail for women in Harlem.
The trend is not anomalous to New York. HDR’s York Correctional Facility for Women in Niantic, Connecticut, was touted as “one of the most progressively designed prisons in the country” because of daylight-friendly structures and skylights in a 1997 edition of Architectural Lighting. Nonetheless, several atrocities have taken place at the prison within just the past several years, including rampant sexual assault by correctional officers. In February 2018, a woman at York was forced to give birth to her baby in the toilet of a prison cell.
Similarly, the Western Massachusetts Regional Women’s Correctional Center (WCC) claims to take an approach that is “trauma-informed, gender-responsive, family-focused, and culturally aware.” While some incarcerated people have said WCC is preferable to other local jails, the facility has come under fire for sexual abuse, humiliating conditions and wrongful deaths. In April 2015, formerly incarcerated women at WCC reached a $675,000 settlement with the state for enduring humiliating strip searches in front of male staff. In May 2019, a correctional officer was sentenced to 60 days in jail for having sex with incarcerated women in exchange for Fireball whiskey and cigarettes. One woman testified that she was aware that the officer had the power to revoke her privileges if she refused.
In 2018, 30-year-old Madelyn Linsenmeir died from a treatable infection at a hospital after complaining of unbearable pain and being unable to breathe following an arrest for an outstanding probation-related warrant. Linsenmeir, who suffered from opioid addiction after taking OxyContin at a high school party according to her obituary, was transferred from central booking to WCC where staff members told her “the situation was her own fault for using drugs,” according to a lawsuit filed by Prisoners’ Legal Services of Massachusetts and ACLU Massachusetts. The lawsuit alleges WCC’s staff was acclimated to being deliberately indifferent to the medical complaints made by or on behalf of incarcerated opioid users because their policy was to deny medically appropriate care to people suffering from withdrawal.
Despite these atrocities, the architecture industry continues to design carceral spaces because of the capitalist imperative to profit, often at the expense of the most marginalized.
“Architectural design is really service-oriented. So, you’re serving the client. And the client is the person who has the money and resources and power for these types of projects,” said Heer, the designer with DAP. “In these cases, it would be the DOC [Department of Corrections]. It’s not actually servicing the people who are going to be using that space. The folks who are incarcerated and caged in these spaces are tied to this system of profit. And it is extremely profitable.”
The design industry’s abusive, isolating and lonely culture often sets the stage for company leadership to select oppressive projects without any resistance or input from other workers. DAP is working to facilitate collective organizing among architects and designers to stop oppressive projects like jails and prisons. Several workers at HDR have reached out to DAP in support of their campaign, but they are worried that speaking out at the workplace would jeopardize their employment, Beckford and Heer said.
Ultimately, DAP aims to subvert the power imbalance inherent within the design industry by relinquishing their gatekeeping power and distributing it to the people most affected by their designs. Designers can accomplish this, according to DAP, by immersing themselves within a community and empowering long-standing residents and stakeholders to take control of the design process.
“Communities themselves have a really clear vision about what they need,” Beckford said. “In design school, we are taught that we come and provide the expertise, it’s often like the white savior complex, as if we know what’s best for these communities even if we aren’t from these communities. But communities know what they need best, and that’s what we should be designing instead.”
Deborah Lewis rose from bed before dawn and signed in to her phone so she could begin delivering fast food, coffee, and groceries to residents in this western patch of the Mojave Desert where test pilot Chuck Yeager broke the sound barrier generations ago.
Lewis prayed she would earn $75, just enough to fill the tank of her Kia sedan so she could drive her 8-year-old daughter, Annabelle, 80 miles south to Los Angeles to receive her weekly chemotherapy treatment for acute lymphoblastic leukemia. Just a year ago, the same tank of gas would have cost $30 less.
After a full shift as a gig worker, the mother had earned close to what she needed. “It took a lot longer than I thought,” she said.
High inflation is hitting families across the nation. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, consumer prices in July were up 8.5% from a year earlier, one of the biggest increases in recent decades. The Bureau of Economic Analysis found that consumers are spending the most on housing and utilities, food, and medical care.
Overall wages continue to climb, but after adjusting for the rising price of goods and services, workers’ paychecks declined 3.5% over the past year. A recent KFF poll found that 74% of registered voters put inflation, including rising gas prices, at the top of their concerns.
For millions of families living with chronic diseases — such as heart disease, diabetes, and cancer — or other debilitating conditions, inflation is proving a punishing scourge that could be harmful to their health. Unlike dining out less or buying fewer clothes, many patients don’t have a choice when it comes to paying for medicine, medical supplies, and other ancillary costs. Some must drive long distances to see a specialist, and others must adhere to a strict diet.
“Chronic disease patients are usually on the front lines of seeing a lack of supplies or an increase in out-of-pocket costs,” said Paul Conway, chair of policy and global affairs for the American Association of Kidney Patients.
Health care has grown increasingly unaffordable. Half of adults report having difficulty paying their health costs, according to KFF polling. One-third say they or a family member has skipped recommended medical treatment in the past year because of the cost, and one-quarter of adults report rationing pills or leaving prescriptions unfilled.
Inflation has squeezed families further by driving up the price of gas and food, as well as medical products such as needles and bed-wetting pads. Health care costs have risen 5.1% since July 2021, and medical commodities — which include prescription and over-the-counter drugs, medical equipment and supplies — are up 3.7%.
Inflation is particularly detrimental to the health of low-income patients; studies have found a strong link between poverty and health. According to the California Budget & Policy Center, more than half of California households making $50,000 or less struggle to pay for food, housing, and medical costs.
For Deborah Lewis and her husband, Spencer, their concerns about the rising cost of gas have never been about skimping on summer travel or weekend getaways. It’s about making sure they have enough gas to drive Annabelle to Children’s Hospital Los Angeles for chemotherapy and other medications delivered through a port in her chest.
The family relies on Spencer’s disability check, which he receives because he has Ehlers-Danlos syndrome, a hereditary disorder that causes him severe joint pain. He also copes with broken discs in his spine and a cyst pushing against his spinal nerves. In January, he stopped working as a pest control technician, shifting more financial responsibilities to his wife.
The disability check covers rent and utilities, leaving Deborah’s freelance work to cover gas. They also get $500 a month from Miracles for Kids, which helps families with critically ill children.
On a June morning, Deborah packed snacks for the drive ahead as Annabelle, wrapped in her favorite blanket, waited on the couch. Most of her long blond hair has fallen out because of her treatments. The night before, Deborah spent $73.24 to fill up at Costco.
Before they left, Deborah learned the couple carried a negative balance in their checking account. “I have so much on my plate,” she said.
The family has already delayed health care for one family member: Their dog, a Doberman pinscher named Chief, skipped a vet visit for a mass pushing up his intestines.
Politicians are keenly aware of inflation’s leaching effects. In October, most California households will receive “inflation-relief checks” of up to $1,050 to help offset the high cost of gas and other goods under a budget Gov. Gavin Newsom signed in June. The average price of a gallon of gas in California remains above $5, while the national average is about $4.
But health experts worry that even with the one-time aid, affordability could become a life-or-death issue for some Californians. For example, the price of insulin can range from $300 to $400 per vial without insurance.
“We’ve seen a number of patients living with diabetes and on a fixed income greatly impacted by rising inflation,” said Matthew Freeby, an endocrinologist and director of the UCLA Gonda Diabetes Center. “Both Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes typically require multiple prescription medications that may already be costly. Patients have had to choose between day-to-day finances and their lifesaving medications, such as insulin or other treatments.”
Inflation is also a challenge for people who depend on certain foods as part of their health care regimen, especially with food prices up 10.9% in the past year.
Toyan Miller, 60, an integrative nutritional health practitioner from San Dimas, California, has been diagnosed with vasculitis and Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, two autoimmune diseases that cause inflammation. Miller’s medically tailored diet requires gluten-free, organic food. Miller said she’s dipping into her savings to afford the average of $300 she spends each week on groceries. Last year, she spent about $100 less.
“The avocado mayonnaise price freaked me out,” she said. “It used to be $8. Now, it’s $16.99.”
Even those who are healthy may find themselves helping family or friends in need.
In the mountainous Los Angeles neighborhood of Laurel Canyon, Shelley Goldstein, 60, helps her parents, both in their 90s, pay for items, such as incontinence products, not covered by health insurance. Goldstein’s father was recently diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease and lives in a retirement community with his wife, Doris.
“Those are basic things, but that’s like $70 a month between the two of them,” said Goldstein, who works as a speaking coach. “That’s a lot.”
Goldstein worries about how much more of her parents’ health costs she’ll have to shoulder since they are pensioners on fixed incomes.
“What keeps me up at night right now is what’s to come,” she said. “There’s two of them. My parents’ increased need for pads, meds, and other medical support increases as their health declines.”
KHN (Kaiser Health News) is a national newsroom that produces in-depth journalism about health issues. Together with Policy Analysis and Polling, KHN is one of the three major operating programs at KFF (Kaiser Family Foundation). KFF is an endowed nonprofit organization providing information on health issues to the nation.
Attorneys and journalists whom the CIA spied on when they visited WikiLeaks publisher Julian Assange in the Ecuadorian Embassy in London have filed a lawsuit against the CIA, its former director Mike Pompeo, UC Global and its director, David Morales, in U.S. District Court.
Assange is in a London prison fighting extradition to the United States. He is charged with violating the Espionage Act for exposing U.S. war crimes and faces 175 years imprisonment. During the seven years he lived in the Ecuadorian Embassy under a grant of asylum, Assange was visited by more than 100 attorneys, journalists and doctors. They included Assange’s criminal defense attorneys in the United States, international human rights lawyers, national security journalists whose sources could be jeopardized if exposed, and physicians and medical professionals.
The CIA commissioned Undercover Global (UC Global), a private Spanish security company, to send images from Assange’s visitors’ cellphones and laptops as well as video streamed from their meetings to the CIA.
“Unbeknownst to anyone there, they actually put recording devices and cameras in the rooms where Mr. Assange was, which essentially live streamed what he was doing and saying back to Washington,” attorney Richard Roth, who filed the lawsuit, told me and my co-host Michael Smith on Law and Disorder radio. “I think that there was clearly a desire to bring down Julian Assange any way possible.”
Defendant Morales announced to his employees that UC Global would be operating “in the big league” and on the “dark side” with the CIA, the complaint says. Former employees of UC Global said the deal included selling information gathered as a result of the illegal surveillance.
The four plaintiffs, all U.S. citizens, allege that the defendants violated their Fourth Amendment rights to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures. They are requesting compensatory and punitive damages, an injunction to prevent the CIA from revealing their private communications, and the purging of CIA files of this information.
One of the plaintiffs is Deborah Hrbek, a media attorney who visited Assange several times in the embassy. Speaking at an online news conference, Hrbek noted:
On arrival, there was a strict protocol, for the protection of Julian, we were told. Passports, mobile phones, cameras, laptops, recording devices and other electronic equipment were turned over to the security guards in the lobby. We learned much later, through a criminal investigation under the supervision of a court in Spain, that while visitors like me were meeting with Julian in the embassy conference room, the guards next door were taking apart our phones, removing and photographing SIM cards and, we believe, downloading data from our electronic equipment.
Attorney Margaret Ratner Kunstler, another plaintiff, is a member of Assange’s legal team. She said at the news conference, “As a criminal attorney, I don’t think there is anything worse than your opposition listening in on what your plans are, what you intend to do, on your conversations. It is treated by the United States courts as a terrible thing … The result has very often been a dismissal of the indictment.”
Journalists John Goetz and Charles Glass are the other two plaintiffs; they interviewed Assange while he was in the embassy.
In addition to the Fourth Amendment, the defendants violated the attorney-client privilege and the physician-patient privilege, according to Roth.
This lawsuit came nearly a year after the release of a Yahoo News report documenting the CIA’s plans to kidnap and assassinate Assange when he was in the embassy. Pompeo was furious at the 2017 WikiLeaks revelation of the CIA’s “Vault 7” program, which enabled the CIA to tap into people’s cell phones and smart TVs, turning them into listening devices. The CIA called the exposé “the largest data loss in CIA history.” Pompeo labeled WikiLeaks a “non-state hostile intelligence service.” Senior CIA and administration officials ordered “sketches” and “options” to assassinate Assange. Donald Trump personally “asked whether the CIA could assassinate Assange and provide him ‘options’ for how to do so,” according to the report.
In 2019, the Trump administration filed an indictment against Assange for WikiLeaks’ 2010 publication of evidence of U.S. war crimes in Iraq, Afghanistan and Guantánamo, which were provided to them by whistleblower Chelsea Manning. They include the 2007 “Collateral Murder” video, which shows a U.S. Army Apache helicopter gunship target and fire on unarmed civilians in Baghdad. At least 18 civilians were killed, including two Reuters journalists and a man who came to rescue the wounded. Two children were injured. An Army tank then drove over one of the bodies, severing it in two. That video contains evidence of three separate war crimes prohibited by the Geneva Conventions and the U.S. Army Field Manual.
The Obama administration, which indicted more whistleblowers than all its predecessors combined, refused to indict Assange because WikiLeaks did what The New York Times does. No journalist or media outlet has ever been prosecuted under the Espionage Act for publishing truthful information. The First Amendment protects the right of journalists to publish material that was illegally obtained from a third person if it’s a matter of public concern. The U.S. government has never prosecuted a journalist or media outlet for publishing classified information, an essential tool of journalism.
Nevertheless, the Biden administration is vigorously pursuing the extradition and prosecution of Assange.
In January 2021, British Magistrate Vanessa Baraitser ruled against extradition because of the likelihood that Assange would commit suicide due to the onerous prisons conditions he would face and his fragile mental health.
The Biden administration came forward with conditional “assurances” that Assange would be treated humanely and the U.K. High Court overturned Baraitser’s ruling in spite of the CIA’s plot to assassinate him. The U.K. Supreme Court refused to hear Assange’s appeal.
Significantly, Baraitser warned that in Assange’s trial, the U.S. court would not admit evidence obtained through surveillance if it reveals communications subject to privilege (such as attorney-client and doctor-patient privileges). She wrote:
The US would be aware that privileged communications and the fruits of any surveillance would not be seen by prosecutors assigned to the case and would be inadmissible at Mr. Assange’s trial as a matter of US law … US statutory provisions and case law … would enable Mr. Assange to apply to exclude any evidence at his trial which is based on privileged material.
On July 1, Assange appealed to the U.K. High Court to review the issues on which the magistrate ruled against him. They include:
- The fact that the extradition treaty between the U.S. and the U.K. prohibits extradition for a political offense and “espionage” is a political offense;
- Extradition is barred because the U.S. request is based on Assange’s political opinions;
- The request for extradition constitutes an abuse of process because it was politically motivated and not made in good faith;
- The charges against Assange do not meet the “dual criminality test” as they encompass acts that are not criminal offenses in both the U.S. and the U.K.;
- Extradition would be oppressive or unjust because too much time has elapsed; and
- Extradition would violate Assange’s rights to free expression and a fair trial. In addition, it would violate the prohibition against inhuman and degrading treatment enshrined in the European Convention on Human Rights.
Assange will also raise the CIA’s plot to kidnap and assassinate him when he was in the Ecuadorian Embassy under a grant of asylum.
If Assange is ultimately extradited, tried, convicted and imprisoned, it will send an ominous message to investigative journalists who would publish evidence of government wrongdoing. Jameel Jaffer, executive director of the Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University, told Amy Goodman on Democracy Now! that “the point of the prosecution [of Assange] is to criminalize national security journalism.” It goes to the heart of what journalists do, he said: “[P]rotecting confidential sources, communicating with them confidentially, cultivating sources, publishing classified secrets. These are the pillars of investigative journalism, of national security journalism in particular.”
The stakes not just for Julian Assange but also for the survival of investigative journalism itself could not be higher.
Conflict monitors on Friday drew attention to a series of U.S. airstrikes in Somalia in recent months, attacks that have received relatively little attention in the American corporate media despite having reportedly killed more than 20 people.
“If you were unaware that we were bombing Somalia, don’t feel bad, this is a completely under-the-radar news story, one that was curiously absent from the headlines in all of the major newspapers this morning,” wrote Kelley Beaucar Vlahos, a senior adviser at the Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft.
On Wednesday, Antiwar.com’s Dave DeCamp reported that U.S. Africa Command (AFRICOM) launched its second strike on Somalia in a week. AFRICOM said its initial assessment found the attack, which occurred in Beledweyne and killed 13 fighters belonging to the al-Qaeda-linked Somali militant group al-Shabaab, and that no civilians were harmed.
AFRICOM also said it killed four al-Shabaab members in three separate airstrikes near Beledweyne on August 9, two fighters in a joint U.S.-Somali operation near Labi Kus on July 17, and five militants in a June 3 bombing outside Beer Xani.
All of these strikes have taken place since U.S. President Joe Biden approved the redeployment of hundreds of special forces troops to Somalia in May, reversing a drawdown from the war-ravaged nation implemented during the administration of former President Donald Trump.
Airwars has recorded two US airstrikes in Somalia so far this month, suggesting a potential uptick of strikes targeting militants.
We’ve documented a total of six strikes since May, following Biden’s decision to redeploy US troops: https://t.co/kimoRaCbE2
A brief thread pic.twitter.com/qQMm95iS1s
— Airwars (@airwars) August 19, 2022
DeCamp noted that Trump’s withdrawal from Somalia merely “repositioned troops in neighboring Djibouti and Kenya, allowing the drone war to continue. But Biden has launched significantly fewer strikes in Somalia compared to his predecessor.”
According to data from the U.K.-based monitor group Airwars, U.S. forces have bombed Somalia at least 16 times during Biden’s tenure, killing between 465 and 545 suspected militants. On March 13, a joint U.S. drone and Somali airstrike killed a staggering 200 alleged militants.
Airwars identified civilian casualties in just one of the attacks during Biden’s presidency, a June 2021 strike attributed to either U.S. or Kenyan forces, which have been battling al-Shabaab since 2011. The attack on the southern town of Ceel Cadde killed Sahro Adan Warsame and seriously injured five of her children, according to local media reports.
Since 2007, the U.S. military has carried out 260 actions in Somalia. While the Pentagon only admits to killing five civilians and wounding 11 others in a campaign it claims killed as many as 3,010 militants, Airwars estimates that 78-153 civilians, including 20-23 children, have died in U.S. attacks.
“Bottom line, it’s been a long time since the United States was not bombing Somalia,” wrote Vlahos. “This comes after a particularly bloody period during the [so-called War on Terror] in which the CIA was using the country to detain and torture terror suspects from across North Africa.”
“Whether this has ultimately been a good thing for the country or for the broader security of the region, one need only to look at the continued instability and impoverishment of the people,” she added, “and of course, the persistent presence of al-Shabaab itself.”
U.S. Rep Rashida Tlaib on Friday urged the Biden administration to “hold Israel accountable” after the country’s forces raided and shuttered the offices of seven Palestinian human rights groups in the occupied West Bank, a move that drew international outrage.
“Exactly 100 days since American journalist Shireen Abu Akleh was assassinated by an Israeli sniper, the apartheid government moved to shut down seven human rights organizations at the core in fighting for the lives, liberties, and freedoms of millions of Palestinians,” Tlaib (D-Mich.), the first Palestinian-American woman ever elected to the U.S. Congress, said in a statement.
“These acts are a direct result of the Biden administration’s complete failure to defend Palestinian human rights against racism and ethnic cleansing,” Tlaib continued. “The silence by our country is enabling more death and violence. We must hold Israel accountable.”
In the early hours of Thursday morning, Israeli soldiers stormed the West Bank offices of Al-Haq, Addameer, the Bisan Center, Defense for Children International-Palestine (DCI-P), the Union of Agricultural Works Committees (UAWC), the Union of Palestinian Women’s Committees (UPWC), and the Union of Health Workers Committees, groups that have been deemed unlawful by the Israeli government on unsubstantiated “terrorism” accusations.
Earlier this year, United Nations human rights experts said Israel’s “disturbing” claims against the groups have “not been accompanied by any public concrete and credible evidence.”
“We note that the information presented by Israel has also failed to convince a number of governments and international organizations,” the experts added.
Tlaib observed in her statement Friday that the groups whose offices were raided and ransacked by Israeli forces “provide medical services to countless people throughout occupied Palestine, where the apartheid government of Israel routinely denies them care solely because they are Palestinian.”
“They document human rights abuses against children and civilians no matter who commits them. There is no excuse for the Israeli government’s actions,” said Tlaib. “No matter the lies invented to justify this ridiculous attack against human rights defenders, this campaign will not succeed because countless Palestinians, Israelis, Americans, and people all around the world are increasingly seeing the reality of apartheid Israel’s treatment of Palestinians.”
“I call on the White House to denounce this unwarranted aggression against Palestinian civil society,” the lawmaker continued, “and take action to reverse this decision.”
Exactly 100 days since American journalist Shireen Abu Akleh was assassinated by an Israeli sniper, the Israeli apartheid govt shut down seven human rights orgs at the core of fighting for the lives & freedoms of millions of Palestinians. My statement and call for accountability: pic.twitter.com/rZgHxFvzqn
— Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib (@RepRashida) August 19, 2022
U.S. Rep. Ayanna Pressley (D-Mass.) joined Tlaib in denouncing the raids and criminalization of leading Palestinian rights organizations.
“They were senselessly raided and shuttered,” tweeted Pressley, who had previously raised alarm about Israel’s allegations against the groups. “Baseless accusations have serious consequences, and the U.S. must urge Israel to reverse course.”
During a press briefing on Thursday, U.S. State Department spokesperson Ned Price said the Biden administration is “concerned” about the Israeli raids and closure of Palestinian human rights offices, but he did not explicitly condemn the government’s actions.
“We have reached out to the Israeli government… for more information regarding the basis for these closures and we’ll continue to seek additional information and to convey our concern directly and privately to our Israeli partners,” Price added. “Our Israeli partners in turn have assured us that more information will be forthcoming regarding the basis for their actions.”
Pressed by reporters, Price said that “we have not seen anything that has caused us to change our approach to or position on these organizations,” admitting that the U.S. government — ufar and away the largest exporter of arms to Israel — doesn’t share its ally’s view about the targeted rights groups’ supposed “terrorist” connections.
Nine European countries have also rejected Israel’s claims about the organizations and vowed to continue working with the groups on humanitarian efforts in the occupied territories.
The groups have promised to keep operating in defiance of Israel’s suppression attempts.
The Associated Press reported in November that a confidential Israeli government dossier purporting to detail the human rights groups’ links to terrorist organizations “contains little concrete evidence and failed to convince European countries to stop funding the groups.”
Addameer, one of the organizations whose offices were stormed Thursday, said in a statement that “the global failure to hold Israel accountable has encouraged, if not provoked, [the] raids and closures.”
“The world must treat Israel’s actions for what they are: an attempt to silence criticism and erase civic space for Palestinian human rights defenders,” the group added.
Food and fuel prices are soaring globally, and the Russian oil and gas supply has been squeezed since the invasion of Ukraine. In response, European governments are paving the way to massive investments in fossil fuels from non-Russian sources that imperil efforts to tackle climate change.
Policies are being made to suit fossil fuel companies, who see Russia’s war in Ukraine as an opportunity to expand production elsewhere. Governments are missing opportunities to cut oil and gas use by managing demand — by insulating homes and shifting from car-based urban transport systems, for example — and speeding the shift to electricity generation from solar and wind power.
Governmental failures in the face of the climate crisis, exemplified by scorching summer temperatures and drought, are matched by inadequate responses to economic crises. Inflation and recession are combining to threaten hundreds of millions of people’s livelihoods. Resistance to these attacks is growing. Here in the U.K., a wave of strikes seems likely to become the biggest in decades.
Activists are seeking to unite these protests over living standards with actions aimed at cutting fossil fuel use and limiting global warming. Uniting the fight for social justice and climate justice is necessary, and possible, as never before.Responses to High Fuel Prices
The Russian invasion of Ukraine in February accelerated already galloping increases in fuel prices. Since the start of 2021, gas prices in Europe have risen more than eight-fold. Oil rose from around $50/barrel, to $120/barrel in March; it has stayed above $90/barrel since.
European governments’ “emergency” response measures, aimed at sourcing non-Russian supplies, included approving fossil fuel production projects that will not come on stream for years.
The U.K. government led the way in April, with its Energy Security Strategy, which commits to license new gas projects — in direct opposition to the International Energy Agency (IEA) and the United Nations Environment Programme’s calls to cease new gas and oil exploration and extraction immediately. The strategy included almost nothing to boost insulation of U.K. homes, which energy researchers see as the most effective way to cut gas use.
The RePowerEU plan put together by the European Commission, the executive arm of the European Union, committed some resources to cutting fossil fuel use by retrofitting homes, reforming urban transport and accelerating renewables development. But not enough.
It also approved billions of dollars in new gas infrastructure — “a slower, costlier and more environmentally damaging answer to the bloc’s energy security needs” than renewables and retrofitting, a Global Energy Monitor report showed.Oil and gas producers are considering new projects worth more than $100 billion in Africa.
Brussels also backs a scheme to import “green” hydrogen, produced from renewables, from north Africa, and, in the future, Ukraine. Opponents say it is “neocolonial greenwash,” and that new renewables capacity should instead be geared to those countries’ own energy needs.
Most dangerous of all, though, are plans backed by European governments to boost gas production in Africa, with exports to Europe substituting for Russian gas supplies.
In May, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz signed a deal with Senegal President Macky Sall to explore for gas that would be liquefied and sent by ship to Europe. In June, African Union leaders discussed making a joint call to the COP27 international climate talks in Egypt in November, for expansion of oil and gas output across the continent.
Since the Russian invasion of Ukraine, Italy’s energy group Eni has signed new deals with Algeria, Egypt and the Republic of Congo, geared to exporting more gas to Europe; TotalEnergies of France is considering restarting a stalled $20 billion liquefied natural gas (LNG) project in Mozambique; and Equinor of Norway has joined Shell to sign an agreement with Tanzania on building a liquified natural gas (LNG) export terminal there.Civil Society Resists
African civil society has reacted angrily to the oil and gas investment plans. A blueprint presented to African Union leaders failed to explain “why current, largely centralised, largely fossil fuel-dependent, largely export-oriented energy systems have failed to deliver energy access to hundreds of millions of ordinary Africans,” a memo from NGOs stated. The focus for each region should be on using each continent’s own “massive renewable energy potential” to end energy poverty domestically, they demanded.
Mohamed Adow, director of Power Shift Africa, said that locking Africa into “a fossil-fuel-based future” would be “a shameful betrayal.” Lorraine Chiponda of Africa Coal Network said the oil and gas investment plans are “not directed by Africa’s needs, but by the energy crisis in Europe.” The proposals were also rejected by climate diplomats, including those representing the Egyptian presidency of COP27.
The focus on gas export can only increase the burden borne by Africa’s poorest people, who have little or no access to electricity or other modern forms of energy. In sub-Saharan Africa, the number of people without electricity access rose by about 4 percent between 2019 and 2021, to 590 million (43 percent of the population), due mainly to the coronavirus pandemic, lockdowns and energy prices, effectively reversing gains made in 2014-18. The number of Africans lacking access to clean cooking fuels also rose, to more than 970 million, almost three-quarters of the continent’s population. For cooking, most of them rely on gathered wood, and agricultural and animal wastes.
Russian aggression in Ukraine has made the situation worse. Galloping food and fuel prices have pushed another 71 million people in developing countries into poverty since March, the UN Development Programme reported in July.
Energy specialists argue that developing Africa’s gigantic solar and wind potential is the means to address energy poverty. Resources poured into LNG export terminals undermine this potential.The Shadow Over COP27
The approach by the biggest European governments — limited action on energy conservation and renewables, plus billions for new gas projects, hydrogen and carbon capture — bears comparison with those of China and the U.S., the largest and second-largest greenhouse gas emitters respectively.
China, while investing heavily in renewables, continues to increase coal production and consumption. Its emissions trajectory is compatible with 3 degrees Celsius (3°C) of global heating, as opposed to the science-based target of 1.5°C, Climate Action Tracker research shows.The focus on gas export can only increase the burden borne by Africa’s poorest people, who have little or no access to electricity or other modern forms of energy.
In the U.S., Democratic politicians this month congratulated themselves on passing the Inflation Reduction Act, which included $369 billion for climate measures such as support for electric vehicle purchases, carbon capture and renewables — but, as campaigners warned, no restrictions on fossil fuel development.
The package could take U.S. emissions to 60 percent of their 2005 level, analysts estimated — 10-12 percent above the target set by President Joe Biden just last year. Climate Action Tracker deems that target itself “insufficient,” and compatible with 2.4°C of warming. Moreover, the U.S. and other rich nations have still failed to cough up $100 billion of climate finance promised to vulnerable nations by 2020.
It all adds up to the prospect of COP27, like other COPs before it, obstructing and undermining efforts to tackle the climate crisis. Society as a whole needs to find solutions outside the talks and the greenwash that surrounds them.Social Justice and Climate Justice
In Europe and North America alike, rising fuel prices threaten millions of families with disaster: They will be unable to pay for heating and electricity this winter. In the U.K., decades of neoliberal market reforms have removed all restraints from the energy companies, who force the full burden of wholesale price rises onto households. The market is set up so that even electricity produced from low-cost renewables is sold at prices linked to gas.
By January 2023, rising energy bills are expected to triple to more than £5000 per year for average households, and will push two-thirds of U.K. families into fuel poverty. In response, more than 100,000 people have signed a pledge, launched by the Don’t Pay campaign, to refuse to pay their energy bills.
The challenge before us is to unite this tide of anger at profiteering energy companies with the fight to prevent dangerous global heating.
In 2018, during the Yellow Vests movement in France, triggered by fuel levies that the government called “green,” the phrase “the elites talk about the end of the world, but we worry about the end of the month” was coined.
Less well-known was the slogan that responded to it — “end of the world, end of the month, same fight!” — which sought to unite social protest with action on climate change. This year, demands such as “insulate Britain” — to retrofit homes, to cut both energy use and bills — have reached towards such unity. More needs to be done.
The same companies and governments that seek to ramp up fossil fuel production in a climate emergency also seek neo-colonial subjugation of Africa and assault households’ living standards in the Global North and Global South alike.
Struggles for social justice and climate justice must be united to transform society and end their domination.
This story was originally published by The 19th.
A Michigan judge on Friday issued a preliminary injunction that prevents county prosecutors from enforcing the state’s 1931 abortion ban. This means they cannot file criminal charges against abortion providers, as would be permitted by the ban.
Since the U.S. Supreme Court overturned the landmark 1973 Roe v. Wade decision in June, a battle over abortion access has played out in Michigan courts, with Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer emerging as a prominent voice pushing for protections.
Michigan’s 1931 abortion law is one of seven Pre-Roe “zombie” bans that had been ineffective during the years that the Roe decision held, according to the Guttmacher Institute, a leading reproductive health research organization. The recent court battles over this 1931 law have led to jarring legal changes that have left providers confused and fearful over what they can do legally in the state, said Jill Habig, president and founder of the Public Rights Project, a national civil rights organization that is working on behalf of seven Michigan prosecutors who want to overturn the abortion ban.
In an interview with The 19th, Habig noted that on August 1, “literally due to some conflicting court opinions in the span of one day, abortion was legal at breakfast, illegal at lunch and legal again at dinner.”
In May, a judge suspended enforcement of the 1931 ban, but on August 1 the Michigan Court of Appeals ruled that county prosecutors could still file criminal charges against abortion providers under the law. Later that same day, an Oakland County Circuit Court judge approved Whitmer’s request for a temporary restraining order on that ruling.
On Wednesday and Thursday, the same judge heard arguments from a representative for the Michigan attorney general’s office who said that enforcing the 1931 abortion ban would harm people throughout the state. In this week’s hearings, the state of Michigan argued that this order blocking enforcement of the ban should be extended.
Linus Banghard-Linn, an attorney representing Whitmer on behalf of the state, said the 1931 law “violates the Equal Protection Clause [of the U.S. Constitution] because of the discriminatory motive surrounding it, that it was enacted … essentially, to put it crudely, to keep women in their place.”
The state’s chief medical executive, Dr. Natasha Bagdasarian, also testified, expressing concerns that the abortion ban would exacerbate health disparities for already vulnerable populations like Black women. She noted that generally between 12 and 15 women die each year in Michigan from pregnancy-related causes.
The opposing side was argued by attorney David Kallman, who represents two county prosecutors arguing for the abortion ban to take effect. Kallman said in court that abortion rights in Michigan were contingent on the federal Roe v. Wade decision. With Roe overturned, Kallman said, the governor’s team is pushing to claim abortion rights that do not currently exist in state law.
The Judge Jacob Cunningham of Oakland County Circuit Court ultimately sided with the state, saying that it is “clear to the court that only one group is harmed by the [abortion ban]: Women and people capable of carrying children, and one group, men and people capable of impregnating someone, had zero culpability or risk, yet are a necessary component to this equation.”
Cunningham said that the state successfully proved its argument that the abortion ban harmed “the state” by harming its residents.
“Our state is only as strong as its most vulnerable and at-risk populations,” he said. “Criminalization of our medical professionals for treating the women seeking appropriate, safe, constitutionally protected medical care is an irreparable danger to our society at large.”
Cunningham set the date for further legal proceedings in this case for November 21, given that Michigan voters may have an opportunity to vote on a ballot measure that would protect abortion access and render his ruling moot.
Whitmer, who has been Michigan’s governor since 2019, is one of six Democratic women governors in the country who have each taken steps to safeguard abortion access in their states since Roe was overturned in June.
In addition to requesting a restraining order on the Michigan Court of Appeals ruling, Whitmer’s office also filed a lawsuit in April asking the Michigan Supreme Court to bypass lower courts and decide whether Michigan’s constitution protects the right to an abortion.
“While we wait for that court to determine when to rule, the governor will continue using every tool in her toolbox to protect women and health care providers,” Whitmer’s office said in a statement to The 19th.
Shortly after the ruling on Roe, Whitmer filed a motion urging the Michigan Supreme Court to immediately consider her lawsuit.
“I think Michigan is really demonstrating what really inspirational leadership can look like in this moment,” Habig said. “Governor Whitmer is not waiting for somebody else to save us. She is stepping in to say this is an issue that affects everyone in the state of Michigan.”
Two other court cases, one filed by Planned Parenthood of Michigan in partnership with an abortion provider and another filed by the ACLU, are also aiming to overturn the Michigan abortion ban. Having multiple lawsuits that push for a similar outcome of protecting abortion rights allows the legal teams to present cases in front of different judges with different arguments, Habig said.
For example, Whitmer’s team can argue their lawsuit based on broader public health risks, while Planned Parenthood can speak to the perspectives of doctors, clinics and other providers.
The Michigan Supreme Court has not stated yet if it will take up Whitmer’s lawsuit. On August 31, Michigan state officials will determine whether the ballot initiative on abortion will be approved for the November ballot. Judge Cunningham welcomed voters’ ability to make the final decision in November.
“The ultimate expression of political power in this country comes not from the branches of our government and those that serve as public officials in them, but from the people, the citizens who vote and participate in our fair and free electoral process,” he said just before issuing the injunction on the abortion law.
Earlier this month, Kansas voters rejected a proposed constitutional amendment to eliminate state abortion protections.
A number of other states, like Indiana, have issued total abortion bans or significant abortion restictions since Roe was overturned.
Far right Congresswoman Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Georgia) is planning to introduce legislation on Friday that would ban doctors and other medical professionals from providing certain gender-affirming care options to transgender children.
Gender-affirming care can take many forms, including therapy and medication. Greene’s bill would restrict how doctors can treat trans children by making it a felony at the federal level to prescribe medication that blocks the effects of puberty in children. The bill would also make it illegal to give trans children surgeries that would permanently change their sex organs — despite the fact that such surgeries are typically only available to people ages 18 or older in the U.S.
Puberty blockers are safe, reversible medications that postpone the permanent physical changes brought on by puberty. Their use has been shown to significantly reduce suicide risk in transgender children, who can suffer from severe emotional distress as a result of developing secondary sex characteristics, like breasts or facial hair, that don’t match their gender. Doctors also prescribe puberty blockers to children experiencing precocious puberty, a condition in which a person undergoes puberty too soon.
Although the effects of puberty blockers are completely reversible, Greene wrongly suggested in an interview with Tucker Carlson on Fox News that children are permanently impacted by the medication.
“Kids are too young to make these awful decisions that will affect them and will be permanent for the rest of their lives,” she said.
Her statement ignores the fact that such decisions are made by children alongside their parents or guardians, under the guidance of doctors and other trained professionals. Notably, it is extremely rare for people to “detransition” or experience regret after transitioning.
During the interview, Carlson wrongly likened puberty blockers to “chemical castration.”
Carlson isn’t alone in making such blatantly false and alarmist statements — recently, a number of far right commentators on social media have targeted Boston Children’s Hospital, wrongly asserting that the hospital has been performing sex reassignment surgeries on children.
The hospital said in a statement this week that it has received a large influx of violent threats as a result of the transphobic fear mongering.
“We condemn these attacks in the strongest possible terms, and we reject the false narrative upon which they are based,” Boston Children’s Hospital said in a statement.
Greene’s bill has very little chance of passing in the Democratic-controlled House, but it may be an indication of the dangerous proposals Congress will embrace if the GOP wins the midterm elections this fall.
Numerous medical organizations have recognized gender-affirming care as life-saving. Chase Strangio, a trans activist and lawyer, shared his experiences with gender-affirming care in an op-ed for Truthout last year.
“My personal experience of this care being life-saving is echoed in decades of data,” Strangio wrote. “When trans people are able to access the gender-affirming health care that we need, our mental health improves dramatically.”
Wyoming Rep. Liz Cheney’s overwhelming primary loss on Tuesday to Trump-endorsed Harriet Hageman makes it clear (in case there was any remaining doubt) just how cultist the debased modern-day Republican Party is.
Last week, Donald Trump’s home was raided by FBI agents armed with a warrant indicating there was probable cause that the Espionage Act had been violated. Last month, the networks broadcast the most recent January 6 House hearings, which showed the extent to which Trump and his acolytes marshaled the mob in an attempt to obstruct the peaceful transfer of power. Yet after all of this, Trump remains wildly popular among GOP voters, and Trump’s most vocal critic from within the GOP received less than one-third of the votes cast in the Republican primary in Wyoming. She was ousted by a candidate whose previous career highs as an attorney involved attacking any and all environmental regulations, and who, on the stump, urged voters to dump Cheney because, in joining the House committee investigating January 6, she “betrayed Wyoming, betrayed the country and she betrayed me.”
Trump responded gloatingly to Cheney’s primary defeat, framing it explicitly as payback for her role on the January 6 committee. On his Truth Social site, he declared Cheney a “fool,” and opined that she “should be ashamed of herself.” Trump’s post attacked the “Unselect Committee” as being made up of “political Hacks and Thugs,” and welcomed Cheney’s descent into “political oblivion.”
Apart from the puerile nature of the post, it’s the venom that stands out. In race after race around the country this election season, Trump has attempted — and with some notable exceptions, such as in Georgia — largely succeeding in purging the GOP of any and every independent voice capable of standing up to his authoritarian hold over the party’s rank and file. Eight of the ten Republican Congress members who voted for his impeachment will now be out of office come January. Outgoing Arizona House Speaker Rusty Bowers, who was running for a state Senate seat, and who angered Trump World by testifying before the January 6 committee, lost his primary. “Stop the steal” candidates are now positioned as GOP candidates to run for secretary of state in four of the five swing states of 2020 — Georgia, again, being an outlier here. Trump-backed Senate candidates rode high in primaries in Ohio, Pennsylvania, Arizona, and many other states. And so on.
Despite Trump’s growing legal woes and the escalating risk he now faces of felony charges and conviction, large numbers of GOP political candidates continue to leap to his defense and to attack his opponents within the GOP as being RINOs — Republicans In Name Only. They are, in their embrace of ever more extreme language, buying popularity by espousing a particularly dangerous and anti-democratic stew of lies, rumors and conspiracy theories.
Just this week, for example, New York congressional hopeful Carl Paladino, who not too long ago got into hot water for saying the U.S. needs a political leader capable of moving the crowd like Adolf Hitler did, went on Breitbart Radio to say that Attorney General Merrick Garland “probably should be executed” for authorizing the FBI search of Mar-a-Lago. Florida Sen. Rick Scott compared the FBI raid to the actions of the Gestapo. Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene called for defunding the entire Department of Justice.
As he flails in the legal realm, Trump, the GOP’s puppet master, is becoming more dangerous by the minute in the political realm. Cheney appears to recognize this, and stated, after her defeat, that she would do everything in her power — including possibly running for president — to thwart the twice-impeached ex-president’s ambitions to return to the White House. If she does so, however, she will undoubtedly run into a buzzsaw of organized GOP opposition, from state GOPs preventing her name from appearing on primary ballots, to decisions by the Republican National Committee to stop her from appearing on the same debate stage as Trump. She has also set up a political action committee, called The Great Task, aimed at educating Americans about the dangers to the democratic system posed by Trump and by his efforts to rewrite history surrounding the events of 2020 and of January 6, 2021.
Now, I’m not a fan — to say the least — of Cheney’s political career prior to her star turn on the January 6 committee. She’s always been fiercely anti-abortion, opposes gun control, was supportive of Trump’s most restrictive anti-immigration policies, and, when he was president, voted in line with his priorities 93 percent of the time. She also strongly supported the waterboarding of terrorism suspects, a ghastly practice approved by her father, Vice President Dick Cheney, and by President George W. Bush, that put a U.S. government stamp of approval on torture.
But in this moment, when a large part of the GOP has overtly embraced paramilitarism, when political candidates run attack ads showing them toting assault rifles and hunting down their less ideologically pure party brethren, and when the GOP’s congressional leadership has come out in support of tactics designed to secure electoral victory even in the face of massive opposition from a majority of the electorate, Cheney’s voice is important.
This past June, she spoke of the “personality cult” gripping the Republican Party. After her primary election defeat this week, she opined about Trump representing a “very grave threat and risk to our Republic” and came as close as any senior politician has done in recent years to calling for the creation of something akin to a popular front, bringing together Republicans of good conscience, Democrats and independents to stop the drift toward authoritarian governance represented by the MAGA movement and its power-hungry leader.
Cheney is absolutely right about the dangers posed by Trump and by Trumpism, even if it took her several long years to reach these conclusions. But I fear her ongoing faith in the ability of the GOP to right itself is entirely misplaced. This is not a story of a good barrel with a few rotten apples. At this point, the entire barrel is corrupted, with only a few good apples left in stock. It’s a bad barrel filled with contamination. Or, to abandon the metaphor, it’s a political party that from top to bottom has, over the past several years, almost entirely remade itself as an extremist tool intended to fluff up one man’s vanity and enable his every assault on the democratic institutions, culture and norms of the Republic. Given that, the idea that its Trumpian mantle can be thrown off seems little more than wishful thinking. And even if it could be, the anti-abortion, anti-immigrant, anti-democratic, pro-torture policies of the pre-Trump GOP should not be idealized either.
In the wake of a tumultuous few months that have seen the revocation of federal abortion rights and the passage of a major climate and fossil fuel bill, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vermont) is encouraging progressives to keep fighting, despite the enormous and seemingly insurmountable challenges facing the country.
In an interview with Teen Vogue published on Thursday, Sanders told young progressives that political transformation and social justice only come after long periods of struggle in which ordinary people put in the work to fight for revolutionary change.
The country is creeping toward corporate oligarchy, he said, citing major corruption in the political system and a dominant corporate media structure that “often deflects attention away from the real issues facing working people.” But these threats only make it more important for people to speak out and resist.
“Real, underline, politics is not instant gratification,” Sanders said. “Anybody who knows anything about history, going way back from the struggle of the abolitionists, struggle to end slavery, struggle for women’s rights, the struggle for workers’ rights, these are not easy struggles and they don’t happen overnight.”
In order to fight unprecedented wealth accumulation, violent right-wing bigotry, a worsening climate crisis, and more, progressives need tenacity and perseverance to succeed, the senator said.
“It is absolutely imperative that people continue to be engaged and stand up for economic justice, social justice, racial justice, environmental justice. You can’t back down. Now is not the time to give up, now is more than ever the time to be involved,” said Sanders. “The overall struggle that we are engaged in is not complicated. It is to struggle for justice in the deepest sense of the word.”
The Vermont senator had a similar message for progressives shortly after far right Supreme Court justices issued their decision to overturn Roe v. Wade, saying in a livestream that the problems the country is facing are too urgent and dangerous for progressives to wallow in despair.
Sanders also pointed out in the interview that progressives are notching wins across the country, despite corporate media outlets pushing the opposite narrative. Progressives aren’t just winning electorally, with triumphs for candidates like Jamie McLeod-Skinner in Oregon and Summer Lee in Pennsylvania; they’re also waging an extraordinarily successful labor movement, paving the way for a new generation of workers to have a voice in the workplace.
“At a time when working families are falling further and further behind, I think more and more workers see unions and the opportunity to engage in collective bargaining as a means by which they can earn decent wages and decent benefits,” he said.
Through efforts like the union campaigns at Starbucks and Amazon, workers are taking on some of the wealthiest and most powerful people in the world, including CEOs Howard Schultz and Jeff Bezos. “We are seeing now maybe an unprecedented wave of union organizing,” Sanders said, “which, to me, is very, very important, because we’re not going to rebuild the middle class in this country unless we have a strong union movement.”
A flagrantly racist and violent ex-cop is bringing national attention to a small town in Mississippi where Black residents say they were systematically “terrorized” by police and the court system. Civil rights advocates condemn the officer’s actions and say they are a symptom of a larger problem that extends far beyond one rural community and a “bad apple” among the local police.
A lawsuit filed in federal court this week claims white police in the rural, majority-Black town of Lexington, Mississippi targeted Black residents and subjected the to false arrests, brutality, excessive fines and unreasonable searches. The department’s discriminatory intent was made clear by a leaked recording of Sam Dobbins, the former police chief, hurling racist and homophobic slurs and bragging about killing 13 people as an officer, the lawsuit argues. In the recording, Dobbins relishes the idea that residents “fear” him.
Dobbins made national headlines after a Black officer secretly recorded 17 minutes of audio capturing his former boss repeatedly using words such as “faggot” and “N—–” while boasting about police brutality. Dobbins patrolled the streets of Lexington “with impunity” despite a well-known history of harassment, racist remarks and allegations that he jailed a man on bunk charges while working for a different Mississippi county in 2013 and nearly beat the man to death, according to the Mississippi Center for Investigative Reporting, which first revealed the audio recording. The officer who secretly recorded Dobbins reportedly resigned on July 19.
Local alderman voted 3-2 to fire Dobbins on July 20 to applause from Black residents. However, those residents and activists say the problem of racist policing in Lexington and across the South is much bigger than Dobbins. Jill Collen Jefferson, founder and director of JULIAN, the Mississippi-based civil rights group that filed the lawsuit, said it’s time to shine a light on the ongoing racist abuses in Lexington. Representing several local Black plaintiffs, the group is asking a federal judge for a temporary restraining order on Lexington police to protect Black residents.
Civil rights groups and local plaintiffs are also calling on the Justice Department to investigate, as federal officials have done in larger cities with patterns of racist police abuse, a practice that was temporary halted under former President Donald Trump before resuming under President Joe Biden. Allegations included in the lawsuit also come from witnesses working for the Lexington police, who reported that Dobbins and other officers brutally beat residents after handcuffing them or dragging them out of the back of patrol cars.
“There needs to be a formal, federal investigation, and not just of the one office or two offices or the police department, but of this entire town,” Jefferson said in an interview. “It’s really hard to explain [to outsiders], but every branch of government in Lexington is corrupt, every branch of government is controlled by white supremacy.”
Of Lexington’s roughly 1,800 residents, about 85 percent are Black, but former police chief Dobbins, the local prosecutor, the judge, the mayor and other top officials are all white and politically intertwined with one wealthy white family, according to Jefferson. Katherine Barrett Riley, the city’s attorney and a member of the family Jefferson described, did not respond to a request for comment.
Despite his checkered past, Dobbins was hired by city officials to “control” the local Black population and boost revenue with fines and legal fees, Jefferson said. Residents reported hundreds of roadblocks set up in the tiny town to target and stop Black drivers. Two plaintiffs, both Black men, say they were targeted and arrested on bogus charges — including for possessing marijuana that was allegedly planted by police — after speaking out about police harassment at a community “know your rights” meeting earlier this year.
Former resident Tasha Walden said she fled Lexington and moved to Memphis, Tennessee to protect her family from Dobbins, who repeatedly wrote baseless tickets and made “repeated excuses” to arrest her son without a warrant. Walden’s son, who followed her and now lives in Memphis, is one of several plaintiffs in the lawsuit, which lays out a disturbing pattern of racial profiling, excessive force and sexual harassment by Lexington police.
“It’s a nightmare, it’s terrible, people are afraid to even walk down the street to go to the store to pay bills, because every time Black people come out, it’s always a problem,” Walden said over the phone on Thursday. “No matter if you ride or if you’re walking, it’s still a problem, especially the young Blacks, the younger generations, it’s a problem for them.”
Black residents filed at least two hundred complaints against Dobbins and other officers despite the threat of retaliation, Jefferson said, but officials failed to act until the recording of Dobbins’s racist tirade was released to the public. Even then, two aldermen voted against firing Dobbins.
Civil rights groups have said for years that many rural jails, often in the South, operate like debtors’ prisons that routinely jail people living in low-income communities for failing to pay exorbitant fines and legal fees resulting from minor charges and traffic violations that are used to fill local coffers. Jefferson said such targeting and extortion is exactly how Lexington keeps money flowing into the courthouse and police department while operating in one of the poorest counties in the nation.
“It’s the ‘good old boy’ network, this is how this works,” Jefferson said. “What’s happening in Lexington is not only happening in Lexington, it’s also happening in other places across Mississippi and the South.”
Jefferson, who is Black, said Dobbins once pushed her out of the local courtroom and threatened to arrest the civil rights attorney if she went inside. Jefferson said she called the office of Mississippi Attorney General Lynn Fitch, a Republican, but was told the local courtroom was outside of Fitch’s jurisdiction. When asked if racist policing in a Mississippi town would fall under Fitch’s statewide jurisdiction, a spokesperson said she would to review the lawsuit and added that Fitch’s office is unable to comment on ongoing investigations.
However, Fitch is currently focused on defending the anti-abortion laws in Mississippi, and as of Friday it remained unclear whether the attorney general will take any action on the alleged racist abuse in Lexington.
The town replaced Dobbins with an interim police chief, Charles Henderson, who is also named as a defendant in the lawsuit and has a nasty reputation in town. Among other alleged crimes and abuses — including threatening to kill a local resident for being outside at night and targeting him for arrest — more than a dozen women have reported that Henderson propositioned them for sex and proceeded to ticket or arrest them if they refused, according to the legal complaint.
In an email to the Associated Press, Henderson said he is working to move the Lexington police “forward” and cast doubt on the claims made by residents in the civil rights lawsuit, which he called a “defamation of character.”
Of course, a claim isn’t “defamation” if it’s true, and Jefferson says Henderson must also be held to account. She relayed a story about Henderson breaking down an elderly women’s door, blasting her with pepper spray and then using a fire hose to wash her down at the police station. However, if Henderson believes his character is being defamed in the media and federal court, then a federal investigation would be a good way to expose the truth, Jefferson says.
“Let’s have the Department of Justice come in and look and see what Henderson has done; I would want to see what he has to say to the federal government, to show that he did not do these things,” Jefferson said. “We have a line of people that would go down the street with complaints against Henderson … if he wanted to do that, I would join fight.”