Amy Goodman

Global South activists d​ecry 2050 'Net Zero' goal by wealthy nations as 'too little, too late'

After nearly a week of speeches, negotiations and protests at the COP26 U.N. climate summit, we speak with Meena Raman, head of programs at Third World Network, who says developing countries need more time and resources to adapt to the climate crisis and end the use of fossil fuels. Without a just transition that addresses inequality, she says, many countries will continue to suffer from both poverty and environmental devastation. "When the rich world has not been able to phase out fossil fuels, … it's really dubious to preach to the developing world that they have to get out of fossil fuels," says Raman.

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

AMY GOODMAN: As we continue on the U.N. climate summit, representatives of over 40 nations have pledged to end the use of coal power. The deal, announced at the COP26 summit in Glasgow, did not include many of the largest coal producers, including China, India, Australia and the United States.

To talk more about the state of the climate summit, we're joined by Meena Raman. She's head of programs at Third World Network, usually based in Penang, Malaysia, now joining us from Glasgow. Behind her, the rotating globe that's suspended over the U.N. climate assembly.

Meena Raman, talk about the significance of these 40 countries committing to ending the use of coal, but the major users, from the United States to China, refusing to participate in this.

MEENA RAMAN: Well, Amy, I think what we need to recognize is that all these, you know, sideline pledges or announcements actually need to be reflected in the real commitments, which are under the convention and the Paris Agreement. A lot of these announcements are all outside of that process.

So, of course, I don't think you can put the U.S. on the same level as China and India, because the U.S. is a much bigger historical emitter than China or India. And China and India — and I've said constantly previously before — they do have huge challenges because of large emissions coming because of large populations. So, in terms of per capita, U.S. is still much higher than China and India. So, the point I'm making is that you can't, say, put them on the same platform together.

And the second point I'd like to make also is that what's critical is to recognize the energy poverty that many of these — the developing countries face. So, we do need to phase out from fossil fuels, but what's fundamental is that it has to be on the basis of what's called just transition, so that the people who are energy poor, the more that they have access to renewable energy, the more that we ensure that they are not the victims of climate solutions.

So, having said that, I do think that all countries need to do much more, not just on coal, but fossil fuels as a whole, but the developing world has — does require large amounts of financing, large amounts of technology transfer for the kind of transformation that needs to happen. When the rich world has not been able to phase out fossil fuels, which it ought to have done by today, and yet it continues to expand the use of fossil fuels, it's really dubious to preach to the developing world, you know, that they have to get out of fossil fuels.

So, the leaders — and this is recognized by the treaty itself, the convention and the Paris Agreement — those with the greatest responsibility, historical emissions and current cumulative emissions together, they have a huge responsibility for the current warming — and this has been pointed out also by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change — in relation to the large amounts of CO2 which have been emitted, which are causing much of the impacts that we face today.

AMY GOODMAN: Can you explain the 1.8 degree Celsius that now is being put out as the goal?

MEENA RAMAN: No, it's at 1.5. It's not 1.8. If you recall, in Paris, the agreement in the Paris basically says that countries will ensure that the global temperature goal will be limited to well below 2 degrees centigrade from preindustrial levels, and they will pursue towards 1.5 degree centigrade. Now, we all know, as climate justice groups, that the 1.5 is a much safer guard rail, but the issue really here is that when particularly the rich world talks about, you know, we need to achieve the 1.5 degree limit, the devil really is in the detail of how to get there.

Now, when you have a 1.5 degree limit compared to a 2 degree limit, the amount of carbon space or the atmospheric space that you have left is much smaller than under a 2 degree limit. So, the issue really is that, as the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has pointed out, if you add all the emissions from the historical and you take the cumulative into account, we only have something like 500 gigatons of carbon space left. This means that at the current emission trends, we will exhaust this carbon budget for limiting temperature rise to 1.5 on a 50 — with a 50% chance. And that itself is a problem. So —

AMY GOODMAN: Let me clarify something, Meena.

MEENA RAMAN: — within a decade, this 500 — yeah.

AMY GOODMAN: The number has always been 1.5 degrees Celsius, which is 2.7 degrees Fahrenheit, and scientists have said that global warming must be kept to this, above preindustrial levels. But I thought what has —

MEENA RAMAN: Yes.

AMY GOODMAN: — come out now is that the International Energy Agency reported Thursday that warming could be limited to 1.8 degrees Celsius above preindustrial levels by 2100.

MEENA RAMAN: Yeah, they were referring to the methane and other initiatives and cooling and so on, and they have come to 1.8. Now, I have not seen the details of the report, but I think that what need to recognize, Amy, is the fact that, whatever, whether it's 1.8 or 1.5 or even 2 degrees, with the push for net zero by 2050 by all countries — and this is being pushed right from the U.N. top level, right down to the U.K. presidency — we, in civil society, in the climate justice movement, are very critical of that, because it is about — if you look at U.S. saying net zero by 2050 and other developed countries saying net zero by 2050, and if you look at the content of that, that's actually doing too little, too late. And net zero will exhaust the — with the net zero distant targets of 2050, there is no time for 2050. And you actually need to get to real zero today. It actually should have been done yesterday, by the rich world, in particular. So, we need to recognize the fact that we are not going to be able to limit temperature rise either to 1.8 or 1.5 or even 2 degrees, if we allow the rich nations to keep to net zero by 2050. This is too little, too late.

And net zero, what it actually means is that you don't decarbonize. Every ton of carbon that you emit, you're going to plant a tree to absorb that carbon. It doesn't work that way. Science does not work that way. So, we are being — we are being told about these net zero targets, and it's an illusion. It's really a complete illusion. And we are very worried that there's a lot of greenwashing which is happening here. A lot of it is about — if you look at the targets, they talk about — what do you call it? — carbon credits, offsetting. Offsetting. It's not about decarbonizing. Decarbonizing means you remove emissions and you also plant trees to increase those things. But what's happening here is that net zero through carbon offsets, which means that the developing world will have to do much more of the heavy lifting again. And this doesn't work. The time for carbon offsets is over.

AMY GOODMAN: I want to get your comment on the first week of the talks. And, of course, we'll be with Glasgow all next week. President Biden came. He was one of the openers of the U.N. climate summit. But right before he came to Glasgow, he was in Rome at the G20 summit, and he held a news conference, when he was asked about his call for the world's largest oil producers to increase output. This is what he said.

JEFF MASON: You also met with energy consumers about supply. What steps are you considering taking if OPEC+ does not raise supply? And do you see any irony in pushing them to increase oil production at the same time that you're going to COP26 to urge people to lower emissions?
PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: Well, on the surface, it seems like an irony, but the truth of the matter, as you've all known, everyone knows, that the idea we're going to be able to move to renewable energy overnight, and not have — and from this moment on not use oil or not use gas or not use hydrogen, it's just not rational.

AMY GOODMAN: Meena Raman, if you could respond to what Biden said?

MEENA RAMAN: Well, his response is completely irrational. And it really is about the hypocrisy of world leaders like him coming to COP26 and saying that we need to do more. Now, if the rich world cannot get off their oil addiction, and if they cannot — you know, it's not just about renewable energy. More importantly, it's also about consumption patterns and production systems. So, the consumption — we can't be being oil addicts, or fossil fuel addicts, actually. And so, we do need to move. The transformation is phenomenal. But Biden has no excuse to say what he said.

AMY GOODMAN: I want to thank you so much, Meena Raman, for joining us, head of programs at Third World Network. She traveled to Glasgow from Penang, Malaysia.


National affairs correspondent: Democrats must deliver on promises or voters will punish the party

We speak with The Nation's John Nichols about key outcomes from Tuesday's election night. In a major blow for Democrats, Republican Glenn Youngkin, who President Biden warned is an extremist in the vein of former President Trump, won the Virginia governor's race against former Governor Terry McAuliffe. Youngkin campaigned for so-called parents' rights — a catch-all phrase adopted by right-wing opponents of vaccine and mask mandates, transgender rights and critical race theory. Tuesday's elections also saw closely watched races in New Jersey, New York City, Buffalo and Boston, where Michelle Wu made history by becoming the first woman and first person of color elected as mayor. Nichols says disappointing results for Democrats are tied to the party's infighting in Washington and the inability to pass major legislation despite holding the White House and Congress: "You can't fail to deliver on your promises and then expect to win elections. And that's a big message for Democrats."

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

AMY GOODMAN: In a blow to Democrats, Republicans have won the governor's race in Virginia with the wealthy private equity executive Glenn Youngkin defeating former Governor Terry McAuliffe. Youngkin campaigned in part by vowing to support so-called parents' rights, which has become a catch-all phrase to describe right-wing opposition to vaccine and mask mandates, trans rights for students and the teaching of critical race theory. Youngkin spoke at a victory party in Chantilly, Virginia.

GOV.-ELECT GLENN YOUNGKIN: My fellow Virginians, this is our moment. It's our moment for parents, for grandparents, for aunts, for uncles, for neighbors to change the future of Virginia's children's lives, to change their Virginia journey. It's our time to turn that vision into a reality.

AMY GOODMAN: Meanwhile, in New Jersey, the governor's race is too close to call, as Republican Jack Ciattarelli has a slight lead over incumbent Democrat Phil Murphy.

To talk about the governor's races, we're joined by John Nichols. He's The Nation's national affairs correspondent, author of a number of books, including The Fight for the Soul of the Democratic Party.

So, let's start in Virginia, John. Talk about the significance of the Republican victory for governor, about Youngkin's campaign. And then we'll move to New Jersey, where it's clearly too close to call, though main Democratic strongholds have not been counted yet.

JOHN NICHOLS: That's precisely right, Amy. And thanks for having me.

Let's start in Virginia. And I think that the first thing to point out is, of course, this is an off-year election in which there's clearly an overlay from what's going on in Washington, and Virginia, northern Virginia, in particular, is suburban Washington, so there's a lot of consciousness about where the Biden administration is at and things of that nature.

But once we put that, you know, in its place, then I think it's important to understand what happened in Virginia, and that is that Virginia Democrats chose to nominate what they thought was a very safe candidate, Terry McAuliffe, the former governor. He beat a number of other candidates in the Democratic primary, with most of Democratic leadership saying, "Well, this is the easiest way to retain the governorship." But McAuliffe ran what can best be understood as an unfocused and bumbling campaign, in many instances.

On the other hand, Republicans nominated a candidate who was untested, Glenn Youngkin, but who was very sophisticated, very disciplined in his approach. And what he did was, at once, embrace Donald Trump's constituency — I mean, actually, clearly accept Trump's support and clearly, you know, communicate that he was on board with a lot of where Trump was at — but at the same time, in his overall messaging, seek to identify himself with just enough distance that he could appeal to folks who don't necessarily like Donald Trump.

Now, it's notable, in the exit polls, he got almost one in five of his votes from people who said they don't approve of Trump. So he was getting people who had undoubtedly voted for Joe Biden in 2020 to come over. How did he do that? He did it with a combination of sort of soft messaging about his actually very right-wing proposals and very right-wing stance on the issues, and a dog-whistling use of the issue of critical race theory that the Republicans have developed. And this is obviously an effort to suggest that parents should be far more in control of curriculums in schools and, frankly, that they should be able to dictate a curriculum that doesn't acknowledge much of the history of the United States, or at least soft pedals it. And Youngkin did that in very sophisticated ways. There is simply no question that what he did in Virginia will become a template for Republicans in other states.

But there's also one counsel. While there is a lot of focus on critical race theory and how it was played in Virginia, in school board races around the country, including one in my own state of Wisconsin, where school boards were threatened with recall on critical race issues and on all this, in many cases the school board members won their fights. They weren't recalled. And one of the reasons for that is that, in, for instance, the Wisconsin case, they directly confronted the issue. They said, "You know, look, this is a Republican political strategy. It is an attempt to dog whistle and to exploit." In Virginia, I think the message from the Democrats on that was quite muddled, in many cases. They did try to confront it in some ways, but I don't think that they did very well.

End of the day, if I had to divide up what the impacts were on Virginia, I would say that the quality, the character of the Youngkin campaign did benefit, but also the biggest influence there, in my opinion, is the fact that the Democrats in Washington have seemed extremely chaotic, even dysfunctional, in recent months. And the truth is, they control the White House and the Congress, and you can't fail to deliver on your promises and then expect to win elections. And that's a big message for Democrats.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: But, John, I wanted to ask you, putting Virginia in context with New Jersey, as well, because I think it's likely that Phil Murphy is going to win the New Jersey race, even though he's slightly behind right now, only because, as Amy mentioned, a lot of the Democratic strongholds, including Camden, which had the lowest returns so far, are likely to push him over. Nonetheless, he was expected to win by much more, if he does become the victor. So, it does seem to me that at least in these races where you essentially had corporate Democrats, in both Phil Murphy and Terry McAuliffe, running, that the ability — their ability to make the race against Trump, rather than for themselves, like, suffered greatly. And I'm wondering your sense of, given the fact that the right-wing populism of Trump is still surging in a lot of parts of the country, what this means for elections next year.

JOHN NICHOLS: I think it means a lot, and I think your analysis is very strong. My sense is that Murphy will win in New Jersey, and I think it's important to note that Murphy ran a much more focused campaign and, frankly, a more progressive campaign, on message and, frankly, on some of his record, than you had from McAuliffe. Ultimately, I think Murphy is probably going to win by a reasonably comfortable margin, not a big landslide or anything like that, but reasonably comfortable, when all the votes are counted. But still, it's much closer than it should be, by any reasonable measure.

And then I'd also throw in the Pennsylvania Supreme Court race, a statewide race in a battleground state, where the Republican appears to have prevailed. And so, what you see from a number of states where you've got statewide races, where they really are tests of kind of where people are going to vote and kind of where the pattern is, in each case, the Republicans prevailed.

I think that, again, there's two things in play here. Number one, what you point out, the Democratic Party continues — and they especially did this in Virginia — they continue to reject candidates of the future — and these are women, people of color, progressives — in favor of candidates of the past, candidates who often have held office before or are holding office and are very, very predictable. And at this moment, at this volatile moment, that doesn't work very well.

Secondly, however, you do have this national overlay, and I think it's a big deal. The Democrats have, since midsummer, sent a signal of, "Yeah, we've got lots of big plans. We've got lots of big goals. We control the presidency. We control the House and the Senate. But we're not delivering. We can't get it together. We can't even get our own people together." And it's very easy to blame Joe Manchin and to blame Kyrsten Sinema — and they deserve a lot of blame on this. But there also has to be a recognition that the Biden administration, Democratic leaders in Congress, did not follow the advice of Senator Bernie Sanders, the Senate Budget Committee chair, and of Congressional Progressive Caucus Chair Pramila Jayapal, who said, "Look, you need to go out and sell this program. You need to talk about it in big, bold ways across the country so people really know everything that's in this Build Back Better agenda, and they know what's at stake." They didn't do that. They relied on kind of insider, predictable, back-door, behind-the-scenes negotiations. And it didn't work. President Biden flew off to Europe with a framework that Joe Manchin didn't support. And so, at the end of the day, Democrats are in a situation where they've promised a lot, but they have not delivered. And you cannot fail to deliver and expect to win elections.

AMY GOODMAN: We're going to turn to some of the mayoral races, several closely watched ones. In Buffalo, Mayor Byron Brown has claimed victory in his write-in campaign against India Walton, who shocked Brown in June by winning the Democratic primary. She was attempting to become the first socialist to lead a big city in decades. Here in New York City — and I want Juan to also weigh in on this — Eric Adams easily won the mayoral race, becoming just the second African American to head the nation's largest city. In Minneapolis, Mayor Jacob Frey is in the lead after the first round of the city's ranked-choice vote. And in Boston, Michelle Wu has made history by becoming the first woman, the first person of color elected as mayor. She spoke Tuesday night.

MAYOR-ELECT MICHELLE WU: We are ready to become a Boston for everyone. We're ready to be a Boston that doesn't push people out but welcomes all who call our city home. We're ready to be a Boston where all can afford to stay and to thrive. And, yes, Boston is ready to become a Green New Deal city.

AMY GOODMAN: "A Green New Deal city," says the new Mayor-elect of Boston Michelle Wu, a protégé of Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren. John Nichols, the mayoral races around the country?

JOHN NICHOLS: Well, I'm glad you focused on Michelle Wu there. I think her victory is incredibly instructive, and it hasn't been covered enough by much of the national media. Michelle Wu ran as a progressive. She started early. She built a grassroots, multiracial, multiethnic coalition. She focused on big issues, with big messages. And she won big. She did very well in the primary; in the general election, prevailed. I think there's a lot of lessons there as regards our politics, because, remember, Boston is not a city that has had a lot of diversity in its mayors. They've tended to be Irish or Italian, you know, from Irish and Italian backgrounds, for generations. And also, it's a city with some pretty tough, very competitive politics. And so, there you see a Elizabeth Warren progressive prevail, talking about the Green New Deal, talking about economic and social and racial justice, talking about affordable housing. So it's doable, and I think that's an important message.

In the mayoral races in general, Democrats prevailed, but you saw very different types of Democrats prevail, very different messages — some, like Michelle Wu, very progressive; some, like Eric Adams in New York, who have been very critical, at least of Democratic Socialists.

And then, up in Buffalo, you have this situation where — and it's really a notable situation in Buffalo, where India Walton won her primary fair and square. She built a grassroots campaign. She didn't have a lot of money, but she had a lot of message. She is very, very engaged with housing issues and a lot of issues that are vital to Buffalo. She got the nomination. And then two things happened. Number one, the leadership of the state Democratic Party in New York, including the chair of the state Democratic Committee, Governor Hochul and others, failed to endorse her. They failed to come in and give her strong backing. Secondly, a lot of very, very wealthy and powerful interests, in Buffalo and outside of Buffalo, poured money into Byron Brown's campaign. He raised more than $1.5 million — we don't know what the final total will be — flooded the TV airwaves with ads that were, you know, obviously, very supportive of him, but also a lot of messaging that was very negative about India Walton. And you really see a situation here where somebody won the Democratic nomination but didn't get the level of support from the Democratic Party that might have allowed her to prevail.

AMY GOODMAN: Juan, I wanted to ask you, before we move on, about Eric Adams, someone you have covered for years, police captain, a Brooklyn borough president, a state legislator, and now he has become the second African American who will become mayor of New York, talked about being learning disabled, wept when he went to the polls yesterday holding his mother's picture, who just died, was beaten by police and arrested as a young person, took on the New York Police Department. The significance of his win, though against the defund movement?

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Well, I think, as I've said before, I've known Eric Adams since he was just a police sergeant, more than 30 years ago, and I worked with him closely over the years as a reporter. And I think that, you know, his victory — and I'd like to also toss this to John Nichols, in terms of what's happened with India Walton and Minneapolis, what happened with the Minneapolis police referendum, as well — seems to indicate that a lot of African American and Latino voters are not as in sync with the progressive left on issues of police reform. And I think that because the African American and Latino vote is such a big portion of the Democratic Party, I think that folks are going to have to come to some realization of what is possible within a capitalist system and within a situation where corporate Democrats also wield an enormous influence and finances in terms of elections. And I'm wondering, John, whether you see that, with the exception of Michelle Wu, a lot of the results this time around were not only a rebuke of the more corporate Democrats, but also, to some degree, a rebuke of the more left-wing proposals of progressives, as well.

JOHN NICHOLS: Right. You saw a direct test — Minneapolis, where a proposal to really change the policing structure in that city, from a more traditional one with, frankly, a police force very influenced by a very right-wing union to a public safety model, and that lost. It didn't lose by a massive landslide, but it did lose. And so, at the end of the day, I think that there is evidence that there's resistance here.

But I would emphasize — and I think this is important to recognize — that if you look at all of these races, you see an acknowledgment of the need to change policing. It is a debate about how to do so and about how to message that. But I would be careful about saying that, you know, there's a full-on rejection of some of the left's messages about the need for a change in policing. I think there is still a constituency for that and a base for that. It's just I do think that there's going to be some wrestling with it. And Democrats, frankly, are going to have to figure out how to talk about the need to change policing in a way that can build out confidence and build out constituencies.

I will note also, and I think this is —

AMY GOODMAN: We have 15 seconds.

JOHN NICHOLS: It's just important to note that in New York City, while Eric Adams won big, and for a variety of reasons, that Jumaane Williams and Brad Lander, both very, very progressive candidates, won the other two citywide races by equally large margins. And so, I think that we can take many signals from this election. And I do think we should pay attention not just to the top-level wins, but some of those wins down ballot, as well.

AMY GOODMAN: We want to thank you for being with us, John Nichols, The Nation's national affairs correspondent, author of a number of books, including The Fight for the Soul of the Democratic Party.

Next up, we go to Glasgow to the U.N. summit to look at the fight against Big Coal, from South Africa to Puerto Rico, with Kumi Naidoo and Ruth Santiago and leading Filipina youth climate activist Mitzi Tan. Stay with us. Back in 30 seconds.


A reluctant warrior? An examination of Gen. Colin Powell’s bloody legacy from Iraq to Latin America

We look at the life and legacy of Colin Powell, who is best known for giving false testimony to the U.N. Security Council in 2003 about nonexistent weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, paving the way for the U.S. invasion and occupation that would kill over 1 million Iraqis. Powell, who was the first Black secretary of state, the first Black and youngest chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the first Black national security adviser, died on Monday due to blood cancer and Parkinson's disease that left him vulnerable to infection from COVID-19. Tributes poured in from top U.S. leaders in both Republican and Democratic circles on Monday, but in other parts of the world Powell is remembered very differently. We speak with journalist and author Roberto Lovato, and Clarence Lusane, activist, journalist and political science professor at Howard University. Lusane describes Powell as "a complicated political figure who leaves a complicated legacy" whose public image was "in conflict with many of the policies of the party he supported and the administration in which he was involved." Assessing Powell's role in U.S. invasions around the world, from Vietnam to Central America, Lovato says "he's made a career out of being a good soldier and supporting U.S. mass murder around the world, but evading the credit for it."



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

AMY GOODMAN: President Biden ordered flags at the White House to be flown at half-staff in honor of General Colin Powell, who died Monday at the age of 84. Powell was the first Black secretary of state, the first Black and youngest chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the first Black national security adviser. On Monday, tributes poured in from both Republican and Democratic leaders. President Biden called Powell a, quote, "patriot of unmatched honor and dignity."

But in other parts of the world, Powell is remembered very differently. In Iraq, the journalist Muntadhar al-Zaidi, who famously threw a shoe at President George W. Bush, tweeted that he was sad Powell had died before being tried for his crimes in Iraq. While serving as secretary of state under Bush, General Powell played a pivotal role in paving the way for the U.S. invasion. It was February 5th, 2003, that Powell addressed the United Nations Security Council and made the case for a first strike on Iraq. Powell's message was clear: Iraq possessed extremely dangerous weapons of mass destruction, and Saddam Hussein was systematically trying to deceive U.N. inspectors by hiding the prohibited weapons.

SECRETARY OF STATE COLIN POWELL: One of the most worrisome things that emerges from the thick intelligence file we have on Iraq's biological weapons is the existence of mobile production facilities used to make biological agents. Let me take you inside that intelligence file and share with you what we know from eyewitness accounts. We have firsthand descriptions of biological weapons factories on wheels and on rails. The trucks and train cars are easily moved and are designed to evade detection by inspectors. In a matter of months, they can produce a quantity of biological poison equal to the entire amount that Iraq claimed to have produced in the years prior to the Gulf War.

AMY GOODMAN: All of Colin Powell's main claims about weapons of mass destruction turned out to be false. He later described the speech as a "blot" on his record.

But the 2003 speech was not the first time General Powell had falsely alleged Iraq had WMDs. In 1991, during the Persian Gulf War, the U.S. bombed Iraq's only baby formula factory. At the time, General Powell said, quote, "It is not an infant formula factory. … It was a biological weapons facility, of that we are sure," he said. Well, U.N. investigators later confirmed the bombed factory was in fact making baby formula.

While many in Iraq consider Powell to be a war criminal, just like they consider George W. Bush and Dick Cheney, Powell has long been celebrated at home. Colin Powell was born in Harlem in 1937. His parents had both immigrated from Jamaica. He was educated in public schools, including City College of New York, before he joined the military through ROTC. He served two tours in Vietnam. He was later accused of helping to whitewash the My Lai massacre, when U.S. soldiers slaughtered up to 500 villagers, most of them women and children and the elderly. While investigating an account of the massacre filed by a soldier, Powell wrote, quote, "In direct refutation of this portrayal is the fact that relations between American soldiers and the Vietnamese people are excellent," he said.

Powell spent 35 years in the military, rising to chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. In the 1980s, he helped shape U.S. military policy in Latin America at a time when U.S.-backed forces killed hundreds of thousands of people in El Salvador, Nicaragua, Guatemala and other countries. Powell also helped oversee the U.S. invasion of Panama and the Persian Gulf War.

From 2001 to 2005, he served as secretary of state under George W. Bush. After working under three Republican presidents, General Powell made headlines in 2008 when he endorsed Barack Obama for president just two weeks before Election Day. Earlier this year, General Powell said he no longer considered himself a Republican, following the January 6 insurrection at the Capitol.

General Colin Powell died on Monday. His family said he died from COVID-19 complications. He was struggling with both Parkinson's disease and multiple myeloma, which left him severely immunocompromised.

To talk more about Powell's life and legacy, we're joined by two guests. Roberto Lovato is with us, award-winning journalist, author of Unforgetting: A Memoir of Family, Migration, Gangs, and Revolution in the Americas. He has closely tracked General Powell's history in Latin America. We're also joined by Clarence Lusane, professor at Howard University. He's author of many books, including Colin Powell and Condoleezza Rice: Foreign Policy, Race, and the New American Century.

Professor Lusane, let's begin with you. If you can talk about the legacy of Colin Powell?

CLARENCE LUSANE: Thank you, Amy. And thank your other guests.

So, Powell leaves a very — he was a complicated political figure who leaves a complicated legacy. As you outlined in your introduction, Powell has a rise-from-the-bottom story that really captured the imagination of many people. He rose from growing up in poor areas, or at least low-income areas, in New York to become fourth in line to president, when he became the secretary of state.

In the early 1990s, he was championed by both Democrats and Republicans and recruited by both to run for president. He declined in 1995. And when he declined, he announced that he was joining the Republican Party. Now, the Republican Party he joined in 1995 was the Republican Party of Newt Gingrich, and it did not seem to be a fit. Colin was pro-choice, pro-affirmative action, pro-immigration, called for gun control, all of which the Republican Party, under Newt Gingrich and going forward, have been against.

As you point out, he joins the George W. Bush administration, the very first choice, in fact, of George W. Bush for his Cabinet because Powell has the international gravitas and respect that nobody else in and around George W. Bush has. But he never really fit in. And in the first eight or nine months of the George W. Bush administration, Powell lost fight after fight after fight when Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld and others, who were what we call the neoconservatives, the neocons, were really running the administration. And there was a pretty good bet that Powell was not going to last until the end of the year. But then September 11 happens. Powell, always the loyal soldier, decides to stay, but he's still very isolated. He says that they basically saw him as a milk carton. They put him in the refrigerator, and when they needed him, they would bring him off the shelf, and then they would put him back. They brought him off the shelf in 2003 to talk at the U.N. because there was no one else in the administration who could get the attention and at least some belated respect. And Colin Powell went and gave that talk, which was, from A to Z, false. But he was the only one in the administration, and then, of course, a year and a half later, he's gone.

But he's complicated because, in many ways, he did not fit in with the Republican Party, even though he did not leave until early this year. But he increasingly, and anyone who was a moderate, and particularly Black moderates, simply had no place in the Republican Party. And so, he endorses Obama, he endorses Biden, he endorses Hillary Clinton — or at least he votes for them. So he really had moved and been moved out of the Republican Party for many years. But he really wasn't a Democrat or seen as a progressive, either, again, because of a long history of aggression internationally, going all the way back to Reagan and the Contras and all of the foreign policy controversies of the 1980s, and then under the Bush administration, which not only included Iraq but also included the Bush policies towards Cuba, towards Venezuela, their policies around Africa, all of which increasingly isolated Colin Powell from the progressive communities.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Well, Professor, I wanted to ask you, in terms of the need for both the Democrats and the Republicans to repeatedly lionize and hold up General Powell especially, but then as Secretary of State Powell, as a key and important American figure, given the fact that the U.S. military — of all the institutions in American society, none is more racially diverse, it seems to me, than the U.S. military, with about 40% or more than 40% of the troops as people of color. So, could you talk about the importance of Powell as a figure, given the demographics and the changes in the American military?

CLARENCE LUSANE: Thanks, Juan.

So, part of the capital that Colin Powell bills is precisely because he rises up to the top of an institution, one of the few that had not seemed to be tainted by political partisanship, and he rises up and becomes the head, becomes the head of Joint Chiefs of Staff. And Powell's personality is not a belligerent one, one that we have, unfortunately, come to see more and more in military figures and political figures, and Powell's activism relative to addressing issues of race. So, when we think of the conservative African Americans who are in and around the Republican Party — the Clarence Thomases, the Candace Owens — those types tend to come to mind. But there were African American conservatives who took positions that were supportive of issues related to the Black community and were active and supportive of civil rights. So, Powell fits into that, and so that gave him some cachet. He spoke at my graduation at Howard University in 1994 and talked about issues of racism, issues of being socially engaged. You're not going to find that coming from virtually any of the people we think of as Black Republicans these days. So, that gave Colin Powell a different kind of public-facing image, which was in conflict, again, with many of the policies in the party that he supported and in the administration in which he was involved.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: I'd like to also bring in Robert Lovato into the discussion. And, Roberto, I'm wondering if you could talk especially about — people forget that back in the invasion of Panama that not only was Colin Powell a key figure, but that the secretary of defense at the time was Dick Cheney.

ROBERTO LOVATO: Yeah. Thank you, Juan and Amy. I'm glad to be back with you.

The story of Colin Powell in Central America and other parts of the world is what I would call a tragic tale of militarism in the service of declining empire. And it also previews what I call the age of intersectional empire, that Clarence laid out a little bit of, in terms of how race is being deployed by the militaristic, bipartisan consensus elites in the United States. And so, Panama comes about, remember, right after the Central America engagements in El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, and that was preceded by the Vietnam War, when you have a decline in the morale and the sensibilities of the U.S. military, having suffered a defeat, a severe defeat, in Vietnam. And so, Powell was part of a cadre of leaders trying to figure out how to create a post-Vietnam animus for the U.S. military machine.

But one thing I want to make clear is that the Powell doctrine of overwhelming force, bringing in the public into supporting U.S. war, clearly defined national security objectives and other things that define what they call the Powell-Weinberger doctrine, are still war policies. And so, Colin Powell's political career was one thing, in terms of race and being pro-abortion, but in terms of militarism, it was clear. In El Chorrillo neighborhood, which taxi drivers in Panama still call the "little Hiroshima," you know, hundreds of people were killed. They're still excavating mass grave sites of the invasion of Panama. And so, you know — and prior to that, remember, Powell was an assistant to then-secretary of defense, under the Reagan administration, Caspar Weinberger, who was charged with looking — overseeing military policy in Central America, which, instead of going into what they called asymmetrical warfare, like they did in Vietnam and got beat up, the militarists, like Colin Powell, decided to stray away from those kinds of war and fight them through proxies, and instead focus on building up to get big, you know, state-to-state military wars. And so, the fight against Manuel Noriega, also on false pretenses, was a preview and a preparation for the state-to-state war that followed in Kuwait and Iraq.

AMY GOODMAN: And in that U.S. invasion of Panama that he spearheaded, can you talk about who died, Clarence Lusane, in Panama? We're not just talking about abstract, intellectual, you know, policy issues.

CLARENCE LUSANE: No, that's exactly right, as Ron [sic] laid out. I actually went to Panama. I went with another reporter, Stan Woods from out of Chicago. We went down after the invasion, and it was horrific. As was mentioned, there were mass graves. There were the total destruction of neighborhoods. They bombed — these were poor neighborhoods, we should be clear. So, there were wealthy neighborhoods that were surgically missed, while they bombed neighborhoods that had not only been active, but had been — you know, very much embodied people who live there. So, it was a horrific invasion. And Powell said nothing about it. It was similar to other military endeavors by the Bush administration and Reagan administration. Powell was silent on the consequences that thousands and thousands and thousands of people — and hundreds of thousands of people died in Iraq, but certainly thousands of people died in Panama. And there still has not been an accounting for that particularly horrible invasion.

AMY GOODMAN: And these were a heavily Black population of Panama.

CLARENCE LUSANE: And these were Afro-Panamanians. That's exactly right.

AMY GOODMAN: So, Roberto Lovato, go a little before the invasion of Panama to explain the Iran-Contra deal and the role of General Powell at the time. The invasion of Panama was under George H.W. Bush, and the Iran-Contra deal, of course, was when he was vice president, when it was President Ronald Reagan, the ultimately illegal deal to sell weapons to Iran, take that money and illegally support the Contras, which was against, at the time, the Boland Amendment, that said the U.S. could not support the counterrevolutionaries in Nicaragua.

ROBERTO LOVATO: So, Powell, we have to remember, was what he himself called the, quote, "chief administration advocate" for the Contras. The U.S. sponsored an insurgency to try to overthrow the Nicaraguan Sandinista government. I mean, Human Rights Watch and other organizations around the world have documented tens of thousands of people killed, nuns raped, children destroyed by the Contras. And Colin Powell would go on to say that "I have no regrets about my role" and that he fought very hard to get support for the Contras. So, Powell, as assistant secretary to Caspar Weinberger, was privy to information about the arms for hostages and giving money to the Contras deal, but managed to evade judgment, unlike Weinberger, who was indicted and condemned, and then, I believe, pardoned, thanks to lobbying by Colin Powell.

And so, Powell has proven skillful not just in terms of kind of helping reengineer the post-Vietnam military, but he's also been skillful at evading political judgment, as we saw with My Lai, as we see in Iran-Contra. And, you know, having this idea that the one, quote-unquote, "blot" on his record is the lies around Iraq is a travesty, because he's made a career out of, you know, being a good soldier and supporting U.S. mass murder around the world, but evading the credit for it. So, this is — yeah, I'll leave it there.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Yeah. And I'm wondering if you could talk, Roberto, a little bit about, for instance, his legacy in terms of arming and training the Salvadoran Army, and including his relation with José Napoleón Duarte, who was the president of El Salvador in the 1980s.

ROBERTO LOVATO: Yeah. Powell was one of the Reagan administration's point people in Central America and, as the point person, helped to tee up and then legitimate, when necessary, the Salvadoran military dictatorships and the Guatemalan and other militaries in the region that were responsible for the deaths of hundreds of thousands of innocents — and so, in the case of Guatemala, like 200,000 or more mostly Mayan Indigenous people. And so, like, in 1983, for example, Powell was part of a fact-finding kind of mission, that included Jeane Kirkpatrick and Weinberger, to go and see if the Salvadoran — to go confirm the Salvadoran military and government were doing the right thing under Duarte. And, you know, they found that they were doing the right thing and that the U.S. should continue heavily funding and training these murderous militaries. He never said anything about the fact that just a year before and a couple of years before, the massacre of El Sumpul, where about 600 people were killed, was perpetrated by the U.S.-backed Salvadoran government; the massacre of El Mozote, where a thousand people were killed, an entire town wiped out, half of the victims under age 12, and half of those children under age 12 were under age 6. Powell seemed to have amnesia about that, along with Elliott Abrams, another, I would say, war criminal. And El Calabozo and other massacres were completely ignored.

And so, we see Powell playing a role in Central America over the years, from the early '80s all the way 'til the end of the war. And, you know, Powell was very sophisticated and smart in terms of moving with the times, so that when it called for a hard line at the beginning of the Reagan era, he was there. When it called for — remember, in 1989, the FMLN guerrillas, for example, we launched an offensive in the capital of San Salvador to basically demonstrate to the U.S. government and the Salvadoran government, that it was supporting, that they couldn't defeat the FMLN guerrillas. And so, that worked. It was basically — the offensive showed that the guerrillas were able to enter into the capital and fight on their own terms. So, Powell and the Bush administration, you know, seeing this, pivoted and pushed the Salvadoran government to peace. Now, some historians will call Powell a peacenik almost, a liberal, which, I mean, if you're comparing him to like Alexander Haig or some just uber fascist like that, then, yeah, but in the larger scheme of empire and militarism, Colin Powell has been, you know, was always, a loyal cadre to mass-murdering empire.

AMY GOODMAN: So, let's go back to Colin Powell's 2003 speech at the U.N., where he falsely accused Iraq of possessing weapons of mass destruction.

SECRETARY OF STATE COLIN POWELL: Every statement I make today is backed up by sources, solid sources. These are not assertions. What we're giving you are facts and conclusions based on solid intelligence.

AMY GOODMAN: All of General Powell's main claims about weapons of mass destruction turned out to be false. But at the time, most of the media took Powell at his word. The invasion of Iraq began six weeks after he made his speech at the United Nations. He himself recognized it was the final nail in the coffin for so many, because he had called himself a "reluctant warrior." He had dragged his feet on the war, and President Bush wanted his support to be the voice and face of this war. In 2013, Democracy Now! spoke to Colonel Lawrence Wilkerson, who served as chief of staff to Secretary of State Colin Powell from 2002 to 2005. Wilkerson helped prepare Powell's infamous U.N. speech, which he later renounced. Wilkerson said Powell himself was suspicious of the intelligence and wanted to delete any reference in the speech to ties between al-Qaeda and Saddam Hussein.

COL. LAWRENCE WILKERSON: The seminal moment, as we were out at Langley and Colin Powell was getting ready to throw everything out of his presentation that had anything to do with terrorism — that is, substantial contacts between Baghdad and al-Qaeda, in particular — as he was getting — he was really angry. He took me in a room by myself and literally attacked me over it. And I said, "Boss, let's throw it out. I have as many doubts about it as you do. Let's throw it out." And so, we made a decision right there to throw it out.
Within 30 minutes of the secretary having made that decision and instructed me to do so, George Tenet showed up with a bombshell. And the bombshell was that a high-level al-Qaeda operative, under interrogation, had revealed substantial contacts between al-Qaeda and Baghdad.

AMY GOODMAN: So, that is the chief of staff of former Secretary of State Colin Powell. He is an Army colonel, Lawrence Wilkerson. In 2009, Sam Husseini of the Institute for Public Accuracy questioned Colin Powell about the false claims he made during the U.N. speech, that was based in part on false information provided by prisoners who had been tortured.

SAM HUSSEINI: General, can you talk about the al-Libi case and the link between torture and the production of tortured evidence for war?
COLIN POWELL: I don't have any details on the al-Libi case.
SAM HUSSEINI: Can you tell us when you learned that some of the evidence that you used in front of the U.N. was based on torture? When did you learn that?
COLIN POWELL: I don't know that. I don't know what information you're referring to, so I can't answer.
SAM HUSSEINI: Your chief of staff, Wilkerson, has written about this.
COLIN POWELL: So what? [inaudible] Mr. Wilkerson.
SAM HUSSEINI: So, you'd think you'd know about it.
COLIN POWELL: The information I presented to the U.N. was vetted by the CIA. Every word came from the CIA. And they stood behind all that information. I don't know that any of them would believe that torture was involved. I don't know that as a fact. There's a lot of speculation, particularly by people who never attended any of these meetings. But I'm not aware of that.

AMY GOODMAN: Clarence Lusane, we're going to give you the final word. Again, this speech, he would late call a "blot" on his career.

CLARENCE LUSANE: So, the thing to remember about that period is that the entire global community was against the invasion. So, when Colin Powell and the Bush administration says that they were vetting this information, they were not listening not only to their allies, they were not listening to what the United Nations itself was actually doing and had essentially proven that there were no weapons of mass destruction. But the administration was determined to go, and Colin Powell basically acceded to that, as he would do both prior to that speech, as he did with the World Conference Against Racism, when the United States and Israel were the only two countries that pulled out, and as he would do after the invasion of Iraq on other policies by the George W. Bush administration, until he was finally driven out. So, there does have to be an accounting for that record. There's no way to kind of pretty it up. It was atrocious. And again, hundreds of thousands — in some estimates, up to a million — people died as a result of that war.

AMY GOODMAN: And there are still thousands of U.S. troops in Iraq. Clarence Lusane, I want to thank you for being with us, professor at Howard University, author of Colin Powell and Condoleezza Rice: Foreign Policy, Race, and the New American Century, and Robert Lovato, Salvadoran American journalist and author, wrote his memoir, Unforgetting: A Memoir of Family, Migration, Gangs, and Revolution in the Americas.

In 30 seconds, we bring you a Democracy Now! exclusive: a conversation with Jean Montrevil, a prominent Haitian American immigrant rights activist who was deported to Haiti several years ago. Now, in a remarkable development, he was allowed to fly back to New York. Stay with us.

The original content of this program is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License. Please attribute legal copies of this work to democracynow.org. Some of the work(s) that this program incorporates, however, may be separately licensed. For further information or additional permissions, contact us.

A star’s trek to space obscures deadly desert treks below

"Star Trek" was in the news this week, as actor William Shatner, who played "Captain Kirk" in the classic 1960s TV program, blasted into space at the age of 90 as one of billionaire Jeff Bezos' latest Blue Origin space tourists. In this remote region of west Texas, mere miles from Bezos' gilded launch pad, a trek of another kind takes place every day, as migrants, many fleeing violence, the climate crisis and poverty attempt the difficult journey from Mexico to the U.S. While the spacecraft lifted its privileged passengers aloft, lost lives littered the Chihuahuan Desert floor far below. Travel by foot under the blazing hot sun is difficult through the sand, rock and cacti, made harder by the militarized enforcement of the broken U.S. immigration system.

Thousands of migrants have died attempting this journey. Armando Alejo Hernandez was last heard from in early May. Armando's disappearance in the desert has been addressed in this column before, also with a reference to the Blue Origin space facility in nearby Van Horn, Texas. In July, the heat of the desert was at its deadliest, and Jeff Bezos was locked in what has been dubbed "the billionaire's space race" with Richard Branson, who flew with a small crew aboard his own spaceship to achieve a few minutes of suborbital weightlessness.

Their brief trips received international acclaim. If only the media scrum would linger, and focus their cameras on the more perilous journeys of these earthbound desert travelers.

Armando spent a decade in the United States, working and building a family, with two sons who were U.S. citizens by birth. Armando, though, never obtained legal documentation, and was deported in 2016. His older son, Derek, speaking on the Democracy Now! news hour, described the genesis of Armando's fateful trip last May:

"Not having him around was tough on me, because I grew up, pretty much my whole childhood…all the time with my dad," Derek explained. "So, we were on the phone one day, and I asked him if he could come back, because I just wanted him around… I didn't get to see him for four years."

Alexis Corona was in a small group of migrants traveling north with Armando. He recently told Telemundo TV, "Armando said he couldn't walk anymore, and he wanted to see if he could be rescued…From where he stayed, maybe eight or nine miles ahead, the
rest of us were caught by immigration agents. We explained where Armando was, that he couldn't walk anymore, that he didn't have enough water or food. The reaction was, 'Well, if he stayed behind, he'll just have to stay there.'"

Derek was communicating with his father at that time. Armando sent
recorded voice messages to his son, describing his clothing, that he had no water and felt he couldn't go on. He sent a photo with a building high on a mountain in front of him. The photo clearly shows a U.S. government radar installation, placing Armando along the southern slope of Eagle Peak, in Hudspeth County, not far from El Paso.

Border Patrol agent Alex Jara, interviewed for the documentary "Missing in Brooks County," admitted, "We don't call them people anymore. We call them 'bodies.' Because if you start calling them people, then it starts getting to you."

Brooks County is home to one of the inland Customs and Border Protection checkpoints, which drives migrants lacking documentation off of Brooks County's single main roadway and into the desert to avoid capture.

"The increase of migration has begun since the beginning of the Biden administration," Eddie Canales, the director of the South Texas Human Rights Center, based in Brooks County, said on Democracy Now! "I have families here, representatives from different countries right now, that are still searching for their missing loved ones… the number has increased. There have been 99 recoveries of bodies and skeletal remains in Brooks County alone this year."

Average temperatures in the desert are cooler at this time of year, but unguided travel through the harsh environment is still perilous. Many more will needlessly die. Immigrant rights activists are pressuring the White House and Congress to ensure that a pathway to citizenship for undocumented residents is included in the Build Back Better bill. The overall bill is being blocked by conservative Democratic Senators Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema, of another border state, Arizona, home to the equally dangerous Sonoran Desert.

It is fine to gaze heavenward, to reach for the stars, inspired by the green-card-holding, Canadian actor William Shatner. But the crises that engulf us now will not be solved by spaceshots, but by people pulling together here on earth, with feet firmly planted on the ground.

Family of Henrietta Lacks lambasts racist medical system amid filing new lawsuit over use of stolen cells

The family of Henrietta Lacks has filed a lawsuit against biotech company Thermo Fisher Scientific for making billions in profit from the "HeLa" cell line. Henrietta Lacks was an African American patient at Johns Hopkins University Hospital. Doctors kept her tissue samples without her consent for experimental studies while treating her for cervical cancer in 1951. Benjamin Crump, one of the lawyers for the case, filed 70 years after her death, calls Henrietta Lacks a "cornerstone of modern medicine," as her cells have since played a part in cancer research, the polio vaccine and even COVID-19 vaccines. Ron Lacks, author and grandson of Henrietta Lacks, laments the fact that the family was never notified when his grandmother died, and that part of what motivates the lawsuit is to ensure "no other family should ever go through this."

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

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

The family of Henrietta Lacks, the African American cancer patient whose cells were taken by Johns Hopkins University Hospital without her consent in 1951, is suing the pharmaceutical company Thermo Fisher Scientific and demanding reparations and the intellectual property of those cells.

Henrietta Lacks was a young Black mother in segregated Baltimore who suffered from metastatic cervical cancer. Doctors took tissue samples from her womb, unknowingly, that went on to become one of the most productive cell lines, leading to groundbreaking research that became a cornerstone of modern medicine, from cancer care and HIV/AIDS treatment to helping scientists produce remedies for several diseases, including the first polio vaccine and even COVID-19 vaccines. Her cells were just known as "HeLa" cells — H-E-L-A — the first two letters of Henrietta Lacks's first and last name. But even her family had no clue about her legacy until more than 20 years after her death.

The new lawsuit denounces a racist medical system and accuses Thermo Fisher of using the HeLa cell line without their consent, while making billions of dollars in profit. The family announced the lawsuit on Monday, 70 years to the day after Henrietta Lacks's death. This is her granddaughter, Kimberly Lacks.

KIMBERLY LACKS: I think about my grandmother, as I said before, laying in that hospital room and how they came in there when she had radiation going through her body, in horrific pain, but all they were concerned about was taking cell tissues from her body. That's terrible.
BENJAMIN CRUMP: Terrible.
KIMBERLY LACKS: And then, on top of that, no one in the family had any idea. They acted like she was alone. They didn't reach out to her husband, her aunt, her cousins — anyone — to let them know what was taking place. That's disgraceful. And that definitely is racism, in my opinion. We was treated — the family was treated, she was treated horribly.
My father, one thing I can say about him is he's a sweet man. And he always said that "Who wouldn't want a pocket full of money? Anybody, everybody wants money. But it's a bigger picture." But he did say to me — and he's sickly, but he was very happy and excited to know that we're finally going to get justice, finally going to get justice for Henrietta Lacks, for his mother.

AMY GOODMAN: For more, we go to Baltimore to speak to Ron Lacks, one of the grandsons of Henrietta Lacks, author of Henrietta Lacks: The Untold Story. We are also joined by one of the family's attorneys, the leading civil rights lawyer Ben Crump.

We welcome you both to Democracy Now! Ben, let's start with you. Talk about why you're suing this particular pharmaceutical company and more about what happened to Henrietta Lacks.

BENJAMIN CRUMP: Surely, Amy. Thank you for having Ron and I to talk about this landmark lawsuit, that is based on the principle of not just simple justice, not just social justice, but this lawsuit is based largely, in part, on this notion of genetic justice — the belief that justice should flow from one generation to the next.

We have sued Thermo Fisher Scientific, and there will be others, who have derived benefit from the immortal cells of Henrietta Lacks 'til this day. And we believe unjust enrichment is the legal theory, that is well established, that allows the estate of Henrietta Lacks to make this claim, that taking her cells was wrong. And the law says if you are unjustly enriched from the wrongdoing, then you should not be allowed to continue to benefit at the peril of the victim, which is Henrietta Lacks.

And that's why her family, her linear descendants, are saying, "Why is it that Henry Ford's family can define his legacy and benefit from his legacy and pass it on to generations of his legacy and unborn children who have yet to come into the world?" But their grandmother, this Black woman, her great contributions to medicine, her story is being told by everybody else. They are saying, "We get the right to define her legacy." Everybody else is benefiting. Pharmaceutical companies are making billions upon billions of dollars from Henrietta Lacks' miraculous [inaudible] — and their family hasn't received —

AMY GOODMAN: Ben Crump, let me ask you — you're freezing a little bit on Skype. But the company, Thermo Fisher, why just one company then?

BENJAMIN CRUMP: Well, we believe there will be others. There were many corporations in the aftermath of George Floyd who made a commitment to social justice, because they watched George Floyd suffer for nine minutes and 29 seconds. I submit that what Henrietta Lacks went through was equal, if not far worse than what George Floyd suffered. So, for all those pharmaceutical companies who have made billions, who made the commitment to social justice in the aftermath of George Floyd, well, you can prove that commitment by doing right by Henrietta Lacks finally, do right by her, say her name, because her life mattered and Black lives matter. You acknowledge that she was, you know, miraculous. Her cells are the cornerstone of modern medicine, with having medical vaccines created from her cells, or developed, with polio, with cancer research. They did in vitro advancements, COVID-19 vaccination —

AMY GOODMAN: What were so special about Henrietta Lacks's cells?

BENJAMIN CRUMP: Well, you know, that's a great question. Everybody should know the name of Henrietta Lacks, I mean, not just people in America but all over the globe, because her cells, for the first time in the history of the world, survived outside of her body. They did this medical experiment in Johns Hopkins, which was tantamount to medical racism, because they used her as a lab rat, as they used many other Black people in that era. But they took the cells. They were trying to see if a cell could survive outside of the body. And nobody to that point could, but Henrietta Lacks' miraculous cells not only survived, but they regenerated every 24 hours and kept regenerating every time they would [inaudible]. The cell would continue to regenerate from another cell. And so, this was a medical marvel for scientists to be able to use research of actual cells.

And so, her cells have saved millions and millions of lives. And so, that's why, as her grandson Ron Lacks says, his grandmother is up in heaven, and she's looking down and saying, "How tremendous it is that my cells are doing all these good things," and she sees all these companies making all this money — I mean, billions of dollars — and she says, "Well, what about my children? What about my family?"

And that's why we're bringing this landmark case, not only based in these principles of civil rights but also in the theory of unjust enrichment, because equity would demand, justice would demand, that Henrietta Lacks' estate is allowed to benefit from the use of her cells. Thermo Fisher does not have intellectual property rights over her cells superior to her flesh and blood.

AMY GOODMAN: We're going to go to Ron in one second, but, Ben Crump, I watched your news conference carefully on Monday. That was 70 years to the day that Henrietta Lacks died, and you made a reference to her suffering at the end of her life. Yes, she was a cervical cancer patient, but you talked about radioactive rods being put inside her — can you explain? — that weren't actually — this procedure wasn't done to help her?

BENJAMIN CRUMP: Absolutely. They were not trying to help her with her cancer. They were experimenting with her, using her as a lab rat, as with the time in the 1950s with Black people. We must remember, this was the era when they did the Tuskegee experiment. They did the Alabama appendectomy, where people like Fannie Lou Hamer, Black women, went to hospitals and were lied to. They said they were treating them, and they actually sterilized them, where they could have no children. And you had Black soldiers during this time, in World War II, being put in gas chambers with faulty gas masks so they could study the effects of the gas chambers on the human body. And when those Black soldiers complained, Amy, they were court-martialed and put in prison.

AMY GOODMAN: And as a result of the medical experimentation on the African American community, like Tuskegee, you have the situation where African Americans today are concerned about the COVID-19 vaccine, asking, "Is there experimentation being done right here?"

But I want to go right now to Ron Lacks, the grandson of Henrietta Lacks and the author of Henrietta Lacks: The Untold Story.

Ron, thanks so much for joining us. Your grandmother has led to so many medical breakthroughs because of her line, her cell line, the HeLa cells. I was just talking to a science student who said he was told it was based on a Helen Lane. And, of course, it's the first two letters of both of her names, Henrietta Lacks. When did you learn how that cell line was being used? And talk about the significance of this lawsuit.

RON LACKS: Through my mother, Bobbette Lacks. She uncovered it when she was having lunch with a neighbor. And she was introduced as Bobbette Lacks. And a professor said, "We're working with someone's cells named Henrietta Lacks." And then my mother told him, "That's my mother-in-law." And that's when we first found out, in 1973.

AMY GOODMAN: So, talk about growing up as the grandson of Henrietta Lacks and what you understood, and how you actually learned about what happened with your grandmother, and what caused you to write your book, Henrietta Lacks: The Untold Story.

RON LACKS: Well, when they started doing interviews with my family, that's when more information about what was going on at the time. So, I was young. I was a teenager. So I didn't understand it too much until later years, when I found out all what her cells has been doing. And my father, I watched him try to get lawyers, with no success. So, he was — my parents was trying to find out what was going on with the cells and who was doing what. And we found out that pharmaceuticals was enriching themselves. So, my father, like I said, unsuccessfully, tried. And coming up, it took a strain on him, because he watched his mother when he was a teenager. The radiation bars that was inserted in her took its toll on his mother, and he watched that. And he's disturbed from that right to this day.

So, when this hit the media, they took a different approach to the family. Where my father was trying to explain what was going on with him trying to get control of Henrietta's legacy, they turned their back on him, even at a meeting with NIH and Johns Hopkins, and my dad was there with his attorney. And they had Rebecca Skloot on the line, mainly listening to what she had to say, instead of my dad and his attorney.

So, I've seen the total disrespect to my father. And I had to get what he experienced from his mother to what we was going through. And the world should know what was done to this family. They tried to divide us. They tried to keep us in the dark about things. And I had to tell the story. It's a very interesting story, what we went through. And I think no family should ever go through this.

AMY GOODMAN: And then, talk about your attempts to bring lawsuits to challenge, reshape the narrative of your grandmother, and then going on your book tour, one place, and making the final connection in this latest lawsuit.

RON LACKS: Well, like I said, they tried for years to get attorneys to take this case up. This is Johns Hopkins' backyard, so we wasn't getting nowhere. Only allies that we had was University of Maryland and Danny Glover, you know, the only ones that would respect the Lacks family. So, when I went to Texas on my first booking sign in, they embraced me, and I talked to the congregation there, and I met a young man, and he introduced me to Ben Crump. And that's when the light got shined on this situation. And I'm so happy. God is good.

AMY GOODMAN: So, can you talk about how your family was defamed, the stories told about your family that were untrue, to discredit you, to try not to seek some kind of reparations for what happened to your grandmother?

RON LACKS: Well, OK, for one thing, Rebecca Skloot has embarrassed Henrietta's children, all four of them. She called my dad, Sonny and Abdul greedy, because they're only in this for the money. But my father and them was in this ever since 1973, just trying to get the rights to his grandmother's legacy. And Henrietta Lacks signed her name with an X —

AMY GOODMAN: Rebecca Skloot, of course, is the author of another book on Henrietta Lacks, that has been a multiyear best-seller, The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks. Go ahead, Ron.

RON LACKS: Exactly. And she had in there that my grandmother signed her name with an X. That's why I put in the back of my book, with a poem, my grandmother's John Hancock, right in the back. She had beautiful penmanship. And illiterate — trying to say that my grandmother was illiterate. She wasn't. She was a beautiful, Black, intelligent woman that loved her family and loved her neighbors. So, my grandmother would feed the neighborhood. And now you're asking her not to feed her children? That don't sound right to me. She was a wonderful woman.

AMY GOODMAN: What does it mean, as you move forward, your family standing together at this lawsuit, the grandchildren speaking up for your parents, the children of Henrietta Lacks?

RON LACKS: For a next generation, that's what I'm saying, that the Lacks family needs to take back control of Henrietta's legacy, so we can pass down to the next generation of Lackses, so they won't have to go through this fight that my grandfather and my dad went through. So that's why I had to speak out and tell my story.

AMY GOODMAN: Ron Lacks, I want to thank you for being with us, grandson of Henrietta Lacks, author of Henrietta Lacks: The Untold Story, speaking to us from Baltimore, and Ben Crump, civil rights attorney, speaking to us from Houston.

Coming up, we speak to historian Keisha Blain, author of the new book, Until I Am Free: Fannie Lou Hamer's Enduring Message to America. All that and more, coming up.

'We need to deliver': Anger mounts as Manchin and Sinema revel in obstruction of Democratic priorities

Democrats are still divided over President Biden's sweeping $3.5 trillion spending plan to expand the social safety net, increase taxes on the rich and corporations, improve worker rights and combat the climate crisis. Senate Democrats are hoping to use the budget reconciliation process to pass the bill, but this will only work if the entire Democratic caucus backs the deal, and conservative Democrats have balked at the price tag. Progressive Democrats in the House, meanwhile, say they won't vote for a separate $1.2 trillion infrastructure bill passed by the Senate unless the reconciliation bill is part of the package. "We want to pass the full agenda that President Biden has set forth," says Ro Khanna, a Democratic congressmember from California. "This is what President Biden campaigned on, and we need to deliver." Khanna also discusses U.S. immigration policy, raising the refugee cap, investigating the full 20 years of the War in Afghanistan and bringing U.S. troops home from Iraq.

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

AMY GOODMAN: We begin today's show looking at what Senator Bernie Sanders calls "the most consequential legislation since the 1930s and FDR and the New Deal." We're talking about President Biden's sweeping three-and-a-half-trillion-dollar spending plan to expand the social safety net, increase taxes on the rich and corporations, improve worker rights and combat the climate emergency.

Senate Democrats are hoping to use the budget reconciliation process to pass the larger package, but this will only succeed if the entire Democratic caucus backs the deal. So far, two conservative Democratic senators — Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona and Joe Manchin of West Virginia — have balked at the three-and-a-half-trillion-dollar price tag.

This comes as House Democrats face a looming deadline on September 27. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi had agreed to hold a vote on the separate, bipartisan $1.2 trillion infrastructure bill by that date, but now some House Democrats say the deadline may be missed. A group of progressive Democrats are threatening to vote against the smaller, bipartisan infrastructure deal if it's not voted on alongside the larger three-and-a-half-trillion-dollar plan.

Last week, President Biden urged Democrats to back his spending plan, outlining some of its key components.

PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: Investments in roads, bridges, highways; clean water in every home and every school; universal broadband; quality, affordable places for families to live. And we can invest in our people, giving our families a little help with their toughest expenses, like daycare, child care, elder care, prescription drugs, healthcare, preparing our young people to compete against any country in the world with preschool and community college. We can confront this crisis of extreme weather and climate change, and not only protect our communities, but create new opportunities, new industries and new jobs. In short, this is an opportunity to be the nation we know we can be, a nation where all of us — all of us, not just those at the top — are getting a share of the benefits of a growing economy in the years ahead.

AMY GOODMAN: President Biden, speaking Thursday at the White House.

Meanwhile, Democrats were dealt a setback Sunday when the unelected Senate parliamentarian ruled Democrats could not include a pathway to citizenship to millions of people as part of the reconciliation bill.

We go now to Washington, D.C., where we're joined by Ro Khanna, Democratic congressmember from California.

Welcome to Democracy Now! Congressmember Khanna, you are part of a group of progressive Democrats that say that you will vote against the bipartisan bill if it's not voted on alongside this larger, sweeping, FDR-esque, three-and-a-half-trillion-dollar plan. Explain your position.

REP. RO KHANNA: Amy, our position has been consistent for months. We want to pass the full agenda that President Biden has set forth. Yes, we need investments in roads and bridges and highways and the traditional infrastructure, but we also need investments in modern infrastructure that takes into account the climate. You can't just have traditional infrastructure without having a clean energy standard, without investing electric vehicles, without investing in renewable energy. And we need the human investments in child care, in the expansion of Medicare, in free community college. This is what President Biden campaigned on, and we need to deliver.

AMY GOODMAN: And so, how would this work? And talk about the timeline right now. And maybe what most people don't realize, this three-and-a-half trillion dollars is not going to be spent this year.

REP. RO KHANNA: Thank you, Amy, for making that clarification. It is over 10 years. People don't talk about the fact that over those same 10 years, we're going to spend $7.5 trillion on defense. When they talk about defense, they use the one-year number, but when they're talking about social investments, human investments, they use the 10-year number. So this is $350 billion over the year.

The other point that is worth making is that the progressives have been willing to have a conversation. We are willing to engage in a dialogue with the White House, with Senator Manchin, with Senator Sinema, of how we get this done. The question is: Are they going to engage in that dialogue? We still haven't heard what Senator Manchin and Senator Sinema are for. They keep saying what they're against. What we want to know is: What are they for?

AMY GOODMAN: So, on Sunday, you tweeted, "Can anyone explain to me why we are passively giving Elizabeth MacDonough who has not won a single vote more power than any sitting Senator or House member to kill the $15 wage and common sense immigration policy? Overrule her," you said. Well, since most people don't know who she is, explain who she is, what she did and what you think has to happen.

REP. RO KHANNA: I don't have anything personal against Elizabeth MacDonough. I just don't understand this idea that a Senate parliamentarian is going to decide whether this country — whether we can have a $15 minimum wage, whether we can have a path to citizenship for those who are undocumented. I mean, we fight elections over this. This is what congressional elections are over. This is what the presidential election is over. Madison, Jefferson, they didn't put Senate parliamentarian in the Constitution. It's a total artifice that is a creation of arcane Senate rules.

And the point is that the Senate, with a 51-vote majority, is not bound by the Senate parliamentarian's advice on what can pass and what can't pass as an exception to the filibuster. In the past, the Senate parliamentarian has been overruled many times by presidents and vice presidents. The vice president, of course, is the president of the Senate. And what I've said is that we should overrule her opinion on this. It's just plain wrong. I mean, $15 minimum wage does have a budget impact. Making people citizens who pay taxes does have a budget impact. And it's mind-boggling to me that this one person is going to decide the fate of millions of people.

AMY GOODMAN: So, what can you do?

REP. RO KHANNA: The administration can overrule the parliamentarian. I mean, it takes 51 senators to say we disagree with the parliamentarian's ruling. We have those 51 senators, with our 50 Senate members plus Vice President Harris. And a number of us said that they should have overruled her months ago on the $15 wage. Now this has become a pattern of her obstructing the president's agenda.

She's making opinions. I mean, she's opining that, well, someone may take away immigration status later on. First of all, she doesn't understand constitutional law. You can't just repeal something. It's a violation of the due process. Second, it's not her place to be having those political conversations. No one elected her. She has no legitimacy.

So, the president should make it clear, vice president should make it clear, that we will overrule her. Now, the question is, well, this will upset norms, this will upset decorum. I mean, what's more important? Norms and decorum or the lives of millions of people who don't have citizenship or the lives of millions of people who aren't making a decent wage?

AMY GOODMAN: So, your message to Manchin and Sinema right now, and also the issue of who they're beholden to — for example, the well-known ties of Senator Manchin to the oil, gas and coal industry — and how that can play into his opposing a three-and-a-half-trillion-dollar deal which is about the greening of America?

REP. RO KHANNA: You know, Amy, I have a decent relationship with Senator Manchin. I've never questioned his integrity. My point is, let's get to the right policy. Let's have a conversation. I mean, I understand that there are fossil fuel industry in his state. And so, if he has a view that we need to have more investment in his state in clean energy so that these jobs are first in West Virginia and he can go to his constituents and say, "This is not going to cost the economy in West Virginia; it's actually going to add to it," I'm open to having that conversation. Many progressives are open to having a conversation with him.

We don't know exactly where he and Senator Sinema are coming from. For example, on voting rights, his plan, it's not one I fully agree with, but it's a good one, and the progressives can rally around his voting rights plan. I guess my question to the senator, about Manchin and Sinema, is: What is their plan? Where is their — what are they proposing? That, as an initial matter, is necessary for us to get to a yes. And we made that clear to both the White House and those senators, that they have to come up with a proposal.

AMY GOODMAN: He, Manchin, has said he has a concern about the money. Manchin has received more campaign donations from the oil, coal and gas industries than any other senator. Maybe that's the money he's concerned about?

REP. RO KHANNA: Well, Amy, look, I'm having a hearing, as the environment chair, where we're going to get the fossil fuel companies in for the first time — Exxon, Chevron, BP, Shell. So, we're certainly going to realize and find out what they've been doing to kill legislation, to have lobbying influence.

I will say this: I mean, West Virginia has a large fossil fuel industry. So, if there are individuals who are supporting him in those industries, that, to me, in and of itself, doesn't — isn't what is the decisive factor. What is the decisive factor is: What is he for? And if he comes onto the table and says, "Look, I want these things for West Virginia," I think he'll find a lot of people in the caucus are willing to do that. We want to have a dialogue with him. I personally have never questioned his integrity. What I want to do is: How do we get to a yes for the president's agenda? And it's in all of our interests as Democrats to do that.


El Salvador becomes first nation to make Bitcoin legal tender amid growing authoritarianism

Thousands in El Salvador took to the streets Wednesday to protest President Nayib Bukele's growing consolidation of power and a new law making El Salvador the world's first country to recognize the highly volatile cryptocurrency bitcoin as legal tender. Protesters in El Salvador are also criticizing a recent court ruling that paves the way for Bukele to run for reelection in 2024. El Salvador's turn to bitcoin comes as a "surprise" to many, but has been pushed by Bukele as a way to lessen remittance fees, says Jorge Cuéllar, an assistant professor of Latin American, Latino and Caribbean studies at Dartmouth College. "There's no reason why bitcoin should be at the top of the government agenda in a moment of pandemic, of water stress, of food insecurity, of depressed wages," Cuéllar says. "People are very suspicious of this."



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

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now! I'm Amy Goodman, with Nermeen Shaikh.

We turn to El Salvador, where thousands took to the streets Wednesday to protest President Nayib Bukele's growing consolidation of power and a new law making El Salvador the world's first country to recognize the highly volatile cryptocurrency bitcoin as legal tender. Protesters in San Salvador condemned Bukele's plan.

ADRIANA MONTENEGRO: [translated] They promised to do things differently, and they've been worse. We are here in the midst of the pandemic because this dictatorship is deadlier than the virus. We aren't going to stay home with our arms crossed, because our parents and grandparents and uncles died for a country free of dictatorships and corruption. We are still seeing that. Now it is our turn to resist.

AMY GOODMAN: Protesters in El Salvador are also criticizing the recent court ruling that paves the way for President Bukele to run for reelection in 2024.

We're joined now by Jorge Cuéllar. He's assistant professor at Dartmouth College, his forthcoming book, Everyday Life and Everyday Death in El Salvador. His latest article in the New Left Review is headlined "Bitcoin Sanctuaries."

Professor Cuéllar, it's great to have you with us. Explain the significance. Why has El Salvador become the first country in the world to recognize bitcoin as legal tender? What does it mean?

JORGE CUÉLLAR: So, the turn to bitcoin, Amy, is actually quite a surprise to a lot of us. There's no reason why bitcoin should be at the top of the government agenda in a moment of pandemic, of water stress, of food insecurity, of depressed wages. But the big sell by Bukele around bitcoin has been that it will lessen remittance fees to the country. As you know, Salvadorans are one of the largest populations that remit money to El Salvador, which is a quarter of GDP. And so, one of his arguments for the turn to bitcoin has been to lessen those commissions that entities like Western Union or MoneyGram take on every remittance sent to the country. But, as you can see, people are very suspicious of this. And, in fact, it's been shown that those remittance commissions are actually higher in bitcoin than they are with traditional wire transfer services.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: Jorge Cuéllar, could you also explain how this rollout has been problematic? There is the Chivo wallet. People in El Salvador have been offered an incentive of $30. But explain what's happened with the rollout, and also the implications of numbers of people in the country who don't have access to cellphones to use the app. And what demographics, what groups in the country will be most at risk as a result of bitcoin being used as legal tender?

JORGE CUÉLLAR: Yeah. So, the rolling out of bitcoin in El Salvador and using Chivo wallet, this app that people can download from smartphone stores, has been very glitchy, has been — has often been down for peak times during the day, and it's been a frustrating experience for many people who have tried to sign up and use it and experiment with the app. ATMs themselves have fallen all the time, repeatedly, leading to a lot of user frustration and showing that bitcoin is not only an unstable currency, but even the infrastructure that El Salvador has, very improvised up to the September 7th rollout, has been very piecemeal and uneven. Right?

And so, what this has done, in effect, the $30 in bitcoin that has incentivized folks to sign up, has been something that many poor Salvadorans and common people are interested in. It functions as a kind of economic stimulus in times of pandemic. And so folks are very eager to sign up. But, in fact, the system has been so erratic that it hasn't really worked. But what I'm seeing, based on popular use, is that people are signing up for the app, using — getting their $30 that is offered by the government to sign up, and actually just withdrawing it. And so, they're withdrawing it into U.S. dollars and going out to the restaurant and getting some food, buying some groceries, and actually just leaving the app to the side, because, again, the recurrent suspicion of bitcoin and Chivo wallet, which is shrouded in so much ambiguity and lack of educational campaigns by the government to really tell people what bitcoin is, what it means, how it impacts daily life and how it sort of intersects with daily activity.

And this has been one of the most challenging — or, one of the most challenged sites, where the social movements have drawn attention to bitcoin as being more of a ploy for supporting illicit accumulation, narco money, money laundering, and for foreign investors, who are the primary audience of bitcoin, to come into the country and invest and transform this kind of monopoly immaterial money into real estate, into business, into other forms of currency and wealth that is inaccessible, in general, to the common Salvadoran person.

AMY GOODMAN: Jorge, what are the environmental implications of bitcoin? And how does it fit into the right-wing philosophy of President Bukele as he tries to consolidate power?

JORGE CUÉLLAR: So, the bitcoin rollout actually comes after various constitutional moments of erosion, where he's stacked the Legislative Assembly, where he's dismissed magistrate and constitutional judges. So the bitcoin project actually is shadowed by this kind of authoritarian consolidation, which has been part of his kind of command economy, where he seems to be the one giving orders and everybody has to follow along.

But in terms of the environmental implications of bitcoin, it operates through computers and through high-energy use. And so, one of the big pitches that Bukele made initially to foreign investors to come and bring their bitcoin to El Salvador was that they would offer cheap energy. And this cheap energy, Bukele claimed, was going to come from volcanic geothermal sites that he hopes to build around the country's volcanoes. Already geothermal is used in El Salvador in very uneven ways, but he's trying to ramp this up. And this will have environmental impacts in the country, in a place that's extremely deforested, is living through high levels of water stress and is part of the question of food scarcity that often drives things like migration. So, bitcoin is at the heart of ecological concerns for El Salvador.

AMY GOODMAN: We want to thank you for being with us, Jorge Cuéllar, assistant professor at Dartmouth College. We'll link to your article in the New Left Review headlined "Bitcoin Sanctuaries." His forthcoming book, Everyday Life and Everyday Death in El Salvador.

That does it for our show. Democracy Now! is produced with Renée Feltz, Mike Burke, Deena Guzder, Messiah Rhodes, Nermeen Shaikh, María Taracena, Tami Woronoff, Charina Nadura, Sam Alcoff, Tey-Marie Astudillo, John Hamilton, Robby Karran, Hany Massoud, Adriano Contreras. Our general manager is Julie Crosby. Special thanks to Becca Staley, Miriam Barnard, Paul Powell, Mike DiFilippo, Miguel Nogueira, Hugh Gran, Denis Moynihan, David Prude. I'm Amy Goodman, with Nermeen Shaikh.

The original content of this program is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License. Please attribute legal copies of this work to democracynow.org. Some of the work(s) that this program incorporates, however, may be separately licensed. For further information or additional permissions, contact us.


Top gymnasts blast FBI for bungling sexual abuse probe of Dr. Larry Nassar

This week some of gymnastics' biggest stars shared scathing testimony to the Senate Judiciary Committee about the FBI's failure to stop Larry Nassar, the USA Gymnastics doctor and serial sexual abuser. Lawyers say that after the FBI was first told of Nassar's crimes, he abused another 120 people before his 2016 arrest. We feature the testimony of Simone Biles, the four-time Olympic gold medalist, who is widely considered to be the greatest gymnast of all time, and speak with gymnast Rachael Denhollander, who was the first to publicly accuse Nassar of sexual abuse and says the case exposes a systemic failure to take sexual abuse seriously. "Something we need to be asking as we're watching this unfold is: What are we not seeing?" Denhollander says. "What happens to the survivors who don't have an army of 500 women? What happens to the survivors who don't have Olympians headlining their case and raising the profile of the gross negligence and corruption that's taking place in our system?" We also speak with Mark Alesia, who was an investigative reporter at The Indianapolis Star in 2016 and helped to break the story about Nassar's sexual abuse of gymnasts. "The FBI did not take the gymnasts' complaints seriously," Alesia says.


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

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

Some of gymnastics' biggest stars offered scathing testimony Wednesday to the Senate Judiciary Committee about the FBI's failure to stop serial sexual abuser, USA Gymnastics doctor Larry Nassar. Lawyers say in the time between when the FBI was first told of Nassar's crimes and his 2016 arrest, Nassar abused another 120 people. FBI Director Christopher Wray apologized to the gymnasts in the Senate hearing. Last week, the FBI fired an agent involved in the investigation into Nassar. Both the gymnasts and senators on the Judiciary Committee called out Justice Department leadership for failing to appear at Wednesday's hearing. Attorney General Merrick Garland is expected to testify next month.

This is the testimony of Simone Biles, the four-time Olympic gold medalist, who is widely considered to be the greatest gymnast of all time.

SIMONE BILES: Over the course of my gymnastics career, I have won 25 World Championship medals and seven Olympic medals for Team USA. That record means so much to me, and I am proud of my representation of this nation through gymnastics.
I am also a survivor of sexual abuse. And I believe without a doubt that the circumstances that led to my abuse and allowed it to continue, are directly the result of the fact that the organizations created by Congress to oversee and protect me as an athlete — USA Gymnastics and the United States Olympic and Paralympic Committee — failed to do their jobs.
Nelson Mandela once said, "There can be no keener revelation of a society's soul than the way in which it treats its children." It is the power of that statement that compels and empowers me to be here in front of you today. I don't want another young gymnast, Olympic athlete or any individual to experience the horror that I and hundreds of others have endured before, during and continuing to this day in the wake of the Larry Nassar abuse. To be clear — sorry.
SEN. DICK DURBIN: Take your time.
SIMONE BILES: To be clear, I blame Larry Nassar, and I also blame an entire system that enabled and [perpetuated] his abuse.
USA Gymnastics and the United States Olympic and Paralympic Committee knew that I was abused by their official team doctor long before I was ever made aware of their knowledge. In May of 2015, Rhonda Faehn, the former head of the USA Gymnastics Women's Program, was told by my friend and teammate, Maggie Nichols, that she suspected I, too, was a victim. I didn't understand the magnitude of what all was happening until The Indianapolis Star published its article in the fall of 2016 entitled "Former USA Gymnastics doctor accused of abuse." Yet, while I was a member of the 2016 U.S. Olympic team, neither USAG, USOPC, nor the FBI ever contacted me or my parents. While others had been informed and investigations were ongoing, I had been left to wonder why I was not told until after the Rio Games.
This is the largest case of sexual abuse in the history of American sport. And although there has been a fully independent investigation of the FBI's handling of the case, neither USAG nor USOPC have ever been made the subject of the same level of scrutiny. These are the entities entrusted with the protection of our sport and our athletes, and yet it feels like questions of responsibility and organizational failures remain unanswered. As you pursue the answers to those questions, I ask that your work be guided by the same question that Rachael Denhollander and many others have asked: "How much is a little girl worth?"
I sit before you today to raise my voice so that no little girl must endure what I, the athletes at this table and the countless others who needlessly suffered under Nassar's guise of medical treatment, which we continue to endure today. We suffered and continue to suffer because no one at FBI, USAG or the USOPC did what was necessary to protect us. We have been failed, and we deserve answers.
Nassar is where he belongs, but those who enabled him deserve to be held accountable. If they are not, I am convinced that this will continue to happen to others across Olympic sports. In reviewing the OIG's report, it truly feels like the FBI turned a blind eye to us and went out of its way to help protect USAG and USOPC. A message needs to be sent: If you allow a predator to harm children, the consequences will be swift and severe. Enough is enough.

AMY GOODMAN: That's Simone Biles, the four-time Olympic gold medalist, testifying before the Senate Judiciary Committee Wednesday about the FBI's failure to stop serial sexual abuser, USA Gymnastics doctor, now imprisoned, Larry Nassar. Biles mentioned Rachael Denhollander, who, in 2016, was the first gymnast to publicly speak out against Nassar. On Thursday, Rachael Denhollander spoke to Democracy Now!

RACHAEL DENHOLLANDER: I am so proud of the athletes who testified and the light that they're shedding in these dark spaces. But to see over and over and over again the depth of systemic failure and just the incredible damage that was done to them and to all of the survivors who came after they reported, when that didn't need to happen, is a very heavy burden to bear.
And I think something we need to be asking as we're watching this unfold is: What are we not seeing? Because the reality is, most survivors of sexual assault who report will tell you that this is a story that they could tell, too. It is very difficult to get law enforcement to take reports of sexual assault seriously, to pursue the case with diligence, to prosecute it to the fullest extent of the law. And we need to start looking at what we saw yesterday and ask what we're not seeing. What happens to the survivors who don't have an army of 500 women? What happens to the survivors who don't have Olympians headlining their case and raising the profile of the gross negligence and the corruption that's taking place in our system? …
In 15 months, the FBI did absolutely nothing, except allow over a hundred little girls to continue being abused. … So we need to be looking at what has to change in this case, but it's not just a problem with this case. We've got to start asking: What's got to change in the system, so that survivors that we don't see aren't going through what these women went through, and have a justice system that they can truly rely on? Those are hard questions, but they've got to be asked. And these words are cheap if they're not followed by action.

AMY GOODMAN: That's Rachael Denhollander, the first gymnast to speak out publicly against Larry Nassar.

For more, we're joined by Mark Alesia, who Denhollander first contacted in 2016, when he was part of the investigative team at The Indianapolis Star. She told him, quote, "I am willing to do anything you need. I want this to end." Mark's team then broke the story about Dr. Nassar's abuse. He is now director of university communications at Indiana State University.

Welcome back to Democracy Now!, Mark. We talked to you just after Nassar's trial and sentencing, that remarkable moment when one woman, one gymnast after another stood up and talked about how he had wrecked their lives, but talked about surviving. Now we have the top gymnasts, some of the most famous women in the world, like Simone Biles, testifying before the Senate. They specifically focused on the FBI. Tell us this story from the beginning. You were there. How is it that the FBI dropped the ball so completely? And are we going to see criminal charges against FBI agents?

MARK ALESIA: Well, I don't know if we're going to see those charges, but I think it was Senator Leahy who said there are a whole lot of people who ought to be in jail after this.

What happened was, the FBI did not take the gymnasts' complaints seriously. They didn't — offices in different cities didn't communicate with each other. And there were conflicts of interest. There was an FBI agent who was talking to the president of USAG, Steve Penny, about getting a job with the U.S. Olympic Committee, and that they were so chummy that in one of the emails, Steve Penny told the FBI agent that he would like to, quote, "body slam the reporters" — myself, Marisa and Tim. That's Steve Penny. And, by the way, he's one of the people who isn't in jail.

AMY GOODMAN: So, let's talk about why Indianapolis is so important. You mentioned the U.S. Olympic Committee. Talk about who first came forward to the FBI and what happened to that complaint.

MARK ALESIA: That would have been, I believe, McKayla Maroney, very early on. She wasn't taken seriously. I think she testified that the agent said, "That's it?" And then —

AMY GOODMAN: So, let's go — I want to go to the Olympic gold medalist McKayla Maroney testifying before the Senate Wednesday.

McKAYLA MARONEY: This was very clear, cookie cutter pedophilia and abuse. And this is important, because I told the FBI all of this, and they chose to falsify my report and to not only minimize my abuse, but silence me yet again. I thought, given the severity of the situation, that they would act quickly for the sake of protecting other girls. But instead, it took them 14 months to report anything, when Larry Nassar, in my opinion, should have been in jail that day. The FBI, USOC and USAG sat idly by as dozens of girls and women continued to be molested by Larry Nassar.

AMY GOODMAN: So, Mark Alesia, talk about how you got involved, the tip, how you ended up going down to Louisville to interview Rachael Denhollander.

MARK ALESIA: My teammates and I, Marisa Kwiatkowski and Tim Evans at The Indianapolis Star, we did a story. The first one was right on the eve of the Rio Olympics in 2016. And after that story came out, we received an email from Rachael saying, "I wasn't abused by a coach, but this was a doctor. And if you're interested, I will speak out, and I will speak out by name." I drove down to Louisville, and I interviewed Rachael. She came off as intelligent, sincere, passionate, utterly credible. And —

AMY GOODMAN: Then a lawyer and a mother of three.

MARK ALESIA: And a lawyer and a mother of four now, I believe. And, yes, everything.

And what really, I think, bothers me — well, it angers me; it doesn't just bother me. It's five years after that. It's five years after that, and those women had to show up in front of a congressional committee and bare their soul again to make people understand what happened. These survivors, five years later, they are still looking for answers. They are still looking for justice. And that's outrageous.

And there's another piece to this, too. The survivors also have been trying, unsuccessfully, to get Michigan State University to release 6,000 pages of documents from an investigation into Nassar that they are withholding because of attorney-client privilege.

AMY GOODMAN: Now, this is amazing. Michigan State, the president has had to resign, but he wasn't criminally charged. That's where the, you know, U.S. Olympic Committee's doctor, Nassar, worked, at Michigan State. And he abused these girls, these young women, for decades.

MARK ALESIA: Right. And it's also important to understand that for about maybe 10 or 15 years earlier, adults — or, gymnasts had come forward to adults to complain about Nassar, but it always went nowhere. That included one situation with a law enforcement department. It included a Michigan State coach, a gymnastics coach. It included people who couldn't possibly believe that that great, wonderful Larry Nassar could do such a thing. Adults had failed these children at every level. This is just an absolute tragedy. And again, it is outrageous that five years later it's still going on, with so many unanswered questions and so many people who were responsible for allowing Nassar to continue going without being held accountable.

AMY GOODMAN: I want to go to the three-time Olympic gold medal gymnast, two-time Olympic team captain, Aly Raisman, testifying before the Senate Judiciary Committee Wednesday.

ALY RAISMAN: It is unrealistic to think we can grasp the full extent of culpability without understanding how and why USAG and USOPC chose to ignore abuse for decades and why the interplay among these three organizations led the FBI to willingly disregard our reports of abuse. Without knowing who knew what when, we cannot identify all enablers or determine whether they are still in positions of power. We just can't fix a problem we don't understand. And we can't understand the problem unless and until we have all of the facts. If we don't do all we can to get these facts, the problems we are here to address will persist, and we are deluding ourselves if we think other children can be spared the institutionalized tolerance and normalization of abuse that I and so many others had to endure.

AMY GOODMAN: That is three-time Olympic gold medal gymnast, two-time Olympic team captain, Aly Raisman, who has really been the forceful leader of this movement to bring Nassar down, but not only him, because, as Simone Biles says, the whole system is broken.

But, interestingly, the attorney general, Merrick Garland did not appear, though the head of the Justice Department was asked to appear before the Senate Judiciary Committee. Apparently, he's going to appear in October. Christopher Wray did, the head of the FBI, and apologized, though he said he wasn't there at the time. He said it was abhorrent, what had taken place. What do you make of this, Mark?

MARK ALESIA: Well, I just — again, I feel so badly for the survivors. I believe it was Aly Raisman who said it's going to take her months just to get over the experience of testifying before the committee. But I'm sure she felt she had a duty to do that. And I would hope that the people at the very top of our judicial system will recognize their duty to these women, who have represented our country so well on an international stage.

But, you know, I think it's also important — Rachael Denhollander, kind of typically for her, she can cut straight to the crux of an issue, but she's not just looking at abuse in gymnastics. She is talking about the ordeal of women who report sexual assaults and what they go through in all walks of life.

AMY GOODMAN: Especially, I mean, you're talking about gold medalists, world-renowned women; if they are not taken seriously, what is everyone else supposed to think? The last point, Mark Alesia, and it's one you made with us right after the trial, is that these women came forward — it's not like they run track, where it's very clear who wins first, second and third. The whole sport is judged by committees. And that's where they were incredibly brave in coming forward, because when you rock the boat, these committees don't have to take your scores, your speeds; they can decide if you're a troublemaker or not, and ice you out.

MARK ALESIA: Right. And I think by the time a lot of the people who had testified at the Nassar sentencing, they were probably done or close to done with their gymnastics careers. But that's certainly just sort of one factor in a system where people are sort of groomed to be pleasers and, as you said, not to rock the boat, certainly not with their coach.

AMY GOODMAN: And you could extend that coach to the workplace. You could extend it certainly to communities, to places of religious worship, and beyond. Well, this may well just be the beginning. We'll see where this Senate Judiciary Committee goes. Mark Alesia, we want to thank you so much, reporter with the investigative team at The Indianapolis Star which broke the story in 2016 about Dr. Nassar's sexual abuse of gymnasts. His team helped to expose USA Gymnastics' failure to report allegations of sexual abuse by coaches and authorities. Now he is no longer with The Indianapolis Star.

Coming up, as Congress debates a $3.5 trillion bill to expand the nation's social safety net and to increase taxes on the rich, we look back at Occupy Wall Street, which began 10 years ago today. Stay with us.

The original content of this program is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License. Please attribute legal copies of this work to democracynow.org. Some of the work(s) that this program incorporates, however, may be separately licensed. For further information or additional permissions, contact us.

'Another world is possible': How Occupy Wall Street reshaped politics and kicked off a new era of protest

On the 10th anniversary of Occupy Wall Street, we examine the legacy of the historic protests with three veterans of the movement: Nelini Stamp, now the director of strategy and partnerships at the Working Families Party; Jillian Johnson, a key organizer in Occupy Durham who now serves on the Durham City Council and is the city's mayor pro tempore; and writer and filmmaker Astra Tayor, an organizer with the Debt Collective. Occupy Wall Street "broke the spell" protecting the economic status quo and marked a major shift in protests against capitalism, Taylor says. "Occupy kind of inaugurated this social movement renaissance," she tells Democracy Now! "We've been in an age of defiant protest ever since Occupy Wall Street."




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

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

As Congress debates a $3.5 trillion bill to expand the nation's social safety net and to increase taxes on the rich, we look back at Occupy Wall Street, the movement, how it reshaped the national debate on economics and inequality. Yes, it was 10 years ago today, September 17th, 2011, when Occupy began. Democracy Now! was one of the only national outlets to report on the first day of the action. Our producer Sam Alcoff filed this report.

SAM ALCOFF: On Saturday, thousands of protesters took to the streets of downtown Manhattan for what was described as an action to "Occupy Wall Street." Inspired by the popular uprisings of the Arab Spring and the European anti-austerity movements, Adbusters, a Vancouver-based culture-jamming magazine, put out a call for Saturday's protest on Wall Street in July. The goals were various, from limiting corporate contributions to political campaigns, to auditing the Federal Reserve, to challenging all of global capitalism. Protesters included 71-year-old Mary Ellen Marino of Princeton, New Jersey.
MARY ELLEN MARINO: I came because I'm upset with the fact that the bailout of Wall Street didn't help any of the people holding mortgages. All of the money went to Wall Street, and none of it went to Main Street. Now, we've just learned that Geithner was actually asked to split up the Citibank, and he didn't do it. And Obama didn't do anything about it.
SAM ALCOFF: The plan wasn't simply for a one-day protest, but an ongoing and creative occupation of the Financial District itself. Organizer Lorenzo Serna.
LORENZO SERNA: The idea is to have an encampment. Like, this isn't a one-day event. Like, we're hoping that people come prepared to stay as long as they can and that we're there to support each other.
SAM ALCOFF: But on Saturday, after hundreds arrived, the NYPD shut Wall Street down itself, barricading activists off of Wall Street and forcing a move to the nearby Zuccotti Park. Despite sometimes tense standoffs with the police, hundreds slept in the park and have maintained that they will stay until their demands are met.

AMY GOODMAN: Two days later, Democracy Now! interviewed the activist and anthropologist David Graeber, who's been credited with helping to coin Occupy's defining rallying call, "We are the 99%." He talked about how Occupy had been inspired by earlier protests in Europe.

DAVID GRAEBER: Well, what people are doing in Europe is essentially trying to reinvent democracy. The idea is that, you know, all of the political parties have basically bankrupted themselves. They're all essentially bought and sold by the financial elite that's created this crisis. There's no possibility of their actually coming up with a solution. And sometimes you have to start over. People have to, like, go into their public squares, meet each other, start talking to each other, and start brainstorming of ideas. I mean, essentially, the idea is the system is not going to save us; we're going to have to save ourselves. So, we're going to try to get as many people as possible to camp in some public place and start rebuilding society as we'd like to see it.
AMY GOODMAN: How many people turned out?
DAVID GRAEBER: Well, at first, we were a little worried at Bowling Green, but more and more people kept showing up. So I ended up helping to facilitate a meeting which was at least 2,000 people. … It was mostly young people, and most of them were people who had gone through the educational system, who were deeply in debt, and who found it completely impossible to get jobs. I mean, these people have felt — really feel very strongly that they did the right thing. They did exactly what they were supposed to. The system has completely failed them. And they're not going to be saved by the people in charge. You're just going to have — if there's going to be any kind of society like we — worth living in, we're going to have to create it ourselves.

AMY GOODMAN: That's David Graeber speaking on Democracy Now! September 19, 2011, two days after the start of Occupy Wall Street encampment. David died last year in Venice, Italy, at the age of 59.

Protesters would go on to sleep in Zuccotti Park for nearly two months before the New York police raided the encampment. The Occupy movement spread across the nation and the globe. And the impact of Occupy is still being felt in countless ways.

We spend the rest of the hour hosting a roundtable looking at the legacy of Occupy. Joining us from Philadelphia is Nelini Stamp, the director of strategy and partnership at the Working Families Party. Ten years ago, she was part of Outreach, Labor and Facilitation Working Groups during Occupy Wall Street. She later helped start the Dream Defenders.

In Durham, North Carolina, we're joined by Jillian Johnson. Ten years ago, she was a key organizer in Occupy Durham. Today she serves on the Durham City Council and is the Durham's mayor pro tem.

And in Asheville, North Carolina, we are joined by writer and filmmaker Astra Taylor, who was involved in Occupy Wall Street and co-edited the Occupy Gazette, which featured reports from Occupies around the world. She's also an organizer with the Debt Collective, an organization with its roots in the Occupy Wall Street movement. She has just co-authored a piece in New York magazine headlined "Occupy Wall Street Changed Everything: Ten years later, the legacy of Zuccotti Park has never been clearer."

So, Astra, let's begin with you. Talk about how it changed everything, and where — how you see it has affected everything today.

ASTRA TAYLOR: Well, to understand how Occupy changed everything, I think we have to remember what it was like before. Occupy sort of broke the spell. It was really hard to talk about class, talk about capitalism, talk about inequality. We were in the world of Reagan and Margaret Thatcher, where there was no alternative to the status quo. It was a kind of bipartisan consensus around neoliberal capitalism. So, part of what created the conditions for the banking crisis was the repeal of Glass-Steagall, which was a Depression-era law. And that was repealed under the Clinton administration. Also, there was the period after September 11, 2001. It was very difficult to protest in New York City. Part of what made Occupy seem so improbable was that it was actually illegal to have unpermitted gatherings of more than 20 people. So, there was just this — you know, the left was very demoralized. The left was really fragmented and beaten down.

And something changed in that year. And, you know, your reporter touched on this. People were watching these movements around the world, from the Arab Spring to the movement of the squares, the movement of the indignados in Spain, and elsewhere. And people started to think, you know, "We've got to do something. Maybe we can actually protest and make a difference."

And so, that first day, 10 years ago today, you know, I have to say it was — I went. I went to Zuccotti Park, marched from Bowling Green up to Zuccotti Park. And, you know, it was powerful, but not because there were so many people, not because there were thousands and thousands of people, but because it was a space where those of us who felt that things were wrong could come together and meet each other and talk and decide we had to express our discontent, had to express our outrage. And so it was a major shift.

And so, 10 years later, I think we can see that Occupy kind of inaugurated this social movement renaissance. We've been in an age of defiant protest ever since Occupy Wall Street. The political landscape has really changed. People are now — you know, we have not stopped talking about capitalism. We haven't stopped talking about class. We haven't stopped talking about debt. And, you know, people have figured out how to challenge the political establishment. So I think it's had a tremendous legacy. And its offshoots actually — you know, we've never tallied them up. All over the country, Occupy sprouted different efforts, different initiatives, and changed lives.

AMY GOODMAN: Let's go to Nelini Stamp in Philadelphia. You were part — you're now with Working Families Party, but, then, you were part of the Outreach, Labor and Facilitation Working Groups during Occupy Wall Street. Much of the power was the community that was created there. Can you talk about the decision-making and why you even chose to go to Occupy Wall Street, and how it has shaped you and this country today?

NELINI STAMP: Yeah. I mean, I was — even before Occupy, I was a part of the Working Families Party but knew the limits of electoral process and work. And I was very skeptical. I wasn't at Bowling Green. I came and rolled in when people were just at Zuccotti already. But what motivated me was something different. There was something different about saying, "We're going to stay here, and we are going to collectively work together to build another world, because we believe another world is possible."

So, what really — you know, I say this every time I say what really, really hooked me, was the general assembly that evening, where people could, as Astra said, tell their stories. And it was the first time I said I was a high school dropout. I hid it for years. I mean, some people knew. But it was the first time I could say to a big crowd I could not afford to go to college. I wasn't actually one of those people that went to college and came out with the economy. I couldn't even afford it then. And I remember just everybody together collectively uptwinkling, because part of it was direct democracy.

And that's, you know, the decision-making, the teams, the working groups. Immediately when they said, "Here are different working groups, and you should create more," I felt like I could take ownership of it. That evening, I was like, "Definitely outreach. I know how to organize." I didn't know about direct action or anything else. And I went to the outreach group.

We said we were going to support every single — we wanted to map out every single labor issue and labor dispute in the city of New York, or at least Manhattan, and that we would show up with our cardboard signs saying "You are the 99%." Labor unions are definitely a part of the 99%. And we did. We showed up at the Verizon building when CWA was — the communication workers were fighting against Verizon. We showed up at Sotheby's with the Teamsters. We showed up at so many different labor disputes. And it was something that, because of my background in building electoral politics with labor, was heard and felt in the labor movement, and they started to open their doors to us so that we could have meetings in places like DC 37 and the communication workers, that had offices nearby.

And so, that was just — it was really beautiful to be able to — for people to have ownership. And I think that was also what was radically different. It wasn't, "We're going to tell you what to do." Those facilitators that first night, which included David, which included many of our friends, they were like, "This is yours now," just because we were the folks who were building it. "This is yours now." And that revolutionized what movements have come since, where it is everybody's and people can take something and make it their own.

So, having those processes of general assemblies every evening — now, there were problems that happened with that, as well, but having that, having direct democracy, coming up with guiding principles together and being free to make decisions in our principles of working — so, direct action can make the decisions of the opening and closing bell, labor can make decisions for this and that, and so on and so forth — was actually more inviting for people, because people could show up for a couple days and participate at a higher level than them showing up and being a body at an action. And that was what I think really transformed the way we were able to relate and build with one another.

AMY GOODMAN: So, Occupy Wall Street wasn't, of course, just in Zuccotti Park. It was all over the country and, actually, all over the world. Jillian Johnson, you are now the mayor pro tem of Durham, North Carolina. You were a key figure in Occupy Durham. Talk about how you came to that, what you were looking for, how it changed your city, and your choice to get involved with electoral politics afterwards.

MAYOR PRO TEM JILLIAN JOHNSON: So, we had heard about the occupation that was happening in Zuccotti Park and were following it really closely, the movement community in Durham. And after a couple of weeks, we saw these other occupations sprouting up all over the country, and we were like, "Well, we've got to get in on that." And we were just so inspired and excited by the growth of this movement. And it was unprecedented, what we were seeing.

And so, a friend of mine and I, my friend Ben, who had just been kind of following the news and getting more and more excited, just decided to call for an Occupy Durham general assembly in the middle of our city, in a downtown plaza that we quickly renamed the People's Plaza. If anyone's ever been to Durham, it's the one with the giant bull statue. And we had about 400 people show up. And we were just so excited by being able to be a part of this growing global movement.

We moved quickly into starting to have general assemblies, having more and more people come out, trying to figure out what this looks like in the context of a midsize Southern town. Durham at the time had, you know, just over 200,000 people. But it was also beginning to go through some serious economic struggles, gentrification, housing displacement. There were a lot of people in Durham who were really struggling. And so, we really resonated with the message that was coming out of New York and with the same conversations that people were having about income inequality, about housing inequality.

I ran for office just four years after Occupy, in 2015. And I think at first it was kind of a leap of faith. I didn't really have a sense that I was going to be able to change things from an elected position. I was hoping that there was an opportunity there. And I think our movement was started to turn more and more toward the idea that electoral politics could provide some opportunities for us to make change and to leverage resources for the benefit of working-class and communities of color.

And I've been able to do that in ways that I didn't expect. I think the transition has been — it's been difficult in ways, but it's also been very empowering and exciting to be able to put my organizing skills and movement skills to work in a different context. And I think bringing more people into the electoral world, through some of the work I'm doing with a national organization called Local Progress and just folks in my community talking to other movement people, younger people who might be interested in moving into the electoral realm someday, I've felt like I've been able to gain skills and knowledge and then pass those skills and knowledge on to other people within the movement. So, it feels — it's felt really rewarding — difficult, of course, at times, but ultimately I feel like I've been able to do something good in this position, and I'm excited about passing the torch on to somebody else.

AMY GOODMAN: I want to go to a few months later, November 2011, during the Occupy protests, about a thousand students marching in New York City outside a meeting where CUNY trustees — that's City University of New York trustees — voted to authorize annual tuition increases. This is Julian Guerrero of Students United for a Free CUNY.

JULIAN GUERRERO: [echoed by the People's Mic] Me, myself, I'm in debt $70,000. I actually got a letter from Sallie Mae saying that if I don't start paying today $900 a month, they're going to have more aggressive attempts at collecting my debt. And so, I'm going to burn this right here and now.

AMY GOODMAN: So, that's Julian Guerrero of Students United for a Free CUNY, using the whole idea of the mic check and the open mic and the mic repeats that we've come to see that are so familiar. Astra Taylor, you are a key member of the Debt Collective. Talk about how that movement has evolved to today.

ASTRA TAYLOR: Now, the Debt Collective is an organization for debtors that fights for the cancellation of all kinds of debt and the provision of the services, the public goods we all need to survive and thrive. It has its roots directly at Occupy Wall Street.

So, just like Nelini felt that space to talk about her condition honestly, you know, for many of us who were in debt, Occupy was a similar space, where we could see that we were not alone — and that is actually the Debt Collective's slogan: "You are not a loan" — A space L-O-A-N, right? — a space where we could come together. And debt was actually part of the protests around the world at the time. Tuition hikes sparked protests in Latin America. And later, in Quebec, there was a wave of protests.

And so, you know, we followed the threads of debt, once the parks were cleared, because how we were thinking about it at the time was, you know, "Yes, we're occupying Wall Street, but Wall Street occupies our lives. And how does it do that? Often in the form of debt. We're forced to debt finance things that should be publicly provided." And it was at Occupy Wall Street that we had the collective epiphany. We started to recognize that our debts, which were so burdensome, could actually be a potential source of power, a source of leverage.

And by consistently organizing, we've moved the needle on that issue. I think, you know, we now are in a world where leading politicians talk about student debt cancellation. The Debt Collective has won billions of dollars of student loan cancellation for debtors. And that demand started at Occupy Wall Street. And the media was very skeptical. They mocked the demand. They said, "It's never going to happen. Isn't Occupy so naive?" Well, look where we are today. We've really moved the debate. And so, I think that's a really concrete, concrete result of this movement.

AMY GOODMAN: I want to go to the issue of police repression of Occupy protests across the country. On November 18th, 2011, campus police officers at the University of California, Davis pepper-sprayed peaceful student protesters. Video of the police attack went viral.

PROTESTERS: Don't shoot students! Don't shoot students!
The whole world is watching! The whole world is watching! The whole world is watching! The whole world is watching! The whole world is watching! The whole world is watching!
Shame on you! Shame on you! Shame on you! Shame on you! Shame on you! Shame on you!
ELLI PEARSON: I wasn't aware I was going to be pepper-sprayed until people told me to protect myself. And then I have friends who were pepper-sprayed who said they did not know that that was happening and that that was coming. And we were actually expected — we were expecting to be shot in the back with something, because they were behind us. And we really had no idea what was going to happen.

AMY GOODMAN: That's UC Davis student Elli Pearson speaking on Democracy Now! after she was pepper-sprayed. And you have the whole coordination. It later came out — I remember that piece in The Guardian by Naomi Wolf, "Revealed: how the FBI coordinated the crackdown on Occupy," the destruction of Occupy Wall Street and other places all over the country, well over a dozen cities. Nelini Stamp, if you can talk about what you understand took place, and how the police dealt with you?

NELINI STAMP: Yeah. I mean, you know, it was interesting, because the first — very early on, that first weekend, I remember going to an officer and saying, "Can my friend's car be there?" And they were like, "Yeah. Y'all will be gone by Monday."

And increasingly, as soon as we started — one of the first direct actions, regular direct actions, we did at Occupy Wall Street was the opening and closing bell. We would march for the opening bell and closing bell of the Stock Exchange and Wall Street. And that first Monday, we started getting shoved and pushed. And every single day that we were out there, things escalated to then a few arrests, to then a few more arrests. And I think things really changed on the Saturday.

There was a few things that I feel like people don't understand, what happened those first two weeks, also in the nation. Troy Davis was executed by the state of Georgia — a huge case of misjustice and racial reckoning again. There was a huge debate in the city of New York around stop-and-frisk. And so, all of these tensions were underlying. But there was also this idea and original, you know, sentiment to say that the cops are the 99%, too, because most of them were not making — if we were really a uniting movement. So, it was this really interesting juxtaposition that was happening those first two weeks.

And that Saturday — we did weekly actions on Saturday, and I don't remember if it was the 24th or the — I usually used to remember all of the dates in my mind. We took the streets. And it was civil disobedience like New York hasn't seen in a really long time. And I remember getting to Union Square, and all of a sudden they had this orange netting all around us, which I think is now illegal in the city of New York for cops to do. But they had orange netting, and pepper spray was just going everywhere.

And that was kind of the — I think that was a radicalizing moment for a lot of our white comrades at Occupy Wall Street, who never had to deal with the police as those of us who come from communities of color in New York had to, or those of us who have a history of — when I was younger, I remember seeing Amadou Diallo's murder on every single thing, and people marching on the Brooklyn Bridge. And so, for those who didn't have that background or that personal experience, they finally did have that. And that's when I think there was this awakening of a lot of young white folks or more affluent folks who didn't come from overpoliced communities actually saying and trying to hold the police accountable.

So, what you see is, right after Occupy Wall Street, you see Ramarley Graham gets killed in the city of New York, and then Trayvon Martin gets killed in Florida, and people start to act up, you know? I flew down to Florida, because they wanted somebody to train them in direct action, and helped co-found the Dream Defenders. We marched for miles to Sanford. And then you see a big march in June of 2012 with 50,000 people that said, "End stop-and-frisk." And I don't think that would have been — that would have had the new people involved as it did, if we didn't have so much, like, repression from the state. And I think part of it was to make people not come out, to make — people were really threatened by Occupy at that time. And I think that that's what ended up happening, and it was really beautiful to see people get involved and actually call out police brutality after that.

AMY GOODMAN: Nelini Stamp, I want to thank you for being with us. This has to end this discussion today. Nelini Stamp of Working Families Party in Philadelphia; Astra Taylor of the Debt Collective, speaking to us from Asheville; and Jillian Johnson, mayor pro tem of Durham, North Carolina — all three involved in the Occupy movement 10 years ago. And we continue to cover it when we look at the bills that are in Congress right now and so much more. I'm Amy Goodman. Thanks so much for joining us.

The original content of this program is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License. Please attribute legal copies of this work to democracynow.org. Some of the work(s) that this program incorporates, however, may be separately licensed. For further information or additional permissions, contact us.

Nobel economist explains how corporate greed could prolong the pandemic

Nobel Prize-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz says global vaccine inequity endangers everyone on the planet, including those in rich countries, and says the best way to solve the problem is to drastically increase production of COVID-19 vaccines. "As long as the disease is festering someplace in the world, there are going to be mutations," Stiglitz says. "So it's in our own self-interest that we get the disease controlled everywhere."


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

AMY GOODMAN: Joe, we want to get to the costs of war. You wrote a book on this. But first, the World Health Organization's Africa director has condemned plans by the U.S. and other wealthy countries to offer third-dose COVID vaccine booster shots, while only 2% of Africa's 1.3 billion people have been fully vaccinated. Dr. Matshidiso Moeti said the U.S. should have given priority, and must do it now, to poorer nations. This is what she said.

DR. MATSHIDISO MOETI: Moves by some countries globally to introduce booster shots threaten the promise of a brighter tomorrow for Africa. As some richer countries hoard vaccines, they make a mockery, frankly, of vaccine equity.

AMY GOODMAN: You've just written an article on this issue, along with Lori Wallach. And I'm wondering if you can talk about — it's called "Will Corporate Greed Prolong the Pandemic?" Can you talk about vaccine equity?

JOSEPH STIGLITZ: Sure. I mean, it's very clear that we're not all — we're not going to be safe until the whole world is safe. As long as the disease is festering someplace in the world, there are going to be mutations. We know that. And we know that these mutations can be more contagious, more dangerous, and even more vaccine-resistant. So it's in our own self-interest that we get the disease controlled everywhere.

But right now there are two problems. This issue of vaccine equity, who gets the vaccine and who doesn't, and disproportionately, United States is getting a real access to the vaccine, and the developing countries simply are not. But, to me, the real issue is lack of supply. There is no excuse, a year — more, well more, than a year after the COVID-19 started, well after we discovered the vaccines that work, that there should be this kind of supply shortage. The market economy has the ability to produce these vaccines. I'm afraid that they're limiting the production to keep the price up. The head of Pfizer was hoping that he could sell each dose for $175, something that costs far, far less than that. So, to me, the first priority ought to be revving up production so that there is a supply for everybody in the world.

AMY GOODMAN: And finally, the costs of war — you wrote a book on this subject — as Biden pulls U.S. troops out of Afghanistan?

JOSEPH STIGLITZ: Well, the title of my book I wrote more than a decade ago was The Three Trillion Dollar War, pointing out the high cost of the War in Afghanistan and Iraq. We knew that our numbers were conservative. But as time mounted on and the costs mounted up, what we've discovered is that the cost just of caring for our returning troops —

AMY GOODMAN: We have 20 seconds.

JOSEPH STIGLITZ: — is in the trillions of dollars. The wars have been little benefit, but enormous cost to our society.

AMY GOODMAN: We want to thank you so much for being with us, Joe Stiglitz, Nobel Prize-winning economist, Columbia University professor, former chair of the Council of Economic Advisers. Among his books, People, Power, and Profits: Progressive Capitalism for an Age of Discontent.

That does it for our show. I'm Amy Goodman, with Juan González. Stay safe.

BRAND NEW STORIES

Happy Holidays!