Amy Goodman

'Climate collateral': Human rights researcher details how military spending fuels environmental destruction

As the U.N. climate conference in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, is underway, we look at how military spending accelerates the climate crisis. Wealthy nations’ investments in armed forces not only exacerbates pollution but also often surpasses their climate financing by as much as 30 times, according to a new report by the Transnational Institute. It shows the money is available, “but it’s been dedicated to military spending,” says co-author Nick Buxton. Governments that import arms, like Egypt, are motivated by the desire for legitimacy and the “power to crack down on the civil society,” adds Muhammad al-Kashef, human rights lawyer and migration activist.



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

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. We’re broadcasting from the U.N. climate summit in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt.

We turn now to look at the link between military spending and the climate crisis. A new report by the Transnational Institute examines how military spending and arms sales not only increase greenhouse gas emissions, but also divert financial resources and attention away from tackling the climate emergency.

In a moment, we’ll be joined by two co-authors of the report, but first this is a short video produced by the Transnational Institute.

MUHAMMAD AL-KASHEF: My name is Muhammad. I’m a human rights lawyer, researcher and migration activist. I have been born and raised in Egypt, until I left the country in 2017 because of the risks and the threats that I faced personally because of my activism and work. When I left Egypt and became an exile, I felt like a tree that you took out of the soil.
Egypt is in the international spotlight today for hosting the world’s most important climate talks. But the fact that its host is the military dictator Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, it says a lot about the world’s most powerful nations’ real priorities. Sisi’s regime survives thanks to a huge flow of oil, arms and EU money.
The richest and most polluting countries today spend 30 times as much on military as they do on climate finance for the world’s most climate-affected people. Rather than providing aid, these same rich countries are interested in providing weapons and arms to countries like Egypt. And every dollar of military spending is also worsening the climate crisis.
A militarized nation like Egypt and an accelerated arms race globally is the opposite of climate justice. We cannot allow my experience and the experience of many other Egyptians to become the model for how we respond to an escalating climate crisis. Climate justice requires democracy, human rights, dignity and demilitarization. It requires a world that puts people before profits and peace before war.

AMY GOODMAN: That’s a video produced by the Transnational Institute, which has just published the new report, “Climate Collateral: How military spending accelerates climate breakdown.”

We are joined now by two guests. Nick Buxton is a researcher at the Transnational Institute, joining us from Wales, and Muhammad al-Kashef is an attorney and migration activist living in Germany.

Nick, let’s begin with you. Why don’t you lay out the findings of your report, that looks into military spending, arms and weapons sales from the world’s richest nations, and the deep impacts that it has on countries’ capacity to address the climate catastrophe that the world is facing right now?

NICK BUXTON: Yes. Thanks, Amy. Thanks for the invitation to be on your show.

This report, as you know, is coming on the back of big discussions at this COP, which we just heard about in this earlier section, about the need that the poorest countries, who are most impacted by climate change, are saying that we need finance to both adapt to climate change and to deal with the loss and damage. And we hear John Kerry — you were just quoting the earlier clip — saying, “Name me a nation that has trillions of dollars to deal with this,” except — basically saying washing his hands of the situation and refusing to accept some responsibility.

And yet, what this report shows is that there is trillions of dollars. The richest countries, which are called Annex II countries under the U.N. climate talks, have dedicated $9.45 trillion to military spending in the last eight years, between 2013 and 2021. And that is 30 times more than they have dedicated to climate finance. And they’re still not delivering on their promises to deliver the $100 billion a year that was promised way back in 2009 now. So, what we’re seeing, firstly, in this report is that there is resources, but it’s been dedicated to military spending.

The second main finding is that, of this military spending, it is very much tied to a very high-emitting situation, that we’re creating greenhouse gases with every dollar we spend on the military. And that’s because the military depends, with its jets, its tanks, its ships, on high levels of use of fossil fuels. So, for example, the F-35 jet, which is the main fighter jet that the U.S. is now deploying, uses 5,600 gallons of liters an hour in its deployment. And these weapons, which are bought, then are usually in operation for 30 years, so it’s locking in that carbon for a long time to come. So, we’re creating a situation where actually the military is contributing deeply to the crisis.

And then the third main finding of the report was looking at what the richest countries, the Annex II countries, are doing in terms of arms sales. We actually found out — found that the richest countries are supplying arms to all 40 of the most climate-vulnerable countries. So, what we’re seeing is we’re not providing the finance that we need for the poorest countries, but we are providing arms. In a situation of climate instability and in terms of a real poverty and people really facing on the frontlines of climate change, we’re actually adding fuel to the fire by providing the arms that could lead to conflict. And this, as the video shared, is the complete opposite of climate justice.

AMY GOODMAN: Can you talk about the armed forces and fuel consumption, Nick?

NICK BUXTON: Yeah. There’s a report just came out actually just a couple of days ago, which has been estimating how much the military contribute towards emissions. And it calculates that the world’s military contribute 5.5% of the total emissions of greenhouse gas emissions. If it was considered a country, it would actually come fourth, so it’s just after Russia in terms of how much emissions that they produce. So, it’s a very substantial contribution to the problem. The Pentagon in the U.S. is the single largest institutional emitter of carbon emissions. And the 5.5%, for example, is double what is produced by civil aviation.

And what is really shocking is that within the U.N. system, it is not properly counted. So it’s one of the few bodies and organs that doesn’t have to report all its emissions to the UNFCCC and the IPCC. And that was because the U.S., under the Bill Clinton administration, actually carved out an exemption for the Pentagon. So, at the moment, that exemption — in 2015, it was watered down so now they can report it, but it’s not — it’s still voluntary, and we still have a very incomplete picture of actually how many emissions are produced.

So, this is one of the key demands that is being raised at the COP, is that we’re doing some estimates that it’s a really significant player, but it’s absolutely crucial that it becomes mandatory for the military to provide it and to show all their emissions, not just of the emissions of their equipment, but also the supply chains of the arms sales and so on, because we do know that these systems are very highly tentative users of fossil fuels, and they’re also very much embedded in a system that has been protecting the fossil fuel economy globally for a long time.

AMY GOODMAN: I want to bring Muhammad al-Kashef into this conversation. Muhammad, Egypt is the third-largest importer of weapons in the world, one of dozens of countries that has received more and more military aid, arms and weapons from the United States, from the European Union, as well as from other rich nations. How has this contributed not only to the worsening pollution and the impacts of the climate crisis in the country and the world, but also to serious human rights violations committed in Egypt by the Egyptian military?

MUHAMMAD AL-KASHEF: OK. Thank you.

Actually, Egypt has spent nearly $50 billion on purchasing weapons since 2014, just soon after the military returned to the power in 2013. And since 2017, it has been one of the top five arms-importing countries. In the last three years, it’s ranked as the third highest, third. And actually, in two major deals, Egypt paid around 5.2 billion euros in 2015 and 4.2 billion euros in 2021.

As we all see, and it’s not hidden, the economical situation that Egypt is facing and the suffering that Egyptian people see and struggle with since 2016, but also, when we talk about the human rights situation and we’re talking about the situation inside the country itself, this country kind of shaped and controlled by every level by the military, which not only the every level of state bureaucracy, but also controls large sector of the economy and the open spaces.

And I’m sure now, like, COP27 just shedding the light on Egypt, and luckily there is a civic space that the human rights defenders, the people still living in Egypt, can speak loudly and transfer their voices to the outer world. Unfortunately, these arms deals and all this money involved give the Egypt and the Egyptian state kind of legitimacy and international support that give them the power to crack down on the civil society to keep over 60,000 — referring to Amnesty report in 2016, more than 60,000 political prisoners in detention. We see actually just one figure, Alaa Abd El-Fattah, just one figure, just one political prisoner, who got support and who is just lucky to have some people talking for him. And we see how the Egyptian state actually respond to such demands.

So, that’s what we are seeing, actually. The world and the European member states, the U.S.A. and even the Russia, all of them just closing their eyes of the violations that happen inside Egypt, because of all these deals, because of the interest.

AMY GOODMAN: So, Kashef, if you could — if you could talk more about where we are right now, where we are — you’re in Germany, we are in Sharm el-Sheikh, in Egypt — and about what this place sort of represents? For many, they don’t even have a sense that they’re in Egypt. It is such a different place, so isolated.

MUHAMMAD AL-KASHEF: Actually, Egypt is not isolated. Egypt is in the middle of everything, like in the middle of East. It’s —

AMY GOODMAN: I meant Sharm el-Sheikh.

MUHAMMAD AL-KASHEF: Yeah, Sharm el-Sheikh actually is a really nice touristic resort. This does not reflect the real situation in Egypt, in Delta, in Cairo and Alexandria and North Coast. Sharm el-Sheikh is just a part of heaven, if we want to discuss that. And actually, it’s crazy, because there is no transparency, no democratical accountable or process holding the Egyptian state the responsibility for what happened. To invite all these people to Sharm el-Sheikh and let them enjoy their time in such a resort, I would say this is just not just a greenwashing, but also this is a big lie.

AMY GOODMAN: You also are a major advocate for refugees. Can you talk about climate refugees? The same rich nations that are creating conditions that cause people to flee, investing then billions of dollars in militaries and borders, and preventing them from coming to the fossil fuel-emitting nations.

MUHAMMAD AL-KASHEF: Yeah, sure. Actually, when we see that, it’s a kind of a closed circuit, and we are going in dilemma. Biggest states are expending more money and expending too much billion dollars and euros in the arms, and then we see the military [inaudible] and how it affect on the climate, and find like displaced people and refugees are leaving their home and their countries to find a better place to live, to find someplace still livable, in a sense. And then, instead, actually, of spending money and spending resources to correct the situation and to face the crisis, no, the states are spending more and more money in militarization — in the militarization, in militarizing the border, in the border security.

And that’s actually really sad, because we see that the crisis is kind of affecting us all. And we need really to find a solution, to find a better solution. What we see in Africa now, it’s also going to Mediterranean, because in the Mediterranean, big sector of fishermen, big sector of communities are losing their source of finalizing and affording living. And what we are witnessing actually in Pakistan and the floods in Pakistan and what’s happening, this is all actually kind of impact of our wrong policies.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, I want to thank you both for being with us. We’re certainly going to link your report. Muhammad al-Kashef is an attorney and migration activist, speaking to us from Germany. Nick Buxton, researcher at the Transnational Institute — they are co-authors of “Climate Collateral: How military spending accelerates climate breakdown” — also co-author of The Secure and the Dispossessed: How the Military and Corporations Are Shaping a Climate-Changed World.

Next up, we look at the movement to stop a major oil pipeline in East Africa, stretching from Uganda to Tanzania. It’s called EACOP. Back in 30 seconds.

Report from NH: Could GOP conspiracy theorist General Don Bolduc defeat Sen. Maggie Hassan?

We speak with New Yorker staff writer Sue Halpern about the Senate race in New Hampshire, where she says far-right Republican nominee Donald Bolduc is running a “vigorous campaign” against the incumbent Democratic Senator Maggie Hassan and spreading conspiracy theories that some schoolchildren were using litter boxes. “If Maggie Hassan loses, the Democrats might well lose the Senate,” says Halpert, adding that New Hampshire is “a very swingy state” and the midterm outcomes there could surprise many people.



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

AMY GOODMAN: Sue, we’d like you to stay with us. We have two questions on pieces you’ve written. We’re talking to you in Exeter, New Hampshire. The Guardian newspaper reported last week, “A New Hampshire school has rebuked the Republican US Senate candidate Don Bolduc for claiming schoolchildren were identifying as ‘furries and fuzzies’ in classrooms, using litter trays and licking themselves and each other. …

“In the audio, Bolduc said: ‘Guess what? We have furries and fuzzies in classrooms. They lick themselves, they’re cats. When they don’t like something, they hiss — people walk down the hallway and jump out.

“‘And get this, get this. They’re putting litter boxes, right? … These are the same people that are concerned about spreading germs. Yet they [let children] lick themselves and then touch everything. And they’re starting to lick each other.’”

I mean, it is astounding. It is a refrain that is being used by Republican candidates around the country: get litter boxes out of schools. Though they aren’t in schools. But this general, also fiercely anti-choice, a Trump ally, is in an extremely close race with the Democratic incumbent Senator Maggie Hassan. What have you been finding there?

SUE HALPERN: You know, it’s really interesting. I went to General Bolduc’s last town hall meeting, which was last night. It was very well attended. And I expected a kind of Kari Lake, you know, just rabble-rouser, kind of chest-thumping guy. In fact, he came across as being very reasonable, moderated tone, friendly. He said nothing about furries. He said very little about abortion. He said almost nothing that was sort of off the general Republican playbook. It was quite interesting. Obviously, he really hasn’t walked back a lot of the things that he said in the press, but he didn’t mention any of them last night, in his attempt, I think, to kind of calm the independent spirit of Republican voters here in New Hampshire who may not be sort of all in for Trump but are all in for the Republican agenda.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And your sense of what it would signal if Maggie Hassan loses this race tonight, or what it might signal for the overall Democratic hopes of retaining the Senate and the House?

SUE HALPERN: Yeah, I mean, if Maggie Hassan loses, the Democrats might well lose the Senate. I think that Bolduc has actually run a very, very vigorous campaign. He’s been campaigning for two years. He’s gone to every single town and city in the state. He knows a lot of people. And I think that people want to feel like they’re being heard, and, you know, there he is. He’s there. He’s listening. So, you know, it’s a very swingy state, New Hampshire. They like to break the mold. And this might be one of the ways that they do it. They also have a very, very vigorous young congressional candidate named Karoline Leavitt, who is also very popular. She worked for Trump. She’s much more of a Trump cheerleader, I think, than Bolduc, who was not endorsed by Trump but, you know, who clearly subscribes to sort of the Trump sensibility.

AMY GOODMAN: Finally, we have less than a minute, but you just finished a piece on election software, particularly in Georgia. What did you find?

SUE HALPERN: So, there’s a county in Georgia called Coffee County, which, by the way, is a deeply Republican county. But Sidney Powell, Trump’s lawyer, paid a forensic company to go in there and copy all of the election software in Coffee County. But it turns out that Georgia uses the same voting machines and software on all of its voting equipment. That attempt to — or, it was actually a very successful attempt to copy all of the software, and all of the data was then given to some election deniers, who we’ve seen active in other states. And so, we don’t really know what they might do or have done with that software. Hopefully, you know, the kinds of protections that are in place will make that very hard to use, but we just don’t know.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, Sue Halpern, we want to thank you for being with us, staff writer at The New Yorker, her latest piece headlined “The Political Attack on the Native American Vote,” scholar-in-residence at Middlebury College in Vermont, where we will be going tonight in our three-hour midterm election night special. We will be broadcasting, speaking with people from all over the country as this pivotal election takes place.

This is Democracy Now! When we come back, we look at Election Protection. Stay with us.

'Afghan people are boiling grass to eat' while the US refuses to release frozen assets

The Biden administration has ruled out releasing roughly $7 billion of frozen U.S.-held Afghan assets, a year after the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan and occupation, even as the United Nations warns a staggering 95% of Afghans are not getting enough to eat. “This money belongs to the Afghan people. And the U.S., for 365 days, has been holding their money in a New York vault while Afghan people are boiling grass to eat, are selling their kidneys, are watching their children starve,” says Unfreeze Afghanistan co-founder Medea Benjamin. We also speak with Shah Mehrabi, chair of the audit committee of the central bank of Afghanistan, who says the return of funds is necessary to bring back price stability, which would put cash back into the hands of Afghan people so they can afford basic necessities.

Transcript

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

AMY GOODMAN:

This week marks one year since the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan, after more than two decades of U.S. war and occupation. As the United Nations warns a staggering 95% of Afghans are not getting enough to eat, with that number rising to almost 100% in households headed by women, the Biden administration announced this week that it had ruled out releasing roughly $7 billion in foreign assets held by Afghanistan’s central bank on U.S. soil. That’s according to The Wall Street Journal, which reports Biden’s decision not to return the funds came after he ordered the assassination of al-Qaeda’s leader in Kabul. On Monday, State Department spokesperson Ned Price disputed reports that the Biden administration has ruled out releasing the billions of dollars in foreign assets.
NED PRICE: I don’t mean to play media critic today, but there has also been some inaccurate — highly inaccurate reporting today regarding the ultimate disposition of the $3.5 billion in reserve funds. The idea that we have decided not to use these funds for the benefit of the Afghan people is simply wrong. It is not true. Our focus right now is on ongoing efforts to enable the $3.5 billion in licensed Afghan central bank reserves to be used precisely for the benefit of the Afghan people. …
The presence of Ayman al-Zawahiri on Afghan soil with the knowledge of senior members of the Haqqani Taliban Network only reinforces the deep concerns that we have regarding the potential diversion of such funds to terrorist groups. So right now we’re looking at mechanisms that could be put in place to see to it that these $3.5 billion in preserved assets make their way efficiently and effectively to the people of Afghanistan in a way that doesn’t make them ripe for diversion to terrorist groups or elsewhere.

AMY GOODMAN:

For more, we’re joined by two guests. Shah Mehrabi is the chair of the audit committee of the central bank of Afghanistan, professor of economics at Montgomery College. He’s also a former adviser to the Afghan president. His recent piece for Al Jazeera is headlined 'Afghanistan’s economy is collapsing, the US can help stop it.' Also with us, longtime peace activist Medea Benjamin, co-founder of Unfreeze Afghanistan and CodePink. She last visited Afghanistan in April with an American Women’s Peace and Education Delegation.

We welcome you both to Democracy Now! Shah Mehrabi, let’s begin with you. Can you clarify what the U.S. is doing, what this $7 billion is, why the U.S. is holding onto it, if they are?

SHAH MEHRABI:

Thank you very much for inviting me.

It’s important, I think, to mention the fact that President Biden, on February 11th, split the Afghanistan reserve, which was $7 billion, into two — that is, $3.5 billion to be used, as President Biden mentioned, and I quote, 'for the benefits of Afghan people' and the remaining $3.5 billion to be set aside for September 11 plaintiffs to litigate. Now, the policy of splitting this, obviously, has created a situation where the central bank of Afghanistan could easily — this policy could easily decapitalize the central bank and, in turn, could easily dismantle it.

So, establishing, in a way, a mechanism that will allow central bank to use its reserve for the purpose — and the main purpose of the central bank is to bring stability and to strengthen the currency and also stabilize the economy — is very important. I think this function cannot be performed — the central bank cannot fulfill its primary objective of price stability, that is done by continuously engaging in foreign exchange auctions to prevent depreciation of local currency against foreign currencies and be able to bring price stability, because ordinary Afghans, if there’s no stable prices, they are not going to be able to buy basic household goods at reasonable prices. Reducing inflation will have to be done, because inflation now is at 52%. And auctioning will allow a situation where this inflation of double digit of 52% could be reduced to a single level, because higher prices are one of the major causes of poverty.

Now more than 70% of the world’s poorest people are women. And you have the women and children who cannot go ahead afford to buy the basic necessities. They cannot buy bread. They cannot buy cooking oil. They cannot buy sugar and fuel. I think it’s very important that Afghans be allowed to have their cash to be able to buy these basic necessities, to be able to have access to cash. And the Afghanistan reserve need to be returned to the central bank so that ordinary Afghans, as well as businesses, will be able to have access to USD, to be — businesses specifically to be able to pay for imports, and then ordinary Afghans to be able to get access to the deposits, because now the cap that is placed on ordinary Afghans and businesses, even at that cap, many of ordinary Afghans and businesses cannot get access because there is a shortage of reserve in the country.

So, I had suggested back in September that the United States should allow limited monetary release of reserve to pay for imports. And I suggested $150 million. And access could be conditioned, I said, on specific use, and that is for auctioning purposes. And this can be independently monitored and audited by an external auditing firm.

AMY GOODMAN:

So, Ned Price —

SHAH MEHRABI:

And if it’s — if it’s not, then it should be terminated. Yes.

AMY GOODMAN:

Ned Price, the State Department spokesperson, directly addressed the issue of the money going to the Afghan central bank. This is what he said.
NED PRICE: We don’t see recapitalization of the Afghan central bank as a near-term option. We’ve engaged, and we still continue to engage, Afghan technocrats with the central bank for many months now about measures to enhance the country’s economic — macroeconomic stability. We just don’t have confidence that the institutions, safeguards and monitoring are in place to manage those assets responsibly.

AMY GOODMAN:

Shah Mehrabi, he’s directly addressing your bank, the central bank of Afghanistan, says can’t handle it.

SHAH MEHRABI:

This is what I said. There has to be a way, a mechanism, established to be able to test us, as a trust-building mechanism. As I said here, that what needs to be done, release this thing and monitor it, independently have auditors trying to see if the money is going to be used for the purpose for which it is designed to be used. And that is to auctioning and bring price stability. And this process could build confidence and could be considered a trust-building mechanism between the United States government and Taliban.

Now, the United States government needs to be actively engaged, and I think dialogue should continue, as it is, I’ve argued, in the best interest of the United States. Now, and I think this temporary pause that exists now, I think, is understandable. But the United States’ strategic interest in the long run dictates that there has to be a dialogue and engagement; otherwise, I think I would argue the United States will pay higher price if Afghanistan collapses, because a failed state could create more space for terror organizations.

AMY GOODMAN:

Medea Benjamin, The Wall Street Journal reports that the Biden administration has ruled out releasing the billions of dollars in foreign assets because of their learning of and then killing the al-Qaeda leader in Kabul, Ayman al-Zawahiri. Your response?

MEDEA BENJAMIN:

Thirty-eight million Afghan people should not be punished because a 71-year-old figurehead of al-Qaeda was living in Kabul. This money belongs to the Afghan people. And the U.S., for 365 days, has been holding their money in a New York vault while Afghan people are boiling grass to eat, are selling their kidneys, are watching their children starve. This is unconscionable. That money has to be returned. The U.S., for 20 years, built up a central bank in Afghanistan with a monitoring mechanism. It’s one of the only things that continues to exist after 20 years of U.S. occupation. And now it wants to hollow out that central bank, create a separate mechanism.

I think the Biden administration, instead of listening to the war hawks in his own party and the Republicans, should listen to the women’s organizations in Afghanistan, the 9/11 family members, the economists from around the world, including Joseph Stiglitz, the human rights organizations, who have all said that this humanitarian crisis can only be solved by reinvigorating the economy and returning the Afghans’ money to their central bank.

AMY GOODMAN:

We’re here talking about — I don’t know if it’s seven — whether it’s $7 billion or $9 billion, but half of that, because the other half, the Biden administration has determined, would go to the 9/11 victims. If you could respond to that, Medea? And also this issue — I mean, you’re a longtime women’s rights activist, a feminist — of the enormous crackdown on women and girls in Afghanistan, how that money would not go to supporting the Taliban, who are doing this?

MEDEA BENJAMIN:

The lawsuits by a small number of 9/11 family members really will enrich the lawyers more than anyone else. And I think we should listen to the September 11th Families for Peaceful Tomorrows, who have spearheaded a letter that 76 family members have signed, calling — saying that not a penny of that money should go for the 9/11 families, it should all go for the Afghan people.
As a feminist, I am certainly opposed to the policies of the Taliban, which have been horrific in not letting girls go to secondary schools and forcing women to cover themselves when they’re out in public and saying they can’t travel around the country without a guardian. All of these things must be opposed. And we are in touch with Afghan women every day that are working to change those policies. But they are already victimized by the Taliban; they should not be victimized by the United States by stealing the funds that they need to get their economy going. There are about 50,000 women businesses that are still trying to function in Afghanistan. They need access to the bank to pay for the salaries of their staff. Pensioners, women, need access to the bank to get their pensions. So, as a feminist, and I think all feminists should say, let’s help reinvigorate the Afghan economy so that people can get jobs and that they can feed their children.

AMY GOODMAN:

Shah Mehrabi, your final comments? And would you support a third party getting that money?

SHAH MEHRABI:

I think a mechanism that is under negotiation that will enable the transfer of fund to be used for, from my point of view, for price stability and also for reducing the volatility in exchange rate, I think, is a positive move. Now, there has been, as I said, in one way or another, a pause, and the pause hopefully is temporary. And I think negotiation and dialogue that will enable the central bank of Afghanistan to have access to its reserve must continue, as it is not only in the best interest of the United States, but it’s in the best interest of ordinary Afghans.
I want to also mention that there’s no — that no increase in the humanitarian aid can compensate for the macroeconomic harm of higher prices for basic commodities. That is, you know, aiming for a banking collapse or balance of payment crisis. And I think severe consequences could ripple throughout Afghan society and harm the most vulnerable people. And I think we have the tools and mechanism to be able to reverse it. And I think the freezing of Afghan assets will not — very important: It will not weaken the interim Taliban administration, while the overwhelming impact of that will be on — it will fall on innocent Afghans, who have suffered decades of — decades of war and poverty.

And I think, while we have the means to be able to reverse this, why not go ahead and reverse this worst economic and humanitarian crisis? And I think the best way is by having — releasing the Afghanistan reserve, that rightfully belong to Afghan people, who established an independent central bank, and allow the central bank to be able to manage, to maintain this reserve and to be able to safeguard the international value of afghani, which is the national currency, and restore and keep and maintain price stability and also be able to allow and foster liquidity and also bring confidence in Afghanistan money and exchange rate policies.

AMY GOODMAN:

Shah Mehrabi, we want to thank you for being with us, chair of the audit committee of the Afghanistan central bank, longtime economist, economics professor at Montgomery College. And, Medea Benjamin, co-founder of CodePink, Unfreeze Afghanistan, please stay with us. When we come back, I want to ask you about the Biden administration’s sanctions on Cuba, making it difficult for Cuba to effectively respond to a recent tragic fire, also the military budget that has been proposed, and the sentencing of a Saudi feminist to decades in prison in Saudi Arabia. Stay with us.

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The Iraqi and Afghan people were burn pit victims too

The close to $700 billion appropriated in the PACT ACT for the next ten years will help alleviate some suffering caused by Halliburton’s war profiteering, but only for U.S. victims. It won’t do a thing for the people in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Military veterans and their supporters camped out in front of the U.S. Capitol for close to a week after Republican senators withdrew their support for a major expansion of health care for veterans exposed to toxic “burn pits” in Iraq and Afghanistan. Formally titled, “The Sergeant First Class Heath Robinson Honoring our Promise to Address Comprehensive Toxics Act of 2022,” the PACT Act targets the Pentagon’s reliance on burn pits for disposing of the vast amounts of waste produced during the invasions and occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan. Plumes of polluted smoke and particulates from the burn pits injured up to an estimated 3.5 million U.S. service members over the past two decades.

After blocking the bill, Senate Republicans faced withering criticism from veterans and their supporters, including renowned comedian Jon Stewart. “I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a situation where people who have already given so much had to fight so hard to get so little,” said Stewart, deadly serious, flanked by vets and families of veterans who died from the exposure.

Earlier, Stewart assailed the Republicans:

“Ain’t this a bitch? America’s heroes, who fought in our wars, outside, sweating their asses off, with oxygen, battling all kinds of ailments, while these motherf*****s sit in the air conditioning, walled off from any of it. They don’t have to hear it. They don’t have to see it.”

Stewart wept after the Senate finally passed the bill.

Burn pits were used to dispose of everything from trash, tires, paint and other volatile organic solvents, batteries, unexploded ordnance, petroleum products, plastics, and medical waste, including body parts. These constantly burning dumps were often sited adjacent to barracks. Little or no protective gear was provided for impacted soldiers.

“Burn pits are massive incineration fields, sometimes as big as football fields, but there were many smaller ones throughout Iraq and Afghanistan, as well,” Purdue University anthropology professor Kali Rubaii said on the Democracy Now! news hour.

The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) has identified a slew of cancers related to burn pit exposure, along with skin problems, asthma, bronchitis, respiratory, pulmonary and cardiovascular problems, migraines and other neurological conditions.

These illnesses could have been prevented. The military typically used jet or diesel fuel to burn everything, creating far more pollution than high-temperature incinerators. But using incinerators would have cost more money. Waste disposal was handled by the military contractor Kellogg, Brown & Root, or KBR, a subsidiary of Halliburton. Halliburton’s CEO prior to 2001 was Dick Cheney. Cheney then became U.S. Vice President and was a key architect of the invasions and occupations of Afghanistan and Iraq. KBR received no-bid contracts to handle an array of logistics for the wars, including waste disposal. KBR chose cheap and dirty burn pits, maximizing profits.

“War is a racket,” retired U.S. Marine Maj. Gen. Smedley Butler wrote in 1935. Butler was a career Marine, admitting, in a 1931 speech, “I spent most of my time being a high-class muscle man for Big Business, for Wall Street and the bankers,” Butler said. “I was a racketeer, a gangster for capitalism.”

The close to $700 billion appropriated in the PACT ACT for the next ten years will help alleviate some suffering caused by Halliburton’s war profiteering, but only for U.S. victims. It won’t do a thing for the people in Iraq and Afghanistan.

“Veterans saw acute, short-term exposure to burn pits at peak health, at the prime of their lives,” Kali Rubaii, who recently returned from the heavily war-impacted Iraqi city of Fallujah, said. “Iraqis faced long-term, diffuse exposure at all stages of the life course, so the health effects were varied and widespread. Living near U.S. bases in Iraq, and therefore near burn pits, increased the likelihood of giving birth to a child with a birth defect or of getting cancer.

“Burn pits are not the biggest figure of environmental and health harm for Iraqis,” Professor Rabii elaborated. “They have also been facing military occupation, bombings, shootings, displacement and layers of military incursion by different occupation forces since the U.S. invasion. These things have all added up to collapse in public infrastructure that would be used to contend with the health effects of burn pits, poor overall health, and damaged conditions for farming and fishing.”

She concluded, “There is one really great way to avoid war-related injury, which is to not go [to war].”

The scars of the U.S. invasions and occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan are deep, spanning decades. We will never know how many millions were killed or injured. The United States bears responsibility, and owes the survivors reparations, no less than has been pledged, belatedly, to U.S. veterans.

Greenpeace warns of twin nuclear quandaries in Ukraine

Safety conditions at Ukraine’s Russian-occupied Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant are “completely out of control,” according to the International Atomic Energy Agency. This comes as the Russian military has deployed heavy artillery batteries and laid anti-personnel landmines at the site in recent weeks. “Nuclear plants are extremely vulnerable to external attack in the context of a war zone,” says Shaun Burnie, senior nuclear specialist with Greenpeace, who says something as simple as the loss of power could unleash “massive releases of radioactivity” at rates worse than the Cheronobyl disaster of 1986.

AMY GOODMAN:

The head of the International Atomic Energy Agency is warning the situation at Ukraine’s largest nuclear plant, Zaporizhzhia, is, quote, 'completely out of control.' In an interview with the Associated Press, Rafael Grossi said Tuesday, quote, 'Every principle of nuclear safety has been violated [at the plant]. … What is at stake is extremely serious and extremely grave and dangerous.'

In recent weeks, the Russian military has deployed heavy artillery batteries and laid anti-personnel landmines at the plant. Ukrainian officials say Russia is using the nuclear plant as a base for its artillery, knowing that Ukraine cannot attack a nuclear power plant without risking a nuclear disaster. Zaporizhzhia is the largest nuclear power plant in Europe.

We begin today’s show with Shaun Burnie, senior nuclear specialist with Greenpeace, who has just returned from Ukraine, where he was conducting an investigation at Chernobyl, the site of the 1986 nuclear disaster. Russian forces occupied Chernobyl for a month immediately after the invasion of Ukraine began in February.

Shaun Burnie, welcome back to Democracy Now! Can you talk about the situation at Zaporizhzhia and what you found at Chernobyl?

SHAUN BURNIE:

Well, thank you.

The situation at Zaporizhzhia, it’s unusual for Greenpeace to agree with the International Atomic Energy Agency, but Mr. Grossi is absolutely right to be deeply concerned. The occupation began on the 4th of March. And since then, hundreds of Russian forces, as well as state employees of the Russian nuclear state company, Rosatom, have been on the site. So that’s bad enough.

The fighting around the plant, if anything, is more serious in terms of what’s actually going on at the site itself, because nuclear power plants are dependent upon reliable offsite power, and already we saw, in March and April, the loss of so-called grid connection. These are incredibly important, because nuclear plants also require electricity to maintain operations, to maintain the facilities — for example, the cooling pumps that pump water into the reactors and keep the reactors relatively safe. And what we saw in March and April was a loss of grid in a number of grid lines, and the reason for that was because of fighting 50, 60, 80 kilometers from the actual site. So, even if nothing happens at the site itself, nuclear plants are extremely vulnerable to external attack in the context of a war zone. And that’s exactly what we are in the situation at the moment in southern Ukraine.

NERMEEN SHAIKH:

And, Shaun, you’ve said that the situation, of course, is extremely high risk in Zaporizhzhia, but you’ve also suggested that the role of the International Atomic Agency is highly political. Could you explain why?

SHAUN BURNIE:

It’s a really complicated situation. This is a nuclear plant in Ukraine, obviously, but it’s under Russian military control, with the Russian nuclear state agency, Rosatom, on site. And the IAEA and Mr. Grossi have been trying to get access for a number of months. The problem is, if you, as an IAEA, go to Zaporizhzhia, are you therefore getting the approval of the Russian state, the Russian government, to access a nuclear facility in another country that actually still is a sovereign nation and for which the Zaporizhzhia plant still belongs? So there’s lots of behind-the-scenes tensions in terms of whether the Russian state has any right to say to the IAEA, 'Yes, you can come and visit us.' So, the politics of this are really complicated.

It’s not really clear to us what safety role the IAEA would play. We have Ukrainian nuclear employees working on the site. We have Russian military, and we have Russian state nuclear agency people. So, what role does the IAEA play in that? It has a safeguards function, which is to ensure that nuclear material is not diverted for military purposes, but there’s absolutely no evidence that any nuclear material on the Zaporizhzhia site will be diverted by the Ukrainian government at this stage. That’s clearly ridiculous. And the Russians, they’ve got so many nuclear weapons and nuclear material in their own country, they don’t need to divert from Zaporizhzhia. So, it’s not really clear what is going on with regards the IAEA’s ambition to go there. I think, in part, it’s also driven by Mr. Grossi’s personal ambition. He seems to want to be seen as the savior of everything. And actually, the situation is a lot more serious than the individual ego of any one particular individual at a U.N. agency.

NERMEEN SHAIKH:

Shaun, we’ll turn in a second to your report, the Greenpeace report, the investigation into the Chernobyl plant, which Russian forces occupied during their invasion for over a month in the early days. But could you talk about what your concerns are with respect to Zaporizhzhia, people saying that it could actually — if the plant is damaged, the situation could be worse than what happened at Chernobyl?

SHAUN BURNIE:

Well, clearly, it’s an intolerable situation that Russian military, Russian nuclear state employees are occupying Ukraine’s nuclear power plant at Zaporizhzhia. For the workers, for their families, whose job it is to try and maintain the safe operation of those reactors, that’s clearly an outrageous situation, and it must be terminated and ended as soon as possible. The only way that can happen is for the Russians to withdraw immediately. Again, that’s not going to happen.

So, what sort of scenarios are the most severe? The loss of cooling function to the reactor cores — there’s three reactors out of six that are currently operating — that would be a major problem. We know that the generators that provide emergency power at Zaporizhzhia have got long-standing problems, not particularly reliable. The battery power is also extremely limited. So, loss of power is really the most severe issue that concerns us.

Also at the site, there are thousands of tons of spent fuel. That’s the highly radioactive fuel that comes out of the reactors. Much of that is in dry stores, which are of less concern. But the material that’s in the pools — that’s the swimming pools that are inside the reactor buildings — they need to be constantly cooled, which means that in the Zaporizhzhia site you’ve got much more radioactivity than was ever released by Chernobyl, in a war zone, where the personnel are under direct military threat at all times. So the ability to respond to any event, particularly a more severe event like loss of cooling, is extremely compromised. So, at that point, you’re looking at potential massive releases of radioactivity, potentially even greater than Chernobyl. That’s not scaremongering; that’s just the reality of having nuclear power plants in a war zone.

AMY GOODMAN:

And on the issue of Chernobyl, talk more extensively about what you found in your report, that says that the damage at Chernobyl, as you said, is so much worse than we understood.

SHAUN BURNIE:

So, for a number of months, we’ve been in discussion with the Ukrainian government, and we had the opportunity, a unique opportunity, to actually conduct a survey, a radiation survey, and also to meet with scientists whose responsibility is to manage and oversee this enormous exclusion zone around the nuclear plant from 1986, still highly complex, highly radioactive, with many, many problems.

And then the Russians occupied on the 24th of February, left on the 30th of March. And the reports coming out at that time seemed to be confused, and so we basically went in there to, A, listen and hear from the scientists who experienced the occupation — and these are laboratories that are fulfilling vital safety work on radiation moving through the environment. This is an ongoing disaster site. And we clearly saw that the Russian military had damaged, destroyed parts of the laboratory, stolen databases, smashed computers, removed hard drives.

But then we also went into the area which they managed. It’s 2,600 square kilometers. And we were only able to go to one very small specific area, because, unfortunately, the Russian military have also decided to place landmines throughout the territory, some of it organized and some of it completely chaotic, tripwires, anti-personnel mines. So, the impact on the scientists whose job it is to monitor radioactivity in the Chernobyl zone, also to provide warnings to firefighters, all of that has been compromised by the Russian military occupation. What we found was that radioactivity levels, in particular one area where the Russian military were, yes, it was high, but if you moved only 500 meters away, it was many, many times higher.

And so, the idea that this is a situation under control, that the radiation levels are normal — which is what the IAEA and Mr. Grossi communicated in April — is clearly not true. And so, the situation is incredibly complex. And basically, turning this into soundbites saying that things are normal, it doesn’t give any information whatsoever. So we have some severe doubts about the accuracy of what the IAEA was trying to communicate back in April. This is an ongoing crisis at the Chernobyl site. The workers, the scientists, the state agency, they need as much help as possible, because this is of national and international significance, in terms of what radioactivity is doing to the environment there and what it potentially poses as further threats in the future.

AMY GOODMAN:

Shaun Burnie of Greenpeace, I wanted to bring in Dr. Ira Helfand, the immediate past president of the International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War, which won the Nobel Peace Prize, also co-founder and past president of Physicians for Social Responsibility and serves on the international steering group of the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapon, which also won the Nobel Peace Prize. Dr. Helfand, as you listen to this report, Shaun Burnie just back from Ukraine, both about what’s happening at Zaporizhzhia, where the Russians are basing themselves there so the Ukrainians cannot attack because that would create a nuclear catastrophe, and his findings at Chernobyl, your response?

DR. IRA HELFAND:

Well, you know, clearly, the situation around the nuclear reactors in Ukraine is extremely worrisome and it underlines, as Shaun was saying, the fact that these reactors are not designed to function in a war zone. And it calls into question, I think, the entire nuclear power enterprise globally, because we just can’t afford to run the risk of this kind of catastrophic accident occurring, with the enormous public health implications that would follow from that. Tens of thousands of people were exposed to doses of radiation from Chernobyl that led to them developing cancer and dying. The exact number is very difficult to come by, but the estimates are that it’s at least in the tens of thousands, and perhaps higher. And we can’t afford to continue to operate these nuclear reactors, given those kinds of risks.

AMY GOODMAN:

Well, we want to thank Shaun Burnie for being with us, Shaun Burnie of Greenpeace, who’s just back right now from Ukraine, where he investigated what took place at Chernobyl and is talking about the situation at Zaporizhzhia. And we’ll link to your Greenpeace report, 'Investigation Inside the Chornobyl Exclusion Zone.' Dr. Helfand, we’d like you to stay with us as we talk further about the threat of nuclear war. Stay with us.

Watch below:

The Israel lobby is spending millions to defeat progressive Democrats in primary races: columnist

Pro-Israel lobby groups have spent “shocking” amounts of money to change the course of multiple Democratic congressional primaries over the past year alone, reports our guest Peter Beinart. The latest is in Maryland, where former Congressmember Donna Edwards is being outspent sevenfold by corporate attorney Glenn Ivey in her bid to win back her old seat in the state’s 4th Congressional District. Beinart, the editor-at-large of Jewish Currents, says the AIPAC-led PACs disguise their attack ads with local issues but in reality are designed to oust candidates who take stances in support of Palestinian rights and working people.

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

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

Today is Primary Day in Maryland. In one closely watched race, former Congressmember Donna Edwards is seeking to win back her old seat in Maryland’s 4th Congressional District, outside Washington, D.C. She is facing the corporate attorney Glenn Ivey, who has raised seven times as much money. The New York Times reports a new super PAC run by AIPAC, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, has spent nearly $6 million on the primary race in an attempt to defeat Edwards, who served in Congress for four terms ending in 2017. In 2008, Donna Edwards made history becoming the first Black woman elected to Congress from Maryland. Another group with ties to AIPAC, the Democratic Majority for Israel, has spent over $425,000 to help defeat Edwards. The two groups also poured money into efforts to defeat other progressive Democrats, including Nina Turner in Ohio and Jessica Cisneros in Texas.

We’re joined now by Peter Beinart, editor-at-large with Jewish Currents. He recently wrote an article headlined “The Israel Lobby’s New Campaign Playbook.” Peter Beinart is a professor at the Newmark Graduate School of Journalism at City University of New York.

Thanks so much for joining us, Peter. Can you talk about what Donna Edwards is confronting right now in Maryland, the level of money that’s being poured in to defeat her?

PETER BEINART: It’s really extraordinary for a House race to see one organization, one super PAC, spending almost $6 million. What we’re seeing across the country is that AIPAC’s super PAC is often spending as much as the campaigns themselves are spending. Partly this is the result of Citizens United, the Supreme Court decision in 2010 that created super PACs, which are these entities that can accept unlimited amounts of money and spend unlimited money as long as they are theoretically not coordinated with the campaign. And it’s also the result of the fact that AIPAC and allied establishment pro-Israel organizations saw a threat starting in 2019, when people like Rashida Tlaib and Ilhan Omar and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez were elected to Congress, and have decided to spend virtually unlimited amounts of money to ensure that their brand of politics, which is more pro-Palestinian rights, but which is also more progressive on economic issues, does not become the future of the Democratic Party.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And, Peter, could you talk about what you discovered in terms of connections or ties between groups like Mainstream Democrats and other pro-Israel lobbyists, like the Democratic Majority for Israel?

PETER BEINART: Yes. One of the things that I found is that very often when these establishment pro-Israel organizations target a progressive candidate, those candidates are also targeted by groups that are not focused on Israel-Palestine but simply want to defeat that person because that person may be to progressive on questions of healthcare, or they may support the Green New Deal.

So, there’s a group called Mainstream Democrats. If you look at their website, it says nothing about Israel-Palestine whatsoever. It just says it doesn’t want the Democratic Party to be taken over by far-left groups. But Mainstream Democrats is actually run by Democratic Majority for Israel. So what you see is this very, very close alliance. They work out of the same offices with the same staff, so, essentially, this extremely close relationship between groups that want to defeat progressives because they support Palestinian rights, and groups that just want to defeat progressives because they essentially want the Democratic Party to be dominated by people like Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema, who will do the bidding of the fossil fuel industry, the healthcare industry, the financial services industry.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And how successful have these efforts been in the past? Amy mentioned the races of Nina Turner in Ohio and Jessica Cisneros in Texas, both of whom were targeted by AIPAC and both of whom lost their races. What’s been the track record of these efforts?

PETER BEINART: These efforts, sadly, have been very successful. There have been a couple of races — one in Pennsylvania, one in Illinois — where the progressive candidates were able to win. But in most cases, the candidates targeted have lost. And even when the targeted candidates don’t lose, it has a chilling effect. Politicians out there see this and think, “I do not want millions and millions of dollars dumped into a House race against me,” and so what it tends to do is lead candidates who might be more inclined to take progressive positions on Palestinian rights or on other issues to instead keep their heads down and not take those positions in order to try to avoid the kind of attacks that other progressives have faced.

AMY GOODMAN: So, let me ask you, back on Donna Edwards’ race, Peter — you have the speaker of the House, right, Nancy Pelosi, who actually comes from Maryland, though she represents San Francisco, coming out in full support of Donna Edwards. Now, while most of the big money spent in the race has come from AIPAC-aligned super PAC, the ads funded by the so-called United Democracy Project don’t mention the Middle East. And I wanted then to talk about Nancy Pelosi, who really came out and attacked the kind of money, the attack ads by the AIPAC-aligned groups, like United Democracy Project, prompting this response in June from House Majority Leader Nancy Pelosi. This is what she said.

SPEAKER NANCY PELOSI: When Donna Edwards first represented Maryland’s 4th Congressional District — and that was for nearly a decade — she was one of the most effective members in Congress. Donna fought hard for Prince George’s County, for jobs and investments in her community, to help constituents in need and to deliver results. As speaker and then as leader, I knew I could always count on Donna Edwards as a valued member of our leadership team.

AMY GOODMAN: So, that’s Nancy Pelosi endorsing Donna Edwards. Now, the ads often, and the candidates who are supported by these massive — I mean, the massive amount of money, millions, in the case of this campaign, going to her opponent — they’re not raising the issue of Israel and Palestine, right? And also, let’s be clear: There are other pro-Israel groups, like J Street, more progressive, that supports Donna Edwards.

PETER BEINART: Yes, but J Street doesn’t have — only has a small fraction of the amount of money that AIPAC and Democratic Majority for Israel have on the other side. But you’re exactly right. In almost none of these races do the attack ads actually have anything to do with the actual agenda of the organizations that are paying for them. And that’s because AIPAC and DMFI know that not very many voters in these districts actually really care that much about Israel-Palestine. They care about local issues.

So, what AIPAC does is it — and DMFI do, they do poll testing. And they attack people on these kind of — whatever they think may gain traction. So, in Ohio, in the Nina Turner race, because Nina Turner was a Bernie Sanders supporter who had been critical of Joe Biden, they painted her as not a loyal Democrat. In the case of Donna Edwards, they’re claiming that she didn’t provide good constituent service when she was the congresswoman early on — as if AIPAC or DMFI could care less about the level of constituent service that Donna Edwards provided to her constituents when she was a congresswoman. I mean, it’s transparent nonsense, right? It’s just that this is their vehicle for trying to defeat her, because Donna Edwards in the past has shown some minimal — right? She’s hardly radical on this subject — but just some modest concern for Palestinian human rights. For that reason, they want to defeat her.

AMY GOODMAN: Can you talk about the role of Bakari Sellers in these campaigns?

PETER BEINART: Yes. So, Bakari Sellers is a former South Carolina politician with close ties to AIPAC who has been — now heads another super PAC that is devoted primarily at this point to defeating Rashida Tlaib in Michigan. And its claim is that it’s an organization that wants to elect Black Democrats. And Rashida Tlaib has a Black opponent, but, again, this is also transparent nonsense — as if AIPAC and its donors are really concerned about increasing Black representation.

They’re going after Rashida Tlaib for one reason only: because she’s a Palestinian member of Congress who is a passionate and eloquent defender of the humanity of Palestinians, and she brings that issue to the fore in Congress like no one else does. But again, because that agenda itself, if laid out nakedly, would not be very popular, you have these transparent claims that it’s really about something else — in this way, about the claim that somehow because she’s not Black, she can’t represent a district in Michigan, even though, in fact, she has strong Black support and has been a very, very tireless defender of the people in her district of all races.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And, Peter, interestingly, there is also a governor’s race in Maryland, and both competitive primaries in both the Democratic and the Republican parties to elect a successor to the Republican Governor Hogan. But has AIPAC been involved in those races at all, or is it only concentrating on these congressional races?

PETER BEINART: AIPAC’s focus has overwhelmingly been not just in congressional races, but in Democratic primaries in congressional races. AIPAC’s assessment has been that because of partisan polarization, there are fewer swing districts, which means that more often than in the past the member of Congress is chosen in the primary. They also have noticed that there are an unusually large number of open House seats this year because of redistrict and retirement. And they like to do open House races, because once an incumbent has been elected in our system, they can be difficult to dislodge. So what this play is really about is trying to create a whole new generation of younger Democrats in Congress who will toe the AIPAC line on Israel-Palestine, also in many, many cases, also take a kind of more pro-corporate position, and therefore blunt the trend that we were seeing towards the Democratic Party moving in a more progressive direction.

AMY GOODMAN: We just have 30 seconds, but this is new, right, AIPAC having this kind of super PAC?

PETER BEINART: Yes. AIPAC, despite its name, never had a political action committee, but it saw, essentially, that it needed to roll out the big guns in response to the trends that we saw with the election of the Squad members. And it has extraordinary financial resources at its disposal. Several people, for instance, have given a million — written million-dollar checks already, and the money is still being tabulated.

AMY GOODMAN: Peter Beinart, editor-at-large of Jewish Currents. We’ll link to your new piece, “Israel Lobby’s New Campaign Playbook: Israel advocacy groups have developed strategies to raise huge sums for their candidates by appealing to corporate interests.”

Coming up, we turn to the pioneering legal scholar Kimberlé Crenshaw, who has launched a counteroffensive against right-wing attacks targeting critical race theory. It is Freedom Summer this week around the country. That’s right, a summer school for CRT. Stay with us.

[break]

AMY GOODMAN: “La-La-Means I Love You” by the Delfonics. The Philadelphia soul group’s lead singer and songwriter, William Hart, has died at the age of 77.


'Pathetic': Author laments 'how cheap it is' for oil companies to fund climate opposition

A scorching heat wave continues to fuel wildfires across southern Europe and parts of North Africa, resulting in hundreds of heat-related deaths and forcing thousands to evacuate their homes. The record-breaking temperatures come as Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia has effectively killed President Biden’s Build Back Better climate legislation after stringing Biden along for 18 months. “It’s appalling, but it’s not unexpected. It’s why we have to keep building movements bigger,” says Bill McKibben, climate author, educator, environmentalist and founder of the organizations Third Act and 350.org.

Transcript

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

AMY GOODMAN:

Bill McKibben, I also want to ask you about the scorching heat wave that continues to fuel wildfires across southern Europe and parts of North Africa. In France, thousands have been forced to evacuate fires that have scorched over 22,000 acres. Meanwhile, the governments of Spain and Portugal said hundreds of people died from heat-related causes during the second week of July. In the United Kingdom, the British government has issued its first-ever 'Red' extreme heat national severe weather warning, with forecasters predicting high temperatures will top 40 degrees Celsius, 105 degrees Fahrenheit, for the first time ever.

This coming as last week West Virginia Senator Joe Manchin told Democratic leaders on Capitol Hill he will not support legislation to combat the climate emergency or any tax increases on the wealthy and large corporations. The youth-led climate justice group Sunrise Movement called Manchin’s decision 'nothing short of a death sentence.' And you tweeted in response, 'Manchin has taken more money from the fossil fuel industry than anyone else in DC. And the return on that investment has been enormous. Big Oil got its money worth a thousand times over.'

Talk more about what’s happening in the world with these scorching heat waves, and what the U.S. is not doing about it.

BILL McKIBBEN:

Well, let’s talk first about the heat. Britain has the longest temperature record in the world. People have been looking at thermometers there longer than they have any other part of the planet. And the temperatures we’re seeing today and tomorrow in Britain are going to smash those records, not even just beat them by a tenth of a degree but by a full 1 or 2 degrees Celsius, 3 or 4 degrees Fahrenheit. That shouldn’t be statistically possible, but it is, because we’re living on a different world than those old thermometers were on.

The scariest thing, really, about what’s happening this week, not just in Europe, but also in China, where there’s an extraordinary heat wave underway, and also across much of the U.S. — the temperature is going to be 104 in Minneapolis today, I think — the scariest thing is, we’re in the middle of a La Niña, a cold cycle on this planet. As you know, we break new global temperature records normally when we’re in an El Niño phase in the Pacific, but June, last month, was the hottest June ever recorded on Earth. When we next have an El Niño, the numbers are going to be just completely off the charts. This is very, very scary.

And what makes it scarier, as you point out, is the lack of a real political response from most places around the world, the U.S. in particular. Joe Manchin choosing this moment to sabotage finally the climate legislation that the president had put forward is particularly galling. This is the third time in the last 30 years that the U.S. Congress has considered serious climate legislation — the Kyoto stuff back in the 1990s, the cap-and-trade stuff in 2009, 2010, and now this Build Back Better bill, that groups like the Sunrise Movement had fought for years to get through.

I’m afraid that, in retrospect, it’s pretty clear Manchin was going to do this all along. You remember that leaked secret hidden videotape that came out last year, where Exxon’s chief lobbyist described Manchin as their 'kingmaker' and said that they met with him every week to discuss policy. It’s pretty clear how those meetings have been going. He’s played this very well by stringing it out all these many, many months, 18 months. He’s kept the Biden administration from being able to take executive action for fear of offending him. It’s appalling, but it’s not unexpected. It’s why we have to keep building movements bigger. We need more pressure on this system in order to make change, or we’re going to be stuck just where we are.

The one upside? We know, and we get more confirmation with each passing week, that renewable energy is getting cheaper and cheaper and cheaper. There was an auction last week in the United Kingdom for new tenders for electricity provision. And the cost of offshore wind was coming in at one-quarter the price of burning gas to produce electricity.

We can do this. We can get out of a world where we have to go kowtow, fist-bump the idiot king of Saudi Arabia. We can do it, but only if we’re willing to make the effort that Joe Manchin has kept us from making this week.

AMY GOODMAN:

Let’s name some names. I’m looking at a Politico piece that talks about where Senator Manchin, who chairs the Senate Energy Committee, you know, the top recipient of oil and gas funds, gets his money. Last quarter’s campaign finance data shows the trend is continuing. 'The senator received donations from executives at Georgia Power, including the utility’s CFO Aaron Abramovitz, and from Dominion Energy CEO Robert Blue. Energy services firm Concord Energy CEO Matthew Flavin gave Manchin the maximum allowable amount of $5,800, as did Southern Company Gas CEO Kim Greene and Harvest Midstream CEO Jason Rebrook. Southern Company’s chair and CEO Chris Cummiskey gave Manchin $2,000, while three other company executives gave at least $1,000. An in-house lobbyist for the company donated $1,000 as well. Kara G. Moriarty, president of the Alaska Oil & Gas Association, gave $1,000, too, along with two executives from the energy storage company Form Energy.'

And it goes on: 'Manchin also took in more than $19,000 from political action committees belonging to fossil fuel or energy companies and their trade groups, including the Coterra Energy, NextEra Energy, North American Coal Corp., the American Exploration & Production Council’s PAC. The PACs for private equity giant the Carlyle Group and AT&T contributed $10,000 and $5,000, respectively.' Your response, Bill?

BILL McKIBBEN:

You know what’s pathetic? It’s pathetic how cheap it is to buy these guys. So, you know, for a few hundred thousand dollars, you can afford a senator, and he is able to put the kibosh on hundreds of billions of dollars in renewable energy spending. The list you just read is a list of all the people who don’t want the status quo to change, who want to slow down that change as much as they can. That’s what they are paying for, and that’s what they got, man. This was money well spent, from their point of view.

AMY GOODMAN:

António Guterres said today, the U.N. secretary-general, 'Half of humanity is in the danger zone from floods, droughts, extreme storms and wildfires. No nation is immune. Yet we continue to feed our fossil fuel addiction. … We have a choice. Collective action or collective suicide. It is in our hands.' Bill McKibben, your final comments on this?

BILL McKIBBEN:

Guterres has actually been a hero, and he’s exactly right. And it’s not that hard. Look, there’s four big banks that are the big funders to the fossil fuel industry. They’re all American. That’s why at Third Act we’re working so hard to try and cut off that flow of funding to the fossil fuel industry. There’s a handful of people who are keeping us on a path toward existential destruction, and we have got to stand up to them, and we’ve got to do it now.

AMY GOODMAN:

Your final comment about Saudi Arabia and other countries the U.S. is relying on to increase oil production, when in fact, actually, now gas prices are dropping, but, more importantly, it looks like these oil companies — while people think it’s because there’s a lack of oil and gas, it’s that they’re using this moment, this opportunity, this war in Ukraine — these corporations — to gouge consumers and are making more than they ever have in their history?

BILL McKIBBEN:

If you don’t like the oil companies — and, man, you should not like the oil companies — if you don’t like the Saudis — and I sure don’t — we need e-bikes, e-buses, electric vehicles. The day that we’ve got a bunch of them on the road is the day that we can tell these guys to go take a jump in the lake.

AMY GOODMAN:

Bill McKibben, author, educator, environmentalist, founder of Third Act, organizing people over 60 for progressive change, also founder of 350.org, we’ll link to your piece in The New Yorker, 'If Egypt Won’t Free Alaa Abd El-Fattah, It Had Better Brace for an Angry Climate Conference.' His book is just out, The Flag, the Cross, and the Station Wagon: A Graying American Looks Back at His Suburban Boyhood and Wonders What the Hell Happened.

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Watch: James Earl Jones reads Frederick Douglass' 'What to the Slave Is the Fourth of July?' speech

We begin our July Fourth special broadcast with the words of Frederick Douglass. Born into slavery around 1818, Douglass became a key leader of the abolitionist movement. On July 5, 1852, in Rochester, New York, Douglass gave one of his most famous speeches, “What to the Slave Is the Fourth of July?” He was addressing the Rochester Ladies’ Anti-Slavery Society. James Earl Jones reads the historic address during a performance of “Voices of a People’s History of the United States,” which was co-edited by Howard Zinn. The late great historian introduces the address.

Cecilia Hart and James Earl Jones at the 15th Annual Screen Actors Guild Awards. Shrine Auditorium, Los Angeles, CA. 01-25-09

Transcript

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

AMY GOODMAN:

Today, in this special broadcast, we begin with the words of Frederick Douglass. Born into slavery around 1818, Douglass became a key leader of the abolitionist movement. On July 5th, 1852, in Rochester, New York, Frederick Douglass gave one of his most famous speeches, “What to the Slave Is Your Fourth of July?” He was addressing the Rochester Ladies’ Anti-Slavery Society.
This is James Earl Jones reading the historic address during a performance of Voices of a People’s History of the United States. It was co-edited by Howard Zinn. The late great historian introduced the address.

HOWARD ZINN:

Frederick Douglass, once a slave, became a brilliant and powerful leader of the anti-slavery movement. In 1852, he was asked to speak in celebration of the Fourth of July.

FREDERICK DOUGLASS: [read by James Earl Jones]:

Fellow-citizens, pardon me, allow me to ask, why am I called upon to speak here to-day? What have I, or those I represent, to do with your national independence? Are the great principles of political freedom and of natural justice, embodied in that Declaration of Independence, extended to us? And am I, therefore, called upon to bring our humble offering to the national altar, and to confess the benefits and express devout gratitude for the blessings resulting from your independence to us?
I am not included within the pale of this glorious anniversary! Your high independence only reveals the immeasurable distance between us. The blessings in which you this day rejoice are not enjoyed in common. The rich inheritance of justice, liberty, prosperity, and independence bequeathed by your fathers is shared by you, not by me. The sunlight that brought life and healing to you has brought stripes and death to me. This Fourth of July is yours, not mine. You may rejoice, I must mourn. To drag a man in fetters into the grand illuminated temple of liberty, and call upon him to join you in joyous anthems, were inhuman mockery and sacrilegious irony. Do you mean, citizens, to mock me, by asking me to speak today?
What, to the American slave, is your Fourth of July? I answer: a day that reveals to him, more than all other days of the year, the gross injustice and cruelty to which he is a constant victim. To him, your celebration is a sham; your boasted liberty, an unholy license; your national greatness, swelling vanity; your sounds of rejoicing are empty and heartless; your denunciation of tyrants, brass fronted impudence; your shouts of liberty and equality, hollow mockery; your prayers and hymns, your sermons and thanksgivings, with all your religious parade and solemnity, are, to Him, mere bombast, fraud, deception, impiety, and hypocrisy — a thin veil to cover up crimes that would disgrace a nation of savages. There is not a nation of the earth guilty of practices more shocking and bloody than are the people of these United States at this very hour.
At a time like this, scorching irony, not convincing argument, is needed. O! had I the ability, and could reach the nation’s ear, I would, to-day, pour forth a stream, a fiery stream of biting ridicule, blasting reproach, withering sarcasm, and stern rebuke. For it is not light that is needed, but fire; it is not the gentle shower, but thunder. We need the storm, the whirlwind, the earthquake. The feeling of the nation must be quickened; the conscience of the nation must be roused; the propriety of the nation must be startled; the hypocrisy of the nation must be exposed; and the crimes against God and man must be proclaimed and denounced.

AMY GOODMAN:

James Earl Jones, reading the words of Frederick Douglass.

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Not just in the United States: Arms control experts decry global slaughter by American weapons

As U.S. lawmakers struggle to reach a consensus on legislation to curb gun violence in the wake of mass shootings, the U.S. also remains the largest international supplier of arms, funneling billions in military weaponry into wars in Ukraine and Yemen. Until there is a serious curtailment of U.S. militarism, it will continue to prioritize U.S. lives over lives abroad, says Norman Solomon, national director of RootsAction and executive director of the Institute for Public Accuracy, whose new piece is headlined, “How About Some Gun Control at the Pentagon?” International arms control advocate Rebecca Peters describes U.S. efforts to block weapons control efforts at the United Nations and adds that New Zealand’s swift action on gun control following the Christchurch mosque killings in 2019 should give the U.S. impetus to do the same.

Transcript
This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.AMY GOODMAN:
This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman, with Nermeen Shaikh.Another mass shooting. It was Wednesday night, four people shot dead in Tulsa, Oklahoma, after a gunman attacked a medical complex at a Catholic hospital. It’s the 20th mass shooting in the United States since the school massacre in Uvalde, Texas, killed 19 fourth graders and two teachers last Tuesday.
On Capitol Hill, a bipartisan group of nine U.S. senators met Wednesday to discuss new legislation in the wake of the shooting. Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell said he hoped lawmakers would target what he called the source of U.S. mass shootings.
MINORITY LEADER MITCH McCONNELL: It seems to me there are two broad categories that underscore the problem: mental illness and school safety.

AMY GOODMAN:

Mental illness and school safety. He did not mention guns.
President Biden said Tuesday much of the violence from mass shootings is preventable, after he met with New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and discussed how her country moved quickly to change its gun laws after the 2019 massacre at a mosque in Christchurch, New Zealand.
As we continue our coverage of gun violence in the United States, we turn now to look at an issue seldom discussed: the role of the U.S. as the world’s leading weapons exporter. For more, we’re joined by two guests. Rebecca Peters is an international arms control advocate, former director of the International Action Network on Small Arms. She’s joining us from Guatemala. And Norman Solomon is with us. He’s with RootsAction and the Institute for Public Accuracy. He is author of War Made Easy: How Presidents and Pundits Keep Spinning Us to Death. And he’s got a new piece on Common Dreams headlined 'How About Some Gun Control at the Pentagon? The weapons of war that maim and kill — the big ones and the small — let’s do something to curb them all.' He’s joining us from San Francisco.
We welcome you both back to Democracy Now! Norm Solomon, let’s begin with you. Talk about the connection between the massive number of mass shootings in this country — 20 since last week alone, since the Uvalde massacre — and mass shootings are defined as shootings of four or more people, whether they’re maimed or they’re killed — that connection — and we’re all seeing it on our screens now — to what happens abroad and how the U.S. may, horribly, be the link.

NORMAN SOLOMON:

The connections are really hidden in plain sight. And it’s really stunning that with all the discourse about gun control and the debates in the political and media arenas, there’s virtually no discussion of the crying need for gun control at the Pentagon. And we know that implementing gun control restrictions in other countries has really reduced drastically the shootings, the mass killings with guns. And yet it’s off the media map, because of the internalized militarism of mass media and the political establishment in this country, to talk about the huge amount of gun usage by the Pentagon.
When you look at the stats, we know that about 19,000 people a year, on average, in the United States are killed with shootings. And when you look at the stats from the Costs of War Project at Brown University, you see that in the last two decades a comparable number of civilians have been killed by the U.S. military. And that really understates the extent of, really, the murder using weapons. You know, we talk about assault weapons in the United States. Well, the U.S. Pentagon is wielding a huge array of assault weapons in many countries around the world, and the figure of about 19,000 average civilian deaths since 2001 caused by the U.S. military really understates — for one thing, those are just the direct effects. The destruction of infrastructure and the less direct deaths are severalfold times that 19,000 average per year. And then, as the great journalist Anand Gopal said on this program last summer, the official estimates of deaths caused by U.S. military actions in Afghanistan are woeful underestimates.
So what we have is this sort of hidden conceit in the United States, in so many different realms, that, 'Oh, yeah, we’re going to talk about whether to have gun control in the United States' — well, we should, and it should be implemented. But until we have a serious curtailment of the militarism of the Pentagon and the U.S. government, then tacitly what the U.S. society is saying, in silence, is that the grief of some people in the United States who have loved ones who were killed with weapons because of lack of gun control inside the country, that grief is really, really important — and it is, and we should recognize that — but another part of the message is, the grief of people in Somalia or Afghanistan or Syria or Iraq, that is completely off the media map because, to be blunt about it, the tacit message from U.S. media and political power structure, the elephants and the donkeys in the living room, they are essentially saying, in silence, 'We don’t care about the grief of people elsewhere in the the world. Not only that, but we particularly don’t care when the U.S. military is causing the grief.'

NERMEEN SHAIKH:

Rebecca Peters, you, of course, were the former director of the International Action Network on Small Arms. I’d like to ask about the role that the U.S. has played in advancing or blocking treaties at the U.N. that govern the arms trade — the U.S., of course, the largest exporter of military equipment worldwide. And if you could speak specifically about the Arms Trade Treaty, which the U.S. played a major role in crafting but the Trump administration pulled out of a few years ago, and the Biden administration has not rejoined?

REBECCA PETERS:

Yeah, thanks. Though it’s — the point that Norman makes about U.S. arms exports, in general, and the damage they do applies, of course, absolutely, to the question of guns, which in U.N. parlance are called small arms. The U.S. is the biggest producer of guns in the world and also the biggest exporter, both illegally and legally. So these two streams of guns flow out from the U.S. into others countries and cause havoc, including where I am, in Guatemala.
And within the U.N. — the U.N. started to try to get countries to work together to strengthen their controls on guns around 2000. So, for 20 years there’s been an effort within the U.N. And during most of those discussions, the U.S. has really taken a pretty unhelpful position. In the very beginning, there was a — the main agreement relating to guns in the U.N. is called the Program of Action, and that was developed in 2001. And a really important point that was not able to be included in that agreement because of the U.S.'s insistence was there's no mention of any regulation of guns in the civilian population. Although almost every other country in the world felt it was important to say, you know, 85% of guns in the world are in civilian hands, regulation of guns should deal with civilian-owned weapons, but the U.S. refused, and therefore that wasn’t able to be included.
Later we were able to develop the Arms Trade Treaty, which is the first internationally binding treaty dealing with — trying to link arms sales to, for example, human rights standards. The U.S. would privately say to us, 'Of course we need this,' but they were very concerned by the fact that the American gun lobby felt that the Arms Trade Treaty — or, I don’t think they really thought this, but the American gun lobby claimed the Arms Trade Treaty was a global ban on the Second Amendment. And so, the U.S. definitely made the whole negotiation of that treaty harder. But it finally was adopted, and it’s come into force. And unfortunately, yeah, now as — the U.S., the biggest producer of military equipment, has not actually ratified it. And so, I mean, it doesn’t obviate the need for the treaty. Obviously, even if the big producer is not — hasn’t ratified it, but still, obviously, it would make — it would be really, really helpful if the biggest producer of weapons would join the international treaties governing and agreements governing that industry.

NERMEEN SHAIKH:

And could you speak, Rebecca — just earlier this week, on Tuesday, the prime minister of New Zealand, Jacinda Ardern, met with President Biden, in which, of course, among the issues they spoke of was gun control. Explain what happened in New Zealand following the Christchurch massacre, and the significance of this meeting between the two.

REBECCA PETERS:

Well, New Zealand was an example of a country that got it wrong once, and later got it right. New Zealand was supposed to be part of the changes that came about in Australia’s gun laws in 1996, because those changes were under a body called the Australasian Police Ministers’ Council. And Australasian means Australia and New Zealand. So, when Australia changed its gun laws to ban semiautomatic rifles and shotguns, New Zealand should have adopted that change, too. But at the time, the gun lobby in New Zealand persuaded the New Zealand government that there was no need for that, and therefore New Zealand didn’t change its laws in ’96.
Then, in 2019, the massacre at the mosque in New Zealand was actually carried out by an Australian, who would not have been able to do that in Australia, wouldn’t have been able to get the weapons, but went to New Zealand, where he was able to get assault weapons and murdered over 50 people in a — it was a massacre. It was also an act of terrorism. It was also an act of white supremacy. And then New Zealand did change its laws.
And I suppose the — I was interested to see Jacinda Ardern’s comments in the U.S. I mean, she said that New Zealanders just saw it was a problem that needed to be solved; New Zealanders are a practical people. And she also said, of course, it’s up to the U.S. what it does; we can only tell you what we do in other countries, and that’s true for Australia, as well. But I think that the more that the U.S. government and the U.S. people can hear from the leaders of other countries, which are culturally similar, which are — you know, where the lifestyle is similar, from other countries that can see 'when there’s a problem, fix it,' that I’m hoping that that will give a bit of force to or bit of impetus to change in the U.S.

AMY GOODMAN:

So, we will end with the words of New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, delivering the Harvard University commencement speech last week. She was met with a standing ovation.
PRIME MINISTER JACINDA ARDERN: On the 15th of March, 2019, 51 people were killed in a terrorist attack on two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand. The entire brutal act was live-streamed on social media. The Royal Commission that followed found that the terrorist responsible was radicalized online. Now, in the aftermath of New Zealand’s experience, we felt a sense of responsibility. We knew that we needed significant gun reform, and so that is what we did.

AMY GOODMAN:

That was New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern. Rebecca Peters, we want to thank you for being with us, international arms control advocate, former director of the International Action Network on Small Arms, and Norman Solomon, national director of RootsAction and executive director of the Institute for Public Accuracy. We’ll link to your piece on Common Dreams, 'How About Some Gun Control at the Pentagon?' Stay with us.

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An end to neoliberalism? How Chile drafted a new constitution to rewrite Pinochet-era laws

In a historic milestone, Chile has finalized a draft of its first-ever democratically written constitution to replace the one created under the U.S.-backed neoliberal dictator Augusto Pinochet. The new constitution is expected to enshrine a wide range of human rights and social programs, including free universal access to healthcare, higher education, reproductive rights, as well as more robust environmental safeguards and policies to promote gender and racial equity. It will also for the first time recognize Chile’s Indigenous peoples and offer restitution for historically Indigenous lands, but does not include a measure to nationalize parts of the country’s mining industry. “It has been a demand of social movements, of the civil society in Chile for decades,” says Pablo Abufom, member of Chile’s “Solidaridad” movement.

Transcript
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, as we turn to history in the making in Chile, where the draft of a new constitution was presented this week that could replace the one implemented during the dictatorship of General Augusto Pinochet. The president of Chile’s Constitutional Convention, María Elisa Quinteros, presented the draft of Chile’s new constitution during a ceremony Monday.

MARÍA ELISA QUINTEROS: [translated] It should be noted that the text we have built together emphasizes the autonomy of territories outside the center of Chile and has been the yearning of millions of Chileans. … This draft captures the spirit of a new Chile, a Chile that, on the foundation of decades of efforts, is taking a step into the future. These are the wishes of millions of citizens who placed their dreams and hopes in this process. This text materializes a new way of treating one another, a new way of understanding life in our country, where everyone can feel protected.

AMY GOODMAN: The new constitution would recognize for the first time Chile’s Indigenous peoples, codify reproductive rights, make higher education free, require gender equality in the government, and require it to mitigate and adapt to the climate catastrophe. Not included in the draft were plans to nationalize parts of the country’s mining industry. Work on the final version of the draft is underway. Chileans are set to vote on it September 4th. Some recent polls show fewer than 40% currently say they would vote yes.

For more, we go to Santiago, Chile, and we’re joined by Pablo Abufom, member of Chile’s Solidaridad movement — in English, Solidarity movement — an anti-capitalist, feminist organization.

Welcome back to Democracy Now!, Pablo. Talk about the significance of what took place this week.

PABLO ABUFOM: Hi, Amy. Good to be here.

Well, the first thing to say is that this finally ends with the neoliberal constitution imposed by the dictatorship. This is very important. It has been a demand of social movements, of the civil society in Chile for decades. And this is probably a new step in a political crisis that began in October 2019, where we had a huge popular revolt in Santiago, but in other big cities, in urban and rural centers in Chile, when we had millions of people taking to the streets to demand the guarantee of social rights; an end to neoliberal policies like privatization of education, healthcare and pension systems; and also gender equality and recognition of Indigenous peoples’ rights. And so, this new constitution, the draft of the new constitution, it’s finally a place where all those aspirations have a space, are recognized.

And this is also very relevant, because it’s the first constitution that is democratically written. It was an elected body that is actually representative of a Chilean diversity, including gender parity, representatives of Indigenous peoples, of social movements, like environmentalist groups and feminist movements. And so we have a body that is actually democratic. That is a huge contrast with previous constitutions that were written, in the case of the dictatorship, by a small group of partisan followers of the dictatorship, but also in the past that was written by a group of — small group of experts, politicians, lawyers, etc. And so, this is a completely historical milestone for our recent history.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: And, Pablo, could you talk about what you know of how much support the draft constitution has? We just mentioned that at the moment only 40% of people in Chile say that they would vote in favor of it.

PABLO ABUFOM: Yeah, we have to say that the same polls that say that are the polls that said that people were not approving the change of the constitution, or the people who said that the fascist — neofascist right-wing candidate, Kast, was going to win the election, and it was Gabriel Boric, a progressive, who won. So, there’s not too much to find in those polls but a lot of the aspirations of the great losers of this process, of this political crisis — the conservatives, nationalists and defenders of the neoliberal model.

So, the actual references that we have is, it’s not just the polls, but we have an 80% vote for a new constitution. We have a majority vote for representatives of social movements, of independents and leftist groups in the civil society to change a neoliberal constitution. And then we have a massive turnout to vote for Gabriel Boric as the president, as a progressive president, against the fascist right-wing candidate. So, those are the actual facts that we have. The rest are polls that, of course, tend to be — tend to talk more about the aspirations of the people who commission those polls than the actual opinion of the people.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: And, Pablo, what about this, the fact that one of the provisions was excluded, Article 27, which would have nationalized the mining industry? If you could talk about the significance of that and, in particular, lithium and the significance, the importance of lithium to the economy in Chile, and what that had to do with this decision?

PABLO ABUFOM: Well, Chile is an economy that is based on the extraction of raw materials. And mining is the main activity in terms of extraction of copper, and now lithium has become the new thing. And so, the dispute around who can — whether the state can have an economic activity in terms of extraction of lithium or just private companies, mostly multinational corporations that are currently mining a lot of the Chilean minerals right now, that’s one of the main disputes. And it mobilized a lot of support. And it was actually a popular initiative bill for the Constitutional Convention that was proposing the nationalization of the mines and other natural resources.

And I think that we have to take into account that a constitution is not going to solve all the problems. There are still a lot of things that are going to be part of future struggles, and the constitution opens a new political period for those struggles. So it definitely is not — the constitution is not enshrining nationalization, but nationalization of natural resources as a way to solve an economic crisis that is ongoing and to pay for the social rights that are being enshrined in the constitution, it’s definitely on the table, and it’s going to be a part of a political struggle in the next decades probably.

AMY GOODMAN: And what are the plans to galvanize support? I mean, this is going to be a referendum all over the country in September for this constitution. And how much do you expect it will change?

PABLO ABUFOM: Well, the thing is that since the beginning of the Constitutional Convention, the right wing and the great losers of that election have been doing a dirty campaign of fake news and promoting rejection of the new constitution, even before it was written or even before we could see any of the articles. So, they have a lot of advantage in that sense. They’ve been doing it for a long time. And now popular social movements and civil society is mobilizing for an approval of the new constitution, and now we are seeing that, with the draft in our hands, we’re going to go to the streets to talk to people and communicate the actual changes. I think that those polls reflect the control that the mainstream media have on the political narrative in Chile. We’ve seen that they have been talking — most of the information that is on social media —

AMY GOODMAN: We have 10 seconds.

PABLO ABUFOM: — and mainstream media is fake news. And now we’re going to see what people think about the actual constitution, the enshrining of social rights, of reproductive rights, of gender parity, of a democratic process, etc.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, we have to leave it there. We thank you so much, Pablo Abufom —

PABLO ABUFOM: Thank you.

AMY GOODMAN: — member of Chile’s Solidaridad movement, anti-capitalist, feminist group. We will post the Spanish conversation at democracynow.org.

Happy Birthday to Eli Putnam and Simin Farkhondeh! I’m Amy Goodman, with Nermeen Shaikh.


'Existential threat' of 'white supremacist domestic terror is likely to get worse' under GOP agenda: scholar

We speak to prominent antiracist scholar Ibram X. Kendi about the epidemic of young white males who commit white supremacist domestic terrorism. This comes as an 18-year-old white shooter sought out a majority-Black neighborhood in Buffalo, New York, and killed 10 people on Saturday. Kendi says this phenomenon will only get worse if antiracist education is not introduced to white children and children of color alike at their most vulnerable stages of development. Even before critical race theory was under attack, there was a dearth of educators and education that reinforces “the source of racial disparities and inequities in our community is not the inferiority of a particular racial group but this history and presence of racist policies,” he adds. Kendi’s recent piece for The Atlantic is headlined “The Danger More Republicans Should Be Talking About: White-supremacist ideology is harmful to all, especially the naive and defenseless minds of youth.”

Transcript

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

AMY GOODMAN:

Professor Kendi, clearly, the vast majority of domestic terror attacks in this country are being perpetrated by white right-wing, white supremacist extremists. And yet what we have in this country is state after state banning teaching about racism, essentially, when they talk about critical race theory, a very loose definition of it. Can you respond to this? I mean, we’re talking about absolute horrors taking place all over this country.

IBRAM X. KENDI:

I think that that is the reason why this crisis of white supremacist domestic terror is likely to get worse, because studies have shown that antiracist education, that antiracist books serve in a protective fashion, particularly from white youth, when they are exposed to white supremacy, because through learning about the history, let’s say, of white supremacy, they’re better able to recognize it. So, then, when they’re approached or they see a white supremacist meme online or a white supremacist enters into their multiplayer video game or they receive messages on 4chan, they’re able to recognize it as not only white supremacist ideology, but also they’re able to recognize it as wrong.
But because we’re in a time in which there’s — even before this so-called attack on critical race theory, there was a very abysmal amount of antiracist education in schools, and there were very few teachers who felt they had the ability or even the courage to teach the truth about race. And that has only declined. And so, there’s almost — there’s even less of an ability to protect particularly white male teenagers, which then makes them even more vulnerable to white supremacist ideology, at a moment in which they’re trying to figure out why there’s so much polarization, what is the existential threat.
Is the existential threat — is the existential problem racism, or is it antiracism? Is it white supremacist ideology, or is it people of color? And clearly, these white supremacists are making the case that it’s the people of color, that they’re the source of their pain, which is something that many of these young white male supremacists are being indoctrinated on, groomed on, and thereby carrying out mass shootings. And this is only going to get worse if we don’t get a handle on it.

AMY GOODMAN:

So, what does antiracist education look like?

IBRAM X. KENDI:

Well, antiracist education, first and foremost, is teaching children about the history of white supremacist ideology, the role that white supremacist ideology played in racial slavery, in settler colonialism, in Jim Crow. It’s also teaching white children and children of color about all the different people of all races who challenged settler colonialism and slavery and Jim Crow and mass incarceration. It’s teaching children that there are multiple cultures, just as there are multiple cultures — or, colors, and we should value them all equally. It’s teaching children that the source of racial disparities and inequities in our community is not the inferiority of a particular racial group but this history and presence of racist policies. It’s teaching children our racial reality, so that they can see that, though we look differently, though we maybe speak differently, we’re all equals, but the cause of these inequities are indeed racism.

AMY GOODMAN:

Well, I want to thank you both for being with us. There is so much more to talk about, and, of course, we’ll continue this discussion. Ibram X. Kendi has a piece in The Atlantic, which we’ll link to, 'The Danger More Republicans Should Be Talking About: White-supremacist ideology is harmful to all, especially the naive and defenseless minds of youth,' professor of humanities at Boston University, founding director of the Boston University Center for Antiracist Research. And Nikki McCann Ramírez, associate research director at Media Matters, joining us from Washington, D.C.
We will stay in Washington as we talk about the abortion protests, the hundreds of protests that took place nationwide this weekend. We’ll speak with Renee Bracey Sherman of We Testify.

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Finland admission to NATO could spark Russian 'escalation spiral': Green Peace activist

Finland’s president and prime minister say they plan to end decades of neutrality and join NATO. Sweden is also expected to seek NATO membership. The Kremlin says Russia sees the expansion of NATO on its borders as a threat. “People on both sides will suffer,” says Reiner Braun, executive director of the International Peace Bureau, who warns Russia will escalate in response and move more nuclear weapons near the 830-mile-long Finland-Russia border.

Transcript

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

AMY GOODMAN:
This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman.Finland’s president and prime minister announced their support Thursday for Finland to join NATO, ending decades of neutrality. The leaders called on Finland to apply for NATO membership without delay. Finland shares an 830-mile border with Russia. Sweden is also expected to join Finland in seeking NATO membership, something few discussed prior to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Russia responded to the news by threatening to take retaliatory steps in order to stop what it calls threats to its national security. The New York Times reports the addition of Finland and Sweden to NATO increases the prospects of a broader war between Russia and the West.
We go now to Berlin, Germany, where we’re joined by Reiner Braun, the executive director of the International Peace Bureau, German peace activist, historian, author, who has campaigned for years against NATO.
Can you talk about this decision made by Finland’s president and prime minister and the significance of this? It looks like Sweden is, you know, at their side in this.

REINER BRAUN:

You know, it’s, again, a significant change in the security system in Europe. Above all and first, it is a break of a contract. Finland has a contract with Russia — first contract is from 1948, the second one is a new one from 1992 — which described neutrality and friendship between Finland and Russia as the background of their common relations. And Finland has not — had not canceled this treaty, so they are going against this treaty, which is a quite illegal action they are doing.
The second point is the relations between Central Europe or NATO and Russia by the military spending is about 50 to one up to now. Now it will be 70 or 80 to one. And it is obvious that Russia will be react. So we have again a continuation of the escalation spiral in the center of Europe, and this is not peaceful. What should be the next? Should be the next Moldavia and Georgia? Should be the next that we — that Kazakhstan or Uzbekistan will join NATO? It will be the next, Japan?
And what are the reactions of Russia? They will bring more nuclear weapons to the border of Poland and the Baltic countries. They will enlarge their military spending. Peoples on both sides will suffer. So it is definitely a step absolutely on the wrong direction, which is definitely not helpful for coming to a new security architecture after hopefully ending so quick as possible the war in Ukraine.
What we need are negotiations, and for Finland, which has a history of neutrality — Finland was a country of the OSCE and the CSCE agreements. There were the meetings, were in Helsinki. This time will be over. Finland will give up its independent, active position bringing East and West together, only for joining NATO, only for being a very small part in the NATO architecture. This is really an unpolitical and unsecurity step for a calm security system in Europe.

AMY GOODMAN:

Can you talk about the letter that you helped co-write, both to President Putin and President Zelensky of Ukraine, calling for ceasefire?

REINER BRAUN:

You know, for us was May 9th a historical day, which made Europe free from fascism. And the countries which bring the most victims were the Soviet Union, which included Russia and Ukraine. So, our letter was to say, when you make your speeches on the 8th or the 9th of May, after these speeches, you should come together and negotiate for peace in the tradition of the victory above the fascist system. And you should think about ways how you can combine again the people of these two countries, which have so many things in common, which have so many things in their common history, which have so many things together in the languages, in the agricultural system, in the treaties, in educational system. And we have to overcome this horrible split between these two countries.
And the first point which we are calling for was and is ceasefire. The 8th and the 9th of May passed. It is a pity that we could not start with the negotiations. But we will continue working on ceasefire. And I think we need more international pressure for these negotiations. And for me, the pope was sending a very interesting and very hopeful sign for starting these negotiations. I hope other political leaders in the world — maybe Macron, maybe Xi from China — will follow to bring these two countries, Russia and Ukraine, at the same table for negotiating.

AMY GOODMAN:

Can you explain what the peace summit you and a number of other groups are planning in June in Spain?

REINER BRAUN:

You know, there is a NATO summit. And NATO is the biggest military alliance in the world. NATO is the biggest military spender. Sixty percent of the whole money which is spending worldwide is spending by the NATO countries. So, this NATO summit will send signs in the absolutely wrong direction: more militarization, more actions against Russia and China, more encircling of these two countries.
And we want to protest and convince more parts of the public that this is the wrong way. This is the way to catastrophe. This is a way in a new nuclear war will be the final nuclear war. We cannot do this kind of politics when you want to solve the climate problem, when you want to overcome hunger. Hunger becomes much stronger since we have the Ukrainian war. How should these people in Africa survive when there are no crops any longer coming from Ukraine and Russia?
So, we want to say signs that we need an alternative politics. So our summit is a summit for making propaganda and actions for a policy of common security, which on the background says we have to take in account the security interests of all countries. And we need, nationally and internationally, a process of disarmament. It is not possible to spend any longer 2 trillion of U.S. dollars for military purposes, when people are suffering and when we do not know how to solve the climate problems.

AMY GOODMAN:

Well, Reiner Braun, I want to thank you for being with us, executive director of the International Peace Bureau, German peace activist, historian and author, who has campaigned against a U.S. air base in Ramstein and also against NATO.

Watch below starting at 51:00:

Welcome to the Pandemicene: How the climate crisis could spark the next pandemic

Climate change is forcing animal migrations at an unprecedented scale, bringing many previously disconnected species into close contact and dramatically raising the likelihood of viruses leaping into new hosts and sparking future pandemics. That’s according to a new study in the journal Nature, which predicts that climate-driven disruptions to Earth’s ecosystems will create thousands of cross-species viral transmissions in the coming decades. We speak with The Atlantic’s Ed Yong, who says this new era can be thought of as the “Pandemicene,” a time defined by the power of viruses over humanity and the wider world. “In a warming world, we’ll get lots of these spillover events in which viruses find new hosts, mostly transferring between animal to animal but increasing the odds that they will eventually then spill over into us,” says Yong.


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 the U.S. COVID death toll approaches 1 million, we turn now to look at how the climate emergency could spark the next pandemic. A new study published in Nature shows the climate crisis and urban sprawl is forcing many wild mammals to relocate to new habitats where they interact with new species, including humans, leading to more viruses spilling over from one species to another. The researchers say this shuffling of viruses in mammals has already started and will increase as the Earth continues to warm.
We’re joined now by the Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Ed Yong. He writes about the study in his new piece for The Atlantic headlined “We Created the 'Pandemicene.'”
Welcome back, Ed, to Democracy Now! Why don’t you start off by just explaining: What do you mean by the Pandemicene? This is a terrifying article.

ED YONG:

Yeah, so, the idea is actually pretty straightforward and intuitive. As the world warms, the world’s animals are being forced to relocate into new habitats to track their preferred environmental conditions. As they do this, species that never before coexisted will suddenly find themselves close neighbors. And that gives the viruses that those species carry opportunities to hop into new hosts. So, in a warming world, we’ll get lots of these spillover events in which viruses find new hosts, mostly transferring between animal to animal but increasing the odds that they will eventually then spill over into us.
This new study, led by Colin Carlson and Greg Albery, shows that the extent of these events is huge and that they — crucially, that they have already been going on in a very substantial way and in a way that is going to be very difficult for us to address. So, we’re used to talking about the Anthropocene, this era of the planet’s history where it’s dominated by human influence. We are also then living through the Pandemicene, this era where our lives are going to be repeatedly affected by new and reemergent diseases that will come more frequently because of the climatic changes that we have also unleashed upon the world.

AMY GOODMAN:

Can you explain the simulation that the scientists of this study created to show the potential hot spots of future viral sharing, as they put it?

ED YONG:

So, what they did was to look at maps of where some 3,000 mammal species are now and where they’re likely going to be in warmer worlds under various conditions of projected warming. And then they will take different pairs of mammals and look at where those ranges overlap in ways that they currently don’t, and then predict how often those overlaps will lead to the kinds of spillovers that I’ve talked about. It’s a huge effort. No study like this has been attempted before, and it took them three years, over the course of the current pandemic, to do it.
But the results are very stark and quite grim. So, for example, it turned out that the hot spots for future spillovers are going to lay in the tropics, areas that are diverse in species and tend to be quite mountainous, so a lot of tropical Africa and Southeast Asia. They’re going to proportionately happen in areas that are basically in humanity’s backyard, areas that are going to be heavily settled by people, that are already sites of human cities, or will be in the near-term future.
And I think the most worrying part of this is that the simulation showed that these trends have already been going on and that even if all greenhouse emissions — even if all carbon emissions cease today, that this is a train that, once set in motion, cannot be halted, that we have already started this, and it’s already underway in this world that has warmed by 1.2 degrees. Of course, there are many other great reasons to try and mitigate climate change as much as possible, but the Pandemicene, once released, cannot be easily unbottled, which means that we are now in a position where we have to expect more of what we’re currently going through and try and prepare for it and adapt for it.

AMY GOODMAN:

So, Ed, if you can use the example of Ebola and talk about bats and how they are affected by climate change, and what it means for just Ebola?

ED YONG:

So, bats are very good at — so, bats fly, obviously, and that allows them to travel over much longer distances than other mammals, which means that they are particular drivers for the kinds of spillover effects linked to climate change that I’ve talked about. No one really knows the exact reservoir species for Ebola in the wild, but it’s likely to be a bat, and there’s 13 possible species. Those species in the future are going to travel, and they’re going to create lots and lots of opportunities for their viruses to spill over into a lot of other mammals.
And what that means for Ebola, which is currently a problem mostly for western Africa and a little bit for the east, is that it’s likely going to be a problem for other parts of the continent, too. It might well become a problem that — a significant problem that eastern Africa also needs to worry about. And, you know, this is — this is Ebola. It’s one disease. This is likely going to be the case for every animal-borne virus that bothers us, including the many tens of thousands that we haven’t even discovered yet. This is a global problem. It is a problem not just driven particularly by bats, but not just of bats. It’s going to be in hot spots in places like Africa and Southeast Asia, but not just there. It’s a planetary problem. We really have rewired the network of animals and viruses in a very dramatic way and in a way that’s going to be to our detriment.
The way I think about this is, you know, for a virus — for a new virus to spill over into humans, a lot of things need to line up, all of which are quite unlikely. The viruses need to find intermediate hosts. Those intermediate hosts need to be near people. The viruses need to be compatible enough to affect us. All of these have quite low odds, so it’s like playing Russian roulette with a gun that has a million chambers in it. But because we’ve altered the climate, because we’ve warmed the world, we have effectively loaded bullets into more of those chambers, and we’re now starting to pull the trigger more frequently. We do that enough, we’re going to get shot.

AMY GOODMAN:

So, what added to the terror in your piece, I mean, these guys, the scientists who did the Nature study, assumed the changes they simulated will occur in the later half of this century, but instead their simulations suggested — and they did it over and over — we could be living through the peak era of spillovers right now. So, talk more about that, and specifically about COVID.

ED YONG:

Right. So, it’s very hard to take any particular virus, like SARS-CoV-2 that causes COVID, and say this is a climate-related thing. It’s very hard to take the present and then backtrack into the past. But what the simulation shows is that these kind of events are just going to be more likely. So, whether or not climate was the thing that — whether or not climate influenced the emergence of COVID as a disease, it’s going to influence the emergence of many similar kinds of events now and in the future.
And as we said, these events have been going on. The risk has been growing beneath our noses, which means that we’re now in a situation where we simply have to deal with it. The moment for averting this was a few decades ago. What we have to — what we’re forced to do now is to cope with the consequences.
And that means a few things. We can do predictive and preventive work. There are things that we — we can try and better understand and predict which kinds of viruses are going to spill over into us. We can prepare vaccines ahead of time. We can set up surveillance systems in the kind of future hot spots that this study identified. But no amount of that is going to mean that we — no amount of that will negate the risk of pandemics fully. We must expect new diseases to hit us, and hit us in the imminent future. The fact that we’re going through one society-upending crisis that we all want to get past right now doesn’t give us a pass. We could start the next pandemic tomorrow, or it could have happened already.
And that means that we need to prepare in ways that we seem to be loath to do. We need to shore up our public health infrastructure. We need to make sure that our healthcare system is ready. We need social safety nets, so that the most marginalized and vulnerable people don’t get disproportionately hit by whatever comes next, as they have by every epidemic in the recent past. We need to do all those things. And we need — if we are blessed enough to get a lull from COVID, we need to use that time to prepare for future onslaughts of other epidemics, because what this study makes very abundantly clear is that those will happen. People have always predicted that we’re going to live through an age of more and more epidemics and outbreaks. This study confirms that that is true. And I think what it absolutely does is show that many of the greatest existential threats to our world right now, like climate change, the rise of new diseases and the sixth mass extinction of wildlife, are really all facets of the same problem. And we need to think of that in that same interconnected way.

AMY GOODMAN:

Ed Yong, we want to thank you for being with us, Pulitzer Prize-winning science writer at The Atlantic. We will link to your piece, “We Created the 'Pandemicene.'”

Journalist stunned after Gorsuch authors one of the 'most eloquent statements exposing US colonialism'

Puerto Rican elected officials from both the island and the United States are on Capitol Hill today to support the Puerto Rico Self-Determination Act, which would establish a process for determining the status of the U.S. territory. This comes after the Supreme Court recently supported the Biden administration’s claim that Puerto Ricans are not entitled to claim full Supplemental Security Income benefits unless they move to the mainland. Democracy Now! host Juan González analyzes the developments and highlights conservative Justice Neil Gorsuch’s surprising concurring opinion in the latest Supreme Court decision, which he calls “one of the clearest and most eloquent statements exposing U.S. colonialism that’s ever been issued by a Supreme Court justice, at least in my lifetime.”

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

AMY GOODMAN:

Well, Juan, we begin our show with news you’ve been closely following. Today is a big day on Capitol Hill for the Puerto Rico Self-Determination Act, with Puerto Rican elected officials from both the island and the United States mainland gathering in Washington, D.C., to press for its passage. The bill is co-sponsored by Democratic New York Congressmembers Nydia Velázquez, the first Puerto Rican woman to serve in the U.S. House, and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, whose mother was born in Puerto Rico.
This comes after the Supreme Court ruled on Thursday the federal government can continue to deny benefits to seniors and people with disabilities who live in Puerto Rico. In an 8-to-1 ruling, the justices sided with the Biden administration, which says Puerto Ricans are not entitled to claim full Supplemental Security Income benefits, or SSI, unless they move to the mainland.
AOC tweeted in response to the ruling, quote, '2022 Imperialist Neo-colony Vibes: when my cousins can be drafted into war by a government they don’t even have a right to vote for and denies them benefits, yet that same government can exploit their land into a tax haven for crypto billionaires and tax evaders. Puerto Rico is not for sale,' she texted — tweeted.
The lone dissenter in the court’s 8-to-1 ruling was Justice Sonia Sotomayor, whose parents were born in Puerto Rico. In her dissenting opinion, she wrote, quote, 'There is no rational basis for Congress to treat needy citizens living anywhere in the United States so differently from others.'
So, Juan González, this is a story that you have extensively followed. What is important to understand here in this Supreme Court decision?

JUAN GONZÁLEZ:

Well, Amy, once again, Judge Sotomayor, who was not only born in Puerto Rico but, people forget, she did research in college, both at Princeton and at Yale, in the relationship between Puerto Rico and the United States, so this is a topic she has studied for many years — once again, she finds herself as a dissenting voice in the Supreme Court.
But, to me, I think the far more significant development in this case, and one that most of the media coverage in the last few days has overlooked, was that there was a separate concurring opinion issued by one of the court’s most conservative justices, Neil Gorsuch. His 10-page opinion — and I urge people to read it — is one of the clearest and most eloquent statements exposing U.S. colonialism that’s ever been issued by a Supreme Court justice, at least in my lifetime. And it could be the signal of the beginning of a long overdue change in the court on this issue. But to understand the importance of what Gorsuch says in his opinion — and I want to quote some of it in a minute or so — we need to understand the bigger picture.
We now have had four Supreme Court decisions in less than six years, all of them having to do with Puerto Rico’s relationship to the United States. Back in 2016, we had the Sanchez Valle case, which was an issue of whether Puerto Rico had separate sovereignty to be able to try people. The court said no. Then we had, a few weeks later, the Franklin Tax-Free Trust case on whether Puerto Rico could declare its own bankruptcy, because it had no bankruptcy protection under U.S. law. The court said no. Then, in 2020, we had the Aurelius case, which was a challenge to the legitimacy of the appointments to the oversight board that Congress had established over Puerto Rico. Puerto Rico was arguing this was a federal imposition — I mean, some of the case — the litigants were arguing this was a federally imposed, illegal appointments board. The United States was arguing, no, this was Puerto Rico officers that were appointed by the United States. The court, once again, sided against Puerto Rico. And now we have the Vaello Madero case, where a man who had been receiving SSI benefits for years in this country, and paying taxes in this country, moves to Puerto Rico, and then, years later, the government finds out that he still was collecting SSI then, and says he’s not eligible for those benefits and that he had to pay back $28,000. That was the basis of this latest case.
All of these cases take for granted the power of Congress to do whatever it wants when it comes to Puerto Rico, and governed by the Territorial Clause of the Constitution as the court interpreted more than a hundred years ago in a series of cases known as the Insular Cases. And this is the heart of the question here, the Insular Cases. There were cases like Downes v. Bidwell, DeLima v. Bidwell, Dorr v. United States, Gonzales v. Williams, Balzac v. Porto Rico, all in the early decades of the 20th century. Let’s be clear: The Insular Cases have been for a century the legal underpinnings of American colonialism. They provide legal justification for the United States to hold other nationalities and territory under its control.
So, what does Gorsuch, who is one of the most conservative justices, say about this? And his opinion is astonishing in that it calls to completely overthrow the Insular Cases. Let me quote to you some of what he says. He starts out in his opinion saying, 'A century ago in the Insular Cases, this Court held that the federal government could rule Puerto Rico and other territories largely without regard to the Constitution. It is past time to acknowledge the gravity of this error and admit what we know to be true: The Insular Cases have no foundation in the Constitution and rest instead on racial stereotypes. They deserve no place in our law.' Now, justices don’t talk this clearly very often.
He goes on to say that in the Downes case, the two main justices there, Brown and White, their opinions, 'At bottom, both rested on a view about the Nation’s 'right' to acquire and exploit 'an unknown island, peopled with an uncivilized race … for commercial and strategic reasons' — a right that 'could not be practically exercised if the result would be to endow' full constitutional protections 'on those absolutely unfit to receive [them].' And it was Justice White who developed this idea of incorporated and unincorporated territories, that some territories were never meant to be part of the United States, and this included Puerto Rico and the Philippines and some of the other islands that were acquired back in the Spanish-American War.
So, Gorsuch goes on to say in his opinion, 'The flaws in the Insular Cases are as fundamental as they are shameful. Nothing in the Constitution speaks of 'incorporated' and 'unincorporated' Territories. Nothing in it extends to the latter only certain supposedly 'fundamental' constitutional guarantees.' And he goes on to say that the Insular Cases are a product of a period of 'ugly racial stereotypes, and the theories of social Darwinists. But they have no home in our Constitution or its original understanding.' Now, understand that Gorsuch, as an originalist, looks at the Constitution and says all of this justification for colonialism did not exist in the original Constitution. It was made up afterwards, and it needs to be overthrown.
And he goes on to say, quote, 'under this Court’s cases we are asked to believe that the right to a trial by jury remains insufficiently 'fundamental' to apply to some 3 million U.S. citizens in 'unincorporated' Puerto Rico. At the same time, the full panoply of constitutional rights apparently applies on the Palmyra Atoll, an uninhabited patch of land in the Pacific Ocean, because it represents our Nation’s only remaining 'incorporated' Territory. It is an implausible and embarrassing state of affairs.'
And he says that the only reason he voted in the majority in this case was that no one asked him to overthrow the Insular Cases, not even the litigants on the other side. But then he ends his opinion by saying, 'But the time has come to recognize that the Insular Cases rest on a rotten foundation. And I hope the day comes soon when the Court squarely overrules them. We should follow Justice Harlan and settle this question right. Our fellow Americans in Puerto Rico deserve no less.'
Now, Justice Sotomayor, in her opinion, her dissent, also backs Gorsuch. So we now have two justices who have clearly said the Insular Cases, the foundation of American colonialism, need to be overthrown. And I think that is a major, major step in the court. And hopefully some of the other originalists — because one of the problems with Puerto Rico is that many of the liberal justices — Justice Breyer; Justice Ginsburg, when she was alive; Justice Kagan — have been terrible on this issue. They have not really dared to challenge the Insular Cases. So, it may necessitate an unholy alliance of originalist conservative justices and more progressive justices to begin to finally end the legal basis for American colonialism. But I think this is definitely a step forward, and Justice Gorsuch’s opinion needs to be studied more carefully.

AMY GOODMAN:

And, Juan, how does that relate to what’s happening today on Capitol Hill, the lobbying day —

JUAN GONZÁLEZ:

Well, the big issue right — yeah.

AMY GOODMAN:

— for the Puerto Rico Self-Determination Act?

JUAN GONZÁLEZ:

Well, the big issue is that there are more and more elected officials and Puerto Rican communities in both the island and the United States that are calling for the passage of this Self-Determination Act. There’s going to be a rally at 5 p.m. this evening in Lafayette Square. And there’s intense lobbying going on to try to get the bill introduced by Nydia Velázquez to pass the House and the Senate, because Bob Menendez in the Senate is also co-sponsoring it, to basically allow Puerto Rico to convene a constitutional convention to decide its relationship, what it should be, its relationship to Puerto Rico. And so, that would be definitely a step forward, getting Congress to say, 'OK, we’re not going to continue to dictate what our relationship with Puerto Rico is.'
Because, understand, the imposition of the control board in 2016 ended any claim that the United States had given to the world for the last 60 years, 70 years, that Puerto Rico had self-government. Puerto Rico is now ruled by a U.S.-appointed control board, effectively. And so it’s back to the classic colonial stage. So, the issue of how is that going to end, what’s going to happen when the control board is lifted finally, what will be the relationship between Puerto Rico and the United States, still needs to be resolved. And this is — the Puerto Rico Self-Determination Act is definitely a step in that direction.

AMY GOODMAN:

Well, thanks so much for drawing attention to all of these developments, Juan González, Democracy Now! co-host, award-winning journalist, investigative reporter and journalism professor at Rutgers University.
When we come back, Juan and I will continue to look at the Supreme Court, its hearing Tuesday of a case that could have an enormous impact on asylum seekers seeking refuge in the United States. Stay with us.

AMY GOODMAN:

'i Miss You' by Sherlee Skai and her band. They performed at an immigrant justice rally outside the U.S. Supreme Court Tuesday morning, before justices heard oral arguments in the case involving the Trump-era 'Remain in Mexico' policy. Skai said it’s 'about the things we have to leave when we have to leave home.'

Ukrainian historian explains why Putin’s invasion is an imperialist war akin to US attack on Iraq

We go to Ukraine, where Russia continues its assault along a 300-mile frontline in the eastern region. This comes as the U.S. and Western allies promise more weapons for Ukrainian defenses, prompting worry of escalation as Russian President Vladimir Putin abandons negotiations for a ceasefire agreement. We speak with Ukrainian political scientist and historian Denis Pilash, who is a democratic socialist, part of Sotsialnyi Rukh, and is also involved in humanitarian aid efforts in western Ukraine that he calls “the backbone of Ukrainian resistance.” He says Putin’s imperialist military aggressions should be seen as analogous to the U.S. invasion of Iraq and other nations.

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


AMY GOODMAN:

Russian President Vladimir Putin has ordered a blockade of a massive steel complex in the southeastern Ukrainian city of Mariupol, where thousands of Ukrainians are holed up, including civilians and fighters with two regiments, the 36th Marine Brigade and the far-right Azov Brigade. Russia had been considering storming the complex but for now has opted to blockade it. This comes as Putin claims Russia has, quote, “liberated” the rest of the city, which has been devastated by weeks of Russian attacks.
In eastern Ukraine, fighting is continuing along a 300-mile frontline. The governor of Luhansk says Russia now controls 80% of the region. Luhansk is one of two regions that make up the Donbas in eastern Ukraine.
The United States and its allies are continuing to funnel weapons to Ukraine. On Wednesday, President Biden met with U.S. military leaders at the White House.
PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: Weapons and ammunition are flowing in daily. And we’re seeing just how vital our alliances and partnerships are around the world.

AMY GOODMAN:

In other developments, the prime ministers of Spain and Denmark are in Kyiv today for talks with Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky. Meanwhile, Human Rights Watch has released a report accusing Russia of committing war crimes in Bucha, a suburb of Kyiv. The group said it found extensive evidence of summary executions, enforced disappearances and torture.
We’re joined now by Denis Pilash, a Ukrainian political scientist and historian, member of the Ukrainian democratic socialist organization Sotsialnyi Rukh, or the Social Movement. He’s also an editor at Commons: Journal of Social Criticism.
Welcome to Democracy Now!, Denis. It’s great to have you with us. If you can start off by talking about the resistance in Ukraine? We hear a lot about the military resistance, but if you can talk about, overall, the kind of resistance that doesn’t get coverage?

DENIS PILASH:

Really, Ukraine, it stands not due just to the military resistance, though hundreds of thousands of people have volunteered to either the Armed Forces or the territorial defense units, but also due to millions of people who are engaged in just these humanitarian efforts and keeping the things running. For instance, the essential workers, the railroad workers, the employees of the state railway company, they did a really heroic job by evacuating millions of people fleeing from the most dangerous regions to the safer ones. And actually dozens of them have been killed. And many were killed while performing their duties. The same applies to healthcare workers, nurses and doctors, who are risking their own lives to save others. And again, Russia is targeting hospitals, as well, and so, many of these people are killed, as well. And, in general, we have these spontaneous networks of nonhierarchical solidarity that emerged on the ground in different regions and cities throughout the country, who helped the people who had to relocate, and also who helped to distribute the humanitarian aid, medicine, food and so on. And altogether, this constitutes the backbone of the Ukrainian resistance.

NERMEEN SHAIKH:

And, Denis, I want to ask about the, just yesterday — we reported it in our introduction — the release of this Human Rights Watch report on war crimes in Bucha. You had said in March, a month ago, that Putin’s war crimes are following in the footsteps of the war crimes committed by governments like the United States. But since these massacres in Bucha, you’ve said the correct analogy now might be to what Indonesia did following the occupation of East Timor or what Pakistan did in — West Pakistan did to East Pakistan, now Bangladesh, in the war in 1971. Could you elaborate on that? What do you see as the war changed, how the war has changed since March, and why you think these situations are now more accurate?

DENIS PILASH:

I think that it’s really the same crime of military aggressions that was done by numerous other governments and other imperialists, as well. And in this case, Putin’s war in Ukraine or his wars in Chechnya were — or Yeltsin’s war in Chechnya, were in the same line with, say, Bush and Blair and their cronies attacking Iraq. But the intensity of these atrocities that were revealed with these horrible pictures from Bucha, Irpin, Borodyanka and other Kyiv suburbs, they show us all scale of atrocities, starting from sexual violence, from torture and to mass executions. And here we see also some kind of ideological explanation by some of the — in the Russian propaganda machine that Ukraine, in a way, has to be cleansed.
And this leads us to these analogies not just with, many have recalled, Srebrenica and what happened in the wars in the former Yugoslavia in the ’90s, but really to what happened, for instance, when pro-American dictator Suharto occupied East Timor and unleashed acts of genocide against the local population in the 1970s. So, we see that in some places the reality of this occupation is so brutal that it leads to a mass obliteration of human lives.

NERMEEN SHAIKH:

And so, Denis, do you support the continued supply of weapons to Ukraine, which is exponentially increasing now, despite the fact that many say supplying these weapons will only prolong the war?

DENIS PILASH:

You see, if, like, making analogies, so maybe supplying Soviet and Chinese weapons to Vietnam, they also prolonged the resistance of the Vietnamese, and thus they prolonged the war, but it was still a unilateral aggression done by an imperialist power — in that case, the U.S.; in this case, Putin’s Russia. And just in order to preserve human lives that are lost in all these airstrikes and shellings, because civilians are dying massively throughout country, and, actually, no place in the country can be really safe, as objects, including civilian objects, including schools and hospitals, have been hit in many parts. So, for instance, having anti-aircraft weaponry, it really preserves these people who are hiding in their basements, in their apartments and so on.
But in a way, these supplies — we also have to remember that Russia also used to be supplied with Western weapons, from Germany, France and from other countries, and that even now it’s still fueled by these payments for the Russian oil and gas. So, it can be said that there are more German parts in Russian tanks than American munition in Ukrainian arms.
But, in general, we need to oversee that this military assistance that is needed by the Ukrainian resistance, that it will go to Ukrainians, and it’s not just used as a pretext for this, you know, increasing of military-industrial complexes in the other Western countries, because no one is gaining from more militarized Germany or U.S. It’s really up to the people on the ground, up to the people in the Ukrainian resistance, who need this, not the interests of these companies that have to be preserved.

AMY GOODMAN:

So, Denis Pilash, let me ask you about the Azov Battalion, because the U.S. has a rule that weapons to Ukraine can’t go to them, but right now with the massive influx of weapons, there’s no way that they can be traced to where. You have been a fierce critic of the far right in Ukraine. What are your thoughts on this? And also a fierce critic of the expansion of NATO, and now you have Sweden, you have Finland saying they want to join NATO, although it looks like one of the reasons for this invasion, Ukraine being a part of NATO, was actually not a possibility for years to come.

DENIS PILASH:

It was really just a pretext. It was brought along by the Russian propaganda. And actually, I think that the main promoter of NATO was Vladimir Putin himself, who actually pushed — and these were the words, for instance, of Ilya Ponomarev, the only MP in the Russian parliament who voted against annexation of Crimea, that this will lead to pushing Ukraine in the arms of NATO. And now he’s doing the same with Finland and Sweden.
And regarding the Azov, that is now not a battalion for seven years but a regiment in the National Guard of Ukraine, well, it’s just one unit in the general resistance, that now I think it’s really up to half a million people who are engaged either in the army or in these territorial defense units. And most of it are now really blockaded in the Mariupol, a city that has — living through a really brutal siege. And maybe the atrocities there, when they are revealed, maybe they will compare to those in Kyiv Oblast. So, I think that, in reality, now this group, it constitutes a tiny fraction in the general Ukrainian military resistance. And I don’t think that it’s so important, both in terms of, like, percentage compared with the rest of the military and the National Guard and so on, neither in the context of its political influence, because, again, the far right in Ukraine never was really popular electorally, and it never had a mass social base for it.

NERMEEN SHAIKH:

And, Denis, I’d like you to elaborate on a point you made about this in another recent interview. On the Azov regiment, you said that, quote, “Just as our understanding of the corruption of Abbas administration and the far-right nature of Hamas … shouldn’t be an obstacle to hearing the plight of the [Palestinians],” so should the presence of the right wing in Ukraine not be a way of not listening to the plight of the Ukrainians. Could you elaborate on that, how you see the two situations as at all analogous?

DENIS PILASH:

I think that any analogy is — well, they can be still very far away, but the core of both situations is that you need to really address the people from below, the grassroots. You need to hear the plight of men and women who are suffering and who are struggling, in both cases. And actually, using all this, you know, invoking the problems that exist in every context, it’s just a pretext for remaining — you know, trying to remain neutral. But as the late Archbishop Desmond Tutu said, when you are neutral in a conflict between an oppressor and an oppressed, you are actually playing on the side of the oppressor.
So, and here, I think that so much attention has been attributed to the far right in Ukraine. And actually we lost also the far right on the other side of the war, and actually we lost the moment when — like, I can address the Russian sociologist Greg Yudin, who shows how the Russian regime itself became more and more a fascist side, so it was becoming an open far-right dictatorship. And this war, it’s a massive step in not just stirring up all these nationalist feelings throughout Eastern Europe in other countries, but, first of all, it was boosting the ultranationalist sentiment in Russia, and it was boosting the repressive apparatus in Russia. And it was suppressing any kind of discontent and actually almost wiping out the antiwar protests.
So, again, the big problem here is that we have an imperialist power that is now run by a far-right regime, not just in terms of its ideology, invoking Ivan Ilyin and other fascist thinkers, but in terms of its praxis, what it has already done not just in Ukraine but in many other places in the post-Soviet space, which it regards, as, for instance, U.S. does towards the Latin American region, that it’s its backyard, and it’s entitled to do whatever it wants. It does the same to the neighboring countries in the case of Russia.

AMY GOODMAN:

Denis Pilash, you have been fiercely critical of the role Russian oligarchs have played, I mean, back to 2014, Russia’s annexation of Crimea. But you’ve also talked about the involvement of the Ukrainian elite. If you can talk about who they are and their significance today, and if your views have changed?

DENIS PILASH:

Well, actually, the Russian and Ukrainian elites, the oligarchic capitalist class, they came from the same source, so they were result of this primitive accumulation of capital in the '90s, the people who grabbed, in a mostly criminal manner, the riches of the countries and who actually devastated their own citizens to become part of the global capitalist class, of the global ruling class. I think the slight difference is, obviously, that in Russia the presence of more these siloviki, these security services people, and also more bureaucratic layers, it's stronger, but it’s still preserving the interests of Russian big capital.
And in the case of Ukraine, you have a number of these competing oligarchs that tried not just to control the economy but also to influence and control the political decisions in the country, and who are still playing the same and who also have shown their contempt towards their own citizens, not just by many of them had fled — like, prior of the invasion, they just left Ukraine — but they continue this looting of the country, and they try to store, as the Russian colleagues, to store what was stolen from their people in tax havens. And this is why, when we speak about, for instance, seizing the assets of oligarchs, be it Russian or Ukrainians, we also need to address the issue of this offshore capitalism of the tax havens, where the majority of these oligarchic elites, they used to use them to prevent not just paying taxes but also to prevent being — to see the ways how they were exploiting the countries.

NERMEEN SHAIKH:

So, Denis, could you explain? Do you think this oligarchic class in either Ukraine or Russia is benefiting from this war? And who are the beneficiaries of this war, as you see it?

DENIS PILASH:

Well, actually, this war has gotten so irrational that it seems that the gains that can be won by some in the elite, they are really nothing compared to the destruction that is brought on. And actually, I think it really transcended beyond, like, real rationale, some real rational motivation. But, actually, in any case of war, or other harsh situation, it’s like the shock doctrine. Yes, the ruling class, it grabs this opportunity to curtail the rights and freedoms of the masses as much as they can, and also to make their power stronger. So, obviously, it was the case with Russia. Then Russia — Russian, this vertical of power, it become even more centralized and autocratic. And these people who are in power for — like Putin and his cronies being in power for 20 years and being unchecked and having no feedback and no democratic procedures from below.
And in Ukraine, we also see that, for instance, our neoliberal MPs, just today, they tried to pass a law that will make easier to lay off workers, to curtail their labor rights. So, the same people who are now essential for the defense of Ukraine, their rights have been attacked and are being attacked by the elites, who use the situation of the war maybe for reducing the space of the rights of workers and of unions. So, it’s the case, I think, in almost any war that we see today. This one is no exception.

NERMEEN SHAIKH:

And, Denis, finally, what do you see as a possible conclusion of this war? What kinds of concessions would Ukraine have to make? Are those either likely or desirable? How will this end?

DENIS PILASH:

It’s hard to predict. And, actually, another point for having armaments to Ukraine is to make this analogy with the people who are involved in trade unions organizing. They know that to negotiate with the boss, who is stronger than you, you also need to have some power on your side. And it seems now that Russia is still pushing for some kind of — for having the opportunity to grab a bigger chunk of Ukraine, and probably to grab a bigger part of eastern Ukraine. And that’s why it isn’t at this point actually willing to have a, like, clear and equal negotiation with the Ukrainian side. And this is why we so desperately need to have Russia on the table, to sit and to really negotiate a real ceasefire, and not what was done, like, previously, when even opening humanitarian corridors usually meant that they are endangered by Russian shellings and Russian fire.
But we have also seen that Russia has been — the Russian military has been quite inefficient in many ways, and their first expectations of that they will have a very smooth blitzkrieg, it failed. They failed. And now they are still going to present some kind of victory to their population and for the propaganda, as well.
But it seems that, really, there are many possible outcomes. And some of them are really terrible. But with having enough international solidarity, that means also pushing through a broader region of what has to be done to help Ukraine. It’s not just humanitarian or military aid or helping the refugees. It’s also the issue of cancellation of Ukrainian external debt. It’s the issue of preserving a framework for the rebuilding, the recovery of the country in a more socially just and inclusive, conclusive way. It also means to envision a ecosocialist alternative to the existing neoliberal capitalism, that will exclude such fossil fuel autocratic empires as modern Russia or modern Saudi Arabia, as it is waging equally criminal war in Yemen, are, and also to really democratize the international order, not to resort to this playing of big, grand powers that views the world as just some playground for a redistributing of the spheres of influence, but to really give voice and to empower the smaller countries and their people to really stop this domination of big imperialist powers, like the U.S., Russia, China, and you can continue the list. So, it’s really to — we need a more complex vision for the future in order to — not just to stop this war, but to prevent further ones.

AMY GOODMAN:

We want to thank you, Denis Pilash, for joining us, Ukrainian political scientist — historian, member of the Ukrainian democratic socialist organization, translated into English, the Social Movement, a leftist party created by the working people of Ukraine, also an editor of Commons: Journal of Social Criticism, speaking to us from western Ukraine.

DENIS PILASH:

Thank you so much.

Next up, we speak with Tony Wood, author of Russia Without Putin: Money, Power and the Myths of the New Cold War. Stay with us.


'This was an acute situation': NYC public advocate explains why adding cops will not prevent gun violence

After a gunman opened fire on a subway train during morning rush hour Tuesday, with 10 people shot and another 13 injured, we speak with New York City public advocate and gubernatorial candidate Jumaane Williams, who says “the answer to the gun violence problem cannot be solely sending police,” adding that New York must respond with a comprehensive plan to beef up social services and programs. He also speaks about the resignation of Lieutenant Governor Brian Benjamin — who was arrested on bribery charges — and recent news that disgraced former Governor Andrew Cuomo may run in the November election.

Transcript

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

AMY GOODMAN:
We begin today’s show with the latest mass shooting in the United States. It unfolded here in New York City Tuesday when a gunman opened fire on a crowded subway train in Brooklyn during morning rush hour. The gunman threw two smoke grenades on the floor of the train, then fired 33 times. Ten people were shot. At least 23 were injured. The New York Times described it as the worst attack in the history of the city’s subway system. Security cameras at the subway station were not working at the time of the shooting, but riders caught some of the graphic aftermath on cellphone video.
The shooting occurred in the working-class neighborhood of Sunset Park, which has a large Latinx and Asian immigrant population. Police have identified a 62-year-old man named Frank James as a person of interest in the mass shooting. Investigators say the gunman left behind a bag on the train carrying fireworks, a hatchet and two gas canisters, indicating he might have been plotting a broader attack.
New York Governor Kathy Hochul spoke outside the train station Tuesday.
GOV. KATHY HOCHUL: The people of the entire state of New York stand with the people of this city, this community, and we say, “No more. No more mass shootings. No more disrupting lives. No more creating heartbreak for people just trying to live their lives as normal New Yorkers.” It has to end, and it ends now.

AMY GOODMAN:

Meanwhile, New York City Mayor Eric Adams, who’s isolating at Gracie Mansion after testing positive for COVID-19 this week, said Tuesday he’ll double the police patrolling the city’s transit system, at least for now, and did not dismiss the idea of installing, quote, “something like metal detectors” at subway stations. Adams is a former transit cop. This is Mayor Adams on CBS News Tuesday night.
MAYOR ERIC ADAMS: What concerns me the most is what I’ve been talking about for several months now, that we have many rivers that are feeding the sea of violence in our city and cities across America. And it’s time for all lawmakers to be on the same page. The overproliferation of guns — we removed 1,800 guns off our streets in a little over three months, similar to the gun that was used. It’s time for us to get serious about the guns in our city, including ghost guns.

AMY GOODMAN:

This comes as President Biden announced new steps Monday aimed at regulating the untraceable homemade weapons called ghost guns. Tuesday’s attack in Brooklyn comes as several mass shootings have occurred in the United States in recent days.
For more, we’re joined by New York City Public Advocate Jumaane Williams, who’s also running for New York governor.
Welcome back to Democracy Now! It’s great to have you with us, Jumaane Williams. Can we begin — you were there yesterday in Sunset Park, this working-class neighborhood of Latinx and Asian immigrants, in particular, many, many essential workers. Can you talk about what you learned and what you understand about the person — not suspect, the police are calling him now — not a suspect, but person of interest?

JUMAANE WILLIAMS:

Well, thanks so much for having me. It’s always a pleasure.
And, of course, on the ground, you know, people are concerned. People are a little stunned. You also have to remember there were schools nearby, one almost directly across the street, maybe a block away, on lockdown, because kids were on their way to school. So, the one thing we have to remember is that shots were fired and people were physically hit — thank god, no lives were taken; it’s just a miracle — but the compounding trauma that happens for people who witnessed it, people who got away, people who were in the car with that smoke, and children who couldn’t get out when they wanted to, is long-lasting. And that’s one of the things we have to continue to talk about, the compounding trauma that happens when there’s gun violence.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ:

And, Jumaane Williams, what’s your response to Mayor Eric Adams’s plan now to double the amount of police presence in the subway system as a — at least as a temporary measure?

JUMAANE WILLIAMS:

You know, we always say that police and law enforcement partners are good for acute situations. This was an acute situation. I understand why people may want to now see additional officers, because they want to feel safe and actually be safe. One of the problems we’ve always said with trying to throw police at every problem is that if it doesn’t work, you then have to throw more police, and then more police, and then more aggressive police. And we’ve been saying for a long time that the answer to the gun violence problem cannot be solely sending police to these — to try to deal with this problem. We had a police surge last year. Then we had another one at the end of the year, beginning of this year. We also have new units that are going into the streets. And still we’re having this gun violence problem.
And so, my hope is that the leaders, from federal, state and city, will finally come together with a more comprehensive plan that addresses public safety. I’m proud to be a leading voice on this issue and have had great experience helping the city get to where it got to in 2018, 2019. We have to do more of what is actually working. This is a national problem. I will say data means nothing to you if you’re a victim of crime, to those 10 people that were shot. But other cities are having worse problems, and so we shouldn’t look to them. We should be looking to ourselves at what was working and what has been working.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ:

And I wanted to ask you about — when you talk about a more comprehensive solution, there’s the perception that the public has, especially as the media focus on many of these isolated or these incidents of violence, when the reality is that, yes, there’s been an increase in crime in recent years, but it’s nothing compared to what it was like back in the 1990s, when 2,000 people a year were being killed in New York City. I’m wondering your perspective: What would a comprehensive plan look like?

JUMAANE WILLIAMS:

That’s 100% correct. As leaders, what we have to do is have difficult conversations with the public. And as I said before, data means nothing to the one person who shot, to the people who were in that car, to the 10 people who now have a long-term trauma. But, as you said, the media has to be more responsible, because we are nowhere close to where we were in the '80s and ’90s. And, quite frankly, we're still one of the safest cities in the country, even with the spike in crime. But we don’t want that spike to happen.
We do have a way that we can address this. Many of us have been pushing for the comprehensive solutions for such a long time. As the pandemic was rising, we told folks that while gun sales are increasing, while there are issues with mental health, housing, food insecurity getting worse, we’re going to see more violence. Let’s get some programs in. We know we have our law enforcement partners. But the more we rely on them solely, the more we’re going to see this violence increase. We asked for a billion dollars in the state budget to address specifically gun violence and victim services. We didn’t get that money. But what we did get is a lot of rhetoric, and we got a billion dollars to the Buffalo Bills — that’s another conversation.
What we need now are people who understand this conversation, who understand how to address public safety in these communities, and really have the courage to have that conversation with the public. But what we can’t do is feed the fear the way we are doing, and then provide solutions that we know haven’t really solved the problem in the past and have caused other traumatic effects on the same community.

AMY GOODMAN:

So, Jumaane Williams, you’re running for governor. It’s also being talked about quietly that Governor — and not so quietly — Cuomo may be entering the race soon again to run again for governor. But you’ve put out a housing-for-all proposal, and I’m wondering if you could be very specific about this, because when we talk about money, where it should go — and there were big issues with what happened at Sunset Park. You know, there’s only one exit out, but whoever it was clearly got out, not clear if at that station or somewhere else, no cameras working in the area. Apparently, some police officer asked a passenger to call 911, said his radio wasn’t working. But what you feel those — those services have to be shored up, what are the big problems in New York?

JUMAANE WILLIAMS:

There must be. First of all, I always want to say we cannot provide excuses for people shooting up a train. There has to be accountability, and there has to be consequences for that kind of action, shooting up a street. But what we do say is we can’t spend more time on that than actually preventing it from happening in the first place. And so, first, Congress has to act. Every illegal gun on these streets were legal at some point. There is too much flow of guns into these cities. We do need law enforcement and interagency cooperation to deal with the iron pipeline of those guns coming in. But what we also know is the intersection of access to healthcare, access to food, access to better education, access to mental health, access to housing can help with issues that people are having that then lead to higher incidences of crime.
We’ve put forth a housing plan to help address the homeless and housing insecurity problem that we have. We have a plan to build and preserve a million units in New York state over the past — next 10 years. The governor has a plan to build simply 100,000 units over the next five years. That is not enough to deal with one of the boroughs that we have in New York City, much less all of the counties in New York state. And if we don’t access these type of things, it provides more pressure for people who are dealing with them. And we do know that the numbers show the more people are dealing with these kind of issues, the more violence that we have. And so, we’ve addressed this in the past.
Again, I’m happy that we helped lead the city to become the safest it’s ever been in 2018 and 2019, funding community programs, funding community groups, addressing many of these social issues. And it worked. We said we should double down on that. We should focus on what was working, not trying to relive and rehash policies of the past that did not work. Our community and our New Yorkers and all of the country deserve to have leaders working on a real plan to address this gun violence, because there are very real victims that deserve it.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ:

Jumaane Williams, I wanted to ask you about the recently passed state budget. Governor Hochul approved the $220 billion budget for the state. The state was probably this year in better financial shape than any time in its history as a result of so much federal emergency COVID money coming to the states and the cities across the country. You’ve called this budget a “colossal missed opportunity that failed to meet the moment.” Why do you say that?

JUMAANE WILLIAMS:

It absolutely is. You know, we, as you mentioned, had more money than we’ve ever had, yet the issues that I’m speaking about were woefully and inadequately addressed. Even some of the good issues that were addressed, like $7 billion for child care, which is a huge issue in the state of New York, most of that money is in the out-years. Unfortunately, the governor has said she will not raise any revenue from millionaires and billionaires. In fact, she told them that they wouldn’t, and she got an extra $20 million over the course of the following week after mentioning that. And she won’t address some of these issues, because she refuses, and says it specifically: “I can’t fund this because it’s not sustainable.” It’s not sustainable if you don’t raise revenue. We have to raise revenue. There’s no money in there to deal with the housing crisis that we are dealing with at this moment in time. We got more money for the Buffalo Bills, to a billionaire, than for gun violence prevention. If you don’t raise revenue, New York state is going to continue to suffer.
What we had was an ability to meet a moment, to provide a New Deal-level commitment to New York state. That didn’t happen. We told folks when we were running — and people can go to JumaaneWilliams.com and see all of our plans — but we told them, while we were running, that this current governor was going to be either the same or worse than the previous governor, because this is the space that she has built her career in. Albany has muscle memory. And unfortunately, what we’re seeing in the past few weeks with this budget and other news is exactly that. And it’s very hard to watch in slow motion, because we know what’s going to be happening in the next two, three years as we begin to cut the very bone of what people need in the state of New York.

AMY GOODMAN:

New York’s Lieutenant Governor — speaking of the state — Brian Benjamin resigned Tuesday. It was shortly after 5 p.m. But his arrest might have gotten lost earlier in the day in the midst of the news of the mass shooting. But he was arrested in the morning on federal corruption charges, accused of directing $50,000 in state funds to a real estate investor in exchange for campaign donations. I wanted to turn to the U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York, Damian Williams, outlining the charges against Benjamin.
DAMIAN WILLIAMS: This is a simple story of corruption. We allege that Benjamin struck a corrupt bargain with a real estate developer, referred to in the indictment as CC1. Benjamin allegedly directed a $50,000 state grant to a nonprofit organization controlled by CC1. And in exchange, Benjamin received tens of thousands of dollars of campaign contributions from CC1.

AMY GOODMAN:

He was appointed by Kathy Hochul when — as lieutenant governor, after she became governor following the resignation of Andrew Cuomo. Again, Hochul is now running for reelection, and, Jumaane Williams, you’re one of her challengers. Can you talk about the significance of these charges? Most people probably — it might have been lost yesterday, given the global headlines around the mass shooting.

JUMAANE WILLIAMS:

You know, I have to say that there is, obviously, a presumption of innocence until proven guilty, and the former lieutenant governor has pleaded not guilty. It is always hard, and especially in someone you know, when you see a Black or Brown person going through this. I do think they have some additional scrutiny on them. But with that said, the charges are really serious. And it’s hard to see it, again, in somebody that you know. And those legal issues are very troubling in a space of time where we’ve seen these kind of issues come up before.
What’s most astonishing to me is the governor herself saying that she had no idea, even though these issues had come up before, no idea that these legal troubles were going on. That is a key to me, because these are the same things the governor said when she was the lieutenant governor of Andrew Cuomo. And she said she didn’t know anything about what was going on, when the whole world knew, before even the horrors that got him taken down, that — his bullying tactics, the shroud of corruption and scandal that surrounded him, that made New York not be governed the way it should be. And to say that again, what it says to me is there’s either woeful aloofness that is going on or, embarrassingly, there is some inadequacy and inability to see what’s going on in your own space. Or it’s worse, that you implicitly — are implicitly allowing these things to continue, and not saying anything about it.
And that is a huge concern and one of the reasons that we decided to run, because we knew there wasn’t going to be much change in Albany. And I’m actually sad to have been right, but I’m happy that we’re here to continue to get a message of what New York actually can be for the people who live here, for the working class, the middle class, the struggling, and not what we have been. So we keep saying, in the interest of the tens of thousands of New Yorkers that we lost, the one thing we can’t do is what the governor keeps saying, which is go back to normal, which is what we’re seeing here. We need a better than normal. We need to normalize people’s lives in a way that helps them to live better ones.

AMY GOODMAN:

We just have 15 seconds, Jumaane, but if you could respond to the news that it is possible Governor Cuomo is going to reenter the race, and he’ll be one of your challengers, or you’ll both be running against Hochul? Your comment?

JUMAANE WILLIAMS:

I mean, this is what happens when people don’t do what they’re supposed to do. The Legislature should have impeached him. They should look and to see and to try to impeach him right now. This is the problem. We’ve been seeing how bad the governor has been for many, many years. People got brave toward the end of his career. But if they had spoken out before, including this current governor, we may not be in this position. And if people had actually went ahead and impeached him, we wouldn’t be dealing with this, as well. It’s a sad day for New York if he does do that. And it’s dangerous for New York if he does do that. But this is what happens when people enable, either explicitly or implicitly.

AMY GOODMAN:

Jumaane Williams, we want to thank you for being with us, New York City public advocate and candidate for New York governor.

Watch below:

How two former Amazon employees defeated the company's union-busting efforts

We speak with the two best friends who led a drive to organize workers at Amazon’s warehouse in Staten Island, New York, and made history Friday after a majority voted to form the first Amazon union in the U.S. We speak with Christian Smalls, interim president of the new union and former Amazon supervisor, about how he led the effort after Amazon fired him at the height of the pandemic for demanding better worker protections. “I think we proved that it’s possible, no matter what industry you work in, what corporation you work for,” says Smalls. “We just unionized Amazon. If we can do that, we can unionize anywhere.” We also speak with Derrick Palmer, who works at the Amazon JFK8 warehouse in Staten Island and is the vice president of the Amazon Labor Union, about intimidation tactics the company used. Reporter Josefa Velásquez covered the union drive for The City and discusses what the victory means for the broader labor movement.

Transcript

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

AMY GOODMAN:

This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman. Here in New York, in a historic victory for labor rights, workers at the retail giant Amazon have voted to unionize.
AMAZON WORKERS: [cheering]. Let’s go! Yeah! Let’s go, baby! ALU! ALU! ALU! ALU!

AMY GOODMAN:

Workers at Amazon’s JFK8 warehouse in Staten Island celebrating Friday after they overcame a multimillion-dollar union-busting campaign and voted decisively in favor of joining the newly formed Amazon Labor Union, the first Amazon union in U.S. history. More than 8,300 workers at the warehouse were eligible to vote. The effort was led by Christian Smalls, who is now interim president of the Amazon Labor Union.
CHRISTIAN SMALLS: We want to thank Jeff Bezos for going to space, because when he was up there, we were signing people up.
UNIDENTIFIED: Yeah, we were down here campaigning.

AMY GOODMAN:

Smalls will join us in a moment. Amazon responded to the union vote in a statement, saying, 'We are disappointed with the outcome of the election in State Island because we believe having a direct relationship with the company is best for our employees. We’re evaluating our options, including filing objections based on the inappropriate and undue influence by the NLRB that we and others (including the National Retail Federation and U.S. Chamber of Commerce) witnessed in this election,' Amazon wrote.
The victory in State Island comes as a redo of a union election led by Amazon warehouse workers in Bessemer, Alabama, is still too close to call. The second vote in Alabama comes after the National Labor Relations Board found Amazon unlawfully interfered with the first Bessemer election last year by the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union. RWDSU tweeted after Friday’s vote in Staten Island, quote, 'History was made today. Huge congrats! Solidarity with Amazon workers from Staten Island to Bessemer and beyond!' they said.
Well, for more, we’re joined by the two best friends who played the key role in this historic labor victory, after Amazon cracked down on their grassroots organizing for better working conditions. Christian Smalls is interim president and lead organizer of the Amazon Labor Union, representing the JFK8 Amazon warehouse workers in Staten Island, New York. He was wrongfully terminated from his job two years ago after, he says, he organized a walkout over COVID safety conditions at the height of the pandemic. Joining other workers, he wore a mask and carried a sign that read, 'Our health is just as essential.' At a victory party for the union Sunday, Christian Smalls was presented by his younger brother with a framed version of the sign. He’s joining us now from Staten Island. Also with us, in Elizabeth, New Jersey, is Derrick Palmer, vice president of organizing for the Amazon Labor Union. He’s still an employee at Amazon JFK8 warehouse in Staten Island. And in Brooklyn, we’re joined by Josefa Velásquez, senior reporter for The City, a nonprofit online news site based in New York City. Her latest piece is headlined 'A Cinderella Story: How Staten Island Amazon Workers Won Against the Multi-Billion-Dollar Company.'
We welcome all of you to Democracy Now! Well, Christian Smalls, why don’t we begin with you? Can you respond to this victory and what it took to get here, and, specifically, organizing at the same time your own union, the Amazon Labor Union?

CHRISTIAN SMALLS:

Yes. Good morning. Thank you for having me. Wow! Every time I hear or see those videos, it still takes a lot out of me, because it’s unbelievable, what we accomplished. We started 11 months ago, a grassroots, worker-led movement, just Amazon workers, former, current, like myself, just trying to do the right thing — once again, no resources, no major backing, just a bunch of ordinary people just coming together from all over the country. We had different people flying in to help us out, some of the comrades that I traveled the country with, advocating with. And 11 months ago, we started something that we really didn’t know what we were getting ourselves into, but we just knew that it was working for us. You know, we were consistently talking to our workers every single day — me, unfortunately, not being able to go inside the building. It was just a combination me and Derrick on the inside-outside game: you know, me at the bus stop connecting with workers, earning their trust, building relationships; Derrick actually inside the building, talking to workers every day in his department, taking over his old department. You know, things like that helped us get us to this point. And I’m just ecstatic and excited to be the interim president and lead us this victory. It’s wonderful to see, and I’m happy to just once again share this experience with the entire world.

AMY GOODMAN:

So, Christian, can you go back two years ago to March 2020, when New York City shut down, and talk about what you did? Talk about that first walkout and how you ended up being fired.

CHRISTIAN SMALLS:

Yeah. Well, I wouldn’t have been able to do it without Derrick. You know, Derrick was — at that time, I had no vehicle. Me and Derrick, we live in the same neighborhood, close proximity of the same neighborhood in New Jersey. And we were riding to work every day, and every day I noticed somebody in my department was becoming ill, whether it was dizziness, fatigue, vomiting. They weren’t — something was wrong. It was a very eerie situation in the building. We didn’t have any PPE. We didn’t have any cleaning supplies. We didn’t have any social distancing. Amazon wasn’t really enforcing any guidelines. Everything was just hearsay.
We tried to go through the proper channels. And then, by the end of the week, after going into the general manager’s office every single day voicing our concerns, they only decided to quarantine just me and nobody else, not even Derrick, the person I ride to work with. And at that moment, I knew that something was wrong. They were just using this quarantine, that nobody’s seen — this policy, nobody read or seen or even heard of — to silence me from organizing the workers. So I decided to take further action, break that quarantine and, you know, hold that walkout on March 30th. And two hours after that walkout, that’s when I was terminated over the phone.

AMY GOODMAN:

Just to be clear, they were quarantining you, but you hadn’t tested positive for COVID.

CHRISTIAN SMALLS:

Absolutely not. Knock on wood. Not even ’til this day, I never tested positive.

AMY GOODMAN:

So, Derrick Palmer, can you talk about what went on on the inside there? You were co-workers. You went to work together every day. You’re best friends. So, Christian is fired. And can you talk about your decision to stay inside?

DERRICK PALMER:

Yeah. You know, at first, it was like — it was very discouraging, hearing that Chris got fired, just for doing the right thing, for standing up for all of us. You know, so I had a tough decision to make. And at the time, there wasn’t a lot of jobs available. So I said, 'You know what? I think I’m going to make it my business to organize from within at JFK8.' And I feel like that played a vital role. You know, a lot of workers were talking about Chris, being scared about the coronavirus, and then ultimately speaking up about the coronavirus because of what happened to Chris and other organizers that were terminated. So I made it my business to talk to them, to ease that tension, to still let them know that — you know, what I feel was illegal. So, you know, just organizing within building, building relationships with other workers, making them comfortable, and just playing that role until we were ready to unionize. And I think that played a key part to our victory on April 1st.

AMY GOODMAN:

I wanted to go to this leaked audio recording obtained by The City newspaper from a meeting last Tuesday, when Amazon workers met with an Amazon workforce staffing manager named Eric and an employee relations manager, who presented slides on the, quote, 'reality of dues and the subject of union life.' This is a short clip from the recording.
ERIC: We talked last week about dues. Remember that dues are paid by employees, and that’s the only source of income or funding toward the needs to pay salaries and expenses. These things may not be anything you want, but they mean a lot to unions. So, will the ALU priorities match yours? The collective bargaining can select any negotiation. Sometimes you have to give a little to get a little. And what’s important to you may not be important to someone else.
AMAZON WORKER: Oh my god, yo, I can’t…
ERIC: So, a union contract could leave you with the same things you have now, like vacation time, paid parental leave, wages, health benefits, 401(k) for injuries, and resources for living. Or it could give you more or less than what you have right now. It is important to remember that negotiations are always a give and take. To give something, you give up something. And here’s why they matter. What is important to the ALU may not be important to you. They will be willing to trade your priorities for one of theirs.
AMAZON WORKER: That’s not true.

AMY GOODMAN:

That was a worker saying, 'That’s not true.' Derrick Palmer, you were in this meeting. It wasn’t so clear to hear, so if you could talk about the main points that management was presenting and what this was all about?

DERRICK PALMER:

Yeah, I mean, these captive audience meetings, they’re pretty much designed to discourage workers from signing up for unions. So, you know, what I witnessed with multiple captive audience meetings is that the message that they’re trying to relay is that you can’t speak to your manager once you become — once a building becomes unionized; you can lose certain benefits from joining a union; the ALU is inexperienced — all different type of points that they try to convey to these workers, which ultimately scares them. So, having myself and other organizers on the inside pretty much counteracting all the messages that they’re trying to present to the workers, you know, played a vital role. So, they’ve had so many different other things that they were talking about, as well, saying that your personal time could be the same, you can lose pay, as well — so, a lot of threatening things that they were trying to do.

AMY GOODMAN:

I wanted to bring Josefa into this conversation. Josefa Velásquez is with The City. You got this leaked audio. Can you talk about the significance of this victory?

JOSEFA VELÁSQUEZ:

I mean, I don’t think we can really understand how big this is. These guys, to their credit, really were this grassroots movement, and they took on Amazon, which is a behemoth, and Jeff Bezos, the second-richest person on Earth. And they really did it through their connections with the people in the facility. I mean, I think both Chris and Derrick have worked at multiple Amazon sites in the last few years, and they know the people that they work with. They understand the company. You know, a lot of times when you see anti-union, like, messaging, it’s always, you know, 'These outsiders are coming in. They’re going to threaten the way that your work is done.' But these are two individuals and many other organizers who know the nitty-gritty and the details of how Amazon works. I mean, sometimes they would explain things to me, and I would just stare at them like with a blank expression because it was so wonky. So, the fact that not only they understood the company and the work that was being done behind it, they look like the people who work there. I mean, Amazon thrives on, like, high turnover among its employees, so you do see a lot of people who are very young.
And it’s very sort of quintessential New York with some of these captive audience meetings. You know, we’ve heard leaked audio previously from some of these meetings down South, but in New York what you’re hearing is people pushing back. You know, New York is a union town, but these guys really didn’t have much institutional backing or support. And it is the ultimate Cinderella story.

AMY GOODMAN:

You talked about, to say the least, Amazon being large. It’s the second-largest private employer in the country — right? — right behind Walmart, and, of course, Jeff Bezos, the second-wealthiest man on Earth. I wanted to go back to 2018, when then-Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos said Amazon believed its workers didn’t need a union.
JEFF BEZOS: Very good communications with our employees, so we don’t believe that we need a union to be an intermediary between us or our employees. But, of course, at the end of the day, it’s always the employees’ choice. And that’s how it should be. So, we’re — but, for sure, we would be very naive to believe that we’re not going to be criticized. I mean, that’s just part of the terrain. You have to accept that. One other thing I tell people is, if you’re going to be — if you’re going to do anything new or innovative, you have to be willing to be misunderstood.

AMY GOODMAN:

That was 2018. 'You have to be willing to be misunderstood.' I wanted to go back to Christian Smalls. There was an internal memo that was leaked, saying that you weren’t very smart, and so they would make you the face of the movement — a challenge you took up in a very big way, saying, 'OK, if I’m the face, I’m the face.'

CHRISTIAN SMALLS:

Yeah, absolutely. Absolutely, yeah. You know, when that memo came out, that obviously motivated me to continue advocating for workers’ rights across the nation. You know, me and Derrick, we traveled the country. We protested in front of Jeff Bezos’s mansions and penthouses that we can find on Google, from the East Coast to the West Coast. And we decided to go back home to Staten Island.
You know, once again, we were invested in this company. Derrick is still invested. He’s over six-year vet. You know, they don’t realize who we are to this company. We understand the warehouses more than Jeff Bezos do. So it’s funny that he said, you know, 'You’re going to be misunderstood,' because we were. You know, we were underestimated. We were counted out. People didn’t believe in us. People thought that this wasn’t going to happen. They had never thought that — expected that we were going to be here. It’s not just Jeff Bezos and his general counsel that didn’t want us to get here. It’s a lot of other people, as well, that claimed to be on the same side, that didn’t believe that we would be here. So, for us to be here at this moment, you know, it’s, once again, surreal for us.

AMY GOODMAN:

Now, you went down to Bessemer. I remember when we were doing a piece, we heard you were down there. Now, that, the Bessemer union-organizing effort, was run by RWDSU — right? — the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union. And we’re still waiting to hear the results now —

CHRISTIAN SMALLS:

Yeah.

AMY GOODMAN:

— on the second vote. The NLRB said that Amazon had to have a — allow for a second election because they had interfered with the first one. Why didn’t you go with, oh, RWDSU or the Teamsters, for example? The Teamsters union praised the workers at Amazon in Staten Island for your victory and ongoing union efforts of Amazon warehouse workers in Bessemer, Alabama, tweeting, 'What these elections show is Amazon workers want a union. The workers in Bessemer and Staten Island don’t have to wait for the government or anyone else to tell them they have power. They’re taking a stand & Amazon can’t skirt the law indefinitely. The #Teamsters are excited to continue this fight against Amazon — on the shop floor, at the bargaining table, & on the streets.' But it is Amazon Labor Union that actually won this battle, and it’s the first against Amazon to win.

CHRISTIAN SMALLS:

Right, right. Well, once again, you know, these established unions, with their resources and the money that they have, the volunteers that they have, you know, I tell everybody, they had 28 years. Amazon has been around for 28 years. You know, we’ve done something that was unprecedented, because when we went down to Bessemer, we saw some missed opportunities with the campaign the first time. We saw things that didn’t really fit what Amazon workers represent. And I felt that, you know, in order to take down the machine, it has to become — it has to come from within. It has to be the workers organizing themselves. And that’s what we did with the ALU. We created something that resonated with the workers. We are the workers. We know the ins and outs of the company. We live the grievances. We understand the concerns. We know the language. We look like Amazon employees, especially here in New York.
So, bringing in an established union, that would have took so much time away from actually campaigning towards an election, because we would now have to educate the union on what Amazon is and how to connect with workers. And I think Amazon uses that against us. Already, even with the ALU, they claim that we’re a third party. If you listen to the captive audiences, they say 'they' are going to make the decisions for you. They tried to separate us. But they couldn’t do that, because we say we are — we are all the union. All the workers together are the union. And together, we’re going to make these decisions. And that’s how we were able to be successful against Amazon.

AMY GOODMAN:

I wanted to ask Josefa Velásquez about what’s happening in Bessemer. You’ve got a very close vote. I think it’s 993 'no' votes, 875 'yes' votes, more than 400 contested ballots. According to the NLRB, the National Labor Relations Board, there will be a hearing within a few weeks to decide if the challenged ballots will be opened and counted. Talk about the difference you see in strategizing between what happened in Staten Island and what’s happening in Bessemer right now.

JOSEFA VELÁSQUEZ:

Right. I think, you know, it’s what Chris said, that these are Amazon workers who are unionizing and organizing within their ranks, as opposed to what’s happening down South, where you do have a major labor union that is helping organize. And the first time around with the vote in Bessemer, they got a lot of heat, because you’re bringing in celebrities, high-profile politicians. You know, that’s not the people who work at Amazon. Those are people who surely order stuff from Amazon, but that’s not the folks that are inside packing up orders, shipping them out, putting in 10- to 12-hour days. So there was a disconnect there. And they had a second chance at it, and it’s still really close.
And you can’t discount the fact that New York is typically pro-union and union-friendly. But at the same time, you know, to the ALU’s immense positioning, it’s organizing within the ranks and understanding how this company works and the intricacies of it. You know, for us at the user-facing platform, it’s three clicks, and you have your product. But for the workers themselves, it’s all of these different steps, all of this jargon. And you understand that, at least in New York, sometimes to get to the Amazon facility in the northwest corner of Staten Island, you have to take a bus, you have to take a train, and then another bus, and it’s a two-hour commute each way. So they understand who are the workers behind this organization. And it’s really, I think — you know, a lot of the times you get the word 'grassroots' thrown around, but this is a case where it’s truly grassroots, where you have people who understand how Amazon works. I mean, Derrick still works inside of the facility and saw the union busting going on firsthand. Chris has worked as a supervisor in Amazon previously. He’s trained people. So they know exactly who the workers are and their grievances and how the union can help make things better.

AMY GOODMAN:

So, Derrick, what are your plans now? ALU has won this enormous victory. What are your demands?

DERRICK PALMER:

Well, just having better benefits, better pay, you know, like sick time. Those are the basic things. Also job security. You know, Amazon has a 150% turnover ratio at JFK alone. So, people that come and commute from all these different boroughs, their jobs should be secure. It shouldn’t take them three hours to get to work, and then, when they get there, they could possibly be fired. You know, the possibilities of that are very high. So we have to make that change, and also recruiting more workers to get involved with the union, becoming shop stewards. So we want to have shop stewards in different departments, so that we have workers representing other workers and that we can create an environment where our demands and the workers’ needs are appreciated. So, if you have these workers on the inside being more involved with the union, then now you create a powerful force that ultimately can’t really be stopped, and Amazon has to abide by these rules.

AMY GOODMAN:

And, Chris, do you plan to organize other warehouses? I mean, you actually have one — I mean, yours is what? Eighty-five hundred people. You have one right across the street.

CHRISTIAN SMALLS:

Yeah, absolutely. We have another election in a couple of weeks that we are already preparing ourselves for. We’re right back out there. I was at the bus stop yesterday. You know, we’re right back to the same thing we were doing. And we absolutely got contacted by thousands of workers in the last 48 hours from all over the country. So, absolutely, this is just day one for ALU. Myself and Derrick, between us, we opened up several different buildings. We want to absolutely organize those. We’ve got people reaching out that, you know, watched and pay attention. And I’m ecstatic about what’s next. I know this is the catalyst for the revolution against Amazon, the same way it’s been happening with Starbucks. So, we’re going to have that same effect.

AMY GOODMAN:

And, Josefa, if you can talk about the comparison of what’s happening with Amazon now and with Starbucks, what we’re seeing all over the country right now?

JOSEFA VELÁSQUEZ:

Right, and I think it all goes back to sort of the early days of the pandemic, where everyone was lauding essential workers, people who still had to work, while some of us had the luxury to work from home, and these 7 p.m. clap-outs that we had. All these people had to work through the pandemic. And suddenly, from one day to the next, we sort of just forgot about it, and it became in the back of our minds. So, now you have this moment where people were more conscious of the working class, the people who keep us fed, the people who deliver our coffee, deliver our packages. And so I think it created this moment, really, in history where people started recognizing the working class more so than before, especially when it comes to like tech and big companies, where now you’re seeing Amazon and Starbucks having these major profit margins, while their workers are struggling to pay rent, to keep themselves fed, and are getting sick and dying from this virus.
So, it created this moment where everyone was looking around and saying, you know, 'We have an immense amount of power, because people are no longer putting up with some of the working situations they have — they have other alternatives — and that at the end of the day, you know, dying over a Starbucks is not worth it, so let’s create something different. Let’s organize. You know, there’s power in numbers.'
And I think there’s two very clear things happening here, where it’s these worker-led movements and also a very big generational shift into the sort of feelings towards unions. Gen Z and millennials don’t have the same antipathy that perhaps, you know, Gen Xers and baby boomers have towards unions. Like, these are unicorn-like jobs, where if you’re able to grab a union job, great. These are very rare. So, you know, it’s this idea of organizing and this behind-the-scenes look through social media of, like, how my coffee gets made in the morning and all the steps behind it — and same thing with Amazon, it’s 'How does my package actually get from point A to point B?' — that I think caused this moment of revelation for everyone that, you know, it’s not OK, how people are treated.

AMY GOODMAN:

Chris Smalls, your final message, as we wrap up this conversation, to workers around the country? And also, what are the next steps right now for ALU when it comes to this warehouse? When do you commence contract negotiations?

CHRISTIAN SMALLS:

Well, I’m going to answer the first one — excuse me — I’m going to answer the first one first. You know, we started already. You know, we already dropped off two letters to our general manager. I released a statement two days ago. And we’re already talking with lawyers. We’re going to be bringing in some more legal representation.
And the message to the workers across the country, and even across the world: You know, do not quit your jobs anymore; organize them. You know, that’s just a simple thing that you can do. You know, everybody say, 'Quit your job if you don’t like it.' Well, you’re jumping from one fire into the next, and I think we need to stop doing that, because nothing gets changed. The system still remains in place if you continue to do that. And I think we proved that it’s possible, no matter what industry you work in, what corporation you work for. We just unionized Amazon. And if we can do that, you can unionize anywhere. You know, I’ve already seen emails coming in from — for example, I got some workers that reached out to me from Walmart. You know, whatever we can do, whatever advice we can lend, we’re absolutely here for you guys, very accessible. So, please reach out, stay connected, support us. If you’re in the New York area, volunteer, phone bank, donate. Once again, we are grassroots. We’re ordinary people trying to do the right thing and protect one another. This is improving everybody’s quality of life, forming a union, so I encourage everybody to do the same thing. Follow us on our social media: @amazonlabor on Twitter, @AmazonLaborUnion on Facebook, TikTok, Instagram, at AmazonLaborUnion.org; myself, @Shut_downAmazon

AMY GOODMAN:

Well, I want to thank you for being with us, Christian Smalls, interim president of Amazon Labor Union, and Derrick Palmer, vice president of the Amazon Labor Union and Amazon worker. They are best friends, both 31 years old. And, Josefa Velásquez, senior reporter for The City, we’ll link to your coverage, including your latest piece, 'A Cinderella Story: How Staten Island Amazon Workers Won Against the Multi-Billion-Dollar Company.'

Watch below:

SARS-COV-2 'is not going away': Medicare for all sees renewed push as coronavirus continues to spread

With COVID-19 coverage ending for the uninsured, we look at how uninsured people and communities of color will bear the impact of the end to free COVID-19 testing, treatment and vaccines, and how the pandemic has led to a renewed push for Medicare for All. We are joined by Dr. Oni Blackstock, primary care and HIV physician and founder and executive director of Health Justice, and Dr. Adam Gaffney, critical care physician, professor at Harvard Medical School and immediate past president of Physicians for a National Health Program.

Transcript

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

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman, with Nermeen Shaikh.

As cities across the United States lift mask mandates and researchers track an uptick, the Omicron subvariant BA.2, we spend the rest of the hour looking at who will bear the impact of cuts to funding for COVID-19 relief, as the pandemic leads to a renewed push for Medicare for All. Earlier this month, Congress passed a massive spending bill that stripped out nearly $16 billion in COVID-19 funding to cover free COVID-19 testing, treatment and vaccines for the uninsured. As of last week, major testing companies started asking the uninsured to pay up to $195 for PCR tests. The CDC estimates some 31 million Americans had no insurance in the first half of 2021.

This comes as a new report on “The State of Black America and COVID-19” by the Black Coalition Against COVID, the Yale School of Medicine and the Morehouse School of Medicine warned Black Americans face higher rates of COVID and are more likely to face serious illness or death as a result of disinvestment in healthcare in Black communities. The report also found racial disparities in the diagnosis and treatment of long COVID.

On Tuesday, the House Oversight Committee held its first hearing on Medicare for All since the start of the pandemic, led in part by progressive Democratic Congressmember Cori Bush, who is a nurse, who said, quote, “Americans deserve a healthcare system that guarantees health and medical services to all.” Speakers included the lawyer and healthcare activist Ady Barkan, who was diagnosed with terminal ALS. He testified from his home using a computerized system that tracks his eye movements and turns them into spoken words.

ADY BARKAN: It’s shameful that in the richest country in the world, we choose to inflict so much suffering. Since that first hearing about Medicare for All, our country has been through the worst public health crisis in a century. The pandemic has revealed and exacerbated the existing inequalities in our profit-driven healthcare system. It has hit hardest on disabled people, poor people, Black, Latino and Indigenous people, and especially people who live at the intersections of these categories. And one out of three COVID-19 deaths in the U.S. are related to gaps in health insurance. Nearly a million Americans have already died from the coronavirus. How much more is necessary to shock our legislators into action?
When we lost 3,000 lives on September 11th, we responded by reorganizing our national security system, launching a global war on terror and conducting two massive invasions and occupations. Three hundred times more people have died in this pandemic, but we have not marshaled our national energy to build a better healthcare system. It is a scandal, and it is a shame.

AMY GOODMAN: For more, we’re joined by two guests. In Boston, Dr. Adam Gaffney is with us, critical care physician, professor at Harvard Medical School, immediate past president of Physicians for a National Health Program. He co-authored a study published last month in the Journal of General Internal Medicine that showed uninsured people in the United States are more likely to be infected with COVID-19. And in New York, Dr. Oni Blackstock, primary care and HIV physician, founder and executive director of Health Justice.

We welcome you both back to Democracy Now! Dr. Adam Gaffney, let me begin with you. You just wrote a piece, “Covid-19 Coverage for the Uninsured Is Ending.” So, we are talking about if you want to get tested and you’re uninsured and you can’t afford it, you can’t get a test. At the same time, people are unmasking. Lay out the scenario here. And is this, do you feel, going to lead to a further surge? Is there already a surge in certain communities?

DR. ADAM GAFFNEY: Well, I think the impact of withdrawing support for treatment, testing and vaccination for uninsured individuals is going to be a disaster. Look, when this pandemic started, there was an awareness that our healthcare system was not going to perform well with 30 million uninsured, with far more underinsured. To control a pandemic, you need people to be tested so they know to isolate. And now we have good therapies, as well, that need to be started early. So, by taking away access to testing and treatment to uninsured individuals, who could now face soaring medical bills, were they to present to a hospital needing medical care, you are certainly going to deter the use of that care. And I am very worried about the impact on that population, which is already disadvantaged and already at higher risk of COVID.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: And, Dr. Gaffney, this is happening in a moment when, despite the fact that vaccines have been available, easily accessible and free for over a year in the U.S., the percentage of Americans who are fully vaccinated is just 65%, and the percentage who are boosted is substantially lower, at 44%. So, could you talk about this cut in funding when, really, vaccination rates are relatively low?

DR. ADAM GAFFNEY: Well, that’s precisely the issue. We should be doing more in our pandemic response, particularly as the BA.2 subvariant of Omicron may be causing a new wave in coming weeks. So that’s exactly right: We should be improving access to vaccines, we should be doing more outreach of boosters, we should be doing more to ensure people have access to therapeutics, that must be started within several days of symptom onset to be effective, rather than moving in the other direction. Effectively, what we’re seeing happen now is we are making — we are treating COVID as just another illness, which means high costs and people going without it because they can’t afford it. And that’s unacceptable, and it’s a public health — it makes zero sense from a public health perspective.

AMY GOODMAN: Let me bring in Dr. Oni Blackstock, primary care and HIV physician, just finished this major report on the state of the health of Black America. If you can talk about the impact of this COVID-19 funding being cut at this point — again, I want to reiterate, at a point when everyone is taking off their masks — what it means when you have an unprecedented support of the largest military budget in U.S. history, and yet cutting back on COVID, and particularly what it means for Black America?

DR. ONI BLACKSTOCK: Yes, this is going to have a disproportionate impact on Black people and other people of color. We know that among people who are uninsured, Black and Latino people, in particular, are disproportionately represented. And so, we saw that with the availability of free tests, vaccines and treatments — we actually saw, over the course of the pandemic, inequities in death rates actually narrow. So, while Black and Latino people and Indigenous people are still at increased risk in terms of exposure and more likely to become infected, availability of vaccines have helped to actually narrow the gap when it comes to COVID-19 deaths.

However, if we now have the end of this federal program that provided free tests and vaccines and treatment for the uninsured, we’re now going to see more challenges, for instance. Let’s say the second booster, for instance, is now being recommended. Those individuals who may not have the flexibility to take off from work to go get a booster or to find a location are going to have challenges. And so we’re going to see likely widening disparities, inequities in these COVID-19 outcomes with this funding for the uninsured program having run out. And then, eventually, it will actually impact the general population.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: Dr. Blackstock, could you talk about the key findings of this report, “The State of Black America and COVID-19: A Two-Year Assessment”?

DR. ONI BLACKSTOCK: Sure. So, the report really laid out the last two years of the pandemic and the pandemic’s disproportionate impact on Black Americans in terms of Black Americans being at increased risks for exposure because of the occupational segregation that has really left us in many frontline jobs as essential workers, so we’re more at risk for exposure, and very little has been done in terms of workplace protections, and also speaking to the disproportionate impact in terms of hospitalizations and deaths, because we are more likely to have, for instance, underlying conditions, which again is the result of lack of access to quality care, the impact of sort of the everyday toll of racism, the wear and tear on our bodies, otherwise known as weathering, which also increases risk of underlying conditions and leads to more serious outcomes with COVID.

We also see that Black people, because of our increased risk to exposure to COVID, you know, the impact of long COVID is likely to be greater on our community. However, there is a lack of data being collected and a lack of analysis really looking at how are we being impacted by long COVID. We know that earlier in the pandemic it was very challenging to get COVID testing, for instance. We do have reports and studies showing that Black and Latino people, in particular, were turned away from testing. And often people need a test as proof that they’ve had COVID in order to get treatment for long COVID, although that has been discouraged and that just saying that you have COVID should be sufficient. But we are still trying to collect the data that we need to see the extent of these inequities, and there definitely needs to be much more focus on ensuring Black communities have the support that is needed to protect themselves from COVID.

AMY GOODMAN: Dr. Adam —

NERMEEN SHAIKH: Dr. Blackstock —

AMY GOODMAN: Go ahead, Nermeen.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: Go ahead, Amy. Dr. Blackstock, people have been comparing HIV and COVID. You, of course, are an HIV physician, and you’ve said a more accurate comparison would be between long COVID and HIV. Could you explain?

DR. ONI BLACKSTOCK: Right. So, you know, COVID, obviously, acutely people will have an infection, an active infection, and then that typically passes. But we know 10% to 30% of people who do have COVID end up having long COVID, which is a chronic condition. HIV, as well, is a chronic medical condition and requires ongoing access to care, to treatment. And so, you know, we spoke to these issues around the uninsured. We know that Black people, in particular, are overrepresented among the uninsured. And so, some of the same challenges we see in terms of access to treatment and prevention when it comes to HIV, we are also seeing when it comes to COVID, as well.

AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to go back to Dr. Adam Gaffney. Last night I was actually speaking to Congressmember Nikema Williams about Black maternal mortality and the issue of Medicare for All. And you had this major hearing where we just heard the activist Ady Barkan, who has ALS. He said one out of three COVID-19 deaths in the U.S. are related to gaps in health insurance. I wanted you to respond to that, and Public Citizen saying you’ve got the defense budget, $813 billion. “By comparison, the White House has asked for just $5 billion to fight global COVID,” and more than $22 billion to fight COVID in total. “That’s roughly three percent” of military spending “to help end a pandemic that has taken more American lives than any war, and nearly twenty million lives worldwide so far.” If you could comment on this and how it all pushes for, as you see it, Medicare for All?

DR. ADAM GAFFNEY: Well, absolutely. Look, the fact is, we do need federal coverage for the uninsured for COVID. And that should be done urgently. But that is a Band-Aid, a needed Band-Aid, but really the problem is far broader. We need universal healthcare so that people have all medical conditions covered, so that people, regardless of whether it’s COVID or another infection or another chronic illness, do not need to worry about going bankrupt because they need to see a doctor or go to the hospital.

I think the other point here is that this is a virus that is not going away, OK? And so, simply another stopgap, while important, is not a substitute for real universal reform so that this can be taken care of indefinitely.

Finally, the point you made about underfunding our pandemic response is exactly correct. Look, we went into this pandemic underfunding public health agencies. We need to be expanding our public health infrastructure to tackle not only the pandemic of the present but the pandemics of the future, to say nothing of the other health threats that face us in the years to come, like the impact of climate change and much more. So, we should be expanding our public health infrastructure. We should be moving to a universal Medicare for All system to take care everyone regardless of illness. And we should be doing those things right now, even as we’re creating those stopgaps to deal with the deficiencies in our current system.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: Dr. Gaffney, could you also say, quickly, what do you think can be done to increase vaccination rates in the U.S.?

DR. ADAM GAFFNEY: Well, I think an important point of comparison is the United Kingdom, that has much higher rates of boosters, right? And that tells you something, because most people who have already been fully vaccinated presumably aren’t totally vaccine hesitant, and the fact that they haven’t been boosted suggests that part of the problem is the medical care system, that we are not doing sufficient outreach directly to people at high risk of severe outcomes if they have COVID. So, I think that there’s a lot we can do creatively in terms of pushing out vaccinations. People have talked about door-to-door campaigns, workplace clinics, school clinics and much more. But I think part of the problem does fall back on a fragmented and privatized healthcare system that has not performed at the level of, for instance, the United Kingdom’s National Health Service in actually getting vaccines into arms and getting boosters into arms, among a population that we know is at least willing to have some vaccinations. So I think there’s a few things that can be done. But I think the important thing is that more can be done, more has to be done, and we shouldn’t tacitly accept unnecessary deaths from COVID and assume that there’s nothing that can be done.

AMY GOODMAN: Let me end asking Dr. Oni Blackstock about what you think is the most important issue right now when it comes to COVID-19 and the Black community.

DR. ONI BLACKSTOCK: Yes, I think there are a number, I think, of issues; however, there needs to be really, I think, you know, as the discussion is saying, a sort of increased focus on ensuring that people have access to the care that they need — that’s one — but also protections. We know that support for mask mandates and other types of safety measures are higher in the Black community compared to the white community. We actually saw this study released yesterday showing that the more that white Americans hear about racial inequities, the less likely they are actually to support COVID-19 safety measures. So, actually, we’re seeing these sort of opposing forces, even though the reality is that we are all interconnected and that if the Black community has access to care, to safety measures, that actually is something that can protect all of us. So we need to actually just increase our support for access to prevention and treatment for COVID.

AMY GOODMAN: Thank you so much for being with us, Dr. Oni Blackstock with Health Justice and Dr. Adam Gaffney at Harvard Medical School. I’m Amy Goodman, with Nermeen Shaikh.

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Ketanji Brown Jackson says treating defendants fairly is what 'makes us exemplary'

To begin our coverage of day two of the historic nomination hearings for Supreme Court nominee Ketanji Brown Jackson, we discuss the attacks by Republicans on her work defending suspects at Guantánamo Bay prison. Given that Jackson was one of hundreds of legal professionals in a project that exposed the lies and brutality undergirding Guantánamo, “to criticize her work in that project is nonsensical to me,” says Baher Azmy, legal director of the Center of Constitutional Rights, who has represented people held at Guantánamo and defended their rights. “Her work should be valorized.”

Transcript

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

AMY GOODMAN: President Biden’s Supreme Court nominee Ketanji Brown Jackson faced a marathon day of questions from members of the Senate Judiciary Committee Tuesday. She’s set to make history if she becomes the first Black woman and first public defender to serve on the nation’s highest court. Judge Jackson faced a variety of attacks from Republican senators. We’re going to begin by looking at the focus on her work as a federal public defender who represented people detained at Guantánamo. This is Judge Jackson talking about representing Guantánamo prisoners.

JUDGE KETANJI BROWN JACKSON: After 9/11, there were also lawyers who recognized that our nation’s values were under attack, that we couldn’t let the terrorists win by changing who we were fundamentally. And what that meant was that the people who were being accused by our government of having engaged in actions related to this, under our constitutional scheme, were entitled to representation, were entitled to be treated fairly. That’s what makes our system the best in the world. That’s what makes us exemplary.
I was in the Federal Public Defender’s Office when the Supreme Court — excuse me, right after the Supreme Court decided that individuals who were detained at Guantánamo Bay by the president could seek review of their detention. And those cases started coming in. And federal public defenders don’t get to pick their clients; they have to represent whoever comes in, and it’s a service. That’s what you do as a federal public defender: You are standing up for the constitutional value of representation.

AMY GOODMAN: Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson was later grilled by Republican Senator Lindsey Graham about her time representing people detained at Guantánamo. This is part of their exchange.

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM: So, as you rightfully are proud of your service as a public defender, and you represented Gitmo detainees, which is part of our system, I want you to understand, and the nation to understand, what’s been happening at Gitmo. What’s the recidivism rate at Gitmo?
JUDGE KETANJI BROWN JACKSON: Senator, I’m not aware.
SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM: It’s 31%. How does that strike you?
JUDGE KETANJI BROWN JACKSON: Any —
SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM: Is that high, low, about right?
JUDGE KETANJI BROWN JACKSON: I don’t know how it strikes me overall.
SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM: You know how it strikes me? It strikes me as terrible.
JUDGE KETANJI BROWN JACKSON: Yes, that’s what I was going to say.
SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM: OK, good. We found common ground. Of the 229 detainees released from Gitmo — of 729 released, 229 have gone back to the fight. … Would you say that our system in terms of releasing people needs to be relooked at?
JUDGE KETANJI BROWN JACKSON: Senator, what I’d say is that that’s not a job for the courts in this way, that —
SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM: As an American, does that bother you?
JUDGE KETANJI BROWN JACKSON: Well, obviously, Senator, any repeated criminal behavior or repeated attacks, acts of war bother me as an American.
SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM: Yeah, well, it bothers me.

AMY GOODMAN: After this exchange, Republican Senator John Cornyn used his time to try to accuse Judge Jackson of calling former President George W. Bush and former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld war criminals in a court filing.

SEN. JOHN CORNYN: Talking about when you were representing a member of the Taliban, and the Department of Defense identified him as an intelligence officer for the Taliban, and you referred to the secretary of defense and the sitting president of the United States as war criminals. Why would you do something like that? It seems so out of character.
JUDGE KETANJI BROWN JACKSON: Well, Senator, I don’t remember that particular reference in — I was representing my clients and making arguments. I’d have to take a look at what you meant. I did not intend to disparage the president or the secretary of defense.

AMY GOODMAN: In a minute, we’ll look at other topics raised in Tuesday’s confirmation hearings for President Biden’s Supreme Court nominee, Ketanji Brown Jackson, like sentencing in child pornography cases, issues of abortion and other issues, but we’re going to begin with these points on Guantánamo as we’re joined by Baher Azmy — he’s legal director of the Center of Constitutional Rights, where for the past two decades he’s been part of the legal team challenging the U.S. government over the rights of Guantánamo detainees — and Alexis Hoag, who’s a professor of law at Brooklyn Law School and a former federal public defender. And we’re going to talk about the significance of Ketanji Brown Jackson being a former public defender.

But we’re going to start with Baher Azmy on the content of the accusations. Can you talk about the judge’s record on these Guantánamo cases and the allegations made by both Cornyn and Lindsey Graham?

BAHER AZMY: Sure. Thank you, Amy.

So, Judge Jackson was one of many hundreds of lawyers who joined a project to challenge this remarkable authoritarian experiment in Guantánamo that purported to — that actually held exclusively Muslim prisoners in an island, without any protections of law, where they were subject to persistent torture and arbitrary detention based on the executive say-so. So, to sort of criticize her work in that project is nonsensical to me. She’s operating in the highest traditions of the law. And it’s lawyers in the legal project that exposed so many of the underlying lies in Guantánamo, lies about dangerousness, lies about humane treatment, lies about national security and compliance with law. So, her work should be valorized.

You know, in terms of — you know, Lindsey Graham is, like, living in a post-9/11 fever dream where he continually wants to fight these old battles. The 31% recidivism number is this made-up Soviet-style number designed to mask, again, fundamental lies about Guantánamo. The overwhelming majority have absolutely nothing to do with initiating any fighting, let alone returning to the battlefield. And, you know, it’s just sort of perpetuating this mythology that men there were dangerous. In our overwhelming experience, men who left Guantánamo left as the project was designed to do: left them broken, not angry.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And, Baher, I’d like to follow up on that, on this whole issue of the recidivism rate Lindsey Graham mentioned. First of all, as you allude to, most of the people in Guantánamo had never been — or, none had been convicted, or very few were actually convicted of a crime, so that even the issue of recidivism, when a person has not been convicted, is suspect. But also, even if you take Lindsey Graham’s number of 31%, I looked up what the recidivism rate is in the United States for prisoners in general, and two-thirds of people who serve in U.S. prisons are arrested again within three years, and three-quarters within nine years. So, the, quote, “recidivism rate” of people in the United States is far worse than even what Lindsey Graham is saying about these prisoners.

BAHER AZMY: Yes. This is really a made-up number. It’s garbage in, garbage out, like most of the Guantánamo project. You’re right. It starts with an assumption that people committed a crime to begin with. There was no — there were no criminal convictions. That’s the data we should be focusing on. And under the government’s own statistics, only 8% — evidence, only 8% were ever accused of being members of al-Qaeda or the Taliban, as we all, I hope, know by now. The overwhelming majority were picked up as a result of bounties and shipped to Guantánamo, where — officials later secretly recognized, and lawyers ultimately exposed, had absolutely nothing to do with terrorism. And this 31% number, it’s really — it’s preposterous on its own terms. It includes individuals — this particular number includes individuals who — for example, Uyghurs — were released and spoke to The New York Times. That’s the notion of returning to the fight that this number captures. Under our analysis, at most, there have been 12 who have done — a dozen or so who have actually sort of engaged in any sort of combatant activities after being released, out of 779.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And could you talk about the essential facts to understand about Judge Jackson’s work on Guantánamo cases?

BAHER AZMY: Yeah. So, she is one of many hundreds of individuals, from sort of every thread of the legal profession — federal public defenders; big corporate law firms; NGOs, like my organization, the Center for Constitutional Rights, which was responsible for coordinating a lot of these legal efforts; academics; and, ultimately, a global movement — to challenge this profoundly extraconstitutional project of arbitrary detention and abuse there. And what she was doing by representing individual detainees was challenging the executive branch to ensure that any kind of detention of human beings is done pursuant to law and not just executive fiat. And in so doing, she was part of a really — a project that exposed so many of the lies and brutality undergirding Guantánamo. And I think that’s an obviously useful perspective that connects the law to the lived experience of individuals who are harmed by the law. And I hope that will be a useful perspective on the court.

AMY GOODMAN: And the specific people that she represented, the four people, have since been released. Also, this issue that Cornyn said she called them war criminals, she actually didn’t use that word. In the brief — and I’m looking — there are a number of pieces on this, this one in The New York Times: “The petitions each named Mr. Bush and Mr. Rumsfeld — along with two senior military officers who oversaw the Guantánamo detention operation — in their official capacities as respondents. And, they said, such officials’ acts in ordering or condoning the alleged torture and other inhumane treatment of the detainees ‘constitute war crimes and/or crimes against humanity in violation of the law of nations under the Alien Tort Statute.’” If you could end with that, Baher Azmy, the accusations against Bush and Rumsfeld and the government for how prisoners were treated?

BAHER AZMY: Yeah. So, in her petition, she alleged what we know to be true, that individuals detained in Guantánamo were subject to torture. And what follows from that, under well-established international law, including international law [inaudible] was responsible for promulgating, particularly after Nuremberg, those constitute war crimes. So, it’s a bit of a sort of fallacious gotcha in the hearing to say she sort of literally accused them of war crimes. But I want to be clear: Donald Rumsfeld is credibly accused of war crimes, and he’s never been held accountable for that, although we brought a case in German courts accusing him of war crimes in Guantánamo and elsewhere. And as we, you know, focus on the devastation and destruction in Ukraine, it’s worth remembering the onslaught of devastation and destruction brought by Bush and Rumsfeld in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere.

AMY GOODMAN: Baher Azmy is legal director of the Center of Constitutional Rights.

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Human Rights Watch says Mariupol has been turned into an 'absolute hellscape'

As Russian forces continue to besiege Ukrainian cities, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has accused them of reducing the southern city of Mariupol to ashes. All foreign journalists have fled the city as heavy shelling has driven most remaining civilians into hiding in their basements. We speak to Belkis Wille, who just left Ukraine after spending over three weeks documenting the effects of the war and describes “an absolute hellscape” in Mariupol. Disabled people and seniors are often unable to retreat into safe hiding places, says Wille, senior researcher at Human Rights Watch. “The people that we spoke to were the lucky ones. They were the ones with the means and the ability to get out of the city.”

Transcript

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

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

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has accused Russian forces of reducing the southern city of Mariupol to ashes. Tens of thousands of civilians remain trapped in the strategic port city with little food or water. There are now no foreign journalists in the city to document the destruction.

A team of reporters from the Associated Press recently left Mariupol after spending 20 days in the besieged city. By the end, the reporters said they were being hunted down by Russian forces. AP video journalist Mstyslav Chernov has provided a harrowing account of life under bombardment in Mariupol. I want to read part of his description of what he witnessed. For our television audience, we’ll also show images of Mariupol by Sergii Makarov, the photographer from the area. They were provided to us by Human Rights Watch. These are the words of AP’s Mstyslav Chernov.

He writes, “One bomb at a time, the Russians cut electricity, water, food supplies and finally, crucially, the cell phone, radio and television towers. The few other journalists in the city got out before the last connections were gone and a full blockade settled in. …

“The deaths came fast. On Feb. 27, we watched as a doctor tried to save a little girl hit by shrapnel. She died.

“A second child died, then a third. Ambulances stopped picking up the wounded because people couldn’t call them without a signal, and they couldn’t navigate the bombed-out streets. …

“Shelling hit the hospital and the houses around. It shattered the windows of our van, blew a hole into its side and punctured a tire. Sometimes we would run out to film a burning house and then run back amid the explosions. …

“By this time I had witnessed deaths at the hospital, corpses in the streets, dozens of bodies shoved into a mass grave. I had seen so much death that I was filming almost without taking it in.

“On March 9, twin airstrikes shredded the plastic taped over our van’s windows. I saw the fireball just a heartbeat before pain pierced my inner ear, my skin, my face.

“We watched smoke rise from a maternity hospital. When we arrived, emergency workers were still pulling bloodied pregnant women from the ruins.”

Those are the words of the Associated Press’s Mstyslav Chernov, who spent 20 days in Mariupol documenting the Russian siege.

To talk more about the humanitarian crisis there and across Ukraine, we’re joined by Belkis Wille, senior researcher with the Conflict and Crisis division at Human Rights Watch. She just left Ukraine, where she spent over three weeks. Human Rights Watch has published a new report largely based on her research, titled “Ukraine: Ensure Safe Passage, Aid for Mariupol Civilians: Residents Describe Harsh Conditions During Russian Attack.” She’s joining us now from Zürich, Switzerland.

Belkis, thanks so much for being here. I know you must be dealing with so much trauma now, as you took in the trauma of these testimonies. Describe what you heard from the Mariupol survivors.

BELKIS WILLE: I mean, what I heard was truly, as I think you’ve already depicted well, an absolute hellscape. You know, families were telling me about how they were flushing out the water in their heating systems to try and get access to more water to survive as they spent over two weeks in basements, sheltering from the constant shelling around them, before they were eventually able to get into their own personal vehicles and cars that their friends had and get outside the city. They were also melting snow to get water and going to local streams and rivers. And all of them said that, you know, waiting on these lines, even at local fountains and streams, meant that you were essentially at risk of being shelled. They would go outside of their basements only to cook food on open flame in their yards. And it was in those times when they left their basements that they would see dead bodies strewn outside, dead bodies of people that they knew, families who would say, you know, “We can’t even bury our son, who was killed in an explosion nearby, because the shelling continues and it’s not safe to bury him yet.” The stories were really horrific.

I would say perhaps most difficult stories to hear, though, were from older people and people with disabilities. They, when the electricity was cut, unlike everyone else in the city who went down into these basements to shelter, they couldn’t do that, because no electricity meant they couldn’t take elevators down. And so they sat on their sofas in apartments. You know, I spoke to a man in his eighties. He lived on the sixth floor of his building, sat on his sofa with windows blown out, so no glass between him and these below-freezing temperatures, just watching the shelling and the explosions and the fires from outside his window, hoping that he would survive.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And, Belkis Wille, Human Rights Watch has reported the extensive use of cluster munitions by the Russian forces in some places. Could you talk about what you found about that?

BELKIS WILLE: Unfortunately, since this conflict has begun, we have seen multiple instances of Russian forces firing cluster munitions into civilian-populated areas. We saw that in the very early days when the conflict began in Donetsk. We then saw cluster munitions being used on multiple occasions in the city of Kharkiv, the second-biggest city in Ukraine, that has been heavily, heavily damaged in recent attacks. And we’ve even seen cluster munitions used elsewhere in the country. We issued a report on the use on numerous days, in numerous attacks, of cluster munitions in the city of Mykolaiv near Odessa. And in these instances, unfortunately, we have seen civilians injured and killed.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And there have been reported instances of violations of attempts at ceasefires in an effort to create humanitarian corridors. What have you found about that? And how have so many people been able to leave despite the lack of an organized form of humanitarian relief through these corridors?

BELKIS WILLE: Officials have tried to negotiate humanitarian corridors, including with the help of independent institutions like the International Committee of the Red Cross, and numerous times have said that these efforts to put in place a short-term ceasefire to allow for a humanitarian corridor to open have failed. The idea is that these corridors would allow for civilians to safely evacuate areas of fighting, but also that urgently needed humanitarian aid could get into areas where there are going to be some civilians that simply can’t flee, some people, as I mentioned, you know, older people, people with disabilities, other people who can’t leave or don’t want to leave the areas that they live in. I would say it’s important to note that, ultimately, the obligation on both sides is to allow civilians to flee safely and for aid to get in, regardless of whether corridors exist or not.

The people of Mariupol waited for days, waiting for news that a corridor would be put in place so that they could evacuate in an organized fashion and evacuate safely. And after days and days and days of waiting, where each of these corridors failed, it was around March 14th that a few people simply decided, “Enough is enough. Either I’m going to die in my basement, or I’m going to die trying to leave the city, and I prefer the latter option.” So they got into their cars, and they just started driving. They knew they were driving into Russian-controlled territory, but eventually were hoping they would make it to the Ukrainian side. One car led to five cars, led to 10 cars. And then, on March 14, as I said, this number grew, and we heard in the news suddenly that 160 cars were trying to make it to the Ukrainian side.

And that’s when my colleague and I actually headed to the area where we knew people would be arriving once they made it back into Ukrainian-controlled territory in the city of Zaporizhzhia. And then we stayed there for two days interviewing some of the thousands of people that then also got into their own vehicles and took the risk of making it out of the city and arriving to safety.

AMY GOODMAN: Belkis, you talk about people getting into their own vehicles. What about people who don’t have them, the most compromised people, the poorest, the disabled, the old?

BELKIS WILLE: Absolutely. That’s the thing that everyone that I interviewed raised with me. They said, you know, “We were sheltering for weeks in a basement with 50 other people, 80 other people. When we heard that cars were trying to get out, we got into our car. Maybe half the people, a quarter of the people who were sheltering with us also had cars and left, but we left behind the others.” And these are people who didn’t have private vehicles, who don’t have the means to leave. And I think the sad reality is that, you know, the people that we spoke to were the lucky ones. They were the ones with the means and the ability to get out of the city. We know from local authorities that they estimate at least 200,000 people are still in the city. And as you say, many of them simply don’t have the means to get out. And that’s why it is so important that humanitarian aid can get into the city, where food stocks are dwindling, where medication is running out, and where so much assistance is urgently needed.

AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to ask you about — more about Kharkiv, the eastern city. These are the voices of volunteers who cleaned debris from residential buildings that have been attacked.

VOLUNTEER 1: [translated] A girl that was walking opposite the medical center was killed. A man wounded with shrapnel in his lungs and another part of his body is laying near entrance five. He was going back home when it happened. He was hit by shrapnel. He was a lieutenant colonel in the reserve. Who else got hit? A grandmother was killed. Her grandson is disabled.
VOLUNTEER 2: [translated] Honestly speaking, I do not see much sense in leaving the city. Joining the Territorial Defense Force? I do not have any military experience, but I can help the city with my labor. Why not?
VOLUNTEER 3: [translated] At the moment, I do not have any work at home. I am 70. I am an engineer with experience. Until yesterday, I had work to do. But when I saw the appeal, I understood this was more urgent, more important, more needed now.

AMY GOODMAN: So, those are the voices of volunteers in Kharkiv. You also have Human Rights Watch documenting Russia’s use of cluster munitions, particularly in another city under siege, in Mykolaiv. If you could talk about these attacks, as well, and what you’ve documented?

BELKIS WILLE: In the city of Kharkiv, we initially were documenting several distinct uses of cluster munitions in the city at a time when many civilians were still there, cluster munitions that did injure and kill civilians. And we more recently have published a much more detailed report that actually looks at 43 individual attacks on civilian property, shops, homes, other common spaces that civilians use, to the point that the city has been so severely damaged. And during the time that these attacks were rocking the city, there wasn’t any safe corridor out. There wasn’t an easy way for civilians to leave. And that’s, unfortunately, why so many were wounded and killed in those attacks.

And then, as you said, the fighting has proceeded on other fronts. The city of Mykolaiv in the last days has been under a heavy shelling and attack. There is a military air base in the city. There is a military factory in the city. But the areas where we’ve seen cluster munitions landing are also in residential neighborhoods. In other parts of the city, we’ve interviewed people who had munitions landing in the middle of their household, that they and their family were still there. And unfortunately, these attacks will continue to wound and kill civilians.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: I wanted to ask you about the role of countries like Poland in welcoming millions of Ukrainians who are fleeing the war. And they’ve gotten a lot of media attention for that. But at the same time, Poland has continued to close its borders to Syrian, Libyan, Yemenis and people from Africa who are fleeing the devastation in their own countries. For example, on March 2nd, according to press reports, a Polish border guard tweeted, quote, “Last night, 51 foreigners tried to illegally cross into Poland from Belarus. 11 people from Syria, 33 from Iraq, 1 from Burkina Faso and 6 from Congo were arrested.” Now, this is an area, the Belarus border, where foreign journalists are not allowed, while the foreign journalists are allowed to film and report on the refugees being welcomed from Ukraine. What does this say about the nature of, the human rights implications of one group of people being treated one way and another group of people being treated another way?

BELKIS WILLE: I think that’s such an important point to make. I crossed the border out of Ukraine into Poland on Sunday, and I was simply astounded by what I saw. As I crossed the border, I saw dozens of tents from numerous organizations from around the world. As I was getting my bearings straight and figuring out which direction to go in, a man handed me a steaming cup of coffee. Another woman handed me a bowl of soup. Someone was offering me a free SIM card. There were people distributing diapers, baby food, providing free transport to cities in Poland. I mean, this response is incredible.

The welcome that Ukrainians and foreigners in Ukraine who flee from the country are facing is amazing, but at the same time stands in such stark contrast to what we’ve seen at the Polish border, the Polish-Belarus border, only in November, when we saw people being pushed back illegally across the border back into Belarus. We saw people freezing to death in the forest and being beaten by border guards. And as you say, you know, it’s not like volunteer organizations hadn’t wanted to provide assistance at that point to people stuck on the border, but they weren’t allowed to. So I think it is disturbing to see this difference. And all I can hope is that now that we’ve seen what a welcoming response can look like and should look like, that that is extended to all refugees and asylum seekers that are fleeing war.

AMY GOODMAN: In fact, didn’t you go into Ukraine to investigate what was happening to African students, for example, who were trying to flee Ukraine?

BELKIS WILLE: In the first days of the war, in particular, we had a country — Ukraine is a country that has many, many tens of thousands of foreign students that study there, students from India, Nigeria, China, Morocco, all over the world. And when the conflict started, you saw many people trying to get on trains and buses to get to the border, the border with Poland and other borders. And priority was being given to Ukrainian women and Ukrainian children. And those spaces on buses and on trains were actually being prevented for boarding for many foreign students. I interviewed many students who eventually made it to the western city of Lviv — Indian students, Moroccan students, Algerian students — and they described to me how they were pushed off of buses. They were pushed off of trains. They were prevented from boarding because, you know, local authorities were telling them, “Priority is given to Ukrainian women and children, not to you.”

AMY GOODMAN: Belkis Wille, we want to thank you for being with us, senior researcher with the Conflict and Crisis division at Human Rights Watch, just left Ukraine, where she spent over three weeks documenting the effects of the war across the country. Human Rights Watch has published a new report largely based on her research, and we will link to it at democracynow.org.

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Potential Russia-China alliance would be a 'tectonic shift in global power': historian

President Biden reportedly warned Chinese President Xi Jinping via video call Friday that China would face “consequences” if it provided material support to Russia amid the war in Ukraine. The call was part of U.S. efforts to minimize an emerging Sino-Russian alliance, which threatens U.S. influence over the Eurasian landmass, says Alfred McCoy, professor of history at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. As U.S. global power declines, China and Russia “are going to emerge as the new centers of global power on the planet,” he adds.

Transcript

This transcript has been edited for clarity.

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

President Biden and Chinese President Xi Jinping spoke for nearly two hours Friday, with much of the discussion focused on Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Biden reportedly warned Xi that China will face “consequences” if it provides material support to Russia. It was the first call between the two leaders of the world’s two largest economies in four months.

In February, Russian President Vladimir Putin traveled to Beijing for talks with Xi ahead of the invasion. Earlier this month, China joined India, Iran, Pakistan and 32 other nations from the Global South in abstaining from a United Nations vote condemning Russia’s war in Ukraine. On Saturday, China’s vice foreign minister criticized NATO as a, quote, “Cold War vestige” and criticized Western sanctions on Russia, saying globalization is being used as a weapon.

To look more at China’s evolving relations with both Russia and the United States, we’re joined by Alfred McCoy, professor of history at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, author of numerous books, most recently, To Govern the Globe: World Orders and Catastrophic Change. His recent article for The Nation is headlined “Russia and China, Together at Last.”

Welcome back to Democracy Now!, Professor McCoy.

ALFRED McCOY: Thank you for having me.

AMY GOODMAN: Why don’t you start off by responding to the talk that President Biden and Xi Jinping had on Friday, what we learned of what they said?

ALFRED McCOY: Apparently, what President Biden was hoping to accomplish in his phone conversation with Xi Jinping was to draw on their successful video meeting last November and kind of encourage or even pressure President Xi to back away from China’s strong support for Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. And that did not happen. President Xi’s quote, the most memorable, the most important quote, was he wanted the United States to “untie the knot” of Ukrainian and Russian security. And that was a kind of oblique reference to the idea that the United States and NATO are responsible for Russia’s invasion of Ukraine by expanding NATO right up to the borders of Russia and threatening Russian security. And that’s also a reference to the historic meeting between Putin and Xi Jinping on February 4th of this year, when the two met during the Winter Olympics and they issued a historic 5,300-word declaration that laid claim to establishing a kind of new global order to attacking U.S. global hegemony and to build upon their strong bilateral alliance, their very close economic integration in the field of energy, and to simultaneously block NATO from threatening Russia and block the United States from supporting Taiwan against China’s legitimate claims to Taiwan. And so, in effect, what that meeting failed to accomplish was it simply failed to break this emerging alliance between China and Russia, which is literally shaking the current world order.

AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to turn to Qin Gang, the Chinese ambassador to the United States, appearing on CBS’s Face the Nation Sunday. He was questioned by Margaret Brennan.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Has Xi Jinping, your president, told Vladimir Putin to stop the invasion? Do you condemn it?
QIN GANG: Actually, on the second day of Russia’s military operation, President Xi Jinping did talk to President Putin —
MARGARET BRENNAN: Was that their last phone call?
QIN GANG: — asking President Putin to think about resuming peace talks with Ukraine. And President Putin listened to it, and we have seen four rounds of peace talks have happened. Let me continue. China’s trusted relations with Russia is not a liability. Actually, it’s an asset in the international efforts to solve the crisis in a peaceful way. And China is part of the solution. It’s not part of the problem.

AMY GOODMAN: Professor McCoy, can you respond to the significance of what the Chinese ambassador to the United States said?

ALFRED McCOY: Of course. He is again kind of affirming what President Xi said in that meeting last Friday with President Biden — in essence, that China is not going to rupture its relations with Russia, it’s not going to apply pressure on Russia, it’s not going to blame Russia, it’s not going to call the Russian invasion of Ukraine an invasion, and it is going to affirm that Russia has legitimate security concerns in Ukraine that must be met and that if China is going to do anything, it is going to apply its considerable international power and prestige to support Russia in establishing its security in Eastern Europe.

I think what’s going on more broadly is that we’re saying a sense of extraordinary confidence from Moscow and Beijing that, literally, history — and, more importantly, geopolitics — is on their side. They believe that their alliance gives them such dominance, such power on the massive Eurasian landmass, that they can prevail, that they can not only dominate the landmass, they can dominate international politics. In essence, they are pursuing a geopolitical strategy to break U.S. control over the Eurasian landmass, and thereby break U.S. global power. They think that they are witnessing the birth, the historic birth, of a new world order in which the great global hegemon, the United States, which has dominated the world for the past 70 years — in which its global power is broken, and its dominance over Eurasia, something the United States has maintained since the start of the Cold War in the early 1950s, but that is coming also to an end.

AMY GOODMAN: This is the White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki talking about Biden’s meeting with Xi Jinping on a video phone call.

PRESS SECRETARY JEN PSAKI: The movement of China to align with Russia or to — yeah, the movement of them to align with Russia or their proximity of moving closer together is certainly of great concern to us, as we have expressed, and we are not the only country that has expressed that concern, including many other members of the G7 have expressed exactly that concern. So this is part of the discussion, has been an ongoing part of the discussion, expect it certainly would be when the president goes to Europe next week. But we’re not in a place at this point to outline the specifics. We’re still discussing.

AMY GOODMAN: So, if you can talk more about, Professor McCoy, what Biden threatened, if it has an effect? You know he is going to Europe this week. He’s speaking with a lot of European nations today, then meeting in Brussels with other NATO members, then going to Poland to hold bilateral talks Friday and Saturday. What does this mean for Russia, and then for Russia and China?

ALFRED McCOY: The United States is concerned, I think, in two areas — one, that China will provide weaponry and financial support, and, in fact, China can break the financial embargo that the United States is trying to impose upon Russia in order to restrain them in their invasion of Ukraine. And so, what Washington is monitoring is flows of weapons and flows of financial support from China to Russia. That’s what the United States is trying to restrain. And that, the weapons may have a short-term impact; the financial flows, a medium-term impact. That’s the U.S. concern.

But I think we need to sort of analyze the situation in dual tracks — one, focus on the diplomacy, the military activity in Ukraine, the course of the war on the battlefield. OK? And that may or may not go Putin’s way. But underlying that, there is this extraordinary confidence in Moscow and Beijing that the geopolitics of Eurasia are on their side, that because of their alliance and their dominant position in this great landmass that comprises 70% of the world’s population and productivity, that it almost inevitably — that they are going to emerge as the new centers of global power on the planet. And that, I think, is underlying their boldness and their resistance to Washington’s pressure.

So, we can — from their perspective, we can provide weapons, we can mount financial pressure, we can even impact the situation on the battlefield by providing anti-tank missiles and handheld weapons that can bring — Stinger missiles that can bring down Russian helicopters and aircraft. We can do all, that but that is not material. That’s not what’s going to matter. They believe, because of the theory of geopolitics, that being the dominant powers in this great Eurasian landmass, that they can slowly break the controls that the United States has imposed over Eurasia since the start of the Cold War, and they can break U.S. global power, and they, together, can construct a new global order.

Every global hegemon — and that’s the word that Beijing and Moscow use — every global hegemon for the last 500 years, from the Portuguese to the Spanish, the Dutch, the British, the United States, and now the Chinese, have done one thing in common: They have all dominated Eurasia. Their rise to global power, including the U.S. rise to global power after World War II, was accompanied by dominance over Eurasia. And the decline of all of these global powers, including the United States, has been marked by their declining control over Eurasia.

And together, Beijing and Moscow are pursuing a strategy that I call, you know, push, push, punch. So, they are pushing at these great chains of geopolitical control that the United States has ringed around Eurasia since the Cold War — naval fleets, air bases, mutual defense pacts — they’re pushing slowly at the east and west ends of Eurasia, hoping to strain and break those chains of control that the United States has imposed over Eurasia, until, in the succession of these punches, those chains of control snap, U.S. dominance over Eurasia comes to an end, and, correspondingly, in the theory of geopolitics, U.S. global power also declines.

AMY GOODMAN: So, Professor McCoy, one of the key reasons binding Russia to China, in addition to what you’ve been talking about, is that Russia is a major energy exporter. China is one of the world’s leading energy importers. Put that together with, The Wall Street Journal reporting last week, Saudi Arabia is in active talks with Beijing to price some of its oil sales to China in yuan, a move that would dent the U.S. dollar’s dominance of the global petroleum market. China buys more than a quarter of the oil that Saudi Arabia exports. If priced in yuan, those sales would boost the standing of China’s currency. Can you talk about the significance of both the currency and energy politics?

ALFRED McCOY: Sure. One of the foundations of U.S. global powers, right since the end of World War II, has been that the dollar has been the functional global reserve currency. That was set at the Bretton Woods Conference in 1944. And in 1971, when President Nixon ended the automatic convertibility of dollars to gold, Saudi Arabia announced that they would keep conducting their petroleum transactions in dollars. And since oil is the most negotiated of all international commodities, if the world is doing its oil business in dollars, that means the dollar has that continuing support as the global reserve currency.

Since 2015, the Chinese currency has become a part of the international basket of currencies recognized by the International Monetary Fund. And as China’s dominance over the global economy grows and it becomes the world’s largest economy, the Chinese currency’s role in that international economy is going to increase. And once the dollar declines — that is the most negotiable, the most visible part of U.S. global dominance — that global dominance will follow the decline of the dollar downward.

AMY GOODMAN: How do you see all of this playing out, Professor McCoy?

ALFRED McCOY: Short term, I think that what we’re looking at is a kind of a parallel of what happened with the last time China and Russia were aligned. In the early 1950s, Mao Zedong went to Moscow. He was a supplicant. He formed an alliance with Joseph Stalin. And Joseph Stalin cashed in that alliance very quickly by using China to enter the Korean War. China fought in Korea for three years. It cost them about 40% of China’s budget, 200,000 dead Chinese soldiers. What we’re looking at is kind of a reprise of that. You know, Putin comes to Beijing in February in the Winter Olympics. He’s now the supplicant. He needs China’s diplomatic and economic support for his Ukraine invasion. And so, at the moment of this very strong alliance again, this time Putin attacks. He’s sacrificing his budget, his soldiers, in this strategy of pushing and pushing and breaking the U.S. dominance over Eurasia.

I see, long term, the growing power of China over the Eurasian continent. Their Belt and Road Initiative, this trillion-dollar development program that now incorporates around 70 nations in Eurasia and Africa, laying down infrastructure — pipelines, railroads and roads — across the whole Eurasian landmass, if this development project succeeds — and it’s 10 times the size of the Marshall Plan that the United States used to rebuild Europe after World War II; it’s the biggest development scheme in human history — if this scheme works in laying down infrastructure of rails, pipelines and roads across the Eurasian landmass, and that draws the commerce of Eurasia, home to 70% of the world’s population, towards Beijing, then, almost as if by natural law, power and prestige and global leadership will flow towards Beijing.

And so, what we’re witnessing is the violent eruptions of a great tectonic shift in global power. As U.S. global power declines, China ascends. Power shifts from the West — Europe and the United States — towards Asia. And what we’re witnessing then, a historic change that is for the — I’d say, by 2030, by the end of this decade, it will become clear that U.S. global power has eclipsed, that power has shifted to Beijing on the Eurasian landmass, and they are the new global hegemon, constructing a new kind of world order, far less concerned with human rights, far less concerned with law, a kind of transactional world order of mutual convenience.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re going to leave it there, but it’s certainly a discussion that we will continue. Alfred McCoy, professor of history at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, author of numerous books, most recently, To Govern the Globe: World Orders and Catastrophic Change. We’ll link to your piece in The Nation, “Russia and China, Together at Last.”

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The 'mind-boggling' hypocrisy behind the United States' support of Saudi Arabia's war in Yemen

As the U.S. and U.K. push for Saudi Arabia to increase oil production to offset a rise in global energy prices amid sanctions on Russia, the kingdom on Saturday announced it had executed 81 people — the country’s largest mass execution in decades. Sarah Leah Whitson, executive director of Democracy for the Arab World Now, says the muted criticism of Saudi abuses reveals a double standard when it comes to how Western countries deal with the absolute monarchy, which has been waging a brutal assault on neighboring Yemen for almost seven years with U.S. support. If the U.S. wants the world to oppose Russia’s brutal war in Ukraine, “then it’s got to stop supporting the war in Yemen,” says Whitson, who adds that disparate coverage of the wars in Ukraine and Yemen point to “inherent racism” in Western media.

Transcript

This transcript has been edited for clarity.

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now! I’m Amy Goodman.

Today, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson is in Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates to hold talks on energy security, even as critics raise concerns about the countries’ human rights records. This comes as U.S. officials are also reportedly talking to Saudi officials about President Biden visiting Saudi Arabia to discuss the global oil supply, while the U.S. refuses to directly condemn Saudi Arabia for executing 81 men on Saturday — its largest mass execution ever. Efforts to negotiate with the Saudis to increase oil and sanctions on Russian oil come as much of the world is horrified by the atrocities in the war in Ukraine. UNICEF reports the Ukraine war is creating a child refugee almost every second in Ukraine.

At the same time, we’re hearing very little about the world’s worst humanitarian crisis unfolding in Yemen, which is now seven years into the Saudi-led war and blockade, backed by arms sales and technical assistance from the United States and its allies, including the United Kingdom. The United Nations warns acute cases of hunger in Yemen have reached an unprecedented level, with over 160,000 people likely to experience famine in the next half-year. More than 17 million people in Yemen are in need of food assistance, with high levels of acute malnutrition among children under the age of 5.

This was the focus of Part 2 of my conversation with Sarah Leah Whitson. She’s the executive director of Democracy for the Arab World Now, or DAWN. We spoke to her Tuesday about DAWN’s civil lawsuit against the Saudi Arabian Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman for the murder of Jamal Khashoggi, who was assassinated in the Saudi Consulate in Turkey in 2018 and was DAWN’s founder. I asked Sarah Leah Whitson: How is it possible that the U.S. is continuing to support the Saudi-led war and blockade of Yemen?

SARAH LEAH WHITSON: It’s mind-boggling. And it’s mind-boggling that Mohammed bin Salman has actually said that he will not increase oil production unless the U.S. increases its support for the war in Yemen. Basically, the Biden administration is bargaining to do more to save the children of Ukraine by massacring more children in Yemen. That is the formula. And that’s why it’s just — it’s so discombobulating to see Secretary Blinken and President Biden falling over themselves to decry Russian atrocities in Ukraine while they support very similar, if not worse — certainly, to date, worse — atrocities by Saudi Arabia and the UAE in Yemen.
We have to be very clear: Saudi and UAE are starving the people of Yemen with a seven-year air, land and sea blockade that has eviscerated the country’s ability to import food, medicine and fuel. Yemen is a country that imports over 90% of its food. Of course people are starving when Saudi and UAE impose a total blockade on the country. Of course people are starving when sanctions continue to be in place. They haven’t entirely been lifted. The U.S. just redesignated so-called Houthi financiers, that will further debilitate the ability of the country to import even legitimate products like fuel and food and medicine imports.
What the Biden administration has now done is what even the Trump administration refused to do, which is reengage as a party of the conflict, putting American troops on the line as part of the fighting effort, as part of the war, making them legitimate military targets in the UAE, where U.S. forces from the military base in the UAE have actively participated in firing Patriot missiles against the Houthis in Yemen, ostensibly to defend the UAE from incoming Houthi missiles. But really the best way for the UAE to protect itself is to stop supporting proxy forces, to stop arming and funding proxy forces, which it dramatically increased in doing in the beginning of this year, and to end its blockade of Yemen. Same goes for Saudi Arabia. This is a dead-end war.
Best news I heard this morning: Reportedly, the Saudis have invited Houthi representatives for talks to Riyadh. I don’t know if the Houthis will trust this offer. There have been prior offers like this. But the whole world knows that the Saudis and the Emiratis are not going to win this war. It’s been seven years. They thought it was going to take weeks. What a joke. They have decimated this country.
And if the United States expects the entire world, which has not gone along, to sanction Russia, to buy what it’s selling in terms of defending Ukraine, then it’s got to stop supporting the war in Yemen, because the world sees this. The world sees that when the United States talks about sovereignty and violence and not attempting to extract concessions by force, it’s got to follow, to talk the talk in Yemen, not just tell the world what to do in Ukraine, because the world is not buying it. This is why there is not more support for the war against Russia in Ukraine.
AMY GOODMAN: You know, maybe that’s where you’ve got it wrong, when you say the world sees. I think the world doesn’t see the way it sees what’s happening in Ukraine right now. I want to read a tweet from CodePink. “Why is there such a disparity between coverage of the war on Ukraine vs. the war on Yemen? Coverage of Yemen reveals the US and UK’s complicity in creating the humanitarian crisis. Coverage of Ukraine constructs the US, the UK, & their allies as the 'saviors of democracy.'” So, let’s talk about the difference. I mean, you have for example, CNN anchors — and this is not wrong. Perhaps it should be a model of coverage of war in so many different cities, in Ukraine, so you see the real effects of what war looks like, feels like, smells like, the destruction of hospitals, the bombing of schools, and people feel it viscerally. Could you imagine if you had those same hosts in Sana’a, in Aden, in other places in Yemen each day to feel this humanitarian catastrophe, the worst in the world? Can you talk about that, the actual lack of coverage of what’s happening on the ground in Yemen, so the world doesn’t respond, right? As Noam Chomsky says, the media manufactures consent for war, and lets people know what’s happening so they can respond.
SARAH LEAH WHITSON: There are three elements to this, Amy. The first is the lack of coverage is not an accident. It is by design. Saudi and the UAE have done everything they can to block international media, block international human rights investigators, including myself, from traveling to Yemen. When the war started, we — when I was at Human Rights Watch, we were on the ground in Yemen. We were able to travel to Yemen to document what was happening, to document the destruction, to interview victims. The Saudis made that increasingly difficult, including banning, forcibly banning, by threatening to withdraw funds from U.N. planes that were still traveling to Yemen and taking in humanitarian organizations. So, the Saudis, they understand the power of the media. They understand the power of the coverage that you described. And that’s why they have done everything they can to make it impossible. It is so difficult for international media to get anywhere near the fighting in Yemen. Aden remains accessible, but you have to take a boat from Djibouti to get there. It’s virtually impossible to fly into the country. So, the restrictions on getting in for international media are tremendous, versus, of course, Ukraine, where anybody can go in freely to document what’s happening.
The second is just the factor of time. The media jumps from one crisis to another. The Ukraine crisis is new. The Yemen crisis is old. It’s been seven years. And we have seen, time and again, how the media loses interest and has to move on to the next thing. So there’s an attention span issue.
And finally, there is the inherent racism that we see and that we’ve seen on such grotesque display by the Western media, talking about the white and blue-eyed, blond-haired Ukrainians who are somehow different. Their refugee status is different. Their suffering is different. They’re civilized people. They’re European people. And so there is an inherent bias in the Western media, in particular, who are the bulk of those present in Ukraine, to sympathize with, to feel compassion and suffering for Ukrainians under bombardment, but not the same suffering, not the same pain for Yemenis under bombardment, for Yemenis who are literally being starved to death. And I think this is a good moment for everyone in the media to check their biases, to really think about why that is and what they can do to fix it. I would hope that the international media uses this as an opportunity to redouble its efforts to travel to Yemen and see for itself. When they have shown up, as the BBC did last year in some unbelievable footage, unbelievable coverage, it did make a difference. And I really think and hope and I wish that the international media spends just a fraction of the effort they’re making now to cover Ukraine to get into Yemen, to show the world what’s happening. This is a good moment to draw out the comparisons, the strong, strong parallels between what’s happening in Yemen and what’s happening in Ukraine.
AMY GOODMAN: Finally, Sarah Leah Whitson, I wanted to ask you about Congress and what it’s doing about Yemen right now, because this isn’t just the Saudi-UAE-led attack on Yemen. It is supplied militarily and helped in its funding by the United States. Can you talk about what’s happening in Congress?
SARAH LEAH WHITSON: Sure. So, while, under the Trump administration, the U.S. Congress, in a remarkable show of bipartisan support, Republican and Democrat, voted three times to ban U.S. support for the war in Yemen and ban arms sales to Saudi Arabia for the war in Yemen, under the Biden administration they approved arms sales to Saudi Arabia for the war in Yemen, using the handy fig leaf of calling them defensive weapons. It’s quite disappointing, if not disgusting, that even members of Congress, like Chris Murphy, who have been so vocal in condemning the war in Yemen and so vocal in condemning arms sales to Yemen, and even vowing that he would not support arms sales to Yemen, voted in support of arms sales to Yemen that the Biden administration put forward.
I think, unfortunately, it reveals a great deal about the conflict of interest within the U.S. government that is so beholden to the defense industry and defense industry profits and defense industry employment, both before and after — they are part of the government — but as well as the notion that we must continue to cajole the Saudi Arabians for acquiescence to a new arms deal with Iran, or now for increasing oil production, by doing what they want and sacrificing Yemen and the Yemeni people if we have to. There are efforts to introduce a new war powers resolution, led by, among others, Representative Ro Khanna, that would resubmit the renewed, reengaged American fighting in the Yemen war to a congressional war powers resolution and war powers approval. But I’m not entirely confident that that will pass.
AMY GOODMAN: And can you explain exactly what is the U.S. role in the attack, the decimation of Yemen?
SARAH LEAH WHITSON: Sure, it’s multifold. Number one, of course, is the provision of American weapons. They are the bulk of the weapons purchased by Saudi Arabia and the UAE, and those are the weapons that are landing on the heads of Yemeni children, Yemeni women, Yemeni homes, Yemeni farms, Yemeni schools, Yemeni universities. This is how this country is being destroyed, with American weapons. In addition, there has been years of so-called intelligence support — I should say dumbness support — in supposedly helping the Saudis carry out their targeting and decimation and bombardment, which of course has been wildly indiscriminate, because the Saudis insist on flying their planes so high, to avoid being shot, that they really can’t target anything with any sort of precision. And now we have the direct engagement of U.S. forces, as I was mentioning, in the UAE to support Emirati forces to fire missiles back at incoming Houthi missiles. So the United States is directly a party to this conflict again, and its troops are at risk in the UAE as parties to the war. And it’s just remarkable to me that President Biden would endanger Americans this way.

AMY GOODMAN: That’s Sarah Leah Whitson, executive director of Democracy for the Arab World Now, or DAWN, which was founded by Jamal Khashoggi, who was murdered by Saudi agents in the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul in 2018.

This is Democracy Now! Next up, as the Ukrainian president repeats his call for NATO to impose a no-fly zone and is speaking to the U.S. Congress today, we speak to historian Stephen Wertheim. Stay with us.

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'No possibility' of dissent in Belarus against joining Russia's war on Ukraine: human rights activist

Ukraine says Belarus could become directly involved in the Russian invasion. This comes as Russia sent thousands of troops to Belarus to attack Ukraine from the north and NATO has accused the Russian Air Force of flying warplanes from airfields in Belarus last week. “We all know, see and understand that the territory of Belarus is used for conducting the war against Ukraine,” says Natallia Satsunkevich, an activist with the leading independent Belarusian human rights group Viasna. She links the degradation of civil society in Belarus to the criminalization of human rights actors and protesters. Satsunkevich also says the referendum vote on housing Russian nuclear weapons was unfair and describes how Putin’s backing of the Lukashenko regime in Belarus has worsened human rights in the country.

Transcript

This transcript has been edited for clarity.

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

As we continue to look at Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, we turn now to look at the role of Belarus. On Friday, Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko met with Russian President Vladimir Putin at the Kremlin. The meeting came a day after a NATO official accused Russia of flying warplanes from airfields in Belarus. Prior to the invasion of Ukraine, Putin stationed thousands of Russian troops in Belarus. These troops then took part in the invasion of Ukraine from the north. Ukrainian officials have expressed concern Belarus may soon send troops into Ukraine and become directly involved in the war.

We’re joined now by Natallia Satsunkevich. She works with the human rights group Viasna, which is one of the top independent human rights organizations in Belarus. Viasna means “Spring” in Belarusian. Seven Viasna — of the group’s members are detained for their work. In 2020, the group received the Right Livelihood Award, the “alternative Nobel Peace Prize,” for, quote, “their resolute struggle for the realization of democracy and human rights in Belarus.” Natallia is joining us from Lithuania.

Welcome to Democracy Now! Can you describe the situation in Belarus, for people to understand it being used as a major staging ground for Russia’s invasion of Ukraine?

NATALLIA SATSUNKEVICH: [inaudible]

AMY GOODMAN: I’m sorry, I can’t hear you. If you could start again? You might be talking, but I can’t hear you, so I need to get a — well, let me go to, while we check your sound, the Belarusian foreign minister, Vladimir Makei, speaking —

NATALLIA SATSUNKEVICH: Can you hear me?

AMY GOODMAN: I hear you right now. OK, we will go right to you. Can you describe the role of Belarus in the invasion, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine?

NATALLIA SATSUNKEVICH: Yes, sure. Thank you for your interest in Belarus and this topic. And it’s a pretty hard question for Belarusians and civil society of Belarus and, of course, human rights organizations, because we work a lot with Ukrainian colleagues, and we see the situation, and we all know, see and understand that the territory of Belarus is used for conducting the war against Ukraine. But we see, from the first day of the war, that there are a lot of protests in Belarus from people against the war and participation of Belarus there. And there were arrested up to 1,000 people around the whole country protesting against the war. And also there are even criminal cases when people started criticizing the Belarusian authorities about their actions and participation in the war.

And also, I think that the main problem between these negotiations between Putin and Lukashenko is that the Belarusian people, do not know what is the sense and details of these meetings. Yeah, we can’t influence Alexander Lukashenko, on decisions, and there is no possibility to express your opinion now in Belarus and to influence the situation, and even any attempt to exercise your rights in Belarus now is strongly repressed by authorities. It started in summer 2020; until today, the situation goes only worse and worse.

AMY GOODMAN: Can you tell us about your colleagues in prison right now with Viasna?

NATALLIA SATSUNKEVICH: Sure. Today is exactly eight months that they were — three of my colleagues were arrested, and they are still now at the pretrial detention center. And we don’t know any details of their criminal case, because nobody tells us the details. And we see that there is an investigation, but it’s not very active. And actually, they are, like, blamed for doing a financial crime, but this repression is about human rights defenders from Viasna. It’s only because of their human rights job.

And I also would also like to remind you that my colleague, coordinator of volunteers, Maryia Rabkova, was arrested in September of 2020. So, about a year and a half, she’s in prison waiting for a court trial, and she faced up to 20 years. She could receive up to 12 years of prison. And there are more than 1,000 political prisoners in Belarus. And the conditions where they stay, are awful. It influences extremely on their health. And there is at least one case when a person died in Belarusian prison, a political prisoner. So, I really call you to keep in focus this topic also, political prisoners in Belarus, and to spread this information, to show your solidarity and to support them by sending letters and postcards of solidarity from all countries, from the world.

AMY GOODMAN: Natallia, can you talk about the latest referendum held just last weekend, the referendum opening the door for Russia to station nuclear weapons in Belarus, and the significance of this?

NATALLIA SATSUNKEVICH: Yeah, the results of this referendum, it was like as we expected, unfortunately. The whole process was done in this atmosphere of fear and repression. And those people who tried to protest against the results of the referendum were arrested on Sunday, on the elections day. And also there were no free media, no access to any information except propaganda, state propaganda. And, of course, we can’t rely on the results. And, like, this referendum, as all previous elections in Belarus, they were not free, not fair, and it’s not the result of people’s voting.

AMY GOODMAN: And the repression in Belarus after and during the protests that began in 2020, and Russia’s role in the suppression of those protests?

NATALLIA SATSUNKEVICH: Of course, we see that the Lukashenko regime is so strong because of the support of Russia and Putin personally. We do not see Russian forced agencies in Belarus, I mean, during the protests in August 2020 and later, but we know that it could happen. And that’s a very strange situation when one state influences so much another independent state.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re going to do Part 2 of this conversation. It’s so rare to speak to someone from Belarus. You have left the country. We’re speaking to you now in Vilnius, Lithuania. Natallia Satsunkevich is with the Belarusian human rights group Viasna. Part 2 will be at democracynow.org.

We dedicate today’s show to our colleague Brent Renaud and to all those who have died during this invasion. He went to Ukraine to document the refugees from Ukraine and global refugees around the world.

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Ukrainian environmentalist recommends a worldwide pause on fossil fuel funding to check Russia

We speak to Svitlana Romanko, a leading Ukrainian environmental lawyer, based in the western city of Ivano-Frankivsk, which was bombed Friday. She describes the situation there and discusses her hopes that new sanctions to prevent American banks from investing in Russian fossil fuels signal a tipping point that will force the world to transition to clean energy. Aside from its disastrous impact on the environment, Russian oil and gas have funded powerful oligarchs and the military-industrial complex, which should prompt world leaders to invest in renewable energy in ways that will survive beyond the war, says Romanko. This week she co-authored an Op-Ed in the Los Angeles Times with 350.org founder Bill McKibben headlined “The Ukraine war is a decision point — banks should stop funding the fossil fuel industry forever.”

Transcript

The transcript has been edited for clarity.

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, Democracynow.org, the War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman. Russia is widening its attack on Ukraine as the war enters its 16th day. Earlier today, Russian airstrikes hit the city of Dnipro in central-eastern Ukraine, killing at least one person. The airstrikes reportedly hit a kindergarten, an apartment building, and a shoe factory. Long-range Russian missiles also hit airfields in two western cities, Lutsk and Ivano-Frankivsk. Meanwhile, Ukrainian officials are accusing Russia of shelling a physics institute in the eastern city of Kharkiv that houses an experimental nuclear reactor. Satellite images show the Russian convoy outside Kyiv has now dispersed in a sign that Russia may soon move on to the capital city. This all comes as the United Nations says more than two and a half million Ukrainians have fled the country.

We begin today’s show with a Ukrainian environmental lawyer and climate activist who recently fled Ivano-Frankivsk, one of the western cities that was just bombed today. Svitlana Romanko is the founder of the Stand With Ukraine campaign, calling on governments to ban trade and investment in Russian oil and gas. This week she co-authored an article for the Los Angeles Times with Bill McKibben headlined The Ukraine war is a decision point—banks should stop funding the fossil fuel industry forever.

Svitlana Romanko, welcome to Democracy Now! Before we talk about this very important piece in your climate work, can you take us on the journey that you have taken? Describe what has happened. We did not know when we were first talking to you that your city would be bombed. Talk about what happened. This is in the west of Ukraine that hasn’t been hit yet. And then where you are now or at least the overall region.

SVITLANA ROMANKO: Thank you so much for having me and for inviting me and giving a voice and space for Ukrainian activists to share the happenings and share the latest war developments and the huge impact, catastrophic impact that it is making for all of our lives continually and regularly and severely, I would say. That is not true that we only have had explosions today in Ivano-Frankivsk where I am regularly based and where I do have a plan to come back in a few days and continue my fight for justice and for peace for my country, my beloved country. I actually woke up with my family to explosions on February 24th, the first day of war. Before that, we got a lot of warnings from different intelligence services all over the world that “Heads up, Putin is going to attack, just get prepared, and just stay strong and hold on.”

I can say as a human, as a lawyer as well because lawyers are normally more prepared to take over some difficulties and challenges because that is normally what their work is, just to solve some problems in legislation and so on. But we all have been unprepared to wake up to explosions. We all have been highly unprepared to see our people dying, to lose our relatives, to lose a lot of children dying under the bombarded maternity hospitals. This is inhumane, this is insane and this is atrocities that must stop. Even now when I’m am speaking to you now, representing the Ukrainian climate community, and we are many, we are trying to act. I will tell you a bit more later about how we are organizing and what we are doing and what is our piece with Bill McKibben about, why we target those institutions, and how this could help Ukraine, bombarded Ukraine, just bleeding Ukraine, which is suffering every day. Today it is the 16th day of war already and that has been a very long 16 days for all the world that expressed immense solidarity, which we are deeply grateful for. It has been very long days for us, for all Ukrainians.

Today, as you said, there were new explosions in new cities that just began explosions in Ivano-Frankivsk after 16 days. Fortunately, no victims, no people died in Ivano-Frankivsk but at least one person as you said died in our other city, Dnipro, and Lutsk. The tactic of Putin’s war machine is to keep civilians in fear, to destroy their infrastructure and buildings, to enable the terror, panic, and to enable the Ukrainian government to accept what the Ukrainian government will never accept, the conditions, which Putin request us, just to hold with. I would also admit that there are still almost 400,000 people that are staying in Mariupol, where there is a huge humanitarian catastrophe. They are starving. They don’t have water. The green corridors don’t work for them because Russian troops opened fire and killed many civilians.

AMY GOODMAN: We still don’t know how many people have died there, but we have seen the images of the mass graves where scores have been buried because there is no time to bury them individually. Hearing in Mariupol about the lack of water, the lack of food, the freezing temperatures, and yet there is no electricity. Even cell service is cut off.

Svitlana, I wanted to read from the piece that you wrote with Bill McKibben. I think clearly, overall, it very much ties into what we are seeing today. You say, “Above all, it is obvious that the world’s banks have amorally worked to build Russia’s oil and gas industry, the industry that funds the Russian army, and the industry that Vladimir Putin has used as a cudgel for decades to keep Europe cowering, and that is why we cheered so loudly Tuesday when President Biden, as part of his ban on Russian oil, told American banks to make no new investments in Putin’s oil. As Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky tweeted, it strikes at the heart of Putin’s war machine.” Can you talk about this, how your professional life, your activist life, as a Ukrainian environmental lawyer, comes together now with what you have identified as the reasons for this war and what can be used to stop funding the Russian military and the Russian regime?

SVITLANA ROMANKO: Thank you so much for that. I will talk through and explain a few initiatives that we have been taking over the days as a lawyer, as an activist involved in a lot of global organizations and communities to help us with. The first one is the complaint that I’ve been a part of organizing. It’s called End Global Fossil Fuel Addiction That Feeds Putin’s War Machine. It was in this campaign we demand to European nation-states, the U.S., Canada, China, India, Japan, South Korea, and all other importers of Russian oil and gas to stop funding Putin’s war machine. We again call on political deputies to stop the war and actually to divest all funds that have been invested and kept into Russian companies, Russian assets. We also mention that Putin has deliberately weaponized fossil gas to increase his existing energy dominance over the European Union. What we see, I can tell a bit later about another action within the European Union, after the amazing leadership of President Biden that you’ve mentioned and how that continues over Europe and through Europe and European leaders. Putin still threatens European nations that would come to Ukraine’s aid and this needs to be stopped.

So we called upon all governments of the countries I have mentioned, outside Europe and inside the European Union, to reject, ban, embargo any import of fossil fuels from Russia and rapidly phase out fossil fuels. Even of course realizing, because I am a researcher, I can understand climate change and easily navigate the main provisions and main state of renewable energy development. So yes, it does not seem to be easy but that’s quite possible and it’s a decisive point as we pointed out with Bill McKibben in our L.A. piece. That has to be done, to provide affordable access to distributed renewable energy, community-owned energy for everyone. We should start now.

This war is such an immense tipping point and the chance we might not have had in the future, exactly as is with the climate crisis. Therefore, we also demanded to stop all trade and end all investment in Gazprom, Erthneft [sp], Transneft, Surgutneftegas, Lukoil, Russian coal, and other Russian companies and freeze the assets of such companies outside Russia as well as freezing other Russian fossil fuel assets. Western companies such as Exxon Mobil, like others, have to stop fossil fuel production in Russia. So far we collected 660 organization signatures into that from over 60 countries. Yesterday we have delivered with a campaign group of us, we delivered the letters to all European leaders in the European Union and urged them to follow the example of President Biden and to put an embargo on Russian oil and gas and end any investments in fossil fuels for their companies and banks.

Also, I would also like to mention a next very important Putin 100 campaign which has been launched in solidarity with Ukraine as well by over 75 organizations which we are writing to global banks, insurers, and S [sp[ managers that are most active in the Russian fossil fuel sector. These include J.P. Morgan Chase, Crédit Agricole, Citibank, Vanguard, CHAPS, Lloyd’s of London, and Munich Re. Groups are asking them to commit to not providing new financing investment, insurance coverage, and other financial services to companies that make up the core of the Russian coal, oil and gas industry and divesting from existing assets. There is a start of the campaign, you all can join. You can join our call to action which is Stand With Ukraine and you can also join the campaign Putin’s 100, which has been launched within the U.S. and many global organizations in solidarity with Ukraine to stop this banking.

AMY GOODMAN: I just wanted to say as you talk about stopping reliance on fossil fuel, the other part of this, the solution that you have stressed is renewables. Earlier this week, President Biden banned oil and gas imports from Russia and called for a transition to green energy. This is what he said.

PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: This crisis is a stark reminder, to protect our economy over the long term, we need to become energy independent. I’ve had numerous conversations over the last three months with our European friends of how they have to wean themselves off of Russian oil. It’s just not tenable. It should motivate us to accelerate a transition on clean energy. This is a perspective [inaudible] that our European allies share, and the future where together we can achieve greater independence.

AMY GOODMAN: Svitlana Romanko, you write in the L.A. Times, “With an influx of funding, we could, for instance, produce air source heat pumps by the millions, ship them to Europe so by next winter, they could be installed heating homes and putting a noticeable dent in Putin’s oil and gas leverage.” These renewable solutions that you stress?

SVITLANA ROMANKO: These are renewable energy solutions beyond any doubt. Adding to that, I would like to say that the key and root prerequisite for those solutions to be put in place, to be implemented the soonest and not allow the peace-washing of fossil fuel companies actually to justify their increased exploration of fossil fuels, this should also be transformed into renewable energy transition as a society. As an activist, we should not allow fossil fuel companies right now to increase their exploration. These renewable energy solutions that you have mentioned are very true, they are affordable and everyone basically can be a part of a network of implementing those solutions. That is why we call them distributed, community-owned, community-led solutions. But the root prerequisite, I would like to mention is that we need to triple our investment in clean energy which means we need to find the cost from somewhere. And there is enough—

AMY GOODMAN: We’re going to have to break soon. We are going to be going to Mykolaiv, and you know that that city is under siege. But I wanted to finally ask you about, one, I was surprised when you said you plan to go right back to your city that was just bombed today, that you plan to go back soon. Are you afraid about speaking out? You are a Ukrainian climate lawyer, which can clearly be identified. What are the risks?

SVITLANA ROMANKO: I have seen some signs of risk, that is why I am just trying to mitigate them, but I am personally not afraid. I am not afraid. I am only—of course, I should consider some risks for family and so on, but I personally am not afraid, and I am ready to—and I just really plan to, after some security measures, to go back to my country and to help. Because this is the country of my parents, and where they are. This is the country where I was born. And I am a patriotic person, and I should go back and keep helping. Because everyone in our country is a volunteer right now and together we can overcome the biggest evil which Putin represents with his war machine. We can stop this, I truly believe, and I have no fear.

AMY GOODMAN: Svitlana Romanko, I want to thank you so much for being with us. We are going to check back with you in the coming days. Ukrainian climate activist, longtime environmental lawyer who lives in the western Ukrainian city of Ivano-Frankivsk. She founded the Stand With Ukraine campaign, calling on governments to ban trade and investment in Russian oil and gas. We’ll link to the piece you wrote with Bill McKibben The Ukraine war is a decision point—banks should stop funding the fossil fuel industry forever. Coming up, we go to the besieged southern Ukrainian city of Mykolaiv and then we will be speaking with Andrew Bacevich. Stay with us.

[MUSIC BREAK]

AMY GOODMAN: “Concerto for 2 Keyboards in C Minor,” featuring Alexander Malofeev. Despite voicing opposition to the Russian invasion of Ukraine, the young Russian pianist was struck from the schedule of the Montreal Symphony Orchestra this week. In a Facebook post, Malofeev wrote “The most important thing now is to stop the blood. All I know is that the spread of hatred will not help in any way but only cause more suffering.”

Watch below:

Expert in diplomacy explores how Russia's war on Ukraine might end

After multiple failed peace talks between Russia and Ukraine, Russia has promised a ceasefire and several so-called humanitarian corridors to allow Ukrainians to flee to predetermined countries, though similar agreements have fallen apart amid continued Russian shelling of civilian areas. We speak to Anatol Lieven from the Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft about what a Ukraine-Russia peace deal could look like and what is at stake in a prolonged war. “The world community as a whole is very, very anxious for this war to end,” says Lieven.

Transcript

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

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

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has entered its 12th day. The United Nations says over 1.5 million Ukrainians have fled the country in what the U.N. is calling the fastest-growing refugee crisis since World War II. The U.N. has confirmed 364 Ukrainian civilian deaths, but the actual number is believed to be far higher, as Russia intensifies its attacks. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky warned Sunday Russia is preparing to attack the key southwestern port city of Odessa, a city of 1 million. The city of Mariupol, which is also in the south, is under siege by Russian forces, and attempts to evacuate trapped civilians repeatedly failed over the weekend. This is Mariupol’s mayor.

MAYOR VADYM BOICHENKO: [translated] During the first days of war, we counted the victims in tens. Today we count them in hundreds, and in two days’ time we will likely count them in thousands. They will not even give us an opportunity to count the wounded and the killed, because the shelling has not stopped for the past six days. … They’ve been working methodically to make sure the city is blockaded, working methodically to create a humanitarian crisis here, so that people are left without food, water, light, heating, means of communication. …
When they told us about evacuations, I felt happy that there is a possibility to save the lives of Mariupol residents. I had hope. … They lied to us. They told us there will be a ceasefire window during daylight, from 0900 to 1800, and they asked us to get ready. We got ready. We organized buses. But despite the fact that they know all the issues the city is facing, the Russian army shelled the convoy of our buses. They destroyed half of them. They did not give us any opportunity to dispatch the buses to evacuation points. Half of the buses were not damaged. We wanted to dispatch them to evacuation points. We asked people to head toward those points. And at this moment the shelling started again.

AMY GOODMAN: That was Vadym Boichenko, the mayor of Mariupol.

Delegates from Ukraine and Russia are holding talks for a third time today, but over the weekend Russia threatened to expand the war. Russian President Vladimir Putin said Western sanctions on Russia are akin to a declaration of war. Russia has also warned other countries against allowing Ukrainian military aircraft to use their airfields. The United States and its allies are continuing to reject calls by Ukraine to set up a no-fly zone, but Western states are increasing support for Ukraine in other ways. The New York Times reports the U.S. and NATO have recently sent more than 17,000 anti-tank missiles to Ukraine. On Sunday, Secretary of State Antony Blinken visited Moldova, where he discussed the possibility of Poland giving fighter jets to Ukraine.

SECRETARY OF STATE ANTONY BLINKEN: We are looking actively now at the question of airplanes that Poland may provide to Ukraine, and looking at how we might be able to backfill, should Poland decide to produce those — to supply those planes.
REPORTER: [inaudible] timeline?
SECRETARY OF STATE ANTONY BLINKEN: Can’t speak to a timeline, but I can just tell you we’re looking at it very, very actively.

AMY GOODMAN: To talk more about the war in Ukraine, and possible ways to end it, we’re joined by Anatol Lieven, senior fellow at the Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft. His latest piece for The Guardian is headlined “It’s time to ask: what would a Ukraine-Russia peace deal look like?” He’s the author of numerous books on Russia and the former Soviet republics, including Ukraine and Russia: A Fraternal Rivalry.

Welcome back to Democracy Now!, Anatol.

ANATOL LIEVEN: Hello.

AMY GOODMAN: So, let’s begin by addressing that question: What would a deal look like between Ukraine and Russia that would end this invasion?

ANATOL LIEVEN: Well, of course, I mean, it depends on whether Russia is sincere in the conditions that it’s put forward for peace, which could be negotiable, though, of course, not as they stand, or whether in fact the intention of the Russian government is to replace the Ukrainian government with Russian puppets. I mean, if the latter, then, of course, there can be no peace, by definition. It is possible, however, that Putin and his regime started the war with that intention but that the heroic resistance and the unity of the Ukrainian defense has shown them that that goal is simply unviable, that you will never be able to get a Ukrainian government that works for Russia. So, if the Russian conditions are genuine, then the possibility of peace does emerge through negotiations.

One, the first and most important, would be a treaty of neutrality — and President Zelensky has suggested that that might be possible — because, of course, while NATO has expressed strong support for Ukraine, it’s also made absolutely clear that it’s never going to actually fight to defend Ukraine. So, at that point, actually, NATO membership for Ukraine becomes impossible. The other thing to point out about a treaty of neutrality is that it cuts both ways. It means that Ukraine can’t join NATO, but it also means that Russia can’t force Ukraine to join the Russian-dominated Eurasian Union. So, it would place Ukraine in the position of Finland and Austria during the Cold War. And, of course, those states, while they couldn’t join NATO, also could not join the Warsaw Pact, and they were able to develop as Western free-market democracies. I mean, if you visited Finland and Austria during the Cold War, as I did, you couldn’t tell that they weren’t part of the West, because, in effect, they were. So that’s the first thing.

Then the Russians have demanded demilitarization. Now, what that means, of course, is not clear. If it means the abolition of the Ukrainian Armed Forces, then, of course, that’s completely unacceptable. That would totally compromise Ukrainian sovereignty. If, however, it means preventing the stationing of, for example, long-range missiles in Ukraine, then it would be possible to imagine a deal along the lines of the one that ended the Cuban Missile Crisis, whereby, of course, the Soviet Union had to withdraw its missiles from Cuba, but Cuba did not, of course, abolish its armed forces. The most —

AMY GOODMAN: And the U.S., which wasn’t told as much — the U.S., Kennedy agreed to remove nuclear weapons from Turkey.

ANATOL LIEVEN: Yes. So, I mean, that could be a — that could be negotiable, if the Russians are prepared to compromise on that one, as, by the way, different signals have been coming out of Moscow. Foreign Minister Lavrov has suggested that that might be the deal. The noises being made by President Putin are much tougher, but we can’t be sure what the Russian position is on that. It would have to emerge through negotiations.

I mean, the most difficult would be that the Russians are demanding that Ukraine recognize Russian sovereignty over Crimea. Now, the thing about that, though, is that, I mean, as just about everybody has recognized in practice since 2014, there is no way that any Russian government is going to return Crimea. The most important thing, perhaps, for the Russians — I mean, certainly the reason why they’ve made this demand — is that in the year leading up to the Russian invasion, the Ukrainians have blockaded the water supply from Ukraine to Crimea, which was doing a lot of damage to the Crimean economy. Perhaps if the Ukrainians — if you could start a negotiating process, as part of which Ukraine would not recognize the independence of Crimea but would basically enter a negotiating process whereby that might be accepted at some stage in future and would promise in the meantime not to put economic pressure on Crimea, then that issue could perhaps be shelved.

So, I mean, I think the possibilities of progress are there. The motives for progress are that, you know, on the Russian side, clearly things are not going nearly as the Russian government hoped, due, above all, once again, to the courage and determination of the Ukrainians; on the Ukrainian side, however, obviously, Ukraine is suffering appalling damage. The war could go on, essentially, forever, and yet the eventual peace settlement, you know, after horrible suffering, in the end might be essentially no different from the one that we could get today.

AMY GOODMAN: And what about sanctions, Anatol?

ANATOL LIEVEN: Well, sanctions are obviously absolutely necessary in order to force Russia to accept a reasonable deal and withdraw its forces from Ukraine. Absolutely, I totally support the harshest sanctions against Russia. The question is, though, what the intention of the sanctions is. If the intention of the sanctions is to bring Russia to a peace agreement and withdrawal, that is one thing. If, however, as many are now suggesting or demanding, the intention of the sanctions is to bring down the Putin regime in Russia and gravely to weaken or destroy Russia as a state, then, well, two things need to be said. One is that the United States has tried this with Cuba, with Iran, with Iraq, with North Korea, and it’s never worked. It hasn’t worked in any of these cases. The other thing is that it would take years and years for this to work, and during those years and years, many, many Ukrainians would be dying, and large parts of Ukraine will be destroyed. So, you know, there is the question of whether we have the right to pursue that goal at the expense of the Ukrainian people.

AMY GOODMAN: This news just coming out that Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and Ukrainian counterpart Dmytro Kuleba have agreed to meet at a forum in southern Turkey on Thursday, the first potential talks between the top diplomats since Russia launched its invasion. The significance of this, Anatol?

ANATOL LIEVEN: Well, I think it’s very significant, because, obviously, these are the top people on the foreign policy side in both countries. And as I say, I mean, we may be exaggerating the nuances here, but certainly, I mean, Lavrov has — while making some very tough comments, has also suggested that compromise may be possible. So, let’s hope that this will move things forward, because — yeah.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, over the weekend, Russia warned other countries against allowing Ukrainian military aircraft to use their airfields. This is a spokesperson for Russia’s Defense Ministry.

IGOR KONASHENKOV: [translated] Almost all effective aircraft of the Kyiv regime has been destroyed. In the same time, we are well aware of the Ukrainian battle planes which flew to Romania and other near border countries. We warn that the use of the airfield networks of these countries to base Ukrainian military aircraft and their subsequent use against the Russian Armed Forces may be regarded as the involvement of these states in an armed conflict.

AMY GOODMAN: So, if you can talk about this and also, once again, the issue of a no-fly zone? I mean, you have Zelensky addressing the U.S. Congress this weekend, demanding a no-fly zone, saying, “We can fight ourselves, but we need this no-fly zone,” but the West saying that will mean a direct confrontation between Russia, the United States and NATO, which, of course, could very quickly lead to a nuclear war.

ANATOL LIEVEN: Well, it wouldn’t lead to confrontation; it would lead to war. I mean, the United States Air Force would become the air wing of the Ukrainian army fighting Russia. Of course, this would inevitably lead to heavy U.S. casualties among the aircrew. And those casualties would be largely inflicted by Russian anti-aircraft missiles, the S-400s, based in Russia itself, which have a range of 400 miles, so can extend deep into Ukraine. Now, at that point, there would also be tremendous pressure for the United States to strike those anti-aircraft sites and, indeed, Russian airfields within Russia. At that point, the threat, which we’ve already heard in a veiled form from Russia, to strike airfields and missile sites outside Ukraine, in Poland and elsewhere, would almost automatically take place, become actual. And then we would be at war with Russia. And, of course, once you start lobbing missiles to and fro, because on both sides the attacks would be largely by missile, of course, the missiles would be conventional missiles, but the chances of accident and of this escalating into nuclear war would be colossal.

I think the other point one needs to bring out is that, to put it bluntly, I think that at that stage the Europeans would get cold feet. You would see a split in NATO. You would see the Germans closing their airspace to the U.S., which would, of course, gravely undermine the U.S. campaign. And you would see tremendous pressure within Europe for a negotiated settlement, which is one reason why some of us are urging a negotiated settlement now rather than later.

AMY GOODMAN: Let me ask you about the Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett meeting with Putin in Moscow, and then about Moscow saying Putin — according to news reports, the possibility of the Russian military recruiting Syrian mercenaries to come fight in Ukraine.

ANATOL LIEVEN: I doubt that, Syrian mercenaries. I mean, Russia has enough of its own troops. But I think what the Israeli — that the Israeli meeting with Russia indicates, as, by the way, moves by India and other states, is that outside Europe there are deep, deep worries about this war, you know, and a desire to bring it to an end as quickly as possible through negotiations. The Western camp so far has been very united against Russia. And, of course, in the United Nations, a large majority of countries denounced Russia, but leading countries, including India, abstained. So, internationally, I think, you know, the world community as a whole is very, very anxious for this war to end. Perhaps — I don’t know — one could imagine even the Israelis brokering, trying to broker, a peace agreement between Ukraine and Russia.

AMY GOODMAN: And the issue of — do you think it is possible there could be a coup within Russia? I mean, you have Russia’s military chief promising quick victory in Ukraine, now facing a potential quagmire and his dissent from favor with Putin. You have these mass protests that are going on. Over 13,000 people have been arrested. Do you think there’s any chance of this?

ANATOL LIEVEN: In the short term, no, I don’t think so. But in the longer term, you know, if this does turn into a long-running quagmire, and, of course, given the really severe effects of Western sanctions on the Russian economy, on Russian living standards, then, yes, I do think this is possible. But I think it would be — it would probably be some form of coup from within the regime. The problem is that Putin’s inner circle has shrunk so far that you would have to get rid not just of him, but of, you know, his leading top six people. That would be very difficult, because the wider elites are very disunited, disparate. They have no common institutions. They don’t really have a common culture, either. So, while I think that this is entirely possible in the longer term, I don’t think that it’s likely to come quickly. I could be wrong about that.

AMY GOODMAN: You’re speaking to us from Britain, and, you know, the calls to end the war also include calls to end NATO expansion. In fact, NATO has been so strengthened by this, with even the possibility — and I don’t know what you think — of Sweden and Finland, though their prime ministers have said no, joining, Georgia talking about it. Of course, this is a severe concern of Putin. Can you talk about what this means, from people demanding the end of NATO to NATO strengthened more than ever, and military budgets in places like Germany and the United States vastly increasing as a result of this?

ANATOL LIEVEN: Well, I think two things really stand out. The first is that, obviously, this has been a colossal political blow and defeat for Putin’s regime and for Russia. You know, it has wiped out almost all the gains in every way that Russia has made since the fall of the Soviet Union.

But the other thing to point out is, once again, that the U.S., NATO, all NATO governments have made it absolutely clear that they will not fight in Ukraine. So, while, on the one hand, you know, NATO is strengthened, as far as its existing members are concerned, and other countries that Russia has no intention of attacking — I mean, Russia has never, ever, on any occasion, threatened to attack Finland, you know, and has no reason to do so — it would be crazy for Russia to do so — that this isn’t even an issue. But NATO has equally made clear it will not fight in Ukraine. It will not fight to defend Ukraine. And after all, you know, the Bush administration made so many gestures of support for Georgia but did not fight for Georgia in 2008. So, you see, on the other hand, the reason why, as I say, a treaty of neutrality ought to be possible is that you can’t take countries into NATO if you’re not prepared to fight for them.

AMY GOODMAN: Finally, we have some reports that the chief of the General Staff of the Armed Forces of Belarus, Viktor Gulevich, has resigned abruptly on Sunday, some reports. The significance of this, as we wrap up?

ANATOL LIEVEN: Well, if it’s true, it would indicate, you know, deep unease within the Belarusian Armed Forces about the idea of the Belarusian army being sent into Ukraine, which is what Putin appears to be demanding. And it would argue that the Belarusian regime is itself now in danger of splitting over the appalling dangers of this war.

AMY GOODMAN: We want to thank you, Anatol Lieven, for joining us, senior fellow at the Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft. We’ll link to your latest piece, “It’s time to ask: what would a Ukraine-Russia peace deal look like?”

Watch below:


Ukrainian-American journalist: 'Ukraine’s far-right is the primary benefactor' of Vladimir Putin's invasion

We speak with Ukrainian American journalist Lev Golinkin about the rise of the far-right in Ukraine. Golinkin says Russian bombing of the sacred Jewish site of Babi Yar disproves Putin’s claims that the invasion is about “denazification,” and attacks on cities in eastern Ukraine show he does not care about Russian-speaking Ukrainians either. He also speaks about the neo-Nazi presence within his home country, saying, “Ukraine’s far-right is the primary benefactor on the Ukraine side of this war because they now get to attract people from all over the world, and they get to be seen as on the frontlines of fighting for white civilization.” He adds the presence of neo-Nazis in Ukraine “does not give Russia any reason, any justification, to invade an inch of Ukrainian territory.”

Transcript

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

“The Ukraine of My Childhood Is Being Erased.” That’s the headline of a new piece in The New York Times by Lev Golinkin. He’s a Ukrainian American journalist who came to the U.S. in 1990 as a child refugee from the eastern Ukrainian city of Kharkov, now called Kharkiv. Lev Golinkin is also author of A Backpack, a Bear, and Eight Crates of Vodka: A Memoir of Soviet Ukraine. He’s joining us from East Windsor, New Jersey.

Lev, thanks so much for being with us. You’ve written so extensively about your country. Talk about your response to what’s taking place right now.

LEV GOLINKIN: We are seeing a repetition of some of the worst things that Russia has done to Ukraine, because when you look at Chernobyl, for example, Chernobyl was not an accident. Chernobyl was the result of Soviet policy, of Soviet refusal to care for human life.

AMY GOODMAN: And let’s be clear, because Chernobyl was in the Soviet Union before it dissolved, and, you know, of course, it’s in Ukraine.

LEV GOLINKIN: Correct, correct. But it was inflicted upon — it is in Ukraine. It was inflicted upon Ukraine, and it was the result of Soviet policy, of Soviet disregard for safety. What we’re witnessing right now is Moscow, again, complete disregard for safety with the attacks on nuclear plants and with the lack of foresight to the horrors that could happen.

We also see, for example, there is mixed information about a strike recently on — near Babi Yar in Kyiv, which is a Nazi killing ground. Unlike what the reports originally said — there’s a memorial for Babi Yar — it was not hit. Original reports were saying that it was. It was not hit, but the Russian attack landed near Babi Yar anyway. So, we’re talking about a sacred ground. We’re talking about a killing ground of 33,000 Jews in two days by the Nazis in 1941. Afterward, the Soviet Union forbade Jews to have any communal memory. They did not want Jews — they forbade even a simple memorial saying that “Here lie murdered Jews in the Holocaust.” And now you have Moscow again just recklessly attacking right near a site that has such significance and holds such pain for the Jewish people and for Ukraine, in general. And again, with —

AMY GOODMAN: And yet, isn’t it interesting, Lev, that this memorial was very controversial at Babi Yar, a famous massacre site, and it was a Russian billionaire, a Jewish Russian billionaire, who was born in Lviv, Mikhail Fridman, who mainly funded the Babi Yar — the latest Babi Yar memorial?

LEV GOLINKIN: It’s a very long and bitter story, because talks are about what the memorial is going to — what is it going to memorialize, because Babi Yar wasn’t just carried out by the Nazis. It was carried out with heavy assistance from Ukrainian nationalists, from Ukrainian collaborators. And this is at the center — I write a lot about these things — it’s at the center of memory wars, of who’s responsible for what, who did what in World War II. It’s also used a lot of times by Russia, who points out how Ukraine is honoring Nazi collaborators. A lot of times Russia also just blows it out of proportion. And there’s a lot of this acrimony over the memory of Babi Yar. But regardless of what you’re doing, if you are an invader claiming that you’re protecting Ukrainian Jews and you’re protecting — you know, you’re fighting back against the Nazis in Ukraine, it kind of goes very much against that when you’re bombing one of the most sacred sites of victims of the Nazis.

And also, Amy, I just want to point something out in the same vein. You spoke to a previous guest about him being a Russian versus Ukrainian in the language. Just so you know, I am from Kharkiv, from Ukraine. I was born there, raised there. I am a native Russian speaker, as are my parents, who are also there. So, Putin’s lie about how he’s protecting Russian speakers, he’s currently — he’s not protecting them. He’s bombing them. He’s killing them right now. All the people that you see are in Kharkiv, 99% chance that anybody who’s killed in the city is a native and primary Russian speaker. And these people, they’re not Russians. We are Ukrainians. We happen to speak a different language, but it’s like saying that people in Canada, in Quebec, the French speakers, are still Canadians and members of Canada. So, that’s a very important thing to put out there, so people know that the whole notion of Putin saving Russian speakers is garbage. He’s not saving them. He’s killing them right now.

AMY GOODMAN: And, Lev, finally —

LEV GOLINKIN: That’s — go ahead.

AMY GOODMAN: — you have written extensively about the far right in Ukraine, and you have Putin saying he’s on a denazification campaign. You have fiercely condemned the Russian invasion of your country, of Ukraine. If you can talk about both, how both things can be true?

LEV GOLINKIN: Yes. It is impossible to hold both thoughts in our heads right now. Ukraine does have a neo-Nazi presence, including a neo-Nazi regiment in its Armed Forces, ok?

AMY GOODMAN: The Azov.

LEV GOLINKIN: That does not give Russia any reason, any justification, to invade an inch of Ukrainian territory. Those two things are true at the same time. What we need to do in America is condemn and fight back Russia, while at the same time making sure we don’t have extremists who travel and train with Ukrainian neo-Nazis. And it’s extraordinarily frustrating to see people are saying it’s one of two things: It’s either Putin is a savior on a campaign to free Ukraine, which is garbage, but then, people, on the other hand, say, “Well, I guess that means that Ukraine doesn’t have any neo-Nazis, so we shouldn’t worry about them.” We should. We can support Ukraine, and I believe it is supporting Ukraine to make sure that these far-right groups do not have access to weapons. And I think that it’s important not just for Ukraine but also for America, because we do not want these things coming back in attacks on other places, similar to how Islamic extremists use. And it’s important to be able to entertain both things at the same time.

AMY GOODMAN: And, Lev, how is the far right, how are the —

LEV GOLINKIN: We can condemn Russia, condemn the invasion, and at the same time be careful.

AMY GOODMAN: How is the far right, how are the neo-Nazis in Ukraine responding to the Russian invasion, and how are the other Ukrainians responding to them?

LEV GOLINKIN: This is a — the Ukrainian far-right could not have wished for anything better for this, OK? They now are — it’s very much harder — it’s harder to criticize them, and they’re also now open for recruitment. They’ve wanted, from the beginning of this conflict — both sides, the separatists and the Ukrainian far-right, have attracted neo-Nazis from all over the world to get firsthand experience in battle. So, this war could — somebody always benefits from a war. And Ukraine’s far-right is the primary benefactor on the Ukraine side of this war, because they now get to attract people from all over the world, and they get to be seen as on the frontlines of fighting for white civilization. So, it’s an extremely dangerous thing to look at, and one we should be able to analyze it, while also condemning the war crimes that Russia is committing against Ukraine. It should not be difficult to hold both things in focus at the same time.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, Lev Golinkin, this is a discussion we have to continue at another point. I thank you so much for being with us, Ukrainian American journalist who reports extensively on the Ukraine crisis, Russia and the far-right, author of A Backpack, a Bear, and Eight Crates of Vodka: A Memoir of Soviet Ukraine. We will link to your New York Times op-ed, “The Ukraine of My Childhood Is Being Erased.”

That does it for our show. Democracy Now! currently accepting applications for a human resources manager. Check out democracynow.org.

Democracy Now! produced with Mike Burke, Renée Feltz, Deena Guzder, Messiah Rhodes, Nermeen Shaikh, María Taracena, Tami Woronoff, Camille Baker. I’m Amy Goodman. Thanks for joining us.

Historian explores 'what role NATO’s expansion played' in Russia-Ukraine conflict

As Russia’s invasion of Ukraine continues, veteran journalist Andrew Cockburn and Yale historian Timothy Snyder discuss the history of the region and what role NATO’s expansion played in the current crisis. Cockburn says the United States and its allies broke promises made in the 1990s not to expand the military alliance into Eastern Europe, setting the stage for an eventual confrontation. “What Putin has done is absolutely disgraceful, but it’s kind of easy to understand. There has been sustained efforts to push NATO forward,” he says. But Snyder says the focus on NATO ignores the agency of leaders in Ukraine and elsewhere who have the right to seek their own arrangements. “It’s very important to remember that the world isn’t just about Washington and Moscow. It’s also about other sovereign states and other peoples who can express their desires and have their own foreign policies,” says Snyder.

Transcript:

AMY GOODMAN: I’m Amy Goodman with Juan González. This is Democracy Now!, The War and Peace Report.

Ukraine’s government has accused Russia of war crimes for deliberately targeting civilians during its invasion of Ukraine. New satellite photos show a massive 40-mile convoy of Russian tanks and armored vehicles stretching from the Russian border to the outskirts of Ukraine’s capital, Kyiv. Ukrainian officials say troops from Belarus have joined Russia’s invasion.

As we continue to look at the invasion of Ukraine, we’re joined by two guests: Timothy Snyder, professor of history at Yale University, permanent fellow at the Institute for Human Sciences in Vienna, author of many books, including The Road to Unfreedom: Russia, Europe, America and, recently, Our Malady: Lessons in Liberty from a Hospital Diary; we’re also joined by Andrew Cockburn, the Washington editor for Harper’s magazine. His book, just out, is called The Spoils of War: Power, Profit, and the American War Machine.

Andrew Cockburn, let’s begin with you. If you can start off by responding to the latest news, this Russian convoy of 40 miles coming closer and closer to Kyiv? Ukraine’s second city, Kharkiv, has been bombed, the local municipal building, as well as other sites. The massive departure of Ukrainians fleeing war, half a million Ukrainians, massively, women and children, going to Poland, Romania, and other places. Can you comment on what’s happening today?

ANDREW COCKBURN: Yes. Well, it looks like — you know, we hear a lot about how the Russian offensive has slowed down, been ground to a halt, or is being — you know, met unexpected resistance, which, you know, is true. On the other hand, they do seem to be moving fairly steadily, in a sort of slightly creaky way, towards their objectives. I mean, they’ve surrounded Kharkiv and Kyiv. They’ve moved — they’ve done — you know, their separatist forces, who are presumably reinforced by regular Russian troops, have done quite well in the east, have advanced out and taken most of the Donetsk and Luhansk provinces. The forces coming out of Crimea are, you know, advancing, it seems, fairly successfully. They’ve got Mariupol surrounded, which they regard as a sort of heartland of what they call neo-Nazi, you know, the Azov Battalion, the extreme-rightist elements that, from Putin’s point of view, this whole war is meant to be about. So, I would think that they’ve — you know, the Russians, in a sort of slightly warped way, may be quite pleased with the Russian high command, may be quite pleased with the way things are going.

Yes, of course, I mean, it’s a horrible tragedy of the — you know, all these refugees, I mean, and as I’m glad you pointed out, in sharp contrast to the way people from the Middle East and, you know, nonwhite or, what have you, non-European refugees have been treated by the Poles and the EU generally. It’s been interesting what Yurii Sheliazhenko just said, of course, I mean, that that does not include people from — the refugees don’t seem to include people from Kyiv, because the way is blocked. The Russians have occupied the — as I say, they’ve encircled the city, so that people from Kyiv, the people really under threat, can’t get out. And there’s been no — apparently, no negotiation, or certainly no successful negotiation, on a humanitarian corridor.

And it’s curious — I mean, it’s hard. This is such a fog of war, that there’s so much misinformation flying around. I mean, it’s interesting whether or not the Russians really have achieved air superiority in Ukraine. I mean, one of the interesting things, and maybe one of the disappointments from the Russian point of view, is that the Russian Air Force hasn’t really been present or hasn’t really been successful in the way you might have thought from all the sort of threat inflation we’ve heard in recent years about how Russia has become a mighty power. I mean, I think they — you know, obviously, they’ve been fighting in Syria. The Air Force certainly has for the last few years. So that’s probably put a strain on them. I’ve heard that they’re running out of precision-guided munitions, which may be a problem. But generally, I mean, given the disastrous calculation, in my view, and heinous calculation by Putin to go ahead with this, I would say they may think they’re not doing too badly.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And I wanted to ask you about that. In terms of the — the media is portraying this as the Russian army already bogged down five days into this war. But I looked back at the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003 —

ANDREW COCKBURN: Yeah.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: — which started on March 20th, and it took until April 9th, it took three weeks, for the U.S. military, against a far less powerful army in Iraq, to reach Baghdad. And, of course, the war was initiated by a week of massive bombardment of Iraqi cities and of the military, the Iraqi military, to basically decimate the military before the troops started moving. In retrospect — and I completely agree with you that this was a crazy and fundamentally unjust invasion — but, on the other hand, it seems that Russia has not sought this kind of shock-and-awe approach to just bomb the cities, and instead it’s chosen to send its army in and to try to capture the cities in a methodical way, almost as a — some experts have said that they’re seeking — they understand that if there are massive casualties among the Ukrainian people, that will be not looked upon kindly even by the Russian population.

ANDREW COCKBURN: Right. I mean, you know, and there would be a 100 years’ war. No, I’m really glad you point that out. I mean, as you said, it took three weeks for the U.S. and British to reach Baghdad, and most of the time they were advancing across the desert. But this looks like a sort of — really like a lighting blitzkrieg in comparison. And, obviously, it’s also correct, as you say, that the Russians, Putin didn’t really — didn’t want to sort of permanently alienate the Ukrainian population. I mean, it seems fairly clear that he’s united them, or certainly united a huge proportion of them now, in opposition to Russia in a way that may not have been the case a few weeks ago.

But, yeah, it’s been — you know, I’d like to — I’ve been thinking where one, on CNN or something, with one of these old hacks from the Pentagon who they’re wheeling on to comment and cheer on our side in Ukraine, I’d like to ask them how they would have invaded Ukraine. I mean, as you said, fairly clear what would have happened. It would have been massive destruction, starting with massive destruction of infrastructure, as happened in the two Iraq wars that we were engaged in, and bombing water treatment plants and power stations and communications and all the rest, that’s become the traditional U.S. way of war. So, you know, I’m glad that the Russians at least haven’t so far gone in for that. That may change. But, you know, there is a sharp contrast, and none of which — very little of which gets mentioned in the official media, because it’s open season on hypocrisy.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And, Andrew Cockburn, could you talk about the sanctions in place that the West is exacting on Russia, the impact it will have not only on Russia but, clearly, on especially Western Europe?

ANDREW COCKBURN: Well, exactly. You know, we’ve gotten used to sanctions, has become really the premier U.S. and — foreign policy tool of. You know, we sanctioned Cuba for decades, for half a century. We sanctioned Iraq, sanctioned Iran, sanctioned Syria. And we’ve gotten used to it. It’s a great way to beat up, you know, small, comparatively powerless countries who have little, really, input or an impact on the global economy.

Now, if they didn’t think about it before, they’re certainly realizing that — you know, first of all, I should say, quickly, obviously it’s having disastrous effects on the Russian economy, but it’s very interesting. I mean, car factories in Germany are already closing down because they can’t get parts that have turned out to be sourced from Russia and, indeed, Ukraine. It turns out a lot of people are discovering for the first time that Russia and Ukraine, between them, supply a third of the world’s wheat supply, wheat production, which is what a lot of the Middle East eats — Iraq, Egypt particularly. I mean, you’re going to see — if the price of bread can’t be controlled there, you’re going to see, I think, great sort of dissension and riots there. Semiconductors can’t be made here without supplies of various sort of ingredients most of us have never heard of that come from Russia. So, in a way, now that it’s all-out economic warfare, we’re finding that it’s — there’s a lot of pushback, a lot of payback, in a sense that, in a way, we’ve sanctioned ourselves, as well.

AMY GOODMAN: I want to bring Timothy Snyder into the conversation, Yale historian, author of many books, including The Road to Unfreedom: Russia, Europe, America and On Tyranny: Twenty Lessons from the Twentieth Century. Your response to the latest developments right now?

TIMOTHY SNYDER: Well, so, we know what Russia’s initial war plan was. It was premised on Mr. Putin’s assumption that Ukrainians and Russians are really one people. So, if he can simply send in a strike force to surround the Ukrainian capital and physically eliminate the Ukrainian government, then everyone will go over to the Russian side. We know that because it’s consistent with the initial attack plan. We also know it because they accidentally published these documents a couple of days ago.

So, when we want to look at what’s happening, I think we have to distinguish stage one, which was a failure, thanks to unexpectedly strong and intelligent Ukrainian resistance, resistance on the part of people who are essentially defending their homes — by the way, also from attacks on water supply, energy supply, apartment buildings, and everything which was listed already. All of those things have already been attacked, including cities. So, in stage one, the Russian plan fails because of Ukrainian resistance, but also because of its nature.

Now we’re moving to stage two, which will include precisely the things which were described before. We’re moving towards more like a Grozny scenario or a Syria scenario, where the Russians will do what the Russians do in their doctrine: They besiege cities and then pound them from the outside and with air power until the civilians force the leadership to capitulate. So, unless these columns can be somehow stopped or we can get to some kind of negotiated solution by way of pressure on Russia, we’re going to see a much more horrifying stage of this war follow.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And, Professor Snyder, can you talk about the — you’ve mentioned Putin’s belief that Ukraine and Russia are part of one nation. Can you describe your view of the historical truth here?

TIMOTHY SNYDER: Well, I mean, I guess I would say, even if Mr. Putin were a historian, it’s not the job of a historian to say who belongs to what nation. You know, it’s not my job to tell people in Africa what nations they belong to or Canadians whether they belong to a nation or not. A nation is a group of people with a common sense about what the future holds and what they should be doing. And in that sense, Ukrainians are indisputably a nation.

The history, I mean, since you ask, is just unbelievably wrong and abusive. The idea that because a Viking baptized himself a thousand years ago, maybe, therefore Ukraine, Belarus, and Russia are one nation is palpably absurd. The idea that the Bolsheviks created Ukraine, as Mr. Putin claims, is also ridiculous. It’s the other way around. The Soviet Union was created as a union, as a federation with national names, precisely because a hundred years ago even the far left in Russia was perfectly aware that Ukraine was a nation and had to be accommodated in some way. And this language, by the way, this language that other people are not states, that other people are not nations, that is the language of destroying the state and of destroying the nation. That’s the logic that follows.

And since we’re on the topic, another of Mr. Putin’s historical claims or abuses of historical language is the idea that he’s carrying out a denazification campaign, when in fact what his army is doing, is set up to do, is to destroy a government which is led by a democratically elected Jewish president. He’s abusing the historical legacy that we have, and he’s abusing our ability to use history to try to make some kind of judgment on what’s happening now.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re going to break, then come back to this conversation. We’re talking to Yale historian Timothy Snyder. He is the author of many books, including On Tyranny and The Road to Unfreedom. And we’re talking to Andrew Cockburn. His book is just out. It’s called The Spoils of War. He writes for Harper’s magazine. Stay with us.

[break]

AMY GOODMAN: “Beauty and Ugliness” by Russian rapper Oxxxymiron. The rapper canceled six sold-out shows in St. Petersburg and Moscow, his first headlining tour in five years, to protest the war, saying, “I want to say that I am against this specific war that Russia is waging against the Ukrainian people. I believe this is a catastrophe and a crime.” This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman, with Juan González, as we continue to look at Russia’s invasion of Europe. I want to turn back to a comment on Democracy Now! in 2014 made by the late historian Stephen Cohen about how NATO expansion in Eastern Europe could lead to war.

STEPHEN COHEN: When we took in — 'we' meaning the United States and NATO — all these countries in Eastern Europe into NATO, we did not — we agreed with the Russians we would not put forward military installations there. We built some infrastructure — air strips, there’s some barracks, stuff like that. But we didn’t station troops that could march toward Russia there. Now what NATO is saying, it is time to do that. Now, Russia already felt encircled by NATO member states on its borders. The Baltics are on its borders. If we move the forces, NATO forces, including American troops, to — toward Russia’s borders, where will we be then? I mean, it’s obviously going to militarize the situation, and therefore raise the danger of war. And I think it’s important to emphasize, though I regret saying this, Russia will not back off. This is existential.

AMY GOODMAN: That’s historian Stephen Cohen, late historian, speaking in 2014 on Democracy Now! We’re speaking now with Andrew Cockburn, Harper’s magazine Washington editor, his new book, The Spoils of War: Power, Profit, and the American War Machine, and Yale University professor of history Timothy Snyder, author of On Tyranny and The Road to Unfreedom. Andrew Cockburn, can you respond to this? And then we’ll get the response of Professor Snyder.

ALEXANDER COCKBURN: Well, Steve Cohen, he was exactly right. I mean, what he said would happen has happened. So I hardly need to argue about it. I mean, there’s many — I’m sure that the whole story of NATO expansion will become further encrusted with myth, but it is certainly the case that we did — you know, there were promises made to Gorbachev and the then-Soviet leadership at the time of the German unification, reunification, at the end of the Cold War, that NATO would not expand beyond Germany. I mean, the Russians sort of agreed that all of Germany would be in NATO, but they did say they wouldn’t expand further. And for some reason, the Soviets believed them, though they didn’t have many options, of course.

So, you know, there has been then the further expansion of the — you know, that was in Poland, the first tranche was in — came in '99 and then in 2004, and the Russians complained continually. And then it came up again in 2007, ’08, when there was talk at that point of Ukraine and Georgia joining. And at that point, in 2008, remember, now, we hear — you know, it's glibly said, “And then Russia invaded Georgia.” Well, actually, yes, they did, but that was preceded by a very deliberate provocation or initiative by the Georgian leader, Saakashvili, to move into what was a sort of Russian, whatever you want to call it, the protectorate of South Ossetia, with the aim — and I know this from having talked to a lot of the people who were involved both in Georgia and in Washington at the time — with the aim, as one of them said, of flipping — Misha Saakashvili wanted to flip us into a war. And actually, at that point, the Bush — Bush himself and Condoleezza Rice and Stephen Hadley, the national security adviser, went to some lengths to tamp that down, to tell Saakashvili they were not going to intervene on his behalf, not going to support him in his efforts, in Bush’s words, to start World War III.

So, you know, there has been — you know, again, we have to prefigure this by — have to say, of course, what Putin has done is absolutely disgraceful, but it’s kind of easy to understand. There has been sustained efforts to push NATO forward, to appear in what to Russians might seem like — Russian leadership, might seem like a threatening posture, and to — you know, people say — there’s a saying that NATO exists to deal with the instability that its own existence creates.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Yeah, I’m wondering if Timothy Snyder can respond to this issue of the NATO expansion. But also, you know, I happen to be, unfortunately, old enough to remember the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962, when President Kennedy was ready to go to war, if necessary, with the Soviet Union over the fact that the Soviet Union was putting missiles in an independent country, Cuba. But the United States felt threatened by the ability of the Soviet Union to enter its sphere of influence. I’m wondering if there’s — you see any parallels with the mentality of Putin right now.

TIMOTHY SNYDER: So, let me just — let me roll back to the history, and I’ll end with Cuba. So, when Germany was unified, the Americans and the Soviets did make an arrangement about West Germany and East Germany. That arrangement, however, did not foresee and had nothing to do with the subsequent collapse of the Soviet Union. We’re talking about something that happened in 1990. In 1991, to everyone’s surprise, the Soviet Union no longer existed. And after that point, it’s very important to remember that the world isn’t just about Washington and Moscow. It’s also about other sovereign states and other peoples, who can express their desires and have their own foreign policies.

So, when we speak of NATO enlargement, I mean, that’s a bit of a misnomer. NATO was not there to enlarge. There wasn’t much willingness on the part of Western Europe or the U.S. to enlarge. It was the East Europeans themselves who pushed the process forward. I mean, we can decide that they didn’t understand their own national interests, but that’s how the process unfolded. It came from the East Europeans. And there was never an understanding between the United States and Russia after 1991 that this wasn’t going to happen. It’s true that the Russians objected, but it’s also true that their understanding of NATO has changed drastically after NATO expansion halted and with the reelection of Mr. Putin. In the 1990s and 2000s, Russia and NATO cooperated, not least in Afghanistan, where the Russians tended to insist that the Americans and NATO had to take a harder line than they were taking. Mr. Putin himself referred to NATO, well into the 21st century, as a defensive alliance. He himself has changed drastically the way that he speaks about NATO. He uses it essentially as a way to try to rally the Russian population.

Now, I would distinguish between what Mr. Putin says about this war and what the Russians think. It’s very hard to find, at least as far as I can read the data, a Russian opinion that somehow Russia was threatened by Ukraine in 2022. I’m not seeing that. But in an important and fundamental way, this entire discussion is moot, because now we know, given the way that the Russians are prosecuting this war, that it never had anything to do with the ostensible motivations that they cited in late 2021. Given the way that they’re prosecuting this war, we know that it’s about the destruction of the Ukrainian state, given what they say and what they’re doing. So, I think it’s important to also give the Russians agency, to give Mr. Putin agency, to understand that he might have motives which go beyond things that we do or go beyond the things he says, that he thinks we’ll understand.

Now, on Cuba, Cuba encourages me in an odd way, because in Cuba the Americans made a deal. We pulled our missiles out of Turkey. That was the deal. I think there are arrangements that can be made to stop this war. I think there are compromises that can be found.

AMY GOODMAN: We want to thank you both for being with us. Clearly, a discussion that we need to continue at a future date. Timothy Snyder, Yale professor of history, author of many books, including The Road to Unfreedom: Russia, Europe, America and On Tyranny: Twenty Lessons from the Twentieth Century. And thank you to Andrew Cockburn, Washington editor of Harper’s magazine, his new book, The Spoils of War: Power, Profit, and the American War Machine.

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

Watch the full interview below:

Journalist Andrew Cockburn & Historian Timothy Snyder on Ukraine, Russia, NATO Expansion & Sanctions www.youtube.com

'Love and the Constitution': Rep. Jamie Raskin on son’s death, Trump’s coup plot and protecting the vote

As more details emerge about Donald Trump’s role in the deadly January 6 insurrection, we’re joined by Congressmember Jamie Raskin, who serves on the House select committee investigating the Capitol attack and was the lead manager in Trump’s second impeachment trial. Raskin writes about the insurrection in a new memoir titled “Unthinkable: Trauma, Truth, and the Trials of American Democracy” and is featured in the new MSNBC documentary “Love & the Constitution,” which follows Raskin during Trump’s years in office leading up to the January 6 insurrection and the tragic death of Raskin’s son. “We knew that Trump was doing everything in his power to try to overturn the election,” says Raskin. “We had prepared for everything except for a violent insurrection overrunning the House and the Senate.” We’re also joined by “Love & the Constitution” director Madeleine Carter, whose film premieres Sunday.



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 more details emerge about the deadly January 6th insurrection and how Donald Trump and his allies plotted to overturn the 2020 election, we begin today’s show with Congressmember Jamie Raskin, Democrat from Maryland. Raskin serves on the House select committee investigating the January 6th attack. He was the lead manager in the second impeachment trial of Donald Trump following the insurrection.

Congressmember Raskin was inside the House January 6th, as were his daughter and son-in-law, when Trump supporters attacked the Capitol. The January 6th insurrection came at a tragic moment for the Raskin family. Just days earlier, Jamie Raskin’s 25-year-old son Tommy died by suicide. He was a student at Harvard Law School.

Raskin writes about these events in his new memoir titled Unthinkable: Trauma, Truth, and the Trials of American Democracy. There’s also a new documentary about Congressmember Jamie Raskin titled Love & the Constitution, airing Sunday night on MSNBC. This is the film’s trailer.

REP. JAMIE RASKIN: Some of our members started to say, “Trump’s not worth it. The president’s not worth it.” The question is whether the Constitution is worth it.
I know one thing really well, which is about the Constitution and the rule of law and American democracy. It’s like everybody knows one thing, and my turn came up.
I did not know whether I would be able to do anything again of meaning or substance in my life.
Voltaire said, “Anyone who can make you believe absurdities can make you commit atrocities.”
PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: Democracy is fragile. And at this hour, my friends, democracy has prevailed.
REP. JAMIE RASKIN: Tommy was a person who loved the world, and he loved democracy. I feel like I honor him by doing the work that he’d be proud of.

AMY GOODMAN: The trailer to Love & the Constitution, directed by Madeleine Carter, who began work on the documentary in 2018. Carter was filming inside Congressmember Jamie Raskin’s home on election night 2020 and captured this moment when he spoke with his son Tommy as results came in.

REP. JAMIE RASKIN: Tombo?
TOMMY RASKIN: Hey!
REP. JAMIE RASKIN: Are you staying up, or are you going to sleep?
TOMMY RASKIN: I don’t know, Dad. I kind of think Trump is going to win.
REP. JAMIE RASKIN: I don’t think so. I’d be willing to put money on it.
TOMMY RASKIN: Oh, really?
REP. JAMIE RASKIN: Yeah.
TOMMY RASKIN: You want to bet?
REP. JAMIE RASKIN: Yeah, I’ll bet you.
TOMMY RASKIN: It’s a win-win for me, because if Trump wins, I get money.
REP. JAMIE RASKIN: OK.
TOMMY RASKIN: If Trump loses, I get Biden.
REP. JAMIE RASKIN: All right. Love you to death.
TOMMY RASKIN: Love you.
REP. JAMIE RASKIN: Bye. My kids are so freaked out that Trump might win. Everybody is so freaked out. I mean, it’s going to be a long night. It’s going to be — I mean, Trump is going to be suing. We’re going to win this narrowly, and then Trump is going to be fighting it every step along the way. I mean, buckle up. I mean, it’s going to — we’ll be fighting about this until we get into the new Congress. We’ll be fighting about it until January 6th.

AMY GOODMAN: Congressmember Jamie Raskin, speaking on election night 2020 in a clip from Love & the Constitution. Trump’s efforts to overturn the election would soon begin. In the documentary, Raskin goes on to talk about Trump’s efforts to overturn the election.

REP. JAMIE RASKIN: The country is still just trying to absorb the emotional impact of events that brought us right up to the edge of a real coup in America. We can’t have healing before we have an honest reckoning, and this president must be held accountable for the role he has played.

AMY GOODMAN: We’ll be joined by the film’s director, Madeleine Carter, later in the program, but first we go to Takoma Park, Maryland, to speak with Congressmember Jamie Raskin. He’s represented Maryland’s 8th Congressional District since 2017. He’s also married to Sarah Bloom Raskin, who has been nominated by President Biden to become the top banking regulator at the Federal Reserve and underwent serious grilling yesterday.

Congressmember Jamie Raskin, welcome to Democracy Now! It’s great to have you with us.

REP. JAMIE RASKIN: It’s great to be with you, Amy, and thank you for having me.

AMY GOODMAN: So, the name of your book is Unthinkable: Trauma, Truth, and the Trials of American Democracy. You were the lead impeachment manager in President Trump’s second impeachment trial. You’re a member of the House select committee investigating the January 6 Capitol insurrection, which is where I want to start — actually, even before January 6, because you were right there in the House when the attack took place. And I want to take this sequentially, how this went. I mean, you were already reeling, even if that hadn’t happened, because your son Tommy — and I want to offer my condolences to your whole family, because I haven’t had a chance to talk to you personally in this last year — took his own life on New Year’s Eve. So, you were there with your family, some members, your daughter and now your son-in-law. And you decided to go, January 6th, for the certification of the vote, because it was that important to you. Can you talk about that moment? Can you talk about those days and what happened next?

REP. JAMIE RASKIN: Well, it was, of course, a constitutional responsibility for me to be there, for the whole Congress to be there. It’s in the 12th Amendment that the first Wednesday in January, Congress meets in joint session just to receive the Electoral College votes.

We knew that Trump was doing everything in his power to try to overturn the election, as he said just this last weekend. You know, first, they were in a relatively legitimate sphere, when they went to more than 60 different courts, federal and state courts, to allege electoral fraud and corruption. And every court rejected their claims. That’s what creates a comprehensive documentary record that their whole attack on the election, the big lie, is based on a tissue of propaganda and nonsense.

But then they moved — they escalated into increasingly illegitimate things, trying to get the state legislatures to void the popular vote and substitute in Trump Electoral College slates, then go into election officials, several dozen of them, most prominently Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger in Georgia, to try to intimidate them and browbeat them into concocting a victory for Trump, making up votes in that case, you know, just finding 11,780 votes. And from there, he moved to the plan which they ended up not going forward with because they couldn’t get any department to cooperate, but they wanted to seize the election machinery. And from there, the attack was on Michael Flynn. And this was something that we had predicted, that they would try to get Flynn to announce extraconstitutional powers, powers outside the Constitution, to unilaterally reject and repudiate Electoral College votes coming in from the states, specifically Arizona, Georgia and Pennsylvania.

So, Speaker Pelosi had tasked me and a few other members with the job of getting ready to answer the objections to particular — the receipt of particular Electoral College votes. And, you know, as I describe in the book, Amy, basically, we had prepared for everything except for a violent insurrection overrunning the House and the Senate.

AMY GOODMAN: Now, it’s not like —

REP. JAMIE RASKIN: And —

AMY GOODMAN: Congressmember Raskin, it’s not like you didn’t have warning. I want to go back to another clip from the new MSNBC documentary, Love & the Constitution, beginning with Donald Trump’s former personal attorney Michael Cohen testifying before you, testifying in Congress in 2019.

MICHAEL COHEN: Given my experience working for Mr. Trump, I fear that if he loses the election in 2020, that there will never be a peaceful transition of power. And this is why I agreed to appear before you today.
REP. JAMIE RASKIN: Michael Cohen did issue a stark warning to the country that if Donald Trump lost, there would be no peaceful transition, there’s no way he would accept it. That is a frightening and startling thing for the president’s own lawyer to say about him, but it seemed far off at that point to a lot of people. And people have said from the beginning there’s no way he would do that, there’s no way anybody would do that.

AMY GOODMAN: So, that is Congressmember Jamie Raskin, and at the end, you’re shaking the hand of Mr. Cohen. But you didn’t quite believe what he was saying, is that right?

REP. JAMIE RASKIN: Well, actually, you know, when — I looked at some of the footage that Mads Carter had filmed. I was saying — there are some other parts of the movie where I was saying there will be violence all the way up 'til January 6. And I was sort of amazed that I kept predicting that. But what I hadn't predicted was that it would be so overwhelming that we wouldn’t be able to stop it.

I mean, the image — when Tabitha and Hank decided to come with me — and, of course, we were all absolutely devastated on January 6th because we had buried Tommy on January the 5th in a COVID-19, you know, funeral where we could only have 20 people there. And when they decided to come with me, they said, “Well, will we be OK? Because Donald Trump is telling his people to come to Washington.” And I said, “Of course we’ll be all right. We’ll be inside the Capitol.”

And the image I had in my mind, Amy, was of June the 2nd, when Black Lives Matter had a protest at the Capitol, and there was this huge phalanx of National Guardsmen and women holding bayonets and weapons on the steps of the Capitol. And that was immediately the image that came to mind. That was the day after Trump and William Barr had unleashed that paramilitary police riot against protesters in Lafayette Square.

And essentially, you know, what I hadn’t seen was that we would not be militarily prepared sufficiently to defend the Capitol building, the House and the Senate, and that there would be this band of violent extremists, white nationalists, Proud Boys, Oath Keepers, Three Percenters, militiamen — you know, there were Aryan Nations there — that came to lead the mob and smashed out our windows and began the assault on the police officers. And that was the part that was not foreseen.

I mean, I — like most members of Congress, I was walking around with the assurance in my mind that if one person tried to evade the metal detectors and to run into the Capitol, they would be shot on site. And we were overrun by more than 900 rioters who came in. And like Lindsey Graham said that day, we all could have died, because any one of them could have had a bomb. And we’re lucky that the Secret Service at Trump’s rally were checking people for weapons, because that’s why most of the extremists left their arms back in the car or back in the hotel or motel, because they were going to that rally. But had they not, it could have been a very different situation, and there would have been a lot more deaths than there were. I mean, it was a deadly riot as it was, but that riot surrounded an insurrection, and that insurrection surrounded, of course, a coup, whose details are surfacing now through our investigation.

AMY GOODMAN: And I want to talk about those details. But you were separated from your daughter Tabitha and from Hank, now your son-in-law — right? — because you were on the floor of the House. Talk about where you went and your fear for them, where they went.

REP. JAMIE RASKIN: Well, Hank, by the way, was my son-in-law then. He had eloped in a COVID-19 wedding with our daughter Hannah. He’s married to our older daughter, and they had an Elvis Presley wedding out in Nevada.

But they had come in to — they wanted to see me speak, which was nice, and they saw the speeches that I was giving defending the Electoral College count and explaining what our constitutional role was. We were not there to pick the president; we were simply there to receive the Electoral College votes from the states as they had been cast, essentially, by the people of the states.

But after that was over, they wanted to go back to Steny’s office. Steny Hoyer had offered his Capitol Hill office. And they went back there. And so, when we were overrun and the siege began, I was separated from them, and they were with my chief of staff, Julie Tagen. They had barricaded themselves in Steny’s office. They locked the door, and then they pushed all the furniture up against the door. And Tabitha and Hank were hiding under a desk for a few hours while people were pounding on the door, and they could hear the riot taking place outside.

AMY GOODMAN: And yet you have so many denying what took place, even though they themselves were threatened like you were. I want to talk about the latest developments and what you think is the most significant revelations to come out of your committee right now, those who have testified, those who haven’t. Vice President Pence has not yet testified, but Marc Short, his chief of staff, has testified, we’ve learned, not to mention others, for example — well, talk about what happened this week. You had testimony from a prison.

REP. JAMIE RASKIN: Yeah, we did.

AMY GOODMAN: Can you talk about this?

REP. JAMIE RASKIN: Well, you know, as I was saying, I view it as taking place in three rings of activity, and each one is fascinating and important to understand in its own respect. I mean, there was a mass demonstration for a “wild” protest, called by Donald Trump, that turned into a riot, and so that’s a very important thing for us to understand, how a demonstration became a riot and how a crowd became a mob and the role that social media played in that; the realm of the insurrection with the domestic violent extremist groups, how they were coordinated and what kinds of contacts they had with the immediate political entourage surrounding Donald Trump; but at the very red-hot core of it was the realm of the coup. And it’s a strange word to use in American political parlance, because we don’t have a lot of experience with coups in our own country, and we think of a coup as something taking place against a president, but this was a coup orchestrated by the president against the vice president and against the Congress in order to overthrow the normal constitutional order and the workings of our electoral process to seize the presidency for another four years.

And from everything I’ve seen so far, I am convinced that Donald Trump was absolutely hell-bent on staying in office. This was not some kind of accidental, improvisational thing that got out of control at a big demonstration. No, this was methodical and organized. And they really were depending on Mike Pence just to negate these Electoral College votes, which, of course, he had no power to do. But that would have activated, under the 12th Amendment, a so-called contingent election, where we would move as the House of Representatives to vote immediately a new president in.

And you ask, “Well, why would they want the House to be voting, with Speaker Pelosi in charge?” Well, under the 12th Amendment, we’re not voting one member, one vote; we’re voting one state, one vote. And after the 2020 elections, they knew well they had 27 state delegations in the House, we had 22. Pennsylvania was tied right down the middle. Even had they lost the at-large representative from Wyoming’s vote, Liz Cheney’s vote, as I think they would have, they still would have had 26 votes. They would have moved “immediately,” under the terms of the 12th Amendment, for a vote. They kept talking about, well, returning the votes to the states, letting the states, giving them time, giving them weeks and months. I think they understood there would have been an immediate vote in the House of Representatives, and they would have declared victory for Trump.

He likely would have invoked the Insurrection Act and declared martial law, as his disgraced former national security adviser Michael Flynn was urging him to do. And he would have called in the National Guard, that had been held at bay for several hours over the course of the rioting, to come in and put down the insurrectionary chaos he had unleashed against us. And he would have pronounced himself a hero for doing that.

And I think we were very close to that having happened. And any a number of things could have gone in a number of different directions that would have led to that outcome. And anything could have happened there with an insurrection and a coup. There could have been civil war in the country.

AMY GOODMAN: So, what did you learn this week about the founder and leader of the far-right Oath Keepers, the militia group, who appeared from prison — he’s facing sedition charges — Stewart Rhodes? What did he testify? And what connections do you believe he has to either Trump or Trump’s inner circle?

REP. JAMIE RASKIN: Well, I’m afraid I can’t answer that, Amy. Forgive me. We haven’t release that transcript yet. The chair has not made the decision to do that. So we can’t talk about the details of specific interviews and depositions until the committee has made them public.

AMY GOODMAN: I want to bring Madeleine Carter into this conversation, the director of the documentary that’s going to be airing on MSNBC at 10:00 Eastern on Sunday night, following the life and political journey of you, of Congressmember Jamie Raskin. Madeleine, can you talk about when you decided to do this film?

MADELEINE CARTER: I spent months trying to convince Jamie to do this film. And I think I started trying to convince him in January of 2018. And I didn’t start filming ’til July 4th of 2018.

AMY GOODMAN: And what was most important to you then? In fact, Congressmember Raskin is your congressmember.

MADELEINE CARTER: That is true. Well, what had happened is that on the same day — excuse me, same month, January of 2017, Donald Trump became my president, and Jamie Raskin became my congressman. And literally from the early weeks, Jamie became a Trump gadfly. And I watched Jamie as he was valiantly trying to bring the public light to Trump’s — just Trump’s endless atrocities and lawbreaking. And so, about a year into both of their terms, I thought I’d really like to make a film about Jamie kind of holding up democracy against Trump.

AMY GOODMAN: I want to go back to another clip of your film, Love & the Constitution.

REP. JAMIE RASKIN: Why is America such an extraordinary country? We are not unified by virtue of being one ethnicity or one ideology or one religion. We’re unified by one Constitution and one rule of law and then the values under our Constitution. It is an aspiration. It’s a challenge to us. The Constitution shouldn’t be some kind of fetish document. It should be the living commitment that we all have to make democracy work in service of the common good.

AMY GOODMAN: There you have a clip of the film Love & the Constitution. How did your film change over these just few years — you’ve been working on this now for four years — from when you started to what it has become?

MADELEINE CARTER: It changed radically. I mean, when I started, Mueller and his team had been investigating for about a year. And I and many others expected that the Mueller report would come out at some point in the summer or fall of 2018. And I expected that that would lead to the House Judiciary Committee investigating and impeaching Trump. And Jamie was on that House Judiciary Committee. So, when I started out, I thought I was going to make a one-year film following the impeachment of Trump sort of through the eyes of Jamie, who was on the House Judiciary Committee. But, of course, things kept — I mean, things did not happen that way, and other things kept happening. So I just kept filming, because I kept not having an ending.

AMY GOODMAN: But you ultimately did. I mean, at this point, what has happened, January 6th, to say the least, has not been resolved.

MADELEINE CARTER: That is true. And to this day — to tell you the truth, I wish I were still making the film and still following Jamie as he is working on the select — the January 6th select committee, because — but there may never be an ending to our Trump woes, so maybe I’ll have to do a part two.

AMY GOODMAN: I want to go to the final clip that we have from the film Love & the Constitution. This is Congressmember Raskin reflecting on the death of Tommy, his son, and the pandemic.

REP. JAMIE RASKIN: We were not the only family in that god-awful year to lose a family member. If you add up COVID-19, opioid deaths, gun violence and all of the other normal causes, millions of people lost loved ones.
PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: Amen.
REP. JAMIE RASKIN: We are indeed surrounded now by American carnage.

AMY GOODMAN: “American carnage,” which, of course, is echoing President Trump’s inaugural address. Jamie Raskin, do you — can you talk about what happened and how that has shaped all that you have done? It was incredibly brave of you, after losing your son, to move forward and be at the center of both the impeachment, the chief impeachment manager, and then, of course, chief congressmember on the January 6 select committee.

REP. JAMIE RASKIN: Well, I just felt that I had no choice. I felt Tommy was with me. He was in my heart. I felt him in my chest. And those were scary days, because we didn’t know which way things were going. I mean, the extreme-right websites were continuing to agitate for finishing the job. There were death threats flying all over the place. And I felt then, as I do now, that democracy is on the line and in danger. And, you know, for most of the history of our species, people have lived under kings and queens and bullies like Donald Trump. And democracy, as Lincoln said, is a very fragile experiment. And, you know, every generation has got to ask whether government of the people, by the people and for the people is going to perish from the Earth, because it could very easily do that. And the enemies of democracy all over the world, including in America, including people like Steve Bannon, are agitating for the destruction of democracy, or what they call the deep state, the deep state based on government by the people, as opposed to dictators and would-be dictators like Donald Trump. So, yeah, I —

AMY GOODMAN: Are we — are we going to see Donald Trump come before the committee? And are we going to see public hearings? I mean, can you talk about how the Watergate hearings affected you, and how significant they were for the country, and what it would mean to have the same thing today around January 6th?

REP. JAMIE RASKIN: Well, the Watergate hearings had a cleansing effect on at least the psyche of the country. I don’t know that it fully dislodged all of the structures of power that had been immobilized against democracy. But we have to have hearings that give people the truth. You know, my dad used to say that democracy needs a ground to stand on, and that ground is the truth. So, the people have to be aware of exactly what took place, so we can fortify our institutions and our processes against the next coup, against the next violent insurrection.

You know, people understand the way that Donald Trump exploited these domestic violent extremist groups, these white nationalist groups, but they exploited him, too. They used him. I mean, when they had their “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville in August of 2017, they could only muster together 500 people. They were much more isolated. And then, after several years of Trump and Trump’s own organizing for January 6th, they were several thousand at the front of a march of 40,000 or 50,000 people. And they almost knocked over the government of the United States. And, you know, if you look at what they say, their only regret is they didn’t bring all of their guns with them and they left them back in their hotel and motel rooms.

AMY GOODMAN: Jamie, what concerns do you have for the upcoming elections? The New York Times recently reported that nearly two dozen Republicans who have publicly questioned or disputed the 2020 election results are running for secretaries of state across the country.

REP. JAMIE RASKIN: Well, Trump and his forces clearly want to seize the electoral apparatus so they will be the ones making all of the decisions about which votes count and which votes don’t count. It’s not only an obvious plan, it’s an explicit plan on their part. I mean, one of my colleagues, Jody Hice from Georgia, is leaving the Congress of the United States to run for secretary of state in Georgia to oust Raffensperger, who they of course accuse of disloyalty to the Trump regime. So that’s where we are right now.

So, you know, we can’t fight the last battle alone. We’ve got to fight the last battle, too. We’ve got to fortify the Congress and the presidential electoral process the best we can. But we’ve got to be fighting in every state to try to defend the neutral administration of the election laws and traditions of nonpartisan, or at least bipartisan, election administration, which they want to replace with partisan election administration. And in some places, they just want the state legislature, in Republican hands, to be controlling the elections. So, we’ve got to deal with that threat, which is an overwhelming one, as well as do whatever we can to defend the right to vote, even though they have used the filibuster as one of their anti-democratic instruments to prevent us from passing voting rights legislation.

So, what we’ve got, really, is the will of the majority. Remember, Hillary beat him by 3 million votes. Joe Biden beat him by seven-and-a-half million votes. And our numbers are growing. And it’s the will of the majority versus a bag of tricks that they’ve got — the voter suppression, the gerrymandering of our districts, the manipulation of the Electoral College and planting booby traps throughout it, and then just stealing elections, which is what this whole attack on election administration is all about.

'The case against Boeing'

Families of passengers who died in fatal crashes while aboard Boeing 737 MAX jets in Ethiopia and Indonesia are urging the Department of Justice to reopen a Trump-era settlement that allowed the company to evade criminal prosecution. We speak with the father of one of the victims, as well as the director of the new documentary, “Downfall: The Case Against Boeing,” which details Boeing’s push for profit over safety and is set to air on Netflix February 18. “We ultimately want this agreement reopened so that our input is reflected and it’s not a hasty rush job at the end of an administration,” says Michael Stumo, father of Ethiopian Airlines crash victim Samya Stumo, who recently met with Attorney General Merrick Garland. Boeing kept the planes running to save money despite internal research showing that their designs had a high probability to cause a crash. “They blamed the pilots, even knowing the system was faulty on this aircraft,” says filmmaker Rory Kennedy.



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.

Relatives of passengers who died in a pair of fatal crashes of Boeing 737 MAX jets in Ethiopia and Indonesia are urging Attorney General Merrick Garland to reopen a $2.5 billion settlement that the Trump administration reached with Boeing in its final days in office last year. Under the settlement, Boeing avoids criminal prosecution over its role in two of the deadliest airplane crashes in years. Attorney General Garland held a video meeting with several family members Wednesday.

The first crash occurred on October 29, 2018, when a Lion Air flight in Indonesia crashed after taking off from Jakarta, killing all 189 people aboard. Just after five months later, on March 10, 2019, an Ethiopian Airlines flight crashed minutes after taking off from Addis Ababa. A hundred fifty-seven people died — everyone on board. Both planes were using a new, flawed automated flight control system that activated erroneously.

The story of the Boeing crashes and the company’s push for profit over safety are told in a stunning new documentary called Downfall: The Case Against Boeing. It just premiered at the Sundance Film Festival. This is an excerpt featuring Garima Sethi, the wife of Bhavye Suneja, who died in the crash of Lion Air Flight 610 in Indonesia. He was the pilot.

GARIMA SETHI: My husband prepared his flight bag, checked his schedule, checked out with his colleague that he’s flying with. We had a meal and had a chat for 20, 30 minutes. That was the normal routine before he left for his flight. After he left, I went back to sleep. And after a few hours, I was expecting a call from him. You know, just a normal working day.
AIR TRAFFIC CONTROL: Lion Inter 610 cleared for takeoff, runway 2-5 left.
CO-PILOT: Lion Inter 610 cleared for takeoff, 2-5 left.
WARNING SYSTEM: Airspeed low. Airspeed low.
CO-PILOT: Indicated airspeed disagree, Captain.
WARNING SYSTEM: Airspeed low. Airspeed low.
CO-PILOT: Feel differential.
WARNING SYSTEM: Bank angle. Bank angle. Bank angle.
CO-PILOT: Altitude disagree, Captain!
AIR TRAFFIC CONTROL: Lion Inter 610?
CO-PILOT: We have a flight control problem!
WARNING SYSTEM: Pull up. Pull up.
CO-PILOT: Fly up! Fly up!
GARIMA SETHI: I got a call from one of his colleagues: “We are not able to find his aircraft.” I’m like, “Don’t worry,” because I knew — I knew my husband. I knew how he flew. I was just expecting a call from him, you know? I reached. That was the norm that we used to follow. So I was expecting that call from him instead of anyone else. And after that, it’s just been — everyone knows.

AMY GOODMAN: That was Garima Sethi, the wife of the Indonesian pilot in the Lion Air flight that went down in 2018. And that excerpt is from the upcoming Netflix documentary Downfall: The Case Against Boeing.

We’re joined now by two guests: the film’s director and producer, Rory Kennedy — she’s an Academy Award-nominated, Emmy Award-winning documentary filmmaker — and Michael Stumo, who is the father of Samya Stumo, who died in the Ethiopian Airlines crash in March of 2019, not six months after the Indonesian flight.

Michael, I want to begin with you, and I wanted to start off by sharing all of our condolences on the death of Samya, who I had gotten a chance to meet when she was alive, a beautiful young activist committed to social change. I wanted to give my condolences to your family. We had spoken with Ralph Nader, her granduncle, at the time, but I haven’t spoken to you and to your wife Nadia. Thank you for joining us.

MICHAEL STUMO: Thanks for letting me be here.

AMY GOODMAN: So, Michael, you just met with Merrick Garland, the attorney general. Before we talk about this really stunning documentary, I wanted to ask you about this latest news, what you are calling for.

MICHAEL STUMO: The criminal settlement, the deferred prosecution agreement with Boeing in the latter days of the Trump administration after Attorney General Barr had left, caused surprise, anger and grief among all the crash families, who are connected in a WhatsApp group globally, just erupted in anger. They never talked to us, despite me and my wife asking to speak to the DOJ a few months before. “Hey, what is going on in this criminal investigation?” They said — they denied there was an investigation. Everybody knew there was an investigation. They denied there was. We knew we had rights, under a law called the Crime Victims’ Rights Act, to meet and confer with prosecutors and have a say in their investigation, in their decisions. They said there wasn’t one. Then, all of a sudden, on January 1st, 2021, we find, oh, there’s a criminal settlement, a deferred prosecution agreement that immunizes Boeing executives and throws a couple pilots under the bus.

So, this challenge is by a law professor, Paul Cassell, who’s an expert in crime victims’ rights, and it alleges that the Crime Victims’ Rights Act was violated. We want to reopen the DPA. We don’t want Justice to fight us on that. It’s under new leadership with Merrick Garland. Garland has in fact fought for victims’ rights in a prior life, in the past, as a lawyer. And we asked that he agree with us, or at least not fight us on it, on asking that — a declaration that our rights were violated, and that we should have the opportunity to meet and confer. And, in fact, we ultimately want this agreement reopened, so that our input is reflected and it’s not a hasty rush job at the end of an administration.

AMY GOODMAN: And what’s your sense of the direction the attorney general will go? Again, to summarize, the Department of Justice has charged Boeing with criminal conspiracy to defraud the FAA, the Federal Aviation Administration. Boeing agreed to pay $2.5 billion in fines and compensations, but the arrangement allows the company to avoid criminal prosecution.

MICHAEL STUMO: Yeah, so, just one correction there: Boeing only paid $243.7 million in fines. The rest of it was mostly to airline customers that they had harmed, where they had to owe the money anyway because of the grounding. So they threw that money, plus a bit of some money to families, to make it look like a bigger settlement. It was only $243 million.

As expected in the meeting, Merrick Garland was very empathetic, very sincere. He listened carefully. We did not expect him to say which way he was going in the meeting, and he did not.

AMY GOODMAN: I want to bring Rory Kennedy into this conversation. This film is jaw-dropping. You go deep into Boeing’s history and, essentially, into the cover-up. Talk about why you decided to make Downfall: The Case Against Boeing and what you discovered as you investigated this.

RORY KENNEDY: Thank you, Amy. And I appreciate so much being on your show, being back here with you.

Like so many people, I followed this story, where we witnessed two airplanes crash within five months of each other, the same airplane, the 737 MAX. Three hundred and forty-six people lost their lives. And I wanted to know what happened. I wanted to know who knew what when, who was responsible for these planes crashing, for these lives lost. And I wanted to ultimately make a documentary where we could learn from those mistakes, hold those people accountable, and try our best to ensure that this doesn’t happen again.

AMY GOODMAN: So, take us through the two crashes. I mean, what was some of the most galling parts of this were the blame that Boeing placed on the pilots and also on the countries, as if to say, in developing countries, they just can’t handle quite our planes. Let me turn to another clip from the documentary Downfall: The Case Against Boeing, which premiered Friday at Sundance.

NEWS ANCHOR: An Ethiopian Airlines flight has crashed shortly after takeoff.
REP. PETER DEFAZIO: Two days after the second crash, we knew that this plane appeared to be defective in some manner.
GARIMA SETHI: It was their greed. Are the profits more important than the human life?

AMY GOODMAN: “It was their greed,” says Garima Sethi. And you also see in this clip Congressmember DeFazio, who led a deep investigation into what took place, the Oregon congressmember. But talk about, first, Lion Air and how Boeing responded, and then this unprecedented crash. Just months later, the same thing happens.

RORY KENNEDY: Yeah. Well, I mean, one of the things that was shocking to me to discover in the making of this film is that as far back as 2013, there are meeting minutes, that we document and are shown in the film, that show that Boeing was trying to hide the existence of the MCAS system to the FAA, to the regulators. The MCAS —

AMY GOODMAN: And explain MCAS, which no one knew, even the journalists — even the many technicians and FAA folks, even knew what MCAS was.

RORY KENNEDY: Well, worse than that, a lot of the pilots didn’t know what it was and that it was in the plane. So, the MCAS system was basically a computer system. This plane was built based on a model from — a 737 model that was built in the '60s. So, it was basically retrofitted with larger engines, because Boeing wanted to get to market faster and wanted to save money. So they retrofitted. They put these very large engines, and the aerodynamics of the plane didn't function properly in certain conditions. So, instead of rebuilding the plane, they, again, in an effort to save money, decided to rely on this system, a computer system, to fix the problem.

And basically, what this computer system did was push the nose of the plane downward. The problem — I mean, one of the many problems was that it relied on a single sensor, which is not consistent with regulations. You can’t have one sensor that could have a catastrophic impact. That sensor broke. It sent erroneous information to this computer system. And the nose of the plane kept pushing downward. Every 10 seconds, it would push downward. And in the first plane, that Lion Air airplane crash, they didn’t even know this system was on the plane.

We later find out, which was — equally just blew me away, that Boeing knew, based on their internal research, that if a pilot didn’t respond within four to 10 seconds of the system breaking down, that the result would be catastrophic. And catastrophic means that the airplane would crash, and everybody would die on it. So they knew that as far back as 2016, and they still put these planes up in the air.

And, as you point out, after that first Lion Air crash, they blamed the pilots, even knowing that it was the system that was faulty on this aircraft. So, it was, you know — I mean, you can imagine Garima, who we just heard from, not only having to deal the loss of her husband, and who had committed himself to really protecting his passengers and was an extraordinary pilot — to not only have to deal with his loss, but then to deal with this onslaught of press that suggested that her pilot husband was responsible for this.

AMY GOODMAN: And so, that was Lion Air. And they could get away with that for as long as there wasn’t the second crash, where the same thing happened. And in fact, these pilots, because of the first, though they weren’t trained in a simulator, they were alerted to this MCAS, which, as you said, pushed the nose of the plane down. You had to act within 10 seconds, turning off the system. They couldn’t deny it anymore, though it seemed like they were hiring more PR people, as you point out in the documentary, than they were dealing with how to take these planes out of service until they could figure it out.

RORY KENNEDY: Well, you know, the truth is, Amy — I mean, OK, so, between the first crash and the second crash, the other thing — you know, an additional memo and document is revealed in the film, which is a TARAM report. And the TARAM report showed that Boeing knew and the FAA knew that this plane had a likelihood of crashing 15 times over the course of its lifetime. So, that would average out as once every two years there would be a catastrophic crash like this. And they decided to keep the plane in the air, knowing that. That’s, to me, absolutely outrageous, I mean, to think that we are putting our children, our families, ourselves on these airplanes and that Boeing and the FAA would allow a plane like this to go back in the air, again, in the interest of saving money, because to ground the plane would cost Boeing millions and up to billions of dollars.

But still, after the second airplane crash — first of all, they kept it in the air for three days, until there were a number of other countries, including China and the European Union, that grounded the aircraft. We only did that after three days here in the United States. And Boeing still blamed the pilots after that second airplane crash.

AMY GOODMAN: Talking about their stupidity. I mean, the whole thing was incredible. But you also point out the corporate merger between Boeing and McDonnell Douglas played a key role.

RORY KENNEDY: Yes. This was back in the '90s. You know, I mean, Boeing is a company that I have huge respect for. It's been a driving force in our economy and really was on the forefront of pushing the envelope in commercial air, allowing us to be able to travel all over the world after World War II. You know, it was involved in getting the rockets up to the moon. So it’s had this extraordinary history and has really focused historically on engineering and excellence and safety.

And that all seemed to change when they merged with McDonnell Douglas. McDonnell Douglas was a flailing company, and somehow the people who worked at McDonnell Douglas ended up — you know, one person interview said they bought Boeing with Boeing’s money and somehow took charge of the company and really turned it into a company that prioritized profits over safety.

AMY GOODMAN: Michael Stumo, the organizing that the families of the plane victims did, what you did, going hearing after hearing to Washington, D.C., this international community, because one of the planes went down in Indonesia, one in Ethiopia, and the image of you standing behind the CEO of Boeing in one of those hearings, each of you holding the pictures of your loved ones. Talk about the organizing that has exposed so much of what Boeing did.

MICHAEL STUMO: The crash happened on March 10th of 2019. At the end of April, we learned that the FAA was planning to update pilot training for the MAX so that they received another hour of computer training. We knew then that the fix was in. They were trying to just do the minimal changes to get that MAX up in the air.

We were, you know, on the floor. I mean, we were just grieving. We’re trying to recover. And then we realized: We have to go to Washington. All the while, my wife Nadia and I were connecting with families, family members. Crash families were reaching out to each other, connected in a WhatsApp group, connected in other ways. And Nadia and I went to Washington and met with 56 different members of the Senate Commerce Committee and House Transportation Committee to tell —

AMY GOODMAN: We have 20 seconds.

MICHAEL STUMO: — our story every time. And the getting the families to Washington with the pictures, many times in front of the decision-makers, was difficult but important to let them know what was at stake.

AMY GOODMAN: And we will continue to follow the pressure you’re bringing on the attorney general and on Boeing, on what will come out of this horror that took place. Michael Stumo, father of Samya Stumo, who died in the Ethiopian Airlines crash, and Rory Kennedy, director of Downfall: The Case Against Boeing. I’m Amy Goodman. Thanks for joining us.

'The Lords of Easy Money': How the Federal Reserve enriched Wall Street and broke the US economy

As the Federal Reserve signals it will raise interest rates in March, we talk to Christopher Leonard, author of the new book “The Lords of Easy Money,” about how the Federal Reserve broke the American economy. He details the issues with quantitative easing, a radical intervention instituted by the federal government in 2010 to encourage banks and investors to lend more risky debt to combat the recession. “The Fed’s policies over the last decades have stoked the world of Wall Street,” says Leonard. “It has pumped trillions of dollars into the banking system and thereby inflated these markets for stocks, for bonds. And that drives income inequality.”


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.

Amidst growing concerns about inflation in the U.S., the Federal Reserve announced Tuesday it will start hiking interest rates in March. To look at what this will mean for working people and everyone beyond the 1%, we’re joined by Christopher Leonard, longtime business reporter. His new book is out this week, The Lords of Easy Money: How the Federal Reserve Broke the American Economy.

Welcome to Democracy Now! It’s great to have you with us, Christopher. If you can start off with a Federal Reserve 101: What does it mean to lift interest rates? And why do you say it’s broken, the American economy?

READ: How wealth inequality spiraled out of control

CHRISTOPHER LEONARD: Yes. Thank you. Great question. And, you know, the Federal Reserve can seem like this very kind of obscure and highly technical institution that only matters to Wall Street, but I really think that’s not the case. It is critical to understand what this central bank does and how it has affected our economy. You know, one of my central preoccupations as a business reporter is trying to understand growing income inequality in the United States and why we live in this sort of funhouse-type economy where we can see stock markets breaking records, corporate debt markets breaking records, while the middle class is really treading water with stagnant wages and falling further behind. What the Federal Reserve has done over the last decade helps explain why this is happening.

So, you know, at the root level, we created the Federal Reserve as the central bank to do one key thing: It creates our currency. The Federal Reserve literally creates and manages our currency. That thing we call a U.S. dollar is in reality a Federal Reserve note. So, the central bank’s job is to make sure that the dollar retains its value. So that’s why you always hear this talk about, you know, the Federal Reserve hiked interest rates today, or it cut interest rates today. What they’re doing is expanding or contracting the supply of money.

So, why does that matter? Well, here’s why. Over the last decade, the Fed has really moved itself to the center of American economic life. The Fed has engaged in an unprecedented series of experiments in printing new money. Let me put it this way: In the first century of its existence, the Fed expanded the pool of base money — you know, what the economists called the monetary base. The Fed expanded that pool of money to about $900 billion. So, that’s a trillion dollars in printing money over a century. But then, after the crash of '08, between 2008, 2014, the Fed prints $3.5 trillion. So that's three-and-a-half centuries’ worth of money printing in a few short years.

Now, that money is not a neutral force. When the Fed creates new dollars, it doesn’t create them in the checking account of normal people, right? It creates new dollars — specifically and by design, it creates new dollars on Wall Street in the bank accounts of 24 select institutions. And they’re the folks you’d suspect: you know, JPMorgan, Goldman Sachs, Wells Fargo. That’s where the Fed is creating these new dollars. So the Fed’s policies over the last decades have stoked the world of Wall Street. It has pumped trillions of dollars into the banking system, and thereby it’s inflated these markets for stocks, for bonds. And that drives income inequality, because, you know, just the tiny 1% at the top of our wealth ladder controls 40% of all the assets, whereas the bottom half of Americans, you know, those of us who earn a living by getting a paycheck rather than by owning assets — the bottom half of Americans only own about 5% of all the assets. So the Fed’s policies have enriched the very rich, the biggest of the big banks, while leaving the middle class behind.

READ: Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is absolutely right — there shouldn't be any billionaires

And now we find ourselves in this position, that’s really actually quite a dangerous moment, in 2022, where we’re seeing price inflation start to increase dramatically. So, the Fed is being forced to tighten the money supply and to try to back off these stimulus programs it’s created. The real risk here, I think, for everybody in America is that as the Fed does this, as it hikes rates and pulls back on the stimulus, it’s going to cause those asset markets to fall. And, you know, to put that in common parlance, it’s risking creating a financial market crash as the Fed is forced to hike interest rates. And again, to me, one of the key problems with this is that over the decade of these easy money policies, the middle class has really been left out. And once again, it will be the middle class that’s going to have to pay the bill if we see another financial market crash.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: Well, Chris, could you respond to what we see everywhere in the media, namely that inflation rates now are almost at 7%, higher than they’ve been since the 1980s? I mean, that level of inflation also impacts the vast majority of Americans adversely. What other steps could be taken to reduce inflation?

CHRISTOPHER LEONARD: So, it’s just fascinating. And one key thing I would really like to point out, that I learned while reporting this book, is that we should, I think, think about two kinds of inflation. There’s inflation of prices, which is what we’re talking about right now, that really sharp increase in the price of food, fuel, television sets, cars. That’s price inflation. But then you’ve got inflation of assets, which is what the Fed has been pushing so hard for decades. So, that’s a rise in the value of homes and stocks and corporate bonds. So we’ve actually had runaway asset inflation for a decade, but we haven’t seen price inflation. And we’re starting to see it now.

And as you point out, price inflation can just, frankly, be devastating for the middle class, if wages don’t keep up with the increase in prices — which, unfortunately, is exactly what we’re seeing now. So, wages are kind of creeping up a little bit, but we’re seeing this runaway increase in prices, which presents us with a terrible dilemma. And to be blunt, the Federal Reserve is responsible for the price inflation, at least to a certain degree, by pumping all of this money into the economy.

So, you know, your question is: How can you fight it, and what can you do?

READ: How capitalism is leading us to instability, inequality, and fascism

AMY GOODMAN: We have 30 seconds.

CHRISTOPHER LEONARD: Quite unfortunately, one of the few ways to do this is to hike interest rates, which is going to create damage to our economy. Many other important measures will take a lot of time, such as improving the supply chain or cracking down on monopolies. So, we’re going to see interest rates hiked, and it’s going to be a bumpy ride.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, we clearly have to come back to this conversation, Christopher Leonard, business reporter and author. New book out this week, it’s called The Lords of Easy Money: How the Federal Reserve Broke the American Economy.

And that does it for our show. I’m Amy Goodman, with Nermeen Shaikh. Remember, wearing a mask is an act of love.

Fascism expert says Trump’s cult of personality is growing

President Joe Biden warned about the looming threat of autocracy during his speech marking the first anniversary of the January 6 Capitol attack on Thursday and denounced his predecessor Donald Trump for inciting the rioters. In a statement responding to Biden’s speech, Trump continued to falsely claim the 2020 election was rigged. To discuss further, we are joined by historian Ruth Ben-Ghiat, an expert on the psychology of authoritarianism, who says Trump has grown his “personality cult” since his election loss and converted the GOP into “a far-right authoritarian party which has enshrined violence as part of the practice of power.” She also discusses Trump’s recent endorsement of Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán, who has been recognized by European Union leadership as a threat to democracy, and calls Florida Governor Ron DeSantis a “mini-Trump” who is planning for “an authoritarian system at the state level.”

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

AMY GOODMAN: President Biden marked the first anniversary of the January 6 Capitol insurrection by denouncing Donald Trump for inciting his supporters to attack the Capitol in an effort to overturn the 2020 election. In a speech from Statuary Hall in the U.S. Capitol, Biden accused Trump of spreading a “web of lies” and claimed the former president — who he did not name — is placing a “dagger at the throat of American democracy.” This is part of Biden’s address.

PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: Here is the God’s truth about January 6, 2021. Close your eyes. Go back to that day. What do you see? Rioters rampaging, waving for the first time inside this Capitol a Confederate flag that symbolized the cause to destroy America, to rip us apart. Even during the Civil War, that never, ever happened. But it happened here in 2021.
What else do you see? A mob breaking windows, kicking in doors, breaching the Capitol; American flags on poles being used as weapons, as spears; fire extinguishers being thrown at the heads of police officers. A crowd that professes their love for law enforcement assaulted those police officers, dragged them, sprayed them, stomped on them. Over 140 police officers were injured.
We’ve all heard the police officers who were there that day testify to what happened. One officer called it, quote, a “medieval” battle, and that he was more afraid that day than he was fighting the War in Iraq. They’ve repeatedly asked since that day: How dare anyone — anyone — diminish, belittle or deny the hell they were put through?
We saw it with our own eyes. Rioters menaced these halls, threatening the life of the speaker of the House, literally erecting gallows to hang the vice president of the United States of America.
But what did we not see? We didn’t see a former president, who had just rallied the mob to attack, sitting in the private dining room off the Oval Office in the White House, watching it all on television and doing nothing for hours as police were assaulted, lives at risk, the nation’s Capitol under siege.
This wasn’t a group of tourists; this was an armed insurrection. They weren’t looking to uphold the will of the people; they were looking to deny the will of the people. They were looking to uphold — they weren’t looking to uphold a free and fair election; they were looking to overturn one. They weren’t looking to save the cause of America; they were looking to subvert the Constitution.
This isn’t about being bogged down in the past; this is about making sure the past isn’t buried. That’s the only way forward. That’s what great nations do. They don’t bury the truth; they face up to it. Sounds like hyperbole, but that’s the truth: They face up to it. We are a great nation.
My fellow Americans, in life, there’s truth and, tragically, there are lies, lies conceived and spread for profit and power. We must be absolutely clear about what is true and what is a lie.
And here is the truth: The former president of the United States of America has created and spread a web of lies about the 2020 election. He’s done so because he values power over principle, because he sees his own interests as more important than his country’s interests and America’s interests, and because his bruised ego matters more to him than our democracy or our Constitution.
He can’t accept he lost, even though that’s what 93 United States senators, his own attorney general, his own vice president, governors and state officials in every battleground state have all said: He lost. That’s what 81 million of you did as you voted for a new way forward. He has done what no president in American history, the history of this country, has ever, ever done: He refused to accept the results of an election and the will of the American people.
While some courageous men and women in the Republican Party are standing against it, trying to uphold the principles of that party, too many others are transforming that party into something else. They seem no longer to want to be the party — the party of Lincoln, Eisenhower, Reagan, the Bushes. But whatever my other disagreements are with Republicans who support the rule of law and not the rule of a single man, I will always seek to work together with them to find shared solutions where possible, because if we have a shared belief in democracy, then anything is possible — anything.
And so, at this moment, we must decide: What kind of nation are we going to be? Are we going to be a nation that accepts political violence as a norm? Are we going to be a nation where we allow partisan election officials to overturn the legally expressed will of the people? Are we going to be a nation that lives not by the light of the truth but in the shadow of lies? We cannot allow ourselves to be that kind of nation. …
Those who stormed this Capitol and those who instigated and incited and those who called on them to do so held a dagger at the throat of America, at American democracy. They didn’t come here out of patriotism or principle. They came here in rage, not in service of America, but rather in service of one man. Those who incited the mob, the real plotters, who were desperate to deny the certification of this election and defy the will of the voters.

AMY GOODMAN: President Biden, speaking Thursday at the Capitol to mark the first anniversary of the deadly January 6 insurrection.

Delaware Congressmember Lisa Blunt Rochester spoke later as part of a day of commemoration on Capitol Hill.

REP. LISA BLUNT ROCHESTER: On the day that I was sworn in to Congress, as many of my colleagues know, I was the first African American and the first woman from the state of Delaware elected to Congress. And I carried this scarf with me. It marked an X that my great-great-great-grandfather used to sign this returns of qualified voter registration of 1867 in Georgia. I also carried it on the day of the insurrection, because it is my proof of what we have overcome, and it is my inspiration for what is yet to be done as we work towards a more perfect union.
I continue to have hope, even when I feel hopeless, because my ancestors would have it no other way, and because Scripture tells us that weeping may endure for a night but joy comes in the morning. And while I remember a great deal that day, what I remember most is walking back onto the House floor into the chamber that morning to complete our work, the morning when democracy prevailed. Remember, reflect, recommit.

AMY GOODMAN: Delaware Congressmember Lisa Blunt Rochester, speaking Thursday.

We’re joined now by New York University professor Ruth Ben-Ghiat. She’s an expert on the psychology of authoritarianism and the author of Strongmen: How They Rise, Why They Succeed, How They Fall. She also publishes Lucid, a newsletter on threats to democracy.

Can you put what happened yesterday in the context of your study of fascism, the anniversary of what happened a year ago, Professor?

RUTH BEN-GHIAT: Yes. So, Trump was never going to be — he was never a president who resembled either a Republican or Democrat head of state. He ruled as an autocrat. His priorities were autocratic ones: making money off the presidency, spreading hatred and creating a personality cult.

And so, when he lost the election, it was easy to predict, as I did in Strongmen, that he wouldn’t leave quietly, because democratic — with a small D — presidents, they respect the transfer of power, and they think about their legacy, but for somebody like Trump, who needs immunity from prosecution and needs the adulation, it’s like a kind of existential threat to have to leave. And so he tried everything. He tried martial law. He tried electoral manipulation. And then he went with his bespoke, custom army of thugs.

And what’s really so disturbing, that the GOP, which he remade into an authoritarian party, his personality cult one year later is stronger than ever. And very quickly, in the last year, the GOP has come into its own as a far-right authoritarian party, which has enshrined violence as part of the practice of power. That is part of its menu of how you do politics now.

AMY GOODMAN: During his speech, President Biden addressed what he called the president’s three big lies: Number one, Election Day itself was an insurrection; number two, the election results cannot be trusted; and number three big lie, the mob were the true patriots. Put that in the context of the strongmen you have studied.

RUTH BEN-GHIAT: So, a third of my book is on military coups, and which I thought wouldn’t be so relevant for the American reader, and, of course, I was wrong. And every single coup or authoritarian takeover is always justified as a patriotic act against tyranny, against corruption.

And so, Trump had set this up very well, because these big lies only had traction with his followers because he told 30,000 lies before that. And many of those lies, for years, were trying to take away the legitimacy of the electoral system in people’s minds. He started this in 2016, but he won, so he didn’t have to use this. So, we have to think about how what we saw, and what has been going on after January 6 for the last year, is the product of this very successful propaganda strategy.

And so, turning — what you also do is you turn it — I call authoritarianism as the upside-down world. So, Biden’s victory becomes the insurrection, and then January 6 becomes the righting of the wrong. And Trump knows how to tell a story. He’s a reality TV president. And he was very compelling, this idea that he was the hero, the savior of the nation, who had something taken away from him. And that way, January 6 becomes a kind of morally righteous action.

AMY GOODMAN: Just days before the January 6th anniversary, Trump endorsed Hungary’s Viktor Orbán. He released a statement saying, “He has done a powerful and wonderful job in protecting Hungary, stopping illegal immigration, creating jobs,” etc. Talk about the significance of President Trump in the world and what 2024 could mean if he were to run again.

RUTH BEN-GHIAT: So, I’ve always seen Trump — of course, we focus on how he came to power to destroy American democracy. That was his goal. But his other agenda was detaching America from the democratic world order and inserting it into what I’ve been calling since 2017 “Axis 2.0,” this kind of far-right autocratic order. A lot of it’s funded by Putin. And Orbán has made Budapest a kind of hub of these far-right networks, which remind me of what I initially studied, was these fascist networks of this fascist internationalism in the 1930s.

Now, Trump really identifies with Orbán, because Orbán is somebody who was a centrist, and then he was voted out, and he spent some years getting back to power. And then he arranged things. He has this electoral autocracy, where you hold elections and then you fix them, so that he doesn’t have to leave, you know, in his mind.

And the GOP has embraced Hungary, and they really see Hungary’s present as America’s future. And so, Tucker Carlson, you know, had whole week of broadcasting there. And even Mike Pence, who’s not the most worldly person, trotted over to Budapest and talked about how he hoped that abortion rights would be taken away soon. So, Hungary is this model of white Christian supremacy, anti-trans, homophobic. It checks all the boxes of what the GOP is actually today.

AMY GOODMAN: Finally, we talk about him as a model and him modeling himself on autocrats around the world. But what about him as a model at home for people like Ron DeSantis, the Florida governor? You lay out, in a very chilling piece, this image of DeSantis surrounded by the people he wants to basically deputize as what his opponent in running for governor has talked about as his “secret police.”

RUTH BEN-GHIAT: Yeah, Ron DeSantis is an example — so, when you have somebody like Trump who imposes this kind of authoritarian party discipline, the system populates with mini-Trumps. They used to be called mini-Duces and mini-Hitlers, and now we have these mini-Trumps. And so, what we’ve seen is, in places like Texas and Florida, states are becoming laboratories of autocracy.

And DeSantis is particularly disturbing, because, you know, he wants to have his own civilian National Guard. And many states have those, but I discovered, doing research, that he’s also establishing an office for, quote, “election integrity,” which is code speak for election fraud, where it’s going to have its own prosecutors and investigators. So, anybody who — if there’s like an election result in the state that DeSantis doesn’t like, he can have his goons go after them and accuse them of violating election law. And they’ve made what used to be misdemeanors into felonies, so these people could be put in jail. So this is an example of the kind of authoritarian system at the state level that DeSantis has planned.

AMY GOODMAN: Ruth Ben-Ghiat, I want to thank you for being with us, expert on the psychology of authoritarianism and fascism. She is the author of Strongmen: How They Rise, Why They Succeed, How They Fall, a professor of history and Italian studies at New York University, and she publishes Lucid, a newsletter on threats to democracy.

Coming up, the CDC is predicting 84,000 people will die in the United States of COVID over the next four weeks. We’ll speak with emergency room doctor Craig Spencer. Stay with us.


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