Democracy Now

'White supremacists have never conceded defeat': Legal expert explains what Biden's AG pick means

Joe Biden has formally nominated Merrick Garland for attorney general. Garland has served on the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals for over two decades and previously worked at the Justice Department, where he prosecuted the Oklahoma City bombing case. President Obama nominated Garland in 2016 to serve on the Supreme Court, but the nomination stalled after Republican senators refused to put it up for a vote. Elie Mystal, justice correspondent for The Nation, says Garland is an "underwhelming" pick, given his judicial record. "People need to remember that Garland was picked for the Supreme Court because he was a compromise candidate," says Mystal. "This is a centrist jurist who has a history — a troubling history, to me — of being deferential to police and being unwilling to hold police accountable for acts of brutality and misconduct."

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

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!,, The Quarantine Report.

President-elect Joe Biden has formally nominated Judge Merrick Garland for attorney general. Garland is a centrist judge who was President Obama's pick to serve on the Supreme Court after the death of Antonin Scalia in 2016, but his nomination stalled after Republican senators, led by Mitch McConnell, refused to put it up for a vote. Garland served on the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals for over two decades, previously worked at the Justice Department, where he prosecuted the Oklahoma City bombing case. On Thursday, Merrick Garland cited the insurrection at the Capitol as he talked about the rule of law.

JUDGE MERRICK GARLAND: As everyone who watched yesterday's events in Washington now understands, if they did not understand before, the rule of law is not just some lawyer's turn of phrase. It is the very foundation of our democracy. The essence of the rule of law is that like cases are treated alike, that there not be one rule for Democrats and another for Republicans; one rule for friends, another for foes; one rule for the powerful, another for the powerless; one rule for the rich and another for the poor; or different rules depending upon one's race or ethnicity.

AMY GOODMAN: Biden's other picks for top posts at the Justice Department include Vanita Gupta to be associate attorney general, currently head of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights.

VANITA GUPTA: Now is the time to ensure that our economic system works for everyone, that we can protect the health and safety of all of the American people, and that we will harness all of the Justice Department's levers for civil rights, justice and police reform and climate justice and so much more.

AMY GOODMAN: And Joe Biden has nominated Kristen Clarke, the head of the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, to be assistant attorney general for civil rights.

KRISTEN CLARKE: I stand here today deeply inspired by the example of the late Thurgood Marshall, Constance Baker Motley and other public servants who dedicated their lives to advancing the cause of justice. We are at a crossroads. If I am fortunate enough to be confirmed, we will turn the page on hate and close the door on discrimination by enforcing our federal civil rights laws.

AMY GOODMAN: To talk more about President-elect Joe Biden's picks to run the Justice Department, we're joined by Elie Mystal, The Nation's justice correspondent, author of the magazine's monthly column "Objection!"

I mean, what an unusual day, Elie. You have this aftermath of the insurrection on Wednesday, and as the death toll grew to five, you have Joe Biden coming out and announcing who would be the attorney general and the other picks for the Justice Department. Again, you were tweeting up a storm about both. Can you respond to his choices and also what happened in the nation's Capitol?

ELIE MYSTAL: [inaudible] pick for attorney general was going to be his most consequential Cabinet pick, before the president of the United States appears to have launched a failed coup against his own government. Right? Merrick Garland's pick was huge before the events of this week.

I am a little bit underwhelmed by the Garland pick. People need to remember that Garland was picked for the Supreme Court because he was a compromise candidate. He was picked to entice Republican votes to confirm him. Now, people have forgotten why he was a centrist and why he was a compromise candidate, because the Republicans martyred him, you know, over the Scalia replacement, and so he's gotten this kind of like cult status. But this is a centrist jurist who has a history — a troubling history, to me — of being deferential to police and being unwilling to hold police accountable for acts of brutality and misconduct.

Now, people change, right? I'm basing my information on his actual written opinions from his long career. But that was before Trump, right? That was before the events of this week even. So, Merrick Garland is going to have an opportunity to prove me wrong and to prove that he's learned and evolved, because, to link it up with what we've seen this week, by the time Merrick Garland takes control of the Justice Department, many of the domestic terrorists that we saw this week will have not been brought to justice. Right? Very few of them will have been arrested. Very few of them will have been charged. Merrick Garland will have an opportunity, will have a target-rich environment, to show that he is willing to put the rule of law and to take these people on head on and seriously, right? He will not have charged — we will not have charged Don Trump Jr. for incitement to a riot, as he did in that speech, when he stood there for two minutes and yelled "Fight for Trump! Fight for Trump! Fight for Trump!" right before they stormed the Capitol. Don Trump Jr. will not have been charged by the time Merrick Garland takes control, all right? Rudy Giuliani, who instructed these people to go out and have a "trial by combat," will not have been charged by the time Merrick Garland takes control. So, if he wants to prove that he is ready to apply the rule of law equally, he will have multiple opportunities to do so as of January 20th.

AMY GOODMAN: So, talk about the other members of the team and how much power they have. We just interviewed the now-head, if she is approved, the head of th Civil Rights Division, who Joe Biden had nominated, not to mention — that's Kristen Clarke — not to mention Vanita Gupta. We'll post both of those interviews recently. Their significance? And will these even departments be revived? Talk about what's happened to them.

ELIE MYSTAL: It's a great team, I think, writ large. Kristen Clarke is one of the best. I think she will be great at the Civil Rights Division. Vanita Gupta — I mean, look, all else being equal, Vanita Gupta is on my personal shortlist for the Supreme Court, like I think she is that kind of serious and important person. So, I couldn't — I am very happy with the team.

When you talk about the kind of power they have, that's going to have a lot to do with Garland himself. The fact that they were all announced together, which doesn't always happen, suggests that that department will work hand in hand — hand in glove, perhaps, is a better analogy for that. So, I have hope that they will have real power, real authority to — and I think you put it exactly right — restore divisions of the Justice Department that have atrophied or, in some cases, willingly been dismantled by Bill Barr and Jeff Sessions.

Take the Civil Rights Division, for instance. One of the main ways the federal government has for imposing standards on local police is through the use of something called consent decrees. The Justice Department investigates you. To avoid federal charges, your jurisdiction, your police department, enters in a consent decree with the Justice Department to meet certain standards in terms of, you know, good policing ideals. Jeff Sessions famously ended the use of consent decrees within his first couple of weeks in office. I would assume that Kristen Clarke will restore the use of consent decrees within her first hundred hours in office. Right?

So, the atrophying and, I say, the willful dismantling of some of the structures of the Justice Department, I do have hope will be restored under this team. But again, the issue here is not — restoration is great. It's important to bring the Justice Department to wash clean the stains of Bill Barr and Jeff Sessions from the Justice Department. That's all well and good. But this moment demands more than mere restoration. This moment demands a Justice Department who is willing to go after the people who threaten our democracy and who openly threaten the safety of Black people in this country. And Merrick Garland will have an opportunity to prove that he is willing to do that.

AMY GOODMAN: And then you have the speculation that if in fact he is approved by the Senate, now a Democratic Senate, you'll have his open seat on the federal bench, the possibility that Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson will fill that seat and then possibly be nominated to the Supreme Court, if there is an opening.

ELIE MYSTAL: Yeah, so, here's the thing about the D.C. Circuit. And I don't want to get too far into the weeds, but the D.C. Circuit, which is where Garland currently sits, is basically like the theater circuit for the Supreme Court. A lot of Supreme Court justices kind of got their start on the D.C. Circuit, currently on the Supreme Court. John Roberts, Clarence Thomas and Brett Kavanaugh all came from the D.C. Circuit. Ruth Bader Ginsburg came from the D.C. Circuit. It's a theater, you know? It's the Alabama to the NFL, right? The D.C. Circuit is not nothing.

AMY GOODMAN: A theater court.

ELIE MYSTAL: Yeah. So, yes, putting Judge Jackson on the D.C. Circuit is not only great for Judge Jackson — she's a great judge — and great for the D.C. Circuit; it's a suggestion that you are being groomed to fill a seat on the Supreme Court, should an opening come up. So, that's great. That's important.

I'll point out that Garland — that people making this big, like, "Oh, and so, see, there's three-dimensional chess for" — Judge Garland was old enough that he could have taken senior status, and thus opened up the seat on the D.C. Circuit anyway. So, this argument that, like, the really good thing about making Garland AG is that he's opened up this, that doesn't really hold up. All right? Like, it's great that Biden will have the opportunity to put another judge on the D.C. Circuit. That's awesome. That didn't have to be this way. Biden wanted it to be this way, didn't have to be this way.

AMY GOODMAN: Elie, just before we go — we just have 30 seconds — from The Washington Post, "Time will tell whether the takeover of Capitol was a riot, a last gasp of a renegade president or an early skirmish in a civil war." And your new piece for The Nation is headlined "The Confederacy Finally Stormed the Capitol." The significance of this week?

ELIE MYSTAL: What we saw this week was — Frederick Douglass said, "Power never concedes anything without a demand." And what we saw this week was power not conceding. All right? White supremacists have never conceded defeat, not once, not ever in the history of this country. And we have to always be ready to fight them, because when we are not ready, when we are not prepared, this is what happens.

AMY GOODMAN: Elie Mystal, I want to thank you for being with us, The Nation's justice correspondent, author of The Nation's monthly column "Objection!" We'll link to your latest piece.

This is Democracy Now! When we come back, speaking of storming, a data scientist from Florida, Rebekah Jones, her home is raided by authorities in Florida. We'll find out why it was guns were put to the family of this data scientist and she had to move, as she talked about information about Florida's COVID-19 outbreak, now reaching a peak. Stay with us.

'Medical apartheid': Israeli vaccine drive excludes millions of Palestinians in occupied territories

Israel has administered COVID-19 vaccines faster than any country in the world, with more than 14% of Israelis receiving vaccines so far. Despite the fast rollout, human rights groups are expressing alarm over Israel's decision not to vaccinate Palestinians in the occupied West Bank and Gaza, where about 1,500 people have died during the pandemic. Israel has defended its actions citing the Oslo Peace Accords, which put Palestinian authorities in charge of healthcare in the West Bank and Gaza. Palestinian officials are facing a number of hurdles in launching their own vaccine campaign, including a shortage of money, lack of access to vaccines and lack of infrastructure to distribute a vaccine. "Israel actually is violating international law because it is denying its responsibility as an occupying power," says Dr. Mustafa Barghouti, a physician, member of the Palestinian Parliament and head of the Palestinian Medical Relief Society. "Israelis are getting the vaccines, and Palestinians are getting nothing."

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

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

Israel has become the first country in the world to administer COVID-19 vaccines to more than 10% of its population. As of Monday, 14% of Israelis had received a vaccine — far higher than any other country. Despite the fast rollout, Israel's health minister says a total lockdown is needed to combat the surging number of new infections.

This comes as human rights groups are expressing alarm over Israel's decision not to vaccinate Palestinians living in the occupied West Bank and Gaza, where about 1,500 people have died during the pandemic. Physicians for Human Rights recently said, quote, "Israel bears moral and humanitarian responsibility for vaccinating the Palestinian population under its control," unquote. Israel is, however, offering vaccines to Jewish settlers living in the illegal settlements in the West Bank.

Israel has defended its actions, citing the Oslo Peace Accords, which put Palestinian authorities in charge of healthcare in the West Bank and Gaza. Palestinian officials are facing a number of hurdles in launching its own vaccine campaign, including a shortage of money, lack of access to vaccines, lack of infrastructure to distribute a vaccine. Israel has so far been relying on the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, which needs to be stored at minus-94 degrees Fahrenheit. Storing such a vaccine is impossible in Gaza, where residents often go 12 or more hours a day without electricity. In 2014, Israel bombed Gaza's only power plant in what Amnesty International described as "collective punishment" of Palestinians.

We go now to the West Bank city of Ramallah, where we're joined by Dr. Mustafa Barghouti, physician, member of the Palestinian Parliament, head of the Palestinian Medical Relief Society, has been leading efforts to manage the pandemic in the West Bank and Gaza. He was infected with COVID-19 in December. He's secretary general of the Palestinian National Initiative, a political party. And he was a presidential candidate in the 2005 elections.

We welcome you to Democracy Now!, Dr. Barghouti. Can you explain what is happening? How has Israel become the country that has vaccinated more of its population than any country in the world, and yet Palestinians are not getting vaccinated? Who's in charge of this program? Who should be?

DR. MUSTAFA BARGHOUTI: Well, thank you, Amy. I'm glad to be with you.

Israel actually is violating international law, because it is denying its responsibility as an occupying power. Israel managed to get 14 million vaccines for the Israelis and those who hold Israeli IDs, but gave nothing to Palestinians. So, practically, they are vaccinating 8 million Israelis and not vaccinating 5.3, 5.2 million Palestinians living in the Occupied Territories.

More than that, this system of racial discrimination, which can only be compared, in my opinion, to apartheid system, is doing something horrible in the West Bank. Seven hundred fifty thousand illegal settlers, as you said, are getting the vaccines now; 3.1 million Palestinians in the West Bank are getting nothing. More than that, in the Israeli prisons, Israel ordered the guards in the prisons to get the vaccine, and probably the Israeli criminal prisoners, but the Palestinian prisoners, 5,000 of them, are getting nothing. What can be more clear here than that this confirms that this is really a system of racial discrimination?

And when they speak that the Palestinian Authority is responsible, this is totally misleading. First of all, the Palestinian Authority approached them, asking at least for vaccines for us, the healthcare providers, who are being infected around the clock. And Israel refused. The Palestinian Authority is in charge only of 38% of the West Bank, only. Sixty-two percent of the West Bank is Area C, under full Israeli military control, and Israel is doing nothing for Palestinians there. More than that, if the Palestinian Authority tries to import a vaccine from outside, they will need Israeli permit. And Israel did not allow any permit yet for Palestinians. Israel controls the borders, controls the imports, controls the exports.

And the biggest disaster is in Gaza, because in Gaza you have 2.1 million besieged by Israel, lacking health facilities, lacking equipment, and there, they are not getting any vaccines. And more than that, 70% of them are refugees displaced from their land in 1948. When you tell them, "Go and quarantine," I don't know how they can do that, if you have 10 people living in two rooms. It's impossible.

The problem is that the rate of infection today in the West Bank and Gaza is 36%, while in Israel it's 4.5%. Israelis are getting the vaccines, and Palestinians are getting nothing.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: But, Dr. Barghouti, isn't it in the interest of Israel, from a public health perspective, even if they want to pursue this continued antagonistic policy toward the Palestinians, to have the Palestinians vaccinated, to reach herd immunity in the total area?

DR. MUSTAFA BARGHOUTI: You're absolutely right. In my opinion, Netanyahu and his government — this man is so racist. He only thinks of himself. He only thinks of his political future. He only thinks of escaping the criminal charges against him and being reelected again. And all he does is to satisfy the Israeli right-wing voters.

In reality, what his government is doing is actually hurting the Israelis, as well, because you cannot reach herd community if you have 8 million people vaccinated and 5.2 million people not vaccinated, especially that 130,000 workers will continue to go to Israel for work and will interact with Israelis, of course, and there are 750,000 other Israelis, illegal settlers, in the West Bank, who will continue to commute and communicate with the 3.1 million unvaccinated Palestinians. So, practically, this is a crime against Palestinians and a crime against the health of Israelis. It's a violation of the international law, but also it's, in my opinion, the worst crime against medical ethics, which says nobody should be discriminated against because of anything, which says, "Do no harm, and help people as much as you can as a health professional."

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: I wanted to ask you — the COVAX facility that the World Health Organization established to help poor countries has pledged to vaccinate 20% of Palestinians. Where does that stand right now in terms of that pledge?

DR. MUSTAFA BARGHOUTI: I am in communication with the head of WHO here. And they are trying their best, but they do not think they can get anything here before four or five months, and if they are lucky. Up 'til now, they don't know what vaccine they can get in. Up 'til now, they don't know how to get vaccines. That's why, given the huge spread now of community infections in the West Bank and Gaza, a very high number of cases — I estimate we have already 600,000 cases. And they approached the Israelis. The WHO approached Israel, asking at least for vaccines for the health professionals. Israel refused and continues to refuse.

So, unfortunately, we are looking here at a potential real serious disaster. And as a person who is suffering from COVID-19 now, after nine months of being so protective and trying to be very careful, I can tell you this is a horrible disease. I don't wish it for anybody. It's very dangerous. It can be destructive. It can kill the people. And it can also leave them with incapacity for a very long — for the rest of their life.

AMY GOODMAN: So, Dr. Mustafa Barghouti, as you said, you yourself have COVID-19 right now. You're in the throes of it. We know that Saeb Erekat, chief negotiator, died of COVID-19. You're a frontline physician. Do you get vaccinated? And what about the vaccines? Apparently, PA has asked the United Arab Emirates to share some of its supply of Chinese-made vaccine, and the Palestinian Authority has reportedly ordered 4 million doses of the Russian Sputnik vaccine. When are these doses going to come? And what are you demanding of the not only Israeli government, but the U.S. government, since it gives so much money to the Israeli government?

DR. MUSTAFA BARGHOUTI: I think I demand from the whole international community to do two things: first of all, to exercise immediate pressure on Israel to allow the passage of vaccines to at least the beginning — in the beginning, to the health professionals that are taking care of people, so that the health system would not collapse, and then to the elderly, of course, etc.; but also, we're asking the international community to provide aid, bypassing Israel. Israel will not respond. And the international community has a big duty here.

I was not vaccinated. No health professional in the West Bank has been vaccinated yet. And we don't know when we will get this vaccine. And it is really critical, because the rate of infection is going up, and it is affecting — it could affect everybody in the community. So what we need is immediate pressure.

Regarding the Russian vaccine, yes,, there was a request, but I don't think the Russians can provide such vaccines, because their capacity of production is still low. They have produced only 500,000, up 'til now, vaccines. And their maximum capacity is 4 to 5 million per month, and they need 100 million vaccines for Russia itself. So I don't think that is a solution, although the Sputnik vaccine seems to be very good.

I think what we need is to really have a way of getting the AstraZeneca or the Moderna vaccine. Of course, we have a problem with Pfizer, although we have managed to provide some facilities in the West Bank, if we can get it, to give it to people.

But the most immediate need now — now it's a health disaster. Now it's a very risky situation. A whole population is subjected to a very big, alarming risk. That's why it is very urgent to immediately exercise pressure so that Palestinians also get the vaccines.

AMY GOODMAN: Would you describe this as medical apartheid?

DR. MUSTAFA BARGHOUTI: Yes, absolutely. This is the worst form of apartheid: medical apartheid. It didn't even exist in South Africa. This is just beyond description. Imagine you go to a prison: You vaccinate the guards, but not the prisoners; you vaccinate Israeli prisoners, who are criminal usually, and not vaccinate Palestinian political prisoners. Imagine you go in the cities of the West Bank: The settlers are vaccinated, and nearby Palestinian cities and communities are not vaccinated. Not only they grab our land, not only they settle illegally on our land, take away our natural resources, take away our —

AMY GOODMAN: We have five seconds.

DR. MUSTAFA BARGHOUTI: — sources of economy, but also they back this system of apartheid. I call it — I call it vaccination with racism.

AMY GOODMAN: Dr. Mustafa Barghouti, physician, member of the Palestinian Parliament, thanks for joining us.

A stunning 'victory for Julian': UK blocks extradition for Wikileaks' Assange to the US

In a stunning decision, a British judge has blocked the extradition of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange to the United States, saying he would not be safe in a U.S. prison due to his deteriorated mental state. In 2019, Assange was indicted in the United States on 17 counts of violating the Espionage Act related to the publication of classified documents exposing U.S. war crimes in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere. The United States has already announced plans to appeal the ruling. Press freedom advocates have campaigned against Assange's prosecution for years, arguing it would set a dangerous precedent for prosecuting journalists. The blocked extradition due to concern over prison safety rather than press freedom shows that "this is not the end of the road," says Assange legal adviser Jennifer Robinson. "This is still a terrible precedent." We also speak with Jameel Jaffer, founding director of the Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University, who says that while the decision is a "very significant victory" for Assange, the judge has largely sided with the U.S. prosecution.

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

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

A British judge has blocked the extradition of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange to the United States, where he would have faced up to 175 years in prison. In a stunning decision, Judge Vanessa Baraitser said Assange would not be safe in U.S. prisons due to the state of his mental health. Judge Vanessa Baraitser said, quote, "I am satisfied that, in these harsh conditions, Mr. Assange's mental health would deteriorate causing him to commit suicide. … I find that the mental condition of Mr. Assange is such that it would be oppressive to extradite him to the United States of America," she said. The United States said it would appeal the ruling.

Supporters of Assange, including former British Ambassador Craig Murray, celebrated outside the London courthouse this morning.

CRAIG MURRAY: Today, we are swept away by our joy of the fact —
CRAIG MURRAY: — the fact that Julian will shortly be with us. We have a judgment which I think makes an excuse to deliver justice, an excuse based on the appalling conditions in American prisons, an excuse based on the effect that would have on American mental health, and perhaps a sign — perhaps a sign that the authorities are not prepared to follow through the persecution and destruction of a man for political reasons.

AMY GOODMAN: Julian Assange's partner, Stella Morris, also spoke shortly after the judge's ruling.

STELLA MORRIS: I had hoped that today would be the day that Julian would come home. Today is not that day, but that day will come soon. As long as Julian has to endure suffering and isolation as an unconvicted prisoner in Belmarsh prison, and as long as our children continue to be bereft of their father's love and affection, we cannot celebrate. We will celebrate the day he comes home.
Today is a victory for Julian. Today's victory is the first step towards justice in this case. We are pleased that the court has recognized the seriousness and inhumanity of what he has endured and what he faces. But let's not forget, the indictment in the U.S. has not been dropped. We are extremely concerned that the U.S. government has decided to appeal this decision. It continues to want to punish Julian and make him disappear into the deepest, darkest hole of the U.S. prison system for the rest of his life. That can never happen. We will never accept that journalism is a crime in this country or any other.

AMY GOODMAN: Stella Morris, Julian Assange's partner, is the mother of two of his children.

In 2019, Julian Assange was indicted in the United States on 17 counts of violating the Espionage Act related to the publication of classified documents exposing U.S. war crimes in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere.
Press freedom advocates campaigned against his prosecution, saying it would set a dangerous precedent for prosecuting journalists.

Assange has been locked up at Belmarsh, one of Britain's most high-security prisons since his arrest in April of 2019. He had spent the previous seven years inside the Ecuadorian Embassy, where he had been granted political asylum.

In a statement, Amnesty International said, quote, "We welcome the fact that Julian Assange will not be sent to the USA, but this does not absolve the UK from having engaged in this politically-motivated process at the behest of the USA and putting media freedom and freedom of expression on trial," they said.

We're joined by two guests. Joining us from Sydney, Australia, is Jennifer Robinson, human rights attorney who's been advising Julian Assange and WikiLeaks since 2010. And here in New York, Jameel Jaffer is with us, founding director of the Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University. Last year he submitted expert testimony to Judge Baraitser in the Assange extradition proceeding.

Jennifer, let's go to you first in Australia. You're usually inside the courtroom. Can you respond to this stunning decision of the judge?

JENNIFER ROBINSON: Well, I attended remotely from Sydney. And it is a welcome decision in the sense that the judge recognized in her judgment that sending — that Julian should not be extradited to the United States, but on the narrow grounds that his extradition is oppressive, not for press freedom concerns, but because of the specific medical condition in his declining mental health and the specific prison conditions that he would face once returned to the United States, those being special administrative measures, which is effectively solitary confinement.

This is still very concerning, and free speech groups should still be concerned. We will be looking more closely at the judgment in the coming days. But she agreed with the U.S. prosecution in all other matters, including in respect of the free speech arguments that we had raised about the application of the First Amendment, the unprecedented nature of this case, and the fact that Julian wouldn't get a fair trial once returned to the United States.

So, while we are obviously pleased with the outcome — I'm delighted for his partner — and this has been a very long, 10-year battle for us, the fact that she's now decided not to extradite him is a positive one, but I think, for free speech groups, for journalists everywhere, this is not the end of the road. And it sets — I think it shows that this is still a terrible precedent.

AMY GOODMAN: And the U.S. says they will appeal this. What does this mean? I mean, on the one hand, you have the possibility of him being freed this week, but could that appeal mean he remains in jail?

JENNIFER ROBINSON: We will be making a bail application on Wednesday morning. That was decided this morning. But, of course, the U.S. has two weeks to appeal. They've already indicated that they will appeal, and have indicated that they will likely oppose any bail application.

So, the right and correct position is that now that we have won this first battle, that he ought to be released on remand pending any appeal outcome. If the U.S. is granted permission to appeal — because they must apply for permission — this could be pushed off for several months, perhaps later in the year. And he's already spent, as I said, almost over a decade under some form of confinement, almost two years in a high-security prison, because of this U.S. extradition request. And it's really time that the United States puts an end to this. This is an extraordinary prosecution. It never should have been started in the first place. The Obama administration chose not to indict. This case needs to be put to a close, and Julian should be allowed to get on with his life.

AMY GOODMAN: And for those who aren't familiar with what it is he released, can you explain this case and why he was inside the — in political exile inside in the Ecuadorian Embassy for so many years and then taken by police and put into this supermax Belmarsh prison?

JENNIFER ROBINSON: The indictment and the prosecution from the United States in this extradition case relates solely to publications back in 2010, 2011. This included the publication of the Afghan War logs, the Iraq War logs, of course the famous "Collateral Murder" video showing the murder of journalists in Iraq by U.S. soldiers, and the U.S. diplomatic cables. What we saw were evidence of war crimes, human rights abuse.

And what was really important about the extradition proceedings is that we had evidence from human rights lawyers from around the world about the importance of WikiLeaks' disclosures in human rights accountability efforts, whether we talk about Guantánamo Bay, the Iraq War and so on.

So, this is what he was facing prosecution for, 175 years in prison for these important disclosures. And what's troubling about today's decision is that the judge has found that he could have been extradited had it not been for his medical condition. And that's a terrifying precedent for journalists.

AMY GOODMAN: Jameel Jaffer, if you could respond — you filed expert testimony in his case — to this, again, stunning decision that was made by the judge in Britain this morning?

JAMEEL JAFFER: Yeah. I mean, I do think that the decision is important and surprising, a very significant victory for Julian Assange. I think the press freedom implications are more complicated.

The judge — while ultimately holding that Assange can't be extradited to the United States on the basis of his mental health and the conditions under which he would be held if he were extradited here, the judge largely endorses the U.S. prosecution theory. And that theory is based on an indictment that sweeps very, very broadly, that basically the indictment is an effort to hold Assange criminally responsible for acts that journalists engage in all the time. And it doesn't matter whether Assange himself is properly characterized as a journalist. That may be an important debate, but legally it's completely irrelevant. The important fact is that Assange has been indicted on the grounds that he engaged in activities like cultivating confidential sources, maintaining their confidentiality or maintaining the confidentiality of their identities, and publishing classified secrets. And, of course, those things, all of those things, are integral to national security journalism.

And the press freedom fear here is that the prosecution of Assange, and even the indictment itself, will deter journalism that is important and necessary and that should be regarded as protected by the First Amendment. And I think that this ruling is, again, a victory for Assange, but insofar as it's an endorsement of the U.S.'s prosecution theory and of the underlying indictment, I think that that indictment is going to continue to cast a kind of shadow over investigative journalism.

AMY GOODMAN: In 2014, I interviewed Julian Assange inside the Ecuadorian Embassy. He talked about the challenges whistleblowers face in U.S. courts.

JULIAN ASSANGE: It is not possible for a national security whistleblower now in the United States to have a fair trial. It's not possible to have a fair trial because all the trials are held in Alexandria, Virginia, where the jury pool is comprised of the highest density of military and government employees in all of the United States. It's not possible to have a fair trial, because the U.S. government has a precedent of applying state secret privilege to prevent the defense from using material that is classified in their favor. It's not possible to have a fair trial, because as a defendant in a national security case, you are held under special administrative measures, which makes it very hard to look at any of the material in your case, to meet with your lawyers, to speak to people, etc. So, this is — it's just simply not a fair system.

AMY GOODMAN: So, that's Julian Assange inside the Ecuadorian Embassy, where he had a political asylum in 2014. We may have among the most extensive global TV-radio broadcast interviews with Assange, a number of times inside the embassy, also, before that, when he was under house arrest. And you can go to for that.

But, Jameel, last week, you tweeted, "It's crucial to understand that the case isn't just incidentally about press freedom. The whole point of the case is to criminalize national security journalism." So, let's talk about that. In fact, if you were listening to the judge today, before the end — and I want to ask Jen Robinson about this — when she talked about his mental condition and what this could mean in U.S. prisons — a real indictment of U.S. prisons — it did sound like she was going in another direction on the issue of press freedom.

JAMEEL JAFFER: Yeah. I mean, I think that what you have to understand here that the Trump administration or the Department of Justice could have indicted Assange on much narrower grounds, and they did initially indict him on a violation of the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act. And that prosecution would have raised some press freedom concerns, too, but the press freedom concerns would have been much less significant than the ones that are raised by this Espionage Act indictment. So there was a decision made at some point to indict Assange on these broader grounds, even though narrower grounds might have been available. And the decision was made even though the Obama administration decided that there was no meaningful way to distinguish Assange's activities from the activities of journalists and mainstream media organizations in the United States. So there was a very deliberate decision to go after Assange with these very broad claims claims, even though — these very broad charges, even though the Justice Department itself had concluded, under President Obama, that distinguishing Assange from journalists and mainstream news organizations was legally difficult, if not impossible.

And I think that the only way to explain that decision is to understand that the whole point of the prosecution, the whole point of the indictment, is to cast a shadow over investigative journalism, and national security journalism in particular. The point of this prosecution is not so much to go after Assange, because they could have done that on narrower grounds. The point of the prosecution is to criminalize national security journalism. I understand that that sounds extreme, but I really don't think that there's any other possible explanation for the decision to go after Assange in this particular way. The point is to get at the activities that journalists are engaged in all the time — again, protecting confidential sources, communicating with them confidentially, cultivating sources, publishing classified secrets. These are the pillars of investigative journalism, of national security journalism in particular. And those things are the target of the indictment.

AMY GOODMAN: Jen Robinson, were you able to see him at Belmarsh?

JENNIFER ROBINSON: We haven't been able to see Julian at Belmarsh since the beginning of the year, since the COVID restrictions were implemented. I think it's really important to talk about the prison conditions he's facing in the United Kingdom so far because of this U.S. extradition request. So, we were not able to visit him in person since March, since the outbreak of COVID. He hasn't had social visits. It's made our ability to prepare for this case incredibly difficult.

But the isolation that he has suffered already because of the prison conditions in the U.K. and because of the COVID pandemic — there's been an outbreak of COVID on his prison block in recent weeks, which has meant that he's effectively been 24/7 in his cell, not even allowed to leave in order to wash, because of the risk of contracting COVID. And we are very concerned about what would happen to him, given his ongoing medical conditions as a result of the many years in confinement, the complications that he would suffer as a result of that.

AMY GOODMAN: So, Jen, when Joe Biden was U.S. vice president, he likened WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange to a "hi-tech terrorist." That was the strongest criticism from the Obama administration. Reading a piece from The Guardian, it says, "Biden claimed that by leaking diplomatic cables Assange had put lives at risk and made it more difficult for the US to conduct its business around the world." Is it conceivable that President Trump would pardon Julian Assange? And would that matter at this point, given that he will not be sent to the United States, at least at this point? The U.S. has appealed.

JENNIFER ROBINSON: It is still conceivable that — President Trump still has the power to pardon Julian Assange at this point. And, of course, while this is an important decision, this decision protects Julian from extradition from the United Kingdom; the indictment and the prosecution still remains afoot. This is an extraordinary prosecution. And I agree with everything that Jameel has had to say about the impact in the United States with respect to First Amendment protections, but it's also concerning for journalists outside of the country, because, let's not forget, the impact of this ruling is that she would have extradited him had it not been for his particular concerns around his mental health. So, this is actually still a very dangerous precedent and one that — the fact that we've won this first step doesn't mean that it's going to be the end of the road. There's still going to be an appeal. And I think all British journalists and journalists outside of the United States need to be looking at this decision, as well, to see the fact that they could still potentially be extradited under this precedent. And that's dangerous.

AMY GOODMAN: And, Jameel Jaffer, I asked Jennifer Robinson to describe what it was that Julian Assange had released, among them a video that he called "Collateral" — that WikiLeaks called "Collateral [Murder]," which exposed a U.S. Apache helicopter opening fire on a group of Iraqi residents in New Baghdad, an area of Baghdad. They opened fire from the Apache helicopter, having gotten approval from back at the forward operating base. And in addition to killing the Iraqis on the ground, they killed two Reuters employees: an up-and-coming journalist, Namir Noor-Eldeen, a videographer, and his driver, Saeed Chmagh, who was more than a driver. He often took Reuters journalists around when they were in Iraq. He was the father of four. It was a horrifying image. Reuters had, year after year, demanded from the U.S. government if they had video. And it was that video that WikiLeaks released, among, well, millions of other documents. But the significance of this, Jameel, and also —


AMY GOODMAN: — how U.S. news organizations, like The New York Times, like The Washington Post, treated or backed, or didn't back, Julian Assange, though they certainly used the information he released?

JAMEEL JAFFER: Mm-hmm. Well, I mean, there's no doubt that that particular disclosure was hugely significant. And it's not the only disclosure that WikiLeaks has made that I think has made sort of dramatic contributions to public understanding of government policy, and national security policy in particular.

But I think it's important to think not only about the disclosures that WikiLeaks has made, but rather the disclosures that other news organizations have made over the past 20 years that would not have been possible, or would have been criminalized, if one accepts the theory that the U.S. government is asserting in this particular case, because if it — you know, if it were in fact the case that the publication of national security secrets was itself a violation of the Espionage Act and not constitutionally protected — which is the government's theory here — then virtually everything we know about the conduct of the so-called war on terror, we wouldn't know it. You know, we wouldn't know about the CIA's secret prisons but for disclosures of government insiders to The Washington Post, which The Washington Post then published in 2005. We wouldn't know about the warrantless wiretapping program, which The New York Times disclosed. We wouldn't know about the abuses of prisoners in Iraq and Afghanistan, which The New Yorker and 60 Minutes disclosed. Like, all of that stuff was based on disclosures by government insiders to media organizations, which then published classified secrets.

And that is precisely the basis on which the government is prosecuting Assange. And I know that there are factual distinctions between the activities that Assange has engaged in, the activities that some New York Times journalists have engaged in. Those factual distinctions don't ultimately matter to the indictment. The indictment, at the end of the day, charges Assange with publishing classified facts. And if you accept that publishing classified facts is not just a violation of the Espionage Act, but not constitutionally protected, then you are endangering not just the kinds of disclosures that WikiLeaks has undertaken, but the disclosures that other media organizations engage in literally every day.

AMY GOODMAN: Finally, Jameel, I want to ask you about the push to pardon NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden. During a news conference last year, President Trump suggested he would consider granting Edward Snowden a pardon.

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: There are many, many people — it seems to be a split decision, that many people think that he should be somehow treated differently, and other people think he did very bad things. And I'm going to take a very good look at it.

AMY GOODMAN: So, that's President Trump. Your final thoughts, Jameel?

JAMEEL JAFFER: Yeah. I mean, I think we should welcome a pardon of Snowden, whoever it comes from. I would have welcomed it had it come from President Obama, and I would welcome it if it came from President Trump. I think that Snowden has contributed a huge amount to public debate about government surveillance. There are all sorts of reforms to the law that can be traced to Snowden's disclosures in particular. Snowden's disclosures helped us understand the extent to which government officials had misled the public about the scope of the NSA's activities. I think it would be entirely appropriate to pardon him. And I think that it's — you know, it's intolerable that whistleblowers, who report to the public gross abuses of civil liberties and human rights, pay this very high cost for those disclosures, while the people, the officials, who authorize those abuses are appointed to higher and higher posts. I think that's intolerable. And for that reason, I would welcome a pardon.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, I want to thank you for being with us. And again, Edward Snowden just announced he just had a baby with his partner. They live in Moscow now. This is Democracy Now! I want to thank Jameel Jaffer, Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University. He is the director there. And I want to thank Jennifer Robinson, speaking to us from Sydney, Australia. She is an adviser to Julian Assange and WikiLeaks.

Next up, as Georgia prepares for two Senate runoff elections on Tuesday, President Trump caught on tape threatening Georgia's Republican secretary of state to overturn Joe Biden's victory in the state. Stay with us.

Why we have reached 'America's moment of reckoning'

Scholars Cornel West and Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor respond to the global uprising against racism and police violence following the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis. "We're seeing the convergence of a class rebellion with racism and racial terrorism at the center of it," said Princeton professor Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor. "And in many ways, we are in uncharted territory in the United States."

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

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

As we continue to look at the uprisings against police brutality and racism, I want to turn to a conversation Democracy Now!'s Nermeen Shaikh and I had in early June with the scholars Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor of Princeton University and Cornel West of Harvard. I began by asking professor Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor to talk about the mass uprising and the police killing of George Floyd.

KEEANGA-YAMAHTTA TAYLOR: Part of what we are seeing is years and years of pent-up rage. Many people have referenced the 1960s, have referenced Ferguson in 2014, but I think it's important to say that these are not just repeats of past events. These are the consequences of the failures of this government and the political establishment, the economic establishment of this country to resolve those crises, and so they build and accumulate over time. And we are watching the boiling over of that.
Imagine how angry, desperate, rage-filled you would have to be to come out and protest in the conditions of a historical pandemic that has already killed over 103,000 Americans, that has had a disproportionately horrendous impact in Black communities. I believe 23,000 or 24,000 Black people have died. To put it more bluntly, one in every 2,000 African Americans in the United States has died as the result of COVID. So imagine how difficult things have to be for people to come out in those conditions. So, I think that the buildup around police brutality, the continuation of police brutality, police abuse and violence and murder has compelled people to have to endure those conditions, because it is obvious that there is either nothing that our government can do about this or that the government is complicit and chooses not to do anything about this.
And I think that we have to add to that the crisis that is unfolding beyond police brutality in the country, as well, because we all know that the videotapes of police beatings, abuse, murder have never stopped. So, the movement that grew out of the Ferguson uprising, that became Black Lives Matter, the conditions that led to that never actually ended. And I think that what has reignited that is obviously the public lynching of George Floyd one week ago in Minneapolis, but also the conditions, the wider context within which that is spilling over. And because of that wider condition of mass unemployment, of the death that has been caused by the pandemic, that this is not just — I don't believe these are just protests around or against police brutality.
But we see a lot of — hundreds, if not thousands, of young white people in these uprisings, making these multiracial rebellions, really. And I think that that is important. Some people have sort of described the participation of white people as outside agitators, or I know that there are reports of white supremacists infiltrating some of the demonstrations. And I think that those are things that we have to pay attention to, keep track of and try to understand. But I think we cannot dismiss in a widespread way the participation of young white people, because we have to see that what has happened over the last decade has gutted their lives, too. And there has been some discussion about this with perhaps their parents' generation, with the description of deaths by despair.
So, we know that the life expectancy of ordinary white men and women has gone into reverse — something, by the way, that does not typically happen in the developed world. And it is driven by opioid addiction, alcoholism and suicide. And so, this generation, whose lives really — you know, if you've graduated from college, your life has been bracketed by war at the turn of the 21st century, by recession and now by a deadly pandemic. And so, I think we're seeing the convergence of a class rebellion with racism and racial terrorism at the center of it. And in many ways, we are in uncharted territory in the United States.
NERMEEN SHAIKH: Dr. Cornel West, could you respond to what professor Yamahtta Taylor said? You agree that, of course, the murder of George Floyd was a lynching. You've also said that his murder and the demonstrations that have followed show that America is a failed social experiment. So could you respond to that and also the way that the state and police forces have responded to the protests, following George Floyd's killing, with the National Guard called out in so many cities and states across the country?
CORNEL WEST: Well, there's no doubt that this is America's moment of reckoning. But we want to make the connection between the local and the global, because, you see, when you sow the seeds of greed — domestically, inequality; globally, imperial tentacles, 800 military units abroad, violence and AFRICOM in Africa, supporting various regimes, dictatorial ones in Asia and so forth — there is a connection between the seeds that you sow of violence externally and internally. Same is true in terms of the seed of hatred, of white supremacy, hating Black people, anti-Blackness hatred having its own dynamic within the context of a predatory capitalist civilization obsessed with money, money, money, domination of workers, marginalization of those who don't fit — gay brothers, lesbian sisters, trans and so forth. So, it's precisely this convergence that my dear sister Professor Taylor is talking about of the ways in which the American Empire, imploding, its foundations being shaken, with uprisings from below.
The catalyst was certainly Brother George Floyd's public lynching, but the failures of the predatory capitalist economy to provide the satisfaction of the basic needs of food and healthcare and quality education, jobs with a decent wage, at the same time the collapse of your political class, the collapse of your professional class. Their legitimacy has been radically called into question, and that's multiracial. It's the neofascist dimension in Trump. It's the neoliberal dimension in Biden and Obama and the Clintons and so forth. And it includes much of the media. It includes many of the professors in universities. The young people are saying, "You all have been hypocritical. You haven't been concerned about our suffering, our misery. And we no longer believe in your legitimacy." And it spills over into violent explosion.
And it's here. I won't go on, but, I mean, it's here, where I think Ella Baker and Fannie Lou Hamer and Rabbi Heschel and Edward Said, and especially Brother Martin and Malcolm, their legacies, I think, become more central, because they provide the kind of truth telling. They provide the connection between justice and compassion in their example, in their organizing. And that's what is needed right now. Rebellion is not the same thing in any way as revolution. And what we need is a nonviolent revolutionary project of full-scale democratic sharing — power, wealth, resources, respect, organizing — and a fundamental transformation of this American Empire.
AMY GOODMAN: And your thoughts, Professor West, on the governor of Minnesota saying they're looking into white supremacist connections to the looting and the burning of the city, and then President Trump tweeting that he's going to try to put antifa, the anti-fascist activists, on the terror list — which he cannot do — and William Barr emphasizing this, saying he's going after the far left to investigate?
CORNEL WEST: No, I mean, that's ridiculous. You know, you remember, Sister Amy — and I love and respect you so — that antifa saved my life in Charlottesville. There's no doubt about it, that they provided the security, you see. So the very notion that they become candidates for a terrorist organization, but the people who were trying to kill us — the Nazis, the Klan — they're not candidates for terrorist organization status — but that's what you're going to get. You're going to get a Trump-led neofascist backlash and clampdown on what is going on. We ought to be very clear about that. The neofascism has that kind of obsession with militaristic imposition in the face of any kind of disorder. And so we've got to be fortified for that.
But most importantly, I think we've got to make sure that we preserve our own moral, spiritual, quality, fundamental focus on truth and justice, and keep track of legalized looting, Wall Street greed; legalized murder, police; legalized murder abroad in Yemen, in Pakistan, in Africa with AFRICOM, and so forth. That's where our focus has to be, because with all of this rebellious energy, it's got to be channeled through organizations rooted in a quest for truth and justice.

AMY GOODMAN: Professors Cornel West and Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor. We'll hear more from them in a moment, but first let's turn to former Women's March co-chair Tamika Mallory. She spoke at a rally in Minneapolis days after the police killed George Floyd.

TAMIKA MALLORY: We are not responsible for the mental illness that has been inflicted upon our people by the American government, institutions and those people who are in positions of power. I don't give a damn if they burn down Target, because Target should be on the streets with us calling for the justice that our people deserve. Where was AutoZone at the time when Philando Castile was shot in a car, which is what they actually represent? Where were they?
So, if you are not coming to the people's defense, then don't challenge us when young people and other people who are frustrated and instigated by the people you pay — you are paying instigators to be among our people out there, throwing rocks, breaking windows and burning down buildings. And so young people are responding to that. They are enraged.
And there's an easy way to stop it: Arrest the cops. Charge the cops. Charge all the cops, not just some of them, not just here in Minneapolis. Charge them in every city across America where our people are being murdered. Charge them everywhere. That's the bottom line. Charge the cops. Do your job. Do what you say this country is supposed to be about — the land of the free for all. It has not been free for Black people, and we are tired.
Don't talk to us about looting. Y'all are the looters. America has looted Black people. America looted the Native Americans when they first came here, so looting is what you do. We learned it from you. We learned violence from you. We learned violence from you. The violence was what we learned from you. So if you want us to do better, then, damn it, you do better.
NERMEEN SHAIKH: Tamika Mallory speaking in Minneapolis over the weekend. Professor Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor, if you could respond to her extraordinary speech, and also the way in which public officials, including liberal officials like New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, have responded to the protests, simultaneously saying they feel the pain of the protesters but condemning the violence and looting, as they say?
KEEANGA-YAMAHTTA TAYLOR: I mean, one thing that becomes so apparent with the cops on the street, one, you understand — I mean, for most of America, you get a glimpse of why people are so angry. I mean, look at the kind of wanton, reckless abuse and violence that the police are instigating, and attacking people who are trying to protest. I feel like what we've seen over the weekend is a national police riot. And, you know, it's no wonder. They feel emboldened by the white nationalism of the president of the United States and, really, the lawlessness of the Republican Party writ large. And so, it feels like we're bearing the consequences of that.
But I think that there is a bigger issue about the cops that is also worth talking about, which is, why these police are never arrested, prosecuted, punished, really, even beyond just arresting and prosecuting people, but just punishing them as public servants for their kind of racist, abusive and violent behavior. And I think that, you know, regardless of what these elected officials have to say, I think that we're actually going to see a lot more of this, which is why the conflicts will continue.
And the reason why I say that is because it has been a strategy of cities across this country that have committed themselves to not investing in the civic and public sector infrastructure — so, public schools, public hospitals, public libraries — all of the things that make a city function. Those have been systematically defunded, increasingly privatized. And the way that cities manage the inevitable crises that arise from that, when combined with unemployment, when combined with poverty, when combined with evictions and all of the insecurities that we see wracking cities across this country, the police are used to manage that crisis. And that is why, in city after city, as other public institutions take financial hits, as other public institutions are defunded, it's the police that always get to maintain their budgets. And we look around now, where, because of the COVID crisis, every city is talking about massive budget cuts, but not to the police. The police almost never have to incur layoffs. They never have to incur budget cuts, because they are seen as the public policy of last resort.
And so, this is — when we talk about defunding the police, it is that the police should not be absorbing a third of the budget, as they do in cities like Philadelphia, Chicago, Los Angeles, New York, while we're closing public schools, while public hospitals don't have the proper personal protective equipment. Look at the way that police are — the gear and the equipment that they have, compared to hospital workers dressing themselves in garbage bags, being forced to use the same N95 masks for weeks at a time. Look at the contrast between that, and then you understand what the actual priorities of the governing politicians and bodies are.
Which is why — and this is the last thing I'll say — the hypocrisy of someone like Andrew Cuomo or Bill de Blasio or any of these politicians coming on television, on their press conference, wringing their hands about the police, talking about these issues as if they are passive bystanders or just concerned citizens, and not elected officials who have power, who have authority, who have the ability to punish the police, who have the ability to make budgetary priorities, who have the ability to shift resources in one direction or another, but they sit back and act as if they are just watching the train wreck in slow motion, and not that they are actually in control of the gears. And this is part of the hypocrisy that is making people so angry.

AMY GOODMAN: That's Princeton University professor Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor and Harvard University's Cornel West.

When we come back, antiracist activist Bree Newsome Bass and Princeton professor Eddie Glaude, speaking about the election of Joe Biden and Kamala Harris.

The pick of Alex Padilla to replace Sen. Harris is 'is very historic and symbolic' for Latinos: professor

California Secretary of State Alex Padilla has been named by Governor Gavin Newsom to replace Vice President-elect Kamala Harris in the U.S. Senate, making history as the first Latinx senator to represent the state. Padilla was first elected to public office at 26, when he joined the Los Angeles City Council, and went on to serve two terms in the state Senate, followed by two terms as the state's secretary of state. "This is really a reflection of the historic importance of Latinos," says Fernando Guerra, professor of political science at Loyola Marymount University. He is also the director of the Center for the Study of Los Angeles.

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.

California Governor Gavin Newsom has appointed California's Secretary of State Alex Padilla to replace Vice President-elect Kamala Harris in the U.S. Senate. Padilla will make history as the first Latinx senator to represent California, a state with a population that's 40% Latinx. He was first elected to public office at 26 years old when he joined the Los Angeles City Council. He went on to serve two terms in the state Senate, followed by two terms as the state's secretary of state. Alex Padilla is the son of Mexican immigrants. In a video posted by Governor Newsom to Twitter, Padilla talked about how his family's background has shaped his political work.

SECRETARY OF STATE ALEX PADILLA: I can't tell you how many pancakes my dad flipped or eggs he scrambled trying to provide for us, or the many, many years of my mom cleaning houses, doing the same thing. It's why I try so hard to make sure that our democracy is as inclusive in California as we built. And it's a hell of an important perspective to bring to Washington.

AMY GOODMAN: Alex Padilla is a close ally of Governor Gavin Newsom. He has not taken a public stance on popular progressive issues such as Medicare for All, the Green New Deal, abolishing ICE — that's Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

For more on his appointment, we go to Los Angeles, where we're joined by Fernando Guerra. He's a professor of political science at Loyola Marymount University, where he's also director of the Center for the Study of Los Angeles.

We welcome you to Democracy Now!, Professor Guerra. It's great to have you back after a number of years. Can you start off by talking about the significance of this appointment and who Alex Padilla is, someone you've known for many, many years?

FERNANDO GUERRA: Well, obviously, the significance is very historic and symbolic that Latinos now have this position. There's been tremendous amount of Latino political mobilization, and you've seen Latino mayors, like Antonio Villaraigosa; lieutenant governor; secretary of state, like Alex Padilla. You've seen Latinos be the head of the Legislature as speaker or as a president pro tem of the Senate. Really, the only two positions that Latinos haven't gained in modern times is the U.S. Senate, which they've never held in California, and governor. There was a Latino governor back in the 1870s. But this is really a reflection of the historic importance of Latinos.

Also politically, you know, we think about Latinos are 40% of the population, and they're also a significant number of the electorate. It is because of Latino political mobilization that California is deeply blue. Without that Latino mobilization, California would be purple, and maybe even red, and would change the whole dynamics of national politics. You know, I remind people that for many presidential elections, Republicans always won California. It wasn't until 1992 that Democrats started winning, and barely winning, because of — we all know the Ross Perot factor there. But after that, it really depended on the Latino vote. And the Latino vote is the backbone of California being Democratic, which becomes the backbone of the Democrats having a chance in the Electoral College. And so, it's a historic significance, but also political significance.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And, Professor Guerra, Alex Padilla, from what I can tell, is part of this whole sort of generation of key Latino leaders in California — and I include in that Antonio Villaraigosa; Gil Cedillo, the city councilman from L.A.; Xavier Becerra; Kevin de León — who all came, sort of, of age in the fight against Proposition 187 in the mid-'90s and really began to exercise their leadership. But he's not necessarily one of the most progressive of this group. Could you talk about his sort of political leanings?

FERNANDO GUERRA: Sure. You are right, and it's a great point. Alex Padilla is part of the original resistance to the Republican anti-immigrant policies of the early 1990s. Many of your viewers remember, in 1994, there was a proposition in California, Proposition 187, which was anti-immigrant, anti-Latino. Out of that resistance came people like Kevin de León, Gil Cedillo, Fabian Núñez and Alex Padilla. At that time, Alex Padilla was a young 20-year-old who had just graduated from MIT with an engineering degree, and he had started his career in engineering and decided to get involved in the public sector. And he grows out of 1994, as do a ton of progressive Latinos.

But you're right in terms of his politics. He is much more moderate. He is not a progressive in the same sense that an AOC or someone like that. Now, he will not be against the New Green Deal. He will not be against abolishing ICE. But I don't think he will be in the forefront of those issues. I think the most important issues to him are going to be, yes, immigrant rights, yes, equity in economics and education, and, most importantly, voting rights, because that is his one area of expertise.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And in terms of — there was a whole lot of jockeying within the political forces in California on Gavin Newsom. There were those who wanted an African American woman, either Barbara Lee or Karen Bass, to replace Kamala Harris. What's your sense of how Gavin Newsom dealt with those competing pressures on him?

FERNANDO GUERRA: Well, at the end of the day, he dealt with them masterfully. It just shows what a politician, great politician, he is in terms of the inside game. You are, you know, absolutely right that there was tremendous amount of pressure on him to appoint a Latino, to appoint an African American female, to appoint someone from the LGBT community, to appoint someone from Southern California versus Northern California, to appoint a woman. And there were newspaper ads taken out in the Los Angeles Times and San Francisco Chronicle and the Sacramento newspapers from different constituent groups, all urging him to appoint someone that they were obviously supporting.

At the end of the day, he understood the historic significance for Latinos. He also had other variables, number one, that Alex Padilla has been a strong ally of the governor for many years. Not only did he endorse him for governor in 2018, Alex Padilla actually endorsed Newsom for governor in 2010, when Newsom was thinking about running against Jerry Brown. Also, you know, they share a lot of the same perspective.

In addition, he also thinks that Alex Padilla can hold the seat in 2022. You don't want, as a governor, to appoint somebody, and then they quickly lose the seat. He's held statewide office before, and he'll have a good shot at staying in that seat in '22. He'll definitely have the [inaudible]. He'll have [inaudible]. He'll probably have Vice President Kamala Harris's endorsement. Now, he is vulnerable to a progressive candidate, like Congressman [Ro Khanna], someone like that, and so he has to be careful. But again, he will be a strong ally of Biden. He will be very much in the liberal Democrat, but don't expect him to be the leader of progressives.

AMY GOODMAN: So, to replace Alex Padilla as California secretary of state, Gavin Newsom has named state Assemblywoman Shirley Weber. If confirmed, she would become the first Black secretary of state in California's history. If you can comment on this, and what this means for the landscape of the Senate to have a — if you wouldn't say progressive, would you say liberal Democratic Senator Alex Padilla —


AMY GOODMAN: — when you look at the other Latinx senators, from Cruz to Rubio to Menendez?

FERNANDO GUERRA: Yeah. So, first, the appointment of Shirley Weber, I mean, this is what I was referring to in the past, how brilliant Governor Newsom was. He was able to deflect criticism about not appointing an African American woman to the U.S. Senate by simultaneously appointing an African American woman to secretary of state. It was a brilliant move. And so, it's difficult for someone to say, "Hey, this was terrible. You didn't appoint an African American woman." He's like, "Hey, what are you talking about? The first African American woman secretary of state."

AMY GOODMAN: We have 20 seconds.

FERNANDO GUERRA: Yeah. And so, yes, he's going to be a moderate. He's going to be a lot more liberal than the Latino U.S. senators that exist. You have two Cubans, in Cruz and Rubio, who are also Republican. But you have now four Democrats — Menendez and in Nevada and a new one in Luján in New Mexico. He will, I think, be more progressive than any of those.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, I want to thank you, Fernando Guerra. We'll be getting back in touch with you, professor of political science at Loyola Marymount University, director of the Center for the Study of Los Angeles.

That does it for our show. On [Thursday], tune in to our documentary Four Days in Western Sahara; on Friday, our interview with the late John le Carré. Remember, wearing a mask is an act of love. I'm Amy Goodman, with Juan González.

Billionaire Sackler family refuses to apologize for fueling the devastating opioid epidemic

On Capitol Hill, members of the billionaire Sackler family refused to apologize Thursday as House lawmakers grilled them over their role in fueling the devastating opioid epidemic. The Sacklers own Purdue Pharma, the maker of OxyContin. The company pleaded guilty last month to three criminal charges, including bribing doctors to write more prescriptions for the highly addictive drug. Sackler family members have not been criminally charged. This is Massachusetts Congressmember Ayanna Pressley addressing David Sackler.

Rep. Ayanna Pressley: "We do not need another failed war on drugs. What we need is a reckoning and accountability for drug companies who put profits over people and rob us of lives and freedom of our loved ones. You have created a nationwide epidemic. Four hundred and fifty thousand people have died. Let me be clear: People struggling with addiction are not criminals. Your family and Purdue Pharma, you are the criminals. You are the ones who disregard your duties to society, and you should be ashamed of yourselves."

Thursday's hearing came as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported the U.S. had more than 81,000 overdose deaths over the past year — the highest number ever recorded and nearly 20,000 more than last year.

Republicans are forcing tragic tradeoffs in the COVID relief bill as 8 million Americans enter poverty

After months of inaction, Congress finally appears close to passing a second, $900 billion coronavirus stimulus package. The agreement is likely to include additional unemployment assistance of $300 a week and one-time direct cash payments of between $600 and $700 for people in the U.S. — a sharp reduction from the first COVID check of $1,200. The COVID-19 relief checks were put back in the bill after a major push from the progressive wing of the Democratic Party. A new study reports 8 million Americans have been pushed into poverty since the summer, in part due to a lack of federal assistance. "It's just staggering that Congress can't come together to help people in their time of need," says David Dayen, executive editor of The American Prospect, who has been following stimulus talks closely.

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

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

After months of inaction and facing record-shattering COVID-19 cases and deaths in this country, Congress may finally be close to signing a second, $900 billion coronavirus stimulus package. The agreement is likely to include additional unemployment assistance of $300 a week and one-time direct cash payments of between $600 and $700 — a sharp reduction from the first COVID check of $1,200. The COVID relief checks were put back in the bill after a major push from the progressive wing of the Democratic Party.

A new study reports that 8 million Americans have been pushed into poverty since summer, in part due to a lack of federal assistance.

Congressmember-elect Cori Bush, who will be representing Missouri's 1st District, tweeted, quote, "Republicans are going to act like the difference between $600 and $1,200 is no big deal. This is infuriating. I've been unhoused. I've lived paycheck-to-paycheck. The difference of $600 is having a hotel room or sleeping in the car. $1,200 was already the compromise," she said.

The stimulus package will not include the Democrats' desired $160 billion for state and local aid, as a compromise for not including the financial liability protections for corporations that Republicans have been pushing for for months.

Well, to tease this all out, to explain what's in the stimulus package, what isn't, we're joined in Los Angeles by David Dayen, executive director — executive editor of The American Prospect, where he writes a daily update on the coronavirus pandemic called "Unsanitized," his latest book titled Monopolized: Life in the Age of Corporate Power.

David, welcome back to Democracy Now! Just lay out for us what is on the table right now.

DAVID DAYEN: Well, yes, as you described, the two main pieces that you just talked about were the unemployment boost and also extension of two programs that are going to expire next week — the one that helps gig workers get unemployment, the other that extends unemployment benefits — and then there's this check, this stimulus check of $600, $700, something like that.

I should say that because they wanted to make room for this check, and Republicans have said they don't want to go above $900 billion, they actually curtailed the boost to unemployment, the $300 a week, by four weeks: It's now a 12-week program rather than a 16-week extension. So, that's $1,200 out of the pockets of the unemployed to give a $600 check one time to individuals beyond the unemployed.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: Aid to states and cities in this package was omitted, and what the impact of that will be?

DAVID DAYEN: Yeah, it's terrible. I mean, the $160 billion was probably about a third of what was needed to fill budget shortfalls across the country. And so, what you're going to see, if there's nothing, is cuts to public safety, cuts to teachers, cuts to public employees, cuts to firefighters, things like that, all over the country, offsetting the benefit of economic stimulus that can be done at the federal level through state and local austerity.

And there's just this mindset that you can't go above a certain dollar figure, even though it's Republicans coming to the table and saying, "Hey, we're going to lose our majority in the Senate if we give no relief to people before these elections in Georgia." Democrats might think that, "Well, that puts us in — you know, gives us some of the upper hand here, the ability to say, 'Well, we need state and local relief. We need more money from these one-time stimulus checks. We need more money or an extension of these unemployment benefits.'" But that's not what's happening. There's really a line being drawn at $900 billion, and they're kicking out the state and local spending, which is going to create really bad austerity throughout the country.

AMY GOODMAN: The U.S. Postal Service — can you talk about what role it has in this bill? I mean, we have been seeing the rollout of the vaccine, the celebration of FedEx and UPS. Where is the U.S. Postal Service? And what's happening to it?

DAVID DAYEN: Well, in this bill, there was a $10 billion loan that the Treasury Department previously gave to the U.S. Postal Service. And according to the bipartisan bill being used as a framework here, that would be forgiven. So, that is a boost to the fortunes of the Postal Service, which is actually straining right now because FedEx and UPS are pushing off their less profitable packages and telling — you know, moving them over to the Postal Service, which is clogging kind of the package delivery here in the holiday season. So, that's one thing that's going on there.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: And, David, could you talk about some of the concerns around the Paycheck Protection Program that have been reinstated with this package? What are the issues with that program?

DAVID DAYEN: Well, yes. So, one of the major parts of this bill is the extension of PPP and allowing individuals to get a second draw from PPP loans. However, there's a provision in here that subtly changes the tax treatment of these forgivable loans. These are reimbursements that are given by the federal government — grants, essentially — and they're tax-free. They already were made tax-free originally. But under this bill, they could be taken as deductions, as well, which would reduce the tax liability for a host of businesses.

And we know that not only small businesses got these PPP loans. A lot of larger businesses did, as well. So, this could potentially be up to $100 billion in benefit, tax benefits, including benefits to S corporations, which are these corporate structures set up by very rich individuals, that could be used to reduce their tax liability. So, that seems a very egregious part of this bill. And it's not really getting as much attention as some of the other pieces.

AMY GOODMAN: I mean, the majority of Congress, the House and the Senate, they are millionaires at least. Talk about the millionaires deciding the pittance that people who are suffering so deeply now may or may not get. In this time of the pandemic, this is news just breaking: In the next three weeks, while Donald Trump is still president, 83,000 Americans will die of COVID.

DAVID DAYEN: Yeah, it's really staggering that it takes the threat of the loss of a Senate majority to get Republicans, for the first time in nine months, to come back and say, "Yes, we'll deliver a little bit of relief to the American people," who haven't seen any since many of the CARES Act programs expired in July.

What we know, if you look at the economic numbers, is that unemployment for high-wage people has barely budged. It's pretty much at the same level it was before the pandemic. All of the losses, or practically all of them, have been —

AMY GOODMAN: We've got five seconds.

DAVID DAYEN: — in the low-wage sector. Yeah, it's just staggering that, you know, Congress can't come together to help people in a time of need.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, of course, we'll continue to follow this. David Dayen, executive editor of The American Prospect, where he writes a daily update on the coronavirus pandemic called "Unsanitized."

Democracy Now! produced with Renée Feltz, Mike Burke, Deena Guzder, Libby Rainey, Nermeen Shaikh, María Taracena. Special thanks to Julie Crosby, Miriam Barnard, Denis Moynihan. I'm Amy Goodman. Thanks for joining us.

How centuries of inequality in the America laid the groundwork for 2020 devastation

As the United States sets new records for COVID-19 deaths and hospitalizations, we speak with one of the world's leading experts on infectious diseases, Dr. Paul Farmer, who says the devastating death toll in the U.S. reflects decades of underinvestment in public health and centuries of social inequality. "All the social pathologies of our nation come to the fore during epidemics," says Dr. Farmer, a professor of medicine at Harvard University, chair of global health and social medicine at Harvard Medical School, and co-founder and chief strategist of Partners in Health.

'Don't talk to me that way': Trump loses it over a reporter's simple question

President Trump's efforts to overturn the election results appear to be exhausted as he faced a string of defeats over the weekend. Lawsuits in Pennsylvania were rejected, both by the state's Supreme Court and a federal appeals court. And a recount in two liberal Wisconsin counties, ordered by the Trump campaign, cemented Biden's victory there.

Trump said for the first time he'll leave office if the Electoral College votes for Joe Biden, even as Trump refuses to concede the election, which Biden won in both the electoral college and popular votes by wide margins. On Thursday Trump attacked Reuters reporter Jeff Mason for asking when he would concede.

President Donald Trump: "Don't answer, don't talk to me that way. You're just, you're just a lightweight. Don't talk to me that way. Don't talk to — I'm the President of the United States."

In May, Trump mocked Mason for refusing to take off his mask while asking him a question at a press briefing. Meanwhile Trump has turned on Georgia's Republican Governor Brian Kemp, as the state gears up for two Senate run-offs that will determine control of the U.S. Senate. Trump said he was "ashamed" that he endorsed Kemp, as he ranted on Fox News about losing the Georgia vote.

Iran blames Israel for the assassination of its top nuclear scientist

Iran held a state funeral today for Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, a top nuclear scientist who was assassinated while driving on a highway outside of Tehran on Friday. Iran accused Israel of orchestrating the killing, which Iran says may have been conducted by an automatic remote-controlled machine gun placed inside an empty vehicle. Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said Iran will retaliate at the proper time.

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani: "All think-tank centres and all the enemies of Islamic Iran know that the Iranian nation and officials are too brave and zealous to ignore this criminal act. The relevant authorities will respond to this crime in a timely and appropriate manner."

Many analysts say the assassination of the Iranian scientist was designed to make it harder for President-elect Joe Biden to rejoin the landmark 2015 nuclear agreement with Iran, which President Trump withdrew from in 2018.