Amy Goodman

How Cuba beat the pandemic: From developing new vaccines to sending doctors overseas to help others

Since last year, approximately 440 Cubans have died from COVID-19, giving Cuba one of the lowest death rates per capita in the world. Cuba is also developing five COVID-19 vaccines, including two which have entered stage 3 trials. Cuba has heavily invested in its medical and pharmaceutical system for decades, in part because of the six-decade U.S. embargo that has made it harder for Cuba to import equipment and raw materials from other countries. That investment, coupled with the country's free, universal healthcare system, has helped Cuba keep the virus under control and quickly develop vaccines against it, says Dr. Rolando Pérez Rodríguez, the director of science and innovation at BioCubaFarma, which oversees Cuba's medicine development. "We have long experience with these kinds of technologies," he says. We also speak with Reed Lindsay, journalist and founder of the independent, Cuba-focused media organization Belly of the Beast, who says U.S. sanctions on Cuba continue to cripple the country. "Cuba is going through an unbelievable economic crisis, and the sanctions have been absolutely devastating," says Lindsay.




This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: As the U.S. death toll from COVID-19 tops 560,000 and Brazil records over 4,200 deaths in a single day, we begin today's show looking at how Cuba has successfully fought the pandemic. Since last year, only about 440 Cubans have died from COVID-19, giving the island one of the lowest death rates per capita in the world. Cuba is also developing five COVID-19 vaccines, including two which have entered stage 3 trials. Martinez is the president of BioCubaFarma..

EDUARDO MARTÍNEZ DÍAZ: [translated] We are very confident that our vaccines will be effective, the vaccines that are being developed. The results that we have had to date point to satisfactory results. And we maintain that before the end of 2021, our population will be immunized with the vaccines that we're developing. … Given the blockade that we are subjected to and the situation in the country, it would have been very difficult for us to get the results that we are getting in the fight against the pandemic, if we had not developed this industry more than 35 years ago in our country.

AMY GOODMAN: For decades, Cuba has heavily invested in its medical and pharmaceutical system, in part because of the six-decade-old U.S. embargo that's made it harder for Cuba to import equipment and raw materials from other countries. In the 1980s, Cuba developed the world's first meningitis B vaccine. It's also developed important cancer drugs that are now being used in the United States and elsewhere.

In a moment, we'll go to Havana, but first I want to turn to an excerpt from the recent online documentary series The War on Cuba, produced by Belly of the Beast, an independent media group in Cuba. One episode looks at Cuba's efforts to fight COVID-19 at home and abroad. It's narrated by the Cuban journalist Liz Oliva Fernández.

LIZ OLIVA FERNÁNDEZ: Every morning, tens of thousands of doctors, nurses and medical students take to the streets across Cuba. They are on the frontlines of our fight against COVID. Talía Ruíz is a first-year medical student.
TALÍA RUÍZ: [translated] I don't feel afraid. If we are careful and take the necessary measures, we won't get infected. There are doctors who have faced the disease head on, and they haven't gotten sick. For example, my dad. Hi, Dad.
LIZ OLIVA FERNÁNDEZ: Talía's father, Juan Jesús, is a family doctor who works at a small clinic next to their home. In March, he joined a group of Cuban doctors on a medical mission to Lombardy, Italy. At the time, Lombardy was the global epicenter of the pandemic.
DR. JUAN JESÚS RUIZ ALEMÁN: [translated] The number of cases overwhelmed the health system there. We helped the medical personnel who could no longer handle so many cases. And we saved some lives. As we walked to the farewell ceremony, from every home, people came out and applauded us. It was the best feeling I've had in my life. That's why you go on missions.
LIZ OLIVA FERNÁNDEZ: It wasn't the first time Juan Jesús risked his life far from home. He's part of the Henry Reeve Brigade, Cuba's medical special forces.
DR. JUAN JESÚS RUIZ ALEMÁN: [translated] Henry Reeve was a soldier from the United States who fought for Cuba against the Spanish in the 1868 war. The brigade was formed in 2005. A hurricane called Katrina destroyed New Orleans. There was a huge number of deaths. Cuba offered to send 100 doctors to work alongside U.S. doctors. We were ready to go.
LIZ OLIVA FERNÁNDEZ: George W. Bush rejected Cuba's offer to help New Orleans. Since then, Juan Jesús has treated survivors of natural disasters and epidemics around the world.

AMY GOODMAN: That's an excerpt from the video series The War on Cuba, which was produced by Belly of the Beast, an independent media organization in Cuba founded by journalist Reed Lindsay, who joins us from Havana, where we're also joined by Dr. Rolando Pérez Rodríguez, the director of science and innovation at BioCubaFarma, which oversees Cuba's medicine development, including the development of COVID-19 vaccines. He's also the founder of Cuba's Molecular Immunology Center and a member of the Cuban Academy of Science.

We welcome you both to Democracy Now! Dr. Rolando Pérez Rodríguez, why don't you talk about the latest vaccines, two of which are in trial three? Soberana-2 is one of them.

DR. ROLANDO PÉREZ RODRÍGUEZ: Good morning. I would like to thank you for this invitation to share with you our experience in facing COVID-19 pandemics.

I have to say that we had the first case of COVID-19 in Cuba, was reported on March 11, [ 2020 ]. And in April this [last] year, we decided to start this COVID vaccine project, different several vaccine — a COVID-19 vaccine project. And in August 13, we already got the first approval to start a Phase 1 clinical trial with the first vaccine candidate. So, in a very short time, we succeeded to get to clinical development of this candidate vaccine.

Today, we have, as you said, five different vaccine candidates in clinical development, two of them in Phase 3 clinical trials. Three of these, in all of the — sorry. All of these candidate vaccines use as anti the receptor-binding domain of the S5 protein, which bind to the surface receptor, so this anti is expressed in different technology platforms. Three of the vaccines use the recombinant protein produced in mammalian cells, and the other two in geese. But all of these vaccines we are developing now, we use a platform technology that are very safe, are [inaudible] vaccines. All the formulation also benefit from all the technology we have used in Cuba for a previous prophylactic vaccine, so are very safe. We have long experience with these kind of technologies. And that's the reason we can really go so far through a clinical development.

AMY GOODMAN: Cuba will be the first country in Latin America to develop vaccines, this despite the U.S. embargo. Can you talk about how these — why you think Cuba is so far ahead?

DR. ROLANDO PÉREZ RODRÍGUEZ: No, maybe I have to say that we — in Cuba, we made a huge investment, you know, in biotechnology last century. By the '80s of last century, we had started developing a biotech industry, so early maybe. And then, in combination with a healthcare system that, you know, is free, is universal, full coverage, and this combination of a biotech industry and a good health primary care system, I think that that combination made possible to assimilate or have impact of all these biotech products in the healthcare and provide us the experience and the capacity to make so fast the development of these vaccine projects and to introduce in the healthcare system.

AMY GOODMAN: Why do you think Cuba has far surpassed the United States when it comes to COVID-19 and people surviving? I mean, the U.S. — I mean, per capita, I think Cuba has something like, over the year, between 40 and 60 times less the death toll per capita than the United States. How is this possible, with the U.S. being the wealthiest country in the world and the U.S. imposing this massive embargo against Cuba, which is not only stopping U.S. support for Cuba, but countries around the world?

DR. ROLANDO PÉREZ RODRÍGUEZ: You know, it's what I tried to explain before. There is a combination of a national pharmaceutical — biopharmaceutical industry, but also how we organize the healthcare system in Cuba, that is free, universal, full coverage, with access to all the population, and also this health primary care system that is looking for people with disease. So, we are not expecting that people come to the healthcare system; we are looking for the people, so it's a very active and preventive approach to the healthcare. And I think that this kind of organization made possible that with not so much resources, you can have a big impact on healthcare. That is the reason maybe, the way we organize all this healthcare system.

AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to bring journalist Reed Lindsay into this conversation, who has put out this series, founder of Belly of the Beast, called The War on Cuba. If you can talk about, overall, during the time of COVID, even beyond the vaccines, what Cuba has done, what you document in your film series, like sending doctors to places like Brazil, Bolivia, Ecuador and beyond?

REED LINDSAY: Thanks a lot, Amy.

You know, I was in Haiti for five years, and that was my first direct experience with Cuban doctors. And I found it remarkable. What the Cuban program in Haiti was doing wasn't only bringing Cuban doctors to work in the poorest areas of Haiti, it was also training Haitian doctors in Cuba. And Cuba, at that time, was graduating more doctors than the public universities in Haiti, and they were returning to Haiti and working there. And, in a sense, it was brain drain in reverse.

And living here in Cuba, you know, my doctor is just a block or two away. If I have any problem, I walk down there. It's free. I don't have to show any papers. And that's what it's like for healthcare here. It can be a little shocking not having to go in and fill out forms and showing your insurance and anything.

And, of course, when COVID hit, I knew that Cuba would be prepared. And I felt safer here, frankly, a lot safer, than I did if I had been in the United States. I remember telling my mom, who has often been worried about different places I've been around the world — I told her now I was more worried about her than she was about me.

AMY GOODMAN: I want to turn to another excerpt from your film, The War on Cuba, about Brazil's far-right President Jair Bolsonaro expelling thousands of Cuban doctors in 2018.

DR. MARIO DÍAZ: [translated] Bolsonaro has always followed the U.S. president. They call him the Latino Trump. The U.S. wants to cut off the income to choke the Cuban economy, to try to bring about a political change here on the island. When Cuba left the program, around 1,700 municipalities were suddenly left without doctors. I had a patient in Brazil, a 70-year-old man, illiterate. He made an appointment so he could say goodbye. He cried right here on my shoulder.
LIZ OLIVA FERNÁNDEZ: Millions of Brazilians in poor communities were left without healthcare. It was just the beginning. Ecuador's president became a Trump ally, and then, in November 2019, he expelled hundreds of Cuban doctors. That same month, a U.S.-supported coup ousted Bolivian President Evo Morales. Bolivia's de facto government immediately took aim at the Cuban doctors.
INTERIM PRESIDENT JEANINE ÁÑEZ: [translated] The false Cuban doctors …
DR. YOANDRA MURO VALLE: [translated] They said we weren't doctors. They accused us of being criminals.
LIZ OLIVA FERNÁNDEZ: Yoandra Muro was head of the Cuban medical mission in Bolivia.
DR. YOANDRA MURO VALLE: [translated] They threatened to burn down the Cuban doctors' homes. They took others to Interpol. They pointed guns at two brigade members. They strip-searched some of our women.

AMY GOODMAN: That, an excerpt from The War on Cuba, Reed Lindsay, a founder of the Belly of the Beast production that made this series. Now, this is very interesting, what's happening in Brazil. And if you can talk about the effects of this? I mean, we just reported that 4,200 people died in Brazil just yesterday. That's over 10 times the number of Cubans who have died during the entire pandemic.

REED LINDSAY: Yeah, you know, and in doing the series, we spoke with numerous doctors who were part of — Cuban doctors who were in Brazil. And they were hurting, because they knew that these communities that they were helping, they weren't able to help, and that they were suffering. People were dying of COVID.

You know, what that is was part of Trump's policies to crush the Cuban economy, because Cuba sends doctors to other parts of the world, and, like Haiti, there are many cases where there's really no evidence it's anything but altruistic, but it also sends doctors to places like Brazil, and Cuba receives some money for that, and they use that money to subsidize healthcare in Cuba. And so, the Trump administration went after these programs to try to basically hurt the Cuban economy. And it wasn't the only thing they've done.

What's really remarkable about the vaccines and what Cuba has achieved in the last year is that Cuba right now is undergoing a severe economic crisis, and in part it's because of COVID. Obviously, there's no more tourism, and Cuba depended greatly on tourism for its economy. But even before then, there were people who were comparing the economic situation in Cuba to the Special Period after the fall of the Soviet Union, which was considered worse than the Great Depression. And the reason was because of the U.S. sanctions. Now, the embargo has been around for decades, but Trump — under Trump, those sanctions became far, far worse.

And, you know, that's really the story we were trying to tell with The War on Cuba. And I feel it's important to point out that this is a project — what's really unique about Belly of the Beast — and I'm very proud of being a part of it — is that it is a collaboration between U.S. journalists and filmmakers and Cuban journalists and filmmakers. Most of the people in Belly of the Beast are young Cuban journalists and filmmakers. They're telling stories about U.S. intervention in Cuba for a young audience in the United States. And we feel that's really important because people in the United States are at the forefront of pushing for change in policy in the U.S., but they don't always get information about the impact of U.S. policy in other parts of the world, such as Cuba, not only how that policy is affecting Cubans, but also how that policy affects people in the U.S. And you cited an example earlier. Cuba produces life-saving drugs that cannot be obtained in the United States because of the U.S. embargo.

AMY GOODMAN: Let me go back to Dr. Rolando Pérez Rodríguez. What plans does Cuba have for your vaccines, like Soberana? How do you plan to use it? And as with doctors, do you plan to export this vaccine? And how many people have participated in trials in Cuba?

DR. ROLANDO PÉREZ RODRÍGUEZ: OK, you know, we are expecting to get the result of the first three clinical trials by June. So, if we have ready the clinical data for the efficacy of these vaccines, we should get an authorization for emergency use from the Cuban regulatory agency. And then we can start a massive immunization program in our country.

But, in parallel, you know, with these first three clinical trials, that involve more than 80,000 people — because Soberana candidate vaccine, or vaccine candidate, has a clinical trial that should include more than 44,000 people, and the other vaccine, candidate vaccine, Abdala, has a clinical trial that should include 48,000 volunteers. But in parallel to these first three clinical trials, we are also making clinical histories of population scale in risk groups, population groups, for example, the healthcare workers, all people that are facing the disease directly. And then, in this personnel — medical doctors, nurses and employees — we are also now making a clinical history. All this data from Phase 3 and the clinical data in this population, a clinical history, that is like real work, because in that kind of history, you will not only the efficacy, but also how effective will be the vaccine in somehow stop the viral transmission, not just preventing the disease. We should have an update up by June to have this emergency use authorization from the Cuban regulatory agency.

AMY GOODMAN: I want to go to the U.S. — I want to go to the U.S. administration approach to Cuba. During his campaign, President Biden promised to lift current restrictions on remittances and travel to Cuba. But it remains unclear if he's going to pursue resetting relationships with the island. Last month, White House spokesperson Jen Psaki said a shift in U.S. policy on Cuba is not a priority for Biden, adding his administration is reviewing Trump's designation of Cuba as a state sponsor of terrorism. This is Biden speaking to a crowd in Broward County, Florida, just days before the 2020 presidential election.

JOE BIDEN: We have to vote for a new Cuba policy, as well. This administration's approach isn't working. Cuba is no closer to freedom and democracy today than it was four years ago. In fact, there are more political prisoners, and secret police are as brutal as ever. And Russia once again is a major presence in Havana.

AMY GOODMAN: So, that was Biden right before the election. Of course, during the Obama-Biden years, they were normalizing relations with Cuba. Reed Brody [sic], we're going to end with you — Reed Lindsay, we're going to end with you. If you can talk about what the effect of these U.S. sanctions has been on Cuba, and what it would mean if those sanctions were lifted?

REED LINDSAY: As you mentioned, Cuba is going through an unbelievable economic crisis. And the sanctions have been absolutely devastating, and they've taken on every part of the Cuban economy. They've blocked oil shipments from Venezuela. There was an energy crisis in Cuba. They've blocked remittances. If you wanted to send me some money in Cuba, you wouldn't be able to do so. You no longer can send money via Western Union. They've basically stopped all investment. They've called Cuba a state sponsor of terror. They've stopped all U.S. tourism. Even if there wasn't COVID, there would be no U.S. tourists coming here.

And basically, Biden, although he said that he was going to implement a new Cuban policy, has not shown that he will. And just yesterday, Juan Gonzalez, who is the — basically, for the National Security Council that runs point on Latin American policy, told CNN, quote, "Biden is not Obama in Cuba policy." And he said that Biden would — that the administration would not invest the political capital necessary to change policy towards Cuba. The Biden administration is being pressured by powerful Cuban Americans. Two Cuban Americans are the chairs of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and the chair of the House Foreign Affairs Committee. They're getting a lot of pressure, and they're just not interested in changing policy. At least so far, they've shown they're not. So, so far, it's status quo as far as policy towards Cuba.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, I want to thank you both for being with us, Reed Lindsay, journalist and founder of Belly of the Beast, independent media organization that covers Cuba and U.S.-Cuba relations, also the director of The War on Cuba series, which is executive produced by Danny Glover and Oliver Stone; and Dr. Rolando Pérez Rodríguez, the director of science and innovation at BioCubaFarma. He's also the founder of Cuba's Molecular Immunology Center, a member of the Cuban Academy of Science.


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'I felt the need to call the police on the police': Witnesses describe seeing George Floyd’s murder

On the second day of the murder trial of former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin, jurors heard chilling testimony from eyewitnesses who watched Chauvin kill George Floyd by kneeling on his neck for over nine months.


This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: The trial of former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin is entering its third day. Chauvin faces murder and manslaughter charges for killing George Floyd last May by kneeling on his neck for nine minutes and 29 seconds.

On Tuesday, jurors heard chilling testimony from eyewitnesses, including Darnella Frazier, who was just 17 years old when she used her cellphone to film the killing of Floyd. Her image was not broadcast on the court television feed because she was a minor at the time of his death.

JERRY BLACKWELL: When you walked past the squad car there, did you see anything happening there on the ground as you were walking towards Cup Foods with your cousin?
DARNELLA FRAZIER: Yes. I see a man on the ground, and I see a cop kneeling down on him.
JERRY BLACKWELL: So, tell the jury what you observed, what you heard, when you stopped to look at what was happening there at the scene.
DARNELLA FRAZIER: I heard George Floyd saying, "I can't breathe. Please, get off of me. I can't breathe." He cried for his mom. He was in pain. It seemed like he knew. It seemed like he knew it was over for him. He was terrified. He was suffering. This was a cry for help. …
JERRY BLACKWELL: Now, Mr. Nelson asked you a few questions about your video going viral and how that's changed your life. Remember that, at the end?
DARNELLA FRAZIER: Yes.
JERRY BLACKWELL: Would you tell the ladies and gentlemen how your viewing, experiencing what happened to George Floyd has affected your life?
DARNELLA FRAZIER: When I look at George Floyd, I look at — I look at my dad, I look at my brothers, I look at my cousins, my uncles, because they are all Black. I have a Black father. I have a Black brother. I have Black friends. And I look at that, and I look at how that could have been one of them.
It's been nights I stayed up apologizing and apologizing to George Floyd for not doing more and not physically interacting and not saving his life. But it's like, it's not what I should have done. It's what he [Chauvin] should have done.

AMY GOODMAN: Now 18-year-old Darnella Frazier, testifying at the trial of Derek Chauvin, who she says should have saved George Floyd's life.

The mixed martial artist Donald Williams, who also witnessed Floyd's death, told prosecutor Matthew Frank he called 911 after seeing Chauvin put Floyd in what Williams had earlier called a "blood choke."

MATTHEW FRANK: At some point, did you make a 911 call?
DONALD WILLIAMS: That is correct. I did call the police on the police.
MATTHEW FRANK: All right. And why did you do that?
DONALD WILLIAMS: Because I believe I witnessed a murder.
MATTHEW FRANK: And so you felt the need to call the police?
DONALD WILLIAMS: Yeah, I felt the need to call the police on the police.

AMY GOODMAN: Lawyers for officer Derek Chauvin attempted to counter the moving accounts by portraying the eyewitnesses to George Floyd's death as being part of an angry mob, but another one of the eyewitnesses was an off-duty firefighter and EMT. Genevieve Hansen told prosecutor [Matthew] Frank she urged the police officers to check George Floyd's pulse as he lay motionless on the ground.

GENEVIEVE HANSEN: I identified myself right away, because I noticed that he needed medical attention. It didn't take me long to realize that he was — had an altered level of consciousness. And in our training, that is the first time that somebody needs medical attention. So, my attention moved from Mr. Floyd to how can I gain access to this patient and give him medical attention or direct the officers. And I didn't pay much attention to George Floyd after that. …
MATTHEW FRANK: In terms of, you know, his face, when you're first there, or even the rest of him, what is it that you saw that made you concerned about his medical needs?
GENEVIEVE HANSEN: I was really concerned about — I thought his face looked puffy and swollen, which would happen if you are putting a grown man's weight on someone's neck. I noticed some fluid coming from what looked like George Floyd's body. And in a lot of cases, we see a patient release their bladder when they die. I can't tell you exactly where the fluid was coming from, but that's where my mind went. He wasn't moving. …
MATTHEW FRANK: What's the point of doing chest compressions?
GENEVIEVE HANSEN: Pumping — pumping the blood for somebody that's not doing that themselves, trying to get a pulse back.
MATTHEW FRANK: And were you able to do that, any of those steps?
GENEVIEVE HANSEN: No, sir.
MATTHEW FRANK: Why weren't you able to do any of that?
GENEVIEVE HANSEN: Because the officers didn't let me into the scene. I also offered — in my memory, I offered to kind of walk them through it, or told them, "If he doesn't have a pulse, you need to start compressions." And that wasn't done, either.
MATTHEW FRANK: Is this — are these things that you wanted to do?
GENEVIEVE HANSEN: It would have — it's what I would have done for anybody.
MATTHEW FRANK: When you couldn't do that, how did that make you feel?
GENEVIEVE HANSEN: Totally distressed.
MATTHEW FRANK: Were you frustrated?
GENEVIEVE HANSEN: Yes.
MATTHEW FRANK: Ms. Hansen, you know, as I told you, we can take our time, so feel free to just take a minute to — if you need a drink of water, go ahead.
GENEVIEVE HANSEN: OK. …
MATTHEW FRANK: How were you doing that, trying to get the officers to focus on you and get help?
GENEVIEVE HANSEN: I think, in my memory, I tried different tactics of calm and reasoning. I tried to be assertive. I pled and was desperate.

AMY GOODMAN: Minneapolis firefighter and EMT Genevieve Hansen broke down in tears as she recalled seeing George Floyd die and being prevented from helping him. Visit democracynow.org to see all of our coverage on the police killing of George Floyd.

'Crisis of capitalism': How US policies fuel migration and instability

We speak with Salvadoran American journalist Roberto Lovato about how decades of U.S. military intervention in Central America have contributed to the ongoing humanitarian crisis at the border. Some 18,000 unaccompanied migrant children are now in U.S. custody, according to the latest figures, and more than 5,700 are in Customs and Border Protection facilities, which are not equipped to care for children. This comes as a record number of asylum seekers are arriving at the southern border, fleeing extreme poverty, violence and climate change in their home countries. "You have the ongoing epidemic of U.S. policy and the crisis, that is not of migration as much as it's the crisis of capitalism, backed by the kind of militarism and militarized policing that you see not just in the United States, but in Mexico, Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, on and on," Lovato says. "The border is the ultimate machete of memory. It cuts up our memory so that we forget 30 years of genocide, mass murder, U.S.-sponsored militarism and policing, failed economic policies."

Transcript
This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The Quarantine Report. I'm Amy Goodman, with Juan González.

In California, over 60 unaccompanied migrant children being held in the San Diego Convention Center have tested positive for COVID-19. The convention center is currently holding over 700 children, according to local media.

Meanwhile, The Wall Street Journal is reporting Border Patrol facilities across the Texas-Mexico border are so overcrowded that border agents recently started holding hundreds of refugees under a bridge near McAllen, where they're forced to sleep on the dirt. Border agents have also been dropping off hundreds of them at bus stations and even hotels.

This comes as a record number of asylum seekers are arriving at the southern border, fleeing extreme poverty, violence and climate change in their home countries. Almost 18,000 unaccompanied migrant children are now in U.S. custody. Some 5,800 are in Customs and Border Protection facilities, which are more like jails, not equipped to care for children.

Tomorrow, the White House will be hosting a bipartisan congressional briefing on the border, with Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas and Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra in attendance. During President Biden's first news conference last week, he faced a number of questions about how his administration is handling the growing number of unaccompanied kids arriving at the southern border. He said the majority of asylum seekers are still, though, being turned away.

PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: If you take a look at the number of people who are coming, the vast majority, the overwhelming majority of people coming to the border and crossing, are being sent back — are being sent back.

AMY GOODMAN: And a warning to our audience: This includes a graphic depiction of police violence. This coming as protests have erupted in Mexico over the police killing of Victoria Salazar, a 36-year-old Salvadoran woman and mother of two who had been living in Mexico with a humanitarian visa. Four police officers from the coastal city of Tulúm have been charged with femicide, after an autopsy concluded that her neck had been broken while in custody. Videos published by Mexican media show one of the four officers who arrested Salazar kneeling on her back, pinning her against the pavement as she cries out. She lays on the pavement face down, handcuffed, unconscious, while three other cops looked on, before they eventually pick her up motionless, her body, and put her in the back of a police car before driving away. This is Salazar's mother, Rosibel Arriaza, speaking from El Salvador.

ROSIBEL ARRIAZA: [translated] I feel indignation. I feel so powerless and angry. … Justice for my daughter.

AMY GOODMAN: Victoria Salazar had reportedly lived in Mexico since at least 2018, when she was granted refugee status.

Well, to look at how decades of U.S. intervention in Central America has contributed to this humanitarian crisis, we're joined in San Antonio, Texas, by the award-winning Salvadoran American journalist Roberto Lovato, author of Unforgetting: A Memoir of Family, Migration, Gangs, and Revolution in the Americas, in which he recounts his own family's migration from El Salvador to the United States.

We welcome you, Roberto, to Democracy Now!

ROBERTO LOVATO: Thank you.

AMY GOODMAN: Talk about what we are seeing on the border — that's what you're investigating down on the border between Texas and Mexico — the horrendous story of Victoria Salazar, and what this is emblematic of.

ROBERTO LOVATO: What Victoria — first of all, I'm happy to be with you again, Amy. It's been so many decades I've been on your show talking about some form of crisis in El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and in the Central American region. We've been here before. It's just there's different actors, different conditions — for example, like climate change.

And so, when you're looking at the murder of Victoria Salazar at the hands of Mexican police, who asphyxiated her, not unlike the way George Floyd was asphyxiated, when you hear the mother say "indignación," the indignity of the killing of this mother of two, you have a symbol, along with the cages that — you know, just in Donna, Texas, here in Texas, you have Biden making a major change in migration policy, which is going from iron cages to plexiglass cages, that were discovered. And so, between the plexiglass cages, which are expecting you to just not see them as cages, and the murder of Victoria Salazar, you have the ongoing epidemic of U.S. policy and the crisis, that is not of migration as much as it's the crisis of capitalism, backed by the kind of militarism and militarized policing that you see not just in the United States, but in Mexico, Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, on and on.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Roberto, I wanted to ask you — with this latest incident of the death of Victoria Salazar, there was — it must be said, to the credit of Mexico, that the officers were immediately arrested, obviously because the video went viral, unlike what happened with George Floyd, that it took weeks and weeks before there were even indictments of the officers. And President López Obrador did immediately condemn as brutality what he saw of this video. But can you talk about this contradiction of a leftist leader in Mexico, supposedly, his government and his police participating in this constant crackdown on migrants coming from Central America, basically at the behest of either the Trump administration or now the Biden administration?

ROBERTO LOVATO: Yeah, I would credit López Obrador very little for his announcements, because there's been plenty of other Central Americans murdered, many other mothers, children murdered, by Mexican police and military forces, and persecuted and hunted down like dogs. So, as a former participant in the war in El Salvador, as a leftist, I'm not sure I would even apply that to López Obrador at this point.

That said, you also have to look at the geopolitics behind Victoria Salazar's death that are happening right now. Just yesterday, in The Washington Post, you can read about a negotiation that the Biden administration and the López Obrador administration had, which was Biden giving the Mexican government something like 1.5 million doses of coronavirus vaccine in exchange, basically, for harder enforcement than what we're already seeing, as if the murder of Victoria Salazar doesn't tell us that things are going wrong in Mexico, as well. So, there's a big geopolitical game being played here.

And the way the debate is being shaped, we're kind of put the position, as an audience, to see just, you know: Are we going to be like Trump or not like Trump? Are we good Democrat, bad Republican? When, in fact, it's a deeper history of U.S. policy that's founded on a foundation of cruelty, devalued life and amnesia. As I say in my book Unforgetting, the border is the ultimate machete of memory. It cuts up our memory so that we forget 30 years of genocide, mass murder, U.S.-sponsored militarism and policing, failed economic policies, neoliberal policies backed by the IMF, the World Bank. I mean, we've been here before, Juan and Amy. I mean, these are all familiar terms. The new animal and the new beast in the room is climate change. That is intensifying things. And we're not even talking about people as climate refugees, which is what we should be doing.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And in terms of this issue of climate refugees, could you remind folks, who tend to forget even what happened five or 10 years ago or this past summer, the impact of climate change on Central America?

ROBERTO LOVATO: I mean, you're talking, when you — climate and other scientists talk about Central America as a "Dry Corridor." There's the corridor from Mexico all the way to Panama, being the driest, rapidly drying region in the Americas, a region that's been characterized by massive flooding, drying up of lakes, so that the people that are migrating, some are fishermen or fisherwomen who can no longer fish, or crop cycles that are destroyed by drought, so you have people that lived off the land now having to leave their land to go to the cities in their countries, not finding work and then coming north.

Or, you know, look at the fact that something like 54 to 67% of the populations in these countries, depending on the country, are living in the Dry Corridor. You know, you have in Guatemala half of the whole country is in the Dry Corridor. El Salvador surface water, 90% of it is undrinkable, of the surface water. And Honduras just survived Hurricanes Eta and Iota. So, among the people you see on your television screens, in these rather absurd news reports that are without context, are people that are migrant refugees and refugees of failed U.S. economic policies of decades, and the militarism and militarized policing that backs it up, as we saw in the case of Victoria Salazar.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And what is your take so far on the appointments of the Biden administration for people to handle Central America or Latin America policy?

ROBERTO LOVATO: For me, they're actually predictable. OK? I mean, you can look on my Twitter feed, @robvato, and you'll see that I predicted in January that the Biden administration would introduce plexiglass cages. Their logic really becomes predictable after the 30 years I've been at this and that I talk about in Unforgetting.

And, you know, so, when — I was expecting precisely that they would have this kind of intersectional empire approach, where now, hey, let's celebrate that a Cuban American is heading up the most militarized bureaucracy of the federal government, that surveils, persecutes, hunts down and kills migrants and others, or celebrate that Kamala Harris is now going to go into Central America to push policies, the same failed policies that we saw with the Bush administration's Plan Puebla to Panama — you know, neoliberal economics, privatization, International Monetary Fund and other policies backed up by militarism, that's now disguised as "policing" and "security."

But it's still the same formula, when what's really needed is, I mean, some form of reparations, actually. These countries need to be — first of all, they need an apology, because the U.S. needs to acknowledge the failure of its model. Central America is nothing if not a mirror to the decline of the United States and the decadence of its foreign and domestic policy structures.

AMY GOODMAN: So, Roberto, you have Victoria Salazar's killing coming two months after 19 people, mostly migrants from Guatemala, who were shot to death, their remains burnt inside a truck in the northern Mexican state of Tamaulipas. At least a dozen Mexican police were arrested for possible involvement in that massacre. So, if you can talk about — and it's something you do so beautifully in your memoir —

ROBERTO LOVATO: Thank you.

AMY GOODMAN: — the policies? Because now the questions are being asked of all the officials. Tomorrow, the Biden administration is going to brief members of Congress. They are trying to say, in Spanish, in English, repeatedly, the border is closed. But does that mean the U.S. policy toward Central America is closed, is changing, is ending? I mean, when you look at what you call those decades of the U.S.-backed military repression in places like Guatemala, where over 150,000 mainly Indigenous people were killed; in El Salvador, your country, tens of thousands of Salvadorans killed, U.S.-backed military death squads and government; and in Honduras, the staging ground for the U.S. for the war against the Contras in Nicaragua. How does the U.S. government change this, turn this around?

ROBERTO LOVATO: How does it turn it around is a Nobel Prize-winning question, Amy. I'm not even going to begin to try to answer this enormously complex problem. I think you do have to, firstly, acknowledge the failure of immigration policy that's increasingly informed by the Pentagon, believe it or not, as my friend Todd Miller and others have written about, in the way that the border is being militarized, the way immigration policy is being militarized. I mean, you know, if you look at the Quadrennial Defense Reviews of the Pentagon, the quarterly reviews that they give, they've been talking about migration and climate change as national security threats since the '90s.

And so, when I see the Biden administration introducing a gentleman named Ricardo Zúñiga, who — you know, on the plus side, he was involved in normalizing relations with Cuba, but on, I would say, the minus, from the perspective of the continent, he was involved in the destabilization of all these governments in Latin America as a member of the National Security Council under Obama.

And so, you know, it's plexiglass cages. It's, "Hey, we have people of color now heading up imperial policy." Hey, you know, I've been going across 30 years of mass gravesites, as you know, Amy, and watching as forensics experts reconstitute the bones of memory. And I think, really, we need a recognition of the absolute and unadulterated failure of U.S. policy, which is actually not even a failure. It's designed to do this. And so, the U.S. needs to just kind of — to start solving this, needs to stop interventionist policies and economics that bring about privatization of water. Like, something like —

AMY GOODMAN: Five seconds.

ROBERTO LOVATO: — something like 85% of the crises in Central America are based in water.

AMY GOODMAN: Roberto Lovato, we're going to have to leave it there, but we will continue this discussion, award-winning Salvadoran American journalist. I'm Amy Goodman, with Juan González.


1 in 5 Capitol insurrectionists tied to US military — soldiers are 'targets' for extremist recruitment

Nearly one in five people facing charges related to the January 6 insurrection at the Capitol had some connection to the military, including at least two active-duty troops, prompting Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin to order a 60-day stand-down across the services to address extremism. Ahead of the first deadline on April 6, the House Armed Services Committee held a hearing Wednesday on extremism in the U.S. military. We speak with one of the experts who testified. "People who are connected with the military are prime targets for extremists," says Lecia Brooks, chief of staff at the Southern Poverty Law Center. Despite the decades of inaction, she says, "the conversation is moving forward" in Washington, as lawmakers are finally speaking openly about white supremacy and white nationalism.

Transcript
This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The Quarantine Report. I'm Amy Goodman, with Nermeen Shaikh.

The Armed Services Committee of the House held a hearing Wednesday on extremism in the U.S. military, to look at how nearly one in five people who are facing charges related to the deadly January 6th insurrection at the Capitol had served or are serving in the military, including at least two active-duty troops. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin in January ordered a 60-day stand-down across the force to address extremism. The first deadline is coming up on April 6th.

But Republicans on the committee used their time to cast doubt on the need for the hearing. This is Texas Congressman Pat Fallon.

REP. PAT FALLON: Let's look at the data we do have. Our office reached out to all four branches of the service and asked one simple question: How many members of your branch were separated last year due to extremist activities? The Marine Corps gave us the data: Out of 222,000 current and active-duty reservists and active-duty marines, a total of four were separated last year for extremist activity, leaving us, once again, with an infinitesimally tiny figure of one out of 55,475. This isn't a hearing about the readiness of our Armed Forces; it's nothing more, unfortunately, than political theater.

AMY GOODMAN: That's Republican Congressmember Fallon. He drew this response from the committee chair, Adam Smith.

REP. ADAM SMITH: Well, I'll just point out a couple of simple little math issues. Twenty percent of the people that have been arrested from the Capitol Hill riots had a history of serving in the military, one way or the other. To then say that, "Well, those are the only people in the military that could possibly be involved in extremism," is simply logically absurd. And I'm sure the gentleman would recognize that. We don't know for sure how large the problem is. That's why we're having the hearing.

AMY GOODMAN: One of the experts asked to testify at Wednesday's hearing was Lecia Brooks, chief of staff at the Southern Poverty Law Center, who said the military has long failed to adequately address far-right extremism in the ranks.

LECIA BROOKS: Let me begin with two distinct points. First, the vast majority of those who serve in our Armed Forces have no connection to white supremacy or extremism, and strive always to uphold the best traditions of our nation's democratic ideals. Second, the military has a growing problem with white supremacy and extremism, because our country does. The white nationalist movement in the United States is surging and presents a serious danger to our country and its cherished institutions, threatening the morale and good order of those serving in our Armed Forces.

AMY GOODMAN: That's Lecia Brooks, chief of staff of the Southern Poverty Law Center, testifying at yesterday's Armed Services Committee hearing on extremism in the Armed Forces. She joins us now for more.

Welcome to Democracy Now!, Lecia. Can you talk about this critical issue? I mean, one in five of those charged have served or are serving in the military, not to mention the police and in those intelligence, this part of the January 6th insurrection. The significance of this, an issue you've been covering for years?

LECIA BROOKS: That is correct. The Southern Poverty Law Center has really been looking at this issue for decades, dating back to 1986, when we first wrote Secretary Weinberger. And it's important to note that people who are connected with the military are prime targets for extremists. They have leadership skills that are valuable. They have intelligence that is valuable. They are actively recruited prior to joining the military. They're recruited while they're in the military. And we take great risk in not looking at their connections to extremism as they separate from the military.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: And, Lecia, could you lay out the recommendations that you presented to Congress yesterday?

LECIA BROOKS: Yes. Thank you. And we just really want to commend Chairman Smith for holding the hearings. And as we understand it, they've never held a full hearing ever on this topic. And as was brought up a lot yesterday, there's a lack of data. And as we know, data drives policy. There are inconsistent — inconsistent policies across our military forces. We're calling for data collection, additional training and — I'm sorry — and support services in terms of building resilience for those that separate and are reentering civilian life.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: Lecia, I'd like to turn to the first Black secretary of defense, Lloyd Austin, speaking to 60 Minutes earlier this month during an interview about extremism in the ranks.

DEFENSE SECRETARY LLOYD AUSTIN: There's probably not a job that I had, since I was a lieutenant colonel, where some people didn't question whether or not I was qualified to take that job. It's the world I live in, and I'm sure that the other officers that you talk to would probably say the same thing. There's not a day in my life, David, when I didn't wake up and think about the fact that I was a Black man.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: So, Lecia, your response to that, the significance of Austin being in this position, and also the steps that he's taken so far to address the question of hate and extremism in the military?

LECIA BROOKS: Nermeen, we're very encouraged by Secretary Austin's ascension to the head of the Department of Defense, one, because — not simply because he's an African American, and as he mentioned in his own words, he has faced racial discrimination for his entire life. It's also important to note that he experienced firsthand white supremacists in the military. So he knows that it exists and that it has existed for some time.

That 60 Minutes broadcast was so, so difficult to hear. Not only did we hear from Secretary Austin, but we also heard from the head of the Air Force, who talked about similar experiences with racial discrimination. And we know that, based on Military Times surveys, they survey active-duty servicemembers, and each year, for the last three years, it goes up, where servicemembers report that they've seen and witnessed white nationalists or white supremacy on these and within the ranks.

So, the members yesterday who questioned the data, who questioned the prevalence of white supremacy or extremism — the Southern Poverty Law Center was certainly brought to talk about our expertise with respect to white nationalist infiltration. There is a problem with extremism, and we need to do a better job in terms of regulations enforcement across all branches of the military.

AMY GOODMAN: I want to go back to yesterday's hearing. Let's go to a question to you about Confederate symbols from New Jersey Democratic Congressman Donald Norcross.

REP. DONALD NORCROSS: You speak about removing symbols across the military, in particular the Confederate flag. Why is that important? Give us a historical perspective. Here we are in 2021. Why that's a problem?
LECIA BROOKS: As you know, the Confederacy stood against the Union. And, in addition, the Confederacy was formed to protect and prolong the inhumane institution of chattel slavery in the United States. We believe that it is wrong for a military that embraces all people to hold up as heroes those who fought to continue the enslavement of African Americans.

AMY GOODMAN: So, that's our guest, Lecia Brooks of the Southern Poverty Law Center. There isn't a question: The military pours a lot into routing out and going after, if there were foreign infiltrators in the U.S. military, you know, related to al-Qaeda or whatever. Do you see anything like that kind of — those resources going in to rout out white supremacists — clearly, in all the reports of the Pentagon and intelligence, the number one domestic terror threat in this country?

LECIA BROOKS: That's true. No, not at all. Not at all. I mean, we are just getting at the place, Amy, where we can talk about white supremacy and white nationalism. The Southern Poverty Law Center, we presented last year to a subcommittee of the Armed Services, and they could barely say the word "white supremacy" or "white nationalism." So, at least we are thankful that the conversation is moving forward.

And again, I think it's extremely important that we have Secretary Austin, who recognizes that it exists. So, we are hopeful. And we're hopeful in terms of this president and the secretary of defense. I was more hopeful, prior to yesterday's testimony, about the committee. But they're — again, giving credit to Chairman Smith, I do believe that they will do all that they can to ensure that we engage in robust data collection, that regulations are uniform across all branches of service, that the regulations pertaining to active participation in these extremist groups is taken seriously.

AMY GOODMAN: Did you see what happened on January 6th as an attempt of white supremacists to take over the Capitol?

LECIA BROOKS: Oh my goodness, yes. The Southern Poverty Law Center, as you know, tracks and monitors hate and extremist groups. What we saw on January 6th was a coalescing of not only traditional bad actors or white supremacist groups, but also conspiracy theorists. So, when we talk about extremists, we're talking about groups that believe that their in-group success is dependent upon taking hostile action against an out-group. So what we're seeing is a coming together of people who adopt a true white supremacist ideology along with others who are feeling aggrieved and feeling — advance the false narrative that there's white displacement across the country. So, we could easily say that there are 50 million people who have been exposed to extremist ideology and have bought into a narrative of false information. And that is represented in the larger society, so of course it's represented within the military.

AMY GOODMAN: Lecia Brooks, we want to thank you for being with us, chief of staff for the Southern Poverty Law Center, expert on extremism in the military.

When we come back, we get an update on a massive fire at a Rohingya refugee camp in Cox's Bazar, Bangladesh. And then we'll look at Yemen. Stay with us.


'Jim Crow in new clothes': In first Senate speech, Raphael Warnock slams GOP assault on voting rights



This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The Quarantine Report. I'm Amy Goodman.

Senate Democrats have introduced sweeping voting rights legislation passed by the House of Representatives earlier this month. The For the People Act aims to improve voter registration and access to the polls, ends partisan and racial gerrymandering, forces the disclosure of dark money donors, increases public funding for candidates and imposes strict ethical and reporting standards on members of Congress and the U.S. Supreme Court. Republicans have signaled they'll use the filibuster to defeat the bill.

This comes as voting rights are under attack in courthouses and statehouses across the country. Republican state lawmakers have introduced over 250 bills in 43 states to limit voter access. Meanwhile, the Supreme Court appears poised to uphold controversial voting limits in Arizona, in a case that would further gut the Voting Rights Act.

We turn now to newly elected Georgia Democratic Senator Raphael Warnock's first Senate speech. He's the first Black senator to represent Georgia and the first Black Democrat to be elected to the Senate in the South. Reverend Warnock is also a pastor of the Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, which was the spiritual home of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Now Senator Warnock focused on voting rights in his maiden floor speech, but he began by condemning the deadly shootings at the three spas in the Atlanta region on Tuesday that left eight people dead, including seven women, six of whom were of Asian descent.

SEN. RAPHAEL WARNOCK: Mr President, before I begin my formal remarks, I want to pause to condemn the hatred and violence that took eight precious lives last night in metropolitan Atlanta. I grieve with Georgians, with Americans, with people of love all across the world. This unspeakable violence, visited largely upon the Asian community, is one that causes all of us to recommit ourselves to the way of peace, an active peace that prevents these kinds of tragedies from happening in the first place. We pray for these families.
Mr President, I rise here today as a proud American and as one of the newest members of the Senate, in awe of the journey that has brought me to these hallowed halls, and with an abiding sense of reverence and gratitude for the faith and sacrifices of ancestors who paved the way.
I am a proud son of the great state of Georgia, born and raised in Savannah, a coastal city known for its cobblestone streets and verdant town squares. Towering oak trees, centuries old and covered in gray Spanish moss, stretched from one side of the street to the other, bend and beckon the lover of history and horticulture to this city by the sea. I was educated at Morehouse College, and I still serve in the pulpit of the Ebenezer Baptist Church, both in Atlanta, the cradle of the civil rights movement. And so, like those oak trees in Savannah, my roots go down deep, and they stretch wide, in the soil of Waycross, Georgia, and Burke County and Screven County. In a word, I am Georgia, a living example and embodiment of its history and its hope, of its pain and promise, the brutality and possibility.
Mr President, at the time of my birth, Georgia's two senators were Richard B. Russell and Herman E. Talmadge, both arch-segregationists and unabashed adversaries of the civil rights movement. After the Supreme Court's landmark Brown v. Board ruling outlawing school segregation, Talmadge warned that blood will run in the streets of Atlanta. Senator Talmadge's father, Eugene Talmadge, former governor of our state, had famously declared, "The South loves the Negro in his place, but his place is at the back door." When once asked how he and his supporters might keep Black people away from the polls, he picked up a scrap of paper and wrote a single word on it: "pistols."
Yet, there is something in the American covenant — in its charter documents and its Jeffersonian ideals — that bends toward freedom. And led by a preacher and a patriot named King, Americans of all races stood up. History vindicated the movement that sought to bring us closer to our ideals, to lengthen and strengthen the cords of our democracy. And I now hold the seat, the Senate seat, where Herman E. Talmadge sat.
And that's why I love America. I love America because we always have a path to make it better, to build a more perfect union. It is a place where a kid like me who grew up in public housing, the first college graduate in my family, can now stand as a United States senator. I had an older father. He was born in 1917. Serving in the Army during World War II, he was once asked to give up his seat to a young teenager while wearing his soldier's uniform, they said, "making the world safe for democracy." But he was never bitter. And by the time I came along, he had already seen the arc of change in our country. And he maintained his faith in God and in his family and in the American promise, and he passed that faith on to his children.
My mother grew up in Waycross, Georgia. You know where that is? It's way 'cross Georgia. And like a lot of Black teenagers in the 1950s, she spent her summers picking somebody else's tobacco and somebody else's cotton. But because this is America, the 82-year-old hands that used to pick somebody else's cotton went to the polls in January and picked her youngest son to be a United States senator.
Ours is a land where possibility is born of democracy — a vote, a voice, a chance to help determine the direction of the country and one's own destiny within it, possibility born of democracy. That's why this past November and January, my mom and other citizens of Georgia grabbed hold of that possibility and turned out in record numbers: 5 million in November, 4.4 million in January — far more than ever in our state's history. Turnout for a typical runoff doubled. And the people of Georgia sent their first African American senator and first Jewish senator, my brother Jon Ossoff, to these hallowed halls.
But then, what happened? Some politicians did not approve of the choice made by the majority of voters in a hard-fought election in which each side got the chance to make its case to the voters. And rather than adjusting their agenda, rather than changing their message, they are busy trying to change the rules. We are witnessing right now a massive and unabashed assault on voting rights unlike anything we've ever seen since the Jim Crow era. This is Jim Crow in new clothes.
Since the January election, some 250 voter suppression bills have been introduced by state legislatures all across the country, from Georgia to Arizona, from New Hampshire to Florida, using the big lie of voter fraud as a pretext for voter suppression, the same big lie that led to a violent insurrection on this very Capitol — the day after my election. Within 24 hours, we elected Georgia's first African American and Jewish senator, and, hours later, the Capitol was assaulted. We see in just a few precious hours the tension very much alive in the soul of America. And the question before all of us at every moment is: What will we do to push us in the right direction?
And so, politicians, driven by that big lie, aim to severely limit — and, in some cases, eliminate — automatic and same-day voter registration, mail-in and absentee voting, and early voting and weekend voting. They want to make it easier to purge voters from the voting roll altogether. And as a voting rights activist, I have seen up close just how draconian these measures can be. I hail from a state that purged 200,000 voters from the roll one Saturday night, in the middle of the night. We know what's happening here: Some people don't want some people to vote.
I was honored on a few occasions to stand with our hero and my parishioner, John Lewis. I was his pastor, but I'm clear he was my mentor. On more than one occasion, we boarded buses together after Sunday church services as part of our Souls to the Polls program, encouraging the Ebenezer church family and communities of faith to participate in the democratic process. Now, just a few months after Congressman Lewis's death, there are those in the Georgia Legislature, some who even dare to praise his name, that are now trying to get rid of Sunday Souls to the Polls, making it a crime for people who pray together to get on a bus together in order to vote together. I think that's wrong. Matter of fact, I think that a vote is a kind of prayer for the kind of world we desire for ourselves and for our children. And our prayers are stronger when we pray together.
To be sure, we have seen these kinds of voter suppression tactics before. They are a part of a long and shameful history in Georgia and throughout our nation. But, refusing to be denied, Georgia citizens and citizens across our country braved the heat and the cold and the rain, some standing in line for five hours, six hours, 10 hours, just to exercise their constitutional right to vote — young people, old people, sick people, working people, already underpaid, forced to lose wages, to pay a kind of poll tax while standing in line to vote.
And how did some politicians respond? Well, they are trying to make it a crime to give people water and a snack as they wait in lines that are obviously being made longer by their draconian actions. Think about that. Think about that. They are the ones making the lines longer, through these draconian actions. And then they want to make it a crime to bring grandma some water while she's waiting in a line that they're making longer. Make no mistake: This is democracy in reverse. Rather than voters being able to pick the politicians, the politicians are trying to cherry-pick their voters. I say this cannot stand.
And so I rise, Mr President, because that sacred and noble idea — one person, one vote — is being threatened right now. Politicians in my home state and all across America, in their craven lust for power, have launched a full-fledged assault on voting rights. They are focused on winning at any cost, even the cost of the democracy itself. And I submit that it is the job of each citizen to stand up for the voting rights of every citizen. And it is the job of this body to do all that it can to defend the viability of our democracy.
That's why I am a proud co-sponsor of the For the People Act, which we introduced today. The For the People Act is a major step in the march toward our democratic ideals, making it easier, not harder, for eligible Americans to vote by instituting commonsense, pro-democracy reforms, like establishing national automatic voter registration for every eligible citizen and allowing all Americans to register to vote online and on Election Day; requiring states to offer at least two weeks of early voting, including weekends, in federal elections, keeping Souls to the Polls programs alive; prohibiting states from restricting a person's ability to vote absentee or by mail; and preventing states from purging the voter rolls based solely on unreliable evidence, like someone's voting history — something we've seen in Georgia and other states in recent years. And it would end the dominance of big money in our politics and ensure our public servants are there serving the public.
Amidst these voter suppression laws and tactics, including partisan and racial gerrymandering, and in a system awash in dark money and the dominance of corporatist interests and politicians who do their bidding, the voices of the American people have been increasingly drowned out and crowded out and squeezed out of their own democracy. We must pass For the People so that people might have a voice. Your vote is your voice, and your voice is your human dignity.
But not only that, we must pass the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act. You know, voting rights used to be a bipartisan issue. The last time the voting rights bill was reauthorized was 2006. George W. Bush was president, and it passed this chamber 98 to 0. But then, in 2013, the Supreme Court rejected the successful formula for supervision and preclearance contained in the 1965 Voting Rights Act. They asked Congress to fix it. That was nearly eight years ago, and the American people are still waiting. Stripped of protections, voters in states with a long history of voter discrimination and voters in many other states have been thrown to the winds.
We Americans have noisy and spirited debates about many things — and we should. That's what it means to live in a free country. But access to the ballot ought to be nonpartisan. I submit that there should be 100 votes in this chamber for policies that will make it easier for Americans to make their voices heard in our democracy. Surely, there ought to be at least 60 in this chamber who believe, as I do, that the four most powerful words uttered in a democracy are "the people have spoken," therefore we must ensure that all of the people can speak.
But if not, we must still pass voting rights. The right to vote is preservative of all other rights. It is not just another issue alongside other issues. It is foundational. It is the reason why any of us has the privilege of standing here in the first place. It is about the covenant we have with one another as an American people: E pluribus unum, "Out of many, one." It, above all else, must be protected.
And so, let's be clear. I'm not here today to spiral into the procedural argument regarding whether the filibuster, in general, has merits or has outlived its usefulness. I'm here to say that this issue is bigger than the filibuster. I stand before you saying that this issue — access to voting and preempting politicians' efforts to restrict voting — is so fundamental to our democracy that it is too important to be held hostage by a Senate rule, especially one historically used to restrict the expansion of voting rights. It is a contradiction to say we must protect minority rights in the Senate while refusing to protect minority rights in the society. Colleagues, no Senate rule should overrule the integrity of our democracy, and we must find a way to pass voting rights, whether we get rid of the filibuster or not.
And so, as I close — and nobody believes a preacher when he says, "As I close" — let me say that I — as a man of faith, I believe that democracy is the political enactment of a spiritual idea: the sacred worth of all human beings, the notion that we all have within us a spark of the divine and a right to participate in the shaping of our destiny. Reinhold Niebuhr was right: "[Humanity's] capacity for justice makes democracy possible, but [humanity's] inclination to injustice makes democracy necessary."
John Lewis understood that and was beaten on a bridge defending it. Amelia Boynton, like so many women not mentioned nearly enough, was gassed on that same bridge. A white woman named Viola Liuzzo was killed. Medgar Evers was murdered in his own driveway. Schwerner, Chaney and Goodman, two Jews and an African American standing up for that sacred idea of democracy, also paid the ultimate price. And we, in this body, would be stopped and stymied by partisan politics, short-term political gain, Senate procedure?
I say let's get this done no matter what. I urge my colleagues to pass these two bills, strengthen and lengthen the cords of our democracy, secure our credibility as the premier voice for freedom-loving people and democratic movements all over the world, and win the future for all of our children. Mr. President, I yield the floor.

AMY GOODMAN: That's Georgia's new Democratic senator, the Reverend Raphael Warnock, giving his first speech from the Senate floor. In a rare display in the Senate, the people in the room gave him a standing ovation.

When we come back, we speak to Heather McGhee, author of the new book The Sum of Us: What Racism Costs Everyone and How We Can Prosper Together. Stay with us.

[break]

AMY GOODMAN: "We'll Never Turn Back" by Mavis Staples. The 81-year-old legend just got her second dose of a coronavirus vaccine.

'Huge victory': Black farmers hail $5B in new COVID relief law to redress generations of racism

A major provision in President Joe Biden's $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief bill aims to address decades of discrimination against Black, Hispanic, Native American and Asian American farmers who have historically been excluded from government agricultural programs. The American Rescue Plan sets aside $10.4 billion for agriculture support, with about half of that amount set aside for farmers of color, and allocates extra federal funds to farmers who were "subjected to racial or ethnic prejudice because of their identity as members of a group." The U.S. Department of Agriculture has faced accusations of racism for decades, but little has been done to address the problem of discrimination in farm loans. John Boyd, a fourth-generation Black farmer and president of the National Black Farmers Association, says the new funds begin to address issues he has been fighting for 30 years. "This is a huge victory for Black farmers and farmers of color," says Boyd.

Transcript
This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The Quarantine Report. I'm Amy Goodman.

We begin today's show looking at a major provision in President Biden's $1.9 trillion COVID relief bill that aims to address decades of discrimination against Black, Hispanic, Native American and Asian American farmers, who have historically been excluded from government agricultural programs. The American Rescue Plan sets aside $10.4 billion for agriculture support and allocates about half the funds to farmers of color who were, quote, "subjected to racial or ethnic prejudice because of their identity as members of a group," unquote.

The U.S. Commission on Civil Rights confirmed, as long ago as 1965, the U.S. Department of Agriculture discriminated against Black farmers, but little was done to address the problem, and the number of Black-run farms dropped 96% in the last century. By 1999, 98% of all agricultural land was owned by white people. In 2010, Congress approved a $1.2 billion settlement for thousands of Black farmers denied USDA loans because of their race. But a 2019 study by the Government Accountability Office, based on the USDA's own data, shows farmers and ranchers of color continue to receive disproportionately smaller farm loans.

The provision in the new COVID relief package is drawn from legislation introduced by newly elected Democratic Senator Raphael Warnock of Georgia, who is Georgia's first Black senator and also the first Georgia Democrat to serve on the Agriculture Committee in three decades. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack welcomed the measure.

AGRICULTURE SECRETARY TOM VILSACK: The history of USDA, unfortunately, involved a level of discrimination against a number of minority producers — Black farmers, Native American farmers, Hispanic farmers. And there is an effort, I think, with this package to try to deal not with the specific acts of discrimination, but the cumulative effect over a period of time. When people are discriminated against, they basically get behind, and it's really hard for them ever to catch up. And the result, of course, is that we've seen a significant decline in the number of minority producers around the country. So, this is providing some debt relief for those minority producers, those socially disadvantaged producers, to impact and affect the cumulative effect of — to offset the cumulative effect of discrimination over a period of time.

AMY GOODMAN: But the effort to address the USDA's history of racism has come under fire from some Republicans, including Republican Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, who lashed out against the measure during a Fox News interview.

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM: Let me give you an example of something that really bothers me. In this bill, if you're a farmer, your loan will be forgiven, up to 120% of your loan — not 100%, but 120% of your loan — if you're socially disadvantaged, if you're African American, some other minority. But if you're a white person, if you're a white woman, no forgiveness as for reparations. What has that got to do with COVID? So, if you're in the farming business right now, this bill forgives 120% of your loan based on your race. These people in the Congress today, the House and the Senate, on the Democratic side are out-of-control liberals.

AMY GOODMAN: Senator Graham's comments prompted a stern response from House Majority Whip James Clyburn, who's also from South Carolina. He was speaking on CNN.

REP. JAMES CLYBURN: Mr. Graham is from South Carolina. He knows South Carolina's history. He knows what the state of South Carolina and this country has done to Black farmers in South Carolina. They didn't do it to white farmers. We are trying to rescue the lives and livelihoods of people. He ought to be ashamed of himself.

AMY GOODMAN: For more on the fight to end discrimination at the USDA and restore land to Black farmers, we go to Boydton, Virginia, to speak with John Boyd, fourth-generation Black farmer, founder and president of the nonprofit National Black Farmers Association.

John, welcome back to Democracy Now! It's great to have you with us. Can you start off by talking about this $5 billion and what it means? Give us the history.

JOHN BOYD: The $5 billion is historic in nature, Amy — and thank you for having me again — in what it's going to do to help Black farmers and farmers of color in this country. You know, as you know, we've been suffering. And the $5 billion calls for debt relief. So, that would give many Black farmers a jumpstart, if they can get rid of the debt at the United States Department of Agriculture. And there is $1 billion that's set aside for technical assistance and outreach and to really dig down into the core of the discrimination at the United States Department of Agriculture.

Both of these measures, I've been fighting for for over 30 years, so I don't anybody who's watching this show to think that this is some new measure or new idea or concept that happened overnight. I've been trying to fix this, this measure, for over 30 years at the United States Department of Agriculture. And, Amy, I probably spoke to you about it 10 years ago. So, we've been trying a long time. And this is a huge victory for Black farmers and farmers of color, Native Americans and Hispanics, and other socially disadvantaged farmers.

AMY GOODMAN: Can you explain how, over the last century, Black farmers lost 90% of their land?

JOHN BOYD: Yes. And at the turn of the century, we were tilling about 20 million acres of land, primarily in the Southeastern Corridor of the United States, and we were close to 1 million Black farm families strong. And for those who don't understand the history, every Black person in this country, we're one or two generations away from somebody's farm. And we survived slavery. We survived sharecropping. We survived Jim Crow. And here we are in the year 2021, and I'm talking to you about discrimination at United States Department of Agriculture. We lost this land by discrimination, from receiving discrimination at USDA.

And I was one of those recipients, where the government clearly discriminated against me. I have a 14-page letter from them admitting to the guilt in those egregious acts that I faced by this this county official. The person responsible for making farm loans spat on me and used racial epithets, referred to me and other senior statesmen in Mecklenburg County, Virginia, as "boy." He came to my farm, wanting me to sign a check over to him personally, with a loaded handgun. And I can tell you, Amy, he didn't treat white farmers that way in Mecklenburg County. He would only see Black farmers on Wednesday. All of us would be lined up in the hallway with the same date and time on it. And he was referring to these elderly Black farmers — many were deacons and preachers and leaders in the community — as "boy" and talking downward towards them. So, this is deep-rooted discrimination that's been going on in very pervasive ways for a very, very long time.

AMY GOODMAN: Can you respond to Senator Lindsey Graham?

JOHN BOYD: Yes.

AMY GOODMAN: And talk about the history of Lindsey Graham, from South Carolina, when it comes to this issue.

JOHN BOYD: Yes. Well, first of all, I've lobbied Senator Graham when he was in the House and in the Senate, and I've had meetings with him, in buttonhole meetings, trying to get him to support the Claims Remedy Act of 2010. He has over 6,000 Black farmers in his state. He knows the discrimination that I'm describing. And I've spoken to him personally about this discrimination. Amy, he never once used his megaphone to talk about or investigate the acts of discrimination that Black farmers like myself faced.

So, I'm calling for, today, on your show — I want him to apologize to the Black community, to Black farmers, and apologize to this country for his wrong stance on this. Forty-nine members voted on 10 different amendments to strip or lessen the language that was in the COVID spending bill for Black farmers. Forty-nine senators, Republican senators, voted to take that out. And Senator Lindsey Graham was one of them. He has never tried to help. He is divisive. He is wrong for this country. And that message, that concept, the message of hate, hatred and division, that he continues to preach on Fox News, isn't the American way. That's not the way to bring America back.

Here we are, for 30 years, trying to get this done. He should have took some time to say, "What can we do to help this measure, to make farming better for Blacks and other farmers in this country?" And he never once spoke about all of the money going to white farmers. Just, for example, under the Trump administration, $29 million — $29 billion, with a B, went to white farmers. What is his definition of that? All of the subsidies and programs and loans and all these incentives at USDA, for all of these decades, have went to white farmers. What is his definition of that?

So, that's what we've been talking about, clearly, for a long time: a system that has discriminated and mistreated and took and stole land from Black farmers for decades. And it went unchecked in this country. If he wanted to check something, he should have been checking about discrimination at USDA. He should have been checking about sharecropping in his historic state, South Carolina. These are things that Senator Lindsey Graham should have been doing.

AMY GOODMAN: And the significance of it being Reverend Warnock, now Senator Warnock, from Georgia, the new Democratic senator, being the one who pushed this forward and sitting on the Agriculture Committee?

JOHN BOYD: Yes. This is a historic nature, and my hat goes off to Reverend Warnock, Senator Cory Booker. For the first time in history, Amy — this is a new day in America — we have two Blacks on the Senate Ag Committee. We have the chairman in the House, Chairman Scott, also from Georgia, a chairman of the [House] Agriculture Committee.

We have now a president, President Biden, and a vice president, who wants to help rectify some of the problems that we've faced. And I spoke to the president about this last February. And he committed to me that he would help me fix the issues at the United States Department of Agriculture. So I would like to recognize President Biden for signing that bill and making sure that we stayed in there. So, my hat is off right now to this administration for doing the right thing and having the guts to stand up to people like Lindsey Graham and the other 49 senators, who simply don't want to help people, Black farmers and poor people in this country.

AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to ask you about Tom Vilsack, the new, once again, head, but also past head, of the USDA. The NAACP has noted Vilsack had lied to conceal decades of discrimination against Black farmers. The NAACP president, Derrick Johnson, responded to Biden's nomination of Vilsack to head the USDA, calling it "extremely problematic for the African American community." He cited the 2010 controversy when Vilsack served as agriculture secretary during the Obama administration and fired Shirley Sherrod from her USDA position overseeing rural development, amidst a misunderstanding over racial comments. Vilsack would later apologize. Johnson told The Washington Post, quote, "We think that an individual who unjustifiably fired Shirley Sherrod — who is a civil rights icon, a legend, who worked with John Lewis — should not be considered. … We should not go backward, we should go forward." Well, in fact, Vilsack is once again the head of the USDA. John Boyd, have you spoken to him? And what are you demanding?

JOHN BOYD: Well, two things. Yes, I have spoken to him. And one of the things that President Biden also committed to me during our one-on-one visit in South Carolina, that there would be change in leadership at USDA. So, when they announced that Secretary Vilsack was coming back to USDA, he was not my pick. And he wasn't the pick for Black farmers. He was the pick that President Biden wanted to come back. I wanted new blood and new leadership, someone who will take a much more aggressive campaign against this discrimination at the United States Department of Agriculture.

And, Amy, when I lobbied all of those years for the Claims Remedy Act of 2010, that put in place $1.25 billion for Black farmers, Secretary Vilsack was, in my opinion, too slow to act. I didn't get the help on Capitol Hill, neither in the House or the Senate. And Valerie Jarrett, from the White House, the last five or six months, got on board and began to campaign to help me pass that measure in the House and Senate. So, I didn't think he was the right person.

But I spoke to him here a couple days ago, and he congratulated me on the measure in the bill. But I also urged him to put in swift action to make sure that these payments and the debt relief and all of these measures, the outreach and technical assistance, reach Black farmers and farmers of color expeditiously, not to sit on it and try to figure out a plan of action. If we can get $1,400 in the mailbox and direct deposit into Americans, then we can disperse and relieve debts for Black and farmers of color expeditiously. And I urged him to do that.

AMY GOODMAN: And finally, you mentioned the Trump administration and Black farmers, farmers of color. How does it fit in to past presidents? How would you assess the Trump administration?

JOHN BOYD: Worst administration in history for Black farmers, since my 38 years of doing this kind of work, Amy. My visit — and I've had the opportunity to sit down with every agriculture secretary, both Republican and Democrat, in the cage at USDA. And Secretary — former Secretary Sonny Perdue, in my visit with him, was the worst conversation I ever had. He said, "Mr. Boyd, it's your farmers, i.e. Black farmers, are going to have to get large or get out of business."

And when I urged him to have more Blacks on the county committees and all of the USDA commissions, he said he didn't need people that were lazy and didn't want to work. How egregious and — for former Secretary Sonny Perdue to say that. I told him that I didn't know any Black farmers, that are still farming, that have been treated worse than dirt by USDA, that are lazy and don't want to work. Now, Amy, I work seven days a week, including holidays and Christmas, and I've been working all of my life. And that's the way many Black farmers have. The issue here is, is we haven't had access to credit the way that the white farmers have.

And for that type of position from the Trump administration, set us back a little further. And not only just in Black farming, but in race relations in this country, the Trump administration set Black people and divided this country. And former Secretary Sonny Perdue was at the core of that, taking land away from Black farmers. He didn't even have an assistant secretary for civil rights, a position that I lobbied for and campaigned for, for many years, to get into the farm bill. They didn't even fill that position. So what does that tell you about the Trump administration's commitment on civil rights and resolving complaints from Black and other socially disadvantaged farmers? Sonny Perdue gets an F from me. And I hope he heads to retirement in politics, because he really done a bad number on Blacks and other farmers of color in this country.

AMY GOODMAN: John Boyd, I want to thank you so much for being with us, fourth-generation Black farmer, founder and president of the National Black Farmers Association.

When we come back, we go to Steve Donziger, the environmental lawyer who sued Chevron for ecological devastation in the Ecuadorian Amazon. After Chevron was ordered to pay billions of dollars, Chevron went after him personally. Donziger has spent nearly 600 days under house arrest. We'll speak to him at his house. Stay with us.

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Asian American communities push back against rising hate crimes -- but say more policing is not the answer

Anti-Asian hate crimes have spiked across the U.S. over the past year, fueled in part by Donald Trump's racist rhetoric about the coronavirus. One recent study found a 150% increase in hate crimes targeting Asian Americans in 2020, even though overall hate crimes fell last year. Ron Kim, member of the New York State Assembly representing the 40th District in Queens, New York, says anti-Asian sentiment tends to flare up during times of crisis.

"There's a long history of Asian Americans in this country feeling targeted and scapegoated whenever we experience economic downturns," says Kim. We also speak with Kim Tran, an antiracist writer and organizer based in the Bay Area, who says anti-Asian violence is "diffuse," affecting people in different ethnic and cultural communities in various ways, "but there is a common sense of racial scapegoating."

Transcript:

AMY GOODMAN: It's been a devastating year for Asian Americans as hate crimes spiked across the country, fueled by Donald Trump's racist rhetoric about the coronavirus. One recent study found a 150% increase in anti-Asian American hate crimes in 2020, even though overall hate crimes fell last year.

Here in New York, police investigated 28 hate crimes in 2020 targeting Asian Americans — a ninefold increase over the previous year. On Saturday, the Asian American community, allies and elected officials rallied in New York City to call for action. This is New York Democratic Congressmember Grace Meng.

REP. GRACE MENG: We've been taught our entire life to just fit in, just be quiet, don't speak up, be invisible. If you are invisible enough, you will be seen as American. But we are here to say that we will be invisible no more.
CROWD: No more!
REP. GRACE MENG: We will speak up.
CROWD: Speak up!

AMY GOODMAN: The rally came after at least two more attacks against Asian Americans were reported in New York. Last week, a 36-year-old Asian man was stabbed while walking down the street. And 61-year-old Filipino American Noel Quintana was slashed across the face while on the subway. He also spoke at this weekend's rally.

NOEL QUINTANA: When the train stopped at Bedford, a man came and stood beside me. So, after a few minutes, he kicked my bag. And when I looked at him, I moved away from him, so that if my bag touches him or disturb him in any way, it's no longer that case. So, a few more minutes, he kick again my bag. And that's the time when I move inside the train and told him, "What's wrong with you?" And that was also the time where the train stopped on the next station and opened the door. And before he left, he moved forward toward me and slashed my face. I thought I was punched on the face, but when I saw the box cutter holding — holding on his hand and the reaction of other people in the train, I knew I was slashed. And I called for help, but nobody came for help.

AMY GOODMAN: Sixty-one-year-old Filipino American Noel Quintana, speaking at a rally Saturday.

One of New York's most popular Chinese noodle shops, Xi'an Famous Foods, has begun closing early, after two of its employees were attacked in recent months. The company's CEO, Jason Wang, spoke to NBC4 in New York.

JASON WANG: My employees were attacked, but, you know, in separate incidents. Both, I believe, are to be racially motivated hate crimes. And, you know, while keeping their identities anonymous, but at the same time shedding light to this, I'm hoping that this will paint the picture of what is actually going on.

AMY GOODMAN: We're joined now by two guests. Ron Kim is a member of the New York State Assembly representing a district that includes Flushing, Queens, which is home to more than 30,000 Chinese immigrants. And joining us from Oakland, California, is Kim Tran, an antiracist writer and organizer based in the Bay Area, currently writing a book titled The End of Allyship: A New Era of Solidarity.

We welcome you both to Democracy Now! Assemblyman Kim, let's begin with you, here in New York. Can you talk about this increase in Asian American hate crimes?

ASSEMBLYMEMBER RON KIM: Thank you, Amy, for having me on.

There's a long history of Asian Americans in this country feeling targeted and scapegoated whenever we experience economic downturns or racial injustice, from Vincent Chin, almost 40 years ago, who was murdered because workers lost their jobs to Japanese car manufacturers, took out their anger on him, to the L.A. riots, when Black and Korean communities were pitted against each other.

I think the knee-jerk reaction is to focus on punishing the crime. I get that. It's heartbreaking, and it makes people feel so angry when we see videos, Asian older adults violently attacked. The 20-year-old in me would have gone out with a bat if I witnessed such a crime. When you feel like your people violently are targeted, the immediate reaction is to respond with more violence, either direct violence or through state-sanctioned violence. This means more policing, more punitive measures. This reaction, Amy, just to be clear, but only solves the symptoms, but do not address the underlying cause of the disease.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And, Assemblyman Kim, I'm wondering your sense of the impact, for instance, over the past few years, of the remarks by former President Trump talking about the coronavirus as the "Chinese flu" and constantly raising issues of China as an adversary of the United States. I'm wondering to what degree you think these words from the top leader, or former leader, of the United States has had an impact on public consciousness.

ASSEMBLYMEMBER RON KIM: Of course it had a tremendous native impact, you know, but there — we could respond in three different ways to the current situation: We could point to Donald Trump for fueling attacks on Asians by his "Chinese virus" rhetoric, we could increase policing presence, or we could fix the underlying issues of crime and systemic racism that has pitted people of color against each other. There are plenty of politicians with the first and second reactions, but not enough with the third. I think the third reaction requires much more difficult work. It requires investing in people, ending tax breaks for the ultrarich to recirculate wealth into our marginalized communities, and holding politicians accountable so people's basic needs are met — housing, education and healthcare.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: I'd like to bring Kim Tran into the conversation, as well. If you could talk about the situation in the Bay Area and also this issue of the systemic historical nature of anti-Asian sentiment in United States? I think back, for instance, to the almost forgotten Rock Springs massacre of 1885 in Wyoming, the anti-Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882. Could you talk about some of that historical legacy that we still face?

KIM TRAN: Absolutely. So, when we see anti-Asian violence in the United States in 2020, it's the byproduct of a much longer history of anti-Asian policy and anti-Asian sentiment that stems, as you said, all the way back to 1882 with Chinese people being the first nationally barred country from entry into the United States. That being said, we can see glimpses of that same sentiment from the 1871 massacre of Chinese people here in California, all the way up until the post-9/11 Islamophobic violence in South Asian communities. So, anti-Asian violence in America is diffuse. It happens in a lot of different ethnicities and for a lot of different Asian groups. But there is a common sense of racial scapegoating.

That being said, there is phenomenal work being done by grassroots organizations and activists here in Oakland, California. So, just like Assemblyman Kim said, we need to put our communities first. We need to put resources for our communities first. And here in Oakland, what that looks like is a Chinatown accompaniment program, an Ambassador Program, where folks are accompanying our Asian elders and our Asian seniors through Chinatown safely. It's this really beautiful idea that you can turn to your neighbor and turn to someone that you know to keep you safe. We're also doing work around making sure that we can turn to someone other than police for these safety measures. So, Anti Police-Terror Project here in Oakland is launching its own mobile mental health crisis unit, so that we can really rely on each other as opposed to something like police, which can increase violence in communities of color.

AMY GOODMAN: Can you talk about the response, Kim Tran, of the violent attacks on — you have Vichar Ratanapakdee, who was well known in his San Francisco neighborhood for his hour-long walks. He had just gotten the vaccine. He was 84 years old, a Thai immigrant. And then you have the 91-year-old man who was shoved to the ground in Oakland, California's Chinatown and ultimately died. The horror of these, and how people have rallied around, both the Asian American community and the larger community?

KIM TRAN: Yeah. Thank you so much for that question, Amy, because I think whenever you see viral footage of an attack, especially when it's racially motivated, we start seeing movements happen, right? And we saw that all the way back to Rodney King. We saw it again with Alton Sterling and the Black Lives Matter movement.

And what we're seeing now is a spotlight on the precarity of being an Asian American person in America. So, when we see these really viral images of folks in California, folks in New York, who are incredibly vulnerable — and I want us to keep in mind that these attacks actually happened around a time of celebration for a lot of Asian American communities. These were around Lunar New Year. So, it was kind of a gut punch — right? — of having these videos start circulating in social media. And we started seeing things like Asian Pacific Environmental Network, APIENC out here in Oakland, California, start creating safety nets because we were seeing these attacks over and over again on Facebook, on Twitter.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Yeah, I'd like to ask Assemblyman Kim: Could you talk about — what's your sense of the response of the New York Police Department to this rash of incidents in New York City? Do you feel the department is properly equipped to be able to handle and identify these kinds of incidents?

ASSEMBLYMEMBER RON KIM: Listen, I think we all want to know that when we call 911, that police will show up and protect us. But to hand over everything, in terms of addressing the systemic reasons for the violence and hatred, to the police is not the solution. That requires much more resources and accountability from elected officials. It's easy to individualize the hatred, to point fingers at the young Black and Brown teenager who are attacking the Asian older adults, and call it a day. It's much harder to go back and improve the social conditions that's brewing the violence. You know, if you just allow thee police to handle everything, that is a copout by politicians saying, "We can't address this systemically, so we're just going to take punitive measures and rely on state-backed violence to check the communities who are attacking Asian Americans." And that's not good enough.

AMY GOODMAN: I want to go to Connie Wun, co-founder of Asian [American] and Pacific Islander Women Lead, speaking at a protest last month.

CONNIE WUN: What about that violence of living in poverty under a system that doesn't seem to care about our people? That's the violence we need to answer to. The vigilantes coming out here calling for more police, I need you to answer to that violence. I want you to represent for that. Our communities are also suffering deportation. Answer to that violence! Our people are in detention centers for indefinite amount of times. I need you there for that, too. And then, you're not even accounting for the gender violence that our women are experiencing. I need you to account for that.

AMY GOODMAN: That's Connie Wun in Oakland, California. Kim Tran, your final response? And also, do you see an issue of foreign policy — I hate to say the word — "bleeding" into this, but the vilification of China, not only around coronavirus, but in a lot of ways?

KIM TRAN: Yeah. We've seen a lot of racial scapegoating at the domestic, absolutely, but also the international level, right? The dehumanization and the kind of geopolitical pitting of China against the United States has tremendous repercussions for what we experience socially on the ground. And it also serves as a means of us not talking about those realities that, as Connie Wun from AAPI Women Lead is talking about, the reality that 30% of people in Chinatown live under the poverty line. I, as a Vietnamese woman, have the same pay gap as a Black woman. And so, we're creating certain narratives that make this kind of violence acceptable. And we're creating these certain kinds of ways of substantiating and perpetuating this violence.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, I want to thank you both for being with us. Kim Tran, we look forward to reading your book. Kim Tran is an organizer in Oakland, California, currently writing a book called The End of Allyship: A New Era of Solidarity. And, Ron Kim, we'd like to ask you to stay with us to address another issue, and that is the future of Governor Andrew Cuomo here in New York. You have a lot to say about a phone call he made to you, when you said he threatened you with "destroying" you. This is around a couple of issues here. We're talking about sexual harassment and also not telling the truth about thousands of COVID-19 deaths in nursing homes. Stay with us.

[break]

AMY GOODMAN: "The Oppressed Song" by Bunny Wailer, the co-founder of the legendary reggae band The Wailers. He died Tuesday at the age of 73.

Cuomo must go: Calls grow to remove NY governor over COVID nursing home cover-up and sexual harassment

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo is facing mounting calls from fellow Democrats and progressive organizations to resign or be impeached over sexual harassment allegations and his cover-up of thousands of COVID-19 deaths in New York nursing homes. New York Attorney General Letitia James has launched an investigation after three women — two former aides and a woman who met Cuomo at a friend's wedding reception — accused Cuomo of sexual harassment.

"Credible accusations of sexual harassment made by these courageous women coming forward show a clear pattern of Cuomo's abuse of power," says New York Assemblymember Ron Kim, who is calling for Cuomo's resignation. Kim also discusses a threatening phone call he says he received from Cuomo after he spoke out against the cover-up of nursing home deaths. "He personally got on the phone to threaten my career to suppress the truth," Kim says.

Transcript:

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The Quarantine Report. I'm Amy Goodman, with Juan González.

New York Democratic Governor Andrew Cuomo is facing mounting calls to resign or be impeached over sexual harassment allegations and his cover-up of thousands of COVID deaths in New York nursing homes. Many of the calls to resign are coming from fellow Democrats and progressive organizations, including the Working Families Party, which said Tuesday, "Andrew Cuomo's reign of fear, harassment, and intimidation cannot continue."

New York Attorney General Letitia James has launched an investigation after three women accused Cuomo of sexual harassment. In late February, a former top aide, Lindsey Boylan, accused Cuomo of kissing her during a one-on-one meeting and once suggesting they play strip poker. She described years of sexual harassment by the governor, who she claims went out of his way to touch her lower back, arms and legs. Another aide, Charlotte Bennett, accused Cuomo of making comments suggesting he wanted to sleep with her. On Sunday, a third woman, Anna Ruch, described meeting Cuomo at a friends' wedding reception in 2019. A photograph from the wedding showed Cuomo with his hands on Ruch's face as she looks visibly uncomfortable. She says he also grabbed her lower back right before that and loudly asked if he could kiss her. Cuomo has issued a statement saying his interactions may have been, quote, "insensitive or too personal" and that his actions may have been, quote, "misinterpreted as an unwanted flirtation," unquote.

On Tuesday, top Democrats in the New York Legislature agreed to move to strip Cuomo of emergency powers granted him during the pandemic. This comes less than a month after New York Attorney General Letitia James accused Cuomo of drastically undercounting the number of COVID deaths in New York nursing homes by as much as 50%, forcing the Cuomo administration to admit the true death toll to be nearly 15,000. The FBI and U.S. attorney in Brooklyn are now probing the cover-up. He's also being accused of secretly giving nursing homes legal immunity.

In February, Democratic New York Assemblymember Ron Kim, the chair of the Assembly's Committee on Aging, which oversees the nursing homes, revealed Cuomo called him at home and threatened him for speaking out. Kim said Cuomo threatened to, quote, "destroy me." New York Assemblyman Ron Kim is still with us.

Can you explain, first of all, that conversation and what it came out of? Talk about the nursing home scandal and why you feel it's so significant, Assemblyman Kim.

ASSEMBLYMEMBER RON KIM: Thank you, Amy.

You know, I came forward with that governor's threatening call not because I fear being bullied, but because I fear that the governor would escape accountability. You know, that phone call is less about him being a bully and more so about the length that he would go to use his position of power to implicate lawmakers in covering up for his corruption. He wanted me to issue a statement to feed his narrative on why his administration withheld nursing home data, life-and-death information, that the delay was because a DOJ inquiry had to be satisfied before the state's questions. That is complete BS.

You know, he personally got on the phone to threaten my career to suppress the truth. He called me that night because he was desperately trying to avoid more investigations into his cover-up of nursing home information and data, you know, and his deadly decisions to transfer 9,000 COVID patients to unprepared nursing home facilities, and the fact that, as you mentioned, Amy, he gave his donors, corporate nursing home executives, an immunity from criminal prosecution at the peak of the pandemic.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Well, Assemblyman Kim, as somebody who has known Governor Cuomo now for more than 30 years, what I heard about the story, what had happened to you, was perfectly understandable, because he has always been known as someone who is not only arrogant, but very much of a bully toward his critics. I remember numerous times as a columnist at the Daily News, after writing even a mildly critical column of the governor, suddenly getting a call from him and having to endure a tirade of profanities and yelling and screaming from him just because he didn't like a particular article. So this is perfectly part of his personality. But I'm wondering: In terms of this issue of the nursing homes, how did you first begin to understand the depth of what was happening and to begin to raise questions about this?

ASSEMBLYMEMBER RON KIM: Yeah. Thank you, Juan, for the question. I was on the ground since last year, because my constituents were reaching out to me. They couldn't get inside the nursing homes. They knew that COVID was transmitting. And they were seeing their loved ones die of agony alone. And they were seeking for desperate — they were desperate for help.

As I'm looking at what's going on, I'm reaching out to the Governor's Office. They're not responding. I'm reaching out to the Department of Health. A week goes by, a month goes by, and there's absolute no accountability and communication.

And just around that time, he issues that mandate to send thousands of COVID patients to unprepared nursing homes and issues a corporate legal shield — what I call a license to kill older adults at that time. That's when I started to push back. I introduced a repealer bill. And all of a sudden, the data disappears. It doesn't look that bad, because they delinked the information. They stopped counting the hospital deaths. And all of a sudden, New York went from number two, number three in the country to number 30 or whatever, and it no longer became a hot-button issue. And all the while, he goes out there, and he writes a book, and he publishes it around that same time, in October.

So, all these things, you know, when you look at — when you go back and connect the dots, I think the cover-up, the suppression of information, he took away our right to legislate, our right to repeal some of the toxic bills. He took away our ability to save people's lives. And for that, he needs to be held accountable.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And could you talk a little more about the role of the Greater New York Hospital Association, this powerful industry group, and its support of the governor?

ASSEMBLYMEMBER RON KIM: Yeah. Cuomo prioritized the interests of his top corporate donors, including the hospital lobbyist, the nursing lobbyist, over saving lives. His administration admitted to deliberately withholding data. I believe he did this for two reasons: one, because it would make him look bad, and, two, to prevent the repeal of his toxic poison bill, which he bullied his way — he forced his way into, the last hour, in the budget, the 5,000-page budget, which shielded nursing home executives at the cost of people's lives. For this, again, he needs to be held accountable. Fifteen thousand families deserve justice.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And it was the same legislation that was then copied by many other states around the country, and even the Republicans have been seeking immunity on a much broader scale for other companies, as well. Is that not right?

ASSEMBLYMEMBER RON KIM: That's right. It became — the industry released a press release immediately after it was passed by the governor, bragging that they wrote and put it in the budget. They immediately took down their press release the week after we called them out.

But, yes, they took the same language from state to state. They literally clicked copy and paste, word for word. And Mitch McConnell literally took word for word and tried to put it into the Washington stimulus package. But luckily, in Washington, there's a lot more people watching, and the public was aware, and it never made it out.

But in Albany, in the last hour, when no one was paying attention, Governor Cuomo was able to force that language into the budget, when even the chair of the Health Committee, Dick Gottfried, my good friend, didn't even know. And he reads everything. And didn't even know it got snuck in, the last minute, into the budget.

AMY GOODMAN: I mean, it's amazing you didn't know, Ron Kim, because you were head of the subcommittee that's in charge of the nursing homes, to show how last-minute this was. Is there a move to — I mean, there's a move to strip his executive powers, his expanded powers during COVID. Is there a move to actually just strip that bill, to take it out now, that immunity? And before we go on to the issue of sexual harassment, the number of families who trusted the system and were told that it would be safe to put their parents in nursing homes, and what exactly he demanded of these nursing homes, that hospitals — that they accept COVID patients from hospitals, and then, ultimately — explain how the cover-up of the numbers, of the number of people who died as a result of this decision.

ASSEMBLYMEMBER RON KIM: Yeah. Just around that time, when I was on the ground, the nursing homes that I was interacting with, they were screaming. You know, the workers were sick of COVID. Even the directors were out for weeks because they were sick. There were saying, "We don't have enough staff. We don't have PPE. You cannot send COVID-positives to our facilities. We're not a hospital."

But he did it, and he gave them a get-out-of-jail-free card as part of the deal. It was almost as if he normalized the duty of dying for older adults. He almost made feel like, for these nursing home residents, as if their ultimate fate was to die in these facilities. And imagine being a loved one being stuck outside, seeing this happen, and you're trying to tell the truth, and all you see when you turn the TV on is Andrew Cuomo and his brother cracking jokes on national TV. I mean, it just was one of the most demoralizing moments for my constituents going through that episode in New York.

But, yes, the suppression of data is so critical, because if we had real-time information, we would have had the data to repeal these toxic bills, to mandate — and go the other way, to mandate the for-profit — which, by the way, Amy, 65% of the industry in New York is for-profit nursing homes. We could have mandated them to spend every dollar they had to save people's lives. And if you can come back at the end of the pandemic and you show the receipts, that you spent everything that you had, you did everything, to buy PPE and hire staff, and people still died, then we can openly discuss what kind of liability protection we may provide, with the families and everyone involved, with the public's input. But that's not what had happened today — this year — last year. The legal immunity served as a disincentive for the for-profits to investing further into the staff hiring and buying PPE. It gave them an out to let people die.

AMY GOODMAN: So, there are calls for his impeachment or resignation just on this issue alone, but then there's the issue, the growing scandal, around sexual harassment. Charlotte Bennett, one of the aides who has accused Cuomo of sexual harassment, told The New York Times Monday, "As we know, abusers — particularly those with tremendous amounts of power — are often repeat offenders who engage in manipulative tactics to diminish allegations, blame victims, deny wrongdoing and escape consequences. … These are not the actions of someone who simply feels misunderstood; they are the actions of an individual who wields his power to avoid justice." Bennett said Cuomo told her he was open to relationships with younger women — she's in her twenties — and complained about being lonely and being unable to hug anyone because of the pandemic. She said, "I understood that the governor wanted to sleep with me, and felt horribly uncomfortable and scared." She shared texts that he texted her with The New York Times. That's one of the three women who have now accused him. Then, of course, there's Lindsey Boylan, his aide, in her thirties, who talked about the constant harassment — not only of Cuomo, but messages sent by his aide to her, as well. Your response? What do you want to see happen here?

ASSEMBLYMEMBER RON KIM: I believe the women. The credible allegations of sexual harassment made by these courageous women coming forward show a clear pattern of Cuomo's abuse of power. And I believe the governor will be held accountable for sexual harassment.

This is a long pattern of toxic behavior that we all know that exists in places like Albany. And at the helm of it all is a person at the top who normalizes verbal abuse against women. Case in point, even his top aide have called some of my closest progressive young women colleagues in this Legislature "F—n' idiots," on record, in The New York Times, when they called him out for having fundraisers with the budget director in the room. These are the type of verbal abuse that he helped normalize, because at the very top, you know, he does it himself in those closed rooms. He cracks jokes. He sexually harasses. He preys on people, and he abuses his power all the time. And that's why he has an orbit of staff members that reflects his values every single day in his administration. And they all need to be held accountable.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: But, Assemblyman, I wanted to ask you — the Democrats have a veto-proof majority in both the New York state — in the Senate and the Assembly, but yet there are very few Democrats like yourself who are taking — daring to stand up and demand accountability from the governor. What do you think are the prospects for that to change over the next few weeks?

ASSEMBLYMEMBER RON KIM: I think you will see changes. I think we are already seeing every day people calling for resignation, more people in our Democratic Conference. And I know that people in positions of power, they're making this about Democrats or Republicans. But I tell them that this is about the Democratic Conference and our credibility. We spent months telling Republicans in Washington to hold Trump accountable, to do the right thing, and we called them hypocrites. So, if we do not act and if we do not lead in this moment, what are we doing to our values and our credibility? Are we reciprocating their hypocrisy with our hypocrisy? So, we have —

AMY GOODMAN: Are you calling on Governor Cuomo to resign?

ASSEMBLYMEMBER RON KIM: I have already called the governor to resign. But resignation doesn't mean accountability. He still needs to be investigated after his resignation.

AMY GOODMAN: And if he doesn't resign, will you make a move to impeach him?

ASSEMBLYMEMBER RON KIM: I've called — I made my case, early on, to my colleagues of the moment that he tried to implicate my colleagues and the institutions in his wrongdoing. I believe that is a clear case of willful, corrupt conduct, which obligates us to pursue the impeachment procedure under the state Constitution. There's only a few of us at this point that are moving in that direction, but I believe every day, if he doesn't resign, more will join in the call for impeachment.

AMY GOODMAN: Ron Kim, we want to thank you for being with us, member of the New York State Assembly representing the 40th District, co-chair — rather, chair of the Aging Committee. His recent opinion piece, we'll link to, in Newsweek, "It's Time to Impeach Andrew Cuomo."

Next up, we look at why some of the two-and-a-half million farmworkers around the country are facing an uphill battle to get vaccinated. Stay with us.

[break]

AMY GOODMAN: "Out on a Limb" by Yuval Waldman. The conductor and violinist died last month at the age of 74.

Calls grow to remove NY Gov. Cuomo over COVID nursing home coverup and multiple sexual harassment claims

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo is facing mounting calls from fellow Democrats and progressive organizations to resign or be impeached over sexual harassment allegations and his cover-up of thousands of COVID-19 deaths in New York nursing homes. New York Attorney General Letitia James has launched an investigation after three women — two former aides and a woman who met Cuomo at a friend's wedding reception — accused Cuomo of sexual harassment. "Credible accusations of sexual harassment made by these courageous women coming forward show a clear pattern of Cuomo's abuse of power," says New York Assemblymember Ron Kim, who is calling for Cuomo's resignation. Kim also discusses a threatening phone call he says he received from Cuomo after he spoke out against the cover-up of nursing home deaths. "He personally got on the phone to threaten my career to suppress the truth," Kim says.

Transcript
This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The Quarantine Report. I'm Amy Goodman, with Juan González.

New York Democratic Governor Andrew Cuomo is facing mounting calls to resign or be impeached over sexual harassment allegations and his cover-up of thousands of COVID deaths in New York nursing homes. Many of the calls to resign are coming from fellow Democrats and progressive organizations, including the Working Families Party, which said Tuesday, "Andrew Cuomo's reign of fear, harassment, and intimidation cannot continue."

New York Attorney General Letitia James has launched an investigation after three women accused Cuomo of sexual harassment. In late February, a former top aide, Lindsey Boylan, accused Cuomo of kissing her during a one-on-one meeting and once suggesting they play strip poker. She described years of sexual harassment by the governor, who she claims went out of his way to touch her lower back, arms and legs. Another aide, Charlotte Bennett, accused Cuomo of making comments suggesting he wanted to sleep with her. On Sunday, a third woman, Anna Ruch, described meeting Cuomo at a friends' wedding reception in 2019. A photograph from the wedding showed Cuomo with his hands on Ruch's face as she looks visibly uncomfortable. She says he also grabbed her lower back right before that and loudly asked if he could kiss her. Cuomo has issued a statement saying his interactions may have been, quote, "insensitive or too personal" and that his actions may have been, quote, "misinterpreted as an unwanted flirtation," unquote.

On Tuesday, top Democrats in the New York Legislature agreed to move to strip Cuomo of emergency powers granted him during the pandemic. This comes less than a month after New York Attorney General Letitia James accused Cuomo of drastically undercounting the number of COVID deaths in New York nursing homes by as much as 50%, forcing the Cuomo administration to admit the true death toll to be nearly 15,000. The FBI and U.S. attorney in Brooklyn are now probing the cover-up. He's also being accused of secretly giving nursing homes legal immunity.

In February, Democratic New York Assemblymember Ron Kim, the chair of the Assembly's Committee on Aging, which oversees the nursing homes, revealed Cuomo called him at home and threatened him for speaking out. Kim said Cuomo threatened to, quote, "destroy me." New York Assemblyman Ron Kim is still with us.

Can you explain, first of all, that conversation and what it came out of? Talk about the nursing home scandal and why you feel it's so significant, Assemblyman Kim.

ASSEMBLYMEMBER RON KIM: Thank you, Amy.

You know, I came forward with that governor's threatening call not because I fear being bullied, but because I fear that the governor would escape accountability. You know, that phone call is less about him being a bully and more so about the length that he would go to use his position of power to implicate lawmakers in covering up for his corruption. He wanted me to issue a statement to feed his narrative on why his administration withheld nursing home data, life-and-death information, that the delay was because a DOJ inquiry had to be satisfied before the state's questions. That is complete BS.

You know, he personally got on the phone to threaten my career to suppress the truth. He called me that night because he was desperately trying to avoid more investigations into his cover-up of nursing home information and data, you know, and his deadly decisions to transfer 9,000 COVID patients to unprepared nursing home facilities, and the fact that, as you mentioned, Amy, he gave his donors, corporate nursing home executives, an immunity from criminal prosecution at the peak of the pandemic.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Well, Assemblyman Kim, as somebody who has known Governor Cuomo now for more than 30 years, what I heard about the story, what had happened to you, was perfectly understandable, because he has always been known as someone who is not only arrogant, but very much of a bully toward his critics. I remember numerous times as a columnist at the Daily News, after writing even a mildly critical column of the governor, suddenly getting a call from him and having to endure a tirade of profanities and yelling and screaming from him just because he didn't like a particular article. So this is perfectly part of his personality. But I'm wondering: In terms of this issue of the nursing homes, how did you first begin to understand the depth of what was happening and to begin to raise questions about this?

ASSEMBLYMEMBER RON KIM: Yeah. Thank you, Juan, for the question. I was on the ground since last year, because my constituents were reaching out to me. They couldn't get inside the nursing homes. They knew that COVID was transmitting. And they were seeing their loved ones die of agony alone. And they were seeking for desperate — they were desperate for help.

As I'm looking at what's going on, I'm reaching out to the Governor's Office. They're not responding. I'm reaching out to the Department of Health. A week goes by, a month goes by, and there's absolute no accountability and communication.

And just around that time, he issues that mandate to send thousands of COVID patients to unprepared nursing homes and issues a corporate legal shield — what I call a license to kill older adults at that time. That's when I started to push back. I introduced a repealer bill. And all of a sudden, the data disappears. It doesn't look that bad, because they delinked the information. They stopped counting the hospital deaths. And all of a sudden, New York went from number two, number three in the country to number 30 or whatever, and it no longer became a hot-button issue. And all the while, he goes out there, and he writes a book, and he publishes it around that same time, in October.

So, all these things, you know, when you look at — when you go back and connect the dots, I think the cover-up, the suppression of information, he took away our right to legislate, our right to repeal some of the toxic bills. He took away our ability to save people's lives. And for that, he needs to be held accountable.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And could you talk a little more about the role of the Greater New York Hospital Association, this powerful industry group, and its support of the governor?

ASSEMBLYMEMBER RON KIM: Yeah. Cuomo prioritized the interests of his top corporate donors, including the hospital lobbyist, the nursing lobbyist, over saving lives. His administration admitted to deliberately withholding data. I believe he did this for two reasons: one, because it would make him look bad, and, two, to prevent the repeal of his toxic poison bill, which he bullied his way — he forced his way into, the last hour, in the budget, the 5,000-page budget, which shielded nursing home executives at the cost of people's lives. For this, again, he needs to be held accountable. Fifteen thousand families deserve justice.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And it was the same legislation that was then copied by many other states around the country, and even the Republicans have been seeking immunity on a much broader scale for other companies, as well. Is that not right?

ASSEMBLYMEMBER RON KIM: That's right. It became — the industry released a press release immediately after it was passed by the governor, bragging that they wrote and put it in the budget. They immediately took down their press release the week after we called them out.

But, yes, they took the same language from state to state. They literally clicked copy and paste, word for word. And Mitch McConnell literally took word for word and tried to put it into the Washington stimulus package. But luckily, in Washington, there's a lot more people watching, and the public was aware, and it never made it out.

But in Albany, in the last hour, when no one was paying attention, Governor Cuomo was able to force that language into the budget, when even the chair of the Health Committee, Dick Gottfried, my good friend, didn't even know. And he reads everything. And didn't even know it got snuck in, the last minute, into the budget.

AMY GOODMAN: I mean, it's amazing you didn't know, Ron Kim, because you were head of the subcommittee that's in charge of the nursing homes, to show how last-minute this was. Is there a move to — I mean, there's a move to strip his executive powers, his expanded powers during COVID. Is there a move to actually just strip that bill, to take it out now, that immunity? And before we go on to the issue of sexual harassment, the number of families who trusted the system and were told that it would be safe to put their parents in nursing homes, and what exactly he demanded of these nursing homes, that hospitals — that they accept COVID patients from hospitals, and then, ultimately — explain how the cover-up of the numbers, of the number of people who died as a result of this decision.

ASSEMBLYMEMBER RON KIM: Yeah. Just around that time, when I was on the ground, the nursing homes that I was interacting with, they were screaming. You know, the workers were sick of COVID. Even the directors were out for weeks because they were sick. There were saying, "We don't have enough staff. We don't have PPE. You cannot send COVID-positives to our facilities. We're not a hospital."

But he did it, and he gave them a get-out-of-jail-free card as part of the deal. It was almost as if he normalized the duty of dying for older adults. He almost made feel like, for these nursing home residents, as if their ultimate fate was to die in these facilities. And imagine being a loved one being stuck outside, seeing this happen, and you're trying to tell the truth, and all you see when you turn the TV on is Andrew Cuomo and his brother cracking jokes on national TV. I mean, it just was one of the most demoralizing moments for my constituents going through that episode in New York.

But, yes, the suppression of data is so critical, because if we had real-time information, we would have had the data to repeal these toxic bills, to mandate — and go the other way, to mandate the for-profit — which, by the way, Amy, 65% of the industry in New York is for-profit nursing homes. We could have mandated them to spend every dollar they had to save people's lives. And if you can come back at the end of the pandemic and you show the receipts, that you spent everything that you had, you did everything, to buy PPE and hire staff, and people still died, then we can openly discuss what kind of liability protection we may provide, with the families and everyone involved, with the public's input. But that's not what had happened today — this year — last year. The legal immunity served as a disincentive for the for-profits to investing further into the staff hiring and buying PPE. It gave them an out to let people die.

AMY GOODMAN: So, there are calls for his impeachment or resignation just on this issue alone, but then there's the issue, the growing scandal, around sexual harassment. Charlotte Bennett, one of the aides who has accused Cuomo of sexual harassment, told The New York Times Monday, "As we know, abusers — particularly those with tremendous amounts of power — are often repeat offenders who engage in manipulative tactics to diminish allegations, blame victims, deny wrongdoing and escape consequences. … These are not the actions of someone who simply feels misunderstood; they are the actions of an individual who wields his power to avoid justice." Bennett said Cuomo told her he was open to relationships with younger women — she's in her twenties — and complained about being lonely and being unable to hug anyone because of the pandemic. She said, "I understood that the governor wanted to sleep with me, and felt horribly uncomfortable and scared." She shared texts that he texted her with The New York Times. That's one of the three women who have now accused him. Then, of course, there's Lindsey Boylan, his aide, in her thirties, who talked about the constant harassment — not only of Cuomo, but messages sent by his aide to her, as well. Your response? What do you want to see happen here?

ASSEMBLYMEMBER RON KIM: I believe the women. The credible allegations of sexual harassment made by these courageous women coming forward show a clear pattern of Cuomo's abuse of power. And I believe the governor will be held accountable for sexual harassment.

This is a long pattern of toxic behavior that we all know that exists in places like Albany. And at the helm of it all is a person at the top who normalizes verbal abuse against women. Case in point, even his top aide have called some of my closest progressive young women colleagues in this Legislature "F—n' idiots," on record, in The New York Times, when they called him out for having fundraisers with the budget director in the room. These are the type of verbal abuse that he helped normalize, because at the very top, you know, he does it himself in those closed rooms. He cracks jokes. He sexually harasses. He preys on people, and he abuses his power all the time. And that's why he has an orbit of staff members that reflects his values every single day in his administration. And they all need to be held accountable.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: But, Assemblyman, I wanted to ask you — the Democrats have a veto-proof majority in both the New York state — in the Senate and the Assembly, but yet there are very few Democrats like yourself who are taking — daring to stand up and demand accountability from the governor. What do you think are the prospects for that to change over the next few weeks?

ASSEMBLYMEMBER RON KIM: I think you will see changes. I think we are already seeing every day people calling for resignation, more people in our Democratic Conference. And I know that people in positions of power, they're making this about Democrats or Republicans. But I tell them that this is about the Democratic Conference and our credibility. We spent months telling Republicans in Washington to hold Trump accountable, to do the right thing, and we called them hypocrites. So, if we do not act and if we do not lead in this moment, what are we doing to our values and our credibility? Are we reciprocating their hypocrisy with our hypocrisy? So, we have —

AMY GOODMAN: Are you calling on Governor Cuomo to resign?

ASSEMBLYMEMBER RON KIM: I have already called the governor to resign. But resignation doesn't mean accountability. He still needs to be investigated after his resignation.

AMY GOODMAN: And if he doesn't resign, will you make a move to impeach him?

ASSEMBLYMEMBER RON KIM: I've called — I made my case, early on, to my colleagues of the moment that he tried to implicate my colleagues and the institutions in his wrongdoing. I believe that is a clear case of willful, corrupt conduct, which obligates us to pursue the impeachment procedure under the state Constitution. There's only a few of us at this point that are moving in that direction, but I believe every day, if he doesn't resign, more will join in the call for impeachment.

AMY GOODMAN: Ron Kim, we want to thank you for being with us, member of the New York State Assembly representing the 40th District, co-chair — rather, chair of the Aging Committee. His recent opinion piece, we'll link to, in Newsweek, "It's Time to Impeach Andrew Cuomo."

Next up, we look at why some of the two-and-a-half million farmworkers around the country are facing an uphill battle to get vaccinated. Stay with us.

[break]

AMY GOODMAN: "Out on a Limb" by Yuval Waldman. The conductor and violinist died last month at the age of 74.




How Octavia Butler’s visions of the future have transformed a generation of readers

The visionary Black science-fiction writer Octavia Butler died 15 years ago on February 24, 2006, but her influence and readership has only continued to grow since then. In September, Butler's novel "Parable of the Sower" became her first to reach the New York Times best-seller list. We speak with adrienne maree brown, a writer and Octavia Butler scholar, who says Butler had a remarkable talent for universalizing Black stories. "She wrote about Black women and about Black feminism, about Black futures, but she wrote in a way that appealed to all human beings," says Brown.

Transcript:

MY GOODMAN: To talk more about Octavia Butler's legacy, we're joined by the writer and activist adrienne maree brown. She and the musician Toshi Reagon co-host Octavia's Parables, a podcast that dives deeply into Octavia Butler's books Parable of the Sower and Parable of the Talents. adrienne maree brown is also co-editor of the book Octavia's Brood: Science Fiction Stories from Social Justice Movements. She's joining us from Detroit.

It's great to have you with us, adrienne. In fact, the last time we had you on, we were talking about Octavia. If you can just briefly talk about her biography and then her significance in the world of literature, but also this visionary look at what's happening today?

adrienne maree brown: Yes. Well, thanks for the opportunity to share. I love speaking about Octavia. I'll talk about her every day if I can.

She gave us 12 novels and a collection of short stories. And she took us, as she took herself, from California. She drove across country to get her story for Kindred. She took herself north to Seattle. And one of the most famous stories, that we just heard about, The Parables, is her protagonist character making her way north.

And as Octavia learned and as she questioned and as she wondered how were humans going to find a way to survive on this planet, she asked those questions and brought them into the text. And in her text, we see all the ways that she was trying to answer those questions, trying to trouble the waters, trying to give us nothing easy, but something super compelling to look forward to. So, the work that she did, Walidah Imarisha and I, when we did Octavia's Brood, Walidah called it "visionary fiction," to look ahead at the future and then write ourselves in. And that's what Octavia was doing with all of her work.

AMY GOODMAN: And talk about her life, what led her to write. We've heard some of her describing that herself.

adrienne maree brown: Yes.

AMY GOODMAN: And the whole genre of Afrofuturism, what that means?

adrienne maree brown: Yeah. So, she talks about this, that when she was, I think, 9, 10 years old, she saw The Devil Girl from Mars, and she said, "I could write something better than that." And so she started to write things. She started to write her own short stories, her own novels.

And she had the idea for the Patternist series when she was quite young, and kept writing it, kept writing it. It ended up being her first novel. She wrote the series backwards. So, if you read the stories — I always love knowing that, that when you read The Patternmaster, that was the first one, but then she wrote backwards to find out the source of that story, how we would get there.

But she was a worker, so she was a laborer. She was always working. And her writing process would be waking up at 3:00 in the morning, because she needed to do it. She had what she called "positive obsession," a positive obsession with moving these stories out.

And I think it would be remiss of me not to say that, just like many of us, she was looking at the world around her and feeling terrified and feeling like, "How are we going to change this? What happens if this goes on?" And it led her to write things that ended up feeling very prophetic. You know, in the Parables, there's a president who runs for office on the slogan "Make America great." And there's a way that she took what was happening around her, what she saw as a very shy, introverted, powerful Black woman — with a super sexy underbite — she was looking at the world around her and figuring out, like, "How do I think about community? How do I think about organizing? How do I think about change?" And so, that's how she did it in her lifetime. She wrote it onto these pages for us.

Afrofuturism, I will say, is a thrilling — to me, a thrilling arena. And now there's African futurism. There's Black speculative fiction. There's all these arenas where, basically, Black people and people of African lineage are saying, "We were almost erased from the lineage. Right? People wanted to erase us and have us just be labor. We're writing ourselves back in. We're writing ourselves back in. We're creating stories that are rooted in African heritage and that articulate an African future." So, it's an exciting place. It's an exciting arc to be inside of as a creator.

AMY GOODMAN: She is also seen, obviously, as a deeply feminist writer. How are women, especially Black women, represented in her work? And how do they grapple with the real-world power structures? I mean, even the publishing world, you have this example of, in 1987, the publisher still insisted on putting two white women on the jacket of her novel Dawn, whose main character is Black.

adrienne maree brown: Yes. I mean, so much has changed there because of the work of Octavia, because of the work of Nnedi Okorafor, because of the work of Tananarive Due.

But I think one of the things that was so powerful to me when I first picked up Octavia is that she wrote these strong Black feminine characters, these protagonists, who now you might look back and see the nonbinary, see the queerness, see other things in them, but at the time, she was writing these characters, and it was like, "Oh, there's young Black women, and they're leading."

And what happened over and over again in the stories, and you see this over and over again, is that people doubted their capacity not only to lead, but to be of use in any way. And then, her characters, rather than pushing, rather than fighting, they would turn inward. They would gather themselves and get aligned with what they thought. So, in the Parables, it's the Earthseed belief system. They would get aligned and be like, "I have a greater destiny than your oppression. And my destiny will take me beyond anything that your oppression can hold me from."

And then, over and over again, we watch those characters follow that path of destiny and take themselves and anyone who wants to come with them beyond, which I also think is important, because she wrote about Black women and about Black feminism, about Black futures, but she wrote in a way that appealed to all human beings. And I think that that, to me, is one of the essences of feminism. It's like, we're not saying we're better than or beyond. We're saying we are right here, equal to anyone else and able to lead as much as anyone else. So, she understood that. She wrote it beautifully.

AMY GOODMAN: adrienne maree brown, we want to thank you for being with us, co-host of the podcast Octavia's Parables — we will link to your podcast — and also co-editor of the book Octavia's Brood: Science Fiction Stories from Social Justice Movements.

On Wednesday, Symphony Space in New York will present an all-star celebration of Octavia Butler to mark the 15th anniversary of her death, and that will be virtually. You can check it out online.

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