Amy Goodman

Billionaires race to privatize space as Earth burns — and workers organize

As the world's richest man flies his Blue Origin rocket into suborbital space, here on Earth calls are growing to tax the rich and let Amazon unionize. Billionaire Jeff Bezos has faced strong criticism after Tuesday's flight, for which he thanked Amazon workers and customers who "paid for all of this." Bezos traveled to the edge of space just days after another billionaire, Virgin Group founder Richard Branson, took a similar trip on a Virgin Galactic spacecraft. "The richest and most powerful people in the world are turning their eyes away from the planet and to the stars," says Paris Marx, a writer and host of the podcast "Tech Won't Save Us." "We need to question whether we should be dedicating so much resources to this kind of grand vision of a future that may never arrive," Marx says. We also speak with journalist Peter Ward, author of the book "The Consequential Frontier: Challenging the Privatization of Space," who says billionaires who have monopolized large sectors of the economy are seeking to do the same for space infrastructure. "It's not the worst thing to have the private sector involved. It's just it can't be where they have complete control," Ward says.

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

AMY GOODMAN: We begin today's show with a look at how the world's richest man completed a 10-minute suborbital flight aboard his Blue Origin spacecraft Tuesday. Jeff Bezos spoke at a news conference after his crew landed.

JEFF BEZOS: I want to thank every Amazon employee and every Amazon customer, because you guys paid for all of this. So, seriously, for every Amazon customer out there and every Amazon employee, thank you from the bottom of my heart very much.

AMY GOODMAN: The billionaire Amazon founder Bezos's remarks drew sharp rebuke. Washington Congressmember Pramila Jayapal tweeted, "If Amazon paid its workers fairly and did not fight unionization, workers would not be funding the expensive hobbies of billionaires. They would be taking care of their families and living dignified and fulfilling lives." Jayapal also noted that the 11-minute "joyride" cost over $2.5 million a minute. "Yes, it's time to tax the rich," she said.

Stuart Appelbaum, president of the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union that tried to unionize Amazon's warehouse in Bessemer, Alabama, also responded to Bezos' comments thanking Amazon customers and employees for paying for his spaceflight.

STUART APPELBAUM: These are people who put their lives on the line during the pandemic and did not receive adequate support from Jeff Bezos. In the middle of the pandemic, he even cut people's wages, when he didn't need to. People are being forced to work in conditions where their health and safety is not being adequately protected. There is so much more Jeff Bezos should be doing for his employees.

AMY GOODMAN: Bezos rocketed into suborbital space with his brother, as well as an 82-year-old aviation pioneer named Wally Funk and 18-year-old Oliver Daemen of the Netherlands, who was his first paying customer. Daemen is the son of Joes Daemen, the CEO and founder of hedge fund Somerset Capital Partners. It's unclear just how many millions Daemen paid for the seat.

For more, we're joined by two guests. In St. John, Canada, Paris Marx is with us, host of the podcast Tech Won't Save Us and writer whose article in Jacobin is headlined "Leave the Billionaires in Space." And joining us from the U.K. is journalist Peter Ward, author of the book The Consequential Frontier: Challenging the Privatization of Space.

We welcome you both to Democracy Now! Paris Marx, as you watched the richest man on Earth rocket away from it for just a few minutes, talk about your thoughts.

PARIS MARX: Yeah, it was — first of all, it's great to join you, Amy and Nermeen. It was wild to watch that, right? You know, for so long people have been criticizing this, have been saying that it's not something that we should do. But to watch this, the richest man in the world, a man who admitted after his flight that all of his wealth comes from the workers who, you know, work for Amazon, who have been underpaid, who have been mistreated for so, so long, and then to compare that with the stories that we've been seeing in recent weeks about, you know, the fires in British Columbia burning a whole town to the ground, the wet-bulb temperatures in Pakistan, the flooding that's happening in Europe, it's just wild to put these stories next to one another and to see that at a moment when we have so many crises, even beyond the climate crisis, that we need to be dealing with, that the richest and most powerful people in the world are turning their eyes away from the planet into the stars.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: And, Peter Ward, you've written a book on the privatization of space, so just could you give us some broader context? When did this begin? Who is Peter Diamandis, the founder of X Prize? What is that? And where do you see this going? It's only been 20 years or so since this idea began, is that correct?

PETER WARD: Yeah, yeah, that's correct. So, it actually goes back. The first example of space tourism happened in Russia, actually. The Russians tried to do things when they were thinking of decommissioning the Mir space station. So, while I was writing the book, I looked into the history of that and saw how — it was surprising, obviously, that Russia did it first. I think that was the source of some embarrassment for some of the American space enthusiasts.

Peter Diamandis launched an X Prize to try and get some — essentially, an easier way to get to space so we could have space tourism. And one of the entries was the vehicle that Richard Branson eventually used to get into space.

So, I think, in terms of the future, where this is going, obviously there will be more flights to space taking extremely wealthy people on 12-minute or 11-minute journeys into space. It's not going to slow down. This was obviously the proof that if Jeff Bezos and Richard Branson will try it themselves, then they believe it's safe. I can't see the price ever going down to the point where, like Jeff Bezos says, everyone will have access to space. That just doesn't seem realistic. This is always going to be something for the wealthy. And it's kind of sad. I mean, if you compare yesterday's event to, say, the moon landing, you know, that was a source of great pride for the whole world. Yesterday we just kind of saw a man having a midlife crisis in front of us, possibly the most expensive midlife crisis ever.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: Well, I also want to ask Peter about the potential militarization of space, not just its commercialization. A comment made by Peter Diamandis — he said, "Bezos doesn't need" to compete — "to beat Elon" — Elon Musk — "he needs to beat Lockheed Martin and Boeing. Having the number one and number three wealthiest people on the planet using their money to open space is extraordinary." So, can you explain, what exactly does he mean by that? "He needs to beat Lockheed Martin and Boeing"?

PETER WARD: I think what he's referring to is that the majority of the money in space is still from military contracts. So, you see SpaceX and Blue Origin now have a massive lobbying kitty that they spend. They have a lot of people on Capitol Hill. They're going after those military contracts. They've been going after them for a long time. But that's where the money is. That's why they're essentially taking the public money and using it to fund their own space tourism.

AMY GOODMAN: After his suborbital flight on Tuesday, Jeff Bezos told MSNBC the trip reinforced his commitment to addressing the climate crisis by moving polluting industries to space.

JEFF BEZOS: We need to take all heavy industry, all polluting industry, and move it into space and keep Earth as this beautiful gem of a planet that it is. But that's going to take decades and decades to achieve. But you have to start, and big things start with small steps.

AMY GOODMAN: So, Paris Marx, if you could respond to we'll just send the polluting industries, not deal with polluting industries, stop them from polluting, but we'll just pollute space. What does that mean?

PARIS MARX: Yeah, it's an absolutely wild statement, right? And especially his admission there that it will take decades to do. Like, you know, as I was saying, in this moment, we're seeing the climate crisis accelerating. Climate change is not something that's coming in decades down the road. It's here right now, and it's getting worse with every single passing year. So I think that we should see that statement as the climate denial that it is.

If we are serious about addressing the climate crisis, then by the time moving industries to space becomes realistic — and I don't even think that will be in decades, I think that is wildly optimistic — then we will already have transformed the production systems, the transportation systems, the other systems that we rely on, to make them sustainable so that we can live on this planet. So, then, why would we even need to move them to space in the first place? It's just a statement that makes no sense.

And as Jeff Bezos is saying these things, it's important to understand that, you know, he is personally still living the life of a billionaire, has massive personal carbon emissions, but his company, the company that built his $200 billion of wealth, Amazon, increased its emissions by 19% last year alone. So, you know, I think that we can see this as a way to distract from the real problems that we face in the here and now, with solutions that are never really going to come.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, during his news conference on Tuesday — and just again to point out, the amount of coverage this got — CNN, I thought, moved their entire operation down to West Texas to cover this, minute by minute, so that you didn't miss anything. And let's compare that to the climate crisis, right? The coverage of the shows on broadcast television for those few minutes got more coverage, the hours leading up to it and after it, than a year of coverage of the climate crisis. But let's go back to another clip of Jeff Bezos. This is Jeff Bezos talking about infrastructure. I want to turn to the news conference, where he called the flight a small step toward building a "road to space."

JEFF BEZOS: You can tell when you're on to something. And this is important. We're going to build a road to space so that our kids and their kids can build the future. And we need to do that. We need to do that to solve the problems here on Earth. This is not about escaping Earth. … We are going to build an infrastructure. Just like when I started Amazon, I didn't have to build the Postal Service or Royal Mail or Deutsche Post. There were people to — there were already gigantic, worldwide infrastructure to deliver packages. That infrastructure today is, for space, just way too expensive and doesn't work.

AMY GOODMAN: I mean, Peter Ward, to say that he spent this money — I mean, he's making the point he built Amazon on the roads that existed, the mail system that existed. And yet, what taxes does he pay? This is really a public-funded flight, the amount of millions that he saved in not paying taxes.

PETER WARD: Yeah, absolutely. It's pretty outrageous. And obviously, when he's talking about the road to space, a lot of these people think of themselves as the kind of railroad industry in America when America was being colonized. It was, obviously, they put the railroads down, and then you had all the industry and economy blossomed around it. They obviously are — not many people mention, you know, the destruction of the Indigenous population and the effects that had on the environment. But luckily, you don't have that in space.

But the really scary thing is, if someone like Jeff Bezos were to lay down that infrastructure, what would that be to stop him conducting the monopolization of the space economy, if there was one? And if he wants to move the entire industry off planet and he controls the entire infrastructure — you know, he has had antitrust issues with Amazon, questions asked — what's to stop him doing the same thing in space?

NERMEEN SHAIKH: Paris Marx, can you talk about what the defenders of these spaceflights, people who have come out in defense of Bezos and Richard Branson, presumably also Elon Musk, saying that their efforts could set the stage for an expansion of space travel that could — and technology, that could eventually affect everyone, presumably favorably?

PARIS MARX: Certainly. You know, there are a lot of people who say the very same things that Jeff Bezos said in that clip that you just played — right? — that this is about the future, it's about making it so everybody can go to space, and it's also about laying the infrastructure so that we can start to develop, you know, whether it's colonies or economies that exist in space. And I think that we really need to see this as, you know, the kind of grand visions for space that are not really realistic. It's not something that we are going to see in our lifetimes.

And we need to question whether we should be dedicating so much resources to this kind of grand vision of a future that may never arrive, when we're dealing with so many crises in the here and now, whether it's climate crises, housing crises, the crisis of inequality that we're dealing with, and whether we should be refocusing on those. You know, as the earlier clip that you played at the beginning of Jeff Bezos saying that his wealth comes from the Amazon workers, you know, imagine if that wealth had not been taken from the workers and was still controlled by them or controlled by a representative government, that could then deploy those resources to address these serious crises instead of building a potential space economy or space colony in decades or centuries to come.

AMY GOODMAN: He is now the world's richest man, but Jeff Bezos has spent much of his life focused on going into space. In 1982, the Miami Herald summarized part of his high school valedictory, writing, quote, "[Bezos] wants to build space hotels, amusement parks, yachts and colonies for two or three million people orbiting around the earth … saying 'The whole idea is to preserve the earth.'" His, quote, "final objective is to get all people off the earth and see it turned into a huge national park." That was from a summary of valedictory addresses that year in high school. Paris Marx, your response?

PARIS MARX: Yeah, you know, that's the same thing that he says today, all these decades later. And we should realize that those ideas come from his college professor, Gerard O'Neill, who developed the idea for these space colonies that, you know, he thinks that we should be living in. You know, Jeff Bezos's plan is not to colonize Mars, like Elon Musk would have us do, but to live in these space colonies that would be orbiting around Earth or in the vicinity of Earth, and we would leave the planet, as you said, and return to it sometimes for vacations, to see the wonderful world where we used to live.

It's important, when Jeff Bezos talks about the future that we could have in space, that he imagines that the reason we need to go to space is because economic growth needs to continue. And in order to achieve that, we are eventually going to run out of energy and resources here on Earth, so we need to leave the planet. And he says it's a choice between stasis and rationing or growth and dynamism. And I think that is a false choice.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: Peter, can you talk about that, this idea that Bezos has of colonizing space, versus Elon Musk's plan to make Mars self-sustaining, part of the justification for which he says that "If there's a third world war we want to make sure there's enough of a seed of human civilization somewhere else to bring it back and shorten the length of the dark ages"? Peter Ward?

PETER WARD: Yeah. So, the pair of them have differing views. Bezos obviously has this idea that we need to preserve the Earth. Musk, it's more of a — it's called the Plan B option. He thinks that we should go to Mars and have some kind of human presence on Mars just in case we destroy the entire planet, civilization, species here on Earth.

And I have to say I agree with what Paris said earlier in terms of the climate crisis. There's no time to execute these plans. There's absolutely no time. It will be too late by the time any of these are done. So, while I do see that there is — I mean, I believe that there is merit in space exploration. It's not done like this, not done with billionaires heading the way, not with scenes like we saw yesterday. It's just not what we need to save the planet. It's like Paris said. It's a false choice.

AMY GOODMAN: Paris Marx, how is the U.S. federal government enabling this? You've got Musk's SpaceX, which won a $149 million contract from the Pentagon to build missile tracking systems. So these are private companies that are — heavily rely on public government funding. You write, "This is the real face of the private space industry: billions of dollars in contracts from NASA, the military, and increasingly for telecommunications that are helping companies like SpaceX and Blue Origin control the infrastructure of space." Talk more about this.

PARIS MARX: Absolutely. And, you know, I would start by agreeing with what Peter said, is that I think that there is good reason to want to explore space, but the way that it's happening is not one that we should want to see. And I think what we have, especially in the past few years, is that the U.S. government has kind of embraced these visions from people like Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos. You know, under Donald Trump, there was talk about going to Mars, how he kind of adopted that idea from Elon Musk and from the private space industry. And Joe Biden has said similar things about wanting to embrace the private space industry.

And so, I think we need to be concerned about the direction that this is heading us down, because there is worry in the United States about the rise of China. And one of the ways that the United States seems to be wanting to push back on that, through militarization and showing its technological power, is by doing more in space. And instead of in the past where it would have done that through NASA — and, you know, NASA still gave contracts to companies like Lockheed and other defense contractors — but in this period, we're looking at more of a privatization of space, where companies like SpaceX and Blue Origin are trying to be the face of that mission. And they are, as you said, heavily reliant on public contracts, even as they claim that they are private companies and this is entrepreneurial and all these kind of narratives that we're used to hearing. And so, I think we need to be concerned. We need to be watching as this happens, because, really, this private space industry that is being built is being built on public dollars, and billions of public dollars.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: Peter Ward, could you explain — both you and Paris have now said that there are many benefits to space exploration. Could you explain what some of those benefits are and in whose hands that exploration ought to be? And also, as you mentioned, Peter, that earlier it was Russia that began this commercialization, what are the other countries that are doing this, space exploration, and even — I'm sorry, the commercialization of space exploration?

PETER WARD: Yeah, sure. So, I mean, the advantages of space exploration, I think number one is a greater understanding of who we are and where we come from, which I think is important. You inspire people to take up science and technology to learn more about the world and how they can potentially help it. There are more practical reasons. None of us want to get hit by an asteroid anytime soon, so it is good to have plans like that in place. Obviously, we rely on the space industry for all our communications. Satellites are vitally important. So there are key reasons why we should be doing space exploration.

And it's not the worst thing to have the private sector involved. It's just it can't be where they have complete control. That is only going to end one way, and it starts with the huge egos of someone like Jeff Bezos, and it ends with us having all the issues of capitalism here on Earth just being sent up to space. One of the most appealing things about space to most people is that it's almost like a blank canvas. It's a place, you know, where potentially we could go, and we could have this Star Trek-style utopia. But if we do let the private sector do what they want, quickly you get a kind of Star Wars-ish nightmare. Yeah, so it's a scary thought, obviously, and something —

AMY GOODMAN: Peter, before we go, you write about mining. There are resources in space. Historically, when humans find resources, we must — we almost always kill each other to get them. Talk about, for example, minerals on the moon.

PETER WARD: Yeah. So, we can mine resources on asteroids. We haven't found a way to do it in a cost-effective enough way to go and do that. There would be a case if we found elements on the moon. If we found water on the moon, you can convert that to fuel, so it could fuel up a rocket which is on its way further into the solar system. But, of course, we have this history throughout our species where when we find resources, we inevitably fight over it. And, you know, you don't have to be a huge sci-fi fan to see the potential where this is going. You know, you could have companies fighting over resources on the moon, over Mars. If you had a colony on Mars which was run by a company, you would literally rely on the CEO of that company or the shareholders of that company to provide you oxygen. So, the potential of some kind of horrible dystopian nightmare out in space is really, really huge.

AMY GOODMAN: Well,, we're going to leave it there for now. We talk about Jeff Bezos as the richest man on Earth, who founded Amazon. He also owns The Washington Post. He bought it in 2013 for $250 million. And it's interesting to see how they covered his spaceflight. One headline read, "Jeff Bezos blasts into space on own rocket: 'Best day ever!'" One op-ed was headlined "The billionaires' space efforts may seem tone-deaf, but they're important milestones." Another headline, "The billionaires' space race benefits the rest of us. Really."

Well, I want to thank Paris Marx, host of the podcast Tech Won't Save Us and Jacobin article, we'll link to, "Leave the Billionaires in Space." And Peter Ward, journalist and author of The Consequential Frontier: Challenging the Privatization of Space.

Next up, as white men dominate the airwaves on climate coverage, we'll speak with the co-editors of the book All We Can Save, an anthology of essays by 60 women at the forefront of the climate movement. Stay with us.


'The crisis started with a crime': How Big Pharma fueled the opioid crisis that killed 500,000 and counting

As the U.S. continues to deal with the fallout from the devastating opioid epidemic that has killed over 500,000 people in the country since 1999, we speak with Academy Award-winning filmmaker Alex Gibney, whose latest documentary, "The Crime of the Century," looks at the pharmaceutical industry's methods in promoting and selling the powerful drugs. "I realized that the big problem here was that we had been seeing it as a crisis, like a natural disaster like a flood or a hurricane, rather than as a series of crimes," says Gibney. "You had these terrible incentives, where the incentive is not to cure the patient. The incentive is to just make as much money as possible." The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says U.S. drug overdose deaths skyrocketed to a record 93,000 last year — a nearly 30% increase. It is the largest one-year increase ever recorded, with overdoses rising in 48 of 50 states.


Please check back later for full transcript.


Afghan activist: George W. Bush’s claim US war in Afghanistan protected women is a 'shameless lie'

As the United States continues to withdraw its forces from Afghanistan after 20 years of war and occupation, the Taliban say they now control most Afghan territory, surrounding major population centers and holding more than two-thirds of Afghanistan's border with Tajikistan. Former President George W. Bush made a rare criticism of U.S. policy, saying, "I'm afraid Afghan women and girls are going to suffer unspeakable harm." But a leading Afghan women's rights activist says the plight of women in the country has always served as a "very good excuse" for U.S. military goals, while conditions in the country have barely improved. "Unfortunately, they pushed us from the frying pan into the fire as they replaced the barbaric regime of the Taliban with the misogynist warlords," says Malalai Joya, who in 2005 became the youngest person ever elected to the Afghan Parliament. She says the decades of U.S. occupation have accomplished little for the people of Afghanistan. "No nation can donate liberation to another nation," she says.


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

AMY GOODMAN: As the United States continues to withdraw most of its forces from Afghanistan after 20 years of war and occupation, Taliban fighters in Afghanistan said Wednesday they had seized a major border crossing with Pakistan as part of a rapid advance across the country. This comes after 22 members of the Afghan elite special forces were reportedly massacred by Taliban forces earlier this week. The commandos had surrendered and were unarmed.

A Taliban delegation in Moscow said Friday the group now controls over 85% of Afghan territory and has surrounded population centers, captured a key Afghan border crossing with Iran and holds more than two-thirds of Afghanistan's border with Tajikistan.

All of this is happening as President Biden said last week the U.S. military will complete its withdrawal from Afghanistan by August 31st — nearly two weeks ahead of the previous September 11th deadline.

On Wednesday, former Republican President George W. Bush responded with a rare criticism of U.S. policy in Afghanistan during an interview with the German news outlet Deutsche Welle.

GEORGE W. BUSH: I'm afraid Afghan women and girls are going to suffer unspeakable harm. … I'm sad. And I spend a — Laura and I spend a lot of time with Afghan women, and they're scared.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, for more, we go to Afghanistan to speak to a leading Afghan woman, Malalai Joya. She's a women's rights activist and human rights activist who in 2005 became the youngest person ever elected to the Afghan Parliament. In 2007, she was suspended for publicly denouncing the presence of warlords and war criminals in the Afghan Parliament. She's also the author of A Woman Among Warlords: The Extraordinary Story of an Afghan Woman Who Dared to Speak Out.

Welcome back to Democracy Now!, Malalai Joya. Thank you for joining us from Afghanistan. I was wondering if you could respond to President Bush's criticism of Biden's withdrawal from Afghanistan, particularly relating it to the condition of women. Have the condition of women improved after the last two decades of U.S. war and occupation there?

MALALAI JOYA: Hello, dear Amy and Nermeen. Thanks for the interview. And hello to all listeners.

As I was saying in the past, as well, and repeating again, that catastrophic situation of the women of Afghanistan was a very good excuse for U.S. and NATO to occupy our country. Unfortunately, they pushed us from the frying pan into the fire as they replaced the barbaric regime of the Taliban with the misogynist warlords, who are — their nature seem like the Taliban. They physically changed, imposed on the destiny of Afghan people. That's why today millions of Afghans are suffering from insecurity, corruption, joblessness, poverty. And still most of Afghan women are the victim.

No doubt that some project that they had for Afghan women and girls, some schools they built, especially in the big cities, for justification of their occupation, this criminal War in Afghanistan. But still now you see the rape cases, domestic violences, acid attacks, forced marriages, self-immolation, beat women publicly with lashes, stoning to death. This list can be prolonged, that these all women rights violation against women continues.

And it was not enough that now that U.S. and NATO invite the terrorist Taliban in the name of the so-called peace reconciliation to join this nondemocratic regime. It is clear that, again, the women of Afghanistan will be the most victims, as to the men and women of my country do not have liberation at all. And you may also hear just now that they are talking about so-called peace reconciliation with the Taliban, but these Taliban announced their declaration that — they were saying, through their declaration, that when they come in power, the girls 15 years old and the widows below 45 years old, they will force marry their commanders with them. And it is only one example, while we have many other example of their misogynist act against women, that their nature never changed. For example, that two 14- and 16-years-old girls in Samangan province just recently, in front of their mother, two commander raped brutally. And 9-years-old, two babies in Kabul, few months ago, they were raped. And this list can be prolonged, that's unfortunately situation of the women is a disaster.

And now, from one end, Afghan people are — they are suffering awfully from the COVID-19. But from another end, they are suffering from insecurity, corruption, joblessness, poverty. In fact, in the past 20 years, U.S. and NATO, they doubled the sorrows and miseries of Afghan people. Around 1 million Afghan were killed in the past 20 years. And they even dropped matters of all other bomb in our country, used white phosphorus cluster bomb and polluted our environment. They corrupted our economy. The wave of asylum seekers itself is another strong evidence of the wrong policy of the U.S. and NATO in Afghanistan.

And they changed Afghanistan to the center of the drug. There are now tens of thousands of orphans, widows and disabled people we have. And millions of Afghan, over 3 million, that they are giving report officially that they are addicted. This list can be prolonged, that the result of this criminal war of the U.S. and NATO, that in fact the victim was ordinary Afghan people. That's why always I say that it was better they changed this banner of the so-called war on terror to the war on innocent Afghan people.

And now they proved that the U.S. government has a inseparable bond with their lackeys, like Taliban, not only warlords, as they're giving them amnesty to these misogynist, bloodthirsty humans and try to bring them in power and sharing power with them and even give the international recognition to these terrorists. No doubt that the situation will be more disaster.

And for years I have called for the withdrawal of the foreign occupation from our country, as I believe no nation can donate liberation to another nation. Now it has been proved for our people, as well, that U.S. and NATO were not honest for them. And now, from one end, U.S. and NATO, as their puppet regime is in power, continue to their barbarism against our people; from another end, the terrorist Taliban continue to their fascism and ISIS and all these other terrorists. And no doubt that with the withdrawal of these foreign troops, for the short term, people will face more economic insecure problem, but for the long run, it is the interest of Afghan people, because they're fed up from this kind of so-called democracy, as they give bad view about democracy to our people. And that, again, says this big lie put us on the eyes of the U.S. public, great people of the U.S. and around the world, that apparently actually that we are leaving from Afghanistan, but their puppet mafia corrupt regime remain in power, and they are supporting more these other terrorist band of terrorists, like ISIS, like Taliban, warlords, that each of these, from this, the disaster situation, try to catch their own fishes in our country. Anywhere, that as long as the foreigner interfere in our country and with the Western and neighbor countries, there is no chance that people will breathe a little bit in peace.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: And, Malalai, you've talked about these criminal warlords and the criminal mujahideen — could you explain? — who are complicit with the present government of Ashraf Ghani and have been, for the last 20 years, with successive Afghan governments. Who are these criminal mujahideen, who in fact are being armed by the Afghan government to fight the Taliban now?

MALALAI JOYA: You know, there are now — world know about some of them, as 20 years they were in power, like Abdullah Abdullah, like Sayyaf, Mohaqiq, Khalili, Rabbani, who were killed by brother in creed like Taliban, and this less than before long, Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, this fascist man whose name was on the blacklist of the U.S., has a long list of the human rights, women rights violation. And he welcomed in Kabul like a groom and come in power, as well, in the name of the peace reconciliation, this terrorist man. It's another example that by these terrorists never come peace or democracy, women rights in our country. The name of these warlords, they are all those, most of them, who are in power, and also some Western technocrat who compromise with them because of the dollar and because of the position, high position, and chair that they have, unfortunately. And that's why situation of Afghanistan is very disaster today.

And the only demand of Afghan people is that they must come to the court. They must be prosecuted. Same about the Taliban. This so-called peace that U.S. and NATO is talking about is more dangerous than war. The result will make more united the sworn enemies of democracy, peace and justice, and also more force will be released on the destiny of Afghan people. Peace without justice is meaningless. The only demand of Afghan people is justice.

And our people divide the mujahideen to two parts. One is most people of Afghanistan fighted against Russia invasion. They are real mujahideen. They are heroes. But a small party, there's about eight fundamentalist extremist parties that their leaders now in power. Some name of them I mentioned. You can see in Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International. And many book has been written: Eyes for Infidel, Ghost Wars, Bleeding Afghanistan, my book. This list can be prolonged, that today world know about them. Now they are in power, and all of them — the warlords, the ISIS, the Taliban — their nature is same and all fighting for the same bone, like dogs, the bone of the power. Hopefully, do not be insulted to dogs.

Anyway, our people are really fed up from this disgusting, criminal policy of the U.S. and NATO, who are responsible for the current disaster situation of my country. If they are honest for Afghan people, when they are leaving the country, they should take all their lackeys, these bunch of puppets and these terrorists, with themselves. They have no motivate to fight, but just because of the dollar, because of the money and because of their foreign master, they are killing our people, still continue to their barbarism, terrorism against our people. In fact, terrorism itself was a big tool in the hand of the U.S., NATO and neighbor countries, used for their own interests, for their own strategic policies. And the people of Afghanistan are the victim.

And these terrorists never want to lose, these terrorists. I am giving you example about the Taliban. In the past 20 years, they in fact played a game of Tom & Jerry with these terrorists: one day, divide these terrorists to two parts — moderate Talib, extremist Talib. It make no sense. Or another day, for example, recently, they released 5,000 terrorist Talib from the jail. It is clear that most of them joined again the rank of the terrorist Taliban, continue, as they joined. And also that many other examples that we have, according that game of Tom & Jerry that I said, they are not serious to defeat these terrorists. Some commander of the Taliban, leaders of the Taliban, like Mullah Muttawakil, Mullah Abdul Salam Zaeef, Mullah Rahmatullah Hashemi. This list can be prolonged — Mullah Abdul Salam Zaeef. All the hot key posts in Kabul, safe life, in the safest area, all expenses the government paid. Never they regret from their past, at least to say apologize to Afghan people, while our people want them to come to the court. Or this nondemocratic government call these terrorists dissenter brothers, you know, when they are doing society attacks and shed the blood of the innocent people.

And from this disgusting situation, disaster situation, all these terrorists also misuse. For example, they are paying for their fighters $600 per month, because millions of Afghans now suffering from the joblessness. They only had some super infrastructure project for justification of their occupation, that now again Taliban are destroying every day. But the infrastructure projects that to create job for Afghan people, they never worked on this, because they don't want Afghanistan to stand on its own field. For example, they didn't build factories, and many other examples that we have like this.

Anyway, that they are not honest for Afghan people, and now they betray the destiny of Afghan people. How? Well, they are doing deals with these terrorist Taliban. As they have [inaudible] their deal is that they should not attack, the terrorist Taliban do not attack their troops, the foreign troops. Even puppet Ghani recently confessed that in the past four years 45,000 Afghan security forces were killed, only 70 foreigners were killed. And also now in the name of — as I said, in the name of peace, reconciliation, bring them in power to betray the peace, and many deals that they have with them, and not only with them, with the U.S. and also these other neighbor countries, as, for example, now they are going to give the control of the airport of Kabul to the nondemocratic dictator regime of Erdogan, whose supporting created ISIS and want to exporting in Afghanistan more, and the terrorist Taliban against this act. And we have many example like this that they want to — they don't want to have Afghanistan situation — I mean, that civility to come in Afghanistan, because of their own dirty agendas that they have in our country. And I have many other example of their [inaudible] —

AMY GOODMAN: Malalai, I'm just going to interrupt to say: As the U.S. troops leave, what message do you have for the American people, after the, for the United States, longest war in its history? And for President Bush, who was the one who led the war into Afghanistan, who said that he and his wife Laura did it for the — partly for the safety and security of Afghan women?

MALALAI JOYA: These are shameless lie. These are big lies, that now, today, fortunately, it's become like an open secret for the great people of the world, as well. In fact, they wasted the blood of their soldiers, their taxpayer money. Not only they betrayed Afghan people. The blood of Afghan people has no value for them, has now put more fuel in the fire in this situation by supporting these extremist terrorists.

No doubt that they must come to the International Criminal Court for the war crimes that they committed, all these warmongers — the criminal Bush, that Obama, that racist, fascist Trump, and now the Biden, who follow this disgusting criminal policy, that they don't care about the wishes of Afghan people, how much they are tired. No doubt that the people thirsty for the peace. But this peace, this is not peace. This is more dangerous than the war. They push Afghanistan more toward Dark Ages.

It's not only the situation of Afghanistan, what they did here, the war crime they committed. They waged this criminal war to Syria, to Libya, to Yemen, to Ukraine, to Palestine. What they are doing is heart-wrenching. This list can be prolonged. Not only the terrorists in Afghanistan, the ISIS, jihadis, Taliban, that they are supporting; also the Boko Haram, the Abu Sayyaf and al-Nusra. This list can be prolonged, that these other terrorist group, that the background of them —

AMY GOODMAN: Malalai, we just have 10 seconds. You continue to name names, as you did in the Afghan Parliament as the youngest person ever elected there, and then you were thrown out. What gives you the courage to continue to do this as you remain in Afghanistan?

MALALAI JOYA: Yes, the truth itself is enough to give me courage. The support of my people, this voiceless, suffering people of Afghanistan, the solidarity of the justice-loving great people of the world. That when we want the withdrawal of the troops, but we are asking, in the meantime, for the solidarity of antiwar movement, peace-loving, justice-loving secular movement, feminist movement, that they should not leave Afghan people and do not allow them to forget again Afghanistan and as these terrorists that bring them in power and this war they imposed on the destiny of Afghan people. We have no other way except of to do a struggle. From your tribune, I ask my people, men and women, that as I believe in equal rights, that this is the time that we put the secondhand issues aside, all together, to be united and organize to fight for our country, because, again, I repeat and insist that no nation can donate liberation to another nation. And this 20 years is another example that proved that foreigners were not honest for our people.

AMY GOODMAN: Malalai Joya, we thank you so much for being with us, women, human rights activist in Afghanistan, youngest person ever elected to the Afghan Parliament, suspended in 2007 for publicly denouncing the presence of warlords and war criminals in the Afghan Parliament. She is author of A Woman Among Warlords: The Extraordinary Story of an Afghan Woman Who Dared to Speak Out.

Next up, we go to South Africa, where thousands have been arrested in demonstrations against poverty, inequity and the jailing of the former president. Stay with us.

'Dems have to start playing the game': Legal writer explains how to prevent a 7-2 conservative Supreme Court majority

We speak with legal writer and author Adam Cohen about the growing question of whether liberal Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer should step down so that he can be replaced while there is a Democratic president and Senate. Justice Breyer is 82 and the oldest member of the high court. "If Breyer doesn't step down now, there's a very real chance that Republicans will eventually fill that seat and maybe turn a 6-3 conservative majority, which has already been terrible, into a 7-2 conservative majority," Cohen says.

Transcript
This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.
AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now! I'm Amy Goodman, as we turn to prize-winning author Adam Cohen, who has a new piece in The Atlantic headlined "Justice Breyer's Legacy-Defining Decision." It examines the growing question of whether the Supreme Court justice should step down so that he can be replaced while there's a Democratic president and a Democratic-run Senate. Justice Breyer is now 82 years old, the oldest member of the high court. Adam Cohen is also author of Supreme Inequality: The Supreme Court's Fifty-Year Battle for a More Unjust America.
Adam, welcome back to Democracy Now!

Why don't you lay out what this growing argument is.

ADAM COHEN: Great to be here, Amy. Great to see you.

Sure. As you mentioned, Justice Breyer is 82 years old, the oldest member of the court. This is a moment where if he retires, President Biden will be able to replace him. The Democrats control the Senate. They could put a much younger person in place. And President Biden has said, in fact, that he would appoint a Black woman. That would be the first Black woman on the Supreme Court.

If Breyer does not retire now, there's a very real danger that the Democrats will lose their control of the Senate. It's a razor-thin majority right now. Literally, if something were, God forbid, to happen to Sherrod Brown or Pat Leahy or any of the Democratic senators who are from states with a Republican governor, who would appoint a replacement — if anything happened to any of those senators, the Democrats would lose control of the Senate. And we know that Mitch McConnell just will not confirm any Democratic appointments to the court. So, if Breyer doesn't step down now, there's a very real chance that Republicans will eventually fill that seat and maybe turn a 6-to-3 conservative majority, which has already been terrible, into a 7-to-2 conservative majority.

AMY GOODMAN: I want to quote from Dahlia Lithwick's piece in Slate headlined "Stop Telling Justice Breyer to Retire," saying, quote, "Not only is it counterproductive, but it misses the point." Lithwick argues, "Replacing a liberal justice with another liberal justice on a 6–3 court is important, but it's also small ball. If we do (or don't) want justices to time their own retirements in exceedingly political ways, there is a way to fix that: implementing mandatory retirement ages or 18-year terms." Adam Cohen, your response?

ADAM COHEN: Yeah, I'm a great fan of Dahlia's, and I do disagree with her on this, for a couple reasons. One is, yes, it would be great to have fundamental reform of the court along the lines that she mentioned. It would be great to have term limits, to expand the court, so we could get, you know, out of this 6-to-3 conservative majority, which I have to emphasize is not representative of where the American public is. It's far to the right of the general public, as we've seen in the last presidential and congressional elections. The problem is, that is not going to happen. The Senate right now is so reluctant to do even mainstream Democratic things, like, say, pass a good infrastructure bill. The Senate is just not going to go along with expanding the court or term limits anytime soon.

So that means Democrats have to start playing the same game the Republicans have. The Republicans have been amazingly effective at the kind of small-bore politics of the court that Dahlia mentions, like, in 2018, Justice Kennedy stepped down when he was 81, a year younger than Breyer, and that allowed President Trump to fill that seat. Republicans hand off their seats very effectively. Ruth Bader Ginsburg, when she was still on the court, there were calls from progressives for her to step down when Obama was president, when the Democrats controlled the Senate. She did not step down, and her seat has now been filled by President Trump with Amy Coney Barrett, who could cast the deciding vote to overturn Roe v. Wade. So, I agree with Dahlia that it would be great to have these big reforms, but Democrats need to play the small-bore game, too.


Republicans won't even debate 'For the People Act' as they flood states with voter suppression bills

Senate Republicans are expected to use the filibuster to block debate on the For the People Act, a sweeping bill that would protect voting rights across the United States and improve ballot access. The Senate vote comes as Republican state lawmakers are passing sweeping measures to suppress the vote. According to the Voting Rights Lab, 18 states have enacted more than 30 laws to restrict voting since the November election. The For the People Act is "the most important voting rights bill since the Voting Rights Act of 1965," says Mother Jones reporter Ari Berman. "It just goes to show you how afraid the Republican Party is of democracy that they won't even debate legislation to make it easier to vote, let alone vote on the actual bill."

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

AMY GOODMAN: We begin today's show looking at the fight over voting rights. Senate Republicans are expected to use the filibuster today to block the For the People Act, a sweeping bill that would restore protections of the 1965 Voting Rights Act, which was gutted by the Supreme Court in 2013. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer has scheduled the first procedural vote on the legislation today even though Democrats do not have the votes to move it forward. That's because two Democratic senators — Joe Manchin of West Virginia, Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona — oppose eliminating the filibuster. Last week, Manchin offered a watered-down voting bill, but that, too, faced opposition from Republicans.

The Senate vote comes as Republican state lawmakers are passing sweeping measures to suppress the vote around the country. According to the Voting Rights Lab, 18 states have enacted more than 30 laws to restrict voting since the November election. On Monday, Senate Majority Leader Schumer accused Republicans of backing voter suppression.

MAJORITY LEADER CHUCK SCHUMER: Let's dispense with this nonsense. There is no real principle behind these policies. They're not about election integrity. They're not about voter fraud. These policies have one purpose and one purpose only: making it harder for younger, poorer, nonwhite and typically Democratic voters to have — to access the ballot.

AMY GOODMAN: While today's Senate vote on the For the People Act is expected to fail, voting rights advocates say the fight has just begun. More than 70 groups have backed a national campaign called "Deadline for Democracy" to push senators to protect voting rights during the upcoming Senate recess.

We're joined now by Ari Berman, reporter for Mother Jones, his new cover story for the magazine headlined "Jim Crow Killed Voting Rights for Generations. Now the GOP Is Repeating History." He is author of Give Us the Ballot: The Modern Struggle for Voting Rights in America.

Welcome back to Democracy Now!, Ari. Why don't you start off —

ARI BERMAN: Hi, Amy. Good to see you again.

AMY GOODMAN: It's great to have you with us. Start off by explaining what the For the People Act is and exactly what is happening today.

ARI BERMAN: The For the People Act is the most important voting rights bill since the Voting Rights Act of 1965. It would expand voting access for millions of Americans through policies like automatic and Election Day registration, two weeks of early voting, no-excuse absentee voting, restoring voting rights to people with past felony convictions, preventing discriminatory voter ID laws and voter purging, public financing of elections, a ban on partisan gerrymandering — all of that for federal elections. So, it would set really expansive rules for federal elections in all 50 states, so you have the same right to vote if you live in Oregon compared to if you live in Texas.

And what's happening is that Republicans are going to block a vote on whether to even debate this bill. The vote today in the Senate is not a vote on the For the People Act; it's a vote to even debate the For the People Act. And so, it just goes to show you how afraid the Republican Party is of democracy that they won't even debate legislation to make it easier to vote, let alone vote on the actual bill.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: So, Ari, given the fact that the Republicans have signaled that they're going to do everything possible to kill the bill, why do you feel — what's the sense of why the Democrats have decided to press for a vote?

ARI BERMAN: Well, they want to show how obstructionist Republicans are being. And Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer is building a case here that Republicans have now blocked the January 6 commission, which had strong bipartisan support. They have blocked votes on paycheck fairness. They are blocking votes on gun control, on climate change and a whole host of other popular issues. And they are blocking a vote on the most fundamental right in democracy, the right to vote. And so, he wants to lay out a case of all of the Republican obstruction to convince Democrats that they need to either abolish or pare down the filibuster in order to pass these critical bills. Now, I don't know if they're going to succeed in doing that. Joe Manchin, Kyrsten Sinema, some other Democrats have been very steadfast they will not weaken or get rid of the filibuster. Nonetheless, Schumer is hoping that Republican obstruction will give them no other choice.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And you mentioned Manchin. He was backing another voting rights act, the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act. Could you talk about the differences between the two and what's happened with even the one that Manchin was backing?

ARI BERMAN: The John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act would restore a key part of the Voting Rights Act, that was gutted by the Supreme Court in 2013, that requires states with a long history of discrimination, like Georgia and Texas, to once again have to approve their voting changes with the federal government. Now, what the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act does is it blocks new voter suppression efforts in states with a history of discrimination, both in the past and present, but it would not block voter suppression laws that are already on the books, nor would it put in place policies to make it easier to vote nationwide. That's what the For the People Act does.

And so, these bills are really meant to work together. The For the People Act is meant to expand voting access all across the board, and the John Lewis Voting Rights Act is supposed to stop voter suppression in the places where voter suppression has historically been most prevalent. It's not an either/or thing. That's what Manchin has said, that he wants one bill, not the other, although now he's backing a revised For the People Act. But these bills really were viewed by voting rights advocates as two bills that were supposed to work together so that there would be expansive federal legislation protecting the right to vote.

AMY GOODMAN: And if you can explain — in what Manchin has proposed, Stacey Abrams, the leading voting rights activist in the country, from Georgia, has come out and endorsed, saying this would be acceptable — though McConnell says he wouldn't accept it — and accepted his idea of voter ID, though that voter ID could be any number of kinds of ID. Is that right, Ari? Can you explain this, the significance of Abrams endorsing Manchin's revision of the bill?

ARI BERMAN: Yeah, I think most Democrats would rather see something passed rather than nothing, when it comes to protecting voting rights. And Manchin's proposal is a mixed bag, but it has a lot of policies that voting rights advocates support. Manchin wants Election Day to be a national holiday. He wants a ban on partisan gerrymandering. He wants automatic voter registration. He wants two weeks of early voting. He wants more disclosure of dark money. Those are all things that voting rights advocates strongly support.

Now, there are some things that they're not so crazy about. Manchin supports a less restrictive version of voter ID. It's not the same voter ID laws that have been implemented in places like Texas, but it basically says, if you don't have photo ID, you can still vote with things like utility bills. So, that's not quite as bad as strict ID. He would still allow some version of voter purging.

So, there are things in there that are good in Manchin's proposal. There are things in there that are bad. But the point is, no Republicans have come out to support his proposal, so the question is: Why are Democrats compromising over voting rights, when Republicans won't even support that compromise to begin with? Why not introduce and pass legislation to actually solve the problem, if Republicans aren't going to support it to begin with? Use the power you have, because the other side is not going to accommodate you regardless.

AMY GOODMAN: Ari, you recently reported about how dark money groups are writing Republican voter suppression bills across the country. Your piece featured leaked video of Jessica Anderson, the executive director of Heritage Action for America, a former Trump administration staffer, speaking at a gathering in Tucson, Arizona, in April.

JESSICA ANDERSON: Iowa was the first state that we got to work in, and we did it quickly, and we did it quietly. Honestly, nobody noticed. At the end of the day, the bill that Governor Kemp signed and the Georgia Legislature marshaled through had eight key provisions that Heritage recommended. … We're working with these state legislators to make sure they have all of the information they need to draft the bills. In some cases, we actually draft them for them, or we have a sentinel, on our behalf, give them the model legislation, so it has that grassroots, you know, from-the-bottom-up type of vibe.

AMY GOODMAN: OK. So that's leaked video of Jessica Anderson, the executive director of Heritage Action for America, a former Trump administration staffer. Explain the significance of what she's saying.

ARI BERMAN: This was a really explosive video that Mother Jones published in conjunction with the watchdog group Documented, who obtained the video, showing that Heritage Action, the sister group of the Heritage Foundation, one of the largest right-wing think tanks, was actually writing model legislation for the states to make it harder to vote. They brag in the video that they wrote 19 provisions of a Texas bill, eight provisions of a Georgia bill, three provisions of an Iowa bill.

So you have a dark money group — we don't know its donors — raising millions of dollars from secret billionaire donors, who are writing legislation making it harder to vote all across the country. And Republicans have portrayed this legislation as organic, bottom-up legislation responding to the worries of their constituents, when in fact you have dark money groups in Washington that are exporting a voter suppression agenda to the states.

And that's the exact thing that the For the People Act would stop. The connection between dark money and voter suppression is exactly what the For the People Act targets. And what Heritage is doing is they are spending $24 million to make it harder to vote in eight battleground states. And they are trying to block H.R. 1, which they say will destroy our democracy. And they are specifically targeting people like Joe Manchin to get them to oppose H.R. 1 and to keep the filibuster to prevent voting rights legislation from passing.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Well, Ari, you mentioned the $24 million that are being raised for suppression. There was a report in The New York Times today that a Democratic-leaning PAC, Priorities USA, is putting up $20 million for voter education and registration before the upcoming midterm elections. Could you talk about this whole battle over voter suppression in a historical context, its relationship to past efforts to suppress the vote in American history?

ARI BERMAN: Yeah, well, there's a lot of echoes about the voter suppression that's happening right now and the voter suppression that happened in the past. That's what my Mother Jones cover story about Jim Crow was about. The pattern that existed during the Jim Crow era and during Reconstruction was that you had new voters turn out — Black voters were enfranchised; that was followed by violence, fraud, intimidation to try to prevent Blacks from voting; then that was followed by attempts to change the laws to prevent Blacks from voting altogether, when states like Mississippi rushed to change their constitutions. And the same pattern is playing out today, which you had much higher turnout in 2020; you had new people turn out; that was followed by an attempt to try to overturn the election; then that was followed by states rewriting their laws to achieve the same outcomes as the insurrection.

And one of the key parallels between the Jim Crow era and today was that Congress had an opportunity to protect voting rights. They passed a bill in 1890 to protect voting rights. It passed the House; it was killed by a filibuster in the Senate. And that's why disenfranchisement laws were allowed to go forward in places like Mississippi and Georgia and Alabama and all across the Jim Crow South. And the same kind of pattern is playing out today, which is that Republicans are rushing to disenfranchise voters, the House has passed legislation to stop it, but it's going to be killed by a Senate filibuster. If that happens, Republicans are going to be able to undermine voting rights in the states for decades, and Democrats are going to be virtually powerless to be able to stop it.

AMY GOODMAN: Finally, I wanted to ask you about Georgia and Arizona. Arizona is finishing up, they say, this week their — what some call their "fraudit," the audit of so-called voter fraud. And many are concerned that's going to be used as a model around the country, including Georgia. At the same time, you have Georgia's Republican Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger saying he's removed over 100,000 names from the state voter rolls, saying most of them were linked to change of address or from residences where election mail had been returned to sender. And you have the Georgia governor, Brian Kemp, saying there's "nothing Jim Crow" about the recent voter suppression law passed in Georgia. Put all of that together.

ARI BERMAN: Well, what Republicans are doing is they are weaponizing the big lie on every front. They are keeping alive the lie that the election was stolen, through these bogus audits. They are making it harder to vote in so many different ways. The Georgia law that Brian Kemp says has nothing to do with Jim Crow has 16 different provisions making it harder for Democratic constituencies and communities of color to be able to vote, which is why Stacey Abrams calls it "Jim Crow in a suit and tie." They're actually making it easier to overturn election results. They are purging local election officials. They're taking over county election boards. They're taking over state election boards. In 14 different states, they are politicizing election administration in an unprecedented way.

So, it's a "flood the zone" strategy when it comes to voter suppression. It's not one tactic; it's not another tactic. It's all of these different tactics to make it harder to vote. And that's why federal legislation is so important, because if the Congress doesn't step in to block these voter suppression efforts, these attempts to overturn elections, Republicans are just going to be emboldened, and they're going to go further and further and further. And the crazy things we're seeing in Arizona, the crazy things we're seeing in Georgia, these are going to become the new normal, if Congress doesn't act.

AMY GOODMAN: Ari Berman, thanks so much for being with us, reporter for Mother Jones, author of Give Us the Ballot: The Modern Struggle for Voting Rights in America. We will link to your piece, "Jim Crow Killed Voting Rights for Generations. Now the GOP Is Repeating History."

Next up, we look at the climate crisis and the debate over infrastructure spending. Stay with us.


GOP 'death cult' isn't hyperbole: Republicans reject green infrastructure as Western states face historic drought

As lawmakers in Washington continue to negotiate over an infrastructure bill that Democrats say needs to include major new funding to address the climate crisis, much of the U.S. is experiencing record heat, with many western states seeing record temperatures, drought and water shortages. "The climate crisis is here now," says climate and energy researcher Leah Stokes, an assistant professor of political science at the University of California, Santa Barbara. "The climate crisis is really happening right now, and every single year we delay on passing a climate bill, the worse the crisis gets."

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 Juan González.

President Joe Biden is planning to meet with lawmakers in a push to reach a bipartisan agreement on a new infrastructure plan. The group of 10 Republican and Democratic senators recently proposed a $1.2 trillion infrastructure package, but many Democrats have criticized the deal for not doing enough to address the climate crisis, among other issues. Meanwhile, Senate Democrats are considering a $6 trillion package that could be passed through the reconciliation process if all 50 Democrats agree to vote for it.

The debate over infrastructure and combating the climate emergency comes as western states are facing daily reminders of the crisis, including drought, water shortages and extreme heat. Many cities have already broken all-time heat records even though it's still June. Last week, Phoenix recorded five days in a row of temperatures over 115 degrees Fahrenheit for the first time ever. Santa Fe, New Mexico, tied its all-time high of 102 degrees Fahrenheit. Forecasters are predicting it could hit 110 degrees next week in Portland, Oregon. About 26% of the West is experiencing exceptional drought. Water levels at Lake Mead have dropped to their lowest levels ever recorded.

We're joined right now by Leah Stokes. She's an assistant professor of political science at University of California, Santa Barbara, researcher on climate and energy policy. She's the author of Short Circuiting Policy: Interest Groups and the Battle Over Clean Energy and Climate Policy in the American States.

Welcome back to Democracy Now! It's great to have you with us, Professor Stokes. So, talk about the desperate situation, the drought in the West, and how that links, very practically, to this debate over infrastructure spending.

LEAH STOKES: Well, I think you talked about it at the top of the segment here. You know, the reality is, it's not just the West that's in a debate. It's really about half of the entire country that is facing really a historic drought. Scientists are saying that in some parts of the West they're seeing a drought that's worse than we've seen in, you know, something like four centuries.

So, the fact is that the climate crisis is here now. The drought, the heat waves that you talked about, setting record temperatures all across the western United States, and really even reaching into parts of the Midwest, these are the signatures of climate change. And the fact is that the climate crisis is on our doorstep.

And the question is: What are we going to do about it? Are we going to continue to talk about having infrastructure day or infrastructure week for another four years, or are we actually going to see Congress act and pass a bold climate package this summer?

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Well, Professor, you've said that the Biden administration and the Senate and House Democrats are committed to true climate action. But how do you see this playing out, given the clear Republican resistance? What do you think is doable? And of the stuff that's not doable, what kind of public pressure needs to come on Washington to get it done?

LEAH STOKES: Well, I think you're right that we need to keep the public pressure up. I noticed at the top of the hour you talked about Sunrise's marches, which have been happening in both California and across the Gulf Coast. You know, there have been lots of actions, whether that's against Line 3 or for these kinds of infrastructure negotiations, that have been trying to raise awareness of lawmakers of just how urgent the climate crisis is. And we really need to keep that up.

And the good news is that just a week or two ago, a group of senators — we have over 12 senators at this point now — have said, in the line of Senator Markey, "No climate, no deal," meaning that if there is not climate change in the package that moves forward this summer, they're not going to move a package forward this summer. And I think that's really shaken free the negotiations in Congress, because what we're now seeing is that Majority Leader Schumer is saying, "OK, we can have a two-track process. We can continue along with this bipartisan idea that's been going on for several months now, and we can finally start the budget reconciliation process for the broader infrastructure package that Senator Sanders is helping to lead." So I think that we're starting to see this two-track process develop. But the fundamental thing that's part of this process is "No climate, no deal." We have to have a bold climate package, that's happening through the budget reconciliation process, pass this summer.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Well, the president has already sharply reduced his initial proposal on infrastructure. What's in the bipartisan policy package now, and what's been excluded so far?

LEAH STOKES: Well, we don't actually know a lot of what is in the bipartisan policy package. There was a two-pager that came out a couple days ago, and it said that there would be about $600 billion in new spending, so things like, overwhelmingly, roads and bridges and sort of that kind of infrastructure. There was some more hopeful things, though, because previous Republican proposals have included, for example, zero dollars for the power grid, while this proposal included about $73 billion for the power grid. There's also significant investments in public transit. So, you know, there are decent ideas in this bipartisan approach, but it is not a substitute for a climate bill at the scale that's necessary.

And there's also been questions raised about some of the pay-fors for this Republican bill. For example, they've been talking about putting taxes on electric vehicles — the exact opposite thing one should be doing right now. And Senator Sanders, in particular, has said that he is not interested in a proposal that does that, nor is President Biden, who campaigned on saying that he would not raise taxes for anybody making $400,000 or less. So, the pay-fors in the bipartisan approach are really lacking right now. They include things like repurposing COVID bills — sorry, COVID funds, which probably need to be spent on COVID. So, I think we need a little bit more details. And it's clear that this bipartisan group is trying to work to figure out exactly what their plan is to pay for this new spending.

AMY GOODMAN: Can you talk more about the climate crisis in the West — I mean, we live in information silos that are determined in all different ways, including geographically — and for people to understand the significance of what's happening, throughout Arizona, California and beyond?

LEAH STOKES: Absolutely. You know, I've only lived in California since 2015, and the droughts and fires and heat waves that I have experienced in that short time are really unprecedented. You know, I lived through the Thomas Fire, which was then the largest fire in modern California history. And there's been information going around lately that that's actually now the seventh-largest fire, and that only took place in 2017.

So, a lot of people in the western United States are just experiencing year after year of extreme heat waves, extreme drought, extreme fires, that we've really never seen before. This is why scientists are beginning to talk about things like megadroughts and megafires and mega-heat waves, these huge-scale events that don't just span the western United States but go all the way to the Midwest, with record temperatures happening in June and then another record event likely to happen next week. It's only June. Normally these kinds of extreme heat waves come in August. And we know from climate scientists that this is climate change, that heat waves are more than twice as likely to be happening because of climate change. And that's from science that's a few years old. I'm sure scientists are looking at what we're seeing right now; they're even more alarmed.

So, the climate crisis is really happening right now, and every single year we delay on passing a climate bill, the worse the crisis gets. Folks may remember that over a decade ago we tried to pass a climate bill, the Waxman-Markey bill. It failed in the Senate. And we have already had the president propose this American Jobs Plan at the end of March, and we have been waiting for almost three months to see Congress act. And while we wait, we see climate change happening all across the United States.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Professor Stokes, I wanted to ask you about the state roles in addressing the climate crisis. We are seeing reports all around the country now that state governments have more cash and more surplus than they've ever had in their histories, as a result of rebounding tax revenues and also federal assistance. California, New York, New Jersey, all these states have more money to spend this year than they've ever had before. And I'm wondering what your sense is of what states could be doing to direct some of those funds, since this is basically a one-shot situation for this year, perhaps next year, in terms of being able to address climate change at the state level?

LEAH STOKES: That's a great question. You know, the great thing about acting on climate change is that it is an investment. When we're talking about infrastructure, when we're talking about one-time spending, it's actually spending that pays itself back, both through the infrastructure itself as well as through job creation, all kinds of things throughout the economy. So, I think that you're right that governors should be looking at spending money on climate change, building, for example, clean energy, helping to build more public transit and support that infrastructure, because if you put the money in at time one, it can actually pay you back over many years.

So, I do think that the states have an important role to play. But the federal government really has the power of the purse. And we're not talking about sort of a one-time surplus. We're talking about spending trillions of dollars on the climate crisis. And that is really just a down payment on the scale of the crisis. So, I think that we can't sort of look away from the federal government. We have to see them act alongside states.

AMY GOODMAN: Can you, finally, talk about the report that you just co-authored with the Sierra Club, Professor Stokes, called "The Dirty Truth About Utility Climate Pledges," looking at greenwashing by utility companies?

LEAH STOKES: Absolutely. So, several months ago, I worked with the Sierra Club to research: What are utilities planning to do? And they put out a lot of corporate pledges, saying that they wanted to decarbonize by, let's say, 2050. But we compared those pledges to their actual investment behavior, to their proposals that they make about what they'd like to build. And the fact is, across this country we have about 230 fossil gas plants currently proposed. If those plants were built, it would be absolutely devastating for the climate crisis. And so, on the one hand, we have utilities saying, "Yes, we want to clean up. We want to address climate change," but, on the other hand, we have them proposing massive amounts of fossil infrastructure.

And so, how do we reconcile these two things? Well, we have to recognize that if we really want to clean up our infrastructure, we need to have federal legislation, specifically a federal clean electricity standard. President Biden campaigned and won on a plan for 100% clean power by 2035. And it's clear that there's a lot of support from some utilities, as well as within Congress, to pass a clean electricity standard that would target 80% clean power by 2030.

And I wrote another report with Evergreen Action and Data for Progress which looked at how exactly we can do that as part of the budget reconciliation process. So, if we really want to get on top of the climate crisis, the power sector is the most important place to start, because if we have clean electricity, like 80% clean power by 2030, because of this clean electricity standard, and we combine that with electrification — things like electric vehicles, electric stoves and heat pumps — we can actually decarbonize about 75% of our economy. And when we talk about President Biden's goal of cutting emissions by 50% by 2030, if we have that clean electricity standard and we pass that through Congress — we go to 80% clean by 2030 — the fact is we'd be more than halfway to meeting the president's goal of cutting emissions by 50% by 2030.

So, really, there's no substitute for laws, unfortunately. It's one thing for utilities to say they'd like to do things, but we actually need legislation to make sure they do things. And that legislation at the federal level can actually be an investment to help them do things and to help them get on track with the pledges that they claim that they want to fulfill.

AMY GOODMAN: Leah Stokes, we want to thank you so much for being with us, assistant professor of political science at University of California, Santa Barbara, researcher on climate and energy policy, author of Short Circuiting Policy, also co-host of the podcast A Matter of Degrees. She is also on the advisory board at Evergreen Action.

Next up, striking coal miners from Alabama are here in New York to protest on Wall Street. The miners have been on strike since April. Stay with us.


'Here I am': Meet a descendant of one of 272 enslaved people sold on June 19, 1838 by Georgetown U

We look at another significant June 19 in the history of slavery in the United States: June 19, 1838, when Jesuit priests who ran what is now Georgetown University sold 272 enslaved people to pay off the school's debts. In 2016, Georgetown University announced it would give preferential admissions treatment to descendants of the Africans it enslaved and sold. "Ours, as Americans, is an uninterrupted line of inheritance that many of us refuse to believe that we are descendants of," says Mélisande Short-Colomb, who is one of the first two Georgetown University students to benefit from legacy admission for direct descendants and serves on the Board of Advisors for the Georgetown Memory Project.


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

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

We look now at another June 19th: 1838, when Jesuit priests who ran what's now Georgetown University sold 272 enslaved men, women and children to pay off the school's debts. In 2016, Georgetown University announced it would give preferential admissions treatment to descendants of the Africans it enslaved and sold.

In 2017, The New York Times published the only known photograph of Frank Campbell, one of the enslaved people sold by the Maryland Jesuits in 1838.

In March, the Jesuits pledged $100 million to atone for their participation in slavery, in a deal with a small representative group of descendants, the Catholic Church and corporate partners. A wider group of descendants opposed the deal, saying it was done in private and doesn't go far enough to repair the harms done.

In a minute, we'll be joined by Mélisande Short-Colomb, one of the first two Georgetown University students to benefit from legacy admission for direct descendants. First, though, this is a trailer of her one-woman play, Here I Am.

MÉLISANDE SHORT-COLOMB: I feel like my whole life and all of the lives that have come before me are balled up inside of me. The New York Times broke a story in April 2016 revealing that the Jesuits had sold 272 enslaved persons in 1838 to raise funds to keep Georgetown University going. A few months later, I discovered that I descended from two families in the sale: the Queens and the Mahoneys. By September 2017, I had entered Georgetown College as an undergraduate student at the age of 63.
Here I am, paying homage to 11 generations of the women who have come into me and who are part of me. I am here to tell their story, handed down over more than 300 years. Our ancestors have waited patiently, through centuries, for us to come to the table of acknowledgment. I am Mélisande Short-Colomb. Here I am. Here we are.

AMY GOODMAN: The trailer for the one-woman play, Here I Am, by Mélisande Short-Colomb, who joins us now, one of the first two students to benefit from legacy admission for direct descendants of the enslaved by the Jesuits at Georgetown University, where she's also a community engagement associate and serves on the Board of Advisors for the Georgetown Memory Project.

Welcome to Democracy Now!, Mélisande. It's such an honor to have you with us. Your thoughts today on this first federal holiday of Juneteenth? And if you can talk about that other June 19th, 1838, and what happened?

MÉLISANDE SHORT-COLOMB: Good morning, Amy. Thank you for having me here.

Juneteenth 2021, here we are, acknowledging injustices of the past in the present, for the future. Yes, it did take enslaved people two-and-a-half years in Texas to learn that they had been freed. But it's taken us 156 years as Americans to acknowledge that event. So, we are the turners of the wheels of progress and change.

June 19th, 1838, 183 years ago, my family, two sides of my family — my young great-great-great-grandparents met on a boat on their way to Louisiana and started a family that results in me and many of my cousins in Louisiana. We were part of the human trafficking trade in the United States of America — not the theoretical Middle Passage, which was very true and brought people — more people to the Caribbean and South America than to the United States of America. Yes, I am a Black woman in 2021, who the institution of slavery was built in the wombs of my grandmothers, because every child that they brought into this world, in this life, in this place, from 1677 until 1865, were slaves at birth. What kind of people do that?

Which brings us to the Jesuits, to the founders of the United States of America, to 1868, to 1865, to 1921, to 2021. So, ours, as Americans, is an uninterrupted line of inheritance that many of us refuse to believe that we are descendants of. Black people are not just the descendants of enslavement here in America. We are all the descendants of enslaved here in America. And that is if you got here in 1570, 1619, 1677 or somebody threw you over the fence yesterday. We are here in this place that is 245 years old, plus the colonial period. This belongs to all of us.

AMY GOODMAN: Mélisande, if you can talk about how Georgetown was saved, prevented from going into bankruptcy, by the sale of nearly 300 enslaved people? Of course, I hate to use the word "saved" — in fact, that was a damning of the university.

MÉLISANDE SHORT-COLOMB: Well, the university, the Jesuits owned property in human beings and in land. In all of their dealings and sales and building of economic wealth here in America, they always had a choice: We can sell people, we can rent out people, or we can sell land. And they always chose to sell the people and not the land. The Jesuits still own all the land that they have always owned in Maryland and in the District of Columbia. The Catholic Church — it's not just the Jesuits. The Archdiocese of Baltimore got money from this sale. The Catholic Church, up until 1865, in the United States of America were slave-owning Confederates.

AMY GOODMAN: So, I want to go for a moment to Reverend Tim Kesicki, the president of the Jesuit Conference of Canada and the United States, speaking at Georgetown University's "Liturgy of Remembrance, Contrition, and Hope."

REV. TIM KESICKI: Today, the Society of Jesus, who helped to establish Georgetown University and whose leaders enslaved and mercilessly sold your ancestors, stands before you to say that we have greatly sinned. … We pray with you today because we have greatly sinned and because we are profoundly sorry.

AMY GOODMAN: So, Mélisande Short-Colomb, if you can talk about what this $100 million deal is? Where does this money go? And how did you determine that you were one of the descendants? And then, the larger group of people who are understanding where they come from?

MÉLISANDE SHORT-COLOMB: I cannot actually speak to the details of this agreement between the Jesuits and this group of descendants. I am not part of that group, nor was I privy to those conversations, decisions and agreements that were met. I'm outside of that. I appreciate the effort, the five-year effort that went into creating this concept, because what they've done is make it a GoFundMe. So, we have to raise money — the Jesuits have to raise money to correct the economic disparities of the past. This is within the framework of the Catholic Church and not the wider descendant community. Is it a good thing? Yes, it is. I just don't know and cannot opine, other than to say, "Good. Do your work."

AMY GOODMAN: And then, there was, in 2019, the students of Georgetown voting to create a reparations fund for the descendants of enslaved people sold by the Jesuits, adding a fee of $27.20 to tuition. What happened after this?

MÉLISANDE SHORT-COLOMB: Nothing. It was taken over by the administration. And this was the first time in the United States of America that a voting body voted to go into their own pockets, $27.20. The opposition to that was, it should be charitable, which is the position that the administration has taken over and made it a GoFundMe. So, what the students said was, "We're going to go into our pockets as undergraduate students, in perpetuity, to create an endowment, a student endowment, to engage as Georgetown undergraduate students with the larger descendant community."

AMY GOODMAN: Finally, your play, Here I Am, your one-woman play, what is your message?

MÉLISANDE SHORT-COLOMB: I think, "Here we all are." And my hope with Here I Am was that we have something, we have created something, that can instigate and initiate conversations in the larger context of who we are.

AMY GOODMAN: And those conversations will definitely continue here. I want to thank you so much, Mélisande Short-Colomb, one of the first two Georgetown University students to benefit from legacy admissions for direct descendants enslaved by the Jesuits. I'm Amy Goodman. Stay safe.

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Is Biden leading the US into a new Cold War?

China says NATO is adopting a "Cold War mentality" after the military alliance singled out China and Russia for criticism during a summit in Brussels. In its final communiqué, NATO leaders said, "China's stated ambitions and assertive behavior present systemic challenges to the rules-based international order." NATO leaders also criticized Russia and called on Moscow to withdraw troops from Ukraine, Georgia and the Republic of Moldova. Stephen Wertheim, a historian of U.S. foreign policy, says he is concerned that the Biden administration is "moving toward a quite hostile posture toward China and Russia simultaneously." He also says policymakers need to urgently reevaluate the purpose of NATO, which he says could fuel greater conflict. "Is that really what the American people need for the rest of the 21st century?" he asks.



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 Juan González.

China is warning NATO is adopting a "Cold War mentality" after the military alliance singled out China and Russia for criticism during the NATO summit in Brussels that just wrapped. President Biden successfully pushed NATO, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, to declare China to be a security risk for the first time. In its final communiqué, NATO leaders said, quote, "China's stated ambitions and assertive behavior present systemic challenges to the rules-based international order," unquote. NATO leaders also criticized Russia and called on Moscow to withdraw troops from Ukraine, Georgia and the Republic of Moldova.

This is President Biden speaking in Brussels Monday.

PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: There is a growing recognition over the last couple years that we have new challenges. And we have Russia that is not acting in a way that is consistent with what we had hoped, and as well as China.

AMY GOODMAN: President Biden spoke alongside NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, who also criticized China.

JENS STOLTENBERG: We are concerned by China's coercive policies, which stand in contrast to the fundamental values enshrined in the Washington Treaty. China is rapidly expanding its nuclear arsenal with more warheads and a large number of sophisticated delivery systems. … NATO leaders called on China to uphold its international commitments and to act responsibly in the international system, including in space, cyber and maritime domains, in keeping with its role as a major power.

AMY GOODMAN: The Chinese Mission to the European Union responded to the NATO summit by saying, quote, "NATO is slandering China's peaceful development and misjudging the international situation and its own role," end-quote.

Today, President Biden is meeting with European Union leaders before heading to Geneva for his summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

We're joined now by the historian Stephen Wertheim, director of grand strategy at the Quincy Institute and a visiting faculty fellow at the Center for Global Legal Challenges at Yale Law School, author of the book Tomorrow, the World: The Birth of U.S. Global Supremacy. He has a new article in The New York Times headlined "Sorry, Liberals. But You Really Shouldn't Love NATO."

Welcome to Democracy Now!, Stephen Wertheim. Why don't you talk about the NATO summit, this first-ever hit on China, in the way it was framed in the communiqué? Is President Biden leading to a new Cold War, both with China and Russia?

STEPHEN WERTHEIM: It's nice to be with you.

I am concerned that, indeed, the administration may be moving toward a quite hostile posture toward China and Russia simultaneously. If it is doing so, it would be merely continuing a trend from the Trump administration, I must say.

That said, though I think you are right to spotlight what was most remarkable about the outcome of yesterday's NATO summit — namely, the identification of China as posing, quote-unquote, "systemic challenges" to the so-called rules-based international order — I do think it's actually quite worrying, as far as the European members of NATO are concerned. Europe has, for quite some time, been reluctant to cast China as a threat, for understandable reasons. Many Europeans, including the leading powers of Germany and France, don't want to make a choice, economically or otherwise, between the United States and China or between the United States and Russia. And it has been the United States that has been most concerned about the threats from both countries. And so, I think the NATO communiqué reflects NATO's desire to at least look like the European members are as concerned about China as the United States. But to the extent that the United States will indeed focus on competition with China, in the longer term, that heralds a turn toward Asia and, therefore, away from Europe.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And, Stephen Wertheim, I wanted to ask you about this whole issue of this systemic challenge. The last time I looked, the United States had 800 military bases and installations in about 70 countries around the world. And apparently, China only has four military bases anywhere in the world. They've got one in Argentina. They've got a small one in Djibouti, which is part of the whole international campaign against piracy. They've got one in Myanmar, and they've got one in Tajikistan. This doesn't sound like much of a threat to NATO or to the United States. And we're not even mentioning that Turkey has expended all kinds of military bases, as a member nation of NATO, all around the world in recent years. So, why is this obsession with presidents of the U.S., whether it's Biden or Trump, in continuing to paint China as some kind of a threat — not an economic competitor, which it is, and a growing economic competitor, but as a threat?

STEPHEN WERTHEIM: Well, it is worrying for the reason you say. The language of systemic competition and challenge to the rules-based international order seems to lump all of the issues that China's rise throws up. It lumps them together into one thing that seems to require a response in every domain. But China's record militarily is vastly different from that of even the United States over the last few decades, I'm sorry to say. It's not China that has scattered its troops all around the world on bases, as you say, or pursued missions to overturn regimes.

China's behavior is very worrying in a lot of respects. And I do actually think that the United States and Europe have a lot to cooperate on in terms of setting standards for technologies, for digital, to set rules economically that might constrain Chinese action to cooperate on climate change. There's plenty of things for the United States and Europe to do together. That's valuable. And that will, to some degree, constrain Chinese action, and that's a good thing.

But NATO is a military alliance. We have to remember that. And so, for NATO to be casting China in this way suggests that it does view China as something of a threat, although the NATO communiqué was careful to use the word "threat" toward Russia, but to use the lesser — less intense word "challenge" when it came to China.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And I'm wondering if you could comment on the G7, the new initiative they're calling Build Back Better for the World, or B3W, as a possible alternative to China's Belt and Road Initiative, because I don't think many people in the United States appreciate the impact that China's Belt and Road Initiative has had in the developing world, and also, in the period of the pandemic, its efforts to export vaccines. I think it's now — China has already exported 700 million doses to the rest of the world, which is about what the G7 is promising to do in the future. And it's already, my understanding is, providing 20 million vaccinations per day to its own people. Whereas here in the United States we're at 1, 2 million vaccinations per day, they're doing 20 million per day. How does this, both the Belt and Road Initiative and its vaccine diplomacy, having an impact on how the rest of the world sees China?

STEPHEN WERTHEIM: We saw the G7 on Friday act as though it needs to really meet China's activity in both of these domains — vaccines and development aid. And that could be a good thing if it ends up generating productive forms of competition, if it means that the G7 become more generous with their provision of vaccine doses, if it means that development aid becomes more plentiful, which it has not been, from the West.

This Build Back Better for the World thing is mostly a slogan or a hashtag at this point. It's got an abbreviation, the three Bs or whatever it is, before it really has substance. So we'll have to see what actually comes of it.

The worrying aspect, though, would be that rather than create a kind of a race to the top, we have a race to the bottom. And for the developing world, there are increasing strings attached, whether they make a choice between China's aid or U.S.-led Western aid.

So, we need only to think back to the Cold War to think about what may be in store going forward, if indeed this kind of intense security competition, something like a Cold War, does set in between the West and China. On the one hand, in the Cold War, some members of the Global South were able to use their leverage, to use the interest of both sides to try to play them off each other and obtain more benefits. That could be good in certain circumstances. But then sometimes they found out that the superpowers were not pleased if they would take aid from one side, and such aid was cast as a threat to the other side and could lead to even the overthrow of governments.

So, at this early stage, I don't think we know which dynamic will prevail, but I have to say that the G7 did not come up with a terribly impressive number of vaccines that the members pledged to provide to the international facility that will be distributing vaccines. It was under a billion doses. Many, many more doses are needed, multiples of that number, in order to vaccinate the world. Now, perhaps this meeting will generate some momentum and further gains going forward, but it disappointed a lot of people, and there was a lot of criticism from, you know, the former U.K. leader, Gordon Brown, and WHO officials.

AMY GOODMAN: You have, for example, in Trinidad and Tobago, the United States pledged something like 500 vaccines to Trinidad and Tobago; China, 200,000. But I wanted to ask you — in your piece in The New York Times, you write, "The danger of permanent subordination to America has started to register in European capitals, long solicitous of American commitment. President [Emmanuel] Macron of France has accused NATO of experiencing 'brain death' and proposed creating an independent European army," independent of the United States. Can you talk about this? While there's a lot of backslapping and "Oh, we're back together again" in this 72-year-old military alliance that Trump said he wanted to get rid of, you also have a lot of tension here between European leaders and the United States, especially in the push against the pushback against China and Russia.

STEPHEN WERTHEIM: Yeah, I think this is the main story, actually, of the NATO summit. The narrative that NATO wants to tell is about all these actions that will be taken against China and Russia, but very little under the surface was this notion that America's commitment to NATO has come under question. And on both sides of the Atlantic, there's a reckoning with whether the interests of the United States and the interests of Europe and its leading powers really do align so closely as to bind them into this military alliance.

And so, President Biden was intent on having a clear statement that America is back, and he repeated that America has a "sacred obligation," "sacred" commitment — his words — to the collective defense provision of NATO. But this comes after, you know, not only the Trump presidency, but stirrings within European capitals to realize that, as German Chancellor Angela Merkel put it, Europe must truly take its destiny into its own hands. And now "strategic autonomy" has become the watchword in Brussels, where the idea is that, in some fashion, it would be that EU, independent of the United States, outside of NATO, that would become more of a force in security and military affairs. I think that's quite a sensible idea at this point in history. And I think even Biden understands that his words about a "sacred" commitment matter much less than what America actually does, not just under his administration, but long after.

And in addition to that, I think we've come to a kind of inflection point in the history of NATO after the collapse of the Soviet Union. It's now very hard to see how NATO could possibly expand any further. And yesterday, the Ukrainian president, Zelensky, tried to send out a tweet that he had gotten these assurances that Ukraine would indeed become a member of NATO, which it's been on a path to becoming — a very slow path, we should say — since 2008. And Biden was not very thrilled with that, it seemed, from the subsequent press conference, in which he said, "Well, Ukraine has to meet its obligations to become a member. We'll see." You know, the jury is not out, essentially. And I think we have come to a point where it's just very implausible, frankly, that Ukraine and Georgia would become NATO members and really pose a risk of direct conflict with Russia.

So, what the Biden administration has not done is close the door on further expansion of NATO. And that might be, frankly, a valuable step, not just for the United States and for the other members of NATO, but even for Ukraine itself, which is hoping for membership, but I fear it's being led down a false path, because the fact is that Germany and France oppose Ukraine's membership. They oppose it for very good reasons, because it risks conflict and further conflict, given that there is an ongoing conflict in eastern Ukraine.

AMY GOODMAN: So, president —

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And I'm wondering —

AMY GOODMAN: Go ahead, Juan.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Yeah, I'm wondering — back in October, you wrote a piece headlined "America Has No Reason to Be So Powerful." And I'm wondering what the — given the fact, as I mentioned before, this continued huge military footprint of the United States around the world, once you have such a humongous military-industrial complex, it must always find enemies, doesn't it, to be able to justify its continued existence? And to what degree can the public, or even some political leaders, break away from this sense that the United States must be the policeman of the world?

STEPHEN WERTHEIM: I share that concern. And I think the fact that the United States had built up not just its military-industrial complex domestically, but also its relationships and military positions globally, that explains a lot of the kind of inertia that we saw after the collapse of the Soviet Union, when you would think that the reason for being of this massive national security state had gone away.

That said, I think we are seeing stirrings, at least, of change over the last decade or so. Everybody has to understand now that we are no longer living in the unipolar moment of the 1990s, when the United States was utterly dominant. Through that decade, it could cut its defense spending as a percentage of GDP only to emerge in a more unrivaled position than ever before by the end of the decade. Well, the rest of the world has not exactly caught up, but other countries have asserted themselves, and China, most of all, has dramatically risen economically, with military growth to match its economic growth.

So, I think that, you know, most people in Washington, even if they don't agree with some of what I write, understand that real change is necessary, and the United States cannot possibly continue to be the guarantor of about half of the world against the other half of the world where most of humanity are, thus turning that half into explicit or implicit threats.

AMY GOODMAN: Stephen Wertheim, I wanted to ask you about what's about to happen on Wednesday. That's the Biden-Putin summit in Geneva. In a new interview on NBC, Putin criticized the United States for placing troops near the Russian border.

PRESIDENT VLADIMIR PUTIN: [translated] Imagine that we sent our troops into direct proximity to your borders. What would be your response? We didn't do that. We did it in our territory. You conducted war games in Alaska. Well, God bless you, but you crossed an ocean close to our borders, brought thousands of personnel and thousands of units of military equipment. And yet you believe that we are acting aggressively and somehow you're not. Just look at that: pot calling the kettle black.

AMY GOODMAN: Can you respond to this and also this back-and-forth? You know, President Biden calling Putin a killer, then NBC asked Putin about that, he laughed. And then, when Biden was asked about Putin laughing, Biden laughed.

STEPHEN WERTHEIM: Well, I do think that both leaders are somewhat toning down their rhetorical barrages in advance of their summit, and that's probably a good thing. I do want to give credit to the Biden administration and the president, in particular, for staunchly defending the value of diplomacy and making a point that the point of diplomacy is to meet with leaders of countries with whom we have issues; otherwise, we can pack it up, in terms of our diplomacy. So, that's exactly right. And he's trying to kind of tone down the, I would say, overheated rhetoric and personal rhetoric toward Vladimir Putin.

I hope that the summit will prove productive beyond the symbolism, which is not without value itself. But the broader pattern, I think, needs to be considered, of U.S. policy, where indeed the United States has placed troops and made defense commitments that now span most of Europe, going right up to the borders of Russia in the cases of the Baltics and with Ukraine having a path, a potential path, toward membership in the U.S.-led NATO alliance.

And it isn't surprising, and indeed was predicted by many people, left and right and center, back in the 1990s, when NATO expansion was first put on the table and first endorsed — the Senate in 1998 held a vote to admit the first three new members of NATO. It was predicted at that time by many people — my piece in yesterday's New York Times cites the Minnesota Senator Paul Wellstone, that the expansion of NATO would be seen by Russia, could not be seen otherwise by Russia, except as a threat to itself, even if, for some period of time, it wouldn't have the capacity to respond, given its economic travails in the wake of the collapse of the Soviet Union. And now that expansion has been taken, I fear, too far.

And so, we've created a kind of self-fulfilling prophecy. And this is not to defend many of the actions that Russia has taken, including the annexation of Crimea, its support for separatists in the Donbas region of Ukraine, but, you know, wise diplomats and political leaders will understand how other countries view their vital interests and listen to those countries when they repeatedly make clear what those vital interests are. So, I fear that we've set ourselves on a path of a self-fulfilling prophecy in generating conflict. And what I worry about is that if the United States, in particular, doesn't break this pattern, it sets us up for the next two, three decades — my lifetime, my children's lifetime — to be, at best, involved in intense standoffs with Russia and China, and perhaps others around the world. And at worst, it sets us up for a great power war, for World War III. Is that really what the American people need for the rest of the 21st century?

AMY GOODMAN: Historian Stephen Wertheim, I want to thank you for being with us, director of grand strategy at the Quincy Institute, visiting faculty fellow at the Center for Global Legal Challenges at Yale Law School. We'll link to your piece in The New York Times, "Sorry, Liberals. But You Really Shouldn't Love NATO." His book, Tomorrow, the World: The Birth of U.S. Global Supremacy.

Coming up, we go to Puerto Rico, which suffered a massive blackout in the last days, just days after the island's electrical system was privatized. Back in 30 seconds.


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I will not yield my values: Fired AP journalist Emily Wilder speaks out after right-wing smears

In her first TV interview, we speak with Emily Wilder, the young reporter fired by the Associated Press after she was targeted in a Republican smear campaign for her pro-Palestinian activism in college. Wilder is Jewish and was a member of Students for Justice in Palestine and Jewish Voice for Peace at Stanford University before she graduated in 2020. She was two weeks into her new job with the AP when the Stanford College Republicans singled out some of her past social media posts, triggering a conservative frenzy. The AP announced Wilder's firing shortly thereafter, citing unspecified violations of its social media policy. "Less than 48 hours after Stanford College Republicans began to post about me, I was fired," says Wilder. "I was not given an explanation for what social media policy I had violated." Over 100 AP journalists have signed an open letter to management protesting the decision to fire Wilder, which came just days after Israel demolished the building housing AP offices and other media organizations in Gaza. Journalism professor Janine Zacharia, a former Jerusalem bureau chief for The Washington Post who taught Wilder at Stanford, says the episode is an example of how much pressure news organizations face on Middle East coverage. "I am very aware, perhaps more than most, to the sensitivities around the questions of bias and reporting on the conflict," says Zacharia. "In this case it wasn't about bias."

Fired AP Journalist Emily Wilder Speaks Out After Right-Wing Smears


Fired AP Journalist Emily Wilder Speaks Out After Right-Wing Smears www.democracynow.org

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

AMY GOODMAN: The Associated Press news service is facing growing criticism for firing a young reporter after she was targeted by a right-wing smear campaign for her pro-Palestinian activism while she was a college student at Stanford.

Emily Wilder is Jewish. She was a member of Students for Justice in Palestine and also the group Jewish Voice for Peace at Stanford University before she graduated in 2020. She was an intern at The Arizona Republic before the AP hired her for an entry-level role in Phoenix, and was two weeks into her new job when the Stanford College Republicans began highlighting some of her past tweets. Their campaign was then amplified by right-wing media and politicians, including Arkansas Republican Senator Tom Cotton. The AP says it fired Wilder for violating its social media policy. The decision came just days after Israeli forces bombed the building housing the AP's office in Gaza.

Ten senior AP executives stood by the decision to fire Emily Wilder, noting in a leaked memo to editorial staff, quote, "We did not make it lightly," referring to the decision. The AP's executive editor, Sally Buzbee, did not sign the memo. She begins her new job next month as executive editor at The Washington Post. She's making history as the first woman executive editor of The Washington Post. She told NPR she has, quote, "handed over day-to-day operations" at AP, so, quote, "I was not involved in the decision at all."

Meanwhile, journalists at the AP protested Wilder's firing in an open letter Monday, writing, quote, "It has left our colleagues — particularly emerging journalists — wondering how we treat our own, what culture we embrace and what values we truly espouse as a company," unquote.

For more, we go to Phoenix, Arizona, to speak with Emily Wilder in her first television broadcast interview. We're also joined by Janine Zacharia, who was Emily Wilder's journalism professor at Stanford University. She's the former Jerusalem bureau chief for The Washington Post.

We welcome you both to Democracy Now! Emily, why don't you just take us through what happened to you?

EMILY WILDER: Absolutely. Well, first of all, thank you so much for having me.

Last Monday, a group from my alma mater, the Stanford College Republicans, began to post online past posts that I had made on social media, in an attempt to expose my history of activism for Palestinian human rights while I was an undergraduate at Stanford University, and in an attempt to link AP to Hamas. In the next two days, I began to receive a lot of harassment, a lot of pretty heinous harassment, as well as prominent Republicans on the internet began to lambaste me, including Senator Tom Cotton and Ben Shapiro.

I was reassured during this time by my editors that I would not face repercussions for my past activism and that they just wanted to support me while I was facing this smear campaign. But less than 48 hours after the Stanford College Republicans began to post about me, I was fired. The reason given was a supposed social media violation sometime after I joined AP on May 3rd. I was not given an explanation for what social media policy I violated or what tweet had violated policy, and I still have not received an explanation.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And, Emily, when you were originally hired, what were you told by the Associated Press of what its social media policy was for its reporters?

EMILY WILDER: I was told that reporters must not share opinions online, must not show bias in coverage.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And you were covering — what were you covering while you were at the AP?

EMILY WILDER: Well, I was hired as a news associate on the West Desk, which covers the western United States, 14 states in the western United States. And my position is not actually a reporting position; it was an entry-level kind of apprenticeship, an editorial and production apprenticeship. And so, I was concerned with assisting coverage in the western United States.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: So, in effect, why would these folks at Stanford target you? It seems almost nonsensical they would go after you in this concerted and campaign-like manner.

EMILY WILDER: Well, first of all, this is not my first encounter with this group. During my time at Stanford, they built a reputation as kind of bullies. They antagonized really any student they disagreed with. And I was in their crosshairs more than once. So they knew my name, and I guess they did not forget about me. And I can't say for certain why they did what they did, but perhaps they learned that I had joined a national news organization at a moment that that news organization was under public scrutiny, and they took it as an opportunity to both smear me and smear the Associated Press.

AMY GOODMAN: On Monday, the union representing Washington Post reporters — now, of course, Emily was working for the AP, but the union representing Washington Post reporters tweeted, quote, "Solidarity with the staff of the @AP and Emily Wilder. We hope management provides swift answers on her termination and clarifies the newsroom's social media practices," unquote. The AP said in a memo to staff Monday it plans to review its social media policies. Now, the significance of The Washington Post writers' union expressing solidarity is that Sally Buzbee, the executive editor of AP, is going to become the first woman executive editor of The Washington Post, beginning in June, which brings us to our next guest, Janine Zacharia, a professor at Stanford University who taught Emily Wilder. You were The Washington Post bureau chief in Jerusalem, is that right, about a decade ago?

JANINE ZACHARIA: That's correct.

AMY GOODMAN: So, can you talk about this controversy?

JANINE ZACHARIA: So, I want to speak about it on two levels. I want to speak personally, as Emily's instructor at Stanford, what this has been like, and then I want to speak in the macro about what I think is really happening here.

So, personally, I want to say that when Emily called me to tell me that she had been fired by the AP, I literally was shocked. I was really shocked, because — and I really didn't know what to say. And I said to Emily, "Close your laptop. I need to call you back," because I really need to think about what's happening here, what we're going to do and how am I going to help my brilliant former student continue with a career in journalism, because, yes, I spent most of my career, close to two decades, reporting on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. I started my career as a young woman in Jerusalem in an earlier incarnation, in the '90s, for Reuters. So I am very aware, perhaps more than most, to the sensitivities around the questions of bias and reporting on the conflict.

Nevertheless, as was mentioned, in this case it wasn't about bias. And it wasn't even about, I don't think, social media policies, because if you review what Emily posted since she started at the AP, there was one tweet that mentioned a mild opinion about the question of objectivity on reporting on the conflict and the language we use, and an editor could have come to her and said, "I think you should take down that tweet, because it expresses an opinion in violation of our social media policies. Doesn't mean you can't have these opinions, but you can't broadcast them on social media." But I think that the bigger issue in this case, if you read the letter of her dismissal, was that it mentions you cannot have any conflict that could be perceived as a bias or leading to accusations of bias. Something to that effect was the language.

And so, when the Stanford College Republicans documented some of her pro-Palestinian activism in college, I think they got a little spooked, because it was in the context, as Emily mentioned, of Israel's strike on the Gaza bureau and Hamas, and people who wanted to defend that strike were trying to accuse AP of knowingly sharing a building with Hamas — when Hamas rules the Gaza Strip for 15 years; they're everywhere — and this was a way to continue to fuel that narrative: "Look, you hired this news associate who has pro-Palestinian views." And so, it really was a full-on disinformation campaign against not only Emily, but the AP. These are actors who are not interested in having a serious conversation about how we cover the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. They want to take down credible, fact-based news organizations.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And, Janine Zacharia, what are some of the unusual pressures that reporters who are covering the Israeli-Palestinian conflict have to deal with, especially here in the United States?

JANINE ZACHARIA: You know, I think the number-one one is this perception of — there's one — there's a couple, OK? First of all, it's a conflict of dueling narratives. And when you are trying to do objective reporting on the conflict, you know, you do — and this is the way it is — you try and figure out what's going on, what do people say happened at that checkpoint, what happened right now with the bombing of the building, whatever, and you evaluate the information that's given to you.

You know, if you take a walk in my inbox from 2009, 2010, 2011, when I was there for The Washington Post — you know, social media was still in its infancy, but I received so much hate mail. Nothing like what happened to Emily now could have happened to me, because there were no Twitter mobs back then, really. "You're pro-Zionist." "You're pro-Palestinian." "You're this." "You're that." And it could be very intense.

You know, I remember when I covered — there was an incident of what was called the flotilla. The Mavi Marmara was an aid shipment going to Gaza, and I was in the Gaza Strip for The Washington Post. And I got woken up around this time, 4 or 5 a.m., and I was told that the Israelis, IDF, had killed — or maybe it was the Navy or whatever, whoever — there was images of them dropping onto this Turkish aid ship — had killed nine people. And so I started writing for The Washington Post. I was doing radio. And I got a call that night from a very senior Israeli official yelling about this A1 story I had written for The Washington Post. And the Israelis hadn't — the Israelis hadn't released any information. It was like we were trying to — it was hard, in other words. So you do your best to cover this conflict as best as you can.

And what I do at Stanford is take people like Emily, brilliant students who care about the world, who have deep social conscience, who study history, who know what's going on in the world, and I try to train them to channel that social conscience into accountability journalism. And what's so distressing to me about this incident is Emily shouldn't have to and can never erase who she was — right? — before joining the AP. And if they decide that because she was a pro-Palestinian activist, attacked by a student group, amplified by a right-wing smear campaign against her, then they're going to — what does this mean? Does this mean that any student who was an activist in college — which is what students do, they're activists in college — can't become a journalist? You know, what happens if they're activists on abortion or climate change? Or is this specifically about Israeli-Palestinian conflict, because of the pressures that these news organizations feel?

AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to read what Ari Paul, who wrote about Emily Wilder for FAIR, later wrote on Facebook. He said, "She was not some famous firebrand. She wasn't appointed to some high-level post like Jerusalem correspondent. She's a college grad who had a low-level job at a domestic bureau. But it's clear that right-wing organizations are keeping tabs on all sorts of college activists and keeping track of where they end up working. And the right is clearly organized to follow and stalk them and ruin their lives, or at least attempt to." Emily, can you comment on this? And talk about what the Associated Press said to you before you joined. I mean, it wasn't a secret that you were part of — you were a Jewish student, you were part of Jewish Voice for Peace, and also you were part of the group for justice in Palestine.

EMILY WILDER: I think that that post is absolutely right, especially considering my post was in the western United States. My beat was totally unrelated to the Middle East. Like Janine said, yes, I have opinions about the Israel-Palestine conflict as a citizen of the world, but also as a Jewish American who grew up in a Jewish community. And, yes, I have history of activism on that issue. Neither of those facts prevent me from being able to do fair, credible, fact-based reporting, especially when the beats are entirely unrelated to the Middle East.

But also, I want to take it a step further and say that the values that led to my activism, the values of compassion and justice that compelled me to speak out loudly and advocate for Palestinian human rights, those values are powerful assets in my reporting. And I don't think newsrooms should try to get me to yield those values. And I really hope that I can continue to channel those values in accountability journalism, like Janine said.

AMY GOODMAN: I also want to point out that more than a hundred Associated Press employees signed a letter in support of you, Emily, that read, in part, quote, "Wilder was a young journalist, unnecessarily harmed by the AP's handling and announcement of its firing of her. We need to know that the AP would stand behind and provide resources to journalists who are the subject of smear campaigns and online harassment."

I also wanted to ask both Emily and Professor Zacharia about this timing of when this happened. You know, I was watching — while Sally Buzbee said she's not involved with day-to-day now at AP because she's going over to The Washington Post to head that news organization, she was on television talking about the bombing of the AP offices in Gaza, talking about calling for an investigation, and the intimidation this meant for the fact that there would be fewer voices reporting out of Gaza, and how critical that was. Emily, if you could talk about this? And then I'd also like to ask Janine Zacharia to go broader, both of you, on the coverage of Israel and Palestine. There was just a major petition that was signed by many to Canadian journalism organizations talking about the fact that they're not even supposed to use the word "Palestine."

EMILY WILDER: I can't really speak to which executives within the Associated Press were involved in the decision to fire me, partly because I received so little information when I was fired. And still I have received so little information. But I agree with you, the timing is really important to the story here. I mean, it's a perfect storm. We have the event in Gaza with the AP office a couple days ago. We have — people have made links between my treatment and the treatment of other journalists, like Chris Cuomo on CNN. And this is also happening within a moment that newsrooms are reckoning with this question about social media objectivity, past activism, diversity of life experiences. And I think that that's why, you know, my former colleagues at the Associated Press — that's partially why they felt so compelled to speak out. And seeing that is really encouraging and uplifting as a young journalist.

AMY GOODMAN: I should also point out that — and a number of others have done this — Wolf Blitzer, a main anchor on CNN, formerly worked for AIPAC, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee. He hasn't been fired or prevented from reporting on Israel and Palestine. Professor Janine Zacharia, would you like to comment?

JANINE ZACHARIA: You know, I just — there's so many things that are upsetting about all this. But, you know, if you're going to go down the road of — in general, of, "OK, well, Emily was with Jewish Voice for Peace, and Wolf Blitzer was for AIPAC," the answer has to be, you know, judge your reporters based on their work. Right? Because it's insane to think that journalists don't have passions and opinions, because the very people who go into journalism, as you very well know, Amy, are people who are passionate and have opinions about things in the world. And so, it's just — that's distressing.

And also, I just want to echo something that Emily said about how they still haven't told her really what's going on. To me, as her instructor, as someone who maybe feels like I entrusted my young student with them, this is shocking to me that they didn't do more to sort of talk to her about it. And I think it's because it really wasn't about social media policy.

And this is something that the AP and other news organizations really need to think about. Who are we going to let work in our newsrooms? How are we going to deal with — I mean, if you have, for example, a whole generation of students who went to Black Lives Matter protests last summer, and then they come and take my journalism class at Stanford or another university, and they say, "You know what? I want to be a journalist," and their lives live on TikTok and Instagram and all that, are all these journalists not — are these students not going to be able to be journalists now? I mean, are there not top managers in news organizations who were in anti-Vietnam protests in the '60s, and their lives live on in Instagram?

Or is this specific to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict? Which, as you noted, the coverage is shifted the very week that Emily got caught up in this. You had the bombing of the AP bureau in Gaza. You had a very visceral reaction by the American public to the Israeli attacks in Gaza, in a way that you did not have in 2014 when 2,200 Palestinians were killed. You didn't see this kind of reaction. You had, on the A1 of The New York Times on Sunday, a story about the brutality of life under Israeli occupation. These are all very unusual. Look on The New York Times today in terms of a letter from Gaza that really calls into question a lot of the Israeli narrative about Hamas and what's really happening in Gaza. I mean, there's just — there's a major shift going on.

And so, you know, I think that Emily, in a way, the reason that she's seeing a lot of support is — I was worried. I wanted to make sure she had support. And you're seeing that because it's coming at that moment. Thank God, because I can't tell you again how distressing this has been for me as her instructor and someone who cares so deeply about her.

AMY GOODMAN: A major —

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And, Emily —

AMY GOODMAN: Go ahead, Juan.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Yeah, Emily, I wanted to ask you: How has this, the last few days, shaped your view of journalism and what you want to do as a journalist?

EMILY WILDER: Yeah, it's really rocked my perspective, honestly, I mean, obviously. You know, I wanted to join the AP because — while, like everybody on this Earth, I do have opinions, and those opinions fuel my passion for journalism, I wanted to join the AP because I am capable at doing fact-based accountability journalism. That is what I really excelled at at The Arizona Republic, and that's why the AP hired me. And they were aware that I cared about the world. They were aware that I had a commitment to justice and marginalized communities. So, I thought I would be welcome in a newsroom like AP.

But, you know, I was also aware of this broader history, that I'm just one example in, of media institutions unfairly applying these rules about objectivity and social media haphazardly, when expedient, in a way that generally comes down hardest on journalists of color, journalists who have ever spoken out on Israeli policy, and in a way that just reinforces status quo politics. So I was aware of that, and I was witnessing these shifts in the industry. I thought I'd be welcome.

But now I know that I — this experience, I guess, could have made me question my commitment to those values that compel me to do journalism, but I will not yield them. And now I know that I need to channel them into journalism in a team, in an organization, that is similarly aligned.

AMY GOODMAN: It's interesting, when you follow the money, as journalists are supposed to do. The Stanford Review, a conservative publication, was co-founded over 30 years ago by the venture capitalist and conservative philanthropist Peter Thiel, who went on to speak at Trump's first Republican National Convention. He didn't contribute a lot to Republican senators, but he did contribute to the one who attacked you, Emily, and that was Arkansas Republican Senator Tom Cotton, and also has a lot of ties to the Stanford College Republicans.

But I also wanted to thank you for a piece that you did in The Arizona Republic that Juan and I followed up on, that you broke for them, which became a major national story. And that's the story of Kristin Urquiza, whose father, Mark Anthony Urquiza, was a supporter of Donald Trump and died after believing the president's assurances that the coronavirus pandemic was under control. He died of COVID. In October, we spoke to Kristin Urquiza, after you highlighted her in your piece in The Arizona Republic about losing her father. And I just want to play that clip for you.

KRISTIN URQUIZA: My dad, first and foremost, was great and did not deserve to die alone in a hospital with just a nurse holding his hand. He was also a lifelong Republican who was politically aware. He watched television news programming fairly regularly, read the newspaper, and engaged me as a young kid in politics, which is kind of where I got my interest in the world around me from. He was a Trump supporter and voted for Trump and believed him in what he had to say.

AMY GOODMAN: So, that's Kristin Urquiza talking about losing her father. But, you know, you had major impact as a young reporter at The Arizona Republic. And if also you could go back to commenting on Peter Thiel?

EMILY WILDER: Yeah, that story was really formative in my time at The Arizona Republic. It was pretty early on in my time at the Republic. And it represents exactly the kind of journalism that I excel at and that I want to continue doing, which is highlighting the undertold, underrepresented or suppressed stories of certain communities and linking those experiences to a larger investigative context, to a larger — to the situation that we're in, where communities of color are the most at risk for COVID-19. So, I was really grateful to have been a part of that and to have broken such an important story. And, you know, that's what I — I try to continue to do impactful storytelling like that.

And in terms of the connection with Peter Thiel, yes, this organization does have powerful and wealthy connections in the conservative ecosystem. But I also want to make sure that people understand that this is just a group of college-aged trolls, honestly, and they did not have to become relevant. They should not have — the Associated Press should not have felt threatened by them. I truly believe they would have gone away — they would have spun their wheels on this and gone away, if the Associated Press had not fired me and had not sort of empowered them and empowered their bullying, empowered their disinformation.

AMY GOODMAN: And finally, Professor Janine Zacharia, what are you going to teach your students, as they come back to Stanford now, about what this means for journalism? In the end, because of Emily's outspokenness and bravery in taking this on instead of slinking away, do you think journalism will advance in this country, and particularly around the Israel-Palestine issue?

JANINE ZACHARIA: Well, I scrapped my class in foreign correspondence on Thursday that I had planned, and we're devoting it to this, because it's so important, obviously. Emily is a peer and a friend of many of the students in my current class, who have been very traumatized by this whole thing, wondering, again, you know, whether they have a future in journalism, reaching out to me quite shell-shocked. And so, I feel the need as their instructor to talk about what's happened.

But I don't know what to say, you know, truthfully, Amy, because what I do, as someone who started at Reuters and worked at The Washington Post, the conventional media, you know, what I train them to do, I don't know — I just don't know what to say right now. I'm still processing it all. But what I will do is hold up Emily as an example of what I believe they all should do, is use their brilliance and channel their convictions into amazing reporting that gets picked up by Amy Goodman and others. She had another story, by the way, about wait times for COVID testing, that was featured on Rachel Maddow, as an intern. Right? So, in the end, you know, I'll stress that this is really the AP's loss, and whoever hires her next is going to be so very fortunate.

AMY GOODMAN: Maybe she'll be Sally Buzbee's first hire at Washington Post

JANINE ZACHARIA: That would be nice.

AMY GOODMAN: — and then follow in your footsteps. Emily — I want to thank you both for being with us, Emily Wilder, fired by AP, which has fired up the journalism community, not only in the United States, and others for more just reporting around the world, and Janine Zacharia, Emily Wilder's journalism professor at Stanford University who is the former Washington Post Jerusalem bureau chief.

Next up, today marks the first anniversary of the murder of George Floyd by Minneapolis police, which sparked international protests and a reckoning over race and policing. Stay with us.

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

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




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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

REED LINDSAY: Thanks a lot, Amy.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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